Penny lay in the cockpit of her star fighter, which she had named ‘Black Bess’. She was surrounded by stars beyond number and an infinitely reaching void. The view allowed her to ponder the futility of her search. The passenger manifestos had not been helpful and the trail ran cold. The name she was looking for had not been on any of them and none of the vessels on the list belonged to any organisation she recognised. She passed the list onto Ranger Headquarters for the A.I.’s to pour over but she wasn’t confident.
Penny sighed and called for the simulation to change. Darkness washed over the infinite universe, replacing the twinkling stars for Penny’s custom loading screen. She closed her eyes as the text scrolled across her vision. She didn’t need to read it, she knew the words by heart.
“Live each day with courage. Take pride in your work. Finish what you start. Do what has to be done. Be hard but fair. When you make a promise, keep it. Always ride for the brand. Talk less, say more. Remember that some things ain’t for sale. Always know where to draw the line.”
When she opened her eyes again she was standing in the middle of a windswept plain. A field of sunflowers ran down the hill below her, stretching all the way to the river. Penny sighed again, happily this time and sat down to admire the virtual view. Penny took a long whiff of the flower’s scent, but it didn’t help.
He got away again. Every time it felt like she was breathing down his neck it turned out she was barely snapping at his heels. And then he would just disappear.
An electronic chime interrupted the faint birdsong, announcing that she was getting a call from the dispatch office over the HPG link Penny reached out with her mind and pushed the flashing button.
A vidwindow displaying the electric blue face of Seera, the dispatch A.I. appeared in the screen. “Good Day Ranger Dreadful.” She smiled warmly.
Penny half-heartedly waved. “How you doin’ Seera?”
Seera perked up. “I am well Ranger Dreadful. I have new instructions from the Captain’s office for you.”
Penny cracked a smile at Seera. She still didn’t feel good, but it was impossible to be mad at that adorable face. “I’ll bet you do?”
Seera nodded. “A top-tier terrorist has been reported in your sector.” Another screen appeared beside Seera’s. On it were several pictures of an elegant Asian woman with long black hair and intense brown eyes. Some of the pictures showed her wearing a green slip dress under a business blazer, but the most prominent picture was a blurry, smoke-filled image of her in black combat fatigues and a breathing mask.
“The Captain wants you to suspend your investigation into Ranger Rodgers and divert your attention towards her. She is listed in our records only as ‘Sifu’. She is believed to be the Incense Master for the Tang Xing cell of the Black Mask Society.”
Penny peered at the photos. “She’s awful hands on for a lore keeper.”
Seera nodded. “So it appears. I’m sending you copies of every file we have on her. She is currently travelling onboard a jump ship called ‘The Diamond Star’ which is on a course for the Bes system.”
Penny nodded. “I’ll intercept them at Bes and see if this ‘Sifu’ is willing to give herself up. Let the local garrison know I’m on my way and what I need from them.”
Seera bowed. “Yes Ranger Dreadful.”
“That will be all, Seera. Dismissed.”
Lightyears away Wu sat at the controls of the escape pod, while Sifu checked over their emergency supplies. Discharging a fully-equipped escape pod was an expensive move, if this plan worked, all of the survival gear the pod was loaded with would go to waste. Sifu wanted to see if anything would prove useful.
“The rations are probably all we really need. Being able to feed ourselves will make us less of a burden on the local cell.”
“There was a pair of machetes back there.” Wu remarked. “Do you think they might be a good idea?”
Sifu shook her head. “Where I’m hoping to take us the terrain is flat grasslands and dark mountains everywhere you look. We’ll hardly need to hack our way through that. And the crime rate in the area is minimal, barring some recent trouble I read about online. I’d rather we resembled a pair of backpackers just passing through.”
“Backpackers?” Wu asked, giving Sifu a quick once-over. “Dressed like that?”
Sifu was still wearing her favourite emerald green cheongsam and her short business blazer over the top. Sifu considered his question. “Stylish backpackers. At any rate we might look unusual but we will still raise fewer suspicions if we are not visibly armed.”
Wu smirked and took in the image of the planet on the nav screen. He pointed at it. “Is there really a BMS cell on a tiny dust ball like that? I can already hear banjo music and we’re not even in atmo yet.” Wu pulled up another screen and looked through the data they had on the place. “It’s nothing but farms and mines as far as the eye can see.”
Sifu shrugged. “There’s a little more than that. The domes may have only just opened but the Ernutet cell runs a legitimate agriculture conglomerate for the Triad. It’s far from exciting but the funds we gain from them allows us to finance operations like last night.”
Wu shook his head. “I’d hate to be stuck doing that.”
Sifu patted Wu on the head. “Not everyone is cut out for the high-flying life of adventure you crave. It takes all kinds to run a revolution. Without people like Lin we loose our grounding in the everyday struggles against the Federation.”
Wu closed down the video screen in front of him and turned his attention back to Sifu. “Have you meet the guy before?”
“Only online at the annual meetings. He’s a quiet, hermit-type, but he pulls in an enviable profit for the size of the operation he runs.”
A beep from the nav screen informed Wu that they were in range of the planet’s satellite network.
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