License to Code (The Accidental Cases of Emily Abbott, #9)

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Next: Chapter 2

Chapter 1

“It’s a two-bedroom,” Brent had said, slowing the SUV as they entered a nicely manicured alley.

I’ve found the two bedrooms, Emily thought to herself, continuing to flick light switches on as she made her way down the dim hall in the ICS safe house.

She grinned as she remembered Brent’s next words. “A two-bedroom, two-bath, one-surveillance room, one-communications station —house.”

So basically a four-bedroom ICS has retrofitted.

They had pulled into a wide driveway with a two-car garage at the end and a separate, single-car garage to the side. Brent turned the SUV to face the single-car garage and waited.

In a matter of seconds, and without him pressing any buttons, the garage door opened smoothly.

She’d raised her eyebrows.

“NFC tag under the hood,” Brent had said, grinning. “There’s a sensor that scans for it. If the vehicle has it, it’s one of ours and the door automatically opens.”

“Ah… gadgetry. How I love it,” Emily had replied, making a mental note to read about NFC tags. Sounds fascinating.

She’d unbuckled her seatbelt as soon as they pulled into the garage and the door began closing behind them.

“But wait,” Brent said. “There’s more.”

He’d grinned almost wickedly when she’d let out a small scream as the floor beneath their vehicle shifted downward in an elevator-like motion.

Once they were below ground-level, Brent pulled forward into an amber-lit tunnel just wide enough for the vehicle. Emily looked behind them to see the car-elevator rising back to ground level.

A short way down the tunnel, she saw a second elevator platform just completing its descent. Brent drove onto it and it began to climb automatically.

Now inside a second garage, Brent killed the engine and unbuckled.

“That was circuitous,” Emily said. “And so much automation!”

“Ooo ‘circuitious’ —such a good word,” Brent jumped out and came around to open her door with a flourish.

Parked next to them in the garage was a golf cart, which Brent explained she could use to get around the neighborhood.

And then, in answer to her unspoken question about the “circuitous” route they’d taken, he had explained ICS owned both the house they’d first stopped at and the one they’d arrived at via the tunnel. The first house was rented out to unsuspecting renters who had use of everything but the single garage.

“So if you’re needing a safe house because someone is following you, the first garage is a decoy, and then they have no idea where you’ve disappeared to?” Emily had asked.

Brent nodded.

“I love it.”

He’d carried her hastily-packed laundry basket into the house and showed her the basics of operating the alarm system. He’d then handed her a plain white binder and told her most questions she’d have about the safe house were answered inside the binder.

“Looks like I have some studying to do,” she said, weighing the book with her hands.

“At least you won’t get bored,” he’d said. His phone chirped, and he looked at it and frowned. “I have to get back. Santa is calling an emergency meeting about this whole situation with Donati and how badly you were compromised.”

He’d looked at her, a pained expression in his eyes. “I’m really sorry for letting that happen to you, Emily. I should have—done more.”

She’d laid a hand on his forearm. “Brent, I’m safe now. So stop blaming yourself and go be Santa’s best super-spy.”

“I’m not really a super-spy, you know—”

“Oh hush. You definitely are,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’ve seen enough movies to know.”

As she’d hoped, that made him laugh.

“Go on,” she said, making a shooing motion. “I’ll be just fine exploring this big empty house all by myself. I might even have fun.”

“Oh, I know you will,” he said. He’d hesitated just a moment and then, giving her shoulder a slightly awkward pat, he’d turned. “Stay safe. Read the binder. I’m only a phone call or text away.”

And 45-plus minutes drive, she now thought, considering the distance between this safe house near the White Tank Mountains and Vellichor, the ICS headquarters hidden in a secret basement of a library in Phoenix.

Humming in an effort to dispel some of the looming silence of the empty house, she opened one of remaining doors off the hall.

“Definitely the surveillance room,” she said to herself.

An L-shaped desk ran the length of two sides of the room, and the walls were covered, nearly to the ceiling, in flat-screen monitors. Emily pulled the binder from under her arm and flipped it open to the tabbed section marked, “Surveillance.” Skimming the information on the first page, she stopped and read a section.

“‘Surveillance systems are always online. Simple turn on the monitors.’ Well, that’s simple—ish,” she said and then looked up at the multiple monitors on the wall. “I’m going to have to stand on the desk to reach most of those.” She glanced back down and saw the next line of the instructions. “‘To turn on all monitors at once, look for the remote control on the wall behind the door.’”

She sighed in relief and partially closed the door, looking behind it. There, on the wall was a remote, as promised. She pulled it from the Velcro and turned to the bank of monitors, pressing the obvious green button. They all sprang to life and she grinned, replacing the remote.

She spent the next 10 minutes familiarizing herself with the views on each monitor. She discovered they were nicely organized by interior and exterior views. 

I’ve never been this safe, she decided.

It was hard to tear herself away from watching the monitors, but she wanted to see the communications room, so she finally went back into the hall and crossed to the door opposite the surveillance room. Lights winked in the darkness, and a chilled blast hit her.

She flicked the light switch and her eyes widened as the room sprang to light. She’d been expecting some phone and radio equipment—maybe a Ham rig, if she was lucky.

Though I probably shouldn’t broadcast anything right now since my call-sign is tied to my real identity and is easily looked up.

But she wasn’t prepared to see a miniature server room in addition. It reminded her of the Not-Lair below the shipping-container home of the middle-aged hacker known as Zero. 

This was a smaller setup than his, but she recognized the same kind of servers on racks. Cables snaked out of the servers and plugged into other—things? She wasn’t sure what they were until she flipped open the binder and stared at some diagrams for several long minutes.

“Switches?” She muttered the guess. “Good thing I don’t need to touch any of this.”

Still, she promised herself she’d read up on this section of the binder and understand it the best she could.

Couldn’t hurt and is probably interesting once you get into it.

She left, closing this door snugly behind her. The extra cold environment was giving her goosebumps. She located the second bathroom and a well-stocked linen closet. This exhausted the doors in the hallway.

Returning to the living room of the safe house, she plopped down on one of the poofy leather couches, hugging the binder to her chest and staring up at the vaulted ceiling and the custom fan whirling silently above her.

The house was definitely very safe.

But it was very quiet.

She peeked inside the binder again and then cleared her throat.

“Computer,” she said, “play Owl City.”

There was a soft chime and the computerized virtual assistant she’d read about answered through the speakers embedded in the ceiling, “Would you like to call Owl’s Roost?”

“What?” Emily sat bolt upright on the couch. “No, no—don’t do that! I don’t even know where that is.”

Probably an ICS location in Alaska or something.

“What can I assist with?” the voice asked.

“Do you play music?”

“Playing music,” the virtual assistant said brightly.

Smooth jazz filled the room.

Emily slumped back into the couch. “Well, at least it’s playing some kind of music and not prank-calling Alaska.”

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Next: Chapter 2

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