With the Palace alert and the hidden passages patrolled, is Tilly trapped?
I heard something in Tilly’s voice I’d never heard before — defeat. She sounded as if she blamed herself for the current predicament and that was something I most definitely would not tolerate.
“So what if we ran into some unexpected obstacles?” I asked. “No job this complex ever goes according to the plan.”
Tilly gave a bitter laugh, “You got that right, but this job went from smooth sailing to mangled beyond all recognition in record time.”
“Are you telling me that’s never happened to you before?”
“Of course it’s happened before,” Tilly muttered. “But this is the first time I’ve found myself completely surrounded by hyper-alert, heavily armed, and highly trained guards when things went to hell.”
“That just means it’s time for some serious improvisation.”
“You don’t get it, Jana,” Tilly was so upset she forgot protocol and used my real name. “I don’t even see how I can escape the Palace. Finishing the job is completely out of the question.”
Much as I hated to do it, I decided my friend needed a metaphorical slap on the cheek to break her out of her defeatist mood. “Huh, I never figured you for a quitter.”
“Why you goddamned bitch!” Tilly snarled. “I’m the one putting my ass on the line while you sit safe and comfortable next to your data rig and you dare to call me a quitter?”
Okay, that hurt — mainly because it’s true. I wanted to protest, point out how I planned on going with them to the Palace. To remind Tilly she was the one who insisted I stay behind. But I didn’t do that because I was safe and comfortable next to my data rig. And it was up to me to make sure Tilly got back to me.
I reached into to my school memories and tried channeling all the mean girls I’d known. “I’m not the subject of conversation. We’re talking about the quitter who’s ready to give up at the first sign of trouble. We’re talking about the woman who’s willing to let the Star Stone win rather than get up off her ass and do her job!”
“Um, ladies?” Nathan said. “Why don’t we just calm—”
“Shut up!” Tilly and I both snapped.
Then Tilly burst out laughing. It wasn’t deep, joyous laughter but it was a damned sight better than what I’d been hearing from her. “Okay, Dreamwalker, you win. I’m ready and willing to listen to anything you suggest.” She paused for a few seconds before adding, “And, thanks, I needed that.”
“You’re welcome, Smoke. I hated doing it even if it was necessary.”
“So, after all that, do you have any bright ideas for getting me out of here?”
“Of course I do. We can probably even finish the original job—or at least part of it.”
“Uh, no offense Your Geniusness, but I can’t think of any possible way to get that blood sample.”
“I know, but you can get the Star Stone report.”
“How?” Nathan asked.
“That depends on you, man of my dreams. Can you spoof the Palace’s aerial alarms?”
“Maybe. What do you want them to show?”
“I don’t exactly know. Some kind of threat that Palace security simply can’t ignore. Something they’ll act on even after the false alarm you triggered earlier.”
“Like a squadron of starfighters on their way to attack the palace?” Nathan asked.
“Or an out-of-control freighter or an asteroid or…whatever. If you can’t spoof the aerial alarms, try fire or radiation leaks. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just make sure the guards have to evacuate William and Olivia”
I could hear dawning comprehension in Tilly’s voice, “They’ll evacuate the entire Palace once the royal couple is on their way to safety! Then it will be simple for me to grab the report and slip out in the mass confusion.”
“I don’t know about simple,” I countered, “but at least it will be possible.”
“All right, then,” Nathan said, “let me see what I can do to those alarms.”
“While you’re at it, can you give me access to the security system?” I asked. “I want to dig up the evacuation plans so we’ll know exactly who is going where.”
A few seconds passed before Nathan said, “Done.”
I found what I wanted quickly. Nathan’s work, on the other hand, took over an hour. What can I say, he’s detail-oriented and very thorough. In everything — there’s damned good reason Kelly said I screamed like a banshee.
By the time he was ready, Tilly had her escape route memorized. When she said she was ready, Nathan activated his alarm and all hell broke loose in the Palace. Three minutes after that, the Chic Thief slipped into the royal couple’s empty suite. Olivia obligingly left the report sitting right out in the open on her bedside table.
While Mark sealed the hole in the tunnel and Nathan packed his equipment, Tilly slipped into the flood of people evacuating the Palace. Two hours later, everyone was safely back with Kelly and me.
Tilly handed the report to me. Before I opened it, I offered up a quick prayer the report held something we could use against the Star Stone. Because there was no way we could ever pull off another Palace job.
While our heroes celebrate a partially successful burglary, what is happening with Olivia?