Dimestore Chapter 10 Part 1

Chapter Ten

Wu lay on his old bed with his feet up and a virtual book in his hands. Around him his Headspace buzzed with the myriad of tiny sounds that made up the incessant urban noise Wu remembered from his childhood. On some long nights he needed to log in and sit here just to find the peace to sleep.

Ranger Dreadful obviously wasn’t a book person. The only thing she had in her library to lend Wu was an old copy of a glorified self-help book called ‘The Code of the West.’
Wu doubted anyone actually alive during the cowboy days had even heard of this book, much less followed its teachings.

An alert appeared in the air. Wu sat up, put the book down beside him and accepted the message. Sheriff Rose appeared in the room by the window. She was dressed casually, exposing one shoulder through the neck of her shirt. A broad smile formed on her lips when she saw the band posters above his bead. “Nice.” She said. “I used to have that same poster on my ceiling. Never understood a word they was saying but damn if they ain’t pretty.”

Wu smirked at her. “To what do I owe the pleasure Sheriff?”

She poked a finger at Wu, but her smile stayed on her face. “Don’t tempt an old woman. Little Jie’s here to see you.”

“Alright.” Wu said. “Let me get my shoes on.”

A blink of an eye later he was back in the Sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Rose beckoned Jie into the office from where she reclined at her desk. Jie was as sharply dressed as always. His face lit up when he saw Wu wearing the jacket.

Wu got out of the chair and he and Jie clasped hands. The cuffs on his wrists brought Wu’s other hand along for the ride.

“How you doing bro?” Wu said.

“Good man.” Jie flashed his signature smile. “I see you haven’t escaped yet?”
Wu smiled back at him. “Just biding my time.”

Jie leaned in a little closer. “You had a chance to read the book yet?”

“I haven’t actually.” Wu looked up at Sheriff Rose. “Hey Sheriff do you have that book Jie gave me?”

“Oh yeah.” Sheriff Rose said, reaching for her tablet. “Let me flick that over to you.”

Wu saw the upload request appear in his view and mentally accepted it.

“Thank you so much for that.” Wu said. “I’ve been going insane waiting around here.”

“Don’t mention it.” Jie grinned impishly at him. “So what have they got you doing out here. How come they haven’t put you back in a cell?”

Wu indicated Penny with a tilt of his head. “The Ranger and your sheriff are looking into some local trouble. The kind that might cause problems for a business like your dad’s. So where I can I’m helping out.”

Jie scrunched his face up at Wu. “You’re working with them.”

“For now.” Wu poked Jie in the gut. “The Black Mask Society is there to help people remember? It’s not all daring night raids and standing up against the Federation. Sometimes it’s doing the little things.”

Jie nodded. “I should let you read that book, you’ll like it.”

“I hope so.” Wu said. “It looks like I’m going to have time on my hands. I may have to get the whole series.”

“Yeah.” Jie said, a little too quickly. “Just make sure you read that one first. So you know why the jacket’s so cool.”
“Alright.” Wu said. He raised his fist up for Jie and they bumped. “Look after yourself man. I’ll get started on your book.”

Jie got up and headed out. “You’ll like it.” He said with a wave.

 

Back in his Headspace Wu smirked. “Kid’s a genius.”

Jie had been right about the book.

Granted, Jet Yun Chan’s resembled a real nanohacker the way Wong Fei Hong resembled a real Doctor, but it was the kind of light-hearted fluff that Wu remembered devouring when he was in high school. Even jumping in right in the middle of this epic story Wu had read enough of these to know exactly where the plot was going. The Hero and his best friend were going to be forced to fight each other at the end, even though they were still sworn brothers. They would fight (likely in mid air) with tears in their eyes as they were forced to duel each other to the death. To unseat the tyrannical empire and usher in the new age. Wu was a little confused because he couldn’t quite work out where the love interest was while all this was going on.

An alert appeared in his head. Wu sighed and put the book down. It was from the Ranger.

Wu acknowledged the alert and a vidwindow appeared in front of him. Unlike Sheriff Rose Ranger Dreadful settled for text on a screen.

[I want to see the stars and the roof is more than ten metres from the sheriff’s office. There’s a beer in it for you if you come with me.]

 

Which was how Wu found himself sitting on the roof with his back to the barrier near the corner of the roof. It was hard for him to imagine that the firefight with Ranger Dreadful and the garrison troops had only been a few days ago.
Wu looked up at the night sky and saw an ocean of light. From here they could see the spiral arm closest to their own. Wu could scarcely believe the enormity of it all. That their galaxy, which was unfathomably large, was still but one of millions across the infinite reaches of space. And even in ten thousand years of human existence they had barely seen any of it.

Ranger Dreadful handed him a bottle and moved a metre or so away, her back to the other wall in the corner.

“Aren’t you still on duty?” Wu asked.

Penny sighed. “Technically.” She said as she sat herself down. “But I’ve been at this all day. I don’t even have another uniform to change into. All I got is that one day pack full of gear and my armour. I just want to kick back a little.”

Penny raised her bottle at him. “Just think of this as your ration.”

“Here’s to the generosity of the Federation.” Wu smirked and raised the bottle to his lips.

Penny ignored that and looked up at the sky. “I have no idea what stars these are.” She said. “When I was a kid my little brother loved astronomy. He used to sit up on the roof with an old telescope and a star chart on his tablet and try to find all the neighbouring stars around Bast. When I got bored I’d sit up there with him while he pointed them out to me. Now I travel to places where those stars can barely be seen by an old optical scope. From the other side of the spiral arm the sky itself looks different.”
Wu smirked. “Country kids. I don’t know how you do it. I can barely sleep sometimes without the sound of the maglevs rushing by my street. This much quiet just creeps me out.”

Penny took a sip. “So where were you from?”
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Dimestore Chapter 9 Part 2

Wu crossed his arms. “Could you think of any reason why someone might use the 600’s?”

Wordsworth gave a significantly longer pause before replying. “The only possible explanation I can surmise is that it may be a cost-cutting exercise. If someone outside of the mining industry had found a vein of kerium and wished to mine it themselves they might well redeploy a versatile android like the 600 until they could afford more specialised machines.”

Penny mused on that for a moment. “Thank you Wordsworth. If we need to know anything else we’ll give you a call. Dismissed.”

Wordsworth bowed to them again and dematerialised.

Penny pulled up the list from the Sheriff’s tablet again and saw that another name had been crossed off. Sharon must have come back from her break.

“Well that was enlightening.” Said Wu.

“Kinda.” Penny said. “I mean those robots were already somewhere they shouldn’t have been when they attacked the sheriff’s office. Maybe the bandits have been using androids to raid other settlements.”

Wu looked up at Penny. “Robots attacking settlements? We’d have heard about it by now. Even with them working under human guidance you’d have every scandal blog in the sector screaming from the rooftops.”
Penny sighed and looked out across the fields. “It doesn’t leave us a lot of possibilities.”

