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Skaianet Acquisitions Unit

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Jade's seen plenty of places like Mindfang's vault before, in training and on the job, off-planet and on, highblood troll or paranoid human. And she's studied the schematics of this ship inside and out: Skaianet is nothing if not thorough. The walls are exactly six metres tall. The roof is arched. The floor is cerulean tile, obnoxious, expensive, mostly designed in order to conceal the pressure plates that warn of intruders. Outside her NV goggles, the only light is the angry red hum of the lasers that cross the room - and the equally dangerous holding cage in the centre. The throbbing cyan light pulses at the corner of Jade's vision, reflecting off the hinged metal spikes of the cage and the black glass triangles hovering in the centre.

careful, harley. ii don't need two warn you what that doe2, do ii?

If it touches her skin, it'll latch onto the space her body takes up, extending a prickly electromagnetic field like a spiderweb through her flesh and bone and blood to cause temporary - and acutely painful - paralysis. Everywhere. Jade will find herself stuck there, waiting for Mindfang to arrive and break the connection, along with a few of Jade's bones.

Jade can hear the nerves in Sollux's voice. His moirail was caught by one of these, just under two years ago, on another, smaller ship belonging to Mindfang. Nerve fields are vicious, and they are Mindfang's particular favourite anti-burgling device. Jade still remembers fleeing panicked through the corridors, hearing Aradia scream behind her, feeling a sick twisting worminess in her gut as she ran and Mindfang laughed and her partner cried.

That trip was not a success. This one will be - Jade is determined. She takes a deep breath.

i know how a nerve field works, you doofus! hush up and let me do my damn job, unless you want to be the one dangling from the ceiling next time!

She winches herself carefully down two inches, then wraps her cable around one foot before grabbing the rest with her left hand. The other goes to one of the small black lumps strapped to her chest. It looks like an egg somebody sat on. Jade depresses the middle with one finger, watching as a red light begins to blink, and then lobs it as accurately as she can into the centre of the nerve field.

She hears Sollux hiss in satisfaction as the little egg beeps happily and pulses with red light. The nerve field sputters and dies. The glasses and the little device fall to rest on the flat centre of the holding cage.

see? easy!

Jade lowers herself slightly more and tenses her legs. She reaches behind her with both hands to scoop up the glasses and the now-defunct device, pushing them into the zip pocket at her waist. She lets herself smile, incredulously, giddily. She did it.

ea2y? sputters Sollux. you. would not BELIIEVE. how long iit took me two perfect tho2e liittle fucker2. MONTH2 of work went iintwo makiing a rever2e fiield that 2mall. you're goddamn welcome.

well, you did a great job! Jade doubles herself up to grab the rope just above her toes, climbing hand-over-hand back up to the service vent from whence she came.

Jade's bunk at HQ has rarely felt as comforting as the cool metal under her fingers does when she reaches the opening at the top of the room. Her upper arms and her calves are burning. She hauls herself into the shaft, pulls up her cable and re-winds it onto her belt, and replaces the grille across the opening with precise care. She gives herself five seconds to lie in the vent, her skin tingling. She imagines the spiky glasses sitting in her bag, waiting in the dark to be freed. Everything is always sharp and beautiful when Jade is doing this: the adrenaline lingers.

i love this job, sollux

yeah, GG. me two.

Jade crawls on elbows and knees through a right-angle-twisted labyrinth of service vents according to Sollux's muttered directions. The pouch at her waist bumps her every so often. She hums tonelessly (quietly) and thinks about how Rose will smile when she gets back, and whether she'll buy hash browns or ham and grubpaste sandwich when she gets back to Satellite City, and Mindfang's face when she finds out they're long gone with the prize.

On the other side of the ship, she drops from the ceiling into a locked broom closet and dons the baggy grey overalls she left on her way in. She pulls off her NV goggles. The sudden dark of the store-room makes her blink. Jade pulls out her ponytail, so her hair covers her ear communicator, and walks into the corridor. She shoves her hands into her pockets, and does her best to look as tired and boring as possible.

Roxy is waiting in the hangar at the controls of a tiny two-person maintenance flier, exactly where Jade left her, reading a rocket magazine that's three months old. Jade gives her a careless nod as she climbs in. Roxy can't resist a conspiratorial wink at her as she readies the ship to leave, even though strictly speaking they're not meant to know each other. Jade smiles a little thinking about it: they’ve lived and worked together for so long it is a little silly to contemplate! She knows what product Roxy uses to style her hair and the exact angle of her nose and her dream ship and how she snores when she has a cold and the colour of the cat tattoo on her ankle. Skaianet headquarters is a tight-knit community! Jade looks behind her cautiously, and then she winks back. Roxy smiles. 'Alley oop!' she says, steering them toward the hangar door. They roll out into the airlock and then swoop into space.

Satellite City is a spiky yellow lump on their starboard, the glow of the lights leaking into the corner of Jade’s vision. Skyscraper after skyscraper sit, barely attached to the tiny lump that orbits the Earth. It’s grown huge with tall buildings until the little moon is no longer a sphere but a infinihedron (that’s a real word, Jade can use that, she has a science degree). And in the almost opposite direction, there’s Earth, a huge lump of dusty brown and blue. From this close, Jade can see they’re passing over South America, and even see a few of the places where the cities end and nature begins.

‘So, did ya get it?’ Roxy asks excitedly. In response, Jade whoops, and giggles, and flips up both middle fingers in the direction of Mindfang’s space behemoth, rapidly receding behind them. Roxy laughs as Jade strips herself of overalls and all her paraphernalia, and then she yanks the controls sideways as hard as she can to corkscrew them toward Satellite City.

The sky at midday over the port is always the same rich cobalt: the little moon is not big enough for its own weather systems - or for a completely opaque atmosphere. Jade knows if she turned to look back, Mindfang's behemoth would still sit a dark blot behind them. She doesn't look back.

good job, ii gue22, says sollux. Jade knows he’s smiling. 2ee you back at base.

When they get to Satellite City, Roxy drops her off with a sloppy kiss on her cheek. She gives Jade another enormous wink through the window, then zooms off to get the ship serviced. Jade watches her whizz across the royal blue and thinks that even though the ship is like a lumpy steel-grey golf ball in shape, Roxy looks like a dragonfly from the ground. She is so fast and so furious, among heavy vultures of cargo ships and just a few hawk-like fighters. Within a second, she is gone.

Jade smiles. She gives herself a second, looks past the ships and past the sky, where the stars prickle and the planet looms. Somewhere down there is Rose in a glass-walled office, and John in his bright shiny lab, and Dave travelling God knows where. Living and working and waiting for her, although she knows they'd never admit it. She's promised she'll come back some day, have a holiday, see her garden again, and her grandfather's grave. She likes the idea, you know, in theory... there's just so much to do in space!

The AI that she has struggled for sits in a stripy duffel bag, wrapped securely with her goggles and her bombs and her gun inside some baggy overalls. Jade breathes in. She breathes out. She walks on.

hurry UP, GG. 2piiderbiitch could ju2t cruii2e her whole fuckiing outfiit back on over here and 2natch her priize back before you get anywhere NEAR headquarter2.

i'm coming, i'm coming! i want sushi first. do you know how long it has been since i had nice sushi, sollux?

fuck. whatever. you wiill be the death of me.