Kim Possible is property of Disney. All original characters are property of author. This is a work for fun, not profit. A Six-string Samurai fan fiction. Tremulant Star
Sheri decided that maybe Arcadia wasn't as bad as it was made out to be. Granted, the nearest refueling station was smack dab on the other side of the planet, and probably the nearest habitation. The side she'd came down on was barren, pockmarked with craters, ruins and scores of canyons and split earth, all results of orbital bombardment that rendered half the surface uninhabitable. That had been some seventy odd years ago, a small planetary civil war, well before her time.
Currently, she was reaping the fruit of that fallout, having ducked her ship, the Infinity's Reach, into the deepest part of one of the old crevices. The trench she was hiding out in, proved to go on for far longer than she'd first estimated on entering the atmosphere. To that point, she'd been traveling at a decent surface speed for the better part of an hour since she'd last encountered the ship that had been on her trail ever since the warrant for her arrest had posted on the Galactic Network. Two weeks of cutting and running were starting to show, particularly in her grooming habits. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd had a decent meal, or a really long soak.
But, the raven-haired pilot was long past any personal reservations. This was all going to be worth it in the end. It had to be, because she had nothing else to fall back on, not anymore. Her family…didn't bear consideration. Not with that idiot running all their father's work into the ground. Her mother, just thinking about the woman left a bad taste in Sheri's mouth.
If she hadn't been so angry at the time, she'd have laughed when she found out that her father had set it up so that in the event of an untimely death, his wife would be locked out of the company assets. The woman had been a trophy wife in nearly every sense of the word, and what was left for her once her husband passed away, but to gather dust. Fortunately, that freeze hadn't extended to any of Derek Gordon's children, well not wholly. Sheri had four brothers, the youngest two of which couldn't touch any of the money directly for a few more years.
On the other hand, the elder two, both her senior by a handful of years, had their hands in the pot from the moment they were able. And Sheri, she'd been throwing money around for almost as long as she could remember, pissing it away on useless and trivial romps across the 3-Ring. She'd learned her lesson eventually though, the hard way of course, when the share holders and lawyers started to throw their hats into the ring, sequestering large chunks of the company almost under their feet.
It had been a madhouse, and Herman, her eldest brother as well as prime stock holder in the company following the death of their father, eventually wrested back control, but not nearly soon enough.
Sheri throttled back the drive, and brought the ship to a hovering standstill. It had now been well over an hour since the last energy beam streaked behind the ship, and she felt that her pursuit had fallen back. She wanted to be able to get a decent sensor reading, not to mention her eyes were tired from staring at the flickering green lines on the windshield. To do that, she'd have to risk rising up high enough for the sensor arrays on the outer hull to clear the field being emitted by the rocks in the gorge.
The Infinity barely broke the horizon line when the systems returned to normal. Sheri's hands passed across several instrumentation panels, running a short-range scanner sweep across the immediate area, searching for any sign of another ship, GJ or otherwise. To her relief, the readout came back negative for trace signatures. Nothing had passed the local terrain for days, probably much longer than that, given the empty expanse.
Running a second passive sweep to be sure, she was satisfied there wouldn't be any unwelcome company popping up if she opened the throttle to a half-way decent speed. Her eyes flicked to a tiny display in the corner of the HUD that showed the local time, and did a quick bit of mental math to figure out daybreak as near as she could. With no one on her tail, it would be easy enough to cross into the eastern hemisphere and hopefully find a dock before the sun came up on this side. A matte-black and blue ship was one thing in the void of space, but it was all too easy to spot with the naked eye zipping along above a great expanse of sand and dirt in broad daylight.
Easing the ship up over the lip of the canyon, Sheri allowed herself to relax, leaning back into the cushion of the pilot's chair. Rolling her neck from side to side, she felt a few satisfying pops as she worked the kinks out from leaning forward to stare at the HUD for such a long stretch. Yes, it would be good to get back to the world, even just for a little break. Letting out a breath, she squeezed her hands into fists and slowly unclenched them a few times.
The one thing she didn't particularly care for about flying solo was getting all cramped up from sitting in the same position for hours on end. The previous owner of the Infinity's Reach had neglected a lot of basic maintenance, or had just gotten sloppy in the end. Whatever the cause, there were several sub-systems in need of an overhaul, and the auto-pilot was unfortunately at the top of that list. But, she just dealt with it. Repairs that extensive required more money than she currently had. The last of her funds had been tied up in restocking the weapons payload just before she got hold of the box.
Unfortunately, while it had been money well spent, the Infinity was down to maybe fifteen percent of that armament. She'd already tested the small point-defense beam weaponry against the Galactic Justice cruiser, and it hadn't even stressed the shielding.
No, the Infinity was build for speed. That had been the primary reason she'd decided to swipe it in the first place. Of course, at the time, she hadn't realized someone would be gunning for her either, or she might have taken that into consideration. At the moment though, fuel was her biggest worry. It didn't do much good to be able to outpace the GJ cruiser, if the Infinity's Reach completely ran dry. Thus, Sheri made a little unscheduled trip to Arcadia.
She spurred the ship on, throttling up to a good pace that would get her across the desert and back to civilization without burning up the residual fuel in the tanks. The last thing she wanted was to be stranded thousands of miles from the nearest depot, especially since that virtually guaranteed that the cruiser would find her sooner rather than later. And if past experience was anything to go by, this particular Officer liked to shoot first and not actually ask any questions.
