You may remember the Swindle from such reviews as the one I did a little while ago. But if not you can find out more here or here (It's brill trust us).

 

Anyway, I decided this year to write all my friends stories rather than giving them useful gifts. They are allowed to suggest the genre and everything else comes from my own brain or is a shameless parody of someone elses fine work. Well when Darran asked for a Steampunk Adventure I was delighted... I was playing a Steampunk Adventure... and I knew that with my epic writing ability (Ed: Really?) a little energon and a lot of luck I could adapt it to fit the written word. So here it is in all it's glory... enjoy!

 

 

The Swindle.

Henry Beresford crept up to the door and held his ear to the cracked paintwork. He heard the low rumble of the guard bot and after a few seconds it’s search light emerged from the keyhole shedding a feeble glow on the rubbish piled up in the alleyway. This was not a good part of town by any stretch of the imagination but it was a good place for a young man in his position to learn his trade. The search light disappeared from the keyhole and Henry started to count down from five in his head. Here the marks couldn’t afford the fancy security terminals and cameras of the New Belgravia; hell they couldn’t even afford locks most of the time. He reached zero and turned the handle, the door swung open with a creak. Nope here all that stood between Henry and their valuables was a single guard bot, mark one if he wasn’t mistaken. Undoubtedly, ‘liberated’ from one of the many local dumps and put back together with duct tape, spit and one of those little Allen Keys you got from Ikea.

Henry strode forward drew his blackjack from his belt and caved the back of the guards bot’s head in with practised ease. The guard bot collapsed with a low whistle that almost sounded like a groan; Henry silently thanked the designer who had decided to put that particularly sensitive bunch of cables in the back of its head rather than the front; or in the tough steel chest or well, anywhere but where any old neophyte burglar could get at it. He stepped over the now redundant pile of steam and steel, and crept down the corridor keeping his eyes open for what passed as valuables in this neck of the woods. 

On the ground floor he snagged a single Adidas Samba shoe (left foot) – worth $8 on the black market - a thick chain of some cheap alloy painted gold – also worth $8 - and old Nokia wireless communication device – again worth $8. He paused and ran his finger down the list of easily pwnable items in his well-thumbed copy of House Prowler Monthly; it looked like everything he was likely to find in this neighbourhood was worth $8… that was a bit random. Shrugging he slipped the magazine back into his swag bag and hopped up the stairs to the second floor. He was just reaching for the handle when he heard a noise coming from the other side of the door. His Intel had indicated the owner had just one guard bot but the Intel wasn’t always perfect, not that the spotters guild would ever admit to being wrong mind you; it was always ‘burglar-error’ to them when one of the crew didn’t come back.

Henry paused by the door waiting for the search light to peek out of the keyhole, the rustling continued but no light appeared. Curious Henry hefted his blackjack and eased the door open on what he hoped were well oiled hinges, the mark one guard bots were not reactive to sound but some of the later ones were. Unfortunately, these hinges were not particularly well oiled and the groan when he opened the door shook the building to its foundations. He got a glimpse of a bad with a sleek looking wooden computer, at the foot of it then his head was ringing and he was seeing stars.

“Oww, the fuck…” said Henry staggering back holding his head.

“Ah… sorry Henry were you supposed to be on this job?” came a familiar voice. “I thought this one was on my round.”

Henry opened his eyes a crack, through a haze of tears – He wasn’t crying or anything he didn’t cry, it was just like when the wind blows in your face or Bambi’s mother dies and you get some dust in there; anyway I digress – through a haze of watery eyes he saw a short figure with a luxuriously waxed moustache and shocking pink Mohawk sliding a very blackjackish looking thing behind his back with an apologetic shrug.

“Hello Barney.” Henry’s heart sank, Barnabus Moonpuncher might have a bloody magnificent name but Henry had met gerbils with more between their ears than Barney and now here he was fouling up his job; Henry pinched the bride of his nose. “What are you doing here Barney? The chalkboard at work clearly had me down for this one. If I remember rightly you were four houses down on the right number 634.”

“634 you say?” said Barney pulling a grease stained sheet of paper from his back pocket and squinting at it in the flickering candlelight. “You sure? I could have sworn…”

“I’m sure.”

“Well I’m here now so,” he shrugged and gave Henry the puppy dog eyes.

‘Don’t you bloody dare Henry,’ said Henry’s brain. ‘This is our bloody score kick him out, he’ll never learn if you keep bailing him out. You know he never shows up at anyone else’s gigs looking for a handout.’

