No doubt, we’ve all experienced the urge to recover something lost, whether it was money, a family heirloom, a damning letter, or just an eldritch tome that haunts our nightmares. One solution: assemble a team of experts to retrieve the lost item.
The core members of such a team might include a mastermind (to plan the heist), a thief (to get past any security devices), the driver (to orchestrate exfiltration), the muscle (in case something goes horribly wrong), and of course, the distraction (because it is much easier to get away with stuff if everyone is looking in the wrong direction). Speculative fiction offers numerous candidates who would combine the required expertise with the necessary moral flexibility. Here are the five SFF characters I’d pick for my retrieval team.
The Mastermind: Doctor Impossible (Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman)
Transformed by SCIENCE! into the world’s greatest genius, Doctor Impossible has plenty of practice envisioning and attempting schemes of unparalleled ambition. True, he does not so much struggle with Malign Hypercognition Syndrome as enthusiastically embrace it—thus the string of failed attempts to CONQUER THE WORLD!—but provided you can convince him that the heist is a step towards the global fame and adulation that is his due, Doctor Impossible can be relied on to provide an almost perfect plan. Don’t think of his track record as thirteen failures. Think of them as thirteen near-successes—bold visions that might have succeeded had someone like you managed to keep the Doctor focused on the achievable.
Note: You may need to break Doctor Impossible out of a federal penitentiary.
The Thief: Skeen (Skeen’s Leap and others by Jo Clayton)
Skeen has been a “rooner” (a “specialized smuggler/thief/plunderer,” to quote from the novel in which this character debuts) for forty years. Her exploits are famous enough to compel her to use a number of aliases, but she has managed to evade the authorities and is still a free woman. Still spry thanks to anti-aging drugs, Skeen has the ideal array of skills to get into—and more importantly, back out of—almost any heavily guarded facility. Skeen is a comparatively trusting criminal; she doesn’t waste time paying attention to her job contract to see if there’s a hidden hook. This often presents her with problems, which she skillfully evades. Betraying her is ill-advised. She is a survivor.
Note: You may need to retrieve Skeen from other-dimensional Tunal Lumat, where she took up residence after discovering some portals are one-way.
The Driver: McGill Feighan (The Journeys of McGill Feighan series by Kevin O’Donnell, Jr.)
McGill Feighan is a “flinger,” a teleporter whose reach spans the Milky Way. He is also one of the very few flingers to escape the Flinger Network’s methodical conditioning, which prevents flingers from doing anything untoward. Although he is not criminally inclined, he is at the centre of a compelling mystery—why did the terribly mysterious Far Being Retzglaran orchestrate McGill’s kidnapping as a baby?—and if you can convince him the job will somehow get him closer to answering that question, he may turn a blind eye to certain legal niceties. With him by your side, the entire galaxy is within reach.
Note: The vast criminal gang known as the Organization would also like an answer to McGill’s question. They play rough, so try not to attract their attention. Or the attention of the Far Being Retzglaran, for that matter.
The Muscle: Balsa (Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and others, by Nahoko Uehashi)
Balsa has survived a career spent as a literal spear carrier in a culture that views commoners like Balsa as eminently expendable. Not only is she an adept body guard, she has the valuable knack of knowing when she is out of her depth. She’s even better at avoiding being in a position to make use of the first knack. She is one of the few soldiers in New Yogo who can say they’ve fought demons and worse; thanks to her remarkable skills, she’s one of the even fewer who can they survived fighting demons and worse.
Note: Balsa will know if your job is a bad idea. Not that that will help her avoid it if it is.
The Distraction: Miles Vorkosigan (The Warrior’s Apprentice and many others by Lois McMaster Bujold)
Childhood (well, fetal) injury left Miles comparatively frail, which makes him a misfit in muscular, military Barrayaran culture. Where other Barrayarans might instinctively resort to direct force, Miles has always had to use cunning, glib patter, and unlimited reserves of hasty improvisation. Therefore, planting Miles anywhere in the vicinity of the target should guarantee that security will be too busy contending with the fog of chaos that follows the hyperactive aristocrat to notice what the rest of your team is doing. Even better, if the team gets caught, odds are good Miles will provide some superficially convincing reason to release them.
Note: Miles’ ability to spare his own allies from the confusion that attends his Bavarian Fire Drills is limited, to put it kindly. That said, resist the temptation to involve him without informing him, because his ability to spare people the chaos is even more limited when he does not know he should be trying to do so.
No doubt you have your own preferred candidates for each of these key heist-related roles (if only because I selected mine mainly for entertainment value). Comments are below.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and the Aurora finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.