They got back up from the cargo hold just as Ash was coming out of the engine room. “You two have fun trying to put holes in the ship?”
“Always,” said Zane, seating himself down. “Put the big M on.”
The screen winked on, showing an image of Martens seated in a hot tub.
“I could hear that, you know,” he said.
“I have to question the atmosphere of professionalism,” Ash said, plopping down next to Zane. “Or at least ask if we can get a requisition order for a similar model.”
“Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of how perfectly relaxed I am,” said Martens, sinking a bit deeper in. “What can I do for you lovely people?”
“I know we’ve been out of the loop for a bit,” said Ash. “Between training the newbie and… some stranger than usual issues, it’s been an interesting few months. But the newbie is as trained as she’s going to get and we’re ready to get back to business. If you have an A-level job, we’d like to take it.”
Martens looked surprised for a moment. Then he grinned. “Bout damn time,” he said. “And your timing is fortuitous, too. I’ve got a perfect job lined up. If you think you can handle it, of course.”
“Please, we’re your aces and you know it,” Jayna said, grinning. “Give us the details.”
“Well I hate to feed your ego, but yes,” said Martens. “The place is Fujin Six, a moon in the Teikoku System, located in Kishar Sector. There’s two major tech corporations located there, Hyeseong Enterprises and Saikyou Unlimited. You may have heard of them.”
“The Hyeseong company is one of the biggest tech manufacturers in the Teikoku system,” Ash said. “No ideas about Saikyou though.”
“Well, Saikyou is smaller potatoes, but a growing fish in that area, if you’ll pardon me mixing my culinary metaphors. Naturally, Hyeseong et al decided that wasn’t a good idea. So they bought Saikyou.”
“That’s one way to deal with a competitor,” said Mari.
“The actual difference this will end up making to consumers is absolutely nil,” said Martens. “As is the case for most corporate mergers. In any case, though, right before the merger, the R&D department at Saikyou was working on something. Once the merger goes through, it will all be the property of Hyeseong. And there is somebody willing to pay some serious chits to ensure that this does not happen.”
Ash grinned. “Oh man, I love corporate espionage. There are no good guys there to rip off! They’re all assholes. It’s the perfect crime.”
“I figured you’d like this one,” said Martens. “It won’t be easy, though. Saikyou may have been a bit player but they handled some high-level business, which means they absolutely will not be skimping on security measures.”
Ash seemed deep in thought for a moment. “That’s fine. I’m sure we’ll be able to handle it. Send us the project dossier and the schematics; we’ll handle everything from there.”
“Excellent,” said Martens. “It’ll be there within the hour. The merger will be finalized in ten solar days. You’ve got to be well offworld with the goods by then.”
“Will do. And will this be our usual price?” Ash asked.
“Pull it off promptly and without fuss and you can look forward to a fifteen percent markup on your usual rate,” said Martens. “You know how spectacularly these corporate jobs can go south. And if you end up in the news, I’ve never heard of you.”
“How about twenty?” said Zane, all sweetness and light. “It would make a nice ‘welcome to the team’ present for Mari.”
Martens narrowed his eyes at the crew. “Do you always have to push your luck?”
“Well, yeah,” said Zane. “How else is it going to get anywhere?”
Martens laughed. “Twenty it is,” he said. “If the job is perfectly clean. If I hear any news blabber about a robbery, even if they don’t know who did it, then no bonus. Break a leg.”
The screen went dark.
Jayna’s tablet glowed to life and she set it on the big table in the middle of the common area. “Gather round kids. Bring your thinking caps.”
The trip to the Teikoku system took almost five solar days. In this time, plans were made, supplies were gathered, and Mari continued to not be very good at shooting. But she kept trying.
She was markedly better at some other skills that Jayna and Ash managed to pass along to her in between, including how to take and give a punch and how to quickly scan rooms for signs of trouble.
They were just preparing to touch down at the spaceport in Hirata West, the city in which Saikyou Unlimited’s corporate headquarters was located.
“Alright,” said Ash, regarding the crew. “We’re almost there. Let’s go over the plan one more time.”
“We’ve gone over the plan five times in the past two days,” said Jayna. “I think we have this.”
Ash looked up. “But, we’ve got a new girl in… we should probably prep her for–“
“Seriously, Ash, I helped come up with the plan,” said Mari. “It’s not like we’re being televised.”
Ash looked over to Zane, who was already putting his gun back together, and sighed. “Can we at least make sure we have everything we need before we go out there?”
“Always a good idea,” said Zane. “Measure twice, cut five times, and all that good stuff.” He checked his satchel. “Badges?”
“Yep, right here,” Mari said, patting the small messenger bag she had slung over her shoulder. .
“Zane, do you have all the gear? The vest, the weapons, everything?” Ash asked.
“All of the above,” he said. “And the cutters, and the key cards. And also a sandwich.”
Mari frowned. “Woah, wait, where’s my sandwich?”
“Everyone got a sandwich,” said Zane. “We don’t want any of us to be distracted by hunger at a crucial moment.”
“Good thinking, smart,” Jayna said.
Mari actually felt better somewhat.
“Well, I have my minitool, my grapplers, and my extra rounds. I also have three pairs of glasses and a few other bits and bobs that I always end up needing. Zane, are you ready?” Ash asked.
“Yeah, I’m all set,” said Zane. “Got all of the above plus some extra doses of my meds… just in case. I’m as ready as I’m going to get.”
