The Dirty Pair
or First Flights, Big Trouble
by Shawn Hagen

There were aspects of the room that could be considered stereotypical for a sixteen-year-old female. The bed with its lime green canopy and comforter, the stuffed animals on the bed and on the floor, were some of those aspects.

There were also aspects that might have stood out in any room. The four parallel-interfaced computers, as if the owner needed more power than a single system could provide. The high tech entertainment centre with its steel-grey covering that was hooked into the computers, giving them another output device. Amongst the posters and holo-vids of sim stars and rock stars was a full page lay out from a weapons magazine. It advertised a pistol with the caption, "When They Absolutely, Positively Have to Die," written below the picture.

The room's single occupant was a young girl, about sixteen, long black hair, pulled back from her face in a ponytail, blue eyes scanning the small screen of the data reader in front of her. She was pretty, verging on a mature beauty that would be mixed with cuteness. Her skin was quite pale, contrasting sharply with her hair. Sharp contrasts seemed to be part of her nature.

She was wearing a white sailor-midi blouse, striped with blue at the ends of the sleeves. The red scarf around her neck was untied. Her pleated, blue skirt was draped over the chair by her desk. The bottom of the blouse almost covered her powder blue panties.

Her right leg rose and fell rhythmically, likely an unconscious motion. Her finger tapped the data reader's keypad every now and then, the screen flashing to something new. She reached up to twist the interface jack that was plugged into the neural socket behind her ear. A black cable connected reader and girl.

"Yuri!" A red headed girl called as she burst into the room. She had creamy gold skin, brown eyes with an intensity to them, her shoulder length hair spiked up. She was beautiful, cute, a little boyish perhaps but it added to her looks. She wore the same type of school uniform as Yuri, though she was wearing her skirt. "Guess what I got?"

"A scorching case of herpes," Yuri said, then she cried in pain as Kei hit her on the right shoulder. As Kei usually found a reason to hit Yuri at least once a day, and she always aimed for the same shoulder, even a light tap could cause discomfort.

"That was hardly nice." Kei dropped onto the bed, scattering the neat arrangement of data chips Yuri had laid out. "Guess again."

Yuri considered another answer but decided not to risk any more pain.

"I haven't the slightest."

"Well you should have just said that to begin with," Kei told her, as if she was talking to a particularly dim child. "I got this," she held up a glossy black data chip, "from Dennis, about an hour ago."

"What is it?" Yuri asked.

"Watch." She reached down and yanked the chip from Yuri's data reader and then put hers in its place. The screen went blank and then lit up a second later.

"Huan Ti's military grade arms catalogue," Yuri said, reading the information presented. "The most recent edition as well."

"Do you know what this means?" Kei smiled.

"Yes. We're in possession of classified and restricted information. One to three years in a minimum security prison."

"Slide back into reality Yuri. We get caught, we cry a little, we point are fingers at Dennis and get a slap on the wrist though I suppose if you want you could request a spanking." She grinned evilly.

"You are going to set the woman's movement back a century at least," Yuri told her.

"Who cares? Take a look at all this stuff." Kei tapped the scroll key. The screen began to display small arms.

"How did Dennis get this?"

"Lifted it off some media board I guess. One that will no doubt soon find itself shut down. Look at this, cut down laser carbine. You could carry it in a holster."

"So?" Yuri began to gather her data chips into a neat pile.

"So? So it has the power of a rifle and equivalent range to most pistols. You have a limited number of shots though, smaller energy clip." Kei frowned slightly as she studied the stats.

"You know Kei, before I met you I read magazines like 'Teen Life', 'Sixteen', and 'Fashion Weekly'."

"You still do. I also noted you have a subscription to something dealing with weddings."

"Yes, but I'm also reading 'Soldier of Fortune', 'War Weapons' and other bizarre ones."

"You're more interesting now. I've helped you add depth to your personality."

"I guess."

"So what do you think of this carbine."

"Lasers are defeated by aerosols, I think a projectile weapon may be a better choice, or maybe a microplasm."

"Microplasms suck. Forget the weapons though." Kei rapidly tapped the scroll key. "Here is what we want, ships." A Puma class aerospace fighter was displayed on the screen.

"Look at the thrust to weight ratios on that." Yuri said. "They suck."

"But look at all the weapons," Kei said indignantly.

"Which is no doubt why it is so heavy. Do the physics Kei, the thing probably handles like a cow."

"Hmmph." Kei sulked as she hit the scroll key a few more times. "Whoa, look at that." Kei pointed to the ship that was displayed on the screen.

"Huan Ti's new Wasp class assault scout. Assault scout? Isn't that sort of, well stupid?"

"Don't be such a vapour head. Small, fast, not a bad weapon selection, probably a match for most frigates or corvettes with Mobility and firepower. Wonder why they don't have a price?"

