Let’s Tango | #0
In the midst of the biggest pandemic of my lifetime, and because of it, I was poised to do something I’d never thought I’d do. I had practiced it two dozen times, timed out down to the second. Still, stealing it for real was nerve-wracking.
So much had to go right, but so much more was likely to go wrong. And, I didn’t want to have to hurt Kevin.
I looked over at him. Kevin gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up. Kevin was so psyched we were working this job together. I nodded to him. Gave him a fake smile. I knew after tonight we’d never see each other again, and I thought, “Kevin, I’m so sorry for what I’m about to do.”
Yesterday, we prepped for tonight. The Dry run. Dress Rehearsal. Walk-through. Me, Kevin, Kumar, Juan, our team lead Barry. Dbag Barry.
We were working high-end security for a data center that housed much of the worlds most important anonymous data. Think Swiss Banks, but for intellectual property, big money research, bitcoin wallets or anything illicit you could store on a solid-state computer hard drive.
Yesterday, team leader Barry gathered us together and said, “Alright, Asshats, we drew Area Seven.” He said with a sense of doom, but I already knew which area we would randomly draw. I fixed the drawing. I had to have Area Seven. There was no other point for me to be there, doing this job.
Barry said, “So, listen up, we have a few No-Nos on this job. No tasers or bullets, obviously. We are paid handsomely to defend this here data with our lives, true, but we only get stun-guns. Don’t like that, turn in your security ID and leave now. No-No number two: Tomorrow is Friday. You arrive Friday at noon, you do not leave until Saturday at noon, following a successful upgrade. It will be a complete lockdown. There will literally be no way to leave. Cell phone signals are jammed. No-No number three…”
Barry looked around at each of us on his team. Kumar and Juan stood on either side of me. Barry settled on Kevin. He said, “Kevin, I’d like you to demonstrate No-No number three. Touch that server rack.”
Kevin said, “Barry, you said to never touch –”
Barry cut him off. “Just touch it, dumbass.”
I said, “Barry, we all know what will happen! We don’t need another demonstration!”
Barry looked at me and said, “Allen, you’ve just elected yourself as Kevin’s replacement.”
For a moment I was like, “Allen? Who is Allen?” That always happened when someone called me by my fake name.
I said, “Fine.” I walked over to the server rack. Kevin looked at me, already wincing. I could tell he was both happy it wasn’t him, but also guilty that I took his place.
I knew it was going hurt, but I also knew I’d live, so I just… did it. I touched it.
I woke up a couple of minutes later. Barry announced, “Okay, numb nuts is awake. Nice screaming, asshat. Like a little girl watching Nightmare on Elm Street. No-No number three: Do not touch the server racks. They are wired with enough voltage to stun your ass for up to two minutes, if you have a good heart.”
That was yesterday. Rehearsal. Today, Barry would get his. Right now, he was counting down, “In five. Four. Three. Two. One.”
We were in Gateway Underground Secure Storage. Everyone called it by it’s acronym, GUSS. GUSS was implementing a planned upgrade. A known outage. Barry’s countdown started the clock. The engineers had thirty minutes to bring a new aisle of servers online, and to upgrade the onsite power generators. Thirty minutes of being naked in a blizzard.
Naked, but not defenseless. That’s where my team came in. My team, and a score of teams just like mine.
I heard over Barry’s walkie-talkie: “We are powered down. T-minus thirty minutes until power-up. Perimeter is secure.”
Barry said, “We are on, gentlemen. Do your job.”
Ever so often, GUSS had to upgrade their servers and security, and that meant an outage. The first time, five years ago, GUSS shut down and were subsequently robbed blind by a hacker-espionage group still unknown to this day. The problem was, Gateway had a global client base and had to announce the outage world-wide so clients could adjust. During an outage four years ago, another attempt was made to steal data, but the attackers “accidentally” died trying to get away. All six of them.
Rumors on the Dark World forums from four years ago stated all kinds of conspiracy theories. None proven as the coroner rubber-stamped the cause of death as heart attacks and the case was quickly closed. I learned as much in my research when I accepted this job, and let’s just say, it was on my mind. Synchronized, coordinated heart failure. Riiigggghhhhtttt.
There hadn’t been an attempt since then. Four years. Until tonight. I needed one SD card. On it, the secret that would save my sister, and make BossMan95 very wealthy.
