Below the Broken Pipes
The same familiar sights passed them by — everything around them all explored and stripped of valuables. A maze of concrete buildings that towered over them, steel beams covered in rust, and all of it jumbled into a ruinous mess piled beneath layers of snow that made travel both dangerous and time-consuming. The two of them were still young and inexperienced, but desperation had forced them further away from known spots. Keila couldn't just rely on a measly trinket or a handful of cigarettes. She needed something good, a big haul of supplies that would impress the people back home in their complex, and allow them to pay off the Múrakka's protection fees. Since there were two of them, they both had to pull their weight and bring back enough to satisfy everyone. Despite the added pressure, Keila believed in Raika and herself. They had done fine previously and now that the world was open to the two of them, she was sure they could achieve something great. Hesitant to waste any time, her old friend was already shifting between the rubble, looking for the devices and components that were still salvageable. She had a knack for tinkering and repairing old electronics, as evident by the multitude of tools and seemingly useless wires and widgets that hung from her belt. The weather wasn't optimal for digging around in old collapsed structures, but their people back home were getting impatient. Keila and Raika could not simply wait for the thick layer of clouds to lift from the skies over the city of Gale. They had to scavenge in the dark, guided only by a single fading lightrod and their instincts. As the thoughts were passing through her mind, Keila noticed a highway arching over their path within a minutes walk. "Better get the rod out," she shouted to Raika, who seemed all too distracted with the shattered pile of electronics that she had stumbled across. "It's gonna get dark!" Those words had broken her gaze off from the scrap. "The lightrod?" she asked puzzled. "Why would we nee—" the broad, six-laned overarching road finally caught her eye. "Oh yeah, I see it now." she chuckled and rummaged through a tattered and roughly patched backpack, pulling out the rod. Unsure of their exact whereabouts, Keila moved close to her friend. She wanted to carry their light source and being close meant that they didn't have to shout across the street to communicate with each other. Talking loudly and spreading out to find more valuables was a strategy that had worked well for them on all of their previous scavenging runs, but this time things were different. They were nearly adults now, and they couldn't rely on the safety of Lainas Square or the Oldport District. To bring back something good, something that would prove their worth to their families and help them pay their fees, meant going to previously unknown parts of town. "I hope we aren't walking straight into some gang's hideout." Raika said with a nervous chuckle. The same concern had crossed Keila's mind on their walk as well, but looking around, the streets appeared safe. No unknown footprints in the snow, no poorly drawn graffiti on the walls, just the sound of the two of them and the crunching snow beneath their boots. If anything were to sneak up on them, they would have heard it. Raika passed the lightrod over to her friend as the pair returned to a range in which they could whisper. "The snow seems undisturbed and last time it snowed was four days ago," Keila assured her. "I doubt we'll have to worry about people ruining this run for us." As those murmurs parted her lips, she activated the omnidirectional light source, illuminating the dark area under the elevated highway. The carmine light flickered briefly before finally stabilizing, and it revealed a concrete road with pedestrian sidewalks on both sides. The snow had pushed under the road's cover, but after a few steps, the ground had cleared up. Only the damp puddles showed signs that the snow had reached that far. "Is it oddly warm here?" Raika remarked in a soft-spoken tone with a definite hint of confusion present in her voice. The crisp cold air that the girls had been breathing in for the overwhelming majority of their lives seemed different — replaced with something warm and heavy — a peculiar phenomenon like that conjured images of powerful active generators and dangerous machinery in her mind. Excitement had started building up inside of her, but she felt a need to suppress it. There was no reason to get their hopes up without concrete evidence of anything, but even as she tried telling herself that, a part of her considered the unnatural heat worth investigating. As she walked further to the centre, the light revealed an indented area in the wall. The deep red colour of her lightrod reflected off the cleaner parts of the otherwise heavily corroded door that stood ajar. A plaque on the top of the doorframe read "Sbogat i Apsi". The script was familiar to her — the same elegant curves that were present in Risasic, but what the words meant, she couldn't tell. The word Apsi did remind her of a few other signs and documents that she had run across before. Old references to a group of people called the Aspinians. From what she could remember, those people had established a small diplomatic presence on the planet. Considering the similarities of the two words, it seemed plausible that whatever she had stumbled across could have been an embassy or something similar. If the theories emerging in her thoughts were in any way correct, then the sign read "Embassy of Apsi" or perhaps "Embassy of the Apsi". Keila wasn't sure whether the Apsi or Apsinians were just an ethnic group or if they had a country of their own. "Hey, I think I found the source of the heat." Raika mentioned from behind Keila. Raika was kneeling down next to a tiny crack in the pavement with her hands held over it. "It's nice and warm." she said with a cheerful smile. "There's a room or possibly a whole house here," Keila gestured towards the doorway. "Perhaps there are generators there powering the place." Raika seemed puzzled. "So there's a small power station or something like that just under an elevated highway?" "No, I think it might be an embassy or something similar," Keila explained. "See that