Storm Surge

Part 18

Kerry sat quietly in the corner, perched on a wooden table shoved against the wall.  They were inside a fairly small room in the back of the New York Stock Exchange,  a space filled with pipes and racks that was both stuffy and dank at the same time.

There was a rough, wooden table in the center of the room and at the moment, Dar and Alastair were seated at it along with some of the guys from Verizon,  Sprint, MCI and ATT all clustered around a set of yellowed blueprints spread on the year scarred plank surface.

The rest of them, Kerry, and the techs, and the lineman from Verizon, were back against the walls. Kerry knew she could have squeezed in next to her partner, but she was content to stay where she was and leave the wrangling to someone else.

They had their masks off, this far from the destruction, but she could still taste the dust and the smell on the back of her throat and she found she really just wanted to be out of here and done with it.

Maybe it was the juxtaposition of the pressure to bring up these banking systems put against the smell of death and the look in the eyes of the firefighters she’d seen.   She felt almost ashamed they were putting out as much effort as they were do to what they were doing instead of helping all the people around them who had lost so much.

She hiked one knee up and circled it with her arms, briefly debating if she should ask Dar if she could go back to the bus and get back in touch with the rest of their organization, working to get the rest of the problems and outages sorted out.

As if divining this, Dar turned and looked back at her, one dark brow hiking up.

It felt like her mind was being read. Kerry gave her partner a wry look, then she glanced at her watch and lifted her own brows in question.

Dar held up her hand, then turned back to the discussion at the table.

Kerry settled back against the wall, wishing she’d thought to bring a bottle of water with her.  “Going to be a long day.” She commented to Mark, who was perched next to her.

“Yeah.” Mark agreed. “I’m not really into this.”

“Being here?” She asked, lowering her voice.

“This part.” Mark indicated the building with a circle of his finger. “I was cool with being at the Pentagon. That was cool, helping those guys out.  All I’m getting from this place is a what can you do for me vibe.”

Kerry glanced past him, where the technicians who supported the building were standing around, arms crossed, dour expressions on their faces. “I think I’d rather be helping the people who can’t even get back to their homes here.”

“Exactly.” Mark agreed. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I know this is important, but like, when you see people scraping up body parts from the street it kind of puts it in perspective.”

Kerry grimaced.  “On second thought, I’d rather be in here than seeing that.”

Mark eyed her. “Sorry about that.” He said. “I didn’t really see it either. Just heard the guys talking outside.”

The room they were in had power. The whole building did, driven by generators that were being fed by a line to a tanker barge tied up off the end of the island.   All the other buildings around it were still dark, and the apartments that ringed the area likewise, but this place, and one or two others, had lights glowing through the windows still caked completely with dust.

“I’m not even sure how we’re doing to help with this. All they’re doing is arguing who should get the resources we’ve got first.”  Kerry shook her head. “If I was Dar, I’d be yelling already.”

The door opened, and Andrew entered, a backpack on his back. He removed his mask and crossed over to where Kerry was seated, easing the pack off and setting it down on the table.  “Lo there.”

“Hey, dad.” Kerry was glad to see him. “Where’d you go off to?”

He opened the pack and handed her a bottle of Gatorade. “Back to that bus thing of yours.” He said. “Got tired of all the yapping here.” He took out a bottle for himself, then offered one to Mark. “Got some folks outside doing more yapping, some of them gov’mint types.”

“Great.” Kerry opened the bottle and gratefully took a sip. “Thanks for the drinks. My throat’s coated with that dust.”

“Yeap.” Andrew leaned against the table.  “What’s Dardar up to over there?”

Kerry had lost track of the conversation. “Talking to them about resources, I guess.” She said. “Everyone thinks they’re priority one. Same story as usual.”

Andrew crossed his arms and took a sip of his own drink, shaking his head as he listened.

**

“Gentlemen.” Dar rested her forearms on the table.  “We’ve been around the block with this a dozen times.  We need to get moving on it.”

Charles lifted his hands and let them fall. “Well, that’s mostly because we keep coming back to how in the hell do we start?” He said. “I’ve got a demarc here with a thousand lines that go no where.”

“Look.” The Verizon man stood up and put a dirt smudged finger on the blueprint.  “Just like I told everyone else around here.  This ain’t no magic.  Just because you people think you got some kind of  priority here don’t make the truth any different.”

“Hey, it’s your damn last mile.” The MCI representative said. “What are you going to do about it?”

“What d’you think?” The Verizon rep shot back. “We lost a whole fucking switching center.  You think I got one in my back pocket?   Tell your big shot customers they gotta wait, like everyone else.  We gotta find a place, we have to pull conduit… shit. It’ll be six months to get service back to everyone down here.”

He stood up. “I’m outta here. I’ve got things to do. C’mon boys.” He motioned for his crew to join him. “So long.”   

“Then we’ll bypass you and light the building up ourselves.” The MCI rep said. 

“Yeah?” The local man snorted. “Don’t try it, buddy. We’re all union here and any of my people will tell you to go kiss their asses.  You people are gonna wait until we’re good and ready.”  He strode out with his men behind him, slamming the door on the way out.

Dar sighed, and rested her chin on her fist. “Just what the situation needed. More assholes.”

The door opened again, and one of the other ATT men came in. “Charles, the governor’s rep is outside.  He wants some answers.”

“Maybe he should ask one of the jerks who just left for them.” Charles pushed back from the table in disgust.  “Jesus.” He got up. “I’ll be right back.  I don’t’ know what the hell I’m going to tell this guy, but I’ll think of something.”

He left, and took his assistant with him, leaving the rest of them to sit around the table in pensive silence. 

“Okay.” The Sprint rep said, after a long pause. “So, what are our options? “ He asked. “I’ve got twenty customers leaving voice mails for me every ten minutes.”

“We all do.” The MCI rep agreed.  “Except you people.” He glanced across the table at Alastair and Dar.  “Bet you’re glad they’re not your customers.”

“Well now.” Alastair settled back in his chair. “You’re right. I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  We’d be happy enough to be one of your customers calling and bugging you but as it happens, the folks in Washington did hear we have some experience in this type of thing and asked us to stop by.”

“Really?” The MCI rep said, after a pause.  “Chuck didn’t say that.”

“Not sure he knew.” Alastair admitted with a  brief smile. 

“So.” Dar picked up the ball.  “Let’s discuss what the possibilities are.  If there are any.”

**

They clustered into the demarc room, only six of them this time as the rest waited outside.   Dar was there along with Mark,  the reps from the three telcos, and one of the techs who worked in the Exchange.

Kerry found a bit of wall to lean against, between Alastair and Andrew.  “What a mess.”

“You could squeeze in there if you wanted to.” Alastair pointed at the room. “See what’s going on.”

“Nah.” Kerry shook her head. “This is Dar’s ballpark.” She paused, the word triggering a memory.  “Ballpark. We were supposed to play our first practice game today.”

“Eh?”

“We joined a corporate softball league.” Kerry said. “Today’s Saturday right?  We were supposed to all meet at the park today and see how bad we all are at playing baseball.” She let her head rest against the wall. “Sorry I’m not there. I’d even enjoy striking out and falling on my ass right now.”

Andrew patted her shoulder.  “Can’t last forever, Kerry.” He said. “We’ll be getting on home soon, for sure.”

Kerry rubbed her eyes. “I hope so.”

“This really stinks, doesn’t it?” Alastair said, after a moment.  “What in the blazes are we all doing here?”

“S’what I asked Dar.” Andrew said. “Leave these here people to fix their own problems.  They give me a hive.” He added. “Don’t preciate nothing no body does for them, like it’s owed.”

Kerry thought about that. “Well.” She said, after a moment. “I think maybe they do. I think they expect everyone to go the last mile for the city, because of what happened.”

“True enough.” Alastair allowed. “But does that mean we throw off all our own responsibilities to take on theirs?”

