Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 09 - "The Building is Hungry!"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

George cracks the code

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG - Genres: Fantasy,Horror - Published: 2009-10-09 - Updated: 2009-10-09 - 2026 words - Complete

When George finally noticed that there was a big black-and-white cat standing behind him, he just about fumbled his fingers on the keyboard.

But, though the keyboard was small, he had long-since learned to navigate it with ease with just one hand. And for some reason, when he was in the zone, his fingers almost seemed to have a mind of their own. Just kept on typing even as he jumped aside. Even as he turned around to face this feline visitor, his arm remained angled to face the port on the vending machine as he at last cracked the access code, and the panel finally popped open.

For a moment, George imagined himself saying, in his dream-voice, Hi kitty! and was disappointed when he thought once more of all the things he had wanted to say all these years.

The cat, for his part, cocked his head at George, then jumped back as the front panel of the vending machine swung open. George, for his part, nearly lost his balance as the heavy panel pushed him aside. The cat glared at the hulking machine for a moment, then regained his composure.

George simply stared at the big cat for a moment, having never seen such an even black-and-white pattern on such a large cat, but once he saw the exotic creature meant him no harm, his stomach drew his attention back to the now liberated snacks all lined up in a row. He snatched a candy bar, and several bags of chips and crackers. Then he thought about Chase, that he might also be hungry if he found him; his backpack wasn’t very big, but he loaded up on his junk-food bounty as much as he could.

One more for the road, as Chase always said, in spite of the fact that they spent more of their time at sea than on land.

After stuffing his bag with snacks, he turned his attention to the pop machine next to the snack machine. After warming up against the first system, the second one fell quickly to George’s code-cracking skills. He grabbed a couple bottles of Cam’s Cola, then, remembering that he hadn’t made it all that far from that creepy carnival before he crashed out on the couch so mysteriously earlier, he set out again.

The panther tagging along.

After he got going once again, George found his wariness subsiding in his new friend’s company. When he started munching on some potato chips, the big cat mostly just kept staring at his hand as it went from the bag to his mouth. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the kitty wanted some, too.

Hungry as he was, George split with him. Sort of. One for you, two for me, one for you… Just like Chase always did. Always telling him that if he didn’t like it, to just speak up about it.

As the two of them went, they passed through what appeared to be many different buildings. George was beginning to suspect that even that carnival, outdoors as it was, was still somehow inside the Building. In addition to his conversation with the custodian, he was now sure he remembered a little girl’s voice whispering to him, but all he could really make out was …After all, isn’t everything inside the building? And occasionally giggling, as if amused by his apprehension.

The gift of chips had gained him the big cat’s trust, so even after they finished eating, the two of them continued on their way side by side. Much to George’s delight, the panther actually let George pat his head. Even started purring, at that. Perhaps it was just the leftover feel of that weird dream, as if just coming back from a daydream, but he really couldn’t figure out why he started following his new companion.

George almost got the impression that the big cat might actually be leading him somewhere.

Such vague contemplations vanished in a puff of surprise when his feline friend took off on him.

Just paused for a moment, as if he had caught wind of something George couldn’t sense, then went bounding down the hall and around the corner. By the time George got to that corner, the panther had completely eluded him. A four-way junction of hallways, and no clue to which way the big cat had taken.

George felt a moment of disappointment, then shrugged his shoulders at the big cat’s parting. As if he had served some cryptic purpose only he understood.

Having no idea where any of the halls might lead, he just started forward again. After a couple turns, he found himself in part of a network of grey-walled halls on two different levels connected by short stairways. Along the way, he encountered several dead security cameras that stared into space, as Chase often accused him of doing. Due to the nature of the Triad’s business, he still didn’t like them. Much to his unease, the whole place was dimmer than the last place, seemingly running on auxiliary power.

Determined to find his way out of this dead-looking place, he went down another short set of stairs and came around the corner into an enormous room. To his right were two computer terminals. To his left, the largest computer screen he had ever seen, framed by a collection of smaller monitors. Hanging above him, from the high ceiling, were still more clusters of monitors. As he wandered into the middle of the chamber, he saw that there were two additional alcoves in the back, also crowded with computers and other equipment.

All of the screens dark, dormant.

The whole place looked like a control room for something.

