A smuggling mission took me through ice and fire.
An icy storm was raging. It was dark and cold. I had landed right in front of the building. The walk from the White Rabbit’s cargo ramp to the outpost’s airlock was short. Still, it took me longer than I thought. With heavy steps I struggled against the storm. If the wind hadn’t been so loud, the crunching of the snow under my feet could have been heard. The planet Microtech and its three moons were ice spheres. They were farthest from Stanton’s central star and received little heat. I should have known better, and yet I was wearing only light armor. The cold bored through my spacesuit like sharp needles. I guess I hadn’t learned anything when I almost froze to death on the skyscraper in New Babbage.
Even in the outpost, the storm was unmistakable. The wind tugged at the walls and the roof. It pounded the building like an icy fist. The wall paneling rattled like the teeth of a freezing man. It was uncomfortable. If I had stayed longer, I would have worried whether the building could withstand the force of the ice storm. But I had no intention of staying longer than necessary. I grabbed the package and left as quickly as I had come.
Supply flights for drug production were a time-sensitive matter. Not because the goods were perishable. You never knew who would show up unexpectedly. And when someone did show up, they were usually not friendly contemporaries. The key to success was to be invisible, to stay under the radar. And if you did show up, it was best to disappear quickly. After launching from the outpost, I disappeared with the White Rabbit, we melted into the snow and ice in the darkness of the night.
I had to take the package to a junkyard on another moon. Another ice sphere, the same cold. Here, too, a strong wind blew. It rushed through the icy skeletons of stranded spaceships. Large cranes stood in the junkyard. Their claws blew back and forth in the wind as if they were gently lulling themselves into an icy sleep. This time it was a longer walk from the landing site to the building. I had 15 minutes before the icy grip of cold death would take hold of me. And then there was the uncertainty. Would someone come? Was someone already here, lurking in ambush? There were plenty of hiding places for an ambush in the junkyard. As fast as the wind allowed, I ran to the building and delivered the package on the lower floor. But that was not the end of my mission. I had to use the stairs outside to get to the upper floor to pick up a small package of drugs. I was not comfortable being in the junkyard for so long, being exposed to the dangers for so long. The dangers of the cold. The danger of being discovered.
After picking up the package and leaving the icy junkyard, I was on approach to the orbital station Port Tressler, the destination for my delivery. At least it was a place without ice and snow. I was just about to get permission to land when an alarm sounded. The shields flared up and within seconds had collapsed to 50%. Without knowing what was going on, I gave full thrust. The engines roared and catapulted the White Rabbit toward the planet. The impacts of the projectiles became less. I disengaged the engines, turned the ship 180 degrees and continued flying backwards at maximum speed. I pointed the scanner at my attacker. It was an Aurora. Who the hell attacked a Star Runner with an Aurora? I didn’t have time to think. Suddenly, a jolt went through my ship. Flames were visible through the cockpit window. The gravity of Microtech had seized me. I dived uncontrollably into the atmosphere of the planet. The Star Runner was engulfed in fire. The altitude display raced so fast I couldn’t read the numbers. In free fall, I plummeted toward the ground. The Aurora was still pursuing me. I gave full thrust to break the fall. The engines fought against gravity. The Aurora came closer. Then it too dipped into the atmosphere and was engulfed in flames. Both plunged lower. Then the Aurora sped past me in the form of a fireball. My White Rabbit gained altitude. The powerful main engines had intercepted the dive. The Aurora continued to plummet and did not resurface.
Finally, I was able to escape the grip of Microtech’s gravity and landed on Port Tressler. I had no idea who had attacked me. Pirates? Competitors? The powers behind ENOS or the killer satellite? The Thiago lobby? The planetary system Microtech remained a hot spot for me. But I had to stay here and keep in touch with my informer at Shubin to learn more about the background of ENOS and the killer satellite. It was a game of fire.
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