Smuggling to Lorville had ups and downs. The activists were dissatisfied. Would I succeed in improving the situation?
It was more a coincidence than a purposeful search. Among all the nicks, wounds and scars, this hole stood out. As if the battered planet wanted to send Hurston a sign. Circular with a series of gigantic steps, the quarry reached deep into the planet. At first sight it looked like the borehole in Levski. At the sight, memories and longings of my old homeland overwhelmed me. Curious, I changed course and dove with the White-Rabbit down into the workings of Hurston’s merciless mining.
At the bottom of the depression lay old discarded containers. Traces and remnants of the planet’s exploitation were everywhere. Despite everything, the place was perfect. It was in the weapons-free zone of Lorville, and yet it was protected from prying eyes. The hole was so deep and narrow that even the gigantic Hurston Dynamics building could not be seen. It was the ideal transshipment point for contraband. With a single flight, I could bring large quantities to Hurston with the White-Rabbit and store them temporarily in the containers. From here it was possible to smuggle the goods in portions in a backpack to Lorville with little effort. I gave the place the name Rabbit-Hole.
Again and again I drove with the Dragonfly to the Rabbit-Hole. With the hoverbike, the route was easily doable, despite some rough terrain. With a fully packed backpack I went back to the Perimeter Gate in Lorville. But one problem remained. With each trip, I was only able to smuggle a small amount of goods into Lorville. Each trip remained a drop in the bucket. The drop evaporated faster than I could bring the next one. With each passing day, the activists’ dissatisfaction with my work grew. They scolded me and called me a despondent smuggler. I could not and would not understand why they spat into the hand that was held out to help them. But giving up was not an option for me either.
One evening Anton wanted to meet me at the M&V Bar. We sat at a table opposite each other. Protected from unwanted looks and ears, in an undisturbed corner of the bar. It was the same corner where I had sat with the guy from the resistance a few weeks ago. Again I had a glass of whiskey-cola in my hand. Again I braced myself to be insulted.
“Look, this can’t go on. Your deliveries in homeopathic doses bring nothing. The action has to really get going now.” Anton’s eyes were narrowed to slits. He looked at me urgently and directly. I didn’t know what was sharper. His look or his tone.
Attack is the best defense I thought to myself and shot back in equally sharp tones. “I could give you the stuff by the box in the dumpster lot at the L19 District. If you had a way to get the stuff past customs and into the city.”
Anton leaned back, tilted his head slightly, and replied flippantly. “No problem. The freight foreman from the L19 container yard belongs to our movement. What’s at his place can be brought into the city without customs and declaration. Only how are you going to get your crates there unnoticed?”
Even as Anton spoke, I felt hot and cold. I had gone out on a limb with my remark. I never expected Anton to pick up the ball I had thrown at his head. Husky had shown me a way to fly unnoticed into the container area, but without a big ship it was impossible to implement the plan. And I didn’t have a big ship. However, I did not want to give myself a nakedness. I had to keep up the bluff.
“I know a way to land in the container area unnoticed with a ship.” My voice sounded more confident than I felt. I could only hope that Anton didn’t see through me.
“And how is that going to work? The approach control radar will pick you up. You can’t get there without being detected. Not even with a super stealth ship. And even if the radar doesn’t pick you up, it won’t escape the many eyes in Lorville. Someone will notice if there is a ship in the container area that doesn’t belong there and report it. Hurston has his spies everywhere.”
Emphatically calm, I finished my whiskey and coke, stood up and leaned down to Anton. “You take care of the safe removal from the container area and let me worry about the delivery.”
Without another word, I left the bar. The air outside was different, but not better. Instead of smoke and alcohol, there was dust and dirt in the air. With a groan, I leaned on a railing. Where had I maneuvered myself into. A deep abyss lay before me. Just how deep it was was brought home to me beyond the railing. I looked directly into one of the large shafts of Lorville. It reached down bottomless. On the opposite side of the shaft was the entrance to the hospital. If my grandiose words were not followed by action now, with luck I would wake up there. With less luck, somewhere out on the savannah of Hurston. Coughing, I hung my head and looked back down the shaft. Down there on a landing platform was an orange MPUV van. A thought that had planted itself in my head a few days ago blossomed like a flower. I remembered being transported to Nordlicht Eins in an MPUV. That was it, that was part of the solution. Relieved, I let my head fall back into my neck. Above me was a starless night-black sky. Then something burned in my eye. One of the rare rains on Hurston was starting. The raindrops were more clumps of dirt than water and hurt my skin. I pulled my jacket over my head and walked quickly back to the sleeping quarters.
