The pounding continued, a staccato baseline to the siren blaring in the background.
Whoever was out there, on the other side of the door, clearly wasn’t dissuaded by something as little as three inches of thick hard steel and a shot-to-hell access pad.
They’d find a way in, eventually.
The only question was how long?
How long before they barged in and ended my little charade of playing hero? How long before time ran dry and Kiro, Aiden, and JJ – along with half a million people – went up in a blaze of death?
The answer? Not too fucking long.
I ducked behind a row of giant computer towers, kneeled and tipped my pack upside down. Magazines, grenades, and all sorts of weapons I’d never seen before spilled onto the floor. Helpful, if I needed to murder a small village. But that wasn’t exactly the point of all this, was it… Olivia.
I cursed and sifted through the contents. Buried amidst the weapons were flash drives, wire clippers, a pair of quarter-sized circuitry and a laser device like the one I’d seen Kiro use to board the train. I’d hoped something would stick out – that’d I know what I needed once I saw it – but it was all a jumbled mess.
I couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it.
My heart skipped into overdrive. Each shout from the hallway, each cry for backup, slicked my palms with sweat.
I stared at the objects, trying to make sense of them. Computers. Electronics. What did I know about any of this? And how the hell was I supposed to think over that fucking security alarm? The plan had been simple: I’d bring the pack and Olivia would walk me through it. There hadn’t been much time to discuss more than that. What we certainly hadn’t planned on was me being electrocuted and –
Unbelievable. How could I be so stupid?
I reached into my pocket and cursed. It was right where I’d left it. The vial of Vert. And I’d only used three beads earlier; there’d be two left.
It was false hope, but I popped open the cap regardless.
I knew the truth. If I swallowed the beads, it’d be ten to fifteen minutes before I could jack into the Grid. Chewing, maybe five to ten?
Either way, I didn’t have that kind of time. The Vert couldn’t help me now.
Still, I chewed until my jaw hurt, before parking the glob in my cheek. After all, if by some miracle I escaped this damn place, I’d need the Grid access to get ahold of the others.
I turned my attention back to the electronics.
They had to fit together somehow. It was a puzzle. I just needed to find the right arrangement.
Think, damn it. Think.
I wiped my forehead and sweat came off me in torrents. I almost chalked it up to nerves before I felt the heat flush against my face. It was radiating from the doorway. I turned and cursed. The door glowed bright red, the edges traced by a thin red beam. A laser.
The guards were making their push; I ‘d just run out of time.
I grabbed a quarter-sized circuit board, threw everything else back in the pack, and sprinted down one of the aisles. Massive CPUs formed a labyrinth of computers, with towers so tall they crested the ceiling. I traced my hand along the units, trying desperately to block out the shouts coming from the doorway, the blaring alarm, and the blistering heat overtaking the room.
I closed my eyes, then opened them, hoping to see the Grid materialize. It was wishful thinking. Instead, I was met with only the truth. I was all alone and SOL.
The room grew warmer. Sweat dripped into my eyes, burning them and causing them to tear. My hands itched terribly. I couldn’t take it anymore. I stripped off my gloves one at a time, transferring the circuit between hands, so I wouldn’t drop it.
The pounding on the door grew louder. I didn’t dare look. They must have burned through almost the entire frame. It wouldn’t be much longer.
I crouched behind one of the towers, back against the wall, and pulled out the Glock. I checked the safety then dug in for the inevitable. In my other hand, I fingered the miniature circuit board, slowly rolling it across my knuckles.
No, not a circuit board – a circuit jammer. A rerouter. I frowned, put the handgun away, then pulled the other quarter-sized object out of my pack.
Now that I got a good look at the two, I realized they weren’t the same. One was a circuit rerouter, definitely. The other was a data disk. I glanced up at the massive computer towers. The rows were numbered, coded by the technicians so they knew which tower housed which inputs and outputs.
I couldn’t explain it, but I knew what I needed to do. I didn’t understand why or how. I just knew what had to be done. It was like it was second nature, like I’d done the same thing a million times before.
