Difference between revisions of "User:Robotech Master/Reaping the Whirlwind"

From Shifti
Jump to: navigation, search
(The one good cop in the Dolts wants to change sides…or maybe just change his own side.)
 
m
 
Line 666: Line 666:
 
“Yo,” the she-coyote RIDE said. “Youse can count on me. Not that I need ta. Delia's a good egg.” Wyoming had been one of the RIDEs they’d liberated from the jumpers attacking Sally’s mine after dealing with the ambush. As with the earlier batch, most of them had chosen to join the Marshals when offered Moose’s choice—especially once they had heard from that batch how good things were for the ones who’d stayed.
 
“Yo,” the she-coyote RIDE said. “Youse can count on me. Not that I need ta. Delia's a good egg.” Wyoming had been one of the RIDEs they’d liberated from the jumpers attacking Sally’s mine after dealing with the ambush. As with the earlier batch, most of them had chosen to join the Marshals when offered Moose’s choice—especially once they had heard from that batch how good things were for the ones who’d stayed.
  
Reed nodded again, then reached out to pat Summer on his head. The arctic fox had gotten his mil-spec frame and hardlight pelt at the same time. Reed thought he looked spectacular in white. “And if your RIDE doesn’t know the real you, who does. So, yeah.” He chuckled. “You know, that’s an idea. Pair all the recruits up with RIDEs and have ‘em Fuse first thing. Could save a lot of time in the long run. Wonder if that’s why the Dolts didn’t use ‘em.”
+
Reed nodded again, then reached out to pat Summer on his head. “And if your RIDE doesn’t know the real you, who does. So, yeah.” He chuckled. “You know, that’s an idea. Pair all the recruits up with RIDEs and have ‘em Fuse first thing. Could save a lot of time in the long run. Wonder if that’s why the Dolts didn’t use ‘em.”
  
 
“I dunno. They seemed pretty attached to their 'cycles. The way Nilsson was sobbing over his 'Snookie' after we pulled him back to his feet…” Summer mused.
 
“I dunno. They seemed pretty attached to their 'cycles. The way Nilsson was sobbing over his 'Snookie' after we pulled him back to his feet…” Summer mused.

Latest revision as of 02:14, 28 January 2015

Marshals: Beginnings, Episode Two: Reaping the Whirlwind

Author: Jon Buck & Robotech_Master
Author's Comments

This story can be downloaded in PDF, EPUB, Mobi (Kindle), ODT and RTF format from this website, as "Marshals Beginnings.".


May 21, 128 AL Whirlwind, Pleiades Plateau, Southern Dry Ocean

DOLEB Corporal Reed Mosley hurried down the steps of the outpost station. He was a slim man with sandy brown hair, brown eyes, and the kind of full mustache that was in style in his old home polity, Cape Nord. He wore the standard quibitie blue DOLEB uniform, though with a minimum of decoration. “Just got word. Rod Clemson was spotted over on Coulter's Rill. If we leave now—”

“Calm down, Mosley. You'd think they'd seen Burnside Bill.” Mosley's partner, Corporal Carson Nilsson, sat back in the cushy saddle of his large Chinook skimmer bike. He was a heavy-built, florid-faced man with more than a bit of a paunch. “Let's not make more work for ourselves. It's the end of our shift.”

“You kidding? There’s a good chance he’s going to try to sneak more refined Q over the border tonight. This could be our shot at catching him red-handed.”

“So…we can catch him red-handed tomorrow,” Corporal Nilsson said. “Not on the clock, not our problem.”

Reed glared at him. He was used to some crazy statements about their duties from his fellow officers, but that one was hands down one of the worst. Nilsson was all about his own personal comfort, from the soft buckskin leather of his Chinook's seat to the handmade gourmet meals he packed in the saddlebags while on their cushy, inadequate patrols. But it wouldn’t do any good to argue. Instead, Reed sighed, audibly. “Yeah, pal, I guess you’re right.” He yawned. “You won’t say anything if I head home a little early? It’s Ladies’ Night at Seven Sisters, and you know what that means.”

“It's about time you got with the rest of us, Mosley,” Nilsson said. “Nice to see you're finally coming around. Ladies love a Man in uniform. But you're from Cape Nord, right? You know that.”

“See you later.” He straddled his Tornado, thumbed the starter, and headed back toward their barracks. But instead of pulling into the garage, he only stopped long enough to dismount the DOLEB transponder beacon from under the bike’s saddle and toss it into the bushes nearby. Then he pulled away again, in the other direction, making a wide circle to put some dunes between himself and the outpost. If he hurried, he could intercept Clemson a dozen klicks before he passed over the border into Harmon Gulch.

He didn’t fool himself that his superiors would look kindly on it, but he was just about frustrated past the point of caring by now. Half a dozen times in the last month the smuggler had slipped by right under their noses. They had camera and ZPS tracking data that proved it. But somehow DOLEB was never in the right place at the right time. Mosley might have lost patience with the more ridiculous aspects of Cape Nord’s obsession with Manliness, but that didn’t mean he was prepared to countenance such a brazen affront to his Manhood as letting a criminal operate with impunity out of his jurisdiction. “Rod Clemson, you are going down.

Reed dropped down to lose himself in ground clutter and glanced at the radar display as he closed in on the predicted vector. If Clemson was taking the route he thought he was, he should be coming into view right…about…

“There you are.” The pip was just the right size and speed for the Nextus lynx RIDE bike Clemson had gotten surplus after the War. The very ones Nextus had replaced the Tornado with, in fact. Reed patted the fairing of his bike reassuringly. “Yeah, we’ll show ‘em that newer ain’t always better, won’t we, boy.” He just had to wait a little longer for the RIDE to get closer. If he sprang the trap too early, the smuggler could peel off and get away. They had to be as close as possible if this was going to work.

Reed waited anxiously. Had the RIDE’s sensors pinged him? It was possible, though he hoped not. Though if they had, they should be changing course already, and he wasn’t, so…

Now. Reed revved the bike and streaked up into the sky after the smuggler. “Rod Clemson! This is the Dry Ocean Law Enforcement Bureau! Land that bike and keep your hands where I can see them!”

As expected, the smuggler’s only response was to rev his RIDEbike faster. “Yeah, I hoped you’d do that,” Reed muttered, flipping the switch to kick in the extra battery packs and impeller motors he’d installed into the bike. Then he flipped another switch to activate targeting on his front pulse cannons. He triggered a long burst aimed to pass right in front of the bike by centimeters. “That was your warning shot! Land that bike no—WHOA!” Reed threw himself into a barrel roll as the bike returned fire from a rear-mounted pulse gun, bolts hissing through the air.

“Okay, so that’s how you wanna play it? Fine.” Reed fired again for accuracy—but it was now the RIDE’s turn to dodge and dive, heading for a canyon down below. A warning popped up on Reed’s HUD that he was only 5 klicks from the Harmon Gulch border. Reed ignored it and goosed his bike after them, firing as he went.

