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Compliance

Three thieves infiltrate a mega-corporation’s vault using their connections, wit, and tech. But are they prepared for an enemy that has more of each?

By Elizabeth Kaye DaughertyPublished about a year ago 11 min read
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“Come on, Romo, you said this would be easy. In and out.”

The young woman glared from behind the glass visor wrapped around her head at eye level, attached at her ears burning with embarrassment. “I said it’d be in and out. I didn’t say it’d be easy.”

Her partner crossed his arms and shifted his hips so that the gun holstered on it barreled down on Romo. “If I don’t start seeing progress my fingers are gonna start getting twitchy. Nobody wants -”

He stopped abruptly as a glowing orange laser found the base of his throat. The beam fanned out in a stiletto blade attached to a materializing wrist.

A figure appeared from the air, dark hood over a breathing mask that kept him featureless aside from a pair of dark eyes. The miniscule screens on his gear shifted in and out of view, reflecting the tight and plain hallway around them.

The figure said nothing.

“Easy, easy. Don’t sicc your dog on me.”

When he lifted his hands his to show supplication, the figure withdrew his weapon and disappeared again.

“Farris, this will work. I’ll have to go manual instead of wireless, that’s all. Just shut up so I can think,” said Romo.

Farris sighed. “Yeah I guess you like the silent type.”

She scoffed, then muttered, “Better than a nasally nagging every five seconds.”

Romo slipped the end of her left pinky finger off revealing the jack she’d had cybernetically implanted years before she started working at the Vattiq Company. When she was just a no-name hacker learning how to breach a firewall. She slipped it into the bay below the wall-screen that connected to and controlled the elevator beyond the shut door that stopped them. As she made the link, the wall mounted screen darkened and displayed on her visor. From there, accessing the internal systems was as simple as typing out the right sequence on the screen projected against her rooted arm.

After a moment of typing, the mechanical hum of the elevator answered.

“Finally,” Farris grunted despite the smile in the corners of his mouth.

Romo withdrew her finger and rose. “Don’t celebrate yet. This isn’t the home stretch. Not even close,” she turned her head over her shoulder. “Your time to shine, Pinn.”

On the other side of her, the hooded figure shifted into view again.

The mechanical sound slowed and ended as it drew closer. Then, a melodic voice of no particular person spoke from above. “Hello, Mr. Bixley and associates. Please state the passphrase to access the vaults.”

Pinn straightened and pressed on the side of his mask. The voice of Mr. Bixley said through Pinn’s digitized voice, “Angel falls.”

In the space of a breath, the silence suffocated the three before releasing them with a muted ping. The doors slid open and presented a metal-lined interior. Farris pumped his fist. He opened his mouth to say something, no doubt a smartass comment about the time it’d taken to get here, but Romo silenced him with an open handed gesture guiding them into the elevator.

The three stepped in and after a moment the doors slid shut with only a slight puff of air from the hydraulics. The sound of racing heartbeats filled the static room, with both Farris and Pinn trying to make sense of the scrolling lines of code on Romo’s visor screen.

She let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “Looks like the elevator status was successfully rerouted to the proxy. No one knows we’re here.”

“Let’s keep it that way,” said Farris.

The hydraulics whispered again as the elevator glided to a stop. When it opened, they found themselves in the heart of the Vattiq Company - an atrium with two-story servers in the halls, glowing aqua blue and occasionally letting loose a flare of white that traveled up along an indecipherable network of cables and links that disappeared into the shadow-clad ceiling.

And at the center, a pillar of clear quartz dancing with colored lights from the figure sat at the top. A solid steel box. Featureless. Corners and edges sharp as a razor’s edge.

“That’s it,” Romo said, nodding toward it. “That’s the Cube.”

Farris laughed dryly. “That thing? That’s where Vattiq keeps its tech secrets? The ultimate super computer could fit in a backpack?”

Pinn’s head stayed on a swivel, taking in the sights as he trailed behind the others.

“Bixley told me himself,” Romo said.

“And it’s protected by just one voice scan and elevator signal?” Farris pulled ahead, the smile on his face approaching beaming.

Romo snagged his wrist and turned his head to a glass panel in the floor. “Hardly.”

As Farris squinted, Romo touched her visor. The panel then slid up, growing out of the ground into a pillar that reached the waist height of Mr. Bixley. Farris had to lean forward.

“I’ll have to trigger everything manually since the proxy intercepted our elevator ping. Thankfully, the wireless connectivity down here is basically like oxygen.”

She snorted a little laugh. Farris rolled his eyes. “I’ll keep my hands to myself. I get it.”

“Speaking of hands, let’s see.”

Romo inched closer to the panel. On the face, faint letters and an outline prompted a hand scan to begin the security sequence. “All right, let’s pull some logs.”