She squared her shoulders and dialled up the next name on the list.

 

Sheriff Rose kicked her feet up on her desk and took a sip from her tea. “So what’d you find?”

“Whole heap’a nothing.” Penny said. “No-one’s missing any inventory, most companies don’t even employ that model.”

Wu piped up. “The only useful thing any of our guys said was right at the start. The only reason they could see as to why someone would use the 600s is if they already had them and pressed them into service when they opened the mine.”

Sheriff Rose finished her tea and returned her teacup to its set. “I got a hundred happy smile points for whoever can tell me what that means.”

Wu glanced at Penny. Penny shrugged.

“It means that our illegal miner by night is a mild-mannered farmer by day. Almost every agricultural compact on the planet uses the Sinologic 600 or a model like it as pickers. If it don’t need a Smartractor to plant, it needs an android to harvest.”

Sheriff Rose cradled her chin on her hands. “We’ve dealt with this before. Every time a mining company sets up a temporary office on Occidan we always find them in the mountains with surveying equipment barely a week later. Even regular iron ore or precious metal mining is illegal here because without exception every one of them tried to sneak out the kerium while they had the gear out. Every couple of years some sheriff makes a big arrest and it’s all over the news. The companies that want to keep their interests running know to be as helpful as they can when the law pays a visit. But if a farmer’s found a source of the stuff, they might not care.”
Wu threw up his eyebrows. “You want check all the farmer’s next?” He turned to Penny. “Have fun with that, I’m going to find a book.”

“Well wait.” Penny began. “What about your contacts? Do you know anyone in the underground around here who might know anything?”

Wu stared at her. “With who? The corn harvester’s mob?”

“You had to have some contacts on planet, otherwise why pick here?”

Wu sighed at her. “We came here in an escape pod remember? We didn’t have time to come up with a plan or pick a destination, we just went after the first civilised rock we could find.”

Penny turned away, but kept Wu in the corner of her eyes. “Alright fine. I thought you’d have better reasons for coming here.”

Wu also turned away, muttering. “Yeah don’t mention it.”

“Then it’s settled. Buckle yourselves up kiddies we’re riding on the fun train now.”

Sheriff Rose picked up her tablet and tapped in some commands, after a few moments she looked up at Penny. “Oh, Ranger Dreadful. If I could get you to be the one to speak to Mr Lin that’d be another big help, you seem to have a better rapport with him seeing as you done saved his boy’s life and all.”
Wu snapped his head back. “Geez, that kid is a trouble-magnet. What did you save him from?”

Penny smirked at him. “I saved him from you. Lin came here the day I landed and said he was afraid of the influence you and Sifu had on his son.”

Wu was struck dumb for a moment. He stared at her with his mouth half open for a good three seconds before just saying. “Did he now?” Wu turned away. “That’s gratitude for you.”

Penny turned back to the Sheriff. “I’ll take Lin, no problem.”

“Good.” Sheriff Rose said as she put her tablet back down. “I’m going to get some more tea.”

 

With some warm tea in her stomach Penny took the time to enjoy the peace and quiet within her Headspace. With her eyes closed she listened to the faint birdsong and the breeze wafting around her.

When she felt guilty enough about the time being wasted she opened her eyes and dialled up the Shining Sun.

To Penny’s surprise Mr Lin’s own avatar materialised before her, not an A.I.

“Good evening Ranger Dreadful.” Mr Lin said, offering his hand.

“Mr Lin.” Penny replied and they shook. “I didn’t expect to be talking to you directly sir. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of dealing exclusively with company A.I.’s all morning.”
Mr Lin turned away to admire the view, like everyone always did. “There are some parties for whom I find the personal touch gets my point across a lot clearer. Some people, when they’ve been turned down by my A.I. think that their persistence in seeking out an audience with me will somehow change my mind. Handling them personally lets them know that my word is final.”

“Sounds efficient.” Penny offered.

Mr Lin turned back to Penny and looked her right in the eye. His posture suddenly aggressive. “I must admit I’m surprised to see you still here Ranger Dreadful. I thought your business had been concluded.”

“Not yet.” Penny matched his gaze. “There’s still some things I need to look into.”

“Very well.” Lin said. “I heard about the attack on the sheriff’s office. I’m sorry to hear that some of her constables are no longer with us.”

Penny cleared her throat. “I’ll pass on your condolences.”

“Thank you.” Mr Lin said. “What is the purpose of your inquiry here today?”

“I’m looking for anyone who might be missing a set of Sinologic 600 multi-purpose labour androids. The bandits used some in their attack on the sheriff’s office yesterday. More importantly we found trace amounts of unrefined kerium on their chassis. Sheriff Rose believes the bandits may be either working with someone operating a mine illegally or has stolen the droids from someone who is.”
Mr Lin scowled at her. “Why are you asking me these questions? Why not speak to the mining companies?”

“I’ve been doing that all morning sir. They suggested someone running a farm may be moonlighting as a miner.”

Mr Lin snorted. “They would suggest such things. They resent that we stand in the way of a fortune they could otherwise reach out and take.”

“Of that I have no doubt.” Penny said, she let the words hang in the air a moment before proceeding. “Mr Lin, do you know anyone else who might be missing a set of Sinologic 600s?”

“I do not.”

Penny nodded. “Very well sir. You have a good day.”

“And you Ranger Dreadful.”
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Dimestore Chapter 9 Part 1

Chapter Nine

“We gotta stop meeting like this buddy. People will talk.”

Wu stirred from the warmth of sleep and cracked his eyes open. “And a fine how you do to you too Tanner. How long was I out this time?”

When Wu’s eyes adjusted he saw Tanner fussing with the mediscanner by this bed. The nurse was a young guy, an easy five years away from his first augmentation.
A cheeky tug to his lips foreshadowed the sly grin that threatened to break out across his face at any moment.

“Out of the infirmary or did you mean unconscious?”

“Option B.”

“Well it’s 11:24 now and you were brought in sometime next to midnight. So even with the surgery you’ve had a good sleep.”

“That’ll be dandy.” Penny walked right on in like everything she saw was hers. She carried a small, local-label shopping bag in one hand. “I need you dressed and ready Wu. We’ve got work to do.”
“What’s this ‘we’ business?” Wu said.

Tanner turned to Penny, a concerned look on his face. “Patient’s not ready for strenuous activity just yet. He needs at least one more day’s recuperation.”

Penny put the bag in Wu’s lap. “Then I have good news, you’re not going to be doing anything more strenuous than standing within 10 metres of me at all times.”

Wu scrunched his face and sat up in his bed. “Do you mind if I ask why?”

“I can’t keep you in the holding cells anymore, not with that great big hole in the wall. So we’re gonna to use this.” Penny produced a pair of thick, cylindrical rings with padded inner circles.

“Slave collars?”

Tanner shrugged. “I’ve seen worse.”

