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Chapter 17

"Knockitty knock knock!" I call as rap on what I hope is Bryant's door. We know he's in this apartment building, but not which unit. This is the third one I've tried.

A groggy looking guy in his late twenties opens the door and squints at me. "What? I'm tryin' to sleep, man."

Not being able to keep my phone with me while I work is a pain, but Joe gave me a description of Bryant over the Wheeldio. Crew cut, blue eyes, knobbly nose, tan skin, stocky build, and a tattoo of an eagle on his left arm. This is him. I try to keep my smile friendly rather than predatory as I greet him. "Hi! I'm Randall Nomenson from Tonbosa U., and here's ten dollars, no strings attached. No, here, take it."

"Thank you?"

"You're very welcome, sir. Now, before I go, would you mind answering a short survey for my research project? It'll only take about two minutes."

He sighs. "Fine."

"Great!" I pull out my notebook. "First question: age group. Twenty-five to thirty?"

"Yup."

"Okay." I jot that down. "And I assume you identify as male? Right. Do you smoke?"

"Used to. Quit last year."

"Glad to hear it. Any other drugs? This is confidential, of course."

"No."

"Okay. Favorite band?"

"Bo-Dilly and the Moon Hounds."

"Do you drive a car, a truck, or something else?"

"Truck."

"Mmm hmm. Approximately how many hours per week do you spend cooking?"

"Uh... I dunno. Probably around thirty minutes a day? So times that by seven, and um... Sorry, I'm working nights right now." He glances at his watch with a yawn. "Probably won't even make it back to sleep now before I have to get up and leave."

"Three and half hours, then. And it's fine if you're tired. Actually, you just answered one of the next questions I was going to ask -- hours of employment. So, moving along, what do you do and where do you work, if you don't mind sharing?"

"I'm a... uh, I do delivery, for... for The Shifty Taco. Yeah."

Yeah right. I know everybody at the Taco and he's not one of them. And they don't have 24-hour delivery service either. "Very good. Now, last question: Vim or Emacs?"

"What?"

"Hmm, I see." I make a last mark on my notebook and then shrug. "Well, that's it, sir. Thank you for your time, and have a good day!"

As he nods and shuts his door, I move on to the next apartment and repeat the survey. After all, it would be pretty suspicious if it seemed like I singled him out. He's the third person I've surveyed here, and I knock on three more doors before I make it to the end of this row of apartments. Only two answer, and only one bothers to do the survey, but that's all for appearance, so whatever. It's not like it's my own money I'm giving away.

Done with that, I begin heading toward the street. Instead of actually leaving, however, I slip between the wooden fence and a hedge to get some privacy. "Looks like a best case scenario, Spook. He's home, he'll be leaving within probably an hour or so, and there are only three trucks in the parking lot that could be his. Did you find any pictures of his truck on his social media?"

"Why didn't you just ask him for more details? Wasn't that the point?"

"Yeah, but I don't want to make him suspicious either. Since there's only three trucks, I can just put a beacon on all of them if I have to, then wait until I see him leave to figure out which one to follow."

"You didn't put one on him?"

"Sure, Spook. I stuck a beacon in his pajamas, because that will totally be useful." While I wait on Joe, I work my way along behind the hedge until I'm closer to the nearest truck.

"Alright, well, he's standing next to a dirty red truck in this picture."

This one's blue, but the next one down is red, and it's the only one. "A Toyota, right? With a long scratch on the passenger side and topper on the back? Hmm, that gives me an idea..."

"Yeah, that sounds like it. What idea- wait. No, Wheels. Don't do it."

"Too late. It was unlocked and I'm already inside." I finish closing the tailgate and then stick a beacon up in a corner of the topper, just in case I have to bail before we get there.

"What if he sees you?"

"He won't. The sun's already getting low, and the topper blocks most of it. I'll just huddle up near the cab so he'd have to look directly down while next to a light to see me."

