Log #133 – Price of freedom

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I got a clue where Shubin’s captured informant was. The price to get him back to freedom was high.

ArcCorp, Area18. The deep urban canyons and the constant advertising weighed on my mind. Everywhere it blinked and lit up, accompanied by a continuous sound system. That Twitch wanted to see me did not lift my mood. She probably wanted to call in a favor that I owed her. This could become uncomfortable at most. Twitch did her business the hard way. She sat in her chair on the observation deck as usual, flanked by bodyguards, the ArcCorp skyline in the background. Her cool demeanor contrasted with her hot looks.

“Zero, I heard you lost your informant at Shubin.”
“Yeah, we were trying to get him out. Someone was faster and arrested him.”
“Boy, you’re just too slow. Of course I’m one step ahead of you. I know where your informant is.”
“How, where? In Klescher?” my voice almost rolled over.
“Prisoners who do not officially exist are not taken to Klescher. They are stored in cryo capsules aboard a Caterpillar. Some of my men are being held there, too.”
Twitch seemed extremely cool. Almost bored, she continued. “I’ll offer you a deal. I’ll help you with a rescue operation if you free my people too.”

Stunned, I looked at Twitch. “OK sure. Where do I have to go? What do you want me to do?”
Twitch leaned back and looked down at me from above. “I’ll make sure the Caterpillar breaks down and drifts in space unable to maneuver. Then you can get on board and shut down the cryo capsules. After that you disappear. I don’t want my people to see your face. I’ll send a second team to pick up the people and give them medical attention.”
“If it’s nothing else,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.
“Don’t think it’s going to be a walk in the park. The Caterpillar has escort fighters and there are armed guards on board.” Twitch’s eyes formed into narrow slits. Piercingly, she looked at me, leaning forward. “And by all means, don’t shut off the other cryo pods. If the wrong prisoners wake up, we’ll have a bigger problem.”
My newfound confidence was fading. “And how do I know which capsules to turn off? I’ve never seen my informant.” Discomfort resonated in my voice.
“I’ll get you all the information when the time comes. Stay in the city. And don’t think this makes us even. You can go.” Twitch looked past me and paid no further attention.

For days I had been waiting for the signal from Twitch. In the meantime, I had informed Brubacker and Kjeld. Both of them wanted to help with the rescue operation. Luckily. The action was a bit too big for me alone. I could use all the help I could get. Bored, I strolled through the alleys of Area18, killing time. Then finally the message from Twitch came. The time had come.

At the orbital station Bajini Point I met up with Brubacker. He had brought a friend with him. Cathargo. After informing both of them, a sigh was heard from Carthago. 
“I feel the need to put on stronger armor. Sounds like I could use it.” 
Carthago disappeared in the direction of the Habs. I looked at Brubacker.
“Why did you bring him in?”
“We should let more people in on this. If something happens to us the information won’t be lost with us. The more know about the story the better.”
Brubacker and I looked out the window at the stars. A Hammerhead was approaching the space station. 
“Where is Kjeld, anyway?” asked Brubacker.
“He’s on his way to pick us up here.”
Then there was a crackle in my radio. “Root here. Zero can you hear me? We’ve arrived but can’t land with the big ship. Come out and board in EVA.”
“Root, you didn’t come in with the Hammerhead.”
“Yes we did, and we have support from the Yellowhands.”
I had to grin. 

A short time later, Brubacker, Carthago and I were aboard the Hammerhead. At a briefing, I briefed Kjeld on the plan. 
“The first thing we have to do is disable the comm array so our action will go unnoticed. Then we fly to the Caterpillar, eliminate the escort fighters, board, take out the guards, and disable the targets’ cryo pods.”
“OK I’ll inform my people. Which comm array do we need to get to? And can you disable that one without any problems?”
“My easiest exercise. Just watch my back. And after you drop me off, leave the exclusion zone immediately. It’s enough if I get a Crimestat.” 

One quantum jump later, we had reached the destination. I left the Hammerhead via the airlock and floated in EVA to the comm array. The hacking chip firmly in my hand. I entered the satellite via the maintenance bay. The control room was shrouded in a greenish light. There was no atmosphere and no gravity. With an oppressive feeling I looked around. Was I alone? Memories rose up in me. Memories of ambushes in comm arrays. 

At the service monitor, I started the hack. The hacking chip began to search for gaps. Slowly it entered the system. The first door in the system opened. I waited impatiently. The hacking chip was far from reaching its destination.
“Root for Zero. We’ve been in the exclusion zone too long and have a crimestat. All aboard.”
“Keep your eyes open. I don’t want to be surprised by bounty hunters or BlackJack Security.” 
Curses. We were no longer under the radar. Now security knew someone was at the comm array without authorization. A race against time began.

Who was faster. My hacking chip or the security? The hack had reached phase 3. Two more phases. I listened to the silence. At the moment I could do nothing but wait. Wait for the attack of the security or for the successful hack. I hoped that the crew in the Hammerhead could stop any attacker. Then the moment had come. Phase 5 was complete. I had access and shut down the comm array. The lights went out. A red emergency light enveloped the control room in a dim glow.

I sent Root the message to pick me up. In EVA, I floated toward the Hammerhead. In the far distance, I could make out the warship. Behind me shone the city-planet ArcCorp. The deactivated Comm Array floated in front of it like a dark shadow. The Hammerhead was getting bigger and bigger. It came closer and closer. 

Suddenly, the starship’s shields lit up. Laser flashes pelted the hull like hailstones. I had no idea where the attack was coming from. One of the turrets returned fire. A staccato of lightning was visible in front of me, right next to the airlock. I had to get through the storm to get on board. The airlock opened. At full speed, I headed for the open mouth of the Hammerhead.  The fireworks increased in intensity. Unbraked, I flew into the airlock. Gravity seized me. I lost my balance, hit the ground and stayed on my stomach.

When I looked up, Kjeld was standing next to me.
“Are you okay?” he reached out and helped me to my feet.
“Yes. Part 1 done. The comm array is deactivated. We can fly to the Caterpillar.”
Kjeld gave the command to quantum jump. We were on our way to the difficult part of the mission.

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