“Mari? Are you ready?”
“Yeah, I’ve got my kit packed. I’m as ready as I’m going to be,” Mari said with a nod. “Let’s do it.”
Ash nodded. “Jayna, your codename is Queen Bee. You guys already know your call names. Make sure your ear pieces are fully charged, and let’s get moving.”
“I’ll bring us in for the landing,” Zane said. “Get changed.”
“Right,” Mari and Ash said, heading to their bunks.
An hour later they had touched down at a local spaceport. With a few extra chits they were registered under a barge’s call numbers. The two cars they’d ordered were waiting outside in the parking lot.
They were dull gray, kind of worn-down, and completely unmemorable. Perfect for blending in, in other words.
“You sure you’re ready for this, Mari?” said Ash, as he started the car.
“No, but I’m going to do it anyway,” Mari said, settling a pair of glasses on her face. “Got your outfit ready?”
Ash did the same. “We’re coming up on the location,” he said. “You good, Zane?”
“Standing by until you need me,” he said.
Saikyou’s corporate building reminding Mari a lot of the higher end buildings that had recently been built on the outskirts of her city.
It was all polished chrome and glass, tapering towards its square base into an elongated trapezoidal shape. It had to be at least twenty or so stories tall.
“Is it just me, or is that just the tackiest office building ever?” said Mari.
“It’s definitely not just you,” said Ash. “Hope you’re not afraid of heights.”
“Guess we’re about to find out,” Mari said with a smile. “C’mon, let’s go.”
The parking lot was full and bustling, people of all sorts coming and going, bottlenecked by the security checkpoint. Everyone, even the people delivering lunch, was vetted extremely carefully.
So, of course, the easiest way through it was not to bother. At the time of the morning, there’d be very few people leaving the parking garage. It had taken no time at all to find the exit, which was not manned with a security guard, but only with an automated lift gate. Ash motioned for his bag.
Mari handed him a small patch out of his bag and he affixed it to the window of the car. As they neared the gate, it beeped in recognition and rose. Ash quickly made his way through the garage, joining the rest of the traffic.
“Jayna, can you double check with our schematics? where’s the first emergency exit door?” he asked.
“North-west face, about five floors up,” said Jayna, through their earpiece. “You should be able to get right through it. Just be careful, if the alarm goes off, the job is sunk before it starts.”
“That’s our entrance in. Near the elevator bays, right?” Ash said, driving up a few more floors.
“Yeah, if the schematics are right, it should be the least-used one,” said Mari. They finally reached a floor with few cars and fewer people, and parked. Mari stepped out of the car, pushing her messenger bag into her baggy coveralls.
Ash moved towards the stairwell, and casually fiddled with his bag until he was underneath the camera. Then, he reached up and affixed a device to the base of it. “That should give us about five minutes to cut across to that window. Gimme a second,” Ash said, and retrieved a grappling hook from his backpack.
Ash squinted as he double-checked his mental math, and then took aim and fired. The device was one of his own design, and it worked exactly as intended, forming a sturdy line between the parking garage and the building proper.
“Brace yourself,” he said. “Your shoulders are going to be sore as hell tomorrow.”
With that Ash started to move quickly, the gripping gloves protecting his hands. He was over in about four minutes or so, and hopped down to the landing. “C’mon, be quick about it,” Ash said, beckoning her over.
Mari shimmied as fast as she could… which wasn’t very fast. “This isn’t like it was in the cargo bay,” she grumbled, pausing for breath.
“That’s because Songbird is a fine, lean ship. This parking garage is neither,” Ash said.
She rolled her eyes and pushed on, muttering ‘ow’ repeatedly under her breath as she made it the rest of the way across.
Ash helped her down. Once she was safe, he began to wrestle around in his bag for a pair of pliers, opening up the small box on the outside and pulling up a small template on his data pad. “Gimme just one second.”
“Hurry,” said Mari, as she reeled in the cable. “Ugh, I am going to need a massage tomorrow.”
“If we pull this off, I’ll give you one myself,” said Ash, as he continued to tinker.
“Just make sure you wash your hands first.”
After a moment, she heard a small fizzing sound, and then he smiled opening the door an inch or two. After finding them clear, he opened the door and let Mari and himself slip in.
They were in a back room somewhere. Shelves were stacked high with cans and there was a smell of burnt grease in the air.
“And we’re in,” said Ash. With a satisfied nod, he and Mari both began to peel off their coveralls, revealing a button-up shirt and slacks. Both of them put an ID badge into their shirt pockets, then donned a pair of glasses. Finally, Mari pulled a wig out, masking her purple locks with something a little blander.
Mari made sure Ash’s buttons were aligned correctly, and then brushed a bit of dust off of him. “So, I’ll follow your lead, where’s your stack of files?”
“Right here,” said Ash, pulling a folder out of the small backpack he carried. “Now, remember, what’s my name?”
“Random Intern isn’t it?” Mari asked, a hint of a smile on her lips. “Your name is James Parker.”
“And you’re Amelia Ramsbottom,” said Ash. Mari groaned.
“Zane, is this because I ate the last cookie?” she said, tapping her earpiece.
“I trust you’ll do the family name proud,” came Zane’s reply.
“Just try not to bring it to anyone’s attention. Ramsbottom sticks out like a sore… well, you know,” he said. “C’mon, clock’s ticking.”