The heels of her black boots made a loud clacking sound against the floor of the ship in the stark quietness of the hallway as she followed Jett Black toward the common room. The large man hadn't looked back at her after his first cursory glance at her when she first boarded the ship, and she struggled just a bit to keep up with his long strides, though she'd never show it. Struggling was weakness, and Wrin Lokai didn't show weakness.
They reached a shield door and Black paused for just a moment to type in the passcode, before the doors slid open with a hiss and he walked into the room beyond without looking to see if she was following. Wrin entered the room on his heels, her hand hovering over the blaster that was strapped to her hip, even though she knew she wasn't technically in any danger. It was a habit from many years as a bounty hunter and she couldn't help herself anymore.
Black flung himself on one of the couches and motioned to where she was still standing in the doorway, grunting, "She's not my problem anymore. I brought her here, and that was my part of the job." He threw a large hand over his eyes and seemed to be asleep within seconds.
Wrin lowered her hand and tried to force herself to relax, when her eyes caught sight of who Black had been talking to. There was a tall man standing across the room, his back to her, one of his arms flung casually above his head, the other deep in his pocket, as he seemed to stare out of the ship's bay window. Wrin knew who he was, before he even turned, the mess of dark hair on his head and the smell of cigarette smoke giving him away.
"Spike Spiegel." She said as he finally faced her and their eyes met. "I never thought we'd be working together."
His eyes flashed at her words, and he moved to sit on one of the couches, reaching to light a cigarette as he did so. "We're not working together..." He lit the cigarette and blew a puff. "Wrin Lokai." His dark eyes met hers again. "The government is forcing us to collaborate for this mission. After we collect the bounty, you're off my ship."
She let out a quiet chuckle and moved toward him, shucking her dark coat onto the couch back as she did so. "Is that so?" She had reached him and, standing in front of him, fluidly reached down and plucked the cigarette from his fingers, putting it to her lips before he could move. She took a draw on the cigarette and then dropped it to the floor, crushing it beneath the heel of her boot. "From what I hear, we may be working together a lot more often if the government has their way." She flashed him a coy smile and turned to gather up her coat before moving to leave the room. She turned back at the doorway and raised her eyebrows. "Also, those things will kill you, you know." She tilted her head toward the pack of cigarettes on the couch beside him and then was gone without another word.
Wrin stood in her small cabin aboard the Bebop, looking at her reflection in the mirror that hung from the wall opposite her cot. How had she come to be here? She wasn't that same young, naive girl who had applied to be a bounty hunter so many years ago. She was a hardened, experienced hunter, whose name made criminals cringe in fear and whose reputation was known among other hunters near and far.
She uncinched the holster from around her waist and threw the blaster onto her cot. She then bent over and removed several knives from her boots, and a small explosive detonator from a hidden pocket in her jacket. Gathering up all of the weapons, she placed them behind the bed where they would be hidden and safe until the next day, when she and Spiegel would head out to capture their bounty.
She didn't like the thought of sharing the bounty and glory of the capture with Spiegel anymore than he did, but it had to be done. The government had specifically asked them to work together to capture one of the most notorious criminals the planets had seen thus far. He went simply by the name 'The Crystalline Bandit" and his main ploy as of now was stealing and transporting loads of Mars Crystals to Venus, where he was selling the rare crystals for large sums of money. His bounty was large, set at 10 million lookos, and many hunters had attempted to stop him, but he outsmarted every single one.
And that's where Wrin and Spiegel came in. And neither of them liked it.
Wrin rolled her eyes to herself as she checked her appearance in the mirror one more time before heading to dinner. He was egotistical and proud and not as good as he thought he was, and she was stuck with him for the foreseeable future.
Before leaving the room, she stuck one of the knives back into her boot, just to be safe, and then shut the door quietly, leaving the room as if she had never been there.
Spike sat at the table, barely listening to some asinine story that Faye was telling him, as he sucked on a cigarette and watched Jett putting food on the table for dinner. The opening of the hatch doors made them all look as Wrin entered the room, her heels clacking quietly across the floor of the kitchen. Spike vaguely realized that Faye had shut up when the bounty hunter had entered, but most of his attention was on the woman who came to the table and sat next to him.
She was pretty, in a dark kind of way. She had long, fiery red hair that was pulled up into a messy knot on top of her head, and dark eyes that were lined with black kohl. She was dressed all in black, her black top and pants lined with leather strips, and the suit hugged her body closely, showing off her curves and the lack of blaster that was usually at her hip.
Spike noted the lack of gun, but knew she wouldn't go anywhere unarmed-there had to be a secret weapon somewhere on her person. He pulled his eyes away from her after making his observations, and snuffed out his cigarette, motioning to Jett and Faye, who sat motionlessly across the table. "Well? Let's eat. I'm starving."
He didn't make eye contact again with Lokai throughout the meal, silently stewing to himself over her presence. He needed her help to take down the Bandit, but he didn't have to like it. And he sure as hell didn't need to make it pleasant.
Wrin stepped out of the small transport ship she had piloted to Venus's surface and put her hand over her eyes to shield herself from the bright atmosphere. She didn't particularly like Venus-it was hot and dry and the people weren't particularly helpful, especially when it came to bounty hunters.
She glanced over as Spiegel jumped out of his ship and landed on the ground beside her with a small cloud of red dust. He straightened, stretched his arms above his head, and let out a yawn. "All right. Let's get this over with."
Wrin pulled a dark, short wig out of her bag and placed it on her head, making sure all of the red tendrils of her hair were hidden. Spiegel slapped a dark mustache on his face and put a pair of dark glasses over his eyes and then turned to look at her. He raised his glasses. "Is that the only dress you own?"
Wrin prickled at his tone of voice."Yes, it is. I don't wear dresses. They tend to make it hard to capture criminals." She glared at him. " Is that the only casual outfit you own?" She retorted, motioning toward his bright hawaiian button down and loose slacks.
He snorted and lowered his glasses over his eyes again. "Come on. We have a job to do and it doesn't require jabbering."
She dramatically motioned for him to lead the way, and he stalked past her, muttering something about women under his breath. She stuck her tongue out at his back before following after him.
They trekked across the arid surface of Venus toward a small group of buildings, one which was a casino that one of their informers had told them was a favorite hang out of the Bandit when he was on Venus selling crystal. They reached the casino, which was alight with blinking lights and music even at this hour of the day, and Spiegel pushed his way through the doors into the saloon area.
Wrin waited five minutes before following him in and when she flicked her eyes around the room upon entering, she saw he was sitting at a far table, nursing a beer, just as they had planned, his glasses still over his eyes. She came to a halt just inside the door, standing by the bar, and took a compact from her purse, pulling a tube of bright red lipstick out. She focused on the small mirror of the compact and pursed her lips, tracing them with the red lipstick. Just as expected, all the men's' eyes were on her, their gazes tracing down her body, which was shown off by her skin-tight red dress. She noticed smirks on several of their faces, but she kept her eyes on the mirror, waiting until the bartender approached her, just as planned.
"The gentleman over there sent this drink for you, miss."
Wrin snapped the compact shut and threw the lipstick back into her purse, as she turned to look at the bartender, a glass of whisky in his outstretched hand. "My stars, if that ain't just the nicest thing." Wrin said in sweet drawl with a flirty smile as she accepted the outstretched glass and looked down the bar toward the man he was referring to.
That was him. The man their contact had said was right hand man to the Bandit when he was on Venus making sales. She recognized him instantly from his description, the dark tattoo of the Mercurian symbol branded across his brow. Their eyes met, and he raised his eyebrows at her, motioning for her to come over to him.
Wrin flicked her eyes over to Spiegel, who was still lounging in the corner, and saw that he had almost drained his bottle of beer. It was go time.
She wove her way through the tables of the saloon toward the man at the bar, a few of the men whistling and catcalling her as she passed their tables. She reached the bar and stood as close as she could to the man, reaching over him to wave at the bartender, making sure he had a good view. The bartender came over and she sweetly said, "Can I have another whisky please?"
The bartender nodded at her and walked away to get a glass. Her back was still to the man, and he was standing behind her now as she felt one of his hands on her hip. His breath was hot on her neck and smelled of alcohol as he leaned close to her and said into her ear, "Why don't you and I get away to a back room somewhere?"
She giggled and then said innocently, "That sounds lovely. However..." She turned to face him and put one of her hands on his chest, leaning in to whisper in his ear, "I ain't cheap. I've heard you've got a friend around here who can get me some fine crystal jewelry. Hmmm?" She pulled back and playfully flicked the end of his nose with one of her fingers. "Get momma a little sparkle, and we'll discuss the exchange of goods."
The man released his hold on her waist and, grabbing the glass of whisky behind her, drained the whole thing in one gulp before motioning for her to follow him. "Come with me." He began to push his way through the men crowded in the saloon, and she followed closely behind him, taking comfort in the reassuring heavy pressure of her blaster around her thigh, hidden beneath her dress.
The man led her to a back area of the casino, where a few rough looking men sat around a table, drinking and gambling. When they reached the table, one of the men stood up and held up a hand. "What's this?" He flicked his gaze between the man and Wrin, who stood just behind him, holding onto his arm like a lovestruck little girl.
The man motioned with his head to the door behind the table of players and said quietly, "She wants to see the boss about some rock."
The man at the table, looked her over once, and then flicked his chin in the direction of the door. "Fine. Get her in there. The boss doesn't have all day. He'll be headed out soon."
The man pulled on her. "Come on." He led her toward the door and, quickly looking behind them, input an access code before pushing into the room. The room wasn't anything special. It was an old storeroom used by the casino to store chips and cards and extra tables, but the man sitting in the corner was anything but ordinary.
He stood when they entered and Wrin saw his teeth, which were inlaid with crystal, gleam in the light of the overhanging light bulb as he grinned at them. "Rubious, you've found me another customer I presume?"
Rubious pushed Wrin toward the Bandit and she stumbled slightly over her dress, but caught herself and straightened, running her hands over her wig to make sure it was in place before saying, "Yes. I heard you're selling Mars Crystal. And I want some."
The Bandit laughed, the sound echoing around the small room, and stepped toward her, walking a wide circle around her as he looked her up and down. "And just who is this pretty young thing, Rubious? Another of your playthings come to ask me for sparkling jewelry they have no money to pay for?"
"I have money. And I'll pay." Wrin pulled out her purse and threw it onto the ground in front of the Bandit. "Go ahead, look." She folded her hands across her chest and waited as he leaned down to pick up the bag and open it. His eyes widened slightly at what was inside and then he zipped the bag shut, his eyes meeting hers as he bared his crystal teeth in a grin.
"Well, well, well. I'm impressed, Rubious. You picked a real winner this time." He whirled away from her and walked toward the corner where the folding chair sat, turning as he sat down again and crossed one leg over the other. He flicked his hand at Rubious. "Leave us."
"But..." Rubious began to protest, but one cold look from the Bandit silenced him and he left, shutting the metal door of the storage room loudly behind him.
After he was gone, the Bandit turned his gaze back to Wrin and stood again, slinking across the room toward her. When he reached her, he put a finger under her chin, and purred, "Now, let's talk business. What is it you want, my little kitty cat?"
"I want the crystal, Bandit. And I want it now. I paid you, now give me what I paid for."
The bandit laughed and pulled out a small drawstring pouch from behind his back. "I thought you'd never ask." He dumped the contents of the pouch into her hand and Wrin saw large chunks of crystal in her palm, glinting in the dim light of the room.
Before she could say anything, she heard shots fired outside the room and knew Spiegel was close. She had to do it now before the Bandit realized what was happening. Without thinking, she whipped her blaster out from its holster and pointed it at the Bandit's head. His eyes widened slightly in surprise, but then he began to chuckle ominously. "You think it's that easy?"
Wrin slipped the pieces of Crystal down the neckline of her dress, into a hidden bag she had sown into the hem, all the while keeping her eyes and the gun trained on the bandit. "No." She backed a few steps away from him. "But I'm not working alone."
The door to the storage room burst open behind her, and Spiegel entered the room, his gun in his hand, as he walked casually toward where they were standing. "Sorry it took me so long. One of the damn meatheads got off a lucky shot."
Wrin noticed that there was blood staining his shirt above his left shoulder and that there was a long scratch on his cheek that was still dripping blood down his face. "You had one job, Spiegel." She muttered to him, as he stepped up beside her, his blaster still aimed at the Bandit's face.
"You're one to talk. Couldn't you have neutralized him a little bit more before I got in here?" He snapped back at her, his eyes never leaving the man in front of them.
She let out an annoyed sigh and lowered her blaster, walking around behind the Bandit to place her cuffs on him. As she belted his wrists in, she leaned over his shoulder and said quietly in his ear, "Did you think it was that easy, Bandit?"
The Bandit let out a low chuckle as she walked back around to face him and as police sirens echoed in the distance, said in a sinister voice, "You haven't seen the end of me, bounty hunters. Not even close."
When they got back to the ship, Wrin noticed that Spiegel was visibly in pain from the wound to his shoulder, even though he was trying not to let it show. Jett and Faye were out for the night, and so it was only the two of them on the ship.
She considered offering to help him, but when he walked past her into the common room without even a backward glance or a word, she felt her irritation rise and left to go to her room. She couldn't wait to get out of this dress and back into something she was more comfortable with.
She took a quick shower when she reached her room, letting the hot water run over her closed eyes for a few moments, before she hopped out and put on an old t-shirt and some tight, worn jeans that were riddled with holes. She opened the bay door, and walked toward the kitchen, still toweling her long hair off as she did so.
As she passed the common room, she glanced over to see Spiegel still sitting on the couch, a medical kit spread in front of him. He wasn't moving to do anything, instead, he was sitting with his eyes closed, his head in his hands, and his shirt still stained from blood from his shoulder.
She wanted to keep walking, she didn't want him to get any of her sympathy, but after she had passed the common room doors, she stopped, dropped her towel on the floor, and sighed. Angry with herself for being weak, she turned back around and entered the room making her way over to the couch where he was sitting.
When she sat down beside him, he sat up and looked at her, opening his mouth to protest her help. "Shut up and just let me help you." She snapped at him, pushing him back against the couch. She began sorting through the medical supplies he had laid out, and without looking up at him, commanded, "Take off your shirt."
Even though she wasn't looking at him, she noticed from the corner of her eye that he visibly winced as he pulled his shirt over his head and off his bad shoulder.
Wrin pushed some of the medical equipment aside and selected a few alcohol wipes to disinfect, and some gauze pads, which she could use to cover his shoulder when she was finished. She then straightened and twisted so she was facing him, the selected medical supplies in her hands.
Before beginning, she set the gauze pads on the couch between them, and opened up one of the disinfectant wipes, removing it from its clear, plastic sleeve. She lifted her hand and gently began to dab at the long cut that marred his cheek bone. Spigel let out a hiss between clenched teeth when she touched the wipe to the cut, and she announced, just a bit smugly, "Sorry, I should have warned you, this might hurt a bit."
He gave her a glare, but remained still as she continued to wipe at the streaks of blood that had run down his cheek from the wound. It didn't take long for her to clean up the facial cut, and then she diverted her attention to the larger, more difficult gunshot wound that he had sustained to the shoulder.
"Can you hurry it up?" Spigel muttered as she cautiously began to wipe around his shoulder wound.
"Sure. Would you like it to hurt more?" Wrin retorted, continuing to wipe at the wound. She did a few more passes with the wipe, and then laid it down, unwrapping a few of the gauze pads. She then took the thick gauze and placed it against the shoulder wound, wrapping and securing it in place with a long, cloth wrap.
She sat back to admire her handy work. "There. A much better job than you would have done on your own."
Spiegel scoffed as he pulled his shirt back over his head, wincing once again as the fabric fell over his aggrieved shoulder.
Wrin stood, knowing she wasn't going to get a thank you out of him, and strode toward the bay doors, more than ready to go back to her room and be alone. She had almost reached the doors and they had slid smoothly open before her, when she heard Spiegel clear his throat behind her. She paused, thinking that maybe he was going to thank her after all.
"This is the first time I've ever seen you with your hair down." Was he going to compliment her? Spike Spiegel? She waited for him to go on. "It makes you look a little less like a vindictive witch."
Her mouth dropped open, just for a moment, but she snapped it shut quickly before he could see her reaction, even though her back was still to him. She spun on her heel to face him, wanting to slap the smirk off his smug face, but instead, she calmly retorted, "This was the first time I've seen you with your shirt off. It makes you look a little less like a pigeon-breasted young girl." Spiegel's smirk thinned to a hard line as she turned to leave again. "Have a good night, Spiegel."
Once the bay doors had closed behind her, Wrin let a wry smile flick across her lips before she disappeared down the hallway to her room.
Wrin was jolted from sleep by the sound of an alarm blaring loudly from down the hallway. She sat up in bed and pulled out her blaster from where it had been under her pillow, listening intently. Suddenly, the entire ship dipped to the left, doing so with such force that Wrin was thrown off her cot and onto the floor, hitting her head on the side of the storage unit. She scrambled to her feet, just as the sound of a loud explosion rocked through the BeBop, causing her to grab the wall for balance as the ship once again dipped to the one side.
Fighting her way toward the door as the ship bounced and swayed, she could hear Faye yelling something from down the hallway, and the deep timbre voice of Jett Black calling back to her.
Wrin reached the door and swiped her wristband across the code bar. The door swept open with a loud whoosh and a sizeable cloud of dust blew into the room, causing Wrin to cover her eyes and cough as she pushed her way out the door. When the dust had cleared, Wrin saw that the long hallway in front of her seemed to be intact, but the alarms were still blaring and power seemed to have been cut to this part of the ship, as all the lights were off, except for the red flashing lights of the alarms.
She kept her blaster in her hand and crept down the hallway, keeping low against the wall. Who knew who was on the ship with them? Or what was on the ship with them.
Wrin reached the end of the hallway and peeked around the corner. All clear. She straightened and opened the bay doors into the common room, walking slowly and carefully into the dark space beyond. She stood against the wall until her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and then when she could tell that she was alone in the room, she softly made her way across the room and towards the doors that led to the cockpit.
Her feet didn't make a sound as she opened the far doors, and inched into the hallway beyond, her blaster still alert and held in front of her body. She could see emergency lights on in the cockpit and knew that's where Spigel and Black had to be. She glanced one more time beyond her, to make sure she wasn't being followed by an intruder. Just as she spun around again and was going to push through the doors into the cockpit area, there was another loud explosion and the ship tilted wildly again.
Wrin slid across the floor of the hallway as the entire ship veered right, but she managed to stop herself with her feet as she careened toward the wall, so that she didn't hit as hard as she would have. The ship righted itself again, and she looked up, hearing Black yelling obscenities from the cockpit. She clambered to her feet and dashed toward the doors, finally pushing her way into the dim light of the ship's cockpit.
Jett Black was at the controls of the ship, wildly pushing buttons and pulling levers as he tried to keep the BeBop under control. Faye stood beside him, yelling something about "getting out of here and why was he so stupid."
Wrin barely glanced at them as she entered, instead, she dashed across the room straight to where Spiegel stood, smoking a cigarette and cursing under his breath as he entered coordinates into a computer system.
"Spiegel! What the hell is going on here?" Wrin grabbed the edge of the counter beside him as the ship lurched again, maintaining her balance so as not to careen into him.
"Your boyfriend decided to pay us a personal visit, Lokai." Spiegel spit out between gritted teeth, his eyes never leaving the computer in front of him.
"What are you talking about?" Wrin glanced up and looked out the bay window in front of them.
There was a ship. Hanging motionless in the air above them, it had its large guns trained at the BeBop, and was obviously loading up for another round. Wrin could see smoke billowing over the top of the BeBop, obviously from the back wings, which explained the explosions she had heard earlier. She directed her gaze back to the enemy ship and that's when she saw it. A large Mercurian Symbol painted across the side. Just like the symbol that had been branded on the forehead of The Bandit's henchman at the bar.
"The Bandit." It wasn't a question, she already knew the answer. How had he escaped police custody so quickly? And how had he found them?
"Your boyfriend. Didn't I make that clear enough with my first answer?" Spiegel glanced over at her, his eyebrows raised, his fingers pausing on the keyboard.
"Yeah, yeah. Shut up with your jokes. What do we have to do to get out of here?" Wrin pushed him aside, ignoring the glare directed her way, and positioned herself in front of the computer he had been occupying. She scanned down the lines of code he had been entering, and was about to remark on the mistakes he had made, when Black spoke from the other side of the room.
"The only way we're getting out of here is if someone heads to the back wings, where the damage is, and reconnects the power supply line to the backup generator and engine. It must have been knocked loose in the explosions. We're getting no signal and I can't get this bucket of bolts started if we have no power."
Wrin heard Spiegel rummaging through the drawers behind her, and she turned just in time to catch a headlamp he threw at her. "Suit up, Lokai. We're going to go fix that line."
She wanted to argue with him, say that he didn't even want to work with her in the first place, so why did he want her to go and help him with this, but she kept her lips firmly shut, knowing now was not the time to be petty when their lives hung in the balance. She strapped her blaster into the holster at her waist and put the headlamp on her head, turning on the beam of light so it lit up the dim room in front of her feet.
Spigel holstered his blaster as well and turned on his headlamp, motioning toward the bay doors to their right. "Ladies first."
Wrin rolled her eyes and pushed through the doors, back into the dark, dusty hallway. The weak beam of her headlamp barely penetrated through the thick screen of particles that hung in the air, and she squinted as she stepped forward toward the common room.
She heard Spiegel push through the doors behind her, and then mutter, "Come on, Lokai. Can't you speed it up?"
"Would you like to go first?" She hissed back at him, her outstretched hand bumping into the glass of the doors that led to the common room. She shoved the doors free and took a step into the black room, the beam of her light showing a small area against the wall that was free of debris. She motioned with her head to the wall and Spiegel nodded, following closely behind her as she inched her way toward the other side of the room, stepping around chunks of ceiling as she did so.
The pair reached the other set of doors and Wrin pulled out her blaster, leaning up against the doors to look through the glass window into the hallway beyond. She was fairly sure that no one had boarded the ship, yet, but she wanted to make sure before they entered the hall. When she saw no movement beyond the doors, she carefully pushed them open, and padded into the inky hallway, hearing Spiegel enter carefully behind her.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and told herself not to panic. It was just Spiegel. She glanced back at him, and he murmured, "The hatch to the wings is down the hallway to the right. Once we reach it, it's a straight shot to the mechanical room where the power line should be."
She nodded and was about to continue down the hallway toward the hatch, when she heard a low humming sound above her head. She turned to give Spiegel a questioning look, but he wasn't looking at her. He was frozen, staring up at the ceiling above them.
Wrin was about to whisper a question about the humming to him, when suddenly he darted toward her, and that's when she heard it. The sound of a large gun going off.
"Get down!" She heard his voice echo in her head just as the hallway exploded into flames around them, and the ship rocked with a huge explosive blast.
Spiegel collided with her, sending her careening into the wall behind them, and as she hit the metal side of the hallway, a hatch gave way and they fell into a small room, just as a large piece of the ceiling came crashing down where they had been standing just seconds before.
Spiegel was still on top of her, shielding her from the heat of the blast with his body, but Wrin's hands still instinctively went over her face as more pieces of the ceiling came crashing down around them and covered them in a thick grit of destruction.
It was several moments of deafening noise and hot flames before the ship began to quiet around them again. Wrin removed her hands from her face and coughed, realizing that Spiegel was still crouched over her, his nose just inches from hers. His face was covered in soot and dirt and his mop of dark hair was full of fallen debris. She'd never felt out of her element with anyone before, but having him so close, the now familiar smell of his cigarette smoke washing over her, she suddenly felt unsure of herself. She cleared her throat, hoping her voice wouldn't show her uncertainty. "Thanks for the save. But I think I can take it from here."
He pushed himself up off the floor and sat back against the wall of the small room, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette, which he then nonchalantly lit with one of the small flames that still flickered on the floor by his feet. Putting the cigarette into his mouth, he took a long draw and, crushing the flame out with his foot, blew out as he said, "I'm probably the first man who's ever been on top with you, huh, Lokai? Makes you a little uncomfortable, does it?"
"You've got me there, Spiegel. I like a certain type." Okay, this she could handle. She knew how to deal with his sarcastic jibes. She was in her element again, she felt her confidence come back. She sat up and pushed her hair out of her eyes, looking for her blaster on the floor around her feet. She found it quickly and stood, hesitating for just a moment before she reached down a hand to Spiegel, who was still sitting on the floor. "Come on. We have to find that line."
Spiegel flicked the cigarette onto the still smouldering floor. "Don't need to put that out. Won't matter now." He clasped her hand and came to his feet, straightening his headlamp as he did so. "This way." He motioned for her to follow him and stepped back into the hallway, making sure to step around the large chunks of molten ceiling that lay scattered across the tiles. He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Come on. Let's get that line fixed and get out of here before that," he motioned to the smoking ceiling, "happens again."
They traveled down the corridor at a quick pace, regardless of all the fallen debris they had to step around, and were standing in front of the hatch Spiegel said led to the mechanical room in moments. Spie1gel pried open the small door, cursing the lack of power under his breath that would have made opening the hatch much easier, and then turned to Wrin, tucking his blaster into its holster as he did so. "Look, we don't know what condition it's in down there on the lower deck, so I'll go down and you stay at the hatch. I'm hoping I can find the power line where we last left it and just plug it back into the backup generator. Hopefully it hasn't gotten too far with the explosions. You give me some light down the hatch, and I'll call up if I need anything else from you. Mainly just stand here and hold your blaster and look like you're doing something. You know, a usual day on the job for you."
Wrin unsealed her lips, ready to return an insult back at him, when she noticed that he was smiling. It was small, and barely noticeable, but it was definitely there. He was legitimately joking with her, not just throwing a thinly veiled insult her way like he had done so many times before. She was caught off guard, and her retort caught in her throat, so instead, she simply replied with, "Got it."
Spiegel raised an eyebrow at her, obviously wondering why she hadn't thrown a sharp insult back his way, but after studying her for a mere second, he gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and descended into the hatch.
Once his dark head of hair had disappeared from her view below the ledge of the opening, Wrin approached the vent of the scuttle and looked down into the dusky blackness that covered the lower floor of the BeBop from sight. The thin stream of light from her headlamp barely penetrated the darkness, and she could only see a few feet down the ladder that led below.
She couldn't see what Spiegel was doing, but she could hear him shambling around in the dark below, and every once in awhile she would hear him mutter to himself about the power line, and "where was the bloody thing?"
Wrin was so focused on listening for Spiegel to yell that he'd found the power line that she almost missed the sound of humming that was once again sounding over her head. "Spiegel!" She yelled down the opening, hoping he was still close enough to hear her. "We've got incoming!"
She glanced back up at the ceiling, the humming growing louder, and was about to yell down the hatch again when she heard Spiegel call faintly, "I've got it! Go and tell Jett to get us out of here before they hit us again. And make it quick! You probably only have about ninety seconds left before they fire."
Wrin was already sprinting up the hallway away from the opening before he could finish his last sentence. She was surprisingly adept at running full tilt in heels-she'd had to become so over the years of chasing down criminals, because her boots were part of her outfit, and she wasn't leaving them behind. They were an intimidation factor.
