By: dragon (author)
“So help me, if she wants that retyped again, I’m going to quit. I don’t care if it’s one of the best paid secretarial jobs in town,” Megan Gill grumped as she headed to Miss Ealand’s office from her place in the typing pool. “Fourteen retypes of six pages because the actor doesn’t ‘feel’ the words as the author gave them to him. Idiot.” She quickly composed herself before knocking respectfully at the entrance to the boss’ secretary’s office. “Miss Ealand, you wanted to see me?”
“Mr. Straker wants to see you.” Miss Ealand’s elegantly coiffed head nodded to the door of the inner sanctum. If she was surprised that Gill’s face dropped about ten shades of color to go paste white, she did not mention it.
“Yes, ma’am.” Crap. I am so fired. Not that Meg could think of anything she’d done to get her fired, but why else would the head of the studio want to see her? Then again, why would he want to see a member of the typing pool to fire her? She knocked at the door and waited until it slid open. It slid open? It slid open. You watch too much TV, she told herself and stepped in. “Mr. Straker? You wanted to see me?” she hoped her voice didn’t squeak. Unfortunately, just being in the same room with tall, blond and devastating was enough to make her throat freeze up, her mouth go dry and her brain to practically flat line even if she was trying to pay attention.
“Have a seat,” he said without looking up.
Why was that voice behind the desk instead of in front of cameras? She sat on her imagination and the edge of the chair, scared spitless. Finally, he looked up. Ice blue eyes focused on her and she tried to remember to breathe.
Ed Straker looked over the petite lady perched on the edge of the chair across from him and wondered what he’d done to make her look terrified. Then again, she couldn’t be much over 18 and bosses were notoriously evil. He looked down at her file again. American with a BA in computer science. “Miss Gill.”
“Why are you in my typing pool?” he asked curiously.
“Because I type well?” She sounded horridly uncertain in her own ears. “I mean, I am a fast and accurate typist … sir.”
“You have a BA in Computer Science with an impressive GPA.”
“Oh, that. Well, apparently no one is all that impressed with my BA. I suspect it has something to do with … my height and looks. Would you want a 12 year old mucking about with your computers? No matter how highly recommended academically?” Dammit, she was not going to cry.
“A twelve year old, no. A twenty-two year old with these credentials, I might have a place for.”
“I’m not good at animation,” she blurted out. A couple of places in California had considered her until she told them that.
“Not my interest, Miss Gill. I’d like you to talk to Keith Ford and Virginia Lake. If you fit what they’re looking for, we’ll talk again. I’ll have them contact you. Good day.”
“Good day … sir.” Completely bemused she walked out of the office and back down to the typing pool where everyone else had gone to lunch. “Whoa. Weird. Food now.” She grabbed her wallet and dashed off to the commissary.
Mid-afternoon, Meg got the call to go to VP Lake’s office. She ignored the looks of the women around her and headed down the hall to her fate, whatever that was. She’d seen the ash blond before. The slender dark haired man with her was unfamiliar. “I’m Megan Gill,” she introduced herself nervously. There was such an intensity about these two. The same kind that poured off Mr. Straker
After half an hour of rapid fire questions, Meg felt like her head would burst. “Could I get a drink of water, please? My tongue is about to cleave to the roof of my mouth …”
Ford gave her a smile and handed her a cup of water. “You’re doing well, “ he told her. “One more question and we’re done.”
She left Lake’s office little more confident than when she’d entered. Apparently her knowledge both of hardware and software impressed her audience. But what did the studio need with a computer tech of her level when Lake and Ford were so obviously head and shoulders above her? God, she was confused. She returned to her typewriter and blew out the first three sentences she tried to type. She excused herself, dashed to the bathroom and had a good cry in the first stall she could lock herself into.
Straker looked up to see his secretary in the door way. “Yes?”
“I think she’s a little overwrought by the interview, sir,” Miss Ealand told him. “She’s having a good cry in the ladies.” It was said kindly as Miss Ealand liked Megan Gill.
“If this upset her …”
His secretary smiled. “She’s 22, out of her depth at the moment because she’s not been told anything, and is pretty much on her own here, from what background says. She left the States to get away from what they’re calling a stalker.”
That got his attention. “Did she get hurt?”
“No, but he did follow her across six states and four positions before she fled the country entirely.”
“Not particularly confrontational, is she?” He sounded a little disappointed.
“Not when the opposition is six foot five and two hundred eighty pounds, sir. Indications are that he’s hurt the women in his life before. “
“And no one … of course not, they’re terrified and it’s easier to leave than to fight for their rights. Domestic disputes,” the words came out of his mouth like an expletive. “All right. I’ll see what Lake and Ford have to say. Any indication she’s been followed?”
“You’ll have to ask security, sir.”
Into a Tech Position
Megan dashed in to work the next day two minutes ahead of her time to be there. Normally earlier than that so she’d have time to settle in, she was appalled to see a note on her typewriter asking her to report to VP Lake. Now what? She caught her breath, tucked her lunch into the bottom drawer of her desk and dashed to Lake’s office, slowing only when she arrived so she could knock decorously.
