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    There wasn’t much happening in the fashion district at four in the morning. Nadia had parked her scooter some blocks away and calmly walked down small alleys and side streets without seeing a soul. If she had run into someone, all they would have seen was a young woman with a black turtleneck peeking out over the collar of a white trench coat.

    “Voice check,” she whispered. Sensors in the collar of her turtleneck turned the vibrations into words.

    “Still loud and clear,” Tess said through the nearly invisible inserts plugged into Nadia’s ears. They doubled as amplifiers, picking up outside noise and sharpening it.


    “Drone out front,” Tess said from the safety of their office. “Should move on in a minute.”

    Nadia closed her eyes for one long, breathing second. This was it then. “Prepping,” she said, pulling a collapsible bag out of her coat pocket. It expanded into something like a slim gym bag, large enough to hold her coat and purse and more.

    “You’re sure you’re still alone?” Tess said.

    “Very much so.” Nadia popped the heels off her boots. The soles deformed and flattened, turning into soft, quiet slippers. She had designed these, with minimal involvement from Tess for once. Of course, no one had wanted to buy them.

    “Drone’s gone,” Tess said. “Last chance to back out.”

    There was no turning back, hadn’t been for a long time now. She snapped blue surgical gloves over her hands, then slipped a black balaclava on, wincing at the sudden noise in her ears.

    She swiveled her head. Scraaaaaaaape. Like tearing fabric.

    “Can you do something about the plugs?” Nadia said. “I think they’re picking up noise from the mask.”

    “From here? No.”

    They hadn’t tested them with the mask on, of all the silly things to forget. Nadia tapped a few buttons on her arm, and the noise cut out. She would have to do without enhanced hearing.

    Her hand was shaking, hovering over the touchpad on her inner left arm. She stared at it, watching the irregular tremble with disdain—as though she’d found a defect in something she’d just finished sewing.

    She closed her hand into a fist. Deep breath. In through the nose and out through the mouth, feeling her breath hot and moist against the mask. When she opened her fist, her hand was still.

    “Are you going or not?” Tess said. “Another drone will come by soon.”

    “Moving.” Nadia slung the bag over her back and crept, low and silent, toward the corner of the building.

    A camera was mounted over the back door. Nadia slid her arm past the corner and stuck the edge of her cuff into the open. The panel on her other arm lit up with a live feed from the camera in her sleeve, the lens no thicker than its wire.

    “How’s that?” Nadia asked. She could see the alleyway leading down to the empty main street in the distance, stretched and distorted. A small white dome holding a camera sat a few feet over the door.

    “Turn your hand a little.”

    A tiny laser was mounted in her sleeve, right next to the camera lens. She liked to imagine Tess’s screens lighting up with ominous notifications: Laser active, targeting, scrambling…

    But she knew it was probably just boring gibberish filling a plain console window. She couldn’t even see the beam. Disappointing.

    “Perfect,” Tess said. “Go.”

    Nadia turned the corner and made her way to the door, hugging the wall. She pressed one of her sleeves against the scanner near the knob. A moment later, it blinked red.

    “One second, aaaaaaaaaand…got it,” Tess said.

    Green. Nadia opened the door, feeling a dizzy thrill the moment she stepped inside, like stepping from solid land onto a boat in choppy water.

    “Congratulations, you are now officially breaking and entering,” Tess said.

    A pleased grin teased at the corners of her mouth. “What do I win?”

    “Ten years in P-town supermax,” Tess said. “Just kidding. Still technically a misdemeanor.”

    Her smile didn’t vanish. “We can do better than that,” Nadia said. She stood in an empty back hallway. Crouched low, she silently walked to the nearest door.

    It was open. She watched the screen on her sleeve. Just a small office with a desk facing the door.

    “That should work,” Tess said.

    Nadia slipped inside and closed the door behind her. The office was cramped, barely enough room for the desk and a chair.

    “Should be a port on the wall somewhere,” Tess said.

    A dusty tangle of cables greeted Nadia under the desk. She picked out a teal fiber run and followed it with her eyes. There was a spare port underneath where it was plugged into the wall. She had pockets concealed all over her pants, and from one of them she pulled a transmitter no bigger than her thumbnail, a plastic square with a connector sticking out from one end.

    Nadia plugged it into the wall and glanced at her arm screen. Nothing happened. “It’s not connecting.”

