The Royal Intelligence Agency has caught Tilly.
I was so deeply engrossed in updating the language in the Star Stone technical report that I didn’t hear my comm buzzing. My first hint that something was wrong came when Mark shook me. I looked up and opened my mouth to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing. That idea died as soon as I saw his face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Mark headed for the back room where Nathan was connected to the network. Over his shoulder, he snapped, “We leave in five minutes.”
I gathered up the report and my data pad, “Okay. But what happened?”
“The RIA captured Tilly.”
A cold knot of fear sprang into being right where my heart used to be. “Kelly?”
“She’s ditching the car. I gave her a rendezvous time and place. She’ll alert us if it’s safe to pick her up.”
I followed Mark down the hall, “And if it’s not?”
“We leave her, go to Nathan’s final safe house, and finish the job.”
“We’re just abandoning her?”
“If we have to. Keeping you and Nathan safe so you guys can destroy the Star Stone is all that matters.” Mark punched a key on one of Nathan’s data rigs and said, “Fox, condition yellow.”
Seconds later, Nathan sat up and disconnected himself from the network. “Status?”
“They got Tilly,” I said.
“Dammit!” Standing, Nathan activated his system destruction routines. He took a second to glance at Mark and me, “We’ll get her back. I don’t know how, yet—”
“I do,” I said, “but it will mean moving our schedule up a lot.”
Mark headed back up the hall, “I’ll grab our go-bags. We leave when I return.”
Nodding, I turned to Nathan, “How many slicers turned up for the meeting?”
“Everyone we invited and a few we didn’t.”
“Did you block the uninvited from the meeting?”
Nathan shook his head, “Someone — probably Scoop — has been spreading rumors about us and a truly momentous job. The uninvited must have heard the rumors and decided they’d crash the party. In all honesty, I think we should have invited them first.”
“Yep.” Nathan verified his data rigs were rapidly destroying themselves. “And if there was ever a time to embrace the destructive slicer fringe, this is it.”
I couldn’t argue with that. A little hack-and-slash action was precisely what we’d need against the Star Stone.
Mark called, “Are you ready? If so, get up here.”
We didn’t have a hidden escape tunnel like the one we used when the RIA crashed our party back at Nathan’s apartment. Instead, we just dashed out the door. I followed Mark and Nathan to a car we’d never used before. Mark had us merging into city traffic two minutes later. He drove for several more minutes, all the while keeping a watch on the car’s various cams, while Nathan worked with his data pad.
“Anything?” Mark asked.
“No sign of an alert. At least, not yet,” Nathan replied. “What about you?”
“We’re clear.” Mark relaxed a bit. “Call Kelly and set up a rendezvous.”
While Nathan did that I worked on the details of my plan to get Tilly back. Calling it a plan seemed grandiose when I considered it objectively. Still, it was the best bet we had. By the time we picked up Kelly I knew what to do.
“I need an untraceable subspace connection, Nathan.”
“It’ll take me close to an hour once we get to the last safe house, Jana.”
“That’ll do. While you’re working on that, maybe I can go back to the club and push our case with the slicers and hackers.”
“Slicer. Hacker. What’s the difference?” Kelly asked.
“Slicing is precise and careful,” I responded. “A slicer gets in, gets what she wants, and gets out again — all without being discovered. Hacking is brute force. A hacker enjoys the destruction as much as he enjoys getting what he’s after.”
“One is a surgeon, the other is a thug with a club. Got it.” Kelly considered that for a second or two, “So, you think attacking the Star Stone is more of a thug-and-club mission?”
“You’re the expert. Once Nathan sets up the subspace line, who are you going to call?”
“I need her to negotiate Tilly’s release.”
Kelly raised an eyebrow. “Olivia isn’t going to give Tilly up just because Jeanine asks her to. Hell, she’ll probably throw Tilly in the deepest dungeon just because Jeanine is the one asking for her release.”
I shook my head, “Jeanine will offer her a trade — one I’m certain Olivia will go for.”
Kelly considered that and before asking, “What have we got that the Princess of the Realm wants more than Tilly?”
Will Olivia even consider Jana’s suggestion? For that matter, will Jeanine? Find out in Chapter 56, coming Monday.