*****Okay - I haven't been able to sleep again and my stomach is protesting something so I got up and started writing. Here is the first bit. It isn't clear from this section what is happening - exactly but I think I might be able to fall asleep now so I am going to try. Hopefully more of this story will come at later dates. And hopefully it won't be at six in the morning after I have been up for four hours!
As the skeleton crew of the Control Room’s night shift quietly goes about its duties, he stands before the giant map, hands clasped loosely behind his back, feet firmly planted. His posture is deceptively relaxed as he studies the map displaying real time information from every sector. Red and blue dots course up and down large pathways and twist their way through smaller winding tracks which seem to meander without real direction. Numbers and codes constantly shift and change as new data arrives in the central Control Room and is transferred to the display.
Each change is quickly noted by his sharp, gray eyes but his immobile face reveals no hint of their import or lack thereof. He simply stands and takes it all in.
Gradually, a pale hint of dawn sweeps across the dual screens at the front of the Control Room. The weary night shift gives was to fresh faces as the morning shift takes their places in front of control panels, monitors, and keyboards. The quiet hush of the night are replaced with lively conversation and bursts of laughter as the workers greet each other and settle into their stations.
“Another long night, Ralph?”
With a grin the young man in the rumpled, blue uniform glances up and slowly rises from the chair where he has spent the last six hours. “Hey, Charlie. How’s it goin’?”
“Not bad, not bad. I am not looking forward to another long day of watching him stare at that map though. It is almost as bad as the pacing but, at least we get to sit while he stares.”
Stretching subtly, Ralph slowly works the knots out of his muscles from the long night of sitting. He looks at the man in front of the map who is still staring without moving.
“It has to end soon, Charlie. I don’t see how he can go on like this for much longer. He didn’t sleep at all last night and he barely ate anything. He has been living on coffee and adrenalin for the last three days. See if you can get him to eat something.”
With a grim smile, the older man nods. He starts to say something more but is interrupted by the sound of a nervous cough. He turns to see a young man, really more of a boy, standing behind him with a manila envelope in his hand and a pained expression on his face. When the youth realizes that Charlie is looking at him, he nervously clears his throat and stammers out, “Ummm. . . th –th-this is for the C-c-c-commander.”
He pushes the envelope into Charlie’s hands and then flees.
Ralph and Charlie share a chuckle before turning serious once more. They both look at the envelope and then to the Commander who is still in front of the map. Both men know that nothing good could come of whatever is in the envelope.
“Well. I guess I should be getting home.” Ralph says. “I hope your day isn’t too bad, Charlie. I will see you tonight.”
“Yeah, sure, Ralph. Tell that girlfriend of yours to send me some of her fabulous cookies the next time she makes them. They might help make my day better!”
Even as Ralph walks from the Control Room Charlie heads toward the map and the Commander. He notes that while the man appears relaxed at first glance, he is actually very tense. His jaw is clenched and his hands are balled into fists behind his back. A thin line of tension mars the smooth skin above his gray eyes and between the coal black eyebrows.
“Excuse me, Commander. This just came for you.”
The Commander turns and a brief smile plays with his mouth as he greets his long time aide. The smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “Thank you, Charlie.”
He take the envelope and carefully opens it to remove its contents. Quickly, he reads the information and then, with a frown, turns back to the map. “Sergeant Mullins, update the map to show the introduction of additional resistance to the system.”
“Yes, Commander,” comes the reply from a workstation across the room. Almost instantly a duo of green shapes flash onto the map tracing a downward path. The green shapes are in a collision course with a mass of black x’s grouped a bit further down on the same course.
Now the Commander abandons his position in front of the map and begins pacing the length of the Control Room. Charlie stands at attention off to one side waiting for his next instruction. He knows it won’t be pleasant.
“Charlie,” the Commander finally says in a barely audible voice. “Call a meeting for all department heads in the conference room immediately. I am going into my office. Meet me there. I am afraid it is starting.”
“Yes, sir.” Charlie watches the Commander leave the room before turning to a uniformed woman sitting at a bank of phones. “Sheila, please alert all department heads to meet the Commander in the conference room in ten minutes. Attendance mandatory.”
Without waiting for her response, Charlie briskly walks out of the room after the Commander. While he looks calm, a cold sweat had broken out along his spine and the collar of his neat, blue uniform suddenly feels too small. Resisting the urge to run a finger along the inside of his collar, the aide knocks at the Commander’s door before entering the room.
“The department heads have been notified and will be waiting in the conference room in approximately ten minutes, Commander.”
“Good, good,” the Commander says distractedly. He is shuffling notes on his desk adding quick comments here and there. He stops and looks up at his aide who is still standing in front of his desk.
“Go ahead and sit, Charlie. We have been together a long time, you deserve to know what is going to happen.”
Cautiously Charlie sits in one of the deep leather chairs facing the Commander’s desk. He has been the Commander’s chief aide for more than twelve years and has become a close friend to the man. This isn’t the first time the Commander has invited him to sit. Nor is it the first time that the two men have talked as friends rather than as boss and employee.
It is, however, the first time that they have talked about an upcoming event which might change their lives forever.