2 A Thief in the Night

The story of the Shooman Towers

Several generations ago, there was a pair of identical twins was born to the Shooman family. Raised in affluence, and knowing no restraint or humility, they both suffered from acute cases of narcissism. Each brother had to outdo the other. It was a moral imperative bred into them by a successful father. Allen, the younger brother by about two minutes, and their mother’s favorite, decided to erect a skyscraper with family money. Edward, the older brother, had to build a bigger and better tower. But he bided his time and waited until the younger brother’s was halfway up, then he began his skyscraper right next to it.

Allen, discovering Edward’s devious plans, altered his design halfway up to create a more extravagant edifice. But since Allen was first to construct, Edward also changed his design halfway up, to be more ornate than his brother’s. (Which was why, at a certain level, the eponymous monoliths started to look like bad afterthoughts.)

Now Allen, realizing Edward had an advantage, delayed his building with false code compliance setbacks and material shipping delays. Edward Shooman, driven by his narcissism, lost sight of building bigger and fancier and got caught up in finishing first. It made him extremely happy to complete his tower before his brother.

Allen Shooman then built past Edward’s monstrosity with five more floors. Edward commissioned ten more floors, even wider and more extravagant than before. They were added to the top of a construct that was not designed for any more floors, surpassing Allen’s atrocity by five more floors. Then Allen added another ten floors. And so on and so on. Each time they enhanced the design to be bigger and more ostentatious. Each time they paid off city officials for permits and code violations. With each enhancement the upper floors grew wider, heavier, and gaudier.

Finally, someone in city hall couldn’t, with good conscience, let them build anymore. The two skyscrapers ended up being the exact same height and size. They were, without a doubt, the ugliest structures on the planet, and yet they somehow blended together in their unique offensiveness as if they were designed that way.

The Shooman Towers, as they became called, were also the most dangerous buildings on the planet. During strong winds, the buildings were known to make contact, and the upper floors bore the scars of those collisions. This single fact enticed an extreme sports magazine to rent the upper ten floors of both buildings.

As far as public opinion went, everyone hated the towers. They became an embarrassment, not only to the capital city of Ngorongoro, but the entire planet. But apparently, given enough time, you can get used to anything. After a couple of generations had gone by, the towers became iconic landmarks. So much so, that when the great-grandchildren of the Shooman brothers wanted to tear the towers down and build more beautiful, functional, and safer buildings, they were met with extreme opposition. The Historical Society acquired a court mandate to prevent any such demolition to the beloved towers.


Ralph moved quietly on the top of the Allen Shooman building, staying low and in the shadows, a black jumpsuit and hood concealing her even more. She looked out over the city. Ngorongoro is a beautiful city at night. As long as she could remember, Ladascus had been at war or rebuilding from war, and seeing the city lit up at night filled her with a sense of pride. Whether it was habit or superstition, she took a moment to identify the buildings by their lights. Below her, average people finished an average day at average jobs, then left to spend the evening with their average families in their average homes. It was seven o’clock in early spring, the skies were clear, the moon was new, and, except for the aura of the city lights, it was pitch black.

She would have liked to just sit up here for hours, enjoying the view and the cool breezes, but she had a job to do. When she used to go out on jobs with her father, they would sometimes sit on the edge of a building and be. They wouldn’t talk. They would just be one with the city, one with the world, alone and invisible in a crowded metropolis. She didn’t need to do this job. It was small and insignificant. But her father had always advised, Stay in practice, even if it means taking an easy no-brainer every once in a while. And this was one of those whiles.

Moving to the far side of the building, Ralph attached a rope to her waist. She passed the loose end of the rope around a steel post without tying it on. She walked back and threw the loose end of the rope over the edge of the roof of the building, climbed over and lowered herself down.

For the top ten meters of its height, the building widened, overshadowing everything below that point like a canopy. The rope slipped through her gloved hands as she rappelled down the side of the building, lowering her a hundred meters to the desired floor and window. With a carabiner, Ralph secured the rope so it wouldn’t slip. Even though she was not afraid of heights, it gave her a shiver to dangle in midair thousands of meters above the ground. She took a moment to observe her surroundings and noticed her reflection in the glass of both towers.

Ralph took a deep breath, concentrated on the window in front of her and then began to swing, leaning back on the rope harder each time. She swung into the building and attempted to grab the edge of the window but missed. Swinging away, she leaned back harder, driving her even faster into the side of the building. She impacted the cement window frame with substantial force, and just managed to grab hold with one hand, her legs swinging out from the momentum. Slowly she drew herself against the building and attached a suction cup to the upper corner of the glass. Slipping the end of the rope through the handle of the suction cup, she tied herself to the building. Feeling secure, she gathered the rope as it freely slipped around the steel post on the roof and strapped it to her side. Leave no evidence behind. Her father’s advice rang true in her head.

