LEGEND OF A COWGIRL

Session 1:
Killer Queen

Earth, somewhere in the universe, 2078.

The moon rocks orbiting the planet's atmosphere cast a herd of shadows across the desert landscape. There must have been quite a cluster of them over the continent today, because the shadows swam over the sands and dirt swam like a massive school of tiny fish. It was on a day like this that you're likely to fall victim to an unexpected rock shower. Strange thing is, it's days like this where people care the least.

Despite the constant veils of shade, the temperature remained an uncomfortable high. If it weren't such a dumb statement, one might even say the tumbleweeds were sweating.

On the side of a dusty cross-country road, a lone pickup truck sat, its back compartment filled to the brim with large, savory-looking watermelons. In front of the back bumper, a few tables were set up, all holding boxes that contained more of them. Behind one of the tables, underneath the shade of a big red umbrella planted firmly in the loose ground, was a lawn chair, and in that chair sat an old man; pudgy, balding, and barely awake if not completely unconscious. If the tumbleweeds were sweating, he was sweating even more.

Not much in the way of business today. Hell, not much any day for that matter. Figured he might as well sleep the whole day off.

He was so out of it, in fact, that he didn't notice the blaring hum of an aircraft landing nearby. He didn't even notice the cloud of dust that blew in his direction.

Quiet approaching footsteps. A quick, smooth, energetic stride.

A shadow passed over the old Hispanic's face. His only physical reaction was swatting a fly that made the poor choice of landing on his mustache.

"How much?" a sweet feminine voice asked.

"Thousand woolongs each, cash only, no I.O.U.'s," the tired old man replied.

A hand reached out and slapped some paper money down on the table. The impact was enough to wake the old man up. The figure walked off to the side, while the man leaned forward to examine the amount being paid. His eyes popped halfway out of his skull when he saw how much they were worth.

Three crisp, new bills, one thousand woolongs each.

No one had ever paid that much at once before. Come to think of it, no had ever paid that much...at all. The old man was curious to know who had that much to spend on just a few watermelons. He looked over at where the well-to-do customer had walked, and only saw her backside. She selected the last of the three melons she purchased, picking only the ripest of the bunch.

She plopped all three into a knapsack hanging over her shoulder, and she walked off toward her vehicle, the aircraft that landed a minute ago. A large white and silver apparatus, divided into three sections; a middle section housing a spherical cockpit and a funnel-shaped propulsion unit, and the two outer sections that obviously provided hovering and weapons capabilities. Looked military issue. The woman piloting it sure as hell didn't.

"Gracias, amigo," she said as she hopped inside.

In a whoosh of air and a roar of motors, off she went.

****

Earth, somewhere in the universe, 2078.

A lone tavern, a mile or two on the outskirts of town. Just as hot as anywhere else on the continent. Damn global warming.

Inside, a few varied vagabonds wet their whistles, aptly away from the the simmering sunswelter. At the bar, a tall Caucasian male with spiky brown hair, dressed in lightweight black jeans, a white tanktop, and a windbreaker wrapped around his waist, took continuous sips from his refeshingly cold drink. At a table in the corner of the room, four other men, seemingly with nothing in common, enjoyed their drinks as well, engaging in indistinct chatter. All the while, the bartender had long taken the classic stance behind the counter, paying no attention to the activity of the room, but rather on the glass in his hand, which he was wiping clean with an old dust rag. Of course, aside from the man at the bar and the four at the table, there was no activity to moniter, so what better way to kill time at this point, one might ask.

A calm silence, usual for this time of day. Felt good.

It didn't last.

Outside, an aircraft was landing. A loud WHOOSH! filled the room, and the western-style saloon doors blew back and forth.

When the noise died down, there was silence once again, except for the opening and closing of a cockpit door.

Quiet approaching footsteps. A quick, smooth, energetic stride.

A soft creak echoed through the bar as the doors were pushed inward.

All eyes turned to the entrance as an unexpected guest made her way inside.

She stood about six inches shy of a full six feet, but what was under that height was certainly a sight to see. A slim, slender figure; a glorious vision wrapped in a shapely 36-24-36 package. With perfect skin sun-tanned to a rich orange/light brown, and topped off with a head of blazing red hair, this woman was a marvelously scultped specimen, blessed with an undiscountable, rugged beauty.

