So I’m in the last stages of getting the first volume of Dimestore published. I’m just waiting on a proof copy to make sure there aren’t any glaring problems (Gaiman’s law has bitten me in the arse before) and then it’ll be available on Amazon and Createspace.
As it stands it should be available on iBooks in the next few days. Oh and I’ve worked out my issues with iBooks and Dust of the Earth should also be available there in the same time. I’m lazy so I might be a little late updating the Buy Books page. But I will make a loud announcement when it’s ready.
In the Meantime, here’s the entire first chapter of the first volume of Dimestore Wuxia. I’ll be updating the site with chapters of Dimestore once Dust of the Earth has finished it’s run.
Dimestore Wuxia: Chapter 01
Balthazar rose a glass of gulping whiskey to his pudgy lips and threw it back. As the anti-septic taste of the Hole’s brewed liquor washed over his tongue and burned its way down his throat, he couldn’t help but smile.
Nothing, not even ‘the hole’s’ broken air conditioner could bring him down today. Today he stopped being Balthazar the petty hood in a two-horse town on a barely terraformed rock and became Balthazar Rosario, criminal kingpin.
He brought the glass down to the table and bellowed for another. The robot barkeeper poured some more swill into a glass and handed it to one of the regulars to bring to the boss. ‘The Hole’ or ‘The Drinking Hole’ if you were high falutin’ could only better live up to its name if it had actually been built into a pit in the ground. A disused hangar in a corner of the Starport would have to do.
Nothing in the Hole had originally been built for the purpose it now served. Tables, chairs and even the bar were made out of wood pallets, milk crates and other detritus. The chair holding up Balthazar’s extensive weight had been pieced together from the remains of five other chairs from all over the starport.
The regulars weren’t much better. The specimen that brought Balthazar his drink smiled nervously as he placed it on the table before him, revealing the three teeth he’d lost in a disagreement with another regular last week. At the bar the lowest rung on the pecking order was repeatedly spilling water in front of the robot barkeep, watching as it rushed out to wipe it up after him. This far out on the periphery the options for company were as limited as they were for air conditioning. The broken unit above Balthazar’s head allowed the atmosphere in the bar to bloat with humidity. The settlement wasn’t big enough to have its own dome so they couldn’t even open a window to let some air in.
Balthazar took his new drink in his hand and raised it from the table. He wouldn’t have to endure this place much longer. But rather than take the money and split like some amateur, Balthazar planned to pour the profits from today’s score back into his enterprises, expand out to the other settlements on this world. He planned to build up some real capital before he aimed his backside at the whole damn planet and took off for the stars. Maybe after a while, when he could no longer stand this hole but still didn’t have enough money he might hire someone to act as an intermediary, insulate himself a little from the filth.
But all of that would have to wait.
The light above the door flashed red, someone was passing through decontamination. Balthazar cast his eyes about the room and accounted for all of the regulars. Either someone’s partner had come to coax them back home or his buyer had finally arrived. The light stopped flashing and the doors parted, emitting the stranger into the room. Balthazar’s heart rate picked up, it was definitely his buyer, but he may have got more than he bargained for.
The stranger strode into the suddenly silent room, protected from the bar’s oppressive heat by a suit of Ranger combat armour. The Stranger stopped two steps in and scanned its gaze across the room.
The room scanned back, a dozen pairs of eyes looked over every bit of the Stranger’s armour, from the six-barrelled pistol on its thigh to its short, slim stature. The larger members of the bar smirked, if that armour was legit and the newcomer really was a Federation Ranger, then they must be a kid. Some bright-eyed green horn who thought they could clean up the periphery with a badge and an attitude.
Balthazar cleared his throat from the back of the bar and the Stranger brought its chin up to see him. “I believe you’re looking for me.”
“That depends.” The Stranger said as she approached. Her voice was firm, assured. “Y’all know anything about an SC-210 Deep Strike Fighter that found it’s little way onto the second-hand market?”
Balthazar took an angry set to his jaw and downed his drink. She had that annoying tone in her voice that said she wasn’t going to be cooperative.
“I do.” He said.
The Stranger reached Balthazar’s table and loomed over him. “Then you can help me find the man I am looking for honey. And in return I can take that craft off your hands and not charge you with possession of Federal Property.”
Balthazar pretended to inspect his empty glass. “That Star Fighter cost me a lot of money, why would I give it over to you for nothing?”
The Stranger bore her gaze into Balthazar’s eyes and said “A get-out-of-jail-free card ain’t nothin’.”
