Holiday Heist, by Bri Crozier
This story is part of a 10,000 Dawns Christmas. You can read the other stories and fine more about this author by clicking HERE.
Holiday Heist, by Bri Crozier
Erin stared down at the platter balanced on her palm. She had never seen sweets that looked like this before. She thought they were chocolates since that’s what they smelled like, but they looked like some kind of gemstone, geometric and deep maroon with gold flecks sprinkled in. They had a strange translucent quality that made her question if they really were chocolates. If she hadn’t seen someone chomp into one, she wouldn’t have believed they were candy at all.
Someone in a Centro Military uniform walked by, swiping a Gemstone chocolate off the platter. Erin watched the officer go, ducking under floating Christmas decorations as they went. They walked out the penthouse’ open glass doors onto the deck overlooking the Shanghai skyline. Erin went back to scanning the crowd. She hadn’t seen her mark yet, so she had time to wonder at the side of earth she had never seen. The party was held in an extravagant suite, high ceilings with floating chandeliers coated in tinsel and ornaments, like something out of a fantasy novel. Classical holiday music played softly as she weaved through the crowd of people who she was quite side would turn a gun on her if they had even a suspicion she was Martian.
Lots of people wanting to kill Erin was nothing new at this point. She had survived 3 months alone on earth and a Christmas party was not going to be the thing that ended her. That job would go to Evelyn whenever Erin got back to Mars. She sighed, thinking about her wife. They had only been married two months before Erin had been sent to Earth for a diplomatic mission. It wasn’t really a diplomatic mission, of course, no more than Erin was a diplomat. It wasn’t even supposed to be a complicated mission. Get in, steal as much Centro Military information as possible under the guise of a diplomatic mission, get out. Everything went to hell when the Blockade had gone into effect. The rest of the diplomatic party, including an actual diplomat, had been taken into custody as prisoners of war. A few others had tried to escape with her, but Erin had been the only one to make it out alive.
Since then, she had no contact with any other Martians up until a week ago. Zavian Chor, a high rank Martian Intelligence Agent had sent a ping to her com. He had a mission he was sure could help end the blockade and he needed a Spec Ops agent. She was hesitant, she had been trying her com for months with no response. Why was there one now? An MIA com could have been commandeered by Centro, a trap to see if they could find any other Martians. After great consideration, she pinged asking for his ID code. He had responded correctly and Erin didn’t have any other options and if it was what it seemed like, it could get Erin home. She pinged back.
Spec Operative Erin Waasanode, requesting briefing
A few days later she was in a small bar in Shanghai, Zavian Chor smiling with smug determination across from her in a booth in the back.
“Pleasure to meet you, Agent Waasanode” He held out a hand to shake hers.
“Ditto” She mumbled back before sitting down, ignoring the hand.
“Alright” He cleared his throat and pulled his hand back. “How many missions have you done like this?”
“Ah. Well, this mission should be pretty simple then.” Zavian said as he pulled a small tablet out of his bag. He fiddled with it for a moment before handing it to Erin. She took it and glanced through the documents he had open. She wasn’t sure what she was meant to be seeing, it was all business receipts centering around one Centro bureaucrat, Zhou Wen. Nothing of major note, but eventually Erin saw something unusual and raised an eyebrow.
“That's a lot of money he’s trying to hide. What did he buy with it?”
Zavian took the tablet back, frowning “That, is an excellent question. I’m not sure actually, but it’s got to be something of the utmost importance. My best guess? It’s either a weapon or some incredibly useful information. Either way, we don’t want it in Centro’s hands”
Zavian flipped through some more documents on the tablet impatiently before handing it back to Erin. He seemed like he was used to having all the answers and not having them was incredibly frustrating.
“How about wait staffing? Have you ever done that before?”
“No” Erin said curtly. “Why?”
“Mr. Zhou is having a Christmas party at his penthouse in Shanghai. Several high-ranking Centro officers will be there, I bet he’s going to reveal what he’s found to them at the party. While I can’t figure out what it is, I do know he’s keeping it at his house”
Erin frowned at that. “Why would he keep something so important at his residence? That doesn’t seem like something Centro would allow.”
Zavian nodded “You're right, it’s not. He’s probably trying to use it as leverage for a class promotion.”