Starting from the feet, she wore a pair of gray sweat socks, covered by a surprisingly clean set of white and blue sneakers; on dusty terrain like this, it was difficult to keep any article of clothing clean for extended periods of time, but this lovely newcomer obviously went to a decent effort to at least fake it. A pair of loose-fitting blue jeans accompanied her legs, with the right leg torn away just above the knee. Peeking out from the waistline of her low-cut pants, the outside edges of a black thong hugged her hips.

Her upper body sported a lightweight shirt, bleached to an unconsistant gray color. The shirt, sleeves rolled, hung from her upper arms and shoulders, while the rest dropped behind her and calmly flapped in the breeze. The rest of her torso was bare, except for the black bikini top that hugged her chest, admirably perking her already ample assets therein.

Then came her face, locked in an impassive stare, yet shouting for as much attention as the rest of her; exact symmetry in the shape of the head, full flesh-pink lips with only a subtle coating of gloss, and an almost unrealistically perfect pin of a nose. Her eyes were as yet invisible, as she wore over her head what looked like a pair of ski goggles, the super-shiny lenses colored bright green. On the right side of them, a small plug port extended, and an electrical wire jutted out and dropped downward, leading into the right side front pocket of her jeans. What its purpose was, who could tell?

The only other article she had was a small black carrying case, the strap to which was slung over her shoulder. Like anyone gave a damn what was in it.

Almost as quickly as she gained it, the attentions of the bar occupants turned back to what they were doing before. The four men at the table kept talking over their liquor, the one at the bar kept taking sips of his drink, and the barkeep kept polishing his dishware. The mystery woman strutted in the door, ignoring a snide remark from one of the drunkards over in the corner. Something about her "helluva fine ass"...she couldn't make out half of it, and from the sound of what she did hear, she was quite better off as such.

She took a seat a couple barstools away from the only other attendant at the bar. The barkeep kept wiping the glass as he walked over to her.

"What can I get ya, pretty lady?" he politely started.

Through the green-lensed goggles, he could almost see a pair of eyes tilt upwards and focus on him. He couldn't see them very clearly, but he could already tell they were just as pretty as anything else she had on her.

"Anything non-alcoholic," that sweet, calm voice replied.

The bartender raised his eyebrows. In a place like this, he rarely got a request for something that wouldn't get you drunk.

"I'll see what I got in the back," he said, as he put down the glass.

"One other thing, barkeep," the mystery woman said. "You got an spare outlet?"

She reached inside the carrying case and removed a small rectangular object. She unhooked a latch on the front of it, and it split in half along a hinge on the opposite side. She set it down upon the bar, and two more panels were opened up; one, a millimeter-thin clear plastic sheet, the other, a thicker panel, covered in buttons. A laptop computer. Looked high-tech too.

The barkeep lifted his eyebrows again. "Uh, yeah...yeah, there's one right behind here."

She pulled the electric cord from the bag, plugged one into the backside of the computer, and handed the other end to the bartender.

"Low battery," she said, cracking a sweet-as-peaches smirk. "Sorry if it's any trouble."

Now how in the cosmos could he possibly say no to that gorgeous creature?

"No trouble at all, ma'am," the bartender said, taking the plug and inserting it into the outlet. "Lemme go get you that drink."

He walked off and disappeared behind a door at the back wall. Things went silent again.

The mystery woman turned on the laptop, and it booted up within seconds. She then took the electric cord from her goggles, found the plug on the end, and shoved it inside a port on the side of the keyboard. The lenses of the goggles suddenly lit up from the inside, like a special electronic interface had just been activated. Meanwhile, the laptop screen lit up and started scrolling through a perpetual list of green text on a black background. The mystery woman focused her attention on what her goggles were displaying, leaned forward against the bar, and casually rest her head atop her hands, balancing herself on her elbows. The keyboard, at least so far, remained untouched.

