"We could knock," Edward suggested.
Knocking was something no one in the Bebop crew ever did, and she had always wanted to try it out.
"We could, but they wouldn't answer the door or talk to us," Spike answered. "High class households like those value their privacy. Venus' islands are their own kind of gated communities, and the household staff live on the properties. Those places are designed to keep people from wandering onto the properties. If we knock on the front door, we'll either have the cops called on us, or we'll be directed to a professional answering system on the planet's surface."
At Spike's explanation, Edward blinked. Mostly, she was surprised he knew so much about a bunch of upscale households on Venus.
Then, she remembered – a long time ago, Spike worked with people who had lots and lots and lots of money. He probably knew so much about the floating islands because he had visited them a time or two.
"We could do what Jonston did. Get us some fake IDs and go in disguised as a maintenance crew," Spike suggested.
"No good," Jet said, shaking his head. "The more I look into this guy, the shadier this deal gets."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Spike asked, and Edward frowned right along with him, because this was not supposed to be a big bounty. 30,000 woolongs wasn't worth any fuss.
"It means that you're right about these estates being very private and very secure. I've looked into the hiring process for these households and found that most of them use a hiring agency. A hiring agency that uses the same background checking process as most government agencies. Jonston's false papers never would have stood up to official examination."
"Then...?" Spike pressed.
"I think his employers know exactly who he is and what he's done, and they gave him a job to help him hide. He's worn out his welcome, though."
"What makes you think that?" Edward asked.
"The owners of this particular estate have a son, and it seems Jonston's been a bad influence on him. The kid's gotten into an awful lot of scrapes since Jonston moved in."
Curious, Edward quickly stuck her goggles on her face, attached them to her Tomato, and dove into cyberspace. It was the work of a few moments before she found the info they needed.
"Friedrich Von Ansbach owns the island," she announced, pushing her goggles off of her face. "Born on Earth, he started out as a scam artist just like Jonston, and at one point he even worked with Jonston. Instead of keeping criminal, Von Ansbach married rich and went legit. Looks like Jonston might be blackmailing him. That, combined with the trouble Von Ansbach's kid has been getting into with Jonston around, and I think you're right, Jet. Those people will want Jonston out. Von Ansbach might even give us a reward for getting the guy out of his house."
Jet and Spike took a moment to process this information.
Then, Spike said, "Hey. How old is the kid?"
"Von Ansbach's kid?" Edward confirmed. Blinking at her Tomato's screen, she announced, "He's... 15-years-old."
"Huh. So he's about a year younger than you, right?" Spike asked.
"He's four years younger than me," she corrected.
"Spike, no," Jet said.
"Well why not? We can't get into the house. They'll screen us at the door and we've already established that fake papers wouldn't pass inspection. They wouldn't screen a kid though, right?"
For a moment, Jet looked like he wanted to argue. But then, his eyes darted from Spike, to the information pulled up on his own computer screen, then to Edward and then back to his computer again.
"Yeah, actually, that could work," Jet slowly confirmed.
Thus, for the first time in her life, Edward went to school.
The kid, William Von Ansbach, was the weak link. His home may have been a fortress, but his planet bound school was not. Edward easily hacked the school's systems and enrolled herself as the 16-year-old Addison Treton. She was also able to find a seamstress who sold cheap hand-me-down uniforms to kids who went to the academy on scholarship.
"Wow, you work fast," Jet told Edward when she was ready to begin her mission the morning after the Bebop crew had decided to tackle the bounty. He watched her as she finished tying her shoes, then straitened to inspect her appearance in the mirror she faced.
The skirts, Jet had gotten used to. He'd even gotten used to her long clean braided hair, too. But seeing her in shoes and a stylish, conservative tweed jacket that actually fit her... It would be less strange if Ein took up beat boxing and Tide started walking upright.
"Where's Spike?" Edward sighed in irritation as she fumbled the knot she was trying to tie. "He knows how to do these things, right?" She frowned at the thin sliver of fabric which was apparently a required part of the school's uniform, even for the girls.
Spike, who walked into the common area just then, wandered over and asked, "You sure you can handle this? You'll be going in solo unless you signal us." When Edward held out the tie for him, Spike took it and tossed it around Edward's neck and began to efficiently tie a knot.
"Marty Jonston is chump change," Edward said.
The words had become a mantra ever since she'd realized she would be doing this job solo. She had always, always had help before. But she doubted this job would be nearly as unpredictable as Hutch Varlet. Or the Ceres bounty. Or any of the other dozens of bounties Edward had had a hand in. Marty Jonston was chump change.
"I can handle him," she declared as Spike finished with her tie.
When she inspected her appearance in the mirror, she was surprised at how nice the tie was done up. Spike tied his own tie every day, but it was never done so neat and precisely as hers was now.