It made sense in a way, but it felt a bit off to Erin.
“So, what’s the plan?”
“First” Zavian smiled, he had been waiting for that question. “Find the mark”
Erin continued the length of the suite, eyes scanning for Mr. Zhou. Eventually she spotted him, a pudgy man with receding salt and pepper hair. He was having a discussion with some other men, one a balding man with thin gray hair and a skin tone like Erin’s, the other blond, blue eyed, and wearing a pure white suit and matching cane. The conversation seemed to mostly consist of Mr. Zhou bragging to the other men.
“My daughter Yufei was just accepted to Zhukov Academy at only 10 years old. We are extremely proud. She plans to be a historian with a focus in turn of the millennia technology. She finds it incredibly fascinating. My wife and I have done everything to support her. It’s important work, Tech Historians, don’t you think, Admiral Grayson?”
“Ah, well we do need more of those” Grayson muttered into his champagne.
“Honestly the technology of the era is so rare these days, especially ones that function properly. It’s difficult to study, I commend her for her interest. Tell me, has she been to the Technological Museum of Shanghai? We just donated a rather large sum to help them with their collection and restoration of home consoled,” the man with the cane said as he swiped a candy off Erin’s tray.
Erin walked around them, offering candies to anyone who passed by. She glanced down at Mr. Zhou’s jacket, trying to see which pocket the key card was in.
“Oh, that was you, was it? My daughter has been talking about it nonstop since they announced it. She can’t wait to see the exabit.”
“Do you know what pieces they intend to exhibit, Director St. John?” Grayson asked quietly, seeming genuinely interested.
“Head Director, actually Admiral.”
“Ah, well, my apologies” Grayson went back to intently studying his champagne.
Erin noticed a slight bulge in the right-hand pocket. Slowly, she slipped her hand in. Her deft fingers found what she was looking for and quickly slid them out. She pulled her closed hand behind her back and held the tray out to the group. None of them took anything, so she continued on, slipping the key card into her own pocket.
“I have the key,” Erin whispered into her Com once she was far enough out of range of the three men.
“Fantastic. Starting the distraction… Now! You may want to step to the edge of the room.”
Before Erin could ask what that meant, she heard the sound of glass shattering and a startled scream. One of the chandeliers was starting to lose height, tilting at an odd angle. A couple of ornaments had come loose and crashed to the ground. Erin’s eyes widened and she started hurrying towards the door. Nobody paid much attention to her, their eyes glued to the chandelier.
Mr. Zhou and some of the other staffers ran to the chandelier grav controls, trying to get them all back in place. Erin was halfway to the door when the whole thing came crashing down. That’s when people really started screaming. Erin bolted for the door, as the crowd started running in different directions to get out from under the other chandeliers. Elbows and knees dug into Erin as she ran, tripping her up, but she managed to keep her balance. She made it to the door, quietly slipping out, she hoped, with no one having noticed.
Erin checked her com, the map of the penthouse coming up. She just needed to get down two hallways and she would be golden.
Erin dashed down the first hallway, dumping her tray behind an actual, live Christmas tree. She hadn’t ever seen a real pine tree used as a Christmas tree before. On Mars, most people used plastic ones, dolled-up Olive trees, or even just holograms. She wondered if Evelyn had gotten a plastic tree this year to replace their holographic one. It had been their plan to get a physical one once they were married, a way to celebrate their first Christmas together as wives. But of course, Erin was here, running past real Christmas trees and floating chandeliers. Her throat felt tight at the thought of Evelyn putting up their decorations alone.
She didn’t hear the footsteps as she rounded the corner, crashing directly into a woman in a Centro military uniform. The woman yelped as she and Erin fell into a decorative table, a glass bowl of ornaments shattering to the floor. Erin sat up quickly, wincing as she sliced her hand on glass. She hissed from the sting, trying to put pressure on her palm when she noticed the guard had recovered, gun pulled and trained on Erin.
“Freeze! Hands in the air!”
The guard’s hair was disheveled from the fall, a cut across her cheek leaking blood onto her once crisp uniform. She looked pissed. Erin drew her hand across the ground, a large shard of glass slipping between her fingers. She raised her hands slowly and began standing up.
“STOP! I did NOT say you could stand up! What are you doing here?”