Andrew and Kerry looked at Alastair.  “I think that’s your call, isn’t it?” Kerry asked, after a long pause.  She studied the older man’s face, which was tired looking and smudged with dust. “Can we just walk away from this?”

Alastair thought for a moment, his eyes going a little unfocused as he considered the question.  “Sure would be nice to go home, huh?”

Kerry flashed back to that underground nightmare, and the strong desire it had spurred in her to turn and run and just keep on running right back to the warm sun and blue skies waiting for her back… home.

Home.  Miami was home now, in a way Michigan had never been. “It would.” She replied softly. “Its not that I don’t’ want to help those guys in there. I just don’t’ think it will end up being worth anything to us.”

“Hm.”  Alastair rubbed his nose. “Not sure we should expect any worth out of it. There is something to be said for public service.  We don’t always get a return on an investment, at least in the short term. I have a feeling if we turn our backs on these bastards,  we’ll suffer in the long term.” He paused. “Not fair, really.”

“Jackasses.” Andrew muttered.

“Let me go see what’s going on.” Kerry pushed away from the wall and headed over to the doorway, more to give Alastair room to think than because she thought she would be of any help inside.  She eased into the space, spotting Dar’s tall form to one side as her partner pointed out something.

She could sense the tension in the room.  With a gentle excuse me, she edged behind the Sprint rep and came up behind Dar, finding a spot between her and the wall that was just about the right size for her to fit into.

With a gentle clearing of her throat, she fit into it.

Dar sensed her, stepping back and draping an arm over her shoulders with a complete lack of self consciousness.  “Hey Ker.”

“Hey.” Kerry hoped the layer of dust on her skin masked the mild blush.  “How’s it going?” She studied the demarc, rows and rows of telecom cards in shallow racks festooned with tags in a rainbow of different colors.

Dar shook her head. “Hard to say where to even start.” She admitted.  “It’s not just communications with the rest of the exchanges. Data comes in here from all over the world.”

“Yeah.” The tech from the Exchange said. “That’s what I was trying to explain to those other guys.” He walked over to the wall. “This stuff’s just here in the Financial district. It’s all local point to point.” He indicated one rack. “This goes to the banking system.  This goes to the major trading houses in like, forty cities.”

He slapped the wall. “None of it’s working.”

The MCI rep put his hands on his hips. “I don’t’ think we can do this.” He said. “Even if we bring in a full sat setup, there’s not enough transponder space up above to handle the traffic.”

“They’d never let you anyway.” The Exchange tech said.  “The trading houses, and the other exchanges. The foreign ones. They’ve got security on this stuff big time.”

Charles exhaled. “That’s true.” He said. “Most of those tie lines are ours.  I’ve already had a call from London and Hong Kong.”

“We had enough trouble getting space on the sat to relay our mobile cell units down here.” The Sprint rep said.  “They’re jammed.”

“They are.” Kerry spoke up. “We’ve got a majority of the transponder space up there and we’re using it for our customers.”

The men turned and looked at her, then looked back at the maze of wires. “So what the hell are we doing here?” Charles asked. “Let’s just tell them we can’t do it.  What can they do? I’m already toast and I don’t have an ass left… begging your pardon.. “ He glanced at Kerry.  “For them to chew anymore.”

Kerry looked at all the tags, then she glanced up at Dar.  “What are our options, boss?”

Dar regarded the mass of wires.  “Our options?” She asked. “Our options are which direction we’re going to drive the bus out of here on our way out of town, unfortunately.  We can’t fix this.”

The rest of the men nodded in simultaneous agreement.

“No way?” Kerry nudged.  “Nothing at all we can do? I sure got the impression from the White House that this was really important. “

“It is important. “ The Exchange tech spoke up again.  “If the market doesn’t open, that’s a huge amount of money tied up that can’t go nowhere.”

“Can’t they do it by hand?” Dar asked. “Y’know, computers are a lot younger than this building.”

“You got to be kidding me.” The tech said, in chorus with Charles and the MCI guy. 

“Guess not.” Kerry murmured.  “Dar, there has to be something we can do. Even to bring up basic services. Isn’t there?”

Dar removed her arm and put both hands in the pockets of her coveralls, tilting her head to one side as she gave the question it’s just due.    Everyone waited respectfully in silence, until she cleared her throat and shrugged slightly. 

 “Think of something?” Kerry could tell, by the body language alone, what the answer was.

“Won’t fly.” Dar demurred.  “The only way we could help out is if we get a trunk line from here, over to Roosevelt Island. That’s our closest node.” She went on.  “You’d have to do it underground.”

“Impossible.” The Exchange tech said, immediately.  “Especially not without the union guys. I can’t even get in a manhole without paying them through the nose.”

“We’d never get the clearance.” The MCI rep said. “He’s right. That’s all Verizon right of way and there’s no way they’ll let us run cable in there. Not taking money out of their pocket. I wouldn’t either.” He added. “If it was me.”

Charles looked thoughtful. “Okay, it’s impossible.” He said. “But what if we could do it? What would that get us?” He asked Dar.  “It gets us to your network.  That’s private. We all know it.”

“You’re riding on it right now.” Kerry reminded him mildly. “I’m tunneling you between your headend to your office here.”

“Sure, but you can’t do that for all of us, and all of this.” Charles said.  Then he paused, when Dar didn’t respond. “Can you?”

Dar merely shrugged slightly again. “No point in wondering, since it can’t be done.” She said. “But theoretically, if we could do it, and get the pipe over to my node, I might be able to do something useful with it.”

There was a moment of silence, as the men all stared at Dar, who kept her hands in her pockets, a thoughtful expression on her face.

“Are you shitting me?” The MCI rep finally said.

“No.” Dar replied. “Excuse me.”  She removed her hands from her pockets and patted Kerry on the shoulder. “Be right back.” She advised, as she slipped past, and ducked out the door. 

The men turned around and looked at Kerry, who folded her arms across her chest.  “Don’t ask.” She said. “But if she says it’s possible, you can take that to the damn bank.”

“Yeah.” Mark spoke up for the first time.  “But if we can’t get that cable from here to there, it’s crap.”

“Yeah.” The Exchange tech said. “Crap.”

Charles sighed. “Well, I can call Verizon.  I think someone in my company high enough is probably related to someone in their company high enough.”

“Their name Bell?”  The MCI rep asked, wryly.  “Better start digging. You’re gonna need him.”

**

Kerry was glad enough to drop into a soft, leather chair, safe in the confines of the bus and surrounded by her colleagues.  “Buh.” She let her head drop back.  “Glad we’re here.”

“Glad the wind is blowing off the water.”  Dar finished stripping out of her jumpsuit, tossing it over the back of the chair opposite Kerry before going to the bar and pouring herself a glass of juice from the waiting carafe. 

“You got that right.” Mark was toweling his face off.  “This is some nasty shit. “

Kerry slung one leg over the arm of the chair and squirmed in the corner, letting her head rest against the soft leather. “You’re right. “ She said. “That was nasty.”

“It was.” Dar sat down in the chair next to her, extending her long legs across the floor of the bus and cradling her juice between her hands.  “Glad it’s over.”

“Is it?” Her partner asked, in a surprised tone.

“Well, for now.” Dar clarified.  “Until they come back and talk to us about getting action on that cabling I don’t’ see a reason for us to go back in there. Do you?”

Kerry shook her head emphatically.  “I can live the rest of my life not going back in there given my choice, thanks.” She said. “I’ll be having nightmares about that underground for a month.”

Dar reached over and curled her fingers around Kerry’s arm, gently rubbing the inside of it with her thumb.  “Sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Kerry muttered. “I could have stayed upstairs.”

The door to the bus opened, and Alastair entered, putting his mask down and closing the door behind him. “Son of a bitch.”

Dar’s eyebrows hiked.

Her boss unzipped his dust covered overalls and removed them, sitting down on the nearby barstool to remove the legs. 