I sprinted through the maze of CPUs like a zombie, mindlessly set on my tasks. I slipped the signal jammer onto a mother board in row five, then added the data disc to one in row fifteen. There must have been a total of twenty-thousand boards in the entire mainframe. Even if the guards knew what they were looking for, they’d never find bugs.
The hardware installed, I raced down the aisle to the end of the room and found an empty computer terminal. My fingers moved seamlessly over the keyboard as I hacked my way into the system. As with the mainframe towers, I was on autopilot. I didn’t understand a single thing I typed.
I slipped the flash drive out of my pack and slotted it into the USB. With a few simple keystrokes, I copied the worm onto Valtronic’s server. The worm would give Olivia access to the train’s control station. And with the hardware I’d planted, the operators wouldn’t be able to trace her signal.
I was about to leave the terminal and get the hell out of dodge when I stumbled upon a series of encrypted files housed on Valtronic’s server. Curious, I hacked my way in and scanned through the documents. They were filled with information on Vert drug trials, manufacturing, Dr. Fine, and something titled USDMA. Did ROOT 4 already have this stuff? I couldn’t chance it. I started copying the files over.
A progress bar flashed on the screen. 15% complete, 16%…
Shit. It was too slow. I was going to miss my window.
An explosion resounded from the end of the hallway, followed by a massive crash. It could only mean one thing – the guards had broken through. Sure enough, a second later I heard the thump of boots against concrete. I ducked back behind a massive computer tower, reached into my pack, and pulled out a smoke grenade.
Here goes nothing.
I pulled the pin and chucked the canister down the hallway. As it bounced and rolled, a huge cloud of smoke erupted around it, causing the guards to sputter and cough. Using the distraction, I reached into the pack once more and removed the device I’d seen Kiro use – the laser. Since there was no way I was leaving the way I’d come, I’d simply have to make a new exit. I slapped the device against the far wall.
Suddenly, my vision turned blue. Grid lines materialized, and a thin layer of light descended over the room and everything in it.
“Rainey!” Olivia shouted over the connection. “Thank god you’re okay. Listen, we don’t have much time, you have to load the worm, now!”
The guards opened fire.
I pressed myself flat against the computer tower. “A little busy here, O.”
The countdown timer reappeared in the corner of my vision:
My window was done for, which meant there was only ten minutes until the train hit Atlanta.
Gunfire lit up my eardrums. I reached around the corner, Glock in hand, and squeezed off a couple blind rounds. Then I glanced back at the computer terminal. The files were only 86% complete. It was going to be tight. Too tight.
“The worm’s loaded, O,” I shouted over the noise.
“I don’t know… I can’t explain it. Just, can you reroute the train or not?”
I could hear typing through the connection. “Yes,” O said. “I… I think I can work some magic. There’s a double-back loop that passes over Lake Lanier. If I can stop the train over the water, then the boys can blow out the bridge.”
“Drown the bomb. Smart.”
A thunderous boom shook the walls of the building. The overhead lights went dark, before the emergency system kicked in. Red fluorescent light flickered against the walls, turning the smoke-filled room into a red haze.
“Rainey,” O said, “you just lost your diversion. You have to get out of there. Now.”
I fired off two more shots, giving myself some breathing room, then activated the laser device against the wall.
“Yeah. Working on it.”
A little shorter than usual and not nearly as polished as I would have liked. Still, I got it done. I’ll take a fine-toothed comb to it tomorrow if I’m not feeling completely terrible. I hate colds.
“I sprinted through the maze of CPUs like a zombie” So, clumsily?
Had an extra clause in there for explanation but ended up taking it out — guess I needed it. What I was going for was “mindlessly,” as in she’s performing all these tasks without any real thought or understanding of what she’s doing.
Great chapter. Looking forward to more.
Oh boy. Guns and violence and unexplainable things.
I ‘d just run out
space before apostrophe
I also found the “zombie” description a bit strange, since I suddenly imagine her moving clumsily (I thought it was because of her leg injury, at first). Maybe some variant such as “with hardly a thought” or “like it was natural” might work better?