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Full Version: All aboard the Mania Interrogator - A Hunter between the Hackers and a hard place
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"Roger that, Border Worlds Freighter Cochrane Interrogator. You are cleared for launch. Good luck out there."

The echoing sounds of the radio operator of Cochrane droned through the Dromedary, as the vessel began accelerating to cruise speed, leaving the vicinity of the station and the Saint Lawrence asteroid field within a matter of minutes. The man strapped down to the cold, metal seat in the cargo hold of the ship could feel the movements of the Dromedary settle to a monodirectional navigation.

The man started zoning out the rather calming sounds of the engines, growing used to them as he had grown used to the wristbands tightly pinning his hands down to the chair. He could feel silence encompass his mind, leaving only the distant sound of the engines and his own slightly trembling breathing to be heard.

An uneasy feeling started creeping up his mind. His captors promised no violence or torture would take place as long as he cooperated, which he did to his fullest extend, or at least made it seem like it. After all, the very reason he was being transported to God knows where is that he had been willing to follow the instructions of the Lane Hackers to the letter. Perhaps it was the mistrust he put in the Hackers. Why would they bother letting him go when this would be all over?

The thoughts clouding his mind were suddenly interrupted by a loud click, followed by what seemed to be a metal object scraping over a metal surface. As he turned to face towards the sound, he noticed the door to the center of the vessel had opened, with a man standing in its doorway.

"Mister... Cool... You have yet to tell me your actual name to lessen the awkwardness of our conversations."

The Lane Hacker closed the door behind him, the same screeching sound repeating itself, before the same silence returned to the environment. Oddjob closed the distance between himself and the Bounty Hunter promptly, positioning himself infront of his prisoner, where he crossed his arms behind himself as he looked the man straight into the eyes.

"Regardless. I apologise for the uncomfortable trip. It's simple procedure, you must understand this. Do you have any more questions, or should we go through the plan again?"
The Hunter was sat on that metal chair, his arms strapped behind his back and his legs attached on to the legs of his seat from his wide ankles with metal shackles. It was incredibly uncomfortable for his rather big size and long figure at first, his knees were drawn back towards his body in that cramped situation. Though he slowly got used to it, and his mind was left mostly blank over time with reminders of his forgotten past flashing on to his mental screen from time to time.

He was whistling a gentle melody as the metal door's high shriek ousted it twice. Looking down in front of him, the giant made no motion to indicate that he's aware that anyone else is there just yet, but the melody got more silent until it was drowned by the engine and crackling sounds in the cargo bay.

"Friends call me Zero of the Guild... I'll make do with just Zero for the time being..." he raised his chin slowly, a tiny sliver of light touched on to his face, revealing a scar running over his right eye and down his cheek. He appeared more bored than anything, but it was just that usual and mostly fake calm exterior hiding his uneasiness, and his anger to the bounds that kept him there in this uncomfortable position.

His whole appearence was alike a giant beast, but beaten and tamed both by the Hackers and that life before meeting them. Without a question, and totally accepting of his fate.

His tired eyes fell on to the ground after that brief stare on to the Hacker's face. "Just explain me my part again..." he said, his voice had no energy left in it.
Oddjob sighed, seemingly impatient, even though he expected Zero to have already forgotten most details of the course of work they were about to engage in, if not simply all of it. Looking over his shoulder, he grabbed hold of a medium sized crate with a large lable on it, clearly identifying the contents as cardamine, and pulled it closer to Zero before taking a seat on it.

"I'll summarise it for your convenience. I will give you a datapad..."

Oddjob reached down a pocket of his suit, conjuring a small rectangular shaped pad, and displayed it for Zero, shortly interrupting his explanation.

"...this one, to be precise. It's currently connected to the neural net, and the only thing you will be able to do with it is send a single message, nothing more, nothing less. You will inform the Guild about your needs to access Sheffield's less public amenities, which is only achievable using the right access codes which change every 48 hours as explained to you by miss Hunter.

He put down the pad next to him, before continuing his speech.

"Obviously, you are to raise no suspicion. Any attempt at notifying the Guild of your actual situation, boycotting the operation or anything similar will result in your desintegration, or worse, but we both know there's no need for that.

Once they have transmitted the access codes to you, a Lane Hacker operative will move towards the station, undercover of course, and will confiscate a large shipment of H-Fuel. If the Guild even slightly values the safety of their members, he will have no issues making it out with the cargo. That's all you need to know, as that's the only part you will play. As for your freedom..."

Oddjob cleared his throat. The lack of conversations he held was taking its toll.

"The moment we will receive confirmation of the H-Fuel having arrived successfully at one of our hideouts, I will ensure your safe return to what you would call the civilised world. As for where exactly, you'll find out once you get there."

He finally stood up from his seat, with the pad in his hand, and walked to the side of the chair Zero was seated in. As Oddjob started releasing one of the straps holding Zero in place, it came to Zero's realisation that there was now a deadly silence lingering in the cargo hold of the vessel. The engines were no longer running, the Dromedary had come to a halt. Oddjob finished freeing Zero's arm, and placed the datapad on his lap, before sitting back down on the crate. Oddjob twisted his head in a seemingly very uncomfortable way, his neck cracking silently in the process, making him release a grunt.

