“I hate driving these things.” Sparrow grumbled. “If Ms Mycroft was going to pay for rent a special car for a job, couldn’t she have gotten somethin’ nice?”
The car was white, with a charming green and red stripe by the rear door, for visibility. It was also a few rounded edges away from being nothing so complex as a rounded metal crate. Sparrow’s own ride had had a nice deep back seat, at least when the driver’s was pulled forward as far as it could go, and Jude had enjoyed the extra foot room.
“I’m not a big fan of them either,” Jude noted, unwrapping a fabric pile on his lap which clinked slightly. “But this is how Ms Mycroft wants things done and I know better than to expect better results ignoring her.”
“What the heck you even doing back there, Jude? It sounds like you got some plumbing parts.”
“Hm?” Jude asked, continuing to unwrap, before producing some bright, shiny tool rendered in hot pink and with yellow stripes around the base.
“The thingy you got there.” Sparrow said, turning in his seat to point with one hand at the device.
“Eyes on the road, please, Sparrow. That’s proper safety. Do you mean the Halligan?” Jude asked, turning the device over and checking it in his hands.
“The hooligan?” Sparrow asked, trying to glance over his shoulder without turning his head.
“No, Halligan. Though funny thing, they do call it a hooligan in Britain-“
“What is it?”
The device was a bit under a meter long, but close to it. In Jude’s big hands, it didn’t look quite so large, while he screwed and dialled the pieces of the device together. One end looked like a a cross between a crowbar and a wingnut, flattened out and reinforced, and quite obviously sharpened. The other end had a sharp pick, and crosswise from that, some sort of flat edge, pointing off at a right angle to the pick. It was a strange looking construction.
Jude looked down at the device, turning it over in his hand. It didn’t clink or rattle – if there was a loose part on the whole device, it didn’t make itself known. The pins and alan keys he kept wrapped in the same fabric for Just In Case clinked while he set it aside. “Halligan tool. Firefighters use it for forcible entry and exit.”
“Looks pretty cruel, man.” Sparrow tried to not think of that length of metal being swung around like some sort of slasher movie tool.
“Huh.” Jude looked up and down the length of metal in his hand, at the flat head and the sharp pike-like spike jutting out the side. “I imagine it could be.”
“Hey, Jude?” Sparrow asked, leaning back in his seat. “You uh… you ain’t gunna get all hurty with that thing here? I mean, I’m kinda… I know you do what you gotta do, but –”
“Don’t worry about it, Sparrow.” Jude murmured, fishing out his phone, setting it between the front seats. A few taps and it was dialling, speaker phone on – until a crisp voice spoke through it.
“Good afternoon Sparrow, Jude.”
“Good morning, Ms Mycroft.” Sparrow chirped, happily rolling over Jude’s similar greeting. “You got a dinner order?”
“Good idea,” Ms Mycroft murmured. “But no.” A moment later, she resumed, “Maybe later. For now, I’m just here to observe the capture of the robbers.”
Sparrow drummed his fingers on the wheel. “I’m trusting you on this one, Ms Mycroft but I’m really not happy ‘bout getting the attention of the police, you know…”
“It’s alright. We shouldn’t be interfacing with the police at all here.”
“Who’s we –” Sparrow started.
“And you’re sure that the thieves are going to strike this car?” Jude asked, setting the bar down on the seat next to him, his coat over it.
“Jude, one day you will learn to stop asking me are you sure.” Ms Mycroft’s voice could be described as withering, but then, so could a flamethrower.
“There are a lot of moving parts here, Ms Mycroft,” Jude murmured. “After all—”
“Car in front’s put on its hazard lights.”
“Sparrow, do look at Jude and try to make it a smug expression,” Ms Mycroft said. “I will wait here.”
The driver’s door opened, and out stepped a figure with a smartphone in their hand. Black balaclava, black boots, two padded layers of pants, black sweaters. They moved like a mascot, arms in tight at the sides. Elbows pinched against the midriff, tapping the hand holding the smartphone into the other gloved hand as they walked. Jude couldn’t help but notice the mannerism. Reminded him of a boxer, trying to keep blood flowing to their hands. The figure reached the window, and leant down, tapping on the glass, looking in to Sparrow.
“Excuse me, don’t mean to be a bother. We’ll make this nice and quick. Would you and your passenger mind dreadfully opening up your pockets?”
