1 One

Time was running out faster than she had anticipated. Every clock she passed on the way through the lower levels of the lavish casino to the storage area told her she was a good deal behind schedule, a minute and a half to be exact. Ninety seconds, though less than a blip on the radar in the long term, was far too late for what she and her crew had planned for that day.

You don't fuck with the cargo people, it was rule number one when it came to scoring from big businesses. No one ran a tighter schedule than the worker drones down in the depths of every running company. As long as you didn't interfere with it you could skate on by them without detection.

Even so much as thirty seconds of stalled time would be enough for them to sense something was off and make note of just what, when, and who the disturbance came from. One filed report would have the entire casino's security force come crashing down on their operation and wipe them off the board.

With the potential gross of the cargo in question being worth a billion units, that price was too high to risk. That kind of money was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity one that couldn't be squandered for any reason.

So she did something she rarely did, only when times were truly desperate. She jogged.

A floor above her in the wide grandiose casino that might be enough to raise suspicion itself, but down here on the drone worker level she was moving at about the same speed as a thousand other beings.

Ruby might as well have been just another worker, which if her uniform and ID strapped onto the belt read correctly, she appeared to be. It at least had fooled the needlessly uptight security for the last three days while she got a good scope of the grounds.

They were either getting paid far too much for their poor work or far too little to care about accurately cross-checking the names and IDs in their workers database. She and her crew of five had absolutely no issue getting in and out of the building, and even less accessing high-security areas that held the very items they were about to smuggle out on their shiny new ship.

Give them seven days and the casino's name would be scrubbed off the side, making it the second most expensive thing they scored from the Sun's Jewel.

If they even got off the floating hunk of gleaming metal that is.

Her accomplice stood out from the crowd like a sore thumb. Gena's faint low green glow was like a beacon among the sea of non-descript employees buzzing around their ship. Her smooth luminescent skin and wide inky eyes were growing more ethereally beautiful by the day, and as such drew far too many eyes for comfort.

Even with her face covered by the mask, she used for breathing in the thinner air of the casino some employees stalled for long enough to get a good look at her before moving back to their work. The others on the crew kept her confined on the ship for that very reason, being that the risk of being noticed was too great to allow her the freedom of surveying the area. She was content to stay hidden away in her little tech-filled bunker, but they were too light of hands for that. Everyone had to go all hands on deck for this mission.

They had to take the risk or lose the investment.

Gena sensed her arrival long before Ruby came to a halt at her friend's side. She practically vibrated with nerves as she approached, latching herself tightly to Ruby's side once she was close enough to do so.

"You're here! Thank the stars. I was worried you'd gotten lost or something."

Ruby shook her head, gesturing up to the casino level. "Nope just held back a little. Had to shrug off some drunk customers. How's the cargo?"

"The avians are all in the coop." It was code for the supply of tech being safely secured in the cargo preparation area. "One of the workers was just about to come around with the sign-off. They disappeared after the final container went in."

"Disappeared?" Ruby asked, warning bells ringing in her head.

What would a drone manager be doing disappearing after a successful drop? Even if she was late they still wouldn't risk being even more off schedule by leaving to find her.

Gena continued, reading her confusion, "That's what I was thinking. Something is off, I sensed it when the cargo crew was a minute late. They're never that unorganized."

So the whole thing was thrown off, not just her. It was a sign far too great for her to overlook. When a mission went wrong, it often meant the entire thing was soured.

"Did they complete the loading? Strap it down and lock the door?"

Gena nodded. "Double-checked it myself."

Good, then they didn't need to worry about looking too suspicious going out back and securing it themselves.

Her eyes scanned their surroundings, taking in the crowd of employees once more. A bit of the flow had dissipated, moving further in as they secured more ships down the line. Several more managers could be seen, all of which were either talking with the ship's captain or walking away with their signed legal forms.

So where was theirs?

She didn't want to stick around and find out.

Leaning close to her friend so that they would not be overheard, Ruby whispered, "I'll call Baast. He and Odette will slip out the back as planned. I just need the ok before we can take off."

"Without the signature?"

Ruby nodded. "We'll make it out security before they can be alerted. The ports too busy to halt a single ship before takeoff. I need you to be on the navigation terminal before the call ends, don't make it too obvious."

The communications device clicked on as she pulled it from her waist and typed in the emergency number for their second in command. Its quiet buzz stretched for a long moment before finally disconnecting. No answer, no option to leave a message.

