Philo's Stories

The Witch of the Wires
8,000 words — download EPUB (250kB)

as Dan steps out of a bar one night, he nearly slips on the rain-soaked sidewalk
he catches himself and unfurls his carbon fiber umbrella to try and stay dry during his short walk home
from down the practically empty street he just started to cross, he hears a skidding of tires and what must be gunshots
in fear, he steps backwards and falls onto the sidewalk, all his efforts to stay dry coming to naught
an armored truck with what he thinks is the logo of a bank speeds past and skids around the corner, right through the crosswalk he was about to cross at
a guard leans out the passenger side window, shooting off a few shots at what Dan turns and discovers are three sports cars with bright neon underglow whose passengers are firing wildly at the truck
after the cars drift past, spraying water from the wet streets behind them, he slowly stands up
he folds his umbrella back up, since it's of no use anymore; he's soaked to the bone

as he finally crosses the street, he looks down and sees something gray on the ground out of the corner of his eye
he turns it around in his hand and realizes that it's a high-capacity data cartridge that must've fallen out of the armored truck
he puts it in his pocket and hopes that he won't come to regret it

he awakes the next morning with his head pounding from a monstrous headache and a bad feeling in his side, as though he'd slept on a rock
he rolls over and groans as the "rock" stabs him in the side again
it seems to be made entirely from sharp angles and corners, and no matter which way he rolls, it stabs into him
with a groan, he reaches for the pocket of the jeans he slept in and finds the data cartridge he'd hoped was just part of a bad dream
he turns it over in his hands, staring at it as though it might fade from existence at any moment

his deck powers up with a synthesized musical jingle and he plugs the unmarked datacart in
it's completely full of encrypted data, and nothing on his computer can make any sense of it, not even his prized pirate copy of Universal Decryptron 4.2.1

with his head still pounding from his hangover, he tries to think about what's happening
"it *must* be valuable if it was so encrypted and fell out of an armored truck, right?" he thinks to himself
several minutes of pained thinking later, he knows what he needs to do and who he needs to call

her motorcycle skids to a stop out front of his apartment a few minutes later
as he hears the sound of her boots stomping up the stairs, he hastily puts on a shirt that hasn't obviously been slept in
"what have you gotten yourself tangled up in this time, Dan?" she asks, skipping the pleasantries
he struggles for words for a moment before replying
"what would you do if you, uhhh, hypothetically, ended up with a datacart belonging to a major bank?"
"well, what's on this hypothetical card?"
"that's the other half of this hypothetical problem: it's encrypted with a cipher nobody's ever seen before"
"hmmmm.. no data pirate would buy something like that without the key and the bank wouldn't trust whoever found it and would never pay a reward for its return. I don't see any way through this without cracking the encryption, but if that could be done I can probably find *someone* to buy it"
"hypothetically." she adds, giving him a knowing look
any hope of maintaining the hypothetical long gone, he slides the cartridge across the kitchen table to her without saying a word

taking the train into Boston, walking through the warren of tunnels to change trains, and simply walking across some of the tracks always feels to Em like stepping back in time
making this trip without the easy escape plan her motorcycle offers wasn't her first choice, but neither was getting trapped in the unending sea of traffic on the highway north
after checking and rechecking maps covered in strange Massachusetts place names (what's a "Braintree"?), she catches the right train even further north to a town whose name was almost certainly lifted from one in England
as soon as she had the cart in her hand, she had known who she had to take it to: Isidora, the "witch of the wires", whose skills were definitely worth the long trip

as she reaches the top of the escalator, Em checks her datatab to make sure she's in the right place
from a quick look around, it'd be hard to tell what century she'd surfaced in; the quaint houses looking even older than the warren of subway tunnels in the city
this New England town common definitely seems like it could be the home of a witch, but it seems a bit out of place for the home of who she was assured was the best hacker on the east coast
heading past the trees that ring the common, she rings the bell on an apartment building
"seekst thou the Witch of the Wires?" a voice asks over the intercom, trying to sound dramatic and almost immediately bursting out laughing
"yes, a knight of the silver steed seeks the knowledge of a witch" she replies, leaning more into the fantasy trappings than she really needs to and hearing a laugh in return
as she walks up the stairs, Em thinks to herself that a witch would find this no problem and would just fly up on a broom

a girl in a flowing purple dress greets her at the door and beckons her to sit down on a couch behind her
when he sees a terminal older than the two of them combined on her kitchen table, she knows that this witch has the spells she needs