Penny fiddled with the two collars. “I hate using them as collars so we’re going to use them as cuffs instead.”

After a moment Penny presented the collars again, now there were a pair of thick metallic bars joining the two collars together.

“When you’re dressed I’ll put these on you. If at any time you do any of the following: Attempt to take the cuffs off, attack me or stray outside of 10 metres of me without my permission, it will administer a painful electric shock. Furthermore: These shackles keep independent records of every shock they administer and I, as your custody officer, will be required to explain every shock administered. If you feel you have been mistreated by myself or another representative of the Federation you are free to lodge a formal complaint at any time. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them too you?”
Wu was already picking through the bag of clothes Penny brought him. “This isn’t my first rodeo officer, I know the drill.”

Wu pulled the jacket Jie gave him out of the bag. “Hmmm.” He said. “I’d forgotten all about this. It made a better pillow than that wipe-clean slab in my cell.”

Penny smirked. “Don’t let your fanboy hear that.”

 

Penny and Wu caught up with the Sheriff at her office. Wu fidgeted a little in the cuffs but kept quiet.

Sheriff Rose was pouring herself a cup of tea as the two of them came in. “Ah thank heavens.” She said as the leaves began to sink into the water. “I’ve been at this list all morning and I could use a break. You want to pick up the slack?”

“Sure.” Penny said as she sat down. “What is it?”

The Sheriff handed her a tablet. “This is every mining company with an official presence on Ernutet. I’ve called the first nine, you can take over for a bit.”

“No problem.” Penny said. “Wu, link in with me.”

“What?” Wu asked. “Can’t you do this on your own?”
“I just don’t want to leave you there twiddling your thumbs.”

 

In a blink they were in the sunflower field of Penny’s nanoputer. Wu was not surprised this was how Ranger Dreadful chose to model her Headspace. She struck him as a bit of a country girl.

“Alright.” Penny said. “Can you amuse yourself while I call some people on this list?”

Wu immediately began twiddling his thumbs.

“Cute.”

Penny summoned a virtual tablet into her hands. Wu’s brow bunched up. “What’s this list business about?” Wu asked. “What do local mining companies have to do with arresting my Sifu?”

Penny paused for a moment and looked up from the tablet in her virtual hand. “Nothing. It’s to do with catching the bandits that attacked the sheriff’s office last night.”

This only confused Wu further. “Uhh, How? And why do you care?”

Penny glared at him. “Sheriff Rose has been scratching my back since I got here. Now that you’re locked down taking this weight off her shoulders is the least I can do.”

Wu shrugged that off. He wanted to fight some more but the hint of sunflower on the wind put him at ease, he sat himself down on the grass and looked out across the field. “So then what’s it got to do with yesterday’s attack?”

“The droids got traces of kerium on them, which means they need to have come out of a mine recently. Sheriff Rose hasn’t said, but the way she’s all jittery about it tells me she’s worried there might be an illegal mine in the area.”
Wu lay down with his hands behind his head. “What makes it illegal?”

“There’s only one discovered source of kerium on the continent and its right beside the main underground water source. If that becomes contaminated you can say goodbye to most of the farming industry on Occidan.”

Wu pursed his lips but said nothing.

 

Penny dialled up the next company on the list. Because they were dealing with an on-planet organisation rather than calling someone interstellar, the company’s A.I. appeared before them as a whole avatar rather than just a vidwindow.

The mining company’s avatar was a short but smartly dressed butler. His hair was flawless and his posture perfect. Like all A.I.’s in a headspace domain, he appeared as a glowing blue outline of a person. To differentiate him from a living, breathing, person. When he materialised he immediately put one hand behind his back and bowed curtly. “Good day.” It began. “My name is Wordsworth and I represent the Great Mesa Mining Company. How may we be of assistance to you?”

Penny presented her digital credentials from her nanoputer. “Penny Dreadful, Federation Ranger. My associate here is Wu Gang Shu.”
From where he lay on the grass Wu raised a hand and waved lazily at the A.I.

Penny continued. “We’d like to ask a few questions about your mining robots.”

Wordsworth politely closed his eyes and bowed again. “Very well Ranger Dreadful, Mr Wu. What would you like to know?”

“Somebody attacked the Carsontown sheriff’s office yesterday and they were using mining robots to back them up. Do you know if your company or anyone else has lost or reported as stolen any Sinologic 600 series androids.”

“We have not. All our robotics inventory are currently accounted for. I must also admit to some confusion. The Sinologic 600 series are not mining robots and perform poorly when employed as such.”

“Really?” Penny asked. “We found unrefined kerium all over their casings. I’m told that means they’d been down a kerium mine.”

Wordsworth paused a moment while this processed. “That would be a logical assumption to make Ranger Dreadful. Unrefined kerium would not survive for long enough to coat any object that had not recently been around it in a controlled atmosphere. But multi-purpose androids such as the Sinologic 600s make for poor mining robots and would perform little better than human beings at the task. Great Mesa employs the significantly sturdier HAR SK2086 when it needs an all-purpose machine, all other tasks are better performed by something more specialised, robot or otherwise.”
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Dimestore Chapter 8 Part 3

Mac switched his rifle to full auto and cut a line across the room. Elena and Brook dropped down with their hands over their heads as Mac walked the fire across the room to Wu.

Wu leapt up to the top of the hole and his hands found purchase on the smoking dirt. But before he could pull himself up Mac’s fire cut into his back. The rounds passing clean through his body and embedding into the the dirt wall. Wu lost his grip and crashed down to the floor.

Then a second android fell to another spear shot.
“Run!” Mac yelled, pushing ahead of Brook to follow his own advice. Elena grabbed Bristol from where he was holding his bloodied nose and pulled him towards the hole.

Mac slung his rifle and gave Brook a leg-up first, the lithe little creature launching from Mac’s shoulder to deftly vault up to the surface.

Another droid took a spear shot and collapsed, leaving only the final droid shooting back.
Bristol didn’t need further encouragement and ignored Mac completely to step on Wu and pull himself out of the hole. Elena followed, kipping up the dirt wall to grab the ledge and scramble out.

As the last unlucky droid took two spear shots and dropped Mac followed Bristol out, his legs clearing the hole just as the constabulary reached the door and peered around with their guns up.

“Clear.” The first constable called. While he provided cover from the door, two more constables slipped into the room. The smoke from the hole in the wall was finally starting to clear.

The gunfire from outside drew them up to the hole, where they found a bleeding Wu lying at the bottom.

Outside Mac got himself up the loading ramp of his ship and yelled into his nanoputer. [Wat, get us out of here. We got ’em.]

The ship’s engines roared and the craft took to the air. A constable on the ground emptied a barrage of spear shots up at the ship, but none of them penetrated the thick hull.

Back in the holding cells, the constables were locking the drunks back in their cells and tending to the wounded.

Penny knelt at the doorway where the night shift guard had taken a burst the to back. She looked at the constable tending to the wound. “Is he going to be okay?”

