Another Time, Another Place
Show me what it's like
To be the last one standing
And teach me wrong from right
And I'll show you what I can be
Say it for me
Say it to me
And I'll leave this life behind me
Say it if it's worth saving me
The drone of the vidscreen alerted him to the fact that he had fallen asleep in front of it. It had been a few days since his last job, and he was tired of waiting. Normally, the jobs came in fast and furious, leaving him little time to dwell on anything except for the basics of living: eat, shower, sleep, play pool, sleep. Having too much idle time was driving him a little insane, and for a fleeting moment, he regretted that the Swordfish was housed on Earth instead of with him here on Mars. Even his familiar prostrate position on the couch was beginning to annoy him.
From the window came the sound of rain pelting heavily against the glass. He hated rain. He could hear the murmur of voices, the squeak of mattress springs from the apartment next to his through the paper-thin walls. He knew what was coming next; he turned up the volume on the vidscreen to muffle the sound, and reached down beside the couch to pick up the paperback book that lay on the floor.
Spike opened his book and looked at the yellowed cover wearily. On the cover was a picture of a tall, long-legged kid with a lopsided grin and the clear eyes of a dreamer. The picture reminded him of a younger version of himself, long ago. He closed the book and picked up the pack of cigarettes lying on the coffee table.
He picked up the cigarette pack lying on the coffee table, groaning when he opened the box to find it empty. He stood up slowly, stretching his long limbs into action and walked into the kitchen. He picked up his shirt from the chair and shrugged into it, leaving the buttons undone. His eyes scanned the room, lighting on the faded Bruce Lee poster taped on the wall.
He trudged down the hallway to the bathroom. He clicked on the light, relieved himself, aiming a line across the rim of the bowl in a moment of childish play. He walked slowly back into the living room to finish getting dressed, lost in thought.
There is one thing I will never understand … ...and that one thing....is women. I love them like I love meat in my bell peppers. They smell good. They look nice, they sound nice. They feel nice … but I don't understand them.
His thoughts were interrupted by the ring of the communicator. He picked it up from the coffee table and looked at the screen as Ronald's face came into view.
“Got something for you.”
Spike listened impassively as Ronald gave him the rundown.
“Two hundred million.”
Spike pondered for a moment the high figure. The job would be more difficult than the usual ones. Not that he really cared, it wasn't as if he really needed the money, he had more than enough money already that he didn't use. And he was starting to believe that nothing could kill him.
“So, you in?”
He disconnected the call. He trudged into the kitchen to grab his jacket hanging over the kitchen chair. He donned the jacket, checking his pockets for his keys before letting himself out of the apartment. He needed to replenish his nicotine.
As he headed down the darkened hallway towards the stairwell, Wanda, the young girl who lived in the apartment a couple of doors down from his, was coming in the opposite direction. She almost bumped into him, but she stopped short.
“Hey, Spike.” She leaned up against the wall, eyeing him. Her dark brown hair was freshly spiked and adorned with purple streaks.
“Yo.” Spike glanced down at her. She was wearing a tank top and short leather skirt that were so tight he couldn't figure out how she could even breathe. Kind of reminded him of someone else.
You're prowlin' around kinda late, aren't you?” She gave him a sultry smile.
“Guess so,” he mumbled. “Needed smokes.”
Wanda extended her arm, offering him her pack.
“Thanks.” He took one from her pack and handed them back to her.
He reached into his pocket for a light. He had long since misplaced his lighter, and he suspected that it was now in the possession of one Faye Valentine. A match flared along the side of a red matchbook as he lit the cigarette, the yellow light flashing metallic silver through his cybernetic eye, making him look dark and menacing.
“Want some company?” she asked seductively, ignoring the look. She had been trying in a variety of ways, to get into his pants. A few times he had been tempted to take her up on her offer, to erase the memory of the last time he'd been with a woman.
He realized that he had been staring. He shook his head and pulled his eyes away, looking down at the cigarette in his hand.
“Nah,” he said. “Got things to do.”
“Too bad.” Wanda smiled. “I could show you a real good time.”
“Some other time maybe,” he said as he dropped the spent cigarette to the ground, crushing it beneath his boot. As he turned to walk away, he felt her hand on his arm. He whirled around and snatched her wrist roughly as he slammed her against the wall.
“Don't ever touch me,” he said furiously, his eyes blazing.
Wanda's eyes widened in fear at his sudden violence. He let go of her abruptly and turned around, heading back towards the entrance to the stairwell. He pulled open the door and started quickly down the stairs and outside into the rain, another cigarette clenched between his teeth and the smell of Wanda's fear up his nostrils.
