Wat brought the bandit’s ship around to the side of a mountain. He sat in the pilot’s seat, trying to look calm and in control, while sneaking sips from the pint glass on his console. Penny and Wu stood deliberately out of frame of the ship’s hailing camera.
Far off to the side Elena and Hae Lee were tied to chairs in front of the navigation console.
Wat brought the ship in front of a sheer cliff face and opened a comms channel.
“This is the Ravenwing calling base. Base do you receive me?”
A robotic voice replied. “Acknowledged Ravenwing. Please stand by, Iron Duke is requesting a communications link.”
Wat shrugged. “And by request he means, ‘get on the rotten horn’. Got it.”
A moment later Lin’s face appeared on the screen in front of Wat.
Wu tensed. Penny shot him a look and he stayed still.
“What are you doing here?” Mr Lin said, disdainfully. “Put your captain on immediately.”
Wat opened his hands. “You’re looking at him. Mac’s gone.”
Lin snorted. “Honestly, why can’t you people resolve your problems without shooting each other?”
Wat smiled. “Flattery will get you nowhere. No your little friends gave us some trouble. We lost Mac, Brook, Bristol and Bradley before the missus and I finally put them down.”
Lin growled. “I wanted their deaths to look like an accident.”
“Well like my dear Nai-nai always told me ‘Sometimes you don’t get what you want.’ Just in case that gave you any ideas, we still expect to get paid. We’ve done your work and now it’s over. Elena, Hae Lee and myself are out of here. You need to find yourself some new mercs anyway.”
Lin shrugged. “Very well. Come in.”
Penny looked out the window and saw the sheer face of the mountain flicker and disappear, leaving an opening in the wall barely larger than the Ravenwing once the holographic curtain fell.
Wat received the docking parameters and the ship’s A.I. took over and guided the thread through the eye of the needle.
While the ship flew itself Penny and Wu got to work tying Wat to the pilot’s chair. When they’d finished they moved Wat next to his wife and shipmate. Elena gave Wat a look that told him he was on the couch until the stars grew cold and Wat shrank back from her.
Penny looked out at the hangar inside the mountain. ‘Hangar’ was being too kind to it. It was literally a hole carved into the rock, wide enough to park two craft side by side, but little beyond that. Any equipment had either been placed into a recess cut out of the rock specifically for it, or was left where it was on the cave floor. Power cables snaked from device to device, leading deeper into the cave and the ramp at the far end.
And everywhere they looked a Sinologic 600 android with an assault rifle on a magnetic sling was hard at work, either monitoring equipment or carving out a larger hanger inside the cliff.
Wu joined her at the bridge, he had Bristol’s rifle in his hand and from the looks of things the rest of the big man’s arsenal hanging off webbing and bandoliers.
“All you’re missing is warpaint.” Penny said.
“Well I don’t have ranger armour. So I gotta make do.”
Penny grimaced. “I can’t let you do this Wu.”
Wu looked at Penny like she’d just grown an extra head. “You’re going to take on all that by yourself.”
“One riot, one ranger.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re going to need someone to watch your back.”
“Handy in a fight as you are, you’re still a civilian. I can’t ask you to risk your life like this.”
Penny surreptitiously slipped her shock baton from its place as she spoke.
Wu didn’t notice, but Hae Lee did. Through the gag tied around her mouth she tried to murmur a desperate warning to Wu. Wu heard the noise and turned towards her… and away from Penny, just as she tapped him in the ribs with the shock baton.
Wu grimaced as electric pain shook through his body. Penny caught Wu on his way down and bundled him into the last chair on the bridge. She made sure to remove Jie’s jacket and the bandolier of ammo from Wu’s shoulders before tying him down.
“I’m sorry Wu.” Penny said. “But your place is with the civilians.”
When Wu had fully recovered from the shock Penny had her last shock collar around his neck.
She reminded him of his rights while it was on, with one change: “I’m taking the distance restriction off you, but if you get out of that chair without my permission that collar will go off.”
Then she turned and walked away.
“What are you doing?” Wu yelled after her. “You need me Ranger.”
Penny shut the door behind her and kept walking.
On the way down the constabulary got in contact with her.
[Ranger Dreadful.] The Sergeant’s voice came over her comm. Penny mentally kicked herself for not remembering his name.
[We’re on our way now Ranger, but I can’t see anything like a base on the long-range scope.]
[The entrance is concealed by hologram.] Penny explained. [Don’t worry, I’ll have it down in a jiffy. Just get ready to storm inside once you see the curtain fall.]
Down in the cargo hold, Penny reloaded Elena’s missile launcher and hit the button to lower the ramp. She watched as the ramp slowly descended, filling the cargo hold with light.
She had Mac’s pistol and her own, her M22 assault rifle on the magnetic sling and now two anti-ship missiles.
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