Separator k.png

“Is good sunset, da?” Heinrich leaned forward, arms crossed on the instrument panel of the vaguely ursine quad-bike that was Sasha’s skimmer mode, as they proceeded south among the eastern perimeter of the Harmon Gulch territory. It had been a fairly peaceful day, as had most of them since the Marshals had formed. It seemed that the power vacuum left by rounding up the criminal scum had not yet filled itself. Which was fine with Heinrich, on the whole. All the same, he could have preferred things to be a little less boring.

Sasha chuckled, knowing his rider’s thoughts from long familiarity. “Is good sunset, da. So, any regrets?”

“About what? Leaving Sturmhaven? Becoming Marshal? Becoming man?

“All of the above? I’ve picked up on the odd thought here or there, you know.”

“Eh.” Heinrich shrugged. “You must know, safety wait time on crossride is being almost up. And am thinking of changing back. Meaning no offense, my friend.”

“Of course. I knew from the outset this was a temporary arrangement.”

“At least you no need worry of being sold. You are Marshal now, with me or without me. We are taking care of our own, always.”

The comm crackled with Sally’s voice. “Hey, you two. Getting sensor reports of pulse fire not too far from your location. Check it out?”

Da! Are being on our way!” Heinrich gripped the handlebars, and they swerved and picked up speed.

Separator k.png

Reed swooped through the canyon after the RIDE, keeping half his attention on not running into canyon walls and the other half on not being hit by the RIDE’s return fire. Must be nice, having a second brain who can handle firing and stuff. At least his bike was maneuverable enough to deal with it. Nilsson’s Chinook would get creamed.

The canyon widened out and ended, and they were in the open again. He lined up the crosshairs again…then the RIDE braked and Fused. Reed shot right past. “Oh, snap.” He flipped the switch to convert the bike to armor mode, counting the seconds as the parts rotated around and pulse blasts streaked by. Lucky thing it was so hard to hit a moving target—or else the RIDE was a lousy shot.

Fuse complete, Reed spun around, tracking onto the RIDE and firing his pulse rifle. For all that the Ad-I bike was clunkier and less maneuverable than a RIDE, you didn’t have to maneuver very far to point a gun at a target. With some satisfaction, he saw his first shots smack into the RIDE’s hardlight armor. As it returned fire, Reed kicked in his thruster pack and moved forward. The RIDE tried to pull away, but faltered under the weight of the pulse fire. “Gotcha.” The Tornado slammed into the RIDE, forcing it downward.

They both hit the ground, rolled over…and then the RIDE shoved him off and converted back to skimmer form. As Reed staggered to his feet, the skimmer bike sped away. “Urgh…no you don’t.” Reed raised the rifle, sighted carefully down the barrel, and fired. Two hundred meters away, the RIDE bike’s rear lifter pods blew out and it went down.

“Right!” Reed kicked in the lifter pack and hovered over to the downed bike. The inertial safety systems had kicked in, sparing Clemson more than a few bumps and bruises, but he was clearly in no shape to run anywhere. He lay spread-eagled across the ground next to the smoking RIDE. Reed touched down next to him. “You have the right to remain silent. Asshole.”

“What is being all this, then?”

Reed glanced up in time to see a big bear Fuser touch down next to him, bearing a large pulse rifle of its own—and a big shiny gold star on its chest. The bear didn’t point the rifle directly at him, but didn’t point it too far away, either.

“Just making an arrest. DOLEB Corporal Reed Mosley.”

“You do realize you are being out of jurisdiction, Corporal? This is being territory of Harmon Gulch, and I am being Marshal Heinrich Ivanovich.”

Mosley placed the accent. Oh, great. Sturmhaven. Well, at least it’s not a ‘Woman Of.’ “Hot pursuit doctrine. I started chasing this low-life Q smuggler back in the Pleiades. Anyway, I was unaware Harmon Gulch had any law enforcement.”

“We are havink it now.”

Huh. So I see. Deciding that not arguing with big bears with badges and guns was the better part of valor, Mosley nodded. “Well, sorry about that, Marshal. If I’d known you were here, I’d have commed ahead to set up a roadblock. How long you been active?”

“All of two weeks, Corporal,” a new voice said. A snowmobile-style RIDE, surprisingly with no human aboard, landed and changed to Walker form, an arctic fox. “Sorry I missed it.”

“Is being okay, Summer,” Heinrich said.

Oh, great. Something else the higher-ups didn’t see fit to let me know about. “Well, that’s good to know. Pass me your comm code, I’ll give you a buzz next time.”

“Surprise is not being all on your side. We were not knowing the Dolts had any officers who were actually being competent.”

“Not to mention not bent,” the bear added in another voice.

Ouch. Mosley sighed. He knew what everyone called DOLEB behind their backs—every officer did, but hardly cared—but couldn't dispute the epithet, either. He'd watched Nilsson accept naked bribes, and had refused just as many during the four months since he joined. “Frankly, the shoe fits. I don't know if there's anyone else like me anywhere on the force.”

“Always at least a few good apples among the bad, I say,” Summer said.

“Anyway, the collar on this guy’s all yours. You should find plenty of undeclared high-grade refined Q in his RIDE’s panniers. Just do me a favor? Leave me out of the report. I’m in enough trouble with my supes and fellow officers as it is. If they knew I was actually doing my job, they might fire me.”

“You wish no credit at all?” Henrich said.

“Hey, it’s enough for me to know this jerk’s off the streets.” And modesty is a Manly virtue. Reed knew he shouldn’t still be thinking in those terms, but what could you do about the attitudes you grew up with?

“Of course,” the bear mecha said. “And you handle that Tomato better than anyone I've ever seen since the War. Please take that as a true compliment.”

“You make do with what you’ve got.”

“Life gives you tomatos, you make marinara sauce,” Summer quipped.

“I would have said Bloody Marys, but yeah.”

“Wyatt and Durante are incoming,” Sasha reported. In the distance the large APC that doubled as their paddy wagon descended out of the sky. The bear ambled over to check on the RIDE. “You okay there, friend?”

“What do you think? My biscuits are burning!” the RIDE replied, still smoking from his lifters. “And I've got a nasty case of mode-lock.” They heard a sigh. “Not that it matters. Gonna end up in the crusher anyway.”

“Nah, kitty. Even if you're a willing accessory to the crimes here, you're not going to get crushed,” Summer said.

“Why am I not reassured? Well, I'm yours anyway. I'm shutting down.”

“I’d better get on back. My partner will be looking for me at Seven Sisters. Comm me if you get wind of anything happening up Whirlwind way, I’ll do what I can.”

“Nice meeting you, Corporal,” the bear said, giving him an actual salute.

