Susan had no idea how much time had passed. A burning in her throat pulled her to her senses. Disoriented, she studied her surroundings. She was on a carpet behind a desk. The only light in the room was a strange orange flickering. The air smelled of burning plastic. The room she was standing in was not really a room at all; it was a devastated shell. The curtains were on fire, and the Plexiglas walls were smoldering.
Then she remembered it all.
In a rising panic, she pulled herself to her feet. The air felt caustic in her windpipe. She stumbled to the doorway looking for away out. As she crossed the threshold, her leg swung out over an abyss; she grabbed the door frame just in time. The catwalk had disappeared. Fifty feet below was a twisted collapse of steaming metal. Susan scanned the Crypto floor in horror. It was a sea of fire. The melted remains of three million silicon chips had erupted from TRANSLTR like lava. Thick, acrid smoke billowed upward. Susan knew the smell. Silicon smoke. Deadly poison.
Retreating into the remains of Strathmore’s office, she began to feel faint. Her throat burned. The entire place was filled with a fiery light. Crypto was dying. So will I, she thought.
For a moment, she considered the only possible exit‑Strathmore’s elevator. But she knew it was useless; the electronics never would have survived the blast.
But as Susan made her way through the thickening smoke, she recalled Hale’s words. The elevator runs on power from the main building! I’ve seen the schematics! Susan knew that was true. She also knew the entire shaft was encased in reinforced concrete.
The fumes swirled all around her. She stumbled through the smoke toward the elevator door. But when she got there, she saw that the elevator’s call button was dark. Susan jabbed fruitlessly at the darkened panel, then she fell to her knees and pounded on the door.
She stopped almost instantly. Something was whirring behind the doors. Startled, she looked up. It sounded like the carriage was right there! Susan stabbed at the button again. Again, a whirring behind the doors.
Suddenly she saw it.
The call button was not dead‑it had just been covered with black soot. It now glowed faintly beneath her smudged fingerprints.
With a surge of hope, she punched at the button. Over and over, something behind the doors engaged. She could hear the ventilation fan in the elevator car. The carriage is here! Why won’t the damn doors open?
Through the smoke she spied the tiny secondary keypad‑lettered buttons, A through Z. In a wave of despair, Susan remembered. The password.
The smoke was starting to curl in through the melted window frames. Again she banged on the elevator doors. They refused to open. The password! she thought. Strathmore never told me the password! Silicon smoke was now filling the office. Choking, Susan fell against the elevator in defeat. The ventilation fan was running just a few feet away. She lay there, dazed, gulping for air.
She closed her eyes, but again David’s voice woke her. Escape, Susan! Open the door! Escape! She opened her eyes expecting to see his face, those wild green eyes, that playful smile. But the letters A‑Z came into focus. The password . . . Susan stared at the letters on the keypad. She could barely keep them in focus. On the LED below the keypad, five empty spots awaited entry. A five‑character password, she thought. She instantly knew the odds: twenty‑six to the fifth power; 11,881,376 possible choices. At one guess every second, it would take nineteen weeks . . .
As Susan Fletcher lay choking on the floor beneath the keypad, the commander’s pathetic voice came to her. He was calling to her again. I love you Susan! I’ve always loved you! Susan! Susan! Susan . . .
She knew he was dead, and yet his voice was relentless. She heard her name over and over.
Susan . . . Susan . . .
Then, in a moment of chilling clarity, she knew.
Trembling weakly, she reached up to the keypad and typed the password.
S . . . U . . . S . . . A . . . N
An instant later, the doors slid open.