HEART FOR TRADE WEEK 8
“This is,” Jarum heaped a forkful of pancake into his mouth, “amazing,” he groaned but it was more of a muffle with his mouth full.
In the chair next to Jarum, Ryan watched his best friend down his plate as quickly as he could. Hair a complete mess, long dark strands sticking sideways or plastered to his face, Ryan tried not to laugh. He turned to Benny who was too busy staring at Jarum with wide eyes.
“Breathe, man!” The redhead took a step forward. “You’ll make yourself sick.”
“Fuck off,” Jarum managed in between bites.
Ryan put a hand over his eyes, sinking into his seat. As much as he loved Jarum, the man was a savage sometimes. Benny must have got the picture because he backed down and sat in his seat. The three of them were waiting on Samuel in a small room with only a few chairs against the walls. The cameras, Samuel called them, were blinking red in each corner of the room. Ryan hadn’t seen this many in one place yet and wondered what the heck this small room was, to need four of them. It was just a room, wasn’t it?
When Jarum had finished his breakfast, licking syrup off his fingers, he leaned back against the wall and rubbed his stomach. “So good,” he groaned.
Benny got up from his chair and paced. “For you, maybe, we had to watch it go down from over here. Not so good if you ask me.”
“What is your problem?” Jarum put the tray on the floor.
“My problem?” Benny eyed Jarum. “You’re the one without any manners, who swears at me any chance he gets, and eats like a pig. You’re the one with the problem.”
“Benny, come on. He was hungry.” Ryan stood.
Jarum looked away embarrassed. Locking his hands over his stomach, he scowled at the wall.
“Of course you’re hungry, but you’re going to throw it all up if you shovel your face like that every time.” Benny shook his head. “You didn’t even use a fork for the first few minutes.”
“That’s because I had no idea what it was!” Jarum jumped to his feet. “Is this what it’s going to be like for us from now on? You and Sam making fun of us for every little thing? I haven’t eaten that well in years, Benny! Excuse me for being hungry. I didn’t know what the fucking fork was! I didn’t know what you called the syrup and I didn’t know it was going to stick everywhere. I’ve never had a napkin to wipe my face or a table to sit at with fancy fucking chairs. I’ve never had any of this before! So yeah, Benny, fuck off.”
Disheartened and ashamed, Benny stood there with his mouth open while Ryan planted himself between the two. “Don’t you ever make fun of him again. I may be thin. I may be gangly by your standards. But if you hurt my best friend, so help me, I will kick your ass. I’m done with you and Sam losing your patience. I’m done being some freak show to this place. If you intend to keep us here, you’re going to start treating us like human beings and not pets. If he doesn’t want to use a damn fork, then let him eat with his fingers! Who the hell are you to judge us? You’ve lived in this clean, well-fed world your entire life while we lived on the outside trying to survive. If anyone here is stronger, it’s us, and you know it.”
“What is going on here?” Samuel pushed the door open, having stood there, listening to the feud for only a minute.
“Nothing,” Ryan snarled. “Isn’t that right, Jarum?”
The young man scanned the room with his dark eyes, wiping his bed hair out of his face. “Whatever.”
“Jarum, I’m sorry,” Benny admitted softly. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Jarum turned away. “Just leave me alone.
Looking between the three, Sam noticed Ryan’s posture most of all. Located between Jarum and Benny, Ryan’s body was rigid, on the defense and ready to attack Benny should the need arise. Up until now, he’d been quiet, allowing Jarum to defend them both. But now that Jarum was truly upset, Ryan was right there to take care of things. Samuel found himself even more attracted to the man. He was admirable, proud—there was a man behind those scared eyes.
“Benny, wait outside.” Samuel held the door open.
Wide, hazel eyes cut to Sam. “Excuse me?”
“I think this will go easier if Jarum has some space from you, Benny. You two butt heads more than you and Avery. Frankly, it’s giving me a headache. So, yeah. You, outside, please.”
“Bullshit,” Benny muttered, checking Sam’s shoulder on his way out. He spun around, eyes on Jarum. “I said I was sorry. I meant it. You want special treatment, to be babied?” He slid his hands up the doorframe. Jarum’s eyes followed. “You know where to find me. Because that’s what I am, you know? A glorified babysitter.”