Balthazar smiled, turned his glass upside-down and set it on the table, the signal all the regulars were waiting for. “It is when compared to two Deep Strike Fighters.”
All around them the inhabitants of the bar left their ramshackle chairs and stood up. Earning Balthazar’s favour just as he was about to come into a lot of coin wasn’t a chance to let slip through your fingers.
The Stranger sighed. “This was a mistake.”
Then she moved. Before the nearest man to her was out of his seat the Stranger spun around and smashed the back of her elbow into his face. Without pausing she stepped through and completed the rotation with a left-cross at his friend’s jaw.
A third man stepped in on her already, grabbing her from behind so the rest of them could lay into her. The stranger dropped down into a low stance and out of his grip, grabbed his arms above her and folded herself forwards to throw him onto a table made out old wood pallets and kegs. With a loud crack the table collapsed under his weight and crashed to the floor.
The crash bought the Stranger enough time to draw her shock baton. The next regular had already charged in, already fully committed himself to his haymaker that he couldn’t stop the stranger’s baton poking him in the gut. As the powered shock travelled up his nervous system to turn out the lights, the Stranger barged past him and zapped another regular in the side of the head.
The next man grabbed a chair and caught the Stranger’s baton as she thrust it at him. Thinking fast he turned the chair away, catching her baton and tying up that arm. The Stranger replied by bumping her hip under him, disturbing his balance long enough to pull him the opposite way and wrench him off his feet. She buried her knee into the side of his face before extracting her baton from the chair’s legs and tapping him in the gut with it.
A bottle smashed into the back of the Stranger’s helmet, stunning her long enough for one of the boys to kick her in the back. The Stranger fell forward, landing half on the floor and half on her last victim. The man who hit her followed up with a kick to her ribs. She rode the impact and rolled away, getting her feet under her so she could get back up.
Balthazar decided that this had gone on long enough and drew his pistol. He fired a warning shot across the room to get everyone’s attention.
Unfortunately, the Stranger’s reflexes were too quick to realise what Balthazar had intended. When she heard the shot her pistol leapt from its holster and she put a round into Balthazar’s elbow before he could realise his mistake. The sudden pain caused him to yank his arm away just as the bullet broke his grip on the pistol, sending the gun flying across the room.
The three remaining regulars unfroze and reached for their own guns. The Stranger had only a moment to realise she wasn’t going to get the drop on all of them and took off in a head-long rush for the bar.
The first man with his gun out set it to full Rock’n Roll and opened up on the Stranger. She poured on the speed, the hail of bullets cracking past her shoulders until she dived right over the bar and into the arms of the robot barkeeper.
The sudden introduction of 65kg of soldier plus armour into the droid’s working load knocked it off its feet and they collapsed in a tangled heap.
While the first man reloaded the other two opened up. Their pistols emptying dozens of rounds all over the bar. Bottles shattered, ashtrays disintegrated and bullets ripped holes through the flimsy plywood panels. The Stranger untangled herself from the robot barkeeper and pulled it up to use as a human shield. As their fire pelted repeatedly into the robot’s metal body she set her own pistol to ‘Hammer’ and blasted a shot from all six-barrels at once into the bar. Her first shot punched out a fist-sized hole, opening enough of a window to see the first gunman reload his pistol.
Her second shot blasted a fist-sized hole through his sternum.
Seeing their companion stumble into a table and collapse encouraged the last two men to seek cover. The Stranger tried to move around to see through the hole she made but they over turned some tables and she couldn’t get line of sight to them.
The Stranger slowed her breathing and forced herself to calm down. She could hear her assailants reloading behind their barricade and worried they might get their act together to fire and manoeuvre
around her. She needed a way to flush them out.
Behind the visor of her helmet she glanced her eyes up at the ceiling and breathed a sigh of relief.
Just as the two men resumed their fire the Stranger aimed up and put a hammer-shot in the middle of the fluorescent lights dangling above them. The shot obliterated the fitting, shattering the tubes into clouds of dust-fine glass that rained down onto her targets.
The two men panicked and stopped shooting. In the next moment the Stranger vaulted over the bar again and hurled her shock baton at the furthest man, catching him clumsily in the chest but still making enough contact to send electric shocks rippling through his body.
The next moment the Stranger’s feet touched the ground and she sprinted towards the last man. Desperately he brushed some glass dust from his face with the back of his sleeve and squeezed off a shot at her.
The Stranger pulled to the side as she kept charging and felt the bullet thump into her shoulder just before she reached him. She batted aside his gun-hand, elbowed him in the face and threw him over her hip and onto the ground.
