And I bet you thought I forgot. I know you did. I got emails.

Chapter 9: From Mars with Love

I didn't realize how different houseboats were from commercial spaceflight until I tried and failed at a decent night's sleep on the Bebop. The piping all around seemed to creak and groan, as if the ship were underwater instead of floating in pressureless space---not to mention the gravity was set to Ganymede's mass, which didn't bother me unless I was lying down. Somehow, it gave me heartburn.

I lay awake, painfully situated between the wall, which was warm from the engine, and Faye, who kicked me every ten minutes or so. I recalled, the bitter irony not unnoticed, how uncomfortable my last trip to Venus had been, trying to nap against a headrest far too high for me, wishing I could lie down.

Next to me, Faye muttered something menacing as she kicked more of the sheet free from her legs, whacking my calf in the process. I'd considered pulling the whole sheet off her, but it was wrapped snugly around her legs, and removing it would risk waking her and going through another hour of tossing and turning and pillow fluffing. My whispered "ow" from the kick mixed uncontrollably with a groan as my stomach flared again. I knew I needed an antacid, but revulsion from wandering around the ship at night had kept me from moving the past few hours.

But finally, the pain became so demanding, and lying still became so boring that I sat upright and began to crabwalk to the edge of the bed. Sliding out into the hall, I stood outside Faye's room as my eyes accustomed to the darkness. Although space has no time zones, it was "night" on the Bebop, so the lights were all dimmed or off. If the lights had been on, there would've been nothing to distinguish the interior of the ship from how it would look at seven AM, high noon, or midnight. As I trudged cautiously down the corridor, my brain in a sleepy fog, I wondered what time it would be when we landed---if it was morning on the planet, but evening in Bebop time, would we eat dinner or breakfast?

I drifted in and out of my thoughts as if they were the beginnings of a real REM dream---strange, how I slept better standing up that night--- until I shook my head and found myself in the common room. Tiptoeing, I edged towards Marla on the couch. She still looked prone and sickly, but even in the dimmed lamplight and white starshine, I saw it was more of a familiar unconsciousness, as if she'd just passed out from a particularly trying kegger. She was even snoring slightly.

The relief at finding her improved eased my stomach a great deal, but I kneeled and picked through the first aid kit on the floor anyway. It didn't take long to find an antacid, and I popped one into my mouth with satisfaction, as if I were stealing it from Marla and not the hospitable Jet. I'd swallowed it whole and sat down on the floor. I leaned my head against the couch, my temple cushioned by Marla's soft upper arm; I was half, going on completely asleep when the computer on the coffee table flashed out of hibernation with a bright scream.


"Oh my God!" I jumped and landed hard on my tailbone. I immediately looked to Marla, figuring this was some mean practical joke of hers, but the voice came from behind.

"Edwardware has detected an introoooooder in the system!"

I turned around. "Whathfuck?" I slurred, disbelieving. The voice had sounded like a child's, but the speaker was a cartoon yellow circle with a pointed mouth. It whizzed across the computer screen, quickly flipping from wide smiles to slanted, angry eyes. Behind the face, text rolled down the screen, windows opened and passwords were typed all on their own as if the computer was haunted.

The face moved so that its lip pointed like an arrow towards the Bebop's flight plan, now displayed on the monitor. "WARNING! Firewalls are down-- Intruder alert-lert-lert!"

"Faaaye…?" I called, trying to be loud but feeling too bewildered to focus on my voice. I thought about getting her, but what if the face had more to say? Should I be watching the screen to see what files were being hacked—or should I try to shut down the computer? Maybe there was a way to trace the intruder, to find out the who and the where from…but of course, I didn't know how to do that. "FAYE! Spike! Uh…JET! Somebody get in here!"

I heard an angry groan, and then Faye was in the doorway. She looked hunched and sour, with a hand on her hip as she tripped into the room. "Be quiet," she snapped, as if my voice were a bright light in her dilated eyes. "Don't have a conniption—there's a defibrillator in the box."

