Title: Hands CleanAuthor:
Spoilers: None... wait, maybe so. Bits and pieces, probably will be limited to bits and pieces of first two seasons.
Summary: In an alternate universe, Beka Valentine makes a choice which leads to a meteoric rise, a shocking romance, and deadly dangers.
Disclaimer: I own not the tiniest bit of Andromeda, the universe, or the characters therein, yadda yadda yadda, except Darjella, the coolest gangster lady ever.
You might have expected to see her purple, or you might have expected to see her gold. But she is neither of these. Today, in this place, a crimson blush is spread over her skin, touched here and there with silver, the same shimmer as her tightly-curled hair. To complete the picture, she wears pure white, frothy lace dense around her breasts and hips and almost translucent around her midriff and legs.
Today, in this place, Trance Gemini looks a proper valentine.
"The thing is," she says, as if she is starting up from a previous conversation you just missed, "history might be changing right now. You remember your life, and the newspapers and textbooks confirm what you remember. But if it were changing, you wouldn't know. In less than an instant, every bit of paper and every fire of your neurons can show a completely different past."
She pauses and runs a hand experimentally down her lace dress. Her fingers flex and lightly tug at the fabric. She chuckles as the skirt slips back into place.
"But I would know. I know what's changed. I know what's happened." Her lips curve into a wide smile, and she leans in, as if imparting a confidence. "It isn't that I can see the future. Do you understand yet? It's because there is no one future. There are a lot of futures like there are a lot of pasts.
"I thought that today you might like to hear a story about one of these other paths."
Promises had longed defined Rebecca Valentine's life. Promises broken, promises kept, promises to be fulfilled next time, he swore. Beka made her promises carefully, knowing the power of that word and remembering the pain of the broken edges. In every past and every future, Beka Valentine would pride herself keeping her promises, no excuses, but not even she could keep every one. Beka Valentine was a mere mortal, after all, and the easiest promises to break were those she made to herself, swore silently with a clenched jaw, inevitably after someone else had failed her.
No one knew about these promises but herself, so no one would cry themselves to sleep when she broke them. No one else would suffer because she went back to Bobby one more time, or because she broke down and gave her father a loan they both knew he would never pay back. Those promises were the easiest to break, by her reckoning, but she could never know that it was those promises that shaped her future, sent her spiraling off on different future paths.
On most of those paths, she made one particular promise the first time her father put the Maru into hock. She promised herself that when the Maru was hers, she would never let Doge Hakitch or any other pawn broker or bookie or repo guy or anyone get his (or her or its) scummy hands (or paws or…) on her hull. On most of those paths, she broke that promise when the choice boiled down to leaving the Maru in a hangar while she planned one of the most daring, impossible burglaries of her life or running a certain errand for River Runs Sun Bright.
Beka Valentine liked a challenge, and Beka Valentine liked to pull off stunts people would talk about for years. Since she was not a malicious person, she was not often able to indulge this second hobby very often, but when she felt that someone deserved a particularly nasty and memorable comeuppance, well, she was happy to oblige. For all these reasons, she usually chose the burglary route, succeeded even when the first stage of the plan went terribly wrong, and congratulated herself both on the heist and on keeping that promise.
But sometimes she was feeling a little more cautious and a little less sure of herself, and on those paths, she chose the errand. On the more miserable paths, that errand quickly led to another broken promise – addiction to Flash – and to a few short, hazy years that ended in misery. This is not a story of one of those paths. This is the story of another path.
"So I run this cargo, and you give me my ship. No strings, no fine print."
River Runs Sun Bright bobbed his insect head in what Beka supposed was supposed to resemble a nod. "I have no wish to keep that claptrap in my hangar any longer than necessary. Deliver the cargo, and she's yours."
"He's mine," she corrected, "and if the Maru's stinking up your cargo bay, I'd be happy to take it off your hands right now."
The Than twitched from side to side and clicked a couple of appendages. That must be a no. "Just make the delivery, Valentine, and next time you and that thing dock here, be sure you have the parking fee." River turned and pattered away briskly, pausing before he reached the portal. "I'll contact you when the ship is prepared for departure."
"Yeah yeah," she muttered, "stick it up your shiny green ass." The only other patrons of the bar at this hour were a couple of Flash-fried pilots, staring at her with unreadable expressions behind their thick goggles. They nudged one another, and the skinny one barked a sudden, shrill laugh that made her skin crawl. She kept a grimace from her face only with very great effort and slid off the bar stool a few moments later. Let them win this round, then; she had managed to find a decent breakfast this morning and had no desire to lose it in this place reeking of sweat and cleaner and whatever the cleaner was covering up, anyway.
She made her way back to her little cubby, paid for with the very last of her money, not enough to pay River's ludicrous "parking fee" but sufficient to get her a bed of her own and only a few small insect roommates. They were not even the hissing variety, and she was getting along with them better than their much larger cousins, namely one green bug with a monopoly on hangar space on Streaks of Furling Dawn. It was a name ripe for obscene jokes, the expanse of which comforted her obscurely while her ship lay impounded somewhere inside.
Before River had taken possession of the Maru, Beka had managed to squirrel away a few necessary items in a patchy duffel bag, and now she sat on her bed and shuffled through the contents. Most of what she had saved were flexis: bills, a few novels, and a couple of pictures she had never got around to framing.
The bills begged for her attention, but she simply had nothing to throw at them. Rumor made River's employer out to be a generous fellow, as organized crime lords went, and the Than had promised her a hefty profit in addition to payment of the parking fee. Divine knew she could use a hefty profit right now, or even a meager one.
She occupied herself for a good half hour reading through the various demands for payment, ranking them in order of scale of debt, impatience of debtor, ruthlessness of collectors in debtor's employ, and delinquency. It was not a particularly heartening way to pass the time, but it was to be preferred to being hit on by Flash fliers.
When that game was no longer amusing, she started reading where she had left off in one of her novels, an action thriller with obligatory romance set during humanity's early push to the stars, when interstellar pirating was notoriously difficult to prosecute and a good pilot blessed with a little luck could live high on the proverbial hog.
Captain Alessandro Atina had just opened fire on a cruise ship – the nerve! the daring! – when a heavy pounding rattled her door. Beka jumped to her feet but took her time crossing her cramped quarters. She pressed the comm. button by the door, laughably old-fashioned like something the good captain Atini might have possessed.
"What do you want?" she inquired none-too-politely.
"A package for Rebecca Valentine from River Runs Sun Bright." A kind voice, young enough to squeak in a couple places. The bug had probably chosen the most harmless-sounding kid he could locate for this errand, but Beka was no sucker. In her bag she had also stashed a sometimes-functional gauss pistol, which she drew and held ready as she opened the door.
The kid looked just as innocent as he sounded, though a little uglier. He had a lumpy face and frizzy red hair and an unexpectedly nice smile. He held out a packet and too obviously did not glance at the gun in her hand. She took it and laid it gingerly on the deck before singing the kid's delivery confirmation slip. He nodded and skittered away.
Feeling a little silly for the gun, Beka ripped open the packet to find exactly what she had expected – instructions, a credit chip, and a little insignia she assumed would allow her access to whatever ship River had set aside for this errand. She read the instructins carefully and stuck the flexi into her duffel bag. River had advised that she leave as soon as possible, and for once, she was not inclined to argue with him. Alessandro Atini could wait.