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Chapter 33


Chapter 33

The trip from New Orleans to Scheria was just over a thousand miles long, cutting around the tip of Florida, through the Keys, and then out into the Atlantic. Tom had hoped they could make it before the wave, but there were some serious delays. Getting out into the Gulf of Mexico wasn't hard, but both the wind and waves got much worse once they did.

Normally a sub like the Leighton could do about twenty-four knots, but with a limited crew, the waves, and stopping to pick up stranded people on the way, it took them almost three days. By then the sky was a uniform, yellow-green color through the viewports. Cole said it wouldn't be a problem, as they had a locker full of hazmat suits on board. It would take a few trips back and forth, but they should be able to ferry everyone into the city safely. Assuming the city was safe, anyway. Vicky had said they would outfit the northern maintenance hatch as an airlock, but there was no guarantee it had been done. Tom hadn't been able to reach her since their brief conversation back in New Orleans.

Devin insisted that he and Tom be in the first group. Not only would he be recognized as coded, but he was the most likely to be able to get past any security. Apparently he knew some of the security procedures. Cole objected at first, but eventually agreed. He gave the two of them a primer on how to use the evacuation suits, and then the three of them swam to shore. Fortunately, there were a few electric-powered boats lining the shore which could be used to make the back-and-forth a lot faster for the rest.

During the trip, they’d taken in a quantity of the gas for study, but they didn’t have the equipment on board to figure out exactly what it was. In addition to being unbreathable, it was also caustic. Fortunately it looked like it would take several hours of exposure to be a risk to their hazmat suits.

As they approached, Tom could see the upper parts of the dome. There was a concrete layer about twenty feet high on the ground, but above that was translucent material. He couldn't be sure because it was so late at night, but it looked like the inside might be breathable.

Swimming and then walking in the suit was not easy. Tom was breathing pretty heavily and sweating a lot, and he could hear Devin having similar troubles over the radio. Cole was trained in this, and guided them safely to the edge of the dome. Once there, it only took them a few minutes to find the hatch.

Apparently there were no security measures. The room was closed but not locked, and released air once they opened it. They clustered inside, clumsily because of how small it was and how big they were currently, and closed the outer door. Air hissed as the green stuff was replaced with oxygen and nitrogen, and then the inner door opened.

Tom knew this place fairly well. Vicky had given him a tour, just as the domes were being finished up. They were just north of the docks. He took off his headgear and sniffed around. There was the distinct smell of burning in the area, but no sign of flame. He nodded at the others. "Lieutenant, it should be safe here. Safer than it is out there anyway. We'll take off these suits and you can take them back to the Leighton. Use one of the boats outside to start ferrying people inside. Devin, stay here and make sure everyone is inside the dome before heading out. If I know Vicky, she's set up some kind of relief area near the docks. Try and find it."

Cole looked a little surprised at being ordered around, but nodded with good grace. "What will you be doing?" Devin asked, as he took off his own gear.

"I'm going Uptown, to check in at the admin building. I know I'm not technically allowed without an escort," he put in quickly, "but I bet there are uncoded people all over the city. I'm the least of Abner's problems right now. Maybe I can help coordinate between him and the refugees. Keep hold of your radio, Devin. Once I find out what's going on, I'll let you know."

After giving his gear to Cole, Tom made his way south towards the docks. The burning smell got stronger, and when he rounded one building, he came across a terrible sight.

A post had been set up, and wood had been burned up against it. He could smell residual gas fumes from the pyre.. and see a burned body tied to it. No one was around, so he got closer. There was a piece of metal propped up against the pyre- probably from the hull of one of those boats- and a message had been spray-painted onto it.

Here died the worldkiller, Vicky Brandt. May she burn forever.


As he wandered further south into the city, Tom was in a haze. Rage and grief swirled together in his head, just as destructive to his mind as those gases above had been to the world.

For the past days, he'd been so focused on just getting here that he hadn't thought about what might be waiting. Of course the uncoded people would blame the Coded Nation, but to burn someone at the stake like that? It was beyond the pale.

His anger wasn't just because she was dead, either. She would probably be remembered as the greatest mass murderer in history! A fitting legacy, he reflected bitterly, for someone who'd spent most of her life trying to help people.

He'd been hearing distant gunshots and explosions since leaving the docks, but it was imminent danger that cut in on his hateful thoughts. There was a group of people marching his direction, about a block away. So far most of the houses seemed to be packed full of refugees, and they had locked all the doors from the inside. Everyone else on the street was mostly military from their stride. As he got closer, he recognized their uniforms. They were Coleman-Saito Security people!

Tom ducked behind one of the larger equipment chests, trying to stay hidden. Now this nightmare was starting to make sense. CS headquarters was in Maimi. They'd probably swarmed the boats as soon as word got out. Tom had looked into how Kenshi Saito was running his company these days, and it seemed he'd hired private military contractors to train his people. There were probably a bunch of corpses out there on the water- people who'd died well before the wave hit so that these people could have room on the boats.

