*Author’s Note: “Snatch and Grab” is a standalone story, set in the same universe as my other Reedsy short-stories, with overlapping characters and events.*
Doug began speaking and the group instantly fell silent, as they bounced along inside the non-descript, panel van.
“Synchronise watches to twenty-three forty-five hours on my mark…mark.”
They all clicked their watches, except Gadget. With nothing to click, she looked to Flo.
“Don’t worry you’ll be with me.” Flo smiled, and Gadget saw kindness in her brown eyes.
“We’ll start the twenty minute countdown on my second mark, at zero-hundred hours,” confirmed Doug.
Gadget looked to Flo again expectantly, and this time Flo sighed.
“That’s when our inside man will turn off the security system. We’ll have twenty minutes before they reset it.” Flo’s face showed the signs of frustration worn by an adult indulging the curiosity of a child. “Didn’t they tell you anything about the mission?”
“They said not to worry because I’d be with you.”
Flo raised a single eyebrow then laughed heartily. Gadget would’ve laughed too if she wasn’t petrified about what she had agreed to do.
While the others checked their equipment, all Gadget could focus on was that she was fifteen minutes away from being a criminal. That first broken law would be the first of many tonight. Flo was concerned about the fear she could see across Gadget’s face – Gadget was key to the success of their mission, and they had to succeed.
“Are we terrorists?” asked Gadget.
“What?” said Flo, who now realised she’d been staring.
“I mean if we get caught…it’ll be bad right?”
“We won’t get caught.”
Gadget looked unconvinced. Flo leaned forward so she could speak more softly to reassure her. They’d only get one chance; after tonight their inside man would definitely be sacked by the Hindsight Corporation (HC). And they had to succeed.
“You’re a hacker,” continued Flo, “armed robbery is a step down for you.”
Gadget smiled at what she thought was a joke.
“The world punishes whistleblowers more than robbers…secrets are more valuable than cash.”
“But we are stealing secrets.”
“I’ll let the courts decide on the details.”
Before Gadget could come back with her long list of further concerns, the van came to a stop. There was no backing out now.
Doug opened the side door and jumped out the van. Peter and Paul followed, then Flo nodded to Gadget, and she followed the others. Gadget was five foot tall with short cut hair, and as she jumped out the van Flo thought she looked more like a child running away from home, than a terrorist. Flo was the last to jump out, and closed the door behind her; leaving Keith in the driver’s seat poised for a speedy getaway when they were done.
The group ran through the long grass and were soon at the rendezvous point – the boundary fence of the HC compound. Dressed all in black, they looked the part if nothing else. Only Flo didn’t wear a rucksack as she had a cattle-prod strapped to her back, along with the pistol holstered to her hip. Gadget was the only one unarmed.
They crouched down by the fence, and there was no one else in sight. A low hum of distant voices could be heard coming from the opposite side of the compound, but the side they were going to breach was as silent as a graveyard.
Peter pulled the cutting torch from his rucksack and waited. Doug looked at his watch.
“Begin your twenty minute countdown in three, two, one, mark. Start cutting.”
As the cutting began, there was no ringing klaxon, so they knew their inside man had done their job. Despite the torch’s built-in darkened screen to protect Peter’s eyes, the reflected light on the metal fence was enough to make everyone squint. But the security cameras were blind to the beacon brightening the dark night.
“Stop!” shouted Doug. He had instantly recognised a noise that the rest of the group hadn’t heard. “Get out the blankets.”
Paul quickly opened his rucksack and pulled out several thermal blankets for them to hide under. Flo could hear the sound of a drone approaching.
Unperturbed, Peter silently reached into his rucksack, retrieved his bolt-cutters, and continued working on the fence.
“It must be on a different network to the rest of the security systems,” stated Doug. Without hesitation he was adapting to the setback. “Paul, take a blanket and run back to the van. Radio the protestors and tell them to up the ante, and hopefully that will be enough to draw away the drone. But come back with the EMP-rifle just in case.”
Without further word Paul was gone, and they huddled tighter under the remaining blankets, while Peter continued working. Gadget’s mind raced, and she recognised that Doug’s actions were the product of training you didn’t get at the Boy Scouts. At that moment she realised she knew nothing about the people she had entrusted her freedom to, and her life.
With the regular snap of the bolt-cutters ticking down their clock, they waited. They could hear the muffled whine of the drone’s motors overhead. Under the blankets they were in complete darkness, and Peter worked by touch alone. With every tick of the bolt-cutters, Gadget knew her chances of getting caught increased.
Then without warning, the sound of the drone’s motors overhead altered their tone. It was changing direction. Doug made a narrow gap in the blankets to confirm.
“Looks like our protestors got Paul’s message.”
“Thirty more seconds and I’ll be through.”
“Okay, we move on your go,” then Doug placed his hand on Gadget’s shoulder. “When I move, you follow tight behind me.” Doug drew his pistol in readiness.
