The situation was coming to a head. We got clues about the location of the killer satellite’s warfare agent.
“Why are we meeting in the darkest corner of Everus Harbor and you’re wearing a glow-in-the-dark T-shirt”, Brubacker had a pretty sharp tongue.
I tried to stay very calm. “This isn’t supposed to be a secret meeting. I wanted to tell you quietly what has been happening lately. We haven’t seen each other since the action in the cave.”
I told about the hazmat shipments, the seizure of the ‘White Rabbit’, that I found it on Clio, and that someone had searched my computers. Chhris was drawing the same conclusions I was when my mobi glass started beeping and vibrating. An urgent message.
“Hold on. A message from the activists. They have indications that a ship carrying the warfare agent for the killer satellite has crashed. Here are the coordinates. They want us to salvage the stuff and take it to the junkyard on Hurston. The activists will then examine it in a laboratory. We have to hurry before someone beats us to it.”
Using the ‘White Rabbit’, Chhris, Brubacker and I flew down to the planet Hurston to the crash site. When we landed, the central star of Stanton was just above the horizon. The wreckage was shrouded in a beautiful orange evening glow. The last rays of light were falling through the wreckage. They looked like fingers, fingers that wanted to reach for us. We entered the wreck through a narrow entrance that led us directly into the cargo hold. Then we heard voices inside the crashed Starfarer.
“I secure right”, whispered I.
“Me on the left”, replied Chhris.
There didn’t seem to be anyone in the cargo hold. Suddenly, I heard gunfire. In a container, I took cover as Chhris shouted. “One down. He was in the corridor leading upstairs.”
“What are those green glowing cargo containers? Is that Enos”, asked Brubaker.
“Let’s look later. We have to secure the wreckage first. And don’t touch anything, that stuff could be dangerous”, replied I.
Slowly we worked our way up the wreckage. As we went around a corner, Chhris fired. A second enemy slumped to the ground. It was the same mercenaries that were in the cave. We had to be very close to the agent. If it was really on board, we had to be extremely careful. In the last wreck we had seen how dangerous the agent was. There we had read in the logbook that a crew member had fallen ill, who had had contact with the stuff. With weapons at the ready, we proceeded cautiously.
We found no more mercenaries in the wreck, but another rack with a green glowing cargo container. Chhris opened the latch and drove the container out of the rack. At that moment, I realized what it was and yelled. “Chhris, don’t take it out. Leave the container.”
Chhris paused. “Okay, I’ll leave it.”
“These are high security containers. They have a protective field that prevents the contents from escaping. When we take the container out of the rack, we disconnect it from the power source. The protective field breaks down as soon as the energy buffer is empty. For safety, the container then explodes and destroys the contents. You don’t want to be holding that thing when that happens.”
“There’s a display. It says 13:11 minutes. How many of those things were in the cargo hold?” Chhris still paused in front of the rack.
“Three were in the cargo hold. We need to figure out how to get the 4 containers into the Star Runner and to the scrap yard. And we have to do it within 13 minutes.”
13 minutes was not much time. But Chhris had a plan. “All right, everyone get into position in front of a container. On command, we take the containers out of the rack at the same time. Whoever gets to the Star Runner first gets the fourth container. Bru, we go down to the cargo hold, Zero stays here with the single container.”
“Down again”, said Brubacker, annoyed. “The wreck is all twisted up. Can someone show me the way down? I’ve lost my bearings.”
After Brubacker and Chhris left, I stood alone in front of the container of ordnance. My hands were shaking slightly. Brubacker had suspected that it was the Enos warfare agent. If this was really true, I was only a few centimeters away from the terrible weapon. A shiver ran down my spine.
Then came the command from Chhris. I grabbed the container. As soon as I took it out of the rack, the time display on the container ran backwards.
13:11, 13:10, 13:09, 13:08, 13:07, …..