“Can I get you something, sir?” The bus attendant zipped over, alertly

“Scotch.  Double.” Alastair said. “Straight up.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Governor’s office get you again, Alastair??” Dar asked.

“Stupid son of a bitch.”  Alastair took the glass the bus attendant handed over, putting it to his lips and swallowing the contents at a gulp.

“Wow.” Mark edged over to the counter nearby, giving his CEO a look of healthy respect.  He opened a glass covered case, and removed a sandwich, sitting down to take a bite of it.   “Want one of these, Mr. M?”

Alastair set his glass down with loud clacking sound.  “I gotta tell you, ladies and gentleman.”  He said. “I’m about to just pull this company out of here.” He got up and crossed over to where the chairs were, detouring long enough to grab a sandwich before he sat down across from Dar. “Son of a bitch.”

Dar gave him a wry look.  “Welcome to my world.” She remarked.

“Lady, you can keep it.”  Alastair said. “I should tell that damn governor to take his threats and shove them up his ass.”

“Threats?” Kerry frowned. “What on earth does he have to threaten us with? None of these are even our circuits.”  She got up and went over to the counter, selecting two sandwiches.  “Sheesh.”

“Hungry, boss?” Mark asked, giving her two fisted selection a quizzical look.

Kerry merely gave him a look, as she retreated back to her chair, stopping to deliver Dar her sandwich on the way.   She sat down again and took a bite from the roll, glad of the tang of the horseradish sauce taking the taint of dust from her mouth.

“Thanks.” Dar licked a bit of the sauce off her fingers.

“He said if we didn’t come through on this damn Exchange issue, he’d cancel all our state contracts.” Alastair said.  “Can you believe that?  In the middle of all this? I asked him if he didn’t have enough problems without us pulling out and taking the rest of his offices down.”

“I think he’s just panicked.”  Dar chewed her mouthful of prime rib thoughtfully and swallowed it.  “I think the federal government’s all over him, and he’s just punching at whatever’s in reach.” She took a sip of her juice to wash the sandwich down. “Besides, we committed ourselves to help out here. “

“We did.” Alastair agreed mournfully.  “Sorry about that.”

“I’m not.” His CIO replied.

Kerry tilted her head to one side and regarded her partner. “Really?” She asked. “You like being here?”

Dar shook her head. “No.” She licked another bit of sauce from her thumb.  “I hate being here. But if those people get their heads out of their asses, and get that cable run, we can do something to help.” She glanced at Alastair. “Did you explain that to him?”

“Do you think they can do it?” Kerry nibbled the edge of her sandwich.

“There’s no technical reason they can’t.” Dar said. “If they have the cable, and they’re the damn phone companies so they should have the damn cable, and they can find their way into the subway which goes right over onto the island,  they can do it.”

Alastair extended his legs and crossed his ankles.  “Seems like a lot of work for two days.”  He said. “I did mention to the governor we had a dependency on those folks, but he wasn’t hearing any of it. Said I should get it done myself.”

Dar rolled her eyes.

“Hey, it’s your reputation that got us into this.” Her boss reminded her.  “I wasn’t the one who called the government and volunteered us.”

“Like I did?” Dar shot back.  “You’re the one who told me to go do it. I could have told Gerry we didn’t have a chance at fixing this.”

Alastair paused and thought, then he shrugged. “Well you know, you’re right. I did.”  He said. “But you never do listen to me, so why did you this time?”

“Children.” Kerry cleared her throat. “Can we table the snipefest?  We’ve already got enough issues here to deal with.”

“Doesn’t she work for you?” Alastair pointed at Kerry, staring pointedly at Dar.  “Insubordination?”

“Don’t I work for you?” Dar grinned suddenly.  “What’s your point?”

Alastair chuckled wryly after a brief pause. “Damned if I know. Someone get me another scotch.” He waved a hand at the bus attendant.   “All right. So you’re saying if those folks do manage to get some agreement then there’s a chance this can happen?”

Dar got up and went to the white board on the far wall of the bus. It was covered in scribbling, and she picked up an eraser and wiped it off.  “Okay.” She grabbed a marker and started drawing.  “Let me just sketch this in.”

Kerry took the opportunity to finish her sandwich.  It was good, thinly sliced prime rib with just the right amount of salt, and a layer of creamy horseradish sauce on it.  Her body was craving protein, and it really hit the spot.

Dar was drawing in a reasonable facsimile of Manhattan, with the Hudson and East rivers on either side of it.   Her hand made easy, sure motions and after a moment, she was finished. “We’re here.” She made a mark near the tip of the island.  “Mark, hand me that subway map over there will ya?”

“Sure.” Mark hopped off  the barstool he’d perched on and brought the map over.  He handed it to Dar then stepped back out of the way.

“Thanks.” Dar  opened the map and spread it on the bar, studying it for a moment. “Okay.” She turned to the whiteboard again.  “Here’s where we were today.” She marked a spot on the map. “That’s Cortlandt Street. Here’s the disaster site.” She marked a large square.  “Here’s where the triple pop was, and Verizon’s CO.”

Kerry watched in fascination, sipping her drink.  Dar’s sense of space had always intrigued her. She’d seen her partner draw underwater diagrams with a three dimensional precision that was amazing. Now, she laid out the diagram with absolute sureness.

“Now.” Dar moved on to the east side of the island. “Here’s Roosevelt Island. The subway comes in here.. and then the line that goes through there comes back around this side down to here.” She tapped her marker on the map. “If they bring it up Lexington Avenue, to Central Park, they can come down the tunnel here, and they’ll end up not that far from our node.”

“That’s a hell of a long way.” Alastair protested. “Not that it looks that far on that board, but Dar, I’ve been on that side of the city. You’re not talking about a trivial effort here.”

“I know.” Dar juggled the marker in her hand, flipping it end from end. “You didn’t ask me if it was reasonable or likely. Just if it was possible.”

Kerry was about to voice her doubts about the possibility of it happening it all, when her mind flashed back to a rainy night in the Carolinas and she felt her jaws click shut instead.

It was possible.  Dar wouldn’t have bothered discussing it if she thought it wasn’t.  Whether or not those other guys could achieve it was another question, but it was a question Kerry wasn’t sure she should be asking. 

It wasn’t their problem, after all.

“That’s a crazy amount of work.” Mark spoke up. “If those guys have the reels, then maybe…  but I don’t’ think they can get through all that red tape, Dar. I heard those guys from the phone company talking – they’re not into it at all.”

“Well.” Dar went to the bar and sat down on a stool. “Governor or no governor, I’m not going down there and do it for them.” She said, quietly.  “This is their city. It’s their customers. I’m not crawling around in a tube kicking rats out of the way on their behalf.”

Kerry nodded in relief.  “Dar.” She said. “I’ll go wherever you go.  But I don’t want to do that either. Being under there today freaked me out.”

“Right there with you.” Mark said.

Alastair sipped on his scotch.  “I can work with that.” He decided. “Let me get hold of Ham and we’ll go see that damn jackass again.”

“Somebody call me?” Hamilton Baird entered the back of the bus, wiping his hands off on his handkerchief. “Why, hello there you all.  Gentlemen. Ladies.”  He glanced at Dar.  “Maestro.”

“Just talking about you Ham.” Alastair said. “Dar’s got a plan. We’ve got to go sell it.”

“Now that’s different.” The corporate lawyer drawled.  “Ah got to tell you, Dar, I heard from those people down at Crisis on the Bay, or whatever they’re calling that junk shop on the Hudson and they do think you’re just the cat’s litter box.”

“Thanks.” Dar said, in a dry tone.

“Did you really do something with a welder?”

“Soldering iron.” Kerry supplied. “It really was pretty spectacular and brilliant, but that’s pretty typical of Dar.”

Dar looked at her, eyes widening a little. 

“Do tell?” Hamilton half turned towards her, a humorous tone in his voice.

 “When we’re done with the chit chat, we’ve got a jackass to go see.” Alastair said, pointedly.

