The Vault

The vault itself was the most ingenious security mechanism of all. Wex had observed early on (through the vault's security cameras) that the real safe lay under a hidden panel in the floor. After weeks of surveillance and a ridiculous amount of time spent slogging through the Arena's records and security receipts, he had discovered why: The vault wasn't only designed to keep people out — it was also designed to keep people in. The floor was a minefield of laser trips and pressure pads, that, if activated, would seal the vault door, locking a would-be thief inside. And that money wouldn't do us a whole lot of good if we were trapped inside the vault with it. The defenses could be bypassed with the director's thumb scan, but unfortunately we didn't have access to that. So we had devised another strategy.

Scilla started unraveling a nanofiber cable from its hiding place in her boot and I checked my harness belt.

"Are you sure that'll hold me?" I asked, eyeing the super-thin cable.

"This could hold five of you," said Scilla. "It's the pulley I'd be worried about."

The pulley. This ingenious contraption had been designed by Wex specifically for this moment. It was little more than a crossbow bolt with a loop at the tail end which the nanofiber could be strung through. Instead of a tip, however, there was a packet of chemical goo that would react with the air to create a powerful adhesive. Or so Wex had said. But the whole thing had been put together in a hurry, since we had only learned about the vault's interior defenses a week ago. Though I knew full well that the adhesive was designed to glue buildings together, we hadn't had the chance to test the device yet, and that made me more than a little leery.

But there was no time to question the pulley's safety. Chase had put us behind schedule already and we had to be out of here before the electromagnetic pulse detonated; the floor panel could only be unlocked electronically, and if the power went out, there would be no opening it.

Scilla strung and loaded the pulley-bolt into her crossbow, took careful aim, and then fired into the center of the ceiling. The glue packet exploded, cementing the bolt in place. Scilla counted down thirty seconds on her watch — the apparent length of time it took for the glue to set — while I threaded the nanofiber through the various loops of my harness.

"Ready?"

"Maybe," I said queasily, which I knew was about as ready as I would ever get.

Scilla pulled on a pair of thick leather gloves and secured the cable to her belt. I knew that in theory the nanofiber and pulley should hold, that Scilla was more than strong enough to anchor me, but as I swung out into the room on a cable no thicker than fishing line, I couldn't help but feel slightly panicky. Lucatz's next comment over our radio didn't help.

"Two minutes to detonation."

Three, four, five feet up I was hoisted, then lowered very, very slowly right over the panel in the center of the room. The pulley held, but my heart continued to judder painfully like a frightened hummingbird in my chest. We'd practiced this maneuver in the apartment, but it suddenly felt so much more precarious. If my finger so much as grazed one of those invisible lasers, this vault would become a prison, and I would be faced with certain, painful death.

"One  minute," Lucatz reminded us as I dug the director's key from my pocket.

I was hanging upside down now, blood rushing uncomfortably to my head and pulsing in my ears like the sound of the invisible clock I knew I had to outstrip. I could feel a fat bead of sweat rolling down to the end of my nose and I paused to wipe it away. Then I painstakingly extended my arm, praying silently it wouldn't trigger anything, and eased the key into its slot on the floor. A green light flashed and the panel slid aside.

It was a lot of cash. The bills hadn't even been properly wadded yet, just tossed into the strongbox in heaps. I couldn't help but think that the Raven would be pleased. Not that I intended for him to get a hold of any of it.

"Okay, it's open," I grunted to Scilla. She began reeling me in.

I touched down outside the vault again with a quiet groan of relief and nine seconds to spare. We waited. As soon as the power went out, we would be able to safely enter the vault and load the cash onto the cart. Ten seconds passed. Then fifteen. The lights were still on.

"Why hasn't the pulse detonated?" I hissed into the radio.

"Gavin, we have a problem," Lucatz said in a worryingly calm voice.

"You don't say?" I ground out, wiping sweat from my forehead.

"Kris just entered the ring, but she don't look good. They just announced 'er opponent. And it's not Vengeance."

The End

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