Should a life as a scavenger be my future? But ghosts of the past made everything more complicated.
Diana Vess had commissioned me to recover the four Rhino repeaters from a stranded Constellation. But they didn’t fit in my Vulture. The cargo hold was simply too short. I was able to fit two on the far right of the outer wall. They just fit between the loading ramp and the bulkhead to the upper level. Further to the left, the RMC dispenser was in the way. There was no way to safely transport all the four ship’s weapons. I didn’t want to stack them. I remembered too well the accident with the Hercules in which a shot had come loose.
To avoid having to return to Grim Hex with the cargo hold half full, I had taken the Constellation’s cargo containers and stripped as much of the hull as I could. Diana had given me four thousand for the two repeaters. Not much. She couldn’t do anything with the hull material compacted into RMC and the drugs from the Constellation cargo hold. She sent me to the Admin Office with it.
And there was a big surprise. I got six thousand credits per container of RMC. For the drugs even more. Organizing weapons for Diana and Scutter wasn’t really worth it. Pulling off ship hulls was much more lucrative and also more relaxing.
“The best deals you make are with me”, the guy from the Admin Office confirmed.
What he had to say next was even more interesting.
“You know, there are many in Grim Hex who think they are very important. But I’m where all the information comes together. Who rents a hub, trade of goods and I have a direct line to flight control. So I can tell you where stranded ships are. For a fee, of course.”
I told him about my search for the White Rabbit, that it was in Grim Hex and I wanted to find out where it had flown to after that. He promised me he would ask around. With the coordinates of a stranded Caterpillar in my pocket, I left Grim Hex and flew out into the asteroid belt of the moon Yela.
Lonely, the Caterpillar floated among the asteroids. The hull looked quite dilapidated, but otherwise there was no damage to the ship. The scan showed that there were several containers of drugs on board. I wondered why the crew had left the ship and cargo behind. Would they come back for their precious cargo? There was a need for haste. Especially since I only had 30 minutes until security would arrive. Presumably, the Admin Office guy was listening to the security forces’ radio, so he knew where the stranded ships were and how much time they had.
At the first cargo module, which was directly adjacent to the crew area, I was able to enter the Caterpillar. It was creepy. I had expected a dark room, smoke, fire. Instead, I was standing in a brightly lit cargo module. The floor was sparkling clean. The metal on the walls and floor shone. Everything was neat. Above the bulkhead to the crew area, a monitor glowed. The ship had power. Why was it stranded? Was anyone else aboard, perhaps?
Instinctively, I reached for my belt to draw my weapon. I reached into the void. Shit. I had left the weapons in the Vulture; I had come with only a tractor beam. Slowly, I took a few steps back and pressed myself against the wall. Desperately I tried to become one with the wall, invisible, a part of the ship. The cargo module was empty. Was it the ship, too? Or could someone come through the door at any moment?
To my left was the door to the crew compartment. It was closed. Next to it, a yellow ladder led up to a gangway that spanned the entire cargo module. There was another door there that led to the upper hallway and then to the cockpit. On the right side of the room were the bulkheads to the next cargo module. One down on my level, one up on the gangway. So many doors through which someone could suddenly come. My heartbeat was getting louder and faster.
Now what? Should I check to see if anyone was on board? No, quickly in and quickly out. Just don’t take any risks. Carefully, I detached myself from the wall. Barely audible, my boots touched the metal floor. Only a soft clacking sound echoed through the room with each step. Suddenly, a loud noise boomed through the spacecraft. My heartbeat stopped for a few seconds.
The bulkhead to the next cargo module had opened automatically by a proximity sensor. Another empty cargo module could be seen through the opening. I exhaled with relief. But where was the cargo? I had to move on to the next module. Carefully, like a predator stalking its prey, I approached the next bulkhead. Almost in slow motion, I crossed the cargo module. Carefully, I placed one foot after the other on the metal plates of the floor. With one eye, I kept squinting up to the gangway on the left.
Then again the sound of the opening bulkhead between the cargo modules. It went through my spine. It could probably be heard throughout the ship. And finally I saw them, the containers with the cargo. Suddenly I threw off all caution. If someone was really on board, he would have noticed me long ago. With one leap I jumped to the switch for the cargo hatch. My hand hammered on the button. With a squeak, the side panel opened to reveal stars, asteroids, and my Vulture. Before the hatch was even fully open, the first container floated out.
