The following story is based on the official story “The Payout” by Dave Haddock. The story takes up the events and characters from “The Payout”, but tells a continuing and parallel story line. With this storyline, the bridge is built to the stories of Zero Sense. The storyline ‘payout’ of Zero Sense will build on this.
To better understand the overall context, it is worth reading the official story “The Payout” first.
In Lorville, Hurston Security busts a smuggling operation. There are dead people. The people behind the smuggling have disappeared and are looking for a new way to smuggle urgently needed goods into Lorville.
Dave tried to contain his panic. After what had happened, he had every reason to be panicked. He swam with the flow of the masses. Like everyone else, he walked with his head down, past rusty pipes and dirty brown conduits. He had the urge to go faster, to push past all the others. But Hurston Security was everywhere. Like hunters, guards stood at every corner. Cameras watched every corner, registering every unusual movement. Dave made every effort not to stand out, to be part of the dirty human stream. By now he had left the Metro station behind him. He just had to go down the stairs and turn right into the production quad FD19. Impatiently he took one step after the other. Step by step, he approached the junction.
At the bottom of the stairs stood a guard in black and yellow armor. Dave fixed his gaze on the ground. Seemingly unconcerned, he walked past the guard, took the fork, and descended the steps into the production quad. The monotonous sound of loudspeaker announcements grew quieter and was drowned out by the noise of machinery. Wisps of fog wafted through the aisles. Together with the yellow artificial light, they created a strange-looking atmosphere. Unnatural, but not as toxic as the daylight on the surface interspersed with dust and dirt. Dave walked down the corridor past gas tanks. At the end of the path, he reached a rusty door. With a long squeak, he opened it and stepped into a dark room. After closing the door behind him, he leaned back against it. Only now did all his tension dissolve. He breathed deeply in and out.
After a while Dave calmed down. He sat down on a chair, thought about what had gone wrong and what he should do now. Suddenly the door flew open with a loud crash. Two figures rushed into the room. Through the backlight Dave could not see who it was. He jumped up and backed away.
“Dave! Good thing you’re here.”
“Did you hear about Jens?”
Dave narrowed his eyes. Only now did he recognize Mike and Tina.
“Shit, you guys scared me. Do you have to barge through the door like that. I thought it was Hurston Security at first.”
Dave sat back in the chair and continued.
“Yeah I heard about Jens. What a mess. They got the smuggler Sully too.”
“His ex, Kala ratted him out.” Mike’s voice shook with anger.
“No, Kala denies it,” Tina retorted.
Dave thought about it for a moment. “Whatever. But that doesn’t explain why the whole smuggling operation blew up. Why did Hurston Security show up at the drop-off? And why was there a sudden shooting going on?”
Sadly and quietly, Tina said. “Hurston is cracking down harder and harder. Smuggling has become too dangerous. Other than death, we’re not accomplishing anything with it.”
“What’s wrong with you Tina? Are you turning into a wimp now? Why don’t you go to Kagan and his people? You can help him with his petition,” Mike snorted.
Dave tried to placate. “Easy, guys. It doesn’t help anyone if we start antagonizing each other. Our opponent is Hurston Dynamics. Huston has to pay.”
“Yeah but we’re not going to get anywhere with a petition. We’re all rotten until something changes. If anything changes at all.” Mike could barely calm himself.
Tina shook her head. “And smuggling is better? How many deaths are you going to take Mike? We have to go another way.”
Dave was still trying to mend fences. “In the long term, we have to try the petition. In the short term, though, we have to get the people of Lorville what they need on a day-to-day basis and make their lives a little better. For now, smuggling is the only way to do that.”
“And how? Somebody ratted us out. We can’t trust anyone anymore. Even Tina is keeling over.”
“I’m not keeling over. You just don’t want to realize you’re at a dead end.”
Dave raised his hand. “Calm down. We really are at a dead end. We have no idea who Hurston has on the wanted list. We need a new way. A new face. Someone from the outside to sneak this stuff in for us.”
“And who would that be?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to talk to Sam. He’s got very good contacts. However, he’s on Everus Harbor. I’ll have to go to the orbital station and talk to him personally.”