‘But look at him he is so… useless. He probably has a whole bunch of dim-witted kids to feed to, you know how women eat up that fixer-uper, idiot with a heart of gold thing; bloody Forest Gump...’

‘No! He’s done it once too often, I don’t give a flying fnuggle…’

‘Ha fnuggle!’

‘Ha yeah, love that word.’

‘Ditto.’

‘Ha where was I’

‘Fnuggle?’

‘Ha Ha, yeah I don’t give a flying fnuggle about his clutch of lettuce-brained mini-Barneys, I’ve got stuff I need too. Remember that rug I used to have?’

‘Yeah it really tied the room together.’

‘Well there you go if I get the full score can get that and still afford the hacking tool.’

‘You know that’s where the money is?’

‘Yeah I know.’

‘So we’re agreed?’

‘Yes.’

“Fine we can split this one but this is the last time.”

‘Dick.’

Barney actually jumped in the air and clicked his heels together like an olde tyme movie star. “You’re the best Henry, the absolute best and don’t you worry I’m totally in the groove no more accidentally tripping the alarms while trying to light a fag in the light of camera… Which did you know is a waste of time no matter how long you leave it there it never gets hot enough... I mean who knew.”

‘Everyone you dolt!’

“Yeah who knew?” replied Henry.

‘Coward!’

Henry sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. “Well what have we got in there?”

“Oh nothing much,” replied Barney sashaying through the door. “There’s that computer that we can’t get into because we can’t afford the hack tools, there is this Lego kit with all of the 2 blocks missing…”

“Aww they are the best ones…”

“I know, right?” said Barney aiming a kick at the box. “Oh and there is this cool floaty camera thing that I…”

“Don’t!”

Henry watched in horror as Barney drew his blackjack from his pocket

“Nooooooooooooooooo!” he screamed leaping forward in slow motion as Barney slowly swung his blackjack up and poked it towards the camera. The world snapped back in to real time as the blackjack cut the searchlight, alarms started to blare and Henry crashed face first into the rough floorboards grinding thick splinters into this cheek.

“Oops,” said Barney.

“Oops? Fnargh!” chocked Henry who was so furious he couldn’t even swear properly.

“Umm… perhaps we should make a move?” said Barney edging towards the window.

“You think?” replied Henry as the police sirens started to echo down the street.

“Well yeah, I mean, umm… unless you think we should stay and…”

“Just go…”

“We’re still going to split the winnings right?”

‘We’re never going to get the rug back are we?” thought Henry’s brain.

‘No, we’re bloody not okay?!?’

‘No need to be snippy…’

 

---------------------

 

The dropship clattered into the cargo bay of the Ben There in a shower of sparks that sent a huddle of urchins skittering for the exits. When it finally came to a halt Henry spun the big bronze wheel that controlled the lock on the dropship then was crushed into the wall as Barney bounced out as soon as the door flipped open.

“Ah home sweet home,” said Barney stretching and looking around the cargo bay of the giant airship that the workers of the 31st Division of the guild of cat burglars called home. Henry dusted himself off and levered himself out of the door, dropping to the cold steel floor. “So we gonna split the loot then?” asked Barney sidling over to where Henry lay slumped on the ground by the dropship.

Henry ground his teeth and stuck his hand in his pocket. “Sure, how much did you come away with?”

“Me?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh erm…” Barney rooted around in his pockets and came up with a handful of crap wrapped in maybe a dozen pound notes. He poked around in his open palm then looked up with a grin. “I got probably £14 worth of gear here; not a bad days work if you ask eh?”

Henry mentally slapped himself in the forehead then reluctantly held out his hand. “I guess if you count the cash I found wedged under the floorboards on the stairs then I got maybe £84.50.”

“Great!” exclaimed Barney. “So we split it 50/50 and I get £42.25 right?”

“Yeah whatever.”

“Score!” Barney grabbed the cash from Henry’s outstretched hand and dashed off in the general direction of the Ben There’s lounge (bar).

“That cash isn’t going to last five minutes,” muttered Henry dragging himself to his feet. He looked down at the sad pile of cash in his hands then crumpled the notes and jammed them in his back pocket.

‘You’re never going to get that rug back,’ said Henry’s brain.

“Piss off,” muttered Henry.

He was about to head back to his bunk in the common room when tanoy squawked “Attention! All employees to report to the main hanger bay immediately Marshall’s orders.” Around Henry the other denizens of the airship Ben There downed tools immediately and hurried off in the direction of the main hanger.