She leapt over each piece of large fallen ceiling in her path on her return, knowing it would be infinitely quicker than dodging them as they had on the way down. She reached the doors that opened into the commons area and using her full weight, threw them open without missing a beat, dashing along the wall that she had verified was clear of debris earlier. When she hit the doors that led to the hallway before the cockpit, she had already begun hollering for Black. "The power's back! Get us out of here!"
There was silence and no movement from the cockpit, except the incessant humming from overhead, so she tried again, shouting as she barreled through the doors to the room. "BLACK. Get us out of here!"
Faye gasped as Wrin came careening into the cockpit, almost bowling her over in the process, but Black was more ready and was already in motion, his fingers flying over the control panels.
Wrin looked up at the Bandit's ship, seeing the faint orange flow of fire beginning to come down the chutes of the guns toward them as the explosions began to fire toward the BeBop. "Black…." She said in a warning tone, her eyes never leaving the guns firing in their direction.
"Yup. Got it." Black pressed one last button and the ship roared into life, jumping into hyperspeed away from the enemy ship, just as the columns of fire came spiraling out of the ends of their giant guns.
Wrin braced herself against the helm as the BeBop continued its dash forward into space, looking behind them to see the Bandit's ship disappear into a pin prick among the stars as they left it behind. She let out a silent sigh of relief and glanced over at Black and Faye who stood by the steerage command center. This certainly wasn't what she had signed up for when she agreed to help Spiegel capture the Bandit. But their job obviously wasn't over yet, as the Bandit had escaped custody, and she was stuck with this motley crew until he was safely behind bars and the bounty was in their hands.
She had always worked better alone, but this time, she'd have to swallow her pride and work with the band of misfits she had inherited with this job. Even if she wasn't overly thrilled about it. She had originally signed up to work with one arrogant idiot, not three. However, she couldn't help feeling a tiny bit of connection with them, as they had just survived an attack from the Bandit together.
She sighed again, but this time, it was a sigh of resignation. Whatever. She'd get the job done, put up with them until she had the money in her hands, and then she'd be on her way. She wasn't here to make friends, and she needed to remember that. Making friends meant you had opened yourself up to someone, had trusted them with your feelings, and that was weakness. Wrin Lokai didn't show weakness.
A few days later, the BeBop landed on Saturn, and everyone on board was more than ready to spend a few days planetside again.
The ship had barely made it as far as the ringed planet, and was in desperate need of repairs, which Jett Black was more than eager to get started on. Faye Valentine's feet had no sooner hit the ground then she was off to the beach, waving and saying something about her tan and the men in swim shorts. With Black focused on the repairs, it was just Spiegel and Wrin who had no definite plans for their stay on Saturn.
Spiegel stood beside the BeBop, the dark sunglasses he had worn on Venus once again covering his eyes, as he surveyed the nearby town that stood a few hundred yards from them.
Wrin strode down the ramp that led off the ship, and stood beside him, her hand shielding her eyes from the sun, which was throwing orange shadows on the ground as it shone through the rings in the sky above them. She liked Saturn. It was sunny, but not hot and dry like Venus, and there were plenty of swirling clouds in the atmosphere overhead to cast shade if one wanted it. And there was plenty of water and beaches around to keep one occupied and cool on the warmer days. And more so, she liked the people of the planet. They were simple and accepting and treated bounty hunters with, if not kindness, at least politeness, which was severely lacking when one dealt with the public on Venus.
"Would you say that looks like a bar over yonder, Lokai?"
Wrin snapped out of her thoughts and followed Spiegel's outstretched finger to where he pointed, to a small building on the outskirts of the town they had landed in. She squinted, and could just make out a neon sign that hung over the door that read "Ice Cold Refreshments."
She shrugged. "Who knows? Ice cold refreshments could mean anything. Ice lollies, cool water, frozen dinners, beer, your personality."
He grimaced at her attempt at dry humor. "That was a bad one, Lokai. We'll keep working on your jokes. You have a master right here to teach you. Might as well take advantage of it while you can." He pushed his glasses down the bridge of his nose so she could see his eyes, and met her gaze.
Wrin realized that she was smiling. Smiling at him. They were joking with each other, and it wasn't insults. This was weird. And she still didn't like or trust him. So what was she doing? She wiped the smile off her lips and cleared her throat, turning back to look at the building in question. "I'd say the only way to know if you can get a glass of whisky on this planet is to walk over there and ask for yourself."
Spiegel dug his hands into his pockets, and nodded. "I prefer scotch, but you're right about us getting nowhere standing here. Care to join me?"
She was surprised he had asked, and she was silent for a moment, considering the options. She could stay and hang out around the ship while Black worked on repairs, or she could go and find Faye at the beach. She shuddered at the idea of going to the beach and enduring "girl talk" while watching muscular men put sunscreen on their backs. Going with Spiegel seemed to be the lesser of the three evils. She checked her hip for her blaster, and then motioned with her head toward the suspected bar. "Fine then. Let's get going. My whisky won't pour itself."
They had all returned to the BeBop by the time night fell.
Black had managed to repair some of the damage done to the ship and informed them all that they should be good as new in another few days. Faye yawned and stretched, a sunburn beginning to show across her lower back, and said she was going to head to her room for the night.
Spiegel was lounging across one of the couches in the common room, boredly watching commercials flick across the TV set as he waited for the night's episode of "Big Shot" to air. Wrin sat on another of the couches, noncommittally flipping through a magazine she had picked up at the bar they had visited earlier. She was halfway listening to the sounds of the TV, but didn't bother to look up as the theme music for "Big Shot" suddenly blared across the room. She didn't need to watch Judy and Punch make idiots of themselves to hear about potential bounties.
She was still flipping through the pages of the magazine, when she caught the word "Saturn" come from the program on the TV. She perked up and, throwing the magazine onto the couch, stood and crossed the room to stand behind the couch Spiegel was lying on. She stared at the TV, watching as Punch finished talking and the picture of a man flashed onto the screen, along with a number. She noted that the bounty wasn't set very high, but that the criminal, Marco Devayne, was local to the area of Saturn they were staying in. And if the repairs on the ship were going to take a few more days, she might as well spend her time hunting down a criminal instead of twiddling her thumbs.
"Spike, would you look at that? That one's local to us. How convenient." Black, who had been listening to the program as well, spoke from where he was sitting back in a chair, hands behind his head.
Wrin looked up from across the room, where she was slinging on her jacket, and said, "Exactly. Which is why he's mine." She raised her eyebrows at Spiegel, who had sat up on the couch now. "Don't even think about laying a finger on my bounty, Spiegel."
He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and as she strapped her blaster to her hip, replied, "I don't go for small criminals or bounties, Lokai. He's all yours." He stood from the couch and spun his blaster around his finger as he continued to watch her. "However, I was hoping I could tag along just for the fun of it. No splits, the bounty's all yours. I was just hoping for something to do so I don't go crazy sitting here for the next few days. I could go for a good hunt."
Wrin paused in the doorway, studying him from across the room. Surprisingly, she didn't feel totally opposed to the idea of him joining her. "You can come. But I take point on the hunt."
"Understood." Spiegel holstered his blaster, checked his pocket to make sure his cigarettes were accounted for, and then strode across the room to stand beside her.
Wrin tucked a strand of fiery hair that had fallen into her face back up into her bun and then reached over to pluck a single cigarette from the pack in Spiegel's shirt pocket. She placed it into her mouth, unlit, and raised an eyebrow at Spiegel. "Let's go catch a criminal, shall we?"
Wrin stood in the shadow of a building, her back against the brick wall, one boot heel propped on the surface behind her, so that her leg was nonchalantly held up by the side of the shop. She kept her head low, watching from the shadows as several men filed out from a building across the street. They laughed raucously, even though it was the middle of the night, and Wrin caught bits and pieces of their rough conversation as they walked toward her down the road. They were obviously inebriated, which could make her job easier, or could make it more difficult. It just depended on how things went.
Spiegel appeared silently beside her. "There's a narrow alleyway just down the street from here. They're going to have to take it to get to where they're going. It's probably our best bet for an ambush."
Wrin nodded and followed him down the street, careful to remain in the shadows of the buildings so the men behind them didn't see anything. Spiegel made a sharp right and led them into the narrow alley, which was darker than the exposed road had been. The only dim light came from some of the apartments overhead with occupants still awake.
Spiegel stopped about halfway down the backstreet and disappeared into a doorway, Wrin close on his heels. The door was closed, but there was enough room and cover afforded by the wide door frame that they both could hide in the shallow inlet from view of anyone entering the alley.
They stood in stillness, and the dark and quiet gave Wrin a moment to think of something other than the ambush they were planning. She realized that they were pressed quite closely together, as the doorway didn't allow much space for movement. Even with their backs pressed against opposite sides of the doorframe, their faces were still only inches from each other. She could feel Spiegel's gentle expirations on her face, even though his breath didn't make a sound, and smell the cigarette smoke that was constantly given off by his dark suit.
Their eyes met, Wrin could see the dark brown of his irises in the dim light from the overhead apartments. She looked away quickly as she heard voices reach the end of the alley, and turned her attention to her blaster, taking it from the holster at her hip, and cocking it quietly in preparation.
She held the blaster up in front of her lips, and her eyes once again met Spiegel's. He gave her a slight nod, and they both held completely still as the group of men, still laughing and yelling to one another, came down the alley toward them.
When they were about ten feet from the doorway, Spiegel placed a cigarette loosely between his lips and stepped out in front of them. Wrin remained perfectly motionless, staying hidden as she heard the men come to a shambling stop and one of them say, "Well, what's this then, lads?"
Her back was against the side of the doorframe closest to Spiegel and the group, so though she couldn't see what was happening, she could hear the exchange.
"Good evening, gentlemen. I was wondering if you might have a light?"
That was Spiegel's voice. Wrin held her breath as the men were silent, presumably searching for a light, and waited. A flare from a match lit up the alleyway for just a moment and then she heard one of the men swear as the match went out abruptly. "Hell, he's a bounty hunter."
She heard Spiegel take a few steps backward, toward the doorway, as the men advanced toward him. She could picture his hands up in deference, the lit cigarette hanging from his lips, as he said pleasantly, "Now, gentlemen. I'm not here to cause any trouble. I just needed a light."
"Bounty hunters are always out to cause trouble." It was another man, his voice deeper than the first, who spoke this time. Wrin could hear their footsteps advancing toward her as they pushed Spiegel further down the alleyway.
They reached the doorway, and Spiegel backed past her, his eyes never leaving the group in front of him. Wrin pressed herself further into the corner of the doorway, hoping the shadows would be dark enough to hide her as they had planned. The group of men, five of them, stalked past the doorway without a second glance, their focus entirely on the bounty hunter backing away from them. Wrin recognized Marco Devayne as the second man from the left, his shag of blonde hair giving him away.
"Come on, fellas, I'm sure we can work out our differences." It sounded like Spiegel was smiling, trying to relieve some of the tension and make them believe his act. He had gone far enough, and had stopped his backward advancement, standing still in the middle of the backstreet as the men continued their advance.
Wrin waited five seconds, counting in her head from the time he had stopped, and then slipped into the alleyway behind the group. Without making a sound she raised her blaster to eye level, carefully aimed at the man next to Marco Devayne, and took a shot. The man dropped to the ground, a bullet hole in the back of his head, and the other four men whirled to face her, the gunshot still echoing back and forth between the walls of the alley.
Wrin put her blaster to her lips, blew away the gunsmoke, and then flashed the group a smile. "Hello, boys."
Marco Devayne, who was obviously the leader of the gang, paused for just a moment and then roared, "Get her!" The men charged toward her, forgetting about Spiegel in the heat of the moment, and the alley was very suddenly thrown into pandemonium.
Another gunshot rang out, this time fired from Spiegel's gun, and a second man fell to the dirt. One of the other men continued his charge toward Wrin, his arms stretched forward to grab her and knock her to the ground. He was two steps away from her when she leapt into the air, grabbing a ladder hanging from one of the apartments fire escapes that he had failed to notice above her head. She pulled herself up a few rungs in one smooth motion, and looked down at the man, who was gaping up at her. He hadn't expected she had anywhere to escape. She grinned down at him. "Care to give me a ride, fella?"
She let go of the ladder and twisted in the air, landing squarely on the man's broad shoulders. He roared in outrage as she covered his eyes with her hands and leaned toward the nearby wall. Her weight pulled him over a few steps, close enough that she was able to pull back and bash his skull straight into the brick. He fell, and Wrin rolled off his shoulders fluidly and to her feet in an instant.
She looked down the alley, and saw that Spiegel was engaged in hand to hand combat with the last man before Devayne. Wait, Devayne. Where was he? Wrin scanned the alleyway, and was just in time to see their criminal duck down a side street. "Spiegel!" She holstered her blaster and dashed after him. Spiegel looked up for a brief second as he blocked another one of the man's punches. She pointed down the side street. "He's getting away! You'll be okay?"
Spiegel grunted as one of the man's ham like fists connected with his forearm. "Go, we're good here. Right, buddy?" He landed a punch to the man's face, who let out an angered yell and charged him again.
Wrin left them in the alley and sprinted down the side street where Devayne had disappeared. There, up ahead. She could see him just down the street ahead of her. He looked over his shoulder, and when he saw her in pursuit, sped up his pace. Wrin kept up with him, slowly gaining ground. He made a sharp right and pushed through the doors of a late night supermarket, Wrin close behind him. The cashier behind the counter screamed and ducked behind the cash register as they barreled through one of the aisles, headed toward the back exit of the store.
He was going to get out through that exit if she didn't stop him. Wrin glanced to her left and saw a tower of filled water jugs beside the exit door. If she veered into the aisle next to Devayne, she might just be able to catapult up one of the shelves and knock over that pile to block the exit in time.
At the next intersection of aisles, she took a left, running as hard as she could to gain a few steps of ground over Devayne in the next aisle. She was almost there. She had to do it now. Without missing a beat, she leapt onto the shelves and propelled herself on top of the aisle divider. She ran along the top of the shelves, looking down at Devayne in the opposite aisle. He paused for the briefest of moments, surprised to see her there, and that was the moment she needed. She took a flying leap off the end of the divider and crashed into the tower of water jugs, sending them flying in all directions. She fell to the floor before the exit and was on her feet within seconds, her blaster in front of her, as Devayne came to an abrupt stop before her. The exit behind her was completely barricaded by the fallen water jugs.
She caught her breath, her chest heaving from the chase. "Give up, Devayne. It's over. Let's just make this easy."
The thug wiped his hand across his forehead, which was dripping with sweat, and a few strands of white blonde hair stuck to his skin as he did so. He laughed deeply, throwing his head back, and then stopped abruptly, his face going cold as he replied, "Easy? I have no plan to make this easy for you….Wrin Lokai."
She watched him warily as he crossed to one of the shelves and picked up a can, turning it in his hands as he studied the label. "Green Beans. I've never had much of a taste for them." His cool blue eyes met hers again. "Maybe you'd like to give them a try?"
He wound up and hurled the can at her, straight at her head. She made to dodge, but her foot slipped in the spilled water from the fallen jugs behind her and she stumbled. She wasn't quick enough.
The metal can hit her on the brow above her eye and she fell to the tile floor, disoriented for an instant. She shook her head to try to clear the ringing from her ears, and was aware of the feel of warm blood running down her face and into her eye, obscuring her vision. She could feel the cool water that had puddled on the floor seeping through her shirt. She shook her head again, trying to clear the fuzz from her brain, and heard footsteps coming toward her.
Devayne grabbed her by the collar and raised her into the air, her feet dangling several inches off the supermarket floor. A few drops of blood spattered his face as they fell from hers. He sneered and jostled her. "Not such a big shot now that your little boyfriend isn't around, are you whore?"
She gathered a mouthful of bloody saliva and spit straight into his face. "Go to hell."
The sneer dropped from his face and anger clouded his eyes as he wiped the spittle off onto his shirt sleeve. "You'll pay for that." He slammed her into the wall of the shelving, sending cans and goods scattering every which way. His hands moved to her neck, and pushing her back up against the shelves, he began to squeeze the air from her lungs.
Wrin could feel the darkness overcoming her brain as he suffocated her, but she was still fought back, trying to scratch at his arms with her nails and kick him with her feet. He slammed her against the shelves again, and her eyes drifted to the end of the aisle. She caught a sight of movement. Spiegel.
Not wanting to draw attention his way, she tried to focus her eyes back on Devayne, but her vision was growing fuzzy. She was starting to lose the battle for air. "Devayne….." She croaked out around the thickness growing in her throat, and just as she was about to go under, she heard a gunshot from behind the criminal. "Checkmate."
Devayne let out a pained roar and feel to the floor, clutching his leg to his chest, red blood puddling quickly onto the floor. Wrin collapsed to the tile beside him, taking deep gasps of air as she tried to regain her breath.
Spiegel stood behind the man, his blaster still raised, sending smoke into the air of the market. He shoved the gun into its holster. "Sorry it took me so long. Had to notify the police where we'd be with this scumbag." He kicked a boot into the stomach of Devayne, who let out a loud groan as he continued to clutch his injured leg.
Wrin, using the shelving for support, pulled herself to a standing position, checking to make sure her blaster was still at her hip. She wiped some of the crimson blood from her eye, and flicked it off her fingers onto the ground, meeting Spiegel's gaze. "I would have had him on my own, you know."
He shot her a brazen grin. "I know you would have." He leaned down and pulled the injured criminal to his feet, cuffing his hands behind his back as he did so. Police sirens sounded in the distance. "I just thought you'd appreciate a little bit of help before he dirtied up that pretty face anymore. It's the only worthwhile thing you have going for you, you know."
The police came swarming into the supermarket and formed a circle around the two bounty hunters and the thug. Spiegel stepped aside once they had taken custody of the man to speak to the sergeant, and Wrin didn't mind. She was exhausted and just wanted her bounty and to be able to go to bed. If that meant letting Spiegel take point at this time, than she was more than happy to do that.
Wrin stood in front of the mirror in her bathroom.
They had gotten back to the ship about half an hour ago, and she had been standing in the bathroom for about ten minutes of that time now, trying to work up the strength to undress and get into the shower. She'd never admit it, but that was one of the worst beatings she'd taken in her time as a bounty hunter. She was usually pretty good about avoiding hands on encounters with her criminals, and thus missing most of the physical beatings, but that water on the floor had really messed her up this time.
She raised her eyes to stare at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was disheveled, strands of dark red hair, some more red than others from her blood, were falling into her eyes. Dark purple finger marks were beginning to form on her neck from where Devayne had tried to strangle her, and the cut on her brow was still slowly oozing droplets of blood down the side of her face, which was already caked with dried crimson. Her whole body ached, and she was seriously considering just falling into bed and worrying about cleaning up and medical care in the morning.
She let out a tired sigh and pushed herself up off the sink, reaching to unbuckle the holster that still held her blaster around her waist. She dropped the holster and blaster onto the floor at her feet, and reached into the shower, turning on the water as hot as it would go. When she turned back to the doorway to the bathroom, getting ready to pull her shirt over her head, she started and let out a gasp. Spiegel was standing there, a medical kit in his hands, an apologetic look on his face.
"Sorry, I knocked, but you must not have heard." He held the medical kit toward her. "I thought you might like some help with that." He gestured at the gash above her eye.
She self consciously tugged at the hem of her shirt. "Uh, yeah. That would be great." She paused for a moment and then added, "Thank you."
Spiegel backed out of the doorway and crossed the small room to sit on the bed against the far wall. She followed him and sat beside him, the cot creaking under their weight. She turned to face him, as he opened the medical kit and pulled out some disinfectant wipes. She watched his hands, even though they were rough and large, delicately remove one of the wipes from its small package. He finished, and met her gaze, hesitating for a moment before leaning forward and gently dabbing at the dried blood stuck to her face. She was surprised, again, at how delicate and soft he could be with hands that had earlier taken out a man with a few punches.
She noticed that one of his eyes was beginning to blacken. The thug must have landed a few lucky punches then before Spiegel took care of him. Spiegel sat back, having finished cleaning the wound, and put a finger under her chin, turning the injured side of her face more toward the light so he could admire his handiwork. "I think that should do it for now. We'll probably have to find someone tomorrow to put some stitches in it for you."
Wrin looked down, breaking the contact with his hand, and pushed some hair behind her ear. "Well, thank you again. I appreciate the help. Really." She picked at a loose thread on the thin blanket that covered the cot. "And thank you for earlier."
He stood, the cot creaking as he did so, and put the medical kit under his arm. "That's what partners do." She looked up at him in surprise and he gave her a small grin. "Yeah, the Bandit's not been caught yet, so until that bounty is in our hands, I figure we're partners, whether we like it or not. And partners have each other's backs."
He turned to exit her room, but paused in the doorway and glanced over his shoulder at her. "Now be honest. How bitter was it to get that thank you out?"
She flashed him a tired grin. "Like swallowing a cup of straight vinegar."
He chuckled while digging in his pocket for a cigarette, lit it, and put it between his lips before tipping his head at her as he exited the room. "See you in the morning, Lokai."
By the next afternoon, Jett Black had finished all of the repairs on the Bebop and they were skyward again.
Wrin had slept well into the early afternoon, exhaustion overcoming her from the day before, and when she awoke, she glanced out the window in her room and saw stars flying by. She was relieved to be headed away from Saturn. She took a quick shower, wincing as the water hit the still open and tender gash on her brow, and got out hurriedly, toweling off in the steamy bathroom. She paused before the mirror on her way out, and studied the now dark bruises around her neck, tenderly touching a fingerprint to them as she did so.
She threw the towel onto the floor of her room and briskly pulled on her holey jeans and an old t-shirt. She pulled her long red hair, still damp, into a messy bun onto the top of her head and then grabbed her boots from off the floor where she had threw them under her bed the night before. She pulled them on, hopping through her door and into the hallway as she finished lacing them.
She straightened, brushed some stray tendrils of hair out of her eyes, and strode down the hallway to the common room, pushing through the shield doors after entering the passcode.
Black was nowhere to be seen, he must be in the cockpit, but Faye sat on one of the couches, lounging with one leg over the back and the other cocked in front of her as she laid with her head on a pillow. She was flipping through the magazine Wrin had swiped from the bar on Saturn a few days earlier. She glanced up boredly as Wrin entered the room, but didn't say anything as she turned back to the pages of the magazine. Wrin wasn't surprised. They hadn't really gotten to know each other and she had never had much luck with relationships with women throughout her life. Bounty hunting didn't call for much gossip and girl talk.
Spiegel was sitting on the other couch, watching Punch and Judy announce the bounties for the day, a half used cigarette held loosely between his fingers. He didn't look at her as she entered and crossed the room to stand by the couch so she could see the TV. She couldn't read him. Just as she thought she was making headway at some sort of camaraderie with him, he ignored her and confused her all over again.
"And now, some news on the Bandit." Wrin flicked her eyes to the TV, surprised that they had anything on him at all. Judy held up a piece of paper. "You know that this is open to all Bounty Hunters, but we're announcing this bounty specifically for two of you, and the government says you know who you are." She winked at the screen.
Punch joined in. "That's right. We've had news on the Bandit's whereabouts. You know he escaped police custody, and rather quickly at that. However, we know that he is heading off a trade of Mars Crystal this weekend at a seedy joint on the planet of Neptune. Why he's changed up his route from Venus, we don't know, but there you have it folks! Neptune is the place to be this weekend for some sparkle." Judy threw the paper to the ground and they continued with other bounties.
Wrin, who had sat on the couch during the announcement, glanced over at Spiegel, and met his gaze. He took a draw of his cigarette, blew out slowly, and then crushed it beneath his foot. "Neptune, huh? Wonder what's there for the bastard?"
Wrin lifted her shoulders. "No idea. But looks like that's where we're headed."
Spiegel grabbed the intercom system from off the side table and held it to his mouth. "Jett, chart a course for Neptune."
Wrin started to push herself up off the couch, thinking that she'd go back to her room seeing as no one was really looking for company here, when the ship changed course and tilted hard to the left. She lost her balance and fell into Spiegel, knocking him back on the couch. She caught herself with her hands, but she was still on top of him, her face buried in his chest for just an instant. She pulled back, and their faces were inches from each other. It was as if time had frozen, she couldn't hear the hum of the ship, she wasn't aware of Faye in the room anymore. All she could feel was the rise and fall of his chest under her and her vision was filled with his dark eyes. She could feel his breath on her cheeks, and for the briefest moment, she had the urge to lean in and see what his lips felt like on hers.
And then the frozen moment unfroze. She scrambled to right herself and scooted away from him on the couch, her cheeks going crimson. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…..the ship…"
Spiegel righted himself and stood, shoving another cigarette in his mouth. She expected him to make a degrading joke or playfully insult her, as he had treated her from the beginning, but to her surprise he didn't say a word. He left the room in silence, his cigarette still unlit in his mouth.
After the doors had slid shut behind him, Wrin stayed on the couch, trying to catch her breath. What the hell had just happened? First off, why had she reacted the way she had? Why was her heart still pounding? And why had Spiegel reacted the way he had? Nothing made sense.
"Well, that was….interesting."
Wrin started. She had forgotten Faye was in the room with them. She straightened, blowing hair out of her eyes, and smoothing her t-shirt down against her skin as she turned to face the other woman.
Faye was staring at her, the magazine long forgotten, studying her with a gaze that made her extremely uncomfortable, a penetrating gaze that seemed to ask questions and answer them at the same time.
She sat up, flinging her legs over the side of the couch, and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. "What just happened there, barbie?"
Wrin was still too confused to even fling a retort back at her or remark on the sardonic nickname. She put a hand to her forehead, staring blindly at the still running TV in front of her. "I don't know."
Faye threw the discarded magazine onto the table between them and sat back, crossing her arms over her chest. "I do. And I think it's time for us to engage in a little thing I like to call 'girl talk.'" She must have noticed Wrin stiffen at the phrase, because she continued with, "I know you're above that and all, but it's the only way. Do you want me to tell you what I just saw or not?"
Wrin looked at her and took a breath. "Okay, fine. But let's make this quick. Tonight's already been uncomfortable enough as it is."
Faye cracked her knuckles and crossed one, long, bare leg over the other. "Okay. Here's the deal. I'm going to take a shot in the dark that you like Spike." Wrin opened her mouth to protest how absolutely ridiculous that was, but Faye stopped her with a finger. "I'm not done. You have feelings for him, even if you won't admit it. Look deep, and you'll see I'm right. And," She picked at one of her fingernails. "I'm gonna guess that Spike has a thing for you too. But he feels bad because of all the Julia crap that went down years ago and so that's why he practically ran out of the room after what happened." She met Wrin's gaze again and shrugged. "There. Easy peasy." She pulled out a tube of lipstick and began to apply it to her lips. "This is when it pays to be a girl, barbie. Because other girls will always tell you the truth and we're usually right."
Wrin unclasped her hands, which she had had clasped tightly in her lap since Faye started talking and were now white from pressure, and stood from the couch. She flipped off the TV, and walked past Faye without a word, hoping she could leave the room before she said anything else.
