“Wow, bunkbeds!” Riker said as they were herded into their assigned room. It was less of a room and more of a long rock walled corridor with hundreds of bunks chiseled into the stone face of the cave. Amber didn’t share Riker’s enthusiasm, but she was thankful that her family was together, and had a place to sleep. She tried to ignore the fact that the place they would be sleeping was hundreds of meters below the surface of the Earth.
“Why don’t you take the place of honor, buddy.” Lawrence said to his boy. He pointed to the third level bunk and Riker’s face lit up with an incredible enthusiasm. Amber admired his blind acceptance of their situation. She hugged the blankets they had been handed tight to her chest, not quite ready to let go of the meager comfort the embrace offered.
“This is awesome! I can touch the ceiling.” He reached for the rock surface and ran his fingers over the rough hewn texture. “It’s wet!” He was thrilled with the discovery; turing to his parents. “Why is it wet?”
“The rock wall is colder than the air in the cave. That makes the water vapor in the air condense on the surface,” She said as she handed the blankets out to her two loved ones. She probably had spoke over his head, but she was too tired to think of a simpler way to say it. Riker latched on to one of the words with even more gusto than before.
“We are in a cave?” Riker asked. Amber looked to Lawrence, handing off the proverbial baton. She patted him on the shoulder letting him know she was going to crawl into her own bunk below her son’s. Her husband leaned against the edge of the bed and continued chatted with Riker. She listened to their conversation for a few minutes as exhaustion washed over her.
The long chamber was filled with hundreds of other strangers, many of which were crawling into bunks of their own. She was too tired to care that the cave was full of noise. Within seconds she had drifted off to a deep dreaming sleep.
“Their calling your name,” Lawrence said. Groggy, she sat up. A hard crack, and a flash of white lit up her vision for a split second. The bunk had almost zero clearance, and she had hit her head on the metal ceiling of her bed space. She squinted against the fluorescent tubes at the ceiling of the cave. She whipped at her eyes, trying to get a clear vision of the man standing over her.
“Amber, They’ve been calling your name on the loud speaker.” Her husbands strong hands wrestled her from her groggy state. She was about to ask what he was talking about when she heard it.
“Amber Levy-Hope, please report to station zero.” The flat voice said through an unseen speaker. The sound echoed down the stone hallway. She idly wondered if she pulled the blanket over her head, if the world would disappear. She rubbed the spot on her forehead where she had violently met the upper deck.
“What do they want?” Amber said, knowing as soon as the words escaped her mouth that it was a useless question. This place was made of secrets, why would she expect them to announce their purposes for calling for her.
“All I know is that you’ve being called to principal’s office, and that was the third time they’ve made the announcement,” Lawrence said. A wave of panic emanated out from her chest as she imagined what might be waiting for her at station zero. Lawrence leaned in and asked, “do you want me to come with you?”
“No, better stay here with our little explorer,” She said. She didn’t like the idea of splitting up, but if they slapped her in shackles and gave her forty lashes, she wouldn’t want Riker to see it. Amber smiled and gave Lawrence a quick kiss as she rose from her bed, careful not to hit her head this time. She peered into Riker’s bunk, where he was humming to himself. Laying on his back, he was running he fingers over the stone wall. Apparently he was still enamored with the rock.
“They called your name,” he said distracted.
“I know, Honey. I’m going to go see what they want. Stay here with your dad, I’ll be back in a while.” She kissed him as well and began to make her way down the corridor. People were everywhere. Some snoozed in bunks, while other milled around the passageway. A lively group played a card game to pass the time. Amber walked by trying to calm her breathing.
She rounded the corner and took the east hallway. She had paid special attention to the path they had taken to get to the bunk chamber. As the sound of the bunk room faded into the background she fixated on the buzz of the tube lights overhead. The sterile white gush of illumination cast a thin veil of comfort over this otherwise treacherous world. She wondered what would happen if the power were knocked out. She imagined navigating these hallways in the dark as the oxygen levels dropped. Maybe leaving her family behind was a mistake.
Station Zero, she read to herself. The larger blue letters were impossible to miss. Everything, they had learned, was color coded in this subterranean bunker. Below the ominous title sat a station with a half dozen computer terminals. Behind each screen was a uniformed person. Most were keeping close watch on the multiple screens in front of them. She observed the activity for a few seconds, realizing that she would have to open her mouth and speak at some point.
She was about to approach the terminal cluster when a young man leaned over in his chair and reached for a small hand held device. As he spoke into it, the loud speaker overhead erupted with his annoying flat tone of speech.
“Amber Levy-Hope, please—”
“That’s me,” she nearly shouted. She couldn’t stand the idea of hearing his voice over the speaker anymore. The loud speaker clicked off, and the young uniformed man turned toward her. She stepped forward as the man stepped out from behind the terminal. She saw from his uniform tag that his name was Max Black.
“Here you go,” The Max said as he pulled something from under the spring loaded snap on his clip board. She reached for it with an expression of confusion on her face. “General said you need this.” As simple as that Max turned and went back to whatever he had been doing. She looked down at the item in her hand. It was a badge.
“Thanks,” She said without breaking her gave from the thin plastic ID. It had a clip that she could attach to her shirt. After studying the badge for a few seconds she was almost sure there was a mistake. “Hey.” Max turned and gave her his attention.
“I think this is a mistake,” She said, which made Max step closer. “It says ‘clearance level Red.’ Shouldn’t it be blue?” Max took the badge from her hand and compared it to his clipboard.
“It’s correct,” Max said. “Full access. Clearance level Red.”
He handed it back and considered the badge for a long moment. She had seen about a hundred other badges of those who were now occupying the bunk quarters. She had paid special attention, since she had not badge of her own. All the other IDs she had seen were clearance level blue, standard access. Only the upper level brass had red.
She felt like she had stolen something and gotten away with it, except that the paper work showed she was supposed to have it. She chalked it up as a administrative mistake, clipped it to her shirt collar, and turned back the way she came. It felt good to have a badge finally. As she walked back toward the bunk quarters she heard her name being called again. This time it wasn’t on the loud speaker, but it was the same voice. She turned to see Max, staring at her.
“Where are you going? Red zone is that way.” Max pointed toward a corridor that was clearly off limits. It was marked with large red letters. Almost as if it were written in blood it read, restricted area. The nervousness was beginning to rise into her throat. This episode was apparently not over. She stepped cautiously toward the red letter hall way.
She pulled at the badge and extended it toward the security terminal next to the hatch. The door slid open as a green light illuminated the mechanism. She glanced back to Max with a question written across her face. Before she could ask he answered.
“We don’t know anything,” Max said. It wasn’t reassuring. She had hoped to get more explanation. Was she about to step into an inquisition? Should she say bye to her family? Should she have fixed her hair? Be brave, she told herself as she stepped through the hatch. It closed behind her too violently.