Chapter 1 (Fall of the Colossus [Holly Drake Jobs])

Aug 8, 2022

“I wish it was a piece of fine art,” Shiro said in Holly’s ear through the comms. “Am I the only one who finds stealing tech and codes to be a total bore?”

“You’ve only said it about twenty times already,” Darius answered, also through the comms in Holly’s ear. He was running backup from the Bird’s Nest back in the Surge Club. “Tech and codes are beautiful, logical pieces that we sometimes need.”

Holly grunted in response, pretty much feeling the same as Shiro, though Darius had a point as well. She exchanged a look with Odeon Starlight as the Yasoan attempted to crack the code to the safe. Holly was positioned to keep a lookout, posted up near the door to the room where she watched to keep track of the security guard as he made his rounds.

It’d been weeks, if not months since they’d done anything even remotely similar. This specific job brought back bitter memories of the last time they’d been in the Megaron, the official seat of government for the entire 6 Moons. Each moon had its own building where administration was carried out, as well as whatever else the fancy Centaus thought to keep centralized on the moon of Kota in the heart of the City of Jade Spires.

The City. Holly nursed a love-hate relationship with the place, having lived most of her life there. And now things were developing—her father had sent a message back home from wherever he’d gone, a wormhole to Ixion-knew-where had opened out in space, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

She dealt with all of it from the City, where it was currently snowing. She bit the inside of her cheek and glanced out the row of windows as Odeon worked. At least she had her feet on solid ground, even if she was absolutely out of control of anything happening on that ground. At least she was in her beloved City where Centaus, Yasoan, Constellations, and humans mingled as a civilization, feigning equality and sometimes friendship, where humans really were the bottom of the totem pole, the grunts of the better races.

Holly and Odeon worked on the safe in the spire devoted to the moon of Po, and the job was for Holly’s puppet-master, Idris Caron, also known as Dave. That was his code name. A boring alternative for a man who Holly still hadn’t quite figured out, didn’t entirely trust, but owed a great deal to.

Art of any sort was always far more interesting to steal, but for once Holly wasn’t desperate for money or a ship. She’d taken the job from Dave after he’d practically begged her to do it over bourbon one night. He’d listened to her tale of the outrageous stuff that had happened as she fled with her crew in Danielle Le Roi’s ship the Benedicat Cor Tuum—the appearance of the wormhole, the leviathan, her own ship being crushed by that aether monster with a few members of the Cocks inside.

Things were just starting to look up even as they got worse in general for the 6 Moons. Things were brewing.

“I’ve almost got it, Holly Drake,” Odeon whispered, turning his ear to the safe. Odeon could hear things far better than humans, which partially explained why he made one of the best safe-crackers around. He was using a safe-cracking device he’d gotten Angelo to make for him.

Well, Holly had asked Angelo to make it after she’d described the Skelty Key to the old man. She’d used the device on one of her first jobs with the crew. The original device was still with Aimee Voss, the new Heart of the Shadow Coalition.

“I can hear the tumblers unlocking as the key works. Your friend Angelo is a life-saver,” the Yasoan said. The glowing lights of the spire spilled in through the windows and shimmered across Odeon’s violet skin and his multihued eyes. He wore a black hat over his silver hair. Everything on his him was black—the long-sleeved top clinging to his lithe figure, his trousers, and black boots. Probably even his underwear.

The two of them were like shadows huddled in the room engaging in a game of cloak and dagger that sent a ripple of fear and excitement through Holly.

“Finally. It’s open.” Odeon’s voice was a sigh, tinged with his typical melodic quality.

Holly scanned the corridor outside the room once more, saw no sign of the patrolling security guard, then took a few steps to get to where Odeon hunched over the safe.

It was built into the wall like all the other small safes. The room was a receptacle for hundreds of codes connected to storage units that were sequestered all across the desert planet of Po, nestled in giant canyons that were miles deep. Holly and her crew had already done a few jobs there, but she wouldn’t be surprised if Dave had her go after whatever the codes they were stealing were meant for.

She crouched near her friend’s side and watched as the small safe clicked through its unlocking sequence. A light on the front flashed green and the door opened. A drawer slid out automatically.

Holly placed her hand on Odeon’s shoulder. “Nice work, Odes,” she said.

He smiled as he reached inside the drawer and pulled out a binder full of thick sheets of paper.

“It’s so old-fashioned,” Holly whispered.

