Another attempt to decrypt the Black Data. Will it work this time?
Hermieoth said you wanted to talk to me directly. How can I help you?
Good to hear from you.
It’s probably more about how we can perhaps help each other.
If you’re ever interested in a one-to-one conversation – really just one-to-one – please let me know – you’re also welcome to choose the location.
Cäcilia Abendroth didn’t write what she wanted from me, but after the failed attempt to decrypt the Black Data, I knew what she was after. She needed the Black Data to find her sister. We needed it to find out where ENOS was being illegally researched in the Pyro system. She had the Black Data. I was the only one who could decode the data. We needed each other. But there was a lot of mutual mistrust. Would Cäcilia stick to the agreements this time? Or was I in danger of falling straight into a trap again? I had to set clear conditions from the outset and still reach out.
The 4 eyes thing, without your lapdogs, works for me. And helping each other sounds sensible. I have the feeling anyway that the interests of those involved, or should I say affected, in this madness are not so contradictory. I just don’t know where you stand yet. But let’s clarify that in a calm conversation.
Planet Crusader, Orison, Voyager Bar. Would that be okay?
Fine – I’ll leave the doggies at home and you leave your wolves.
I can live with that and a clarifying conversation will certainly help us.
Good choice the Voyager Bar.
I had to smile. After recent events, it seemed sensible to keep the wolves away from the TYR mercenary force. I could give Kjeld the data later. And after Skjulf Ulfur had sent me Xedan Thormento’s vital code, I was able to decode the Black Data without TYR. And I had another interesting piece of information from Skjulf. He was a great cousin of Kjeld and was also looking for his sister. Like Marietta Abendroth, Tjarva Ulfur was a test person at ENOS and probably also in the Pyro system. This could be helpful in the conversation with Cecilia. Shared suffering and the same goal were good prerequisites for making common cause.
Cäcilia actually came alone. The conversation was surprisingly relaxed and friendly. Was she really interested in working with me, or was she trying to wrap me around her finger? However, she didn’t want to talk about what had happened during the last attempt to decrypt the Black Data. I had the impression that she didn’t want to let me look at her cards. To my surprise, she agreed to my plan to decrypt the Black Data. We agreed to keep the circle of people involved small. Both TYR and her henchmen had to stay away. Cäcilia only had one wish. Valentin Benz should be there and it had to be ensured that he could take the Black Data with him again. After we had clarified Valentin FROS’ faux pas internally, I agreed. But I still had a bad feeling. I had to take precautions in case Cäcilia played the wrong game.
The ventilation was humming. The gas giant Crusader could be seen through the window. Hermieoth, Husky and I were standing in the Carrack mess hall. Brubacker was on the radio from his office. We went through the plan one last time.
“Hermie, you fly to Orison with the Pisces and pick up Cäcilia. Valentin and the Black Data, nothing else and nobody else is allowed on board. No weapons either. If anything goes differently than agreed, your abort code is sunshine.
Husky, as soon as the Pisces has landed in the hangar, I’ll give you the signal. Then you start with unpredictable zig-zag quantum jumps. Always keep moving. If Cecilia has a homing beacon, we can’t give her people a chance to intercept us.”
“If something goes wrong, give the abort signal. Then I’ll jump to the nearest space station. But we shouldn’t abort too early and finally manage to decode the Black Data,” added Husky.
“Let’s do it then.” Hermieoth clapped his hands and set off.
Endless minutes passed, during which I thought of every possible scenario that could go wrong. Only a quiet voice inside me said that Cäcilia was honest. That she wanted the data without any further complications. Was it naive to believe that?
Finally, the Pisces came back. I stood at the control panel and looked through the window into the Carrack’s hangar. The hangar door opened with a loud clatter. The faint glow of millions of stars flooded the hangar. Slowly, the shuttle glided into the landing bay. As agreed, Hermieoth landed so that I could look directly at the rear of the Pisces. As soon as it had landed, I gave Husky the signal.
I looked at the closed rear ramp of the Pisces for what felt like an eternity. I heard over the radio that there was a discussion in the shuttle. What was going on? Why were they taking so long? Then the rear ramp opened. Cäcilia was the first to come out of the shuttle, followed by Valentin. He was wearing the same green jacket as Cäclila. And he had a big red box in his hands. Hermieoth was the last to get out. I stared into the Pisces for a while. Was it really empty? Were there no other uninvited guests hiding in there? It seemed as if Cäcilia had really stuck to the agreement. Nevertheless, a feeling of uncertainty remained.
