Lost Dawn & the Box of Dreams
Title: Lost Dawn & the Box of Dreams
Fandom: Outlaw Star
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit gained. This is a fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: An Original Cast
Summary: The crew of the Lost Dawn mostly handle simple courier jobs, if 'simple' involves getting shot at on a daily basis and needing a high speed grappler ship to get things done right. Delivering a stolen family relic back to its rightful owners shouldn't be too difficult, should it? Too bad it's on the most-wanted list of every shady businessman and pirate with enough resources to go after it. And too bad for them they're going up against Myra Z and the Lost Dawn.
Notes: This was a story that popped into my head back in 2002 or so, long before I started writing fanfiction. It took ten years to find a reason to actually write it (Robot Big Bang), but here it is. Lovingly set in the Outlaw Star universe, but unfortunately without cameos.
Striped knee socks, a gift from Noelle. Leggings, black, bought in semi-bulk at the last station to replace the last set which were going to be cut down into rags the next time they had time to kill in space. A dress, rich red brocade with embroidered herons, similar to the one in the Jiang Conglomerate's logo. And two metal braces, one for each leg that ran from just below the knees on down.
There. Slow. Steady.
Myra Z stretched, no longer having to concentrate on balancing and staying close to the bed in the hotel room she'd rented.
"How are you doing, JQ?" she called towards the bathroom. "It's nearly time."
"Fine," a carefully modulated voice replied. "You are welcome to come inspect me."
"I will," Myra Z said as she looped around the wall that hid the bathroom from the rest of the hotel room. It was one of her least favorite bits of design, and it rarely seemed unchanged even when she requested rooms that were supposed to allow her a greater range of access.
But it wasn't more than a millisecond of thought. Not when she had to immediately appraise JQ. Dark dress pants were fine, and smart boots. The same shop that Myra Z had found her own dress in had also carried similar shirts, and she'd gotten JQ one in a similar pattern but in a different color. JQ was wearing a rich purple, and she looked downright stunning, except...
"How can you fly an entire ship by yourself and yet not figure out how to brush your hair?" Myra Z asked her, frowning and shaking her head.
"I am a ship," JQ told her. "I was not programmed to require... brushing."
"Here..." Myra Z grabbed a brush from the counter and gestured for JQ to come over to her. "I'll do it for you. And once this job is done, you can go back to something a little less traditional."
JQ gave her a little nod before stepping over to Myra Z and then carefully kneeling. Myra Z could hear the tiny hisses of hydraulics from within JQ's frame, but didn't comment. Hopefully she could pass her companion off as a cyborg and not AI. The Jiang Conglomerate were leaders in AI, after all, and JQ was not one of theirs. And the last thing Myra Z wanted to do was insult potential customers. Though... she was fairly sure that this wasn't an employment interview - this was a job.
The last year had been good for the Lost Dawn. They'd earned a strong reputation for being reliable couriers able to handle whatever was thrown at them, which was all Myra Z had ever really wanted for the team. There were bigger jobs, of course, and ones that crossed lines she had no interest in crossing, but she stuck with what she could do. She could deliver things and she could do it well.
"That dress looks far better on you than this shirt does on me," JQ commented as Myra Z worked to get JQ's synthetic hair laying flat.
"I beg to disagree," Myra Z replied. "That's a good look for you. And if we have time, I'd like to get back to that shop and get things for Terra, Kyralin and Noelle. If they haven't already found it and spent their advance wages, I mean..."
"I could attempt to contact them," JQ offered.
"No... Let them enjoy a little stress-free shopping." Myra Z finished and set the brush aside. "There. It's pretty good."
JQ got to her feet and appraised herself in the mirror. "It's flat," she noted, but didn't elaborate. "I could have done that."
"I don't think I could put it up like mine without any plating or screws showing," Myra Z admitted, before gesturing to her own up-do, which was pinned with four gilded chopsticks with red beads hanging from the thick ends. It was keeping her hair, a long and thick mix of black and red, back from her face and would allow her to move quickly if she needed to. Not that she was hoping to have to. But she knew things happened and she also knew that desperate thugs never hesitated to grab for what they could Ė hair included.
Myra Z ambled out of the bathroom, slipping on her black sneakers and grabbing her purse. The sneakers ruined the overall look, she knew, but she didn't have much of a choice.
"Got your gun?" JQ questioned.
Myra Z held up the purse and smiled.
The headquarters of the Jiang Conglomerate was only a few blocks away from the hotel, rising high into the sky more stories than Myra Z wanted to count in a single glance. For the first time since the initial meeting request, she wondered if the job wasn't too big for the Lost Dawn. Too big for her. The Jiang Conglomerate had to have their own fleet of ships, after all. Why would the Lost Dawn be called in?
Though... she supposed she'd be finding out quickly.
One of her rules -- well, one of the Lost Dawn's rules -- was that the cargo wasn't to be questioned. If she was handed a locked box, it stayed locked. But as for the reason why, well, this time she thought she'd be asking. Personal curiosity, and the need for personal safety, was going to get the better of her.
She strode in and up to the reception desk, JQ just behind her. The lobby was large and stretched around them on all sides - gold and mirrors and dangling crystal chandeliers. This wasn't the usual sort of place Myra Z found herself.
"May I help you?" the receptionist questioned, looking up from a bank of video screens. Flanking her, against an artificial wall that probably hid a bank of elevators, stood a pair of men in black suits with black sunglasses. Classy thugs, if nothing else.
"Myra Z and JQ here from the Lost Dawn," Myra Z said quietly, keeping her gaze on the receptionist and her attendants. Looking around too much would simply make her look like she was out of her element. And she had to play cool until she knew what was really going on.
"This way," one of the men said, stepping forward and giving a little gesture that they should follow him.
Instead of heading to what was indeed a camouflaged bank of elevators, the man guided them deeper into the building. JQ reached to touch Myra Z's arm, and when Myra Z glanced back, she could tell JQ wasn't pleased about the situation.
Myra Z gave a little tap back -- everything is okay -- and kept going. They were rewarded by a rear elevator, activated by a keycard pulled out of the thug's jacket pocket, that bypassed all the middle floors and went straight to the top of the building.
