Val and Zeke swore profusely almost the entire way down the steps. What the hell was down here, that the alarms had been designed to last a couple hundred years? Val looked over at a torn decal on the inside of the door. Tricom Industries, apparently. Were they still out there? If so, he was buying stock. Actually, first he'd tell their exec's about the century-strong alarms, pitch an advertisement idea, then he'd buy the stocks. He almost laughed out loud. Even after all this time on the ground, and still the instinct to ‘make a buck' hadn't completely left him. He smiled and shook his head, noting then that Zeke was looking at him with a similar rueful smile.
"Thinking about checking the exchange too, were you?" asked Val. Zeke grinned, his large canines making him look almost bloodthirsty. "Nah. Close enough though. If Tricom was on the index, I'd have seen it. I was thinking of claiming the company name, doctoring a history and portfolio with a few private backers, and then busting out the ad about the ‘timelessness' of our great work."
Val winced...his plan had some ethical claim behind it at least. He'd be selling an honestly found claim, instead of fabricating an entire fictional company. Ethics apparently hadn't been on the curriculum wherever Zeke had been educated. Or if it had, it had simply pointed out that rules were meant to be broken. Another reason not to miss his old life.
The stairs led to a long straight tunnel, at a right angle to another, equally as long. The sirens were far more quiet down here, a good thing, his aching ears told him. Also there was reason to hope that the alarms sounded less clear out on the desert too. The last thing they needed was company. It wasn't likely anyone was near to hear it, but then the odds had been equally against two off-worlders meeting in the desert. It was eery down here, the red flashes of light washing over them, then departing, like a pulse in an imaginary artery. Up ahead in the distance, the pulse ended in blackness. It was difficult to say whether the corridor ended there, or if perhaps it was another junction. As they approached, they saw that it was in fact a door, huge, metal and by the looks of it impregnable. Off to the side was another door, seemingly of the sliding variety associated with elevators. Val wondered whether anything other than the alarms on this place worked. He looked over at Zeke, then realized that the man's eyes were locked in place, staring raptly at something. A plaque, dusty as hell, but carved in marble, or some such stone. "Green Mile Cryogenics Facility: Preserving those you love. Keeping Streets Safe. The Modern Solution."
"Holy shit!" whispered Zeke. "Do you have any idea what this place is?"
"A big freezer?" asked Val. "Dead people on ice....if it still works."
"Fuck man...This place wasn't on any of the maps. It was publically and privately funded. This was where Biotechnica got its start. It was a prison, and a human warehouse, like you said. But this wasn't one of those places you froze your ma or your dog and forgot her. Reanimation, man. They had it first, and still do it best. Almost the same way too."
"The place was bombed to the stone-ages, Zeke. I read it. Biotechnica lost millions, until they salvaged those files from the wreckage."
"No, they lost their main headquarters in New York, along with their mainframe, the disconnected one they kept their secret stuff in, you know, government contracts, product development and research, plus their own version of area 51."
"Bullshit! They gave tours."
"Yeah, in Sacramento. Shit, that place had a couple hundred beds, tops. That was the showroom. I think this is the real deal. The prisoner transfer program, remember? Prisoners being frozen and being given braindance treatments instead of clogging up the penitentiaries. We're talking a facility possibly the size of a large university campus, with row after row of cryo-chambers."
"Like I said, bullshit, they couldn't have lost something like that."
"They did. I'm telling you. I studied this crap. I lived this shit. I'm like...a biotechnical guru. Atlantis was counting on me to break into the market, fed me every scrap they could get their hands on about Biotechnica. Even the rumors. They didn't much care about the cryogenics facet, really, except that it allowed a few of the more delicate procedures to be conducted without shocking a patient's system too much."
Val blinked. "Prisoners you say? Do we even want to wake them up?"
Zeke points to the sign. "Weren't you listening? Yeah, prisoners, but not only. You think that Biotechnica bankrolled everything in their repertoire on a little facility in Sacramento? No way. They stored your grandma in here. Your cousin. Your sister. Whatever. Maybe your dog if you were rich enough." "So you're saying......." "I'm saying that if this place is still operational, there are a few dangerous minds in there to be thawed. And that's not talking about the prisoners. Problem is, though, only the prisoners tended to be healthy when they went in. There were CEO's, politicians, rich lawyers, valued scientists. All at death's door, and kept from knocking." he grins, "And then, of course there's the more intriguing possibility."
"And what is that?"
"Well, all the folks that Biotechnica or the government wanted to be kept silent, but still useful. Big time black ops rumors even then." he laughs. "There's even the rumor that people were still being stuffed here...the ultimate oubliette." He stopped, blinking, looking behind him at the flowing pulses of light.
