After that long moment, Max stepped forward. “Let’s go.”
As he inserted the key and turned it, he and his friends, remembering the Building’s reactive defenses, flinched in spite of themselves. Even Donaldson, having only heard their descriptions of it, took a reflexive step back. This time, though, the door swung open on silent hinges, accepting the coded key without any fuss.
Their noses were greeted by the Smell of Progress, a scent Shades could never quite pin down, but always contained at least a whiff of newly-fabricated synthetic materials.
With no alarms, nor any other interference to stop them this time, they made their way cautiously to the stairs. From their past visit, they already knew the first floor was just a front, an empty shell whose only purpose was likely just for show. The real research equipment was in the basement, the most likely place to uncover whatever other secrets this place might be hiding. Down in the “pit” was the door marked Research Control that they remembered from last time.
Sure enough, another key on the ring opened that door.
This time, instead of blank, clueless monitors, the computer lab was fairly alive with on-screen activity this time. Streams of raw data they doubted anyone but the original researchers could interpret. Turning on the lights this time revealed rows and banks of terminals more advanced than any Shades had ever seen. Justin and Max, however, had seen Tranz-D, entirely too much of it in Justin’s case, so he seriously didn’t like the look of this room.
In the center of the room, the apparatus that quickly grabbed everyone’s attention was an upraised circular console protruding from the floor, underneath of which hung a matching unit suspended from the ceiling, the mountings of both appearing to be designed to retract when not in use.
Unlike before, this time Shades could feel tremendous energy down here, as if the very air were alive with it.
“This time we should be able to get some useful information out of this thing…”
Awakening the sleep-walking machines one by one, wondering all the while if they weren’t interrupting something left to resume on its own, but at least there were no alarms, so they continued hunting among the control panels and screens. Now that they were deep inside the Camcron Building, that sense of wrongness that lay on these islands thicker than the clouds was even more intense. The hum of computers and the intermittent clack of keys were the only things to interrupt the silence.
“If he was even half as good with machines as Kato said he was,” Justin remarked, recalling the silent member of the Triad, “I bet that little twerp George could make himself useful right about now.”
No matter what terminal they tried, any screen that looked like it did anything useful demanded a password.
Shades was beginning to agree with Justin, at least until an idea popped into his head.
“I’ve got it!” Shades declared triumphantly. Recalling the names of those two industrial sculptures, he hopped over to what appeared to be the main control board and keyed in the word Sleeper.
To which the computer spat an incorrect password prompt at him.
“Okay… Guess I don’t got it.”
“Dammit,” Justin muttered, “don’t get our hopes up like that! I thought you had it.”
“Any ideas?” Max asked Donaldson.
The old man shrugged weakly.
“Hmm…” Shades thought for a another couple minutes, then: “Let’s see, what was that sculptor’s name again?… Burton… Bardok… Bartok…”
After trying several variants, the screen screeching error messages at him all the way, he finally got a spelling the system seemed to accept. Once again, Shades mused, just like something from out of one of his adventure games. A couple seconds later, a list of option menus opened up to him.
“Now we’re in business!” he crowed, scanning down the menus. “Holograms?… Here, I’ll see if I can up the specs I just pulled up on there…”
Moments later, a muted column of light bridged the floor console and its ceiling-mounted counterpart. In that glowing pillar of light, a three-dimensional relief map of the St Lucy and Adnan’s flashed into existence. Engulfing the two islands was a pair of overlapping translucent pink domes, expanding well into the surrounding waters beyond.
“Well, at least that explains a few things…” Shades commented.
As he zoomed in on Adnan’s, finding the controls surprisingly intuitive for such complicated-looking technology, the source of the spheres quickly became apparent. According to the map, each one was being generated from a different point on the island. Zeroing in on one of those points revealed it to be out in the woods, between the abandoned chapel and the cabins.
Just as Shades was beginning to suspect.
“Cool!” Max remarked, watching this display in rapt amazement.
“Amazing…” Donaldson breathed. Though not entirely sure what was going on, he was still stunned at the breadth and depth of what the Institute was hiding from St Lucy.
The holo-display then traversed the island to the middle of the playground on the other side.
Justin shuddered as it went exactly where he expected it to, remembering the other of the two Sleeper sculptures.
Much like his friends, the schematics of Project Pythagoras sent Shades’ mind reeling. The super-science of it was beyond him, but the basic premise seemed to be, “Apparently, it creates two overlapping fields of effect. As I understand it, we need to disrupt both of these temporal fields in order to break free of the repeat-loop effect.
“Since that seems to be what’s causing this,” Shades told them, though he was beginning to suspect that even Donaldson was catching on, “we need to figure out how they work.” So this is Project Pythagoras… But why would anyone in their right mind design something like this? “But the real question is, how do you shut this thing down?…”
Some more digging yielded some more surprising info about the Camcron Building itself.
A moment later, a new image appeared, this time a 3-D map of the building. Looking at these holographic projections gave Shades a giddy feeling of living in some of his childhood sci-fi fantasies, but he tried to stay on task in spite of this. Inside, he was intrigued to find that the elevator in the center of the building not only went between the ground level and the basement, but also extended beyond this level, reaching down to a massive chamber several levels underground. Sitting at one end of the room was an enormous machine. The virtual view showed them a catwalk and steps leading up to the machine, and zooming in still more revealed a panel with two keys inserted, one highlighted green, the other red.
Almost simultaneously, they all remembered the mysterious keyholes in the two Sleeper sculptures.
“Project Warder…” Shades read the heading, wondering why he didn’t like the sound of that name.
“What now?” Max asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Justin replied.
“Right. To the elevator,” Shades agreed, and they all rose to take a more literal approach to getting to the bottom of this.