HEART FOR TRADE: WEEK 17
It was a few hours later when Samuel came into the Control Room looking completely frazzled, but not just everyone could see that. They continued to assault him with questions from every angle. Ryan watched him visit all the screens at every desk with the technicians before gathering them in front of the big screen. They huddled around him, nodding as they listened to whatever his instructions were. The meeting lasted a couple of minutes and everyone dispersed, seeming to have new orders that needed to be completed in a timely manner. Samuel’s eyes met his, but that was about it. The Commander turned around and that was that.
Ryan leaned back in his seat. A frown touched his lips. “He’s just busy,” he muttered, looking at his screen.
“Huh?” Jarum took his eyes off the bustle of activity below.
“Nothing.” Ryan pulled his headset back on. “Avery said there was nothing we could do. We have to finish these last few assignments.”
“Fuck that. I want to know what’s going on. Maybe we could offer a different take on the whole password thing. Maybe they’re overthinking it.” Jarum studied the big screen.
“Jarum, no offense, but we can barely type. What makes you think we have any business offering them our opinion?” Ryan shook his head, rather irritated, but knowing he was just being sensitive about Sam blowing him off. His… whatever he was, had a job to do. He couldn’t let one look get to him. It was nothing. At least there was a look.
“Okay, smart ass, I just figured you’d be down to solve a puzzle. You were always good at that shit. You know, solving those mysteries in your little books before the end of the story? You’d always tell me what was going to happen after maybe two chapters and ruin the whole damn thing before you read the rest to me. I just thought you’d…”
“The only mystery I’m trying to solve is why you aren’t still working on your assignments. If we’re going to be any help to them, we have to learn this first. Baby steps, Jarum.”
“What is up your ass?” Jarum plopped into his chair, spinning on the seat until he stomped his boot down to get Ryan’s attention. “I thought we were friends again.”
Ryan sighed. “It’s nothing. I just want to get this done, eat something, and go to bed.”
“I’ll just bet you want to go to bed.” Jarum waggled his brows. The look of death burned into him. “Whatever. You’re the smart one, Ryan. I’ll be lucky to work in the garage one day. They aren’t going to give me a fancy name plaque on one of these desks.” He rested his chin in his hand. “You on the other hand, if anyone can solve this mystery… it’s you, bro.”
“No, I can’t. People around here have spent years trying to figure out what Sam’s father changed the password to. No one, not one of these educated people, including Sam himself has been able to find it. It’s some binary code thingy, and I don’t get it.” Ryan geared up the next assignment.
“Pssh.” Avery snorted and pushed off her desk, rolling over to them. “You really do read too much. Binary code is only made up of zeros and ones. Even if you intended to create a ten digit code out of binary, it would involve a hell of a lot of zero and ones, more than the password would allow. But it was a creative answer, right category, and while not the correct term, you seem to retain a lot of stuff you read. Maybe you boys could help me out with something.”
“What?” Jarum straightened up. Ryan had never seen him so ready to work in his entire life.
“The base has a few storerooms full of documents. Just a bunch of old data the technicians and Commanders compiled over the years. But I’m starting to think we may have to start going through all of it. There’ll be a lot of hours involved, but it would help you see just what we do here in black and white, and get you out of here for a while. I’m used to it, but I can remember getting a head ache from all the craziness in the beginning. Plus you two are like wild cats and being set loose might be just what you need.”
“In short, you’re trying to get rid of us because we’re in the way.” Ryan delicately put his headset on the desk and powered down his screen like Avery had shown him. “You don’t have to sugar coat it, Avery. It’s not your fault you got stuck with us.” He slipped his hoodie on and stood from his chair, careful to push it into the desk.
She sighed. “God, I forget how young you are.” She twirled her hair around her finger, checking over her shoulder at the beeping on her screen. Nothing new there, she turned back to them. “I’m not trying to ditch you, kid. Sure I have a ton of things to do, but I don’t half-ass train anyone. Part of my job is to scan for the password. I’ve hit a dead end on the trail and I actually was going to go down to storeroom and check things out, but if you still think I’m trying to get rid of you, I’ll just have to do it myself.”
