CHAPTER FIVE The plane came to a standstill and the engines began to wind down, when they had the all clear the ground crew moved the portable stairway into position. Sam and Al walked over to the foot of the stairway and waited for Austin Bebrooks to emerge. Tumbleweeds flurried passed their feet as the wind started to whip up the dust. Al nudged Sam in the ribs, "For Christ sake don't mention your little escapade to Bebrooks." Sam turned to speak, but Al interrupted. "I'll do most of the taking, but I'll leave the technical stuff to you. Lord knows more than I do, how you can babble on sometimes." "Well I've never been good with interviews, you always have the right words. I don't have any problems with you doing the talking. I just wish I didn't have to be here, there are more important things on my mind." "And would one of those important things be looking at you from the cafeteria window?" Al nudged Sam again. Sam turned ever-so slightly and looked in the direction of the cafeteria. Sure enough the waitress stood by the window, watching. Sam smiled to himself and whispered. "What's her name Al?" "Erm, I don't have the hand-link on me at the moment, erm, oh you mean the waitress. Her name's Bernadette, Bernie for short, erm, she's been with us for about 2 years now, I think. She's from England and....." "How do you know so much about everyone Al?" "It's my job to know, since February 2004 we've been running only on a skeleton staff, we're like a family here, everyone knows everyone. Except for you, you seem to be the stranger here, they all know of you, but so few know you." The door to the small plane opened, Austin Bebrooks stepped onto the platform of the stairway. After being in the darkened interior, the afternoon sun blinded him, he held up a hand to shade his eyes from the glare. He saw Al and raised his hand in recognition. "Ah, Mr. Calavicci." He drawled in a strong Texan accent. Still shielding his eyes he descended the steps. At the bottom Al introduced Bebrooks to Sam. "Austin Bebrooks this is Doctor Samuel Beckett." Sam glanced sideways at Al, he had an aversion to being called Samuel, and Al knew it, he secretly smirked back at Sam. Sam shook hands with Bebrooks. "Pl-pleased to meet you erm, Mr. Bebrooks." Sam's brow creased, he especially disliked these formal occasions, they made him nervous. "Please call me Austin, Doctor Beckett. I don't think we need to stand on ceremonies here." "Then you must call me Sam," he glanced again at Al, "this way Austin." Sam led Bebrooks inside followed by a dejected Al. "May we offer you some refreshments?" Al retorted. "Yes that would be greatly appreciated," he cleared his throat, "it's a long journey. The dust here, it's made me quite thirsty." Sam responded not thinking, "Well this is the desert, there is a lot of dust." Al looked across at Sam slightly annoyed, he held a finger up to his lips, as if to quieten him. "I can understand that Sam, not quite used to it though." As they sat the waitress came over. "Coffee for me I think." Bebrooks noted. Al looked up at the waitress, "That'll be three coffees then please...." Sam interrupted, "N-no, I'll have tea this time, please," he looked up at the waitress and smiled, "Bernie, thank you." She smiled as she turned and walked away, again his gaze followed her. "Erm, how was the flight Mr. Bebrooks? Not too bumpy I hope? The atmospheric turbulence in the desert can make the journey quite uncomfortable." "No, as journeys go, I found this one pleasantly surprising, never been this far north before. The scenery makes quite a change." "Not much scenery here I'm afraid," Sam commented, "just miles and miles of sand-dunes, not much here for an artist." Al looked at Sam again quite sternly. Justly noted Sam realised he was babbling again. "Are you an artist? Do you paint Sam?" Bebrooks replied, not at all put off by what seemed like an irrelevant remark from Sam. "N-no I don't but my son does." "You must be quite proud of him, I've never met him of course, is he working with you on the project?" "Yes I am proud of him and no, he's not working with me on the project, he's only," Al could see where this conversation was going and tried to ward Sam off, but was too late. Sam blurted out, "eight." "Eight you say, but I thought you'd been gone for almost four-teen years." "Well it is a long story........" Al interrupted, "And I think it's one we should talk about at a later date. Al drained his cup and looked at his watch. "The clock is ticking, and I know you cannot stay long Mr. Bebrooks." He stood up from the table, glaring at Sam. "If you would care to join us, we'll show you around the complex." Sam looked at Al and shrugged his shoulders, his lips tightening in an apologetic smile. The other two men rose to their feet and followed Al out of the cafeteria, along the main corridor, they turned right at the last doorway and entered the room. "W-hey-hey!" Bebrooks remarked as the floor moved beneath them. Al stood with his hands behind his back, shifting to his toes, then rocking back onto his heels. "Oh it's all right, this is the elevator, it's unnerving at first but you get used to it." He pursed his lips in a silent whistle. "Some elevator, you could fit a whole army in here." His Texan accent more pronounced. "We needed it large enough to carry some of the apparatus, some of it is quite sizable" "How far down are we going?" Sam could see that Bebrooks was still a little nervous. "Two hundred feet." A look of satisfaction spread across Al's face. The elevator reached the bottom Sam was the first out, followed by Bebrooks then Al. Sam looked around, at least the lights were working, he