A young black-haired girl named Chino Tokuma sits inside a shadowy control chamber. She imagines the people above working inside their offices, framed by large glass windows. Now she’s below a shopping center, over a mile underground. Chino’s thoughts are of festive decorations and well-dressed customers making their roulette through carousel doors. Their clicking feet brought to silence as it extends to the depths. A grim shiver cascades across her spine while her stomach twists into naughts. Allowing her profession to take control of her fingers they instinctively tap across a keyboard. Chino periodically glances up at the mission objectives displayed on a screen that lights the darkened room. Clearing her throat she adjusts the neck of a narrow microphone. “Okay looks like we got everything set up. Let’s get working with the Mantra-Tech systems check Falcon One.”
“Rodger that, we have, light. The ion engine appears to be operating nominally. Ready and waiting for instructions, over.” A male voice replies with a hint of static.
There she is, an expert at her particular task of maintaining the power stages. A careful balance of percentages. While she works Chino cannot help but think of the crowds walking through the downtown slums. It is simple, a monochrome brown with torn posters lining the walls of events long expired. Now they are meaningless echos of the past, memories in someone else’s mind. A population of several million oblivious to the project, no, the trial proceeding in the shadows of this man-made cavern.
“Begin with the core check Falcon One.” replies a young woman who sits beside Chino. She tugs on the collar of her uniform relieving the ever-growing choke on her throat. The levels on Chino’s monitor jump from green to orange to red in an instant. Her fingers hastily work, gathering up information on the pull from the municipal electric grid.
Billboards line every street. They shine a dull haze of fluttering light while cars bustle through the heavy gridlock. As Chino flips a switch, they dim marginally and buzz back to life. A group of school children pause midway on a busy street to look up in awe as the lights flash dead. In the sudden dark their teacher waves her arms chiding the kids forward. A lump in Chino’s throat forms as she watches the levels blackout. “Damn it, not now!” she thinks to herself. “Come on, don’t die on me.” Rapidly she flips switches till the lights leap back to life and gradually lower back to a stable condition.
“Rodger, let me see here, Core 1, stable. Core 2, stable. Ah, Core 3, is stable. Core 4, stable.” says the technician. A heavy crackle of interference over the radio follows.
“Get that line clear.” the commanding officer’s voice booms with authority. Chino smalls into her chair while she works. The soft hand of her coworker closes over her fingers.
Turning to the welcoming eyes of her co-worker, Chino looks on with a fearful gaze. “It will be all right. We got this.” her whisper, a comfort entirely missed on Chino.
A “click” crosses the line as the technician says “Rodger, I apologize, my cable was loose.” the pause following gave Chino a moment to hear the thumping of her own heartbeat. “Core 6, stable. Everything is working as it should be. I am well on my end. I‘ll broadcast the levels now.” A broken streetlight burns back to life as the clap of thunder roars beckoning rainfall from gray skies.
“Everything looks fine on our end Falcon one, let’s begin the Particle Engine Check.” In the unnatural darkness blue orbs fly like fireflies lighting a warm summer’s night. Chino can not help but admire the colors as she views the spectacle through the screens muddled image. The camera adjusts its lenses focusing on a wisp as it runs in front of the optics.
“Rodger, ah, let me see here.” grunts the technician. The snap of a plastic board cracks over the radio. Inside the control room, Chino looks at her co-workers dressed in white, gray suits managing many switchboards. Many holographic displays in an aura of colors above all their stations. At her angle their images were nothing more than several lines of bright colors. They twisted and changed as her own did while searching through the compiled data. “Engines one and two are ok. Ahhhh…. Let me see engine three, is, ok.”
Connected by a meager tether, the technician drifts inside the darkness traveling along the satellite’s channel. The light of the wisps paint the white nylon tricot of his spacesuit a dull blue. His only point of reference wading in the dark void is the satellite, his sense of direction changing as he climbs the rungs of metal and snowy plastic. While he floats around the machine, the excellence in his trade became unmistakable to Chino.
After ensuring the energy levels are stable Chino begins her final check. She draws open a few more screens taking a deep breath. “Headquarters clears you to engage the Mantra Drive Falcon One,” With a gentle lighting of a thruster on his back, the technician glides himself to the edge of the satellite. His feet hang over the panels. After gathering his footing he reaches for another tether from his side and connects it to a rung on the ladder. He clutches the bar of a round switch. With a metallic groan he turns the white cylinder till the surrounding satellite rods light up one by one with a red glow.
“Object spotted, Commander, it’s east of the gate,” Chino jumps as the man stands up and points at his screen. The girl next to Chino pulls up the image on the large wall panel. Her heart flutters for a moment. “This should not be happening.” she thinks to herself. The computer intelligence at once undertakes a lock onto the object. “Falcon 1, there is an object in the distance on your three, do you have a visual?”
Falcon One turns to see a twinkle in the distance. His suit displays a green box around the object. Inside the box are numbers counting down with an extreme pace. “Rodger, I copy a visual. It’s approaching rapidly.”
“Falcon One do you have a read on the object?” the commander’s voice is strong but there is a hint of something else, worry. The twinkle becomes a flash, and the flash consumes everything in the darkness. A loud haunting crash blows the speakers. Pieces of plastic and metal rain onto the floor as several members of the crew scream. The light turns the satellite to nothing. In an instant, the man loses his suit in the bright ray. His flesh flying abroad, and his bone turning to dust. “Falcon One do you copy.” The commander yells his voice quivering with concern. “Falcon One do you copy. We lost signal Falcon One. What’s happening out there Falcon One.”
“Today we remember the twenty-year anniversary of the explosion that wiped out Blue Ash city. The disaster killed over two point three million people reducing everything in its aftermath to rubble in an instant. The smoke from the explosion blocked out the sun for three days. It was the single most destructive disaster in modern history. A new city has formed in its wake. New Ash City; the world’s technological marvel. We remember…” in a flash, the news anchor disappears into the black.
“Yeah, yeah, we all heard it before.” a young girl says with a view looking out over a suburban township.