Author's Note: Connected to my previous Cowboy Bebop works. Specifically Dragons of the Darkwave and Dead Star Shine.
A blast of cold wind triggered a bone deep shiver. Spike huddled down deeper. The cot creaked beneath him. His teeth chattered as puffs of breath hung in the frigid air. Shivering made no difference.
Warmth. Have to get warm. Endless cold.
The iron scent of blood filled his nose. His stomach churned. Limbs ached. He cracked an eye open, the other swollen shut. Blood stained the blue jumpsuit. With a trembling finger he brushed the crusting of ice off the number emblazoned on the stripe across his chest.
No … this can't be …
He pulled the left sleeve back. Beneath the layers of bruising, the tattoo's bar code marked him—for life. Spike drew his knees close, the electrical burns on his calves stung. His chest tightened, crackling with the Ice Fever every breath he took. Bars held him captive in a tiny cell, the only relief from the constant battle for his life. Outside throngs of thugs battered at their own barred doors, waiting for the release. Waiting to take their pound of flesh.
A place reserved for those who would never join society again. A pit of hell ran by the ISSP.
Quidlivun Cavus Prison.
He shut his eyes and inhaled the ice box air and tried to swallow the panic. But it tore from his throat in a single incoherent scream.
Spike's eyes opened. His heart raced as his gripped squeaked across the back of the couch. Sitting up in the middle of the Bebop's living room, he stared down at the thin black tie repeatedly tapping against his sweat-soaked shirt with every panted breath. The rolled back sleeve of his left arm revealed flawless skin where the tattoo had once been. He ran his fingers along the length of the smooth contours just to be certain. Only goosebumps rose up. His suit jacket lay over the arm of the couch where he must have flung it.
Both his eyes were wide open. Nothing felt sore, not even his left side where Vicious's sword had cut him. Where the demented ISSP prison guards had repeatedly taken advantage of that wound for what he now knew had been over a year.
The fan spun idly overhead, stirring the scent of blood into the air. Blood smeared across the floor. Blood.
Spike blinked and gulped a few more breaths to steady himself. His half-asleep brain too muddled to come back to reality. The air was freezing inside the ship. Why was it so damn cold?
Ed's laughter broke out behind him. Up on the landing she piled snow into a semblance of crude sculpture that looked something like a mutated Ganymede searat. Ein, wrapped in a scarf, romped around with a bucket swinging from his mouth. Spike had to do a double take, she was bundled up in his red parka.
Is that kid ever gonna grow up?
She grinned and ruffled the dog's ears. "Come on, Ein, bring the bucket. We need more!"
Melt water dripped off the landing. Bemused Spike rubbed a hand through his hair. "Jet's not gonna like this."
Ed turned and waved a hand, smiling ear to ear. "Course he will. It's his present."
"Hey, where's he at?"
Taking the bucket from Ein she leaned over the railing and pointed out the door. "Jet is still at the police station with the punching bag."
"Punching bag?" It took him a moment to place it. The bounty. They'd caught a schmuck of a smuggler trying to hide in orbit around Callisto. He hadn't exactly been keen on cooperating. Oh yeah, that explained the blood. And of course things were cold. They were still on the permanently frozen Callisto.
By the time he pried himself from his thoughts the landing was empty. With a sigh, he flopped back down on the couch on his side and let his arm hang down, knuckles on the floor. Phew. Am I ever going to be able to close my eyes and not relive what the ISSP did to me? He yawned and lengthened his breathing. Now if I can just resume my nap before Jet starts harping at me for being lazy.
Drifting in and out like the tide, Spike barely fell into slumber before the clomping of footsteps dragged him back up. He kept his eyes loosely shut as the door rumbled open.
Jet's voice echoed off the metal corridor, "You'd have to ask him, Bob. I'll bet he's still where I left that good for nothing lump. GAH! What the—how did all this snow get in here?"
Bob chuckled. "Don't take a detective for that. Pawprints. Where that dog is, your hacker tends to be."
