Authors: L Valder Mains,Laurie Mains
The smell of Marion’s shampoo caught him off guard and he wept tears on her memory as he washed the girl’s hair. He used a sauce pan he’d brought from the kitchen to rinse her hair which, it turned out, was light brown. She woke up when he washed the muck off her face and he asked her to lean forward so he could to take off her bra. It was now wet and covered in filth. He fumbled around trying to undo the clasp but could not figure it out. He realized that it was not holding very much so he asked her to raise her arms and he gently pulled it straight up over her head. Her eyes followed him and he tried not to stare as he washed her chest. When he was finished he couldn’t exactly say she was clean but the bath water was so black it seemed pointless to continue. It was time to lift her out and dry her off. He laid a pair of towels on the bathroom floor and lifted her out of the water and laid her down. He slid her wet panties off her thin hips and used another towel to pat dry her. When he was finished he sat her up and toweled her hair then wrapped a clean towel around her and picked her up. He carried her into his sister’s bedroom.
She looked panicky when he laid her down on the bed but managed a tearful smile when he sat her up again to pull a clean tee shirt and a warm sweatshirt over her head and then thread her thin legs into a pair of his sister’s too big sweat pants. When he was finished he covered her with a quilt and she immediately fell asleep. He went into the bathroom and ran clean water in the sink and washed her underwear and bra and hung them on the shower curtain rod to dry like his mom and sister used to do and he cleaned out the tub and heated more water while he ran a bath for himself.
He was finished in time to try to call the ISS on the CB again but when he did there was no response. He was worried about Sara and he wanted to talk with someone who could tell him what he needed to do to help her. There was usually at least one person with medical training on board the ISS. He was wondering if he’d assembled the radio and the antennae incorrectly though the connections were dead simple. He decided to carry the whole thing up to the attic and put the antennae out through the skylight. The hardest part would be carrying the car battery up the steep attic stairs so he made sure he charged it fully with the generator and his dad’s battery charger before he did. When he got everything set up he sat on the step-stool below the open skylight and looked up at the antennae pointing into the sky.
“Jack to ISS can you hear me ISS?”
He’d been at it for hours setting up equipment and broadcasting every ninety minutes whenever the ISS was in range. It had been almost ten minutes since the ISS appeared on the horizon and it was about to go out of site when he heard the rattle of static and a distant voice.
”Switch to channel 145.80, switch to channel 145.80.”
Jack switched the channel and the sound of a man’s voice came through loud and clear.
“I can hear you,” Jack shouted into the hand mike.
He did not know why but at that moment he started to cry. He lost his voice as he choked up with emotion and tears streamed from his eyes. He did not know what was happening to him. He saw Sara slowly coming up the attic stairs and he went to help her. She was puffing from exertion and crying too. She’d awakened when she heard him shouting and now they were both crying.
“How are you? Are you okay? What’s your name,” the voice from space said.
“Jack. My name is Jack.”
”How old are you Jack?”
“Is there anyone else alive like you?”
“No I haven’t seen anyone.”
Sara cleared her throat behind him.
”I mean except for Sara, it’s just me and Sara” he said.
“Sara?” the voice said.
“She’s a girl I met… in Phoenix when I went shopping for the radio.”
“Is she alive?”
“Well duh,” he said and laughed.
“Sorry that came out wrong I meant is she okay?”
Jack motioned for her to come to his side and he handed her the microphone.
”You need to push this button to talk,” he said.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m sorry but he didn’t tell me your name.”
“Hi Sara my name is Steve. Are you okay?”
“Yes, but Steve, when will this be over, I want to go home.”
They heard the beginning of a reply but it dissolved into static as the ISS passed beyond the horizon.
“Where is your home?” he asked.
They were on the couch in the living room sitting across from the dark television eating peaches out of the can.
“I live with my dad in Spokane. My mom died when I was three. We used to live in Los Angeles but I don’t remember that. She was an actor my dad said she was a really good actor. I’ve seen her picture but I’ve never seen any of her movies. My dad told me I wasn’t old enough. Have you lived here your whole life?”
”Yeah I guess so. I was born in the hospital in Phoenix and so was my sister Marion. My mom and dad met in college and got married.”
“Where is your dad?” she said.
“He’s away a lot. He used to be in the Air Force. He’s been gone for a few years now,” he said, “my mom and dad split up.”
She got quiet and then looked at him, holding his eyes with hers for a second, then she looked away and blushed.
“Can I ask you something?” she said, she spoke softly, tentatively.
“Sure go ahead,” he said.
“Can I stay in your room tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”
She spoke the words barely above a whisper. Something about the tone of her voice told him how difficult it had been for her to ask him but it was easier for her to swallow her pride and ask rather than risk being alone again.
