Journey of Rick Heiden Ch. 41-42
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The Journey of Rick Heiden
All Rights Reserved © 2019, Rick Haydn Horst
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I could breathe again when she strode away, but my insides felt like jelly for a while. Pearce stood speechless, holding his breath, eyes closed, and his palms together near his mouth. It reflected the shock I also felt at that moment. I didn’t know what to do about her; she admits she killed Rom, even if he did request it. How would people react to that? What happens when a resident of Jiyū, who has the freedom to kill, actually does it? Did doing as Rom asked of her constitute a crime in a place where they have expectations but no laws?
The Master Builder used a four-legged, four-armed tiling bot to lead us to an exterior door on the left side of the building. We climbed a staircase to a long narrow room behind the front portico of the building. Once there, the bot moved a lever, and a small door opened on the back wall. It resembled a priest hole hidden within the wood paneling. Crouching down, I used my wrist lamp to peer into the passage that followed the interior of the round perimeter wall. I realized then at least one reason Aurum had doubled the building’s size. The original building had small empty pockets inside the walls designed to lighten their weight, but the designer of the original had not connected them to make a passage.
The bot waited as I investigated the door. “This looks like it. Thank you, Master Builder,” I said to the bot.
“It’s a bot,” said Pearce, “I doubt it can hear you.”
The bot turned toward Pearce. It held out one of the arms used to manipulate the tiles and made two rapid snaps of its pincer and promptly left.
“Sorry,” Pearce said, calling after it.
“Amaré could never squeeze through this opening.”
“Aurum couldn’t have built it with him in mind,” said Pearce. “Perhaps Amaré joined the Trust after Aurum had died.”
“I suppose,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
We slipped through the opening to stand on the other side of the curved wall. Along the passage, I saw two metal grates with star-shaped holes that led to the interior of the building. Hidden in plain sight among the niches for statues of lesser gods, they allowed the air pressure in the passage to remain equal to the exterior regardless of how much the sun heated the building; unequal air pressure would damage the walls.
We walked a third of the building’s circumference when the passage turned into a staircase leading down into the ground. Descending, I saw the point where the base of the building met the granite beneath it. The stairs continued their circular pattern for the length of several flights of stairs.
“How deep will we find the entrance to the vault?” I asked.
“From here? I couldn’t tell you. I must say, Rick, you impressed me with how well you handled yourself with the Master Builder. So, how did you happen to know about the pumice?”
“Classic architecture fascinates me. I couldn’t say for certain, but I think the ancient Romans did use pumice. Pumice-based concrete does exist, and with all the volcanic activity near Rome, they should have had access to considerable amounts of it. I added the carbon nanotube idea as an afterthought.”
“I see,” he said, “and let me guess, you know this because your father worked in the trades.”
“Yes, but I don’t claim any expertise on the subject. Still, when you admire a building’s architecture, if you take the time to understand how they built it, it will add depth to your level of appreciation.”
“I understand,” he said. “I endeavor to do the same thing with the people I meet.”
The bottom of the stairs ended in a 4-meter by 5-meter room. I discerned our location. Of all its solid granite walls, part of one consisted of stone blocks. I pointed it out to Pearce. “It took two nights, but I think we’ve made it to the other side of your blocked passage.”
We saw the pathway on the other side of the room had a turn to the left. Pearce started toward it.
“Hold on,” I said. I tapped behind my ear, attempting to contact Iris. I tried several times, but I got no answer.
“Have we come far enough underground?” he asked.
“I think so,” I said.
He struck a sharp blow on my shoulder with an open palm. “You idiot!”
I knew then where we stood with one another. Pearce hadn’t lied to me about the Nano Reset. “I’m sorry, it just slipped out!”
He laid the box on the floor, and he hugged me. “It hadn’t taken long,” he said, “but I’ve grown quite attached to you. I never want to disappoint you, but what you said to me stung. I couldn’t tell if you meant it or if you realized I was covering for you.”
Pearce had grown accustomed to having David nearby, and I presented a connection to him. istanbul travesti I had become part of his extended family, his brother-in-law, perhaps if Jiyū had any law. He and I felt the same in that regard; we both required family near us. Teresa was right, Pearce did love David like a brother.
