He reached a hand slowly to the stun baton on his belt and firmly asked, “Can I help you?”
A wide smile broke across the Banu’s elongated face, deepening the network of crags there. “Hello!”
Duane quickly checked to see if the Banu’s chest had a ‘visitor’ tag. Sometimes one of the techs would bring in a guest if they had to work on the weekend, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Eiko had forgotten to comm him from the security desk.
No. No tag. And the Banu was carrying a datapod. Duane felt his pulse quicken. After working as a security guard for eight years at the Behring Applied Technology labs he might actually be in the middle of his first real break-in. Don’t screw this up, Duane.
Calmly, Duane informed the Banu, “If you don’t have security tag, I have to ask you to accompany me to the lobby.”
“Your tag,” said the Banu nodding to the small purple badge on Duane’s chest. “Does it open the doors for all the laboratories?”
Duane slipped the baton from its loop and pressed the primer. “Last warning. This area is for authorized personnel only and I will remove you by force if necessary.”
The Banu simply tilted his head to the side and smiled wider. “Please look at me for the next five seconds. Thank you.”
Duane realized too late that he had forgotten to see if the Banu was alone.
“Damn it, Mas. I told you to wait,” Alex said as she peeled the still smoldering stun-glove off her hand and tucked it into her belt. She had to admit, Klanger had done a hell of a job designing the thing. Too bad the glove was destroyed after one use. Worth the money though, to be able drop someone near instantly. Next time she was on Spider she’d definitely need to see if there were any more for sale.
“You said wait till you found the key. We found the key,” Mas replied, setting the datapod gently on the ground.
“What if this idiot had comm’d for backup or triggered an alarm?”
The Banu shrugged. Alex knew it was useless arguing with Mas about things like this. He was one of the best hackers she had ever known, but trying to get him to stick to a plan was about as useless as trying to get a Vanduul to talk out an issue. Anyway, improvisation was the key to being a good data runner. Knowing that Mas was going to do whatever the hell he wanted had just become a standard part of all her plans.
“I believe he has done both,” Mas said as he rolled the guard onto his back.
It was then that Alex noticed the faint light blinking under the skin of the guard’s neck. Crap, she thought. A deadswitch. Behring must have wired up their security personnel with them. Something happens to one, the rest would soon be on their way. Time for more improvising.
“Can you hack it?”
“I can try,” replied Mas.
Reaching down, he turned the guard’s head to better expose the neck. Drawing a curved spoon-like blade from the small sheath hidden under his arm, Mas carved the deadswitch out. Alex barely avoided being sprayed by a pulse of blood.
As Mas connected a small silver connector cable from his pad to the flashing deadswitch beacon that now lay in a puddle on the floor, Alex used her Pyro to cauterize the wound closed. She had never been one to leave a body count behind. Not only was it sloppy and unnecessary, it tended to make the Advos try that much harder to track you down.
“Mas, instead of deactivating it, can you make it broadcast like the guard is still okay?”
The Banu nodded and continued to manipulate his pad with his long dexterous fingers.
Leaving him to work, Alex yanked the tag off the guard’s uniform and used it to access a janitor’s closet she had passed a few paces back. Sure enough, inside was a scrubber. She carried it back just as Mas was finishing.
“There,” said Mas, retracting the connector. “Healthier than ever.”
“Then let’s put him back on patrol.” She opened up the scrubber’s rear hatch and Mas dropped the bloodied beacon inside the refuse storage bin. A few presses later and the scrubber was happily cleaning its way down the hall. There was still a good chance that the few seconds the deadswitch had been active would be enough to send a security squad to investigate, but if they were lucky, the scrubber’s movements would be enough to convince anyone monitoring that it had been some kind of glitch. Either way, they needed to hurry.
The research lab gleamed with an immaculate shine that screamed money and danger. In Alex’s experience, the only reason that anyone ever kept a room this spotless was when a little bit of dirt would be enough to lose a fortune in research or get someone killed by accident. Of course, with the amount she had been promised for pulling this job, she expected nothing less.
Mas set the datapod down next to a bank of sleek white processors on the far end of the room. If their imposing size wasn’t enough to tell that they were important, the thick coil of cables running into the data hub would have been a dead giveaway. Just about every piece of tech in the place was wired to the computers. He lifted up an access junction and plugged in his silver cable.
“Any issues?” Alex asked.
The Banu swiped at his pad. “Only minimal protection. I believe they are counting on the building’s security to prevent access.”
Never underestimate the overconfidence that comes with owning a big fortress-like building.