“Great. And you think you can just fly through customs and up there? Hurston will catch you,” Mike admonished.
“I’ll find a way, I’m a maintenance engineer with enhanced authorizations.”
“I don’t like this. It’s not right,” Tina said in a low voice.
The situation was really tricky. Without any reason, Dave couldn’t just fly to the orbital station Everus Harbor. That would raise questions at customs. Security would want to know what the reason for his trip was and would be watching him. Normally, Dave would go to Michael Shaw. Getting someone to Everus Harbor undetected was no problem for Shaw. But someone had tipped off Hurston Security and busted the smuggling operation. Dave wasn’t sure if he could trust Shaw anymore, who he could trust at all. He had to find an alternative way. He had to take a new risk. Ask a colleague for an odd favor.
Maintenance technicians regularly flew from Lorville to Everus Harbor on a work assignment. Dave asked a colleague who had a job at the orbital station to switch shifts with him. It was an unusual request. Hurston Dynamics didn’t like to see gears that meshed perfectly switched. But Dave saw no other way, he had to take the risk. The colleague was surprised, but agreed in exchange for a favor.
The plan wasn’t perfect, but it was the best Dave had. Would his colleague keep his mouth shut? And what about Tina? She had been acting strangely and had condemned the smuggling. Was she also a risk? With an uneasy feeling, Dave headed for the spaceport. The customs airlock was right in front of him. Several guards stood at the passageway. Dave hesitated and stopped. Two businessmen were coming from the terminals. They walked through the scanner. The guards paid no attention to them. A group of workers pushed past Dave from behind. Without a word, the group marched through the security gate. The guards didn’t move and stood impassively. Dave gave himself a jolt and walked toward the scanner. He was almost through when he heard a loud metallic voice.
Dave froze. A guard was blocking his way. Another came up behind him.
“Identify yourself,” the guard ordered.
Dave showed his work order. Skeptically, the guard looked at the order. Then she looked Dave forcefully in the face.
Dave’s knees buckled. A lump formed in his throat. The seconds passed as if in slow motion.
Then the guard took a step to the side.
Without delay, Dave marched off. After the security gate, he turned right to the door that was for staff only. He put his badge on the scanner. The door acknowledged the attempt with a muffled sound that clearly signaled the badge was not accepted. The guards looked at Dave. He put his badge on the scanner again. Again the muffled sound. Beads of sweat formed on Dave’s forehead. The guards took a few steps toward Dave. Hectically, he put his badge on the scanner again. A green light came on and the door opened.
Dave had to walk up some metal stairs. Finally he reached the landing pad where the shuttle was parked. The group of workers that had walked past him at customs was just getting on. A guard was standing next to the shuttle watching the boarding. Still with weak knees Dave walked towards the hatch of the shuttle. After the guard had scanned his work order, he was allowed to board. As soon as he was strapped in, the shuttle took off and flew into orbit. Only when the gravity decreased, Dave’s tension decreased. He had made it, he was out of the city.
After landing on the orbital station, Dave went directly in search of Sam.
Dave met Sam at the food court. Sam was chewing on a pizza, Dave was poking around in his noodles. They sat a little apart, well protected from foreign ears. The noise of the large hall penetrated only muffled to them. Dave told Sam about the smuggling that had gone wrong.
“So you want someone from the outside. Someone who’s going in a whole new direction. Someone to set up a new smuggling route into town,” Sam summarized.
“Yeah right. The current routes are probably compromised. We need someone with creative ideas.”
Sam bit off a slice of the pizza and thought about who might come to mind. Then Zero Sense came to mind. Zero was an experienced smuggler and had been working with the activists for some time. He had his own network and nothing to do with the yokels in Lorville. Sam could trust him. Moreover, Zero had a heart for the downtrodden and the weak. He might like the assignment.
“I have someone in mind. The less you know, the better. I’ll let you know as soon as this thing gets going.”
Sam shoved the last slice of pizza into his mouth, got up and left.
Dave watched him go. Now all he could do was wait and hope. Hope that Sam had someone who would manage to smuggle goods into the tightly guarded city.