The thug didn't say anything, so neither did Myra Z, even as the elevator began to ascend. There was no point in small talk or trying to get information. Myra Z wasn't even sure what sort of information she wanted and she knew he had her out-armed and out-classed as far as combat skill went.
There was another, classier thug waiting outside the elevator. This one might even have qualified as a bodyguard.
"Master Jiang is waiting for you," he said, gesturing that they should in turn follow him.
"Thank you," Myra Z said with the tiniest hint of a smile as she could manage. She was trying to relax, but she couldn't help going through mental exercises as far as every way out of the building, alive, if something went wrong. If anything, the last year had been good. But she'd also learned to trust less and plan more.
Silently, they were shown into an ornate office filled with antiquities and artwork. Myra Z couldn't help a small gasp. Yes, the Jiang Conglomerate was wealthy, but she hadn't expected to see it flaunted in such an astounding way.
The man behind the desk, middle-aged and greying, stood and smiled.
"Welcome, Myra," he said. Myra Z said nothing about the missed second part of her name. She never mentioned it was optional, but most people assumed it was.
Myra Z gave a tiny bow and thankfully JQ followed her lead.
"It is an honor," Myra Z replied after a moment.
"The honor is mine," the man continued. "Or perhaps, the honor belongs to another, and that is why I have called you here."
Myra Z frowned. "I don't understand, sir."
"Yong Jiang," the man said. "Forgive my lack of manners - I do not often have such stunning young women in my presence these days."
Very much doubting the truth of that statement, Myra Z remained silent and waited for Jiang to continue.
"The Jiang Conglomerate has grown exponentially over the last few centuries," Jiang continued, walking around his desk and making his way to a bookcase. "However, I only recently found out its recipe for success. It was not hard work or fortuitous timing, as I'd always believed."
"Forgive me, Master Jiang," Myra Z began, only to have him shake his head at her.
"Ah, but the story continues," he said as he pulled a rather plain wooden box from the shelf. "Last year, when my father passed the business on to me, he told me of the secret of the Jiang Conglomerate's success."
There was a table, low, between the desk and where Myra Z and JQ stood. Carefully, Jiang placed the box on the table and then settled to sit on his knees, waiting.
As quickly as she could, Myra Z joined him and then tried not to wince at the hydraulics in JQ's own joints.
"This is the secret of the Jiang Family," Jiang said before opening the box. At first, all Myra Z could see was fabric, brocade not unlike the dress she'd bought, though much finer and with a perfect pattern of flowers.
Jiang was slow and careful with his movements, unwrapping the precious treasure inside. Myra Z held her breath until it was fully revealed. Metal, tarnished and dented, it seemed to be two gods twined together.
"It is the lucky treasure of the Yao Family," Jiang explained. "Their business is about to fail, the tail end of a downward spiral since we stole this relic from them centuries ago."
"What does this have to do with us?" Myra Z questioned. Just knowing such a thing existed, if it had any particular power, now put her in danger.
Jiang smiled. "I want you to take it back to them."
Blinking a few times, Myra Z couldn't help a stutter. "T--take it back to them?"
"Yes," Jiang said with a nod. "Perhaps in a few hundred years we'll need to steal it back again, but for now, I feel it should be returned. Obviously, it is very powerful and very important, and I fear for anyone attempting to deliver -- they may get ideas to steal it and become powerful themselves."
"That's why you called us in?" Myra Z questioned. It would have been a thousand times easier to just be delivering a box, but... Well, the last year had been good. There was no temptation to steal this rather... ugly little relic.
"You have an excellent reputation," Jiang noted. "And I am willing to offer quadruple your usual rate for the safe delivery of this item to the current head of the Yao family, Jie Yao."
"Half up front, send the details encrypted through the same channel you sent your request," Myra Z said with a terse nod. "Shall we take it with us today?"
"Yes," Jiang replied as he wrapped the relic back into the brocade and closed the box lid, securing it with a single latch. "And I thank you, Myra, on behalf of generations past and future."
Myra Z gestured for JQ to take the box and silently, she did.
"We'll get the job done," Myra Z said, getting carefully to her feet and only reaching to steady herself on JQ once. "And we'll see ourselves out."
Once they were in the hallway, Myra Z glanced at the box and shook her head. "That looks oddly like the one I got you yesterday to put your extra power cord in..."
JQ held up the box and then offered it to Myra Z.
"Price has gone up a few wong since he bought his," Myra Z mused as she looked at the faded price sticker and then handed it back.
What had she gotten herself into?
"We're going to need a lot of supplies," Myra Z noted, looking over the details of the job. "Three weeks in space. Three weeks! Couldn't they just live in the next sector over?"
"Three weeks isn't terrible," Terra noted as she sorted through the day's purchases on Myra Z's hotel room bed. "And that's counting in three stops, along with all the space between jumps."
Myra Z nodded as she watched Terra. There didn't look to be many useful things amongst Terra's purchases, which were spread around a pair of wooden boxes on the bed. Incense and video chips and little stuffed animals and things from what had to be every vending machine Terra had passed. She held in a sigh. Terra was Terra and there was nothing anyone could do about that.
"Those..." Myra Z said with a headshake, pointing at the boxes.
"Apparently very popular to hold valuables," Terra replied. "I don't know how - they don't even lock. So maybe more like a kid's trading card collection or something. I got talked into two just because they'll fit in my lockers and keep things from floating around when we leave."
Myra Z sighed. Not only was the family relic just a step above pot-metal, but it was being kept in a tourist-trap box. If Kyralin hadn't already confirmed that they'd been paid, Myra Z would have assumed they'd been had.
"Isn't this just darling?" Terra questioned, holding up a purple stuffed bunny. "I just couldn't help myself."
Aside from her penchant for cute things, Terra was an amazing fighter and weapon's expert, for the times they needed someone who really knew how to handle anything thrown at them. She was tall, strong, and unforgiving.
"What purpose does it serve?" JQ questioned from across the room. She had changed back into her usual 'uniform' of a tank top and flared miniskirt. It didn't hide that she was wholly artificial, but it did let her move without binding.
"It's cute," Terra replied, sticking out her tongue before tucking the bunny down her shirt for storage. "I mean, I got bullets too, and ordered things for the ship, but that's not as interesting. I can get bullets anywhere."
