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Chapter 1

A Dirty Pair/ Iria: Zeiram fusion
by DB Sommer

Any and all C+C appreciated. You can contact me at: sommer@3rdm.net

Disclaimer: Dirty Pair created by Hideki Sonoda and Haruka Takachiho.   Iria: Zeiram belongs to Crowd, Bandai Visual, Mitsubishi Corp, Banpresto and US Manga Corps.

The stars slid past, streaking across the front view screen like a plethora of raindrops striking the windshield on a drive through the countryside, propelled across the surface until trickling out of sight off the edge only to be replaced by others at the front once again. Despite the hundreds of times Yuri had done this exact same thing in the past, she was still at a stage in her life when traveling through hyperspace left a slight thrill run down her spine, not that she would admit such adolescent feelings to anyone.

"We'll be coming out of hyperspace in about twenty minutes," Yuri announced, turning her head partially around so that her voice would carry down the passageway that led from the bridge towards the interior of the 'Lovely Angel.' That was where her partner, Kei, was ostensibly supposed to be cleaning up debris, but in reality was lazing around while portraying the illusion of work. Or so Yuri assumed, since that was Kei's usually method of operation.

A groan of stressed metal and a light hint of ozone filled the recycled atmosphere of the Lovely Angel, seemingly in response to Yuri's pronouncement.

"Okay, if we hold together, we'll come out of hyperspace. How's that?" she said softly to the ship.

Apparently the ship felt it wasn't enough as the sound of circuitry shorting out reached Yuri's ears. The noise seemed to come from the corridor that Kei was currently working in. "What was that?!" Yuri cried out in alarm.

"I'll check it out," Kei shouted back in a much calmer tone than her partner.

Despite the reassurance, Yuri turned in her seat, keeping one eye on the controls and the other trying to catch a glimpse of Kei, who was floating around somewhere in the zero gravity of the ship. "Why don't you come up here and pilot and let me look?"

"I said I'll check it out," Kei snapped in irritation.

Several moments later, the sound of cursing and metal being bent back reached Yuri's ears. She felt something uncomfortable shift in the pit of her stomach. Oh yes, Kei's training in the 'Hit It With a Big Blunt Object Until It Starts Working,' school of engineering was going to end up dumping them in hyperspace and killing them both. At least Yuri would know it was all Kei's fault and not hers. There was something reassuring in that.

After several more strings of colorful curses, Kei shouted, "I think it was the Kahrome-5T circuit board that was fried. That's not important, is it?"

"Nothing major." Yuri released a long sigh of relief. "It controls the water supply though. If it's blown, we won't be able to take showers. And we'll probably have to drink that awful beer you brought with you if we get thirsty." Yuri had tried a can of the yellow-green colored fluid earlier on the trip. It tasted like battery acid. Badly brewed battery acid at that. Naturally Kei drank it like it was water.

"Ah, hell. I'm a mess. I was planning on grabbing a nice hot shower after I was done cleaning up." Kei grabbed a nearby tool kit she had spotted floating by earlier amongst the debris.

Yuri heard the sound of tools being moved around behind her. There was a slight hesitation in her voice as she said, "Why don't you come up here and fly while I go back there and fix the circuit board?"

"I can do it. It's a simple repair job."

That declaration received a sad shake of the head from Yuri. "You're about as mechanically inclined as a drunk baboon, unless it's an object that can be used to shoot or blow up something else."

"Hey! Just because I have the ability to shoot straight, unlike some people that shall go nameless, that doesn't mean I can't replace a lousy circuit board. I'll show you."

The sounds of a heavy object being thumped against metal reached Yuri's ears. Kei was remaining true to form, choosing to hammer something that was failing mechanically with a heavy object. Actually, that tended to be Kei's first response to men that annoyed her as well. And people they were trying to arrest. And…

Kei's shouts interrupted the ever-growing list as she called out. "Ha! All finished. I told you I could replace something as simple as that. It was a piece of cYAHH!"

Reflexively, Yuri hit the autopilot button and jumped out of the pilot's seat. Using her legs, she kicked off the back of the seat and floated as quickly as she could through the air and into the corridor beyond. The smell of ozone, and something other acrid scent, permeated the stale recycled air. Yuri hit a junction and headed to where Kei should have been, praying her partner was all right, if for no other reason than to yell at her for screwing up once again.

As Yuri grabbed a bar placed in the wall at the corner and used it to change her mid-flight direction, Kei at last came into view.

Yuri's eyes narrowed. "Please tell me you weren't stupid enough to grab both the positive and negative poles at the same time."

"So that's what the plus and minus signs meant, huh?" A small puff of smoke escaped Kei's lips as she spoke. Her skin, of which there was a great deal showing given the revealing nature of her uniform, was now almost completely singe-covered from the slight charring she had taken from the charge.

Yuri was much more ladylike in her swearing as she surveyed the damage to both ship and agent. "Congratulations, Kei. Now the whole system is burned out. Looks like you're going to have to use that beer to shower with, not that you don't usually splash enough of it all over yourself when you get loaded."

Kei had always thought it was remarkable how Yuri could carry an "I told you so," underlying in any sentence, such as that one. Her dark-haired partner once inserted one into a "Would you please pass the salt?" Kei always thought it a pity that sort of skill was not one that could be listed on a personnel file. It would have done Yuri proud.

"Quit bawling," Kei chided. "We're almost to the space station. I'll just grab a shower there." Feeling significantly better, and finally noticing what state she was in, she began floating down the corridor towards her room. Twenty minutes would give her just enough time to at least change her ruined clothing. Maybe wiping her face off with a beer soaked washcloth wouldn't be a bad idea either. Then she could see if she had a trench coat or something to cover the rest of herself up, at least until she had a chance to properly clean up.

Kei was outside the door to her room when she noticed that Yuri was still following her. "What're you doing?"

"Oh, nothing," Yuri said casually, trying not to show any concern for her partner.

Such blatant deceptions were nearly impossible to manage around someone who had been one's partner for over a decade "I'm fine," Kei assured her. "I didn't take that much amperage. No more than, fifteen, twenty at the most."

"Kei, that's enough to kill most people!"

"Good thing I'm not like most people then." Kei laughed as she shucked off her blue top and bottoms in favor of a different blue top and bottoms. It wasn't worth the hassle to try to figure out what else to wear. Besides, they were traveling openly as 3WA trouble consultants and were supposed to introduce themselves to the station personnel in official uniforms. She couldn't find a regulation trench coat, but unless one of the station commanders was a cute guy, being dirty wouldn't matter anyway.

Just as Kei finished putting on her top, she felt the light caress of fingers gently play across the small of her back. The cold touch surprised her, and she let off a yelp as she turned in anger on Yuri. "What're you doing?"

"Hold still, Kei," Yuri admonished as she spun Kei back around and examined her back more closely. "It looks like you took a nasty cut. I didn't notice it before because your other outfit covered you rear end better."

Kei felt the small, partially healed line right above her bottom. "Oh, that. Riggers nicked me with a vibro-blade. Nothing major though. I nicked him worse." She had lopped his head right off with the Gashmaster-2000. There was nothing like a molecularly sharpened blade to slice through one's everyday psychotic cyborg's titanium neck.

"It's noticeable," Yuri warned. "You'd better have that professionally worked on when we get to the station. Wouldn't do to have a scar there, especially since the pounds you packed on to your backside call attention to your butt." She gave Kei a playful smack to her rear, then stuck her tongue out and mocked her.

Kei spun in anger. "Well at least my waistline didn't grow four inches since we started the mission!"

"But I can lose the weight in a couple of days, unlike you. And it's only two inches, not four." Yuri was surprised to see Kei pout in her direction, then head out of the room without another word.

Yuri was left staring at where Kei had been. As impossible as it seemed, apparently her partner had been offended by the remark. That made little sense to Yuri, since the two had ragged on each other about their looks since they had started their partnership. It was always in good-natured fun. While Yuri knew that she was definitely the more attractive, charming, and smarter of the pair, Kei was no slacker in the looks department. Certainly she had never acted so seriously about a casual jibe like that.

Before Kei gained too much of a head start, Yuri quickly exited the room and caught up to her partner. "Look, I was kidding about the big butt. You don't look any bigger." Not by much, anyway.

Kei grabbed a handhold and stopped her flight. She turned and gave a sad look towards Yuri. "You don't remember what yesterday was, do you?"

The question caught Yuri off-guard. "I thought it was the day we completed our assignment by preventing General Golgotha from stealing over a dozen interplanetary nuclear missiles and using them to threaten star systems." True, one had accidentally gone off and sort of blown up one of the major cities of Nansite-4 which made most of the continent uninhabitable for the next thousand years, but it wasn't their fault: the 3WA Central Computer said so.

"It was my birthday." There was an edge of bitterness in Kei's voice.

"So?" Yuri shrugged. "You've had plenty of birthda…" The words died on her lips as the point Kei was trying to make finally hit home. "Oh, jeez. I forgot."

