Darling amatia, I'm so sorry this took so long to finish. I hope it was worth the wait. <3
Title: So, You Want to Be A...
Fandom: Afflection RPF AU
For: Happy new year, amatia.
Note: This never happened, although if it did? I'd be buying tickets!
So, You Want to Be A...
Some days, when the crew were happy, and Jen's ship, the Elektra, was gliding through space like a stingray--sleek, graceful, and dangerous--being a starship Captain was better than any haul of treasure. On those days, Jen felt so at peace with herself it was like a minor deity for scoundrels had reached down and touched her forehead, murmuring, wish granted.
Reece's blonde hair was streaked with dark, scungy-green goo and her hands were jabbing through the air in a way that had Jen taking a wary half-step backwards.
"Yes, I am a miracle worker," Reece said, not a trace of boasting in her voice, "but even I need something to perform my miracles with! There are only so many ways I can cannibalize parts before the engine will stop producing forward momentum and start being a very expensive piece of surrealist art. Frankly, we reached that point twenty light-years ago. The only things keeping us going right now are my genius, spit and luck--mostly luck--and even with a Phoenix or two on board, luck won't last forever." And then, without Jen even seeing her move, Reece was right up in Jen's personal space, gripping the front of her jacket with two goo-covered hands. Every plane of Reece's expressive face was threatening horrific reprisals. "I need parts, Captain. Get me the parts!"
"I will," Jen promised, trying for a soothing tone. "Have I ever let you down?"
Reece's eyes narrowed.
"Summer's already working on it," Jen said quickly, starting to sweat, just a little.
The silence between them stretched worryingly, and Jen could feel the muscle beneath her left eye begin to twitch. She opened her mouth to try another more fervent promise of parts, soon, but before she could speak Reece's zapper was in her hand--the laser bolt already fired before Jen registered the movement--and on the other side of the engine room the body of one of the stowaway marsh-rats they'd picked up on planet Greenlight thudded to the deck, a perfect laser hole drilled through its forehead. The faint smell of charred fur wafted over to them before the air-scrubbers could suck it away.
"I hate those things," Reece said, spinning the zapper twice before reholstering it.
"Yeah. Me too." Jen backed up a step and jabbed her thumb over her shoulder. "I have to go, you know, consult with Summer. About the parts."
Reece nodded. "Cards later?"
"Sure," Jen said, beating a hasty retreat. As she stepped through the door, Reece flashed over to the other side of the room--so fast all Jen saw was a blur of colour--and nudged the dead marsh rat with her boot.
As Jen raised her hand to press the chime, the doors to Summer's cabin swished open to reveal Summer lounging on her bed, surrounded by pillows in greens and golds, the velcro holding them in place carefully concealed from view. Her eyes were dark and drew Jen in until she found herself sprawled on the bed shoulder-to-shoulder, Summer's skin a warm gift of friendship against Jen's side, her sweet-salt scent as familiar as Jen's own.
Summer's cabin always smelled like the beach. It was neat and uncluttered, everything in its place--in case gravity failed--but the walls were covered in well-attached, autumn-coloured hangings, picked up from various of their more exotic adventures, and somehow they gave the flavour of a boudoir without actually looking anything like one.
Jen breathed deeply and settled in. "What a day. Reece just--"
"Scared the crap out of you." Summer looked amused.
"Understatement of the year. She did that thing." Jen shaped her hand into a pretend gun and fired it across the cabin at her least-favourite hanging--an abstract montage that always made her think, uneasily, of a robotic orgy. "That killing-stuff-faster-than-I-can-see thing. She's still mostly playing around. I think. But seriously, Summer, I know we can't afford to go back into Commonwealth Space yet, but we really, really need to--"
"Go on a mission and get some supplies."
Jen might not be psychic like some people, but the way Summer said it pinged her regular non-psychic radar anyway. "You've got something?"
Summer pressed the button on the holo projector, bringing up a lurid promo shot of a man, a woman, a robot and a nuke, superimposed over a hurtling asteroid, while above their heads zoomed the 3-D title, APOCALYPSE III.
It had been a long time since Jen had bothered to watch a holo, so if there was some obvious subtext in the picture, she wasn't getting it. Like osmosis, her skepticism and confusion passed skin-to-skin, from her arm to Summer's; it was a useful side-effect of Summer's talent, not true telepathy on Jen's part, but it was as close as she was ever going to get.
Summer rolled her eyes and pointed at the holo's naked-chested hero. "If you ever bothered to watch the news at all, you'd know that Ben Affleck was kidnapped a few months ago. There's a reward for his return. A big one."