As I escorted our guests into the mess hall, I said to Valentin.
“What the hell is that big thing? I was expecting a small chip.”
“The box is sturdier,” he grumbled. “And are there really no wolves on board?”
“I would have heard the howling long ago,” Cäcilia teased.
She spread a good mood. My concerns slowly melted away. Was the action really going to go off without incident?
“Put the box on the table, right next to the data pad,” I said to Valentin when we reached the mess hall.
The four of us stood around the table and examined the big red box. So this was it, the Black Data. The object of desire. What secrets would we elicit from it?
“OK guys,” I took the floor. “There are drinks and something to eat in the box. Help yourselves. I’ll get to work then.”
Valentin immediately got himself a beer. I took the data pad and started the decryption sequence.
“I’m starting a livestream. You can see what I see on the data pad on your Mobiglas. So I’m completely transparent and won’t withhold anything from you.”
The livestream was also our backup in case Cäcilia and Valentin tried to take the data away from us. Brubacker received it in his office and recorded everything. After a few minutes, we saw the data.
The first section described how we could have prevented the success of the public ENOS test. This information came too late for us. After the successful test, Microtech supported the ENOS research. This also gave Professor Usagi in Pyro the funds he needed for his illegal ENOS research.
In the second section were references to the locations of the laboratories and the test subjects in Pyro. Some test subjects were moved to another location on Pyro III or directly to the main lab. Among them were Marietta Abendroth and Tjarva Ulfur.
When Cäcilia had read through the data, she had to leave the room to vomit. A wild discussion broke out about the information.
“And how does that help us now?”
“It’s definitely further proof that ENOS isn’t just a cure, that the research is taking place in Pyro and that Marietta is there too. And we’ve narrowed down where we need to start searching in Pyro.”
“I don’t see any evidence, just a text,” Valentin rumbled. He remained skeptical and didn’t believe our findings.
“We have some information that shows that ENOS is a dangerous weapon. And then there are all the dead bodies lining the path of ENOS. There’s more to it than just a cure.”
“What information? What dead bodies? We haven’t seen any. If TYR has any more information, it’d better not be withheld,” Valentin grumbled.
There it was again, the mistrust between two factions that had different views on ENOS. The Abendroth family, who saw ENOS as a cure, and us. For us, ENOS was a dangerous weapon. I feared that the previously peaceful and cooperative situation could be derailed, that the opposing views would lead to further conflict. We had to find a common path.
“It would be really good if we put all the information together and work together in future. But we have to overcome our mistrust and our goals are not so different. You are looking for a sister and TYR is also looking for a sister. I’ll talk to Kjeld and suggest an exchange of information.”
“That would be really good. And I’m glad we were able to decode the Black Data without any complications. Why didn’t it work right away?”
When Hermieoth brought Cäcilia, Valentin and the Black Data back to Orison, I had the impression that a tender plant of trust had grown. We had to be careful not to trample it underfoot again.
A few days later, I met with Kjeld and gave him the data from the Black Data.
“Do we have a chance of cutting off the support flowing to Pyro?” I asked him.
“Professor Usagi has a pipeline to Stanton. The drug cartel Forgotten15 once supported him and should know the pipeline. However, they’re hiding somewhere in the mountains of Microtech. Didn’t you once smuggle drugs into Microtech? Maybe we can find a way to the Forgotten15 via the smuggling routes.”
“I’ll see if I can reactivate my smuggling to Microtech. And you talk to Cäcilia and share all ENOS information with her. The mutual mistrust has to stop. We’re just blocking each other.”
I hadn’t smuggled any more drugs since I’d been in Klescher. But I knew where I had to go. I had smuggled the drugs to Microtech on behalf of Wallace Klim. It was crazy. I had a decent, legal job at Crusader Industries. Their fresh start program gave me a good reputation in the Stanton system. And now I was going back to the illegal side. I was dancing at two weddings and starting to live two lives. I was on my way to living a double life. But I had to do it. I had to stop ENOS. The danger was too great that ENOS would be used against the free peoples. Against my people. And if there was no legal way to stop ENOS, then I had to take an illegal route.
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