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Beyond The Stars

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On the Earth colony planet of Kamoshida, the sun is going down, bathing everything in a honey-orange glow. Acres of tall yellow grass grow up from the ground. The stalks roll like waves, stirred up by a mild evening breeze. Ryuji Sakamoto sits on the hood of his silver hover car, hands folded neatly behind his head as the last light of day bakes heat into his skin. He strains to keep his eyes open, drifting in and out of a lazy afternoon nap. It’s one of the few moments he’s had to himself since spring ended.  

They say Kamoshida is the closet of the Earth colony planets to resemble Old-Earth. It’s the only planet in the sector to have a true four season cycle, making it ideal for growing most Earth staples. The planet’s major export is its crops, providing more than half of the colonies’ food supply. The entire population of the Kamoshida colony is involved with the farming efforts, growing, selling, or packing. Ryuji’s family happens to be fifth generation bean growers.  

He opens his eyes and lifts his hands up in front of his face, studying his oil-stained fingers. He’s supposed to be working on his hovercar but he can’t muster up the energy. Between school and chores, his free time has been limited. This is to say nothing of the spring sowing and all the extra chores that came with that. Their farm is one of the smallest in the area and he’s always been expected to help wherever he can. His father won’t tolerate laziness. Any time spent working on his car definitely falls into that category.    

He’s been putting on the finishing touches for weeks, pushing himself towards the goal of being able to take it out. Although ‘out’ is a bit of an overstatement. He won’t legally be allowed to take it anywhere besides ground streets for two more years. Air flight is restricted to the eighteen and up crowd. Despite that, he figures two years is nothing compared to the four it’s taken him to get it all put together. It was little more than an empty chasse full of scraps when he brought it home from the junkyard. A fact his father continues to lord over him every chance he gets, even with all the progress he’s made on it.  

He’s poured all his monthly allowance into buying parts and making needed repairs. What he couldn’t afford, well-… He figures it’s all stuff that won’t be missed. It needs fresh paint and to have the chrome touched up, but there’s time for that later. Having a ground vehicle will at least get him away from the house on weekends. Plus there’s a point of pride to be had in being the only one in his circle of friends with a car.  

His hazy mind is busy going over possible paint combinations when he catches himself dozing off for real. He allowed himself to be lulled into sleep by the darkening sky and the warm pre-summer air. He forces his eyes open and glances up, able to see the beginning of stars among the pale pink hues of atmosphere. His body is bone tired and for a few more minutes he lies still, fatigued from weeks of not getting enough sleep. He thinks it odd that someone of his age should feel so run down. There’s no time to dwell on that though. His mother will be finishing up dinner and he’s expected to be home to set the table.

He slides down off the hood and begins the short walk through the fields to get back to the house. When he emerges from the sea of tall grass he sees his father’s truck in the driveway. It’s an instant disappointment. Friday nights are usually the night his father stays in town after work to have a drink and 'catch up with the boys’. It’s a rarity for him to forego bar time for family time. Ryuji crosses the yard at a slow pace, dragging his feet to stave off the inevitable. The thought of sitting down to eat with his drunkard father is more than he can stand.  

As he’s approaching the house his wristwatch display lights up, receiving an incoming call. He pauses just off the porch to answer it, waiting for the video connection to buffer. The eager expression of his longtime friend and classmate Takeishi appears on the screen.  

“What’s up?"  

"We still on for tonight?” Takeishi asks and the question throws Ryuji for a moment. Had they made plans? He thinks they might have made plans. “Y'know. Captain Kidd’s ship. Parked at the shipyard."  

"Oh shit,” Ryuji breathes as his chest lights up with excitement. “Man, I totally forgot about it."  

"How the hell did you forget?"  

"Spring sowin’, remember? We’ve gotta get the fields resown before summer rolls around. I’ve been busy."  

Takeishi studies him for a moment, eyebrows furrowing in concern, "You good?"  

"I’m okay,” Ryuji assures him. It’s not exactly a lie, at the moment he’s fine. He’s tired. Worn down from weeks spent working in close quarters with his father. From trying to meet the man’s impossible expectations. “We’re meetin’ at midnight in old man Iwai’s cornfield, right?. Hope you and Nakaoka don’t bail on me this time."  