Well, there had been the one communication tight-beamed to the Infinity's sensor array. A single question right after the cruiser announced it was Galactic Justice, a surprisingly young voice had chimed in across the comm channel, asking if Sheri was in possession of the box. Not directly by name of course, and as far as she knew, GJ didn't know it was her operating a stolen vessel. It was a fact that she aimed to keep quiet as long as she could, and another reason she hadn't physically left the Infinity from the moment she'd found herself on the run.
Hopefully, she could clear the wasteland below without further incident, and take time to catch her breath once she made it across. She had neither the time, nor the inclination for sightseeing, but on the other hand, she wouldn't mind the chance to get something decent to eat and drink that she could reasonably assume wasn't processed through a ship's recycle filter.
The brilliant glow of the ship's thrusters flared up as it hit its stride becoming little more than a dark streak, swiftly disappearing into the brightening horizon.
At nearly the same time, but more than a hundred miles behind, the Galactic Justice cruiser registered a tell-tale emissions spike, picking up on its quarry's trail. The blue and orange streaked ship rose into the night sky, sending up a billowing cloud of dust in its wake. Adjusting its heading with a sharp turn, the smaller craft homed in on the Infinity's Reach.
There were only two places that it could be headed on this particular planet, and the emission trail was on a beeline toward what the map on the screen indicated was the old capital, Courtan. Engaging the auto-pilot, the cruiser resumed pursuit.
Courtan resembled a vast wheel from the air, with three smaller segments radiating out from a central hub like spokes on a gigantic turnstile. Each of the hubs were connected to one another by what might have once been a loop of traffic tunnels that had clearly seen better days. The outermost structures were crumbling, and looked to be haphazardly patched back together. Clearly, the war had left long standing reminders on this side of the planet as well.
Of course, neither was it a thriving center of bustling commerce. Courtan was just, there, sitting smack-dab in the middle of fields and plains that stretched as far as the naked eye could see in every direction.
She'd come in low from the southwest, keeping the ship well under any local radar; undue attention was the last thing she wanted, especially with GJ sniffing right up the Infinity's jet ports. Her plan was to get in, snag two or three fuel cells and get off this rock before anyone was the wiser. It was a simple plan, the kind she preferred since there was less chance of something going sour.
So thinking, she ended up parking the ship a short hike from the city's western section, since it seemed the most intact. As the ship touched down, Sheri began running the internal security routines. On the off chance that someone found their way inside, everything vulnerable would be on lock-down, and none of the terminals would respond without the proper authorization codes.
The routines were something she'd installed herself, almost immediately after taking the ship in the first place, though the coding, while original, wasn't quite her own to begin with either. It was a modified piece of work that she'd copied years ago off of her father's company cruiser, one of the first few crazy things that she'd gotten herself into to alleviate the boredom.
"I'd like to see the idiot that tries to get through that," a smug smile crossed her lips. "Won't know what hit 'em, that's for sure." She nodded to herself for a moment, as she mentally checked off the things she needed to take care of before heading out. "Locked and good to go, let's see…what else," her bright green eyes settled on two things that were definitely on her list. "Didn't go through all that shit, just to leave you sitting out in the open," Sheri picked up the tiny cube from the co-pilot's chair, hefting it for a moment before turning it over in her hands. It was almost small enough to still fit into her hand if she made a fist.
It didn't look like much, and certainly didn't seem worth the effort that she'd gone through to get it, not to mention pulling all sorts of hell down around her shoulders. "I swear, it better be pretty damn good, what you've got tucked away in there," she grumbled, tucking the chunk of rusty silvered metal into an inside jacket pocket, safe from prying eyes.
The last thing she made sure to snag were the pair of forest green gloves that had been tossed on the chair, under the cube. She wasn't going anywhere without her personal brand of insurance. The gloves went into a buttoned outer jacket pocket, where she could get at them hassle-free in a pinch.
One last quick look and she was finally satisfied. "All right, cells…and food, here I come."
Leaving the ship, the raven-haired woman was glad that the cloaking mechanism was another of the few systems still in relative working order. Then again, she had to admit it was one of the more useful sub-systems, especially for a ship like this one, considering the particular hands she'd taken it off of.
Sealing the hull, she fastened the front of her dark jacket to cut down on the chill from the winds that were whipping across the plains. Most of the vegetation was dry and brown, what little of it there was. Her boots crunched against the packed soil, but left little trace to lead any wandering eyes back toward the ship that was already fading into the background as she left it behind.
The better part of twenty minutes later, Sheri reached the outskirts of the western block, and found Courtan to be not quite what she'd imagined.
For one, the city didn't appear to be quite the dilapidated shell she'd heard talk of in the dives around the 3-Ring spaceports, belying even the shattered appearance of her initial approach. Up close, what had seemed shoddy repair work was simply of different material than the original structures, much of which was in fact composed of recently developed ceramics and plastics that had to be imported. There was just no way anything of high grade could be produced domestically. Not on Arcadia.
Nevertheless, it wasn't something that stood out too much in her mind. Politics weren't her thing, and so what if one of the inner system planets was tossing their money into renovations here out on the ass end of a half-baked hunk of rock with nothing on it but dirt, ground up glass and a whole lot of dead weeds. Sure, the place might have been beautiful once, but it got real ugly, real fast. Now, someone was trying to pretty it back up. And if this was the kind of work done this far out, she figured there must be major overhauls taking place in the more commercial districts, or whatever was at the heart of the city.