The Caucasian man a few seats away discreetly watched her as she fiddled with her electronics. He kept a straight face all the while as if disinterested, but in reality couldn't help but wonder what a girl like this, driving a craft like the one she flew in on, was doing in a place like this, and equipped with technology that she was using right now.

Eh...it didn't matter. He turned back to his drink and felt it was better to leave her alone.

Too bad for him she felt otherwise.

"Richard Montalban," she suddenly announced.

Montalban spat out the liquid in his mouth and yelped as he heard his named called out. The four men at the table also heard the name, and were too interested in the new situation.

"Wanted by Ganymede authorities for several counts of armed robbery, grand theft, vandalism, gang violence, and the hijacking of an Earth-bound commercial shuttle," she continued. Her head swiveled in his direction, and she smiled maliciously. "Ricky, you bad, bad boy, you...would you like to know how much you're worth?"

Montalban gulped hard, and guzzled down the rest of his drink.

"You, my friend, are worth a sweet seven million woolongs," she said. "Nine million if you're brought in with your four as-yet-unidentified accomplices."

The silence was further broken by the simultaneous clicks of multiple guns cocking. Over at the corner of the room, the four drinking buddies, who up to now were minding their own business, had at least six guns out, all trained on the mystery woman. Montalban grinned evilly at this seemingly obvious turning of the tables. The woman didn't even flinch.

"And it looks I've just identified them," she added.

The bartender exited the back room with a bottle and tall glass in hand.

"I found the perfect stuff for ya, ma'am," he said. "Little aged, but maybe that'll be a good thi--"

He froze in terror the moment he saw the resulting standoff.

"Well, go on," Montalban taunted. "Poor the lady a drink."

The nervous old man slowly unscrewed the bottlecap, set the glass on the bar, dropped in some ice cubes, and tilted the neck of the bottle toward the rim of the cup. A thin, clear liquid flooded forth.

"Hey, barkeep," the woman said. "Whatever's about to happen in the next three seconds, keep pouring that drink."

As she spoke, the lines of code on the computer screen stopped scrolling, and a blinking cursor appeared at the bottom of the page, right next to the words "PRESS ENTER TO BEGIN". As she finished her sentence, she tactfully turned the laptop toward Montalban and his four-man crew.

Upon completion of her words, her hand skimmed over to the side of the keyboard and pressed down the ENTER button.

Within the first second, the screen turned bright white, and an ear-piercing screeching sound shot forth from the entrie device. Montalban and his crew dropped their weapons and hollered in agony, pressing their hands hard against either side of their heads. Before the end of that first second, the mystery woman leaped out of her seat and jumped clear across the room and back again.

At the very end of the third second, the computer screen turned black, the screeching stopped, and a block of text appeared, reading, "PROGRAM COMPLETE". A large yellow smiley face, eyes shut and teeth bared, popped up underneath it, and a cackling, cartoonish laughter echoed from the speakers. Also by the end of the third second, each member of the four-man crew was left lying face-down upon the floor, while Montalban lay on his back, half-conscious. The mystery woman was mounted atop him, her right knee pressed uncomfortably against his Adam's apple. Furthermore, there was now a gun in her hands, the muzzle of which was shoved up the floored man's left nostril.

The last few drops of liquid fell from the bottle and splashed into the glass. Frozen with shock, the barkeep did not put it down.

Confident her target had no intentions of moving, the mystery woman rose to her feet, holstered her gun in her left pocket, stepped over the body, and walked back to the bar. Taking a seat right in front of the still-frozen bartender, she pried the glass from his grip, threw her head back, and downed the entire drink in one swift take. A few streams of liquid sloppily dripped down each side of her chin, but she made no bones about it.

"AHHHHH!"

After her exhalation of approval, she set the glass down upon the bar and slid it off to the side. It glided across the counter until it hit a speedbump-like block, where it flipped into the air and landed perfectly in the dirty dish tray.

Finally, the woman tilted her head down and looked at the bartender again. She smiled sweetly at him, and pulled her goggles up over her forehead, revealing her eyes for the first time; hypnotic, strangely childlike, but anyways an absolutely luscious golden hazelnut color. They were like a pair of twin Autumn sunsets, locked safely inside her eye sockets.

