Heart For Trade: Week 23
Hand in hand with Ryan, Sam slowly walked down the hallway. In his other hand, the manila folder from the safe was clutched in his fingers. Adrenaline fizzled from their earlier discovery. Now he was coming down from his high, struck stupid, which slowed him down a bit. He came to a complete stop, staring down the hallway. The very spot where his dad would stand, studying his watch to make sure his son came back at the exact time every day, was empty. However, Sam could still see his dad leaning against the wall. Dark blue eyes would turn his way. A smirk would slide over his father’s lips. A simple nod would be all the acknowledgment he’d get, but the pride would be in his eyes, a shiny sparkle only for him. They’d really done it and now he was hallucinating.
Then the thought struck him, Ryan had found the password, not him. He was just along for the ride, just like his dad had been. Ryan had been the key all along, not the stupid password. Sam turned to his heart, bringing Ryan’s hand to his chest, still clasped in his.
“Sam?” A wrinkle appeared over Ryan’s forehead. “Are you okay?”
Benny walked around Sam, putting a hand to his shoulder. “Do you need to sit down again?”
“No biggie, we can wait.” Jarum shrugged.
Sam shook his head. He held out the manila folder to Ryan. “The most important thing I’ve ever found is you. Without you, this means nothing to me. This is yours, not mine. You are every bit my equal, and have been since the beginning, but it took me a minute to figure it out. I want you to present this to them, because you are important, even without training you’ve done something it took years for us even to consider. Take it.” He pressed the folder into Ryan’s chest.
“I can’t.” Ryan pulled away. “That’s yours, Sam. It’s supposed to be you who goes in front of them and gives them the news they’ve wanted all their lives. I’m just a kid from the topside. It’s you, Sam, you’re their Commander.”
“And you’re the man that made me a Commander.” Sam wrapped Ryan in his arms. “Take credit. You deserve every cheer, Ryan. They value honesty from their leader. I would be lying if I went up there and told them I found this. Take it.”
“You’re dad gave this to you.” Ryan looked up. “I couldn’t possibly.”
Sam pushed Ryan’s hair out of his eyes. “And your dad gave you to me. I would think knowing his son was the guy who saved the world would make us even.”
“Bart is gonna freak.” Jarum clapped his hands. “Take it, Ry. You’ve always wanted to do something great. Sam’s right, that password is yours. Take it.”
“If you take that, their respect for Sam won’t diminish. If anything, they’ll respect him more. I know I do. That’s one of hell of a gift, Ryan.” Benny nodded, wiggling his fingers at Jarum. Jarum slipped his hand into Benny’s, biting his lip.
“Come on, Ry, you can do it, you big baby.” Jarum winked.
“The sooner you take this, the sooner I can start preparing the base for phase one.” Sam smiled.
“Phase one, what’s that?” Ryan looked down at the file.
“You’ll only know once you take this.” Sam stepped back, waving the file in front of him like candy. If there was a way to negotiate with Ryan, it was holding information over his curious little head. He had to know all the answers and phase one was a big one.
“Hell, I’ll take it.” Jarum rolled his eyes and stuck out his hand. “I want to know what happens next.”
“No!” Ryan snatched the file away, safely hiding it under his crossed arms.
“Is that your precious?” Sam busted up laughing.
“Huh?” Benny and Jarum chorused.
“I’ll tell you later.” Ryan chuckled. “And no, it’s not.” He elbowed Sam. “Thank you. I’m not sure that really covers it, but thank you.”
Sam slung an arm around him. “Keep walking, boys.” He shooed Benny and Jarum away. “I need to get my thank you properly.”
Jarum and Benny laughed. They trotted off, pushing each other like little boys the entire way down the hall. When they got to the double doors, Benny palmed it open and Jarum raced after him into the main corridor. Happy as he’d ever been, Sam looked back to Ryan.
“I meant what I said, you’re more important to me than anything else in this black hole we live in. My father didn’t want me to be the toughest, the faster, or the best dictator on base. He distanced himself from me because he wanted me to rely on others. He knew he wouldn’t be around for the end. He started dying the day my brother and mother died. I can’t spend my life trying to follow in his footsteps because I’m not him. I’m me, I make my own path, and I want to be the man you think I am. I want to be happy. You, Ryan, you’ve made the happiest man on earth. That’s why I’m giving this to you, because I’m proud of you and of everything you’ve ever done. And I’m even prouder to be yours.”