"I wasn’t the one who bailed."  

"I’m serious, man. If you guys don’t show I’m goin’ in alone."  

"We’ll be there.” Takeishi insists though it does nothing to diminish Ryuji’s doubt. “See ya."  

"Yeah.” Ryuji sighs, tapping the end call button. Inside he can hear his father’s voice. It’s more the tone than actual words and he already sounds riled up about something. He ascends the porch stairs and presses himself against the wall beside the front door. He’s trying to give himself a moment of composure before he goes in.

He doesn’t want to deal with this right now.  

“Hey,” He calls out as he pushes the front door open. From his vantage point, he can see into the kitchen. His mother is standing with her back against the counter and her arms crossed over her chest. She widens her eyes at him, a silent warning for him to tread cautiously. He kicks his shoes off and nudges them into neat alignment by his father’s work boots. He crosses the living room and turns the corner to his father seated at the dining table.  

“The hell you been?” The older man demands, swinging one of his worn hands towards the table. “I come home from bustin’ my ass and your mother can’t even get dinner on the table because you’re off god knows where."  

"Yes sir,” It’s less of an agreement and more of a neutral answer. Ryuji knows he’s already on thin ice and he’s not about to make things worse by arguing.

“Welcome home,” His mother offers, a subtle change in the conversation. He hates this. Friday night dinners are usually their thing. It’s the one night of the week they don’t have to tiptoe around his father.  

“Go ahead and sit down, Ma,” Ryuji insists, guiding her towards the table. He washes his hands clean at the sink and gathers the plates from the cabinet. He has to reach around his parents to set the table. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see his father watching him. He’s looking for a reason to yell at him again. Wordlessly Ryuji serves the food and grabs his father a bottle of beer from the fridge. On his way to his chair, he sets a light hand atop his mother’s shoulder hoping to reassure her. She pats his fingers lightly in acknowledgment. The whole exchange is missed by the man at the head of the table as he pries the lid off his beer and takes a long drink of it.

Ryuji watches in silent disgust as some of the foamy liquid pools at the side his father’s mouth and runs down his chin. His entire face looks like well-worn leather. It’s creased and tanned by his many long days working in the fields. He runs equally aged fingers across his spotty stubble covered chin, wiping the beer away in an almost thoughtful gesture. He sets the bottle down and clears his throat before taking up his utensils to begin the meal. Neither Ryuji nor his mother dares to start eating before he does, lest they affront him.  

“Spring harvest was profitable this year,” He announces, sounding almost on the verge of pride. There’s no doubt in Ryuji’s mind that his father spent most of his day in town stroking his own ego. Beans are not a big spring crop and their farm has been mostly dormant since winter. That doesn’t stop Ryuji’s father from acting as if the entire town’s spring harvest is his own personal success story. 

“Ryuji,"  

"Yeah?” He’s surprised by his father’s calm use of his name. He sets his fork down beside his plate and lifts his eyes up to meet the older man’s. They’re the color of a stormy ocean and dark, cold, and dimly glazed over from the alcohol. Ryuji’s always been thankful that he got his mother’s brown eyes. He hopes that they somehow make him look more like her and less like his dad.    

“Y'worked real hard these past couple months. Don’t think I didn’t notice."  

"Uh, thank you,” Ryuji replies, feeling his guard go up and his hands curl into fists on reflex. It’s not often that the man offers him praise and it usually doesn’t come without strings attached. His father rises to his feet, his body swaying under the effects of the alcohol. The half beer that sits on the table is a pallet cleanser for whatever hard stuff he drank before coming home. It’s a wonder he was able to drive without causing an accident. Sometimes Ryuji wishes he would crash. It’s not malicious but out of a desire to keep him off the road and away from other people. It’s easy to picture his father drunkenly swerving in front of somebody else’s family.  

His stomach lurches at the thought, the feeling intensified by the sudden approach. The man stands over him like a tree shadow, blocking out the kitchen lights. It casts darkness over him. He turns his head upwards to meet his father’s eyes. He strains to keep a straight face as the scent of alcohol on his father’s breath wafts down over him like a heavy fog. The older man smiles a grin of yellowing teeth and brings his hand down to clap over Ryuji’s shoulder. He flinches away, a sharp jerk of his muscles that’s more memory than anything else. The reaction doesn’t go unnoticed.  

