Azula: The Prisoner
The Poor Man's Dream
Azula took a long walk in the late evening. She had noticed Number 24 had timed her walks in the morning to coincide with Azula's and Azula needed time during her walks to think. Azula walked up the bell tower and looked out over the sea on a perfectly clear evening. She looked at the beach and saw a corpse lying in the sand.
"How could they miss that?" Azula walked down the staircase and walked along the beach. "Number 8?"
He had no pulse and Azula realized he had passed away only a short while ago. She looked up at the bell tower and wondered if he had jumped. Number 8 held a position as a computer programmer which meant little to Azula but he did have access to the restricted places in the Village. She rummaged through his clothes and found a wallet with identification – she took that. She took his identification button and then left the beach. She could hear the sirens of ambulances in the distance.
Azula walked home taking a route she knew contained surveillance – an alibi if she needed it. She returned home and kept the items hidden in her clothes. Azula had met and come to know Number 8 – as well as anyone did in this place. His suicide didn't surprise her but at some level she found it sad for Number 8 struck her as a kind and timid soul but not troubled. He avoided conflict obeyed his masters which should have meant a trouble free sentence.
She would never know why he jumped off the bell tower since the Village never explained these matters. Obituaries if printed explained nothing. As she prepared for bed she wondered if they had finally broken him or if he had simply grown weary of the endless oppression and of holding the secrets of his masters.
Number 8 had a badge with a number and the Village logo. She held it up to the light and found a circuit board of some kind inside it. She had not had the time to examine the other items. Like any Villager he had a punch card for work credits and a silver box about the size of a deck of cards with small hones on the slender top edge. The front had a screen which lit up when Azula placed Number 8's badge next to it.
"Village Security." The screen lit up with the text in the same font used elsewhere. Azula touched the screen half by accident and half because she found such a finely machined thing fascinating.
"I do not regret this journey. I took risks." The text scrolled. "I knew I took them. Things have come out against me. I have no cause for complaint."
"Operation Barbarossa." The screen text changed. "It is as if the whole nation has litfed up and tilted to the east and everything that could move rolled toward the Urals. A mass movement of men and materials that in the end would save Russia."
The next window exploded in a dizzying flurry of hexadecimal text then the window went out. Azula thought quickly. She had something they would kill for and she had no insight into its nature. She didn't understand how most of the things she used actually operated. The Village minders had powerful technology but they understood too well the potential it had if it fell into the wrong hands and so restricted access to computers. The Village only let trusted agents work with their systems. Azula had only heard them and used them indirectly in the form of information kiosks and the phone system. She had no idea what one would look like.
* * *
"Number 18!" The New Number 2 bellowed out over the room under the Green Dome. "How could nothing be found on the body!"
"Number 8 fell from the bell tower." Number 18 stood behind the Penny Farthing bicycle that stood in the room. "He had only his clothes. He didn't even leave a suicide note. It is all very odd so we're looking into it."
"His apartment then!?" Number 2 had short black hair and a mustache and a look of serious worry on his face. "Number 8 had a personal computer – have the computer people go over the apartment, find the computer and go over every inch of the hard drive."
"Number 8 had a great many personal frailties and a timid nature but suicide did not count as one of them." Number 18 had her hands pressed behind her back. "Nothing in his file indicated suicidal tendencies or depression."
"He had great ingenuity and cunning." Number 2 spoke softly and angrily. "He knew we could reach him only in life but once he died he removed himself from our purview."
"We found nothing in his apartment." Number 18 added. "We spent the better part of the night turning the place over and the mystery deepened. We have started interviewing the people he worked with and knew in the Village."
"We break some people." Number 2 leaned back in his chair. "An unpleasant reality of the work we have to do here."
Number 18 walked out of the room with nothing to say.
Number 2 had given her orders and she left the Green Dome and walked toward the Town Hall. The Village information processing center lay in underground passages beneath it. She fetched some guards and the senior computer technician and then as a group they went to Number 8's apartment.
Azula knew how to pull deceptions. She tailed Number 18 and her posse by watching them closely from the cafeteria. She regularly had tea there in the mornings and so nothing would appear suspect. She had plans to take her regular walk to the bell tower but she expected to have herself turned back by the guards.
Azula walked to the bell tower and found herself turned back by four guards and yellow police tape. As she expected they told her nothing and insisted that she leave.
