Amber slammed the phone down into the receiver on her desk. After hours of trying to get through to the powers that be, there was still no progress. The POSIS headquarters was alive with activity. Staff technicians rushed around from station to station. Amber stood and walked to the door frame of her office. Shouting into the chaos, she addressed the entire team. The action came to a halt with the words.
“Has anyone been able to get through to the pentagon?”
“I’ve been on hold for an hour,” one voice said.
“They aren’t responding,” came another.
“They probably have their hands full with World War III,” Tom said.
The staff instinctively circled up and waited for their boss’s orders. Amber tugged at her ponytail which had come loose somewhere in the course of the early morning hours. As she tightened it back up, she posed another question. The team of employees stood still while she made her inquiry.
“We have to reach Washington with this news. It’s bigger than any war. Any ideas?” Amber asked.
“We could drive up there and stand on the lawn of the whitehouse with signs, ‘the end is near.’” A programer said.
“The lawn is probably already packed with war protesters,” Tom said. The rest nodded in agreement. The team began tossing out ideas at brain storm speed.
“Could send a pirated signal to the pentagon.”
“You’ve been watching too many spy movies,” another answered. The ideas continued but Amber’s attention was grabbed by something else. Near the back of the room, Lawrence, her husband stepped into view. Her heart jumped. She had forgotten to tell him what was going on. In the chaos it had slipped her mind that the last words they had spoken to each other were in the midst of a nasty fight. Amber threw the breaks on the brain storming session and raised her voice over the few dozen staff that were gathered there.
“Ok guys, let’s keep trying. Let me know if you get through,” she said. Almost immediately the chaos of the station resumed. Through the parting group of personnel Lawrence walked toward Amber. Their son Riker was holding his father’s hand and being tugged along beside him. Riker was distracted by all the activity in the building.
Amber cast a knowing glance to her husband and then let her eyes fall to her son. When Riker caught sight of her, he ran and jumped into her arms. She spun him around before setting him back down. Lawrence followed in Riker’s wake. Amber and her husband’s greeting was less enthusiastic, but she managed to give him a quick kiss. Riker didn’t notice the coldness of their reception.
“Daddy said I could miss school because of the fireworks!” Riker exclaimed. Almost as soon as he had spoken the words he was at her desk examining the items there.
“Fireworks?” Amber said, looking to Lawrence.
“B – O – M – B – S,” Lawrence said spelling out the words so that Riker wouldn’t get it. Amber nodded with understanding. She turned and plopped down on the long office couch in front of her desk. She rubbed her eyes.
“What time is it?” She asked.
“6:34,” Lawrence said, looking to the watch at his wrist. Her bewilderment prompted him to add, “a.m.”
“Sheesh, what a night.” She said.
“I was worried. When I woke up and saw the news, I thought something might have happened to you.” Lawrence said. She watched Riker pick up and investigate the objects around her office one by one. Amber looked to her Husband as he continued. “Last night, I didn’t mean to be a dictator I just-”
“Let’s talk about it later,” Amber said smoothly, gesturing toward their son with her eyes. She was too tired to have that conversation at the moment, especially with Riker in the room. She could tell Lawrence agreed. His response was simple and sincere.
“It’s ok.” She said.
“What’s this?” Riker said, holding up a small model.
“That’s a replica of one of our space telescopes. A much bigger version of that is floating out in space a long way from here.”
“Whoo!” He said as he looked at it with renewed wonder. He turned it over in his hands obviously trying to understand what it meant. Amber glanced to her husband Lawrence. His eyes were scanning the activity outside her office through the wall of glass windows.
“Is the team always up this early?” Lawrence asked.
“Oh jeez, I haven’t told you what’s going on!” She said as she abruptly stood. She was so tired that it had slipped her mind. The realization sent her body into a new state of awareness. She reached over and picked up the phone and hit a single number.
“Tom, could you come down for a minute.” Amber said into the receiver. Almost as soon as she set it down, Tom was at the door. She turned to him and spoke, as if nothing was wrong in the world.
