Chapter 65: Freeze!

Steven had barely waited for the door to reappear before grabbing his old backpack.  He did not pause this time to reflect on the road ahead.  To him, the excitement of leaving on a journey of discovery was replaced by the rage brought about by the recent events and the fear of not being able to accomplish the tasks he needed to do before he would be permanently denied the tools to do it.  Hidden in his backpack was almost every piece of Builders’ equipment he had in their quarters.  The only souvenir of Chrissy he had was a small silver bracelet she had given him.  It had been made using the tools from the shop and the silver she had replicated from her own necklace.  The work was particularly good, he thought, for her first jewellery.  He had no idea when she had time to make it, and she said that when you loved someone, you made time.

He was now wearing it on his right wrist in replacement of his Alcor medical tags, which he felt he didn’t need any more.  He was now ready and, before exiting the room, he grabbed his life sign detector and gasped.

He was too late.  Four dots were showing in the corridor outside his quarters:  Two of them in front of the door, waiting, and two more heading toward his room.  As he instinctively zoomed out, he saw one in front of the elevator.  He immediately understood that the two people in front of his door were waiting for the other two to arrive before pressing the doorbell.

Steven was a real hacker and he decided that now was the time to act as such.  He deposited his backpack on the ground, sat down on the edge of his bed, and waited.  The same nervousness he felt the first time he was arrested had now replaced the pain.  He recognized it and embraced it.  Like the first time, he was ready.  Being a hacker to him was a way of life; it had nothing to do with the image of computer code breaking and movies depicting hacking with virtual doors opening and the rest of the nonsense that people generally associated with the trade.  To him, being a hacker was a state of mind; it required someone to have a heightened sense of awareness of the world around him.

After several tense moments, Steven finally stepped up to the doorway and opened the door.  A pair of armed guards came into view as the door dematerialized.  He immediately recognized one of the guards as Joe.  The other one, a pale wiry man who Steven identified through his namepatch as Shoeman, came forward and accosted him.  “Sir, we have orders to escort you out of the Facility and then to the airport.  We request that you surrender your UNLP passport, your Norwegian diplomatic ID, and any goods that you have currently in your possession.  Once everything has been verified, they will be returned to you.”.

“So, the General doesn’t even have the courage to come and tell me face to face.  He just imprisoned my girlfriend and now he is throwing me out without any justifications?”

“I have read your file.  Don’t try any of that ghetto judo, okay?” said Joe.

Steven locked his eyes on Joe.  “Everything is in my backpack.  I won’t resist, despite what that dumb fuck implied.”

“Sir, I need to search you as well,” said Shoeman calmly, taking a step toward him.

Steven was enraged, but he was not a fool.  He had no way out at the moment and he knew it.  He had had many occasions to speak with his grandfather as a child and he had always been fascinated by his stories about his adventures during World War II. Knowing that Steven was genuinely interested, he opened his heart out to him more than with any other of his cousins combined.  His grandfather had volunteered and spent the entire six years of the war in Occupied Europe as an infantryman.  He had also told him that he was captured once and had escaped, as he was walked to a POW camp in France. The lesson that Steven was now remembering was that a man’s best chance for escape was at the moment of capture, the only other optimal window of opportunity being at the time of transit.  Beyond that, his chances to escape would go down as fast as an expert skier would on a downhill slope.

“Okay bitches... you could either frisk me or if you want a complete cavity search, I can spread them for you.  I know that Joe would like that very much,” he teased, knowing that they wouldn’t dare.  It was, after all, the United Nations, not a US supermax prison.

Shoeman motioned for him to approach and professionally searched him all the way to his underarm and inside his crotch.  Then Steven was escorted outside toward the elevator, with Joe and Shoeman leading in front and the two men at the door closed the march from behind.  The man at the elevator looked at the procession and moved aside to let them enter but stayed behind, blocking the doorway and ensuring that Steven couldn’t exit while the door was being closed.  Steven wasn’t concerned about this, however.  It was not his play.  The elevator took a few seconds to arrive at what was now referred to as the entrance level.  A few more steps were now separating Steven from the tunnel leading outside and away from the love of his life, and the dream adventure that had turned into a nightmare—thanks to greed, power, and backward beliefs.

A few more steps and he could see on his right the first room Jack and Eirik had first opened, and soon the Welcoming Hall, formerly referred to as the decompression chamber, would also be on his right.  However, it was the left corridor that interested him and, in a few more steps, he would be there.

In front of the Welcoming Hall stood two more Marines in fatigue uniform, at ease in their positions and not paying any attention to him.  Even the guards at the back had somewhat relaxed their attention.  Steven had noticed the side arms on everyone’s hip holster, thanks to the change in government policy.  All Steven knew was that they were not six-shot revolvers but the type with magazines, likely nine millimetres.  Still, it was not the right time to start learning.

