WINTERTIDE ON SUMMERFAIR
Previously: The White Ride
Themesong: Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore and Ryan
“You want us to do what?” Wash said, eyes (both cybernetic and natural) wide with disbelief.
Mal was a little more sanguine. “I appreciate as you’ve helped us out a time or two-”
Kaylee interrupted him with a dry and amused, “hundred.”
Mal glowered but continued, “Or more. I’ll acknowledge that. And we could use the cash, but this job is insanity.”
“Oh. It absolutely is. Seven bank jobs in seven days is madness of the highest order… which is why I can’t imagine taking anyone else with me on the run.” It wasn’t quite true. Serenity’s crew was my third choice, but my first choices were… well… not functioning too well. We’d been in the Verse for eight and a little under a half years, and had lost more companions than was at all happy making.
Meetra had been badly injured in an accident in an industrial plant where we’d received information about a potential key fragment. It had been a hoax, but that hadn’t stopped a rival group of treasure hunters led by one Kapashin Gol from rigging up booby traps that had brought down the entire facility as Meetra and I’d raced to escape it.
After Francine’s death in action, AJ’d gotten progressively more moody and had slipped into a “smooth” habit without any of us noticing until it had gotten bad enough to affect his flying. The street drug was a system suppressant often prescribed to sufferers of emotional trauma, but in larger doses it just left the patient numb.
Joy had been detained by the Alliance as far as we could tell, apparently captured breaking into and then out of a secure black book site. We had no idea if she was alive or not nor where she was, and even The Operative hadn’t been able to help us with that. It, like all the other setbacks and failures in this world, bothered me daily.
But worst of all was the loss, with all hands, of Bao’s ship. As best as the Alliance had been able to determine, it had been the work of a Sino-phobic Anglo-sphere-Firsters calling themselves the Occidental Liberation Directorate. OLD had certainly claimed responsibility for the act, which had killed not only my friends but a member of the Alliance Council and family that had been travelling aboard the ship and which were the primary targets.
I’d sent Caine and Kagetane to bring me the person who’d ordered the attack and what I’d done to that woman I scarcely desire to commit to memory, let alone to posterity, but rest assured she saw the error of her ways… as did many of her compatriots… sing praises for enemies too stupid to understand the concept of cell-network-organization… but it didn’t bring back Franky or Mini or Tokimi or Yuzuha or Uriel or Bao.
Mensarius had only laughed when I’d demanded to know where they were… Someday, somehow… we were going to settle accounts. I wasn’t sure how… but deep inside my soul, someplace I hoped he couldn’t peer, I inscribed his name on a steele of purest, blackest hate. It was the first such name since I’d left my Earth of Origin all those ages past, and the level of rage I felt against this cosmic being vastly exceeded the anger I’d felt as an injured child wronged by a member of frail humanity.
Which is why I’d come to the Serenity crew. I had one working ship’s crew left and, so far, I was pretty certain no one had clue one that Gaius’s team and I were connected and their reputation was as close to squeaky clean as it was possible to be in the Verse without obviously being a cover. They’d had adventures of their own, as I understood it, but the amount of times we’d managed to covertly meet up over our stay had been relatively short. I’d booked passage a couple of times, but not enough to make it seem like anything more than a casual thing… of course, I’d tried to do the same thing with the others as well, but that hadn’t protected them. I was really beginning to hate the Verse… which is a shame, because I loved the people in it… or at least a select few of them.
It had pioneering spirit and vivacity… but such obscene levels of cruelty and disdain for the value of human life, something that I, as an immortal, treasured all the more deeply than these faint mortals. Of course, dwelling on mortality wouldn’t do anything to solve the problem, and so I laid out the mission for Serenity’s bridge crew.
“The client’s name is Colby Teef. He’s a bit of a computer genius and not the sharpest tack in the carpet when it comes to understanding people. The target is an HMO… a Health and Wellness trust called Ofsted Care Providers. They are approximately 60% less trustworthy than the name implies. Colby built them a complex piece of tracking software for their revolutionary new ‘Eterna System Wellness Monitoring and Notification system’. It was marketed as a set of implanted biochips which would constantly monitor your biometrics and send you updates via cortex link and yeah, I can tell by your faces that you’re already seeing the downside. Ofsted could monitor everything those with the implants did. Everything. Location, heartbeat, who they were with and their emotional state.”