Hamilton paused at the sandwich tray. “Do I have a New York minute to swallow this like a civilized man or should I have this lovely young lady put it in a blender and make it a smoothie for me?

“Eat.” Alastair waved a hand at him.

Hamilton picked up his sandwich and his drink and wandered back to the front of the bus, where a television was playing.  After a moment, Alastair got up and followed him.

Mark dusted his hands off. “I’m gonna go see what routers I’ve got to mess with left back there.” He unlatched the back door and disappeared, leaving Dar and Kerry alone in the small seating section.

They were both quiet for a moment, just looking at each other. Then Kerry got up and moved over to Dar’s chair, taking a seat on the arm of it and leaning along the back.

“Children?” Dar rested her head against Kerry’s shoulder.  “You crack me up.”

“Sorry.” Kerry ran the fingers of her free hand through Dar’s hair.  “My brains running in circles.  Can they really do this, Dar?”

“Probably not.” Her partner conceded. “It would be like us running a cable from the office in Miami to our house. Possible, but pretty damn unlikely.”

“Can they get it to our office at the Rock? We could take some of the traffic there, and not go all the way across to Roosevelt.” Kerry suggested.  “It’s a little closer.”

Dar considered that. “Which one of us is spectacular and brilliant?” She asked. “I forgot all about that. I have extra capacity at the office. We might able to take part of the traffic there.”  She closed her eyes. “But I was serious, Ker. They have to step up, just like we had to step up yesterday and get the job done.”

Kerry kissed the top of her head. “I love you.” She replied, simply.

Dar smiled. 

“Anything we can do to help though?”

“I knew you were going to ask that.”  Dar remarked. “Let’s get Scuzzy up here, and see if she knows someone we can talk to.  I met her on a subway. Maybe it’s a sign.”  She reached over and put her hand on Kerry’s leg.  “Want to hear my ulterior motive?”

“That if they run the cable up to our uplink, we can piggy back our customers down here on it?”  Kerry supplied promptly . “Starting with our tech office?”

Dar chuckled under her breath, a soft, light sound that echoed in the inside of the bus.  “Busted!”

Kerry started laughing too, her body finally giving up it’s tension as her headache faded and her blood sugar stabilized.  The sense of horror from the disaster site moved to the back of her mind, and the optimism that was more natural for her returned.

Dar turned her head and brushed her lips with her own, ignoring the rest of the bus just within earshot.

Shocking. Kerry returned the kiss, caressing Dar’s face with gentle fingers.  But who cared?

The whole world was different now. 

**

Kerry rested her chin on her hand, as her other hand moved her mouse, clicking on another mail.  “Go ahead, Air Hub. I think it sounds like everyone has everything pretty much together. “

“Roger that, Miami exec.” The voice answered. “Traffic’s not back to normal, but it’s steady, and I think we can handle the additional service requests.”

“Miami exec, this is Herndon.” A female voice broke in.  “We’re getting calls from sites affected by the Pennsylvania outage. They want a status.”

Kerry tapped on the mouse. “Do you have someone on now?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Herndon answered.  “Docson Pharmaceuticals.”

“Put them on.”

There was a moment’s silence. “Put them on the bridge, ma’am???”

“Yes.” Kerry said. “I only have two ears and one set of vocal cords.  Put em on.”

“Uh.. yes ma’am. One second.”

Kerry released her mouse and picked up her cup of hot tea, taking a sip of the mint and raspberry flavored beverage as she waited for the customer to come on the line. 

She was in the last section in the bus, a small, discrete office barely the size of her bathroom in the condo, but appointed in solid teak, and with the most comfortable leather office chair she’d ever encountered.

Plush and expensive, it was designed to provide a marginal business purpose for the courtesy bus and in the case of strange and utter emergency, it allowed whoever was using the bus at the time, always senior officers of the company, to perform whatever office it was they held in dignified good taste.

She liked it. It was private – there was a smoked glass wall that separated it from the rest of the bus, and a door she currently had shut. The glass kept it from being too claustrophobic, but the shading kept it from being a fishbowl and it was soundproofed to a moderate degree.

“Standby.” Herndon warned her. “Mr. Eccles? You’re on the line with Kerry Stuart, our VP of operations. Go ahead.”

The only thing it lacked was enough space for Dar to be in there with her.  “Go ahead, Mr. Eccles. What can I do for you?” Kerry spoke into the mic.

“Ah, okay, yes. Ms.. ah, Stuart was it?” A male voice came from the speaker, along with faint static. 

“That’s right.” Kerry saw a popup start to flash, and she clicked on it. 

Hey Kerry – got a minute?

Kerry typed into the box. Go ahead Mari.

“Well, listen. I need to know what’s going on here. I’ve tried to get hold of my account rep, but he’s not answering, and the support center said there’s no one available down there so..”

Kerry clicked on another box, a text message passed through their internal messaging system rather than to her phone.

Scuzzy knows a guy.   She smiled at the words. “Well, Mr. Eccles, I’m very sorry but you’ll have to be a little more specific on the question.” She answered. “There’s an awful lot going on right now. I am sure you can appreciate that we have many issues we’re working on, including yours.”

She waited for the answer while she typed a response.  Scuzzy’s going to be worth a promotion by the time this is over

She’ll end up a regional director. Can’t wait for the conference calls with her on them.

Kerry stifled a laugh, appreciating Dar’s wry humor.  Then Mari’s box started flashing with a new incoming message, and she clicked over to it.

Kerry,  I’ve got a request here from the FBI to provide them with all our employment records.

Kerry’s head jerked up. “What?”

“Well, I … what?” Eccles answered. “What did you say?”

“Sorry.” Kerry typed furiously into the machine. “Go ahead.  I just have quite a few things working here right now.”

“As I was saying, our offices have been down since Tuesday.  I’m the first one to understand that there’s been terrible things going on, and I assume your people are busy, but my business is at a standstill and I need to know what’s being done for us.”

What???  Dar’s response came back.

What should I tell them?  Mari asked.

“Hang on a minute, Mr. Eccles. Let me call up the support system and see what I can find out for you.” Kerry said, as she typed  Mari, I’m getting Dar on this.  She’s with Alastair, and I hope also with Hamilton. They really need to handle that request.  Who’s it coming from?

I’m on the way there.  Dar’s message somehow sounded as indignant as Kerry knew her partner probably really was.

Bring Alastair and our lawyer.  Kerry advised her.  “Okay, Mr. Eccles, what I have here on your outage is that you have three circuits down..”

Her cell phone rang.  “Hold on a second, maybe that’s news.” She put the mic on hold and opened her phone without looking at the caller ID. “Kerry Stuart.”

Okay, gotcha. Mari typed back. I halfway understand the request, Kerry – it’s become very obvious to a lot of people just how involved we are in the government, but I’m concerned.

She’s concerned?   Kerry took her eyes from the screen briefly as he heard a slight buzz on the phone. “Hello?”

“Ms. Stuart? Hello? This is Danny down at the Pentagon.. I’m trying to get ahold of Mark. Do you know where he is?”

The door opened, and Dar entered the small room, bringing her restless energy with her.  “Who’s asking?”

“Danny, last time I saw Mark he was inventorying the routers here. Can I get him to call you? I’m on a few things right now.” Kerry blocked out the distraction of her partner with difficulty.

“Oh, sure. Sorry about that.” Danny said. “They’re just all of a sudden chewing me to move some of our rigs and I don’t want to disconnect anything.”

“Let me see that..” Dar circled the desk and squeezed behind it with her, leaning over to peer at Kerry’s screen.  She clicked on Mari’s box and typed into it.

“Okay, yeah, I’ll have Mark call you. “ Kerry promised. “Bye.” She hung up the phone and picked up the mic. “I’m on the bridge, hon.  Don’t start yelling.”

“Idiots.” Dar growled, reading the screen.

