February 7th 2013
Tonya took Melvin Hartley Jr. out to lunch. The old man looked like he needed it. In return, he was more than happy to share all he knew about the bank. One of the older institutions in the UEE, the Nebula Bank, gave Hartley’s great-grandmother her first loan to open the museum. Since then, they swelled into a financial behemoth, becoming more and more ruthless as the decades passed. Now, it seemed, the Nebula technically owned the collection of defaulted Artemis relics acquired by the Hartley Museum.
“Trust me, the representative was not thrilled about my loan application,” Melvin said as he cooled down a cup of tea. “But since the museum is a legacy client, his hands were tied. That’s why they were intractable, utterly intractable when I missed a payment. One payment.”
Tonya nodded as she listened. It was hard not to feel bad for the man. Maybe he had a penchant for theatrics, but even she could tell that he genuinely loved the museum. It’s hard not to pick up on that level of desperation. She wished she knew what to tell him. In all likelihood, he was going to lose the museum. Expressing condolences seemed trivial and pointless to her. Hartley didn’t know her, why would he care that she was sorry? It’s not like their communal sorrow would mystically summon a financial solution. Again, what was the point?
So she left it alone. Hartley sat in silence, blowing on his tea, before finally taking a sip.
* * * *
Hartley thanked her for the lunch and drifted back toward the museum. Tonya watched him shuffle down the street and turn a corner. Then she set her sights on Nebula.
The bank was an obelisk of metal and glass. Just on the way into the lobby, she picked out sixteen counter-intrusion devices for the building. There were cameras, motion sensors, thermal imaging, microphone-tendrils in the floor, and charge-boxes of nanodrones embedded in each of the panes. That was just the lobby. Her head hurt to think about what they had in mind for the vault.
The center of the lobby was filled with open cubicles and booths. Podiums for simple transactions or account info rose from the marble floor. All of the bank employees were dressed in the same dark blue uniforms. They all had the pallor of wax, with their hair either slicked or pulled back. They were very much human but conditioned to act like robots. It was disconcerting.
“Good afternoon, Miss Oriel,” a young man in his early twenties said as he approached. They must have Ret-scanners here too. “Can I interest you in a modest-rate savings account?”
“Sure.” Tonya smiled. The bank employee led her through the maze of cubicles to his tiny office and sat down. He started his sales pitch, comparing and contrasting the various savings and transaction accounts the bank offered, the number of branches Nebula currently offered, etc. Tonya tuned most of it out, although she did notice that their service charges were ridiculously high. She was more focused on collecting data of her own. Based on the bank employee’s screen, the bank was on a Kraken Network — a fairly complicated system with a wide array of security plug-ins but mostly open source. They didn’t have fingerprint or retina access panels on their employee systems.
“So can we sign you up?” He smiled blankly.
“This is a really big financial decision. It’s my future, you know?” Tonya stood and offered her best thoughtful and considerate look. “I’m going to have to really think this over.”
Tonya left. She was a bit premature in assuming that she could break into the bank. The more she saw, the less she liked her odds.
Outside, she contacted one of Gavin Arlington’s legion of assistants and pled her case for acquiring the artifacts from the bank directly. The assistant was curt but polite. He said he would relay her message to Arlington and contact her when he heard back.
Back on the Beacon II, Tonya started looking into Nebula’s networks. Nothing serious, just a couple pokes and prods to test its reaction time. It did little to assuage her apprehensions. But she did find something of interest while sifting through the public shareholders’ updates:
Nebula Bank owned a controlling interest in a company called Public Reclamations, a local storage facility. It was an interesting lead made better when she found that their corporate services listed repossession and estate holdings as their specialization.
Their security was crap too. It took less than an hour for Tonya to access their internal network. She ran a search using Hartley’s case number with Nebula and got a hit. Six crates were being stored in their Kensington warehouse. Fifth floor. Lot #45ZB.
Suddenly, Tonya’s plan seemed viable again.
* * * *
Unfortunately, the security at Public Reclamations’ warehouse was not as flimsy as their network. Studying the architecture from a rooftop across the street, there were roving security guards, visible cameras, and wired windows. The building itself was a massive cube, isolated in the middle of the block. Not the easiest approach, especially for a self-professed ‘recreational justified burglar’ like Tonya.
On the plus side, someone in charge clearly had trust issues, because Tonya found remote access to a separate dedicated security feed that seemed to focus on the employees. She transferred the network’s access from her MobiGlas to the HUD in her linked glasses. Now she could switch between the guards on patrol, in the security center, even the staff lounge. Although she still couldn’t affect the building’s security systems, it was better than nothing.
Tonya left the warehouse to get her props.
An hour later, she set the Beacon II down in the private landing bay. A sales rep greeted her while the engines were still cycling down.