“Hell no,” Jarum practically shouted, hopping to his feet. “Ry, you wanted to be a part of all this.” He gestured around with his hands. “What if we found the freaking password in that load of crap? We’d be like heroes, right?”
“Mm hmm,” Avery hummed. “Precisely.”
Pulling on the strings of his hoodie, Ryan’s brows furrowed in thought. He hated being the fragile mess of a topsider that the entire base no doubt thought of him as. Hell, even Sam probably had the thought from time to time. Looking over at his… yeah, whatever, he looked at Sam and saw the utter exhaustion on his face. He thought of the room filled with crazy combinations scrawled over the walls, and all the hours Sam had spent trying to better the fucking world. What hurt could it do to look through some papers and leave Avery to do the important stuff? At least he’d have tried for Sam, to relieve a little of the burden. And what if they really did find something? Sam would be over the moon. The entire base would probably see him in a different light. Oh, and the world would be saved. He smiled.
“Yeah, okay. Where are we headed?”
Jarum gave him a mischievous grin. “Cool.”
Avery rolled her eyes. She laughed under her breath while putting a tiny black card into the computer tower. Ryan watched the process with curiosity. “You’ll head past the mess hall until you hit the big letter E. Take a left and tell the guards Avery sent you. I’ll call ahead and give them instructions. Oh, and Ryan?”
“Yeah?” The blond chewed his bottom lip, nervous at the sudden appearance of adult on her face.
She smiled. “Go and give Sam a hug or something. He looks ready to slap someone or fall asleep on his feet.”
Blushing, Ryan looked away. “Uh, I’ll try?”
“Good boy.” She abruptly turned, shooing them with her hand before clicking away on the keyboard.
“Do you do tricks, too?” Jarum asked, leaning into him.
“Fuck off.” Ryan pushed him away. “Let’s get going.”
They bounded down the steps and into the crowd of technicians. Benny looked up from his clipboard and frowned. “You two aren’t off the clock yet.”
“Nope, we have a mission,” Jarum boasted, standing tall.
Ryan shook his head. “Avery asked us to run an errand.”
“Oh, yeah? Where to?” Benny cocked a brow, grinning at Jarum.
“The storeroom. She’s got us on paperwork detail.” With something to prove to his man, Jarum kept his cool, even though he knew the teasing look on Benny’s face like it was his own. “It’s important.”
“I never said it wasn’t.” Benny went back to his clipboard.
Jarum huffed. “That’s it? You don’t want to know more about our mission?”
Benny never looked up. “A good soldier never reveals the details of his mission unless completed, and only if granted permission. It seems I already know too much.” He cracked a smile. “Proceed with your errand, Jarum.”
“Fine. I get it. We’re a joke, huh?” Jarum hid his eyes behind his hair. “Whatever. Come on, Ry.”
Ryan looked between them, feeling the tension grow. “Uh, maybe you should… while I go find Sam a sec.”
He ducked out of Jarum’s grasp and headed to the other side of the room. Benny smirked, walking away without a word. He headed for the narrow, lavatory hallway, whistling under his breath. Jarum, stark raving mad went after him. He followed Benny into the bathroom with a forceful hand to the swinging door.
“Seriously? Is this how it’s going to go? I finally get excited about something and you turn it into a joke?” Jarum’s mouth fell open when Benny only went to each stall and pushed them open, one by one. “What the fuck, Benny? I thought we… what are you doing?”
“What?” Jarum simply stared as Benny walked over to him, slammed the door to the hallway closed and locked it. “What is going on with you?”
“I don’t make jokes without a punch line. That’s just stupid. You’re not a joke.” He pulled Jarum to him and devoured his mouth. The clipboard fell to the floor. “I—don’t know.” Benny gasped. “How I… ah fuck, can’t do this much longer.” He opened his mouth, accepting Jarum’s tongue while being slammed into a metal partition.
