The investigation of a settlement brought some surprises.
I could hardly believe it. The whole crew had come, even though the crew project was buried. Only the janitor was missing. But that was no wonder, because Anvil had stopped supporting after the destruction of the Carrack. It was good to know that I was not alone. I had friends on whom I could rely. And that was exactly what I needed now.
After my attempt to get information about my White Rabbit with the help of the junkers had failed painfully, I wanted to follow another lead. The guard at the junkyard had told me that the seller of the computer core had come from a place called Whistlers Crypt. And he had warned me about the unfriendly inhabitants. This time I didn’t want to walk into the unknown alone. This time I wanted to have someone with me on whom I could rely. That’s why I had contacted the crew.
Under cover of darkness, Ella, Brubacker, Hermieoth and I advanced along a dune ridge. Large rocks lying lonely in the sand provided us with constant cover. Husky secured the action from the air with his spaceship. The settlement of Whistlers Crypt was hidden by another dune. We had to climb higher to get an overview.
Progress in the soft sand was laborious. With each meter we climbed up the dune, we slid back down another half meter with the sand. Brubacker fell further and further behind, grumbling. Finally I reached a position from which Whistlers Crypt could be completely overlooked. Through the scope of the sniper rifle, I looked to see what the situation was in the settlement. In the darkness, I could barely make anything out. Still, the place looked strangely familiar.
“Guys, there’s a destroyed Star Runner lying in the sand here.”
It was Husky, scouting the area on the other side of the settlement. Very faintly, I could make out the silhouette of his spaceship against the starry sky. And indeed, directly below him was the wreckage of a Mercury Star Runner. It was lying some distance away from the settlement. In disbelief, I lowered the sniper rifle. When I saw the complete scenery in front of me, the scales fell from my eyes. This was the place where Hurston Security had left me for dead. The wreckage had to be my White Rabbit.
Goose bumps covered my body. Again I put on the rifle. Then I spotted people in the settlement. They were Nine Tails. Suddenly adrenaline flooded my veins. An unbridled rage gripped me. I took aim and pulled the trigger. One Nine Tail fell to the ground. I took aim at the next one and pulled the trigger. Another Nine Tail fell.
“Someone’s shooting”, Hermieoth shouted.
“That’s me”, I replied in an angry voice.
“You can’t just shoot people”, Brubacker complained.
“Yes I can, they’re Nine Tails. And that down there is the place where I was abandoned. The place where my White Rabbit was scrapped. Whoever is down there is guilty.”
My voice shook with anger. Anger crowded out reason, allowed no clear thought. Like a machine, I shut down one Nine Tail after the other.
“I’m going down”, I shouted, already on my way to the settlement.
Ella and Hermieoth followed me with guns drawn. Brubacker stumbled somewhat awkwardly down the dune.
The settlement consisted of fragments of old spaceships. Everywhere lay sad remnants of once proud star wanderers. A tower towered over the whole place. Just as I came out from under the cover of a large piece of wreckage, I heard gunfire. Hectically, I jumped behind a metal fence.
“A Nine Tail down”, Hermieoth reported.
Just as I took a breath, someone suddenly appeared behind me. In shock, I remained in place.
“I’ll cover you.” It was Husky.
For the second time in a short time, a relieved gush of air escaped my lungs.
Next to the fence was the entrance to a shelter. Cautiously I went inside. Inside, it looked pretty neat by Nine Tails standards. At least as far as a dwelling made of scrap parts could look neat. In the back were three beds, closets, drawers, and a shelf. There were even rugs on the floor. In the front area were a cooking area and a table. On it was a laptop. Curious, I rummaged through the files.
“What was the name of your wacky radio editor again?”, I asked Brubacker over the radio.
“Here’s a message from him: the deal’s blown, the deal’s off with it. Anything else on the boss.”
“Nothing else? Mm. Let’s go over to the Star Runner and check to see if it’s really your White Rabbit.”
“Yeah, hold on. I want to check something else first.”
There was another interesting entry on the laptop. A note about a special deal with a scrap dealer who had come by with a Star Runner. Just like the note from Schuppke, there were no details. But I had a hunch.
