By the time I'd reached the station I had a plan of action.
A commercial data feed that usually shares news information between systems changes subtly. Content shifts imperceptably. The data transmitted is modified to carry some concealed text. A receiver attuned to the change will pick it up and forward it on, not knowing what it is sending or who it is sending it to. Hidden amongst all the other feeds a ghost travels across the galaxy searching out the recipient, with a message in hand.
"Hello friend - long time no see - how are things?"
A pause that draws out, and then a rather harried reply: "I'm good thanks and running a delivery on a tight deadline. Feckin' missed picking up from my usual source so have had to look further afield. Only 11 minutes to deliver on the contract."
Looks like Gearwright is falling back into old and comfortable routines. No bad thing when belief takes a battering.
"Don't let me distract. But picking up some bounty here around Lave, so settling in again as well. Back in Dulos with the family?"
I toy with the idea of volunteering the gossip I've heard 100 light years away, but something makes me hold back. We fought together at Lugh, but this is different.
"Not quite - they're coming back soon now the Feds have been kicked out here as well."
The pause runs into a few minutes while the universe keeps us both occupied. A tight delivery run isn't something to disturb with gossip or concerns as yet unfounded.
"Have taken to keeping an eye on things, want to know if my family will be safe."
This could be it.
"A little profit on the side, you know how it is. Find some missing data chips about plans for this part of space."
There. That's the connection made. The miner's gossip was true, and current, and far too specific to risk being a random overheard comment. Suspicion creeps into my mind: twisting facts and bringing together supposition in a dangerous way.
"Feck, this is hotter than I thought. A counter offer has been made and I thought it was a simple recovery."
Others are interested. They've also followed the vibration on the web, and have now played their hand overtly. If I've noticed at this distance then others have as well. Gearwright may be in trouble and is probably only just starting to realise.
"Got it! Hidden amongst the debris. Need to run this past station sec now..."
Its further along than I had realised, and I'm too far away to get involved. A small utilitarian fuel scoop on a combat heavy ship is for emergencies only, not a quick flight into danger.
That thought of helping dies a death as soon as it is born.
It would tip my hand and show a connection. It might just have been random miners displaced from Dulos who had a bit of harmless gossip. But I can't know, and may never know if I follow that path.
Paranoia tells me to run. Pretend I haven't seen anything that might speak of a deeper purpose beyond my comprehension. Hide. Escape notice. Live for another day where I can jump at another shadow.
Intuition says otherwise: look but pretend not to look. Follow the web back up to its source and learn more about who is playing. Play the player and in doing so gather some intel hoping that it shows more of the bigger picture.
I have run quite a few bounty trips into that res field so normal behaviour would be to return after cashing in the bounty.
Decision made. Nav lock set. Launch requested.
And no regrets.