Ainsley is living a double life. She works a menial job arranged by her father, a successful human-alien liaison. She quietly despises everything her collaborating parents represent. And she performs acts of sabotage against the occupying Qyntarak.
In the wake of a botched job that leaves someone dead, Ainsley receives an invitation to take part in an operation on a much larger scale than her own clandestine activities.
Drowning in grief and desperate for redemption, Ainsley takes the job and soon finds herself misleading good people. When she faces a choice that would violate her principles in service of the mission, Ainsley must decide who she is willing to betray.
The guard swore and Ainsley used the distraction to pull her arm free. She rolled with the momentum and landed on her back. As the guard turned on her, she drove her foot between his legs and he stumbled sideways.
Ainsley clambered to her feet. Jasmine already had the guard's stun gun in her hand. She fired a slug into him and he convulsed before collapsing, moaning as he pressed his hand to the slug's point of impact.
Jasmine adjusted the gun's settings and fired again. The man shook as he lost consciousness. His head rolled to one side and the lights from the drones shifted to illuminate the area where he would be looking if he were awake.
"Now we really have to move." Jasmine tossed the gun aside and started up the old chain-link fence.
"There's razor wire up there."
"A little razor wire never hurt anyone."
"Pretty sure the exact opposite is true."
"Relax. I'll cut away a section. It's faster than making a new hole in the fence."
Ainsley wasn't convinced but Jasmine had the cutters and was a third of the way up already. Over it would be.
The fence rattled and shook as they climbed. A length of razor wire fell to the ground as Ainsley climbed. Jasmine snipped and tossed more segments until there was an opening wide enough for them to go one at a time.
Jasmine swung over first and made good time going down. When Ainsley went over, her pack snagged. She told herself not to panic as she shifted her weight but she couldn't pull herself free.
"My bag is caught."
"It has my take in it."
"It's not worth getting caught over."
She was right, Ainsley knew. The few low value items they'd salvaged from the warehouse would pay rent for a week, if that. That was secondary to striking the Qyntarak. Even so, she hated to lose it all. Grunting as she did it, Ainsley pulled the knife from her boot. With a white-knuckled, one-handed grip on the fence, she cut away the straps. When the second strap let go, her weight shifted and she almost fell. She stabbed at the bottom of the pack with the dim hope that she could cut it open and something valuable enough to carry would fall out.
From below, Jasmine's voice was strained. "Three seconds and I'm leaving without you."
Ainsley exhaled in defeat, sheathed the knife, and started down. She jumped the last six feet, landing in a crouch, and chased after Jasmine into the sparse woods that separated the warehouses from the edge of the city.
Without a pack weighing her down, Ainsley was gaining when the unmistakable hum of a grav flyer passed over them. The inhuman form of a Qyntarak dropped through the trees, landing less than twenty feet from Jasmine. Both women slid to a stop. The creature used its six tentacles to steady itself as it found its footing on the four scorpion-like legs that held up its elongated body.
Ainsley jumped sideways, taking cover behind the nearest trunk.