shedding some light
Upon making landfall, they wasted no time docking on Adnan’s, working their way up toward the Academy building.
Even as the others pressed on, though, instead Donaldson turned aside, leading them to a section behind the boathouse, past an overturned rowboat and several various colored canoes on a rack. A sign on the door read: WARNING! HIGH VOLTAGE. Before Shades could bring any of his lockpicks to bear, Donaldson reached into his coat pocket and produced a ring of keys.
“The weather notwithstanding, there’s a reason I went back to the house,” he explained, sorting through the keys. “As this was a remote location, all staff members had keys to the basic facilities. As Headmaster, I made backup copies of them, just in case of an emergency.”
“And let me guess,” Shades read between the lines, “you just happened to ‘forget’ to return those ones?”
“Well, actually…” Donaldson stammered, managing to look more sheepish than authoritative as he found the key he was looking for and opened the door. “They never knew about it.”
“Pretty clever,” Justin commented.
Inside was a cramped room with a generator occupying most of its floor space. On the wall was a box of switches, apparently controlling the power to the rest of the island. They quickly discovered, though, that Camcron had slapped their own padlock on the master lever. Which Max promptly made short work of with his laser sword as Donaldson marveled at his now companions’ weapons.
“Let there be light!” Shades called triumphantly as he threw the main lever back on. As they turned to leave, a stray thought occurred to him, and he asked, “By the way, you wouldn’t happen to have a ‘spare’ key to the Camcron Building, would you?”
“No. Only the research team themselves and certain Camcron officials had keys. Even as Headmaster, I was denied any.” There was no mistaking the resentment attached to that memory. “But I know a good place to start looking. Then again, why don’t we just break in?”
“It’s no good,” Justin muttered.
“You see, we already tried that last time,” Shades confessed. “That building has its own advanced, independently-powered security system, and that place can lock down like Alcatraz. And even when we broke through that, the computers inside erased all their data.”
Frustrating as the whole incident was, Shades was still sure it was better intel than just a bad feeling about not playing the place by its own rules, even as he wondered what else Camcron may have equipped the place with.
“So I guess we have to find the real key,” Donaldson conceded glumly as he led them toward the Academy building, for he had seen that door was set with no ordinary lock.
“That’s part of why we enlisted your help,” Shades informed him, “because you know this place better than we do. And when the sun rises, we’ll have to start all over again.”
Justin shuddered at the thought.
They then entered the main building, turning the lights on and unlocking doors as they went. The whole place looking rather foreboding now as Donaldson guided them all the way to the administrative offices. Starting with a separate office in the back, belonging to one Superintendent Strick, as the sign on the door indicated, where they started digging through drawers and files in earnest.
“Hey, what’s that?” Justin asked, gesturing toward a small device over in the corner.
“That’s a film projector,” Donaldson told him. “We used it for assemblies and special classes. It was getting pretty worn-out, so at first we were relieved when Camcron replaced it with a couple new ones…”
Based on what they had seen inside the Camcron Building, combined with Donaldson’s remarks and the disparity of the technology gap, he just didn’t have the heart to tell the old man just how much Camcron had shortchanged them in the tech department. Just how cheaply their puppets in St Lucy appeared to have been bought off.
On the other hand, Shades was no stranger to this kind of technology divide. To see, say, an old-fashioned steam radiator in one building, and slick, ultra-modern accoutrements in the next, was nothing new. In rural Montana, nearly three centuries stood side by side, as if the past and future had experienced some massive tectonic upheaval, being shoved down and thrust upward into the same chronological strata. The sleek prototypes of a century around the corner could be seen on the same street as the clunky contraptions his grandparents once thought of as State of the Art, and out in the alley, one would find relics of a century long past.
Still, he wondered what these islands’ older generation thought of Camcron and all of their technological trappings.
“You know the TV back aboard the ship? It’s what people used before they invented television,” Shades explained, trying to recall when last he had seen a filmstrip at school. Fourth grade? Fifth? Moments like this always made him wonder how a county that collected such exorbitant property taxes from retired California accountants, movie moguls and celebrities ended up with such a poorly funded school district anyway. “You point it at a screen— the big blank space on the wall would work, too— and it shows the film on it.”
“Never mind that,” Donaldson said as he brought out another key and opened his usurper’s desk, bringing out Mr Strick’s personal log. Flipping to the last entries, he read: “It can’t be true. I’ve been hearing rumors that they plan to shut down the school, but that can’t possibly be true. It can’t be after all they put in. It must be just a rumor. After all, whatever the Camcron Building is for, it sure eats up a lot of power, so I’m glad they’re at least paying their own way. I’m sure they must know what they’re doing.”
That’s what I’m afraid of… Shades thought.
“Here’s the last one,” Donaldson told them, then resumed: “This deal is getting worse all the time. That man, the one who always hides his hand, promised me Camcron could revitalize this Academy, but now Grady comes to me and says the funding’s all run out. The day after tomorrow, I will have no choice but to send everyone home until this crisis is resolved. I want answers, and I expect to get them. Hmph! Strick always talked tough, but I would bet my salary he was just another puppet.”
“You may be right,” Shades told him as he dug out another torn scrap of handwritten paper. “Here we go: When Dr Grady saw the children were playing on the lions on the front steps of the Academy, he yelled at them and chased them away. He then had the audacity to give notice that he didn’t want anyone playing with the steps. Camcron may be helping fund this school, but he doesn’t OWN it! What’s so important about those steps anyway? He’s already stopped the student paper from publishing any more ‘What’s Cooking In the Camcron Building?’ stories because they were getting on the Di-rector’s nerves. For that matter, even my own letters to the paper back in St Lucy never ran, either, and it looks like no one will stand up to them. Camcron now owns St Lucy.
“This is even worse than I feared would happen if we let them in, and now I no longer know what to do anymore. I stayed on, even after Nora passed on, for the children, because I hoped to make a difference, but fear I have failed them. I’m going to stop writing in this journal from now on because I think Grady has someone spying on me, and I fear he is quietly turning the rest of the administration against me.”
Shades stopped reading there, noting the look of consternation on the old man’s face, which Max already seemed to have noticed.
“That brown-nosing, no-good…” Donaldson hissed. “I was wondering where that disappeared to…”
“Um, I’m sorry if that was something personal.” Shades now realized he had gotten so carried away reading it, he hadn’t given any thought to who might have written it, only that it looked as if it had been pilfered from its original author, and therefore might contain some useful info.
Then again, now that he thought about, perhaps it did.
“No, it’s alright,” Donaldson assured him. “It’s not anything I wasn’t expecting to find. In fact…” He whipped out some budget documents he had dug out of the filing cabinet. “After seeing these numbers, I’m beginning to see just how much power they held over everybody. Just look at these department budgets.”
He laid the papers out on the desk.
“But what do they mean?” Justin asked.
“It means,” Donaldson elaborated, “that everyone on the school board, as well as the administration, was taking more money from them than they told me. This is how Grady got them all on his side. But Adnan’s has never needed this much funding to operate… Could this be why Camcron shut him down?”
“Could be,” Shades commented, remembering that bombastic phone call. “Maybe he made promises he couldn’t keep, so the parent company pulled the plug on him…”
“A lot of information…” Max muttered.
“But no keys,” Justin pointed out.