The traces of my White Rabbit led me to Grim Hex. A place to which I had not only good memories.
Grim Hex, this old, run-down and littered space station in the asteroid belt of the moon Yela. Built in a hollowed out asteroid. Controlled by the Nine Tails. Inhabited by all sorts of shady characters looking for a safe haven from the law. The inhabitants, they called themselves the GrimNecks. I was back in this wicked place. The tracks of my White Rabbit had led me here.
It looked worse than ever. There was trash everywhere. Bottles, trash bags, empty magazines. The gloomy lighting and dark red colors did the rest to emphasize what a grim place this was. After having my gunshot wound treated at the hospital, I wanted to visit my old contacts.
The freight elevator took me to the lower level with a squeak. Groaning loudly, the large gates opened. I stepped into the central hall, which was deserted. I looked around in amazement. It was strange. There was no one to be seen. The door to the old38 bar was open. No bouncers guarded the entrance. Where were the guards from TYR? The bar was also deserted. Not even the bartender was there. Normally there was always something going on here. Business was done, information was exchanged and jobs were given. But now, nothing. The only sign of life was the flickering of a neon sign.
What was going on here? Wallace. Wallace Klim. The drugged-up drug dealer always knew what was going on. He could definitely help me out. A partially collapsed and blocked corridor led to Wallace’s lab. Over several, crooked stairs I went into the underground of the space station. Then I stood perplexed in the cluttered dark room in front of the lab. It looked exactly as I remembered it. On the left was the old packing station. On the right, the scratched sofa. On the ceiling, a fan cut the dim light and created a shadow gyroscope on the floor. In front of me was the counter Wallace always stood behind. Except today, he wasn’t. Wallace wasn’t there.
With an uneasy feeling, I walked back up the rickety steps. What now? Scutter. Maybe I’d run into someone at the gun store. On my way to Scutters, I noticed that all the doors to the sleeping areas were open. Even the two sliding doors that separated the main hall from the betting and racing levels were open. This was more than unusual.
When I entered Scutter’s store, I first stumbled over several boxes and empty bottles.
“Hey Scutter. What’s going on here? All the doors open, the bar empty. Did I miss something?”
“Buy something or get out. But don’t get on my nerves.”
OK, Scutter was still his old self. Unfriendly and annoyed. I wouldn’t get anything from him. Next, I tried Dumper’s Depot. The lady behind the counter greeted me in a friendly manner.
“Welcome to Dumpers Depot. We have some new product. I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
Supposedly interested, I brushed past the shelves. The store was full of ship components. Power plants, coolers, shield generators. Things didn’t look all that new. Suddenly I stopped abruptly. On one shelf was an Aspis shield generator. The quirks and signs of use were unmistakable. This was damn well the shield generator from my White Rabbit. Gasping wildly, I rushed to the counter.
“Where’s that Aspis shield generator from back there on the shelf?”
Presumably, I had lost my temper. The lady’s friendliness had abruptly vanished.
“That’s none of your business at all. My suppliers can rely on my discretion.”
Frustrated, I left Dumper’s depot. OK, I was on the right track. Parts of my White Rabbit had gotten to Grim Hex. But where was my ship? Where was the seller of the parts? Somehow I had to get information. But there was no one I knew. None of my previous contacts could be found.
At least the hot dog vendor was there on the betting and racing floor. However, I didn’t remember him as someone who was well informed. But Kjeld liked to get something from there when he went to meetings in the VIP area. If anyone was well informed about what was going on in Grim Hex, it was Kjeld Stormarnson, the commander of the TYR mercenary force. I left a message for Kjeld with the hot dog vendor.
And now? In Grim Hex, I didn’t want to wait for an answer from Kjeld. The place didn’t seem safe enough to me. The old station was kind of like it always was, only worse. And less familiar. Suddenly, a slight twinge in my chest reminded me of my gunshot wound. With heavy armor, the gunfight in the Junk Settlement probably would have ended more smoothly. But it was gone. Stolen by the idiots at the junkyard. I needed a new suit of armor. However, I didn’t want to buy any. Too big was the fear that I would be conspicuous by the financial transaction. I had to go back to the derelict settlement where I had found the last armor. There were surely more there.