Jet groaned, his palm slapped his bare head, an unmistakable sound. "Edward!"
"I'm tellin' yah, Jet, it's a miracle your crew is one of the top out there for cowboys. Anyone who set foot on here would be shocked at how … uhh … "
"Hey, you said it. But yeah, that is the word. You guys tend to be a perpetual mess."
Spike cracked open an eye and watched the two descend the stairs, hands in the pockets of their arctic gear. Bob reached up and tugged off a fur hat before brushing the icicles from his mustache. "All ribbing aside, I really appreciate this, Jet."
"Hey, don't give it a thought. Course, it's not a done deal yet." He came to stand right over Spike, arms folded. "You awake, pard?"
"Mmm mmm." Spike replied with a shake of his head, arm still dead weight off the side of the couch.
They burst into laughter. "You aren't fooling anyone. Now sit up, Bob and I need to have a word with you."
Spike opened one eye and sighed. "I don't have to sit up to listen."
Jet shrugged and held out a hand to Bob. The officer sat down on the edge of the table and tossed his hat aside. "Need your help with something you are uniquely qualified for, Spike."
"Is it for the ISSP?"
Spike rolled over, effectively offering a cold shoulder. "Forget it. The only thing I am interested involving the ISSP is bounty payments."
"I know, I get that. But seriously, I wouldn't ask if I had a better option … well any option. Who better to know how to play a Red Eye deal than you?"
Even the name of that drug sent a ripple down his spine. He reached up and grabbed his jacket, pulling it over his head to cover the involuntary shiver. "No."
Bob sighed. "Spike, it's a real quick job. We just need help in flushing out who is behind it. You have the street cred needed for this, even if you blew up the syndicate some would say that was just business. Besides, anyone else less connected with the underbelly would require training."
"Send Faye out. Her assets are a great distraction."
"As much as I admire her skills of deception, she doesn't know the lingo like you do. She'd be spotted in and instant."
Beneath the folds of the jacket, Spike ground his teeth. Why wasn't Jet shutting this conversation down? Heh, now there was an easy solution. "Send the Black Dog in, he could pull it off."
Jet tapped a foot. "No can do, they might know me. Bob is right, hear him out on this one."
When the silence stretched out, Bob stood up and muttered to Jet, "He still sore about what happened?"
"You mean prison?"
Before Jet could continue, Spike grunted, "No, those wounds have healed. But I haven't forgotten how the ISSP works behind the benevolent facade. I don't owe them any favors. Let the ISSP handle their own shit for a change."
"Spike." Jet fumbled through his words. "You know I can't disagree with you. Let's face it, we both got shafted by those we trusted. I still can't reconcile what happened at the ISSP's hand, to either of us."
"Can it, old man. I don't want to hear about it." Spike burrowed deeper under his jacket.
With a sigh, Bob brought his hand to his mustache, his voice muffled. "Shame you don't want to help. I thought you might like a shot at a bit of payback. It is, after all, a sting to flush out some crooked cops.
Spike shot up, practically flinging his jacket. "Wait, you're giving me permission to plug cops?"
Their hands flew up in unison. Jet hastily corrected, "Just like a bounty, you got to bring them in with a pulse, pard! They have to stand trial."
"I know, I know. But trust me, these guys will."
Bob folded his arms. "Well, what do you say? The jobs all set up. Just need you walk in there and convince them you are legit, hopefully our target shows. You game, Spike?"
He cracked his knuckles. "I bring them in, they're incarcerated on Pluto, right?"
A smile tugged at the corners of his mustache. "Where else does the scum of the universe belong?" Catching Spike's glower, Bob held up a hand, "Present company excluded."
Images kept vivid by his recurring dreams welled back to Spike, but this time crooked ISSP agents suffered all the indignities in his place. He stood up and swung into his jacket, snapping the double breast closed and adjusting the cuffs. Through half-lidded eyes he fixed Bob with an expression that made the cop do a double take, the dead-eyed stare he used to deliver as a Red Dragon enforcer. "I'm in."