“It’s done,” Celeste said, standing up. It would be hours before either man regained consciousness. She slid the now-empty syringe into her pocket, being careful not to leave evidence behind.
Jeth came to a halt in front of her. “Right. Good job.”
“Did you expect anything else?” Celeste said as she retrieved the stunner lying a short distance away.
The loud slap-slap-slap of footsteps sounded behind Jeth. He spun around, his finger tightening on the trigger. Then he relaxed as he saw Lizzie approaching.
She grinned at him, the expression making her look more like a ten-year-old than her actual thirteen. Her auburn hair hung in adolescent curls around her freckled face. “You guys sure are noisy.”
Resisting the urge to scold outright, Jeth smirked. “Look who’s talking, stomping around like that. You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you.” Lizzie was the newest and least experienced member of the Malleus Shades. She was also Jeth’s baby sister.
Lizzie rolled her eyes. “Like I have anything to worry about with your aim.”
Jeth glanced at the sentry he’d taken down with the stunner, trying to judge how long the shot had been. A good eighteen meters at least, helluva range for a stunner. “You’re absolutely right. No worries at all.”
A snide smile curled one side of Celeste’s lips. “Cocky much?”
“With good reason.”
“You’re bound to make a lucky shot every once in a while,” said Lizzie, brushing past him. “Law of averages.” She stepped over the fallen sentry to reach the security station control panel. As she placed her hands on the touch screen, the amused expression on her face turned serious. Her eyes, a pale shade of green the same color as Jeth’s, fixed unblinkingly on the screen. She didn’t look like a child right now, more like a surgeon in the midst of a complex operation. Then she began to work her magic, her fingers flying over the screen as she overrode the locks on Docking Station 42, where the Montrose was moored.
Jeth watched, in awe of Lizzie’s abilities, which she’d undoubtedly inherited from their mother. She could talk to computers in ways he would never understand. That talent was the reason she started working jobs with the crew a few months ago, replacing their prior ops tech. Michael had been a solid tech, but Lizzie could run circles around him. When he got too old to pass as seventeen, Hammer insisted Lizzie join the crew, despite her age and Jeth’s protests. Jeth would’ve preferred that she do something more normal and a lot less dangerous, but Hammer’s word was law, at least to the Shades.
Ignoring the usual resentment such thoughts provoked, Jeth returned his focus to the terminal. Easy or not, more sentries could come along any second, not to mention passengers from the other ships. He took up position across from Celeste, who already kept watch.
A few moments later, Lizzie announced, “It’s done. Go get ’em, Jethro.”
Jeth shot her a withering look. Lizzie was the only one of his crew he let use his full name. Sibling right of annoyance. The rest of them liked to call him “Boss,” the name a semi-affectionate joke and only slightly more tolerable.
Jeth turned and headed up the docking bay tunnel and onto one of the moving walkways designed for those customers whose ships were docked farther down. He walked along the conveyor belt, a cool breeze from the acceleration ruffling his hair. Lizzie and Celeste followed behind him.
The numbers on the bulkhead doors counted up as they passed, lit up yellow for active docks with moored ships beyond them, red for empty ones. The tunnel seemed to stretch endlessly onward.
When Jeth spied bulkhead 42, he stepped off the walkway and approached it. Lizzie came up beside him. Jeth took in the expression on her face, her lips lifting into an eager smile and her eyes twinkling. He knew that look. Elizabeth Marie Seagrave was hooked on the job—the thrill of the steal, that rush at the possibility of getting caught, the flush of success at getting away with it.
A tiny spark of guilt threatened to ignite inside him at the knowledge that he’d played a part in turning his baby sister into a criminal, but he squelched it at once. What they were and what they did was necessary for survival. There wasn’t any room for morality. His folks were proof of that. They had never broken a law in their lives, and yet they’d ended up imprisoned and then executed by the ITA, the very regime they’d so faithfully served and obeyed.
“Move back,” he said, waving at Lizzie. He pressed a button on the control panel beside the bulkhead door, and it slid open with a mechanical groan. It seemed the maintenance in this place was as much in need of attention as the security.
The rear door of the ship itself opened a second later, and Jeth stepped inside onto a narrow walkway high above the Montrose’s massive cargo bay. The pungent stench of fermentation assaulted his nose. Below, hundreds of barrels of beer, wine, and other alcohols stamped with the Wellforth Corporation logo filled the cargo bay from the floor to the network of walkways crossing the ceiling.
Lizzie whistled from behind Jeth. “Bet this is worth a fortune.”
“Oh yeah,” said Celeste, closing the door behind them. “That’s why we waited those few extra days until it was loaded before stealing it. Hammer’s all about maximizing his profit.”
Jeth snickered. “Assuming he decides to sell all this and not keep it for himself. The real profit is the metadrive.”
Lizzie leaned over the nearest edge. “I don’t get it. Why would Wellforth go to all that trouble securing a metadrive for a ship like this just to transport alcohol? I figured they’d use it for something illegal.” She sniffed, then grimaced at the stench. “But that’s definitely alcohol.”