It was Friday night, before a three-day weekend, and everyone was in a hurry to get home and make the most of the Ladascan Remembrance Holiday. There were only a few lights on in each tower, and they were empty, occupied only by a skeleton crew of the lowest ranking employees who didn’t want to be there.

She attached a second suction cup to the center of the glass pane and used a simple glass cutter to cut her way into the building. Once the glass separated, she placed it inside the building and crawled in herself. It was highly unlikely that there would be alarms on a window two hundred and thirty-six floors above the street, especially if it was a storage room. Ralph removed all the suction cups and the rope and secured it all in her backpack.

Ralph didn’t look or act like any of the thieves they showed in the movies. She used the simplest of tools and an economy of movements. She did not perform acrobatics or precise, sharp movements. She carried a minimum of simple devices and only possessed two specialized gadgets. Because of her unique knowledge and skill set, she was never able to enjoy movies that had those types of thieves in them, and she usually avoided them.

She pushed up a ceiling tile, pulled herself up, and crawled over into the next room. It was a risky move that could dislodge a lot of dust, but it was easier than evading the stationary surveillance cameras monitoring the common areas of the building. Her father had warned her many times that, on average, you would make seven mistakes during each heist. With the age of the building and the number of times each floor had been remodeled over the years, the contractors had created a single ceiling for the entire floor and built walls up to the ceiling. It wasn’t very secure for the tenants, but convenient for the contractors when they’re asked to remodel after every tenant change.

Ralph dropped into a large office of cubicles, undetected by the Photographic and Phonetic Aerial Reconnaissance Android Zygotic Zombie Insects, or PaPARAZZI. They were also called “gnats” because they were tiny and just as annoying. She hated gnats, a sentiment she shared with her father.

Gnats were simply flying sensors, a transmitter, and wings. They didn’t have a processor, landing gear, or even a battery. They ran off the charge of a small capacitor within and needed to recharge often. There was no landing gear because there was no reason for them to land, and they were controlled from a central processing unit in a base computer. They could be remotely piloted, if need be, but were usually flown according to a program in the CPU.

Even though gnats were a handy security device, management over-extended them during the day to micro-manage staff. So, when the office was empty, the gnats swarmed over a charging pad in the far corner of the room. Their sensors were at their weakest, but if even one gnat were to detect motion, heat, or sound they would all fly over to investigate.

At the age of eighteen, every Ladascan, male or female, enlisted in the Ladascan Militia, in compliance with a law created and maintained since the Disturbance began. Ralph had attained a set of skills not necessarily suitable for civilian careers, but highly useful for her task tonight. The stealth she had learned during her four years of military duty allowed Ralph to drop down out of the ceiling, negotiate the labyrinth of cubicles sprawled across the office and slip back into the ceiling on the opposite side undetected by the recharging gnats.

She dropped into the next room, the manager’s office in the Mercantile Exchange. He had no security gnats in his office, but then she wasn’t interested in his office. Her target was beyond the next door. That door led into an office filled with filing cabinets, desks, and in a corner, a large safe behind a barred door. The bounty of her quest lay within. But this room also had a swarm of gnats charging in the corner. This one she wouldn’t be able to avoid.

She crawled quietly along the floor out of sight of the gnats, as they hovered in a cloudy ball above the charging pad, their high-definition microphones impaired by the charger. Once under the charging station, Ralph took a small device that looked like a personal phone and turned it on. It was the first of the two truly specialized tools she had brought, and the only one created by her father. She placed it on the ledge next to the charging pad.

Her father called it a Bogus Unending Graphics zapper, or BUG zapper. He wasn’t very good with anagrams. It was little more than just a dirty transmitter, sending the gnats a continuous signal that put them in sleep mode. Simultaneously, it sent a video signal to the gnats’ CPU that showed an empty office. Disabling the signal or destroying the gnats would set off alarms but confusing them wouldn’t. Now she would not be recorded or viewed by security.

Ralph walked over to the barred door in front of the safe and carefully examined it. Not finding any sensors or alarms, she pulled out a drill and an extension cord from her backpack. She had learned that battery-powered drills didn’t last long enough, and extra battery packs were bulkier than an extension cord. She just needed to make sure her cords were long enough. She drilled out the key slot on the barred door and it opened easily. She brought all her equipment into the foyer of the safe, dragging the extension cord behind her.

