Author: Chris Cook
The Star Wars Cantina
"We need to get to Capsicum, very quickly," Willow was explaining. "Is it a fast ship?"
"Fast ship?" Faith asked disbelievingly. "You've never heard of the Clitoral Hood?" Tara had the misfortune to be taking a sip of her drink.
"Um, in what sense?" Willow asked, blushing bright red and patting Tara on the back to help her through the coughing fit.
"USS Clitoral Hood?" Faith frowned "The ship that made the Wastrel Run in less than twelve parsecs? The ship that-"
"But, parsecs are a unit of distance," Willow interrupted.
"I found a short-cut," Faith said flatly.
"So how does that prove the ship's fast?" Willow persisted. "I mean, it proves you know how to navigate, but-"
"Look do you want a ride or not?" Faith asked exasperatedly. "Note to self," she added to Shellbacca quietly, "stop making that Wastrel Run boast."
"What we're interested in," Tara said, sidestepping any further nitpicking from Willow, "is getting to Capsicum without any... Republican entanglements."
"Why, is there an election on?" Faith asked. "I know what you mean, those campaign salesmen are right bas-"
"We're working with a PG-13 rating," Tara said quickly.
"Oh." Faith looked disappointed. "So, I can't, for instance, tell you about the time I ------ the Jewel Princess of Risotto in the ---- with a ------ and then we ----- with ---- and... oh, ----!" she exclaimed, hearing herself fail to say key words. "I like telling that story."
"Sorry," Tara shrugged helplessly. "And no, there's no election, but we really need to steer clear of any Republic authorities at the moment."
"Well, alright," Faith shrugged, which was particularly noticeable given her lack of clothing not applied with a paint brush. "I need the cash, I'm in a bit of a situation, money-wise - I heard Pizza Hutt's figured out I keep shutting off the relativistic time distortion buffers so I can claim they took more than thirty minutes to deliver, and they're sending bounty hunters after me until I pay them back. Which I'm not gonna do!" she added to Shellbacca, who let his head drop into his hand, in dismay. "It's the principle of the thing. Okay, I'll tell you what," she went on to Willow and Tara. "You girls want to get to Capsicum. It'd be tricky to get there directly, but I can get you the next best thing. Have you ever heard of the Subway?"
"Only rumours," Willow said, leaning forward.
"The Collective know about it," Tara added. "But we never encountered it directly."
"Well," Faith smiled, "it's all true. A secret network of wormholes spanning the entire galaxy - it's how smugglers smuggle, how escapees escape, and how phantom ships stay that way. You want to travel under the radar? The Subway is built there. And I can get you to a gate."
"But, hasn't your first mate told you who we are?" Tara asked, confused. "I'm a Fleet Captain, she's a Cutie Knight... we're pretty analogous to law enforcement. How can you be sure we won't turn you in just for knowing this?"
"Well, I could count on you needing me to get where you need to get," Faith smiled, "but basically I'm relying on the fact that I'm so amazingly charming."
"We're not looking to be fussy," Willow said, "but, are you some kind of criminal? Under the circumstances, we can deal with smuggling - heck, there's plenty of systems with dumb prohibitions, and not everyone running around them is doing it to make people miserable, but... you're not a pirate, or anything, are you?"
"Oh, no," Faith shook her head - other bits of her shook, too. "No, not a pirate, of course not. Not exactly. Not in the negative sense, no. I'm a... Shellie, what's the word that describes me?" Shellbacca thought for a moment.
"That'd totally have to be slut, dudette," he shrugged.
"No, not that!" Faith scowled. "Okay, some basis in fact, but it's impolite - I prefer to be called a 'bonne vivante.' How come he can swear and I can't? No, I was thinking... social worker."
"Social worker," Tara deadpanned.
"Yeah," Faith grinned. "I freelance with social causes. Seeing to the common good, that kind of thing. Look, you're a Cutie," she said to Willow, "you can tell if I'm lying. I don't hurt people, I don't take advantage of people, I don't kick 'em when they're down, and I don't make my living by being a pain in the --- to anyone who doesn't deserve it. Oh come on, I can't say ---?!"
"She's telling the truth," Willow confirmed.
"So, I get you to a Subway gate, in exchange for... you girls want a private cabin?"
"Please," Willow nodded.
