Clutching the stolen bag, Sef hurried away into the darkness before the night police could be alerted. The bag was heavier than Sef had thought it would be - he slung it on his back and the straps dug into his collarbones. He was heading downtown, where there would be more people for him to blend in with.

It wasn't as if the city was sleeping at all. Huge neon signs towered imposingly above trhe hubbub of people below, blurting out ads incessantly for PIs, droids, new lev models ... The bars and clubs that smattered the streets here were all packed to breaking point, and drunks had begun to pour out into the road, clutching bottles of booze and staring bleary-eyed at their surroundings.

But no-one gave half a glance at Sef - he was officially part of the crowd, just how he liked it. He even managed to pickpocket a couple of wallets from the crowd as he shouldered through, easily disabling the theft alarm dongles attached to them. With a bit of luck, there would be money left inside them after their owners' indulgences.

He turned off the main street into a side alley, flecked with offensive graffiti and vomit. Sef picked his way distastfully across the sick, looking behind him all the way. He wasn't about to let anyone know where he slept - it was his only sanctuary in the entire city, the only place he knew he was safe.

It was a cardboard box filled with scavenged bedding, tucked in the corner of a disused warehouse. Sef had fashioned a makeshift lock for the main door, and bolted all the other entrances shut with some stolen tools. He still had an escape route, though he hoped he'd never have to use it.

He hunkered down against a damp wall to sift through the spoils of tonight's catch. He had the strangely heavy bag, a few wallets and a PI. He tried to turn the PI on but its security system had shut it down. Sef was just glad it didn't have a tracking device.

There were a few ID cards in the wallets, but only one credit: people rarely paid cash in hand now, not now IDs had been upgraded and Bluetooth bank accounts had been officially introduced. It was bad news for Sef because it was less money for him to spend, and he didn't dare attempt to hack into any banks.

That just left the bag. Sef opened it up carefully and pulled out a heavy metal box, bolted shut with a digital 10 digit combination lock. Sef's stomach churned in disappointment. His work tonight was entirely worthless.

He turned the box over to see if there was anything on its underside - and was rewarded with a flashing red LED and a tiny lump of metal circuitry - the first tracking device Sef hadn't spotted in ten years.

Howling with frustration, Sef prised the device off the bottom of the box and stamped it hard into the ground, where it exploded in a shower of sparks. Casting one eye towards his bolt-hole to check it was still ready, Sef took up one of his many hiding positions - inside one of the disused wheelie bins along the back wall - and waited for something to happen.

Before long, someone began hammering relentlessly on the main door. Then a crowbar was forced through and the door jacked open, Sef's rusty lock cracking and falling to the floor. Five or six men stormed in, tall and powerfully built, wearing black suits and balaclavas. They spread out at once in a practised formation, looking everywhere for the thief. One of them came and checked in the bins, but Sef was too submerged in rubbish to be spotted.

Spying out of a small hole in the base of the wheelie, Sef watched as the men picked up the box roughly and returned it to the bag.

Then, with a rush of loathing, Sef saw the besuited man he had defeated earlier march into the warehouse, his shoes reflecting the bars of light cast by the plasma lamps with almost mocking clarity. His air was entirely of command and control, and the men seemed to treat him with reverence.

"Have you got it?" he snapped, striding purposefully across the room. "Come on, on the double, we've been held up enough already."

Sef waited until the entire group had left the warehouse, then broke cover in a tirade of rotting refuse. He sprinted across the warehouse to the battered door, outside which an armoured truck was waiting. The men hastily loaded the box into the back of the truck, while the Chief slipped his own balaclava on quietly and crossed the street to join them.

Just before the car pulled away Sef sprinted the five yards across the road and landed catlike on the tail doors. Struggling desperately to maintain hold on the handles, he latched a foot into the riveted doors and crawled onto the roof just before the truck managed to reach full speed.

But then the truck turned onto a levway. Sef was shocked - four-wheeled vehicles were not allowed to use levways; they damaged the magnetic contacts that produced the levitation effect. But then the door opened and a man's head thrust out.

Sef nearly froze with shock as the second shotgun of the evening was thrust in his direction.

The End

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