Dr. Gears typed in a last sentence, clicked the "Send" button, then leaned back in his chair and allowed himself to feel a small amount of satisfaction at a job well done. Smoothing over the "blue on blue" incident with the GOC had been no mean task: tension between the two organizations had nearly reached the breaking point, but cooler heads had prevailed, and in the end, both sides had (unofficially, of course) agreed to let the past remain the past. Combined with the results from the latest security test (Excellent in all fields), the situation at Site 19 was possibly the calmest it had been in years. The lack of tension was an odd feeling, but not an unwelcome one.
There was a low, electronic beep from his computer. Gears sat up straight and clicked on the incoming email. He scanned the contents and nodded. Just as he had expected.
He left his office and walked to the reception desk, where the new secretary guiltily clicked away from the game of Solitaire she was playing. Gears gave her a reassuring nod, then reached over her shoulder to click on the intercom system. "Now, hear this," he intoned, over the site-wide Public Address system. "As of 10:48 this morning the O-5 Council has changed the Foundation-Wide Alert Status to Condition Green. I say again, as of 10:48 this morning, the F-W-A-S has been updated to Condition Green." He paused and licked his lips. "Standard protocols for Condition Green are now in effect. That is all."
There was a moment of silence, followed by a youthful, energetic, "FUCK YES!" from the computer lab down the hall, followed by a chorus of laughter: not the strained, desperate laughter that usually was heard in these rooms, but loud, joyful, genuine laughs.
The faintest hint of what could have been the ghost of a smile quirked Dr. Gears' thin, drawn lips, but just for a moment.
Dr. Clef waited for the announcement to end, then nodded to the classroom, closed up his laptop computer, and turned on the lights. "I'll put the rest of the seminar online for you to see later," he said. "Dismissed."
He left the classroom and walked, swiftly and with purpose, to his office the next wing over. He smiled as he took down the half-empty bottle of Jameson whisky down from the shelf, thought better of it, and went to the wall safe instead. After tapping in a twelve-digit combination of numbers and pushing aside the handgun and ammunition at the front of the safe, he pulled out a red velvet box containing a cut-glass bottle of Rémy Martin. He poured himself a small glass, toasting the world, then paused before taking the first sip.
It didn't feel right to drink this alone.
He gathered up the bottle and a couple of snifters, and was just opening the door when he saw a very surprised and rather startled Strelnikov standing in the hallway with a glass bottle in one hand and two tumblers in the other. "Dmitri. Just the man I was looking for. Come in, sit down. Help me drink this."
"Only if you help me drink this," Dmitri said, holding up his own bottle.
The two men sat down. Bottles were opened. Glasses were poured. Opinions were exchanged.
"Seriously, Dmitri? Horseradish vodka? This shit tastes like rocket fuel."
"Is a drink for men and soldiers. Not like this swill."
"This swill happens to be Louis XIII Remy Martin cognac. It goes for over a thousand dollars a bottle, and it's smoother than the silk panties on a high class hooker."
"Tastes like water. Liquor should burn as it goes down. It should hurt, so you know you're alive."
"… are we talking about liquor or women here?"
"There is difference?"
"Maybe not. They're both best when they're ten years old and mixed up with coke."
"HA! I prefer women like beer! The best ones give good head, eh?"
"Yeah, but unlike women, people LIKE it when their beer is frigid." Clef laughed, then began to sing. "I love my beer! There is no doubt! If beer is flat, you pour it out…"
"Is not true. Flat women has their place too."
"True. How about… Oooooh Danny Boooy… the pipes the pipes are caaalling…"
"Fuck that gay bullshits," Strelnikov growled, spilling some of his drink. "We sing a REAL song!"
"FINE!" Clef snarled. The middle-aged man cleared his throat, then pulled off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt. Putting one foot up on his desk, rather unsteadily, he struck a rock-star pose, using his computer keyboard as a guitar, then half-sang, half-shouted, "WEEEEELL, IT'S ONE FOR THE MONEY!"
"TWO FOR THE SHOWS!" Dmitri shouted back in reply, standing on the chair and miming an air guitar.