“Okay, sorry about that.” Kerry keyed the mic.  “Mr. Eccles, according to our system..’” She paused, as Dar’s typing removed the view from her screen.  “Sorry, hold on one more minute.” She clicked the mic off. “Sweetheart, I need to see my stuff. I’m in the middle of something here.”

“I know.. I know.. just one second.” Dar muttered.  “Freaking idiots… I’m having her give them Hamilton’s number. He’s earning his salary today, that’s for sure.”

Kerry took the opportunity to take a sip of tea.  Despite Dar’s interruption in her flurry of communication, she didn’t mind having her partner hanging over her.  It gave her a chance to rearrange her thoughts, anyway and the warmth of Dar’s breasts pressing against the back of her head didn’t hurt either.

“There. Sorry. Want me to pass that message to Mark?” Dar kissed the top of her head. “Since I messed up your flow here?”

“That would be awesome.” Kerry took possession of her laptop back.  “Now let me go and give some bs story to this guy about his circuits.  Do you think they’ll look at the Philly ones any time soon?”

“All the techs are here.” Dar said. “Want me to send him a sat truck? Is he big enough? “

Kerry called up the account and studied it. Then she sighed. “Honestly, no.” She said. “Let me see what I can do to placate him.”

“Okay.” Dar gave her shoulders a squeeze, then she edged out from behind the desk and got the door open. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?”

“Absolutely.” Kerry resisted the urge to come up with something else on the spot. “Thanks babe.” She waited for Dar to close the door, then she went back to her mic. “Okay. Where the hell was I?” 

**

Dar shut the door to the bus behind her and emerged into the area defined by the bus, and the sat trucks and equipment vans that had accompanied it.  In the middle of the open space, they’d set up a rough wooden worktable, and on it was spread the underground map with a handful of techs and Scuzzy all looking at it.

She rejoined them, and the techs cleared a space for her.  She was about to delve back into the underground puzzle when her conscience poked her. “Where’s Mark?”

“He was just here.”  Shaun said. “Just a second ago.”

“Mark!” Dar’s voice lifted, ringing against the solid square of metal car bodies.

“Whoa whoa.. right here, Big D.” Mark appeared from around the back of the bus.  “I got that stuff you wanted me to look for.. what’s up?”

“Pentagon was calling for you. Something about moving a rig.” Dar replied briefly. “Call them. Tell them not to bug Kerry if they want you. She’s not your sitter.”

“Okay boss, you got it.” Mark reversed course and headed for the bus.  “My cell’s gone wonky.  It keeps losing sig. I’ll tell them to text me on the PDA.”

Dar returned her attention to the map, satisfied she’d taken one annoyance off her partner’s plate.  “Okay.” She pulled out another schematic, one of the office building their office was housed in. “Let’s say, by some miracle of political voodoo they do manage to get a wire in this direction.”

“Y’know, they could.” Scuzzy said. She leaned on the table with both hands, appearing pleased to be involved.  “Those union guys, they ain’t that bad, you know?  They just want their stuff the way they want their stuff, if you know what I mean.”

Dar nodded. “Matter of fact, I do know what you mean.” She said. “But I don’t lay bets on people I don’t  know. So all we can do is have a few plans in our back pocket.”   She tapped the blueprint. “As I was saying, if they do manage to get up here, then what? How do we get the signal upstairs? Riser?”

Shaun hunkered down over the plan, leaning on his elbows.  “Here’s something labeled electrical room.”  He said. “I think.” 

“But are there any openings between the room and the lower basement?”  Kannan added, folding his long, slim arms over his chest. “I am thinking that will be the largest of the problems.  I do not think they will let us put a hole through the wall.”

Dar drummed her pencil against the plans. “I think we should relocate back to the office.” She said. “At least half of us anyway.  We can start figuring out what to do about the connection, while some people stay here and work on this end of it.”

“You really think these guys are going to do this?” Shaun asked, in a quizzical tone.  “I was talking to one of those Verizon techs.  He didn’t sound too enthusiastic.”

“I don’t know.” Dar answered honestly.  “But I do know if they do decide to come through, and we’re not ready for it, we’ll look like a bunch of jackasses. That’s not on my agenda for today.”

“Ah. Yeah.” Shaun blushed a little.  “Sorry.”

“Lo there Dardar.”  Andrew had slipped between the bus and the sat truck and came up next to her. “What’s the problem with them fellers?  All these people round here looking to help, and all they’re doing is push back.”

He stuck his hands in his pockets, and cocked his head.  “Don’t make no sense.”

“It doesn’t really.” Kannan agreed. “I don’ t understand it myself.” 

“You guys don’t understand, yeah, that’s right.” Scuzzy spoke up. “These guys, like the tunnels, and the buildings and everything, they’ve been these guys like, home plate, you know?”  She said.  “Like, my cousin, he’s a guy who works in the tunnels. His pop, he was a sandhog. You know what that was?”

“Fellers work underground.” Andrew supplied.

“Yeah, but here, that’s like, something special.” Scuzzy told them.  “This whole place, this whole city?  It’s built on what’s underground. So they take it real personal about all them spaces. “

Dar now folded her arms. “You know something?” She said, after the small space of silence that followed Scuzzy’s speech.   “I get it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” The ILS CIO said. “I get it, because our entire company is built on a foundation I laid.  I take that really personally also.” She said. “But right now, they need to either get their heads out of their asses and be part of the solution, or be the ones who are going to answer to the damn politicians when their banks wont’ open on Monday.  I’m not covering for them.”

Scuzzy nodded. “That’s pretty much what I told my cousin to tell those guys.” She said. “Cause you know what? They ain’t into seeing their pictures in the Times, you know?”

“Let’s hope so.”  Dar pulled a pad over and started to scribble on it. “So. Let’s see.”

“Ms. Roberts?” A strange voice broke in. 

Dar looked up, to find Charles somewhat timidly sticking his head around the corner of the bus. “Yes?”

He took that as permission to approach. “Listen, we’re having a meeting with the city and union folks.. would you mind stepping in and giving your view on the situation?” He asked. “There’s some skepticism as to what our goals are.”

Dar’s brows lifted slightly.

“Okay, they all think we’re nuts.” Charles amended hastily, after a lengthening silence.  “I’m not having much luck convincing them otherwise. I thought maybe you’d have a better chance at it.” He looked hopefully at Dar.  “Please?”

Dar let him wait for minute, then she shrugged and dropped her pencil. “Have it your way.” She said. “The rest of you folks – let’s get packed up to move back uptown.  I don’t care which lot of you stay here to work on the Exchange, sort it out among yourselves and be ready to head out when I get back.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Shaun said. “Will do.”

“Let’s go.” Dar gestured for Charles to precede her.  “I don’t know if I can talk any sense into them but I guarantee they won’t have any question about what our goals are when I’m done.” She glanced behind her as she felt a presence, not really surprised to find her father strolling along at her heels.

“Well, we’re sure not getting any help from the politicians on this one.” Charles shook his head as he walked quickly ahead of her.  “They want us to fix the problem, but they don’t want to help us do it.”

“Now.” Andrew mused. “Why is that, ah do wonder?”

“Maybe we can ask them that when I’m done with the rest of those guys.” Dar said.  “Should be an interesting answer.”

“Should be.”

**

Kerry washed down a handful of Advil with a swig of her water, then she set the bottle down and shaded her eyes, listening to the chatter on the bridge without looking at her screen.   Her cramps had returned with a  vengeance and she was glad all she  had to do was keep her ear glued to the activity and not do something more strenuous like move equipment around at the moment.

She knew there was a lot of activity going on around the bus. She could hear thumps and bangs, and voices through the thin aluminum walls, there was a flurry of coming and going through the bus’s three doors, and the rumble of the truck engines of their little caravan was rattling the window near her shoulder.

“Miami exec, this is Vancouver hub.”

“Go on.” Kerry kept her eyes closed.

“Okay, we’re finally back to normal traffic patterns.  We released the last bandwidth advance for the airport.” The Canadian hub reported. “Everyone’s rather chilling out we think.”