* * *
"You knocked?" Azula spoke to Number 18 who stood at the door to Azula's flat. "The Village staff take a course in manners?"
"I have come to ask you a few questions about the late Number 8." Number 18 grew tired of standing in the midday sun and pushed past Azula.
"Late?" Azula curled her eyebrows. "As in dead and not the sense of a casual attitude toward punctuality?"
"He jumped from the bell tower sometime last night." Number 18 pulled at her sleeve and held a clipboard as if hoping to take notes.
"I will only make enough tea for two." Azula answered wryly and in somewhat bad taste.
"We are investigating." Number 18 spoke softly.
"A suicide in this place and you investigate?" Azula laughed as she washed out the tea pot. The speaker blared the blank muzak version of All You Need is Love in an ironic and shocking show of disrespect for the late John Lennon. "In our little happy collective? I find that astonishing."
"Must you cover everything in a veneer of sarcasm." Number 18 stood in the living room. "A poor tormented soul flings himself from a building and we wish to understand why."
"Poor tormented souls do that." Azula placed the kettle on the gas ring to boil. "Why ask me questions? I remain Number 9. I have no name; I am a number. I don't exist. Number 8 no longer exists either."
"Did he ever talk to you about personal matters?" Number 18 held a pen to a clipboard.
"He had the character of a cucumber." Azula sneered. "No he didn't or I didn't pay attention. He never mentioned any plans to hurl himself to his death."
"Very well." Number 18 placed the pen behind her ear. "I will leave my card if you recall anything."
Azula breathed a sigh of relief as Number 18 left the apartment as she felt the items in her pocket. Number 8 had access to the highest level of technology in the Village and Azula had on her person something she knew played a key role in solving the mystery of why Number 8 died. She sat on her couch and mulled things over in her mind. She felt certain Number 8 would not have committed suicide which left an accident or murder. Azula remembered finding the body face down in the sand but why hadn't the Village observers picked that up on their monitors. They had the ability to see at night and they knew when she visited the bell tower.
Who had murdered Number 8?
* * *
"Number 8 didn't commit suicide." Azula walked into Number 18's office. The receptionist allowed her to pass after she produced the business card and Number 18 agreed to see her for a few moments. "Someone murdered him."
"Have you any proof?" Number 18 said in a hushed voice.
"No." Azula said flatly.
"You have never had any concern for human life before." Number 18 looked at Azula from across her large metal desk.
"True." Azula pulled on the brass cord that turned Number 18's green banker's desk light on and off. "What if I'm right? You have a murderer preying on people in the Village."
"I doubt that Number 9." Number 18 pulled the desk lamp back to her side of the desk.
"Someone above reproach?" Azula sneered slightly.
"We have a active investigation." Number 18 pointed to the door. "You may leave now."
"You haven't found anything yet." Azula made the strange Village salute with her thumb and forefinger over her eye as she left the office.. "Be seeing you."
Azula took a walk around the Village. She walked past a gardener caring for a flower bed of marigolds. Someone had planned a Beatles Muzak retrospective on the Village public address system and Back in the USSR played over the village but with a distinct Disco feel to it. She hated the music in the Village and even the Village Band managed to make a mockery of all the best serious music – they did take requests which provided one virtue over the public address system in the village.
"Come with us Number 9." The leader of four guards spoke in a commanding tone as Azula walked past the bandstand. All four piled out of one of Village vehicles that looked like a smaller version of a military jeep and prepared to grab her off the street. He had his billy club out and he wore the look of a man who meant to take her kicking and screaming if needed. She knew the guards had little training and consisted of nothing more than thugs who hid behind their drab gray uniforms and metal masks to incite terror in the Villagers.
"Why?" Azula continued to walk.
"Number 18 wishes to visit with you at the Hospital." The guard replied.
"About what? I have no health issues." Azula ducked as the guard tried to deliver a blow to the back of her head with the club. She jumped back quickly as the other three rushed her but none of them could match her speed. The head guard rushed her and got a fast kick to the side of the head for his effort. He dropped to the ground unconscious.
"I think we can go to the hospital now." Azula climbed into the small electric car, squealed the tires and found the switch that turned on the siren as she rushed to the hospital. "Be seeing you."
"Stop!" Number 18 stood on the road in front of the Hospital. She wore a dark blue gas mask and a strange silver device that looked akin to the kind of sprayer Azula had seen the gardeners around the Village use to spray for bugs. Azula swerved to miss her and Number 18 let loose a pale blue cloud of gas. Azula jumped and the white jeep rolled over then came to a rest upside down. She coughed as she collapsed on the ground, conscious, numbed and feeling as if she had endured one of Ty Lee's chi blocking attacks.
