"Ed." Jet rapped his fingers on what served as the Bebop's living room table. "Try a different search engine."
"Nyuuuaaa." Seated on the floor, Edward pulled her goggles down and pouted. "Ed tried them all."
"Well … run them again. I didn't come streaking all the way back to Earth to pick you up for no reason. Now earn your passage back on here."
Faye sauntered into the room and leaned on the back of the chair. "Ease up, old man. It's not like she can make it appear."
"There must be something somewhere, Faye! And I am going to find it!" He slammed his fist on the table.
At the loud thud, Ein yelped and scrambled into Ed's lap, whining. "Awww! Poor Ein, come on let's hunt down something to eat!"
Jet stiffened as the pair darted off toward the fridge. "This is impossible."
"You're right." Faye's hand brushed his shoulder as he ducked away from it. "It is impossible. So maybe it's time we give this up. I mean, it has been over a year."
"Fifteen months." He muttered, his forehead rested in his hand. "You know I only came back to Earth because I thought Edward might be able to dig something up, anything. He can't have vanished!"
"Let him go, Jet." Her voice dwindled to a tight whisper. "I think it's beyond time we face it … Spike's dead, or he would have wandered back here by now." She turned and left the living room with her fist to her chest, a sniffle escaping.
The weight of her words crushed Jet. With both hands he held his head trying to bite back the urge to sob. They'd been partners for close to four years. How little he had known of Spike's bitter past. Every time he'd tried to trick an answer out of him, Spike slipped out of the trap. All he wanted to know now was why? Why had he thrown it all away? Images of the burning tower in the middle of Tharsis carved into his memory. The smoke visible from the Bebop's orbit. Smoke visible through the windows of Bebop's bridge where he had leaned on a crutch, powerless to stop his partner from his … suicide mission.
Laughing Bull's prediction echoed in his mind. The moment a life is born, a star is born also. It becomes a guardian star. When a life has run out, the star too falls and disappears. His star is going to fall.
He clenched his fist.
The screen flashed. "Jet?" Bob's hushed voice broke through.
Jet didn't look up. Wearily he muttered, "What is it?"
"Keep your voice down! I'm on a transport and it's hard enough to find a place for a bit of privacy. I can't let the others know about this."
"Bob, if it's a bounty I'm really not in the mood."
"You need to hear this. It's about your partner."
He slowly released his head and glanced at Bob's image in the screen. The walls of a bathroom surrounded him. The breath seized in Jet's chest. "Spike? Did you … did you find his grave?"
Bob shook his head. "No, he's alive. At least for now. Listen, Spike's in serious trouble. And now I know why we couldn't find a trace of him."
All Jet comprehended was the first statement. "He's alive? Are you sure?"
"I saw him with my own eyes. Got a few words, not much … Jet, time is of the essence! I stumbled across him when making a prisoner transport."
"To where?" Jet leaned forward, gripping the table.
Bob nodded sternly. "His clock is ticking swiftly. There's a virus that pervades the convicts, Ice Fever. That's what takes the lives of most of them. I did some looking, median survival time is about eight months in lock-up out there. Your partner has already beaten the odds at nearly fourteen months of incarceration . He's still strong enough to get into trouble scrapping—for now."
"He's alive … " whispering in awe, Jet dared to smile.
"Not for much longer he won't be. He's caught the damn thing and is already rasping with every breath. Jet, I know your partner is a capable fighter, but he's surrounded by the vilest the galaxy has to offer. As an ex-syndicate member and a bounty hunter, how long do you think he'll fare once he loses his edge?"
"Wait! How did he get there? Incarcerated fourteen months ago? We searched for a record!"
"Yes, by his name. But they didn't file it with his name. The ISSP cut a corner, stripped the identity from the search and left it under his incarceration number. I suspect they worried about a backlash from the dregs of the Red Dragons."
"A threat that wandered off limping. Damn it! All this time? When was the trial?" He pointed to Ed's computer as she wandered over and plunked down cross-legged in front of it. "Edward, I need you to search for something … What's the number, Bob? Don't tell me you don't know!"
He sighed, "Brace yourself, buddy. This is not something you wanted to see. Alright, 240594126."
