by D. T. Peterson
Holograms, guns, celebrity status, a penchant for theft, and red warpaint tattoos.
This is the arsenal of the Takers, a gang of Robin Hood-like thieves terrorizing the rich in Chicago during the year 2067. Enthralled with their reputation and the chance to support her fellow lower-class citizens, a young woman named Lash gleefully becomes their newest member. Her quick-thinking and eagerness to learn earns her acceptance and an invitation to the gang's most important heist yet. But as Lash learns more about the Takers' history and intentions, she begins to realize there's more to the gang than meets the eye.
Lashira Grey wiped away the blood on her cheek as she looked in the mirror.
“Looks good, Lash,” Zeke said, standing beside her.
With her fingers, she followed the three bright red streaks freshly tattooed on her dark-skinned face. One was above her left eye, one was below, and the third ran diagonal across her left cheek. It was the infamous mark of a Taker.
Lash turned around to look at the others with her in the tattoo parlor, all of them Takers as well. Their gang operated as a modern Robin Hood in the city of Chicago, stealing what they could from the rich and powerful and using it to help the poor and oppressed. At least, that was what they claimed. For the most part, stealing from the rich was what they put into practice. But this was enough for Lash. She idolized them, as did many of the poor in Chicago. They represented a form of class warfare the public could stomach: theft, not bloodshed.
The trio of red stripes on each Taker’s face represented war paint and was a symbol of courage and life-long dedication to their cause, a symbol each member could proudly display in public. They were mini-celebrities in Chicago, respected as heroes by many. While the infamy made them targets of police suspicion, questioning, and surveillance, a red tattoo was never enough for an arrest. The three streak symbol was usually the only identifier left behind at crime scenes, whether graffitied on walls or visible on conveniently-corrupted camera footage.
And now, Lash was one of them. It had been hard, contacting them and earning their trust. But after making an impression on Zeke, she was soon accepted. The tattoo had been the final step in her initiation.
“So, when do we get started?” Lash asked.
“Tonight,” Penelope said, the current de facto leader of the Takers. She was sometimes referred to as Penny, and the nickname was an accurate summary of her wealth before she joined the Takers, though the bronze coin was no longer a part of US currency and her current economic situation was dramatically different. Unknown to the public, the Takers did not give away everything they took.
“What are we going to do?” Lash asked.
Penelope smiled and said, “What we do best. Take.”
That evening, the Takers parked along the street of a particularly wealthy neighborhood. In fact, one of the mayor’s houses sat one block away, though the Takers weren’t stupid enough to provoke the man in charge of the city’s police force. Their target that night was the mansion of a wealthy executive, who was currently enjoying a vacation in South America. The exquisite home was surrounded by a line of trees intended for privacy, something the Takers were happy to use to their advantage.
“Ok, so we just go in and take whatever we can find?” Lash asked.
“No. We’d be here all night if we wanted to just take anything that looked pretty. To make this count, we have to grab only what’s important,” Zeke explained.
“And what’s important?”
“Anything high-tech. Mini-computers, holographic projectors, anything that’s lightweight like that. This stuff is easy to take, easy to sell, and easy to miss. We want them to know we hit them. We want this to hurt. And, if we’re lucky, sometimes we can use the computers to access their bank accounts. They’re tough to steal from, but it sure is fun to buy them all kinds of crap they don’t want. Tons of toilet paper, random furniture, weird sex dolls… One time we used a guy’s account to order three-hundred thousand custom pens, all engraved with ‘You’re an asshole.’ Good times.”
“Wow. What did that guy do?” Lash asked.
“The guy with all the pens. Why’d you go after him?”
Zeke frowned. “I dunno. He was rich. He gets to sit in his castle eating caviar while others are on the streets eating a few dry noodles. Therefore, he’s an asshole and fair game for us. It’s not that complicated, Lash.”
“I know, I know.” Some part of her still wasn’t content, but the light pain on her face from her tattoo reminded her that the time for second guessing was long gone.
“Ok everyone, let’s get started. Lash, you’re going to go in first with Zeke. Clear the place, then the rest of us will come in. Got it?” Penelope asked.
“What happens if there’s a security system?” Lash asked.
“There will be one. Zeke will show you what to do.”
“Let’s go,” Zeke said, pulling open the door of their van and stepping outside.
Lash followed and looked around. The only vehicles on the road were the three vans the Takers had arrived in. It was dark, and Lash hoped the black clothes they all wore would be enough to conceal their actions from any neighbors. She was surprised by Zeke’s nonchalant stride across the road. He was entirely unconcerned that anyone would see them.
As they neared the mansion’s front lawn, Zeke stretched out a hand to stop Lash. He pointed to the corners of the front lawn and said, “Sensors.”
They walked along the sidewalk until they reached the corner of the property. As Zeke had predicted, hidden in the grass was a small, green object.
“What is it?” Lash asked.
“Motion sensor. Nothing impressive, though I’m sure whatever it’s linked to is. If we step on the lawn, the whole neighborhood will know we’re here.”
“Can you turn it off?”
