Cowboy Bebop and all its contents are the copyright of Shinichiro Watanabe and Bandai.
Cowboy Bebop: Live and Learn
Episode 38: Rare and Endangered
" Hurt no living thing; Ladybird nor butterfly, nor moth with dusty wing, not cricket chirping cheerily, nor grasshopper so light of leap, nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat, nor harmless worms that creep."
Spike could clearly see Ed's face staring back at him upside down. She was quickly joined by Ein who seemed to have more senses and remained right side up.
" Jet-person and Faye-Faye are away."
" Did they find another bounty?" He asked, glancing up from his communicator screen to look at the mechanics working on the Hammerhead.
" Nope. Visiting farmer-persons for crops and dropping shipments in Arcadia!"
Spike sighed. " I guess Jet was serious about needing extra cash for the repairs. Which means he won't be happy with the message I'm sending his way."
Ed grabbed Ein and pulled him up and away from Spike's view.
" Ed, when Jet gets back tell him the repairs are going to take longer than we thought. I'll be staying here until they're done. You guys will have to go ahead and make the shipments to Arcadia without me."
" Awe… but we will miss you!"
Spike smiled. " Thanks Ed. Hey, why don't you get me a souvenir?"
" Okay-dokie lunkhead Spike-person!"
Spike blinked in surprise. " Lunkhead?... Now you're calling me that too?"
Ed smiled and waved goodbye before cutting off communication.
Faye slipped her hands into the warm pockets of her jacket. Autumn had officially arrived in Mars and along with the leaves turning colors the wind now had a bite to it. She looked up to see Jet coming her way.
"I'm thinking some Miso soup would be good to make on a day like this." He announced when he finally reached her.
" So are you going for the groceries or am I?" She asked as they walked back to her Red Tail and a rented truck.
Just then Jet's communicator buzzed. Flipping it open he was greeted by Ed's smiling face.
" Hello Jet-person! Spiky-lunkhead says he won't be back on time because the repairs will take too long. He says we should go without him and bring back a souvenir!"
Jet sighed. " Well, I guess that means the repairs aren't going to be cheap."
Ed shook her head.
" Okay. Thanks Ed. I'll be back soon with new shipments."
While Jet talked, Faye leaned against the truck listening. She couldn't shake the odd feeling that they were being watched. But a quick survey of the area didn't show anything out of the ordinary. The occasional pedestrian would cross the street and pass them by without incident.
Jet turned to her. " Well it looks like Spike will be spending the rest of the week in Zephyr."
" The Hammerhead was damaged that bad?" Faye asked in surprise.
" I think the mechanics didn't have the parts needed so they went ahead and ordered them. Normally these guys are much cheaper but when they don't have what you need… you have to wait longer for repairs to be done." He shook his head wearily. " So much for putting some woolongs away for a rainy day." And Jet nodded to Faye. " Go ahead and pick up the groceries. I'll get things loaded into Bebop. We have to leave the dock early tomorrow morning or else the shipments will spoil before they arrive."
" Yeah, okay." Faye replied. And suddenly she felt eyes on her again. " Hey Jet, do you feel like we're being watched?"
" Being watched?" Jet frowned and looked around. " I don't see anything unusual."
Faye sighed and pushed off the truck while Jet made his way to the driver side. He was just about to pull open the door when someone stopped him.
" Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me."
Jet looked over his shoulder. Faye stared curiously at the man who just approached them.
" Huh? Oh… hi there." Jet greeted, rubbing the back of his neck. " Where did you come from?" He asked glancing around again.
" I hope you don't mind but I overheard the farmer back the way you came," and he jutted a thumb in the general direction, " say that the shipments you're taking are to be delivered to the new terra formed colony East of Tharsis."
Jet nodded. " You heard that, huh? Well, yeah Arcadia is where we're headed. Why are you so interested in our plans?"
Faye joined the two men and began to study the stranger. " You don't look like a farmer." She stated.
The man smiled apologetically. " I'm not. I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself. My name is Dr. Aaron Skyler and I am an entomologist."
Jet and Faye looked at each other in confusion.
" Let me clarify. I'm a scientist who studies insects."
" Oh, yeah an entomololist…" Faye replied, trying to be convincing.
" Entomologist." Skyler corrected.
" Yeah that's what I said." She laughed, hoping to downplay her embarrassment.
" Anyhow," He continued. " I need to get to Arcadia. It's very important. I am willing to pay."
" So you're asking us if we would give you a ride?" Jet asked.
" Well, a trip across Mars isn't cheap even for those of us on the crew. You'll have to pay for your own food and pitch in with extra energy costs."
" Yes, I understand. I don't mind."
" We don't have an extra room available right now so you would have to sleep on the sofa in the common room."
" That's fine."
Jet and Faye looked at each other in surprise.
" He says he doesn't mind." Faye reasoned.
Jet looked back at him and nodded with approval. " Well Dr. Skyler it looks like you found yourself a ride."
" Wonderful! I'll just need to pick up a few things for the trip."
" Okay. We're scheduled to leave at six in the morning. I can give you the address of the pier where we're docked."
" Oh Jet, should we drop by the ISSP in Tharsis to pick up the reward money or did you want Spike to do that and meet up with us in Arcadia?" Faye asked him suddenly remembering they had to claim their hard earned woolongs from a previous bounty.
At hearing this Aaron's interest peaked. " Reward money?"
Jet looked back at him. " I forgot to mention, we do shipments when our primary source of income is low."
" And your primary source of income is what? If I may ask."
" Bounty hunting." Faye replied with a smirk.
Skyler blinked in surprise. " Really? What luck!"
" Huh?" Jet and Faye asked, completely lost.
"How would you and your crew like to be paid twice for one trip?"
" What are you talking about?" Jet was getting more confused by the minute.
" You see I'm not just an entomologist, I'm also a passionate defender for endangered species of the insect world! And I have spent my entire life studying the life cycles of a very rare species called the Chameleon Beetle. Currently there are only three male Chameleon Beetles known to exist and I am in possession of one. The problem I have is a group of fanatics who call themselves the FFI."
" FFI?" Jet asked.
" Freedom Fighters for Insects."
" Those lunatics broke into my laboratory and tried to abduct the beetle. What they didn't know is that I created a miniature environment so that I can take it along with me everywhere I go. See?"
Skyler opened a deep carrying bag that hung from his shoulder and carefully pulled out what resembled a sealed fish bowl filled with flora and moss.
Faye and Jet leaned forward trying to spot the prized beetle.
" Isn't it beautiful?!" Skyler exclaimed in a voice that almost sang.
" I don't see anything but moss." Faye mumbled.
" Yes, that's because it blends into its environment. Anyhow, I am certain that the FFI would try to release it into the wilds of planet Earth. This type of beetle species would never survive without the proper environment of which my laboratory alone can provide.
The only other two facilities in the universe capable of supporting this beetle are on Venus and they too have had people try to break in and take the beetles. Its insanity! Why would anyone try to hamper efforts to stabilize an entire species?"
" So then you want us to take you to Arcadia with your beetle and stop these FFI folks from harming any more insects?" Jet asked trying to put things together.
" Well originally I wanted a ride to Arcadia to talk with a trusted colleague about my latest research. She is attending the Entomologists for Endangered Insects conference and speaking at one of the sessions. She'll be introducing my latest research to top scientific minds." He stated proudly. Faye and Jet stared at him in silence.
Skyler cleared his throat and continued. " Ahem! I suppose that is only impressive to certain circles. Anyhow, now that I know you are going to continue to Tharsis I would like to ride along. My laboratory is in Tharsis city, you see. I could visit with my colleague in Arcadia while you deliver the shipments and then continue on to Tharsis with you.
But to the second part of your question the answer is yes. I would like you to stop the FFI people and I will pay you to do it. How does that work, by-the-way?"
Jet frowned. " How does what work?"
" How does one go about putting a bounty on someone's head?"
" Simple." Faye replied. " You call your local ISSP station and report the crime. Then you let them know you want to put out a bounty and tell them how much you're willing to offer as a reward."
" Perfect. Then I will call the ISSP and make it official."
" Just do it once we reach Arcadia because official bounty rewards are open to all the bounty hunters in the system." Faye continued, slightly worried that Dr. Skyler would jump the gun. " And we would be so happy to catch those pesky FFI people for you!" She flashed him her most charming smile.
" Y-you would?" He stammered as Faye drew closer.
" Would you like me to help you carry something?" She asked and motioned to the bag he had slung over his shoulder.
" Oh no. No, no, no. This never leaves my side." Skyler stated adamantly.
" Then let me give you a ride since you said you needed to pick up a few things." She offered.
" Oh. Thank you. I appreciate that."
As Faye led him to her ship she threw a conspiratorial wink over her shoulder at Jet.
He shook his head with a smirk. " Women."
At thirty-eight years of age Aaron Skyler was not an ugly man Faye decided. But he wasn't anything to write home about either. He had a fine profile, a perfect one in fact. His nose tapered to a rounded point and his grey eyes were just the right degrees separated from each other.
Faye glanced at him again. On second thought, maybe he was handsome. Just not in a way that she preferred. His hair was blond and straight and he needed a haircut. But the rest of him was well kept. His plaid dress shirt was pressed and buttoned up all the way to the top and his khaki pants were sharp and well fitted.
" Meh. He has decent taste for a scientist, I guess." She concluded to herself. " No one's perfect, right?"
They stopped at his hotel room and she stepped back to let him swipe his card. Following in after him she froze in astonishment, her mouth agape.
" What did you do to your hotel room?" In all her years of bounty hunting, and general meandering across the universe, she had never come across a hotel room so… so… " What am I looking at?" She asked, and turned to him.
He flashed her a brief smile before disappearing behind a white polyester shower curtain hanging in the middle of his hotel room. Faye paused for a moment wondering if she should follow him or better wait out in the hall.
" I suppose it doesn't have an official name. It's partly a lab and partly a greenhouse. I chose this room because of its location relative to the afternoon daylight, which provides perfect temperatures. Only the best environments for my beetle!"
There was a rustling sound and suddenly the shower curtain came down to reveal Skyler wrapping it into a tight wad and stuffing it into a cardboard box. He turned back around, ignoring the large amounts of duct tape still clinging to the popcorn ceiling.
" I just need to grab my suitcase and my briefcase, and my lab equipment, and the environmental foliage…"
" You carry around your own plants?" Faye asked, mildly amused.
" Of course! I can't risk shocking the beetle with strange foliage it doesn't know."
Faye watched him stack his equipment and bags onto a luggage trolley they had brought with them from the hotel lobby. " Why do you need to bring your own plants-"
" Not plants. The correct term is foliage."
" …. Uh huh...Why do you need them if your beetle stays inside its special tank?"
He looked at her sharply. " It isn't a tank. It's a portable environment station. But you can call it a PES if that's easier to remember."
One of Faye's eyebrows twitched. " So… do you have everything? Should we go?" And she turned and walked out into the hall without waiting for an answer.
Faye was halfway down the hall when he finally caught up with her. " So there's something I've been wanting to ask you." She began without even glancing at him.
He looked at her curiously. " Oh? What's that?"
" How did you learn that people from the FFI broke into your lab?"
" Oh that's not difficult to explain." He replied with a snort. " I have surveillance cameras connected to my communicator. I have proof that the thieves are from the FFI. I'm surprised you never heard of them until now."
This time Faye spared him a glance as they exited the hotel lobby. His words were slightly demeaning and she was beginning to get irritated again. " You're wondering if I ever heard about a group of hyper nerds set on stealing rare insects?... Really? That surprises you?"
" Yes it does. I mean these people simply must be stopped. Just last year they abducted a rare moth that had been thought to only exist on planet Earth and was recently discovered on Venus! And they had the gall to say that they alone knew what environments were best for the poor creatures!"
