I’m on vacation this week and so there is no update. Hope you will tune in next week!
Randal and Sam gave a combined heave and dragged Walker up and out of the access hatch, the Chief Engineer giving a grunt as he rolled himself around into a mostly upright position and dusted himself off and all three men exhaled and shook out aching muscles. Hathoway bent over them in an attempt to see in the hatch but without Walker’s flashlight it was all shadows save a few glimpses of nearby wiring with the rest fading into darkness. The military man shook his head ruefully and stepped back. “Deep hole, that.”
Walker grinned, his face mostly back to it’s normal color in spite of being held mostly upside down for the last few minutes. “About two stories. You’re not really supposed to get in to the wiring this way but someone did, and not too long ago at that. Risky move, since he couldn’t have brought most of the appropriate safety equipment in this way so he’d have been working without a net as it were.”
Hathoway raised a skeptical eyebrow. “As opposed to what you were just doing?”
“I put those two,” Walker jerked a thumb at the other two Chiefs in turn, “on the list of approved safety measures before we started.”
“And I approved it,” Randal added, “which makes it doubly official and, more importantly, fast.”
“Honestly,” Sudbury said, sounding a little exasperated, “don’t you three have some kind of minders to make sure you don’t go pulling stupid stunts and getting killed? What good do you do the public if they lose the benefit of your expertise?”
There was an uncomfortable moment as the three Chiefs exchanged a mystified look. No one said, “What do you mean?”
But it was pretty heavily implied.
“If you’re worried about having too many eggs in one basket,” Sam said, “I could call a deputy and have the two of you escorted back to the offices. Or maybe a hotel? We do have those down here and I’m sure-”
Sudbury waved him off. “It’s tempting, but I do have half my delegation to worry about. That doesn’t explain why you three are down here.”
“Same reason,” Randal said. “Bigger scale.” He took one of Walker’s arms and pulled the engineer to his feet. “What did you find down there, Matt?”
In reply Walker dug a fist sized gizmo out of a pocket and showed it to the group. “This was spliced into the network line. I don’t know what it does for sure but at I guess, given what we’re looking at, it used a high amplitude light pulse to shut down the fiber optic network in this section.”
Sudbury cleared his throat and, when he had the group’s attention, asked, “Why would knocking out your network cause a… what did you call it? Breach lockdown?”
“That’s the term,” Walker said. “The thing about breaches is you have to know they happened in order to lock down the area around them. If the local control programs lose touch with the network they can’t be told a breach has taken place. So they trip a lockdown until they can reestablish contact with the network.”
“How many people would know they could do that?” Sam asked.
“Anyone on the Ward’s engineering and structural team in the last three years since the safety protocols were rewritten.” Walker thought about it for a moment. “A handful of the upper echelon contractors. That’s it, at least that I know of.”
Hathoway took the device from Walker’s hand and looked it over. “Has this kind of trick been used before?”
“A fish over in First Ward tried it as part of an escape bid five years ago,” Walker said. “The new lockdown system is one reason why it failed, and why we adopted the new model.”
“A fish?” Sudbury quirked an eyebrow. “I would think they would be on the outside, not in here.”
Randal grunted. “People aren’t meant to live under thousands of feet of water, Ambassador. They can go wrong in the head in a lot of ways. In the old days it was mostly due to the close quarters but there were always a few people who had to work on the outside, expanding the colony, and since we’re still growing now we see those kinds of head cases the most often. Usually they form a kind of extreme agoraphobia after all their time in small construction subs in the middle of the great wide ocean. But some people seem to think the sea is where they belong and they try and get back there.”
“Most of them think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring the rest of us along, too,” Sam added.
“You mean a crazy underwater crane operator is trying to drown everyone in the section?” Hathoway demanded.
“No.” Randal said evenly. “We don’t use cranes down here. Otherwise, yes.”
The main lights were out all across the plaza outside, leaving only the dim emergency lighting around the outside of the circle and the soft glow of the phosphorescent moss growing up the central planters to see by. It was surreal, if peaceful, but definitely no the way things were supposed to be. Herrigan stepped away from the office window and nearly stepped on Sonny, leading to a short moment of shuffling and cursing by way of apology as the two men fumbled in the dark and cramped room. Finally Herrigan got his flashlight pointed upwards between the two of them and said, “You’re right about the power being out everywhere. I don’t see how that translates to sabotage.”
“It doesn’t necessarily. Most of our power comes from tidal generators, not geothermal, so it goes out all the time. You can practically set your watch by it. But the communications lines?” He swiped water from his shoulder. “Festering things are supposed to withstand eight Rictors, Harry. Eight. That’s the kind of earthquake the Big Shake was. The come lines don’t just go out.”
“All right, Sonny, I hear you.” Herrigan rubbed his jaw absently, trying to think of what to do. Normally it would be a no-brainer, and the fact that he hadn’t jumped to it already was probably part of what had Sonny so upset as it was, but the addition of the Aussie girls was making the mental math harder than normal. “You still get a lot of contractors down here? Or did they stop coming when the construction jobs moved to Ward Four?”