Sparrow shrunk back against his chair, drawing a breath. “I only got one fare,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder. “I’ve just started…”
“Pockets, please.” The figure said. “Right now there’s a high powered sniper rifle… ah.” They pointed down to Sparrow’s chest, where the bright red dot rested. “Trained on you. Let’s not make this complicated.”
A moment later, Sparrow had forty dollars, folded and wadded into the figure’s hands, hands on the wheel. “I don’t have a float yet – this guy was gunna pay by electronic, you see…” he muttered, head down nervously.
“It’s okay. You’re just doing your job,” the figure said, sauntering along to the back door. The red dot flickered across the back seat for a moment, hesitating, trying to find a firing solution – of course – before pointing at Jude’s shoulder. The figure rapped on the window. “Excuse me, sir.”
Jude rolled the window down of the yellow cab, and leant to the door. “Yes?”
“Would you dreadfully mind emptying your pockets? We’re in a bit of a rush here, and the rif-OOF-”
Jude opened the door sharply into the figure, reaching through the door to grab their shirts in front. With a tense arm, he hauled, and pulled the shorter figure in through the window, even as he opened it up, throwing the person bodily into the footwell of the other chair. Grabbing the coat on the seat next to him, he threw it down onto them, then planted his boot on the squirming, yelling pile, grabbing the tool from underneath. “Swing us around, Sparrow!” he yelled, closing the door.
Handbrake, wheel, gas, and the taxi cab practically jumped. Rather than try and wrestle the car in front for space, though, Sparrow mounted the kerb, swept the boxy taxi-cab up so Jude’s door was just by the trunk of the other car.
Jude elbowed the door open again, swung it wide, and then, swung out that metal tool of his, which bit into the barrel lock of the trunk with a vivid, painful scrnch! sound. The spike bit down into the lock, and Jude punched the device down at the end nearest the lock, and with a moment of protest, the car’s mechanism yielded. Another hit, and the trunk popped – showing a startled looking figure dressed in yellow and brown, lying in the trunk holding an air rifle.
Ping! A shot hit Jude’s shoulder then arced off into the nowhere, as Jude grabbed the figure, bodily, and threw them into the car onto the struggling pile under his foot. Tool from lock, door slammed shut, and Jude opened his mouth, only to hear Ms Mycroft speaking a moment before him:
“Sparrow, get out now. There’s a patrol coming a lane over.”
The cab swept across the snow-covered sidewalk, and thudded down into the lane the second car blocked. A fishtail sweep that almost scraped a bare wall, and they were off, leaving behind an open-trunked car with its hazard lights flashing, no occupants at all, and an air rifle on the road underneath it.
Inside the car, things were a little different.
“Alright, take a right. The road should be less-travelled.” The phone said.
“Wait, what?” Sparrow grunted. “That’s a dead end. That’s why it’s less travelled!”
“That works out well enough. You can all walk together from there to your car.”
And that’s when the newest passenger’s raised voice offered their opinion. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU CRAZY FU— ”
“Ms Mycroft?” Jude asked, struggling to keep the two figures in the back seat. One of them – the brown, purple-haired one who was crouching against the locked door, nervous as a mouse. The other, however, was roughly fifteen fists and two meters of attitude. Three times, they’d hit Jude in the chest, and once in the jaw, all hard enough to meaningfully hurt, despite the size difference.
“THIS IS KIDNAPPING, YOU PIECE OF SHI—” they yelled , voice growing louder and higher.
“No it’s not,” came Ms Mycroft’s voice. “In two blocks’ time, this car will stop, the doors will open and you and your accomplice will be free to leave at your own will.”
“Wait, what.” They said, leaning back, sitting on the seat, body blocking between themself and their cohort, protecting Jude with their whole self, fists up, kneeling on the seat. Good form, too.
“My name is Ms Mycroft,” said the phone. “And I have a business proposition for you that doesn’t involve stealing from drug couriers.”
The masked figure whipped around and glared down at the phone. “How the – how did you know that?”
“Ah, I see I was not clear. My name is Ms Mycroft.”
“What’s… what’s that mean.”
The brown person – girl? Boy? Jude couldn’t get a good read on them – tapped the other figure on the shoulder and leant up, whispering in the masked figure’s ear. A moment later, the pair hunkered back… with the masked, wrapped figure leaning back, still fists up, still defensively in front of the other.
The car hummed to a stop, pulled down a dead end alleyway. Sparrow had his hands on the wheel, but held himself stiff, like he didn’t want to look into the back seat for fear of what was going on back there. “… Jude, everything cool back there…?”
“It is.” Jude said. “Unlock the doors. Let them go.”
“…Eris…” murmured the smaller brown thief.
“Shhht!” the other grunted, leaning back against them. “Don’t… I mean, jeeze.”
The doors clicked. Sparrow hopped out of the car, tucking the keys in his pocket, and Jude hoisted open his door, stepping out. Reaching in, he picked up the fabric and the Halligan tool and his phone. “We’re going to go see Ms Mycroft now. If you want to meet her, this is your chance.”
Sparrow loved visiting Ms Mycroft’s. The place was like something out of a Disney set. It was lavish to the point of the ridiculous but the exterior of the building looked dingy enough to blend in amongst the apartment buildings. Like someone had hollowed out a city block and hidden a palace in the middle of it.
The first moment out of the car had been a bit tense, truth be told. But then the pair of thieves had talked, sitting in the car, and a moment later, emerged. They really seemed to be a pair of old friends – the taller one, with the dark skin, purple hair, and no mask, had been very meek, shy to the point where their friend had introduced them.
“I’m Eris,” she’d said, pulling off the balaclava and throwing it back into the car. “This is Tally.” She’d grumbled, throwing a black sweater into the cab. “And way I figure you owe us an explanation for how you know what you do, kay? So that’s why we’re going with you.”
Sparrow hadn’t minded. Eris looked like the kind of girl who’d been born middle-finger first.
They met together in the drawing room – which didn’t make sense to Sparrow, he’d never seen Ms Mycroft draw anything, let alone need a whole room for it, but whatever rich folk wanted to call things, they were allowed to. He stood out in the back, trying to keep his mouth shut.
Ms Mycroft was… scary. Very, very cool, but scary. She always left Sparrow in mind of a spider or a praying mantis, some sort of slightly unworldly creature that knew the world totally differently to him. Hearing her explain her position to the thieves was strange, too.
“Each robbery involved a drug courier taking a large amount of money. This is why they didn’t press particularly hard when dealing with the police – and you mugged the drivers to make it look more like a typical theft.” Ms Mycroft said, holding up a fingertip. “Really, we need to be thankful to our Oklahoman friends – it isn’t much that’s important enough to draw Mukogee people all the way to New England. Id’ have to have been quite a large amount of money.”
“So you’ve been juking the same information Tally has?” Eris asked, clenching her fists. “You better not have been hacking us—”
“Oh goodness, no, I don’t hack.”
“Then how do you know all that?” Tally asked.
“Inference from available information. Everything makes sense, if you but sift enough information from enough angles.”
“I just… you don’t hack?”
“No, it’s never been my gift. Logical inference from existing data in controlled spaces is easy. Hacking is… messy. The internet is a useful tool for bringing me information, but I’ve no taste for reaching into the plumbing to determine what does and doesn’t work inside it.”
“So… so… how did you know?!”
Mycroft leant forwards on the desk, steepling her fingertips and looking between the two. “Young dear, I think you will find I am Laplace’s succubus. It’s the domain of the technical expert to be convinced that their area of expertise is the font of all knowledge. You are aware that there are ways to gather information that have nothing to do with the internet, yes?”
“… Yesssss…” Tally said, slightly sulky.
“You’re a left-handed typist and you leave your fingertip idling on the j key. You like to use the right hand control key with your pinky finger. You don’t eat regularly enough, sleep enough, and you’re dreadfully afraid of being judged by the people around you. You didn’t fear repercussions from criminals in your excursions, you feared interaction with the police, but you let Eris’ desire to do ‘the right thing’ overwhelm that concern, because you are deeply loyal to the people who respect your identity. Tell me if you see me producing an iPad anywhere here.”
