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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 105: Brown 36
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Previous chapter: Chapter 104: Kondor 77
The elevator door slid open revealing an empty corridor. Qualick hesitated. The doors began to close.
"What do I do?" he said.
Derek stepped into the space; the doors slid back open. "With elevators, usually you just get in the way, and they realize you're there and open up again."
Qualick stepped off; the others followed. The four-armed man stared one way, then the other, as if seeking something he could not see. "This way," he said, and started down the hall.
They had hardly gone a dozen yards before Dorelle spoke, in a hoarse whisper. "Derek" was all she said.
"I see it," he replied. There was a camera at the end of the corridor, pointing their direction. "There are a lot of possibilities; let's not jump to conclusions. We don't know if the locals have figured out how the security system works, or have bothered to have anyone watch the internal feeds. Even if they have, security guards are usually watching for the unusual, and people walking down the hall like they're going somewhere doesn't qualify. It's unlikely that they can really tell anything about who they see on that kind of long-range view anyway. In any event, there's not much we can do about it if they do see us, except listen for anything that sounds like an alarm." They continued until they came to a door. Qualick tried it, and it opened.
"Don't hesitate," Derek said. "If we're seen, we want to appear like we know exactly where we're going. One of the useful things I learned in seventh grade: no one stops you in the halls if you look like you're in the right place."
They stepped through into a room, and the lights came on automatically.
"I think we're in luck," Dorelle said, and Derek looked at the array of computer terminals filling the room.
"You may be right," he said. "I just wish my laptop wasn't outside."
He immediately went to work. First, he shut down a computer that was connected to the network and took it off line; then he booted it back up and started to type code, his fingers flying faster than they ever had on any game controller. "Watch the door," he said at some point, although it was hardly necessary to say.
The kinetic torquer pulled a panel off the router, and in a few minutes he wired his new computer into it and presented it with an alternate password file.
"We're in," he said. "All right, here's the plan. Dorelle, you get on that computer, I'll take this one. We have not yet alerted them to our presence, I think. But the moment we do anything, they're going to start looking for us. That means that we have to hit them hard on the first blow–hard enough that they can't find us. So I'm thinking you have to pull up the security systems of the building while I'm isolating the password files. When we are both ready–both of us–you have to shut down the elevators and any other access between floors, and immediately I have to lock everyone else out of the system. If you do your job right, they won't be able to come up from below to reach us. If I do my job right, it will be at least a while before they can get the doors open again.
"After that, we shut down the communications–you do that, while I find the ventilation system and close it down." He looked at the other three by the door, even as Dorelle started typing. "That should mean we only have to deal with whoever is on this floor; if we can hold this room and keep an eye on the system, we may be able to keep them trapped below us indefinitely."
Qualick and Holger looked at each other, over Meesha's head.
"Well, then," Holger said, "go to it."
Go to it Derek did. He ran directories, searched files, traveled paths between computer systems, traced the network in every direction, until he had a map of every system on the network, and every means by which it could be accessed. Beside him he heard Dorelle's fingers, a continuous drum roll on the keyboard.
She was ready before he was; he told her to take a moment to find the communications system, and he would be done shortly. He was ready before she finished that. "Half a minute," she said, and good as her word, she was done.
"O.K.," Derek said. "Kill the elevators and doors, and tell me when it's done. If I goof and lock us out, at least we'll have shut down their ability to move between floors."
"Good," Dorelle said, and hit several buttons. "Done."
"Excellent," Derek said. "Kill the communications while I deep six the password file."
In seconds, he could see the network shutting down. Computers throughout the complex were cut off; access was restricted. It looked like they had control.
"O.K., guys, they probably know we're here." And with those words, Derek proceeded to hunt down the environmental controls for the lower levels.
There was the sound of running and shouting outside the door. Several creatures passed it; they clearly did not know what was happening. Qualick, Meesha, and Holger repositioned themselves–Qualick and Meesha to either side of the door, Holger behind a table with his rifle in position. Derek continued to type furiously on the computer, looking for anything he might have missed.
The door popped open. Qualick's vibrating blade sliced through the neck of the first creature through, and the body dropped to the floor. Already his sword and axe were in motion, finding the next creature; this one was prepared, however, and blocked the blows. Meesha's knife found its leg, though, and Holger brought it down, a hole burned through its chest. Still Derek typed.
Qualick rolled against the wall, one arm singed by a laser. Holger returned fire into the hall, and Meesha ran beneath this, shifting the slain and closing the door.
"Yeah," Holger said, "I'd say they know we're here."
"Well, what do you know," Derek suddenly exclaimed.
"What do you know?" Dorelle asked.
"The complex is equipped with a pest control system that permits them to fumigate any floor, as part of the environmental systems. Kills rats, moles, bugs, lizards–just about everything. I can probably finish off everyone on the lower floors from here."
"Well, stop talking about it," Qualick said, "and do it. We might be able to hold out against this lot, but if there are the same number on each floor, we will never make it."
"Yeah," Holger added, "and particularly not if it gets harder the farther in you go."
There were, of course, several safety protocols in place. Derek had to trick the system into believing the targeted areas had been evacuated, but that was simple enough to do. A countdown started–three minutes, and the floors below them would be flooded with gas. Three hours, and the ventilation system would come back on, filtering out the air below.
The door opened again, but Holger was ready, and fired several rounds into the crowd attempting to rush it. They fell back; some fell down.
"Meesha," he said, tossing her a grenade. "You know how this works? Next time they open the door, roll it under their feet into the hall–but don't let them kick it back in here."
It was another minute–Derek was watching the countdown, and it had reached ninety seconds–before the door opened again. This time it was Qualick who repelled the attackers, a sword in the belly of one, an axe to the shoulder of a second, and the buzzer blade between them to injure the man behind. Meesha slid the grenade across the floor like a hockey puck, and shut the door again. Seconds later, a blast rocked the room.
"That should even up the sides a bit," Holger said.
The counter said fifteen seconds when the door next opened. This time no one saw what hit the lead attacker, but Meesha had a look of intense concentration on her face, and the man was thrown back several feet as if hit by a car. Holger fired at the several others, but Meesha fell back against the wall, leaving the door open.
Five, four, three, two, one. "Yes," Derek said, jumping to his feet. "The extermination of the lower floors has begun."
Something burned his shoulder, and before he could react something hit him in the center of his forehead. Somewhere inside he realized that he had made himself a target. Before he could even collapse, he was hit a third time. Qualick was yelling that he had the door, but that was the last thing Derek heard.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #116: Character Missions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: