Bianca D'Arc
saw
behind his easy mask of simple barkeeper. Nobody had challenged his
identity like this in a very long time. Not since he’d perfected
his covert skills. Still, there was something about Lila that saw
too much.
    She blinked, smiling slightly and seemed to
let it go. “There’s nothing plain about you, Charles Quartain.”
    She sat back and he let her go. His
cybernetic implant had kept track of where they were while he’d
taken care of her momentary distress. They were getting close to
their destination.
    “We’re almost there. Are you okay to make a
dash for it, just in case? I won’t be happy until you’re safely
inside, under cover.”
    “Where are we going?”
    “Back to the bar. Only we’re taking an
alternate route.”
    “There’s a back door? I looked when I first
got there, but I didn’t find anything other than the service
entrance used by the bots. Doesn’t seem big enough for people. At
least not you.” She smiled and tapped his arm with her little fist,
emphasizing the difference in their sizes and her awareness of it.
Good. He liked it when she looked at him like that. Like he was a
man, not merely a co-worker or an ex-soldier she was trying to
figure out.
    “There are several back doors.”
    “Really?” She seemed surprised.
    The pod pulled out of the main traffic flow
and coasted to a stop in a station in the location he’d specified.
It was not the same station they’d departed from. Not even
close.
    “Watch and learn.” He checked with both his
eyes and his cybernetic sensors before popping the hatch on the pod
and stepping out. He held out one hand to her, assisting her out of
the pod.
    They walked rapidly, but not fast enough to
be noticed by passersby. This particular corridor had a little more
traffic this time of the station night than the area near the bar.
It was good cover for them, strolling together through the late
night crowd. When Chip turned into a small shop run by an
ex-soldier Alex had put in place, a simple and discrete hand signal
was all it took to alert the man that Chip needed him to watch his
back while he used the secret passage into the station’s service
corridor located in the back of the establishment.
    Lila didn’t say a thing as they made their
way through the store and into the back. She impressed Chip with
the way she handled the change in plans and unfamiliar route back
to the bar. Chip began to think she might have once been an
operative herself. It made sense, given her file and the personal
recommendation in it from General Winters.
    She walked with surprising stealth and kept
her eyes open, he was glad to note as they made their way through
the cramped service tunnels. Though when Chip stopped, Lila bumped
into him. She recovered quickly when he put his arm out to steady
her and he spent a split second enjoying the way she fit in his
arms before he turned back to the matter at hand. She wasn’t safe
until he had her inside.
    Not willing to let her go, he turned, drawing
her closer while with one hand, he pressed the right pressure
points to pop the hidden hatch. Whisking her inside, he made
certain the hatch closed securely behind them. Seeking ahead with
his internal electronics, he was relieved to find all as it should
be in the secret passageway that would lead ultimately to one of
the backdoors into the bar. They were nearly home free now. Just a
little farther to go.
    “We’re almost there.”
    “I’m glad you know where we are,” she
muttered, sticking close to his side.
    He chuckled to himself. She was holding up
well, all things considered. Most civ women would probably be
asking a million questions in much too loud a voice. Either that,
or quaking in fear, unable to move. All in all, Lila was performing
at a very high level he hadn’t quite expected.
    “When we get home, we’re going to have a long
talk,” he promised. He’d decided along the way that the time had
come to take her further into his confidence. Her file—or

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