We followed the tracks of the ‘White Rabbit’ and came across surprising things.
Kjeld had information that my confiscated Star Runner was to be taken to Port Tressler for inspection. On the way from New Babbage to the orbital station my ship disappeared. The last known position was in orbit of the Microtech moon Clio. Kjeld picked me up on Port Tressler in a Herald, and together we set out to find it.
It was cramped in the ship, spartan. Typical for Drake ships. I sat at the scanning station. Kjeld stood behind me and looked over my shoulders.
“Do you see anything on the scanners”, he asked.
“There are no signals in orbit. But on the surface of Clio, I see something. It looks like an anomaly, very faint. Barely detectable. It’s overlaid with the outpost’s energy signature”, I replied thoughtfully.
“Rayari is consuming an incredible amount of energy on Clio. More than they would have to for the two outposts. Who knows what kind of research they’re doing there.”
Suddenly a thought popped into my head. “Didn’t Professor Mobi have his lab on Clio, too?”
“Yes that’s right”, replied Kjeld. “I’m going to fly to the surface. We’ll take a close look at the weak signal.”
Kjeld went into the cockpit and flew the Herald to the surface. I couldn’t shake the thought.
“Why wasn’t my Star Runner brought to Port Tressler by a direct route? Why the detour via Clio? And why was my ‘White Rabbit’ confiscated in the first place? I’ll tell you what’s going on. The powers of Project Enos are behind it. That’s why Clio. That’s where it all started with Enos, in Mobi’s lab.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit far-fetched”, Kjeld doubted.
“They want to take me out of the game. First the attack on my hab in Grim Hex. Now they’re taking my ship away”, I retorted.
The signal was getting stronger. There was something, only 7 km away from the outpost. Hope sprouted in me. Hope to find my ship.
By now we had entered the atmosphere and were flying over the surface. The closer we got to the signal, the greater my tension grew.
“I have something on radar. A ship”, Kjeld exclaimed.
It no longer held me in my chair. I got up and stood behind the pilot’s seat. Curious, I looked through the cockpit window. I wanted to see with my own eyes what was out there.
“It’s a Star Runner”, said Kjeld.
“Fly closer, what name is on the side”, I exclaimed excitedly.
Kjeld flew the Herald close to the Star Runner. Because of the flight maneuvers, I had to hold on tight to keep from falling over. On the side was the name ‘White-Rabbit’.
“There she is”, relief burst from me like water from a burst dam. I rushed to the door and tried to open it.
“Wait. I want to check for signs of life nearby. And let me land first”, Kjeld called out.
But too late. The door of the Herald was open even before we made ground contact. I jumped out onto the surface of the moon Clio.
It had -56 degrees Celsius. But I did not care. I ran to the stern ramp of the ‘White Rabbit’. Would the ramp open? I pressed the button. Nothing happened. A spark of anger threatened to ignite inside me. But then the ramp moved, giving access to the cargo hold. The light in the ship was switched on. By now, Kjeld had also arrived at the ramp.
“Did you bring a gun”, he asked.
I hadn’t thought to draw my weapon. I would have just rushed aboard. Straight to my doom, should anyone be on board.
With weapons at the ready, we entered the cargo hold of the Star Runner. Kjeld went left into the engine room. I went right into the smuggler’s corridors. I wanted to go from below directly into the living area. If someone was on board, I wanted to stab him in the back. Over the radio, I heard Kjeld. “Engine room clear. I’m going to the server room.”
By now I was standing under the floor hatch to the living area. Driven by joy at having found my ship again and anger about my Star Runner being hijacked, I opened the hatch without hesitation and climbed up. I knew no restraint, no caution. Out of nowhere, I suddenly found myself standing next to the beds with my gun drawn. The beds were empty. There was no one in the living area. I opened the closet door.
“This is really my ship. My stuff is in the closet. Seems like everything is still there”, I said with relief.
“Scanner room, server room and turrets are also free”, replied Kjeld.