"Thanks," she said. "I needed that."

****

Ganymede, several days later.

A long, large cruiser floated in the harbor. It's hull was a rusty brown, indicating a very grizzled vessel. A secondhand space trawler, it looked like, but obviously rebuilt and remodeled to facilitate space travel. The front half was a boat-shaped surface, the deck of which served as both a runway and landing strip for aircrafts stored inside the built-in hangar. The aft of the ship turned into a series of rectanglular blocks; the two on the outside were obviously for propulsion, and whatever was in between could either be living quarters or part of the engine. A spinning ring apparatus was placed toward the rear end, a device for simulating gravity while in space. On the starboard side, painted in big black letters, was a single word: BEBOP.

It had been there for about a week, but certainly not by any choice of the pilot. It was about every few hours you'd hear a deep voice scream something inflammatory towards his ship, which it seems was in less than working condition. You'd hear some cursing, some indistinct shouting, and once in a while, you'd even see a broken part getting tossed into the sea.

Today, the owner was found on top of the rear of the vessel, buried from the waist up in an open panel. His lower half, feet covered in black leather boots and metal armor, shifted and kicked as he toiled furiously on the machinery inside.

"Dammit!" he screamed. "Damn damn dammit!"

He pulled himself out of the hole was digging, and scratched his head in confusion.

He was an aged man himself, mid-40s at least, but since when can you tell only by looking? His big bald head, fronted with a stern, severely-featured, yet pacifist face, was beaded with sweat, and his beard, lining his jawline and chin, was a little more ragged than usual. His right eye was covered with a nasty-looking vertical scar, and a small metal plate was nailed to his skin along the lower rim of his eye socket.

Dressed in a faded dark blue mechanic's suit, he had unzipped the top half and just let it hang off him, while a sweat-stained white tanktop covered his very fit upper body. He reached up with his left arm - an appendage of massive cybernetic structure - and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

"I just don't get it," he said, in a voice as deep as the Grand Canyon and as grating as gravel. "All these years, you never gave me THIS much trouble before! What's wrong with you, old girl!?"

He stroked his chin a few seconds, then suddenly felt struck by inspiration.

"Wait a minute..."

He dived right back inside the panel, did some digging, and then for the first time, a positive shout came forth.

"Ah-HAH!" he blasted, pulling himself out again.

When he sat up, he had in his hand a small pink object. It was a squishy little thing that molded into the shape of his grip, but otherwise had been cast into a bird-like shape, complete with two licorice-black beads that perhaps represented eyes. Obviously something that did not belong in the Bebop's engine.

"So you're the one causing all those short-circuits!" he triumphantly declared. He then looked a little shocked. "I'll be god damned. How in the hell did a Piyoko get in there!?"

Shrugging it off, he reached over to the panel and pulled it shut. As he did, something else that didn't belong appeared before him; cleverly hidden behind the open door, and only now revealed, was Earth's mystery woman, lying across the hull in a supermodel pose. An open bottle of vodka rest in her hand.

"Hey, cowboy," she said.

Jet Black almost jumped out of his skin when he saw her. "What in blazes--!?"

"I hope you don't mind, I helped myself to your liquor cabinet," the woman continued. "Got some nice vintages in there. It's a wonder you were able to keep 'em out of reach from Spike and Faye for so long."

Catching his breath, Jet's face scrunched into a twisted, enraged grimace.

"Who the hell are you!?" he screamed. "And what are you--?"

He cut himself off when he happened to glace at her left arm, the shoulder of which was not covered by the gray shirt she wore. He caught sight of a circular tattoo, a yellow shape outlined in a thick black border. Inside was a cartoon smiley face; eyes squeezed shut, and a wide, teeth-baring grin that took up the entire lower half of the head. Underneath the eyes were a pair of blushing pink spots.

Jet took a few seconds to examine the artwork, and was left with that wide-eyed, mouth-open stare. He knew that symbol.

He looked upward and got a good, long look at the woman's face, the green-lensed goggles sitting over her forehead, and the flaming red hair topping her scalp. She smiled sweetly and batted her lashes, drawing attention to her bright, golden eyes.

