The Crime - Wires, thinner than a spider's web, spread across the domed alcove in the center of the laboratory. A small hole, barely perceptible, had been cut in the skylight of the dome's thousand-year-old glass. This allowed for the Woman to gain access to the room with all the secrets below.
She was a mysterious creature, this Woman in black. She was, for our story, beautiful. She had high, aristocratic cheek bones, long black hair and a rather adequate breast. Each part of her was lovely, but taken together, as a whole — she was simply too much for the senses.
At this moment, however, she was hiding her beauty behind a black mask. The mask covered her face and was constructed, or so it appeared, from a piece of fine lace. Also in black. The cloth had a strange characteristic. It managed to obscure her face while, at the same time, allowed her to see with her vision entirely unencumbered. It even allowed the star and moonlight coming into the room through the skylight to illuminate the scene. It was as if she stood in the room at midday and not, as she did, in the very early morning.
She had acquired the silk lace, as with all the bobbles she carried, on one of her many trips. She had been absolutely everywhere playing the violin; Tibet, Nippon, the Moon, Mars, Neptune, even Jupiter.
She had seen the entire solar system by the time she was nineteen, some four years ago. She had been almost everything as well; ship’s hand, cook, maid, finally a traveling companion. Each of these jobs came with a persona to match. She would tell her employers, coworkers, and anyone she could get to listen some of her stories.
Different name, different background. She was a runaway called Sally, a newly wed named Eddie, and a studious girl called Mary, or maybe Molly. She changed personas as some would change their minds. It was fun, challenging and it served her well. It was all those lies, the triumphs, and the scrapes that allowed her to come to this place, now. She would soon make a deal to have enough money to buy her freedom.
But, by this time she had found Viola, then her World had changed irrevocably and forever, all for the good. Always for the good with Viola.
But now, she had to get back to work.
Well oiled, brass pulleys applied pressure on the gossamer wires until they were taught. The Woman unfolded herself from the alcove formed by the girders that surrounded the skylight. She pulled her little machine close to her chest, pulling her legs in slightly. The released pressure let her fall for a bit, until her weight was caught up by the pulleys and wires.
She waited a moment for disaster to strike. She always would allow calamity one opportunity to come crashing in and destroy everything. Simply everything. The one time she did not allow for reality to come crashing down, through her very well laid plans, it inevitably had.
Of course, it had. She should have seen it coming, she said to herself as she sat in a Martian jail. She would allow, from that day forward, one chance for provenance to muck things up. If she did, as she had tonight, from then on, the night was hers.
She twisted the machine at her chest. Suddenly, silently, she was lowered by the arrangement. The device at her chest fed out the wire from a spool inside the appliance. The pulleys and the wires of this apparatus were simply among the most amazing example of a machine created for the burglary trade. A true piece of high art. Easily, these devices could take their place in the Hall of Fascinating Devices, in the Prometheus Club itself — But she couldn't present them to the Prometheus, could she? That would give up the game, so to speak. Besides, she needed her equipment. She was much too busy using her amazing burglary kit to break into this place, than have them placed in an exhibit for all the world to see.
She thought about the prospect of doing exactly that— Presenting her tools to the Prometheus Club. What kind of reception would that illicit from the directors of the club? Horror? Indignation? An odd sort of respect? She would have to do that, present her tools to the Club for consideration.
She would do that.
After the proper amount of time had passed, of course. And after she had retired.
She threw a small switch on the device, a foot brace extended from its lower half. She quickly slipped her long-booted leg into the brace. This allowed her to shift her weight and turn, so she pirouetted on the wire. Now, she leaned backward, looking up into the rat’s maze of the girders and glass. The Woman twisted another control and the whole apparatus slowed. The machine finally stopped her just an inch above the black box that held her goal for the evening.
She shifted her weight again. This allowed her entire eight stone to allow her to fall forward. But, even under that pressure, the thin wires didn't shift or break. One hundred and eighty degrees later, she was pointed at the box. From her vantage point, she could see the lettering across its front. It announced in a rather ornate lettering that this box was from the “Acme Safe Company of St. Louis, Missouri, GAE.”
Americans, she thought to herself, always showing-off.
As to the initials, obviously, there was not enough room on the door for the entire name to appear. She thought back to the official correspondence from Acme. Her letter, written by a locksmith in England to officials in St. Louis talking about the Acme Company’s great line of products always included the words Great American Empire, instead of GAE. She was sure that all the data imparted to her by the very eager salesman would be of immense assistance to her in defeating this model.
She looked the safe up and down. Close along the side of the door, along the back and around the side. No devices or alarms could be seen. The safe was just a box, about a foot and a half on a side, three in the other direction. The first thought was that it might be portable, just lift the safe and deliver it to the client. No such luck.
One reason the Acme Safe might be here in a research laboratory in London, was that it was heavy. At least three inches of lead cast with another of steel, quite impenetrable. No one could get in, or conversely, nothing could get out.
Which was the operative phrase, getting in or getting out, she wondered?
But she didn’t know, nor did she truly care what the client needed it for. She had taken the job for two reasons. Firstly, it was a challenge. This safe was locked tight in a laboratory, deep in the reaches of a university. Quite inaccessible, quite impossible for anyone to attempt to purloin.
It was perfect for her.