“The fuck, Ryuji?” His father breathes, training his callused fingers up the back of Ryuji’s neck to grip a handful of his hair. Across the table, his mother sits up straighter in her chair. He body is tense with nerves as she prepares to intervene. Ryuji prays that she doesn’t, wills her to sit still and stay quiet. “I’m not gonna hit you."  

He definitely would, and has.  

"I was gonna say,” He continues, gripping his hair a bit tighter, bordering the point where it becomes painful. Ryuji takes measured breaths to force his body to relax and like a cue, it eases his father’s hold on him. Almost affectionately he runs his weathered fingers up through the top of his hair to tussle it. “-that since you helped out so much, I’ll give you a bigger allowance this month so you can get your car fixed up."  

"Really?” Ryuji forces enthusiasm into his voice because he needs to act accordingly. “Thank you. I appreciate that."  

"I’ve never been prouder. Makes me think you’ve got more than shit for brains after all. Might have someone worthy of passing the fields down to someday."  

Ryuji pointedly ignores the insult.  

His father turns unsteadily on his toes and almost falls over in an attempt to seat himself. He shakes it off and returns to his food. Ryuji and his mother follow suit and for the rest of the meal, he’s forced to avoid his mother’s concern filled eyes. His father continues to ramble, making small talk and bad mouthing his bar friends. It’s a one-sided conversation. He’s too drunk and too into his rant to notice that no one’s paying attention to him.  

Ryuji continues to mindlessly force food into his mouth, though he can’t taste it anymore. Twice he has to pause to keep it from coming back up, his stomach so tied into knots that it’s making him nauseous. He doesn’t have to suffer for very long, his father begins to doze in and out of consciousness at the table. His mother stands and coaxes her husband to his feet. She leads him down the hallway to their bedroom, guiding his wobbly footsteps the entire way. Ryuji turns his attention to clearing the table and putting the leftovers away.  

It’s half past ten when his mother emerges from the bedroom, looking exhausted and frustrated. She enters the kitchen and makes a beeline for the fridge. She almost rips the handle off the freezer door as she yanks it open. Ryuji grabs two spoons from the silverware drawer and waits while she chooses a flavor of ice cream.  

"Feels like a mint chocolate chip sort of night,” She mumbles, to herself more than anyone. The two of them sit side by side at the table, sliding the pint back and forth, eating in silence. Ryuji thinks it would be comical if it wasn’t also so damn sad.  

“Hey,” Ryuji begins, watching as she carves out a large spoonful of ice cream for herself. She glances up at him, prompting him to continue as she tries to find a way to fit the entire oversized scoop into her mouth. “I’m gonna go hang out with Nakaoka and Takeishi tonight."  

"Mmm,” She muses, raising her eyebrows in a clear question of 'Oh yeah?’.  

“It’s not a school night and I’m pretty sure that he,” -the drunken idiot in the bedroom, “isn’t going to wake up anytime soon."  

"It’s getting pretty late."  

"You really gonna try and pull the curfew thing on me?”

Narrowing her eyes, she points her spoon threateningly in his direction, “It’s my right as a mother."  

"I have to get out of here. At least for a little while,” He presses, glancing over his shoulder towards their bedroom door. “If you let me go out, you can lay down in my room and get some decent sleep. We can swap beds when I come back." 

"Where are you going exactly?"  

"We’re gonna troll around old man Iwai’s corn field. Might go down to the lake or somethin’."  

"I hope you realize you’re going to have to learn to lie better,” She sighs. She takes her spoon and begins to scrape at the bottom of the ice cream carton, hoping to get one final bite out of it. “Fine, but you need to be back before sunrise. And I mean before sunrise.”

“I will be,” Ryuji swears, leaping to his feet with a sudden surge of new energy. He takes the stairs up to his room two at a time, though his footsteps are measured and quiet. He’s not about to risk waking his father up, even though he knows that the man is out for the night. He gathers his backpack and throws his tools into it. Screwdrivers, wrenches, portable laser torch, he runs through a quick mental inventory to make sure he has everything.  