The following hour is boring. But while I twiddle my thumbs, Joe's getting pretty carried away with his Wheeldio upgrades. He wants me to steal a smart phone from a crook the next chance I get. I've kind of got a feeling he's wanting to pump a lot more data through the air than we're going to be able get away with unnoticed. So, I spend my time trying to come up with a way around that. Having our transmitter across the street is only a bandage. After all, they could just follow the cable back through the storm drain to the Wheelhouse. Maybe if we moved the transmitter even further away and communicated with it via laser? We'd have to have it booby trapped to alert us if anybody gets too close and then alter the beam alignment so they can't trace it. And rain would mangle the signal.

Uhg. Having to worry about things like this is why I've been trying to avoid becoming a priority target for the police all this time. "Hey Spook, how practical would it be to just cover Forchester in a solar-powered mesh WiFi network?" Encrypted WiFi is ubiquitous, and if we distributed it in a mesh network we wouldn't have to send a suspiciously high power signal.

"Not very. Even if we pushed the limits of what's legal, it would still take several dozen nodes. And to avoid notice, we'd probably want to stay below 80% of the power limit, so we'd need even more of them."

"Sounds like a plan. Not right now, but long term."

"It's going to be expensive, Wheels."

I purse my lips and then sigh. "We'll cannibalize the GeckoHook's budget. This is more important."

"If you say so. We'll need to come up with a better way to buy the parts though. Dad's going to get suspicious if we start getting bulk deliveries of wireless gear and solar panels. What about your uncle?"

"Yeah. Or maybe we can rent a storage unit or small office, then have it delivered there? That would be less suspicious than having that much gear shipped to a residential address."

"Good idea, I'll have Halon look into it when she gets back."

"What? Where'd she go?"

"Um, she just, um... bathroom break?"

"Spook."

"Fine. She's scoping out your apartment to see if it's being watched. But she told me not to tell you, so don't let her know you know."

"What the heck, Spook! The police already kidnapped Paula. What if they-"

"We know, Wheels."

"But what if-"

"We know. She wanted to do it anyway."

I close my eyes and take some deep breaths. I'm being irrational, and panicking isn't going to help anything. If they do have Hannah, staying right where I'm at and letting Bryant take me to them is the best thing to do. Leaping out of his truck to rush home would at best be useless, and at worst would be heading into another trap. I open my eyes and check my watch. "When was the last time she checked in?"

"Ten minutes ago. She hadn't seen anything suspicious."

"Mom should be leaving for work around now. Next time Halon checks in, could you find out whether Mom's alright?"

"Sure, man. No problem."

"Thanks."

Unfortunately, I hear footsteps approaching before we hear back from Hannah. I make sure I'm in shadow and hold my breath. The driver-side lock turns, the door opens and closes, and the engine fires up. I resume breathing.

The trip takes a while because we seem to get stuck at every light along the way, but eventually we pull into an underground parking garage. I pull down my mask and put my helmet on while we park, then wait for Bryant to get out and pass the back of the truck. When he does, I burst out and tackle him, ignoring the pain in my side and back.

A little while later I've got him gagged and hogtied in the back of his truck, sans uniform. The black jumpsuit would be too baggy on me if not for my armor and clothes padding it out. Even so, it's still a bit off. It'll blend in better than my hobo disguise though. I put my helmet back in my pack and pull up my mask under my stocking cap, then check myself out in the side mirrors. I don't look like Bryant, but I can probably pass as a generic employee of... Talaria? That's what it says on the jumpsuit's logo patch. Crap. I hope they're just using Talaria as a front company, because if I just beat up a legitimate technician from my ISP... Then again, he did lie about his employment. There's gotta be something shifty going on. Unless the Cueball attack on Talaria last month left him paranoid. That could be enough reason to lie about it to an untrustworthy stranger...

No, definitely something shifty -- I just found a bunch more patches in one of the pockets, each with bits of Velcro on their back and each featuring the logo of a different company. I'm either on the right track or I've stumbled into a separate scam. Either way, it's time to get this show on the road.

"Hey Spook, you read me?" He doesn't answer, but I am under a building right now. I straighten my jumpsuit and sling my pack over one shoulder, then walk confidently toward the door. They've got an RFID pad next to it, but Bryant had an ID card on a retractable cord clipped to his pocket, so I wave that in front of the sensor and the door clicks. Inside is bland tile flooring and beige painted cinder block walls. Reminds me of school. Off to the left is a bored guard behind a security window screwing around on his phone. He glances up at me, but I ignore him and check my watch while muttering about traffic, then hurry down the hall with a grimace. The guard probably takes my expression as displeasure about being late, but actually I'm just in pain. At least it's mostly my side and back, not my legs, so I don't have to hide a limp.

