By Dialecticdreamer/Sarah Williams
Part 6 of 7, complete
Word count (story only): 1086
:: Part of the Strange Family series, in the Polychrome Heroics universe, this story takes place at some point after Genna, Saul, and the others arrive at the Can. It will be clear to readers why Hatter could not be more specific when discussing matters. ::
:: Pay Special Attention
: Black hat missions against WORSE people. Mentions of human trafficking, dog fighting (only in the past tense), other criminal actions. Injuries to an adult, kidnapped children (who are physically unharmed), and a laundry list of reasons to dislike the head of the trafficking ring. Please skip this story if the negativity of these issues outweighs the rescue of kidnapped individuals and the dismantling of a human trafficking ring. I have tried to handle these problems gently, but this is NOT gentle fiction. There will be other, gentler stories in the set, but the aftermath of these events will include some heavy topics. ::
Back to part five
On to part seven
Oliver’s stomach fluttered once, then eased. They could fit a car seat into every seat belt save the driver’s, but only needed three. Relief made him sigh, but Kan eyed him shrewdly, and cleared her throat. “You stay with the kids, sir. We’ll get the caches, and then you can get the samples.”
“We need something to put the samples in,” Oliver argued, doubt and hope warring in the words. “If we can’t find anything, we have
to just leave the site. Blow the tunnel entrance, but leave the side tunnel and the main room intact. Come back with a teleporter.”
Kan rummaged in one of the boxes and handed him a permanent marker, along with a wad of snack bags. “Weren’t they in a box?” he complained.
Nope,” Kan answered. “Good luck, Chaac.”
Oliver shifted into his vapor form, checking every inch of the primary tunnel before darting to the side tunnel, through it, and into the area Dominic had turned into a surprisingly functional nursery. Then he got to work, first taking a photo of an individual house, as closely and in as high a resolution as his phone allowed, then taking a sample and, for lack of a better idea, labeling it with a number that matched the system which spawned their code names.
He started adding photos of small clusters of houses, hoping that someone
could tell in which order they had been drawn, within each tier. He collected the last sample just a few seconds before his watch chimed midnight. The sound had startled him, but he phased deeper into the wall rather than risk damaging the picture. It was on the way back into the room that he found them. Three tiny, gray markers were hidden behind a three-story townhouse in the bottom corner, difficult to find even with the light from his cell phone to help. Oliver crouched closer, finding the curved tops each as different as the houses, and centered on each slab, a plain Arabic numeral. Two of them read “5,” but the third was labeled “2.”
Oliver had no clue what it meant
, but it was hidden in an area that no one could see, unless they moved the full boxes of formula which had once been stacked in that corner, though no higher than a dining table. Dominic had put stacks of neatly folded baby blankets and a handful of diapers on the surface, and everyone had presumed that it was an improvised changing table.
The man had been tracking more than the children who came through here.
His heart hammering in his chest, Oliver strode back toward the exit, making his footsteps louder in the deserted, defiled space.
Before he reached the door, he paused, and walked methodically through the other cells, phasing locks away and leaving them where they fell. Some solidified partially embedded in the concrete floor, and some slipped past his attention, becoming solid again inside the thick layer of concrete that formed the foundation of the complex.
There had been nothing
of this on the building plans. Of course. But a concrete pad nearly ten inches thick wasn’t just someone’s cautious granny, not unless they intended to hide a bomb shelter. Oliver searched again, moving like a distance swimmer through the subflooring and popping up to reorient himself since he had no need to breathe in vapor form.
He found the servers in a single room bomb shelter, tucked below the larger room with a compass mark debossed into the concrete floor. There were lanterns, and a camp toilet, and a bunk bolted to the wall at the same height as a chair, but the boxes of pouch meals were all more than ten years old, shoved in milk crates in a line under the bunk.
There was no door.
The entire wall opposite the bunk, however, held wire server racks full of equipment no more than two years old. A thick power cable disappeared into the wall, sleeved in a snug, white PVC pipe. It seemed incongruously cheap, and unplanned.
Oliver checked again, but found not one drop of water inside the shelter. The air was still, but not stale, and there was only a trace of dust in it.
But there was absolutely no water for drinking, or washing. Not one drop.
He could not leave his phone here, but he could take a moment to remove the chip from his vidwatch before dropping the device on the cheap canvas and pipe bunk. There were plenty of teleporters who could find the object by homing in on the circuitry, and they could get within a few dozen feet of it before the teleporter would have to take over.
By the time he reached the motor home, Kun was behind the wheel. In the dark, it was nearly impossible to hear the electric engine. Even his bark of laughter as he hurried inside the side door was louder. “I think we’ve got them!” Oliver crowed.
“What did you find? We’ve got everything from the caches.” Kun waved toward the piles of cloth carryalls stuffed beneath the bench seats at the dining area. The children’s car seats had been set in securely, and they slept angelically in them. “That was mostly money. A few interesting property deeds, bearer bonds, and silver certificates. We’ve been piddling through it while we waited for you, Boss.” She snickered. “The most recent date we found is a decade old, most of it closer to fifteen years. Somebody thinks that they’re clever
, but they’re acting like kids playing
at being black hat.”
“A whole rack of fairly new servers. They’re no more than two years old.” Oliver glared from Ka'ato the children. “Did you put the kids to sleep?” he demanded.
“Yes,” Ka'a snapped. “We’ve each had to change a diaper, tried to feed the kids, and frankly, if I could wake the guy up an hour ago, I would’ve done it and let you assign whatever financial penalties you wanted!”
She leaned forward, curling across her own lap in the swivel seat behind the cab. “Most of us don’t have any child-wrangling skills at all, Chaac, but I’ve got a boxcar full of triggers on the subject. Cut me some slack
Hun sat at the end of the long sofa, her body canted away from the others and a mulish set to her jaw. She said nothing as the argument began.