Faye turned to her ship and rolled her eyes. " Yeah! Poor, poor moths."
" Exactly! And you know what they did the year before that?"
Faye sighed heavily and bit her tongue. She tried to remind herself of the reward money that would soon pass through her fingers. She just had to put up with insect man for a few more days.
" Imagine what this universe would be like without the lunar slug! I mean… just imagine! Oh, please be careful with the foliage. Not one leaf can be broken."
Yup. Just a few more days. Or else she might have to shoot herself.
Back on the Bebop Ed squealed in delight. " Ed found the fighting fighters for buggy bugs! Ed found them!"
Jet leaned down and squinted at the screen. He really needed to get glasses next time they visited Iso. " What did you find out about them?"
" Funny fighting fighters want to save the Chameleon Beetle from man!" Ed sang, rocking back and forth on her hindquarters.
" We already know that. Did you find anything about where they might be hiding?"
Ed paused for a moment and opened up another window. She whistled a happy tune while typing in a new command and in seconds the screen was filled with surveillance images. " Ed can find out where they go and Jet-person can find out what's in the areas between them."
" The process of elimination. Good idea, Ed." Jet nodded in approval.
" Yyyyes." She replied, already preoccupied with her search.
Jet turned to his monitor. " I'll pull up some maps on cities and industries near Tharsis. Do we have any idea how many people are in this FFI group?"
" Ed thinks there are five fighting fighter persons."
" Oh? That's all?"
" It started with fifty funny persons angry about dying fireflies. Then they tried to help all kinds of other insects. But some persons got tired of fighting and left." Ed explained while she studied more surveillance photos. " After a while there were twenty-five persons. Then some got bored and tired and then fifteen persons were left."
" So this group really hasn't been too popular." Jet concluded. " Can't say that I blame anyone for leaving their cause. There's a lot more causes out there besides dying insects. Do you have any idea who the five remaining members might be?"
" Ed is searching for them right now." She chirped.
The hatch to the common room groaned as it opened. Jet looked up to see Faye step through carrying a small potted fern in her arms.
" Decorating, Faye?" He asked.
" Ha. You're funny, Jet. Funny." She muttered. " Its not my plant. Its his." And she nodded in the general direction of the hatch where Skyler was busy lifting his luggage into the room. He turned and paused for a moment to survey the area.
" Hm. Not exactly what I was expecting but its functional none-the-less."
" Not what you were expecting?" Jet replied.
" Oh don't let his charming demeanor get to you." Faye interjected. " He doesn't mean to be insulting. Really he's just…" And she looked at the entomologist who was carefully setting his portable environment station on the coffee table while whispering words of encouragement to the beetle. " … odd."
Jet quirked an eyebrow at the man and scratched the side of his head. An unconscious action he often did when he was nervous.
" Ed found three fighting fighter persons!"
Quickly returning to her side Jet leaned down again to look at her screen. " Who are they?"
" Tina Johnson, Patrick Browning, and Tom Hatcher." She announced.
Faye joined them and studied the faces of their bounties for several moments. " Did you find any information on where these people live or work?"
Ed nodded. " Yyyes. Tina works at a gift shop in Tharsis City shopping mall! Patrick lives with his mamma and Tommy works at the post office!"
" Hm. We could go after all the members Jet." Faye began, turning to him. " But that might not be the best way to stop the group."
" I hear you, Faye. And I agree. Ed, who is the leader? Is he one of these three?"
Ed sighed dramatically. " Ed doesn't know."
Jet turned to Skyler. " Hey Skyler,"
" Its doctor Skyler."
Jet chose to overlook the tone. " Yeah, sorry. Doctor Skyler, do you know who the leader of the FFI is?"
Skyler frowned at him. " If I knew that then I wouldn't be asking bounty hunters to go after the whole group now would I?"
Jet looked to Faye. She shrugged. " Like I said. Odd."
" Yup." He replied and turned back to Ed. " Okay then, keep searching. We need to know who the leader is. If we catch him first then the rest will be easy."
" Aye -aye Captain Jet!" Ed saluted and turned back to the screen.
Jet turned his monitor towards Faye. " Start highlighting the places where those three members live and work. If we can't find anything about their leader we'll have to do this the hard way. I'm going to let Spike know he'll have to meet us in Arcadia. It might be best that he pick up our bounty reward on his way." And he headed for the command deck.
Faye released a heavy sigh and pulled the monitor closer.
Ein picked up his head at the sound and quickly assessed the room, noticing that Jet was no longer there. His ears twitched at the sound of footfalls on metal stairs and he turned his head to see Jet climbing the staircase to the command deck. With a happy yelp Ein jumped up from his place by the couch and hurried to catch up.
" Mm?" Jet looked down at him. " You wanna help me contact Spike?"
" Yip, yip!" Ein replied, his little tail nub wiggling happily.
" Follow me." Jet smiled, giving him a gentle pat on the head before continuing his climb. And Ein followed, practically prancing around his feet all the way.
Two days later…
The Arcadia conference building was large, stately, and all around impressive with its stone columns and glass dome ceilings. Among all the architecture of the city the conference building remained the most highlighted and expensive. It stood in stark contrast to the rolling meadows and stately mountains in the distance.
" Hm. Very pastoral." Dr. Aaron Skyler muttered to himself admiring the view outside the windows. Outside the main entrance waved several flags from countries across the universe. " They certainly have everything patriotic well established." He mused.
Turning around he sought a comfortable seat in one of the lobby chairs and watched people come and go. He didn't have to sit for long before someone tapped his shoulder. Skyler turned around and flashed a warm smile, quickly standing to greet his colleague. " Ciara." And he offered her his hand.
" Aaron." She smiled back and accepted his handshake. " I wasn't expecting you to be here, what with all the mayhem you've been experiencing of late."
Aaron nodded and carefully shifted the carrying bag across his shoulder. " Ah, yes. Well, actually there have been some new developments in regards to that mayhem."
