By Bryan Feir

Gang slipped through the night, glad for the physical training that his father had insisted on. His father may have been more interested in him looking imposing to others; he was more interested in being able to pull himself up onto rooftops without powered suits which would give him away with their electrical signatures.

He'd been planning for this evening for some time. It was time to make a big splash, to do something that would guarantee people would know about him. And perhaps he could turn this into a sideline business. But to do that, he needed to demonstrate that he was worth investing in. Which meant pulling off a job so big that people would wonder how he did it, and so public that nobody could miss it.

This was what had brought him here, to this conference centre. Part of the show tonight was a major product launch by Graves Electronics, who were trying to launch a new handheld digital assistant quickly to beat Shiroko-Tsuhi to the punch. The launch would be the last event of the day, giving him a short time frame, with thousands of people in the building, and Kagura handling convention security.

This was going to be fun. The fact that Graves had named the new device "Phantom" was just an added bonus. If it weren't for the fact that there would be no way to fence the demonstration unit, and using it would activate tracking devices, he'd walk off with it himself. But for a public show, all that he needed to do was get it outside of the secure area.

It wouldn't be easy. Graves had gone to a lot of effort to play the 'mystery' card on this launch, which meant plenty of security to prevent anybody else from seeing the device before the public launch. Some of the Kagura consultants would have seen it, of course, but this would be a relatively low-priority task for them. Granted, Kagura rarely treated anything as low priority. They did so hate to be embarrassed in front of their clients.

Gang adjusted his mask, and waited. He had to time this just right....

A large delivery truck turned as it crested a hill just below the convention centre, and for a second or so, one of its headlights shone directly at a security camera on the corner. Gang turned on a small light of his own to keep blinding the camera while he fired a grappling line across the street and slid along it to the convention centre roof. A timer turned out his light after three seconds, by which point he had already disconnected the grapple and made sure it was out of sight. The security watching the camera output would have been expecting the display to be washed out by the headlights, so the longer than normal washout would be unlikely to attract attention.

Unlikely did not mean impossible, however, so Gang moved as quickly as the stealth suit and armour would allow. Fortunately, all of the cameras pointed outward, rather than covering the roof itself. The roof itself had other sensors instead.

Chengbao had made a bid for security detail for the conference. And while they could not beat Kagura's offer, the original bid had given him much information on what was available for security.

The external mechanics of the air conditioning system drew him in. On one side was a large metal latticework that acted as a heat radiator; not far away from it was a series of fans that drew air in over the cold side of the heat exchanger. Gang crouched down beside the fans and began to work on the grill covering the furthest one from the radiator. For all that crawling in through the ventilation ducts was an old clichˇ, the sound of the fans would mask what little noise he would make.

Of course, the fans were the major concern right now. With the building fully occupied, the air conditioning was working to capacity, and all the fans were running. Which meant another delay, but this was the least watched of any entrances to the building.

A couple of minutes later, one of the fans started to slow down. Gang timed it, waited until it was nearly but not quite stopped, then dropped down through the gap and into the shaft, working his way around the ice-cold pipes and into the ventilation system.

Gang checked his memorized map of the convention centre security layout against the map that was supplied by the convention staff for the locations of events. Graves Electronics' booth was right next to the central stage, which was where the demonstration was almost certainly going to take place. With only half an hour before the big show, the device should already be set up there, waiting for the curtains to rise.

It took a few minutes to wriggle his way down the narrow ventilation shafts to one of the four vents directly over the stage area. Gang took several seconds to peer down over the darkened stage area, which was surrounded by thick curtains that ran all the way from the ceiling supports to the floor level, which was about a meter below the stage level. Nobody was visible inside, but there was a standup display of a young woman at what would be the back of the stage, and in the middle was a pedestal with what looked to be a slightly large handheld computer on it in a shiny case.

After pulling a miniature high-speed drill out of one pocket, Gang set out to punch out the welds that held the air vent to the end of the shaft. After taking out the first couple, he ran thread through the holes with a needle on the end, then used a magnet to pull the needle back up through the grille, forming a makeshift hinge that would keep the vent from crashing to the stage when he drilled out the last weld.

Another quick check told Gang that there was still nobody on the stage, and once his head was outside of the ventilation duct, he could hear people setting up outside. He hooked his grapple to one of the holes he had just drilled, and lowered himself quickly down to stage level. From there, a few steps took him to the pedestal.

The pedestal was a simple, mass-produced display platform, with no apparent security; probably because nobody saw any point in attempting to break in to an open place for a device which was about to receive a public launch anyway. The device itself had a small beacon attached to the side, however, likely a radio tracker that would allow them to locate it if someone were to actually run off with it.

