The Hadesian artifact led us on a path full of mystery and danger.
The play of light from the Quantum tunnel danced in front of the bridge’s glass. Together with the sonorous hum of the quantum drive, it had an almost hypnotic effect. The Hadesian artifact also seemed to have a strange effect on the human mind. Not only that, but we feared that the ship was affected as well. More and more systems were failing. But Brubacker categorically refused to throw the artifact overboard. He was the captain, we had to live with his decision.
However, we could not simply accept the problems with the artifact. Unfortunately, we knew too little. Why did the artifact exist? Why did we have the problems? How could we protect ourselves against it? I searched for answers in the data we had recovered from the communications facility on Microtech. But I found none. But in the communications logs, I found the source of the messages that had been sent to the communications facility. This was our best lead to find out more about the artifact.
With a loud bang, we fell out of the quantum tunnel. Green gas clouds interspersed with asteroids enveloped our spacecraft. We quickly found the source of the messages. It was a Reclaimer. It was drifting motionless in space. From the upper bridge, I gazed in awe at the steel giant. It was lit from the side by Stanton’s star. The side facing us was in darkness, with only the position lights of the Reclaimer providing some light. The salvage ship seemed to have power. Was anyone on board? So far, no one had responded to our arrival. To find out more, we had to board the ship.
This fact made me feel uneasy. The fact that we were equipping ourselves with armor and weapons in the armory did not help to calm me down. After we were equipped, Ella, Husky, Brubacker and I stood in the airlock. Mr. Aruhso remained aboard the Carrack. The outer bulkhead opened. One by one, we floated out into shimmering green space.
Our group headed for the Reclaimer’s side airlock. The closer we got, the larger our shadows became on the steel wall. Like sentries, they flanked the entrance to the spaceship. Three shadows. Left, right and above the hatch. Our group consisted of four people. Who was missing?
“Guys where are you? Where do I have to go?”
It was Brubacker. With a sigh, I rolled my eyes. The hack. What was he up to? Was he already writing an article about what was happening instead of being focused on the matter at hand? Nothing had really changed while I was in Klescher.
After Brubacker also reached the airlock, Husky opened the outer bulkhead without any problems. There was gravity on board. Although I knew my way around a Reclaimer, I let the others take the lead. Directing from behind was clearly preferable to me.
“Our best bet is to go to the captain’s quarters first. Turn left at the junction, down the corridor, then the door on the right.”
With weapons drawn, Ella, Husky, and Brubacker inched forward. I followed at a little distance. It was silent. Only the beeping of computers could be heard. Water dripped from the ceiling. Typical of a salvage ship, it was industrial, dirty and oily. Cold steel adorned the walls, exposed wiring hung below the ceiling, and metal grates made up the floor. But there was more. Something that didn’t fit with a ship focused on work. Trash lay on the floor. The walls of the corridor were covered in graffiti. It reminded me of the pirate station Grim Hex. A cold shiver ran down my spine.
Suddenly, the door to the captain’s quarters opened. Someone came out, ran across the corridor, and disappeared through the opposite door into the crew’s quarters. For a moment, everyone froze, then chaos erupted. Gunshots whipped through the hallway. Loud shouts, a tangle, people moving frantically. From my position, I had no overview.
“Crew quarters are clear. So is the captain’s”, I heard the others say.
“Is there shooting going on over there? What’s going on?” It was Aruhso from aboard the Carrack.
“Yeah right, we’re on a pirate ship.”
“But you can’t just kill someone”, Aruhso complained.
“These are Nine Tails. If we don’t kill them, they’ll kill us. They have no mercy.” Ella was just beside herself.
While walking to the captain’s room, I saw someone lying on the floor in the doorway to the crew quarters. The pink badge of the Nine Tails was emblazoned on his chest. Instinctively, I took his rifle.
I found a laptop on the captain’s desk, but it did not reveal any information. The data was stored encrypted on a server. No access was possible from here. Next to the laptop was a cryptokey. The whole thing looked familiar. I stared thoughtfully at the hardware on the desk. Suddenly I remembered the Reclaimer of the Nine Tails, on which I had retrieved data for Marsden Analytics. Was this the same ship? If so, I knew exactly where we needed to go. But I also knew what to expect there. And it wasn’t good.
“We need to get into the stern.”
The others looked at me questioningly, but followed without complaint.
The freight elevator brought us squeaking to the top level. The balcony that surrounded the entire processing room. From the elevated position we had a tactical advantage and a good overview. As feared, several Nine Tails patrolled the large room below us. It was full of servers. The Reclaimer was a gigantic data center, or more accurately hacker center. We found cover behind some steel plates.
“Hadn’t we better get out of here?” Husky sounded worried. I didn’t know him like that at all.
No one was moving. Now what? Was that it? Would we leave the ship without answers? Husky was right about one thing. We were not a fighting force. Attacking the battle-hardened Nine Tails was risky.
“Now we’ve come this far. Who knows what valuable data awaits us down there.”
Brubacker’s words shook us. He was right. We were already in the middle of a mess. To turn back now without having achieved anything would have been nonsense. Ella was the first to open fire. I closed my eyes for a second before coming out of cover and firing as well. Brubacker and Husky joined in the concert. A symphony of different weapons echoed through the room. Bullets rained down on the Nine Tails. Then there was silence, dead silence. I wondered where the Nine Tails were regenerating. How long it would take them to get back aboard the Reclaimer. I wasn’t keen on finding out.
Without further ado, I went to the admin console and put the cryptokey in the slot. While the others secured the room, I searched the data. A sea of entries flickered across the screen. I navigated through folders and subfolders as if through a maze. Finally, I found the communications logs. Then the messages sent to the Reclaimer wreck on Microtech. After I downloaded them, we retreated.
On board the Carrack, we took a closer look at the data.
Communication protocol Black Kite >> Ghost Hollow
- >>Hack successful.
- >>Have located artifact.
- >>It is real. Sending you the parameter data.
- >>Sensitive data found about a guy in the database. Might be helpful in getting the artifact.
- >>Extortion successful. The guy brings us the artifact.
- Before leaving, the guy left a message for the staff. Can’t open attachment. Probably of no importance. Continue mission as planned.
“I have deposited a surprise package in the lower level. Please do not open until the day of the surprise has arrived. The door code is on file at MT Planetary Services.”
- >>We are leaving orbit.
- >>Having problems. Various systems affected. Propulsion not working. Sensors down.
>message not send<
“Okay. They located the artifact somewhere and blackmailed someone. Now what?”, mused Brubacker.
“Zero, can you open the attachment?”, asked Husky.
“No. It’s password protected. No chance.”
“Then I guess we’ll have to go to New Babbage and take a closer look at the Planetary Service.”
Husky’s conclusion was correct, but not an option for me.
“Without me”, it shot out of me. “I can’t go there and risk being detected.”
After a long Quantum flight, the crew dropped me off on the moon Daymar at the Wolf Point Aid Shelter. The Drake Cutter I had picked up at the junk settlement was still there, too. The crew had to follow the tracks of the artifact without me. And I was right back where they had picked me up after my escape from Klescher. Back on the start, so to speak. At least I had some equipment now and not only the space suit consisting of rags. For a long time I looked after the Carrack, which became smaller and smaller in the sky. When it had disappeared completely, I wanted to take the box with the equipment and go into the shelter. But there was nothing, there was no box next to me. Shit, I had forgotten the damn thing on board. There I was, standing in the sand with nothing but a simple spacesuit. I had to start all over again. Time for a fresh start.
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