© Daniel Landerman 2011
Cover by Daniel Landerman
Story by Daniel Landerman
Interiors by Daniel Landerman
The First Book
by Daniel Landerman
It was late spring. Warm, but not uncomfortable. Dakota tried to enjoy the sun through the car window. Soma was supposed to be one of the most beautiful moons this time of year, but Dakota had only one other to compare it to. One other she could clearly remember at any rate. The other moons were memories soft and distant as though she looked through a foggy window. But Soma was clear before her. The air was clear. The light had a storybook golden cast that made the trees and the buildings, even the terraforming refinery, look warm and inviting. The steam that billowed from the terraformer was like a plume of light rising starward as it caught the sun’s rays. The myriad colors Soma’s inhabitants wore would have been garish on Dakota’s home moon of Paris. Here the people simply looked like butterflies going about their daily lives. She wondered what it would be like to go to work every day. To smile at coworkers. To go home to a husband and eat dinner with a family.
Two officers hauled Dakota out of the squad vehicle. It hovered higher than most cars and she nearly fell, but one of the men caught her arm in a vice grip that caused her cuffs to dig into her wrists when he wrenched her to her feet.
“Bastards. You always this rough with girls?”
The officer pushed Dakota in the direction of the transport ship that idled on the tarmac. A heavily armored shuttle that would take her to detention until her trial. Given the incriminating footage on the security feeds she knew what the verdict would be. The detention facility was a mere layover on her way to the mining belt. The nearest settlement would be on the Range moon of Tai’Pan and unreachable by anything smaller than a mid-range hauler. Dakota didn’t know how to pilot a rig that size. And there was Amrit to consider. She stopped in mid step and the two officers had to step lively to keep from walking over her.
“My horse, where is she?”
Dakota wrestled her arm free of the man’s hand and stepped back from the two guards. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me where my horse is. Is she okay?”
“You just murdered the richest folks on this damn moon and you’re frettin’ over a fuckin’ chopper?”
“A chopper? Not a bloody bike you jackass, a horse. Legs, hoofs, hair? The animal kind.”
The officers actually laughed at her. “Yeah, I bet. Get in the damn ship.”
Dakota looked toward the ship and the reporters that stood between it and her. Another officer pushed his way through the cameras and proceeded to clear a lane. Once the reporters were situated to his satisfaction he approached Dakota and her escorts.
“No, sir. Prisoner’s just draggin’ her damn feet, talkin’ bullshit.”
“Get her on board and lock her up.”
Dakota looked from her guards to the new officer. “I wasn’t talking bullshit. My horse was in a warehouse on the same damn block you nicked me from. I need-”
“Keep moving and get in the bloody ship.”
“No. Captain you don’t-”
“Lieutenant, you can’t just leave her there. What’ll happen to her?”
“Vultures all over this city looking to scrounge salvageable tech. The bike’ll be taken care of.” The Lieutenant’s grin was full of amusement.
“What’s wrong with you people? I’m not talking about a bloody hover-bike.”
They had approached the cameras and a reporter pushed her way to the front as the Lieutenant turned to the guards. “Here comes the roach. Not a word from any of you.”
“This is Judy Lin with Crime Time, coming to you live from Delhi Airfield on Soma moon where an up and coming criminal has just been taken into custody after the brutal murder of the Wheltiers; a well-loved and highly respected family and the richest folks on the moon. Many people are wondering what will happen to the moon’s economy without the Wheltiers to keep the stability.”
Judy Lin reached her mic out to the officers. “Lieutenant Petal, has the prisoner said anything? Has she said why she wants to cripple this moon so badly? Why does she detest stability so much?”
Dakota’s jaw dropped. “I do not-”
Lieutenant Petal shoved Dakota forward. “No comment, Judy. Get those bloody cams out of here.”
Judy followed the group and she was tagged after by a man holding a large self-transmitting camera. “Miss Rawhide, how does it feel to be a female murderer at the top of a usually male-dominated industry? What drove you to slaughter the Wheltiers and their innocent children?”
Dakota struggled to keep her composure. Words like murder, slaughter and innocent children caused her face to flush. This was what people called journalism?