He grabs his ComTab off his bed and sends a quick text message off to his friends to remind them of the time and place. He tosses the tablet into his backpack and tiptoes rapidly back downstairs. His mother gives him an uneasy look as he brushes past her on the way out the door. Despite himself, he can’t stand for her to be disappointed in him. As an act of good faith, he doubles back for a hug and promises once again to be back before sunrise.

He slips out the front door and sails over the porch steps and down the driveway. Old man Iwai’s cornfield is a few miles down from his house. The night air is crisp and clear, it’s temperature situated in the middle of warm and cool. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a run. Sometimes Ryuji thinks he was born for it. He should have joined the track team with Nakaoka and Takeishi, but he knew it would be one more thing for his father to play against him. Still, it’s a favorite past time to turn to when things get bad at home.  

It doesn’t take him long to fall into a steady rhythm of feet on dirt road. The roads are from the early days of the colony, back when vehicles had actual wheels. Once hover crafts became the norm, the roads became more of a guideline for those who preferred to drive closer to the ground. Ryuji himself can’t imagine wanting that. He’s been dreaming of air flight since he was young. This is due in part to his admiration of Captain Kidd.  

Captain Kidd, like Ryuji, is from the colony of Kamoshida. Something of a local celebrity, he started his career as a well-known stunt pilot. Later he joined up with the Colony Defense Force and within a few years became captain of his own crew. They traverse the galaxy to fend off threats from hostile planets. Ryuji’s been obsessed with him ever since the first broadcast of his trick flying. He’s collected every holo-vid he could find and has spent hours watching them. The flips and spins are burned into his memory. Even as he jogs he can visualize it.  

It’s the reason behind his meeting with Takeishi and Nakaoka. There’s a rumor that Captain Kidd is in town visiting his family and that his famous stunt ship is with him. According to the rumor he’s even parked it at the local shipyard. Ryuji isn’t sure if he believes it, but he’s not about to pass up an opportunity to find out. He’s broken into the shipyard before to collect discarded parts or to look at the ships and cars. It’s almost a joke that Captain Kidd would want to store his trick craft there.  

Their meeting place is on the far end of the Iwai cornfield, where the crops end abruptly and give way to an open flatland. He glances at the time on his watch, ten till midnight. He’s the first to arrive, that is if his friends decide to show up. The last time they planned something like this the two boys bailed out, leaving Ryuji waiting for hours. Although, the mission to sneak into Ann Takemaki’s sixteenth birthday party was a little less dire than their current plan.  

It’s almost midnight on the dot when Takeishi and Nakaoka arrive, stepping free of the tall corn stalks. Takeishi is full of smug arrogance, hands tucked casually into his pockets, head held high. He’s always been a bit full of himself, though it’s a facade that always seems to crack when things become dicey. Nakaoka is reserved and somewhat nervous. He tries to be the voice of reason for the other two, but his words often fall on deaf ears. He frequently gets dragged into Ryuji and Takeishi’s schemes. Although on this particular night, even he seems to be somewhat excited.  

“Told'ya we’d be here.” Takeishi steps over to Ryuji and the two of them bump fists. Their knuckles crack together in a way that feels very manly.  

“I was about to go without you,” Ryuji shoots back, hoisting his backpack further up onto his shoulders. “If I had any sense I would'a."  

"Yeah, yeah. Shut up and start walking, Sakamoto."  

Ryuji is all too happy to fall into the role of leader, moving with confidence over the large expanse of flat land. Kamoshida’s twin moons gleam overhead. They light the way as he guides them along a well-memorized path.  

Before they can get to the local shipyard they have to pass Kamoshida Commercial Shipyard. It’s a literal metal city where all the off-world space ships dock. It’s one of the larger ones on the planet, a center of commerce for all imported and exported goods between the colonies. Twice a month huge ships dock there to load or unload, staying only a few brief days before departing again.  

As they near the yard, bright overhead beams of light come into view. Steel rafters rise up like metal giants, dotted with high rising staircases and elevators. Skyscraper buildings intermingle with the docks, full of places for ship crews to spend their shore-time. It all feels very exclusive, surrounded all on sides by thick metal walls. They’re designed to keep foreigners inside and locals outside. A huge impenetrable fortress in the middle of miles and miles of farmland.  

