In order to exist in the face of evil, I had to become evil myself. At least visually.
“Grim Hex isn’t what it used to be either!”
The grumpy voice sounded angry, annoyed. The bass of the voice made me wince. I almost dropped my beer bottle out of my hand. Standing next to me was a guy who had a few years more experience than me. His distinctive, somewhat bloated face told the stories he must have already experienced. He seemed to be an old warhorse.
It wasn’t until I collected myself that I was able to respond.
“Uh what was that?”
“You used to have fun here as a petty criminal”, the guy continued to rant. “Before the year 2943, before the Nine Tails took over the old space station, it was totally laid back here. Gambling, boozing and little scuffles were part of everyday life. Now the weirdos here do everything professionally. You can’t get out of line anymore.”
Puzzled, I looked at the guy who was really venting his anger. With the neck of my beer bottle I tapped against his chest.
“Hey you’re standing in the middle of the center of gambling.”
We were surrounded by the scoreboards of Grim Hex’s illegal racetrack. The large panoramic window of the old space station gave a view of the asteroid belt from the moon Yela. A few feet away was a beer stand. What was wrong with this guy?
“You can get something to drink back there. And other good luck stuff, too”, I added with a grin.”
“And when was the last race?” His eyes fixed on me. His words were like a whip lash.
“Uh I don’t know. There hasn’t been one since I’ve been here. The track’s kind of broken. Needs to be fixed first, I think.”
He did have me a little rattled with his counter question. I took a step back to put some distance between us.
“Broken, my ass”, the guy rumbled. “Didn’t care before either. Now the Nine Tails control everything and decide when a race can happen. There’s no freedom among crooks anymore. Not even free thought anymore.”
Wrinkles formed on my forehead. Questioningly, I looked at the guy. He came closer and said in a hushed voice.
“The Nine Tails are tightening the reins. You’ll face reprisals if you don’t take their side. Be careful.”
As suddenly as the guy had appeared next to me, he disappeared again. His words reverberated in me like the echo in the great hall. Maybe there was something to what he was saying. There had already been an attack on my HAB on Grim Hex. True, Kjeld said it was not the Nine Tails, but someone from outside. But could I be sure? The guy was definitely right about one thing. The Nine Tails were becoming more and more aggressive. They had already attacked and blocked space stations. Currently they besieged several platforms in the cloud city Orison on the gas giant Crusader.
Thoughtfully, I stepped up to the panoramic window and looked out into the endless expanse of the asteroid belt. A Cutlass Black flew by and disappeared behind an asteroid. It looked as if the Cutlass itself became an asteroid. At that moment a thought flashed through my mind. Perhaps I was quite well advised to stay out of sight on Grim Hex. If I looked like a Nine Tail. Deception and camouflage. Disappearing into the crowd, like the Cutlass in the asteroid belt.
Then I remembered what Kjeld had told me about Crusader Security. Officially, Grim Hex belonged to Crusader Industries. But Crusader Security let the Nine Tails have their way on the station, they didn’t interfere. As if there was a secret agreement. Officially, Crusader said that the Nine Tails were a problem of all of Stanton, not just one of Crusader. It had to be solved together, he said. Crusader Industries could not go it alone.
Did that present an opportunity for me? If my illegal actions looked like they were being done by the Nine Tails, wouldn’t they be tracked? Or at least divert suspicion from me and bring the Nine Tails into focus? Deception and camouflage. That was it. I had already successfully posed as a Red Wind Linehaul courier. Why not pose as a Nine Tail, too. OK, the fake courier thing had blown up and Red Wind now had me in their hands. But back then I had faked an order portal. This time I just wanted to look like someone else, nothing more. I needed armor from the Nine Tails. And I already knew where I should get one.
For the first time in a long time I landed in the Rabbit Hole on the planet Hurston. Here I had my secret hiding place. In the old unused containers deep down in the hole I stored various things. Among other things also armor from the Nine Tails, which I had captured during a bunker mission. At my black market bazaar I had not been able to sell all the armor. That was to my advantage now.
Dust and dirt had settled on the padlock. I had to cough when I knocked off the dust. It was difficult to open the lock. I had not used it for too long. Finally it was open and I pulled on the door of the container. But it did not move a millimeter. I pulled harder, pushed against it, pulled again. Nothing. The door was stuck. Angrily, I kicked it with my foot. Behind this door was the armor that could make my life a little easier. This could not be true. Several times I kicked it with my foot. A creak was heard. I kicked again. Another creak. I kicked again and again and finally the door was free. More dust trickled onto my head as I opened the door. Again I had to cough. It echoed in the darkness of the container. Muffled and restrained. I turned on the flashlight, illuminating the inside of the container.
“Shit!” My exclamation echoed clearly and loudly.
In front of me were several suits of armor from the Nine Tails. But they were the old armors. The Nine Tails had not only become more professional in their approach, but also in their appearance. They had new armor. Armor that I didn’t have. Frustrated, I leaned back against the wall of the container. You couldn’t ask a Nine Tail to give you armor. You had to go get it. I saw only one way. Go back into a bunker, look for the fight with the Nine Tails. Just like I had done before. I hated it. I hated fighting. I hated going underground into a bunker. But I had no other choice.
There I stood. The sign of Grim Hex shone towards me. Somehow I felt different, somehow adapted. Adapted was not my strength at all. My mission in the bunker had been surprisingly smooth and successful. I had captured several armors and clothes of the Nine Tails. Now I wore a shirt with the sign of the Nine Tails. Strangely, it made a difference to me to wear the mark. I was able to put myself in the Nine Tails’ place better that way. Maybe it was also because of the portfolio I had organized about the Nine Tails.
“Organized and absolutely ruthless.” These were the words that began the description of the Nine Tails. And that’s exactly what they were. That made them pretty much the opposite of me. Maybe I couldn’t put myself in their shoes after all. What was driving the Nine Tails? Was it just profit? Was it about power? Did they have the goal of changing something? Violence as a means to achieve goals. I couldn’t identify with that. I didn’t have to identify myself either. I just had to put on the mask of the Nine Tails. In order not to be noticed. To draw attention from myself to this gang. I didn’t have to adopt the Nine Tails’ methods, nor did I want to. But one thing was strange. Since I wore the clothes of the Nine Tails, I noticed their insignia on Grim Hex much more.
My presence on Grim Hex did not go unnoticed. Ruto called. Once again he needed someone to carry out a special transport. To be precise, a removal. Someone had been eliminated and I was to dispose of the remains. Was it someone who had gotten in the way of the Nine Tails? Or disagreed with the Nine Tails? I didn’t even want to know and silently did my job. A job that was masked as Nine Tails action.
The bloody packages I had to dispose of were in an old destroyed outpost on the moon Yela. My appearance as Nine Tail was almost perfect. If anyone observed the action, they would not suspect me, but the most powerful gang in the Stanton system. As I stepped out of the outpost into the open, I noticed a mistake. In front of me was my spaceship, the White Rabbit. All my masquerade was useless if I used the spaceship that was registered to me.
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