“Benny?” Sam raised a brow. “What the fuck?”
“I’m done here.” Benny slapped the doorframe. “Check you all later.”
As the redhead walked away, Jarum stared at Sam and Ryan in horror. He bit his lip. But to his surprise, Sam only gave him a strange look before heading for the far wall.
“I don’t know what he meant by that, Jarum, but you two need to work out your issues and quickly. This is a small, tight-knit community and one bad feud is contagious where everyone else is concerned. People will take sides. Things will get ugly and right now, we can’t afford that. Our priority is the two of you becoming acclimated to the base and getting comfortable.
Don’t let a few misunderstandings coupled with your obvious personality differences get in the way of that. Benny is a good guy. He’s my best friend. But sometimes, even I have a hard time understanding him. Give it some time. Give each other some space and maybe, just maybe, things will work out for the better. Alright?”
“Jarum?” Ryan prodded, completely satisfied with Samuel’s handling of the situation.
Jarum sighed, not alright, but willing to make nice on account of Ryan. “Okay.”
Clapping a hand to his shoulder, Samuel smiled. “You aren’t any less of a man for not understanding this place or us, Jarum. Don’t ever think that.” When Jarum said nothing, a little smile across his lips at having done something right for once, Samuel nodded. “Okay, onto business then. I’m sure you’re all curious as to what this place is, right?”
The boys nodded and he continued. “Rineway Military Base was founded in 2020 by the Head of Defense, the President of the United States at the time, his cabinet members or his team as you would call them, and the leaders and defense heads of twenty foreign countries before they were sanctioned into village territories after the war.”
“The military protected us back then, right?” Ryan crossed his arms.
“Very good.” Sam grinned. “Yes, before the collapse of our governing structure, men and women volunteered their lives for the good of our safety. It was a few years before the war that small groups of soldiers began training for a mission other than defense on account of information we received that led us to believe there would be use of nuclear weapons. The Rineway mission was named after the President’s closest advisor, who died before the project completed. He was the one who had scouted the locations for the United States bases and worked closely with the foreign dignitaries to ensure their bases were remote and safe underground.
The soldiers created a network of bases exactly like this one. From here to across the ocean, they were all in contact with each other. Should the war go nuclear topside, these men and women would continue to protect worldly needs below ground for many years to come. Food, water, materials, technology—our job was and is to sustain what we were entrusted with until the timer went off.”
Ryan put a hand up. “Hold up. There are other bases underground across the world?”
“Yes, 3 in the states and 15 others in different countries. We can only get a signal from seven now, since the update five years ago. But it’s better than none.” Samuel sighed.
“And all you’re doing is protecting what used to be, life before the war?” Jarum raised a brow.
“Yes and no. There’s more.” Samuel went to the wall. “It’s better if I show you.”
“A wall?” Jarum chuckled. “O-kay.”
Ignoring Jarum, Sam put his hand over a white square in the wall. A red line of light scanned his hand from top to bottom before the square blinked green. The wall slid away to reveal a dark set of stairs heading down. Sam turned, winked at the boys and gestured for them to follow.
“Watch your step. It’s kind of dark down here.” Sam descended the steel staircase, leaving the boys to decide for themselves.
Eager to see what was below, Ryan and Jarum stormed after Sam, the textured tread of each step bouncing with a loud echo under their boots. The stone surrounding them swooped down before turning back up to reveal a flurry of activity. Lights blinked in every color. A dozen men and women rushed about the room. Some sat in front of brightly lit screens. Some switched between watching the large screens above and the smaller screens at the desk. But in the middle of it all, was a young female with thick glasses perched high on her nose at the round command desk. A blonde ponytail sitting high on her head and bottom lip sucked into her mouth, she looked like child on a mission.
Fingers firing away on her keyboard, Avery didn’t even notice the Commander approach with Jarum and Ryan. Samuel cleared his throat and she jumped.
“Must be a busy morning if you didn’t even notice me key in.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Tell me what we’ve got.”
“We had a faint signal from the Russians a little while ago. They were trying to send some sort of code to us, but we lost it and their connection. We’re trying to trace the feed now and see if it works from our end to theirs.” Avery glanced at an incoming message on her other screen.