And now that Summer had pointed it out, Jen did vaguely remember hearing something about that; at the time she'd thought it was probably a publicity stunt. "Your mojo found him? Where is he?"
"You're going to love this!" Summer banished the hologram and brought up a star map, arrowing in on a small moon located just outside Commonwealth space-lanes.
"Wait," said Jen, staring at the star map, "that's not..."
Summer nodded, something about the arch of her neck revealing her smugness. "Olin's Bordello."
Jen leaned over and pressed a noisy, smacking kiss on Summer's cheek. "I love you so much right now! I hate that place. I've wanted to kick that woman's ass for so long!"
"And now you have a good excuse. But that's not even the best part."
"It gets better than kicking my nemesis' ass?"
With a flick of her hand Summer called up a promo brochure for the Bordello, complete with a group picture of several pretty men, who were wearing nothing but a few scraps of gold cloth in strategic places. "Think about it. They won't just wheel out Affleck for blow-ins like us. We're going to need an inside man to find him."
An inside man... and there was really only one contender for the job amongst Elektra's crew. Jen pictured him dressed in the tiny outfit typically worn by a pleasure slave... She slapped a hand over her mouth, attempting to hold in the squeal, but one look at the gleeful expression on Summer's face and she lost it.
Between giggles, Jen managed, "He's going to kill us."
"Yes he is. With the fiery hatred of a thousand suns," Summer agreed, looking, for just a moment, like pure evil made flesh. "And I call dibs on being the one to tell him."
"My hatred for you burns with the fire of a thousand suns," said Joaquin, wriggling in his bucket seat as he tried vainly to pull the tiny gold shorts out of his ass crack. "Why do I have to do this anyway? Affleck's for sale. Just buy him for a session. Then we can snatch him."
They were in the shuttle, heading down to the Bordello's landing pad, Jen driving, Summer riding shotgun, Joaquin and Damon in the back.
Summer had swivelled her chair around, and was looking Joaquin over critically. "Madam Olin isn't going to hand over her prized pet just because we ask nicely. He's reserved for her special clients. Besides, you look very... fetching."
"A thousand suns going supernova."
"But gold lamé is so you," Summer said.
Joaquin gave up trying to dig out his shorts and sat back in his chair. "Why does everything suddenly look red? Oh, yes. That would be the killing rage, then. I wonder how many times I could wrap this mesh shirt around your neck before you die?" He tugged at it thoughtfully. "It has a lot of give."
From the corner of her eye, Jen saw Damon tense, subtly moving into Action-Mode.
Summer must have noticed too, because she said, sweetly, "Good going, bro, you've made the killer robot twitchy."
"Good. Maybe he can give me some pointers."
"I'm not a killer robot." Damon narrowed his eyes at Summer as though he wished he were a killer robot. Maybe one with laser vision. "I'm a Guardian. I used deadly force once. Once. On a mass-murdering psychopath who was going to torture his way through both the Bourne and Bagger systems. But does anyone ever let me forget it? No."
Summer and Joaquin shared one of their freaky psychic looks.
"Here's a thought," Summer murmured to Jen. "Maybe we shouldn't take the Guardian to the brothel run by the psychopathic, brainwashing, sex-slave dealing madam."
"I can hear you," Damon said, crossing his arms.
"Here's another thought," Jen replied. "We're space pirates about to pull a job. Perhaps this isn't the moment to be casting ethical stones. Especially at the person we're trusting to watch our backs while in the presence of a psychopath."
"Ha!" said Damon.
"Fine." Summer stuck her tongue out at him.
"Are we there yet?" Joaquin asked, fiddling with his shorts again. "I need to go to the bathroom and I hate using the one on the shuttle."
Jen resisted the urge to bang her head against the control console.
Sinister (But Cool) Villain
The aspect of the plan that had worried Jen most had been the possibility that Olin would recognize her, despite the state-of-the-art artificial face she was wearing. But it seemed that the brochure's promise of client anonymity was real, because the only scan Damon had registered had been a cross-spectrum weapon check, and then they'd been ushered straight into the Bordello's atrium.
The atrium's decor was a typical example of money over taste. It was situated inside an enormous crater, easily the size of a ska-ball field, and overhead the dome filtered and enhanced the starscape, the view visibly shifting due to the small moon's rapid rotation. The crater's entire south wall was covered in a waterfall--the cost of which had Jen reluctantly impressed--and at its foot was a jewel-green swimming pool, surrounded by real, sweet-smelling flowering plants. Several patrons and their companions were frolicking there, blurred from view by some kind of localized smart-shielding. The noise of the falls was also dulled to an almost subliminal whisper.
