And now things are happening again! Not that I want to sound excited about it, but I’ve never been one to enjoy staying in one place for too long. No, wait. Let me try to explain this.
It’s not that I don’t want to be in a single location; I’ve lived in places for months, years, and been perfectly happy. But I’ve always had something going on, you know? And much as I love Aiyana, there was this little itch in the back of my head which said we ought to be moving and doing.
I know, I know, it was my honeymoon and I ought to learn to relax.
Next lifetime, I promise!
Okay, so as usual if you’re not interested in waiting for chapters you can buy the book – but it’s JUNE, right? So it’s Pride Month, and in celebration Adam’s decided you can have this book for FREE. Just click the button OR any image.
If you want to buy the audiobook, click the big audiobook cover at the bottom or the button below it, and enjoy the audio!
Chapter 22: I’m Pretty Sure They’re Not Selling Cookies
Packing didn’t take long, though they did take advantage of Kendra’s closets to expand their wardrobes considerably. ‘Remember, once we’re out, you’re Willow again, and I’m Wilma. Do you have your retinal inserts in place?’
‘Done. Doesn’t seem natural, sticking these in my eyes.’ They were chatting as the elevator slowly rose.
‘It’s not, but they work. If we were going to do a permanent cover, we’d have retinal surgery done to match the new ID’s, and that’s a pure bitch. A friend of mine in the company had it done, and she said that she had to keep her eyes covered for three days, and wore sunglasses for a week to keep the glare down. Oh, dammit!’ Kendra slammed her heel on the ‘Stop’ button.
‘I forgot something. We have to go back for it.’ She keyed for a return to the bottom.
‘What did you forget?’
‘Gun? I don’t need a gun, I have you!’ Cass tried to make light of it.
‘I need you to have it. I might need you to cover my back. I’m good -’
‘- But not invincible.’
‘Shouldn’t you have a gun?’
‘Who said I didn’t?’
‘So why do I need one?’
‘I told you, to get my back.’ She took Cass’s hands in hers, looked deep into her eyes. ‘It’s taken me a lifetime to get hold of you. I’m not going to do anything to lose you now.’
Cass blushed. ‘You say the sweetest things.’
‘Besides, you’re proved you’re good in a pinch already.’ The elevator doors slid open. They deactivated the security protocols before padding deeper into the bunker.
‘While you’re getting your – my – gun, I’m going to do a search.’
‘Oh?’ asked Kendra.
‘Derek,’ said Cass in a small voice. ‘I need to know what happened to him.’
That sobered Kendra. Truth was, she hadn’t thought twice about Derek since leaving him in the terminal. A professional hazard, she supposed, being able to compartmentalize her life so thoroughly.
‘Go ahead,’ she agreed. ‘But don’t get too involved; I won’t be long.’ True to her word, it was bare minutes before she returned to find Cass still furiously pecking at the terminal.
‘No connection, I can’t get any data to come up -’ She was cut off by Kendra swearing then racing out to the control room. She sprinted to catch up. When she arrived, Kendra was hammering at the controls.
‘Frak, frak, frak!’ she cursed.
‘What’s going on?’
‘We’re cut off!’ snarled Kendra, continuing to pound buttons.
‘All the systems are on a secure,’ POUND, ‘Dedicated,’ POUND, ‘Hard-wired line, with a gigabit wave satellite link for a backup,’ POUND!
‘There’s just no way for the connection to be lost, short of a holocaust or the line being physically cut between the topside and here,’ she finished.
Cass, noticing the monitors were all black, said, ‘That’s why there’s nothing on the monitors?’
‘Yeah, I saw that. More evidence someone’s taken over topside.’ Kendra gave up on the recalcitrant controls and moved to a different part of the console, a much older-looking section.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Seeing if our uninvited guests have done their homework. If they didn’t, we’re still in with a chance.’
‘Hush, mama’s working.’ She slapped the terminal. ‘Come on, you ancient piece of crap, wake up!’ One by one, green LEDs illuminated the console. ‘Good!’ was her only comment as she keyed in commands, toggled switches, and pushed buttons. After what seemed to be hours, but was in reality less than a minute, Kendra exclaimed, ‘Gotcha!’ and stood up.
‘Come on. It’s time to go.’ She led back into the bunker, away from the elevator, into the kitchen.
‘I don’t think we have time for a snack,’ Cass said nervously.
‘We have more time than you think; remember how long the elevator takes? That’s a deliberate defensive measure, and there isn’t a second access from topside to here.’ She grinned. ‘We’re not here for a snack. This way.’ Kendra opened up her freezer.
