Friday, September 11, 2009

Chapter 118: Opperant Conditioning

~ Without another word Cmd. Tucker spun on his heel and marched off toward a door in the far wall. Takyle glanced back at Andrew and Jaden; they both shrugged.

"Let's go," she said, turning and walking quickly to catch up with the commander. At the door he stopped and turned around.

"This job I have for you is of the utmost importance. Do you understand?"

"Sure, why not," said Andrew blandly. The commander shot him a scorching look.

"I'll need to know that you are going to give this your all," he said, this time addressing Takyle directly.

"I'm sure we'll do our best, Cmd. Tucker; why don't you go ahead and tell us what the task is?"

The commander tightened his lips and opened the door, stepping into the small room ahead of Team 6. He waved to a table set in the middle of the bare floor. In the center of the table sat a nondescript black box and a thin file folder.

"There are instructions in that file. Read and follow them." With that the commander turned around and left the room, closing the door behind him.

"You know what I like about that guy?" said Andrew. "He's so succinct. Abbreviated even. You see the point up ahead on the horizon and, bam, he's already there!"

"Alright Andrew, let's get to work," interrupted Takyle. Each of them took a chair around the table and Andrew flipped open the file.

"Ok, at the top it says Department of Cryptology and then under that there's a bunch of gibberish. It must be a code."

"And we have to break it?" guessed Jaden.

"Looks like it."

"Here," said Takyle. "Let me see." Andrew pushed the file across the table to her and she scanned the document quickly. "This could be a simple substitution code, in which case this shouldn't be too difficult. I know for a fact that e, followed by t and then a are the letters used most often in the English alphabet, so let's start by substituting those for whatever letters appears most often here." Takyle pulled out her pen and began tallying letters in the first few sentences of code.

"Ok, it looks like the three letters used most here are g, r, and u, in that order, so I'll sub those out and from that it's pretty obvious that these words are all 'the', 'an', or 'and'." After saying that Takyle fell silent as she quickly figured out the rest of the letters by simple trial and error.

"Alright, it says to press down the first two and the last of the small buttons at the same time to open the front panel of the box." Andrew pulled the box that was in the middle of the table toward him and flipped it over in his hands. On one side he located a row of small black buttons and pressed pushed the three that Takyle had indicated. With a near silent whir a panel above the buttons raised itself exposing a row of colored lights and three more rows of buttons.

"Ok, now what?"

"Now...input the initializing codes?" Takyle looked up. "Was there anything else in this file Andrew?"

"No, just that sheet of paper."

"Well, there has to be something else. Right under that is says 'Warning: Termination will ensue if proper initializing codes are not entered.'"

"Termination of what exactly?" asked Jaden quietly.

"Don't know. Hopefully not us. So let's figure this out." The team fell silent as they thought. Jaden felt his concentration slip, and he allowed his mind to wander, dreamlike, through memories. Suddenly he jerked and sat up straight.

"Hey! That scepter that I found in the dessert sim right before Andy got stabbed had numbers on it!"

"Who has it?" asked Takyle.

"I did have it, but we've switched stuff around since then," offered Andrew, slipping his pack off and looking through his gear. "Yup, still got it! And you're right, there are numbers etched on it." Andrew laid the scepter on the table. "You think that those numbers are the code?"

Jaden leaned over to look into the open panel. "Well, the numbers on the scepter are in three groups of eight, and the box has three rows of buttons inside, so maybe each bunch of numbers corresponds to one line of buttons?"

"Seems like that could be the case, but is that a chance we're willing to take?" asked Takyle. "You know, what with the "warning" and all."

"Well I don't have any better ideas," Andrew said with a shrug.

"Ok...let's do it."

Andrew bent over the box once again. "So, you're thinking that these buttons represent the numbers zero to nine from left to right, Jay, and each of the number strings is entered on its own line?"

"Yeah, I mean, it seems logical doesn't it?"

"Sure, I guess. Ok, so the first line of numbers is 38661942?" ask Andrew, his hand hovering over the buttons. Jaden glanced at the scepter to confirm the digits for Andrew and nodded. Andrew gingerly pressed the first button and the lights began flashing red. He quickly but carefully finished the other seven digits and pulled his hand back. The lights flashed yellow once and then went back to blinking red.

"Is that a good sign you think?" Andrew asked, looking up to get the second string of numbers.

"Maybe," said Takyle. "Keep going."

"75204019," Jaden read off for Andrew. Again the lights blinked yellow once.

"Ok, last one," said Jaden. "65523960."

As soon as the last button on the last line was pressed the blinking lights sped up disconcertingly for about a second and then all turned to solid green. With a final small beep the entire box went dead. For several moments Team 6 sat still, waiting. Finally Andrew spoke up.

"Huh... Well that was anti-climatic. Did we do something wrong?" ~


Paul Kuliniewicz said...

Reading the warning *before* punching buttons on the mystery box probably would've been a better idea.

Renee Leyburn said...