The greed for more quickly became a major problem.
I was downright delighted. And it wasn’t because of the spaceship I was flying through the asteroid belt of Yela. It was because of the extremely valuable cargo in my hold. I got the tip from the guy in the admin office in Grim Hex. He had sold me the coordinates of a stranded A2 Hercules, where the cargo was supposed to be more valuable than the hull material.
“You don’t need the Vulture. Just get the cargo containers and get out before the owners show up. Time is running out”, he had said to me.
The lack of time was just one of the problems. The limited cargo space of my Vulture was the bigger problem. Fortunately, there was a solution. The guy from the admin office arranged for me to borrow a Drake Corsair.
The Corsair was a well-designed ship. The single cabins for the crew were a luxury for a Drake ship. There was also a very good view from the cockpit. There was also a common room with a kitchen. And there were several entrances to the ship. There was an airlock with an armory. An elevator that even led up to the roof and a ramp to the cargo hold. It was spacious enough to accommodate an Ursa Rover.
Everything you needed, really. But somehow the Corsair was too gloomy for me. And it wasn’t just because of the dark lighting inside. The whole ship radiated something evil. As my gaze swept over the instrument panel, I realized how much I missed my White Rabbit. I still hadn’t heard anything from the activists on Hurston. Not even whether they had any leads on my Mercury Star Runner.
But for the moment, the Corsair was perhaps just the right ship. Just right to protect the vast quantities of Quantanium and Maze I had salvaged from the A2 Hercules. It hadn’t been easy to get the cargo containers into the Corsair. The Hercules had loaded more than would actually fit into the Corsair. The loading process was a tricky puzzle and I had to utilize every nook and cranny of the cargo hold.
A crack on the radio snapped me out of my thoughts. It was the flight control of the pirate station Grim Hex. The place where I wanted to sell my cargo.
30 minutes later I was standing in the admin office. The sale was easier than I thought. I was able to sell the entire cargo for over a million credits. A profit that exceeded my wildest expectations. I felt like I was floating, invincible. In a fit of greed, I asked the guy from the admin office:
“Do you know if there are any more stranded Hercules freighters? Do you have any more coordinates?”
“Yes, I actually have two”, the guy replied indifferently. “Hey, but no guarantee that they have anything on board. Especially anything valuable. Your risk, the price remains the same. 30,000 per ship, as always.”
I agreed and immediately set off with the Corsair.
The first Hercules had a lot of iron and tungsten, as well as some E’tam and Neon. That barely covered my costs. I took the drugs with me and left the rest behind. The second Hercules was a different story. It was full of Slam. It wasn’t as valuable as Maze, but it was better than nothing. After I had transferred everything to the Corsair, I returned to Grim Hex with a full hold.
“I’ll take the E’tam and Neon. Just one SCU from the Slam.”
I looked at the guy from the admin office in horror.
“Are you kidding me? Is that all? The Corsair’s cargo hold is full of Slam. What am I supposed to do with it?”
“That’s not my problem. But it will be your problem if you don’t get rid of the stuff. I expect you to return the Corsair with an empty cargo hold. And within one day. Do you understand that?”
Puzzled, I left the admin office. A roaring in my ears was all I heard as I slowly walked to the elevators. As if in a trance, I pressed the button labeled “Lobby”. With a loud groan and creak, the elevator went up. The elevator door opened with a loud groan. I bumped into someone as I got out. Neither of us took any notice. My thoughts revolved around the Slam. What should I do with it? Just dispose it in space? No, I couldn’t throw so much money away. Besides, my costs weren’t covered yet. Where to then? The black market on the Beautiful Glen Station only took small amounts. That left only the scrap yards. A meeting place for all kinds of violent riff-raff. Guys who wanted to rip your cargo out of your dead hands. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the thought. But I had a Drake Corsair, what could happen to me?
The star of Stanton was just sinking behind the horizon when I touched down the Corsair on the sands of Daymar. The last rays of light illuminated the piles of rubble in the junkyard. The large crane’s grab arm swayed gently back and forth. It seemed to be quiet. So quiet that the crunching of my boots in the sand seemed like a loud roar. I reached the terminal in the main building without incident. At that moment, Stanton’s star disappeared and I stood in the dark. A darkness that was both protection and danger. The only source of light was the terminal, which treacherously illuminated my face. And it had no good news for me. There was no demand for Slam on Daymar. Zero, nothing, absolutely nothing was going to buy it.
On the way back into orbit, I had the idea to fly to the Microtech planetary system. Microtech was far out. Far away from the inner planets. Smugglers were reluctant to make the long journey. Perhaps the need for Slam was greater there. Especially as the party people in New Babbage had a high demand for drugs.
