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 hair. 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 personnel 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 I’d like you to 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.]
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