Chapter Two

Part One

Small Jackle

[A few days earlier]

Twenty two years. Twenty two longs, hard, strict years. Dual colored eyes, one blue and one green, lifted to the skies outside her window. Astryd gazed many a night out this very window, staring at Ganymede in the distance, wondering what freedom felt like. She had seen them before, free people that is. They walked the streets just outside her window and over the wall. The large mansion and it's grounds took up more than a block and Astryd was confined within the brick wall most of the time. She was only allowed outside of the walls if she was going to the Syndicate headquarters. She had never even been off of the star of Europa. That's how it had been her whole life. Now she stared at the stars and blinking lights of star ships and wondered about the people piloting them.

Astryd's head rested on her hand, a dark tanned maid woman stood behind her and brushed Astryd's long hair in silence. The woman's name was Marie, and Astryd had loved her since she was a child. Astryd's mother was dead, so Marie was the closest thing she had and though the hand servant rarely spoke, Astryd felt like she understood her more than anyone. Even better than her twin brother. Especially her twin brother. Orion was her opposite in every way. He was tall, with blond hair and dark black eyes. He rarely smiled and when he did it was never a good sign. Orion was cruel. Raised for the sole purpose of someday taking over the Black Jackle Syndicate. He was allowed in the real world like Astryd was not, and while he was out there he did cruel and unimaginable things. She chose not to think about it.

A sigh escaped her pale rose lips and a sadness played in her eyes as she hummed a tune to herself.

"You would make a great blues singer Astryd." Marie smiled gently, letting her own gaze drift listlessly out the window. She had never really wanted this job. It confined her to this miserable place, but she had stayed as a favor to Astryd's mother. Someone with compassion was needed to raise the free spirited child and Marie was up to the task. So many times she had wanted to scream at Astryd, 'Get out! Get out and leave this place for good!' but she had kept her mouth shut. Such talk could get her killed…or worse. Marie's eyes darkened with the memory of those before her who had either escaped, or talked of escape. Death would have been merciful for them. A release that Marie was sure many men had begged for after the cruel punishments the syndicate had for them.

"I wish I could Marie." The words fell as a whisper from Astryd's lips, her eyes not leaving the sky. "You can go now Marie. I want to be alone." Marie kissed Astryd's forehead and left the room.

Astryd opened her window, letting in the night air. Then it hit her. For as long as she could remember, she had lived here in fear of the syndicate. If one could call it living. Every day held the same routine. Early mornings full of lessons by the best tutors on the planet Every night staring at the same stars with a longing her heart couldn't handle anymore. She needed to get out. Even if it cost her life. For what kind of life could someone lead behind brick walls? How many more wasted years must pass? Do it now!

Before she had a change of mind she got dressed in some tight dark blue pants that looked like low rise hot pants with rings on the outside of her thigh, connected the bottom part of the pants to the shorts. She pulled on a skin tight black mid drift halter top and a blue jacket. She tied her long silky hair back into a pony tail and covered it with a red gypsy bandana before pulling on black boots and shoving more of her belongings into a small bag. The last thing she did before climbing out of the window, was put on her necklace. It was small enough to fit snugly in the palm of her hand. A trinket from Mars that her mother had brought for her before she died. Simple in design, it was a red heart shaped gem stone with bronze angel wings encasing the precious stone. It was her prized possession.

As she slipped silently over the wall and through the shadowy alley, a smile crossed her lips. Security was shit. It didn't really need to be that great. The syndicate relied on fear, and for the most part it worked. Those that had escaped were always noticed in the morning, and usually had a hefty bounty on their heads by noon. Bounty hunters helped the syndicate without even knowing it. Punishment was the last thing on Astryd's mind.

Freedom was the first.

Part Two

Gotta Knock A Little Harder

[Day after escape til present]

First thing in the morning, before anyone would notice that she was gone, Astryd used her money card to withdraw all of the money from her account. Three million woolongs was a lot of cash to run around with, but she had no choice. She cut up the card and threw it in the trash. Then she went shopping. By nine am she had a few new outfits, some food, and a brand new starship, bought under an alias. Corra Robinson. She smiled smugly to herself. So far so good. Her dual colored eyes ran along the sleek lines of her racer. Red and black. Her favorite colors. Now she just needed a name for it. She smiled and patted it like an old friend. It was her only friend now. Too bad she hadn't been in a space craft in…well, ever. She threw all of her food and clothing in a side storage compartment and opened the cockpit, sliding herself in easily before sealing it up again.