He struggled beneath her, trying to get his gun turned back towards her to get off a shot. The Stranger pinned his wrist to the ground with her armoured knee, snatched her baton off the body of his friend and put him to sleep.
Balthazar finally saw his chance, his pistol had landed on a table at the far end of the bar. He’d been crawling across the floor so as not to be noticed, but when he realised that all the shooting was happening between himself and the exit he’d decided to circle around.
Now, finally, all he needed to do was grab his pistol, set it to ‘Spear’ and put a bolt through the meddlesome stranger.
But just as Balthazar reached the table he realised the Stranger had already caught up with him.
She stood on the other side. Her pistol and shock baton back in their places on her armour.
Balthazar looked up at her and began to pant with fear. He glanced down at the pistol, then back up to the Stranger. She crossed her arms.
Balthazar tried anyway.
The microsecond before Balthazar’s fingers touched it, the Stranger’s heel landed hard on her end of the table, tipping the opposite edge into Balthazar’s chin and launching the pistol up into the air.
The Stranger ignored the pistol as it sailed past her ear and landed somewhere on the floor behind her. Balthazar crumpled onto the ground, nursing his aching jaw.
The Stranger popped open her helmet, revealing the face beneath. She had short, fire-engine red hair and demin-blue eyes that could cut diamonds. A small scar marked her face just below her left eye.
“Now.” She said. “A wise man once told me to be hard, but fair. I’ve been hard, now I’m gonna be fair, but if y’all don’t tell me what I want to know, then I’mma go right back to being hard and y’all ain’t gonna like none of that.”
Balthazar considered his options. It didn’t take long. “What do you want to know?”
“Who sold you the Fighter?”
Balthazar swallowed. “One of yours. He wore Ranger armour, tall guy, dark. He wasn’t eager to keep it, I’ll tell you that, let me bargain him down to a song.”
“He give you a name?”
Balthazar shook his head.
“When was this?”
“Last week. Tuesday.”
The Stranger narrowed her eyes at something for a moment. “He gave you his ship, is he still on-planet?”
Balthazar lowered his hand from his jaw. “I doubt it. He left with his Chinese friends. They didn’t look like they were from around here.”
The Stranger clenched her jaw at that. Balthazar shifted uncomfortably on the ground.
She uncrossed her arms. “Alright, you can go.” She reached out to him. “Just hand me the key to his fighter and we’ll call it square.”
Balthazar’s bruised mouth dropped open. “You’re not going to charge me?”
“Hard.” the Stranger said. “But fair.”
In the decontamination chamber Penny closed her helmet over her head again and waited for the atmospheres to equalise.
Once the red light went out the door slid open and she stepped outside.
On her way out she summoned Seera, the dispatch A.I., and a feminine form in glowing blue appeared in her augmented reality vision.
[Good day Ranger Dreadful.] Seera smiled enthusiastically as she fell into step beside Penny.
[How may I be of assistance?”]
[C’mon Seera, don’t give me that formal talk, please. Call me Penny.]
[I am sorry Ranger Dreadful, but Headquarters have determined that informal interaction leads to unprofessional behaviour.]
Penny sighed. [Let ’em know I said that’s a stupid idea.]
[Fine.] Penny said. [I need a local ambulance response to The Drinking Hole at Horowitz Starport, Hangar 17. Multiple concussions, some minor electroshock injuries and one fatality, suggest at least three ambulances.]
Seera nodded. [Very well Ranger. As per procedure: we will be expecting a copy of your feed regarding the incident for evidence and personal review purposes.]
[On what charges shall you be arresting the perpetrators?]
[None.] Penny said. [I am choosing not to press any charges at this time, but if you could prepare the paperwork for one charge of possession of Federal Property Exceeding 5 million credits, one charge of Obstructing Justice and one charge of Assaulting An Agent of the Federation for a Mr Balthazar Rosario just in case someone needs it. Include my feed in the evidence.]
[Understood Ranger.] Seera nodded. [Is there anything further that you require?]
Penny pursed her lips in thought. [Yeah, actually. I need a full list of all drop ships coming and going from Horowitz Starport over the last 14 days. I’ll also need their full passenger manifests.]
Penny hoped that would be enough. Anhur was about as far out on the edge of the periphery as you could go without giving up on all human comforts. The lack of ships coming and going made picking out the unusual ones a lot easier.
A dull pain in her shoulder reminded Penny of the hits she’d taken back at the bar. By the time she made it to her ship it had only got worse.
[One last thing Seera.] Penny winced. [Call an ambulance for myself. I think the adrenaline’s done worn off.]