“I couldn’t tell what you were doing,” I said, “so I told you what I would tell you if you had lied. I figured that would at least make it believable. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Let’s get this done and go home, okay? We’re running out of time.”
After the turn, we had one more blasted staircase, both broad and deep. We stood at the top, gazing into the relative darkness below. “Jeez Louise, how far down do we go?” I asked.
We hurried down the steps, but I worried it would take us so deep that the return trip would take more time than we had. I thought I heard something, so I paused on the steps. “What’s that noise?” I asked.
“Running water, maybe from the rain on the surface,” said Pearce. “A tributary may lay close to these stairs.”
It took another five minutes before we reached the bottom. They had lit the room there well compared to the darkened staircases. On the wall, they had attached a massive round vault door of blackish-grey metal that stretched from the floor almost to the three-meter ceiling. It could have weighed ten tons with ease.
I touched the cold metal. My wide-eyed stare of amazement at the immense door held my complete attention; it reminded me of the vaults of the early 20th Century on Earth.
Pearce leaned into me. “Yes, rather impressive, don’t you think?”
“How do we get into it?” I asked.
“We don’t,” he said, watching me, smiling, “but I can see it does a magnificent job.”
“What do you mean?”
The door’s monstrous size had attracted too much of my attention to notice the rest of the room. The walls of the 10 meters squared room had sections divided by three sets of side columns for ceiling supports. Each side column had a crest of Aurum, like the one behind Amaré’s dining table, at face height recessed into the surface. Pearce strode to one of the gold circles on the far wall. They all looked identical, new, and shined in the light. One, however, was the vault’s seal. It remained untouched and intact from the time of Aurum. Pearce took the key and pressed it into the center of the cup, and the thin metal gave way punching a hole through it. He pushed the key farther inside.
“Well, Rick, we did it,” said Pearce.
He turned it clockwise twice, leaving the key in the lock. A rumbling of stone against stone erupted into the chamber as the center section of the wall slid away, leaving an open doorway a meter in width where light poured through.
Inside the voluminous room before us stood a Roman temple, nearly the size of the Pantheon in Greece. We heard running water and bots working in the distance. As we presumed with the unbroken seal, they had worked for the last thousand jears complying with Aurum’s directives. He had lined the walls in a four-meter-wide and one-meter-tall stone trough. I dug my hand into it and pulled out a handful of its contents. I held coins minted with Aurum’s crest on the front, the word “AURUM” beneath it. The back informed me that I held five troy ounces.
“Money?” asked Pearce.
“No, this is bullion. David will not like this,” I said, shocked by the possibility that trillions of American dollars in gold sat in that room.
Pearce held up one of the coins. “I know that Aurum means gold in Latin, but how he used it here-” He shook his head. “Bullion or not, he practically turned his name into a currency, hasn’t he? I suspected him of narcissism.”
I tipped my head toward the temple. “I get the feeling we haven’t seen the worst of it.” We threw the coins back into the trough. “Let’s find this shit and get out of here.”
The temple before us presented physical testimony to Aurum’s grandiosity and self-importance. We didn’t have time for me to study it carefully, but I did look at it well enough that my enhanced memory would allow me to analyze it later. The frieze on the pediment depicted seven classically dressed figures, painted and lifelike. Aurum stood in the center wearing a crown holding an orb and scepter. Of the six others, two I didn’t recognize, but I could guess their names. To Aurum’s right stood Amaré, depicted as smaller than Aurum, and standing in Aurum’s shadow. He held a balanced scale. I could not see what lay upon its trays. To the right of Amaré, Meridia sat in a casual pose facing away from the action behind her. To Meridia’s right, Ruby looked almost crawling, reaching up to catch Meridia’s attention. Dmitry stood to Aurum’s left, depicted as pleading with Aurum. To the left of Dmitry, they placed Gabe sitting upon a stool holding a crown and a gold cloak over his arm. To the left of Gabe, Dai, they crafted in a position of having bent over backward.