“Miss Lake? You wanted to see me?” Heavens, she was asking that a lot.
Virginia looked up from the file on her desk. Meg Gill looked maybe 15, if that. But her answers yesterday showed an excellent mind and major grasp of computers and how they worked. “Come in. Sit down.” Meg did so and waited, wide-eyed. If Ford occasionally had a deer in the headlights look, this girl made him look positively aggressive. “I have a position open for a person of your talents.” She almost laughed at Meg’s look. “It’s complicated,” she continued. “And cutting edge. Interested?”
“Did I just faint?”
“No,” assured her with an amused look.
“I would love it … I think. Could I get a little more info?” Meg asked. This was a gift job, but she knew better than to say yes and then regret having done so.
Virginia explained that the entire complex was to be wired for computers, including the secretarial pool and that it was to be top of the line; spare no expense. She and Ford were to supervise the installation; they wanted their own personnel working on the project, not some outsiders who might or might not do their absolute best. She then named a salary figure that practically did make the girl faint.
“I would be delighted! When does this start?” Meg asked.
“Right now. Fill these out, sign and get them to personnel immediately.” Virginia tried not to laugh as Meg backed out of the room with the armful of papers. “Wonder what she’ll think of the project.”
Computerizing the studio included linking to the mainframe below so that SHADO personnel could access records and information from their office computers, given specific protocols and passwords. The security issues were considered negligible compared to being able to get to information quickly instead of taking the time to go to HQ. The typing pool would benefit by having the word processing abilities of the computer so that script revisions would become simpler. There was a possibility that after a year or so, the pool would be phased out, the typists being moved into other positions with the studio or let go. Typists frequently took temporary jobs instead of something they could hold on to for a long period.
Miss Gill, of course, was moving up immediately to help Ford with the installations.
Keith was a little startled when the petite Miss Gill arrived for her first day with him in serviceable work clothes; blue work shirt, black twill pants and flats instead of the very feminine look he was used to. She smiled at him, the corners of her eyes crinkling.
“If I’m here to tech, heels and skirts are pretty useless,” she explained. “Unless you’d prefer …”
“No. No, that’s fine.” He stopped himself in the nick of time from pointing out that most of his female coworkers wore uniform single piece suits. “Actually, it makes sense and I won’t have to suggest the change as we get into the installation.” Small compliments apparently made a hit with Miss Gill.
They went straight to work, pouring over the blueprints for the wiring and cable connections. There was a lot of work to be done in a short period of time. Meg demonstrated her skills as they broke the work down in to manageable blocks. By the end of the day, they were actually about an hour ahead of the initial schedule.
Work proceeded quickly. Virginia was a cursory supervisor. Keith knew that her attention was on an overhaul of the Utronics systems, adapting to the new hardware coming out of America’s “Silicon Valley”. Some of the work being done in the States was adapting the computer to everyday life, not just military or industrial uses. Keith occasionally had dreams of having a computer at home with access to some sort of inter-connective service like the one some scientists in the US used now, only with wider applications and reach. For now, he was content to help supervise the upgrades to the studio and to HQ.
With Meg’s help, they stayed slightly ahead of schedule on the installation until it came to the finalization of the wiring for the mainframes in the studio. Five sections with mag tape drives were ready to link into the system when one of them developed a power issue. Rather than move all of them out to find the problem, Meg took a look, sighed and suggested that she could probably wiggle her way through them to find the problem.
“Sometimes being the runt of the litter is beneficial,” she pointed out.
Ford frowned at her language. “You’re hardly a runt and I doubt your Mother had a litter,” he objected. “However, it does look like you’ll fit through the access hatch. Keep your fingers out of things that might spark.”
“We could unplug it,” she pointed out.
“Then we wouldn’t know where the problem was.”
“There is that,” she agreed. She pulled off the work shirt to reveal a close fitting undershirt. Her pants were tight enough not to catch on things if she was careful. As she wormed her way into the first unit, she kicked off her shoes as well before vanishing into the innards of the computer system. It wasn’t as tight a fit as she had expected.
“OK, everything in this one looks tight,” she murmured into the little mic Ford had attached to the neckline of the t-shirt. She ran the tester she carried over the connections and the boards. Nothing out of place here.
Cautiously, she made her way to the access port to the adjoining section. There she found nothing out of the ordinary either, which she reported. She was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic as she entered the third section. If she got into trouble here, there wasn’t much anyone outside could do past turning off the power and then pulling everything apart to get to her.
Meg was about half way through checking the connections when she found a loose wire. Tugging on it gently revealed it was attached to nothing. “Um, Keith. I found a loose wire.”
He relayed the information to Virginia. Then asked what color. He relayed that information with a frown. “Purple?”
They referred to the charts. Nowhere on the information they were referencing was there an indication of a solid purple wire. Ford relayed that back to Meg.
