Crowds of people walk through the downtown slums. Throughout the city, ripped posters from long ago adorned the walls. They are now nothing more than meaningless echoes in someone else’s mind; memories of a different time. Men and women are working in offices flanked by large windows, while festive decorations embellished the city and well-dressed customers emerged from carousel doors. Their clicking feet vanished as silence extended to the depth of the snowy streets.
In a shadowy control chamber over a mile underneath a shopping center, a young black-haired girl is sat. As a hand tapped her shoulder, she felt a chill run down her spine. At that moment, she glanced over at the young lady sitting next to her. “Come on, Chino,” she whispered. “We can do it.”
Taking a glance at the console in front of her, she gave a slight nod and half-smiled, but it quickly faded. The fingers instinctively slid across the keyboard. An overhead video wall illuminated the darkened room, and she glanced up periodically. Several objectives are listed under the heading “Mirror Crossing Operations.” Besides interacting with Falcon-One, Chino’s objectives included maintaining power levels. She cleared her throat and adjusted 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.” Chino said.
“Rodger, I have light. The ION engine appears to be functioning properly. Ready and waiting for instructions. Over,” a male voice replied over the intercom amidst a hint of static.
The young woman who sat next to Chino responded: “Begin with the core inspection Falcon-One.” As Chino pulled her uniform from her neck, she left a small sigh of relief at the loss of the growing pressure on her throat. Within a few seconds, Chino’s monitor levels changed from green to orange to red. Her fingers worked rapidly, gathering information about the municipal electric grid.
Billboards lined every street. They emitted a dull fluttering light while cars snake their way through the gridlock. They dimmed marginally when Chino flicked a switch, then buzzed once again. Midway through a busy street, a group of school children watched 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.” Chino said as she turned on switches rapidly until the lights sparked back to life and gradually rose to a stable position.
A heavy crackle of interference rolled over the radio. “Core One, stable. Core Two, stable. Oh, Core Three, stable. Core Four, stable.” said the technician.
A loud voice boomed with authority. “Get that line clear.” the commanding officer ordered. Chino slumped into her chair as she worked. An elegant hand closed around her fingers.
Chino turned 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 sounded. “My cable had come loose.” Chino heard the thumping of her 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 flickered back to life as the clap of thunder echoed, promising rain.
“Falcon-One, everything looks fine on our end. Start the particle engine check.” Chino instructed. At last, the roving camera displayed an image on the wall. The technician dressed in an astronaut suit is working on a satellite. Blue orbs flew 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 ran in front of the optics, the camera adjusted its lenses to focus.
The technician grunted, “Let me see here.” Over the radio, a plastic board snapped. Chino looked 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 drifted 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 waded through the dark void, climbing metal rungs and climbing snowy plastic as he changed his sense of direction. His excellence in his trade was clear to Chino as he flew around the machine.
When Chino had ensured that the energy levels were stable, she began her last check. After opening a few screens, Chino breathed deeply. “Headquarters has cleared you to engage the Mantra Drive Falcon-One.” The technician glided to the edge of the satellite, using his thrusters. His feet were hanging over the panels. He reached for another tether from his side and connected it to a rung on the ladder, gathering his footing. After that, he grasped the bar of a round switch. By turning the white cylinder with the metallic chime, he waited for the satellite rods to glow red 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 fluttered. She thought to herself, “This shouldn’t be happening.” Instantly, the computer recognized the object and locked onto it. “Falcon-One, there is something far off in the distance on your three. Could you provide a visual?“
The technician saw a twinkle in the distance. His HUD displayed a green box around the object. Inside, numbers are counting down. “Roger, 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 felt worried 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 lost his suit instantly. His flesh flew abroad, and his bones dissolved in the light.
During the commotion, the video feed flashed off. Everything inside the building trembled like an earthquake had struck. The commander yelled in concern, “Falcon-One, do you copy? Do you copy Falcon-One? There is no signal, Falcon-One. What is the situation out there, Falcon-One?”
30 Years Later
“Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the explosion that destroyed Blue Ash city. At least the disaster, which reduced everything in its wake to rubble in an instant, killed two point three million people. 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. New Ash City has been called a technological wonder of the world. We remember…” in a flash, the news anchor disappeared into the black of a television screen.
“Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before,” said a young girl looking over a suburban township.
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