The clock was ticking. It was a long way through the wreckage to the Star Runner. The way to the junkyard was even farther. And we had to fly through the atmosphere of Hurston. It would take a while to reach the upper thin layers of air. Only there could I activate the Quantum drive. I wasn’t sure if there would be enough time. Time was a relentless opponent. Time knew no mercy, no rest. She advanced, I tried to keep up and ran as fast as I could.
After what felt like an eternity, we had stowed the boxes in the White Rabbit and reached the altitude at which I could start the Quantum drive. A short time later we were approaching the junkyard. 20 kilometers through the atmosphere to the destination. The lower we got the slower the Star Runner became. How much time did we have left? I opened the radio link into the cargo bay to Chhris and Brubacker. I thought I wasn’t hearing right.
“Stop throwing Enos at me.” I heard Brubacker say.Chhris and Bru were acting like children. Were they both close to a nervous breakdown? How could they fool around in this situation?
Finally we had reached the junkyard. I had no idea how much time we had left. I was sure, not much. I informed Chhris and Bru.
“Guys, I’m going to go down right in front of the building where we have to deliver the stuff. There’s hardly any room, I can’t really land. I’ll stay in the cockpit and try to keep the Star Runner stable.”
“No problem, let me know as soon as I can open the ramp”, Chhris replied.
With a thump, the Star Runner touched down. There was a crash and a crunch. Pieces of scrap metal bent under the landing gear. Wedged between pieces of metal and old living containers, the Star Runner came to a stop.
“We’re down. I’m opening the ramp. Get this stuff out. Hurry up”, I yelled excitedly into the radio.
“Bru, grab a container and take it into the building. I’ll throw the others down the ramp”, I heard Chhris.
“Where to go”, replied Brubacker.
It almost tore my nerves. We had no time and the guy had no idea what to do. Excitedly, I drummed on the steering wheel.
“The second container is safe”, the voice of Chhris sounded very calm. Did we have enough time or did Chhris have nerves of steel? Impatiently, I waited for the next message. Sweat began to run down my back.
“Third container secured”, Chhris still sounded calm.
“What about the fourth”, my voice sounded way too high with excitement.
When you waited, time seemed to pass slowly. It was the total opposite of the fast moving time on the cargo container displays that passed like snow in the heat. I looked out the cockpit window to the right. A windmill was spinning as if in slow motion. I shook myself. Everything seemed to have slowed down. A sudden calm settled over me like a warming blanket. It was like being in a trance. As if my mind had left my body. My mind wandered. It saw Chhris and Brubacker in the building. They were standing in front of a package station, shrouded in green light. Suddenly, Chhris’ voice startled me up. “Done, we delivered the fourth container, All went well. Let’s get out of here.”
Some time later, we were back at the orbital station Everus Harbor. We took the elevator to the cargo deck. I wanted to leave a message for the activists in the secret hideout. To my surprise, someone from the activists was sitting on a crate outside the entrance.
“Hadn’t you given up the hideout”, I asked, confused.
“Yes, but the security agencies have other problems right now. Something is keeping them busy right now. We have resumed our activities on the station. You can sell Hadanite here again, too. We’ll then take it out of the Stanton system to the free peoples.”
Pleased with this news, I went into the hideout with Brubacker and Chhris. Chhris and I dropped onto the sofa, exhausted. Brubacker looked around in amazement.
“Nice place you’ve got set up here”, he noted.
“Zero, you could certainly use a hideout”, Chhris said thoughtfully. “Maybe all of us. Somebody’s going to miss the ordnance now. They’re not going to take it easy that we stole it. They have you in their sights, Zero. First the attack on your hub, then the seizure of your ship, the search of your computers. Probably they also connect you with this action. We know that the people behind Enos are very powerful. They are not to be trifled with.”
Tiredly, I looked at Chhris. For the moment, we could only wait until the activists had analyzed the contents of the containers. Only then would we know if the agent had anything to do with Enos. And probably Chhris was right. Someone was targeting me. It was time to disappear from the scene for a while.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)