I involuntarily got into a situation where I was surrounded by mercenaries.
Shortly after arriving at Grim Hex, I walked into the old 38 bar. The bartender leaned over the counter and told me Wallace had a job for me. It was nothing out of the ordinary, smuggling a package of drugs to Microtech. Easy money, I thought to myself. If I had known how wrong I was.
A day later I was in orbit of the planet Microtech. I was almost out of fuel. I flew to Port Tressler to refuel. I wasn’t far from the orbital station when there was a crackle on the radio. “Star Runner. This is the Microtech Protection Force. Stop your ship. We are coming aboard for an inspection.” A cold shiver ran down my spine. An inspection and I had drugs on board. My ass was on fire. But with my tank empty, I had no choice. I had to stop.
After throttling down to zero speed, I went into the cargo hold and opened the rear ramp. Glaring headlights blinded me. The glaring white was punctuated by flashing red and blue lights. A Cutlass Blue in a police outfit had taken up position behind my ship. Two guys hovered over to me in EVA. The bright backlight made it hard for me to see them. Then I saw it. Damn, the armor, they looked like pirates. Were they really from security? A bad premonition rose up in me. For safety’s sake, I took cover behind the cargo containers.
Practiced and without falling, the two guys floated into the cargo hold of the Star Runner. One took off his helmet and introduced himself as Commander Kjeld Stormarnson. He would be performing a routine inspection on behalf of the Microtech Protection Force. First he asked about my cargo and where I was going. Then he looked at me piercingly. “Do you have any illegal substances on board?” “No, just distilled spirits for Wallace’s Bar.” I replied, trying to sound convincing. “Then I’m sure you won’t mind us looking around the ship.” Without waiting for an answer, he sent his second man off to search the Star Runner. Oh dear, hopefully he wasn’t looking in the……
I stayed in the cargo hold with the commander. “Your armor doesn’t look like security. I’ve seen that outfit before in Grim Hex.” “Yes it may well be. We are from TYR, a private security company. Our location is in Grim Hex. We also work there as bouncers at the ‘old 38 Bar’. Are you in Grim Hex often?” I wasn’t sure if this was a trick question. “Yes I come by there often.” I leaned casually against the cargo containers and tried to look relaxed. Kjeld appeared friendly but firm. We chatted about Grim Hex and realized we both knew Wallace Klim.
Then there was a crackle on Kjeld’s radio. “Commander, I found an illegal substance in the living quarters.” Suddenly I had a thick lump in my throat. “Let’s go to the living quarters. Go ahead, please.” Kjeld’s tone left no doubt that I had no choice. With soft knees, I went forward. The second man stood in front of the open door to the laundry room. Inside was the package from Wallace. “Hey, I didn’t give you permission to use my toilet.” My feigned indignation did not impress him. “Is this yours?” Unsuccessfully, I tried to talk my way out of it. Finally, I said “Hey, the package is from Wallace. I’m supposed to take it to Microtech. So among Grim Hex brothers. I’m we can make a deal.”
To my surprise, Kjeld seemed to respond. “You seem to have special skills. Otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far unnoticed. Possibly I could have use for someone who can stay under the radar.” “That’s where I come in. Come on let’s go to the kitchen. I’ll spend you a drink.” said I with relief. “Just water for me.” replied Kjeld bone dry. “I need someone who can help me smuggle a human.” “I’m not a slave trader!” I retorted indignantly. “Not a slave. A person who is in danger and needs to be secretly taken from Microtech to Grim Hex.”
Kjeld offered not to report me, if I would help him. The whole thing sounded strange. On the other hand, I knew smuggling. It was an opportunity to get away without punishment. Besides, Kjeld’s security company was from Grim Hex. No one who was 100% loyal to the UEE or the big corporations was based in Grim Hex. Maybe Kjeld wasn’t such a bad guy. I chimed in.
The next day we met at Port Tressler. Kjeld was not alone. Lots of mercenaries from TYR were there. And there was someone else I had heard about. Thane McMarshall, the security chief of Microtech. What was he doing here? I began to doubt whether everything was going right here. Was this human smuggling really a rescue? Or rather a kidnapping? Did it have something to do with the illegal sale of weapons-grade chips at Microtech? Was Chhris in danger? He was trying to expose the scandal at Microtech and could become a target. And Brubacker had just been kidnapped. My thoughts were circling.
Kjeld was talking to a sinister-looking guy. He looked like an elite soldier or mercenary. It turned out to be the commander from the Helldiver. A mercenary force that was supposed to provide backup for the upcoming secret operation. The Helldivers took us, in a Valkyrie, to Microtech to a safe house. There, a briefing for the upcoming operation was to take place. I was not comfortable on board. We sat like chickens in two rows, strapped into bucket seats. I couldn’t see space during the flight. It was a crappy feeling. Besides, the Helldivers looked even more menacing than the guys from TYR. I wondered where I was standing right now. On the good or the evil side of the story?
The briefing was imminent. Everything was proceeding in the correct military manner. The mercenaries lined up in the building in an orderly fashion. Two stood guard at the airlock. A situation I found far too stiff. “Hey you tin soldiers. You all seem so uptight. How about a little loosening up? I brought whiskey and coke. You guys want one?” My line didn’t go over well. So I drank alone.
I wasn’t really comfortable with this. I felt at the mercy of two mercenaries. In the clutches of two mercenary troops. The commander of the Helldiver instructed us in different situations. Like a senior teacher in school, he kept asking questions that we were supposed to answer. The briefing was lengthy. A bit bored I sat down. The others would better have done the same. Someone keeled over. Circulatory collapse. Standing too long. I laughed to myself. It’s stupid when you have to stand at attention.
The briefing went on forever. The mercenaries seemed to know their business. A well coordinated ballet was prepared. Cogs were meshing. But in the end, each of them was just a cog that ran to the beat of the machine. I went to the window and looked at the stars. At that moment I realized how precious my independence was. To be able to do whatever I wanted. I could not let that be taken away from me. I had to continue to fight for freedom and against the oppression of the big corporations and the UEE. But now I first had to survive the upcoming secret operation and then escape from the sphere of influence of the mercenaries.
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