With no idea where I'm going, I turn right at the first intersection and try to casually glance at the doors I pass to glean hints. Mostly looks like dark offices. I reach a T intersection near some restrooms and hang a left after using them, taking me further from the door I came in. This seems to be an outer hallway that loops the facility. I follow it down and around the corner, then around a second, passing more offices, a break room, and a couple conference rooms. There are some closed doors, but nothing that looks remotely like holding cells.

I'm about halfway back to the front when I find the elevator and a staircase. The prisoners are probably deeper underground, if they're at this facility at all, but I instead take the stairs up. I was being reckless this morning at Daring Dan's, rushing directly to where I thought Paula was without really planning it out. I'm not doing much better so far, but there's still time to learn from the mistake. For one thing, I need some exit strategies. Right now the only exit I know of is the door I came in through, which can be electronically locked. Maybe the push bar would override that, but maybe it wouldn't, and there aren't any windows down here, what with being underground. I want to scope out the above-ground levels so that I'll know where to run to when things go wrong. Heck, I don't even know where in the city I am right now.

The stairs are empty, so I skip the ground floor and go to the second, which is the highest this building has. I'm less likely to run into guards up here than I would be on the ground floor, so I figure I may as well explore it first and then work my way down. This floor is nicer than the basement was; they have colored walls and everything. Windows too. I let myself into a conference room and look outside. Judging by the skyline, I'm way off in West Forchester, all the way across the river. I look closely at the window frame, but there don't appear to be any sensors. Sloppy security. On the other hand, these windows don't appear to open either. That's unfortunate. I hoped I could leave them open for a quicker, safer exit. Oh well.

The room also has a whiteboard with some writing still on it. Looks like they were brainstorming names for something. It's got Metarene, Powerall, Mightyoid, Enhancerol, Abilerant, and other variations on those themes. Some kind of steroid type deal, I guess. No idea if that's related to the Tolman's Flu operation. Before stepping back into the hall, I set a chair on the table and climb up to pop my head into the drop ceiling. Looks pretty typical, and the ductwork is definitely too thin to crawl through.

"Hey, are you okay?"

I nearly fall off the chair in surprise, but it's just Spook on the Wheeldio. "Yeah," I whisper. "Did you walk away for a bit or was the underground parking area just killing my reception?"

"Haven't gone anywhere."

As I climb down and put the chair back, the logo on a stationary pad catches my eye. "Well, I'm exploring their building right now. It looks like Stephenson might have been right about this being Pharmedica. I'll let you know if I find anything else."

The next several rooms are locked offices and a janitor's supply closet. I do rifle through the contents of the supply closet, but most such closets don't actually have the kinds of materials you'd need to make a wall-penetrating bomb the way TV might lead you to believe. If my goal was just to blow off some of my fingers or maybe kill some people with toxic fumes, I'd be all set. Hopefully none of that will become necessary.

I walk quietly past an office with a stressed out woman glaring at her monitor and find myself at a break room. Fridge, sink, microwave, coffee machine, water cooler, toaster, and a hot plate. Now, this looks promising! I pop open the fridge and find a bag of bagels and some cream cheese. Score!

Two bagels later I continue down the hall, noting the positions of security cameras, but there doesn't turn out to be much else of interest up here. More bathrooms and offices, a big section of cubicles at the far end, and several documents in trash cans and desk drawers sporting the curly red Pharmedica logo. I do come across a few other people working late, including one who I walk past in the hall. He looks at me strangely, but doesn't say anything so I just keep going. And then I've completed the circle. I duck back into the open conference room from earlier.

"I think I've got you on the map now, Wheels." Not having my phone with me sucks, but I've been telling Joe the names of any businesses I can see through the windows so he could try to help. "The building you're in doesn't have a name listed, just an address, and on the street view there's just the building number, no logos or names. It looks like a normal office building, but on the aerial view there are more air exchangers on the roof than normal for a building that size."

"Implying an extensive basement or well ventilated labs."