"Because information like that as well as precise technical statistics, are very classified. Also there is the age-old adage, if you have to ask you can't afford it. I'd guess your looking at about one hundred to one hundred and fifty Gigayen."

"Phew." Kei blew a lock of hair out of her eyes. "That's a lot more than most warp capable yachts."

"Imagine that," Yuri said sarcastically. "And it's only a military ship."

"Hardly fair." Kei reached out and yanked the interface plug from Yuri's neural socket. It was sort of liberty that Yuri would not have accepted from anyone but Kei. Kei plugged it into the entertainment centre and turned on the holo-field.

A globe of blue light appeared above the centre, inside it was a holographic projection of the ship.

"I want one," Kei said simply.

"You could become a kept woman, find a rich enough keeper and he, or she," Yuri smiled wickedly, "could get you one."

"It would have to be refitted though, maybe even custom built from the ground up," Kei said, apparently ignoring Yuri. "Better armour, maybe ceramic composite, or a hybrid metal. Weapons aren't bad, an increase in power would be a definite plus."

"How do you know so much about fighting ships?" Yuri asked.

"I got a subscription to the Journal of Military Science."

"Can't bother reading her textbooks but give her something about violence and she's an expert."

"I got it." Kei smacked a fist into her open palm. "We'll go into smuggling, white collar crimes, that sort of stuff, we'll easily be able to afford it."

"Kei, what colour are the stars in your universe."

"Are you saying I'm being unrealistic?"

"Whatever we end up doing I doubt it will have much to do with ship combat, or guns, or anything more violent than slapping fresh men."

"I suppose." Kei pulled the interface cable from the entertainment centre. The projection derezzed and disappeared. She tossed the cable to Yuri and then dropped onto the bed, once again upsetting Yuri's data chips. "It was a nice dream though. What about Special Space Forces?" Kei asked hopefully.

"I'm sure we can get in their crack squad of spokes models," Yuri told her.

"You don't have to be nasty about it," Kei said sulkily. "What are you studying for?"

"The calculus test we have tomorrow," Yuri reminded her.

"That's tomorrow?"


"I hate calculus." Kei fell back so she was lying on the bed, staring up at the canopy. "All that crap about letting X approach zero and dividing it into a finite number and getting infinity. Who cares?"

"Our calculus professor for one, the university administrators for another."

"You have a set of decent notes don't you?" Kei turned herself around so she was lying beside Yuri.

"Yes." Yuri ejected Kei's arms catalogue and put the first chip back in.

"Good, because I don't have any."

"Ever though of taking notes in class instead of sleeping and causing trouble?"

"No," Kei told her.

Meizuiru University couldn't claim to be one of the top one hundred universities in the United Galactica, which was a great disappointment to the university administration. It was in the top five hundred though, which put it in esteemed company.

It occupied almost eighty square kilometres of forest just outside the city that it was named after. The university proper only occupied an area of about sixteen square kilometres closest to the city. There were a few buildings farther from the main campus but those were ones where fires and even the occasional explosion were likely. The university administration was not stupid.

The rest of the land was either in its natural state, providing many trails for the students' enjoyment, or given over to botany experiments. The entire area was well monitored, both for the students' and the experiments' security.

Near the north end of the campus was a set of four buildings. They shared a common basement system and two-story base, the four buildings rose separately ten more levels. The roof of the base was given over to a number of plants and benches, a small park of sorts.

Off to one side was a large, plascrete planter; a meter high box holding several cherry trees and grass. The edge of the planter was wide enough to provide a makeshift bench. Upon that makeshift bench Yuri sat.

She liked it there. It was out of the way so she was not disturbed as she worked, but still close enough to the main traffic areas for her to check out the men who walked by. They were teachers and university staff. There were very few male, Lucien Genetic Upgrades, and those few tended to be on the weird side. As a result Yuri's boy watching had to become man watching, which was, in many cases, a little creepy. It was one of the reasons she liked leaving the campus for the city.

The wind blew through the open area, scattering cherry blossoms across the rooftop, it was like being in a pink blizzard for a moment, the air was thick with their heady scent. Yuri had to hold her skirt down as it threatened to blow up above her waist.

Once the breeze died down Yuri went back to entering notes in her computer. She was in her diary mode; the only part of the memory that was protected with encryption programs as well a few defence programs, which were very nasty if not downright illegal.

It was sort of silly to have black ice protecting a journal that usually contained nothing more than a record of the weather, how Yuri felt she did on tests, a few dreams and other things in a similar vein. The occasional very personal piece of information was to be found in the data and Yuri was paranoid about that sort of thing. It came from being friends with people like Kei.

She looked down at the flat screen, chewing on a stem of grass, reading what she had written. Nothing really special, except for a few comments about one of the more attractive boys she had seen the other day while off campus, and a short daydream Yuri had had about the young man in question.

Looking up Yuri saw Kei walking towards her. She saved the information in her diary, and then shut the computer off. By the time Kei stood in front of Yuri, the computer had already been folded up and slipped into Yuri's briefcase.

