I knew a guy once who used to say that paranoia was an art. You have to find just the right level of paranoia to live effectively, happily. Too little, and people will walk all over you. Too much and you’ll get a visit from the folks in white coats who fit you with a jacket that encourages you to hug yourself and then escort you off to a room with soft walls. Shortly after I left Lugh I found myself reminded of that old advice when a strange message came across my comms panel.
I’d come back to the Mikunn region and found that a sort of peace treaty had been struck between the Dukes of Mikunn and the Law Party of HR 7327 with their mutual neighbor, the Kwatee Union in Kwatee. As part of the agreement, the Kwatee Union agreed to support the Dukes in the construction of a new space station, so long as they ceased attacks in HR 7327. The Dukes agreed and myself and a couple dozen other mercenaries were offered early access to a short term hauling contract—about a week—to bring resources in to Kwatee on behalf of the Dukes. I agreed, so after parking the Vulture in Herreshoff Gateway in Kwatee I took a shuttle out to the larger shipyard in Mapor where I could purchase and equip a Type 7 Transporter with the remainder of my combat bonds from Lugh.
Driving the enormous box is tedious, at best. It took me a few days to get used to the big, lumbering bastard, but hauling over two hundred tons per trip provides decent income compared to the smaller, more maneuverable, Hauler or Type 6. The thing is a traffic jam waiting to happen, too. Particularly once word got out galaxy-wide to other traders who flocked to the region to get in on some of the money. On more than one occasion, manipulating the cumbersome, rectangular cuboid through the slot of a Coriolis star port, some impatient pilot in a smaller vessel would bounce off my shields and out into space. During one particular incident, some jackass in a Python rammed the Seven so hard it spun into the wall and then got hung up in the cage long enough for me to get few hundred credit fine for blocking the thoroughfare. Once I got the hang of it, though, I could move the Seven in and out with ease, and I quickly fell into the relaxing routine of hauling cargo.
That’s all part of the trader’s game, though. The weirdness came a near the end of the contract, during a trip on my way back to Herreshoff Gateway with a load of metals. Hopping from star to star, I flipped through my messages in the comms panel, browsing various other work offers, when one particular subject line jumped out at me. It read, simply, “Live Dangerously.”
Loading the message gave me the typical decryption notification, “Carrier signal decrypting…” and then the message:
Commander Roget Sakeel,
Now that you’re a tenant in this very fine, old Hotel, we thought it best that you be advised of your status and services offered. No one here dies as they died before. The standard death comes to you pre-packaged and delivered right to your doorstep anytime, day or night. This complimentary service is offered to every tenant, as every tenant dies the same here, so that only the names are changed on delivery. Without worry, death is ready-made for everyone, any day, no trouble at all.
Naturally, any tenant is free to seek out other lodgings should they so choose. This option is available at the individual’s discretion, and at little cost. Such quarters don’t exist within the Hotel as it stands, of course, as each must have its own measurements established, walls constructed, doors to pass through, windows through which to see, and whatever amenities the tenant should seek. The manufacture of this type of domicile only comes about from the intentions of the resident, one who sets their own time, their own days and celebrations, who lives at war with themselves and their peers in the pursuit of knowledge, thoughts, and their consequences. This house can only be built by those who Live Dangerously.
Should you decide to die a different death, check-out time is between the hours of Midnight and 12 AM.
After reading the message I tapped the screen for detail, and pulled up header data. The sender had left their identity blank, so the system simply input “Anonymous,” which isn’t really uncommon when it comes to junk mail. What struck me as strange, though, was that some of the location data had also been removed. Not an easy thing to do. The first half of the message routing repeated, “Unknown,” for each of the first dozen hops until it hit local comms relays, at which point the remainder of the message routing was visible.
The sender had encrypted it with my public key, available from my listing in the Pilots Federation, meaning it was meant for me, but the language clearly had something else to say or offer. A threat? A job offer from someone who’ll contact me with more information later, writing in code so as to help ensure secrecy? That the first recognizable message routing location was Wang Base in the Sukua system suggests that it could have originated from somewhere in the Federation. My father was a Federation officer and loyalist, and died when I was still in my teens. I chose a different route, but maybe someone who knew him was trying to reach me.
I’ve been over to Sukua and Wang Base a number of times, and the station always struck me as somewhat strange. They flew a pirate flag, always readily visible on approach, yet they allied with the Federation. Often, on approach, I’d pick up unusual signal fragments bouncing off my comms. On occasion a ship can act as something of a passing antennae and a few signal fragments might skip through the hull, but it seemed much more frequent at Wang. The strangeness of such a station as Wang Base is fairly easy to shrug off, too, given that small outpost factions sometimes ally with the Feds just enough to get paid to serve as a relay. But ultimately the message could have come from anywhere.
I flagged it “Important,” and archived it after deleting the remainder of the work offers and junk messages. I’ll reserve just enough paranoia to keep it handy for future reference, but for now that’s all the credence it’ll receive.