A mysterious delivery took me to the planet Microtech. There I had the opportunity to bike with the Free Riders of Stanton.
The suit pinched. It felt like a corset. I couldn’t breathe properly either. It was unusual to wear a formal shirt and tie. And then there were the fine trousers and the shiny black shoes. But the crowning glory was the greenish, velvet jacket with a gold pin on the left breast bearing the Crusader Industries logo. When I went to complain to the manager, he just said:
“You’re no longer a garbage collector. Nor are you a simple courier. You are an official representative of Crusader Industries. I can’t emphasize the importance of the delivery enough. To pick up the package in New Babbage, you’ll get a proper spaceship. And treat yourself to a few days off. Microtech has some beautiful stretches of land.”
The appropriate spaceship was a luxurious Origin 400i. Equipped with an Origin X1 hoverbike and a Greycat STV, a sporty off-road vehicle. There was plenty of food, drinks and fresh fruit on board. I had no idea what I had to pick up, but Crusader Industries seemed to value a presentable appearance. However, there was one thing that puzzled me. The 400i had a gray and silver paint job. It looked exactly like the 400i that X had lent me to recover special computer boards. Was my job also about special technologies?
My impression was confirmed when I picked up the package in New Babbage. The box was sealed. “Confidential” was written on the lid. What was in the box? Secret prototypes made by Microtech for Crusader Industries? Was the luxurious appearance just a disguise to distract from the actual contents? In any case, the delivery was so important that the special task force of Crusader Industries’ research, development and logistics department took care of the transportation.
For the moment, however, I didn’t care. The Free Riders of Stanton were starting the next stage of the “Into the Wild” campaign. Brubacker had the crazy idea of circumnavigating the planet Microtech on hoverbikes. Since I was on Microtech anyway and had a hoverbike with me, it was a good opportunity to ride the stage.
We met at an outpost somewhere in the white hell of Microtech. When the airlock opened, an icy wind blew against me. Ice crystals pelted my face. As I walked down the stairs, my jacket flapped like a flag. The fresh, cold air was invigorating. At the bottom of the stairs stood Brubacker in a white space suit.
“Zero, what do you look like? If I didn’t know it was you, I wouldn’t believe it was you.”
It was almost a sublime feeling to descend the stairs in my suit. There’s an old saying: “Clothes make the man.” There seemed to be some truth in that. And since Brubacker almost didn’t recognize me, my suit was probably a good disguise. A way of slipping into a different role. It wasn’t the first time I’d thought about a masquerade to disguise my real identity.
“It’s actually me. I’m on an official mission as a representative of Crusader Industries. Come aboard for now.”
“Are you sure you want to leave your cargo here while we ride the bikes?” Husky asked, glancing at the crate I’d picked up in New Babbage.
“Nothing will happen,” I waved him off.
After I had changed my clothes, we set off. Ella, Brubacker and I took off on the hoverbikes. Husky flew his carrack. It was an incredible feeling of freedom to ride between the snowy trees and slalom across the white landscape.
The X1 was a pretty fast hoverbike. Ella and Brubacker soon fell behind. However, you had to be careful not to get caught on the ground with the lower fin. We went over hills and a few small frozen lakes. As time went on, I got faster and faster. There was just one more hill ahead of me, then came the big frozen lake where we could really step on the gas.
The X1 shot up the snow-covered slope. It trailed a cloud of atomized snow behind it. I braked just before the edge. As fast as the bike was, its braking distance was just as slow. I flew over the crest of the hill at far too high a speed. On the other side, the hill dropped steeply into the frozen lake. The X1 took off like a rocket, gained height and was then pulled back roughly by gravity. The hoverbike flipped over several times and came to a halt after a long sledge ride across the ice.
It was silent. Apart from the wind, there was nothing to hear, no engine noise. The screens in the cockpit were dark. The X1 was dead. Still a little dazed, I stood next to the hoverbike and looked at the damage. In several places, not only was the paint off, but entire parts of the fairing had been ripped out. Sporadic sparks were coming out of the inside of the bike.
“Zero, are you alright?” It was Husky on the radio.
“I am, but the X1 is scrap. End of the ride.”
“We still have a hover quad in the carrack. You can use that if you want.”
After getting on the quad, I drove off immediately. Husky also got on a hoverbike and took off in pursuit. The crazy racer had the ambition to catch up with me. I got everything I could out of the quad bike. The lower I flew, the faster the bike became. I shot across the ice at breathtaking speed. It was a balancing act between going low, but not too low so as not to get stuck on the scattered piles of snow on the ice. My vision narrowed. I was in a tunnel and could barely see the beautiful, snow-covered mountain panorama on the lake shore.
Finally, we reached the other shore of the long lake. The finish of the stage. Husky had almost caught up with me, but only almost. After toasting the return of the White Rabbit, I flew the 400i straight back to Planet Crusader.
I had to drop off the mysterious box from New Babbage at a place that was a stark contrast to the classy appearance of the 400i and my suit: Cousins Crow’s Custom Craft on the Providence Platform in Orison. A company that specialized in customizing spaceships. Cousins Crow’s not only customized Crusader Industries ships, but had also worked on Drake Interplanetary ships.
I was glad I wasn’t wearing a suit. I would have been totally overdressed. Cousins Crow’s was an industrial place. Bare steel stairs, pulleys, noise and graffiti on the walls. One thing looked familiar, a stylized bird. I’d seen it somewhere before.
At the counter, an employee silently accepted the box with a smile. I didn’t find out what was inside.
Translated with deepl.com