Nico disliked the heavy feel of the gun in her hand almost as much as she disliked skulking around in a service tunnel before curfew. Too many people around above, too many chances for someone to notice something, to hear something. She was only an outlaw by necessity of her birth, not by choice and definitely not by inclination.
She halted a moment, listening. Kadin, her companion on this particular venture, stood close enough that she could feel him breathing against her back in the tight tunnel. Her tall, almost androgynous body hovered like a stick inside a bottle. After a moment, she resumed creeping forward.
Definitely too many people up there, somewhere in the world above her. The power hub lay beneath the central Subway station in the Kajipe district. They were three grids down from the Totsi Electronics tower where the rest of the team would be falling into place soon. If Nico and Kadin could do this part right.
“Left,” murmured Kadin, his voice a buzz in her ear. She was the only one in the group without a Personal Uplink implant thingy. Ryg had outfitted her with an ear piece and a patch for her throat, but electronics had a tendency not to last long when in contact with her skin. She couldn’t hear Ryg’s directions at all and depended on Kadin for that.
She acknowledged him in a quick nod and went left. A ladder took them up to a locked hatch. Nico hung on, one arm curled awkwardly around the ladder so she could keep hold of the damn gun. She pressed her other gloved hand against the hatch. Electronic lock, perfect. Power uncoiled within her and buzzed along her skin, stretching through the thin shield of the cloth glove and into the lock.
The hatch popped up with a hiss, as though keyed open. Nico hung there for a moment longer, listening. They had the patrol timings for the power hub and the corridors should be clear, but she trusted her ears far more than a stolen schedule.
“Clear,” she whispered down to Kadin. His face was outlined in red shadows, his strong features a blur to her night vision, but she saw him nod as the shadows shifted. She couldn’t make out the face paint even with her special vision, but she knew the patterns were there, same as her own. The paint clung to her skin, smelling metallic and thick. Her nose itched but she didn’t dare disturb the markings. They needed them to confuse facial recognition.
The corridor led from the entrance, which was now behind them as they emerged and replaced the hatch, down to an office which overlooked the power control room. The whole thing was computerized and automated, but two human guards and a technician were on duty at all times.
Three against two. Not odds that Nico favored, but Kadin was scrappy enough and hopefully no one would try to be a hero. She’d already warned Kadin that he’d have to do any killing, if killing needed doing. But no one wanted it to come to that. The Grey Guard looked for murderers with a lot more gusto than thieves. If they pulled this off right, no one would die and nothing would look like it’d been stolen.
“Too many ifs,” she muttered.
Kadin shushed her and they slid along the wall to the office. The door was thick, the kind that slid back on electronic tracks, and required a key code to open as well. Kadin slipped the jammer from his pocket and set the small device against the wall in the corner near the door. He flicked the switch on it and nodded to Nico. She bent, gun ready, and laid her hand against the electronic keypad. She was just about to short it out when the pad buzzed and the door started to slide open.
* * *
Tommy, AKA the Mouth, had nothing to do but wait. He’d been in position for well over an hour now, though the power field around the secret server room was jamming up his PUDI and he had no way to tell the exact time. He lay on his back in the dry, slightly sweet smelling defunct sewer tunnel, and did long division in his head for kicks.
He had his nickname for talking too much, not for his mouth being anything particularly impressive. His lips were a pinkish line, almost bruised looking, across his narrow brown face. Above them his eyes looked tired and bruised as well. He’d gone for a basic mask instead of the face paint. It worked better with the thermal equalizing suit he wore to keep him comfortable while laying on cement and the gods knew what else.
His part of the job was pretty easy which is why he’d volunteered for this section. The door was state of the art, the walls super thick, and no one was getting into this hidden server room without retinal scan, finger-print, and voice ID. As long as the power worked, anyway. And it was hooked right into the main power hub for Kajipe. And if the power blew, the servers would be offline anyway.
Stupidity was Tommy’s favorite vice in other people. His plan was perfect and they were going to do what no one else would think to, what no one would dare. Hack right into a government black box and walk off with the back-ups of all the data from all the Casimir government systems. Without anyone guessing what they were up to. It was so beautiful he felt his eyes stinging with tears inside the stuffy black cloth mask.
The wall was still humming with power though, so it wasn’t time yet. He just had to lay here, waiting for that buzzing power to go silent. Then he’d walk in, swap the memory stick, retrieve the progs that Ryg would have dosed into the system, and walk right back out again. He could gain the street at the jimmied access point a few hundred meters away, pull off his mask, pull on his overcoat, and catch the subway home before curfew.
Tommy licked his thin lips and smiled. Yeah. He was sure brilliant.
* * *
Clad in black from head to toe with their faces painted, Sif and Hex flattened themselves against the plexi window and let the drone patrol go by. It was before curfew but after business hours, so the security presence wasn’t high yet. But there did seem to be slightly tighter security on this section of buildings than Ryg had led them to expect. Still, it wasn’t yet anything they couldn’t handle.
The drone gone, Sif pulled out her small lazer-cutter and went to work on the window. There was no way to get in here without leaving a trace, but they could minimize the damage. The plexi slowly melted away in a circle as Hex pressed the suction cup to the center, holding the cut-out in place as Sif finished. The oily smoke smelled like cancer happening as it melted away and Hex grit his teeth.
Sif turned off the tool and capped the hot tip, then nodded at Hex. There was enough ambient light from the small running lights inside the hallway that he didn’t need his night vision to see her, but he wished she’d add a little verbal communication to her repertoire.
The cut-out disk came free as he pulled gently and Sif wiggled into the hole, dropping down onto the hallway floor. She crooked a finger at him. His turn.
“Couldn’t have made that opening a little wider?” he muttered over the sub-vocals.
“Eat less,” Sif mouthed and her grin was downright scary with the black markings on her rice-paper skin.
Hex glared, though he knew it was wasted on her, and handed the plexi disk through. His shoulders jammed in the opening for a minute and he entertained a vision of being truly stuck, left for the drones and the Grey Guard to retrieve with cutters and jests in the morning. Spurred by that image, he wiggled his shoulders, stretching his arms above his head.
Sif grabbed onto his hips and yanked. Hex’s head cracked back as he popped loose and slammed into the window, the dull ringing echoing down the hallway and out into the ventilation shaft they’d rappelled down.
“You okay?” Ryg’s voice asked through the PUDI connection. What he meant was “have you been spotted?”
Both thieves froze, waiting for the hum of the drones. Nothing.
Head still stinging and with a dull burr of noise echoing on in his ears below the sound of his racing heart, Hex let out a slow breath.
“Yeah, I think we’re good,” he told Ryg. “Where now?”
Ryg’s response was to pull up the overlay of the building and ping the little map he’d put together for their PUDIs. Sif made sense of it right away and motioned to Hex to follow. He unhooked his harness and left it in the shadows with the cut-out from the window. According to the most likely patrol schedule, they had a good three quarters of an hour before this hallway would be occupied again. Enough time to run the progs and get out.
Hopefully. Ryg wasn’t communicating as much as he usually did on a job. He seemed almost distracted by something. Hex prayed it was just jitters and imagination on his part. No way to bring it up to Sif and get her thoughts without Ryg listening in.
Get in, get out , then worry. With multiple glances behind him, Hex slipped down the corridor after his lover, a growing sense of unease he couldn’t explain tickling the back of his brain.