See You Space Cowgirl
The following morning, once Georgia gave her the day off, Roxanne began what she knew would be a day of preparation for the coming night. She started with pushups, followed by pull-ups, using the water pipe in her closet. She then hooked up her punching bag and started punching it, slowly going faster and faster until her fists were practically flying. Even now, Roxanne continued to wonder how she kept this part of herself secret for so long. When she first came to Heaven's Gate, she had the bizarre advantage of being somewhat malnourished. While she'd only been in the asylum for just over a month, she lost more than a few pounds. She had long since gained that weight back though, along with a bit of muscle. And she knew it wouldn't be long before someone started to wonder how a previous stick of a girl now looked pretty athletic. They were probably already doing so now.
After putting the punching bag up, Roxanne then began practicing what she remembered of the art of self-defense. And she remembered a lot from her days of being instructed by the one man who'd been kind enough to raise her. Roxanne no longer even wished to remember his name, not because she didn't like him, but because of the pain of being separated from him the mere thinking of his name provoked. Now, whenever she practiced what he taught her or used it on her bounties, she imagined she was actually fighting the hellspawn who'd taken her away from the only family she'd had for the majority of her life. And knowing all the while that someday she would face them for real.
But once it got dark again, Roxanne changed her focus only to the night ahead of her. Tonight, she was going to put on a different kind of show. And though it was much different than her day – or evening – job, it was one she just as carefully put herself together for. Instead of flashy, sparkling colors that demanded attention, everything she put on, from her shirt to her pants to her jacket, gloves, and hat, was blacker than midnight and would help her hide in the shadows of near-complete darkness. But, of course, she had to hide her face lest it be exposed by a common lightsource.
For one thing, no one with hot red-pink hair could go parading through the streets without being noticed. So Roxanne tied hers up and tucked it underneath her hat. She also grabbed a black scarf and wrapped it around her face, leaving only her eyes – once again brown now that the contacts were taken out – visible. But there was still more to add. Roxanne knew her greatest weapon was her brain, but it didn't hurt to have two more on the side. Weapons, that is. Reaching into the bottom drawer of her bedside table, she pulled out a stiletto knife and a handgun. After strapping both to either side of her belt, she walked up to her vanity mirror to survey the results just as she would before a jazz performance.
And the results, as usual, pleased her greatly. No one would even think to recognize her as either person she was. She'd just be a stealthy cowgirl who seemed to make a living entirely on hunting bounties. And she would vanish like the shadow she was once they were caught. Not bad if she did say so herself. Okay, now she was getting a bit too cocky. She needed to concentrate. Once she turned the lights off and waited in silence for a few more minutes, Roxanne opened her window. After making sure the coast was clear, she slowly but steadily started making her way down the fire escape in bare feet so as to make less noise. Down she went, almost as though she were a cat burglar, until she made it to the cold and rocky ground.
But just as she pulled on the boots she'd been carrying, Roxanne thought she caught something in the corner of her eye. She turned in that direction in a millisecond, eyes now used to the darkness splintered only by the twin moons in the sky, focusing her vision like a suspicious feline. A minute quickly passed, and still she saw nothing. But Roxanne knew she had to get moving if she wanted to get that hulk of a guy and his bounty. For safety, she took out her stiletto. And with one quick glance back, the cowgirl cloaked in black began her descent into the dark underbelly of the town that awaited her.
Spike bit his tongue before he could curse at almost being caught. Still, it was something that finally happened in the hours he sat here since early evening. He'd been spying on Heaven's Gate, watching and waiting for the mysterious shadow to show itself and climb down the fire escape. But he lifted his head up a bit too much, and would've been spotted instantly were it not for his lightning fast reflexes. He knew that the person – a man or woman, he still didn't know – had almost spotted him. He couldn't have that at all. And he couldn't have the shadowy person getting too far away from him as they were now doing!
Spike immediately went into action. He'd never let himself hear the end of it if he lost this trail. Fortunately, with his cat-like eyesight, he managed to keep his eyes locked on the silhouette that dodged in between buildings. For what reason? Well, he'd eventually find out. All he had to do was keep himself hidden, yet also not follow too closely. The most effective way to stay out of sight, he found, was to mimic the person's moves. But every now and then Spike touched the handgun at his side, which he remembered to bring in case things got confrontational. He had the feeling this person wouldn't take too kindly to being followed.
