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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 115: Hastings 131
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 114: Brown 90
After pouring over books, papers, schematics, and diagrams of all sorts, Derek had said that he had good and bad news. Perhaps naively, Lauren had asked for the good news first.
"It doesn't work that way," Derek said. "It's the same news; it's just that it's both good and bad."
He paused longer than was necessary for this to be clear, but Lauren waited for him to continue.
"The systems which control the domes are not networked."
"Oh," Lauren said. "And that means?"
"Well, the bad part is that we can't open them remotely, or all at once, or anything like that. We have to be sitting at the control panel in the dome attempting to open it to get it to open. It also means that we can't hack the passwords or the security, really, until we get there. These books tell us what to expect, and to some degree what parameters are involved in each step of the system operation–and they certainly went to a lot of trouble to try to prevent unauthorized people from tampering with the dome. I don't know whether anyone even knows the passwords at this point. So we have to get inside, reach the control systems, and give ourselves sufficient time to crack our way into the system before the dome can be opened."
"Oh. And the good part?"
"They can't stop us remotely, either. Once we have physical control of the computer, they either have to destroy the mechanism itself or they have to take control of the system away from us. Destroying the mechanism is not going to be easy, and might backfire. I can see blowing up the gear system, but in that case the dome is likely to start slipping open anyway. Any sabotage which is going to keep the dome closed has to be done carefully. So that means their best strategy is to attack us and get the computer away from us. But once we've opened the dome, it should be easy for me to change the security protocols sufficiently that they can't close it. Anyway, that's the theory."
This theory was the reason they were here now, invading the dome in New York City. It was one of the oldest and largest domes, and as home of the United Nations this city was one of the most critical for the vampire's control of the world. They were going to have to shut down the World Court in Geneva and of course Washington and several other world capitals. This one was the first. It was obvious that once they succeeded in opening one, security at all others would go up markedly; they wanted that first one to be significant. This was it.
There were actually several domes over New York. Manhattan and Staten Island each had their own, and the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn were combined under two others. A string of domes led from there out Long Island, but these were independent. The four main domes were centrally controlled from a corner where three met, near the old airport. There was little in the way of security, to the point that their threesome seemed over prepared. Again Lauren's mental trick prevented the humans from seeing them; this time they had standardized floor plans from their stolen documents, and were able to get to the computer terminal directly and easily. It happened that two vampires were here, but for the three of them this was not a serious problem, and soon they were alone in the office.
"Lock the door," Lauren said to Bethany. "Any workers who happen by should assume that the bosses are out, and will then go away. Derek? Work your magic."
Derek sat at the computer, and set up his familiar laptop along with the array of cables, jumpers, cards, chips, and parts for which Lauren had no names, and proceeded to talk to the computer. There were several levels of security, starting with a relatively basic user identification file and working toward the sort of protections you would expect to find on the self destruct system of a starship. On the other hand, Derek had done the self destruct system of a starship once, and in a time pressure situation, so she wasn't worried about his ability to do this. It was just a matter of whether they could keep the place secure until he succeeded.
This moment was very like that one, over a century before. The boy was doing everything that really mattered. She and Bethany were little more than watchmen, guarding against the possibility that he would be interrupted in his work. It was easy to lose focus, as her mind wandered to other times and places, back to similar moments, ahead to work yet undone. The last time this happened, she had her leg crushed by a lizard she'd failed to notice in time. If she failed to notice the attacker this time, it would be far more serious.
"Keep alert," she said to Bethany, then telepathically continued, it's easy to forget how important the job of guard can be.
Bethany's thoughts came back. You're right, of course. Perhaps it would be best to set up some sort of scrying outside the door. At least then we'd know what was coming, if something was.
That made good sense. I'll do that, Lauren sent, and opened up her clairvoyance and clairaudience to the outside. At the moment, she saw and heard nothing.
"What's that?" Bethany asked.
"What's what?" Lauren answered.
"I see something, like a point of light outside the room."
"I don't see it."
"It would be," Bethany pointed at the wall to the right of the door, "right about there, on the other side of the wall."
"Oh; well, I'm watching from there. Let me shift my point of perspective, so I can see it." Lauren moved back her view.
"Oh," Bethany said. "This is not good. I'm seeing your reference point. It's glowing."
"Glowing? It's never done that before."
"I'd say something went wrong this time. Shut it down, maybe?"
Lauren closed off the clairvoyance and clairaudience.
"No, it's still there. Well, it's high, and it's not that bright; maybe no one will notice until we're out of here."
"All the same," Lauren said, "keep watch on what's happening out there." She checked her weapons. Maybe she just should have trusted God to keep them safe; on the other hand, there was no reason to think they shouldn't be watchful, even if God was looking out for them. It was just one of those things. Sometimes there were goofs, and this was certainly a big one.
