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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 100: Brown 34
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Previous chapter: Chapter 99: Kondor 75
Derek was completely recovered, and quite famished, by daybreak. Fortunately, his companions had breakfast ready when they woke him, and he was able to satisfy that.
Their information suggested that they were very close to Cavalier, but their encounter with the Progressivists had made them considerably more cautious about contacting anyone they saw. Thus they kept out of sight, and tended to do more scouting and less traveling. It made sense that the entrance would be hard to find, and well protected. They did not wish to stumble into it and trigger whatever defenses were still operational, nor did they want to wander past it.
His companions had done this sort of thing many times before. Derek watched as they moved quietly through the brush, and tried to emulate their actions. He noted that they seemed to have a heightened watchfulness, and he tried to copy this. In some ways it reminded him of a frightened rabbit, or a squirrel, trying to take in everything at once, then scampering to another position and doing it again. He spent the day doing this, and by the end of the day he actually thought he was beginning to get the hang of it.
But they did not find any sign of the place, and wound up setting camp in a well-protected grove. This time it was insisted that Derek had to be up watching part of the night; they usually had one person awake, but everyone felt a level of fear and uncertainty that pushed them to having two people awake all night, and Derek had slept through the night before. So he found himself peering through the darkness until long after the moon set, and getting short shrift on sleep before the next day began. He might be twenty-something by now, he thought, but this body was still twelve and couldn't push as hard as his companions. Again he practiced the search and hide techniques, as they continued to scour the countryside.
Late that afternoon an entrance was spotted.
"Well, the first thing is obvious," Holger said. "Few people have found Cavalier because it's completely underground. Always was. The ancients built more and more underground buildings in the latter years, and when all that shows is the entrance, it's very difficult to find."
"The second thing," Qualick observed, "is that there is security on these doors. Sensors detect people, cameras capture them, and there is a defensive weapon system trained on the doorway. That's all going to have to be disabled if we're going to get even close enough to examine it."
"The third thing," Meesha's thoughts came into everyone's head, "is that something lives here. There are recent tracks leading to and from the entrance. Creatures have been coming and going."
Everyone fell silent. Derek was buried in his thoughts. Finally he spoke.
"Well, we could try knocking on the door to see whether they're friendly, but somehow I suspect that if they were this place wouldn't have the reputation it has."
"No," Qualick said. "Besides, even if they were basically friendly people, they probably don't want to share whatever they've got with everyone who comes along."
"So," Derek continued, "either we wait to see who comes along, or we try to sneak in and find out what it's all about. I'm inclined to take a look, myself."
"Agreed," Holger said. "Once we know what they're about, we'll have a much better idea of how to approach them."
Again there was thoughtful silence. Again Derek broke it.
"I think the sensors and cameras are my department," he said. "I'll start by getting around behind the camera and cutting into the system, and then set up my laptop to play a continuous loop of the images to them. After that, I trace the lines and work out what chip to insert to fool the sensors into thinking they're still operational. But I think that the defense systems are probably more Dorelle's province, so once I've got the sensors out, she should be able to get close enough to disconnect those. After that, we work on the doors. But meanwhile, you guys have to keep eyes and ears up, because if anyone comes while we're working, they're bound to have other thoughts about it, and I don't particularly care to be killed without a fight."
Without waiting for a reply, Derek left his bicycle, but took his tools and gear and circled around to the opposite side of the area. Scanning the field, he observed that there were two cameras, but that it did not appear that you could see one from the other. Carefully he cut into the cable and stripped the wires, then connected his laptop via alligator clips and brought in the camera image. His hopes were realized; the system put all the image information into one package, and sorted it at the other end. It was a simple matter to program the laptop to match the feed, and then clip off first one camera then the other.
Next he went to work on the sensors. The lines for these were separate, but went through the same pipe to get underground. This was a bit risky. Although the cameras would no longer reveal him approaching the junction box, he could not be certain at what range the sensors would detect him. He crept to the box as slowly and quietly as he could, and then again stripped the wires, ever so carefully, which led to the sensors. He set his meter high; it would not do to have it load the circuit and trigger the system. Gradually he worked down, until he was satisfied. Pulling components from his bag, he clipped them into the lines and shut down the sensors.
Then he settled down under some cover, rested his laser rifle in front of him, and signaled for Dorelle to move.
It seemed a very long time that Dorelle was out of sight near the weapons array. Derek began to wonder whether some silent defense system, such as a laser, had caught her. But the others seemed able still to see her, and he remembered that his own efforts must have taxed their patience. Eventually Dorelle emerged, and waved everyone to come to her. Derek picked up his things, but for his laptop and the chips he'd used to disable the sensors, and joined her and the others by the door.
"Key cards," Qualick said, and Dorelle produced a batch. She ran her best ones, all to no effect.
"Well, we knew it was not going to be easy," she said. "If it were easy, anyone could do it. Let me try some of the strange ones."
Derek interrupted. "Try the new ones."
"Pardon me?" Dorelle said.
"We were over this before. They aren't like keys; it's not a matter of finding one that fits the lock. They are identity cards, and you're looking for one that belonged to someone the computer recognizes. Try the new ones."
"There's nothing special about the new ones."
"There is everything special about the new ones. They were taken in this area, from creatures who may have been from around here. There is every reason to try them."
Dorelle shrugged, and drew out a different card. She inserted it in the slot, and the door opened.
"Well, what do you know?" Qualick said. "The boy was right."
"Yeah, but you know what that means," Holger said, and everyone looked at him.
"It means," Derek answered, "that Cavalier is a stronghold for the Progressivists."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #116: Character Missions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: