I looked into human abysses and saw a glimmer of hope.
My head was still pounding from the explosion of the Carrack. At first I thought I was the only survivor. But then I got messages from Ella, Brubacker, Husky and Hermieoth. The Imprint had worked for all of them. They had regenerated in different clinics in the Stanton system. They were still suffering from the effects of the regeneration process, but otherwise were doing well. I had to admit to myself that this Imprint technology had its advantages, but it still gave me the creeps. It was just not normal to rise from the dead.
The events on the Carrack had also been eerie. It didn’t make me sad that the ship was now only a field of debris. The crew project had gone from being a hope for a new life to being a danger to my life. With all the attention and surveillance on board, the risk was too big that Hurston Dynamics would learn of my existence. I didn’t want to give that unscrupulous corporation a second chance to eliminate me. It was bad enough that they had eliminated my White Rabbit.
For a brief moment, I had a glimmer of hope that this was not true. Was my spaceship still out there somewhere? The computer core I had found in the junkyard was exactly the same as the one I had installed in the White-Rabbit. Or was it even mine? To find out, I had to find the guy who had sold the computer core to the junkyard. “Follow the junk,” the junkyard guad had said. And that’s exactly what I was going to do. Alone. The crew couldn’t help me with that.
To follow the junk, I had to enter the junkyard world. Fortunately, the Vulture, which was parked at the scrap yard, was still airworthy. The small salvage ship needed only a few minor repairs. With a list of where I could find wrecks, I set off into the depths of space. With big loot I wanted to return to the junkyard and show that I belonged. Then the junkers would surely give me clues as to where to follow the junk. At least that was my hope.
It was good to dive back into the sea of millions of points of light, to be so close to the blackness of the universe that I could reach out and touch it. I often looked dreamily out of the cockpit and lost myself in the play of light of the stars and gas clouds. The Vulture was a simple ship. It did its job while offering no comforts. There was a bed and a shower / toilet cabin, but no kitchen. Typical of the manufacturer, Drake Interplanetary. Removing the hull from the wrecks was a relaxing job. Unlike mining, there was no laser to regulate and a green energy zone to watch out for. Ideal for musing to yourself as you worked.
What got me thinking was the news from Brubacker. Paul Mason, the head of Radio Infinity, was as shocked as we were about what happened aboard the Carrack. Apparently he didn’t know what had happened to us. That we had been paraded and then blown up. That his radio show had gone completely off the rails. It looked like the special shows editor was behind what had happened. For whatever reason. His motives were unclear. No one could ask him either. The idiot was on the run.
Why did people do this? Why were they greedy. Why did they enrich themselves at the expense of others? Why did people destroy whole planets, their own basis of life? One would think that mankind would be further along after thousands of years of development. How one could be mistaken. The human abysses were bottomless.
The sound of the mining lasers idling brought me back to reality. The hull of the wreck had been removed. After several days in space, my cargo hold was almost full. The containers with the removed material were piled up to the ceiling. There was still a little space left. I was still able to process one more wreck. I retracted the lasers and jumped to the next wreck.
It seemed that I had misjudged the space. The cargo area was full and the wreck still had plenty of material on the hull. Of necessity, I started stacking the containers next to the cargo area on the passageway to the stern ramp. I wanted to take as much material as I could.
As I continued to strip the hull, I daydreamed again. As I did so, I didn’t notice the dot on the radar approaching my position. Suddenly a Vanguard, a heavy space fighter, appeared in front of my cockpit. The fighter was alone. At first I thought nothing of it. But then came the radio message.
“I want to profit from your cargo. I want you to transfer containers from your cargo hold to mine.”
My mouth dropped open. A pirate raid. What a fucking mess. Another one who got rich at the expense of others. Why did I have to look into more human abysses. Didn’t I already have enough problems on my hands? I wasn’t thinking about escape or fighting in any way. But leaving my pilot seat and reloading containers was also out of the question. I tried cooperativeness.
“I’ll open the stern ramp. Then you can serve yourself.”
The answer came promptly. “No. I want you to bring the containers into my ship.”
Bummer. I guess it wasn’t that simple after all. I looked for a reason why I couldn’t transfer the containers.
“Uh, I can’t. The containers in the hold are blocking the way to the stern ramp. I can’t get out.”
Oh man. I couldn’t have come up with anything more stupid. In principle, I was right. But there was still the door in the cockpit. So I could get out. Did the pirate know that? Anxious seconds passed until the answer.
Shit. I weighed my options. No, leaving my pilot’s seat was not an option. So I put all my eggs in one basket and opened the stern ramp from the cockpit. What happened next I had not expected.
The containers standing next to the cargo area were not secured by the floor magnets. They floated through the opened stern into space. Slowly they drifted away. Perplexed, I watched the containers through the outside camera. After a few seconds, I regained my speech.
“I dropped some containers. So you don’t have to go into my ship. You can collect them directly.”
In a useless, desperate attempt to protect myself, I ducked my head. It remained silent on the radio. The Vanguard changed position. Panic rose in me. In another futile action, I put all energy into the shields. It felt like someone was counting down.
Then there was a crackle on the radio. “OK.”
My muscles relaxed and I slumped in the pilot’s seat. After several minutes, there was another crackle on the radio. Startled, I winced.
“”What a bloody mess.” The pirate sounded anything but pleased. “The containers are too big. I can’t get them into my ship.”
A bad premonition sprouted in me. The pirate now had only one option to get rich off my cargo. I didn’t want to think of the details. Then he said:
“So I’m either too stupid to be a pirate or you’re too friendly. You know what. Screw the cargo. I’m going to stay here and protect you until you’re done with your work. My name is Captain Whiskey, by the way.”
The grin on my face went from ear to ear. I had to remember that name and invite Captain Whiskey out for a Whiskey Coke sometime. It was incredible. And it showed me that there was still hope for humanity.