"How is it coming, Derek?" Lauren asked.
I'm working on it. His thoughts came back to her. She had forgotten both that she had taught him mind reading and that he had said he had developed some other skills from that. This would be useful.
Good, she thought back. Keep us posted.
All were quiet for several minutes. I think we're in the home stretch, Derek sent.
That's good, Bethany's thoughts came, because I think we're going to have company. There are a couple of something, humans or ghouls maybe, pointing at Lauren's gaff.
There was a knock on the door. Everyone froze. The knock was repeated, followed by a muffled shout as to whether anyone was there, and then whether everything was all right.
Keep going, Derek, Lauren thought. Bethany, get ready for a fight, and let me know what's happening.
What's happening, Bethany sent back, is that they're gathering quite a few to help them. I think they're going to force the door.
Not good, Lauren thought to herself. She prepared the laser. She would need both technological and psionic weaponry early in the game. Once the laser was spent, she'd have to consider whether to risk the noise of the revolvers or stick to psionic and magical attacks. Of course, she still had the kau sin kes, and the bow and arrows. There were a lot of possibilities.
There was a huge grinding noise.
"What's that?" Lauren said.
"The domes are opening," Derek answered. "It will take probably ten or fifteen minutes, I'd say. Meanwhile, I'll start working on the security lockouts so no one can easily close them again.
The sound of the domes seemed to have decided the crowd outside the door. They were now battering it, attempting to open it. Bethany pronounced her door holding spell, which would keep it solid a bit longer; but the door was not designed to withstand battering and was already starting to splinter under the assault.
They couldn't really leave until they had the dome opened; they were going to have to hold their ground and defend Derek for at least that long. This was going to be a rough fight.
The ram cut a hole in the door, and Lauren fired her laser through it, burning someone on the other side. If the enemy was undecided about the situation, it had now been clarified for them. Blows came faster and fiercer against the door. With care, Lauren made her shots count, mostly, hitting the creatures through the existing holes. Bethany, meanwhile, seemed to be using her invisible blade, aiming it by way of her clairvoyant view outside. Lauren could not assess the impact she was having. She could hear, amidst the clamor, Derek's frantic typing.
The holes in the door began to combine into one large enough for a man to pass through. One of them began to do so, and Lauren took advantage of the awkwardness of his position to shoot him several times, until he stuck still in the gap. Those behind dragged him out. Some were cursing and screaming, no doubt victims of whatever Bethany was doing. It was time for Lauren to raise the ante.
"He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." There was the crackle of flame and the smell of burning flesh, and the screams increased in intensity; but so did the fury with which the enemy assaulted the doors. These were not men, she concluded. They were ghouls, possibly also vampires, quite aware of the danger unleashed with the admission of sunlight to the city. They would fight through anything but their final destruction, because they had everything at stake.
She changed the power pack in the laser; but the door burst open at this moment, and smoke began to fill the room as flaming corpses stormed into their midst. Her mental force shield held them near the door, and Lauren proceeded to empty the next power pack into them; but they were pounding against her mind, trying to break through, and for all the undead they had injured they had killed precious few.
She fired the last blast off the laser at the same moment that the screen crashed under the assault. Her mind reeled from the impact. She was dizzy, off balance, and for the moment defenseless. Only one thing seemed reasonable. She drew the revolvers, and began firing them into the crowd. Bullets ripped gaping holes through rotting flesh, but still the monsters came.
Derek's laser started flashing. Lauren didn't know whether he'd finished what he was doing or decided that he had to help with this, and right now she didn't have the mental focus to ask. It would be a couple minutes before she was telepathic again, and meanwhile she had a lot to do.
The guns were empty. Rather than reload them, she dropped them into their holsters and swept the bow off her shoulder. She'd used hunting arrows for hunting before, but mostly she'd practiced with the target arrows. It was time to see what these flesh eaters could do to ghouls. Letting one fly, she watched it rip through the throat of one which, battered from their barrage, finally collapsed. She launched another, but this was as much as she was going to be able to do. She remembered using arrows for spear fishing, but she had better weapons for this at the moment. The kau sin kes came into her hands, and she raised her defensive figure eight with one, swinging the other over her head in preparation for a strike.
They were badly outnumbered, and at this point didn't even know what their current status was. If they could come through this alive, they would have done more than Lauren now considered possible. The prospect of attacking another dome with the same force once their security was improved did not look good, but at least they'd have struck this major blow for the freedom of humanity. New York, one of the largest and most important cities in the world, would have daylight driving the vampires from its streets, at least for a while.
Yet they had not done enough. They were going to have to win this battle, against the odds, or what they had done would prove vain. It was not looking particularly good.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #205: Verser Reunion. 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: