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Javon Moremba resisted the urge to run.

For one thing, it would make him look guilty. He was guilty, of course, but he didn't want to look like he'd just broken into an upscale house, cracked their home weblink to update his ID-erasure worms, and stolen a bunch of fancy jewels when the whim took him on the way out. He couldn't easily keep track of what was still valuable in the "evolving post-scarcity economy" Solsys was supposed to have now, but he knew as well as any Vestan that natural gemstones-like the peridot, garnet, and jade produced by Vesta's unusual geology-were still prized for their beauty and scarcity. And it was about time, he thought, that someone from his side of New Zim got his share of Vesta's wealth. But he couldn't do that if he got caught.

For another thing, it would just feel too right to run. He didn't want it to feel right. That would be giving in.

Still, even walking, he called attention to himself. People tended to notice a two-meter-tall teenager with unnaturally long limbs, bulging joints, no hair, and an oversized rib cage. They didn't notice as much as if they saw him running at sixty klicks, but they still noticed. So Javon decided he needed to steal a car.

Luckily, this cylinder of New Zim had plenty of rich people, so there were plenty of high-end aircars to choose from. He soon spotted a gorgeous one, a gleaming green Gyrfalcon 8K with gold trim around its ducted fans. It was sitting right out on its launching pad, with only the property fence between it and him. The house looked dark, and the sniffer beeped an all-clear tone in his ear, reading no active security devices. It seemed too good to be true, but he was in too much of a hurry to care. After making sure there were no spectators, he got up a running start and leapt easily over the fence. Jogging over to the Gyrfalcon, he circled around to the driver's side and reached in his pocket for his lockpicks.



Only he found the door already open, with a really rageous pair of legs sticking out of it. The girl attached to the legs, lying on her back inside the car trying to hot-wire it, was even more spectacular. She was kind of short, her muscles making her a bit stocky, but she had a huge rack, flattened out some by her position but still wide, round, and proudly bulging. Her position gave him a good look at the equally interesting bulge between her legs. That and her tits were covered by a tight cutoff tank top and shorts flickering with animated flames and transparent above them, making it look like she was wearing nothing but fire.

The girl raised her head at his approach, and he saw her hair matched her wardrobe. It was cut short on the back and sides, but a thick, wavy mass poured over her forehead, shading enormous eyes whose green made the Gyrfalcon's look dull. Her china-doll features-she was younger than that body made her look-twisted in surprise and anger, and Javon realized her eyes matched her fiery wardrobe too. "Hey!" she snarled in an incongruously girlish soprano. "Steal your own ride, I was here first!"

He stared. For a thief, she was dressed d.a.m.n conspicuously. "Hey, how do you know this isn't my car?"

"You kidding? The way you're sweating? I know a thief when I see one. A bad one, anyway."

He reined in his anger. "Look, I probably need this ride more than you do. We could share it-"

"I don't share easy, Stilt-boy." She looked his body over appraisingly, and to his surprise, she grinned. "You want it, you gotta take it from me."

An instant later, she lashed out a foot at his gut. The move was lightning-quick, and he was barely able to dodge it. Her red-orange boot took him in the left forearm. "Oww! You bit.c.h!" He grabbed her calf, finding it very firm, and jerked her out of the car so that she fell on her ass and hit her head on the step.

But if anything, she looked impressed, even pleased. "Ooh, you're fast! Fast enough for this?" She did some kind of twisty move and her open right hand took him in the gut. He landed flat on his back, and in a second she was straddling him in a way he would've liked very much if she hadn't socked him in the gut a couple more times-not as hard as she could hit, he sensed, but enough to knock more wind from his lungs.

Luckily he had big lungs, so he could still grab her arms and pull her sideways, intending to roll over and reverse their positions. She was a strong little thing-had to be a mod-but he had more bulk.