“I thought purple was a little odd.” She tugged on the wire to see how secure it was at the other end. It didn’t budge. So, one end attached, one end not. “Just where do you go?” Gingerly, trying very hard not to dislodge or disconnect anything else, she uncurled from the bottom of the section to stand up. The wire went through a hole in the top.
“Keith, the wire goes through the top of this section. I’m in the middle one, right?”
“Yes. Come back out. We’ll trace the wire from out here.” Keith was uncertain exactly what that wire was, but he knew it did not belong there. The word sabotage kept circling his mind and he suddenly wanted Meg out of there now.
“Easier said than done,” Meg muttered as she slid back down to the horizontal and then eased back the way she had come.
Ford discovered he’d been holding his breath as Meg’s toes showed up at the access hatch, slowly followed by the rest of her. “I’ve had toothpaste squeeze out faster,” he complained, worry sliding away as she made a face at him.
“Get me a ladder … or a step stool.”
“Whoa. We have people …”
“What? My job, remember?” She looked at him curiously.
“Right.” Calling security would look a bit strange, depending on what they found at the other end of the line. He located a small ladder and kept it steady as Meg climbed up until she was level with the top of the units. There was no more than six inches of clearance between that surface and the ceiling tiles.
“It goes into the ceiling,” she called down to him as she carefully levered one of the sections up and out of the way. She could see the wire trailing off across the area between floors. Carefully, she pulled herself up into the crawlspace, locating the sort of catwalk area where her weight would be supported.
“It’s OK. I’ve got the lightest weight, remember? I’m on the … walkway thingy. Oh, wasn’t that just terribly technical of me,” she ended with a giggle. “The wire keeps going. I’ll keep in touch.”
Into the Frying Pan
Meg moved forward, keeping an eye on the wire and her surroundings. This wasn’t New Mexico, but it could have spiders. Brown recluse spiders did not favor one continent over another and were very nasty wherever you ran into them. She realized the area had been cleaned recently, which she considered odd and reported back to Keith via her microphone. The ceiling line dropped about ten feet ahead and Meg stopped her heart in her mouth. She wasn’t certain just where she was over, but the double line of electronic lumps in front of her were sullen and evil looking. The purple wire ran between them to a final unit with numbers on the faceplate.
“So, why don’t we just cut the wire?” Gerry Green asked as he tugged on it to pull the unsecured end out of the computer.
“Shit!” echoed in Ford’s ear suddenly. “Did someone just do something stupid?”
There are … two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve … thirteen things up here. They look electronic and they look kinda evil, if machines can look evil. Number thirteen has a faceplate with numbers and it just started a countdown. Initial number 250.00. I’m thinking minutes/seconds here and the seconds are running down. Keith, why would someone put thirteen bombs in the building?”
Keith didn’t answer her question, instead he ordered her out of there before hitting the nearest fire alarm and shooing the rest of the workers out of the room. He found an emergency phone and called security. “We have a situation. Computer room in the main building. We have what look like bombs, enough to take out the building.”
Security responded with alacrity, arriving as Keith realized he hadn’t seen Meg come back yet. “Meg, where are you.”
“Uhm … stuck.”
He’d heard about a person’s blood running cold. This was one of the few times he’d experienced it. “What do you mean stuck? There should be plenty of room up there for shrimp like you.”
“Yeah,” she didn’t respond to the insult. “Physical room, yes. However, there’s this interesting network of what looks like red light beams gridded across the area. I can’t imagine that studio security would have turned that on in the last few minutes, or even a really good reason for studio security to have something like this in here. So, I’m thinking, whoever put these things in here probably has the grid up to keep someone from finding the things and then getting out to tell people about them.”
Ford took a shaky breath and released it. She was right. “Can you get past the installation to the other side?”
Meg squirmed around carefully and looked. “Possibly.” She inched forward. The walkway she was on ended at the drop down, but there was a friendly looking support for the floor above her with nice large openings for fingers and hands to grab onto and an I-beam construction that left an area for feet to work with. Continuing slowly, she caught onto the beam and lifted her weight up onto it. So far, so good. As she moved out, she caught a glimmer of light on the other side. “Shit!” There was a grid of green light on the other side, about five feet past the things.
“Keith, that’s a no go. There’s a green light grid on the other side. I’m here for the duration.”
“Drop through the ceiling?”
She shown the small light she had with her on the upper surface and felt very small and cold at what she saw. “No. Probably not a good idea for anyone to try to come up either. The whole thing is wired,” she told him in a very small voice. She could see the coppery trace of thin wires all over the place. “Someone was very, very thorough,” she said.
Straker entered the room with security behind him. Ford gave him a quick briefing on what Meg had found. “Thirteen total units. One has started a countdown. The ceiling’s wired and there’s a very sophisticated laser grid at each end. Those came on after Meg discovered the installation. There must be motion sensors in place, sir.”
Ed nodded. “I want the building completely cleared, shut everything down. Get everyone out of the studio.”