“Blackmail.” Zoe said, matter of fact.
I nodded “Blackmail. On a planetwide basis. Politicians, private citizens, a list a few thousand entries long.”
“How did you come to know that? Mr Teeth tell you that?” Mal asked, with a little more snark than was exactly warranted.
“Teef. Not Teeth.” I stressed the pronunciation. “And yes. He may be a bit naive, but like most compuwizzes, he’s a bit paranoid and he built a backdoor into their system.”
“So why doesn’t he use this backdoor to just wipe the system… that’s a thing they can do isn’t it? Tell her that’s a thing they can do, hon.” Wash elbowed Zoe who smiled fondly at him.
“I think she’s going to tell us why Mr. Teef can’t do just that thing. Now shush.”
“Ofsted, it turns out, is paranoid too. Understanding that they’ve got a lot of people who might be mad at them if they ever find out the exact nature of the scam and how their blackmailers are getting their information… well… Ofsted has backups. 7 of them. In 7 different banks across the moon.”
“I note you haven’t as told us which moon this might be,” Mal commented, sounding a bit suspicious.
“I… yes, well… That might be a sore spot for you… seeing as how it’s Summerfair.” Zoe and Mal both winced at that, but Wash looked a bit confused. “Summerfair is Shadow’s moon.” I flicked my eyes to Mal and Wash got it. Shadow had been Malcolm Reynold’s homeworld… and had been rendered effectively uninhabitable by the Alliance during the Unification War… millions had died. Shadow was the Alliance’s Alderan, though the planet was still there, a constant reminder of the price of rebellion against the central government.
“Seven banks, seven backups.” I continued. “Ofsted randomly picks three of them each week for data backup, but those drives also contain a copy of the kernel, the central program that governs the entire system. They are the only copies of the kernel and they’re the reason Colby can’t just use his backdoor to shut down the entire thing for good… and the 7 days is how long we have to get all 7 and verifiably destroy them before Ofsted notices any of them are missing.”
“Won’t they notice when the banks start reporting break-ins?”
“They would… which is why we’re doing this on Wintertide.”
“Local holiday. Near every business is shut down for a week… especially-”
“Banks.” Mal finished. “So we help out a bunch of people with secrets to hide and take down a corrupt health company… but we’re not a charity. What do we get out of it… and don’t say the take from the banks, cause I’m not in for robbing no one of their life savings, save perhaps those who’ve crossed me. Tends to make people a might techy when you do.”
“There’s a fund. Colby’s managed to contact a number of the victims and offered them a permanent solution to their situation… which is why the drives must be destroyed in a verifiable way. The payoff is 100,000 platinum.”
There was a faint whistle from Zoe and Wash whooped. He actually whooped. “Captain, we could use the scratch.” I chuckled “It’s a little more than scratch… it’s practically dosh.” I didn’t mention that shutting down Ofsted’s system would also lower the security on their private vault which, according to Colby, contained a glowing crystal rose that made anyone who looked upon it feel strangely nostalgic but very calm. That was my price and prize.
Mal just shook his head “Closed or not, how are we going to crack seven high security vaults in…” he checked his watch… “11 days, 16 hours and change?”
11 Days, 15 Hours Later
“Oh, that’s how.”
… No, just kidding.
The plan was relative simplicity. The banks were targeted in descending order of apparent difficulty and each with its own technique. It helped that the banks were not a single chain, but rather 5 different corporate entities, and only 3 belonged to the same banking combine. The banks were, in order, Bywater Savings and Loan, Southhampton Community Credit Union, Avon National Trust, Leeds of Basingstoke, Leeds of Oxnard, Leeds of Kent, and First Bank of Coventry.
While Avon National’s alarm system was getting a Boy Who Cried Wolf, Southampton’s sewer system was getting a Cherry Bomb, and Bywater’s vault was getting a Reverse Great Escape. The Leeds branches would get a Softwall System Scrambler, and Coventry would get a good old fashioned One Two Punch. Or… that was the plan at least.