"We'll probably get attacked tonight," Myra Z said after a long moment. "We were seen leaving the Jiang Building with a box we didn't arrive with. It would be best to store our cargo in the ship."
"I'll take it over," Terra offered. "Kyralin is probably already there and Noelle..."
"Noelle hasn't checked in," JQ noted. "She is not currently performing any maintenance functions, and..."
"I'm sure she's fine," Myra Z interjected. "She probably found somewhere to gamble and is trying to make a little pin money. It's fine."
"It's Noelle." She knew her tone was flat, but Noelle could take care of herself. Always could. And needed her own time and space, besides. They all did. But they all made a good team, too.
"It would be better if we all went," JQ decided. "Any robbers tonight will be split between the hotel and the ship, which will make them easier to handle."
"Are you sure?" Terra questioned. "I'd rather get 'em all in one place and maybe they'll take each other out."
"The cargo will be safer in the ship," Myra Z confirmed. "And I suppose we could just stay there for the evening, as much as I hate sleeping on board when there's no need to."
"Should I take that as an insult?" JQ asked.
"Maybe." Myra Z sank into the lone easy chair the room provided and wished she could kick off her braces and relax. But the day was far from over and she knew she had a lot more work to do.
"This is ridiculous!" Myra Z complained as the brace on her right leg connected with the jaw of a black-clad man as she attempted to make her way out of the hotel.
She had the box in one arm, tight against her chest, and was relying on Terra for most of the heavy hitting. Still, she could hold her own. And aside from keeping her upright, her braces were good for keeping others on the ground.
"I think the whole planet knows you have that thing. And wants it," Terra added. Each of her fists connected with torsos, and two more bodies slumped to the ground.
"Anything from JQ?" Myra Z asked.
Terra shook her head and then touched the earpiece she had buried under her unruly hair. "Nothing. Bet they're having the same sort of fun, though."
"I think sleep is far more fun than this," Myra Z corrected. At least there weren't any more robbers jumping out at them. She paused and took a deep breath before gesturing at the box. "Maybe I should have left this in the ship, though, instead of feinting it there."
"It wasn't a bad strategy," Terra said. "When you're ready, we'll run for the car."
"Car," Terra replied. "We're getting paid enough that I figured I could rent a car for the night."
"We're not getting near it," Myra Z replied. "It'll probably blow up."
"You can't walk all the way there."
"I'll run." Myra Z wasn't going to let petty thugs take her down. Nor her own body. But she couldn't imagine any car they attempted to hire not blowing sky high or at least having the brakes disabled. The brakes were actually a better choice - no risk of toasting the box that way. Blood could be cleaned off. Ashes were forever.
They were through the lobby, which was surprisingly dark.
Each one of them managed to take down one of the last pair of thugs - Terra with her fist, Myra Z with a swift kick.
Terra opened the doors to the outside world and frowned. "The car's gone."
"Well, no way to know if the brakes were cut or it was wired," Myra Z said. The road wasn't wholly deserted, but it didn't look safe. "We'll have to run."
"Fine," Terra said, reaching for Myra Z's hand.
Together, they ran, Myra Z being half pulled along by Terra. There was no time to run out of breath or feel fatigue.
A blue car zoomed out from a side street and came to a stop in front of them. Without thinking, Myra Z had her gun drawn. Affording Terra a quick glance, she saw that Terra had done the same.
The driver's window, deeply tinted, rolled down slowly.
"Fuck," Myra Z said, shaking head as she saw the driver. "Not you too."
"Get in," the driver replied. "I don't want your treasure. Not yet, at least."
"Myra Z?" Terra questioned.
"Trust him," Myra Z ordered. The car doors unlocked and Myra Z grabbed for the back door handle and let herself in. In a swift motion, Terra jumped over the car and landed on the passenger side, grabbing for the front passenger door and sliding in beside the driver.
"Flattered." Long, blond hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, and Myra Z was all too familiar with the blue eyes hidden behind tinted sunglasses.
"What are you doing here, Pearce?" Terra questioned as the car started moving. Myra Z could see her posture relax a little though, which was good.
"Admittedly, I am curious about whatever I'm guessing is in that box," Pearce said, flashing a smile in the rearview mirror, which now also contained three black cars without headlights. "I'm sure that's what half this traffic is. They probably don't even know what you're carrying, just that you're carrying it for the Jiang Family."
"Nothing as exciting as you might think," Myra Z replied, settling the box onto her lap. "Will you drive us to the port?"
"Of course. But you'll owe me, Myra Z." Pearce's tone was flirty, something Myra Z didn't miss. They had a bit of a habit of running into each other, which Myra Z could only chalk up to the universe being both cruel and kind. He was the leader of a team of mercenaries - far more deadly than the average outlaw and also in demand. He and his crew had made names for themselves, too.
"So that makes, what, one less you owe her?" Terra questioned before laughing.
"I don't keep books," Pearce noted.
"I do," Terra replied firmly. She still had her gun in hand.
"I wish I'd gotten you first," Pearce said, smiling at Terra. Myra Z didn't miss that tiny detail. She also didn't care. For as enjoyable as her professional and private relationships with Pearce were, she also knew better than to get any more attached than she already was.
"I'd break you," Terra noted.
Myra Z smiled, but it was only temporary.
Then the first storm of bullets hit the car.
"Get down!" Terra cried, turning to push Myra Z to safety.
But not even a single crack appeared in the rear window.
"Bulletproof," Pearce replied before he could be asked. "And no, not because I thought I'd be picking up sweet and pretty couriers tonight. I was here for another job and decided to keep the car for another couple of days."
"Do I even want to know?" Myra Z asked, peeking up and back through the rear window as one of the cars, thwarted, turned off.
"Let's just say if I hadn't taken care of my job, you might have another group pursuing you," Pearce said. "But Abby and I made short work of our target."
"Thank you, then," Myra Z said, before slumping in her seat. "Any ideas to shake the last two?"
"How about I just get you two to port and then I'll take care of them?" Pearce suggested. "I was paid well for my job, and we're friends, aren't we?"
Terra turned to look at Myra Z.
"Do I even want to know why he owes you so many favors?" she questioned.
Myra Z shook her head.
"Many long stories," Pearce added. "Another time."
