Iseph crept through the empty museum, footsteps soundless on the tiled floor. All around the android, monsters loomed—alien creatures propped up in glass-walled display cases, their exhibits pumped full of inert gas to prevent the corpses' decay. In the dim emergency lighting, some of them almost looked alive. But of course that wasn't how places like this worked.
Iseph paused at the entrance to their destination. Pulling the tube from their belt, they blew a soft puff of dust through the doorway.
Laser lit up red, crisscrossing the small room. Iseph made a mental map of their locations, burning them into short-term memory even as the dust drifted to the floor and they disappeared again.
Bending low, Iseph slithered beneath the first laser, then arched high over the second. Of course, the android's cloaking field could bend lasers without breaking them, the same way it was currently foiling the thermal imaging cameras, and would have beaten the visual spectrum cameras if Iseph hadn't already hacked them to loop the footage. But Iseph had a certain level of professional pride, and laser tripwires were novice stuff—the sort of thing you put in because it looked impressive to clients, not because it deterred professionals. Dancing around them was so easy it was almost insulting. But of course the museum's security couldn't have known whom they'd be dealing with.
The crystal stood alone atop a display pedestal, glowing softly. Inside its cylindrical viewing case, it balanced incongruously on a single metal point, its lower half an elaborate setting of wires and circuitry.
Rerouting the arcano-electric security seal on the case itself was more of a challenge, but still too easy for someone of Iseph's skill. The android added the appropriate relays, synched them, and popped the case free.
With nothing left between Iseph and the crystal, the android considered the pedestal's pressure sensor. It was a classic mechanism—the sort of thing you saw everywhere from ancient temples to modern bank vaults—yet still remarkably difficult to deal with. The era when you could just swap in a similarly sized rock as you snatched away the treasure was long gone, if it had ever truly existed.
Iseph knew the right tool for the job—a specialized lifter-and-pump mechanism that you anchored outside the pressure sensor, then attached to your target. The pump drew up liquid from a reservoir in the anchor, inflating a sack atop the sensor at the exact same rate as the crane arm lifted the prize free, making sure the weight remained constant. But it was expensive, and by necessity single-use. Iseph couldn't be expected to have one on hand.
It was a perfectly reasonable test to fail, yet something about it stuck in Iseph's craw. It was just so pedestrian. If—
A glint at the crystal's base caught their eye. There—a single metal flake, its color slightly off from its surroundings.
Iseph smiled. A magnetic proximity alarm. Electromagnetic sensors inside the pedestal would be calibrated to the alloy of that tag, sensing its exact composition and distance. Move it, and you'd disrupt the invisible magnetic fields and trigger the alarm.
And Iseph almost hadn't seen it. Here, at last, was some quality security work. Getting past it would require time and finesse.
Iseph snatched the crystal off its pedestal.
Alarms blared, accompanied by the clangs of security gates slamming down across exits throughout the museum. Iseph dropped their cloaking field, briefly considered waving to the thermal cameras, then sprinted back through the exhibits.
Security guards came rushing through the main entrance just as Iseph neared it—two humans, a ysoki, and a full half-dozen humanoid security bots, all positioned between the android and the exit. They didn't even give a warning, just opened fire with arc emitters and pulsecasters, the air humming and crackling with electricity.
Well, that isn't very professional. Iseph dove for shelter behind an exhibit featuring some sort of star-nosed lizard. The android drew their own pistol and leaned out to return fire, winging one of the humans.
It was tempting to keep firing—to show them all just who they were dealing with. But nine was probably too many, even for Iseph, and besides, the android had promised: only enough combat to sell it. Which meant it was time for the hard part.
This is going to hurt. Wincing in anticipation, Iseph slipped the crystal into an armored pouch, then stood and darted around the corner, straight for one of the patrol bots.
The blast caught Iseph full in the chest, sending them sprawling as electricity overloaded circuits and set muscles twitching. Someone kicked the gun from Iseph's hand, and then the android was staring up at a circle of angry faces and mirrored robotic lenses.
The human Iseph had shot clutched at his injured shoulder. “An android?” he snarled. “I'd have thought one of you half-bots would be too smart to try stealing from the Galactic Heritage Foundation.” He patted Iseph down roughly, eyebrows rising as he pulled the crystal from its case. “The Songstone! You've got a good eye, for a thief.”
“I'm not the thief here.” Iseph pointed at the Songstone. “That crystal stores the psychic memories of the Parelnesi tribes going back a thousand generations—their whole culture is in there! It doesn't belong in a museum.”
“That's exactly why it belongs in a museum,” the guard snapped. “That kind of history is too valuable to leave on some backwater world. Besides, they obviously couldn't protect it.”
“No,” Iseph acknowledged with a nod. “But they could hire somebody to get it back.”
The guard smirked. “And look how well that went.”
Iseph matched his smile. “I don't know, I think it's going pretty well.”
The ysoki guard wrinkled her snout. “How do you figure?”
As if on cue, the six security bots swiveled in unison, pointing their weapons at the guards.
Over the museum's intercom, a familiar voice said, “Weapons down, please.”
“What?” The lead guard gaped, pistol hanging loose as he stared down the barrels of his robots' arc emitters.
“You didn't really think I tripped your alarm by accident, did you?” Iseph stood, shaking out the last pins and needles of the stun bolt. The android reached out and plucked the crystal from the guard's grip. “I just needed to lure you all away from the security station long enough for the others to get in there and work their magic.”
The intercom clicked on once more, ringing with Raia's smooth tones.
“The museum is now closed,” she announced. “All jewel thieves, please proceed to the nearest exit...”
Iconic Encounter: The Museum Job
Thursday, August 15, 2019