Either his device was disconnected, or it was dead.

The two of them shared a glance, Gena's filled with sudden panic.

Trying to remain optimistic, she gave her friend a tight smile. "I'm going to try Odette's. If there's no answer, I want you on the ship. I'll follow after insuring we aren't tailed."

Gena nodded, shifting nervously on her feet. Her worry bled into Ruby, making her hands shake as she punched in the code.

This time the device connected automatically, only to click off in the next breath.

That's when the true dread hit.

Gena was off before she could even snap out her command, hurrying up the open steps of the ship. It wasn't the first time things had gone wrong on a hit, so the signs were more than obvious to make the first steps for their panicked retreat.

If the two couldn't answer the communicator it meant code red. They had been found out and were trying to make their way out as quietly as possible. It was also their cue to get out as fast as humanly possible, attracting attention be damned.

It was customary to linger outside your ship for a few minutes after securing the cargo, making yourself busy with your device as if finishing up paperwork, when in reality you were observing the people around you for roused suspicion. Ruby didn't have the patience for that.

Her time had been cut in half, and as such she could only spare enough to double-check for guards before rushing onto the ship with her friend. Punching in the code that locked the door behind her was the only rush of relief she allowed.

On her ship, nothing less than a superheated blast could enter the armored tank that was the casino's wealth collection ship. They might have a fifty-fifty shot of escaping, but they had a better chance at remaining in one piece as long as they had something the other people wanted.

A cargo full of easily wreckable, priceless tech.

Trusting her friend to deal with the ship nav, her first order of business was to head down to the cargo in question. She had to see it with her own eyes before she could breathe enough to worry about the other two.

As long as it was here, and she and Gena were on the ship everything was going to be ok. Baast and Odette were adults, and as such could handle themselves long enough for them to stage a rescue if necessary.

The trip down to the dark cramped storage room was tense, so tense that her neck ached from double-checking each corner for hidden workers. While none had appeared, she held her breath as the doors to the cargo room slipped quietly open. Flicking on the lights, several containers were illuminated in the too-bright light, all marked with the familiar logo of the casino.

Not one worker. If the device on her hip stayed quiet, they had no stowaways. One less thing to worry about.

Now to check the cargo.

She slid open the lock of the nearest container, watching wearily as it lifted and preservative smoke unfurled from the lid below. Ruby feared there would be nothing there once is cleared enough for her to see within, but as gold and green panels below glinted in the light, disbelief and glee filled her.

It was all there. Every single piece, as expected.

She looked up then to the small port window that peeked out to the work floor before her, now disappearing as the ship rumbled out of the port. Not one emergency light flickered as they went.

They had made it.

She didn't stop giggling the entire way back up to the main floor of the ship. The unfamiliar steel walls felt like home in the wake of her glee, and she practically skipped her way to the navigation room to inform Gena of their success.

The quiet hum of the ship's computers met her as she burst forth into the large tech-filled toom, greeted by the sight of the floor to ceiling windows and glimmering circuit boards. Her friend was nowhere to be seen at first, but the sight of an arm dangling over the side of one of the commanding chairs quickly gave her away. Her grin grew wider as she approached.

"We did it, baby! Every one of us is now two hundred million units richer!"

Silence met her words, which should have been the first sign something had gone wrong, but it wasn't until Ruby noticed the limp way in which her friend's hand hung that her steps stalled.

Her feet moved almost on their own, taking the last few jerky steps forward to look into the unconscious face of Gena as she lay slack in the command chair. Like an animal caught in the way of a large vehicle, Ruby just stood and stared, the weight of what she was seeing too heavy for her fight or flight to push past.

It was then she noticed the fuzzy feeling of her tongue. The way her eyes had begun to refuse to focus. Her hand raised to her throat to massage the discomfort away. It felt like dead weight, taking an eternity to even reach her chest.

She knew that feeling. She knew the taste of sleeping gas.

Before her eyes gave out, she looked up to the nav chart, noticing the ship was already locked into its path. A path to a planet she'd never even seen before.

Her legs gave out first, pitching her face forward into her friend's lap. She just barely managed to catch herself before her head made contact with the other arm of the chair. It took only a moment for her mind to catch up to the rest of her limp body, just long enough for it to dawn on her that they had fallen right into a trap.

Next chapter