“I don’t know.” The worried constable replied, fishing into the kit next to her for the can of spray skin.

“The Sheriff’s just outside.” Penny explained. “She’s already called the ambulance. Where’s Wu?”
The constable indicated the end of the room with her head. “He’s in the hole.”

Penny got back up, but her heart stayed behind on the floor. With Wu dead she was done. Her career was over and any chance of finding Ranger Rodgers dissipated quicker than the smoke from the hole in the wall.

Penny moved over to the hole and checked in on him. Wu was lying on his back, his shirt torn open so the constable could apply the spray skin. Penny stopped herself when she realised she could see him breathing. “He’s alive?”

“Yeah.” The constable said as he cleaned the excess off Wu’s wounds. “You can add another count of ‘illegal use of nano-programming’ to his charge sheet, but he’ll survive.”

Penny felt a wave of relief wash over her, then immediately cast a guilty look towards the night shift guard. The constable looking after him quietly wiped a tear from her eyes as the medical droids gently raised him on the stretcher and took him away.

 

Sheriff Rose waited at the doorway for the stretcher to pass by and watched as one of her own was carried away. Her jaw gained an angry set to it as she turned back towards the holding cells.

The Sheriff moved to the control panel for the cells and flicked them open, just as Mac had done earlier.
“Alright everybody.” She called out to the now very sober alcoholics. “You’re all free to go home, let your families know you’re okay. I’ve had enough calls forwarded to me already and I’d rather you were out of my hair while I dealt with this. Now get.

The drunks did not need to be told twice.

Sheriff Rose called out to Penny from across the room. “Ranger. Come with me, I could use your opinion on something.”

 

Penny followed the Sheriff out to where the constables had stacked the wreckage of the labour androids. She knelt down and ran a finger across the torso of one of the droids and raised the finger up to Penny’s eye line. “See this?”

Penny took a closer look, the Sheriff’s finger had a fine layer of what looked like purple salt on it.

“What is it?”

“Kerium.” The Sheriff said, wiping her hand on her duster. “When its unrefined state is exposed to the surface atmosphere it crystallises. The longer it’s been exposed the more brittle it becomes.”

“So you’re saying these droids came from a mine?”

“A local one at that.” The Sheriff said. “If they’d come from off-planet, even from one with a kerium mine the crystals would have broken down into dust and blown away by now. Crystals like that mean that these have been taken out of a mine less than a few days ago.”

“So the bandits stole or purchased them locally? Maybe if we can find where the bandits got them from we can find the bandits?”
Sheriff Rose nodded. “I’m kinda short-staffed right about now. So I want your help on this. You’re stuck here ’til Friday anyhow and if we can track these vermin down having someone of your calibre on hand could keep more of my people alive.”

Penny pursed her lip. It was a big ask. “Alright. I’ll give you a hand on this, but when that Jumpship arrives I’ve got to be on it. No two ways about it.”

“Good.” The Sheriff said. “We start tomorrow.”
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Dimestore Chapter 8 Part 2

Penny looked down at her bowl. “I was I could say that wasn’t typical. But yeah, that’s the consensus from just about every periphery planet I’ve been on. They make their job harder than it has to be when they act that way, and mine. A wise man once told me to take pride in my work and I can’t do that if the people I do the work for don’t respect me. So I always try to be nice where I can and I respect the work of the people I meet in this job, hoping they’ll be willing to give some of that back when the time comes.”
“Speaking of getting payback.” Sharon began, cautiously. “What’s the thing with this Ranger you’re chasing? You ended the interrogation just as it was getting good.”

Penny slumped a little in her chair. She looked up at Sharon for a moment and realised she wasn’t going to let this go away.

Penny took a deep breath. “He’s my old C.O. We fought side by side in the war, now he’s working for the Black Mask Society. I want to know why.”

 

“Fire!”

The plasma cannon hummed loudly and then discharged a blast of superheated energy down at the Sheriff’s office. The blast hit the wall at the base and vaporised a speeder sized hole down into the basement.

‘Mad’ Mac McCarty stood at the top of his ship’s loading ramp and signalled to the squad of labour androids. “Disembark!”

The droids power-walked down the ramp and jumped down to the parking lot. As each one landed they fanned out and watched their respective fire zones. Levelling the assault rifles in their hands as they scanned their surroundings.

Mac jumped out last, his own rifle already in hand. “Secure the perimeter.” Mac yelled. “You four come with me.”
Down in the holding cells the prisoners looked up from under their cots and waited for the smoke to clear. The drunks cowered in their cells, pressed up against the bars as far away from the collapsed wall as possible. At the far end of the room, the night shift guard sat frozen in his chair, his coffee cup lying on the floor at his feet.

In the cell next to Wu, Brook stood up and waited at attention at her cell door.

Bristol uttered a cruel laugh. “Gonna end you boy. Soon as we get outta these cells.”

Wu looked away from Bristol and swallowed hard.

Four labor droids jumped down from street level. Each one scanning the area with their assault rifles.
One of the drunks tried to press himself even closer to the far wall. “Wuh-What? Who gave them guns?”

The guard at the far end of the room unfroze. Desperately he scrambled over his desk to get out the door. The closest of the androids noticed the movement and turned his way.

“Target sighted.” It said in its flat, emotionless tone.

The guard hit the switch and threw the door open, only for a precise burst of rifle fire to punch through his chest at the very next moment.

Mac melted out of the smoke next and double-timed it towards the door. “Move!” He barked to the droids. “Block that door, shoot anyone you see in a uniform.”

“Acknowledged.” The four droids said in unison.
“Mac.” Bristol threw himself at the bars and yelled. “What are you waiting around for? Get us out of ‘ere.”

Mac glared at Bristol. “What’s it look like I’m doing idiot? I’m only taking my time ’cause you ain’t worth getting shot for.”

The sound of gunfire and police sirens outside caused Mac to growl and storm off down the corridor. “We’re already behind the clock.”

Wu remained quiet, trying not to make eye contact with Mac, but not daring to take his eyes off him. His heart tapping out a dance beat against his ribs.

The four androids stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway, their closed ranks forming an effective wall of droid while their rifles opened fire periodically.

Mac reached the night guard’s desk and began hitting the switches to unlock the cell doors.

Wu’s world slowed down as the switches did their work. With intense interest Wu heard Brook’s cell door make a loud metallic ‘clack’ sound and she moved to open it. Then the same thing happened to the cell of the drunk opposite her.

Then it happened to the lock on his cell.

Wu burst into action, barging open his cell door before the clack could be heard on the door opposite his.

Bristol threw his door open as soon as he heard it unlock. He charged outside but Wu was ready for him and stopped him short with a kick to the face.

Then Elena’s cell opened and she put herself between Wu and the exit. At the same time Wu realised Brook was coming up behind him.
Behind them one of the androids took a spear-shot to the CPU and teetered over like a felled tree.