"No," Myra Z replied. "I don't think so. No."
The rest of the car ride was quiet, aside from one of the following cars attempting to ram them but being shunted off into the side of a building. Myra Z couldn't even categorize that as exciting - not when Pearce was involved. After all, they went way back.
Or at least as 'way back' as someone could have at twenty-six.
"That takes care of that," Terra declared as she lowered herself back into the car and handed a gun back to Pearce. Myra Z could see the glow from the fireball that used to be the last car that had been tailing them.
The Lost Dawn was in sight, and Myra Z was grateful. With luck, this would be the worst part of the trip. But... Myra Z would be the first to admit that she was rarely lucky, but instead, just very persistent.
It looked like there had been a battle. Definitely time to get off-world and fast, Myra Z thought as she surveyed the port. Hopefully the bill could be pinned on Jiang. This just wasn't her fault at all, even if some of the damage was very obviously from Kyralin's magic.
"Looks like everyone had a little fun," Pearce said with a chuckle as he pulled the car close alongside the ship. "Wish I could stay, but..."
"Our paths will cross again," Myra Z said quickly, before scooping the box back up and reaching for the door handle.
Before she could get the door open, however, Pearce was out and getting it for her. She didn't complain about that, or the hand he offered. Or the quick shot he got off at one thug that was trying to crawl toward them.
She got the next one, blowing a gun out of the thug's hand.
Pearce kissed her. Myra Z didn't pull away. But Terra cleared her throat, loudly, and Myra Z knew her time was up. They'd see each other again, before long. They always did.
"Take care," Pearce said softly.
"Don't die," Myra Z replied, before pulling herself away and joining Terra in a quick sprint to the stair-set and catwalk that would get the up to the nearest hatch. The ship had to be nearly ready to go - just waiting for them. Surely, the port authority would have allowed them to speed up their launch timing in exchange for them just getting the heck out of there.
"Took you two long enough," JQ's voice was scolding when they got the hatch closed. "And was that Pearce down there?"
"He saved our bacon," Terra said quickly. "Even if his methods are... Unfortunate."
"He did save our bacon," Myra Z admitted. "We'll have to save his again to get even."
"But isn't the current debt currently at..."
"Doesn't matter," Myra Z interjected. "I want him to owe me the entire universe before I die."
"Why?" Terra questioned. They both grabbed for a rail as the ship's engines fired. "Hang on..."
Terra scooped Myra Z up, without complaint, and quickly scooted them both to the bridge.
"Then we'll be even," Myra Z said quietly as Terra deposited her in the captain's seat.
"Hmmm?" Terra flipped over to her own chair and buckled in. "Are we good for launch?"
"All clear," JQ commented. Her body had plugged into her chair, and she was fully in control of the ship. Kyralin was settled into her seat and Noelle was feigning boredom by filing her nails.
"You missed a good fight," Noelle said with a little laugh.
"We had one too," Myra Z replied. "Pearce helped."
"At least you weren't fighting against him," Kyralin commented. "That will be the end of the world."
"Clear for launch," JQ reminded them, pulling up screens all around them.
"Transfer launch timing," Myra Z said quickly. She tucked the box underneath her seat and took control of the ship. "Ten seconds. Let's get off this planet and hopefully somewhere where we aren't getting shot at."
She hoped Pearce was safe.
"Terra," she said as she fired the last set of thrusters and the Lost Dawn began to move away from its docking. "He brought me to space, you know."
"Go to bed, Myra Z."
"Not yet," Myra Z replied, opening her eyes and staring up at Kyralin. "Soon. I just..."
"We're safely in sub-ether and I had JQ scan for trackers. We're good," Kyralin said firmly. "Noelle and I are good for a shift."
"I wasn't sleeping."
"Of course you weren't."
"Maybe a little," Myra Z admitted. She'd been sleeping, yes, and dreaming about being young. About running freely. About Pearce and shooting pain. Had she cried out? Maybe that was why Kyralin had nudged her.
"I checked out that crest, by the way. It's benign," Kyralin said, looking out towards the bow of the Lost Dawn. "If there's any magic in it, it's purely in the mind of whoever possesses it."
"Isn't that the best kind?" Myra Z asked, stretching a bit. They hadn't been in sub-ether for long - Kyralin was still fully clothed. It was the obvious tell of Kyralin's - the farther out they got, the less she wore. Robes over robes, to a bodysuit to just pieces, and eventually skin and grafts and scars and runes.
"Yes," Kyralin replied with a wolfish smile, turning a bit. "Though... I worry less about letting it slip into the wrong hands, I have to admit. If it were truly a holy artifact of some sort, well..."
"Job is a job. It's a holy artifact to Jiang and Yao," Myra Z replied. "Besides - we're the only ones who know it's just a battered chunk of metal in a poorly-made souvenir box. And we're the only ones who need to know."
"So now it's a box of dreams?" Noelle questioned from her console. "I can get behind that."
"Box of dreams," Kyralin echoed with a little nod. "I like that."
She reached to pull off her outermost layer, a gauzy shawl, and set it on her own console chair.
"Myra Z, go to bed."
"I'll sleep here," Myra Z replied. Part of her wanted to stay on the bridge a bit longer. And also her right leg was screaming at her and even without artificial gravity, she doubted she could get to her room with any grace or ease and she'd relied on everyone else far too much already. "Just a bit longer."
"Your pride," Kyralin said with a headshake before grabbing her shawl and tucking it over Myra Z.
Myra Z didn't respond. Kyralin settled to work.
"Asteroid field ahead, then we can jump back into drive," JQ announced as the ship slowed.
"Radar, sensors, scans?" Myra Z asked quickly.
"Working on it," JQ replied, disembodied over the ship's PA. Her remote body was still working, but silently.
"Let's do this jump in peace," Myra Z muttered. She was in less pain now, and once they got back into a sub-ether drive, she'd be able to slink off to her quarters and wash up, change, and go to sleep properly. Sleeping in her chair wasn't doing her any favors, she had to admit.
"Three ships in range," JQ announced. "Stationary, look to be navigating as well. One is Space Forces, other two are unknowns."
"Registered. One is cargo, one is repair," JQ continued. "Do you have any idea what I have to cross-reference to find out these things?"
"Yes," Myra Z replied. "And you know that."
