Traces to the White Rabbit and to an old friend surfaced and got lost.
Sometimes you are groping in the dark. In a darkness that does not allow you to see the traces you want to follow. And sometimes a light appears unexpectedly, a small cone of light in which traces can be seen in the sand. Traces that outside the cone of light get lost again in the darkness. The traces show the direction to go, but they don’t show the way to the destination.
My light cone was the guy from the admin office in Grim Hex. He had information for me.
“I’ve been asking around. The spaceship you’re looking for. That Mercury Star Runner….”.
Impatient like a little kid sitting in front of his wrapped present, I interrupted him.
“The White Rabbit.”
Unimpressed, he continued in an indifferent tone.
“That’s right. White Rabbit was on the hull of the Star Runner. She was here in Grim Hex. For two days. Components were replaced. Then she went on to the planet Hurston. That’s all I know.”
The traces, they pointed to Hurston, there they got lost in the darkness. In my case, more like in the gloom. The planet Hurston was the darkest place in the Stanton system that existed for me. The place I least wanted to be. The power center of Hurston Dynamics. The mega-corporation that had tried to put me out of business and had almost succeeded.
I needed someone who could pick up the traces on Hurston for me. The activists on Hurston would be a possibility. But I had not had any contact with them since my arrest. I didn’t even know if the network was still active or had been dismantled by Huston Security. Simply sending a message to my old contacts was not an option. The risk of it being intercepted by a Hurston snitch was too great.
I stood on the racing and betting level of Grim Hex, looking out through the large picture window at the asteroids. A Cutlass Black flew by. As if trying to hide, it suddenly disappeared behind an asteroid. Hiding was the right thing to do. A hidden message to the activists was just what I needed. The only question was how to do it?
Suddenly I remembered the hiding place of the activists in the orbital station Everus Harbor in the orbit of Hurston. I could leave a secret message there. But I couldn’t just fly to Everus Harbor, land there, and walk into the hideout. The security forces would immediately identify me and arrest me. I had to infiltrate the station undetected. But how was I going to do that?
My gaze roamed over the asteroids. The Cutlass Black was nowhere to be seen. Only a sea of boulders and behind it the pink glow of the gas giant Crusader. My eyes lingered on the pink gas sphere. Memories of my last mission on Crusader came flooding back. The mission where Chris and I had walked unmolested through the cloud city of Orison disguised as Crusader security. That was the idea.
A few days later Hermieoth picked me up on Grim Hex. He had brought me a box.
“Wasn’t so easy to get the stuff. I had to fly around half the Stanton system to get the stuff.”
Curious, I opened the box. Inside were work shoes, gray work pants, gray gloves, a work jacket in yellow and gray, and a gray helmet with goggles.
Exactly what I had ordered. The outfit the workers wore on the cargo deck at Everus Harbor. My disguise so I could move around the station inconspicuously. Hermieoth had done a great job.
Gratefully, I looked at Hermieoth.
“Great. You can simply be counted on. Then let’s fly off. To avoid inspection, we’d best land on one of the pads that doesn’t require a landing permit.”
In a Drake Cutter, Hermieoth flew me to Everus Harbor. The closer we got to the planet Hurston, the more anxious I became. Would my plan work? Would I remain undetected and would my message reach the activists?
Nervously, I sat on the Cutter’s bed as we dropped out of the Quantum Tunnel with a loud thud. I couldn’t see what was happening outside the ship. Then I heard Hermieoth say something in the cockpit.
“We have a system failure. We have to make an emergency landing…..”
My nervousness increased immeasurably. Hermieoth kept talking.
“….Flight Control Everus Harbor. Can you hear me? We’re landing on a landing pad.”
My fright subsided. Hermieoth’s idea was genius.
After landing, I ran with the box to the airlock. Before I even got to the elevator, I took off my spacesuit and slipped into the clothes Hermieoth had brought me. I really looked like a worker from the cargo deck. After I had taken several deep breaths, I pressed the button of the elevator. There was no turning back now. I could only hope that the masquerade worked.
