Thomas held his breath as he punched the last sequence of hex characters into the visual array matrix. Would the code work?. Had his months of meticulous planning been in vain?. The vertical cursor winked at him, taunting him. But he felt unstoppable having already disabled and bypassed the heat and audible detection subsystems.
Only a few minutes earlier his fake retina device had fooled the authenticator A.I. granting him access to the inner chamber. The replica retina had cost him a small fortune to produce. However, Thomas had considered it a good investment, as the artefact he’d come to steal was worth billions in a private auction with the right calibre of clientele.
He’d spent months searching on the dark web to source a medical 3D printer with the right specifications capable of producing the realistic eyeball and retina from macromolecule protein strands. He’d waited patiently while the printer took an unorthodox shipping route out of Taiwan. The voyage avoided all commercial ports, bypassing international customs checkpoints ensuring no digital footprint would land him in jail.
It had worked to perfection. Planning always paid off. Thomas was a master at preempting all possible scenarios and prepping for every eventuality.
He’d even trained as an optometrist spending the summer months posing as an eye specialist at a suburban eye clinic. After many weeks of waiting patiently, the research engineer with the right clearance credentials, attended the surgery to get her eyes tested. While carrying out a legitimate eye exam, and flirting with the engineer, he’d also illegally acquired a digital image of her retina which he used in the synthesis of the 3D fake replica.
The cursor still winked at him. He closed his eyes and pressed the execute icon on the touch screen. Hearing a soft metallic, click, he knew his prize would soon be within his grasp. Promising himself this would be his last heist. He’d be able to retire after this job.
A small drawer slowly opened in the centre console revealing the object hovering on the anti-gravity plate. The Mizar 4, the first working quantum microprocessor that would revolutionise the computer industry. Thomas had one final anti-theft device to bypass. He had to remove the computer chip from the gravity plate without tripping the motion sensors and alarms.
Unfortunately, no tech could help him defeat this last security measure. He’d have to switch the chip out manually for something with a similar dimension and mass. Having less than half a second to make the switch, he’d have to be quick. If he failed, the sensors would detect an anomaly and trigger the alarms.
Thomas had done his homework though. He’d hacked into the research labs database early that year to get the information he needed. His hack was a feat of computing genius which journalists would be writing about for years to come.
The most common way of hacking into a corporations network is known as a spear-phishing attack. The attack starts by sending a targeted email to a high-level executive. Social engineering tactics make the email sound legitimate enough to entice said individual to click on a specially crafted link. Boom!. Rather than getting the quarterly figures or the staff rota, the victim has unleashed the attackers trojan horse software granting the attacker access to their computer.
Unfortunately, this wouldn’t have worked on any of the employees working at the research lab, as they had installed extra protection measures and given all the staff extensive training. Thomas’s hack was altogether different.
He’d guessed, correctly, that the research lab might use a well-known piece of software called LunarWinds, used by computer departments to monitor networks. Rather than trying to trick an individual to install his malicious software, Thomas had pulled off a masterpiece by doing what’s known as a supply-chain attack. He’d managed to insert his code into an otherwise legitimate suppliers software update.
All he needed to do was sit back and wait for the research lab to update their copy of LunarWinds, and just like that Thomas had the access he needed.
Gaining access to the network he’d acquired the technical specifications and fabrication details for the prototype chip. The weight of the Mizar 4 closely matched that of a northern hemisphere two credit coin. With this knowledge, he could beat the final alarm system.
He planted his feet shoulder-width apart, distributing his weight and bent his knees so that he was at eye level with the hovering chip. Pausing to compose himself, Thomas smiled as he recalled that classic film, raiders of the lost ark. The scene where Indy switches out a gold statute for a bag of sand. Fails, and then all hell breaks loose.
Quick as he could, he made the switch and waited for a moment to see if the digital equivalent of a large rolling boulder would come after him.
He was home and dry, or so he thought.
Outside, he got into his antique BMW electric car, deliberately picked as the model was pre-surveillance legislation. All vehicles built during the last decade were fitted with a state-sponsored tracking device and Thomas wanted to leave unnoticed.
