Monday, February 11, 2013

Chapter 5: Ryan, Max

Chapter 5
Max Ryan, Watcher

Day:  E-Day+3
Time:  1520 CST/ 2120 GMT

The Command Information Center was the nerve center of the entire Project Bastion facility.  In one location, the Director could see live feeds of every district in the North America.  Twenty six unique zones, each with their own data feeds were displayed on a dedicated monitor as were statistics and analysis of the facility.  Four monitors provided information on the flight deck, another half dozen on personnel, and eight to data from the project’s satellite network.

Max Ryan stood, clutching the rail, looking down at the dozens of workstations.  The workstation and offices of the project director commanded the best view of the space.  Max often thought that it was really so that everyone in the massive room would have to look up at the director whenever they turned to report to him.

“We’re not lighting the Lighthouses until we have met the qualifications for ‘Condition:  Omega’.  You know that, Ryan.”  Director Adams was right.  Max new the protocols inside and out.  He had spent a great deal of time writing the last revision himself.  Adams continued, his voice firm and strong as he came to stand next to Max and look out over the sea of data analysts and systems engineers.  “Until we have independent confirmation that there has been an extraterrestrial landing, we are ‘Condition:  Delta’.”

“Sir,” Ryan argued, gesturing up at the yellow display over the center of the main monitor bank.  “We have multiple sources confirming that the meteorites causing the dust clouds are of alien origin.”

“And its been six hours since the last strike. Even so, we're still at Delta.  These are the rules, Ryan.  Either we need another twelve point drop across all districts, or we need confirmed alien boots on the ground.  Then, and only then, we’ll bring the Lighthouses online.”  He put his hand on Max’s shoulder.  “I know it’s hard, Max, trust me.  If things keep going the way they are, we’ll hit Omega late tomorrow.  We’ll light the signals and begin the real work of the day.”

It was small consolation. “Just as long as another few million people die.”  He knew it was not a rational anger.  The base had finite resources, and opening the gates to everyone on the continent could easily overwhelm them.  It had made sense to set a threshold for loss before they would start to reach out to the rest of the nation.  But for the last three days he and his assistant, Ms. Morgan, had been watching District 8’s numbers and watching them fall.  Their confirmed population continued along a frightfully predictable graph, and their probability of extraction remained below 0.3.  It had slowed its decline in the last few hours but the loses were still substantial.  He even found himself hoping for some extraterrestrial presence.

“You should get back to your office.  Get me another round of numbers before five.”  The hand was gone and the director was returning to his desk.  Max was dismissed.

He flexed his hand around the rail, refusing to give in completely.  “Then we should run another lighthouse readiness check.  If we’ve got less than twenty four hours until the we light them up, we should be testing them every three hours rather than daily.”


Ryan turned out over the room and cleared his throat.  “Light-Com, stand by for readiness test.  All lighthouses, on my mark.”

He did not look down to see the red-headed woman at the Light-Com station quickly type in the command. “Readiness test on your mark.”

“Mark.”  It felt good say.  All they were doing was sending a test signal to the hundred some odd beacons throughout the continent and checking for a return pulse.  It was a fairly routine operation, conducted daily since the beginning of the plague clouds.  No matter, the activity brought Max one step closer to actually lighting them up and starting to bring the survivors to a safe haven where they could ride out the remainder of the storms.

It meant they were one step closer to bringing Joanna home.

“Test signal away,” the woman reported back.  “Responses are inbound.  Mirroring Light-Com to Display Prime.”  As she spoke the largest monitor in the massive arching bank lit up with a map of the continent.  Pinpoints of green light blinked on in rapid succession, a random pattern across the entire region.  Each light was one of the lighthouses successfully acknowledging the test.  After a minute several red lights started to appear:  non-responsive lighthouses.

Max stroked his hair back.  This was expected.  Protocol allowed for up to ten percent failed responses, provided that no more than fifteen percent of any one district remained unreachable.  One dot caught his eye.  In the sea of green a single white light pulsed.  He pointed at it.