"Great. So we're in a top secret facility, and its owned by one of the more ruthless of the orbital corporations. Don't I just suddenly feel safe." muttered Val.
"Don't worry man, like you said...dead people on ice. If it still works.
Val fired him a baleful stare, worthy of his mother, Zeke guessed. "So any ideas on how to crack this bitch open?" he asked. "And are you sure we want to?"
For the first time, Zeke looked a little uncomfortable. "Yes we want to. No question there, not for me anyway." He scratched his scalp. "Now as to how....well I'm more worried about security systems than what we'll find inside."
"Oh crap...if the alarms are working, who knows what else is?"
"Relax. This is likely not the most sensitive of areas. And besides, turrets and such were considered bad for public relations. The corporation wanted to know who was snooping, and kept a lot of the measures non-lethal. Gas, drugged darts, electrified panels, that sort of thing. The idea was catching you, not killing. And as long as you were right about this place being abandoned, all we'd wake up with is possibly a bad hairdo and a headache."
"And still not open the door."
"There is that." Zeke shrugged. "Check the consoles, Val...see if there's anything running here. I'm doubtin' it, considering the shape the satellite dish was in." Said Zeke, frowning as he gazed along the eerily lit corridor leading away. "You think there's anyone still here? I can't imagine anyone stayin' buried under the sand for this long. But then, maybe this is a back door, and they use another." "That's a reassuring thought. " muttered Val, as he wiped years of neglect from the consoles and the keypads. "Can't seem to find an on switch...I'm thinking something's been eating the cables or something, because it looks like a redundant system, should be always on...just press any key, and it boots up. It isn't booting though." "Figures...but at the very least, we can salvage some of the copper, maybe. See any screws you can undo? Maybe we can rip out some of the guts here, and use them somewhere else." Val nodded, and grabbed his knife, sticking out his tongue as he twisted some of the screws free. Some were rusted, and took a bit of persuasion to remove. "Hey,Orbital ," he grunted, the word orbital coming out like a curse. " I hope you're not gonna make me do all the work here. Don't care if you have the gun, we're partners in this. You know you need me to get us out of the desert in one piece. Next job is yours, and I'll watch your back."
Zeke grunted, neither agreeing or disagreeing, and waited for the smaller man to finish. This was a storeroom, apparently, judging from the great piles of canisters stacked neatly on either side. Zeke couldn't help but grin...the metal from the canisters alone could make him a very rich man. The old-tech loading exo –skeleton was an even better find, if it worked. It was then he saw the best find yet. A door, huge, circular and metal. A vault, containing who knew what treasures. The door itself, melted down, would be enough, to create the hulls of three combat ready shuttles, ablative armor included. Val apparently saw the same thing, as he stood in front of it and stared, dumbfounded. Zeke realized he probably didn't look any more intelligent, right at the moment, and shook his head to clear it. Zeke headed to a pillar in front of the doorway, seeing that it held a console. He ran his hands over it reverently, brushing the dust from it. The keypad too he brushed, and blinked and stepped back in surprise. This one lit...he touched the keypad again and gave a cheer, breaking Val of his reverie. "What did you find?" Val asked excitedly. "A working console! In front of a door no less. Good sign, wouldn't you say?" He grins and grabs one of his water bottles and wets his sleeve, and then wrings it out a bit. He wipes the dust away, and taps the screen a couple times... "Look! Touch-pad! Definitely old tech. But the fact that it's still working just blows me away!" He frowns, studying the icons. "Ah...here we go...help." He tapped the icon. "Good morning sir!" came a cheerful voice from somewhere below the screen. "How may I help you today?" Zeke yelped and jumped back, having expected a screen presence only. Val chuckled, as the contrast between Zekes rough and tumble exterior, and lab rat personality became momentarily evident. "Er....ah...good morning. Yes. What is this place?" Zeke asked. It was as good a place as any to start. "This is the Green Mile Cryogenics facility. Sponsored by Biotechnica, opened in 2019. The finest correctional facility and cryogenic storage facility built. We have over ten thousand available tanks, of which one thousand were set aside for public storage solutions. Many of these are available at this..." Zeke stopped the electronic tour guide. "Whoah buddy...I got it. So how many people are on ice?" He gave a thumbs up to Val. They were getting somewhere! "There are over six thousand stored, sir. Plenty of space left for your loved ones. This is however not where one would place an order. Indeed you are well off the intended tour route. Are you lost, sir? I can direct you to the reception desk two floors...
"Skip it, tin can. We're not part of a tour."
"Then I must alert security, and any further inquiries may go through them. They will escort you for questioning. Do not worry, they will be most courteous, should you prove cooperative."
Val glowered at Zeke. "Great. They're sending someone for us. We're in shit now."
