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.”