The second thing she noticed didn't really strike her until she'd started actually making her way through the primarily residential western block, which might have explained the more modern repairs. Maybe it did a better job of keeping out the wildlife. What caught her attention though, was how packed it became the further she walked. The whole area was almost labyrinthine in its layout. It was so dense that she had trouble telling where one building ended and the next might start. And the people were likewise flooding the streets, a mass of humanity that choked the wider main thoroughfare just as heavily as they filled the byways and alleys.
Somehow, she managed to wade through the crushing tide of people without resorting to dishing out bodily harm. It might have had a little to do with the smell that permeated the city. The air was rank and thick with the sweat and heat of half a planet crammed into the same living space. All the more reason for to be quick about this.
The raven-haired woman desperately wanted to open her jacket, but that was just asking for trouble in an ocean of potential pick-pockets. Just another thing to sour her mood and spur her on her way.
Thankfully, she eventually wound up on the other side of the housing area, where the congestion wasn't quite as bad, since the sidewalks fanned out a considerable amount, giving the illusion that the inhabitants of the city were merely clogging the streets instead of overflowing them. The buildings too, took a change for the better, no longer merging in near organic displays.
The biggest indicator of progress was the increased presence of the more expensive plasti-crete, rather than the metal grids and latticework that ran the length of the western block. The further in she went, the more obvious an underlying design motif became.
Just as the structures changed, giving way to a more recognizable urban sprawl, the drudgery of the human crush began to liven up, as the multi-storied apartments gave way to businesses and merchant warehouses. It seemed like every store had a hawker or brightly lit sign in an attempt to draw some attention from potential customers. Here, the smell of sweat was compounded with a deluge of colored lights bright enough to stand out even through the sunlight shining down from high overhead. She had a feeling that there would be little shadow here, even in the middle of the night.
On the upside, along with the deluge of advertisements, Sheri felt the stirrings of her appetite as several dozen restaurants caught her eye, further up the strip. But, that would have to wait, she amended, as her gaze almost swept completely past what looked like some sort of repair shop tucked halfway around a nearby corner to a side street. Her eyes found it simply because it didn't have a giant blazing sign trying to attract her like she still had access to her father's company Tab.
Pushing her way through the crowd, she made it over to the side of the street, where she could get a better look at the half-broken sign to the right of what might have passed for a front door. The sign was no more than a few words hand-etched onto a few feet of metal plate, "Herb's Retrofitting," half of which had rusted over. "Sounds promising," she decided to give it a go, with the faint hope that it would get her out of the swelter as well.
Not only was the inside of the shop noticeably cooler than outdoors, she had to stop just on the other side of the threshold because it first seemed like there weren't any lights on at all. The scent of machine oil was heavy, but still more welcome than what passed for the air in the rest of the city.
Once her eyes adjusted, she found that the interior lighting was working, just mostly blocked by chunks of machinery that lay in haphazard piles stacked nearly from floor to ceiling; a ceiling which was a good dozen feet up, if not higher.
Wandering around the place for a bit, just to cool off, she found what looked to be the lone employee, toward the back of the shop.
"Excuse me," Sheri clears her throat to get the attention of a scraggly looking man, probably well into his later years, who had his back to her as he fiddled around with a bulky piece of equipment that appeared to take up the back half of the store. He continued fussing over whatever he was doing, essentially ignoring her for a good forty seconds before the noirette started to get impatient. She'd been wandering around through the needlessly confusing streets of the city for far too long, and several times she'd been sure that she'd caught sight of a familiar lame blue and orange GJ uniform in the milling crowd out of the corner of her eye. She didn't have the luxury of time that this old geezer seemed to command, and she decided to make it known."Hey! I said, excuse me...I could use a little help here," she bit out, slapping a palm on the counter top that separated her from the old man.
It seemed to get his attention, because he drew up short and turned to regard her over his shoulder."Hmm? I didn't hear you come in," he made a little half-shrug as if it wasn't a big concern in the grand scheme of things. He continued to stare at Sheri for a moment before frowning, "Well, I haven't got all day, can't you see I'm in the middle of something? Whaddya want?"
The pilot scoffed to herself, mentally rolling her eyes. It figured guys like this would be jerks. "Look, I just need to know how many fuel cells I can get with," she paused and unfastened the top couple of inches on her jacket to fish out her Tab, taking a quick peek at the tiny numbers displayed there, "Two hundred and thirty," she said at length, giving a rough estimate for what she could get away with and not be flat broke.
"Damn jerk," Sheri spat as she stormed back out onto the sweltering streets moments later. She might as well have had a second head, the way the old bastard running the repair shop had looked at her after she'd mentioned what she'd been after, all but laughing in her face. It was crap like that, which pissed her off the most. But, there wasn't really anything she could do about it, and still maintain a low profile.
That was also part of the reason she couldn't simply walk up to one of the thousands of people around, and just ask where the hell someone could find a damn fuel cell, or three. If she started asking, word would spread that she had a ship. And as far as she could tell, there was only one port on Arcadia, and it didn't appear like it offered public access. Leading GJ straight to her was not in the plan.
Down the same strip, she found two more mechanics, and was met with similar results, though the third shop was a little more helpful, in that one of the two employees gave her directions to a place that might be able to help her out. The information set her Tab down two digits for the trouble.
But, now she had something solid to go on, a place called the Burn Zone, located on the far side of Courtan, on the Eastern block. She'd also gotten a little warning on that count, how the eastern side of the city was a bit less safe, for someone like her, to be walking around alone. That had gotten her an offer for some company, for another digit hit on her Tab.
Sheri took the opportunity to hit up a few food vendors on the way, steering away from what passed for the local cuisine and picking herself up food that smelled more familiar, and was a little less costly. As it turned out, she could have eaten the tiny box her food came in, and it would still have tasted better than the sludge that the Infinity's re-processor churned out.
Picking up a third serving, she stuffed the paper wrapped meal into a pouch on the side of her baggy pants, figuring she would get hungry by the time she eventually made it across town and back again. There was no way she was staying over night in this shitty place, even if she had been able to afford it.
By the time she found Burn Zone, there was no doubt in her mind that the grease monkey hadn't been exaggerating. The eastern side of Courtan more than lived up to the reputation the city had developed around the 3-Ring. The block was caked with layers of grime, and a brown haze settled in the lower sections, spill-over from twin industrial plants that towered over the broken down buildings, the stacks and pipes of which were lost in the fumes that wafted down.
It turned out that Burn Zone wasn't exactly a mechanic's shop, like she expected. Judging from the structure, it might have originally been anything from a warehouse, to a large garage. The outer walls were charcoal gray, splotched with a thick layer of soot that could have passed for moss, or some other living growth. The raven-haired woman felt no inclination to touch it and find out for sure.
"Guess I'll learn to be a little more specific," the pilot murmured, standing outside the front of the bar that was nestled roughly between the edge where the central hub ended and the industrial zone began. "Probably how they came up with the name," her eyes drifted up toward the rising stacks in the distance.
The inside of the bar wasn't much cleaner that the outside, in her opinion. It was also practically empty, seeing as how it was barely past the middle of the day. Pushing past the door, she swept her eyes around the large room, across rows of empty tables and booths at the back. There was room for maybe fifty or sixty people, if they were real friendly with one another. A lot of the space was taken up by machine parts and the hind quarter of a cruiser engine mounted to appear as if it had gone through the building and crashed into the back wall. It went much further in explaining the bar's name, appropriately enough. "Classy," she dismissed the decor, and focused on the three other occupants, two of which were lounging on bar stools.
The bartender nodded gave her a small nod, and Sheri took that as her cue to walk over and get down to business. "I'm looking for someone, and I was told I could find an," she reached for the name that was on the tip of her tongue, "Alex Duke, around here." The moment the name left her mouth, the bartender's face tightened and he gave Sheri a no nonsense once over. To her right, the men seated at the bar stopped their hushed conversation and gave her their full attention. She swore, if this blew up in her face, the next thing she was doing was going back to that gangly grease monkey and taking it out of his hide.
"Haven't heard that in a long time. Lex doesn't come around much these days. Last time was more than a month ago," one of the scruffy men volunteered, nudging his buddy. "ain' that right?"
"Prolly 'bout that. Could be dead for all I care…shit, still owes us from last time," the other replied, scratching at a few days growth of beard before taking a long pull from the glass he was nursing.
The bartender cut in before the two could get another word in edgewise. "Duke isn't very welcome here right now, as you can probably tell. You'd do better to ask after someone else. If your business is with Duke personally, there's a line that wraps a few times around the city you'll have to get in first," he finished polishing a glass and set it down on a stack of others. "What is it you want that firebug for?"
Sheri could smell trouble a mile away, and this Alex Duke was knee deep in a mess that she wanted no part in. The noirette didn't feel like being associated with an arsonist on yet another planet, there was enough of that sort of trouble following her around as it was. "Look, I just need to get my hands on a few fuel cells, and that's who was recommended to me. If there's a better way, feel free to point me toward it."
"Cells…you're an Outlander then," the man behind the counter frowned discernibly. "That's rare, even for this rock."
"An Outlander, I guess you could say that," she shrugged.
"There isn't another way to put it," the bartender put his hands on the counter and leaned forward. "Cells aren't just hard to come by. It's practically impossible these days, especially with the recent, problems, downtown."
"I see. So, there's nothing I can do right now then," Sheri rubbed the bridge of her nose. This was beyond irritating.
"I didn't say that. Just that it's difficult."
"Meaning it's going to cost me," she finished, getting the point.
The bartender nodded. "Probably more than someone like you can afford."
Sheri muttered low under her breath, "the next time someone says that to me," then shook her head. "How much?"
"I can't say for sure," he glanced around, then appeared to come to some kind of decision. "Four hundred, for two, nothing less," he must have caught the look in the pilot's eye, because he added, "it's a bargain, trust me. You're going to have a hell of a time trying to match it anywhere else, assuming you can find anyone willing to deal with you in the first place."
"So, that's it, huh. Damn," Sheri folded her arms in consideration. There was nothing concrete to back up this guy's claims, but this was the first real thing she'd even come across after scouring half the city. But, four hundred was a lot more than she had. The bartender hadn't been kidding when he said she couldn't afford it. Unless he was giving her a bullshit number. She didn't even know if he had access to fuel cells in the first place. What did a bar need that kind of power for anyway?
The pilot made up her mind and was just about to demand some kind of proof on the goods, when the front door behind her slammed open, and she whipped around. "Oh shit, you've got to be kidding me," Sheri groaned, hands automatically reaching to unsnap the pocket her gloves were in. The GJ Officers in the doorway had their weapons drawn and were already aiming in her general direction. "Since when were there two of them," she groused, diving over the top of the counter, pushing the bartender out of her way. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the two on the bar stools fall over themselves to get away from between the Officers and the obvious target.