"Don't stretch it on for too long."
"Oh well..." Zero sighed deeply, rubbing his wrists with his hands after they were freed. He then stretched his shoulders, only wishing those shackles to be gone as well, as his knees and back started to hurt. But seeing that no attempt to free his legs were being made, he shrugged off the wish.

"Hmm..." his eyebrow arching over his scarred eye, he took the datapad in his hands and turned it on... The immediate flash of light onto his face made him blink a few times as his eyes were used to the darkness of this dungeon like cargo hold. The sound of the datapad greeting him with a cheeky musical was rather loud in their extra silent environment. "Every 48 hours you say? You sure know my base better than me..." he shook his head then scratched his neck with his left hand as he gathered his thoughts for a while, wondering how he can get this code for them.

His fingers started to travel on to the pad's screen covered with letters, all touches letting out an artificial typewriter effect.

[Image: b8clOiZ.png]

Zero read out loud slowly, "A4d7-b... no 688DRIBE... P0W4C0IN... that should give you access to the docks... wonder if you want this... you totally confuse me, really,". With a smile he typed a little more to Martha before handing the datapad over to the Hacker.
Oddjob took the datapad from hunter's hands and quickly entered several commands. Once the hacker had successfully enabled IFF spoofing, he smiled and looked the hunter in the eyes making a theatrical bow.

"I welcome thee on board of a Bounty Hunters Guild's freighter called Wicking. I hope you will enjoy your stay here. We are currently in Manchester and I am afraid I will have to leave your presence now. Professor Hunter will soon contact you to keep you company."

Oddjob pointed the screen on the nearby wall and quickly left the cargo hold. Room became deadly silent, with the only exception being the quiet humming of cruise engines. The hunter tried to move, but his legs were cuffed into magnetic shackles firmly fixed to the floor. He would have to chop them off in order to get out. His hands were free and maybe the hunter would think about this, however, he had no knife around. Minutes turned into hours when finally the screen on the wall went on showing young brown-haired woman, wearing a black dress emblazoned with diamonds. She smiled.

"Good afternoon, Mr Cool. I hope you remember me. We are approaching Sheffield. You must excuse me, but we have no time for courtesy, therefore, please focus on what I am going to say now."

Professor Hunter paused for a second. Formal chat between a pilot and a docking bay operator was heard from the distant communication terminal.

"In about 12 minutes from now the bomb hidden on this ship will detonate, unless we disable it remotely. It doesn't matter though, as in about 2 minutes Sheffield control will realize that we are stealing their H-Fuel reserve depots. Sheffield auto defenses will blow up this freighter in about 10 seconds, unless someone convince them not to do this. In about one minute I will release you. It will take you 15 seconds to get to the comm panel at the end of this hall and another 30 seconds to convince Sheffield not to blow you up yet. Naturally, that is if you're persuasive enough. The only remaining escape pod on this ship is one level below, around 3 minutes of running from here, providing that your ankles are up for the task. At that time, if not blown up, this ship will be cruising into the asteroid field. I strongly recommend you to do what's best for you and not to waste your precious time trying to break into the bridge. It is sealed, by the way. Whatever you will choose to do, I will be observing your progress with great anticipation. Good luck, Mr Cool."

The screen went blank and a red timer showing 10 minutes appeared instead. The comm at the corner of the cargo hall went alive.

This is Sheffield control to Wicking. Your approach vector is incorrect. Abort the docking maneuver. I repeat, abort the docking maneuver.

As the officer in the control tower of Sheffield was trying to contact a non-existent pilot of the freighter, the magnetic shackles binding Zero powered down. The red timer started to count down.
"Wicking..." Zero mumbled with his eyes pointed down still, "What a fitting name..."

He remained as silent as the room once the man who welcomed him to his dark dungeon left him alone. He realized that screen before him only after he was pointed that way. The wait for it to flash on was becoming kind of disturbing, with nothing else to bother himself with.

The unannounced splash of light on his face made him blink a few times once the screen turned on, and forced some uncomfortable motions from his body. He opened his mouth to say something, but the hurried speech of the woman cut it before he could sound his words.

He tried to listen what she's saying carefully, but most of the words did not even register in his disturbed and tired mind. He was so used to the silence, what she was saying was almost like another language he could not understand. With a sigh he tried to collect his thoughts, but all he could focus on was his ridiculous thirst and dream of a soft bed to lie on. "Wa-wait!" he could utter just before the screen went black.

Shaking his head, which made his neck let out a few cracking sounds from all that lack of movement, he mumbled the only sentence he could actually get. "Fifteen seconds to the comm panel... Thirty seconds to convince... Good luck Mr Cool..."

He then heard the comm panel behind him, in the form of a rather familiar voice.

He didn't even have the time to feel his poor ankles once he was released, and it took him only a split second to appear by the comm panel, showing a crooked smile to the video feed.

"Hey... Don't screw with me dude... Don't you know who the hell I am? Open the friggin' doors already... Knock knock..."