“Da, is being good day today,” Heinrich said. He looked at the prostrate Rod Clemson, surrounded by a transparent hardlight shield to protect him from the heat. “For most, anyway.”

Separator k.png

After a quick stop back at the barracks to retrieve the transponder, Reed Mosley pulled his Tornado into the parking lot at the Seven Sisters, the combination pub and dance club that passed for Whirlwind’s center of social activity. The miners who frequented the place had pretty simple tastes. As long as the booze kept flowing it didn't matter if it was fabbed rotgut or 12-year old scotch imported from Earth.

The rest of the Dolts—as he could now admit was the right word for them—normally took over a corner of the place, lording over it like nobility over their serfs. At the center was Captain Lind and her right-hand woman, Lieutenant Solberg.

If the Reed Mosley of five years ago had met them it would have confirmed every bad thing about women being in charge that Cape Nord fed to young Men. But the Reed Mosley of the present was well-traveled enough, and mature enough, to have recognized Cape Nord sexist codswallop for what it was. That they were nasty, backstabbing bitches was without question, but that was what Cape Nord culture expected them to be in leadership positions. Reed knew that just about anywhere that wasn't Cape Nord it couldn't be farther from the truth.

Sitting in his regular booth with a Cape Nord catgirl on each side, Nilsson waved his partner over. “Mosley! What the hell you doing sitting by yourself? Get over here and get yourself a drink and a girl. And get a load of this!”

Projected over the table was one of the ancient television shows enjoying a resurgence in popularity via Steader Entertainment. In Reed's view Joe Steader and his company were doing some incredible, and successful, cultural necromancy. He recognized the beat of the theme as 1970s disco. The screen showed two policemen on gasoline-powered motorcycles. “'ChiPs'?”

“This is a great show!” Nilsson said. “I'm totally Ponch and you're John.”

“If you say so.” Reed shrugged and sat down right on the end of the circular booth. “What is it? Police procedural?”

“Does it matter? Look, Reed…” he leaned forward and made a sweeping motion with his hand, pushing the TV show aside. “Everybody knows how gung-ho you are for the job. But you've been around long enough now I know you've seen just how pointless it really is. The Dry is too big, and we're too small to make any difference.”

“What's your point, Carson?” Reed asked, deciding to go with the first name thing for now.

“The point, Reed, is that you take what you can get. You've hotrodded out that Tornado you ride, so I know you're getting money from somewhere.”

“It's called a savings account,” Reed said. And some lucky investments in Brubeck Mining. Like half the Manly Men of Cape Nord. Sometimes it amused Reed just how much of Cape Nord’s financial success could be traced to the lucky happenstance that one of the Manliest Men Alive had founded a business and then been successful himself. “I’m not in this for the money; it’s just an excuse to spend time in the great outdoors.” And away from Cape Nord.

Nilsson made a dismissive gesture. “Don't give me that bullshit, Reed.”

Mosley shook his head. “Sorry, Nilsson, but I just can’t. It’s all right for you, since you’re from Nextus where it’s elevated to an art form, but not for me. Taking bribes just isn’t Manly.” He had to admit, as obnoxious as he found the whole Manliness thing, it sure did provide a handy excuse when he needed it. In his more cynical moments (which was most of the time, these days) he wondered whether anyone in Cape Nord honestly saw Manliness as anything more than a reason not to have to do things they didn’t want to.

“So you're not joining in because of some Cape Nord cultural bullshit?” Nilsson said incredulously. He pointed up at Captain Lind. “You know she's from New Oslo? Little town north of the main caves? Escaped to blast through the damned glass ceiling you keep women under up there.”

Oh, now I get a rant and a lecture. Which I’d probably actually agree with, if I weren’t trying to hide behind the bullshit. Well, that’s karma for you. “Well, that’s certainly her privilege. I don't see what it has to do with me.”

“I guess I'll have to use simple words for you Nordy neanderthal. When opportunity knocks, you take it. And I want to see you taking it. Because Captain Lind is not so reassured you're in the game with the rest of us. You're getting one more chance to play ball. Hear?”

Reed made a show of sighing and acquiescing. “Loud and clear.”

Nilsson smiled. It wasn't a friendly smile, but that of a dog keeping an eye on a potential threat. “Good. Now, let me buy you a drink. Rum and Coke good for you?”

“Gimme a White Russian.”

The Corporal laughed. “Heh. Yeah. Real 'Manly' drink there, Mosley.”

Reed grinned. “Maybe you haven’t seen that movie the Steaders put out just last week? The Big Lebowski? If it’s good enough for The Dude, it’s good enough for me.”

Separator k.png

May 23, 128 AL DOLEB Marshals Office, Dust Devil

“Knock knock.”

It was Sally’s turn on the desk this weekend. She looked up at the young man leaning against the frame of the open Marshals office door. He wore slacks, flannel shirt, and a down vest. “Can I help you?”

“Reed Mosley, ma’am. Was just in the neighborhood, thought I’d stop by.” His accent as much as his hairstyle marked him out to be from Cape Nord. Sally hoped she wouldn’t have any Manly Man attitude trouble with him. It was about the last thing she needed right now.

“Oh, right. I heard about you. Brought down that smuggler last week. Prosecutor indicted him, by the way. Don’t know if it’ll stick on appeal, but at least we’ll get him off the streets for a while.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“So what brings you to these parts, Corporal Mosley?”

“Please just call me Reed, ma’am. Main thing is, I wanted to come over and meet you folks, and offer a bit of unofficial cooperation.”

Bonnie lifted her head over the lower door in the stall behind Sally's desk. She had her own hardlight skin now and to the uninitiated it looked as though Sally was keeping a real horse in her office. Bonnie had chosen a buckskin coloration with a black mane and tail, though that was easily changed. “Is that right?”

Reed nodded to her. “I sure hope it’s right, but either way, it’s correct.”

“The stink must be really bad over there,” Sally said.

“I could just quit and wash my hands of the whole thing, but I won't,” Reed said. “I can't sit by and watch this happen.”

Sally couldn’t resist a little dig. “Man’s got to do what a Man’s got to do, huh?”

Reed rolled his eyes. “Ma’am, if the only reason someone had for fighting injustice was that it was Manly, that would be one piss poor sort of a Man, pardon my French. Frankly, I’m fed up with working for a laughingstock mall cop operation that only seems to exist to take bribes not to do anything.”

Sally chuckled. “Hard to blame you for that. Why don’t you come on down to Clancy’s and meet everyone else who’s off duty at the moment?”

“I’d like to meet them, ma’am, but I’d really rather not be seen in public with you folks ‘round here. Word gets back to Whirlwind that I’m talking to Marshals, could be a little awkward.”

“Fair enough. How ‘bout Jeremy’s, then? That’s the local mechanic shop. There are some private garages good for a talk. I’ll let the others know.”

