James was already firing orders left and right as the links went down. Around him, his sea of screens vanished, and the alcove went black. A few moments later, they all came back up again, popping into existence like dead bubbles given life again.
“Ah … Sampson …”
James swung about in his chair and glanced over to the alcove opposite. The skinny man sitting in the thing that more closely resembled some sort of dentist’s chair looked to be having much the same problem as him. He noted with an interest that a few of his screens were still active, however.
“Code Black,” Sampson reported, without missing a step. His fingers were already flying over an old keyboard. James didn’t know how the guy managed with something as archaic as that. “Network isolation and outage.”
“Well how long is it meant to last?”
Sampson finally stopped typing and turned about in his chair. He had the powerfully focussed look of a man deep in his work. He paused a moment and plucked out the three cables at the base of his skull. More old school tech. James looked at the guy as he climbed out of the chair. Gangly and sinuous, that big, snug woollen cap looked like something a grandmother would wile out during time in retirement. It made him look top heavy.
“How longs a fire drill meant to last?” asked Sampson, looking unphased.
“I was right – Agent Welles — was right in the middle of a job. He was just exchanging the cases!”
Sampson grinned a wide grin, walking with a bit of a swagger over towards James. James felt the strength in his hand as he clapped it on his back. Some people were lucky enough to have genetics on their side. James had to keep at the gym to stop from turning into a desk jockey with all his seat time.
“Code Black, homeboy. That means all works off for now. Nothing comes in, or goes out. Unless you know the Velveteen Rabbit.”
James wanted to shrug Sampson’s arm off from around his shoulders, mostly out of annoyance. He obviously didn’t take things seriously enough. He wondered what Agent was now left without Sampson looking over their shoulder, whether they knew how little the guy seemed to care. Sampson was already starting to march him off towards the break room. He couldn’t stop thinking about Welles. There had to be some way to contact him.
“This doesn’t worry you at all, does it?”
“Why should it?” Sampson asked, nonplussed. The corridors of the Bunker were strangely deserted, but then it wasn’t exactly office hours in the home of the spies. “Our job is to retrieve data, push it down the line to our agent. If that link goes down, then we can’t do much else until it comes back up.”
“Shouldn’t we at least be finding out when it will?” James wondered if maybe they could stop in to tech services, see what the trouble was.
“Like I said, it’ll take as long as it takes, homeboy. Pestering the tech boys isn’t going to make it go any faster. This is an order from up above.”
James resigned himself to his fate, or more accurately, tried to resign himself to Welles fate. How was the guy going to do his job without him giving him the info? Sure, the guy was probably the most experienced man in the Agency when it came to that sort of work, but Agents had angels. That’s how it worked.
The Bunker looked dead and grey, like it always did after endless hard hours. James didn’t begrudge them, he liked it. Almost resented the forced breaks when they came. And when they did, the Bunker always looked like this. A stranger, yet partly familiar. There was this corridor again. Break room to the left. Tech services down far on the right. Dead ahead and downstairs was Head of Section’s office.
Back the way they came, down again was the Black room.
On a bad day, the place was more like a rabbit warren or a maze than a government department.
James felt some of the murk start to rise from his mind by the time they hit the break room. Sampson tossed him some Pop Fizz, while he started to mix up his own stuff from the fridge. It was barely used as it was. Little chance anyone would make off with the seemingly random, altogether nasty ingredients. James preferred his recharge in standard format.
Pop Fizz was a more Agency sanctioned recharge for wetware than whatever muck Sampson mixed himself up.
“Got any other project you’re working on?” Sampson asked, squeezing something that looked like runny green baby poo into a tall glass. James felt his synapses pop. Had he been at it that long time time?
“Nah, not really. Just did some work up on a few guys for agent Welles.”
“You really need some downtime from that guy.”
“Are we going to have access to the main systems while this Code Black thing is going down?”
Sampson shook up the nasty contents of his drink, like some curious cocktail of goo. The guy has a supply of the stuff in his alcove, but maybe he had finally ran out. Seemed like he had it on tap. He shook his head, “Probably not. A Code Black is pretty serious stuff. Only ever happens when there’s been a serious compromise of the system.”