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I watched Barry stalk the catwalk above us. Our team was the last human line of defense. An isolated generator on Level ten kept the server rack voltage flowing while the actual server power was cut, and that suited me just fine.
I strolled a little too far to my right, out of position. From that catwalk above, Barry yelled, “Allen – you are out of position!” I ignored him. Barry yelled again. Ignore. Again. Ignore.
Then, I heard the rattle of the metal catwalk as Barry hurried down, strutting toward me purposefully. I paced away from him as he walked up. It was just Barry and me in this aisle, this section. I wanted for us to be alone when we got tangled in a tango, and this spot right here was the dance floor.
Barry approached. I slowed my tempo. I heard him behind me. He growled, “Goddammit are you deaf?!?” He grabbed my arm and I spun, knocking him off balance. Barry crumbled into the server rack.
Zap. Crackle. Hahahahahaaaaaaa.
I had practiced this dance, every chance, in advance, until I could pull a bulls-eye on a full-size, full-weight, five-foot-eight dummy, a mannequin. The manner in which I would pin the tail on Barry the Dbag’s Ass.
Barry grabbed my right arm, expecting to pull me around to face him. He pulled, but I didn’t resist. I spun. It was more of a bullfighter move than anything. “Olé!” He hit the server rack and was immediately stunned. The server rack was built to shock for five seconds, then shut down for thirty seconds so as only stun, not kill. Barry hit the rack.
Five, four, three, two, one.
I had thirty seconds, I poked the SD card slot and pulled out the card I needed. Aisle Seven, Section Four, Rack 12, ID 39023354. To cover my tracks, I poked five other cards out of their stot and pocketed them as well.
I thought, “Okay, Teresa, this one’s for you!”
I yelled, “Kevin – Juan – Kumar! Barry’s hurt!”
I almost giggled. Barry would be out cold for about two minutes.
Juan, Kumar and Kevin rushed over and knelt down over Barry. I said, “He tripped or something. Fell into the rack. Oh, man, oh, man. Poor Barry!”
I wondered if I was laying it on too thick? I patted my pocket. These were the only copies of this data. There were no backups because if your data is this valuable, this private, potentially this illegal, having a second copy means having a second massive security plan.
In studying stolen specs for this facility, I understood what would happen next. An alarm would blast. An army of security would leave their post and come straight for this room. They’d start searching for the perp. Ahem. Me. By the time they got here, I hoped to be ten floors up, on the surface.
I knew all this because I met a man who used the handle BossMan95 on the Dark World Forums. BossMan told me everything, sold me on this sting, controlled and pulled the strings. He sent me here to steal this SD card. Pose as a security guard. Said it wouldn’t even be hard.
He’d better be right. If not, it was going to be the world’s shortest getaway.
Barry was down, the team was distracted. I hurried down Aisle Seven, scurried around the end of Section 11, and hoped not to see Kevin as I walked toward the exit. I worried, would my security badge work?
I scanned my badge at the door, listened for the click, opened it and walked out.
As the door closed behind me, I heard Kumar yell – “hey Allen, where are you going?”
I was going… to get the hell out of there. I started down the left hallway. I’d gone two hundred feet when I heard voices in front of me. Dammit. I turned and headed back. I’d have to take the long way.
Just as I passed by the door I had just exited, Kevin came out. He said, “Hey, Allen, Kumar sent me to find out –”
That last part was what Kevin sounded like when I zapped him with the stun-gun. What can I say? I panicked. I didn’t want to use my stun gun on Kevin. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t. But, look, Kevin would live. If I didn’t do this, my sister would not.
“T-minus eighteen minutes.” The voice came over the loudspeaker, counting us down like the final act of a James Bond movie. I was like, “for real?”
I was behind schedule. I raced around the Gateway Underground Secure Storage facility for over ten minutes. Hallways, elevators, stairs. Wrong turns. I got lost twice. The SD Room was ten stories underground. The elevator took for-eh-ver.
“T-minus seven minutes.” Finally, I got to ground level, the exit, scanned my badge again, praying it still worked, it did, Thank God, and I walked into the wet night air.
Ugh. So humid. As I walked toward my car, I heard a new alarm sounding; the exit had been breached. When I practiced this step, I planned to have ten minutes left to go in the countdown at this point.
