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“Do you have a chip I can borrow forever?” Soleil asked the Captain. “Something from Drift X that it can already read.” They were in unobtrusive inner orbit around Alisandre.

“Sure,” replied Wendel, “you can have one from the stack.” She took Soleil to the hold, leaving Toller at copilot. Accessing the additional banks there, Wendel picked one out the size of her pinkie nail and handed it to the Princess. Wendel returned to her post while Soleil accessed Drift X’s text-based aetherscape interface, communicating quickly and briefly.

She returned to Wendel holding the chip in one hand. “I also need a way to hide it, inside a fashion item. I saw some hollow tin charms hanging in a corner of the hold. They look sentimental, but could I possibly use one?”

Wendel smiled. “Pick the one you want to use, and show me.”

Soleil returned with a diamond-shaped mini ornament, repoussed with stamped cutouts around the edge. Wendel nodded at it. “You have tweezers in your tools, right?” asked the Princess.

Wendel told her to wait a moment, and returned with them and a mini spray bottle labeled Sticky Gunk. “Looks like you might want some of this.” Understanding, Soleil accepted the suggestion, and Wendel peered over while the Princess maneuvered a sticky-backed chip inside the ornament. “Know what I have that would make that wearable?” said the Captain, who again forayed into her supplies. She returned with some ultralight cable, and showed the Princess how she tied a sliding knot clasp and finished it with clamps. They wove the pendant onto the line and recreated the clasp. It was an item! Wendel stated her assessment, “Theoretically haute couture. Will that get you in?”

“I think I could see Margeaux wearing it, so that much passes. This is giving me more than one way in, and giving this more than one way to find its recipient.”

Wendel bit her lip. “Final touch,” she said. She came out with a clamshell necklace box, and removed a sparkling, multi-tiered, unusually glamorous affair which she lovingly zipped into a different pouch. “You can use this box for presentation.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m giving you your best shot where there may not be extra chances. Looks bona fide now, doesn’t it?” Soleil agreed.

They set a regular heading toward Betacort, a city just outside the central Capital, semi-industrial site of some large stadiums and venues. Once Captain Wendel had the address, she pulled up the maps and found the loading docks. “I’ve done event dropoff before. What’s the name of this lady’s fashion label?”

“Look Out World,” said Princess Soleil, “but she’s thinking of changing it. Or starting a new one. But that’s still what it’s called, and they have a new line out – they’re going for ‘edgy’ this season, so I think the cable chain will really fit. Not that it’s actually going out on the runway, or not that it couldn’t, but it just has to be convincing as an addition.”

Captain Wendel drove Drift X up to the loading dock parking guides. She said she didn’t have a booth number, but that Yrenn was an official volunteer, and this was only a dropoff. Soleil, as Yrenn, leaned over to address the parking guide and said she didn’t have her badge yet, but that she would get it and opened the jewel box to show him the new necklace. She came across as a comfortable but well-made-up and sensible woman with a bob haircut, about Margeaux’s age. The yellow-jacketed venue employee gave a convention chaos shrug, deciding to let the next people verify them, and waved them in to a loading spot.

“You don’t need any more backup than this?” said Wendel with a pang as Yrenn-Soleil and Derringer shuffled to deboard. She couldn’t say she’d always been loyal to the royals, but Soleil was crew now, their champ who did her damnedest. Wendel carried a dear feeling like this Princess was really going to try to make the best of things.

“No. You’re a free agent again. Thanks for everything. Really. All of it.” They stood there, not being too awkward. “I’m sorry you got kidnapped for helping me, and had your ship blown up.”

“Couldn’t get a refit like this anywhere else. Stuff happens. I’m calling it even.”

Soleil gave Toller a long look followed by a small smile, which the boy returned. Derringer twitched his mustache and took off his fedora, tossing it to the kid. They left.

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