"I failed." Kei cried as she sat down beside Yuri. "Failed, totally failed, crashed and burned, thundered in, blew it, did not do at all well." Kei turned to look at Yuri. "They'll kick me out, I'll be a university dropout, I'll have to get some lousy job. Oh Yuri! I don't want to be kicked out!"

"Stop being melodramatic," Yuri told her. "You didn't fail." And even if you did it won't matter. She didn't say the last part out loud.

"How do you know?"

"Because I spent a good part of last night making sure you understood everything well enough to pass."

"Oh," Kei said, calming down. She sat quiet for a few seconds. "How come you always do well and manage to clear out of the examinations about twenty minutes before they end while almost everyone else is still writing. You don't hack into the professor's computers and get copies of their exams do you?" Kei asked, not sure whether she thought that would be a bad thing or perhaps the greatest thing Yuri had ever done.

"Of course I don't." Yuri said, which was kind of the truth. She had hacked into several professors' computer systems in the past, but not to make copies of exams. Most of the profs didn't keep their exams in an accessible computer system anyway. The university administration did keep lists of marks in such systems though.

Few of the profs actually knew their students very well and didn't notice if a mark changed from an F to a C minus. Yuri had pulled that one off for Kei once already, though she had not told her friend about it. She did not want Kei to be insulted and more importantly she didn't want Kei blabbing it and getting them both booted out.

"Well since I'm not about to fail." Kei dropped back onto the grass, looking up at the sky through the tangle of cherry branches. "Do we have any real important classes tomorrow?"

"Not really," Yuri told her. "What do you have in mind?"

"Joy ride."

"I suppose we could get our hands on some motorcycles. Francine has a new car. She thinks the security system is real tight but I can crack it. Let's hope she never finds out we were responsible for the fiery demise of her first car."

"Boring," Kei said.

"Could grab one of the university helos, maybe even the AG puddle hopper."

"No." Kei sat up and pulled a pack of cigarettes from her briefcase. She lit one up and then offered Yuri one.

Yuri was quite aware that smoking was a bad habit, and that the nicotine within the GM tobacco was addictive. Knowing that, there was only one thing she could do. She caved into peer pressure like she always did and accepted a cigarette from Kei.

Kei sat there for a few minutes, blowing smoke into the air, deep in thought. Yuri took the occasional puff off the white tube, never inhaling. She kept the cigarette pointed up so the smoke couldn't stain her nails. Yuri had mastered the art of looking like she was actually smoking, or so she believed.

"We've got to think bigger, and better," Kei said as she flicked the butt of her cigarette off towards a trashcan. She missed by several meters and it instead went into the open briefcase of a passing student. Since the girl didn't notice Kei saw no need the mention it to the young woman. "Let's steal a spaceship."

"Get real Kei, you can't borrow a spaceship." Yuri stubbed her cigarette out in the dirt and placed it aside to be disposed of later. "Ever heard of anti hijacking measures?" Yuri asked Kei in an insulting tone. Kei hit her in the shoulder.

"Trust me Yuri, I have a plan." Kei smiled.

Dear goddess, help us, Yuri prayed, but not aloud. Her shoulder hurt too much for her to risk it.

In its first incarnation Tsugiuma Station had been built to a simple plan: a ring around a central hub. The ring had been spun to provide gravity to the ring section, artificial gravity being too expensive to maintain for such an insignificant station.

Then several nearbyat least near for warp capable shipsplanets had opened up for colonization, or valuable natural resources had been found. That had increased the traffic that the station received a hundred fold and had required a major reconstruction.

The original station served as the hub of the new station. It had been moved into one of Wakuseinokawa's LaGrange points and had been built upon. The station's new prosperity had allowed the costly, but efficient, artificial gravity generators to be installed.

It looked nothing like the old station, the first ring had been enlarged and a second even bigger ring surrounded the old one. The central docking bay had been strengthened and huge ball like structures had been built on each end. It looked sort of like an antique dumbbell with an inner tube inflated around it.

It was an efficient design as ships could dock around the outer ring and the upper and lower spheres. Loading and unloading cargo was easy and quickly done, increasing the profit made by the stations investors.

The station housed a number of bars, restaurants, clubs, brothels, and hotels for the crews and passengers of the many ships. Many people from the planet also came up for a night of excitement.

No one paid particular attention to the two girls who wandered through the station. Not that either was trying to attract attention. Yuri wore a pair of black jeans and a dark blue sweater. Kei had on black jeans, a dark grey t-shirt and a black leather jacket. Her red hair was tied up under a dark bandanna.

They had entered the less travelled ways of the station. While the area they were in was not actually restricted, if they were found they would be politely directed back to the public sections of the station. Yuri was feeling particularly nervous and kept glancing over her shoulder as if she expected to see a squad of security personnel sneaking up behind them.

"We're going to get caught, why did I let you talk me into this?"