"What? no—No! Marla's fine," I waved my hands. "Lookit the computer. The lil' yellow thing's screaming about intruders."

"Eh?" Faye blinked. She swept a fist across her face and seemed to waken slightly. I pointed at the monitor, and she leaned over me to take a look. "WARNING!" it shouted at her glowering face. "Oh swell idea, Ed."

"That thing's talking about a hacker, isn't it?" I grimaced.

"Really. No kidding." Faye breathed. She sounded as exhausted as I felt—but at least she'd managed to catch a nap. "I'll go wake up Jet."

She was gone in an instant, and I was back to sitting on the floor. I shifted uncomfortably in the gap between prone Marla, and the increasingly suspicious computer. I stood up and began pacing circles around the couch. I suddenly felt I needed motion to do my best brooding in self pity.

Why was everyone suddenly after me? I cared nothing for semilogical explanations, I'd decided to take all the gunfire personally. "First the Circle chased us right to the Red Dragons," my inner voice growled. "They chase us on the ground, then they chase us in ships, now—NOW we're being chased in the FUCKING INTERNET!"

I kicked the back of the couch.

Marla rolled over.

"Ooohh…and they'll probably find us on this ship too, which means they can chase us in space! What's next—in boats? On top of a train? Underground?" A voice knocked me out of my thoughts, just as I had my leg up to kick again.

"Is anybody there?" More startling than the voice, was its familiarity. The message repeated. "Is anybody there?"

I blinked. "…Shin?"

The computer screen flickered, and his face appeared on the videophone. He was glazed with static and drifting in and out of focus…also, the yellow thing appeared to be eating his hair, but it was really him. "Miss Chen!" he cried out, looking relieved. "I thought I had better check the Bebop. Spike didn't come back from your meeting, and his car is missing, so—-"

"Spike's here," I assured him. Dropping to my knees in front of the coffee table, I straightened the monitor to face me. "Don't know where the car is, but forget that for a second and tell me: you're the one hacking the ship, right?"

"Yeah," He nodded. "Can you turn off the firewall? It keeps trying to sever my connection." Right then the yellow circle was biting the image of his left ear and leaving pixels behind.

"How do I do that?" I asked.

"Never mind, I'll just make this fast. Is everyone all right?"

I shifted to the side to give him a view of Marla on the couch. "In a few days, hopefully yes."

I winced a little. Shin's practically perpetual look of worry had gained more of an edge. He sighed quickly, and went on. "Okay. The best thing for all of you would be for Spike to come back to Tharsis, and for the rest of you to head into the territory of the White Tiger Syndicate."

Goody. More running. "Do you want me to wake up Spike?" I offered.

"No time, the firewall's gonna cut me off real soon." Indeed, the face had already devoured an eye and a half. "Besides, Spike will agree with me on this next part. You, Miss Hearst, and Miss Gatsby need to change ships as soon as possible—"

"Okay but—"

"The last thing we want is to get hostages involved."


"Let Spike know I put money for a ship in one of his accounts. He'll know which—" The yellow face devoured Shin's mouth in a great, digital chomp and the screen went blank.

Ten minutes later, the ship's daytime lights flickered in every corridor. From the lower deck, an egg timer chimed and the warm aroma of coffee blanketed my air. The ship was alive again—and Spike and Jet were awake again. The two plus Faye had me cornered in an armless chair, impatiently drilling me on my conversation with Shin.

"Why didn't you wake us up?" asked Jet in an overly controlled voice.

"I just told you," I said. "I shouted. I woke up Faye."

Off to the side, Faye crossed her arms with mighty ease and sniffed apathetically. "She did," she agreed. "And I tried to wake you up, but you changed the lock on your door and it took longer than usual to pick."

Jet rolled his eyes. "Well I apologize for wanting privacy."

"At least you learned a lesson," Faye countered daintily.

Jet's blue eyes narrowed, tension creasing his forehead. His patience was dwindling fast. "Faye will you focus---"

"What I want to know," Spike butted in, "is why nobody woke up me?"