“Sorry. I panicked, ran out of the penthouse after the chandelier crashed.”
“Why did you go this way? There is not an exit this way”
Erin shrugged “Like I said. Panicked”
The guard hesitated, gun still pointed at Erin. She seemed angry enough to just shoot Erin for the inconvenience of messing up her hair and uniform. Eventually, she lowered her gun and reached for Erin’s arm.
“We are going back to the Party, where you will continue your job”
Erin instinctually grabbed the guard’s arm, ducking under and swiftly twisting it behind her back. She pulled up, putting more pressure than she had intended as the guard screamed in pain.
“Shit” Erin cursed under her breath as she heard more shouting and footsteps from the down the hall. While Erin was distracted, the guard had managed to pull her gun hand up and fire a shot point blank. The plasma grazed Erin’s cheek, burning her skin. Erin hissed again, loosening her grip on the guard enough for her to break free. Erin ducked behind the fallen table, as the guard fired off a few more shots before reloading. Erin took the opportunity, grabbing the table and throwing it at the guard.
She didn’t even stop to see if it hit, just kept running down the hall to the room marked on her com. She blipped the key card and the doors opened instantly. She ran in just as the gunfire started again. Erin found the keypad on her side of the door, asking for a passcode to confirm the door close.
What a dumb security measure, Erin thought, a passcode to close a door.
Erin didn’t have much time to deal with it, instead rearing back with the shard of glass and smashing it hard into the touchpad. It made a distressed buzz before the door slid closed. Erin sighed with relief, though she knew the doors wouldn’t hold long. She honestly probably hadn’t done much of anything to stop them, other than inconvenience Mr. Zhou by breaking his door.
“I’m in the office. What exactly am I looking for?” She said into her com as she started walking further into the room.
“It should be in a lock box, fairly small and light. There’s a desk, right? Try looking through the drawers”
She rolled her eyes, then surveyed the room. It wasn’t a particularly interesting room, just a normal office. The lights were dim, only a few show lights on the shelves displaying an assortment of items, mostly trophies, antiques, and pictures of Mr. Zhou and his family. The ceiling was much lower than the penthouse, but it still had wall high windows opposite the door she had just walked in through. The desk was just in front of the windows, a holographic computer open to an idle screen and a photo of a young girl in what appeared to be a museum full of early 2000’s tech. Erin assumed this was Mr. Zhou’s daughter.
Erin heard shouting at the door as the guards began trying to break in. She mumbled another curse, but she was glad her impromptu lock smashing had actually worked out in her favor. She began throwing open drawers and scanning for the lock box as quickly as she could. Finally, she spotted it, a lock box about the size of a shoebox.
“I’ve got it,” She yelled into her com over the noise outside.
“Great! I’ve got a veetol waiting for you on the fire escape on the next floor down, I’ll send you the loca-”
The door burst open and guards poured in. Erin ducked just as a shot passed over her head, weakening the window behind her.
“Not happening. Get to my location now” Erin yelled in her com, before grabbing the large office chair and smashing the already weakened window.
“Freeze!” Someone yelled.
Erin did not freeze. She leapt out the window.
Erin had been in free fall many times since she joined the military and she never once got used to it. She wasn’t sure if she enjoyed it or hated it, but it made her feel something she wasn’t used to. Luckily, she wasn’t in free fall for long, falling through the open door of the veetol.
“You know, it hadn’t been my intention for you to jump out a window” Zavian said as they sped off over the city scape.
Erin stood, moving to the passenger seat next to Zavian.
He sighed, before nodding his head to the lock box. “Did you find the key for the lock?”
“Didn’t really have time to look. Guards broke in as soon as I got it.”
“Hmm. We can figure something out, maybe a mini EMP or... I know someone who might be able to hack it”
“My bag in here?” Erin gestured to the back of the veetol.
“Yes, it should be behind you. Do you have something that can open it?” he sounded surprised.
“Something like that.” She said, pulling out her plasma pistol.
Zavians eyes widened,
“No, no no no, do NOT shoot that in h-”
Erin shot the lock, smoke and sparks spitting out as the lights blinked in dismay. The lid unceremoniously popped open.
“Second lock I broke today” she snorted.
“Congratulations” Zavian sighed. “Did it open at least? What’s in it?”
