The Princess and the Thief

Chapter 1

Yan Sun’s fingers danced over the haptic interface of her desk, noting down every word said by Mrs. Wright, who stood in the front of the classroom in one of her usual atrocious outfits. Apparently padded shoulders was the latest fashion on the Citadel. Most of the other students were using the desks’ auto-transcription software, but Yan Sun insisted on typing down what was said manually. No better way to remember the lecture, after all. She was pretty sure had already memorized this information weeks ago, but her father would never forgive her if she failed Friday’s test, so this was no time to slack.

Her early advancement to university had been a saving grace. She’d been bored out of her mind in secondary school, and nearly failed several times. Here, here she was in her element. Learning about the latest and greatest in the tech world, from Earth and beyond. Being allowed an early enrollment on merit alone was virtually impossible. Her parents had paid a great deal for her current education, she knew that much. Some of the others were like her, 16 or 17 year-olds on their second year. The rest were older, admitted through normal channels. HKUST was a prestigious institution these days, and with an ever-increasing pool of applicants a great deal of money, or a connection to the Party, was more or less mandatory to get in. Luckily, Yan Sun had both.

When the lecture ended and students started filing out Yan Sun was quick to gather up her things, tuck her dark hair back behind her ears and head for the exit. She made her way outdoors, going for a walk along one of the many tiled paths overlooking Clearwater Bay. It was a sunny day, and the buildings on the campus cast long shadows all the way to the sea. The name of the bay hadn’t been appropriate for well over a century. The cleanup efforts had been extensive, but it was still many decades away from being safe for swimming. You wouldn’t guess from the surface though. Sparkling blue as ever.

She decided to stop by the VI Labs before going home. It had been a long time since she’d gotten to do any practical work, and she was itching to see what the others were working on. Plus she was pretty sure Lei Huang was a guest lecturer today. She would be a little late to the shuttle, but it should wait for her. The VI Labs were housed in their own building, on a separate network from the rest of the university for security reasons.

The sliding doors opened to the student ID in her omni-tool, letting her into the maze of corridors and doors that was the VI lab. The voices of half-finished personality reconstructions spouting iconic dialogue sounded from one of the rooms she passed. The next was nothing but long rows of idling computer terminals. She passed a lot of rooms like that one. Some filled with students, others empty like the first. After that came the room that housed some of the university’s rarest hardware under lock and key, only to be brought out when needed. Computers from across the galaxy, for test-running software on alien hardware. High-end asari omni-tools. A cutting edge quantum computer. And, of course, the prize of the collection: A decommissioned geth platform.

She finally came to the door she was looking for - one of the only lecture halls housed in the VI Labs building. She slipped in quietly and took a seat near the door. Lei Huang was near the end of his lecture. About AI simulation, from the sound of things. Lei Huang was a man in his late 20s with short brown hair and a look of perpetual excitement over his work. He was a VI technician at SunTech, and he was also a HKUST alumni and recurring guest lecturer. Aaand… a friend? Sort of? Yan Sun often went down to the VI workshops in the Tower in her spare time - she had been hanging onto his chair and looking over his shoulder at the screens in the workshops since he was an intern. Long before she had any clue what any of the code that filled the screens meant.

After his lecture ended she stuck around, intercepting Lei Huang. The conversation was short, most of it work-related as usual, and it ended with a promise to stop by workshops to check out the alpha for the next-gen SunTech medical VI. And plans to do the new Galaxy of Fantasy raid come the weekend.

After the conversation ended, Yan Sun started heading towards one of the computer labs to see what her classmates were working on, but she didn’t get far before she saw something that made her stop. There was someone at the door to the hardware room, and she didn’t look like a teacher. She looked maybe a couple of years older than Yan Sun, and had short, unruly hair dyed a vibrant teal. She was clad in form-fitting black biker’s leathers that had tech inlays that matched her hair. She was also looking around uneasily as she keyed something into the door interface and it slid open.