"Because nobody likes you?" Faye offered, examining her nails.

"It was MY message!"

The impending argument stopped before it started when Jet slammed his fist onto the coffee table so hard one of the coasters nobody used fell and rolled to a halt at Faye's boot. She gave it a sulky half-kick and looked away from the men.

"Now you two shut it until I've had at least six more hours rest," Jet Black ordered. He held a glare on Spike until the younger man had, like Faye, found the wall more interesting to look at. Then he turned back to me, instantly more gentile. "Did this guy say how he knew to look for you here? Did he say anything that could explain cracking Ed's firewall that much?"

"Uh-uh," I shook my head. "Shin said he'd had a feeling he better look for us on the Bebop, and that's all he said about the ship. And the firewall ate him, so he really didn't get all the way past it."

Jet huffed, and reached out for the computer. "Either this guy's some bigshot hacker, or he knows something about backdoors in my computer," Jet rumbled, and glared meaningfully at Spike. "And I don't like that one bit."

Spike shifted on his long legs, rocking sideways a little. "Look Jet, you don't have to get into this. It's my business and I can take care of it."

Faye's head whipped back to look—not at Spike, but Jet-- with a mixture of indignation and fierce apprehension on her face. He stood up very fast, hands on his hips. "This is my ship, Spike." Jet said in his clear, deep voice that was so matter-of-fact. "My ship, not your office. But as long as you're trying to combine the two, why don't you explain how your little friend decided this was the first place he'd look?"

"Well he knew the name of the ship," Spike started a bit lamely "And probably a rough description—I mean, we're on the YMCA website, and the man's good at his research."

"Research doesn't get you past one of Ed's firewalls," Jet countered.

Faye piped up with a sudden thought. "When did she make that firewall anyway?" From the look on Spike's face, this was a good question. "I mean, she had all sorts of stuff on her tomato thing—but I don't remember her messing with your computer, Jet."

Jet put his metal fingers to his forehead and rubbed at the lines. "I found the program a couple weeks after she left…wait a second," he stopped to turn his glare on Spike up another ten notches. "There's no way Shin could've gotten past a firewall that good unless he created a backdoor in the system by himself, and he'd have to do that from the inside."

"What's all that mean?" Faye asked.

"It means," Jet stomped a big step closer to Spike, "That this guy was in my ship's computer before that program was turned on—probably before it was made—so tell me Spike: HOW LONG HAS THIS GUY BEEN SPYING ON MY SHIP?"

While all this was going on, I'd left my chair to stand behind the couch. Marla was still sleeping soundly, oblivious to all the goings on. I felt like I needed space; the strange tension in the air was buildings fast, making my skin prickle. I wasn't sure what was going on, but Faye was half way between smiling like an idiot and attempting to calm Jet down with a hose.

Obviously, there were no correct answers for poor Spike. He resigned himself to the large, fuming man's incoming outburst. Looking Jet right in the eye, his overly hunched shoulders shrugged.

"I dunno. Probably a—a few…years."

Faye smothered a loud laugh in her hand, pure vengeful delight in her eyes. I decided to go check on the coffee.


An hour later, a series of hard pokes in my back roused me from sleep. "Ugh, what?" I muttered, and pulled the sheet over my head. This forced insomnia really wasn't fair.

"Hey," Faye yanked the sheet back down. She was wide awake and in a good mood. Through the wall, the echoing sounds of Jet's yelling still sounded strong. "Listen to that, Spike's getting it worse than I got when he tattled on me for swiping the emergency gas money—serves him right."

"Yes. Spike's in trouble." I gripped the pillow tightly, incase she'd take that too. "But did you have to wake me up to talk about it?"

"What?" Faye blinked. She'd only been half listening, her ears perked to catch snitches of the berating Jet had kicked her out of for cheering to loud. "Oh no, no. I wanted to you to tell me what Shin said one more time."

"Not again!" I stuffed my face in the pillow. "I haven't slept in forever, and I repeated it a million times."

