I desperately needed some equipment. But I couldn’t just go to a store. I didn’t have any money either. I had to find another way.
Rudi the ball hit my head with a bulletin board. Over and over again. The guy from the junkyard stood next to it laughing and shouted in time with the hits “RMC. RMC. RMC.” It was a scene like something out of a comic book. Suddenly I opened my eyes and woke up from my dream. Rudi was lying peacefully at my feet. Yes, of course, that was the solution. In the CommRelay of the canteen there was a job exchange and a marketplace. It was a kind of bulletin board on which messages could be placed. With the chip from the junkyard it should be possible to send an anonymous message to the CommRelay.
In the shower, I pondered how to proceed. I needed a Cambio-Lite SRT Attachment to be able to pay the guard from the junkyard. I was able to place a requisition in the marketplace of the canteen. But how was I going to pay for the attachment? I did not have money. Besides, the supplier was not allowed to recognize me during the delivery. The warm water flowed pleasantly over my body. It made me forget everything for a moment. Suddenly an idea came to me.
Stanton’s star was just sinking behind the horizon when the small Cutter floated down into the large dark hole in the earth. The hole in the earth was so large that the Cutter seemed lost in it. With a click, the headlights flickered on. Brown rock formations appeared in front of the cockpit. The cone of light showed me the way. to the entrance of a cave. After landing the Cutter in the sinkhole, I proceeded on foot. A narrow passageway led me into a large underground hall.
It was dark and oppressive. A plant with blue leaves grew right at the exit of the cave. Memories of Klescher came back to me. At least this way I would find my way back to my spaceship. But would I also find gems in the cave? My plan was to mine gems in the cave and use them as currency. My footsteps echoed menacingly as I walked deeper into the cave. But I did not get far.
In the glow of my helmet lamp, a small boulder emerged with pink gems sticking out of it. Hadanite. I had found the most valuable gems that existed in Stanton. Shortly after that was another boulder with Hadanite and then another. I had come across a vein of Hadanite. It contained more gems than I could carry. I could hardly believe my luck. Again and again I ran to the spaceship to stow the mined gems. I desperately needed a backpack. Another thing that had to be on my order list.
After what felt like an eternity, I left the cave with lots of Hadanite. It was already night. The stars were shining over the sinkhole when I took off with the Cutter. Satisfied, I flew north over the black contours of the desert. Suddenly I saw a flickering glow of light on the ground. Then another.
My curiosity was aroused. What was down there? A burning wreckage where I could find useful items? Should I go and have a look? Or would it be better to get the Hadanite to safety first? I was torn between landing and flying on. The radar showed no contacts. “What the heck”, I thought to myself. At least a quick flyover.
If only I had kept flying. The overflight had spurred my curiosity. Instead of playing it safe, I landed. The flickering light had turned out to be a fire in an old derelict settlement. Remnants of walls stood in the sand like lonely witnesses to an ancient story. Modern containers and a wooden tower brought new life to the place. The spotlight of my Cutter transformed the settlement into a spectacle of light and shadow. No one seemed to be there.
But the place was not empty. There were boxes everywhere. Some of them were hidden. Even in a bathtub I found a box under a metal plate. Inside were food, gems, armor and tools. Someone seemed to be using this place as a warehouse. Or as a transshipment point.
The settlement stood on a plateau. In the valley below were more remnants of buildings, half-ruined warehouses, containers and towers. And a provisional landing site was marked with position lights. In addition to fires, lanterns also provided some light. It didn’t seem as if the place was completely abandoned and forgotten.
Through the scope of the sniper rifle I took a closer look at the settlement in the valley. I didn’t see any people, but plenty of boxes. Should I go down and see what was in the boxes? I hadn’t finished the thought when gunfire echoed through the night.
A Cutlass was approaching and firing at my Cutter. Panic-stricken, I ran. But the Cutlass did not seriously try to destroy my ship. It quickly dived into the valley and landed. From there it could no longer fire at my Cutter. For now, I seemed to be safe.
I quickly began to collect everything usable. I wasn’t quite finished when I heard the Cutlass’ engines. Shit! It was clear what was going to happen now. If only I had taken off immediately. To my surprise, the Cutlass did not fire. It simply disappeared into the night sky.
