Lysandra Carlisle is about to have the worst week ever...
The Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India – 7am
When I was born my mother said that I brought a light into the house the so she called me Jyotirdhar, holder of the light. And I am the favorite of all her sons. It is not a family name and my father protested, but she would not give up and he could not fight her insistence for long.
Sometimes, I wonder if she has the third sight because she always knows when I'm doing something I shouldn't. I thought it was a gift Vishnu gives all mothers, but after becoming one with the light I think she knew something no one else could know.
The Great Desert is my home. It was there that a blazing light came from the sky and entered my soul. It was too much to bear and others share the burden with me. Vishnu did not choose my mother, but it brings honor to her that he chose me as the chief among the blessed. Before the screaming and fire from the sky, our village was of little interest except to those who lived in it. Now, people come from all over the Great Desert to be touched by one of us. It is a high honor and a heavy burden to carry such a gift.
I do remember that day. I had left the village to get water for our family, as I do every morning. All our water comes from a large pool. It is not a long walk, but far enough that the sounds of the village are left behind. Everyone goes to the well in the morning but I am usually the first.
Along the way there was a terrible sound from the sky. I stopped to see what had made such a terrible roar but there was nothing. Just as the morning sun rising into a cloudless, dry sky. The sound was like that of rushing wind or falling water. A whistling sound made my ears hurt. When I turned to again to the sky this time I saw a red light falling from it. It burned and smoked and screamed as it came toward me. I dropped my pails and started to run.
I did not know where it would fall but I could not help but feel it would be on me. There was another booming sound. This time I dropped to my knees and covered my head. With my face to the ground I prayed to Vishnu to save me. I could feel fire and the sound thundered around me. With a mighty crack that shook the ground beneath me everything went silent.
I dared not look up. It seemed to me the earth was sighing. There was a pattering sound. Like that of dough as it is tossed from hand to hand. Then I felt it on my arms and feet. Large wet drops slapped the ground around me in a sudden deluge. I uncovered my face to see that I was surrounded by splats of mud raining down. I sat up.
The well. Along the shallow end was a deep trench. Water steamed and bubbled. I could see there was something much darker beneath the surface. The falling mud stopped. I ran to the water’s edge. I could feel the heat even as I stood only a few feet away from the mysterious object. The lapping water licked at my toes, it was hot. I don't know why, but I wanted to touch it. I felt that I was meant to find it. Vishnu meant it for me. For my family. It would bring us much honor.
The heat was great but my need to touch it even greater. I was drawn to its power. As I reached my hand toward it I could feel the light overcome me. It burned. More than fire. More than the sand on my feet in middle of summer. More than the light of the sun on my back. I fell to the ground, the mud only a small relief to the fire that consumed me from the inside. The dome of the sky above was devoid of clouds, just the blue horizon above me. Sinking. My arms and legs disappeared under the mud. Burning. Everything in me was melting away. My heart in my chest burned, my blood seared my veins. The pain absorbed all sound, thought, and feeling. I was being burned alive. Everything went white.
Arcadia, CA – 10:00am
The lobby of the Department of Planetary Affairs was packed. The energy and noise of so many people bounced off the vaulted pine ceiling and assailed the crowd. Everyone who was not on duty or performing a vital role was there.
Officers Lysandra Carlisle and Matt Holloway stood at attention at the back of the crowd on each side of the automated doors in full uniforms, working, vigilante, annoyed. Well, Lysandra was annoyed, Matt was giddy, which was even more annoying since she had to work with him. The jostling of so many bodies kept triggering the automated doors, just as soon as they started to shut, the crowd would shift and the doors opened again. Annoying.
The vortex of activity centered on the focal point of the room, a black porous rock, not much bigger than a bowling ball, rested on a clear pedestal. It was the meteorite that had crashed only a few miles away, bringing with it a new form of energy and a new era in human history.
Elbie, as they were popularly called, were an extra-terrestrial form of energy that came to earth on the meteorite at the center of the room. That meteorite was found by a small group of teenagers. What happened that day fourteen years ago was now a matter of public record. The Department of Planetary Affairs and the room they were gathered in, was the culmination of that historic event.
A man stood above the crowd, one hand resting on the rock and the other he held up to quiet the crowd. An immediate hush fell as everyone stilled. The man was an anomaly. His tussled blonde hair touched the collar of his designer button down and his copper goatee needed trimming on the sides. The laugh lines around his eyes and mouth were deep from years of weather exposure. He was the most famous guest the Department had ever hosted.
“I would like to thank your leaders, Commanders Draegg and Eriksson for indulging me in this small obsession of mine.” His Australian accent was thick, like he was auditioning for a movie role and wanted to be convincing. “It is a masive honor and privilege that I, Xander Hanson, get to serve this brilliant organization by bringing to you the very best of what I have to offer in modern security technology.”
