Here’s the second sneak peek for your reading pleasure! Introducing Keida, a thief roaming a city on the colony of Dyne. I love her voice – she’s a lot of fun to write. This was originally a superhero-type piece, until I decided to move her over into the Starwalker universe. Now super-powers are replaced by implants and physical enhancements, and I got to have a play with what the streets of a colony city might be like.
“So, here we are. Only one of us gets to leave this time, huh? Broken leg – that means no more running, no more chasing.” I smiled at him crookedly because I didn’t mean it.
He stood there, leaning heavily against the dumpster, still dashing despite the rotting lettuce sticking to his boots. He looked just the same as the first time I saw him: same uniform, same exasperated expression, just a bit more stained and strained.
Hard to believe that it’s been three years. I remember that first time so clearly. It was like seeing your one true love across a crowded floor: a memory that etches itself in more meaning than it perhaps deserves.
I knew immediately that this one was going to be something special. One of Dyne’s SuperCop specialists, just for me. In his blue costume with the symbol etched proudly over his heart, neat black gloves up to his elbows, a mask across his eyes – he was the perfect picture of a hero.
That first night, he arrived just in time for us to exchange glances. I’d just set off every alarm in the museum. Perched on the edge of an internal walkway, a hand on the cable that would whisk me out of there, I paused long enough to glance down at the main floor. Four storeys below, he was looking up at me, all proud determination. The security shutters were coming down, lights were flashing and sirens were doing their best to deafen us. I couldn’t help myself: I grinned and waggled fingers at him. With one smooth leap, he was on the second storey balcony, and I knew. I just knew that this was the start of something amazing.
He chased me for seven blocks that night. It was like a courtship, each of us testing the other. Feint left and jump right, and running, so much running. Across rooftops, down rattling fire escapes, along alleys, over the metal lumps of cars stuck at traffic lights. Over the hills and valleys of the city, where the hills are hundred-storey skyscrapers, and the valleys are the concrete streets in between. Not a gentle slope or curve to be found. He knew how to get my heart pumping.
That was the pattern of our relationship. He’d turn up where I was working, and then we’d be off. We’d run for blocks and blocks, sometimes more, sometimes less. It was always him chasing me, of course, and don’t think I wasn’t tempted to let him catch me. Just to see what it was like. He’s the only one who has ever come close, and unlike the last one, he didn’t resort to bringing a rocket launcher with him. There’s always someone who thinks that’s big and clever until a transport full of geriatrics gets blown up.
He’s fast and strong, but I’m fast and smart. He couldn’t quite make up the gap. Not even with impressive leaps off the sides of buildings, or vaulting off a moving truck, or swinging a lamppost at my head. Some girls might be put off by that, but not me. If I could get enough space, I stopped to watch him sometimes; he moved so beautifully.
But no matter how much fun it is to be chased by someone, it palls after a while. Run and disappear. Run and slip into a cab when he’s not looking. Watch him stop and look around, knowing he’s lost you, yet again. Even he got frustrated with the monotony after a while.
So I started to spice things up. Dropped a security guard off a balcony, just to watch him make the catch. Nudged a regular cop into oncoming traffic. Pushed a baby stroller in front of a car for the look on his face when it hit, and then his realisation when he saw that it was empty. Made a car swerve into him to see which would come off worst. Obstacles in his way, testing which way he’d jump.
It’s only natural that he’d start to escalate as well. He brought a friend along once, and that was fun. Extra confusion, extra obstacles, and it wasn’t my fault that she fell off the monorail. Okay, it’s possible that I laughed, especially later when I heard that she’s not quite so pretty any more, but, well. I didn’t become a thief because I like to share.
I probably shouldn’t have kissed him. What can I say – it was just too tempting for words. He’d set off a gallery’s alarms trying to get to me and was stuck keeping a security door open so that the guards could escape. They were crawling out and gasping on the floor and my dear hero, it was all he could do to hold that door up, halogen fire suppressant licking out between his legs.
So of course I went over to him. A little slink up against him, a tilt of the head to catch his scent. I made a joke about him finally him being close enough to get his hands on me and still not being able to do it. He looked so frustrated that I almost felt sorry for him.