"Yeah. They've also got a solid looking door on their parking garage, not just a swing arm. I don't know if you noticed that while you were down there."

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind when it's time to leave. None of these windows open, so I'm going to open a path to the roof and then I'll explore the first floor. While I do that, I want you to sort out routes I can take out of here, places I can hide or lose pursuers, areas to avoid, that kind of thing. And it's not just going to be me, if this works out. At minimum, I want to get Paula out of here. Hopefully others. So think about groups as well."

"Right... and how are you planning to get more than you and maybe her out of there, Wheels?"

"Dunno yet." I climb up to the roof exit and check the door. It's the kind that only has a keyhole, no knobs or push bars. At least there isn't a camera on this landing. I sigh to myself and get out my lockpicks.

"Are you sure it has to be done right this instant? We know where they're at now. We could plan this better, or tip off the state investigators. Or the FBI. Pharmedica probably doesn't have their hooks that far."

"There isn't time, Spook. How long before they notice Stephenson and Bryant's absences and get suspicious enough to move everything? I'm getting as many out now as I can."

"How, though? If they're drugged, they aren't going to be able to flee."

"Well, if it comes down to it, I've got Bryant's keys. I could pack a bunch of people into his truck."

Joe groans. "Maybe we should get your... um, get the Tooth Fairy in on this, too? He could be waiting with another getaway vehicle?"

"Sure, if he's got anything useful he could borrow or rent at short notice on a Sunday evening."

"Oh, right. That Jeep isn't going to-"

"OPSEC, Spook."

"Okay, so what's the code-word for his vehicle-of-low-passenger-capacity?"

"Toothmobile, obviously. Give him a call, but be circumspect. Tell him you're at a party and need a designated driver for like a dozen kids or something."

"You know, I don't think they're on to you, Wheels. Han- Halon says everything seems fine at your apartment. So they probably aren't listening in on his phone calls. Or mine."

"And the police probably weren't working with some kind of medical conspiracy and probably weren't setting up a trap for me this morning. Oh, wait."

Ah, there goes the last pin. The door swings open and I hold it in place with my foot while I stuff one of Bryant's patches into the socket in the door frame to prevent it from latching when it closes. I could just leave the door propped open, but somebody might notice that and close it again, denying me a quick exit to the roof. This way I can leave it closed and nobody will suspect that the lock has been defeated.

I slip out onto the roof and look around. No cameras out here either. They don't seem to be very heavy on security for a company that's holding a bunch of people captive. "You weren't kidding about the air exchangers, Spook. I thought you meant maybe 50% extra or so, but this is like triple what they need."

"I know, right? FYI, the building's front entrance is on the north face, and the parking garage's ramp is on the west. East and south are probably the best sides to exit from if you use the roof or a window."

"Thanks." The south side is featureless, but the east side has some flanges and struts protruding from the nearest air exchangers. I head over and tie a rope. I've only got one other rope with me, so hopefully I won't need to repel down multiple elevator shafts or anything.

I let myself back inside and head down to the first story, then step out to see a security guard pressing the call button on the elevator to my left. I turn to nonchalantly walk the other way, but there's a wall in that direction. I turn back around and now the guard is looking at me with a frown. He starts reaching for his side. "I don't think I-"

So much for being sneaky. I charge and slam my left elbow into his sternum before he can pull out a weapon, then I chop at his neck with the side of my right palm while I pin his right arm with my left and shove him against the wall next to the elevator. He's wheezing for air and flailing at me with his right arm when the doors slide open. Perfect. He gives a shove, so instead of resisting I pull away and grab onto his arm, plant my feet, and swivel to throw us both into the elevator.

A little while later, the elevator doors slide open again and I skate out. I've ditched Bryant's jumpsuit and am in full Wheels-mode now, plus I've got the guard's collapsible baton and gun. Hopefully I won't need the gun, but it's better off in my hands than his. I took his radio too. That way I'll know when they realize I'm here. Unless they realize I have it first and change channels. Worth a try, anyway.

"Spook, change of plans. A guard saw me, so I'm blitzing the above-ground so they can't trap me below. Hit me with some tunes."

