The Willow Society

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Chapter 68

Chapter 68

Nothing barred their path back to the control room, which was a little surprising. Agent Alexander was carried behind them by the pair of security guards. It had been the right thing to do, letting Myth keep the wiper and using the already wiped guards instead. The guards placed Alexander, still unconscious on the floor in the corner.

What had Tate and the others done to her?

A guard then stood against the door, silent, staring at nothing waiting for a command. How long will he be under our control? Izzy had broken the control, what's to say he won't as well? Myth might have had an answer, had she been there. Lou, wary, stood away from the guard. Close enough she might be able to get the drop on him should try anything.

The others tied Alexander's wrists and feet together with wire-ties. Lou didn't think for a moment the NSA agent would have trouble escaping those bonds. Taylor and Winston were absorbed in whatever it was they were doing, Lou knew to ask them about it would only impede them. Winston's head bobbled in front of a bank of monitors, occasionally he would look away from them, press a few buttons on a keyboard or click the mouse. All the images on the monitors would change. Lou couldn't make any sense of what she saw on Taylor's screen: lines and lines of code, tens of open windows which he would switch between, all seeming to contain more endless lines of code. Somehow it all made sense to him. Lou turned to look back at Alexander and winced. Her side still hurt from the agent's kicks. Now that things had calmed down the pain was beginning to manifest more. Lou felt her face and knew it was swelling as well.

“How long do you think this will take?“ Lou asked Winston.

“No way to know, old girl.“ he said, “They've got hundreds of cameras, I can only get twelve at a time.“ He didn't look up from the screen he was staring at. “Oh. You meant that, “ he looked up and tilted his head toward Taylor. Stared, squint-eyed at what Taylor was doing for some time before continuing with his answer. “That's some complicated shit. I dunno, an hour? No telling with him. He might crack it in minutes. Maybe days?“

Lou swore under her breath. “An hour is too long.“ The other guard was still outside the control room, visible on the camera trained there. He looked asleep on his feet, didn't seem to move at all.

Winston twitched and exclaimed, “L! Look at this!“ Lou walked over from the monitor she had been watching stared at the one Winston pointed at. He had eliminated all the other views and maximized one. A full screen image of a lab, a large lab. Two masked and lab-coated people were moving around the space, occasionally stopping to tinker with something. Neither seemed to notice or pay attention to the camera watching them. Winston clicked the mouse and the view zoomed in on a table against the far wall of the lab, topped with rows of inclined shelves. It was lined with devices which looked like sleeker, next-gen versions of the wiper device Myth had taken with her.

“That's it! We need to get in there!“ Lou said.

Winston moved the mouse more and the camera panned around the room. There must be close on a hundred of the devices. He kept panning to a pair of highly securitized doors, each one flanked by the now familiar faces of slack-jawed, mind-controlled guards. Why do they all have the same expression? Is it because of the wiper? None of them really looked alike, but the expression made it seem they as if they did. Each also wore a pair of mirrored sunglasses, despite being inside a well lit area.

“Can you get us in there?“ Lou asked.

Winston turned to look at her, “Probably, but there's four guards in there, not to mention the two techs. And who knows how many guards between here and there, even though we haven't seen very many, you can bet they're guarding the hallways to that room. It'd be suicide, L. We need some way to get those guards out of the way, then maybe.“

It was only at that moment that Lou realized she hadn't heard a peep out of Helen for some time. She looked around in a frantic moment only to see the woman in a chair, snoozing, her beret pulled down over her eyes. Lou almost laughed. But she had no suggestions about what to do. "You would think someone would have noticed we've escaped by now, or that there are several guards missing. Don't they have to report or something?“

Winston looked at her, incredulous. His eyes rolled. “Don't we have enough to worry about? I've always been lucky, let's just go with that.“

Lou discounted him. He wasn't lucky so much as privileged and well-positioned. Very bold to boot, which went a long way towards success in life, especially in a place like New York City and at a school like Willow Prep. But she didn't say any of that. “Someone has to worry, Winston.“ Lou chided, speaking low. Winston had gone back to the monitors and was pulling up random views, until Lou realized it was a path from the control room to the lab. She was amazed at how he was able to just piece it all together. He made it seem easy.

They counted the guards between here and there. Twelve.

“We can't fight twelve!“ Lou said, but she was thinking: we can barely fight one. I lost the last time we tried. “Even if those two help us, maybe we could take three.“ She looked around to make sure Alexander was still out, that the two guards were still controlled. Winston saw Lou look and he did the same, his eyes alighting on Helen. He mumbled: “old bat“ but it sounded vaguely affectionate.

Until he frowned.

“We can't take her with us!“ He said, inclining his head towards Alexander. “She'll just slow us down. We have to leave her... somewhere.” He paused, thoughtful. “And come back for her... after.“ Lou felt a kick in her gut at the thought, making her side throb. Come back for that witch? Not likely.

“What about Helen?” Lou said, changing the subject.

“We can't her either.” Winston said.

For the past two years Helen had been family to Lou. More than just a guardian. Though she had started out as just that. She had become a pal and confidante. It wasn't easy for Lou to confide in anyone and the sudden thought Helen might not be able to fulfill that role anymore sent a horrid feeling up Lou's spine. A strong, persistent desire arose within Lou: to protect the old woman, to stay as close to her as possible, make sure nothing happened to the wonderful old woman. But Winston was right. They couldn't possibly breach that lab and all that lay between here and there with Helen along. Or Alexander.