"Yep. The big 'three-oh'." Kei became even more despondent. "The years ARE starting to take their toll on me Yuri. For the first time in my life, I feel old. I still ache a little from the mission. The only guy that really worked me over was that poster boy for genetic enhancements, Shezwan. Oh yeah, I was shot out of a battle suit too, but that hardly counts. I mean, there was a time I could have taken someone emptying a whole magazine of high velocity rounds into my impact armor and not felt it a couple of hours later. Now I get a rooftop blown out from under me and my knees hurt until the next day from taking a twenty-foot fall.

"It gets worse. Did you know that on my last drinking binge I woke up with a hangover that lasted more than a couple of hours? And I didn't even have more than a pair of six packs at the most. And maybe two or three mixed drinks as well, but that's not the point. I never used to get hangovers. And then there's the men. Not one guy hit on me this entire mission. Not even that sleazy-looking Lieutenant with the planet-side police. There was a time when I had to beat them off with a baton, and I don't mean like that gang of guys on the Alatiar mission that were hopped up on that sexual enhancer drug. But anymore now, I hardly get hit on at all. And when the guys do occasionally flirt with me, they just aren't that good looking. Most of them are downright ugly. I'm not getting any younger, Yuri, and one of these days I do intend to settle down. Really. But what sort of guy am I going to be able to snag if I ain't got it anymore?"

Finished with her confession, Kei seemed to deflate like a blow up doll as her shoulder slumped forward. She felt completely spent after uncharacteristically speaking so openly about her fears. But now, with everything having been laid out in the open, she waited to hear what sound advice and words of consolation Yuri would have to give her. She watched closely as Yuri open her mouth and said…

"Oh, god! That means I'm going to be thirty in a couple of months, too. I'm going to be almost as washed up as you. WAHHH!"

Smile twitching, Kei grabbed a floating lug wrench and moved towards her partner.

"You're sure that wrench was floating on its own when it connected with the back of my head?"

"Just shut up and get us out of hyperspace!" Kei tilted her drink back and took another gulp of beer.

Yuri rubbed the back of her head, where the noticeable lump was, as her free hand moved deftly across the controls, and she brought the ship out of hyperspace. Assuming the navigation computer had been working correctly, they would drop out of hyperspace slightly over a hundred kilometers from the space station. From there they would be escorted in by traffic control and placed in a docking bay for repairs. The Lovely Angel needed it too. The final battle with General Golgotha's Warkon Heavy Cruiser had taken them to the limit. The Lovely Angel had emptied its entire store of missiles, had most of its armor burned off, and had suffered over thirty percent structural damage. About all that was left working at near-top efficiency were a couple sets of small lasers, communications, regular engines and the hyperdrive. Even their refrigerators were broken, meaning Kei was left to drink warm beer, which, combined with her birthday blues, had made her temper even more foul than usual.

The ship emerged from hyperspace, and Yuri was delighted to see that they had indeed dropped out right at the point they were supposed to. From where they materialized, Yuri could see the space station hanging in space directly in front of them. Things were finally looking up for a change.

The space station itself was unremarkable in appearance. A standard deep space DX-11000 station, constructed and owned by Yurenex-Solvar Corporation, who controlled approximately twenty percent of the space station manufacturing industry. Its basic appearance was that of a giant, gunmetal gray top, constantly spinning in deep space as though it were a giant wheel. Having a ten-kilometer diameter and fifteen kilometer height, it was a self-sustaining facility that could contain and provide for hundreds of people without difficulty. According to the reports Yuri had glanced over, the station had suffered no problems and served admirably since it was christened five years ago; it was unremarkable in every way.

Yuri activated their communications equipment. "This is the Lovely Angel, requesting clearance for a landing in one of your docking bays, over." She transmitted their ship's registration to the station.

After nearly thirty seconds, Kei said, "Shouldn't they have sent some sort of reply by now?"

"Maybe our communications system went down." Yuri ran a diagnostics scan on their system. "No, it says everything's okay. Unless the diagnostic program is malfunctioning too."

"Maybe their communications are down?" Kei offered.

"That's a fully functional space station, Kei. It might be a bit out of the way, but it has a full crew of over a hundred, plus over three hundred residents, plus whatever guests are there on layovers. I sincerely doubt that they don't have a single working communication system somewhere on their entire station."

"Okay, smart-ass. So why aren't they responding?" Kei said through half-lidded eyes.

Yuri shifted uncomfortably. "I, uh, don't know. But in any case, once we get closer, they'll send out some ships to escort us in." To prove her point, Yuri activated the ship's engines and began to slowly draw closer to the station. They pulled within fifty kilometers and still there were no attempts at communication, nor did anything come out to greet them.

"Okay, something really weird is going on," Yuri muttered under her breath. She turned to her partner. "What do you think we should do?"

Kei considered that for all of two seconds. "Grab some big guns out of the armory, get on board that ship, find out what's going on, and shoot anyone that tries to shoot us."

"Sounds like a plan." A typical Kei plan, which Yuri couldn't argue with at the moment. She guided the ship closer towards the station.

Cautiously cutting across the kilometers that separated the Lovely Angel from the station, Yuri and Kei divided their attention between the instruments and a visual inspection of the station itself. As their instruments indicated, there did not seem to be any outward sign of what could be causing the problems: no holes in the station or debris from fighter craft or such, yet there was an ominous inactivity about the spinning wheel of metal floating in space.

"It looks like they still have main power." Kei pointed at the many exterior station lights that cut through the darkness of deep space.

"I see, but it still feels…" Yuri trailed off.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. It feels like a lot of places we've visited after we leave them," Kei agreed.

The pair traveled in silence as they drew closer to the exterior hatches leading to one of the numerous docking bays that lined the middle of the station. They matched speed with the rotation of the station, and waited for any sort of response. If anyone was either on the main bridge of the station or within the docking bay, they would be aware of the Lovely Angel's presence and open the bay doors to allow them entry. A force field would automatically come on line to prevent the station from losing atmosphere, while at the same time still allowing the spaceship to pass through it and land. Despite the precautions, the interior of the bays were reinforced to withstand atmospheric decompression and protect the rest of the station's atmosphere leaving it intact. Landing shouldn't cause any problems.

After waiting outside for a full minute, still nothing happened.

"We could shoot our way in," Kei offered.

Yuri shook her head. "Only as a last resort. I want to see if the other docking bays are the same way."

Kei let out a long drawn out , "Okay. But I'm telling you it's just a waste of time. They're all going to be like that."

Two bays later, Kei continued grumbling at Yuri's, "What was that about a big waste of time?"

In approaching the bay, they saw that the thick metal doors leading to it were already open to outer space. That was unusual, in that the bay doors were only supposed to be opened for craft that were actually in the process of landing, since, regardless of a force field, most people felt uneasy being next to the vacuum of space with only a dull haze of blue separating them from instant death. Many people insisted on wearing spacesuits no matter how little time was spent in the bay.

A quick drift in front of the opening showed that its force field was still up and that atmosphere would still be in the bay. "Odd," Yuri mumbled.

Kei activated a close up on her sensor array. "It looks like the exterior locks were disengaged and manually opened from the outside."

"Well, that saves us the trouble of doing the same." Yuri stated. It was yet another sign that something was wrong, since the exterior opening ports could easily be overridden by anyone inside the bay.

Yuri eased the ship into the station. Inside, there appeared to be nothing out of sorts. It appeared to be a typical landing bay. A number of ships were berthed on the floor of the area: several smaller private vehicles, an expensive looking yacht, and a couple of cargo haulers, one about twice as big as the other. Fuel lines, tools, docking clamps, and an assortment of standard equipment that one would expect to find in a bay were there. There was nothing out of the ordinary. The only thing it was devoid of was people.

With practiced ease the Lovely Angel touched down on the deck and landed without incident. Before exiting their craft, the duo did a sensor sweep of the bay. The monitors reported no anomalies of any kind. A visual inspection proved the same.

Both of the agents walked slowly down their landing ramp and exited the craft. Kei opted to carry a heavy laser rifle while Yuri was satisfied with her side arm to provide protection. The duo held both of their weapons at the ready.

"No signs of fighting," Kei said as she continued looking for any signs of trouble.

"No bodies either." A feeling deep in Yuri's gut told her that they would discover no clues in the docking bay. Instincts said that the answer to the mystery lay somewhere within the main part of the station itself. Cautiously, she took the lead and headed to the doors exiting the bay, waving her hand at Kei, indicating she should follow.

As Kei stepped over a set of fuel tubes, she said to Yuri. "Well, at least there's one good thing about all of this."

"What's that?"

"No one can blame us for this one. Whatever's going on here happened BEFORE we arrived."

Yuri nodded her head in agreement. Not that that little detail would prevent others from accusing them anyway.

"What the hell is going on here?!" Kei's shout cut through the palpable silence of the station that was more a tomb than functioning deep space habitat. The first fifteen minutes of their search yielded them no one that could help them. No people. No announcements or warnings. No robots wandering around. All of the signs indicated there wasn't a single person left on board the station. Admittedly, the pair were searching slowly, having only just now made their way to the shopping district located along the center of the station, but still they should have heard something or found some sign of what had happened.

What their search had uncovered were occasional signs of people leaving in a hurry: several overturned (cold) meals at a restaurant, a tool box that appeared to have been dropped with no one picking up the mess, a sidewalk painter's wares left out in the open. There was even someone named Youshi Okasa who had left her purse lying in the middle of one of the sidewalks. All of the money and credit cards were still in it, meaning that there hadn't even been time for a thief to make a quick buck.

