The stripping of an abandoned ship should bring me one step further in the search for my White Rabbit. The action was not without risk.
The Aegis Hammerhead was not much more than a heap of misery. Like a wounded animal in the last stages of its life, the abandoned battleship drifted in front of the picturesque backdrop of a green-bluish gas nebula in the endless sea of stars. Only its weapons stretched proudly like claws in all directions. 24 Rhino Laser Repeaters. Those were the ones I was after most of all. Scutter wanted the weapons in exchange for information. Information I desperately needed to find out what had become of my White Rabbit. But I also wanted to salvage the other treasures of the Hammerhead. The hull material and the cargo.
Using the Vulture’s salvage lasers, I began to strip away the Hammerhead’s hull. I hadn’t gone far when a dot appeared on the radar. From the energy signature, it was a large ship. And it was closing fast. A voice, choppy and hard to understand due to interference, was heard over the radio.
“Looks like there’s a tick on the Hammerhead.”
Somehow that was true. Only instead of sucking the blood out of the combat vessel, I was pulling the skin off its body.
“Hey Brubacker. Glad to see you guys. Switch to the close-range frequency. You’re really hard to understand.”
Since the Hammerhead’s weapons wouldn’t fit in the Vulture’s small cargo hold, Hermieoth had organized a Hercules M2 Starlifter. The large transporter positioned itself above the Hammerhead. It looked like a vulture circling over the carrion with its wings spread.
While Brubacker tried unsuccessfully to get inside the battleship, Hermieoth and I began stripping down the laser repeaters. One by one, they disappeared into the belly of the Hercules. The Vulture got its share of the carrion.
Fully focused on my work, I floated in space between the Hammerhead and the Hercules, with the multitool in my hand. The blue tractor beam of the multitool grabbed one of the laser repeaters and maneuvered it to its new destiny. Suspecting no evil, I suddenly saw something large fly just past me out of the corner of my eye. Instinctively, I ducked my head.
“What the hell …”
“Ha Ha. It worked. I dismantled one of the lasers.”
“Damn you Brubacker. That doesn’t mean you have to throw it at my head.”
“Yeah be a little more careful”, Hermieoth interjected. “The cargo ramp is already damaged. Position the weapons in front of the hatch. I’ll take them to the cargo bay then.”
Some time later, I was standing in the Hercules. The Hammerhead’s laser repeaters were scattered everywhere. Only now, standing right next to the weapons, did I realize how big they were.
“Okay, the most important part is done”, I summed up. “Now I still want to strip the hull. You guys can go ahead and salvage the cargo from the Hammerhead. There are several containers of drugs there.”
“No drugs are going into my ship”, Hermieoth stated unequivocally.
“Geez, we can’t leave this stuff here. The Maze alone is worth 90,000. All right, let’s put the containers in the Vulture.” Fortunately, no one could see through my closed helmet as I rolled my eyes.
“I want to try salvaging, too”, Brubacker said cautiously.
“You, really?” Surprise was written all over my face. No one could see that, either.
“Then Brubacker operates the Vulture’s laser and we take cover”, Hermieoth laughed.
“Someday I’ll write a book about the vulgarities thrown at me”, Brubacker complained.
In EVA, we floated from the Hercules over to the Vulture. Brubacker headed for the open cargo hatch at a bit of an angle. As gravity caught him in the cargo hold, he landed crashing on his stomach. Awkwardly, he lay like a bug on the floor next to a container. I couldn’t help myself and commented snappishly on the situation.
“The scribbler. He can’t land a spaceship without an accident, and he can’t land himself.”
“I’m really writing the book”, Brubacker protested.
After Brubacker picked himself up, we climbed the ladder to the cockpit.
“Pretty cramped in here. Not for claustrophobic people.”
It was Brubacker’s first time aboard a Vulture. He seemed surprised by the interior. It was just typical Drake. Simple, functional, no frills. On the way to the cockpit we passed the bed in the living area. Rudi the ball was lying in his corner. Brubacker ignored him completely and just walked right by.
“Hey Bru. Say hello to Rudi the Ball.”
Brubacker turned and looked at me, puzzled.
“I’m not saying hello to a ball.”
“Yes you do, Rudi’s a great guy.”
“Are you nuts? You must have been in space too long. All right, because it’s you. Hello Rudi.”
I was halfway satisfied like that and Brubacker sat down in the pilot’s seat. I stood directly behind him and looked over his shoulder. Step by step I explained to him how to adjust and activate the lasers. Finally, the lasers began to dance uncontrollably and aimlessly over the hull of the Hammerhead. Here and there they milled a hole in the hull. It didn’t look like structured and targeted material stripping. Shaking my head, I leaned my arms on the back of the pilot’s seat. Almost endless minutes passed until two containers were filled.
“So Bru, now you have to go down to the cargo hold and stack the containers.”
“Seriously? That’s some physical work.”
As soon as the pilot seat was free, I took a seat. From now on, everything went much faster. Brubacker stacked the containers in the hold under Hermieoth’s guidance. I made sure that they were constantly replenished. I evenly glided the salvage lasers over the hull of the Hammerhead. In a glowing orange trail, they melted the hull to a pulp, stripping away the alloys and polymers and sucking them in. In the Vulture’s cargo hold, the materials were compacted into Recycled Material Composite, or RMC, in a container and finally ejected through the dispenser. After a while, Hermieoth reported.
“All containers have been transferred to the Hercules. The Vulture’s cargo hold is empty. Bru come, I’ll show you the inside of the Hammerhead.”
While Brubacker and Hermieoth boarded the battleship, I transferred its cargo to the Vulture. Then I continued stripping the hull. Over the radio, I listened as Hermieoth explained every nook and cranny in the Hammerhead in his typically calm and patient manner.
“Hey Bru. You might want to suggest to your buddy Friedrich Winters that he take a Scenic Cruise to a wreck and hire Hermieoth as a tour guide. “
“Yeah, Hermieoth really knows his stuff. But I think I’ve seen enough.”
Flying in formation, we took the Hercules and the Vulture back to Grim Hex. My mind was on Scutter and the information I would get from him in exchange for the Hammerhead’s weapons. I saw myself already one step ahead in the search for my White Rabbit. We had almost reached the space station in the asteroid belt when I heard the frantic voices of Brubacker and Hermieoth on the radio.
“Something exploded. Damn. Total system failure. Propulsion is dead.”
“Gravity’s gone, too.”
“‘Let’s get out of here before something worse happens.'”
“Want me to come get you?”
“No, we can make the distance to the Grim in EVA.”
Suddenly I remembered that the weapons for Scutter were aboard the Hercules. I felt hot and cold by turns. Frustrated, I realized I had no way to retrieve them. My only hope was that Scutter would trade the drugs and the RMC aboard the Vulture for the information.
Hermieoth, Brubacker, and I met on the betting and racing floor of Grim Hex. Frustrated, I told them of my conversation with Scutter.
“This is such bullshit. No weapons, no information. Scutter is a stubborn goat. I’m not a step ahead.”
“And that’s after all the work.”
“Yeah real poop. What the hell happened on board?”
“A shot came out of one of the laser repeaters,”, Hermieoth explained. “Told you those things were still dangerous. Took out the power plant right away.”
We took a Schmolz on TYR’s account. First one, then two, then three. Then I stopped counting.
Brubacker’s perspective (german only): https://sternenwanderer.org/jahr-2953#S13