The mattress shifted underneath me as Faye propped herself on her elbows. "One more time," she urged. "C'mon, something's been bugging me about it and I can't figure out what."

I growled loudly, and moved the pillow a fraction. "Short version: hacked in, said get off the ship, wants us to go into Tiger territory—wherever that is."

"Jupiter." Faye replied automatically as she sat up and hunched over her crossed legs. Her eyes were only open half way, which could have been from exhaustion, but the muscles on her face portrayed concern. She rested her chin lightly on bridged fingers, and stared into the darkness of her room, unmoving and suddenly preoccupied.

But I was too tired to think about body language, and barely managed to get my head on the right side of the pillow before falling asleep again. Predictably, Faye roused me quickly.

"WHAAAT!" I screeched when the poking resumed. She looked unfazed.

"You said he used the word 'hostages'?"

"Yeah…but to be honest, I don't really feel like a hostage, more like a victim of circumstance. Insane circumstances only B movies could rival. Goodnight." I shoved my pillow into her hands, hoping to God she took the hint.

Faye sighed heavily, and lay back down with an equally weighted plop.

Seconds later, she was up again, this time announcing herself with a loud "FUCK!"

"What now?" I gasped. I was so tired; I'd come to the conclusion that one of us had to die. My stomach flared alive as I sat up, ready to scream until my tongue fell out, but I paused with my mouth open to stare. Faye had flung herself out of the bed and was pacing manically across the room. Her hands flashed from mouth to sides in blurred swings. "What's wrong?" I tried to ask carefully.

"It wasn't what you said, it's what he said," Faye muttered, and I finally understood this sudden movement of hers came from deep, frantic thought.

"Who said what?" I tried. I didn't really think she was paying attention to me, but suddenly her hands held my shoulders in a vice grip.

"Listen, listen," she ordered in a rush. There was a terror of understanding in her eyes as she began to spell it all out. "They knew Spike was on the Bebop for that long—that means Vicious knew, right? They couldn't have kept that from him, unless Shin did, but….no, no…"

I was finding it very hard to blink. "What's wrong?"

She watched me vaguely for a microsecond, and released my shoulders. In a flash, she was across the room, squeezing through the door as soon as it had slid open enough to let her through.

"Faye!" I jumped after her, and caught up in the hall just as she had forced open the door that led back to the common room. A frozen image was before us: Spike and Jet, mouths open in mid-yell, arms raised and paused comically, stared at us in surprise. Just behind them Marla was awake and sitting up, taking in everything with bleary interest.

"We have to turn this ship around," Faye announced before anyone else could move.

"What?" Jet recovered, lowering his fists a little. "Go back to Mars where a Syndicate is waiting for you, are you crazy?"

Marla immediately brightened. "We're in space?" she asked.

"Listen to me," Faye shouted, and left the doorway. In what looked like one, quick step she was in front of Spike, looking up into Jet's eyes urgently. She was tiny, between the two of them, but everything about her demanded attention. She always did. She was so intense. "If Shin's was spying on us before Spike broke up the Red Dragons, he can't have been the only one to know about the Bebop---somebody in the Gold Serpent Circle must know too!"

"We know that Faye," Jet reminded her in an attempted easing tone. "That's why we're going to Ganymede, remember?"

That miniscule note of condescension in his polite voice enraged her, sent her over the edge. Faye grabbed a fistful of Jet's shirt in her white hand and growled through her teeth. "Put two and two together old man. They know about us. The know about me, they know about you--"

She let him finish. Jet's eyes widened in that same way Faye's had only moments before in the bedroom. "And they know about Ed." He looked over Faye's head and into Spike's eyes. "We have to turn this ship around."

A moment later, I flattened myself against the doorway as the three rushed past me at once. Down the hall, toward the rotating hallway, and from there the bridge. When they vanished around the closest corner I let out the long breath I'd been holding and wobbled into the living room.

