The royal family has been rescued, so half the job is done. Now, Wil needs to find the raving lunatic, Aurialonous. Leaving the others to convey the king and his family to safety, they go in search of the dictator.
At the kitchen on the ground floor, they found the people Wil and Emory had gassed earlier. A cook, maid and butler sat at the table, out cold. Two guards had collapsed by the door. They left the servants tied up and gagged, but killed the guards.
A narrow stone stairway spiraled downward. It led to the servant’s quarters and wine cellar. Chances were good if there were a bolt hole for the King, it would be down here. It was the most defensible place in the palace.
Switching to infrared, Wil surveyed the cellar walls with care. They were thick, solidly built, probably part of the original structure dating back several hundred years. Cursing silently, he accessed the map once more and headed for the wine cellar first. It was to their right, down a damp, sloping tunnel, smelling of niter and mildew.
A systematic check of the area didn’t disclose any hidden mechanisms. Even the racks of wine bottles were built into the walls, hewn from the stone face of the bedrock. Wil examined it all with his cybereye, looking for the hint of a seam. The wine cellar was a dead end. Frustrated, they retraced their steps.
A long, dark hall continued in front of them, doors on either side, servants quarters. Wil switched again to infrared, stopping and scanning each room as they went down the hall. All of them there were empty.
Three doors from the end of the hall, Wil hesitated. He couldn’t see anything through the door, meaning it was shielded. This door was securely set in the wall and bolted inside. Wil figured a little plastique would do the trick to open it. He wasn’t an expert like Krall, but he could make something crudely effective. He set the charges and they took safe positions down the hall from the door, blowing it with a remote.
The explosives made a muffled thump, the door flying inward in pieces. Nothing happened. Moving quickly and silently, they cautiously picked their way into the room. Two men lay dead, killed by the impact of the door. Neither was Aurialonus.
On the wall behind the dead men, Wil saw the barest hint of a seam in the brick. It ran along the lines of the mortar, but little was hidden from his cybereye. He and Ben began a thorough search of the room looking for the control mechanism to open the door. Wil was ready to blow out another section of wall, but Ben had an idea.
“Could it be a voice code?”
“Hell if I know.”
“I’m guessing a password. Think about it, a command attuned to a particular voice could be risky. But a password, anyone can say and it will open right up. I mean, considering how lax the security has been so far, why not?”
Wil chuckled, he had to admit, twisted as it was, the idea was logical. A frown replaced the smile. “We’re no closer than we were then, we don’t know the password.”
“Something easy to remember. Something about the family, a pet, even the name of the city?”
“Gundesburg,” Wil spoke clearly and loudly.
Nothing happened. The names of all the royal family did nothing either. Five minutes guessing and they were out of ideas.
“Damn Aurialonus anyway!” Wil grumbled. A click sounded and a hiss of escaping air. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
He and Ben took defensive positions, waiting. The door eased open and inside they saw the crumpled form of the petty dictator.
“You suppose the shock of the explosion killed him?” Wil asked.
Ben shook his head, stepping carefully toward the man seated on a hard wooden chair.
“No, he’s breathing. Sound may have stunned him.”
Wil nudged the inert form with the tip of his gun. The man stirred slightly, mumbled and slowly opened his eyes. Their guns came up and he raised his hands in surrender.
“It’s over,” Wil said harshly in the native tongue of Starflatz. “Get up.”