A young black-haired girl named Chino Tokuma sits quietly inside a shadowy control chamber. She imagines the communities above working inside their offices, framed by large paned glass windows. A job she formerly held herself. Now she is below a shopping center, over a mile underground. Images of festive decorations and well-dressed customers making their roulette through carousel doors cloud Chino’s thoughts. Their clicking feet brought to silence as it extended to the depths. A grim shiver cascades across her spine. Her stomach twists into naughts thinking of this place. She taps her fingers across a grey plastic board of keys. Each press leaves a distinct different click. She glances up at a massive screen which covers the entire wall of the darkened room. Her fingers wrap around the neck of a narrow microphone that sticks out of a platinum metallic desk. “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 just a mention of static.
There she was, an expert at her particular task of maintaining the power stages. A careful balance of percentages. While Chino works, she cannot help but think of the crowds walking through the downtown slums surrounded by litter. 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.” replied the young woman who sat next to Chino. She tugs on the collar of her uniform loosening its ever-growing choke on her throat. The levels on her monitor jumping from green to orange to red. 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 strobe light while cars bustle through heavy traffic. As Chino flipped 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 city lights flash dead. Their teacher waves her arms chiding the kids through the crosswalk. A lump in Chino’s throat forms as she sees the levels blackout. “Damn it not now!” she thinks to herself. “Come on don’t die on me now.” Flipping switches, she keeps her eyes on the electricity levels gradually lowering 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 followed by a heavy crackle of interference over the radio.
“Get that line clear.” her commanding officer’s voice booms with authority. She smalls into herself, continuing her task. The soft hand of her coworker closes over her fingers.
Chino turns to see welcoming eyes. “It will be all right. We got this.” She whispers.
A “click” crosses the line as the technician says “Rodger, I apologize my cable was loose.” there is a slight pause before he continues “Core 6, stable. Everything is working as it should be. I am good on my end. I‘ll broadcast the levels now.” A broken streetlight burns back to life blinking yellow as a group of pedestrians ambles through that same crosswalk. The clap of thunder roars as rain fell from gray skies.
“Everything looks fine on our end Falcon one, let’s begin the Particle Engine Check.” A few blue orbs dot the unnatural darkness as fireflies lighting a warm summer’s night. Chino could not help but admire the colors as she viewed the spectacle through the screens muddled image. The camera adjusts its lens focusing on a few wisps as they ran 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 to keep the many holographic displays green. “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 white nylon tricot of his spacesuit painted a dull blue in the light of the wisps. 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 metalic 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. Chino’s heart flutters for a moment. This should not be happening she thinks to herself. The computer‘s 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?”
He turns and looks to see a twinkle in the distance. His suit displays a lock onto the object. “Rodger, I copy a visual. It’s approaching very rapidly.”
“Falcon one do you have a read on the object?” the commander’s voice strong but there was 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 1 do you copy.” The commander yells his voice quivering with concern. “Falcon one do you copy. We lost signal Falcon 1. What’s happening out there Falcon 1.”
“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.