1. THE THEFT
LEAH crept across the room stealthily so she wouldn’t be heard. The moon shined brightly through the only window, illuminating the center of the dusty room. Old books lay everywhere, some hanging halfway from tables and shelves. Sleepy, young street thugs lay amongst them, and the room was set to the soundtrack of several discordant snores.
The boss slept sitting at the desk, with his head side-down on its surface. Leah thought the jagged snore that came from him was like a low, murmuring, internal argument. His visage was hard to make out since his arms surrounded his head and a gold tuft of hair fell over his face. Even in the moon shadow, however, Leah could make out the chiseled muscles of his bare arms.
He wore a red vest, starkly contrasting the dirty gray trousers around his bottom. It was all too easy for Leah to make out the obnoxiously large keys hanging from his back pocket. Eyeing the keys, Leah got the feeling that she had been waiting for this moment for a long time. She couldn’t guess why, but she felt like she had come to some moment of providence: the moment of truth and action. She made a careful trip around the room, scanning the boys and corners for signs of her mark. There were about 13 boys in the room, all scattered about in every variety of positions.
This room was once an office in a small-town library, but now it was just another dusty room in a run-down building from a society Leah had rarely ever heard talked about. The office was almost entirely sealed off since its doors had been blocked by so much stone rubble and crumbling walls. The bandits must have thought that being on the hard-to-reach second story made them safe. …Well… Leah thought, ...maybe saf-er...
One of the boys slept in a corner in an upright position and his arm hugging a medium-sized safe. Bingo! Leah crept back to the boss and drew a handkerchief from her back pocket. Under her snug, black pocketed vest, Leah wore a black tank top. Her noiseless tools filled the pockets of her knee-high cargo shorts, while anything that could clatter or clink she’d secured to the utility belt at her waist. It was from this that she produced a small bottle of sleeping chemical, and poured some on the handkerchief.
She got a hand in front of the boss’ face easily enough. She pressed the handkerchief into his nose, expecting him to wake suddenly. He was clearly exhausted, however, and put up almost no resistance. It was only a moment or two before his shoulders slumped like dead weight. Ever so carefully, she pulled the keys from his pocket, sure not to make a sound. She crept back over to the boy with his arm around the safe. Crouching over him, one foot on either side of his legs, she leaned in with the handkerchief and his eyes shot open!…
The boy was clearly astonished to see the green-eyed girl right in front of him, the bottom half of her face wrapped in a black bandana and long red hair pulled back in a braided ponytail. Leah pushed the handkerchief into his lower face, catching his first surprised gasp before it was audible. With her free hand, she reached around and grabbed the back of his head, so he couldn’t pull away for air.
Blinking rapidly, the boy pulled his arm from around the safe, producing a scimitar with a red blade. He meant to bring it down with a slashing strike, but she instinctively released his head, caught his wrist, and pushed even harder with the handkerchief. That last shove knocked his head against the shelf behind him, and an empty ale jar rattled and almost toppled over. Leah watched the boy’s bright, yellow eyes blink into unconsciousness as his body slumped.
She waited. Still. Listening for the merest warning that someone else had awakened. …That she’d been discovered… Nothing. Leah scanned the room before silently flipping through the keys, trying to guess which one would open the safe. The first three were broad rectangles, with what appeared to be stencils in the shape of animals in the center of them. The fourth key was some sort of data stick in blue and orange metallic colors.
The last key looked like one of the keys of old; the type that was probably intended for doors like the ones that were once portal to this office. It was perhaps too large, though; Leah assumed it must have been meant for an iron gate or something. On the side of the safe, was a panel with a fitting for a large rectangular key. O.K., so it’s one of the first 3.
The first key seemed to house the shape of a hippopotamus. The second held the shape of a bird, and the third… well that was an unfamiliar shape…maybe an octopus? She pressed the third key into the panel, and the safe made a brief hum followed by a click. A handle produced itself on the side of the safe facing away from its guardian. Leah pulled at the handle, and the door swung outward heavily.
That was too easy…
Peering inside she noticed three shelves. The moon’s light only revealed the items in front. On the first shelf were several heaps of ration credits; these were coins that, ideally, bought about half a day’s worth of food. Ration credits were data-chipped and easily traced. Leah wondered what the boys were planning to do with easily trackable goods in a safe they could not open. Not my problem, she considered.
The bottom shelf held stacks of folded papers and an old, analog compass. It didn’t take much light for her to recognize the folded papers as maps of the surrounding areas. Leah felt at the seemingly empty middle shelf until she felt a small, cloth sack. She could feel the outline of the jagged, rocky structure within and she quickly snatched the sack from the safe and secured it to her utility belt.
A brief hand sweep proved there was nothing on the bottom shelf, so Leah quietly shoved the safe door shut. There was a low “whirr”, and “click!”, as the locks snapped back into place. Creeping across the room to the window, easily the brightest portion of the room, she scanned the boys for any sign of awakening. Feeling secure, she unhooked the rope she’d used to scale the building and leaped clean through the square opening …into the night.
. . . . .
This is my first web-published story. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. To get the bi-weekly chapters I send out, just click here.
Special Author’s Note
I’d like to say that this story holds a special place in my heart, but that might be a lie. I started this story around early 2019 and had no idea where it would really end up. That was part of the reason that I started this project. I usually spend a lot of time planning my stories. I’m a world-builder by passion and will often spend much of my time building systems and meta information that will play into the plot, character development, and …awesomeness? Alleybot was a way for me to publish something immediately while forcing myself to confront my own tendencies. Basically, to just get something out there!
As I neared its conclusion, I stopped writing it because I began to realize where these characters had to go. Not so suddenly, I began to realize that I didn’t like this story. I had no real bond with any of the characters and I didn’t care for the way that things would end up. Even though I had a whopping 15 subscribers to sign up as I published the chapters (and even fewer who actually read them), they convinced me to finish this story.
Thinking back over everything, I had to agree that I owed it to the characters to finish this story. I, as a writer, am really only a courier of information. I get the privilege of a snapshot into another reality and it’s my duty to convey what I’ve seen. So even though the only character I like in this story is a robotic cat, it is my privilege to present the updated web-uscript: ALLYBOT