“HQ, sir?” Dillon Squires asked softly, aware of the open mic between Ford and Gill.
“Skeleton crew. Let’s not take chances.”
Squires nodded and stepped out to give his people their orders as Alec Freeman and Paul Foster joined Straker and Ford. Alec raised an eyebrow in inquiry as Paul looked around, noting the hole in the ceiling.
“Miss Gill found what looks like a large bomb installation, set up for a cascade effect. She’s trapped in the ceiling with the installation.”
“Trapped?” Paul asked.
“Laser grids at either end of the area. Probably motion sensors that set off the grids when she entered,” Straker answered.
“Keith,” Meg made contact again.
Ford stepped away to answer her. “Yes?”
“Did I mention the summer Gran taught me how to defuse bombs?” she asked quietly.
“Not that I recall. Interesting lady, your Gran.” He covered the mic and relayed what she’d said. All three of his superiors looked interested. “Can you get a good look at the installation?”
“Define good,” she shot back. “Sorry. OK, I’m craning my neck over my shoulder to look down. It’s not the greatest methodology. Oh, and the substrata on the floor isn’t wired as far as I can tell. It’s just way thicker to get through than the hung ceiling is.”
Keith relayed this information to Straker who nodded and sent Squires to collect SHADO’s bomb squad and get them to the proper area. Alec asked about the comment on Meg’s Grandmother.
“Meg says her Gran taught her how to disarm bombs.”
“Defuse,” Meg corrected absently as she shifted position to see if she could get a better look at the master timer. “Keith, this isn’t good. The one with the timer running is connected to all of the others individually and then the others are connected in sequence down each row. I mean, maybe they’re not bombs,” she squeaked. “But it’s really likely that they are. I’m scared. I’m not hysterical, but this is one of those times I wish I was built like my brother.”
“Bigger is he?”
“Can you say line backer?” she asked as she took another look at the layout below her; moved further out on the beam until she was close enough to hear the green light grid sizzle-pop and she could see the back of the timer. She might be able to reach the box, but she wasn’t certain what she could do from this angle. Stretching slightly she got a whiff of burnt hair. “Shit!” she shifted away from the green grid. “Oh … dear.”
Keith wasn’t happy with the tone of that comment. “Meg, what’s happening?”
“Uhm … if you touch the green grid, it sizzles whatever touches it and then it takes a count of 20 off the timer. We’re at 200 now.”
“Presuming two hundred minutes, that’s still three hours and change,” Keith told her.
“Oh, yeah. Sigh of relief. What makes you think I can hold on for that long?” she asked. “Just thinking. I mean, fear does a good job of making me hold on tight now, but that’s now.”
“We’ve got people coming. They’re going to cut through the floor and get you out.”
She looked down at the copper wires running below her. “Not necessarily a good idea, Keith. If they drop anything on those wires it could be a trigger. Or, it could be a bad joke. I don’t know. But if they care enough to make the green lights pop and zizz, I think maybe it’s a bad idea to let anything contact the wiring.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” Keith assured her. “How are you doing?”
“I’d like to be somewhere else,” she told him in a matter of fact voice. “I’d like to be in the mountains in NM chasing horses and dodging skunks. Maybe in the Bahamas, dodging gigolos. On the other hand, if I can bet back to the walkway thing, I’ll be better. There. On solid ground again and didn’t touch anything dangerous.” She lay on the edge of the drop off and tried to figure out the wiring schematic for the installation.
“At least you’ve kept your sense of humor.”
“Yeah,” she said softly. “Gran said if you can keep perspective and laugh at the enemy, you can usually come out on top. Do we have access to any fiber optics lenses?”
“Why?” Ford’s interested frown told Straker the conversation had become important.
“If you could feed one down to me through the floor, you could get a look at what I’m seeing … oh, actually, if you cut into the floor over where I am, there’s nothing for debris to fall on!” she added brightly.
Straker took the mic from Ford. “We’re coming, Miss Gill. Security should have a fix on your location and be getting through to you soon. I don’t know about fiber optic cameras, but we do have a selection of small video cameras. We can drop one of those through to you.”
“Mr. Straker. Hi. I think handing it to me would be better. I’ll keep an eye on the things and let you know if I think of anything. “ Why was the head of the studio talking to her? Why was he still in the building? Why … was she worrying about such irrelevant things when there were bombs not six feet away from her?
Well, Gran would be proud of her. Instead of having hysterics, as her father would have required so some man could rescue her, she, Meg Gill, was patiently staring at probably certain death and trying to figure out how to stop it. Three hours and counting. Crap. A few minutes later she thought she heard something above her.
Onto the Grill
With very little vibration or noise, Squires’ crew cut through the floor and lowered the camera to Meg. She released it from the hook and took a look at it. Wow. Complicated. OK, maybe not so complicated as it looked when you slowed down, took a breath and ignored the countdown clock ticking over a few feet away. She experimented with the view finder and discovered it was a video camera, not a still one. A black cord snaked down to her.
