Tilly enters new and carefully-monitored Palace tunnels.
Do you know the difference between talented amateurs and true professionals? Professionals keep their nerves in check and their mouths shut on the job. Despite working with Jana on several jobs — including the test-run burglary that led directly to our problems with the Star Stone — I’d been afraid she would get nervous and chatty. Staying safe and sound while your friends and lover attempt a daring and dangerous crime would do a number on anyone’s nerves.
So I was prepared for the worst — and didn’t get it.
Connected to the palace network through Nathan’s link, Jana immediately went questing after the information she assumed the Royal family had concerning the true nature of the Star Stone. The logic behind her assumptions seemed reasonable to me. Then again, I’m the woman who finds breaking into the homes of rich nobles and taking their stuff incredibly exciting. So what do I know about reason? At least Jana had something to occupy her mind besides worrying about Nathan, Mark, and me.
And that left me free to wiggle and wriggle my way through the tunnels beneath the Palace. I estimated I had another forty meters to go when Nathan spoke through our comm link.
I froze and waited for further instructions.
After several seconds, Nathan spoke again. “Someone in the Royal family’s security corps is very clever. They had a whole array of sensors installed in the tunnel floor just ahead. Weight, heat, motion, light — you name it and they layered it into the next few meters. That’s why it took me so long to clear your path. Sorry about the delay. You’re clear to move again.”
I hadn’t even been frozen in place long enough for my nose to start itching and Nathan was apologizing for being slow? When this whole save-the-galaxy stuff was over, I’d have to see about getting a top-notch slicer as a partner. Or maybe I’d just retire and have some babies.
Whoa! Where did that thought come from? Not that I don’t want to retire and have children someday, but that day is supposed to be far in the future. Was my subconscious trying to tell me something about Mark or was this just one of those danger-induced evolutionary impulses Jana talked about while sharing not-so-enigmatic smiles with Nathan? I firmly pushed aside both questions, along with thoughts of miniature humans, and focused on the job.
By the time I climbed out of the tunnel and into the lowest Palace level, I’d dealt with ten physical alarms. On top of that, Nathan disarmed half-a-dozen sensors and shut down or intercepted at least seven alarms. In all honesty, I’d never have made it through the tunnels without him. I doubt any thief could have made it. And I had a feeling only one or two other slicers in the galaxy could have done what Nathan did. He also made the next step of the job a lot easier, too.
Nathan gave me the layout, “Laundry room cams two, four, and five are the only ones without any staff in them. I’ve got them running loops showing the empty areas. You’re in the section covered by cam six. Cam five’s area is about five meters away. You should be fine if you stay down on the floor and crawl. Wait for my signal.”
A voice called out requesting help. A man no more than three meters from me answered.
Two seconds after that, Nathan said, “Go!”
I triggered my catsuit’s low-friction setting and slithered from behind the machine hiding the exit from the tunnel. Sliding easily across the floor, I covered the distance in three seconds.
“I’m there,” I whispered, turning off my suit’s slither mode.
“Stay down for a few more seconds… And…you’re clear. No one is in any position to see you.”
I stood and walked quickly but casually toward the storage area for this part of the laundry. It’s the section dedicated to cleaning and maintaining Palace staff uniforms. The storage room held literally thousands of them in every size imaginable and the door didn’t even have a lock.
The others assumed I learned about the laundry room during my month living with Prince William, and they were right. They also assumed I’d included the laundry room when casing the Palace for a possible break-in. That was completely wrong, but I saw no reason to tell them about William’s brief infatuation with having sex in semi-public places. The risk of being caught made it more exciting for him. It did the same for me if I’m being honest.
Actually getting caught — which happened twice, once in the very storage room I was approaching — put a serious damper on the fun. The poor servant who walked in on us just about had a heart attack. Terrified, she backed from the room stammering apologies. William, in a rather endearing bit of idiocy, ran after her hoping to calm her down and assure her everything was fine. He forgot he was naked and still…excited.
Pushing aside that brief bit of nostalgia, I slipped into the room and glanced about. As expected, it was empty. Seconds later, I pulled two Royal-quarters uniforms from the shelves. Dropping one uniform on the floor, I walked all over it, scuffing it across the less-than-sparkling floor. Once it was appropriately mussed, I tossed it in an empty basket for dirty uniforms. I doubted anyone would ask me anything when I left, but if they did, I could tell them I had to change out of a dirty uniform.
That’s another thieving trick, by the way. Always make sure your story will stand up to inquiry. You’d be amazed how many overconfident thieves get caught because they assume no one will check out their stories.
Satisfied my story had verisimilitude — I learned that word from a pretentious noblewoman with literary ambitions — I pulled the second uniform on over my catsuit. Checking myself in a viewer, I was satisfied with the fit and the look. As long as I didn’t run into anyone who remembered me from my time in the Palace — it was a year and a half ago, but Royal servants are damnably good with faces and names — I should be free to wander the Palace.
My biggest worry was the guard team outside William’s and Olivia’s suite. I wasn’t going to take them out with fancy martial arts moves. Hell, I wasn’t even going through the door they guarded so closely. But if just one member of the team when I lived with William was still a member of the team I was in serious trouble. Any of them would recognize me if they saw me. I prayed they’d been rotated off guard duty or at least moved away from the night watch.
Quelling my concerns, I boldly walked out of the uniform storage room and toward the exit. None of the laundry workers even gave me a passing glance. Passing a table piled with linens and towels, I scooped up a large stack of both.
“Hey,” a man called, “what do you think you’re doing?”
Without breaking stride, I said, “Lord and Lady Bilton spilled wine in their bed. I get to clean up after them.”
Yes, Lord and Lady Bilton were guests in the Palace. Like I said, verisimilitude.
The man barked a laugh, “Better you than me, honey.”
And then I was out the door, wandering the Royal Palace freely and virtually invisible in my servant’s livery.
Can Tilly get into William’s and Olivia’s room? Find out in Chapter 44, coming Friday.