But she saw it coming and rolled away. He scrambled to his feet, knowing the little spitfire would be doing the same. He sidestepped her charge and tossed her across the Gyrfalcon's nose. She landed on her feet on the other side and ducked beneath it. Knowing she'd be grabbing at his ankles from below, Javon leapt straight up, spun, and came down with his feet on her broad, muscular back, slamming her into the hard carpad. He hurriedly jammed his right foot onto her neck and got his left on solid ground, putting a hand on the Gyrfalcon to steady him. The girl writhed and shrieked, but it was a good pin, with her lower body still caught under the car's nose. "Say uncle, little girl!"

"Go f.u.c.k your uncle! How's that?" Her hands closed around his ankle with a viselike grip. "Lemme up or try running from the cops on one foot!"

"Stop it or I'll break your neck!"

"Liar! You want me too bad."

"Less every second!"

"Bullshit. And you're no killer either. But me, I've broken plenty of bones. And I'm a lousy bluffer." The vise tightened.

"Owww!! Okay, you crazy bit.c.h!" He pulled his foot away as quickly as she'd let him, leaning on the car for support. She came up tensed for action, but grinning. What, she's not through yet?

Then he heard shouts, saw lights in neighboring windows. "d.a.m.n, you moron, they'll be calling the cops on us! Look, let's both just take the ride and get the suck out of here, and then we'll get out of each other's way and hopefully never see each other again!"

The insane redhead looked disappointed, but she nodded. "Okay, get in." He got into the driver's seat, only to be forcefully shoved aside. "No, leakbrain, I'm driving!" she shrieked.

"Okay! Okay, you crazy punkhole, just stop hitting me! And don't scream like that in here, you'll make me go deaf!"

She stuck out her tongue as the car's fans whirred to life. Then she shut the door and screamed the shrillest "Waahoo!" he'd ever heard just to p.iss him off. Instead of taxiing antispinward to cancel the car's weight like any sane driver, she took off perpendicular to the runway, straining the fans to maximum as they fought the car's inertia along two axes. They barely sc.r.a.ped past the roof of the house, the fans' roar no doubt waking everyone for a block around, and Javon scrambled to strap himself in, praying to Allah, Buddha, Jesus Krishna, and whoever else might be listening that her hot-wiring hadn't disabled its collision avoidance.

"Listen!" he said. "Listen, slow down! You want us to get caught?"

"Ha! I'd like to see 'em try!"

"Well, I wouldn't! I'd rather not get caught with these!" He pulled the jewels out of his pocket.

Her eyes widened. "Ooh, gasmic!" Her hand shot out and s.n.a.t.c.hed an emerald pendant. "Mine!" she cried, draping it over her head.

He was about to object, but then he saw how good it looked between her b.r.e.a.s.t.s. Besides, considering how reckless the little brat was, she'd probably wear the thing publicly and get nabbed for the heist so he could slip away. So he didn't object as she rummaged through the rest of his haul-aside from trying to keep the jewels from flying around the c.o.c.kpit, now that the car was on a stable course and their weight was gone. At least the CA light was on, so he figured the car wouldn't crash if her attention was elsewhere-especially since this less populous cylinder would have less air traffic than his own. She skipped over most of the jewelry, only showing interest in the emeralds. "Hey, these are real," she breathed, though he couldn't tell how she knew. "Must come from Earth."

"Why?"

She looked at him like he was stupid. "Takes water to make 'em, genius." She ended up with a ring and a bracelet and tossed the rest back to him.

"You're welcome," he said pointedly as he scrambled to snag them all. She just grinned and studied her new baubles.

"So you got a name?" he asked.

"Got a whole bunch. Right now I'm Kei."

"Okay, then ... call me J."

She glared. "K-E-I. j.a.panese."

"Oh."

"No, Kei."

"Okay." To his surprise, they shared a laugh.

For a while, they just soared over the artificial forests, rivers, and country estates of this half of New Zim. Kei ignored the scenery, admiring her emeralds instead. "So you born a mod?" she finally asked.

Javon shook his head. "Parents retroed me. Wanted me to be the fastest runner in Solsys, make them rich. Whatever 'rich' means anymore."

She looked him over, starting at his hairless head and ending somewhat lower. "You bald all over?" she asked with a purr in her voice.

"If you're lucky, you'll find out."

"Hah. You'd be the lucky one."

"h.e.l.l, girl, if I'd been lucky I'd never have met you. I'm gonna be bruised all over in the morning."

"It ain't real fun if it don't leave a mark."

"You think all this is fun? Don't tell me, is that why you stole this thing? Just for kicks?"

"What else is there?"

"For me, it's about freedom. I didn't want to be a, a commodity, have my body and my life molded to fit what my parents wanted. That's all, I'm just tryin' to be free."

She scoffed. "n.o.body's ever free. Just running. You stop and there's always something that'll catch up with you."

Javon studied her. "You been running a long time now, Kei? From your parents, maybe?"

That brought a fierce glare. "No! None of your suckin' business anyway!"

"Okay, okay."

"Just my daddy," she said after a while. "My former dad. Couple years now. He brought me back a few times-till I practically tore the house apart. Then he got the message and stopped tryin'."

"Tore it apart? With what?"

She stared. "How's your ankle, Stilt-boy?" Javon stared at her hands, intimidated and oddly aroused.

"But that means n.o.body's chasing you anymore," he said after a while. "So what's left to run from?"

"There's always somethin'," she said softly. Then she shook it off and grinned at him. "Like the law on half the habs in the Belt," she boasted. "Still workin' on flaring off the rest."

Her brow furrowed. "You know what? We should ditch this ride. We wanna get to the s.p.a.ceport, they'll be expecting it. We should vack it and go the rest of the way on foot."

He nodded. "I'm free with that." He looked at the underside display monitor. They were curving up the slope of the cylinder's end cap now, over the craggy simulated mountains that covered its interior. "But there's no good place to set down."

Her grin grew positively scary. "Thing's got ejector seats, right?" She reached under the dash and ripped out the innards. The CA light sputtered and went out, along with all the rest.

"My God! Dammit, bit.c.h, you're completely vacked in the head!"

"Just hold on to your jewels and punch out!"

"But I loved this car!" he called in vain, for she was already erupting out of the canopy. Realizing he was out of options, he stuffed the jewelry back in his pocket, made sure he was strapped in, and followed suit. He felt the glider wings spread out and the seat cushion fall away, and then watched as the Gyrfalcon spun out of control and descended on an accelerating spiral path in the Cori winds, finally smashing itself to pieces on the rocks below.

After that, the glider's autonav brought him down to a fairly level patch, one he hoped was far away from wherever Kei came down. Unfortunately, though, the gliders seemed to be set to home in on each other, and her flame-shrouded form came down just a few dozen meters away. Ditching the wings, she jogged over to him, laughing. "shit, why do real cars never blow up like in the movies when you crash 'em?" Somehow it didn't surprise him that she talked about crashing cars as a recurring event. But he suspected she knew the answer to her own question perfectly well.

What did surprise him was when she hopped up, flung her arms around his shoulders, and kissed him hard and deep. "Whoo, that was rageous!" she shrilled when she broke away, all too soon. "Let's get two and crash 'em into each other!"

"You are out of your hull-punking mind, you know that? You could've got us killed!"

"Aw, don't be such a baby! Come on, race you to the s.p.a.ceport!"

She pulled at his hand, but he yanked it away. "No! Stay away from me, you vackhead! Where the h.e.l.l even are we? They're gonna come looking after that crash, you know! They'll find us, they'll send us both back to our parents, and it'll be all your fault!"

She began to circle him aggressively. "You wanna make something of it, Stilt-boy? 'Cause I'm up for givin' you another good beating anytime!"

"You kidding? I beat you!"

"Ha! What fight were you watching?"

"I had my foot on your sucking neck!"

"And I was about to snap it off!"

"I just gave you a break, that's all! You're strong for a kid, but I got the mass and the leverage on you."

"Okay, come on, prove it!"

He was about to, but he stopped. "No. Why? The car's trashed. What's left to fight for?"

She grinned. "Me."

"What?"