“Hi, can I help you?” This rep was even cheerier than the last one.
“Yeah, I need some storage space.” Tonya looked around the lot, as if surveying it for the first time. She was doing her best to channel this old hauler she used to overhear at the Torchlight Express. “You guys do that, right?”
“That’s what the sign says,” the rep laughed nervously. Tonya didn’t crack a smile. He smothered any further chuckling. “Yes, you are correct.”
“Good. I’ve got four-point-seven-eight metric tonnes of unspecified cargo that I need to offload. You got that kind of space?”
“Sure, the facility is outfitted to –“
“Yeah, I don’t know. I’ll have to have a look first.”
“Of course. Follow me.” The rep led her inside.
“Got anything on the fifth floor?” Tonya scoped out the security cameras. The rep stammered for a second then checked his Glas.
“Um. We do, but there are available units on lower floors.”
“Yeah, well, in my experience when people break into a place, they’re gonna hit the lower levels first.”
“I assure you, we’re quite secure.”
“Oh, I’m sure you are. Humor me.”
The rep took her up to the fifth floor, giving his sales pitch the whole time. He led her through the narrow halls, all lit with the same flat lighting bars. They passed a massive set of rolling doors. A screen beside it listed a span of lot numbers, including Hartley’s. It must be Nebula’s store.
Tonya stopped at the small storage bay next door. The locking mechanism wasn’t activated. She glanced up and down the hall. There were two cameras aimed at Nebula’s storage space and they weren’t even overlapping coverage. She could stand underneath one without being seen by the other.
“This one available?” She tapped the screen. The gate rolled up. The rep was a few steps ahead of her.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said as he hurried back. “I don’t think it’ll be large enough based on your size requirements.”
Tonya stepped inside the small dusty room and looked around.
“This’ll be fine.”
“I know how you guys work, try to up-sell me on space I don’t need.” The rep was about to argue but wilted under the threat of losing the sale. Tonya felt like she was getting the hang of this social manipulation thing.
A month’s rent up-front and a fake name was all it took for the rep to thank her repeatedly and disappear from sight.
Tonya went back to her ship. She loaded a pair of crates onto her anti-grav mover and headed inside. In her storage space, she opened the crates. They were empty except for some entry-tools and her MobiGlas.
She checked on the feed from the security center. The guards were busy talking to the sales rep, who was posturing like he’d made the sale of the century.
Back outside, she fixed her MobiGlas to an extendable baton and snapped a pic of the closer camera’s angle on the storage bay. She flipped the picture to a small portable screen. Double-checking to make sure the guards were still distracted, she brazenly placed the photo inches in front of the camera. The feed on the monitor went dark as the auto-exposure recalibrated, but eventually it balanced itself.
The guards were none the wiser. Tonya repeated the procedure for the second camera. She ran a bypass of the locking mechanism and within ten minutes the gate rolled open.
Nebula’s storage bay occupied the rest of the floor. It was a labyrinth of repossessed antiquity and furniture.
Tonya maneuvered the anti-grav mover through the narrow passages as she scanned the lot numbers. Finally she found Hartley’s collection of Artemis relics stacked and wrapped in a weave.
She checked on the guards. They were silently laughing about something with the rep. She slashed the weave, loaded the boxes onto the mover, and sealed them inside her cargo crates.
As she crossed the landing bay to the Beacon II, the sales rep came running.
“Is everything all right?” he yelled.
“Yeah, you were right, my stuff wouldn’t fit.”
“Do you want a different –“
“That’s okay. I’ll find another spot.”
Tonya closed the cargo doors and moved up to the cockpit. The engines heated up and she took off, leaving a very confused rep on the landing bay.
With Earth quickly receding in her six, Tonya set her course and went to see what Hartley had acquired. She carefully opened the boxes; she would catalogue everything more thoroughly when she had a chance, but it seemed to be mostly launch transcripts and preliminary designs before she got to it …
Judging simply by appearance, it was an obsolete drive suspended inside a shock-resistant airtight archive case. But she knew — it was Janus. An original copy of the Artemis’ piloting AI.
Tonya basked in the moment. It didn’t last long, as the intense curiosity that fueled her flared up once again.
She dusted off an old system that could accept the Janus drive. Before she would even think about activating Janus, she went through, making sure that the host system wasn’t directly connected to her ship for anything other than power. Last thing she needed was an AI running rampant through her flight computer.
Satisfied, Tonya took a long deep breath. She cracked open the archive case with the Janus drive. It didn’t appear to have aged a day since it was packed. Tonya sorted out the cables and plugged it into the system.
For the third time, she went through and triple-checked the connections.
Her finger hovered over the power button on the Janus drive.
“Here we go,” she murmured …
… and pressed it.