“Meg,” Ford’s voice in her ear made her jump.
“Oh, hi. Yes?”
“Attach the feed cord and give us some pictures.”
“Yes, sir.” She found the port for the cord and wriggled back to the edge of the drop off. The zoom function was tremendously helpful. She gave them the full picture, including the green light grid, then close ups of each individual lump and the wired floor. “Any ideas?”
Ford and Straker looked at each other and shook their heads. The setup was obvious, but what the things did was a mystery. With the countdown continuing, the entire lot needed to be disarmed. Given the amount of room, there weren’t a lot of options.
“Meg, how good are you at defusing things?”
Her heart made stopping noises and crawl up your throat and out of your body wiggles before she could calm down and answer his question. “Uhm … by the time the summer was over, I could … about twelve different methods and some of them blindfolded,” her very small voice told him. “Any ideas on how to deal with these? I mean, usually red and black wires, not purple.”
“Could we get a look at the back of the primary module?” Straker’s voice asked.
She wanted to point out that melting her knees in this situation was unfair. Instead, she steeled herself for another trip out to the timer. Straker and the rest received very close up views of the I-beam she was crawling out along until she got close to the end of the dropped down area. Slowly, she turned the camera so that they could see the back of the item. The purple wire snaked into the sealed half-canister shape.
“We need to open it up,” Ford relayed.
It was lucky he couldn’t see the face she made over that. “Ooo-K. And just how do you propose that I do this? I mean, if I had a bar to hook my knees over, I might be able to do something, but I can’t let go of the support. Falling into the thing seems like a really bad idea … not to mention falling through the ceiling,” she added as an afterthought. There was a discussion on the other end she could not hear. Ford finally got back to her.
“We’re sending you a bar.”
“What?” she yelped, almost losing her grip on the camera. Meg stared at the opening between one I-beam and the next. “You’re crazy.”
“There’s what? Five feet between the two beams?” Ford asked.
“Yeah?” she answered in a “what of it” sort of tone.
“We can get you a length of pipe to put through the holes in the beams,” was Ford’s answer.
“That would work … presuming I don’t drop it or poke one of the grids. How are you going to get it in here? There isn’t five feet between the floor and the ceiling … “
“We’re working on it. Go back to the walkway and we’ll keep you posted,” Ford told her.
Meg considered this and did what she was told. At least she could rest on the walkway and keep her strength up. There was a good bit of debris on the area when she got back and a much larger hole in the floor above her. John Wreckam looked down at her and nodded as she sank back onto the reinforced surface.
“How’re you holding up?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, never better,” she snapped, then blushed slightly. “Sorry. I’m a bit tense. Not the sort of situation I was expecting when I started this job,” she apologized.
She got a knowing smile as he lowered a bottle of water to her. “Thought you might be thirsty. We’ve got three three-foot lengths of pipe. Two slip over the outer edges of the third, makes about a seven foot length that should keep you secure. “
“Oh. Well, that actually makes sense. Never thought I’d be happy about having taken gymnastics … “ she told him as he started lowering the lengths of pipe to her. She paused long enough to take a drink of cold water before turning onto her stomach and figuring out the logistics of the pipes. “Could I get a belt or a rope or something? I need to secure these to get them out to where I need to go.” Once she had the rope, she tied the poles together and carefully lifted them onto the lip of the I-beam. Once she was moving, they slid along the surface with her. Putting them together was going to be a hassle.
Once in position, Meg carefully fit the first two pipes together and met the daunting logistics of getting the end of the pipe through the hole in the next beam. The loud clang of pipe and beam meeting just about jarred her off her own perch. Meg couldn’t hear the cussing back at the hole in the floor and was glad she couldn’t. Her arm was tired from hanging off the beam to begin with and levering five feet of pipe up and over to poke through a hole in another beam was not comfortable.
Getting the other end of the pipe supported took some of the strain off her arm. She shoved it out as far as she could to be able to maneuver the third section over the smaller piece and then through the hole on this beam. There wasn’t a lot of room between the construct and the bottom of the floor, but it was enough to slide her legs through so she could hang upside down, not singe her toes on the green light grid and get into position to work on the now very evil looking timer. The countdown was unnerving.
Tools. Her tools were in her pockets. Upside down could dump the tools onto the … Oh God, why didn’t she think of that before? She pulled out all the little screwdrivers, pliers and retrieval tools in her pockets and very, very cautiously set them down on the ceiling board next to the purple wire, one by one. She started breathing again when the last one was down and nothing had happened. Now that she could get close enough to see the casing, it looked clear of any wires that might set the whole thing off if she touched it.
Meg firmly duct taped her panic in to a little ball and locked it in a mental box until she could afford to deal with it. “First, the screws.” She couldn’t figure out if time was slowing to a crawl or accelerating to light speed. Her mouth was dry and she was terrified, but she was also the only one who could do this. The casing lifted away from the base plate revealing a tangle of wires, none of which were the right colors. “Fucking assholes,” she griped, ignoring her connection to Ford.