How had GJ caught up so fast, she asked herself, pulling the green material snugly around her hands and tightening the straps with a quick tug of her teeth. Beside her the bartender was already scrambling away toward a door at the far end of the counter. "Whatever," she was about to take a peek over the top of the bar when several of the bottles above her head exploded, the contents sizzling from the superheated beam that lanced through into the wall.
"Damn it, why can't they ever waste time talking first. Justice, my ass," Sheri moved at a half-crouch past the shattered glass that littered the floor, wincing at it crunched under her boots, and another bolt arced overhead, much too close for comfort. "I get the point! Can't we talk this over? Drinks are on me." What she needed was some kind of distraction, but more potshots kept her on her toes, and she was quickly running out of counter to hide behind. "This isn't good," she stopped with only half a dozen feet separating her from the open. There had to be something she could use…and she spotted the stacks of empty glasses behind her beneath the counter top. They would do nicely.
Five glasses tumbled through the air, catching the light that filtered through the open doorway.
Beneath the counter, Sheri listened, catching the distinctive whip-crack of energy discharge from both Officer's guns. Sounds like someone has an itchy trigger-finger, she thought, already throwing herself toward the end of the bar in a desperate dive. There was a small round table, maybe five feet straight ahead that she just needed get behind. It was made of bits of metal and scrap, obviously to go with the whole theme; it looked sturdy enough to take a couple of hits in her stead, she only prayed it wasn't bolted down, or this would be a short trip indeed.
It wasn't. The raven-haired pilot slid shoulder first into one of the chairs, biting back a curse and kicking out to knock the table over to provide some cover. Hitting the ground with a crash, the table rolled a bit, but it still came between her and GJ, about the same time as they realized what was going on, and turned their attention to her new hiding spot.
As she hazarded, the table took the first round of blasts with little more than scorch marks to show for it. But, Sheri didn't feel like sitting around to see how durable the thing was. Her eyes were focused on the nearest window, the only problem was it happened to be on the same side of the building as the front door, and GJ would be on her the second she busted out onto the street. Likewise, it was borderline suicidal to remain where she was, when all they had to do was split up and come at her from opposite sides. It wasn't helping that they knew their elbows from their assholes when it came to marksmanship. As if her day needed to get any worse.
Suddenly, it went quiet as the crackle coming from the other side of the table died. Shit, shit, shit…her mind raced to think of a plan that didn't involve her getting diced into crispy little bits. "You think I'd be dumb enough to risk having that thing on me in this dump? Yeah, right," she strained her ears, trying to catch any sound of movement. To say she was surprised when she actually garnered a response was an understatement.
"So, you do have the box. Where is it? Do yourself and us a favor, just hand it over," the tone seemed to consider the matter a done deal.
Sheri frowned, recognizing the feminine lilt as the self-same that had contacted her on the Infinity. Though in person, she noticed a faint hint of an accent that she couldn't quite pin down. Who the hell did this little bitch think she was talking to? Who cuts a deal after trying to flash-fry someone? "The box? Yeah, I got it tucked safely away," she rolled her eyes, shooting a look down at her jacket. Yep, real safe. "Gonna be damn hard to get to if I'm not around to point the way." Sheri clenched a gloved fist, completing the circuit that unlocked the safety. There was a tiny hum, barely audible, and the air around her fist began to shimmer.
"There are ways around that. But, this doesn't have to get that far. Tell us where you put the box, and we'll leave it at that," the light voice informed.
"That's bullshit. We both know that. If it was that easy, you wouldn't have been trying to vaporize my ship in the first place. Excuse me if I don't take you at your word," Sheri gripped the table by its stand with her uncharged hand, giving a tug to test the weight. She could tell by the woman's voice that the GJ Officer hadn't moved away from the door. Likewise, there were no other footsteps, so the two were most likely still standing in the same spot as when they came in, since they'd be able to cover the whole interior from there. They had her pinned down, and it was a little too late to make a break for the back door that the bartender had run out, assuming that he hadn't just ducked into a stock room.
"It seems we'll continue to play this little game a little longer. We are happy to see that you enjoy being obstinate. But, all things must end, before they can truly begin. We'll be taking the box now," all mocking pretense was gone by the time she finished speaking.
Behind the table, she wasn't sure what was worse, that she was being toyed around with, or that she finally recognized the woman's lilting speech. It was that phrase about the circle of life crap. She'd heard it before plenty of times, and it didn't get better with age. She was willing to bet the last few digits on her Tab that this chick wasn't Galactic Justice. As far as Sheri knew, GJ was pretty damn picky, and potential candidates underwent very extensive screening tests, interviews and family histories were picked through with a fine-toothed comb. There was no freaking way that the elitist jerks would think of hiring anyone remotely associated with the largest crime syndicate this side of the 3-Ring. Now, a lot of things that had been bothering her were starting to make some sense, especially if she had caught the attention of the Hidden Sun.
"Like that's going to happen," Sheri hooked her foot around one of the chairs she'd collided with and sent it end over end toward the window. Predictably, the impromptu projectile was torn apart the moment it passed into plain view. Before the pieces hit the ground, she whirled and risked leaning partially out the opposite side of the table, releasing the charge she'd built up in her glove at the GJ imposters, ducking back in the same movement. There was a muffled scream, and the thump of something heavy thumping against the wall. "That's one for me. Up for round two? Or do you need a minute?"
