As the soldier had said, the helicopter ride was long. Amber, Lawrence, and Riker had been strapped into the military transport for more six hours. They had tried to make small talk with the others on the flight, but it was too loud to have a sustained conversation. For most of the trip they had napped or looked out the windows.
She could feel the aircraft descending rapidly. Leaning over, Amber tried to get a better look out the hatch opening at the side of the compartment. Her limited view revealed mountains, but there was nothing more to see. She relaxed back into her seat ready for the trip to be over.
Everyone lurched against their seat restraints when the wheels touched down. On commercial flights there were always instructions for deplaning, which was one more reminder that this was not a commercial flight. The machine-gun toting soldier named York slid the door open and jumped down. He waited at the side of the chopper bay as the other passengers began to unlatch the belts that had held them in their seats.
Amber squeezed the release on Riker’s once her restraint was free. She quickly grabbed his hand and made for the hatch. Once they were on solid ground they waited for Lawrence. Amber had some tears saved up, but it wasn’t the time to release them into the wild just yet. She was immeasurably grateful that her entire family had been allowed to board the helicopter, they had been so close to being separated. Lawrence took his pace beside them as she looked around.
“Deep Stone?” Lawrence said. They had been sitting across the compartment, so they had not been able to talk during the flight.
“I don’t know.” Amber said, responding to the multiple questions that the name of the place implied.
“Wow, look at that truck,” Riker said.
Amber and Lawrence turned around to see what he had pointed out. To their surprise a large truck was driving by; the engine grumbling like a mountain troll. Something like a concrete parking lot stretched out for at least a square mile. Military vehicles of all kinds were moving from place to place. Even fighter jets were parked in rows along the edges of the concrete.
The entire landscape, however, was not flat. They had landed in the middle of some mountain range, probably the Rockies by the look of it. The concrete pad had been blasted out and laid into the side of a mountain. On the most distant side of the concrete expanse was a dark spot in the mountain range. Amber squinted, trying to understand the dark arch that stood opposed to them.
“Ok, Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re this way,” An unfamiliar voice said.
Amber glanced over to see a new face. A slender woman in military garb had her arm outstretched indicating the direction that she expected them to walk. The others, about ten in all, who had exited the helicopter, were standing dumbly watching the action. They obeyed and began to walk.
“Just follow the yellow line.” She indicated a stripe painted on the concrete that seemed to stretch toward the distant dark arch in the mountainside. Slowly they walked as instructed.
“Woah. Look at that,” Riker said as he pointed. Both his parents gave their attention to a line of tanks arrayed in perfect formation. There had to be a hundred of them sitting there looking like toys. The smell of jet fuel, and engine exhaust reminded her that these were not toys, but the worlds most efficient killing machines.
“Our tax dollars at work,” Lawrence said.
“Think of how many planets we could have colonized, if we hadn’t invested the world’s economy in war machines.” Amber said. She was not a fan of the military, but considering that she was currently a beneficiary of military spending she decided that she’d leave it at that. Riker picked up on the term and used it right away.
“Look at those war machines.” He pointed, now to a scary looking row of fighter helicopters, different in shape than the black hawk they had flown in on. They sat quietly in their sleek black skin, looking more like oversized insects than man-made air craft. They continued to walk.
The dark arch that Amber had spotted, now seemed to loom heavy over them. They watched as trucks of incredible size carrying supplies and military men were gulped up by the massive archway. They had drawn close enough to see that it was the opening to a tunnel burrowed into the mountain. The tunnel mouth looked as if it could swallow up a sky scraper in a single bite. It dwarfed the giant vehicles that passed through it’s darkened archway.
Beyond the stoney surface of the man made cave she could see periodic lights that hung down from the rock opening. When they had passed all the war machines lined up like toy soldiers, Riker’s attention was finally given to the gaping archway that lead into an unknown subterranean world.
“Are we going in there?” Riker asked. His excitement was clearly illustrated by the eager look that was now stretched across his face.
“yes,” Amber said, not sharing the enthusiasm. She was an astronomer, which meant she liked wide open places with plenty of sky. She glanced upward, not knowing when the next time she might get to see something other than a stone ceiling. Even here, wherever here might be, the sky was filled with thick clouds of grey dust. The sun had taken on an orange tone, and was hidden behind the greasy layer of atmospheric debris.
By now the rogue star that she had discovered would probably be noticeable by the average person, regardless of their knowledge of the night sky. However, this thick layer of bomb dust that circled the globe almost ensured that no one would be able to see it.
“This is incredible,” Lawrence said as they passed under the impossibly tall arch. Amber reattached her attention to what was going on in front of her.
The artificially lit corridor stretched on, moving steadily downward. They descended on foot, now seeing others in front of them. Amber glanced behind and found that still others followed as well. She wondered at the parade of people and vehicles that were streaming into the mountain. She was glad that she and her family were among them.