“What are your plans for the future?” Hae Lee tried again. “Do you see yourself settling down? Maybe starting a family?”
“It doesn’t matter what I want.” Wu said. The timer hit zero and Wu switched the encryption. He held his breath for a moment while he waited to see if he’d chosen correctly. When the collar didn’t shock him, he knew it worked. The timer reset and he went back to the job.
“In less than a month the Ranger will hand me over to her HQ. I’ll be interrogated mercilessly until I give up everything I know about Sifu and then I’ll be tried for treason and sent to a penal colony for the rest of my life. Unless I can get out of this damn collar.”
Hae Lee rested her arm on the bench and looked at Wu. At the focused determination in his eyes and the set of his firm chin. Her heart quivered for a moment.
Hae Lee sighed. Behind the literal walls of code around him Wu didn’t even notice.
Wu opened up the control systems for the collar. He found several different options in front of him, each in charge of a different aspect of the restraining collar’s functions. Wu glanced up at the timer and saw he had ten seconds before he had to switch again. He considered his options. If he could disable the collar’s wifi he could stop the Ranger from discovering he was tampering with it. But if he tripped the anti-tamper, it would still shock him. That problem went the other way around if Wu rendered the shock system harmless but still tripped the alarm. The Ranger would know what he was doing and she might be able to force a reinstall of the collar’s software.
Wu noticed the locking mechanism controls. If he could hack that and it still tripped the alarm… well it wouldn’t be ideal, but at least he’d be free of the Ranger’s yoke.
The timer hit zero and Wu changed his encryption. After a moment’s held breath the timer reset and the collar still hadn’t shocked him.
Hae Lee noticed the simmer-time was over and turned off the heat.
“About Sifu…” Hae Lee asked hesitantly. “You speak very highly of her… all the time.”
Wu smirked. He opened up the collar’s locking mechanism and began searching through its code.
The timer showed ten seconds, the sequence must be speeding up.
“She’s the reason I am who I am. She took a directionless, lazy, know-nothing and turned me into a revolutionary. She’s a remarkable woman.”
“Yeah.” Hae Lee bit her lip. “So would say you two are… intimate?”
Wu brushed aside two walls of code with a wave of his hand to get a clear look at her. “What?”
Then the timer hit zero.
A crackle of pain tore into the soft flesh of Wu’s neck and scrambled its way down his spine, firing off synapses and tensing every muscle on its way.
Wu roared in pain, collapsing back against the seat of the couch behind him, he writhed in agony as the current reached his feet.
Hae Lee abandoned the cooking, grabbed the first-aid kit and rushed to Wu’s side.
“Wu.” She screamed. “Wu are you okay, what’s wrong?”
“He’ll be fine.” A commanding, female voice called from the doorway. “Just don’t touch him and y’all won’t be get hit by any residuals.”
Federation Ranger Penny Dreadful strode into the Mess and found it just as she expected.
She was armoured from head to toe. She hadn’t taken her armour off since they left Ernutet. Her inner suit kept her clean and sanitary enough and she couldn’t lower her guard for an instant with a nanohacker of Wu’s talent in her custody. When she saw that Wu was in no position to make any sudden moves she popped open her helmet and it retracted behind her neck.
She had short, flaming red hair and the piercing gaze of a career policewoman, a thin shrapnel scar under her left eye attested her civil-war service.
Ranger Dreadful walked up to the table and inspected Wu’s prone, gasping body with a glance. She turned to Hae Lee, who hid her gaze by staring down at her shoes.
Penny sighed and shook her head at her. Her normally stony-faced expression softened. “Hae Lee.”
Penny reached an arm out to Hae Lee and pulled up her chin to make her look into her eyes.
“I didn’t bring any aiding and abetting charges against you on account o’ your old crew. Please don’t make me bring up any new ones ’cause of him.”
Penny let Hae Lee go and the young woman kept her eyes on Penny.
“When this is over.” Penny said. “And I hand him over to HQ, I won’t need this ship anymore and I’d rather it stay in your hands than get auctioned off on some Federal lot. So please sweetie, don’t go throwing all that away over a pretty face.”
Wu moaned in pain. Penny reached down and grabbed him by his lapels.
“And you.” Penny yanked Wu up onto his feet. “Looks like I’ve been keeping you on too long a leash. From now on you’re to stay within line of sight of me at all times. Which means we’re taking our dinner to the bridge ’cause I still got some checks to run on the navicomp. Understand?”
Wu scrunched his face up to fight back at least some of the pain. “Yeah I understand.”
“Good.” Penny said, shoving him in the direction of the door. “Then get moving. Oh and Hae Lee.”
Hae Lee shot her head up again. “Yes?”
Penny threw her gaze over her shoulder as she followed Wu out. “I like mine with extra soy sauce.”