* * *
By the time Spike reached the Glowing Sun, his jacket was soaked, and his fresh pack of cigarettes were sodden, putting him in a foul mood. He headed to the bar and sat down, waiting for the bartender, who was down at the other end of the bar chatting with a couple of regulars. Finally Ronald came down to him.
“Yeah. Any messages?”
Ronald shook his head and went to shake up the martini.
Spike swallowed his disappointment and glanced around the room. In addition to the regulars, there were a number of unfamiliar faces, which usually indicated that some syndicate activity was in progress. Now he knew that the reason behind the quiet of the past few days – the calm before a brewing storm.
Ronald returned and set down his drink on the bar. Spike furtively slid the white sheet of paper from under the glass, palming it in his first. He took a long sip from the glass while reading the contents of the note, then looked at Ronald and nodded. Ronald acknowledged his assent and disappeared momentarily to the storeroom. When he returned he looked at Spike, who drained his glass and asked for a refill.
* * *
After his third drink, Spike stood up.
“You heading out?” Ronald called.
“Yeah,” Spike responded, sliding his arms into his jacket. “Later.” He waved a greeting as he headed out the door.
He stopped under the archway to light his cigarette. The rain fell in pelting sheets, casting a dreary gloom over the city. He leaned against the overhang as he watched the people rushing past, protected by umbrellas threatening to spear whoever got too close, others with their jackets over the heads as an ineffective shield against the soaking rain.
He took a deep drag and exhaled, trying to shake off his melancholy. In the back of his mind he had hoped that maybe, just maybe, she would be sitting at the bar with her legs crossed, sipping her drink and pretending not to know that every set of eyes was on her.
He was angry with himself for believing that this time there would be a message from her. But it had already been six months, and it was becoming pretty obvious that she had meant every word she'd said to him. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jacket and headed towards home.
The past is the past, and nothing that has already happened can be changed.
The only thing left for him to do was to forget the past and move on. But he could not imagine what the rest of his life would be without the things with which he was familiar
A world without the Red Dragons family.
A world without the woman of his dreams, before the dream turned to ashes.
A world without the second chance at life that he had thrown away in a moment of weakness.
In the distance the roar of a heavy engine broke through his thoughts. He looked up to see a heavy armored ship pierce through the clouds of the heavy atmosphere. He squinted, trying to make out the lettering on the hull.
He didn't want to remember what had happened between them.
He wondered if she would have come looking for him if she had known the type of person that he turned into. That he had always been.
He had seen it in her eyes. She saw him for what he was, a cold and unfeeling, cruel monster, and with every accusation he found himself shutting down by degrees; it had taken every ounce of concentration to keep his uncaring mask in place.
And then out of frustration, probably from his seeming lack of caring, she had cried, silent tears that never fell. For the second time since he'd known her, he'd driven her to tears. The first time was when he'd walked away from the Bebop, sure never to see the ship or his comrades ever again in this life. This time, though … Spike shifted his position against the doorway as a familiar feeling welled up inside of him, a vague itch just out of reach, and he struggled to keep it buried.
Goddamn that woman, he thought, brutally crushing out his cigarette with the tip of his boot.
He immediately pulled out another and with shaking fingers lit up and smoked furiously, using the smoke to keep his throat from closing up. From deep within, the familiar feeling reached the surface, and he was assaulted with the feeling of being alone in the world, when he was too young to even reach the top of the counter at Annie's shop. It was Annie who had rescued him then when he had no one else in the universe to turn to.
He wondered who could save him now.
another gun for hire and just another day
when you are done, you just abuse it, whatever you say
if you were offered some, would you wanna bite the hand?
would you betray a friend to prove you're cold then walk away?
* * *
A few days later, preparations complete, he was back on the streets of Tharsis, following up on a tip that would lead him to his target.
Dr. Nathan Swami, head surgeon of one the largest biotech firms on Mars, headquartered in
He reached the Destitute Fish Tavern, jammed between a porno theater and an electronics shop. There was a meanness about the place, even in the buzz of the blinking neon sign, bright red in the shape of a carnivorous fish. Spike paused for a moment, his eyes scanning over the motorcycles parked in front of the place. No one in Tharsis could afford bikes, especially ones as big as these were, unless they were independently rich or employed by the syndicates. He grinned to himself. He was in the right place.
The bike owners were big, husky men, and they were wearing black jackets that identified them as members of the White Triad gang. They looked up from their beers as he walked inside.