“Sounds good to me. Guess I'll go for a wander in that direction. I kind of like the Old West look the Dust Devil has. The Whirlwind can't decide if they're groovy sixties or mellow seventies. A man gets tired of so much avocado green and shag carpeting.”

“I hear ya,” Sally said. “Bon-bon and me are due for a break. We might wander that way ourselves in a few.”

“Well, see you then.” Mosley nodded, then let himself out.

Separator k.png

The layout of the Dust Devil was the same as the Whirlwind, so Reed easily found the mechanic shop. It was a busy place with skimmer and RIDE parts laid out neatly, waiting to be installed. An ore hauler skimmer-truck shared space with a half dozen RIDEs.

“Okay, try that again, Leonato,” the mechanic—presumably Jeremy—said.

The skimmer bike on the repair platform was a familiar one. It still bore a few scorch marks from Reed's pulse rifle, but the rear lifter pods had been replaced. There was a quiet hum, and the bike collapsed inwards into a lynx mecha the size of a pony.

“That got it, Jeremy! Thanks,” Leonato said. He stretched his forelegs, then his hindlegs, just like a real cat would, before he noticed Reed standing there. He jumped, spun in midair, yowled like a scalded cat, and hid behind the ore hauler.

“Leo! What gotten into you?” Jeremy noticed the newcomer. “Can I help…”

“That guy shot me down with a Tomato! A Tomato! I'll never live that down!” Leonato yowled.

“Uh…sorry?” Reed said. “I’m sure if it hadn’t been for that dead weight you were carrying, I never would have caught you.”

“Damned straight!” Leonato growled. “And you friggin’ Dolts weren’t supposed to be anywhere near there that night.”

“Oh, really? How would you know that?”

“I didn’t, but Clemson did. Talked to himself a lot. Damn sure didn’t ever talk to me.

“When you RIDEs are Fused, you and your rider are supposed to be able to read each others’ thoughts, aren’t you?”

Leonato sniffed. “You’d think, wouldn’t you? But he had me fettered away from that. Guess if I knew what-all he must have, I’d have felt the same way. Jerk.”

Reed's interaction with RIDEs had been indirect at best. They hadn’t been covered much in DOLEB training—not exactly a big surprise, since almost no Dolt officers got to use any. The magazines on newsstands and media tablet feeds were more informative. On the personal side, the mecha tended not to be very talkative around Dolts, and stayed close to the miners who owned them. Since the Dolts didn't use RIDEs themselves it was another count against them as far as the miners were concerned. It made them even more outsiders.

“I gather you don’t need to worry about him anymore.”

“Yeah, so what’s it to you?”

A snowmobile skimmer landed on the platform outside and converted into an arctic fox. “Cool down, Leo. He's not going to shoot you again or anything.”

“A cat has to have some dignity,” the lynx said. “You canids have none, Summer. What kind of name is that for a male fox, anyway?”

“It's a Cape Nord thing. You ever hear that Johnny Cash song, ‘A Boy Named Sue’?”

Reed nodded. “In some circles, it’s considered ‘Manly’ to have a sissy name. Don’t ask me how that works. I haven’t been back there since right after the War ended. I got fed up with the whole thing. Even burned my Man Card.” He shook his head. “Then they sent me a Platinum Man Card in the mail two weeks later. I didn’t dare try to burn it again, lest they induct me into the Chippendales or something.”

“No idea what Nerd made those Man Card rules, but they're positively Byzantine and only getting worse,” Summer agreed. “So many rules about what's Manly and loopholes they'd make a Nextus native throw up their hands and give up.”

“Damned silly, you ask me. Should be enough you think you’re a Man. We’re supposed to be ‘rugged individualists’…but we have to seek everyone else’s approval for that? Who dreamed that one up?”

“Is natural overreaction to Sturmhaven women. I sympathize. Sturmhaven female foolishness is being so extreme, it cannot help but breed equal and opposite extreme of male foolishness.”

Reed turned, recognizing the accent of the Marshal to whom he’d handed off Clemson. “Marshal Ivanovich, isn’t it?”

Da, but be calling me Heinrich.” He was un-Fused, but the immense bear Sasha loped along behind him. Heinrich was a good ten centimeters taller than Reed and as muscular as a real bear. Just looking the way he did would've given him a full Man Card on entering Cape Nord.

“Then call me Reed. Good to meet you in the flesh.”

“Is feeling same, comrade.” Henrich nodded. “Would offer to buying you drink, but am understanding not wanting to be seen.”

“We've heard bad things about the Whirlwind Dolts from prospectors passing through,” Sasha said. “We're happy to see there's one good egg in the bunch. Why the visit?”

“They’re not so glad. There’s only so long I can really hold off on taking part in the corruption without them getting suspicious. I’ve read there was some story about a New York City cop having the same trouble. Maybe one of these days the Steaders will release it.”

“Am thinking you want to do something about it,” Heinrich mused.

“Planning on it. Way I figure is, there wasn’t any point when nobody gave a damn. But now I know you guys are here…”

“We're a bunch of inexperienced, barely-trained rookies,” Sasha admitted. “Essentially learning on the job. It really must be bad if you want our help.”

“Don't sell us too short, Sasha,” Summer said. “I've already skill-chipped most of what we need and I have a whole library of forensics and crime scene investigation methods in my head. Experience will come naturally.”

“You guys are already more competent than 99% of the Dolts I’ve worked with,” Reed said. “Fact is that I need you guys to give me some backing legal authority here.”

“I think we could manage that,” a woman who looked half dragon said. “Hi, Jeremy. Just coming by to see if the next set of Enter's emitters is in yet.”

“Hard to get parts for dragons, Mara. And Enter needs a lot of emitters for a proper skin,” Jeremy said. “You'll get a text.”

“So, you're planning on a sting, Mr. Mosley?” Mara said.

“That’s the idea. I can’t keep pushing away their bribes without ending up in a ditch somewhere. So I’m going to have to play along. I figure if I’m careful and not too nosy, I can figure out where the money’s coming from sooner or later.”

“But working alone with no one to watch your back is kind of risky, isn’t it?” Sasha asked.

Reed shrugged. “Yeah, but what choice do I have? I can’t exactly just bring a friend in and have the Dolts hire them.”

Summer cleared his throat. “You know, there’s more than one kind of partner. Seems to me most people who don’t work with RIDEs tend to underestimate them. Think we’re just fancy toys who only mimic intelligence. So maybe when you get your first bribe, you go out and spend it on one.”

Reed blinked. “You’re offering?”

“Why not? I don’t have a partner at the moment, you seem like a nice enough guy, and I’m a fully-empowered Harmon Gulch Marshal, with all the legal authority thereunto.”

“Which might not mean much outside the Marshals just yet, but it means everything as far as we’re concerned,” Mara said.

