My salvage mission took me into the ice hell. The circumstances were difficult. I began to have doubts.
Calliope, the most unreal of the moons of Microtech. If you wanted to get an idea of what it’s like when hell freezes over, this was the place to be. Ice, snow, black rock, merciless storms and low-hanging clouds. The little light that made it to the surface made the day seem little more than twilight.
The view of the ice sphere from the cockpit of the 400i was like the calm before the storm. From space, the moon looked unspectacular. But I knew what to expect. The investigation of the wrecks on Celin and Yela would seem like a walk in the park in comparison. Yet my salvage mission so far had not been a walk in the park. The two Caterpillars on Celin and Yela had broken into several pieces. It was tedious work sifting through the wreckage. I had not found any computer boards. But a lot of rations and medical equipment. Thoughtfully I stood in the cockpit for quite a while before diving into the rough atmosphere of Calliope with the 400i.
Finding the wreck was no easy task. It was over 200 km away from the outpost that served as a landmark. Only a slight deviation from the course would take me several kilometers past the wreck. My hope was to see smoke or fire. But all I saw were gray white clouds above me and black white landscape below me. I did not find a wreck. I began a grid search. Nothing. It was exasperating. Finally I landed and tried to find more clues on the map. But even on the holo table of the 400i I found only rough indications. The starting point, direction and distance. It seemed hopeless. Was there even a chance to find the wreck?
I needed some additional clue. Through the panoramic window I looked out onto the lunar surface.
“Where did you hide the wreck?”
The question seemed kind of silly to me. As if I expected the moon to send me a sign. But then something happened. Not out on the moon, but in my head. An idea. At first cold and inaccessible it slowly thawed and took shape. The 400i’s mapping system had a link to several mapping services. In a database where anomalies were listed, I found an entry about an unknown weak energy burst in Calliope’s orbit. Nothing special. It could be anything. An asteroid that had entered the atmosphere and burned up. Or a spacecraft that crashed uncontrolled on the moon surface. The calculated impact point was only 20 km away. It was my best chance, so I set off.
From some distance I could see smoke rising from the debris field. It was another Caterpillar. I landed my spaceship a safe distance away and rode the Tumbril Cyclon the last bit. The weather was….Calliope. I couldn’t describe it any other way. The temperatures were freezing, the wind strong. In order to be protected as best as possible, I had put on the protective suit for extreme cold. In it I felt totally immobile. The thing was stiff and heavy. But it was better to be restricted in movement than to freeze to death.
First I had to get into the cockpit and check if it was the ship I was looking for. I laboriously worked my way through bent steel beams and cargo containers lying around. There was no direct way. It was like being in a maze. Now the bulky protective suit took its revenge. It was no help when climbing over crates and crawling under fallen steel plates. After exhausting long minutes, I finally reached the cockpit. On the instrument panel was a plaque with the ship’s registration number. Ice crystals had settled on it. The number was unrecognizable. I wiped the ice away with my thumb. Quietly, the white flakes trickled off the plaque and revealed the numbers. There was no doubt. The Caterpillar was one of the ships that X had sent on the journey.
A glance at the life support systems gave me the certainty of having enough time. Another hour and 10 minutes the suit could protect me from the merciless cold. That should be enough to search the wreck. I inspected one piece of debris after the other. First, I found lots of rations again. I wondered if X had really transported computer boards, or if they were supply flights. But then I found a box for special cargo. It was red and lay on the gangway of the first cargo module. My heart started to race. Had I finally found what I was looking for? The box was not locked. Carefully, I opened the latch. Then I slowly flipped open the lid. Irritated, I looked at what was visible in the glow of my helmet lamp. Helmets. They were rare custom-made ones. And toy guns. Stupid things with which you could shoot plastic pins to annoy others. What the hell was going on here? Why were there toys hidden in this ship? Why was someone trying to prevent this ship from reaching its destination? Was there more to this than I could see? Or was I being pranked?
Suddenly, I started to shake.
“Damn it Zero. Get a grip”, I tried to calm myself down.
But it wasn’t the excitement, it wasn’t the anger that made me shiver. It was that I was cold. Freezing cold. Looking at the life support systems made me freeze. My body temperature had dropped to 35 degrees Celsius. I had six minutes left before cold death. A short time ago, it had been almost 60 minutes. The suit had to have a defect. I didn’t have time for analysis or repair. I had to get back to my ship as quickly as possible. Damn. I had landed that 5 kilometers away. For safety reasons. Now safety became a danger. On foot, I had no chance of getting to the 400i in time. Fortunately, I had the Tumbril Cyclon. But even with the fast ground vehicle, it was difficult to cover the distance in the difficult terrain in six minutes. And it wasn’t six minutes anymore, by now it was only five.
Hectically I rushed out of the wreck. I stumbled over a lump of ice and could only keep myself on my feet with difficulty. Stumbling, I reached the quietly humming Tumbril. Somehow I struggled into the driver’s seat. I cursed at the bulky cold suit. Barely in the driver’s seat, I gave it full throttle. The wheels spun briefly on the icy ground. Chunks of ice and stones flew. Then the vehicle sped forward.
“You’re going too fast. You’re losing control.” A voice inside me warned to drive a little more carefully. The Tumbril flew over the moon surface. It kept losing contact with the ground. When landing, I could hardly maintain the direction. Constantly the vehicle broke away. Finally, I reached the 400i. With a loud crash, I stopped on the cargo elevator. Finally, I was in the safety of the ship. Shivering, I took off my helmet. Warm air flowed around my face.
I was glad to leave Calliope again. This frozen hell. I still had not found what I was looking for. My mission seemed more and more strange to me. Already the way the order was assigned to me was dubious. Had I overlooked something? Restless and nervous I started the flight to my next destination. Would I have more luck with the next wrecks? Halfway to ArcCorp, I stopped the Quantum drive. It was time for a break. Time to warm up. For what seemed like an eternity, I stood under the hot shower. The water not only warmed my body, it caressed my soul. A feeling of calm and peace warmed me from the inside.
After the shower, I walked through the ship and switched the lights to emergency. It was pleasant. The glaring white gave way to a soft green. Only dimly lit was the interior of the 400i. The stars seemed even brighter now. An endless sea of small points of light glittered through the window. Then I fell fast asleep.
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