Dax managed to lever off the top of the switch with a brisk clack! It popped off cleanly; he put it to one side and took a look. He had picked a switch where the current was apparently flowing, and the mechanism underneath seemed fine, both terminals clean. He shone a torch into it, getting intrigued now despite himself. “Vale, can you get the cover off one of the others, one that’s not working?”

“Sure,” she said, and promptly attacked one of the other switches with gusto, making Dax smile. In short order she had it off, and the two of them peered at the mechanism. It looked much the same as the first one. Dax ran a piece of rag over the terminals to check for corrosion. It all seemed fine.

“Hmph,” said Vale. “Now what?”

Dax wasn’t listening. He was running his eye over the control panel. Circuitry. Phial in the middle as a power source. And these switches -

“Why so many?” he said aloud.

“What?” Vale asked.

“The switches. Why are there so many of them?” He looked at the edge of the door, just visible in the roof. “I mean, okay, it’s an evil Ancestral door, but it’s still just a door, right? It opens, closes, locks and unlocks. That’s it. So you don’t need all these controls just for that. What if they’re not all for the door? Are there any other devices around here?”

Vale and Sartel exchanged a look. “Not that we’ve found -”

Dax was getting interested in the problem, wanting to keep the momentum going. “Have you checked the tunnel thoroughly?”

“Once we found the door we pretty much stopped looking,” said Vale.

“Then let’s go over it again.”

Dax picked up the torch and started down the tunnel, playing the beam over the interior. The walls were rough as if they had been hacked out in chunks, casting shadows that made it difficult to see. As Vale joined him, snapping her own torch on, it helped a little, casting back the gloom.

There was another light as well, one Dax had got used to: the soft blue glow from the guns they were both carrying. As he’d noticed when Kaire first gave him a weapon, back near the place Athellus had called Ember’s Shrine, Evinthei handguns had a chamber on one side that seemed to be full of bright blue liquid, almost bioluminescent. Athellus normally kept his gun under his jacket, and it wasn’t that visible during the day, but down here it was a faint and steady glow. Dax was about to ask about it when he remembered such a question might well be his undoing.

He looked away quickly, as if his interest might be enough to make him look guilty, and spotted something in the wall of the tunnel, a paler flash against the dark, wet stone. “Look. What’s that?”

Vale shone her light on it as Dax went to take a look. It was a node sticking out of the tunnel, almost hidden in a cleft in the rock, about the size of Dax’s fist. It was the same colour as the door in the tunnel’s roof, and had a notch on one end.

“Like a sensor, maybe?” Vale wondered. “To track people coming down the tunnel, linked to the door?”

“Could be.” Dax put the torch between his neck and shoulder and tugged at the node gently. It didn’t move, but when he tried to unscrew it, the piece of stone began to move readily. Gently he unscrewed it from the wall until it came loose and tugged again, surprised when something much larger moved. The ‘node’ was the tip of a long cylinder about the length of Dax’s arm and perhaps half as wide again. The cylinder looked much like the control board for the door, wrapped into a tube: there was another central phial, more wiring, and some sort of connector at the back.

“Can you take this?” he asked. “It’s not heavy.”

He passed the cylinder to Vale, and she drew it further out of the wall. A single cable ran from the end, disappearing into the cavity in the wall where it had come from. Dax shone his torch beyond and into the hole, looking at what was back there.

“Yeah,” he said after a minute. “Yeah. I think the Scorpieth attack overhead damaged this tunnel, just a crack or so. Water’s been running down into this cavity. It’s overloaded something. Both the sensor and the door must be on the same circuit. So…”

He mused, looking at the water damage. “I get it. The Ancestor self-repair’s been trying to work on this, and taking power from the door mechanism to do it, but it can’t complete the circuit because of the damage to the components. The signal’s not getting through, so the system locked it open. Probably the basic fix/no fix command, stuck in a loop. Ancestors hardwired it right in… shame we couldn’t keep that in the Archive or we’d have less trouble...”

“Can you get in there to fix it?”

“Yeah, I can get my arm down.” Dax peered down into the hole, intently. “I mean, it looks like just a matter of fixing the corroded contact points so the self-repair can finish. These systems are smart and both phials are intact.”

“I’ll get the toolkit.” Vale drew the cylinder further out of the wall and laid it on the floor carefully, then went back the way she had come at a jog.

Dax leaned further into the hole. He could see the water damage wasn’t too bad, mainly located to the contact points attached to the back of the cavity. He could strip out those one-handed without too much trouble, and use some liquidised copper to replace them. That wouldn’t compare to Ancestor alloys, which took decades to corrode, but it would more than serve for a quick fix to get the door closed. Later they could send a team for a proper repair if need be: they had more than enough Ancestor scraps back at Lyon’s Boulevard to do it.

When Vale returned, she handed him a small pair of pliers and he began removing the damaged elements with exquisite concentration, peeling them off from the back of the wall while Vale held the cylinder out of the way and the torch in her teeth. Once that was done Dax rubbed the worst of the moisture away with a rag, and reached back for the liquid copper. This came in a tube with a narrow nozzle at one end. The substance inside was copper mixed with a polymer that kept it in a semi-solid state until it came into contact with air, at which point it hardened. The effect was a little like using writing icing. Dax carefully squeezed lines of it onto the back wall with the steady hand of long practice, then took a screwdriver and removed the contact points at the end of the cylinder, now filthy with corrosion. A few dots from the tube replaced them - not perfect, especially on something like this, but it would do for a field repair.

While they waited for it to dry, he turned the cylinder over in his hands to look at it. “All seems intact apart from that.”

“The captain’s not going to like having an Ancestral sensor down here,” said Vale.

“Well, if the self-repair’s that good, he’s going to have to live with it. I wonder where the main computer for this is.”

“Yeah. If it’s local, we might be able to get a feed, and see what’s been going on down here.”

Dax blew gently on the liquid copper and touched it with a fingertip. It was cold and hard. “Okay. Let’s try it out.”

With the node screwed back into the wall, they headed back to the door. Even from here they could see that the storeroom was deserted. Vale frowned. “Where did Sartel go? He was here when I fetched the kit…”

“Never mind.” Dax took a look at the control panel for the door. As he watched, the glyphs on the dark switches began to light up and he grinned. “Nice. ‘Victory in seeking, in hunting, in thinking’, right?“

“Amen to that.” Vale smiled, but the smile was soon gone and she looked uneasy. “Can you handle the door from here? I want to see where Sartel went. He shouldn't have left.”

“No problem.”



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