Friday, October 22, 2010

Chapter 28


The Judicial Complex was a big redbrick building, as was the Municipal Complex. Like a pair of twins, the two nearly identical buildings stood side by side in the thick of the city; the Municipal to the left, the Judicial to the right. Children and those below the age of eighteen were not allowed in either building unattended by an adult.
At four o’clock, the Longstreet’s green station wagon parked at the side of the Municipal building. Bear was at the wheel, Rynza sat in front with her; Spencer, Woodrow, and Kevin sat in the back seat. Carissa was left behind at the motel, with Rak.
Siana arrived in her own car, and parked in front of the Judicial building.
Bear stepped out of the wagon. She looked different than her usual appearance, as she had on a nice professional woman’s business suit and shoes Siana had purchased for her so she could pass through unattended. She also had on make-up that had come from Siana’s purse. She looked uncomfortable, and not a little embarrassed.
The boys clambered out of the wagon and took out Rynza’s wheelchair from the back. They helped her onto it. Rynza put her hands on her lap, and allowed Kevin to push her.
The group hurried over to the Judicial building. They met Siana there at the door.
“Spencer and Woodrow with me, Kevin with Rynza, and Bear goes alone.” she reminded them, “When we get in there, spread out, get some people between us on the line; don’t everyone clump in the same place.”
“We know.” Bear said, “This isn’t our first jamboree.”
They went in.
Inside, it was packed. They got in line with those waiting to get past the two frain officers standing sentry at both sides of the metal detector. Bear was the first of them to go through, and passed without incident.
When it was Siana, Spencer, and Woodrow’s turn, Siana flashed her badge. “Raishera Nandehl, officer.” she said.
“And these two?” the officer asked.
“Witnesses for the Copely trial,” she said, “It’s already started, and I have to get them in there fast. There was no time to process them through the usual channels.”
The officer was uninterested; he yawned as he gestured them to go on. When they passed through the metal detector, it started shrieking its alarm. Siana gave the officers a weary “I don’t have time for this crap” look. They nodded, waved them through, and reset the alarm.
They went on, until they met up with Bear. The four then walked into a service elevator. Siana took out a set of keys from her pocket and inserted one into a lock hole set into the bottom of the button pad. She turned the key and pushed its companion button.
They went down.
What few people know, Siana had told them earlier, as they ironed out their plans, is that the Municipal and Judicial Complexes are connected by underground passages that criss-cross under both buildings. There is also a control center down there, where power and security for both is managed. These passage-ways are forbidden to most, but I have a friend there who’ll help us.
When at last they reached the bottom, the doors swished open; revealing an ill-lit and claustrophobic hall descending into infinity. Its walls were concrete grey, and its lights flickered incessantly. Along both ceiling and walls crawled tubes, pipes, cables, and electrical wires.
“I think we’ve entered Hell.” Woodrow said.
At that, the lights along a stretch of hall up ahead gave out, plunging that section into darkness.
“This place must be a maintenance nightmare.” Spencer said, inspecting the wires, “And a fire hazard too.”
The group walked quickly down the hall, their footsteps echoing loudly along its length.
“Are all the underground passages like this?” Bear asked.
“As far as I know; although some, less frequently used, passages are rumored to be much worse.” Siana said, “And I’ve heard there are some sections so bad, no one will go there; not even to replace the lights.”
“Has anyone ever gotten lost in these?” Woodrow asked.
“I heard once about a maintenance worker who disappeared for hours. When they found him, he was gibbering in a dark corner of a rarely used passage. He said he saw---“
“Siana, cut the campfire crap.” Bear said, as they passed through the dark section of hall.
Siana smiled a malevolent little smile, but did as requested.
As they walked on, Spencer noticed that other passages intersected with theirs. He also noticed something else. “Siana, are those cameras looking down on us, every twenty yards or so?” he asked.
“Yes, but don’t worry.” Siana said, “That’s where my friend comes in. He works in the control center. He’s taking care of that little problem for us. Not that much attention is given to these halls anyway. They mostly look at what’s happening above.”
“He’s taking a rather big risk, isn’t he?” Bear asked, “What’s in it for him?”
“I promised him a cushy promotion, when I’m the Crellat.”
“Guys, I hear something.” Woodrow said, stopping.
The others stopped as well, and listened.
In the distance, footsteps echoed; faint, at first, but getting louder.

