Chip entered Murk’s office, keeping his eye out for anything dangerous or useful. The room was sparsely furnished but pleasantly decorated. The wood paneling of the walls was gently lit by a small glowing dome on the ceiling, while two tables on opposite sides of the room held lamps that enhanced the dim effect to the point that it was almost bearable. A few paintings on the walls showed images of ocean life and vast wetlands on alien worlds, with a picture of a nebula on the wall behind the desk.
Zack pushed his way in after, keeping his eyes on Chip. Hobbar and Igneous followed, with Igneous carefully locking the door behind her. Zack walked to the desk and began a practiced sweep of the area.
“You’d think someone as successful as Murk could afford a few chairs,” said Hobbar.
“Pyrhians at his stage of life don’t really need to sit,” said Igneous. “They can fashion themselves into whatever form is easiest. Lying down, sitting, and standing amount to about the same effort for water people.”
“And he likes other people to be uncomfortable,” said Chip. “If you’re meeting him in his office, he wants you standing.”
“Nothing,” said Zack. “There’s nothing here. Nothing I can use, anyway. The entire desk is… it’s police-raid safe. Clean as a weatherman’s car. Only notes on legitimate business, personal finance… I pegged Murk as sloppier than this.”
“Oh, he’s sloppy,” said Chip. “He’s just careful about it. Check behind Vendril Eight Four Eight.”
“Behind what?” asked Hobbar.
“The picture,” said Igneous. “One of the first regions of space that Pyrhians colonized.”
Zack grabbed the painting and moved his hands across its frame until he found a latch. He pulled it, and the painting swung out on hinges like a door revealing a safe with a small control panel and four spaces for numbers.
“A secret safe,” he said.
“Murk was pretty open about it, actually,” said Chip. “I think he felt like he’d finally made it when he could afford that thing. He showed it to me the first time I met with him here. I didn’t even have anything he needed to put there. I’ve heard other people say that he shows it off pretty regularly. And the good news is that Murk is mostly transparent. The combination is Three Five Five Eight.”
Zack reached out to enter the code.
“Wait,” said Hobbar. “That’s an Eversteel safe. Eversteel safes can have false codes installed that can activate alarms.”
Zack glared at Chip, who smiled genially.
“They’ll also lock people out for an hour if there are too many failed attempts to open the safe too quickly. …which can also, at the owner’s option, set off alarms.”
“So brute forcing my way through the possible combinations isn’t an option,” said Zack.
“You really think we’d have that kind of time?” asked Igneous.
“Probably not,” said Zack. “Even with only three numbers it could take over an hour.”
Zack carefully looked over the control panel. He didn’t have the tools needed to check for fingerprints properly, but Pyrhians didn’t have fingerprints. Murk had a lot of pseudo-water that could be formed into fingers if needed, and while he might not need fingers to pick things up he still used them for interacting with human-made controls. Three of the buttons definitely had wear on them, as if they’d been polished from extra use.
“I think I can tell which buttons he’s used the most,” said Zack.
“Nice job,” said Chip. “But do you really think you can know what order they’re in?”
“Igneous, does the Pyrhian alphabet have an equivalent to the letter V?” asked Zack. “Is it the third letter by any chance?”
“Yes,” said Igneous. “To both.”
Zack entered a three as the first number, followed by an eight, a four, and another eight. Igneous groaned and Hobbar looked confused.
“What?” said Hobbar.
“Ordinarily I wouldn’t try something so obvious, but it fits the used numbers. Vendril Eight Four Eight. Unless you have any better ideas?”
“It’s a step up from using birthdays, at least,” said Igneous.
Zack grabbed the safe’s handle and pulled. The lights around the numbers turned a reassuring shade of green, and a moment later the safe’s door swung open. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Not as confident as you seem?” asked Chip.
“I was worried that code for access would’ve been set to also be a code that sets off an alarm,” said Zack.
“I don’t think the safes are made to let users do that,” said Hobbar.
“That’s a mistake, then,” said Zack as he peered into the safe. “If I buy a safe, I always want to know when someone opens it, even if it’s me.”
The safe contained a number of files and papers near the front, and Zack could even see some bricks of paper money near the back. A box on top of a pile of folders caught his attention, and he quickly opened it. He smiled, and removed the box from the safe. He set it on the table and removed his Identification Card and his Purcellian Striker Pistols from within.
“One down,” he said. “Three to go.”