Authors: L Valder Mains,Laurie Mains
He was surprised that the sting of the alcohol did not wake her. His probing had started the wounds bleeding again and he wrapped the arm in a gauze bandage then put the blue quilt from his mom’s bed over her. He checked his watch. He missed the latest pass of ISS but he was too tired to try and make radio contact tonight anyway. He grabbed a bag of chips and a can of soda and went down to his bedroom. He lay on his bed and opened the soda but fell into a restless sleep before he ate any of the chips.
ISS Mission date 2023 09 11
Mission Specialist Gerry Wright scanned the surface of earth. It was three hundred miles below him and, as the ISS passed by at 17,000 miles per hour, he did not have much time to make contact. He was worried, it had been several passes since they’d initially received the signal from Eloy and the sender was not responding to their signals. He was hoping for something on this pass if only by Morse code but he watched disappointed as Eloy faded and the fires of Phoenix came and went without any sign from below. He was interrupted when Wendy Randall floated into the module and glided to a stop beside him. “Anything?”
He shook his head but did not take his eyes from the observation port.
“He is probably trying to find a CB radio. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent that message, I hope he’s alright. It must be awful down there. What if it’s a kid? I should have asked.”
“Don’t beat yourself up Gerry; Bill is monitoring all the radio frequencies so when contact comes we won’t miss it. I think now is a good time for you to plug in for a few hours, okay?”
“Okay Commander,” he said pushing himself away from the window.
“I’ll check the viewport again in exactly,” she checked her watch, “eighty five minutes.”
“If he makes contact please wake me.”
“Okay, now get some sleep.”
Jack let out a ragged scream when something solid touched his leg. It startled him awake, pulling him from a deep crevice of sleep and he flew off the bed in a dead panic knocking over the bedside table sending the gun flying. In the dark he whacked his forehead on the edge of the table groping for the weapon. His heart pounded crazily he swept his hands along the floor searching for it, he did not find the gun he found the flashlight, and he clicked it on pointing the shaky beam of light at his bed. In the glow he saw Sara curled up in a ball at the foot of his bed. He had not told her he slept in the basement but somehow she’d found him in the darkened house. He could not see her face but he knew it was her because she still had his mom’s quilt with her. He was exhausted when he came down and forgot to lock his bedroom door. He stared at her wondering what to do. She was deeply asleep, he could hear her snoring, and it did not seem right to wake her. It occurred to him that she might have bugs living on her and the bugs would get into his bed. He shone the light around the sheets and on the floor. He did not see any bugs but he found his bedside clock, it was time to get up so he let her sleep and quietly left the room. He would change the sheets and douse the room in bug spray after she woke. Two hours later, as he finished opening the last of the boxes and was beginning to figure out the various connections for the radio, she came running up the stairs with wide-eyed panic on her face until she saw him then she became shy and a bit wary of him. She sat down across the room from him.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Okay. What’s that?” she said pointing to the thing in his hand.
“It’s a Citizen Band radio.”
“What’s it for?”
“I’m going to use it to talk to the crew on the ISS,” he said.
“What’s that?” she said.
“The International Space Station, it’s orbiting the earth,” he said pointing at the ceiling.
He watched competing emotions flit across her almost visible features as she thought about that. He saw her look at his face closely like she was trying to decide if he was crazy and if she should be afraid of him.
“What do you mean?” she said speaking slowly.
“There are scientists on the ISS orbiting the planet,” he said.
She thought about that for a few seconds.
“Bullshit!” she said.
He laughed, that was not the reaction most people gave when hearing about the ISS.
“No really they are up there now,” he said.
She thought this over for a moment.
”So they’re not dead?”
“No,” he said and smiled.
She realized what she said and smiled too. It was the first time he’d seen her smile and it cracked some of the caked dirt off her cheeks. It looked to him like she was about to ask him another question but this time when she opened her mouth she vomited.
“Earth to ISS, Earth to ISS, can you hear me? Over.”
He’d been broadcasting for half an hour and did not want to give up though he knew the space station had passed over the horizon some time ago. Sara was sitting across from him on a chair watching him. He glanced at her and noticed that she was so grubby the dirt on her face looked fake, like stage makeup. He stopped calling the ISS and turned off the radio and abruptly stood up and stared directly at her.
“What?” she said suddenly wary, wondering why he was staring at her?
“You smell,” he said.
He spoke bluntly, with a complete disregard for how she might take the remark. He noticed her face, that part he could see of it, coloured red as she looked down at herself.
“I guess I do need a shower,” she said.
“There’s no water. When the power went off the pump stopped working,” he said.
They fell silent each lost in their memories of the day the power went off and what it meant. There was almost a full case of bottled water he took from the Seven Eleven store on Brandon Road. At first it had felt weird taking stuff from a store without paying for it but he got over it. It would take a lot of bottles to fill the bath tub, he thought.
“Maybe there is a way to hook up the new generator to the water pump,” he said.
It seemed like a good idea to be doing something rather than sitting around waiting for ISS to come around again and inside the closed up house she smelled really bad. She came to help him unload it though she was too weak to help much and it was mostly because she did not want to let him out of her sight. He rolled the generator around to the backyard and set it on the deck close enough to the back door to run a wire to the electrical panel though he had no idea how to do that. The generator ran quietly which was important because he did not want to attract attention and it was lucky he read the warning label. It reminded him you cannot run a gasoline engine indoors because it poisons the air and will kill you. He went to the electrical panel in the hallway and opened the cover to have a look. As he was examining the panel she came in and slumped down on the floor beside him. After helping him unload the car she needed to rest; the effort to help had drained her energy. Having an engineer for a dad was lucky because all the breakers were neatly labeled and it was simply a matter of figuring out how to connect the wires for the water pump to the generator. She watched him mess with the panel for a while.