Astryd was no dummy. She needed a starship and although she didn't know how to pilot one, she intended on learning. And fast. She had the ship delivered to the outskirts of town and when the delivery truck was well out of sight she started it up. Nice. She smiled to herself and gazed down at the console. Grabbing hold she learned the steering system before take off. It seemed easy enough. How to get it in the air though? Hmm….she looked around, pushing a few buttons. Radio. No. Com system. No. climate control. No. What about this one? She pushed the little grey button and two gatling guns exposed themselves from under her. Wow. Artillery. She leaned forward to get a better look through the glass of the cockpit, and accidentally hit a trigger on the right accelerator, releasing a rapid fire into the earth, dirt scattering in thick chunks. Astryd let out a surprised shriek and threw herself back into the seat, hands above her head defensively. "Holy shit!"

After regaining her composure she pressed the grey button again and the guns disappeared back into the craft. After a couple hours she was in the air. Shakey, but flying. It was exhilarating. This was a new kind of freedom she adored. Even as she made her way to Venus she couldn't wipe the smirk from her face. The bounty had come out over the com system at noon, as expected, but she was almost disappointed at the small amount they were offering. She rolled her eyes. How pathetic. Luckily for her she had gotten through the gate to Venus before the bounty was issued.

By that evening she was on Venus, a hotel room waiting for her, paid in cash so she couldn't be tracked. A peaceful place to rest her head. Tons of cash on hand, new clothes, a star ship, a new life….funny how a new life can send you right off to sleep.

It had been a couple of days now and she felt the urge to sing the blues. Sure, she had no reason to right now but if she did some karaoke the people here might start to know her. They might take her in for who she was. Or more, who she pretended to be. What should her new name be? Hm…she strode down the street, thinking of a new alias, fingers interlaced behind her head as she walked. Irene. That was nice. Irene Palmer. Full lips rose at the corners in a faint smile. Little did she know, a dark figure was following her though the crowded streets. If she had known she may have never come here. The bliss of freedom did a lot to a person's common sense.

The sun was setting on another beautiful day on Venus. A few remaining rays of the sun cast a dreamy golden glow on the buildings, casting long purple shadows into alley ways. It was supposed to rain tomorrow, but Astryd saw no trace of clouds on the horizon. Hell, she didn't mind the rain. It was soothing and relaxing and great to sleep to. Her mind lost in dreams she continued on to a karaoke bar at the next corner.

The dark figure shifted from the shadows, moving silently behind her, following her into the warmth of the bar. She paused, the shadow followed suit, stopping short of bumping into her. Nervousness hit her all of a sudden. All of these people, seemingly without faces. A warmth behind her caught her attention. The brush of a trench coat over her calves as she caught the strong scent of cigarettes and cheap cologne, mixing slightly with the smoke and smell of alcohol that seemed thick in the bar. Astryd whirled around only to be greeted by….

Nothing. No one was there. She chuckled nervously to herself, wringing her hands for a moment before taking a deep breath and righting herself. There wasn't a person in this bar she knew, why be embarrassed? The girl straightened herself and walked to the Karaoke dj, whispering something to him as the man tailing her ordered a drink and seated himself amongst the crowd. After the next few songs Astryd seated herself on a stool in the middle of a small stage, pulling the microphone off of the stand before she made herself comfortable. The dj announced her name, "Irene Palmer" and Astryd's shadow smiled from the crowed, gulping down a shot of whiskey. A thin hand pulled out a cigarette, lighting it swiftly and feeling the smoke fill his lungs, a smile still playing on his lips. However…his smile faded when her voice broke free from her lips. Slow and sultry and full of soul. She had put aside her freedom for a moment to sing the blues with all the pain and desperation she had felt her whole life.

"Happiness is just a word to me

And it might have meant a thing or two

If I'd known the difference

Emptiness, a lonely parody

And my life, another smokin' gun

A sign of my indifference

Always keepin' safe inside

Where no one ever had a chance

To penetrate a break in."

