Threats still echoing in her mind, Lucy kept her gaze fixed to the ground. Her eyes had already given her heritage away and she didn't want to antagonize Sheriff Bale any further. Hailing from Khlo in the Alioth system, she'd been born a 'mutant'. Both legs and her right arm had failed to form properly, as was common amongst the first generations born on Khlo.
It was a side effect of some mishap with the terraforming process. The boffins of the Central Systems Alliance dubbed it an 'errant forced-evolutionary effect', or EFEE for short. But it didn't stop with malformed limbs. The natives Khlo had distinctive eyes with spiral irises of unusual colours. When the Alliance discovered the severity of the mutations on Khlo its population was deemed subhuman.
No longer classified as human, the Alliance's human rights didn't apply, and the people were subject to brutal experiments in the name of science. Vivisections became an increasingly common cause of death. It soon came to light that the mutants of Khlo showed a propensity for low-level psychic ability.
Lucy steadied her breathing as she stared at the dirt beneath her. Squeezing her eyes tight, she began to reach out to find the sheriff's mind. It wasn't an easy task; Lucy was by no means a psychic prodigy. After a time she found the fabric of his thoughts while he was busy beating Bast for some perceived slight. Over the sounds of Sebastian's pained grunts and the dull thud of boots against ribs, Lucy began her psychic warfare.
Gentle and soft, she implanted a suggestion and reasserted it. She was careful to be delicate. Too forceful an attempt would surely be noticed and resisted. Then the reprisal would be fierce. No, rather than an overt command, Lucy simply repeated a whispered suggestion. Please leave us alone. We've had enough.
She opened her eyes when the thudding stopped.
"I think you've had enough," the sheriff said at last. Lucy let out a sigh. "We'll be keeping an eye on you. Now go and get me my money."
Romulus turned to leave, and Bast scrambled to his knees. Short of breath and bloody faced, he smiled.
"What, done so soon?"
Lucy's eyes widened at Sebastian's remark. Damn it Bast, you dumb son of a bitch. Sheriff Bale stopped in his tracks. Sebastian swayed as he knelt. In a flash Romulus spun on his heels, swinging his rifle like a baseball bat. The stock caught Bast square in the jaw and sent him pirouetting to the dirt. Satisfied, Sheriff Bale turned to make his departure.
"We will be watching you," he said, not even bothering to look over his shoulder. "Don't keep me waiting. I want that money."
As fast as they arrived, the lawman and his goons disappeared. When the sound of hooves no longer rumbled in the distance Lucy and Cheyenne moved to help Sebastian. Owing to his incredible ruggedness his jaw wasn't broken, though, he didn't look any prettier for the experience. Through half-closed eyes he stared up at Lucy.
"Well... guess I was wrong. It was today that lady luck abandoned us." He spat out a gobbet of blood.
Bathed in the light spilling out from the ship, Lucy stood motionless. Perhaps under different circumstances she would have enjoyed watching Bast eat his words. Instead she just looked around the landing site in silence with a foul taste in her mouth, a stinging pain in her neck and a throbbing headache. A sneer formed on her chapped lips as she saw the steel case still filled with blank admin documents sitting in front of the cargo hold.
Cheyenne helped bring Bast to his feet. For a while the trio just stood in silence. Sebastian rocked in the breeze while Lucy's hair danced around her face. Cheyenne ground his teeth, eyes fixed upon the crate that had only a few hours ago held so much promise. He broke the silence.
"We're in a real mess this time."
"Mm," Bast nodded.
"How did they know?"
The question grabbed Lucy's attention. She looked over towards Cheyenne. His codename always seemed ill-fitting to her. Slight and slender, he was barely a man. He was born on a space station in the Kraz system. When his parents' mutant heritage was made clear, they were exiled from the space station amid fears that they might be Concord terrorists. Their quest for refuge led them to Lucy's ranch on Iban, a small moon orbiting an uninhabitable planet.
"Seems pretty obvious to me, Alex," she said. He looked over to her with expectant eyes. "We were set up."
"Now hold up," Bast grunted as he took a step forward. "Are you still suggesting that Wintersen's tip might have been less than kosher?"
"That's exactly what I'm suggesting, Bast." Lucy had lost her patience. "Or do you think our guns magically transformed into paper? And that the Sheriff just happened to be out for a stroll in the middle of a fucking wasteland?"
Sebastian didn't respond. His eyes drifted towards the crate and the papers within.
"I know you and Wintersen have a long history. I get it. Really. But he sold you—all of us—out."
The trio stood in silence for a while, fierce winds from the desolate plains whipping around them. All eyes focussed on the opened steel case as sheets of paper took flight. Nobody uttered a word as the quiet grew heavier and more oppressive with each passing second, coloured only by the ruffling of papers scattered in the wind. Bast took in a sharp breath and stumbled as he looked towards his companions.
"Standing around here waiting to grow roots 'ain't gonna' do us no good."
Lucy looked up at him, squinting against the windborne dust.
"We all heard the good sheriff. Let's get to it," he said.
"We're just going to do what he tells us?" asked Alex, wide-eyed.
Sebastian raised an eyebrow at the young man.
"Son, do you think we've got a choice?"
No answer came to the youngest of the thieves. Sebastian limped past him and struggled up the cargo ramp. Alex looked to Lucy for an answer. She mustered up her best sympathetic smile and followed after Bast. Shoulders slumped as Alex sighed and turned to follow his friend. Turning to cast a final gaze at the steel case, Lucy thumbed the cargo bay door switch, teeth clenching and head throbbing as a last blank admin sheet flitted in through the gap to rest at her feet.
Leaving the sheet of paper on the cargo bay floor, Lucy Mercier made her way to the head of the ship and took her seat in the pilot's chair. Sebastian sat massaging his ribs in the co-pilot's seat, buckled up and ready.
"So... any ideas on where we start?"
Sebastian winced as he turned to his partner in crime. A deep fissure formed between his eyebrows as a scowl etched itself onto his face.
"As a matter of fact..." He grimaced as he shifted his weight. "I do. Reckon we oughta' pay Wintersen a visit."
Lucy's face darkened as she nodded.
"Reckon we just might."
She fired up the ships engines, skimming through the pre-launch checks as she bellowed for Alex to strap in. When the safety checks came back green she hammered the ship into action. The squat froglike ship struggled at first, gouts of flame billowing from its haunches. Lucy upped the mass-reduction field. The craft surged upwards. Before long the trio had broken atmosphere. Plotting a course for Corvius, Lucy let the ship's computer take over as she reclined in her seat and eased her aching head.