Being in an interrogation room did not scare Sam. Seeing no cameras concerned him a bit, but he would not go so far as to say that scared him. What scared Sam was the fact that he had arrived there through the back of a maintenance closet, down an elevator that he never knew existed, and into a floor that was not on any set of blueprints he had ever seen. If he had been kept in the dark about all this after 12 years as Chief Engineer, what other secrets did CoreTech hold?
Sam stared at the chair that sat vacant on the other side of the table because there was nothing else to look at in the small room. A perfect square of white walls was only interrupted by a black door with a fingerprint reader in place of a handle. His mind searched through the last week, month, and even year, trying as much to figure out why he was there as to avoid who might be sitting in the chair opposite him.
A soft click broke his stream of thoughts and Sam turned to watch the sliver between the door and wall creep wider and wider until two men in suits passed through it and closed the door behind them. Sam recognized the first man through the door. Gene Plascek was the owner and CEO of CoreTech. He carried a small laptop at his side. Sam had only met him once, when he was hired. His salt and pepper hair had a dash more salt than he remembered, but his cold blue eyes erased any illusion of weakness when they locked onto you. He was wearing a grey suit with a white shirt that hung open beneath. Only a few of the senior staff had ever met him and rumors about him had become a kind of favorite game among the employees. Sam had heard everything from him making his millions building targeting systems for the missiles that a few countries “didn’t have” to him blackmailing NASA.
The men walked around the table. Mr. Plascek sat down in the chair and placed the computer on the table while the other man retreated to the corner to watch silently. Sam looked over to the stranger for a moment, but the dark brown eyes that stared back at him made him uncomfortable.
“Sam. I need to ask you a few questions and it is very important that you do not leave out any details.”
Sam shifted in his chair.
“Sir, am I in trouble? If I did something wrong I am unaware of it.”
Mr. Plascek smiled in an attempt to ease Sam’s worries, but it looked fake, like a human pulling up the lips of a dog.
“No Sam. You are not in trouble. But in order to stay that way I need two things from you. First, I need you to answer every question I am about to ask you as honestly and thoroughly as possible. And when you have answered all my questions I need you to do whatever this man tells you.”
He nodded his head toward the man in the corner as he finished.
Sam nodded and slid his hands off the table and into his lap where they held on to each other to keep from shaking.
Gene Plascek opened the silver lid of the laptop and after a few seconds began clicking and typing things Sam could not see. After a minute of awkward silence he finished whatever he was doing and looked up at Sam again.
“Two nights ago your team was testing the software we wrote for the new XG3 telescopes. Tell me about it.”
Information flooded Sam’s mind. The XG3 series was a new version of university grade telescopes from Consolidated Optics. CoreTech had been contracted to write the software that would be used to locate and focus on coordinates imputed into the computer that controlled the telescope. Sam had overseen the project. They were still in the testing phase, but it looked like it they were well ahead of schedule.
Sam cleared his throat and began, “Well… initial tests have been successful. The software integrated with the motor unit with only a few bugs. Let’s see… Two nights ago we began field tests. Close coordinate tests first. We use the moon to fine tune the focus because of its proximity to Earth.”
Mr. Plascek slid the computer around to face Sam. His report from that series of tests was on the screen.
“This is your report from that series of tests.” Mr. Plescek said. It wasn’t a question and Sam didn’t know how to respond so he simply nodded. Mr. Plescak continued, “In your report you stated that during the tests you saw the moon ‘glimmer’. Could you explain.”
Sam felt his stomach fall and held his hands tighter.
“The first phase of testing runs through a series of tests. We enter coordinates and measure to make sure the telescope is calibrated correctly. As you know sir, even a centimeter off at this distance would mean millions of miles at the far end of the telescopes range. We also test to ensure that the telescope is focused precisely by comparing the images with those of our telescope that has been calibrated for maximum clarity. Scooter and I were…”
“Sorry. Mr. Daniels and I were working through the tests and logging the results. During one of the tests I saw a glimmer on the surface of the moon. I told Scoo… Mr. Daniels about it, but he just laughed and made a joke about me reading too many Twilight novels. The only reason I included it in the report was because I thought we might need to run a diagnostic.”
Plascek grunted in approval.
“Did you see the glimmer in both telescopes?”
“No sir. Only in ours. That’s one reason Mr. Daniels didn’t believe me. But like I said I only noted it because I thought we might need to run a diagnostic on our telescope or check the mirrors for dust.”
Plascek leaned forward and it took all of Sam’s willpower not to lean away from the eyes that bored into him.
“Did you record the coordinates that you were using for that test?”
“Yes sir. We keep those in a separate log.”
“Can you pull up that log?”
Plascek slid the computer back around and after a few keystrokes turned it back to Sam. The screen held the login window to their server. Sam typed in his user name and password. He navigated to the page he needed with the practiced ease of a man who had done this more than a thousand times. Once he located the specific coordinates he turned the computer back around.
“It’s line 47.”
The man who had stood like a statue in the corner walked over to the table and picked up the computer without a word. Plescak rose to his feet and looked down at Sam.
“Thank you Sam. I need you to remain here for I while.”
There was a finality to the way he said “a while” that Sam did not like.
“How long is a while?”
“I’m not sure yet. But you have been a great help so I’m sure it won’t be long.”
Plescak and the other man walked past him to the door. When they passed Sam saw the butt of a gun beneath the jacket of the statue. Plescak placed his thumb on the reader and the click of the lock disengaging filled the silence again. The door crept open once more and as soon as both men were through closed automatically.