“Do—Do what?” Jarum pulled the snaps of the redhead’s technician jumper apart. He reached inside, fisting Benny’s cock.
“I can’t hide you anymore.” Benny grabbed Jarum’s hair, pulling his head back to suck at his neck. “I can’t stop thinking about you, damn it.”
“Then don’t.” Jarum pushed his leg between Benny’s spread thighs, teasing him for a second before pulling away. “Don’t hide me.”
Benny gave into the urge and sank to his knees. He looked up, the fluorescent light hitting his eyes just right. Deep gold lit up the rings of his irises. “Accept my apology?”
Jarum undid his buckle so fast he didn’t remember doing it until metal clanked around his ankles. “Only if you make it up to me.” Benny wet his bottom lip as Jarum put a hand in his hair. “Hurry it up, I got shit to do.”
“And don’t you forget it,” Jarum husked, guiding that sweet, sweet mouth to the head of his cock. The minute Benny swallowed him he put his hands against the partition and groaned. “Ryan’s gonna kill me.”
Sam looked at him, trying to smile, but it looked to be too much to handle. “Hey. How’s training going?”
“Commander, we need you over at terminal eight. China seems to think they can contact Brazil and patch us through. The line seems promising if we have the code right.” A technician noticed Ryan and sputtered for a response. “I… I’m sorry to interrupt, sir.” He stepped back.
“No, no it’s okay. Go on ahead. I’ll be right there.” Sam watched him go. He turned to Ryan, regretting his next words. “I wish I could stay, but—”
Grasping his forearm, Ryan nodded. “It’s okay. I understand, really I do. I just wanted to say hi and tell you Avery sent us to the storeroom on an errand. We’ll be there for a while. I didn’t want you to worry if you found us gone.”
Sam’s eyes were thoughtful. He smiled a little at that. “Thanks. I probably would have, huh?”
“I figured.” Ryan looked around, sneaking a quick kiss to his cheek. “Love you,” he whispered. “I’ll see you later.”
Before Sam could reply, Ryan was already maneuvering through the techs, looking for something… or someone. Sam smiled in spite of his mood before going over to terminal eight.
Armed with a clipboard of his own, Ryan walked the tall rows of document boxes in the storeroom. Jarum had finally showed up, over an hour late, and had barely touched one box. He was now fast asleep, cheek plastered to a table near the door. Not that Ryan really cared, as long as he wasn’t technically alone in the huge room by himself. He checked the clipboard again, looking for the previous Commanders’ section. The list in front of him directed him to the back.
He had to wonder why no one had thought to start here. But from the sounds of things while talking to the guards, it was just a bunch of printouts that really didn’t mean anything. The guards themselves were only standing there to look after the weapons storage next door. They could care less about the boxes of nothing Ryan was currently surrounded by. But his inner book sleuth was on the case. He’d already exhausted the files from every technician’s report from the past ten years. Those turned out to be nothing, but personnel documents and log sheets from every computer in the Control Room. Finally he felt like he caught a break when he spotted the Commander category on the bottom of the room’s breakdown.
A wall of metal file cabinets made up the back of the room. Seeing the locks on every one, he grabbed the tiny key ring the guard had given him and looked over the seven cabinets. The first one seemed too easy. Everyone always picked the first door or drawer when searching for something in the books he’d read. But then again, his mind wandered, the last door was where someone was usually hiding from the killer. His book brain conjured imagery to go along with his logic. The two end cabinets were out. The middle one was directly across from the opening of the aisle. He imagined the taunting treasure of a secret cave, how the pirate would easily be faced with faux jewels as a booby trap and thought better of the center cabinet.
That left four cabinets. “Just pick one, you idiot,” he whispered to himself. That was when he turned and the light caught the residue of an oily handprint on the top corner of the second file cabinet. If that wasn’t a sign, he didn’t know what else to ask for.
