Jillian woke up and stretched, her arms and legs tangled with Christopher Raleigh, her husband.

Her husband! The thought still thrilled her. They were together all the time now, and she no longer had to scheme about ways to be near him.

Married life was everything she imagined it to be, and more. Chris treated her as an equal. He spent a lot of time showing her how he managed the Ultima Mule Company, and he considered her as having equivalent status. She was now, in effect, the co-leader of a pirate company.

After doing some research and consulting with LuteNet she found that, indeed, married couples were considered to be the same legal entity on Lute. Two really did become one! It was a dual property system, so whatever she owned was his and whatever he owned was hers.

Of course, she had nothing. Any assets she might try and lay claim to were stuck in League territory, where a judge had ruled her functionally incompetent. Even if she had access to something back home, they would have practically insurmountable legal issues trying to get it, and likely be tied up in court for years.

But that did not matter. She had Chris! He was wonderful to her, treating her like a princess, always showering love and affection on her.

His eyes fluttered open as she watched. When he smiled at her, her heart raced.

He said, “Good morning, Beautiful.”

And so another day started, in what she considered a fairy tale life.

They could have breakfast in bed, brought in by the serving bot. But Chris liked to eat with the crew, or at least whoever was present in the cafeteria.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, they took the elevator up and walked over to the serving line. Not many people were present this morning. Their lone prisoner, Niles Sergio, sat barely awake at a table by himself, slurping coffee. A dozen crewmembers ate at other tables scattered about.

Jillian and Chris returned from the serving line with bagels and omelets. A moment later the elevator dinged and Skylar walked out, followed by Dillon, who looked as sleepy as Sergio. They headed for the serving line before joining the other couple at their table.

“How’s our cargo going?” Skylar asked, setting her plate down.

“The power ran out last night,” Raleigh said, consulting his inner screen and the data on it. “We’ll port up to the Mule later this morning and get to work.”

Skylar nodded and said, “Great! Let me know when, and we’ll go. I guess Jethro Fairfield knows what he’s doing after all.”

“That has got to be a fake name,” Dillon said, looking a bit more awake. “No one names their child ‘Jethro.’”

“It’s possibly fake,” Raleigh said with a smile. “LuteNet lets people start new lives out here. Regardless, you have to judge a man by his results, not his name.”

Dillon grunted in acknowledgment and went back to eating his omelet.

Jethro Fairfield was an independent contractor hired by the Ultima Mule Company for the purpose of breaking into a League banking drone. The company had captured the drone in a daring raid near Petra Roe after discovering its approach options to the neutral planet. They purchased the information from a disgruntled Petra Roe embassy employee.

They towed the stripped down Aquamarine into position and the Mammoth-class ship swallowed the smaller bank drone, helping to eliminate part of its armed escort in the process. Raleigh released the survivors in a way that caused the remaining destroyer to pause rather than chase after them while they ported the Aquamarine and its prize away.

The plan worked brilliantly, and they now hopefully had millions in gold and credit tokens in orbit around Lute. Except . . . they had no way of getting to it. The bank drone’s defenses remained active, even cut off from StarCen while trapped inside the larger ship.

So, Raleigh solicited help from an expert in breaking into secure physical systems. Such a person could be found on Lute, where services like this were often needed. That person was Jethro Fairfield.

Jillian decided he was an odd little man. He stood short, at five foot one or 155 centimeters. He had a bald top, ringed by long brown hair to his shoulders, and a heavily wrinkled face making him look older than his actual mid-50s.

Despite his looks, and his name, the man had a reputation for skillfully breaking into ship vaults and other items pirates sometimes brought back to Lute. He was a safe cracker, the best in the business. Perhaps the best in the Milky Way.

Presented with the challenge of breaking into a bank drone, he readily accepted. In negotiating his fee, Raleigh eventually agreed to give him a ten percent cut of whatever they found inside. This was, Raleigh confided to Jillian, not the Captain’s preference. He would have preferred offering Fairfield a flat fee. But the old criminal reckoned the drone was loaded and would not back down from his demand for a percentage cut.

Ultimately, Raleigh agreed he had little choice. If anyone could break into a bank drone, Jethro Fairfield was the person for the job. So, Jillian watched as the two men shook hands and requested LuteNet to record the agreement. Then Jethro went to work.

First, he said, the drone’s power core should be depleted. The problem was, the power core was designed to last a long, long time, conserving energy whenever possible. Even then, it would keep some backup in reserve.

To help speed the process, Jethro requested a cannon be moved inside the Aquamarine and programmed to fire repeatedly at the drone, nonstop.

