The bright, sunny morning betrayed the emotions in the courtyard. The man tied to the stake stood approximately six foot tall, with blond hair and bright blue eyes. He stood motionless, staring straight ahead at the six gun barrels pointed directly at him.
The Russian Major paced in front of the man, goading him to reveal his American government source. "Colonel, you are not holding all the cards," he said. "I realize if I kill you, I will be without the information I require, but I also cannot afford to keep you alive. So, I ask you for the last time, which American agency do you represent? N.S.B.? C.I.A.? F.B.I.? Or possibly some secret organization?" The Russian stopped pacing and stared deep into his captive's eyes, looking for a hint of fear. He found none.
The man stood rock still, returning the stare, unblinking. He knew he was about to die and was at peace; there was nothing he could do to prevent his fate. The information the Russian requested would go to the grave.
"I have had enough. Do you have a final request?" The Russian stood impatiently waiting for an answer, shifting his weight from one foot to another.
"Yes, I do."
"And that would be?"
"Return my body to my parents in California. You will find the address with the paperwork you took from me."
The Russian nodded. "You have my word, I will see your body returned to your parents." The Russian turned and walked to the edge of the courtyard. He nodded to another man standing nearby.
The man turned to the firing squad. "Ready, aim, fire!"
Six shots rang through the courtyard. The man tied to the stake slumped forward; chin coming to rest on his chest, six bullet wounds piercing his chest.
A Russian doctor examined the man and announced, "The American is dead."
The Russian Major, staying true to his word, issued orders to prepare the body for shipment to America.
A month had passed since Sam's release from the lab. During the first couple of weeks Steve and Sam worked on Sam's bedroom; she chose neutral colors for the walls, then a wall border of WWII airplanes.
Steve installed a floor-to-ceiling shelving unit to hold her books and models; the unit took up the whole inside wall. Sam designed a workstation for modeling and homework. Steve constructed it to fit underneath a window, so Sam could have a view and natural lighting at the same time. By the time they finished the room, Sam was very pleased with the results.
Steve eyed the room, realizing that Sam had no need to venture out of it except for bathroom breaks and meals. He made Sam promise not to become a hermit, to which Sam agreed.
At the end of the second week, Steve was called away on a mission to parts unknown, much to Sam's display.
Sam looked up at the clock and sighed. She sat at the dining room table, working through her Botany assignment. Steve had arranged for Sam’s college credits to be transferred to a nearby college so she could finish her degree. Sam spent several hours a day, working her way through the book.
She closed the book and put away her school materials before rummaging for dinner. While ducking into the refrigerator, she heard a key at the front door. Closing the fridge, Sam hoped the person was her Father. She peeked around the corner into the hallway and let out an audible sigh.
“Sorry Sam, no news yet,” Rudy said, closing the door behind him. They had been through the same routine for the past week.
Steve was a week overdue from his recent assignment, which had taken him overseas to an unknown location. Rudy tried to get the information out of Oscar, but kept hitting a brick wall. Oscar rarely withheld information from Rudy regarding Steve's location, but for some reason, this time was different.
Sam returned to the kitchen and pulled out a couple of soup cans from the pantry. “Hungry?”
“Yes,” Rudy said. “I’ve been in meetings all day and have yet to eat lunch, never mind dinner.”
Rudy retreated to the guest room, quickly changing into casual clothing. He returned to the kitchen to prepare the salad.
Sam opened the soup cans, poured them into a pot, and then put it on the stove to simmer. As she stirred the soup, Sam asked, “Do you think he’s okay?”
Rudy looked up from his task. “Yes, he’s overdue, but that doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Oscar isn’t talking, for whatever reason. The assignment could just be taking him longer than expected.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Sam said.
Rudy sighed. “I don’t know. My gut feeling is that he’s okay.”
Sam nodded, knowing that was the best answer she would get. They finished preparing the meal in silence.
