A meeting of FROS escalated. When armed mercenaries appeared, my world threatened to collapse.
It was really busy in the old38. The bar was packed. People were already standing around in front of the entrance door. Carefully I pushed past some guests and entered the bar. Kjeld was standing in the entrance area. He and his mercenaries from TYR were trying to keep order as bouncers. A difficult task in the heated pirate station Grim Hex. For the moment, however, they seemed to have no trouble. The atmosphere was good. Still.
Right at the counter I met the members of FROS, the Free Riders of Stanton. Brubacker, Hermieoth, Gabriel, Val and Ray. They had all come. Only Dorek was missing. We had met to sort out the disagreements in the group. Things had boiled up after the last chaotic trip.
As if I didn’t have enough problems on my hands already. The businessman in Lorville wanted another drug shipment. The M&V bar needed supplies. The workers on Hurston were awaiting the next special shipment. So I couldn’t spend much time on Grim Hex. It all threatened to go over my head.
But first I needed something to drink. And to eat. I was very hungry. Lunaria stood behind the bar and helped the completely overtaxed barkeeper.
Somewhat desperately, I tried to fight the loud background noise. “Hey Lunaria. You got anything to eat?”
“Nah just beer.”
“And a whiskey and coke?”
“You’ll be lucky to get that from my colleague here.”
Skeptically, I looked at the haphazard bartender. “OK. A beer from you, then.”
With the bottle in the hand, I joined the others from FROS. Ray stood a little apart. He still seemed to have some kind of problem. I asked what was wrong and immediately regretted asking. Ray began to hurl accusations at me. The bikes would have exploded on the trip because I had manipulated them. What a bunch of bullshit. Where the hell did this guy get that idea? And that’s not all. He also rehashed the action on the Renaissance, where he ended up being left behind on a Cutlass Red. I was about ready to burst my collar. It took a lot of effort for me to stay calm.
Gabriel tried to calm things down and suggested we go into the back room. He didn’t want to scare the new applicants, who were also in the bar, with this dispute right away.
In the back room we had more silence. The noise from the bar was somewhat muffled. What was not muffled was Ray. He repeated his baseless accusations. Somehow he was unstoppable. He claimed only I could have manipulated the bikes because they were all in my White-Rabbit before the explosions. Brubacker and Val took my side. Brubacker even vouched for me. It felt good to have a friend I could count on. My blood pressure, which had become very high in the meantime, lowered a little.
Gabriel and Hermieoth reported about the manipulations they had found on the bikes. Mine was also affected. But that did not interest Ray. He stuck to his accusation. Then it occurred to me that Hurston Dynamics had already smashed FROS once. Hurston Dynamics had an interest in harming the group or wiping it out. Everyone thought the thought was right and nodded in agreement. Only one did not. Ray. He complained instead about the bounty on his head. Heavens to Betsy. Now that was truly solvable. My suggestion to hack the problem out of the world was rejected by Ray. Puzzled, I looked at him. The guy was a stubborn goat. Consumed by negative feelings, unable to contribute to a community and to be helped. What was driving him? Was his behavior perhaps part of a plan? Was he an agent of Hurston Dynamics and wanted to sow discord. It wasn’t the first time I’d had that thought….
A grumbling sound from my stomach reminded me that I was hungry. It was high time to organize something to eat. Besides, I was fed up with this fuss with Ray. Just as I was leaving the back room through the vendor entrance, heavily armored and armed guys came in the front door. They asked for me. Who were these guys? A hit squad from the radical Nine Tails faction? My heart slipped into my pants. I had to get away. In a fit of panic, I wandered through the station. My steps became faster and faster. Finally, I reached the ship’s terminals. Someone was waiting for me there. My forward momentum froze. But then the tension gave way to relief. It was Hermieoth.
Together we left the station in my White Rabbit and flew out into the asteroid belt. Hermieoth sat at the helm while I stared at the passing asteroids as if in a trance. A complete emptiness was inside me. Only the empty shell of my body sat in the co-pilot’s seat. My mind was absent. At some point, a beep brought me back to the present. It was a message from Brubacker.
