Ash opened the door and slipped into the hallway leading towards the elevator, looking around to see if anyone had taken special interest in their presence. Seeing no one had, he tossed a wink back at Mari. She rolled her eyes, but kept close behind him.
As he went around the corner his posture changed somewhat, and his shoulders slumped a bit as he ‘lugged’ the files with him towards the elevators.
The elevator opened up, revealing itself to be packed with people dressed similarly to them.
“Floor?” said one bored-looking drone.
“Ninth floor, please,” said Ash. She pushed the button as he and Mari stepped in.
The elevator sped up, and opened up into a row of cubicles, with people flitting about like bees in a hive.
“Told you,” said Jayna’s voice in Mari’s ear. “Places like this, the security getting in and out is sewn up tight. They vet everybody, especially deliveries. But once you’re in, nobody gives a shit.”
“Yeah, just keep an eye on the security detail, Queen Bee, make sure they’re not onto us,” Ash said, and moved towards the center reception pen.
A woman in a sharp pantsuit was at the center of attention, directing the swarm of interns this way and that.
“No, no, that needs to be filed over in that department,” she said, pointing. “Look, I know that with the new filing system the product markup reports aren’t as clear as they used to be, but-“
“Hey, we gotta bring the financial reports to accounts payable upstairs,” said Ash, his voice a bit more nasally than usual. “Mr. Sagumi wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost in processing again.”
She stared down at them, narrowing her eyes. “Who sent you?” she said, pushing down her horn-rimmed glasses. “Hong was supposed to be seeing to the financial reports.”
“Hong got transferred to the Hyeseong’s offices on Fujin Five already,” Ash said, petulantly. “I got stuck with all of his grunt work and he didn’t even file the reports he was supposed to file! I mean, if you’re not even going to clean up your messes, then why does he get to get transferred and I have to–“
The woman raised a silencing finger with one hand and massaged her temple with the other.
“I swear, you interns could not find your collective rear ends with both hands and a map,” she said. “Fine, go on up, but be quick about it. And get me a coffee on the way down! No cream, two synth-sweets. If you put sugar in it again, I swear I will fire you and anyone standing near you.”
“Right, black with two fake sugars, got it,” Mari said and hurried out past her and towards the elevator bays.
Ash grinned as he pulled into the bays. “Works every time,”
“I didn’t know you could turn your annoying personality into an asset,” said Jayna. “Nice work”
“I have many talents,” said Ash, as the elevator made its way up. As it did, Ash took off his glasses and pressed a button on the elevator. A small screen popped out from behind a panel and ash held his glasses up to it.
After a moment, the chime sounded. “Welcome, Mr. Sagumi. Accessing, Floor Seventeen. Please, enjoy your visit,” the elevator said cheerfully and then began to float upwards.
Mari shook her head. “How did you guys get all this stuff?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” chimed in Jayna, sweetly. “We’ve been at this for awhile. We know people. You two in position?”
“Primed and ready,” said Ash.”
“Right then,” said Jayna. “You’re up, Monarch.”
“Stand by, guys,” said Zane’s voice. “You’ll know to make your move when you get the signal, and it’ll be really hard to miss.”
“I’m still not sold on this part of the plan,” said Mari. “Isn’t Zane-“
“Zane’ll be fine,” said Ash. “Trust me. We’ve done this maneuver lots of times.”
Zane, who was in a parked car in front of the building, went over his supplies once again, then checked the time. Perfect.
He had left his cap home for this mission. He would hate for something to happen to it, after all. In its stead, he had a cheap green and white bucket hat that he picked up from the spaceport gift shop. He slipped on a pair of dark glasses, and capped off the ensemble by tying a black bandana over his face. Showtime.
Taking one more look around to make sure that nobody who could get hurt was around, he turned the car on, pulled it out of the parking space, then revved the accelerator, speeding forward until he was mere feet from the front door. Then he jumped out of the car, pushed through the front door, and discharged several gunshots into a nearby light fixture.
The lobby of the building wasn’t very busy this time of day, but it still got a reaction in the two waiting rooms and at the security desk. Two security guards started heading his way, reaching for their own weapons.
Zane quickly threw open the coat he was wearing, revealing the mass of wires and blocks strapped to his chest, connecting to a small remote in his hand.
“Take one step closer and everything goes boom!” he shouted. “I don’t want to hurt anyone!”
The two security guards stepped back a bit, and one looked back to the desk. Zane lowered his weapon and shot at the security detail, missing the guard’s head by centimeters with mathematical precision. “No, no cops! The minute I hear a siren, we’re all leaving in pieces!”