Together we searched the kitchen and the cockpit. There was no one on board.
While I checked the systems in the cockpit, Kjeld looked around the ship.
“What do you have to do with the Thiago lobby”, I heard Kjeld over the radio.
“There’s a cup from the Thiago on your desk.”
Confused, I walked into the living area. Sure enough, on the desk in front of the computer screen was a metal cup from the Thiago.
“What’s it doing here”, I asked, confused. “Someone was sitting at my desk.”
I sat down on the chair and checked the computers. Had someone searched my computers?
“I can’t see anything here. I need to go to the server room”, I said, standing up. Kjeld followed me.
I stood right by the server and accessed a secret program I had installed.
“I have a hidden program that logs accesses unnoticed. Look at that, there’s something there. Someone actually searched my computers.”
Kjed stood next to me, “Someone must have wanted to know what you know.”
“That’s right”, I replied. “But all in secret. Whoever it was. It was a professional. He covered all the tracks. Without my program, I wouldn’t know that someone had searched my computers.”
“If he carefully covered all traces, why did he leave the cup”, commented Kjeld. We looked at each other questioningly. After a few seconds, Kjeld continued. “He hasn’t finished his work yet. He’ll be back.”
My peace and relaxation was gone in one fell swoop.
“Shit”, it blurted out of me. “We have to leave. Hurry.”
A flurry of activity erupted. Kjeld ran back to the Herald, I to the cockpit of the Star Runner.
In a rush, I powered up the systems. I was about to start the engines when I heard Kjeld on the radio. “Hold on with the thrusters. I’m still right behind the ‘White Rabbit’. Don’t blow me away. And close the ramp.”
I waited impatiently. Would we get away fast enough? Finally the signal came from Kjeld. “I’ve taken off. Follow me. We’re taking the Herald to the outpost.”
I took off and gave full thrust. Nervously, I looked at the radar. Except for the Herald, I could see no contacts.
After dropping off the Herald at the outpost, we flew together with the Star Runner to Grim Hex. The pirate station in the asteroid belt of the Crusader moon Yela, the base of Kjeld’s security organization TYR.
Kjeld had a plan. “Maybe tracking devices have been installed on board. We need to hide the ‘White Rabbit’ first. Grim Hex is the best place for that. I know someone there who can search the ship thoroughly.”
“Agreed”, I nodded in agreement. “I think there’s more to this than we’re seeing at the moment”, I continued. “With false accusations, the Star Runner was confiscated. Then it was taken to Clio for a quiet, undisturbed search of the computers. Someone wants to know how much I’ve gotten out so far. We hit the bull’s-eye on something. Someone is getting nervous. Only what does the Thiago have to do with it?”
“We don’t know it was the Thiago. It was just a cup of them”, replied Kjeld.
“Didn’t you say that the Thiago was a lobby with an awful lot of money? And that they would support mining companies?”
“Yes that’s right.”
“Didn’t Enos and Mobi’s research also have something to do with mining and with caves? At least superficially? I’m telling you, there’s a connection.”
After we arrived at Grim Hex, Kjeld instructed his contact to search the ‘White Rabbit’. We then went to the VIP area of the race track and had a beer. A cocktail of emotions was boiling inside me. On the one hand I was happy to have my ‘White Rabbit’ back. On the other hand, I was worried about who had searched my ship. Someone was on my tail. Kjeld held out his beer bottle to me. “Cheers Zero.”
I toasted with my bottle and looked out the panoramic window at the asteroids. The central star of Stanton flashed out from behind one of the asteroids, enveloping it in a glistening aurora.
“Hey Zero, you know about drugs. Can you tell me what these pills are.” Kjeld stood at the low table in front of the sofa. On it was a packet of tablet. Next to it was a note on the stand.
“There’s more of this at the THIAGO party. See you at the Renaissance.“
‘Renaissance’, the name rang a bell with me. Somewhere I had seen that one before. I just couldn’t remember where.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)