“Good to hear.” Kerry murmured.

“Miami, this is Houston ops.”

“Go ahead.”

“Miami, we’re running into some pretty big issues with new contracts that were due to start this week and early next.” A male voice answered. “We’ve been told pretty much not to expect any circuit acceptance or demarc changes I the foreseeable future.”

“In Houston?” Kerry’s brows knit.

“Anywhere.” The man answered.  “We were told all the line techs, for telco and power too, are being sent to New York to help out there, and anyway, some are going regardless because of all the work available.”

“We had the same issue in Washington believe it or not.” Kerry replied. “What is up with that? How many techs do they think they’re going ot need here? Its not that big an island. I realize there was a lot of damage done but there are only so many guys that can fit in a manhole.”

There was a bit of silence when she finished.

“Well, okay, but what are we supposed to tell all these clients?” The voice from Houston asked finally. “I’m running out of excuses.”

Kerry drummed the fingers of her free hand on the table.  “Yeah.” She said. “That’s a good question.  Rather than answer every one of our hundreds of thousands of customers, I think we should probably put out a note to everyone.”

“Miami exec, are they really serious, that no one is going to get connected until whenever?” Another voice asked. 

“Another good question. We have some of the head guys of the different companies around here, let me go round them up and see if I can find out.  It could be that a lot of the local companies are just putting everything on hold because they’re not sure what’s going to happen.”

“That would be great, Miami exec. “ Houston said.  “We sure could use the help, or at least, something we can tell all these people. We were supposed to bring thirty two branch offices of the local credit union here online, and the guy in charge there’s my wife’s brother in law.  He’s calling me every five minutes.”

“Gotcha.” Kerry reluctantly got to her feet.  “Okay, folks, I’m going offline for a few. I’ll try to get us some answers.”

“Hey Kerry?” Mariana broke in.  “Where are you guys?”

Kerry paused. “Battery Park.” She answered, finally.

‘How is it down there?” Mari asked. “I know we saw on the television, but…”

How was it. Kerry let the silence lengthen, as she tried to come up with an answer.  “Its like a nightmare.” She said.  “The wreckage up close.. it’s overwhelming.  The dust, is overwhelming. The smell is horrific. “

“Wow.”  The man from Houston murmured.

“We went underground, to see if we could see any of the cables and I could swear I heard all those souls screaming.” 

Now there was dead silence on the bridge.  Kerry took the moment to breathe, swallowing the lump that had come up in her throat.   “So anyway.” She continued, after the tightness relaxed. “Let me go see what I can find out from those telco guys. I’ll be back in shortly.”

She disconnected the mic and let it drop on her laptop, taking a moment to lock the screen before she eased wearily out from behind the desk and went to the panel door.  She opened it and went through, glad the interior of the bus was now quiet.

The floor of the bus shifted slightly, and she paused, then continued on towards the outer door hoping the motion was just some last loading and unloading  and not anything more ominous.   She cycled the door and went down the steps.

The haze in the air seemed to have gotten thicker.  Kerry wondered if it had, or if it was just her impression. Most of the sun was blocked out, and as she watched a layer of dust was settling on the table Dar had set up in the center of their technical encampment.

She felt the breeze blow into her face, and realized the wind had changed, and that accounted for the thicker air, and heavier dust.  “Crap.” She turned and went back into the bus, picking up the mask she’d left near the bar and adjusting it over her head.

It felt gritty, and uncomfortable. However, she tightened the straps and returned to the outdoors, turning her head to look around for the others she expected to find somewhere outside.

It was too quiet, though.  Kerry walked around the bus, then around the satellite trucks sitting silently aligned with it.  She opened the back door to trailer Mark had hauled, but it, too, was empty.  “Where in the hell is everyone?”

Past the truck she could see clusters of workers seated in the park,  their backs to the wind as they huddled over paper wrapped sandwiches.   Nearby, on a table she spotted three of the company coolers, and cups that were clutched in many hands, and then at last she could see one of the bus attendants heading back towards her. “Hey, Sharon!”

The attendant skewed her route and ended up next to Kerry. “Oh, hi, ma’am.  Did you need something? I was just giving those guys some of our sandwiches.  They really don’t have a lot of supplies down here yet.”

“Do you know where everyone else is?” Kerry asked. “And absolutely, give those guys whatever we’ve got. They look exhausted.”

“Well, you know I was just wondering that myself.”  Sharon said. “I was inside cleaning up and then I came out here, and everyone was gone. Maybe they went back to the site?” She glanced over her shoulder, then sneezed.

“You should have a mask on.” Kerry told her. “This air’s thick with who knows what.”

“I know.” Sharon said. “I’m going inside to get one now.  It just started to get bad again.  I got sidetracked listening to those men talk about that place. My God, Ms. Stuart.  They were here when it happened. One of those firemen said bodies were dropping out of the sky all over the place.”

Kerry grimaced. “Yeah.” She pulled out her PDA and opened it. “Well, let me find out where the gang is.  I thought we were trying to get out of here.”  She typed a quick message to Dar and sent it.  “Ah, here are some of the guys now.”

Shaun and Kannan were headed towards her, masks firmly settled on their heads and collars turned up on their jumpsuits. Kerry waited for them to come over, then she motioned them over to the bus and pointed on the other side of it. “Let’s get out of the wind.”

“Great idea.” Shaun said.

They followed her to the far side of the vehicle and pulled their masks off. “Ms. Stuart,  I am very apprehensive here.” Kannan said. “My brother has just called me, and has said there are many instances of people from my country being hurt here.”

“Here?” Kerry looked around. “What’s going on?”

“Everywhere.” Shaun said. “Jerks in pickups with guns shooting out convenience stores and some guy got gunned down on the street because he had a turban on. I heard it on the news.”

“What?”

“It’s true.” Kannan said.  “My family is very upset. They do not wish me to stay here.”

Kerry nodded. “Absolutely.” She said. “Where is your family? We’ll get you there.”  She felt her PDA buzz, and she opened it.  “Hang on.”

Hey Ker.

I’m in a meeting with the telecom people. Wasting my time mostly. What’s up?

DD

“Well, isn’t that handy.” Kerry muttered. “Hold on a second  guys, I need to ask Dar something.”

“No problem, Ms. Stuart.” Kannan said. “I am just glad to be back here, with our vehicles. I am going to go inside our camper there, and perhaps do some wiring while we wait.” He headed off towards the camper Mark had brought, not without glancing around carefully before he crossed between the bus and it.

“That totally sucks.” Shaun said.

“It does.” Kerry agreed. “Where’s his family? In Virginia?”

“Arizona, I think. That’s why they’re so freaked. One of the killings happened there.” Shaun informed her.  “So maybe his family should take off and go somewhere else, huh?”

“Could be.”  Kerry tapped into the PDA.  Good timing.  I was just on the wire with Houston, and we’re getting complaints from all around that we can’t get circuits completed. Can you find out if that’s a kneejerk one day thing, or if we’re in real trouble? Where are you? It’s getting creepy here. We should get out of this damn dust cloud.”

She hit enter.   “Where were you guys, with Dar?”

“No.” Shaun shook his head. “We were with some of the Verizon guys, trying to make friends with them. We were in one of the manholes a little bit away from here, just helping them out and stuff.”

“Did they say anything?”

Shaun shrugged. “They’re just linemen.” He said. “They’re.. I don’t know, it’s hard to figure them out. I think they’re pissed because of all the destruction, and all that, but they also were almost sort of jazzed because of all the OT they’d be making.”

“Welcome to humanity.” Kerry remarked dryly. “The one truly consistent trait of the species is self interest.  But if that’s the case, why are they pushing back so hard in helping us?  If they want OT, we’re sure offering a lot of it.”

“They aren’t.” Shaun shook his head. “They don’t’ give a squat about it, in fact, they thought the idea was sort of slick, to run a cable up the subway.   It’s their bosses who are being such a a PITA.”

