“You can’t smoke in here, we don’t want to breath what you’re burning!” York said as he entered the chamber. His voice was like rusty nails rattling in the bottom of an old bucket. York jerked the cigarette from Amber’s lips, dropped it to the bunker floor, and stepped on it. After the cigarette was out, York slapped her on the back of the head. He hadn’t hit her hard, but her ire burned hot with the tap. The soothing effect of the cigarette was undone by York’s presence.
“You don’t need to hit her,” Jamison said.
“What you ganna do about it, sugar pants?” York asked.
She had gotten to know her two guards well. Jamison and York were as opposite as two could be. In Deep Stone, there wasn’t enough square footage to let opposites alone. Amber tugged at the handcuffs that bound her to the chair. Her wrist was sore, but that was not what she worried her.
She did her best to ignore York’s demeaning behavior. It was another in a long list of things she was trying to distract herself from. She had delved into the rogue star research project trying her best to keep her mind off of her dead son and husband. She had converted her remorse and pain into anger. Sleep was scarce and all her time and energy were into trying to find a chink in the armor, as Andrews had called it.
Jamison was the friendlier of the two guards. His curiosity gave Amber the only human interaction she had experienced in the last few weeks. With Jamison at her side, she had islands of calm among a sea of bitterness and remorse.
“But why are they dying?” Jamison asked once more, going back to their previous conversation. Amber often fielded questions from the kinder of her two captors. However, she was giving the screen her full attention. Her rage was boiling from the slap she had just received.
“You shouldn’t talk to her,” York said to Jamison. The smaller of the two men, he was brash and rude. Amber had recognized York when he was first assigned to her guard detail. Although they had never discussed it, York had been the helicopter guard. The same helicopter that brought her and her family to Deep Stone. Yet, her most dominant memory of York was much more violent. He was the soldier who had shot crazy senator Yates in cold blood. If it weren’t for York, Amber could have talked her way out of the hand cuffs by now, but he was tough and dangerous. Jamison wasn’t deterred by York’s warning.
“Amber, why are they dying?” Jamison said a little louder this time. His words finally caught her attention. She turned from her screen and looked up at the young man.
“The fish, why are they dying?” Jamison restated.
“I didn’t know they were?” Amber said.
“Report came in today, that fish are dying big-time all over the ocean.”
“Oh. Can I see that report?” She asked.
“It’s classified,” York barked. They both looked at him. He stood cross armed with a smug expression.
“No it’s not,” Jamison argued. “It came in on the news channel.”
“She’s a security risk, it’s classified to her. Do I need to remind you what she did to General Andrews?” York said as he stepped closer. His tone was threatening. Amber had learned to ignore his bearish demeanor. She turned back to Jamison.
“I’d really love to see that report. Did it say anything about the tide?” Amber asked.
“Uh,” Jamison paused to think. “I’m not sure. It said that fish were dying all over the—” York interupted Jamison.
“That was in the title, you dummy. I bet you didn’t even read it? It didn’t have enough pictures to keep your attention,” York laughed. Jamison did his best to ignore him, but Amber could see that the comment upset him.
“I think it did say something about the tide. Why? Is that why the fish are dying?” Jamison asked. York Humphed and relaxed back into the corner with his arms crossed. His bully tactics were best ignored.
“I’m sure it’s a number of things. With the sun mostly blocked, the life cycle can’t operate the way it’s supposed to. Their food source would diminish. On top of that, we now have a star orbiting Earth. That should effect both the tide and the plate tectonics.”
“Are you saying the Earthquakes are happening because of the rogue star?” Jamison asked.
“I’m saying it’s all happening because of the rogue star. It messes with everything. The hydrologic cycle is out of whack. The tides which are traditionally controlled by only the moon. Now they have a second gravitational force to respond to. The ocean is what replenishes the land with precipitation. This stupid star has screwed up every cycle on the planet!”
She could feel her blood pressure rising. Images of her husband and son tried to push their way into her fragile mind. If the temperature in her cheeks were any sign, her face was red. She had balled her hands into fists. Her body was tight with tension.
“Don’t get your panties in a wad,” York said. She could slap him. Well, she couldn’t slap him with the hand cuffs in place, but she’d like to. She did her best to distract her mind from the nagging suicidal thoughts.
“If I could get data on the change in the tide, I might be able to determine the density of the rogue. It’s obviously not a normal star. If I could take a look at that report I might be able to—”
“Not gonna happen, Joan of Arc. You sit right there and do what you’re told,” York interrupted.
“I am trying to do what I’m told, you neanderthal. I need to see that report to do my duty. Let me see that report, or I will tell Andrews that you are blocking a national security operation.”
She was on her feet. She had lifted the chair with the cuffs. York was a head taller than her, but she had nothing to lose. She was a valued asset to the military. Even though she had armed guards, she knew who was in charge, and it wasn’t York.
“We can log in, using my account. You can see it under my username,” said Jamison. Being the gentleman, he leaned down he began to type.
“No!” Amber shouted. “I want York to log me in.”
They shared a long tense stare. York slowly came away from the wall and stood over Amber. His hot breath splashed over her face as he whispered a threat.
“As soon as the General sees that you’re not worth your weight in sand, I’m going to drown you in the toilet.” York said. She could swear he had a forked tongue.
“Worth my weight in sand?” She laughed in his red face, although she felt no humor. “Don’t you mean ‘worth my weight in salt, or gold?’ I think you got your euphemisms mixed, Einstein.”
