“You did what???” Kelley demanded the previous evening, his voice echoing with incredulity.
The three of them stood around the empty darkened parking lot, and told Kelley everything they knew. The lot that ran alongside the Interregnum Mile was abandoned; cracked blacktop with lanky clusters of milkweed poking through. The only sounds were the distant hum of cars crawling up and down the busy streets through the center of town. From here, they could see tiny lights twittering inside the row homes, and hear the occasional honk of a car horn. The air was warm and still. But the night was growing late, and they didn’t have much time to discuss what was to be done.
“We had to confirm our suspicions,” Deacon said, insistently.
Ryder kept his eyes turned down toward his shoes. He felt both proud and fearful about divulging to Kelley the snooping they had done. But, they needed the help. There were only three of them. They were short on time and resources. It was time to ask for help.
Keesha recounted to Kelley the information she had been slowly gathering via her mother’s work computer which was kept at her home office. Every weekend she went to visit Susan, Keesha hacked into her mother’s data base to access the Romer Onyx network. She had to be careful that her snooping could not be traced back to Susan, lest she would lose her job. Or worse, she would be distraught by Keesha’s betrayal of her trust.
“I have copies of some of these contracts. I have copies of the emails,” Keesha told Kelley. “We aren’t making this up. We swear!”
Kelley sat, silent. Stunned. Even as a Black Hatter, he was impressed with the way in which they had pieced this together. “Who taught you to hack like that?” he asked her, with a wry smile buried just slightly beneath mock indignation.
“Well, I started with that old phone our friend Orion hides under his bed. Then, I just kept messin’ around with my mom’s computer every night she went to bed. It’s not hard once you figure out the basics.”
Kelley burst out laughing at this last comment. “Brains … wasted on the youth” he chuckled. “Well, not wasted in your case, I guess” he added, nodding toward Keesha, and then shaking his head at the boys. They didn’t disagree.
“Uncle Kelley,” Ryder jumped in. “Please. We need you. We need the Hatters. We need them to know that the data pods have been a distraction. Romer Onyx has gotten ten steps ahead, outthinking us. Meanwhile, we are still fighting the fight from decades ago, hanging on to the idea that what they wanted then, is what they still want. But it’s not. They want more. Everything I told you is true! And we are chasing the wrong leads, and searching in the wrong places. They have been counting on that. It’s not the data pods they want. The real fight is going on right below our feet. Under our streets. We need help.”
“We are gonna need more than that,” Kelley replied. “We need access.” They all paused in thought. Access meant geographical opportunities to get into RO’s physical buildings as well cyberspace.
Deacon finally chimed in. “Pop’s basement has got a tunnel that runs underneath through the city. When he was making his cellar for keeping things cool, he blasted a wall that opened right up into an old subway tunnel by mistake.”
Interregnum City hadn’t used the underground tunnels for a decade, at least. Instead, the community had repurposed the old trolley cars, and rebuilt the above-ground rail system to enable its citizens to get around. It was less infrastructure to maintain, and easier to manage. Now, the tunnels lay empty and hollow like sedimentary half-memories.
“Anyone else besides you and Pops know these tunnels are accessible?” Kelley asked.
Deacon thought for a moment. “No. I don’t think so at least. My parents barely every go down there. I do most of the heavy carrying up and down from that cellar.” Kelley nodded, satisfied with this answer.
“So, Ryder. You and I are going to drive off to Arizona … as far as your mom is concerned. Deacon, you’re going to get us into those tunnels next week, after everyone’s in bed. You’ll have to tell Pops everything, I suppose.”
They all nodded in agreement.
“Yep,” Deacon said. “But…on some level… he knows something’s going on. He won’t take much convincing. And, I’ll have to get my old car fixed. It’s too far to travel on my bike.”
Keesha looked around at all three of them. “This is all so easy for all of you!” she bemoaned. “I’ve gotta go into the belly of the best!” She scraped the tips of her shoes against the parking lot gravel.
Kelley sighed slowly. Ryder fell silent, trying to stop the worry that was already crowding his mind.
After a long silence between the four of them, Kelley said, “Yes, Keesha, you do.”