Out of Water – Chapter Five

“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.”

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