"There are power fluctuations in the barrier level again," announced Gritta from where she was watching her assigned control panels. "They've already lasted longer than that first time, and they're moving around the level in an orderly fashion."
"It's been almost a month since the first time," observed Ithen, as he moved to take up a supervisory position behind her. "Have the cyber units activated?"
"The barrier level units have moved to second level standby, as they did last time, sir." Bin wanted Ithen's job one day and he was going to flatter his way to it if he had to.
"And the surface cyber units?" Ithen turned to face the board at the far end of the room that displayed a map of the terrain above them. He'd been told it was accurate, and even been shown pictures of the surface it represented, but it still didn't seem real.
"Continue to register large mammal activity, but no radio transmissions, or vehicle activity." Sluen had the pale skin of the central families and was generally thought to be amusing herself by taking work shifts in the monitoring centre. "Standby level remains unchanged."
Ithen asked, "Do the fluctuation levels correlate to lights being turned on from standby and then returned to standby again?"
"They do," agreed Gritta. "Like last time, but, as I said, they're turning up in more areas this time."
"Someone taking a better look?" Ithen looked at the pattern of lights moving across Gritta's displays. "Has whoever it is been into the entrance chamber?"
"They have," confirmed Gritta. "They spent some time there, and now the power fluctuations are moving in the direction of the level entrance again."
"Could it be looters, sir?" Bin sounded excited, but then monitoring duty was usually hours of watching screens that didn't do anything.
"If it is, the protocols don't tell us who it could be," said Ithen. "It's been four generations. The survivors from the Missile War who were caught in the open would have died before the Founders did. It could be the descendants of a smaller bunker group, searching for anything they can use."
"You don't think it could be someone from the guard level?" Sluen had already turned her head back to her screens.
"Why would the guardian group be coming downstairs?" Ithen gestured confusion with his hands.
"Something gone wrong, perhaps?" Sluen was marking up her logs with her observations. "They'd probably come down because they've been taught not to go up. Anything that would breach the guard level would have shown up in my readings, and there's been nothing. The cyber units would have been activated, and they haven't been."
Ithen moved back to his supervisory board, and remarked, "There's been no measurable attempt to force the outer airlock door, either. If it was someone exploring the barrier level, then they either didn't find the entrance or they didn't recognise it for what it was."
"Or they went to get better tools," suggested Sluen as she completed her notes.
"The protocols are quite clear that technology loss would have been rapid following the Cataclysmic Event Sequence," corrected Ithen. "Anyone walking the surface at this point will be some sort of ill-resourced barbarian, and they wouldn't recognise an airlock if they could find one."
Sluen looked for a moment as if she was going to reply to that, but instead she finished her notes and put down her pen.
It was Gritta who asked, "Are we going to report the fluctuations to the Council this time?"
Ithen replied slowly, "I think we must. If this is going to be the new normal, we need to advise them so that we don't get caught out by by the auditors. I, for one, have no wish to re-enter the work force in a remedial position."
"And I have no wish to be to be forced to relinquish my hopes of joining the Council one day," replied Sluen. "Tell them everything and let them organise the bunker's response. We, in this room are, after all, a monitoring station, nothing more. They get the privileges for just that reason."
"You're right," agreed Ithen. "If it's nothing, then it's not a problem, If it is something, then our response may make an enormous difference to the outcome. I will draft our report, and all of you will prepare your attachments. We will send it into the chain of command when we break for the end of shift."
The rest of his team returned to work with muttered variations of, "As you will," Ithen began to fill out the form that would create the report. Above his writing surface a handy time line continued its count down to the moment they could re-emerge safely into a recovered world. One generation was left. If Ithen was lucky, he would live to see that day. If they were lucky, everyone on the team would be alive when that day came, and they could take their place under the sun as world leaders.
Ithen sometimes wondered why the protocols referenced the sun that way. It made no sense in his mind, never having seen either, to uphold one astronomical body over the other. Perhaps if he did see them for himself, he would understand.
This is now followed by Manoeuvres in the Dark.
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