Gift of the Gruldak, Chapter 14: Connections
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Will the TransMatters' goons catch up with KevinBob? Will he and his friends survive if they do? Find out in Chapter 14 of Gift of the Gruldak, Connections.
Chapter Fourteen, Connections
“I think it’s all the way through all the way around,” Georgia said.
“Let me see,” said Eyebrows, getting up from his place on the floor.
The woman with the short gray hair got there before him and started pulling pieces of display case backing out of the opening as Georgia stood catching her breath. The work hadn’t been very hard but fear and stress had made it so.
Kira said, “Here, let me. The edges are jagged; you could get cut.”
“Cut’s not dead,” said the much older woman.
“You can fight better when you’re not injured,” I interjected and the woman stepped aside so Kira could bash at the remains still blocking the opening with the pry bar.
I heard a crash, further down the hall, coming from the direction we had, followed by muffled swearing.
The tough-looking older woman snapped out, “Quick, get in the hole!” She pulled a confused-looking young woman forward to help her do just that.
Eyebrows yelled “Wait!” from the direction of the noise, “It’s just me!”
The woman stopped shoving the youth toward the opening but continued tying the piece of rope I hadn’t seen before to her belt.
Eyebrows popped out of a doorway down the hall carrying a bunch of linens and pillows.
“I thought these might help,” he said.
He swept the display case with his foot to roughly clear away any remaining glass and debris and set a pillow on the bottom of the opening and put a blanket over it.
“Good idea,” said the young, dark woman who’d almost been pushed through the hole by her well-meaning friend.
We shined a light into it and were relieved to find it did break through into a small open space. It appeared to be some kind of large, square vertical shaft about two meters on a side going down to about two and a half meters. The shaft ended just over two and a half meters above a blue-tiled floor covered in some kind of rubble.
The older woman was lowered down first, not in understanding of some frailty on her part but so she could secure the area before the rest of us came down. She was the lightest anyway and could only hold any of us up with help from another of us. She was also the scariest. If there had been anything down there that wanted to cause us harm it’s likely it would have gotten the worse end of the bargain.
Eyebrows and I were both surprised when the line almost hit me in the face but he still managed to grab it if in a somewhat awkward catch between his forearm and his chest.
One by one, everyone was lowered into the dark hole. One thing about it amazed me and that was how smoothly we all worked together as a team, although some of us had just met. What totally dumbfounded me was that I somehow fit in almost perfectly.
Next down was Georgia lowered by Kira and me. Third went the tall but delicate-looking young woman lowered by Eyebrows and me. Next was Kira lowered by Eyebrows and me. By then I was pretty exhausted and my argument with Eyebrows over who would lower whom into the oubliette was barely a token.
I stepped into the rough climbing harness and pulled it tight with his help. The air no longer smelled fresh and nice but had an unpleasant burnt smell to it and there was some kind of powdery grit getting in my eye. We won’t discuss what that harness was already doing to my nuts.
I asked him, “I wanted to know your name.”
He said, “Huh?”
“I can’t keep thinking of you as the good-looking guy with the eyebrows if you’ve got my life in your hands.”
Before he held out his hand and clasped mine in it as we both squatted near the hole, he looked down at me and said, “Kevin, I’m Ryan. I won’t drop you.”
“Thank you,” I said.
He lowered me until hands suddenly grabbed awkwardly at different parts of me to break my fall as his strength gave out. Up above, Ryan cursed and swore. I hadn’t realized he wasn’t much better off than I was and neither had he. We’d made a makeshift pulley on the handle of a door Georgia cut off its hinges but none of us knew how to best take advantage of the rope without someone up above pulling on it. I’m sure we could have done better but we were in a bit of a hurry and I was the only one who’d ever done this sort of thing before and then I’d only been eleven.
Ryan would have to wait a few minutes at least before trying to get down or risk falling.
“Kevin,” he called down to me, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK, I’m not hurt,” I shouted back.
“But I promised not to drop you.”
“It’s OK, it’s not like it was a solemn oath. You did your best Ryan, and we all know it. Besides, it wasn’t too far from the floor.”
“I think I’m going to need to take a breather then.”