"You win the fight, you get to f.u.c.k me."

"Why would I want to?!"

She just looked at him. And he looked at her. And he shrugged. "Okay, then." He started to circle her, sizing her up, looking for an opening as she did the same. "Should've figured this was your idea of foreplay."

"Guy wants me, he's gotta earn it."

"So you only f.u.c.k guys who can beat you up? That's smart."

"Smart for them. I play rough."

Understanding came to him then. "I get it. You don't want to hurt them."

She lunged, but he was ready. He sidestepped easily, spun, and kicked her well-rounded, muscular ass, sending her headlong. But the gravity was low up here and she caught herself with her hands, flipping up and over and coming down facing him. Where did she learn these moves? "What do you know about it?" she snarled.

"I know how much I have to hold back when I'm with a normal girl. You gotta be real strong to run sixty klicks, to stand the forces of it. And you don't strike me as the holding-back type. How bad did you hurt your first guy?"

She lunged again, shrieking. He moved aside, thinking this was the easiest psych-out he'd ever done. But the lunge was a feint; she spun going past and kicked his legs out from under him, landing on her side next to him. They scrambled to hands and feet, and his greater reach gave him the edge; he grabbed the hair tumbling over her forehead and held her there on hands and knees as he came to his feet. That proved a mistake, though, as it brought his groin within her fist's reach. Luckily his reflexes were enhanced for speed, and he dodged the worst of it. "Hey! Ow! I thought you'd want that part in good condition!"

"Only if you're good enough!"

"Well, how am I doing?" He punctuated it with a kick to her gut, knocking her torso upright, and then delivered one more kick to her ample b.r.e.a.s.t.s in retaliation for her attempt on his b.a.l.l.s. He felt somewhat guilty when she yelped in pain, but he reminded himself that she not only deserved it, but probably even enjoyed it in some sick way.

Or maybe not so sick, he thought as he saw the approval-the hope-in her eyes. "Not bad, Legs! But I'm still gonna beat your brains out!" He raised his arms to block her lunge, but she caught them and flipped clear over him, wrenching his arms back painfully. Then she flung him over her back and the world spun around him for an endless moment, finally coming up to slam into him. "You're disappointin' me, J. I was hopin' for some real action." Her boot swung toward his face.

But he managed to catch it and tug, yanking her off her feet; the ground was slippery in this gravity. As she fell, he wrenched the boot off and tossed it aside. "Ooh, good start, sugar," she lilted, if one could lilt breathlessly. They clambered to their feet, but now she was a bit uneven. "That the best you can do?"

"Must be tough, Kei," he said, circling her, trying to keep her off balance. "A fight like this-with these stakes-you win, you get nothing. But the guy has to be tough enough to take you for real, so you can't lose on purpose."

"What's your point, baldy?"

"Point is, I don't think this is as fun for you as you say." This time he lunged, hoping to throw off her rhythm physically as well as mentally this time. She moved her arms to block her vital areas, but he wasn't going for them. He got his long arms around hers and took a firm grip on her faux-flaming tank top as he moved behind her, yanking it up and over. Then before she could slip her arms out, he twisted it around her wrists, restraining them over her head. Still holding her arms up there, he circled around to face her again, trying not to be too distracted by the truly incredible b.r.e.a.s.t.s he'd bared. "But it could be," he went on. "If you stop fighting me and let me in, Kei. I must've proven by now I'm strong enough to handle you. Maybe..." He stepped closer. "Maybe I can even teach you a few things about being gentle." He bent down to kiss her, and she brought her lips up to meet his halfway. Her kiss was anything but gentle. Her hands clasped his, but he kept them above her head just to be on the safe side.

After a while, she pulled her lips away and said breathlessly, "I like it rough."

He smiled. "Good. Then I don't have to hold back." Still not releasing her wrists, he twisted her until he had his arms around her from behind, and bent down to bite her on the neck. One hand came up to knead her b.r.e.a.s.t.s forcefully while the other slid down to hook around her waistband.





CHAPTER DISCUSSION