Mac got up from the guard’s console. “Alright, let’s move people.”

Wu spun around just in time to see Mac level his rifle at him. He threw himself against the drunk’s cells just as Mac pulled the trigger.

The round passed between Wu and Elena, causing her to curse loudly and jump out of the way.

Wu saw his only chance and took it. Breaking into a sprint Wu dashed towards the hole in the wall.
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Dimestore Chapter 8 Part 1

Chapter Eight

Penny wished she had some civilian clothes to change into, but by the time she had a moment to herself the shops in Carsontown had closed, so she had to spend the rest of the day in her fatigues.

From the outside Sheriff Rose’s house looked like a standard, pre-fabricated, 3-bedroom dwelling, the kind Penny saw on planets all across the periphery.

Penny rang the bell and heard a muffled call asking her to wait. When the door opened Sheriff Rose threw her arms open and called “Penny!” like they were old childhood friends.

Sheriff Rose wore a pair of hipster jeans and a wide-necked t-shirt that hung down and exposed one shoulder. Her hair was the relaxing kind of dishevelled mess that made her look playful.

Penny accepted the hug. “How you doin’ Sheriff?”

“Sister please.” Sheriff Rose dismissed the word with a wave. “I leave that at work with the badge. You call me Sharon in this house.”

Penny couldn’t help but smile. “Alrightie Sharon, lead the way.”

Sharon beckoned her inside and Penny followed. Sharon’s house smelt like a home-cooked meal, warm, hearty and with the faint hint of saffron and bay leaves.

Sharon lead Penny into the living room and then called out. “Jessy, company’s here. Why don’t y’all come on down and introduce yourself?”
Penny sat herself down on the couch, which dominated the living room.

After a while Penny noticed a small pair of brown fingers grip the doorway on the far side of the room. Followed shortly by a mess of puffy brown hair and little enough head to reveal a single eye.

The eye considered Penny for a few moments.

Sharon put her hands on her hips. “Come out now little missy. This is your house too and that means you have to say hello when we have guests over.”

The eye stayed on Penny. “Hello.” Said a little voice.

“Hello Jessy.” Penny said softly and gave her a little wave as she knelt down to Jessy’s eye level.

“Do you want to play hide and seek with me?”

The eye hesitated. “Yes.”

“Okay.” Penny smiled. “You go hide and I’ll count to twenty. You ca…”

The eye had already disappeared.

Penny straightened up again. “Now how am I going to find her if I barely know what she looks like?”

“It won’t be hard girl.” Sharon said “She always hides under her bed.”

 

Penny pretended to look around in Jessy’s room, wondering aloud if she was in the wardrobe, behind the door or in the toy box, before finally checking under bed and getting really excited to find Jessy. Jessy giggled as she scrambled out to her feet and told Penny she had to hide now.
A minute later they were all at the dinner table as Sharon’s robot maid carried in a big steaming pot of gumbo. Sharon hovered around the maid as it placed the pot in the middle of the table so she could lift the lid with a flourish and a tail of steam.

The smell filled the room immediately and Penny found she had to swallow before she’d even taken a bite. Sharon served everyone, taking their small bowls and ladling out the gumbo into each of them.

“Alright y’all, dig in.” Sharon grinned as she grabbed her spoon and got her first helping.

Penny brought a spoonful to her own lips and ate. “Mmmmmm.” Penny said. “I cannot tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had a meal that didn’t come with a retort pouch or out of a starport restaurant.”

“Hmmmm, mmm.” Sharon smiled. “The recipe’s been in my family for generations.”

Penny took another spoonful. “You must have been slaving over that pot all afternoon.”

“She didn’t make it.” Jessy giggled. “Agatha did.”

Penny looked around. “Who’s Agatha?”

“She calls the robot Agatha.” Sharon replied. She turned to Jessy. “Sweetie, I know I told you not to lie, but Mommy likes to have her little fun with guests when we eat. So next time, maybe wait until after everybody done swooning over the food before telling them Mommy can barely boil water without burning the place down.”

Jessy giggled. But made no such commitment.

“So where you from Penny? How’d you become a Ranger?”
Penny pushed her gumbo around with her spoon as she spoke. “My parents were from Io, they moved out to Bast shortly after I was born because of my father’s work and that’s where they’ve been to this day. My little brothers grew up and started working in robotics and ship mechanics, like my parents. But even as a little girl I could never see myself following in their footsteps.”

Penny hesitated for a moment, but pressed on with her story. “So when the uh… the war started and the call for volunteers went out, I signed up. I wanted to see more of the spiral arm than I was going to on Bast. After the war becoming a ranger felt like my only real choice. I’d spent my entire adult life in the military but I didn’t want to be stuck doing garrison duty, so here I am.”

“You’re awfully polite for a Fed.” Sharon said between mouthfuls. “If you don’t mind me saying that. Most government types we see out here are like the garrison troops: a bunch of pushy snobs who prefer to hide in their little enclaves. Like they’re worried they might catch something if they hand out with the locals.”
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Dimestore Chapter 7 Part 3

Jie winked at him. “Jet Yun Chan’s”

“Who?”

Jie threw his head back and rolled his eyes. “Jet Yun Chan, the nanohacker vigilante. It’s an exact copy of his jacket from volume 7. I…” Now the colour came to Jie’s face in full force and he looked away, muttering: “It’s too big for me. I look stupid in it.”

Wu couldn’t resist giving Jie a condescending pat on the head. “There, there.”

Jie recoiled, parrying Wu’s hand away. “Hey watch the hair.”
Sheriff Rose giggled at them, then noticed an alert in her nanoputer. “Alright kiddies, visiting hours are over, you have to go Jie.”

Jie looked worried for a moment. “Can I just give Wu a copy of the ebook? Just volume 7.”

Wu put a hand on Jie’s shoulder. “It’s okay Jie, I’ll manage without it.”

“No, you don’t understand.” Jie said, holding up a hand at Wu. “Please Sheriff?”

Sheriff Rose raised her hand to stop Jie. “You’ll have to send it to me first Jie. If I feel it’s appropriate I’ll pass it on.”

Jie sighed and deflated a little. “All right.” Then he pointed at Wu “Read it. Trust me.”

“I will.” Wu smiled. “Thanks for the jacket.”

The constable approached Jie and lead him out of the room. “See ya Wu.” He called from the door.

 

The next time that door opened it was to let Penny Dreadful into the room. Penny marched right up to the chair across from Wu and wordlessly sat down. She cradled her chin on her hands and looked Wu dead in the eye. Wu squared his shoulders, crossed his arms and stared back.

Wu considered this Ranger, the woman who brought him in. He looked into her hard blue eyes. She had to be a civil war vet, eyes like that. The knife scare below the left one removed any possible doubt.