Pearce and I climbed the steps. We hurried to the gold istanbul travestileri doors and opened them with a simple push despite their immense size and weight. A statue of Aurum in a benevolent pose, holding the golden cup in his right hand, sat upon a gold throne filling the entire far side of the interior between the columns that held the roof. The floor before him reflected his magnificence on the mirror placed there.
“I think I want to throw up,” said Pearce.
“I may join you. Hey, look there.”
I noticed an altar at the base of the statue. It held a metal rack hanging with dozens of finger-sized gold vials with suspensions of two enhancements labeled in Latin.
“Which one is the Prime Sharer?” asked Pearce.
“Here. The label of this one says Princeps,” I said.
“Does that mean Prime Sharer?”
“No, it means leader or ruler,” I said to him. “It seems clear Aurum understood its potential.”
“I don’t want the world, Rick, just my son,” he said. “I swear to you, on my love for David, when I have him, I will come to you without hesitation, and you can give me a vial of the nano reset.”
“You know what a terrible lie detector I am,” I said.
He placed his hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. “I have no other family,” he said, “except my son, David, and you. I will come home.”
I believed him and handed him the vial.
“Thank you.” He popped the cap on the vial and downed the few milliliters of liquid inside it. He looked at the empty vial for a moment. “I have an idea,” he said.
He put a dozen vials of the nano reset labeled Revertor in his right shirt pocket and buttoned it. He then took the empty container in his hand and poured the contents of a Revertor vial into it. He recapped it and fastened it into his left pocket.
“What should we do with the rest of this?” he asked.
“For now, lock it all up again.” I looked at my watch. “We have an hour and five minutes to get to the penthouse.”
We heard a rumbling noise in the vault and hurried from the temple. It seemed that my reputed inordinate quantity of luck had finally run dry. The vault door had closed. Frantic, we raced to it, checking the whole entryway over, but it had no means to open the vault from the inside.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why did the door close?”
“I left the key in the lock,” said Pearce. “Someone may have followed us. What the hell do we do now?”
“I take it you don’t have any memories about how to get out of here,” I said.
He held his arms out. “I’ve got nothing.”
I took a deep breath. “Well, what about the bots? They can’t stay in here forever, can they?”
We passed the temple, and behind it lay most of the gold piled into a deep recess up to the ceiling, cascading over the knee wall intended to hold them back. Near that, the bots had dug two holes in the floor, 1-meter in diameter. They had mined the gold from deep underground. A tripod stood over each hole with a strong monofilament line used to bring it to the surface. I concluded a cave with rich veins of gold must exist deep beneath the granite slab. How they knew about the gold remained a mystery.
The open tributary emerged from the wall at an angle and curved back into it. The bots ran a pipe through the drain on the surface to pump fresh air into the room, and another to pump any dangerous gasses from the suspected cave out the tributary.
We stood at the holes, looking at the mound of gold.
“I’ve never seen so much gold in one location,” I said.
Pearce gazed down into the holes. “I don’t see the bottom.”
“Do you think someone locked us in here?” I asked.
“There’s a good chance. Why?”
“If that’s the case, they have the key, and they have access to all those vials back there in the temple.” I looked at Pearce.
“Do I think what I think you’re thinking?”
“Let’s dump the rest.”
We dumped the contents of each vial into the pit, tossing the containers in after it. Pearce had the only ones left in his pockets. Once we had done the deed, we sat on a column base to consider our escape.
Pearce gestured to the flowing water. “We can always get out of here that way.”
“The drain? You have lost your mind,” I said.
“I’m serious. You can swim, right?”
“Is the ability to swim required for floodwaters to whisk you away? Look, I have no desire to imitate a greasy morsel flushed down someone’s sink. Besides, that would take us seventy kilometers farther away. We don’t have the time, and let’s not forget that the drain ends in a waterfall.”
“Rick, face it,” said Pearce, “we only have to wait for the water to recede and we can get out of here through the tributary, but it won’t be in time.”
It displeased me. “You don’t know that,” I said. “We still have an hour, but in the event we don’t and cannot get out on our own, someone will find us.”
“Aurum designed this place to make people focus on the fake impenetrable vault door,” said Pearce. “If someone travesti istanbul followed us, locking the door with the key and we don’t get out through our ingenuity, the chances of someone finding us in time remains infinitesimal.”
