An assignment led me to a Reclaimer of the Nine Tails. Only a ghost could survive on the pirate ship.
The urgent message had reached me just as I had brought a special delivery for the workers on Hurston to Lorville. Hastily I had left. Now I was sitting in Wally’s Bar. Melinda, one of the founders of Marsden Analytics, sat across from me. The laser show twitched above our heads. The beat of the music was about the same frequency as my heartbeat. Clearly too high. Melinda explained why she had called me to Microtech so urgently. When she finished her explanation, I looked at her in bewilderment.
“Let me recap. There’s a Reclaimer full of Nine Tails. On board is data they stole from you that you desperately need. You want me to break into the ship, steal a crypto key, and find a server to put the key into so you can download the data remotely. Right?”
“Yeah, right.” Melinda grinned.
“Are you crazy?” With my mouth open, I stared at Melinda, stunned. She couldn’t be serious.
“The server is huge. You’ll have no trouble finding it.” Melinda’s voice sounded cheerful and confident.
My breath caught in my throat for a moment. After my gasps subsided, I tried to regain my composure.
“The server is the least of our problems. The Nine Tails will not be pleased when I knock on the door.”
“Zero please. We already tried hacking in. No chance. You can’t get to the data without the cryptokey. And it’s really important.” Melinda’s voice now had a demanding tone.
I exhaled heavily and loudly as my head fell back into my neck. Through the glass dome, I could see the stars. Looking into the infinity of twinkling points of light helped me sort out my thoughts. Marsden Analytics had helped me many times, I couldn’t leave Melinda hanging. But this was crazy. I wasn’t a soldier, I couldn’t do this without support. I thought of Kjeld, Root, Hermieoth, and Knecht. TYR or Yellowhand Security would be just right for the job.
“Melinda, for this mission I need help. I’ll get someone…..”
Melinda cut me off. Her voice suddenly had a bittersweet edge.
“No time Zero. The Reclaimer is drifting in space right now with damage. Sensors and thrusters are down. You’ve got to get going right away. By the time the Nine Tails fix the damage, they’ll be gone. Gone! Good riddance. With the data.”
Unnoticed, the White Rabbit flew through the asteroid field. Huge chunks of rock slid past the cockpit window. A greenish fog obscured the stars. The Lagrange Point formed a bubble of dust, rock, and gas. Ahead of me, a spaceship slowly took shape in the darkness. Finding the Reclaimer was no problem. Its energy signature was as gigantic as the Reclaimer ship itself.
All alone I had set out on the suicide mission. I had transferred my Imprint to the hospital of New Babbage before. Melinda had promised that in case of emergency I would get the best regeneration there was. Nevertheless, I did not have a good feeling and was extremely tense. I didn’t trust this Imprint technology. I didn’t want to regenerate. I didn’t want to become a shadow of myself. To become a ghost. But becoming a ghost was my only chance to survive this mission. Only if no one noticed I was aboard the Reclaimer could I succeed.
I had two advantages. The Reclaimer’s sensors were defective. The Nine Tails would not notice my approach. And I had worked on a Reclaimer in the past. I knew my way around this large salvage ship. I wanted to use both advantages to remain invisible.
I chose the angle of approach so that no one could see my approach through the windows of the Reclaimer. Before disembarking, I checked the silencers on my weapons. The equipment was ready. Was I? The cargo ramp of my Star Runner opened to reveal the airlock of the Reclaimer ship. Weightlessly, I glided across through the darkness of space. At the airlock I paused. Brightly illuminated, the lettering “Airlock” was emblazoned in front of me. What the hell was I doing here? This was a very shitty thing to do. Cursing, I opened the outer hatch and entered the Reclaimer of the Nine Tails.
The light was dim. Wisps of mist wafted through the ship. The walls were oily and dirty. Hunched over, I moved with my weapon at the ready past the lockers for the spacesuits to the junction to the quarters. I assumed that the cryptokey was in the captain’s quarter. Cautiously I looked around the corner. In front of me was a long corridor with no cover. In the middle of the corridor were two doors. On the left, to the crew’s quarter, on the right, to the captain’s quarter. At the end of the corridor was the mess hall. No one was to be seen. It was dead silent.
Unnoticed, I slipped through the hallway and into the captain’s quarter. The room looked different than I remembered. Lights flashed in the place where the window actually was. It was covered by a server the size of a closet. Had I already found what I was looking for? Now all I needed was the cryptokey to complete my mission. I looked around. Right next to the front door was the desk. On it was a laptop and a model of a Mercury Star Runner. What an irony. The Star Runner specialized in the secure transport of encrypted data, it was a Data Runner. The Nine Tails had converted the Reclaimer into a large Data Runner. And now I was coming with my Star Runner to steal back the secured data. I considered taking the Star Runner model as well. But then my eyes fell on the cryptokey lying next to the laptop. Only with difficulty could I suppress a cry of joy. That was easier than I thought. Now all I had to do was plug the cryptokey into the server and Melinda could download the data. Job done, quickly gone. I thought. But I had rejoiced too soon. There was no slot to insert the key into the server.
Melinda said the server was huge. This one was big, but not huge. Where would the Nine Tails build a huge server? The largest room on board was the processing room. However, in such a large room, I could be attacked from multiple sides. It was extremely risky to go there. Unless I took advantage of a special feature of the room. Quietly, I opened the door from the captain’s quarter and ventured a look into the hallway. It was still silent.
The cargo elevator in the rear of the Reclaimer led to the cargo hold and processing area. And to another level. The balcony that surrounded the entire processing room. From there I could overlook the whole room from an elevated position. Should Nine Tails be there, I would have an advantage.
Squeaking, the elevator slowly started to move upwards. After a short ride, it stopped with a loud thump. The door opened. Steel plates and a container leaned against the railing of the balcony, blocking the view. I couldn’t see if anyone was down in the room, but I couldn’t be seen either. From the cover of the steel plates, I ventured a look down into the room. It was filled with technology. Servers, cables, desks, monitors, containers. Several Nine Tails were visible. Through the scope, I saw a desk that held an admin computer with a card slot. The computer was at the other end of the room. Now what? Between me and the computer were several feet and a handful of Nine Tails. And it was one level below me. How was I going to get there unnoticed? I saw only one way. A way I didn’t really like.
There was a plop plop. A Nine Tail fell to the ground. The others did not react. The silencer of my gun almost swallowed the blast of the shots. In the scope, the next Nine Tail appeared. Plop Plop. As if by a ghost’ s hand, one Nine Tail fell silently after another. I felt like an angel of death. A feeling like a stomach ache.
After all the Nine Tails were down, I went to the admin computer. The path led past server racks and lifeless bodies. The stomach ache wouldn’t go away. It was them or me. Was it that simple? It was a simple truth, but it didn’t make it any easier. Even the knowledge that individuals regenerated in a new body was little comfort. If they regenerated. And after they regenerated, they would go out again to rob and murder. The Nine Tails were ruthless pirates. From that point of view, the Imprint technology really sucked.
I stood in front of the admin computer. The cryptokey slipped into the slot. The computer started working. A green lettering on the monitor signaled the successful transfer of the data. As quietly as I had come, I disappeared again with the White Rabbit into the darkness of space. Like a ghost that became a shadow and finally dissolved.