He followed the shadowy figure on a familiar path. They were headed toward the docks, he soon realized. But this path wound through a particularly seedy section of the town, full of places far less classy than the jazz club he'd acquainted himself with. As he followed the silhouette, Spike wished he'd thought to bring binoculars. From what he could see with just his eyes, he figured that this person was a woman. One who seemed to be going to a somewhat poor choice for a midnight game of hide-and-seek. Still, he peeked his head from behind the building that hid him, and watched with intrigue as the woman in black started conversing with two drunks outside of a rundown bar.
Spike continued to watch for a short while as the woman seemed to grow frustrated, and resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. Everyone knew there was no reasoning with someone as drunk as one of the guys seemed to be. And he knew that from experience. Thankfully, things quickly became interesting again. The other guy, who didn't look quite as wasted, eventually pointed ahead of the woman on a path that seemed to lead directly toward the docks. Spike watched as the woman looked like she gave a quick nod before she took off again, with him quickly resuming his following behind her.
As he did, Spike again allowed himself to wonder who this woman was, and why she seemed to be so secretive about what she was doing. Was she going to a shady deal involving drugs or stolen valuables? Was she a member of some sort of secret society, maybe a growing crime ring? Was she someone's lover who probably had a fetish for cowgirl attire? That last one made him smirk a little bit. But he quickly regained his focus. Whatever she was up to, as he continued to trail her past the seedy district, Spike had the feeling it didn't amount to something good. And he'd be right there as a witness to it.
As Roxanne made her way further toward the docks, she kept her stiletto knife firmly in hand. She knew by now someone, or something, was following her. And if that person dared to get too close, they'd find themselves at the end of her blade. She knew it couldn't be someone from the club, because they would've come up to her and stopped her immediately. No, this person had much different motives, she was sure of it. She hadn't looked back anymore since she'd first left, but she found it somewhat odd that they hadn't already come up to attack her or rob her or something. Whatever this person wanted from her, they sure were taking their time.
But, as she got closer to where one of the two idiots told her they could find her bounty, Roxanne refocused her mind on who was in front of her instead behind. And it wasn't long before she saw a small group of men gathered in a circle on the ground near a firelit trashcan. Whether they were playing cards or conducting some secret initiation ritual didn't matter to her. What mattered most to her right now was the familiar-looking face sitting at the group's head. The one she'd been looking forward to seeing all day.
With her knife still in her hand, Roxanne made her footsteps a bit louder than before in order to get their attention. And before long, first one, then two, then finally the rest of the seven that she'd counted turned their heads toward her. Just as she thought they would, their mouths started to turn upward in a shady and suspicious manner at her.
"Well, what do we have here?" one of them asked. "Did you get lost on your way to a costume party, little lady?"
The others started to chuckle, except for one of them, Roxanne noticed. And he was the one she paid sole attention to as the others continued to taunt her.
"Maybe it's Western night at that old bar down the road!" one cackled in with a near hyena-like laugh.
"Or maybe she got stuck in someone's dirty clothes at the washer's!" another one chuckled, though no one else did.
"No," the one at the head of the circle then growled. "I got a feeling she's here for more than you a-holes give her credit for." He then stood up, and walked past the others straight toward Roxanne until they were only less than a dozen feet away from the other. His steely gaze held her as much as hers held him.
One of the men then called out in a way that indicated he liked his bottle, "Well? Who the crud does that brawd think she is?"
Without turning his head away from her, the hulking man replied, "Boys, I think we got ourselves a visit from a bounty hunter."
All of the "boys" then let out a chaotic mixture of reactions, ranging from disbelieving laughter, to cries of "WHAT?!," to angry voices saying a whole list of curses Roxanne didn't bother to hear. But no matter what anyone thought, they too got up and their feet and decided to join their pack leader, whom Roxanne had been eyeing this entire time. There was no mistaking it, this was the one she was after. The one worth five million woolongs. Gator Grudge.
He looked every bit as she'd imagined him. Tall, imposing, with a pro-wrestlers muscles, eyes that looked bloodthirsty, sharp teeth that quickly showed behind his open mouth, and of course the alligator tattoo on his face. For a moment, Roxanne found herself somewhat intimidated. She'd taken on guys like him before. But this one seemed to have absolutely nothing to fear. Not from her or anyone else. But as she reminded herself, she had two sturdy weapons at her side, and another the others would soon be surprised to see. Without speaking – as she seldom did in this guise – Roxanne raised her knife toward Grudge.
"What do you want, bounty girl?" he asked with even more growl in his voice than before. But Roxanne remained unfazed. Using her own sign language, which she believed seemed clear enough. She pointed then edge of her knife at Grudge before pointing it toward herself. "You and me," she was saying. And the others quickly caught on.
"Ha! She thinks she can take you on, Grudge!" he laughed. "But what about an average Joe like me!"