He flustered a little. Obviously he didn’t like it when his bully tactics backfired. Jamison began to laugh, which infuriated him even more. She continued the battery against his ego.
“Silicon dioxide, also known as salt, is one of the most plentiful substances on any terrestrial planet, Earth included. So considering it’s relative availability I’d say that an average human weight in sand would be worth about a tenth of a cent. Which is roughly the value of your threats. And by the way, the putrescine and allyl methyl sulfide from your lunch has given your breath the smell of dead fish covered in garlic sauce. I’d suggest a breath mint for the halitosis.”
At that Jamison roared with laughter. Spewing her rage on York helped her ease some of the tension that plagued her body. She stepped aside and gestured toward the keyboard.
“Log me in, or I tell General Andrews that you are obstructing matters of national security. Maybe while I’m at it I can tell him about the time you murdered Senator Yates without provocation.”
“You can’t do that,” York said, sounding defensive.
“Try me,” She said, knowing she had beaten him.
The staring contest only lasted about twenty years, but it was York that gave in. He shoved past her and slapped his meaty hands against the keyboard. He was grumbling something as he left the chamber. He rushed off to cry in private at the wreckage of his ego.
As soon as he was out of the room, Jamison and Amber laughed together. It felt good to have some type of companionship. It reminded her of the way she and Lawrence used to laugh. A dark cloud passed over her at the thought. She zoned out for a short few seconds as she saw their faces in her mind.
“Here it is,” Jamison said.
Thankful for the distraction she pulled at the chair still attached to her cuffs. When it was back on four legs she sat and began to read the report. Jamison hovered. She found what she was looking for about half way down the page.
She grabbed for a nearby pen and began to scribble something on a scrap of paper. Jamison leaned over her shoulder trying to decipher her writing. She knew the numbers and symbols didn’t mean anything to the man. At least he was quiet until she laid the pen down. She held the sheet up and studied it for a brief moment.
“Hands up!” a voice shouted from behind them. Amber turned in her seat and saw York along with five other uniformed men. Their weapons were drawn and they had stern looks on each of their chiseled faces. Standing in the middle of the armed squad was General Andrews.
Amber raised her hands as high as her cuffs would allow. They clanked hard against the arm of the chair. Next to her Jamison saluted the General. With the barrels of five fire arms trained on her she looked to the General. He was about to speak but she beat him to it. She pretended as if the firing squad was not present.
“Oh, perfect timing. I just learned something that could be useful in the fight against the rogue star,” Amber said.
“Is that right,” Andrews’ incredulous tone said that he wasn’t convinced.
“Yes. With the help of York,” she pointed. “We were able to access a report that has some valuable information.”
“This man,” now Andrews pointed to York, surprised. “He came into my chamber, red faced, blowing the whistle on a breech of national security. He said you and Jamison teamed up on him. He explained that you had formed a conspiracy to hack into classified information.”
“York logged me in himself. He’s a big strong man. How could I force him to log me in?” She jangled the hand cuffs attached to her chair. She hoped this would bring attention to the absurdity of the claim.”
“That’s a lie, she—” York began to shout but Andrews cut his words off like a weed in the grass.
“That is quite enough, York.” Andrews gave the signal for the men to put their pistols away. York was steaming, but he complied. Andrews stepped toward Amber and changed his tone of voice, “So I could use some good news. What have you learned.”
Amber picked up the scrap of paper that she had dropped. She presented it to Andrews as evidence. She knew he wouldn’t be able to interpret her scrawl. Still, it seemed appropriate to put something in his hands. She pointed as she explained.
“I think we’ve had it all wrong. It’s in the tides.”
“You’re going to have to give me more information, Miss Levy-Hope.” Andrews handed the paper back to her.
“The rogue star is not a star at all,” She said.
“How do you mean?”
“Well we noticed as soon as it got close that it didn’t have the gravitational mass of a star. Basically it doesn’t weigh enough. Until now we haven’t had a way to measure it’s mass,” She said with a growing excitement.
“Until now?” Andrews asked.
“Yes, we know roughly what the moon’s mass is because we’ve been able to take samples and estimate it’s density. We also know what that amount of mass does to the oceans.”
“How does that help us?” Andrews said. He seemed more impatient than usual. She could tell he wanted the bottom line.
“The rogue—” she was about to say star but stopped herself. “The rogue object is about a thousand times lighter than it should be if it were the same density as the moon. It’s about a million times lighter than it should be if it were the density of the sun.”
“I have a head ache and my back hurts. I have ten heads of state breathing down my neck for a solution. I’m ready to hear the good news.”
“I believe that the rogue star is hallow. I think what we are seeing on it’s surface is just a shell, or a shield of fire,” Amber explained as if it meant something. Andrews face didn’t change.
“I’m failing to see the silver lining.”
“I think we should try to bomb it. If the surface is thin enough, we might be able to punch through with a big bomb of some kind.”
“So your official recommendation is we engage in nuclear war with a superior alien race. You believe it’s possibile to puncture puncture it’s fire wall. This is based on that fact that the star is less obese than expected.”
Now coming out of Andrews mouth, it did sound a little thin. She looked at the piece of paper as if there might be more to report. She knew, that there was not. She was trying to come up with another angle when Andrews spoke.
“Keep at it Miss Levy-Hope.” Andrews turned without another word and began to walk toward the hatch. On his way out she heard him say, “York, your not on Levy-Hope duty anymore. Larsen, take his place.”