"Well," Spike said as he inspected her reflection in the mirror. "You look the part, at least. Don't say... Don't do... Just... Be normal."
From the couch, Jet gave a low grumble to show the humor he felt in regards to that particular instruction.
Giving a long sigh of his own, Spike asked, "You have your gun on you, right?"
"Sure," Edward told him.
"You'll be fine, then."
The Bebop couldn't risk docking on planet, but Edward's Sailfin was clean, so that's what she took to school.
Apparently, most people didn't have their own personal star ships even when they were rich. Therefore, Edward was instantly popular when she showed up at school and parked her Sailfin on the academy's front lawn.
The last time this many people had been aware of her was right after she had shot Billy Hypner. Nowadays, most people didn't even remember the guy, or his brief rampage, and even fewer people remembered Edward. So it was strange to gain so much attention without actually having done anything.
The attention made it easy for her to meet William Von Ansbach, though.
The kid was small (half a foot shorter than Edward), but he wasn't shy, that was for sure. He was included in the first wave of people who approached her after she finished powering down her ship.
And oh, what a coincidence, they had the same class first hour! They could walk there together!
As they walked, William asked question after question about her star ship – What did she have to do to convince her parents to get one of those for her? How old was it? How much did it cost? How long did it take her to earn her piloting licence?
After Edward had replied to every single one of the kid's questions with a blatant lie, William declared, "Wow, Addison, you're amazing. I think you're the most amazing girl I've ever met. The most beautiful, too. Want to hang out after school? I have an arcade at my house!"
Wow, Edward thought. That was easy.
Easy, Edward kept telling herself. Easy, easy, easy. Chump change.
Marty Jonston knew she was coming.
Okay, maybe he didn't expect her, specifically, but he knew he'd worn out his welcome on Venus, and he knew there was a bounty on him, and he knew it was only a matter of time.
He probably didn't expect that it would happen like this, though. Maybe that was why he lost his temper so quickly once he realized there was someone he didn't know inside the house.
"Addison?" William asked.
"Edward," she corrected as she aimed her sights at Jonston.
Dinner was already ruined, she figured, since Marty had started yelling, and she'd drawn her Rugger and all, so there was no point in telling any more stories (The shoes were stiff and uncomfortable and she wanted to feel the home's lush, soft carpet beneath her toes. She had also decided that the name Addison was unsuited to her. As was academia). "And I'm here for Marty. He's going to get me some woolongs."
Jonston fought. Roaring, he jumped over over the dinner table, disrupting the flawless table cloth, the shining china, and the neat place settings.
He was a criminal, and it was criminal of him to disrupt such a perfect meal, so Edward had no issue with shooting him in in his leg.
As Jonston was crying and moaning on the floor, Edward quickly moved to secure his arms behind his back and she told Mr. and Mrs. Von Ansbach, "I'll just take him off your hands, yeah?"
After cashing Marty Jonston in, Edward made her way back to the Bebop. As she approached the ship, she got Jet on the coms.
"Hey, Jet, can you take a look at my ship when I get in? I know you gave it a tune up last week, but there was some drag while I was exiting the atmosphere."
"Sure thing, Ed. I'll meet you in the hanger."
When she was safely back on the Bebop and Jet was elbow-deep in her Sailfin's engine, Edward conversationally asked, "Did you pick anyone up today?"
"Nah," Jet said with a bitter twist to his mouth. "My guy skipped planet last night, and the ISSP beat Spike to his guy. But we're in luck, because a few new warrants were posted. Cristina Varcos stole a whopping 20 million woolongs from the corporation she was working for and made a run for it. We think she's hiding out on one of the hypergate ports, trying to get lost in the crowds. We'll have some footwork to do tomorrow."
"How much are they offering for her?" Edward asked.
"105,000," Jet said with a grin.
Edward hummed, "Not bad," she murmured. "Anything else?"
"Nothing small. A couple of big bounties with histories of violence."
Well, forget that. Edward had already fired her gun once this week.
Absently, Edward thought about which port the woman would most likely be at. There were three near the Venus hypergate. One was primarily a lay station for transporters and travelers. Another port was mostly residential housing for the people who ran the hypergate and worked in the businesses at the other nearby ports. The last was an upscale mall with a casino, several nice restaurants, and several score of specialty stores and boutiques.
Their bounty would probably be staying in the casino's hotel. Casinos didn't much care if their customers were criminals, as long as they had money to spend. And the place would be populated enough that Varcos could easily be lost in the crowd.
Edward didn't feel much like going after a bounty, though. She had wasted the entire day before attending school, and she had work she needed to catch up on for the hospital and for her faux Blue Goop.
Jet or Spike could check out the mall. She'd offer to visit the lay station, where there were several pawn shops and second hand electronics stores she could just happen to wander by while looking for the bounty head.