"With or without me watching the action via hidden cameras?"
"Without," Tara said firmly.
"Drat. Okay, that'll come to seventeen thousand credits."
"What? We could almost buy our own ship for that!" Willow exclaimed.
"Sure, but who's going to fly her?" Faith countered.
"I'm a Class A pilot," Willow nodded.
"I can fly anything up to and including a heavy cruiser," Tara added.
"Fine," Faith sighed. "Fifteen thousand, and let me point out, your cabin will feature a Risottan queen-sized pleasure bed, with all the accessories available should you want them."
"Done!" Tara said at once. She caught Willow's surprised glance, and explained: "Sixty-Nine's told me about them. It's worth it." She handed her card to Faith, who handed it to Shellbacca, who scanned it and handed it back to Tara.
"Docking bay ninety-four," Faith said. "One hour." She glanced across the bar, and Willow and Tara followed her gaze to where it had settled on a pair of blue-feathered twi'ti women.
"Make that two hours," Faith amended.
She got up and made a beeline through the crowd towards her latest would-be amorous encounter, only to find her path blocked a few paces from their table by a seedy-looking amphibian.
"Going somewhere solo?" the alien rasped, raising a pistol.
"Only for the moment," Faith said distractedly, looking over her captor's shoulder to make sure her targets weren't leaving. "I intend to be part of a threesome in about two minutes' time..."
"Pizza Hutt is very angry with you," the alien went on, waving his pistol in what he no doubt hoped was an intimidating manner.
"Hey, they made the 'thirty minutes or it's free' promise," Faith shot back, hands on hips. "If they can't be bothered to think that through logically, screw 'em. Not literally," she added quickly. "Hutts and me don't go together. Well, except that one time, but I was drunk, and it was more out of curiosity than anything else..."
"They've put a bounty on your head," the alien grimaced.
"Oh shut up, Freddo," Faith laughed. "Since when do I care about having a bounty on my head? A booty, on the other hand-"
"I'll make this simple," Freddo glared. "Hand over the money, or-"
"Or what?" Faith chuckled.
"You don't want this to get ugly," Freddo replied.
"Well," Faith shrugged, "I could say that it got ugly as soon as you showed your blubbery face, but that'd be unkind, and I'm the very soul of politeness. But I will point out that your zap gun has 'replica' written on the side of it, while mine," she drew her blaster and prodded Freddo between the eyes with its business end, "has 'Type II Phaser - Vienna Choir Boy setting' written on it. Do I need to draw you a diagram, or are you following the implications of all that?"
"Ah," Freddo said awkwardly. "Well, in that case, I'll just be... going..."
"Seeya," Faith grinned. "Oh, before you go, one last thing-"
"Oh no," Freddo shook his head, "I know about the 'one last thing' trick, it's always the one last thing that's the pain in the-" He broke off as Faith took a swift step forward and brought her knee up to his groin with planet-breaking force.
"Yep," she agreed, "it really is." She pushed the stricken bounty hunter out of the way, and finally reached the table occupied by the two twi'ti women, who had been watching the encounter with interest.
"Ladies," she smiled sweetly. "I've been outlawed in no less than twelve solar systems. How do you feel about finding out why?"
Docking Bay 94
"This has got to be a joke," Willow said, regarding their would-be means of transport with distinct scepticism.
"Hey, you made it!" Willow and Tara turned to see Faith sauntering into the docking bay, with her paint severely smudged and twi'ti lipstick marks on her neck, and elsewhere. Mostly elsewhere. "She's a beauty, isn't she? Had her for eight years, best ship in the sector!"
"When we said we needed a ship," Tara said slowly, "you did know we meant a spaceship, didn't you?"
The object of their attention was indeed a ship - a barquentine, in fact, with a hull made from polished wood, three tall masts decked out with rolled-up canvas sails, and an assortment of cannons poking out of portholes along either side. The only apparent concession to any technology later than wind power were four stubby mechanical legs, extending from folding panels in the bottom of the hull to keep the vessel from tipping over. No doubt due to Faith's unique style, the crew consisted entirely of shapely women and well-toned men, with about one handkerchief's worth of clothing each.
"Oh relax, she's spaceworthy," Faith said, waving a hand vaguely as she and her two reluctant passengers made their way up what looked very much like a gangplank. "I just like the look of her. I mean, I'm a pirate, right? So I should have a pirate ship."