"Maybe there was some sort of mass evacuation," Yuri offered.

Kei looked at her incredulously. "Without leaving a repeating SOS signal or at least a distress buoy? And you saw all those ships in the docking bay. No way. Maybe some people left in a rush, but not all of them."

Kei raised a good point; how unusual. "All right. Let's split up and cover more ground that way. I want to get to the bottom of this quickly. Whatever's going on here couldn't have happened all that long ago or we would have heard something about it already."

"Aren't you worried about not having enough firepower in case you run into trouble?" Kei held her rifle affectionately before her, then pointed at Yuri's pistol at smirked.

Yuri smiled back. "Unlike you, I don't need to fire fifty shots to hit one target." She waved the pistol around, then turned serious. "If you run into any trouble, any at all, call me over the communicator, and I'll come running."

"Same goes for you."

Over ten years of being partners allowed each to know what the other would do automatically. Having complete confidence in each other's abilities, neither bothered to look back as they separated and began their individual searches.

"Hello. Are there any kidnappers, aliens, or just plain unpleasant people in here?" Kei called as she peeked around the corner of one of the long corridors leading from the residential section to the engineering facility. For over half an hour she had searched the station and still had uncovered nothing. Judging by the lack of communication from Yuri, she was suffering from just as much luck. Kei was beginning to wonder if this was all some sort of elaborate trap designed to capture or kill them. There were a handful of powerful people they had crossed that were still macabre enough, rich enough, and alive that might have done it somehow. That seemed to be the only thing that made any sense at that point.

Kei was more than halfway down the corridor that she discovered the first signs of what might have happened.

She touched her earring comlink. "Yuri, I think I got something here."

There was only a moment's pause for the reply. "What is it?"

"Scorch marks in the metal of a hallway wall here. Maybe from an incinerator. Pretty recent, too. Also have several impact points near it. Got to be from some kind of solid projectile firearm." Kei placed a hand next to one of the holes and measured it with her fingers. "We're looking at about a five centimeter hole. Big piece of artillery made those."

"Sounds like something up your alley," Yuri remarked.

"Yeah. What it doesn't sound like is something that would be standard issue for defense forces on a station this size." Kei looked more closely at the placement of the holes. "Also something weird. Not many of the holes are below two meters. There aren't too many people that would try to headshot something using a cannon that big. Especially not at close range."

"Which means?" Yuri asked.

"I don't know, other than whatever they were shooting at was tall. No sign of blood or pieces of metal from a battle suit or anything. I guess they didn't hit whatever they were aiming at. Be advised though, we might have a problem on our hands."

"Got it. Want to regroup?"

"Nah," Kei said. "Just because they have a big gun is no cause for alarm. Let's keep searching separately. Just scream in terror if you run into trouble." Kei returned to her search, more cautious now from the evidence of the firefight. The search took longer due to her wariness, but Kei figured it was still moving along a lot more quickly than if she was dead.

As the redhead peered around what was supposed to be the last turn to her destination, watching carefully for any quick or furtive movements, a thought suddenly occurred. Generally, the engineers in charge of the engineering room would have made brief status reports every six hours on the readings from the power core and any other anomalies that might have occurred. If she could find that report, she could get a general idea of when whatever it was that had made everyone disappear might have occurred.

Kei was halfway down the last hall when Yuri signaled over the comlink. There was an edge in the dark-haired woman's voice. "Kei, listen up. I just made my way down to one of the emergency shelters on the ship. I figured that if there was some sort of accident, that was where they might have gathered. And maybe they got locked in or something. Maybe that's why they couldn't get to us or-"

"Yuri, you're rambling," Kei warned. That was cause for concern. Given some of the things the duo had experienced, it took a lot to disturb Yuri.

"Sorry, it's just that I was right."

Kei spoke excitedly into the comlink as she continued towards the power plant. "You mean you found the people on the station?"

There was a pause, followed by, "Yes, but not the way you mean. When I got there, I saw that the doors had been ripped out of their tracks. The metal was torn to shreds near the bottom. And I mean torn, not blown up. Kei, those things are made of tririteam alloy six inches thick. Even a Ki-Wan Heavy Powersuit with illegal strength enhancements couldn't break through that."

"That doesn't sound… good," Kei confirmed.

"That's not the worst of it." Yuri's voice hesitated a moment before continuing. "Kei, there were people inside. At least a hundred. It's hard to tell, they… most of them were torn to pieces. Some of them looked like they were blasted by some high-powered energy weapon, and some looked like they were cut with a blade, but most of them were simply pulverized by something with tremendous strength. It looks like a slaughterhouse in here. I have no idea what could have caused it."

Kei paused as she at last arrived at the entryway to the engineering section. "I think I see what you mean about tremendous power." Kei brandished her rifle in the direction of the doorway.

"What do you mean? What's going on?"

"Looks like whoever dropped by to visit those people came calling here too. The door leading to engineering's been ripped out and tossed aside too. There are grooves in the shape of fingers etched in the metal itself. Whatever did this was a strong son of a bitch, all right."

"Wait there, Kei, I'll catch up to you." The sounds of running feet on metal came over the comlink.

"Negative," Kei said quickly. "Just hold on until I have a chance to check the room. Just because it was here too doesn't mean it still is. It might have hit here first and then moved on to where the people were hiding, or gone somewhere else, like back where that firefight took place. There are other shelters where you are, right?"

"Yes." Yuri admitted. "But I have a better idea. I'll go up to the main bridge and see if I can bring the sensor systems online. An internal check should tell us if there are any survivors or not. If nothing else, I'll try sending an SOS so that we can get some more people and try to figure out just what the hell happened here. How does that sound to you?"

"Good plan." Kei knew she could have come up with one just as good as that, at least if she hadn't been distracted by having to search the room. Now that she and Yuri had a plan, Kei decided to enter the room. First she trained her gun on the doorframe and looked through the opening. There was nothing visible from where she was, but her view was severely limited by the shape of the room and the position of where the door was in relation to it. Drawing closer, she dared to peek into the room, ready to duck back under the cover of the wall next to her. The brief glance afforded her a look of everything on ground level in the large chamber. Several bodies were visible from her position, but judging by their condition, they wouldn't be moving anytime soon. There was no other indication of anyone alive.

Moving almost too fast for the eye to follow, Kei quickly darted past the doorway and fully into the room, ready to fire upon anything at a moment's notice. She looked up at the second level of computer controls for a spilt second, then turned back to the first level of the room. There was no reaction to the intrusion by anything in the room, relaxing Kei ever so slightly. The barrel of her gun dipped to the floor slightly as she approached one of the nearer bodies to examine it more closely. From where she stood, it appeared he had died from having his head smashed in as though it were nothing more than a ripe grapefruit that had been held in the hands of a power lifter with no control over his strength, but she wanted to make sure. There was the potential for some sort of clue on the body. After a quick check, she could take the time to search the computer for its update logs and try to start solving this mystery.

She was poised above the body, and about to nudge it over with her toe —since there was no way she would risk getting blood on any other part of her body or outfit— when a heavy weight landed in the middle of her back. The impact was hard enough to slam her into the ground, knocking the wind out of her as the object remained perched directly on top of her.

As she tried to roll to get the thing off her back, she could feel it move as though it were alive. Her suspicion was quickly confirmed as a man's voice, cracking high with stress and the hint of something else, shouted, "Die!"

Her attacker must have been on the upper level, hugging the floor and just out of her sight, waiting until she had been in the right position. It served her right for being sloppy in her search. Now she had to do something, and fast before her attacker disabled her, or worse.

Exerting every ounce of strength she could muster, Kei freed her left arm far enough to bring it forward, then back, elbow first, into where she thought the man's solar plexus would be. As the elbow sunk into something firm, yet with a bit of soft give, she heard a grunt from behind. Knowing she only had seconds to use the opportunity, Kei raised her head and started to adjust her body positioning as best she could in order to gain enough leverage to force the man off her. Just as she raised herself up enough to force a deep breath back in her lungs and almost force the man off her back, Kei saw something silvery flash across her line of vision and then below it, touching briefly against the metal floor. Reflexively, she brought her hand up in front of her throat just in time to feel something press against the side of it. The contact was quickly followed by something sharp cutting clean through her blue glove and into the flesh of the hand beneath it.

Biting back a cry of pain, her mind quickly identified what the weapon was: a garrote. Even after many centuries, the slender length of wire was still used as a basic method of silent execution. Simple, yet effective, the device was easy to go unnoticed in a galaxy full of high-tech weapons of destruction. Only fools or professionals still used them, and Kei had a terrible feeling about which category her opponent fell under.

If the wire had managed to loop around her throat, she would have been dead within several seconds as it cut through the soft tissue of her throat and windpipe. The fact that it had only sliced through the flesh of her hand meant she had a chance. Shutting out the pain (an experience she had plenty of familiarity with) she used every ounce of flexibility she had and brought her right leg up so that the heel was on the floor and pushed off. Hours of painstaking exercise, in combination with the man's poor positioning in straddling Kei's back, paid off as she managed to flip over on her side, though the man was still attached to her back.

