Aces and Eights, Event File 02

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Event File 02

Event Tag: Required Reading

Timestamp: 07:00-2-2-2157

                                                                   

     

Kevin began his work with the full mission description. Regional had sent the results of their little test farm up the chain of command, along with the results garnered by a number of Rest and Retirement bases who’d used the 3D printing instructions the Wildcards base had disseminated and commercial seed to start their own small gardens. Using the information Kevin had stolen, they’d managed to remove the genes that kept the fruits of seeds available to hobbyists small and ornamental, and some genius had figured out a gene splice to cut down on the water needs for soybeans and golden rice. But the genes that made the second generation of all patented crops sterile were turning out to be fairly intractable, and the plants needed to be tough to survive on Duster bases. If the Force ever wanted to use the mobile gardens as more than a minor supplement to their diets, they needed unpatented seeds whose genes could be used as a baseline and a reservoir for desirable traits. With that in mind, the Regional Command Hub had approved putting resources into a small-scale reconnaissance project to source and recover seeds. It didn’t approve much, but Kevin didn’t need much to do this kind of work.

Kevin’s mind flicked through possibilities as he read. If this seedbank turned out to be defunct, getting the seeds from other countries wasn’t technically impossible. But it would be hellaciously difficult, and more than a little dangerous. If it still existed, the Fort Collins seed bank was a far better option.

Once he’d decided that he was using his time effectively, he dove into history. He read everything there was on the National Center for Genetic Resources that had been based in Fort Collins. It had been one of the world’s largest gene banks, containing not only seeds but germplasm for over 8,000 species. If it still existed, it was truly a treasure trove of genetic material.

He started with research on the facility’s original site on a National Banking training campus that had once been a state university, allowing himself to steep in his familiar bittersweet love for the works of the past. In the days when America had been a democratic country, the facility had been so well known and well respected that other countries had apparently sent their backup seed bank collections to Colorado for safekeeping. The region’s University had been modestly famous; a gracious place of ancient trees, green lawns, beige buildings and red tile roofs. He allowed himself half an hour’s indulgence, looking at the pictures of what the university had once been: a place where young people played on the lawns, slept on the library’s couches between classes, and studied to become the people they’d wanted to be.

It had been a beautiful place.

He got down to serious work at eight-thirty on the dot. He dug up articles from the 2010s on the workings and the purpose of the Center, as well as its security measures. He reached out to a few above-board international contacts, asking them to get in touch with their networks and find out if anything was known on the seed collection that had once been housed in Fort Collins. Bringing up maps of the old university and the modern training campus, he superimposed the old map on the modern. There weren’t many similarities. The facility building that had housed the seed collection was long gone. According to records, it hadn’t been an underground storage facility, so a paved-over vault still in situ wasn’t likely, thank God. Clearing a NatBank campus long enough to drill through asphalt would have been just about impossible.

So, the seed collection wasn’t in its original site. But Fort Collins was surrounded by mountains. If the Democratic State Force could hide their Rest and Retirement bases up in the mountains, someone could most definitely hide an unmanned facility housing seeds in cold storage.

The operative word, of course, was ‘cold’. If the facility did still exist—if—then it had certainly suffered a few power failures over the decades. People who had run such a facility would have known and planned for that. They would have looked for naturally cold environments.

Kevin brought up a heat map of Colorado terrain. And there were the Never Summer Mountains, just west of Fort Collins. He couldn’t have gotten a better setup if he’d requisitioned it.

Now to find out if his suppositions were true.

Kevin turned on an energetic playlist full of songs from Poison, Huey Lewis and Billy Joel; a subtle hint that he didn’t want to be disturbed. Or not so subtle, maybe.

Bringing up a new window and pulling out his system’s biometric reading rig, he typed in three passwords, allowed the system to scan his retina and spat into the DNA reading tube. Then he entered the encrypted chat room.

He reached out to his godfather first, letting the plant geneticist know what he had found and asking for anything the older man might know. Then he touched base with his covert international contacts, asking for introductions and liaisons with anyone who might be able to help do research in the unrestricted democracies of Europe, India, Republic Sudamerica and Canada. He ran down the list of people who’d been in touch with his mom, adding them to his possible leads and finding contacts for them where he could.

“Have you eaten anything today?” Blake’s voice scraped across his nerves, sharp and barbed.

Yanked out of his reverie, Kevin turned in his chair, blinking. “Ever heard of knocking?”

“Ever heard of blood sugar? That brain works better when yours isn’t in your boots, Red.”

Blake had a point, Kevin had to admit.