"I thought you said you weren't a pirate?" Willow pointed out.
"I said I'm not exactly a pirate," Faith corrected her. "And this isn't exactly a pirate ship." She glanced over the side as a sudden burst of blaster fire preceded Shellbacca into the docking bay, followed by a squad of uniformed Pizza Hutt Gamoran guards.
"For example, a pirate ship can't do this," Faith added quickly, as Shellbacca raced up the gangplank, shooting out the ropes mooring the vessel as he went. Faith jumped onto the bridge on the rear deck, grabbed the wheel, and spun it as hard as she could, kicking various pedals at the same time. Energy shields flickered on around the hull, forestalling the Gamorans' attempts to blast their way through, a plexiglass dome slid over the exposed deck, and the vessel lurched out of the docking bay, spun around drunkenly, and rocketed up into the sky.
"Captain Harlock eat your heart out," Faith grinned roguishly, as Willow and Tara hung on to the mast, and the planet Tattooine shrunk into the distance with alarming speed.
"Just for future reference," Tara asked, prying her fingers off the mast, and noticing that her left hand had made indentations in the metal, "how often are you attacked like that?"
"It seems like the kind of information that should really be in the brochure, before people book passage," Willow added.
"Oh relax," Faith waved their concerns away. "They were just Gamorans, it's not like they'd ever have hit anything. That whole 'most dangerous guards in the universe' thing? Complete scam on anyone who hires them. You know they can't actually see further than fifteen feet? True."
"Yo Captain dudette, course?" Shellbacca interjected, appearing from below decks. Both Faith and Tara turned, Tara backing down with a bashful smile once she'd realised the first mate wasn't addressing her.
"Best speed to Ender," Faith ordered.
"Aye aye, warp speed Totally Mondo," the mate replied, taking Faith's place on the bridge and spinning the wheel seemingly at random. The interstellar pirate ship's sails unfurled, glowed brightly, and propelled the vessel into warp.
"Now then ladies," Faith turned to Willow and Tara, "I'll show you to your cabin."
USS Clitoral Hood
"This is... nice," Willow said at last, after Faith had left her and Tara in their temporary home.
"Very... forthright," Tara said after a moment's hesitation.
The cabin was decorated according to Faith's tastes, which meant a gigantic four-poster bed, several sumptuous lounges large enough for several people to snuggle on each, and a collection of erotic art that was sure to cause a riot in any civilised system.
"That's interesting," Willow said, gazing at one of the paintings in spite of her better judgement.
"I've heard about that," Tara said, wide-eyed. "I just didn't think it was possible for humanoids..."
"A spot of redecorating?" Willow suggested.
"Let's do," Tara agreed hastily. There followed several minutes of hasty activity, in which paintings were removed from walls and placed discreetly behind couches, statuettes were deposited in drawers.
"Our host is a woman of many talents," Tara said idly, trying not to pay attention to the image right in front of her face as she lifted a large canvas from the wall above the bed.
"Or possibly just one talent, and lots of ways of doing it," Willow suggested, opening the closet, and hastily closing it again. "Still," she said, trying to keep her voice from wavering, "it takes all types."
"So does she, by the looks of things," Tara mused, picking up an open photo album from a coffee table.
"Is that her?" Willow asked, peering over her shoulder.
"I think that's her leg," Tara squinted. "That's someone else's arm... unless she's triple-jointed." She turned the page. "That's... definitely her. All of her."
"It could be worse," Willow shrugged, as Tara closed the book and put it carefully in a drawer.
"I suppose," Tara conceded. "A nymphomaniac pirate is better than a real pirate. At least she's not breaking any laws."
"So far," Willow added. "Besides laws of nature." She picked up a throw rug and used it to cover a life-sized statue of Eccentrica Gallumbits in all her considerable glory, and, finally deeming the room to be one she could sleep in without needing counselling later, sat down on the bed.
"Actually, this is a really good bed," she said, surprised.
"Risottan," Tara said, joining her. "It looks fully-functional. Massage mode, null-gravity cushioning, inbuilt climate control... and hot tub transformation at the push of a button."
"Does it have anything that'd impede Tara-snuggling," Willow asked, shooting her wife a sweet smile.
"Nothing at all that'd impede Tara-snuggling," she replied.