“If you wanted, I mean.” Summer wagged his tail diffidently. “After all, I don’t know how you feel about RIDEs…”

Reed paused. How did he feel about RIDEs? He’d never gotten one, but then they were kind of expensive, and he hadn’t felt like it would really be fair to saddle someone else with the burden of putting up with him if they didn’t get any say in it. But in this situation… “Since you’re offering, I’d be glad for the help.”

Summer nodded. “Well, that’s settled then.”

“Is good!” Heinrich declared, slapping Reed on the shoulder. “Let’s move to private room. We can talk more fully, make plans there.”

Reed shrugged, partly because of the sting from the friendly slap. “Sure, works for me.” He nodded to Leonato. “No hard feelings?”

“Eh.” The lynx sneezed. “Well, this Marshals biz is a lot better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And it is nice to be free of that Clemson jerk. But don’t expect to be my favorite person.”

“I can live with that.”

Separator k.png

Whirlwind May 28, 128 AL

“Your very first cash-in and you buy one of those RIDE-things…that turns into a snowmobile.” Corporal Nilsson looked at the skimmer-mode Summer in disbelief. “A snowmobile in the middle of the Dry.”

“What can I say? It was cheap, and it shouldn’t require nearly as much maintenance as that Tomato,” Reed said. “And a snowmobile reminds me of home.” He felt a little guilty about referring to Summer as an “it,” but they’d agreed that it would help conceal Summer’s true nature.

“Yeah, well, whatever gets you through the night.” Nilsson shrugged. “You just better be able to keep up on patrol.”

Reed grinned. “Don’t worry about me.” :Keep up, eh? Wouldn’t want to fall behind when we go out to not catch anybody…:

:I'm twice as fast as that Schnook he rides,: Summer scoffed.

Summer was technically stolen goods. A brand new RIDE taken from a dealer lot in Cape Nord and then passed through a couple more hands before ending up with the Harmon Gulch claim jumpers. As with most of the stolen RIDEs, the Marshals had settled with the insurance companies to be allowed to “keep” them.

:And off we go. Another wasted day…:

:Any day that gets us closer to busting these slobs isn’t totally wasted.: Summer sent a wink emoticon. :Besides, it’s plenty of time to get to know each other.:

The so-called patrol was a lot more tolerable with Summer to chat with. They made several stops along the way at various claims, each time accepting some kind of payment—in money, qubitite to sell at the Assay Office, or items of value. This was just SOP, and the miners were all jaded enough that they just handed things over without complaint. Their RIDEs took an interest in Summer, though.

:Don't worry. I'm not blowing our cover or anything,: Summer reassured. :But you're the first Dolt they've seen with a RIDE, so they've got questions.:

:Sure. Keep track of who’s fettered and who’s free, though. I don’t know if it’s a one-to-one correlation, but it seems more likely the free ones belong to the “good guys.”:

“You'll be hotrodding that thing out in no time with all this cash, Mosley,” Nilsson said during a lunch break. His meal was a round of toasted brie en croute, fresh seedless red grapes, a ham and fontina cheese sandwich on marble rye bread with dijon mustard, and an early vintage of Burnside Red wine. All was served on unbreakable fine china and a silver tray.

Reed's own lunch was very simple: cola, potato chips, and a roast beef sandwich. “Maybe. I’ve got to put something aside for my old age, you know.”

“Me, I'm going to get some chrome trim for Snookie here.” He patted the battery pack in front of him, under his lunch tray. “She likes bling.”

It was all Reed could do not to laugh out loud. “She does, does she?”

Outwardly, the next week passed pretty much as it had before. Summer stayed quiet around the Dolts and was rarely in Walker form, though he kept his eyes open and sensors engaged at all times. Captain Lind had complimented the rookie's new physical attributes—Reed didn't bother trying to hide the tail and ears. Otherwise, she kept the interaction with her inferiors to a minimum as a matter of policy. It wouldn't do for the nobility to fraternize too much with the serfs, after all.

Ladies' Night came around again and Reed sat down with Nilsson in his regular booth, drinking a White Russian and watching ChiPs. Reed had amassed several thousand mu in bribes already, all in a special account that would turn evidence when the time came. He also had Summer's recordings of Nilsson's activities, and whenever they met the few other Dolts on patrol.

The longer this went on, the greater the chance of being discovered, the more antsy Reed was getting. He just needed something that would break the case wide open so much that even the DOLEB Commandant in Nuevo San would have to take action. But at the same time, he knew he had to be careful how he went about it if he wanted the evidence to be legally admissible. Without a warrant, he couldn’t tap encrypted comm lines or bug private quarters.

Then one day Summer buzzed him. :Hey, Reed. I think we may have something here. It’s that local Chaucer rep, Flint Basil.:

:Yeah? Slimy little bugger. What about him?:

:Well, he and Lind just walked into Seven Sisters together, and they’re going to one of the back rooms.:

:Can you get a read on what they’re saying?:

:Tickling the windowpane with a laser now. It probably won’t be admissible, you know.:

:Yeah, but if they’re going to do something shady, maybe we can find out about it and catch ‘em at in the act.:

Basil had an odd accent Reed couldn't place. “I want you and your Dolts to put some pressure on your new competition,” he was saying. “Ever since these ‘Harmon Gulch Marshals’ have begun operating, it’s posed a serious threat to our bottom line in the region. Some of the richest strikes are in that province, and if these Marshals pose a serious threat to our operations, we won’t be able to convince those miners to sell out. Their arrest of Clemson last month was bad enough.”

“How am I supposed to put pressure on them with a half dozen officers?” Captain Lind said.

“If you need muscle, I can get you more muscle,” Basil said ominously. Then the voices became too muffled to hear.

:They put up a privacy field,: Summer informed. :Sorry about that. And that guy's accent. He's from Kepler. That planet's run by the mob.:

:Well, that’s certainly a strike against him. Ugh. We’d better let the Marshals know about this.:

:The good news is, if we can catch ‘em trying to do us dirty in Harmon Gulch, jurisdiction won’t be a worry.:

:The problem’s going to be figuring out what it is.: Reed shook his head. :I don’t know if I’m trusted enough yet to be in on anything like this, especially if they bring in outside “muscle.”:

:If it helps, I can almost certainly get a warrant from a Harmon Gulch judge for some bugging and tracer planting.:

:Will that count given they’re out of your jurisdiction right now?:

:It’s a fig leaf. But it’s all we’ve got. Anyway, we just want to use it to find out what they’re going to do, not enter it into evidence directly. I'll call the Dragon Lady.:

Separator k.png

Mosley found the next few days of patrols more than a little enervating. They hadn’t been able to do very much in the way of additional intelligence gathering. Hidden tracers and bugs planted on the other Dolts’ bikes, other bugs where they thought they would do some good. But they couldn’t break into Lind’s private quarters or tap her encrypted comm’s hardline, so it was hard to know for sure what was really going on.