“Hey Tom, could you take Riker on a little tour. He’s a space man in training, and would love to see what we do here.” Amber said to her staff chief. Tom, taking the cue immediately knelt down and spoke enthusiastically to Riker.
“It’d be an honor. What do you say, Mr. Riker, would you like to see all the neato stuff we do here?” Tom asked.
Riker looked up to his mother implying a question of permission. She patted him on the head and gestured toward Tom. Still holding the satellite replica he extended his hand.
“Can I take this with me?” He said to Amber.
“Of course, Honey.”
As if he were running toward the candy factory Riker skipped off toward Tom. They were through the door in a matter of seconds. Lawrence watched them go before turning his eyes back to his wife.
“That bad huh?” he asked.
“I’d rather him not know the world’s going to end just yet.”
She stepped toward her computer monitor and turned it toward Lawrence. She tapped her screen as if it meant anything to him. He leaned in close and examined the view. A small swath of space with a bright star was the point of focus.
“Ok, looks like stars,” Lawrence said.
She hit the spacebar. As soon as her finger came off of the button, the central dot in the image grew brighter by the second. The video clipp repeated it’s five second revelation. Lawrence eyeballed the screen. Amber waited, knowing she would have to explain it to him.
“Is it a supernova or something?” Lawrence asked.
“Good guess, but no.”
“See, I don’t just swing a hammer, I know science stuff too,” He said with a goofy smile. The jab hurt a little, but she recognized that it was his way of offering an olive branch. She grimaced and lost her train of thought.
“I’m sorry, Dear, I shouldn’t have said that you just swing a hammer-” She was about to go on but he placed his hand on her arm.
“It’s alright. Don’t worry about it. I’m tough.”
“Anyway, so see how that star gets brighter.” She said as she pointed to the screen.
“I’m guessing it’s not supposed to do that.”
“It’s not even supposed to be there. It showed up last night, and it’s been getting brighter ever since. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if it were as far away as all the other stars.”
“What is it?”
“I’m calling it a rogue star, but it’s not acting like anything we’ve ever seen. It’s about the size of Texas, which is impossibly small for a star, in fact the laws of physics should prevent it from existing.”
“So is it getting brighter because it’s growing bigger?” Lawrence asked. Amber could tell from the lack of urgency in his voice that he wasn’t getting the picture.
“No, it’s growing brighter because it’s coming toward us- fast.” She watched his face as the realization sunk in. He straightened up and looked down into her eyes.
“Do you mean?”
“Extinction,” She said simply. He looked back to the screen and then to her again.
“Certain.” She assured him.
She hit another set of buttons on her keyboard to toggle the window. Bright red numbers jumped onto her screen. Lawrence watched as they counted down.
“A week?” He asked.
She nodded, realizing that there was something therapeutic about telling the one she loved. It had been all business up until this point. She reached for him, as the emotion of the moment overtook her. His warm embrace peeled back the numbness that she’d been feeling all night. A few silent sobs escaped her mouth. That’s enough, she thought. There was more work to do.
“Do you mind if I pray?” Lawrence asked. In most circumstances that simple comment would have sent her into a rage, but at the moment it almost seemed appropriate. However, she was certain that it wouldn’t do any good and she didn’t want to waste any time on meaningless rituals. Instead she ignored his question.
“We’ve been trying to reach Washington, or the, pentagon, or even the governor’s office all night. No one will answer.” Amber said.
“Too busy launching missiles, probably.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Amber said as she plopped down in her chair. She was exhausted, and didn’t know what else to do.
“ABC new ran that story when you discovered that black hole cluster. Maybe they-” Lawrence began to ask, but Amber shook her head.
“We’ve tried. They are running wall to wall coverage of the war. I tried to explain that this story is bigger than Nuclear War, but I’m sure I just sounded like a crazy woman.” Amber put her face in her hands. Speaking through her fingers she said, “In 8 days, all human life will be extinct, and I can’t find anyone to tell.”
“I built a house for Senator Yates last year. It’s only a few miles away. We could go and see if he’ll listen.” Lawrence said. Amber looked up with hope in her eyes.
“It’s worth a try!” She said.