    “Oh, no. Looks like they have port security enabled,” Tess said, not sounding concerned in the least. “If only one of us knew how to spoof a MAC address, maybe we could…Oh, look it’s done already.”

    The screen on Nadia’s arm lit up, displaying exactly the kind of boring black-and-white text feed she’d imagined it would.

    “Gosh, that delayed us all of a fraction of a second,” Tess said.

    “We have to talk about this display. I don’t know what any of this means.”

    “You don’t have to,” Tess said. “Okay, doors are mine. Cameras are mine.”

    Nadia’s arm lit up with camera feeds.

    “We’re at two to three years now, by the way,” Tess said.

    No movement on her screen, none at all. “Are these all the cameras?”

    “Yup. The downstairs ones anyway. I’m still working my way to the office upstairs.”

    There was supposed to be a guard. A guard was definitely somewhere in the building.

    “Getting everything they have,” Tess said. “I’ll be a few minutes. Get cozy right there.”

    “Certainly,” Nadia said, getting up and creeping back toward the hallway. She hadn’t come all this way to merely get cozy. Her wrist camera poked out first; the corridor was still empty. Next she checked the store cameras and saw no movement.

    There were no cameras in the back hallways. Her heart picked up as she stepped out, still crouched low, passing dark offices and approaching a bend in the hallway. Nothing down that way either.

    One more bend would take her to the front of the store. She crept on, trailing her arm against the wall, then froze the moment she heard it.

    Something low and raspy. Almost like the earlier buzz of the mask in her ears but halting. Irregular.

    “The plugs are still off, correct?”

    “Uh…yup,” Tess said. She sounded distracted. Probably combing through the files she was stealing.

    The sound was coming from another small office. Nadia edged up to the doorframe and poked her hand out again.

    The guard was lying in someone else’s chair, boots up on the desk. His head was tilted back, mouth wide open. It was hard to tell through the camera, but she thought she spotted a sheen of drool in the corner of his mouth.

    The tension in her chest unwound, if only the tiniest bit. Tess said nothing—probably wasn’t looking at the wrist camera feed. That was for the best.

    A bit bolder now, she crept on without a sound. Still no motion at all on the store cameras, no lasers or tripwires or pressure sensors to worry about. Free and clear. The front of the store beckoned. Surely there were plenty of things worth looking at in the back offices: storage and overstock and new arrivals.

    But it would be too easy for the store to cover up the fact anything had been stolen before it opened in the morning. It wouldn’t cause any kind of sensation, wouldn’t be right there in the open for all to see, forcing the store to close and draw attention and media and curious crowds. Not like the front of the store, all luxurious glass, open to the world.

    It was breathtaking, really. Nadia stared at the spot she’d been standing in only hours earlier. The place was empty now, dark save for the wash of streetlights from outside, which glittered off the gems and gold and silver under hardened glass all around her.

    She crawled behind the counter, in the employees-only area, free to stand wherever she pleased now. The back of a row of display cases presented itself for her; small locks sat at the top of each panel.

    “Uh…” Tess choked on the next word, catching herself before letting a name slip out. “What are you doing?”

    Nadia pulled a slim, diamond-tipped glass cutter out of a pocket. She was pretty sure her wrist camera was off. “Getting cozy.”

    “You know I can see you, right?”

    As Nadia checked the store cameras on her feed, a thrill coursed through her at the images of herself crouched behind the counter. She looked roguish and dangerous, her blue eyes showing through the mask. With a grin she couldn’t suppress, she pressed the cutter to the side of one of the locks and drew it in a tight half circle.

    It made a bit more noise than she would have liked. She froze, her eyes fixed on the hallway at the back of the store.

    “Are you serious right now?” Tess said. “What the hell are you doing? Is that a glass cutter?”

    “You turned the cameras off, right? I mean, they’re not recording?”

    “Yes!” Tess was making an angry pout; Nadia actually could hear it.

    She toyed with the idea of asking for the recording to be turned back on, please. Instead she flipped the cutter in her hand and used the blunt end to knock a piece out of the glass, making a sharp tink.

    The back of the case dropped instantly. In her head she could hear it, banging open and waking the guard. Triggering blaring alarms and bars sliding over the windows.

    Instead Nadia caught it at the last second, biting her lip so hard it stung.