Then, three days later, they were out patrolling the eastern side of Whirlwind territory—the opposite edge from Harmon Gulch—when Summer signaled for Mosley’s attention. :Think we’ve got something here.: He threw up a chart showing the positions of the other four officers in their DOLEB division. :Funny thing. They’re supposed to be on north and south patrols, but they’re heading into Harmon Gulch.:

:And here we are all the way over here. Did you comm Sally?:

:I let ‘em know. They’re keeping an eye on things.:

:Hmm.: Mosley thought for a moment. :I think it’s time for you to fake some engine trouble.:

:On it.: The skimmer’s engine sputtered and cut out.

“Aw, dammit,” Mosley swore over the comm as Summer sank to the desert sand. “I think I might have shorted the main sarium battery when I put the latest impeller upgrade in.”

Nilsson sneered. “That’s what you get for messing with fancy-schmancy RIDEs instead of tried-and-true Ad-I tech. You need a lift back or something?”

“Nah, you go on. I should be able to get this sorted out in two ticks. Nothing ever happens on these patrols anyway.” He climbed off the saddle and made a show of squatting down and peering at the sarium battery assembly.

“Well, if you’re sure…” Nilsson circled once, then sped away. Mosley waited until he was well over the horizon before detaching the DOLEB position transponder and dropping it on the sand.

“Right, now let’s get out of here. We stay low and keep to the dunes, we should be able to cut across the Rest without anyone noticing.” Mosley swung back into the saddle. “I hope you can make better speed than a snowmobile in the desert.”

Summer scoffed. “Just watch me.”

Separator k.png

Heinrich, Sasha, and Natasha patrolled along the length of Redmane Ridge, near the Harmon Gulch border. There were a dozen claims in this territory, and they'd already gotten used to the Marshals stopping by to say hello. It took a while to build trust, and the miners this close to the border still doubted the Marshals were any better than the Dolts. They still had a ways to go.

Today the normally clear skies over the Dry had a high layer of cirrus, painting the sky with mare's tails.

“Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy…well, damnit,” Natasha sang. The Sturmhaven she-wolf lacked the stereotypical accent.

“We may be facing stormy weather in more ways than one, comrades.” Henrich frowned. “Receiving word from Sally of Whirlwind Dolt incursion into Harmon Gulch. Could to being rising of balloon.”

“The balloon’s going up, you mean,” Sasha put in.

Da, is what I said.”

“One of these days I’m going to figure out whether you keep getting idioms wrong on purpose. Anyway…looks like our orders are to keep an eye on them without letting them know we know.”

“Da. And if they are knowing we are knowing, we should at least be knowing they are knowing we are knowing.”

“I hate you.”

With a throaty chuckle, Heinrich steered over onto a new heading. “We will be shadowing them from distance, staying in ground sensor clutter. If they are staying in ground sensor clutter too, could be challenging.”

“We’ve got the frequencies of their locator beacons, thanks to Summer and Reed. We should be able to keep an eye on them.”

“Will let you keep track of that. Just do not be letting them see.”

“Don’t worry. When the time is right, we’ll give them a big surprise.”

Separator k.png

“Well, there’s a surprise.” Sally glanced at the display screen in the Marshals’ office command center. “Looks like the jumpers or someone like them are back at my mine, and doing a little more than ‘probing’ this time. Just lost one of my pulse turrets…and there went another. Was that a plasma bazooka?”

Bonnie nodded. “They’ve got some serious military hardware there. Gee, wonder where that could have come from.”

“So we’re supposed to round up the whole posse and high-tail it out there…” Wyatt mused. “Just in time to get clobbered by an ambush, I expect.”

“The joke’s going to be on them.” Sally pursed her lips. “Hate to say this, but if we’re going to shut this ambush down, we may just have to let them do their worst to the mine for a while, so’s we can deal with the other varmints first.”

“We sure don’t want to charge into battle knowin’ we’re like to get shot in the back, that’s for sure.”

Wyatt scratched behind a scale. “Can we really just up and arrest Whirlwind cops for being out of their jurisdiction?”

“Probably not…” Sally frowned, staring off into space for a moment. “But if they know why they’re there, what if we dangle some bait in front of them? Have a lone Marshal wander all unknowing into their sights, and if they open fire, everyone else swoops in an’ rounds ‘em up?”

Bonnie snorted. “So ambush the ambushers, is what you’re sayin’? I’m thinkin’ I like this idea. But who gets to play bait?”

Sally grinned. “Who do you think? I wouldn’t ever ask any of my subordinates to do somethin’ I wasn’t willing to do myself, and I don’t think you would neither.”

“Guess we ought to get on out there, then. I’ll let the others know where to be.”

“Works for me, pard.” Sally held out her arms for Bonnie to Fuse over, then they were out of the command post like a shot.

Separator k.png

Two Tornados and a Chinook drove forward across the desert, their riders hunched low over the fairing. Not that it helped their radar profile any, but at least it made them feel “covert.”

“You see anything yet?” Kendrix Pean asked over short-range comm. The overweight DOLEB Sergeant got the Chinook, as the senior-most officer. The fourth member of their “patrol” had had genuine battery trouble and returned to the Whirlwind.

“No sign, sir,” Patrolman Delia Knoles said. She glanced left and right. “Seems like we’re alone.”

“Use your scanner, you stupid cow,” Corporal Alerio Vagle sneered from the other Tornado. “We’re the only ones around for tens of klicks.”

Pean shook his head. “The ‘hired help’ isn’t meeting any resistance. This worries me. They’ve got to be around somewhere.”

“Hey. We take our time responding, why would they be any different?” Vagle said. “I’m not worried.”

“Just keep your eyes peeled. We’re supposed to let the ‘help’ handle them, but something always goes wrong.”

“I don’t know about this, sir,” Knoles said. “I mean, taking bribes is one thing, but going out and attacking other officers? Just seems wrong to me.”

“You know what we do to people who don’t play ball. These people ain’t playing ball. End of story, q.e.d., ipso facto, et cetera.

“Yeah. And you know what happens if you don’t play ball.”

Knoles rolled her eyes. “Understood, sir. Will comply, sir.”

“Hello, what’s this?” Pean tapped the touch-sensitive display panel on his bike. “Picking a single skimmer up on the scope. Squawking a law-enforcement transponder code, yet. Seems to be heading toward the mine, and we’re in a perfect position to intercept.”

“Maybe we should just let the ‘help’ deal with them?” Knoles suggested.

Vagle sneered again. “Why should they get to have all the fun? Let’s get ‘em!”

“But…” Knoles stammered. “Forget it. Weapons hot.”

“Knoles, you take the left. Vagle, right. We’ll get ‘em in a pincer.” Pean revved his bike and shot forward. The others quickly followed.

