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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