Yan Sun remained frozen in place for a moment after the unfamiliar girl disappeared into the room. Does she go report it right away? Maybe she had permission to access it. It did seem like she knew the code. She hesitantly approached the open door, peeking inside. The storage room was cramped and dimly lit, with rows of shelves that housed various components and fully assembled systems. The decommissioned geth was mounted upright on a rolling base, much like a biology-class skeleton, and the unexpected sight of it right next to the doorway was enough to prompt a startled breath.

The sound caused the stranger inside to spin around from the shelf she’d been turned toward, blinking when she spotted Yan Sun. Her gaze darted around for a moment.

“Can I… help you?” she asked tentatively.

“Uhm… no, I was just-... uh… are you allowed to be in here?”

The girl’s reply took a moment, eyebrows furrowing slightly. She was holding what looked like one of the high-end asari omni-tools. A Nexus. “Uhh… are you?”

The reply caused Yan Sun to blink in confusion. “Uhm… I’m-... I’m not in there…?” A bit of unease entered her face as she glanced down the corridor, pointing a thumb towards the entrance where the administration was. “I’m gonna-...”

She didn’t have time to finish the sentence before the stranger closed the distance between them, tugging her into the room and poking her head out to take a quick look around the corridor before closing the door.

“What are you-... get your hands off me!” Yan Sun exclaimed frustratedly as she wrested free from the stranger’s grip on her shirt, taking a couple of steps back. “You’re not allowed to be in here, are you?!”

The girl winced, running a hand through her short hair. “Not exactly, no, but look, just-”

“I’m gonna report this!” Yan Sun stepped toward the door only to have her path blocked by the leather-clad stranger.

“Look, let’s just stay relaxed here. No need to-”

“No I’m not gonna relax! What are you doing with that thing?” she asked with a nod towards the omni-tool in the suspicious girl’s hand. “Are you stealing?”

“I’m just-...” The girl trails off, letting out an exasperated sigh. “Yeah, I’m taking it. Is that a problem?”

“Wh-... yes it’s a problem! It’s illegal. It’s wrong!”

“Oh, come on. The university has, like… infinite donation money. They’ll just buy new ones. If they even notice it’s gone.” the thief said with a roll of her eyes, hand dropping from the doorway.

Yan Sun took the opportunity right away, trying to slip past the intruder, only to be shoved back against the wall. A jolt of fear ran through her body as she realized for the first time that this might actually be a dangerous situation. She also just now realized how much taller the thief was than her, and how little trouble she seemed to have holding her in place. Strong grip. There was muscle hiding beneath the leather. She found herself tongue-tied, just staring at the tall girl that suddenly seemed a lot more intimidating than she had a moment ago.

“Sorry. Can’t let you leave the room.” the stranger said, her voice quieter now. Up close like this, she could feel her breath. It was warm. “My friend needs help, and to help him, I need this.” she said, wiggling the omni-tool in her free hand in the small space between them. She actually sounded a bit apologetic.

A chill ran down Yan Sun’s spine as she tried to figure out what the first statement meant. “Are-... are you going to kill me?!” she blurted out as the thought suddenly occurred to her, eyes widening.

The thief let out a surprised snort at the sudden panic. “What-... no! No, I’m not gonna kill you!” she was quick to assure, seeming amused by the outburst. “Just… need you to stay in here until I’m out, yeah?” she asked, cocking an eyebrow questioningly. Yan Sun’s attention lingered on the amused grin that was still on her lips, travelling up the piercings that decorated her face until she met her gaze. Uncertainty and embarrassment started settling in as she realized she had no idea how to handle the situation. It was probably safest to just… do as instructed, right?

“I-I-I-... uh… yeah. Okay. Yeah. I’ll just-... yeah…” she blurted out, gaze falling to the floor as she felt her cheeks burning. The thief continued to study her for a moment in silence, her expression shifting a little. Then she stepped back, her hand no longer gripping Yan Sun’s arm, her body no longer blocking her path.