Without even looking directly at him as he hurled himself toward her, Roxanne grabbed his outstretched arm that tried to punch her, turned around, and swiftly flipped him onto his back. As she turned back around, the man behind her moaned and the others couldn't help but stare in disbelief. Until one of them started looking rather furious.
"Well, what if we all tried to get her at once!" he asked in a voice he seemed used to using. "Let's sic her, boys!"
All of them immediately responded to his call and lunged toward her. But Roxanne was ready. One tried to throw a punch at her, but she ducked and shoved him at two other trashcans. One tried to grab her knife from her side. She grabbed him, rammed her knee into his groin, and then tossed him at another one who broke the fall of the first. One more tried to kick her in the gut. But she quickly grabbed his leg and then threw him at his buddy, sending both of them to the ground. The fight stopped before it could even begin. And all six of them were now moaning and groaning like the pathetic wannabes they were.
But the one man she really wanted to take down was still standing in front of her. And he was now popping his knuckles. Roxanne didn't know if it was pretentious or actually threatening. But either way, this showdown was what she'd prepared herself for, and no one and nothing was going to keep her away from the five million woolong reward.
"You may have been able to face six sticks all by yourself," Grudge said in his voice that matched his appearance, "but I'm gonna show you how it feels to have your neck between an alligator's teeth. Did I ever say it's a particularly satisfying way to get rid of punks like you? Well, you'll found out what I mean soon enough."
Roxanne kept herself planted to the ground, reminding herself that although this guy was big, she had speed and agility on her side. Grudge tried to grab her with his hands the size of large frying pans. When she jumped back he threw a punch with a fist that seemed even bigger. But again, he missed. Roxanne tumbled onto the ground before kicking him hard in the chest. She then aimed for his throat, but got his chin instead. Still, when he tried to throw another fist down on her, she rolled out of the way so he hit the hard concrete rather than her. Using his momentary pain to her advantage, Roxanne threw herself back on her feet. And not a moment too soon.
Before he could throw another punch at her, she used her own fists as hard as she could to hit both his arms before kicking him in the chest. For a second, he seemed fazed. But before she knew it, Roxanne found herself being pressed against the side of a building, both of Grudge's hands wrapped around her neck. Her heartbeat went into overdrive as she tried to get them off her, but to no avail. Grudge opened his mouth, revealing the teeth he was known for that were dripping with saliva, waiting to clamp down on her neck. He let out a dark, droll chuckle.
"Now, my little pretty, you're mine."
Those words. She'd heard them before. It brought her back to a moment she'd been so desperately trying to forget, and it came back to hit her harder than any punch that had been thrown at her. It would have put her at the mercy of his canines had she not remembered that this was not the same situation, though similar. Before another second even passed, Roxanne reached into her coat. And then stabbed the man in the shoulder with her stiletto knife.
As he let out a howl that put all dogs to shame, Roxanne leaped onto his back, sending him down to the ground. She then brought out a strip of cloth she'd brought with her, put it in his mouth, and tied it around his head. He reached up to grab her again, but she stabbed him again, twice now for good measure. He howled again, and she got out a second strip, securely tying his hands around his back. All the while hearing sirens that grew closer and closer, until she was finally greeted with blaring red and blue lights.
Three police cars showed up, and the officers driving them wasted no time in getting out. Guns in their hands, one of them shouted, "Nobody move!" But the officers stopped moving themselves when they saw a woman clad entirely in black, hands on her hips, her foot on the guy she'd just toppled, and her eyes sparkling with victory.
"Hey," one of them said. "Isn't that –" Before he could finish his question, the woman in black tossed a rock toward the closest one. Once he caught it, all three looked with sudden intrigue at the paper wrapped around it. The one holding the rock quickly unwrapped it. And on it was scribbled a single, self-defining sentence in cursive writing.
He's all yours.
The officers looked up again. But the black-clad woman had already disappeared. They looked in every direction, but it seemed as though she'd vanished in thin air, leaving them with the wanted criminal who was desperately trying to chew away at the strip in his mouth like a rabid dog. A night more interesting than any they'd had in awhile.
Spike quickly pressed himself against the wall of the corner the shadowy woman quickly turned. Her now red knife was still in her hand, proving she hadn't exactly let her guard down. But he didn't try to follow her again. He knew where she was going now. But still, as he watched her race ahead into the darkness back the way she came, Spike didn't know what to think of the spectacle he'd just witnessed. It seemed both funny and intense at once. And it didn't take long for him to put all the puzzle pieces together.