She sifted through the recent data in the system. Easy when she didn’t need to break through a nearly infinitely encrypted firewall. She’d given every part of herself to get her bioIP added to the whitelist, but that meant that there was nothing left for her to salvage from it. Once this was done, it wouldn’t matter that the Vattiq Company knew it was her - she’d be long gone with a new bioIP. A whole new life where the Vattiq Company and Mr. Bixley never hurt her or her family.

She’d leave the wedding ring. Pawning it was too risky, and anyway there was no price to put on losing her tiny shackle.

The hand scanner hummed a pleasing note and the outline flashed white. “Welcome, Mr. Bixley,” it said.

Farris grinned, despite the slow pacing of watching someone touch and type away. The screens on the pane appeared, then faded away as the hacker slipped through the correct sequences. Sometimes the voice would start to say something, thanking Mr. Vattiq Corp himself, Aldar Bixley, for his patience and compliance. Knowing that Bixley wasn’t even around filled him with a deep, sick pleasure. And all it took to distract him was a simple plastic bomb. The real retro stuff. The lack of bioIP meant that Farris could be anyone and everyone, which was exactly the idea.

Mega corporations like Vattiq thought he was under their thumb, but he was actually under their nose. He was everywhere. The public all knew him, but they couldn’t recognize him on sight save for his innermost circle. Even Bixley’s cameras couldn’t catch him thanks to the scrambling chip under the skin of his temple.

“There we go,” Romo whispered.

“Please provide your password,” the robotic voice prompted.

“Another one?” Farris mouthed.

Romo looked past him to Pinn, who met her gaze with a nod.

Pinn, as silent and deadly as a muscle flexing to throw a blade. His loyalty was to Romo and to dismantling Vattiq. Anything else was just extra noise. He put his fingers to the button and with Mr. Bixley’s voice said, “Revelation.”

Romo’s heart fluttered as she turned back to the screen and waited for the text to blink white.

Instead, they blinked red. “Incorrect password given. Activating security protocols. Level: 4.”

“What?!” Farris snarled, out loud.

Pinn’s dark eyes widened.

Romo gawked. “Wr-Wrong password? I don’t understand, did he update it this morning?”

A rumble slithered under their feet and echoed in their skulls as the glass panel thrust back into the floor and a nearby portion of wall began to shimmer as though... liquifying? The circuits and metal lifted away and shifted into a shape like head and shoulders.

“THAT’S security level four?!” Farris backpedaled and found his gun instinctively pulled by his hand.

A full form emerged from the wall; black with colorful lines of circuits beneath its clear sheen, eight feet tall with a pixelated, cycloptic eye and thick arms that opened into canons at the end.

Romo loosed a string of curses under her breath as a cold sweat flashed across her skin.

Pinn materialized between her and the robot, the laser-blades attached to his wrist guards ready to fire.

“Subjects detected: Three. Deadly force authorized.” The automaton’s eye swept the room. “Predicted threat level: zero. Resistance not recommended.”

A blast of hot pink laser slammed against the enormous security robot’s chest and left a glowing residue. “Take that for threat level zero you hunk of junk!” Finn shouted as he spun the chamber of his weapon.

The eye swiveled in his direction. “Adjusted threat level: one. Resistance detected. Initiating level four protocol.”

Moving with mechanical precision and swiftness, the security automaton’s cannon arm sighted Farris and let fly its white hot beam. Romo took off in a sprint. Pinn straightened his arm and locked his laser point onto the canon arm. The knife appeared, slicing through and causing an arc of lightning to spark around it.

“Sheesh, this thing needs to work on its aim.” Farris laid on the ground, staring up at the ceiling as the laser light faded. Then he aimed his gun down past his feet and fired. The second shot hit the bot in the chest again, tearing the hole open wider.

“Adjusted threat level: two. Activating crowd control measures.”

“Uh oh.” Farris lifted the soles of his feet to the nearest wall.

Romo slid on her rubber heels from server tower to server tower. “There has to be a control panel... somewhere!”

Pinn’s blade vanished and so did he.

Farris’ hips lifted and brought the rest of him along as his shoes pulled him through the air, leaving behind a liquifying floor that reformed into sharp spikes where he’d just been.

The robot stomped forward, detaching from the wall. As it did, Pinn appeared on its shoulder and gripped the top of the head eye to hold steady. Trying to throw him, the damaged cannon swung out away from any of the party.

Romo’s legs came out from under her as she snagged a promising wall panel. Her hip collided with the floor which sizzled with electricity. She rushed to get the rubber soles beneath her and whipped a flathead screwdriver out of her pockets.

“Any time now, Romo,” Farris dug his heels into the wall and bounded up. “Does this thing have a backdoor or what?”