sign? The last word reminded me of the Apsinians. A few runs ago, I recovered historical records that mentioned them and the text said something about a diplomatic presence in the city." Her friend didn't seem convinced. "So you based your whole theory on the last word of that sentence just because it looked like a slightly different word that you've seen before?" "Well, yes," the words jostled around in her mind, trying desperately to explain the reasoning behind the theory. "Let's just go in and see for ourselves. The door seems open already." Raika let out a sigh, "I suppose it won't hurt to check it out," she conceded. "Just keep an eye out for traps or anything hazardous." Before opening the door, Keila looked in with her light source in hand. The stick's red glow revealed a small room with an intimidating steel door opposite of where Keila was standing. The rest of the room was cluttered with old furniture, low glass tables that and wooden shelves beside the soft couches and what looked like a receptionist's desk. The whole area seemed undisturbed save for the broken pipes on the ceiling that dripped a murky substance down to the partially flooded floor. Raika stood behind her, nervously twitching and awaiting a response. "So, Is it safe?" she whispered. "The floor's a bit flooded," Keila responded and opened the door so that her friend could see for herself. "but this doesn't exactly look like an embassy." she admitted. Judging by the impenetrable door in the room, the thought of a bunker had entered her stream of consciousness. Something like that didn't seem too unbelievable. Before the war, dozens of shelters were established to protect the people in case something were to happen. What was strange was the fact that it was still seemingly sealed and that it belonged to such an obscure group of people. "A safe," Raika added. "or perhaps a bu—" a sudden clash rang aloud in the distance, a sound resembling a chunk of metal falling from great heights. Seconds later, several distinct voices followed, their distant shouts muffled by the wind and distance. Keila grabbed her friend by the arm and pulled her indoors. "We need to move, quick!" she waded through the water and approached the keypad. "Look around for a password!" Looking over the keys, she noticed something off about them. Each of the buttons bore a single character from the alphabet in addition to the typical numbers that one might expect from a standard keypad. "There's an active datapad!" declared Raika as she frantically skimmed through the papers while waiting for the device to activate. "it's just a bit slow." "The code might contain normal letters from the alphabet," Keila said as she made leaned over the desk to look over some of the papers. "Hey, what's this?" Her eyes had caught a red, slightly reflective card from amongst the other seemingly useless documents that were all incomprehensible to both of them. As she picked the card up from the pile, rubbing a finger across its smooth surface to clean it of dust, she saw that the otherwise plain card displayed a logo and a few words. Beneath the heavily stylized gear with a hammer behind it were the foreign words that said "Adigòg - fiykòkò". She held it up, trying to make sense of the words but to no avail. "I assume you're probably as clueless as I am about this?" she showed it to Raika. "Yeah, looks like gibber—" Raika's words trailed off before she could finish the sentence. "Wait, maybe... the first word reminds me of the word Adigoleti, but there's no way our word for password so similar to theirs is there? Am I just grasping at slippery ice?" Keila shrugged. "There's only one way to know for sure." She took the card to the door with her. Before she could press the first of the keys, a loud bang crashed through the silence outdoors. The strangers were getting close, and without a place to hide or the weapons to fight back, the damp room in which they were standing would likely become their grave. Before continuing on from the first character, she took in a deep breath and tried to let out all of the shakiness that had tried to take hold of her. Carefully and without fail, she entered the unknown word, and the door responded. Lights flickered on. Steam had begun to pour out of the broken pipes above them, but after a few seconds, the doors lock gave off a satisfying, yet discomfortingly loud click sound. Without wasting any time, the girls pulled the door open and entered the new room. "Shouldn't we shut the door?" Keila asked. Raika held up the heavy door so that only a tiny sliver of light could pass through. "It might lock us in," she explained. "We shouldn't close it completely before we know for certain that it can be opened from this side with the same password." Keila looked over her new surroundings — a clean hallway that went on for a few meters and then split into a T-section. The lights all seemed to work, likely powered by whatever generator had managed to heat the concrete under the elevated highway. She had hoped to find some small, but sturdy to hold the door open with, but the only thing there was a metal box. Using that would have made the open door easier to spot, especially with the lights inside all turned on. "Just grab that container over there if you can and jam it in here!" Raika asked, clearly aware of what Keila had been staring at for several seconds. The box was surprisingly light, but it held up under the door's pressure. The two ran down the hallway as fast as they could, kicking up tons of dust on their way. As they tried to cover their faces from breathing it all in, they reached two doors at the end of the hallway. On their right, a door with another keypad and a bright red light above the frame, and on their left another metal door that was already partially open. Unwilling to waste their time figuring out the password, they chose to go down the path of least resistance. Upon brightening the room up with her lightstick, Keila and her friend realized what they had stumbled across. Rows of crates and boxes upon metal shelves, a map of their local region, a pair of old tablets, and a couple of lockers filled to the brim with rifles, pistols, knives, and ammunition. They had what they had wanted. Now all that remained was the journey back home.