she hands her the datacart and the witch turns it over in her hands and looks at the 7 digit alphanumeric code embossed into it
she scratches the plastic with the nail of a finger half covered by a fingerless lace glove and asks
"you got this from Banccorp, didn't you?"
"h-how did you know?"
"only they're paranoid enough to shell out for these carts"

the datacart slides smoothly into a dock next to her keyboard with a soft click
she types some commands, trying to make sense of this cartridge
as she watches the witch in motion, Em notices a band of black anodized aluminium with a flowery design on her forearm
her hands fly over the keyboard with nigh-inhuman dexterity and move to hammer on a key for some arcane command that hasn't been present on standard keyboards for almost half a century
her motion is made possible by high-performance artificial muscles moving synthetic tendons underneath her skin guaranteed for a million actuations without service
her poor ergonomics through years of dysphoria and constantly dissociating into computers finally caught up with her years later and she had to have her tendons replaced, and she took that opportunity for a bit of an upgrade

"it isn't anything standard, which is about right for Banccorp" she says, more for Em's benefit than her own
her fingers abruptly stop flying as she remembers, puts another datacart into the dock, and types some more
she mutters something under her breath before asking the girl looking on with awe a question
"you don't need to keep the original datacart, right?"
"uhh.. why do you ask?"
"I have a spell that can cut the computation down from a week to about half an hour, but it destroys the chip in the process"
"wait.. does that mean the key was inside all along?"
"no, just enough to let me guess 10% of the key and get the rest from publicly available background radiation readings"
"what does background radiation have to do with this?"
"it's truly random, and the data from the measurement station in NYC doesn't cost them anything, but that means it's also free for us. based on the date parameters and serial number inside the chip, I can find when the key was generated and check the radiation readings from then"
she pauses for a moment before reassuring her that she's already backed up the datacart's contents and takes the datacart she just put in out of the dock and hands it to her
she turns the new datacart over in her hand and puts in the pocket of her leather jacket for safekeeping
she didn't even think to bring a deck to slot it into to check, and she trusts the witch who is rapidly casting a spell on her heart

from her closet, almost entirely full of servers, she takes a lab coat
its scientific appearance strikes a contrast with her pointed witch hat, which stays firmly on her head
she turns on the fan above the stove, which is powerful enough to make her hair whip in the breeze, and unscrews the cap of a brown glass bottle with a label stained to the point of illegibility
a cloud of acrid smoke emerges from dissolving plastic and silicon and is quickly drawn away by the jet engine-like power of the vent fan as she uses an eyedropper to put a single drop of fuming nitric acid on the datacart's bus controller/encryption chip

she winces a bit as she puts a contact lens in one eye and feels its lens array pull itself into focus as she stares at the exposed silicon die
she always loves the feeling of power she gets from augmenting her body, and this lens is no exception
"3, f, 1, 9, 2, e" she mutters to herself as she counts rows of burnt efuses and types them in, the hexadecimal digits coming naturally to her
with a clack of the keyboard, she hits a key and the terminal beeps twice a moment later, confirming that the check bits add up and that she entered the correct value
she types a bit more, fingers flying over the yellowed keyboard, and sits back in her chair to wait for her closet full of servers to guess the rest of the key

as she watches the witch lean back, Em notices faintly glowing blue lines stretching down her back exposed by the cut of her dress and can't help but be mesmerized
in her eyes, their patterns call to mind wings, as though they could glow brighter and rise from her back to launch Isidora into the air
she fails to break her gaze and blushes as Isidora turns around
"oh, you like my lights?~ I have more~" she says, subtly pointing to her breasts
she pauses for a moment, blushes a bit, and stammers out a sentence in a way that's clear isn't one of the few flirtations she's practiced
"I.. uhh.. really like your outfit, especially the leggings"
"thanks! they're my motorcycling leggings and they can redirect energy from a crash. .. wanna try them on?"
Isidora's face positively lights up with excitement
"yes! wanna try on my outfit? you were eyeing me up, and maybe it was the dress, or maybe it was me"
"or maybe it was both~"
the witch stands up and takes Em's hand

Em blushes even harder than she thought she ever could as she watches Isidora step out of her dress
her body is beautiful and it's clear that every inch of her body was *her* choice, not her genetics'
the glowing lines she hinted at earlier accentuate her breasts and her curves and must've been very expensive to have implanted
on her right thigh, she spots a rectangle that had been hidden under her skirt with what seems to her to be a complicated latch
"you like my estradiol pump~?" she asks, undoing the latch and revealing a pair of cylindrical ports, one of which is occupied by a vial
"of course, I also use it for more fun things than estrogen" she continues, hinting at a whole world of synthetic hormones, military-designed drugs, and whatever other probably-illegal pleasures she could load into vials for timed intramuscular injection

