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Dante Cubit pushed into the bank, thinking about A. A. Milne. Why didn't he ever write Now We Are Dead? No foresight, Dante decided. Always think ahead. Under Dante's full-length coat was an old 10-gauge Winchester, an Uzi machine pistol and a Zero Approach handgun. Against his heart was a thesaurus bound in PVC. He smiled at the entrance guard.

The bank was huge. He'd never been here but knew every inch of the place from rehearsals in a computer simulation - the weirdest part was that it lacked the virtual glow which made everything come on like a precious gem.

At the rear wall he saw the Entropy Kid gnashing painkillers and messing with a euthanasia form. The Kid was almost amphibious with despair, in his orderly way. He'd once studied deterioration in order to have something definite to tell folk when they asked why he was sobbing. Then science discovered that the universe's shape was a downward spiral and he took it to heart. Five minutes before Dante, he had swanned into the bank like an angel on stabilizers. Inside his jacket was a Kafkacell cannon gun. He gave Dante a covert nod and eyed a slabhead guard who was trying to appear as devoid of emotion as he'd soon become.

Dante approached the customer interface. He'd thought of modulating his voice but since meeting Rosa Control he'd engaged in so much oral sex his accent had changed.

He pulled the machine pistol, talking low. 'Hands up Grandad, and no sudden moves - it's a money-or-your-life paradigm.'

'Eh?' said the kind-faced gent behind the glass.

'It's a stick-up, old man.'

'Excuse me?'

'Okay, gimme a minute here.' Dante consulted the thesaurus. 'Okay, we got heist, hold-up, robbery, raid and, er, “demanding money with menaces”.'

'Right, got ya. Did you say no sudden moves?'

'Correct.'

'So you wouldn't want me to do - this?'

'Hey, I ain't kiddin' -'

'Or puff my cheeks out abruptly - like this?'

'Hey, now don't be doin' that -'

'I guess we're on the same wavelength, sir,' the oldster relented cheerfully. 'But hey, now when you use the quaint expression “your money or your life”, I reckon you mean my money, or my life and my money.'

'What?'

'Lemme get this straight, young man - you're proposing to ventilate me and take the money if I don't hand it over?'

'That's right, yeah.'

'So you'll either take the money, or both my life and the money?'

'Sure, I guess that's right. Your money, or your life and your money.'

'But it ain't my money.'

'What you say?'

'Ain't the bank's neither - belongs to the customer till the bank invests in a bum deal and crashes, foreclosing on the set-up and leaving the customer without a pot to piss in.'

'Ain't that illegal?'

'Sure - till it happens.'

'Okay, let's see if I understand this - the bank uses the customer's money for investment.'

'No it doesn't - it uses its own money. When d'you ever find your credit balance reduced because the bank manager lent it out or invested it someplace?'

'Never. How about that.'

'Hey, Danny,' whispered the Entropy Kid, edging over.

'Wait a mo, Kid. So listen, how does the cash newt?'

'Think about it,' said the teller in a tone of gentle encouragement. 'The only investment cash the bank takes from the customer is payment interest and charges.'

'My deposit's sittin' pretty?'

'Right,' nodded the teller, delighted with Dante's progress.

'Danny,' hissed the Kid, pulling at Dante's sleeve. 'We got work.'

'Listen to this guy, Kid. So what you're saying,' Dante asked the teller, 'is despite the bank using its own money to back up lending and investment, it's the customer's cash it draws on when the shit hits the fan.'

'Exactly - supported by the myth that banks do business by relending and investing the customer's funds. They even draw up their books with depositors' and borrowers' sums on either side of the balance sheet.'

'No shit. You hear this, Kid? No shit.'

'Yeah that's great Danny,' the Kid coughed.

'I don't believe it,' Dante was saying, dazed. 'My greatgrandaddy died in the Depression.'

'That's a shame,' said the teller with real compassion.

A perky, gum-chewing teller strode brightly up to the old guy. 'Slips to sign, Mr Kraken,' she said, then saw Dante's gun and shrieked, dropping everything.

'For God's sake, Corey,' complained the old guy. The rear guard pulled a gun and the Kid's Kafkacell went off like a grenade, putting the guard through the wall - a shell the size of a silencer flew against the teller window. The front guard spun with a snub repeater and the Kid blew him into the street in an explosion of glass.

The Kid backed across the marble floor, brandishing the cannon gun twitchily. 'Keep a cool cortex nobody gets hurt,' he whispered.

'What he say?' squinted Mr Kraken.

'He says keep a cool cortex, nobody'll get hurt - means everyone, everyone's cortexes. And that includes the inner matter of the cerebrum itself. The Kid's got a speech problem but he's okay. Ain't that right, Kid?'

'Tell 'em to keep off the tills, Danny,' whispered the Kid.

'Yeah, keep off the pills, ladies and gentlemen - it's a slippery slope and you know it. Kraken, you the head teller, right? Get in back and chip the vault.'

This was fine by Mr Kraken - even lazy flies with no vested interest in anything had participated in the festival of alarm-tripping which Dante's gun had triggered. The old man chuckled to himself and shuffled along so slowly that palaeontologists were pouring plaster into his tracks. Dante and the Kid put their heads together. 'Must have been a glacier in a past life, Danny.'