“Are you one of those women that doesn’t like children? Could you not take the idea of a homemaker? Or are you simply…”
Dakota’s attention wandered for the space of a breath. The light was no longer part of a fantasy. It was like having a gold-plated gun pushed against her forehead. The leaves that scattered on the tarmac and tumbled in the gentle breeze brought to mind mortality. The towering buildings of downtown Delhi that caught the sun and refracted it into her eyes made her want to retreat indoors. Judy Lin’s voice grated like sandpaper on her knuckles. Dakota slipped past a guard and her roundhouse kick arced out like a flash. Judy Lin threw herself to the ground. Dakota’s foot smashed the camera into the side of the cameraman’s head and he crumpled to the ground unconscious. Dakota knelt beside Judy. “You know bloody well those children were adults. They put automatic weapons in my face before they even bothered-”
Lieutenant Petal grabbed Dakota’s arm and hauled her away. He didn’t let go. Dakota struggled to free herself. She wanted to explain her side of the story. The Lieutenant’s hand might as well have been a steel manacle. She was practically dragged up the steps and into the transport shuttle and tossed into a heavy cell with inch-thick bars.
Judy Lin got to her knees and leaned over to place herself in front of the camera that now laid on the ground next to her unconscious partner. “There you have it. A hard woman clearly wracked with guilt and full of hatred for the family values that we hold so dear.”
Dakota sat up. The cell was more of a converted closet. With her back against the wall she could kick the door, which she did several times. She had banged her knee when they tossed her in. She rubbed it and glared down the length of the ship at the officers gathered at the hatch. They were studying a paper-slate and kept looking up at her. They looked confused. They had most likely tapped into her warrant and were no doubt wondering how a petite girl like her could kill the Baron on Paris Moon. As well as the Wheltiers. Dakota fought the urge to scream curses at the officers when she saw them handling her accouterments.
“That little Aussie did in the Baron, Lieutenant? She don’t look like much.”
“Got two officers in the hospital that might disagree with you.”
“These was all she was packin’?”
“Yes. A genuine rawhide whip and some kind of custom revolver. Little thing’s a cannon. Packs ten high-velocity pulse rounds.”
Shaw gave a low whistle as he inspected the revolver. It was compact and made to fit a smaller hand. It also packed a bigger punch than the large forty-five Charger he had at his hip. He looked down the length of the ship to the girl that sat in the cell. Her face was shrouded in shadow from the wide brimmed hat she wore. He was certain she now stared back at him. He could feel the challenge. She sat motionless in charcoal gray suede and denim. Her languid nature was like a small panther. Twitch muscles honed and ready to spring in an instant. That’s how he saw her. A scrapper.
Lieutenant Petal braced himself in the cockpit hatchway. “Parker. Let’s get this bird in the air. I want to deliver the prisoner and wash my hands of this shit.”
Shaw set the revolver down and buckled in. He kept looking toward the small cell. He wondered how she could be so still and calm knowing she was on her way to the mining belt. Life expectancy in zero-G was not long when you worked ten hours a day. Mining resources out of asteroids was hazardous at best. There were collisions, toxic gasses, razor sharp slag that could cut into a space suit and vent all your heat and oxygen in seconds. If you were healthy and smart you might make it two years. Eventually the odds always caught up.
The ship steadied as it went airborne and Lieutenant Petal made his way aft. Dakota barely glanced up when he stepped up to the bars. “Wanted: Dakota Tayler aka Rawhide Tayler. Five counts murder, one count arson, one count grand larceny and one count grand theft auto.” Petal studied the girl in front of him. Ten years in the military and fifteen as a cop and he stopped questioning what people were capable of. He stopped wondering why. Yet he always had to ask.
“Anything you want to say?”
Dakota took her time standing. She looked him in the eye and said nothing.
“You’ve got one chance. But try and tell me you’re not the one on the security vid and I might shoot you myself.”
“Where is my horse?”
“You’re facing the mining belt and all you can think about is your damn bike.”
Dakota chewed her bottom lip. She reached her hand out and the Lieutenant took a quick step back. “I need to make a call.”
“Where do you think you are? You don’t get to make… you’re serious? An actual horse? What’s her worth?”
“Not enough for you to want to die over. Give me a damn phone.”
“Not bloody likely.” Lieutenant Petal got on his comm. “Shaw. Call in to HQ and order a search of the block where we arrested-”
The cabin lights went off and red warning lights flashed up. Dakota winced at the volume of the siren. “Target lock confirmed. Warning: Target lock confirmed.”
“Bloody hell.” The Lieutenant bolted for the cockpit. Captain Parker was quickly adjusting scans and calling up landing scenarios. “Parker, you tell me that’s a god damn false read.”
“Sorry, Lieutenant. Someone’s wantin’ us grounded in a mean fuckin’ way.”
“Shake that lock right god damn now-”
“Hostiles dispatched. Warning: Hostiles dispatched.”
Lieutenant Petal grabbed the ship’s comm. “Evasive action. Buckle in and brace yourselves.”
“Impact in seven, six, five…”
“Damn it, Parker.”
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