I nodded, smiling. “I’m glad we had a chance to talk.”
He reached across the table and squeezed my arm. “Me, too. I’ll see ya later.”
“’Bye.” I watched him walk from the cafeteria and then made my way to the elevator and down to Subfloor Four.
Keying in my code to the computer lab, I stepped through, and the door suctioned closed behind me.
Chapling stood in the corner, his arms braced on the table that held the coffee, staring at it as if it were a lifeline.
I smiled at the sight. “Hey.”
Around a yawn, he glanced up—“Hey”—and went right back to staring at the brewing coffee. “Just got out of bed. Need caffeine. Major caffeine.”
your bed?” I asked, realizing I didn’t know such a simple thing.
“Right by TL’s room.”
“You mean that door that’s always closed? I’d assumed it was a closet.”
“But I never see you come and go.”
Looking up, he smiled broadly. “Yes!” He grabbed the coffee and poured the thick muck into his never-been-washed mug, then took a gurgly sip. “Oh, yes. Yesyesyesyesyes.” He held his mug up. “Want some?”
I crinkled my nose. “No.” I loved coffee, but not Chapling’s brand of “mud.”
He waddled across the room and flipped a light switch on, off, and back on again. The cement wall behind the switch shifted back an inch and then slid left, revealing a five-foot-tall compartment wide enough to hold one chubby redheaded little person.
I did a double take. What the . . . ?
“It’s a tunneling elevator. Goes up and down and side to side. I can go just about anywhere on the ranch in this thing.”
“Cool.” I crossed the lab to where Chapling stood and crouched down to check out the elevator. “So you go to your room in this?”
He nodded. “Anywhere.”
Way back when I first moved into the ranch, I’d been in the barn with TL, Wirenut, David, and Jonathan, prepping for the Ushbanian mission. Chapling had appeared from nowhere, and I’d wondered where he’d come from. “Can you go to the barn in this thing?”
Chapling sipped his coffee. “Yepper.”
I stepped back from the tunneling elevator. “I want one.”
Giggling, he flipped the light switch again, and the door slid from the left to merge seamlessly back with the wall.
Chapling hobbled over to his computer station and climbed up. “So I hear you and David tore up the Boardwalk last night.”
Rolling my chair out, I took a seat. “For someone who never leaves this cave, you sure know a lot.”
He cut me a sly glance. “Yes, I do, don’t I?”
I narrowed my eyes. “What does that mean? What are you up to?”
Chapling’s sly glance transformed into pure childish mischievousness. He took his wireless mouse and,
click, click, click
, then turned his monitor so I could see.
Across his flat screen, small black-and-white video boxes flicked on. I ran my gaze over them, realizing they portrayed every room in the ranch as well as the pool, the barn, and all angles of the outside.
In the top right corner I watched as Mystic sat on the hill behind the house meditating. The video box beside it displayed Bruiser stretched out on her bed, still sleeping. In the bottom left corner, Jonathan jumped rope in the barn. I saw Beaker in the bathroom, brushing her teeth. In the cafeteria, Wirenut and Cat served themselves from the buffet line. TL sat at his desk, studying a file. David pulled a T-shirt over his head, giving me a quick glance of his gorgeous bare chest. Behind David, Adam said something and David cracked up. And there in the middle sat me and Chapling staring at his computer.
I waved at myself, and Chapling giggled.
He clicked the mouse a couple more times and the screens flicked to another scene. The date stamp in the lower right corner read yesterday evening. I glanced through all the video boxes on the screen and zeroed in on me and David making out in the truck.
My face caught on fire. I put my hand in front of the screen. “Chapling!”
He giggled again and clicked everything off.
I laughed with him; I couldn’t help it. “You’re awful. I had no idea you were such a voyeur. Where are all the cameras?”
“The cameras are hidden everywhere. Lamps, light switches, faucets, pictures, furniture. And I’m not a voyeur. I rarely even look at all this. It’s just in case something happens.”
I folded my arms and gave him my best disciplinary glare. “Then how come you knew about me and David?”
“Because I updated the video software last night. Your smoochy-smoochy scene was kind of hard to ignore.”
I felt my face grow warm again. “Well, anyway . . . we’ve got work to do.”
Chapling saluted me. “You’re up.”
I rolled my chair back over to my computer station. “Let’s talk about the Rutina mission. It’s illegal to video or to take pictures of the glyphs. Any ideas on what to do about that? Somehow I’ve got to get them into my computer so I can work with the symbols.”
