Four hours later Penny and the Sheriff were lying on their bellies in the dust between two boulders. Their camouflage blankets adjusted their colours subtly as the sun rose higher in the sky. And they had to be careful to keep the light from reflecting off their scopes.
They lay in a crack in the wall, a creek where run off-from the erosion that built the canyon over millennia had tried to get away. They looked out across the rest of the canyon.
Penny looked down the sight on her M22 and checked over her view.
Beside her, Sheriff Rose smirked. “I won’t lie to you Ranger. I’m so happy Wu got away from you I’m surprised I didn’t help him myself.”
Penny kept her eye in the scope. “I’m glad it’s turned out so well for you.”
Sheriff Rose shrugged. “Without your boy flying the coup like that ain’t no way I could organise my people to get something done this far outta my territory. Now with the garrison on our side…”
“That garrison Captain ain’t lifted a finger yet.” Penny spat. “And he won’t until we get him proof positive that he’s needed. I don’t care if the Rangers do fire me I will make it my life’s mission to take that man’s rank away.”
Sheriff Rose smirked again and slipped her visor back down over her eyes.
They looked out over a box canyon, only a few dozen metres wider than the ship parked inside it. The small haul cargo freighter looked like it had seen better days. Ships like this one epitomised the romantic vision of space travel. Their small size and large storage allowed them to house a large family or a close-knit crew. Ample cargo space left no excuse as to why one couldn’t be forever out amongst the stars. The Federation had long since given up attempting to properly tax people who lived that lifestyle and settled instead on registration fees and tolls.
Apparently they were also the perfect vehicle for housing and operating a pirate crew.
Underneath the ship three members of the crew were going about their business. Out of the ship was clearly the best place for the crew to tend to their own hobbies.
The black woman Elena was chatting with an Asian man in a loud Hawaiian shirt. He was jumping around and miming something as he talked. Elena smiled and even laughed at the more energetic displays and she never took her eyes off him.
Further away, near the loading ramp, Brook seemed to be dancing to music only she could hear. Or was it a Tai Chi form? Penny couldn’t tell, one moment her movements were fluid and graceful and the next it was all high-kicks and acrobatics.
The Sheriff nudged Penny again. “Something’s been bothering me since we got here.”
“There is no way this is where the bandits normally park their ship. Unless they’re cutting the local law in on their action.”
“Or local law doesn’t care. Maybe they’re not causing trouble in their own backyard and the Sheriff up here has his own problems.”
Sheriff Rose pursed her lips. “Maybe, if he has he’s been keeping that on the low. We don’t normally get this kind of trouble on Ernutet.”
Penny nudged the Sheriff. “Movement.”
Sheriff Rose pulled her goggles down again. “Where?”
“Two O’clock. Recognise that face?”
“Anywhere.” She smiled.
Penny muttered under her breath. “Down girl.”
Through her rifle’s scope Penny saw Wu carefully skulk from rock to rock on the far side of the canyon. He wore a long coil of synthetic rope over Jie’s jacket and climbing grips on his palms. With his black mask the whole get up made him look like a cat burglar from an old TV show.
Silently and cautiously, Wu made his way from the edge of the canyon and towards the closest leg of the landing gear.
“If he’s not careful he’s going to get the hostage killed.” Penny warned. “How soon can your men get out here?”
Sheriff Rose opened her comms. “I’ll call them now.”
Penny took the safety off her rifle. She knew going in guns blazing if Wu got himself caught was suicide, even for a Ranger. But still, Penny couldn’t help but admire his moxy.
Carefully, Wu circled around to where Elena and her boyfriend were talking. She’d sat herself down on some crates while he kept miming out his story. Penny stole a glance towards Brook and saw her still dancing, still oblivious to the world.
Wu made it to the next landing leg and peered around the side, from there he could see over Elena’s shoulder and watch the man in the loud shirt’s movements.
Then at the right part of the story, the man turned around and Wu pounced.
As Penny watched Wu sprinted up to Elena and struck her twice in the small of the back. Elena’s pistol appeared in her hand and she spun around to face him. Wu blocked her gun-hand and chopped Elena in her neck and she collapsed. Wu slipped her pistol as she went limp and pointed it at her boyfriend, who already had his hands in the air.
Then both Penny and Sheriff Rose’s comms filled with static as someone on the ship threw up a jamming field around the entire canyon.
A circle of Sinologic 600 Androids threw off their camouflaged blankets and stepped out of the grave-sized pits they’d been buried in.
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