Short Story: Ghosted

Lighting flashed. Seconds later, thunder cracked. Timing said the strike was close. Somewhere inside the city. The power’d already been out twenty minutes. Sooner or later people would get suspicious. Problem was, they had every right to be. First Trust Banking was about to have near a billion credits stolen, a little suspicion was healthy.

Widow wasn’t the type to do anything half-assed. But something wasn’t sitting right with her. Between her, Wraith, and Alina Cardona running surveillance off-site, they had more than enough skill to do the job. Problem was, so far they hadn’t needed any. It was as if the block outage Cardona’d caused had fried the bank’s back-up systems too. Impossible. More impossible; Widow expected to enter via roof ventilation, emerge in a systems room for halls full of active cams, roving guards.

Instead, Wraith dropped in ahead of her. He ghosted to a door, hesitated, then moved. That was how Wraith worked. He didn’t need words. Especially on a job. He was former counter-terrorism task force, CTTF, a hard-core spec-ops type from a time before corp governments and privatized military and police.

Widow’d learned long ago that he expected absolute adherence to his ways on jobs. They’d had a tech-head along on a job once. He was meant to crack some over-priced laser gear they weren’t in on. The job went fine ‘til the kid triggered a back-up alarm by mistake. Corp-sec swarmed them like flies on fresh shit. The pissant was obviously terrified. More than likely too, prepped to give everyone up.

Wraith didn’t hesitate. He gutted the kid. Like a fish. In front of the crew. A roomful of corp-sec. And he did it with with the same detachment as a worker in a fish-packing warehouse. It wasn’t mean. It wasn’t malicious. It wasn’t cold. Rather, indifferent. Purposeful. Habitual. Widow’d hammered nails with more sympathy.

She later learned the kid had done a nickel in a corp black-site prison. He was supposed to do a dime. His time was reduced for cracking en-route. How he’d survived, Widow couldn’t fathom. He was a coward at the best of times. Wraith didn’t care. He didn’t give the kid a chance to talk.

Wraith’s seeming brutality was the momentary distraction that allowed them to gain the advantage. Wraith tossed an EMP stunner, frying corp-sec comms and helmets. By the time their gear normalized, Widow’d disappeared into a utility shaft behind Wraith. Two years later, here they were.

Since then, Widow’d become convinced there was no-one better to have on a job than Wraith and Alina. They were brawn and brains. Widow was heart– an ice-cold, black-blooded heart of pure adrenaline, but a heart nonetheless. Plus, she had the contacts, the bright ideas. Widow planned and plotted. Even if the others brought her something, she took over from there. There was no reason to do things otherwise. Tried and true was gold. They weren’t about to start fixing unbroken shit or breaking it trying to.

Even still, Widow couldn’t help but feel the same suspicions she expected were tingling on the under-sacks of First Trust’s execs. She ghosted along behind Wraith, two hunters more than ever feeling like prey. It wasn’t sitting right. She suspected Wraith felt the same way, but he’d have never said it. He didn’t need to anyhow. The air did.

The monochrome stainless and granite lobby was too vacant, too quiet. Granted, it was roughly 21:50 zed, someone was bound to be around– janitors, security, the odd boot-licking wage-slave– someone. There was no-one. Darkness. Silence. Emptiness. All the way from the dark upper-floors, down along the stairwells, through the darkened lobby, to the darkened vault-entrance.

Wraith took a position to guard the path they’d come from. Widow knelt beside the massive vault door. It looked like something from the old heist-flicks; big, metal, brash, like the people employing it. Unfortunately, it was also totally fucking impenetrable without power.

Widow dug through her pack, produced a cylindrical power source like a giant AA battery. Alkaline was obsolete nowadays, but the resemblance stuck. Incidentally, this produced somewhere near a million times more power than those batteries. She set it down beside a single-use plaz-torch, a kit of pliers and cutters. The torch lopped off the bolts holding the vault’s access panel together, and a moment later she was stripping and cutting wires. A full minute after, the power source was connected, fueling the vault panel. All they needed now was a spark of the right wires. The locks would release. Everything from there was man-power.

She prepped the wires, holding them apart, but hesitated. Wraith caught it with glance back.

She breathed, “You smell it, too?” His eyes said yes. “Something in the air.”

Alina piped in over their bone-mics, “Corp-sec piping something in?”

“Not literally, Ali,” Widow replied.