Helen was a spry woman for her age, but she had never shown Lou even much violent inclination, and even if she had, who could Helen possibly hurt? Helen could hardly carry a gallon of milk. Imagining Helen attacking anyone, especially in that outfit, her black beret and long flowing skirt flashing as she swung for a roundhouse kick made Lou smile.

“You're right.“ Lou said, her smile vanishing as quick as it had come. “Can we lock her in here? Will she be safe?“

Winston nodded, “We should leave her here with one of the guards, tell him to watch her, guard her. And Alexander. If Alexander looks like she's going to come to, Helen can have the guard knock her out again.“ Winston said, glaring at the unconscious from of Alexander. He needs to figure himself out. Really.

Lou didn't bother speaking the thought: what if both of them attack Helen? She won't stand a chance. The reality of that happening was more than Lou wanted to consider. She put the possibility out of her mind. It was one too many worries.

They had forgotten Taylor. “Guys!“ the boy shouted. They both hurried over to him.

“What is it?“ Lou asked, unsure what she was looking at.

“It's the satellite network!“ Taylor said. “Using this... they can wipe people remotely, based on this code, they're close to getting it right! I think it might even penetrate through buildings, walls! It's not complete yet, but the basic structure is here. This network would let them remote control hundreds, maybe thousands of full-duplex, simultaneous connections. Connections to people's brains.“ Winston nodded, awed. Lou shook her head in near confusion.

Taylor saw her face. “It means with this they could... they could control ever Head of State in the world. At one time, from one place.“ He paused with significant looks at Lou and Winston, as if measuring whether or not they understood the levity of his words. Winston grinned. Lou was stunned.

“Can you disable it?“ Winston asked.

“I think so. But they'll just reboot it.“ Taylor said.

“Then what can you do?“ Lou asked, impatient, angry, and somewhat hopeless. Between the guards they needed to overcome and the devices and tech Taylor had exposed Lou had never felt smaller. Never more powerless or more, well more like a child, even as she had been off-loaded to Juvenile Hall. She had to suppress the whimper which almost escaped her lips. She did manage a defeated sigh.

Winston's grin slid off his face. He was stunned, perhaps as stunned as Lou. She wondered if the odds were finally sinking in, as they never had before for the rich teen. Something that didn't submit to his brand of persistence, bravado, and raw talent. Looking at him she suddenly realized Winston could be a hell of an MMA fighter if he ever put his mind, spirit, and drive into it. Small, but driven. Hard to defeat. In her experience drive won every time against size, if the drive was true. The thought of size brought all they were facing back into her mind and she started a cycle of hopelessness all again.

“I don't know.“ Taylor finally said. “I think it might be possible to make the satellites fire their positioning thrusters... knock themselves out of orbit. Maybe. But these are communications satellites. Military grade GPS satellites, too. Somehow TwinStar has piggybacked on all of them. If I crash them... it would be extreme chaos. Everywhere. People might die.“

Lou sighed. So much for the easy answer. No matter what we do, people may die. Taylor needs to accept that. Still he's right. Some part of Lou tried to remember a time in her life before she when she had still been innocent, but she couldn't. Before she realized people were going to die.

“Unless..“ Taylor said, turning back to the monitor. “Maybe the answer isn't destroying or disabling? If I can lock them out of their own network, lock out their piggybacks, and set a virus inside the flash ROM, even if they reboot they won't be able to gain access. They'd need to break 256 bit encryption, and I can tie it to a certain sequence of node progressions, it's not foolproof, not forever, nothing is. But it could buy us time. Months, maybe a year or two, depending on how good their hackers are. And we could access their network from just about anywhere we can hook up a satellite dish.“

Winston's joyous grin came back full force. “I only understood about three-quarters of that, but whatever it is, old man, do it! Lou and I have to get there.“ Winston pulled up the camera view of the lab and pointed. Let Taylor see, as he explained what he and Lou needed going to do.

“They've got maybe a hundred wipers in there!“ Taylor said, breathlessly. “We have to destroy them! I saw mention of schematics on their network, maybe we'll find those as well. But it's gonna take me at least forty five minutes to make the hack on the satellite network.“ Taylor sounded close to panic. Lou, looking at him, couldn't help but see a fourteen year old boy, in way over his head. Not that she felt any different.

“You hit the network from in here, T. Helen can watch your back and keep an eye on Alexander. One of the guards can stay here. We'll take Butch over there. Storm the lab. If we can get in there, I think I can use one of those machines,“ He zoomed in on one of the techs, now looking at plans on a monitor, “to find where they keep the digital plans. Maybe even chase down any replication, co-location, or backups. Then Lou and I will high tail it out of there. You and Helen can just leave after you're done...“

“Just leave?” Lou said, drolly. She felt numb. Does Winston mean what I think with: “You can just leave.“ He doesn't think any of us were going to make it out, but he was willing to go anyway. Either way, she knew he was right. It's what we have to do.

“OK. Um...“ Taylor said finally, taking a deep breath. He turned back to the monitor, kept working. Lou saw the look on his face though, reflected in the monitor. She was sure when Taylor was done, he would come looking for them. It was what she would do.

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