Not bothering to let her opportunity go to waste, she activated a second charge and warmed up the second glove as well. Switching sides, the raven-haired woman popped out again. Not having the luxury of taking time to aim, she let loose another blast toward the door, where she'd heard the impact. Sheri forced herself to drop back just as she realized that the uninjured Officer, the much shorter one, was intent on putting a cauterized hole through the middle of the pilot's forehead. The azure beam nicked the edge of the table, shearing off a few locks of the noirette's hair as she ducked.
The smell of burning hair hung around, letting Sheri know just how near a miss it was. "You're gonna have to do a little better. Here I thought Galactic Justice was supposed to be hot shit. But, guess they're letting anyone join these days," she forced out a tiny chuckle of amusement that she wasn't quite feeling at the moment. There wasn't too much sense in letting these two know their cover was blown. She'd gotten a bit of a look that last time, and both of them were decked out in the full GJ Protector gear, tinted helmets and all.
Nevertheless, they were still, sort of, acting the part and limiting themselves to the conventional GJ sidearm. As long as they were intent on keeping their actions semi-legit, she had a much better chance of walking out of this whole. On the other hand, the one she'd scored a hit on appeared to be down for the count, and that alone might change the rules.
The only response Sheri got for the jibe was a soft chuckle that she could barely hear coming out through the GJ helmet's filter. "You think this changes anything? There's nowhere you can run that we cannot reach first. You've reached the end of your path, though you fail to recognize that. No matter, the box might be in your hands, but that is merely a temporary state," there was a short pause, "There will be another time."
There was the sound of cloth scraping across the floor, and after a moment she realized it was probably the downed 'Officer,' being dragged out. It could also easily be a trick. She had to make sure, so Sheri risked another quick look.
A couple of blue superheated beams snapped off the moment her head poked beyond the edge of the table, had her pulling back just as fast. But, her intuition had been right on the mark, as it often was. She'd caught sight of the taller one in GJ gear being dragged out the door, by the collar of his uniform, one handed no less. Obviously, his partner was stronger than the slight build under the deceptive suit otherwise suggested. Sheri might have been more impressed had the woman not been using her free hand to keep the pilot pinned down as they made their getaway.
It was a few moments before Sheri decide it was okay to get out. There was the added incentive of worrying about not just the possible return of the Hidden Sun, but the arrival of local authorities. Her presence on Arcadia was far from legal, and the sheer difficulty in trying to get fuel was hint enough that she didn't want to be here when and if someone in charge should decide to poke their head in. For all she knew, the bartender had already contacted help.
Not bothering with the mess, the raven-haired Outlander dispersed the charge remaining in her glove and powered down the weapons, but didn't unfasten them. If trouble should rear its ugly head, it was better to stay armed. It didn't help that the East side of the city wasn't particularly savory either.
As she left the bar, it occurred to Sheri that the GJ cruiser had to have a spare fuel cell or two, and she might have just missed the chance to get at it without a hit to her Tab. It wasn't like she had a whole load of other options at the moment. There were two ways about it, that she could see. Either try and swipe from the cruiser, or try and keep poking her nose around for Alex Duke, the only real lead she'd come across in Courtan.
Ultimately, it seemed the choice wasn't in fact in Sheri's hands. Just outside the Burn Zone, a crowd of onlookers was starting to form. Where the motley assortment had come from so quickly was anyone's guess, but already she could hear a murmur sweeping her way, and more than one or two gazes lingering on her a tad longer than had to be healthy. It wasn't enough that she already stood out from the locals, they were starting to make an issue of it. She started walking, and picked up the pace when she noticed three rougher looking men brake off from the rest, unmistakably following after her.
If this was how things worked in the Eastern Sector, it was going to be a lot harder to try and track down any local fuel. Add to it, the cost, and how little she had to spare, the GJ Cruiser was looking better by the minute. There was the Hidden Sun to consider, but the odds were already swinging in Sheri's favor on that count. She shot a quick glance over her shoulder, where it seemed her tail had picked up two more stragglers. Yeah, give me one on one odds any day, she decided, trying to think of the best way to get rid of the unwanted attention.
There was also an equally pressing matter, that of figuring out where the Cruiser was docked. She was sure the imposters hadn't landed outside the city. They'd found her far too quickly to have gone through Courtan on foot as she had, especially since she'd had a decent lead in the first place. No, they'd had to have parked the ship somewhere nearby. It was likely that they'd made use of their authority to get around the planet's current embargo.
Behind her, the footfalls started to become more obvious, as if the men wanted her to know they were there. She scowled, did they actually think she was that blind? Quickly scanning the street ahead, she noted that it was empty. The windows of the squat hovels and burnt out factories were staring back with blank gazes, as if this were an all too common occurrence, which she figured it probably was. Sheri debated ducking down one of the twisting side streets, but the thought of running into a dead end wasn't all that appealing. "Guess, I can always see what these boys want," she muttered resigned, slowing her pace down to a more relaxed stroll. The low hum that radiated out from her gloves was lost against the slight breeze that carried a tang of ash and grit.
It didn't take long for the posse to catch up, forming a loose semi-circle around the noirette. All five were male, and either giving her looks of contempt, outright hostility, or some mixture of the two. Maybe they just didn't like her face, it was hard to tell when they weren't being very talkative. The one in the middle, closest to her had one hand in the pocket of his tattered coat, and the other scratching at the crusty stubble under his jaw.