Zeke shook his head. “Not from here. We have to do that inside.”
“So, we’re stuck?”
Zeke chuckled. “Not at all. How these things work is they only go off when large objects pass by. Otherwise, the cops would be here everyday because of bunnies.”
“Yeah, and squirrels or whatever. Animals are always running around people’s lawns, so the system won’t go off if it only picks up small objects.”
“How does that help us?”
“We hide behind the bunnies,” Zeke said with a smile.
Lash gave him an incredulous look.
Zeke pulled out a small metal stick and extended it to nearly three feet. Then, he pushed it into the ground right at the edge of the mansion’s front lawn. He pulled out his palm-sized mini-computer and put in a command. The stick began to project a holographic, two-dimensional bunny on the lawn.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Lash blurted out.
“Check it out,” Zeke said, pointing to the sensor. There was now a tiny yellow light on its side.
“What does that mean?”
“The sensor has picked up something, but it’s not big enough to set off the alarm. Now if we just…” Zeke then put in another command on his computer. The stick now projected a long line of hologram bunnies, running in a constant stream across the lawn. They were abnormally large, yet the sensor light remained yellow. “Now, all we have to do is crawl to the door. As long as we stay behind them, the sensor won’t be able to tell that we are a large enough object to set off the alarm.”
Zeke smiled. “This job certainly has its perks.” He then walked over to the other side of the lawn and set up another stick along with another line of bunnies. When he returned, he said, “Ok, let’s go.”
“How will we know if this works?”
“The light on the sensor will turn red, there will be loud noises, and people in uniforms will show up. Trust me, we’ll know if it doesn’t.”
“Seems like overkill. What if we were just some kid picking up a ball that rolled away?”
“At night? Still, you’re right. The police probably won’t respond right away. But we don’t want to take that chance.”
“Fair enough,” Lash agreed.
“Ok, follow me,” Zeke said. He got on his stomach and crawled between the two rows of holographic bunnies running on the lawn. Half a minute later, he arrived at the door and stood up against the wall. Lash checked the sensor. The light had not turned red.
Zeke impatiently beckoned for Lash to hurry up. She got on her stomach and began to crawl. It was a surreal experience as she passed the white bunny holograms on the lawn of some stranger’s house. When she reached the house, she stood up against the wall as Zeke had done and brushed off the grass from her clothes. Zeke then touched his computer and the bunnies disappeared.
They kept against the exterior wall of the house as Zeke tried to open the front door. It was locked, as expected. Zeke pulled out a small laser cutter from his pocket and cut the door in a half-circle around the door knob. Now unattached to the electronic lock, the door swung open.
“Is it always this easy?” Lash asked.
“No, but usually it is,” Zeke answered.
They stepped into the dark foyer of the mansion. A grand staircase greeted them, along with all manner of expensive decor. Zeke checked for cameras, but saw none.
“Wow,” Lash whispered. She had never seen anything quite like it. Some of the paintings on the walls were worth more money than she had seen in her entire life, though that wasn’t saying much. She was 24 and the only job she had ever taken was at a grocery store, which went out of business only two years later. It was the golden age of automation and the result was rampant unemployment. Why hire a person when a computer can do the same thing?
Zeke moved over to a small monitor on the wall near the front door. He pressed a single button and the sensors outside deactivated. Turning back to Lash, he said “Now to make sure there’s…”
A faint buzzing noise came from further in the house. Zeke grabbed Lash and threw them both to the floor. He looked at her, put a finger to his lips, and motioned for them to crawl to the adjacent room.
They quietly scrambled over into the mansion’s dining room. There was a luxurious set of wood chairs and a table which they moved behind. Zeke eyed the foyer. Lash followed his gaze and nearly gasped. Floating directly above where they had been standing seconds ago was a silver sphere, only a few inches in diameter.
They waited behind the table and chairs for a full minute until the buzzing sphere retreated back to another room. Zeke exhaled in relief.
“What was that?” Lash asked.
“It’s a little camera robot. A Securi-Drone, it’s called. It scans each room for intruders. They’re incredibly expensive, so we usually don’t see them in homes. I guess this guy is a bit more paranoid than most.”
“What do we do? Can we turn it off, or do we have to use the bunnies again?”
“Ha, no. Even bunnies would set that thing off. For now, we just have to avoid it. They always have a local computer that controls them, but unless we can access that, there’s nothing we can do.”
Penelope spoke through their headsets, which both wore on one ear. “How’s it going in there?”
“They have a Securi-Drone,” Zeke answered.
“Damn. Alright, get out of there.”
“We can handle it.”
“I know you can, but this is Lash’s first time. It’s too risky.”
“She’ll be fine.”
“I can do this,” Lash said.
There was a brief pause, then Penelope replied, “Alright. But if anything goes wrong…”
“It’s on me,” Zeke finished for her.
“I was going to say ‘get the hell out of there,’ but yeah, that works too.”
“We’ll let you know what we find,” Zeke said, ending the conversation. He turned to Lash and said, “Let’s find this guy’s office. Hopefully there’s a computer there.”