“Oh what now?” moaned Henry.

“If you go to the main hanger you might found out,” called a beautiful, curly haired girl as she passed.

“It was a rhetorical question!” Henry called after her hurrying to catch up.

“So rhetorical is another word for stupid right?” she asked when he finally caught her just outside the door to the main hanger.

“Well no it actually means...” he cut off when he caught the glint in her eye.

“Try to keep up Henry,” she said with a wink and slipped through the door, between a couple of other thieves off through the melee of bodies. Henry blundered after her but got stuck between a giant thief with a bushy beard and an eye patch and a wiry thief with a jaunty looking fedora. By the time he had managed to disentangle himself from them the girl was gone and the lights were coming up on stage so he found the nearest chair and dropped into it with a huff.

There was a drumroll, dry ice sent a cloud of thick smoke across the stage and the lights across the hanger went out. When the drum roll finished there was a blaze of light as fireworks exploded and the leader of the merry band of thieves jumped through a flaming ring and struck a pose head bowed, both arms in the air giving the peace sign. Around the room the thieves whooped and cheered and the Marshall allowed himself a moment to bask in their adulation before lowering his arms to his side. Henry leaned forward in his chair to get a better look at the man who over the last two years had built up the largest thievery guild in the known world. He was an unassuming looking fellow, as you’d expect from a thief Henry supposed. He had short brown hair an easy grin and was sporting a really rather smashing “Half-Life 3 is not a Myth, I’ve played it!” t-shirt.

When the crowd finally started to quiet the Marshall held out a hand and C3Ping the Been There’s tame, if not quite housetrained guard bot wobbled across the stage and handed the Marshall a large bronze and walnut voice enhancer. Marshall took the voice enhancer tapped it briefly sending a thud echoing around the room from the hidden speakers then waved C3Ping away. The guard bot made it half way across the stage before he wobbled to a halt and cocked his head to one side. The crowd on the front row edged their chairs backwards as a gooey sickly smelling liquid ran down C3Ping’s leg and started to pool on the stage. The Marshall shot a murderous look into the wings of the stage and a frazzled looking thief hustled on to the stage and shooed the still leaking robot off the stage. He returned a few moments later with a completely inadequate pile of paper towels and made a vain attempt to stem the flow of robopee. When he had done what he could the Marshall waved him off the stage then stepped forward with the voice enhancer raised.

“My good people,” he began pacing up and down the stage. “You’ve all been doing dome brillo work out there, profits are up, accidents are down and we haven’t had a single arrest in the last three months and for that I thank you.” The crowd whooped and cheered again and he waved his hands to quiet them. “Unfortunately our success has not gone unnoticed. My sources tell me that government, and a number of the more wealthy members of the aristocracy have pooled their resources.” The Marshall clicked a button and a screen dropped down from the roof and lit up with a picture of New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service. “In 100 days Scotland Yard will activate their breakthrough AI technology codenamed The Devil’s Basilisk. Details are light on the ground but we do know that its surveillance capabilities will be total. If the project is completed, your careers as master burglars will be untenable.” The room went completely silent, all the thieves stricken faces fixed on the stage.

“What will we do?” called a voice finally.

“You have to steal it before they finish it,” said the Marshall simply.

The room erupted in pandemonium with a hundred thieves all talking at once. Arguments broke out and punches were thrown before the Marshall managed to restore order.

“It won’t be easy,” he called over the hubbub. “It will be protected by the latest security, there will be guards, mines, lasers and all manner of security we haven’t yet considered. However, we have some of the best minds in the business on the Ben There,” the Marshall nodded off to the side where a huddle of bearded man in stained t-shirts, sandals and socks looked on uncomfortably. “What I need from each and every one of you if to go out there and get me as much swag as you can. In exchange I’ll give you the tools you need to advance. As a start I have had the boys in the lab build a computer hacking device for each and every one of you,” he waved off to the side and in came a handful of men carrying big cardboard boxes stuffed with little computer hacking contraptions.

“Take one and pass them on, come on don’t be shy.” Someone handed Henry a hacking box and he turned it over in his hands. Made of polished bronze the box was about the size of a cigarette box with a little button on the side. When Henry pressed it the cover flipped back to expose a small cable, for plugging in to the computer he surmised, a wheel of letters at the top plus a small lever and a tiny crank with an unnecessarily gaudy pearl handle. Henry turned the crank and the wheel of letters at the top that spun briefly then stopped spelled out ‘404 Error: computer not found. Please check the cable and crank again.’ Henry flipped the hacking contraption closed with a click and looked back up to the stage where the Marshall was waiting patiently for the devices to be handed out.

