The Android and the Thief

By: Wendy Rathbone

Will love set them free—or seal their fate?

In the sixty-seventh century, Trev, a master thief and computer hacker, and Khim, a vat-grown human android, reluctantly share a cell in a floating space prison called Steering Star. Trev is there as part of an arrangement that might finally free him from his father’s control. Khim, formerly a combat android, snaps when he is sold into the pleasure trade and murders one of the men who sexually assaults him. At first they are at odds, but despite secrets and their dark pasts, they form a pact—first to survive the prison, and then to escape it.

But independence remains elusive, and falling in love comes with its own challenges. Trev’s father, Dante, a powerful underworld figure with sweeping influence throughout the galaxy, maintains control over their lives that seems stronger than any prison security system, and he seeks to keep them apart. Trev and Khim must plan another, more complex escape, and this time make sure they are well beyond the law as well as Dante’s reach.

For Della, the love of my life.

Android: in the sixty-seventh century, a popular but often derogatory (and incorrect) term used to label designer vat-grown humans who are born adult.

Chapter One

TREV LET the cascading liquid from the pink waterfall flow over his full bodysuit. The neon waterfall was the main decorative feature of the museum’s interior and his only means for navigating from floor to floor to avoid the laser traps and heat sensors.

The material of his suit was lined with sensors that absorbed the dampness and made him invisible as he climbed up fake, jutting rocks to the museum’s third floor. So far he’d avoided all security detection.

It was the middle of the night in Fire Town. The museum sat in the center of the floating city’s main cloud. Getting in unseen had been a peach. Back at his flier, parked at the end of the street, he’d drenched himself from head to toe. But the time it took getting to the side entrance and breaking in allowed his suit to dry out too much to avoid detection for long. The waterfall solved that problem. Now, climbing the waterfall forced him to rely on all his talents. He could perform flips and wide leaps, scamper across narrow ledges at great heights, fit into tiny ducts, and run soundlessly down streets or dark corridors without getting winded. Climbing this wall should have been easy, but the rocks were slick with a green, alien algae he had not accounted for. He’d assumed this palace of knowledge that catered to the rich was better maintained. He’d been wrong.

The comm on his wrist chimed underneath the seals of his suit. He ignored it. Set on low, it wouldn’t trip any sensors, but it was annoying him. “Breq, leave me alone,” he muttered softly to himself. He should have left the comm in the flier.

“Fuck.” His left foot slipped. He’d left his grav-boosters behind; they would’ve fucked up the security system big-time. For this job he relied on experience and physical strength alone.

He grabbed frantically at an emerald-tinged rock just above his head, fingers sliding along its surface, heart rate increasing a fraction as he tried not to flail. His right foot still had a pretty good purchase, and his right hand was half-pressed into a crack between two rocks. He took a slow breath, accidentally let a little neon water into his mouth, and sputtered. It tasted of metal and scum, lichen, and—unexpectedly—honey. That would not do.

He focused, clinging to the wet wall as a continual cascade the color of party champagne poured onto his shoulders and head, clumping his dark bangs into his eyes where they had escaped his tight hood.

Take it slow, he prompted himself. His fingers discovered a bump in the rock and closed over it. He lifted his left foot and felt along the wall for another crack, found it, and rebalanced. He had about fifteen feet to go.

Slowly Trev crawled up the soaked rocks and through the pouring falls until he landed on the third floor, dripping thin puddles the sensors would ignore. He’d found the building’s vulnerability to water when he’d studied the security system and its layouts, discovering that two years ago the building had flooded due to a maintenance oversight and the alarms had not gone off. The following morning, workers had opened the doors to a mess. A report had been filed and repairs made, but the system had not been updated to tag the encroachment of water as a threat, and the cascade of the waterfall left the sensors unaffected. Obviously the program ignored the motion of water. An oversight, to be sure, and one Trev enjoyed exploiting tonight.