It’s not their destination, but every time Ryuji passes by it, he has to stop to take it all in.  

"Wouldn’t it be badass to go off world?” He breathes, turning his head around to look at Takeishi and Nakaoka. The two of them look just as awestruck, maybe more-so, since this isn’t a common sight for them.  

“Those ships are huge,” Nakaoka says, stepping up next to Ryuji. “I mean, I knew they were huge. They have to be to carry so much stuff, but I guess I didn’t have a scale for it before now."  

"My dad works down on dock 37. He says that they’re even bigger up close. Bigger than the buildings in the capital.” says Takeishi, then adds as an afterthought, “I think about leaving this shitty planet all the time, but let’s get real here. The only way any of us are going to make it off is if we join the defense force or the medical brigade. We’re all too stupid for that."  

"Maybe you’re too stupid. I bet I could get in. Sakamoto could get in if he got real good at fixing ships."  

"Yeah, you’re probably right. He’d get himself a job doing custodial work or something."  

"I would not!” Ryuji protests, although they might be right. The only way he’d ever get off Kamoshida is if he got a crappy job on a transport ship. Although the alternative as a bean farmer isn’t exactly appealing either. “Maybe I need to become a trick pilot like Captain Kidd."  

"What? You’d never be able to pull that off.” Takeishi laughs the words into his face and Ryuji feels his blood heat up under his skin.  

“Why not?"  

"Sakamoto, you got beans for brains? The only thing you’ve ever piloted is a wheel-tractor. You don’t even have your car up and running. What makes you think you’re going to be able to do flight tricks?"  

"Guys, let’s just go.” Nakaoka intervenes right as Ryuji opens his mouth to reply. “If you guys get into a fight we’ll never make it to the shipyard to see the ship. So let’s just go."  

"Fine,” Ryuji concedes for the moment, knowing that Nakaoka’s right. He ignores Takeishi for the rest of the trek.  

The local public shipyard is a much less impressive sight. It’s a large flat patch of concrete surrounded on all sides by a well worn and rusted chain link fence and an unfathomable amount of weeds. It’s mostly a glorified parking lot with a few hangars on the far end. There’s even a small collection of Old-Earth style vehicles, camper trailers, and trucks. Most of them are covered in thick layers of dust and surrounded by grass that pushed up through cracks in the concrete.  

“Where do you think he parked it?” Takeishi steps up to peer through the fence, or rather over the fence. It’s so old and weak that it halfway hangs off of its support poles. “Inside one of the hangars?"  

"If it’s in a hangar, there’s no way we’ll be able to get in to see it,” Nakaoka mumbles, giving into defeat before they’ve even made it inside. How very typical of him.

“I’ve broken into this place to collect parts for my car,” Ryuji says, stepping up to the fence beside Takeishi. He shifts his backpack around to the front and digs through it until he finds his portable laser torch. “Security is an old guy who falls asleep watchin’ the monitors and outdated patrol robots. I don’t think the keypads on the hangars work and even if they do I’m sure I can disable them. They’re simple coded panels."  

"Since when did you become a hacker?” Takeishi challenges, though there’s a touch of admiration in his voice.  

“Not that kind of code, like a number combination. It’s less hackin’ and more… Cuttin’ wires.”  Ryuji grabs hold of one of the fence supports. He flicks the torch on and cuts through the small pieces of metal holding the fence up. The panel collapses the rest of the way down into the grass and the three boys clamber over it. Ryuji breathes a sigh of relief. They’re finally in, all that’s left is to find the ship. “Stay close to me and keep your voices down.”

The three of them make slow but steady progress through the shipyard, avoiding motion sensors and cameras. Ryuji knows the layout of the complex like the back of his hand and he continues to lead his friends onward. They’ve almost reached the long line of hangars when Ryuji hears the unsteady approach of a security robot. He motions for the other two to get down and follow him up under one of the Old-Earth vehicles. They’re packed together like sardines and every time Ryuji shifts he’s poked by bramble weeds that grew up under the truck’s front end.  

Nakaoka’s nervous breathing stirs the hair on the back of Ryuji’s neck. It’s the only sound outside of the approaching patrol robot. The tread on its tires is almost non-existent and it bounces violently over every crack and dip in the concrete. It stops beside their hiding place and begins to run it’s scanner down over the side of the vehicle. Blue light beams down into their eyes and Nakaoka stops breathing entirely. The robot lets out a soft crackle of static before turning to wheel away.  

