Asteroid Patrol: The ReplacementbyStorm62©
I brought our ship 'Juliet' to a halt against the landing bay of headquarters. Once every three months we would return to Space Police HQ for supplies and other changes including picking up probationary officers. On this occasion however Bob was arriving for the last time. He was retiring and I was to be supplied with a new partner.
"Well Bob, it's been a blast." I held out my hand and he shook it.
"You've come on a lot since they foisted you on me Dave." He grinned. "Finally I feel that I can leave you to it, and retire."
"You deserve a rest; now get going before they change their minds. I'll tidy up the paper work."
"Thanks. I got six months leave coming before I retire though. I thought I might look for my special girl."
"Good luck with that. See you around." With that he was gone. I sighed. Things were changing and neither of us seemed to fit into the new way of thinking. Bob had been close enough to retirement for them to let him go, but not me. Now I was about to get some product of the academy as a partner. Straight from the classroom into the dirty universe. I shook my head, how was a copper supposed to get experience that way? I was probably going to have to teach him how to run, let alone when. I picked up the last of our paperwork, booked the ship into the service bay, and headed up to the offices.
The captain looked at me with a pitying look.
"Come on boss, it can't be that bad?" I said.
"It depends on your point of view. For you, you get a wet-nosed kid straight from school with no real knowledge of how life works, but the ability to learn. For her..." He nodded out of the window at the young girl sat outside. "Well, she gets the best teacher we have left."
"How can I be, I've never been the senior patrolman?"
"But Bob taught you, and Bob was the best. And not once did he ask for another partner. You took your turn looking after the probationers at the 'Boonies', and they all turned out okay. Face it Dave, you are the one of the best. Or the last of the best if you prefer."
"Okay, pass me her file. The ship will be a day or so in dock, then we'll see how she is."
"The ship or the girl?"
"I've never worried about Juliet. Bring her in boss; we may as well get started." The new Officer who was to be my partner, at least for the next few months, came into the office and sat down. She seemed to have a hard look on her face until I looked closer and saw her eyes; they didn't look hard, they looked apprehensive, a little scared. She reminded me of someone too. "So, Officer M.E. Watson?" She nodded, not taking her brown eyes from my face. "You are aware that the 'Boonies' is not a top assignment?"
"Yes, I am, but it is important and immediate. I want to start my career as soon as possible." She still kept her eyes on me, gauging me.
"An admirable ideal. Although I have your file...." I waved it. "....there are some things I'd like to find out for myself. Meet me down on the firing range in five minutes."
"You don't need to call me sir, Officer Watson, Dave will do."
"Yes s... Dave." She smiled. The hard look vanished from her face. She got up and left.
"They are sure about her boss? She looks really young and...well, fragile."
"Don't let that fool you. She has an amazing pass score from the academy, and she wants to do this."
"But she has no street smarts Captain."
"None of you ever have Dave." He smirked. "That's why we put you out on the streets with experienced cops. Now go and teach her the first lessons."
I waited on the firing range for the Officer who was to be my first partner, Dave Baldwin. Our meeting in the Captains office had been short but interesting. I could tell he was worried about what he was taking on and had tried to maintain eye contact and a severe face, but hadn't managed completely. Dave was a hard man to impress. I would have to try harder. He led me to the targets and took out an old twentieth century weapon.
"Ever fired a percussion pistol?" He asked conversationally. I shook my head. "More accurate than a blaster, but with a hell of a kick." He raised the weapon and let off several rounds into the target, tearing big holes in it. "You try." He said handing me the gun. I felt the weight in my hand, gauging it. I lifted it and pulled the trigger. And missed the target completely. He had been right about the kick. What he hadn't mentioned was the noise!
"Sorry." I said. "I wasn't expecting that. Let me try again." He nodded. I raised the weapon again, braced myself and fired.
"Excellent Officer Watson. It didn't take you long to adapt to the weight and the kick." He took the weapon from me. "However, you failed to ask whether it was legal for me to have such an outmoded weapon."
"I just assumed it was."
"Never assume, find out. Your first lesson."
"Well, is it legal?"
"It's legal for me to have it, yes. Firing it is a different matter though."
"So we shouldn't have fired it?"
"Technically, no. So straightaway you have some dirt on me, but you can't tell anyone because I have some on you too."
"What are you trying to tell me s... Dave?"
