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Damaged – Ch. 36

It wasn’t quite an hour before they arrived at the library. Reese insisted on circling the block several times and parking half a dozen blocks away, then he made Finch wait in the car while he reconnoitered on foot. Finch was anxious to regain contact with his Machine, but he understood the need for caution. Perhaps not quite so much caution, but Reese needed this, needed to prove that he could still do the job that Finch had asked him to do. Finch had no doubts, of course, but Reese…Finch had a feeling it would take some time before Reese stopped trying to convince himself.

Finally, Reese returned, pulling the wheelchair out of the back seat and holding it still while Finch levered himself out of the car and into the chair. “Everything looks quiet and undisturbed,” Reese said. “I swept the place for bugs and outside wireless signals. Everything came back clean.”

“Good, thank you,” Finch said, trying not to sound impatient. He swiveled the chair around and began rolling himself down the sidewalk. Reese quickly caught up.

“Let me know when your arms get tired.”

Finch glanced up at him. “I am getting pretty good at this thing,” he said with a small, crooked smirk.

“Oh, yes,” Reese said with a broad grin. “I’m sure the CIA will very impressed…when they shoot you. Oh, wait – they already did.”

“Well, technically, Snow was going against orders when he shot me, so…” He trailed off, noticing a slight thinning of Reese’s lips, a tightening around his eyes, as though he was in pain. “Too soon for humor, perhaps.”

“Maybe a little,” Reese said. He dropped back and stepped over behind Finch. Finch took his hands off the wheels and folded them in his lap as Reese began to push. It took a monumental force of will not to ask if Reese was all right, if he wanted to talk about whatever had pained him, but Finch already knew the answers, they had already talked about Snow, and a New York sidewalk was not exactly the best place to revisit such topics.

They arrived at the library without incident and slipped quietly in through the back door. Finch made a mental note to have Reese install a second security system on the door, and perhaps a motion-activated camera on the stairs. And speaking of the stairs…

“Where’s the elevator?” Reese asked, stopping just inside the door and locking it behind them. Finch began to roll himself through the minefield of discarded books, toward the wide, sweeping staircase.

“There is no elevator,” he said. The chair stopped short and he sat back, looking stiffly over his shoulder at Reese, holding on to the back of the chair.

“Of course there’s an elevator,” Reese said. “All public buildings have to be handicapped accessible. Besides, nobody would carry all those books upstairs.”

“Most of those books are mine, Mr. Reese, and I did, in fact, carry them upstairs. But you’re right, there was an elevator when this was a public building, but I have since re-purposed that space and put it to better use.”

“And now I ask the man in the wheelchair, what use could be better for an elevator than as an elevator?”

“I’ll admit, my current situation is inconvenient, but if you’ll help me upstairs, I’ll show you what’s more important than an elevator.”

Reese leaned down, his breath warm on the side of Finch’s neck. “I hope it’s a bedroom,” he murmured in that deep and sultry purr of his, sending a shudder down through Finch’s body.

“Not that we’ll be using it,” Finch said, doing his level best to keep his voice even, “but there is a bedroom upstairs; however, it is not in the elevator shaft. Now, if you wouldn’t mind…” He locked the brakes so the chair wouldn’t move and braced his hands on the armrests, taking a deep breath before pushing himself up onto his feet. Reese was at his side in a moment, wrapping an arm around him and supporting his weight on the injured side.

Tentatively, Finch took a step. His hip was stiff from so much inactivity, the blood pounded in his thigh, feeling like a hammer beating against his muscles, and there was a sharp, tight pain, probably from the sutures, but in all, it wasn’t bad, not for having been shot only two days prior.

They were both sweaty and struggling for breath by the time they reached the hub of their lair. Finch couldn’t stifle a groan as Reese lowered him into his work chair.

“Wishing you hadn’t turned the elevator into an atrium, or whatever you did to it?” Reese asked with a breathless chuckle.

Finch gave him a thin smile, trying not to let his discomfort show. His neck and hip ached, and the wound in the back of his thigh was positively throbbing. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice – structurally, the elevator shaft was the only option.”

“All right, now you’re being the tease. Are you going to tell me, or do I have go looking for it?”

With as much time as Reese had spent skulking around in the library, if he hadn’t found it already, Finch doubted he’d be able to find it now. Part of him wanted to face the challenge, to see if the super spy could beat the computer geek, but they didn’t have time for games, and besides, Reese was having enough trouble with his self-worth. Finch didn’t want to see him get frustrated.

With his good leg, Finch pushed his wheeled chair across the room to the tall, rolling ladder attached to tracks high on the wall. Reaching down, Finch felt along underneath the bottom step, his fingertips brushing over a slick piece of duct tape. He picked at the edge for a moment, then peeled it off and tossed it to Reese, the added weight of the small silver key stuck to the tape making it fly easily through the air.

