Tilly is about to break into the Royal Palace.
Never in my life have I been so happy to get on with a dangerous job. Waiting is always the hardest part of a job but waiting with my friends was much worse.
Jana went back and forth between manic bouts of friend-consoling — even though I wasn’t distraught and just wanted to relax — and deep dives into the net in search of any information she thought might help me break into the Palace. Her behavior was the complete opposite of the Jana I know so well. I’d have been worried about her if I hadn’t understood what was driving her.
The job was her idea, yet she was not one of the people doing the dangerous part. Jana thought she would be the slicer coming with me. She thought her life and freedom would be on the line along with mine. Then her new boyfriend rained all over that parade by insisting he was the one who should go with me. He pointed out he was the best security system slicer in the Star Kingdom and that made him the best person to support me.
I thought using logic was playing pretty dirty, but it showed Nathan knew exactly how to handle Jana. She could have waived aside his emotional desire to protect the love of his life. That kind of argument would have warmed her heart, but it wouldn’t have swayed her. But irrefutable logic is Jana’s one weakness — that and security systems. No, that last bit isn’t fair to Jana. There are only a handful of people better qualified to slice security systems than my best friend. Since she’s sleeping with the guy at the top of that very short list, she bowed before his superior logic.
Then there was Mark, who surprised the hell out of me hours ago by proclaiming his love for me. Or maybe it’s just a deep infatuation with a mysterious woman. Who can tell with a guy you’ve only known for a couple of days? I’m sure my looks have a lot to do with it — guys are nothing if not visually oriented, especially when it comes to the initial attraction — but I think Mark is even more attracted to me for my profession than he is to my looks.
And he wants to take me to meet his mother. He hasn’t even asked me on a date and he’s already thinking about that. I’m in unknown territory, especially since the other guys I’ve dated rarely thought about anything except getting me into bed. I don’t even know how to react to a guy who wants to get to know me as a person first. But I’m a damned sight more flattered by Mark’s earnest desire than by all the smooth compliments I’ve gotten from the usual bed jockeys I end up with. And, assuming we all get out of this with our skins intact, Mark and I are going on a real date and then he’ll take me to meet his parents.
Thank God for Kelly who, beyond her offer of whatever assistance she could provide, left me alone. Three times she distracted Jana from friend-coddling by sending her into the net for data.
So, like I said, I was thrilled when the three of us left for the job. Yes, three of us.
Me to do the actual breaking, entering, and blood-drawing.
Nathan to keep a digital eye on me.
And Mark to keep a physical eye on Nathan while the slicer was deep inside the Palace’s network.
Our underground trip to the Palace was longer than the tunnel crawl Jana and I went on all those weeks ago. We didn’t dare use the same approach as before. Jana and I barely got away from security patrols last time, and it was a good bet security was even stronger around those tunnels now. But working with two of the best slicers in the galaxy has its benefits. With Nathan opening paths through security systems and Jana mining the data, we had our route into the Palace mapped out before lunch. That’s why Jana had so much time to coddle, so call their combined skill a two-edged sword.
I led the way through the tunnels, watching for physical security — alarms, cams, even simple trip wires — but the tunnels we used were so old the Xapreathean authorities probably didn’t even know they still existed. Even so, we took our time and had Jana riding networked shotgun, watching for anything out of the ordinary.
Our way was clear until we came to the wall. That wall is why everyone forgot about this old set of tunnels. Back when the government built the new tunnel system — God knows how long ago that was — this old system was blocked off with a then-impenetrable polymer. Now? All it takes is a little chemistry and — voilà — we had a solution that dissolved the polymer. That, by the way, is why I studied chemistry in college.
This is one of the big secrets of the burglary trade. Building materials that were once impassible are rarely a match for hundreds of years of scientific advancement. The people who originally installed the super-secure walls had every reason to feel confident their homes couldn’t be breached through those walls. That confidence was passed down to subsequent generations, even after the confidence was sorely misplaced.
Imagine my surprise that the royal family suffered from the same overconfidence as the other nobles.
I sprayed the chemical solution over a section of the blocking wall. Within seconds the old polymer was flowing down the wall and puddling at our feet. All it took was time — which we had built into our schedule — and patience. I had to spray the stuff on the wall six times but we were through in less than an hour.
Without Nathan, I couldn’t hope to get through the new tunnel, though. As he and Jana planned, we were close enough to the Palace that he could pick up their network signal. He needed some super-sensitive equipment, signal boosters, and a lot of skill to do it, but there’s a reason he’s the best of the best. Even better, he set up a relay that let Jana get in, as well.
While the slicers cleared my path of digital dangers, Mark and I performed one last check on our equipment. When he gave me the okay, I turned to go. Then, on impulse, I spun around and kissed Mark long and hard.
Pulling away, I murmured, “For luck!”
And then I headed into the Palace and burglary of a lifetime.
Will Tilly pull off the heist of the century or will she be caught? Find out in Chapter 43, coming Wednesday.