OK, Gran said that people deliberately did this kind of thing to confuse bomb squads, to try to get the person defusing the bomb to make mistakes. But, wires had to be wired correctly regardless of color. Trace the wires. Meg glanced at the countdown.
Where had that hour gone?
Dangling on the Edge
“Keith, I could use some help. Is the feed on the camera in color?” Meg asked through the radio link.
“So, take a look and see if you can figure out how this is coded. It can’t be completely random given the complexity of the set up, but I’m a little clueless here. The colors are … wrong. Really wrong. So, any help would be greatly appreciated. I do not want to start clipping wires and suddenly go boom, or whatever.”
Keith and Straker were studying the feed. Meg’s analysis was correct the wiring was a riot of color, not a black, green, red or blue wire in the bunch. After a few minutes, they did begin to recognize sequences of color, the first wire moving to the end on each separate set of connections for the subsidiary bombs. Germaine Totts joined them. He was one of SHADO’s top explosive devices people. He shook his head over the wiring.
“That’s crazy,” was his first comment.
For a moment the tall coffee colored operative looked at his boss as if to say: There’s a difference?. “Yeah. Wait … the wires … each of the connections to the rest of the lot changes by one color. Six pairs. The first one and the seventh should be the same.”
“They are,” Meg inserted. “So, does that mean that the first one in each line of sullen bumps is wired the same?”
“Looks that way. I’m Maine Totts. You are?”
“Meg Gill, the tiny tech who found this lot and is regretting it,” Meg introduced herself. Her legs were getting tired and the blood rushing in her ears was not helping.
“Yellow, Lime, Gray, White, Orange, Purple,” Maine counted them off.
“Yep. So, which one do I cut?” she asked hopefully.
“Give me a minute to work out pairs, darlin’.” He was quickly sketching the set up onto a wiring diagram. “Can you get me a shot of the wiring bundle heading to the first set of bombs?” The focus changed slightly, zooming in on the cable. “Home made cable,” he muttered. He caught Straker’s look of inquiry and pointed to the screen. “Wrapped with electrical tape. Whoever put this together bought the wire, put it all together and taped the bundles as they went. See where the wires go into the next unit?” The two men nodded. The sequence on the unit was different from the one coming out of the master. Damn.
“Get her out of there. Widen the hole in the floor and get her out,” Straker snapped.
“So, we let the building go boom?” Meg asked. Straker and Ford stared at the speaker. They’d forgotten she could hear them. “Look, it can’t hurt to keep working on this until we’re down to … say 30 minutes. If we haven’t got a consensus then, pull me out and we run for it. But … Look, if I can stop it, let me? Just give me something to work with. Tell me … Look at the other sequences and tell me what you see. I’m moving back to the beam and the crosswalk. My legs need to loosen up for a bit. I’ll shoot what I can see, you tell me if there’s anything you can work out. “
The three men looked at each other with renewed desire to solve this puzzle. The young lady was as courageous as any SHADO operative and she didn’t even know what she was dealing with. They watched the video intently, recording it to the hard drive as well as monitoring it live. The picture wobbled now and again as she moved back toward the catwalk, but on the whole she kept it steady. The units disappeared as she lowered herself to the catwalk and stretched out, slowly working pre-cramp muscles to relax them.
“Any ideas?” Meg asked after a few minutes of silence.
Maine, For and Straker were finishing up marking out the diagram, noting the colors. “Damn!” Maine exclaimed as he realized the color pairs going into each slaved unit were the same. “Meg, girl, we have a partial clue, I think. You’ll have to double check the video, but it looks like the sequence going into each unit is identical.”
“Which means?” She asked. Thinking about it, it meant they were all wired the same, but that meant the master box was screwed up.
“It means you have to cut the correctly colored wire on each unit.”
“And that would be?” she shot back.
“We’re working on it,” Maine’s deliciously accented voice told her.
“Lovely,” she muttered under her breath.
Minutes ticked by slowly. Meg turned over on her stomach to watch the still very sullen looking master unit. 70.31 .. 30 .. 29 .. 28 .. 27 .. 69.59 What? Her lower jaw dropped as she realized the timer had a glitch. The minute slowly dropped to .27 and did it again. “We have a problem!” she yelled.
“What?” Straker fielded the statement while Ford tried to recover from her yell and Maine looked alert.
“We’re losing 26 seconds a minute. The timer is dropping to the next minute at 26 seconds before it should. It’s at 68.30 now. I can’t do this in my head, but I’d say we only have about 45 minutes to solve this.”
Maine looked down at his drawing and swore quietly. Ford looked to Straker for orders. Did they pull her out and run? Or did they continue?
“Meg, are you still with us?” Straker asked.
“Aside from wanting to run screaming away from this? Yeah. Give me a wire to cut. And maybe you should evacuate just in case you’re wrong.”
Ford effected to ignore the grim smile on his boss’s face. “Give us a couple more minutes,” He told her and looked to Straker and Maine for the answer she needed.
