Fifteen minutes. It wasn't a very wide window, but we had been planning and practicing for these fifteen crucial minutes for weeks. We had to be perfect.
"Cameras are looping. You're clear to go," Wex breathed into our earpieces. Murphy had installed a keyboard bug onto the Arena's mainframe a week ago which kinetically monitored every keystroke entered into the computer. In a matter of days, Wex had every password used in the Arena and it had been child's play for him to infiltrate the entire network. Luckily for us, that allowed him to operate all of the security cameras remotely.
Scilla and I both shrugged off our civilian clothes and stuffed them into a trash bin. Underneath, we both wore harnesses and guard uniforms Murphy had pinched from the laundry. The uniforms wouldn't pass a thorough inspection, but might give us a couple seconds' jump on anyone we came across, which could be critical.
The first guard didn't suspect a thing. With a faint swishing sound, Scilla loosed a dart from her crossbow and a millisecond later it was injecting a paralyzing agent into the man's neck. Scilla had had the crossbow custom-made so that it was composed entirely of plastic alloys which had allowed it to be slipped through the Arena's admittedly lax security. I hadn't risked bringing a weapon in, but I stooped and grabbed the guard's gun and keys while Scilla photographed his immobilized iris with a microlens.
"Okay, Gavin, you know what to do," Scilla whispered.
I did. But that didn't make it any easier. Still, I had done far worse to plenty of men during my stint in the Arena. What was I afraid of? I tried to remind myself that thumbs could be replaced as I lased the guard's own digit off with my newly-acquired gun. The poison Scilla had stuck him with would numb the pain somewhat, but all the same, I was glad his vocal chords were paralyzed too, or I'm not sure I could have completed the task.
Thankfully, the laser cauterized the wound, and there was very little blood as I wrapped up the thumb in a clean cloth and pocketed it. A moment later, we were up again and hurrying along the serpentine corridors.
We found the elevator and took it down three levels. We were right under the Arena now and I could hear the booming voice of the announcer, the throbbing of hundreds of footsteps, the buzzing cries of the excited crowd trickling through the grating above us. We made it through two sets of doors and Scilla shot two more guards before we finally reached the drop point, where we found the cart Murphy had left for us.
"Nine minutes left," said Scilla, checking her watch. "Where are you, Chase?"
Chase's job was to steal the vault key from the Arena's director. Sure, it was old fashioned, but effective. If we didn't get that key, then the whole plan would fall apart. But if anyone could do it, it was Chase. Over the course of the last few weeks, he had bought and swindled his way into the director's box. According to Kris, the director spent most fights getting himself drunk, so all Chase had to do was but him a few drinks and get close enough to pick his pocket. But time was ticking down now and we needed that key fast. Chase had already had about thirty minutes in the box to filch it. He couldn't afford to spend much more time. I saw my own anxiety mirrored on Scilla's face in the purplish glow of the argon lamps.
As we waited, the welcome voice of Lucatz crackled in our earpieces: "The electro-pulse thingy is ready to go." Which was good, because I had more than enough other things to worry about. Our entire escape plan hinged on this "electro-pulse thingy."
We had hit the seven minute mark when the plastic card dropped between the grating as we saw Chase's shoes pass by overhead. Scilla caught it deftly with a grateful sigh and then we were off again, running now, pushing the cart ahead of us with complete disregard for the echoing of our footfalls and the clatter of wheels in the damp passageways.
There were two guards on duty at the vault. Here, our uniforms paid off. We were only ten feet away by the time they realized something was wrong. They were both dead before they could even ready their weapons, one with a crossbow bolt in his heart, the other with a laser hole between his eyes.
We reached the heavy vault door and I scanned the severed thumb into the biometric receptacle while Scilla projected a hologram of the guard's iris for the computer to validate. We fed in the key card then turned to the number pad. Wex had filmed the director punching in the combination earlier this evening with the hijacked cameras. He read the nine-digit code into our earpieces.
A moment later, the door hissed hydraulically open, revealing the inside of the vault. Reinforced concrete walls, ceiling and floor. Bristling with security cameras. Completely empty.