Homunculus: Chapter 14: Watch

Music played in the background as a purple lowercase h approached the bright white @ symbol. Mort took his hands off the keyboard and considered his options, secure only in the knowledge that the mind flayer couldn’t do anything until he decided what his elf should do next. He had only encountered mind flayers once before, and it hadn’t gone very well. Then, he had unwisely tried to engage one in melee combat without so much as a greased helmet to protect his intelligence score. “The mind flayer’s tentacles suck you! Your brain is eaten!” Dying from it was bad enough, but the game twisted the knife by listing the cause of death as “brainlessness” on the high scores list.

Mort leaned back in his chair as he weighed ranged combat versus tactical retreat, as the radio stream played on through the speakers. There were a few advantages in taking the night watch shift. First, there usually wasn’t much going on to worry about. Sure, there was a steady stream of attacks slamming against the perimeter defenses of the network, but rarely did anything happen that required manual intervention. Really, most nights all Mort had to do was keep an eye on the firewall logs for anything really suspicious, and once in a while help someone who managed to lock themselves out of their office without anyone else around at this hour to let them back in. The quiet gave Mort plenty of time to spend trying to find the Amulet of Yendor.

Relatively quiet, of course. One advantage of working security was knowing the limitations of the firewalls, after all. Mort had learned quickly that the network’s blocking of streaming music sites was implemented by configuring the DNS servers to refuse to resolve the domain names for those websites. All Mort had to do was look up the station’s IP address manually before coming in to work, plug that in to the browser, and he was good to go. Sure, technically he was violating policy, but there was no harm done. After all, the whole reason for prohibiting streaming media was to conserve network bandwidth, and during the graveyard shift there was plenty of spare bandwidth to go around to the dozen or so people actually in the building.

A klaxon sound effect blared over the music, jolting Mort upright. The key to carefully slacking off during your shift was making sure you’d be alerted when something warranted your attention. He minimized his game and checked the monitoring software. It showed a floor plan of the building, with one hallway flashing red. Power had been lost to corridor C-7. And only C-7; the rest of the hallways, along with the various rooms connected to them, remained green. A few seconds letter, C-7 switched back from flashing red to solid green; power had been restored.

Odd. If something had happened to the building’s power supply, a lot more than a single corridor would have gone dead. It could be a piece of equipment starting to fail. A handful of additional alerts appeared on the screen; now that they had regained power, the electronic locks on the doors in that corridor were reporting the power disruption themselves.

A quick check of the procedures manual told Mort he needed to check the status of the rooms whose locks had lost power, from most to least valuable. The Simulacrum server room was first on the list for C-7, so Mort called up a real-time feed from the security camera there. Right away he could see that the lights were on in the room. Odd; it was unusual for anyone to need to be in that room even during business hours. Cross-checking the audit logs from the door lock, he saw that no one had even badged in over the last 24 hours. Mort panned the camera to see the rest of the room and stopped when he saw two janitors standing next to an open server rack.

The Amulet was going to have to wait.

Mort picked up the phone and dialed a number on the piece of paper taped on the wall. When the other end picked up, he said, “Hi, this is Mort Duon, Medimetics Security. I’m calling to report a breaking and entering in progress…”

Alex paced back and forth as Burt remained hunched over the rack’s console. They had been here far too long already. This was supposed to have been a quick operation, a few minutes at most, in and out before anyone even realized what was going on. Alex checked his watch. Fifteen minutes had gone by since they had broken into the server room.

“Well?” Alex asked anxiously.

“I have no idea why this isn’t working,” Burt said, his voice full of frustration. “I’m going to try another console.”

“Again? This is the third one you’ve tried.”

“Do you have any better ideas?”

Alex knew they couldn’t stop now; they had come too far to turn back now. Alex handed Burt the cabinet key and started pacing again, struggling to think of a backup plan. He put his hands behind his neck and craned his head back.

Alex saw a security camera mounted near the top of the wall, pointed at them. He swore.