" Oh?" Ciara replied and pushed a few red curls back over her ear. She was a pretty woman; dainty, with long lushes, red hair and she was feminine in a naturally alluring manner. And yet for all her physical characteristics it was the intense focus she bestowed on others that was the most alluring thing of all. She made him feel as if no one else in the world existed.
Aaron opened his mouth and closed it again, having lost his train of thought when he looked into her eyes. They reminded him of the wild clovers on the green valleys of Venus. But a moment later she blinked and averted her gaze to glance down at her watch, releasing him of whatever spell he had fallen under.
" Yes." He began. " I happened upon a crew of bounty hunters and they have agreed to help me put an end to those FFI scoundrels."
Ciara's eyes widened in surprise at his mention of bounty hunters. " Oh, Aaron… isn't that a bit dangerous? I mean to be cavorting with those types of … ruffians?"
" Ruffians? Oh no, no." Aaron laughed good-naturedly. " They're actually quite likeable. And one of them is a woman! If you can believe that."
Ciara leaned back on her heels for a moment, her arms crossed, and her brows furrowed in thought. " My, my. What is this universe coming to?"
" Indeed. But I know we don't have much time before the next conference session so shall we sit down?" And he motioned towards the chairs.
Ciara nodded and they each took a seat opposite the other. Aaron leaned forward. " So tell me, before we continue on this topic, do the others agree with my findings? What do they think of my assessments of the Lunar Slug being reinstated into the Iso environment?"
She smiled demurely. " They are fascinated with your research and are in full agreement that you move forward with your plans."
" Ha, ha!" Aaron shouted triumphantly and briefly rose to his feet before realizing his outburst and quieting himself again. " Right then." He smirked. Ciara smiled at him.
" So tell me more about this bounty hunter scheme." She continued, leaning forward with her hands neatly folded on her lap.
Ein looked up, disturbed from his slumber by the beeping from Tomato's screen. The program running had found a match to the inquiry Ed had put in a few hours earlier. Wiggling free from under her head, Ein pressed the spacer bar with his nose and watched the screen pull up a window with security footage of a break-in.
Quickly Ein turned to Ed and nudged her with his snout but she didn't move. He tried again and was rewarded with a loud snore for his efforts. Looking back at the screen he raised his ears to attention. There were three perpetrators. One of the them was talking on a com device while another took out a key card from his pocket and swiped it. The first thief directed the third in what numbers to punch in and the door clicked open.
Ein could see someone sitting in the driver's seat of a van they had parked in the upper corner of the screen. That made four perpetrators. So the fifth had to be the person giving all the orders on the other end of the com device.
Ein pressed the command button and squinted his eyes as he enlarged the footage and studied the faces on the screen. Even when they were wearing hoods he could still make out their profiles. And the driver didn't even bother to hide her face. It was Tina Johnson, one of the three members Ed had uncovered a few days ago. Ein quickly recognized the other two members Ed had found. One of the thieves was not familiar and of course the leader was still anyone's guess.
" Mm? Ein? Watch'a doing?" Ed had finally awoken and rolled over to peer around him at the screen.
Ein barked excitedly. Ed rubbed her bleary eyes with the palm of her hand and pulled him closer with the other. She looked at the screen and suddenly sat up straight. " The thieves!" She exclaimed. " That's them, right Ein?"
He barked in agreement. Ed restarted the video. " Whoa…" She whispered. " They had a card key to get in, Ein." She spoke to him in a conspiratorial manner. " This means their leader had access to the labs!"
Ein barked again. Ed grabbed his face and looked him dead in the eyes.
" We must find Jet and Faye-Faye! They must know!" And she jumped to her feet and suddenly fell forward into a summersault, rolling her way down the hall and towards the common room. Ein stared after her for a moment, cocking his head to the side in bewilderment before giving chase.
Faye sat back in her pilot seat sipping on a chocolate milkshake. She was bored. Bored, bored, bored. Tina Johnson seemed to lead a very ordinary and regimented life. If Faye had to work in a shopping mall there was nothing in the universe that would stop her from finding something fun to do… or at least buying something that would be fun to wear. With a tired sigh she reached for her communicator.
" Hey Jet? Do you wanna switch places?"
There was a hiss of static and then, " No."
Faye growled at the ceiling and tossed her empty milkshake cup out the cockpit and into a trashcan a few feet away. " Come on! I'm dying of boredom here! I walked the entire mall five times and had to buy myself a milkshake to replenish my fading energy. It cost me four woolongs, Jet!"
" What makes you think my place is any better?" He asked, ignoring most of her tirade.
" It would give me a change of scenery."
" Patrick Browning never leaves his mom's and Tom Hatcher just closed the post office. These two aren't much to write home about either."
Faye lifted her communicator to reply when Ed's face blinked on the screen.
" Hi!" Ed shouted. " Ed and Ein have discovered new information."
" Ed? You know who the leader is?" Faye heard Jet ask.
" Nope, nope. But Ed saw the thieves use a keycard and punched in numbers someone told them over their communicator!"
Faye's eyes widened in surprise. " Wait-a-minute! They had a key card? Are you saying the leader to the FFI works in the same labs that were broken into?"
" Yeah!" Ed laughed gleefully clapping her feet together above her head. " Faye-Faye wins a souvenir! Or better yet, bring Ed a souvenir!"
Jet's voice came through the com. " Faye, did you have a chance to see whether-or-not Skyler had a key card on him?"
She thought back for a moment and shook her head. " The only key card he had on him was for the hotel room he stayed in." And then she remembered how many things he had packed onto the luggage trolley. " But he practically carried everything with him except the kitchen sink. I can go back to the Bebop and go through his stuff. If he's as possessive with all his things like he is with his beetle, then it has to be there somewhere." She offered.
" Edward will do it!" The hacker suddenly announced.
" No! Ed wait!" They both shouted back. But it was no use.