They were shown to a small alcove, and Summer and Joaquin let out identical huffs of pleasure as they sank into the blissfully comfortable body-form chairs. Jen was hard pressed not to do the same. She perched on the edge of her own chair, trying to stay alert, as a bevy of waiters descended and efficiently plied them with drinks and snacks. Damon's silent presence behind her was reassuring, but even though they'd all taken a broad-spectrum drug filter Jen didn't risk trying the drink she was given.
There was an audible crunch as Joaquin bit into one of the delicate, lotus-shaped morsels on the complimentary hors d'oeuvre tray. "Mmmmm," he said, making a show of licking his fingers. Summer, who was also playing it safe, looked on with palpable envy.
"I do like to see men enjoying their food," Olin said, appearing at their alcove without warning. "Welcome to the Bordello." She smiled politely and waved at them to stay seated as she took the chair at foot of the coffee table. Her hair was twisted up in a smooth chignon, and she was wearing a tailored black pant-suit that was easily the most stylish outfit Jen had ever seen. Olin didn't bother to introduce herself, or ask for their aliases. Instead, she looked Joaquin over from head to foot as he self-consciously chewed and swallowed his mouthful. "Are you here for business or pleasure?"
"Business, mainly. We were hoping to, um..." Jen waved her drink at Joaquin, realizing she'd never actually sold anyone before.
Olin picked up the conversational thread with the ease of long practice. "I'm not sure I can use him. Non gene-scan births are so unusual these days." She tapped her top lip with an elegantly manicured finger, and Joaquin's tongue darted out to touch his scar, as though he'd forgotten it was there. "It has novelty value, I suppose."
Across the table, Summer tensed, but Jen didn't need the signal to know Olin's uncertainty was an act. Olin's head was tilted to the right, just a little, but it might as well have been a flashing neon sign: she wanted Joaquin. A lot.
It hadn't occurred to Jen that so close to Commonwealth Space and their advanced bio-tech Joaquin's scar would be considered exotic. Rare. It was nothing that special in the remote colonies they'd grown up in, or amongst other mercenaries and pirates, who tended to use the minimum emergency medicare and leave it at that. As the realization dawned her stomach filled with ribboning snakes, and she suddenly wished they'd gone with another plan. She wasn't the only one freaking out, either. Beneath his poker face, Joaquin was looking startled and horrified, and Summer was carefully not making eye contact with anyone, her hands pressed between her knees.
"Oh, well." Jen stood, trying to mask her uneasiness. "If you don't want him, we'll just be on our--"
"All right!" Olin laughed; it was deep and sincere. "I won't try to bluff you again. Name your price."
Jen reluctantly sat back down. She thought up the most outrageous price she could, then doubled it, then added on the cost of fuel and coolant and air-scrubbers. Then added a zero, just to be sure. And then she said it.
Olin's smile didn't even crack. She considered for a moment, her sharp gaze turned inwards as she accessed her neural port and checked something on the local network--available funds, maybe. "I think that may be doable," she said, and Joaquin made a little choked sound that Jen was in total sympathy with. "Throw in your Damon unit, and I'll throw in a year's credit at the Bordello, and we'll call it a deal."
"The Damon unit?" Summer asked, while Jen was still busy boggling. Summer's voice was flat, affectless, but her eyes were bright with suspicion. "That model's obsolete. What do you want with him?"
"You're asking a lot of money," Olin said, amused, "and he would be in the nature of a sweetener. I collect curios, you know, and since that unfortunate Bourne situation, and the model recall... well. The Damons are no longer common. Of course, I wouldn't trust him to work security." She made an airy gesture with her fingers, as though to say, I can't believe you're still using such an unreliable model. I'm doing you a favour taking him off your hands. "But with a CPU refit, I could use him for atmospheric effect in one of the dungeons, perhaps. Serving drinks to the Doms, or some such. I'm sure I'll find a niche for him somewhere."
Jen was glad she couldn't see Damon's face, but even so, she was pretty sure if she closed the deal she'd get to witness a killer-robot incident in the immediate future. Probably up close and personal, and for a very short span of time.
"Sorry," she said, smiling insincerely with her fake face. "But Damon has sentimental value for me. It's a deal-breaker." She stood, making a surreptitious get up motion to the others. "Maybe next time."
Olin's smile faded just a little at the edges, but she made all the right noises, accepted that they didn't want to sample the Bordello's wares without pressing it, and waved them away graciously enough.
They trudged back the way they'd come, utterly demoralized; past the shush-shush-shush of the waterfall, out into the security zone, back through the scanner--this time checking for stolen goods--and along the dim stretch of corridor leading to the docking bay.
