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"So, let's see if I understood, Spanner," said one of the shadowy figures looking over the holographic blueprints of the building. "If I manage to get past all of that, and come back with the artifact…we'll finally be able to afford a real HQ and start thinking big. Sweet."

His accomplice laughed in a derisive way. "I don't know about you, Sklira, but I've been thinking big from the start. From my point of view, this is just the chess pieces falling into place."

"Whatever you say, mastermind. But what if it doesn't work out as you planned?"

"I beg your pardon? You know me better than this. I always have a backup plan. If the operation goes south, you will use this."

A compartment opened on the table. It produced a small box containing a gadget resembling a bracelet with a calculator on it. "This will make your body dissolve without a trace and digitalize your consciousness, which will be sent back to our mainframe. Afterwards, the device will self-destruct, and I'll use a specialized bio-printer to rebuild your body and reinstall your consciousness."

"Gotcha. Where did you even get the money for this, anyway?"

"This technology is technically beyond most price ranges, so I had to…pull some strings. That is not important, though. The profit we'll get when we succeed will be more than enough to cover our debts."

"Nice thinking. Hey, you know what we should do to commemorate later? We should go to the Bahamas together."

"Well…I am not too fond of the idea, but since you'll be the one actually infiltrating the place, I suppose you deserve it."

"We deserve it. What's the use of money if you can't use it to get into the best vacations?"

"Any vacation with you in it is the best."

"Flattery will get you nowhere, we already decided how to divide the profits."

"Damn, you got me." Both of them laughed heartily. "But seriously now, don't mess it up. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Mickey Dees have never hosted an event like this before. There will more security than we are used to, and possibly worse things than summary execution if my sources are to be believed."

"Now that is just hurtful, not to mention cowardly. Don't you trust me?"

"I trust that you are every bit as greedy as I am."

"Touché. So, what are we gonna do in the meantime?"

"The same thing we do every night, Sklira. Crimes to facilitate bigger crimes."

"With style, I hope?"

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

The two rogues shook hands, their smiles gleaming with anticipation and dollar signs in their eyes.

The night of the heist had arrived, the full moon illuminating the cold and windy streets of London. Sklira had used his fleshcrafting abilities and falsified documents to impersonate one of the guests to the event. His tailcoat billowed in the chilly breeze as he approached the purple and gold entrance which displayed elegance from every inch of the basrelief. He smiled confidently as Spanner's voice appeared through the thaumic mind-link.

"Sklira, do you hear me?"

"I do. Send me the blueprints of the building one more time, I need to have everything fresh in my memory."

"Sending them now. Once you get past the entrance, there should be a foyer where most of the guests are meeting for the moment. Don't go after the target yet, spend some time building up trust. And remember who you are meant to be impersonating. I'll keep in touch."

"Don't worry, I got this. All those acting classes are finally gonna pay big time."

Sklira turned off the mind-link and went inside the building. The internal decoration had the same coloration as the entrance and seemed to get more ornate the deeper one went. It was easy to get dazzled by the diamond chandeliers and classical music, and the fountains of wine were especially tempting to Sklira. But he had to focus, there'd be rivers of wine and so much more waiting for him after he was done. He was among prey, and he couldn't afford to draw attention to himself.

Soon enough Sklira's suspicions about the fabulously wealthy were confirmed: as sheep were wont to do, they were all basically the same. Only five minutes had passed, and he was already feeling sick to death of their upturned noses and general snobbery. In the middle of the chit-chat, the intruder heard something of interest.

"I heard that the big attraction this time around was found in an archaeological expedition. Apparently it is an artifact from some lost empire, but no one can quite say which one it could be."

"Regardless, I doubt it will be as amazing as they're making it out to be. Ancient history is such a dreadfully boring subject."

"Figures that these fat cats wouldn't appreciate any human sciences that aren't economics," Sklira thought to himself. His hopes of learning more about the target were soon eliminated as their conversation turned to business and politics. Feeling bored out of his mind and anxious, he turned the mind-link back on.

"OK, everyone's believing it so far. Do you think it is safe to keep going now?"

"Hold on, I'm getting some interference. I think someone is trying to listen in. You're gonna have to make do without me for some time, I might be in danger."

Sklira was about to protest, but the mind-link was closed off entirely. "Great, just wonderful. Now I gotta keep a straight face while he's getting in trouble. Thanks, chief."

Going by the last glimpse of the blueprints, the intruder took a spiral staircase upward to the left of the foyer, stopping briefly to admire some of the more attractive specimens present in the event. Having mountains of money to spare on cosmetic products and surgeries had its perks, he had to admit. Their dedication to beauty and power reminded him of his former devotion to Sarkicism, and how that had lost its appeal, to put it mildly. Come to think of it, he had never bothered to ask Spanner why he'd left behind Mekhanism. Perhaps he should ask his partner in crime about it if he made out of here alive.

