I had to retrieve a box of secret data and had an encounter with John Brubacker.
There was no time to lose and I ran to the hangar. And I had just landed on Microtech. There was no time to eat or to hand over my scanner data to Marsden Analytics. A few minutes later, I was on a quantum flight to the gas giant Crusader. What had happened?
I had received a message from the activists. A box of data carriers had to be secured on Gundo. The data would be extremely important and would have to be brought to Levski as quickly as possible. UEE agends would also be after the data. My client was very concerned and willing to do everything possible to get the data. That didn’t sound like a walk in the park. I prepared myself better for problems.
When I arrived in orbit of the Crusader moon Daymar, everything seemed to be quiet at the destroyed space station. The debris floated as if frozen in the vacuum of space. Silent witnesses of the powerful explosion that had taken place at the Gundo shipping hub. I hid my Cutlass on the dark side under a pad. I hoped she would remain undiscovered in the dark in case I received unexpected visitors.
Fortunately I was here before and knew my way around the ward. In EVA I floated from my hiding place to the hole through which I could enter the station. Far away I noticed a Drake Caterpillar. Why was the ship here? It didn’t seem to move. In my head, images of Drake Dragonflys were forming, streaming out of the side gates of the Caterpillar and falling over the station like a swarm of hornets.
With increased pulse I floated into the station. It was as spooky as the last time I was here. Individual spotlights cast dancing shadows on the walls. Boxes floated weightlessly in the corridors everywhere. A lot of boxes, too many boxes. Looters should have cleared the station long ago. Where did all those boxes come from? Something was going on, it wasn’t normal.Lots of rubbish floated weightlessly through the corridors, chairs, boxes, bottles. It was total chaos. Nevertheless I found the right box relatively quickly. I was just on my way back when my headphones cracked. “I spotted a Cutlass out here. Hard to spot, right at the stationturned off. Be careful in there! You may not be alone. We’re committing the ship.” I had installed a receiver to be able to listen to every radio. The beginners did not use encryption, which gave me an advantage.
I floated to the exit and peered out through the slats. A Hornet parked on the destroyed landing pad. That’s all I could see. The Hornet was a single-seater, so there had to be at least one more ship. The pilot’s seat was empty. There was someone else in the station. I just realized I was trapped when someone came around the corner. My heart stopped.The guy came out of the hallway and floated across the room to the exit. I was hanging right under the covers. “Don’t look up, don’t look up,” I thought to myself. I didn’t dare breathe. The seconds felt like minutes. He slipped under me, slipped out through the exit and climbed into his Hornet. Explosively the accumulated air came out of my lungs. Lucky, for now.
But what was to happen next? I couldn’t fly away. We can’t wait forever. Eventually, I would run out of oxygen. I had to do something. I hid the box and went outside to check it out. It was risky, if necessary I would mime the unsuspecting and pretend I was just a tourist.
Under the cover of darkness I floated to the hiding place of my Cutlass. Two Hornets and a Freelancer had my ship surrounded. No chance of getting on board unnoticed or even getting away. Three against one, it was hopeless. Then an idea came to me, an idea that only comes to you in despair.I flew to the stern ramp of the Freelancer. I surmised as much. It was not locked. Rookie! Unnoticed, I slipped into the cargo bay of the spaceship. Carefully I walked forward. First room, empty, second room, also empty. With every step I took, my tension rose. Finally, the quarters with the beds. No one was here either. I stood tense at the entrance to the cockpit. Through the door window I saw a single person. She was in the pilot’s seat. With a hiss the door opened. It was loud like the hiss of an old steam engine. I winced.
At that moment a radio message came over the open intercom. The pilots of the three ships demanded that the box be handed over. They threatened to destroy my ship. I was no friend of violence, but I saw no other chance. I drew my gun and held it to the Freelancer pilot’s head.
The idiots tried to convince me that they were outnumbered. Weren’t they aware that their comrade had a gun to his head? Or would they even sacrifice him? At that moment a Banu Defender appeared out of nowhere in front of the Freelancers’ cockpit. I had the feeling it was pulling the rug out from under me. My stomach was spinning. It felt like sudden weightlessness.
I was still standing with both feet on the ground, but the situation was hopeless. And then a little glimmer of hope came unexpectedly. The pilots affirmed that the Defender was not one of them. I heard nervousness in their voices. Either the tide turned or we were all fucked. With the courage of desperation, I demanded that they get rid of the Defender. Then we could talk about everything else.
After a short break a no came over the radio. At first I was confused. Then they said that they were not killers and would not just shoot down any people. Now my confusion was complete. Who were those guys? UEE agents and pirates would have made short work.I put my gun away and sent a sign of relaxation. It was time to talk. Hopefully they didn’t notice the nervousness and tension in my voice. It turned out that they were freelancers who had the job of recovering the box. One was the editor-in-chief of Off the Record, the editorial office I had seen on ArcCorp. Could it really be? I still bitched about his Invictus Launch Week article and accused him of UEE bondage. But he could not be disturbed and he affirmed his neutrality.
Since they did not know about the activists, I explained my mission and that the box had to go to Levski. They seemed to have some understanding. I suggested a meeting in Levski at the Cafe Musáin. There I would explain what it was really about and hand over the box.
After I got the box out of hiding I flew to Levski. On the way I sent a message to the activists. They should check those three guys. After my landing I brought the box to the back room of the Cafe Musáin. An activist was already waiting for me with the information that the three guys were clean.
I stood on the stairs to the back room and waited. Two guys came into the café, followed by a third one who wore armor and a helmet. What a clown. What was he afraid of? It was the three pilots from the Gundo Shipping Hub. The situation seemed to them to be a bit strange. They wouldn’t go in the back room. I had the feeling I had the upper hand.
We took a seat in the lounge area. The three of them sat opposite me like three schoolboys and the feeling of superiority was unaccustomed to me. I explained what it was all about. The oppression of free peoples by the UEE and the corporations. That we are not evil people but only wanted to live independently. And that they had nothing to fear here in Levski. After a while an activist sat down next to me. He whispered to me that the data was backed up. I could deliver the box.
In the meantime the three seemed to have gained some trust or courage. The journalist said, “Okay, I’ll look into it.” They came in the back room. The mood lightened. One of them was amazed at the partly modern technology in the room. He joked about what dark channels it must have come to Levski through.
Finally we went to the bar together. The three showed understanding for the needs of free peoples. But also emphasized that the UEE is not that bad and the Messer era is over. I wasn’t sure which side they were on. The editor-in-chief, his name was John Brubacker, repeatedly stressed that he had to be neutral, otherwise the authorities would close his newly formed editorial office. Well, you know, keep a low profile. I’ve been there. I too preferred to stay under the radar. And the other two. One of them, Hawk, was a gambling man. The other one, Skorpi, with racing, illegal racing. I had the feeling that I had not seen the three for the last time.
(Note: The story from John Brubacker’s point of view can be found on the Sternenwanderers.org website: Journal entry 08/09/2950 – Zero Sense)