No such luck. "You know, barbie." Faye stood from the couch and came to stand in front of her. "I've never seen Spike that flustered before. I would consider that a very good sign for you if you hope that he reciprocates your feelings." She turned to exit the room and threw over her shoulder, "Sweet dreams, barbie."
Over the next few days that it took to reach Neptune, Wrin tried to stay in her room as much as possible to avoid both Spiegel and Faye. She snuck out a few times to practice with her blaster in the training room, taking her turbulent feelings out on the paper targets that lined the walls, but that was it. She ate, studied, and prepared to meet the Bandit again all within the four walls of her room. She knew that eventually she'd have to talk to Spiegel about their plan, but that could wait until the very last possible moment.
One morning, she gauged it'd been about four days since they'd left Saturn, Jett Black's voice came on over the intercom system in her room. "We'll be landing on Neptune in about an hour."
Wrin thanked him, getting a simple grunt in reply before he shut off the staticky intercom. She swallowed down the sudden feelings of fear that were in her throat, whether they were feelings of anxiety over what they were going to do or feelings of worry over seeing Spiegel again, and then stood from the bed, shoving the book she had been reading under her pillow. She suited up, throwing her black jacket on and strapping her holster to her waist very last, and then exited her room, heading toward the area of the common room, where she knew she'd find Spiegel preparing to depart. She just hoped Faye wouldn't be there too, scrutinizing their every moves. This was going to be awkward enough as it was.
She entered the room, and saw Spiegel crouched over the table in the middle of the couches, studying a series of maps and books. He didn't look up as she entered, which was customary, but instead, said while still studying the papers in front of him, "Lokai. Come over here. I need to ask your opinion about something."
She let out the breath she had been holding and crossed the room to stand beside him. Good, this seemed okay so far. He was acting like his usual self. He handed her the map he had been studying. "What do you think of this? This is supposedly the layout of the Bandit's hideout here on Neptune. What's the best approach?"
Wrin scanned the document, noting that there were exits and tunnels on all sides of the hideout for quick escapes, but that their most likely point of entrance would be through the trash tunnels underneath the building. They would be most likely to enter the building unnoticed that way. She put a fingertip on the start of the trash chutes. "Our best entrance would be through the underground trash tunnels. We'd be least likely to be seen that way. And we know the Bandit will be on high alert knowing we'll come after him again." She traced her finger up the route of the chutes. "Once we get inside the building through the tunnels, it's a straight shot to the anteroom chamber, which is most likely where the Bandit will be situated with his horde of crystal. If we can fight our way through his lackeys to get there, we should be good as gold at that point."
She noted that Spiegel was studying her as she talked, and she met his gaze, putting her hands on her hips in irritation. "All right, what? You've been looking at me like that since I started. Do you have a better plan?"
He didn't answer, instead, he shook a cigarette out from the pack in his pocket and lit it, taking a slow draw before he took the map back from her and threw it onto the table with all the other papers. "Nope. I asked you because I was sincerely curiously what you thought. And it matches with what I was thinking. So that's what we'll do."
Wrin's eye caught their reflection in the large bay window behind them, and she raised an eyebrow at Spiegel. "I hope you have some damn good disguises planned, because there's no way they're not recognizing us after last time."
Spiegel flicked the used cigarette onto the floor at her feet and she crushed it into ash with the heel of her boot. He gave her an amused look. "No disguises this time. It's just us and them. Head to head."
Wrin had to admire his confidence. She tilted her head to him, and glanced again out the large bay window. They were close enough to Neptune's surface that she could see the sunlight glinting off the water that covered the planet's face.
Spiegel walked up to the window and leaned against it, so much like the pose he had been doing the first day they met, and said in a blase voice, "I hope you like water, Lokai. Because there's a whole lot of it where we're going."
The ramp of the BeBop lowered to the dock with a loud clang.
Spiegel and Wrin stepped into the sunlight, and Wrin was glad she had thought to take sunglasses, as the water glinting off the water all around them was blinding.
They both turned as Jett Black came to the entrance of the cargo hold and called down the ramp to them. "We'll wait here. Hopefully you'll be back sooner rather than later with our bounty and we can get out of this watery hellhole."
He lifted the ramp behind them as they both stepped onto the dock. The dock where they had landed belonged to the city of Maji, which Wrin could just see in the distance. The tall, spiraling tops of the buildings could be seen just over the crest of the water in the distance.
Spiegel threw their duffel bag of supplies over his shoulder. "Come on. We need to find a boat to charter."
Wrin followed him down the dock and toward the direction of the city, being careful to not get the heels of her boots stuck in one of the cracks between the planks that made up the dock.
When they had been walking for about five minutes, they saw a small boat tied to the dock in the distance. Upon reaching it, there was a fisherman sitting on the dock, eating lunch out of a tin bucket, who looked up as they approached. He tipped his hat to them. "Morning, bounty hunters. What can I do for you?"
Spiegel motioned to the boat. "I was wondering if we could pay you to charter your boat for a few hours. We'd only have it out for the day, and then we'd be sure to bring it back to you before nightfall."
The man studied Spiegel from underneath the brim of his hat, before moving his gaze to Wrin. Once he had looked them both over, he stood and held out his metal lunchpail. "Put her there then." Spiegel pulled out a bag of currency and plopped it into the pail. The man looked satisfied and motioned to the boat. "She'll get you where you need to go. Motor's sound and she flies like a gull over the water."
Spiegel nodded and threw the duffel bag into the boat before boarding himself. Wrin leaped over the side of the boat after him in one smooth motion and caught the fisherman staring at her as she adjusted herself to the rocking of the boat.
"Hey, hunter." The man called to Spiegel, who looked up to see what he wanted. He waved a hand at Wrin. "If you're not taking advantage of that, you'd best have your head checked."
Wrin blushed slightly, ducking down behind the stern of the boat so the fisherman wouldn't see. Spiegel simply muttered something under his breath and started the motor of the boat, drowning out anything else the fisherman might have said.
He punched the gas and the boat sped out into the vast expanse of Neptune water. Once they had gone out far enough that there was nothing in sight but wave after wave, Wrin moved further out into the stern and let the sea wind rush over her, pulling at her hair and clothes. She closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of salt and sea and freedom. She loved it here.
She glanced back at Spiegel, who was in the back of the boat, steering, and noticed that his eyes were on her for just a split second, before he turned his attention to the water again. She turned back around, determined not to make anything of it.
It was another half an hour before she saw land in the distance. She pointed and yelled, "There it is!" back to Spiegel, who nodded in reply and turned the boat slightly to the right. If their informant's map had been correct, then the trash tunnels they were aiming for as their entrance would be located on the south side of the island.
As they drew closer, Wrin could see the hideout, a towering fortress of an abandoned castle, looming above the sea. It was the only building on the small island, and was far enough from the mainland that it wasn't easily stumbled onto, but close enough that getting supplies and buyers wouldn't be difficult.
Spiegel steered the small boat into a cove on the side of the island they were aiming for, and drove it slowly into a thick fen of bushes, so that it was completely hidden from sight. The two disembarked, having to slough through knee deep water to get to the shore. When they reached the beach, covered in dark, gray clear pebbles that were indicative to Neptune, Spiegel dropped the duffel bag to the beach at his feet and knelt down, unzipping the bag. He pulled out his wetsuit and then threw Wrin hers as well. He also pulled out extra blasters, some knives, and a couple of explosive devices, which he set aside. He then tossed the empty duffel bag back into the hidden boat.
Wrin dropped her wetsuit to the beach at her feet and stripped off her shirt over her head in one fluid motion. She then slipped out of her boots and pants so that she stood in just her bra and underwear. She reached down to pick up the wetsuit and saw that Spiegel was staring at her, his eyebrows raised and an amused smirk on his face. She paused in what she was doing and retorted, "What? Never seen a woman before, Spiegel?" She pulled one leg of the wetsuit on. "Are you twelve? Come on, stupid. Hurry up."
She zipped up the front of her wetsuit and, throwing her clothes back into the boat, strapped her blaster back to her waist. She then stuck some of the knives and a few of the explosive devices in the small backpack that she flung over her shoulder. By the time she was finished, Spiegel was fully clothed in his wetsuit and was loading his weapons as well. He slung on his backpack and turned to her, "Ready then?"
They trekked around the small cove they had entered in, and came around to the south side of the island. They stayed low, staying behind the foliage as they crept along the water's edge and towards the point where the trash tunnels should exit the hideout. When they reached the cliffs that towered up to where the hideout sat, they headed out into the water. They went out neck deep and Wrin treaded water while Spiegel dove beneath the surface. He was back within a few seconds. "The trash openings are right below our feet, just where the map said they'd be. They're about five feet below us. When we start, there's no going back. We can only go forward. We have to get into those chutes and go approximately thirty feet before we hit the segment of the tube where it levels out and is no longer under water. Understood?"
Wrin nodded in affirmation.
"All right then." Spiegel gave a nod and took a deep breath. "On my count. Three, Two…..One."
Wrin sunk beneath the surface of the water, opening her eyes to see Spiegel dive past her toward the sea floor. She kicked her legs and followed him down, seeing through the murky water as they got closer, the openings to the large trash tunnels. Spiegel swam towards the left tunnel, a cloud of bubbles following him, and Wrin swam after him, entering the dark, gaping maw of the trash chute just a few seconds after he had. It was pitch black inside, but she knew there was only one way to go-up. She kept kicking, stroking her way through the inky water, hoping that Spiegel was right in his calculations and they would have air soon.
Her lungs were beginning to burn, and the silence under the water was deafening on her ears. She kicked harder, getting desperate to reach the segment of the tube where she could draw a breath. Her lungs were screaming for air, she wasn't go to make it. She felt the chute beginning to level out.
Suddenly, she burst out of the water into air. She could breathe. She crawled forward on her hands and knees, coughing as she expelled water from her lungs.
She heard Spiegel breathing deeply in the darkness, catching his breath as well, and then the light of a headlamp broke through the blackness. She looked up and saw Spiegel just a few feet down the chute from her, leaning against the wall of the tunnel, adjusting a headlamp on his head.
She crawled over to him and leaned back against the wall beside him, still trying to get enough air back into her lungs. She rolled her head against the wall to look at him. "Well, that was the easy part."
He chuckled darkly. "Yeah, well…" His eyes moved to her brow and he hesitated, before reaching out a hand and wiping at her cut with his thumb. He pulled it away, and it was crimson. "You're bleeding again."
Their gazes held, and Wrin found herself studying him. She noticed how his dark hair was curly when wet, and that it was plastered to his forehead from the swim. His cheekbones were sharp and strong, and his mouth seemed strangely empty without a cigarette hanging from the corner.
He leaned toward her and reached out his hand again, plucking a wet strand of hair from her cheek. She realized her hair had come out during their swim and was hanging in saturated strands down her back. He rolled the piece of hair between his fingers, his eyes never leaving hers, and then let it drop, keeping his hand in the air by her face for just a moment. He flicked his fingers across her cheekbone, lightly, like the touch of a bird feather, and then dropped his hand. He cleared his throat. "We need to get going if we want to reach that antechamber."
Spiegel rose and offered her a hand to pull her to her feet, but Wrin ignored it, holding her hand over her eyes as she stared up at him through the glare of his headlamp. "Do you feel anything at all, Spiegel?"
She could just make out his face through the beam of light, and the corner of his mouth quirked up into a small smile, as if he thought she were joking with him. She was the opposite of joking, and the smile made the small pool of anger bubbling in her chest explode into a full blown eruption. She slapped his still offered hand away and jumped up, water that had puddled in the creases of her wetsuit cascading down around her feet as she did so.
"Why the sudden anger, Lokai?" The smile had dropped from Spiegel's face, and he looked slightly exasperated with her, his hand reaching for the cigarettes he had stowed in the inside pocket of his wetsuit.
"No, I'm serious. I am legitimately asking you. Do you just go through life feeling nothing?" Wrin poked a long finger into his chest and she realized her voice had risen with frustration, even though they were only about a foot apart and her voice echoed off the walls of the trash chute as it was.
Spiegel opened his mouth, but before he could say anything in reply to her question, she smacked the unlit cigarette from his fingers and took a step, closing the distance between them. She saw a flash of anger flicker in his eyes. Good. She wanted him to react-to show her any sort of feeling at all. "So? What's the answer? Did you just decide to stop feeling after Julia broke your heart? Or did you never have feelings to begin with?"
She knew what she had said would an illicit an emotional response from him, and that's why she had thrown the jibe his way, but she didn't expect him to react as strongly as he did. He grabbed her wrists with his hands and shoved her back into the wall of the trash chute, holding her hands level with her head. Their bodies were within inches of each other, as he leaned even closer to her and put his lips to her ear, his warm breath tickling her neck. She suppressed a shudder as he whispered into her ear with a voice that was cool as ice, "Listen to me, Lokai, and listen carefully. You either die with feelings, or you live long enough to realize they're all a dangerous lie."
He released her wrists and stepped back, picking up his pack off the floor and slinging it over his shoulder. He then picked up the cigarette she had knocked to the ground, and lit it, blowing out a long draft of smoke before he turned to light up the tunnel ahead of them. He started to hike up the gradual incline toward the hideout, being careful to place his feet on dry ribbing where they wouldn't slip.
Wrin rubbed one of her wrists, before picking up her pack as well and following in his footsteps up the tunnel.
There was no more talking the rest of the hike.
They reached the sealed hatch that led into the hideout from the trash chute, and Spiegel put down his backpack, rummaging for the explosive devices they had brought along. It was bound to attract a little more attention than they wanted, blowing off the hatch opening, but there was no other way to open it from the inside.
Wrin pulled out the explosive devices she had packed and stepped past Spiegel to the door, securing the two she had on one side of the door. She waited until Spiegel stepped up and had secured his side as well, before she activated the center module on both of her devices. Red lights began to blink and they both retreated back down the garbage chute a few meters, taking cover behind the curve they had just come around.
Within thirty seconds, they heard the four devices detonate, and though they didn't make nearly as much noise or mess as regular explosive devices, there was still a muted boom that echoed down the tunnel toward them as the explosion took the hatch off its hinges.
They walked back up the tunnel to the now gaping hole in the wall, dim light coming through to penetrate the inkiness of the tunnel. Spiegel turned off his headlamp and Wrin walked past him toward the hatch opening, not looking at him as she said, "I'll scope the area."
She pulled her blaster from her hip and carefully moved to one side of the hatch, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. She peeked out of the hole into the hallway beyond. No one was in sight. She could see old fluorescent lights flickering overhead, the source of the dim light, and could see that one end of the hallway stretched to a door, while the other end disappeared out of sight around a corner.
She pulled her head back into the chute and motioned with her hand for Spiegel to come up next to her. "It's clear. Let's go."
She stepped over the ragged edge of the hole the explosion had made and her heel made a soft clicking noise as it landed on the stained tile floor. She kept her blaster up, looking behind them periodically as they headed down the length of the hallway that turned the corner and disappeared from view. When they reached the corner, Spiegel moved ahead of her and peered around the bend. He glanced back at her. "No one here either. We're good."
Wrin stepped around him and made her way down the long hallway, knowing that according to the map, the door at the end should lead them to a flight of stairs that led to the second floor, where the antechamber was located.
She heard Spiegel's soft footsteps close behind her as she reached the door and tried the rusty doorknob. It was unlocked. She raised an eyebrow at Spiegel and gently pushed the door open. It creaked open slowly, but easily, showing them a darkened stairway that led upwards into the blackness. Wrin carefully stepped onto the landing of the stairwell, her blaster ready as she checked behind the door to make sure no one was hiding there. When she saw it was empty, she faced Spiegel and said quietly, "Where is everyone? I don't like this. It feels like a trap. They know we're coming."
Spiegel shrugged a shoulder and glanced up the stairs. "Well, even if they know, there's nothing for us to do now but get on with it. We can't go back, we've already entrenched ourselves in this asinine venture."
He was right. Even if the Bandit had somehow found out about them coming here, they couldn't just turn back now. The only thing to do was continue onward...and upward.
Wrin looked up the stairs and motioned with her blaster for Spiegel to go ahead of her. "You first then. I was going to say gentlemen first, but I don't really think that applies here." He glared at her, and she stuck her tongue out at him. It felt good to ease some of the tension that had accumulated since the tunnel.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Wrin felt slightly out of breath. They hadn't had to climb many flights, but her heart was pounding and causing her to lose her breath just a bit as she wondered what the Bandit had planned for them.
She followed close on Spiegel's heels as he crept down the hallway, his back against the wall, toward the large door that stood at the end, leading to the antechamber, the hub of the hideout. When they reached the door, Spiegel paused, his hand on the large spindle that dominated the middle of the heavyset door, and met her eyes. "Whatever he has planned in there, we can handle it. We're prepared. Got it?"
Wrin kept her back against the wall to the side of the door and raised her blaster to her lips. "I've got it. Open the door."
Spiegel grunted with the effort as he turned the large wheel clockwise. Once….Twice…...the thick door swung inward with a loud bang as it slammed into the wall. Spiegel entered first, his blaster held straight in front of him, and Wrin left the protection of the wall, entering the room just a few seconds behind him, her blaster at the ready.
She almost collided with Spiegel, who had stopped several feet into the room, completely still. She stepped to the side of him and saw why he had stopped. The Bandit stood in the middle of the large, heavily secured room in front of them. He was alone, surrounded by bags and containers of crystal, a smirk playing across his face as he held out his arms toward them. "Well, well, well. You found me so easily! I'm impressed. Welcome to my humble domain, the place where all the magic happens. I've been expecting you, bounty hunters." His voice boomed off the walls of the empty room as he stepped off the platform he had been standing on and took a few, slow steps toward them.
He folded his arms and studied them both, his eyes alight with crazy fire. He began to circle the pair, like a shark circling the scent of blood, looking them up and down. He made a tsking noise as he did so. "My, my, my. You are just as delicious as I remember, Wrin Lokai." His eyes turned to Spiegel as he came to a stop in front of them. "What do you see in him?"
Wrin ignored his question, pointing her blaster at his head. "It's over, Bandit. We found you. Give it up."
The Bandit laughed, the maniacal sound bouncing off the walls around them, and put a finger on the end of her blaster, forcing her to lower the weapon. "Oh, you do delight me, my dear. But I told you it wasn't going to be easy. And I have a little game planned for the two of you this time." He turned from them, his hands held behind his back in a relaxed fashion, as he ambled back toward the platform he had been on when they first entered. He raised his voice so they could still hear him as he walked away. "You see, I received word you were coming, and I had some extra time on my hands, so I decided why not? Why don't we all have some fun, hmmm?"
Spiegel raised his blaster, aiming for the retreating back of the criminal. Before he could even put a finger to the trigger, the Bandit turned back to them, raising his eyebrows at him as he said, "Oh, I wouldn't do that, Mr. Spiegel. You see, someone you care about could get hurt."
The Bandit snapped his fingers and shield doors whisked open on one side of the room. In came a group of the Bandit's thugs, holding a struggling Jett Black and Faye Valentine between them.
Wrin heard Spiegel swear under his breath as he lowered his blaster. The thugs came to stand in front of the platform where the Bandit was standing, shoving Faye and Jett to their knees in front of them. They were bound and gagged, but Wrin could tell by Black's darkening eye and the scratches on Faye's face that they hadn't come without a struggle.
"What do we have to do to win your little game, Bandit?" Spiegel holstered his blaster and crossed his arms over his chest, the flames of anger flicking in his eyes as he met the Bandit's stare from across the room.
The Bandit came down the stairs off the platform, stalking toward them again. When he was just a few feet in front of them, he came to a stop and held out his hands, palms up, in a gesture of goodwill. "Oh, it's really quite easy, you see. I'm not asking for much. All you have to do," He pointed at Spiegel, and then motioned to his blaster "is take that gun, and shoot Wrin Lokai in the head, right...between….the...eyes." He giggled evilly. "It's really quite a fun game, if I do say so myself."
Wrin felt like her heart had stopped beating in her chest. She felt like she was going to be sick. She looked away from the crystal studded grin of the Bandit and saw Black and Faye kneeling on the floor. The sight of the prisoners gave her her breath back.
She turned to face Spiegel, who stood watching her, his blaster still in his hand, his eyes blank. She threw her blaster to the floor and kicked it over to him before dropping to her knees. She met his eyes. "Do it, Spiegel."
She knew she could count on him to do what needed to be done. He was a bounty hunter after all, he was used to playing games with high stakes. And he had proved earlier that he didn't feel for her as she did for him. So there was nothing for him to lose. It should be easy for him to pull the trigger on a woman who he had met only months ago and who he had been forced to work with, even though he clearly worked better alone.
"Lokai." She flicked her eyes off the floor to his face when he said her name, and saw that he had raised his blaster and had it pointed at her head. His lips were set in a hard line, but she swore that there was emotion in his eyes as he said, "I'm sorry."
Wrin closed her eyes, waiting for the sound of the gun to go off, but when several seconds had gone by and she was still alive, she opened them again and saw that Spiegel had lowered the blaster. He faced the Bandit, whose smile had dropped off his face when the execution had not taken place as planned, and in a deathly cold voice said, "I'm not doing this. We're not playing your game, Bandit."
Anger flickered in the Bandit's eyes. His mouth turned down in disgust as he stared at Spiegel. "Disgusting. I expected a woman, even one who is a bounty hunter, to be the weak one. That's why I chose you. But I see now, that you have let your feelings for this wretch cloud your judgement and make you soft. Very well then." He clapped his hands and the thugs behind him moved in on Black and Faye. "Say goodbye to your friends." He moved his gaze to Wrin, who was still kneeling on the floor. "And your whore."
It all happened in an instant. Spiegel kicked Wrin's blaster across the floor to her and she grabbed it, leaping to her feet. She heard Black roar from across the room and saw that he had gotten out of his bonds, a knife held in his hand as he attacked the thugs advancing on him. She left Spiegel to deal with the Bandit, sprinting toward the pilot and Faye, who was still tied up on the ground. She aimed her blaster as she ran, taking out one of the men who was advancing toward Faye. She reloaded, hitting another one of the men in the chest, and he fell backwards and landed at Faye's feet.
She had reached the prisoners and sliding to a stop in front of Faye, she crouched to untie the gag from her mouth. Instantly, Faye began to swear at the men as Wrin moved behind her to untie her hands. When she was completely free of her bonds, Wrin threw Faye an extra blaster from her backpack and the two women began to pick off the other men surrounding Black. He had taken out quite a few already with his knife, and the few that were left fell quickly under the barrage fired from the two guns.
Faye lowered her blaster and rubbed a hand across the coarse rope burns on her wrists. "Damn ropes. They messed up my flawless tan."
Wrin flashed her a grin and was about to quip something back, when she heard a gunshot echo around the room. She looked up and saw the Bandit on the other side of the chamber, his arm tightly around Spiegel's neck, his blaster still giving off smoke into the air over his head. He lowered the weapon and put it to Spiegel's temple, flashing his crystal embedded teeth at the trio who still stood at the base of the platform. "Did you think the game was over? No, no no, that was just the beginning, my dears. This is where it really gets fun."
Wrin didn't move, fearing that if she tried anything, the Bandit wouldn't hesitate to shoot Spiegel in the head. The Bandit moved his gaze over each of them until it came to rest on wrin. He flicked the blaster at her, motioning for her to come toward him. "You, come over here." He pointed the blaster at Black and Faye. "Just her. If I see either one of you make even the slightest move, I will kill them both."
Wrin slowly put her blaster back on her hip and carefully walked across the antechamber toward the Bandit and Spiegel. She reached the pair and stopped several feet away from them, afraid that if she moved too close or did anything the Bandit didn't approve of, Spiegel would get the bad end of the gun. She waited for the Bandit's next instructions in silence, biting her lip between her teeth.
The Bandit, keeping the gun to Spiegel's head, gave her an ominous grin. "Very good. Now, be a dear and reach into my pocket."
Wrin stepped up to him, keeping her eyes from meeting his, and reached a tentative hand into the pocket of his pants. She had to lean into him to do so, and she felt him bury his nose in her hair and take a deep whiff. "Ahhh, it's just how I imagined it." She didn't dare move away from him, her hand still in his pocket, as he then said, "Now, pull out what's in there. Slowly. Or I'll blow your little lover's brains out."
Wrin's fingers wrapped around a small, hard object and she slowly withdrew it from the pocket, holding it in her closed fist as she took a step back from the Bandit. He raised his eyebrows at her, almost playfully. "Show us what it is."
Wrin opened her fingers one by one, revealing a small piece of electrical equipment, about the size of a quarter, in the palm of her hand. She knew what it was, even before the Bandit spoke. "There we are. Now, Mr. Spiegel." The Bandit pressed the barrel of the blaster deeper into the flesh of Spiegel's temple. "Can you please tell me what that is?"
"It's a detonator." Spiegel spoke in a low voice, his eyes only flicking down to what was in Wrin's palm for a mere second before he stared forward again.
The Bandit chuckled and stroked the barrel of the blaster down the side of Spiegel's face. "Very good, pet." He turned his attention back to wrin, and the smile dropped from his face, replaced by an ominous, blank look. "Now, listen to me, Wrin Lokai. Here's the game-you can either let me go, and stop hunting me forever, or, you can refuse and I can use that detonator to blow up this entire building, with all of us inside of it. You don't get a bounty because I'm dead and well, so are you."
Wrin felt her heart skip a beat. It was an impossible situation. What were they supposed to do? She glanced at Spiegel, and his eyes met hers for the briefest moment. And she saw all she needed to in them to make a decision. She directed her gaze back to the Bandit. "What if I choose neither of those options?"
The Bandit sneered at her. "Sorry, pet, there's no other options on the table. You pick between A and B."
Wrin lowered her hand, the detonator still encased in her palm, and ran her thumb gently across the raised detonation button. She glanced over her shoulder at Faye and Black, who still stood motionlessly by the platform across the room. She turned again to face the Bandit. "What if the bounty isn't a factor in this equation anymore? What if I choose to just blow up this building myself?"
A small amount of uncertainty flicked across the Bandit's face, before it went rock hard again and he laughed humorlessly. "Are you trying to show me your claws, kitten? Because I would think about that long and hard, before the scratch shows up on Mr. Spiegel here and not me."
"You're right." Wrin raised the detonator to study it, rolling it between her fingers. "But what would you say if I told you that I had studied you for weeks before deciding to hunt you? That I knew every in and out of your character, your twisted brain, your potential games, your plan?" She focused on the Bandit's face again. "Because that's exactly what happened, Bandit."
Disbelief flickered across the criminals face, but was quickly replaced by anger. He cocked the blaster held at Spiegel's head and hissed between his teeth, "You want to play like that? Then let's play."
Wrin raised a shoulder at him and nonchalantly said, "Go ahead. I replaced all the bullets in Spiegel's gun with blanks before we entered the building. You pulling that trigger won't do anything to him, other than maybe leave a slight scent of soot on his skin." She flashed a smile at the Bandit, whose face had gone ashen. "And this detonator? Well, I didn't do anything to it, it all still works, but I'm planning on using it to blow up this hellhole after we deliver you to the police, who should be right outside by now."
She raised her blaster and pointed it at the Bandit, whose arm had gone slack around Spiegel's neck. "Now, if you would kindly let go of Spiegel, I won't be forced to blow a hole through a non vital area of your body."