Reese caught it and peeled the key free, turning it over in his hands. “Are you giving me another apartment?” he asked with a crooked grin.

“You tell me.”

Reese examined the key for another moment, then glanced around the room. He walked unerringly over to the heavy steel gates that protected Finch’s rarest books, the gates secured by a heavy padlock and chain. Finch rolled himself closer as Reese opened the lock and pulled the chain free. The gates creaked as Reese swung them wide open.

“Open sesame!” Reese said, his voice echoing back from the high ceiling.

“Nice try, Ali Baba,” Finch said with a chuckle. “Reach up there and take down that manuscript of Audubon’s Birds of America, would you? Carefully,” Finch added as Reese grabbed the thick book. “I paid over eight million for that book twelve years ago.”

“Holy shit, Finch,” Reese said, running a hand over the cover of the book. “Now I’m really glad I decided not to blow up the library.”

“You what?”

“After I got you back from Mark, when I came here to get your glasses and laptop, I figured the location had been compromised and to keep the CIA from getting their hands on all this stuff, I considered a scorched earth tactic.”

“Prudent, but…” He felt sick, hollow inside, at the thought of losing all his equipment, his books, his system. “I’m glad you didn’t. What made you decide not to?”

“The thought of the look on your face when I told you that I’d destroyed all your books.” He held out the Audubon book to Finch.

Finch took it and carefully lifted the cover, the hand drawn and painted illustrations as bright and vibrant as the day they were put to paper, the birds ready to fly right off the page. “There are things in this building far more valuable than books,” he said softly. He glanced up at Reese. “Feel in the empty space where you took the book from,” he said. “There’s a button recessed into the shelf; it feels like a knot.”

“Yes, here it is.” There was a faint click as Reese pressed the button. He stepped back, an expectant look on his face, which turned into a slight frown when nothing happened.

“Go ahead and put the book back,” Finch said, fighting to keep his lips from quirking as he handed the heavy volume to Reese. Reese slid the book back into place. “Now, push on the shelf – the wood, not the books. It swings inward.”

Reese pushed, putting his weight into it as the shelf slowly swung open. “It’s heavy,” he said, pausing to rub his knee.

“You’re not ripping your stitches out, are you?” Finch asked, using his good leg to pull himself across the floor, inching toward Reese.

“No, it’s fine,” Reese said, straightening up before Finch could demand an examination. “It just aches a little.” He put his shoulder against the shelf and swung it open the last few feet, revealing a small, empty room with the dull, silver elevator doors in the opposite wall. Stepping behind Finch, Reese pushed the rolling desk chair over to the elevator. “Up or down?”

“Up,” Finch said, reaching out to press the button. “Down sets off a silent alarm and closes the shelf, trapping whoever is in here.”

“Gotta love a man with good security habits,” Reese said, placing a hand on Finch’s shoulder, “but what do you have in here that’s so important?”

“Do you remember when you asked me where my central computer was kept?” Finch said, raising his voice as the thick elevator doors trundled open and a low moan filled the room. A stiff breeze whipped past them, stirring Finch’s hair and making Reese’s coat flap around his legs as the air was drawn in from their workroom and sent howling up the shaft.

Finch rolled himself forward, into the vertical shaft, the floor beneath the wheels of his chair a thick grate to allow the air to circulate. Above were three more levels, each holding a bank of sixteen servers. Strangely, they were all dark.

“What’s with the wind?” Reese asked, following him into the shaft and struggling to keep his overcoat from blowing up a la Marilyn Monroe.

“It carries the heat away,” Finch replied, frowning as he reached out and placed a hand on the side of one of the server banks. It was cold.

“Something wrong?”

“These shouldn’t be off,” Finch said, pushing himself along and peering behind the servers, where a thick bundle of power cables led up to a heavy-duty electrical box. Nothing looked damaged or unplugged.

“I did kill the generator,” Reese said.

Finch shook his head. “These are not dependent on the generator,” he said. “The draw is enormous; I’d need four such generators.”

“But I thought you said this building was independent of the electrical grid.”

“It is,” Finch said, finding it hard to concentrate on the problem and answer Reese’s questions. He rolled himself over to the master server and hesitantly pressed the power button, holding his breath as the machine whirred to life, beeping and chuffing to itself as it relayed instructions to the other servers, turning them on one by one. Slowly, Finch let out his breath when there were no sparks, no explosions, no smoke. Everything seemed fine.

“Harold, did you hear me?” Reese asked, touching him on the shoulder. Finch looked up at him. “I asked where the power comes from.”