“If we take your flume of death,” I said, “we will either get torn to shreds or drown.”
Pearce leaned into me, “Your body with the Foundational Enhancement is tougher than you think.”
“Maybe, but if it won’t keep me from drowning, it’s not enough.”
“You know, I agree with Dmitry, you do possess an inordinate amount of luck,” he said.
“A preposterous notion, given the circumstance, but what makes me lucky?”
“Because I would want to get stuck in a vault with me.”
I had to think about that for a second. “How flattering of you to say.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. “You’re looking at a man who broke into the Louvre and got out without setting off the alarm. I can get us out of here.”
“Didn’t you say it took years to develop that plan?”
“Negativity gets us nowhere,” he said and thought for a moment. “I know, if you refuse the drain, then I will go, and then return with help to release you through the vault door.”
“Will you stop with the plans that involve suicide-by-drain?”
After that, I drove myself into a fit of anxiety, checking my watch repeatedly as the minutes ticked past. I believed a chance existed that if we didn’t make the four-hour mark, Dmitry would hold onto his insurance policy because he wanted the Prime Sharer enhancement that badly. But neither Pearce nor I could think of any way quick enough to get us out of the vault in time, and as the last minute of the fourth hour came, the pressure to act caused me to remember a resource that, for some reason, had escaped my memory.
“The Attendant,” I said. “Someone or something has me followed by an Attendant.”
“Has Mason had you followed by an Attendant?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I had that thought initially, but something else happened earlier that I couldn’t explain, and I think they’re connected. I left the ship outside the Beddo House. Fennec destroyed the Attendant that followed me then, that’s how I discovered it. We went through the catacombs, and just as now, no signal could transmit through the rock. I exited the catacombs at the temple, and within a few minutes, I had an Attendant following me again, and the ship was sitting outside. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
“The ship has an Attendant following you.”
“Maybe. I think Venn built the ship using an enormous array of technologies from many different scientific innovations, and Venn gave me this watch earlier. It’s the one new element in the equation. I thought the Attendant came from Mason because Gabe went to the penthouse, so he would have known my location, but it doesn’t explain how the ship got to the temple. So, how can we know for sure?”
“I know a way to find out,” said Pearce. “Everyone who lives in the house has an Attendant. If Mason has you followed, then Mason would have me followed. Attendant, show yourself to me.”
We waited to see if an Attendant would de-cloak and hover before Pearce’s face, but nothing happened.
“Attendant, show yourself to me,” I said.
A machine the size of a fly decloaked and hovered before my face.
“There’s your answer,” said Pearce. “So, what about the watch?”
I took it off, inspecting it. It didn’t look unusual in design, just like the typical analog watch with no markings on the back. “It must contain a homing device or a beacon. I thought it seemed strange when Mason told me it came from Venn. If Venn created this, you could bet it has more than one function, and that explanation fits all the facts.”
“I have an idea,” said Pearce.
I looked at him. “You’re going to use the word drain again.”
“Yes,” he said, “but hear me out. If you told this Attendant to tell your ship to pick us up in the main pipe, would it do that?”
“I just thought of that too. I don’t know, but I don’t think we have another option if we intend to use it. The ship can’t come to us here. I don’t want to get into the main tunnel though, just the mouth of the tributary at one of the junctions. So, how can we get there without the water dragging us any farther?”
Pearce nudged me, gesturing to the holes the bots had dug. “What if we use the line the bots are using to bring up the gold from their mine?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I said, “these bots seem pretty intent on what they’re doing. I can’t imagine they’ll stand by while we take it. And we don’t even know the length of that cable. What if it’s too short?”
“From what I witnessed down that hole,” said Pearce, “I think the cable will exceed our needs. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t use it.”
Pearce got up to get the attention of one of the sturdier-looking bots. It completely ignored him, no matter what he did.
“Okay,” he said, “let’s see what they do if I rewind it and take it.”
He cranked the reel for several minutes. They didn’t stop him, even when the bucket emerged from the hole, indicating the bottom of the line. Pearce began to detach the spool from the tripod, and for the bots, he had gone too far. They all stopped what they were doing, and every lens had turned toward him and me.
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