The music was blaringly loud, pounding heavily from the ceiling mounted speakers, and on a small stage a thin blonde girl in a G-string gyrated mechanically to the beat. A few other patrons watched the girl as the topless waitresses wandered around with trays of beers. Spike went to the bar, where the bartender, an emaciated man with scarred skin was pouring a new pitcher of brews. He stared at him warily as Spike slid onto a stool.
“Give me a draft beer.”
The bartender silently lifted a mug from the shelf and set it under the tap, waiting as it filled to the top.
“I'm looking for someone,” Spike said.
“You're in the wrong joint,” the bartender answered. “Nobody knows nothing here. Try the Rusty Nail, over on
Spike scowled impatiently. “I'm looking for a man who might have come in here earlier.”
“I serve beer and liquor, not lonely-hearts-club news. Take a hike, buddy.”
Spike looked down at the bar counter where a bowl full of Destitute Fish matchbooks sat, and he reached in to pocket a few. He reached into his pocket to pull out a digitized picture of a pale skinned, dark haired man who looked to be in his late forties. “Have you seen anybody who---”
A hand grasped his shoulder and swung him around. Two of the bikers had crowded in behind him as the others watched from their table. The dancer on the stage had paused in her dancing to watch. A brown-bearded face with cruel blue eyes and wearing a necklace of rusty razor blades, peered into Spike's face. Spike eyed him impassively.
Great, another wiseass, he thought to himself. This was supposed to be a quick trip out, to get a cold beer and a little info so that he could get back to his pointless life. He had no patience for idiots who tried to push their weight around ... it was time to let him know who was in control here.
“Go play in someone else's sandbox,” he said in a bored tone, but he kept his eyes on the biker's friends.
The biker took a menacing step towards him. “And if I don't?”
Spike looked around, his eyes stopping at a table where a drunk was sitting surrounded by empty beer mugs. “Excuse me,” he said and lifted an empty mug off the table. Then he cocked his arm back, took aim, and called out, “Hey, Bikerman!”
The biker's head swiveled toward him, eyes flashing with anger.
Spike threw the beer mug, and it sailed through the air. The biker lifted his hand to ward it off, but he was too late. The mug hit him between the eyes, didn't shatter but made a satisfying clunking sound against his skull. He took two steps forward and one step back, his eyes rolled to show the bloodshot whites, and he fell like a tree trunk.
“Sonofabitch!” one of the bikers friends said as he watched his friend fall. Then his face darkened like a storm cloud and he started toward Spike with two other bikers right behind him.
Spike stood firm and relaxed, his hands at his sides. He was itching to kick some ass and flow like water through the goons in front of him. He let them get within ten feet, and then he said in a calm voice, “Are you ready to join your friend?”
The one with the brown beard stopped as if he'd run into an invisible wall. One of the others ran into him and bounced off. “Huh?”
The other man stared at it and blinked uncertainly. “Who...who the hell are you?”
“I've heard of you before, haven't I?”
“Yes,” Spike answered, a look of quiet menace on his face. “You probably have.”
One of the bikers whispered something in his ear, and the man frowned slightly before stepping back and following his friends out the front door.
As the sounds of their roaring motorcycles faded away, Spike glanced at the bartender who was wiping down the counter, his face blank. Spike smirked and walked over to the bar and picked up his mug of beer. He took a long sip, wiping the froth from his lip with his tongue before setting the mug back down.
“I've seen him. The guy you're after.”
Spike abruptly stopped and turned to face the bartender.
“He was in here maybe two, three hours ago.”
“Do you know where he works?”
“Gabba Rocks Corporation, over on the other side of the freeway. He comes in here a couple of times a week.” He stopped wiping and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “What do you want with him?”
Spike picked up the mug of beer and finished it up. He knew about men like Swami,
“Thanks for the scoop.” He started toward the door with a wave of his hand.
Spike left the tavern and started walking east along the boulevard. The cabstand was just ahead, and a cab was there, engine running. A kid in jeans and a black leather jacket leaned against the hood; he was rail-thin, his head shaved bald displaying a tattoo in the shape of an ankh on his scalp.
“You've got a fare, kid,” he said, sliding his long legs in. “Move it!”
The kid said, “I'm waiting for---”
“Your wait's over,” Spike interrupted. “Come on, I don't have all night.”
The kid shrugged, his eyes vacant and disinterested, and got behind the wheel. As soon as Spike was in, the kid shot away from the curb with a shriek of burning rubber and entered the flow of the westbound traffic.
