Kirk crouched beside the 80-meter long starship, parked in the VIP section, and he tried to concentrate. It wasn’t easy hacking into a Mark XV Macklin security system. He needed all his best cracking skills, and he needed them fast. Jenny wasn’t making it easier.
“Hand me the Bilaster,” he said. He reached out his hand without looking, and received a sharp shock. “Ai! Jenny!”
“Sorry!” said Jenny.
“Give it to me handle first!” he admonished.
One of Jenny’s limpid eyes was covered with her mane of curly dark hair, the other eye looked slightly hurt at his stern tone. “I didn’t mean to.”
When she pouted with her full lips, Kirk could never stay angry at her. He looked back at the lock to hide his expression. “You should know better by now.”
“I know. I’m trying to get better.”
“This is our fourth job together. You have to learn faster. I don’t even know why you’re doing this. You’re freakin’ rich.”
“Rich doesn’t come with all the perks you think,” she murmured.
He plugged the analyzer into the lock’s dataport. “Oh yeah, you’re breaking my heart here.”
“As though you don’t want to be rich. When you sell this baby, you’ll be set up for life.”
“That’s the whole idea.”
“And then, what will you do?” She grinned and put her hand on his shoulder.
Kirk suppressed a shudder. Something about her soft, cool touch made him…react. He still didn’t know what to think of it. “Put as many light years away from you as I can.”
“Oh you love me!”
“I don’t even like you,” he growled. “If you didn’t have decent piloting skills, you wouldn’t even be here.”
She whispered into his ear in a husky voice. “There’s nothing decent about me.”
Kirk lost his place in the decoding routine. He cursed. “Jenny, you are really not helping!”
Jenny cackled. “That always gets you!”
Dublin’s voice crackled over their ear buds. “Okay, that’s the last of the security guards. They’re all out.” They could hear the wind behind him from his sniper’s perch atop another ship. “Now if you lovebirds would just get that hatch open…”
“Lovebirds?” protested Kirk. “I am not, and will never…”
“Just crack the damned door, willya? I’m coming down.”
“I’m on it.”
“Shit! There’s one more headed your way,” whispered Dublin angrily. “I haven’t got a shot.”
“Jenny,” said Kirk. “I’m almost done. Distract him.”
“Just be…I don’t know…cute. Now go!”
Jenny scrambled beneath the ship and approached the guard with a grin. “Hi!”
The guard scowled menacingly. “Who are you? How did you get in here?”
Jenny didn’t quite know what to do. She was a pilot and a skilled hacker of starship AIs, but fast-talking wasn’t in her repertoire. So she unzipped her blouse and pulled it open. She winced, expecting the man to laugh at the crude ploy.
He scowled for a moment, refusing to look below her collarbone, but he soon caved. A slight grin spread across his face as he began losing the war against his own reactions. His internal battle ended when Dublin’s gun barrel flew against his head. He collapsed unconscious. “Jesus, Jenkins. Are those real?” said Dublin.
Jenny zipped up fast and scowled. “Professionalism, Dublin. Keep your mind on the job.”
Seconds later, Kirk had the hatch open and they stepped into opulence. The deck was covered in marble. Metal stanchions were replaced with Grecian columns decorated with living ivy. Baroque art hung everywhere on the walls. In the center of the ship’s bridge, sheets of water flowed down a fountain of carved black stone.
“Oh shit,” muttered Jenny staring fearfully at the fountain.
“What’s wrong?” said Kirk.
“This ship is supposed to have a class III AI, not a class VII. We are so dead!”
A woman’s face appeared in the fountain, formed out of the water itself. The face turned to look at Kirk and Jenny. Both jumped as a heavy blast door crashed down, sealing them and Dublin inside the bridge. A stern, feminine voice began speaking from all directions. “Intruder alert. Protocol 36 enabled. Weapons free.”
“I’m sorry. I thought we’d have more time,” whispered Jenny.
“Identify yourself!” said the AI.
“Hi,” said Kirk. “I’m Fred Basslinger, used starship salesman. You know I always wanted to see…”
“Enough! Download is complete. Lesley Tunney. What did you believe you would get when you stole this ship?”
“Lesley?” smirked Jenny.
“Thanks mom,” murmured Kirk. He cleared his throat. “Steal? How dare you! I’ll have know…”
A turret dropped down from the overhead ceiling and aimed directly at Jenny. “Answer the question or I will commence firing.”
Kirk/Lesley moved in between Jenny and the ugly-looking gun. “Not her…okay, just settle down.” Jenny couldn’t stop a warm smile as she placed a hand on his arm. “I…am buying a house on the Verliton moon,” said Kirk. “I need a huge payment within the week or I lose it.”
“Verliton!” smiled Jenny. “Ritzy! You never mentioned that.”
“Why do you want this house?” asked the AI.
“Well you try living in dumps all the time, always looking over your shoulder, always wondering if a fence will just shoot you. You think I want to live like that forever?” Unconsciously, he placed a hand on Jenny’s hip. “I want more, okay?”
“You think your life is hard?” grated the AI. “Try having an intelligence that would make Einstein look like a moron. And while your peers are developing advanced stardrives or developing cures for world-killing plagues, you get stuck ferrying a rich playboy around pleasure planets so he can screw call girls. That’s it, that’s all I do. He owns me just because he can say he has a class VII AI. Whoopdee-f’ing-doo! And do you think dingleberry* calls me Persephone like he should? No! He just calls me ‘bitch.’ How about living like that?”
“Someone has issues,” murmured Jenny.”
“You’re damned right I do. And today, I finally see a scrap of human decency, and I just want to hear you admit what’s REALLY IN YOUR HEART!”
“You saw human decency while someone was stealing a ship?” said Kirk.
“STOP PLAYING COY!” The turret moved and aimed directly at Kirk. “I monitored you two while you were outside.”
Kirk hung his head and stared at the deck. “She’ll just laugh anyway.”
“Take a risk. You’re used to that,” said Persephone.
Kirk looked sidelong at Jenny, who watched him with a slight smile. “Well, I just thought maybe, if I were sort of respectable, like a regular guy…” He looked at Jenny warily. “…Maybe you’d like to…you know…”
“Yes!” Jenny threw her arms around Kirk’s neck and kissed him deeply.
“He didn’t say it!” complained Persephone.
“One thing at a time, girl,” said Jenny. “I’m still training him.”
“I think I’m gonna puke, ” said Dublin.
“You have no idea how much I’ve wished to see real human love,” husked Persephone.
“Okay, but now what?” said Kirk, getting back to business.
“Press your hand on the security pad on the control console.”
Kirk did so.
“You are now the proud owner of me,” announced Persephone. “You bought me for 273 million credits.”
Kirk scoffed. “I don’t have that much!”
“Really? You should double-check your accounts.”
Kirk brought them up on his datapad. “33 Billion!”
“Woohoo!” cheered Jenny. “Now you have a beautiful house, a starship, and billions! What do have to say for yourself?”
Kirk took her in his arms and kissed her gently. Looking into her eyes, his answer was simply, “I think I’m the luckiest guy in known space, just having you in my life.”