Just as the redhead was about to reposition her body again to work herself free, she felt the man's legs lock around her lower torso, nearly catching her free arm as well. The grappling attack gave him enough leverage to counter the move she had been planning to use, as well as enabling him to keep up the pressure on the garrote: definitely a professional. A good thing for Kei that she was one too.

Years of service and countless hand-to-hand fights enabled Kei to maintain her composure. She was less than a second in reacting to the shift in the fight. Her free hand came across her body and managed to grab onto the handle of her pistol that still rested in her holster, though by the side of the grip so that she wouldn't be able to fire it without adjusting its position in her hand first. Rather than waste her time trying to change the grip on the pistol, and being vulnerable enough to risk losing it, she brought the gun back. Visualizing where her opponent's head should be, and hoping he wasn't wearing some kind of headgear, she lashed out awkwardly behind her. There was a moment of satisfied resistance as she heard a brief yelp of pain come from behind her and the grip on the garrote go limp.

The split second was all Kei needed as she forced her lacerated hand forward, and ripped the garrote out of the man's grip, sending it flying across the chamber. She rolled to the left even as the wire with attaching handles flew across the room, and finally managed to force the man off her back before the weapon had hit the ground.

Kei caught a glimpse of her attacker as she tried to stand up. He was no taller than her, and probably only twenty kilograms or so heavier. He was dressed in a tight black body suit that hugged his wiry frame firmly, showing taut muscles lying underneath. There were several holes in the outfit though, obviously showing the wear and tear of a vicious fight. He was helmetless, with a dried streak of deep crimson decorating the right side of his face that resembled a form of primitive face painting. The handle of a knife stuck out from a boot sheath, but no other weapons were visible.

The man was rolling to his feet even as Kei regained her own precious footing. Seeing this, Kei gave a slight twist of her wrist and released her hold on the gun, giving it a very slight toss as she did so. Lightning fast, her eyes calculated the position of the gun in mid-air and grabbed it properly by the handle so she could fire it in an instant. She brought the sidearm to bear and pointed it in the man's direction.

His reactions were equally as fast as he brought his arm up in a sweeping motion and struck Kei's wrist, deflecting her aim and causing her shot to sail past the right side of the his head. There was a spray of sparks as it struck a nearby computer bank. Following through with the motion, the man gained a secure hold on her wrist and used his slightly greater mass to drive Kei off-balance, sending her body backward into one of the walls.

"You won't liquidate me just because I failed, bitch! I won't let you!" The man's words, only the second spoken since the fight had begun, seemed to invigorate him. He slammed Kei's wrist once, then twice, against the corner of the wall where it met a control panel whose lights flickered off and on like a Christmas tree. The second blow knocked her weapon loose and it sailed out of her hand, landing across the console several feet away.

Kei's reaction was instantaneous as she brought her right arm up and connected with a blow to the jaw. His grunt of pain was joined with one of hers as she was forcibly reminded of which hand had been the one to take the brunt of his earlier attack.

As the man kneeled for a moment to draw the knife from his boot, Kei could see the look of sheer terror in his face. It wasn't the type she was used to, even when she identified herself and people would shout, "OhmyGoditsoneoftheDirtyPairrunforyourlives!" It was one that she had seen before, but much more rarely. It was the sort of look one gained when he stared straight into the mouth of hell and knew that even though he had managed to escape it, he would still never really get away from it since the experience would really always be with him as though it happened only a moment ago.

The man swung wide with the knife, a cut meant to disembowel his opponent as it slashed towards her abdomen. The second slash came in high and Kei deflected his aim by striking his knife arm. His free arm came up, catching Kei in the side of the head with a meaty fist. The redhead shook off the effects of the blow in time to avoid the straight knife lunge aimed at her head. A fourth swinging cut was avoided, but Kei found herself backed against the wall, her options suddenly limited.

Originally Kei had been hoping to capture the man alive and interrogate him, which was why she had chosen to dodge until she could find an opening to disarm him. But without the room to properly evade, she was going to have to end it quickly. Kei gauged the man's distance and stance. So far he had been a bit sloppy with his knife work, either thrown off by his mortal fear or just inferior training with that particular weapon. The time he caught her with his fist had been more of a testament to luck rather than skill. But now it was time to finish it.

The man had enough coherence to realize his opponent was backed against a wall and went in with a swipe for the throat, hoping Kei would foolishly try to back away only to be caught off-guard by her close proximity to the wall and meet her end. Instead, the redhead brought her arm up and caught the inside of his wrist with the back of her hand. She stepped forward, away from the wall and towards her opponent, spinning on her heel and bringing her elbow upward. It was the man who was caught off-guard as he was unable to block the move when Kei brought her elbow up and caught him in the throat, crushing his windpipe instantly. For one moment, he looked deeply into Kei's eyes, and then a wave of peace washed over him as consciousness passed and he fell limply to the ground, never to wake again.

Kei backed several feet from her attacker before his body hit the ground. She remained on guard, cautious about the man returning to his feet despite the fact she had felt his windpipe give and by all rights should be dead. There had been far too many occasions when someone she was certain was dead turned up alive and usually quite angry with her from trying to kill them, even if it was in the line of duty or self-defense and they had it coming to them. At least usually they had it coming to them.

But the man remained motionless on the ground. Kei recovered her sidearm, suppressed the urge to put a few laser shots into his remains (since she might accidentally fry a clue) and took several steps forward to nudge the body with her foot. The instant the tip of her blue boot touched the side of the prone figure, she darted back just as quickly as she had approached, just in case he tried grabbing onto her foot. That too had happened on more than one occasion, and it always freaked her out, even after all of those years.

With no movement from the body, she gave it a swift kick outright. Not gaining a reaction for the second time, she bent low, keeping her gun at the ready. Turning the body over, she searched for the man's pulse: nothing. Bearing his entire weight on her back earlier, she knew there was no way he was a robot in disguise or some kind of cyborg; he was far too light. He had to be dead.

Confident the man would not be causing her any more problems on this side of life, Kei began examining him more closely, desperate to discover some hint as to what was going on. His body was in good shape, though not excessively muscled; the man had possessed a wiry strength that had been difficult to overcome. He was in his late twenties or early thirties, at least that was what Kei estimated by the look of his face. His hair was cropped short to the scalp, and he bore several faint, old scars on his face. Kei wagered there would be even more on his body. He had seen a good bit of action in his life. Judging by the several obvious and more recent wounds on his body, mostly lacerations across the torso and arms that she knew she had not given the stranger, the man had been in a fight shortly before encountering Kei. A difficult one, given how deep several of the gashes were.

The uniform and the material it was made of shouted out some kind of affiliation with either a military or paramilitary operation, though there were no identifying markings indicating what outfit the man belonged to. That would also explain her opponent's hand-to-hand combat expertise. Not too many people could go one-on-one with Kei nowadays and last as long as he had, even with getting the drop on her. A quick examination showed his ammunition belt and pockets were empty. Either his weapons had been taken from him or he had ended up in a high-powered firefight. In either case that had been a stroke of luck for Kei considering the man had tried to kill her. Someone trying to strangle you was better than them trying to blow a hole in you, as Kei was fond of saying. Those sorts of injuries were the hard ones to come back from.

A professional, one that had run into something, or multiple somethings, tough enough to injure, disarm, and drive the man mad, if the look in his eyes had been any indication of how fragile his sanity was. That made it a something that Kei had no desire to run into, not with the shape she was in.

There seemed to be no other clues on the man, not even a tattoo, so Kei took a moment to closely examine herself for any injuries. The only major one was to her hand. The wire had cut all the way down to the bone and was still bleeding profusely. She ripped off part of the man's outfit and wound the material around her hand, binding the wound. It was a rough bandage that wasn't nearly as effective as a proper medical skin patch, but it would have to suffice until she came across a first aid kit. Pain was something she had become used to long ago and just about anything short of having an important body part lopped off or over a fifth of her bones broken wasn't going to stop her.

Seeing nothing else of use or value on the man, Kei went to touch her earring communicator and contact Yuri. As her hand went to her left earlobe, she discovered only the upper half of the device still pinned to her ear, rendering it inoperable. Apparently it had been broken at some point in her scuffle with the man.

With a sigh Kei ran out of the room and headed towards the command center. If there was one man, there might be others. And then there was whatever had harmed the guy in the first place. Yes, knowing Yuri, without a partner to keep her in check, she would almost certainly be up to her neck in trouble and it would fall to Kei to bail her out. Yuri was just SO irresponsible.

"Typical of Kei to lose her earring. Now how am I going to know when to show up to save her butt when she gets it put into a sling because I'm not there to keep her out of trouble?" Yuri mumbled under her breath as she continued on her way to the main bridge of the station.

It was at about the halfway point between the shelters and the command bridge that she had stumbled across the first body in the corridor. Head smashed in and body nearly severed in half via crushing by some heavy object that had been taken away shortly thereafter. More cautiously now, Yuri made her way through the station, keeping her gun held high. It was only a little further that she came upon two more bodies, one looking like someone had stuck a grenade in his stomach, and another that was missing several noticeable items, like his arms, legs, and head.