Ed turned away from Tomato and honed in on Skyler's property, which sat in a neat pile beside the couch. She smiled wickedly and crouched low to the ground, no longer a girl but a predator about to pounce on its prey. Ein stood up and looked from her to the pile and back again.
" 1, 2, 5… Go!" She shouted and shot across the room, ducking her head at the last second and ramming into the neat pile like a wild goat. Ein barked and leapt into the mess after her.
Seconds past and suddenly luggage, carrying bags, clothes items, scientific equipment, and documents shot up into the air. Many fell haphazardly into random corners of the room. A few moments later Ed emerged triumphant while something, probably expensive, shattered in the background.
" Winner!" Ed exclaimed and wiggled her way out of the mess and back to Tomato.
" Ed is back!" She announced.
Jet looked at the screen with trepidation. " Ed… what happened?"
" Found it!" She exclaimed and held up a key card for him to see.
From his perspective Jet could just make out the shape of a face and shoulders on the card. " Ed! Does his key card have photo ID?"
" Yup, yup!"
He smirked. " Okay! This could work. I'm betting that all the key cards have photo IDs. Go back and recheck that video you found. See if you can get a better view of whose photo ID is on the key card that was used."
" Yes sir, captain Jet-person!" Ed beamed and ducked out of view.
Faye reached for her com unit. " She found it, didn't she?"
Jet sighed. " Yup."
Faye rolled her eyes. " She went through all his things, didn't she?"
"… most likely."
Faye bowed her head in defeat. " He's going to freak out on us."
Faye frowned. " You want me to clean up the mess before he gets back, don't you?"
" Come on, Jet! If anyone should clean up the mess it should be Ed! She made it!"
Faye threw her hands up into the air in complete exasperation. " Argh! Alright! Fine! But if Ed so much as looks at me I'm going to mop the floor with her hair!"
" Fine with me. I'll just eat your portion of tonight's dinner."
" Argh! Fine! I'll just smack her with a pillow!"
" Pillow fight! Yeah, alright!" Ed chimed in.
Faye gave her com unit a withering look. " Ed?... You heard everything I just said didn't you?"
" Mhm! Ed likes to hit things with pillows! I'll get all the pillows on Bebop-Bebop! Weeee! Faye-Faye is so much fun!"
Faye could hear Jet's laughter loud and clear as she dropped her face into her hands. " Ugh!"
Two hours later:
Ein sniffed Skyler's property that had been tossed to the floor so unceremoniously a few hours back. There was something significant in the pile. Ein was sure of it. And now that Ed was preoccupied with Tomato he had time to make a proper search.
Focusing all his attention on the fine sensitivity of his nose he suddenly picked up an interesting scent. It was different than Skyler's. Ein smoothly avoided a pair of boxer briefs and knocked over a baseball cap with a nudge from his snout to reveal the source. A brochure. Ein leaned down and sniffed it.
No doubt about it. It was certainly not Skyler's scent. Or Ed's. But it was definitely female. Ein carefully picked up the brochure with his teeth and laid it down open on the floor, away from the other things. Quickly scanning the colorful inner panels he took note that the brochure had photos of all the speakers at the conference. And one photo stopped Ein in his tracks. It matched the key card ID in the video he scanned earlier.
Excited to have found a break in their investigation Ein quickly picked up the brochure again and scrambled for the hallway where he had last seen Ed.
Meanwhile, on the command deck:
" How's the progress coming along?" Jet asked into his com unit.
" Eh, you know. At a mechanic's pace." Spike's voice replied.
Jet chuckled. " Yeah, I bet. If you could hazard a guess how much longer do you think they'll be?"
" Not sure but they seem to be working pretty consistently now. The parts all arrived this morning and I told them we aren't interested in paying for overtime."
" Did they believe you?"
" Doubtful. Point is I can't leave until their finished."
" Well if you think they're just taking their time to get fatter bank accounts let me know and we'll come pick you up and take our business elsewhere."
Jet could hear Spike sigh on the other end. " Let's hope they finish soon then. I'd hate to see the Bebop travel out of her way, spending gas woolongs we don't have, just to pick me up."
" Just see to it that you're watching over their shoulders. They hate that."
The sound of heels clacking on the steel floor made him pause and look up. Faye passed him by, glancing curiously at his com unit. It was clear she wanted to know who he was speaking to. And without a word between them he placed the com unit down and switched it to speaker.
" Uh, hey Spike maybe Faye has some suggestions we haven't thought of yet."
Faye looked up at Jet in surprise. " Huh? Suggestions for what?"
" For how to get lazy mechanics to pick up their pace." Spike supplied for her.
Faye looked at the com unit and leaned down closer, placing her elbows on either side and resting her chin in the palm of one hand.
" So… getting tired of their company, Spike?" She gestured with her free hand as if he could see her.
" Well you know… nothing compares to the faces I see on the Bebop. One face in particular."
Faye blushed slightly and Jet raised his eyebrows. " Oh?" She managed to say without sounding surprised.
" Yeah. Its not every day a person can claim to wake up and have a one-of-a-kind data dog staring back at you."
" What?!" This time Faye couldn't hide her surprise.
" Data dog, smarty dog, seeking, smelling, finding dog!"
Everyone's thoughts were frozen for a moment, Faye with her mouth open about to send Spike a scathing remark.
Ed had once again managed to sneak in unnoticed and was twirling around on her tiptoes with what looked like a brochure lying open on top of her head.
" What's that you've got their, Ed?" Jet asked and gently lifted it off her head as she twirled around his feet and then fluttered over to Faye who suddenly realized Ed was wearing one of her more expensive scarves about her neck.
" Hey! That's my scarf." She remarked. " Ed, how many times do I have to tell you that you need to ask me before taking something from my room."
Her tone was firm and Ed froze in mid twirl. " But Ed thinks it looks pretty on necks more than on hangers."
Faye was about to respond when Jet interrupted. " Ed, where did you get this brochure?"
" What's it for?" Faye asked, looking at him in sudden curiosity.
" This is about the conference Dr. Skyler's attending. Where did you get it?" He asked again.
