Chris ducks before she hears the warning, rolling under the blaster shot as it whizzes a centimeter past her ear.
She turns, hands gripped around her own blaster, ignoring the ringing, burning sensation traveling from her ear, down the side of her face, to rattle around in her chest. She squeezes the trigger, setting her sites on-
She's not sure if the heavy pulsing in her arm is from the wound or the betrayal.
"Sorry, sweetheart." He shrugs, all fierce innocence and quirky smile as he reaches through the force field and pulls the jewel off its perch. "Every pirate for himself. Thought you knew that."
Chris stares him down, her blaster held strong and steady in front of her.
"You're not gonna shoot now, are you, babe?" He juggles the jewel in his hands. "Not after all we've been through."
"Oh, did you think we had something?" She asks, fighting to keep hurt and frustration out of her voice.
Judging from his smirk, she doesn't succeed.
She straightens her shoulders, raising her blaster, staring down the trajectory from her hands to right between his eyes.
His smirk twists. "You don't have it in you."
She squeezes the trigger halfway-
Just for a split second, just long enough for his smile to widen, just long enough for her to realize that he hadn't been sure that she wouldn't just shoot him where he stands.
And she would have, if someone hasn't beaten her to it.
"Fuck," he swears, reaching up to touch the spot on his shoulder where the fabric's smoldering. "Nice miss," he murmurs.
"I won't miss a second time," promises the newcomer. She's tall, with short, blonde hair and a fierce look about her. She's holding a blaster. It's smoldering.
"Well, that's my cue." He pockets the jewel. "Next time, ladies," and drops, rolling under their combined firepower to escape out of the room's one door.
"I'm Martina," the woman says, not dropping her blaster.
The alarms start blaring and the door begins to squeeze closed. "Maybe we should save the introductions," Chris suggests.
Martina is already diving for the doors.
"You are fucking him," Martina says, before downing her glass and waving at their bartender for another. Her accent is thick, clipped, her eyes bright and brilliant. "You and the guy who took my jewel."
"Were." Chris runs her hand along the rim of her glass. She hasn't had a sip yet. "Were fucking."
"You were fucking him, then," Martina amends.
"It's an important distinction."
Martina shrugs. "Maybe."
Chris takes a slow, steady sip of her drink. "Besides, it was my jewel."
Martina laughs. Her eyes seem even brighter reflected off the glass as she tips her head back and downs her drink.
They take down a trading ring on Athis, find the long lost scrolls of Atlantis in a series of buried caves on Sarun, and barely escape a barrage of gunfire from the spaceport in section seven.
That last one, Chris maintains, is Martina's fault.
"Can we lay blame later?" Martina snaps, her accent thick with panic and her hair sticking up around her ears. It's singed, a little, just at the ends.
She falls into the pilot's seat and throws her ship into gear.
Chris pulls down the targeting screen and focuses on shooting them a clean lane out of the space port.
They're a few seconds into safety, Chris still scanning empty space, on the lookout for rogue patrols or Galactic Police, when she feels eyes on her. She glances up to see Martina staring, eyes intense and wet and a little wild.
"Watch the sky," Chris snaps.
"I'd rather watch you."
"Maybe that's why you almost just got us killed."
Martina shakes her head a little ruefully, flipping the auto pilot switch and shrugging back into herself. "That was a close one. I need a shower."
Chris watches her go, annoyed at the way her stomach flips stupidly, even though she knows Martina's right. They're the best team around, they have nothing to worry about.
Chris turns back to the view screen anyway.
Chris hears Jimmy before she sees him. Again.
He’s a room ahead of them, already slipping into the vault when she turns the corner and catches the bottom of his boot in her sites.
She shoots, misses a couple centimeters wide, her bullet searing into the bulkhead before clanging to the metal floor.
“Subtle,” Martina hisses, louder than the clatter anyway.