Zane stepped forward, once he was sure he was the center of attention. “I want to speak to the CEO of this company!” he shouted. “Right here! In person! You’ve got two hours or I blow us all sky high!”
In the background, Zane heard an alarm going off, and allowed himself a smile beneath the bandana.
“You’re on,” he murmured, just loud enough for his earpiece to pick up. “Hurry.”
“Okay, you guys are clear, no one should be coming up to join you, and the emergency exit signal should be coming up right about–“
They both winced as an earsplitting klaxon began to sound. “Now, jeez that’s loud. I’ve got the police scramblers on and called in a nasty domestic dispute on the other side of town that involved gunfire and kids. Should be able to draw a few pokers off the building. We’ve got ten minutes to pull this off.”
“Dare I ask what happens if the CEO actually shows up?” asked Mari, as the elevator opened up.
“Considering that the CEO is vacationing on Fujin Three, I suspect we’re okay,” said Ash, smirking. “C’mon.”
In the interim, both of them had changed into white labcoats. “So you just wore these all day, huh?” said Ash, checking himself out in a nearby reflective surface. “Did you ever just wear the same clothes underneath it?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she said, as they stepped out into the clean white hallways. She pulled out her tablet and checked the floor plan. “This way.”
Ash nodded, following her lead as he wrestled into his bag for the next tool they’d need. That’s when he bumped into Mari.
“What… why’d you stop?” he said, and then looked up. “…Queen Bee, we may have a problem.”
“How old were those blueprints?” said Mari.
“A couple of months was the best we could do,” said Jayna. “But they should be–“
“Yeah, they’ve remodeled since then,” said Mari, looking up at the solid wall before her.
Jayna sighed. “Okay… sit tight and out of sight. Let me tell Zane he needs to stall for longer. You guys just hold on, I’ll figure out what went on.”
“Don’t take too long,” came Zane’s murmured reply. “I can only stall for so long before this escalates.”
“I just need a minute, hold on,” Jayna said. In the background, they could hear her chair groan as she switched consoles.
On the other side of the line, Ash had pulled Mari into a small closet between the research laboratories and the lobby.
“Does this happen often?” Mari whispered.
“Yeah, especially when a company is in the middle of boom or bust–they try and fit more people into the same amount of space when they’re booming, or wall off stuff so it doesn’t look so desolate when a lot of people are leaving. It’s probably just a partition,” he whispered back.
“Does that mean we can just break it?” said Mari. “I mean, we’re already robbing the place, what’s a little petty vandalism?”
“It’s not so much the vandalism as it is the witnesses,” Ash said. “I can knock out a couple people. What I can’t do is erase the memories of fifty interns crammed into a room like can of sardines. We need to make sure one way or the other what’s on the other side of that wall.”
“Got it–you’re fine for now. Luckily they’re just doing renovations on the other side of the wall. Found a contract here. Looks like they’re licensed for general contracting at night. You’re good.”
Ash nodded, and dug into his bag, pulling out what looked like a brick of white clay with a button stuck into it.
“Is that explosive?” said Mari. “Won’t somebody notice the big boom?”
“It’s not explosive, it’s concussive. Give me a bit of credit here.” Ash said, and pulled her back.
“Damn, Mr. Mechanic,” said Mari. “Where’d you learn to do this?”
“Too much time on the internet and a lot of singed eyebrows,” he said, and then covered his ears. Mari mimicked him just as the wall blew off with a dead thud, the wall falling over. Ash was already halfway over it as soon as it happened. “C’mon. People will just think it’s the workers.”
“We can hope so,” said Mari. “The place we’re supposed to break into nearby?”
“Yeah, it should be,” said Ash. “And most of the security should be downstairs seeing to the disgruntled employee, so we should have an easy-“
Something not far from them let off a beep, followed by a harsh mechanical buzz.
Ash flattened against the wall, dragging Mari with him.
“Jayna,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Remind me. What sort of tech company is Saikyou again?”
A brief pause. “Robotics. Why?”
“So how likely is it they have a drone-based security system?”
“…. pretty likely.”
Ash groaned. “And I’m not half the marksman Zane is.”
“Unauthorized personnel,” blared a pre-recorded. “You are entering a restricted area. Please present your credentials.”
“Uhh… quick… say this out loud!” Jayna said in both their eardrums.
Ash poked his head up from around the corner. “Um, Alpha Code 0000-12 Section A. Reset to default settings?”
There was a loud buzz.
“Error ,” said the voice. “Unrecognized code detected. Commencing countermeasures.”
“Nice try,” said Mari, groaning.
