Descending the cable she’d dropped from the ventilation system, Nel kept her snickering contained. Silence surrounded her feather landing on the marble floor, even though the mammoth dome of the museum’s gallery ballooned over her head. Red dots of active security cameras burned like Cycloptic eyes from around the upper molding while dimmed lights illuminated the artwork and statues lining the display chamber.
In the center, however, stood a single glass case, mounted atop the room’s main pylon. The sides reflected the exit signs, capturing Nel’s gaze. Within the rectangle stood an ivory white water-bearer garbed in a Grecian tunic, with one arm lifted as if brushing her fingers against the sky.
Crouched within a column’s shadow, Nel unclasped the carabineer at her belt, and started counting down from fifteen. She reached one, and a whirr sounded from the watching cameras. Each eye blinked out.
“Thanks Wally,” she said into the headset latched to her ear.
“Always a pleasure,” he said, mirth coating his rolling base.
Grinning, Nel scampered up onto the center stand. She tapped a code into the security panel with her gloved fingers, earning a soft ding of success. With feline grace, she scaled the case, balanced on the stand’s lip, and lifted the hinged lid.
Retrieving a fishing line from her belt, she created a loop at the end and flung the cord into the case. She extended the string, and started swinging, once, twice, then three times before hooking the circle around the outstretched arm of the water bearer. A tug later, and the knot tightened. Hand over hand she pulled the line back with care to avoid smacking the porcelain against the glass. Seizing the statue, she wrapped the remaining line around the figurine, and closed the top of the case.
“I’m heading out,” she said, hopping back onto the floor.
“Good. Rounds are thirty seconds away.”
Nel swung her backpack around, and stowed the water bearer into the foamed interior. As she turned from the stand, a siren blasted, piercing her ear like a driven nail. Light swirled where the water bearer had been standing, bright rays refracting on the glass.
“Damn it,” she said, scowling at the interrupting wail.
“What is it?”
“Some kind of proximity or weight activated alarm.”
“I didn’t have anything on that,” said Wally, “but I’ve still got the cameras.”
“Keep them,” said Nel, sprinting toward the repelling cable.
As she clasped the carabineer, the cable tumbled to her feet like a limp snake. Peering up into the shadows, she heard the snap of security panels slamming closed in the ceiling and along the walls, blocking the rooftop windows and concealing the other items on display.
“Just great,” she muttered.
Dropping the cable, she dug into her pack and retrieved the statue. With a heave, Nel shattered the porcelain against the marble. Sifting through the pieces, she plucked out a jelly-bean shaped lump. In the dim light, the ebony pill gleamed like licorice. She popped it into her mouth and forced it down with a dry swallow. Crouched low, she swept her gaze across the room, and locked onto the main doors where footsteps neared.
“At least three incoming guards,” said Wally
“What are my options?”
“Show yourself,” said Wally over rapid typing. “Just stay on the right.”
“You’re kidding me.”
The main doors unlocked, and opened. Three flashlight beams pierced the gloom, followed by a trio of guards in sleek uniforms, with the same build, and raised pistols.
Drawing a deep breath, Nel stood.
“Freeze!” said the guards as one.
Forcing out an exhale, Nel raised her hands while aims and lights found her.
One of the guards padded over while the others kept her in their unwavering sights. He dislodged the pip in her ear, patted her down with brisk, military efficiency, removed her pack, and then clasped her hands behind her back with a pair of cuffs. “She’s clean.”
“Take her to the security room,” said one of the guards. “We’ll double check in here.”
“Two coming back,” said the guard behind her.
“Copy that,” said a voice through communication static.
Nel straightened as a gun barrel pressed between her shoulder blades. The guard gave her a nudge toward the door. “Move it, sweetheart.”
Taking a quick glance behind her, Nel shot him a glare while noting her bag in his other hand.
“Now,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah.” Nel kept her pace measured as she passed the other two and crossed the gallery’s threshold.
A hushed hallway stretched before her, lined with statues on one side. Floor to ceiling windows extended on the right, revealing the museum’s courtyard, glowing in the moonlight. Crisp hedges and pathways lined in white stone flowed toward the U-shaped building’s gated opening to the tree-lined thoroughfare.
Smirking, Nel gave the nearest statue, a bronze depiction of Mercury in flight, an appraising glance, before veering closer.
“Watch it,” said the guard.
He gave her a shove, sending her toward the windows.
“Hey,” said Nel, adding an artful stumble complete with flailing hands. The familiar straps of her pack brushed her fingers, and she clasped tight before falling shoulder first onto the window’s latch.
The lock disengaged with a noticeable lack of howling from the security system, the window swinging open. A humid autumn wound inside, countering the chill of the museum’s artificial environment.
Tearing her pack from the guard’s hand, Nel tumbled over the balcony, and landed on the pathway a floor below in a breathless heap. Wincing through the pain of impact, she crouched in the shadows and worked the pick, slipped from her watch, into the cuffs. The lock snapped, her wrists breathing in relief.
Above her, shouts penetrated the night.
Shedding the cuffs, Nel sprinted along the perimeter of the courtyard. From within, other alarms began bleating like wailing children freed from their lollypops. Stifling another grin, she dipped through the columns framing the entrance, and seized the main gate. The hinges gave a protesting groan when she yanked enough to gain a slim gap.
Nel glanced back as feet pounded upon the gravel paths. Shadowed figures, the shape of security guards, raced toward her like skittering roaches.
Squealing tires pulled her attention to the road, where a van stopped at the sidewalk.
“Sorry boys,” said Nel.
Worming through the gate, she darted to the van’s opening side door, and pounced into the dark. The engine roared as the door automatically closed. Sagging against the separator dividing the interior from the driver’s cabin, Nel caught her breath.
Meanwhile, Wally’s voice crackled in the van’s intercom. “Did you get it?”
Leaning into the van’s charging momentum, Nel stuck her finger down her throat. Her body reacted with a stomach-clenching gag. The jelly-bean launched into her hand, covered in saliva. She coughed until her stomach settled, and then, staring at the tiny projectile, Nel chuckled as she wiped spittle from her lips.
“Yeah,” she said, listing with the van’s next turn, “we’re golden.”