“The fact is, people, at this point we don’t know our butts from our faces,” General Andrews was saying. Amber found his analogies uncomfortably crass for a senior member of the military. From where he was standing, addressing the new arrivals to Deep Stone, Amber could count five stars on the general’s uniform. That probably ensured that he was in charge in this underground bunker.
“The military has traditionally worked on a need-to-know basis. However, considering the circumstances I have decided to give you what information we do have.” Andrews said.
He lifted a piece of paper to his face and squinted. He reached for a pair of glasses in his right breast pocket. The audience, numbering a few hundred, waited eagerly to hear whatever information he was about make public. Amber held her breath, not sure what she was about to learn.
“At this time, these are the American cities that have been hit. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, Washington D.C., San Diego—”
The audience winced, grimaced, and gasped at each name on the list. None of them could possibly represent less than a million lives lost. Amber wondered how Andrews could read the names with so little emotion. She felt her hand tighten around Riker’s. Lawrence put his arm around her shoulders as Andrews continued.
“Philadelphia, Dallas, Columbus, Dewberry—” Andrews paused and looked to one of the uniformed men standing near by. “Dewberry? Where is that?” The man shrugged his shoulders. Andrews looked back to the paper. “Population 647. That one must have missed its target.”
General Andrews dropped the hand that held the paper to his side. He looked out across the crowd that was standing before him. Amber felt that the stone walls, with all their pipes, and wires, and steel beams exposed, were pressing in on her. She was already feeling claustrophobic and they hadn’t been in the bunker for an hour yet. Andrews’ voice droned on dispassionately.
“And the list goes on and on. I will have one of my men post this sheet so that you can verify that, yes in fact your home town has been hit by a weapon of mass destruction.”
Andrews handed off the paper to one of the uniformed muscle heads standing near him. The man turned and began to look for a place to hang the paper so that the population of Deep Stone could take a closer look. Andrews, however, was not finished with his speech.
“So, we will make whatever information available as it comes. At this time, get settled in. We’re going to be here a while.” He began to step down from the ledge that he was standing on but then something else occurred to him. “Oh, I forgot to announce. Bunk assignments will be dispensed shortly by one of these fine gentlemen. Be patient if you please. We are after all, what remains of the U.S. Goverment- speedy results has never been part of the package.” Andrews said, probably a poor attempt at a joke. He stepped down as the audience parted.
“I’m going to try to talk to General Andrews.” Amber said to Lawrence. Then to Riker she said, “Stay close to Daddy. I’ll be back in a bit.”
She began to make her way through the people that were milling around. The noise in the room was growing quickly to a murmur. Amber pushed passed as many as she could moving as fast as possible. She didn’t want to miss her opportunity. She caught sight of the General, about to step through a hatch that led to a restricted area.
“General Andrews,” Amber called out. It was apparently not loud enough so she repeated herself, with more volume this time. Luckily Andrews heard her and turned. She was so nervous that she began to spit words at him as if she were vomiting.
“Sir, I need to tell you about a threat that I discovered. I have a space telescope—” she paused, realized that she probably sounded crazy talking about a space telescope without any preamble. “What I mean to say is—”
“Where is your badge?” Andrews said. This brought her up short.
“Badge? I didn’t get a badge. Am I supposed to have a badge?”
“You most certainly are supposed to have a badge.” Andrews said, but then sucked in a slow lung full of the moist cave air. “I suppose it’s understandable that some things may have fallen through the cracks.”
“I’m sorry, Sir. I’ll make sure and get a badge.” She said. She was about to launch back into her crazy talk when Andrews interrupted her.
“Very well, carry on.”
“General Andrews?” She said, trying to sound polite. He nodded to her over his shoulder, obviously thinking she was simply trying to verify his name.
“Yes that is correct. Carry on.” He said, as he began to walk toward the restricted zone. Amber wasn’t sure what to do. She was exhausted from the travel, not to mention that she hadn’t slept in two days. Her nerves were like stray wires frayed and sparking on every internal organ that they touched. She wanted, no needed the General to listen. She had been carrying an impossible burden and she had been trying to hand it off for two days. She shouted at the top of her voice.
“There is a rogue star, rocketing through our solar system near the speed of light and will collide with Earth in less than six days, killing everything alive on the planet.” She screamed. The chamber fell silent as her voice echoed off the rock walls. Andrews turned to face Amber.
“Ma’am, this is why it is important for you to wear your badge. How can I possibly know if you are an authority on rogue stars, or a crazed doomsday conspiracy theorist who snuck into this secret military base?” Andrews thundered. “At the moment I’m leaning toward the notion that you are a lunatic, and will continue to think so unless you can provide some credentials.”
“She’s a famous astronomer, she knows what she’s talking about.” Lawrence called out from across the chamber. Amber grimaced. A personal reference from her construction worker husband probably wasn’t the kind of credentials that Andrews intended. The General looked out to where Lawrence was standing with Riker.
“Astronomer?” Andrews repeated, tilting his head in confusion. “I don’t recall authorizing any badges for astronomers, which I suppose explains your lack of one.”
“Senator Yates gave up his seat,” Amber said, which was only half true. She decided to leave out the part about the senator going nuts and getting shot in the head by evil soldier York.
“So I was right about you sneaking into a secret military installment.” Andrews tapped his chin with his thumb. “I’m guessing that your little fan club out there is your family?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I should have you and your family removed immediately.” Andrews said sternly. Amber put her hands together and was about to beg. Andrews softened. “However, we are under capacity and I intend to preserve as many human lives as possible, especially young lives.” Andrews gestured toward Riker.
“Oh thank you, Sir.” Amber began to say, but Andrews put his index finger in the air.
“I’m warning you Miss—”
“I’m warning you Miss Levy. Behave or I will have no choice but to remove you from this establishment.”
This time Amber kept her voice down but still urgent. She had not missed the fact that Andrews was still avoiding her warning.
“But what about the rogue star, the people have a right to know.”
“You may tell whoever you like Miss Levy, as long as you behave.” Andrews said.
A uniformed man stepped through the hatch from inside the restricted area. He had a folder in his hand. This subordinate posted next to the General, saluted, and then addressed him in a formal tone. Amber knew that her conversation with Andrews was over, but she couldn’t help but over hear the report.
“I think you will want to see this, Sir,”
“What is it?” Andrews asked.
“A man in Italy has gathered a small military. He’s claiming to be an extra terrestrial, and has called for a world summit.”
Being an astronomer, this peaked her interest. Obviously it was non-sense, but interesting non-the less. Amber wondered if her own words had sounded as crazy to General Andrews as the report he’d just received. Andrews spoke to the uniformed man, but kept his eye on Amber.
“I suppose we ought to move this conversation to a more private locale, Colonial.” Andrews said, as the two men turned and vanished into the restricted area.
Amber deflated. She had shared the news. That was a kind of victory, but she had hoped for a better reception than that. She had expected to be given the opportunity to broadcast the warning through whatever megawatt broadcasting channels the military had. Instead she had been given permission to tell less than 200 people that were trapped in a bunker. It wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.
She turned to Lawrence and Riker who walked over to where she was and slumped. The weight of tiredness now pressed down on her was like a ten ton anvil.
“I need a nap.”