Separator k.png

:They took the bait, Sal,: Bonnie reported. :And Wyatt and the others are in position.:

:Don’t count your chickens ‘til they open fire. Wait’ll we’d have to be blind to miss ‘em, then comm ‘em all friendly-like. An’ then be ready to go evasive soon’s they fire.:

:That's gonna cut it close. I ain't that quick, even for the junk they ride. Going to need every hardlight hoxel of armor here. Here we go.:

Bonnie’s sensors registered multiple targeting radar locks a split-second before pulse beams split the air. Bonnie’s lifters kicked in, propelling them twenty meters straight up as they Fused. :Ha! Two misses and a graze. D’ya suppose they don’t bother keeping their guns calibrated since they don’t never use them?:

Sally brought up their guns, locking onto the three bikes. “Harmon Gulch Marshals! Stand down and disarm! You’re under arrest!”

“Get ‘em!” the one on the Chinook yelled as they engaged their own sluggish Fuses.

“Fusing isn't a free action,” Sally said. She took down the Chinook first, careful not to hit anything too critical to the pilot's survival in the Dry. That gave the two Tornados time to complete theirs as their commanding officer sank to the ground on one lifter pod and no weapons.

“You’re going down, bitch!” one of the Tornado riders yelled, raising his pulse rifle. Then the gun sparked and exploded as another pulse shot pierced it—not from one of the Marshals, but from the other Tornado, which immediately dropped its gun and raised its hands.

“I give up!” the woman said. “I never wanted to be here anyway.” She shot a glance at the other one. “Idiot.”

Wyatt and Durante touched down behind her, followed by Heinrich and Sasha. “Are holding right there! Are being under arrest!”

The female Tornado pilot looked around. “Uh…can I request political asylum?”

“I'll have your badge, Knoles!” the Chinook rider shouted as he tried to stand. “Then I'll have you by the tits!”

“Don’t know why you’d want me that way. Thought you and Vagle here were an item.”

“You know what I mean, bitch!” He struggled to rise, only to fall flat on his face.

Durante plodded toward them and spoke with militaristic authority. “Your skimmers have been rooted and your weapons are disabled. Now, come quietly. Sal, Bonnie, read 'em their rights.”

“You got the right to have rights,” Bonnie drawled. “If you don’t want those rights, well, that’s all right.”

“What my smart-arse companion means to say—” Sally began.

Durante interrupted her. “Hit the dirt!” A cloud of mini-missiles boiled up from behind a nearby sand dune, tracking inward toward the Marshals. He swiftly interposed himself between Sally and Bonnie and the missiles, spinal defense lasers pulsing at them. They were able to knock down about half of them before the rest hit his flank in a flurry of explosions.

“Durante!” Bonnie yelled.

“We’re okay! Take cover behind us, all of you!”

“Who the hell is that?” Bonnie said.

“Gotta be Nilsson and his 'Snookie',” the female officer said, taking cover with them. “Though what the hell he's doing out here when he's supposed to—” another pair of mini-missiles slammed into Durante's scorched flank. “—supposed to be watching Mosley a couple hundred klicks east of here, I dunno.”

“Haven't seen a Schnook loadout like this since the War!” Bonnie said. “Not tracking him very well in all this Q-dust he's kicked up. Durante?”

The parasaurolophus mecha changed to APC mode to provide more cover and weapons coverage. “Hunker down. I think we've got some help incoming. Damn, this guy's good! And with a Schnook!”

Separator k.png

Reed and Summer had just crossed the border into Harmon Gulch when they picked up the comm traffic of the three deputies getting taken down. Reed grinned. “Good for them.” Without being asked, Summer steered in that direction.

As they swerved around a dune, they were just in time to see a Fuser-mode Chinook unleash a cloud of missiles from rocket packs on its hips and shoulders. “Hey, what…that’s Nilsson, isn’t it?”

Summer bracketed the mech in his head-up display. “He’s flying like a vet. A damned good vet. He's actually got them pinned down!”

“I knew he was in the War, but wow. Well, we’d better go take him down. If we can.” Reed triggered the Fuse. “Let’s get him.”

They hadn’t closed more than half the distance before Nilsson’s sensors picked them up and he turned to face them. He opened up with pulse cannons while sending missiles to cover their dodge points to left and right. Summer threw up a hardlight shield and dodged through the missiles. The shield took the impact and vanished as they broke through the explosions. Reed fired back with their pulse rifle, making their assailant drop to the ground.

:He’s got better armor and more firepower than we do,: Summer sent.

:Yeah, but we’ve got friends. We just need to keep him distracted and give them an opening.: Aloud, he commed, “Nilsson, what the hell are you doing?”

“Doing? What am I doing? What the hell do you think you're doing!” Nilsson shot back. “We've got it made, Mosley! I am not going to let you or some pissant upstart 'Marshals' ruin it!”

:Summer, can you back-hack him?:

:No go, buddy. He's still got mil-spec anti-hacking gear on that Schnook of his. Recent stuff, too. Guess that's where some of this bribe money's gone to.:

“Hang on, Sarge! I'm coming!” Nilsson shouted aloud.

:Shockingly loyal, isn't he?: Summer snarked. A barrage of pulse blasts from their rifle hit the Chinook armor's right thigh, scorching the armor under the hardlight shield. Summer commed their compatriots. “Bonnie, Durante! You're the vets! What's the strategy here?”

“Well, we don't want to kill him,” Bonnie said, putting down some covering fire with her pistols.

“We had a trick in Nuevo San for taking down Schnooks,” Durante said. “Those joints in armor mode overheat like mad if they're worked too hard. Just keep him running!”

“I'd challenge him to a dance-off if I thought he'd do it!” Reed added. “But he's got to know that weakness, too.”

“Yes, but he can't exactly de-Fuse right now, can he?” Durante pointed out. “Mara and Enter are up there, but their last orders were to keep an eye on the bunch at Sally’s mine. And this Q dust is too thick to get through.”

“Right.” Dodging again, Reed fired another series of pulses. “We have got to get some better firepower.”

“This guy's some kind of major Ace,” Bonnie said. “The Schnooks sucked, but some pilots knew the knack with 'em.”

“He’s got to run out of missiles sooner or later, right?”

“Those are 2-centimeter micro missiles,” Sasha said. “He can carry a frightening number of them on a Chinook.”

“Then we keep the pressure on! Sooner or later we’ll get through.”

Nilsson’s Chinook moved to put a sand dune between itself and Bonnie, firing a half-dozen rockets straight up and over the dune as he fired his pulse gun at Summer. “You think you and your pets can take me? Ha! Certified Triple Ace here! My Snookie's been with me since the War!”

:I've gotta upgrade to a mil-spec frame!: Summer said after narrowly dodging another salvo. :My batteries are over half down! Can't take much more of this, Reed.:

:And the longer he keeps us busy, the more damage his friends do to Sally’s mine.:

Sally sighed. “Durante, Sasha—forget the prisoners. We’re gonna need everyone to handle this guy. Get him in a crossfire.”

