In the middle of a combat zone, I had to secure data. The danger was omnipresent and became real.
The sight was frightening. Filled body bags were lined up at the shuttle ramp. Several people were lying on the floor and on stretchers. A few meters away were privacy screens. Behind them, doctors tended to the injured. Were they really injured? Or dead? Or something in between? Were the dead now regenerating somewhere through an Imprint in a new body? Or had they been wiped out for good? Wiping or Ghosting was what outlaws called it when they killed someone so that they could no longer regenerate. This Imprint technology was beyond my imagination. To die and then wake up in a new body. Could that work well? What about the soul? Was it also transferred? Or was a lost soul left behind and the new body had only memories?
The announcement that the next shuttle was arriving snapped me out of my thoughts. It was my shuttle. The shuttle to perdition. The still unknown and mysterious X had asked me to secure data in a research lab. It wasn’t just any data, but the blueprints for the computer boards he had recently asked me to salvage. Unfortunately, the lab was on one of the platforms in Orison that was under siege by the Nine Tails. The data had to be secured before the Nine Tails got their hands on it. The shuttle took me directly into the battle zone. Was I the next lost soul? As I boarded, the guard on the shuttle bay nodded to me. A lump formed in my throat.
After a long ride, I stepped off the shuttle and found myself in another world. The so beautiful and balanced Orison looked like after an asteroid impact. Lifeless bodies lay among the pink blossoms, pieces of debris were scattered everywhere, smoke was rising. The other people from the shuttle rushed forward. They were from the CDF, the Civilian Defense Force. Should they go ahead quietly, I preferred to secure from behind. The platform was long. Bars, restaurants and seating were on it. It looked like an entertainment mile. A little ways away was an overturned Greycat Buggy. It was on fire. At the end of the platform was a high-rise building. Inside was the laboratory. Shots from light machine guns and heavy machine guns could be heard. A long road full of ambushes and dangers lay ahead. A lump in my throat was joined by a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Somehow I managed to sneak unnoticed along the edge of the platform to the high-rise building. In the lobby, I met the others from the CDF again. For a brief moment I was relieved. Then we all got into the elevator and went upstairs. All weapons were pointed at the door. When it opened, all hell broke loose. A deafening noise broke the silence for a few seconds. Several Nine Tails fell to the ground. The CDF fighters rushed forward. I went to the left into an office. The whole room was full of desks with monitors. Posters of Crusader ships hung on the walls. It was the development lab. Outside the office, gunshots could be heard over and over again. I looked for a computer in the corner from which I could overlook the entire room.
With the access codes from X, I got into the system without any problems and secured the data. I was about to leave again when a file caught my eye. Curious, I opened it. In it I found logs and plans for transports. It looked like X was taking the computer boards and other goods to places outside the Stanton system. To systems that were not under the control of the UEE. On my salvage mission, X had mentioned that the computer boards were for people who desperately needed the technology but did not have access to it. Who were the recipients of the supplies? I kept searching, forgetting everything around me, the fighting, the chaos. It was like being in a tunnel. All my concentration was on the files. I wanted to find out who X was supplying. Who X was.
At some point, I noticed that there were no more gunshots. It was quiet, frighteningly quiet. The CDF fighters were nowhere to be seen. I was alone. Or was I? Through a window I could make out movement. Someone in dark armor with a pink sign. A stylized nine. Relief at not being alone abruptly gave way to horror. It was a Nine Tail. And he was not alone. A whole group was systematically searching the floor. They had not yet seen me, but I was trapped. Frightened, I stood in the corner and looked for a way out. I had only one chance. To get to the elevator unnoticed. And pronto. But I hadn’t looked at all the data yet. I didn’t yet know where X’s deliveries were going. Who was he helping? Who was he? The Nine Tails were closing in. One ran straight to the elevator, my only means of escape. The window of opportunity to disappear unnoticed was closing. My hands were still on the keyboard. Inside that computer were the answers I was looking for. I needed a little more time, just a few seconds. My eyes turned to the elevator. Indecisively, I paused. Commands from the Nine Tails could be heard. Finally I grabbed the data stick on which I had saved the plans of the computer boards and started my retreat.
Unnoticed, I reached the elevator. Kneeling, I tried to hide in the corner. I had no real visual protection. One of the Nine Tails ran directly towards me. Several times I pressed the button, but the door did not close. The Nine Tail looked to the left, then to the right. I raised my gun and took aim at him. Then the Nine Tail looked directly at me.
“Don’t do it,” it shot through my head. “Keep your gun down.”
The Nine Tail pointed his gun at me, I pulled the trigger, and the elevator door closed.
Once downstairs, I took the same route back to the shuttle ramp that I had taken on the way there. On the way, I found a CDF fighter behind a tree. He was lying unconscious on the ground. In his light white armor, he didn’t look like a warrior at all. He seemed ill-equipped for battle. Shaking my head, I couldn’t help but think of how the security forces kept acquiring civilians to fight instead of providing security on their own. This poor guy was one of the victims of the inadequate capabilities of the local security forces, the UEE, and Advocacy. The megacorporations made a pile of money and on the backs of the population. They didn’t even invest enough in security. Anger rose in me. Anger at the Empire, at the megacorporations. I didn’t want to just leave the poor guy lying there. Just as I started to treat him with the meditool, I heard the whistling of bullets. Then I heard nothing more. Everything around me blurred and finally went black. For a brief moment, I felt like my soul had left my body and saw me lying on the ground next to the guy in the white armor.
Slowly, the blackness became lighter, my vision clearer. Wearing a surgical shirt, I sat on a chair behind privacy walls. Around me, other people lay dressed only in their underpants. A doctor approached me.
“My armor. The data stick. Where…” I stammered feebly.
“Don’t strain”, the doctor replied in a calm voice. “We’ve stabilized you. You’re not out of the woods yet.”
Like someone slowly dimming the lights, it grew darker around me again.
It felt like after a long, dreamless sleep. I had woken up in a room in the hospital in Orison. Except for my surgical shirt, I had nothing on. My equipment was nowhere to be seen. Even worse, the data stick with the blueprints was gone, too. Still a little sleepy, I looked around and finally opened the door. A man in a Crusader Industries work suit stood in front of it.
“Am I printed?”, I asked, a little confused.
“What do you mean?”
I must have been talking nonsense. “Yeah, so Imprint and new body and all that.”
“Oh, I see”, the man laughed briefly. “No. Your injuries could be treated. You’re practically brand new in your old body. A room has been reserved for you at the Green Circle. Your things are there, too. Get well soon.”
Shortly thereafter, I entered the room at the Green Circle. Next to my things was a note on the table.
Dear Zero Sense,
Once again, your help was of great benefit. For that, I would like to thank you deeply. The blueprints for the computer boards were protected from being accessed by the wrong hands. Thanks to your extremely appreciated efforts.
I hope you can recover well from your injuries. All the facilities in Orison are available to you for this purpose. Free of charge, of course.
If you lack anything, please report to the front desk.
With the note in my hand, I let myself fall onto the sofa. The mission was a success after all. At least for X. For me, a feeling of dissatisfaction remained. My questions had not been answered. Neither did I know whom X was supplying, nor for what purpose. Even X himself remained a mystery. Yet I was so close to the answers.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)