But for all his preparation he’d missed something. The research institute had recently installed a geo fencing protocol onto the chip, which activated once the chip detected it was outside the perimeter of the facility.
As Thomas drove away fist-pumping the air on his success, the protocol activated and started emitting a pulse via a microdot emitter.
Kira Blackwood had just finished her exercise routine. She’d crushed it. Burpees, kettlebells, weights followed by a full cardio workout. As she was towelling herself down a call came through on her priority line. Pulling her hair into a ponytail and securing it with a hair grip, she touched her ear lobe to activate the receiver.
“Thirteen, we need your services. Usual rate. A simple track and recover operation. The thief has a two-hour head start. Are you in?”
“Sure. Cold or warm?.”
“Eh? What do you mean?. Oh, I see. Dead or alive!. Either way for us as long as the item of interest is retrieved.”
“Noted. Send the particulars to my communications node. I’ll move out within ten minutes but I won’t engage the perpetrator until the money hits my blockchain and is verified. Agreed?.”
“Yes. We’re transferring the money now.”
And with that, she was hired. It was always this way. She never knew half the time who was hiring her. She preferred anonymity. Kept her and her clients safe.
She’d risen the ranks of international agents for hire and had earned a formidable reputation for getting the job done. No job was too big for Kira.
Why agent 13? Well for no other reason than her name had thirteen characters in it. She also liked the irony that in some cultures the number thirteen was considered unlucky. Certainly unlucky for you if you were the target.
She started reviewing the data that had been sent to her communications node while reviewing the guns in her secret gun cabinet. Choosing the Glock 34 with its dimmable xenon light and red laser sight she tucked it into her waistband at the small of her back.
The data file contained sparse details of the heist. What had been stolen from where and when. She’d marvelled at how the perpetrator had defeated most of the security systems. Unfortunately, none of the security cameras had captured a facial picture of the thief.
All she had to go on was the BMW model and the locations that the microdot emitter was sending through. Being a low powered device, the microdot emitter only sent a location ping every hour, so two since the robbery. Not enough data to predict a possible route the thief was taking, but it was a start.
Entering the garage, Kira slipped into her black leathers and moved the Glock to her specially designed holster. She was taking the Ducati Superleggera for this mission. She needed the speed. Straddling the motorcycle she activated the palm grip recognition embedded into the handlebars and started the beast up. As the engine purred and throbbed between her legs, she adjusted her hair before putting her helmet on.
Closing the visor she activated the heads up display which projected a screen onto the inside of her visor. The HUD software automatically connected and synced to the internet over the free 6G network. Kira had decided how she was going to track down the thief. Using the voice recognition module built into her helmet she logged into her cloud account and spun up some video surveillance software. She had illegally acquired access to the traffic camera system years ago and it had proved invaluable on many missions, this one included.
Issuing the necessary commands, she started streaming the live video footage from all the traffic cameras into her Amazon Rekognition account asking it to cross-reference any sightings of a BMW electric car matching the parameters of the thief’s vehicle. The software would alert her once it found any matches. She flicked the Ducati’s gear lever with her booted left foot and sped out the garage, the garage door automatically closing behind her.
Thirty minutes out the microdot emitter pinged again revealing its position and she managed to extrapolate the general direction the thief was taking. Kira now knew he was driving on highway 43 out of the valley and into the next state. She gunned the throttle, pushing the Ducati towards its maximum speed, lying over the fuel tank to prevent the machine from pulling a wheelie and streamlining her profile to lower the drag. She had some catching up to do.
Thomas had been driving for two hours and needed a comfort break. Indicating, he pulled off the highway reducing his speed and parked as near to the services entrance as he could. Before leaving the car he tapped his jacket pocket and was reassured that the chip, housed in a steel boxed he’d fabricated was safely concealed. He wasn’t letting it out of his sight.
