I had a daring plan to give my Star Runner a new identity.
The situation was tricky. No matter how I did it, I ran the risk of being tracked down.On the one hand, I could not use my Star Runner. It was on the wanted list of some powers. On the other hand, it was too risky to get the information from the comm array and from my informant without the Star Runner. I needed the scanning station from my ‘White-Rabbit’. Somehow I had to get out of this predicament. I had an idea how to do it. It was another audacious plan. I was on the flight to the planetary system Crusader when I got a message from Kjeld. Like a wet sack, I fell on the bed in my Cutlass with relief. I suddenly felt as light as if I were on a moon at only 0.1g. Kjeld was still alive. After he didn’t show up for our meeting, I had feared that someone had taken him out.
Kjeld wanted to meet me at the junkyard on the Crusader moon Daymar. After I landed, I was presented with a confusing picture. A Prospector stood among all the scrap parts. Next to it stood Kjeld in a poor spacesuit made of scraps and held together only by several layers of tape.My astonishment was clearly audible in my voice. “Kjeld what is that? Did you get that spacesuit at a second hand store?”
“Can you give me a ride in your Cutlass? I want to get rid of this Prospector. I’ll tell you all about it on the flight. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Without wasting any time, we boarded the Cutlass and thundered across the sandy landscape of Daymar. Kjeld started telling funny things. About a book that was a bullet. And about a cult and that he had suddenly woken up in the suit. I didn’t understand a word he was saying. I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t taken drugs. His stories sounded like a heavy trip.We left the atmosphere of Daymar and headed for the gas giant Crusader. I told Kjeld about my dilemma with my ‘White-Rabbit’ and that he could help me on Orison to give my Star Runner a new identity.
Now Kjeld was confused. “What exactly are you planning to do? And what is your plan?”
“When a ship is scanned or registered on a landing”, I began to explain “the ship is identified by its serial number. So my Star Runner needs a new serial number. Then no one will know it’s the ‘White-Rabbit’ and I can fly her around without worry.”
Kjeld looked at me in irritation. “A new serial number? Ah ha. And how are you going to do that?”
“I need to find a computer terminal in the shipyard on Orison that’s a bit out of the way and poorly secured. There I’ll try to hack into the Crusader Industries database. In the database I can give my Star Runner a new serial number. Quite simple, actually. In theory.” I shrugged, sounding completely confident.
“And how can I help you with that? I don’t know anything about hacking or Orison.”
I gulped. “Oh. I thought you knew your way around Orison and could show me the way to the shipyard. Oh well, we’ll find our way.”
My confidence faded as we approached Orison. It was night. The floating platforms emerged from the clouds. The lower we got the more clearly they were visible. It was my first flight to Orison, and the sight fascinated me. The problem was, I had no idea where to go. I had no idea which platform was the spaceport. Kjeld didn’t know either. We flew from platform to platform. Over shipyards, docks, gas tanks and residential buildings. The fuel gauge had already dropped below 75% and we were still not finding anything. The way back into orbit was long and would consume a lot of fuel. If the gas giant wasn’t going to swallow us up, I had to make my way back in time. And then finally I got the message to contact ATC. We had found the spaceport.
After landing, I changed clothes and explained the rest of the plan to Kjeld.
“We’ll pretend to be shipyard workers or warehouse workers. I brought extra matching clothes.”
“And what do I do? With my second hand suit, I’m pretty conspicuous.”
Somewhat perplexed, I looked at Kjeld. “Uh right. You can’t walk around like that. Look in the spinner. There’s still stuff in there. They might fit you.”
I was putting on a bandana and adjusting my goggles when Kjeld stood in front of me with his arms outstretched. “Fits like a glove. Looks believable, doesn’t it?”
I laughed. “Yeah it fits. I’d say we look like the dorks on duty walking around confused.”
If I had known how right I was going to be. A short time later, we were standing on the platform of Orison’s Skyway Shuttle Service. We had no idea where we were going. A bit lost, we looked around and finally found an overview map of the Cloud City. One stop on the Skyway Shuttle sounded promising. The Providence Industrial Platform. A shuttle took us to our destination.
The Providence Platform was exactly the place we had been looking for. The platform was a part of the shipyard that was open to visitors. Now we just had to find a remote computer terminal where I could hack into the Crusader Industries database. Again we wandered haphazardly until a sign caught my eye – “Network Data Hub“. I grinned, bull’s eye, access to the Crusader Industries data network. Good thing Orison had so many signs.
A long ladder went down and lost itself in nothingness. Down there had to be the terminal. I began the descent. Kjeld stayed at the top and stood guard. There was no end to the ladder. It went lower and lower. I had the feeling I was climbing down into the clouds. At the bottom I stood on a tiny platform that seemed to float freely in the clouds. There was nothing around me. No matter in which direction I looked, only black emptiness. A feeling of dizziness arose in me. I held on to the railing and carefully felt my way to the terminal. The hack was simple, almost too simple. In no time at all, I had given the ‘White-Rabbit’ a new serial number. Then I noticed the alarm. Headquarters had been alerted that there was unauthorized access from this terminal.
“Kjeld we have to go!” I shouted as I climbed the ladder in a rush.
“There are guards coming from the direction we came from.” I heard Kjeld say as I reached the top of the ladder.
“Let’s get out of here in the other direction.” My urge to get away really fast made my steps quicken.
“Don’t run too fast. Act normal.” Kjeld admonished, who was a little behind me. We wandered across the platform and stood again and again in front of closed doors. Finally we reached a storage area where there were large containers. Kjeld checked the other side of the warehouse. “There’s a sign that says ‘Transit’.” We followed some stairs and finally reached the Skyway Shuttle. Relief burst out of me. “On to the spaceport and let’s go.”
We had just climbed into the shuttle when someone came running and rushed into the shuttle with us. My heart stopped. Was this someone from security? The guy said nothing and sat down in the seat right by the exit. Once at the Spaceport, he followed us into the elevator and through customs. We didn’t dare speak. Who was he? Why was he following us? At the ship terminals, we parted ways. Kjeld went to get a burger, and I had the Cutlass ready to go. As Kjeld came up to me with his burger in hand, I whispered to him. “Hangar 7.”
We saw the guy standing at the ship terminals as the elevator to the hangar closed its doors. Kjeld patted me on the shoulder. “Done. And the guy probably didn’t want anything from us. He was probably just in a hurry. With his spacesuit on, he didn’t look like security.” Aboard the Cutlass, he continued. “Ah one thing I hadn’t told you. There was a data carrier hidden aboard your ‘White Rabbit’. One of my people was able to recover it. It’s encrypted, though.”
For a moment I was speechless. “What was on board with me? Why didn’t I know about it. How long has it been hidden there? And what’s on it?”
Kjeld shrugged. “I don’t know. To read the data we have to decrypt it. Can we use the shipboard computers to do that?””The Cutlass’ computers can’t do that. We need the systems from the Star Runner for that. Let’s fly to Hurston together. That’s where I put the ‘White Rabbit’ into storage.”
The floating platforms of the cloud city of Orison disappeared behind us into the darkness of the night.
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