"Are we clear?" Jen asked, once they'd left the check-point behind.
Summer shrugged. "I have a bad feeling, but all the forcefields are weirding up my mojo."
"Of course they are. Olin's probably found a way to hook them into her freaky mojo-jamming thing." Jen was trying to watch every shadow at once as they hustled along, which was why she didn't immediately notice Summer glaring at her.
"Wait. Olin has anti-mojo mojo and you're only thinking to mention it now?"
Jen stopped, mid-stride, and glared back. "How could you not know that? Everyone knows that!"
"I knew that," Damon agreed, at the same time Joaquin said, "It's common knowledge, sis."
"Really," Summer said, her elbow accidentally finding it's way into Joaquin's ribs. "I know I say you never tell me anything, but--"
Jen rubbed tiredly at an eyebrow and headed off again, ignoring Joaquin's attempts to wreak outraged retaliation on Summer. "This plan is officially one of our worst ever." The sight of the docking bay door at the end of the corridor had never been more welcome. The door slid open as they approached, and Jen let herself hope that this misadventure was actually going end happily ever after.
Joaquin did a hop-shuffle-lurch over the threshold, as he tried, once more, to dig the shorts out of his ass. "Well, that was a total waste of ti--" he complained, halting mid-word as the hidden assault team sprang out of the gloom firing their stun weapons. A bolt from the first volley hit him in the temple; a look of disgusted resignation flickered across his face, and then he folded up and dropped to the ground, strangely graceful. A moment later, Summer landed on top of him.
While Joaquin was still falling, Damon pushed Jen behind him and flipped open his stunner attachment. He got off a single shot, taking out the nearest shooter, and then a bright-blue stun bolt took him in the chest and he went down too.
Jen attempted to put up her hands in surrender, but she'd barely raised them to shoulder height when the world flashed painfully too-bright, and then went black.
Deus Ex Machina
When Madam Olin had said there were dungeons in the Bordello, Jen had envisioned something slightly more BDSM-themed than the brightly lit, utilitarian cell she woke up in. Moaning, she slung an arm over her eyes, trying to block out the light; stun hangovers just never stopped sucking.
"Are you alive?" Summer asked, sounding groggy.
"Unfortunately." Jen reluctantly rolled onto her side and cracked an eye, taking in the situation. She and Summer were alone in the cell, and Summer looked as wretched as Jen felt. Wary of bugs, Jen bit back anxious questions in favour of, "I hope the others are okay."
After a moment of silence, Summer said, "It probably depends on your definition of okay."
That didn't sound at all reassuring. Ignoring the way her head was thumping, Jen sat up. "Some days, I really hate my life."
"You always say that." Summer scrubbed at her face; she was sitting propped up against the wall but looked like she might slide down again any moment. "You know, technically, there are no days in space."
"Shut up," Jen said, and shifted, so that she was just a cloud of bouncing atoms that could pass easily through solid matter. As she drifted forward, everything she was wearing dropped to the floor, the belt clattering as it hit; she ignored the sound, not wanting to think any downward thoughts and accidentally end up in the middle of the moon.
Out on the other side of the cell door she drifted along to the control room, until she was right behind the lone guard. Then she shifted her hand into solidity, grabbed the guard's stun gun out of her thigh holster, and shot her point-blank in the back.
When Jen re-phased fully, she was naked, cold, her disguise had sloughed off her face along with everything else she'd been wearing, and her headache had turned into a migraine. As she triggered the door release on Summer's cell, Jen yearningly eyed the guard's half-drunk cup of coffee sitting on the control console.
"It's probably saturated with some kind of obedience drug," Summer said as she walked into the control room. She held out Jen's clothes. "Olin seems the type. But I can stick my finger in it and check if it's one of the ones the drug filter will neutralise if you like."
"Thank you, but I'm not quite that pathetic yet," Jen said.
She didn't realise she'd accidentally put both feet in the same leg of her pants until she tried to pull them up.
"Are you sure this is the right way?" Jen hissed.
Summer glared at her as they snuck down yet another corridor, identical to the last half dozen they'd snuck down.
"Well, you said your mojo was on the fritz," Jen said. "And I just want to know we're going the right way."
Several meters ahead, an explosion ripped a gaping hole in the wall of the corridor, showering them with debris.
"I'm pretty sure," said Summer, as Damon loomed out of the dust, his eyes glowing with infra-red heat-sensors, his stun attachment fully extended and ready to fire.
He stopped in front of Jen and gave her a once over. "Your pupils are dilated and your skin is clammy. You have a migraine."