Darius’ thoughtful voice broke through the moment. “We’re obviously dealing with various levels of tech, and that’s probably part of their plan. Keeps us guessing. That, or the owners of this stuff must be humans.”

“Why humans, Darius?” Odeon asked, opening the binder and thumbing through the thick cards. “Constellations, Centaus, and Yasoan all developed paper.”

“Fine. Have it your way,” Darius said. “We’re obviously dealing with people—from whatever race—who don’t totally trust tech.”

“But then why have they used this safe? It’s advanced tech. The paper’s old tech, but the safe and its lock are newer. I’m wondering just what the hell is on Po that Dave is trying to get to,” Holly said, reaching down to touch the paper with a gloved finger.

“You and me both, sister,” Charly said.

Holly smiled, hearing her friend’s voice. “How’s the party?”

Charly laughed. “Well, I’d like to know how I went from being one of the badasses on the gigs to the official party-planner and distraction? Distraction is Shiro’s job.”

“Just keep the Centaus who come switch the locks at night busy. We’re almost done,” Holly said, motioning for Odeon to shove the binder into his bag where he also stored the lock breaking device. He immediately began wrapping things up.

One way Holly knew a storm was brewing was the increased agitation of the Centaus. As the race that founded the 6 Moons and ran it like out-of-touch warlords, they had always been casually distrustful of the lower races. But as such, they’d never implemented draconian laws or measures to keep the humans and Consties in line. Law enforcement was weak, prisons were too soft, and the Centaus were usually caught up in their games of houses and supremacy between each other. Wrapped up in their treasure-hunting games, they often ignored what humans did which was how the Shadow Coalition had gotten powerful, and how George Wolfe, Holly’s father, had managed to leave the Yol system.

And was now on his way back, either with an army to take over the 6 Moons or to defend it from other alien races.

She still wasn’t sure.

“That security guard is about to go past the room you’re in, Drake,” Darius said. “I’m watching him on the security feed.”

“Where’s the onsite distraction?” Holly asked, watching Odeon’s hands shoving tools into pockets and closing up zippers. “We’re not done cleaning up. How much time do we have, Darius?”

“Sorry Ms. Drake,” Shiro said, “I’ve been engaging another security guard, the one at the front desk.”

That was the guard who told the one on 85th floor which rooms to check. If the guard at the desk got feeling nervous, he could direct the guard making the rounds to check on the room they were in.

“I’m currently acting as though I’ve had too much to drink and I’m wandering into the wrong building. It will distract the guard enough that he doesn’t advise your guard to stop in and check your room.”

Holly breathed a sigh of relief as Odeon finished packing things away and stood. He slipped the bag over his shoulder so that it hung cross-body over his chest.

“Ready?” Holly asked, turning to head to the door.

“Shiro spoke too soon, Drake. That guard is about to open your door.”

The room itself was devoid of furniture. Holly spun, looking for an alternative and saw only the walls lined with safes.

“The wall,” she said, running toward the door to crouch against the inside wall near the door, out of sight.

The door swung open and the guard peeked in. It was a Constellation. His tattooed cheek gave him away instantly. He jumped slightly as though startled, and then entered the room fully.

“I thought I saw something in here,” he snarled. “An idiot human and an idiot Druiviin.”

Holly stiffened at the offensive term for Yasoan. She’d once used it freely as well, but she’d been unenlightened back then. There was nothing she’d ever say or do to insult Odeon. In fact, her goal was to protect him from that sort of shit now.

“Oh, hello, Constie scum,” Holly said, unable to help herself. The Constie had, after all, insulted Odeon. “We’re just having a look around. This room is a total waste of perfectly accessible space. There could be a desk over there with some chairs. Maybe even a sofa.”

The Constellation blinked. “What?” He stared at Holly and Odeon, mouth agape. His hand moved toward his belt where an aether gun was strapped to his leg.

As far as Holly saw it, she had two choices of how to escape. Race for the door and try to push the guard aside. He was stocky and pretty built. If he drew his gun, things were liable to get out of hand. Holly had the Equalizer in its holster against her back. A few throwing knives up her sleeves. And her aether whip hung from her belt.

She was very armed.

But a gun battle right then would mean more noise and more chances of being caught.

“The window,” Holly said, pushing Odeon toward the far end of the room. She’d marked it mentally as their emergency escape plan.

It had to work. But there was only one way to find out.

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