Em takes off her tank top, showing off a black high-performance bra with gold lines reminiscent of circuit boards
as she moves, it keeps her breasts stable as though gimbal-locked, the fabric constantly making tiny adjustments on its own

blushing, the almost-naked witch falls backwards onto the bed, where Em soon joins her, her smile inviting a kiss and the happy noise she makes inviting another
she traces the luminescent lines that run up and down the witch's body and Isidora reaches for her breasts, setting off her bra's accelerometers and making it jiggle her breasts like crazy
giggling, Em leans in for another kiss and another and and another
they roll around together and Em lands on top of Isidora with a smile on her face

the rectangular outline of the estradiol pump disappears under Em's motorcycling leggings as she pulls them on
she walks a bit around the room, smiling from how the leggings hold her tight and how protected she feels
she runs towards Em and trips, but she barely feels it
the leggings absorb the blow and convert it into a slight burn mark on the carpet that Isidora can't help but laugh at
she puts on her leather jacket and stares at her long hair spilling over her shoulders and down her back in the mirror

Em pulls the shimmering purple dress on and smiles at Isidora's touch on her back as she helps her with the zipper
she does a quick twirl and Isidora kisses her again, resorting to that rather than trying to find the words for how cute she is
as she admires herself in the mirror, Isidora puts her witch hat on her head, making her blush even more
"now it's your turn to cast a spell on me~" Isidora says

Em starts her spell with a smile and another twirl, the borrowed dress flaring outwards
she reaches for Isidora's shoulders and pushes her onto the bed so quickly that the energy-redirecting leggings leave the faintest of burn marks on the bedsheets
she swings one leg wide over Isidora, trapping the now spellbound witch between her thighs
Em runs her finger up Isidora's chin, whispers what could've been magic words to a spell, and then leans in for a kiss to silence her moan
their kiss is interrupted by a triumphant beep from the other room, and a few moments later, a very disheveled witch emerges from her bedroom, trailed by Em
she sits down and hammers on her terminal's return key, banishing the single character blinking in the corner and returning to a screen full of text
"oooh, this looks interesting" she remarks about what she's decrypted
"take a look" she beckons her companion to see the fruits of her work
a letter in an ASCII approximation of Banccorp's letterhead fills the screen
"an insurance policy for a trillion yen? what else's on there?" Em reads and asks
Isidora types a quick command, sighs, and gets out a deck that looks far more modern than the terminal but almost unused

on its screen (one that can display more than just amber letters in a void, unlike the terminal), she pulls up a 3D model of a building
as she pans around it, Em recognizes it as Banccorp's tower in New York City and her eyes positively light up
"ooooh, yeah. this'll let us crack their vault right open" Em says
"you know, my crew could use a hacker if you want to leave your witch house and come on a bit of an adventure" she whispers to Isidora
her face breaks into a smile
"will you kiss me if I do~?" she whispers back
"of course~"
"then you've got the best damn hacker around, or at least the gayest"

it takes many trips down from Boston for Em's gang to fully come to trust Isidora, and even more for them to come up with a coherent plan
they've stayed safe by staying small and secret, and another person, even someone Em trusts completely, is a massive risk, so they try to keep at least *some* things a secret for the moment

Em puts a blindfold over Isidora's eyes, kisses her, puts a helmet on her head, and tells her to hold on tight
her passenger rests her head on her shoulder as they speed off and drifts off to sleep, safe against her pilot
she doesn't know how far she held on for, but it was definitely a fair distance

she wakes up in a garage with Em and two unfamiliar faces looking at her with a lesbian gaze they don't even try to conceal
the first is a very tall woman whose blue hair almost reaches the flannel shirt tied around her waist and the second has shorter hair and a pair of welding goggles pulled up onto her forehead
the short-haired woman's tank top, which has a flaming wheel surrounded by Japanese characters on it, shows off her strong arms, and Isidora looks away quickly before she catches her staring
she'd expected the "Hyperthermite Gang" she'd seen on her feeds to be bigger and more organized than 3 women, twice that many motorbikes, and a box of demolition gear stolen from a railroad, but she wasn't *too* surprised

as they size her up, nobody really able to think of what to say, she gets nervous
the woman with welding goggles shatters the silence by grabbing Isidora's shoulders and shoving her against a wall with her strong arms
"tell me, miss witch, what brings you here? what makes you think you've got what it takes?" she asks, staring the witch down
Isidora is too flustered to answer and her breathing grows heavier
"i.. uhh.. wanted to uhhh.. iiiiii wanted to join the best and thought you could take things to a whole new level with a bit of .. spellcraft" she replies, caught by a wind of confidence that came out of nowhere
she reaches for the tattoos of gears on the mechanic's shoulders, as though preparing to shove the much stronger girl against the opposite wall
as she does this, the tall girl, whose name Isidora later learns is Alice, chuckles a bit to herself
"she's bloody insane; i like her." she whispers to Em, who smiles and nods in agreement

