In thirty minutes she will either be dead or the greatest criminal known to Eurtec. Either way, she's going to get one hell of a fix.
The target is a squat, unimposing, one-story concrete block - a blot against the vibrant Art Deco architecture of the crimson-light district. It's also the home of the Bank of Eurtec. There's at least ten million dollars worth of cash, bonds, stocks, jewels, spices, spells, and tech inside. And in thirty minutes, it'll all be hers. Or her soul will be part of the security system.
Twenty-nine minutes left.
She's sitting on a yellow 2008 Vespa S in an alleyway adjacent to the Bank. The moped has been modified with a small, flat table stuck above the headlight, on which she is dicing, crushing, mixing, and then filling a syringe with product.
Also atop the table is a grey IMI Desert Eagle. It is large, loud, iconic, powerful, and incredibly unwieldy. She has never been to a range in her life. She's more likely to blow a hole through her own head with it than anything else.
The products are ready. She's not. She hasn't scoped out the Bank, examined their security systems, seen any blueprints of the building - hell, she hasn't even set foot inside the Bank. Everything she knows about it, she learned from her inside man. But that doesn't matter. The products are ready.
Twenty-eight minutes left.
She takes a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, a cotton swab, and rubber tubing from a satchel on her back. Then she dips the swab in the bottle, swabs the crook of her left elbow, and ties the tubing around it - an unwieldy process with two arms, let alone one. It takes her several tries to get it wrapped tightly.
Twenty-three minutes left.
Satisfied that the tubing is tight around her elbow, she takes the syringe in her right hand and gives it an experimental tap. It screeches in response; the thick, dark slurry inside coalesces into a tiny, red, six-armed gorilla that beats at the glass. She shakes the syringe rapidly to reduce the gorilla back into a scarlet sludge. Then, in a fluid, practiced motion, she gently stabs the needle into the vein in her arm and injects herself with 100 CCs of pure demon.
Twenty-two minutes left.
Her pulse doesn't quicken - it runs for its life. Her vision blurs briefly and then sharpens. Even as her head begins to pound to the drumbeat of the damned, she notes with satisfaction that her left arm has been pixelated. Where once there was continuous smooth skin, the entire limb from the shoulder down looks like a sixteen-bit sprite from a video game. She gives it an experimental flex to make sure that it doesn't fall off, then looks to the Bank.
The Bank and everybody around it are now a sheen of threads: the dull grey of concrete, stone, and metal, the rich tan of wood, the vibrant scarlet of humans, the icy lime of machines, and the frosty blue of spirits. All of them are moving sluggishly, as if caught in an invisible flood of molasses. This is the power of demonic perception.
Helmet and leathers on and cannon in hand, she covers the fifty meters to the main entrance in less than a second. The entrance doors are frosted glass, and shatter to bits when she rams through them with her left shoulder. Her trajectory carries her into a security android, whom she punches in the throat. As he falls, she wraps her right arm around his injured throat, shifts her gun to her left hand, and puts it to his head. She fires. People start to scream.
Twenty-one minutes left.
She's never felt more alive. As part of the ceiling crumbles and the citizens of Eurtec huddle on the ground, she drags the android across the marble floor to the teller - a mainframe intelligence - and warns it that for every minute she is not allowed into the main vault, somebody dies. It hesitates. She leans on the glass window separating them and shifts her gun from the android to the crowd.
Twenty minutes left.
The android reactivates and attempts to elbow her in the gut. She seizes his elbow with the Left Arm of Doom and wrenches it behind his back, allowing him just enough time to look shocked before the entire left side of his body is converted into digital information. He collapses forward, looking for all the world as though he was sliced in half. She gives the stunned teller a wry look, though it probably can't see it through her helmet. It can, however, see her aiming her gun at a small child in the crowd.
Nineteen minutes left.
The door to the bank vault is a meter-thick slab composed of fifty percent unobtaniumTM, thirty-one percent platinum, ten percent iridium, and nine percent metal unknown to all but the corporation formerly known as Prometheus Labs. It is unbreakable.
It swings open, and she tips her helmet to the teller before strolling in. There are still eighty meters of spatially and temporally folded corridor between her and the vault. All eighty meters are guarded by geases, security turrets, metal golems that can melt out of the walls, and a floating necromantic complex composed of the souls of everyone who has tried to steal from the Bank of Eurtec1 in the past.
None of those souls tried to juice themselves with demonics. She breaks into a sprint, Superman-style; her pixelated arm in front. Soon she'll either be rich or dead.
