We have him hooded and in the van before the swarm has even noticed us. Switch floors it and the van bullets onto the highway, the electric motors whining in protest. “Start the clock”, he shouts at the van; a blocky orange count-down projects onto the van’s HUD: 250km and dropping as we pelt into the rain-soaked night.
The introduction was from a trusted client so we agreed to a face-to-face straight off. The job presented was undoable; the abduction of a hot stock picker who was hot enough to have Premium Vantage Swarm protection. Vantage has the financial district covered in their own web of surveillance drones and quick response armoured personnel units. They react en masse at anything that even looks untoward if it is near a client. The fixer was a standard corporate espionage type; expensive suit and sociopathic eyes; someone who knew the circuit; that being so I asked her, ‘Why would you expect us to go anywhere near Vantage Premium? Historically it’s been a death sentence.’ A very large truck full of money was her answer.
Some people would tell you that with a score this big, they would take the chance to get out of the heist game altogether. They would promise that they would pay for their sick grandma’s medical bills, put their niece through university and see out their days on a beach somewhere. Those people are cretins with no ambition. This wouldn't be one last job for us, it would be the start of something bigger. With this much money we could invest in military grade equipment and put together a top-shelf team for the elite contracts. Onwards and upwards. There was no way we were walking away from such an opportunity.
So we did what we do. We researched, scanned, listened, planned and plotted. Whatever way I looked at it there was no getting that man out of there without death raining down on us. We couldn’t blast our way out - outgunned. We couldn’t fly him out – swarms of drones armed with EMP, sedative gasses and good old fashioned bullets. We couldn’t tunnel him out, sneak him out, bribe anyone or in any way gain any form of advantage over such a well-oiled security operation. Then like the child that he is, Switch had had his flash of brilliance.
“We throw him in the van just as he arrives at the bar, like he does every Friday. We drive extremely fast onto route MR-301 and we keep going until we hit District 10.”
“How the fuck does that make any sense?” I asked.
“Think about it. We’ll be on the edge of the financial district, which puts a good percentage of Vantage relatively far away from us as they are spread evenly over the district. As long as there is no armour on the road between us and route MR-301 they won’t be able to keep up with us in those tanks."
"And the drones? What about the ten flavours of unmanned they have?"
All fast and deadly but they won’t be able to destroy us with missiles if we have their boy and if we can keep enough of a lead, they won’t be able to use the EMP, sedatives or shoot out the tires. None of those drones have a range of more than 250km at top speed, we just have to be fast enough to avoid them until they run out of juice and we will be home dry, stepping up to the big leagues.”
“It’s that magic number again; 250...kph. 1 hours driving, full tilt, score of a lifetime. He smiled, a stupidly self-assured smile.”
“Your plan is to drive really, really fast until everyone else gets tired?”
He nods, still grinning.
“Why can’t Vantage call in someone to cut us off?”
“Because the MR-301, my dear, has no exits until it hits the wastes. It was only really built for rich brokers and bankers to go from city to beach as directly as possible. The first exit is 264km from our joining. District 10 is a wasted freezone; there’s no serious hardware out there and certainly no friends of Vantage. The police won’t get involved; they would love to see private security lose face, you know how it is.”
“Choppers? Light aircraft...gunships? Other bases?”
“Nada, Vantage doesn’t have anything that can get involved quickly enough, they’re much too concentrated in the financial district.”
“None at all.”
It was a terrible plan and I told Switch so. He just grinned more.
Switch tears up the outside lane and hard shoulder. The autonomous cars shift out of the way like jittery house pets. I dare to peek through the slit that I cut on the back door and through the dark and endless rain I count at least twenty drones on our tail, but as Switch promised, they are not gaining. A sudden swerve jolts me from my thoughts, as if punishing me for daring to be optimistic.
“Pothole kiddo. It must be a new one.”
And it must have been, he’d done the route thirty times over the last week, scanning the surface for anything that might send us to our deaths. When he wasn't getting to know every inch of the road intimately he was working on getting the van upgraded with the last of our cash.