Katie checks the chain on a motorcycle seemingly cobbled together from parts of a dozen others, no two panels the same color
"you're taking her out on the 5? you're sure you wanna do that?" asks Alice
"I wanna see how she panics. we can't have someone who lets go when she gets scared, can we?"
"the 5?" Isidora asks, scared, but more than a little intrigued
"short for 5 hundred horsepower at peak. I had to build an entirely custom drivetrain just to get that to the wheel" Katie replies, proud of her monstrous creation
before she has a chance to get more scared, Em shoves a helmet with cat ears on her head and beckons her to climb on behind Dr. Frankenstein, electromechanical mad scientist

as they whip around the corner heading out of the garage, Isidora could swear that she feels her organs sliding past each other from the acceleration
her excitement as the speedometer climbs past 100 miles per hour quickly displaces her discomfort and she smiles beneath her helmet's visor

on a moonlit stretch of empty highway outside of a city that Isidora doesn't even recognize, Katie pulls the bike into a wheelie, the massive torque of its motor overwhelming all else
the witch can't help but laugh with joy over the helmet mic, making her pilot laugh too

"I guess you *might* have what it takes, miss witch"

over the next few weeks, she comes to know the other women brought together by a shared love of fat stacks and fast bikes into the Hyperthermite Gang quite well
Alice had been a mild-mannered banker before she was falsely accused of fraud and fired from one of Banccorp's largest competitors for complaining about the company's lack of health coverage for transgender care
sure, it may have been blatant discrimination, but it effectively banned from her from the industry as a whole and she couldn't possibly afford to sue such a large bank
she traded in her boring career for a life of increasingly severe crimes and the Vespa she commuted to work on for a fast motorbike
her connections and knowledge of the financial system led her into money laundering, picking esoteric routes for money that others couldn't even conceive of while always staying one step ahead of the police

one night, she noticed an unfamiliar and beautiful motorbike parked out front of the lesbian bar she frequents
at the end of the bar, she found its rider: a strong woman named Katie who made her heart flutter from the first words they exchanged
she left the bar that night holding onto Katie on the back of that beautiful motorbike
the next week, Katie called in her racing buddy Em for help with demolition, and a few weeks later, they melted open their first bank vault together

their typical robbery is an elegant midnight dance
they blind the external security cameras by pointing bright lasers straight at them, overwhelming their night vision, smash the door, and toss in a smoke grenade, filling the bank branch with thick smoke
wearing heavy gas masks and powerful cyclopean night vision goggles that look like something out of a future that died with the end of the cold war, they make their way to the vault and take out the bolt with hyperthermite
by the time the smoke clears and the police show up, they're miles away, fast motorcycles faithfully carrying them into the night
they strike at random and very rarely, and always steal just less than what would trigger a full-scale investigation from the police, the bank, or the bank's insurer
they've never called themselves the "Hyperthermite Gang", never having any need to refer to themselves, but the media picked their method for their name

hyperthermite is a high-temperature flammable mixture used for welding rails and forcing things open that comes in a cylinder about two inches in diameter
most of the cylinder's width is taken up by a large drill bit, which is heated up by lighting the thermite and penetrates deep into anything it's pointed at

one cylinder in the perfect place and a swift hammer blow, and the bolt holding even the strongest vault door closed is toast
Em's smile is invisible under her gas mask, but her comrades know it's there as she pulls the door open
one clean cut through the shackle of the lock of the cash cage, and the three of them are shoving cash into duffel bags

of course, they can't just let a woman who's never driven a motorcycle or fired a gun before into their biker gang, no matter how gay she is
it takes a seemingly unending amount of training and practice before Katie is confident enough in Isidora's skills to be sure she can be part of the heist

