This is a prequel piece to That One Job In Beijing, which you can read here. Enjoy!
The One Job With the Kid
I pressed my hand against the kid’s mouth, half a centimeter under his nose. I didn’t want the kid to die, I just needed him to shut up for half a fucking second so I could think. This was a cluster fuck if I’ve ever seen one, and I’ve been in plenty of cluster fucks in my day. My mind briefly wondered to Paris, three or four years ago now, but I firmly pushed it away. I needed to stay focused. Stay sharp. Because I was good, one of the damn best in the biz, but I knew this kid was going to be a problem.
How in the hell the little shit got past security was beyond me? Maybe they just let him waltz through because he was only a kid. And the little shit was smart enough to get through the access door into the back area, the Imps only area. But his plan seemed to falter there. The kid was pretty lucky that I’d already been there, lifting the flute.
The kid stumbled and groaned next to me, his foot wavering from the burn mark. He’d stepped off the path. Probably because he didn’t know about the path. Most people didn’t. I wasn’t most people. I knew about the paths the Imps set up in their special storerooms. It was my talent, my gift if you will. Maybe a bit like a superpower, although no one really thought about superheros anymore. It was really a shame because right now I felt a little like Daredevil – blind, in the dark, having to rely on my other senses to get the hell out of this room, fighting against the man… in a sense. If you could call Imps men.
I did cheat a little. Daredevil never had a vibrosuit. The fabric clung to my body, special cells picking up the smallest vibration in the room, the slightest breeze, a hint of a temperature change. It was how I found the kid in the first place.
That and his scream when he stepped across the first tile on his way to his prize.
“I swear on my mother’s grave, if you get me caught, kid, I will leave you for the Imps,” I hissed in the kid’s ear. He stopped his moaning and made an attempt to walk in a straight line. I used my leg to guide him, shifting his damaged foot three centimeters to the right. The exact placement was important. I paused for a moment as our feet came to rest in the correct square of floor. I pictured the room in my mind: the main entrance two meters north, the display I’d just lifted the flute from was eight meters to the west, the vent I’d entered from three meters southwest from the display. It was why I picked that vent in the first place. But it was a long way to travel with a wounded child. I’d need another exit. The front entrance was closest, but it was suicide to take that one. There would be Imps out there and both me and the kid would be humped if I ventured there.
I was a little surprised that we hadn’t been caught already. The kid’s first screams had been loud. Really loud. Planet-blowing-up-force-disturbing type of loud. Either the Imps on guard duty were out at the moment or this room had better soundproofing than I thought.
Or the Imps were on their way right now.
I could ditch the kid, of course. Leave him and let the Imps arrest him. He’d be shipped off planet to one of the asteroid mines for a few years, certainly no more than 10 years. He’d come out a young man still, his life ahead of him. If I got caught… A shiver traveled up my spine. The Imps weren’t as forgiving toward humans who took their fancy toys. And I’d taken my fair share of their fancy toys. There would be no asteroid mine for me.
I couldn’t just leave the kid, though. Wasn’t in my nature to leave a kid, no matter how he might fuck everything up for me, at the mercy of the Imps. No one deserved that. That left one option. I hated this part.
“I need both my hands,” I hissed in his ear, my hand still tightly clamped over his mouth. “If you make a sound, I’ll leave you here.” He didn’t move. “I need some physical confirmation that you understand, kid.”
The slightest of nods answered my question. Slowly, I removed my hand. The kid, to his credit, didn’t move, didn’t make a sound except for the slightest hike in his breathing. The kid was scared to death. Good. That would make this a little easier.
“I have to move over there,” I pointed but quickly realized the futility of the gesture. He couldn’t fucking see in the dark. What was this kid doing in here anyway? If he was here to lift something, he sure was doing a piss poor job of it.
A small hand groped in the darkness until it found my leg. “Don’t leave me,” he whispered.
Well, isn’t that just heart melting pathetic? I peeled his hand from my suit. “If you want to get out of here, you’ll stay right here. Don’t move. Don’t make a sound.”
“Please don’t leave me,” he whispered again. I could feel the moisture on his face through the enhanced abilities of the vibrosuit. “I don’t want to go to the mines. Please.”
Shit. I wasn’t really going to leave the kid anyway. “Yeah yeah,” I whispered back. “I’ll be right back, but you stay right there.” His hand snaked out again. Damn it. I was never going to get us out of here if he didn’t let me go.
I dug into my pouch and found an ancient card that my grandfather gave me when I was a boy. It had a faded picture of Han Solo on it. I didn’t believe in good luck charms. I believed in skill and practice and patience. But it reminded me of my grandfather so I carried it with me.
I pressed it into his hands. “This is my good luck charm, “ I lied. “As long as you have that, I’ll come back for you. Ok?” He clutched the card and nodded, his hand leaving my pants. I straightened, tilted my head to get my place and took off to the south.