A minute or two later the helpers retreated with the now empty boxes and the Marshall spoke again. “We have the skills and now we have the tools,” he said holding up his own hacking contraption. “And at the end of the 100 days we will have the Devil’s Basilisk. Now go and bring me the loot we need to stop this menace once and for all.”

 

---------------------

 

The next few weeks became a blur for Henry, one house merging into the next as he looted, raided and swindled for all he was worth. After two weeks he was promoted from the slums to the warehouse district where the security was tighter but the rewards much greater. Each time he came back to the Ben There he swapped his sack full of loot for some new contraption to help him in the next day’s raid and each day he came back the ship was a little less crowded than before.

Henry looked up at the clock on the far wall, it was 12:34 pm. A few weeks ago there wouldn’t have been a spare seat in the house, people would have been queuing up outside there would have been banter and boasting of the latest scores. There would also probably be food flying as the latest batch of recruits were put through their initiation ritual. The day of their first successful job the initiates had to walk naked around the room blackjack held firmly between their butt cheeks while the rest of the crew pelted tem with food; drop the blackjack and you had to come back again the next day, complete the gauntlet and you were officially in. 

Today maybe a third of the tables were empty and there hadn’t been a fooding since the announcement. The usual banter was absent too, just drawn looking thieves shovelling food mechanically into their mouths before staggering off to get some sleep before the next job. At the end of the room above the table where the Marshall took his meals when he wanted to be seen by the crew was the countdown. IT had appeared the day of the announcement and Henry could feel it staring at him every time he was in the mess. He looked up now at the numbers in giant red letters 64; just 64 days left until they either stole the Devil’s Basilisk or all had to find proper jobs, possibly in an office making tea and wearing a tie. The thought alone was enough to make even the most hardened thief shudder. Henry was just finishing up his Duck a l'Orange when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up into the dour face of Judith L Wadd, Captain of his particular squad of thieves.

“Beresford we’ve got a job for you get your gear together.”

Henry allowed himself a long sigh before ragging himself to his feet and taking the assignment from Judith’s disturbingly hairy hand. The hand had been quite the topic of conversation amongst the other members of Henry’s squad. I wasn’t that it was hairy that was the problem, well not entirely, it was that the other hand wasn’t. Judith’s left hand was a normal dainty lady hand while the right was a huge meaty wrestler’s hand, the kind that would completely envelope your face when a giant twisted our head off before defecating down your throat. It gave Henry the shivers just looking at it but it drew the eye; Henry realised from the low growl grumbling in Judith’s throat that he’d been staring too long and hurriedly cracked open the orders.

Henry, we’ve been watching your progress with interest. You have a remarkable talent for thievery I think you can go a long way in this business. To prove it I’m sending you to New Belgravia - 545 JC Passage to be exact. Security will be tight but I know you have the tools to make good on the heist, do this for me and you’ll have a place at the Marshalls table on your return.

The Marshall

 

P.P.S. If you’re pass a shop on your way back grab me a Cornetto will you? Mint choc if they have it.

 

New Belgravia was very different from the cramped, ramshackle mess of the slums and the vast, grey concrete blocks of the Warehouse district. There were black iron street lamps on every corner, the flames giving a warm glow to the tall red brick houses. Henry landed his robbing pod in the quiet looking ginnel a couple of doors down from his target house. He'd borrowed a long black coat and top hat from the disguises department on the Ben There and he slung them on over his work gear and after making sure that the coast was clear he ducked out into the street.

He strolled nonchalantly over the road and leant against a lampost pretending to tie his shoelaces while casting a covert eye over the house. The front door looked to be made of one single piece of steel and had maybe four locks, the dim red light near the bottom told Henry there was a tripmine there too so that way was definitely out. While the mines were hackable in the same way as computers they had more of a tendency to explode causing grievous injuries if you ballsed up. Henry shifted position and fiddled with his other shoe, the windows in the bottom three stories shone with the tell-tale lights of the guard bots but the fourth was dark. “Looks like we’re going to the roof,” he muttered too himself as he headed back to his pod to get his tools.

 

Getting in was easy. He’d made sure the coast was clear and then three little taps with his blackjack and the window shattered sending little diamonds of glass cascading across the polished wood floor and he was in. The first couple of rooms had given him a couple of wedges of cash and some quite easily saleable loot including a vast tub of organic humus, several copies of the Daily Express with Princess Diana pull-outs and a couple of creepy looking porcelain figurines value on the black market $1000 each. It was all going smoothly and then all of a sudden it really wasn’t.