“Still plenty of building here in the Luft,” Sonny said, half annoyed and half defensive. “Besides, our customers are loyal. We still got lots of roughnecks, if that’s what you’re asking. But you should have been able to tell that – half of ’em came with their lights still in their pockets, didn’t they?”
Given how dark a colony at the bottom of the ocean could get when the power went out Herrigan wasn’t sure the number of people carrying flashlights said anything at all about the people themselves, other than how many of them had good sense. But then, in the old days, when all electronics were hard to make, it was the people who worked on the unfinished periphery who carried flashlights the most so it wasn’t like there was no precedent. And pointing out how irrelevant that old idea was no wasn’t going to get him anywhere so he ignored it and Sonny and stepped back out into the bar, leaping up on the serving counter and raising his voice to call, “Who here works construction?”
A smattering of cheers, jeers and general affirmative profanity came in response. He grinned and said, “Great! You two, yeah you with the collar and your pal with the dead urchin on his head, you’ve just been deputized! Come over and see what you’ve won!”
Herrigan hopped off the bar and turned to Ramon, who was arguing with Holly about something.
“We use this stuff everyday, Newcastle,” Ramon was saying, “And I’m telling you that we can’t rewire it remotely. Or without someone who knows what they’re doing, the fiber optics can be tetchy.”
“Fiber?” Holly pinched the bridge of her nose. “Your network is fiber based?”
Lauren leaned in and asked, “Can’t you work with that?”
“Not trained on it, and it is notoriously touchy for what I had in mind.”
“Which was what?” Ramon asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“Not important,” Herrigan interjected, hoping to head of any questions that might raise unfortunate questions. Like where Holly had been trained in maintaining computer networks or even why Lauren was so tanned. In retrospect taking her out in public had been a bad idea but hopefully other things would be on people’s minds. “Ramon, I want you to go and check this section’s perimeter hatches and have the engineers lock ’em down.”
On cue the two men Herrigan had pulled out of the shadows in back of the bar got over to them. Both were hard faced, grimy men in faded blue jackets and the weathered hands of people who worked for a living. The only distinguishing features were the flared collar on one jacket and the long and freakishly unruly hair on the other head. “These boys, who are probably the closest thing to engineers sealed in this section at the moment.”
“That’s right, ma’am,” collar man answered. “I’m Mag Teng and if it’s grown out of ceramic I can put it together or take it apart.”
“Ben Hornsby,” the other said. “My thing is pumps and atmospheric control – not sure I’m your best choice but I’m happy to help.”
“You sound perfect to me, Ben,” Herrigan replied. “I want you two and Ramon to go around and lock down all the hatches on the perimeter. Disable the hatch mechanisms if you have to, but if you can just lock them shut so we can get back out easily that’d probably be better.”
Ben nodded slowly. “Yes, I think we could do that pretty easily. Those doors are hydraulic and we could just cut the control circuit out of -”
“You lost my at hydraulic, Ben,” Herrigan said, shaking his head ruefully. “So long as you get it done.”
“Sure,” Mag said, “but why lock the doors more? Shouldn’t we be trying to get out?”
Herrigan jerked a thumb at Sonny. “Barkeep thinks this might be deliberate sabotage. Only reason I can think of to sabotage something on this scale would be to try and hit the McClain plant in the bottom half of this section.” He pause for a moment to think, then looked at Ramon. “They are still putting that in, right? No one changed their minds while I was out of port?”
She nodded. “Yeah, it’s been running for a few weeks now. That’s what you think this is, some kind of industrial espionage? Don’t you think locking down a whole section over that is a little extreme?”
“Can you think of a better reason to cut power to and lock down a whole section?”
“Sure.” Everyone looked at Mag Teng in surprise. He shrugged. “A fish out of water.”
“What was he thinking?”
“Bringing the Aussies here or taking them out for drinks?” Sam asked, watching as Randal paced back and forth along the back of the ops deck. “You’ve been harping on both for the last ten minutes.”
Randal flopped down in one of the nearby chairs, drawing an irate look from one of the nearby engineers as it rattled and squeaked on it’s stand. “It’s more a question of whether it ever happens, at all.”
Sam leaned back against the wall and laughed. “Aunt Kitty would say no but mostly because he’s not thinking about her. ‘Course a man can’t always make decisions thinking of his mother so that’s not exactly a strike against him.”
A flat look from Randal. “What are you talking about?”
Fortunately Sam didn’t have to answer because a his phone chimed. With a silent request to Randal to put the conversation on hold he answered. A minute later he put it away and said, “One of the deputies saw Herrigan going into Orpheus. I told you it’d be one of his usual watering holes.”
Randal just grunted and started punching at the console’s touch screen while calling out, “Ambassador Sudbury? I think we’ve found your people.”
The ambassador walked over from the engineering console he’d been looking over with the Ward’s Chief Engineer, saying, “Very informative, Mr. Walker. I hope one day you’ll have a chance to visit Melbourne and demonstrate some of your techniques there. Australia is thinking of starting a space program and the kind of pressure chambers you build here could easily be adapted for it.”