Shortly after the dinner dishes had been cleared away, Sam retired to her bedroom. Sitting at the workstation, she stared at the model before her. Several minutes passed before she pushed herself away from the table and paced the room, worried for the safety of her new found Father.
When Oscar called, needing Steve's assistance, Steve arranged for Rudy to spend the night at the house so Sam wouldn’t be alone. During the day, Sam had plenty to occupy herself so Steve felt comfortable leaving her alone.
Despite the early hour, Sam said good night to Rudy and headed off to bed. She lay awake for quite a while, wondering where her Father could be, then finally succumbed to a restless sleep.
Sam rose shortly before dawn, exhausted. She had nightmares throughout the night, all of them ended with Steve's death. Sam awoke from each dream, feeling like she would be sick; sitting on the edge of the bed, taking slow, deep breaths would calm her enough so she could fall asleep once again.
The last nightmare of the night was especially disturbing. Sam watched as Steve was executed for a crime he didn't commit. She awoke, sweating profusely. Unable to shake the dream, Sam decided to take a shower and start her morning early.
After dressing, she grabbed her Botany book and notebook, heading for the kitchen. Sam found Rudy up and ready for work. "Morning," she mumbled.
"Morning," Rudy said. "Why up so early?"
"Nightmares," Sam said, not elaborating.
Rudy finished off his coffee, and then rinsed his cup in the sink. "I've got to go into the office early. Something came up overnight that needs my attention."
"Uh-huh," Sam replied, rummaging through the fridge for breakfast.
"See you this evening," Rudy said, heading for the door.
Sam put together a quick meal, then retired to the dining room to start her studies.
By mid-morning Sam was so involved in her studies; she didn't hear the front door opening, and then quietly close. Footsteps echoed down the hall. A man entered the dining room, standing behind Sam.
A smile played across the man's face. He reached out and tapped her on the shoulder.
Sam nearly jumped out of her chair, twisting around to see who interrupted her thoughts.
“Miss me?” Steve asked, grinning from ear to ear.
"Dad!" Sam stood and embraced Steve in a bear hug, which Steve returned.
Breaking the embrace, Sam poked Steve in the chest, emphasizing each word, "Don't you scare me like that again!"
Steve hugged her once again, planting a kiss on the top of her head. "Sorry Sam, it was unintentional." Releasing her Steve said, "Let's go talk in the den."
Steve guided her to the couch, both sitting, facing each other.
"Sam, I know you were worrying about me. Rudy told me as much. I appreciate your concern, but your anger should not be directed at Oscar," Steve said.
"What anger?" Sam said, holding her tongue.
"Rudy watched you through the week; he heard you muttering about Oscar to yourself. I wish I understood what you have against Oscar, but I know that you don't want to talk about it. I won't push the issue," Steve said, looking for some sort of response from Sam, disappointed when he didn't receive one.
“When did you get home?” Sam said, trying to change the subject.
“Shortly after midnight,” Steve said. “The assignment didn’t go as planned, which is why it took me so long.”
"What happened?" Sam had been told she may never get all the details from an assignment, but she figured it was worth a try.
"All I can say is communication problems caused my delay."
Dryly, Sam said, “Oscar wouldn’t tell Rudy where you were.”
"That's because Oscar didn't know where I was," Steve said. "He was as baffled as you and Rudy. I missed my exit pass, so to speak, and then had radio trouble. In the meantime, I had to dodge the enemy while trying to find a way home."
Sam sat quietly; suddenly realizing this would be a fact of life. Steve carefully watched her expression, unsure what to make of it. He learned to recognize when the wheels were turning in Sam's brain. He patiently waited for her to speak.
She finally met his gaze. "I don't regret having you adopt me, but I feel like there's something I don't know, something you haven't told me. I don't understand how one agent can be sent in and expected to get out alive. Can you please explain it to me so I can understand?"
Steve could see the pain in her eyes. He felt it was time to complete the puzzle for her. "Oscar told me to use my best judgment. I think it's time for you to hear the whole story."
