Title: Through the Glass, Darkly
Rating: R for language, violence and adult situations
Timeline: Directly following Session 26
Spoilers: The entire series (including the movie) and general Matrix info
Summary: Matrix x-over. Spike didn’t die; he was just unplugged. How will everyone’s favorite Bruce Lee-loving Space Cowboy deal when he is thrown into the “real world” without a net?
Disclaimer: There was once a girl who wrote a story about some characters and places that weren't hers. But she added this little disclaimer to make it a tad less illegal. (i.e. Cowboy Bebop isn't mine and never will be. Neither is The Matrix. As if you hadn't already figured that out.)
Feedback: Look! It's secret mail-mail from Mars-Mars! (i.e. I want any and all feedback. Good, bad, indifferent? Doesn't matter. Still want it. *g*)
Author's Note: People have expressed interest in knowing what Jet and Faye have been up to all this time. Well, I'm glad you wanna know, because this is when you get to find out!
Baby's black balloon makes her fly
I almost fell into that hole in your life
And you're not thinking 'bout tomorrow
'Cause you were the same as me
But on your knees
A thousand other boys could never reach you
How could I have been the one?
I saw the world spin beneath you
And scatter like ice from the spoon
That was your womb
("Black Balloon" - Goo Goo Dolls)
Chapter 4: Black Balloon
Faye stared at the couch that sat in the Bebop's living area for a long moment. She watched as Jet walked by and took a seat in the chair across from her, and still she stood, staring at that godforsaken couch, hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.
"It's not gonna bite, you know," Jet remarked.
Faye shot him a glare. "I know that!" But she still couldn't bring herself to sit down. It was damn annoying.
Jet sighed. "It's been three months, Faye. Somebody's gonna have to sit on it sooner or later, unless we're just calling it a loss and selling the damn thing."
Faye nodded, took a deep breath and gingerly sat down, feeling the entire time like she was intruding somehow. It had been three months and she still halfway expected to see Spike's lanky frame sprawled out on the couch whenever she walked into the living room. That spot, more than anywhere else, had been *his* in a way that defied time. She thought that 5 years from now, if she was still living on the Bebop, he would continue to have some kind of mystical hold on that tacky, yellow couch that prevented her from sitting on it. It was just like him, she mused, to find a way to annoy her even after he was gone.
"So, what's on the menu for today?" she asked, trying to get her mind away from dangerous subjects and back to something safe. Thoughts of their former partner were *not* safe, not in the least. Better to focus on getting the job done day in and day out. It was the only way to keep things from falling completely apart.
Jet typed some commands into the keyboard and the turned the screen around. "This is our guy," he announced. "Albus Kinch. He pulled a huge heist, stole 100,000 vials of Bloody Eye right out from under the ISSP's noses."
Faye frowned. "Why would the ISSP be keeping that much Bloody Eye in stock? The stuff's illegal. Shouldn't they have sent it off to be destroyed?"
Jet nodded. "In theory, yes, but you know as well as I do that the ISSP's out to make a profit where ever they can. So they store illegal narcotics in these huge, secret warehouses, under the pretense of holding it until it can be destroyed, and then arrange drug deals with the Syndicates on the side and make a tidy profit out of it. Kinch used to be with the ISSP, so he knew how it all worked. He broke in, stole their entire stock and made out like a bandit. The ISSP's all kinds of embarrassed over it, since it makes them look both corrupt and incompetent, so they're making a big deal out of it. Putting a huge bounty out on the guy so they can 'protect the people from exposure to this highly addictive, illegal drug' or so they say here." Jet pointed at the screen, indicating the appropriate passage. "So we find Kinch and turn him in to them for a big, fat 30 million woolong reward."
Faye nodded. "Okay, so what about this Kinch guy? Do we have any leads on where he's going with the stuff? Is he going to sell it to one of the remaining Syndicates or will he try to line up a different buyer?"
Jet shrugged. "I have no idea, but it says that he was spotted just this morning in Tharsis City on Mars."
Faye's eyes grew wide. "Mars?" she repeated, her voice hardly more than a whisper. "But, we haven't been to Mars since..." She trailed off, not able to finish the sentence. But, of course, Jet knew exactly what she was referring to.
Jet sighed. "It had to happen sooner or later, Faye. You know as well as I do that there are still two large Syndicates operating on Mars, and after what happened to the Red Dragons there will be plenty more coming in to try and claim a piece of the pie, so to speak. Mars is a hot spot. It's literally crawling with bounty heads."
Faye nodded, staring down at her hands. "You're right. It's just another bounty, same as all the others. No big deal."
Now if only she could sound like she really meant that...
Jet took her words at face value, apparently deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth. It had been three months since Spike's death and she couldn't even bring herself to say his name aloud yet, not to mention all the fuss she put up about that damn couch. The fact that she was willing to go back to Mars was almost a miracle.