This woman was a bounty hunter. That much he knew. He'd recognized the man she'd pinned to the ground as "Gator Grudge," another wanted man with a bounty on his head. Why else would she not kill him and let him get caught by the police instead? He had to hand it to her it was pretty gutsy to take on someone as vicious and dangerous as him, and win. But even so, there was still one missing piece of the puzzle Spike was now desperately trying to solve: Who was this woman?
The bottom half of her face was hidden by a scarf. And there wasn't exactly much light that he could work with to expose her. But then, before she could get completely out of his vision, Spike thought he saw a peculiar color in the distance underneath her hat. It was just for a second. But was it him, or did he see an unusual shade of red and pink mixed together? Spike was about to move forward and follow her again, when he caught something at the corner of his eye on the ground. He looked down, and saw that even from the distance of a dimly lit streetlight, it looked like a pale strand of hair. He bent down and picked it up, but frowned when he saw that he didn't have enough light to inspect it. Going to the nearest source, the streetlight on the corner, he was a bit surprised to discover he'd actually gotten two strands of hair.
And as he studied them, he quickly learned that this was not natural hair. These two strands had been dyed, and recently. They were different shades from the other. But they were the same color. Red-pink. And in that moment, Spike had never felt so odd at solving a mystery in his life. On the one hand, he was happy to know for sure. But on the other, it troubled him – in more ways than one – that the singer from last night, Rosemary Singer, had turned out to be the mysterious shadow he'd been following all evening. And a bounty hunter at that. Singing was definitely a better job than bounty hunting, much as he hated to admit it. But why was she collecting bounties on the side? Spike had the feeling he'd know the answer to that question, and a dozen more that popped up in his mind, as he began formulating another plan for the following day. It was time to meet this woman, and find out just exactly who she really was.
On a small station that was orbiting Mars, a rather anxious man was nervously typing his nervous fingers on a keyboard as fast as his nervousness would allow. He'd been working on this longer than he usually would. And he knew it. So did his boss who was pacing loudly around behind him, letting him know that his boss was quickly losing his patience. And it was never a good thing when his boss lost his patience. Everyone on the station knew that in their very own way.
"Do you have any idea how long this is taking you?" his boss asked. "Do you know how desperate I'm getting trying to wait for the results?"
"I-I'm sorry," the nervous man said. "I'm going as fast as I can! I swear!"
"Well, go FASTER!" his boss yelled. Without responding, the anxious man looked through the computer the fastest he'd ever looked as though his life depended on it, because it probably was. But before another minute even passed, it seemed his salvation was at hand, because he'd finally found what he'd been looking for.
The computer let out a loud ping. "AH!" the man cried out. "I think I got it!"
As if from out of nowhere, he was immediately joined by his boss. "Well," he said, just barely succeeding at holding back his desperation, "is it a match?"
"Yeah, yeah it is," the man nodded. He pointed at the results he got from the two pictures standing next to each other and being compared. One showed an unfamiliar woman wearing a black cowboy hat on her head and a black scarf around her face. And the other showed a familiar woman in a white asylum uniform, her auburn hair loose around her shoulders, and her brown eyes showing the dead hope from within. Eyes that matched the other woman's in the other picture.
"Where did that one come from?" the boss asked, pointing to the woman wearing the black scarf.
"New Haven," the man replied. "It's a small town on Mars. But, why would she go there?"
"I think you know very well why," his boss said as he patted the man on the shoulder, the calmness in his voice having returned fully. "Oh, I was getting so worried. It made me just want to take you out of here and poke a dozen holes in your back with needles and listen to you scream in anguish and agony as you endured your punishment. Even now, I want to do it so bad it's driving me crazy!" He broke into a small laugh, causing the other man to nervously laugh as well.
"I, I know," he lied. "But, but now that I've done what you wanted me to do...?"
Before he knew it, his boss grabbed him by the collar and lifted him off his feet. He was now facing, instead of just a shadow, a bit of a handsome face with slight facial hair, blond hair that fell to his shoulders, fierce black eyes that seemed to be missing a soul, and a tattoo of a hissing snake marking his cheek. The mark his boss was named for.
"But I'm still gonna do it," the boss claimed through his sadistic smile. "You know why?"
Before the nervous man could ask, the boss replied. "Because, like her, you're my property. And I can do with my property whatever desire I can conjure up for their miserable hides. Do I make myself clear? A simple nod or shake of the head will suffice."
The boss got his answer with a nod of the anxious man's head, and his smile grew more. "Perfect. Now let's get you to the needles. Shall we? It's the perfect way to celebrate now that my long lost lady of a tramp has been found. Oh, I'm really going to enjoy this."