"Take her to Adjustment!" Number 18 yelled and four burly Hospital issue male nurses in black rubber gas masks and hospital green colored vests came out and picked her up.
"You will never learn Number 9!" Number 18 pulled off her gas mask and placed the sprayer on the reception desk. "We never fail."
"I thought no one ever escaped." Azula could not feel her extremities and the gas made her throat sore. "Which slogan appears on the tourist brochures?"
The nurses placed her on a high bed on a chrome frame in a small room painted in light pink with a large screen at the foot end of her bed. They must have received briefing as they tied Azula down with thick black strapping under Number 18's keen supervision.
The screen lit up. The Village logo popped into view and then the screen went blank for a moment and a window appeared prompting for a password. Number 18 shooed all of the burly nurses out of the room and then Azula heard clicking as Number 18 typed a password at a desk just below the large screen.
"You have the Keyring Number 9?" Number 18 turned to Azula and then began to search her. Azula felt angry and violated but could only cough in protest. Number 18 found the small silver box Azula had found on the body and held it up.
"The Keyring?" Azula wanted to get up but none of her muscles would obey.
"Number 8 had access to the Village computer systems and information is power – as they say Wissen ist Macht." Number 18 stated blandly. "You have good hunches Number 9."
"I was with you up until the word 'you'." Azula wanted to turn to throw up.
"Number 8 had a plan." Number 18 continued typing. "He knew that information could get him out of this place and had a plan that would allow him to gain his freedom. The silver box you carried around on your person contains the key to this plan and I intend to use it."
"He was murdered." Azula creaked. "By you!"
"No." Number 18 worked at the computer. "He died of a medical accident while in the Hospital. He told me of his plan and the nature of this silver box before he died. I staged his suicide to cover his tracks but you interfered! You had to interfere and steal the Keyring before I had time to find it and use it to escape!"
"Number 8 had a social conscience." Azula hissed. "I regard it as a weakness but I know he wouldn't have made such self serving plans."
"He is dead and won't be coming back and so I intend to take advantage of his work." Number 18 hooked a wire into the device. "I can use you and this little box of information as a means to bargain for my freedom."
"I don't understand." Azula's voice broke.
"Listen to me!" Number 18 stammered. "This box contains the means of escaping this place. Too bad it fell into the hands of a Luddite like you."
"And you think they will let you be on your merry way knowing what you know?" Number 9 made it sound as if she found Number 18 to be an idiot. "I have never met a such a naïve murderer before."
"I will download all of the data in this thing to the Village mainframe." Number 18 had a window up on the screen and hexadecimal code flashed through it. "I brought you here so I could do some mental adjustment on you."
"Should I prepare for the end of my life?" Azula felt movement and feeling return to her body.
"You won't remember any of this." Number 18 turned around and fingered her Katara style braid. "In the Adjustment Room I can do some minor mental reprogramming of you. You will not remember anything that took place here."
"My life has recently taken a dead cat bounce." Azula rolled her eyes.
"If you help me escape then I might be in the position to help you." Number 18's blue eyes raged. "Does that motivate you?"
"It almost captures my interest." Azula sneered and didn't believe a single word out of Number 18's mouth.
"All I will do is implant a little suggestion in that royal head of yours and when I need to I will trigger it and you will reveal to Number 2 where to find Number 8's files." Number 18 placed the silver box back into Azula's pockets. She turned to a desk and took out a glass vial and a hypodermic. "The rest would be telling."
"And what do you plan to do with that?" Azula's amber eyes showed a little fear.
"You will wake up tomorrow morning feeling fresh and ready for the struggle ahead." Number 18 almost seemed to coo.
Azula had lost count of the number of invasive medical procedures she had undergone in the past few months. The light over the bed began flashing on and off and she felt herself spinning as if on a carnival ride. A warmth enveloped her body and she lost awareness in a blur of pink light.
* * *
"Good Morning! Good Morning!" Azula heard the speaker come on. She trudged into the kitchen in her night robe. She could not recall anything of the meeting with Number 18 yesterday afternoon. Azula yawned as she went through the automatic ritual of placing the speaker in the fridge and setting the kettle on the stove. In a sudden burst of awareness she rushed back to her closet and checked her clothing for the silver box.
