I swung the pipe with all my strength at a wall-mounted valve. The resounding metal-on-metal clank was followed by the scream of high-pressure air. The valve shot across the room and smacked into the far wall.
While Lefty paused to consider why the hell I’d done that, I leapt to the ceiling (not hard here—the average person can jump three meters straight up). At the top of my arc, I blasted a fire sensor with the blowtorch.
Red lights blinked and the fire alarm blared throughout the room. The door slammed shut behind Jin Chu. He jerked around in shock.
As soon as I hit the ground, I bounded into the air shelter and slammed the door behind me. Lefty was hot on my heels, but he didn’t catch up in time. I spun the crank to seal myself in. Then I jammed the pipe into the crank spokes and held on to the other end.
Lefty tried to turn the crank from the other side, but he couldn’t overcome my leverage advantage.
He glared at me through the air shelter’s small round window. I flipped him off.
I could see Jin Chu clawing at the door, trying to get out. Of course it was no use. It was a fireproof room’s door—solid metal and clamped shut with a mechanical interlock that could only be opened from the outside.
The foggy airflow from the broken valve slowed and petered out. Dad’s wall valves connected to gas cylinders that he refilled every month.
Lefty stormed to the workbench and grabbed a long, steel rod. He came back to my shelter, breathing heavily. I got ready for a life-or-death game of circular tug-o-war.
He panted and wheezed as he stuck the rod into the handle. He pushed hard, but I was able to hold firm. By all rights, he should have won—he was bigger, stronger, and had better leverage. But I had one thing he didn’t: oxygen.
The gas that had just filled the room? Neon. Dad had wall-mounted neon valves because he used it so much when welding aluminum.
The fire system had sealed the air vents, so the workshop was full of inert gas. You don’t notice neon when you breathe it. It just feels like normal air. And the human body has no way to detect a lack of oxygen. You just plug along until you pass out.
Lefty fell to his hands and knees. He shook a bit, then collapsed to the floor.
Jin Chu lasted a little longer. He hadn’t exerted himself as much. But he succumbed a few seconds later.
Let’s meet so I can protect you. Did he really think I’d fall for that?
I pulled out Harpreet’s Gizmo and dialed Rudy’s number. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. Either I could call him or the fire brigade volunteers would when they arrived. May as well get a jump on it.
Artemis didn’t have a police station. Just Rudy’s office in Armstrong Bubble. Its holding cell was nothing more than a repurposed air shelter. In fact, it was Dad who’d installed it. Air shelters don’t have locks, of course. That would massively defeat the purpose. So Rudy’s “cell” had a metal chain with a padlock around the crank. Crude, but effective.
The usual occupants of the cell were drunks or people who needed to cool off after a fistfight. But today it held Lefty.
The rest of the room wasn’t much larger than the apartment I’d grown up in. If Rudy had been born a few thousand years earlier, he would have made a good Spartan.
Jin Chu and I sat handcuffed to metal chairs.
“This is some bullshit,” I said.
“You poor, innocent thing,” said Rudy without looking up from his computer.
Jin rattled his handcuffs. “Hey, I actually am innocent! I shouldn’t be here.”
“Are you fucking kidding?!” I said. “You tried to kill me!”
“That’s not true!” Jin pointed to Lefty’s cell. “He tried to kill you. I just set up the meet. If I hadn’t he would have killed me on the spot!”
“I value my life more than yours. Sue me. We wouldn’t be in this mess if you hadn’t been so blatantly obvious with your sabotage!”
Rudy pulled a squirt bottle from his desk and sprayed us both. “Hush,” he said.
Jin winced “Now, that’s just unprofessional!”
“Quit bitching,” I said, shaking the water off my face.
“You may be used to taking shots in the face, but I’m not,” he said.
Okay, that was a good one. “Go fuck yourself,” I said.
The door opened and Administrator Ngugi stepped in. Because why the hell not?
Rudy glanced over. “Hmm. You.”
“Constable,” Ngugi said. She looked over to me. “Jasmine. How are you, dear?”
I showed her my handcuffs.
“Is that necessary, Constable?”
“Is it necessary for you to be here?” Rudy asked.
I could have sworn the temperature dropped ten degrees.
“You’ll have to excuse the constable,” Ngugi said to me. “We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything.”
“If you’d stop coddling criminals like Jazz, we’d get along better.”
She waved her hand as if shooing a bug. “Every city needs an underbelly. It’s best to let the petty criminals do their thing and focus on bigger issues.”
I grinned. “You heard the lady. And I’m the pettiest of them all. So lemme go.”
Rudy shook his head. “The administrator’s authority over me is questionable at best. I work directly for KSC. And you’re going nowhere.”