Our captive moans something; I remove his gag and check on him. He’s extremely sedated for the amount we injected him with and it concerns me. Not an allergic reaction but something isn’t right. I check the pocket nurse I’ve attached to him but nothing stands out. It could be an interaction with recreationals but I’d never seen anything like this. No way I can mention this to Switch, he needs unadulterated focus, especially given the amount of stim he has taken. If this fucker dies we are not only not getting paid but our names will be mud and Vantage will be after us for reasons of honour and repeat business. I don’t have the courage to look out of the front of the van for long, the speed sets me on edge but I caught the HUD drop past 125, accompanied by a scream of “halfway bitches!”
I decide to busy myself checking the mark for any more signs. He’s not talking and there’s very little eye contact. Then it hits me, the man is a stock picker, one of the genetically enhanced super-elite that could somehow still outperform AI. The assumption would be that anyone grabbing him would set about getting information from him immediately, not driving very quickly in a straight line for an hour like a pair of morons. There must be some wetware in there that was making him into a zombie to protect his knowledge. Whilst strictly not our problem I am nothing if not professional. A diagnosis on delivery would be good for the rep; maybe a little bonus, so I set about scanning for implants. It would at least stop me worrying about those drones.
I am about half way through the scans when there was a very definite explosion and I can feel the van fishtailing. To my surprise I don’t scream. Switch pulls the van out of it and we push on.
“You lousy fuckers”, screamed Switch. “I think they actually crashed two other cars to try and slow us down. I guess they weren’t paid up members of the Vantage program.”
“Are we okay?”
“15 years driving the mean streets of Nairobi; it takes more than that to slow me down.”
Another explosion. This time the van spins and I see a fireball illuminating the night. The van feels like it’s going to topple, hanging 45 degrees to one side for an age before the van falls back on all four wheels and we take off again. I look up to see Switch weaving through debris of burning cars. I shift to the back of the van and see the drones are now just a few hundred meters away, their spotlights blazing down on us. A barrage of shots scuff the road behind us.
“They’re going for the tires”, I yell unhelpfully.
Switch doesn’t answer. He gets a bit more from the engine and we pull away from the swarm by a few more meters, the gunfire ceases but the rain is heavier than ever.
“I didn’t think that those fuckers would sacrifice a few families of holidaymakers to get us” howls Switch.
“I know that fucking voice” I shout. “Don’t you fucking dare feel guilty for their sins. Get us home dry and we can talk about going after the ops that did this and shitting on their heads but now you drive you fat fucker! Drive!”
With this Switch shuts up and I know we'll make it. I try to resume my scans but I’m shaking like mad. I shut the scanner down and get ready for departure. Reputation and bonuses can go whistle this time.
Exactly as Switch said they would, the drones start to drop out of the night sky around the time we hit the 250km mark. Switch doesn’t let up for a second until he drifts us down the off ramp for District 10. We slam into a warehouse not three minutes later and transfer to a small electric. There are ten other identical cars with drivers waiting. We all peel off at the same time; creating just enough variables to fuck with whoever is tracking via satellite. We head to the drop off, another twenty minutes away through damp abandoned neighbourhoods and industrial estates.
At the drop off the fixer awaits us in her customary expensive suit with a couple of heavies and a single people carrier; its gleaming finish contrasts painfully with the decay of the warehouse which is dark and full of menace. A single car surprises me; not great for avoiding satellite detection but I decided not to comment. I decide I will not comment on the state of the mark either. I want to put this one behind me and move on, move up.
I open the back door and one of the heavies looks inside. He scans the mark’s eye and nods. I try not to smile but I can’t help it. I jump out of the van and run around to give Switch the wink I give him after every successful job. But he’s not out of the van. That’s when I see the shattered glass on the floor; Switch's driver side window is missing. I look in and he stares back at me with vacant eyes; a bullet through his skull. I spin around to see the fixer in front of me, a gun inches from my head.
“You fuck! You can’t kill me, I’m not an amateur! Your boy is wired up with death switch and I’m the only one with the code"
She shakes her head, “Oh, that’s just a clone, barely any actual brain function to speak of, your scans would have been picking up simulated neural activity. I'm surprised a professional like yourself didn't spot the difference.”
“But why” is all I manage to say, the blood draining from my face.
The fixer smiles. “It was an external audit for Vantage. But don't worry, you can keep the down payment, and feel free to come by and collect the outstanding monies anytime you want."
With that, she pulls the trigger.
released June 10, 2021