Renna should have known better than to trust Boyd when he said the job would be easy. Her hand crept to the stolen pendant at her throat, squeezing it before tucking it back under her shirt. Damn Boyd and his powers of persuasion. If she’d known she’d end up spending four days crouched behind a stinking Dumpster, she would have thrown the contract back in his face. Nothing was worth having the smell of rotting garbage burned into your nose. Nothing except enough money to buy a small planet.

She shifted on her heels and studied the hulking steel building in front of her. The warehouse itself seemed normal—other than the deadly, high-tech fence surrounding it and the perpetual presence of four armed guards.

The blue glow of the laser locks on each door cut through the morning sunlight like a warning beacon. A few high windows let a little light into the cavernous building, but they were framed with thick, Saltani iron bars. No matter how much she stared, she wasn’t getting in that way. Nothing cut through those suckers.

Renna sighed. At twenty-three, she was more than ready to get out of the mercenary business, but Boyd had asked her for one last job and retrieving the qualified gamma particle destabilizer was too big of a challenge to pass up. The newest tech from Aladea Science Investments could vaporize matter from long distances, even off-world. If anyone else found out it actually existed, it would start an intergalactic war.

And despite the olfactory assault, her stakeout hadn’t been a complete waste. She’d memorized the routine of the warehouse down to the second. Two men on this side, the other two around back. Shift change every four hours. If she timed it right, she could sneak in the back door when Guard Number Four went for his daily constitutional.

She shuddered. Whatever the man ate kept him regular as clockwork.

Renna slung her black polythene bag over her shoulder and twisted her ponytail tighter. She should have cut off her damn hair ages ago, but the long, dark locks were her one claim to beauty and she was vain enough to enjoy the compliments.

Not to mention all the secrets she’d been able to pick up with a sultry flip of her head.

She crept from behind the Dumpster and down the filthy alley toward the back of the warehouse. The Cordozas owned most of the block, and she’d lived in this city long enough to know that a lot of their men were lazy slobs, more concerned with getting their credits than doing their jobs well. Definitely made her life easier this time around.

Her black leather boots made no sound as she cleared the corner of the compound. She smiled at the unguarded pillar grounding the entire electric fence. Stupid. The Cordozas thought they were invincible. That no one would dare steal from them.

They were about to find out differently.

She pulled a nanotech spanner from her jacket pocket, directed the beam at the thick metal casing on the pole, and adjusted the frequency until the metal hummed for a long moment. The mechanism gave way in a burst of sparks, and the metal door opened with a clang.

Renna smirked. Sleeping with the chief engineer of the V’Mani Electrical Company had been one of her better decisions. Give him a few drinks and the man never shut up.

A few adjustments to the coils inside and a small section of the fence buzzed and switched off. She tucked her spanner back in her pack and slipped inside the fence. She checked her watch as she darted across the courtyard. Guard Four would just be getting down to business in the bathroom. It would only take a few seconds to disable the glowing laser lock on the door, another hack she’d learned courtesy of the engineer’s loose tongue.

Renna slipped inside the warehouse, nothing more than a dark shadow against the steel building. Triumph surged through her, hot and rich. “Utterly impenetrable,” her ass. Sometimes the rush from this job was almost better than getting paid. Almost. Still didn’t change her mind about wanting out of the business though. She’d made enough enemies since starting out seven years ago that there were plenty of people who’d love to slit her throat or lock her away in prison for the rest of her life.

She closed her eyes and let her senses reach out into the warehouse, gathering her bearings. The scent of spices, Hesperian wooden crates, and engine oil wove through the space like strands of silk. It smelled like home.

There was a beep as her cranial implant downloaded the building schematics from the net, and she opened her eyes, certain now of her path. On silent feet, she skirted past stacks of crates toward the back. The Cordozas had headquarters in every major city in the star system, but the city of Veth was their clearinghouse for the smuggled items and drugs they sent out across the universe. They were one of the biggest dealers of clay in the galaxy and always looking for a stronger foothold in the Outer Rim. When she had been nothing more than a tenement rat, they’d asked Renna to join their organization.

She’d not-so-politely refused.

Renna wrinkled her nose as she passed a stack of shiny plastic crates. The smoky, burnt-sugar scent of the drug reached her even from here. Almost instinctually, her hand moved to her pack to reach for the lighter inside. Each two-pound bag of clay sold for nearly a million credits on the black market, but stealing and selling it wasn’t even tempting. Destroying every last bag, though? That, she almost couldn’t resist.

On any other day, any other assignment, she might have done it. But today, get in and get out was her mantra, and setting fire to a billion credits worth of drugs would draw attention she didn’t need.

The muscles in Renna’s neck tightened, and she fluttered her fingers as she walked, keeping them loose and flexible. She rolled her shoulders, scanning the warehouse.

Her implant sent a couple of low frequency beeps to her ears as she passed the last row of crates.


Renna dropped her knapsack on the floor in front of the gleaming iron safe and rummaged for her tools. A Saltani safe had sixteen manual tumblers, an electronic lock, and the most advanced internal circuitry out there, but once she got past the tumblers, it was easy work since all their safes had a weak point in the circuitry. You just had to know where to look.

“Ah, there you are, sweetheart,” she said, probing with her tweezers. A few twists and she’d rewired the combination panel back to its factory settings. From there, all she had to do was enter the standard code.

The safe opened with a click, and Renna sank back onto her heels. Inside were three datapads, which she ignored. Instead, she helped herself to several stacks of credits and a sleek silver laser gun before finally spotting the box she needed buried under several bags of platinum coins.