“Yeah, TL, Jonathan, and I discussed that last night. TL’s arranged for a hieroglyphic historian and artist to accompany you all on the mission. This guy works for the IPNC. He’ll sketch the graphics, and you can scan them into your laptop. The alliance doesn’t know about your new program. They just know there’re a couple of historians, you and this guy, coming to analyze the cave drawings and provide a translation of them.”
I nodded. “Between his expertise and my new program, we should be able to figure out the code.”
On the cart beside me, a stack of hieroglyphic books stood waiting. I’d been through about half of them so far, turning their words and pictures into code for my new translation program.
I was still in the initial stages, and, although I hadn’t said anything, I didn’t feel confident I could have it ready in two weeks.
There were so many minute details about cave drawings. And the ones in Rutina were a combination of many different cultures. That was one of the main purposes of my program, though. To take patterned, documented glyphs, break them down, be able to decipher combinations of drawings from different cultures, and come up with a highly probable translation. But even if I worked around the clock, I wasn’t sure . . . I just wasn’t sure.
And what if I couldn’t figure them out? What if my new program didn’t come through? What would we do? These cave drawings were a key factor in this mission.
My brain stopped its doubtful tirade as I realized this was all stuff I normally argued to TL. He would then assure me I could do it, and I would force myself to succeed. And sure enough in the end, I’d always come through. Kind of weird I hadn’t put up an argument with him this time and, in fact, didn’t really want him to know I doubted myself. I wanted him to think I felt confident with my abilities.
Hmmm . . . funny how things had changed. How
Breathing out a rush of focused breath, I grabbed one of the worn, hard leather books and got down to work.
My fingers raced over the keys as I input code into my glyph-translation program. A week had gone by, and I wasn’t nearly as close to completing it as I thought I’d be.
One week gone, and only three weeks to go before we left for Rutina, South America.
I concentrated on the recently scanned glyphs and the measurements I’d taken of them. I referenced the meanings from my research books and merged the two. I ran a quick script to assure they understood each other.
I compared it to yesterday’s rendering, hoping,
, they worked in conjunction . . . I watched as my screen scrolled with garbled language. Aaarrrggghhh . . . What was I doing wrong?
I jumped, almost tipping over in my chair.
Chapling stepped into my line of vision. His Brillo-pad hair poofed out into a red Afro as he grinned and waved. “Lunchtime. Go eat.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You interrupted me for
He showed me a text message on his phone. “Boss man says you have to.”
With a groan I rubbed my sore neck. “I have too much work to do to go eat.”
Pursing his lips, Chapling leaned forward and checked out my screen. “Want me to take a look?”
“Do you have time?” TL had Chapling working on something that he couldn’t tell me about.
He shrugged. “I got time.”
“Okay.” I’d take any help I could get. Rolling out my chair, I got to my feet.
Chapling took my spot. Climbing up, he studied my screen. Seconds later, he put his chubby fingers on my keys, and they took on a life of their own.
I moved in closer and watched over his shoulder as he wove through my code, quickly making adjustments. He deleted a pograph formula and added an emblematic cryptogram. He tweaked a cunei theorem and rearranged a subsequence rubric.
Huh, I hadn’t thought to do that.
Chapling stopped typing and sat staring at the screen. I waited, my gaze fixed to the monitor, wondering what he’d do next.
He cleared his throat. “You’re still here. TL says you have to take at least thirty minutes.”
It took a second to realize he was talking to me. “Oh . . . sorry.” With a sigh, I turned and set out from the lab, through the underground hallways, and up the elevator to the dining hall.
The place sat empty. A lingering scent of bleach told me everyone had come and gone and the tables had been wiped down. I glanced at my watch, noting it was an hour past the usual lunchtime. On a table to the left sat a few snacks for those who might be hungry in between meals. I grabbed a banana and a granola bar.
As I peeled the skin from the banana, I realized I’d barely seen Parrot in the week since we’d found out about the mission. And most of the times I had seen him, he’d been quiet and had kept to himself.
Taking a bite out of my banana, I left the cafeteria, made my way down the hall to the guys’ bedroom, and knocked on the door.
“Yeah?” Wirenut answered. “Come in.”
The boys’ room looked like a masculine version of the girls’ room and always smelled like Mystic’s incense. Like ours, their roomy living quarters held enough space for ten more guys. Crème walls and carpet instead of peach-colored. Three twin-size beds with brown comforters in lieu of beige, and a four-drawer, dark wood dresser for each of them replaced the white. A long closet stretched along the left wall where ours spanned the back. A bathroom sat in the back corner with three sinks, showers, and toilets. Posters of skimpily-dressed girls hung from their walls.