Fox will help Dreamwalker—if she can discover his true identity.
The moment Fox disappeared into the crowd, Dreamwalker grabbed me by the hand and pulled me to my feet. We headed for the exit at a fast walk. As when we entered, the crowd parted before us and we were out of The Club in just a few seconds.
Dreamwalker did something—shift planes or transfer to a different network or something, it’s totally beyond me—and suddenly, we were alone inside a small, bare room.
Stepping back for me, Dreamwalker said, “Stand still while I scan you for tracers, loggers, viruses, or anything else that could follow us back to our bodies.”
I did as instructed and Dreamwalker’s eyes lost focus. She walked around me, running her gaze up and down my avatar. Finally, she stopped and gave a single nod.
“You’re clean. I didn’t think anyone in The Club put anything on you—I installed copies of my best protective bots in your avatar—but better safe than sorry.”
“What about you?” I asked. “If you tell me what to look for, I can try scanning you.”
“No need. I’ve already checked myself.” Dreamwalker took my hand again, “Ready to get back to your body?”
“And give up this cartoonish, walking advertisement for sex you gave me as an avatar?” I asked. “Hell. Yes.”
Dreamwalker laughed and, the next thing I knew, my consciousness was back inside my body. Or, I guess it’s my focus or attention that was back inside my body. At least, that’s how Jana explains it. I’m just a thief and have no idea what she’s talking about once she gets technical. Her distinction is reasonable, though, since the true danger of the Star Stone was that it did pull her consciousness into it. The net just seems like a real world, but it’s only in our minds. That’s probably confusing as hell, which is about what you should expect since the whole concept is completely beyond me.
Regardless, I was happy to see my own body and not that ridiculous avatar.
As Jana and I sat up, I said, “You’re making me a new avatar before I go back into the net. I want something classy, like your avatar.”
Jana grinned at me, “Maybe, since you did behave yourself and didn’t do anything to give way our identities.”
“Unlike a certain superstar slicer I could name,” I growled.
“It was necessary.”
“What was necessary?” Kelly asked, looking up from her data pad.
Jana motioned for me to answer the question. “You tell her, Tilly. I’ve got to prepare for our search.”
“Search?” Kelly asked. “Do I even want to know how this went?”
“No, and yes,” I replied. At Kelly’s quizzical expression, I added, “It’s complicated.”
“As Drake would say, uncomplicate it for me. Now.”
By the time I finished my explanations and answered Kelly’s questions to the best of my ability—if not to her satisfaction—Jana was concentrating deeply on…whatever it was she was concentrating deeply on. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it had something to do with slicing and tracking down Fox and other stuff I don’t understand.
Glancing at Jana, Kelly asked, “Did she say if she wanted me to change course?”
I was shrugging when, to my considerable surprise, Jana responded, “No, stay on course to Xapreathea.”
Jana never looked up. She gave no indication that she had been listening to anything we were saying. And, by the time Kelly and I looked Jana’s way, her attention was once again focused on her work. Kelly and I looked back at each other and shrugged.
“I’m going to go check on the Star’s systems,” Kelly said, heading toward the pilot’s compartment.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
Without looking back, Kelly said, “Make dinner. I’m starving.”
“Aye aye, Captain Cutthroat!”
Kelly stopped and slowly turned around. “Did Jeanine tell you about the nickname she gave me? I’d gotten the idea the two of you aren’t that close.”
“We’re not, though I think the potential is there. Right now, I’d say we’re sort of friendly acquaintances.”
“Jeanine isn’t the type to tell personal stories like that to acquaintances,” Kelly said.
“She’s not,” I agreed. “But she and Jana have become very close. As have Jana and I. So—”
Without looking up, Jana interjected, “I told her, Kelly. Jeanine didn’t mind.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Kelly said. Without another word, she turned and headed for the pilot’s compartment.
I headed into the galley and started working on dinner. As I cooked, my mind whirled with questions. What was Fox’s true identity? Could he be trusted? Would he really help us if Jana tracked him down? Could Jana track him down? Could he figure out my identity from Jana’s identity? If he could, what would he do with that information? Threaten to tell the police I’m a thief unless I—what? Stole for him? Paid him large sums of money? Provided kinky sexual favors? And, was he anywhere near as gorgeous as his avatar?
My imagination was just drifting into a combination of those last two questions, when Jana came into the galley and interrupted me. “That smells great! I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until I smelled the food.”
“It’s an old family recipe I learned from my great grandmother’s private chef.”
Jana shook her head in wonder, “The nobility really do live different lives than the rest of us. My old family recipes get passed down by parents, not private chefs.”
“Just make sure you include me in that ‘rest of us’ you’re talking about,” I said. “I only travel in high social circles for business.”
“Uh huh,” Jana said, her tone skeptical. “What business led to you hooking up with Prince William?”
“So,” I said, changing the subject, “do you think you can find Fox?”
Jana gave me a knowing look, but didn’t call me on my change of subject. “Yes.”
“You sound pretty positive, Jana. What do you know that I don’t know?” I cringed at my silly question. “Ignore that. It would take forever for you to tell me all the stuff you know that I don’t know. And I still wouldn’t understand most of it even after you told it to me. Let me rephrase the question. What do you know about finding Fox that you haven’t told me?”
“A lot,” Jana grinned. “Mostly, I know I planted a tracer on Fox and he hasn’t discovered it yet. Or, he’s discovered it but is leaving it in place because he wants us to find him.”
“But, you swore you didn’t do anything like that!” I exclaimed. Shaking my head in mock disapproval, I said, “It pains me to learn that you’re just as dishonest as I am.”
“I make my living breaking into secured networks and taking data from its rightful owners,” Jana said in a dry tone. “What part of that sounds honest to you?”
“It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it that makes the difference. I steal for personal profit. You slice for idealistic reasons. That makes you honest, in a slightly tarnished way.” Afraid we were going to wander away from my original question, I returned to it. “And, that’s why I’m surprised that you lied to Fox about putting something in his drink.”
Jana shook her head, “I didn’t lie. There wasn’t anything in his drink.”
I furrowed my brow in puzzlement. “Then how did you plant a tracer on him?”
Jana grinned, “It was on the glass. When he picked up the glass, the tracer attached itself to him.”
“Ingenious! I bet he never thought of that, Jana!”
“Oh, he thought of it, Tilly. The glasses he sent us had tracers on them. Only, I neutralized them after we left The Club.”
“Well, damn, aren’t you slicers a sneaky bunch! You’re hardly any different than a pack of thieves.”
“Thanks,” Jana said, “I think.”
“How long do you think it will take to track him down after we land on Xapreathea?”
“If he’s actually on Xapreathea—which I’m almost positive he is—I should be able to find him in a couple of days.” Jana turned thoughtful for a moment. “That’s assuming he doesn’t go to ground, change his identity, move to another planet, or do any of the other things slicers do when they think someone is getting too close to their true identity.”
“How much longer will it take to find him if he does any of that stuff?” I asked.
Jana shook her head, “If he runs, I’ll never find him.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “Then let’s pray he doesn’t run!”
Mentioning Xaphreathea, what’s happening with the Royal Family? Find out in Chapter 12, coming Monday.