In retrospect, hauling Holly Newcastle – Leftenant, Australian Army and visiting dignitary – straight out of her chair and practically tossing her in a corner may not have been the best decisions Randal had ever made. He didn’t recognize either of the other two people she was with, though the new woman was wearing the bright yellow of a Justice deputy, but she was sitting in the middle of the a fairly important control center that she definitely shouldn’t have had access to and that wasn’t something he could just ignore. Randal handed her off to Sam and sat down at the screen she’d been working at.
“Chief?” The woman said tentatively.
“How’s things, Ramon?” Sam said, gently moving Holly to one side over her half formed protests.
Randal waved Walker forward and tapped the display. “She’s tapped into the code, Scott. What is all this?”
“It’s the air pressure and atmospheric composition control programs.” Walker scrolled through the code at a frantic pace. “They’re spliced together somehow but I can’t tell what’s going on or why.”
“I thought you were an expert,” Randal hissed in annoyance.
“I’m a generalist expert, of sorts,” Walker explained.
“That’s not a real thing.” Sam deadpanned.
Walker laughed. “Point is I don’t know what this is off the top of my head.”
Holly wiggled her way back into the conversation, pushing Sam back a step with a swift kick to the ankles. “I’m trying to code an algorithm that will up the air pressure in the maintenance access areas around the hull.”
“Why on earth would you want to do that?” Sam asked.
She smoothed her hair back and tossed condensation aside almost as smoothly as a native born Trenchman. After a moment to collect thoughts Holly said, “Harry figured we’re not dealing with a hull breach here. He thought it was a fish out of water.”
“Right.” Randal nodded. “We’d gotten there too.”
“Good. So one of your fish’s main goals is to flood Alcatraz, right?” She leaned in under Walker’s shoulder and quickly edged him out and back away from the console. As she leaned in closer to Randal he decided to vacate the chair for her before she got any pushier. And it did sound like she’d been put on whatever mad science thing she was doing for Herrigan, which meant if anyone would be getting hard questions it should be him. Holly took the seat without hesitation and continued talking. “Short of a bunch of high explosives the easiest way to do that is an outside hatch.”
“Riiiiight…” Walker’s voice trailed away, a look of realization dawning. “But all the interior and exterior hatches open inwards.”
Sam and Randal exchanged a wordless question. Unfortunately, neither one of them had any idea where the logic trail was going.
“Care to share with the rest of the class?” Ambassador Sudbury asked.
Randal jumped, having forgotten the two Australians had tagged along behind them. Which reminded him of something else. “Yeah, and where’s Miss Cochran? She was supposed to be with you, too. Well, not supposed to but…”
Holly ignored the second question. “Have you ever tried to open an inwards facing door in an air tight room? Depending on the air pressure it can be difficult or even impossible.”
Walker plunked himself down at a nearby console and started working the screen. “Yeah but the hull maintenance access is pretty big. You’d need a couple of atmospheres of pressure, minimum, to make them too hard for a person to open – you’d probably want to shoot for five to be on the safe side.”
“Is that too much for your atmospherics to handle?” Hathoway asked.
“It’s not a matter of the air pumps, if that’s what your asking.” The new man who they’d found with Holly leaned back from his own console. “It’s the chemical mix.”
“I’m sorry,” Sudbury interjected, “you are?”
The stranger brushed his own hair, almost shoulder length, messy and damp, back and jerked a thumb at his chest.”Ben Hornsby, atmospheric engineer. Deputy Cartwright had me and my mate Mag helping Deputy Ramon out. We were set to meet him back here after our perimeter check and he had us help Holly with the new programing.”
Walker gave Ben an incredulous look. “If you’re in atmospherics then you should know you can’t just go cranking the air pressure up on people – over a certain point oxygen and even nitrogen become poisonous to people.”
“Unless you mix helium into the air rather than just increasing the mixture at standard ratios,” Ben said with a grin. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, I’m not an expert-”
Walker gave Sam a surprised look. “But you know all about general experts?”
“Enough to know they don’t exist,” Sam said with a mock scowl. “What I want to know is, where are we getting helium from? I know we don’t keep it on hand.”
“Mag went to get it,” Ben said. “He knows someone who works at the McClain lab and he was pretty sure they use liquid helium as a coolant for some of their processes. We can convert that to gas and pump it in once I’m done over here.”
“Wait.” Randal gave Sam’s deputy a curious look. “This isn’t Mag? That wasn’t short for Margaret or something?”
She smiled. “My name’s Tanya Ramon. Mag was a ceramics engineer who was with us earlier.”
“McClain’s should be in lockdown,” Sam pointed out. “How is he going to talk to them?”
“Not my problem,” Ben said with a shrug.
“Except this whole nutty scheme of yours requires the helium to work right,” Walker pointed out.
“Not necessarily,” Sudbury said. “This area isn’t normally occupied, correct?” He got an affirmative nod from Walker. “Then just flood the area and if this fish out of water is there anyway well…”
“Sacrifices must be made?” Sam demanded, his voice suddenly hard.
Randal cleared his throat in the uncomfortable silence that followed, pulling the room’s attention back to him. “Where did Deputy Cartwright and Miss Cochran go?”
“They went to the hull access chambers,” Holly said quietly. “I think they were planning to try and find the fish and pull him out.”
“What?” Sam straightened up and a look of intense interest softened his face a touch. “Randal, if Herrigan is going to be in that access corridor, breathing helium, then there is no way we’re letting him out of there before I have something to record his voice on.”
Ben and Walker exchanged a look. Ben said, “We’ll need to put them in a contained environment to slowly return-”
“Shut up,” Hathoway snapped, his eyes burning Ben into silence. “Chief Executive Holman,” he continued, turning his burning gaze to Randal next. “Why would your deputy drag one of our delegation into potential mortal danger? Does he have no idea of his responsibilities here?”
Randal shook his head. Old timers had always talked about how surface people, especially the government, tended to have different priorities than Trenchmen but he’d always chalked it up to bitter memories and tribalism. Maybe there was some element of truth to it after all. “We can discuss Deputy Cartwright’s responsibilities later. Where in the access chambers did they head?”
“I can show you,” Ramon said.
“Good. We’ll head there and work the other way until we find whoever caused this lockdown and get it straightened out.” He clapped a hand on Walker’s shoulder. “You stay here with Miss Newcastle and Mister Hornsby and get this mess sorted. See if you can find a second source of helium in case McClain’s doesn’t work out.”
“Got it,” Walker said.
“Randal,” Sudbury said. “Can I have a moment of your time?”
“Only if you can talk and walk, Ambassador.”
Randal glanced at Sam and Ramon. “Anything we need to grab before we go? No? Then let’s move.”