now knew of Al's fears, of the darkness in the meandering maze of tunnels, why Al had insisted on the cabinets filled with torches and batteries, why there were ladders in every tunnel leading to the surface and why at every junction there was a map. Al had suggested that each section be painted a different colour but this seems never to have transpired. Sam closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself in the pitch of blackness once again. He span himself around deliberately, just to see if he could sense which direction he was facing. Sam peeked to see if he was correct. Keeping his eyes firmly shut, he then started to pace out the corridors mentally counting each step to the next turn, these details were added to the map in his brain. Al looked at him curiously. "Sam what are you doing?" Bebrooks took Sam's actions all in his stride, taking him to be just another eccentric scientist. "Just seeing if I can make my way in the dark" "Your makin' a fool of yourself." "No I'm not." "You are. What do you think these are for?" Al opened one of the cabinets to reveal their contents. "In case the lights go out." He held up a torch and several batteries. "They'd be useless to me." "What'd you mean Sam?" "I can't use them." Al replaced the items back to the cabinet, walked up to Sam and furtively nudged him in the ribs, "Why not, Sam?" then through his teeth, "don't say it." "Ah, erm, nothin' just foolin' around." Sam laughed. Al turned to Bebrooks, "Ahm, just another of Sam's little pranks, he's always pullin' them." He gave a warning glance to Sam, then returned his attention to Bebrooks, "These are all natural shafts and caverns we've just utilised them and made them safe. The walls are lined to make them more serviceable. The lights are operated by motion detectors, which makes them more economical. Each section lights up as we approach and darkens again as we leave." Bebrooks listened intently. They continued to meander along the tunnels, deeper into the caverns depths, and finally reached the end of a long corridor. "This is the Control Room." Sam waved a hand showing off the door, then moved closer. The door opened with a 'whoosh'. Sam entered the Control Room. "Ziggy, lights." Immediately the lights hummed and illuminated, "Good afternoon Doctor, Admiral. I'm sorry Sir we have not been introduced yet. Perhaps the Admiral would perform the introductions." "Who is that?" Bebrooks looked around in amazement. "That, Mr. Bebrooks is Ziggy our hybrid computer." Al gestured towards the console. "Ziggy this is Mr. Austin Bebrooks." "Pleased to meet you Mr. Bebrooks, that was a little formal don't you think. May I call you Austin?" Bebrooks stood with mouth ajar, "Y-yeah, I-I think that would be okay." "She has a character all of her own, you'll have to excuse her disposition Austin. Ziggy says what she thinks." "So this is Ziggy, the great computer you've been working on all these years, a computer that can think." Bebrooks looked around, "I'm impressed Sam, really impressed." The external door 'whooshed' open and Sammi Jo walked in. "Oh I'm sorry, I didn't think you would be here yet, I-I saw you in the cafeteria. Sorry." She turned to leave then turned back, "Sorry, again, could you please excuse me for a moment, I came in for this." She walked over to the bench near the control panel and picked up the fragments of the broken hand-link, placed them in a foil bag and turned to leave. "Sammi can I speak with you a minute? Sorry Austin I'll only be a couple of minutes, I'm sure Al, will explain some of the controls." Sam took hold of Sammi Jo's arm and lead her towards the door. Sam noticed the blood stained bandage on Sammi Jo's finger. "What have you been doing?" "Oh I just caught it on one of the connectors in the hand-link." Sammi Jo held up the bag. "Are you okay, I mean it looks pretty serious." "Yeah, I'm okay, Al cleaned it with iodine, it'll be fine, looks worse than it is." "What did you find with the hand-link? Is it burned out?" "No Sam, funnily enough its okay, just a loose connection, there's a bit of carbon on a couple of the chips but other than that it should work all right once the connection is fixed." She put the foil package into the pocket of her lab-coat. "I'll finish this off in your lab if you don't mind." "No, of course I don't mind, go ahead I'll see you there later." Sam patted Sammi Jo on the shoulder, "hopefully I won't be too long." Sammi Jo left through the external door and headed for Sam's lab. Sam joined the other two, Al was in his element. He loved to baffle the unenlightened with technical terms, he was in his element. Sam let him continue, just adding the odd word or two, to help Al confuse the unsuspecting Austin Bebrooks even more. 'Baffle them with science', Sam had heard him say many times in the past, especially when the project was at stake. Al was good with people, Sam envied his friend's ability and wished he could be the same. * * * * * Sammi Jo entered Sam's lab and emptied the content of the foil package onto the bench, she picked up the largest piece. She noticed something inside the casing. She looked at it more closely, but could not make it out. Transferring it to the microscope she studied it closer. It was the skin that had been torn from her finger along with a drop of blood. It had started to synthesise with the carbon from the microchips and was growing, integrating with the slither of silicone within the chip. "Oh Ziggy, I think we've done it, I think we've accidentally created the neuronic microcosmic-molecular cells Sam needed." She put the piece of casing in the incubator, "Wow Ziggy, I can't wait to tell Sam."