Amber felt lout of place as she walked down the red corridor to the high security, restricted, top secret, limited access wing of the bunker. She had thought that Deep Stone was large before, but judging by the massive size of the chambers that she passed, this was where most of the expense had been spent.
She heard voices coming through a doorway as she passed. Glancing in, she found among the expected pipes and rock walls, rows of terminals with technicians seated at each. They talked into headsets with unintelligible chatter. It was good to know that there was still someone on the outside to talk to. She kept walking, not knowing where she was expected to go.
The thing that surprised her the most was the amount of people in this section of Deep Stone. She had expected it to be sparsely populated, but as she noted the workers buzzing around from hall to hatch and everywhere in between she realized that this, not the blue section where her family bunked, was the actual reason for Deep Stone. It was a command center full of important active personnel.
“Miss Levy-Hope.” The voice of a large sounding man said. She knew the voice immediately. It was General Andrews. She turned, trying to keep a grimace from her face. She was still nervous that she was there by mistake, and hoped he wouldn’t be forced to have her appear before a firing squad for accidentally seeing top secret material.
“General Andrews,” She said grabbing at the ID clipped to her collar, as if to offer evidence in the case leveraged against her. “I got a badge.”
“I can see that you did. Very well.” Andrews reached out a hand and slapped her hard on the shoulder. He directed her with his meaty grip toward a nearby door. “I owe you an apology.”
“That’s not necessary,” Amber began to say but was interrupted by the General.
“However, it is satisfying. So, I’m sorry that our little exchange went so poorly earlier. I had personally vetted the guest list for this little, end of the world party. In my ignorance I had only allowed engineers, doctors, and other useful sorts admittance. I have since, had a change of heart.”
“Oh is that right?” Amber said. The man made her nervous, but in other circumstances she could almost imagine getting along with this boisterous military general.
“Do you believe in God, Miss Levy-Hope?” He said as they passed through an open hatch with a steel door the size of a house. She was stunned by the strange turn the conversation had taken.
“No, Sir. I’m an atheist.” Hopefully the world had not changes so much that her non-faith would be considered a crime. She braced for his response.
“Fair enough. I’ve gone back and forth on the topic myself. When things are good I’m an atheist, but when it gets sticky, I’m a bit of a turn coat.” He lead her through another corridor, and into an enormous chamber filled with screens of various sizes. It looked similar to a NASA mission control room, which she had seen first hand a number of times.
More technicians sat at terminals chipping away at their keyboards. An enormous screen on the adjacent wall was filled with graphics and charts that didn’t mean anything to her. Andrews continued his train of thought as they stepped toward the front of the large stone room.
“Do you want to know why I am not an atheist today?” He asked.
“Because of you,” He said. She glanced around the room to find that hundreds of eyes were following her and the General down the main isle of the control center. There was definitely something strange going on here.
“I don’t quite understand, Sir.”
“Neither do I, but I’ve learned to be ok with that.”
“I mean I don’t understand what this is all about.” Amber said. They came to a stop underneath the enormous screen at the front of the control room. He turned around and faced his subordinates. Rather than answer her directly he raised his voice and addressed the whole command center.
“This is Miss Levy-Hope. She is an astronomer. I have it on good authority, her husband, that she is famous as well.”
To Amber’s surprise the room stood and began to put their hands together. It took a second to realize that they were clapping, impossibly, for her. She thrust her hands in the pockets of her jeans hoping it would somehow help to hide her awkwardness. Once they stopped clapping, Andrews went on.
“At 2:14 this morning we received a transmission from our former secretary of state, and now president Lynn Austin. As strange as it sounded, he was looking for a qualified astronomer. He had spent the day in a world Summit in Italy, and had some astronomical data that needed to be verified. His staff had contacted every remaining bunker, facility, and installment that still had the lights on. After turning up nothing, we were contacted.”
Amber watched the General as he formed his words slowly. Her mind was already jumping ahead. She didn’t know anything about a world summit in Italy, but it was sounding like someone had finally gotten the message she had been trying to send. Andrews continued.
“If I would have had my way, this facility would have only been packed with military personnel, and useful civilians. An astronomer wouldn’t have been among my list of priorities. However, through a strange turn of events, here stands an astronomer.”
Andrews turned to Amber and spoke more quietly to her, not intending the room to hear. “That’s why I’m not an atheist today.”
She looked out over the room. The faces were tired and eager for good news. She didn’t know what hope she could possibly offer these people, but maybe a small victory was what they needed. They applauded again. Andrews put his hand on her shoulder once more.
“So, give her whatever she asks for. This comes directly from the president.”
She ran her fingers over the material at the seam of her pocket. She wasn’t sure how to proceed. It seemed that the General was expecting something of her but she wasn’t sure what it was.
“Sir, what is it that you want me to do?” Amber asked.
“Get as much information on your rogue star. My team is at your disposal.”
Her heart felt like it was trying to climb into her throat. The word vindication popped into her head, but she didn’t think it was appropriate to say, “I told you so.” Out of her peripheral she noticed that the General stepped to the side, presumably so that she could address the room. She took a deep breath, and pretended that she was back at her home office.
“Ok, We’ll need a list of any automated optical and infrared scopes that are still operational as well as a network specialist to secure a data link.” She said, not sure if it made sense to anyone in the room. A technician near the front of the command center half raised his hand.
“Ma’am. The only intact internet lines are military. The rest of the network is either patchy or completely out of commission.”
She tapped her chin and walked a few paces. This was going to be tricky. She needed a telescope, but it would require internet to tap into one remotely. She had an idea.
“I know of a few sites we could go to. If we could get a helicopter we could—” She was building steam but the General cut her off.
“All due respect, Miss Levy-Hope, You’ve become too valuable of an asset. I must insist that we stay within the safety of the bunker. It’s a nuclear scorcher out there, and bombs are still falling.”
Amber knew he was right, she didn’t want to leave the bunker with the world falling apart outside. Her family was here, and she wasn’t about to leave them behind. Getting separated in this new post civilized world carried much higher consequences.
“Not to mention, even if we could get to a telescope, the atmosphere is filled with nuclear debris. Any view we could find would be obscured,” another voice said from the right side of the room. She paced a few more times across the length of the command center. All eyes were on her. Suddenly a possibility sprang into her mind. It was a spark, but maybe it could catch fire.
“Can you receive satellite transmissions?” She asked in General Andrews direction, but he nodded out to the gallery of technicians. A young lady three rows back spoke up.
“Yes, we can receive. There is nothing coming in on the dishes though. The network infrastructure is down.”
“We don’t need the infrastructure, we just need to catch a single channel.”
Amber could see it now, her companies ground stations had, no doubt, been destroyed by a weapon of mass destruction, and if not destroyed, at least unreachable. However, her two satellite telescopes were still flying high. That was the beauty of having equipment outside of Earth’s orbit. It was unaffected by war. She stepped briskly toward the technician who had responded.
“Show me what frequency range you can receive.” Amber said to the young woman. She pulled up a chair behind the desk of the technician and they began to work.