Suddenly grunting, Jet said, "Ed, I can't find anything wrong. Your engine's fine, the connections are all good, and there aren't any external parts loose. When did you start to feel the lag?"
"On my way back to the Bebop."
"It wasn't acting up while you were transporting the guy?"
"I didn't use it to transport Jonston. William said star ships weren't allowed to land on the islands unless the star ship was owned by the island's residents or had special permits. The Von Ansbachs took Jonston and I to the station in their hovercar. Said they wanted to clear the air of their past crimes so that no one could blackmail them again. My Sailfin was parked on the academy lawn all day. Why?"
"I'm not..." Jet murmured, his eyebrows furrowed. "I mean... The only other reason there might be lag would be because your ship was overweight. Check your cargo and make sure that someone didn't stash contraband on your ship while your back was turned."
Jumping up into the cockpit of her star ship, Edward started opening hatches.
She soon found the problem.
"Hey," William Von Ansbach said with a sheepish grin as he looked up at her from one of the Sailfin's small cargo hold. "Think you can help me out of here? This is a tight fit, and I kind of can't feel my legs."
Spike watched incredulously as the stowaway carried two more armfuls of luggage into the common area.
"Edward, when you offered to bring souvenirs, I was not agreeing to this. That kid has more crap than Faye!"
"It's not crap!" William argued. Indignantly, he said, "This is stuff that will help me be a bounty hunter! Like Ad – Like Edward! I'm joining your crew!"
There was a beat of silence, and then the laughter began. Spike was laughing so hard that he fell back against the couch, and Jet's booming laughter was echoing off of the Bebop's metal walls.
After several long, long minuets in which William glared from man to man and visibly fought down an embarrassed flush, the two men finally began to calm.
"I needed a good laugh," Spike chuckled as he settled back into his chair.
Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, Jet said, "I'll be up on the bridge. We should be back in Venus' orbit an an hour or so."
"I have money," William declared.
Edward sighed. Because even when they were in cash, the offer of money made those idiots pause.
"Plus," William hurried to continue as soon as he realized he had their attention, "I told my parents that I'd be staying with friends while they cleaned up that whole Jonston mess. If you take me back now, I'll tell them you kidnapped me. So where should I put my things?"
While William unpacked, the Bebop crew met on the bridge.
"I say we knock him out and drop him off at home," Spike suggested.
"We'll call his parents. They can come and get him their own damn selves," Jet countered.
"I say we keep him on," Edward told them.
"What?" the two men asked in tandem, looking to Edward.
"The kid grew up in a posh house where he never wanted for anything, and he goes to a posh school where there are so many rules... He wants adventure. He got a taste of it when Jonston started staying with his family, and now he wants more."
"We're not letting him stay, Ed," Jet said flatly. "I don't want any kids on this ship!"
Briefly, Edward wanted to argue, I was a kid. You let me stay on the ship. But she bit her tongue, because it wasn't the same, she was well aware.
"Of course not, Jet," Edward said, instead of saying something she'd regret. "But it has to be his idea to leave."
"Yeah?" Spike drawled. "And how do you suggest we give him that idea?"
Slowly, Edward answered, "Hide the food and hide the money. We'll show him how hard and frustrating the footwork can be when there hasn't been a meal in two days, and then we'll treat him to the Bebop at its most boring. William wants adventure? He won't find any here."
"Two packs of cigarettes and a bottle of whisky says the kid doesn't last a week," Spike said.
"Kid's determined," Jet grunted. "I'll give him two."
If Edward had any whisky to bet with, she would have corrected them.
William wasn't a bad kid. He was simply bored.
That didn't mean that Edward would go easy on him, though, because he did not belong on the Bebop.
"Where's your room?" he asked with a cocky grin, and Edward felt sorry for him because the grin was a poor imitation of Spike's.
"I don't have one," she told him, and William blinked.
She hadn't really paid attention to him during the job on Venus beyond noticing that he was kind of small (a late bloomer like her, she thought). Otherwise, he wasn't much to look at. He had a round face, thin lips, and mousy brown hair. His nose looked like it had grown up before the rest of his body, and it was unfortunately large.
His eyes were a pleasant warm blue, though.
"What do you mean, you don't have a room?" he asked. He seemed to have forgotten that he was trying to flirt with her, and his wide, curious eyes made him seem younger than he actually was.
"I mean, I have one, I guess, but it doesn't have a bed and I don't sleep there. I use it for storage."
"Where do you sleep, then?" he pressed.
"Wherever I fall," Edward told him with a shrug. "So... usually on the floor."
William inspected the Bebop's hard metal floors and the bumpy grating used for the landings and stairs. Then, he again tried to give her a slick grin, and again he tried too hard. "You could use my bed," he told her.
The kid had balls. Edward would give him that.