Hoping to find out more, I climbed the tower’s rusty ladder. It went up over several platforms and partly broken rungs. On the highest platform, I found another laptop and confirmation of my hunch. The tower functioned as a control tower. Flight movements were recorded in the laptop. One entry had the same date as the note in the shelter. A Star Runner had landed in the settlement and then flown on to Grim Hex. Surely it should be with the devil if this was not the Star Runner I was looking for. The Star Runner who had sold the computer core at the junkyard. So I had to go to…..
Suddenly, gunshots whipped through the night. Instinctively, I threw myself to the ground.
“Husky’s been hit.”
“Where are the shots coming from?”
“I don’t know. I think they buried themselves in the sand. Or there’s automatic gunfire somewhere. We’ve got to get out of here.”
The frantic communication between Hermieoth and Brubacker did not bode well. Hastily, I climbed down the tower. In the meantime, Ella had patched up Husky. When I was with the others, we immediately left the settlement and made our way to the Star Runner.
After a walk across a sandy plain, I stood shivering in front of the wreck. The Star Runner had dug itself into the sand when it crashed. A furrow ran through the sand behind the ship. This was definitely the ship where Hurston Security had abandoned me. To make sure, I walked across the broken-out stern ramp into the dimly lit cargo hold. There was no doubt about it, this was where I had lain on the floor. Shadows of the past haunted the room and through my mind. “Die here with your White Rabbit,” the mercenaries had said at the time. But was this also my White Rabbit?
Excitedly, I walked around the wreck looking for the name on the hull. But there was nothing to be seen where White-Rabbit should be. The paint had peeled off. Rust overgrew the spot.
“That’s not the White-Rabbit”, Brubacker finally said. “Besides, the ship’s been here a lot longer. It’s almost completely buried by sand. They screwed you bad.”
A smile flitted across my face.
“But then that means…”
“…that your ship is by no means junk. We just have to find it. But it’s out there somewhere.”
A glimmer of hope suddenly became a blazing fire of hope. But without confirmation, the fire could quickly fizzle out. Brubacker was right. We had to find the White Rabbit. Before that, I would find no peace.
By now I had climbed to the top of the wreck and was looking around. The first rays of light from Stanton’s star reached the settlement, which lay peacefully in front of a mountain some distance away. My gaze drifted to the left. There I saw a rock massif with a hole. In it was a spaceship, a rather large spaceship. It was an Origin 600i.
Curious, we walked to the wreck. As we got closer, we saw the full extent of it. The 600i must have crashed into the cave without braking. The force of the impact had broken it in half. Suddenly I felt a violent impact in my upper body. Only then did I hear the shot. We had no idea where the gunfire was coming from. Quick-witted, Hermieoth guided us into the cover of the cave.
There a bizarre scenery awaited us. The broken-off front bridge section of the 600i was attached to the cave walls with steel cables. It hung nose down and seemed to float freely in the cave. Narrow walkways led down.
Ella, Brubacker, Hermieoth and Husky dared the dangerous climb down. I stayed on top and belayed. Breathing heavily, I tried to hold my rifle. Every minute it seemed to get heavier and heavier. My lungs also felt like lead. The gunshot wound was taking its toll.
Faintly and quietly, I heard the others on the radio. They were reporting skulls and an escape pod on the bridge. And they found a message from Schuppke:
“Must go into hiding. Reporting. A.S.”
Finally, we headed back.
“So now, does that make the crew history?”, asked Ella into the silence.
“Depends on us”, Brubacker replied. After a brief pause, he continued, “We’re quite a fun bunch after all – I for one want to know what’s behind all this…”
“So do I”, Hermieoth interjected. “If I can get my hands on that one…”
Quietly, I gasped to myself. Breathing and talking were difficult for me. My thoughts were circling around the White-Rabbit that was out there somewhere. I had to find it, preferably together with the crew.
But to do that, I had to come out of hiding. I could no longer hide in the Daymar desert and keep my existence a secret. I had to get to Grim Hex. And I had to get to the hospital to get that damn gunshot wound treated.
Brubacker’s perspective (german only): https://sternenwanderer.org/jahr-2953#S12