A/N: I swear I won't take a fucking year to update for the next chapter! So very sorry I've neglected this one, I promise I won't be so lazy in the future. And I am a woman who loves to be lazy.
Space Hanyou 10
"You heard the man, Jet. Let's burn."
BeBop's metal hull shuddered, a muted rumble from beneath the deck plates as the two massive engines pulsed to life from a cold start. All the lights on the boards flashed wildly as energy flowed deep within the injured starship. She moaned and complained sounding like an angry mule whipped to movement by a harsh hand. The rumbling became a heavy throb when BeBop's drives engaged and started building the power to slingshot the little tin can to safety.
Then, unexpectedly, there was another sound. One that was more like…a hiccup.
And the engines groaned, protesting as they powered down in emergency shut off. The boards went dark, the interior lighting flickered when the emergency batteries kicked in, and the sound of the life support guttered to a halt. There was dead silence as BeBop's passengers and crew eyed each other warily. The faintly desperate electronic squeal that had become only normal background noise was suddenly noticeable for its absence.
The beacon was off…and so was Ed's jamming signal. A single red button was flashing with embarrassing urgency.
Massive power failure.
All systems aborted.
Spike met Faye's frightened eyes and the cigarette butt dropped from his lips.
"No no no no," Jet muttered as he frantically tried to restart the engines. Sweat slid down the side of his face to drip on the uncooperative boards that were blank and dead as space. Dead as BeBop was about to be, dead as her crew and their cursed bountyhead. He knew what massive power failure meant, knew that all of BeBop's systems had just twisted like his gut when she'd engaged the emergency batteries.
It meant their time was up. The last bit of juice their batteries held wouldn't start the engines, nor keep the blowers moving precious oxygen or heat through the ship's living quarters. It for damned sure wouldn't keep the keep the fake beacon engaged.
"Sitting here with my balls hanging out," Jet grunted, fighting the urge to smash his fist into the engine control board out of sheer frustration. They'd blown it; he'd blown it, their one shot at a fast burn and possible survival. Now the BeBop was nothing more than a metal tomb, hanging like a broken toy in the deep black…
Swearing under his breath, Jet didn't even page the bridge for status. Only one thing left to try…and he didn't know if they had enough time. In the crawlspace under the drives, there was a manual kick switch that was only used when the ship was in dry dock for maintenance. That's where a qualified ship mechanic could hook in a diagnostic to evaluate the power output with the drives safely disengaged.
But it took time to route the power couples, pry the safety casing off the ignitions and give BeBop the codes that would make her think that she was sitting at dock. And as far as he knew…nobody had ever tried a diagnostic start up with the space drives engaged and ready to burn.
"First time for everything, son," he muttered as he pulled up the deck plating and stared into a cold, dark hole. It might not work, hell…it might cause a reverse thrust that would turn BeBop's interior to flaming combustion for all he knew. But then again…they probably wouldn't live through the next blast from that gunship anyway.
Death by slow suffocation or death by rapid decompression. A cold metal tomb or a raging pyre…nothing like limited options to make a man feel confident. Son of a bitch.
"Somebody owes me for this one," Jet said, sliding awkwardly under the floor.
"Captain?" Tap, tap and the sound of someone clearing their throat. "Captain?"
Kagura growled in annoyance, shifting in her seat when the soft voice interrupted her dozing half-sleep. She'd already been awake thirty plus hours, running her engines at full burn to catch her quarry. Stupid damned cowboys, it had infuriated her that they'd beat her to the base and yanked the Hanyou right out from under her nose. Then she'd raced, anger pulsing in veins and panic making it feel like a dark hand was squeezing her chest.
She'd been too amped up to sleep, too juiced to relax. If she blew this one, missed out on her chance to capture Inuyasha as her master had ordered…well, she didn't want to think about what Naraku might do.
Bastard had his own way of punishing failures and Kagura was keenly aware that if she fucked up on this job, it might be her last.
"What is it, Kanna?" she spat, hating the metallic taste in her mouth as she spoke. "Have they signaled that they're ready to hand him over?"
"No, ma'am," the young woman answered steadily. "Scan was interrupted, but it looks like they found a way to block my sensors. Some kind of reverse jamming; my guess is that they're trying to run."