“On it!” The bear and parasaurolophus leaped the dune and engaged. The Chinook disgorged another cloud of missiles and retreated further. Some of the missiles left visible damage in Durante's side armor.

:If this keeps up, we might have to retreat,: Summer observed. :How embarrassing.:

Then sudden motion caught Reed's eye, and he looked up. There was a winged shape visible in the sky, growing larger by the second. :Don’t count your chickens just yet. We need to keep his attention for just a few more seconds…: He popped up and fired another long pulse burst.

Then Mara and Enter dove out of the sky, foreclaws slamming into the Chinook’s shoulder and throwing it forward onto the ground with an enormous, savage roar.

Hooo-wheee! That's what I'm talking 'bout!” Bonnie cheered.

“You have a dragon? Nobody said you had a dragon!” a voice Reed recognized as Corporal Knoles shouted over comm. “Holy shit!”

Enter easily tore the weapons and missile pods from Nilsson's Chinook, then rose, holding the armor suit down with one claw. “Sorry we’re late. We hadn’t noticed you were in trouble ‘til we glanced this way just now.”

Sally grinned. “Better late than never. I think we need to see ‘bout getting us some better laser uplinks an’ buying some satellite time if this’s gonna be a reg’lar thing.”

Reed and Summer followed Heinrich and Sasha back to where the other Chinook and two Tornados had been knocked down. The crippled Chinook hadn’t made it very far, and one Tornado seemed to be sitting on top of the other one, who was spread-eagled in the sand. “You are still being here?”

Knoles shrugged. “You hadn’t read us our rights yet. We’ve hardly ever had to read them ourselves, so I kinda forgot what they were. This one wanted to bug out—” she thumped the helmet of Vagle’s suit with her fist “—but I think he needs to hear them even more than I do.” She paused. “Well, when he wakes up, anyway. I am so sick of this shit.”

Sally turned to Reed. “That’s all your crew, right?”

“We're missing one,” Reed said.

“Wendt went back to base,” Knoles said. “You know how he is with skimmers. Might want to send a rescue party.”

Reed laughed. “Yeah, Sally, that's everyone. Unless the Captain and the LT decide to show up. Which I don’t exactly expect to happen. Those two stay away from anything that might involve getting their hands dirty.”

Sally nodded. “We’ll see’f we can get authorization from DOLEB HQ to arrest ‘em ourselves. Later. Right now, we got some thugs back at the mine we need to curb-stomp while there still is a mine left.”

“Reed, Summer, mind giving us a hand with these ne'er-do-wells while everyone else goes to help Sally?” Wyatt asked. Durante landed nearby and opened his aft ramp.

“Our pleasure,” Reed said. “Good luck with the thugs. I suppose we'll be along once we drop these guys off on the Dust Devil jail.”

“We'll chat more about this once this is over, Reed,” Sally said. Her RIDE changed to skimmer mode around her. “Good to have you with us. Giddyap, Bonnie!”

Separator k.png

June 4, 128 AL Whirlwind, Pleiades Plateau Marshals Office

“Well, that’s the last of them, sir.”

“Good.” Marshal Reed Mosley leaned back behind the scarred mahogany desk that had once belonged to Captain Lind. It was one of the few things from the old DOLEB office that had stayed in the transition to being the Pleiades Marshals office. A printed warrant for the previous occupant's arrest hung on the wall behind his chair, nicely framed.

Standing in front of the desk was probationary Marshal Delia Knole, the copper badge on her chest matching the gold one on Reed’s. At the moment, she was the only other Marshal on staff, but that was soon to change. They’d just spent the morning interviewing several local miners and their RIDEs to see if any would be willing and able to join up. If the background checks worked out they'd soon have a half dozen more, including their RIDEs.

“Do you think any of them will work out?”

“Hard to say. The level of crime hasn’t been so bad down here. Say what you will about bribes, at least it meant they had incentive to foist the criminals off on other provinces.”

“Like Harmon Gulch.”

Reed nodded. “Yeah. So they got ticked off enough to form the Marshals. This bunch is more complacent. But that’s to be expected. We’ll borrow some manpower from Harmon Gulch while we work on recruiting elsewhere. I figure there are enough decent people in the polities and maybe even Laurasia that we can fill out the ranks sooner or later.”

Knoles coughed, scratching behind her new coyote ears. “You know, I can't thank you enough for this second chance.”

“There were a few…mitigating circumstances,” Summer said. He lay on a RIDE couch next to the desk. He was going to get the mil-spec shell with hardlight pelt he wanted sooner rather than later, though arctic foxes were harder to find. “Like turning polity's evidence. And Wyoming will help keep you on the straight and narrow.”

“Yo,” the she-coyote RIDE said. “Youse can count on me. Not that I need ta. Delia's a good egg.” Wyoming had been one of the RIDEs they’d liberated from the jumpers attacking Sally’s mine after dealing with the ambush. As with the earlier batch, most of them had chosen to join the Marshals when offered Moose’s choice—especially once they had heard from that batch how good things were for the ones who’d stayed.

Reed nodded again, then reached out to pat Summer on his head. “And if your RIDE doesn’t know the real you, who does. So, yeah.” He chuckled. “You know, that’s an idea. Pair all the recruits up with RIDEs and have ‘em Fuse first thing. Could save a lot of time in the long run. Wonder if that’s why the Dolts didn’t use ‘em.”

“I dunno. They seemed pretty attached to their 'cycles. The way Nilsson was sobbing over his 'Snookie' after we pulled him back to his feet…” Summer mused.

“I still feel kind of bad about that,” Reed admitted. “Like we ripped up his teddy bear or something.”

A soft chime filled the room as the door opened. Reed stood up to meet the new transfers coming inside, extending his hand to the shaggy bear Fuser. “Heinrich, Sasha! Welcome to the Whirlwind. We appreciate the help.”

“Are being glad to be here.” The bear waved. “Will be different, but not so very different.”

Sasha added, “Something tells me we’re all going to be expanding a lot beyond Harmon Gulch and Pleiades before too long. Half a dozen other provinces are already starting to make noises about voting out their DOLEB franchise and asking us to come in and organize a local Marshals branch for them. Something about the idea of local law sounding a lot better than having outsiders imposed on them.

“Plenty of trustworthy serial strikeouts like ourselves to fill the ranks,” Sasha said.

“Da, Sasha. Not all of us are good or lucky at prospecting,” Heinrich admitted. “But wish to remain here in the Dry anyway.”

“Well, I think you'll make a great lawman,” Reed said. “For now, though, let's go to the Seven Sisters. They have a great non-fab microbrew lager here. And if you like White Russians, they have the best in this part of the Dry.”

“If good enough for Dude, good enough for me,” Heinrich said, thumping his chest. “Lead on, my friend.”

Separator k left.png To Be Continued Separator k right.png
Preceded by:
Marshals: Beginnings, Episode One: Ride, Sally
Marshals: Beginnings Succeeded by:
'