Building A Better Fire
by Maya Tawi
"...and an attempted attack on the planet Orseis by the Nietzschean troops was thwarted several hours ago, as the inhabitants of that planet appeared to have been lying in wait for the army. The president of the Urion Colony claimed to have received information from an anonymous source, detailing the exact location and formation of the attackers...."
"Yes!" Harper pumped his fist in the air and stuck his tongue out at the transmitter, as the computer-generated voice droned on. "Take that, you genetically superior assholes," he said gleefully. "That one's for Earth!"
Beka leaned back in her pilot's chair and raised her eyebrows. "I thought you said Earth was ancient history," she said innocently.
Harper leaned forward until he was leaning halfway off the bridge, presumably to hear better; at her comment, he looked up and grinned. "You know what? I like history. As it turns out."
Beka opened her mouth to retort, then something made her slam it shut again. She frowned down at the transmitter and reversed the news program for a few seconds, then played it over again.
"...curiously enough, the colony was never in any danger, as all of the Nietzscheans' weapons backfired and exploded behind their own lines as soon as they tried to fire. No survivors have been found so far; authorities suspect sabotage from an outside agent...."
She stopped the transmission and glared up at her new engineer. He widened his eyes in a poorly calculated attempt to appear surprised. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "There's a god after all! Who'd'a thought?"
Beka folded her arms across her chest and said ominously, "Something tells me whoever was behind that was a little less than divine."
Harper grinned again. "You're wrong there."
"I don't think blowing them all up was part of the plan."
"Guess what? I improved the plan." He paused, watching her with narrowed eyes. "Come on, boss, you can't tell me you're crying over them."
"No," she admitted grudgingly. "I'm not. I hate to say it, Harper, but your plan turned out pretty well. Apart from the whole mass genocide thing."
"Of course it did. The Harper is infallible."
Beka contemplated him through lowered eyelashes. To her eyes, he still looked like a kid- hair still standing jauntily on end, face still lit up with that same smug, devilish smirk. And yet he'd just engineered the fiery death of thousands of Nietzscheans with about as much regard as he would have for stepping on an anthill. Granted, the Niets weren't very nice people, but still....
And then she just shrugged it off. It wasn't the pretty black-and-white world of the Commonwealth anymore; she knew that better than most. The best thing would be to just let the whole thing drop.
So instead she just said loftily, "Oh, I wouldn't say that. You do owe me fifty guilders, after all."
Bright blue eyes stared back at her, puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
Beka leaned over the back of the chair to the holo-projector and slipped in the disc she'd been holding. There were some sputters and false starts as the decrepit projector fizzled slowly to life, and then Rafe's image popped up in the middle of the cockpit- grainy, unfocused, but definitely him.
"Hey, little sis. Appreciate the offer, but I don't think I'm ready to go legit just yet. I've got a couple jobs lined up in... well, I'd better not tell you, seeing as you're one of the good guys now." Even though she'd already seen it, Beka couldn't resist flipping up her middle finger at the hologram. Good guys, my ass, she thought.
"And, you know, Dani's a really cool girl- I think we might have a future. This thing could definitely go at least two weeks, easy."
Harper scowled at the image. "Showoff."
"Of course, I had to go through the discs- you've been busy lately, haven't you? Some of your new stuff'd fetch pretty prices on the black market. You'll be glad to know I took pity on you and didn't take any, seeing as you're grieving and all. Next time, you'd better protect those babies with your life."
Beka glanced automatically towards her quarters and her prized collection, as though they'd vanish into space if she didn't keep watch. She'd better keep that in mind. Apparently some things weren't sacred even between brother and sister.
"If you ever want to come see my side of things again, you'll know how to find me. And don't let the kid weasel out of his bet, okay? To Valentine Smart, this is Valentine Smarter, out... for now."
And then he saluted, and the image vanished.
Harper jumped up even before the after image had completely faded. "Hey, I never agreed to take that bet," he said quickly. "I was just saying I'd take the job-"
"Yeah, yeah." Beka stuck her hand out and wiggled it impatiently. "Pay up, loser."
He scowled. "Gloat is not a good look for you."
"Really? I've always been fond of it." Beka grinned up at him for another moment, then pulled herself back up into a sitting position. "Anyway. If this operation's going legit, we need to start looking around for a crew."
Harper looked wary. "How do we do that?"
"I don't know. I've never had a crew before."
"Oh, and I have?" She shrugged elaborately, and he started running a hand through his hair, apparently deep in thought. "Let's think Star Trek reruns... um, doctor? Navigator? Hairy bartender?"
Beka nodded, her mind running along the same lines. "And a first mate."
"I thought that was my job."
"Dream on, Seamus."
He grinned. "Hey, it's worth a shot."
"You're not really my type, kid."
"Oh yeah? So, boss, what is your type?"
She stared at him for a long moment, seriously considering the question. Blue eyes met blue eyes, and then she said deliberately, "Someone a little less like me."
"Ouch." Harper smirked. "Busted."
'"You certainly are." She swivelled back to the ship controls, slipping abruptly into pilot mode. "Now give me my money, and then go check out the slipstream drive. I thought I heard something banging. It's time for you to earn your keep."
There was a long pause behind her. Then Harper said, sounding unusually tentative, "Uh... Beka?"
"What?" she said impatiently, frowning down at the controls. The accelerator had just beeped its two-tone warning, reporting a breakdown of communication with the slipstream drive. Something was definitely wrong. It was almost like the drive was... breaking apart....
She whipped her head around and glared up at Harper. He looked sheepish. "Um... remember how I had to put it back together really, really fast?"
"Go," she said quietly, her voice low and barely controlled. "Fix it. Now."
"Sure thing, boss. Listen, you should really have a sense of humor about these things-"
"Going!" He vaulted hastily back onto the bridge and disappeared in the direction of the engine bay.
Beka closed her eyes and folded her arms over the controls, burying her head between the crooks of her elbows. She groaned softly.
And then, before she knew it, her shoulders were shaking with silent, muffled laughter.
Life after death. The universe went on. And besides, her father had left much more than just one legacy.
When she raised her head again, she was a blonde.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Epilogue