Sam sat in his prison and thought about what it all meant. NASA had left equipment on the moon with each mission, but nothing large enough to be seen from Earth even with a telescope. What had he seen? What could be so large that it would reflect enough light back to earth to be seen?
Gene Plescak walked down the hall with the man that he had hoped would never come and waited for instructions. The elevator doors slid open as they arrived. Once they began to ascend the man spoke. His voice was soft in volume, but unmistakable in the authority it carried.
“Clear the building.”
Plescak had no choice but to obey. Once they reached the main floor he pulled out his cell phone. After calling the Fire Department to let them know they would be performing a drill he walked to a control panel mounted on the wall and held the test button for 3 seconds. The alarm was ear splitting and immediately employees stopped what they were doing and headed for the exits.
Gary Penndleton was the only face Plescak recognized in the crowd of people and he grabbed him by the arm as he was shuffling by to stop him. He had to yell to be heard over the alarm.
“We are doing an upgrade on our fire and security systems! They said this could keep happening until they upgrade is complete! When you get outside tell everyone to just take the rest of the day off!”
Penndleton looked confused for a moment, but after a moment he recognized the man who was talking to him and mouthed a “Yes sir” before skirting out of the nearest exit.
Once the building was clear Plescak punched a code into the panel and the shrieking alarm fell silent. He headed down the hallway with his escort in tow, still holding the laptop in his hands. The building was now eerily quiet and Plescak now wished they would have brought Sam with them. He had suggested it earlier but was told that it was not a good idea and that was the end of that.
When they reached the door of the central control room Plescak punched in his code on the number pad above the handle and opened the door. The lights were already on and various programs were running on the screens across the workstation. Plescak slid into one of the chairs that lined the desk and moved the mouse to disengage the screensaver. What looked like a picture of the night sky filled the monitor. It could have been one of the hundreds of pictures taken of the stars with telescopes run on CoreTech’s software but for the small spaceship in the center of the screen. Someone had been playing Astroids when the alarm had sounded.
Plescak closed the game and opened a link to the company’s mainframe. After logging in he called up a list of telescopes that ran on CoreTech software. He needed to find one that was large enough to get a close up of a very small spot on the lunar surface, but not so large that it could not clearly focus on something so relatively close. Scanning the list he found a TL-7896 that would do the job. It belonged to the University of Northern Arizona Astrophysics Department. Plescak did a little research and after a few phone calls was given remote access so that he could do a “software upgrade”.
Plescak turned to the sentinal that had been hovering over his left shoulder.
“Okay. I’m in. I just need the coordinates.”
“Can they see the same images we can?”
“No. I have them locked out. The images will only be sent to this monitor.”
The man nodded and set the laptop down next to the keyboard. Plescak used his finger to track the numbers from line 47 as he typed them into the computer.
“It will take about 30 minutes for the telescope to move to the position and focus.”
The man did not look happy about this news, but then again he never looked happy.
“Why so long?”
“Telescopes are not built for speed. They are used to study very small portions of the sky. It is far more important that they can make minute adjustments than that they can move quickly from one star to the next.”
The man said nothing. And they waited.
Plescak thought about the last time he had seen the man who had called himself Mr. Smith making no effort to hide the fact that the name fake. He was on the verge of bankruptcy and had gotten the call out of the blue. The deal seemed to good to be true. He would invest enough to keep the company running for the next five years. There were only two stipulations. Short-term test were to always be done using the surface of the moon. And he was to be notified immediately if anything unusual was ever found.
Time moved as if it was under water. A soft beep signaled the end of the torture and Plescak began entering commands into the computer at once. An image appeared on the screen. The pockmarked surface of the moon was unmistakable. With a telescope designed to look much further into space the surface appeared as if you were looking down on it from only about a thousand feet above.
The surface looked like a desert that had been drained of color. Smooth dust stretched out from one edge of the picture to the other. The only break in the smooth terrain was a ripple that cut across the lower left hand corner of the screen.
“There.” Mr. Smith said as he pointed to the lone anomaly.
A few more commands and the image began to slowly pan toward the ripple in the dust. Slowly it became clear that they were looking at a large crater. Meteorites hit the moon as frequently as they did the earth. The only difference was that meteorites tended to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, but the moon had nothing to slow the impact of the space debris that became drawn to its garvity.
“Zoom in to the bottom of that crater.”
Plascek’s fingers were already sending the commands as the words came out of his mouth. The image moved again, this time zooming in closer. After the adjustments the screen faded to black.
“It’s dark down there. Don’t worry. The computer will adjust the settings to clear up the image.”
A few seconds passed and the image began to lighten slowly. Both men watched as the bottom of the crater became clearer.
Mr. Smith pulled a phone from his breast pocket and hit a single button without taking his eyes off the screen. Suddenly the silence in the room was deafening. Plascek leaned closer and blinked at the image on the screen in disbelief.
“Sir, we found something.”
The next couple minutes passed with only a few intermittent “Yes sirs” and silence. Plascek willed himself to look away from the screen for the first time and turned to see Mr. Smith sliding the phone back into his pocket.
“What is it?”
“We don’t know yet. But we will. Can you print that image?”
Plascek turned back around and sent the image to the printer. He still could not believe what his eyes were telling him. The impact of the meteor had sent the moon dust flying in every direction. There, at the center of the impact, the dust and rock had been peeled back like paint that was being chipped away. And underneath it all a smooth metal surface gleamed back at them.
Copyright © 2012 Adam Drake