“All right, I suppose I could use a break,” he admitted, begrudging it only a little as he turned down his music, interlaced his fingers and stretched his arms over his head. His spine popped like a nutrient bar being stepped on.

“Ack,” he grumbled as he stood, “some mornings, you know, I’m really starting to feel old.”

Blake waved a hand to illustrate his dismissal of that thought. “Sweetheart, you’re a baby. I refuse to let you be old. If you were classified as ‘old’, what would that make me, hm?”

“Do you actually want an answer to that?” Kevin asked with a smirk as he joined the older man in the hall. Blake batted at him. “Terrible boy! Teasing your elders, how rude.”

Kevin rolled his eyes at his mentor’s histrionics, grinning. Blake nudged him gently as they walked.

“Soooo, you were smiling when I walked in. How’s the research going?”

“Surprisingly fruitful so far, pardon the pun,” Kevin replied. “If I’m right, there’s a viable site that could have housed a facility, there’s some signs that AgCo never formally shut down or emptied the vaults of the seed bank, and…Holy Mary and Joseph, Blake. If this is real, do you know what that means?”

“Mm, we’ll have the makings for decent bloody marys right here on base,” the finance officer threw out with elaborate flippancy. Kevin snorted. “Drinks are the last thing on my mind. Food, Blake. Aside from the tangible aid it would be for the Force, I’ve got a personal stake here too. Decent fruit is what I really want. You know what I would give for decent strawberries? Oranges? I’ve missed oranges for years now.”

“Mm, yes darling, we know exactly what you would give for seeds,” Blake replied, eyeing him sidelong. “In fact, most people around here thought you were going to give your damn life for them, for a few days. Don’t give as much as you did last time you went seed hunting, okay? Nobody will be happy with you if you come in here looking like you bottomed for an entire pro football team again. Least of all me.” the older man drove his point home with one of his most sour expressions.

Kevin sighed, feeling a furious blush kindle in his cheeks. “Yes, thanks for reminding me in such vivid terms. Thanks very much.”

“Just making sure it sticks in the mind,” Blake replied airily, all mock-innocence.

They were in time for the tail end of lunch, and the cleaning up afterwards. Kevin was nearly done when a tap on his shoulder made him turn.

“Morning Topher. What’s up?”

Topher gave him a falsely bright smile. “Uh…hey man. Can we talk a second? In your office, maybe?”

“Sure,” Kevin agreed, watching the younger man carefully.

He led his friend down to his office, closing the door behind them. Turning, he studied the boy he thought of as a younger brother. Topher was turning his favorite green fedora between his hands, fingers bending the poor thing’s brim.

“Toph?” Kevin asked carefully, “Is something the matter?”

Topher raised eyes like a startled jackrabbit’s “Hunh? Why d’you think something’s wrong?”

“Well, you did ask for a private discussion. And you do happen to be mutilating your hat.” He nodded at the hat in Topher’s hands. The boy looked down, then gave a little ‘oh!’ of surprise and set the hat on the desk. He gave Kevin a sheepish smile and a shrug. “Nothing’s all that bad. But I need some advice. Some dating advice.”

Kevin quirked a brow. “Oh? Think you might be batting for my team?”

Topher shook his head, relaxing a little as he chuckled. “Nah man, not my thing. But…look, you had a lot of dates between Peter and Aidan…”

“I wouldn’t quantify a night or two every six months as ‘a lot’, by general standards,” Kevin rejoined dryly, “or ‘a date’, for that matter. But I did indeed have my share of bedmates.”

“Yeah, well…” Topher dithered over the words as he spoke them. He raised pleading eyes to Kevin’s. “You had this thing where you’d just walk up to a visiting tech, smile and chat for a couple minutes, and all the sudden he was going to your room for the night. You made it look easy,” the younger man said, smiling hopefully. “I kind of want to pull something like that off, get the guts up to ask, you know? So I guess what I’m asking is…how d’you do that? How do you just chat somebody up, so they like you in five minutes?”

Kevin blinked. “Wait…back up. Who are you chatting up, exactly?”

Topher grinned, half abashed. “Uh…Billie. I’ve been hanging with her, and I really like her. But I don’t want to freak her by getting this wrong, and she’s shy, so…you gotta help me out here, man.”

Kevin drew in a long breath. “Toph, let’s take a seat.”

Planting his elbows on his knees, he steepled his fingers, studying his younger basemate over them. Only on this base, he reflected silently, and only in this eclectic little quilt bag of a family, would a gay Jesuit be asked to give a straight Muslim dating advice. I really, really hope I’m not about to make a hash of this…

“All right. Let’s start with this: the person you’re approaching dictates everything about the way you approach. You need to be very clear on this, Toph: when I was inviting the men you saw, both I and the men in those encounters were looking for a physical outlet we needed with someone who was congenial. No strings attached. I wasn’t serious about a relationship with any of them. I assume you’d like something more long term with Billie?”

