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Chapter 111: 26485131285155863990

Hope's vision was growing blurry as she punched in yet another combination of numbers.  It was late afternoon and she had been working since 8 a.m.  Across the room, John was dozing.

The day after she saw the article about the murder of Geoffrey Harris, Hope had had a brainstorm when she pointed out that the British used European methods for dates.  Instead of month, day, year, they instead used day, month, year.  Having tried thousands of combinations using the American system, John reprogrammed his computer to start spitting out dates in the European manner.

So for the past two days, Hope had entered hundreds, if not thousands, of combinations.  She rubbed her tired yes and wondered, yet again, if this was just a completely fruitless endeavor.  But, as always, she kept punching away at the keyboard.


"Something's happening," she said loud enough for John to jerk awake.

"Huh?" he said.  "What's going on?"

"I've got it.  The password."

John leaped out of his chair and ran around the desk.  He looked at his laptop.  "Is that the code?"

Hope nodded, as John wrote it down.  "26485131285155863990."  The screen went black momentarily, but then a desktop opened up.

"Here," John said.  "Let me."  Hope knew he was knowledgeable about computers, so she let him have her seat.  He pointed to where he had been sitting earlier.  "Grab my bag there.  I need something in it."

Hope picked up his satchel and passed it to him.  He began pulling small devices out of the bag.  "Are those flash drives?"  When John nodded, Hope asked, "Why?"

He looked across the desk at her.  "Do you really think the ISA isn't going to notice that someone has accessed their system using their missing chief's access code?  They're probably tracking the connection right now."

Hope felt a chill run down her spine.  "What does that mean, John?"

"It means we probably only have a short time to download as much information from the ISA mainframe and this computer's hard disk before we'll be making our exit from Donovan Manor.  Most likely through a back way."

"And if we don't?" Hope asked, knowing she probably would not like the answer.

"They'll shoot us, of course."  John turned his attention back toward the computer and began copying everything he could to the flash drives.  While some files were downloading, he looked back up at Hope.  "You might want to pack.  At least get your service weapon."

That sounded like a good suggestion.  Hope started to run out of the room, but stopped. "Wait, what about you?"

"I've got what I need in that bag."  He motioned to the one from which he had pulled the flash drives.  "You should hurry, by the way."

Hope raced through the cavernous bunker to the elevator.  Once on the ground floor, she ran through the sitting room and up the stairs, nearly crashing into the butler.

"Madame Brady, is everything okay?" Hopkins asked.

"Yes . . . I mean no . . . I'm not sure," she sputtered.  She stopped and took a deep breath.  "Hopkins?"

"Yes, Madame?"

Hope thought fast.  "You have a way of signaling down to the underground room in the event of an emergency, don't you?"

"Why of course, Madame.  I just push a button near the foyer."

"Good," Hope said.  "Now what I would like you to do is push that button if you hear anyone outside the house."

"Is there anyone in particular that I should be looking for?" he asked.

"Yeah.  Anyone with a gun."

"I see," Hopkins said, standing even straighter than normal.  "My orders under such a situation are to go to the bunker."

That made sense to Hope.  "Not this time.  Trust me, the bunker is the last place you want to go.  You'll be fine if you just push the button to let us know someone's here.  After that, feel free to cooperate with them.  There's no reason for you to get hurt."

"Very well," he said.  Hope marveled that he could act so completely blase about the situation, but she had little time to ponder that.  Instead, she ran to her room and began throwing some clothes into her bag.  Bo would laugh hysterically if he saw her; he always teased her about how long it took her to figure out what to take.  Once she had a few changes of clothes and underwear in her bag, she grabbed her pistol and raced back downstairs.

She was just about to enter the elevator when she heard Hopkins behind her.  "Madame, I believe your visitors have arrived.  An armored vehicle is coming down the drive.  It looks like a personnel carrier."

Oh, that's just great.  They didn't just have people with guns coming after them.  They probably had the British version of the Green Berets.

"Thank you, Hopkins," she called out as she jumped into the elevator and pushed the "down" button.  "Farewell."

As the elevator descended, Hope studied the control panel.  She spotted a red "emergency stop" knob and smiled.  She could delay any pursuers for awhile.  When the elevator doors opened, she got out, pulled her bag out, and pulled the knob.  If the soldiers came downstairs, they would have to do it on the stairs.

John met her just as she came back into the bunker.  "Our company is here," she said.

"Yeah, I know."  He seemed quite calm, possibly even more unfazed than Hopkins.

"How did--" She started to ask how he knew, but then she noticed the flashing red lights going off throughout the bunker.  She turned back toward John, who was watching the thick metal door shut closed.

"Wait," Hope said.  "How are we going to get out of here if the door is shut?"

John gave her a sly grin.  "We've got ways."

"Why does that make me nervous?" Hope asked.

The door closed and John pressed another button on the wall.  Then he turned and jogged back to Shane's office.  Hope followed.

