In desperation, Graham took what remained of his knife and tried to force the inch or so of the remaining blade in between the cover grate and the edge of the air shaft. It did not slide in easily, but Graham worked it into position. With a firm pull, the screw popped out. A second corner was free.
He pushed against the grate again, and this time, it popped quietly open. He pulled himself through the hole and into the Brain Room. He squatted down behind the room’s massive bank of blade server racks, put his knife back in his pocket, and breathed.
The racks stood floor to ceiling about two feet away from the wall. Each blade server held all of the vital information for a designated group of water production boiler units. The space where Graham squatted was a type of maintenance corridor – a narrow, dim dead-end where computer engineers would sometimes disappear for days to troubleshoot problems with the Brain Room’s hardware. The air shaft had been put in behind the server racks to provide ventilation, preventing the servers from overheating. It was nonetheless very warm back there. Dark and warm. Graham felt well concealed.
The servers hummed as usual. He peered through the cages to see what he could see; all of the indicator lights on the backs of the servers remained illuminated. He wasn’t too late.
Ian was yelling instructions to Peggy Lee. Graham could not make out her responses, but their exchange assured him that they had not detected his entry.
Graham crawled over to the end of the maintenance corridor and peeked around the corner. In front of the main console, the two rookie soldiers sat, strapped to their chairs, gagged, and hooded. Two other chairs lay on their side in the middle of the room, and reams of paper had been knocked to the floor. There had definitely been a struggle, but Ian and Peggy Lee had gotten the best of the soldiers, that much was obvious.
Peggy Lee was standing over the console with her back to Graham. Her head was bowed, and Graham could just see the edge of her cheekbone. She appeared to be readying a device of some sort. He could only see a few multicolored wires between her delicate fingers, but he knew that it had to be another bomb.
He recalled that less than half an hour ago she was running those same fingers through his hair as they tumbled into her room in that deceptive embrace – the proverbial spider and fly. She had hoodwinked and betrayed him, and he had fallen for it completely. If all had gone according to his plan, the two of them would have been, at that exact moment, sitting outside on the boat, sipping wine and watching shooting stars – maybe talking about life or revealing secrets to each other. What a fool he had been. He imagined running at her and pulling her down to the ground by her hair. He realized, however, that he did not know what he would do after that. Part of him wanted to scream in her face – loud and angry so she would fully register the depth of his injury. Another part of him just wanted to finish the kiss – to see if it had in fact been a complete lie.
He could not see Ian from his vantage point, but he could hear him breathing – just barely – over the humming servers. It sounded like he was just around the corner, which would make sense. Along with the central console, blowing up the main server racks would inflict the most damage and cause the longest outage. These two had definitely done their homework, from waiting to detonate the Battery Station explosives until after they had breached the Brain Room, to attacking the Brain Room when there were only two soldiers on duty.
Graham backed away from the corner and returned to the dark, warm safety of the maintenance corridor. He looked inside the air duct to see if Charley was on his way. No such luck. Graham could just make out Charley’s large shoulders still laboring away, trying to get around the corner in the shaft. He wanted to wait for Charley, but he knew that there was no time to waste. Ian and Peggy Lee could be finished at any second. It was up to him and him alone. He wondered what Burt Reynolds would have done in the same situation and wished he could call him on a celestial CB to get some advice. He did not feel like the right man for this job, but he was the only person standing between Peggy Lee and Ian’s destructive plot to destroy the Brain Room and the resulting sudden and massive die-off in Southern California. He knew he had to do something.
The air vent’s cover still hung loosely by one twisted screw. If he could yank the weighty cover free, he could use it as a weapon against Ian. Maybe he would land a lucky blow and put Ian on his back before Peggy Lee could get involved. It was worth a shot.
Graham took hold of the cover and pulled. The stubborn screw would not give. He put his foot against the wall for better leverage and pulled again. He could feel the cover giving way, and then suddenly it popped free. Graham fell backward into one of the server racks with a thud. He sat silently, holding the cover in his hands and listening. He thought he heard Ian whispering, but he could not be sure. He was afraid that he had just forfeited the element of surprise. He quietly shifted onto his hands and knees and crawled back over to the corner. Peggy Lee had disappeared. But Graham still was not sure whether they knew he was in the room with them or not. Perhaps she had just finished up her work on that explosive device and was helping Ian.
He stayed stock still for a moment, listening. Then, he peered around the corner of the line of server racks. Did they know he was there? He could not tell. He could not hear anything – just the low hum of the servers.
Graham took a silent, deep breath, gathered his courage, and counted to three in his head. On three, he rose up, stepped quickly around the end of the server rack, and with all his might swung the metal cover like a baseball bat at a height that he hoped would connect directly with the base of Ian’s skull.