“Just keep it occupied!” She shouted back.

Pinn cartwheeled over the robot’s head and pressed the blade through where his hands met the eye screen. He landed on the balls of his feet on the other shoulder. He turned to the woman on the floor.

She felt the intense stare without having to look back. A familiar gaze that she’d known as a reassurance and a cry for help throughout countless situations - just maybe none like this.

The panel dropped to the floor and she put her pinky into the bay again. Her visor bloomed with red warning lights and purple strings of code that pulsated faster than her eyes could keep up with.

“Ohhhhhh-kay...” she breathed. Then she dove in.

Farris bent backwards and leveled his gun. The chamber slid into place and cranked bright pink laser down the barrel. It flew true and met its mark in the open mouth of the powerful gun in the robot’s arm. Dark smoke spilled out of it and flew into Pinn’s face, making him lose his balance and hack, loudly.

“Shit,” Farris muttered through grit teeth.

Pinn teetered and disappeared out of view. The smoke curled around his body as it leaned hard to the left and dropped out of the plumes before he crashed into view again on the ground, the shock of it causing the tech on his suit to de-sync.

Romo didn’t see. She didn’t hear. Everything was lines of code, encrypted folders that she had no choice but to brute force through without any finesse of a hacker trying to fly under the radar.

If the security team didn’t know they were here before, they would soon.

“Mr. Bixley -” the robot’s voice stuttered. “Bixley and associates. The date is - the date is - Security measures -”

Then at last she found it. The morning’s log of when Bixley had reset the password. And the command line that triggered it.

She punched it.

The robot froze in place and the serene voice from the automated system spoke instead. “You’ve chosen to reset your password. Please, say your new password out loud.”

Farris and Romo’s heads swiveled to find Pinn in a heap on the floor. Romo covered her mouth but refused to make a sound, lest the system lock them out again and for good.

Pinn’s arm shook as he reached for the mask. He pushed the button, then said, “Righteous justice.”

Relief washed over them all. It sounded like Bixley. The voice modulator hadn’t been damaged in the fall.

After a beat of the loudest silence they’d ever heard, then the system responded. “New password accepted. Please allow 5 seconds for the new password to take effect.”

Farris walked himself backwards down the wall and Romo ran to Pinn’s side. She took his hand and brought him to his feet. He leaned against her, but kept his eyes on the floor. He held his shoulder and winced away from Romo when she touched it.

“Please, state your password,” said the system.

Mr. Bixley’s voice answered again with the new phrase.

“Access granted.”

Farris jumped the final three feet between the floor and himself, then broke into a run to the center of the room. Romo helped Pinn hobble closer as he wiggled his fingers in the air surrounding it.

“Been dreaming about this a long time,” Farris said, surprisingly clear despite the evident salivation happening. “I can’t believe we really did it. I thought for sure one of you would get killed!”

An orange beam of light shone on the side of his throat then vanished in a gush of red blood. Pinn’s blade split the skin and the jugular beneath.

Farris’ hands immediately clutched where the laser had cut him and he tried to cry out - but the insides were sliced. He dropped to his knees. The eyes of the once great thief and criminal flicked rapidly between Romo and Pinn, and saw the way one of his eyes had changed from dark brown to bright green. An eye he knew. An eye that watched his pain with uncontained delight.

Romo stepped out and away from Pinn’s grasp. He bobbed without her support but held himself up. “What the! This wasn’t part of the plan? You never told me about this! You can’t! He’s going to die, Pinn! What have you done?”

Then those eyes met hers, and the world froze. She knew that eye, too.

“Pinn” removed his mask. The eyes became green. Pinn’s scarred but handsome and youthful face was instead the bearded jawline of Aldar Bixley.

“It’s you,” she whispered. “This whole time?”

“Since this morning. Just before I changed the password,” he said. The voice modulator never needed to work. “Nice to meet your acquaintance Mrs. Linzy Bixley-Romo.”

Tears flooded her face. “What’d you do to him? He was my friend. My...”

“Don’t worry,” Aldar straightened and rolled his shoulder backwards. He shook out his hair, the disheveled mess falling easily into his pristine facade. “His fate was quick, clean. He didn’t suffer but I’m afraid that I can not say the same for you my dear wife.”

Her feet felt far away, but she ran anyway. She knew it was pointless. The elevator was the only way in or out.

Aldar caught up with her and took her left wrist. His fingers gripped the wedding band. Then, he pulled.

Short Story
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About the Creator

Elizabeth Kaye Daugherty

Elizabeth Kaye Daugherty, or EKD for short, enjoys a good story, cats, and dragons.

Though she has always written fiction, she found a love of creative nonfiction while studying at Full Sail University.

https://linktr.ee/Ekdwriter

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