THE MASTER PASSWORD • by Wil Cabrera

Step 1 of 2: Please enter your 6-digit code.

She nodded. Six loud clacks—3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9.

Accepted. Now loading…

Easy, Nancy thought. The only numbers Chad learned by heart were those found in intricate formulas and equations. As a child, he had become so obsessed memorizing pi that Nancy would’ve been surprised if the computer rejected the code.

Outside the house the siren continued, a mournful scream reverberating all over the city, urging the necessity of evacuation. Nancy stood from the chair, walked past Chad’s bookshelf, and looked out the window. Her eyes spied through thick glasses the assembly of helicopters surrounding the power plant looming in the distance like a plateau of steel. More enchanting was the sky, a red canvas interposed by clouds of softer hues.

The sound of soldiers’ boots on the street below made her step away from the window. No one is home now. She turned back to her son’s flat-screen monitor.

Step 2 of 2: Please enter your master password.

Now, for the hard part. Chad was an enigma, even for her.

When the plant’s deputy chief engineer arrived with news of the first accident, she was only able to pick up Chad’s name along with the words “minor,” “suffocation,” and “sorry” before passing out. But she went through denial quicker than most mothers would have. There was only agony in knowing how little she knew about him aside from his knowledge of mathematics. Though she felt sure there had been an attachment between them decades ago, when Chad was a toddler, crying, begging her to stop feeding him oatmeal—this Nancy had found ridiculous, for what kind of child dislikes oatmeal?

She felt hopeful when his colleagues informed her about the will and testament program arranged for all employees. A series of videos stored in the power plant’s databank, they said. Standard protocol for workers on their first day. Expect an attorney with login details to Chad’s virtual workspace.

But Nancy didn’t care what Chad left her. She only wanted her son, who he was, and once a new memory of him formed in her mind, who he’d always be.

It was only an hour ago when hopes were crushed. The staff over at Legal was among the casualties of a fire on the plant’s North Wing. Soldiers took over and began forcing the entire town to leave as per instructions of radiation workers unable to control the aftermath of yet another nuclear accident. How many died this time? Ten? A hundred? She must have stopped caring. The attorney would never come, and entry to the plant, access to the databank, had most likely been prohibited, so she had run straight to her son’s bedroom, where she turned on his computer and navigated (rather poorly) to the online workspace.

She typed:

MasterPassword314159

Invalid. Of course it was. He had a knack for making things hard for everyone. Always the rebel, Chad. He always seemed so far from the grasp of her forever-dictatorial mother, who chased him around and pulled his ears to wherever she thought suitable for him. Nancy learned the hard way that single mothers like her would do whatever it took to lead their children to the right path. To give them a better life, else they roam the sidewalks, lost and baffled.

Look who’s baffled now. Nancy grimaced at the thought and continued to ignore the megaphoned voices parading down the road, which were followed by an assortment of hassled footsteps and cars screeching their tires against the pavement.

Her fist curled into a ball and slammed hard on the keyboard.

Ja674utfhdv75u

She turned back to the window. Was that smoke rising from the plant’s roof? Trying hard to control her breathing, she spun back to the computer.

ImSoSorryChad

Invalid, because passwords don’t speak to their owners. She opened her mouth to cry, but what came out was shrill laughter.

Chad never listened to her. It was a decade ago, but Nancy could recall how angry she felt finding out about his employment in the power plant. A childhood spent honing him with mathematics—from Pythagoras, to Euler, and yes, to pi—had been wasted; a teaching job in the university reduced to nothing more than a dream. Chad was a mess! He never wanted her, and all he did was decline everything she tried to give.

Nancy felt drops of sweat roll down her neck. She typed what she felt she heard from a life filled with promise way back.

PleaseNoMoreOatmeal

Invalid. Something was missing. Once again, she heard his teensy-weensy voice crying throughout breakfast. Her fingers shaking, she pressed the keys.

PleaseMommyNoMoreOatmeal

The workspace loaded quickly. After seconds of searching for the personal database containing videos for the will and testament program, Nancy sat face-to-face with a more youthful version of Chad, a newly hired engineer from ten years ago. It’s him, she thought, tears on her cheeks. My baby boy.

The siren had stopped. The streets were already deserted. Behind her, the sky offered a darker, more scarlet panorama, enclosing the room in a bloodstained glow. Overhead, a slew of helicopters soared past the house. No one was going to rescue anybody anymore.

Her hand sliding along the monitor, Nancy caressed her son’s forehead up to his brown hair. Smiling yet without a doubt nervous, Chad started to speak to the camera, and his voice told her all she needed to know: she could leave everything behind now. Even when the ground began to shake, even when volumes and volumes of her son’s books fell to the floor one by one, she didn’t turn around to witness the power plant’s explosion or the enormous mushroom cloud shooting upwards through the atmosphere.


Wil Cabrera is a reader, a gamer, an Android user, and a BlackBerry loyalist. He currently works as a copy editor.


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