Grateful thanks to Shakes Peer2B for the premise upon which this story is based and permission to use his original characters (and I strongly suggest you read his story first for background. While you're there, check out his other stories-you won't be disappointed!).
Levitra had never been this despondent. What the hell had she been thinking when she'd stolen this broken-down piece of space garbage and made a break? Still 5 weeks from home, and now the stupid fuel cells were almost empty. Great, juuust great! Shit, if her father and brothers could see her now, they'd give her one of those looks that said it all..."Leave it to a woman; never shoulda allowed any of 'em to go out into space; dumb little things just can't take care a themselves."
Just thinking about it made her furious all over again, but at least now she had another target for her anger. She'd been kicking herself steadily over the past 37 days, ever since she'd snuck out of the Commonwealth computer lab at the end of her shift, taking nothing but a copy of that damned program. Oh, she'd had a great plan, all right, really thought it through too. During those final agonizing weeks of debugging the new Nav Avoidance Module, she'd stared with ever-increasing hunger at the old abandoned transport docked not a quarter mile from her work pod. She could tell it was still powered up from the running lights dimly visible at night, and she knew the Oh-Two system was always left running, on the off chance it'd need to be pressed back into emergency service. Levitra hadn't even seen a guard in the last 10 days.
She just had to get off this world; the thought of another ten-year contract stuck out here in the middle of nowhere made her teeth ache with frustration. Steal the ship, plot in her course, then with a quick stop at the first human outpost she was sure to find a buyer for the program who'd finance a quick retrofit and restock. Simple! This could really work! No one knew navigation systems better than she did; how tough could it be? It'd all seemed so easy, right up until the end of that first night out in space alone.
"Yeah, great plan." she thought wryly. Except it wasn't going exactly as well as she'd planned. Okay, major understatement there. So far it sucked.
She was cold, tired and already feeling kinda queasy from the antique freeze-dried food packets that passed for cuisine on this rust bucket. Not even a decent cup of coffee!
Here she was, starting her 38th day on this piece of crap, and she hadn't begun to figure a way out of her dilemma. Without credits, she'd never be able to recharge her fuel system enough to make it home, not to mention getting some decent food. All those stupid dreams about getting rich from the sale of the stolen program; more than enough to finish her voyage and a good bit left over to set up her own consulting business. Everything had come crashing down as soon as she'd had a lucent moment to think about it.
Dumb, Levitra, very, very dumb. Truth was, she couldn't sell the damned thing at all. First time the buyer opened his big mouth to brag about that new wonder toy some little girl'd sold him, she'd be screwed. There was no way it wouldn't get back to the Commonwealth boys right quick that some jerk was racing round space with their new software installed. Shit, they'd be on to her in a flash; those Space Patrol monkeys wouldn't quit til she'd been hauled back to Headquarters in chains.
Nope, only way now was to find a job somewhere in the Clouseau sector, make enough money to refuel and get her back home. Damnit, she'd have to move back in with her Father until she could scrape together enough to get out on her own, put up with his bitching about women and how he'd 'told her so' til she was ready to puke. Maybe she could find a job working for some asshole who'd underpay and overwork her (and let's not forget stare at her tits) til the time came she could finally have her own small software shop. It had to be worth it; Levitra thought she woulda hung herself if she'd had to spend 10 more years on that God-forsaken asteroid.
"The Clouseau sector," she thought to herself with a groan. This had to be the absolute asshole of the universe. Her only hope was that someone here'd heard of computers and be willing to hire her on for a few weeks, enough time to get the needed credits together.
With a sigh, she sat down at the control console, putting it on manual for the descent to the planet surface. The next hour was consumed with minor course corrections and docking at the landing area. Exhausted, she shut down all but the life support system and headed out for the port authority, hoping to pick up the name of a few prospective employers.
Any luck she might have had had gone straight down the tube. She'd chased down everyone who knew anyone without a single lead. "Hell, Lady, no one here has any use for that crap," was the most informative answer she'd gotten all day. Dejected and out of ideas, she found herself at the door of the local watering hole. "Might as well at least get a beer and some real food while I'm here," she thought. "Maybe someone here knows someone who might have a clue where I can get work."
Pushing through the door, the greasy smoke-filled air inside just about made her choke after weeks in the artificially purified air of the transport. "How do these people stand it?" she managed to gasp. Waving her arm in front of her face, she peered anxiously through the murk, hope to find a friendly face, or at least not plop her ass down next to a total perv. Everyone in the place was staring at her, she realized, and all of them men. "Sure, hon, just keep right on steppin' in it," she thought to herself. Trying not to show how desperate she was becoming, she walked the length of the room to the far corner, and took a seat at the end of the bar.
Without a hope in the world, she tried in vain to attract the bartender's attention. After some minutes of being studiously ignored, her anger got the better of her. "What the hell does a woman have to do to get a drink in this place?" she roared. Dead silence answered her query as all eyes turned in her direction. "Awwww, shit," she cringed, "now you've done it," as she heard the dozens of lewd and indecent ripostes. As she stood in preparation for making a run for the door, a hand reached up and grabbed her sleeve, dragging her back down onto the barstool.
"Great first impression you've got there Lady," he drawled. Furious at herself and at him, she swung her best right hook straight at his jaw. He snapped his head back quick as a snake and caught both her fists in his massive paw, then lowered and held them in his lap. An infuriating smile told Levitra what he thought of her efforts.
"Let go of me!" she growled as she struggled to free herself.
"Nice to meet you too; name's Jake Liu", he said with a laugh.
Levitra realized resistance wasn't getting her anywhere and surrendered to his superior strength. That sure didn't mean she had to like it.
"Lady, I might be the only friend you've got in here. Be nice now and tell me your name."