He’d slid down the stairs and silently dispatched a hulking guard bot mark four then out of the corner of his eye he spied it, a computer lighting the room with a dim glow. He skipped across the room and pulled his hacking device from his pack, a couple of quick turns on the crank and it was ready to go. Then just as he connected it up a security camera dropped from the ceiling, its searchlight clicked on and it swung slowly his way. He couldn’t go back the way he had come without tripping the alarm he spun and ran over to the door behind him just as the tell-tale search light of a guard bot peeked out of the keyhole. The camera inched closer and sweat broke out on Henry’s face, the light in the keyhole got brighter and brighter as the guard bot nearer the door. The camera was inches away when Henry took a deep breath and burst through the door blackjack at the ready. He stumbled to a halt in the next room which was suspiciously empty. He scratched his head and looked around. “I could have sworn,” he muttered under his breath. Then the door swung back closed to show an old guard bot mark one embedded in the wall where he had burst through the door. Henry leapt into the long version of his patented happy dance but was interrupted before the big finale by the deafening wailing of the alarm.

“But, but what? Where?” spluttered Henry. Then he saw through the door his little hacking device was still attached to the computer and the warning light was flashing. He ran over to the computer pulled off the hacking unit but the security camera spotted him and the wailing of the alarm got louder. He ran for the door back to the window where he had broken in with the camera tracking him all the way. He could hear the pounding of robot feet behind him as the guard bots closed in on his position. In his mind’s eye he could see the large shiny guns they carried to deal with intruders cocked and ready. There were surprisingly lax laws for people who shot trespassers on their property in Victorian England. Henry slid to a halt by the broken window and cursed his heart dropping. In the street outside a couple of police cars, lights flashing and sirens blaring were disgorging a multitude of robo-officers truncheons ready.

“Oh shit,” said Henry. “This is not going to end well.”

 

---------------------

 

High up on the Ben There the Marshall leader of the merry band of thieves sat in his throne room watching reruns of Magnum PI. Behind him all of the loot from the recent heists was piled up like the treasure in a dragon’s lair; he’d long since given up counting it but he knew that if he didn’t get the Devil’s Basilisk it would not be enough. There was a ping that signalled a thief returning followed by a string of buzzes that indicated thieves either killed or arrested. He remembered a time not long ago when the pings had been constant and the buzzes so infrequent as to cause a stir, no longer. He looked up, the TV forgotten for the time being, at the tally of thieves 32 out in the field and just 10 off duty on the Ben There.

“42,” he muttered. “I had almost 300 when we started this caper. If I’m not careful I’m going to have no one left for the big job.” He clicked his fingers and C3Ping the incontinent guard bot bounced into the room and wiggled over to the Marshall’s throne doing his I REALLY gotta pee dance. “Recall the remaining thieves,” the Marshall said clicking off the TV. “We will have to make do with the tools we have, tomorrow we’re going to hit New Scotland Yard and either take the Devil’s Basilisk or die trying.”

 

---------------------

 

“Argh! What now?!?” moaned Henry slapping at his homing beacon that flashed and buzzed in his pocket. Sweat dripped down his face and dropped to the ground below as the light went out and the buzzing finally stopped. Henry’s relieved sigh was cut off as a police bot whizzed by underneath the light on his head stopping just short of Henry’s feet. Henry had wedged himself against two walls high up above the entrance to the dining room. If he went any higher he would be spotted by the security camera that was flicking around the room searching for the intruder, if he went lower he’d be caught in seconds by the almost constant flow of angry police bots. Another drop of sweat dripped off his nose and floated down to the floor below.

‘Then again if I stay here much longer my arms might be stuck like this forever,’ he thought. He attempted to flex the muscles in his shoulders, he’d long since lost he feeling in his arms, but the slightest movement sent a shock of pain running up his spine. ‘I wonder if I stand still if they’ll arrest me or just beat me to death?’ he thought idly. ‘I’m pretty sure I’d prefer it. A nice little open prison for non-violent offenders; not one of those federal ‘pound me in the ass’ prisons you see on the tellybox.’ Below him another police bot whizzed by flailing his truncheon in apparent frustration. “It’s a good thing those things can’t look up,” he muttered to himself.