“Okay. Okay. Cool.” Her gaze darted over towards the door, and for a moment there’s a hint of nerves shining through her confident demeanor. How well did she plan this?

Yan Sun hesitated as the thief pocketed the omni-tool and headed for the door. “Your friend. Why does he need help…?” she asked hesitantly, prompting the stranger to stop and look back.

“Not really any of your business.” she said before taking another step.

Yan Sun only had a moment to decide whether to say anything. She was a thief! Why should she warn her? But-... crap.

“Wait! There’s a tracker on the omni.” she called out before she could regret it. The girl stopped, turning around fully now.

“What?”

“A tracker. All uni hardware has tracking software installed. They’ll see it wasn’t signed out. You won’t get far.”

The thief spat out a curse, uncertainty entering her face. It was obvious that she had thought she’d be able to just walk out once she had the omni-tool.

“Can you sign it out?” she asked, sudden urgency in her voice as she held up the omni-tool, her gaze focused on Yan Sun.

“I mean, yeah, but-”

“Do it!” she instructed, thrusting the omni-tool towards her, an intense look on her face. She winced slightly. “Please.”

Yan Sun bit down on her lips as she hesitated. She could get in trouble for this. She almost certainly would get in trouble for this. Why did she even say something? This girl was trying to steal from the university! But… she could tell what she’d said about her friend needing help was true. Serious.

“Fine!” she spat out, reaching out to take the omni-tool. The sleek, default-orange interface lit up and she keyed in her student ID. As soon as she’d handed the omni-tool back she felt the panic rising in her chest. What the hell was she doing?! “Oh my god… I-... I’m going to be expelled. Arrested. My dad’s going to be furious, I-I-”

The leather-clad thief blinked as Yan Sun started freaking out, not quite sure what to do at first. “Hey. Hey! Look, uhm… how about… once I’m done with this…” she said, shaking the omni-tool a little. “...I’ll bring it back?” she suggests, eyebrows rising slightly. When there was no immediate response she gave her arm a pat and added: “Sound good?”

Yan Sun was quick to give a couple of nods. It was about the best she could hope for, wasn’t it? The promise of a thief didn’t do all that much to ease her worries though.

“I’m gonna bring it back. Promise. No… getting expelled.” she assured with an amused snicker, gesturing around aimlessly as she spoke. “Appreciate the assist, yeah? I’m Changying, by the way.” She wasn’t sure if the name was real, of course. Wouldn’t make much sense for it to be. But maybe it was an offering to back up her assurance?

“Uhm… I’m Yan Sun.” she managed, just barely, remaining awkwardly in place as the thief nodded and smiled, pressing the panel for the door.

“Nice to meet you, Yan Sun.” she said with a wink and a grin before disappearing out into the corridor. Yan Sun remained in the now-empty storage room, her gaze going to the lifeless geth that studied her with a lone, judgmental eye.

What just happened?

Chapter 2

A week. It had been almost a week since Yan Sun made what is surely going to go down as the biggest mistake of her life. What on Earth was she thinking? She had come across a stranger stealing university property and instead of reporting her she had just… frozen up.

No. It was worse than that. She’d helped her. She was an accessory now. If word got out… the only thing she could think of was what the look on her father’s face would be. He had invested a lot of money in her education. If she got expelled... the thought of letting him down was terrifying. Sure, they had disagreements, but university was something that they had both agreed on. She wanted to make him proud, doubly so after the effort he put into getting her an early enrollment.

And now… she’d done this. Nobody had noticed yet. At least she didn’t think so. Nobody had asked. It was only a matter of time before somebody did though.

She had been a mess of nerves during the flight home the day it happened. Part of her panicking over what she’d done, wondering what would happen if someone found out. Part of her wanting to believe that it’d be fine, that the omni-tool would be returned the next day like nothing ever happened. Part of her berating herself for being an idiot, just wondering what the hell she was thinking. There was also a part that couldn’t stop thinking about how she’d felt, the genuine fear when she was cornered. Fear and-... no. Just fear. She’d been intimidated and acted like an idiot, that was it.

