Prologue: The Crisis
While the trial is occurring, the crowds of people walking through the downtown slums are unaware of it. The walls of the city are adorned with ripped posters of events long gone. They are now nothing more than meaningless echoes in someone else’s mind, memories of a different time. There are men and women working in offices flanked by large windows, while festive decorations adorn the city and well-dressed customers emerge from carousel doors. The silence is extended to its depths as the clicking feet of people disappear.
In a shadowy control chamber over a mile underneath a shopping center, a young black-haired girl is sitting. As a hand taps her shoulder, she feels a chill run down her spine. At that moment, she glances over at the young lady sitting next to her. “Come on, Chino.” she whispers. “We can do it.”
Taking a glance at the console in front of her, she gives a slight nod and a half-smile, but it quickly fades. The fingers instinctively slide across the keyboard. An overhead video wall illuminates the darkened room, and she glances up periodically. Several objectives are listed there with the words “Mirror Crossing Operations.”. Chino’s objectives included maintaining power levels and interfacing with Falcon-One. She clears her throat and adjusts the microphone’s neck. “Alright, it looks like we have everything set up on our end. Let’s get started with the Mantra-Tech systems check, Falcon One.”
“I have light, Rodger. It appears that the ion engine is functioning properly. Ready and waiting for instructions. Over,” a male voice replied over the intercoms amidst a hint of static.
A young woman who sits next to her responds: “Begin with the core inspection Falcon-One.”. As Chino pulls her uniform from her neck, she leaves a small sigh of relief at the loss of the growing pressure on her throat. Within a few seconds, Chino’s monitor levels change from green to orange to red. Her fingers work rapidly, gathering information about the municipal electric grid.
Every street is lined with billboards. The dull fluttering light emanates from them while cars bore through the gridlock. They dim marginally when Chino flicks a switch, then buzz once again. Midway through a busy street, a group of school children pause to watch in awe as the streetlights suddenly go out. Chino watched the levels disappear while a lump formed in her throat. She whispered to herself. “Damn it, not today! I won’t let you die on me.” She turns on switches rapidly until the lights spark back to life and gradually rise to a stable position.
A heavy crackle of interference rolls over the radio. “Core One, stable. Core Two, stable. Oh, Core Three, stable. Core Four, stable.” The technician said.
A loud voice boomed with authority. “Get that line clear.” the commanding officer ordered. Chino smalls into her chair while she works. An elegant hand closes around her fingers.
Chino turns her fearful gaze to the welcoming eyes of her co-worker. “It will be all right. We got this.” Her whisper offered Chino a comfort she had not expected.
“Click,” the technician replied. “my cable had come loose.” Chino heard the thumping of her own heartbeat during the pause that followed. The technician continued, “Core 6, stable.” Everything appears to be working properly. On my end, all is well. The levels are being broadcast now.” A broken streetlight flickers back to life as the clap of thunder echoes, promising rain.
Falcon-One, everything looks fine on our end. Start the particle engine check.” Chino said. At last, the roving camera displays an image on the wall. The technician dressed in an astronaut suit is working on a satellite. Blue orbs fly through the unnatural darkness like fireflies lighting up a warm summer night. While watching the spectacle through the screen’s muddled image, Chino cannot help but admire the colors. As the wisp runs in front of the optics, the camera adjusts its lenses to focus.
The technician grunts, “Let me see here.”. A crack is heard over the radio as a plastic board snaps. Chino looks at her co-workers wearing white, gray suits managing various switchboards inside the control room. They are all surrounded by colored holograms. As seen from her angle, their images were nothing more than bright lines of color. They changed and twisted as her own did while sifting through the compiled data. “Engines one and two are ok. Ah…. Let me see engine three, is, OK.”
Through the darkness, the technician drifts along the satellite’s channel attached to a meager tether. The light from the wisps painted his spacesuit’s white nylon tricot a dull blue. With only the satellite as a guide, he wades through the dark void, climbing metal rungs and climbing snowy plastic as he changes his sense of direction. His excellence in his trade was clear to Chino as he flew around the machine.
When Chino has ensured that the energy level is stable, she begins her last check. After a few screens are opened, Chino takes a deep breath. “Headquarters has cleared you to engage the Mantra Drive Falcon-One.” The technician glides to the edge of the satellite using his thruster. His feet are hanging over the panels. He reaches for another tether from his side and connects it to a rung on the ladder after gathering his footing. After that, he grasps the bar of a round switch. Turning the white cylinder with a metallic chime, he waited for the surrounding satellite rods to light up with a red glow one by one.
A man stood up and pointed to his screen as Chino shouted, “Object spotted, Commander, east of the gate.”. On the wall panel, a picture of the object appeared. A moment later, her heart flutters. She thinks to herself, “This shouldn’t be happening.”. Instantly, the computer recognizes the object and locks onto it. “Falcon-One, there is something far off in the distance on your three. Could you provide a visual? “
A twinkle can be seen in the distance. The technician turns, a green box is visible around the object. Inside, there are numbers counting down. “Rodger, I copied a visual. It’s approaching rapidly.”
“Falcon-one, can you tell me what your reading is on this?” The commander’s voice was firm, but Chino sensed worry in it as well. There’s a loud, haunting crash as pieces of plastic and metal fall onto the floor. The light turns the satellite into nothing. The man loses his suit instantly. His flesh flies abroad, and his bones dissolve.
During the commotion, the video feed was cut. Everything inside the building trembled like an earthquake had struck. The commander yells in concern, “Falcon-One, do you copy? Do you copy Falcon-One? There is no signal, Falcon-One. What is going on out there, Falcon-One?”
“Today marks the thirty-year anniversary of the explosion that destroyed Blue Ash city. At least two point three million people were killed by the disaster, which reduced everything in its wake to rubble in an instant. Smoke from the explosion obscured the sun for three days. This was one of the most devastating disasters in modern history. A brand new city has risen in its wake. It has been dubbed New Ash City, the technological wonder of the world. We remember…” in a flash, the news anchor disappears into the black.
“Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before,” says a young girl looking over a suburban township.
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