Kagura went cold inside, then the heat of fury lit her nerves and she was on her feet, stalking over to stare at Kanna's boards. "What do you mean, try to run? Didn't I tell you to target their support systems?"
"Auxiliary power is down by ninety-five percent," Kanna replied, unperturbed by her captain's ire. "Estimate four minutes left of life support, twenty minutes from then until the humans aboard will begin to die."
Biting the inside of her lip until she tasted blood, Kagura resisted the urge to throttle Kanna. "Then what is the problem?"
"They attempted a cold start in their engine core. We were unable to detect the activity via external sensors, but our visuals indicate that the breach in their hull has been emergency patched. Best guess would be that they were going to attempt hard burn and escape before we realized they'd restored their system."
A slow, nasty smile spread across Kagura's face. "Suicidal bastards," she purred, wondering what kind of desperate fools would even try something like that. Not that it mattered; the crew of BeBop was dead meat in a can anyway. Only the Hanyou concerned her, and even he must have realized that these cowboys were out of their tiny little minds.
Or Inuyasha had decided that a catastrophic hull breach and fiery death would be preferable to what Naraku had planned for him. Hmm. Maybe the Hanyou wasn't as stupid as she'd been led to believe. Too bad for him, with that pretty face of his, brains would only be an unnecessary burden.
"Let's give them another punch and move it along," she said, chuckling as she returned to the command chair and crossed her legs. A touch of her finger opened the internal comm. "Bankotsu, have your team ready for launch. I'm afraid I'm out of patience with our cowboy friends."
"Got it," came the immediate response. "Any further instructions?"
She had to smile at the bloody eagerness in that simple question. "Not at all. Mission is to retrieve the Hanyou, intact and alive. Feel free to dispose of any other survivors in the manner you please."
Cutting off Bankotsu's dark laugh with another flick of her finger, Kagura turned her attention to her gunner. "Goshinki, I want you to target their engines. Lay down a barrage to the fore and aft of their engine output. I want their thrust capability crippled for good, understand?"
"Better if we targeted their core," the hulking man said, his twisted face made him look demonic by the glow of his weapons display. "Blow them straight to hell, won't be enough left even for salvage."
Kagura scowled at him. "And risk destroying our prey? Don't be a fool, our objective is to retrieve the Hanyou, not smear his brain across the sec. Let Bankotsu's team take care of the messy details. When that white-haired snot is safely in our holding cell, then you can blast the bounty hunters and their ship to hell."
Showing his crooked teeth with a threatening smile, Goshinki turned back to his board and started entering coordinates that would target their weapons as his captain had ordered. A surgical strike and the BeBop would be forever crippled, a drifting carcass waiting to be plundered.
And plundered she most certainly would be.
On the bridge of the BeBop, the situation was starting to unravel.
"Jet! Jet, get your ass up here now! Goddamn it, Jet! Answer me!"
Spike pushed Faye away from the mic. "Shut it, already," he said, kneeling on the floor to pull the panels off the underside of the command console. "He can't hear you, the comm is dead."
Furious, she kicked the panel next to his head. "We're dead too, didn't you hear Ed? The signal is down, that ship knows we tried to run! We need to get the hell out of here, Spike!"
He ignored her, pulling wires and re-routing what remaining power was left to the displays. The beacon was down; there was no way to restore it. Now they were really screwed if that gunship realized what they'd been trying. But with internal power rapidly diminishing, they couldn't use their scan or communications. He didn't know what had happened down in the engine core, and knew that what could have happened could be very, very bad. Spike needed to know how bad it was. If the engines had imploded, they all would have felt the bang before they died. But if they were on fire, if the hull integrity was holding…
He'd seen a flash fire on a starship and what could happen. He'd be better off putting his pistol to his head or taking a step outside without his EVA suit. Anything would be better than having super-heated air melt the flesh from his bones.
"Gotta try something," Spike murmured, twisting the delicate wiring between his fingers. There, connections were made and the display light turned green. Standing up, he touched the switch to route power to the external vid. BeBop's hull looked smooth and cold on the grainy display, no evidence that any part of her was aflame or venting precious oxygen. Curious, he turned the cameras toward their attackers' ship.