There was a round of applause. Lysandra shifted on her feet and looked over at Matt. He had the biggest smile on his face as his full attention was on the guest of honor. She wanted to throttle Matt. Xander Hanson was all he had talked about for the last week and she was over it the minute it had been announced.
Xander waved his hand again. “I am so excited to be here with you fine people. I look forward to talking with each and every one of you. ‘Damn the man, let’s make a plan.’” Applause filled the room as he waved and stepped down, disappearing into the sea of people.
The crowds funneled out through the main entrance, following Xander Hanson as he started his tour of the DPA’s one and only facility. Lysandra let her shoulders drop as the last of them left the lobby. Commander Eriksson had not moved from his position just behind the monument, hands behind his back. As soon as the last person had left the room he approached them.
“Holloway, Carlisle.” He nodded at each of them in turn. To a biased observer it might appear that Eriksson was constantly puffing out his expansive chest, but Lysandra knew by the clean lines of his haircut it was his military training that made him stand that way at all times. “Training for the new system will begin at eleven hundred hours, until then, you are free to go.”
“Yes, sir.” Lysandra and Matt answered in unison.
Eriksson left without further word. The security detail for having someone as high profile as the CEO of the Vixen Corporation created a lot of extra work for him. Lysandra immediately unzipped her uniform jacket and pulled the radio link out of her ear. This was her signal to everyone she was not available. First order of business was coffee followed by the peace and quiet of her personal quarters.
“I cannot believe that you are being suckered in by that megalomaniac in designer jeans.” She loosened her dark hair from a tight bun and let it hang loose over her shoulders.
Still beaming from his brush with fame, Matt bounced as they walked along. “He’s not a mega—whatever. Would a maniac do the Charlie’s Angels pose for the pictures of total strangers?”
“Yes! Obviously. I just witnessed thirty minutes of that bullshit.”
Matt pulled out his phone as they walked. “If he’s in the cafeteria will you take my picture with him?”
“Absolutely not. I’m getting my coffee and I am done until our next stupid thing.”
“Jealous.” Matt pushed her in the arm.
The cafeteria was unusually empty, to Matt’s disappointment. Lysandra grabbed her required libation and headed to her room to be blissfully alone.
Lysandra skimmed the articles in the paper, her bare legs stretched out across Esben's lap. He absently ran his hand back and forth across her shin as he read his work documents. They were both dressed for bed. It was in this comfortable silence that they spent their evenings at the end of each day. At least, that's what it seemed like. Locked in the tiny theater, just the two of them, with just enough room for the couch they reclined on. The elaborate Art Deco chandelier above them gave off yellow light like a faded photograph. Its pewter and brass flowers were dulled by years of dust and neglect. Three walls were covered with heavy red velvet and the fourth was just a lifeless screen.
Panic gripped her chest- where’s the door? She could not remember how or when they had come into the room. They were just here. Auto-pilot. This is how it always was. Just the two of them, secluded, the rest of the world shut out and forgotten. That was the way she wanted it. Panic yielded to deep contentment. How she came to be in this secret place with Esben was not important. They were together.
Bored with the day's events, she dropped the paper on the worn black and gold floral rug. It was so old that the pattern had disappeared in places. Specifically, a path that circled around the couch. As if someone had spent years walking around and around. She sat up on her elbows. Where’s the door? There was no well-worn path to the door. Nor any break in the curtains. As far as she could tell it was one continuous piece of fabric. Maybe the terrible lighting helped create the illusion of no door.
"I have an idea." Esben slid his hand up her leg and climbed over her until they were face to face.
"I like the way you think, Mr. Drake." Lysandra wrapped her arms around his waist.
"You haven't heard my idea yet." He smiled mischievously.
She met him halfway, their lips touched as her hand slipped under his shirt.
Esben pulled back, looking down on her with a thoughtful expression. "Does it bother you?"
"What's that?" She reached around his neck and pulled him closer.
"That alarm." He kissed her with ardent urgency.
Lysandra could feel a heat rising from her stomach into her cheeks. She welcomed the response but it was such a weird question. There was a sound somewhere outside, muffled by the curtains. It went in sonic circles like a police siren but it was not that kind of alarm.
Esben's hand moved up her thigh. "And the light?" He nuzzled and kissed her neck.
Lysandra looked past him as he kissed her collarbone. The chandelier dulled and brightened in sync with the distant sound. Noticing this made the sound louder, more distinct.