“I want to go to the Gabba Rocks Corporation,” Spike told him. “You know where that is?”
“Well, you're going the wrong way. And start your meter, unless I'm going to ride for free.”
“Oh, yeah.” He pressed the start button and the mechanism started ticking. “You want to go east, huh?” he asked. And without warning he spun the wheel violently, throwing Spike up against the cab's side, and the vehicle careened in a tight U-turn that narrowly missed a collision with another taxi. Horns blared and tires screeched, but the kid swerved into the eastbound lane without a care. Spike heard the whine of a siren and glanced back.
“Real smart move kid,” he sighed. “You just got an escort.”
The kid looked in the rearview mirror and shrugged.
“Lose him,” Spike told him impatiently.
The kid laughed. “You got it.” The cab surged ahead as the cabbie floored the gas, and Spike was pressed to the seat from the velocity, holding onto the door handle for leverage.
“Excellent.” He grinned to himself.
* * *
Spike could see the sign for the Gabba Rocks Corporation up ahead.
“Stop here,” he commanded.
The car skidded to a halt a block away from the building. Spike handed his money card over, and the cabbie's eyes widened when he saw the amount that he was being paid.
“Hey man, thanks,” he said, handing Spike the card.
Spike got out, slamming the door shut. The cab sped off, burning rubber.
He headed towards the building, every fiber in his body on alert as he surveyed the area. He estimated that he would make it to the building in about four minutes. He glanced over at the other side of the street, looking for tell tale signs of the bodyguards that would be fanned out across the area, a wide scan of protection for his target. He laughed to himself, knowing that all the body guards in the world would not be able to protect the target from him.
Spike's ears perked up as he surveyed the odd number of black-suited men in dark glasses. His face expressionless, he slowed his pace and casually pulled out his pack of cigarettes, lighting the end as his cybernetic eye recorded the positions of each one of them. He played out the moves in his mind as he smoked. The suit covering flank was a huge brute, but, judging by the way he stood, seemed to be slightly favoring his left side, which Spike surmised from a previous injury.
As he got closer, the first of the bodyguards walked towards him, something shining silver in his hand. Spike braced himself as the knife flashed up in his face, and he blocked, stumbling slightly as a fist swung into his face, landing hard on his jaw. His head snapped back and he saw stars, tasting blood in his mouth. His fury aroused, he lunged for the man's throat, his knee snapping up into his groin.
Fifteen minutes later, he had taken down all five of them, and as he stepped over their bodies, he couldn't help but feel contempt for these goons and those like them who blindly followed the orders of their organization without question.
He walked through the lobby of the building towards the receptionist, rubbing his sore jaw ruefully.
“How may I assist you?” the girl asked, a crimson blush on her cheeks as Spike smiled at her.
“I have an appointment at two with Dr Swami,” he told her, leaning against the desk as he waited for her to respond.
She frowned as she looked down at her appointment book entries.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Spiegel, but I don't see your name in the book.
Spike cocked his head to the side and leaned forward to rest his arms on the desk. “That's odd, Nathan said that he would fit me in at two. I'm sure he's expecting me.” He gave the girl a puzzled smile.
The receptionist looked up at him doubtfully. “Well, if you're sure … “ She reached below the desk to buzz him in.
Spike smiled at her. “Thanks, love.” He strode purposefully to the double doors that led to Dr. Swami's office.
A few short minutes, he was leaving the office. He calmly removed the silencer from the gun and replaced them both in his jacket. He walked out to the receptionist, waving a goodbye as he left the building.
* * *
Spike pulled his jacket closer as he walked down the crowded street through the throngs of people revving up for an evening of partying. Spike recalled once being part of such a crowd, when he and other young and fearless associates would spend the night drinking and partying after a troublesome or bloody mission. It was during that time that he'd discovered the magic curing properties of the Prairie Oyster.
The noise and lights of
Out of the corner of his eye a flash of yellow and he turned quickly to look. A woman dressed in a yellow sundress and holding the hand of a little girl passed him. For a split second he had expected someone else, a woman in a tiny yellow outfit with a brazen attitude. It surprised him to realize that he was disappointed that it wasn't her.
I need you to forgive me.
He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and fumbled in his jacket for his pack, his hands shaking slightly as he lifted one out with his lips. He gripped the Zippo tightly as he held the flame to the cigarette. He inhaled fiercely and held his breath for a few seconds longer than necessary before letting out the smoke. He refused to believe that the burning in his eyes had to do with anything other than the smoke from his cigarette.
I miss you.