The events of ENOS had consequences. Consequences that also brought unexpected discoveries.
The aftershocks of the public ENOS test were felt everywhere. Friedrich Winters investigated and confronted the Abendroth family. He wanted to know why his grandson Gabriel “Husky” Winters had been shot during a public test. Maximilian Abendroth, the head of the family, protested his innocence and that he had known nothing about the brutal actions of the security forces at Harpers Point.
At the same time, Najava organized aid deliveries for the beleaguered settlement of Harpers Point, which Hermieoth and I delivered. I was not prepared for what awaited me there.
It was broad daylight when we approached the settlement. It was idyllically situated at the mouth of a river into a small lake. In the middle of extensive coniferous forests in the green belt of the planet Microtech. There were a few small buildings on both sides of the river. They were made of rusty steel plates, wood and fabric. Footbridges jutted out into the lake like fingers, inviting people to linger. Ideal places to dangle your legs in the water and let your thoughts drift across the lake. There was no glamor to the settlement. It was pure, simple life with what the surroundings had to offer.
The place enchanted me. It was the kind of life I liked. Simple, connected to the environment, utilizing what others left behind as waste. Free from the regulations of the UEE and the corporations. The life of free peoples. I would have loved to stay and leave it all behind.
A few days later, I returned to Harpers Point alone. I wanted to know who these people were. Where they came from. But they weren’t very talkative. Nobody wanted to talk to me. There was a lot of mistrust towards strangers. No wonder after what happened during the ENOS test. It was typical of the companies. They came to this place with their large spaceships without being asked. They occupied it. They abused it for their own purposes without any consideration for the inhabitants.
So I joined the silence and surrendered to the stillness of the lake. As Stanton’s star slowly sank behind the horizon, campfires were lit. Flickering lights lit up the settlement everywhere. The crackling mingled with the lapping of the water to create a symphony of relaxation. As dusk began to fall, a strong wind picked up. The rustling of the trees accompanied the symphony of fire and water. I stood on the shore and looked out over the lake. The trees were reflected in the water in the last light of day. An almost forgotten calm flowed through my body. A calm before the storm that awaited me the next day.
The next aftershock was imminent. The Free Riders of Stanton wanted to confront Valentin Benz. Valentin had shaken the foundations of trust within the FROS biker group. He had held a gun to my head and threatened me. This was unacceptable within the group. Valentin came to the next stage of the Microtech circumnavigation to explain himself. Husky, Hermieoth, Brubacker, Chris and I were waiting for him at the meeting point.
“Here comes Valentin. Shall we talk to him out here or on board the Carrack?”
I suspected that Valentin hadn’t held a gun to my head of his own free will, but I didn’t want to make it too easy for him.
“We’re here for biking. Valentin can explain his outrage over the radio. I’ll listen to it while we ride. Then we’ll decide whether to look him in the face or not.”
Stanton’s star was just rising above the treetops when we took off. My Dragonfly floated light-footedly along the edge of the forest over the brown-green grassland directly towards Stanton’s glowing yellow fireball. Husky rode his X1 at the same height as me. Valentin wasted no time and immediately started apologizing.
“Guys that was really shitty of me. I didn’t mean to do that. Zero couldn’t see that I didn’t have any ammo in the gun. I feel really shitty about it.”
Valentin explained that they had no confidence in the TYR mercenary force. They feared that TYR wanted to steal the Black Data and then they would be left without it. That Cäcilia Abendroth was really just looking for her sister. TYR, on the other hand, would try to prevent this and would withhold information. And he would have to hand over the Black Data to Vespula after decryption, his life would depend on it. So he saw no other option than to keep me away from TYR by any means necessary.
Expansive grasslands thundered beneath me. The Dragonfly quickly climbed up the rolling hills to swing down the other side. Out of the corner of my eye, I could barely make out individual trees and rocks passing to the left and right. I relentlessly pushed the hoverbike forward. I kept asking questions during Valentin’s explanations. But I was so focused on riding that I could barely take in what he was saying. I was in a frenzy of speed.
At some point I saw a few hills in front of me, a red light.
“Guys, there’s a red light up ahead.”