Tally was as bleached as they could be, considering. Expression visibly shocked, mouth open, showing teeth. “I don’t… I mean, that’s not hidden information –”
“I gained all of that when you walked in here.” Ms Mycroft said. “You are a technical expert, Tally. You look to computers and devices and use them to make sense of the world. I am a technical expert as well, of sorts, but my technical expertise is omniscience.” The blonde woman tilted her head and looked to Eris. “You’ve some technical skill too. I want to say a safe designer but that’s a niche job for someone so young, so I’m going to suggest… professional locksmith.”
Eris’ expression screwed up. “How. Don’t get smart, just how?”
Ms Mycroft sat back again, gesturing with her fingertip. “Tally’s fingernails. Both thumbnails trimmed very short, right hand’s pinky finger curled in against the heel of the hand while they’re anxious. Despite that, the pointer finger on the right hand is slightly notched, as if regularly tapped against a piece of plastic that yields as much as it, and there’s a small callus on their left hand by the base of the wrist, probably from the use of a mouse.”
“… And me?”
“You modified the trunk of the car to allow Tally an avenue to fire the air rifle and use a laser pointer. That indicates some skill with machining hardware. Your fingertips are very fine, your fingernails trimmed down low, but there are still traces of grease around the edges. I might have suspected special effects work such as uses lubricant heavily – but you are clearly not in a location that employs a great number of practical effects artists. Locksmith is the more common field of expertise, and that’s a field in an area with a history of organised crime that has no doubt been asked to walk on both sides of the law in very small, forgiveable ways.”
Eris folded her arms across her chest, glaring. “How the f—”
“It’s a parlour trick, Eris.” Ms Mycroft shook her head, turning in her chair, away from the little group arrayed before her. “Perhaps centuries ago, I’d have been some sort of novelty, a woman who could process shipping information or manage accountancy at levels higher than anyone else. But this?” she gestured. “I gleaned that information from you… but if we gave Tally fifteen minutes and my phone, I am sure she could find such things about Jude, or Sparrow.”
Jude cleared his throat.
“On the working hand, however, that we are in an information age makes this… talent useful. There are all these systems moving information around… and if one were perhaps so inclined, these channels of information could be put to some use.”
“So what are we for? Tell you things you don’t know?” Eris asked.
Ms Mycroft laughed at that. “Well, I suppose that’s… possible.” She shook her head, resting her chin on her hand, tapping her delicate digit against her skin. “No. I do not need you to be my mind or my memory. I need you, and people like you, to be my hands. Out in the world.”
“Um, why don’t you, I mean, can you not leave the house for some reason?”
The blonde woman tilted her head the other direction, looking Tally up and down. “No, I just don’t want to.”
Standing up, Ms Mycroft picked up a carrot from her desk. “Jude, I imagine our new co-workers will want to make arrangements for contact and contracts. You do handle that.”
“Hey! Who says we’re going to work for you?” Eris asked, hand on her hip. “I didn’t agree to nothing.”
Ms Mycroft stopped in the doorway, turning to Tally. “Tally, create a shopping list for your front-end. Right now, I have on order for several million hours of cloud CPU processing, without a financial trace. You’ll obviously need some devices to interact with that, and I don’t know, pen-test your bitcoins, or whatever it is you do to jam with the Console Cowboys.” Then, she shrugged. “As for you, Eris, if you don’t want to work for me, that’s fine. If you do, you will need some infrastructure, and I’m sure you and Jude can work out what would serve you best in that regard.” She looked to Jude. “Do try to keep her from running all over you, Jude.”
“Alright, Ms Mycroft.”
“Good boy. You may go.”
Jude adjusted his coat, leading the little trail out from the drawing room. “You have some time in the next few days for us to discuss this… shopping trip, young ladies?”
“Um.” Tally all-but-whispered.
“… Yes?” Jude asked. Sparrow leant around his side, watching Tally’s expression.
“I’m not a young lady.” They said.
“Young man?” Asked Jude, surprised.
“N-no, not that either.”
Everyone in the room took in that information. Jude shrugged. “Young Tally?”
“That works for me.” Tally said, a slightly relieved smile.
“Sorry,” Jude said.
“It’s … eh. It’s okay. Lotsa people get it wrong.” They murmured, hands stuffed into empty pockets.
“That doesn’t make it okay.” Jude said. Down in the kitchen, there’d be hot drinks and buttered toast. Sparrow looked forwards to those moments, working for Ms Mycroft… and hey. He’d have some friends who weren’t giant swamp monsters, it seemed.