"Go to bed, Myra Z," JQ said. "I'll handle the bridge and the jump back to sub-ether."
"Fine..." Myra Z carefully got to her feet, trying to hide a bit of a lingering twinge. Noelle seemed to be watching her though, poised to grab.
But she was fine.
"Keep an eye on the box under my chair," she told Noelle.
"No problem, Captain," she said, smiling. "Hope you don't mind if I peek, though. Even if it's all in my head, maybe it'll help me on my way."
"The payment from delivering it will help you on your way," JQ noted. "And no peeking. We aren't being paid to peek."
"True," Noelle replied, sighing. Myra Z turned in the doorway of the bridge to watch Noelle for a minute. The last year had been a year of unending change, along with good fortune. Slowly, Noelle was getting the body she'd always wanted, even though it mostly involved turning herself into a cyborg. But she would get to be who she always felt she should be.
Myra Z turned, closing the door behind herself as she went and then grabbing for a rail to propel herself along in the weightlessness of the ship. This was when she was free.
Someday she knew she'd have to go through with it - someday she would trade her bone and muscle for metal and synthetics. But not yet. Not when she could move like this.
Free in space.
When she got to her quarters, she peeled off the dress and pulled on a sleep shirt from a spaceport she didn't even remember visiting. Off came the braces, tucked into a locker where they couldn't move around. And, twirling once under her own power on the way, she settled on the bed to pull off leggings and socks.
Yes, she had marks. Nearly permanent now. Lotion and creams didn't help. The leggings hid a lot. Skirts hid a lot. The braces distracted.
But it had been a very good year. That was the important part.
She settled to sleep, though she didn't fully drift off til she felt the lurch of the jump into sub-ether space.
"You know..." Noelle began as the Lost Dawn jumped into the last drive cycle before their first station stop...
"If you're going to say anything about it suddenly being 'too quiet', I'm throwing you out the airlock," Terra interjected.
"Noelle is right, though," Myra Z commented. "They're probably waiting til we stop for fuel and supplies, which is what we'd be doing if we were trying to ambush someone. We've gotten through worse than this. We just need to make sure the cargo stays safe."
"Leave that to me," JQ commented from the ship's PA. "Though I will come up with some alternate routes to the next station if this stop proves to be troublesome."
"Not a bad idea," Myra Z said. She'd been reading up on their destination - Celo V - since she'd never been there and thought that maybe, with their handsome reward, they could see about a bit of a vacation.
"Noelle," JQ said suddenly, "I have a slightly-out-of-parameter reading on Engine Three. Can you go take a look?"
"Yeah, I see it," Noelle replied quickly as she flipped through screen after screen. "Do we need to drop speed?"
"Not yet," JQ said. "But any repairs might require us to come to a complete halt."
"It can't be that bad," Kyralin stated with a little headshake. She was down to just her bodysuit, something that pleased Myra Z. She was certainly moving around easier.
"Yeah, no sense thinking it's something other than a clogged cooling line," Noelle said. "We didn't exactly get a whole flush and fill in with people shooting at us."
She swung out of her seat and tagged Myra Z on the way by.
"No need for you to get up," Noelle said firmly. "I've got this."
"I've got this!" Myra Z cried. "Scatter the camera pods and let me do my thing."
"I have secondary defense," Terra declared.
"Camera pods scattering," JQ said. "Switching to full grappler mode. Shields up."
"Performance," Noelle noted. "And hoping we don't die."
"Tsii." Kyralin closed her eyes, concentrating. Myra Z hadn't ever asked the details about Kyralin's power, nor did she want to. Kyralin did her thing and she did it well. Besides, she had other things to worry about, like the deep green ship that had just ordered them to hand over their cargo.
"Opposing craft has also deployed camera pods," JQ noted. "Are you ready?"
"Ready," Myra Z noted, finalizing her grip on the controls. Her legs were working fine, and she could steer using the foot pedals if she needed to. It was a good day in her body, and would be even more so once these jerks were out of her way and they could get to sub-ether space.
The green ship moved first, swinging a grappler arm to try to grab the Lost Dawn. Myra Z was quick, though, intercepting. She tried to grab for the wrist, to disable it, but caught the hand instead. A deadlock. She hoped to be quicker with the other, but a deadlock there, too.
"Missiles?" Terra asked.
"Missiles," Myra Z replied. "No more than thirty percent."
Myra Z saw the missiles firing, saw them do nowhere near enough damage, aside from one that clipped the green ship's left grappler arm. It hesitated with its grip a bit, giving Myra Z a chance to slam the Lost Dawn's own arm against it, before grabbing the wrist and twisting in a conscious action until it snapped. Small shorts rippled through the arm. It was no longer a threat.
And there was no saving the green ship's other arm. Myra Z tore it in half before the green ship could retaliate.
"Recall camera pods," Myra Z ordered as the ship started to retreat.
"But..." JQ began.
"It wasn't anything more than a test," Myra Z noted. "There's a bigger fish out there that sent it as a sacrifice."
"She's right," Kyralin said softly, breaking her stance and exhaling. "I can feel it."
"We'll have to make sure we're prepared," Noelle noted.
"Fifteen minutes til sub-ether drive can engage," JQ informed them. "Until then, I do recommend remaining in grappler mode."
"Agreed," Myra Z said, even though she pulled her hands back from the triggers and relaxed. "JQ, take over the controls unless we come under fire."
"Are you okay, Myra Z?" Kyralin questioned, getting out of her seat and heading over. "If you're having trouble."
"No," Myra Z said quickly. She felt fine. Everything was fine. She just didn't want to be on standby. She didn't want to be chased and have to fight -- normally this was what she thrived on, but it didn't feel right.
Something didn't feel right at all.
She moved her feet back, too, and her heel bumped something. The box.
There was no way... Kyralin had said it was harmless and just a chunk of metal. Besides...
The sooner that box and its contents were off the Lost Dawn, the better.
"Are you sure this thing isn't cursed?" Myra Z questioned as they walked through the Spaceport Desshia. She had the box in a shopping bag and was toting it along, since the ship was currently docked for major repairs. They'd blown an engine on approach and were turning an overnight stay into an extended vacation.