"Oh..........my..........god..."

Eyeing her from head to toe, the dawning realization of this woman's identity hit him like a steel bat to the back of his cranium.

"Edward...Wong...Hau...Pepelu...Tivrusky...the fourth!?!"

"Gotta give credit where it's due," Edward said brightly. "You're the first guy in a long time to get it right the first try."

"There are just some names you never forget," Jet replied.

There came a odd period of silence between the two of them. Then, Edward grinned from ear to ear, hopped to her feet, and as they both exploded into joyous laughter, she ran to Jet and jumped at him. The larger man easily caught the petite one, and he spun her around and around as they wrapped their arms around one another. Much like a father and his child.

****

Ganymede was especially warm that day, so there was no other choice but to move the reunions indoors. Having been out in the heat for the last several hours, Jet was more than willing to put the Bebop 's repairs on hold for some time out of the sun. Ed on the other hand, having lived most of her life in much worse conditions, remained indifferent.

"You sure know how to bring a shock to an old man's system," said Jet. "Think I lost about ten years when you dropped in just now."

"I've cost a few guys plenty more years than that," Ed replied.

"I'd believe it," Jet agreed, tipping the vodka bottle and filling both glasses on the table. "You never were much in the way of subtlety."

He put down the bottle and dropped some ice into each cup. When they finished fizzing and popping, Jet separated the glasses and lightly pushed one across the coffee table towards Edward's feet, which were propped up on the side opposite Jet, while Ed herself sat back against the sofa. The liquid-filled glass was about to coast clear off the egde of the table, but Ed moved her right foot and caught the glass right on the top of her toe. Carefully balancing the drink on her shoe, she crossed her right leg over her left and literally delivered the glass into her awaiting left hand. Not a single drop was wasted.

Jet watched in amazement at Edward's leggy precision, then smiled and rasied his own glass in a toast.

"But then again..." he said, "...we wouldn't want it any other way."

With a nod and a simper, Ed returned the gesture, and the two took concurrent sips.

Edward set her glass down on the floor, then switched positions, stretching out on the full length of the sofa, with her arms crossed and set as a pillow between the cushion and her head. Jet meanwhile kept his own drink in his hands, and he stared at Edward as if expecting her to be first to resume the conversation.

"Well?" he finally asked.

Ed turned her head, looking a bit confused.

"Well what?"

"'Well what?'" Jet repeated. "Well what happened to you all those years ago? One day, you just up and skidaddle, don't hear a word from ya, then seven years later you magically pop up on my doorstep. That by itself is an unexpected surprise...let alone in this capacity..."

He entertained himself with another full body examination of the built young woman.

"After all," he added, "I never once figured you'd turn into such a voluptuous little thing."

Ed blushed and grimaced, feeling embarrassed, a tad insulted, and yet at the same time quite flattered. Suck it up, she told herself, putting on her best "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that" face.

"Better watch who you're hitting on, Baldo," she quipped.

"Hey don't get me wrong kid," Jet defended. "You're sweet on an old man's eyes, all right, but I like 'em a little closer to my own age."

Edward arched a brow and turned her head back towards the ceiling. Jet's smile faded, annoyed that his initial query had still received no answer.

"So are you gonna tell me what went on or what?" he impatiently probed.

"Is it really that important to you?"

"It is if you heard the rumors I did," Jet answered. "Word can spread like fire on gasoline in a place like this, and stuff like what I've been hearing can catch a guy's attention pretty quick."

"What kind of 'stuff' exactly?" asked Ed.

"Well for one thing, if any of it is true, I might finally find out what the hell happened to my damn dog!"

Ed snickered. "Heh...I guess the least I could have done was let you know Ein was all right."

"And if any more of those rumors are true," he extended, "then it would seem Ein isn't the only Bebop alumnus you've been hangin' around with."

Ed sighed deeply and closed her eyes.

"Yeah...yeah, that's right," she said.

