“I’m actually pleased you included us in this, Chris.”

Krystal smiled her fake smile at Raleigh. Jillian could have sworn she pulled the zipper down on the front of her tight black suit another few centimeters when no one was looking.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Chris said. “Our companies are partners on this venture. It wouldn’t be right to try and pull this off without you.”

“It also gives you cover in case you get caught. Let’s not mince words.”

Raleigh let the accusation fly by without challenge.

He said, “Safety in numbers, Krystal. You know that.”

Instead of continuing that line of thought, she sat back in her conference room chair and focused on Jillian again.

“’Chris and Krystal.’ I always thought that sounded good, you know? It just . . . rolls off the tongue.”

Jillian said, “Like spit?”

“Okay, let’s all be nice,” Raleigh said. “We’re talking millions of credits here. A bank. A really big bank. The primary League branch for this entire planet, the one where all the gold transfers take place. Let’s all get along now and we can fight back home on Lute. Deal?”

Lightfoot placed a hand on her ample chest, her red painted nails flashing in the light, and said, “I can work with anyone. You know that, Chris. My crew will do our part in your little plan, and we’ll cover your backs if things go south. You don’t have to worry about me.”

She gave him a seductive wink and stood.

“I’m going to go find my first mate, and we’ll make preparations. Try not to miss me too hard, Chris. I can find my way out.”

She walked through the doorway and it swished shut behind her.

Jillian glared at Raleigh. She said, “What did you ever see in that vicious, self-centered snake of a woman?”

He shrugged with a twinkle in his eye.

“That was before I met you and found out how wonderful a woman could be.”

Jillian guffawed, but the trace of a smile formed on her face.

She said, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“And I am stupid in love with you.”


Lightfoot stepped out of the elevator on the landing deck and looked down the assault corridor, which appeared deserted.

She walked to the landing bay’s entrance and stared out at Chanticleer’s transport along with the Mule’s scattered drones still onboard.

She touched the implant under her ear and said, “Dergus? Where are you? It’s time to go.”

“I’ll be right there, Captain. Yah!”

She looked back down the corridor irritably, waiting for him. But he stepped out from behind one of the drones instead, followed by Granny.

“Hullo, Captain. I am ready to fly back now, yah?”

The shocked look of incredulity on Lightfoot’s face seemed priceless to Granny, who cackled softly.

Lightfoot said, “What happened to your hair?”

“Oh, yah? Is it messed up?”

Gibbons tried to straighten it with his fingers, clumsily.

“Never mind. Get in and fly us back. We’re going.”

“Yah! Okay!”

They turned and both walked into the transport.

“Y’all come on back sometime,” Granny said, waving.

The door swished shut and the craft levitated, then swung toward the portal. It zipped out through the red force field and back into space.

Granny cracked a huge grin and pulled out a fresh cigar.


“Alright. Everyone knows what they’re supposed to do?”

Raleigh looked around at Dillon, Skylar, Jillian, Maxwell, and Sergio.

Jillian crossed her arms. She said, “I don’t like that I have to stay onboard.”

“I know, sweetie. But Lootie says there’s a chance you might be recognized down there. And we don’t have your sister’s face changing technology. So . . .”


Raleigh held his breath to see if she would complain more. He was really going to have to spend a lot of time making things up to her after this was all over.

“Alright. Niles, you and Skylar go first. The rest of us will follow.”

Sergio said, “Thanks again for helping me out on this, Captain.”

“No worries. If this works, we’ll all be rich beyond belief.”

Sergio nodded and walked into the disembarkation room with Skylar. The light on the door panel turned red, then green.

“Okay. Everybody else, let’s go.”


In an alley between two buildings in the city of Lesden on Thalia, a sensor the size and shape of a soup can appeared six centimeters above the surface.

It plopped down in the middle of the alley, and LuteNet began taking readings for terrestrial teleportation.

More sensors landed on rooftops of buildings nearby, until she could “see” most of the downtown area.

A moment later Sergio and Skylar appeared in the alley, popping into existence.

Skylar looked around, making sure no one noticed them.

“It’s kind of nice being on a planet with no hostile AI, you know?”

Niles said, “They got rid of StarCen completely?”

“From what I understand, the Republican Navy showed up, blasted the cores here and anything else of military value, and left. They’re a little shorthanded for more boots on the ground at the moment. I think they have their hands full on Juventas. But, yeah. No StarCen.”

“That makes sense that they wouldn’t bother with boots on the ground,” Niles said as they walked toward the street. “Thalia is lightly populated. It’s kind of out of the way and off the beaten path so to speak. But, it is important enough to have a galactic bank branch. That’s why I chose to store my gold certificates here.”

“Trying to hide assets from your stepmom?”

He gave her a shocked look.

She smiled back at him and said, “Come on, you’ve been telling everyone in Mule Tower for months about your awful stepmother.”

“Oh. Yeah, I probably talk too much. But I didn’t think anybody was listening.”

When they made the street, they walked half a block to the main entrance for the bank. A holo floated above the door reading, “First Galactic Bank, Thalia.”

Skylar smiled at the nervous Sergio. She said, “Let’s go in and make our first withdrawal.”


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