"I'm sure," Kyralin said, shaking her head. "Are you sure it's safe to just carry around like that?"
"It's not staying in the Lost Dawn," Myra Z replied. "Not with a bunch of Spaceport mechanics poking it over."
"That engine was giving us trouble a month ago," JQ reminded them. "This is not a surprise and you cannot blame it on that family heirloom."
"I can if I want to," Myra Z said, frowning. "Not that I am. I'm just saying that strange things happen around it."
"It's supposed to bring good luck, anyway," Kyralin noted. "You can't blame it for uneasy feelings or bad luck. It's supposed to bring good fortune."
"Fine," Myra Z grumbled. They were already two days behind schedule, though they hadn't been attacked yet, at least. In fact, Desshia was startlingly quiet. "Bring on the good luck."
Pearce was waiting at their hotel.
"Ladies," he said with a smile, giving a formal little bow.
"What brings you here?" Kyralin questioned.
"Unrelated business," Pearce replied curtly. "It was a surprise to see the Lost Dawn listed in the port registry. However, it is fortuitous."
"Oh?" Myra Z frowned at him.
"Well, I did take out a handful of unfriendly ships on the way in -- marked as pirates and the bit of chatter I caught did include the name 'Jiang'," Pearce explained with a little shrug.
As much as she wanted to give him a piece of her mind for interfering, Myra Z couldn't bring herself to do it.
"We're not even," she said. But she was quite happy to not have had to deal with the bigger fish she'd predicted.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Pearce replied. "Might let you buy me and mine dinner, though. We're just passing through, after all, and haven't been paid for our job yet."
"I can handle dinner," Myra Z said with a smile. "Even after replacing an engine."
"It's been giving us trouble for months," JQ added, which made Myra Z sigh. Pearce did not need to know they'd been flying around with an engine about to fail.
"On and off," Kyralin said quickly. "Mostly off. Except for our approach, when it failed entirely. There was no way of knowing."
"That's usually how they go," Pearce said with a nod. "Tiny bit of warning that didn't seem like warning at all. I lost a grappler arm that way at the worst possible time."
"Myra Z saved me that time," Pearce interrupted her as he stepped over to put an arm around her. It... didn't feel bad. And they weren't working against each other and it would only be for the night. As friends. Not... attached like that. Not this time...
"Myra Z doesn't tell stories about her time with you," Kyralin said flatly.
"Dinner!" Pearce declared.
Myra Z had no idea how the damned relic wasn't bad luck all around.
Somehow, they all ended up one of the nicer restaurants on Desshia, drinking and eating long past Myra Z had thought they'd be able to. The entire crews of both ships were present, including JQ and a portable datalink to Carroway, the Golden Valkyrie's ship computer. At least Myra Z didn't have to feed either of them, which was a bonus.
She'd rather forgotten than Mason, Pearce's newest recruit, was a Ctarl Ctarl. But... she could afford it. Fighting through multiple waves of pirates while short an engine would not have been fun at all. Or... it would have been fun if she'd been in the mood for it. Which she just hadn't been.
"Pearce told me I've missed all the fun," Abbey, Pearce's second-in-command and navigator, said, leaning over into Myra Z's personal space. "Disappointing, really. Though not unexpected. You two..."
"Friends," Myra Z noted. "And... I'm good with my crew, just like Pearce is good with all of you. But I won't complain about having to work together, if it ever comes up."
"Good," Pearce interjected from Myra Z's other side. Somehow she'd ended up between them, but it wasn't bad. Like old times, she supposed.
He handed her a drink and she took it, a little surprised at how strong it was. But she wasn't worried. The cargo was safe - the box was safe in the ship and she had the store bag with her, filled with a handful of random things when no one was looking. It was a good ploy, though she wasn't entirely sure it would work at all.
It wasn't entirely fair to hedge her bets on her opponents being dumb. But it helped.
"Again?" Kyralin grumbled, before pulling herself into a sharp stance.
"The bag," one of the pirates said, holding out a hand. "The bag and we'll let you live."
"I disbelieve," Noelle replied, shaking her head. She and Myra Z each reached for their guns. They hadn't entirely stopped paying attention to their surroundings; it was just that going from a bustling part of the city to a deserted area filled with pirates had happened exceptionally quickly. Two steps and...
"Tsii Maa..." Kyralin flicked out a wrist in a blur of color and movement and Myra Z could have sworn that she saw the wave flicker into extant space.
A second later, the entire pack of pirates went down and stayed.
Slowly, Noelle lowered her gun and took a few steps over to them.
"I think they're still alive," she managed. "What did you do, Kyralin?"
"I..." Kyralin was staring at her hand a little blankly. "It always depends on the planet or where we are. I'm just a terminal and Desshia..."
"Good job," Myra Z said quickly, lowering her own gun. One of the pirates tried to move but didn't get far. A moment later, one started to try to crawl away.
She tried to ignore the spiderwebs of cracks on the nearby buildings and how almost everything else - debris and whatnot - in range was literally flattened.
"Yeah..." Kyralin flexed her fingers and smiled. "Okay. I think I'm in charge of both offense and defense this time around."
"I am now infinitely glad I'm on your side," Noelle said, shaking her head. "I doubt that's something anyone can actually learn to do, but... I don't suppose you could try to give me a few lessons?"
Kyralin laughed. "I guess we could try. After this job is over. I doubt Myra Z wants us busting up the ship when you turn out to be a natural talent or something."
They looked at one another. Myra Z sighed. And then they all started laughing.
At least the decoy bag was safe. Myra Z had swapped out the contents again, to fix the weight a bit in case anyone was really watching how she carried it.
"If you stick around just a few days longer, I can follow you in. You'll be safe."
"We'll be fine," Myra Z told Pearce, before carefully reaching to brush a bit of his blond hair back behind his ear. "We need to keep going and already, you've been ignoring your own job to help me."
"You'd do the same," Pearce noted. Myra Z sighed. She couldn't deny it. Every time then ran into one another, every time...
Something in Myra Z's purse beeped and she absently reached for it, missed, and shifted to snag it.
"Ignore it," Pearce instructed.
"I already know what it is," Myra Z replied as she sat up and reeled in the bag. "Engine is done and we're good to go. They've been giving me as much time as they could."