The two men had their heads nearly touching as they poured over the diagram they had. Logic indicated that one duo or wires in each set of colors should be the ones to clip. Maine was arguing for the gray/white combination. Straker felt that one was wrong, but he wasn’t entirely certain about his own choice of yellow/purple.
Meanwhile, Meg was working her way back to the master unit when she realized the last unit on the right was wired differently from the rest. “Gentlemen, would you take a look at the last unit on the right side.” She pushed the zoom out to maximum for a good look at the back plate. Instead of a single connection to the wiring from the central timer, there were two sets of wires leading out of it, one that matched the rest of the units and one that mirror-imaged it. “The timer isn’t the master, is it?” she asked with a slight tremor in her voice.
The three men exchanged another look. Damn.
“Meg,” Straker took the lead. “Can you get to the unit?”
She blinked the sudden tears in her eyes. Damn whoever put this here. There wasn’t enough time to move the bar. She moved back off the I-beam and looked down at the units. Oh boy. This was not good. But, the layers of wire on the ceiling were much lighter here than further on. With excruciating slowness that made her arms ache, she lowered her self to the surface. She almost wept when it gave slightly as she let her full weight down.
Meg took a couple of slow breaths and stepped forward as lightly as she could, fitting her feet between the twirls of wire until she stood in front of the unit. “I need an answer,” she reminded them. Thirty minutes and counting, she took her eyes off the timer and kept them resolutely on the unit in front of her. Last second rescues only happen in movies.
“Cut the yellow wire first, then the purple one,” Straker’s voice told her.
“Yellow, then purple,” she repeated, bending over to look at the wires.
Straker nodded, then confirmed verbally as he looked from the diagram to the video and back. Thank god the girl had sense enough to keep the camera with her.
Slowly, giving thanks for her gymnastic training, Meg bent over the unit and reached carefully for the yellow wire, pulling it slightly away from the others before using a very petite pair of cutters to snip the wire. She ignored the accelerated countdown as she reached for the second wire. “Yellow, then purple,” she repeated quietly.
“No! Wait.” Straker and Maine stared at Ford who was staring at the set up. “Orange. Cut the orange one. Now.” Oh, hell. If he was wrong…
Meg pulled the orange one out slightly, screwed her eyes closed and cut the wire expecting then worst. Nothing. Silence. She opened her eyes again. The red grid was gone. She straightened up to check the green one ahead of her, over balanced and fell through the ceiling tiles trailing wiring, broken tiles and dust. She lay on the floor for a long moment wondering if she would breathe again.
Crashing into the Net
Meg lay staring up at the ceiling while all the points of her body that had made contact with the floor yelled about how much that hurt. She counted to 100 waiting for something to happen. Nothing. Realizing that instead of breathing, she had been holding her breath, she let it go and took another one as Ford, Straker and Totts came running.
Ford knelt beside her, worry making lines on his face. “Are you all right?”
She gave a half laugh which she regretted and nodded, sitting up slowly. “Nothing broken, except the ceiling. I think.” She felt bruised already.
“Miss Gill,” Straker addressed her. “Thank you. I’m presuming that since we haven’t blown up or been deluged with gas, that you succeeded. Why don’t you just sit here until we get the medics up to check you out.”
“I’m OK, really. Just .. bruised. Really.” Why was she trying to reassure him?
Straker squatted down beside her, the incredibly blue eyes looking into hers, his sincerity undeniable, her brain seizing up and refusing to budge until he did. “You just saved lives, Miss Gill. We are very grateful to you and I’d like to make certain that you don’t have serious repercussions from having fallen. You’ve done an excellent job of taking care of us. Would you allow us to return the favor?”
She could feel her color rising as she nodded wordlessly. Words, somewhere there were words clamoring to get out of her head. Unfortunately, the mouth was not accommodating speech at this time. Finally, she found her voice. “OK. I’ll just … sit here and wait,” she agreed.
He smiled. Oh, God. He smiled at her. Then he got to his feet, told Ford to stay with her and walked off down the corridor followed by one hell of a good looking guy with coffee colored skin. Her brain kicked back into gear as she looked into Ford’s dark brown eyes. He smiled at her too. Thank God that didn’t freeze up her brain. She smiled back.
“Oh, I will be.” She looked up at the wires dangling from the ceiling. “Sorry about the hole.”
Ford laughed at that. “You find the problem, you solve it and you’re worried about a hole in the ceiling? Girl, you’re going to get a bonus, if I have anything to say about it,” he told her. Visions of the innocent dead had been dancing in his head since she found the things.
Her color rose again. “Gran would be proud,” she said with a smile.
“You’ll have to tell me about your Gran some time. Sounds like a real lady.”
She laughed at that, putting up with muscles that protested they’d already been abused. “Dad wouldn’t agree with that. He thinks a lady should be rescued, treated like … Oh, shoot … I shouldn’t say that …”
“A little behind the times, I take it,” Ford offered with a smile.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Centuries.”