After bypassing the preliminary security, Mas opened up a port and hooked the datapod into place. He settled in to extract the data and began humming Could Have Been You, a sure sign that he was lost in the code.
Alex strolled around the room rummaging through the work tables that were home to what she guessed were next generation Behring weapons. For the millionth time, she wished she knew exactly what was in the data they were accessing. The name alone wasn’t much to go by — ‘Project Stargazer’ — but the guy who hired them refused to tell them anything more. Alex still had doubts about whether it had been smart to accept his offer. Though, her suspicion was that the job had been less of an offer and more of an order.
The man, ‘Mr. Grouse,’ contacted them through the usual channels on the amateur ornithologist boards. After all his bonafides checked out, they met at a small cafe on the outskirts of Prime. He’d been easy to pick out thanks to the yellow hat he had promised to wear. Alex had done her normal procedure of arriving early and placing a small pinhole camera on the wall. It was a great way to scout a potential client before meeting and make sure they weren’t sweating too much or hiding an abnormal amount of guns. Neither applied to Grouse, though. He had been as calm as could be. Even more so, his skin had that artificially smooth look, a common side effect from some of the new facial reconfiguration surgical units. Which was surprising because who would choose to make their face that uninteresting? He was like the Human equivalent of elevator music. Even standing across the table from him, Alex had felt her eyes wander away from lack of interest. On second thought, she could see why being aggressively boring might be a good choice considering the work she assumed he did.
After a few minutes of observing him to make sure everything seemed on the up on up, she noticed him reach into his briefcase and pull out a small hand scanner. With a quick sweep of the cafe, he smiled when he spotted the mounted camera.
“Alexandria Dougan,” he had said in a calm, even voice. “I am ready to meet whenever you are.”
Well, that’s a first.
“And if I am not mistaken, that Banu over there wearing the sunhat is your partner Mas Houlan. Why don’t you have him join us so we can discuss our business together?”
A few moments later, her and Mas were listening patiently to Grouse explain that he wanted all the records of a research project completely deleted from the Behring Applied Technologies lab. Before she could even begin to protest, he had told them the payment. It was significantly higher than she would have even dared asked for, even on her most brazen of days. It was enough to put her and Mas on easy street and settle a lot of old debts.
It had made her really nervous.
That’s why she had decided that they would make copies of the project files before they erased all trace of them from the lab’s record. As the old saying goes, never trust a criminal.
About halfway through Mas humming The Day Ahead, the alarm went off. That was disconcerting, but not nearly half as much as the giant turrets that lowered from the ceiling. Alex held her breath, but rather than turn and fire on them, the two turrets took aim at the lab’s door.
It quickly dawned on her why they were still breathing. It wasn’t worth it to risk shooting up all the valuable equipment. The turrets were designed to stop anyone entering or exiting the lab. And stop with extreme prejudice if the large Behring logos on the ballistic guns were anything to go by.
“How much longer, Mas?” she shouted over the blaring alarm.
“The files have copied, but I will need some time to finish expunging the records.”
Okay, thought Alex, let’s see how much ammo these things have.
Reaching into her satchel, Alex brought out her Insta-Friends decoy. She primed it and slid the puck out into the killbox and covered her ears expectantly. A moment later, the decoy went off and the turrets sprang to life, raining bullets at the artificial targets. Got to love Joker Engineering. Half the time the stupid things didn’t work, but when they did, boy, did they work.
Eventually, the decoy died and the turrets spun down. The floor was completely chewed through. It looked like they had been designed to allow the rounds to penetrate rather than ricochet into the expensive tech. Right… ricochets. I probably should have thought of that first… Alex would have to remind Mas to make an extra offering to the God of Luck for her.
She had only brought one additional decoy and she had a feeling that the turrets had more than enough ammo to outlast it. What she needed was a way to force the Insta-Friends to last longer. Scanning the lab, she quickly found what she was looking for: a large half-built laser sat on one of the workbenches connected to an array of batteries. She momentarily considered using one of the lab’s experimental weapons to destroy the turrets but decided that she liked having all her limbs attached too much to mess with an unfinished laser. Instead, she used her Pyro to solder one of the batteries to the decoy and slid the heavy makeshift device into range of the turrets. Once again, the guns sprang to life. It wasn’t until the decoys had begun flickering away, the larger battery finally drained, that she heard the happy clicking whir of empty chambers attempting to fire.
“I am ready to go,” said Mas, strolling confidently through the still smoldering killbox with the datapod. Alex hurried to catch up.