He hit a few keys on the console before shutting it off. "I sent the bounty data to your ship's computer. We'll be arriving at Mars in about an hour, so you'd better get ready."
Faye nodded and stood up, heading slowly back to her room to change. Once there, she spotted Ein curled up on her bed but she didn't shoo him away. He reminded her of the past, back when things were still good. Or as close to good as her life ever got, at least.
Ein had wandered back into their lives almost a month ago. They'd been searching for a bounty back on Earth, a real small fry but money was tight and they still weren't operating on Mars then. One day, out of the blue, Faye'd been sitting in a cheap bar when she heard what sounded like a dog barking just outside. She'd looked up on instinct and seen a familiar head poking up at the bottom of one of the low windows. He'd been half-starved and in desperate need of a bath, but he'd been alive. Faye found herself worrying about Ed when she didn't find the young hacker anywhere nearby, but there was nothing to be done about it. She'd brought Ein back to the Bebop with her and Jet had, predictably, gone all mother hen on the poor dog. He'd seemed happy to have somebody else to care for aside from just Faye. Faye had just been glad to recover a piece of her past onboard the Bebop, no matter how small.
Stripping off her robe and slippers, Faye pulled out a pair of well-worn jeans and a green t-shirt. The jeans she'd gotten shortly after everything that happened three months ago, the shirt she'd found in Spike's room and claimed as her own. She'd stopped wearing the yellow hot pants and halter-top. They lay in a pile in the bottom of her closet. Faye didn't know why, but it had felt wrong to continue wearing them. It had felt like living in the past. She had to accept that she'd lost that part of her life when Spike walked down the hallway and away from her. He'd gotten himself killed and left her to deal with the fallout. The lunkhead. Now she was trying to build a new life for herself, one where she didn't just steal, gamble and borrow her way along. She wanted a life that she could be proud of. True, bounty hunting wasn't the most noble of professions, but at least now she was pulling her weight. When Jet found a bounty with his ISSP connections, Faye was the one who went out after them. Faye was the one who came stumbling back to the Bebop with cuts, bruises and black eyes most nights. And Jet was always there to fix her up and send her out again.
They had to keep to the smaller bounties most days. After all, Faye was no Spike Spiegel: Danger Boy Extraordinaire. She and Jet played it safe. They went after the ones they knew they could catch, even the small fries. And they did a pretty good job of it most days. They hardly ever had to go without food or fuel, at any rate. Of course, part of that was attributed to the fact that Faye had stopped depositing her share of the rewards at the casino and instead saved it for living expenses and for slowly paying off her massive debts.
And, every so often, they'd go after a really big bounty, like this Kinch guy.
Faye pushed down a surge of nervousness at the thought of today's assignment. 30 million woolongs was a lot of money. In the old days she would have jumped at the chance and even been reckless enough to try and take him down solo so she could have all of the reward without splitting it with the others. But now the thought of the money made her think of why he was worth it. The big bounties were invariably the most trouble. It was as if it was some kind of unwritten law: the amount of money a bounty head was worth was directly proportionate to the amount of trouble it took to catch said bounty head. And now that she was the front man on all the jobs, the thought made her nervous.
She sat down on the edge of her bed and began pulling on her boots. She picked her boot knife up from off the nightstand and tucked it inside her left boot. Ein whimpered in his sleep and she smiled, reaching out to lightly ruffle his fur. Then she stood up and pulled her hair back from her face in a ponytail. She'd let it grow out and it now reached a little bit past her shoulders when she left it down.
Grabbing her gun, she checked to make sure it was fully loaded and then tucked it into the waistband at the back of her jeans. Grabbing the black leather jacket that hung on her closet's doorknob, she slipped it on and checked to make sure the hem of the jacket concealed her gun. Satisfied that it did, she took a deep breath and walked out of her room, heading down the hallway to the hangar to begin pre-flight checks on the Redtail. She was determined to catch this bounty with no problems. Everything would go smoothly, she told herself over and over again. It would be just like clockwork.
Of course, nothing was ever easy for Faye Valentine. And this bounty would be no exception...
When Spike entered the mess hall, he was greeted with the remarkable sight of Ed walking across the table top on her hands, her feet dangling in the air over her head and a bowl of food balanced precariously on her knees. Annie was watching her nervously from where she sat a few seats down the table. Smirking, Spike wandered over to the table and sat down across from the older woman, balancing his chin on his upturned hands and watching Ed with a bemused expression on his face.
It took a little while, but eventually Ed lost her balance and toppled forward. Spike, who'd been expecting this, had already reached out to catch her before she bashed her head in on the table. The bowl of slop went flying into the wall, where it bounced off and fell to the floor, leaving a long streak of white goop in its wake.
Ed shook her head and grinned up at Spike. "Spike-person has good reflexes," she commented, her amber colored eyes twinkling in merriment.