Steve spent the better part of an hour explaining the early part of his life, starting with the accident. He led her through the details of the surgery, his recovery period and early years with the O.S.I. Sam sat quietly, taking in all the details. She was appalled and amazed at the same time. When Steve finished his story, they sat in silence.
It took some time for Sam to digest the information, and then looked at Steve with a new respect. She leaned forward, giving Steve a big hug. Releasing him, Sam looked up at Steve and smiled. "I think I understand now. Thanks for telling me the truth."
"I'm sorry I held out on you for so long. Now do you see why I work alone? Why Oscar doesn't always discuss my assignment, even to Rudy?"
Sam nodded. "Yea, I understand. I think."
"Now that we have that behind us, how about we spend the day together doing whatever you want. Any ideas?" Steve said, hoping to life Sam's spirits.
"The Smithsonian?" Sam suggested.
"Air and Space?"
After spending the afternoon together, they returned home to cook supper. Sam had returned to her old self during the day, which pleased Steve immensely. During supper they joked back and forth on various topics, ending with a serious discussion on Sherlock Holmes. Sam had finished the book Steve purchased for her and was anxious to discuss the story. In mid-conversation, the phone rang.
“Don’t answer it,” Sam said.
“It’s probably a wrong number,” Steve said as he picked up the receiver.
After a brief conversation, Steve returned the phone to the cradle. He turned to Sam, who stood in front of him, arms crossed and a smirk on her face.
“I told you not to answer it,” Sam said. She turned and headed for her bedroom.
Steve followed, finding Sam settling at her worktable. “It’s not what you think. Oscar said he has an assignment for me but I’d be home every evening. It must be local.” Steve sat in a chair across from Sam.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Sam said without looking up. She busied herself by cleaning the pieces of the fuselage, sanding down the rough parts and cutting away any excess plastic.
Steve sat watching her for several minutes, neither saying a word. He finally broke the silence with a question he knew was taboo. “Sam, would you please tell me what you have against Oscar?”
Sam ignored the question, not wanting to respond. At least twice a week he asked, hoping for an answer. Sam was not ready to reveal the reason to him.
Steve finally stood and left the room, leaving Sam to her thoughts.
The following morning Steve said good-bye to Sam and headed for Oscar’s office. He was concerned about her mood, but knew there wasn’t anything he could do at this time.
A half hour later he knocked on the door and let himself into Oscar’s office. Oscar, who is having an animated discussion with someone on the other end of the phone, waved Steve in to a seat.
Steve closed the door and sat on the leather couch, waiting for his boss to get off the phone.
Oscar slammed the receiver into its cradle. “Incompetent idiots,” he said before turning his attention to Steve.
“What’s wrong now?” Steve questioned. He hadn’t been able to put together the gist of the conversation.
Oscar waved off the question. “It’s personal business. The car’s in the shop and the mechanic doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“Oh, okay, I thought it might have something to do with my assignment,” Steve said, slightly relieved.
Oscar stood, rounding the desk. “Let’s go. We have an appointment with the Director of the C.I.A.”
“C.I.A.?” Steve said, following his boss. They walked in silence down to the car pool where Oscar’s limo awaited. Steve climbed into the back, settling in the seat across from Oscar.
“Over the past year, the C.I.A. and O.S.I. combined have lost 34 deep cover agents,” Oscar said.
Steve stared at him in disbelief. “Lost?”
“Lost. Killed. The latest was Colonel Robert Matthews. He was killed two months ago. The first hint that anything was amiss was when his parents received notice from a local mortuary that the body of their son awaited them.” Oscar said.
Steve was horrified. "How? How are the agents being compromised?"
“We don’t know. We suspect someone is cracking our codes and selling the information to the highest bidder; we have a suspect, though we aren't thoroughly convinced he's our man,” Oscar said. He rifled through his briefcase, pulling out a folder, which he handed to Steve.