Isidora takes control of a motorcycle for the first time in a large empty parking lot and doesn't even manage to make it a foot forwards before losing her balance and falling into Katie's waiting arms
her next try isn't that much more successful, but with her friends' patient help and occasional flustering compliments from Em, she gradually gets the hang of maintaining enough speed to stay stable
Alice sets up some traffic cones, and she tries to slalom between them, knocking some of them over
by the time the storm clouds in the distance become a danger of rain, she can consistently get through the course without destroying it
as she steps off the dinged-up bike she's practicing on, Em flips the visor of Isidora's helmet up and plants a kiss on her cheek, turning the visible slice of her face pink

the instant the light turns green, Isidora twists the throttle and the motorcycle responds instantly, rocketing forwards
she twists it further, sending even more power from the battery between her legs to the wheel behind her
Em, Alice, and Katie follow close behind, chasing the glowing pink cat ears on her helmet through the night
this is her first time driving out on the open road, and she loves every moment of it
the witch of the wires has found her broom.

Isidora watches as Katie removes the side panel of the bike that's become her broom to reveal a mess of wires and components, every cubic centimeter of space used up
she pulls out a circuit board entombed in clear plastic with several thick wires coming out of it and hands it to the girl who's just been drafted as her assistant for the day
"this one seems to be cutting out intermittently at high revs" Katie says
Isidora stares at the components on it and sees one she recognizes: a FPGA that she was part of the reverse engineering effort for
when she tells Katie this, her face lights up
it turns out that a hacked-together tool she wrote years back for debugging the chip has ended up as the de-facto standard among bike builders for changing tuning parameters and for copying the values used by Kawasaki

after much poking at the bike's innards and propping it up so the rear wheel spins in the air, they eventually find the problem with the motor controller and fix it with one of the more obscure functions of Isidora's debug tool
the two women high-five in celebration, and Isidora feels like a real technical witch again

Isidora's new dress looks like a hole in the gang's garage to the night sky outside, darker than any shadow could possibly be under the fluorescent lights
Em gazes at her new girlfriend and notices tiny silvery flecks and shines a flashlight on her, realizing what they are: tiny retroreflectors
she gives a twirl and the cloud of darkness flares outwards, melting Em's heart even more than hyperthermite can

"want to know the best part about it? it has pockets!" she says, her hands and forearms disappearing into them
"and it's the same fabric as your leggings, too!" she continues, very excited about her new dress, how great it looks on her, and how much it'll protect her
Em hugs her and changes her excitement's direction from the dress to her lovely girlfriend

Alice walks into the garage to grab something from her bike and walks in on the couple
"you two are so cute together!" she exclaims
"Izi, where did you get that dress? it looks so good on you" she asks a moment later
"I got it custom-made by a seamstress in Philly; I'll give you her number" the darkness-wearing witch replies

wearing the dress while driving her bike down back roads was everything she hoped it'd be with it sparkling slightly in the sunlight and fluttering a bit in the breeze
with it on, she feels powerful, like a witch soaring through the air on a broom, ready to cast a spell at any moment

Isidora holds on tight to Em with one arm as they swerve through city streets, aiming an airsoft pistol with her other hand
with a plink, she scores a direct hit on the tire of the former police cruiser Alice swerves around corners in
she tries to dodge as Alice returns fire, but fails, her shot hitting the ear of the catgirl helmet that has become her trademark among the gang
she fires another shot, but it goes wide and she frantically reloads her pistol

"are you so gay that it's throwing off your aim~?" Em asks as they come to a stop
"holding onto you, how couldn't I be?" her girlfriend replies

it takes even more trips down from Boston for them to come up with a plan based on the the catridge's contents
the documents from the cartridge are filled with details to prove to the insurance company that the money is adquately protected, and are an absolute treasure trove for a crew planning a heist
even with this inside knowledge, they all know it will still be incredibly dangerous, but nothing will beat the thrill of pulling it off or the instant wealth the heist promises
as the months go by, she gets more and more worried that something's changed inside the bank and that all her efforts have been for naught
even after the monumental cost of laundering that much money, each woman's share would be much more than the Hyperthermite Gang had stolen in total over its years of robberies

the witch readies her spells in Em's bedroom on a fall afternoon, taping long wires to her left leg to act as antennæ and strapping the holster for a pistol she hopes she won't need to use to her right
she zips up her dress and reaches into her right pocket for her chording keyboard
she types a command and the computer in her left pocket whispers to her through an earpiece hidden deep in her ear and confirms that the antennæ she taped to her leg are ready
they and the tiny radio connected to them should be enough to signal the rest of the crew from deep within the subterranean vault

beside her, Em hides her own weapons beneath a suit: pistols on each leg and several magazines taped to the small of her back
she's the business side of the startup they're pretending to be and Isidora is barely acting to play the role of a woman as awkward as she is skilled at programming
they know their application for a loan will be rejected by the notoriously stingy Banccorp, but it'll get them inside for a meeting and closer to their goal