"I have no idea who the hell you are, sir, and I'd suggest you to move your ship away. The turrets are manned and pointed at your vessel." the man replied with an apparently annoyed tone.

"This is Zero, One-Five-Five-uh...-" he scratched his head, what was his ID number? "Uh... Three-Zero-Zero-ohh..." yes, he remembered "Zero-Six... Registered under the alias Cool. Because that guy with the baseball bat told me that I don't have to get a cool name... yeah."

"015530006-Cool... Checking... There is no one registered under this ID. Last warning before we take you down..."

"Remove that first Zero, dammit! The name is Zero!" he checked the countdown, it was all too much of a pressure... "Hey, Steve, stop screwing with me... and it's no time for screwing around... Come on!"

Then a woman's voice is heard in the comms, "Hey... Steve, give the guy a rest..."

Steve laughed, "Welcome back, Zero... I am guessing that you are either drunk, or you have no idea how to steer that ship properly... What happened to your ship and where did you get that one?"

Zero let out a sigh of relief. "Hackers shot it down... I'll tell you the rest of the story later... Martha... I hope you've cooked me some of those pies."

"What a drag... hold on... I am opening the closest docking bay... Careful now... go a bit left... left I say... you are about to..." and a loud screetch can be heard inside the ship's cargo bay, following a dangerous shake which nearly made Zero lose his balance. "...You've just scraped the base's hull... Goddamn. Stay alive."

Despite all that, the freigther Wicking was heading into the direction it was set for, and Zero wondered who's commanding this damn ship right now.
Shortly after the impact red lights started to flash in the whole cargo hold, followed by an alarm siren. Wicking was positioning itself directly under Sheffield's H-Fuel depots, when emotionless female voice was heard from the speakers.

"Decompression imminent. Sealing airlock in 15... 14..."

The moment after Zero heard the alarm, he also noticed characteristic sound of a heavy mining laser's condenser charging up.

"Decompression imminent. Sealing airlock in 10... 9..."
"Decompression imminent. Sealing airlock in 10... 9..."

Zero was looking at the screen still, hearing the voices from the other side calling for his name, asking what the hell is up among a series of threats and worried whining directed his way.

A second later, the screen shut down and the voices were cut off with the exception of the emotionless female voice, which became like an epitome of cruelty. Zero looked at that chair that had been his place for quite a long while, one last time. As he passed by the chair his bare feet tangled on the chains that kept him there and forced him a struggle to keep standing up as a parting joke. Now the mining lasers heating up the fuel depot kept the floor under him shakey, or was it his own legs that were shaking?

The countdown continued, "5... 6..." as he was on his knees, just recovering from his slight stumble. He jumped on to the red button that would open the airlock for him before the door would seal the cargo bay and his fate for good, he then threw himself out of that dark dungeon... it felt like a step from hell to heaven.

"2... 1... Airlock sealed. Decompressing..." She said, as soon as the gates of hell were closed behind him. The cargo bay hissed at Zero just after she was done with her victorious count down, as it was flushing out the air off the room.

Zero took a breath and rested his back on the door for a second. His sight was getting blurry, he felt dizzy like after knocking a few whiskey bottles, but without that lovely buzz following. His hands stroke on to his pockets in search for a full cardamine tube as a reflex, but his pockets were empty this time.

What was he supposed to do again? Zero wondered as he kept his eyes open barely, dangerously shaking all over with the increased intensity of the operation Wicking was forced through. Zero could hear the fuel filling into the tubes in the cargo bay, with the hissing voices now gone.

That hacker girl told him that there was a bomb in this ship, hidden somewhere he had forgotten long ago. Though he also knew for sure that the station's turrets were being charged and in a few seconds Wicking would be space dust alongside himself, anyways.

It struck to him only after that, both Wicking and himself were brought together to be sacrificed for a purpose he would never get to understand...
The magnificent explosion of H-Fuel being poured into the cargo bay scattered Wicking's remnants all over planet Wight's orbit. Interestingly, debris propelled by the explosion caused only minor damage to the Sheffield Station, or at least it looked like it on a large wall-screen in Mactan's Command Centre. Besides a lot of debris, a perceptive observer would notice a small escape pod drifting in the base vicinity.

"Oh... You made it, Mr Cool. Good for you."

Professor Nicole Hunter was overtly content, despite the fact that Wicking was destroyed and the bounty hunter trapped within managed to escape. Mr Orlov, her right hand, looked dissapointed.

"We have confirmation that Wicking was destroyed with all the H-Fuel on board. Additionally, all contact with Mr Oddjob has been lost. Should I tag mission as failed?"

Mr Orlov opened Lane Hacker mission archives and picked correct mission log.

"Negative Mr Orlov. Leave the status as pending."

Mr Orlov looked at Nicole even more surprised. He did not know that the dramatic performance made by Mr Cool while trapped on Wicking was only a distraction meant to allow Mr Oddjob complete his real mission.

"Smoke and mirrors, Mr Orlov. Smoke and mirrors."

Professor Hunter smiled but did not say anything more. Plans within plans within plans. It is the only way Lane Hackers could have survived so long. It was also the only thing she knew and the only way she could think now.