Ed pirouetted in a surprisingly elegant manner before replying, " Ein found it in strange Skyler's things. And when Ed opened it she found something important."
Faye and Jet looked at the brochure flipping through its few pages to see what she could mean.
" Jet, here. These are photos of all the guest speakers at the conference."
" Yeah, and?" Jet asked, still not understanding the brochure's significance.
" And one of the photos matches the ID card…" Ed said in a sing-songy voice as she leaped and twirled around both of them, dancing to a tune only she could hear.
Jet and Faye looked up at each other with wide eyes.
" That means our bounty's at the conference right now!" Faye exclaimed.
" Uh… hey guys?" Spike's voice came through the com unit.
" Ed, do you think you can show us who the match is on our com units?" Jet asked as he refolded the brochure and grabbed his com.
" Yes, yes, yes. Ed can do that!" She smiled and headed back down the stairs with Faye right behind her.
" Ed! Take off my scarf!"
" What's going on guys?" Spike asked again.
" Sorry, Spike." Jet apologized. " We've got a lead. I'll let you know more once we've got our guy." And he headed downstairs and for the hangar where Faye was already climbing into the Red Tail.
" Faye, don't fly off without me. We need to do this together. That conference is big. We'll need a plan."
" Sure, Jet." Faye smiled sweetly. " But let's think of a plan on our way there!"
The Arcadia Conference Building
" Are you sure about Ms. McKinsley, Ed?" Jet asked as he and Faye approached the front doors.
" Perfectly, absolutely, completely, yes, yes, sure!" Ed exclaimed merrily.
Jet held the door for Faye as they quickly began scanning the lobby. Jet looked at her. She quickly dialed a number on her com unit and indicated to him that he wait a moment longer.
" Dr. Skyler? Its Faye. I've just arrived at the conference. Where are you?"
Jet followed Faye's lead through an adjacent hallway, crowds of people passing them by on all sides.
" Man, I've never seen so many nerds in one place before." He muttered to himself.
" Is Ciara with you?" Faye asked.
Jet gathered by her expression that Skyler was wondering what was going on. Faye pointed towards the restrooms and covered the speaker on her com unit before turning to Jet.
" He's in there. Do you mind? I'll check the ladies side."
Jet nodded and hurried past her. Faye took a step and then stopped suddenly. " What do you mean she offered to wait outside with your beetle? You left her with your prized, endangered beetle?!"
Jet, along with a few bystanders, turned around to look at her in surprise.
" Where was she waiting?" Faye continued, a bit more subdued by the sudden attention.
" You. Are. An. Idiot." She replied back and lowered her communicator as Skyler emerged from the men's rooms.
" Where is she? She was right there." Skyler stated, pointing to a bench across from Faye.
" Well she's not there anymore, is she?" Faye snapped.
" Ciara?...No…no, no, no"
Jet grabbed his arm and began pulling him towards the entrance but Skyler pulled out of his grip. " No! I can't leave! She took the beetle! And like a fool I trusted her!"
Faye and Jet blinked in surprise, watching in silence as he pulled on his hair, took off his jacket, flung it to the floor, and began to stomp on it.
" Wow. He's really upset." Faye stated, nonplussed.
" Ciara McKinsley I'll get you for this!" He shouted at the top of his lungs, fists in the air.
" Yup." Jet replied.
" Exactly how do you expect to find her?" Skyler asked, still fuming several minutes later.
" Just let us handle this. We have our ways." Faye replied as they exited the building.
" Yeah. And our best way is someone who knows computers better than anyone else in the galaxy." Jet continued and lifted his communicator. " Hey Ed, we need you to track down Ciara for us. She's on the run. I'm thinking traffic cams, street cams, anything that's providing live feed. Got it?"
" Ed is already ahead of you!" She replied. " Satellite says that Ci-ci is five minutes away and she's headed for the atmosphere."
" Faye, between the two of us your ship is faster. Go on ahead." Faye nodded and sprinted the remaining distance to her ship while Jet turned to Aaron. " Skyler, your with me. Let's go!"
3 Minutes Later
Faye patched in to the Bebop. " Ed, what is Ciana flying? I don't know what to look for."
" Faye-Faye is fast! You've almost caught her! Wheee! Ha, ha!"
" Ed! Tell me what she's flying!"
" Ci-ci iiiiiiiiiis flyyyyyyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiiiing-"
" Right in front of you!"
" What?" Faye blinked in surprise at the pink and white striped spacecraft that just merged into traffic ahead of her.
Faye quickly switched channels. " Jet! I found her. Now what?"
" Keep tailing but don't spook her. The last thing we need is to get caught up in a multi-craft accident."
" Right." Faye replied, her foot tapping impatiently.
" I see your ship. When I get close enough I'll pass you and merge in front of her. When she realizes that I'm not gonna let her pass she'll know. Follow her at the next exit she takes."
" Got it."
From her satellite view Ed leaned forward, clapping her hands excitedly. " Look, Ein! Faye-Faye and Jet-person scared bounty Ci-ci into another direction!"
From his uncomfortable position between the floor and her back Ein attempted to wiggle around enough to see Tomato's screen.
" Oh wow, Ein! They're forcing her to go down! Look, look!"
Ein's ears flattened with exasperation. He couldn't see with Ed flailing her arms in front the screen and effectively blocking his range of view.
" Oooooh, Ed sees what they are planning. She's gonna land right on the ISSP rooftop!"
With a low growl Ein wiggled free causing Ed to fall flat on the floor.
From where she lay Ed twisted her head and craned her neck to watch the aggravated corgi walking away. " Ein? Eeeeein! Where are you going?" She called after him.
Without a second glance back Ein trotted into the common room, jumped onto the yellow couch, and made himself comfortable for a long nap. Sometimes a dog just needed his space.
Several Hours Later: back on the Bebop:
Faye glanced at Ein sleeping on the yellow couch before taking a seat on the yellow chair and propping her booted feet on the coffee table.