On approach to the settlement, I saw an Origin 300 by the dilapidated buildings on the plateau. Down in the valley, at the main settlement, no spaceship was to be seen. I wasn’t worried about the Origin, but to be on the safe side, I landed on the other side of the valley, on the narrow hill with the collapsed walls.
Rudi the ball lay upside down on the bed and looked at me critically.
“Rudi, don’t look at me like that. The settlement is safe. When we were here with the crew, we didn’t meet a soul. All is well.”
I ate another Blue Bilva for strength, then took the weapons out of the rack and headed out. After securing the wall remnants, I checked the situation with the buildings on the plateau through the scope of the sniper rifle. The distance was over 200 meters, but thanks to the good visibility, every detail was visible. A bathtub stood behind a fireplace. Boxes lay between collapsed walls and in an open container. No one was visible on the watchtower. There was also no movement at the landed Origin. Everything was quiet. Where was the pilot of the Origin?
I aimed the scope at the main settlement in the valley. A soft “Shit” escaped my lips. Through the optics, a Nine Tail could be seen in what appeared to be close range. And he wasn’t alone. Several Outlaws guarded the derelict settlement. Now good advice was expensive. Was that it already with my search for an armor? Should I ask the crew for help? For several minutes, I crouched thoughtfully.
Finally, the feeling of anger I had felt in the Junk Settlement was back. My gaze narrowed to a tunnel. Why should I call for help? Determined, I pressed the butt of the rifle against my shoulder. Several times a loud bang echoed through the valley.
Shortly after, I landed the Vulture down by the main settlement. Cautiously, I roamed through the ruins. I wasn’t sure if I had taken out all the Nine Tails. With an uneasy feeling I searched through boxes and storage places. Again and again I looked over my shoulders. Every noise made me jump up. Was it the wind? Or was there someone else here?
By nightfall, I had searched everything. Unfortunately, I did not find what I was looking for. I could only get hold of a heavy helmet. Otherwise, there were only light pieces of armor in the boxes. I had no choice but to take the medium armor of the Nine Tails.
Then I had an idea. Scutter was always interested in weapons and armor. He was polishing up his stock with used stuff. Maybe I could get him talking with a big shipment. After collecting all the equipment from the Nine Tails, I stripped the Origin. Ship weapons were certainly more valuable than handguns.
“What the fuck is this stuff?”
That was Scutter’s annoyed way of being happy about something. If you could call it joy. With a datapad, I stood in front of his counter and showed him pictures from the Vulture’s cargo hold.
“Rifles, with scopes. And Nine Tails armor. I’ll bet you can sell those pretty well on Grim Hex.”
“And that big crap there?”
“Ship’s weapons, missiles. Big caliber ones. Here the Rhino Repeater has a lot of bang.”
“Do you see any ship’s guns here in the store?”
Somewhat dumbfounded, I looked around. He was right. Scutters only carried handguns and armor. Still, I was sure Scutter dealt in more than just the stuff on display on his shelves.
“Not interested? You want me to take the stuff back?”
“Are you kidding me? Of course I want the shit.”
“Look. I’ll let you have it all. Free of charge. In exchange, you tell me how used stuff gets to Grim Hex and gets hawked. You know. Stuff like this that belonged to someone else before. I’m especially interested in ship components, like a shield generator that found its way to Grim Hex not too long ago.”
Scutter looked at me urgently, putting his hands on his hips. He looked almost menacing standing behind his counter.
“For fuck’s sake. Are you crazy? You’re going to have to drop more than one Rhino Repeater for that. About the whole arsenal of a Hammerhead.”
“Uh, stop, time out. How am I supposed to do that? You want me to take out a warship and loot it?”
“Are you a pussy or what? Well. I know where there’s a wreck. Bring me the weapons, then maybe I could tell you something. And if there’s anything else interesting in that ship, bring that too. Grim Hex will take anything. Now get the fuck out of my store.”
My feelings wavered between confidence and frustration. On the one hand, I was one step ahead. On the other hand, I wondered how I was going to fit the vast quantities of weapons from a Hammerhead into the small Vulture. It was impossible.
“Zero, you are not alone”, said an inner voice.
The voice was right. But why was it so hard for me to let someone help me? Was I afraid for my independence? That was nonsense. I made up my mind and sent a message to the crew. Now it was a matter of waiting and hoping that someone from the crew had a ship with a large cargo hold.