On the Crypto floor, the shadows were growing long and faint. Overhead, the automatic lighting gradually increased to compensate. Susan was still at her terminal silently awaiting news from her tracer. It was taking longer than expected.
Her mind had been wandering‑missing David and willing Greg Hale to go home. Although Hale hadn’t budged, thankfully he’d been silent, engrossed in whatever he was doing at his terminal. Susan couldn’t care less what Hale was doing, as long as he didn’t access the Run‑Monitor. He obviously hadn’t‑sixteen hours would have brought an audible yelp of disbelief.
Susan was sipping her third cup of tea when it finally happened‑her terminal beeped once. Her pulse quickened. A flashing envelope icon appeared on her monitor announcing the arrival of E‑mail. Susan shot a quick glance toward Hale. He was absorbed in his work. She held her breath and double‑clicked the envelope.
“North Dakota,” she whispered to herself. “Let’s see who you are.”
When the E‑mail opened, it was a single line. Susan read it. And then she read it again.
DINNER AT ALFREDO’s? 8 PM?
Across the room, Hale muffled a chuckle. Susan checked the message header.
FROM: GHALE@crypto.nsa.gov Susan felt a surge of anger but fought it off. She deleted the message. “Very mature, Greg.”
“They make a great carpaccio.” Hale smiled. “What do you say? Afterward we could—”
“Snob.” Hale sighed and turned back to his terminal. That was strike eighty‑nine with Susan Fletcher. The brilliant female cryptographer was a constant frustration to him. Hale had often fantasized about having sex with her‑pinning her against TRANSLTR’s curved hull and taking her right there against the warm black tile. But Susan would have nothing to do with him. In Hale’s mind, what made things worse was that she was in love with some university teacher who slaved for hours on end for peanuts. It would be a pity for Susan to dilute her superior gene pool procreating with some geek‑particularly when she could have Greg. We’d have perfect children, he thought.
“What are you working on?” Hale asked, trying a different approach.
Susan said nothing.
“Some team player you are. Sure I can’t have a peek?” Hale stood and started moving around the circle of terminals toward her.
Susan sensed that Hale’s curiosity had the potential to cause some serious problems today. She made a snap decision. “It’s a diagnostic,” she offered, falling back on the commander’s lie.
Hale stopped in his tracks. “Diagnostic?” He sounded doubtful. “You’re spending Saturday running a diagnostic instead of playing with the prof?”
“His name is David.”
Susan glared at him. “Haven’t you got anything better to do?”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Hale pouted.
“Gee, Sue, I’m hurt.”
Susan Fletcher’s eyes narrowed. She hated being called Sue. She had nothing against the nickname, but Hale was the only one who’d ever used it.
“Why don’t I help you?” Hale offered. He was suddenly circling toward her again. “I’m great with diagnostics. Besides, I’m dying to see what diagnostic could make the mighty Susan Fletcher come to work on a Saturday.”
Susan felt a surge of adrenaline. She glanced down at the tracer on her screen. She knew she couldn’t let Hale see it‑he’d have too many questions. “I’ve got it covered, Greg,” she said.
But Hale kept coming. As he circled toward her terminal, Susan knew she had to act fast. Hale was only a few yards away when she made her move. She stood to meet his towering frame, blocking his way. His cologne was overpowering.
She looked him straight in the eye. “I said no.”
Hale cocked his head, apparently intrigued by her odd display of secrecy. He playfully stepped closer. Greg Hale was not ready for what happened next.
With unwavering cool, Susan pressed a single index finger against his rock‑hard chest, stopping his forward motion.
Hale halted and stepped back in shock. Apparently Susan Fletcher was serious; she had never touched him before, ever. It wasn’t quite what Hale had had in mind for their first contact, but it was a start. He gave her a long puzzled look and slowly returned to his terminal. As he sat back down, one thing became perfectly clear: The lovely Susan Fletcher was working on something important, and it sure as hell wasn’t any diagnostic.