" I still don't get why that beetle is so important but if its safety gets us big woolongs… I'm not going to lose any sleep over it." She confessed, counting the big wad of woolongs in her hands.
Jet looked over at her from his perch on the command deck staircase.
Aaron Skyler caressed the PES lovingly while cooing gently to the beetle inside.
Faye and Jet paused in counting their woolongs to stare at the man. The man was just… odd.
" Well," Jet continued. " I guess it's a good thing that Ciana had the beetle in her possession when we forced her to land on the ISSP rooftop. I have to hand it to you, Faye. That idea was inspired."
Faye nodded emphatically. " Oh it was inspired alright." And she jutted a thumb in Skyler's general direction.
" There is no way I am putting up with that any longer then I have to."
Jet smirked as he and Faye headed up to the command deck. " You mean you don't find the man attractive or intriguing in any way? An individual loaded with woolongs, single, intelligent-"
" Come on, Jet!" Faye interrupted, huffing in aggravation. " Okay, so I like woolongs! I'm not the only one. But I'm not willing to suffer that even for a boat load of them." And she leaned against the control board, one hand on her hip. " I have my principles."
Jet laughed. " You don't say! Principles huh? More like-"
" You better not be planning on saying something I couldn't forget, Jet." Faye warned, her face as red as a beet.
Ed poked her head up from a grate in the floor between them. Faye jumped back, a small shriek escaping her lips before she could swallow it. Jet laughed even harder.
" Did Faye-Faye and Jet-person get all the FFI people? Huh? Did they?"
Ed looked at Jet who was holding his stomach, unable to reply. So she turned to Faye who was standing with her arms crossed, tapping her foot, and staring at him impatiently.
" Yeah, kid." She muttered without even looking at her. " Its all over." And then Faye started for the stairs, speaking to Jet over her shoulder. " When does Spike get back and when do we get rid of Mr. Bug Man out there?"
Jet, calmer now, took out a tissue and wiped his eyes. " Sometime tomorrow evening. Maybe later depending on travel conditions in the atmosphere. The good doctor," And he nodded in the general direction of the common room, " will be leaving early morning the next day."
Faye continued on her way.
Ed crawled up from the grate onto the floor and then up onto the control panel. She cocked her head to the side, staring after Faye curiously.
" Why does Faye-Faye always ask when Spike-person will be back every time he's away?"
Jet patted her head gently and began adjusting their coordinates. There were some things, he decided, that even genius child hackers didn't understand, at least not at her age.
He glanced at Ed, still staring at the doorway where Faye had walked through.
"What do I say to that?" He thought to himself. " I don't even understand what happened between me and Alisa. No way am I an authority on whatever's going on between Faye and Spike."
" Some things you've just gotta learn from experience." He finally replied. Ed looked at him. " I mean, it's not always the best thing to try and understand something just by asking folks." And then his eyes widened in alarm and he quickly turned to her. " But you really shouldn't try and understand this kind of stuff until your older and more mature to handle the possible consequences."
Thoroughly flustered and certain he was the worst guardian in the universe, he immediately turned back to his work and hoped she couldn't see his discomfort. There was silence and Jet turned his focus back to the dials and knobs on the control board. Maybe Ed would have better luck than the rest of them. At least he hoped so.
" Someone on this ship should get a happy ending." He thought to himself.
Ed continued to stare at him intently for several long minutes, to the point that Jet began to feel a bit self-conscious. At length he finally looked back at her, his eyebrows raised in question.
" Ed thinks Jet is a good person." She stated and suddenly hopped off the control panel and ducked back down into the floor grates leaving Jet to scratch his bald head in bewilderment.
" Yup. I have no idea how the female mind works." He sighed.
The Following Night:
Aaron Skyler gazed lovingly at a glass that sat next to his portable environment station.
" There my beautiful beetle. I know your PES is much more spacious and comfortable but I simply don't have the time or energy to clean it tonight. In the morning I will prepare your favorite space. I promise." And he gently rubbed the side of the glass, sighing wearily. " It has been quite the adventure hasn't it?" Only the sound of the fan whirling above his head could be heard in the silence.
Gently Sklyer lifted the glass so that the hallway light shined through. " Goodnight, my little friend." And he returned the glass to the coffee table, placing a napkin over its mouth. " Tomorrow we will be home." Letting loose a wide yawn he snuggled down into the couch, pulling his blanket over his shoulders, and promptly fell asleep.
Two hours later:
The hatch to the common room opened and Spike stepped through. Making his way down the stairs with silent steps he was already aware of someone sleeping on the couch and paused to look at Bebop's newest, temporary member.
It was dark. The light from the hallway cast long shadows and obscured Skyler's face. Spike's gaze wandered to the coffee table where he noticed the PES and two glasses. Crouching down he tried to see what was inside the strange fish bowl. Carefully he tried turning it around. When that didn't work he tried lifting it high enough so that the hallway light shined through but with no success he soon gave up. Suppressing a yawn he rose to his feet again and took a step towards the hallway and paused.
Turning back Spike quietly picked up the two glasses and made his way to the kitchen. Switching on the light he headed to the counter and opened the trash receptacle. He quickly tossed away the napkin and sniffed the cup, immediately snapping his head back with a disgusted cringe.
" Whew! What the heck was this?" And he dumped the contents of the glass with two hard shakes, turning to the faucet to give both glasses a quick rinse before setting them in the dishwasher and turning it on.
Yawning again he switched off the light and headed for bed.
Faye padded into the kitchen and found Jet already cracking eggs into a frying pan. She slipped past him to pull out plates and mugs, setting three places at the table with practiced ease.
" So did Spike get your message?" She asked, putting fresh coffee beans into the coffee maker.
Jet poured a few shakes of salsa into the frying pan. " Yeah. I checked a little bit ago. Bebop's log says the hangar has three ships now and our trash was jettisoned for garbage pickup. He must've gotten back when we were all asleep."
" Then I should put four places…" Faye mused out loud and reached for the cabinets again when a shriek rang through the hallway and into the kitchen.