Ryan exhaled loudly. He closed his eyes, leaning into Sam. “That was better than anything I’ve ever read.”
“Because it was real.”
Ryan nodded. He let the folder drop to the ground and pushed onto his tiptoes, eye level with Sam. “We are our own love story. I’ll never need to read anyone else’s ever again.”
Sam groaned and kissed Ryan, picking him up off the ground and pressing him into the wall. The folder lay on the ground for the next twenty minutes.
“Sir.” Andrew saluted Sam, holding open the mess hall door.
“Relax, Andrew. We come in peace.” Sam led the way into the hall.
Confused with Sam’s smile, Andrew cocked his head. “Sir?”
“Good luck with that one.” Ryan patted his arm. “Thank you, Andrew.” He followed Sam.
Benny and Jarum were already seated at the head table, chowing down on Yvonne’s version of a hamburger. Jarum moaned, closing his eyes. Tomato juice dripped down his chin and Benny swiped it up with his thumb, ignoring the strange looks from the other technicians. Jarum just smiled, chewing happily. He could never be angry during hamburgers. They were his new favorite.
They waved at Sam and Ryan as they approached the head table. Andrew quickly took up the rear, squinting the entire time. “Sir, if I could just…”
“Not necessary, Andrew, Ryan and I would like to have some dinner and then we’ll talk. Oh, but do me a favor and hook up the microphone.”
“Sir, I thought karaoke was tomorrow night.” Andrew huffed. “What’s going on?”
“Is it your place to question your Commander?” Ryan eyed Andrew. Sam pushed his chair in.
Ryan held up a hand. “We’d like the microphone set up, Andrew. Thank you. That will be all.”
“What he said.” Sam hitched a thumb at his partner.
Put off by Ryan’s sudden authority, Andrew raised a brow. “Fine.”
“Fine what?” Ryan smirked.
“Don’t push it, sir.” Sam nudged Ryan. “He was kidding.”
“I’m sure he was.” Andrew snarled, but went to the kitchen for the microphone.
“What’s karaoke?” Jarum smacked with his mouth open.
Sliding the file folder between him and Ryan, Sam chuckled. “You don’t want to know. It’s terrible.”
Jarum shrugged, contently eating his food. He looked out over the crowd, noticing more of the base had shown up for dinner than usual. A lot of techs and soldiers ate sporadically throughout the three hour dinner service window because there were a lot of shift changes then, but tonight at least two hundred men and women sat around the tables.
Avery met his eye from the table in front of theirs. She nodded slightly and turned back to her table’s conversation. That certainly answered his question. He shared a look with Benny, smiling, and stole a fry.
“You know, I was thinking…”
Benny took a sip of his water. “That’s never a good thing.”
“Hey, I’m trying to be serious here.” Jarum pouted.
Eyes softening, Benny waved Jarum on. “What were you thinking?”
“What if I didn’t want to be a technician? What if I wanted to do something else?”
Benny wiped his mouth. “Like what?”
“Never mind, it’s stupid.” Jarum shoved another bite in his mouth, averting his eyes.
“Jarum, I asked like what?”
“What if I wanted to learn how to cook?” Jarum waited for the laugh that never came.
“I’d say you’d want to talk to Yvonne. She’s apprenticing one of the younger teens right now, on and off as he starts his training. She’d have time to train you. If you do get in with her, I demand chocolate chip cookies. I don’t know how she makes them, but they taste like heaven.”
Jarum’s mouth opened then closed. He scooted closer to Benny. “You’re not mad at me?”
“Why would I be mad? All of us trained for a life skill outside of technician work. I just happened to like computers more than I did water filtration when the time came to decide. This place is run by people who aren’t in the Control Room, Jarum. It takes people from all walks, especially as far food is concerned. And besides, Yvonne is awesome, minus her constant dirty jokes, but she’s very good at what she does. Cooking for an entire base is real work, Jarum. You’d be lucky to step foot in her kitchen. If that’s what you want to do, go for it. But you still need to finish your training, regardless. That’s non-negotiable. That and cookies.”
Jarum smiled. He leaned in for a kiss then thought better of it, settling back into his seat.
“When are you gonna learn?” Benny sighed.
Benny leaned over. “Learn that I’m not afraid of us. They can go fuck themselves.” He kissed Jarum on the lips, in front of everyone.
The first whistle made Jarum blush. The sound of over a hundred whistles and cat calls made him turn purple. “Okay, okay!”
“Now who’s embarrassed?” Benny laughed, raising his glass to the crowd.