“Uh huh.” Kerry mused. “I wonder why.”

“Maybe they want a payoff.” Shaun suggested. “I heard it was like that here.”

Kerry’s PDA buzzed. “Hang on.” She tapped the new message.

Charles is calling his head office.  He’ll  let me know.  These Verizon bastards won’t budge.

Kerry tapped her stylus on the edge of the PDA, then tapped a response.  Offer them a payoff. I was just talking to Shaun, and he said he talked to the linemen. They’re fine with running the cable.

The message came right back. You’re kidding me right?

No.  Kerry typed back.  It’s New York, Dar.

We’re a public company and I’m an officer of it, Ker.  Dar responded. I could get thrown in jail for that.

Kerry somehow doubted it. Then tell Alastair to do it. He’s there, right?  Dar, I love you but please don’t tell me ILS has never paid a bribe to get something pushed through.

ILS has. I haven’t.

Despite it all, it made Kerry smile.  Ruthless, smart, quick thinking, driven.. and yet, there was a line that Dar just wouldn’t cross.   It was a beautiful thing, really.  Okay. Just a thought.  I can’t really think of what else is holding their management layer back, if the line boys don’t care.  I thought it would be them, the union guys who would be balking.

Good point.  Dar responded.

“Hey, guys?” Kannan came running back out. “Did we fix it? Did Ms. Roberts do this already? I am amazed!”

“Huh?” Kerry’s head jerked up. “We haven’t done anything. Why?”

Kannan skidded to a halt, his thin face crumpling in confusion. “I have just heard, on CNN, that they have tested the systems successfully, for this Exchange?  Is that not what we were supposed to be helping  with?”

Kerry and Shaun exchanged deeply puzzled looks.  

Kerry opened her cell phone and dialed it.  “Are you sure?”

Kannan spread his arms out and lifted his hands slightly. “That is what the new said.  I am sure of that.”

The phone crackled, ringing once and then crackling again as it was answered. “Dar?”

“Yeah.” Dar’s voice sounded slightly muffled. “Hang on, I’m going outside.” She paused a moment. “Go ahead. What’s up?”

“Kannan just heard on CNN that they successfully tested the Exchange computers to work on Monday.  Are we doing this for nothing?” Kerry asked.

“Huh?” Dar said. “Ker, I’m in the Exchange. We’re in the technical center.  Trust me. Nothing’s being tested here.  They just lost power to the data center and there’s no AC. Nothing’s even turned on.” She said. “And listen, I do appreciate the suggestion before,  it’s just not my style.”

“I know hon.” Kerry said. “So if nothing’s working, what did they test?”

“The public trust?”  Dar asked. “I haven’t a clue.  Hang on, Alastair?  Kerry just said they announced on the news that they tested the Exchange systems and they were all good to go for Monday. You know what’s up? What? No? Okay.” Her voice got louder. “Ker, we don’t’ know squat here. I’ll try to find out.”

“Okay sweetie.” Kerry sighed. “I’ll do the same. Maybe I’ll call my mother.  Maybe she knows something.” She said. “It’s getting really cruddy here.  We moving out anytime soon?”

“Soon as I get back there.” Dar promised. “Hang in there, love.”

Kerry exhaled. “I’ll do my best.” She said.  “But do me a favor huh? Kick their asses and don’t hang around to take names.  We should get out of here. “

“Will do.” Dar said. “Talk to you shortly.”

She hung up the phone. “Dar says they’re not testing anything.” She told the techs. 

“So… the news was a lie?” Kannan asked.

Kerry shrugged a little.  “I don’t know.” She said. “I don’t really know what that’s all about.”  She indicated the trailor. “Let’s go see what else they say about it.”

“Weird.” Shaun said. “But hey, we’ve got oreos and milk in there.”  He said. “If you don’t’ mind paper cups.”

“Lead on.” Kerry found the thought of the familiarity of Oreos appealing.   “Let’s see what else they’re putting out on the news. Maybe aliens have landed. Who knows?”

**

“Look, what you’re asking is nuts.” The stocky man threw his hands up and let them drop.  “Lady, even you know it’s nuts.  Run a cable up to midtown? In the subway?  Where the hell you think we’re going to get the cable? Macy’s?”

Dar stared him down. “You’re a phone company. You don’t have cable? What the hell do you use then, tin cans and strings?”

“Not that much cable!” The man protested. “You know how much that stuff costs?”

‘Well, sir..” One of the other Verizon reps cleared his throat. “We got that cable.  In Jersey.”

The man whirled. “Shut the fuck up. Who asked you?”

“If you have the cable, why shut him up?” A tall man in a rumpled tie and suit spoke up from the back. “Why the stall?” He asked. “This isn’t some fucking game, buddy. “

The man from Verizon turned back to him. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Aide to the governor.” The man said. “Who maybe wants to know why someone’s holding up a critical promise of his.”

The man didn’t seem fazed. “Yeah? He can kiss my ass.  Him and his let’s squeeze the union bullshit.” He said. “I’m not putting my guys down those holes for you. I don’t give crap what you promised.”

Ah. Dar revised her opinion for the third time in less than five minutes.  At first she’d suspected Kerry was right, and the man was looking for a payoff. Then she’d decided he was probably really looking for an excuse not to have to bust his ass.

Now she figured he might just be an asshole with a grudge.   “Listen.” She brought the room’s attention back to herself by standing up.  “Let’s can the bullshit.  What’s at stake here is a lot bigger than any of us.  No one wants to be on CNN explaining why they deliberately harmed the nation.”

“Aw, c’mon with the crap already.” The Verizon man rolled his eyes.

“She’s right.” The governor’s aide said. “Matter of fact, I’m going to call the cops in and have your ass arrested. Maybe you’re in it with the terrorists. Sure sounds like it to me.”

“Would you shut up?” The man said. “You ain’t calling no one.   And you lady, even if we did have that stuff there’s no way we could lay it out in time.  It aint’ possible.”

The governor’s aide opened his phone and dialed.  “Hello?  Yes. Is this Agent Jackson? Yes, this is Michael Corish from the governor’s office.  Yes, thanks, I am. Listen, it’s come to my attention we could have someone here who might be of interest to you. Can you send a few boys over to the Exchange?”

Everyone looked at each other, then back at the aide.

“You will? Great. I’ll wait here for them. Thanks.” He closed the phone and regarded the man from Verizon. “Hope you like body cavity searches.”

The man’s jaw dropped a little. “What are you crazy? I’m not a terrorist!”

“Doesn’t matter.” The man said.  “You’re in the way, and I’m going to remove you.” He turned to the man who’d spilled the beans about the cable. “Now. You want to help us out here, or go with your friend?”

The man swallowed.

“You’re bluffing!” The other man said. 

“No.” The aide replied. “I just called yours.  Here we have a room full of people who all have one goal, which, is what our government wants. “ He gestured, taking in the other telco men, and Dar and her group. “They’re working hard to do what we need, and your stupid pigheadedness is blocking that.  You’re worthless.  We don’t need you.”

“Listen! Who do you think ya are, anyway?  My uncle…”

The door opened, and a man in dark, paramilitary looking clothing entered. “Mr. Corish?”

“Here.” The aide said. “It’s that fellow over there.  You might want to question him on his background.“

The agent nodded, and unclipped the strap on his sidearm. “Let’s go buddy. Don’t make any trouble for me.”  He advanced around the table, the rest of the crowd parting before him as the man from Verizon backed up against the wall.

“Hey!” The man said. “Wait.. I ddin’t do nothing!”

The agent grabbed his arm and swung him around, slamming him against the wall as he pulled a set of handcuffs from a case in the small of his back.  “Then you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?” He snapped the cuffs on and got him in a solid grip around one bicep.  “Thanks, sir. We’ll take it from here.”

“Thanks for coming so soon, officer. I, and of course the governor, really appreciate it.” Corish said. “Let me get the door for you.”   He smiled as the man was dragged out., then he slammed the door and looked around at the room.  “Where were we?”