“This is a bad idea. We should leave.” Nakaoka insists as the three of them crawl free of the undercarriage of the truck.  

Ryuji resists the urge to roll his eyes, instead offering words of encouragement, “We’re almost there. It’ll be another half hour before the robots make it back over here."  

"We can’t go back,” Takeishi adds, though his words are anything but soothing. “You can’t wuss out on us now. Not when we’re this close. Grow a pair already!"  

"Come on,” Ryuji is tempted to ditch them both, tired of their theatrics, but Takeishi is right for once. They’ve come too far and there’s no going back. They begin scoping out the hangars, peering in small side windows to check the inside for the ship. They’re almost to the last one when Ryuji finally spots it, an unmistakable outline. Grinning ear to ear, he waves to his friends and they join him at the window. “In here!”

“No way,” Takeishi laughs, slapping Ryuji jovially on the back. “I didn’t think we were gonna find it."  

"Kinda pissed that you two doubted me."  

"Let’s get in there to get a closer look."  

"I’m on it.” Ryuji slips around the side of the hangar to the entry door while Takeishi and Nakaoka keep watch. It doesn’t take him long to pry the panel off so that he can access the wires. He snips through the alarm wires and then gets to work on the ones that control the lock. He shifts them from connection to connection until he hears the lock click open inside the door. “Guys, come on."  

"Sakamoto, you’re such a badass.” Takeishi raves as they enter and the compliment fills Ryuji’s chest with pride. He’s the first one who approaches the cruiser. He runs his fingers admiringly over its sleek navy blue paint. The chrome accents along the front and sides are gleaming, perfect mirrors that reflect Ryuji’s wonder-filled eyes. The other boys join him and the three of them circle the cruiser like sharks, drooling over every last detail. “Alright, now that we’ve looked at it, let’s start it up."  

"Whoa, what?” Ryuji glanced at Takeishi, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “What do you mean start it up?"  

"Well you’re good at hot-wiring things, right? So get in there and start it up."  

"For real? I can hotwire the crappy hover cars parked in town, but this is a really high-class ship. It’s got to have a whole computer devoted to an alarm and protection system,” He says it as if he doesn’t already know. He does know. He knows everything about it.  

“C'mon, Sakamoto. I know you lay in bed at night fapping to ship schematics."  

"The hell?!"  

"Jerkin’ it to all those Captain Kidd posters you’ve got.”

"Takeishi, I swear-…"  

"Moaning his name when you cum."  

"I’ll do it if you shut up,” Ryuji growls. He swings his backpack down to the ground and kneels over it. He knows there’s nothing in his bag that could possibly work on such an advanced ship. He’s got to at least try for the sake of his dignity. It isn’t enough for Takeishi that Ryuji brought them to the shipyard and broke into the hangar, no, he’s always got to push things too far.  

“Ryuji, don’t.” Nakaoka implores him. “Guys, this is stupid. We should go. There’s no way Ryuji could hotwire a craft like this."  

"Let him work.” Takeishi snaps, beginning an argument between the two. Ryuji ignores them as he approaches the stunt ship, heart pounding with nervous anticipation. He never dreamed he would ever see it up close and in person and it’s better than any photo he’s ever seen. He lightly runs his hand over the lock panel, surprised when it opens up to reveal-… An Old-Earth style key lock? This isn’t what Ryuji’s expecting.  

Most high-class ships and cars are programmed with fancy identification software. Usually, that means voice recognition or palm and iris scanners. To see something so archaic on Captain Kidd’s stunt ship is both amusing and fortuitous. Ryuji can pick old style car locks without even having to think about it. He pulls his tools from his bag and gets to it. He presses his head against the hull, listening for the pins inside the lock.  

“He’s got this,” Takeishi whispers, earning a sharp look from Ryuji.  

“Don’t talk,” He commands, straining his ears to move the final pin out of the way. The lock clicks and then turns and with a soft whoosh of air, the door to the ship begins to fold down. Ryuji’s eyes bulge inside his head as he realizes what he’s done. The lights inside the cruiser flick on, bright white LEDs that make the interior shine like the gates of heaven. Without even thinking about it, Ryuji steps forward to climb the stairs and enter the craft.