Curious, he swiped his finger over the handprint and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. A greasy texture glided between his fingers and he inhaled the scent of whatever coated his skin. No idea what he was in for, he unlocked the cabinet and opened it.
“So much for that,” he groaned. He read over the bottles and containers. Cleaning supplies, grease that looked to be for… hinges and doorjambs or something, and a few other things he assumed were for the base’s janitor. “Damn.”
His super sleuthing got him nowhere. He’d been so sure, more like hopeful, something was in this cabinet. Overlooking the bottom shelf, he went to the next cabinet and found smaller document boxes with corresponding Commander names and dates. The first shelf revealed dates as old as the Digital Age. That would be a no he concluded, and bent over to the next set of shelves. A recently familiar piece of hardware sat on the second to the last shelf. Through Sam he’d learned that the strange device from the treasure room, other than the stereo, was called a projector.
He hadn’t had time to ask Sam if they could play with it yet, but now that he had the chance, he salivated with the thought of actual moving pictures, or movies Sam had called them. He knew he had to keep working, but a few minutes wouldn’t hurt anyone. It didn’t look so hard to work. There was a plug. There was a fitting hole in the wall near the last cabinet. But there was also… one of those slots like Avery had used on her computer. That meant there would be a little black disk somewhere with a movie. He frowned, sitting back on his heels. Why would Avery be watching a movie in the Control Room?
Shaking his head with a smile, he had to hand it to her. She was smooth if that’s what she did with her time. He would never have noticed. From the way Sam talked about the movies, they were very special. That had to be hard to hide in plain sight, the joy of something so precious. Thinking about Avery’s little secret made him jealous, and fueled his search for his own black card thingy to watch. He hoped it was as good as Sam said. If the music was any indication to Sam’s taste, Ryan just knew this was going to be awesome.
Tossing aside the clipboard, and his job, Ryan hopelessly searched the first cabinet for a card. He pressed his face to the floor, looking through the very bottom shelf. “Come on,” he muttered. The door of the second cabinet was in his way and he got to his knees to shut it. From the bottom shelf of the cleaning cabinet, he spotted a little black box. If he hadn’t been at this height, he’d never have noticed it in the first place. The bottom shelves were only about six inches tall and looked like they had been taken down the adjustable pegs to accommodate the size of the document boxes a while back.
Pulling out the maybe six-by-six box, he put it in his lap. Made of a dark plastic, there was a lift up latch. His fingers clicked it open. Upon lifting the lid he discovered a square of dark grey foam with twelve plastic squares neatly tucked away. His frown deepened as he pulled one from the foam. The frown turned upside down quickly. A little black card was encased in a clear plastic holder.
“Bingo.” He squinted. “S D Card. Huh.”
His fingers trembled. He managed to get the tiny case undone and the black card fell to the floor. Gently, he plucked it off the ground while looking over the case it came in. In tiny handwritten letters was written Samuel’s Graduation.
No. Probably a coincidence, he thought. But just in case it wasn’t, he pulled out another clear case and flipped it over. Samuel & Benny - 5 years. “Holy mother,” he hissed. Disk after disk, he ravaged through them. Samuel & Mona. Samuel 1st Day of Training. Samuel Bedtime – 7 years. Ryan stared at the box with all the overturned cards. His inner sleuth was a bit on edge.
“What is this?”
He thought about getting Jarum, but something told him he had just found the biggest clue of all. Secret card thingies in a cleaning closet? A random projector in a document storeroom? He glanced to his right and barely a foot away was a chair and old can tucked into the last darkened aisle. Scooting over, he looked into the old coffee can and dipped his fingers inside. When he pulled his find out, he stared at a fragile, yellowing box of herbal cigarettes. The only person he knew who smoked—this kind in particular—was Samuel.
“What the fuck are you up to, Sam?”
TO BE CONTINUED…