She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the chance encounter all week. The worry made it hard to focus on her studies. She’d spent most of her free time gaming to distract herself, hoping the next day would be the one. Of course, with each day that passed, it became increasingly obvious that she was an idiot. What kind of thief would come bring back what they stole once they were done with it?

That was what was going through Yan Sun’s head as she walked towards the university parking lot after yet another day without any sign of Changying. The thief. Obviously that wasn’t her real name. Idiot.

As the parking lot came into view, she spotted the sleek white skycar in the same spot as always, idling smoothly a couple of feet off the ground as it waited for her. She was already on her way across the pavement towards it when she noticed the bike out of the corner of her eye. Or, more accurately, the girl leaned against it.

Changying. She was there. Casually leaned against a motorcycle. The bike was a lean, sporty thing with black paint that shone in the afternoon sun. Changying was dressed in biker’s leathers, just like the last time she’d seen her. She had an equally black helmet with a polarized visor under her right arm. A second helmet sat on the back of the bike. A grin spread across her face when she noticed Yan Sun, and she raised an arm to wave her over.

Yan Sun couldn’t quite believe it. She’d finally come back? Really? Was she going to hand it back? Why else would she be here? Just to rub her stupidity in her face?

“Yan Sun!” she exclaimed as she got closer. The grin on her face just grew.

“Changying. You-... are you here to give it back? I thought-... I really thought I was never gonna see you again.” She tried to temper the wave of relief that was already flooding her mind, she didn’t have any confirmation yet, but she couldn’t help the relieved laugh that slipped out.

“Oookay, somebody’s happy to see me.” she replied with a snicker, her grin growing a bit cockier as she studied the student before her. She waited just a moment, until Yan Sun’s smile wavered from hesitation, before pulling the Nexus out of her jacket pocket, showing it to her. “Relax. Said I’d bring it back, didn’t I…?”

Yan Sun could feel her cheeks flushing with embarrassment over her week-long freakout. Sure, she had good reason to doubt, but it was hard not to react when called out.

“Not gonna lie. I thought about keeping it. We… could really use one of these.” she said, shrugging her shoulders slightly as she studied the omni-tool, turning it over in her hand. “But… you helped me. Didn’t have to do that. Not gonna get you in trouble over it.” With those words she flashed a small smile and underhanded the omni-tool to Yan Sun, who… blinked as it impacted her chest, hands scrambling to catch it far too late.

Yan Sun’s eyes went wide as she looked down at the device on the pavement. Changying just watched in disbelief. She hurriedly crouched down to pick it up. “Pleaseworkpleaseworkpleasework…” she chanted to herself as she went to activate the haptic interface. She let out a loud sigh of relief as she was greeted with the home screen. She gave the case itself a quick look-over. A little scuffed on one side, but hopefully no one would notice…

Changying had a balled up hand over her mouth as Yan Sun stood back up, trying and failing to mask her laughter. It caused her embarrassment to return in full force. “You good?”

The only response she could muster was a couple of nods, avoiding the older girl’s gaze.

“Okay. You need to hand that thing in right away, or… you got some time?” she asked with a questioning raise of her eyebrow.

Yan Sun frowned in confusion, attention going back to Changying. “Uhm… it’s… no rush, I guess. Why…?” she asked, no shortage of suspicion in her voice.

The girl that was leaning against the bike grabbed the second helmet with her left hand and held it out towards Yan Sun as a wide grin crossed her lips. “Thought we could go for a ride. Figure I at least owe you a drink or something after you helped me out…”

Yan Sun eyed the helmet in disbelief. “Uhm... I-... what?”

“Head into town, grab a drink or something and chat for a bit?”