Sheri kept her own hands down at her sides, mindful to resist the urge to fold her arms across her chest. There were more important things on her plate, and the longer this took, the greater the risk of missing her window of opportunity. She was hoping to reach the Cruiser before the Hidden Sun, and without knowing exactly where it was, she couldn't afford this to waste more of her time. "Got a problem," she asked, staring down scruffy.
"Nothin' we can't fix," he replied, nodding at one of the others, who Sheri realized was one of the men at the bar. "Jarod here says you're poking around, asking after that crazy bitch, Duke. Next minute, the place is getting shot to hell," he paused, getting a bobble-headed nod from Jarod.
"And," Sheri prompted, knowing full well where this conversation was headed.
"We've got enough shit to deal with around here, without people like you bringing more," he leaned forward, trying to loom over the raven haired pilot, even though they were roughly the same height.
Sheri didn't budge, but appeared to consider what he was telling her, "I don't need this any more than you do, trust me. I'm trying to get out of here, in case that slipped past, so let's just call this lesson learned, and we can all be on our way."
"That's not gonna pay for the damages," he said, grinning as the other men seconded him.
"Why don't you hit up Galactic Justice? They're the ones you should be bothering. I'm not the one that went in and lit the place up."
"They're after you, and that's more than enough reason," the leader of the ragtag group rubbed at his chin,
"I'm betting there's some kinda reward in turning you in. What do you guys think," he looked at them, before bringing his attention back to Sheri, seemingly satisfied with the consensus. "Prolly cash in double, downtown, you bein' illegal and all."
This was quickly turning ugly, she realized, taking in the ring of hungry faces.
"'course, we can have a bit of fun first," that grin widened, revealing a row of stained teeth. "No good passing up the chance with an Outlander." He revealed his hand, holding a small pistol that looked half-cobbled together, and as able as its owner. Around him, two of the others brandished similarly outdated firearms.
Sheri flexed her fingers, tightening them into fists, and the hum suddenly grew much louder. She mentally kicked herself for not dealing with this before she had three pistols pointing at her. Either way, there was no time for should have's, as her body was already in motion of its own accord.
The first shot sizzled to the left of her head, boring harmlessly into the wall of a building on the other side of the road. Scruffy didn't get a second chance, as Sheri immediately flat-palmed him in the chest, discharging enough energy to launch him backward with enough force to tumble him ass over elbows. A flailing limb caught one of the men unfortunate enough to be standing too close to their leader as he bowled past.
Her left gauntlet, holding a weaker charge, spewed out a flare of green that washed over the two next closest idiots, who reeled back, both clutching at their flash blinded eyes. One was armed, and reflexively fired at the last place he'd seen the black-tressed Outlander. Stiff fingers rammed into his throat, putting an end to wild shots that were more dangerous to the other members than the woman they'd all made the mistake of threatening. A roundhouse kick snapped out and nailed the other unarmed street trash in the ribs, crumpling him with an audible crack of bone.
As she retracted her foot, Sheri kicked out backward at the last one still standing, Jerod, bending him double as her boot sank into his stomach. He dropped to his side, looking for all the world like he was going to vomit up a lung. She shook her head at the display. Straightening, she took a quick tally, making sure none of the weapons were within easy reach of her assailants. "Like I said, if you've got a problem, take it up with Galactic Justice. I'm sure they'll be glad to lend an ear," she took one last look around. "I've got stuff to do, but maybe we can play longer some other time," she waited for a few heartbeats, but none of them were up to responding, "…or not."
Powering down her gloves, she rubbed at her temple, "Now, where's that damned ship parked?" Sheri reoriented herself toward the hub, the tower of the spaceport barely visible through the pollution rising up in the distance. It was her best bet, and she was looking forward to air that she didn't have to taste with each breath. She wanted out of this trash hole and off the planet. Courtan made the Three Ring look like paradise, and she'd fought tooth and nail to get out of there. The sooner was back on the Infinity, the better she would feel.
It was much harder getting to the port than it seemed. Frustratingly so, since she could see the damn thing towering over even the smaller spires of office buildings that dominated the skyline of the city's center. But, the roads and byways, like the outer walls, were choked with construction sites, dead ends and detours. Even on foot, it was a complete mess, and it didn't help that she was trying to hurry. She'd already stopped to ask for directions, but it felt like everyone she ran into was either trying to get her more lost, or just as confused by the mess as she was. Sheri figured that it was probably due to the travel restrictions. There was probably very little reason for the locals to worry about how to get to the port, when in all likelihood, none of them could make use of it.
"Just freaking great," she shouted to the heavens after running down the third successive road that funneled into a work site. "Who thought it would be a good idea to block off all the roads at the same time," the pilot was ready to snap and throttle the entire civic office if it would clear up just one street. Face it, there's no way they haven't already made it back to the Cruiser, she told herself, even taking into account that the Hidden Sun chick was probably saddled dragging her partner's ass through this damned maze.
Growling in irritation, the stranded Outlander kicked at one of the under construction signs that lined the site, eliciting a mildly satisfying ring from the sheet of metal. Turning away from the mess, Sheri trudged back the way she'd come, until she was back on one of the wider streets, staring up at the tower that felt like it existed solely to taunt her. She'd already wasted a good fifteen minutes that would be next to impossible to make up, or so she thought before spotting what looked like a shuttle bus waiting down on the far end of the street.
"You've got to be kidding me," she took off at a sprint, dodging through the meager traffic and made it across the roadway, followed by a trail of angry shouts and threats from some of the drivers. She had no idea if it was even a public transport, but it looked like one from a distance, and that was all she needed to chance it, hoping that it was running, and not out of the center of the city.