Chris raises her index finger to her lips, nodding down the hallway. She inches along, slow, careful, watching both ways. Prince Ria is holed up in the Great Hall, surrounded by party guests and a six-piece brass band, and this was supposed to be one of their easiest jobs all year, but now that Jimmy's involved-
Chris doesn’t trust Jimmy.
Chris doesn’t trust herself around Jimmy.
She stops a few feet in front of the open door to the vault, her gun raised, pretty sure that she won’t hesitate to shoot this time.
Behind her, Martina huffs, says, “well, get on with it,” and rushes past without waiting for an answer.
“Martina,” Chris whispers back, but she follows. Of course she follows.
Martina’s already in the vault, her blaster trained on Jimmy, whose hand is poised over the watch on its stand of honor in the middle of the room.
“I remember you.” Jimmy turns, raises an eyebrow at Chris. “You surprise me, sweetheart. Never pegged you as much of a team player.”
Chris shrugs, like he wasn’t the one that left her first.
Jimmy looks back and forth between them, his cheeks flushing with glee. “Oh, I see. Surprises, surprises all around.”
Martina waves her blaster. “Stop blustering and drop the watch.”
“That’s not going to work in here. Forcefield, hmm?” He waves his hand and the air shimmers with its protective coating. Martina swears and drops her blaster. Chris doesn’t do the same. Jimmy grins. “Can’t shoot me with force of will alone.”
“I can try.”
Jimmy doesn’t stop grinning. Distantly, they can hear the sounds of the band and the party winding down a floor up.
“Well, this has been fun, ladies, but I’ve gotta run. Ta ta.” He closes his hand around the watch and pulls it off its pedestal as sirens blare and lights pulse. The vault doors start to close and he slips under with a little, condescending wave.
The doors thump shut after him.
Martina sinks down to the floor, her knees bent and her blaster hanging loosely from her fingers. “I hate that man."
Chris ignores that. “Aren’t you going to help?” She asks, as she makes her way around the room, pressing at wall seams and looking for any way out she can find.
Martina waves her blaster at the door. “It’s a hermetically sealed vault. Nothing that gets in gets out. Didn’t you read the briefing materials?”
“I’m not giving up.”
“We wouldn’t even be here if you weren’t so head strong.”
Martina’s mouth falls open and she points her blaster at her chest. “Me?”
Chris nods. “I told you to be careful, but, no, you just ran on ahead.”
“At least I was doing something.” Martina frowns. “If it was up to you, you’d just stare at his ass while he got away with our loot.”
“He got away anyway.” Chris kicks at a seam on the wall. It doesn’t open. “And you’re plan got us stuck in here.”
“Your boyfriend got us stuck in here,” Martina bites back.
Chris kicks at the wall again, before sinking down, leaning her back against it and closing her eyes. “Fuck.”
They get out. Or, they’re let out by Prince Roi’s guards - after some quick talking and faked innocence, complete with coquettish eyebrows and slow winking - and then dropped off, unceremoniously, at the space port on Bessan.
“We should take the next ship out of here.”
Martina ignores her. “I’m going to find the closest bar.”
“I don’t like closed spaces.” Martina speaks easily, just begging for a fight. “So I need a drink before I do it again, that okay with you?”
Chris sighs and follows her. She could use a drink herself. A drink, or three.
"I grew up on Earth," Chris says, and it's true, as far as it goes. "New New York. In one of those high rises, you know the ones? They're in all the old movies."
She reaches out, touches her companion's forearm. He's cute, in a sloppy sort of way, with round, muddy eyes and a wobbly chin. He smiles at her. "I like movies."
On Chris's other side, Martina rolls her eyes and jams her ankle into Chris's.
"My dad, he was a cop. Used to take me to the shooting range on weekends. He'd be rolling over in his grave if he knew how I was using the things he taught me." She stretches, reaching for her drink, making sure that her jacket pulls back far enough to show the butt of her gun.
The guy drools, wet and slick down his chin.
Martina's ankle presses. Hard.