Steve opened the folder, glancing through the contents. The top sheet of paper contained a list of names, the organization, which they represented, and their approximate date of death. “All of these agents are dead?” Fortunately he did not recognize any of the names.
Oscar nodded. “Sadly, yes.”
“What can I do?”
“You’ll be going undercover…”
“You said I’d be home every evening!” Steve didn’t like the idea of having to tell Sam he was leaving again, especially with her in a foul mood at this time.
Oscar smiled. “You will be home ever evening, I promise.” He glanced out the window, “Here we are.”
The car swung up to the curb, the door opening a moment later. Oscar climbed out first, followed closely by Steve. They were led through security and up to the Director’s office. Once in the office, the secretary closed the door behind her, leaving the men in private.
Oscar and Steve took seats across from the massive cherry wood desk. The Director quickly finished his phone call, turning his attention to his visitors.
“Mr. Goldman, Colonel Austin, thank you for coming,” the Director said. “Colonel, I'm in need of your help and your connection with NASA will aid in the surveillance of our suspect. Mr. Goldman said I could expect your full cooperation.”
Steve’s brow furrowed, unsure of the Director’s meaning. “How is my connection with NASA going to help with the assignment?”
The Director sidestepped the question for a moment, filling in the background of the suspect.
“Paul Talbot, our suspect, is a cryptography expert, skilled in high level mathematics. He worked for the government in the mid-sixties, fresh out of college. He became the most respected code-cracker, being capable of cracking the most complicated of codes. Talbot had a breakdown after his wife of six months was killed by a drifter who followed her home from the grocery story. During the autopsy it was learned that she was five weeks pregnant. Talbot was hospitalized for three months where he spent a good deal of time with various psychologists. When released, he was given a month off to get his life back together; what he did during that time, we don’t know. At the end of the month, he resigned. Due to his skills, he was followed for some time, and after five years the surveillance ended. Now, he’s teaching fifth grade math at a local elementary school.” The Director paused, waiting for questions.
“Why do you suspect his involvement?” Oscar asked. He understood the concern, but missed the possible connection.
“The first flag was that a person of his experience decided to teach at an elementary school. The staff psychologist’s report indicated he might be surrounding himself with kids to make up for the child he lost. He has never remarried. At first we accepted the report, but as the deaths continued we decided to take a second look at his activities.” The Director pushed two folders across the desk; one for each visitor.
Steve and Oscar quickly scanned the document, catching the highlights of the case; when Steve finished, he closed the folder and tossed it onto the desk.
"I'll ask again, how is my connection with NASA going to help with your problem?" Steve was puzzled, unsure how NASA fit into the equation.
"Simple," the Director said. "The school in question has requested a visit from the NASA Educational center. Up till now, all of their astronauts, who aid in teaching the class, have been booked for other events." The Director was amused by Steve's expression, one of puzzlement mixed with terror.
"Wait a minute..."
"Steve, the Director and I worked out a plan to get you into the school for a one week period," Oscar said. "During that week, in addition to the NASA obligation, you'll keep a close eye on Talbot, watching for anything unusual. And, if we can arrange it without raising suspicion, you'll visit Talbot's house one evening, looking for evidence of his involvement." Oscar watched Steve, looking for a hint of him refusing the assignment. Although Steve loves kids, he isn't always comfortable being around large numbers of them at a given time.
"Oscar, do you really think this will work?" Steve stood, pacing the room. "Don't you think Talbot would be a little suspicious?"
"Why?" said the Director. "Everyone knows you're associated with NASA; you are a public figure, after all. Why would Talbot suspect anything?"
Steve threw his arms up, "I don't know. It just doesn't seem right." He continued pacing, tossing an occasional glare in Oscar's direction. "Besides, I know next to nothing about cryptography. What am I supposed to do if I find evidence of wrongdoing?"
"You needn't worry about that," the Director said. "We have someone else in mind to help with that part of the case. All you need to do is observe."
Steve stood at a trophy case, staring at the assorted medals won by the Director through his years of service. He let out a loud sigh. "Alright, when do I start?"