All eyes on Astryd, the man in the crowd leaned forward on his elbows, all sign of a smile gone. His eyes went dark as he listened to the words of the song, feeling them resonate in every fiber of his being. Like she was singing to him. About him. He realized how pretty she was with the mic in her small hand, pale skin with a blue tinge from the lighting, black hair falling from an unassuming pony tail. Hmmm. The blues as they should be.

"Let me tell you some have tried

But I would slam the door so tight

That they could never get in

Kept my cool under lock and key

And I never shed a tear

Another sign of my condition

Fear of love or bitter vanity

That kept me on the run

The main events at my confession."

Her dual colored eyed opened, looking right at him. His body froze as though her gaze was restraining him. But that was impossible. With the lights on her, he was sure she couldn't see him sitting here. He had seated himself in the shadows, away from the stage but still close enough to enjoy the warmth of the crowd around him.

"I kept a chain upon my door

That would shake the shame of Cain

Into a blind submission

The burning ghost without a name

Was calling all the same

But I wouldn't listen."

He smiled painfully, eyes on her but really staring off into space, his mind fully reflecting on himself and how successful he had been in not letting people into his life. Shit. He was so unsuccessful it was ridiculous. But those people didn't know did they.

"The longer I'd stall

The further I'd crawl

The further I'd crawl

The harder I'd fall

I was crawlin' into the fire

The more that I saw

The further I'd fall

The further I'd fall

The lower I'd crawl

I kept fallin' into the fire

Into the fire

Into the fire."

The crowd seemed to fade away and for a moment Astryd could feel a wetness in her eyes as her heart and soul poured out to these strangers. She hadn't even noticed that her voice had basically silenced the crowd. No. It was all her right now. Every somber note, soon rising in strength and passion, was hers and hers alone.

"Suddenly it occurred to me

The reason for the run and hide

Had totaled my existence

Everything left on the other side

Could never be much worse that this

But could I go the distance?

I faced the door and all my shame

Tearin' off each piece of chain

Until they all were broken

But no matter how I tried

The other side was locked so tight

That door, it wouldn't open

Gave it all that I got

And started to knock

Shouted for someone

To open the lock

I just gotta get through the door."

Faye….he thought silently. He fought himself to stay seated. He wanted to get up and run back to where he had seen Faye last and wait til she came back. To see if that door to her was closed. Instead he closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, taking a long drag from his cigarette. Let her move on. It was better for her. Mismatched eyes remained closed until the end of the song as his mind wandered through emotion after emotion. Memory after memory. Sorting through everything lazily and trying to decide his next move. Well…the move after this one.

"And the more that I knocked

The hotter I got

The hotter I got

The harder I'd knock

I just gotta break through the door

Gotta knock a little harder

Gotta knock a little harder

Gotta knock a little harder

Break through the door."

The man discarded his cigarette in the table's ash tray before standing with the rest of the crowd in applause. The girl's face was visibly red, but the smile through her tears showed triumph over sadness. As quickly as she had come, she left. Her shadow followed her. The streets weren't as crowded now but he still waited a few blocks before drawing closer. Astryd was too busy thinking about her freedom and the life she left behind to notice she was being followed. Until it was too late. A hand shot out from behind her, covering her mouth drawing her close with strength that didn't seem to fit the thin frame she felt pressed against her back. Her eyes went wide with fear as a large handgun met her temple and the slow lazy drawl of her attacker drifted into her ear.

"Hiya Irene Palmer…or should I say Astryd Jackle. You know the price on your head? Four million woolongs." She could hear the smile in his voice and she sobbed. They upped her price in less than a week. That was never good. Spike's smile faded as he felt her small frame tremble at his touch. Surely she wasn't afraid of him? Hell she was syndicate raised. Surely she had seen and experienced worse than this before. He simply shrugged and dragged her off toward Swordfish II. Not his problem.

Part Two

Cross My Heart

"Please, don't turn me in. I can't go back there!" Astryd pleaded from her place beside the tacky yellow couch of the Bebop. Her hands were cuffed to the railing above her head in plain sight of her captors. Ed and Ein were passed out cold on the floor behind the couch, Ed snoring and giggling in her sleep. Jet sat on the chair, Spike on the couch opposite him. It was simply too late for all this crap but it had to be settled before morning.