Spike shrugged in reply, sitting Ed back up carefully. "I try."
Ed gave him a jaunty salute and scampered down off the table. "Edward is going now!" she called out in her singsong voice, practically skipping out the door and leaving he and Annie alone in the mess hall.
Spike rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "I'll never understand what goes on in that girl's head sometimes," he remarked.
Annie smiled at him. "Well, that makes two of us, then."
Spike nodded, though his mind was already on other matters. "Annie, I need to ask you for something."
Annie's smile vanished, quickly replaced by her usual all-business expression. "Yes, Spike?"
"I want to go into the Matrix." Before Annie could object, Spike raised a hand to stop her words and plowed on ahead. "I'm already faster in the Construct than everyone else on your crew. I don't need more training, I need first hand experience with the real thing. You know it, and I know it."
"It's too soon. I've never taken someone inside this soon before."
"Well, I'm not like anyone else on your crew, am I? Ginny says that I'm already as good as field operatives with years of hands on experience."
"Why are you asking for this, Spike? We both know it's not because you suddenly had a change of heart and wanted to help us with our mission. What's in this for you?"
Spike gave her a hard look. "If you want me in this operation of yours, you have to trust me."
Annie returned his look with one of her own. "If you want me to trust you, you have to earn that trust."
Spike frowned. "I can't earn your trust if you don't give me a chance."
Annie sighed. "You want to go back, don't you? That's what this is about."
Spike froze. "What?"
"You want to revisit your old life, maybe tell your friends what really happened to you, am I right?"
"So what if I do?" Spike replied, finding himself on the defensive now.
"You can't tell them anything. Anyone who's still plugged in is potentially an Agent. You can't trust them. If an Agent got a hold of you, they could get names and descriptions of every operative on this ship. That information is too valuable to risk just because you've got a slight case of homesickness."
"So what? You get to play God? Pick and choose who gets to know the truth and who has to keep on living a lie? Since when do you have the right to hold that kind of power over others?"
Annie's face was the picture of calm, but her eyes flashed angrily, betraying her true emotions. "I am the captain of this ship! It's my job to ascertain who is best qualified to know the truth." She gave him a pointed look. "Maybe you should consider the fact that there might be a *reason* why I didn't authorize your release from the Matrix. You're far too stubborn and hot headed, reckless, unable to take even the simplest of orders... you are probably the last person I'd choose to join our mission."
"Hey, like you just pointed out, I never asked to be brought into this little quest of yours," Spike pointed out angrily. "I didn't get a choice either way. Therefore, I'm not a member of your crew. You can't tell me what to do. If I want to go in, I will. And you can't stop me."
Annie shrugged. "That's true. But I can tell you this: if you enter the Matrix without my permission, I will unplug your body, no questions asked. Don't assume that I'll be lenient with you just because I'm one of the 'good guys.' If you endanger yourself, you endanger my crew. And I cannot allow that."
Spike's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying that you would murder me in cold blood, Annie?"
She nodded, her eyes grim. "If you force my hand, I will. Never for a moment think that you're irreplaceable, Spike Spiegel."
Spike stood up, his eyes never leaving her face. "Well, at least now we know where we stand," he said coldly. Then he turned and headed for the door.
Her voice made him pause. "I'm sorry it had to come to this."
He shrugged. "So am I." When he began to walk away again, she didn't try to stop him.
When Faye got back to the Bebop, she was a mess. Cuts, bruises and a lovely stab wound in her right thigh to complete the picture. But she and Jet were now 30 million woolongs richer, which made it all worthwhile.
She stumbled into her bedroom, narrowly avoiding her partner in the darkened hallway. She wasn't up for his mother hen routine tonight. All she wanted was to patch up her leg and collapse on her bed.
Grabbing the first aid kit that hung on the wall over her nightstand, Faye quickly stripped out of her jacket, boots and jeans, leaving her clad only in Spike's old t-shirt and a pair of socks. Sitting down gingerly on the edge of the bed, she bit her lip to keep from crying out when she poured some hydrogen peroxide over the wound. It bubbled and hissed as it killed any lingering germs and Faye closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing in and out evenly to block out the pain. After a moment, she set about wrapping it up tightly.
While she was working, the small communicator she'd set down on her desk beeped. Frowning, she quickly finished up with her leg and walked - limped really - over to see who'd left her a message. The name she saw in the sender column nearly made her heart stop in shock.
She blinked and looked again, trying to make sure she was really seeing what she thought she was seeing. Yep. There it was. Plain as day. The name of a ghost.
Clicking on the message with trembling hands, she waited for it to scroll out before her. It was a text-only message that contained one sentence:
"Death is not the end."
And that was when Faye began to scream...
Coming Soon: Chapter 5. Faye doubts her sanity, Jet goes on a crusade and Spike ponders his options.