“What is it?” Samuel leaned forward eagerly.
Scanning the message code, Avery grinned. “We’ve got confirmation from the Germans. They have a connection with the Russians. This is the new line code, Commander. We’ve got them again.”
“Shit.” Sam broke into a smile. “Send it out to everyone. See if we can get a bite from the other lost bases. This is…”
“Amazing,” she finished for him.
“What’s going on?” Ryan put a hand on Sam’s back to lean closer.
“Remember how I said that we have other bases out there, but we lost contact with some of them?”
“Yeah.” Ryan felt muscles move under his hand. He swallowed.
“We regained contact today with Russia. We haven’t talked to them in five years, Ryan.”
Jarum scratched his head. “I don’t understand what the big deal is, though. Why would it matter if you talked to them or the other countries? Can’t they get by on their own.”
Avery swiveled in her chair and adjusted her glasses. “Five years ago, a large update came across our systems. Simply put, it was going to fix any errors in our computers and make them faster. This one wasn’t scheduled, though, so we we’re confused when it took over everything. What we didn’t know when the update happened, was that it wasn’t really an update at all. It was a program activated by the timer.” She pointed to the large screen embedded into the rock above. Blue zeros blinked over and over.
“The timer was supposed to go off a long time ago boys. It was stuck at zero since I was born. But on the night of the update, it set off an hour countdown and the system asked each country’s Commander to log in their administrator password. But… Samuel didn’t know it. His father, the previous Commander, hadn’t given it to him before he passed away. When the timer zeroed out, we lost connections to every country we had. We’ve spent the better part of our lives trying to reestablish connections with them, decrypt the password, and get the timer working again.”
“What is the timer for, though!” Jarum huffed, frustrated that he didn’t understand half of what was being said.
“When every country puts the password into the system, after the timer gives an hour countdown, we save the world, Jarum.” She looked away dreamily.
“What she means,” Samuel explained, “is when the password is entered, other inactive bases will be opened to the public all over the world. People living in the cold, the hungry, the ill, they’ll have access to shelter. They will have access to state of the art medical attention. They will have fresh water and food. They will have everything they need to get by and start over again.
We will teach them how to grow, how to clean, how to… this.” He threw his arms up with a smile. “We’ll be restarting the world again, boys. One at a time, the bases, triple the size of this one, will open up and let the public in. That’s why we have a surplus in the fields, Ryan. We mean to give them each a little to start their own crops. So they can help others too.”
“This whole time, you really have been trying to save them. Haven’t you?” Ryan took a step forward.
“I told you,” Samuel murmured, eyes locked on Ryan—an immediate connection flowing between them.
Adrenaline of the good news running through his body, the Commander felt a little closer to happiness. Aware of the others around them, he settled for pulling Ryan into his chest for a hug. He couldn’t resist sharing his joy with someone. It had been so long, hell, he’d never even had someone he could touch like this, to share his happiness. Although he wanted more, he refrained—simply elated that Ryan allowed him this.
Fingers curled into his back and Sam nuzzled his face in Ryan’s hair. “I told you I was trying to save them all.”
Ryan looked up, lips inches from Sam’s. “I know you did.”
Feeling like he was an intruder amidst the chaos and obvious romance, Jarum turned away. On the desk space opposite Avery’s were three screens that seemed to work as one. Little notes on tiny pieces of paper were scattered across the desk. A handmade nameplate spelled Benny below the screens. Jarum took a step closer out of curiosity. His fingers brushed across the surface as numbers flowed across the brightly lit monitors. His hand connected with something that made his mouth open in shock.
A wooden figurine of a dog weighed down a stack of printed papers. A figurine that he recognized immediately as one Ryan had made for the trader’s market weeks ago. It was the same figurine that he’d lost at the pond that day in Surik. The memory of another man’s hips filling his hands jolted through his mind—warm skin against his and eyes hidden beneath a hooded coat. Such release and passion that he was scared to admit he loved. Jarum gasped. The figurine knocked to the floor and he ran down the steps of the command desk. It was Benny, his eyes filled with tears. The whole time, it was him.
TO BE CONTINUED…