Tessa and Chrissie stayed back by the open lab door, peering out at the dark hallway.
Sam sat down at one of the machines and switched it on. The New Wave logo appeared in the center of the screen.
With no telephones, no modems, maybe the computers really had been given to the school for student training, without the additional intention of tying the kids to New Wave during some stage of the Moonhawk Project.
The logo blinked off, and a menu appeared on the screen. Because they were hard-disk machines with tremendous capacity, their programs were already loaded and ready to go as soon as the system was powered up. The menu offered him five choices:
A. TRAINING 1
B. TRAINING 2
C. WORD PROCESSING
He hesitated, not because he couldn't decide what letter to push but because he was suddenly afraid of using the machine. He vividly remembered the Coltranes. Though it had seemed to him that they had elected to meld with their computers, that their transformation began within them, he had no way of knowing for sure that it had not been the other way around.
Maybe the computers had somehow reached out and seized them. That seemed impossible. Besides, thanks to Harry's observations, they knew that people in Moonlight Cove were being converted by an injection, not by some insidious force that passed semimagically through computer keys into the pads of their fingers. He was hesitant nevertheless. Finally he pressed E and got a list of school subjects:
A. ALL LANGUAGES
C. ALL SCIENCES
He pressed F. A third menu appeared, and the process continued until he finally got a menu on which the final selection was NEW WAVE. When he keyed in that choice, words began to march across the screen.
YOU ARE NOW IN CONTACT
WITH THE SUPERCOMPUTER
AT NEW WAVE MICRO TECHNOLOGY.
MY NAME IS SUN.
I AM HERE TO SERVE YOU.
The school machines were wired directly to New Wave. Modems were unnecessary.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MENUS?
OR WILL YOU SPECIFY INTEREST?
Considering the wealth of menus in the police department's system alone, which he had reviewed last night in the patrol car, he figured he could sit here all evening just looking at menu after menu after submenu before he found what he wanted. He typed in: MOONLIGHT COVE POLICE DEPARTMENT.
THIS FILE RESTRICTED.
PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PROCEED WITHOUT
THE ASSISTANCE OF YOUR TEACHER.
He supposed that the teachers had individual code numbers that, depending on whether or not they were converted, would allow them to access otherwise restricted data. The only way to hit on one of their codes was to begin trying random combinations of digits, but since he didn't even know how many numbers were in a code, there were millions if not billions of possibilities. He could sit there until his hair turned white and his teeth fell out, and not luck into a good number.
Last night he had used Officer Reese Dorn's personal computer-access code, and he wondered whether it worked only on a designated police-department VDT or whether any computer tied to Sun would accept it. Nothing lost for trying. He typed in 262699.
The screen cleared. Then: HELLO, OFFICER DORN.
Again he requested the police-department data system.
This time it was given to him.
B. CENTRAL FILES
C. BULLETIN BOARD
D. OUTSYSTEM MODEM
He pressed D.
He was shown a list of computers nationwide with which he could link through the police-department's modem.
His hands were suddenly damp with sweat. He was sure something was going to go wrong, if only because nothing had been easy thus far, not from the minute he had driven into town.
He glanced at Tessa. "Everything okay?"
She squinted at the dark hallway, then blinked at him. "Seems to be. Any luck?"
"Yeah … maybe." He turned to the computer again and said softly, "Please. …"
He scanned the long roster of possible outsystem links. He found FBI KEY, which was the name of the latest and most sophisticated of the Bureau's computer networks—a highly secure, interoffice data-storage, -retrieval, and -transmission system housed at headquarters in Washington, which had been installed only within the past year. Supposedly no one but approved agents at the home office and in the Bureau's field offices, accessing with their own special codes, were able to use FBI KEY.
So much for high security.
Still expecting trouble, Sam selected FBI KEY. The menu disappeared. The screen remained blank for a moment. Then, on the display, which proved to be a full-color monitor, the FBI shield appeared in blue and gold. The word KEY appeared below it.
Next, a series of questions was flashed on the screen—WHAT IS YOUR BUREAU ID NUMBER? NAME? DATE OF BIRTH?
DATE OF BUREAU INDUCTION? MOTHER'S MAIDEN NAME ?—and when he answered those, he was rewarded with access.
"Bingo!" he said, daring to be optimistic.
Tessa said, "What's happened?"
"I'm in the Bureau's main system in D.C."