Takeishi and Nakaoka bumble up after him, but he hardly notices that they’re there. His wonder and excitement have dimmed upon seeing the craft’s interior. Although the outside of the ship for all the world resembles the trick craft, the inside is that of a basic hover car. It’s even got cup holders and a console. It dawns on Ryuji that Captain Kidd’s trick ship likely isn’t street legal. The vehicle they’re sitting in now is either his civilian car or a really really good fake that someone made.  

“It’s not the right one,” Ryuji explains lamely, turning to glance over his shoulders at his friends. Nakaoka is wearing a similar mask of disenchantment, but Takeishi on the other hand-… Anger flares to life inside of Ryuji’s chest, he realizes he’s been baited. “You knew.”

“C'mon Sakamoto. You didn’t actually think that Captain Kidd would drive his stunt ship into town, didya?” Takeishi gloats, his grin wide with amusement. Sometimes Ryuji wonders why they’re friends. Why does he even bothers spending time with someone who acts the way Takeishi does? It’s likely all close proximity, they certainly wouldn’t have met by any other means. “My dad says Captain Kidd’s got a regular hover car made up all nice like his stunt ship. I knew he’d probably park it out here."  

"You’re such a friggen asshole."  

"I never said it was the actual ship, you just assumed that."  

"You brought us out here for this?!” Even Nakaoka’s upset, a rarity for him. Normally he’s immune to all the usual bullshit that Ryuji and Takeishi drag him through. It makes Ryuji feel even worse knowing that his own anger is justified in Nakaoka. “Come on, Ryuji. Let’s go."  

"Yeah. Right behind you,” Ryuji says, following Nakaoka down out of the ship, or rather, the hover car. He gathers his tools and throws them back into his bag with a satisfying use of force. They clink together as they hit the bottom of the bag and settle. “C'mon Takeishi. Get out of there. We’re leaving.”

“You’re not gonna try to crank this thing up?” Takeishi asks, oblivious to the sour mood of the other two.  

“No! I’m not! Now get outta there!"  

Takeishi pouts as he climbs down the stairs. Ryuji ignores him. He seals the car door back up and starts for the hangar exit, eager to be out and on his way back home. Once they’re outside again, he can breathe better. The cool night air calms his nerves a bit. Overhead the stars glimmer and the twin moons shine like the eyes of a cat. It’s beautiful in a way Ryuji can’t always describe and looking up at it takes the last bit of the edge off. He’s still disappointed but it’s less biting than it was inside the hangar. That is until Takeishi opens his mouth again.

"You’re both being a couple of little bitches about all this,” He goads. Ryuji bristles with newfound anger. He tosses his bag onto the ground and brings his hands up to slam against Takeishi’s chest. It knocks him against the side of the hangar. The metal rattles and echos across the shipyard.  

“Find your own way home,” Ryuji seethes, hissing the words through clenched teeth. Takeishi opens his mouth like he’s going to say something else, but Ryuji doesn’t allow it. He slams his fist against the hangar, knuckles making contact with the hard metal. It sends a shockwave of pain up his arm but he doesn’t care. Takeishi flinches away from both the action and the sound, his eyes wide with disbelief. Ryuji shoves away from the wall and snatches his bag up. This time when they turn to leave, they’re not immediately followed.

“Should'a hit me like your daddy hits you!” Takeishi taunts, but the two of them ignore him. The vein in the side of Ryuji’s forehead is pulsing and he feels lightheaded. When they’re out of sight of Takeishi he stops for a moment to catch his breath.  

“Sorry. You shouldn’t'a had to see that,” Ryuji apologizes, glancing sidelong. Nakaoka offers him a worn smile.  

“He deserves it,” Nakaoka concludes, shrugging his shoulders. “For real though, let’s go. I don’t want to get caught in here. My mom’ll kill me."  

"Mine too.”

The two of them set off together in comfortable silence, following the same path they took to get in to get back out. They’re almost to the fence line when they hear approaching footsteps. It’s followed by the sound of tires bouncing over the cracked concrete. Ryuji throws his head over his shoulder to see Takeishi barreling after them. There’s a security robot hot on his tail. Only once has Ryuji ever found himself in a similar situation. He knows from experience that the security bots can outrun a human. There’s no way Takeishi is going to make it to the fence in time.  