"Robbing the cradle, Ed?" Spike asked as he wandered into the common room, and Edward rolled her eyes at the man's crass humor.
When William realized that Spike had overheard as he attempted to flirt with Ed, his shoulders sagged and he flushed a bright red.
Spike dropped onto the couch beside Edward, kicked his feet up on the coffee table, and he flipped the television on. The sound of the TV did nothing to drown out the sound of Spike's growling stomach.
Edward was well used to the sound, but William scowled. "When's dinner?" he asked.
Spike shrugged. "Ask Jet. His turn to cook."
Will wandered off to the kitchen to do just that.
"Be nice," Edward demanded.
"There isn't a place for him here," Spike answered as he lit a cigarette for Edward, then another for himself. "Sooner he figures that out, the sooner he's out of our hair."
"Wow, you weren't kidding," William said.
Edward blinked awake. The first thing she saw was Jet's bare feet, then Spike's. Then, she saw William where he was kneeling and peering at where she was lying underneath the kitchen table.
"Is it time for breakfast?" Edward asked as she stretched and then moved to get a look at what was on top of the table rather than what was underneath.
"Jet made lettuce with vinaigrette. Again," William said with an angry pout as he stood from his place kneeling on the floor.
Edward sure hoped that William didn't spend the entire morning describing the meals that his family's live-in chef could make like he had the night before after they had finished eating their lettuce and vinaigrette dinner.
Edward wondered if the boy had ever gone to bed hungry in his life.
"You say one more word about your fancy chef, we'll leave you marooned on an asteroid," Spike threatened as if reading Edward's mind. "A couple days there and you'll be begging for lettuce, vinegar or no."
"Shut your mouth, Spike. Just 'cause the kid doesn't know how to appreciate what's come to him doesn't mean you have to be mean to him," Jet said absently as he typed at his computer. "Ed, eat and dress. We're docking at 0900."
"All right!" William cried. "Are we going after a bounty?"
"Maybe," Jet muttered. "Depends on if we can find her or not. Spike will search the lay station, and I'll take the mall. Ed, I want you in cyberspace looking for any connections the bounty might have in the area."
"Whatever," Spike said as Edward hummed a, "Sir, yes, sir."
When they were ironing out their game plan the night before, she had tried talking Jet into letting her into the port, but he had argued that if she left, the kid would want to leave with her. So ship-bound she would stay.
"What about me?" William asked.
"What about you, Will?" Spike asked.
For that one, Edward kicked him under the table, because now he was being cruel for the sake of being cruel.
"Ouch!" Spike snapped, scowling. "Damn it! Every day that passes there are more kids, more pets, and more women with attitude on this ship! Stop picking up strays, Ed, and stop taking tips from Faye!"
"Enough, Spike," Jet snapped. Then, with a sigh, he said, "And kid, you'll be staying on the ship with Edward. Ed, you're in charge."
"I'm not a kid!" Will cried indignantly. He was blushing again as he went on to say, "I'm 15-years-old! I don't need a baby-sitter!"
"Don't care," Jet barked, finally losing his patience with all the bickering. Rubbing at the headache forming in his temples, he cursed his rotten luck that was a kid on his ship and Spike's lousy mood. Then he praised his good fortune that Faye wasn't here for this debacle. Everyone was already on edge without her special brand of antagonism.
Edward was good at what she did because she had an intrinsic understanding of electronics; she could code and deconstruct encryption algorithms the way most people could breathe. However, the goggles she used magnified her ability by about 100.
The goggles allowed instant access to avenues which would otherwise be unavailable for days, weeks, or even months, depending on how skilled a hacker was and how quickly they worked.
The goggles allowed Edward to multitask. Of course, the word multitask didn't really do justice in describing what Edward did, because with those goggles, Edward could be everywhere, instantly.
Yes, the goggles were special. Of course, Edward was special, too, because of her ability to use the goggles.
There were only five pairs of the goggles in existence. This wasn't because they were some top-secret military grade spy equipment. Everyone knew about the devices, and construction plans could be found anywhere in cyberspace. They weren't impossibly expensive, either; the materials were actually inexpensive and it didn't take copious amounts of skill to piece a pair together. The true reason for there being so few in use was that there just wasn't any demand for them, because no one could tolerate the things.
The goggles were too much stimulation for the vast majority of people. They provided too much information too quickly, and when combined with the visuals and sounds of swimming in cyberspace, it often resulted in instantaneous nausea for the users.
And that's why Edward was so good; she had spent years building her tolerance for the goggles. They accessed multiple pathways to follow and they navigated so quickly that within a nanosecond, Edward had to recognize where she was going, where she wanted to go, and then sift past the multiple pathways which were laid out before her, and then she had to pass instant judgment.
It was difficult, and it took a lot of focus, and there was still a lot of manual hacking work involved, but Edward was comfortable in the goggles, and she was good at what she did.
