Break-ins never look good on a security guard’s record. For a company with a typical level of competence in their HR practices, any break-in should result in the security manager doing a review of the guards performance to see if any mistakes were made, as well determining whether further training is required or if termination is an appropriate option.
In the case of the PrimaLux warehouse where the stolen antiretrovirals were stored the procedure was somewhat different. Terminations were always the preferred option in the event of any security breach. Six months to one year after the employee’s termination (a time period long enough to disconnect any association with PrimaLux and during which time PrimaLux would ensure that the fired employee would be unable to find any other work) the former employee would vanish off the face of the earth, taken away for the sort of thorough debriefing that didn’t leave enough remains to fill a matchbox with much less a coffin.
Danny Gallapili, the security guard on duty the night Anna and Tam entered the premises, wasn’t aware of his likely fate though, which worked in PrimaLux’s favor. Even the threat of being fired would have been enough to convince him to help Anna and Tam cover up their intrusion rather than report it like he was supposed to. The guard shifts at the warehouse were all he had and no matter how dull they were, he couldn’t risk losing the money that was putting his son through the chemo treatments.
If Danny had seen another guard be fired, he might have been worried about what he would find on his patrol route but, with the multiple layers of security coupled with the low value of the products typically stored in the warehouse, no one had tried to break into it during the decades since it had stopped housing military supplies. That long period without excitement was why the only weapon Danny carried on his rounds was a flashlight. As a weapon it was big and heavy enough to double as a decent striking baton. Against either Anna or Tam though it was woefully inadequate for personal defense.
Anna’s fighting style emphasized quick, crippling hits. She preferred not to resort to violence but when it was required she didn’t waste time testing her foes, or hesitating to deal the most disabling blows available.
If Danny had stumbled upon Anna, her first blow would have been to the arm holding the flashlight, likely breaking his elbow. As flashlight fell from his nerveless fingers, Anna would have grasped it and broken Danny’s nose, followed by putting him in a blood choke that would have rendered him unconscious in seconds.
The brutality of the attack and its suddenness would have given her the best possible chance of being unidentifiable later on, at the cost of leaving Danny in pain for weeks and impaired for months.
Tam’s fighting style was different than Anna’s. Where Anna had learned to fight with the assumption that violence was only required in situations where personal survival was on the line and hence no restrictions could ever be applied, Tam had learned most of her combat skills from James, her mentor in the mystic arts.
As a child and in school, Tam had been in plenty of situations where being able to smack someone around would have felt good, but she’d never been caught in an encounter where her life was actually on the line. James had seen this in their early spell training sessions and offered to show her some self-defense applications of the material she was studying.
On the night she and Anna broke into PrimaLux’s warehouse, Tam was carrying a trio of spells woven around herself for personal protection.
The first was a lightning web she could summon by gesturing in the proper way. Had she used that on Danny, he would have dropped as fast and hard as if a particularly strong taser hit him.
That was an effective and safe option for dealing with an aggressor but Tam had a greater fondness for her second. As long as she held that spell, with the right series of breaths and a word she could pop into a cloud of smoke for a few seconds. The smoke induced a mystical sleep for a dozen breaths when it was inhaled, but otherwise did no harm to its target. It was a gentler option than the lightning web and it had a wide variety of other uses than mere personal defense.
The last mystic tool in Tam’s arsenal was the sort of spell she tried never to use. It was a simple one and required only a single snap of her fingers in addition to its invocation word. When cast it set the target Tam selected on fire. The fire, being magical, needed no accelerant to ignite and spread, and required no external oxygen to burn.
Its target, whatever that target was, would stop burning once it was reduced to ash. Not before. It could be the weapon someone was carrying. It could be the person who was wielding the weapon. It could be the entire building they stood within.
Tam never cast spells like that, but she made it point to carry them when they were available because sometimes situations didn’t allow for subtlety or holding back.
As Danny rounded the corner to inspect the rooms where the “special bead shipment” was being stored however, Tam did not ensorcel his mind, and Anna did not shatter his body.
All Danny saw in the room were the crates he’d seen on every other patrol he’d made.
Anna and Tam were long gone.
A week later, Danny received a call from Spiral Horn Security, a startup security firm what was recruiting in his area. The benefits package offered included medical coverage that would pay for his son’s treatments and a family leave benefit that would allow Danny to spend the time he needed making sure his son got all of the care he needed.
Danny was the one who chose to terminate his employment with PrimaLux therefor, and shortly thereafter moved to the west coast to be closer to the specialist’s recommended for his son’s treatments. Somehow, just a few hours after Danny clocked out for the last time, PrimaLux’s records of his employment were lost and so there was never any “follow up interview” done to determine if he had been compromised.
It was a pleasant, sunny day as Anna, Tam, and Val sat in a little cafe in Paris. The food was delicious and the wine well chosen, but the knowing smiles they shared as Anna’s daughter Darya tried to ply them for answers, came from a very different source than the tasty treats laid out before them.
“You had something to do with all this, didn’t you mother?” Darya said, pushing a pile of documents across the table.
“All of what?” Anna asked, picking up the topmost folder.
“A security breach?” Tam asked picking up one of the other folders.
“Not that,” Darya said. “Or not that directly. That was just a problem that our local IT Director ran into, but the timing was so coincidental that I had to include it.”
“Coincidental with what?” Val asked.
“The arrival of several misplaced shipments of antiretrovirals,” Darya said.