I spend the next several minutes gliding around the first floor like a spicy ghost, bludgeoning or Pepper-Soaking the half a dozen employees I find into submission and leaving them zip-tied to their heavy desks. Halfway through I find another guard, but he doesn't hear me coming until I'm literally on top of him and relieving him of his weapons. My return to the second-floor goes even smoother; I already know its layout and where everybody is.

The radio crackles as I head back to the basement level I started on. "Eight-o-clock, and all is well on Basement One."

It crackles again and another voice snorts. "B3A, clear."

"B2, clear."

"B3B, clear."

There's silence on the radio as I carefully clack down the stairs. The elevator would have been less hassle than navigating stairs on skates, but what if they cut the power to it with me inside? Then I'd have to try climbing out the top and hope they don't turn it back on and squish me. My armor is not rated for elevators. And actually, most elevator companies don't use roof hatches that can be opened from the inside anymore. Learned that the hard way over spring break. Stairs are more reliable.

I'm at the B1 landing when the radio crackles again. "F1? F2? Status?" I continue down a little ways and see that the staircase ends at B2. It's four flights down instead of two, and there is no B3 past it; the staircase just ends with a door labeled B2. They definitely mentioned two different outposts on B3. So, now I know where the prisoners are, if not how to get down to them. Maybe they've got a hidden entrance to B3 on B2 or something. I shrug and climb back up to B1 for now. Gotta clear that first, make sure they can't trap me.

I take a breath and open the door, looking around quickly. Clear. The guards are definitely realizing something's up, though, so I need to move fast. I skate toward the front as fast as I can without making noise. Halfway there, the Wheeldio crackles and then cuts out. Darn. I'll have to do the rest of this without music. I could connect the nice phone I took off a guy upstairs to my Skullbuzzers, but it's not going to have my music, and anyway I don't have time to fiddle with it.

The guard's radio squawks again. "F1 and F2, report!"

"What was that?" says a voice from down the hall and around the corner. Crap. I forgot that this radio isn't connected to my Skullbuzzers like the Wheeldio is. It's just using a normal speaker. Said speaker crackles to life again as the voice continues talking. "This is B1, I'm hearing somebody's radio approaching. Identify!" This is no good; I stop and ditch the radio in a doorway, then book it back the way I came and start looping around the level in the other direction. Hopefully the guard will approach the radio to investigate and leave his back open while I circle around to attack from behind. A peek around a corner at the front hallway shows an empty hall and nobody behind the security window. So far so good. I continue sneaking around clockwise.

"Respond, F1 and F2!" That's B2's voice, and I only hear one instance from way down the hall where I left my radio. The guard for B1 must have turned his own radio off so he can be sneaky. B2 keeps repeating his message, probably so that B1 can home in on it.

I round the last corner, and there he is, flat against the wall and shuffling toward the doorway where I left the radio with his gun drawn. I unlimber the baton. He's already spooked and a hallway is a funnel, so my pepper spray isn't going to be useful. He'd just spin and fire blindly at me. Instead, I glide up slowly, my approach masked by the radio and B1's tunnel vision as he inches forward. When I'm close enough that I think he might hear my wheels rolling, I start sprinting and smash the baton into his head, which, unfortunately for him, was nearly touching the wall already. He crumples into a heap and I wince. I don't know if these upper-level guards are actually aware of what they're protecting, which means I'd really prefer not to cause them permanent damage. They're probably in the dark. They certainly would be if I were running the show, and Pharmedica does seem to understand that compartmentalization is a thing, so it's a good assumption.

I'm already carrying two guns, so this time I just eject the magazine and take that and his two spares, leaving the empty gun behind. I really hope it doesn't come down to shooting my way out of here, but better safe than sorry. I'm getting pretty heavy, but there's not a lot of room for mobility inside, and if I'm going to be leading a bunch of drugged and half-dead victims out of here, I probably won't be able to go very fast anyway. It may very well come down to putting lead in anybody who tries following rather than my preferred strategy of just going too fast to keep up with.

As I grumble to myself, I relieve the guard of his keys, ID, and belt, apply his own cuffs, and then add my zip-ties for good measure. Besides, I don't want his legs free any more than I do his arms. Not that this guy's likely to be going anywhere soon. "Sorry," I mutter as I stand up and head back toward the stairs.