“I’ll help.” The other Verizon man said quickly. “I know where we’ve got that cable.  But I’ll need someone to pull some strings for us to get it on a barge over here.”

“I think I can help you with that.” Corish said. “Let’s go outside and make a few calls.” He glanced around. “The rest of you better be ready to move once we get this accomplished. I don’t want any more excuses.”

He left, taking the chastened Verizon man with him, closing the door behind them both.

“Holy shit.” Scuzzy whispered.

Hamilton crossed his arms, looking as nonplussed as Dar had ever seen him.  He turned and looked at her and they both simultaneously shook their heads. “Well.” The lawyer said. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but now ah do understand in full that old Southern saying that goes something like.. ah do declare!”

Andrew had been sitting quietly in the corner, and now he snorted audibly.  “Mah neck of them Southern woods they said  “Somebitch!”

“I can’t believe that just happened.” Charles pushed back his chair from the table. 

Dar stood up. “Well, it did.” She veered towards the practical. “So that means you all need to get your line folks in here and get ready to hook up to one end of that damn cable.  We’ll go prepare the other end. “

Charles nodded slowly. “I’ll get my guys in here.  Roger, do you have a big router we can all use?  I don’t see much point in running separate links on this end if Dar’s just going to combine them on hers.”

The MCI rep opened his cell phone. “Let me see what they got on the truck. I think we do.” He said. “Sam, I’ve got  a service trunk going up to the roof, you want to tie your cell temps in there?”

The Sprint rep nodded. “We can do that. Yeah.” He said. “Tell you the truth, folks, I don’t much know what’s going on with the FBI and all that, but I’m glad we’re moving forward with this.  Sitting still and listening to people pissing on each other’s not my idea of a good time.”

“Mine either.” Dar agreed.  “Let me go pack up my crowd and get back up to midtown.  I’ve got three sat trucks, anyone need them? I’m reserving one for our technical office. I need to get them online for some critical backhaul.”

“I’ll take one.” Sam said. “I can use the back channel for the cell sites. I hear theyr’e going to start letting people back down here, at least on the east side, tomorrow or maybe Monday.”

“I’ll grab one for our business office.”  Roger said. “Thanks Dar. Any little bit helps.”

“Then we’ll take the third one off your hands. “ Charlie said.  “Even though we’ve got our tie lines up thanks to your generosity, we’d like to bring up a communications center we can work out of down here.”

“Great.” Dar said. “Now you can all do me a favor and get your operations groups to take the lid off completing new orders in the rest of the damn country.  You’re not going to need all those techs here.”

“We can.” Charles said. “But it’s not so much us, Dar. I talked to my ops VP before when you asked, and it’s the local LECS.  They won’t drop the last mile.  I’ve got a call into my counterpart at Qwest and Bellsouth, trying to see what’s going on. “

“I heard they’ll start releasing that on Monday.”  Roger spoke up.  “Everyone outside the Verizon area, anyway. “ He added. “So at least that’s probably good news.”

“If it’s true.” Charles said.

“Come on then.” Dar gestured to the door.  “Bring whoever you need to take them over.  I’d rather get moving before they come with some other request we have to find a way to support.” She waited for the men to walk ahead, then joined Alastair and her father as they followed behind. 

“Glad we’re going to end up getting somewhere from this.” Alastair said. “But I can’t say I’m enjoying the ride.”

“That was pretty scary.” Dar admitted. “I’m not sure what the rules are anymore.”

“I ain’t sure there are any.” Hamilton said. “Listen, Maestro, no one loves your ass kicking attitude any more than little old me, but I’m not sure even this Louisiana lawyer could dig  you out of the spook’s palace so do me a little old favor and keep a sock in it,  will ya please?”

Dar was silent for a moment, then she shook her head. “I’ll do my best.” She finally muttered.  “But this is getting down a dark road I’m not sure we want to be on.”

They emerged into the dust filled, overcast street, and pulled their masks on.  “I’m not sure we’ve got any choice left.” Alastair said.  “I thought we might get some good press out of it, but after what you told me about them giving that story about the systems being fine,  I’m not so sure.”

They walked down the street, passing firemen and other search workers trudging back in the opposite direction.  They got only cursory glances, as the exhausted men went back towards the disaster site, some holding small brown bags in their hands.

One looked up at Dar as he went past, his eyes briefly focusing on the logo patch on her jumpsuit.  He lifted the small bag and nodded at her. “Thanks.”

Dar had no idea what he was talking about. She lifted a hand and gave him a wave. “Anytime.” 

They moved on. “Alastair,  I’d be happy if we just get out of this here thing with our skins intact at this point.” Hamilton remarked, in a serious tone.  “We can write it all off as service rendered. The press may not know what we did, but they’re going to have to write one mean non disclosure if it’s going to keep us from telling the stockholders.”

“Well, that’s true. We do have to book the expense.”  Alastair said. “Anyway, I’m glad we’re moving back up to the office.  We can start a triage center for our accounts there. See what we can do for them while your team is getting the rest of this ready, Dar.”

Dar was merely looking forward to a shower and a cold drink, at this point.  “Sure.” She walked on, clearing her throat a little.   

The streets around them were covered in dust, as were the buildings, and the cars alongside either curb. But there were a few now that weren’t so covered,  and in two places it looked like emergency service organizations were setting up shop.

The strangeness was wearing off, she realized.  She was getting used to seeing this destruction, just like she was almost used to the rough cotton constriction of her jumpsuit, and the claustrophobic enclosure of the mask she was wearing.

The late afternoon sun could barely penetrate the cloud of smoke and dust, and as she walked, she had a sense they were moving through some strange otherworldly dreamscape, kicking up puffs of dust as they went along in quiet procession.

They had won the day. They were getting what they wanted.  Despite all that, Dar felt a sense of unease at how the achievement had been made.  Was the Verizon crew leader really in trouble? Or would the city just keep him out of the way long enough for them to get what they wanted?

He’d been removed so easily.   Dar exhaled, acknowledging that Hamilton’s advice had probably been very sound.  She had no desire to be in that guy’s shoes, despite the fact she felt he was just speaking his mind and heart regardless of what his real motives were.

What did that say about the situation?

“Ah. I think someone’s looking for you, Dar.” Alastair poked her.

Dar started out of her inner musings and looked up, to find a somewhat short, jumpsuited figure moving towards them out of the gloom.   Even in the coverall and mask, Kerry was immediately recognizable.  “I think you’re right.” 

Dar sped up her steps and eased between the others, watching Kerry’s path alter as she was, in turn, spotted.   She wondered if her partner had some new problem or whether she just..

Dar was betting on the just.  “Hey.” She greeted her as they neared.   She could see the pale green eyes watching her through the mask, and even through the two layers of plastic, she could also see the smile in them.

“Hey.” Kerry responded.  “There you are.”

“Looking for something?”  Dar’s brows lifted.

“You.”

“Ah.” Dar smiled and gave her a quick hug. “C’mon. We’re heading back to the bus.”  She indicated the crowd around them.  “We’re leaving the sat rigs.  We’re going to park one near our tech office, and give one to each of our friends here.  Then the bus, and us, are heading back to the office.”

“Did we make any progress?” Kerry willingly turned and kept up with her.

“Yes. But not the way I’d like to have.” Dar admitted.  “I  almost wish I’d taken your advice and got out the checkbook.”

“Really?” Kerry frowned.

“Really.  Let’s get to the bus, and I’ll tell you all about it.”  Dar glanced casually around. “I think it threw all of us for a loop.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“I’m not sure it is.” Dar put her arm around Kerr’s shoulders. “In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. There’s a lot more going on under the hood here than we know.”

“Ugh.” Kerry grunted. “Right now all I want under my hood is a cold beer and a shower.”

“I can make that happen.” Dar assured her.

“I bet you can.”

**

Continued in Part 19