Once again I was in the derelict settlement. Unexpected, partly inexplicable things happened.
The derelict settlement was a magnet. Magically it attracted me. But it was more than magic that led me here again. The guard from the junkyard demanded RMC as payment for the spare part. And this Chris Kross had left his Cutter in the settlement after our exchange. It was the easiest way to get RMC. I only had to remove the hull of the Cutter.
Stupidly, once again, nothing went according to plan. The Cutter was gone and I stood haphazardly on the tower of the settlement. At least I had a nice view. The gas giant Crusader rose above the horizon and streaked into the night sky. Down in the valley, the lights of the main settlement flickered. So far, I had not dared to look for useful things there. Alone, it was too risky.
Suddenly, laser flashes twitched through the black sky in the distance. Shortly after, a Carrack flew by in the distance. Silently it disappeared behind a mountain. I was lucky. I really didn’t need any uninvited visitors.
I looked at the rising gas giant for a while, when I saw a light on the slope of the nearby mountain. It danced up and down on the sand. Through the rifle’s scope, I saw a URSA Rover rapidly approaching. Shit, rejoiced too soon. Someone was approaching after all.
Two hundred yards away, the rover disappeared behind a rock. Shortly after, it headed back in the direction it had come from. It was silent again. Only the fire in the settlement crackled. Then something moved. A shadow detached itself from the rock behind which the rover had been. Then another. There were two figures with weapons drawn. And they were coming straight at the settlement. Right at me.
Fucking hell. Now it was getting serious. From cover, I watched the two through the scope. My hand was shaking slightly. When they reached the settlement I fired a warning shot and shouted:
“”Halt! Who’s there? I’ve got you in my sights!”
“This is John Brubacker. We’re…”
An entire quarry fell from my chest. This was beyond belief. Quickly, I climbed down from the tower. Seconds later, I was standing by the fire with Brubacker and Ella.
“What the hell are you guys doing here? This is an unbelievable coincidence.”
“The message from the Reclaimer led us here. Someone who had the artifact was being blackmailed. He had to bring it to this place. And what the heck are you doing here?”
“Uh yeah, long story.”
“Hold on a second, Husky’s reporting from the Carrack. Hermieoth isn’t feeling well.”
“Hermieoth? You mean our Hermie? What’s he doing aboard the Carrack?”
“It’s a long story, too.”
Shortly after, the Carrack landed right by the settlement. Hermieoth was really not well. He was delirious. After hearing voices, he had jumped off the ship in a panic. Husky had just been able to catch him and bring him to the infirmary. The crew suspected that he was under the influence of the artifact…This thing was scary. No, it was more of a danger. Still, the crew didn’t want to let go and unravel the mysteries of the artifact.
Brubacker and I stood on the edge of the plateau and looked down into the valley at the settlement.
“What’s in those buildings down there?”
“I don’t know. It’s abandoned. Every now and then a spaceship lands and takes off again after a while. Probably a secret transshipment point for contraband. Haven’t dared go down there yet. But now with several people we should dare. Maybe we’ll find clues to the artifact.”
When daylight came, we set off with the rover. Hermieoth was feeling better by now. Ella stayed aboard the Carrack and gave us cover with the gun turret.
The derelict settlement in the valley was much larger than the one on the plateau. And there were plenty of crates of materials. Not only food and gems, there were also many pieces of armor. Searching, I trudged through dilapidated buildings and over collapsed walls. Everything that seemed useful I brought into the rover.
Suddenly I heard a voice. It sounded creepy, incomprehensible. It sounded like the mantra of an alien. At first I thought it was radio interference. Confused, I knocked on my helmet. Nothing changed. The voice was still there. It was deep in my head. Insistently it spoke its mantra. Finally, the voice was drowned out by Hermieoth.
“Hey guys, I found a box. There are more artifacts in it. All broken pieces.”
“Then we’re in the right place. We should take them to the ship”, Brubacker said after some initial hesitation.
“I’m not touching that stuff.”
“I’ll put the box in the rover. I just need to stow some armor. This place is a goldmine. Genius.”
The excitement was written all over my face. Helmets, armor, leg armor. It was like being at a sale. Then I heard that voice out of nowhere again, that eerie alien mantra. Was I supposed to be worried? The others seemed to already be doing it. They, too, heard the voice.
“I want to get out of here right now”, Hermieoth whined.
“Yeah, let’s get out of here right now”, Husky agreed.
After stowing the box of artifacts in the rover, we headed back to the Carrack. The crew speculated wildly about the artifacts. No one doubted that the voice had anything to do with the artifact. By now, I had a queasy feeling, too.
“Maybe it would be better to bury the stuff deep in the sand. After all, it only seems to cause mischief. I know a cave that would be suitable.”
“Probably that’s really better”, Husky agreed. “Who knows, maybe the crashed Vanguard is on the artifact’s account, too.”
“What crashed Vanguard?”, I asked with interest.
“There’s one a few hundred meters in that direction. We saw it when we arrived.”
Today was my lucky day. First the armor and now another wreck. This was the opportunity to get RMC. The artifact could wait. In a firm voice, I turned to the crew.
“I have some unfinished business on Daymar. But we’ll be in touch. Hermieoth, here’s an encryption code. Set that up in your communications system. We can use it to send secret messages to each other.”
“No problem, I’ll do that.”
“And that reminds me. Can you track down a guy for me by the name of Chris Kross?”
“Yeah sure, I know him from Grim Hex”, Hermieoth and Husky said in unison.
Why wasn’t I surprised? It was fitting that this Chris was lingering on Grim Hex.
“Transfer 5000 UEC to him, please. But don’t mention my name. Just say it’s from the stranger he made a deal with. You will still get the money from me. Well then, I have to go.”
“Zero, do you have enough medpens?”
Ella’s soft voice was a relief. She was the complete opposite of the voice in my head. Ella was truly an angel. After she gave me all sorts of medical supplies, I made my way to the wreck of the Vanguard. As soon as I left the Carrack, the eerie voice in my head was gone.
Perspective from Brubacker (german only): https://sternenwanderer.org/diecrew#S7