"THREE TO GET READY AND GO CAT GO!" they sang in unison. "But don't you step on my blue suede shoes. You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes!"
About an hour later, they'd drunkenly muddled through all the Elvis Presley songs they knew, had tried a little "99 Luftballoons" (but failed to remember the German lyrics), and were blearily belting out the Russian National Anthem in loud, drunken voices, when there was a knock on the door.
"I'll gets it!" Clef slurred, and staggered to the doorway, opening it. "WHAT!?" he shouted, leaning against the door frame. "Oh. Hi, Karen."
"I've been trying to reach you and Dmitri for the past twenty minutes. Why don't you answer your phone?" Secretary Break asked, irritably.
"I tore my phone out of the wall last week," Clef admitted. "What's up?"
"Emergency situation," the stern-faced young woman said. "We've got a crisis in the lunchroom."
All the color drained out of Clef and Dmitri's faces as they realized they'd been getting drunk in the middle of a possible emergency. Within moments, they were racing down the hallway, knocking over houseplants and (at one point) crashing through a cubicle divider in their haste. They burst into the lunchroom with ashen faces and pounding hearts…
… to find a party in full swing. There were banners made of printer paper on the walls, saying things like, "CONGRATULATIONS!" and "CONDITION GREEN!" Along one wall, a vast buffet of various foods and drinks had been set up. A karaoke machine was set up on one end of the room, and Doctor Gerald was using it to belt out a spirited (if painfully off-key) rendition of "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses.
Everyone paused and stared at the two of them, who had tumbled through the doorway and were sitting on the floor. Clef looked up at the smirking secretary with annoyance in his eyes. "I thought you said it was a crisis!"
"It was," Bright said, knuckle-walking over and putting party hats on their heads. "You guys weren't here!"
Cheers and laughter.
Half an hour later, Clef had forgiven them enough to open up his liquor cabinet for public consumption. Then the party really got started.
"Well," Kain said, scratching behind his ear with one hind leg. "This has to be the best Condition Green party since… when was the last one we had? Two years ago?"
"One year, ten months, sixteen days," Gears said, taking a sip of a sparkling glass of something. He was standing in the corner, watching Dr. Rights corner several other senior staff members to show them pictures of her daughter.
"Yeah. That party didn't hold a candle to this one." He lapped up a bit more of his mai-tai. "For one thing, the food is better."
"Good company is the best spice," Gears said, taking another sip of his drink.
"That's surprisingly maudlin coming from you," Kain pointed out.
"It only makes sense," Gears replied. "All pleasure, including the pleasure of eating, is derived from endorphins, and being around friends releases endorphins into the bloodstream."
"Shoulda known, coming from you," Kain laughed.
"Of course." Gears put down his glass and straightened his tie. "Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I will be needed soon. It seems a conga line is starting, and when a conga line is in progress, one congas. It only makes sense."
"You know the best thing about having a party when you work at the Foundation? You save lots of money on pizza and drinks."
Around midnight, with the party petering down, a small group of people could be seen standing on the roof of the Foundation containment site. All of them were high-level site personnel. All of them were holding glasses of champagne.
"In the end," Dr. Mann said, "All of us will face judgement. When that day comes… may I be judged by the quality of my friends."
"Hear hear," Light replied.
With a low murmur of agreement, all of them drank.
In an undisclosed location far away, a man and a woman sat on the balcony of an apartment building, staring up at the wide, full moon. The remnants of a bottle of fine port, and a wedge of Stilton cheese and some crackers, sat on the patio table between them.
There was a soft, electronic ping, and the cell phone on the patio table vibrated gently. The man reached out and flipped it open. "Hello," he said softly.
He listened for a while, then pursed his lips. "How urgent is it?" The man listened a while longer, then nodded. "Then let's live and let live. It will still be there in the morning. Maintain Condition Green for another eight hours, then dispatch a notice to Site 19, Priority Yellow. Out."
"Work calling, dear?" the woman asked. "Is it important?"
"It can wait," O5-7 said, reaching out to take his wife's hand in his, squeezing it tightly. "For now, I think we all deserve some time off."