Steve was ushered out the door, down to the car and driven to NASA building, just behind the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. Steve and Oscar walked through the lobby after flashing their ID and heading up to the Education Department.
Upon entering, Steve broke into a broad smile. "Justin Williams," he said, extending his hand for a hearty handshake.
"Steve, nice to see you again," Justin replied.
The men exchanged greetings then followed Justin to his office.
"Justin and I go way back," explained Steve.
"Yeah, I washed out of astronaut training while Steve flew through with flying colors," Justin added. "Fortunately my failure and Steve's success didn't tarnish our friendship."
Once in the office, Justin closed the door and motioned the men to their seats, then took a seat at his desk. "Mr. Goldman, I've been informed that I'm to give you my complete cooperation until you are no longer in need of my services. Now I must admit, this is an unusual request. We do not normally take our educational program on the road, we normally have classes scheduled to visit in-house."
"I understand and appreciate your co-operation," Oscar said.
"And, it is NASA's policy to not become involved with organizations such as your own," Justin continued. "But, someone up the chain of command has deemed it necessary to provide our services for your, er, mission."
Turning to Oscar, Steve said, "I wondered how you got around the policy."
Oscar smiled. "You should know Steve that it's who you know in this town..."
"Let's get down to business," Justin said. He spent the next hour going over the curriculum.
"Well, this doesn't sound as bad as I first imagined," said Steve, looking over the syllabus for the week.
"We take each astronaut's personality into account when we put together the classes. Unfortunately, we had little notice for you, so I put in my two cents worth and helped put something together to fit you," Justin explained.
"Is there anything else Col. Austin will require prior to going into the classroom?" Oscar said. He thought there would be more to it than just a quick one-hour briefing.
Justin nodded. "We'll go through some of the experiments that go along with the lessons, but we won't be ready for that until tomorrow morning."
Steve's brow furrowed. "Oscar, when exactly am I to start at the school?" He suddenly realized neither Oscar nor the CIA Director had given him a timeframe.
"You start on Monday, four days from now." Oscar had Ross finalizing the plans for Steve to be in the school for a week; he would report to Oscar later in the afternoon as to the status of the preparations.
The men continued their discussion regarding what was expected of Steve while within the classroom. By mid-afternoon, Oscar cut Steve loose, allowing him to go home early.
"Enjoy your freedom, pal. You return to elementary school on Monday," Oscar teased as Steve walked toward his car. "I've heard 5th graders can be a handful."
Steve just shook his head, wanting to get away from his boss. He tried to figure out how he planned on handling Sam's mood, coming up with an idea half way home. Steve decided to appeal to her logical side; he would encourage Sam to give him a crash course in cryptography. Even though Oscar said he wouldn't have to deal with it, Steve figured engaging Sam in conversation on a topic she loved would improve her mood.
Pulling into the driveway, Steve parked the car and heading inside.
"Sam, I'm home!" he called. When he didn't receive a response, Steve checked the house, finally locating her out on the back patio.
Sam sat on the swing, watching the birds flit from one feeder to another. She heard her Father's call from inside the house, but chose not to answer. She was still upset over his being called away again.
Steve opened the sliding glass door, stepped onto the patio, and then closed the door behind him. He took a seat on the swing next to Sam.
"You're home," Sam said flatly.
"Yes, I am," Steve replied. "And I will be every night this coming week."
Sam turned to look Steve in the face. "Seriously?"
Steve nodded. "As part of my assignment, I'm going back to school. I'll be fulfilling the role of a NASA educator, spending a week in a 5th grade science class."
"And the other part of your assignment?"
Steve smiled, "Sam, what can you teach me about cryptography?"
Sam grinned broadly. "Tons. What do you need?"
"Information on breaking codes."
"My specialty," she said. "Come on, we better get to work. It took me a year to learn it all.... and you need to learn about it in how long?"
Steve sighed. "Four days."