"Then I like it," Willow grinned.
USS Clitoral Hood
"Yo ho... yo ho... a pirate lass for me..." Faith hummed to herself as she played with the held idly, steering gently this way and that as her ship hurtled through space.
"We found the video camera," Tara said from behind her. Faith spun around in surprise, then leant back on the wheel and shrugged.
"Can't blame a girl for trying," she grinned.
"And the holographic imager," Tara ticked off on her fingers. "And the negative space scanner, and the tri-dimensional vid-grabber, and-"
"Okay, okay," Faith said. "So you've got the private cabin you paid for... I knew you'd find them all anyway."
"Did you know there's a dog sleeping in the bar fridge?" Tara asked.
"Is that where Zool got to? It's okay, he's a Rura Penthe Retriever, they like the cold."
"And we found the stealth imaging array in the statue's third boob," Tara added.
"Oh man, I don't get to have any fun," Faith groused. Tara raised a disbelieving eyebrow, as one of Faith's crew wandered past on some errand. She was built like a goddess, her skin shone with lovingly-applied oil, her outfit consisted entirely of a low-slung belt and various rings, none of them on her fingers, and her abdomen sported an intricate tattoo which displayed, in explicit and rather artistic detail, her favourite activity in the universe. There was a downward arrow included, just to ensure there was no confusion.
"Somehow I think you do," Tara said, sitting on the edge of the wood-panelled navigation console.
"Yeah, I do," Faith agreed, her eyes following the woman until she disappeared below decks. "Still - no offence to my many and varied companions - when a Cutie and a member of the Babe Collective wander into my life, I can't help feel a little pang when it turns out they're only interested in each other." Tara gave a shrug, managing to include in the simple gesture a measure of sympathy, but also an acknowledgement that Faith was indeed getting nowhere near the inside of her or Willow's pants.
"Where is she, by the way?" Faith wondered.
"Online," Tara replied. Faith's eyes widened in shock. "Don't worry," Tara added, "we picked up a scrambler on the planet - she's positive no-one will ever be able to track the signal to this quadrant, let alone this ship."
"If you say so," Faith said uncertainly.
"She once out-hacked Architect Sanders," Tara said. Faith nodded her acceptance of Tara's assurances.
"So, what is it with you two?" she asked after a moment's thought. "How do a Cutie and a Babe hook up?"
"She didn't try to seduce me," Tara said simply.
"Why not?" Faith asked, surprised.
"No - I mean she didn't try to seduce me," Tara repeated. "Alright, from the beginning. I met her on Mondas-"
"And your heart stood still?" Faith asked hopefully.
"I was newly promoted to Captain," Tara went on, ignoring her. "I'd just been assigned the Kitten's Paw, and was waiting there to rendezvous with her. The Cyber Mardi Gras was on at the time so there wasn't anywhere to stay on the surface, so I was told to report to an orbiting hotel they've got, the Bed-and-Breakfast Star."
"I thought that was a moon?"
"It's no moon, it's a space station," Tara said. "They just stucco'd the outer hull so it looks like a planetoid."
"Mondasians have no taste."
"Then it turned out they'd overbooked too, so I had to share a room. I asked about my roommate, and somebody told me that her name was Will-"
"This isn't a musical story," Tara cut Faith off.
"I never get to be in musicals," Faith frowned, crossing her arms over her stomach. Tara politely ignored the impressive effect this had on her chest.
"So I was expecting a man, and when I went to my room, there's this petite redhead, in a gorgeous white dress, lying on the bunk, up on one elbow looking at me as I stood dumbfounded in the doorway. I was... absolutely drawn to her, at once. And after I got over the idea that she could be, I saw she liked me too. It's not unusual for people to make a pass at Captains-"
"Successfully, on this ship," Faith said, proudly.
"No doubt," Tara grinned. "I guess it's the uniform, the position of power-"
"You're hot," Faith said.
"I suppose being with the Collective did teach me a thing or two."
"You're hot," Faith repeated.
"I can hold my own, I guess," Tara smiled bashfully.
"You're. Hot," Faith insisted.
"Alright already, I'm hot," Tara gave in. "I've had my fair share of proposals, ranging from the sweet to the annoying. Willow didn't try to seduce me - even when I was giving her all the right signals to let her know she was welcome to..."