"So you're going to go?" This time, Pearce's hand was in Myra Z's hair and she couldn't hold in a little happy sigh as he let his blunt nails catch her scalp. "I could keep you..."
"Neither of us can keep the other," Myra Z noted as she pulled away fully and pushed the sheets down so she could swing her legs down to the hotel room floor. "That's how we keep ending up like this."
"I thought it was because..." Pearce sucked in his breath as Myra Z stood. Her hair was down and while she didn't feel especially attractive, well... "Myra..."
"Ship. Engine. Done. Job," Myra Z said, watching him as she bent to pick up her clothing. He wasn't doing anything to hide his own nudity, despite the edge of the sheet being right there. And as much as she would have liked to spend the rest of the night with him, side-activities and other enjoyments were only for killing time, not for extending the length of a paying job.
"Nothing will convince you, will it?"
"No," Myra Z replied as she started to get dressed. At least it was a fairly basic outfit, nothing complicated, which had helped Pearce get it off of her quite quickly. "And you know that. We've been through this more times..."
Pearce chuckled and finally fixed the sheets. "I know. And sometimes it's me running off in the middle of the night. But you understand..."
"And so do you," Myra Z noted. Socks, underwear, cargo pants... "Which is why we're still friends after all these years."
"That's what I'd call it," she stretched. They certainly weren't lovers, or anything complex like that. Entangled, perhaps, but that was due to their past together. As friends. Crewmates.
Bra, shirt, shoes, purse.
"Take care, Myra Z," Pearce said softly.
"You too," Myra Z replied, leaning back over the bed to give him one last kiss. "You still owe me, after all."
Not a single member of the crew commented on her hair.
"So... factoring in the engine... How much are we actually making on this job?" Myra Z asked as Noelle slipped onto the bridge for her shift.
"It's not as bad as you're thinking," Noelle replied. A few taps on her keypad and a list of numbers popped up on the screen. "We drained the savings we had for ship repairs, but there wasn't that much in there anyway. If you're not too concerned with replacing it this second..."
"How about ammunition?" Myra Z interjected.
"Less than expected," Noelle said. A few more taps and the numbers adjusted again. "So if I replace half of the reserve, because I did get the other engines thoroughly checked, restock ammo and then pay everyone their wage... Well, after expenses and everything else. "
The numbers readjusted again.
Myra Z swallowed hard.
"That's... a negative number," she said softly.
"Until we add in the rest of our payment from Jiang," Noelle noted. The sum now displaying was quite nice.
"That's after the engine?" Myra Z managed. "And everything?"
"Should be," Noelle noted. "Next job needs a line in the contract about expenses, though. We ran a little high this time because of station stops and we couldn't have tacked on an entire engine, but..."
"Yeah, I know," Myra Z managed. That number was still higher than she was expecting. It was beautiful. "I just didn't think we'd need to since the base rate was so high."
"Engines..." Noelle shook her head.
"I can hear you," JQ noted from inside the ship. Her mobile drone was still, however.
"Ships!" Noelle shouted back before laughing.
Myra Z couldn't help laughing as well.
"No one is blaming anyone for that engine," she said, shaking her head. "Engines happen. At least it was only one and we had three more to run on. Not like..."
She caught herself, but not before Noelle could give her a very curious look.
"The Captain almost told something about herself..."
Myra Z chuckled. "Back when Pearce first hauled me up into the stars, we were running in a single-engine ship and it died. Security forces picked us up a few days later, but it was... illuminating. I would prefer to never have to go through that again."
Truthfully, it hadn't been that bad. At least not for herself or Pearce. Some of the rest of the crew had gotten feisty, but it hadn't been as bad as it could have been. But she'd be damned if she ever owned a single-engine ship of her own.
And she felt good again. Desshia had fixed her. Time with Pearce and with her crew and just... relaxing a bit between having to drop gangs of pirates had fixed her. The last year had been good, but it had been long. She'd lost a bit of herself in there.
Myra Z smiled. She'd gotten it back. And the idea of a vacation on Celo V was looking better and better.
"Commence docking," JQ said. "Myra Z, timing and controls are all you."
"Gonna set 'er down softer than you've ever felt it," Myra Z said with a smirk. She felt good. Really good. Either she was getting her spark back, or she was just thrilled that this job was over. Possibly a little of both. The Golden Valkyrie had been left behind on Desshia, to do whatever they needed to do, and she had Yao's artifact still safe in the ship.
"I'll be the judge of that," Noelle commented. She closed her eyes and waited, and Myra Z did indeed do her best, though there was a tiny bump at the end that marred what would have otherwise been a textbook perfect landing.
"Not bad," Kyralin said. "It's not like we've ever landed on Celo V before."
"Gravity is slightly above normal," JQ noted. "That would account for the bump, as well as adding to potential abnormalities while completing the mission."
"I'm going to get tired and cranky?" Myra Z questioned. She'd been there. It wasn't fun. But she wasn't going to let a little extra gravity get her down.
"I think JQ was trying not to say that," Noelle replied with a laugh. "But letís not linger... JQ, can you complete negotiations for our stay while we get out of here?"
"I can, Noelle," JQ said. "I'll be accompanying Myra Z to our final destination, though you're all welcome."
"I just want to be down and out, but I'll stay near the ship," Noelle said with a headshake. "Want to check the externals on that new engine now that we're somewhere with a proper atmosphere."
"That would be nice," JQ agreed. "I'll assist you later."
"Dammit!" Myra Z yelled, trying to run, grab for JQ and fire her gun all at the same time. She managed to thrust the bag into JQ's hands and get a couple of quick shots off at the thugs who'd started tailing them a box previous.
"Give us the bag!" one yelled, jumping far farther and faster than a normal human should have been able. A cyborg. Myra Z winced. There was far too much gravity for her to effectively deal with a cyborg.
"JQ!" Myra managed. She fired again, and caught one of the thugs in the ankle. He went down, but Myra Z didn't want to keep firing. They'd gotten into a more crowded area and she knew her shots weren't making their marks.
"Got it covered," JQ replied, swinging the bag behind her and then brought a leg up nail the cyborg in the midsection. "This won't be easy."
"As if it's ever easy," Myra Z commented. She passed behind JQ, snagged the bag and made it a couple of steps before...