Sam continued to laugh as they entered the house. Steve had the feeling he had bit off more than he could chew. 'Well, her mood has improved,' he thought as he closed the door.
Sam disappeared into her bedroom for a moment, emerging with several different math books, and a couple specialized books on cryptography. She motioned Steve to a chair at the dining room table, spread out the materials, and then placed pencil and paper in from of her Father.
"Class is in session," she announced.
Sam had taken a seat next to Steve, quickly ascertaining his level of experience with cryptography.
“As you know, there are many different methods of breaking codes. The most commonly known method is substitution,” Sam said.
“Which is commonly used in puzzles,” Steve added.
“Correct. The simplest of ciphers is transposition, which is typically used by school children. For example,” Sam flipped to a page in the first chapter, pointing to what appeared to be gibberish: EHT DLIHC IS REHTAF OT EHT NAM, “this translates to ‘the child is father to the man’.”
Steve nodded, remembering such games from childhood.
“More sophisticated transpositions were used way back when while trying to keep their business private. Although substitution is a more modern method of transporting messages, it’s not that hard to crack. Morse code is the most commonly known form of substitution.” Sam pulled out one of her books and flipped to the section. She pointed out a simple example, then a more complex one.
Steve glanced through the page, looking for a pattern, which could indicate a place to start. He shook his head, “I don’t see it. Can you solve it?”
Sam smiled. “I already have.”
“You have?” Steve said, amazed.
Sam started giggling. “Yeah, I have. Of course what I didn’t say is it took me over an hour to figure it out on my own.”
“Your brain must work like a computer.”
Sam grinned. “Rudy made a similar comment when we first met.”
Steve lightly swatted Sam on the back of her head, which produced laughter from both father and daughter.
Sam continued with her explanation a moment later. “With a puzzle like this, most people would only consider using one letter for each substitution. This puzzle uses a full key, which is a little more secure. Unfortunately, you can still tell that it’s some form of code.”
“Which would draw attention to itself, prompting someone to try and decode it,” Steve said. “What about codes that don’t appear to be codes?”
Sam took the book from Steve, flipped a few chapters forward and stopped on what appeared to be a friendly letter. She started reading, “Arnold dear, it was good news to hear that you found a job in Paris. Anna hopes you will soon be able to send for her. She’s very eager to join you now the children are both well. Sonia.”
“Sounds like a normal letter,” Steve commented.
“Yeah, it does, but as you can see, through the completion of the example the translation reads ‘Need money for assassination,’” Sam said.
Steve sat contemplating the example. “So… if I were rummaging through the suspect’s paperwork and found a letter that appeared out of the ordinary, it could be code?”
“Exactly. People who use codes don’t always consider how the simple letter could be a tip-off,” Sam said.
“Like if I found a letter to the suspect’s wife…”
“And the suspect doesn’t have a wife. Exactly.”
Steve grinned, “Teach me more.”
Sam and Steve dove into the book, working on more complex problems, father and daughter enjoying the time together while sharing a common interest.
Around dinnertime, Steve called a halt to the lesson. While Sam cleaned off the table, Steve headed for the bathroom for some aspirin. Returning to the kitchen, he found Sam picking through the freezer, looking for dinner.
“How about we go out?” Steve said. “After your lesson, I’ve got a headache and don’t feel like cooking. I’d rather be waited on this evening.”
Sam closed the freezer, smiling. “Sounds good to me. Let me go change clothes and I’ll be ready.” She disappeared down the hall before Steve could say a word.
He chuckled to himself while heading toward the front hall.
Their first shopping trip upon her release from the lab proved to be an interesting one. Sam hadn’t ever shopped for clothing, normally depending on others to supply her wardrobe. Sam’s taste was simple, opting to buy the same style of shirt in several colors. Jeans were the order of the day during the shopping trip, but once again in various colors. The only color Steve asked her not to get was red. ‘I don’t want to suddenly find my underwear all pink,’ he commented, eliciting a hardy laugh from Sam. She agreed. No red clothing.