"You're a hacker," Chrissie said.
"I'm a fumbler. But I'm in."
"Now what?" Tessa asked.
"I'll ask for the current operator in a minute. But first I want to send greetings to every damned office in the country, make them all sit up and take notice."
From the extensive FBI KEY menu, Sam called up item G -- IMMEDIATE INTEROFFICE TRANSMISSION. He intended to send a message to every Bureau field office in the country, not just to San Francisco, which was the closest and the one from which he hoped to obtain help. There was one chance in a million that the night operator in San Francisco would overlook the message among reams of other transmissions, in spite of the ACTION ALERT heading he would tag on to it. If that happened, if someone was asleep at the wheel at this most inopportune of moments, they wouldn't be asleep for long, because every office in the country would be asking HQ for more details about the Moonlight Cove bulletin and requesting an explanation of why they had been fed an alert about a situation outside their regions.
He did not understand half of what was happening in this town. He could not have explained, in the shorthand of a Bureau bulletin, even as much as he did understand. But he quickly crafted a summary which he believed was as accurate as it had to be—and which he hoped would get them off their duffs and running.
MOONLIGHT COVE, CALIFORNIA
* SCORES DEAD. CONDITION DETERIORATING.
HUNDREDS MORE COULD DIE WITHIN HOURS.
* NEW WAVE MICROTECHNOLOGY ENGAGED IN
ILLICIT EXPERIMENTS ON HUMAN SUBJECTS,
WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE. CONSPIRACY OF
* THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE CONTAMINATED.
* REPEAT, ENTIRE POPULATION OF TOWN
* SITUATION EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
* CONTAMINATED CITIZENS SUFFER LOSS OF
FACULTIES, EXHIBIT TENDENCY TO EXTREME
* REPEAT. EXTREME VIOLENCE.
* REQUEST IMMEDIATE QUARANTINE BY ARMY
SPECIAL FORCES. ALSO REQUEST IMMEDIATE,
MASSIVE, ARMED BACKUP BY BUREAU PERSONNEL.
He gave his position at the high school on Roshmore, so incoming support would have a place to start looking for him, though he was not certain that he, Tessa, and Chrissie could safely continue to take refuge there until reinforcements arrived. He signed off with his name and Bureau ID number.
That message was not going to prepare them for the shock of what they would find in Moonlight Cove, but at least it would get them on the move and encourage them to come prepared for anything.
He typed TRANSMIT, but then he had a thought and wiped the word from the screen. He typed REPEAT TRANSMISSION.
The computer asked NUMBER OF REPEATS?
He typed 99.
The computer acknowledged the order.
Then he typed TRANSMIT again and pressed the ENTER button.
He typed ALL.
The screen went blank. Then: TRANSMITTING.
At the moment every KEY laser printer in every Bureau field office in the country was printing out the first of ninety-nine repeats of his message. Night staffers everywhere soon would be climbing the walls.
He almost whooped with delight.
But there was more to be done. They were not out of this mess yet.
Sam quickly returned to the KEY menu and tapped selection A -- NIGHT OPERATOR. Five seconds later he was in touch with the agent manning the KEY post at the Bureau's central communications room in Washington. A number flashed on the screen—the operator's ID—followed by a name, ANNE DENTON. Taking immense satisfaction in using high technology to bring the downfall of Thomas Shaddack, New Wave, and the Moonhawk Project, Sam entered into a long-distance, unspoken, electronic conversation with Anne Denton, intending to spell out the horrors of Moonlight Cove in more detail.
Though Loman no longer was interested in the activities of the police department, he switched on the VDT in his car every ten minutes or so to see if anything was happening. He expected Shaddack to be in touch with members of the department from time to time. If he was lucky enough to catch a VDT dialogue between Shaddack and other cops, he might be able to pinpoint the bastard's location from something that was said.
He didn't leave the computer on all the time because he was afraid of it. He didn't think it would jump at him and suck out his brains or anything, but he did recognize that working with it too long might induce in him a temptation to become what Neil Penniworth and Denny had become—in the same way that being around the regressives had given rise to a powerful urge to devolve.
He had just pulled to the side of Holliwell Road, where his restless cruising had taken him, had switched on the machine, and was about to call up the dialogue channel to see if anyone was engaged in conversation, when the word ALERT appeared in large letters on the screen. He pulled his hand back from the keyboard as if something had nipped at him.