Alex ran towards the door. He thought he might have heard sirens outside, but dismissed the idea. There was too much background noise to hear anything on the other side of the door. But surely they had been spotted by now, and it was only a matter of time until the cops arrived. If they left now they might be able to escape, but now for sure they’d never get a second chance. If they were going down, they were going to take the Simulacrum with them.

“Quit messing with that thing and help me barricade the door,” Alex shouted. He looked around. Server racks were plentiful and heavy, but it would take too long to disconnect and disentangle them from the rest of the equipment to be able to move them. They needed something else.

“There’s a table here,” Burt shouted. Alex ran over to see it. It was metal and didn’t look particularly heavy, but it was a start. The two of them pushed it across the floor in front of the door, doing their best to angle it between the door and the nearest server rack. It wouldn’t hold the police off for long once they started forcing their way in.

“Plan B,” Alex declared.

“What’s Plan B?”

“If all else fails, kill it with fire. You still smoke, right?”

“Yeah?”

“So you’ve got a lighter, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Now we just need kindling. Look for something in here that’ll burn.”

Alex and Burt fanned out, looking for paper or wood or something that would take a flame. Once they could get a fire started, it could destroy the equipment far more effectively than they could if they tried doing it by hand, especially since they hadn’t thought to bring hammers or anything like that. If only Burt had been able to log into the machines, he could use the CD to spread the virus on it to the entire network and bring everything down all at once. Fire was going to have to be the next best thing.

Alex found a pair of cabinets. They were too heavy to move in front of the door without unloading them first, but fortunately they were unlocked. And even more fortunately, full of stacks of printed manuals.

“Jackpot!”

Alex scooped up as many manuals as his arms could hold and stumbled back towards the center of the cluster of racks on that side of the room, dropping them into a heap on the floor. Once Burt saw what Alex was doing, he followed suit, and after a couple trips the cabinets were mostly empty.

“OK, that’ll have to be good enough,” Alex said. “Light it up.”

Burt kneeled down, flicked open his lighter, and put the flame to the pages. Soon, the manual began to burn, and Burt moved the lighter to another part of the heap.

“Once that gets started,” Alex continued, crystallizing the plan in his mind as he spoke, “we go over to the door and make sure no one gets in until the fire really gets going. Once we can’t stand it in here any longer, we get out of here. By then, between the fire, the heat, and the smoke will do what your virus couldn’t.”

“It wasn’t my virus,” Burt protested as smoke began to rise from the heap.

“Whatever. Let’s do this.”

Alex ran back to the door and pressed his weight against the table as best he could. Burt soon rounded the corner and did likewise. Outside, Alex was sure he heard voices. It would only be a few seconds before they tried to get in. They had to be kept out until it was too late to put out the fire.

Alex and Burt jumped as a excruciatingly high-pitched screech blared throughout the room and red lights flashed. They instinctively let go of the table to cover their ears.

“What’s that?” Burt screamed.

“Security alarm?” Alex shouted.

“But why didn’t it go off until–”

As the police officer lifted the bullhorn to his mouth, an alarm sounded in the hallway outside the door to the Simulacrum server room. The two other policemen looked around to see the cause, each one keeping one hand on his holstered sidearm.

Mort, standing behind them, didn’t need to look around. He knew exactly what the alarm meant.

“Everybody get away from the door!” he shouted.

“They won’t hear you–” the officer in charge said.

“Not them! You!”

“Listen, I’m–”

“Now!” Mort screamed as he broke into a dead run down the hall. He heard the police behind him do likewise a few seconds later. Mort stopped once he was sure he was a safe distance away, bending over and gasping for breath as his heart raced.

“What is all this about?” the officer demanded of him once he caught up with Mort.

“Fire alarm. Server room. Automatic.”

“So?”

“Suppression system. Inert gas. Forces all the. Oxygen out. Before fire. Can spread. Alarm means. ‘Get out.’”

“So anyone still in there…”

Mort nodded. “Is dead.”


Chapter word count: 1,720 (+53)
Total word count: 24,589 / 50,000 (49.178%)

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