Susan reached for Commander Strathmore’s hand as he helped her up the ladder onto the Crypto floor. The image of Phil Chartrukian lying broken on the generators was burned into her mind. The thought of Hale hiding in the bowels of Crypto had left her dizzy. The truth was inescapable‑Hale had pushed Chartrukian.
Susan stumbled past the shadow of TRANSLTR back toward Crypto’s main exit‑the door she’d come through hours earlier. Her frantic punching on the unlit keypad did nothing to move the huge portal. She was trapped; Crypto was a prison. The dome sat like a satellite, 109 yards away from the main NSA structure, accessible only through the main portal. Since Crypto made its own power, the switchboard probably didn’t even know they were in trouble.
“The main power’s out,” Strathmore said, arriving behind her. “We’re on aux.”
The backup power supply in Crypto was designed so that TRANSLTR and its cooling systems took precedence over all other systems, including lights and doorways. That way an untimely power outage would not interrupt TRANSLTR during an important run. It also meant TRANSLTR would never run without its freon cooling system; in an uncooled enclosure, the heat generated by three million processors would rise to treacherous levels‑perhaps even igniting the silicon chips and resulting in a fiery meltdown. It was an image no one dared consider.
Susan fought to get her bearings. Her thoughts were consumed by the single image of the Sys‑Sec on the generators. She stabbed at the keypad again. Still no response. “Abort the run!” she demanded. Telling TRANSLTR to stop searching for the Digital Fortress pass‑key would shut down its circuits and free up enough backup power to get the doors working again.
“Easy, Susan,” Strathmore said, putting a steadying hand on her shoulder.
The commander’s reassuring touch lifted Susan from her daze. She suddenly remembered why she had been going to get him. She wheeled, “Commander! Greg Hale is North Dakota!”
There was a seemingly endless beat of silence in the dark. Finally Strathmore replied. His voice sounded more confused than shocked. “What are you talking about?”
“Hale . . .” Susan whispered. “He’s North Dakota.”
There was more silence as Strathmore pondered Susan’s words. “The tracer?” He seemed confused. “It fingered Hale?”
“The tracer isn’t back yet. Hale aborted it!”
Susan went on to explain how Hale had stopped her tracer and how she’d found E‑mail from Tankado in Hale’s account. Another long moment of silence followed. Strathmore shook his head in disbelief.
“There’s no way Greg Hale is Tankado’s insurance! It’s absurd! Tankado would never trust Hale.”
“Commander,” she said, “Hale sank us once before‑Skipjack. Tankado trusted him.”
Strathmore could not seem to find words.
“Abort TRANSLTR,” Susan begged him. “We’ve got North Dakota. Call building security. Let’s get out of here.”
Strathmore held up his hand requesting a moment to think.
Susan looked nervously in the direction of the trapdoor. The opening was just out of sight behind TRANSLTR, but the reddish glow spilled out over the black tile like fire on ice. Come on, call Security, Commander! Abort TRANSLTR! Get us out of here!
Suddenly Strathmore sprang to action. “Follow me,” he said. He strode toward the trapdoor.
“Commander! Hale is dangerous! He—”
But Strathmore disappeared into the dark. Susan hurried to follow his silhouette. The commander circled around TRANSLTR and arrived over the opening in the floor. He peered into the swirling, steaming pit. Silently he looked around the darkened Crypto floor. Then he bent down and heaved the heavy trapdoor. It swung in a low arc. When he let go, it slammed shut with a deadening thud. Crypto was once again a silent, blackened cave. It appeared North Dakota was trapped.
Strathmore knelt down. He turned the heavy butterfly lock. It spun into place. The sublevels were sealed.
Neither he nor Susan heard the faint steps in the direction of Node 3.