It was quite late in the evening and, since most people had finished their shift a long time ago, the ARC was unusually quiet, but it was far from being empty.
As he walked across the atrium, Ryan saw that Connor was still working on the Anomaly Detector, hunched over the keyboard, so deep in thought that he didn’t notice Ryan stopping just a few steps away.
The young man was probably working on a new update as he had been talking lately about a new idea to locate the anomalies more effectively. He might be clumsy and a bit naive, Ryan thought, but he was smart and was always ready to help the team. Unfortunately, out of the tech field, the boy still had a lot to learn.
Ryan decided not to disturb Connor’s concentration and, after a last look at the gibberish on the computer screen, he walked away without saying a word.
He headed towards the armoury, walking slowly. His shift had been over for some time, but he had wanted to do a last round of the building and enjoy a rare moment of calm in the usually hectic building.
As he walked past the laboratories, he saw that Stephen and Cutter were still there examining some samples, but they were working as far from each other as the room allowed them to, their backs literally turned to each other so they wouldn’t even make eye contact by accident.
Ryan stared at them with a deep frown on his face. Since Helen’s affair revelation, Stephen and Cutter had been behaving like moody teenagers instead of the responsible adults they were supposed to be and it was starting to affect the work of the team.
Approaching footsteps made him turn to see Abby walking towards him. As she got closer, her usual bright smile faded when she noticed Stephen and Cutter inside the laboratory.
“The situation is getting worse,” Abby said as she stopped by Ryan’s side.
Her dirty fatigues and stained face showed that she had been taking care of the creatures in the menagerie, a chore that nobody had told her to do, but that she often volunteered for anyway.
“Yes, I’ve noticed,” Ryan replied, looking at her worried face.
“If they would just talk about it instead of just avoiding each other...” Abby added.
“And what do you suggest?” Ryan asked. “Locking them in a room until they talk through their issues or they kill each other?”
“Not sure that would work very well,” Abby replied, shrugging lightly. “But if that fails, you could always smack their heads together and knock some sense into them.”
“I’ll give it a thought,” Ryan said, smiling slightly as she started walking away.
He had been tempted by the idea more than once in the last few days, but he had managed to restrain himself so far. It was good to know that people would support him if he eventually decided to try that, though.
Ryan headed towards the armoury and after a thorough check, he thought he was ready to call it a day. He was locking the door when he heard some distant yelling and saw Stephen storming out of the lab.
It was really getting worse and he couldn’t tolerate that kind of behaviour in the field. He knew damn well how dangerous their job could be and there were enough risks without them adding another one. Even if he really disliked the idea, it was time to talk about the situation with Lester.
Ryan went back to the atrium and there he found Lorraine, who was holding her coat and bag, ready to leave.
“What are you still doing here? I thought you had already left,” Ryan asked.
“I forgot my phone,” she answered with a smile, “I’ve had to come back for it.”
The sound of some quick footsteps made them both look at the ramp to see Leek hastily leaving the place without looking at them.
Ryan noticed the little grimace on Lorraine’s face as she watched him walking out.
“You don’t like him,” he said, not really asking any question.
Lorraine shrugged, looking slightly uncomfortable.
“It’s just..., I think there’s something off with him,” she finally admitted.
Ryan had had the same feeling for quite some time. He had started double-checking when the orders had come from him and he had found a few inconsistencies here and there that Leek had brushed aside as communication glitches, but it still bothered him.
“I know what you mean,” Ryan said honestly.
Lorraine looked relieved to find out that somebody else shared her concerns about Lester’s assistant.
“It’s probably nothing,” Ryan said. “But would you keep an eye on him for me while he is in the ARC, Lorraine? Better safe than sorry.”
“No need to ask twice, Tom,” Lorraine said, as she put on her coat.
“Is Lester still in his office?” Ryan asked as he started going up the ramp.
“Yes, he has been there with Jenny for most of the evening, going over the report they have to send to the PM tomorrow,” she said with a grimace.
“Sounds like fun,” Ryan joked.
“Not really!” Jenny said, walking down the ramp towards him. “If you want to see for yourself, Lester is still there, trying to re-write the report for the umpteenth time. But I would run away if I were you. In fact, it’s what I’m going to do right now!”
“We can run away together then,” Lorraine said, smiling. “Fancy a quick drink?”
“Best idea I’ve heard all day!” Jenny agreed without hesitation.
Ryan watched them walking away together. Great and competent women, Ryan thought. It was a relief to have them both on the team, especially when things were getting messy.
After taking a deep breath, he walked the last steps to Lester’s office, steeling himself for the conversation he was going to have with him. Ryan knew Lester wasn’t going to be in a good mood, with the PM nosing into the ARC affairs again, but he couldn’t put off the issue any longer.
He knocked on the door and the dry reply that came from inside the room was, as expected, not very welcoming, but he opened the door anyway. When he walked into the office, Ryan found a tired-looking Lester staring at some papers on his desk.
Ryan cleared his throat to catch Lester’s attention and the civil servant turned slowly to glare at him.
“We have a problem with Cutter and Stephen,” Ryan said directly.
Lester stared at him and raised an eyebrow, questioningly. He could be a pompous bastard when he wanted, but Lester had always listened to what he had to say about the SF team and the safety of the ARC and that time Ryan hoped this wouldn’t be different.
“Office gossip, although entertaining at some level, is not something I usually care about, captain, but even I have heard about all the drama,” Lester admitted. “Aren’t they old enough to know how to solve whatever problem they might have over Helen’s affair?”
“It looks like they aren’t or they don’t know how to,” Ryan replied. “And it’s becoming a serious problem.”
Lester leant against his chair with a tired sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“All right, captain,” he finally said. “What do you suggest?”
Ryan let out the breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding and started talking.