Penny looked out across the wide expanse of green earth pressing against the borders of blue sky and felt her body tremble as her fighter broke atmosphere.
Penny coordinated her fighter’s computer systems with Ernutet’s satellite network. The escape pod had come this way and appeared on the satellites’ network at the right time to have come from the jumpship. The jumpship crew had been less than helpful but still technically within their rights. They informed her that the fleeing terrorists had stolen one of their escape pods and had taken the time to disable its emergency beacon before jettisoning. So Penny had to do things the hard way. Taking note of the exact time the pod jettisoned and comparing it with the arrival times of any pods that had reached civilised systems within the pod’s range. Unless the pair had fled to an unofficial asteroid colony or simply been picked up by another ship this was most likely where they would be: The breadbasket planet of Ernutet.
Penny had taken the time to look over the planet’s vitals while she waited to reach her destination. Besides agriculture, kerium mining was Ernutet’s principle export industry. A planet of farmers and miners didn’t sound like the most likely place for Triad terrorists to take refuge, but it made a good choice nonetheless.
Penny checked the satellites’ records for when the escape pod entered their network and which satellite had been closest. She discovered that the pod had flown around the planet before entering orbit and heading down. The network took a moment to fulfil Penny’s request to recreate the most likely point where the escape pod came down, given that it had to work out where the planet had been in relation to the satellites orbiting it at the time. The most likely candidate for their destination was Occidan, the smallest continent on the planet.
Checking records for businesses with known Triad connections revealed nothing, but she did learn that kerium mining was prohibited on Occidan, owing to possible environmental contamination that would disrupt the agricultural trade.
“Miners bowing to the needs of farmers.” Penny smirked.
A stray thought occurred to her and she called up the planet’s stats again.
The population figure was encouraging, barely twenty million souls called Ernutet home. Some skyplexes could gain that much over the tourist season. Penny checked the distribution of that population and found that a quarter of that lived in the capital on the largest continent, the rest were spread thin across the world. Especially on Occidan. Only a few key settlements had been established on the continent, the rest of it was all outlying farms.
Penny nibbled a little at her lip. She checked local blogs in case anyone had commented on some new faces turning up in town. A community this tiny would know everyone and a pair of tourists would stick out.
Penny had not expected to hit the jackpot this easily.
The main story trending across the entire continent was the robbery attempt foiled by two mysterious strangers.
Penny doubted at first that two fugitives would risk exposing themselves so, but was surprised to discover the descriptions matched.
With her targets practically gift-wrapped, Penny banked to the side and set a course for Carsontown.
Penny announced herself to the sheriff’s office and was informed by the robot receptionist that the Sheriff herself would meet her. Penny asked the receptionist to give her time to clean herself up and landed the Black Bess in the parking lot. As the ship came to a complete stop Penny disengaged from the neural link and sat up. Like the rest of the Black Bess’ line it has originally been designed for deep-strike sabotage operations, so the core of the fighter was a tiny living quarters that housed everything a frugal soldier would need. Almost everything pulled double-duty as something else, with Penny’s bed being the most versatile. When she strapped in and engaged the neural link it became her cockpit, when she pulled the sleeve across her and tucked in it became her bed and when she closed the dome and activated the water jets it became her shower.
Penny peeled herself out of her flight suit and decided she needed one of those. When she was in space she only needed to turn off the artificial gravity and fire the jets a little, then she could continue to rub the same tennis ball-sized bubbles of water over her until they became dirty and she vacuumed them away. On planet she’d actually need to go through quite a bit of her water inventory, still this was an agricultural planet, they would have water here.
Once she was dry Penny decided to forgo her armour for now. She wanted to come across as friendly to the local authorities. Not to mention she’d been stuck in the flight suit all day and swapping one form-hugging suit for another was not appealing right now. So she put on her camouflage fatigues instead, something professional, showed that she was here to work.
Penny kitted up, picked out a selection of day carry gear and got ready to leave. One last thing remained: Before Penny opened the pod she had to test her nanomachines. They’d updated automatically when Penny entered the planet’s satellite network and over reentry they had modified their programming and began producing updated nanites.
Penny took a breathing mask from its place on the wall and hit the button underneath. A sample of the atmosphere was sucked into a discrete vent on the star fighter’s hull and fed into Penny’s mask.
Ernutet’s atmosphere tasted a little arid and dusty, but otherwise breathable. Penny returned the mask to its place and popped open her craft.
As she climbed down to the surface a tall black woman in a leather duster approached her. She smiled up at Penny. “Ranger Dreadful?”
Penny stepped onto the surface of Ernutet and returned the smile as she offered her hand. “That’s me.”
“Sheriff Sharon Rose.” Sheriff Rose said as she shook Penny’s hand. “Funny how all the excitement happens at once. First yesterday’s daring do and now a Federation Ranger pays us a visit. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Sheriff Rose lead Penny back towards her office. “I’mma thinkin’ it has to do with your daring do-gooders.” Penny replied.
“Wasn’t that just something? Two mysterious strangers foil a brazen daylight robbery.” The Sheriff caught herself and laughed. “Forgive a simple country cop Ms Dreadful. Most of my work comprises solely of the four D’s: Domestic Disturbances and Drunk and Disorderlies.”
Penny laughed with her. “I once met a Sheriff on Dagon who said much the same. He was happy just to arrest somebody he didn’t know for once.”
As they walked Penny got a good look at the sheriff’s office. It looked like it had been modified to serve as a fall-back point in case of a siege and then never converted back. The crumbling paint on the roof emplacements, especially the roof access up on the third floor, suggested the fortifications had been made during the Civil War, but none of it showed any signs of battle-damage. Ernutet, or at least Occidan, must not have seen real action during the war.
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