Steve returned to the present, hearing Sam heading toward him. She now sported a lightweight yellow top, black jeans and black sneakers. “Dad, I need some black socks. This just doesn’t work.” Sam pulled up her pant legs an inch or so, revealing stark white socks.
Steve started laughing. “I see what you mean. Guess we forgot about socks that day.”
“Guess so,” Sam said, smoothing down the pant legs. “Let’s go.”
Steve held the door open for his daughter as she bound out the front door. He locked the door, and then closed it behind him. He smiled as he watched Sam inspecting a late season butterfly that had lit upon the car roof, pleased with himself for managing to raise her spirits.
“Let’s go,” he said, unlocking the car door.
Sam carefully transferred the butterfly from the car to the nearby mums, and then climbed into the car.
“What do you want to eat?” Steve asked as he backed out of the driveway.
“Italian will do,” Sam said, watching the butterfly flit away.
“Italian it is,” Steve said as he put the car in gear.
Shortly after nine, the duo returned home, having had a filling dinner at a local diner, then a short shopping trip for socks. Of course, the evening would be complete without a stop at the hobby shop and bookstore.
Sam took her packages to her room, and then returned to the den where she found her father looking through the cryptography book. She plopped herself on the couch next to him, leaning against his shoulder so she could see the book.
“If you’d like, tomorrow we can continue with the type of information you’ll undoubtedly need for your mission,” Sam said. “Can you tell me anything about your mission?”
Steve sat quietly for a moment, contemplating what to say. He wasn’t used to having someone around with whom he could discuss his mission.
Finally deciding to give Sam a glimpse of his mission, Steve started with the fact that he’ll be teaching a group of fifth graders for a week, to which he elicited a hardy laugh from Sam. When she settled down into quiet giggles, he went on to explain that he was to spy on a fifth grade math teacher suspected of breaking codes for the enemy. “Of course, I shouldn’t be telling you any of this…”
Sam frowned momentarily. “Does Mr. Goldman expect you to crack the codes? He’s out of his mind if he does. I mean, it takes years of experience to master the more complex schemes.”
Steve shook his head. “No, he said I don’t have to know how to crack them, but I figured the more I learn, the more effective I will be when I start snooping.”
“That makes sense,” Sam said. Based on what little her father had told her, Sam knew it would probably take a high-level math wiz to pull off what was suspected of the guy.
“I’ll be at the NASA education center for most of tomorrow,” Steve said, changing the subject. “What’s on your agenda?” He knew Sam had been busy with her schoolwork, but as fast as she studied, he hadn’t a clue what subject she was currently studying.
“I’ve got to finish my botany assignment before Monday, so I’ll be working on it,” Sam said.
After Sam finished explaining the details of her assignment, Steve suggested they work on their model for a little while before bedtime.
Sam broke into a wide grin. “That would be great,” she said, leading him down the hall to the worktable. They spent more than an hour on the project before calling it quits for the evening.
Steve said goodnight to his daughter, retiring to his room. While waiting for sleep to take him, Steve decided he might need to include Sam in his life a little more than he anticipated. Surprisingly, the thought didn’t bother him. Steve decided he liked the idea, trying to figure out how he would manage it as he fell asleep.
Justin scanned through the paperwork created by Steve’s assignment. If he and Steve weren’t friends, he’d be a bit miffed with the extra work. In this case, Justin couldn’t wait to hear how the fifth graders handle Steve. A knock at the door interrupts his thoughts.
“Come in,” Justin said, not looking up from the paperwork.
Steve stepped inside the office, carefully closing the door behind him. He carried two steaming hot coffees. “If you’re good, I may share,” Steve said, crossing the room to the desk.
Justin looked up, “I’ll be good, honest!”
Steve laughed, placing the cup in front of Justin. He took a seat across from his friend, and then carefully sipped from the cup.
“How did you know?” Justin said after taking a sip.