“Is that a bad thing?” Val asked.
“Bad? No! It’s amazing. It’s a miracle even,” Darya said.
“And I am now a miracle worker?” Anna asked.
“Isn’t that exactly how you’ve described your new job?” Darya said. “You help out people who are in need, when no one else can?”
“That is the club motto,” Tam said.
“But that most often takes the form of financial assistance, or unbiased investigations into issues,” Anna said. “Miracles are not an option on the standard contract.”
“As if you’ve ever signed a standard contract in your life mother.”
“While that may be true, I do not see the miracle here you are referring to, or its connection to our organization?” Anna said.
“It looks like you had three major shipments go missing, but then they turned up a bit later?” Val said. “Sounds like a shipping glitch.”
“It was more than a glitch,” Darya said. “The original shipments arrived with the right paperwork, in the right containers, with the right inspection forms. Except they weren’t the right shipments. They’d turned to stone.”
“I see that the shipping company claims to have found the correct shipments when they were unloading planes in Cambodia, Kenya, and Uganda,” Anna said.
“Yes, except those planes weren’t supposed to be carrying those shipments,” Darya said. “We have no idea where those drugs came from!”
“Were they tested?” Tam asked.
“Thoroughly,” Darya said. “The chemical analysis says that they’re the shipment we’ve been missing. Well, the shipment we’ve been missing and then some.”
“Interesting,” Anna said. “It looks like there was a 30% overage in each shipment. Isn’t that enough to cover the stock needed for testing and make up for the shortfall in supply caused by the delay?”
“It is. Exactly enough. Like it was planned and calculated by someone who knew we were having a problem and when it had occurred.”
“And how would someone have acquired these additional drugs?” Anna asked.
“I have no idea!” Darya said. “I don’t know how anyone found the missing drugs in the first place, but I am sure that we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude and a certain mother of mine always insisted that debts like that were supposed to be paid off.”
“I’m guessing you weren’t depending on a miracle,” Val said. “You must have had a backup plan in play?”
“We did,” Darya said. “We put out a fresh round of bids to source the replacement shipment.”
“Some interesting offers came in from the looks of it,” Tam said, scanning down a page of quotes.
“Yes, but that’s where this gets very strange,” Darya said. “One of the companies, a subsidiary of some giant conglomerate called PrimaLux, won the bid hands down. They had a better price than our principal suppliers by far. When it came time to deliver though, their shipments didn’t pass even the initial inspections.”
“What happened?” Tam asked, a gleam of glee sparkling in her eyes.
“They were trying to ship sugar pills in place of actual drugs,” Darya said. “It was like the contract was a joke to them. They couldn’t even produce an outbound inspection report that showed they’d ever tested the pills after they were manufactured.”
“So what happened to them? The company I mean,” Val asked.
“They were hit with the fees for their failure to deliver in a timely fashion and they’ve been barred from ever submitting bids to Medecins Sans Frontieres again,” Darya said. “I just can’t imagine what went wrong there.”
“Hypothetically speaking,” Tam said. “What if they were behind the original lost shipments?”
“How would they have done that?” Darya asked. “The pills were inspected at every step of the journey.”
“In theory, all you would need to do is disguise some beads with a white covering to pass the inspections though,” Tam said. “If you wanted to cheat the system that is.”
“Yeah, and a simple heist of the delivery truck would take care of the rest,” Val said.
“Retrieving the real drugs would be somewhat more complicated of course,” Anna said.
“Right, first you would have to find out where they were,” Tam said.
“And not get caught, because if you did, then you’d never get the drugs out from under the bad guys’ noses,” Val said.
“If you did manage that however, the rest would be reasonably simple I believe,” Anna said.
“Yeah, once you knew where the drugs were, all you would need to do is repeat their own trust heist trick against them,” Tam said.
“Let them keep the drugs all nice and climate controlled for you, until they’re ready to move them. Then replace their truck with one you’ve filled up with, I don’t know, sugar pills maybe?”
“That would be an excellent choice,” Anna said. “Especially if they were in containers which were similar containers to the originals but the pills themselves were visibly different in size and shape.”
“Right, once they fail the first inspection, there’s no chance that they’d make it out into the distribution channel and be given to people who need actual medicine,” Tam said.
“But I think it says here that the sugar pills wound up being repurposed to help feed livestock where supplies were running low,” Val said. “Nice. I wonder who thought of that?”
“It was an anonymous suggestion,” Darya said with a frown. “Which is amusing because there’s no official channel for making anonymous suggestions that I know of.”
Val looked away and forcibly kept herself from whistling innocently.
“I suppose that could explain how the drugs were lost and found, but what about all the rest of it?” Darya asked. “The mysterious shipment? The lack of inspection reports? The extras in the shipments?”
“Well the extras would come from any surplus that the thieves were planning to flood the market with,” Val said. “I mean it’s not like there was a better use for the surplus than to send it to the people who actually needed it right?”
“And as for the rest?” Tam said. “Maybe people need to learn to change their passwords more often. I mean, computers can be just so unreliable, especially if, heaven forbid, you manage to get physical access to one that’s on a system that’s otherwise ridiculously secured. Oh the things you could do then. Gives me a shiver just thinking about it.”
“I think the most important thing you could do though is something like what happened,” Anna said.
“Yeah,” Val said. “There are a lot of people who need a second chance at being healthy and I’d imagine whoever was responsible for your good luck is more than happy to have been able to be a part of that.”