The Bandit's hand that still held the blaster loosely to Spiegel's head was shaking as he cried, "No. You're bluffing. No one outsmarts the Bandit like this!" He steadied his hand and put a finger to the trigger of the gun. "But I'm not bluffing. I will blow his brains out here and now."
A corner of Wrin's mouth quirked into a humorless smile. "Do it. I promise you, there are blanks in that gun. And I'm not bluffing." She put her finger to the trigger of her blaster and tipped it down to point at his left shoulder. "But there are bullets in mine. So I'd suggest you make your decision quickly."
She thought the Bandit was going to test her for a moment, but instead, he let his hand drop and the blaster fell to the floor at Spiegel's feet. He pushed Spiegel away from him and raised his hands into the air. "All right. You've won the game."
"Black!" Wrin called over her shoulder, her eyes never leaving the Bandit. "Can you please come and cuff this man and escort him outside to the waiting police?"
She heard Black come up behind her, and after he had approached the man in front of her, roughly cuffing his hands behind his back, he spit into his face. "That's for the gag." He shoved the Bandit toward the shield doors. "Get going, bastard."
They left the room, Faye following them out, and Wrin finally dropped her blaster, letting out the breath she had been holding. She pushed some sweaty hair off her forehead and heard Spiegel clear his throat behind her. She turned to face him. He had picked up his blaster and was studying it. He raised an eyebrow at her. "You didn't really put blanks in this, did you? You couldn't have known what he was going to do."
Wrin lifted a shoulder. "I can't tell you that. It's like telling the secret to a magic trick. Magicians never reveal their secrets."
"Hmmm." Spiegel raised his blaster and fired at the wall across the room from them. The gun went off with a bang and a smoking hole was left in the wall where he had pointed. He turned back to her, the gun still smoking in his hand. "So you were bluffing."
Wrin grinned at him. "It worked, didn't it?"
Spiegel let out a low whistle as he holstered his blaster. "Hell, woman, you are crazy."
"Yeah, well, it comes with the job." Wrin strapped her blaster back to her hip and motioned toward the shield door. "Come on. The police probably have the Bandit by now. We should get down there and give them this detonator as well."
The pair left the antechamber and headed down the stairs. Wrin couldn't wait to get out of this dark, dirty building and back out into the salty sea air of Neptune. They exited the stairwell and she saw the door ahead of them at the end of the first hall they had entered, the door that led to outside. It was still ajar from when Black and Faye had come through before, and Wrin made to push through it, when she realized Spiegel had stopped behind her. She turned, curious why he had stopped before exiting the building, and saw that he seemed to be hesitating about something. "Spiegel?" He looked up at her, and she motioned with her head toward the door. "You ready?"
"Yeah, I just…." He growled in frustration and shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was about to do himself. "Damn it." He muttered under his breath.
"What…." Wrin began in a confused voice.
She couldn't finish her sentence, as Spiegel closed the gap between them, forcing her back against the wall by the door. He shoved a hand over her mouth. "Look, just shut up for once and listen, okay?" Wrin nodded under his hand and he removed it from her lips. He spoke in a low, hurried voice, as if he was afraid he would lose the courage to say what he wanted to. "You drive me crazy. And it's not always the good kind." He ran a hand through his dark hair and let out an exasperated breath. "Listen, I don't know when I'll ever get to the point where I feel again like I used to. But I do know one thing right now, and it's this." His dark eyes met hers. "I can't imagine what the hell I would do with my life now if I didn't have your crazy in it."
Wrin waited, but he was silent, waiting for her response. She tried to think of how to respond, but she was out of her depth. So she went with humor. "Can I speak now, or is that still not allowed?"
Spiegel stepped back from her, making space between them again. He motioned to her with his hand. "It's allowed."
Wrin glanced out the door, where she could see Jett Black still talking with the police. She threw a half smile at Spiegel. "I think we'd better get out there before Black messes up our transaction."
She pushed through the door, not looking back, knowing that she had just evaded what had happened, but at the moment, that's all she could do. Earlier, she had accused Spiegel of not having feelings, and now that he had finally showed her some, she didn't know how to react, other than running, which is what she had always done.
She stepped up beside Black, joining his conversation with the police officers, and noticed that though Spiegel had exited the building behind her, he didn't come to join them. Instead, he headed to the water's edge, and began to throw rocks into the blue of the sea.
Everyone was in good spirits that night when they returned to the docked BeBop.
Black had insisted that they all go out for a celebratory drink at one of the nearby bars before heading back to the ship, and by the time they got back, it was late into the night.
They all entered the ship and Black threw himself onto one of the couches, opening up the handheld device he always carried. He pulled up the bank account where they always received their bounties, and let out a whistle. "Whew. There it is. Would you look at that beauty?"
He turned the screen so the others could see, and Wrin wasn't surprised by the extremely high number. The police and government had been out to catch the Bandit for quite a long time, and they were desperate by the time they called on her and Spiegel to team up.
Spiegel flopped onto the other couch and lit a cigarette, taking a few draws before he said, "A job well done. We'll split your half in the morning, Lokai, so you can be off to wherever you're going sooner rather than later."
Wrin didn't expect the words to sting like they did. Wasn't that what she wanted from the beginning? To claim her half of the bounty and be on her way? She worked better alone after all. She forced her thoughts from her face and nodded, not meeting his eyes. "That's fine. I'll see you all in the morning then."
She slung her jacket over her shoulder and turned to exit the room, as Black's voice boomed after her. "Oh come on, Lokai. I know I didn't like you in the beginning, but what you pulled today was pretty impressive. Stay and have a drink with us."
"Yes, stay, Barbie. It will be a party." Faye chimed in from where she stood by the bar, a margarita she had mixed held in her hand.
Wrin waved a hand. "No, that's okay. I think I'll just go to bed. It's been a long day."
She bid her farewells, noticing that Spiegel didn't say anything in return, and pushed through the shield doors. Once she was in the hallway outside the commons area, she leaned back against the wall for just a moment, and shut her eyes. Letting out her breath slowly, she forced herself up and started the walk to her room.
Wrin sat on her bed, brushing through her long hair, which was still damp from the shower, and gazed at nothing. She continued to stroke the brush through her hair, lost in her thoughts, when a soft knock sounded at her door.
She stood, setting the brush on the table beside the cot, and went to the door, punching in the key code. It slid open silently and she was surprised to see Spiegel standing on the other side, leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe. She thought he was ignoring her.
She felt slightly irritated that he had showed up at her room, after he had barely acknowledged her in the common room. She left him in the open doorway and walked back into her room, coming to stand beside the bedside table, fiddling with the brush she had set down as she said, "What? Are you talking to me now?" She watched as he pushed himself off the doorframe and took a few steps into her room, the door sliding shut behind him. When he made no other movements, she softened her tone just a bit and said, "Did you come to talk about what happened today?"
She saw his chest rise with a deep breath. "No." She noticed that he didn't have his suit jacket on, and that his white shirt was rumpled. She watched as he unbuckled the holster from around his waist that held his blaster and threw it on the bed. He took a few steps toward her and repeated, "No. I don't want to talk."
Wrin's heart had started to pound in her chest when he had stepped toward her, and as he closed the rest of the distance between them, she felt it speed up even more. He was so close to her now that she didn't know how he didn't see it trying to pound out of her chest.
He lifted a hand and ran a finger down her cheek. His breath was hot against her face, and his lips were so close to hers that when he spoke, she could feel the movement against her own lips. "Did you want to talk?"
Wrin let her hands trace up his arms and she turned her head slightly, so that her lips brushed across his jawline. "No."
He pushed her up against the wall behind her, knocking the hairbrush off the bedside table, and she couldn't catch her breath before his lips were on hers. They were hot against hers and insistent, and she felt his hands run up her back and into her hair as his teeth grazed across her bottom lip.
She pulled him closer to her, pressing them both more against the wall, and one of his hands dropped to her hip, his fingers brushing against the bare skin under her shirt.
That touch hit her like a bolt of electricity and jolted her back to reality. "No, I can't. I can't do this." She shoved him away from her, breaking their contact. She stood with her back still against the wall, her hand at her throat, her chest heaving for air, facing him, watching as he tried to catch his breath as well.
He gave her a half grin. "Hey, if I'm not attractive enough for you…."
Wrin ignored his attempt at a joke, turning to lean over the bedside table, her palms pressed flat against the cool metal. She shook her head, a curtain of hair hiding him from her view. "No, it's not that. It's not even you. It's just…." She took in a shuddering breath and straightened, meeting his eyes. "I've never told anyone this before."
She sat down on the bed, folding her hands in her lap. She didn't meet his gaze, as he remained standing, waiting for her to continue. She let out her breath and pulled his holster into her lap, fiddling with the straps to distract her. "When I was seventeen, a boy I went to school with followed me home from the bar. He caught me in an alley and raped me, while our friends stood and watched." Her hands stilled, but she still didn't look at him, scared to see his reaction. She continued. "After he was done, they just left me there. I didn't dare go home because I was scared that I'd run into him again." Her voice broke just a little and she felt a tear drip onto her cheek. She rubbed it away. "When morning came, I went straight home, I didn't speak to anyone. I just packed my bags and left. And I've never been back." She finally looked up at him, but couldn't read his face. "That's why I became a bounty hunter in the first place. I wanted to stop sick and twisted men like him from hurting others the way he had hurt me. I wanted to be able to catch criminals before they ruined any another innocent person's life."
She had lowered her eyes again and bit her lip, picking at the blanket that covered the bed. She waited, every moment of silence that ticked by killing her more. Finally, she heard Spiegel's boots on the floor as he crossed the room and sat down beside her on the bed.
He put a finger under her chin and lifted her gaze to meet his. He didn't say anything for a moment as he ran the finger gently down her neck, tracing the now green and fading bruises from Marco Devayne's hands. "I may be a bounty hunter, and I may come across rough and unfeeling most of the time, but I promise, I would never hurt you." He stopped the movement of his hand on her neck and raised his eyes to hers. "And we can do this as slowly as you like."
Wrin took in a breath. "I haven't been with a man in the same way since." She folded her hands in her lap to stop the picking. "Not one that matters, anyway." She let a humorless smile cross her lips. "It's all just been sex. I've kept my emotions locked away from all of it all these years."
Spiegel didn't say anything, instead, he leaned across her and flicked off the lamp that was on the bedside table. The room was thrown into blackness. Wrin couldn't see anything, but she was aware of Spiegel's presence still in front of her, and she could hear his quiet breath in the silence of the room.
Her eyes adjusted just a bit, enough that she could see his outline now as he leaned toward her, forcing her to lie back on the bed. She felt her breath catch in her throat in panic, but forced herself to remain calm. It wasn't the same. It was Spiegel.
He must have heard her breath hitch, because he didn't touch her for a moment, just continued to lean over her prone form. "Hey." He ran a hand up her thigh and stopped at her hip, his fingers resting on her hip bone. "I'm your partner remember? I've always got your back. Do you trust me, Lokai?"
He brushed his fingers further up her hip, his fingers rough against her smooth skin. He began to trace her backbone further up her back with slow, deliberate movements.
Wrin felt her breath catch again, but for a completely different reason this time, as his lips brushed across her ear. "You didn't answer. Do you trust me?" His voice was a low murmur, and she felt him start to remove his hand from her back.
She caught his hand with hers before he pulled fully away. "Why do you ask such stupid questions, Spike Spiegel?"
She saw him grin, his teeth flashing white for just a moment in the darkness, and then his lips were back on hers, stealing away all of her thoughts.
Wrin woke up the next morning to sunlight coming in through the bay window in her room. They must have passed to the far side of Jupiter in the night, as no sunlight typically reached the side that faced Saturn.
She stretched, and realized she was alone in the bed. She sat up, the blanket falling off her shoulders, and glanced around the room. There was no sign that Spiegel had even been there, other than a pack of opened cigarettes resting beside the lamp on the bedside table.
A smile flicked across Wrin's lips as she got out of the bed, heading into the bathroom to take a quick morning shower. She hadn't ever thought Spiegel would be the kind to stick around for a morning of cuddling and talk after romance anyway. She wasn't surprised that he was already up and gone when she awoke.
The hot steam from the shower relaxed Wrin's muscles, which were sore from the tense activities of yesterday, and she dawdled just a bit longer in the cascade of warm water than she normally would have. When she finally turned off the stream of water and stepped out into the chilly air of the bathroom, her eyes were drawn to something sitting on the edge of the sink. She pulled a towel around herself and padded across the tile floor to see what it was.
When she reached the sink, she was surprised to see the Bandit's detonator sitting on the lip of the counter. She picked it up, and rubbed it with her fingers, inspecting it in the morning light. She smiled to herself. Spiegel must have gotten it back from the Police at some point and left it for her to find.
Getting dressed quickly, she rummaged through the drawer of the bedside table, knowing she had put an old necklace in there at some point. She found the chain, and slipping off the pendant that was already hanging from it, she replaced it with the detonator, feeding the chain through the loop at the end of the device. She fastened the chain around her neck and tucked the detonator down into her shirt, so it was hidden from view. She then pulled on her boots, strapped her blaster to her hip, and cupped the cigarette packet in her hand, before leaving the room.
Wrin entered the common room, pulling her hair up as she did so, and was instantly called over to the couch by Faye. She crossed over to her, noticing that Spiegel and Black were at one of the computers on the other side of the room, engaged in a heated discussion. "What's up?" Wrin sat down next to Faye, who held a mirror in her hand, applying her mascara.
She didn't look up from what she was doing, her eyes still focused on the mirror, as she said casually, "The boys are debating a hunt on Jupiter at the moment. If we do land, do you think I'd have better luck playing the innocent, sweet card or the tough, too cool card with the men? I know Jupiter's a seedier planet, so I was thinking of going tough, too cool. You know, like you, but it's not a card for you. It's just your bad personality."
Wrin was cocking an ear, trying to catch pieces of what the men were arguing about across the room, so she barely caught the insult at the end of Faye's question. "Hey." She pulled her attention back to Faye and gave her a glare. "And to answer your question, I think you should go with sweet. The dirtier and rougher the man, the more he likes his plaything to be the opposite."
Faye rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but that didn't stop Spiegel from doing you. Because we all know you're the opposite of sweet and innocent. But you may be right…." She trailed off into thought.
"Wait, how did you know…." Wrin started, but was interrupted by Spiegel's irritated voice calling across the room to her.
"Lokai, come here. Settle something for us."
Wrin stood from the couch and crossed the room to stand beside the two men, who were still debating something heatedly with each other, presumably from what Faye had said, whether to go for the hunt on Jupiter. She waited silently, until Spiegel turned to face her. She held out the pack of cigarettes to him that he had left in her room. "I believe these are yours."
He took them from her and instantly stuck one in his mouth, lighting it as he shot a glare in Black's direction. He blew out a plume of smoke. "I appreciate you returning them, Lokai. They help calm me, and that's needed right now to stop me from strangling Jett." Jett made a scoffing sound and crossed his arms over his chest.
Spiegel took the cigarette out of his mouth and flicked some of the ash off onto the floor, as he said, "Now, settle the argument for us. Read this brief and tell me what your opinion is." He motioned her toward the computer.
She stepped forward and leaned in, squinting to read the small lines of informative text on the screen.
Aliases: Lauren Woodstock/Emily Warner/Susan Wells
Crimes: Theft, Moonlighting, Intentional Harm of Government Officials, Illegal sales
Last Known Locations: Alfera, Jupiter/Kinley, Jupiter
Armed and Dangerous. Proceed at Own Risk.
Wrin finished reading and looked up at the two men, who were watching her. She lifted a shoulder. "So what are we arguing about then?"
Spiegel sucked in on his cigarette in frustration and blew out as he moved a finger to point at the screen. "We're arguing about whether it's worth it to take the ship down to Jupiter for who knows how long, just to hunt this Lauren Woodstock wench, who's not worth much anyway."
She straightened, folding her arms across her chest as she studied each of the men in turn. "Well?" She motioned to them. "I can't settle the arguement for you if I don't know the different sides."
Spiegel rolled his eyes. "Hell, woman, would you just side with me already?" He flicked the cigarette to the ground and crushed it under his boot. "I say it's not worth it. I say we take our bounty from the Bandit, head to a nicer destination, and spend a few days of much needed relaxation. It's not worth spending our time and resources on this woman for such meager bounty."
Black spoke up as he pushed Spiegel aside. "And I say we're in the area, and it never hurt anyone to earn more money, no matter how to small. I say we land on Jupiter and take our chances. We know the specific location where she's been seen anyway. It's not going to be a hard hunt."
Wrin let Black finish speaking and then she walked over to Spiegel, and taking a cigarette from his pocket, put it between her lips as she said, "I'm sorry, Spiegel, but I have to agree with Black on this one."
"Really?" Spiegel said in frustration, as she lit the cigarette and nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders at him.
"Sorry, but I agree that a little extra money never hurt anyone." She blew out the cigarette smoke in his direction, and gave him an innocent smile. "Besides, I've never spent much time on Jupiter, and I'd like to see it."
Spiegel rolled his eyes and moved to flop down on the couch in front of them. "Fine, but if this goes bad, it's your fault. And let the record show that I think you're both idiots." He pointed at Wrin and Black with a new unlit cigarette he held between his fingers.
Wrin flashed him a grin and then turned to face Black. "All right, Black. You heard him. Let's set a course to land on Jupiter."
"This is a waste of time." Spiegel muttered under his breath, kicking at the ground of the street, sending red dust billowing into the air.
Wrin turned to face him, her eyebrows raised playfully. "Ah, come on, Spiegel. Be a good sport." She leaned up on her toes and kissed his cheek. "It's going to be fun."
He rolled his eyes at her cheerfulness and stuck a cigarette in his mouth. "Fun is a relative word, Lokai."
She winked and walked around him, so that she could see the street and buildings down the road. She surveyed their surroundings, her hands on her hips. "If I were a female criminal, hiding from the law, where would I be in this tiny, hellhole of a town?" She mused out loud, her eyes flicking between the different storefronts.
Spiegel walked up beside her. "We don't even know if she's in this town. She could be in Kinley for all we know. Alfera was just one of the places she's known to hang out in."
Wrin held up a hand. "Shut up. I have a good feeling that she's here."
"So that's what we're going on? Your intuition, huh? Not very promising." Spiegel shoved her hand out of his way and began to walk toward a bar sign that was hanging down the street from them.
Wrin followed him, knowing that they had to start somewhere, and the bar was as good a place as any. Maybe she could get information out of some of the locals there.
They entered the dark interior of the bar and Wrin noticed right away that it was dingier and smaller than many of the bars she had been to on other planets. Faye was right when she had said Jupiter was "seedy." The men that Wrin could see lounging in the shadows of the bar's corners didn't look like they much cared which side of the law they were on.
Wrin joined Spiegel at the bar on a worn stool and ordered a whisky, leaning into him as she said quietly, "I don't think bounty hunters are looked on very highly around here."
The bartender slid a glass of scotch across the bar to Spiegel and he took a deep draught before answering her. "Yeah, which is why I didn't want to come here for a meager bounty in the first place." He took another drink of his scotch and kicked her leg softly under the table. "But you and Black insisted on it."
Wrin took a sip of her whisky and carefully looked around the room, trying to scout out which of the men she thought she could get to talk to her. There was a small man sitting in one corner, alone, downing a second beer, who looked like she might be able to persuade him to give her some information. His eyes kept darting over to her and then down to his beer bottle.
Wrin stood from her stool and set the whisky glass down on the bar, her eyes still on the man in the corner. She glanced at Spiegel, who was watching her, and said, "I'm going to go over and talk to the one in the corner, try and work a little bit of magic for some information on our bounty." She slid her glass toward him, and he caught it in his hand as she teased, "Try not to get too jealous."
He made a clicking sound with his tongue and gave her a sarcastic thumbs up as he turned back to the bartender and ordered another scotch.
Wrin wove through the few tables that were set up in the bar, most empty as the men had chosen to fill the outer corners, and sauntered up to the table where the man sat alone, watching her come toward him. She took a seat in the chair across from him and met his gaze with a coy smile as she said in a silken voice, "Hello handsome."
The man nervously took a drink of his beer, his eyes darting around the bar as he said, "You a whore?"
Wrin laughed flirtily, laying a hand on the table next to his, and crooned, "No, why ever would you think that?" She flashed him another smile. "I'm a self-respecting woman just looking for some company."
The man took another quick gulp of his beer and then set down the bottle, his fingers nervously drumming on the table as his eyes flashed to hers again. "That your boyfriend?" His eyes flicked to Spiegel.
Wrin glanced over her shoulder at Spiegel, who was sipping his scotch and not seeming to pay any attention to them, even though she knew he was probably keeping tabs on the exchange out of the corner of his eye. She turned back to the man and laughed like he had just made a joke. "Oh, heavens no. He's my manservant, my bodyguard if you will. A respectable woman like myself can't just come into these parts of town looking for some company without someone to protect her from the bad seeds." She moved to put her hand on top of the man's. "But you're not one of those, are you?" She winked at him as he swallowed hard.
She noted that the man wore a name tag on his worn and dirty jumpsuit. He must work at a factory here in the town. She moved her eyes to his face again. What the hell was he so nervous about? He practically jumped every time she looked at him.
She stroked one of her fingers down the back of his hand that was covered with hers. She spoke softly and gently. "Listen, Linus." Her eyes flicked to his name tag again. "I'm offering you my services. No charge. If you just tell me one little thing."
"What thing?" Linus licked his lips. She had noticed that it was a nervous tic he seemed to have.
She gave him a small smile. "All I need to know is if you're familiar with a woman named Lauren Woodstock." She moved her hand off the table and set it softly on his knee. "That's all you have to tell me, Linus."
The nervous little man glanced around the room again and then leaned forward toward her. She waited in silence as he swallowed a few times, working up the courage to say what he wanted to, and then he whispered, "She's a regular down at the sandstone rock quarry. Shows up there every couple of days. Nobody knows what she does with all the stone, but she comes, buys a shipful, and leaves, until she shows up again a few days later for more stone." He leaned back and motioned to her. "Now, my payment."
Wrin tipped her head at him and said in a surprised tone, "Why Linus, I've never seen you so confident. It really turns….me….on." She said the words slowly, dropping the tone of fake surprise, as she slide a knife out of her boot, and held it against him under the table.
Linus's eyes widened and he licked his lips again, all of his nervousness reappearing under threat. He put his hands onto the table in front of her. "Look, I don't want no trouble."
Wrin smiled at him, standing from the table as she covertly slid the knife back into her boot. "Neither do I, Linus. But I must say, you've been a big help." She reached for his beer bottles and said cheerfully, "I'll get these for you."
She turned and headed back to the bar, the beer bottles in either hand. When she reached Spiegel, he set down his glass of scotch and said, "Well, how did it go?"
Wrin motioned for the bartender and handed him the empty bottles, leaning on the bar as she faced Spiegel. "Really well. I've got something." She picked up her glass of whisky and took a drink, setting it back empty on the bar as she said, "Should we go?"
Spiegel downed the last of his scotch and stood, looking her up and down as he put a cigarette in his mouth. He lit it and with irritation in his voice said, "It's incredibly frustrating that I find you so damn sexy when you're hunting someone."
Wrin threw her jacket over her shoulder and headed toward the door, coquettishly throwing over her shoulder, "I can't help it that you find me irresistible, Spiegel." She motioned with her fingers to him as she pushed open the door. "Now come on. Stay focused. Let's go catch a criminal."
They reached the rock quarry that took up the entire mountainscape that dominated the east side of the town, and Spiegel put a hand on his blaster as they approached a couple of miners who sat outside the entrance to the quarry, eating their lunch. He leaned over to mutter to Wrin as they walked closer to the two men, "I still don't understand why our suspect spends so much time here."
Wrin ignored him and smiled at the two miners as they came to a stop in front of them, their eyes glancing over them suspiciously as they lowered their sandwiches. One of the men spoke in a gruff voice, hoarse from years of dust. "What do you two want?"
Wrin pushed Spiegel's hand off of his blaster, sending him a sharp look imploring him to play it cool. If they couldn't gain the trust of these two workers, they were sure to tell all the other miners, and they'd never get the information they needed.
She flashed the workers another smile. "We're not here for trouble, boys. We just need to ask you about someone."
One of the men spit tobacco juice on the ground at her feet, splattering her boots with grime. She bit her tongue, trying to keep her temper, as he looked up at her and said, "What do we get in return for telling you what we know?" His eyes drifted down to her chest.
Spiegel stepped up beside her and said cooly, "How about me not putting a bullet through your thick-headed skull? That a good enough incentive for you?"
The man scoffed and spit out another stream of tobacco juice into the dust at their feet. The second man, who had been watching the interaction, finally spoke again as he raised his sandwich to take another bite. "On with it then. We've only got five minutes left on our lunch break, and I'd like to spend it not looking at the two of you hunters."
"We heard that the quarry is quite familiar with someone we're looking for-a Lauren Woodstock." Wrin watched the men's faces as she said the name, looking for any sort of clue that they recognized the criminal.
The second man continued chewing his sandwich nonchalantly, as the first man spit another stream of juice from his mouth and said, "Yeah, we know her. She's a regular customer. She only comes on a certain schedule though. She's won't show up for her order till tomorrow evening."
Wrin shot Spiegel a look, thinking how it was strange that a criminal had such a known schedule, and then turned back to the men. "Well, we'll just have to come back then." She reached over and snatched a cigarette from Spiegel's pocket, walking up to the man who was still mulling his chew in his mouth. She slipped the cigarette between her lips, bent down and, grasping his mouth in her hand, forced his lips open. She reached a finger into his mouth, fished out the wad of chew and threw it on the ground at his feet. She noticed a flash of fear in his eyes as she calmly pulled the cigarette from her own lips and stuck it between his. She released his mouth and gave him a dark smile. "Try these. I'm not saying they're any healthier, you'll still die from them, but they're a hell of a lot cleaner." She patted his cheek, hard enough that he winced from the contact, and then straightened up, turning to Spiegel, who still stood back, watching the exchange.
She approached him, aware the men were paying a whole lot more attention to her now that she'd started acting like a bounty hunter, she could feel their eyes on her back as she gave Spiegel a smile and motioned with her head the way they had come. "Shall we?"
Spiegel put his own cigarette between his lips and motioned for her to go ahead. "Go on. I'm not letting you walk behind me when I know you have a gun on you. Not after I just saw what Lokai the Bounty Hunter is like."
Wrin snatched the lit cigarette from him and placed it in her own mouth. Then she walked past him and back toward the town.
Later that night, Wrin sat aboard the Bebop, sipping a beer and lounging on one of the couches as she watched Faye try to show Black how to play a card game she had discovered on Jupiter. The big man was getting frustrated as Faye kept sweeping the cards out of his hands and saying, "Stop! No, no, no! Jett, you're doing it all wrong!"
Wrin smiled as she raised the beer to her lips again and took another swig. She couldn't help but enjoy watching the two of them interact-they were so different. Faye was tiny and petite and full of fire, and Black was large and intense and usually looked angry about something. Yet when they were together, they somehow got along, even though they argued most of that time.
