St Lucy revisited
When the next day dawned as grey and drab as those before it, none of them were terribly surprised anymore.
After all, based on both the events of the first three “days” combined with Justin’s intel about Project Pythagoras, it was exactly what they were expecting. Exactly what they were afraid of. And when they again spotted the Isle of St Lucy looming into view after breakfast yet again, it was all the confirmation they need. It was now plain to see that there would be no simple solution to this.
This realm’s problem had become theirs, as well.
Having already seen this episode before, they immediately veered away from St Lucy and made for Adnan’s, where they now suspected the only way out of this whole mess would be found. They wasted no time docking in front of the defunct school. Once they assembled their gear, they made for the green machine, Sleeper II.
Sure enough, that mobile phone was lying on the ground. Exactly where Shades found it the last couple times, now that he thought about it. In spite of tossing it in a different random direction each time before.
“As I thought…” Shades mused, then turned and told Justin, “That probably means your notebook is right back in that cabin where you first found it. I suppose you should bring it back here for investigation.”
“Why here?” Justin asked.
“Because I’m gonna be opening a little answering service here,” Shades replied, picking up the phone, “and hopefully I’ll be getting some answers, too, while I’m at it.”
That settled, Max went with Justin, wanting to see the red machine while they were out that way. Remembering how much it would rain here, Shades set up shop inside that playground cabin, not wanting to stray too far from the phone’s original position, for fear of interfering with the reception and missing his call. Sure enough, it started raining almost as soon as his friends were away from the sports complex, so he was glad the roof was tight enough to keep the rain off him.
Since last night, he had done a great deal of thinking about Camcron Industries. From what he could gather, it seemed to be a powerhouse manufacturer from New Cali, whose products seemed to find their way into far-flung realms. And New Cali, said by many to the biggest city in the world. Given how big this world was turning out to be, he figured their headquarters must be pretty impressive. Their financial backing considerable, to place something as expensive as the Camcron Building and commission sculptures way out in a backwater realm like St Lucy.
As the minutes ticked on, he found himself wishing he had a more reliable means of telling time in this realm; the fact that the events were repeating themselves meant that each of these things would always happen at the same time, which just left the question of what time that actually was. The weather was no help in that regard, either.
A short while later, Justin got on the horn, reporting, in a voice that still registered a strong incredulity in spite of all they had seen, that the notebook was exactly where he found it the first time. Since it was raining, Justin decided to stay in the cabin for now. Mean while, Max and Bandit headed back to the ship to begin preparing lunch.
As well as keep an eye out for approaching ships. Though it seemed unlikely, given the lack of any response the times before, they had actually talked with Mr Donaldson the first time around. And, as Justin very astutely pointed out, had the tactical sense to skirt around behind his back on their last visit, whereas this time, in their haste to investigate Camcron, they had sailed right by in plain sight. And then there was that strange business from their last visit before, with that mysterious ship that spooked them, whose crew, situation, and disposition, where unknown to them.
The way they figured it, if no one came out in the next couple hours to question them, it seemed likely they would be good for the day; after all, the authorities would soon have their hands full with a robbery back there.
Though it kinda worried him a bit, he just reminded himself that Sheriff Boggs was in the neighborhood, and he did have a shotgun, so it wasn’t like—
Shades’ thoughts were interrupted by the beeping of the mobile phone, nearly making him fumble it in spite of the fact that it was the exact turn of events he was waiting for.
“Hello?” Shades answered as he pushed the button.
“Director Grady,” a gruff voice he remembered all too well from the other day barked at him.
“You again,” Shades remarked. “Good. I’ve got a lot of questions for you.”
“I’m the one asking the questions around here,” that voice shot back. “Now where is Grady? Answer me.”
“Dr Grady has left the building,” Shades informed him, “so you’ll be dealing with me now. Now, you tell me, what is Project Pythagoras? What were you trying to accomplish?”
“Pythagoras…” the voice hissed. “Who are you?”
“None of your damn business,” Shades told him. “Now what the hell did you do to these islands?”