"I've nearly got all the files that are marked only for Shane's level of security clearance.  I can get pretty much everything under that using my own ISA codes, so you've got to figure that any clues are in those files."  John swapped out another flash drive.  "Then it's time for the hard disk."

Hope noticed for the first time that the flatscreens on the wall opposite the desk were on.  She turned and looked at them, realizing that they were showing different views of Donovan Manor. She saw the foyer, which was now occupied by armed men in military uniforms.  Poor Hopkins was being checked for weapons -- and not particularly kindly.  He pointed toward the sitting room and the soldiers crossed into a different screen on the wall.

"They're at the upstairs entrance to the stairs," Hope said.

"You took care of the elevator, I saw."  John was still concentrating on the computer.  Then he pointed to one of the two piles of flashcards on his desk.  "Why don't you put those in my bag?  And can you pack up my laptop?  We'll probably need it."

If we live long enough, Hope thought, but she did as he requested.

"That's odd," John said.

"What is?"

He frowned.  "Some of these file names.  There's some type of code to them, I think."

"Well could you worry about that later?" Hope said sharply.  "I think we have half the British Army coming down the stairs."  She was following the monitor that was showing the entrance to the bunker.

"I'm not too worried about them.  Not for about an hour or so."  John did not look up.  "I guess I'll just copy all of these files.  I can sort them out when I'm on the plane."

"The plane?"  Hope was incredulous.  "How the hell are we going to get to the plane?"

"Have faith," John said.

As he spoke, Hope heard a loud wailing sound.  "What the hell is that?"

"An LRAD," John said, sounding remarkably unaffected.

Hope couldn't believe he was so calm.  "What's an LRAD?  It sounds like 1000 screaming banshees."

"Close."  John swapped out the flash drive for another.  "An LRAD is a directional sound weapon.  If you're in its path, it can disable you with the noise.  It affects the central nervous system."  He looked up at the monitor that showed the area outside the bunker door.  "Looks like it's working, though it's not the only defense mechanism, I'm sure."

Hope turned back to the screen.  Many of the soldiers were on the ground, holding their hands over their ears.  Then her view was obscured by a grey haze.

"That's probably something like a pepper spray to affect the eyes," John said.  Hope could see why he assumed that, because several of the soldiers were pulling on goggles to protect their eyes.  John watched while a batch of files downloaded.  "It's probably too late by now.  It is interesting, though."

"What's interesting," Hope asked.

"Well, it looks like the defenses there are one at a time.  Maybe it's to give an attacker a chance to leave."  He chuckled.  "At Shane's office, they all come at once."  Hope thought she saw John wince, and then he said, "Oh.  That's number three.  Nobody's leaving now."


He motioned to a different screen.  "Look at the sitting room camera."  She followed his gaze and saw that the door to the staircase had changed.

"Is that another metal door?"  Hope tried to get a closer view.

"Yep.  And see the edges.  They're lined with some type of sealant."  John continued to chuckle.  "I suspect Shane's going to have to do a lot of apologizing to the British Army."

Hope was about to ask why, but then she saw the area outside the bunker door.  The grey fog had lifted, but most of the soldiers were still on the ground writhing in pain.  Whether it was from the ongoing noise of the LRAD or the pepper spray, she could not tell.

Then Hope saw one of the men begin to shake.  And another.  "What's happening to them?"

"I can only guess, but I suspect a neurotoxin."  John changed another flash drive.  "Yeah, see how the solder on the left is convulsing?  And that one in the back just vomited.  You see those effects in things like rattlesnake poison."

Hope was horrified.  "You mean they're going to die?"

"Of course not," John said.  "They'll be pretty weak and will feel the effects for a day or two, but I'm sure Shane set it so nobody would get a fatal dosage.  He had to with school-aged kids around."

Hope was suddenly glad that Bo had never formally joined the ISA.

"Looks like we're at the end of the show," John said.  As they watched, the soldiers who were standing fell to the ground.  The ones convulsing on the floor grew still.

"Are you sure they're not dead?"

"Fairly," John said.  "Yeah, see the one over there.  No, to the left of him.  You can see his chest rising and falling.  Must be a different gas.  They'll be asleep for awhile."  He turned back to the computer and exchanged a few more flash drives while Hope watched the screens.  There were a few soldiers near the front door, but she did not see any on the screens that showed the back of the house or the estate grounds.  On the monitor outside the sitting room, three soldiers were trying to figure out how to open the now-sealed entrance to the stairs.  And, at the bottom of the stairs, about a dozen soldiers were fast asleep.

Behind her, John announced, "All done."  He put the remaining flash drives in his satchel and picked up the laptop case.  He gave Hope a wicked grin.  "What do you think of getting out of here?"

Hope could not tear her eyes of the screens, but she nodded.  "I guess so," she said very slowly.  "I guess we're not going out that way."

She felt John put a hand on her shoulder and he started to steer her out of the office.  "Trust me, Hope.  My way out is a lot better."