It all started with Bywater, which was unable to use tremor sensors because Bywater was a mining community and used an inordinate amount of explosives and ground shaking heavy machinery. Since the mine was shut down for the holiday, they didn’t even notice when Jayne and Meetra breezed in and borrowed a heavy mining laser. Normally, powering it would be a hassle, but I’d stockpiled all manner of useful things in my years in the Verse and I had discovered that, as long as the power cables were local, I could pump nearly limitless electrons out of my Warehouse… and I had a couple of starships to generate power. A little tinkering and the mining laser ate through the bedrock under the bank’s vault chamber in only a couple of hours. It could have been faster… but not without causing something at street level to blow up. Thermodynamics can’t be ignored… normally.
Cutting through the vault itself took only a little longer, once the vault’s anti-laser coating had been scoured away with a hand built interlaced-diamond-bladed surface scourer. The vault was… steamy, but too bad, and with Caine there to hack the local constabulary’s link to the bank we were able to get in and get out with the backup drive before the day’s festivities even got well and truly started. Shame we couldn’t stay for the fireworks.
Southampton, which was on the south side of the Hampton river, had a weir along the riverside, as well as built up retaining wall reinforcing the relatively soft soil the town was built on and keeping heavy structures like the Bank from sliding into the river. It also meant that the town was constantly in danger of flooding… especially if the weir failed or the wall cracked… and that the town’s sewer system was constantly having issues with backing up. A phone tap to the bank manager’s home allowed us to know when the local constable called to report that water was leaking out from under the front door of the bank, thanks to our tampering with the flow regulators, backing up the river into the building’s toilets. Sanitary it wasn’t.
“Hello… Hello? This is Dick Darling… I… I know it’s Wintertide, but… I’m the manager of Southampton Credit and-”
“Yes Mr Darling, I know who you are. My sister has her account with you. Laura Greentree?” I was using my most placid and non-descript voice, and though it didn’t sound much like Gretchen Greentree (who did indeed have a sister named Laura who had an account at SCU and did indeed work at one of the larger plumbing groups in the city as a receptionist) it was close enough for a worried banker distracted by an emergency on a holiday. “How can I help you?”
“I… I have you down as a twenty-four hour emergency plumbing contact? Do… Do you have someone you can send over… maybe a couple of someones? I think the bank is flooding.”
“You think?” I tried to sound confused.
“I… Constable Morris just called and said water is coming out from under the door. I’m driving over there right now. How soon can you have someone over there? I’ll pay your holiday hours… At least 4 hours of your time, even if it’s nothing.”
“It’s a 50 platinum service charge for Holiday emergency, plus a team of 4 at 11 platinum per person per hour at time and a half… plus parts… and if there’s-”
“Yes, yes… anything. How long?”
“I’ve already scrambled our team, Mr Darling. They’ll be there in 13 minutes if traffic allows. Don’t go in the building until my team gets there, you don’t want to get anything on you if it’s a sewage backup.”
“Oh god… Could it be?”
“There is the possibility sir.”
“We just had new carpet put in last month!”
“Sorry to hear it. And sorry this had to ruin your holiday.” I actually was. Dick Darling hadn’t done anything to me and everything I could find said he was well respected and genuinely liked in the community. But his bank had damned good security, including auto-targeting gauss stunners and sonic disruptors… all of which he’d have to disable to let us into the bank. The only question was would he summon security. We’d prepared for the event if he had, but we didn’t think it was likely.
As it turns out, he didn’t think of it or didn’t expect anything because he was pacing back and forth in front of his building, freaking out and pulling at his hair. We’d left Jayne behind and had River (who was doing much better, thank you), Metra, Mal, and Zoe as the team, all in the most nondescript outfit available… coveralls and hoods against the winter chill. As the team pulled up, I walked down the street strutting my stuff and acting very drunk… it was Wintertide after all. I nearly bumped into Mal, wobbled, and stumbled sideways, falling against Mr. Darling, who, dear man that he is, caught me and steadied me, never noticing the pressure hypo River pressed against the side of his neck at the same time.
The drug would heighten his stress level and making forming memories of this whole event difficult… and it pretty much guaranteed he’d faint once he saw the the state of his bank… and be free with his secrets as long as he felt safe.
Thirty minutes later, the vault had been opened, pilfered of the contents of exactly one deposit box, the evidence cleaned up, the actual professions called, and the carpet confirmed a dead loss. I dispatched the others and administered the antidote just as the actual repair men (who assumed I was the Bank Manager’s assistant) were finishing up… it was a relatively easy fix and loose ends are bad. Even the real Gretchen Greentree had had a copy of the original call played for her. Only the time stamp existed as discrepancy, but a tampering with the cortex records fixed that. It was as if the entire switch off had never happened… unless someone checked the street cameras and saw one van arrive then leave and a second identical one arrive a few minutes later.