After visiting the restroom he decided to have a coffee and something to eat. Opting to sit alone in the booth at the back of the coffee shop. From this position he’d be able to see anyone approaching him, and felt reasonably safe. There were only a few other patrons at this late hour. A big bear of a man covered in tattoos sat alone towards the door. The obvious owner of the sixteen wheeler truck parked out front. The other was a single mother and her daughter sat chatting and laughing while looking at a tablet. Probably watching some dumb TikTok video together.
Thomas fished his z-phone out of his pocket and sent a single message to a secret number.
“Alcor’s twin retrieved”
This would let his buyers know he’d been successful. Alcor and Mizar are the most famous double stars in the night sky. You’ll spot Mizar first, as the middle star of the Big Dipper’s handle. Look closely, and you’ll see Alcor right next to Mizar. As the chip he’d stolen was called Mizar; it was a little astronomical joke that Thomas knew few would understand if the message was intercepted.
But he needed to get back on the road, to make sure he made the meeting on time. On leaving the service station his car was filmed by one of the traffic cameras.
The message flashed onto her heads up display.
“Match detected. Confidence score 98.675%”
The video AI software had found a probably match for the BMW car she was hunting. The confidence score was high and it was on a trajectory that matched the locations from the microdot emitter. This was good. This was great, a verifiably known location with a time stamp. She wasn’t too far behind now. Why had he stopped?
Better yet, the quality of the image captured by the traffic camera was really good. Helped by the glow of the forecourt lighting. After running the image through a de-blurring algorithm, Kira had a photograph of the driver she could use for visual identification.
Ten minutes later, as she weaved through the traffic on highway 43, she spotted a BMW a couple of cars in front of her. The type and model matched the thief’s car. She’d just need to verify the driver matched the photograph and then hope he’d react in a way to confirm his guilt.
She positioned the bike parallel to the BMW, matching its speed. Lifting her visor so she could eyeball the driver. It was him. At first, he didn’t notice her, keeping his gaze straight ahead. She gunned the throttle and depressed the clutch so that the bikes engine roared without increasing her speed. This made him turn to look at her, and their eyes locked.
He instantly panicked. Knowing intrinsically that this black leather-clad biker was here for him. In that split second he’d let the car slow slightly and drift to the left. This was the tell that Kira needed, she pulled out her Glock and activated the laser sight and pointed it into the car. Bathing the interior with an eerie red glow. She waved the gun, indicating she wanted Thomas to pull over. She also made it obvious she was prepared to use the gun.
Thomas’s resolve returned, fleetingly, attempting to accelerate away. However, the BMW was no match for the Ducati’s speed and movability. Kira sped in front of the car by several car lengths before braking hard and disengaging the clutch. The backend of the bike rose as Kira balanced the bike in a front-wheel wheelie. She pirouetted the bike through a hundred and eighty degrees while balancing on the front wheel. She was now facing the oncoming BMW, free wheeling backwards.
With a single precision shot; a shot any sniper would have been proud off; she’d blown out the nearside tyre and the car veered off the highway skidding to a stop on the hard shoulder.
Thomas cursed “Fucking Hell!. Bitch!”
He checked that the steel case was still in his pocket and fumbled with the car seat trying to get out of the car. The damn thing was stuck and he started to panic, tugging on the strap even harder making matters worse.
Suddenly the drivers’ door was opened and ripped off its hinges and Kira shouted into the car.
“Hands where I can see them.”
“What the fuck!” Thomas retorted.
“Hand over the chip and I’ll spare your life”
Thomas’s head dropped for a split second as he exhaled. Then he turned to face her, noticing how beautiful she was. Strong. Athletic. Still pointing her gun at him.
He said, “Don’t you think I plan for every eventuality?”
He raised his left hand slowly, showing her the red lever attached to his forefinger. Kira noticed that the lever had wires running up his sleeve. Was he wired up with explosives?
“If I flick this switch, boom. Everything organic within a hundred meters will be incinerated. You and me both dead. The chip will survive, to be picked up later by a colleague of mine. But we’d both be dead. Do you want to die today.?”
“You’re wrongly assuming I’m organic.”
It was then that Thomas noticed the red light sweep from her left eye to her right eye and back again.
A cyborg. Shit.