by Matt Appleby
A group of thieves rob a company with a highly unusual guardian.
|Author's Note: this is another story for the "Game of Thrones" contest. This time, it's for a team-based 'Scavenger Hunt', a series of trivia questions, writing prompts and review criteria based around the Song of Ice and Fire location of Old Valyria.
The specific writing prompt is simply for a story about dragons. Which, in my traditional roundabout sense, is what I've done. The basic concept is of a classic fantasy world in its own post-computer age, which I'm hoping comes across as well I can make it, considering I've only got 2,000 words to play with. Which also makes a heist plot really frikkin' tricky, but that's my own stupid fault for trying it.
Anyway, here's the story...
Treasure Hunting, Digital-Style
By Matt Appleby
(word count: 1,835)
Steadman & White was, by some measure, the largest corporation the general public had never heard of. They made nothing, sold nothing, traded in nothing; they earned billions upon billions, month after month, but never had anything that a layman would regard as an obvious revenue stream. They instead made their money by owning other businesses, or at least shares in those businesses, and taking a cut of their profits for themselves. Through the endless chain of traded stocks, big companies who owned smaller companies who owned smaller companies still, they had their fingers in nearly every corner of the modern economy, and yet only the men who directly sold to them knew they even existed.
Steadman & White contributed nothing to the world. Their only accomplishment was to grow fat on the labours of other men, men who themselves grew fat on the labours of their employees. They took and took and they gave nothing in return. They were nothing more than a tick on the flesh of humanity.
Which was why Thomas Grey, High Priest of the Temple of Thieves, leader of the most notorious crew Queen's Bay had seen in centuries, was going to rob them blind.
* * * * *
The target's headquarters was a thirty-story tower in the waterfront redevelopments. It was much the same as most other corporate monoliths, a cold, faceless construction of steel and glass. Like all such buildings, a fortune obviously lay within, but if you did not already know just how colossal that fortune really was, you would walk right past and not give it another thought.
Which, considering the company's CEO and his nature, was surprising.
A bicycle courier walked into the lobby, his metallic feet clicking loudly on the marble floor. The sound drew a few heads out of the bustling crowd, but fewer than he had been expecting. Androids were still decades away from becoming commonplace, but in the corporate world they were no longer a novelty. This suited the courier just fine.
He walked over to the giant front desk and introduced himself. The receptionist welcomed him to Steadman & White with a cheery tone that was almost admirable in its fakery. The courier handed over a book-sized package, along with his ID badge. The name listed, 'Mark Arnolds', was one of numerous forgeries he'd used over his long career, and he was confident it would check out.
As the receptionist worked, the courier found himself staring at her neck. The flesh was soft and pale, and the arteries underneath beat with a tantalising rythmn. But he did not feel the thirst that used to be his constant companion, and for that he was grateful. He'd enjoyed his centuries as a vampire, but in the end, immortality had not outweighed the obsession with human blood and never seeing the sun. When the technology had arisen to transfer his mind into a robot body, letting him finally ditch those weaknesses without sacrificing the strengths, well...he'd never looked back.
The receptionist handed back his card with a smile. She put the package under her desk, ready to be sent on to its final destination. The courier left the building.
* * * * *
Jan Stazynski was sat in his cubicle on the eighteenth floor, watching his computer's screensaver. The image was of the Steadman & White logo, with an animated dragon perched on top. It flexed its wings every few seconds, and occasionally took off to fly a circuit of the screen before landing again. The dragon was a depiction of Gothraxx, the King of Gold from the ancient tales, which the CEO apparently considered symbolic of something he'd never deigned to share with his employees.
Stazynski, however, knew exactly what that something was. He considered it obvious, if only because he knew where to look.
He didn't have long to wait now, which was good, because he really needed something to eat. Even better was that the company has recently added lizardman-friendly options to all its vending machines, the end result of much lobbying by himself and the few other lizardman employees. They were a significant minority in Queen's Bay, but it was still hard for them to find food they could physically digest outside of their main district. A few vending machines wasn't much of a victory, but it was still worth a little something.
An intern walked over, carrying a book-sized package. Stazynski took it, signed the company-issue form and sent the intern on his way. He opened the parcel to find a box containing a mobile phone, one belonging to a very obscure brand. Once he turned the phone on, he found that, beyond the usual functions, there was already an app on the main menu, simply called 'Knock'.
He pressed the app's icon. The phone itself did nothing, but the lights in the room flickered for a few seconds. He stood up and walked over to the vending machines. The dragon on the screensaver turned its head to watch him go.