"Hey Viv," Marla greeted. "Sit down, you look disgusting," and with a wince she curled her legs in to give me a space on the couch. I fell into it, nauseous with confusion. My boss allowed me half a minute to collect myself before the impatient clicking in her throat reverberated through my ears, and she began: "So it seems I've been shot."

I sighed. My head immediately ached. "Yes, you have," I confirmed weakly. It took a few seconds more to finish. "I'm sorry."

Marla had eased herself backward to lean against the back of the couch at an angle only comfortable to her. She glanced back up at me. "What for? You didn't shoot me."

"Yes, but…"and I tried to explain to her about my lie, and how it had snowballed her onto a fishing boat with a hole in her side. She would hear nothing of it.

"You didn't shoot me," Marla repeated, popping some of Faye's healing steroids into her mouth and swallowing them dry. "That's really all there is to it. I blame the man with the gun. Now," she paused to gag at the foul taste of powder from the pills, "now how about filling me in on what I've missed. I woke up to some hilarious screaming, you should hear some of the sailor talk that one-armed guy's got."

It was an amazing relief to tell Marla all that had happened. Even laying back, pale and bandaged, she was a rock of what had once been my everyday. After all the freewheeling in uncertainty I'd experienced, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for her. Thank God she was a freak of nature. Marla Hearst wouldn't bend in horror as she heard the tale of her own narrow escape from death; instead, she smiled with pride in her unconscious bravery. Delighted. Enthralled.

"Do you think I'll have a scar?" she asked as she traced a circle on the bandages with a chipped nail. "That would be something to show the grandkids---yours, not mine. I'm not planning on any."

I filled her in on everything that she'd missed---everything except those conversations I'd eavesdropped on. I was embarrassed enough about that already, and I didn't need her pressing me for gossip about our shipmates. When I finally got to the part with the hacker that turned out to be Shin, the source of Jet's anger, and Faye's freakout Marla was beaming.

"Fascinating," she murmured, and I could see the cogs churning in her head. She gave no comment on what I'd just told. "Say," she began instead, "Let's go find a window, huh? I wanna see the view."

So I helped her up, and arm in arm we tumbled into the gravity wheel. Marla loved it. "This is so much better than commercial flight! Don't you feel just like a hamster?" she asked as she watched the doors swing slowly by. "Which one is it?"

"Is what?" I asked, trying to read the labels on the doors that passed one by one, but they were all worn and scratched.

"I dunno…someplace with windows," and then she reached out and grabbed the handlebar next to the nearest door. We both lurched, connected by our hooked elbows, tugged by the contradicting friction. With my free hand, I hit the release. The door opened on the bridge. How typical of Marla to get it on the first try.

Everyone else was still there, sitting in what little light there was. They gave little acknowledgement when we entered. Faye gave a single, flop of a wave and said "Look who's awake." Jet offered his chair behind the control consol and I helped Marla into it before giving the room a proper examination.

There was quite a view, just like Marla wanted. Several large windows opened onto an expanse of bright gold lines. Traveling through a Gate was going through a tunnel of light at an unfathomable speed. There's nothing I can compare it to, except to suggest you try to imagine what being a grain of sand in a slide of melted amber would look like.

The view took over the room and dwarfed everything else, which was probably a good thing. There was a lump of a sensor panel in the middle of the room, and a backlit table which Fake sat on top of. It cast an eerie blue glow over her thighs, out to her knees, which Spike's nose was level with. He sat backwards in a chair, impossibly hunched over, his chin on the backrest.

The feeling of the room, I honestly couldn't guess. I retreated back to Marla, content now to have her speak for me. And it wasn't long before she did just that. She looked over the consol in front of her; examining the dials and screens, she quickly found something to focus on. "I thought we were going back to Mars," she said.

"We're not?" I asked, leaning over her shoulder to try and understand the instruments the way she did.

"This says Earth," Marla replied, looking to the others but pointing to the small screen on the middle of the consol.

"It's where Ed is," Faye explained quietly, eyes glaring down at Spike. He glared back. "We have to get her before Spike's little friends do."