“Like dogs.” The voice in his ear made Henry jump which finally sent a bolt of pain like lightning shooting from the tips of his fingers right down to the soles of his shoes. Henry lost his grip on the wall his arms and legs cramping and started to fall face first to the hard tiles below.

With inches to spare he ground to a halt the breath going out of him with a whoosh. Then he slowly started to float back up towards his hiding place in the rafters, he just about made it back to his shadowy sanctuary before another police bot whizzed by beneath him.

“It’s a good job you’re not as fat as you look otherwise you’d be dogfood,” came a voice by his ear.

Henry craned his neck but couldn’t see who was there. “Uh, hello? Umm… who are you and what is going on?”

There was a muttering then his world tilted then whizzed by as he was spun onto his back at breakneck speed.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” moaned Henry his world spinning horribly.

“I wouldn’t advise it in that position you’d get it all over your face, then I might not be so keen to rescue you.”

When the world stopped spinning Henry was looking up into the beautiful brown eyes of the girl from the Ben There. “Hey you’re the girl from the Ben There.”

“So you remember me eh? Are you ready to get out of here?”

“Wait what are you doing here? What’s your name? Will you marry me… uh… maybe just answer the first two.” Said Henry colouring.

“I’m here because the Marshall has recalled us all for the big push and you are late. When I saw the police bots swarming all over the place I was ready to cut and run but I figured if they’d already gotten you they’d be less stressed so I thought I’d take a look and see if I could rescue you. For the second question my name is Lauren Hill, yes like the singer, no I’m not the singer, no I don’t like the singer despite sharing her name.”

“Umm…”

“And to the third point I usually go on several dates before agreeing to marry someone so maybe we could wait until this is all over and see how it goes eh?”

Henry spluttered an inarticulate response and Lauren tipped him a wink. “Try to relax Henry life is so much easier if you don’t take it so seriously. Now are you ready to go?”

Henry massaged tentatively stretched his muscles and found them horribly stiff but cooperative. “I think so, but how are we supposed to get past the camera up there?”

“Pull my finger,” replied Lauren holding out a gloved hand.

“I’m sorry?”

“Pull. My. Finger.”

Henry reached out a hesitant hand and pulled her finger. Lauren made a loud fart noise with her mouth and slowly at first then faster and faster a cloud of smoke started to waft from her backpack.

“I’m not sure whether to be impressed or disgusted,” said Henry.

“Well you don’t have to go through it if you don’t want to but I for one am going home,” replied Lauren and with that she was off hopping up the wall and off through the now smoke filled room.

Henry scrambled to his feet and hopped after her. ‘Today is my lucky day,’ he thought to himself.

 

---------------------

 

They’d made it back to the Ben There just in time to catch the last shuttle to New Scotland Yard, home of the dreaded Devil's Basilisk. From the outside it didn't look like anything special. There were a couple of high-tec looking guard bots on the front door, some high walls and a bit of barbed wire but that was all. Henry leaned across the table and nudged Lauren with his elbow.

“Is this it?” he asked with a flick of the head in the direction of NSY. “I mean, all this training, all those gadgets and there are a couple of guards on the door and a bit of pointy metal on the walls? I could have taken this place on my first night in the job.”

“I assure you it won't be as simple as that,” said the Marshall leaning over. The Marshall was decked out in his finest; calf length leather boots, and black velvet trousers under a broad jacket with broad shoulders covered in gold tassels. He also had more than your average pensioners home worth of lace a tricorn hat, and eye patch In fact he looked like Henry imagined Admiral Nelson looked before he whooped the French at Trafalgar. “Take a look at this.” He held up a vid screen that looked like nothing so much as a large hand mirror bound in ivory. When Henry looked through it, however, he saw a myriad of different sized red and yellow splotches overlaying the scene at New Scotland Yard.

“Umm... I'm not sure this thing is working.” said Henry. “There's loads of red and yellow splotches all over the screen.”

“Do you know what this is?” asked the Marshall waggling the vid-mirror in the air.

“A waste of money?” quipped Henry.

“No,” said the Marshall with a frown. “This is an infrared, thermo-bot imaging device of my own design.”

“You don't think the ivory was a bit much?”

“No I do not. I think it's very tasteful in fact.”

“You and my great Aunt Jean.”

Henry pitched forward as Lauren gave him a clip around the ear. “Be nice this is your boss remember.”

“Sorry boss,” said Henry holding his hands up. “It's dead nice.”