“Sure,” he stammered,” I don’t mind. I don’t like to be alone either.”
She looked at him and smiled shyly. He could see the look of relief on her face; she had obviously been worried about it. The conversation got awkward and died after that and Jack got busy clearing away the cans and empty chip bags from their meal. When he came back he said, “I think I should check your arm again.”
She smiled at him gratefully, he was happy that she no longer seemed afraid of him. He stole glances at her as he changed the dressing on her arm.
He decided that she was a nice girl, his only real experience with girls was his sister Marion and she could sometimes be oversensitive and bitchy. Sara seemed calmer than her and a lot less emotional about stuff. She was also a lot smaller than Marion; she was practically swimming in her clothes. She looked better after the bath, more alert and healthy and she definitely smelled nicer since he’d cleaned her up.
He took off the bandage to look at the bite wounds. He was concerned about the deeper bite on her forearm it looked worse than before and there was some weird discolouration on the skin surrounding the puncture. He was pretty sure it was infected though it did not seem to bother her much, if it had been Marion she would be screaming, but Sara did not complain at all.
After he changed the dressing she slept on the couch for a while and then got up and went into the bathroom. She was in there a long time and he was worried and tempted to go knock on the door to check on her. When she came out he saw that she’d cleaned herself up some more. Her brown hair looked more blonde now that she’d pulled into a ponytail with an elastic band. He grinned when he saw her because the ponytail made her ears look kind of big like an elf or something but prettier. She had a nice face with pale skin and a kind of a pointy nose but not too pointy. Her eyes, he thought, were greenish brown but he was not certain. When she smiled at him it was big and toothy like a model. She was skinny but she looked a lot more like a girl now that she was cleaned up, especially from behind.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Seventeen,” she said.
“No way,” he said laughing in disbelief.
She turned to him and gave him a challenging look and, raising an eyebrow, she answered his challenge with fake surprise in her voice.
“Oh really I thought you were younger than me,” she said and grinned.
He was impressed that, as sick as she was, her mind was sharp. The quick comeback showed a spirited personality and obviously she was feeling a little better after eating and napping. He had to admit that, now that she was cleaned up, she did look older than his original estimate of twelve but he seriously doubted she was seventeen.
Jack went up to the attic to talk to the ISS crew and she wandered through the house looking for clean bedding. She wanted to change the sheets on his bed because, who knew how long it was since he changed them, if ever. She had little energy and moved slowly but she was determined to get it done before bedtime. The hall closet next to the master bedroom held lots of sheets and pillow cases and she grabbed a few of each and slowly made her way downstairs to his basement bedroom. It took her a long time to strip the sheets and blankets off his bed. She had to stop and rest frequently during the effort. When it was stripped she slid the dirty bedding down the hallway into the laundry room and left it on the floor. When she returned she felt dizzy and had to lie down on the bare mattress and rest for a long time, she was sweating and seeing black spots before her eyes.
It took half an hour before she felt well enough to stand up and make the bed. When she lifted one corner of his mattress to place the fitted sheet she saw the curled pages of a glossy magazine poking out. Without thinking about it she reached in and pulled it out and scanned the cover. It was an ancient copy of Penthouse magazine. She’d seen this kind of magazine before and was not particularly impressed but this time as she flipped through the pages she had a different reaction. Her face flushed when she saw the explicit photographs and it made her feel anxious. She put it back where she found it under the mattress and finished making the bed. She was shaken by what she’d seen, not because porn was unknown to her, it was the situation she found herself in that is unknown. She tried to convince herself that she should not be worried about Jack but she was.
Her experience so far told her that he was a nice guy. He saved her life and she was pretty sure he did not do anything to her in the bathtub, though she’d been pretty ‘out of it’ and she could not be positive. Just because he didn’t do anything did not mean that he wouldn’t. He has a gun and he knows how to use it, she thought, and shivered at the unwelcome vision that entered her mind. She shook her head quickly dismissing the scenario. “That will not happen,” she said aloud. Her voice sounding confident though inside she did not feel confident at all.
“This is what I’ve been thinking about,” Jack said. He was holding the microphone and looking up at the stars through the open skylight. ”I believe I’ve figured out a way to bring you guys’ home safely without becoming infected. Do you know the company that takes tourists into space for like a million dollars a ride?” he said.
“Yes there are two, I believe one is based near Las Vegas in Nevada,” Steve said.
“Okay this is my plan, Sara and I will drive to Nevada and find the spacecraft and fly it up to the ISS. We bring you a sample of the plague and the supplies you need to create an anti-virus,” he said.
He waited for a response; there was a long pause and for a moment he thought that the ISS had moved out of range.