“That was kind of the point to building this place, at least from the structural point of view.” The Ward’s third elected official tagged along with the Ambassador, brushing a sheen of sweat and condensation from the top of his bald head. “But I couldn’t go any time soon. I just started my term a few months ago and leaving the Ward before it’s up is a big no-no.”
Sergeant Hathoway grunted. “You mean you can’t move around as you like?”
“He’s the man in charge of keeping the Ward’s hull and life support intact and us alive,” Randal replied. “It doesn’t exactly leave a lot of time for you to go on vacation. He’s on call at all times until the end of his term. That’s why Chief Engineer terms are so much shorter than ours.”
“I would think that leaving the Ward and inspecting the hull would be a natural part of such a position,” Sudburry said.
“Oh, I can do that if absolutely necessary but for the most part I got staff for that kind of thing.” Matt Walker offered a half shrug and a charismatic grin and said, “It’s not the job I was expecting when I ran for it but I think that’s true for most Chiefs. If you want some names of people that could give you good pointers on Alcatraz engineering I got a list I could give you. Third Ward is famous for our construction teams.”
Randal pushed away from the console and climbed to his feet. “Can we go get your missing people before we look in to that? I’m sure the Ambassador is going to see a lot here he’d like to share with the surface but he’s got a lot of time to work out the details of what all that is. For now, I still need to figure out what we’re going to do with an Ambassador and how to bring it up with the other Wards.”
Walker grinned. “That’s why you’re the Chief Executive and not me, Holman. It’s time you started earning your keep.”
“My keep?” Randal shot Sam a wounded look. “You hear that? He thinks I don’t work. I’d like to see him go to Inferno Ward and negotiate with the Dante some time.”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you.” Sam grabbed him by the shoulders, turned him towards the door and gave a gentle push. “Stairs are that way, Randal.”
They hadn’t gotten much farther than a few steps when a frantic pinging sent Walker moving quickly to see what was wrong. A few seconds later, he said, “Sam? Where did that stray cat of yours wander off to?”
“I didn’t think you had cats down here,” Halloway muttered.
Sam ignored him. “Down at Orpheus. Section K… 47 I think?”
“42,” Randal corrected, digging his heels in to stop their progress. “What’s wrong?”
Walker looked up from his console, his face grim. “K-42 just went into breach lockdown.”
There was the split second of heavy silence that always falls over a group of people when something unexpected happens, adding to the oppressive feeling of the total darkness in the bar. Then the room lit up as a half a dozen pocket torches sprang to life. Lauren let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding as primal panic receded into the background. Across the table Herrigan switched on a light of his own and stood up, looking around the room.
A voice from the doors called out, “The doors are sealed. My money is on breach lockdown.”
“Sonny!” Herrigan yelled, his voice carrying over the hubbub that was building. “Where’s your emergency lights?”
A voice drifted back from the direction of the bar. “The boss hasn’t had the backup power serviced in months. My guess it’s on the fritz.”
“Cartwright? That you?” Lauren leaned to one side and saw a tall, short haired woman maneuvering through the crowd. Like Herrigan, she was wearing a bright yellow jacket, the color easily noticeable in the dim light, and she moved with an air of command.
“Ramon! My favorite swill drinking hornet.” Herrigan motioned for her to join them at the table. “Glad to see you.”
She laughed. “Not as glad as I am to see you. Half the deputies thought you were dead.”
“Not you, though?”
“Nope. Yuan is going to owe me twenty bucks.” She grinned and shone her light across the table. “And you brought friends! New crew?”
“Long story.” Herrigan tossed Lauren and Holly a sideways look, a moment of uncertainty crossing his face. “Ramon, we need to get a handle on this. Can you and Sonny patch into the network and find out what killed power?”
Ramon shrugged. “Sure. But I don’t know if there’s any point to it, whether it’s a false alarm or not breach lockdowns are the engineer’s problem, not ours.”
She turned and worked her way towards the bar. Lauren leaned in and asked, “What’s breach lockdown?”
Herrigan dropped his voice and said, “Areas near the hull, like this one is, can seal themselves in to a number of watertight chambers in event of a hull breach. Makes sure half the Ward doesn’t drowned because one wall had shoddy construction.”
“Do you get false alarms on that kind of thing often?”
“It depends. New construction has a lot of issues with them for a bunch of reasons. But Ward Three hasn’t built down in two or three years.” He shrugged, “The system is very sensitive, though, since lives depend on it. There’s usually at least one a month somewhere in the Ward. They usually only last a couple of hours.”
Sonny’s voice came over the crowd again. “Hey Harry! C’mere.”
Herrigan glanced at the two women at the table with him, then motioned for them to follow as he made his way to the bar. Ramon was huddled at one end with the barkeeper and he joined them there. “What’s up?”
Ramon glanced around and said in a low voice, “We don’t have access to the network outside this section.”
“I didn’t think the lockdown process cut communication lines,” Herrigan said slowly.
“It doesn’t.” Sonny folded his arms over his chest. “And the main power lines are out throughout the section, which shouldn’t happen either. So what do you think, deputies? My gut says sabatoge.”