Topher nodded slowly. “Yeah. I mean, I’d kinda like to date her.”

“All right. Then you very much do not approach her the way I approached the men you saw me with occasionally. If I’m actually interested in a long term relationship, it’s entirely different. Did you notice how I acted when I was getting to know Aidan?”

Topher grinned. “What, blushing a lot?”

“No,” Kevin exclaimed, mildly exasperated, “well, yes, but no that wasn’t what I meant. I was actually quite interested in Aidan, therefore I was circumspect with him.”

“Circumwhat now?” Topher blinked. Kevin tried again. “I took it slow with him, because I had time. You have plenty of time with Billie. Therefore, acting suave is less important than acting genuine. Let her know that you’re interested in spending time with her. Show her your games and invite her to play with you. Share some of those immersive holo-comics you read, I bet those would be a lovely afternoon’s entertainment. Ask her what she’d like to do. After that, the ball’s in her court. But you can make it clear that you’ll be around if she’s interested. And—” he held up a finger— “I hope this goes without saying, but you will also make it clear that you’ll still be around as a friend if she’s not. There’s a lot of things I love about old movies,” he finished, “but the ‘nice guy who hangs on until he gets the girl’ trope isn’t one of them.”

Topher looked mildly offended at that. “Man, I’m not an asshole.”

Kevin laid a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I know you’re not, but you came in for dating advice; that’s part of it. Most importantly, you need to relax. Let her set the pace. You can be honest; in fact, I recommend it. Hopefully you’ll be better at it than I am. Feel free to outright say that you like her and want to spend time with her. But after that, patience and acceptance is key. All right?”

Topher blew out a long breath. “Okay, yeah, but…I mean…don’t you have any tips for not looking like a dumbass and screwing it up? ‘Just be yourself’ doesn’t feel like a lot of help.”

Kevin squeezed the younger man’s shoulder. “I know it doesn’t. But if I’m being really honest? Being yourself really is the best thing you can be. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really get anywhere with Aidan until I stopped being suave and spoke to him honestly. I was actually a bit of a fool. But the thing is, I cared. I was tongue tied because I actually cared. If you care, it’s going to show. And it should.”

Topher’s face was full of hope and helplessness. “You sure I’m not going to look like an idiot?”

Kevin gave the younger man a reproving smile. “I’m sure you are going to look like an idiot, if it’s real. And I’m sure that won’t stop it from happening. Looking a little foolish comes with love. It’s part of the package. So don’t be afraid of it. Refusing to try because you’re afraid of looking like an idiot? That would be the truly moronic thing to do.”

Topher ducked his head, smiling at his hands. “I guess. Yeah.”

Kevin smiled at the younger man. “Tell you what, I’ll do you a favor. I’ll make sure any planned Touchdown Party gets canceled, once you get the relationship going.”

“Damn, I didn’t even think about that,” Topher looked horrified at the very thought. Kevin patted his shoulder. “It’ll be fine. You’ve seen everybody else stumble around. We all survived. So will you. Just ask the girl if she’d like to sit down and play a game.”

“Yeah,” Topher agreed, “Thanks man. I…well yeah. Thanks.”

“Any time,” Kevin agreed with a nod. Lifting Topher’s fedora, he dropped it back on the younger man’s head. “After this point in a courtship, you probably don’t want to take my advice, because I’d suggest reading her poetry in your lovely French-influenced Arabic and making her fall into your arms, overcome by your prose.”

Topher snickered. “Yeah, you would, wouldn’t you? Oh, hey. Printer needs more coloring agents for cloth. Can I get it on the list?”

“No problem, we’ll do that run later this week.”

“Thanks!” Topher was out of his seat and out of the room with a quick wave over his shoulder. Kevin smiled after him. That boy was growing up well. He had to laugh at himself for his parental attitude, but he really was proud of how Topher was turning out.

Turning, he flipped his system on. He blinked at the alert hanging in the air.

“Contact Regarding Seed Bank, Please Respond,” he whispered, reading the words twice to make sure they were real. He couldn’t quite believe it at first.

People. There were people contacting him, claiming to be the caretakers of the seedbank.

If this was true, he wasn’t looking for an ancient time capsule. He was interacting with a functioning seed-storage facility. An actual, staffed facility.

He grinned. “Hell, yes.”

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