Three small steps, one large step, right, right, right, left. The pattern was etched into my mind and I followed, always staying within the path until I was under the vent in the center of the room. It was 50 meters up, which is why I never used the central vent. Too high, too much rope needed, too high a chance of falling, too high a chance of getting caught. Nope, side vents were the best. But, when the only other option is getting caught, you take the least desirable alternative.
The tensile I always carry with me only has enough strength to carry me. But I could drop it back down and get the kid. If we moved quickly, maybe we could both-
A sharp vibration rippled through the air towards the front of the storeroom. I spun, swore. The Imps were on their way. That was the vibration of a door sounding somewhere close by, maybe the lobby door for the storerooms. They’d be here soon.
Shit, fuck, damn, fuck.
On to alternative plan D.
I ran as fast as I could back to the kid, who stood stock still, still clutching my Han Solo card. I cringed a little at the damage he must be doing to it.
“Okay, kid,” I hissed as I took my card back from him. He jumped a little and clutched at my leg. I pushed him away. “We’ve got to get out of here. I’m going to carry you.” Without waiting for an answer, I picked the kid up and swung him on to my back, desperately glancing around for a way out.
There wasn’t- Holy fucking shit, I’m such a dumbass!
“Kid,” I hissed, “I have a way to get us out of here, but you have to do exactly what I say. Can you do that?” A nod.
Ok. This would work. “Count to 120. Then start crying. This is really important. I need you to do this or you’re going to the mines.” The kid starting tearing up.
“Not yet,” I hissed. “Count to 120.” Then I took off, praying to…well, hoping that the kid wasn’t as stupid as I had first thought. I made it to my entrance point, crawled through the vent and retrieved my bag from the ventilation shaft.
“50, 51, 52,” I counted silently as I rummaged through the pack, plucking out street clothes and stashing the flute in the secret pocket sewn in just for jobs.
“73, 74, 75” I didn’t bother removing the vibrosuit. It took too long and my clothes would cover it. The last part was street shoes and a ball cap. I walked out of the closet without looking, a little risky but the clock was ticking.
“102, 103, 104.”
I ran down the hall, working up a sweat before I can across the first Imp.
“Oh thank God,” I cried out, trying to put as much fear in my voice as I could. “I can’t find my son. He was standing right next to me one minute and then he was gone. We’re here for a school assignment. He was supposed to stay with me.”
The Imp put its hand up, the claws at the tip reflecting in the florescent hall light. “One moment,” it said, its voice like a fingernail rubbing against a microphone. It moved its head to the side, the large black shields over its eyes glinting and the white of its breather reflecting the light from above. It nodded.
“We may have found him. Follow me.” Their gait was awkward, their backward knees making their stride smaller than expected for their size. I followed, trying not the mimic the way it walked, a gait I have practice for hours and hours in order to follow the paths in the storerooms.
It led me to the storeroom lobby, where the kid was standing, his arms wrapped around him as an Imp knelt besides him examining his foot.
“Christian!” I yelled as I ran to him, pulling him into a hug, hoping like hell the kid got what was going on.
“Dad!” He yelled back. I smirked. The kid wasn’t as stupid as I first thought. I put him on the floor and turned to the Imp.
“Thank you so much. I was worried sick about him.” I turned to the kid. “Don’t you ever wonder off again. I was so worried about you.”
The kid turned him face down, his hands winding in the fabric of his shirt. “I was just looking for the bathroom.” The Imp next to him stood.
“His foot will be fine. Please be mindful of the signs next time. You will be escorted out of the museum.”
“Of course, of course,” I agreed eagerly. An Imp escort out of the place I’d just robbed. Now that was a first.
The one who helped me, I think – all the damn Imps look alike – walked us through the halls and out of the main entrance. I carried the kid until we were around the corner from the joint before I set him on the ground.
“All right, now scat. You almost cost me the job. Be glad I didn’t leave you there.” I said before turning and heading the other way. I had a drop to make.
“I don’t have anywhere to go,” the kid called after me. “I was breaking in there to prove I could do it for Mr. Kelp.”
I paused. “Mr. Kelp?’
“Yeah, he’s gonna let me be part of his gang. He said I needed to break into that place to show him I was worthy.” The kid puffed his chest out.
“Didn’t do that great of a job,” I remarked as I turned. The kid deflated, his head hung.
“Mr. Kelp said I had to.”
I sighed. I knew Kelp. He ran a gang of trouble makers and common thieves. Most of his boys were on the asteroids or dead by the time they were 15. This kid couldn’t have been more than 10.
“Shit,” I muttered. “Hey, kid, know anything about Batman?’
“Who?” Kids these fucking days. No one knew any history.
“Batman. He was this crime fighting guy. Had a sidekick named Robin who helped him out.” A tiny light flared to life behind the kid’s eyes.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, yet. You’re barely apprentice worthy.” I sighed again. “Kelp will just get you killed, kid. If you want to learn the trade-“
“You’ll teach me!” The kid jumped up and down. “You’ll really teach me?”
“You have to do exactly what I say. We’ve got to teach you some brains. Can’t just break into an Imp storeroom without some plan.”
“I promise. Whatever you say.”
I sighed again. “All right. Come on. What’s your name?”