The paramedics arrived, interrupting further conversation as they checked her out, helped her onto a transport gurney and whisked her off to Mayland Hospital for x-rays. Ford went in search of Straker and security as she left. He found his boss and Totts supervising the enlarging of the hole in the floor above to gain access to the between space.
“The medics took her to Mayland, sir. Nothing obviously broken, but better to make certain with x-rays.” He squatted next to the hole and took a look. Very vaguely he could make out a couple of lumps out past the hole letting in light from below.
Maine let himself down into the hole and worked his way out the catwalk to the drop off. “Damn. I know that inanimate objects are just that, but these things really do look sullen. I think we could cut the ceiling down with them attached, better than continuing to destroy the floor above.” He came back and accepted Ford’s hand to get back up. “Why isn’t that girl working for me?” he asked as he brushed the dust and detritus off his shirt and pants.
“We didn’t know she was so versatile,” Straker answered him, catching Ford’s suddenly poker face as he did. “Her degree’s in computers, not bomb squad,” he continued without a break. “Lake and Ford have first call on her services.”
Totts and Ford both looked at him curiously. Did that mean she would be recruited?
Reading their looks correctly Straker allowed himself a polite snort. “Depending on what a major background check turns up, we may be looking at hiring Ms. Gill for a position with us instead of the Studio. She did very well under a great deal of unexpected pressure. However,” he turned to look at the security detail. “I want to know how this got here, who planted it and what it was meant to do and I want the report on my desk in 48 hours. I also want the rest of the buildings scanned for anything similar.”
He did not add that he wanted the latter done yesterday as was the current trend for movie characters. He did want to know as soon as humanly possible that the rest of the Studio and HQ were clear of such items, or anything else that looked even vaguely suspect.
Several hours later, released from the hospital with a bottle of Motrin, Meg was driving out to the place she was renting just outside of town when something glittery launched itself in front of her car. She hit it with a sickening thud. She’d heard that term, but never experienced it before. Meg was almost out of the car before it stopped.
Racing back she found a man wearing a red suit with a silver helmet and embellishments. Something dark had leaked onto the road and when she listened to his chest, there was no heartbeat and no rise and fall of breathing. She looked around desperately for help and then realized that, of course, there was none. What a time to wish she had her old Caddy with the mobile phone Dad provided.
OK, dead body in strange costume. She turned her car around and drove slowly back so she wouldn’t add the indignity of running over the body again to the list of crimes she’d committed and was going to commit. Driving home and then calling the cops seemed … callous? With difficulty and a lot of protesting muscles, she loaded the surprisingly light body into the trunk of her car, wondered if now that she was in England if she should really get used to calling it the “boot” and took herself to task mentally for getting distracted. Meg drove home with her grizzly cargo, rushed into the house, tripped over the area rug in the entrance and hit the floor for the second time that day.
She lay there in the dark and laughed until the sound began to strike her as hysterical. “OK, Meg, old girl. You need help. You moved the body … Maybe Keith?” She pulled Keith’s card out of her wallet and dialed his direct line at the studio without thinking. She was surprised when he answered, sounding tired. “Keith?”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Meg. I’m not sure I was actually expecting you to answer,” she side tracked herself for a moment.
That got a slight laugh. “Are you OK?”
“Uhm … well, yes and no. Physically, they sent me home with some painkillers and orders to stay home for a couple of days. Mentally, not so good. I have a problem.”
Something in her voice told him she was quite serious. “All right. I’ll help if I can.”
“Good. I think I killed an astronaut. Gaudy red suit, helmet, faceplate, silvery decorations. I thought it was a costume until I tried to pull the helmet off and it’s … sort of sealed? Are you there?” The complete silence on the other end was disturbing.
“Yes,” Ford answered after a few more seconds. “Meg, lock your doors, leave the body where it is and I’ll have someone out there to see what we can do. Don’t open the door unless you hear me or Mr. Straker, got that?”
“Yes. I really did it this time, didn’t I?” She sounded very young suddenly.
“No. You’re fine. We’ll talk when we get there. Just keep the doors locked and probably the lights off. Call this number if anything odd happens. I’ll make sure someone is monitoring it.” He replaced the handset shaking his head before leaving his station to alert Straker to the situation.
Straker looked up, also looking tired. “Yes?”
“We have a potential incident, sir. Miss Gill seems to have run over an alien,” he reported. He firmly sat on the part of his brain that wanted to giggle.
“What?” Straker sounded like he didn’t quite believe what Ford said.
“Miss Gill just called. She was driving home and hit a person in a red and silver suit with helmet. I believe her exact words were: I’ve killed an astronaut. Shall I take a mobile out, sir?”
“Where is she?” his superior asked, a frown furrowing his forehead.
“At her home. Apparently she … transported the body, sir.” He contiued fighting a slightly hysterical laugh that kept trying to work it’s way out.
“We’re both going.” Straker wasn’t certain what he was thinking about Miss Gill, but he definitely wanted to see what was up.
To be Continued in Wild Ride