"I still have it." Azula mumbled under her breath in relief as she felt the silver box still in her clothes. She went back to the kitchen to attend to her tea. The front door buzzed and opened and Number 2 stepped through.
"Long Fe-?" Azula looked at the man standing in her living room.
"No names are used Number 9." Number 2 growled. "We have some things to discuss."
"The weather looks partly cloudy with a chance of showers during the day." Azula answered sarcastically.
"Let me introduce myself. I am your New Number 2." Number 2 stood and glared at Azula. "Why did you fail as Fire Lord?"
"I received a few good reviews." Azula smiled as she placed her teapot next to the stove.
"I have acted rudely. The recent death of Number 8?" Number 2 studied Azula for anything that gave her feelings away. "Anyhow we have misplaced something of great importance to us so we have decided to search the homes of the Villagers. I decided to conduct the search myself."
Azula grew cold as Number 2 walked confidently past her.
"I just woke up." Azula poured out her tea. "Can I at least clean up and make myself decent – the place is a mess."
"I won't take long." Number 2 inspected the shelves, the bucket that held umbrellas and pushed Azula gently out of the way as he opened the cupboards and inspected the kitchen. He slowly moved to the washroom and then the bedroom.
"You have a nasty habit Number 9." Number 2 returned with a silver case. "Russian cigarettes – 5 Work Units."
"I have a good deal to deal with." Azula unclenched her toes. Number 2 dropped the cigarette case on the counter next to Azula.
"Be seeing you." Number 2 gave the Village salute and left out the front door. Azula sighed as the door closed and drank her tea wondering to herself what had just taken place. The doctor looked like Katara and this made Azula trust her. Katara proved a worthy adversary but she had no reputation for subterfuge. Number 18 had played on this for she knew all of Azula's past.
Azula had the growing desire to choke the good doctor to death. She went into her bedroom and found that Number 2 had completely searched it in only a short period of time. The maid would earn her pay on this day. Azula could not quit berating herself for allowing herself to fall for such deception and she smacked her night stand.
She marched back in the kitchen, sat on the floor and broke the cigarettes in two one at a time and dumped them in the waste basket.
* * *
"I want a full report on Number 9." Number 2 leaned back in his chair as he spoke to Number 18. The portly Number 74 and another fat computer programmer with a mop of brown hair rushed in with a armfuls of printed pages and almost knocked over the Butler. The two men gasped for breath and then took in a deep breath.
"How do you explain this intrusion Number 74 and...?" Number 2 asked sternly.
"Number 57 – Sir!" Number 57 looked too young to be a member of the Village and he showed it in his eager looking face. "We have another mystery"
"Explain?" Number 2 remained motionless.
"We have noticed some anomalies in our computer logs." Number 74 began. "Someone accessed the Village Mainframe but we have no record of the data or which terminal they used."
"In due time you will make this all clear to me?" Number 2 said in a sinister voice. Number 18 stood back and looked nervous as the two men shuffled paper. The Butler handed her a cup of tea.
"For a few minutes we had someone access the mainframe computer and dump a huge amount of data into it." Number 74 wheezed as he rifled through the papers. "The system almost crashed because as far as the logs show we had someone access from every terminal in the Village at the same time and push a huge file through our systems."
"I am not enamored with your cleverness – get to the point!" Number 2 growled.
"Have a look." Number 74 handed Number 2 a small stapled document. "Please indulge us."
"I am." Number 2 knitted his fingers together and flipped through the pages.
"We can't find the data." Number 74 pointed to Number 57 who pressed a button and twisted dials on the video signal oscilloscope. "Someone shoved a 250 gigabyte file through our systems and we can't find it!"
"May I continue my work please?" Number 18 asked quietly as she sipped her tea.
"Certainly." Number 2 shifted in his chair. "Be seeing you."
Number 18 placed the half empty cup of tea on the Butler's cart and left in a hurry.
"Our logs clearly record the transaction and the addresses." Number 57 added earnestly. "We can eliminate the terminals in the Mainframe room but that leaves dozens of other terminals."
"Can't we review the security camera recordings?" Number 2 breathed out in frustration and pointed to an image of an aerial view of the Village band playing.
"No we can't." Number 74 wiped his brow. "Our computers use Linux and the person who did this knew how to set our computers to single user mode so only his task got computing time. The Security Daemon went to sleep and stopped recording during the time the hacker was active."