"you know, these outfits will come in handy for a date night~" Isidora jokes in the cab ride to the bank
"is this not date night?" Em replies, raising a quizzical eyebrow

"you must have to be factory defualt to score a gig with the Banccorp crowd" Isidora thinks to herself as the most generic man either of them has ever seen meets them in the bank's marble and granite lobby
they ride up an elevator up to his office, going counterintuitively away from the basement vault

as Em discusses revenue and goes over a prospectus with the banker, Isidora looks distracted and fidgets with something in her pocket, chording away
her radio has no problem producing a complete copy of his ID card and one of his electronic car key just for the hell of it

they take the staff elevator down to the basement, Isidora looking around nervously, as though certain that they'll be caught
Em kisses her on the cheek to distract her, leaving a red lipstick mark on her cheek and a jumbled keysmash on her chording keyboard
she hears Katie's typed response in her ear: "lol gay"
their steps out of the elevator were a dance they practiced many times together that takes them to a network jack on the wall while keeping them clear of the cameras

two screws hit the floor and a cable is severed with a sharp snip
the witch's fingers move quickly to strip the end, splay the conductors apart, and crimp them down in a connector
she gives it an experimental tug before plugging a circuit board in and shoving the panel back into the wall
a quick fidget with her chording keyboard confirms that it's connected and some more furious typing downloads a program she spent weeks writing into the bank's systems
with that, they're invisible to the cameras and their dance is over, but that doesn't stop Isidora from taking Em's hand and twirling, her dress flaring outwards

the vault door looks more impressive in person than either of them had pictured it, but that doesn't deter them
Em reaches into her shirt, pulls a hyperthermite cylinder from between her breasts, and rips the cap off with her teeth, just to look and feel overly dramatic about it
she wedges it up against the massive bolt holding the vault shut and lights the fuse
as it melts through the bolt with a soft crackling sound, she kisses Isidora again
she breaks away from the kiss and fidgeting some more with her chording board, she checks her spells and breathes a sigh of relief after making sure that, as far as the security system is concerned, nothing has happened

with a tug from both robbers, the vault door smoothly swings open, and they gaze upon a trillion yen worth of Japanese banknotes, each emblazoned with the face of a long-dead man they've never heard of
Isidora grabs ahold of Em's shoulders, shoves her against the bed of money, and locks lips with her, ravenous for the touch of her skin against her own
Em responds with a hunger for touch of her own and her hands are under Isidora's dress before her back even hits the banknotes
laying on top of her, breasts pressed together, Isidora moves her hands down from Em's shoulders to her waist and reaches into her pants
with their lips still locked together, her only moan as the witch enchants her thighs, reaching around a heavy pistol holster, is a sharp inhalation

Em pulls her lips away to ask an important question
"we have time for this, right?"
"yeah, the truck and train are still both a ways out"
she takes her hand out of Em's pants and sits up to chord out a question and make entirely sure
"t minus 16 minutes until the train passes through and we can get the truck in without tripping the seismic detector" she confidently answers
"well, in that case," Em says, trailing off as Isidora grabs her thigh again

Em shoves Isidora off of her and slams her onto her back, smiling as she looks into her eyes from on top of her
Isidora lets out a moan as Em traces the lines on her body and calls her a slutty little witch
the slutty little witch thrusts her hips upwards almost involuntarily and she thrusts her back down onto the money, the two of them moving practically in unison

a moment later, after a particularly strong thrust, Isidora interrupts, out of breath
"fuck! fuck! fuck! shit! fuck!"
"did i go too hard? sorry"
"no, I want you to do that to me again, but that was too hard for here. we tripped the seismic detector."
"holy shit" Em laughs before remembering this is a bad thing
"fuck. can you cancel the alarm and stop the guards from coming?"
"no, it's a separate system encased in concrete and I didn't know we could even go that hard"
Isidora's breaths are shallow and fast as she tries and fails to think her way out of this

