I had to settle into a new situation and looked back on an eventful year.
Frustrated, I sat on the edge of the bed in my small hub. The EZ hubs on the space stations and the hubs in Grim Hex were small, too. But this one was particularly oppressive. Behind me was the tube with the bed. It looked more like a coffin than a sleeping quarters. To my right was a small sink and to the left the metal toilet bowl. 1.5 meters in front of me was the locked door. Next to it hung a monitor telling me what to do and what not to do. It was deeply depressing.
How did I sink into these abysses? Yet it had started well. Or at least well meant. With special transports to help the oppressed workers in Lorville. I would have called it a humanitarian action, but from the point of view of the megacorporation Hurston Dynamics it was illegal. It was about such innocuous things as DMC pants. They were legal everywhere in the Stanton system, only on the planet Hurston they were forbidden. The corporation was doing everything to maintain its power, to increase its profits, and it was doing it on the backs of the workers.
A year ago, the Lorville activists had contacted me and asked if I could help. If I would smuggle to Lorville what the workers needed for daily life and could not get. Of course I wanted to help. But it turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Lorville was a fortress by now. The old smuggling routes had not only dried up, they were sealed. Drained by the security forces. The dried-up routes could no longer supply the city. Like in a drought, the workers suffered from shortages. I had to find new ways to bring the workers what they were missing.
And now I was sitting here with a lack of my own. A lack of freedom. I rose with difficulty, opened the door and stepped in front of my hub. It was on one of the upper levels. I stopped at the railing of the metal catwalk and looked down at the central square of the facility, which was deep underground. In the square were tables and benches. Scattered people sat there. They wore the same yellow jumpsuits I was wearing. “Prisoner” was written on the chest. Hurston Security guards patrolled everywhere. The mood was somber. Violence was the daily routine. Everyone was fighting for himself and trying to survive somehow. Even at the expense of others. I couldn’t find any friends here.
I had to think of the Free Riders of Stanton. The biker club I had joined a few months ago. A club that stood for freedom and helping each other. The Free Riders showed me how to get to Lorville undetected by air traffic control. But it was an elaborate smuggling route. For regular deliveries, I needed another route. I needed access to the city without customs inspection, like the couriers from the Red Wind Linehaul delivery service had. And, in fact, I managed to get a reputation as a Red Wind courier.
The Red Wind courier status not only gave me access to the city without any customs checks, but also lucrative jobs that took me to the security bunkers on the planet Hurston. There I was able to scavenge armor from Hurston Security and from the Nine Tails. A commodity that was highly sought after in some circles and that I could sell well on the black market.
But the activists in Lorville were unhappy. My duty-free access to the city opened the smuggling door only a small crack. Only small quantities fit through it. Too little to satisfy the great demand of the workers. It was only through a corrupt businessman from Lorville that I was able to push the door completely open. He was able to get entire shiploads past customs. However, the deal with him cost me quite a bit. At first, he only wanted a portion of the cargo in return. As time went on, he got greedier and greedier, constantly increasing his payment until I finally had to deliver drugs to him. My risk in smuggling increased considerably. But I had managed it. I was able to support the workers in Lorville in a big way and smuggle everything they needed into the city.
The nerve-wracking sound of a siren snapped me out of my thoughts. More and more people in yellow overalls were pouring into the central square. It was feeding time. The wild beasts in this facility were getting something to chew on. Unmotivated, I walked down the metal steps. Only a miracle could get me out of here. Or someone with a lot of influence. Was there such a person? Could I hope for a miracle from X?
X was a mystery who had contacted me on Orison 12 months ago. X knew me and my role in the killer satellite story. Wherever from. I, however, had no idea who he or she was. After a few assignments for X, I had not heard from the stranger. In any case, X seemed to have a lot of influence. But whether the influence was enough to get me out of here? I doubted it.
Listlessly I poked around in the porridge, which was put in front of me as food. All around me the other guests were smacking, burping and scolding. That was what we were called in this rehabilitation facility. It was a mockery, the whole system was a mockery. Locked away, shipped underground, deprived of all rights we were. It was completely irrelevant whether anyone got out of that shithole alive. They could use us as guinea pigs for experiments and nobody would care.
I wonder if they were also experimenting with ENOS here underground. Unlikely. We had found out quite a bit about the scandalous and top secret project ENOS during various actions in the last months. ENOS had evolved from a cure to a warfare agent against the Vanduul. But that was not enough. In the meantime they had arrived at the breeding of programmable organisms. There was talk of super soldiers. The traces led into the Pyro system.
The machinations around ENOS were not the only danger in the Stanton system. The Nine Tails had recently become more and more aggressive. The pirate group had attacked space stations and platforms in the cloud city of Orison. In more and more places in the Stanton System they settled down. Nowhere was safe from them. Anyone who didn’t dance to their beat was removed from the dance floor. Like the salvage crew I found dead on a Reclaimer.
But what did I care? Deep under the ground of the moon Aberdeen I was stuck. In the high security prison Klescher. It didn’t look like I would be able to do my time and walk out anytime soon. Hurston Dynamics was interested in making me disappear. Not just because I supported the workers and activists on Hurston. I had also peed mightily against Hurston Dynamics’ leg by clearing up the killer satellite scandal. The arrest warrant against me was just the first step.
Everything was done so that I would have a damn lousy and long time in jail. That I might never get out again. Every inmate was given a multitool to work in the mines to reduce their sentence time. I was not provided with one. So why should I care how things turned out on the surface. Someone had betrayed me and in the end I got caught. All I wanted to do was to help and do something against injustice. But then everything went down the drain and this was the end of the line.
A loudspeaker announcement echoed through the prison. Cynically, it announced that we should direct our attention to the exit, as one of the guests had finished his time in the facility and was returning to normal life. My attention, however, was elsewhere. On the entrance to the mines. It was the gateway to hell. There was no oxygen there, no guards, just the law of the strongest. But perhaps also a hope for a way out.