“I mean-... but-... what? I can’t-... I-I have a car waiting...” was all she could manage, her gaze darting over to the skycar that was still waiting for her just a few slots away.

“Just an offer.” she said with a shrug, letting the arm holding the second helmet drop to her side as she pushed off from the bike. “No big deal if you don’t wanna come.” she assured with a little smirk, although there was a hint of disappointment in her eyes as she straddled the bike, slipping her own helmet on.

Yan Sun bit her lip, frozen in place as her gaze darted between the shuttle that took her home every day, and the mysterious thief that was starting up her black bike. The lights that came to life around the wheels were the same teal as her hair. She wasn’t really thinking about this, was she? Hopping on the bike of some random criminal going to who-knows-where was a really, really dumb idea. She’d done enough stupid things in the past week, no need to-

“Wait! I’m coming!” Crap.

She could feel her heart beating faster as she struggled to climb onto the rear of the bike and Changying handed her the spare helmet. What was she doing? It was over! She had the omni-tool back! There was absolutely no reason to do this. The helmet went on, bulky and uncomfortable. Changying reached over to make sure that it was on right, gloved hands tugging at the straps.

“All good.” she confirmed with a thumbs up, her smile unseen behind the polarized visor, but heard in her voice. “Just wrap your arms around my waist and hold on tight, okay?”

Yan Sun was very glad the helmet hid her face because she was pretty sure it was bright red as she wrapped her arms around Changying from behind, trying to hold on just the right amount. Not so much it’s weird, and not so little she’ll fall off.

The bike rumbled to life. It wasn’t loud, little more than a faint whir as Changying backed it out and left the parking lot. Few bikes were all that loud these days, unless they were gas-guzzling antiques. But she could feel the vibrations of the engine. Deceptively powerful for such a small vehicle, which she learned in full when it pulled onto a larger road and the speed climbed rapidly.

She suddenly found herself holding onto Changying a whole lot tighter, leaned close as she hugged her for dear life. Part of her registered the vibrations of laughter from the girl in front of her, but she couldn’t hear anything over the wind rushing by, and the rest of her mind was far too preoccupied with the fear of imminent death to care.

The motorcycle slowed when they left the coast and started to make their way into more urban territory, but Yan Sun didn’t dare loosen her grip. Entering the city proper from the east they quickly ended up passing through the Burn. Blocks of nothing but debris and the empty husks of burned-out buildings. The remnants of the fire of ‘70. Most of the eastern slums had burned down before the fire could be contained. Reconstruction efforts had made a lot of headway since then, and the streets were all cleaned up, but there were a lot of ruins that hadn’t been knocked down yet.

Yan Sun rarely saw this part of the city - her route back from university just passed over most of it, heading straight for the Sun Tower landing pad. When she explored the city it was mostly the core districts. She found her gaze wandering a bit to study their surroundings as they passed. As much as her still-present fear allowed, anyhow.

It wasn’t long before the burned-out buildings gave way to construction sites, and then monolithic, towering gray housing projects, perfectly uniform and fully integrated into the city network. These were the buildings that housed all those that lost their homes in the fires. Sure seemed like an upgrade. SunTech was handling the tech for the new buildings. It was nice to know that their company could do some good work.

For a brief time Changying’s path took them into the central districts, where tall, glimmering spires of glass and greenery towered above, leaving the ground level streets in perpetual shadows. It was odd to see familiar territory from such a different angle. She was used to wandering the boulevards and walkways that ran above them, between, along, and at times through the buildings. The streetside down here wasn’t all that different from above - lots and lots of stores and establishments of all sorts, but the brands were different and the signage was a whole lot more haphazard - old neon signs intermingled with newer holographic displays, with irregular heights and spacing.