"Trust your partner, often they're all you've got out on the street. Come on, up to the gym next." He led the way.
I was taken aback a little. This girl had taken hardly any time to adjust to firing my old Colt, and she hadn't been put out when I told her we had just incriminated ourselves. Next I wanted to see how she could handle herself. I led her to the middle of the gym.
"All right Officer Watson, I want you to cuff me, but I'm going to resist. Start when you're ready." I had barely finished speaking when she leg swept me. Moments later she had rolled me over and snapped the cuffs on. I couldn't help smiling as she pulled me to my feet.
"That was all right wasn't it?" She sounded worried.
"No Officer Watson, that was just perfect. I'm very impressed." Her lovely smile lit up her features again. I suddenly realised what I'd thought. 'Lovely Smile'. Better keep a lid on that. "However, I did say I was going to resist." I hooked her leg and dropped her to the floor, making a grab for her keys as she went past. At this point things started to go awry. My trainees usually wore trousers, but Officer Watson wore a skirt. I caught the skirt at the same time as the keys and with a tearing sound, ripped it up her leg. "Oh damn! Are you all right Officer Watson? I didn't mean to do that." I could see all kinds of charges being brought here, but as I knelt beside her, I could see her laughing. She took the keys from me and still laughing, uncuffed me.
"Don't worry si...Dave. My fault for being slow." She paused. "Do you have to keep calling me 'Officer Watson'? My friends call me Emmy." She held out her hand.
"I'd be honoured to be amongst them." I shook her hand. Emmy was going to be all right.
For the next few hours Officer Baldwin, Dave, put me through a series of little tests, all designed to make me think. It was all very enlightening, but the main thing I learnt was that Dave cared, not only for whoever his partner was, but also about the people he was protecting, the 'Boonies'. He wasn't averse to bending rules if it was necessary and I think that was the main point he was trying to get across. Finally he called a halt and suggested I get some sleep before we returned to his station in the morning.
I hauled my two cases on board his ship and found him waiting for me.
"Let me help you with those." He said, taking the larger case from me. "You are only on a three month assignment you know. It feels like you've got enough stuff for at least six here." He grinned.
"You might know a lot about policing the asteroid belt, but you don't know much about women Dave." I laughed. "I've left the rest of my stuff in storage."
"I stand corrected Officer Watson. Sorry, Emmy." He stowed my cases. "Come on, we need to run the flight checks." He led me to the cockpit and sat down, indicating I should take the second seat. We went through the checks and then he called the controller. "Juliet Hotel Uniform, requesting permission to depart."
"Roger Juliet Hotel Uniform, you are cleared to depart. See you in three months Big Dave. And Ron says to take care of Juliet."
"Thanks Ray. Tell Ron I'll keep her out of trouble. Out"
"Juliet?" I asked.
"The ship. She's the last of her type and a bit of a legend with the maintenance crews. Twenty years old and never a problem." Dave sounded immensely proud of the ship. I hoped I could make him half as pleased of me.
"How long before we reach the 'Boonies'?" I asked.
"Normally, just over a day, she's not as quick as the newer ships. It'll be a bit longer this time though."
"Because I want to teach you how to fly her."
"I have a space pilot's licence you know."
"I know you do, but Juliet needs special handling. She's an old lady and can get a little cranky." He smiled. I loved his smile. I realised that was an inappropriate thought and shut it out. "But I've no doubt you'll soon pick up on her little foibles."
We arrived at the 'Boonies', a mining township built into an asteroid on the edge of the belt, in a little less than 36 hours. I had been expecting to take longer to give Emmy time to get used to Juliet, but she picked it up in no time. The girl was amazing! As long as she was shown what to do carefully, she had no problems. I wondered what would happen if I just told her to get on with some task, without telling her how to do it. It would probably take her an extra ten minutes I thought. I would have been jealous if she hadn't been so amiable. Now I eased Juliet into her docking bay at our station.
"Juliet Hotel Uniform, docking complete. Nobby, get the coffee on."
"Who's Nobby?" Emmy asked.
"He's the tech for our station. Mechanics mainly, but he's not a bad doctor either. And he looks after Elsie."
"And she is...?"
"Elsie is the station mechanoid. LC15. Version 4 now I think. They're the only ones on station at the moment. We are supposed to get a pair of probationers next month."
"You mean another pair. I'm only a probationer too you know."