“That’s it. What the hell is going on?” Andrew set the microphone down on the table.
“Ten more minutes.” Sam nodded to the kitchen server who set down their plates. “I’m hungry.”
Andrew grumbled, plugging in the mic and checking the speakers.
“All right, everyone settle down.” Sam put a hand up, holding the mic. “I need everyone in the kitchen to come out here please.”
Yvonne and five kitchen helpers came out of the back, splattered with grease. Yvonne threw a towel over her shoulder and crossed her arms, perturbed she’d been bothered during the busiest service of the day.
“Thank you, Yvonne. Actually, I’d like to thank all of you. I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate the work that goes on here and I’m sorry for that. These last few years have been hectic for all of us, not just me. You don’t know how much it means to me that you still respect my authority and work your hardest to keep things running, even with little hope of a brighter future. Your perseverance humbles me. Your smiles fuel me. And I’d like to continue on from here with the same spirit you’ve carried me with. Now it’s time that determination and positive attitude paid off.”
The whispers and mild chatter ceased. Every eye turned to the head table. They watched as Sam handed Ryan the microphone.
“Hello,” Ryan murmured, nervous in front of the crowd. “I’m Ryan.”
Sam turned his face, hiding his cheesy smile.
“Um, I guess I should thank you all, too. When Jarum and I first came here, we were terrified of being brought underground to a place we’d never known with people who weren’t our family. It took some adjusting and a lot of tears, but…you guys made us feel safe and welcome, and for that I’m so thankful. I don’t know all of you yet, but I intend to because you guys are our family now. Uh…”
Avery gave him a thumbs up. Ryan gulped.
“I know how hard you guys have been working to establish connections with the other countries and get us back on track. Today, our head technician, Benny, confirmed we gained the last country on the list.”
Cheers went up around the room. Ryan bit his lip, overwhelmed by the hugs and hollers throughout the room. “But that’s not all.” The room quieted again. “Your determination, like Sam said, was contagious to me. I wanted so badly to fix things for you guys. As a former topsider it meant so much that you would continue to try and save what was left of my home, my old home, I mean. Anyway,” Ryan wiped a tear from his eye, “it got me to thinking what I could do for this base, and the one thing I’m good at is learning. I used all the facts and got a little creative on how I went about my mission, but I was successful.” Ryan turned to Sam, near full-on tears. Sam nodded, mirroring his emotions.
Ryan turned back to the crowd, holding up the folder. “Today I found the password.”
Ryan had never heard a noise as deafening as the sound of hundreds of men and women jumping to their feet and screaming with joy.
After being hugged, kissed, and shaken more times than he could count, Ryan sat at his training screen in the Control Room. The room was buzzing with technicians and any man, woman, or child that could fit. Sam and Jarum leaned over Avery’s hunched shoulders. She typed messages back and forth with the other countries, linking their video screens on dozens of monitors around the ceiling.
Ryan watched each face appear on one of fifteen screens blink to life. Jarum was huddled into his side, anxious as he was. “What’s gonna happen?”
Ryan shook his head. “I don’t know, but I want to talk to my dad.” He reached for Jarum’s hand. “When I said they were my family, I meant part of it. I can’t stop thinking about him, Jar. What’s going to happen to them now?”
Jarum held onto him, head resting on Ryan’s shoulder. “It’ll work out, Ry. Sam won’t let you down. He knows how much Bart means to you and your sisters.”
“I know, but I just need to…” Ryan sank in his chair. “We can’t right now. There’s so much going on.”
“I’m gonna do you one better, Ry.” Sam crouched down, scaring both of them. “After phase one, which will take about twenty-four hours, you’re going to call Bart and tell him to get the village ready to go.”
“Go for what?”
“To leave.” Sam put a hand on his knee.
“I don’t want them to go.” Ryan sobbed. “Please, I’m begging you. It’s bad enough I know they’re so close and can’t see them. I couldn’t stand to know it would never be an option again if they went away for good.”
“Oh shit, baby, I didn’t mean go away. I meant come here.” Sam cupped his face. “I would never do that to you or to them.”
“You mean my family can come here?” Ryan forgot how to breathe.
“After phase one, we’ll be equipped to take on two hundred survivors. That’s why I kept it a secret. I didn’t want to get your hopes up. It was killing me not to tell you. That’s why I got so crazy. I wanted so bad to give that to you, and now, I’ll be able to.” Sam kissed his cheek. “They’re going to live here, Ry.”