There was a silence. All three knew something was about to go down. Their only hope was that they’d get in, get the routing codes and key-drives, and get out anyhow.

Wraith leaned into his rifle. Widow sparked the wires. Ozone nipped at their nostrils. All at once, the dozen bolts spaced along the vault door thunked from gravity’s pull. The door came loose. Good ol’ man-power and perseverance pushed it open. Widow slipped in alone. SOP; always leave one-man outside in case things went sideways. She couldn’t help feeling it wouldn’t matter this time.

She hurried through the vault for the carts of various bit-currency repositories. They were like old-era hard-drives, but bigger, more sophisticated, and built stronger than black-boxes. They had to be; they read, wrote, re-read, and re-wrote data a billion and more times each day, storing transaction lists, balances, routing and account numbers for near-on every First Trust member in the world. At last count, that was something four-hundred million people. A large percentage were multiple-account holders. An insignificant percentage stored more than the rest combined.

Something like twenty trillion credits existed in the world. Half of that was within First Trust’s vaults. The total value of Widow’s vault was said to be a few hundred billion. Taking them all wasn’t an option. It would’ve taken a crew of ten with a pair of troop carriers.

She kept on-mission, located the target cart, grabbed at it. The plan was to wheel the thing straight to the employee entrance at the lobby’s rear. They were risking exposure, sure, but by then the job would be near enough to done that there was no going back.

The cart slid back, around, angled for the door. The lights flared on. The vault door went into lock-down. It slammed closed with an earthquake. The bolts fired into place. Wraith dove out, away, only barely avoided being crushed. Everything happened so fast Widow was stunned. Before she could react, she was locked in the vault.

A voice sounded somewhere overhead, “Send your Doe my regards in hell.”

“What the fuck!?”

Smoke began pouring in. Acrid. Sulfur. Mixed with something like cyanide. Filling the room. Yellow. Stinking like hell.

“Shit.” She took a deeper breath, rubbernecked the vault. “Shit.”

Alina radioed in, “Wraith’s working on the door. You’ve got 30 seconds before the air’s too toxic to breathe. Get low. Slow your heart. Deep breaths. We’re getting you out.”

Widow was already coughing. Sulfur stung her eyes and nose. Cyanide burned her skin and lips. A slow, rolling laughter sounded above. Reality dimmed. Widow wanted to breathe, knew she was better off suffocating. Seconds passed like hours. She fought to push the cart to the vault door, almost completely unaware of it.

The world spun. She couldn’t help it now. She coughed, choked for air. Her breaths were fiery knives. Her eyes were blind from acid-tears streaming agony down her face. She stumbled, slumped against the cart.

Reality flashed past:

The vault door, open. She writhed, floating. Metal-panels. Ceilings. Rolled past. Gunfire echoed nearby. Casings bounced off her boots, stung through her pants. She choked on sweet air, but reality still faded. The last thing she saw before losing total consciousness was the hovering flit of shadows.

She awoke to find Wraith standing over her, arms crossed. Alina’s bright eyes were dark beneath their sockets, but wide in relief.

“She’s up!”

Widow didn’t need Wraith to speak to hear his, “no shit.”

“Hey. You alright?”

Wraith started shining a light in her eyes. She smacked it away, “Get that fuckin’ thing outta’ my face–”

“She’s fine.”

“I know who you are,” Widow said, finding herself inexplicably pissed. “The fuck happened?”

“Doe screwed us,” Alina said. The “no shit” air returned. Ali headed it off. “Sent us in figuring we wouldn’t have a hope in hell. Then hoped if we did, we’d still hand over the data.”

“And? Did we get it?” Widow asked easing herself up.

She found herself home, at the divest of dives, something they called The Grobe. It was like if someone built a hotel to be condemned, never got around to finishing it, then by some quirk of fate, it ended up that anyhow.

Wraith smiled, “Yeah, but we didn’t hand it over.”

“What!? Why?” Widow choked, fearing for their reputation.

“Fuck ‘im. Tried to play us with bad intel. No crew worth their salt would blame us.”

Alina added, “And it’s a message to the other Does that we won’t take being screwed.”

The room slid into silence. Widow slowly tried to reconcile facts, that against all odds, she was alive. She shook off the last of her fatigue and sat up on the edge of her bed. “So what happened to the creds?”

More silence. This time Alina and Wraith share a wickedly smug grin. Suddenly, she knew why.

And she grinned too.

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