Em takes her hand, pulls her up, and runs for the hallway, closing the vault door behind her and hoping that the burn marks from the hyperthermite aren't too obvious
"vent. vent. where the fuck is the vent?" she mutters to herself as she pulls Isidora along
she finally sees one high on a wall and before Isidora realizes what's happening, she's climbed up on her shoulders and the grating clatters to the floor with a noise that seems infinitely loud to the scared witch
she pulls herself into the duct and beckons for her partner in crime to hand her the grating, which she does
she grabs onto her wrists and pulls her up, her shoes giving just enough traction against the wall to get in
they hold the grating in place with their fingers, hoping that they can't be seen

a wisp of a sharply sweet smell reminds them of the vent's true purpose and they pull on gas masks, Em doing it effortlessly and Isidora fumbling away crucial seconds
in the narrow duct, they squeeze against each other, breathing slowly in tandem as their skin grows sticky from sweat and the cloud of neurotoxin engulfing them
minutes pass as the air grows thick and pungent with the deadly fumes, as they lay face to face in the yellow cloud, beads of each other's sweat wiping away the stinging film like ice on a burn
after what feels like an eternity, a heavily armed security robot rolls past, sensor domes spinning and searching for intruders
it doesn't even slow down as it passes the vent and the breeze in its wake kindles a flame of hope in their hearts, pounding so loudly as to drown out even Isidora's earpiece
another eternity passes before she's calmed down enough to hear confirmation that the alarm has been cleared
she breathes a sigh of relief, almost inaudible under her gas mask

they pull themselves out of the vent and Isidora checks how much longer before the truck can drive down the ramp to the loading dock and get them out of the bank
"t minus 2 minutes to when we open the ramp" she says, still sounding nervous from her brush with death
none of her previous hacking jobs had put her life on the line like this, but she was definitely coming around to the thrill of it
out on the streets above, their crew's truck is circling the block, waiting for the ramp crossing the sidewalk to come rumbling down to let them into the loading dock

right on schedule, the train rumbles through the tunnel below the bank, shaking the whole basement, and Em slams the button to lower the ramp
a minute later, what's marked as a catering truck backs down the ramp and Katie leaps out of the back, a gas mask hanging around her neck and a determined look on her face
Alice winks at them from the truck's side mirror, ready to floor it up the ramp

they press themselves against the wall leading into a corner and inch forwards, hoping that the all-clear Isidora sees on the security system still reflects reality
Em peeks her head around the last corner before the vault and then beckons her friends onwards
the money is just as they left it in the vault and Isidora and Em get to work checking and rechecking ratchet straps holding the mountain of bricks of cash to pallets as Katie hotwires and replaces the motor in the forklift parked at the end of the hallway

they hang off the back of the newly upgraded forklift as it races down the hallway, pistols at the ready
one, two, three, four trips later, they're still invisible to cameras and the security robot hasn't returned

with the cash safely in the truck, Em and Katie hop on their bikes and drive out the back of the truck as Alice revs the engine up the ramp, landing on the pavement with two thuds
Isidora slams the truck door shut and gets to work casting more spells from the darkness of the back of the truck
sitting on top of the mountain of cash, she types away furiously on her deck (finally! a screen and a real keyboard instead of the earpiece and the chording board) to remove all traces of her tampering from the bank's computers
the last thing she wants is for this whole operation to be ruined by her clumsiness
she crosses her fingers and hopes with all her might that the first signs of the robbery that are discovered are a hole in the vault door and a trillion missing yen hours from now at the next security sweep and not any sooner

the truck speeds down city streets, Alice taking every corner far faster than she should, hoping that the counterweight Katie installed is enough
their license plate is picked up by speed cameras but vanishes as soon as the computer reads the number; yet another spell from the witch of the wires

the sound of gunfire is the second hint that their perfect heist isn't going to plan
three divots appear in the walls of the truck and Isidora swears so strongly that whoever shot at them would've turned into a frog if she had that spell
she pulls a pistol from beneath her dress and weighs it in her hand
it's a lot heavier than the airsoft pistols she practiced with, but she tries not to worry about that

she lays down on the floor of the truck and opens the door just a crack to see who's after their trillion yen
Em and Katie are flanking an ordinary-looking car with an extraordinarily angry man at the wheel and a copilot whose lack of aim is made up for by how heavily armed they are
with one hand, Em is holding tightly to her handlebars and with the other is trying to pull open the driver's door, which he swerves wildly to avoid
Katie pulls up even with the passenger, a clear shot if he could aim his recoiling firearm, and falls back to shove a hyperthermite charge against the rear wheel

with a metallic thud, magnets on the side of Em's motorcycle engage and pull it tight and stable against the car so she can get to the much more important work of fighting
she slams the the butt of her pistol through the driver's side window and shoves the barrel against his head