There was a long moment of silence, during which Shades was afraid the guy was going to hang up before he finally spoke again.
“I don’t know who you think you are,” the voice warned him, “but you won’t feel so smart when Mr Geist arrives.”
“Pythagoras is our research, and we won’t let Grady or whoever you work for steal it!”
Then he slammed the phone, just like before.
“I don’t ‘work for’ anybody,” Shades muttered, frustrated that his attempt to shake the other guy up, and hopefully shake a little info loose, had failed to yield any useful intelligence, “and you can’t fire somebody who never worked for you in the first place.” It left him with a maddening impression that this guy knew a lot more about the whole affair than he was letting on. “Fine then, we’ll just see about that…”
With that, Shades jabbed the RECALL button.
Though after ringing several times, the line cut off, leaving Shades’ questions, and a piece of his mind, stranded on the tip of his tongue.
Disgusted, he leaned against the wall and waiting for the next call. He already knew there would be at least two; based on their different arrival times, he knew the other one wouldn’t be for at least another three or four hours. While he was at it, he planned to stick around and find out if this Grady fellow had any other incoming calls of any significance today.
Now that he thought about it, the repeat-loop at least explained a couple mysteries about the phone itself. Though he figured it was at least moderately water-resistant— had to be in order to still be functional after sitting out in the rain like that— he was still surprised it could survive for days at a time. Now he knew it had only been out here for one, most likely. And while he could perhaps be mistaken, given the differences in technology in this dimension, it was his experience that battery life in portable electronics was a little too sketchy to hold a decent charge for days on-end.
As he looked out the window and contemplated how lonely this playground looked under this gloomy sky in its present deserted state, Max and Bandit returned from the ship, bearing thermos canisters of steaming hot stew and one of cocoa. Max was about to go take one over to the student cabins but the rain had let up in the meantime, and Justin made his way over even as they gave him a buzz to tell him soup’s on. As he ducked into the tiny cabin, he took out the journal, which he had been digging through while he waited out the rain.
“I take it everything’s okay back at the ship?” Shades intoned.
“Yeah,” Max told him, “looks like no one’s coming out here today.”
“So, any luck?” Justin asked.
“No, not really,” Shades replied, “but at least this time I didn’t get fired.”
“Okay,” Max suggested, “then let’s eat.”
While they ate, they flipped through the notebook, searching for any more clues about Project Pythagoras. Yet the lion’s share of it was just a student’s diary, concerning itself primarily with day-to-day life at Adnan’s, what few parts there were about Camcron shed no new light on anything they already knew. More questions than answers, and mostly focused on those two Sleeper sculptures than anything else.
After lunch, Max and Justin hung around for a short while, but just as they were about to head out and take another look around the red machine, the phone started beeping again.
“Hello?” Shades answered again.
“You have to get out of there!” the panicky voice of the mystery woman gave her desperate warning yet again. “They sent him!”
“Who?” Shades demanded, though he was already half afraid he knew what she was going to say next.
“Mr Geist!” the mystery woman told him emphatically. “Who else?”
“Who is Geist?” Shades asked, going for the direct approach.
“No time!” she pleaded. “He may already be in St—”
And then the line went dead, just like before.
Though already fairly sure of the outcome, he tried the RECALL button once more, just in case; it came as no great surprise when that line sounded to him like it was out of service.
“Who was it?” Justin asked.
“She didn’t say,” Shades told him. “Just like before. The same grim warning, then she got cut off. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m pretty sure whatever she was trying to warn us about has already happened…”
“And who the hell is Geist?” Justin added. In the absence of any other info, that was what he really wanted to know.
“Sorry, I got so wrapped up in the notebook, I forgot all about that part,” Shades apologized. “That guy from before— the one who fired me— said that someone called Mr Geist had been sent here, and he seemed to think we were gonna get it when he arrived.”
“But didn’t that woman also say he was coming?” Max pressed, based on Shades’ end of that phone conversation.
“Yeah,” Justin seconded. “What was he sent to do?”