That put Yuri really on edge. Multiple people had to have been involved in the sneak attack. There were way too many bodies that had died in a variety of horrific manners. At least a squad, maybe even a platoon of commandos or something similar. But whatever it was would pay. Apart from the wholesale slaughter that had transpired on board the station, Yuri just knew that she and Kei were going to be blamed for this one, even though it really, really hadn't been their fault this time.

Yuri was nearly to the bridge when she stumbled across another scene of carnage. Yet more bodies lining the corridors of the station, though this time there was a multitude of them. And there was another significant difference besides the number of corpses: these had been armed. Judging by the damaged state the section of corridor was in, the group had the opportunity to fire a lot before being destroyed by their opposition.

Though torn to shreds, Yuri was eventually able to identify the tattered remains of the uniforms as belonging to the same group. It seemed to be a variation of a standard security force's outfit that would be found aboard the space station. Examining the area that had been fired upon more carefully, Yuri saw that there were indeed a multitude of impact craters and scorch marks, enough to indicate concentrated fire in that direction. There were no bodies nor anything else to indicate that the men had hit what they had been aiming at. Like at the battle scene Kei had described earlier, there was no blood, nor even a stray piece of metal knocked off a battlesuit.

"What the hell were they aiming at, and why didn't they hit it?" Yuri said aloud, wanting to hear someone's voice, even if it was only her own.

She turned around and returned to examining the remains of the security personnel. There was something odd about some of them. Choosing one of the bodies, She looked more closely at the face, or what remained of it. Her trainers at the academy would have affectionately referred to it as a 'righteous mess.' The right half was missing, allowing the contents inside the skull to spill out onto the floor. A lesser-experienced agent might have lost the contents of their stomach at the sight, but for Yuri, dead bodies in just about any form were business as usual. Especially since she had personally ended up making a lot of those bodies dead.

Bending even lower, Yuri squinted her eyes and peered at the edge of the remaining flesh around the face. The damage to it was uneven, and it looked like the wounds around it were in semi-circles, almost as if…

"Oh, gross! I hate cannibals." It took Yuri a second to reevaluate that. The bite marks were way too small to have been done by a human. Perhaps some sort of animal.

It was only the faintest of sounds, nothing more than a whisper on air that most people would have thought as nothing more than the air reprocessing system rattling a bit, but years of battle-honed instincts caused Yuri to spin in a circle and bring her laser pistol lined up to fire. She could feel the presence of someone behind her, and since Kei could move about as silently as a tank with a broken tread, that meant it was someone else sneaking up on her. Probably somebody bad.

As Yuri spun, she aimed at the center mass for where a person of average height would have been standing. Instead, her pistol pointed at nothing but the wall far away. There was a moment of confusion until her peripheral vision caught the pink-colored thing, that had been low to the ground, propel itself at her. As it went airborne, Yuri caught a good look at it. It was small, no larger than a meter across and a meter and a half long. It possessed four stubby, yet powerful legs, and a pair of long, almost tentacle like arms that ended in a pair of all too human hands. The body of the creature was bright pink, the sort most people associated with gifts purchased for a newborn girl, and was covered with small, spherical bumps over every inch of it. However, the most disturbing thing about the thing was the head, which seemed to have been simply mashed onto the body with no consideration of where it probably should have gone. The face held two sets of eyes, one human looking, the other compound like the sort that was found on insects. Three mouths of various sizes were scattered everywhere. One was on its forehead, another where an ear should have been, and the third on the side of what should have been its jaw. The only thing that was consistent about them was the sets of sharp teeth that adorned both tops, bottoms, and in one case, sides.

Yuri lashed out at it with her gun, not having time to aim and desperate to get something between her and pink monstrosity. Her timing was perfect as she got the side of barrel in front of her. The creature's jaws, which were coming for her throat, locked onto the metal instead. Yuri released the hold on her weapon and tucked into a ball, rolling away from the creature and returning to her feet a couple of meters away from the creature.

The monstrosity spat out the gun, turning its body so that it faced Yuri once again. A high-pitched scream emanated from two of its mouths while the third gnashed its teeth in Yuri's direction.

"The same thing was going through my mind, pal." Yuri pulled out a poker card from her boot.

As the creature squatted slightly, preparing to jump again, Yuri released the 'Bloody Card.' It closed the distance between her and the creature like a bolt of energy, going clean through the lump-like skin of the beast and back out the other side. As the creature bellowed out in pain, the card completed an arc and returned like a boomerang, going through the creature again, the return path taking it through the head, severing off a section of it that included a mouth. The creature stopped bellowing, opting to fall onto its side and shudder with death throes as the now literally bloody card returned to Yuri's gloved hand.

She recovered her gun and proceeded to shoot the creature several times. After convincing herself that it wasn't going to try to gnaw on her like one of Kei's dates, she looked more closely at its multitude of mouths, including the one on the floor. They were all too big to have belonged to whatever it was that had bitten off the dead man's face, though perhaps it had attacked one of the others instead. It had died easily enough and was definitely not what had attacked and killed all of those men. There was also no way it had ripped through the metal of the shelter and all of those people within. A horde of such creatures might have been able to do it, which meant there was a good possibility of more of the monstrosities being around. Yuri became especially cautious as she continued on her way to the bridge, eager to get a sensor sweep started.

It was becoming more imperative than ever that she and Kei get together and compare what they had discovered. It seemed impossible to Yuri that the creature could have occurred naturally. Animal biology was not her field, but it seemed unlikely that such a mismatched monstrosity could have been the result of natural evolution. More likely someone was playing with genetic engineering, and in Yuri's line of work that generally meant really big trouble. Financing the genetic reengineering of the complexity required to make that kind of creature was expensive, and that frequently meant a planetary government or big corporation was involved at some level.

The whole situation seemed to be getting bigger by the moment. Huge amounts of dead people, genetically modified monsters, and that was only in the first hour. It looked like it was going to be one of 'those' cases again.

There were no further incidents as Yuri at last arrived at the main bridge. She noted that there were an increased number of dead bodies as she drew closer to her goal, and not all of them had been eaten. In fact, the majority of them were either ripped to shreds or blasted by some type of energy weapon. At one point some sort of explosive had been used. That made it almost certain that a number of attackers were involved, in addition to an unknown amount of creatures. Yuri was rapidly becoming tired of operating in the dark and wanted to know what was going on immediately. She hoped the bridge held some answers for her.

Upon arriving at the command center, Yuri saw that the thick doors leading to the room had been forced open, the metal being folded back like it was aluminum instead of tririteam alloy. Looking at the doors more closely, Yuri thought they had been ripped open from the inside rather than out. The path of destruction might have started at the bridge? It would have made sense, she supposed. Taking out the command center first would have been the best tactical maneuver. After securing the bridge, the attackers would have had the time to kill everyone else at a much more leisurely pace.

Yuri entered the bridge, gun at the ready. The instant she was through the doors she could see several bodies slumped over their controls with a handful more lying on the floor near other stations. Only a couple appeared to have been in the process of running when they were killed. One odd thing about them was that there was little in the way of visible injuries on any of the bodies. Nothing like the ones that had been out in the passageways leading to the bridge. Another mystery.

Yuri went to one of the consoles and saw that there was a small burn mark in the back of the crewman's head. Examining a second body sprawled out on the floor revealed an identical mark near the heart.

There was no sense in examining the rest of them; Yuri was confident there were identical injuries to them as well. Whoever had killed these people had used a low powered precision laser to do it, meaning they didn't want any collateral damage to the controls. That left out the genetic monstrosities as the culprits; a far more intelligent creature was responsible for this carnage.

Yuri went to the commander's console and checked the status on the station. Immediately she noticed that someone had issued a level-five contamination warning and broadcast it over the public announcement system. Now the lock down in the docking bays and the people hiding in the shelters made sense. A level five warning contamination meant the possibility of a viral outbreak: instant quarantine. No one would be allowed to leave the space station under those conditions. Even the escape pods would have been locked down to prevent any possibility of letting the disease spread off station. Only a handful of necessary personnel would have remained outside the shelters so that the station would continue to run until outside help arrived.

A quick check of the communication logs revealed that no emergency signal had been sent to outside authorities to alert them of the outbreak. Just as Yuri had thought, an artificially manufactured emergency to make killing everyone on board easier and prevent escapes. But that still left the question of why. The station was too big to hijack and there was nothing on it worth stealing to go to all of this effort and commit mass murder. There were easier ways to make a larger amount of money illegally, and why the need to kill everyone on the station? A fake massive radiation leak would have evacuated the people on board just as easily. In killing so many people, the 3WA would almost have surely been called in by Yurenex-Solvar for insurance purposes to find out who did this.

Yuri was still pondering the question when a hand fell heavily on her shoulder. She had been in such deep thought that she had been completely surprised and screamed as she reflexively backed away and tripped over the seat next to the console.

"Hey there. It's just me. Relax," Kei warned the feet wiggling in mid-air. It was difficult not to laugh out loud.

Yuri returned to her feet and glared at her partner. "Don't sneak up on me like that! You're lucky I didn't shoot you. And why haven't you communicated with me in the last half hour?"

Kei fingered her broken earring. "Got jumped by someone that didn't like me breathing the same air he did. We resolved the issue, though."