"Shut up," Kei said as she stopped by small hatch on the wall and bent down to examine it. "All right, this is it." She spread a map of the station out below the hatch. "This leads into the emergency access ways, they were designed to provide access to important areas in the station in case of emergency." Kei tapped the hatch with a knuckle, eliciting a dull, soft, thud.

"Now we're right here." Kei tapped the map, which was almost blankit was meant for the visitors and only provided detail of the public sections. "The SAR skiffs are up here." Kei tapped another blank section near the top of the upper sphere. "So we just go sort of to the right and up."

"Kei you can't be sure of any of that," Yuri accused.

"Don't bother me with details," Kei told Yuri. "Now pop this hatch."

Yuri decided there was no way to talk Kei out of it. They were going to get caught. She had no doubt about it. Still they were already there.

She opened her nylon carrisack and pulled out a rectangular piece of ceramic and plastic. The top swung up, becoming a small screen, revealing a keyboard. Yuri removed an interface cable from her bag, plugged it into the deck and then slid the other end into the data jack behind her left ear.

There was a keypad and card reader to the side of the hatch. It was a bit simple, but Yuri guessed a more complicated system would not have worked well in an emergency.

From the carrisack she pulled out a tool kit, flipped it open and removed a magnetic probe. She ran it along the edge of the keypad; there was a click and the pad swung open. Within the space revealed was a nest of fiberoptic cables.

"This isn't good," Yuri said.

"What?" Kei looked over Yuri's shoulder.

"I'm not sure how to hook my deck into this mess, I'm not even sure what half of this is for."

"Well you're supposed to be the electronics genius."

"Computer, more illegal entry software than anything else, and I've never said genius." Yuri pulled an interface cord from the deck, hesitated for a moment, pushed aside several of the cables, revealing a small socket. She hesitated for a moment and then pulled the cord into it.

"Back in a milli," Yuri said as she hit the engage button on her deck.

Yuri had been opening security locks, mostly at Kei's request, for a while. They were easy, dedicated computers that only had one task: simple and so stupid. They almost begged to be popped.

What she was dealing with now had nothing in common with the locks around the university. She found herself in the station's security computer and had not been expecting that. It almost caught her. She managed to throw up a shield program a microsecond before the computer tagged her.

This is going to be tough, Yuri thought as she began calling up the programs she would need. Then she went to work, hunting for the proper area in the computer.

Everything was well shielded, ICE, most of it nasty. Yuri knew a lot of tricks, she had a number of well-written programs, and her deck skated ice just like a deck built by a sixteen year old should not.

Soon she had what she needed but held off to make sure everything was as she though it should be. There was secondary sub-program that would tell the security operator that the hatch had been opened, even if the proper code was entered. Clever, Yuri thought as she rewrote the sub-program for the hatch she wanted. Then she sent the proper code into the computer and jacked out.

"Eighteen seconds," Kei said as the hatch opened. "Thought you might be in trouble."

"So did I." Yuri removed all the cables, packed her deck and tool kit away and then closed up the lock's keypad.

"Come on." Kei climbed into the hatch.

Yuri followed, pulling the hatch closed behind her.

It was dark, the only light provided by green glow strips that ran along the top of the tube. It was cramped, they had to crawl on hands and knees, Kei pulled a set of leather gloves from her pocket. She saw no need to mess up her hands or her manicure.

Yuri pulled her nylon carrisack over her shoulder and tightened the straps so it would not drag. Kei was already several meters ahead of her, moving quickly.

"Kei," Yuri called softly after a few minutes. "Do you really have any idea of where we are?" Yuri was not feeling at all comfortable. The air was stale, it was a bit too warm and she was nervous enough to be feeling nauseous. Throwing up would not be a good thing to do. Kei would never let her forget it.

"Of course I do," Kei said, lying to Yuri. "We should reach the central hub soon, then we can start climbing up to top sphere."

"Good," Yuri said, wiping perspiration from her forehead.

Kei was beginning to feel nervous; she had made several turns, mostly on instinct and was not sure where she was. Getting lost in the emergency access tubes would be bad. And it was something that Yuri would never let her forget.

She wanted to admit defeat, but she wanted to do so in some clever way that would make it seem like she did not give up. Perhaps she could get Yuri worried enough to start crying. It would be a perfect reason to end their little adventure. That it would also be almost as much fun as stealing a ship was a definite plus in Kei's opinion.

Then she saw something that she had missed before: A small plate, barely readable in the dim light, with a section of map on it and direction arrows pointing out various areas. Kei wondered how many she had passed without seeing them. She noted that there was an arrow pointing out the direction to the central hub. She smiled and went off in the direction it had indicated.

Ten minutes later they rested in a larger area where several of the emergency access tubes met. There was enough room to stand up straight and stretch, which was what both girls were doing.

"Do you think there's a bathroom close by?" Yuri asked Kei.