"Spare me the technical description and simply tell me if you can obtain access to the file" Number 2 stood up. "Or have you bothered me with so much technobabble merely to show off?"
"We toned down the technobabble to make it simple." Number 57 said and instantly regretted it when Number 2 gave him a deathly cold look.
"We can't as yet." Number 74 shut down the gear. "The file exists. We know that because the operating system logs record allocating that extra space for something. We have the logs that report the amount of data transferred. We simply can't find it."
"Number 8 worked on Cyphers, Codes and Encryption. He came here to revise Village Computer Security in the event of certain contingencies. " Number 2 stood up with his hands behind his back. "Don't you think you should begin your search by examining his accounts!? In a real investigation we look for clues to help us figure things out. Find them!"
* * *
"Our enemies have begun to make progress." Number 18 found Azula in the General Store looking over a selection of tea.
"Number 2 searched my flat." Azula snorted. "You people have such harsh methods – you have much to teach me."
"Follow me." Number 18 ordered.
"Why have you taken me for a stroll" Azula asked as they began to wander past the fountain and wading pool called The Free Sea and toward the woods at the edge of the Village. "Give the maids time to fix up my place after Number 2 tore it apart?"
"You are an infuriating person."
"You hardly qualify as the standard for well adjusted." Azula replied. "Why did you kill Number 8?"
"Quiet." Number 18 hushed Azula by placing a hand over her mouth. She had adjusted her in order to help with her escape and had thought of adjusting her to tone down her sharp wit. She didn't because she feared any change in Azula's behavior would make Number 2 suspect something amiss. Number 18 regretted that decision now since Azula had figured much of the puzzle out and the only thing protecting Number 18 amounted to the fact Azula knew little about computers.
"You knew I took his gear." Azula spoke in a whisper. "How could you know the box existed unless you saw it or Number 8 told you!?"
"Alright!" Number 18 grabbed Azula brutally around the collar and shook her. "He did not wish to continue living and I helped him find peace. How come you chose now to speak up."
"You knew of the device and its function." Azula answered calmly. "You said I would have a fresh mind. Number 2 reminded me of a person I once knew – right down to his personality. He didn't strike me as the kind of person to dirty his hands with murder – he has minions. You killed Number 8 – probably with drugs. You placed him under the bell tower when you saw me enter it. Why? Because you knew my habits and can predict my moves."
"Very well." Number 18 let go of Azula after pushing her into a large maple tree. "I still have control of you. Who would they believe? A respected doctor or the deranged Princess of the Fire Nation?"
Azula clenched her fists and glared at Number 18 for a moment.
"I seldom see that look anymore Number 9." Number 18 said slyly.
"Coward!" Azula hissed.
"Moral degenerate!" Number 18 answered back.
"You don't have everything you need from me." Azula stood with her back to the tree.
"I have what I need." Number 18 breathed out. "Have you seen the work we do at the Hospital?"
"Indeed I have." Azula crossed her arms.
"You have seen only what we have shown you." Number 18 growled.
"You want to shut me up?" Azula began to walk away.
"Shut up and behave." Number 18 grabbed Azula by the shoulder and swung her around. "Or I will alter you in a way that makes your life a living nightmare."
"My life is a living nightmare." Azula grabbed Number 18's hand and removed it from her shoulders.
"You hate men - correct?" Number 18's blue eyes turned gray as the sky darkened as a the dark cloud of a rain shower began to pass over the Village. "I could fill your mind with an endless desire for their company."
* * *
"I hate men!" Azula growled as she climbed up a trellis overgrown with ivy as the vines and abrasive stucco cut into her hands. She planned to break into Number 8's apartment and had waited until twilight to make the attempt. She hoped the daytime surveillance cameras could not make out as much detail and the night vision systems could not function properly during the light of sunset. She had no idea if this idea made any sense but she had made gambits on the basis of less in combat and in Pai Sho.
She looked in the kitchen window of Number 8's second floor flat. She pushed against the window and nothing happened: it was locked. She had a plan for this which involved throwing a rock through it. She looked around and someone with a muscular grip grabbed her and dragged her inside the kitchen.
"Don't do stupid things." Number 24 admonished. "They will hear you."
"How did you get in?" Azula stood up and brushed herself off.
"Someone left the front door open." Number 24 shrugged. "Or someone defeated it so it wouldn't lock."