‘We can’t hide in here, they’ll find us!’ Cass’s voice was panicky.
‘We’re not hiding, we’re running. Close that door.’ Dazed, Cass did as asked. A dim red light came on, showing Kendra stepping towards the back corner. ‘Come on, Cass. I need your help with this!’
Cass shook off her paralysis and followed. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Getting us out of here. I need you to listen carefully and do exactly as I say. We’ve only got one shot at this, then the system locks down for two minutes before resetting.’
‘What do I do?’
‘Lift up that carton of chocolate ice cream, put it down on top of the vanilla.’ Cass did it. ‘Good. Now, the hamburgers behind you? Slide them to the left – left, not right!’
Cass caught herself, moved them. ‘Next?’
‘Last step, move the carrots to shelf directly above.’
When Cass withdrew her hand, she was shocked to see a panel drop back and slide open in the freezer wall, shelves and all. ‘Put everything back, then hurry. We have about thirty seconds from when the last item is back in place to get through.’
Food replaced, Cass followed Kendra through the door before it silently closed.
‘What was that? And where are we?’ The darkness around them was absolute.
‘Here, take my hand. We have to keep moving.’ Suiting actions to words, Kendra led her further into the dark. While they walked, she explained. ‘That was my emergency back door. It’s on a separate power supply, independent computer controls, so even if the bunker’s computers are tapped, nothing will show up.’
‘I meant, the whole thing. What happened?’
‘We were compromised, somehow. Has to be connected to those meddling kids, though I don’t know how they did it. Doesn’t really matter now. Point is, the world didn’t end, so someone cut the secure link from the outside. Only place that could happen is topside and inside the building; I paid a pretty penny to have four different lines converge here, give me plenty of redundancy. All four failing at once is a virtual impossibility. And with the satellite system as well? No, if the link to the net is broken, then there are huge problems upstairs.’
They continued walking through the passage as Kendra explained. ‘Of course, with the computers down, we were blind, so I had to fire up my backup system. It’s old – would you believe it actually has a physical drive? Found it in an antique shop. It’s called a Reindeer. Anyway, it’s so old it runs on transistors, but nothing today can tap into it – it speaks a completely different language.’
‘So that’s what all the Christmas lights were about?’
‘Yep. It’s my failsafe. Not smart enough to do any kind of active defense, but I did manage to slow down the elevator even more, jam the doors closed at the bottom of the shaft, shut down the ventilation, little things like that. Whoever’s dropping in won’t enjoy their stay.’
‘That’s nasty. But they deserve it!’
‘Damn right, that’s my – our – home! Don’t worry, OutLook will take care of our guests. As soon as we went off-line, an automatic alert dispatches a Quick Response Team. Problem is, it’ll take them at least thirty minutes to get here. The People’s Republic isn’t where we usually operate.’
‘And you’re sure they won’t find the door in the freezer?’
‘Sure? No. But it’s as secure as I can make it. It’s not in any plans, anywhere, and the trigger sequence is very specific. No, I don’t think they’ll figure it out. With any luck, the QRT will catch them and sweat them for information.’
‘What about us? Are we just going to wander around in the dark?’
‘Oh, babe, I’m sorry, I forgot you can‘t see.’
‘Just a bit. My vision extends into the infrared. There are lights all along here; they’re just not visible to most people.’
‘What else haven’t you told me?’ said Cass darkly. ‘Superpowers? Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?’
Kendra laughed. ‘Just short buildings with a running start and a tailwind. No, nothing else major. Um. Let me think.’ They walked in silence.
‘Okay. Weirdness about me. My vision – I’m rated at 20/10, and can see infrared and ultraviolet. No wisdom teeth, no cavities. Never been sick – remember junior high? I didn’t want to be in Ms. McKnight’s English class second semester and kept trying to get mono by kissing everyone? Well, turns out I can’t catch anything, something about my immune system being ‘very aggressive’. I’ve been told my heart is unusually large and beats unusually slowly. Oh, and there’s something wonky about my twelfth chromosome pair, it came back when my DNA was mapped. But other than that, I’m perfectly normal.’ Cass could hear the smile in her voice and smiled back.
‘You’re not some modified freak?’
‘No, no modifications. Not even a piercing – but you know that.’ Changing the subject, Kendra said, ‘We’re pretty close now.’
‘Pretty close to what?’
‘You’ll see in a minute.’