as she pulls away from the lit charge, one of the passenger's bullets hits Katie's bike, sending the chain flying out onto the road
the passenger is too stunned by his success to fire another shot, and that gives the witch a chance to cast a fatal spell
her bullet flies out the back of the truck and her pistol escapes her grasp and goes skidding across the floor of the truck
nothing she'd practiced with recoiled this much and the pain in her hands tells her she should've practiced with something heavier

as what she just did hits her, she starts to panic, but something more pressing pulls her out of it
Katie coasts along along on her bike, trying to keep control of her bike at well over a hundred miles an hour with no room to brake before hitting the truck
Isidora throws the door open further and reaches out, hoping against hope that she can catch her speeding friend
somehow, those dexterous hands she'd so admired grab her tightly and pull her into the truck
shockingly calm for someone heading into a hundred mile per hour collision, Katie takes her hands off the handlebars and, as the front wheel hits the rear fender of the truck, she leaps for safety
her bike bounces off the fender and slides off the highway, knocking a hole in the guardrail and tumbling down an embankment into the the river

the driver of the car's turn to look towards what was once his passenger is just enough distraction for Em to pull her gun away from his head and pull the door open
at that moment, the hyperthermite charge on the rear wheel ignites, taking half the axle with it
the car immediately skids left and the lesbian and her enemy wrestle each other and the car itself for control
the steering wheel isn't much help at this point and the car following Katie's prized bike into the river seems like an inevitability
Em spots an opportunity and reaches for the seatbelt, buckling it over her opponent and pulling it until its ratchet snaps back
by the time he frees himself, she already has one leg over her bike and kicks off with the other against his face
she blasts forward as the car punches a hole in the guardrail and tumbles down the embankment
Alice sees her smile in the rearview mirror and smiles back

Alice breathes a small sigh of relief as the truck crosses the state line and lets her foot off the gas a bit
she knows that Isidora has called in fake reports across three states and the only danger to them is from an overzealous officer trying to bust them for speeding
the people who shot at them earlier seemed to just be run of the mill truck thieves who got more than the bargained for when they messed with the Hyperthermite Gang and posed no further threat

several weeks later, Dan wakes up to a single ring of his doorbell
by the time he gets to the door, Em is long gone, but what she came to his place to deliver is there, shoved between the door and the doorframe: a Banccorp cashier's check, the money having been laundered so thoroughly that they'd never know it was once theirs
he never asks her how the datacart he found in the street turned into that big a check, and he knows she'd never tell him if he did ask

Katie parks a pickup truck on the shoulder of the highway where a pair of traffic cones serve as a temporary stand-in for the guardrail destroyed a few days earlier
the high-vis jackets she and Isidora wear do the opposite of what they're designed to do and make them barely noticeable or memorable
they hook a large magnet to a winch on the truck and Katie throws it down the embankment into the river, steel cable rapidly unspooling behind it
after what feels like an eternity of sinking into the river, the magnet finds purchase on something, and Isidora excitedly hits the button on the winch, only for her heart to sink as it drags a rusted shopping cart up the embankment
several pieces of metal detritus later, they finally triumph and pull the 5, Katie's prized motorcycle, from the river

after leaving it sitting in industrial-grade desiccant for a week, Katie inspects the damage to her monstrous motorbike
most of the mechanical parts are still intact, a few days in the river not being enough to put even a speck of rust on the high-performance alloys
the electronics, however, need some work.
one of the battery packs shorted out in the water, taking a speed controller with it
the entire throttle assembly on the handlebars broke apart as it tumbled down the embankment, but Katie was planning on replacing it using the heist proceeds anyway

Isidora slides a piece of heatshrink over a thick wire and holds it in place as Katie solders it to another similarly thick wire
she twists the new throttle, laying on the floor next to the bike, just a bit, and the motor whirs to life
considering this a success of the solder joint, she slides the heatshrink over it and heats it up with the lighter she normally uses for her gang's trademark hyperthermite
with the rewinding she did on the motor coils, she thinks "the 5" will make 550 horsepower no problem now

Isidora and Em gaze into each other's eyes from across a table at a French restaurant only a few blocks from Banccorp's skyscraper
wearing the same suit and dress they started their heist in (although much less heavily armed this time), they fit right in among the upscale clientele
on the way there, Em joked to her girlfriend that they might see the CEO of Banccorp at a restaurant like this

Isidora raises her glass across the table with a simple toast: "a toast.. to Banccorp"
they savor the vintage champagne and fresh irony together