It took a lot of effort for her to talk to people outside of cyberspace while she was looking into it. And Edward wasn't used to being interrupted during her goggle time.
So when Edward felt a gentle tap on her lower back, her concentration was lost. The images in front of her eyes became blurred and distorted, and she became dizzy before she had time to push her goggles off of her face and down around her neck.
For a moment, Edward could only blink at her Tomato's screen because she was so disoriented.
Then, she turned around to yell at Will, because he had pulled her out of cyberspace a dozen times that day, and she was sick of it. She wasn't getting anything done, the interruptions made her dizzy, and she was tired of the young teenager interrupting her swimming when things were just starting to get interesting.
Will wasn't crouching behind her, though, like he had been the other times he'd broken her concentration.
Edward craned her head around and then up so she could meet Spike's eyes. The man was standing, and he loomed over her, watching.
"Spike?" Edward asked.
"Jet and I just got back," he explained.
"Any luck?" she asked, blinking and moving to rub the impression of swirling colors out of her eyes.
"No," she huffed, her irritation audible. "Willy kept interrupting. Last time, I almost pulled a Faye and drew my gun on him."
Spike treated her with a low chuckle and a lopsided grin. "As long as you don't try the same with me, I say do whatever you want. Come on, I'm going into port to get some real food. Let's leave Jet and the kid to their lettuce."
Not Lettuce sounded wonderful, and Edward thought that if Spike was going with her, he could help carry some of her electronics to the pawn shop.
After grabbing a load of equipment and shoving a good haul into Spike's arms and then gathering her own armfull, they started off.
As they passed the kitchen, they heard Jet berating William.
"Kid, if you don't cut them right, they won't cook right! If we put this in a pot to cook, half the pieces will be too soft and the others will still be crunchy."
"I'm not a kid!"
"You're acting like a kid, pouting and following Ed around like a love sick puppy. The woman's got work to do, and she won't get anything done with you harassing her!"
The bickering between Jet and William continued, but they were talking fast and loud and their words echoed off the metal walls and distorted the conversation as soon as she and Spike were just a bit further down the hall. Edward was relieved they had gotten past the kitchen without being noticed.
As she and Spike made their way off of the ship and into the port, Edward sighed. "I know none of us like having him here, but he's not bad. He's actually pretty nice."
"Nice things don't last, Edward," Spike told her, his tone just as dismissive as his words. "And it doesn't matter how nice he is, besides. Have you ever seen anyone that blushes as much as he does? He'd be embarrassed if a leaf got stuck in his hair."
"Just because you don't have any shame doesn't mean it's a bad thing when other people do."
"Shame doesn't have a place on the Bebop," Spike reminded her. "Not with half the trouble we find ourselves in."
The man had a point. Edward remembered the time Jet had taken a bullet right in his left butt cheek. Spike had had to patch him up while Faye looked on and heckled the both of them.
"Only thing that kid does as well as anyone else on the Bebop is complain. He complains about all the wrong things, though. I didn't think it was possible to go on about the water pressure in the shower the way he does."
"He must have asked me why I sleep on the floor twenty times. None of my answers were good enough for him."
Spike snorted. "That one I get. It confused us, too, when you started hanging around. Faye thought that if we didn't offer you a room, you'd take the hint and get lost. The first time she found you asleep in the stairwell, she made Jet and I check to make sure you weren't dead."
Edward didn't think she had ever slept on a real bed until she stolen Faye's room. And even after sleeping in a proper bed, Edward didn't understand what the fuss was.
During dinner, which Edward paid for using the money she'd gotten from pawning her old electronics, Edward told Spike, "I'll bet you the footwork for a bounty that he's gone by this time tomorrow."
His eyebrows rose and his expression clearly belayed that he thought Edward was insane to even suggest such a thing, but Spike didn't hesitate for even a moment before saying, "Deal."
The next day, Jet found a lead on their bounty, so he and Spike left for the casino's hotel shortly after breakfast.
"Hey Ed?" William said after the two men had left.
"Hum?" Edward murmured as she unscrewed the casing for her Tomato so that she could give the computer a little love and a few upgraded parts.
"You guys aren't taking me with you, are you?"
Looking up, Edward saw the boy sitting at the couch, staring at his hands clasped in his lap and biting his lip.
"No," she answered. "You don't belong here, Willy."
"I would if you'd just give me a chance!" he argued, his hands turning into fists. "Instead you're being mean to me and leaving me behind and – and you're not feeding me! I know you guys have real food stashed somewhere on this ship!"