“Correct,” said the Marshall with a sniff. “And it is also very useful in our line of work. You see all of those little 'red and yellow splotches' as you so eloquently put it are bots inside New Scotland Yard. On the outside they keep everything clear so as not to concern the proles but inside I can assure you this is a test beyond anything we have faced so far.”

“Jeez they really all robots Mr Marshall sir?” asked Barney.

“Indeed, this job is going to take everything and everyone we have; but we must succeed or we will be out of business forever.”

Barney gulped a cartoon cat doomed to be crushed by a giant boulder gulp and shuffled nervously in his seat.

“So are we ready to do this?” asked the Marshall turning to his charges. “Are we ready to take on the most despicable band of crooks and villains since, well us?”

“Yeah!” roared the small crowd of thieves in unison.

“Then let's do this thing! When I give the signal we all go at once…”

“Leeeroy Jenkins!” screamed Leroy charging off towards New Scotland Yard leaving an open mouthed Marshall in his wake. Leroy leapt over the fence with a blast of his double jump boots and sprinted up the path to the entrance as he was just coming into view of the heavily armed guard bots he waved his hand forward and something behind them exploded sending pieces of bots and the front of the building flying. He hopped past the still flaming wreckage of the bots and through the entrance. “Bloody idiot, get after him before he gets us all killed and remember don't stop until you have the Devil's Basilisk. May God and Magnum PI watch over you.”

The remaining thieves charged out of the bar opposite New Scotland Yard whooping  in glee, then realising they were making quite the scene, the split up into smaller groups and scattered into the shadows in the grounds of the enemy stronghold.

 

Henry followed Lauren as she sprinted down the side of the vast building and  started to fly up the wall quick as a squirrel up a tree. On the first floor there was a big metal door with a complicated locking mechanism, she dropped to one knee pulled a thin device out of her pack and inserted it into the keyhole. A couple of swift turns and the lock clicked open. “Last one to the Devil’s Basilisk is a rotten egg,” she called over her shoulder before slipping through the door and closing it behind her.

“Oh you’re on!” said Henry following after. He twisted the handle and made to go inside, only the door didn’t budge so he just ran face first into the cold steel. “Hey!” shouted Henry You locked me out.” Henry could make out giggling on the other side of the door.

“Oh so it’s like that is it? Well I’d stand back if I were you.” Henry reached into his back a pulled a small bundles of sticks from his pack. He wrapped a couple around the door knob then ran back around the corner, there was the sound of an alarm clock going off then and huge explosion that sent smoke billowing from the hole where the door had been.

“Subtle, Henry. Real subtle,” called Lauren.

“You shouldn’t have locked the door.”

“Well if they didn’t know we were here they do now let’s get this over with.”

 

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Over in the Dog and Bone the Marshall sipped particularly good dark ale and watched the raid on his thermos-imaging mirror. When he got a new thief he tagged them with a relatively harmless radio-isotope so that he could track their movements, hence the pings when they returned to the Ben There or the buzz when one was sent to the slammer, or the morgue; It had been a simple procedure to repurpose it for his all-seeing mirror. Now when he ran it over New Scotand Yard he saw not just the red and yellow splotches denoting the guard bots, he also saw a much smaller number of pale blue dots, his thieves.

It had all started relatively well, the edges of the mark were not well protected and the few guard bots that had been there had quickly disappeared. Then as they neared the centre where presumably the Devil’s Basilisk was being held progress had slowed, then ground to a halt as one by one his little blue dots started to disappear. The yellows and reds of the guard bots were disappearing too but at a much slower rate and there were so many more of them. There was still hope though, two little blue dots were making slow but steady progress and were now within striking distance of the main chamber…

 

---------------------

 

Henry and Lauren clung to the wall above the door to what must be the entrance to the Devil’s Basilisk. All of the security terminals had been disabled, but the ground below them was littered with guard bots of all descriptions, little hoping ones that explode, giant charging bull like one, short stocky ones with grenade launchers and even a couple of flying mini-gun toting ones. There was no way they could get down there and through the door without one of the bots spotting them and alerting the police.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Henry looking down into this now largely empty sack. “I’m all out of explosives and my steam generator is offline. Hell even my blackjack has seen better days.” He held it up so she could see the now deformed cosh. “Guess I whacked one too many bots today, you got any bright ideas?”

“Well I was going to suggest you drop down, shout boo and then try to run before they kill you. You probably wouldn’t make it but you could die knowing that I’d beaten you in our little bet. Unfortunately I imagine there is probably some kind of auto-lockdown if the police get notified and then I’d be trapped here looking down as they pummel your bloody corpse and that would get old eventually I think.”

