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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