"What is it?" Faye demanded, elbowing him in the ribs when he didn't answer. She went pale as the huge cannon slowly moved to target BeBop's aft end.
"Looks like they're going to fire again," Spike said, his tone unconcerned.
Faye groaned and pulled at her hair. "I'm getting out of here," she whispered, her voice tense and scared. "Come on, Spike. We've got to get to the hangar before that thing…"
"Haven't you been paying attention?" Higurashi's voice was like a cold lash, brimming with authority. Both Faye and Spike turned to look at her. "They aren't going to fire with the intention of destroying this ship. They won't take that chance."
"Then what are they going to do?" Faye asked sarcastically.
The marshal leaned against the console, her gloved fingers drumming against the battered metal. "My guess is that they are aware that we tried to start the engines and make a run for it. They won't give us a second chance at that, so I'd say they will try to destroy our thrust capacity. Before, they only targeted the hull and support areas, knowing that we wouldn't damn well burn and risk a hull breach."
"That was to intimidate us," Spike said softly. "See if we'd make their job easier by handing over the Hanyou. Then they would have blasted us to hell and gotten rid of any witnesses."
Higurashi gave him a look of approval. "Exactly. They have no intention of letting this ship go anywhere once they have Inuyasha. But now that they realize we were able to mask their sensors, they won't take the chance of letting us slip away. They'll incapacitate the engines, open a secondary breach and send in an armed assault team. Textbook tactics for retrieval of prisoners."
"Why would they take us prisoner?" Faye demanded.
Higurashi shook her head. "You don't understand," she said, a hard edge to her voice, contempt for Faye's questioning. "They are only interested in one prisoner. The rest of us are just in the way and will be disposed of by the assault team. Or simply left here to die if we're lucky."
Faye bit her lip, the odds were against her once again. Better to take her chances with the gunship than the mercenaries that were going to board in search of Inuyasha. Damn, but that idiot had screwed the all and good.
"That's it, I'm out of here," she muttered. Faye spun around and made a run for the door, hoping that Higurashi wasn't going to use her stun wand and try to keep them from escaping.
Spike caught her arm. "Faye, don't," he began.
She shook off his hand angrily. "Screw you, don't try to stop me," she snapped. "I'm taking my zip and getting the hell away. I'll take my chances with that gunner, they can't target me and BeBop at the same time, and at least I'll have a shot."
"What about the rest of us?" Spike glared at her until she dropped her eyes.
"Ed and Ein can run with me," she said grudgingly. Then she turned a sweet smile on the marshal. "The rest of you are on your own. Good luck with that, Major."
Higurashi's look could have withered a flower in full bloom. "I believe what Mr. Spiegel was trying to say," she said caustically, "is that this ship doesn't have enough power left in reserve to open the hangar. Are you planning on using your bare hands?"
"At least I'm trying something," Faye snarled back. "What are you going to do, wait quietly to die?" She was seething more from frustration and fear than any real anger. "Maybe I can take an EVA suit, maybe one with the outside jets. If I can get to a shipping lane…"
"You won't." Higurashi had stopped looking so condescending, but she did look like she was fresh out of answers. "You'll run out of oxygen in four hours, we're at least fifty hours from even a remote route."
Spike didn't like the odds, but he figured they had nothing to lose either. "About how many in the boarding party?"
Higurashi shrugged. "Usually six or seven, does it matter?"
That left them with four if he counted Ed, Spike figured. The fact that Jet hadn't come up to the command deck meant he was probably trying something. Inuyasha was sealed up snug in the environmental pod, without out power or resources. A team of six or seven would be needed to breach the hull, take out any resistance, and then mount a search for the target.
But if they didn't ever get on the ship…and if Jet had something sneaky up his sleeve… Spike grinned and wished they had enough oxygen to spare that he might light a smoke.
"Ladies," he began, including Ed who was all ears by now. Ein yipped and Spike nodded easily. "And dogs. If we're going to have guests, we should make sure to give 'em a friendly welcome. Weapons locker is just off the aft corridor."
"Target set," Goshinki announced without a backwards glance. "Ready to fire on your order, captain."