Chris pulls her leg back. She feels out of control, like she gave something to Jimmy that she hasn't, yet, gotten back.
She wants it back.
She grabs the guy's hand, pulls him up and out of he bar.
She ignores the way Martina follows her, just with her eyes.
Always with those damn bright eyes.
It's good. Or, it's not, not really - she never does catch his name, and he's wet and enthusiastic in all the wrong ways - but she owns him, makes him cry out and whimper under her hands and, when he's through, she feels like she has some of it back. Her control, so strong and steely and fragile.
She's even whistling a little bit, an old Yankee Doodle song her dad used to play on Earth Independence Day, as she heads back to their rooms. She feels light, airy, like she's spent a week or so on the beaches of Risan, soaking in sun and pink drinks rimmed with salt and little umbrellas.
The lights in their rooms are off when she gets there, and she tiptoes past the beds and into the showers. She takes her time, cleans herself of her hook-up and Jimmy and the stink of whatever's been following her for the last couple of months.
She's toweling her hair when she exits, surrounded in steam and dressed in her prettiest pajamas. She feels like a new woman.
Martina's curled on her side, her eyes open and unseeing, still bright in the dim light of the side lamp Chris turns on just to find her way to her bed.
"He was terrible," Chris confides, with a little grin.
Martina doesn't say anything. She doesn't close her eyes.
Chris sighs, says, "sorry," even though she doesn't know what she has to apologize for.
Martina doesn't respond until the lights are off and Chris has slipped into her bed, her hair wet and clammy and clean on her pillow.
"I grew up in a mining colony. Didn't see the sun 'til my eight birthday," Martina starts, quiet and rough in the dark.
Chris thinks about Martina in the vault, hermetically sealed and impenetrable and loosing air, quickly. She thinks of the way Martina was downing shots earlier. She thinks of Martina throwing her neck back with each shot, long and just a little pale, like no amount of time outdoors can make up for the years she's lost.
Chris thinks about the way Martina pressed, close and insistent, against her as Chris raced her shot for shot. Chris thinks of the way she was drinking to remember. She's pretty sure that Martina was drinking to forget.
"I escaped when I was fourteen. Stole a piece of coal, lit it with my fingertip, used it to light my way. Bought my way on to a ship with-" Martina swallows, hard, and Chris squeezes her eyes shut.
Martina's voice croaks a little. "I left my parents in their beds. They wanted me to go, but, I haven't- I don't know if they're alive or dead." Her words are cracked, oozing with something vulnerable that Chris works so hard to hide away.
Martina rolls onto her other side and Chris listens as her breathing evens and slows.
Chris feels her newly-found control already slipping away.
“I’ve got a few things I need to do,” Chris says, when what she really means is I’m a loner and I’m getting too close and you almost got me killed on Prince Ria’s palace ship.
Martina shrugs, like she gets it, like, maybe, she's been expecting it.
Turns out Martina had an escape plan, anyway. She's on the next freighter out of the solar system before Chris even has a chance to pack her bags.
Chris settles pack into her life.
She always did like working solo, and she races through a series of jobs smuggling illegal woodland creatures to a zoo on Brisban before she reaches into her contacts, finds a few odds-and-ends rescue jobs.
Jaza's an old friend.
She doesn't trust him.
“I took a blaster shot for this job,” Chris protests, motioning to the thick, white bandage on her arm as illustration.
“So did my family crystal.” Jaza holds up the crystal chalice, a little singed at the handles. He produces a green, sticky liquid when he's angry and it’s oozing out of his ears. It splats to the ground in thick globs, coating the toes of her boots.
Chris flinches, and surreptitiously reaches down to touch the butt of her blaster.
“I should throw you in the brig.”
Chris tightens her fingers.
Another glob squelches to the deck plating. “In fact, I should feed you to the giant squid on Arisa. Crewman Ryan, set a course.”
“You shouldn’t be here, Chrissie.”