A dual, center-linked combination dial and a four-movement, time-lock safe. Piece-o-cake. She took out a small handheld computer and searched the internet for the make and model of the safe. She brought up schematics, drill point diagrams, and helpful hints on breaking into it. She measured the width of the door and scribed a mark. Then she measured from the electronic spin dial down, found the intersection and scribed another mark. She rechecked her measurements — Measure twice, drill once, her father had always said. She rechecked the diagram on her handheld, and once satisfied, she attached a magnetized drill clamp to the door, the only other specialized piece of equipment she needed. She aligned the drill and placed a cloth on the floor to catch debris.

Even though this was not the most sophisticated safe, it was built with a hardened plate composite of cobalt-vanadium alloys embedded with tungsten carbide chips designed to shatter a drill’s cutting tip. But Ralph had discovered that special-purpose diamond drill bits still cut through. It just took time. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she patiently drilled. She was content cracking the safe. No anxieties. No worldly problems. All was good. She felt so at ease as she patiently cooled the bit with oil she caught herself quietly humming to the interoffice music that played over the speakers above her. She shook her head and silently laughed at her slight indiscretion. It reminded her of another one of her father’s stricter protocols, Don’t make a sound. She had made the first mistake of the job, and she wondered what the other six would be. Hopefully, none of them would provide clues to her identity.

She breached the 13mm outer skin in ten minutes, only needing to change her drill bit twice. She switched to a different drill bit to get through the cement inner core of the door. This drill penetrated faster but made a lot more dust and potential for leaving evidence. Ralph brought out a small vacuum and collected the dust and filings as she drilled deeper. Once she had penetrated the core, she took a small steel shaft, inserted it into the hole and gave it a few love taps with a hammer. A pin fell free inside, clanging against the inner workings of the safe door. She smiled, remembering her father’s quote, Safes are tough as nails on the outside. Not so much on the inside. She wriggled the shaft back out, turned the handle, the bolts withdrew, and the safe was open.

This was not one of her tougher jobs by any means, and this was not a highly guarded safe. Though the job may be simple, you have to be just as diligent. Boy, he had a lot of quotes, she realized. It was a small branch of a small bank that offered a safe depository for people’s precious items. Varying sizes of safe deposit boxes lined the walls. The light from her flashlight reflected brilliantly off their polished surfaces. She was only interested in one: #1557, just above the floor in the lower left-hand corner. The box she had been hired to rob.

In a matter of minutes it was open. It pays to have the right tools. That one, especially, reminded her of her father. But she needed to focus. She poured the entire contents into a black bag and broke into several other random boxes. Ralph felt bad about it. Her employer had no interest in them, and she wasn’t greedy for more riches. It was a necessity to divert attention from her intended target. She knew that the robbery of only one box would be an obvious clue that the authorities didn’t need to have. She separated the contents from the other boxes by pouring them into a different compartment in the same bag.

She packed up her equipment and returned as much of the room as possible to normal, then rechecked to make sure she left nothing behind. Ralph removed the BUG zapper, and skillfully avoided detection on her way back to the janitor’s closet. She rechecked all her gear and stowed it in her backpack and pockets. She transformed her jumpsuit into a wing-suit via some strategically placed zippers. She stepped out of the window, stood on the ledge, and took a deep breath. The job was over, and the calming and reassuring sense she felt, as if her father had been with her, vanished. She jumped.

Sailing down the side of the building, the cool breeze felt welcome on her warm face. Her hooded suit had made her warm as she worked, but it was worth the extra concealment. She quickly gained speed and angled away from the building. The winged suit didn’t slow her descent very much, but gave her the advantage of horizontal flight, allowing Ralph to put some serious distance between herself and the building before she needed to release the parachute.

Ralph released a silken black parachute and drifted lazily to the top of the parking ramp of a small galleria, where she had parked her car. Ladascus, a little behind everyone else in the sector, still had ground-based cars. Their war-torn planet hadn’t progressed as fast as it should have. Even though they made technological advancements during the war, it was impossible to build infrastructure and an advanced civilization while everything on their planet was getting blown to smithereens.

She quickly stuffed the chute into the trunk of a small black car, then removed her jumpsuit and backpack and tossed them in too. She unlocked the car, got in and brushed her hair. Shopping bags from several stores were displayed conspicuously in the back seat for any camera to record as she drove down the parking ramp and into the night.





Joe Just an Ordinary Earthling Copyright © 2003,2017,2018 by edward a szynalski. All Rights Reserved.

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