These hero-types, they never cover their mouths, always leaving themselves open to being kissed. He was anything but resistant – there’s always a lot of fire in a relationship like ours. Enough to make me wonder what I would have to do to get him alone and prone long enough for more than just kisses.
Sadly, that was not the time, so I left him wanting and slipped out of that building. No idea how he finally got away from that door.
His next tactic was to start bringing props. The problem with weapons is that they often require standing still to be fired properly, and that just gives me more time to get away. Not that this one ever chose anything lethal – rubber bullets, tranq darts, beanbag rounds. I still have bruises from the last time.
And tonight? Well, tonight he took a smarter route. A harder, more dangerous tactic, one that isn’t like him. In the middle of our chase, he got close enough to fire a bolus at my ankles, timed to coincide with the edge of a roof. Ruined my leap, tangled my feet up so I couldn’t recover, and I hit the side of the other building hard. Almost dislocated my shoulder trying to stop myself from falling too hard. I still hit the ground hard enough to hurt.
So there I was, sitting in a dirty alley with a broken ankle, looking up at him. He should have been proud and smug, standing over me at last, but he wasn’t. He was grim, and I knew then that our relationship had run its course. The fire was going out.
“Give me what you took,” he said. Nothing about catching me at last, not even a sorry for ruining my best pair of boots. If he’d kept up the game, I might have been able to forget about the pain spiking up my leg. Instead, he just pissed me off.
“Is that really what you want here?”
He just looked at me flatly, as if it was obvious. If I was standing, I would have slapped him. I sighed and held out a hand for him to help me up, but he folded his arms over his chest. I was reduced to hauling myself up by the scarred end of a fire escape ladder. I had one leg to stand on and one hand free to fumble in the pouch nestled in the small of my back.
“Fine then. Take it.” I offered him a black device, but he hesitated. Seems he’d learned to be cautious with me. I had to stop myself from smiling too deeply.
“What is this?”
“It’s not all art and jewels, you know. Sometimes I steal pretty things – sometimes I steal valuable things so I can buy pretty things.”
The place he had chased me out of tonight was an electronics lab, so it was plausible. He stepped up close enough to take it and snapped a handcuff onto my wrist. “Lot less bother to just get a job.”
I couldn’t help it: I grinned at him. “But nowhere near as much fun.”
He glanced at me as if I had suggested something naked, then clipped the other cuff onto the ladder. “Stay.”
I wiggled the handcuffs and lifted my eyebrows, and he took a step back. He fiddled with his comms implant and tried to raise someone to come fetch me, turning the device I had given him over in his hand curiously. It was plain apart from the little red button on one corner.
“I wouldn’t press that if I was you,” I told him.
He glared at me and moved down the alley a few more steps. He had to go almost to the street before his comms would work – I’m not sure if he figured out it was something I was carrying or blamed it on the old buildings around us.
I waited until he was patiently relaying our location and the requirements for my transport (he had learned to be paranoid, my poor hero, but not paranoid enough). He never saw me pick the handcuff. He let the conversation distract him for a second, and when he glanced back, I was already halfway to the roof.
He came to chase me again, so I dropped the bottom section of ladder on him. Hardly going to hurt him, but it slowed him down enough for me to put fingertips on the edge of the roof. He knew I’d be too slow to get away on the horizontal, and he already had the night’s prize, so he wasn’t hurrying. When I looked down, he was gazing back up at me, hands on his hips, crisp and bright blue in the middle of the dirty alleyway. So beautiful.
I smiled and waggled fingers at him. My confidence dented his, and then the device tucked into his belt bleeped. He knew then. He knew I’d thrown him another obstacle, and he knew he didn’t have enough time even as he grabbed for it.
I hauled myself over the edge and rolled onto the rooftop. The alleyway lit up, thunder cracking the ground and splintering the walls of the alley. The last explosion of heat in our relationship licked over the parapet at me, a final caress as it shot up into the sky and dissipated into a rain of glass and rubble.
It’s a shame, but there you have it. Sometimes when a thing is over, it’s over. I was left limping away; he was left spread over half a city block. What did he expect? That I’d just give up everything for him? Like I said: I don’t like to share.
I kept the handcuffs, though. A little keepsake of our time together. Who knows, maybe they’ll come in handy sometime.