“I haven’t noticed anything.” James forced himself to sit down on one of the all too molding couches that were laid about the break room. In the far corner a newsfeed was on silent.
“You wouldn’t notice anything. You’re heads always too caught up in your angel work.” James thought to correct the guy on that, but then Sampson grinned, looked at his mischievous. “Want to find out why?”
“Why we’re in a Code Black.”
James wasn’t convinced, “I’m not breaking any more systems with you. Not after the last time.”
“Difference between you and a truly great programmer is you don’t push your boundaries enough, homeboy.” Sampson grinned, a little of the slimy goo lining his smooth upper lip. “Difference between you and me is that you live with your head in the sand.”
“No,” James shot back. “Difference between you and me is that I have a clean record. I’m not getting hauled into Faye’s office again. I can’t afford it. You can.”
“Live a little, man,” remarked Sampson, after downing more of his drink. James was just clinging to his, uncomfortable with the topic right now. “You want to take the red pill or the blue pill.”
“Blue one, every time.”
“Well, there ain’t no blue pills left, Alice.” Sampson was already heading back to the door, probably back to the alcoves. “I bet somewhere down the Rabbit Hole is a tunnel that leads back to Welles.”
The guy was gone. James swore silently under his breath and then got back up. The couch gave him up begrudgingly, trying to hug him back down. James had to walk quickly to catch back up with Sampson. By the time he had, the gangly half maori was back at their alcoves. Everything was as dead as they had left it. Other than the few screens up on Sampson’s side.
“What you mean about Welles?”
“I’m just saying that if you were a little more adventurous, you’d have a few backup ways out of the system. So when this stuff happens, you still have a way to keep an eye on things.”
“You can get me a line back to Welles?”
Sampson smiled, putting his tall glass down near something that looked like a last century computer. Sampson had talked about it once, something called a Commodore. An early all-in-one console. “I might be able to get you a sight link, yeah. But you’ll have to meet me half way.”
James grunted and tossed himself back into his chair. Behind him, Sampson was already starting to plug himself back in, rest back in his huge, overblown chair. James figured that Sampson would be there sooner, but when he blinked through to neutral Whitespace, he was alone. A few moments later and Sampson phased in near him.
“I still figure you need downtime from the guy,” Sampson remarked. The guy was still dressed like he had been offline, a direct port. James was looking all too sharp in black and black, a thin necktie, dressed to the nines like an old Tarantino film he had uncovered.
“If you can get me a line to Welles, I’ll owe you. Plain and simple. Just don’t string me along, Sampson.”
Sampson smiled. “Patch all your links back towards my system, I’ll pick up the dead ends.”
James didn’t know why, given all the links out of the system were dead. Hyper reality gleamed about them, falling like waterfalls suddenly, flushing white to industrial. Facts and files stood about them in an ordered fashion. A collection of clouds, files and mindmaps, all singing with a life of their own. He felt like Sampson was breathing down his neck. It was unnerving to think that Sampson was looking at all his current projects. Embarrising.
“More Sigma stuff,” Sampson remarked, seeing the Stiles file. “Abraham Williams?”
“You’re working on him?”
“I’m working on a file for Welles for him. Welles is on a case with Williams. I thought I told you that?” James was almost certain he did, but how often was Sampson really listening? The guy was always wired in. “That’s his latest case. Probably his last case.”
“Tell you what,” Sampson said, plucking the file out of the air. Sampson’s famous attention span distracted by something more shiny than a Code Black. James wondered what was so great about Williams. “Lemme take a look over this, and I’ll give you a line to Welles.”
James blurted out a sure, and he felt things start to slide. His files and work were starting to slip by him, and he could hear a tapping that he knew was offline, rather than hyper real. His workspace started to shoot lightspeed towards a connection James knew he wasn’t aware of. He briefly wondered about the morality of watching on Welles without him knowing. But then, wasn’t he always?
James’ vision went black.
“You sure you want this?”
James wasn’t sure, but before he had a chance to reconsider, he was in Welles eyes, quickly trying to adapt to the disorientation. Everything was playing out in front of him, without the audio. He wondered where Williams was, because Welles was in his conveyance again. He willed Welles to turn, look to see if he has passed the case.
“Sleep tight, homeboy.”