"Come aboard," Faith suggested.
"Something like that. And I'm sure she knew. But everything she said and did while we were together made it seem like... like getting me wasn't what was important to her. It was about making me happy. That's what counted, for her." She smiled to herself. "That's how it still is between us."
"Those ones are rare," Faith said, suddenly sounding a lot more sincere than usual.
"They are," Tara agreed. "For me, there's only one. In all the universe, one Willow."
"I know I seem... crude," Faith said, looking away. "But I don't mean any disrespect to you two. To what you have."
"Not crude," Tara shrugged. "Just different. I don't mind, really. Even if we did have to redecorate the room."
"It's all okay, isn't it?" Faith asked, anxiously.
"Everything's intact, we just put most of it out of sight," Tara said.
"You ought to see my cabin," Faith grinned. "In fact, if you two want-"
"No," Tara said.
"Kidding," Faith chuckled. "Did you say the Kitten's Paw? I know someone who serves on her."
"Sixty-Nine?" Tara guessed.
"How'd you know?"
"I can see how you two would get along," Tara smiled fondly. "She took an oath of non-celibacy as soon as she enrolled at the TC Academy. The Chancellor told me once that the four years she was there, they had to cancel all the morning classes - half the campus wasn't getting enough sleep." She took on a thoughtful expression. "I don't think she ever really figured out that organic beings use beds to sleep in."
"I ran into her on Risotto," Faith said.
"I think she mentioned you when she got back," Tara nodded. "She said she'd had some real competition in... that beauty pageant, or whatever it is she goes there every year for."
"Miss Dress Up And Put Out," Faith supplied. "Yeah, it came down to a tiebreaker, just the two of us. She won narrowly - I never figured out the whole 'less is more' thing, with regards to nudity. So in the tiebreak I wore these cute earrings I picked up on Ferenginar - and that's admirable restraint, for me - and she beat me by going in a set of Adepta Sororitas powered armour, totally covered from the neck down - though you have to admit, for a celibate order the Adepta really love showing off in sexy armour - and she just had this 'come hither' look the whole time..."
"I wondered where she got that armour from," Tara mused. "I thought she'd just slept with a Battle Sister."
"She did, but afterwards," Faith nodded happily. "Whole squad. That was a great after party." She looked up as Shellbacca bustled up to her, out of breath.
"Dudette," he panted. "Scanners... totally huge... Federation transport... porn... bogus censors..."
"Did he say porn?" Tara asked.
"Right," Faith said grimly. "Sorry to interrupt your trip, but this takes priority."
"What is it?" Tara asked, tapping a command on her EyePod. Willow appeared from their cabin a moment later.
"You remember how I said I'm not exactly a pirate?" Faith asked. She kicked a control, unfurling more sails, and steering towards a distant speck of light, that turned out to be a cargo ship.
"We can't let you raid a defenceless transport," Willow insisted, taking in the situation at a glance. Tara stood beside her, arms folded, silently backing her up.
"Okay, one, they're not defenceless, that's a refitted Mustang-class corvette," Faith said. "Two, this isn't exactly a raid... more of a rescue."
"There's prisoners?" Tara asked.
"Well... not so much prisoners as... porn," Faith admitted.
"Porn," Willow replied flatly.
"Yeah. Look, the whole Federation, they're ultra-conservative, right?" Faith explained. "No X-rated movies, no hot sex scenes, no porn, no hyper-cable TV, not magazines for the discerning buyer, no toys - can you imagine that?"
"I thought the Federation was benevolent and liberal?" Tara said.
"Wrong Federation," Faith shook her head.
"At last count there's forty-two Federations in known space," Willow confirmed.
"Right," Faith agreed. "This one is all about oppressing its people by not letting them get their rocks off when they want to. They confiscate porn, I liberate it."
"You're a porn pirate?" Willow asked incredulously.
"I'm a freedom fighter," Faith said proudly. "Freedom from tyrannical oppression, in the area of erotic material. I steal from the prudish and give to the horny. Is that so wrong? Come on, there's fifteen cargo bays on that ship packed full of quality erotica that those clowns have confiscated off law-abiding people who just want to get off on it, and they're going to dump it into a star or something. You're seriously going to stop me saving it all?"