Penny raised her chin from her hands and spoke. “Looks like your Sifu bailed on you? How’s that make you feel? You work and fight and slave for this woman and the first moment it’s convenient she ups and flies away. Leaving you to face the music.”
Wu smirked at her and flexed his shoulders. “I feel pretty good about it actually. Seeing as it was my idea.”

“You lay down your life for your master.” Penny said, managing to sound bored. “How noble. What’s wrong? Were you going to cut your belly but you chickened out?”

“I’m Chinese, you red-headed monkey!”

The hint of a smile played across Penny’s stony face. “In the Rangers, our creed is that we never leave a man behind.”

Wu leaned in a little. “That’s because you’re afraid to die. It’s unbecoming in a soldier.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

“Hey.” Wu turned his palms up. “Sifu got away. That’s all the proof you need.”

Sheriff Rose raised her hand at that point. “That’s enough of that kiddies.”

Penny grimaced at that. Wu turned away. The two of them sat in tense silence for a few moments.

After a while Penny looked back at Wu’s eyes. “Now that she’s off-planet, where would your boss be heading in a stolen star fighter?”

Wu actually laughed. “You think I’d tell you? Triads do not do that. In our creed ratting out a sworn brother is a death sentence. Though I can’t seem to remember if it’s one of those ‘Death by five lightning bolts’ ones or if it’s a ‘myriad of knives’ offence. The list of Triad oaths is as long as your arm.”
Penny let his jokes wash over her. She slowly leaned in on him and locked her eyes on his. Wu backed up, ready to fight. She had been merely looking into his eyes before, now she was boring into his soul.

“What about outsiders?” Penny quietly growled. “Are they treated like sworn brothers?”

“No.” Wu replied, cautiously. “Why would you ask that?”

Penny’s hands clenched into fists on the table. “I’m looking for someone. Before I got pulled onto this assignment I was tracking an ex-ranger who defected to the Black Mask Society. Would he be a sworn brother?”

Wu cocked his head a little to the side, trying to work out what her angle with this was.

Penny leaned in even closer. Wu was worried she was about to pounce on him. “If you can tell me anything about an ex-ranger working for the Black Mask Society…” Penny thought for a moment before saying. “I don’t care what rules I have to break. If you know anything about him, I will help you.”

Wu couldn’t see any way that she was playing him with this. “Who is this guy to you?”

Penny pulled back, the dangerous, insistent demeanour evaporating immediately. “You don’t know anything.”

Penny leaned back in her chair. “And you’re not going to tell me anything about your boss so I guess we’re done. Next Jumpship out of here isn’t coming for another three days. So you make yourself comfortable in your cell.”
With no further ceremony Penny got up out of her chair and walked out. Pausing only to say “This interrogation is over.” To the recording droid.

 

Sheriff Rose met up with her outside, while a constable returned Wu to his cell.

Penny rested her back against the wall and looked out across the parking lot. Sheriff Rose leaned in close and softly said. “I’m going to leave what I saw in there out of my logs, particularly that part about you not caring what rules you have to break.”

Penny took in a deep breath. “Thank you.” She said. “I owe you one.”

“Don’t get too excited.” Sheriff Rose said as she leaned against the wall next to Penny. “I can’t say the same for my receptionist. Its memory is encrypted. But you can join my daughter and I for dinner tonight in lieu of a favour. You’ll be out of town before I can call it in anyway.”

Penny smirked. “That sounds nice. I don’t have anywhere to stay now that my Fighter’s been stolen.”

Sheriff Rose shrugged. “I can’t do much about that. Though there is a spare office upstairs that we’re using as a store room. It’s not much, but a quick clean and a cot will turn it into a place to sleep and change in.”

“Thanks.” Penny said and offered the Sheriff her hand.
Sheriff Rose took it and they shook. “Don’t mention it.”
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Dimestore Chapter 7 Part 2

From two cells down Elena stood up and yelled. “Sit down and shut up Bristol.”

Wu cracked open one eye to watch the show. Bristol turned right around and grabbed at the bars to Elena’s cell. “We wouldn’t be stuck behind these damn bars if it weren’t for ‘im.”

“I know.” Elena yelled back “And right now I like him better than you ’cause he’s not making all this damn racket.”

“Ha! S’matta you been in ‘ere two days without Wat you already looking for another man?”

Quick as flashing steel Elena’s hand slipped through the gap and grabbed Bristol by the collar before yanking him into the bars. Bristol’s head bounced off the metal and he tripped and fell on his backside.
Elena stabbed a finger at Bristol. “You watch your mouth.”

Bristol reached a hand up to his face, when he pulled his fingers away even Wu could see blood on them. Bristol glowered at Elena, but said nothing.

In the cells on the other side, Wu could hear the drunks shuffling quietly, deliberately trying not to draw Elena or Bristol’s attention while they watched the spectacle unfold.

Then the Sheriff’s booming voice filled the quiet. “Get your clothes on kids, you’ve got company.”

Wu doubted the drunks had ever felt so much relief before. He opened his other eye.

Sheriff Rose paraded into the room with one of her constables in toe. She casually inspected the cells as she passed. When she saw Bristol sitting on the floor with blood on his face, she paused mid stride and turned to Elena. “He alright honey?”

Elena didn’t take her eyes off Bristol. “He will if he stays quiet.”

Sheriff Rose walked over to Elena’s cell. “Honey, I wouldn’t normally tell another sister what to do, but right now it’s my job: You keep your hands to yourself. Clear?”

Elena said nothing.

Sheriff Rose went back to what she was doing. “Wu.” She called as she moved over to his cell. “You got a visitor.”

“Oh?” Wu looked up at her and raised an eyebrow.

Sheriff Rose knelt down so she could speak to Wu at eye level. “Your guest was pretty insistent and you’ll be under my supervision so I’m going to allow it.”
She stood back up again and her constable approached the cell door. “Back of the cell sir.” He said. “Face the wall and put your hands behind your head.”

Wu got up from the floor and did as he was told.

The constable cautiously entered the cell and approached Wu, who briefly considered jumping the man and attempting a daring escape but decided against it. Sheriff Rose stood a good distance from the cell door and would likely have her pistol out and ready before Wu could subdue the constable.

So Wu let the friendly policeman cable-tie his wrists together and they lead him into an interrogation room. Even if he’d been blindfolded Wu could tell what the room was for. Sound became stale as soon as Sheriff Rose closed the door behind them. Suggesting the room had been modified to produce clear audio. If that hadn’t been enough the bolted down tables and chairs in the middle of the room and the static servant droid standing to attention with a view of the entire room made it obvious.

To Wu’s surprise it was Jie waiting for him in the opposite chair. Still dressed like he’d just stepped off the streets of Tang Xing. A stylish bomber jacket lay folded on the table next to him, even though Jie was already wearing a jacket. Jie cracked a grin when he saw Wu get lead into the room.
Sheriff Rose noticed Wu’s surprise. “You were expecting someone else?”

“Yeah.” Wu said after a moment. “I thought I was going to be interrogated.”