"Doesn't that sound familiar?" Jet rolled his eyes in his rhetorical question. "Faye gave us the same kinda speech when we were about to take her in." He ran his cold metallic hand over his bald head with a sarcastic grin. Spike however did not look amused. He simply glared at her lazily from the corner of his eye as she tried begging them.

"I can help you. I can help you catch syndicate members." The words poured out of her lips but her eyes did not show any sign of remorse. She was dead serious.

This time Spike spoke. He threw an arm over the back of the couch, watching her with boredom.

"Sorry. I've had enough of syndicates. You can handle your own problems. I just want some beef for this crap Jet keeps serving me." The end of his boot tipped up the edge of a plate on the table. A few left over pieces of sautéed pepper clung to it's surface and Spike's stomach growled with distaste. For too long they had eaten bell peppers and beef…with no beef. This was an easy set up. Easy money and lots of beef.

"Please, you don't know what these people are like." She shook her head sadly, desperation filling her two toned eyes.

"You would be surprised." Spike whispered sarcastically to himself. Apparently she heard him because her eyes bored into him. He caught himself gazing back, eyebrow cocked in interest. Why the hell was she staring at him?

"I…know you." Spike was clearly surprised. "You're Spike Spiegel. Red Dragon Syndicate right? Then you do know what I'm talking about. Please Spike, I know you don't owe me anything but…I can help you. You must know something about the Black Jackles. You know…what they do to escapees."

"Spike?" Jet looked confused. He was a cop, not mafia. He held a suspicion in his voice as he watched Spike, waiting for an explanation. But Spike didn't speak. He merely lit his cigarette and took a long drag before Jet asked again, raising his voice this time. "Spike, what the hell is she talking about?"

The lanky man shifted his eyes toward her again, took a drag and closed his eyes as he let the smoke escape him in one long breath. "Black Jackles….they're one of the oldest crime syndicates in the solar system. They do things….differently than the Red Dragons. They didn't kill their traitors. No, that was too easy. They torture them. Mercilessly." His brow furrowed in irritation. Damn conscience. It wouldn't let him turn her in. "Damn it Jet…." He muttered over the growling of his stomach.

"Shit. Should we just let her go?" Jet growled.

"No." Spike waited for a moment, thinking before leaning over onto his knees and looking hard at her. "You can really help us get some syndicate members?" He was suspicious and rightfully so. She was born and raised to them. How did he know she wasn't just setting them up?

"Yes." She nodded sternly, her eyes not wavering. She was telling the truth. One blue, one green….how interesting. Spike locked eyes with her, reading the desperation in their depths.

"Why would you help us? How do we know you won't just screw us over and get us killed?" Jet spoke what Spike was thinking. However, Spike knew why she was willing to help. It was something that Jet had never experienced, so he couldn't see the obvious.

"I want the Black Jackle Syndicate gone. I want all of the syndicates gone….but I can help most with Black Jackle. And White Tiger." Her words caught Spike's attention White Tiger? They were rough too but not as bad as the Jackles. Yet here she was, so small and insignificant but willing to help take down two whole syndicates. That was millions of woolongs. Hundreds of millions.

"Well Jet. I guess you were right. This bounty did get interesting" Spike smiled, amused, and snuffed out his cig before standing and making his way down the hall. "Sweet dreams." He waved casually over his shoulder before entering his room for a night of good, hard earned sleep.

"If you betray us….I'll make sure you go back to the Jackles." Jet growled at her. But then seeing the relief in her eyes he softened. He felt like a pile of shit. She was so….tiny. What were her stats again? Five foot three? With a hearty sigh Jet stood and unlocked her wrists, only to cuff them behind her back while he helped her to the couch. "You can sleep here. Better than being strung up like a fish." Astryd smiled thankfully at him as he left the room, turning the lights off as he exited. Engulfed in darkness she laid her head down on the sofa. He must sit here often, she thought absently to herself as the scent of cigarettes and cheap cologne lulled her to a deep, dreamless sleep.