Suddenly, Edward felt bad. They had been really mean to him, and he didn't deserve that-
"You don't deserve any of this," Edward finally told him with a long sigh. "Sure, Will. We're in money right now, and we have food. But most of the time, we don't. You know, none of us can stomach mushrooms anymore because one time, we didn't have a bite of anything else to eat on the ship for forty-two days. There have been several times when we've had less than that to eat. And as for everything else... That's how things work. People are mean. They're real mean, and they'll use more than words to hurt you. Leaving you behind is just... what people do. We didn't chose this, Will. None of us."
Briefly, Edward remembered the knowing. The knowing that she was alone, that there was no money and no food, and knowing that the ISSP was closing in on her. The only option was to keep moving, to always keep moving, and at the time she hadn't been able to move easily around Earth.
"You don't need this place. You have a future," Edward told the younger teen.
William blinked at her. Then, he frowned. "You could, too. If you came back with me. My parents have lots of money, and they're really thankful that you helped get Jonston out of the house. They'd be glad to help set you up at the Academy. You could go to college, then. You could do anything you want and-"
"No," Edward told him. "I can't." Because she couldn't stop moving. Not ever.
And honestly? She didn't want to.
"But... I love you."
Edward gaped at the boy. "What?!" she cried.
"I love you! You're the most amazing person I've ever met, and you're beautiful and smart and-"
"Nothing nice lasts," Edward loudly interrupted.
William asked for one date – just one! And Edward still felt really bad for hiding the food from him and letting the guys be mean to him over the past couple of days, so she agreed.
They went into the port and had a meal, then they wandered around the shops. William had never been off planet before, and he had never been to what he called the "bad side of the gate," so they didn't wander far from the ship. Edward didn't want the kid to learn was the real bad side of the gate looked like.
The kid tried way, way too hard, but Edward figured that with a little practice he'd eventually be good at showing a girl a good time.
As they were walking back to the ship after their date, William asked, "It's Spike, isn't it?"
"Is it that obvious?" Edward asked with a sigh and a smile.
"Yeah," he answered, and his frown was heavy with dejection. "You just seem... you're happier whenever he's around. Even when he's done something stupid or said something mean, you're happy."
"He's the only thing I've ever really wanted," Edward revealed.
"Why?" he asked. "He's just... He's such a... He's such an ass-hole."
Edward laughed, because Spike certainly hadn't given Will any reason to have any other opinion.
"Most of the time, yeah, he is. But every now and again, he-"
William suddenly grabbed Edward's arm, forcing her to a stop.
Blinking at his wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression, Edward asked, "What's up, kid?"
"Isn't that your bounty?" he asked, pointing.
And fuck, it was. The woman looked conspicuous as all get out huddled in a long, dark overcoat while wearing dark sunglasses and with her hair badly bleached. She went through all the trouble of changing her hair and her clothes, but she was wearing the same offensively purple lipstick as she was in her bounty photo.
"I didn't bring my gun," Edward realized, and she could just shoot herself. "Crap."
Christina Varcos was simply standing in one area, her restlessly shifting her weight from foot to foot and her head turning one way and then the other, making it obvious that she was watching for someone.
"I can help," William declared.
"What? No. We need to get to the ship and I need to get my gun-"
"I can get her to the ship!" Will argued. "Trust me!"
Then, he jerked away from Edward and he was on the move.
And damn it, Edward didn't have a gun, but the bounty might, and this could go wrong. So, so wrong.
But as Edward watched, Will approached the woman and right before Varcos noticed him, he... began to sniffle and cry.
Edward watched as the woman noticed a teary-eyed William, began to dismiss him when he wasn't who she was looking for, and then did a double take. Before Edward knew it, the woman had wrapped a comforting forearm around the kid's shoulders and the pair were walking towards the docks, towards the Bebop.
Edward kept her distance as she followed along behind, at first. But as they approached the docking ports, the walkways became more crowded with people going to and from the ships, and she followed closer. Eventually, she was right behind the pair, within arm's reach in case the woman made a move, and she was able to hear their conversation.
"-no idea," Will was saying through fake sobs. "I stopped for just a moment and when I turned around, she was gone!"
"You said your father was meeting the captain of a fishing vessel, right? You said you came here to trade fish?" the woman asked in confirmation as they came upon the Bebop. She eyed the ship wearily for a moment, but when William let out a particularly pathetic sounding sniffle, she urged him forward and said, "We'll see if this lot has seen him, okay? And if he's here, he'll probably know where your mother is as well. Come on, now."
They moved to the airlock, Varcos pressing the buzzer at the Bebop's port side entrance. As always, Edward was wearing her goggles and she had no problem slipping them on, hacking into the Bebop, and triggering the green light which indicating that the ship's captain was granting entrance.
The airlock opened and when Will and Varcos moved into the small cabin, Edward darted in behind the pair before the doors could close.
Varcos, noticing the sudden movement from behind, jumped a good foot in the air. Holding a hand to her heart, she spun around and cried, "What – You scared me half to-"
The hand at her heart looked an awful lot like a hand reaching for a gun hidden inside of an unseasonably thick coat, so Edward took a swing at the woman.
