the operation

Mark's ear crackles as the bud in it is activated. "Alright, let's see what you're made of. Move zig." Mark touches his watch and enters the bank. The movements are rehearsed to perfection, practiced a hundred times in virtual reality simulations of the bank, but VR can't match the real world. Not yet, anyway. He strolls up to the counter, licks his lips nervously and places his deposit slip on it, the magnetic strip coded specially back in the dingy basement this was all planned in. Guards glance at him and away, dismissing him as no threat—not surprising; a five-foot-nine, scrawny, sweaty, somewhat ugly man with "normal" written all over him is not most people's idea of danger.

The teller smiles at him. "Account number?" Mark reels off a sequence of numerals, practically burned into his brain at this point. "Hmmm, haven't seen you before. Have you just joined the bank?" This hadn't been in the simulations. "Um. No. No, I've been here. Before. It was a while ago…which is probably why you don't remember me…" You're babbling. Shut up. Mark smiles idiotically. The teller's smile grows rather fixed for a moment, then she shakes her head and taps the code into the computer, sliding the slip through.

Instantly, the lights go out. Here in an underground mall, that means total darkness. Mark pulls a pair of sunglasses out of him pocket and slips them on, and instantly the yelling crowd and the stumbling security guards show up in bright green on black. "Perfect," says his ear. Other familiar figures are running around, tripping people or tripping on people, causing more confusion. Slipping over to a gate that popped open along with the circuits in the lights, he moves into a back room full of even more confused guards and walks over to a pad on a wall. His watch beeps quietly at him. One minute until the security software beats the hack and the lights come back on. He takes a pack of playing cards out of his other pocket and places it over the pad; a series of clicks and whirrs issue from it as it pulls the casing from the panel and does something arcanely mechanical to the insides. A door slides open. One of the guards shouts something about the vault and rushes in, then rushes out a minute later and gestures to his fellows. "No one in there! Keep it that way!" The other guards obediently trip over chairs on their way to the door.

The proactive guard, who is sporting a stylish pair of sunglasses, walks over to Mark and nods, his hand tapping a pocket full of credit chits. They turn and walk out into the lobby, the guard pulling a tab and ignoring his uniform as it falls to the floor, a nondescript shirt and khakis underneath. Mark pulls a large piece of latex from his face without stopping, making him rather less ugly and completely different-looking, and drops it next to the discarded outfit as he quickly follows the guard. There is a crowd of blind and confused people standing in between them and the door. Mark's watch beeps again. Fifteen seconds. Mark slips past an angry man in a business suit, stops short to allow a screaming child past, and dodges a teller uncertainly waving her arms in front of her. He walks out the door and into a nearby elevator, the guard popping into another one. The camera in the corner is hanging by its wires, an "out of order" sign pasted to the wall next to it—never mind that if real mall employees had seen. Mark presses a button quickly and stares into the darkness, possible witnesses beginning to come out of the bank and wander in his direction. The doors slide shut a few instants before Mark's watch beeps a final time, light filtering through the crack in the doors and sliding downwards into the floor. Mark lets out his breath in a long sigh, strolling out through the doors on the main floor and leaving the mall as the elevator starts going back down, answering the call of frantic bank patrons.

"Nice work," says Mark's ear. "You may have a job after all."