    “Nice catch, but seriously what are you doing?”

    Nadia’s heart pounded. In a good way now, high and delightful. “I knew you wouldn’t like this part.”

    “Wow, thanks. Thank you so much,” Tess said. “You know, you’re a real bitch sometimes.”

    “I’m sorry,” Nadia said. A wicked grin stretched across her face as she ran a gloved hand over the treasures in the case. She hardly looked at them as she scooped them into her bag.

    “I don’t get it.” Tess heaved a sigh. “We could’ve been in and out without a trace.”

    “But like you said, there was a chance they might notice what you did if they looked. Nobody’s going to notice what you’ve been up to when they have this to look at.”

    There was a long pause in Nadia’s ears as she cut open the next case and gently eased the glass open.

    “Huh…that’s kind of smart actually,” Tess said.

    “I have my moments.” Nadia pulled out a case of rings and dumped them into her bag.

    “Still not cool, though.”

    “I’ll make it up to you somehow.” Nadia stopped and appraised a fetching little bracelet before dropping it into her bag. “Do you like amethysts? That one would go just lovely with your eyes.”

    “You’re ridiculous,” Tess said. “I only need another minute or two to finish copying everything.”

    But there was so much more to steal. Nadia finished off this row of cases and made her way to the other side of the store.

    Something flashed in the corner of her eye. A glass storefront across the street was lit up with smiling, determined faces; shining text scrolled to life underneath.

    MAKING THE GIG ECONOMY WORK FOR (ERROR_var$viewer_first_name)!

    It flickered to black nothingness; replaced a moment later with bland text right out of a system error.


    Nadia froze in place, staring at it.

    “Drone,” Tess said. “Drone! Incoming!”

    Nadia dove behind a lone square case in the middle of the store and curled up behind it. On her store-camera feed, she saw herself ducked low, squinting at her wrist. After a moment, a shadow passed on the street; she could barely make out the light on the little thing as it whirred along.

    It didn’t stop. After another moment, there was nothing but the thundering sound of her breath and the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears.

    Carefully she rose enough to see across the street again. That same cartoon cat face had replaced the text, a grin full of fangs. It winked at her as new letters formed, these ones shimmering with color, torn letters scratched into the screen.


    Then it was gone—nothing but dark, blank glass. “Can you see across the street?” Nadia said.

    “Not really. Why aren’t you moving?”

    Nadia crawled to the other side of the store, a bit more humble.

    “Six to ten years now. Depending on how many of those are fake,” Tess said.

    Nadia said nothing as she emptied more cases. None of the pieces were fake; she was sure. This wasn’t that kind of store. She wouldn’t have been shopping there otherwise.

    “I’m done,” Tess said. “Get out of there.”

    She was only halfway down this row. She didn’t stop, only picked up her pace a bit.

    “Comms check,” Tess said. “Check, check. Can you hear me?”

    “Loud and clear.”

    “Then why are you still there?”

    Nadia didn’t bother responding. Her bag was nearly full. She slipped the smaller pieces into any empty pockets she could find on her pants.

    “You’re taking forever,” Tess said. “Almost thirty seconds over our limit!”

    “Fine, fine!” She snapped her bag shut as she glanced out at the street. “Am I clear?”

    “Nothing outside.”

    She strode toward the back of the store, not really hiding anymore, pleased at the heft in her bag as she slung it over her shoulders. More jewels teased her from the walls, but this would have to do.

    Not bad for their first time. Much better than not bad. Quite good, quite pleasing. Giddy and high, she didn’t walk to the back so much as saunter with a bounce in her step. Pickpocketing was a distant, boring memory. Shoplifting, trite and dull. She’d never felt anything like this: the power to take what she pleased on a whim.

    Something in a case on the back wall caught her eye, an elaborate necklace with layers of blue gems cascading from loops of elegant chains.

    She hadto have it. The fact it was on her way out was a happy accident. She began working on the case, scraping a clean line around the lock.

    “I thought you were done!” Tess said.

    “Hush, you. Last one. I promise.”

    At that exact moment, the lone security guard rounded the corner, stepping out of the back hallway mid yawn.

    Nadia froze. The guard froze. Their eyes met, and for one awful, silent moment, nothing happened.

    “Stop!” he yelled, lunging forward and grabbing her wrist far more quickly than he looked capable of doing. “Stop right there!”