Looking busy, I walked briskly across the cargo deck into the warehouse. Past forklifts, load trolleys, crates and workers. Shouts and the rattle of machinery echoed through the large hall. My gaze was firmly fixed on the containers I was heading for. They were stacked up to the ceiling. I tried to avoid any eye contact with the workers. But one worker looked at me strangely. As if something was wrong with me. His gaze followed me. What the hell was going on? Why was this guy staring at me like that? Then it struck me. I was the only one wearing a gray helmet. Had I given myself away with it? Looking sternly ahead, I kept walking.
When I reached the containers, I stopped and looked around. All the workers were busy, no one paid any attention to me. Even the one who had been staring at me went back to his work. Unnoticed, I slipped around the corner of the container and disappeared into the darkness.
It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. In front of me stretched a passage between the containers. After a few meters, it bent to the left. Once there, I saw a faint glow of light at the end of the passage. Stepping into the light, I found myself in a hidden room. Two old red sofas, a chair, some boxes, a refrigerator and two slot machines were in the room. One slot machine was covered with a tarp. Some empty beer bottles were lying in a corner. It looked exactly as I remembered it.
For a minute, I stood in the middle of the room. Memories of past activities flooded my consciousness. Secret meetings and briefings that had taken place here suddenly became as present as if it had been only a few days ago.
Then I shook the memories off like sand from my shoulders. On the slot machine, I started the subroutine where the activists left secret messages. After placing my request to locate the White Rabbit on Hurston and contact me, I exited the program.
Just as I was about to reactivate the game mode, an old entry caught my eye. An entry from the arms deal I had made with Root a long time ago. At the time, he wanted two size 9 torpedoes that had been reprogrammed so that they would explode on launch. The deal was on Port Tressler at the time, but the slot machine in the hideout there was networked with the slot machine here. A note had been added to the entry:
One of the delivered size 9 torpedoes was activated in the Pyro system.
The UEES Vigilance (modified Polaris class) ship under the buyer’s command was reported lost in action. All files are under seal. No further information available.
Surveillance of second torpedo continues. Current position unknown.
The activists had actually monitored the delivered torpedoes. My subroutine in the reprogramming of the torpedoes had worked and successfully reported the activation to the activists. But what about Root? Why was his ship missing? Had the torpedo exploded aboard his own ship? Why would Root buy a torpedo on the black market that would destroy his own ship? It didn’t make any sense. Or did it have something to do with his special orders? Root was an officer in the UEE Navy and was tasked with secret missions. He had once mentioned that he hunted enemies of the system. I was not sure if these missions were not also directed against the free peoples. Therefore, I had a certain skepticism about Root. On the other hand, he was a damn nice guy and more than once my personal bodyguard. I felt indebted to Root.
Did Root need my help now? Should I be looking for him? His tracks seemed to lead into the Pyro system. But they were lost in total darkness. The Pyro system was a very dark place, a dangerous place. Pyro was under the control of notorious outlaw gangs that were not to be trifled with. Finding Root there was like finding a needle in an exploding star cluster.
Even though it was difficult, I had no other choice. The search for Root had to wait on the to-do list. I couldn’t do anything without my White Rabbit anyway. And before that, I had to develop the chip for Chris. Without that chip, I couldn’t delete my entries at Hurston Dynamics. And as long as I was a wanted criminal, I couldn’t pass through a monitored jump gate to another star system. Stupidly, I had not yet found a way to develop the chip for Chris.
Feeling powerless, I flopped down on the red sofa. I couldn’t help Root, I couldn’t help Chris, I couldn’t help myself. It was exasperating. Right now, all I could do was wait and hope that the activists on Hurston got my message and found traces to my White Rabbit.
But there was one more thing I could do. Maybe Hermieoth or Husky knew a way to the platform in Orison where Crusader Industries’ engineering department was located. Maybe they could be a cone of light that would show me the traces to a successful development of the chip.