The lifeless screen had begun to glow. The sound grew louder. She should know what it was. In fact it was her job to know what it was. Job. The light flickered more invasively. Undeterred by any of this, Esben's hands moved under her shirt. Lysandra pushed him back. The screen flicked on giving her a view of her room. The room she lived in at the Department of Planetary Affairs. A green light flashed, bathing the whole room in an eerie light. This was the room where she actually was and not in the theater with Esben.
Lysandra leaped from the Popazon chair, her heart trying to break out of her chest. The alarm clock on the nightstand flashed and blared. Procured for the heavy sleeper, it had an alarm that went as high as a hundred decibels. The flashing lights and shake mode were optional features she needed most days. It could take a beating too. She hit off button and grabbed her jacket. The meeting had just started without her.
It had been eight months since she had last seen Esben. It had taken her weeks to go a whole day without thinking about him. But no matter what she tried, the dreams would not stop. As hard as she tried, she could not get away from the idea of him, of them. Always the frustrating paradox of how it right it felt to be with him and the anger at him for what he did to her.
She came into the security center. Her fellow security officers had already gathered as Commander Eriksson explained what this afternoon would entail. Next to him stood three men in grey uniforms that said Stronghold Security on the front pocket.
A thin, lanky man stepped forward. His white hair was parted sharply to left and swooped across his forehead. His sharp cheeks and chin followed the line of his body as it tapered from his shoulders down to his feet. “Thank you, Commander.” He accent was English, each syllable precisely annunciated. “You may call me Kaine. Today will be showing you the important features of your new smart security system. Over the next two days, my staff and I will be training each of you in all aspects of it. Let’s start with the most advanced part first.”
Kaine turned his head toward a glass room that had been constructed onto the far wall of the security center. “The Vault. Because the DPA is on a completely independent grid, it has to be its own backup. In the event of an emergency, all vital records will be transferred to the systems in this room in less than five seconds and transmitted to a dedicated satellite as a backup.” He walked through the group, people gave him a wide berth like his personal bubble was something they could feel.
He stopped at the entrance to the room, turned and faced the group without looking at anyone specific. “What cannot be transmitted are Elbie. Since they are considered a limited and precious resource by your government, it is the top priority that they are secured under any circumstance. All Elbie not in active service will be stored here.” He reached behind his head without looking and pressed a button on a panel inside. At the center of the small room the floor plates separated revealing another level. “Once the top is closed, this room will seal as an extra layer of protection. The Vault can withstand a nuclear blast. It has a self-sustaining generator beneath it that will keep the system up and running for three months. If needed, there is life support for two people for three months. The more people, the less time you’ll have.”
Lysandra stood on her tip toes. From her vantage point at the very back, the space in the floor looked to be less than ten feet across. Any more than three people in there would be hellish.
Kaine continued. “Emergencies can include: cyber-attack, forest fire, or bio-chemical attack to give a few examples. Over the next couple of days we will be running drills for each scenario as part of your training. Any questions?”
A few hands went up. Lysandra looked around the room. Matt was up at the front of the group, taking notes no doubt. Eriksson had disappeared as soon as the talking started. Her communicator chirped in her ear. It was an urgent notice alarm. She looked at her watch. A message from admin read: Report to room 101 immediately.
Room 101 was where Eriksson did all his debriefing sessions. The last time she had been called into that room resulted in a yelling match with him over her use of inappropriate language for official reports. Nothing came to mind when she tried to imagine what she had done wrong this time. No point in keeping him waiting, that, she knew now, made things worse. She started for the door.
Matt stepped into sync with her. “You too, huh?”
Lysandra flashed him her watch. “Looks like we might get out of this training thing.”
“Aw come on, this is the most exciting thing to happen around here in months.”
Life at the DPA was very stable and routine; something Lysandra had never had her entire life. “I could do with some chaos.”
“That’s the spirit.” Matt leaned against her shoulder and took out his phone. “Look, look, look.” It was a selfie of him with Xander Hanson. Xander had his arm around Matt’s neck as the two of them flashed peace signs with wide eyes. “He’s so awesome.”
“Something’s not right about that guy.” Lysandra pushed the phone out of her face.
“You just have an aversion rich men.”
Lysandra did not appreciate the not so veiled reference to Esben. “Anyone that likeable is up to something.”
“Stop being so paranoid.” Matt looked at the picture one last time before putting his phone away.
“Media mogul, world cup sailing team owner, mass transit guru. The man is definitely compensating for something.”
“All he needs to do is acquire Disney and AT&T and he could rule the world.”
“Blugh.” Lysandra shivered at the thought of it. “New subject please.”
They arrived at the conference room. The door was locked; it was set to private meeting. Matt swiped his ID card. Access granted. Inside Commander Eriksson and Agent Ian Reynolds talked between themselves, stopping suddenly at their appearance.
“Holloway, Carlisle.” Eriksson stood up and beckoned them in. “Let’s talk.”