A sick game eclipsed the previous mad events.
“You can’t be serious now. No way!”
Shocked, I first looked at the crew, then at the message again.
my name is Miles Eckhardt. I run a small PMC in Loreville. So you are the “crew.” Do you think something so special can just sink into the sand unnoticed? You are wrong and I have some information that might be interesting for you. But first you have to do something for me. There are a few jobs piling up here and you could prove that you can do a job as a crew and with your ship. Then I’ll help you out, too. One hand washes the other. But enough of words. Meet me in the bar in Loreville. But don’t talk about the box there. Do your job and we’ll see what happens. OKAY?
“And how does this guy know about us? Does he know our names? You’ve got to be kidding me! I don’t want to get busted by those Hurston guys again.”
Incensed, I jumped up and paced the mess hall like a nervous animal. The crew debated. Finally, Brubacker, Ella, and Husky flew to Lorville on the daughter ship. Hermieoth and I stayed in space with the Carrack.
It felt like someone was standing behind me, watching me the whole time. I could clearly feel the breath of the Hurston family reaching for me with their claws. To calm myself down a bit, I started searching the ship. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I didn’t want to just sit around and wait.
In the engine room, I opened the life support hatch. And there was something that didn’t belong there. A gas cylinder. It looked like a water bottle. And it was connected to the ventilation system. After disassembling the bottle, I held it in my hand in wonderment. Carefully, I turned the blue container back and forth when suddenly I heard a voice behind me.
“What are you doing Zero?”
As if caught in the act, I winced.
“Uh yeah, so the gas bottle here…It was hooked up to the ventilation system.”
“What’s in the gas bottle?”
I wasn’t sure if Hermieoth suspected me or if he believed me that I had found the thing.
“I have no idea.”
“Do you have an airtight suit and helmet on board? We should play it safe.”
It seemed Hermieoth didn’t suspect me. After putting on spacesuits, we took the gas cylinder to the onboard workshop. However, there was no equipment there that could help us in any way.
“Maybe the scanners in the medical bay can analyze the gas”, I suggested in a nervous voice.
But that didn’t get us anywhere either. None of us could operate the scanners. We needed Ella, our nurse. Unfortunately, Ella and the others were not back from Lorville yet.
Hermieoth seemed to be getting a little nervous, too.
“We should arm ourselves and search the whole ship. Not that we have a stowaway on board.”
Hermieoth was right. The whole thing stank to high heaven. We couldn’t be too careful. Equipped with armor and weapons, we began searching every nook and cranny of the Carrack. Once the rest of the crew was back on board, they helped us search.
First, Hermieoth found several microphones. Then I found a transmitter. A sophisticated little device that could transmit through the quantum tunnel, over very long distances. That was the last straw. We were being monitored, all the time. Someone was playing a very nasty game with us.
While I was still trying to keep my anger and panic in check, we suddenly heard Brubacker on the radio. He said something about smoke from the ventilation, then he coughed heavily. Apparently he couldn’t get any air and couldn’t move. Ella was first to him and pulled him out of the danger area.
When we were all gathered in the mess hall, Hermieoth put the microphone and I put the transmitter on the table. It was Hermieoth who first voiced an outrageous suspicion.
“Could it be that we are participants in an involuntary sitcom, along the lines of idiots in space, to get the audience numbers up a little?”
Brubacker waved it off and left the room. Great captain. Instead of taking control of the situation, he simply disappeared. But not for long. Just a minute later, he reappeared. The shock was written all over his face.
“The teddy bear in my quarters. The eyes. Those are cameras. We’re not just being listened to, we’re being filmed. Folks, in fact, I think we’re being put on the roll here, too.”
Great. So much for “I remain undiscovered, under the radar.” Somehow it was clear that a radio show would attract attention. However, Brubacker had assured me that the broadcast would come later. Until then, I had assumed that I would have long since gone underground by then. I had to get out of here as soon as possible.
“Do we know what’s in the gas cylinder?”, asked Husky.
“No. I can’t analyze the contents with the equipment in the med bay”, Ella replied.
“There’s a research station on Yela. I’m sure they have better equipment”, I added.
“Then that’s our next target – Husky….”. Brubacker’s order came without delay.
Actually, I wanted to get to Daymar as soon as possible. But I also wanted to know who was playing this sick game with us. Was it really supposed to be the radio station? Just to increase the ratings? It wouldn’t surprise me. Stanton was a sick, money-grubbing, corrupt star system.
A short time later, we arrived at the outpost on the moon Yela. Miles Eckhardt had withdrawn his mission in the meantime. But nobody was interested in that. We only wanted to know what was in the gas bottle.
The reading on the analyzer stunned us. It was a hallucinogen. Over the past few weeks, it had been distributed throughout the Carrack via the ventilation system. It was no wonder we were having apparitions and hallucinations. And we had suspected the artifact. So what kind of crazy radio station was that?
I was fed up with the whole crew project. My hope that the Carrack and the Crew could be a start to a new life had finally been dashed. I could only take my new beginning into my own hands.
“Please take me to Daymar, I want to get away from here now.”
“We will – and I’m really sorry, Zero….”. Brubacker actually seemed remorseful.
The flight to Daymar was just a hop, skip and a jump away. After the Carrack landed at Wolf Point Aid Shelter, I immediately got off the ship. Just as I was standing outside the airlock of the outpost, I heard Husky yell over the radio.
“The self-destruct has activated on its own. Everyone out, now!”
Just two seconds later, there was a bright flash, followed by a loud bang, then it went dark around me.
Somewhat dazed, I opened my eyes. Like a pie thrown against a wall, I lay contorted on the stairs in front of the outpost’s airlock – head down with my back against the parapet. Next to the building lay the debris of the exploded Carrack. The force of the explosion had thrown me against the parapet of the stairs. Ella, Brubacker, Husky, and Hermieoth had not made it out of the ship.
In the gathering dusk, I collected what had not been completely destroyed. Afterwards, I went into the outpost and tried to become aware of what had just happened.
Brubacker’s perspective (german only): https://sternenwanderer.org/jahr-2953#S10