The computer said, SUN REQUESTS DIALOGUE.
Sun? The supercomputer at New Wave? Why would it be accessing the police department's system?
Before another officer at headquarters or in another car could query the machine, Loman took charge and typed DIALOGUE APPROVED.
REQUEST CLARIFICATION, Sun said.
Loman typed YES, which could mean GO AHEAD.
Structuring its questions from its own self-assessment program, which allowed it to monitor its own workings as if it were an outside observer, Sun said, ARE TELEPHONE CALLS TO AND FROM UNAPPROVED NUMBERS IN MOONLIGHT COVE AND ALL NUMBERS OUTSIDE STILL RESTRICTED?
ARE SUN'S RESERVED TELEPHONE LINES INCLUDED IN AFOREMENTIONED PROHIBITION? the New Wave computer asked, speaking of itself in third person.
Confused, Loman typed UNCLEAR.
Patiently leading him through it step by step, Sun explained that it had its own dedicated phone lines, outside the main directory, by which its users could call other computers all over the country and access them.
He already knew this, so he typed YES.
ARE SUN'S RESERVED TELEPHONE LINES INCLUDED IN AFOREMENTIONED PROHIBITION? it repeated.
If he'd had Denny's interest in computers, he might have tumbled immediately to what was happening, but he was still confused. So he typed WHY?—meaning WHY DO YOU ASK?
OUTSYSTEM MODEM NOW IN USE.
Loman would have laughed if he had been capable of glee. The agent had found a way out of Moonlight Cove, and now the shit was going to hit the fan at last.
Before he could query Sun as to Booker's activities and whereabouts, another name appeared on the upper left corner of the screen—SHADDACK—indicating that New Wave's own Moreau was watching the dialogue on his VDT and was cutting in. Loman was content to let his maker and Sun converse uninterrupted.
Shaddack asked for more details.
Sun responded: FBI KEY SYSTEM ACCESSED.
Loman could imagine Shaddack's shock. The beast master's demand appeared on the screen: OPTIONS. Which meant he desperately wanted a menu of options from Sun to deal with the situation.
Sun presented him with five choices, the fifth of which was SHUT DOWN, and Shaddack chose that one.
A moment later Sun reported: FBI KEY SYSTEM LINK SHUT DOWN.
Loman hoped that Booker had gotten enough of a message out to blow Shaddack and Moonhawk out of the water.
On the screen, from Shaddack to Sun: BOOKER'S TERMINAL?
YOU REQUIRE LOCATION?
MOONLIGHT COVE CENTRAL SCHOOL, COMPUTER LAB.
Loman was three minutes from Central.
He wondered how close Shaddack was to the school. It didn't matter. Near or far, Shaddack would bust his ass to get there and prevent Booker from compromising the Moonhawk Project—or to take vengeance if it had already been compromised.
At last Loman knew where he could find his maker.
When Sam was only six exchanges into his dialogue with Anne Denton in Washington, the link was cut off. The screen went blank.
He wanted to believe that he had been disconnected by ordinary line problems somewhere along the way. But he knew that wasn't the case.
He got up from his chair so fast that he knocked it over.
Chrissie jumped up in surprise, and Tessa said, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"They know we're here," Sam said. "They're coming."
Harry heard the doorbell ring down in the house below him.
His stomach twisted. He felt as if he were in a roller coaster, just pulling away from the boarding ramp.
The bell rang again.
A long silence followed. They knew he was crippled. They would give him time to answer.
Finally it rang again.
He looked at his watch. Only 7:24. He took no comfort in the fact that they had not put him at the end of their schedule.
The bell rang again. Then again. Then insistently.
In the distance, muffled by the two intervening floors, Moose began barking.
Tessa grabbed Chrissie's hand. With Sam, they hurried out of the computer lab. The batteries in the flashlight must not have been fresh, for the beam was growing dimmer. She hoped it would last long enough for them to find their way out. Suddenly the school's layout—which had been uncomplicated when they had not been in a life-or-death rush to negotiate its byways—seemed like a maze.
They crossed a junction of four halls, entered another corridor, and went about twenty yards before Tessa realized they were going the wrong direction. "This isn't how we came in."
"Doesn't matter," Sam said. "Any door out will do."
They had to go another ten yards before the failing flashlight beam was able to reach all the way to the end of the hall, revealing that it was a dead end.