It was dark when I landed at the junkyard of the Microtech moon Euterpe. In the Corsair elevator, I pulled the lever to go down. A jolt went through the cabin as it started to move upwards. Shit, it was the wrong lever. Suddenly I was standing on the roof of the spaceship. The scrapyard lay at my feet. One part was brightly lit by the Corsair’s headlights. I saw scrap hubs, bent metal parts and perforated steel plates. At the edge of the cone of light, the main building stood in the semi-darkness. The illuminated staircase led to a black hole that led inside. I stood there rooted to the spot, staring at the impenetrable black.
Suddenly, something bright could be seen in the black. Someone in a white spacesuit appeared. A white figure in the void of blackness. As suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared again into the darkness of the building. At the same moment, a figure detached itself from behind a pile of scrap metal. She ran light-footedly to the building, up the stairs and disappeared inside as well.
A cold shiver ran down my spine. Who were those guys? Were they lying in wait for me? And where did they come from? When we landed, the radar hadn’t shown any other spaceship. Had the guys been brought here to set up an ambush? The whole thing was too scary for me. I took off at full afterburner and left the moon.
And now? My cargo hold was still full of Slam. There were two more junkyards. One near the planet ArcCorp and one on the planet Hurston. Hurston was on the way. But Hurston was also the place where they wanted me dead. Should I risk landing on Hurston? The junkyard was a long way from the main town of Lorville. And it wasn’t a place where righteous people gathered. Besides, I was running out of time. I had to bring the Corsair back, with an empty cargo hold. A battle of decision raged in my chest.
The Corsair dived down through shimmering red-brown clouds. The warm light of the rising star intensified the dirty face of the polluted air. Slowly, the brown surface of the planet came closer. Pieces of scrap metal were becoming increasingly visible. A garbage dump that stretched to the horizon. Directly ahead was a concentration of scrap parts. The junkyard of the planet Hurston.
During the approach, the radar showed a dot. I thought nothing of it. Probably a scrap dealer who wanted to get rid of his garbage. The closer we got to the junkyard, the more the piles of scrap grew into large mountains. There was a suitable landing area between two of them. Shortly before touching down, I turned the Corsair in the direction of the radar contact. What I saw through the cockpit window made me freeze.
Red and blue flashing lights shone towards me. A merciless hail of red laser flashes hammered the Corsair and made the shields glow blue. A Cutlass Blue was approaching fast. Instinctively, I pushed the thrust lever forward. We raced towards each other like two furious predators. After just a fraction of a second, the security ship thundered past my cockpit by a few centimetres. But it had turned just as quickly and was breathing down my neck. The Cutlass kept firing at me. I put all my energy into the rear shields and tried to escape.
My only chance was a quantum jump. However, I had to reach the upper atmosphere. The Corsair climbed steeply upwards. The ship shook under the loud roar of the engines. I started the Quantum drive and looked for the next jump point. I wasn’t high enough yet. Just a few more seconds and I would have made it.
The pilot of the Cutlass must have seen through my plan. He used his Quantum Dampener to stop the Quantum Tunnel from building up. I couldn’t jump. Out of sheer desperation, I tried to dive down quickly. But the Corsair was too sluggish to shake off the agile Cutlass Blue. No matter what maneuver I flew, the Cutlass stayed behind me, firing and firing. Slowly, the Corsair’s shields gave way. Then there was a loud bang. All the power in the ship went out. The Corsair dropped like a stone.
The joy of not having exploded did not last long. The ground came closer at breakneck speed. Just like the fall, my fate was unstoppable. I closed my eyes and waited. The deafening noise of bursting stones and stressed steel flooded the cockpit. I was shaken roughly in the pilot’s seat. Then it was suddenly quiet. I had survived the crash. But the Corsair was dead. Only the daylight illuminated the otherwise dark cockpit a little.
Suddenly I heard the Cutlass. Panicked, I unbuckled my seat belts and left the Corsair via the airlock. A few meters from the ship, I found cover under huge, curved steel structures. I peered out of my hiding place through a gap. The Corsair was lying on its belly like a beached whale with its wings broken off. There was nothing evil about it anymore. The Cutlass hovered over the crash site, searching.
The pilot of the Cutlass seemed to be looking for me. I carefully moved further away from the Corsair under the protection of the steel structure. When the Cutlass looked in the opposite direction, I ran to another piece of wreckage. Always staying under cover, I moved away from the crash site. There were plenty of hiding places in this endless pile of scrap metal. At some point I found an old sewage pipe where I could hide. I sat there for a long time and had plenty of time to think. Why had I been so greedy? I should have just dumped the Slam in space.
A day later, a spaceship appeared. It was someone from Grim Hex. They had found me via a tracking device on board the Corsair. The mood was not good. The owner of the Corsair wanted compensation. But he didn’t want any money. I was in debt to someone in Grim Hex. That could become unpleasant. Someone would call in a favor at some point.