"She's telling the truth," Willow said quietly to Tara. "You're the ranking Fleet officer here." Tara looked from Willow to Faith, and at the distant freighter.
"Legal material, by Republic standards?" she asked.
"You betcha," Faith nodded. "I have standards. Shellbacca, have you scanned a manifest for that ship yet?"
"Totally yuh," he said, handing Faith a notepadd. She in turn handed it on to Willow and Tara.
"It all looks legit," Willow said, scanning through the list. "Most of these are on the Cutie accepted erotica list."
"They're all Babe Collective-approved for positive hotness," Tara concurred.
"Hey, they've got your calendar!" Willow pointed excitedly.
"Your what?" Faith asked, intensely interested.
"I was in the Babe Collective 2428 Aquatic Leisure Attire Calendar," Tara admitted.
"Very tastefully done," Willow assured her.
"You?" Faith asked. "Swimsuit? Right!" she announced, rounding on her crew. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are taking that ship!" She turned back to Willow and Tara. "So you're okay with this? Good, honest porn liberation, no evil piracy involved?"
"Alright, we'll allow it," Tara agreed, after glancing at Willow for confirmation. "But we try it Willow's way first."
"What's her way?" Faith asked.
"I can try using the Aww on them," Willow suggested. "There's a good chance I'll be able to get them to stand down without a fight."
"Seriously?" Faith frowned sceptically. "Don't get me wrong, I've seen a lot of cute men and women - often in their birthday suits - but I don't know if there's anything so cute it'd make me surrender. I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful cuteness field surrounding everything."
"Oh really?" Willow challenged, with a slight grin.
"Cuteness and fluffy pink sweaters are no match for a good dose of sex appeal, kid," Faith shrugged.
"Tell you what," Willow said diplomatically. "Give me a shot at them, and I'll tell you which issue of the Cuties' Secrets Catalogue I modelled for. If it doesn't work, you can do whatever it is you do anyway."
"Hot damn!" Faith rubbed her palms together gleefully. "You've got yourself a deal. What do you need? Communications console? Helm? Backrub?" she added with a lascivious leer.
"Yes, no, and only from Tara," Willow replied without a pause, moving to the wood-panelled console. Tara beamed; Faith shot her a frustrated glance, then turned to Shellbacca.
"Just in case this doesn't work," she said, "have the crew ready to launch the slut bombs."
"The what bombs?" Tara asked, overhearing.
"Ah, you'll like this," Faith grinned. "Or at least, I like this. My own design." She picked up a sharp-nosed shell from a box Shellbacca had hauled from a stowage compartment. "See, these punch through the other ship's hull and stick there, sealing the gap - they can't remove or damage them without venting their atomosphere."
"Breaching pods," Tara said flatly.
"I know, nasty weapons," Faith nodded. "Usually filled with nerve gas or radiation emitters or all kinds of ickiness. But these are different. Hey!" she shouted at the crew scurrying about on the main deck. "Who wants to demonstrate?" The entire crew raised their hands.
"They want you to demonstrate a weapon on them?" Tara frowned.
"Watch and learn," Faith winked. She whacked the shell's nose against the rail, starting it beeping, then tossed it to one of the gunners, a shapely woman wearing various gauzy veils arranged with no particular intent to cover anything that needed to be covered. The shell landed at her feet, then lit up and projected a holographic Faith, who leapt on the gunner and proceeded to non-verbally make her an offer she couldn't refuse - not that she'd seemed inclined to in the first place.
"See? Slut bombs," Faith smiled proudly, as veils flew into the air. "That freighter crew's probably been in space for weeks, and they're not even allowed to have an issue of Playbeing to look at. Trust me, once we slam a few of these babies into their hull and they start doing their thing, it'll be days before their captain can wrangle the crew into manning their stations again."
"That's... unique," Tara admitted, blushing furiously as the hologram occupied its target's full attention. She turned away to find Willow bending over the communications console, evidently doing some last-minute rewiring behind it, which didn't help her blush subside.
"Hey, she's got a nice-" Faith started.
"Concentrate on your slut bombs," Tara ordered. "Willow?"
"Almost there," Willow said, straightening up. "Just patching up the system a bit, the Aww works best over video link when it's a crystal-clear picture. Shall we try- what the heck?" she broke off, seeing the action on deck.
"It's a hologram," Tara shrugged. "Her idea of psychological warfare."