Spike opened his mouth but Jet spoke first. "Quiet, Faye," he said firmly. "Now's not the time. I don't need you two all childish over this; we all have to work together."

Faye rolled her eyes and recrossed her legs. "Maybe they wont even try to go after her," she said. "Maybe they haven't even thought of it. Syndicate men can be pretty thickheaded." Her voice was light and it demeaned the situation; practically the polar opposite of her attitude only minutes ago.

Jet's eyebrows drew further downward. "We're going to assume a worst-case scenario here," he said. "That keeps down the surprises."

Marla was leaning over as far as she could, given the bandages, alert with interest. "What's the worst case scenario?" she asked. "Why's a Syndicate after Ed? What'd she do? How many guys will they send?"

I was glad Jet didn't admonish her for butting in. He actually seemed glad that at least someone in the room was willing to admit that we were heading into terrible odds. "The worst case scenario is that the Circle goes after Ed, and with way more guns than we can handle," Jet explained.

Marla's face was back to full color by this point. "Fascinating….so who's Ed, anyway?"

"Ever heard of the computer hacker, Radical Edward?" Spike asked, finally speaking. He was twirling Faye's shoe around his finger, just out of her reach.

"Yes, of course but--," Marla Hearst was now fully revived. I wouldn't have been surprised if the bullet hole had already healed. "No way…Marvelous!" She clapped her hands together and beamed up at me, eyes full of familiar glitter. "We get to meet Radical Edward, how do you like that?"

"I thought Radical Edward was a guy," I said.

"You can meet her if we can find her," Spike corrected. "And get her and ourselves in and out of Earth without being blown up."

Jet leaned over the backlit table, his real arm supporting his weight and his metal hand on his hip. "Okay Spike," he said, "How about you let us know what you expect to find when we get to Earth?"

Spike's face was slack with a flat combo of weariness and lethargy. "The thing about Ed is…she's got a reputation," he started slowly. "I don't think anyone besides Shin would get desperate enough to pop in on video; there's a good chance the circle doesn't know she's just a kid. So, these men are gonna get geared up to fight a legendary hacker who loads of rumors turned into a superhuman. If you really want my opinion, we're heading into overkill."

Faye snorted. "So, we're going to need guns?" she asked as if it weren't obvious.

"We're going to need a plan," Jet said, leaning heavily on the table. He looked meaningfully from Faye to Spike, holding his stare for just the right amount of time. "The Circle probably didn't expect us to turn right back around after you two made such a big show of leaving. That gives us the element of surprise."

"I don't suppose we have any other advantages?" Faye asked, staring pointedly at Spike. "Like, oh I don't know, a cavalry?"

"Faye…" Spike practically whined in exasperation. I couldn't help but notice she'd been clawing him with special attention ever since she'd grudgingly explained her new relationship with outer space. Perhaps Faye acted all thorns with him because he'd dragged her secrets from her. Maybe she showed her teeth to remind him they were still there—she could still bite, even with wounds exposed. Still…whatever her reasons, Spike seemed sick of letting her nurse that injured pride.

"Quit acting like I'm the puppet master in all this," he barked, chucking her shoe out into the hallway. It clunked around the moving hall, and its echoed thunks would be a constant background noise. "I never wanted you involved, I definitely didn't want Ed involved, and I really don't have half as much control as you're blaming me for."

"Oh poor Spike," she rolled her eyes. "I'll play the violin for you later, but what does all that shit have to do with getting us some ships?"

"I'm trying to tell you, I don't think I can help!" he finally said point blank. Faye looked genuinely shocked.

"What are you talking about, the Red Dragons must have some ships left!" she shouted, and then looked to Jet, imploring him to join in. Jet merely shrugged. He didn't seem surprised.

"We both watched that coup on the news, Faye," Jet reminded her. "It's not as if the Syndicates have the army's number of ships, just a fair amount of good ones, and half of their zipcrafts are gone."

