Special Agent "Pai" Tongsukum
Pai knew that entering Forest Heights was a mistake. The apartment building was one of the newest and most luxurious in the city and she felt sure the security systems would still be active. She had tried to persuade Buck not to go there but he’d discovered that Forest Heights’ security team had its own armoury on the ninth floor. The possibility of weapons and ammunition had been too tempting for him to ignore. Pai had been with the others on a food run but the call had just come in. Buck was trapped.
Taking the second 4x4, she took what she knew to be a safe route and parked up in the shadows of an underpass. Checking that she had what she needed – including her Beretta – she left the car and jogged up some steps onto Forest Plaza. She wasn’t sure where the plaza or the building had gotten its name. The only vegetation was the trees planted in vast pots outside the apartment block and they were brown and dying. Thankfully the lobby doors were open. There were no lights on at the elevators but she checked them anyway. No power. Pai always ran her coms through her wrist-mounted system. Once she’d found the stairwell and started up it, she called Buck.
‘How you doing?’
‘Ah, Agent P. Still stuck. Where are you?’
‘Oh. I guess I should have requested someone with longer legs.’
‘Watch your manners, Buck. I’m the only person who can get you out of there.’
Pai took the stairs at a steady pace. Some of the doors were blocked off and she had already passed several bloodstains on the metal.
‘So, what exactly happened?’
‘Looks like the security team had one whole end of this floor. Power’s still on but I got through the main door using a re-router. The armoury itself took a little longer but that keypad bypass of yours did the trick. But I must have crossed a sensor beam – the door shut behind me.’
‘I did try to warn you.’
‘It was worth the risk. The cabinets in here have locked but they’re transparent. There are at least twenty guns, hundreds of rounds. This haul could set us up for months.’
She had just passed the door to the fifth floor. ‘If I can get you out.’
‘Like all good cops, I have complete trust in the FBI.’
Half an hour later, she had made no progress. Sitting on the floor outside the armoury, surrounded by units, wires and other bits and bobs, Pai was almost out of ideas. On the other side of the reinforced door, Buck had gone quiet. Perhaps he knew it was better to let her work.
The lock was new and unusual; she didn’t know the model or how best to disable it.
‘We have a problem.’
‘I’m aware of that.’
‘No, I mean a new problem. I’ve got a window in here and I can see looters down near the underpass. They’re not far from the 4X4.’
That was not good news. To get back to their base on foot, they’d have to pass through Midtown, aka Deadhead Central.
Pai decided to take a break. She retrieved a bottle of water from her backpack, drank a third of it, then paced up and down in front of the door. There was no point going to the window to see these looters; that would only add to the stress.
What am I missing?
She reached inside her shirt and touched the Buddha pendant that her grandmother had given her. Pai felt it gave her luck but even in the minutes afterward, her mind remained a blank. She gazed at the door keypad. Once Buck had triggered the beam, the door had shut and the keypad turned inactive. Next to it was a chip sensor which she guessed would respond only to ID cards. These had probably been carried only by two or three personnel and it was too much to hope that they would have been left lying around.
‘I guess I could try and blow it open,’ said Buck.
‘Don’t even think about it. That steel is 2 inches thick. More likely you’d kill yourself with ricochets.’
With no more ideas coming to mind, Pai stood up and rifled through a nearby desk. She found no ID cards or anything else that could help her. There were other cabinets in the room but all were locked. Then she noticed a small wooden box on top of the desk. She wrenched the top open but found only some pencils, a pack of cookies and a compact mirror. Cursing in frustration, she threw the box on to the floor and slumped down on to a swivel chair.
‘Hey, Pai – those punks are close to the car. Any ideas?’
Just as she was about to reply, Pai noticed the mirror. It had fallen open and the reflection showed the underside of the desk, including a piece of paper taped to the wood. Pai reached under, ripped the paper off and looked at it. The writing was in red ink:
OVERRIDE - YZZTUW
As the keypad only used numbers, it was obviously a code. The letters employed made it clear that the code focused on the end of the alphabet. Assuming that Z was 1, Y was 2 and so on, Pai tried the corresponding sequence of numbers but the keypad remained stubbornly inactive. Too simple. From there it was just a question of trial and error and it didn’t take long. She soon discovered that the first and last numbers were decoys and by using only the middle four – in reverse – she had the right sequence of numbers.
The door hummed into life and clicked open. She pulled it wide and was greeted by a grinning Buck.
‘Nice work, agent.’
Pai noted that the cabinets had also clicked open. Buck had been right about the weaponry: there were pistols, rifles, shotguns, even riot-vests and shields.
‘Wow,’ she said. ‘We’re going to need the 4X4 to transport all of this.’
‘That’s right,’ replied Buck as he took a sniper rifle from the cabinet. ‘So I guess I better see off those looters.’