His thoughts were interrupted when he reached one of the upper floors. In front of him was a door leading to one of the interconnected vaults where the attractions were safely stored. However, his path was blocked by two security guards. They looked extremely bored and likely resentful that they would never even make a fraction of the money their clients did. This should be easy.

"Hello, gentlemen!" greeted Sklira, subconsciously altering his body language down to the smallest details to be more convincing. "What's the matter? You two look like you had a really bad day."

Seemingly surprised that a fat cat was giving them more attention than usual, the security guards perked up but kept scrutinizing Sklira. "Oh hello. Yeah, we don't have much to do besides chatting away the hours. And most of it is talking shit, really."

The other security guard elbowed the first one in the ribs and hissed at him to be respectful. Sklira put on his best compassionate chuckle. "Ah, don't mind me, I have thick skin. And to be perfectly honest, I myself often get tired of mingling with the high class. Surely you two chaps could help me unwind from all that politicking with a little chit chat?"

"Sorry, boss, but we gotta keep paying attention to security and all that. You never know what can happen with all the crazy stuff criminals use nowadays."

"Yeah, agreed. Maybe when the event is over, but no promises."

Curses! A sudden bout of lucidity was the last thing he needed from these two. Sklira would have to get his hands dirty if fast-talking wasn't going to cut it.

The intruder took a different path and hid beneath an ornate mahogany table. He started fleshcrafting, a small smile upon his face as he engaged in his favored artistry. His wrist opened like a tiny ribcage ready for surgery and he stimulated his cells into producing a transparent tumor-like growth. Looking around carefully, he wall-crawled back to the security guards. With expert precision, Sklira threw the orb in their direction, which exploded into a cloud of foul-smelling effluvium. The guards scrambled to detect the source of the eye-stinging gas, to no avail. Wasting no time, he slid beneath the tiniest crack in the door like an oversized roach.

After squeezing through with a bone-snapping noise, Sklira found himself in one of the vaults. All around him were exquisite artworks and artifacts from many places and periods, each one worth a king's ransom. Most were locked in metal boxes with glass panels and electronic keypads, while others further inside were also protected by thaumic sigils in the form of hexes and curses. Sklira had to pause for a moment to take it all in. It was like standing in the middle of all of history, with those statues and paintings being the only spectators to the beginning of a legacy even greater than theirs.

Sklira ventured further inside, his senses perfectly on alert for any sudden movements in the vicinity. The decoration had become more sparse, and the lighting more intense. It was possible to hear a hairpin drop with how dreadfully silent the environment was. As time passed and no obvious dangers appeared, Sklira didn't know whether to become more confident or paranoid. Regardless, he persevered and soon found the entrance into a higher security area. What he didn't notice was that some of the artworks were fake and actually functioned as multi-purpose scanners. They would silently follow his movements and acquire information about him to activate countermeasures specifically designed to deal with such nuisances.

Meanwhile, Spanner had his own problems to deal with…

The entrance to the criminal duo's hideout had been discovered. The Mekhanist rushed about, pressing buttons to prepare a counter-ambush against the Foundation Agents that would be arriving any second now. Even when caught by surprise, he refused to let that make him panic. He activated his cloaking field and assumed a strategic vantage point from above. Pistol in hand and his cybernetic eyes in maximum alertness, he waited. The home ground advantage was his.

The sound of the door being destroyed with explosives resounded through the hideout, and Foundation Agents invaded the premises. Almost immediately, Spanner noticed that they were carrying a heavy weight EMP generator with a countdown, which would disable all electronic devices within the area if activated. It was a matter of time before his home ground advantage would be gone. He had to draw their attention away from the generator, but how?

His gaze turned to the invaders which were approaching the stairs to his hiding spot. There was only one path that would lead him away from them, but it led further inside the hideout and toward the mainframe. He had backups of all of his plans elsewhere, of course, but finding a new base of operations because of an invasion was an unacceptable setback. It was time to fight dirty.

Spanner realized that if they were going to use EMP, then the group inside the hideout would logically be lacking in electronic devices of their own for long-distance communication. A second group was likely waiting outside and beyond the range of the EMP. This made his next maneuver easier to decide. The Mekhanist reached into his pocket and pulled out a few metallic cubes, which expanded and shifted into spider-like drones with their own cloaking fields. The automatons crawled around silently and split up, each one stalking an Agent. One by one in quick succession, the invaders would be knocked unconscious by an electric shock applied directly to the inside of their spines.

With the first group out of the way, Spanner sneaked down the stairs to the ground level. Dashing between furniture and computer terminals, he soon had the second group and the generator within shooting range. But they outnumbered him and his cover wouldn't last very long against concentrated fire. And the battery of his cloaking field was running out. Just when he thought that things couldn't get worse, a survivor from the drone attack ran past him and joined the second group to warn them. This made them gather around the generator in an even more protective formation, closing off any spaces that his drones could use to enter and disable the generator.