The Great Planet Heist cover

The Great Planet Heist

 

It’s said you should live within your means, and I do. In fact, sometimes, out of necessity, I live well below my means to avoid being caught. I’m a professional thief. Now, a good thief can gather quite a bit in a brief time, then make their exit before the victim becomes aware of his loss. Those thieves eventually slip up, get caught. An exceptional thief, however, can make thefts look like someone has simply misplaced an item or two. That’s why I limit my acquisitions to very small, profit-dense things … except this time: We’re going to steal a planet.

After listening to and digesting his plan, I leaned back in the overstuffed club chair that embraced me in this private room, upstairs in a randomly selected pub. Thief Rule number 34: never meet in the same place twice. Over my eighty-year career, I’ve accumulated a raft of professional rules to guide my endeavors. I never deviate.

“So, you think we can pull this off?”

Bronson paced back and forth, a single finger wagging in the air, seeming to converse with the corners of the well-appointed room.

“Certainly, without a doubt, as long as you and I are the only ones to know all the details … and the end game. The other necessaries will only know their minor parts. We’ll keep them unaware of the other players. By using our alter-personas, we can ensure they won’t know who we really are if they can even track us.”

“You’re going to dust off those old relics? That will be a challenge. We used those fifty years ago to steal that orbital art museum. Quite the haul, that was. But so much has changed in the ID Track systems since then. We’re going to need much deeper, verifiable backstories, record modifications, banking histories—the whole nine layers.”

“I’ve got a down-on-her-luck fiction writer working on the avatar frameworks. She thinks it’s for a ghost-writing project that will include input from multiple authors.”

Cautiously, I said, “All right, let’s start phase one and see how it goes before we reach the point of no return. I see you’ve included several honey-traps in this scheme.”

“Yeah, I’m sticking to what’s been proven effective by the old masters.”

“Have you a patsy in mind?”

“I have. A very devious and delicious choice.”

✽✽✽

Two years later aboard the starship Venture II

 

“What do you mean it’s gone? Was it destroyed?”

The third mate hated standing before his captain, especially when bringing unpleasant news.

“No, sir. There’s no debris … and it’s not just the planet … The entire system seems to have vanished. It’s not where it’s supposed to be.”

✽✽✽

 

The Minister of Transportation electronically gaveled in the meeting. “We have a quorum. This meeting of the Navigation Board will now come to order. Mister Secretary, you may dispense reading of the minutes from our last gathering.” Leaning into the camera, she continued, “In the interest of civility and order, members are reminded to use split screens when submitting interrogatories to the witnesses. First, we will hear from Director Helms. What has your department determined, and what action do you propose?”

Director Helms’s 3-D face projected from the board member’s screens. “As you know, there have been several ransom demands from different quarters. All except one have turned out to be opportunists. Those have been removed, neutered, so to speak, and—”

“Yes, yes, yes … We know all that,” the sour-faced minister interjected. “Skip your opening remarks and get on with what you’re doing to unlock the navigation system. Every day, every hour that passes, panic grows. Economies are cracking.”

“Honored Minister, our initial attempt to correct the single anomaly caused ten other systems to vanish from the records, or, rather, their location. With much difficulty, we were able to restore them from an unlinked backup we had sequestered.”

“We’re all very sure your people are working diligently. Get to the point.”

“Our second attempt resulted in dozens of star systems randomly moving in odd directions. Of course they weren’t, it just appeared so.”

“And?”

“Madam Chair, we recommend paying the ransom.”

Murmurs swelled from distant board members. None had been willing to chance a voyage from their planet to the Navigation Administrative Hub.

“Order, order. If you have a question or comment, enter them in the loop for sorting. We will then proceed in regular fashion.”

“Your honor, if I might add, we have a blank database waiting in the wings. Once we receive the unlock code, all source data will be copied. Though, none of the programming will be transferred to, uh, prevent contamination. If this ever happens again, this precaution will shorten recovery time to a few hours.”

Heavily, making a slowly intoned prediction, the Minster addressed the director. “It had better not. And, if it does, I have a mind to turn your department over to the Trillians. And you know what that would mean.”

The director’s already damp forehead became even more so, eyes casting about as if to find an exit … any exit.

Yes, ma’am … I do.”

“Fine, then. Next up is the director of security. Keep it short, Gerald. Time is not something we have in abundance.”

✽✽✽

 

Two weeks later

 

“What is the meaning of this, Gerald? Why have you barged into my office with your goons?”

“Madam Minister, please stand. You are under arrest for high crimes and treason.”

“What are you talking about? This is ridiculous. LEAVE my office immediately!” The transportation minister thumbed the intercom to her outer office—no response.

In a softer, almost consolatory tone, the director of security informed the minister, “Camille, we’ve tracked the ransom payment to several accounts you control. The evidence against you is unequivocal and substantiated. Your private trial begins in two hours.” Pausing, he added, “There will be no publicity.”

✽✽✽

 

Three months later

“Well, Bronson. That turned out well for us … and for them. I see they’ve recovered all the ransom money. Made a big splash in the media.”

“Yes. It was a very well-executed operation. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Musing, Bronson added, “You know, we made so much money by shorting those selected stocks I’m going to retire from public life, disappear. Perhaps start a new career. Not that I’ll need the credits.”

“I can understand. You never did like your first name, did you Gerald?”

After Gerald returned to his ship, I made a call. Once he’s retired, off the net, my contracted assassin will make that decision a permanent one. Thief Rule number five: Secrets only remain so if only one person knows them. Rule number one is never trust a thief. Gerald has been sloppy. I’ve seen his plans to murder me.