Rocking back and forth, Ed punched in the numbers. "Eeeeechy go, eeechy search … and nyah! Ed found Mr. Spike person!"
Hastily, Jet grabbed the computer and turned it. The moment he glimpsed the mug shot, his jaw dropped. Clearly it had been taken while Spike was still in a coma in the hospital. "Holy … !"
"Jet … be careful how much you read. I know your temper."
Ignoring the warning, he dove into the file.
Spike Spiegel ID 240594126
Height: 6' 1" Birth date: June 26th, 2044 Birthplace: Mars
Hair: dark green Eyes: brown, right synthetic Tattoos/markings: numerous scars, see medical report
Affiliations: Red Dragon Syndicate, ranking member, degree unknown
Arrest record: None prior to involvement in Red Dragon Syndicate coup, Tharsis city, 2071. Prior crimes linked to syndicate activity supported by evidence after arrest listed below. According to eyewitness reports perp opened fire with a shotgun near a convenience store leaving behind numerous bodies. Later that evening, perp proceeded to walk into the Red Dragon Syndicate tower on his own and indiscriminately assaulted personnel working his way up the floors. Various rounds from firearms were identified, with the perp's prints discovered on the firearms recovered. Grenades and C-4 were utilized, destabilizing the structure and leaving fragmented bodies in the wake. No witnesses were present for the altercation that razed the top of the tower. However, a few wounded members who survived bore witness to the perp limping halfway down the stairway before collapsing where ISSP later recovered his unconscious body. Medical reports indicated perp collapsed due to excessive blood loss from multiple gunshot wounds and a deep laceration across the left side of his abdomen. Amidst the debris on the top floor, a gunshot victim was found deceased grasping a katana, likely the cause of the latter injury. Perp was sent to Tharsis hospital under close guard and evidence processed. While perp remained sedated, evidence uncovered connections solving numerous murders during the years 2059-2068, see attached list. As well as various break ins. Perp is considered highly dangerous; skilled in firearms, explosives, and martial arts. Detained at hospital for two weeks, released under sedation as stable enough for direct transport to Quidlivun Cavus Prison Colony on Pluto for the remainder of his natural life.
Jet shook with rage. "He never stood trial? This is an outrage!"
"You know he's guilty."
"Yes! But Spike had his reasons." Even if he never told me why. Damn you, Spike! Why did you have to go and do this, you lunkhead! "If you ask me, we're better off without that syndicate."
"People's lives were endangered by the partial collapse of the building. Face it, he was reckless … but I agree with you, the ISSP buried this and it wasn't justice to your partner. It doesn't matter. There isn't much you can do, save one thing. If you hurry—you might get a chance to speak to him before he dies."
Lowering his head, Jet heaved a sigh.
"Sorry, wish I had better news."
"So do I. Thanks … I owe you … "
Bob tugged on his cap. "Take care. See you when you get back?"
Distantly, Jet nodded. The screen flicked out. He wasn't looking. Instead, he stared at the photos of Spike's unconscious body in the hospital bed. The wide gash on his side bound together but exposed for the official record. In his arm a red IV. How many pints of blood had it taken? At least one empty bag lay on the table.
"They bandaged you up and sent you to certain death without a chance." His finger traced the screen.
Ed clung to the edge of the table with Ein at her side, his ears tilting. In a singsong voice Ed asked, "Are we gonna visit Mr. Lunkhead?"
"Lunkhead?" Faye wandered back into the room. "What is all the commo—" Her hand clamped on her mouth as she saw the photos, tears filled her wide eyes. "Oh God!"
Stiffly, Jet rose and walked toward the bridge. "I better get our heading entered. Good thing we stocked up. It's a month trip from Earth, even through the hypergates."
"A month?" Faye forced herself from the computer screen. "There's not many places out that far? Where are we going?"
Ed picked up Ein and helicoptered the little dog. "Going to visit Lunkhead on Pluuuuutooo!"
"Wait a minute, did you say Pluto? There isn't anything on Pluto but … no!" She sat down and started to read the screen. The further she read, she folded her arms in front of her and buried her face. "Oh Spike, I told you not to go. Why didn't you listen?"
See you, Space Cowboy