"What is she doing with..." Willow tilted her head sideways. "Oh! Okay... um, right, then." She steered the communications screen around so that the energetic goings-on weren't going to be in the background.
"Let's do it," she nodded. "The Aww. Not any other 'it' we might be doing. Hailing them."
"Signal, like, achieved, dudette," Shellbacca reported.
"USS Cli- that's ridiculous. USS Hood to Federation transport, respond please." The screen flickered, then cleared to show a drab man in a drab uniform in a drab command deck.
"This is Commander Leylan, Federation contraband transport London," he replied. "You're not listed on Federation traffic control, and not transmitting regulation ident codes, Hood. You are aware those are punishable offences?"
"Stiffs," Faith snorted quietly.
"You don't need to see our ident codes," Willow said sweetly. "I mean, ident codes? It's just paperwork really, isn't it - obviously we're going to get it all done, sealed and stamped and delivered and all that, but better to get the journey done first and worry about the paperwork later, otherwise, well, what if we got interrupted half-way, but we'd already filed a flight plan for the full trip? There'd be going back and revising the documentation and retransmitting it and more work for everyone at the traffic control office and don't you think it's a lot better to get it right the first time 'round? Then there's no extra work, and everyone can go home on time and enjoy a nice cup of coffee, and not be rushed or overworked. Don't you think?"
"Uh... yeah," Leylan nodded, taking on the slightly glazed look that people tended to get when Willow babbled at them unexpectedly. Faith, who had been looking at her watch, sidled up to Tara.
"How did she say all of that in four and a half seconds?" she asked.
"...so in fact it'd save everyone a whole heap of trouble," Willow was saying, "if we took all that nasty contraband erotica off your hands, because then you don't have it, which is what you want, we do have it, which is what we want, or at least what our over-sexed captain wants-"
"I resemble that remark," Faith huffed.
"-and see? Everyone has what they want, everyone's happy, and isn't that a much nicer state of affairs than the one we're currently in?" Judging the Commander to have been deluged by cuteness enough, she lifted her chin and ordered: "So stand down and prepare to transport your cargo to our hold."
"Stand to..." Leylan nodded dazedly, "...transport cargo..."
"I love it when you go al butch at the end," Tara murmured in Willow's ear, as Faith gaped in disbelief through the deck hatch at the stacks of magazines and DVDs materialising in the cargo deck.
"It's not very butch," Willow blushed. "I'm not large with the butch."
"Large enough for me," Tara winked. Willow beamed, then noticed Leylan still zoning out on the monitor.
"Uh, we can go about our business," she finished. "Move along."
"Move along," Leylan ordered, snapping out of his daze.
"How did you do that?" Faith asked, as the London ambled on its way. "I mean, mind control? It's some sort of hypnosis, right? A-"
"That's the Aww," Willow said.
"No kidding?" Faith blinked in surprise, then laughed. "Okay then... Well, Shellie, get us back underway-"
"Incoming!" the first mate announced.
"Oh now what?" Faith moaned in annoyance.
"That was a nice trick," a voice echoed out of the speakers. "But that cargo doesn't belong to you... so it's time to hand it over."
"Receive only," Willow frowned, studying the console. "There's no return signal, I can't Aww them. Whoever they are, they must've guessed how we did that."
"Who is this?" Faith demanded.
"You don't remember me?" the voice asked mockingly. "Oh, but I remember you. I never forget a face." Faith frowned, then realisation dawned.
"Robin!" she snarled. "Show yourself!"
"As you wish, 'Captain,'" the voice chuckled. Everyone on deck whirled around as a shape suddenly blocked out the light from the nearest sun, a massive warship decloaking directly above them.
"That's a Republic heavy cruiser!" Tara said in shock.
"They found us?" Willow added anxiously.
"She's renegade," Faith shook her head, pointing. On the uncomfortably-close hull, they could make out the ship's original name, TCS Icky Eel's Claw, which had been crossed out in bright red paint and replaced with 'USS Robin Reliant'.
"It's my ex," Faith said dejectedly.
Recoil! from the unnatural spectacle of a guy who didn't think Faith was all that!
Shrug! as the Clitoral Hood escapes by using a technobabble device never before referred to!
Worry! as Willow and Tara reach Ender, only to be stalked by an unseen predator!