I had to risk a lot for someone else to get a reward. The action brought back memories of earlier events. Memories of satellites with which I wanted nothing more to do.
The businessman nodded to the guards. Was that a sign? For me there was no way out, no way to escape. The guards stood at the only exit of the trade center from the Central Business District. The background noise swelled from a light hiss to an ominous storm. It felt like being in a tunnel that amplified every sound with a reverb multiple times. Once again I was too gullible and was trapped. The businessman turned back to me.
“I tipped someone off. I am entitled to a reward for that. However, the person needs help to turn the tip into money. Go to Reclamation & Disposal and bring me what is due to me. After that, we can talk about your desire.”
The storm in my ears had subsided. Calm had returned. Mustering, I looked at the businessman, weighing his words. This was a chance, a chance I should seize. Nodding gently, I turned away.
“One more thing.” The businessman’s voice was muffled. “When you bring me my reward. Please be inconspicuous. No one needs to see what you bring me.”
At Reclamation & Disposal, Clovus Darneely was still behind the counter. The same old guy from a few years ago.
Back then I had asked for a job. He didn’t have one for me, though. Today things looked different. He spoke of an unexpected opportunity that had come his way and wanted me to get something for him. The prototype of a chip, from a crashed satellite. All the alarm bells were ringing inside me. Was Hurston Dynamics building another killer satellite? I wouldn’t put it past that greedy family. I was not only supposed to recover the chip, but also to decode it in a bunker facility. It was just like when we had found the crashed prototype of the killer satellite. Back then we had a Carrack with a full crew. We were able to take out the defenses. This time I was alone. I had to figure out how to get into the bunker without shooting my way out.
The crashed satellite had torn a deep furrow in the ground. Smoke rose, flames blazed from the wreckage. I landed my Cutlass directly at the crash site. There was nothing to be seen on the radar far and wide. I seemed to be alone. Just in case, the recovery should look official. To do this, I had on one of the captured suits of armor from Hurston Security. It was one of the heavy armors. It offered a high level of protection but was difficult to wear.
Only with effort I could climb the mound of earth that the satellite had piled up on impact. Sweat was pouring out of all my pores. For a short moment I sat down to take a breath. I had to keep going up. Up onto the satellite. The access to the circuit boards was on the top. Ponderously, I climbed up bent metal struts. Cursing, I wished I had a light suit of armor. Finally at the top I realized that the satellite was broken in two. The access to the circuit boards was in the other piece. I stood on the wrong side enveloped in flames and stared down into the abyss that separated the two pieces. A jump was the only option. Could it work with the heavy armor? I had no other choice and took a running start. My footsteps sounded like hammer blows, metal on metal. Boom, boom, boom. The precipice was getting closer. I reached the edge and jumped. The flight through the air was silent. The other side came closer, was within reach. But not close enough, or was it? There was a crash on my impact. Breathing heavily, I straightened up. I was over on the other side. Now nothing stood in the way of recovering the board with the prototype. TDC-XX was written on the board. Memories of a previous job came back to me. Also at that time I had to recover a TDC-XX from a crashed satellite. The mission then was to destroy it before the prototype fell into the wrong hands. This time I delivered it into the wrong hands. At least from Hurston Dynamics’ point of view. After making sure there were no weapons on the satellite, I made my way to the bunker.
It was dark and even as I approached, the defense towers captured the Cutlass. Without an official order, I was not allowed to approach the facility, let alone enter it. I had reckoned with that and landed a short distance away. I covered the rest of the distance with my Dragonfly. It was small, inconspicuous and could better avoid the air defenses. However, the turrets were the least of my problems. A spaceship was behind the facility. Someone was here. A bounty hunter? A mercenary? A pirate? No matter who the other person was. I had to assume that she was trigger-happy and better trained than the guards in the bunker. At the freight elevator that went down into the depths of the facility, I had confirmation. The elevator was on the lower level, so the other person was down in the bunker. No shots were heard. Whoever was here had an official mission. Was I expected?
“Get out of here,” said a voice inside me. “It’s not worth the risk”.
A few seconds later, the elevator came up. The other voice inside me had pushed the elevator button.
Once at the bottom, I stumbled over dead bodies. Guards in black and yellow armor, pirates in red and green armor, they were all over the place. An oppressive silence was in the air. No one was to be seen. I moved carefully along the walls through the facility, trying to avoid any noise. Should someone still be there, I wanted to sneak past them unnoticed. Whereby sneaking in the heavy armor was not so easy. At the foot of a staircase, I held my breath and listened to the silence. Suddenly someone came running down the stairs directly towards me, a weapon at the ready. It all happened incredibly fast, there was no time to react. The figure ran past me, kept running and disappeared around a corner. Had it mistaken me for a guard? Had my disguise worked? I took the opportunity and ran to the server room. While the computer deciphered the chip, I hid in an alcove. It took endless seconds. The time of waiting was agonizing.
When the computer finally finished its work, the perilous journey back began. Again I crept cautiously through the facility. Hoped not to run into anyone. Was the other person still there? Would she mistake me for a guard again and ignore me? It was silent. A silence that tugged at my nerves. Finally I reached the elevator. It was upstairs. It looked like the other one had left the bunker.
As fast as possible I went up and back to the Cutlass with my Dragonfly. The ride through the night was uncontrolled. I wanted to get away, let’s get away. My speed was much too high. It was almost impossible to avoid the obstacles that suddenly appeared in the headlights. Then a contact popped up on the radar. I stopped, turned off the lights, played dead. A Freelancer landed by the bunker. My God was something going on here. Had he come for me? Cautiously, I drove on through the darkness without lights. Finally I reached my Cutlass and disappeared in low-level flight in the blackness of the night.
A few hours later, I was back in the Central Business District. Clovus Darneely had given me a nicely decorated envelope for the businessman. I didn’t want to know what it contained. Neither was I interested in what was on the computer chip, let alone what kind of chip it was. Just don’t get into any conspiracies again. Smuggling goods to Lorville for the workers cleanly and stress-free was all I wanted. The businessman sat casually on a sofa. In the background, the wall of water was gently lapping away. It was a soothing sound.
“Satisfied”, I asked as I handed him the envelope. Actually, the question was superfluous; anything else would have been impertinent.
“Wonderful. My reward. Now we can do business. And I am also entitled to a reward for this business.”
All that came out of me was a barely perceptible “aha.”
“You transport whatever you want to Lorville. Come straight to me. I’ll take care of the rest. I’ll keep part of the load for myself. My reward.”
A cheeky grin was on his face. The respected businessman. Corrupt he was. As corrupt as all successful people on this dirty planet. I shouldn’t mind if it helped the workers on Hurston. After all, the gates were now wide open for me. I could now fly whole shiploads to Lorville without worrying about customs.
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