"I suppose you are. But I think you may be destined for greater things Officer Watson. Now grab your gear and I'll introduce you to the rest of my team."
I led her into our ramshackle little station. Nobby met me with a smile and a mug of coffee.
"Welcome home Big Dave. Everything okay?"
"Thanks Nobby." I took the mug. "No problems. Things all right in the town?"
"Bit of a do in one of the bars last night, but Elsie sorted it out. Who's the totty?"
"The totty, as you so indelicately put it, is Officer Watson, my new partner. Emmy, this is Nobby. I'm afraid you'll have to get used to his crudeness."
"Pleased to meet you Nobby." Emmy held out her hand.
Nobby shook it.
"Watcha love. How d'you like your coffee?"
"White, no sweetener."
"Coming up in a jiff darlin."
"Recharging. She's been a bit busy while you've been gone." Nobby said, disappearing.
"She'll be busy for a while more until I can get Officer Watson up to speed."
"Excuse me, I do know what I'm doing you know?" Emmy sounded annoyed.
"I don't doubt it for a minute, but I'm not letting you out on your own until I think you're ready, so you'll have to be patient for a couple of days."
She turned and stomped off.
"That sounded a bit mean." Nobby reappeared beside me, another mug in his hand.
"It was meant to be. We both know that the township isn't going to just accept someone as pretty as her as a lawman. Now take her that drink and show her where she's bedding down. I'm going to check Elsie's reports."
I suppose that I was a bit upset that Dave wouldn't let me patrol on my own straight away, but the first time he took me out onto the streets of the 'Boonies' later that evening, I realised why. The people of this town were tough, no-nonsense miners who would exploit a perceived weakness in the law out of habit rather than any actual desire to be bad. No one took advantage of 'Big Dave' as they called him, and in return he turned a blind eye to some of the minor lawbreaking.
"Why do they call you 'Big Dave'?" I asked after the fourth person we met greeted him so.
"Simple. When I arrived here for the first time, there was already a Dave on station. He was just 'Dave'. I happened to be taller than him; otherwise I'd have been 'Little Dave'." He mused for a moment. "It might be interesting if a taller Dave was posted here, he'd probably become 'Bigger Dave'." This seemed to amuse him. I thought it was a bit childish, and not that funny at all.
We had been strolling around the township for about two hours when Elsie called us.
"Disturbance reported at McLeary's Bar. Fixtures broken. Please attend." Dave told her that we were on our way. After five minutes we were outside the bar. There was obviously a fight of some sort going on inside. Dave pulled out his nightstick and began to move to the door.
"Dave." I held his arm. "Can I deal with this? I know I can do it. Please. I need to prove myself."
He looked at me and sighed.
"Okay Emmy. If you think you can handle this, go ahead." He moved to one side and let me pass. "I'll be outside if you need help."
I strode into the centre of the bar, striking my nightstick on a table to gain the protagonists attention.
"Come on boys, there's no need for this." I said in my best authorative voice. I was mildly amazed when they stopped and listened to me. Except for one guy who had obviously had more to drink than the others.
"I ain't lissenin to some snot-nosed girl wiv a badge. You wants me to stop, you come and stop me."
Sighing, I put my stick back into my belt.
"Sir, may I ask you to reconsider your position?"
"No!" With that he ran at me. I sidestepped and tripped him, handcuffing him almost before he hit the ground. There was a ripple of applause from the rest of the patrons and as I lifted my first prisoner to his feet I saw Dave joining in from the doorway.
"You were there the whole time?" I asked.
He was looking at me strangely.
"Only in the door." He shook himself. "And it was you who stopped Little Rick without resorting to guns or even sticks. He might have a bit of a job living that down."
"I didn't want to humiliate him."
"He'll get over it. Might do him a bit of good too. He'll be famous."
"Famous for what?"
"First prisoner of a female Officer in the 'Boonies'." Dave smiled. "Come on, let's get him back to the station. Nobby and Elsie have some news for us anyway."
"Lafarge is back in town." Nobby said with a sigh. He pointed at a monitor showing a recording from one of the minor docking bays.
"You sure it's him?" I said, peering closely at the blurred image.
"Elsie confirms visual recognition."
"Who is this guy?" Emmy asked. "Why is it a big deal he's here?"
"Bob ran Lafarge out of town about five years back." I replied. "Lafarge was up to something big and bad, but Bob couldn't prove it. Lafarge got drunk one night and Bob had him sent away on one of the ore ships with a note telling him not to come back."