“That’s still happening.” The Sheriff smiled. “But Jie’s been wanting to talk to you since you saved him and I’m going to be here to make sure everything remains above board.”

Curious, Wu sat down in the chair.

“Hey Wu.” Jie began, his eyes flicking towards the Sheriff and her constable only briefly. “How you holding up?”

“I’m good man.” He said. “I’m in the cell next door to the guys who took you hostage, we’ve been catching up.”

“Yeah?” Jie asked, his eyes twinkling a little. “How about that chick they had with them? The one with the blue hair. She mention me?”

Wu made a show of rolling his eyes. “Sure Cassanova, she asked for your number.”

Jie pumped his fist and whispered. “Yes.”

Wu smirked at him. “What about you? We didn’t get you in too much trouble did we?”

Jie became serious again. “Oh no no no. Everything’s fine. The only thing I feel bad about is that… well…” Jie gestured to the room around them. “This.”

Wu shrugged. “Couldn’t be avoided. I’m just glad Sifu got out okay.”

Jie looked down and nibbled at his lip. “Yeah. I guess.”

Then Jie seemed to notice the jacket on the table. “Oh, I got you this.”
Wu glanced at the Sheriff and then turned back to Jie. “You’re allowed to do that?”

Sheriff Rose came forward. “I’ve looked over it, there’s nothing in the pockets and nothing came up on the scanner so I don’t see the harm in it.”

“What about our Ranger friend?”

Sheriff Rose crossed her arms. “She’s not the boss around here and I figured you deserve a little gratitude for all the good you done.”

Jie presented the jacket to Wu with both hands, a beaming grin on his face.

Wu smirked and accepted the jacket. It was a black gore-tex street wear number with silver piping and linings, an emblem Wu didn’t recognised adorned both the heart pocket and almost the whole of the back.

Wu cast Jie a knowing look. “Who’s jacket is this?”
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Dimestore Chapter 7 Part 1

Chapter Seven

Penny flexed her arm without thinking and a dull ache burned its way through her nervous system. The Doc has swapped out the destroyed muscle for a freshly cloned one ten minutes ago and the pain inhibitors hadn’t fully kicked in yet. A wicked scar curled across her arm like a snake and Penny wondered what design of tattoo would best hide the mark. She’d been told not to use the arm too much until tomorrow, but was already getting impatient.

Pity the armour couldn’t be replaced as easily. The plate over her bicep had a hole clean through it. Normally this would be as easy as putting the broken part in storage until she reached a Ranger Station and swapping it out for a spare, but with her ship anywhere up to five sectors away by now that wasn’t happening.

She’d already checked up on Wu, Sheriff Rose was keeping tabs on him in the infirmary while the Doc went over his own injuries. In another couple of hours it would be Penny’s turn. Deciding there was no use fighting it anymore Penny began to compose her report to headquarters.

 

Sheriff Rose kindly gave Penny access to the HPG uplink in the office. Penny made a mental note to have Ranger HQ send them a gift basket for all their help. She sat herself down on a waiting bench in the lobby and logged in.
When Penny opened her eyes again she was sitting on a park bench overlooking a field of sunflowers. Hints of the scent gently wafted around as the simulated winds jostled the petals.

Penny called up Ranger HQ and waited for the connection to be made.

Seera’s smiling face filled the vidwindow in front of Penny. “Good day Ranger Dreadful. How may I be of assistance?”

“Hi Seera.” Penny said. “I have a report to deliver to Captain Harrison. Can you record for me?”

Seera closed her eyes for a moment and nodded. “Proceed when ready.”

“Suspect: Wu Gang Shu arrested on July 14th, local date. Suspect is a member of the Han cell of the Black Mask Society and was believed to be the personal assistant/bodyguard for ‘Sifu’, the cell’s Incense Master. Suspect sustained a minor wound to right shoulder and another to the right ankle while resisting arrest and is currently recuperating in the custody of the local constabulary.”

Seera nodded. “Am I to surmise that you are beginning with Sifu’s assistant because Sifu herself remains at large?”

That worried Penny. Seera did not normally speak that way. Captain Harrison must have set Seera’s parameters in the event of this report. “Sifu is currently still at large. You can add ‘Grand Theft of Federal Property’ to her charge sheet.”

“What Federal property has she stolen?”
Penny put her head in her hand. “One SC-210 Deep Strike Fighter, registration RPED2109436 ‘Black Bess’. Plus all contents sans one daypack. Suggest ship registration be added to the watch list immediately.”

Seera’s facial expression didn’t change, but a note of disappointment entered her voice. “You have allowed her to steal your own star fighter?”

“Well, I wouldna’ used the word ‘allowed’ myself, but yes the stolen fighter had been issued to me.”

“Have you checked with the Port Authority as to the heading your Star Fighter was on when it left?”

“Yes. Uploading navigation data from the satellite network now.”

“Downloading. Do you have anything further to add?”

“I would like to make an official complaint regarding Ernutet Garrison Captain Hollister. Captain Hollister was openly insubordinate during the attempt to arrest Sifu and Mr Wu. Had Captain Hollister given his full cooperation as was his duty, the chances of Sifu escaping would have been significantly smaller. His men were unnecessarily aggressive with the civilian population and they were proportionally unenthusiastic when it came to apprehending the suspects themselves.

I submit the feed from my nanoputer as evidence of his conduct and of my own in regards to Mr Wu’s injuries.”

Seera frowned. “It is unbecoming of a Ranger to lay blame on the actions of the local authorities Ranger Dreadful.”
Penny felt her face flush red hot. “Ranger or not I’m only one woman, when I’ve got support personnel who don’t even want to do the job they’re paid for even a mixed victory like yesterday’s feels like a miracle. If Captain Harrison reviews my feed and still feels my performance was inadequate he can take whatever action he likes, but as a Ranger with my record I’d appreciate the benefit of the doubt.”

Seera nodded again. “Very well Ranger Dreadful. Preliminary instructions are to detain Mr. Wu and deliver him into federal custody here at Ranger Head Quarters. You are to requisition passage for the both of you on the first jumpship off Ernutet and make your way to Mars with all speed. Failure to complete these instructions will result in disciplinary action. Is that understood?”

Penny grit her teeth. “Yes Seera. Perfectly understood.”

Suddenly Seera’s standard parameters took over again and her usual beaming smile lit up her face. “Good day Ranger Dreadful.”

Penny put her face in her hand and exhaled. “Thank you Seera. Dismissed.”

 

“I’m gonna get ‘choo son.”

A grin tugged insistently at the corner of Wu’s mouth and he had to fight hard to keep it from spreading across his face.

On the other side of the cell Bristol gripped the bars that separated them so tight the colour drained from his knuckles. Wu kept his eyes closed, but he could hear Bristol shaking with rage.
In the cell on the other side Wu could hear Brook breathing heavily as she completed her third set of tricep dips. She’d been through sit-ups, star jumps, squats, leg-raises, clap push-ups. Wu had only ever seen her rest when she was stretching.