The next day, I bought an MPUV at New Deal. The MPUV would not attract attention in the container area. It was big enough to hold a lot of boxes, yet small enough to be transported in a big ship. But here was the rub. I still didn’t have a big ship. For the time being, I still had to use the Dragonfly to get the goods from the Rabbit-Hole to Lorville.
So I set off again with my backpack. On the way to the Perimeter Gate, I ran into another person, lost in thought. It was Hermieoth. He was just getting his hover quad. We decided to ride together. However, we did not get far. Hermieoth’s quad broke down. While he was trying to repair his vehicle, I asked him about the Free Riders of Stanton. To my surprise, he didn’t just know the biker club. Hermieoth, the righteous Yellowhand Security employee, was a member of the Free Riders of Stanton. I couldn’t help but grin. However, he distanced himself from hard drugs and other criminal activity.
“The Free Riders, after all, set out to help the downtrodden workers on Hurston. We can’t do that legally. We have to smuggle stuff into Lorville.” Tense as a bow, I looked at Hermieoth. How would he answer this.
His answer came in his usual calm manner. “Well, that always depends on what is being smuggled.”
“Things for daily use that help the workers. DMC pants, for example. You can buy them anywhere in the Stanton system. It’s just on Hurston that they’re banned.”
“I don’t see a problem with that kind of stuff being smuggled into Lorville. If you ever need a big ship, let me know.”
I was speechless. I had not expected this. Hermieoth was the solution to my smuggling problem. Excitedly, I told him how Husky had landed in the container area of Lorville without being detected by radar and about my MPUV.
“No problem. We’ll do that as you planned. A Liberator would be ideal for transporting another ship. Unfortunately, mine, the ‘Pentragon’, is not available right now. But your MPUV will fit into the Starlifter that I have as a spare ship. I’d like to do the loading in orbit, though.” Hermieoth radiated a calmness and composure that infected me.
I landed the MPUV right next to the containers in the Rabbit Hole. There was no wind, so the conditions for loading were good. I squeezed as much as I could into the small ship. With each box I loaded, my excitement grew. It would have taken me months with a backpack and the Dragonfly to get as much to Lorville as I was now packing into the cargo hold. It was perfect. My camouflage also fit. I was already wearing the work suit I had captured from the technicians in the bunker. Together with the MPUV I gave the perfect image of an official technician of Hurston. No one would suspect anything if they saw me here or in the container area.
In the orbit of Hurston was the rendezvous with Hermieoth. Carefully, I maneuvered the MPUV through the open rear ramp into the Starlifter. There wasn’t much room. Inch by inch, I inched my way forward. Hermieoth stood in the cargo deck and briefed me.
Then came his command. “Good. Shut down thrusters.”
The big stern ramp closed. The MPUV with the goods for Lorville was safely parked in the Starlifter. The first part was done. The difficult one was yet to come.
“I’m flying to Lorville and requesting a landing permit as normal, right”, Hermieoth asked.
“That’s right. Just above the hangar, I’m flying the MPUV out of the Starlifter. Then I’m under the radar and can fly unnoticed to the container area. This way, flight control doesn’t notice the second ship.”
The words sounded so simple. At the same time, I concealed the fact that I had never done anything like this before. I had no idea whether I would really make it. Whether I would find the right way through the radar gap. There was only one narrow spot where I could fly unnoticed to the container area L19. Husky had shown me the spot. However, I was flying the mother ship at the time and could only watch from a distance as Husky flew through the radar gap together with Brubacker.
Then the moment of truth had come. The Starlifter’s tail ramp opened and revealed the L19 District. At the sight of the red pipes and the apartment block that looked like a giant container crane, my knees buckled. Would the plan really work? With a hiss, the cockpit door of the MPUV closed. There was no turning back. Slowly I flew backwards out of the Starlifter. Hermieoth disappeared into the hangar with the big cargo ship below me. My MPUV hovered alone like a small orange dot above the seemingly endless concrete surface of the Teasa Spaceport.
A bit lost I looked out of the cockpit. Where was I, where did I have to go? Then I noticed the building I had memorized as a waypoint. I set course and flew as low as possible to the invisible gap in the radar screen. At any moment I expected to be detected and the autopilot to take over. The living area of the L19 came closer. The observation deck from which one had a good view of the spaceport was already clearly visible. I turned right and flew over the old landing pad where Husky had landed. The MPUV glided only a few meters between two buildings. Then containers were visible under the small transporter. High as houses they piled up. I landed right next to the administration building and the containers. The orange MPUV was in comparison not much more than a leaf in the forest that gently sank to the ground in autumn.
Then ground contact, the engines fell silent. I sat motionless for what felt like an eternity. My feelings fluctuated between exhaustion and jubilation. I had made it.
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