Crusader Industries transferred me to a special unit where I worked as a courier. A special opportunity came up.
The manager’s office looked refreshing. It was in stark contrast to the sterile room of the facility manager who had introduced me to my work as a waste collector. On the desk were a variety of figurines and a collection of storm whale stuffed animals in all sizes and colors. On the walls were framed pictures of spaceships made by Crusader Industries. Only one picture didn’t quite fit in with the concept. It was a graffiti with a stylized bird.
The manager sat behind his desk and beamed at me. He was wearing a somewhat crumpled blue shirt with a tie. The Crusader Industries logo shone in gold on his left chest.
“Welcome to R.D.L. – We are the research, development and logistics department at Crusader Industries. You no longer have to collect garbage. You will be assigned to the courier service. The work is done in shifts. You will be out on the spaceship for a week and will also sleep on board. Then you have three days off. After that, the next shift begins. You will be provided with all the equipment you need. Your spaceship is waiting in Hangar 1. Good luck. If there’s anything wrong, get in touch with me.”
Speechless, I left the office and headed for the spaceport. That was a quick ascent. Having just started at the bottom as a garbage collector, I’d already got a new job and a spaceship.
Curious, I entered the hangar. The first thing I noticed was the spaceship’s two gigantic engines. Half of the tail consisted of just eight thrusters. Four on each side of the rear ramp. Then there were some wings, but that was all I could see. I walked sideways past the flat, sleek spaceship. The Crusader C1 Spirit exuded elegance, agility and speed. It was painted entirely in the colors of Crusader Industries, white with blue spots on the side that read C1 Spirit.
The interior reminded me of my Mercury Star Runner. A long corridor with two round doors connected the cargo hold with the front part of the spaceship. The living area and the cockpit were combined there. My gaze lingered on the kitchen unit. Behind two glass doors were several bottles of juices and fruit, really fresh fruit. There were bottles of water and muesli bars on the kitchen block.
I was speechless. Crusader Industries really did treat its employees differently to Hurston Dynamics.
Once I had taken my place in the pilot’s seat, I started the engines. A sonorous humming sound caused the ship to vibrate slightly. A crackling sound on the radio announced that air traffic control had given clearance for take-off. At the same moment, the hangar doors opened, revealing the floating city in the pink clouds of the gas giant Crusader.
With the VTOL engines activated, I accelerated. Only a little, but the Spirit reacted immediately and made a huge leap upwards. A terrible noise rumbled through the hangar as I slammed into the ceiling. I instinctively ducked my head. Damn, this was not a good start, not even to my new job.
Finally, I floated out into an uneventful shift, flying urgent deliveries back and forth between the various outposts of the Crusader planetary system.
After a week, I returned to Orison. I safely landed the Spirit, which had been battered by the take-off, in the hangar. I stood at the open rear ramp for a few seconds and looked down at the technician who was already waiting for me. He looked displeased. No wonder, he had to get the Spirit up and running again within the next three days.
As soon as I had walked down the ramp, he whispered to me: “The boss wants to see you. He wants you to come to his office. Now!”
I left the technician without comment and went straight to the manager. With a lump in my throat, I opened the door to his office. When he saw me, he frowned and said in a stern tone:
“That was a bumpy start.”
Seconds passed. Seconds in which beads of sweat formed on my forehead. Then he continued in a casual tone.
“Not so bad. We all stumble sometimes. And you have to get used to the enormous thrust of the Spirit.”
After another pause, the manager added:
“I’ll move you. We have a special unit at R.D.L. for special tasks. You will continue to travel with the Spirit. But you will be given adapted equipment.”
I stood open-mouthed in front of the manager’s desk, speechless. I didn’t even want to imagine what Hurston Dynamics would do to a worker who had a mishap like mine at the start. The manager smiled at me and warbled:
“Go on. Rest up for the next three days. Orison has enough amenities to offer.”
After three relaxing days in the cloud city, I went back to the spaceport to go on duty. Just before the customs checkpoint, there was an empty bottle on the ground. Shaking my head, I picked it up and threw it into the garbage can next to it. Grinning, I walked on. My previous service as a garbage collector must have had a lasting effect on me.
On board the Spirit was a medium-weight suit of armor and a heavy helmet. Next to it was an LH86 pistol with sights and several magazines. I looked at the equipment questioningly. What the hell were these special tasks I had now?
I found the answer in the on-board computer. It was a delivery order. It actually looked like a normal courier service, just like before. Only this time I didn’t have to collect the parcels from an outpost, but from a security bunker. What were these parcels that were stored under high security precautions and transported by a special unit? And why was I given armor with a higher level of protection for the job? I had a really bad feeling about the whole thing.
After I landed outside the bunker, I stood for a while in front of the Spirit weapons rack. Behind the glass door hung a Behring P4 assault rifle with an optical sight and compensator to dampen the recoil. I looked at the weapon questioningly. “Do I need you?” She looked back coldly, without giving an answer. Finally, I went to the bunker without the P4. I was here as a courier, not as a mercenary.
The bunker was quiet and busy. Technicians and guards from Crusader Security were walking around. Nobody spoke. It was the kind of bunker I’d seen and hated many times before. It was winding, had two levels and there were pallets of crates everywhere. It took me a while to find the boxes I was supposed to get.
Just as I was carrying the second crate to the elevator, I heard gunshots. Screams echoed through the bunker. Then shots again. Startled, I dropped the crate, drew my pistol and took cover behind a stack of crates. Another rapid-fire rifle rattled. Then it was quiet.
After a few seconds of tense silence, I heard footsteps. Heavy footsteps. Someone in battle armor was coming in my direction. The footsteps got louder, closer. Someone was bound to come around the corner at any moment, someone I couldn’t see. I raised my pistol and aimed at a point in the room where someone was about to be.
Suddenly he was standing in front of me, the fighter in heavy armor, and I was unable to pull the trigger. Fortunately. Crusader Security was written on his blue breastplate. All the tense air came out of me in one go. Slowly, I lowered the gun.
“Everything’s under control”, the guard said and added: “We’ve been having more problems with the Nine Tails lately.”
As he spoke, the guard was looking at my gun the whole time. I held it under his nose and said:
“My service pistol. Is there something wrong with it?”
“Is that all? Is that all they gave you?”
Shaking his head, he pointed to a red box.
“There’s a weapons box. Help yourself. They’re available to all Crusader employees. In the other bunkers, too.”
Then he stomped off. A smile flitted across my face as I peered into the crate. Inside were several S71 assault rifles, including a special edition in red. The S71 was not available on the open market. I wasn’t a big gun fan, but I knew who had often asked for S71 rifles. Ray Keaton. Maybe if I sold him the S71 rifles for a good price, he would let go of his grudge against me. With a bit of luck, this would be an opportunity to sort out the problems with Ray.