“Sorry; distracted,” Finch said. He motioned for Reese to push his chair out of the server room, his eyes dried by the constant wind, and it would only get worse now that the machines were running again. Already, he could feel the wind speed picking up. Once outside the room, he pressed the up button again and the doors slid closed, cutting off the air from the rest of the building. It was most efficient in a closed system environment anyway.

The silence seemed to echo without the wind moaning in his ears. “The power,” he said, adjusting the volume of his voice when it sounded like he was shouting, “is generated by the servers themselves. As you know, heat rises, and the vertical structure of the elevator shaft, coupled with several low-friction wind turbines and an electrical amplifier that I created- Well, that part’s really technical, but it manages to be self-sustaining, which is why I can’t figure out why it would have shut off.”

Reese stopped pushing the chair and turned it around so that Finch faced him. “Harold, are you telling me that you created a machine that powers itself? And you’re keeping it a secret? If every business had one of these, it would practically solve the energy crisis overnight.”

“Yes, I know,” Finch said with a sigh. “Unfortunately, I have to keep it a secret. You see, I came up with this idea when I was at MIT, and I built a prototype and I showed it to a few of my professors. One of them suggested I get a patent, which I did, and shortly thereafter, I was approached by a representative of National Grid who offered me ten million dollars for the patent. Of course, I was young and naive about many things, and I thought a power company would be in a much better position to implement my design, but instead they’ve sat on it for the past forty years. Now, I realize that giving people the ability to create their own energy was not in the best interests of National Grid. Live and learn, I guess.”

“It’s always about money, isn’t it?” Reese said, turning him back around and finishing pushing him back into the workroom.

“Money isn’t always a bad thing,” Finch said, scooting up to his desk and turning on his system. He waited for the computer to boot up…and waited…and waited. “This is…odd,” he muttered. Was there a virus in his system? Couldn’t be. He had better firewalls and security programs than any system he’d ever encountered.

“Could your computer troubles be the reason you can’t reach the Machine?” Reese asked.

“No,” Finch said with a shake of his head. “That system is independent of mine. I don’t know-” Finally, the login screen appeared and Finch signed in. After another inordinately lengthy pause, his desktop appeared on the screen. The first thing he did was start a systems check, which seemed to take forever. He glanced over at Reese, standing beside the desk, just…hovering, his gaze unfocused as he stared at something just past Finch.

Finally, the computer beeped and the screen filled with data. No viruses, no malfunctions, no bad code- “What the hell?”

“What is it?” Reese asked, stepping over beside him and leaning down to see the screen.

Finch reached out, indicating a string of numbers. “That is the memory of the central computer and somehow it is completely full of something. That shouldn’t be possible.”

“Maybe the last time you were downloading porn, you filled it up and just didn’t notice.”

Finch gave him an un-amused look through the top edge of his glasses. “Mr. Reese, there isn’t enough porn on the internet to fill those servers. It’s probably a Trojan or a Worm, an annoyance designed to self-replicate and take up space, though how it got through, I have no idea. Thank God the system shut down and kept it isolated. I’m going to have to wipe it and reinstall all my software.” He groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. It was going to take hours.

“Anything I can do?” Reese asked.

“Tea. Lots of tea. Please.”

Reese chuckled and patted him on the shoulder before heading off into the kitchen area.

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5 Comments
  1. dancingdog permalink

    waiting and waiting for this…**SQUEELLL**
    back for a second read so I can comment…..happy happy…

  2. YAY! It’s FRIDAY!!! XD

    And such lovely bantering, too!

    Faves: “I’m sure the CIA will very impressed…when they shoot you. Oh, wait – they already did.” XD XD XD
    “Now I’m really glad I decided not to blow up the library.” – As am I!
    “Gotta love a man with good security habits.” – Yes, you do. 😉

    Loved how you had the secret room behind that beautiful bookshelf. Also, really REALLY loved how Finch had invented a self-sustaining computer! 😀

    I don’t know if this is a typo or not: “Finch took it and carefully lifted the color” – Did you mean “cover”?

    I sort of have an idea what had shut down the library servers, but I shan’t say it for fear it might spoil the fun for other readers. 😉 Lovely job, as always!!

  3. Plink 42 permalink

    Hmmm… What on earth is up with the machine? I can’t even guess at this point, which I’m sure was you’re intention. Love a good mystery. 🙂

    I hope Reese gets his confidence back soon. Seeing him less than sure of himself is disconcerting. Keep working on him, Finch.

    Can’t wait until next week!

  4. Emmie permalink

    I love this story! I read almost the whole thing while I was ill and I’ve been dying to read this chapter for the past week. You are the absolute best author in this fandom. I can’t wait to find out what’s happening with the system. I wonder if it has anything to do with the things Finch taught the Machine ealier in the story? Giving a Machine true human insight would probably take up more space thatn all the porn on the internet ;).

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