If Vicky was any indication, the coded people were probably being slaughtered at this very moment. Trying to stay out of sight, Tom made a beeline for the Uptown offices. His plan was a bit of a long shot, but it was all he had left.

The upper levels of the city weren't that well guarded. Tom assumed that the CS people were off murdering his friends, and had already 'secured' this area. Inside the building was a different story. From his exterior vantage point, he could see the main control room, and it was guarded. He didn't see anyone down the hall in the engineering room, though.

The front door was locked, but the patio to its side was unguarded. It was a good thing he was a terrible handyman. Pulling himself up onto the second level, he carefully pushed the glass pane he'd failed at replacing inward. He caught it before it could fall, and then eased himself inside, pushing the pane back into place. From there, it was just a few steps down the hall and into the semi-private engineering room.

They had radios in there. Tom snatched one up and tried to set it to the right channel. "Devin, are you there?" He tried to keep his voice low, but the urgency made that a little hard.

There was only static, but that didn't mean his message had gone unheard. "If you can hear me, you have to get out of here right now! The others should be safe here, but you won't be. Get back to the boats on the beach as soon as you can, and head for Elysia. I don't know if you can make it, but it might be safe for you there."

There was still no response, but Tom kept the radio with him just in case. Fortunately he had access to the cameras from here. A few seconds and he could see the new one overlooking the airlock. All of the people from the Leighton had apparently made it through, and Devin was ushering them south into town. He was staying put though, and looking at the camera. Apparently he hadn't heard Tom's message, or was unwilling to leave without him.

Tom moved over to one of the drone control stations and started issuing commands. He couldn't see their locations from this building, but it looked like the gas outside wasn't preventing them from following simple instructions. When they were in place, he tapped the intercom. "I'm assuming Kenshi Saito is somewhere in this building," he broadcast to everyone in all three Uptown offices. "If he's not, then I'd like whichever other murderous psychopath in charge of those goons to come to the engineering room."

Apparently Kenshi was in the main control room. It was only a minute or so before he and a gaggle of his minions were at Tom's door. They were aiming weapons, but Tom raised his left hand. "I wouldn't shoot if I were you." He kept his right hand poised over the keyboard.

Kenshi raised a hand warningly, and his guards lowered their guns. "Hello, Thomas. I must say I'm surprised to see you. When we didn't find you yesterday, I assumed you were out there," he gestured at the dome. "I'm glad you made it."

Tom felt a surge of rage, and was tempted for an instant to just press the key and end it all. After a moment, he glared back at Kenshi. "Look up there," he pressed another key and there was a flash of light up on the third level of the dome.

"That was a drone self-destructing. Vicky built them that way so that people like you couldn't steal them. Now look further up on the fourth level. See that dark spot? That's all the other drones, all clustered together. One of them might not damage the dome, but all of them in the same place, going up at once? That'd crack this place open like an egg!"

Kenshi's expression went blank. "You wouldn't do that. My children are here- as are thousands more. You wouldn't be that cruel."

"I'm not coded, remember?" Tom reminded him. "I can do anything I want, and I will kill everyone here, unless you let my friends go. I don't know how many of them are left, but you will let them leave, or you'll die right along with them."

The older man didn't say anything at first, and Tom tried to moderate his tone. "I assume you're going after them because there are too many people in the city right now. Vicky said that it can keep about twelve thousand people alive for now. You know, before you burned her to death!" His hand twitched over the keyboard.

"I had nothing to do with that," Kenshi said hastily, extending his own hand briefly. "I only control about a third of the city. If I'd been there, I would have stopped them. You know how this goes, Thomas. We had to reduce the population or everyone here would die. Everyone may die anyway, despite what we do! Any one of a hundred things could spell disaster in here!"

Kenshi shook his head slowly. "All my plans and intricate moves. Years of effort, and sweat, and worries, trying to understand and use this coded movement of yours, all undone. Probably by some idiot tinkering with something he didn't understand! All of it was for nothing if my family doesn't survive."

"Then let them go," Tom insisted, pointing towards the camera feed showing the airlock. "Let them try and reach Elysia. At least give them a chance! You may want them dead so your children have a better chance at surviving, but give them that much. Please."

Suddenly the drone control screen went dead. The other screens as well.

Kenshi took a deep breath, and relaxed a bit. "My people have overridden your control. They're returning the drones to safe positions." He paused for a bit and then gestured, dismissing his guards. "Out of respect for you, Thomas, I will allow the surviving coded people to leave. Like me, they dedicated their lives to benefitting others. But you are another matter. You threatened my children, and there is no excusing that."

He actually looked sad as he pulled his gun, aimed, and fired.


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