After all the containers from the Caterpillar were stowed in the Vulture’s cargo hold, I set to work stripping the hull. I didn’t have much time. The clock ticked relentlessly. Evenly, the salvage lasers milled over the hull of the Caterpillar. Two blue beams hungrily devoured the material, leaving a bare thin outer wall.
Radio Infinity was playing in the background. The station had hired a DJ. Mitch van Hayden. His music was a perfect fit for Salvaging. Completely relaxed, I sat in the pilot’s seat and listened to the sounds. The steady control of the lasers, the music, the beat, I was almost in a trance.
At some point, an alarm tone snapped me out of my trance world of blue beams, twinkling stars and rhythmic sounds. The “Radar Lock” indicator lit up bright red. A red dot flashed on the radar. I was so engrossed in the work and the music that I forgot the time. It had run out. The enemy ship didn’t seem to be getting any closer. This was the opportunity to fill another container with RMC. Hastily, I ran the salvage laser over the hull of the Caterpillar.
Suddenly, my shields lit up blue under the barrage of laser fire. The shield gauge dropped, 90%, 80%, 70%. “No, just a few more seconds”, it flashed through my head. I didn’t want to shut down the salvage lasers so abruptly. The container was almost full. The display for the shields showed 60%, 50%. The level of the container was rising. The salvage lasers were working at full speed. 40% shields. Then the container was full.
A jolt went through the Vulture. The engines roared and emitted a furious jet of fire. With maximum thrust, I moved away from the Caterpillar. The enemy ship remained behind. I had no idea who it was, nor did I want to know. I could not completely remove the hull of the Caterpillar, but it was enough to completely fill my cargo hold. Satisfied, I flew back to Grim Hex.
I was even more satisfied when I sold my cargo in the Admin Office. After deducting the cost of the Caterpillar’s coordinates, I was left with a profit of 200,000 credits. Was this my new beginning? A life as a scavenger? Salvaging the cargo of stranded ships and removing the hull? The earnings were good, but what was I going to do with the money? My White Rabbit wasn’t bringing it back to me either.
And then, looming ominously like storm clouds, another problem loomed. Ray Keaton. He was looking for special weapons. Weapons I had in my stash. A good opportunity to reach out to Ray and appease his grudge against me. I thought. But how wrong I had been.
He responded to my offer to sell him the weapons with threats. He still had a score to settle with me. Was he still of the opinion that I had manipulated his bike during the failed biker excursion? Or had he still not gotten over the Renaissance thing? But what could I do about the fact that he was on the wrong side as Eris’ bodyguard? And then he also wanted me to hack a comm array for him. That could only be a trap. I refused. His answer was short and sweet:
“That was a mistake.”
A little later, I learned that Ray had put a bounty on my head. An unbelievable 250,000. Ray Keaton was dangerous, he was hostile. He had beaten up Brubacker, threatened Hermieoth, and was out to get me at any cost. Grim Hex was no longer a safe haven for me.
I only flew to the station to sell the loot of my salvage operations. After that, I immediately disappeared into the depths of space again. It was exasperating. Not only did I have to stay under the radar because of Hurston Dynamics, but now Ray and the bounty were breathing down my neck. The Vulture became my home. I slept on board, hidden somewhere in space. Rudi, the ball, could give me little comfort.
The glistening fireball of Stanton’s star cast its light into the cockpit of the Vulture. I stood behind the pilot’s seat and stared into the blackness of space. I was alive, that was at least something. Nevertheless, I had imagined my new beginning differently. Why was there so much hostility in the Stanton system? Why did everyone want to beat up on everyone else? I longed for the People’s Alliance community in Levski. A place where I had lived before. Where I had felt comfortable until Kylo was killed. That had brought me to Stanton. Should I return to the Nyx system and settle back in Levski?
The beat of Mitch van Hayden’s music boomed through the cockpit. Melancholy, I sat down in the pilot’s seat, put my feet up on the dashboard, and listened to the sounds. The rays of Stanton’s star warmed my face, Mitch’s trance flooded my body. My worries slowly dissolved into nothing. With a smile on my face, I fell fast asleep.