“How? I don’t understand.”
“Commander, we’re ready.” Avery fidgeted in her chair, pointing at the screen. “All connections are go and the computer began a refresh. If the update works, that screen is gonna start at ten minutes. Cross your fingers, boys.”
“Here we go.” Sam inhaled, gripping Ryan’s arms. “Remember this is all because of you, both of you.” Sam looked at Jarum. “Take care of him a minute, Jarum?”
“Yes, sir.” Jarum saluted, tucking himself into Ryan’s side. “I got this.”
Ryan breathed in and out with Jarum’s guidance, trying to keep it together. It wasn’t easy to know that life was going to change forever…again, but this time, there wasn’t any fear, only curiosity, which he fed on. Every screen except for the connected monitors around the ceiling flashed white. Ryan held his breath.
“We’re in, Commander,” Avery said in shock. She stared at the top level log in screen for a few seconds before swiveling around. She stood up and offered Sam her seat. “Please log in, Commander.”
Sam sat down, cracking his knuckles. He offered up a small prayer then typed in his personal log in id.
“Your headset.” Avery held it out to him. The pride in her eyes made Ryan’s stomach dance. This was really happening.
Sam slipped it on, sitting up straight. A loading bar sat in the center of the screen. An official United States Military logo filled the page. A counter at the bottom rolled over numbers at rapid speed. And then everyone looked up to the timer. It blinked once and filled with numbers, starting at ten minutes.
Sam shook out his hands, took a deep breath, and relaxed. “This is the Commander of the United States Military. We’ve achieved entry to the countdown database. All systems are go.”
Ryan could hear the murmurs from the other countries, translating Sam’s words into other languages for their technicians. Sam kept nodding, hearing the Commanders confirm in his ear while scrolling down his screen where the others were connecting to the database in live time. He urged Jarum to roll over with him. He wanted to get closer. He wanted to see the magic firsthand.
Sam nodded at an open binder Avery held out. He flipped the page. “The counter is now at nine minutes. Please put in your password and wait for the computer prompt for any further direction detailing phase one.”
Benny clipped the ten digit password to the binder, allowing Sam to put it into the box. He hit enter and closed his eyes. The speakers crackled. “This is Russia, we’re in. This is China, we’re in. This is…” The other Commanders continued, over and over they stated success.
Sam opened his eyes and stared at the paused timer above. The numbers blinked once and started to scroll backwards. The screen went black before a video with a prompted box overlay came up.
“You may now hit play and commence phase one.” Sam reached around Avery, pulling on Ryan’s hand to roll him closer. He yanked his partner into his lap, holding on while the video played.
A man dressed in a suit sat behind a fancy desk. An American flung hung limp in the background.
“This is President Henry Swartz of the United States of America. If you are watching this then you know of the devastation that’s been brought to our world as a result of war between the nations. The system we put into place over many years, the very system which has become your daily life, was kept a secret from the public to reduce mass hysteria and to ensure our nations would be rebuilt quickly after the dust had settled. But now it is up to you to ensure our efforts were not wasted and to bring survivors into a new era, one of peace and humanity. Go forth and create life. God’s speed.”
The video broke away to another government logo. Code ran from top to bottom on one side and a list of boxes on the other. The speakers buzzed.
“Commencing phase one,” a female voice sounded. “Please secure yourself away from all walls and doors. You will be given twenty minutes to do so. Please note on the screen all areas of change. These areas should be evacuated immediately due to restructuring. If you are unable to comply, please hit the pause button on your screen now. If you do not hit the pause button, restructuring will commence in twenty minutes.”
An animated blue print of the base turned on the screen. Certain areas began to flash red, including the gym, the monitor wall of the control room, the garage, and the last two residential wings. A warning siren started. The female voice repeated the directions over and over. The floor started to vibrate and Ryan held onto Sam.
Sam held him tight. “Well, we’re gonna need somewhere to put them, right?”
Jarum gasped. The main wall of the Control Room began to move back. Row after row dropped further and further into the ground where the wall had moved back. The turned on their sides as they went, forming computer stations when screens slid up at each terminal. Whatever was going to happen was going to require a lot of manpower, he thought, and people who could read. He grinned, looking to Benny.
“I bet you just came, didn’t you, you little nerd.”
Benny licked his lips, wearing a shit eating grin. “Not yet.” He turned to Jarum. “But you can bet your ass I will later.”
Avery groaned, covering her eyes. “Seriously?”
TO BE CONTINUED…