They left the lab not a moment too soon. Drawn by the gunfire, a full squad of guards descended upon it just as Mas and Alex managed to round the corner out of view. One of the benefits of robbing a campus as big as Behring’s is that it took a while to move security into position. If she ever went straight, maybe she would get a job as a consultant and earn big credits pointing out all the dumb things companies did with their security systems.
Leaving the main research wing, the pair weaved their way back through the labyrinthine building to the executive’s office that they had entered through. Alex stopped them at every intersection to ping the path ahead. It would make them stand out on scanners, but it was safer than blindly stumbling into the roaming groups of armed guards.
Thankfully, when they arrived at the executive’s private hangar, it was unguarded and the Belligerent Duck remained just as they had left it. It was one of those interesting facts of life that powerful peoples’ private hangars are considered so off-limits, security guards assume criminals know not to land there too. That was why private hangars were usually one of the first things Alex looked for when she was casing a building. Plus, they usually had little free water bottles you could stock up with in case you got thirsty during a heist.
Alex brought up her mobi and unlocked the Mercury. Mas headed up the ramp straight for datastorage to make sure the pod was safely secured, while she made her way to the star runner’s cockpit.
The hangar doors opened above them and the Duck lifted into the air. The name still made her smile. She had chosen it to infuriate the cocky infoagent she had won the ship from. The pompous prick had the gall to name the ship Razor’s Edge. Now whenever he wanted to buy data off her, he had to comm the Belligerent Duck as a reminder that it didn’t pay to bet against Alex Dougan.
She eased the throttle forward and the ship’s wide swept-back wings cut easily through Terra’s calm atmosphere. A moment after leaving the hangar, the pleasant Crusader computer voice alerted her that they were being targeted. Sure enough, a Sabre with Behring livery was closing in on her tail. It must have launched when the alarm went off.
The comms chirped to life as they were hailed. “This is Behring Security. Land immediately or you will be shot down.”
Great. And it wouldn’t be long before the Terra police joined in. They needed a fast getaway.
“Mas, weapons, now.”
When they had first met, Mas had refused to do anything on the ship that didn’t involve hacking and computers claiming that it “was not his purpose.” It had been close to six months before Alex had stumbled upon a solution that had worked — she had hooked up a terminal from a busted simpod into the manned turret’s seat so that Mas could stare at a screen instead of out the window. That was all it took. Now he was a crack shot.
Mas slid into the weapons terminal, his long legs at the awkward angle all Banu were forced to adopt using Human seats. “How much should I explode them?”
“None! Knock out their radars and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Alex pulled hard and swung the Mercury wide giving Mas time to line up the distortion cannons. The Sabre reacted quickly enough to avoid the first and second salvos. Alex rolled at the last second to avoid their return fire. They were running out of time.
“Get missile lock,” said Mas.
“Mas, we’re not killing them!”
“No killing,” the Banu agreed. “Just a distraction.”
Decelerating till she saw red, Alex brought the ship to bear. After a heartbeat or two had thudded in her chest, she achieved lock and fired two missiles. The Sabre pilot, acting as expected, lit the sky with flares, pulling the missiles off course. Anticipating the brief distraction, Mas fired the turret again. The distortion cannons bit into the Sabre, disrupting its power. There was no way for it to maintain radar and stay flying after a hit like that.
Maxing out the thrusters for all they were worth, Alex sped the Duck away from Behring’s headquarters. However, rather than angling up to leave the planet, she angled the ship towards the nearby mountainous island range. There, she lowered the ship down into a small alcove cut into the beach beneath a rocky outcropping. Diverting power from the Mercury’s shields and thrusters, Mas booted up their reg-spoof. Now, they would be able to fly around incognito for a little while. Should be fine as long as no one looked too hard or took a shot at them. She hoped they weren’t the only ones in the area flying a Mercury today.
It was definitely not their cleanest escape. No way they were going to make the rendezvous now, but Grouse was just going to have to deal with the change in plans. Bringing up her mobi, Alex began a message to their network of contacts. Behring had a lot of credits to toss around. You rob someone like that and they usually made it worthwhile to hunt you down. Leaving the system wasn’t going to be enough. It wouldn’t be long before the Advocacy and a whole fleet of bounty hunters were breathing down their neck. If they wanted to get out of this in one piece they were going to need some extra help keeping an eye out. Hopefully a few of the friends her and Mas made over the years would be willing to lend a hand and alert them if they caught wind of the authorities closing in on the Duck.
Message sent. Now all they needed was somewhere they could hide out till things cooled off.
“Hey Mas, how would you feel about visiting your old Souli?”