    Nadia yanked her arm back, but nothing gave; his hand was clamped tightly around her wrist.

    “What’s happening?” Tess said in her ears. “What’s happening? Is that the guard?”

    He was clawing at his belt, scrambling for a radio. Nadia twisted and pulled, all for nothing. She was trapped; she was going to prison because she couldn’t get away from some old, fat buffoon in a cheap uniform with the strongest hand the world had ever known.

    Something nasty and sharp wound up inside her, cutting right through the high-pitched yelping in her thoughts. Her eyes narrowed, and she kicked at his leg, stomping at his shins over and over.

    The guard grunted but didn’t let go.

    “Oh, my God,” Tess said. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”

    Without anything like a conscious thought, Nadia jabbed the glass cutter into his wrist. Shrieking, he stumbled back and fell to the floor, slamming into the back wall of the hallway. Nadia flew down the corridor as fast as her legs would push her, so fast each step stung the soles of her feet.

    “Get out!” Tess yelled. “Now!”

    Nadia barely heard her as she pushed off the wall to round the corner, past the office where the guard had been sleeping, then past the office she had hid inside for a moment.

    “Wait, the transmitter! Don’t leave the transmitter!”

    Too late. Nadia burst through the back door, stumbling and falling to her knees outside. She sprung up to her feet and ran—flat-out ran—sprinting down the alley and not stopping no matter how badly her lungs screamed.

    She’d made it a block already. She glanced over her shoulder: nothing. A puddle splashed up madly around her as she dashed through it; back doors and stoops and cross alleys passed by her unseen.

    “Okay, okay. Calm down. This is fine. This is all fine,” Tess said.

    Nadia screeched to a stop, ducking into a doorway and peeking back toward the store. Cold sweat drenched her mask as her heart roared in her ears. “Can they…” She cleared her throat, hating the quavering in it. Nothing to be done about her gulping for breath, though. “Can they trace that thing if they find it?”

    “No, no. It’s fine. Just go.”

    She did, a bit more cautiously, still running but crouched low, stopping to check corners. There were no police cordons, no tactical teams rappelling from the rooftops to surround her. In fact, she saw nothing but a regular beat-up civilian car moving down a road past the end of an alley.

    Several blocks away now. She was getting closer to her scooter.

    “I think I’m clear,” she said.

    “You need to be miles away from there.”

    Nadia slowed down, slipping into the narrow space between two dumpsters. She changed quickly, dumping her criminal garb back into her bag and popping the heels back onto her boots. Her left glove had a small smear of blood on it. Very small, nothing to be upset over, certainly no reason to feel queasy and lost.

    She shook her head. A second later, she was a normal young woman in a nice coat taking a walk. At four in the morning.

    “That bag is going to give you away,” Tess said. “Hurry!”

    She didn’t. No, she was simply a regular customer of this wonderful city. No reason to run. Nothing to be concerned about with her disheveled hair or the sweat shining on her face. She strolled casually to where her scooter was parked—out into the lights of a main street—fighting the sharp stitch in her side and willing her pulse to slow down.

    She popped the seat open, pulled out her helmet, and stuffed her bag in there. Of course she would be wearing her helmet, even if she honestly preferred not to, preferred the wind in her hair and the senseless thrill of it. Right now she was extremely law abiding. Not that there were any witnesses—that she knew of anyway. They had chosen this parking spot because there were no cameras in the area.

    Nadia’s scooter slipped into light traffic, with only a car here or there. She drifted along as casually as possible—going a tiny, calculated amount over the speed limit.

    Sirens. Growing closer. She started to speed up but caught herself, keeping the throttle low.

    Calm. Stay calm, so incredibly calm.

    They were moving toward her, speeding down the road toward the jewelry store. She didn’t even pull over, forced herself not to look or acknowledge their presence at all.

    Oh, police vehicles, you say? I hadn’t noticed.

    They blew past her, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

    It was only when she was certain they were well behind her, certain they weren’t pulling around after all and catching up fast, that she let out one long, shaking, burning breath. Thinking of the bag under her seat, she allowed herself to smile. The files copied to the tiny drive concealed in her sweater didn’t please her as much.

    At least Tess would be happy. Hopefully anyway.

    She took the long way home, checking with Tess every few minutes to make sure no drones were following her.

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