She looked up from watching the two of them as Spiegel walked into the room and came over to her, his hands in his pockets. He stopped in front of her and took the beer from her hands, tipping it to his lips and taking a deep swallow as he glanced over at Faye and Black across the room. He watched them continue arguing for a moment and then turned back to her, handing her the now empty beer bottle. "Hey!" Wrin shot him a glare as she tossed the empty bottle into the trash can by the couch. "You owe me another beer, Spiegel."
"Yeah, well, remind me tomorrow and I'll buy you a whisky to make up for it." His eyes flashed to the chain that she wore around her neck, just visible under her black jacket. "What's this?" He leaned over her and fingered the chain, pulling it out from under her shirt so that the detonator swung from his fingers in the dim light of the room.
"Just something I got as a little payment for a night of sex." Wrin snarked, pulling the chain back from him and tucking it back down under the neckline of her shirt.
He met her gaze. "You know that makes you a prostitute, right Lokai?"
She leaned up so she was closer to him, their lips inches apart. She didn't say anything for a few seconds, feeling his breath on her face, and then murmured, "It wasn't a bad gig. I'd probably be willing to do it again sometime." She let her lips almost brush his, teasing him, and then pulled back, ducking underneath his arm and standing off the couch. She shot him one last look over her shoulder as she walked away and then called to Faye and Black, "All right. Move over and let me play. And to make it interesting let's set a wager, little girls. I guarantee I'll beat both of you."
Wrin pulled on her other boot hurriedly, reaching for her blaster that lay on the bed as she finished. She straightened, rushing to strap the holster around her waist, and then pulled her hair up on top of her head as she headed toward the door. "Spiegel!" She yelled into the bathroom as she passed by, hearing the shower still running. "Hurry it up. We have to be to the quarry with plenty of time to set up!"
She heard the shower shut off as she punched in the key code for the door, and Spiegel emerged from the bathroom, toweling off his mop of dark hair as he did so. She turned to face him, the door still open behind her, and saw that he had a cigarette in his mouth. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Were you smoking a cigarette in my shower?"
Spiegel pulled his shirt over his head. "You act like you're surprised."
Wrin considered this as he strapped his blaster around his waist and finished running a hand through his tousled hair. She finally shrugged as he finished pulling on his shoes and came up beside her. "You're right. I don't know why that surprises me in the least. In fact, now I'm thinking it's odd that you haven't smoked one during sex before."
Spiegel scoffed as he entered the hallway ahead of her. "Come on now, Lokai. Even a bounty hunter has some morals."
Wrin grinned as she jogged to catch up with him. They reached the blast doors that led to the ramp outside and Spiegel keyed in the code. The late afternoon Jupiter sun blinded her for just a minute as they stepped outside of the Bebop, and she put a hand up to shield her eyes as she muttered to Spiegel, "Damn, this planet's annoyingly hot."
"Yeah, well, I wasn't the one who wanted to stop here." He shot her a look over his sunglasses and she elbowed him in the side, hard enough that he grunted and gave her a glare in return. "Don't complain if you don't want to hear the truth."
"Shut up and let's just do our job in silence from here on out, hmmm?" Wrin looked toward the quarry in the distance.
Spiegel lit a cigarette and jammed it into his mouth, speaking around it. "Fine by me."
They left the little shade that was offered by the ship and headed off toward the far side of the town, where the quarry was located. Wrin kept one hand on the blaster at her hip, her eyes scanning the faces of the few locals that they passed in the streets. This late in the afternoon, most of the people were either holed away in bars to escape the heat or off at their jobs at the quarry or the factory. Wrin noted that the few people they did pass who were out and about gave them suspicious looks out of the corner of their eyes. Spiegel had definitely been right when he said that Jupiter was not an overly friendly planet for bounty hunters.
When they reached the entrance to the quarry, Spiegel put out a hand to stop her and jutted his chin toward the guard who stood at the gate that led inside. "I believe getting us access inside was my part of the plan."
Wrin held out an inviting hand toward the entrance. "Please. All yours."
She watched as Spiegel ambled up to the guard, his posture relaxed, his hands in his pockets as the lit cigarette dangled from his lips. She couldn't hear what was said between the two men, but within just a few minutes, Spiegel motioned her forward and the guard opened the gate and waved them through.
Wrin stuck close to Spiegel's side as they walked through and entered the quarry. "What did you say to him?" She murmured quietly to him as they passed a group of workers leaving for the day.
"Mmmm. I believe someone once told me that a magician never reveals his secrets." Spiegel adjusted the cigarette in his mouth and winked at her. "Now, what's next?"
Wrin scanned the layout of the quarry in front of them and pointed to a dock that sat against the tall cliffs on the far side. "There. That's the loading dock. Our target will have to show up there to pick up her order and that's where I plan to confront her."
Spiegel threw his cigarette on the ground and crushed it underneath his boot, his eyes still on the loading dock across from them. "It doesn't afford us much cover."
Wrin bit her lip and considered this for a moment, her eyes flicking over the loading dock and to the cliffs above it. She noticed a slight inlet just a few feet above the dock, a flaw in the surface of the rock and pointed it out to him. "There. Maybe that's a deep enough inlet in the cliffs that we can manage to take cover there until we need to confront her."
Spiegel raised an eyebrow, studying the surface of the rock, and then said, "Did you actually have a plan or are you just hoping we can wing this?"
Wrin flashed him a grin over her shoulder as she started to walk toward the dock. "A magician never reveals her secrets, Spiegel. But if you truly must know, it's a little bit of both."
Wrin leaned against the wall opposite Spiegel in the small inlet, his legs spread so that she could place her feet between them and on the sheer wall he stood against for balance. The inlet was small enough that only one of them could stand on the floor of the rock, and Wrin had drawn the short straw, which meant that Spiegel was standing comfortably, smoking a cigarette, while she tried to maintain her balance.
She let out an exasperated huff of air and blew some hair from her eyes, giving Spiegel a glare as she did so. "You look comfortable." She whispered between gritted teeth as her legs imperceptibly quivered from holding herself up.
Spiegel blew out a long breath of smoke and then flashed her a smirk, his dark eyes flashing in the shadows around them. "This is your own fault, Lokai. You're the one who wanted to 'wing it.'" He used his fingers to put quotation marks around the phrase "wing it" as he took another draw from his cigarette.
Wrin let out a growl between her teeth and was about to snap back at him, when she heard the hum of a ship above their heads. She craned her neck and saw a ship pass over them, beginning to lose altitude as it dropped down to the loading dock below them. That must be who they were looking for. Wrin glanced down at the watch on her wrist. Right on time too.
"Spiegel." She hissed as she heard the ship land below them. When he looked at her, she tilted her head toward the opening of the inlet and said, "Go to the edge and see if you can see the target."
Spiegel dropped his cigarette, making Wrin jerk her leg away quickly so it wouldn't land on her foot and almost lose her balance. She gave him a glare and he raised one shoulder in a shrug. "Sorry. Not much room in here." He stepped over her legs and inched his way to the edge of the inlet, peering over the ledge to see the loading dock below them.
He was silent for a few moments, and Wrin grew impatient. "Well?" She whispered to him, but when he didn't turn around, she scooted her legs down the wall and, setting them on the floor of the inlet, began to make her way toward him. She had to shuffle sideways, as the inlet was so narrow, and when she reached his legs, she realized that it was definitely too narrow for both of them to lay side by side and look over the ledge to the dock below.
She paused for a minute, considering, and then, getting down on hands and knees, crawled over his legs and up his back. "What the hell?" Spiegel swore as she kneed him in the back, trying to get into position.
"Sorry." She shuffled around a bit more and then laid on top of him, looking down over his shoulder, just able to see the dock below. She shoved Spiegel's head to the side a bit. "Spiegel. Move your head over. I'm trying to see the suspect." She dug an elbow into his back, trying to rise up a bit to see better.
"Ouch! Damn, Lokai, stop squirming so much." Spiegel sent her a glare over his shoulder.
"Wait, shut up. There she is." Wrin kicked his leg and pointed down to the dock.
They both watched as a woman with long, dark hair braided down her back stepped out from the ship that had just landed on the dock below. Wrin noted that she was wearing plain, tan colored clothes, typical of what the laborers who worked in the quarries and factories wore. She was definitely trying to appear like she belonged here, probably as a way to cover her tracks. Wrin also noted that although she didn't appear to carry a weapon, that didn't mean that she didn't have one hidden somewhere on her figure.
The woman walked across the dock to where the director of the quarry and a few workers stood with her massive order of stone. She began to engage with the director, and even though Wrin couldn't hear what they were saying, she could tell that the director was kissing up to the woman just by his movements. She was obviously his best customer and he wanted it to remain that way.
Spiegel shifted underneath her and muttered, "Okay. Seen enough? Can we get this over with now? You're seriously starting to give me a crick in my back."
"Wow. I didn't know you were such an old man, Spiegel." Wrin pushed herself up and off of him, turning sideways as she stood so that she fit back into the inlet, giving Spiegel enough room to get to his feet as well by the entrance.
Spiegel dusted his suit off and then turned to look at her, his hand outstretched. "Rope, Lokai"
Wrin threw him the rope they had tossed up and secured to climb up to the inlet, and he caught it with one hand, his other hand reaching into his shirt pocket for a cigarette. He put the cigarette into his mouth, lit it, and then said, "Well, see you down there." He leapt over the edge.
Wrin walked up to the entrance of the inlet and watched as he slid smoothly down the rope and landed deftly on his feet on the edge of the dock, behind the parked ship. Wrin took the rope in her own hands and stepped off the edge of the rock. She slid to the bottom of the cliff and landed beside Spiegel on the dock, her feet not making a sound as they hit the ground. She tugged at the rope and the grappling hook released from the inlet and fell down toward them. She reached out, caught it in one hand, and swiftly packed it away in the pack that was strapped to her back.
She handed Spiegel a knife from the backpack before she put it back on, and at his questioning look, murmured, "Just in case things get ugly."
He stuck the knife down his boot and then pulled out his blaster, moving forward slowly as he began to creep around the ship. Wrin followed close on his heels, her blaster raised and ready.
As they neared the front of the ship, Wrin could begin to hear snippets of the woman and the director's conversation.
"We are so happy that you have decided to continue business with us, Miss Woodstock. You're one of our biggest clients."
"You know I always come back for my favorite people, Leon."
That must have been the woman. Wrin noted that she had a deep, dark, lilting voice that had obviously been perfected to command attention.
Spiegel paused before he stepped out from behind the ship, motioning for Wrin to come up beside him. He put his mouth to her ear. "We worry about Woodstock first. Then we'll deal with the workers' reactions as they come. All right?"
Wrin nodded and he pulled away from her, readying his blaster again. He gave her a look over his shoulder, which she recognized as their cue, and they both stepped out from behind the ship, their guns pointed at the woman who stood with her back to them.
The director saw them first, as he was facing them, and Wrin watched as a flash of anger crossed his face, and then promptly turned to fear as he noticed the blasters in their hands. He put his hands up, the workers behind him doing the same as they caught sight of them.
The woman hadn't turned to them yet, even though Wrin was sure she knew they were there. Wrin walked closer to her, her blaster still trained on her head, and said in a dangerously calm voice, "Hello, Lauren."
The woman's shoulders began to shake, and Wrin was confused for a moment, until she heard sinister laughter coming from the woman's mouth. She put her finger to the trigger of her blaster as the woman continued to chuckle. Without turning, the woman said in an amused voice, "Well, if this isn't just how he told me it would be."
Spiegel stood a little behind Wrin, his gun still trained on the woman, as he said coldly, "Who told you what, Woodstock? We don't have time for your games."
Wrin watched carefully as the woman began to turn toward them, her dark braid swinging against her back as she pivoted slowly on her feet. Wrin scanned her from the feet up as she turned fully, checking to make sure there were still no weapons visible. When her eyes reached the woman's face, she took a step backward, lowering her gun slightly. She felt as if all the breath had left her body as a smirk graced the woman's lips and she said in that smooth voice, "Why the Bandit of course."
"Lokai, what is wrong with you?" Spiegel had come up to stand by Wrin when she had stepped back, his gun still trained on the woman before them.
Wrin opened her mouth to try and say something, but nothing came out. The woman laughed, the sound melodically beautiful, and quirked an eyebrow at Spiegel. "Didn't my dear little sister tell you that her older sister is a criminal?"
Wrin saw Spiegel's finger flick to the trigger of his gun in surprise, but he didn't show any other sign of astonishment as he said levelly, "Well, that's certainly interesting, but I don't see what it has to do with us handing you over to the police."
While the two had been talking, Wrin had had a moment to catch her breath and get over her surprise. She raised her gun again and pointed it at her sister's head, clearing her face of all emotion. "What does this have to do with the Bandit, Nova?"
Her sister sneered and walked toward her, coming close enough that the end of Wrin's blaster was touching her chest. She flicked a hand over her shoulder at the still frozen workmen and director. "Leave us." The men scrambled away and out of sight, and Nova continued. "Everything, my dear little naive sister. Did you really think the game was over when you turned him in? Did you really think he, the greatest criminal of all time, was really stupid enough to fall for your pathetic little lie about their being no bullets in your guns? Just so you could save your pretty little boyfriend's life?" She tilted her head and bared her teeth menacingly at Spiegel, before turning back to Wrin. "The answer is no. All of this has always been part of the Bandit's plan. He let you believe you had fooled him. And he let you turn him into the police."
"Why would he do that? It doesn't make any sense for a man who enjoys games as much as the Bandit to just let the greatest one end." Spiegel growled from beside Wrin.
Nova laughed again and flicked a loose strand of hair over her ear as she studied Spiegel. "Oh, you're just as stupid as my sister is. You see, the game was getting boring. So the Bandit thought it might be a little more fun to let you think you'd won for a moment. And challenge himself to continue the game from within the police's custody." She turned her gaze to Wrin and the smile dropped from her face, replaced by cold darkness. "And he wanted to make it a little more personal. And what better way to do that then send me, your forgotten, never good enough, wayward older sister to take away the thing you care about most?"
Nova took a few steps back from them, her hand going into the pocket of her tan coat. She kept talking as she pulled out a large syringe and held it up to the light, flicking the side so some of the clear, blue liquid splashed onto the dusty ground at her feet. "You see, I was never the golden child. Mother and father always loved you more. They always knew you'd do great things. And where did that leave me? Alone, silent, in the dark. So I followed the only thing that had embraced me my entire life-the darkness. And I became a criminal, and when I found the Bandit, I was finally at home. I finally had a family that cared for me and a man who saw more in me than just a pretty, pushed aside face." She lowered the vial, admiring the way the blue liquid gleamed in the bright sunlight, and then met Wrin's gaze. "And then you took my family, the only ones who ever loved me, and ripped them away from me. And now, the Bandit has asked me to return the favor. To let you know what it feels like to have the only true thing you care about ripped from your hands. And I gladly agreed to help, because I think it's finally time for my little sister to know what it feels like to be me."
Wrin watched warily as her sister walked back toward them, the large syringe held in her hand. She kept her gun trained on Nova as she stopped before her and held up the syringe once again, her dark eyes meeting Wrin's as she gave her a dangerous smile. "Are you ready to play the game, little sister?"
Everything seemed to be in slow motion from that point on. Wrin watched as Nova leapt toward Spiegel, the syringe held in her hand and ready to strike. She knew she wouldn't have time to shoot her sister, not with how fast she was coming at Spiegel, and she didn't want to risk hitting him in the process, so she did the only thing she could think of in that moment. She dropped her blaster at her feet and dove toward Spiegel, praying she would reach him before Nova did. She was aware that she yelled his name as she dove toward him, but it felt like she was hearing her own voice as if underwater. She saw Spiegel glance at her and then she crashed into him, sending them both tumbling to the ground, and throwing him away from Nova.
Wrin hit the ground hard, and then Nova was on top of her, and she felt a burning sensation in her leg as the thick needle buried itself in her thigh. Everything sped up to normal pace again as Nova straightened, the now empty syringe held aloft in her hand, a curious look on her face. She studied Wrin for a moment, who was grabbing at her leg as the burning sensation spread through her thigh. "Hmmm, well that certainly went differently than planned. But I almost think I like this outcome better."
Wrin gritted her teeth and pushed herself up onto her knees, but her affected leg wouldn't hold her weight, and she fell forward to her hands and knees as Spiegel stood from where had fallen, his blaster trained back on Nova. He kept his eyes on the woman standing in front of Wrin as he walked to her side and crouched beside her. "What the hell did you do that for, Lokai?"
Wrin opened her mouth, but before she could answer, Nova spoke again. Wrin glanced up at her sister, who still stood over them, but was disinterestedly inspecting her nails as she said, "Now, would you two like to know what was in that syringe I just stuck into my precious little sister's leg?" She dropped her hand and crouched in front of the pair, reaching out a hand to put under Wrin's chin. She wrenched her head up to meet her gaze and smirked as she said giddily, "That, my dear sister, was the finest poison that is known to criminal kind. And I've just given you a full dose. Within a few days, if you don't get the cure, you'll be eaten from the inside. And there will nothing left but your pathetic little husk." Nova's eyes flashed dangerously to Spiegel, who still held his blaster pointed at her head. The smirk dropped from her face as she said cooly, "And I'd drop that blaster, Spike Spiegel, because if you kill me, the Bandit sure as hell won't tell you how to find the cure for your little girlfriend here. And do you want to be responsible for her death?"
Wrin saw Spiegel hesitate for just a moment out of the corner of her eye and then he slowly lowered his blaster and holstered it at his waist. Nova released Wrin's chin and stood, brushing off her tan pants as she said liltingly, "Yes, that's what I thought." She tossed the empty syringe and needle onto the ground in front of Wrin with a metallic clatter, and then held out her hands as she backed away from the pair, toward her ship. "I'll be going now. My job is done. But don't worry, I'm sure you'll hear from the Bandit very soon with instructions on how to play the next part of the game." She paused before walking up the ramp to her ship and threw them a dark smile. "And little sister…." Wrin raised her head to meet her gaze. "It was so very nice to see you again."
Nova let out a piercing laugh and then without another word, boarded her ship and shut the ramp behind her, leaving the two bounty hunters alone on the loading dock.
It was well past dark when they finally reached the Bebop. Wrin couldn't hold any weight on her leg, which was still burning from the injection, and she had had to basically rely on Spiegel to hold her up while she limped back to the ship. By the time they reached the ramp and Black had dropped it down for them, they were both sweating and out of breath.
Wrin stumbled over the lip at the bottom of the ramp and almost went down, but Spiegel pulled her back up with a grunt of effort as he growled between gritted teeth, "No. Not now. We've made it this far. Come on, Lokai. We just have to get inside and then you can stop."
Sweaty tendrils of hair hung in Wrin's face, but she was too exhausted to even try to move them, so all she did was nod weakly and put one foot in front of the other as they climbed the ramp.
The ramp closed shut behind them, and the automatic lights flashed on all down the hallway ahead of them, illuminating the tall, broad figure of Jett Black coming toward them.
"Spike!" He called as he came up to them, his voice urgent. He paused when he saw Spiegel holding Wrin up, and then asked, "What happened to the girl?"
"It was all a trap. Can you take her?" Spiegel said in a strained voice as Black continued to stare at them.
The large man jumped into action, striding forward and picking Wrin up off the floor. His giant arms held her as if she weighed nothing, and Wrin noted how nice it felt not to have to support herself for a minute.
Spiegel straightened, putting his hands on his back as he stretched, and then he motioned to Black. "What were you rushing to come and tell me? I've only ever seen you move that fast when there was food or gambling involved."
Black shot him a glare over Wrin's head and then seemed to realize now was not the time for bickering as he said in a low voice, "There's a call for you on the system. From the Interplanetary Prison. It's the Bandit."
Spiegel's eyes flickered for just a mere second with flames of anger as Black said the name, and then his gaze moved to Wrin, who met his eyes. "The antipoison." She said weakly. "We have to talk to him. Even if he is a sick bastard."
Spiegel nodded briskly. "You're right. Black, let's go."
Black carried Wrin down the dimly lit hallway to the commons room, Spiegel close on their heels. When they reached the large room, Black moved to one of the couches to set Wrin down, but she stopped him with a shake of her head. "No. I have to be with Spiegel. I can stand. I'll just support myself on the system console."
Black set her down beside where Spiegel was standing, logging into the call system of the ship, his fingers darting over the keyboard, and she leaned heavily on the console, keeping her weight off her dead leg. Spiegel finished all the prep work and patched the call through. He glanced at Wrin as the image of a security guard flashed onto the screen before them.
The sound was staticy, but they could hear well enough, as the security guard, his thick mustache quivering with every word, said gruffly, "Got a call for a Spike Spiegel."
"That's me. Who is this from?" Spiegel lit a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth, his dark eyes boring into the security guard.
The man shifted uncomfortably, Spiegel's gaze pinning him down, and then said, "It's from a criminal here at the prison. He wanted to use his one phone call to speak to you. Said it was important and had to be done now."
Wrin could tell Spiegel wanted to question the guard further, but she felt as if her good leg was going to give out at any moment. She pushed him aside so that the security guard could see her on the screen and said, "Patch him through."
"Even injured, you're still a damn pain in the neck, Lokai." Spiegel scowled at her as he blew out a cloud of smoke.
"You wouldn't have it any other way. Now shut up, the call's coming through." Wrin moved over slightly so that they could both see the screen as an image came into view.
The Bandit stood in an empty jail cell, his hands bound in front of him, the chilling smile that Wrin remembered so well gracing his features. When the picture was clear, the Bandit bared his diamond encrusted teeth at them and said in a smooth voice, "Well, aren't you two a sight for sore eyes." His snake-like eyes darted to Wrin and his leer turned to a look of false concern as he said, "My poor little kitty, you don't look so well." He tsked sympathetically and took a few steps closer to the camera, his eyes never leaving Wrin as he crooned, "Yes, you don't look very well at all, my dear girl."
Spiegel stepped in front of Wrin, blocking her from the Bandit's view, his eyes alight with anger, as he said heatedly, "I'm sure your little girlfriend as already told you the specifics of what happened, you bastard. So why don't we just skip right to the part where you tell us how to end this little 'game' of yours?"
The Bandit laughed, the sound echoing off the walls around him, and then said in an amused voice, "Oh, but you're skipping the fun part, Mr. Spiegel. The fun part is when I get to tell you in detail what will happen to your dearly beloved if you don't win my game. And there's a high chance you won't, so you might want to listen closely." The Bandit lifted his wrists, jangling the chains that bound them together, as he motioned behind Spiegel at Wrin. His eyes met Spiegel's, all the amusement gone from his face as he said evenly, "As we speak, wasting precious time I might add, the poison is working its way through Ms. Lokai's body. Every second, another one of the millions of cells goes dark, the light that gave it life going out forever. Once the poison has done its job, destroying every cell in our little kitty cat's body, there will be nothing left, nothing but the darkness that was created. And that darkness won't just destroy her, no, that darkness will destroy you as well, Mr. Spiegel." The Bandit tilted his head menacingly. "Wasn't it so much easier when you didn't care about anything at all, Spike Spiegel?"
Spiegel stood motionless, his eyes never leaving the Bandit, the only sign of his anger the deep, rapid rise and fall of his chest. Finally, he broke the silence. "Just tell us how to play the damn game, Bandit."
Half of the Bandit's mouth quirked up into a smirk at Spiegel's anger and then he nonchalantly examined his dirty fingernails as he replied, "I believe I'm out of time for my phone call. However, all you need to know is that the cure, and your final game, is located where it all began, where you first dared to challenge me." The Bandit looked up again at Spiegel and Wrin, a maniacal fire gleaming in his eyes. "And I'd hurry if I were you, because by the look of her, sweet little kitty only has about four days left before she's completely dark. And it's going to take you about half of those days to reach the gameboard."
Wrin heard the voice of a guard call out in the background of the Bandit's video. The Bandit flashed them one last diamond encrusted grin and then said in a pleasantly light voice, "Good luck, bounty hunters."
The screen went dark.
Wrin woke up the next morning and instantly felt like she had been run over by the Bebop multiple times. She squinted against the early morning light coming in through her window, and noted that she was still in her dirty clothes from the day before. She must have been so tired after Spiegel helped her to her room that she had just collapsed on the bed without bothering to change.
She tried to push herself up onto her elbows, but the slightest movement made her head spin and she fell back onto the bed with a groan. She laid still for a moment, her eyes shut against the light, which was making her headache, and then decided to try again. Maybe if she could manage to get up and get to the bathroom, she could take a shower, which might help ease the 'run over' feeling she was experiencing.
She took it more slowly this time, gingerly coming up on her elbows and giving herself a moment for her head to stop spinning before she tried anything else. She pushed herself up more and came to a sitting position on the bed. She kept her head bowed and her eyes closed for a minute, trying to ease the spinning and nausea that was overtaking her.
After a while, she felt confident enough to try and get out of the bed and to the wall for support. She knew if she could just stand long enough to get from the bed to the wall, she could use it for support to drag herself to the bathroom. Taking a deep breath, she readied herself and counting silently in her head, she hoisted herself off the bed. For a few seconds, her good leg held her and she thought she'd done it, but then the burning started spreading down her unaffected leg and she collapsed, unable to hold up her weight. She fell to the floor by the bed, catching herself with her hands. "Hell, now what?" She muttered to herself under her breath as she looked behind her at her useless legs.
She glanced up at the open bathroom door across the room and started to drag herself toward it, using her arms and upper body to pull her legs behind her across the floor. She felt weak and shaky, but she knew if she could just reach the bathroom, she could stop for a moment to catch her breath. If she did so before then, she had a feeling she wouldn't get going again.
Her arms shaking, she reached the bathroom and crawled across the tile toward the shower. She clawed at the shower door and managed to get it open enough that she could get into the shower. She shoved her back up against the cool wall of the shower and let out a trembling breath, her lungs burning from lack of air and her arms aching from dragging her weight across the floor.
A sudden fierce wave of nausea overcame her and she leaned forward, retching onto the floor at her feet. She sat back, wiping a shaking hand across her mouth, as she watched the blood tinged vomit slowly disappear out of sight down the drain. Tilting her head back, she looked up at the faucet above her, and after giving herself a few moments, she lifted up an arm and turned on the spray for the shower. Letting her arm drop to her side, she closed her eyes, the hot water running over her.
She didn't know how much time had passed, her eyes closed, sitting completely still, nothing but the sound of the water around her, when she heard someone enter the bathroom.
"Lokai. Are you alright?"
Wrin slowly opened her eyes at the sound of Spiegel's voice and saw him standing in the open doorway of the shower, a look of alarm on his face, even though he was trying to mask it.
She realized that she hadn't even bothered to get undressed before getting in the shower. She was still fully clothed, her jacket soaked and heavy on her shoulders with warm water. She tried to smile at him, but only managed to lift a corner of her mouth a bit as she said hoarsely, "Yeah, I didn't have the energy to take them off."
"Oh no, it's a totally common thing. I shower with my clothes on all the time." He said jokingly, trying to get her to smile. She attempted a laugh, but all that came out was a weak cough.
Spiegel watched her for another minute from the doorway and then he unbuckled the holster that was strapped around his waist. He dropped it on the floor at his feet and then shouldered off his jacket, tossing that onto the counter behind him. He stepped into the shower and sat down beside her, propping his arm on his knee, the other leg stretched out in front of him. He tilted his head to look at her, the water running off his dark hair and down his face in small rivulets. "How's the leg?"