Once Yuri had a moment to calm down, she examined her partner while being certain to show no open concern. Besides a bandage on her hand, Kei appeared to be all right, and Yuri wasn't going to ask about the wound if Kei didn't feel the need to mention it. "I had a run in with a genetic mismatch of parts. Had big teeth. They weren't as sharp as a bloody card, though."

"Oh?" Kei asked. "You thinking this might be big, then?"

"Probably," Yuri admitted. "I think I figured out the how, but not the why of it. It almost looks like this whole thing was nothing more than an excuse to kill everyone on board the station. Now if they had all died from some nasty bio-weapon, I might see it as some kind of perverted test, but it looks more like everyone was killed in individual ways rather than en masse by some sort of weapon."

Kei nodded. "The guy I had to kill was definitely a pro of some kind. I could see him and a couple squads of guys like him being good enough to pull this off. But if he was one of the guys that hit the station-"

"-then why was he acting like the hunted instead of the hunter?" Yuri finished. "There's a whole lot going on here we don't…"

The sound of something heavy impacting with the metal plating of the floor in the corridor outside caught their attention. The noise didn't sound as though the plates were crumpling under the impacts, but it was definitely loud enough to imply that something very heavy was approaching. Both of the Lovely Angels looked in the direction the sound emanated.

"Did anyone follow you, Kei?"

"Not that I noticed." Kei fingered her laser rifle, bringing it in line with the doorway.

A second one noise followed the first.

"Sounds big," Yuri said, aiming her pistol at the doorway.

There was a third one, slightly louder and evenly spaced from the others.

"Sounds like footsteps," Kei said

A fourth, as steady as the third.

"Something heavy."

A fifth.

"Not in a hurry to get here either."

A sixth.

"He probably thinks we're trapped. Jokes on him, though."

A seventh, and the sight of something large blotted out the lights in the corridor.

"We'll wait until he gets into the room, then blow him into pieces." Yuri watched Kei nod her head in agreement.

Yuri watched as the thing in the corridor bent low to enter the doorway to the bridge; it had to be nearly three meters tall. As it passed the remains of what used to be the door, it straightened up, allowing the duo to witness its full height. Sure enough, it was the nearly three meters that Yuri had guessed, with well over a meter and half across for its shoulders and torso, a tattered purple cloak attached to its shoulders and reaching halfway down its back. The thing had to weigh close to a ton, given its huge size and girth. It was a humanoid, but definitely not human. It was bipedal and had two arms and legs, both huge and powerful-looking enough to rip apart six inches of tririteam alloy as though it were tissue paper. It was colored blackish-green, with an almost metal-looking skin that appeared hard and thick, even at the distance the thing stood from the duo. Rather than a normal head and neck, the creature had something more along the lines of a squat column that rose up from the top of its torso. Strangely, the giant didn't exactly have a face, but rather a continuation of the same course, mottled-looking skin that adorned its entire body. The only noticeable feature of the area was that about where a face should have been, there was a horizontal red slit approximately where eyes should have been. There appeared to be no mouth, nose, or any other orifice where air would have been taken in.

However, by far its most notable feature was its… hat, for lack of a better term. It was a wide thing, perhaps two meters across and several centimeters thick, a blunt, rounded edge all around and apparently made of the same material as the rest of the skin. It made the giant creature look like some sort of demented, walking mushroom. The weirdest thing of all about the headpiece was a tiny, repulsive emblem that looked like a white face embedded in the brim of it. The emblem stood out, calling attention to it by the snowy color alone. Of all the things that should not have been a part of the creature, that belonged least of all.

Yuri turned from the bizarre, robot? Cyborg? Genetically recombined monster? Whatever the thing was, and said to Kei, "I'd say we have our first suspect here, wouldn't you?"

The moment Yuri saw Kei's reaction to the creature, she realized there was something horribly wrong with her partner. Over the past decade, Yuri had watched Kei stare down the barrel of a gun as big as her head, with a psychotic killer holding the trigger, and laugh as she enjoyed herself in the situation. She had been dumped out of airlocks without a spacesuit and still managed to keep her cool. Ship about to crash at a thousand kilometers an hour? No problem as Kei would fight desperately with the controls to try to prevent herself from decorating the landscape. They had even crash-landed in the middle of an active war zone, armed with only a laser sword and handgun, and still all Kei's only reaction to the situation was to get angry at their prey getting away.

But Kei's response to the giant was something Yuri would never have believed. All the color had drained from Kei's face, making her look like a ghost. Her eyes were wide, and held the look of sheer, primal terror within them as she gazed at the creature that just stood there, motionless. It hadn't even made a threatening gesture towards either of them.

It was the first time Yuri had ever seen Kei absolutely terrified of something.

Words escaped Kei's lips; something too soft for Yuri to hear. "What was that?"

"You're dead," Kei repeated louder, though not having heard a word Yuri said.

Yuri was left to stare at her friend in confusion. "Kei, what are y-"

This time Kei spoke louder, shouting at the creature. "It can't be! You're dead! We killed you! Goddamnit, WE KILLED YOU!"

That made no sense. Yuri knew she had never seen this creature before. Despite the numerous people and creatures she had killed over the years, she would have remembered something that big and ugly. The dark-haired officer grasped her partner by the shoulder and shook her, hoping to snap her out of the incomprehensible tirade. "Kei, get a hold of yourself. You sound like a SHIT!"

Despite Kei's weird behavior, Yuri had kept one eye on the strange giant the entire time. Now the thing was apparently done with its silent observation of the duo and proceeded to raise its left arm, stopping once the appendage was pointed directly at the pair. Yuri saw that it had what appeared to be a large gun held, not in its hand, but rather embedded in its forearm. At first glance it seemed as though some of its skin had grown over the weapon, fusing it to the flesh itself. The number of tiny barrels poking out of the one big one made Yuri worry even more.

She brought her gun up and pointed it at the giant. "Hold it right there, whatever you are. I'm a member of the 3WA, and you're under arrest!"

Seeing the declaration not make the giant hesitate in the least, Yuri prepared to squeeze off a shot, when Kei grabbed her by the arm and shouted, "It's too powerful! We have to run!"

There was no chance to protest as Yuri found herself hauled off her feet and pulled in the direction of a row of consoles that would provide her and Kei with cover between them and the giant. Just as Yuri was about to be thrown behind the largest console, by her partner, she felt something sharp pierce her thigh, making her cry out in pain. The shout was silenced a moment later as her head collided roughly with the floor, making the world a spinning carousel that only lacked wooden horses.

It took her a moment to recover enough to move. Yuri saw that there was a long, light blue metal spike embedded in her thigh. One end jutted out of the entry point while the other end had gone clean through to the other side of her leg. Jagged barbs, covered crimson with blood, were visible at the head of the spike, making its immediate removal impossible.

Yuri tried to shut out the pain and speak to her partner. From somewhere in the direction of the doorway, the sounds of slow, inexorable footfalls could be heard, each impact causing the metal plates beneath Yuri to vibrate slightly. The dark-haired girl watched Kei dart her head above the edge of the console and snap off a few rounds of her laser rifle in the direction of the giant. A second later Kei ducked back down, followed by the sounds of projectiles zipping through the air and striking metal.

Kei gave Yuri a panic filled glance and babbled out. "It's not hurt. I was right. We don't have enough firepower to kill him. We have to get off this ship and get reinforcements. We're not going to die here. I won't let it kill me!"

"Kei!" Yuri snapped.

The shout seemed to shake Kei back to her senses, at least for a moment.

Yuri continued. "I'm hit, and it's not that pretty. That thing must be using a needler of some kind. I can't get this thing out of my leg right now and as long as itís in my leg I don't think I can run."

Her partner's injured condition seemed to help Kei focus on the present. Then the sound of a bolt being drawn back from somewhere behind them caught the redhead's attention. She darted her head over the top, then back down. "You'd better not have eaten that whole cheesecake before we left Lebonya."

Much to Yuri's amazement, Kei picked her up, effortlessly hefting her partner over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Keeping one hand on Yuri's backside and the other on her own rifle, Kei ran out from their cover and towards the far side of the room, in the opposite direction of the giant.

"What are you doing K-!" the rest of Yuri's statement was cut off as the console they had been using for cover disappeared in a scarlet explosion of fire and metal. Reflexively Yuri shut her eyes as the wave of heat washed over her and several tiny pieces of shrapnel pierced her skin. At times like these, she regretted not wearing one of the more formal, and body covering, uniforms like most of the other 3WA troubleshooters used.

With the initial wave of heat past, Yuri looked up through the smoke to see that embedded in the creature's other arm was a rocket launcher. One it was preparing to fire again as it started to track Kei's running form across the room.

Despite being shot, bleeding, and being thrown around the room like a cheap date, Yuri had kept her hand on her laser pistol the entire time. She brought it up and began firing at the giant. Some of the shots missed completely, others did hit the creature, though it seemed to take no notice of being struck, and one went where it was supposed to go: the top of the rocket launcher that was protruding from the arm.

The ruby colored bolt went through the top of the weapon, ruining the rocket launcher's ammunition feeding mechanism. After trying to fire the weapon a couple of times, the giant flung its arm in a wide arc, the rocket launcher being released from the flesh it had been embedded in and sailed across the room to bounce off one of the consoles and come to a rest on the floor, forgotten.