Still fuming, Levitra thought better of the snide retort at the tip of her tongue. "Please, let go of my hands. My name is Levitra... Levitra Hart, and before you say anything else, I already know that was a stupid thing I said back there. I've just been having a really bad day, okay?" she hissed, fighting back the tears that threatened to spill over.
"Hey, hey, what's this? Jeeeez, don't cry. I think I liked you better when you were tryin' to rip my head off," he said teasingly. "Look, why don't we start over, Ms. Hart. Can I buy you a drink?"
"Thanks, a beer would be great... Jake." As he turned to signal the bartender, she quickly wiped the tears away and took a deep breath. Might as well pick this idiot's brain, considering he was just about the last half-human on the planet she hadn't spoken to. When he turned back around, she offered him a timid smile.
"This has gotta be the worst place in the entire Clouseau sector to pull that kinda shit. What'd you do... check your brains at the space dock?"
"Look, I already admitted I was an idiot, okay? Can we get over it? Right now, I'd just like to sit here and have my beer, if that's all right with you Mr. Liu," the remnants of her anger sparking in her eyes.
His hands raised, palms forward in a warding gesture, Jake tried without success to wipe the smile off his face and stop the laughter bubbling up in his chest. "Sure, whatever, but you gotta admit this sector really ain't the safest for a woman alone. Yeah, maybe a quick trip in and out for re-supply or a repair, but then it's beat feet. Just what are you tryin' to do, get yourself killed?"
"I didn't have much choice, if it's any of your business. I'm out of fuel, out of money, and out of luck. And if I don't find a job here quick, first cliff I come to, I'm jumping."
"Whoa, hold on. Things can't be that bad. Willya stop tryin' to bite my head off? I just might be the answer to your dreams."
"You, the answer to my dreams? Hardly!" she snorted.
"Oh, yeah? Lemme tell you something, Mizzz Hart. I might not look like much to you, but I know just about everybody on this rock, and who needs what." Jake looked at her appraisingly for a moment. "What can you do? You're not a hooker, are you?"
"A hooker!" she sputtered. "I'll have you know I'm the best damned programmer in the Commonwealth!"
"No shit? You? A techno-weenie? Never woulda guessed." As he spoke, his eyes traveled the length of her body. "In any case, I can tell you there ain't nobody round here lookin' for a programmer. This here's a mining world, in case you haven't noticed."
She looked so desperate and lost, Jake started to feel that old protective instinct that had gotten him into trouble every time it reared its ugly head. He hated that part of himself, but he had no choice. He wished he could just say to himself "Awwww, screw it", but he couldn't just walk away and leave her without at least trying to help.
"Look, I might be able to use a programmer. I'm what you might call an explorer; I retrieve space junk, you know, salvage. The key here is gettin' there before the other guy, and to do that you have to be willing to take risks. What I'm tryin' to say is, can you tweak my new computer, fix it so it'll make quicker jump calculations, and anything else you can come up with to get me there first?"
Startled at how close he'd come to her secret, Levitra sat in quiet terror for a few moments. He couldn't know, could he? No, that would be impossible; the Commonwealth would never have let it be known that the program had been stolen. Stealing a furtive glance at him, she took a deep, quavering breath and told him she could probably do something to help him out. "How much will you pay me?" was all she said.
"Well, that depends on how good you are, doesn't it? How many credits do you need to get that old hulk flyin' again?", he asked.
"At least 4,000 credits for the refueling and maybe a bit more," she replied without hope.
"4,000??? Hey, I'm a nice guy, but even I know I could get it done for less than half that. Take it or leave it," said Jake.
Levitra knew he wouldn't go for it, but she had to try. With a sigh, she agreed to his price, hoping that if he was pleased with the results, she might pick up some other contract work here, enough to get her home.
They left the bar and headed towards the spaceport and his ship. On the way, Jake explained that he'd just had a new state-of-the-art processor installed and if she were willing, she could start in right away.
Levitra quickly checked the specs for the new hard drive and did some fast calculations to determine current performance levels. "This is a snap," she thought. "Might take 3 or 4 hours to write a quick program to speed up the jump calculations, then she would write a quick sub-routine to instill more fuel efficiency." Just as she was ready to begin, she sensed Jake close behind her. He leaned over, hand on the console, and smiled.
"Lev, I know who you are. Commonwealth flunkies have already been through here looking for you and that hot-shit program you stole. Now, here's the deal. We both have something the other wants real bad, but I'm willing to make a trade, the program for the credits you need, though I don't think they'll do you a lot of good."
"Are you crazy?" she screamed. "If you know who I am and what I've done, then you know if I give you that program and word gets out, I'm as good as dead!"
"I know what the penalty is for stealing from the Commonwealth as well as you do. And you know if you stay here, they'll eventually find you. It's just dumb luck they haven't picked up your transponder yet and hauled your ass back."
"I've made it this far... I'll take my chances," she fumed.
"Will you just listen to me! Don't you understand you won't be able to get to those credits? The minute you try, alarms'll go off all over the galaxy. The only real chance you have is to disappear. With my contacts, I can get you a new identity and get you out of here without anyone knowing. When things cool down, I'll take you wherever you want to go. My price is the program... it's your decision. Say the word and we'll be outta this dump in 60 seconds. If the answer's no, we'll stick with the original deal and you're on your own." Jake held his breath as he waited for her answer, watching her struggle with the realization that he was her only hope.
"Let's go," were the only words she spoke to him before retrieving a memory chip from a zippered pocket and turning back to the console. By the time he had them on a trajectory into deep space, Levitra was standing behind him.
"It's done. We can test it any time you like, then fine-tune the integration to your specs," she said.