"At last," Kagura muttered under her breath. "I want a short, controlled burst…don't take any chances, Goshinki. That tub will most likely explode if we…"
She spun around at Kanna's panicked voice, uncharacteristic show of emotion from the stoic girl. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the display and sucked in her breath.
"That looks like…"
Spike stopped dead in his tracks, ignoring Faye's curses and Higurashi's angry snarl as the two women ran right into him. The lighting was dim, sure sign that the batteries were giving up their last and in a minute, they'd be down to hand torches and god help them…cigarette lighters.
"Did you hear that?" he whispered.
"What?" Faye demanded.
"I thought I heard something."
"I didn't hear a thing!"
Higurashi poked Faye's shoulder menacingly with her stun wand. "Will you please shut up?" she hissed, her eyes darting at the shadowy corners. "Is it the assault team?"
Spike shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck as he stared up at the metal ceiling. "No," he said in a low voice. "We'd hear them cutting into the hull. It sounded further away, muffled…"
He was just about to tell them to forget it when the floor shook and threw them all hard into the wall. Ed squealed, Faye cursed again, and Ein started yapping frantically as the dim lighting finally flickered and gave out, leaving them all in complete darkness.
Jet swore under his breath as he worked, pulling the last bolts from the second engine's casing. So far, so good…if he wasn't running out of time. Barely able to keep his hands steady enough for such delicate work, it didn't help that he could barely see what he was doing. A tiny incandescent was all he could risk down here, a naked flame would have been asking for too much mercy from the universe.
Finally, he pulled the casing and inspected the diagnostic boards, satisfied that everything looked intact. Would have been a bitch to try and repair the circuits if they'd been corroded or damaged by that damned gunship's attack. The crawlspace was filthy and stank to high hell, old grease and years of dust made for a gritty muck under his fingernails and on his face where he'd had to wipe away the sweat.
"Come on, baby," he whispered, hoping that somehow the ship could understand what he needed. A few short taps on the board, a little bit of prayer, and BeBop suddenly believed that she was dockside for repairs.
Had to lie a little bit and tell the old girl that she'd suffered data loss, he thought smugly as he replaced the casing. BeBop's diagnostic computers were talking to each other now, probably dissing the nameless tech who about to test her power output. That nameless tech was actually Jet, her owner, and he wouldn't have blamed the ship one bit if it had called him crazy.
"Now, I just need to plug this feed back in," he said, pulling out the spare unit. The feed went from the diagnostic computers to the control, allowing him to be somewhere else than directly under the engines that were just about to burn. He found himself humming as he went down the checklist for the drives, fully engaged and safety off, about to be blasted to suddenly life by a massive power output.
He was just about to start the countdown when he felt a tremble under the soles of his boots. Jet's face went pale, realizing that BeBop had just been hit, no more than a glancing blow that would have hardly scorched the hull, but scary as that idea was, there was one even scarier still. If the gunship had fired on them…
What the hell made it miss?
Alarms and klaxons screaming in her ears, Kagura gripped the armrests of her control chair so hard that her fingernails actually pierced the hard plastic. She ground her teeth until her jaw ached, listening as her crew demanded damage reports from the sections.
"What the fuck just happened?"
"Search me, my boards are blazing all displays!"
"Someone call the sick bay, do we have wounded?"
Furious, Kagura jumped from her chair and slammed her fist into a metal panel. It hurt like all hell, split her knuckles open so that droplets of blood surrounded her hand like a halo. Goddamn g was going now too, but she suddenly had the focused attention from her bridge.
"Kanna," she snarled, glaring around her like a red-eyed demon. "Report!"
The pale girl turned around, her dark eyes huge in her thin face. "We took fire," she said quickly. "Damage centered on sec three, areas B through B-16."
There was a tense silence. "We've lost the cannon."
"Son of a bitch!" Goshinki was out of his seat, stalking the tiny girl at scan. "Who did it?" he snarled, "who fucking shot at us? Those fucking cowboys?"
Kanna didn't look away from Kagura, but she reached behind her and turned on the bridge comm.