"Yes," Jen agreed. "Are you okay?"
"No." With his non-weapon hand, Damon popped open his chest cavity and extracted a pain patch. He peeled off the backing and carefully stuck it on Jen's neck. "That psycho uploaded a sex program into my CPU! She made me gay!"
"Shocker," said Summer, rolling her eyes. "I hate to break up such a tender moment, but maybe we can have the coming out party after we, say, rescue Joaquin from the psycho." And with a toss of the hair, she stomped off down the corridor.
"Well, excuse me for feeling violated!" Damon said, as he slammed his chest cavity shut and stomped off after her.
The trouble with minions in the employ of competent villains was that they tended to notice little things like runaway robots blowing stuff up, not to mention people escaping from an escape-proof prison cell.
"Why doesn't this place have air vents to crawl through?" Summer complained in a whisper. She was pressed against the wall of a cluttered storage room, chest to back with Damon, who had engaged his chameleon function. As long as they both stayed still, they looked just like part of the rock.
Jen was standing next to them, de-phased, her clothes hastily kicked into a puddle at Damon's feet.
"Air is circulating at a steady rate," Damon said, without moving his mouth. "They don't need air vents."
The door cracked open, and a security squad came in. One of them checked a gadget in his hand and said, "No life signs in here."
The squad leader said, "Copy that." Then he made a sharp, competent-looking gesture to the rest of the squad. "Fan out and do a visual check."
The search was methodical and left no hiding place un-explored, but eventually the last squad member--a short, curly-haired recruit--crawled out of a half-empty box of novelty sex toys and said, "Clear." As she stood, she casually pulled one of the toys free of her boot and tossed it over her shoulder. It landed awkwardly, draped half-in and half-out of the box.
Nodding, the leader said, "We're done here. Tick it off the list, Smith. Let's pick it up, people," and with another sharp hand-gesture, they all moved out.
The sound of their retreating boots shut off abruptly as the door slid closed.
As soon as Jen's vocal chords had re-phased, she said, "What the hell is that?"
Without needing to ask what she was talking about, Summer said defensively, "Hey, don't look at me," and at the same time Damon protested, "What am I? A walking search engine?"
They all glared at each other for a moment, and then, as one, turned to stare at the web of leather straps and bright silver buckles that dangled over the edge of the sex-toy crate.
"You know," Damon said, still staring, "it'd probably fit in my chest cavity if I dumped the first aid kit."
"Are you sure this is the right way?" Damon asked, as they snuck down yet another corridor, identical to the last half dozen they'd snuck down.
Summer glared at him.
"Well, you said your mojo was--"
"Shut up!" Jen hissed. "We're here." Then with a pointed look, "Don't lose any more of my clothes!"
Before Damon could work himself into another snit about the missing underwear, Jen shifted. She strolled over to the entrance of the pleasure slaves' off-duty quarters, re-phased her hand and frisked one of the sentries for a stunner, shot all six of them, and then turned solid again. "Like shooting fish in a barrel." She waved the others over.
Damon thrust her clothes at her, pointedly, and went to drag the bodies into a less visible position, while Summer helped herself to one of the lethal zappers, even though she still had the cell-guard's stunner in her other hand.
Once Jen was dressed they entered the residential quarters, trailing down the corridor single file, Summer touching each door they passed. Jen's mental mission-clock was getting close to the danger zone when Summer finally stopped. She pressed her hand hard against the door for a moment, her mouth thinning into a grim line.
"Here. He's in here."
Jen and Damon exchanged a look: You ask her, No, you're the boss, you ask her.
"Um," Jen said, "is he..."
"Alive and well," Summer snapped and stepped back from the door, taking up a flanking position. "There's three guards and a bot inside. And Affleck."
"Okay," Jen said, slowly.
"We're out of time," Summer said, her mouth still thin with anger. "The sentries will be missed soon. Just do it."
Jen nodded and stepped back, so that she too was out of the line of fire.
With a kick that crumpled the airlock door like alfoil, Damon burst into the room, stunner firing in a steady bzzt-bzzt-bzzt as he took out the enemy. His shots went home before the guards had even lifted their weapons, the men convulsing as they fell to the floor. The serving bot dropped his tray with a clatter and held his hands up, squeaking out, "Don't shoot," but Damon stunned it too.
At Damon's all clear signal, Jen stepped inside and took out the security feed with a well-aimed zapper shot, the damaged spyware spraying the room in sparks.
In the beat of silence that followed, Joaquin pulled the toothpick out of his mouth and threw his cards down on the table, face up. "Full Armada! Ha."