Relieved, I stood in the middle of the derelict settlement. The place up here on the plateau seemed to be relatively safe. The same was not true for the part of the settlement down in the valley. I decided not to go down and just be content with what I found up here.
After stowing everything in the Cutter, I took off. I liked the place. It was secluded and a suitable transshipment point for clandestine business. Just what I had been looking for to trade the Hadanite for the equipment I needed. That same night, I placed an anonymous barter request in the canteen’s marketplace. Now it was a matter of waiting.
I was back in the derelict settlement on the plateau. Someone by the name of Chris Kross had responded to my barter request. He was willing to trade Hadanite for the equipment I had ordered. I stuffed Hadanite into the pockets of two pieces of heavy torso armor I had found earlier. I placed both of them right next to the campfire. Then I sent Chris Kross a description of how he could find the place. My plan was for him to take the armor with the Hadanite as payment and place my order next to the campfire. To avoid being recognized, I immediately made a run for it. At the start I still saw how some gas containers flew around.
I waited a long time until I finally got a message from Chris Kross.
“So colleague, there is nothing here, here I took you some photos with my helmet camera. Except for your sleeping bag and shoes, there’s nothing here.”
It ran ice cold down my spine. This couldn’t be. Was this guy messing with me, or had the armor really disappeared? How was I going to get my order now? Fly there and exchange them personally? I still had enough Hadanite. No, the risk was too high for me. I had no idea who this Chris Kross was and whether he wanted to lure me into a trap.
I sent him a message, “It can’t be. Right by the campfire.”
His reply was prompt:
“I was there, there’s nothing there, I left my Cutter with your stuff, in it you’ll also find contact info for an encrypted channel. I don’t know who you are or why you are hiding but I am not a bounty hunter or a corporate rat. If you’re not solvent, you could have just said so.”
Wow. That sounded interesting. This Chris didn’t seem to be on the side of the corporations. Or was this a ruse to lull me into a sense of security? I preferred not to break cover. My response remained reserved.
“I just want to remain anonymous. And financial transactions leave traces. If I find the goods, I’ll still let you have the payment.”
What came next surprised me.
“I see, who did you piss off? You can take the Cutter if you need it. Which I’m a little confused about, these aren’t exactly items a newly turned ‘outlaw’ is looking for. No guns medications food etc.”
“I am not an outlaw. But from Hurston Dynamics’ perspective, probably are. Just trying to live my life. No stress and stay completely under the radar.”
“I don’t normally fly a Cutter, my mechanic is picking me up in my 600i within the next 2 hours, so don’t worry about me, if you want to piss off Hurston again you can contact me something like that needs to be supported. This fucking corporation has seized finances and ships of good friends.”
“Then you will definitely hear from me again. I will send you something.”
Completely perplexed I sat in my Cutter. Who was this Chris? If he wasn’t completely screwing with me, he seemed like an interesting guy. Someone who was on the same side as me.
After waiting a few more hours, I flew to the derelict settlement. Sure enough, there was a cutter with its tail ramp open. My scanners showed no signs of life. Was the ship really abandoned? Or was I walking right into a trap?
My hands trembled with tension. If I wanted the equipment I had ordered, I had to land. I saw no other way. To be on the safe side, I landed so that my tail ramp was directly behind the tail ramp of the other Cutter. Carefully, I went into my cargo hold and looked over to the cargo area of the other craft. There, in the dark, lay a backpack and a crate. Just as ordered. It was too perfect, too tempting.
A thousand scenarios ran through my mind of what might happen if I left my ship and went for the backpack and crate. Snipers, booby traps, there was no scenario with a good ending. On the other hand, if what Chris Kross had written was true, then things would end well. There was a black scenario and a white scenario. But the world was not always black and white. I took a deep breath and reached for my belt.
There was still a way without leaving my spaceship. Using the tractor beam, I retrieved the crate and backpack into my cargo hold. Everything I had ordered was there. Without further ado, I took off and disappeared into the darkness of the night.
Chris Kross remained a mystery to me. It was a gray scenario. Not black and not white. In any case, I still wanted to pay him and find out who he was. The only question was how.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)