"For a while they were calling you two 'The Valentine Sisters'," Jet explained. "The notorious bounty huntress Faye Valentine, pretty as pink and sharp as a switchblade, and her mysterious web-based partner, the elusive hacker extraordinaire known only as 'Radical Edward'. Whole mess of stories have been traveling throughout the solar system about your little escapades. One bounty after another, after another, after another...Heard folks on Earth are afraid to break the law 'cause they're chicken shit scared the Valentines will come for them. Experts say you must have raked in a good hundred fifty million woolongs or so."

"It really isn't quite that much after taxes," Edward joked.

"Whatever the case, it sounds to me like you two sure had some thing goin' on," Jet complemented. "I'd be interested to know how it all got started."

Ed smiled amusedly. "It's kind of a long story."

"Unless I haven't got long enough to live to hear the whole thing, I think I can spare the time," Jet asnwered.

Edward let herself sink a little further into the sofa, as she let her memory take a few steps back.

"After Ein and I left Bebop, we took a road trip with my dad," she started. "Joined the business he was in...mapmaking, I mean. Say what you will about it, but his reasoning sure did make a good bit of sense; in an ever-changing planet like Earth, you better know damn sure where and when your feet are hittin' the ground. And just like some folks can't program the buttons on their radios without an instruction booklet, some others can't go nowhere till they see a map first. All was going pretty well; I called up the weather reports over the web, and when we got the first sign of the next big hole, we'd pack up our stuff, hop on board the truck and head out for the impact zone. We got really good at it over the months, and we were making some good money too...until an unscheduled rock shower ended the family business, if you get my drift."

Jet nodded. "Sorry to hear about that."

"Hey, like Spike always said, 'Whatever happens, happens'," said Edward. "I tried for a couple weeks to get back in the game, but after Dad was killed, some big corporation stole his idea and started a multi-million woolong industry off of it. Wouldn't give up one cent for compensation or royalties either." She smiled. "So I uploaded a nasty little MPU virus into their database before I left their offices."

Jet couldn't help but chuckle.

"Anyway..." she continued, her tone getting a little more serious, "Ein and I spent about six months just wandering the globe. Did a few odd jobs, even caught a measily 60k bounty. Kept us fed for a while, but let's face it; we were just about running on empty. Then we happened inside this little seaside diner off the coast of Taiwan. Just went in for some lunch, but who else did we run into but good ol' Faye-Faye.

"Seems she hadn't had the best of luck herself since she took off. Can't blame her for being down; her memories were swiss cheese at best, and everything she could remember about her past was either destroyed, dead, or just plain missing. Said she'd been on a three-week bender when I caught up with her. Funny thing is...when were sitting at our table, shootin' the breeze...I dunno, it was almost like none of it even mattered. Once she saw my face again, there was just this new 'brightness' about her...something I can't remember hearing or seeing in her before then. Faye never really was that pleasant an individual to be around, so it felt pretty reassuring to see that spark of happiness in her eyes when she spoke.

"So then I was just about to head off on my own again, then suddenly Faye stops me and makes the craziest proposal - she wanted me to come along with her, just us girls. Said it was a crazy world out there, and nobody should have to brave it alone like the two of us were for the last year. She'd show me the ropes, help me become a real independent adult, and in return maybe I could show her a thing about surfing a web proxy...but most importantly, we'd just have each other to look after; to keep each other company. And that's probably what appealed to me the most. I'd never tell anyone else this, but back on Bebop , I looked up to Faye, probably a lot more than I should have."

Edward stopped and laughed at her next thought. "I'll never forget the last thing she said before I accepted - 'I may not be as good a traveling companion as a superintelligent Welsh Corgi, but I'll sure as hell try my best.' That, my friend, truly was an offer I couldn't refuse."

Jet took a drink and smiled at the visualization of the event she described. "I suppose so."

"And that's pretty much how it started," she finished. "A amnesiac bounty hunter, a fifteen-year-old hacker, and a big brain data dog, takin' down the roughest and the toughest the planet had to offer. Doesn't quite scream 'Justice League of America', but everything you heard about us is true; whatever the job, we got it done."

"That reminds me..." Jet piped up. "Where exactly is Ein anyway?"