"Doubt it." Kei walked over to the ladder, a shaft opening below and above, and stared up in the direction they would be going soon.

"Great." Yuri sat down, feeling depressed. "We'll be caught and not only will I have a criminal record but I'll have embarrassed myself."

"We won't get caught," Kei told her. She grabbed the ladder and jumped onto it. Holding onto a rung with one hand she let herself swing out, looking down the tube, it would be a long fall.

"Oh, and when security comes what will you tell them? That we're lost?"

"No." Kei reached into her jacket. "I'll use this." She pulled forth a slim pistol with a long, tapering barrel.

Yuri almost freaked as she jumped to her feet, staring at the weapon in Kei's hand. She felt like screaming. This day was just going from bad to worse in her opinion.

"Problem?" Kei asked.

"Oh no," Yuri said sarcastically. "Everything is just peachy. We're in a restricted area, I have an illegal deck with illegal software and you're carrying a pistol, which if you don't realize is also illegal. Does assault with a deadly weapon mean anything to you? How about possession? Intent? We are going to jail." She slumped back down to the floor.

"Oh relax." Kei leaned back so she could look at Yuri, albeit from an up side down perspective. "The pistol is just a low velocity hypodermic needle gun. The hypos are loaded up with a variable tranquillizer that is perfectly safe. I borrowed from the zoology lab. Its not a deadly weapon and we are not going to jail."

"Really?" Yuri said hopefully.

"Yes. We're sixteen; we'll go to a juvenile holding facility. It's jail light. We still are here illegally and you still have all that illegal gear on you."

This is way too much fun, Kei thought as she watched Yuri have a minor fit. I should have to pay for this much enjoyment. Yuri was just too high strung in Kei's opinion.

After Yuri calmed down they continued on.

They had stopped outside of the hatch that led into the SAR skiff hangar. Kei was reaching for the release handle when Yuri stopped her.

"If you open that a light flashes on some security tech's board telling them it is open." Yuri warned her.

"You've been watching too many vids Yuri," Kei told her. "We are not in a military complex, we are in a low security station. When that light flashes, if the tech is paying attention and not involved in some various naughty business with a co-worker, or sleeping, or eating, he or she will waste about ten minutes seeing if anybody is supposed to be in the tubes or if there is a malfunction. Now come on." Kei opened the hatch before Yuri could stop her.

They stepped out into a large, dark room. Yuri was expecting the lights to flash on and alarms to start sounding, but like that nothing happened. Kei was already walking towards one of the search and rescue skiffs.

They were each ten meters long, narrow triangles, the cockpit section located near the front, within an armour glass covering. The rear was dominated by three thrusters, big ones from what Yuri could tell. It was bound to be fast.

Kei had stopped near the central hatch of the closest skiff. She reached forward and touched the metal. A smile spread across her face.

"Huan Ti's inner-system, high-speed, small, patrol-class skiff, a third cousin to that assault scout we were looking at. I'm in love." Kei pressed herself against the cool metal.

"Yeah, well how do we get in?"

"Like this." Kei stepped back and touched the control plate for the hatch. The hatch opened and she climbed in.

"How did you do that?" Yuri followed her into the ship. They were in the cargo bay; the walls were covered in first aid and rescue supplies.

"It wasn't locked." Kei turned around and closed the door, tapping a few of the controls. "Now it is."

"But what about the stat up codes? I can't get past any anti-hijacking programs," Yuri said; however she would dearly love to try.

"We don't need any." Kei smiled. "This is a rescue ship, it has to be ready to go at all times, No one is going to waste time by having to enter the proper codes. Neither is the ship warp capable. Who would steal it?"

"Us," Yuri said.

"We're only borrowing it for a short time," Kei clarified as she walked towards the cockpit. Yuri followed.

The cockpit was cramped, barely enough room for the two control stations. Kei took the pilot's station, Yuri the co-pilot's station.

"So now what?" Yuri asked as she did up her restraining harness.

"Shut up and hand me an interface cable," Kei told her as she studied the controls.

Yuri gave Kei an icy stare as she handed the redhead a cable. Kei did not look up so she missed it completely. Plugging one end into the control panel she pushed the cable into her neural socket. She turned the computer on.

The necessary information was projected into her visual field. She reached forward and began the start up procedures. The ship began to vibrate slightly as it powered up. A set of docking clamps locked onto the top of the craft and moved them towards an open launch tube.

"Won't someone notice this?" Yuri asked.

"Yes, but would you abort the launch of a search and rescue craft? By the time someone realizes all is not right we'll be gone." Kei shut off the transmission function of the communication suite. She did not want to talk to anyone, or have visuals transmitted from the craft.

They were locked into the tube when the com squawked to life.

"Skiff 3, please identify and transmit mission," someone said. Kei ignored it.

The skiff leapt forward as the electromagnetic catapult fired them out. The thrusters flared to life right after they left the station, overloading the inertial dampers, pushing both girls deep into the seats.