“No clue,” Shades admitted, “but whoever he is, he sounds like bad news. Even so, we know he doesn’t arrive anytime today, so I think we’re alright.”
“We should still keep our guard up,” Justin remarked, recalling that mysterious ship they fled from last time they were here, which he couldn’t recalling seeing on any other repeat.
“So, what now?” Max asked.
“Well, I think we’ve learned everything we’re going to out here,” Shades told them, stuffing the phone in his jacket pocket. “What say we actually see for ourselves what they were doing in that building?”
“Let’s,” was Justin’s grim reply.
“I guess we have no choice,” Max agreed, he and Bandit exchanging a nervous glance.
That settled, they headed for the Camcron Building. Though Shades harbored his own misgivings about abandoning his stakeout before it was complete, he would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit he was getting bored with it. That, and they were running out of daylight, plus he was increasingly certain they had already gleaned as much information from outside sources as they were going to. If nothing else, he was pretty sure at least some of that communications gear on the roof of the building was somehow tied to that phone’s long-range reception anyway, so as long as he kept it on him, he doubted he would miss any important calls.
Max and Justin flanked the entrance, power pistols drawn, while Shades stepped up to the door, stun-stick readied. On their previous visit, he had ransacked the Academy’s administrative offices, but never did find the magnetically coded key the door to this building seemed to require. Instead, recalling as he did that whatever those doors were made of, they were clear as crystal and solid as steel, he fired up both cutting blades, opting for brute force.
Four crisscrossing slashes later, the lock between them fell to the floor with a dull clank.
The very second Shades kicked the door in, alarms started blaring from all corners of the building. Shades hit the deck, and just in time, as Justin opened fire with both guns. A couple shots actually made it inside, while the rest were cut off by heavy armor plates that sprang up from a slot between the segments of concrete in front of the door, the remainder of Justin’s energy blasts splashing harmlessly against it.
Max took a dive as well, careful not to land on his injured arm. As such, he was the first to notice that the Camcron Building had thrown up blast plates over all of the window slits, as well. The alarms muffled, yet still going off, they heard, as Justin stilled his trigger finger.
They sat there for a long moment in understandable indecision before Max stepped up to the metal barrier with his laser sword. Justin, unpleasant memories of Tranz-D’s automated hell ringing in his ears with that alarm, ducked around the corner. Shades did so, as well, stun-sticks as primed as Justin’s guns to back Max up.
With several swift strokes, Max carved out a new entrance, the reinforced plate hitting the floor with a massive, reverberating slam, announcing their presence even more loudly than all the alarms.
After another long pause, to confirm that there were no auto-guns or robo-guards or anything waiting to ambush them, they hesitantly entered the main hall.
What got them moving again was hearing a pre-recorded voice over the intercom, announcing: “ACTIVE SECURITY MEASURES BREACHED!… EMERGENCY DATA PURGE SEQUENCE NOW ENGAGED…”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Justin demanded as they ran up to the nearest door.
“It means we’re running out of time,” Shades informed him, pondering the irony that what he said might not even be technically possible in St Lucy on this particular day.
The room itself was occupied only by several large tables, a dozen or so chairs, and a few empty boxes, having clearly been gutted from its original use.
“Where to now?” Max asked.
“Downstairs!” Shades concluded, remembering the basement level, and they bolted down the nearest of two stairways in the main open area.
At the bottom, they found a door marked Research Control, and Max again chopped down the door. The darkened room was currently lit by nothing but the dim glow of mostly blank computer monitors. The equipment itself looking, to Shades, decades ahead of anything he had ever seen.
Yet before any of them could even begin to figure out where to start, they were greeted by another dispiriting message from the intercom, even as the alarms faded out: “EMERGENCY DATA PURGE COMPLETE… ALL SECURED DATA IS NOW DELETED…”
As the room fell into silence, all they could do at this point was stare at blank screen prompts, and one central monitor that read: Data deletion: 100% complete.
“What the hell do we do now?” Justin moaned.
“I guess we really do need the proper key…” Shades muttered, for he really hated being right about things like these.