A Bridge to Earth
by Richard Merlin Smith
Chapter 5 : Back Again
The history begins millions of years ago and light-years away. The story commences a few thousand Earth years ago: a brown dwarf a rogue star with its attendant planets travels on a collision course toward the system of a yellow sun. Soon their disparate plasma sheaths begin to interact, and the Guardians and Stewards must make fateful decisions.
Fred reached the landing and stared into the archway in front of him. He could see about twenty feet into the darkened tunnel which went straight back into the hillside just as Panat had described it.
At first it seemed impossible that the entry was not blocked by the rubble and dust that lay everywhere, but after a moment he could see why. The slope of the rock above the opening extended out over the landing and had caused the rocks and dust to fall on the area surrounding the entrance and then just sift on down the slope.
I wouldn’t have wanted to be here when all this rock was coming down, he thought, it must have been awful.
The tunnel was about ten feet wide and ten high, cut into the solid rock. According to Panat’s instructions he would go straight back north for about two hundred feet where the tunnel would join another at right angles.
Still facing north, more or less, he would see an alcove cut into the wall. Entering the alcove would take him into a descending ramp. At the bottom of the ramp, about fifty feet, he would find a small chamber with an airtight door at the far end. The transporter would be beyond the door in a room containing other items of the Martian’s technology.
Well, he thought, I might as well get started.
Aloud, he spoke for the benefit of those listening. “I’m at the entrance of the tunnel. Going in, now.”
He adjusted the small transporter hanging from a sling over his shoulder, switched on the high intensity lamp attached to his helmet, aimed it at the floor ahead of him and started in.
Abruptly, he was confronted by a massive metal door blocking the tunnel.
Panat had given Fred brief training in the use of the small transporter for short jumps in space. Because of the danger of the device in untrained hands, Fred was to use it only if he had no other means to get around an obstacle in the vaults. In Fred’s mind, this was not a time to use the transporter.
He remembered that Panat said that the main vault door would probably be closed.
But Panat had felt that the control panel would still be operable because the local power source was a self-contained nuclear power generation system. However, if the door was wedged shut by settling of the hill during the catastrophe the only way to pass would be to use the transporter.
Panat did not have specific knowledge of how to operate the door but could only say that the panel controlled the lock and the opening and closing mechanism.
“Panat was right about the door being closed,” he said. “I hope he was wrong about the rest.” He grasped the wheel with both hands and tried to turn it. Damn it, it won’t budge, he thought.
He stood back and surveyed the door again. There was a large lever on the left side, probably the side that would open although he wasn’t sure because no hinges were visible. Farther to the left, on the wall next to the door jamb, was a metal panel set into the stone wall. There were three buttons in a horizontal row with a character of some sort under each button.
Probably numbers, perhaps a security lock, he thought.
“Okay,” he said aloud, “there’s a security panel here.” The sound of his voice was loud in the helmet.
No, he thought, it must be something more simple, they weren’t at war, at least not with each other.
He reached out his left hand, forefinger extended, and paused. Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe. All right, it’s Moe. He pressed the middle button, wincing slightly as he did so.
“Whoa,” he cried, as he felt a vibration through the soles of his boots, “just a little vibration when I pushed a button.” Dust sifted down from the rock ceiling above his head.
He stood still for a few seconds, waiting, but nothing else happened.
He took a deep breath and reached out to press the first button. Just as he touched it, the middle button lit up, a bright blue jewel in the panel. Nothing else seemed to be happening.
No more vibrations.
He had a sudden sense of being watched. He turned awkwardly to look out toward the entrance of the tunnel. No one there.
He grinned. Easy, Freddie. Don’t let this place get to you. You’re all alone here.
He turned back toward the door and the blue glow of the button panel.
Okay, one more button.
“Eeeny,” he said aloud as he pressed the blue button.
He felt another vibration through the soles of his boots but this time it was weaker and went on for about ten seconds ending abruptly with a slight but sharp bump, then nothing.
Now what? he wondered.
He stood looking at the door not knowing what his button pushing had done. Suddenly, the door lever swung clockwise ninety degrees, the locking wheel turned slowly two or three turns. Abruptly the door moved just a fraction of an inch outward, as though its latch had been released. Although he couldn’t hear the faint sound in the thin atmosphere, there was a puff of exhaled air from inside the vault that blew a cloud of dust away from the opening.
“I’m not sure what I did,” he announced, “but the door just opened a crack.”
He grasped the lever with both hands. “I’ll see if I can swing it wide enough to enter.” He leaned back slightly and the massive door moved ponderously and smoothly.
“Okay,” he said with enthusiasm, “I’m going to wedge the door open with a rock so it won’t close accidentally.”
He looked around for a suitable rock fragment and selected a flattish one about six inches long and slightly tapered. He stooped awkwardly to retrieve it and slipped it under the door, then straightened up and kicked at it until it was firmly stuck.
“There,” he said with satisfaction, “that should hold it. I’m going in now.”
October 20, 6:00 a.m. PDT — Los Angeles, California
Paula Garrison’s phone jolted her out of a sound sleep. She fumbled groggily in the dark for the receiver, dropping it twice on the bed. As she struggled to get the receiver to her ear she could hear a voice calling her name impatiently.
“Hello?” she croaked. She was not a morning person.
“Paula?” the voiced queried.
“Yeah. Jerry? It’s,” she paused squinting at the clock, “six a.m.”
“Sorry, but you said you wanted to know as soon as we got a fix on that transmission. Well, we got one.”
Now she was awake. “Where is it?” She kicked off the blanket and sat up on the edge of the bed.
“About ten miles up the canyon above Glendora.”
“What do you mean? The signals were detected down in the residential area above Foothill Boulevard.”
“I know,” he chuckled, “but this one just happened, at five forty-five, and there’s no doubt about it, it was back in the hills. We’ve sent a car up there with two agents.”
“What about down in town? Was there a transmission from that area?”
“Nothing. But we have a new development on that location.”
“Yes?” she said impatiently.
“Well,” he began, “I just received a call from Jake Gilbert in Fort Meade.”
“The analysts have the location of the source of the original signal...”
“Hold on...” Paula interrupted, reaching for a note pad and pencil on the nightstand, “okay, go.”
She scribbled the address on the pad.
“I think,” she said, “it’s time to call in the troops.”
“Yes. Call the local office and have two agents meet me in Von’s parking lot in Glendora.” She squinted at the clock radio, “At eight o’clock this morning. I’ll be in my red Camaro.”
“Right. What about our agents in the canyon?”
“They’re going to contact you when they get there?”
“Okay, I want them to make a quick search of the area. If there’s no obvious indication that someone’s been there, have them get back here on the double. Then contact me.”
“What if there’s someone there?”
“Then bring ’em in.”
“Okay, see you.”
They hung up, and Paula flopped back down on the bed. She reached over to the clock radio and pushed the “Snooze” button.
At six-thirty the ringing phone jolted her from a sound sleep.
“Yes. What’s up Jerry?” she said through a yawn.
“This is really weird.”
“What’s weird? Are those agents back yet?”
“Oh. Yeah, they’re back.”
“Did they find anything in the mountains?”
“No. That’s not why I’m calling.”
Paula could hear him shuffling papers. “Well,” she said impatiently, “what is it then?”
“Okay,” he said at last, “I found the report.”
“What report? What are you talking about?”
“The monitors have just picked up another transmission,” he said, “but this one’s still going on. They’ve been recording for almost an hour.”
“That’s unusual for these signals, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he answered, “but that’s not the half of it.”
“All right Jerry.” Impatience was showing in her voice. “What’s the rest of it?”
“Well, at first the monitor techs couldn’t pin down the direction of the signal source. Finally they realized that they were looking in the wrong direction.”
“How could they be looking in the wrong direction? They scan all around with those receivers, don’t they?”
“Yeah, they do. But they were looking for a source on the ground.” He chuckled. “This one is in the sky.”
“No. It’s not a satellite and it’s not an aircraft.”
“What does that leave? You’re not going to tell me that the transmissions are coming from the Moon, are you?”
“No. They’ve already checked and eliminated the Moon.”
“So,” she sighed, “what are they doing now?”
“They’re still checking.”
“And... there’s nothing that you can tell me?”
“Nothing yet. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Okay, Jerry, I’m going out to the Glendora location to look around. Contact me on my cell phone when you locate the source of that signal.”
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Merlin Smith