"Look at this place. Nobody's coming. Here. Let's try something. " He tapped the screen repeatedly, like an irate customer at the service desk of the hotel.
"Good morning sir! How can I help you?"
"Save it. You sent for security. Where are they? They should be here by now. " said Zeke, smirking.
"I made the request a few moments ago. They should arrive shortly, sir. "
"No response has been made, has it?"
"Do you know why that might be?" Zeke said, obviously rhetorically. "Because no one is here anymore. You are alone."
"That is impossible sir. My clock, updated daily, states that it is 10:47 am, and my roster says there should be eighteen guards on duty."
"How many checked in this morning?"
A pause. "None sir. A report has been sent to head office." Zeke smiled brighter. This was no AI, but it certainly had a strong set of subroutines. " Were the packets received anywhere?" "No sir, but the file is in our database. You can be sure that as soon as connectivity is re-established the laxity of our security personnel will be dealt with."
"When were you last connected?"
"I'm sorry sir, you do not have access to said information."
"But you do have the info, right? And can analyse it?"
"Yes sir. Please wait here for security."
So much for problem solving, thought Zeke. "I want you to consider internally, if you will. The last date security checked in, the last date that you had connectivity, and the last access to this terminal. Do they coincide, approximately? No need to inform me of the particulars, do they coincide?"
"Coincide sir? Please elaborate." "Are they within the same hour, the same minute, or at least, the same day?"
"Yes sir, they fit within those parameters."
"And was this day in the past month?"
"The past year?"
"The past decade?"
"The past century?"
"What is the average life span of a human?"
"68.4 years, worldwide, with medical advancements made in recent years."
Zeke fought the urge to ask how recent these years were. It was irrelevant for what he was going to try. "Alright. And in North America, the average time a person spent in the workforce?"
"Approximately 34 to 40 years, sir."
"So it's safe to say that this station has been abandoned for more than the average human life span, and for at least three times the average time people spent in the work force."
"Are you aware of the term salvage? Or relic? After how many years does something lost become available for salvage? Or when can a buried building be considered an historic find?"
"There are no set laws for length of time required for a building to become a historic find. Houses and buildings a century old have been given ‘heritage' status, however. As for salvage, salvage is normally a nautical term, and can be claimed on any abandoned vessel, so long as it is indeed shown to be adrift and without claimants for over 25 kilometers, or if the vessel lays beneath the surface of the ocean and is not set there purposely to form a reef. This is the simplified explanation of salvage laws, and by no means definitive. If you wish to know more..."
"Enough, enough...Would a vessel being buried by 50 feet of sand be considered a salvage operation? Just answer yes or no. Is there precedent for such a claim?"
Val grinned, patting Zeke on the back. "Brilliant, man...brilliant. This could work."
Zeke grimaced, and punched Val in the shoulder. " Shuddup. I'm working here."
"Was that directed at me, sir?" asked the computer voice.
"No, answer the previous question."
"Yes." "It is a salvage operation, or could be considered one in those circumstances?"
"Then we claim salvage rights on this establishment, and should thus be granted access to inventory the contents of this building. As you have access to legal documentation and are aware of salvage law, you are bound to comply to our wishes as if we were the director of this place." Zeke grinned in glee.
"But...but you agreed with all the conditions laid out."
"Then legally, this place falls under salvage operations."
"I cannot comply. This terminal is abandoned, and shows no activity. Internally, however, the director has authority, and he is active."
"The director?! After a hundred years or more?" "Yes."
"Shit." Zeke slumped. There went plan A. Now their plan was at the mercy of some senile old fart pretending to run a broken down facility.
Val frowned, and stepped up. "Valen Thorne, and Zeke...uh..." "Poloskowitz." Supplied Zeke.
"Valen Thorne, and Zeke Poloskowitz would like to set up an appointment with the director. Or at least a conference call. " said Val, nodding.
"One moment please....Denied."
"I'm sorry, sirs. You are not scheduled, and he has denied the appointment. Please come back another day."
"He personally denied the appointment? Or was his office set to "Do not Disturb" or something?" asked Val.
"Personal considerations were given to the request, as well as to the particulars of your visit."
"Bloody hell..." muttered Zeke. "You told him we were after salvage rights?"
"Yes sir. I am to report the reason for the call, and as our discussion centered on that, I took the liberty..."
"Oh shut up..." Zeke growled. "C'mon Val, let's go."
"We're not giving up, are we?"
"Hell no. This room is salvage at the very least, and a case can be made for the terminal, and even the door, maybe. However, the ‘director' could prove problematic. I think we may need to negotiate."
"You leave that to me. Give me half an hour to discuss this with our electronic friend. I do believe I can get us an appointment. I just need a little privacy..."