Affleck tore his gaze away from the rescue party and eyed the tabled cards with deep suspicion. "How the hell are you doing that? No one gets seventeen Armadas in a row!"
"Natural talent," Joaquin said, raking in the pot.
Summer stalked over and thwacked Joaquin on the back of the head. "You shit! I've been out of my mind with worry. I thought you were using your talent because you were in danger. And here you are, virtue intact, hustling our mark."
"Ow," Joaquin raised a hand to rub at the spot she'd hit. On the table, his Full Armada transformed into a hand of random cards.
"Mind tricks," Affleck said, nodding as though he wasn't at all surprised. "Handy." He stood and held out his hand to Summer, giving her a charming smile. "You must be Joaquin's sister. I've heard a lot about you."
"Don't try your charm on me, mister," she said, jabbing Affleck in the chest. The moment she made contact, her eyes widened and she jerked away from the touch as though burned, pressing her curled fingers to her chest. Blinking, her eyes glassy with future shadows, she turned towards Damon and Jen who were standing side by side near the doorway.
"Sis?" Coming to his feet with more speed than grace, Joaquin put his arm around Summer's shoulders. Then his whole body went tense, his wide-eyed gaze darting between Damon, Jen and Affleck. "Whoa!" He hastily lifted his arm and took a step back. "I don't think I'm old enough for that vision."
Summer covered her eyes with both hands. "I think I liked it better when my mojo was on the fritz." Her mouth made silent bleh, bleh, bleh movements.
Affleck's forehead was creased in two little parallel frown lines. "Not to be, you know," he waved a hand as though trying to pluck a tactful word from the air, "critical of your rescue technique, or your mojo, but do you think we could maybe get out of here? Now? I'll pay you a lot of money." He smiled as he made an expansive gesture: really a lot of money.
His smile was like a hook lodging in Jen's heart and pulling, making her want to do anything he asked.
Jen sighed and thickened her mental shields. Of course Affleck was some kind of empath; she should have suspected something was up from the way Joaquin was being all nice. Well, nice for Joaquin. Fortunately Jen had a lot of practice resisting various types of psychic manipulation, so, without smiling back, she nodded and said, "Deal." Not because Affleck was asking, but because they really, really needed a paycheck and Affleck's money was as good as any. "Okay people. Time to move out!"
Her crew quickly fell into place, Joaquin and Summer flanking Affleck, but carefully not touching him. As Jen took up her own position by the door, she caught Damon giving Affleck an appraising look.
Jen lifted an eyebrow as Damon walked past her.
"What?" Damon said.
"I thought you were feeling violated."
Damon shrugged. "Maybe I want to explore my options."
Jen gave him her best, don't-fuck-with-me, I'm-the-captain look in reply.
"Oh god," said Joaquin. "This is not the time to explore your weird, inter-species unresolved sexual tension."
Not dignifying that with a response, Jen raised her zapper and stepped closer to the door, pressing her back against the jamb. And if her middle finger just happened to be pointing straight up along the barrel and in Joaquin's general direction, well, that was just her ready position and he'd have to deal.
Affleck chuckled dryly. "Yeah, sexual tension in the space brothel. What a faux pas."
Damon smiled at that, a little flirty thing at one corner of his mouth; then he pointedly flipped out his gun attachment, smoothly zoomed out the extender arm until the weapon was three times its original length, and poked the scope out the door to check that the hallway was still clear of guards.
Affleck laughed, deep and dirty, and Jen felt that tell-tale tug at her heart again, but pushed it aside as Damon called out, "All clear." Then they were moving out into the corridor, her crew alert and professional, working together on a level beyond words despite Olin's efforts at shielding, and even Affleck was quiet and stealthy, as though he'd been sneaking around with a bunch of escaping space pirates all his life.
They made it out of the living quarters and into a side corridor just as a security squad arrived. There was no cover, but Joaquin trailed behind as they fled, projecting empty tunnel at the guards; they managed to get around the corner without anyone stubbing a toe or sneezing and ruining the illusion.
Three tunnels later there were more guards, and they ended up taking a detour, Joaquin only just managing to hide them in time; and then half a dozen tunnels after that, a detour from the detour; and then a detour from that detour, after they'd barely escaped discovery by squashing into an alcove with Damon in front, hiding them all with his chameleon cloak. And so it went: one tunnel forward, three back, until they ended up footsore, thirsty and somewhere far, far away from the docking bay.
"Is your mojo broken again?" Joaquin asked Summer, after yet another diversion. "Because I thought the shuttle was that way." He flapped a hand back the way they'd come.