Wrin rolled her head to the side, meeting his gaze. "They both actually feel like hell at this point." She pushed some damp hair out of her face. "And I puked up a bunch of blood this morning, which probably isn't a very good sign."
"Hmmm." Spiegel tilted his head back again and stared up at the stream of water falling on them. He remained silent for a few minutes and then said dryly, "So, your older sister, huh? She's quite a piece of work."
Wrin scoffed. "Yeah, needless to say, we've never been very close." She looked down at her hands that were clasped in her lap. "In fact, she's always hated me. She hated me so much growing up that she did everything she could to make my life miserable." She stopped for a minute to catch her breath, talking to him wearing her out more quickly than she would have expected. "The night before I ran away from home, it was her boyfriend who raped me. She led him to me, they followed me home. And she was there the whole time, with all her friends, and they all watched and laughed as Nova Lokai's stupid little sister was put in her proper place."
Wrin felt nauseous again, and she wasn't sure if it was from the poison continuing to sweep through her body, or if it was because she could clearly picture the events of that night as if it were yesterday. She glanced over at Spiegel and attempted to give him a weak smile. "You should probably go. I think I'm going to throw up again."
"Meh, I've seen worse. Just don't get any on my boots." He scooted his legs away from her a bit, giving her room to lean forward over the shower drain.
It only took her a minute to empty her stomach, as she hadn't eaten anything since before they had left for the quarry yesterday. All that there was left for her retch up was stomach bile and about another cup of bright red blood. She remained leaning over, watching as the falling water created pits in the blood on the floor as it slowly washed down the drain.
She felt a hand on her back and sat back against the wall as Spiegel stood from the shower floor. He reached over and shut off the shower water, then held out a hand for her. "Come on. We need to get you back into bed."
Wrin started to reach up a hand, but dropped it back down to her side when she saw that it was trembling. He gave her a questioning look and she said softly, "I don't think I can do it, Spiegel. You don't understand. I can't even stand on my own. And I've never been this helpless before in my life."
Spiegel dropped his hand and bent down, putting a hand underneath her curled legs and the other behind her back. He picked her up easily, kicking the shower door open wider so he could carry her through. He walked out of the bathroom and to the bed, setting her down gently.
She felt flustered, she'd never had to have anyone help her so much before, and it was against her nature. She always took care of herself, she'd had to. She noticed Spiegel studying her where she was lying on the bed and in her embarrassment snapped at him, "What?"
"Easy, Lokai. I just think we need to get you out of those wet clothes." He raised an eyebrow at her as he pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it before sticking it in his mouth.
"You're just so eager to get me out of my clothes, aren't you? Can't a girl get dinner first around here?" She attempted to tease him, but the joke fell flat as she felt exhaustion sweep over her.
"Yeah, well, you knew I was a rogue when you got involved." Spiegel undid her pants and tugged them off, one leg after the other. He paused for a second to study the thigh that had originally been injected. Wrin raised her head up off the bed to see what he was looking at. There were dark navy streaks flowing out from the round puncture wound in both directions. Spiegel let out a low whistle under his breath. "Never seen anything like that before."
Wrin pushed herself up onto her elbows, glad she was able to do that now at least, and said, "Yeah, but it's cold as hell in here and I'd really like to put some dry clothes back on."
Spiegel dropped her wet pants onto the floor and came to the head of the bed, helping her to sit up fully. He shucked her jacket off first and then pulled her shirt over her head, before he turned to the dresser beside the bed. "Okay, so where do you keep that ugly old t-shirt you always wear when we're here?"
Wrin let out an offended gasp. "It is NOT ugly. It's comfortable. And it's in the top drawer."
Spiegel muttered something under his breath to the contrary and opened the top drawer, pulling out the old shirt. He brought it over to the bed and helped her slip it over her head before sitting beside her, watching as she rubbed some of the worn material between her fingers. She looked up at him and self-consciously dropped the hem of the shirt before saying, "Can you help me get under the covers? Because I assume I'm not getting any pants."
"You are correct. First off, because you have damn nice legs." She scoffed weakly as he went on, "And secondly, because I think we need to let that entrance wound have a little bit of air." Spiegel stood for a moment so that he could help slip her legs underneath the blanket and then he sat down on the bed again, blowing out a cloud of smoke as he watched her in silence.
The silence dragged on, neither of them saying anything, and finally Wrin grew uncomfortable. She opened her mouth to say something to break the tension, when Spiegel removed the cigarette from his mouth, and asked bluntly, "Why did you do it?"
She was caught off guard and wasn't sure what he was talking about for a moment, but by the way his eyes were boring into her, she realized quickly that he was talking about what had happened on the dock. She met his gaze with a proud lift of her chin. "Are you really that much of an idiot, Spiegel?" His expression didn't change as he put the cigarette back into his mouth, waiting for her to continue. She sighed. "Are you really going to make me say it?"
"Come on, Lokai. Does that sound like me?" Spiegel retorted sarcastically, dropping the cigarette on the ground and crushing it beneath his foot.
Exhaustion swept over Wrin. She didn't even want to try and banter with him right now. She just wanted to close her eyes and never wake up again. She rubbed her temples for a minute and then said, "All the 'thing you care about most' crap? She was talking about you. The Bandit knows that you're the one thing I care about in this hellhole of a solar system and he wanted to use it to his advantage." She shook her head, angry with herself. "And I'm not proud of it, Spiegel. I've spent my whole life destroying any sort of weakness within me, feelings included, so that no one could target me like that. And then I had to get stuck with the most obnoxious, hubris, idiotic bounty hunter as my partner for this mission. And it turns out, that amongst all those other things, he had a way of becoming my one weakness, even though I didn't want it to happen."
Wrin stopped talking, and even though she felt like hiding at that moment, she raised her eyes to meet Spiegel's. His brow was creased in thought and she thought for a moment he wasn't going to say anything in return, but then he reached a hand out and pulled the detonator that she still wore around her neck out from underneath her t-shirt. He studied it for a moment in the morning light of her room, rolling it between his fingers, and then dropped it back onto her chest before his dark eyes met hers. An ironic smile flickered across his lips as he said in a low voice, "Huh. Funny how that seems to happen even if you don't want it to, eh Lokai?"
She gave him a tired smile. "Yeah….funny."
He pushed her back on the bed and even though she felt like complete death, she still felt her heart speed up when he touched her. He brushed his lips across the hollow at the base of her neck and then grazed her bottom lip gently with his teeth as he pulled back. He looked chagrined as he placed a soft kiss on her forehead and then stood from the bed. "You'd better get some rest. I'll come check on you later. I need to go and make sure Jett still has us set on the fastest course for Venus."
Wrin nodded and watched as he walked toward the door, turning back to her before leaving the room. "Lokai." She raised her eyebrows at him. "We're going to beat this bastard at his own game. I promise you."
Wrin woke up to blackness, panic crushing her chest as she realized that she was gasping for breath loudly in the silence of the room. She couldn't breathe. She was suffocating.
She coughed, trying to relieve some of the pressure on her lungs, and clawed at the neck of her shirt, trying to get it off of her in the dark. She knew it wasn't logical, but she felt like if she could just pull the shirt off of her chest, she'd be able to take a breath.
As she was scrabbling around in the inky black, she felt a presence beside her, even through the waves of panic that were washing over her. The lamp beside her bed was flipped on suddenly, and Spiegel was there, putting his hands over hers to stop her struggling. "Whoa, calm down, Lokai. What're you trying to do here?"
"I can't breathe. I can't breathe, Spiegel." She gasped out between rattling breaths, her lungs feeling as if they were on fire from lack of oxygen.
He released her hands and picked up a glass of water that sat on the bedside table, holding it up to her lips. She took desperate gulps of the tepid water, and even though it didn't completely eliminate the feeling of suffocation, it at least helped enough that she was able to stop the out of control panic.
Spiegel set the now empty glass back down and glanced over her. "Any better?"
Wrin leaned back against her pillow and let out a slow, trembling breath. "Better." She glanced over at him and noticed a chair set out behind him with a crumpled blanket on the floor at its base. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Have you been here all night?"
Spiegel lit a cigarette and jammed it into his mouth, looking a little embarrassed as he said quickly, "Hell no. I came in here just in time for your panic attack. I was coming in to tell you that we're starting to enter Venus's atmosphere and Jett says we'll set down in about two hours."
Wrin smirked at him. "Yeah, okay. Perfect timing, eh?" She pulled down the blanket and scooted over a bit in the bed with a low groan as she moved her legs, then patted the thin mattress beside her. "If you're going to be in here until we land, you might as make yourself comfortable."
Spiegel watched her for a moment as she tried to get comfortable on her half of the bed, her breathing still just a bit labored, and then he reached over and flipped off the lamp. The room was plunged into pitch black again, and all Wrin could see was the end of Spiegel's cigarette burning orange in the dark as he laid down on the bed and got settled on his back next to her.
They laid in silence, Spiegel occasionally taking puffs on his cigarette, just inches apart but not touching. It felt strange to have someone else lying next to her, the intimacy seemed so much stronger just sharing the silence and the space then it ever had with any of the men she had simply had flings with. And they didn't need to touch to feel the comfort of each other. Wrin knew they were both hunters through and through, they had spent their entire lives trying to stay unattached and alone, and that wasn't going to change now simply because they were together.
Spiegel interrupted her thoughts as he shifted on the bed and dropped his used cigarette onto the floor. He then turned back onto his back and after another moment of silence said, "If you snore at all, Lokai, I won't hesitate to suffocate you with this pillow."
A small smile flickered across Wrin's lips that she knew he couldn't see through the blackness, and then she sarcastically replied, "And if you ever smoke another cigarette in my bed, I'll stick my knife through your chest so fast that you won't even have time to put it out properly."
Spiegel snorted. "I'd like to see you move that quickly on your feet, woman."
Wrin reached out a hand and laid it softly on his arm. He didn't move, didn't cover her hand with his or pull her close, but she didn't need any of that. All she wanted was to know that he was there in case the nightmares came back. She cleared her throat. "Shut up, Spiegel, and go the hell to sleep." Her voice was stern, but she closed her eyes with a small smile still on her face.
Wrin woke up to gray early morning light coming in through the window above the bed. The first thought that hit her was that the rumbling of the ship had ceased. They must have landed on Venus sometime in the night. And the second thought that hit her was that the nausea was back and she needed to get to the bathroom.
She glanced over at Spiegel, who was still lying on his back sound asleep, and then moved carefully to swing her numb legs over the side of the bed. She had to work through the spinning and sitting up slowly again, and then she used only her arms to lower herself to the floor. She tried to be as quiet as possible as she dragged herself into the bathroom and closed the door softly behind her. She made it to the toilet before she started to throw up violently.
After the heaving had subsided, Wrin leaned back against the cabinets behind her and wiped a shaking hand across her sweaty brow. She then lowered her hand and wiped her mouth, noting that it came away red with blood. She glanced into the toilet and saw that the water was dark red, the sides stained with bloody spittle. She flushed it away, wiped her mouth once more, and then started the long trek back to the bed. She wanted to be back like nothing had happened before Spiegel woke up. She didn't want him worrying about her and how bad it really was.
When she reached the bed, she paused for a moment to catch her breath, made sure Spiegel was still breathing deeply and evenly, and then hauled herself up with trembling arms. With a groan, she collapsed onto the mattress and pulled the blanket back over her. She lay still, focusing on getting enough breath into her lungs, which burned with each inhale, and noticed that her heart fluttered like a fragile bird in her chest, making her lightheaded. It was just as the Bandit had said-the poison was shutting down her body, one system at a time, and she was feeling all of it.
And they had one more day.
Wrin was pulled from her thoughts as Spiegel stirred beside her. She gathered enough strength to push herself up on one elbow and forced a smile onto her face as he opened his eyes, meeting her gaze. "Get enough beauty sleep, princess?"
Spiegel ran a hand through his disheveled dark hair and then stretched his arms above his head, opening his mouth in a yawn. "I don't know, Lokai. Am I any prettier?"
"Mmm." Wrin tilted her head and studied him. "I don't see much of an improvement."
Spiegel finished stretching and gave her a wink. "Good. Only one of us needs to look pretty in the morning."
Wrin was caught off guard by the compliment as he sat up and put a hand to the side of her face, using his thumb to wipe something off her bottom lip. She grimaced. Damn it, she must have missed some. He pulled his hand away and studied the streak of blood on his thumb, then looked at her, eyebrows raised. "Although the bloody lipstick may be a touch much, even for you, Lokai."
Wrin knew she wasn't fooling him anymore. She dropped back down onto the bed and her brow creased slightly with pain. "Yeah, well….." She started to cough forcefully, and when she pulled her hand away from her mouth, there was blood speckling her palm. She showed it to Spiegel. "I don't think that's going away anytime soon."
"Like hell it's not." Anger flashed across Spiegel's face as he stood from the bed and moved to look out the window. Wrin caught a quick view of Venus's dusty surface before he dropped the blinds down and turned back to her, determination hard on his face as he lit a cigarette. "We're going to beat that bastard once and for all. It's time to end this sick game."
Black dropped the ramp down for them, and the bright, hot light of Saturn flooded into the dim entire of the BeBop. Wrin covered her eyes with her hand, the sun piercing her eyes even more than usual in her weakened state. She already felt as if her legs and body would give out at any moment, and the heat from the sun was just making that feeling worse. A bead of sweat rolled down her cheek as she adjusted her arm that hung limply around Spiegel's shoulders.
He glanced over at her and pulled off his dark sunglasses, offering them to her silently. "Thanks." She said, her voice hoarse, as she put the glasses on, removing her hand from her eyes.
She felt him tighten the arm around her waist and bear more of her weight as he said, "Are you sure you don't just want to stay on the ship with Jett and Faye? I'll go and end this stupid game and be back with the antipoison before you know it."
"No." She answered with as much force as she could muster. "That's exactly what he's expecting me to do. And I need to prove to him that he can't take me down this easily."
Spiegel squinted at the casino, its lights just barely visible through the thick dust that hung in the air of Venus's atmosphere, and then said, "I didn't expect anything different from you, Lokai. But let's make a compromise. It's hot as hell out here, and with you limping across that sand, we're going to be forever getting to the casino, which is just wasting the time we have left. So I'll carry you there, and then you can be on your feet when we get inside and face the Bandit however your little black heart desires. Deal?"
She looked at the casino and the great expanse of hot sand that stood between them and the building, then noted the weakness that was already taking over her legs and agreed. "Fine, but don't get handsy with me, Spiegel."
He flashed her a grin around his cigarette. "I'm not making any promises."
He swung her up into his arms and she was once again surprised at how strong he was, considering he was so tall and lean. He lifted her as if she weighed nothing.
Spiegel made his way down the ramp, careful to keep his footing with Wrin in his arms, and then strode across the hot, blowing sand toward the lights of the Casino. Wrin reached a hand down to make sure her blaster was still strapped to her hip as they neared the building, unsure of what they would find inside.
Spiegel reached the entrance and using his foot, kicked open the door to the saloon. A blast of cold air hit them as he stepped inside the dark casino, setting Wrin back onto her feet just inside the door. She leaned against the tall bar for support, her blaster in front of her as they both scanned the bar. It was empty.
Wrin glanced at Spiegel. "This is eerie."
Spiegel opened his mouth to answer her, but before he could say anything, she started to cough violently. He stepped over to her as she continued to cough for a few minutes, putting an arm around her waist again to support her as her frame shook. The coughing finally subsided and she wiped the blood from her mouth as she straightened.
"You look like you could use a drink. Same thing as last time, miss? Whisky, neat?" A smooth voice spoke from behind them and both Wrin and Spiegel spun, their blasters up, to face the bar. The bartender stood, a glass in his hand, a smile on his face as he poured Whisky into the glass.
He slid Wrin the glass full of amber liquid across the bar and she caught it as Spiegel said, "Are you the only one here?"
The bartender handed Spiegel a bottle of beer, the cool condensation running down the glass and onto the bar between them as he replied, "Yes, sir. The casino and saloon have been privately reserved for an event tonight. Which I understand you two are exclusively invited to."
Wrin downed her whisky, the fiery liquid burning a path down her throat, and set the empty glass on the bar, her eyes still on the bartender. "And do you know anything about this 'special event?'"
"The only thing I was told was to serve the guests drinks when they arrive, and when they are finished, to direct them to the back of the casino." The bartender stopped wiping down the bar and gave her another smile, motioning to her empty glass. "Another, miss? If you don't mind my saying so, you look like you could use one."
Spiegel tossed his empty beer bottle into the chute behind the bar and put his arm around Wrin's waist again. He raised his eyebrows at the bartender. "Whisky's not going to fix her today, mate. Even if it may numb her a little. We've got to get to this 'event' if we intend to do that. Thanks for the drink." He tossed a few bills onto the bar and pulled Wrin away toward the casino.
Wrin tried to focus on anything else as they walked between tables except the fact that her legs felt like they were going to give out at any moment and that her lungs felt as if they were full of water. Spiegel practically dragged her the last few feet toward the door that led to the storeroom where they had first apprehended the Bandit.
They stopped outside the door, Wrin trying to catch her breath as Spiegel checked his blaster one last time. He turned toward her. "You doing okay, Lokai?"
She pulled out her blaster, checked the chamber, and then held it up in front of her, trying to hide the fact that her hand was trembling from the exertion. She looked at the door in front of them. "No. I feel like hell, but hopefully that will change soon enough." She pushed away from him to stand on her own, unsteady on her feet for a moment, and then motioned toward the door. "Let's go catch a criminal, Spiegel."
They entered the dark room, Spiegel first, his blaster ready, and Wrin close behind him, using the door frame for support, her blaster held in her other hand.
She couldn't see anything in the blackness for a few seconds, and then the bright fluorescent lights flickered on overhead, filling the room with the low buzzing sound of electricity. Wrin covered her eyes for a split second against the piercing lights, and when she looked up, a dark figure had entered the storage room at the far end. Spiegel had noticed too, and moved to stand in front of her as the person walked toward them.
The figure stepped into the portion of the room that was covered in green tinged light from overhead, and Wrin felt her already queasy stomach drop as Nova sneered at them and said liltingly, "Welcome, welcome, hunters. I'm so glad you made it to the thrilling finale of our little game."
Wrin adjusted her sweaty, weak grip on the doorframe, pulling herself up straighter as she said, "What are you doing here, Nova? I expected the Bandit himself to grace us with his presence. I didn't peg him as someone to miss the dramatic ending of his own game."
Nova laughed, the sound echoing around the empty storage room as she settled herself into the dented metal chair placed in the center of the room, which Wrin recognized from the first time she had met the Bandit. "Oh, my dear, naive, little sister. Of course he wouldn't miss this! I have the guest of honor right here." She held up a flat telecommunication screen that had been hidden under her coat and the screen lit up, revealing the Bandit's diamond encrusted grin. His dark chuckle filled the room as his gaze landed first on Spiegel, and then moved smoothly to Wrin, who still stood in the doorway to support herself.
He shook his head at her as he said in a sickly sweet voice,"My, my, dear little kitty. You look even worse than the last time I saw you."
Wrin pushed herself off the doorframe and stood straight, her glare focused on the Bandit's image held by her sister. "Not for long, Bandit. We'll beat you at your own game." She took a few shaky steps, sweat glistening on her forehead, and fell to her knees beside Spiegel, catching herself with her hands and scraping them on the rough floor. Spiegel crouched beside her, putting a hand on her back as she blew a few tendrils of fiery hair out of her face and raised her head, her gaze falling back on the Bandit.
He laughed again, glee burning in his eyes as he studied her weakened condition. "You certainly have fire, I'll give you that, little kitty cat. But you don't have long, no matter how much you fight it. The poison has almost completed its job. The darkness is close to taking over." The Bandit motioned with a finger to Nova, who still sat in the chair, his eyes now on Spiegel. "Well, let's get on with the game, shall we? This first part is for Spike Spiegel. I think you'll enjoy it. Go ahead, Nova."
Wrin could taste blood and a few crimson drops dripped from her nose and fell to the concrete floor as she pushed herself up onto her knees again. Spiegel straightened, his face hard, as he faced the Bandit and Nova, who now stood from the chair, an electronic device held in her hand.
"Give me your worst, bitch."
Nova smirked at him and hit the button on the device on her hand. The few lights that were on in the room went out and the room was plunged back into darkness for a few moments, before a hologram flickered to life beside Nova, bathing them all in an eerie blue light.
Wrin watched as the hologram grew clearer, and suddenly there was another woman standing beside Nova, her blue eyes scanning the room in front of her. She was beautiful, with glistening blonde hair and porcelain skin, but Wrin noticed that she had a blaster strapped to her waist and wore a dark suit, meaning that she had to be a bounty hunter.
The mysterious woman's gaze fell on Spiegel and her eyes grew wide as she took a few steps closer to him, as if to verify what she was seeing. Wrin glanced over at him, and saw that his blaster had lowered as he stared in disbelief at the woman in front of him.
The woman spoke, drawing Wrin's gaze back to her. "Spike? Is it really you?" Her voice was soft and feminine, laced with confusion, and her eyes glistened with tears as she stayed frozen, staring at Spiegel.
Wrin heard Spiegel let out the breath he had been holding and then he said one word, so quietly that Wrin wasn't sure she had heard him correctly. "Julia?"
Wrin looked at the woman in surprise. Julia? The Julia that had been Spiegel's partner and lover? The Julia that Wrin knew for a fact had died over ten years ago?
Spiegel approached the hologram and reached out a hand to touch Julia's cheek, but when his fingers grazed her, the image shimmered out of view for a moment before coming back into focus. The Bandit spoke from the screen still held in Nova's hands, his eyes flicking between Julia and Spiegel as he said, "This is just a projected picture, a hologram of your lover, Mr. Spiegel. But what if I told you I know where she is? And she's broadcasting live to you right now, and I can take you to her? And you can actually touch her living flesh again?"
Wrin glanced at the hologram of Julia, who was staring at Spiegel with longing in her gaze as she held her hand toward him. "Please, Spike. Listen to him. Don't you want us to be together again? After all these years?"
Spiegel hesitated, his eyes never leaving her face. "I don't understand. You died. I was there and I saw you….."
Julia interrupted him, her voice full of urgency. "It didn't happen, Spike. I'm here, I'm alive. That was just a plan developed by the government to get me off the radar for awhile. You know there were people who wanted my head. I had to get away. And that meant deceiving you too. I'm sorry, Spike." A tear rolled down her cheek, making a wet trail on her flawless, white skin. She held out her hand to him again. "Please. Believe me. Trust him. Let him bring you to me. We can still be together. It's not too late."
Nova stepped up into the light beside Julia, the Bandit's gaze boring into Spiegel from the telecommunication screen, a fakely sympathetic smile on his face as he said in a smooth, persuasive voice, "Listen to her, Spike Spiegel. You can be with Julia again. And it's so simple. All you have to do in return for me taking you to her, is leave Wrin Lokai here to die."
"He's playing with you, Spiegel! And you know it, you just have to listen to yourself." Wrin tried to get to her feet as she desperately called out to him, but fell back to her knees on the cold floor, her palms bloody from her previous failed attempt to rise.
Spiegel stood frozen between the two women, his gaze still locked on Julia, whose hand was still extended toward him. She gave him a pained smile. "Who are you going to believe, Spike? The woman you loved for years, or the bounty hunter who you've only known for a few months? She's the only one here who's playing with you, Spike."
"Spike!" Wrin struggled to get to her feet again, knowing that if she called him by his first name, it might snap him out of Julia's spell for just a moment. He glanced back at her. "Don't listen to her. You know the truth. You know they're lying to you. Julia is dead, Spiegel. And they can't bring her back. She's dead." She managed to get off of one knee as Spike turned to look at Julia again, his gaze a little more unsure than it was before.
"Spike." Julia stepped toward him, reaching out a phantom hand to caress his face as she gave him a smile. "I would never lie to you. I love you."
Wrin pushed up off her other knee, coming to her feet with an unsteady lurch, as Spiegel moved closer to Julia. She had to do something, and she had to do it now. She gathered all of her strength and stumbled toward Spiegel, praying her legs would last long enough to reach him. She could feel the blood starting to trickle from her nose again with the exertion, but she pushed forward through the weakness and the pain. She had to get to Spiegel. She couldn't let them win.
She pushed herself to close the last several feet between them as she reached out a hand, her fingers closing around the fabric of Spiegel's suit jacket. She threw herself between him and Julia, gasping for breath, and his startled gaze focused on her face as he said in a surprised voice, "Lokai, what are you…."
She put her bloody palms on either side of his face and forcefully pressed her lips to his. She heard Julia let out an angry scream behind her, but she didn't turn to look at her, instead she pressed closer to Spiegel and deepened the kiss. His lips responded to hers and she could taste metallic blood on her tongue as his hands moved to her waist and he pulled her against him.
"Stop her, you idiot!" Wrin heard the Bandit yell angrily in the background and she pulled back from Spiegel, breaking their lips apart.
"Spiegel." She said breathlessly, as his dark eyes met hers. "Please. I need you to remember what's real."
Nova reached them and slapped Wrin hard, sending her to the ground, her nose pouring blood. She stood over her for a moment, and when Wrin moved to try and stand again, kicked her hard in the stomach, sending her crashing back on the floor.
The Bandit tried to regain his composure on the screen, hurrying to mask the anger on his face with a calm smile as he looked at Spiegel. "Well, then. What's your decision, Mr. Spiegel?" He glanced at where Wrin lay on the floor. "And I would hurry, because little kitty doesn't have much time left."
Spiegel looked over at Wrin, who met his gaze as she came up to her hands and knees, spitting a mouthful of bloody saliva onto the floor at Nova's feet. He then turned to look at Julia, who was watching him with anger on her face, and said in an apologetic voice, "I'm sorry, Julia. But Lokai is right. You're gone, I saw it happen, and nothing can bring you back. It's time I put you to rest once and for all."
Spiegel pulled his blaster from its holster and aimed for Julia's forehead as she held up her hands, tears running down her cheeks. "Please, Spike…."
The gun went off with a shower of sparks, leaving a large hole in the middle of the hologram's forehead. Julia looked at Spiegel in disbelief for a moment, and then with a shriek, the hologram exploded into a mess of floating pixels. The room went black.
The lights flickered back on overhead, revealing a once again empty room except for the four of them. The Bandit laughed into the silence. "Well done. I didn't think you'd be able to pass that little test. But I'm glad you did, Mr. Spiegel. Now we can have some more fun." The Bandit motioned with his fingers to Nova.
"Get up." Nova jerked Wrin up off the floor by her arm, dragging her across the room to the metal chair where the screen sat. She picked up the screen that held the Bandit's image and then shoved Wrin down into the chair, motioning for her to put her hands behind her back. When Wrin did so, Nova bound her hands to the back of the chair and then gave her little sister a chilling smirk. "You've got some blood on your face, Wrinny. Let me get it for you." She grabbed Wrin's chin roughly in her hand and held up her other hand, as if to slap her again, when the Bandit's voice echoed from the screen.
"Stop. Let's get on with the game."