This required a considerable amount of energy, but Jethro assured them it was needed, so Raleigh made the arrangements.

With the constant bombardment, the drone kept its shields up and its power running down. At last, the time had come when it had no more shields to offer resistance.

After breakfast, everyone went back to their rooms to make preparations, then took the elevators to the roof. There, LuteNet ported them to the Port Ryan Administration Building where they entered the debarkation zone and went through the sterilization process before porting up to the Ultima Mule.

Skylar and Dillon accompanied Raleigh and Jillian as they walked onto the bridge. Maxwell turned and smiled at them when the elevator dinged open. Standing beside the tall First Officer, the expert safe cracker Jethro Fairfield appeared especially short.

He did not, however, seem to notice that everyone else on the bridge was taller, even Granny. Instead, he immediately got down to business.

“You have the equipment I requested, Captain?”

Raleigh nodded and flicked his hand at the holoscreen. It shifted to show a service bot holding a giant tool over its shoulder. The bot was just inside the hollow Aquamarine.

Raleigh said, “One standard Verberger space service bot, with an industrial-strength drill. Diamond tip bit. We are good to go.”

“Very good. Have the bot moved into position underneath the drone.”

“You heard him, Lootie. Move the bot.”

The bot’s jetpacks fired up and everyone watched as it drifted inside the cavernous inner shell of the Aquamarine.

The interior space was wide open, with all the floors and walls ripped out. Lights scattered about the edges provided illumination but could not quite reach the middle, so everything remained dimly lit.

Floating near the center, the bank drone looked forlorn and lifeless. The bot flew steadily toward it.

Soon it moved into position underneath the drone’s belly, and everyone on the Mule had a perfect picture of the bot, the giant drill, and the drone.

Fairfield said, “Begin drilling in the location I indicated, LuteNet.”

The bot pulled a line out from its waist and attached it via magnet to the hull so it would not drift away. Then it took the giant drill and began working on the entry latch.

Fairfield sat down in a chair and glanced at Raleigh.

He said, “Now we wait. This will take a while.”

The tension eased on the bridge and everyone found something else to do.

Dillon walked over to Fairfield, brimming with curiosity.

“You know we have an Intangible here,” he said, pointing to Skylar. “She could pop in there and look around.”

Fairfield shook his head. He said, “The drone is designed to never be opened. Well, hardly ever. All gold and tokens are ported in and out. StarCen knows what’s inside, and has a sensor in there as well. We don’t. So, we have to go the physical route and take everything out by hand.

“Now, we could teleport someone inside, or they could teleport themselves if they’re an Intangible. But again, we don’t know how everything is positioned in there. It becomes dangerous. Then if you do get somebody safely in, they would have to take out hopefully tons of gold with them. We’re talking a lot of gold and credit tokens. Even weightless, it would take port after port after port to get it all out.

“No, it’s better to break in through their service entrance and let bots do all the work. It takes longer up front, but my way is better. Give it time. Even the best lock on the most secure door will eventually succumb to a diamond bit, if you know where to drill.”

About an hour later, the drill worked its way through the lock. The bot twisted the handle on the hatch, pulled, and the service entrance popped open at last.

Inside the airless, lightless ship, the bot shone its light around, letting the view be transmitted back to the Mule. It pulled itself through a narrow corridor, then turned to open the door into the first of the four cargo holds.

Taking up the entire interior, a large square cube of gold bricks free floated in the space available. The bricks were bound together in webbing, but enough of the gold reflected back in the bot’s light to make everything look brilliant on the holoscreen.

Someone whistled at the sight.

“How much are we looking at, Lootie?”

Raleigh’s voice sounded quiet when he asked the question.

LuteNet said, “This is a pallet of 18,000 kilobars. Each kilobar is 32.5 troy ounces. The current exchange rate on Diego is 47.12 credits per troy ounce. Each bar is equivalent to 1,531.40 credits. This collection is therefore worth 27 million, 565 thousand, 200 credits before exchange fees.”

Stunned silence.

Finally, Granny said, “Boys . . . we’s rich!”

Raleigh said, “That’s a bigger haul than you estimated, Lootie.”

“It may be bigger still, Captain. We have not uncovered the expected credit tokens yet.”

Everyone held their collective breath as the bot backed out of the storage hold and made its way further down the corridor. Three more compartments were investigated, each with different materials. By the time it finished looking, they found over 10 million more credits in tokens and gold coins.

Raleigh immediately had 3.8 million wired into Jethro Fairfield’s account. He smiled his thanks and had LuteNet port him back down to the surface.


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