”Go ahead. We’ll clear some of whatever’s on the floor down here from under the vent. Try to give you a softer landing in case things go south,” I said.
Meanwhile, the others started exploring the dark room we were standing in, flashlight beams providing insufficient lighting. Kira asked me for one of the devices she’d handed me in the tool room and I produced it after some fumbling. It was a white rounded oval, domed on one side. She opened it up somehow, set it on the floor to one side of the room and turned it on. With just a little trial and error she adjusted it until the dusty room we were standing in was lit to the highest office working standards.
We’d popped out of a vent or cold air return in the ceiling of the room. Its grating had fallen off and lay oxidizing on the floor, waiting for someone to step on it. It may have once been some kind of kitchen at one time but I couldn’t be certain. Whatever fixtures it once held, they were long gone. Only a few meters of stainless steel counter-top and two sink basins remained. Debris from a crumbling off-white drop ceiling lay scattered all over the floor, with larger piles in some places than in others. Some of those piles of debris were somehow damp and streaked with rust.
We roughly cleared the floor directly beneath the hole in the true ceiling and for a short distance around.
“I think I’m ready to give it a try,” said Ryan from above.
“Hold on a second while we get ready for you,” I said, trying to quickly figure out what we should do.
Georgia and I stood on either side of the target, both of us unencumbered by large, ungainly equipment unless you count my feet. Dang those feet were big.
We were ready to try to break Ryan’s fall should he fall once he was close to us. As I looked up, cold water dripped on my head from the rusted sprinkler above it.
Ryan struggled on the way down but he managed to get into the corner of the shaft so he could brace himself on two of its walls. He made it far enough down that I was able to hug him around the knees and catch him with Georgia’s assistance before he even let go. His poor hands were a mess, the right one leaving bloody marks wherever it touched.
The young woman tried to tend them but he just gripped a couple of hand towels and said she could look at them when we were better situated. I picked up his bag along with my crowbar and we headed out the door of the room.
Kira suddenly said, “I think they’ve made it past the security desk.”
“Have they hurt anybody yet?” asked the old woman holding a petite chainsaw in one hand and a flashlight in the other.
“It should be OK so far,” Ryan said, “Security was on automated lockdown and everyone from there had left the building last I knew.”
“You’ll tell me the second they do or if they get past the next lockdown gate?”
“I will,” Kira promised her.
“I have a few little somethings for them shuffling on hold in the delivery system,” the tiny woman said.
I asked, “What does that mean?”
“This building has an automated package delivery system. You can send just about any small item from one area to another.”
“With matter transmitters? Wouldn’t the power bill bankrupt you?”
“Huh? Oh, we don’t use matter transmission for it, it’s just a series of tubes running around the whole building. You grab a ball, open it up and put whatever you are sending in it. If it’s fragile, use a squirt of the packing foam from the dispenser right by the PDS before you close it. Lift the door flap up, drop it in, choose a destination on the screen, and off it goes on a jet of air.”
“Oh, cool, pneumatic tubes. Uh, anyway, what have you got in there?”
“Oh, nothing I’ll be using unless those mercenaries decide they’re ready to die.”
I talked in quiet tones with her while we walked through some weird narrow hallways and down some concrete stairs. The stairs were also oddly narrow, only about a meter across with oppressively low ceiling overhead.
She was Amanda Sauer and she was eighty-five. Born in Pittsburgh in 2025, just two years after I was, she’d been nine when the Pandemic struck. She thought the stairs would be good for holding off a siege if the goons got this far and I got the feeling it wouldn't be her first battle.
If Kevin Wang hadn't died, he’d be older than she was. At the time it was incredibly confusing. It had me thinking of Kevin as a he rather than as a me and it was very uncomfortable. Somehow, it didn't help that Amanda and everyone else with me had probably died more times than I had. All of us were doppelgangers, but they had continuous-seeming memories stretching from early childhood to right that moment and spanning all the years between.
We found a nondescript door at the end of a small room at the bottom of the stairs. The door had no visible lock, handle, lever, or screen. However, there was a slick spot on the wall by it that looked the shape and texture of one of those blue scanners that seemed ubiquitous on 2109 earth, only larger.