All the other cells on the opposite side held nothing more intimidating than the town drunks.

“You ‘ear me?” Bristol spat.

Wu sat in the middle of his cell with his legs crossed and his palms turned upwards on his knees. He finally found a use for all those meditation exercises and other ‘internal’ aspects of his martial arts.

Wu heard Bristol growl like a wolf with a thorn in its paw and smack the bars again.
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Dimestore Chapter 6 Part 2

Wu’s hope paid off, much to the annoyance of the Federation Ranger watching the whole thing from the Recon craft. Penny grabbed the mic again.
“Captain. Casualty report.”
A pause long enough for the Captain to check his HUD broke out on the line. “Zero. But we’re taking a lot of fire down here.”

“There’s a platoon of you and only one of him Captain.” Penny growled down the line. “Get your men to manoeuvre around him, split his fire between you, just keep his eyes off the constables trying to open the fighter.”

“I can’t do that. Unlike you, Ranger, my men aren’t getting paid to die.”

“And unlike you, Captain, I’m not getting paid to sit on my ass.” Penny turned to the pilot. “I need you to buzz the tower, swoop in from behind and get as low as you can. Go slow, but once you’re right over the top, hit the jets and get away as fast as you can.”

The pilot looked back at her and grinned. “Yes Ma’am.”

 

As the pilot brought the recon speeder around in preparation for their charge Penny got back on the mic. “Captain, I’m about to draw the sniper’s fire, when I do, get your speeder to block his line of sight to the star fighter.”

“What about the other terrorist?”

“SHE’S IN THE FIGHTER.” Penny screamed. Had he really not grasped that by now?

Penny gave up, logged out of the speeder’s comms and unbuckled her safety harness. “Y’all ready?” She asked the pilot.

“You better believe it Ma’am.”

“Go.”
The pilot revved the throttle and the recon speeder hurried towards the sheriff’s office. Penny felt her heart jump and her stomach run for cover, but she reached out and grabbed the latch on the speeder’s door and readied herself regardless. The distance to the office melted away in seconds and Penny threw the door open and jumped out.

As soon as Penny was clear the Pilot jammed the throttle to max and blasted across the sky.

Penny careened through the air for a moment and threw herself into a dive roll as she hit the roof.

Penny bounced, grateful for the armour on her back. Two more bounces brought her to a sudden stop against the roof access structure in the middle of the roof.

A little sore, Penny unfolded herself from her rolling posture and took up a position behind the structure.

Peering around the corner Penny saw Wu kneeling behind the barricade. He’d emptied the rifle’s ammo cylinder and began loading fresh ammo from the pouches on his vest. Penny popped around and fired a warning shot beside Wu’s head.

Wu jumped when the bullet hit the barrier, he almost dropped the ammo in his hand.

“Wu Gang Shu.” Penny yelled, recognising his face from Seera’s mission data. “Throw down your weapon and surrender and you will not be harmed.”

Wu messaged Sifu through his nanoputer. [Sifu, how much longer do you need?]
[Almost there.] Sifu said. [Engines at 99%.]

Cautiously, Wu raised his head a little and tried to keep one eye on the Ranger and another on her fighter. The constables were back at the fighter’s lock.

Penny saw him hesitate and decided to take a gamble. “I know you’re not going to hurt anyone Wu. You haven’t shot anyone today and I know you don’t intend to start now. Give yourself up and I can see to it personally the courts take it easy on you.”

Wu glanced back at the constables. He looked down at his weapon. [Good luck Sifu.]

Penny watched Wu turn his back on her and raise the rifle to his shoulder. Penny broke from cover and sprinted towards him with her pistol up.

Wu hit the trigger, sending a dozen rounds in the cops’ direction. The rounds pelted into the side of the Star fighter ricocheting off the weathered metal, the constables threw themselves to the ground as hot lead sprayed wildly in all directions.

Sifu fired up the engines and the star fighter began to leave the ground. The constables scrambled to their feet and fled as dust and shrapnel got picked up by the engine blast and thrown about anew.

Penny closed the distance to Wu and pulled out her shock baton with her free hand.

Hearing her footfalls, Wu spun to face her and set his rife to ‘spear’.

Penny aimed high and to the right and fired twice.

Wu finished his spin and squeezed off a shot from the hip. The ‘spear’ setting firing a half-dozen rounds from one of the rifle’s fresh barrels simultaneously. Resulting in a bright flash of metal that could almost be followed with the naked eye. The next moment Penny’s shots pelted into his right shoulder, destroying his hold on the rifle.
The spear tore into the armour on Penny’s bicep and kept going. Penny felt her shock baton slip from her fingers before she felt the pain. She stumbled for one step and then muscled through the agony to continue her sprint.

Wu fumbled with the rifle in his hands, trying to move it to his left when Penny caught up to him and kicked it out of his grasp.

Wu immediately jumped up at Penny and grabbed her in a clinch, blood flowing freely from his shoulder as the muscles bunched up. Wu brought his knee up into Penny’s ribs, Penny responded by butting her helmet into Wu’s nose. Already so high on adrenaline that Wu could barely feel his bullet wound he ignored the taste of copper slipping into his mouth and pressed on with his attack. Wu slipped his right foot behind Penny’s and hip threw her off her feet.

Penny hit the ground with a ‘thump’ and immediately brought her guard up, ready for Wu’s next attack. But Wu was already running. At full tilt Wu charged towards the side of the roof over looking the reception area.

Quickly, Penny rolled onto her front and lined up a shot with her pistol.
Wu jumped, planted one foot on the barricade wall and…
Penny fired.
… the bullet caught Wu at the ankle, just as he was about to put all his weight on it. Wu crashed onto the barrier, his arms flailing to catch himself. But his momentum was already committed to the jump and he fell over the edge.

Desperately Wu grabbed at the barrier, a jolt of pain surged through his right shoulder as his fingers slipped off, leaving only his left hand to hold him. Wu gripped the edge of barrier with a strength he’d never felt before. He tried to raise his right arm again but the pain burst in his brain like a firecracker.

Then a firm armoured hand closed around his left wrist and held on tight. Wu looked up to see the Federal Ranger trying to keep him from falling. “Give me your other hand.” She shouted.

“I can’t.” Wu gasped. “I can’t lift it. Give me yours.”

Penny’s face fell, her left arm dangling uselessly by her side. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Just then the maintenance access door burst open and Sheriff Rose and a squad of her constables swarmed out with their weapons in every direction. One of them pointed at Penny. “Over there Sheriff.”

When she saw Penny valiantly try to save her suspect’s life Rose pointed out to her. “Give her a hand.”

Two constables put away their weapons and rushed to Penny’s aid. In a few moments Wu was safely back on the roof, his arms too tired or bloody to resist being cable-tied behind his back.
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