I get an idea when I see the elevator doors. Then I get a better idea. I hit the call button and then pop into the stairs and head up to the first floor, where I pry open the elevator shaft's doors and climb atop the car. My first idea was to send the elevator ahead of me as a distraction, in case they're waiting next to the stairs on B2 to ambush me. The problem with that plan is that it requires racing the elevator and hoping I get the timing right. Forget that.

Instead, I find the car-top control panel and inspect it. I've only done this once, and that elevator was a little different. The controls turn out to be basically the same, just shaped and placed differently. I flip the inspection switch and test the up and down controls. All good. Next I look around and find the hatch. Although they usually won't open from below, they do often let you open them from atop. I unlatch it and pop it open, then peek inside to get a feel for where I'll be landing. Good. I close it back up, then lower the elevator down to B2. I'd kind of hoped the elevator shaft went all the way and they just wanted some code to go lower than B2, which I might be able to override from up here, but a quick peek over the side shows that this is the end of the shaft. Oh well. I hit the door open button and hold my breath with a grin.

There are two gunshots and then a voice swears loudly. "That wasn't him! You shot Marv!"

The elevator wiggles slightly as somebody steps into it. "No he didn't. He was already down." So, at least three of them, then. "There's nobody else in here!"

"It's a distraction! The stairs!"

As the elevator wiggles again, I pop open the hatch to see a guard disappearing through the doors. I lob one of my Peppernades out, then I wait for them to start shouting before I count to four, take a deep breath, and drop down into the elevator car. The doors are still open; they won't auto-close as long as the inspection switch is flipped. My side burns, but I land on my wheels and roll out right into the middle of the hacking guards while slowly exhaling to keep my respiratory system free of the lingering pepper spray. I smash my baton into guard's hands as I cross the threshold, then I spin and knock a second one's arm aside with my elbow while bludgeoning the third about the face. These guys aren't as messed up as they'd have been from a direct hit by the Pepper Soaker, but the Peppernade has definitely put them off their A-game. I duck a poorly aimed punch, headbutt the one whose arm I pushed, then smash the elbow of the other one who's still got a gun. Not anymore. The first guy grabs me but then releases as I shift sideways and crack the baton into his knee. It doesn't take much longer than that to bring them down, though one of them lands a blow on my hip with his knee that sends me to the floor. I drag him down with me, though, and then a kick to his face ends the fight.

I lay there and take some painful gasps for a bit; my side feels like it's on fire, and I landed on my shoulder just now. I am not a happy camper, but I've got a job to do so I force myself back up to look around. Huh. This is just a long hallway with two sets of thick, metal bars dividing it into thirds, and another set of elevator doors on the other end. Midway down my third of the hall is a thick glass window and a sturdy door to what looks like another security room. I disarm and restrain the guards I just beat, then I try the door. It's locked, but waving one of these guy's ID cards at the sensor next to it fixes that problem.

Inside I find a bunch of monitors. Some are cycling through views of hallways that I haven't seen yet, but most are showing views of this corridor from different points and angles, including three that are in false color. One looks like thermal; I'm not sure what the other two are. Ultraviolet, maybe? Why?

I shake my head and look around some more. There's a big switch labeled "Lock Control" that is currently in the center position. I pull it to the left, and the near set of bars retracts into the ceiling. Cool. I try pushing it to the right, but it sticks in the center while the near bars lower again. Once they're fully down, the switch suddenly gives and the far bars slide up.

Crap. It's like an airlock: only one side can be open at a time.

Well, I'll figure out a way around that in a minute. First, what else do we have in here? Table, chairs, fridge, microwave, coffee machine, interrupted game of cards, spy novel, a rack with what looks like an elephant gun on it (what?), an ammo bin, and a locked cabinet. I rummage through the keys I took off these guards until I find one that opens the cabinet.

Holy crap.

These guys left me a stash of grenades. Mostly stun grenades, which are the black cylindrical ones with the helpful label near the top that says "Stun Grenade," and a few with tear gas, but there's also a large pile of round green ones that I assume are fragmentation grenades. There are even a few red ones labeled Incendiary.