Kira swore but then pulled a black device about the thickness of a deck of cards and the length of her palm out of her pocket. She fiddled around with it over the lightless panel for a few minutes, faint flickers of blue light flashed out of it a few times before the panel finally lit up with a steady glow and opened. She did something more while the young woman held a light for her to work by then closed the panel. She pressed her hand on it and the door open toward us.
The air inside seemed fresh and the lights came on when we entered the little room, actually, when my crowbar entered it. It had shelves on all the walls, stacked neatly with an assortment of what looked like industrial cleaning products all the way up to the ceiling. The six of us were a tight fit.
As I started worrying about how we were going to hold up to a siege in the room, Kira asked us to step back out a moment. Once we did, she pointed her electronic tool at the shelves on the back wall and two shelves in the center of it. The shelves swung out like very thick double doors. A short dark hallway lay behind it.
We filed back in and Georgia closed the door behind us with a palm to the panel beside it.
The hallway beyond the hidden doors stayed dark but the door at the end of it opened easily to Kira’s palm and a wave of her hand tool.
She said, “Come on in, but don’t leave anything behind,” handing her toolbox off to Amanda and slipping back through us to the closed outer door to the storeroom.
She did something to it as I watched and the lights went out in the little room.
“Oh, good idea,” I said.
“I re-broke the touchpad, too,” she said, grinning.
Amanda was already seeing to Ryan’s hands by the time Kira got the secret door and the door to the safe room closed.
The safe room was much more than just a room; it was actually more like five rooms, not counting the tiny bathroom which was more like a cupboard. Four narrow, oddly shaped rooms surrounded a larger room in their center.
I no longer worried about lasting out a siege because the outer rooms were stuffed with provisions of all sorts. The walls were lined with water floor to ceiling stored in jugs shaped like bricks made of something that looked like thick plastic. I only knew the pale, waxy-looking yellow blocks held water because Amanda told me so.
After very briefly poking around we all gathered in the central room. Ryan lie on a clever-looking bed made of springy memory foam covered in something with a green matte finish to it. The only remaining person whose name I wasn’t sure of sat next to him on a chair that looked like it probably did double duty as a storage box.
Ryan introduced the young woman to me as Zuri Faraji, informing me that the name means beauty in Swahili. It was certainly accurate.
Her eyes were a lovely deep brown surrounded by blue-black eyelashes. Her even deeper brown face was graced with strong cheekbones, lush lips, and near-perfect symmetry.
We had a short group discussion in which we decided that there was nothing we could do about the goons for the moment. Ryan rested with Zuri sitting next to him while the two spoke quietly together, her hand resting on his shoulder. Amanda and Georgia appeared to be taking a rough inventory of supplies and Kira and I went to the first room to the left of the elaborately locked entry door to do the same.
“So I gather you have some kind of computer interface installed in your head?”
“Yes, I have a, a device that allows me to access the net and all local servers, connected devices, or terminals,” she replied.
“Oh, cool. Wait. What about security protected networks?”
“I can pretty much get into them, too.”
“If everybody can do that how did Trans Matters keep the problem with the MTs a secret?”
She replied, “Not many people with bodies can do it, but I have help from a friend. Not even all that many AIs can do it and none of us was looking for it.”
“So your device is special?”
“Not as special as my friend. He’s one of those AIs who can get into anything.”
“So your device is more like a direct line to him?”
“It does that but I can also use it on my own to get into just about anything,” she said.
We were collecting things that looked too old to be useful so we could possibly get rid of them later when Kira suddenly made a pained animal noise and sank to the floor.
She sat there holding her head in her hands quietly saying, “No, no, oh, shit no!”
I knelt on the floor next to her amidst the pile of outdated foodstuffs we’d both dropped on the floor when she’d cried out.
I asked, “Kira, what’s wrong?”
She looked up at me and shouted, “My link! My link is down!”
Continue Reading with Chapter Fifteen, Fun with Interior Design for Compact Spaces
- Gift of the Gruldak, Serial Installment #15
Will Kevin's presence on earth make a difference? Is there toilet paper in the shelter? Will Kevin have a nervous breakdown? Find out in chapter 15, Fun with Interior Design for Compact Spaces!