Chris places her hand on Gem’s forearm, caressing his scaly skin with her thumb. “Oh, come now, Gem. All that fuss with the rosaries last year-“
“Water under the bridge,” Gem agrees, nodding to a poster nailed to the board behind the bar. “You have bigger problems.”
Chris looks over Gem's shoulder, sees the scratchy drawing of herself and the bounty listed below. More credits than she's seen in a long, long time. She whistles. Jaza must be angrier about his singed cup than she had thought.
“You’re worth a lot, my dear.”
Chris scans the bar, counts the bounty-hunters.
Gem pulls down the poster, crumples it between his hands. “More alive, I think, than dead.”
She narrows her eyes.
“I’ve got a job worth your bounty. A jewel I’ve been after for months.”
Chris has a bad feeling about this.
“Last thing I heard, Connors had it in the Risa system.”
Chris should start trusting those feelings.
“Bring it to me, and I'll make the bounty disappear.”
“A bounty on your head, huh?” Martina leans in the doorway. She’s wearing a pants suit, with heels that accentuate her legs and a jacket buttoned in the middle, with nothing underneath. All heads turn to look at her.
Chris swallows, covers it with a flippant, “What can I say? I fall apart without you.”
Martina snorts. “Told you so.”
“And you wear smugness so well,” Chris deadpans.
Martina crosses her arms, showing off the pronounced muscle of her collarbone and the long, pale triangle of her stomach.
Chris blushes. She’s grateful for the dark, smoky atmosphere of the bar.
She covers it, motioning to Martina’s outfit and lifting an eyebrow. “Your outfit’s-“
“Perfect.” Martina saunters forward, leaning her elbows on the chair next to Chris's, her breasts bunching and creasing.
Martina laughs. “You didn't think I was going to let you seduce Jimmy, did you?”
“Fool me once, good on you. Fool me twice, that’s on me. Fool me three times, it’s time to give up the gig, and I’m way too talented for that.”
"Some would beg to differ."
Martina laughs again, her eyes brilliant as she refused to look away. "Besides, you called me."
“This is a terrible idea.”
Martina reaches past Chris, snatches Chris’s martini, and downs it in one sip. “Any advice?”
“Don’t fall for him.”
“Not a problem.”
Chris shakes her head, warns, “He’s got more charisma than it seems.”
“Don’t worry, he’s not my type.” She squeezes Chris’s shoulder, her hand warm and heavy and lingering, and then she’s gone, sauntering across the dance floor.
Chris is six more martinis in when Martina drops the jewel in front of her. It clangs loudly onto the bar counter and Chris jumps, spilling her drink over her fingers.
Martina looks a little drunk herself, her short hair frayed around her ears and her jacket unbuttoned, showing the lacy clasp of her bra. Her chest is flushed all the way to her belly button.
"Jimmy can kiss." She shrugs, all forced casual. "I kinda get the attraction now."
Chris grunts, slips the jewel into her pocket, and pushes away from the bar.
Martina's smile softens. "I came back to you."
Chris reaches for her, wrapping her hand around Martina's hip and using all her weight to press Martina back against the bar.
Martina grins, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. “Always knew you’d choose me.”
"Oh give it up." Chris rolls her eyes, leaning in, before she admits, under her breath. "Wasn't ever really a contest."
Martina slips her hands under Chris's dress, whining, deep in her throat, "Chrissie," and then they're kissing, all teeth and tongue and warm, pale skin.
Control, Chris figures, is overrated anyway.
Chris wakes in the early morning, with two of Risan’s moons just peaking over the horizon. Martina is splayed out next to her, the sheets pooled low on her hips and her arm thrown casually over Chris’s chest.
Chris slips out from under her, reaching for her dress and running her fingers through her tangled hair.
“You know,” Martina says, cracking her eyes open and rolling onto her side, “we’d make a good team.”
Chris chuckles as she leans over the bed to kiss her. "See you around."
She plucks the jewel off the dresser.
Martina lets her get away.
Until next time.