Not liking to be in the middle of this eerily silent chamber, he made his way over to the glass doors on the far side of the floor. Refusing to pass beneath any of the hanging monitor banks. As he drew nearer, he could tell the double-doors were automated. Through the smoked glass, even in the gloom, he could make out a narrow hallway leading to a stairway that ascended out of view.

The controls for the doors consisted of a button pad and a card slot. With the small mental click he had simply grown used to over the years, George’s mind shifted gears, and he set to work. Again with that trick that caused other people’s jaws to drop, for them to call him an idiot savant and such, he again whipped out his armtop and started analyzing controls he had never seen before.

Using a screwdriver, one of several tools his companions insisted he carry for jobs, he opened the control panel and plugged his computer into the port, linking both machines. An endless procession of characters raced across the small screen on the upper half as he worked. His decryption programs translating the entire network.

Hacker, as Kato and Chase called it.

As he suspected, judging from the hi-tech nature of the system, shooting out the glass would only have sounded an alarm. Though there appeared to be no one around to respond to it, there might still be some kind of automated defense measures, at least according to his readouts. Were Kato to ever describe what it was like in Tranz-D even before she set off the alarms, George would have no trouble understanding exactly what she meant.

Just that sense of something big that should be allowed to just keep on sleeping.

After a few minutes of tinkering, he finally cracked the security codes, and tapping in a string of commands, the door slid open with a hydraulic hiss. Easier than manipulating the more relatively fool-proof security system at the Centralict Museum years ago. If only Kato and Chase hadn’t broken his concentration…

As the doors opened, he saw something that he completely overlooked in the dusty gloom of the hall that made him feel as if someone had just danced a jig on his grave. What appeared to be a pair of auto-guns mounted to the ceiling halfway down that hallway, set to aim in either direction. Now he understood that if he had made a single mistake unlocking those doors, it would likely have been his last, for even if he ducked around the corner in time, those guns would surely have cut him to ribbons before he could retreat up the steps and back around the corner.

Not liking this derelict control room, he unhooked his gear and made a bee-line for the stairs on slightly shaky legs. The steps led up to a very solid-looking metal door, with a similar control panel next to it.

Having electronically unlocked all the doors on this level, this one opened without a hitch, revealing a large room, what appeared to be part of a warehouse. Boxes and crates stacked along the walls around the edges of the room, almost completely blocking the garage door that was the only other way out. At least until he noticed the catwalk that ran along the ceiling, where there was another door.

Though George didn’t relish the thought of going back through the defunct base, feared he had no choice, even as he remembered that the auto-guns had likely reset themselves by now, when he noticed that the door up there was marked with a glowing blue “exit” sign hanging above it.

At first, the only way he could see to get up there was a pile of crates stacked against the wall underneath the catwalk like the side of a pyramid. Yet even as he was thinking about how much he hated climbing, he happened to spot a ladder leading up. Took some consolation in having avoided doing something the hard way for a change.

Then he noticed the forklift.

Big and yellow, and partly hidden behind a pile of boxes, he might have walked right past it without even seeing it on his way to the pyramid of boxes he had contemplated climbing only moments before. Keeping a close eye on it, he made his way over to the ladder. Part of it was that it seemed to be trying to “hide” from him, but the greater part was that, for some reason, he just didn’t trust the thing. Watched it every second as he crossed to the ladder, even looking over his shoulder as he scrambled up the lower rungs.

And would swear, even years later, when he looked back down at it from the top, that he saw one of the forklift’s headlights “wink” at him.

The forklift, though, never so much as budged, still George’s nerves were rather frayed by the time he reached the door and pulled it open, hoping it wasn’t some dirty trick—

To find himself stumbling into the alley outside the Harken Building, where, what felt like days ago, Chase had laughed at the writing on the wall. Speak of the devil, there he stood near the street talking to Kato. It was now after dark, the street illuminated by streetlights. The two of them paused as they noticed George’s arrival, both of them concluding after looking at each other for a moment that unless he took up a career as a novelist, they would never get to hear whatever tale he had to tell.

As he neared the street, he looked back to see that the door he came through had quietly shut behind him, and as far as he was concerned, good riddance. Though he couldn’t help noticing, even as he neared the street end of the alley, that the streetlights beyond this block seemed somehow brighter than those on the same block as the Building.

They both beckoned him over, Kato saying, “Come over here.” And to think, this was the one she was most worried about even making it back out of the Building, let alone next. “Quick, before the others show up. We’ve got to tell you the plan…”
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