“Okay,” confirmed Gadget. She told herself that it was the cold that had made her teeth chatter when she opened her mouth.
With his last snap, Peter dropped the bolt-cutters. He stood to hold open the ‘L’ he’d cut into the fence, so the others could pass through.
Without hesitation Doug moved on Peter’s signal, and Gadget followed closely behind. With Paul still not back with his empty rucksack, Flow bundled up the blankets, and covered over the bolt-cutters and torch. There wasn’t time to conceal them more thoroughly. Flo then followed the first two, and Peter brought up the rear with his gun drawn.
Once they were all at the next rendezvous point, Doug checked the door was unlocked as planned.
“We didn’t anticipate drones,” explained Doug, talking directly to Flo. “So we’ll wait inside the door for you instead.”
Flo nodded, but as she turned to go through the door Doug placed his hand on her shoulder, and spoke again at a volume only Flo could hear. Flo replied at the same volume, but Gadget could lip-read – compared to hacking, lip-reading was often an easier way to get peoples’ personal information.
“If I wanted one, I’d have one,” she mouthed. Then turning to Gadget – who was already watching her – Flo said, “Just keep up.”
Flo drew her pistol, centred the cattle-prod more comfortably on her back, then opened the door and rushed through. Gadget followed next, then Peter, then finally Doug, who closed the door behind them. For a powerful woman, Flo moved with grace, and her footsteps were silent. Gadget followed closely behind, pulling the straps of her rucksack so it was tight against her back, to lessen the rattle of her gear inside. Gadget looked behind her, and the other two had already disappeared into hiding placing she hadn’t spotted.
Flo had been inside the HC compound many times, and run through the maze of corridors with purpose. As they approached a left turn in the maze, Flo stopped, and reached back her free hand to press Gadget close against the side wall.
“What did Doug say to you?” It had played on Gadget’s mind the whole time they ran through the maze, and unanswered questions ate away at her.
Flo poked her head around the corner, and saw there was no one down the next corridor, which was larger than the previous ones.
“Asked if I wanted a gun,” then anticipating the next question she added, “one with bullets rather than darts.”
Then Flo turned the corner and run to an unmarked door, with Gadget in tow.
Gadget silently nodded. Flo entered through the door with her gun tight to her body, and pointing forward. Seconds later an arm reached through the doorframe, and dragged Gadget inside.
They were in the data room. This part of the mission Gadget knew well. She quickly identified the storage unit HC used to back up their data, and ran over to it. Now range wasn’t an issue, Flo holstered her pistol, and took the cattle-prod off her back. She stood guard at the windowless door ready to act. Gadget already had her electric screwdriver working away at the side panel of the storage unit.
“So why are you doing this?” asked Gadget.
“Come on. I can’t work in silence, it creeps me out.” Then stopping her work, gadget looked back to Flo hovering by the door. “They wouldn’t let me play my music through headphones, so unless you want to sing to me…”
“It’s a long story.”
“Tell me the short version, we must have at least ten minutes left of our twenty.” Gadget had the panel off, and placed her hand on the wall to ground herself, so any built up static in her didn’t short-out the components.
“Eight minutes and forty seconds actually. But the answer is payback. The Hindsight Corporation ruined my life before I was even born.”
Gadget looked into the storage unit and didn’t like what she saw. The memory banks weren’t like anything she’d seen before. She didn’t expect to be lucky enough to have a convenient USB port for a quick download, but she couldn’t even tell where one would’ve been put. She turned back to Flo while she thought what to do.
“I didn’t mean that short, meet me in the middle.”
“Just get on with it.”
“Then talk to me.” But Flo was right, her words made Gadget realise she needed to keep removing panels, so she could get a full view of the components inside. Eventually something would look familiar.
“Okay, okay,” said Flo. She walked into the centre of the room so she could speak softer. “My father paid to be projected into the future before I was born. He was told his first born would be a girl called Florence, and a Jiu-Jitsu champion. When he was told he was going to have a daughter, he named her Florence and was convinced everything he’d learned during his projection was true.”
“But that was a fifty-fifty chance, and calling you Florence isn’t even probability.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” said Flo. Her reluctance to say more confirmed to Gadget there was more to tell.
With the second panel on the floor next to the first, Gadget was no closer to solving the puzzle. She was stuck.
“So they conned him?”
“Yeah, five projections worth, but it wasn’t that.” Flo paused to listen at the door, but there was nothing to hear. “HC stole my childhood. All I did was train all the time, and I hated it – it wasn’t a future I believed in.”
“So the projections were wrong?”
“I don’t know.”
Gadget stopped and turned back; she didn’t have a clue what she was doing anyway, she was just too stubborn to admit it. Her look told Flo she didn’t understand what she had said either.
“I’ll never know. I withdrew from the national final, which would have taken me to the worlds if I’d won.” Gadget just listened. “They took my childhood and my father from me with their predictions. He never forgave me.”