Yuri saw the beast begin to step forward, taking huge strides that slowed the increasing distance between them. As it moved forward, it brought the needler in its other arm to bear, and suddenly Yuri felt very uncomfortable again. She looked over her shoulder to see how close they were to the exit Kei was taking them to.

Curiously, the exit seemed to have the texture of a solid wall.

"Kei what are you doing that's not a way out?!" Words poured from Yuri at a ridiculous rate, mostly due to the panic she felt as the needler was now lined up with them.

In answer to her partner's question, Kei lined her laser rifle up with the wall and opened fire. Yuri continued looking over her shoulder, which ironically was now forward, and watched as a thick, solid red beam of light poured from the rifle and began cutting a hole through the wall. The beam turned the metal yellow, then red an instant later before moving on as it traced a line from the base of the wall, up to a height of two meters, before arcing down again a couple of meters across from where it had started.

"Are you crazy using your rifle like that?! You're going to overload the power pack on that thing and blow both of us up!" Yuri shouted as she began firing blindly at the giant, hoping to hit something vital on it.

"We have to chance it!" Kei announced as the metal of the wall melted through and the hole she was cutting was almost finished. As the whooshing sounds of tiny metal objects began whizzing through the air, the red beam touched the bottom of the wall, completing the semi-circle that Kei had made.

Yuri assessed the situation:

The semi-circle of metal remained exactly where it was.

The power pack on the laser rifle began uttering a high-pitched whine, indicating it had overloaded and was going to explode within seconds.

Metal needles began decorating the wall that she and Kei were running towards.

There was only one thing left to do.

Yuri gave a prayer to the lord above and hoped Kei had led a good enough life to go to Heaven with her. The afterlife just wouldn't be all that enjoyable without her partner at her side.

Everything seemed to happen at once as a needle nicked Yuri's arm, causing a small trickle of blood to flow. Kei lowered her shoulder and ran right into the wall, knocking the piece she had cut out over and allowing both her and Yuri to fall through the opening to the corridor outside. As Kei stumbled from the impact, she lost her footing and tumbled to the floor. She used her free hand to toss her rifle back into the room she had just left, then rolled away from the makeshift portal, flattening the attached Yuri in the process.

A moment later, an explosion rocked the corridor as a gout of energy and smoke bellowed forth through the hole, scorching some of the metal of the wall across from it. Once the explosion died down, the metal above the opening groaned loudly in protest to what had just happened. That lasted only a moment longer as the majority of the metal collapsed, effectively sealing the chamber once again.

Kei wasted no time as she hefted Yuri up once again, then began running in what she thought was the direction of the dock where their ship was stored.

The jostling motion of Kei's run shifted the metal spike in Yuri's leg, making it difficult for her to concentrate, though not so terribly that she tried asking Kei to slow down. Attempting to distract herself from the signals of agony her leg was giving off, Yuri said, "Good plan, using the rifle like that to cut a hole in the wall and causing it to overload at just the right moment to collapse the opening behind us. I didn't think you were that smart."

Kei shrugged as well as she could with Yuri draped over her shoulder. "Actually, it was all luck. If that wall had been even a half centimeter thicker, we'd have been stuck in the room and atomized right along with the power pack."

"You couldn't just pretend you knew what you were doing and put my mind at ease, could you?!" Yuri snapped as the adrenaline high from the fight started to wear off and the pain increased.

"Oh? Do you really think you should be complaining considering how much blood you're getting all over me?"

"Sorry," Yuri said weakly. The conversation died, as they continued fleeing through the station. The echoing footfalls of Kei's race cut through the now appropriate tomblike silence of the station. Eventually, the sound of Kei's increasingly labored breathing joined in, making a bizarre sort of echo that disturbed Yuri almost as much as the creature that they had just fought.

After what felt like a sufficient amount of time had passed, Yuri finally asked, "What is going on here, Kei? What the hell was that thing back there?"

Kei huffed, turning a corner at the fastest speed she could manage while lugging the dead weight of her partner. After a minute had passed, and Yuri became certain that Kei was going to refuse to answer, her red-haired partner finally spoke. Her voice sounded hollow, while at the same time filled with dread. It was the first time Yuri had heard such a mix of emotions from her partner.

"That thing is an abomination that shouldn't exist. It's a walking killing machine. That's all it does. That's all it wants to do. That's the entire purpose of its existence. It consumes the lives of all around it, even if its nothing more than a penniless orphan whose only wish was to get away from a guaranteed lifetime of depredation and poverty. It's a nightmare that I thought ended in gunpowder, energy, and flame nearly two decades ago. But it looks like I was wrong."

Now Kei's voice took on a note Yuri was familiar with, something she had never hoped to hear again. "That thing is going back to the hell it came from again, and I'm the one that's going to send it there."

It was the voice that promised death for someone, as well as whatever dared to get in her way to try to prevent the execution.

Yuri went for the first aid kit onboard the Lovely Angel, pulling out the very long hypodermic that was going to pump her full of first-rate painkillers and blood coagulants. As she mentally prepared herself to have the barbed 'needle' (which she now thought of in terms of a spear, given that it was currently buried in her appendage) pulled from her leg. She made certain that a hypospray that would seal the wound after the object was extracted from its bloody sheath was working correctly. It wouldn't do to remove it only to bleed to death on the deck of her ship, not when there were so many more spectacular ways for someone as daring and beautiful as her to cancel her final ticket.

Yuri was thankful that they had such a quick chance to get rid of the spike. Their run back to the ship had been anti-climatic, for which she would be eternally grateful. Kei had remained silent after her declaration, and Yuri did not intend to press the issue, even if she hadn't been slowly bleeding to death at the time. The giant hadn't accosted them again, and no other monsters or half-crazed mercenaries popped out to attack them or impede their progress in any way. The only strange moment was Kei claiming she heard something moving through the ducts of the station, almost as though it were traveling through them in an effort to find the duo. Yuri hadn't heard anything at the time, but she had been feeling light-headed due to the pain and blood loss, and wasn't sure of very much

Upon arriving at the space dock their ship was stored in, they were pleased to discover no one lying in wait to ambush them. The force field to the dock had still been up, and the ship was in the same condition it had been before they arrived. Perhaps their attacker had thought their ship was already been worked over, given the dilapidated shape it was already in.

There was a brief panic from their pet as Mughi saw Yuri's wound and became excited. He stayed next to Yuri's side as Kei placed her partner in the co-pilot's seat and started up the Lovely Angel. They exited the docking bay the same way they had entered, Kei remaining tense in case some of the station's defenses opened up on them, but there was nothing. Yuri wondered if their blowing up a good portion of the station's command center might have had something to do with that, though.

They had executed two micro-jumps once they were out of the gravity interference of the station. The first was to get them away from the station, the second was for them to change direction in case someone tried following the heading they had taken in leaving the area.

Shortly after the second micro-jump, Kei sent out a message using the deep space communication gear. That was during one of Yuri's worse bouts with the pain, and she hadn't been able to make out what Kei said. That wasn't much of a concern; she had more important matters to worry about than how her partner had worded the request for assistance she had sent to headquarters, like extracting the foreign object in her leg.

Yuri injected the painkillers, then allowed Kei to help her float to their makeshift medical bay, (the place they had designated they should go when wounded so they didn't bleed all over one another's belongings), and lay on her back. Mughi remained ever vigilant at Yuri's side, while Kei looked over her partner. Both watchers whimpered in sympathy, though Mughi did the better job..

Kei, now somewhat back to normal, fretted over her partner. "Have the drugs kicked in yet?"

"Make me a chocolate milkshake, Mommy."

Kei looked carefully at the empty hypodermic Yuri had injected herself with. "I'll have to try some of that later."

She examined the insides of Yuri's leg with a hand held x-ray device. The shaft of the needle was clear of any other barbs. Good. That would make removal easier. Some of nastier versions were covered with multiple barbs, as well as poisons. Yuri had been lucky in only getting a standard needle put through her.

Kei put down the device. "Hey Yuri, remember when Shasti tried to kill us by shooting us at point blank range with her gun, and all she ended up doing was breaking most of our ribs because of our armor?"

"Sort of," Yuri slurred. She had been on a date with the White Rabbit at the time, if she recalled correctly.

Kei put on a surgical glove. "Well, it's not going to hurt as much as that."

"Good," Yuri moaned. Mughi was turning fuchsia. What a nice color. She was going to dye Kei's hair the exact same way the next time her partner went to sleep.

"It's going to hurt a wee bit more. "Kei grabbed the barbed end of the needle, and pulled forward, bringing the rest of the shaft through the leg. Yuri's eyes crossed as the pain shot through her limb, then through the rest of her body, causing her to pass out.

With the hardest work completed, Kei hyposprayed the wound and watched the spray work its magic by covering the injury and preventing it from further bleeding. Once a check of Yuri's vital signs determined she was in no immediate danger, Kei cleaned off the blood colored shaft and placed it in a metal tray next to the microwave. She then pulled up a chair and tried to make herself and Mughi as comfortable as possible.

Now all that was left was the waiting.