"Ein is unfortunately no longer with us," Ed answered bittersweetly. "Happened a couple months ago; I was on the trail of this guy I'd been looking for, and my newest lead landed me in this bar over on Venus, I was just asking some questions and taking some notes. One guy appearantly didn't like the questions I was asking and tried to ventilate my backside with a 9mm. And right before he pulled the trigger, Ein, bless his little heart...jumped in front of the gun and took the shot for me."

Jet groaned. "Leave it to that damn dog to die a nobler death than any human I know."

"On the bright side, the guy who attacked me had a 100k reward on him," Ed inserted. "So it's almost like the furry little bugger was just helping out on one last bust."

As she spoke, she again crossed her right over her leg. Distracted by the moving body part, Jet watched her change positions, and this time caught sight of another tattoo; three of them in fact, lined up one on top of another on the inside of her lower leg, just above the rim of her sock. The uppermost one was solid blue, shaped like an airplane of some sort; the second was a long, thin gray nail, driven right into the center of the third tattoo, a bright red heart.

"And what are those supposed to represent?" asked Jet.

Without even looking, Ed immediately knew what he was talking about.

"The three most important influences in my life," she answered. "And the three most important people I've had the pleasure of knowing."

Jet smiled. "Oh, I get it...a Jet...a Spike...and a Valentine."

Edward opened an eye and gave him a sly little smirk. "I've got one of Ein too, but only a select few people know where it is."

"So you thought of us hard luck bounty hunters as your most important influences, huh?" he queried. "How so?"

"I've tried to model my whole way of life after the three of you," Edward explained. "The three of you had almost nothing in common, but you all seemed to complement each other perfectly. You just each had something that I always wanted to aspire to, something I figured I needed if I was going to make it big, or even make it at all. Not to fuel your ego or anything, but I wanted to develop myself having Jet Black's brains, Spike Spiegel's attitude, and Faye Valentine's tenacity."

Jet looked a little shocked at this revelation. "That a fact?"

"Remeber that time we snuck into that hosptial to find the real Dr. Londes?" she asked. "You know, the SCRATCH dude? I was posing as your daughter. I even wore that stupid pink dress, just 'cause I knew if I followed your plan exactly, then we'd succeed no problem. Again, not to fuel your ego...but when I was calling you 'Papa'...even if it was just an act...It just...it just sorta felt right."

Jet said nothing; only blinked once in partial disbelief.

"And besides, we had to get Faye out of there pronto," she comically added, "Or she'd end up like some swooky brain-eating zombie. And that'd only make her that much more unpleasant to be around, now wouldn't it?"

"Speaking of which, how is ol' Faye-Faye doing?" Jet asked.

Edward closed her eyes again, and her voice dropped into a very deeply serious tone as she answered:

"She's.................retired."

Jet raised both eyebrows in surprise. "Retired?"

"Retired."

"Retired?"

"Retired."

"I find that a little hard to believe," said Jet.

"Well believe it," Edward replied. "Faye is...retired."

"After only five years?" he pushed. "I'm no economics wizard, but I don't think a hundred fifty million woolongs is enough to live off of for the rest of your life...especially if you're Faye's age."

"She was at least seventy-five, Jet."

Jet made no hesitation in catching that.

"Whad'ya mean 'was'!?" he demanded.

D'oh!

Edward sighed again.

"I'll be honest, Jet," she said sadly. "As much as I'd like this visit to be nothing more than a social call, I did come here for a reason. I need your help."

Jet sat back and crossed his arms. "What kind of help?"

"There's a bounty I'm after. Tough one too. Got a hundred million woolong reward on his head. I've been after him for a year now, and I thought I had a few good leads, but so far all of them turned into dead ends."

"I've sorta been backing off from the bounty hunting business myself," Jet said. "What makes you think I have anything on the guy you're looking for?"

"I hacked into Bebop's computer; that's how I knew you'd be here," Edward confessed. "I happened upon your to-do list, and saw this guy's picture under 'Priorities'. I'd have just gone and hacked my way in a little further to get your files on him, but given our history together, I figured it best I at least get your permission."

"Okay..." said Jet, feeling a bit betrayed. "So who's the guy you're after?"

Ed at first did not reply.

"I can't get you the files if I don't know his name, Edward."

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and reluctantly said the name:

"Estevez...Erik Estevez."