Once they were past the checkpoint, Kevin rolled Rynza down a crowded hall, to courtroom 7A.
The courtroom was large, and descended obliquely towards the judge’s box, which was set against the wall, flanked by doors on either side.
Judge Cobb Hopper was currently presiding; rushing through cases like a man who’s had a long day and just wants to go home and get drunk.
Kevin parked Rynza close to the exit, and sat down next to her. He stole a quick glance at the fire alarm switch on the wall right behind where they sat.
According to Siana, the fire alarm systems in the Judicial Complex were antiquated, and their wiring seemed to have been installed by incompetents, or madmen. The pulling of one alarm would set off all the others in the building, in a cascade of increasing noise. The city government had had the similarly screwed-up alarms in the Municipal building fixed, but costs had spiraled out of control. Thus the budget for the Judicial building’s repairs was still in a state of bureaucratic limbo.
Rynza noticed Kevin’s antsyness. “Relax, I’ll let you know when the time is right.” she said, “Are you always this nervous before a Febwith?”
“Not really,” Kevin said, “I’ve just never been this deep into the enemy’s lair.”
“The frain?”
“The city.”

The footsteps came closer, until a short, balding man of about forty came into view. He wore a white short-sleeve shirt with black pants. The lenses of his black plastic frame glasses were so thick, they magnified his beady eyes to insectile proportions.
“Sorry I took so long,” he said, “I couldn’t get away.”
“Did you fix the camera problem?” Siana asked.
“Obviously, or your little party here wouldn’t have gotten this far.” he answered, looking Bear, Spencer, and Woodrow over, “After awhile, there are no more cameras, though. Too expensive, it seems, to cover all these walkways with cameras.”
“Okay, here’s where we split up.” Siana said.
She retrieved a small set of tools from inside her suit pocket, and handed them to Spencer.
“Bear goes with me, you two with Herb here.”
“See you guys later,” Bear said, “Good luck.”
“Don’t worry about us.” said Woodrow. He and Spencer turned and followed the man called Herb down one corridor, while Bear and Siana entered another.

Herb led Spencer and Woodrow down a few turns, until they entered a large open area, filled with giant tubes and dark machinery, humming noisily. As ill-lit as the corridors, it would be easy to get lost in this maze. Being accustomed to the place, Herb moved through it with quick ease, while the two Dreadniks strove to keep up.
Herb motioned them to stop. Under the cover provided by a huge, refrigerator-sized thing with thick cables emerging from its sides, they could see the control center. It was ahead of them, like a magic cottage surrounded by the dark forest of vast machinery.
Essentially a small building inside of a building, its walls were sheet metal on the lower half, and clear plastic on the upper half. Inside the well-lit station, bored-looking men dressed just like Herb worked at busy consoles, looked at video screens, or milled around aimlessly, looking over each other’s shoulders, paper cups of coffee in hand.
Herb and the boys gave the control center a wide berth, and once beyond it, continued onward. The machinery gave way to corridors again, and their route turned and turned, until Spencer and Woodrow lost all sense of direction.
At last they came to a point where four corridors intersected.
“Here we are.” said Herb.
He pointed to a large metal box on the wall. A multitude of wires and cables snaked out of it in many directions.
“This junction here is a soft spot in the electrical system. If you know what you’re doing, and don’t flash fry yourself, you can kill the power to most of the Judicial building; and it’ll take the power guys forever to figure out where the problem is, and even longer to fix it. Anyway, my part of the deal is over. Here, take this---“
He handed Spencer a flashlight. 
“If you succeed, this place is going to be as dark as a tomb.”
“Are we gonna be able to hear the alarms from down here?” Spencer asked.
“Oh yes!” Herb said, “In this crumbling deathtrap, when an alarm goes off, every alarm goes off! Don’t worry, you’ll hear it. One last thing---your escape route. Listen close! Follow that corridor until you get to another intersection like this one. Then turn left down that corridor, until you get to an open area where there is an elevator---“
“Which, of course, won’t work.” Herb continued, “But beside it will be a stairway. Go up the stairs until you get to the ground floor. From there you can exit the building. Okay? I’m outta here.”
Herb scurried down the corridor they had come through, and was gone; his footfalls echoed on the corridor walls until they were too far away to hear.
Spencer unrolled the set of tools Siana had passed through the metal detector for him. It held all the tools he would need. He gave Woodrow a screwdriver, and together they removed the lid of the metal box. Inside, hierarchies of wires were laid bare before them. To Woodrow, it was impenetrable mess, but Spencer knew what he was looking at.
“Now we wait.” he said. 

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