"I can barely see anything." The kitchen had a dark oak plank floor, walnut cabinets and a rough timber look that hinted at a Scandinavian interior decorator.
"Oh dear." Number 24 said sarcastically.
"Was Number 8 from some off the beaten path place in the Earth Kingdom?" Azula wished she could fire bend in the dank kitchen.
"Finland." Number 24 explained. "The country produces hockey players, computer programmers and bathroom tissue."
"Will I be quizzed on this?" Azula walked into the equally dank living room.
"I came to know Number 8 as a friend." Number 24 looked down. "I want to find out why he died and no one will tell me."
"They say he killed himself." Azula began to look around the room.
"I don't believe it." Number 24 tapped her feet on the floor.
"What made you come back here?" Azula tapped the walls.
"I have no answers." Number 24 sifted through a desk. "And I saw this idiot climbing up the outside of the building in plain sight."
"Oh that." Azula felt a bit insulted.
"If I know my walls I have found something behind the desk." Number 24 grabbed Azula's arm and ran back with her.
* * *
"You don't mean to let them roam around Number 8's apartment?" Number 74 said to Number 2 as Number 2 enjoyed his dinner of ham and eggs. "We have searched it."
"Sometimes you must watch Number 9 in the wild." Number 2 sipped on a mug of strong coffee. "I suspected she had the Keyring and intended to use it to bargain in some way with us. I searched her apartment and found nothing but she could have hidden it in the Village. I know now she doesn't have it."
A large high definition video image projected onto the wall above the bicycle showed a detailed image of Number 24 and Azula struggling to slide the desk to one side. The image had a horrid green glow to it but showed great detail and Number 2 watched it earnestly.
The two girls found a place in the wall behind the desk where the plaster showed signs of a rough repair. Azula ran her hands around it and found a square about a foot across. Number 24 gave it a swift kick and the plaster gave away and revealed a compartment carved into the stone wall. Azula found a small black laptop computer, a small identity disk, a marker pen and a plastic container that contained silver shiny disks about the size of a saucer.
"Now how did we miss that?" Number 2 placed his mug of coffee down on the metal circular table that stood between him and the circular raised platform that surrounded his workspace. "I wonder what the laptop and the DVDs contain?"
Azula placed all of the items on the desk and looked pensively over her shoulder. Number 24 appeared more relaxed but she listened earnestly for anyone approaching. Number 2 pressed a button and the camera angle changed. He could see the bright display and read the text as it scrolled by. He zoomed in on the laptop screen to gain a detailed view.
"Standard Village issue laptop." Number 74 stood next to Number 2's chair. "Standard Village Linux – so far nothing unusual."
* * *
"What happened?" Number 24 asked as she stood next to Azula.
"System Backup?" Azula scratched her forehead. "Insert a blank DVD and press Enter to begin?"
"What's a DVD?" Number 24 shrugged.
"The label on this circular box says DVD-R." Azula struggled for a moment and then the box popped open. She had enough mechanical acumen to find a drive on the side of the laptop and she pressed a button. The door slid open and she took the disk and inserted it label side down and slid the door closed. The tray popped open and Azula growled. She looked at the box which had the words Insert Label Side Up and she smacked her forehead. She closed the tray and the text read 'Now Backing Up Data'.
"Do you have any idea what you have just done?" Number 24 peered at the screen. "I can hear whirring noises."
"No." Azula said honestly. "I just hope this will help me."
"Never mind Number 24." Azula watched the computer and changed disks. Number 8 had written the program for someone with no computer skills as it even told Azula to place a number on each disk. "Keep an eye out for anyone."
"I am blind." Number 24 reminded Azula.
"You know what I mean." Azula heard the drive click and placed another blank disk on the spindle.
"What do we do when we've finished here?" Number 24 asked quietly.
"I wish I knew." Azula sounded quiet and tired. She had a hunch that Number 2 sat in the Green Dome and watched as she worked on the computer but she had a hunch this would help protect her from Number 18. She looked at Number 24 and realized the young teenager could run afoul of Number 18 and she felt tired as she realized she had a duty to help her as well. "I think we will find out soon enough."
* * *
"Number 18?" Number 2 pressed a button on the console when Number 18 announced herself at the door of the Green Dome. The image of the apartment vanished and a night vision image of the Town Hall replaced it. Number 2 turned around in his chair and pressed the button on his control console to open the sliding doors. "What brings you around this fine evening."
"We need to discuss Number 8." Number 18 held out a brick colored file folder.
"Number 74 – please." Number 2 motioned for him to leave. "We will discuss this later."
Number 74 nodded and left quickly.
"Care for some coffee?" Number 2 pointed to the Butler who had a carafe and light gray mugs on his cart.
"This will not wait." Number 8 placed the file on the desk and opened it. The silver palmtop computer lay inside it.
"What about Number 9?" Number 2 relaxed in his chair. "I seem to recall asking for an updated report on her."
"I have the Keyring." Number 18 picked up the device and held it in her hand. "Do you know what a BRB is?"
"You will tell me?" Number 2 smiled grimly.
"It means Big Red Button." Number 18 held onto the silver box. "In the early history of computers many years ago when only a few dozen computers existed they knew very little about building large scale systems."
"We have all seen those machines in Beatles Era movies but please continue." Number 2 crossed his legs.
"Sometimes the machines would freeze and no one could regain control." Number 18 walked around the platform that surrounded the sunken work area of Number 2. "Some machines had an emergency means of pulling the plug - The Big Red Button. It lay on the main power lines into the computer and if a technician pressed it an explosive charge sent a blade through the power lines and cut the power."
"Very well." Number 2 glared at Number 18.
"I hold in my hands the software equivalent of that Big Red Button." Number 18 held the box. "Number 8 created the program to protect the Village in case of an enemy attack. He could load it on the mainframe computers and using this little palmtop activate it and it would wipe out everything on the computer systems that run this pretty gulag. Our enemies would find nothing of use – an electronic scorched earth policy."
"As the Russians did in advance of the German troops." Number 2 answered. "As far as we knew he never completed the program."
"He did." Number 18 laughed. "He had the completed version on this little box."
"I see." Number 2 did not move. "What do you want?"
"Out." Number 18 shouted. "Away from here and back to the life your thugs took from me."
"We will find you and kill you for your crimes." Number 2 assured Number 18. "You will never feel safe again."
"A helicopter out of this place or I send the command through your wireless networks and run the program. This box can send a signal from anywhere in the world and send I t to the Village mainframe. Even when I am gone I have insurance." Number 18 shrieked. "I take down everything you rely on and it will take you years to rebuild the Village."
* * *
"What in the world?" Azula looked at the laptop. "Backup complete. What do we do now?"
"Number 8 will tell us." Number 24 said with a shaky voice.
"That worries me deeply. I never took instructions from the dead before." Azula stared at the laptop.
"No one has taken notice but curfew is in ten minutes." Number 24 said as she heard the announcement over the Village public address system.
"Please take me to the Town Hall. Bring Number 8's badge." The laptop screen displayed the words in a window on a red background. "Go now!"
"Oh crap." Azula grabbed the laptop, the DVD box, the badge and Number 24's hand.
"What?" Number 24 protested. "You're hurting my hand."
"We have to go to the Town Hall!" Azula shouted as she opened the front door and ran down the stairs nearly running down an elderly woman out for a walk.
"It won't let us in!" Number 24 protested as she ran with Azula.
"I have tangled with it before. Believe me I know." Azula puffed away. They stood in front of the Spanish arches of the Town Hall. She opened the laptop and the screen had changed.
"Go in. It will let you in tonight." The screen read.
"I have begun to truly hate this dead man." Azula walked forward between an arched doorway and made it in. Number 24 hesitated but for some reason she had no problem.
"Now what?" Number 24 asked.
"We have a map – follow it?" Azula saw the screen had changed into a map display of the Town Hall and the various underground passages beneath it. They ran past the main counter, a place called the Council Chamber and followed the map down the dimly lit hallway of the Town Hall expecting to find guards but instead they came up against a metal door at the long end of the long dimly lit hallway. It slid open obediently for them.
"A door opens in this place and I enter. I must have gone insane" A brightly lit landing with gray linoleum led to a stairwell that went below ground. Azula checked the laptop for further instructions as the door slid shut behind her and Number 24.
* * *
"Shall I send for a pilot and a helicopter?" Number 2 looked at Number 18 anxiously.
"Is it ten minutes to curfew?" Number 18 held onto the box.
"Indeed." Number 2 nodded.
"Send for the chopper." Number 18 motioned to Number 2.
Number 2 pressed a button.
"A helicopter to the landing pad." Number 2 announced.
"Follow me." Number 18 motioned with her hand.
"A hostage?" Number 2 walked up the ramp toward the door.
"Not at all." Number 18 held out the box. "Insurance and a guard."
The strange pair entered into the cool night air and heard the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds sung by the Beatles. Number 18 wore a sly smile as she walked along the path with Number 2. She could hear the helicopter and then it came into view on the grass pad used for the helicopters lit up and the machine landed.
* * *
"You can't come in here!" Number 74 yelled out as if he had real authority. They thought the door safely locked but Azula and Number 24 walked straight in. Azula handed the laptop and disks to Number 24.
"How do you like your pain!?" Azula kicked the fat programmer out of her way then with a swift martial arts strike to his face, broke his nose and knocked him out. This insured Number 57's compliance as he remained sitting at his desk behind huge LCD monitors.
Azula took a look around the room. The room had dim fluorescent lighting, soundproof ceiling tiles, ugly gray carpet and on one side a huge bank of hulking black steel fridge like machines with banks of blinking blue and red lights. She watched Number 57 as she examined the wall and found a keyed steel door about the size of a small kitchen cabinet.
"You!" Azula pointed to Number 57. "We need to get inside this."
"You killed the guy who had the key." Number 57 raised his arms.
Azula searched Number 74 and found a key ring with a small silver box and multicolored plastic card. She took it and walked toward Number 57.
"How do I open this?" Azula stalked up to Number 57.
"Take the silver box and slide it into the slot. Turn it clockwise!" Number 57 stammered. "Don't kill me."
"It this works I won't." Azula looked to Number 24. "Can you tell if he's lying?"
"He isn't." Number 24 answered softly.
The silver box slipped into the slot and Azula turned it. The door sank into the wall and slid back. It had a black matte pained finish inside lit by bright white light emitting diodes. A red metal rod stood on metal hooks. It had a thick red metal handle on the top end. Azula saw a hole next to it which matched the size of the thin end of the rod. She slid the rod into the hole and it clicked into place leaving a centimeter of the thin end out of the hole. She leaned on the fat end and pressed harder and and the thin end slid completely in. A loud bang rang through the room. The blue lights on the black hulking machines went out instantly. Number 57 wore a look of shame and shock.
"You hit the emergency cut off for the whole Village computer system." He yelled but did not come out from behind his shield of large monitors. "It will take a day or more to get everything up and running!"
* * *
The music stopped as the helicopter flew over the Town Hall. Number 2 watched the helicopter fly over the Village in the harsh lights of the Village street lamps then vanish over the trees. He sighed for he knew his masters would punish him cruelly. He had to admit the Village was very beautiful at night.
A fireball erupted from the woods beyond the Village. Number 2 felt the pulse of heat hit his face as the sky lit up with an infernal orange mushroom cloud.
* * *
"Well Number 9." Number 2 sat in his chair and crossed his legs as he leaned back sounding exhausted and a little relieved. "Your doctor died in a helicopter crash. The pilot survived by bailing out at the last minute when the radar guidance systems failed."
"I wouldn't know anything about helicopters." Azula walked up to the curved desk. "Or guidance systems for that matter."
"Our computer systems will take a day to bring back up." Number 2 put his hands behind his head. "Number 74 blames you for hitting the Kill Switch."
"I wouldn't know anything about computers." Azula leaned over the desk. "And Number 24?"
"Her parents have grounded her for leaving the house late at night." Number 2 breathed in contentedly. "Young teenagers often act rashly."
"I wouldn't know anything about teenagers." Azula leaned against the curved desk.
"Why are you here?" Number 2 motioned the Butler to his side.
"My door won't open for me anymore." Azula answered back as the Butler kindly offered her coffee. "I wonder how that could have happened?"
"Go home!" Number 2 shouted. "Break a window and crawl in the kitchen if you must."
"With the computers down why don't I stroll away?" Azula said coyly.
"Our security systems remain on full alert. Rover remains as deadly as ever. He will keep an eye on you." Number 2 made the Village salute with his finger and thumb around his eye. "Be seeing you."
Azula placed the cup down on the Butler's cart and walked outside into the fresh air. A cool sea breeze and a nearly full moon made the Village appear serene. She could see the last remnants of the fireball that had engulfed the helicopter when it crashed into the woods. She still had no answers but ash she thought – isn't ignorance a natural human condition?
The while ball named Rover followed her at a discrete distance to make sure she arrived home safely.