“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?”
“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.
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.
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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