Eighteen minutes left.
The geases come first; unless inoculated against them ahead of time, they compel you to stop breathing. The Left Arm of Doom smashes through them with ease - contrary to popular belief, the Devil has no problem reneging on his contracts.
Seventeen minutes left.
The turrets come next, unfolding from the walls and ceiling. A hail of bullets comes down the corridor at her. It's all a mess of green threads; she swipes at them with the Left Arm of Doom and they come unraveled, disintegrating into computer chips, blocks of various precious metals, and several rapidly vanishing lesser demons.
Sixteen minutes left.
Ahead of her, the walls themselves begin to melt away and seep onto the floor. Then they reform into enormous, massive golems; screeching metal raptors that want nothing more than to rend her flesh from her bones. This is what the Desert Eagle is actually for - it's the only pistol in the world with the triangular barrel that will allow her to fire geomantically blessed bullets. Of course, no amount of geomancy will allow her to aim properly. She fumbles with a pocket on her satchel and extracts two small blue pills: these demons came from the Seventh Plain of the Atlach-Nacha. She pops them like grapes.
This time her right arm physically bulks up; it looks like she stole it from a body builder and grafted it to herself. The arm instantly stops shaking; it is now perfectly oriented with respect to the Seventh Plain, regardless of how much running she does. She drops into a slide and takes less-than-careful aim with the Eagle before firing off five shots. Five golems collapse as the rules of geometry allowing their metallic composition to exist decide to take a break.
Fifteen minutes left.
The last twenty meters are the hardest; this time the ground falls away from her mid-slide. Now she is falling towards the bank vault, trying to keep hold of her helmet as a vortex of red and blue and purple engulfs her. The vault is within sight, but it's falling faster than she is. Then the necromantic complex appears.
A shrieking, wailing mass of souls amassed over three hundred years2 rises up from the vault. Thousands of screaming faces rush up towards her. This is the Curse of Eurtec: the souls of the damned that have tried and failed to steal from the Bank. All of them are cursed to spend the rest of eternity guarding it, tormented by their own greed as they are forced to protect the treasure they worked so hard to capture for themselves.
If she doesn't do something in the next five seconds, the shell that contains her mortal soul will disintegrate violently and painfully. Then she will join them in this artificial hell.
The Curse rushes up towards her. She winds the Left Arm of Doom back, and then connects with a punch.
There is whiteness.
Then she is inside the bank vault.
Nine minutes later, the police have set up a cordon outside the building. Inside, a FLYPAPER team is approaching the door to the vault. The teller is still hiding in the mainframe; it sealed the vault as soon as the mysterious robber entered it. At the FLYPAPER's signal, the teller opens the vault door.
As soon as the door opens, she dives out of the vault and slides across the floor, shooting wildly. The Atlach-Nacha pills wore off thirty seconds ago, so all she manages to kill are a few decorative wall panels. It does, however, startle the FLYPAPER and force them to recalibrate for a second. That's all she needs.
The Left Arm of Doom slams through the wall of the Bank, sending chunks of concrete flying. As she picks herself up to run, a bullet burrows into the back of her skull. The hellfire coursing through her veins melts it down and uses it to repair the damage.
She vaults onto the Vespa. The key is still hanging out of the ignition.
Five minutes left.
Things are moving faster now and the Left Arm of Doom is gone. The FLYPAPER are storming out of the Bank. She can see the crimson of their eye and the saliva dripping from their mouth.
She has one more trick up her sleeve: a line of chartreuse powder on the table she set up on the Vespa. She doesn't have any straws - she'll just have to hope the Vespa table is clean. She scrapes her face across the table and snorts all the powder in one deep breath. Then she guns the ignition.
The engine is now fueled by her mental state - a hyperkinetic cocktail of adrenaline, drugs, and two separate demon possessions. The Vespa's frame can barely contain the roar of the engine, much less the actual thrust as the tiny Italian scooter tears out of the alley at two hundred kilometers per hour.
As she rockets past the FLYPAPER, she sees a line of translucent pink motorbikes emerge in front of them: the FLYPAPER's Psionic Force Deterrent Squadron, a force of undead bike cops that cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or killed. Only their quarry can see or interact with them, and they will not stop until that quarry is behind bars or six feet under.
Four minutes left.
She spares a glance to the left and suddenly there is a truck bearing down on her from the intersection which she didn't even realize she'd driven into. In an instant, the Vespa is reduced to torn metal and she is reduced to a pulp of organs.