As it turned out, a bit of Lady luck was finally beginning to shine down on the raven haired pilot. It was indeed a running shuttle, and one headed into the heart of the district. It wasn't exactly where she needed to go, but it had to be better than her own fruitless endeavor to get there. Hopefully, she could make up some of the lost time in the process. Sliding her TAB across the reader next to the driver, Sheri dropped into the nearest empty seat and waited impatiently for the bus to depart.
The shuttle ended up dropping her off within easy walking distance from the space port. She could actually see the entire front side of the tower from where the shuttle let her off. The gleaming white and green construct was a sobering sight, eclipsing most of the other structures nearby with its massive bulk. Several dozen magnetic launch rails jutted out from the sides at various angles, all aimed skyward in a useless display. The upper tier was wide and flared out at the edges to accommodate larger cargo craft, and possibly big enough for one Cerulean-class ship.
Now, that was a sobering thought, especially given the planet's nasty history with orbital bombardment.
Whatever the reasoning, with a capable port of this size, Sheri was seriously questioning the logic of a planet-wide embargo. She just didn't see any benefit to this level of self-imposed isolationism. Then again, politics weren't her thing by any stretch of the word. All the more reason she'd left home, to not have to deal with the power-struggle going on between her brother and the rest of the company board. It was better to leave that mess to someone who cared enough to really fight for control. She could care less if her father's company was strewn to the winds. Let them fight over the bloody scraps.
It turned out that the supposedly shut down port was actually quite active. Not that any actual craft were entering or leaving, but the place was crawling with uniformed staff, as well as a few obvious security details. None of the lot appeared to be civilians, making her job that much more difficult. Surprisingly, she found no sign of renovations or other similar work going on.
She'd honestly expected the place to be a ghost town. The limited activity would make sneaking in a whole lot harder, not to mention trying to get back out with an armload of stolen fuel cells, assuming of course that the GJ Cruiser was at the port in the first place. Of course, it wouldn't be hard to spot in the honeycomb of empty launch bays.
No, going in the front doors or one of the ground level loading bays was out of the question. If the locals could spot that she wasn't from the city, there was no chance she would just be walking right past a cadre of armed guards, not in the outfit she was wearing, anyway.
On the plus side, with the people walking in and out of the facility, Sheri didn't have to wait long before spotting a few workers that appeared to be around the same size. The slate gray uniforms they were wearing hung pretty loose and were baggy enough that she'd probably be able to put it on directly over her own clothes, jacket and all. The best part was that the line inside leading through a small personnel door near her side of the port was starting to wrap around toward the corner. She could see an alcove just past the end of the line, where her most likely targets were headed. Thumbing one of her gloves to the lowest setting, she jogged over toward the alcove and her ticket in.
Definitely a plus, she thought grinning as she pulled the zipper on the side the rest of the way up. She kept the top collar snaps above her chest unfastened since it was all a tad snug, especially around her hips. Not that she couldn't put up with being uncomfortable for a bit, as long as it got her quietly inside. This little side trip was already proving to be more hassle than she'd anticipated. Sheri took her place in the line with no one the wiser, leaving three unconscious men tucked away out of sight in the back of their loading truck around the bend.
The queue moved quickly, and the two guards checking entry just waved her on like everyone else without so much as a second glance. Past the doorway, the line dispersed, with the workers fanning out and heading off across the wide open floor to wherever it was they needed to go. It was easy enough to lose herself in the thinning crowd.
Sheri found the inside of the spaceport was even more spacious than the outer structure suggested, not that the raven haired pilot expected much different. The effect had more to do with row upon row of unused bays that spanned upward around the walls of the hollow cone, stretching up dozens of stories. With hardly any ships to fill it, the interior was reminiscent of an empty hive, though the workers scattered about nearly spoiled the illusion.
Matching the hurried stride of the other jump-suited crew, Sheri set out across the floor, scanning the few occupied bays that she could see for the distinctive colors of a Galactic Justice Cruiser.
She found it after a bit of searching, on the fifth floor. The slender Cruiser was dwarfed by the bay it was sitting in, docked nearly flush with the open port it had flown in through. In fact, she'd only caught sight of the ship by chance since it was directly opposite the maintenance elevator she'd been using to access the higher floors. The cruiser wasn't being serviced, and it was still completely powered down as far as she could tell. Sheri waited at the edge of the bay just behind a stack of diagnostic equipment, to make sure that Hidden Sun chick wasn't lurking about.
Not wanting to waste her advantage, the raven haired woman darted across the bay, sidling up to the aft section of the Cruiser's hull. The configuration wasn't anything like the Infinity, but she'd been around a fair share of GJ ships to hazard the layout of the reserve fuel cell compartment. Which as she thought, was in a lower segment on the port side within easy reach. "Gotcha," she smirked, flexing her gloved hands, getting down to work on the fuel housing. Behind the covering, three nearly full cylinders glinted dimly.
The Infinity's Reach was waiting quietly where Sheri left it, undisturbed under its cloaking field. Its present owner powered down the field, disengaging the security protocols with a flick of her hands across the scanner on the entry hatch. One of the first things she'd done after liberating the ship had been to key the Infinity's systems to her bio-signature, as well as changing the default codes, something that the previous owner either hadn't considered, or didn't know how to do. All the more reason in her mind, why the Infinity belonged in her hands.
A/N: Chapter One edited and compiled. Chapter two coming soon.