"What a rush," Kei tried to yell but with the g-force she was under it came out as more of a grunt.

"Kei, we're about to slam into that freighter," Yuri shouted as the large ship began to dominate her view.

"No problem." Kei grasped the control stick and began to play with the venire thrusters. Nothing was happening though and the freighter was getting closer every second. Collision alarms began to sound.

"Kei," Yuri said nervously.

"This damn thing won't turn."

"What." Yuri looked over at her and then she leaned over, glad the inertial dampers were back, and hit a few controls on Kei's station.

Suddenly the skiff heeled over onto its side and they were turning so sharp that the dampers were overloaded once more and both girls were thrown with bruising force against their restraints.

"What the hell?" Kei asked.

"We have incredible speed or we have incredible manoeuvrability; we do not have both. We launch at maximum speed at the cost of control. You have to feed power from the main thrusters into the directional."

"I knew that," Kei said as she lined the ship up with the planet. "I was just testing you."

"I'm glad I passed." Yuri leaned back in her seat.

"Alright, whoever is in that skiff shut it down and wait," a voice came over the com. "We're launching fighters so you better..." Kei turned the volume right down so they could barely hear it.

"Fighters?" Yuri's voice held a hint of fear.

"Took them long enough," Kei said. She entered landing data into the skiff's computer and let it plot a re-entry course for her.

"There are fighters coming after us Kei, do you understand what that means?"

"Yes, if they get within two kilometres of us they will hit us with their EMP cannons and some low-powered laser blasts, enough to slow us down. Then they will board us and arrest us."

"Aren't you the least bit worried?"

"They have to get close. They are probably faster but we have quite the substantial head start. Those fighters are also incapable of making planet fall because they are cheaper that way."

"Brilliant," Yuri said, truly amazed. "You thought this all out didn't you?"

"You don't have to be so surprised."

"If you put even half that effort into your school work you would be an honour student."

"Like I want to be a dweeby honour student."

"What about planet based aircraft?" Yuri asked.

"By the time they scramble, if they scramble, we'll have landed and left the skiff. I have all the angles worked out."

"Speaking of angles, isn't ours a little too steep." Yuri looked at one of the screens that was warning them of impending doom.

"Oh shit, this is just what we need."

"Kei, we have to pull out, try again."

"We don't have time, those fighters are closing fast."

"But we're six degrees too steep, the craft won't be able to take the heat of re-entry."

"You know, I've always heard the engineers always sort of leave a little lee way, just for safety. I bet we won't have any problems."

"Do you really believe that?" Yuri looked at the screen. The data on it suggested that they would not survive.

"Well considering I'm risking both out lives I better."

"That does not make me feel better."

"Yuri, do you think you could shut the hell up and see if you can feed more power into the cooling units."

The skiff began to shake as it started to enter the atmosphere; the temperature of the outer skin began to climb.

The ride got rougher as they went deeper into the atmosphere. Kei had to maintain as much speed as she could as the fighters could enter the upper levels of the atmosphere and would still be a danger.

Yuri was searching for any power that was not needed so she could divert it to the cooling units. Units that were already working at a 100 percent, and the heat within the ship was still thirty-two degrees Celsius and climbing.

She was used to making planet fall in big, passenger craft with nice, gentle descents, and the temperature within the craft staying comfortable. Steep dives were not pleasant.

"A cooling unit just went offline," Yuri told Kei.

"Damn it. This is a lot harder than it was in the flight simulator."

"I thought you said you knew how to fly one of these?" Yuri's voice was panicked.

"Simulator, real thing, what the hell's the difference."

"You can't reboot the program when we flame out."

"Yuri, you're beginning to piss me off with this pessimism."

"I'm really sorry but I don't want to die."

"You're not going to die." Kei began to slow the craft and levelled out the dive. "The fighters are no longer a danger so now it's just a simple flight down to the surface. We ditch the skiff and go back to the university, no one the wiser."

Yuri looked at the environmental controls. The skiff's skin and the interior were both rapidly cooling.

"We did it." Yuri had trouble believing it.

"What do you mean we, Miss 'we're going to die'?"

"Well I had reason to be worried."

"No you didn't," Kei said.

"Where are we going to land?" Yuri asked, not wanting to get into an argument, especially one she might not win.

"Remember that lake where we had the bush party three months ago?"

"No." Yuri said.

"How much did you drink that evening?" Kei asked, turning to face Yuri.

"I wouldn't know what you're talking about." Yuri turned away from Kei.

"You're lucky you didn't just stop breathing. Anyway this lake is about ten kilometres from the university's wild perimeter and is secluded enough that no one is likely to be around."

"Sounds good."

"We should be there in three minutes. If fighters are being scrambled right now they will pass over the area for about ten minutes."

"When exactly did you work all this out?"

"I've been thinking about it for the last couple of weeks."

"Is that why I've had to do your homework over the last couple of weeks?"