They didn’t remain long in the central part of the city, Changying weaving expertly between cars to get keep a steady pace. Soon enough the buildings were shrinking in size, and getting older. A gradual, but noticeable progression. They were in the northwestern part of the city now, closer to the ports. In the distance, the highways ran elevated off to another enclave of towering skyscrapers to the north, and beyond that, the virtually endless expanse of the rest of the Guangzhou megacity. Above the highways, a freighter could be seen descending towards the spaceport, it’s underbelly covered in a colorful quilt of shipping containers. Yan Sun knew some of this area was considered slums as well. The architecture here was some of the oldest in the city. Crooked residential buildings a few centuries old mingled with modular, semi-modern additions.

It was only when the bike came to a stop in an area that seemed to consist mostly of old, half-abandoned buildings with few people about that she came to the realization that not only did she have basically no idea where they were, but this didn’t exactly seem like the safest area to begin with. Changying pulled the bike into an alley between two old buildings, stopping at a seemingly arbitrary shutter.

She remained on the bike for a couple of awkward moments until Yan Sun realized that it was time to let go of her, at which point she jumped off and went to pull up the metal shutters, revealing a room of barren concrete that must have been a garage or a delivery bay for a store or something at some point. After Yan Sun got off she backed the bike in and went to close the shutter, prompting Yan Sun to pry off her helmet before stepping in to stop her.

“When you said ‘a drink’, I was kind of expecting a cafe or something, not… whatever this is. Honestly, I’m-... I’m pretty freaked out here. If this-... if you brought me out here to murder me or something that’s… a really weird and messed up way to go about doing… crime… stuff. You already had the omni-tool! Just-... I think I just want to go home.”

Changying let out a sigh under her helmet, turning to study Yan Sun. “What exactly is it you think that I do…?” she wondered aloud, before shaking her head and pulling her helmet off. “Look, just-... we’re almost there. If you really wanna go I’ll take you home, but… you’ll miss out on that drink. One time offer…” she hummed with a little smirk, right hand still resting on the shutter handle above as she looked down at the shorter girl.

Yan Sun remained awkwardly in place as she considered her options. Going home was definitely the smart option. She didn’t even have to get back on the bike. She could have the shuttle over in a minute. But… she hadn’t exactly been picking the smart option so far. She found her gaze lingering on Changying’s face. The smirk. The hair, messed up and a little sweaty from the helmet. The little scar on her chin.

Crap.

“Okay. Let’s go.” she said with a hopefully nonchalant shrug, trying to look more confident than she felt. Changying’s smirk grew into a wide grin and she gestured towards the door at the back of the room before closing the shutter.

It was ten flights of stairs to get to the roof. Apparently, the elevator in this building hadn’t worked in years. She wasn’t quite sure if anyone lived here or if the apartments were abandoned. Once on the roof, they crossed a rickety bridge to the neighboring building. At least the suspiciously homemade-looking bridge had railings.

A number of modular prefab units were stacked on top of the roof they now found themselves on, adding a couple of additional, albeit irregular, floors to the building. Changying approached a locked door, punching in a code.

“Why did you take me to some… ruin? What is this place?”

“It’s, uh… it’s my home.” came the reply, accompanied by a less cocky, more awkward look from Changying. “Head’s up. Just moved in. Kind of a work in progress.” she warned, before the door opened to a large prefab room filled with all sorts of worn-down furniture, cardboard boxes and miscellaneous crates. In the center was a hole in the floor that led directly to the stairs down into the building proper. It seemed that the entire structure surrounding the top level of the stairs had been removed. A ladder led up to the next level of prefabs.

Yan Sun looked around, caught between curiosity and fear as she stepped into the room. She took a peek down the stairs, prompting Changying to speak up.

“Ah, we’re headed up. Kind of a mess down there. Like I said. Work in progress.” She gestured towards the ladder, and up they went, two floors. The top level. The highest part of the irregular, three-tiered prefab pyramid was basically just a single unit. A plain bed against one wall, a tiny table, and a dresser. A shuttered window looking out at the city. The far wall had a door, but it seemed to just go… nowhere. That’s where Changying went, grabbing a couple of bottles from a crate just inside before stepping out.