“T-minus five minutes.”
Ducking a spotlight scanning the fenceline like an old prison movie, I jogged to my car, a big ole 1996 Crown Vic beater I named Vicki. I paid cash for last month. It was not mint. Barry saw me drive up once and spent the next week bullying me for it. But Vicki was perfect. Former police car. Reinforced suspension, high output engine, push bars on the front. I got in and turned the key.
Oh, Come on!
I could see my fellow rent-a-cops leaving the building, fanning out, looking for me. Come on! Flashlights shined, voices shouted, alarms blared. I had not practiced this step. Jesus, why hadn’t I bought a better car?!? Come on, Vicki. Crown Vicki. Queen Vicki. Come on. You useless piece of motherfuhhh – I squeezed the steering wheel and rocked back and forth.
You have got to be kidding me. Breath. Breath. Calm. Happy Place.
I worked for AxelRod Security, LLC. My whole team did. We contracted with Gateway Underground Secure Storage, GUSS, for this weekend. Three grand hazard pay for one night’s work, if all went well. For them. If it went well for me, Axelrod employees would each get half that.
Had GUSS not planned an upgrade where they had to shut down normal security for thirty minutes, I would have never gotten this far. My Axelrod security team was there to make sure what I was doing didn’t happen.
We were twenty-seven minutes into the thirty minute blackout, and I was nearly free. I had to get through the perimeter fence before the upgrade was complete.
And my fucking car wouldn’t –
“T-minus two minutes. Power up in two minutes.”
It started! Hell, yeah!!
Everyone heard my car roar to life. All eyes turned toward me. The perimeter defense – men trusted with actual guns, with actual bullets, automatic weapons, aimed them my way. Strips of traffic spikes lined the entrance. The main gate was already closed and barricades had been erected earlier in the night.
But I wasn’t going out a gate.
I floored it. My tires screeched. I spun toward the darkest corner of the parking lot. The one requirement when I bought this car was that it had airbags and a V8, because I was going to need them. Brakes, I didn’t care about.
I wasn’t going to need brakes.
Thirty miles per hour, 40, 45, 50. Less than a football field to the fence. 60. 70. Nothing in my way, only a long, lonely parking lot. Then, Boom! Foot on the gas, in a blast, so fast.
In a flash, the bumper folded, airbags exploded. In the slowest immediate instant I had ever felt drop, everything instantly accelerated into a slow motion stop.
I had studied the specs and I knew every fourth pole in the fence surrounding this remote GUSS facility was a thirty foot steel I-beam, fifteen feet buried, fifteen feet in the air. Between those steel I-beam pillars were cement reinforced columns. The facility advertised the wire as being kevlar reinforced steel weave, crackling with 6.6 kilovolts of stun-lethal force, and topped by poisoned concertina wire. In other words, they made it like they used to.
The only realistic way through a fence this secure was to bull-doze it. Knock it down. Driving a Caterpillar to work would have aroused suspicion. So, the Crown Vic did fine in a pinch. I rammed Vicki right into the fence… According to plan, it would crash through and I would escape.
According to reality, I crashed my car and was stuck. How long did I sit there, dazed? Pinned to my seat by the twenty five year old airbag that had actually worked.
I was totalled, and the fence was only imperceptibly bent. Shit! I stabbed the airbag with a knife I’d stashed in the console next to me. I got out, and examined the fence. The rest of the security team was running toward me, shouting “Halt”.
They were five hundred feet away and closing. I had twenty seconds before they swarmed me, and I didn’t know if the fence was active again already. Had it been two minutes already? Shit, shit, shit!
I looked closer at the fence – there was a rift! Just a small break. But it was enough. I grabbed my backpack, opened it and grabbed the grapefruit. I tossed the grapefruit at the fence. The grapefruit would either bounce off harmlessly, if the fence was still being upgraded, or the grapefruit would vaporize, if the fence was active and working.
It bounced. And so did I. I pushed my backpack through, climbed out, got free, and limped away into the forest, leaving a trickle trail of blood and sweat in the oppressive Atlanta humidity.
As I patted my pocket of SD cards, I heard the fence crackle to life. None of the security guys still yelling “halt” would be able to climb through. That would gain me about ten minutes, maybe more. I smiled. Phase one was a success.
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
Other Music in this episode: Tango