“I didn’t, but as my daughter pointed out, it would have been rude to only get one,” Steve said, chuckling.
Steve nodded. “Adopted, but still my daughter none-the-less. Officially, we’ve been together for a little over a month, but I’ve known her since earlier in the year. We took to each other as if we were meant to be together.” Steve smiled inwardly every time he thought of their first meeting. Sam was standoffish at first, but then invited him back for another visit.
“How old is she?”
“Samantha, Sam for short, is physically fourteen years old. Mentally, she’s a well-adjusted genius. She does have an aversion for meeting new people and she doesn’t care for large groups of people. Other than that…” Steve let it hang, letting Justin finish the thought.
“Where is she now?” Justin asked. Genius or not, he wasn’t sure whether Steve would leave his daughter home alone.
“At the moment she’s at the library. Sam normally spends the day at home, working on her second college degree.”
Justin started at his friend for a moment before finding his voice. “She’s fourteen years old and is working on her second degree?”
Steve simply nodded, having become so accustomed to Sam’s talents that he rarely gave her situation a second thought.
Justin shook his head, laughing. “Sounds like she’ll keep you on your toes.”
“That’s for sure. Now, about this program I’m to teach?” Steve didn’t mind talking about Sam, but he wanted to get the training over with as quickly as possible.
“Oh, yeah, right. Follow me,” Justin said. He led Steve down the hall to a large conference room. “This is where we hold our classes.”
Steve glanced around, noticing all the posters and models hanging around the room. He spotted a model of Apollo 17, and then a picture of her crew. “I feel old,” he commented as Justin stood at his side.
“Naw, we were both kids at that time,” Justin said. “Besides, you’re a little older and wiser now.”
Steve laughed, but reserved comment. He followed Justin over to one table, which contained a condensed history of the space program.
“With the younger crowd, we focus on the Apollo and Shuttle programs. The kids don’t care what happened before man walked on the moon, and the Shuttle is newer technology so they’ll have questions about it as well.”
“It’s a good thing I’ve kept up with the news and periodicals,” Steve commented.
“On the first day the kids will ask lots of questions about your space flight.”
Steve nodded. “I expect as much. I will have some sort of schedule to maintain?” He certainly hoped there was a structure or he’d lose it after the first day.
“Of course,” Justin said. “The first day is a floating schedule, allowing as much time as needed for questions, then getting into the first discussion. Although time will be allotted for questions from day to day, the rest of the week will pretty much stick to the schedule.”
Justin spent the next few minutes going over the materials on the table, emphasizing the most recent Shuttle launches. “You’ll be provided with film from the NASA archives showing the early test flights on up to the last launch.”
“Film is good,” Steve said. “The more film, the less time I have to talk.”
Justin laughed. “Oh come now. You’ve walked on the moon for Pete’s sake. You can’t be afraid of a group of fifth graders!” Justin knew Steve loved kids, but he also knew Steve preferred small groups, not a classroom. He chuckled inwardly, knowing what was to come at the end of the week, an assembly in front of the whole school.
Steve eyed him suspiciously. “You’re not telling me something. Come on, spit it out.” He had known Justin long enough to tell when he friend was holding back; at the moment all the signs pointed in that direction.
Justin shrugged. “Nothing, really. I was just thinking about you in the class of kids. I know you can handle them, you’re great with kids, but I really wish I could be there to see it.”
They finished up at the first table, packing the materials into the travel cases.
“How many of these things will I have?” Steve said as he toted them to the door.
“Five. One for each day,” Justin said. “You’ll take them in one at a time. You’ll be supplied with a NASA van so you won’t have to come back here every day.”
“Thank goodness,” Steve said, following Justin to the second table. It was covered with space rocks, of varying shape and size. They went through the sheet of information provided by another educator. The rocks would be used to introduce the discussion of the moon, going over the various missions and experiments from each.
The morning carried on in much the same way, Justin taking Steve through each lesson, then packing up the materials and placing the cases at the door.