As it turned out, the door led to the roof of the prefab below. A makeshift balcony of sorts. She sat down on the edge and gestured for her guest to join her. Yan Sun hesitated for only a moment before sitting down next to her, looking out at the view. They faced west where they were sitting, the low sun partly hidden behind the massive, elevated highway that stretched from south to north, filled with a steady stream of people going to and from the spaceport, and beyond it the other megacity zones. Beyond the highway the cargo cranes at the docks towered.

Changying held out a bottle for Yan Sun to take. According to the label it was beer. Not strong beer, but beer nonetheless.

“Uhm… I can’t-... I’m 16.” she explained awkwardly, prompting a long look from Changying as she tried to decide whether the refusal was joking.

“Yeah, I’m-... I’m not gonna tell, you know.” she assured with an amused expression, still holding the bottle out. “What did you think ‘a drink’ meant?”

Yan Sun scratched her neck, blushing a little as the embarrassment started to come back. “I don’t know, tea?” she suggested with a shrug.

“Sorry, this is all I’ve got right now. Gonna have to take a rain-check if you want a cup of tea.”

Yan Sun furrowed her eyebrows, sucking in her lips as she considered. It… wasn’t that big of a deal, right? One beer? Another glance at Changying sealed the deal and she took the bottle, eyeing it hesitantly for a moment before taking a small sip. It was… not good. Not even a little. The grimace on her face must have told as much because Changying burst into laughter while watching her. “Not a fan?”

“Wh-... this is disgusting! Why-... just why…?”

The girl in the biker’s leathers snickered. “You are just adorable.” she mused quietly under her breath before taking a long swig from her own bottle. As Yan Sun heard the comment she could feel her cheeks heating up, and she was quick to take another sip from her beer in the hopes that it would help her growing embarrassment. That was how alcohol worked, right?

As it turned out, a single bottle of low-alcohol beer didn’t do much of anything. Aside from being gross. But the two of them ended up talking for quite a while, well after the bottles were emptied. Changying confirmed that things had worked out with her friend. He was no longer in trouble. But she didn’t want to go into detail. She also explained she’d found this place a couple of months ago, mostly abandoned. The stairwell was collapsed, so the upper floors were entirely uninhabited. Yan Sun had a whole lot of questions about who she was, what she did for a living, and why she was living up here, but she didn’t dare to ask most of them. Instead they talked about the bike, about what kind of drinks Yan Sun might like, and about her studies at the university. Which led to a confession that Changying had been more than a little freaked out when she’d thought things had gone sideways while grabbing the omni-tool.

Eventually, the two of them just ended up watching the view. They watched the ships coming and going from the spaceport, and after a while, the sun starting to set over the water, bathing the hazy sky and the buildings around them in an orange glow. It was then that Changying got on her feet with a grunt, offering a hand to help Yan Sun up.

“Alright, let’s get you home, yeah?” she said with a smile, nodding towards the door behind them.

“Uhm… I-... yeah.” she agreed, nodding and looking over towards the door before looking back to Changying. “Hey, uh… I was just wondering. Why did you bring me out here?”

She smirked at the question. “Like I said, you helped me out. And… I had a good feeling about you. Think I was right.” she replied.

“What? I don’t-... what does that mean?”

“You’re a good person. I can tell. I think you should come back some time. Meet some of my friends.”

Yan Sun blinked. “Uhm… okay. Uh… I mean, maybe…? I’m not really sure what that means, and you’re doing the thing again where you’re being weirdly cryptic and it’s kind of setting off some alarms, you know?”

Changying let out a snort and shook her head. “It’s nothing weird. They’re good people too. Just think you’d get along, that’s all. And… you’re pretty cool. I’d kinda like to see you again, yeah?”

With that, the blush made its return, and Yan Sun turned her gaze sharply to the view, drawing in a short breath. “Uhhhyeahmaybe.” she blurted out. “Look, I’m-... I think I’m just gonna call my shuttle to get home. You’ve had that beer, and, just, yeah.”