They stood up from behind the table and crept into the next room. It was a massive kitchen, with long counters, a plethora of cabinets, and three refrigerators.
“Three fridges? What the hell do you need three of them for?” Zeke commented in a hushed tone. He opened one of them to find it full of a wide variety of beverages. He pulled out a beer and offered it to Lash. She shook her head. Zeke shrugged, popped open the can, and chugged half of its contents. He then poured the rest into the sink and crushed the can. As he went to put it in his pocket, Lash gave him a look.
“What are you doing?” she whispered.
“Well, clearly we don’t want to leave any DNA.”
They proceeded out of the kitchen and found themselves in the living room. This room alone was six times the size of Lash’s apartment. She was beginning to understand why the Takers hated these people, regardless of whether they truly deserved it.
There was a hallway on the opposite side of the room. They made their way to it, keeping alert for the buzzing sound of the Securi-Drone. Halfway across, they heard it.
The two of them dove behind one of the couches. They could hear the drone flying nearly overhead, but neither of them dared move to see it. As it drew closer, Zeke crawled under the couch, followed by Lash. There was just barely enough room for the two of them.
They waited for a few minutes as the buzzing continued around the room. When the noise finally faded, they climbed out from under the couch and checked the room to make sure the drone was gone.
“Why can’t we just destroy it?” Lash asked.
“If the computer that controls it stops receiving data from the drone, an alert will go out, whether to a security agency, cops, or the guy who owns this place. Probably all of them.”
“So we need to find that computer.”
They reached the hallway and could now see that it split into two different directions. Neither seemed more promising than the other.
“Let’s split up,” Lash suggested.
“I don’t think so. It’s my ass if anything happens to you…”
“I can take care of myself. This way we can find his office in half the time.”
“We aren’t even sure it’s on this floor,” Zeke protested.
Zeke sighed. “Alright. Keep in touch.”
“Don’t do anything stupid, Lash,” Penelope said through their headsets.
“I won’t,” Lash answered.
She moved down one of the hallways and began opening doors to check the rooms. Within a minute, Zeke was out of sight. She was amazed by how big the house was. Doors opened to a bathroom, a bar room, a billiard room, a second living room, and another bathroom. She reached the final room attached to the hallway and opened the door to find a lone desk surrounded by towering bookshelves along the walls. She walked over to the desk. There was nothing there. She started to leave, but then decided to check the drawers. She walked behind the mahogany desk and opened the first one. Inside sat a mini-computer.
“I found the office and a mini-comp,” she said into the headset.
“Nice work,” Penelope answered.
“Where are you?” Zeke asked.
“Farthest room down the hallway.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Lash eyed the computer. Its holographic monitor displayed a small message: “Securi-Drone: Active.” She couldn’t access anything more without passing voice recognition or a fingerprint scan. She was surprised the security system was linked to a mini-comp, but few things those days used anything larger or less mobile. Perhaps the owner felt the security feed was something he would someday need to take with him to the bathroom. One of his many, Lash thought.
“Hey, Zeke. Do you think it would work if I…” she began to say, but was interrupted by Zeke.
“Lash!” he called. Not only could she hear his voice in her headset, but also echoing from the hallway.
She ran out to the hallway and saw him running towards her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the drone approaching. He pulled her back into the office and shut the door.
“Did it see you?” she anxiously asked.
“I don’t know, but I think it’s coming this…”
The door of the office automatically swung open as the drone floated inside. The two Takers pressed themselves against the wall next to the door. The drone was only two feet away, but its camera was aimed at the rest of the office. For a moment it was motionless. Then it began to turn.
By Lynda Dickson
This is an exciting and original story set in the year 2067. The Takers tells the story of Lashira Grey, or Lash, a newly initiated Taker. Marked by red facial tattoos, the Takers are modern day Robin Hoods operating in Chicago with the help of some imaginative high-tech gadgets. There's something for everyone here. My favorite gadget was the Securi-Drone, a flying camera robot used to detect intruders.
We follow Lash and her fellow Takers during her first year on the job, culminating in the most dangerous heist of their lives. Will they get caught this time or make it through unscathed yet again?
Things start to look grim when Lash realizes that her idols are not quite who she thought they were. Lash's future is left up in the air. I just hope we get to meet her again.
The Takers is one of three short prequels to the novel Darkness on a Pale Blue Stone, set five years later. The others are Lights Out and Automation. These three prequels can also be found combined in Before the Darkness, which also includes an additional prologue and epilogue.
About the Author
D.T. Peterson is a 21-year-old storyteller and for most of those years he has been living that out through writing. He loves grappling with complex issues, uncovering exotic mysteries, and attempting to understand the darker parts of human psyches, all of which come through in his writing. If something is simple and straightforward, it's probably not something he's all that interested in. He loves challenging, complex stories with equally complex characters and settings. His writing journey has a long way to go and, for him, that's what makes it so enjoyable.
D.T. Peterson currently lives in Chambersburg, PA. His future plans involve thoroughly earning the title of "Author", learning to cook something more than eggs, and living long enough to own a self-driving car.