Sheriff Rose blinked tired eyes at Penny. “I got a man down and the rest of my staff in mourning. I got an illegal mine to find before it blows up into an environmental disaster that destroys the entire community and now this just dropped into my lap.”
“I’m sorry.” Penny repeated. “HQ is riding me hard after Sifu got away in my own ship. So I either get Wu to them yesterday or it’s my job.”
Wu stared at Penny. His eyes wide in outrage. “Your job. A kid’s life in is the balance. Hang your HQ they can wait a few days.”
Penny rounded on Wu. “If I had your boss in chains next to you, then you bet your hide I’d be out there bringing the kid back. But this is how the chips have fallen and I gotta do what has to be done.”
Wu snorted and turned away.
Penny grit her teeth. “I don’t have to justify myself to a terrorist who likes to play Robin Hood.”
Wu looked over his shoulder at her. “Who?”
“Children.” Sheriff Rose said, raising her hand for silence like a school teacher. “I don’t need this as well. You can’t stick around Ranger, I get that. I was on my own before you got here and I ain’t grown soft in only a week.”
She put a hand up to her brow. “Now all I gotta do is work out how I’m going to keep enough of a police presence here to keep the peace while I take every man I can trust out to a knife-edged hostage-rescue operation.”
Penny felt her soul sink down into her boots. “C’mon Wu.” She said as she turned away. “Let’s get those patrol schedules worked out while the Sheriff deals with this.”
Penny stayed true to her word, she stayed up all night and in the morning left a full schedule of patrol rosters for Sharon’s people. Penny had no idea how Sheriff Rose would have to modify it if she lost anyone during the hostage negotiation. But by the morning she had run out of time. With as little ceremony as possible Penny gathered up her day carry pack, collected Wu and called a robot taxi to take them out to the space elevator.
Out in the parking lot Penny could feel the weight in the bags under her eyes. All she wanted was to get to the space station and from there the jumpship. Then she could sleep.
Pity all Wu wanted to do was to keep arguing.
“We can’t just leave them like this Ranger.” Wu tried again. “Sheriff Rose is a capable woman, but her constables are just a bunch of traffic cops, without a soldier of your calibre there to guide them Jie’s rescue will turn into a bloodbath.”
“It’s easy for you to say.” Penny shot back. “Your boss is your friend. Your command structure is more like a social club than an army. In the Rangers we don’t need vague threats of divine retribution vie thunderbolt, HQ dives on you like an angel with a flaming sword and burns you to the end of time.”
Wu rolled his eyes at her.
“I’ve done it.” Penny said to him. “I’ve been the one to hand a fellow Ranger his dishonourable discharge papers. I joined the Rangers to help people and I can’t do that from the unemployment line.”
Wu exploded at her. Pointing at her face with both his bound hands. “You’re not doing it now. This is why you’ve never been able to suppress the Black Mask Society. We’ve broken sieges, we’ve run blockades, we’ve destroyed crime rings, whatever the people need they know they can count on us to get it done.”
Wu turned away from her and looked out across the parking lot.
“You’re a policewoman.” He continued. “If these people can’t count on you for help. Then who else can they turn to?”
Penny reached for Wu’s shoulder. “They’ve got Sheriff Rose and her constabulary.”
Without warning Wu spun around and turned Penny’s arm aside. Penny only had the briefest of moments to see the black nanoweave mask across his face. “And they’ve got me.”
Penny moved to put up her guard, but Wu’s arm held her defences open. Like lightning his hands struck out at her hip, ribs and neck and Penny felt her muscles seize up painfully.
With a thump Penny collapsed to the ground. Her body frozen. Her eyes only capable of looking straight up at the open sky.
Desperately Penny pulled up the control panel in her nanoputer and ran a full virus scan and reset.
By the time her systems were restored Wu was long gone, leaving only a pair of broken restraining collars in the parking lot.
Penny rolled onto her back and groaned. She put a call in to Sheriff Rose.
“Sheriff. I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news:”
“Wu escaped.” Penny growled. “So the good news is I’m going to help you with the hostage situation. The bad news is after this I can’t be a Ranger no more.”
“Because I’m gonna kill Wu when I get my hands on him.”
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