'Yeah, lucky we ain't really after cash - this rate it won't be worth shit after inflation.'

'Denizens at the door, Danny.'

Passers-by were standing on the oblonged guard and peering in through the shattered entrance. Cop sirens were howling. 'Quit stallin', old man,' shouted Dante.' Gimme the key.'

Dante left the Kid on guard and took the keychip into the vault room.

The vault was on a timelock - when the chip was used without the correct combination the user was thrown twenty minutes into a future in which he or she was already cuffed and surrounded. The computer man Download Jones had hacked a card swiper which was now housed in Dante's belt buckle - Dante swiped it through, altering the program. He pushed it into the lock, tapped out a random set of numbers and was thrown twenty minutes into the past.

The sirens cut out instantly. Nobody knew he was in the vault room. He had ten minutes before the Entropy Kid entered the bank, and fifteen before he himself did.

Rosa Control had excised the real combination from the manager by threatening to cut off his hand, and because his palmprint was also required, had cut off his hand. Dante thumped the hand against the print panel and tapped in the code - the door clanked. He pushed at it like a stalled car and it slowly swung.

Dante went immediately to a deposit hatch, opening it with a tension wrench and rake pick. Inside was a book bound in PVC. He removed it and placed his ballast thesaurus and the hand in its place, closing the hatch. Leaving the vault and swinging closed the heavy metal door, he sat at the depositors' table and fired up the volume with a mixture of tense excitement and reverence.

“Life and death have equal authority in nature. When laws contradict so fundamentally, they cause mere confusion in the average soul - rarely a clean break. Yet when two principles meet which can't be reconciled, the intervening space is perfect for demonstrations of balloon-folding and fart ignition. In the right place and at the right time, it's possible to gall both the non-evolving head of the fascist and the dilute mind of the vapid liberal. Opposites attract, resulting in a narrowing of possibilities. Explosions amplify in an enclosed space. People say that those who attack a system should be prepared to live without it and assume they are not. The worst thing about the ogre in a nightmare is having to dispose of its corpse.”

Satisfied, he stood and tucked the book into his pants. He found a fusebox and blinded the bank-floor cameras with a boltcutter. Waiting just inside the vault room, he watched the clock and idly thought of how a jester's costume of matching halves was a handy guide for sawing. Then he entered the bank floor and pressed the Uzi to the rear guard's temple. 'Drop the guzzler.'

The Entropy Kid was nearby gnashing painkillers and messing with an euthanasia form. The guard's gun clattered to the floor and the Kid looked up, jittery and startled. Dante saw the Kid's fear in all its polychrome ferment - from the jug of his skull poured a spine of unset jello. 'This the second time for you, Danny? How'd I do?'

A commotion at the entrance - the front guard had drawn and been grabbed from behind - shots cracked off into the ceiling, blowing lights. Tellers screamed. The guard was knocked cold by the newcomer, who stepped forward and spread his arms casually wide. He wore a full-length coat, three shades of black. Dante again. 'Hell's other people, Cubit,' he said, 'especially when they're gassing you.'

Dante raised the Winchester, and hesitated.

Dante Two took another step forward. Alarms were clamouring. 'Spill, Cubit. We agreed.'

Dante aimed and Dante Two threw an arm across his eyes. The rifle clicked, jammed - Dante Two peeked.

Dante squeezed again and shot him in the belly. Dante Two doubled over and keeled to the floor.

'You - Corey, that your name? You're a hostage.' Dante dragged Corey the Teller toward the rear exit as the Entropy Kid kept the Kafka on the assembly. The three backed out.

'You must be mortified,' Corey shrieked, chewing gum. 'You shot your own twin brudder?'

'Wasn't Danny's brudder, miss,' whispered the Kid as they rushed through the vault room, 'it was Danny.'

'Most guys leave prints on the scene,' chewed Corey as Dante wired the elevator. 'You leave a whole body back there?'

'We never leave no prints,' said the Kid. 'Always quality hand-brushed originals with us, eh, Danny?'

'I'm legally dead, miss,' Dante explained. The elevator opened and they stepped in. 'My ma gets the insurance. No music, thank Christ - got any gum?'

Corey handed Dante a stick and they chewed in unison as the elevator ascended. The Kid grabbed a handful of pills from his pocket and banged them into his mouth.

'Stay alert,' said Dante.

'Painkillers are the drugs of the future, Danny.'

'Sure, but you ain't gonna see it,' Corey muttered, and blew a huge pink bubble.

On the third floor Dante used the gum to stick a charge to the console and sent the elevator down. The three started along a hallway and, as the floor thumped with the explosion, Dante stopped short at a wall which shouldn't have been there.

He and the Kid knew every turn of the place due to virtual walkthroughs - Download Jones had done a beautiful job from a set of architect's plans off the dredge. But it was dawning on Dante that aside from the bank itself, the simulation was a drooper. It seemed Jones had used the wrong schematic. They'd memorized the wrong building.

Copyright © Steve Aylett, 2007

 
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