At least, in one possible future. In her mind's eye, she sees Hiranyakashipu collapse all possible futures into the future where she survives. A trillion different possibilities flit through her skull in an instant and then vanish; the shock causes her to swerve away from the intersection and into a small alleyway, breaking out into a park. People enjoying a day out are forced to flee for cover from the Vespa careening through the brush.
The Squadron bursts out of the trees, landing on the ground and flanking her. A translucent pink cop materializes on each bike and pulls out a light pink Magnum revolver; it would be funny if they weren't about to fire at her.
The echoes of five gunshots go off. Every psychic in Eurtec experiences a sudden moment of panic and frantically pats themselves down for bullet wounds.
Three minutes left.
Hiranyakashipu shows her another trillion futures and sends her slumping over the handlebars for a half second - long enough for all five echoes to zip harmlessly over her head. Two of the echoes connect with two of the Squadron's riders, temporarily erasing all four from this plane of existence. She shakes herself awake as the Vespa careens over a bridge, sending a man and his grandson diving for cover. The rest of the Squadron rides over the brook as though it were flat land.
The Vespa barrels through the park gates and back onto the street, blowing through a red light and almost causing a multi-dimensional-car pileup. In the distance, a train horn blares.
Two minutes left.
She steers in the direction of the train horn, blowing past one red light, two red lights, three red lights… the blaring of horns and the screeching of metal against metal fades behind her in the distance. What doesn't fade is the throaty hum of three spectral Yamahas. The Vespa is starting to slow down - the Squadron is not.
Then she spots her salvation: a light blue tanker truck stopped at the intersection. On the side of the tank is the characteristic rectangular biohazard sign of ectoplasm. Nobody with a corporeal form would be affected by raw ectoplasm - but the Squadron doesn't have one. She fishes the Desert Eagle from its spot in her waistband (the realities where it discharged into her pelvis having long since been discarded) and takes aim at the truck.
She unloads the three remaining bullets into the tanker as it begins to accelerate through the intersection; two of them go wild, startling a flock of birds. The third clips the tanker's valve and the thin green sheen of ectoplasm begins to flood out. The tanker clears the intersection, gushing ectoplasm everywhere just as she rockets through it, creating a traffic jam through the main thoroughfare. She looks behind her and sees the Squadron slow to a halt in the spectral goo.
One minute left.
Ahead is her goal - the railroad tracks. The crossing gates are down and the lights are flashing. On cue, the freight train chugs into view from the right.
Things go wrong. The roar of two Yamaha engines suddenly become audible: the first two Squadron cops have returned to the world of the living. And this time they're not flanking her - they're simply going to shoot her in the back.
She makes a split second decision and tips the moped into a slide. Her bike leathers grind against the road at three hundred kilometers per hour as the Vespa disintegrates on contact with the unforgiving asphalt. She skids underneath the crossing gates and comes to a stop directly on the tracks.
Five thousand tons of unforgiving iron and steel smash into her at seventy kilometers per hour, mashing her to bits and splattering those bits across the tracks.
The Squadron does not stop; they simply sink into the ground as they drive.
Time is up.
She sits up with sharp, deep, labored breaths. She is naked, sitting in the center of a chartreuse pentagram, drawn entirely of the same powder that she snorted five minutes ago on her moped.
The pentagram is on a hard, concrete floor. There is a row of fluorescent lights on the ceiling.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Rookie," someone calls.
She whips her head to the right. There are two couches in front of a television. The Inside Man is sitting on one of them, holding a bag of chips and grinning at her.
"Fuckin' hell, Rookie," he says, munching on the chips, "you really kicked the hornet's nest. Man, that robbery was on every fuckin' channel I have! There were Andycopters following that Vespa chase. I can't believe they sent the FLYPAPER after you!"
She stares at him archly.
"Anyways, you're alive!… How's that work? And how'd you make out?" the Man asks.
"Contract. Lesser Nornir demon. I died. I came back. It got some gold," she responds slowly, with vocal chords that have never been used before. She gingerly reaches out with her hands and makes a motion as if throwing open a pair of curtains. A pile of cash, gold, jewels, bonds, stocks, spices, and spells fall out of the empty air. The Man's eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.
"God damn," he says, "you actually did it. You cleared them out. You robbed the Bank of Eurtec."
He sets the chips down on the couch and hops over it, walking towards her. "I guess there's something to your 'demon drug' thing after all."
He helps her up and then offers a closed fist. She bumps it in acknowledgment.
"Congrats, Rukmini. The Chicago Spectre is now on the map!"