I followed the tracks of the crew from a crashed reclaimer. What I was going to find, I had not expected.
On the planet Microtech I had found the wreck of a crashed Reclaimer. It was not just any reclaimer. It was the very salvage ship I had worked on in the Null System many years ago. The ship was under the command of Captain Knox. He had been a good captain. He and several crew members had survived the crash. However, they were on the run from the Nine Tails. I was looking for the survivors and wanted to see Captain Knox again. The tracks had led me all the way to the planet ArcCorp.
With more questions than answers, I stood at the panoramic window of Orbital Station Bajini Point. Like an unnatural metal sphere, the city planet ArcCorp lay below me. A planet that was completely covered by a city. A few clouds drifted over the endless sea of buildings and industrial plants. There was no water surface to be seen, no desert, no forest, no grasslands. Nothing natural. It was incomprehensible to me how humans could do such a thing to a planet. Equally incomprehensible to me was the name of the Reclaimer, which had been sold on ArcCorp a few days ago. Purchased and registered to Captain Knox. The name of the Reclaimer was ‘Pride of Arliss’. Arliss was the son of Captain Knox. A windy guy who was constantly making crooked deals and ripping others off. Arliss was pretty much the opposite of his father. Why had Captain Knox named his new ship after his son? And why were they being chased by Nine Tails on Microtech? Well, one thing at a time. First I had to find Knox, then I would get answers.
The beep of my mobi glass snapped me out of my thoughts. It was the message I had been waiting for. The message with the last known position of the ‘Pride of Arliss’. A tense anticipation sparked within me like a fire. The anticipation of seeing Captain Knox again.
Fifteen minutes after I received the message, I was near the moon Wala with my ‘White-Rabbit’. The turquoise crystal fields on the otherwise gray moon were clearly visible even from this great distance. But I had no eyes for that. My concentration was entirely on the scanners. With a grid search, I hoped to find Captain Knox’s Reclaimer. Faster than expected, the scanners picked up a high energy signature. It was the ‘Pride of Arliss’. While still approaching, I tried to make radio contact. No one answered. Finally I reached the gigantic salvage ship. My Star Runner looked almost like a dinghy in comparison. The Reclaimer was undamaged from the outside and lay quietly in space. As before, no one responded to my radio calls. I had no other choice. If I wanted to find answers, if I wanted to meet Captain Knox, I had to board the ‘Pride of Arliss’.
In EVA, I floated to the left airlock of the Reclaimer. To my surprise, it was not locked. Without any problems I could board the ship. There was light in the ship, there was atmosphere and gravity. Everything seemed calm and normal. But then I was seized by horror. Goose bumps covered my whole body. There was blood on the walls and on the floor. Bullets had penetrated the bulkheads. Should I retreat? It would be better if I did. I had no rear cover. But my curiosity outweighed my reason. With my weapon drawn, I moved through the corridor to the quarters.
As I walked through the door into the crew quarters, the brightness of the corridor lighting was abruptly gone. Only Stanton’s star cast a pale light through the window. Wisps of mist drifted through the room, glowing with the light of the star. It was a ghostly atmosphere. Everything was black and white, as if someone had stolen the colors. Only the red beam of my laser pointer cut through the colorless scenery. The only thing that seemed alive was my black shadow dancing across the white wall. It moved like a ghost. I myself blurred into a shadowy figure in the haze. Something was wrong with this ship. Something unnatural was going on aboard.
After I couldn’t find anyone in the shadowy world of the quarters, I walked back into the brightly lit corridor, on through the mess hall and past the drone room. At the end of the corridor, I had a direct view into the room with the gravity generator. In disbelief, I stopped. This couldn’t be happening. This was unnatural. In the generator room, someone was floating upside down a meter above the floor. Directly in front of the sphere that provided artificial gravity. But gravity seemed to have no effect on this person. As if carried by a ghost’s hand, he lay free in the air. What devilry was at work here?
Cautiously, I took a step forward. Suddenly I lost my footing. My stomach turned. My sense of balance went crazy. I rowed my arms wildly, trying to find my footing. After a few seconds, I had my movements back under control. It was not a haunting. Just a technical problem. There was no gravity in this area of the ship. Something had to be wrong with the gravity generator. Cautiously, I floated on.
In the elevator to the cockpit, I could stand normally again. The artificial gravity was working again here. Only the area directly in front of the gravity generator was affected by the failure. One level below, in the control room, I found a dead crew member and a datapad. On it was a message from one crew member to another.
You need to calm down. So we screwed over the Nine Tails? Who cares about that anyway? How are they supposed to find us? It’s not like they can magically track their cargo.
Slowly, I lowered the datapad to the floor. A cold shiver ran down my spine. Holy shit. This was not good. Not good at all. Nobody screwed the Nine Tails with impunity. But why would Captain Knox do such a thing? It wasn’t like him. And where was the rest of the crew? Seconds passed. Seconds of tense silence. Then another cold shiver ran down my spine. My hair stood on end. I had a hunch, a nasty hunch. Upon entering the ship, I had noticed a trail of blood. It looked like someone had been dragged into the cargo elevator.
A minute later, I stepped out of the freight elevator and stood on the balcony of the salvage processing room. The large room looked like a warehouse in the pirate station Grim Hex. Chaos and disorder characterized the space. Containers were everywhere. They were smeared with slogans and scribbles. Several dead bodies lay on the floor. They all had the same overalls on. It was the crew. One container was hanging from the ceiling. It was open. A stylized nine was painted on the side wall. The sign of the Nine Tails. In the container lay a dead man. He was wearing something different from the crew. My gut told me that I would find the answers with him. But the container was hanging too high. There was no way to get to the dead man. Then I remembered the defective gravity generator. I had an idea.
After turning off the artificial gravity throughout the ship in the engine room, I returned to the salvage processing. Weightlessly, I floated to the container under the ceiling with the dead man. He was lying in his own pool of blood. His leg was tied to a chain. His face looked familiar, only older than I remembered. In his armor I found a datapad with his personal log. The personal datapad of Captain Arliss Knox. The dead man was Arliss, the son of Captain Knox, under whom I had formerly worked. Arliss was now the captain. So it was Arliss who had bought the Reclaimer on ArcCorp. He had written the note in the abandoned settlement. It was his tracks I had followed. Not his father’s, as I had believed. And Arliss had made crooked deals, as before. Only this time with the wrong people. This business had been his last. That should be a lesson to me, too. Don’t mess with the wrong people. And stay under the radar.
And the father of Arliss? The honorable Captain Knox, under whose command I was in the Null system at that time? I found no answers to his fate.