“Do you know what you are doing?” she said.
“Not exactly,” he said.
“What?” he said.
“Let me help,” she said.
She got up and looked then sent him to find tools. He went out to the garage where he spent five minutes rummaging around through toolboxes and came back with everything she’d requested; a handful of screw drivers, some pliers, a wire stripper, and a thick roll of black electricians tape. He held her arm helping her to stay upright; she was shaky but somehow found the strength to work on the panel. She picked a screw driver from the assortment he held out to her and she removed one of the four corner screws holding the cover in place but she ran out of energy and handed him the screw driver and asked him to remove the others.
He took off the cover and held it while she examined the wiring inside the box. He was about to ask her a question when she sent him back out to the shed this time to find a heavy duty extension cord. He came back with the orange one they used for the lawnmower and handed it to her. She took the cutters and snipped off the female end and then efficiently skinned back the orange insulation that covered the three wires inside. She was sweating freely by the time she’d stripped each of them of their insulation leaving an inch and a half of bare stranded wire showing on each one. She matched the white with white and, black with black and green with green to the wires that corresponded to the switch labeled ‘pump’ inside the panel. She twisted the stranded copper wires around the heavier solid wires and tightened them as much as she could by twisting them with pliers and finished by binding each of them with long strips of black electricians tape. Finished she held the male end of the extension cord out to him.
“Go ahead plug it in,” she said.
He was standing with his mouth open amazed by what she’d just done.
“Your dad was an engineer my dad was an electrician,” she said, “I used to help him sometimes.”
There was both pride and sadness in her voice when she said this and the tense she used reminded him that her dad, like his family, was gone. She slumped against the wall afterwards and she was breathing hard. A new greasy sweat broke out on her forehead, her eyes were glassy, and her hands trembled.
“What’s wrong with you?” he said.
She looked at him and shook her head.
“I feel really bad.”
Her voice shook and he put his palm against her forehead. She felt hot. He went outside and gave the rope on the generator a single pull and the little machine started right up. He plugged the cord in and after a few seconds there was a small arc of electricity in the panel. She pointed to it and told him what to do. He stepped forward and threw all the breakers on the panel except that for the pump.
“No need to run power through the whole house,” she said. All they needed was the water pump to work not to power appliances the generator was not designed for.
“Check the taps,” she said.
He walked into the kitchen and opened a faucet. It took a long time but a stream of water finally trickled out and he let out a whoop of excitement. It had been a long time since he had running water in the house. When he returned to give her a high five she was lying on the floor with her eyes closed. She looked worse than before and he knelt down beside her, “Are you okay. “he said though obviously she was not okay,” maybe I should check your arm again.”
He picked her up and carried her to the couch and set her down once again surprised at how little she weighed. She was more or less out cold and he decided it would be a good time to clean the wound again. When he turned her arm to examine it the wound opened up and dirt from her clothes fell into it. He was making things worse by trying to clean it while the rest of her was covered in dirt.
It took a long time to fill the bathtub. While it was filling he used the camp stove, the propane barbeque, and the kitchen kettle plugged into the Honda generator to heat water. When the tub was half full of warm water he went to get her. She was awake.
”I ran a bath for you. You need to take your stuff off.”
He waited for her to reply as she sat trembling with fever or perhaps fear, he could not tell which.
“We need to wash all the crap off you, it is making you sick,” he said.
She did not say anything.
“I will help you.”
“When I put you into the bathtub it is really really important that you don’t put your sore arm in the dirty water, okay? Do you understand?”
The look on her face was difficult to read. She was sweating, feverish, and her eyes were adrift and unfocused. She was barely aware of what was happening but all her instincts told her to be afraid of letting him undress her. She was too weak and too sick to stop him; she gathered her remaining strength to say.
“Promise… me ….you…. won’t….” she said panting the words with tears streaming down her face.
He looked into her eyes and waited until he was certain they were focused and she was present before he spoke.
The details of the promise were unspoken but they both knew what she was asking. He helped her stand up and she cried as he steadied her with a hand on her back and carefully stripped off what remained of her blue jeans. The material fell apart in some places as he worked and he had to peal it off her skin in others. He left her panties on and sat her down on the sofa to lift off her tee shirt. He was trying to be careful of the open wounds on her arm but a cascade of dirt and dust rained down from her shirt and hair. When the shirt came off he was surprised to see she was wearing a bra. He was aware that she was a girl but suddenly seeing a bra he thought of her as a ‘girl’ and not a kid and he was a lot less confident in what he was doing.
He also realized that he would need to revise his initial estimate of her age upward. He left the bra on not wanting to fumble around trying to figure out how to remove it. Now that she was almost naked he had a new problem. He did not know where to touch her to pick her up. He was thinking about how to do it when she solved the problem by collapsing into his arms. He held her around her thin back and under her skinny legs and carried her into the bathroom. He felt sharp ribs sticking into his forearm as he gently set her down into the bath tub. The warm water revived her but she continued to fade in and out and he had to hold her upright with one hand on the back of her neck as he scrubbed the dirt off with a washcloth. He reminded her again to keep her injured arm out of the water as he wetted her hair and poured a lot of his sister’s shampoo onto it.