Gang slid his thumb down what appeared to be a volume control, then pulled out a memory stick from another pocket and slipped it into a slot on the side of the handheld. As he watched, the handheld opened up like a clamshell, and the lower portion lit up as a series of miniature beams of light shone onto the mirrored surface of the upper portion. Only a few seconds later, a small transparent female figure appeared to be standing on the 'floor' of the handheld. A quiet voice spoke up, "I am the Graves Phantom twenty-five hundred, ready to serve. Who is my owner?"

Gang looked briefly at the large standup display behind the pedestal, which showed the same woman as was being projected for the display. She was cute, obviously Chinese, and dressed in old formal clothing. Probably something that could be customized for the various markets. He was impressed; while he had seen holographic displays before, none of them were this good from a device this small. He then returned his attention to the device, and pitched his voice down. "Yo Ling is your owner."

"Input accepted. Greetings, Yo Ling. What is your command?"

Keeping his voice pitched down to confused any voiceprint systems, Gang said, "Back up all operating system files to the memory stick."

The female figure nodded. "This will take three minutes. Any other commands?"

Gang smiled beneath his mask. "Take a message for me, to play to whoever next opens you."

A small pen and pad of paper appeared in the figures hands, and she nodded to him. Gang's respect for the designers went up a notch. "Tell them 'Yo Ling respects your ingenuity, but not your security.'"

She appeared to write something down, then nodded to him. "Message taken. Any other commands?"

Gang said, "Just tell me when the backup is finished."

She nodded again and made the message pad disappear, then stood there, occasionally blinking, for another two minutes. Finally, she said, "Backup complete."

Gang said, "Thank you. Close case now."

The display went off and the motorized case started to shut down again, so Gang removed the memory stick and slipped it back in a pocket. He made a mental note that when the production models came out, he would have to get one of these. He then ran his thumb along the volume control to turn it up to full, then looked around for some place to put it where it would be hidden until they tried to locate it....

A quick peek around showed that someone in a security uniform had left his jacket hanging on the back of the standup display, probably because of the heat in the convention hall. Gang slipped the handheld into a pocket there, grinning as he thought of the likely havoc it would cause to have one of the security staff suspected of stealing the prototype, even as unlikely as it was for anyone to take that seriously.

As he heard the noise of the crowd outside build up, Gang reeled himself back up and into the ventilation shaft, and quickly pulled the grille back into place, using some more thread to tie it up so that the means of exit wouldn't be so obvious. He then wriggled his way along the ducts back toward the air conditioning intake.

He had just reached the fan when the 'whump' of a large curtain hitting the floor reached his ears. Somebody was running ahead of schedule, apparently, which gave him less time to leave than he had planned for. Fortunately, one of the fans was already mostly stopped, and he grabbed the rotor to stop it completely before hauling himself up and out onto the roof.

Gang could just barely hear a loud female voice echoing up the ventilation system as his message was delivered. With no more time to waste, the black-wrapped phantom simply ran past the security cameras, dropped to the street level, and disappeared into the maze of streets as quickly as he could. By the time security was organized enough to track him, he was too far away to be found.

The next morning, Gang had to restrain himself from whistling as he walked in to work. While the incident at the convention centre hadn't really made public news, it was likely to be water cooler talk for a few days as the gossip made its rounds. His hearing picked up some of the buzz of conversation around him as he nodded to people on his way in.

In his office, he sat down at his desk, and pulled out his personal laptop, the one that didn't connect to the company's network. With little in the way of active projects to deal with today, he could check out some of the files downloaded from the Phantom handheld. Not that he was much of a programmer, but any text or graphics files should be interesting, at least.

He hadn't had a chance to load anything up before his father pushed open the office door without bothering to knock. "I suppose you heard the news from last night?"

Gang looked up at Sun. "I presume you mean about the convention centre incident?"

"What else would I be referring to?"

Gang just shrugged, so his father continued. "It's always good to see Kagura get a black eye, even if it was a minor contract. We'll have to arrange a bid for the next show. Nothing too soon, of course, as they might suspect we arranged for this."

"Of course. And angering Kagura is a bad business decision."

"Of course." Before stepping back out, Sun Qi added, "This 'Yo Ling' seems to have done us a favour tonight. Though if it is the same person who robbed our warehouse five weeks ago, he has much yet to repay."

Gang just watched the space previously containing his father's back for several seconds, wondering if the old man possibly knew more than he had previously suggested.

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