"White Feather, this is the Hirakotsu, law enforcement vessel of the Federated Inter-Solar System Police. You are commanded to stand down your weapons and drives, prepare to be boarded by federal Marines. Your cooperation is appreciated and will be reported when your sentencing…"
"What the fuck?" Kagura breathed, her face going white at the very thought of federal Marines boarding her craft. "Feds…all the way out here? No way, I didn't see any reports of a cruiser from intell…"
Kanna was punching keys furiously. "I can't get a lock on the signal," she said, her voice taut. "It's very close, but I have no prox reports, no visual identification. The federal code appears genuine, captain…and the heat signature is within limits for their gunnery."
Kagura rubbed her eyes. She was sweating, her entire body was oozing cold sweat from her armpits to the soles of her feet. Even now, she could feel her heart starting to palpitate, anticipating its torture at Naraku's hands. Best she could hope for was to spill her guts to the feds' interrogators, hoping that they'd let her spend the rest of her life in safe, solitary lockdown.
If she rolled over on Naraku though…there wasn't a lockup in the universe that could keep him from finding her and using that damned chip he'd planted in her heart to exact an excruciating revenge.
Bitterly, she realized that she was out of options. "This is the captain of White Feather," she said, using her thumb to stab the comm unit. "We will comply."
Then she flipped the inter-ship comm and prepared herself for a war. "Bankotsu, get your boys ready for a firefight," she said, hating that she was probably about to die at the hands of federal soldiers after a lifetime of staying out of their hands. "We're about to be boarded."
"I don't fucking believe it!"
Faye elbowed Spike to the side, craning to get a look at the tiny vid. All she could see was a grainy image of the gunship, same as they'd seen before, but now there was a huge, smoking hole where the cannon used to sit.
"Where the hell did that come from?" she muttered, trying to focus closer. She pulled in closer and whistled low. "Is that a…damn, I don't know."
A gasp from behind her and both Faye and Spike stared at Higurashi. The woman's face was gray, her lips pale like a dead fish and she suddenly pushed forward to slap the external audio like she knew there was something being broadcast into the open channels of space.
"White Feather, this is the Hirakotsu, law enforcement vessel of the Federated Inter-Solar System Police. You are commanded to stand down your weapons…"
"Oh god, no," the marshal whispered. "Sango, what have you done?"
Just aft of the wreckage, she saw a tiny craft snuggled up against White Feather's hull. Faye's eyes narrowed as she recognized a small patrol ship designed for short hops between bases. It was more of a shuttle really, no Gate capacity, and known for its speed rather than its armor or range.
Just beyond the zipcraft, a lone figure was moving, wearing a pristine EVA suit that looked blindingly white against the scorch-scarred hull of the gunship. To the best of Faye's knowledge, that shuttle didn't carry much in the way of weapons. A few self-defense lasers, impact guns, cutting torch and welding arms…how the hell did it just blast the hell out of…
"Must have come in fast," Spike muttered, following the figure as it jerkily moved on their vid. "Come in fast, jam the sensors and use magnetic clamps to seal up against the hull. Your lieutenant must be one hell of a pilot, major."
"She is." Kagome's jaw was tight, her throat looked like she was about to scream. "And she's here against orders, I never told her to take down that cannon on her own!"
Spike glanced sideways at the major. Once engaged, the magnetic clamps could not be released. She would have come in silent, clamped on to the ship, and then had to EVA across the hull with no assistance to plant what he assumed were concussion explosives at the base of the cannon. All without alerting the crew to her presence, knowing that a mistake with the charge would have sent herself flying into the deep black or simply blown both ships to hell.
"Risky," he muttered. Kagome looked like she was about to be sick. Odd to see the stone-faced marshal looking like she wanted to cry or scream. She knew what her lieutenant had done, saved their ass at the expense of her own.
But not today…if this ruse lasted long enough. Eventually the White Feather would realize that she was in no danger of being boarded. He was willing to bet that the cannon was far from her only weapon. And there was the matter of an armed assault team, just waiting to be deployed so they could carve their way into BeBop like a hungry man would carve into a thick steak.
Resting his hand on the major's shoulder, Spike offered her a lopsided grin. After all, recklessness of that sort deserved its own reward.
"Come on. Let's go get suited up and meet her at the hatch."