Something's not right here. You do not need this level of firepower to keep a bunch of teens and young adults captive! And it's clearly about keeping them in, not keeping others out. You can tell because this security room is on this side of the bars. If it was about keeping people out, it would be on the other side, and if it was about both it would either be in the middle, or it would be on the other end followed by a second hallway before the elevator down. No,this is designed purely to force anybody trying to escape to either tunnel up through the ground or else fight their way down this long barred hallway while guards take potshots or give up and start throwing grenades. Grenades! In a confined underground space like this!

Would grenades defeat those bars? I kind of doubt it, and I'm scared to try. But I'll find a solution. Meanwhile, I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, so I grab a pair of each flavor of grenade. I put some extra stun grenades in my pack as well. Taking all of them would be too heavy, and I don't really have much use for any but the flash-bangs anyway. I'm just taking them in case I need to blast through a wall at some point. And maybe also because if these guys are so paranoid they think they need grenades, it makes me paranoid about what I'm going to find on B3. Maybe teens aren't all they're experimenting on down there? Maybe they've got tigers or polar bears or something?

Though, speaking of paranoia, I really don't want to leave all of these weapons behind me either. Alright, new plan. I take a jacket off a guard and tie the sleeves and neck closed, then fill it with the rest of the grenades, guns and ammo. I can't lug this around with me while fighting, but I can drag it behind me when I'm not, until I find somewhere to stash it.

A radio on the desk crackles. "B2, if you guys can hear this, hang in there. We've called for backup. As for you, Wheels -- yes, I see you up there -- I suggest that you place your tail firmly between your legs and start running. But if you really want to come down here so badly, then hey, by all means, make yourself at home until the cops show up. I have it on good authority that Chief Carlson would like nothing more than to escort you down here himself."

"That's mighty kind of him," I say. "Unfortunately, he

But how to do it? I've got a metal file and a hacksaw blade, but those would probably take hours -- there's no way they skimped and used a soft metal for those bars, not when they're this paranoid. I'm going to need to find a way to flip the switch remotely. It would be easy to build an RC or timer-based actuator to pull it for me, if I actually had the parts I'd need, but I don't have the time to go find parts. Gonna have to do it some other way. I rub my sore leg and glare at the switch. I'm getting near the end of my rope here.

Wait. Rope! I skid back into the hallway and guestimate the distance to the first set of bars. Maybe thirty feet from the door. I have a fifty foot rope in my pack still. So this is doable, I just have to figure out how. I could improvise some pulleys to let me pull the lever by pulling the rope, but I need to be able to pull it the other way on my way out. I might need to go retrieve my other rope so I can have one for each direction...

No, wait. I've got it. I pull the lever back to the left and tie the end of the rope around it, then I lean one of the chairs against the lever. It's not heavy enough, so I put a second chair atop. That does it! I reset the lever to the left again and hold everything up with one hand while I pull over the table with the other. It takes a little finagling, but I eventually get the table positioned so that it's just barely holding down the side of the chair opposite the lever, the part that wants to go up as the chair back goes back. Then I tie the rope around the table leg, careful to leave some slack between that and the lever. Perfect!

I skate out into the hallway with the free end of the rope and my improvised sack of weapons until I'm past where the first set of bars are. I give the rope a sharp tug to pull the table away from the chairs, releasing them to push the lever. The bars come down and I hold my breath. I'm not certain the chairs will keep pushing or if they'll get stuck here. If they get stuck, I can just pull the rope to open the bars again, but then I'll have to reset everything. But it's fine; the bars set down and after a heartbeat the far bars slide up into the ceiling. I exhale and haul my goodies quickly down the hall toward the elevator. I have to finish this before any reinforcements arrive or anybody comes to and gets free. All anybody would have to do is remove that rope and I'll be stuck down here.

Well, okay, I'd actually have a few very slow and possibly dangerous options to get past the bars, mainly by attacking the walls around the bars rather than the bars themselves, but I'd have to survive that hallway long enough to do it, and that's unlikely. Especially considering they could just shut off the ventilation to suffocate us, or worse, pump in gas.

Enough pessimism. I've got wheels on my feet, grenades in my pouches, guns on my belt, and a friend who needs help. Let's do this.

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