“Why do we have an active lighthouse in District 8?”

The woman at the Light-Com station did not answer immediately.  “It looks like the beacon was triggered by accident.  It’s been online for three hours.”  She turned to look up again at the director’s station.  Adams had stood and was staring at the white light as well.  “Maybe it misinterpreted the test signal this morning.”

“That doesn’t sound right,” Adams said as he too put his hands on the railing.

“No, it doesn’t,” Max agreed.  “It has to be a network short.”  He indicated the ring of red lights around it.  “Every adjacent lighthouse is also off line.”

Adams swore.  “Just what we need.  Someone get Able Team prepped for dispatch, and tell teams Baker, Charlie and Dog they’re on standby.  I want Able in the air in less than an hour and I want to know what what’s going on at that lighthouse within three.  I want results, people. Now get them for me.”  He turned to Max.  “Who’s our best man to get in there and do an on-sight eval and debug?”

There was only one real answer.  “Me.”

“That’s bull.  I need you here.  You wrote half the protocols we use, I’m not shipping you out.”
Max turned away from the rail and squared his shoulders to Adams.  “You said the best, and that’s me.  We both know it.”

Adams turned and strode back to his desk.  “I knew we needed more senior staffing.  I told the backers to let me hire another dozen people.  Fine.  Have Hummel manage your district info stream and get with Able.”  He looked up from his desk.  “Tomorrow’s going to be a hell of a day.  Make sure you get back to see it, Max.”

He nodded once.  “I will, Sir.”

The walk back towards his office was a blur.  Hummel seemed comfortable taking on the additional data to manage.  His assistant, a girl he thought might go by Macey, quickly scurried off to get more materials for the hard-copy backups and card catalogues.

Heading to his own office, he thought about Emma Morgan, his assistant.  He should give her the rest of the day off.  Tomorrow, if the projections were right, was going to see the activation of the lighthouses, and with it all manner of chaos and excitement.  They had done enough simulations to have an idea of how fast refugees from each district would need to be rescued but if anything, reality was going to make those look like a Girl Scout cookie sale.  “Plans are nothing; planning is everything,” said Eisenhower, a quote that adorned Max’s favorite coffee mug.  He kept it on his desk next to one that read “Keep calm and carry on”.  As it was, most of the key data was already queued into the CIC and none of the curves seemed to be budging from the projections they had made back on E-Day +1.

Emma was waiting when he reached his own part of the Logistics and Overwatch division.  Even though he had fifteen years with the project he was still a District Watcher, and was quite happy there.  Emma did not look up when he approached; she was staring blankly at a computer tablet.

“Ms. Morgan,” he began as he came up.  Emma jumped a little as his words appeared to return her to earth. She was an attractive woman, young and petite with long black hair and thick rimmed glasses.  Being honest with himself, Max had not expected her to also prove to be an accomplished statistician in her own right.  In just a few months she had proven her work load could be expanded from fetching coffee and filing hard-copy backups to directly managing the information streams and doing her own analysis.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered, her eyes dropping nervously at being caught while distracted.  “What do you need, Mr. Ryan?”

“I need you to go home and get some rest.  The last few days have been hell on earth around here and I want you get some down time.  You need it and you’ve earned it.”

She started to apologize and he quickly put up his hand.  He silently chided himself for not expecting some kind of protestation.  Being honest with himself, she could easily take over his workload in his absence, but Hummel was already merging the data feeds.  “Please, we need you at one hundred percent tomorrow, so go get your mind off of things for a while.”

He did not wait for an answer before going into his office and taking a seat at his desk.  He drew in a long, slow, breath and then pulled open the bottom drawer.  His thumbprint unlocked the small safe, and allowed him to retrieve his sidearm.  The nickel plated pistol was heavy and solid.  He let it rest in his hand before reaching for the two magazines of ammunition.  He slid one into the handle, and chambered the first round.

Those dust clouds were the work of an extraterrestrial intelligence, he was sure.  And he was going to be ready should he encounter any of their makers.

Next Chapter --->>>

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