The blazing sun sears my neck and face as Henry and I roll through the dunes in his sand runner. The mountains that surround the town seem to close in on us as we trek through the desert. When I grew up here I didn't appreciate the rugged beauty this place offered. Now, it's as if I'm looking at it with brand new eyes. The painted mountains with stripes of pink, burgundy, tan, and white are beautifully set off by the pale sand. I wish I could've appreciated it more as a boy.
My thoughts are interrupted by the baritone of dumbass' voice, "So, you knew Piper before you became an Agent?"
I nod. "We went to school together and she's actually the one who urged me to try out for the Agency. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. She's a great woman."
"That she is. I met her when I needed my sand runner fixed a few months ago. After she berated me for not keeping up on regular maintenance, she kinda showed me the ropes of this place and how to do some simple maintenance on my runner. When I joined the Law Enforcement Corps, they gave me minimal training and just stuck me out here." He pauses for a few beats and then asks, "When's the last time you saw her?"
I clear my throat. "Um, twelve years ago." I answer not even trying to cover up the obvious connection with Piper, me, and Waverly.
Henry's face is blank and then his mouth twists as if he's computing a calculus problem. He breathes out, "Oh," as if making a monumental discovery. He clears his throat and changes the topic to a less personal nature, "So you said you think you know what caused the disturbance?"
Glad for the shift I quickly respond, "Not sure if you're familiar with Rafe LaSaber, but he's a baddie of epic proportions on the Inner Cluster. We had a bit of a tiff before I left for Bounty and he sent a few of his lackeys here to finish me off. Last I saw them they were at the bottom of the canyon we're going to investigate. They had the latest generation Scymitars with all the safety features so I'd be surprised if they didn't survive the crash." I take inventory of the weapons he has stored in the flatbed of his vehicle, hopefully that will keep us.
We make the remainder of the trip in silence, which I'm grateful for. I'm not sure how much longer I can make nice with Mr. Perfect with the lack of sleep and all the stressors of the day. The rocking of the sand runner combined with the beer and the heat of the sun lull me into a relaxed state.
The sudden stop of the runner wakes me from my light slumber. My eyes blink open and I'm greeted by the canyon I just flew out of not a just a few hours ago.
I stretch then look at Henry. "Mind if I help myself to one?" I ask as I motion to the weapons in the back.
"Be my guest."
I peruse the weaponry in back and thank the Maker he's equipped with old school weaponry and not just blasters. Blasters are great when they're charged, calibrated, all their firmware is updated, the phase of the moon is right, and the proper prayer vigil is said before firing. My eyes settle on a shotgun, I take it and exit the vehicle then head to the canyon taking note of any tracks that might be left in the sand. I stop when I see a set of footprints and whistle for Henry. I point at the prints then silently motion to a grouping of boulders the footprints seem to lead to. Without words, I motion for Henry to take one side of the boulders while I take the other. His face is set in fear and worry. My stomach sinks realizing that this is probably the first time that he's seeing any real action. It's not his fault really. Those who join the Marshal Corps generally do a couple years at a backwater place like this overseeing a cadre of part-time freelance constables. It's mostly bullshit paperwork with a few minor arrests thrown in. He is not prepared to take on two of LaSabers mercs.
I whistle at him to hold his gun up at the ready position and take the safety off. He quickly nods and complies with my orders. The sand beneath our feet crunches with every step. If they are here, the two pilots of the Scymitars have surely heard us by now.
"Consortium Agent, come slowly out with your hands up." No sound. I look over at Henry and he's as nervous as a virgin on his wedding night. Good God, what does Piper see in this guy? We continue walking toward the boulders. I say, "We know you're there. You gotta be thirsty. C'mon out, we'll take you to get patched up. There might even be a cold brew in it for you."
My heart races. All of my instincts tell me there is at least one person behind these boulders and I'm here with the greenest backup possible.
A scream breaks the silence and a man barrels toward me. I take a few steps back and yell, "Stop. Consortium Agent."
He doesn't break stride and without another thought I pump a few shots in him and he crumples to the ground. I look over to my counterpart and he's nervously looking behind the boulder. As I go to him, a man jumps out and pulls a blaster on us.
"Just come with us. We'll protect you from LaSaber." I look at Henry. "Isn't that right?"
Henry nods vigorously. "Yeah, we don't want any issues."
The man's eyes are wild and in a heartbeat he pulls the trigger to his blaster and Henry falls to the ground. While I'm distracted, the man sprints toward the sand runner and takes off towards hills.
I kneel down to assess Henry thinking the whole time that Piper is going to kill me. I say a prayer of thanks when I see that Henry is wide eyed panting in pain. He puts his hand to the burnt fabric on his should and says, "It hurts like a son of bitch, but I'll be fine. I'm pretty sure his blaster isn't at full capacity."
"Thank the Maker, because if it was we'd probably be toast right now."
I look at the dust cloud that trails the sand runner and then say, "I cannot believe you left key signature coded in."
Henry lets out a puff of air. "Sorry, never been a reason not to before."
I shake my head and go towards the other man with my rifle at the ready. He is lying still in the sand. Slowly, I kneel to take his vitals. His heartbeat is slow, but steady.
I yell over to Henry who is sluggishly pulling himself up from the ground, "Can you send a wave to get some emergency vehicles out here? This guy is still alive. If we can stabilize him we might be able to get some answers."
Henry nods and makes a few swipes to his chronotile.
I sit in the sand with my rifle at my side thinking about how just a few short days ago I thought this would be a boring assignment.