"Damn," Yuri said. "I was sure you were sleeping with that new anthropology prof."

"First of all, yuck. Second of all, what does it matter to you?"

"I lost the pool. I think Cathy had committing a felony."

"You better be joking Yuri," Kei said.

"Maybe." Yuri smiled.

"I swear." Kei shook her head angrily.

"I think I got that lake on the scanners." Yuri told her, looking at the topographical information being presented to her.

"Good." Kei began to dump speed.

"A lot of rough ground around there," Yuri said. "Nasty. We'll have a tough time landing. You know how to perform a VTOL landing don't you"

"Yes I do, but, well, there's an important little fact about this beast that you might want to know."

"What?" Yuri asked suspiciously.

"It doesn't have VTOL capabilities. It is configured for STOL though."

"We still need some sort of runway, no matter how short it is." Yuri had to force herself not to yell.

"And we have one: nice and big and flat." Kei looked at the sensor screen.

"What do you mean?" Yuri looked at the topographical map Kei had indicated with her eyes. "Oh no. You can't... We can't... It's a joke... bad dream... Kei no."

"We can. I'm serious. It doesn't get much more real than this. And no is not presently in my vocabulary. Hold tight." Kei pushed the stick forward.

Yuri screamed.

The skiff skipped across the surface of the lake six times, like a giant stone, before finally stopping in the middle of the lake.

The heavy thruster unit quickly sunk below the water's surface. The craft was at steep angle to the lake's surface.

"I hate you Kei!" Yuri said, or tried to say, she was coughing up some of the anti-collision foam she had sucked in.

"Are you menstruating by chance?" Kei undid her restraint harness. "I mean you are acting really bitchy."

Yuri attempted to lunge at Kei but was brought to a sudden and abrupt halt by the restraining harness she still wore. Fumbling with the catch several times, she finally freed herself and fell out of the chair. By that time Kei had already left the cockpit area and was back in the main section.

Yuri went after her, violence filling the young woman's thoughts.

Kei stood near the hatch, holding herself steady with a handhold.

"Kei. I'm going to kill you, slowly, very slowly," Yuri growled.

"Your bag sealed up tight?" Kei asked.

"What?" Yuri stopped and looked down at her carrisack. "Yeah, why?"

"Just wanted to make sure." Kei hit the keypad.

The hatch opened and water began to run into the ship, a little at first and then more as the ship sunk deeper.

"Time to go I think." Kei leapt out of the craft, swimming hard when she hit the water.

"I'm going to kill you Kei!" Yuri yelled as she followed after Kei.

The skiff sunk quietly into the lake behind them as they swam for the shore. A short time later Yuri pulled herself up onto the rocks that covered the shores, coughing up some of the water she had swallowed. Kei was a few meters ahead of her, pulling the bandanna from her head, stuffing it into a pocket.

Yuri looked around. Nothing looked all that familiar to her. How much did I drink that night anyway, Yuri thought as she got to her feet.

Kei bent over and shook her head back and forth, causing some of the water to spray off. Straightening, she ran her hands through the red tresses and began to slick her hair back.

Yuri opened her carrisack and removed a pin light. It didn't give off very much illumination, it was really meant to illuminate electronics and other small things, but she could see that no water had leaked inside her bag. Satisfied she put the light away and zipped up the carrisack.

"Some ride eh?" Kei had pulled her t-shirt from the waistband of her pants to wring the water from the material. "I'm going to have to get this jacket to the cleaners if I want it to survive."

Yuri stared daggers at Kei then began to cough again, clearing the last bit of water she had sucked in.

"I swallowed a lot of the damn lake, and some of that damn foam, which is probably carcinogenic no matter what the makers claim. I am not happy Kei."

"Is there anything you won't swallow?" Kei smiled wickedly at her friend. Yuri couldn't see the smile in the darkness, but she had reason to suspect is existence from Kei's tone.

"Shut up Kei." Yuri got to her feet.

"I suppose the only way I'll find out is to crack the encryption codes in your diary." Like I have a chance in Hell, Kei thought to herself.

"You've tried to get into my diary?" Yuri asked indignantly.

"Oh come on Yuri," Kei said as she began to walk towards the forest that surrounded them. "I mean you leave that lap top of yours around just so people will try to get in and see your marvellous programs. You love it that no one can break your ICE."

I'm going to kill her, Yuri thought as she followed after Kei, slowly, with much pleasure. As if she was so petty to actually get pleasure in the way Kei suggested. Of course she liked the fact that no one could break into her diary but that was just justifiable pride. She was sure of it.

The two young women stumbled along the rough trail, mostly finding their way by touch, at a slow pace.

Both of them were populating the darkness with all sorts of illusionary phantasms. Kei was thinking along the lines of psychopathic rapists while Yuri favoured fantastical monsters and vampires.

When the roar of a fighter passed overhead both screamed. Kei put several tranq darts into the surrounding trees.