“Zero, where are you? There’s a guy named Citko after you… There were some armored guys in the bar…“
Citko? I had heard that name before. My mind went back in time, searching the archives in my brain. Then a hit. Citko was the leader of Yellowhand Security. A private mercenary force from the planet Hurston. What did he want from me? Before my mind could form an answer, it was overtaken by a realization. Hermieoth was also a mercenary from Yellowhand Security. Hermieoth was in the driver’s seat; he was in control. I was at his mercy.
Suddenly there was silence in my mind. It was like a vacuum. My skull was threatening to implode. No, no, no. This could not be. Hermieoth had helped me many times before. Knecht and others from Yellowhand Security had helped us solve the killer satellite scandal. How did it all fit together? Darkness. The more I thought about it, the more darkness surrounded me. There was only one way to shed light on the darkness. I asked Hermieoth to contact Citko and find out why he was looking for me.
Hermieoth radioed Citko. He was quite cocky, the good Hermieoth. Sitting next to me, he told his boss he didn’t know where I was. A smile flitted across my face. But it quickly vanished when I heard what was going on. Citko had a warrant for my arrest. But he didn’t want to arrest me. He wanted to warn me and talk to me. The darkness returned. Like a black cloth, the uncertainty of what I should believe lay over every clear thought. Could I trust Citko? In the ENOS actions, we were on the same side. But just because we weren’t opponents didn’t automatically mean I could trust him. Why should Citko help someone like me? He was on the side of the law, on the side of the UEE and thus of the megacorporations.
But Hermieoth trusted Citko and suggested that we could meet in a neutral place. It whistled loudly as I sucked in the air between my teeth. Was Hermieoth’s trust in Citko enough for me to trust Citko as well? My skepticism remained. There was only one place where I was relatively safe from Yellowhand Security’s mercenaries. Grim Hex. Especially now that my friends from FROS and TYR were there. All right, then. Then that’s the way it was going to be. A meeting with my hunters on Grim Hex.
When we reached Grim Hex, we were not alone. An Origin 300 positioned itself right in front of the White-Rabbit’s nose. As we slowly dove into the hangar, the other craft didn’t leave our side. Eye to eye, we glided synchronously down into the landing area and touched down at the same time. It was Gabriel.
“Zero what’s going on. Where have you been?”
“Come with me. There are guys who have a warrant for my arrest. Apparently they just want to talk to me. I could use some backup.”
A short time later, I came face to face with Citko. He was wearing heavy combat armor. The red glow of the lighting in Grim Hex was reflected on his breastplate. Two rifles hung from his backpack. Like an executioner, he stood before me. Gloomy and menacing. But I was not alone. Several shady characters stood around us. For the moment, that was my reassurance. Citko’s helmet was closed. No glass allowed a view of his face. I wanted to look at the eyes of Citko and asked him to take off his helmet. But Citko refused. The thin layer of trust cracked.
Then Citko showed me the warrant. Issued by Hurston Dynamics. For smuggling and other stuff. The idiots. Who had betrayed me? The businessman? The bartender? Someone from the activists in Lorville? Stunned, I stood there, almost losing my footing. A volcano was seething inside me, threatening to erupt. In the roar of the boiling volcano, Citko’s words sounded distorted, unreal.
“I don’t want to arrest you. I want to warn you. The tips I got led me straight to Grim Hex. Other bounty hunters are also looking for you. You’d better go into hiding. And I can help you get rid of the problem. There’s a computer where we can erase the warrant. We’ll help you with that. We can leave right now if you want.”
The roaring in my ears disappeared. My thoughts were suddenly clear. Memories of the action at the Renaissance rushed through my head like a refreshing summer rain. Was this a trap? Was Citko trying to lure me away from Grim Hex? Just as we had lured Eris away from the Renaissance under false pretenses back then?
I refused. But one thing was clear. I had to go underground. Disappear under the radar again.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Die Sicht von Brubacker. (German only)
Die Sicht von Kjeld (German only)
Die Sicht von Citko. (German only)