The entire street going all funny and sideways and before Myra Z could right herself and retaliate against the third thug, she went down. The bag vanished from her grip and despite her best efforts...
JQ was there a moment later, helping her to her feet.
"Dammit," Myra Z said softly, watching the men escaping into the crowd. She blinked back wetness from her eyes, as much frustration as anything, though there was screaming pain from her ankle as well. "Dammit... So close..."
"What do you want to do?" JQ asked. Myra Z was not at all ashamed to lean on JQ for a moment before catching sight of her gun where it had landed. There was a crowd gathering and she quickly stashed it back into her purse before anyone said anything.
Myra Z sighed and looked up at the building they'd ended up in front of.
"We go in," Myra Z said. She sucked in her breath. "Well... First..."
She reached down into her bag and pulled out a small box and flicked it open, revealing a tiny switch.
Myra Z gave JQ a little look before flipping it.
It wasn't a terribly large explosion, but a moment later, Myra Z could see the smoke a few blocks away.
"After you," she said, gesturing.
"I'm alerting the others that they might still be attacked," JQ said quickly as she headed towards the large, automatic glass doors of the Yao Building. "After all... We now officially aren't carrying the cargo."
"As if I'd take it from where it's safe in the ship and carry it around in a shopping bag..." Myra Z shook her head and followed. She flicked the detonator box into the garbage can just inside the entry and couldn't help a little chuckle. She definitely felt good.
"M-May I help you?" the receptionist asked quickly, getting to her feet. Apparently she'd seen the whole show.
"Myra Z and JQ from the Lost Dawn to see Mr. Yao on behalf of Mr. Jiang," Myra Z replied. She reached to rest a hand as casually as she could, though really she needed the support while checking to see if she'd torn her dress at all. But it looked fine, thankfully.
"Of course!" The receptionist blinked a couple of times. "Top floor. Mr. Yao is awaiting your arrival."
She seemed happy to be rid of them and seemed to wilt in her seat a bit once they headed back towards a pair of elevators. The building was nowhere near as extravagant as the Jiang Conglomerate's headquarters, but Myra Z hadn't been expecting that. Yao's building was much more modest, and perhaps more appropriate for a business slowly dwindling.
The elevator rose to the top of the building quickly and a smiling man not too much older than Myra Z met them at the elevator doors.
"Myra!" he cried, reaching for Myra Z's hands. "I had heard you were a true beauty, but you outshine even your reputation!"
Myra Z blinked. She rather hoped this wasn't Yao.
"Forgive me! I've just been so excited... I'm Jie Yao and even since Jiang contacted me about returning the family treasure, everything has been so good..."
Myra Z blinked again. She hadn't so much as looked at a newsfeed in the last couple of weeks.
"In fact, our new product has been such a smashing success that I could probably buy Jiang!" Yao cried.
"But you don't even have the item yet," JQ noted.
"I know!" Yao managed. "How wonderful it will be to have it in my hands, though... I heard there was some trouble on the way in?"
"I took care of it," Myra Z said firmly. "You don't need to worry. Your item has been safe in our ship this entire time."
"In your ship?" Yao questioned. "You didn't bring it?" He looked a little irritated, but Myra Z quickly shook her head.
"Can we go into your office?" Myra Z said. "I need to explain something..."
Yao didn't look terribly pleased about that. He winced, and before Myra Z said anything else, she reached into her purse, pulled out her gun and set it onto a glass-topped table beside the elevator doors.
"Better?" she questioned. "It's a small purse. I only have room for one. And JQ isn't armed at present."
"Fine," Yao said after a moment of looking from Myra Z to her purse to her gun. "Follow me."
The inside of Yao's office was slightly more ornate than the rest of the building, though still far from Jiang's. Paintings of the last centuries of Yao's hung on the walls, and the current head of the company looked almost identical to his ancestors. Though considering that Yao's company worked with cybernetics and AI... Myra Z couldn't help a curious little smile before giving JQ a tiny little wave.
JQ nodded and started unbuttoning her shirt. Myra Z stepped back to make sure the door was thoroughly closed behind them.
"What are you--?" Yao's eyes went wide and Myra Z just chuckled.
"Your cargo," JQ said as she undid the last button and pulled her shirt open. Underneath the silky brocade was detail-free pale plastic, and JQ quickly pushed and unlatched a hinge.
"You're..." Yao shook his head and started laughing.
"JQ is my ship's computer, who also happens to have a mobile terminal," Myra Z explained. "Your cargo has been safe inside my ship."
"Brilliant!" Yao exclaimed, clapping his hands.
"A little awkward at times," JQ replied, reaching into her abdomen and pulling out the aged wooden box. "A very tight fit, to be honest."
"JQ..." Myra Z took the box from her and then handed it to Yao.
"So many years..." Yao set the box down on the back of a leather sofa and opened it carefully. JQ closed her chest and started re-buttoning while Yao pulled out the silk-wrapped bundle and began unwrapping.
Still snuggled inside was the unimpressive piece of metal. But apparently it worked, so Myra Z couldn't fault it. She'd gotten her spark back. Yao had his business back. And...
She watched as Jie Yao unwrapped the relic and held it up.
"This is truly our great family treasure," he said, tears forming at the corners of his eyes and dropping his voice. "That the Jiang Family would really return it is such a grand gesture. I don't know how ever to thank them for righting a wrong committed so long ago."
About to suggest that perhaps he send a nice thank you message, Myra Z was cut off by Jie Yao continuing...
"I wish to return it to Jiang," he said with a wide smile. "Whatever he paid you, I will pay you double."
Myra Z looked to JQ and tried not to wince.
"Let me discuss this with my partner," Myra Z said quickly, before pulling JQ out to the hall.
"We'll just have to hire on the Golden Valkyrie as backup," JQ suggested. "But it is leaving great riches in its wake. Even enough to buy me a replacement cord box for the one that you just blew up."
"Well, we will be back that way..." Myra Z shook her head. "Though do you really want something that looks just like a box half the galaxy will kill for?"
"It was fortuitous that I had one to switch out in the elevator the first time around," JQ reminded her. "Besides, my extra power cable is certainly as important..."
Myra Z sighed. But... it would be another chance to wear the dress. And really, it was a very nice dress.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!