Faye and Jet both jumped and looked at each other in surprise.
" What was that?" She asked already heading for the door with Jet right behind her.
Skyler suddenly stepped in front of them breathing heavily with crazed eyes.
" Uh… something wrong?" Jet asked with confusion.
Skyler's eyes shifted to him, glistening dangerously.
Faye gulped. " What happened? Why did you scream?"
They suddenly heard the sound of scampering feet and soon Spike and Ed and Ein were standing in the hall staring at the strange scene with confusion and curiosity.
" Did someone scream?" Spike asked.
Skyler's breathing became more labored by the second.
" He did but we don't know why." Faye replied, nodding to Skyler who suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders and began shaking her.
" Where is it? What did you do? Tell me! Tell meeee!"
" Hey! That's enough!" Jet barked and roughly pushed Skyler back while Faye stepped behind Jet, visibly taken off guard.
Skyler moved forward again and Spike pulled him back against the wall, Ed and Ein stepping out of the way.
" What's wrong with you?" He asked him harshly, already regretting having gotten out of bed to check out the morning ruckus.
" Someone… somebody took the beetle."
Faye and Jet looked at each other in surprise. " What? When?" Faye asked and ran into the common room to find the PES still sitting safe and sound on the coffee table.
" What's wrong with you? The beetle is right there on the table in its environmental… thingy."
Skyler shook his head and slid to the floor in defeat. " No! I placed it in a glass so that I could clean its environment this morning before our trip home!"
Spike jerked in surprise and could feel his heartbeat race. " Oh crap."
Faye marched over to Ed. " Did you eat it, Ed?"
" Wha…?" She replied innocently.
" Don't look at me like that. We all know you'll stick anything in that yapper of yours. Open up." And Faye pulled Ed's jaw down with one hand while she tugged at her wild, red hair with the other.
" Faye…" Jet began.
" Move your tongue, Ed."
" Faye…" Jet started again. " I don't think Ed ate the beetle."
Faye released her, and watched Ed scurry to hide behind Jet's legs. Faye growled in frustration and turned her attention to Ein. The corgi whined and hid behind Spike's legs.
" Well I know I didn't do anything to it." She stated confidently.
" Me neither." Jet replied.
" I might have."
Everyone looked at Spike in surprise.
Skyler scrambled back to his feet. " What? You?"
" What did you do with it Spike?" Jet asked in bewilderment.
Spike tugged at the collar of his nightshirt and felt his face heat up. " Is it just me or is it getting hot in here? And…" He sniffed the air for a second. " Is something burning?..."
" The eggs!" Jet realized and hurried into the kitchen to remove the frying pan from the heat. The eggs were burned and smoking. His moan of disappointment could be heard in the hall a moment before he returned.
Skyler's face was beet red and he was literally trembling.
" Ah… yeah so, you see…I uh… I saw the two glasses and… I thought… well since you're the guest and all…" Spike was stumbling over his words trying to explain what happened when Faye suddenly stepped up beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He immediately stopped talking and gave her a withering look, fully expecting a verbal beat down. But Faye was looking at Skyler.
" Dr. Skyler your beetle's gone." She explained patiently. " It was an accident and we're very sorry. Is there anything we can do to help you at this time?"
Jet and Spike stared at her in astonishment and even Ed and Ein were surprised. Faye spoke with the most sincerest and kindest voice they had ever heard come out of her mouth.
Skyler was incest.
20 Minutes Later:
" … and don't think that all of you can get away with this! You owe me for damages to my personal property! And you owe me for taking my time! And you owe me for-"
" Yeah, yeah, yeah." Faye replied stepping aside as he stepped off Bebop and onto the dock.
" You as a group promised to protect the beetle! And now the last known male of an entire beetle species is lost in space! Forever!"
" Now that's not our fault." Jet reasoned. " How was Spike supposed to know you had placed it in a glass when its PSE-"
" PES! PES!"
" - when its PES was sitting right there beside it? Weren't you supposed to be its guardian?"
Skyler's entire countenance wilted and for a moment it looked as if he would relent. But suddenly he jerked his head up and glared at them. " I trusted you! All of you will pay for this crime! I-I'll sue! I'll… I'll put out bounties on all of your heads!" And he noticed Ed and Ein. " Even on the girl and the little dog too!"
" Get off my ship!" Jet roared.
Skyler visibly cowarded and quickly shuffled away but once he was within safe distance, and still within earshot, he turned back and yelled at them again. " Species killers!"
Faye turned to Spike. " So I know it was all an accident but…how could you put our reward in jeopardy like that and kill an endangered species?"
Spike raised his open hands defensively. " What? Hey, Jet's right. How was I supposed to know there was an endangered species in one of the glasses? Besides, nothing that smelled that bad could be good for anything." Ed nodded in agreement, following them back inside.
Spike continued. " I'd like to think that I did the universe a favor."
" Favor, favor! Special beetle got a special favor!" Ed chimed in and zoomed past Faye and Spike, flapping her arms and imagining them to be beetle wings in flight.
In a trash dump on the outskirts of the wildlife and farming districts a garbage bag shifted and fell open spilling its contents onto the trash around it.
A moment later trash hunters converged with rakes and shovels. One man paused for a moment to readjust his mask before continuing the labor when something suddenly buzzed by his ear and landed on his shoulder. With annoyance he flicked the insect off.
" Damn bugs. I swear they're more abundant this year than any other!" He bemoaned to a buddy.
A strong breeze blew by and the insect lifted its wings and took to flight, carried by the wind into a meadow where it landed on a leaf. Tucking its wings away it inched closer to the leaf's tip where it was suddenly met by two beetles just like itself. They each touched its antennae in greeting. A moment later the whole meadow came to life as more and more beetles dropped their camouflage. As far as the eye could see they resided on leaves and branches and flowers.
And The Chameleon beetle lived happily ever after.
Opening Poem: " Hurt No Living Thing" by Sue Feher