“Maybe with time?”
“We’ll never know.”
Gadget knew what that meant, and apologised with her eyes.
“I don’t know how to do this,” confessed Gadget.
The confession snapped Flo back to the moment, and she pushed back her memories again. She walked over to Gadget, and placed the cattle-prod down on the table, so she could help.
Flo looked over Gadget’s shoulder into the maze of wires and blinking lights. She reached her hand into the storage unit, and Gadget struck like a viper, slapping her hand away.
“Stop! Your static could fry the components.”
Flo glared back at her, but Gadget held firm.
“I was going to say,” said Flo, “they only screwed in.”
“So put in a doggy bag, and we’ll take it with us.” Gadget realised Flo was right; she’d been looking at it like a software problem, when it was a hardware problem. “Get to it Gadget, we’ve got six minutes, so you’ve got two.”
Now she had an answer, Gadget’s hands were a blur. Soon there were piles of screws at her feet, and several components already in her rucksack, but there were a lot of memory banks within the storage unit.
Flo stood guard at the door again, watching over Gadget. The whine of her screwdriver was constant. It wasn’t loud, but Flo still didn’t hear the approaching footsteps.
“Halfway there,” said Gadget.
Flo was about to reply when she heard the door handle slowly creak. Her cattle-prod was still on the table out of reach. Rather than grab the weapon, she backed toward the wall, to hide behind the door that was now opening. The guard silently stepped into the room.
Consumed by her task, Gadget was oblivious to the threat creeping up on her. The guard drew his gun without saying a word, and started to take aim. He hadn’t checked behind the door.
Flo pounced on him, wrapping her right arm around his neck, and placing her left behind his head. She spun him so his gun was pointing to the side as she tightened the choke, and he was already losing consciousness before his gun hit the floor.
Gadget turned to the sound of the clattering gun, just in time to see Flo drop the limp body.
Gadget feared the look in Flo’s eyes and didn’t question her command. She wiped her prints from the gear she had to leave behind to make space for the memory banks in her rucksack, and watched Flo.
Flo pulled out a knife that was sheathed across her lower back, and cut a long length of wire, which was clipped to the wall. Gadget had exposed the trellis frame of the storage unit, and Flo looped the wire through it. She’d created a make shift sling to put her arms through. Bending at her knees, she lifted the storage unit from the bottom, and balanced it against her back. Gadget was amazed at her strength.
“You’ll have to protect us. I’ll direct you from behind.”
Gadget was scared, but what choice did they have, there was no way she could carry it. She reached down to pick up the gun on the floor.
“NO!” shouted Flo. “The cattle-prod…it’ll be safer for all of us.” Gadget smiled with relief. “We’ll move as fast as you can run, so we’ll have the element of surprise. If it moves, just zap it!”
As they sped down the corridors Flo easily kept up with Gadget’s pace. Only her pants between commands revealed the burden she carried.
Flo gave her command at every approaching junction, and Gadget showed no signs of hesitation. Gadget didn’t even hesitate when they turned right into an unsuspecting guard.
When the two bodies in black were bearing down on him, he only had time to open his mouth in shock, before Gadget jabbed the cattle-prod under his chin, and fired. His body convulsed, and despite her size, Gadget’s momentum knocked him to the floor, and they continued past. Flo was so surprised at her ruthlessness, she nearly forgot to give her command as they approached the next junction.
The exit was dead ahead, and they must have only had seconds left before the security system was back up. As they approached the door the three men waiting for them stepped out from their hiding places. They each knew their tasks, and acted without a command from Doug. Paul went through the door with his EMP-rifle aimed high, and Peter took off his rucksack to swap with Flo for the run to the van.
“You were meant to steal the data, not the furniture,” said Doug. Flo was too tired to speak. “I don’t know if there’s space in the van for this.” With her new found confidence, Gadget answered for Flo.
“If you want to volunteer to stay behind, that’ll fix the problem.”
Doug was too shocked to reply; this wasn’t the girl he’d led through the fence twenty minutes ago. Before he could find any words to say, he was spared by Paul opening the door again.
“It’s clear, let’s move.”
As Peter lifted the storage unit onto his back with a grunt, it wasn’t only Gadget that gave Flo a feeling of pride.
They ran as fast as their legs could carry them, and were soon in the van without further incident. Keith drove away at full speed with his headlights off, and night-vision goggles on.
They had all fitted inside the van; the storage unit was on the floor in the middle, and they sat around it like a campfire.
“You did well in there,” said Flo. “You never did say why you’re doing this?”
“The people have a right to know the truth. Dr. Chase’s claims are already tearing the world apart, and I want to know what they saw in that projection.” As they continued to bounce down the back roads, Gadget looked down into their campfire, “I just hope that’s shock-resistance.”
“Keith,” Flo called out, “slowdown will ya, we’re clear!”