Nathan and Jana return from their reconnaissance trip of the connection to the Star Stone.
We heard the soft murmur of voices from the back room. They rose slightly, tailed off, rose again, and then stopped. Mark, Kelly, and I waited for our two slicers to join us in the living room. When there was no sign of them, Mark and I exchanged mildly concerned glances and headed down the hallway toward Nathan’s… Slicing lair? Computer room seems a far too pedestrian name for the workroom of the galaxy’s premier slicer. Anyway, we went to that room’s doorway.
It turns out we had nothing to worry about. Jana and Nathan were deeply engaged in humanity’s second most popular method of interfacing. Theirs was as passionate and all-consuming a kiss as I’ve ever seen.
Holding my hand out to Mark, I said, “You owe me a hundred credits.”
Jana and Nathan spring apart at the sound of my voice. Both turned reddening faces our way as Mark said, “I shouldn’t be surprised things moved so quickly between these two. Jana’s got that whole brainy beauty thing going. That’s absolutely impossible for Nathan to resist.”
“You had a bet on whether Nathan would kiss me?” Jana demanded of me.
I shook my head, “No, we were both positive you two would end up tongue wrestling. Mark just thought it would take Nathan a few hours to work up to it. I, on the other hand, had full confidence in your irresistibility.”
Mark handed me one hundred credits and growled, “Apparently, women are better at predicting how men will behave than men are at predicting how women will behave. I could have sworn Jana was going to keep you at arm’s length for at least another hour or two.”
“Can we change the subject?” Nathan asked.
“God, yes!” Jana added.
“Fine,” I said, “what do you want to talk about?”
“We need some ancient documents,” Nathan replied.
Mark spoke before I could. “You want me to arrange a museum robbery? Which museum?”
“Not a museum,” Jana said, shaking her head. “We need engineering documents.”
“Then why are you talking to us?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure slicers of your stature can get that kind of stuff without even leaving this room.”
“Nope. The stuff we want is so old it’s not even in the databases, Tilly. I know, because I checked for it back when we discovered that network connection to the Star Stone.”
“You never told me you did that, Jana.”
My friend shrugged, “You were busy with other plans and I didn’t want to distract you. Besides, we didn’t really need those documents, then. I just wanted to check them out for historical purposes. Now, I want to check them out for safety purposes.”
I crossed my arms and gave Jana a hard stare. “What kind of safety are we talking about?”
Jana wouldn’t meet my eyes, so I knew it was something serious. Switching my gaze to Nathan, I asked, “Would you like to enlighten me?”
Nathan’s eyes flicked to Jana, who gave a slight nod. With a sigh, he said, “Jana can describe it better since she’s actually been inside the Star Stone, but she’s concerned about using the network connection you two installed a while back. It has something to do with the possibility that Queen Charlotte will destroy the connection after we’ve passed through it.”
I had not gone into the Star Stone with Jana, but I’d heard her tell the story several times. It didn’t take a genius to figure out she was afraid the two of them would be trapped in the Stone. That was my greatest fear, too.
I uncrossed my arms and ran a hand through my hair. “Good, I approve of this caution.”
Before I could continue, Mark asked Nathan, “I guess you want me to arrange for someone to steal these documents?”
Nathan nodded, “Do you know someone who can handle something like this? Someone who can do it without leaving a trace? And who will also keep their mouth shut after doing the job?”
“I don’t, but some of my contacts do,” Mark replied. “Don’t worry, this is one reason you keep me around.”
Curious about Mark’s contacts, I asked, “Who do you have in mind for this job?”
Mark dismissed my question with the wave of a hand. “The name won’t mean anything to you unless you have underworld contacts.”
I crossed my arms again, raised one eyebrow, and glared at Mark. “And what makes you think I don’t have underworld contacts?”
“Glamorous babes like you aren’t the type to slog through the muck of the underbelly of civilization.”
“As generalizations go, yours is fairly accurate. But only fairly so.” I flashed my sweetly predatory smile at Mark. “Now, who do you have in mind?”
Mark rolled his eyes, “Fine, have it your way. I’ll have to go through a couple of contacts to get to him, but I thought I’d get the Shadow Cat. Satisfied?”
I gave a thoughtful nod, “Shadow Cat is a damned fine sneak thief. He could definitely do this job, except he always goes off planet this time of year. I’m not sure which tropical paradise world he’s visiting right now, but he won’t be back for at least another month.”
Mark gave me an appraising look, “And you know this how?”
“He’s a friend of mine. Well, as much of a friend as you can have in this business.”
“So, you have underworld connections, as well?” At my nod, Mark continued, “I most humbly offer my apologies for underestimating you. If Shadow Cat isn’t available, can you recommend another sneak thief?”
I smirked, “Why bother with a sneak thief when you can have a chic thief?”
Mark’s eyes widened in surprise. “You know her?”
I patted Mark’s cheek, “Darling, I am her.”
Meanwhile, what has Olivia been up to? Find out in Chapter 21, coming Monday.