Erin pulled the lid all the way open, revealing packaging foam to keep whatever it was safe. She pulled it out carefully, wary of whatever she had just risked her life for. Her fingers shook as she unwrapped the packaging, she wasn’t sure if it was from her injuries or from fear. Or maybe even hope.
“Careful. We don’t know what it is, it could be volatile” He sounded as nervous as Erin felt.
She nodded, continuing to carefully open the packaging. This was it, her ticket home, her ticket back to Evelyn. She just wanted to hold her wife again, to see her smile, hear her voice. Finally, she had pulled away the last of the packaging and stared at the object she held in disbelief.
“What is it? It is a weapon? A hard drive?” Zavian was not even pretending to be looking where he was driving, leaning over to see what was in the lock box.
“Uh, no. It appears to be a piece of late 1900’s technology. Probably a children’s toy.”
She held the item up for Zavian to see. It was a small light gray box, meant to be handheld. Half of it was taken up with a light green screen surrounded by a deeper gray border. Below, a black cross shaped button on one side and two red buttons on the other, then two more oblong buttons in between. A name was once written below the screen, but now it was faded, only a few letters still remaining.
“That… Would explain the amount of money Zhou spent.” Zavian deflated, his confident exterior fading in disappointment. He didn’t look determined or ambitious or smug, he just looked tired. Erin felt the same, slumping in her seat. The realization she was still stuck here, millions of miles from home, crashed down on her. She had been riding on the hope that this would be it, the end to her three long, lonely months on Earth. Instead, she had risked her life to steal a toy from a little girl. Her throat tightening in frustration and longing. She just wanted to go home and share Christmas with Evelyn.
She stared down at the toy, letting out a shaky sigh. It didn’t have to be a shitty christmas for everyone. She swallowed down her longing, her exhaustion, trying to loosen her tight throat before she spoke. Her voice was still strained as she said
“We have a new mission now”
Zhou could feel sweat pooling in his suit in uncomfortable places. This was absolutely NOT his night. First the chandelier had crashed during the party, then some hooligan had broken into his house, and now he finds out what they’ve stolen. Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse.
Across from him at the dinner table, Yifei emphatically kicked her legs under her chair.
“I KNOW Santa got it for me this year, I just KNOW it! I can’t wait to play it! I hope he didn't forget the battery converter. That would suck. What game do you think I should play first, Daddy?” Yifei didn’t leave him a chance to answer before she continued her excited chattering.
She had been begging for a real, original Gameboy for years and it had taken him that long to track one down. This wasn't the first one he had found, but it was the first one that worked. He had finalized the deal a week ago, and now someone had stolen it from his home on Christmas EVE, He swallowed nervously as Yifei kept talking, trying to find a way to let her down for the 3rd Christmas in a row.
“Now, Honey, you have to remember, Santa can’t always get us exactly what we want”
She pushed her food around on her plate, her excitement quickly draining. “I know Daddy. But I’ve been so good this year. It’s what I want most!”
Zhou sighed, hating to see her so deflated. He loved his bouncy, excited little girl. He had almost literally gone to the moon and back to get her what she wanted, and now he wouldn’t get to see the look on her face when she opened it up the next morning.
He pushed his chair back and stood up,
“Alright, well we'll find out tomorrow. Do you want to go leave the milk and cookies out for Santa?”
She nodded excitedly, her spark coming back quickly at the suggestion.
They gathered the treats before heading to the living room, which was still a slight disaster after the party. The help had luckily cleaned up the fallen chandelier, so they didn’t have to worry about broken glass. As they headed over to the Christmas tree, Yifei stopped dead in her tracks. Zhou stopped too, trying to figure out what had happened. Then he saw it. Sitting there under the tree with a little red and green bow was the Gameboy. Yifei squealed and ran over to the tree, dropping to her knees as she pulled the handheld out from under it.
“Daddy, Daddy look! Look! Santa did it he brought me my Gameboy!”
Zhou stared in disbelief, before he noticed the note. He stepped around Yifei, who was hugging the Gameboy, and picked it up. Zhou watched his daughter excitedly check over the Gameboy when something caught his eye. He looked out the window to see a light trailing off over the cityscape and into the Christmas Eve night sky.
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