“That’s Dunboro. Our destination for today.”
“OK. I’d like to look Valentin in the face there.”
The others agreed.
Dunboro surprised me. It was a junk settlement. Just like Harpers Point, only much bigger. The settlement was on a hill. It had been built from the remains of a crashed reclaimer. At one end, the rear section of the reclaimer rose steeply into the sky, almost majestically. Like the main building in Lorville, it towered over all the other buildings. In Dunboro, the creativity of the scrap recyclers was on full display. They had constructed small buildings, large warehouses, workshops, a bar and a store from scrap metal. Several wind turbines provided power. I parked the Dragonfly well protected in a kind of garage.
Impressed, I walked through the settlement. I immediately felt at home. It reminded me of my home in Ashana. Of the wreckage of the crashed Bengal Carrier where I had grown up. Over the years, the inhabitants had transformed the remains of the ship into a settlement with a thriving black market. My fascination with the Dunboro settlement made me forget about Valentin.
After a while, I found a dead body among the debris. He was wearing rusty brown armor with a cloak. Several weapons lay next to him.
“Guys, there’s one lying there. I don’t think he needs the equipment anymore. Neither do the weapons. I’ll take this stuff.”
“Oh no.” came in unison from the radio. Zero. Not again.”
“Hey. I do exactly what the people here do. Recycling what others no longer need. That’s the cycle of things.”
Undeterred, I collected all the pieces of equipment. Heavily laden with several weapons, I continued to rummage through the settlement. Suddenly I stood in front of a woman. She was wearing simple, partly tattered clothes. Her eyes were wide open as she stared at me. Then she fell to her knees, made herself very small and held her hands protectively over her head.
“No. No. Please don’t”, she whimpered.
Perplexed, I stood there in my heavy armor. Two long guns on my backpack, one loose in my hand and a pistol on my hip. The situation completely overwhelmed me. I was incapable of saying anything.
“Zero, you’re scaring the woman.”
It was Husky.
“But I’m not doing anything.”
“Just look at you. You look like you want to go to war. Come on. There’s another dead body back there. And we want to talk to Valentin too.”
Planos I trotted after Husky. After I had taken the other dead man’s equipment, we came across Valentin. He stood before me like a giant. His shaved skull looked almost menacing. He was also wearing terrifying dark armor and was armed to the teeth. I looked deep into his eyes. I had to look up a little. The others were standing around us. It was like a showdown in the midst of scrap metal and corrugated iron huts.
“Val, if you have problems, why don’t you come to your brothers from FROS?”
“Because you’re too attached to TYR. Would you have preferred me?”
“If a biker brother needs help, he gets it. That has priority. We’re a community that helps each other.”
“Now that surprises me.”
“I want to believe you. Still, you’ve really got something to make up for.”
“Yes, I know. And I’m really sorry. The main thing is that you find a way to decode the Black Data with Cäcilia.”
After discussing with Valentin for a while, the group decided to give him a chance. Valentin was not banned from the group, but trust had to be rebuilt.
We spent the rest of the day investigating the settlement. I found a computer in a corrugated iron hut.
“Guys, I’ve found something. There are more settlements like this. Here are directions. There are also some on Hurston. Some trade in building materials and scrap metal. The profits seem to be very good. Looks like they have massive problems with pirates and raids. Dunboro has therefore stopped trading. Explains the dead and the frightened woman.”
“Let’s head for the other settlements next. Maybe we can find out more about the settlers.”
As the day slowly drew to a close, we all gathered on the highest building. It was an incredible view. The Tobin Valley lay at our feet. The valley of rivers and lakes. Green as far as the eye could see. Husky began to ponder.
“That’s where we’ll go next time. Really a beautiful valley. My grandfather had already organized a scenic cruise in the Tobin Valley. It’s crazy that nobody saw the settlement back then.”
I was also intoxicated by the sight. The wind brushed lightly across my face. It was a sublime feeling to stand so high up and marvel at the world below. But a dark shadow loomed. The shadow of ENOS. We still had no access to the Black Data. Probably the missing piece of the puzzle with crucial information. I had to think about the meeting in two days’ time. A meeting that could change things. Perhaps another aftershock.
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