I was supposed to meet an informant at Shubin. I had a lot of cudgels thrown between my legs.
Sooner than expected, I received a message from my contact. He had arranged a meeting with a Shub Interstellar employee who was willing to share inside information. I was to come to a secret meeting place in the middle of New Babbage. New Babbage, of all places. The place I wanted to avoid. The place where my Star Runner had been confiscated. The place where someone was on my tail. But I had no other choice, I had to take the risk. I had to manage to get into the city undetected. I had to stay under the radar.
I landed a few kilometers away from the city. It was night, the stars were twinkling in competition with the lights of the city. Under cover of darkness, I was going to take the ROC across the frozen lake into town. A mining vehicle coming back into town at a late hour should not attract attention. Such was my hope.
I stood at the foot of the loading ramp of my Cutlass in the snow, shivering slightly. It was cold, very cold. My spacesuit would protect me from the cold for a maximum of 40 minutes. With a critical eye, I checked the distance to the city’s skyscrapers. 40 minutes would not be enough to drive to the rendezvous point, meet with the target and drive back. I went back into the Cutlass and looked in the spinner. Fortunately, I had the cold weather suit with me. It left me somewhat immobile, but well protected from the cold.
After I had changed my clothes, I rushed with the ROC over the plank ice surface. The tires had little grip and kept spinning. In the darkness I could hardly see anything. I did not dare to turn on the headlights. I didn’t want to be more than a shadow, a shadow that flitted through the night. And then I saw a shadow rushing past me on the left. I couldn’t make out what it was. Then another. Suddenly something emerged from the darkness in front of me. It came closer quickly.
And then I recognized it. An iceberg. I was surrounded by icebergs. Unbraked, I headed for the iceberg. I tried to swerve to the left. The wheels were fully turned, but the ROC continued straight ahead. The ice surface of the lake had its own rules and did not allow quick changes of direction. The iceberg was getting bigger and bigger, coming towards me unperturbed. Desperately, I jerked the control sticks back and forth, trying to avoid the inevitable impact. I could already see myself smashing into the iceberg when it suddenly seemed to move to the side. The ROC changed direction. At first only hesitantly then vehemently. I reached the wall of ice. The mining laser scraped along the iceberg. Shards of ice flew through the night. I was tossed back and forth in my seat. Then the iceberg was behind me.
At reduced speed, I drove on between the icebergs. I took a deep breath and looked at the brighter lights of the city that were getting closer and closer. And something else was getting brighter. The horizon. It was beginning to dawn. The snow-capped mountains in the distance were already turning orange. A race against time began. If I wanted to stay under the cover of darkness, I had to hurry.
I had no idea how much time I would need. I did not even know exactly where I had to go. Where would the meeting be? What dark and secret places were there in the glossy metropolis of New Babbage? What would be waiting for me there? “Follow the Metroloop from the Spaceport to the Aspire Grand and you will find it.” Those were the instructions. Doubt gripped me as I arrived at the foot of the Aspire Grand. A dark hole gaped in the building below the Metroloop. The blackness in the hole was even blacker than the night. I wondered if it would be a good idea to drive into the darkness of the hole without backup.
My doubts had not yet been dispelled when I was confronted with another problem. I was stuck. The wheels of the ROC had sunk halfway into the snow. I cursed. Dark holes, icebergs, snow drifts, and the dawning brightness. How many more cudgels were thrown between my legs to get to this meeting. I hoped it was all worth it and that the snitch could give me the information I needed. I looked over my shoulder at the brightening horizon. Time was running out.
After a few tries I got the ROC free again and drove through the dark hole. Darkness and yet there was something. A glimmer of light that resembled a glimmer of hope in the darkness. Irregularly, nervously the light danced in some distance. Why was the light moving? I was irritated and curious at the same time. Just before the light source, I parked the ROC and walked the last bit. My tension rose. Who or what would be waiting for me there?
A wall of snow piled up in front of me, it had a passage through which the light shone. I walked through it and stopped in amazement. What was this place? I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing. Snowmen, Christmas trees and mountains of packages wrapped in colorful wrapping paper. And a campfire that crackled and flickered softly. The scenery was whimsical, surreal.
After I had freed myself from my state of shock, I looked around. There was no one there. Where was the person I was supposed to meet? Had all the effort and risk been in vain? Then I found an old transmitter in the snow. An ancient device for transmitting text messages. The technology was so old and primitive that it could not be traced or intercepted by modern means. On the device I found a message.
“I want to bring to light the dark machinations of Shubin. For security reasons, I must remain anonymous. Communication only via this device. Currently, Shubin, with the help of the Thiago Lobby, is planning to get other companies out of the way. With unfair means they try to secure the supremacy in mining. I’ll get back to you when I have more information.“
Puzzled, I looked first at the transmitter and then into the campfire. Was that all there was to it? That the corporations in Stanton try to dominate everything has already been painfully experienced by the free peoples. That was no news. I was more interested in what secret conversations Shubin had with Hurston Dynamics and what connections Shubin had to the Nine Tails and to Grim Hex. At least I had another confirmation that Shubin was working with the Thiago Lobby. Who was this Thiago Lobby and why had they searched my onboard computers? In a reply I wrote what information I needed. Then I packed up the transmitter and headed back. Through the opening that led to the outside I could see that it was getting lighter and lighter. The day was dawning. It was high time to leave.
The rising star of Stanton conjured warm, orange light reflections on the ice of the frozen lake. With the ROC, I chased back to my Cutlass. I had no eyes for the beauty of the sunrise. My thoughts circled. Thiago, Shubin, Enos, killer satellites. There were so many pieces to the puzzle, I just couldn’t find a connection.
When I arrived at my Cutlass I was again faced with a problem. The transmitter no longer had a connection. It only worked over short distances. I was too far from the city to send or receive messages. I had to find a way to increase the range. But for this I needed the “White-Rabbit”.
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