He knows he’s going to regret this, but-…  

“Take this and get outta here,” Ryuji snaps, tossing his bag into Nakaoka’s arms. He gives the other boy’s shoulder a firm push. Nakaoka does what he does best and takes off. Ryuji spins around in the opposite direction to go back for Takeishi. He’s doing a fair job of throwing the bot off, ducking between hover cars to cut off its straight forward path. Despite that, the machine is still closing the distance between them. Ryuji sticks his fingers in his mouth and whistles, catching both the bot and Takeishi’s attention.  

“Go long!” Ryuji calls out, gesturing towards the far end of the shipyard. “There’s another downed fence that way!”

Takeishi throws up a fist in acknowledgment and breaks out running. He’s a few aisles down from Ryuji, zigzagging a path through the parked cars. It’s a good method to prevent the bot from gaining distance on a straightaway. So far it’s working, the bot only has ground capabilities and it can’t keep up with Takeishi’s random changes in direction. Ryuji for his part races ahead, keeping his eyes out for more security bots. They’ve almost reached the fence line again and the opening that waits there for them.  

Takeishi’s been doing track since middle school and it shows in the way he runs, his stride long and practiced. He catches up to Ryuji and the two of them push on towards the fence. For a moment they catch each other’s eye and share twin smiles of amusement. This is easily the craziest thing they’ve done to date. This Takeishi is the one Ryuji is friends with. He’s briefly reminded of that as they come upon the end of their shared row. They dash around the side of the last hover car and almost crash into the fence.  

“No effin’ way!” Ryuji curses, staring incredulously at the brand new panel of fencing. “This thing’s been down for months! When did they replace it?!”

“Worry about that later! Where else can we get out at?!” cries Takeishi as he checks over his shoulder for the bot. “Shit, Ryuji we gotta go, man! There’s two of them back there!”  

When Ryuji looks, sure enough, two security robots are coming down the aisles towards them. In the distance, Ryuji can make out a third. He turns to Takeishi, his stomach clenching nervously at what he’s about to do.  

“Takeishi, climb! I’ll help you over. Then I can go back down to where we came in,” Without thinking he kneels down and offers himself as a foothold to his friend. Takeishi stares at him for a heartbeat, eyebrows furrowed with indecision. They both know its unlikely that Ryuji will be able to make it out. “Please man, just go.”  

“I’m sorry,” Takeishi apologizes as he steps onto Ryuji’s back. He hoists himself up and over the fence, turning around in time to offer a mournful look. Ryuji doesn’t have time to do more than wave him off, the bots are closing in around him. As a last-ditch effort, Ryuji takes off back towards the hangars, hoping he might be able to get inside of one to hide. He’s almost there when his foot catches in a crack in the pavement. His body shoots forward and lands against the hard ground, skinning his palms and forearms in the process. For a moment he lays winded, trying to will himself to get back up.  

The security bots surround him, having picked up a fourth on the way. They began to run their scanners over him, bright blue beams of light that shock the back of his eyelids. He raises up a hand to cover his eyes against their glow. There’s a soft crackle of static that passes between them like they’re having a private conversation in robot. One of the bots scans him a second time for good measure and then it begins to speak.  

Ryuji Sakamoto, age 16. No prior offenses. Citizen, please remain where you are. An officer has been dispatched to this location and will arrive shortly. Please do not leave the scene, as this could be taken as a sign of an attempt to resist arrest. There are no charges currently being brought against you. However, I will begin the Mirandizing process should this incident be taken to court in the future. In accordance with local laws, you have the right to remain silent-…

Ryuji pushes himself up onto his knees, listening to the security robot’s electronic voice. His pulse pounds at the side of his forehead and he thinks for a moment about how fucked he currently is. He’s going to be arrested. The moment that gets back to his father- Ryuji isn’t sure what will happen then, but it knows that it won’t be good. He debates on trying to run again, but the bots have already logged his identification code. There’s a slim chance that they haven’t yet transmitted it, but it’s a long shot even then.  

In the distance, he can hear sirens.