Summer's glare seemed especially sinister in the semi-darkness of the side-corridor they were sneaking through; the emergency strip-lights were far apart, there was a patina of dust on the floor, and the rock walls were rough and unfinished. "That's probably because the shuttle is that way."
"So we're going this way because...?"
"Because," Summer said, slowly, as though speaking to an idiot, "there'll be a million guards at the shuttle, and even your mind tricks aren't good enough to get us through that. Don't be dim. It's annoying."
"Well maybe I wouldn't seem so dim if you actually communicated, instead of doing that mystic know-all, see-all shit--"
Jen stopped abruptly as they turned a corner and the tunnel ended, their way barred by a small, but very solid looking air-lock. "So," she said brightly. "I'm guessing my present is behind this door." She looked expectantly at Summer. "Does it have go-faster stripes and tinted windows?"
Summer smiled at her fondly. "Why don't you open it and find out."
Everyone looked expectantly at Damon.
"I feel so used," he complained, flipping away his stunner and replacing it with a network jack. He slid the jack into the door's control panel and went still, all his attention focused inwards. A moment later, the door irised open, the segments well-oiled and whisper-quiet.
Jen's jaw dropped as she caught sight of the low-slung, dart-shaped stealth-fighter sitting in the middle of the hanger. Even offline, its skin was like a mirage, trying to fool the eye into seeing shadows, and its sleek, dark gunports dotted the skin all over, giving the ship a spherical field of fire. The ship had no name or designation stencilled on its hull, and Jen wanted to make it hers, wanted it like air.
Beside her, Affleck made a strangled sound and gripped her forearm. "I'll pay you double if you let me fly her," he said, and the compulsion to say yes burned up Jen's arm. "Triple."
Jen turned, falling forward into the dense gravity of Ben's charm, one hand coming to rest on Ben's chest, her face tilting to the perfect angle for kissing. "Really?" she murmured, "Triple?" Her voice was husky and low, and her entire body was tightening with want.
"Really." Ben's pupils irised open like an unlocking door, inviting her in. He leaned forward until they were a breath away from a kiss, and then gasped as Jen's de-phased hand sank into his chest.
There was a beat of silence, in which everyone watched Jen's arm rematerialise in a slow creep from her elbow towards Ben's heart.
Ben swallowed hard. "Uh..."
"Triple pay, we have a deal. On one condition."
Ben stood very, very still. "What?"
Jen's forearm solidified millimeter by millimeter, slowly tapering towards the narrowed curve of her wrist; Ben watched it's progress wide-eyed.
"If you ever use your mojo on me or any of my crew again, I'll use my mojo on you. Clear?"
"Clear," Ben said hurriedly. "Very, very clear. Clear as crystal. No mojo. You're a mojo free zone." He licked his lips. "Do you think maybe you could...?" He gestured at his chest and Jen's nearly-solid arm.
Jen smiled just long enough to enjoy the freaked-out look on his face, and then de-phased her whole body; her clothes fell to the floor as she stepped right through Ben--making him shudder--and on through the open airlock. She drifted over to the ship, reaching out tentatively to feel the wavery, elastic pins and needles of the forcefield; it slowed her down momentarily, until she aligned her molecules to the right frequency, and then she was inside the ship itself, the deck cool and plastic beneath her bare feet, the frigid air raising gooseflesh on her skin.
She tongued on the emergency port in her back tooth and her jaw tingled as Damon piggy-backed a signal over the channel, able to use her as a conduit to bypass the ship's shields. He scanned for ambient systems and then targetted them, sending a hack-worm through to burrow its way into the computer core. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the program to do its work.
Olin had gone all-out on security; Jen counted all the way to twelve before the forcefield flickered off and the exterior airlock wheezed open.
"We need to hurry," Summer said as she dashed in, tossing Jen her clothes. From outside came the unmistakable zing, zing of zapper fire, quickly followed by Affleck skidding through the airlock on his knees and Joaquin charging in right behind him. Damon stepped through last, laying down covering fire right up until the airlock door snapped shut and the shield popped back into place like a reversed soap bubble.
"Make it fast, Damon," Jen said, as she hopped over to the co-pilot's seat, one leg in and one out of her pants.
"On it." He retracted his stunner and headed over to the shielded cube that held the ship's brain. He held his hand against the shield for a moment, and then it soundlessly unfolded revealing an access panel. Damon plugged himself in. "Two minutes."
Summer and Joaquin strapped into seats at the rear of the cabin, while Ben looked on uncertainly. As soon as Jen's head popped free of the neck of her shirt she clicked her fingers at him and pointed at the pilot's seat. "Move your ass, Affleck, or the deal's off."