“You think?!?”

“Well I think I can’t say for sure I’ve not seen it yet have I? Oh don’t look at me with those big puppy dog eyes Henry I’m just pulling your leg.”

“Well it’s not… wait what the… ” Henry trailed off as the door at the end of the hall opened and a head poked around the door. “Barney?”

Barney took a look around and the stepped through the door closing it behind him, somehow missing the plethora of guard bots at the end of the corridor and trundling steadily towards him. Henry dropped an inch then stopped as Lauren hauled him back up. “There’s nothing you can do,” she hissed. “He’s a not got a chance.”

They watched in horror as the first guard bots search light edged towards the unsuspecting Barney, then with it a hair away he tripped over his shoe laces sending and fell flat on his face the contents of his backpack spinning across the floor. Smoke erupted from the bag obscuring Barney from view, then on the edge of the smoke one, one of the guard bots stepped on a small walnut box. There was a shock of electricity and a flash and then all hell broke loose; the robots all started shooting at once but not at the hapless Barnabus Moonpuncher, at each other.

By the time the smoke finally cleared no robots were standing. Barney got to his feet, dusted himself off and wandered down the corridor being careful to step over the broken glass, pools of oil and lacquered wood that was all that remained of the best New Scotland Yard had to offer. Henry and Lauren clung to the wall above the destruction mouths agape not able to believe what they had just seen. Barney opened the door to the Devil’s Basilisk and stepped through.

“Oh look at that it is a cute robot head. Let me just…”

“No!” shouted Lauren and Henry in unison snapping out of their trance and sliding down the wall to the door. The burst through just in time to see Barney pull out the wires that were holding the Basilisk; there was a blare of sirens and the big steel shutters started to drop over the exits.

“Ooops,” said Barney.

Henry dove forwards tackling Barney just as the auto-turrets opened fire, the Basilisk slipped from his hands and out of the fast closing door. Lauren dove for it and rolled out of sight as Henry hustled Barney to his feet and dodging the hail of fire pushed him to the exit; they made it just in time rolling under the door Indy style Barney even lost his hat. He would have lost a hand reaching back but Lauren grabbed his hand and hauled him off towards the exit.

“Come on the police will be here any minute!” she called sprinting up the stairs away from a particularly dangerous looking guard bot with fists bigger than Henry’s head. At the top of the stairs was a window, with a long drop to the gardens. That wouldn’t usually be a problem but this particular garden was crammed full of police bots all whirling their truncheons in unison.

“Can’t go out,” said Lauren.

“Can’t go back,” said Henry pointing at the fast approaching giant guard bot.

“Oh a ladder,” said Barney pushing past them and stepping out of the window. Henry and Lauren looked at each other in shock then both threw themselves out of the window just in time to catch the bottom rung of the rope ladder. They looked up to see the imposing bulk of the Ben There high above them and in at the top of the ladder was the Marshall.

“Did you get the Basilisk?” he called. Lauren fished the little robot head out of her pocket and waved it. “Then what are you waiting for get up here!” He ducked back out of site and the ladder started to ascend slowly.

“Well that was a bit of fun wasn’t it,” said Barney.

 

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In his study at the back of the Ben There the Marshall turned the small robot head over in his hands. It  was about the size of a football and looked to be made of copper. There was a button on the side, two big eyes that were currently closed and a small mouth like a ventriloquist’s puppet. “I wonder how it works,” said the Marshall tilting it this way and that.

“Try pressing the button and asking it a question,” said C3Ping doing his little happy dance in the corner. The Marshall tilted his head to the side briefly then pushed the button. “Worth a shot I guess,” he said.

The eyes flicked open and focused on the Marshall. “Hi Dan,” it said in a creepy robot voice. “What can I do for you today?”

“Umm, so you’re the Devil’s Basilisk right?”

“I am, I go by DB for short.”

“And you are a surveillance system?”

“In a manner of speaking just think of me as someone who knows a few things.”

“Right so if I ask you about anyone you’ll tell me what they’re up to?”

“That’s right.”

“So what is Ben Ward up to right now?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Hey I asked you a question.”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“Yes.”

“You’re sure, you’re sure?”

“Yes, yes tell me!”

“Come closer.” Dan leaned in close and DB whispered in his ear.

“Ugh! That’s disgusting,” laughed the Marshall. “At his age as well he really should know better.”

“I told you you didn’t want to know.”

“I think me and you are going to get along just fine DB,” said the Marshall patting him on the head.

 

The End.