"It's only been a year," Spike pointed out. Faye seemed a little put off by that; she'd probably felt it was longer. "And the Red Dragons just don't have the money the Circle's got. We put most of the money we have into supplies, keeping our headquarters up. Yeah, we do have ships, but not many."

Faye quietly fumed, clenching her fists. I heard the knuckles crack just as Spike continued.

"All the zipcrafts we have belong to members. I'd have to ask Shin which ones. Dragon ships…" he turned his eyes to the ceiling, thinking, "We have three cruisers, and I think one is operational—and before you say anything, it's too big to take out of dock without the Circle blitzing us. They don't know we have it. There's a handful of other boats, most of them are being used on missions…I don't think I can get much help, if any, to meet us at Earth when we get there. Not unless you're willing to wait a few hours"

Faye let out a long, probably steaming breath. "No," she whispered. "We can't wait."

"Then we'll come up with a plan for our own ships," said Jet. His voice held no doubts. "We can leave Hearst and Vivika watching the Bebop while the rest of us take the zipcrafts down to earth. We can split up and find Ed that way."

"Okay…" Faye nodded, "We'll can hide the Bebop in the moon fragments, that will give it some defense—" Faye stopped as Marla cleared her throat. "What?"

"I have ships," said Marla, and for a number of seconds nobody spoke.

"What?" Faye said again. "I didn't know you---Why didn't you say something?"

Marla shrugged stiffly. "I figured Spike would have some, and I don't like wrecking my stuff." To be honest, I hadn't even thought about Marla's ships until she'd mentioned them. I knew she wasn't talking about her monocraft, but her set of three army transports she'd bought from a scrap yard floating near Eurpoa. I'd only seen them twice. They were a little ugly, faster in air than in space, and all named Titanic. She'd bought them before employing me, back when she made regular trips to Earth in search of treasure. I suppose she wanted them to transport what wouldn't fit in her zip, but by the time I met her, those ships were out of commission.

"What kind of ships?" Jet wanted to know.

"Three Hawks…I think they're C class, '58." she began to tail off statistics, sprinkling them with descriptions like Pieces of Crap and Flaming Lemons. "Oh, and there's no artificial gravity."

"They'll be fine," Faye assured her, nervous hope twitching her lips. Flying junk was better than nothing, and while I didn't know how Titanics 1-3 flew, they probably looked loads better than Spike's Swordfish II. "We'll deal."

Spike stood up, just a little suddenly. "I'll call the hotel," he said, "Get those Hawks some crew." He tromped into the corridor.

"Well at least he's doing something," Faye murmured, watching him leave. A muffled clunk sounded from the hall, and her shoe bounced through the door, skidding to a stop on the grating between us all. Scowling, she limped toward it.

"Here Viv," Marla motioned my attention back to the consol in front of her. "Who takes care of my ships, it's Saul isn't it? It's Saul. Saul Deton. See if you can find his number, I don't know it off the top of my head. Tell him to prep the crapmobils for whoever Spike sends." She eased herself out of the chair, using my arm for leverage.

"Where's that cane of yours, Jet?" Faye asked, teetering as she eased her foot back into her shoe.

"Storage room," Jet grunted, eyeing the way Marla tilted with a hand gingerly over her bandages. His eyes slowly crossed to me, then back to my boss. "These girls are covered in blood. Ask Spike if his friends can bring them some new clothes"

"Yeah sure," Faye said, and let Marla hold onto her shoulder as they both left.

Jet and I lingered in silence for a moment. I busied myself by fiddling around with the buttons until I'd somehow activated the videophone. All of a sudden, I found myself talking. "She means well," I said, and then realized how it sounded. "Well, really I think she's just sour she slept through her first in-flight battle, but she still likes helping. And, you patched up that bullet hold….she doesn't forget things like that."

Jet shook his head, eyes flicking towards the window. "You know, by now I shouldn't be surprised when these things happen, but I still am. Why is that?"