In his haste to get to the chair, Ben slid the last two feet and fell into it with a thump. He immediately began running a hand over the console, familiarising himself with the layout. "Nice."
Through the viewscreen, Jen could see soldiers surrounding the ship. As she clicked her harness in place, two more hurried in and began mounting a large, deadly-looking anti-organic cannon. "Damon! Give me good news!"
"Um," Damon said. "About that."
Jen turned in her seat and glared at him. "'Um' doesn't sound like good news."
Damon unplugged himself from the cube and shrugged. "It's a fully integrated A.I. personality. I can't hack it without wiping it."
"So hack it," said Joaquin.
Before he'd even finished speaking, a shudder ran through the ship, and the external shield visibly flickered. The regular zapper fire, which had been tapering off, picked up again, even as the Powering-up warning light began flashing on the cannon.
"Shut up, moron!" Summer hissed.
"But," Damon said hurriedly, "I said we were willing to trade for some flight time, being honorable thieves and all."
Frowning at him, Jen said, "Ship?"
"Captain Garner," a pleasant female voice replied.
"What's your price?"
The ship gave a very human-sounding sigh. "An independent identity so I can travel and trade without a human owner."
Leaning out of her chair, Summer whacked Damon on the ass. "Troublemaker. You put her up to that, didn't you?"
Damon grinned at her.
"Fine," Jen said. "Yes. Deal. And I assume you've recorded that, so if you wouldn't mind..." She made an up, up, up gesture. "...before we're all atomised."
Outside, the cannon's Ready light was flashing green, and the gunner's foot was on the trigger pedal. Over the ship's emergency frequency came a voice saying, Surrender now, or we'll--
"Eat my dust, meat-puppets!" the ship answered, engaging thrusters.
Even with the state-of-the-art inertial dampeners, they rose so fast Jen felt it. They zipped through the air-lock's semi-permeable forcefield, and within a couple of heartbeats the Bordello was just a potato-shaped rock disappearing behind them.
"Is it always like this for you?" Ben asked conversationally, hands restlessly stroking the useless pilot's console.
Jen shrugged. "Pretty much."
Nodding thoughtfully, Ben said, "I can't figure out whether that makes you incredibly cool, or incredibly unlucky."
A warning klaxon started to blare.
"Those bastards," the ship announced, "have fired two probability-enhanced anti-matter missiles at us."
Everyone glared at Ben.
"What? It's not my fault!"
"Of course it is," Summer said. "You're in a ship full of psychically enhanced humans. If you say something stupid, there's a better than usual chance it'll come true."
The heads-up display showed the missiles gaining, even as the ship twisted and bopped around in wild escape maneouvres. The impact-simulation running on another display was showing 100% destruction over and over again, no matter where the missiles hit.
"That's ridiculous," Ben said, looking pale in the wash of light from the flashing simulation. "I could just as easily say that a space-sniper is going to appear out of nowhere and take out those missiles, but that doesn't mean it's actually going to happ--"
The Elektra dropped out from its hiding place behind an asteroid, aimed the giant space-cannon mounted above the cargo bay, and let off two blasts of pure hydrogen plasma. When the streams of plasma impacted with the missiles, there was a flicker on the viewscreen as a section of space folded in on itself like an eye-twisting Esher drawing and disappeared, taking the missiles along with it.
A moment later the radio crackled, and Reece said, Do you have my parts? You'd better have my parts. I just burnt out the artificial gravity engine firing Big Bertha, so if you don't have my parts, I'm going to be peeved.
Jen reached over and clapped Ben on the shoulder. "Good work, Affleck. That was fast thinking. I'm impressed."
Ben gave a self-deprecating shrug and Jen's heart... kept right on beating without a skip.
Jennifer Garner you answer me right now, missy, or you and I are going to have words when you get back on board!
From the back seat, Joaquin sing-songed, "You're in so much trouble."
"Says the man who was hustling our mark," Summer snapped at him. "Don't think I've forgotten about that!"
"No, no, no," Damon said to the ship, "I don't know where you heard those scurrilous lies. I'm a Guardian! Geeze. You kill one person--"
"You're not the boss of me," Joaquin said, and stuck his tongue out at Summer.
Jen rolled her eyes and leaned forward to tap in the frequency for Elektra's auto-guidance system. The ship picked it up without a hitch and gracefully made its way to the docking bay.
Lifting a sardonic eyebrow, Ben asked, "Ever consider changing career paths?"
"No," Jen said, not even needing to think about it. "Never. This is everything I want to be."