Two more steps and Steven was now in front of the exit on his right; on his left would be the corridor leading to the centre of the Station.  Without turning his head in that direction, for fear of subliminally telegraphing his intentions, he put his weight on his left foot as he stepped forward and, in one fluid motion, pivoted and darted towards the corridor.  The rubbery surface of the black floor had given him all the grip he had needed and he was now running as if his life depended on it.  He heard heavy frantic footsteps pursuing him as alarmed shouts echoed behind him, but he chose not to look back for fear of slowing down or hitting something.  The corridor was stretching for at least two hundred metres with the doors on each side zooming as he ran.  Everything was totally deserted, which he found odd.  What he didn’t know was that the General had ordered the level evacuated and restricted its access only to his men:  First for safety reasons, and second to make sure that no one would have a chance to speak with Steven or hear his side of the story.

He had already passed two elevators and was fast approaching the centre where the corridor would split in four more directions.  As he arrived in the large empty centre, he turned left and took the first corridor, almost returning him in the direction he had come from—at least it’s how it appeared to him at first, though he soon realized his mistake.  Corridors had many intersections along the way and Steven realized that his pursuers could have easily turned left at any of them and be in front of him now.

At the main entrance, everyone had been taken by surprise, but only three guards reacted.  Shoeman had not engaged in the pursuit.  Joe saw Steven started running and had tried to clutch at his clothes, but grabbed only thin air.  Two rear guards had almost immediately started running after him, but one had collided with Joe as both entered the corridor together.  It didn’t take long for Joe to abandon the chase; he had never been a sprinter and the free and unlimited supply of replicated beer and chocolate announced his retirement from the race before it had even begun.

Steven was keeping to his right and looking ahead but saw no one, so he stopped at the first elevator he found, nervously scanning his surroundings as if he was in a forest hunted by wolves.  The seconds seemed to pass so slowly until the elevator door finally vanished and, as he turned to face the corridor, he heard it:  “Freeze!”  It was a woman’s voice.  Not one that he recognized, thus he didn’t give it much thought.  He had only heard words, not an explosion of gun powder.  Instinctively, however, he did freeze in place.  His right hand was stretched forward as he looked in the direction of the sound and saw a female sentry holding a gun with both hands, legs apart, like any good cop in movies would do.  Steven reckoned that the guard must have stopped at least ten metres away.  She had not fired, so she wouldn’t, he guessed, his brain surprisingly calm enough to realize that his stretched arm was holding the elevator door open.  With the gun still pointed at him, he took a chance and did the only thing he could do short of surrendering.  Jumping back, he yelled “Seal!”  He remembered that Chrissy had done it once to make sure they were not disturbed for twenty minutes, forcing the other elevators to reroute around them.  This time, he made sure that he didn’t take any chances.  There were more important things than being caught having sex in an elevator with your girlfriend.  As he saw the door reappear, he was already activating the holographic control panel and selected a random destination several levels down, feeling a surge of relief as soon as the elevator started to move.

Steven was now rotating the image of the Station and zoomed to the elevator next to the set of transporters in the Brown Section, the farthest from what had once been the Command Centre for the Castaways’ rescue effort.  Then he thought some more and mentally requested a stop.  The elevator grinded to a halt in-between floors and the lower left part of the control panel lit up as it awaited a resume command.

“Can you show me the life sign of the people in the Station?” he asked the holographic projection hovering in front of him, as he turned it to show his desired destination.  He heard no answer to his question, but sure enough, the life sign of everyone was now displayed and there was only one dot on the entire floor at his destination.  As he placed his index finger on the holographic bar on the right side and slid his finger upwards, raising it almost to its top limit, the inhabitants of the Norwegian Station vanished gradually until he passed the level sixty-five mark, when the display became almost empty until only three dots remained:  Eirik had returned to his quarters already and Celina was in the Command Centre.  The third project member at level eighty was nowhere to be seen and Steven assumed that he must be outside as not everyone had re-entered the Facility yet.  He had always been impressed to see that more than ninety percent of the people were below midrange.  None were at level ninety except Chrissy and himself, but at the moment, he was alone in the ninetieth range.  He noticed that the Core was not represented on the map, and that chilled his blood.  At the transporter level, he noticed that all of them were clear until he realized that everyone knew that the African Station pads were now useless and no one knew of the Inuit Station, so only one guard was necessary to protect the entire floor.  The guard was now walking on the other side of the Station, almost half a kilometre away.

Soon, he requested the elevator to resume its course and he arrived at one of the set of pads opposite the guard and got out.  He did not bother to look around, as he trusted the life sign detector and he entered the room in front of a set of transporters, opened one of the drawers, picked up an exact replica of his backpack and everything he had cared to place in it, and opened the side pocket.  As he zoomed out the image on the portable life sign detector, he confirmed that he was still alone in this quadrant and exited into the corridor.  He took one last look around, touched the wall to make it more real, and softly jumped on one of the pads.  He put his hand on the gray holographic panel and, as quietly as he came, he was gone.