* * * * *
Liz Jones walked into the cavernous server room, deep below the building. The network had just come under an attempted hack. It had been fought off with no difficulty, but it had still managed to take out the server room's cameras on the way out, and Jones had been sent to investigate. Most computer techs would be reluctant to go alone, but such concerns never affected her.
Jones was often called 'Little' Liz, but never to her face. Like all people with such nicknames, she was an enormous, Amazonian woman, able to outmatch even the ex-Special Forces men who led the security team. There was rumoured to be some giant in her ancestry somewhere, although how anyone would be able to mate with those building-sized beings was uncertain. Curiously, this rumour was actually partly true: she was, in fact, a 100% pure-bred giant, identical to her fellows except that she'd been born with dwarfism. She was very sensitive on this point, which was why no one called her 'Little' to her face and got away with it.
Jones walked over to a server bank near the back of the room. She pulled a mobile phone out of her pocket, one belonging to a very obscure brand, and plugged it in. She clicked on the phone's sole app, simply called 'Key'. There was some loud whirring from deep within the server bank, which lasted for quite a while.
Eventually, the phone drew up a list of employees with access to the CEO's office. The list contained only six people, and Jones added three more. She unplugged the phone, put it back in her pocket and left the server room.
* * * * *
An expensively-dressed businessman walked into the lobby, his metallic feet clicking loudly on the marble floor. The sound drew a few heads out of the bustling crowd, but fewer than he had been expecting. This suited the android just fine.
He walked over to the front desk and introduced himself. The receptionist welcomed him to Steadman & White with what appeared to be genuine interest. The businessman informed her of his intended appointment, and handed over his ID card. The appointment and the ID, listed as 'Robert Benson', were both complete forgeries, but he was confident they would check out.
The receptionist handed back his card with a smile and wished him a pleasant day. He replied in turn and headed for the lifts.
* * * * *
Jan Stazynski, 'Little' Liz Jones and the expensively-dressed businessman all met on the thirtieth floor, outside the office of the CEO. Weirdly, there wasn't a name on the door, just 'CEO'.
Stazynski looked the businessman up and down.
“I thought you were going to be Neil Harper?” he asked, with a vague smile.
“I changed my mind.” The businessman shrugged. “Benson has better suits.”
Stazynski gave a 'fair enough' expression and seemed to think no more of it.
“You'll have to tell me your real name one of these days.” he said after a moment.
“I surely will, once I remember what it is.”
Jones turned to them both. “Are we finishing this job or what?”
“That's a smashing idea.”
The businessman opened the office door, letting the other two in ahead of him. The CEO's lair was a little more barren than they were expecting, containing only a table with six chairs, a bland abstract painting on one wall, and a giant flatscreen TV on the opposite. There wasn't even a desk, though in this case, the three knew that a desk wasn't exactly needed.
The TV was scrolling through a long wall of text, a quarterly budget report or something else equally tedious. A number of letters were pulled out of the text as they went past, then sent swirling around the screen in random patterns. It wasn't long before they began to be pulled together, forming what looked remarkably like a piece of ASCII art.
A dragon made of letters had appeared on the screen. It looked angry.
“So this is the Temple of Thieves.” the dragon said. Its voice both rumbled and crackled, like how hot coals might sound if they could speak.
“We are.” Stazynski replied, with perfect calm.
“A pathetic group. I am Gothraxx, King of Gold! All the treasures of the world belong to me! No man in the world can take from me even a single dollar! I will destroy you all, insolent creatures!”
None of the trio felt especially cowed by the dragon's ranting. In ages past, when Gothraxx had physical form and could incinerate them with a single breath, then maybe there would be cause for concern. But not now. He had attempted to change with the times, realising that the leaders of the world now measured their wealth in spreadsheets rather than gold and jewels, but for all that he tried to keep his new, digital hoard a secret, he still chose to defend it with the old-fashioned megalomania. He hadn't quite changed enough, not for this world.
All the same, getting into his accounts would be impossible whilst he was alive. So that still made him a very valid threat.
“Which of you shall I kill first?” Gothraxx continued. “Which of you is the legendary Thomas Grey?”
“None of us.” the businessman said.
He took out a mobile phone, one belonging to a very obscure brand. “The High Priest is right here.”
The businessman selected the phone's sole app, simply called 'Knight'. The lights in the office flickered for a few seconds, then a second image began to form on the TV screen from the endless scrolling text. It was smaller than the dragon, but still possessed of great power.
A man dressed in thick armour, wielding a mighty sword and shield. He gave a loud war cry and charged at his foe.