"Why has he returned now then?"
"He's found out Bob's gone, so he figures he can come and finish what he started. That's my guess anyway." I shrugged.
"So, what are we going to do about it?" Emmy looked sharply at me.
"We are not going to do anything except keep our eyes and ears open until we find out what he's up to. I never agreed with Bob acting without proof, so we will wait."
That's what we did for the next three weeks. I sent Emmy out on the daytime patrols with either Elsie or Nobby and took the night patrols myself. I told Emmy to note down everything she saw or was told, any information might end up being vital. The two new probationers, Brown and Rodriguez, arrived after the three weeks, and after a short course on the 'Boonies' I felt confidant enough in the two of them as a pair to let them take over the daytime patrols. This meant that Emmy could come with me for the night work, when I felt there was more chance of Lafarge either breaking cover or attempting whatever it was that he was here for. I noticed on our first night patrol together how she had seamlessly fitted into the rhythm of the township. People would nod to her, or call her by name. I felt sure it had taken me longer to fit in than this.
We had another six days of nothing much happening. Then, as Emmy and I returned to the station she pulled a piece of paper out of her breast pocket.
"Now how did that get there?" She looked at it puzzled.
"What does it say?" I asked.
"How do you know it says anything?"
"I recognise the style. Someone wants us to know something, but doesn't want to be seen telling us. So a bit of reverse pick-pocketing leaves us with the info."
"Why give it to me though? I might have thrown it away."
"Whoever it was just wanted the chance to get close to you I suppose." I smiled. I almost laughed out loud at the shudder she gave when she thought about what I'd said. "Come on, read it out Emmy."
She unfolded the paper and quickly scanned it.
"It says that someone intends to rob the bank tomorrow night."
"Does it say who?"
"No. So it might not be our boy."
"I think it is. There's a lot in the bank at the moment. Come on, let's brief the others and sort out a plan. Better call HQ as well, even though I doubt they can really get anyone to us in time." I led her into the station and we began to make our plans.
Dave sorted everyone out, stationing the two new officers away from the bank but close enough to get there quickly. He and I were inside the bank with Elsie, waiting for whoever it was who was going to try and break in. Nobby was back at the station, watching the monitors, particularly the ones around the bank. I couldn't help but watch Dave as he prowled the floor of the bank. He was an easy man to like, but he seemed distant. It was probably for the best I thought. Around midnight we heard a noise coming from below the vault. Dave and I looked at each other and then at Elsie.
"A mark five mining drill is being used to access the vault from below." She reported.
"How does she know that?" I asked.
"Elsie knows what every drill sounds like, she's been at the 'Boonies' for such a long time." Dave replied. He called the station. "Nobby. Something's happening in the vault. Anything on the monitors?"
"Nothing that I can see Big Dave. Want me to come over?"
"No. Stay there, but alert Brown and Rodriguez to be ready. Emmy and I will handle it from here." He sounded confidant, but I wasn't sure. This seemed like a well organised job. "Come on Emmy, let's go and see who's calling." He flashed me a brief smile. It looked like he was enjoying this.
"What about Elsie?"
"She's not great at creeping about. We'll leave her here to cover this way out." With that he started down to the vault. A little nervously I followed him.
Outside the big steel doors we could hear the drill working away inside. Using hand signals he indicated that we should open the vault. As quietly as possible we inched the doors apart and peered in. The room was filling with dust from the drill as it ate its way through the vault floor.
"Wait until they're inside, then we'll nab them." Dave whispered. I nodded in acknowledgement. I could just make out the tip of the drill breaking through. After a few more moments it stopped. In the sudden silence we could hear voices below. Dave held up two fingers, indicating he could hear two people. I shook my head and held up three fingers. After a brief wait Dave nodded and held up three fingers as well. He slowly drew his blaster. I followed suit. We slipped quietly into the dark dust-filled room, keeping our backs to the wall. Then it happened. I was never sure afterwards whether it was me or Dave who nudged something metallic lying on the floor, but the sound of it rolling across the floor seemed really loud in the vault. There was a cry of 'Run for it!' from below. Dave ran to the hole calling for them to halt. As he reached the edge he fired down into it. A blaster beam came from below in return. It caught Dave's leg and he dropped to the floor holding it. I was about to drop into the hole to give chase when Dave caught my arm. "NO! It's too dangerous."