"What was that?" Yuri asked from where she lay shaking on the ground. That she had tripped and fallen was the only thing that saved her from being hit by one of Kei's darts.

"I think, I think it was a jet or something," Kei said as she put the pistol away in her jacket pocket.

"Kind of low." Yuri got to her feet.

"Maybe they're searching for something."

"Oh. Oh. Like a stolen SAR skiff?" Yuri said.

"Could be, shall we increases out speed of movement?"

"Already ahead of you." Yuri said as she brushed by Kei at a quick jog.

An hour later they had reached the well-lit paths of the university. They walked along them, trying to maintain a calm facade, each expecting the police to descend on them any minute. There were plenty of other people on the trails, some of them friends, but not a single police officer. In a strange way Kei was disappointed.

They reached their dorm soon after and started up the steps.

"Do we have any tests tomorrow?" Kei asked.

"No, maybe a lab."

"Good, I'm going to pass out as soon as I reach my bed."

"Me to," Yuri said.

"Not in my bed." Kei smiled.

"Shut up Kei, just shut up."

The next day Kei and Yuri acted as if they were sitting on pins, both nervous, looking up whenever someone came into a room. Their friends figured they had done something wrong, not that that was a unique occurrence, but they wondered just how bad it was to get them acting so anxious.

Every chance they got they checked the news-sheets, listened to radio reports and watched vid. As the day progressed they relaxed more.

The skiff had been found. It had suffered only minor damage and even being flooded had not done much to it. Apparently there was no evidence on board as to who had stolen it.

The police were not too sure of what to make of it and had decided to close the investigation unless something else came up. The skiff had already been flown back to Tsugiuma and the officials on the station said they would improve security to keep such an occurrence from happening again.

By the time their genetics lab rolled around both girls had decided that they had pulled it off and were not about to be caught.

Kei's room tended to be more of a mess than Yuri's; magazines and clothes covered the floor, her mountain bike sat near the window, its chain currently soaking in a pan of cleaning solvent. The black, plastic bookshelf was stuffed full of manga, so much so that a few of the magazines had spilled out on the floor.

Even in a time that most print was electronic there was still a call for hard copy material. Kei enjoyed holding something of substance in her hands when she read, she could never quite understand what Yuri saw in the cold, impersonal screen of her data reader. Of course she never admitted those feelings.

She always told anyone who asked that she hated trees and was happy for everyone that was cut down. Of course almost all paper was made from various recycled materials, but Kei did not let that bother her.

A slightly battered guitar and large amp stood in one corner of the room. Kei could not really play but she loved making noise. Her entertainment system, while not as slick or as high tech as Yuri's, had really big speakers.

Her desk and computer stood out because there was no clutter on or around them. There was fine layer of dust on them, however.

Kei lay on her bed, data pad in her hand, looking through the school's newspaper, reading the personals; they were always the funniest.

Yuri sat on the floor at the foot of the bed, tossing cards into a hat near the door.

"Hey Yuri," Kei said.

"Hey Kei." Yuri sent another card into the hat.

"Ali is looking for another one of those special relationships, with a woman who can understand her." Kei laughed.

"Sixth this year isn't it?" Yuri threw another card. It bounced off the door and fluttered to the floor.

"Seventh I think. You know I was thinking..."

"You'd make a cute couple."

"No." Kei sat up on the bed. "I wasn't thinking that, Miss guttermind."

"My sincerest apologies."

"What I was thinking," Kei swung herself around on the bed so she was looking down on Yuri, "is that our little adventure was a lot of fun, right?"

"Well, I suppose."

"But it was a bit tame."


"Now a real warp capable craft would be something of interest."

"Kei," Yuri said warningly.

"The Alberan Ship Yards are only about a eight hour trip, give or take, and the fare would be reasonably cheap."

"Kei." Yuri's tone was colder.

"Of course we couldn't grab a completed ship but one that was mostly frame, with its engine and warp core wouldn't have much in the way of security."

"Kei." If Yuri's tone were actually as cold as it sounded the temperature in the room would have gone to zero.

"We would have to wear vacc suits but..."

Anything else Kei was going to say was ended by a fist slamming into the underside of her jaw. Her head snapped back and she came close to biting the tip of her tongue off. Her lower jaw felt numb.

She looked down at Yuri who still held her fists cocked, ready to hit her again. Kei felt her jaw, certainly not broken but there would be a bit of bruising.

"Kei, if you even think of doing anything like that again I will tear you into little bloody chunks, do you understand me?"

"I suppose you have a point." Kei rubbed her jaw. Actually she had regretted her words almost as soon as she had begun to speak but had been unwilling to admit her foolishness. "Still, you did hit me." Kei reached behind her for a pillow. "Such actions have to be punished." She slammed the pillow into Yuri.

Kei managed to get three more solid hits on Yuri before her friend got a hold of a pillow herself.

After that things degenerated rapidly.