Day three saw us in Avon, watching feeds from the security company who’d been forced to assume someone was going to hit the bank since the alarm had been going off seemingly at random for 5 days straight, once every 4-17 minutes. The guards were miserable, as it was exceptionally cold out, and the job was utter bullshit… and they’d turned off the alarm system… which had, no doubt, been driving them nuts… of course, nuts was exactly what was triggering the entire system, as the entire thing was rigged to a recording of Ziggy playing with a stuffed acorn covered with chewy contact pads. Incidentally, each time the alarm triggered, it also triggered a machine in the warehouse which fired compressed fecal matter wrapped in layers of wet toilet paper with a core of high explosives through the rift to Mensarius.
Getting into the bank past the guards wasn’t particularly challenging, as the wall between the Avon National Trust Building and the leather goods shop next to it was nothing more than brick and mortar. From there it was simply a matter of sending Kaylee and Caine to speak to the vault and the drive was ours. Three down, four to go.
The security on the Leeds bank branches was good, I’ll give them that… but their VP of operations was an idiot and his password was… Password8*. His password got us into the system and we literally walked in the doors of all three banks armed with all the correct codes (codes created by the VP’s master user account and programmed to erase themselves 5 hours after they were created with no record of their existence). The vaults would show a timestamp for their opening of course, but nothing more than that, as even the CCTV cameras inside the buildings had been disabled by the codes.
Which brings us to First Bank of Coventry… which was a brick. Our initial plan had been to tunnel in as well, using the borrowed laser, but Coventry was built on shale and the building’s substructure was made of reinforced concrete and steel… with tremor sensors. Our second plan had been infiltration and safe-cracking… but the bank used a three key card system with full body biometrics to override the time lock. So we’d settled on using One Two punch, i.e. setting off a very large distraction for the LEOs while using explosives to bust through the vault’s back wall.
To that end, we decided to use stinkbombs at the local churches… 5 of them. Not bad enough to hurt anyone, but it would ruin their evening. We also rigged the traffic control network to go down 12 minutes after the bombs went off. 3 minutes later still, we blew the back of the bank… and discovered that it was tougher than we’d counted on… a lot tougher.
“Shit!” yelled Jayne, while Wash expressed himself more colorfully in pidgin chinese. I just stared at the meter thick armorplast and groaned. We could use more explosives, but they’d either destroy the vault or… I looked around, having remembered seeing something in the planning phase and laughed. Grabbing Wash, I yelled “Get back… waaay back.” then hauled him down the street with me.
“Where are we going?” He asked, faintly amused.
I pointed down the block… to the Coventry Arsenal and Museum… where, in the front yard, in pride of place… was a decommissioned Unification War Battle Tank. “The One Two Punch has just become a good old-fashioned Smash and Grab.” Wash blinked, then grinned.
Watching Armor Corroding rounds (brought out of my Warehouse of course, but absolutely based on local nanite technology) punch into the vault’s armor and then… melt it… was hilarious. Driving a Tank away from the scene of the crime as every LEO in 3 counties followed behind us was more so. Explaining how we’d gotten out of the tank and into a spacious extra-dimensional Warehouse to a very confused Wash was even more fun. As I understand it, the tank eventually crashed into a ravine once the remote control link failed, but we’d been out of the war machine for about 40 minutes by that point.
The rest was a cakewalk. After sending out a blanket email explaining to everyone what they’d done and how, Ofsted’s computers went down and wouldn’t be coming back up any time soon. Their vault was cleaned out to the bone, with much of the recovered funds going to pay back those whose blackmail was of a personal nature, and the rest to the legal fees of the victims of those whose blackmail was of a violation of public trust nature. All the medical records Ofsted had were mass mailed to their respective owners and all physical evidence in the vault was tossed into a bonfire to celebrate the end of Wintertide.
As for me… I spent 3 hours staring at that crystal rose but never felt more than just… angry. I sighed, sealed it up in my sanctum, and returned to my husband’s estates, feeling miserable and frustrated and hoping I could keep it bottled up without exploding at my friends for a few more years. Hopefully this would all come to a close soon.
Next: A Traitor’s Tale