by Scott Coon
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The dig site came into view sooner that expected. Mr. Torres had been busy erecting wind turbines around the drill hole, and a satellite dish. Nate’s face lit up.
Robby smiled at him from the driver’s seat. “What do you think the dish is for?”
Nate shrugged. “Probably transmitting the data back instead of taking it on a hard drive.”
They pulled up to the mouth of the tunnel. Before Nate could get out, Robby said, “Don’t feel pressured. We get the glass, whether fix that computer or not. He’s paying for your time.”
Nate raised his chin. “If that server’s hard drive is fixable, I’ll fix it and get the data. And, if he lets me, I’ll transmit it too. Maybe I’ll get to poke around any other satellites up there, find some old TV shows stored on them. And then maybe I can come back later, find even more.”
Robby chuckled. “If you do, don’t tell Dad. He’ll make us fill in the hole to keep you from wasting time.”
“There’s more to life than survival.”
“Yeah, well, when you’re the head of the family, you can lose sight of that.” Robby’s hand absently moved to his chest and the journal under his caribou hides. Nate said nothing.
They hugged, and Nate got out. As Robby drove off to the day’s worksite, Nate followed the cables down the frozen tunnel to the shattered front door and the lobby beyond. A new laptop sat on the security desk, its screen listing satellites passing overhead. Despite the cold, Nate removed his glove and touched the frame of the computer’s screen. An invisible tether ran from his fingertip, up through the clouds, and touched the technology in the sky. His heart raced.
The door behind the security desk opened. Nate yanked his hand away.
Mr. Torres came out. He had no coat. “Hi, Nate! Come on. You can help me back there.”
Nate followed him down a long hall of secured doors and wet floors. Mr. Torres had set up heat panels all the way down. Nate loosened his coat. “You seem to know your stuff. Why do you need me, Mr. Torres?”
“Call me Juan. And I need you because you are familiar with this technology, better than I am. It’s old. You’ve been playing with it. I’ve only read books.”
Nate pulled his coat open and raised his face to the sky. His apartment never got this hot.
“Good to be warm, huh? Bad luck being born in the north.”
Nate lowered his head. “Dad says we’re lucky to be born at all. Says it’s our duty to stay alive for humanity.”
“A lot of pressure for a kid.”
Nate grimaced. “I’m sixteen.”
Mr. Torres opened the door at the end of the hall. “When I was sixteen, all I wanted was to lie on the beach.”
“You were on a beach? Without a coat?”
Mr. Torres grinned. “I wore only short pants, and I went in the water. It was eighty degrees, by your measure. Our summers are getting longer down there, almost two months, some years.”
Nate stared off into his movies, trying to do more than just see them. Eighty degrees? He couldn’t imagine it. Mr. Torres took his shoulder and led Nate into the warm, warm room. Nate had to take his coat off.
Mr. Torres stood amongst the consoles and laptops that filled the small space. “This was supposed to be a peak interglacial period, the warmest it gets. We predict Man’s Ice Age will start to end up here in a century or two.”
Nate deflated. “Not in my lifetime.”
“Buck up, kid. You get to be warm today.” Mr. Torres slugged him in the arm, like they were in a black and white era TV show. “Here’s the console you’ll be working on. I already broke its password, but that’s as far as I got. Why don’t you check it out while I finish what I was doing?”
The unit sat on the floor under the desk. Nate sat down and clicked the power button. The monitor came to life. Thanks to whatever Mr. Torres had done, the computer flashed past the login screen to the desktop. Another screen popped up, asking for username, password, and uplink address.
“Uplink?” Nate pushed his chair away from the desk. “This isn’t a data server. This is a satellite control terminal.”
Mr. Torres nodded as he came to his feet. “Yeah, I left that part out when I was talking to your dad. I guess I forgot to mention it to you. The data isn’t on a sever. It’s on a satellite.”
Nate stood up. “I’ll have to tell my dad. I should probably tell him before I do anything.”
“Your dad is a little technophobic. I saw how he acted when I mentioned that mainframe you found. So, I thought it best to leave that detail out. Don’t you think so, too?” Mr. Torres spread a warm grin across his face. “And call me Juan.”
Nate turned toward the door. If he told his dad, that would be the end; he’d be back drilling ice tomorrow, no computers, no warmth. But what if his dad was right about the SAS? What if the nomads were right; whole communities wiped out because they were in the SAS’s way? But if that were true, why was this guy here alone, giving them glass for their greenhouse? It didn’t seem like something you’d do before attacking a community. And it was so warm in here, warmer than Nate had ever been. What if these would be the only warm days in his entire life?
He turned back to Mr. Torres. “What are you doing, really?”
“We’re still getting data, just from a satellite.”
Nate narrowed his eyes. “What satellite?”
A deep frown spread across Mr. Torres’ face. “I guess I can tell you. But you can’t tell anyone, ever. It’s the Orbitors’ station.”
Nate took a step back. “You want to contact the people living in orbit?”
“No, no, no. They died long ago. Froze to death up there instead of down here. Poor fools.” Mr. Torres shook his head at the ceiling.
It was only assumed that people were still alive up there, the progeny of the elite who’d escaped the collapsing climate. Even if their space station was truly self-sustaining, there were a lot of things that could go wrong over a couple hundred years. The more Nate thought about it, the more it made sense that they’d be dead by now.
“What do you want with their space station?” he asked.
“They took farming technology with them. It’s still in their computers.”
“You lied about the weather data, too?”
Mr. Torres shrugged. “I changed a couple of details to avoid troubling your father. I was being polite.”