The thief - friend now? - regained her amused look. “It was one, low-alcohol beer. I can still handle-... wait, shuttle?”

Yan Sun’s gaze snapped back to Changying. “Uhm… y-... yeah? I mean, it’s-... it’s just a skycar. It takes me home from uni, but I can just… get it over here.”

The short-haired girl’s eyebrows furrowed as she studied her guest. “Where’s ‘home’?” she asked with newfound curiosity, doing nothing to help Yan Sun’s embarrassment.

“Uh… it’s… Sun Tower.” she replied quietly.

“Sun-... wait. Wait, wait, wait. You’re… Yan Sun as in SunTech?!” She seemed genuinely baffled, studying her in disbelief.

“Uhm… yeah…” she managed, voice somehow even quieter. She could feel herself wincing.

“...holy shit.” A surprised laugh followed, baffled look remaining on her face. “Didn’t realize I was hanging out with fucking royalty.”

“Please don’t.” ‘The corporate princes of Hong Kong’. It was an awkward and almost always derisive way to refer to the handful of CEOs that were influential enough to have a major influence on the way the city was run.

“Wait, is this some trick? Did you-... is this some… weird setup? Because of some omni-tool?”

“What?! No!" Yan Sun immediately blurted out, feeling the offended frown form before she even thought about it. "What does that even-”

Changying blinked, not having expected the visceral reaction, holding up her hands defensively. “Okay. Okay. We’re cool. Just… kind of a surprise, you know?”

Yan Sun let the tension fade from her shoulders with an awkward laugh. “Yeah… guess it’s a little weird.”

“You’re… not gonna tell anyone where I am, right?” she asked, shifting a little uneasily.

“...no? Who-... who would I tell, exactly?”

“Look, just… nevermind. You’re cool. We’re cool. I believe you. You just… uh… get back to your Tower? And… you wanna hang out again, you know where to find me.” she said, offering a slightly awkward smile before realizing something. “Actually… do you have an omni-tool?”

“Of course.” Yan Sun replied, still a little distracted by the previous exchange, but the idea of hanging out again brought a smile to her lips, and she was quick to dig her own omni-tool out of her pocket as Changying did.

“Okay… there you go. Now we can stay in touch.” she announced after a couple of seconds of typing.

“Great.” Yan Sun replied, shifting her weight as she remained in place.

“So… guess you’re calling in that skycar?”

“Yeah… I, uh… I guess.”

“Sure you don’t want me to give you a ride?” Changying suggested again, raising an eyebrow.

The question brought out a slightly flustered smile and a small nod, trying to restrain her reaction as she felt her heart speed up again at the thought of getting back on the motorcycle with Changying. “Uh… yeah. It was-... it was pretty fun. Maybe you can just… drop me a couple of blocks from home?”

The ride felt like it was over in an instant, and once again she found herself reluctantly letting go of Changying, although this time she was the only one stepping off the bike. She waved an awkward goodbye. "Uhm... see you around...?"

"Later, princess." the girl on the bike replied with a snicker from beneath her polarized helmet, cranking the throttle and then speeding off down the street, out of sight in a moment.

Yan Sun let out a long breath, just looking down the street where Changying had disappeared. It had been a long, crazy afternoon. But everything had worked out, and she was... weirdly excited. The omni-tool was back. She wasn't the least bit murdered. And she'd made a new friend. That's a win, right?

She started to walk the last couple of blocks towards the street-level entrance to the Sun Tower, paying little attention to her surroundings. Her mind was stuck on how fun the motorcycle ride had been. The speed. The-... okay, she was mostly thinking about how nice it had felt to hold onto Changying as they rode through the streets. Which... was a pretty weird and really not appropriate thing to be thinking about her new friend. Her new... criminal friend.

What the hell was she doing?

Crap.