Nova reluctantly released Wrin and then turned to where Spiegel stood, waving her hand at him as she said nonchalantly, "You know your job, boys. Restrain him."
Two brutish men emerged from the shadows before Spiegel could react, grabbing both of his arms and throwing his blaster out of his reach. He struggled against them as he glared at the Bandit and growled, "What else do you have for me, Bandit?"
The Bandit grinned at him and in an amused voice said, "Now, now, Mr. Spiegel. Why should I let you have all the fun? This next little game is for our kitty cat."
The men gagged Spiegel and then backed him against the wall. The Bandit turned his icy eyes to Wrin, who sat motionless in the chair, her strength exhausted, dried blood caking her face. He smiled at her. "It's been so nice having your sister with me, my dear Wrin. Do you know why that is?" He waited a minute to see if she would answer, then continued. "Because it's made the game so much more fun." He fiddled with the manacles around his wrists. "You see, your sister knows things about you that I wouldn't have known. And learning those things has allowed me to make your part of the game that...much….more….personal."
The sound of a door opening made Wrin lift her head and look across the room. A tall, broad figure stepped into the room and came toward her, and it wasn't until he reached the light that she recognized him. Nausea filled her stomach as the man stepped into the circle of light and gave Nova a polite nod. "Nova, good to see you again." His deep voice sent shivers up Wrin's spine.
Nova scoffed and retreated to stand alongside the men that held Spiegel against the wall, warily watching the man as he turned to face Wrin. At the sight of her, he smirked, running a large hand through his blonde hair. "Hello, Wrinny." He used her pet name sarcastically as he took another step toward her. "It's been a very long time, hasn't it? About 15 years wouldn't you say?"
Wrin watched as he advanced toward her, trying to fight down the fear and panic that was building in her throat. When he reached her, he grabbed her long hair and wrenched her head back, so she was forced to look up at him. He gave her another dark smile. "What, no greeting for me? Your old friend?"
His touch brought back vivid flashes of that night-his rough hands on her skin as he held her down, his hot breath on her face, the strong smell of his sweat, and the sound of distant laughter echoing down the alley. She felt bile rise in her throat as panic begin to take over. She forced herself to glance over at Spiegel and take a deep breath. His dark eyes met hers and he gave her a small nod. She could do this. Anger replaced the fear that had been settling into her stomach.
She turned her gaze back to the man in front of her and spit a mouthful of bloody saliva into his face. "Oh, is that what we're calling it now, you bastard? Friends?"
He wiped the spittle off his face, anger flashing in his eyes, and then yanked her hair back harder, causing her to let out a sharp gasp. He put his mouth to her ear. "Would you like to pick up where we left off, Wrinny? Because I have a feeling you need to be put in your place again."
Wrin struggled against the ropes that held her to the chair as he ran a finger down her neck and undid the top buckle of her jacket. He chuckled as she continued to struggle against the bonds, undoing her jacket one buckle at a time. When he had reached the last buckle, he pulled her jacket off her shoulders and let it fall down around her bound wrists. He put a hand under her chin, his fingers digging into her skin. "Now, you'll find if you resist, that that will be the last mistake you ever make."
He reached to undo the belt around her waist, and just as he slipped off the buckle, he froze, his mouth open in shock.
Wrin put her mouth to his ear and murmured, "No, Liam, that was your last mistake."
Blood began to dribble out from the corners of his mouth as she yanked her knife out of his stomach and he fell backwards onto the floor at her feet, blood pooling quickly upon the concrete. She stood slowly, using the chair for support, and dropped the cut rope on his lifeless body as she raised her gaze to the Bandit. She didn't say anything, just redid her belt and pulled on her jacket, before she stuck the knife back in her boot and wiped the blood off her hands onto her pants.
She gave the Bandit a hint of a smile and then said, "Checkmate."
The Bandit clapped his hands slowly, his teeth baring in a diamond grin as he said gleefully, "Well, that was even more fun than I had imagined. You have outdone yourself, Ms. Lokai." His gaze turned thoughtful as it moved to the inert form at her feet, blood pooling on the floor around her boots. "You know, I never did much like that man, Nova. I may be a criminal, but I don't condone torturing women just for fun." His eyes lit up again as he looked back to Wrin, bent over the chair for support. The smile returned to his face as he said in a sing song voice, "Oh, wait. Yes, I do."
The men untied the gag from Spiegel's mouth and he spit on the ground at their feet before glaring at the Bandit, his eyes dark and dangerous. "We passed your tests, Bandit. Now give us the antipoison."
The Bandit chuckled, and then grew strangely serious as his eyes bored into Spiegel. The corner of his mouth pulled up into a sneer as he said in a hard voice, "Oh no, my dear Mr. Spiegel. That was just the warmup. The real game starts now." The Bandit cracked his knuckles, the slight smile still on his face. "Here's how you end this-first, Ms. Lokai over there will shoot her sister in the head." Nova's eyes grew wide. The Bandit continued. "It's nothing personal, my dear, just business, you see. While I'm in prison, I can't have anyone out there associated with my group messing things up for when I return."
Wrin felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. She glanced at Spiegel, whose face remained unchanged as he said, "And? What's second?"
The Bandit grinned at him. "Ah, you see, that's where things will get a little hairy. It should be easy for Ms. Lokai to shoot her sister, as she's done nothing but make her life misery. But the second task will be far more difficult." The Bandit motioned for the burly men to release Spiegel, and then one of them handed him back his blaster, which the Bandit motioned to with his chin. "For the second task, Mr. Spiegel, you will take your blaster, the same one that has served you faithfully all these years, and you will put it to your temple, and you will pull the trigger. Bang." The Bandit mimicked an explosion with his bound hands.
"No! This is insanity!" Wrin said in a panicked voice, the sound echoing around the bare room. "Spiegel, please. It's not worth it."
He didn't look at her, but instead asked the Bandit in a cool, calm voice, "And how do I know you'll give Lokai the antidote after I do what you've asked?"
The Bandit flicked his fingers and a podium rose from the floor in the center of the room, opening to reveal a glass case, encrypted by a code, that held a vial of purple liquid. "You have my word. I will give her the four digit code as soon as the game has ended. It wouldn't be much of a game if I didn't deliver the reward, now would it?"
Wrin tried to push away from the support of the chair to get to Spiegel, but as soon as she released her hand, her legs buckled, and she had to grab the metal again to keep herself up. She could feel sweat gathering on her forehead as she pushed her hair out of her face and said pleadingly, "Spike. Look at me." He tore his eyes away from the screen and met her gaze. "It..is...not...worth...it." She said slowly and forcefully.
The Bandit laughed coldly. "Ah, and that's where you're wrong, kitty. Because love makes humans do stupid, idiotic things. It's such a worthless feeling, it does nothing other than make us sacrifice ourselves for another, but it has indeed worked in my favor this time around. However, before we get there, you need to complete your little project for me, my dear." He nodded at the burly men and they grabbed Nova by the arms.
She screamed and kicked at them, her eyes wild and her hair disheveled as she said frantically to the Bandit, "Why? Why are you doing this? You promised me we'd be together forever!"
The Bandit picked at his fingernails as he said nonchalantly, "Oh, there's that asinine feeling of love talking again. My dear Nova, did you really think I meant what I said to you? You were just a pawn in my game. I needed you to get close to your bounty hunter sister and for no other reason was I interested in you."
Wrin couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness for her sister, who so clearly had thought the Bandit actually cared for her. The two men dragged Nova to the middle of the room to stand before Wrin, and she wailed as they forced her to her knees. Her frenzied gaze met Wrin's and she called out through her tears, "Please, little sister. I'm sorry! I'm begging you, don't do this." She dissolved into sobs again, the only thing keeping her upright was the men pulling her up by her arms.
Wrin pulled her blaster from its holster at her waist and steadied it in her hands as she aimed at her sister. She closed one eye, zeroing in on Nova's forehead, her finger hesitating on the trigger as her gaze met her sister's again. She dropped the gun back down to her side and let out the breath she had been holding. "I can't do this. I'm not going to do this, Bandit."
The Bandit watched her silently from the telecommunications screen leaning against the wall, as if he were waiting for something. After a few moments of silence, Spiegel walked toward her, holstering his own blaster at his side as he neared her. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket and after lighting it, slipped it between his lips as he moved to stand behind her.
"It won't count if you do the job, Mr. Spiegel. I'm only counting this phase of the game won if Ms. Lokai shoots her sister herself." The Bandit called out to them from the other side of the room, a tinge of glee lacing his voice.
"I know what you expect, Bandit. I'm not an idiot." Spiegel snapped back at him.
Wrin felt him rest his chin on the top of her head and his hands moved from her shoulders and down her arms, stopping for a moment at her wrists. He rubbed a thumb along the smooth skin for a brief second, feeling the angry rope burns that were beginning to form, and then moved his hands to cover hers, raising her blaster up to eye level again.
"What are you doing?" Wrin said softly, panic creeping into her voice as he positioned her hands on the gun and moved her finger to hover over the trigger.
He put his mouth to her ear, his eyes still looking down the sight of the blaster toward Nova, and murmured, "I'm helping you pull the trigger." He must have seen her open her mouth to protest, because he moved one of his hands to cover her lips, speaking hurriedly now, his breath hot on the side of her face. "Lokai, listen to me. We've almost won. And I'm not going to let you stop now. I meant what I said, all those weeks ago, about not wanting to live without your crazy in my life. So we're going to finish this game and we're going to get that damn antipoison. Because I refuse to think any other outcome could exist, because that would mean I'd be living here without you, and that would be hell."
He uncovered her mouth and put his hand back on hers, stopping the trembling of her fingers on the barrel of the gun. She took a deep breath, and moved her finger closer to the trigger, as Nova started screaming again across from her. Wrin bit her lip, hard enough to draw blood, as Spiegel put his finger over hers on the trigger. "Do it now, Lokai."
Wrin carefully aimed and pulled the trigger, closing her eyes as she did so, and the blast echoed around the empty room like a cannon going off. She opened her eyes in time to see Nova fall to the floor across the room, unmoving and silent. A dark pool of blood instantly started to puddle out from around her still form.
Wrin dropped her blaster at her feet and sunk to her knees, tears pooling in her eyes. She didn't know why she felt so distraught-Nova had done nothing but put her through misery-but still, she had just shot her only living kin point blank in the head.
She felt Spiegel put a hand on her shoulder and she raised her head to look at him as he said quietly, "Now it's my turn."
"No. No, please." Wrin attempted to push herself up off her knees, but her legs had finally given out. She sunk back to the floor, the tears that had gathered in her eyes finally spilling over and trailing down her cheeks. "Spiegel, don't do this. Not this."
He crouched beside her, reaching out to wipe some of the tears off her face with his thumb as he attempted to give her a smile. "Hey, don't cry, Lokai. You'll ruin your whole 'badass who doesn't have any feelings' image."
She managed a small laugh through her tears and then threw her arms around his neck, burying her head in his shoulder. She felt his arms go around her waist as he pulled her close for a brief instant, whispering into her ear, "You gave me something the day I met you, Lokai. You gave me back my ability to feel again. And I'll never be able to repay you for that, but let me at least give you this in return."
He pushed her back from him, studying her face for a moment, before he reached out his thumb again and wiped the corner of her mouth. When he pulled his hand back, there was fresh blood dripping from his thumb, and Wrin realized that a steady stream had begun to trickle out the side of her mouth. She was shutting down.
The Bandit spoke from behind them. "Tick Tock, Mr. Spiegel. She's close to hitting the point of no return."
Spiegel ignored him, the corner of his mouth pulling up in a small smile as he said to her, "Don't forget me, Lokai. And take care of my ship." He leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek before standing up and pulling his gun from its holster.
He turned to face the screen that held the Bandit's leering face and raised the gun slowly to his temple. His eyes were hard as he said, "We have a deal, Bandit. As soon as this gun goes off, you give Lokai the code for the antipoison." He put a finger to the trigger of the blaster. "And if you don't, I'll know, and I will have my team kill you."
The Bandit inclined his head toward Spiegel, as if to agree with his terms, and then watched eagerly as he adjusted the gun, getting ready to pull the trigger.
Wrin felt as if all the breath had left her body as she watched Spiegel stand before her, the blaster to his head, and her mind began to race almost of its own accord. She couldn't let this happen, she wouldn't. She couldn't let the only happiness she'd ever experienced be snatched away from her like this. She shook her head hard, trying to clear her thoughts. Think, Wrin. What could the code be? You know this. The Bandit loves riddles and games. Come on, think!
Suddenly, her head snapped up. She knew the code. She was sure of it. She frantically glanced at Spiegel, who was moving a finger toward the trigger of the blaster, and then scoured the floor around her for where she had dropped her own gun. She saw it, a few feet away from where she knelt, and scooting toward it, she grabbed the cold steel up into her hands. She hurriedly checked the chamber, her fingers fumbling, and saw that there was one round left. She could do this.
She raised the gun to her eye, aimed past Spiegel, who stood in front of her with his back to her, and put a finger to the trigger as the telecommunications screen came into clear view. She saw the Bandit on the screen, his eyes still gleefully watching Spiegel, and she aimed right for his forehead...and pulled the trigger.
The gun went off with a loud band in the emptiness of the room and the screen shattered into a million pieces that fell and skittered across the floor with a crash. Spiegel whirled to look at her, surprise flitting across his face, and then anger quickly replacing it as he said, "What the hell! Are you an idiot, Lokai? That was our last chance to get the code for the antipoison!"
Wrin dropped her blaster, her hands shaking, as she said hoarsely, "No it wasn't. Because I figured out the code."
Spiegel narrowed his eyes at her as he put his blaster back in its holster and then growled, "How sure are you of that? Because if you just think you've figured it out, and you actually haven't, you've just blown our last chance to actually get it to hell and back."
Wrin wiped a hand across her mouth, blood running down her knuckles, and then said weakly, "I promise you, Spiegel. I can do this. Will you please trust me?"
He let out a long sigh and walked to the pedestal in the middle of the room, his fingers hovering over the keypad as he glanced over his shoulder at her. "I sure hope you know what the hell you're doing."
She felt as if she were hearing him underwater. And her vision seemed to be dimming. She shook her head to try and clear her view and then looked over at him through the remaining fog. "I know what I'm doing. Type this in-the code should be 5...6….6….5."
She could faintly hear the tapping of his fingers on the number pad as he keyed in the code, and then there was silence. She held her breath, waiting for something, anything, to happen. After a few seconds of deafening silence, she finally heard a hiss and Spiegel say excitedly, "Holy hell, Lokai. You did it. I don't know how, you'll have to tell me how you figured it out later, but we got it. We won."
Wrin saw him hold up the vial of purple liquid across the room. She was so tired. She laid back on the cool concrete of the storage room floor, and shut her eyes. She heard Spiegel running toward her, and his faint voice echoing in her head, calling her name, and then there was nothing. The blackness took over.
"Lokai! Lokai, come on!" Spike reached her side and dropped to his knees beside her still form. He fumbled with the syringe that held the antipoison for a moment, but finally got the long, thick needle uncapped. Without another thought, he jammed the needle into her thigh, and ejected the purple liquid into her body. When the syringe was empty, he threw it on the ground beside him and it clattered away, the sound echoing off the still walls of the room.
He put his hands on either side of her face, watching, hoping for a signal that the antipoison had done something and he wasn't too late. "Come on, come on." He muttered under his breath, his eyes never leaving her face. Her eyes remained shut, her breathing shallow, a slow trickle of blood creeping from the corner of her mouth and down her neck.
"Damn it." He swore under his breath after a few moments of nothing happening. He slid an arm under Lokai's back and the other under her knees and stood from the cold concrete. Her long red hair fell almost to his knees as her head tipped back lifelessly, and he adjusted her in his arms so that she was cradled against his chest, giving support to her head and neck.
He exited the storage room, kicking the door open with such force that it crashed against the wall with a bang that echoed throughout the empty casino. He walked out past the bar, the bartender's eyes widening slightly as he saw the state the two of them were in, and out into the dark Venus night.
When Spike reached the Bebop, Jett lowered the ramp for him to come aboard and then was instantly waiting for him inside the first set of blast doors, Faye at his side.
Faye's eyes filled with tears as she saw the unmoving Lokai in his arms. "Oh no, did you lose?"
Spike shook his head, glancing down at Lokai in his arms, anger burning in his throat with a sour taste as he said, "No, we won. I gave her the antipoison. But nothing's happening." He had to clear his throat briefly when emotion threatened to take over. "I think I was too late."
Jett moved toward them, making as if he was going to take Lokai from Spike. "Here, let me take her. You look half dead yourself."
Spike took a step backward from the big man and tightened his grip on her. "No, Jett. I have to do this. I don't expect you to understand, but…."
Jett stepped back again and nodded his head toward his friend in respect, crossing his arms over his large chest as he did so.
Faye put a hand on Spike's arm, sympathy shining in her eyes. "We understand, Spike. Let's get her in bed."
Faye walked ahead of Spike, putting in the passcodes for the blast doors as they approached them. When they reached the door to Lokai's room, Spike stopped her before she could enter the code. "No, let's put her in my room. It's going to be more comfortable."
She removed her fingers from the keypad and gave him a small smile. "Well, look at you being nice to someone for once."
Spike lifted the corner of his mouth slightly. "Yeah, well, don't get used to it." He glanced down at Lokai's pale, blood streaked face. "She just brings out the best in me."
They reached the captain's quarters, and Faye looked over her shoulder expectantly, her hand poised over the keypad to his door. Spike told her the four digit code and she punched in the numbers, the blast door slipping open with a quiet hiss, revealing the dark room beyond.
Faye let Spike go first into the room, and as he passed her, she glanced at Lokai and then back to him as she said quietly, "Is there anything else you need me to do?"
Spike shook his head as he walked over to the bed. "No, that's fine, Faye. Thank you for your help. Will you let Jett know that we'll plan on staying here for the night in case we need a doctor?"
She nodded to him and then left the room without a sound, the door sliding shut behind her and clicking into place.
Spike laid Lokai carefully down on the bed, making sure that she was comfortable. He stood over her for a moment, silently studying her still form in the darkness. The only way he could tell that she was still alive was the rise and fall of her chest as she took shallow breaths. He turned away from her and went to the bathroom, flipping the light on as he entered, and began to look for a washcloth. He found one on the edge of the tub and walking to the sink to get it wet, he saw his reflection in the mirror above the counter.
He looked like hell.
There were dark circles under his eyes, and his dark hair was covered in grime and sweat. There was blood smeared on his cheek and down the front of his shirt from when he had carried Lokai, and his black suit was dusty from the Venus sand.
He warmed the water and soaked the washcloth, before shutting off the bathroom light and entering the bedroom again. His eyes took a brief moment to adjust to the dark, and then he walked over to the side of the large bed, sitting softly beside Lokai's prone form. He leaned over and brushed a few strands of hair off her face, then gently lifted the washcloth and began to wipe the dried blood off of her cheeks and neck. Once he had wiped away the dark maroon streaks, he moved to her mouth and wiped away the bright crimson blood that was still fresh on her skin. He paused for a minute, tracing her lips with a finger, before setting down the washcloth and pulling a chair up to the side of the bed. He settled into the chair, pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lit it, and then continued to stare at Lokai in the dim orange light provided by the cigarette.
He took in a deep breath of smoke and then blew it out, his head aching. It was going to be a long night, and he still wasn't sure whether she would even wake up at the end of it. He might not have gotten her the antidote in time.
He didn't believe in God, or whatever holy entity most people prayed to, but in that moment he found himself muttering a low prayer under his breath as he sat beside her bedside, his head in his hands. "I don't know how to do this. I don't even know if I'm doing it right. But, please, whoever you are, whatever you are, up there. Please just let her live. Please. Haven't you taken enough from me? Just not her. Hell, I'll go instead. Just please….not her." His eyes grew hard. "And I swear, if you take her, I'll climb out of hell and make you pay."
The first thing Wrin was aware of as she came to consciousness was warmth. The second was that she could feel her legs.
She slowly opened her eyes, the dark room around her coming into focus. She didn't recognize where she was, but then she glanced to the side of the bed and saw Spiegel leaned back in a chair, his mouth open slightly in sleep.
She lifted a hand out from underneath the blanket that covered her and stretched her fingers. No more tremor. She wiped the hand across her mouth, and glanced at her knuckles. They came away clean, no fresh blood.
"Hell, I'm glad you're awake, Lokai."
Spiegel's low voice startled her and she dropped her hand back on the bed, shifting her head to look at him. He sat forward in the chair, his hands clasped in front of him, watching her. She noted the dark circles under his eyes and his disheveled appearance as she said in a voice creaky from disuse, "How long have I been out?"
He lit a cigarette. "Three days." She noticed that his fingers shook slightly as he put the cigarette to his lips. "I thought maybe…."
She gave him a slight smile. "Well, here I am. Back and ready to be a pain in your ass again."
He gave her a wry smile in return. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but damn, am I glad to hear those words come out of your mouth."
She squinted her eyes and put a hand to her head, where a headache was beginning to form behind her brow. She felt the greasy strings of hair on her forehead, thick with filth and dried blood, and made a face of disgust. "Do I look as bad as I feel, Spiegel? Because it sures feel like it."
"Yeah, well, neither of us are looking our best." He ran a hand through his own dirty mop of hair and dropped the cigarette to the floor at his feet.
Wrin noticed there was already a pile of discarded cigarette butts gathered around his boots. He must have stayed with her the whole time. The thought that he cared that much sent her heart skittering in her chest for just a moment. She held out her hand toward him. "Help me up?"
He stood from the chair, stretching out the kinks in his back, and then took her hand in his, a warning flashing in his eyes as he said sternly, "Take it easy. Don't rush getting up. You're still not well, Lokai. I don't want you thinking you can just jump right back into the game."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Okay, mother. Now will you shut up and help me?"
He pulled her up into a sitting position and she swung her legs over the side of the bed, waiting for a moment to see how her body would react to the movement. She still had a pounding headache, but there was none of the spinning and dizziness from before. She met his concerned gaze and gave him a slight smile. "I'm fine, Spiegel. Stop being such a mother hen all of the sudden."
He glared at her and when she motioned to him, reluctantly finished pulling her up off the bed. He put an arm around her waist to steady her as she took a moment to regain her balance. When she felt a little steadier on her feet, she took a step in the direction of the bathroom. She stumbled just a bit, but Spiegel's firm arm around her waist helped her steady herself again, and she took another small step. She glanced over at him with a triumphant look. "I told you I could do it."
"Yeah, yeah. Just focus on getting the rest of the way there. You can gloat later." He shot back at her, helping her to take another step.
They reached the bathroom door and Spiegel reached out to push it open, still keeping his other arm around her waist. He flipped on the light, and Wrin put up a hand to shield her eyes as the bright light penetrated her gaze, making the pounding in her head worse.
Spiegel helped her over to the counter beside the shower and she leaned against it for support as he let go of her and walked over to the large bathtub in the corner. Her eyes had adjusted to the light, and she removed her hand, letting out a low whistle as she glanced around the bathroom. "Damn, Spiegel. This makes my bathroom look like an outhouse."
He turned on the water to the tub and adjusted the temperature before turning to her. "Yeah, well, when you're the captain, you get some special privileges."
She watched him fiddle with the faucet on the tub a bit more and then said, "What are you doing?"
He gave her an obvious look as he leaned back against the edge of bathtub, his arms folded across his chest. "Come on, Lokai. I would think it's obvious. We both need to clean up. And I figured with the weakened state you're in, you'd appreciate a soak in the bath. And I'll take a quick shower and then let you be for a bit."
He leaned over and turned off the bathwater, then pushed himself off the tub and walked towards her. He motioned to her jacket. "Do you want some help?" She studied him in silence for a moment, and he raised an eyebrow at her. "Lokai?"
"No." She reached out and grabbed the lapels of his dirty suit jacket, pulling him toward her so he was pressed against her, her back digging into the cold counter behind them. She could smell the familiar odor of cigarette smoke on his clothes. "Why do I have to keep telling you? You don't have to baby me, Spiegel."
She looked up at him and his dark eyes met hers. "Okay, Lokai." He spoke in a low voice, his breath brushing across her face. "What do you want then?"
She lifted the corner of her mouth in a smile as she ran her fingers down his lapels. "I don't want to bath. I want to take a shower."
A mischievous light came into his eyes and he gave her a teasing smirk. "Hmmm….with or without clothes?" He put his hands on her waist, and his thumbs brushed the smooth skin of her hips under the edge of her shirt.
"Why do you ask such stupid questions, Spike Spiegel?" She retorted, raising her eyebrows at him.
He flashed her a grin. "I recall you've asked me that once before." He bent down and put his lips to her ear, his breath warm on the side of her face as he murmured, "And let me tell you the answer. When I'm around you, Lokai, I can't think of anything else to say."
"That's too bad, Spiegel. You're usually such a quick wit." She said breathlessly as he brushed his lips down her neck.
She felt him smile against her skin and then he pulled back, leaning around her to turn on the water for the shower. He shucked off his suit coat as he shrugged his shoulders. "Well, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."
She took off her jacket, and then slipped the chain that held the detonator over her head, holding it in her hand for a moment as she studied it in the light. She ran her fingers over the smooth metal device, and then set it down on the counter, glancing at Spiegel over her shoulder as she did so. He raised an eyebrow at her, pausing in pulling his shirt over his head. "What is it?"
She felt a small smile flicker over her lips and then she said, "It's nothing. Let's get cleaned up."
Wrin sat on the large bed, brushing through her wet hair absentmindedly with even strokes as she thought back on the events of the last few days. She reached back and gathered her damp red hair into her hands, and then began to braid it down her back with quick precision. She tied off the end of the braid just as Spiegel came into the bedroom from the bathroom, pulling a clean shirt over his head. There were still drops of water glistening on his dark hair from the shower as he did the buttons up on his shirt, picking up his packet of cigarettes and putting them back in his pocket from the bedside table.
He glanced up at her as he sat down in the chair to pull his boots on. "You look better, Lokai. There's some color back in your face. Although we still need to get you to the kitchen for some food as soon as we're done here." He finished tying the laces on his boots and then sat back in the chair, his eyes flicking to her hair that hung down her back, instead of neatly piled on her head as usual. "New hairstyle?"
Wrin pulled the damp braid over her shoulder and twirled the loose end around her fingers. She suddenly felt a little melancholy as she thought of her sister. "Yeah, I thought I'd try something different."
Spiegel watched her for a minute, and she noticed a slight hint of sympathy in his eyes as he said gently, "It looks good on you."
She gave him a small smile. "Is that a compliment, Spiegel? I never thought I'd hear one of those come out of your mouth." She teased, trying to make the mood light.
He lifted a shoulder in a shrug as he put a cigarette to his mouth. "I already told you, things are different when I'm around you." He puffed on the cigarette in silence for a few minutes and then said, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Wrin looked up at him, startled. "Talk about what?"
He dropped the cigarette under his boot and stood from the chair, moving to buckle his holster around his waist as he said, "You know. The last couple of days. They haven't been easy." He tilted his head at her and paused in doing up his belt. "You killed a man who has had a very significant impact on your life, and then I made you shoot your sister, your only living family, right in the head." He resumed buckling his holster. "I'd say there's some things we should talk about."