Ash shook his head. “Let’s try this code,” he murmured and leveled his gun, popping off two quick shots into the drone.
The bullets ricocheted off the robot as they came into view. It was roughly disc-shaped, hovering before them, with two grasping appendages attached to each. Electricity crackled between the appendages.
Ash sighed. “Jayna, we might need to scrap this plan and burn out. We’ll grab the tech and just take the scrapped hit.”
“Wait,” said Mari. “Belay that. I have an idea. Follow my lead.”
With that, Mari jumped out, waving her hands around frantically.
If the thing had eyes, it’d probably be narrowing them. Both discs surrounded her, the electricity beginning to crackle with intensity. “Present your credentials or be apprehended appropriately.”
“I got your credentials right here!” said Mari, turning around and giving her rear a smack. “Come and get ’em!”
“The fuck do you think you’re doing?” hissed Ash.
“I have a plan,” said Mari. “Grab me a piece of rebar!”
Ash did as instructed watching her warily as she danced from side to side to keep their attention focused on her.
Ash tossed her the rebar, and as it went in for the lunge, she turned the rebar horizontal, thrust it forward, and hit the floor as the drone grasped it in both arms.’
Ash watched as the disc rumbled and then exploded, dropping to the ground with a charred husk.
“Nice work, newbie,” Ash said. “Quick thinking.”
“Guess you didn’t just sign me on for my rugged good looks,” she said, wiping her brow.
“Good work, guys–around the next corner should be the robotics lab. We’re looking for a black case under lock and key in a storage unit inside the lab.”
“Right, black case,” said Mari, as they turned the corner and saw a big steel security door.
“Tell me you won’t have to blow this one too,” she said with a sigh.
Ash grinned and stepped up to it, putting his hand on a panel. It opened up instantly.
After the alarms had been pulled at some point, the robotics lab had cleared out, leaving them alone. Ash scoped out the room, moving to check every last nook and cranny as Mari approached a cabinet.
There was a rather complicated-looking mechanism over the lock. Mari gave it a poke. “Get over here and work your magic,” she said. “This has got to be it.”
Ash knelt down, slipping a small tool out of his pack. Mari retrieved half of her sandwich as he worked.
“I will teach you how to do this when we’ve got a little downtime. It’s pretty easy to pick up…”
“I’ll take your word for it,” said Mari, as she munched on her sandwich. Then, curiously, she peered between the slices of bread.
“Is this… turkey and jam?” she said.
“With cereal,” said Ash. “Zane has very particular taste in sandwiches. It’s delicious, right?”
“…it really is,” said Mari, taking another bite.
“Dude has a gift,” said Ash, popping the device off and slipping it into his pack.
He pulled up a small device about the size of an orange and scanned it over the cabinet. Hearing nothing he nodded and put it back in his pack. “Just wanted to make sure there were no other surprises in the wiring. But we’re good.”
With that, he opened up the cabinet. There were a number of different little black cases with clear lids littered haphazardly on every shelf.
He turned back to Mari. “Serial number?”
“ZLO-11503,” said Mari.
“Here we go,” said Ash, pulling out the case and popping it open. Inside was… a rectangular chip, maybe ten centimeters square.
“Is… that it?” said Mari. “I was expecting something more impressive.”
“They can’t all be the revolutionary wonder drug, biodome or I dunno, new form of booze. Sometimes it’s just a chip with some information on it,” Ash shrugged.
“Queen Bee, this is… do I have to say it?”
“You know you do.”
Ash sighed. “This is Dung Beetle. I’m sorry for stealing your last protein bar. Anyway, we’ve got the chip. Tell Zane to wrap it up and head to the front, we’ll slip out of the back.”
“We may have a bit of a problem,” came Zane’s voice. “The police response is a bit faster than we anticipated. They’re not trying anything yet but my original escape route is blocked off.”
Ash thought for a moment. “Well… we may have to try our Plan B.”
“I didn’t care much for B,” Zane said, his voice strained over the comm. “I didn’t like that ‘B’ stood for Boom,” he whispered.
“Yeah, but at this point, Plan B is the only way we get away clean,” said Mari. “If the police are outside, the media can’t be far behind.”
Zane seemed to have a long suffering sigh.
“Monarch, there’s an exit off to the east. That’s as good a place as anywhere.”
“We’ll head out of the back entrance and seem panicked when we do so. Hopefully that’ll give you a little time.
“Hurry,” said Zane. “The hostages are getting antsy and if I keep not actually doing anything, one of them might try something heroic.”
“Initiate Plan B. We’ll be the heroes. Down in second.”