Nate looked to the door again.
Mr. Torres said, “The information in their computers could help us grow enough food to bring everyone down to South America, all the scattered communities like yours. Please, Nate. I don’t know if I can do this alone. I’ve failed before, and you’re some kind of genius. Help me do this and I’ll promise you passage south.”
“If we get what I came for, yes. I’ll take you with me when I head home.”
Nate gazed at the terminal. He imagined stepping through that screen onto a warm beach. But he couldn’t just walk away from his arranged marriage to the Ortiz clan and leave his dad and Robby to deal with the broken trust between the settlements.
“All of us, my whole settlement gets to go with us.”
Mr. Torres thrust out his hand. “Done.” Nate just looked at it, so Mr. Torres grabbed Nate’s hand and shook. “Now let’s see what you can do about establishing an uplink. And call me Juan.”
While Mr. Torres sat back, Nate dug in. After a couple hours, he had a link to the space station above but only for one module. Though the batteries had almost no charge, he managed to turn on several devices, including a camera into the lab area. This had once been a science module. Now it was dead. The video showed a large hole into space. Mr. Torres stood behind Nate as they both gawked at the image.
Mr. Torres shook Nate’s shoulders. “I knew you were a genius.”
Nate brought up a status screen. “I’ve aligned the solar panels and got the main batteries charging better. We should leave it until tomorrow. Start with a full battery.” He turned off the camera.
“Very good. Thank you so much, Nate. Can’t wait to see what you find tomorrow.”
* * *
Nate spent the night dreaming of charging batteries and the things they might turn on. The next morning, he woke before everyone and took Mr. Torres’ extra snowmobile. Inside the facility, he tore off his caribou hides and dove in. Finding the battery ready, Nate started turning things on, the camera first.
“Anxious to get south, are we?”
Nate glanced up; Mr. Torres was removing his coat. “Did you know the Orbitors’ station isn’t really a space station but like a whole bunch of satellites and stations stuck together?”
Mr. Torres chuckled. “Yes. They were in a hurry.”
“This terminal is connected to just the one module. But I think I can get access to everything, maybe, if things are connected up to each other and still working up there.”
Mr. Torres stood behind Nate’s clacking keys. “We’ve been researching all aspects of the Century of Storms,” he said. “The Orbitors are the most responsible. They are the descendants of corporate captains and the politicians that they bribed, but they all froze long ago. Ironic justice, I’d say.”
Nate paused as he glared at the video of the gaping hole into space, imagining the horror of being in that room when that breach opened. It must have been cold. But not cold enough for the people who did this to Nate and everyone else.
As he stared, the video distorted then locked. A plume of smoke and fire filled half of the lingering image. All other data vanished.
Mr. Torres cried, “Not again!”
Nate’s fingers moved frantically. “I’ll fix it. I’ll fix it.”
“Forget it, kid, we’re done.” Mr. Torres reached for his laptop bag.
Nate blocked him. “But there’s other stuff up there. I can fix this.”
“This terminal was for that satellite. And that satellite is gone. You saw the fire.” He huffed. “I’ll have to pack up, go try somewhere else.”
“Give me a chance.” Nate’s eyes moved to the console, already mapping a strategy. “I can find something else to connect to up there, something that’ll work with this terminal, I’m sure of it. Give me a day.”
Mr. Torres folded his arms. “I don’t see the point but, okay, see what you can do. I can’t leave until I pack up anyway.”
While Mr. Torres went back to his metal house, Nate went back to work. He worked nonstop into the night trying frequency after frequency, protocol after protocol, but nothing worked. He stayed at it until his brain folded, forcing him to head home. Everyone there was fast asleep, and they were still asleep when Nate woke early the next morning and left again.
Back in the facility, Nate fired ping after ping at the massive menagerie above, but nothing came back. And Mr. Torres was no help. He only stopped by to tell Nate that he’d be leaving the next morning. Nate worked harder.
The next time the door opened, it was Robby. “Warm in here.”
Nate didn’t look up from his console. “Yeah.”
“Didn’t see you at dinner. Or breakfast.”
Robby took a step closer. “Everyone was wondering about you last night. We had a heck of a time turning on the TV. Had to watch Point Break again.”
“Yeah.” Nate leaned into his console. A ping was answered! But did he really have a connection to the satellite? Nate sent the ping again and waited.
Robby inched closer. “It’s been weird, not seeing you at the worksite today and yesterday. How’s that weather data coming?”
Nate’s mouth opened but he didn’t speak. Lost in the work, he’d forgotten that Mr. Torres had lied about the data and where it was. Nate closed his mouth.
The ping came back again. Nate double-checked everything. It had to be the Orbitors’ station. He needed to tell Mr. Torres. But first he needed to prove it. Nate’s fingers touched the keys, but his brother spun his rolling office chair away.
Holding Nate still, Robby looked him hard in the eyes. “You’re not being you, your normal you.” Robby chuckled again. “Is anything wrong?”
Nate swallowed. Robby kept staring at him until Nate answered with a vague shrug.
Robby released Nate’s shoulders and straightened up. “It’s getting late. Let’s head back, get some food in you.”
Nate turned back to the terminal. “If you want that greenhouse glass, I’ve got to do this.”
“You gotta eat.”
“I gotta do this.”
Robby lingered but Nate kept his eyes in the screen until he heard the door click. Glancing up at the empty room, a sour gunk dripped through his guts. He wanted to tell Robby everything, but then Robby would have to tell Dad. And then what? Nate got back to work.
“I’ve got to do this.”
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Scott Coon