Jet's eyes almost exploded from his head.

"You're after Double-E!?!" he shouted. "Woman, are you out of your damn mind!?"

"I assure you, Jet, I am very much within my sanity," Edward stoicly replied. "Erik Estevez is the man I'm looking for."

"Ed, do you even know what this guy's wanted for!?" Jet asked. "Numerous counts of violence, mass property damage, reckless endangerment, drug and weapons trafficking, attempted assassination of the head of ISSP, not to mention at least fifteen counts of manslaughter and first degree murder, and the cherry on top of this bloody sundae, seventeen counts of industrial sabotage...I don't know if it's occurred to you, but I'd say that hundred million on his head is a little friggin' modest!"

"I'm well aware of his charges," said Ed. "Erik Estevez is the man I'm looking for."

"Do you wanna know why Double-E is on my to-do list? Why he'll still be there a year from now? Because Erik Estevez is the kind of guy even I won't go after! Yeah, the amount of money sure sounds nice, but I'd much prefer being alive long enough to enjoy it!"

"Spare me, old man," Edward said darkly. "Just get me the files."

Jet stared in disbelief at her sudden turn of disrespect. He narrowed his gaze and stared a few seconds more, then reached over to the side of the table and pulled his computer moniter to the center. He flipped up the screen, which instantly turned on and displayed the Bebop computer's desktop. Jet started tapping on the keyboard, looking through a specific series of folders for just the right file. Edward could see the activity on the opposite, and she brightened when she saw the very same folder she had stumbled upon before: Priorities.

Then, for some inexplicable reason, Jet stopped. He looked ready to enter the final key combinations to access the file on Erik Estevez, but then his hands relaxed, and he pulled them away from the keyboard.

Edward did not like this at all. "Why are you stopping?"

"Why are you after Estevez?" he demanded.

"Do not test me, Jet," she said, sounding darker than ever.

"You want my files, you tell me why you want Estevez," Jet negotiated.

"I don't have time for this!" Edward snapped, as she swung her feet off the couch and sat forward. She grabbed the computer terminal and spun it around so that she faced the keyboard. She was about to start typing, when...

"It needs my password to get inside," Jet announced. "And as good as you are, Edward, I don't think even you could guess it, not in a million years."

"Fine, I'll just hack my way in, like I did before," she challenged.

"Go right ahead!" Jet challenged back.

Edward's fingers were just about to hit the keyboard, but then she too stopped right where she was. She wanted to. She wanted to break in and get the files so badly, but something was holding her back. Finally, she just pushed the terminal back towards Jet.

"Enter the password," she ordered.

"Not until you tell me why."

"Enter the password, Jet!" she repeated, her voice getting harsher and harsher.

"Make me, little girl."

In an instant and disturbing response to the man's requisition, Edward's hand whipped inside her shirt, and in a split-second, Jet Black was looking down the barrel of a gun. Edward held it straight out, aiming right between the Black Dog's eyes.

"I won't ask again, old man!" she yelled.

"You can point all the guns you want!" he boomed back at her. "You can threaten me, you can call me names, you can go ahead and pull that trigger if it makes you feel like a big girl! Bottom line, my hands are going nowhere near that keyboard until you give me an explanation! Now can you dig that!?"

She glared at him through only a slit in her eyelids. Ever so slightly, her arm started to tremble.

"Ed, I'm only asking because I'm concerned," he calmly said.

Edward sighed, dropped her arm, and lowered her head in shame, shutting her eyes so she couldn't see Jet's disappointed look.

"I know..." she half-sobbed. "I know."

"Now then, let's try this again," Jet said. "Why are you after Erik Estevez?"

Ed's face began to scrunch as she bared her teeth and she squeezed her eyes shut harder and harder. Her breathing became deep and heavy, and her fists tightened to the point that her nails might have drawn blood. She slowly picked her head up, and she looked Jet dead in the eyes, staring with a face that gave a very physical meaning to that old phrase comparing the fury of hell to a woman's scorn.

Her answer:

"Because he's the bastard who murdered Faye Valentine."



GUARANTEED TO BLOW YOUR MIND...