The limp was barely noticeable as Yuri headed towards the airlock where Kei was already waiting. A quick look in the mirror had told her that her appearance was serviceable, if not exactly elegant. Given the hardships she had to endure in the last couple of days, she was simply grateful she didn't look like a drowned rat.

After passing out from her 'surgical procedure,' (as Yuri acerbically now referred to Kei's handiwork), she had been unconscious for nearly two whole days. She had only just come around a handful of hours ago, feeling like a gorilla had used her for a punching bag before allowing Kei to have a few rounds with her for good measure.

Upon Yuri's shouting out what was going on, Kei had come running and embraced her friend warmly before informing Yuri that if she didn't lose a few pounds, she would find herself left behind next time. An aching back was testament to the 'nearly maximum density' that Yuri must have been pushing, or so Kei claimed. Luckily for the redhead, she had the presence of mind to remove all of the sharp instruments from Yuri's reach beforehand, and only had to suffer a bedpan between the eyes for her comment.

Now convinced Yuri was feeling better, Kei informed her that they were going to have company in the next few hours and that her dark-haired partner needed to clean herself up so that she would look good for their guest. Given her disheveled condition, Yuri thought she could use at least six hours and a full cosmetic kit to make herself presentable, but instead had to settle for two hours and some beer to wash the blood from her body. On the bright side, not only did Kei's crappy beer clean out the insides, but it did a damn good job on the outsides too as the blood washed off easily with just a single wipe. The only thing Yuri lamented was that she smelled like a brewery, or like Kei on one of her dates.

Yuri was still in the process of making herself presentable when Kei shouted that their guest had dropped out of hyperspace and was approaching their ship. Yuri threw on some make-up to hide the dark patches under her eyes and headed for the airlock where Kei waited for their visitor.

Upon arriving, Yuri saw that Kei had cleaned herself up very well, almost as much as she would for a date with a hot-looking vacuum brain, Kei's favorite sort of man. The impatient glances Kei kept giving the airlock cried out that there was something suspicious about this meeting. Something very suspicious.

"You seem pretty anxious for a simple rendezvous with the other 3WA agents you summoned. Exactly how many did headquarters' send?" Yuri carefully gauged her partner's response.

Kei seemed to take an interest in the airlock control panels.

So that was the way it was going to be. "Kei, you did inform the 3WA of what happened, correct?"

"Not exactly," Kei murmured under her breath as she pushed several of the buttons, causing the lights to blink on and off.

Yuri's eyebrow began twitching violently. "Then exactly WHO did you call and WHO are we expecting?"

Much to Yuri's surprise, Kei went from the 'I got my hand caught in the cookie jar,' look to one of serious intensity. Her eyes seemed to bore through Yuri. "Look, the 3WA doesn't know how to deal with this thing. Believe me, I've seen planetary forces bungle trying to take him out before. All it ended up doing was killing a lot of people." Kei paused a moment before continuing. "I called in someone that's had experience in dealing with this monster before. In fact, she's the one that killed him the last time around."

"Pretty frisky corpse," Yuri commented dryly.

"This time he's staying dead," Kei assured her.

Yuri was about to say something else when she noticed something strange. Kei was wearing a short string of beads from her hair. It was tied to the back, out of sight until Kei turned her head and Yuri caught a glimpse of the dangling object. There was something familiar about the design. Not so much of it being familiar on Kei, but that Yuri had seen it from somewhere before. "What's up with the beads? You hate wearing those things."

Yuri was surprised to see Kei's mask of intensity slip as she fondled the beads affectionately. "This was a gift from the woman that's coming to meet us now. It was something she gave me when I first got to know her when I was growing up."

Kei was just proving herself full of surprises today. Even after all of the years they had been partnered together, the redhead almost never talked of her life before joining the 3WA. Yuri had always respected her partner's right to privacy and not gone digging for information. But now she was about to learn something without having to prod Kei in the least.

Kei's eyes took on the distant gleam of one remembering the past. "She was basically the woman who raised me. She was sort of a big sister, mother, mentor, and friend all rolled up into one. I owe not only my life, but everything that I am today because of her."

Yuri resisted saying, "So now we know who to blame for you," the moment was too sentimental. Instead, she said, "You sound very proud of her. How come you've never told me about her before?"

Kei shifted uncomfortably. "When I was growing up, I always said I wanted to be just like her and follow her line of work. I even used to fantasize that we could be partners, like she had been with her own older brother. But once I got older, I felt, I don't know, trapped. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do the same thing she did, so I left home and struck out on my own, hoping to figure out what it was I wanted to do. It didn't take long for me to decide to join the 3WA, and aside from when we were first assigned to one another, I've never regretted it for a minute."

"Gee, thanks," Yuri commented dryly once again, not that she had felt any different the first time she had learned it was Kei she would be partnered with.

Kei seemed hesitant as she continued. "But I was always afraid she'd be disappointed that I didn't follow in her footsteps. I didn't think she'd be proud of what I've become, so I kind of…avoided her."

"For how long?" Yuri asked.

"Almost fifteen years."

"What?!" Yuri shouted. "You mean to tell me that you haven't talked to someone that all but raised you for your entire career?"

"You don't understand," Kei said, her voice filled with emotion. "She's one of the best people I've ever known. Even now, after all of the things I've accomplished on my own, I don't feel I measure up to her.

"But now everything's changed. Now this monster exists once more, and I have to overcome my fears and call on her again after all of these years so we can put this thing to rest for good. That has to take precedence over everything else. Everything."

The sound of another ship pulling next to the Lovely Angel and attaching itself to the side broke up Kei's dramatic speech. Again the redhead shifted to nervousness as the instrument panel next to the airlock flashed red, then, after several minutes, changed to green, indicating a successful connection and transfer. All that was left was for the pressure to equalize between the two ships and the guest would come aboard.

After a full minute had passed, the airlock slid open and Kei let out a long breath, not realizing that she had been holding it since the instrument panel first lit up.

Yuri watched as a woman stepped out of the airlock and onto their ship. She was small, standing some three centimeters shorter than either of the 3WA agents, and somewhat slender, though with a very healthy physique that showed regular exercise to stay in shape. She was very attractive, though not beautiful, and bore a distinctive beauty mark located right below her left eye. Her face was that of an older woman, most likely in her early forties. Her eyes were those of someone that was full of life and ready to live it to the fullest. Her hair was short and brown, with a slightly unkempt look about it.

She wore a partial suit of white armor with a black form-fitting fabric underneath. The armor only heavily covered her upper arms, lower torso and legs, while the rest was mostly composed of open areas of the black material that would afford the woman the ability to move quick and freely. It was an even mix of protection and high mobility. A simple pair of light-filtered goggles rested on top of her head, ready to drop down over her eyes if necessary. There were a couple of belts of large pouches, extra ammunition, and holsters strapped around her torso and waist. Her primary weapon seemed to be a Boreset Long Rifle that was slung across her back. It was a dated and uncommon weapon, though very reliable under the most grueling of conditions. The only drawbacks were its bulk and difficulty to maintain. Still, that such an obviously experienced woman had that kind of weapon with her, and given its readily apparent signs of frequent use, Yuri instinctively knew the newcomer knew how to handle the weapon.

As the woman fully boarded the ship, Yuri was able to see several strings of beads that were worn in her hair along the back, ones that were identical to the single strip that Kei now wore. Seeing an entire set of them together triggered Yuri's memory as to where she had seen them before and what significance they had; they were an indication of an outer rim bounty hunter.

While Yuri was assessing the newcomer, Kei did the same, though her attention was focused on the changes that might have happened across the years. The woman looked much the same, save older and perhaps a few pounds heavier, not that she had been overweight to begin with. It was indeed her, of that there could be no mistake. Kei's attempt at a detached assessment in order to keep control of herself was futile. Within seconds after seeing the woman for the first time in over a decade, Kei's eyes began to tear, and she felt herself overcome with a wave of emotion that was more powerful than anything she had ever felt, surpassing even graduation day at the training academy.

The woman gave the redhead a warm smile, and the last reserves tumbled away. Unable to restrain herself any longer, Kei leaped forward and embraced the smaller woman in a bear-like hug, as though afraid she would try to run off at any moment. Instantly Kei felt the embrace returned with just as much firmness and passion. That acceptance was all it took. The emotional dam gave way, and Kei wept openly, regretting her foolishness in ignoring for years the woman who had raised her with never a word of complaint.

Words poured from Kei's mouth as fiercely as the tears, "Oh, Iria. I've missed you so much!"


To be continued.

Author's notes: Yep, It's a Dirty Pair/Iria: Zeiram, the Animation crossover. Hey, once I remembered the red-haired, spunky, good with weapons, orphan sidekick of Iria's that just happened to be named Kei, the crossover potential seemed painfully obvious. Just needed a halfway decent story, desire, and time to write it. The technology differential, especially in the transport systems between the two series, will have to be addressed, but I think I got that figured out. Zeiram's a bit dated, and I'm not sure how many people are still familiar with it, but I found it to be an excellent action-oriented series that will hopefully mix quite easily with the more popular Dirty Pair, though I haven't seen very many fics devoted to them of late. Hard to believe, given the good story potential there.

Chapter 2
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