Wrin swallowed hard, emotion welling in her throat, and put on a blank face, trying to keep her voice even. "We're bounty hunters, Spiegel. We kill people all the time. It's what we do for a living. This was no different. I don't want to talk, and I'm fine."
She stood from the bed and moved toward the door that led into the hallway, but Spiegel stepped into her path, blocking her exit. She put her hands on her hips, exasperated. "Let me through, Spiegel."
His eyes hardened, and his lips thinned as anger flickered across his face briefly, before he growled, "Cut the crap, Lokai. That won't work with me. You may have been able to fool others with this whole badass routine in the past, hell, I've done it myself, but you can't pull it with me."
Wrin felt her own anger show on her face as she glared at him. "Stop trying to get me to talk to you, Spiegel. I'm not going to sit down with you and spill my guts. I'm not going to cry and tell you that I'm terrified that when I fall asleep tonight, the nightmares will come back. That I'll have to relive that moment over and over again when you held a gun to your head because of me and almost pulled the trigger." She realized she was telling him exactly what she swore she wouldn't, but she couldn't stop it now. Her face was flushed with emotion, and even though her voice was hot with anger, it still quavered under the surface with fear. She bit her lip hard, not meeting his eyes as she said, "I'm not going to have a therapy session with you and tell you that I'm wracked with guilt for taking my sister's life, even if all she ever did was make my life a living hell."
She stopped talking abruptly, embarrassment washing over her as she realized all she had said in her emotional outburst. She stepped back from Spiegel, still not meeting his gaze, and felt for the control panel against the wall, praying she could open the door quickly and get out of the room which now felt incredibly small and stifling.
Spiegel spoke, his voice low, from where he stood in front of her. "You're not going to tell me any of that, huh, Lokai?"
She felt tears pool in her eyes and she shook her head forcefully, keeping her gaze on his boots as she said in a trembling voice, "I'm not going to tell you anything, Spiegel."
He stepped toward her and forced her to look up at him with a hand under her chin. When her eyes met his, she was surprised to see that all the anger had gone from his eyes, leaving only dark pools of slight sadness behind. He gave her a halfhearted smile. "Then I won't push you, Lokai." He leaned forward and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "Let's go eat."
Wrin walked into the kitchen of the Bebop slightly behind Spiegel, her stomach instantly grumbling and aching as the smell of cooking wafted over her. She hadn't eaten anything in three days, and she now realized she was ravenous.
Black was at the stove, stirring something in a pot, and Faye was sitting at the table, flipping through a magazine, but they both looked up as the pair entered. Faye's face lit up when she saw Wrin walk in behind Spiegel, and she threw her magazine onto the table as she hurried over to her. "Barbie! You're okay!" She threw her arms around her in a hug, catching Wrin slightly off guard.
"Uh, yeah. I'm fine." Wrin said in a surprised voice as Faye pulled back, holding her at arm's length to look her over.
She tsked slightly as she scanned her, her eyes flicking to the rope burns around her wrists and the bruises on her arms and face. "They really did a number on you, eh, barbie?"
Wrin lifted a shoulder, putting her hands uncomfortably in the pockets of her worn out jeans. "It's not too bad, really."
Faye scoffed and grabbed her hand, pulling her over to sit down at the kitchen table. "All right, Miss Modest. But we all saw how bad of shape you were in when Spike brought you back. I thought you were dead. And Spike didn't know if he'd gotten you the antidote in time." She glanced over at Spiegel, who had his feet up on the table opposite of them, his hands behind his head as he drew on a cigarette. She lowered her voice and leaned closer to Wrin. "He was a hell of a mess until you woke up. It was all we could do to not kill him with his pacing and worrying around the ship."
Black walked over to the table and set the pot down in the middle of them, clapping a large hand onto Wrin's back and making her wince slightly. "It's good to see you up and about, lass."
She gave him a small smile as she rubbed her aching shoulder. "Thanks, Black. It's good to be back."
Spiegel dropped his boots to the floor with a thump and looked over the edge of the pot, his eyebrow raised as he looked at Black. "What's this you've made, Jett? Don't tell me it's pasta ala beef with no beef again."
Black cuffed him in the head as he sat down beside him, reaching for the ladle as he began to dish up bowls. "Show some damn appreciation, Spike. I'm the only one who bothers to cook around here. We'd all starve if it weren't for me."
Black slid a bowl of what appeared to be some kind of steaming soup across the table to Wrin and she caught it deftly with one hand as she picked up her spoon with the other. She lifted a spoonful of the gray liquid to her mouth and took a sip. It was delicious, definitely not the watery, no-beef pasta they had been eating for weeks before landing on Neptune. She took another spoonful and then said to Black, "This is incredible, Black. What is it?"
Spiegel threw her a questioning look across the table. "You're probably just saying that because you're starving, Lokai. Even Jett's beef a la mode sans beef would taste good in your state."
Spiegel lifted a hesitant bite to his mouth and swallowed, his eyes widening as he said, "Hell, Jett. She's right. This is amazing!" He took another spoonful and then another.
Black shot him a triumphant look and said smugly, "That's right. I took some of the money we earned from the Bandit and bought some supplies while you two were out. This is beef and potato stew, with actual beef this time around."
Wrin grinned at him, glancing over at Spiegel, whose mouth was full of stew. "Well, it seems to be a hit, Black." She raised a spoonful in salute to him across the table. "Well done."
Black raised his spoon in return to her, and then they all lapsed into silence after that, the only sound heard around the table the slurping of stew and soon the scraping of spoons on empty bowls as they finished up.
Faye pushed her bowl away and then stood from the table, stretching her arms above her head as she said, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I could use a drink after a dinner like that."
Spiegel stood too, coming around the table to offer Wrin a hand. "I could go for a drink."
They all walked through the blast doors into the commons area, Faye moving to take a place behind the bar. She rummaged around for a minute and then held up a few bottles. "All right then. We've got whisky, rum, vermouth, and a few bottles of beer. What'll it be?"
"Give me one of those beers, Faye." Black called from the couch, holding up a hand. She tossed him one of the dusty bottles and he caught it neatly, taking the cap off easily with his teeth before taking a deep swig. "Ah, that's the stuff." He settled back into the couch, the bottle in his large hand.
Wrin leaned on the bar as Faye turned to her and said, "Well, Barbie? What'll you have? Because I think out of all of us, you look like you need a drink the most."
"Is it that obvious?" Wrin gave her a grin as she motioned to the bottle of whisky. "Whisky, neat."
Faye wiped off a glass with her shirt and then poured it full of amber liquid, sliding it across the bar to Wrin. She nodded her head toward Spiegel, who was sprawled on one of the couches, his hand over his face. "And what do you think our resident grump over there will have?"
Wrin picked up her whisky, flicking her fingers toward the bottle of rum as she put the glass to her mouth and took a draught. "He'll want rum."
Faye poured a glass of rum for Spiegel and slid it to Wrin, then moved to pour a glass of vermouth for herself.
Wrin picked up the glass of rum in one hand and her whisky in the other and walked over to the couch where Spiegel lay. He didn't look up as she approached, so she kicked the bottom of his boot with her foot and said, "Spiegel."
He removed the hand from his eyes and looked up at her, annoyance crossing his face as he said, "What, Lokai? Didn't your mother ever teach you not to disturb someone when they're sleeping?"
She stuck her tongue out at him and then handed him the glass of rum. "That's the thanks I get for getting you a drink? Don't think I'll ever do it again, then."
He sat up, taking the glass from her, and she sat down beside him as he took a deep drink of the rum. He wiped a hand across his mouth and glanced over at her as she took a sip of her whisky. "You know, Lokai….."
He was interrupted as Faye came over and squeezed in between them, leaning her head back against the couch and letting out a contented sigh. "I'm so glad you two are back together again. Seriously, Barbie, he's a pain in the ass when he's not with you. I don't know how you do it, but he's not half as annoying when you're with him."
Black spoke from across the room. "I believe that's what they call 'whipped,' Faye."
Spiegel downed the rest of his drink and then stood from the couch, handing his empty glass to Faye. "Yeah, yeah. Laugh all you want you two, because I'm going to bed." His voice was laced with annoyance and he headed toward the doors that left the common room.
"Spike, we were just kidding around." Faye called after him as he pushed through the doors and disappeared into the darkness of the hallway.
Wrin drained the last of her whisky and set her glass down on the table, brushing off her pants as she stood too. She offered a smile to Faye, who was looking worried after Spiegel's sudden departure, and said, "He's just tired. I'm sure he knows you were joking, Faye. Don't worry about it. I'll go talk with him."
"Like I said, whipped." Black said, dropping his empty beer bottle onto the floor as he settled into the couch, folding his arms across his stomach and closing his eyes.
Faye rolled her eyes at him and glanced back to Wrin. "Tell him we didn't mean anything by it, barbie. He listens to you."
Wrin gave her another smile. "I will. I'm sure he's fine, Faye. It's just been a long couple of days." She offered her a small wave and then headed out the blast doors after Spiegel.
Wrin pushed through the blast doors and found Spiegel standing in the hallway, his back against the wall, his boot propped up, and his arms folded across his chest. He was smoking a cigarette, the orange light illuminating his face in the darkness. She approached him and leaned against the wall beside him, her hands behind her back as they stood in silence. Finally, she said quietly, "What are you doing out here?"
He blew out a cloud of smoke and then put the cigarette back between his lips, his face blank as he said simply, "I'm tired. And I can't do banter tonight."
She didn't say anything else, just stood next to him in the darkness, until he finished his cigarette and dropped it at his feet, crushing it and eliminating the small light it was giving off. They stood in blackness for a minute and then Wrin said, "Those will kill you, you know."
She heard Spiegel chuckle dryly next to her. "What won't in this business?"
"I guess you're right about that." She leaned her head back against the wall, her hand drifting down to the blaster at her waist. She fiddled with the gun for a moment and then said, "You know, the risks of this job have never really stood out to me, not until I went on this hunt for the Bandit with you. And just within the last couple of days, they've hit me like a ton of bricks."
Spiegel shifted beside her, and she heard him sigh as he said flatly, "I know the feeling." He was quiet for a few moments, as they both pondered their thoughts, and then he said, "You know this is all your fault, right?"
She pushed off the wall, surprised, and said hotly, "What? How is this my fault?"
He turned his head to look at her in the dark. "You barged in here with all of your feelings and unconventional ideas and that damn black suit. And then you dragged me into it all with you. Hell, Lokai, I was doing fine before I met you, and then you showed up, and brought nothing but trouble and the idea of my own mortality back to me." He let out a coarse, agitated breath. "The minute I first met you, you gave me something to live for again. I hadn't felt anything like that since Julia. And by doing that, you wrecked my facade of immortality. You made me realize, again, that there's a fear in death. That fear that comes from not wanting to be apart from something you care about so much, and that same damn caring that leads to fear, is the undoing of a good bounty hunter, Lokai."
He stopped talking, leaning heavily back against the wall, and she heard him shuffling around in his jacket pocket for another cigarette. She reached out a hand and laid it over his, stopping his agitated movement. She pushed away from the wall, coming to stand in front of him. She could barely make out his features in the darkness of the hallway, but she could see that his lips were pressed into a thin, stern line and that his brows were furrowed with agitation. She stood silently for a moment, studying him, and then she dropped her hand from his. "Do you want me to go? And I don't mean just now. I mean, leave for good. I can get off the ship in the morning, catch a ship from Venus to some other bounty I'm sure. I've figured it out before, and I can do it again."
She waited for a few moments, and when he didn't say anything, she stepped back from him, putting a hand on the opposite wall of the hallway. She spoke again, keeping her voice level as she said softly, "I'm sorry. I didn't expect any of this to happen when the government paired us together. I didn't mean to hurt you, or cause harm. I'll leave in the morning, and you can go back to the way it was before. No criminal will have anything to hurt you with ever again." She turned to walk away, but stopped as she passed him, murmuring into the darkness, "I'm so sorry, Spike."
She left him standing in the hallway and walked back to her room in the darkness. When she had entered through the blast door and it had shut behind her, she put a hand over her mouth to stifle her sobs and slid down the wall beside the door, covering her face with her hands. Her shoulders shook with silent cries and tears leaked between her fingers as she tried to gain control of her emotions. She banged her head back against the wall and clenched her hands into fists at her sides as she squeezed her eyes tightly shut to try and rid them of tears. She wiped a hand across her nose and stood up, walking over to the bed. She kicked off her boots and dropped her holster to the floor before crawling under the blanket, holding her knees tightly to her chest. She closed her eyes, tears leaking again from under her eyelids, and fell into a fitful, exhausted sleep.
Wrin woke up to screaming, and it took her a moment to realize that the sound she was hearing was coming from her own mouth. The Bandit's face was still burned into her mind as he stood over Spiegel's lifeless body, his diamond grin leering at her from the darkness as deep red blood puddled onto the floor and oozed over his dirty boots.
She took a few deep breaths, unclenching her hands one finger at a time from her blankets as she did so. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and swung her legs over the side of the bed, getting up to go into the bathroom. She flipped on the light and went to the sink, splashing her face with cool water to try and calm herself down.
"Hey. Are you alright?"
She spun around, clutching the hand towel to her chest, and saw Spiegel leaning on the doorway to the bathroom. She ducked her head, wiping the water off her face and throwing the hand towel into the sink before answering him. "Yeah, I'm fine. Why?"
"I just thought I heard you scream." He motioned to the doorway behind him. "I was still up, so I thought I'd check on you."
She tucked her loose hair behind her ear and straightened her shoulders, meeting his gaze with steely eyes. "Well thank you, but I'm not your problem anymore."
He dropped his eyes from hers and scuffed at the tile floor with the toe of his boot. "Yeah."
She noticed he looked sad, but she forced herself to ignore that. He didn't want anyone to be his weakness, and she was going to respect that. He wasn't anything to her anymore, just her business partner until tomorrow, and then she'd be gone.
She walked past him into the bedroom and opened the blast door for him. He moved to leave and then turned back to look at her, his hands in his jacket pockets. "Lokai…."
She felt anger well in her chest. Why was he pushing this after he'd said nothing to her earlier? She was staying away like he wanted, yet here he was, making this more difficult. "What, Spiegel? What do you want? I thought you made it pretty clear earlier that I was putting you in danger. I'm trying to respect that. I'm leaving first thing in the morning. So why are you making this so much harder for me?" She snapped at him, flipping on the bedside lamp so she could see him more clearly.
His eyes were still dark in shadow, even with the lamp on, so she couldn't read what he was thinking as well as she would have liked. She stood, waiting for him to respond, and when he didn't say anything, she continued angrily, "And I agree with you. I'm not saying I don't. I'm putting you in danger and you're putting me in danger. So you're being the smart one here by ending this now. We're both professional bounty hunters, we know that weaknesses are only downfalls. So this is fine, I'm fine. Just leave me the hell alone!"
She stood still, her chest heaving with angry breaths, as she finished yelling at him. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him.
He took a step toward her. "Listen to me, Lokai." He held out a hand, as if to physically stop her from interrupting until he was done talking. "I meant every word I've ever said to you. That includes everything I said to you earlier tonight in the hallway." He reached up and ran a hand through his dark hair in an agitated manner. "I meant it. Having you around is just creating a dangerous situation for both of us…" He met her hard gaze. "But I've been fighting with myself all night over it. The logical side of me is screaming to stick with what I said, to let you leave in the morning, but the selfish, much bigger part of me is screaming just as loud to beg you to stay."
Wrin's anger softened a bit as she watched the internal struggle flit across his face. She dropped her arms to her sides and said in a gentler tone, "Well, what do you want, Spiegel?"
He let out a jagged breath. "That's just it, Lokai. I know what I want. But the struggle is, if I let myself say it, if I acknowledge it, am I less of a man for making a selfish decision that puts you in danger?" He fiddled with the cigarettes in his pocket. "A strong man would let you go, he'd let you be safe and far away from here."
"But that's just it, Spiegel." She echoed his words and stepped closer to him. "I don't need you to take care of me. I don't need you to protect me. I've done it for years on my own, hell, I grew up doing it myself. So you're not being selfish and putting me in harm's way, because we both agreed, this is a dangerous job, no matter where you are or who you're with. And I can protect myself just as well here as anywhere else." She took a deep breath and met his intense, dark stare. "So, I'm asking you again, what do you want, Spiegel?"
They both stood, staring at each other, locked in silence for a charged moment, and then Spiegel closed the distance between them. His mouth was on hers before she had time to react, his lips hot and hungry against her skin. He pushed her back against the wall, sending the bedside lamp tumbling to the floor with a crash and plunging the room into darkness. His hands were rough on her skin as he slid them down her arms and to her waist and she pulled him closer to her as the kiss deepened. She slid her hands up his back and into his thick hair as his teeth grazed her bottom lip.
He suddenly pulled back from her, putting his hands on either side of her head on the wall. He tilted his forehead against hers as they both gasped for breath in the dark quiet of the room. After their breaths had quieted, and the only sound Wrin could hear was the pounding of her heart in her ears, Spiegel leaned closer to her again, their lips almost touching, and murmured, "You, Lokai. You're the only thing that I want."
Wrin lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling, Spiegel on his back beside her. The flame from his lighter lit up the dark for just a moment as he lit a cigarette and put it to his lips. His other hand was behind his head in a relaxed manner as he took the cigarette in two fingers and removed it from his mouth, blowing out a long, slow breath of smoke.
Wrin pulled the blanket up around her bare shoulders and enjoyed the silence between them for a moment before Spiegel said nonchalantly, "So? How'd you do it?"
She glanced over at the shadowy outline of his face, but he wasn't looking at her, his eyes were on the ceiling as he took another draw from his cigarette. She came up on one elbow so she could see his face and said, "Do what? Learn to be so good in the sack?" He raised an eyebrow at her and met her innocent gaze. She took the cigarette from his fingers and drew a shallow puff before she, fakely serious, said, "Living on the streets on your own at seventeen will help you learn pretty fast." He snatched the cigarette back from her and she gave him a teasing smirk. "Oh, was that not what you were talking about?"
He dropped the finished cigarette on the floor and propped himself up on his own elbow so he could look her in the eyes as he said in an amused voice, "Your jokes are getting less cringe-worthy, Lokai." He reached out a hand and rubbed a strand of her hair between his fingers as he said in a more serious voice, "How'd you crack the Bandit's code?"
"Well, you tend to be able to figure things out when the motivation of losing your life is on the line." She said jokingly. He shot her a glare, and she held up a hand. "Okay, okay." She bit her lip and tried to remember the chain of thoughts that had given her the code. Everything was so hazy from that day. She saw the letters in her head again, the ones that she had crossed out as insignificant and then ones she had circled as important. She flicked her eyes up to his and said, "It's actually surprisingly obvious. I'm a little disappointed with myself for not figuring it out sooner than I did."
"Are you trying to rub it in that I didn't see it and make me feel more stupid? Because if so, it's working." Spiegel flopped back down onto his back and threw an arm over his eyes, letting out an exasperated groan.
"No, no!" Wrin said in a voice laced with laughter, as she came up to her hands and knees over him. She pulled his arm away from his face, forcing him to look up at her. Her hair created a curtain around them, as if they were in their own private world, as she said quietly, "Think about it. The Bandit loves games, riddles, puzzles. I knew the code had to be personal to the game he was playing with us, but honestly I just got lucky. I thought of all the planets where we've confronted him, or that had something connected with him-Venus, Mars, Neptune, and Jupiter. V, M, N, and J, right?" Spiegel's brow was furrowed in concentration as she talked, trying to figure out where she was going with this. She rubbed a finger between his eyes, erasing the lines from his skin. "Don't think that hard, Spiegel. You'll give yourself lines."
He playfully swatted her hand away from him and said impatiently, "Yeah, yeah, Lokai. Shut up and finish telling me how you figured it out. Planets, huh?"
"Yeah, so I had four letters. And then I thought about all the people he had planned to have killed that day by the end of his game. He knew you'd finish the game no matter what he asked, so that would mean Julia, Liam, Nova….." She paused. "And you." She hook her head, remembering the nightmare from earlier, and then said, "So I took all those letters from the names-J, L, N, S-and I compared them to the letters from before. And I came up with two letters that appeared in both sets."
"J and N." Spiegel said quietly, running a hand through his hair. "Damn, Lokai. That's some fancy and quick footwork to figure that out. And the order of the numbers?"
She rolled off of him to lay beside him again and said, "That was the part where it was just luck. I knew J and N on the keypad would relate to the numbers five and six. So I took a guess of what would be the most logical order for the Bandit to place those numbers in."
Spiegel was quiet for a few seconds and then she heard him let out a low whistle. "Hell, woman. You really aren't just a pretty face, are you?"
She scoffed. "It's taken you this long to realize that? Because I'm pretty sure from day one, I've been able to sling a blaster better than you."
"Well, that's definitely a lie." He lit another cigarette. "However, if you've ever had the edge over me at any time, it's only because you're fine as hell and I probably got distracted. You female bounty hunters are better at distraction than we are, I'll give you that."
She rolled her eyes in the dark and kicked his leg hard as she said sarcastically, "Isn't that like a class they teach you guys? 'How to resist the opposite sex when working together in the field?'"
He flicked the cigarette from his fingers and pushed himself up again, leaning over her. "Yeah, well, they covered everything in that class except you, Lokai."
She grinned at him in the dark. "How unlucky for you."
He raised a shoulder. "Mmmm…..unlucky or lucky. Take your pick."
Wrin ran a finger along his jawline, studying his features, and then moved her hand to place it over his heart. She could feel it beating beneath her fingertips, his skin warm under her hand as she murmured, "Lucky for me."
He leaned toward her, his lips almost touching hers, when a crackling from the telecom system interrupted them. Black's voice came out tinny across the speaker as he said, "Spike?"
Wrin glanced at him and mouthed, "How did he know you were here?"
He shrugged nonchalantly and called across the room, "What's up, Jett?"
There was a brief pause and more static and then Black said in a serious voice, "There's someone who wants to speak with you. And I think it's important, judging by the urgency of their signal."
Wrin threw the blanket off of them and climbed out of the bed, reaching for her shirt that hung over the back of the chair before Spiegel could even respond to Black. He raised an eyebrow at her and then replied, "Fair enough, Jett. I'll be there in five."
The speaker crackled again as Black ended the call. Spiegel watched her pull her shirt over her head, and then his eyes flicked down to her thigh. He reached out a hand, running a light finger over the oval, blue scar that was the only reminder now of the injection and then sat up, running a hand through his hair. "Throw me my pants, will you Lokai?"
She tossed him his slacks and then pulled on her own, sitting down in the chair to put her boots on. She finished buckling them and then slung her jacket around her shoulders as Spiegel finished pulling his suit coat on. He straightened his shirt underneath the coat and, not looking at her as he pulled on his boots, said, "I don't remember Jett saying that they wanted to speak with you too, Lokai."
She shot a glare at him as she stood from the chair and buckled her holster around her waist. "You should know by now, Spiegel, that I'm a package deal. As long as we're working together, I go wherever you go. We're partners. And someone once told me that means you always have the other person's back."
He straightened while adjusting his blaster and gave her a grin. "Using my own words against me, eh? All right, come on. Let's go."
The walked into the common room to see Black typing at the computer and Faye standing behind him, watching over his shoulder.
As they approached the pair, Spiegel put a hand on Black's shoulder and glanced at the telecommunications screen. "All right, Jett. What do we got?"
The large man finished punching in the code and then scooted back from the screen, so Wrin and Spiegel could see it clearly. A waiting symbol popped up on the blank screen, signalling the call was patching through. Black glanced up at Spiegel, whose eyes were on the screen. "The call's coming from the government sector, Spike. And it's urgent."
Spiegel threw an amused look over his shoulder at Wrin. "Another criminal they can't catch without us, Lokai?"
Static came over the screen and then an image appeared of a room. Wrin squinted, coming up beside Spiegel to verify what she was seeing. It was the government official's office who had commissioned them to work together to catch the Bandit, but it looked nothing like it had the last time he had spoken to them.
"What the hell?" Wrin heard Spiegel mutter under his breath as he leaned closer to the screen.
The room was a disaster. The desk had been overturned, there were papers scattered over the floor, and the glass door leading to the hall had been shattered off its hinges. "Spiegel…." Wrin pointed to the lower corner of the image. "That's…."
"Assistant Governor Longbourne." Spiegel finished her sentence, his face hard as he looked at the body lying at the edge of the screen.
Suddenly, the image shifted, as if someone had picked up the telecommunication screen, and a man's face came into focus. His blonde hair was tousled, the lens on one side of his glasses shattered, and there was a wound seeping blood on his right temple. "Hello? Spike Spiegel? Can you hear me?" He said in a frantic voice, looking over his shoulder, the telecommunication screen shaking in his hand.
"Commissioner Jackson? What's going on over there?" Spiegel waved Black out of the chair and sat down, scooting closer to the computer screen.
The commissioner looked back to Spiegel, and his voice trembling, said, "The Bandit….he….." A crash from down the hallway interrupted the man, who looked away from them in terror.
"The Bandit? Come on, commissioner! Focus!" Spiegel said sharply to the man, leaning toward him.
The man tore his gaze away from the door behind him and said frantically, "The Bandit escaped. He was in maximum security. We don't know how he did it." The man glanced over his shoulder again, sweat dripping down his face and then whispered, "I think he's coming. Please help us….."
Suddenly, they saw a dark figure appear in the doorway behind the man and then a gunshot rang out over the telecommunication speaker. The screen dropped to the floor, and all they could see for a moment was tile, until a pair of dirty, bloody boots appeared. The screen was picked up again, they saw ceiling, and then The Bandit's face appeared.
His mouth twisted into a grin as he saw them and he said gleefully, "Well, well, well. Just who I wanted to see." He stuck his gun into the waistband of his pants and wiped some fresh blood spatter off his forehead as he sat down in the commissioner's chair, his legs crossed amicably. "Hello, Mr. Spiegel." His eyes darted to Wrin. "Kitty. Glad to see you survived. I would have hated not to kill such a pretty little thing myself."
"What do you want, Bandit?" Spiegel said in a cold voice, his eyes never leaving the Bandit's face.
The Bandit chuckled and picked up a pen, twirling it between his fingers as he said, "Isn't it clear yet, bounty hunter? I just killed the buffoons who sent you to hunt me down in the first place. And now I'm coming for you." He flipped the pen and let it drop back to the floor, then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees as his eyes glinted dangerously. "First, I'll have some playtime with our little kitty. And of course you can watch. And then I'll kill her, before I move on to kill you, slowly and painfully." He sat back in the chair again and steepled his fingers. "Did you really think you could tick me off and not have consequences? It's time for you to pay, Mr. Spiegel."
He stood from the chair, moving the screen close to his face, and gave them a large, diamond smile, his teeth speckled with blood stain. "I'm coming to pay you two a visit. So get ready."
The screen went black.
Wrin glanced down at Spiegel, who sat silently in the chair, his eyes still on the blank screen, and then said in a low voice, "Damn. He's persistent."
She was attempting to lighten the mood, but Spiegel didn't acknowledge her as he sat back and lit a cigarette, his eyes hard as he let a cloud of smoke escape his lips.