Cristina Varcos couldn't take a hit, and a single punch had her laid out and unconscious at the bottom of the airlock.
"Whoa," William muttered from where he was pressed against the other side of the airlock. And then, "What a rush!" he cried, all traces of panic and sorrow gone from his expression.
"Nice trick," Edward told him with a grin.
"It also works for getting personal home arcades," he proudly declared.
Edward radioed the guys, and within half an hour the Bebop was headed back towards Venus.
"Since I did most of the work, does that mean I get a part of the bounty?" William asked.
"Kid, I'm still trying to talk Spike out of marooning you on an asteroid. Don't push your luck," Jet grumbled.
"You may have gotten Varcos to the ship, but Ed did the real work – subduing and securing the prisoner," Spike muttered in agreement.
Spike's nitpicking did nothing to kill Will's good mood. "You should have seen her! One hit and bam! Down for the count! Amazing! Ed didn't even pause!"
Jet looked at Edward with a raised eyebrow. "You're not usually one to go straight for the hit."
"I thought she was reaching for a gun," Edward explained with a shrug.
"Good reflexes," Spike said with a nod as he lit a cigarette for her.
"Don't encourage her, Spike," Jet commanded with a long sigh. "Two trigger happy maniacs on my ship are enough, thank you. Next time, Ed, don't leave the ship without-"
Jet's post capture routine of killing the mood by pointing out what everyone did wrong was cut short when a hard blast suddenly rocked the ship.
The crew was back on their feet and moving into action within moments. Jet was rushing to the pilot's chair and running a systems check, Spike was revving up the ship's weapons, and Edward was setting up her Tomato.
Will scrambled to keep up. "What... what was that?"
"The Bebop's being attacked," Edward shortly explained. "And it's never a good sign when they deliver the warning shot before stating their terms."
"A-attacked?" William stuttered.
Spike was inspecting the attacking ship, announcing information on the year, make, special functions, and any weapons modifications which he spotted. Spike was eventually able to spot the ship's name and serial number, and then it was only a matter of moments before Edward had information on it's owner.
"Jasper... Jasper Elm," Edward announced, and in the pilot's seat, Jet cursed.
"What is it?" Spike asked. "You know him?"
"Yeah," Jet grumbled. "He's the biggest bounty in this quadrant right now. Got into a bar fight that ended with him killing two ISSP officers. What does he want with us, though? We avoided going after the main bounties to keep anything like this from happening!"
Spike gave a low, bitter chuckle. "As if this week wasn't already interesting enough..."
On cue, the other ship sent them a wave on the comms. When Jet opened the video feed, their confusion over the attack was quickly alleviated when a man announced, "You've got exactly five minutes to give me back my woman before I blow a hole in your hull."
In response, Jet sighed. "Can't anything ever go as planned?"
"They've only been dating for a few weeks, but apparently it was love at first sight," Jet explained after doing a little digging into Varcos and Elm's relationship.
"Seriously?" Spike asked as he moved to look over Jet's shoulder at the information displayed on the computer. "Talk about worlds colliding. How did a corporate big-shot like Varcos end up with a loser like this Elm guy?"
"A few months ago, Varcos moved into the apartment complex that Elm worked maintenance for," Jet explained. "They were dating within the week. And then, after the guy killed two ISSP officers, I guess she decided to steal several million woolongs from her job and run away with him."
"Such romance," Edward sighed.
"Yeah. But now we've got his ticket out of town," Spike said with a frown. "And Elm's so worked up he's looking for a gun fight. We've got to be careful with this one."
"So much for keeping our heads low," Jet grumbled.
Elm's ship was armed to the teeth, and the Bebop wasn't capable of taking a hit from even one of his ship's missiles, so they decided they had no choice but to allow him to dock.
"Why don't we just run?" Will asked, his eyes darting around the corridor as Edward led him to a secure area of the ship and away from any action which might occur while Spike and Jet negotiated releasing Varcos to Elm.
"Because he'll chase after us if we run," Edward hurried to explain. "This guy's a big bounty, Willy. He shot and killed two ISSP officers, and if he's captured now, he's dead for sure. So he's desperate. He thinks there's a chance he can still walk away, but it's a very slim chance and he'll have to take some pretty serious risks to come out of this on top. It's the fact that he's willing to take those risks that makes him so dangerous."
"Well what will you do?" Will asked as he hurried to keep up with Edward's clipped pace.
"We'll take some risks of our own," Edward said as she looked back at Will with a sly grin. "We just have to out bluff-"
As Edward spoke, the ship was rocked by another explosion. And when the ship was rocked, Edward and Will were thrown.