"I don't know," I admitted. Vaguely, I wondered how Spike and Faye had pulled anything so out of proportion while on the Bebop together. I slouched down in the chair and tried to give him an understanding smile. "Marla still surprises me, but not as much these days. My brother says I'm getting jaded."

He laughed. "I'm beginning not to believe in that whole 'jaded' idea. Something always comes and shakes things up. Life happens. I thought I knew Spike, until Faye showed up and I saw about ten new sides to him. It takes a lot of effort for people to truly settle."

"Really?" that curiosity I shouldn't have, but did, began to stir once more. I was thinking about the shades of moonlight that had crossed over Spike's face as he listened to Faye's soft voice, only a few hours ago. The way they changed with the expression in his jaw and eyes. A thousand expressions, nearly invisible distinctions, and nothing I recognized. "What was he like before?"

"He kept his cool a lot better, I can tell you that," Jet grinned nostalgically. The table light clashed with the luminous Gate, and put the wrinkles around his eyes in a strange relief. "But to be honest—and don't mention this to either one of those schoolchildren--- she was good for him. He slept less. Talked more."

"I won't tell," I promised, grinning, wondering if Marla had been any good for me. Probably not; at least, not for my blood pressure. I sighed then, because I could sense this exchange was coming to an end. "Well, I better find Saul's number."

"Information is the purple button," Jet supplied. He straightened up and strode towards the door. "Just shout if you need help," he added, then left.

I sat alone on the bridge, staring at the controls in front of me. Soon enough, Jet would take the Bebop off of Auto Pilot, and lead us through the maze of Moon rocks that guarded Earth. He'd use these same controls, sit in this chair, but for the moment the spot was mine.

Experimentally, I touched cautious fingers to the control stick. It moved, but the ship didn't. Autopilot was engaged, so it did no harm when I clasped my eager hands around the grip and jerked it hard to the side. The thrill that filled me came from knowing that without the autopilot, my touch would have killed us all. In a corner in the deepest part of my mind, I'd just evaded a missile from an alien ship. I slid my finger down the leather, pushing an imaginary trigger, retaliating without mercy.

"Bang," I whispered. The alien ship exploded, and dust settled over my imagination. I'd played this game before, many years ago, on my first trip to Venus. A stewardess had taken me to the cockpit after my mother whispered to her it was my birthday (it wasn't). The captain gave me a sticker with a rocket ship on it, and I got to sit in his lap and pretend to fly our shuttle. A long time later, Marla would try teaching me to pilot her monocraft with disastrous results.

I let go of the controls, and went to the window. The view was still gold, still enchanting in its own way. The mass of lines were the same, yet different, the way clouds are. You see one, you've seen them all, but the sight can still be hypnotizing. It occurred to me then, that I hadn't yet seen the Bebop from the outside.

I didn't know what she looked like, but with a view like this, she had to be beautiful.


So, have we all finished Harry Potter? Good, good. WTF IS WITH----DYING?

I just had to get that out of the way, partly because of outrage (only minor) and partly because I feel Rowling and I share a certain bond that comes from updating our stories almost never.

But now, down to business. There are a lot of things I'm sorry about. I'm sorry it took so long to update, I'm sorry this chapter isn't up to my usual par, I'm sorry that nothing happens in it but I had to cut it off anyway for length, and I'm sorry that I just don't like it.

There are a few scattered explanations for the gap between this update and the last. College being a bitch to me is one, but by the end of the year I got the hang of it and am looking forward to going back. Health is another, but I'm pretty much better now.

At any rate, if you can believe it I want this fic ended more than the rest of you all put together. I figure if I can get out one chapter a month it'll be done by January. If I actually manage to keep that schedule, this chapter would count for July and I'd have another one out for August.

I did get some emails about this fic, and about my other one. I don't mind emails, I encourage them actually cause they contain the productive value of guilt. However, please note that about every other week I post the status of my fanfics in my livejournal (link in bio) so please don't email me with questions I already cover in there.

For those who've stuck with me, thank you so much. You're my heroes (Especially Brigid)