Second, it was the one who wanted this device. Someone powerful. She had never met the person in question, but it was obviously someone prestigious. Someone she would enjoy owing her a favor. Someone she may be able to exploit.
So, the safe was too large to move. The lock seemed to have been worked on recently. Perhaps fortified? Its tumblers changed undoubtedly. She eyed the large dial. She tried to see if the numbers were smudged, possibly run down slightly, showing at least the numbers used in the combination. No such luck. Well, she thought to herself, this will have to be done the hard way.
She removed a well-worn case from her belt. Not looking away from the safe, or toward the case, she quickly opened it and removed a small stethoscope. She leaned a bit forward. Slowly, she managed to move the remaining few inches toward the safe. She positioned the listening device and started hearing for the telltale sound of the tumblers as she slowly twisted the dial.
After nearly a minute, she was having no luck at all. She was not surprised; this laboratory was one of the biggest and best in all Academe. This safe, however, had none of the neglect or lazy practices that would befall any piece of equipment left in said laboratory. Most Universities had the reputation for great works of technology and knowledge, but were infected by thinking only about the results. The technicians were either bored with, or simply had no time for, security in its actual and practical use. It was so much known in the community, that it was considered an axiom.
But not this safe.
This safe was rejiggered to make it more impenetrable. Made to be a perfect safe. Almost perfect.
She was dutifully upset by this delay, but not deterred. She stopped and considered her goal in the safe for a moment. She then closed her eyes, drew her arms across her breast and shifted her weight. This motion caused her to rotate in the cables and gears again.
She found herself sitting back, away from the safe. She considered the problem again. It would be risky, but she had to do something. She reached down to her belt again, reached into another small leather pouch. From there, she removed a ball.
The ball was small, about five inches in diameter, but bigger than a cricket ball. She produced in her other hand, a key. The key fit into a slot near the ball’s top. Taking the sphere in her left hand, she inserted and rotated said key no less than ten times. After that the key snapped down, hard, into the top of the ball. Her legs kicked out, the force caused her to glide silently towards the safe. Daintily, she placed the ball on top of the Acme Safe then allowed herself to drift away.
The ball made a soft whirring noise as its top rotated like a children’s toy. It unfolded its long and slender, from its center. Six of them, three on each of two sections. It looked like a squat six-legged mechanical spider. In no time, the spider scurried along the safe on its multiple legs.
Using little effort, the spider crawled down the face of the box, passing the dial. Its long legs excreted a sticky substance at the end of each. This allowed it to adhere to the safe’s vertical surfaces. Under the spider, a small hammer struck the surface of the safe several times. While the sounds made could be heard by humans the harmonics could not. The device caused the sounds to resonate with the internal gears and mechanisms of the lock. Sensitive listening devices along the spider’s abdomen allowed it to map the interior of the safe.
The small spider moved back and forth, finally stopping at a point an inch and a half to the left of the dial, just above the handle. Three of its legs held it fast to the metal as the remaining legs began to spin. Tiny diamond tips on those legs started to dig into the steel of the safe as the pressure increased. An acid bath from its internal organs added to the penetration power of the spider. In only fifteen minutes, the mechanical creature had bored a hole through the wall of the safe.
The spider made itself smaller, then crawled toward the opening. Pulling its legs in, it perfectly squeezed through the opening. Once fully inside the safe, she could hear the mechanical insect moving around to disable the lock.
She listened very closely, the spider spraying more acid. The acid ran down the dials, tumblers, melt through another rod. She allowed herself a thin smile as the spider started to crawl out of its hole.
The robot collapsed across the opening, stopping suddenly. The device had tried to be efficient, but it’s had no programming to stop it being bathed with its own venomous acid. It was almost dissolved when it finally collapsed, lying across the opening it had made.
A frown crossed her lovely features. She quickly reached over to the safe, grabbed the handle, and pulled. The door opened with no effort at all. She was sorry she lost one of her favorite toys, the spider had been a very intricate device. It also was a very expensive addition to this caper’s expenditure. She made a mental note to make the adjustment to her billing and pulled the door open.
She had perceived a sense of the substance for which she was hunting. When she opened the door the whole way, she could see that there was a light. It was soft, deceptively soft. So soft, that you couldn’t really say where the light was coming from, just that it was there. The green colour was around her, shifting the appearance of everything into an emerald glow. She turned her head so that she was looking in the safe. There, wrapped in a white cloth cover was the light, the glow. This was her objective.
She reached in with her gloved hand, almost touching the ampule, but stopped. The skull and crossbones on the side of the small bottle gave her pause. This was a dangerous thing, that was for sure. What would she need to do to make sure that she would not be injured by the physical properties of her wondrous prize?
She looked around and returned to the safe with a metallic cylinder and a pair of tongs. Very carefully, the woman lifted the ampule with the dire warning and placed it in the lead tube. After several seconds of another waiting for fate to take a hand again, she let out a deep breath. She hadn’t realized that she had been holding it.
She didn't have time to daydream, she still had more work to do. She placed the tube in her bag, retrieved the remnants of her mechanical assistant, replaced the stethoscope at her belt and grabbed at the device at her chest. She pressed the two halves of the device together, allowing it to spool the wire again. Now a shape again, it quickly rose, back to her point of entrance.
In the next second, she was off the wires, through the glass, and was gone from the room.