William hit the wall with a sharp, echoing cry, but when Edward hit, no sound was made beyond the crack of her skull against metal.
Edward awoke to yelling.
"Your fault!" an unfamiliar voice was crying, the words echoing through the halls. "Your fault!"
"Our fault?! We gave you permission to board!" Jet was yelling back, his tone frantic. "We agreed to your terms! You're the one who shot us!"
Edward's head hurt, and even with her eyes closed things were spinning.
"Stop," Spike quietly demanded from somewhere nearby, his voice a low, sharp hiss. "Stop shaking her! You're going to make it worse!"
"She isn't moving!" Willy urgently whispered back. Edward could tell by the wobble in his voice that he was crying. For real, most likely.
"M'fine," Edward grumbled, trying to blink her eyes and process what was going on around her. "Really, m'fine. What... What happened?"
"Elm hit the ship and Varcos died in the blast," Spike quietly told her as he suddenly came to kneel next to them. He put a supportive hand to her back when she tried to sit up. "The hit shook us up, and Elm caught us while our guns were down. It looks bad, Ed."
And Elm was screaming. "I loved her! I loved her!"
"Willy?" Edward asked when she heard the teen sniffle. "What?"
"My arm hurts. And I don't... It's hard to breathe."
"We need to get back to Venus before the auxiliary systems shut down," Spike told her. "The Bebop's venting air."
"Fuck," Edward cursed, and she pushed herself to her knees.
The primary lighting was gone, and instead the ship's halls were illuminated by blinking red emergency lights. Edward had always liked the way the Bebop looked in red. The cold gray metal of the ship turned warm and bright, and-
"Focus," Spike murmured.
Dimly, Edward could hear Jet arguing with Elm. She thought it was strange that they sounded so far away when she could see that they were actually rather close to their huddle.
"Edward, do you have your Rudger?" Spike quietly asked her.
After running into a bounty unprepared, Edward had always made sure to have her gun in the holster on her thy, hidden beneath the folds of her skirt. It was on hand, but out of sight, and the feel of the heavy leather holster against her skin was soothing just then.
"I've got a lot of things, Spike," Edward told him with a lopsided grin.
"Focus," he ordered again. "Ed, you need to do this. He's been watching me, but he doesn't think you're a threat."
"Idiot," Edward giggled.
With a chuckle of his own, Spike agreed. "You got my back, Ed?"
Edward agreed with a hum.
"I know it's hard," Spike told her. "But focus. You've got this."
Edward was smart, she was strong, and she knew how to handle herself. Of course she had this.
But then Spike was gone, striding further up the hall, his voice added to Jet's and Elm's.
Edward barely registered the sound of gunfire, her focus more intent on the warm red glow of the Bebop's flashing emergency lights.
Edward had always wanted to visit one of the active volcanoes located on Earth's surface. The supplies required to embark on such an endeavor were hard to come by, but they were around. Edward wondered what sulfur smelled like. She heard it was horrible. Horrible compared to what?
"Edward?" Willy whispered. "Edward? Can you hear me? Edward, look at me! What – What do I do? He's coming! I think he's coming for you and I don't know what to do-"
"You believe the bluff, Willy," Edward patiently explained to him.
"I – What?" Will asked, and his eyes were beautiful, even when they were wide with terror, and he was so young, and kind of ugly, but his eyes were very blue.
A moment latter, Edward was staring down the barrel of Jasper Elm's gun.
Beyond the barrel, the man's expression was manic. "An eye for an eye," he murmured to himself as he pressed the gun into her cheek.
"Ain't worth shit," Edward slurred in reply, and she pulled the trigger.
"So... You did all of that, and you get nothing?" William asked after the fight was over and all that was left to do was clean up the mess from the fight before putting it all behind them.
"It's rare for the ISSP to pay for a dead bounty," Edward listlessly explained. "Payment on a dead bounty is almost unheard of, in fact. And the stipulation Dead or Alive didn't apply to Varcos or Elm, so... That's right. We went through all of that, and we get nothing. Not from the ISSP, at least. We'll get bills aplenty from the scrap shops we use to find replacement parts for the Bebop, though."
They were watching as several tow vessels pulled the Bebop into port. The damage wasn't that bad. The life support systems had been affected by the second missile blast, but after those were repaired, the ship would run as smoothly as ever after they patched up the damaged bits of the hull.
Edward knew that it wasn't the ship the kid was thinking about, though.
"What do you say?" Edward asked. "You ready to go home?"
Letting out a slow, shaky breath, Willy answered, "Yeah. Yeah, I am."
When Edward took William back to his home, the teen was met with a cacophony of noise and concern. His father was yelling about the fact that William had lied to his parents and had gone off planet, and Willy's mother was fussing over his broken arm.
And in response to his parent's concern, Willy the Kid firmly declared, "I'm going to be an accountant."