“Jack that is a very interesting idea but I’m afraid it just won’t work. First of all the ISS is almost three hundred miles above the planet and we are traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour. I believe the commercial craft used for space tourism has an operational ceiling of around one hundred fifty miles maximum.
Another thing is, Jack, you don’t know how to fly. You are obviously intelligent and I know you said you’ve played lots of flight simulation games on your computer but that is simply not good enough. Playing computer games is a long way from flying a rocket propelled aircraft at Mach 1.75 into orbit. Lastly, and I do appreciate you wanting to help us, if you and Sara did manage to get up here in all likelihood we would become infected. We have been in contact with a plant bio-technologist in Australia and he has been trying to work on the problem but he has had no success. This virus is unbelievably contagious and it is only rare people like you and Sara, people with natural immunity, who survive.” Steve said.
Jack paused and thought about what he’d just heard and then responded by saying.
“Come on Steve if you have an objection out with it.”
It took a while but when they came back on line he could hear Steve and the crew members on the ISS laughing. He had no way of knowing it but the atmosphere on the spacecraft had been tense for a long time and now everyone was laughing their heads off.
“Okay. Ya got me Jack, we are all having a good laugh, thank you, you have no idea how much we needed that, thank you….”
Steve’s words faded as the ISS moved out of radio range beyond the horizon.
“So there are a few problems.”
Jack spun around startled when Sara spoke he had been concentrating so hard he did not hear her come up the stairs.
She said, “I like the idea, we can figure this out. Do they really think some gardener down in ‘Roo” land will come up with a cure? That does not seem too likely; we need to have real scientists working on this.”
She walked over and stood beside him under the skylight with her hands on her hips looking up at the night sky. He noticed that she did not seem to be talking to him; she seemed to be talking to herself.
“First thing we gotta do is get our butts down to Nevada and find that spaceship. We load it with rocket fuel and Cheetos and other space stuff and blast off. All we need to do is get close enough for them to grab us with their grabber thing,” she turned to him making a motion with her hand like she was plucking the virus sample from the spacecraft. She waited watching his face as he thought this over.
He’d shown her his model of the ISS in his bedroom and he noticed that she’d been impressed by the articulated remote manipulator arm. We hand them a sample of the plague,” she said, not waiting for him to join in, ”they work on a cure, give themselves a shot, climb on board, and BAM we’re all back on earth, too easy,” she said.
“What about the part where they are three hundred miles up and we can only go to one fifty?” he said.
“Details details,” she said and smiling brightly turned and slowly made her way down the stairs to the bookshelf where earlier she’d spotted a Rand McNally road atlas.
He came downstairs after taking down the antennae and locking the skylight and she brought the Casa Grande over to where he was sitting. She sat close beside him so he could watch as she flipped it open to a map of Nevada. He was aware of her arm touching his as she flipped between Arizona and Nevada looking at routes.
“First things first, where in Nevada is this place?” she said.
“What place?” he croaked.
He’d lost the thread of the conversation. He was intensely aware of her sitting close to him on the couch and for the first time in his life he was unable to focus on the subject of space travel. She turned to face him wide eyed.
“The spacecraft, you know-Nevada- space tourism. Earth to Jack… Earth to Jack,” she said grinning.
He tried to come back to the subject at hand but his mind was not really on it he was too preoccupied with thinking about her sitting close to him. She spent the next twenty minutes planning how they would do it and all he managed to contribute was an occasional head nod. By the time the ISS came around again she had questions for the crew.
“Hi Steve, its Sara I have some questions.”
“Okay Sara, go ahead.”
“Do you have a lab up there?
“Is it possible to do complex biology work in space?”
“Yes of course.”
“If you had a sample of this plague could you find a way to stop it?”
There was silence on the other end so she continued.
“So if we did get a sample to you if we managed to get close enough for you to grab it with the robot arm thing. Couldn’t you work on this problem?” she said.
“Yes we could, but the problem is we…”
“I know the problem Steve, but if we could get to Nevada and somehow get the spaceplane airborne and into a low orbit wouldn`t it be possible, though we are at different altitudes, to figure out a way to get it to you? If we matched our direction and speed maybe we could stretch the limits of the spaceplane. It should be possible because it was built for commercial aviation and they make stuff used by the public extra safe so they won’t get sued. You’ve got smart people on board can’t you guys figure this thing out?” she said exasperated.
“Sara what you are saying makes sense but we don’t believe it is worth risking your lives. This is such an extreme long shot that we all believe you and Jack should just hunker down and wait it out. Things are bound to improve you are young and you have lots to live for,” said Steve.
“Steve, it’s me Jack, I agree with Sara I don’t want to sit around doing nothing waiting for the world to get better. This is our shot to change things and we want to try it. If you have a better idea tell us but if you don’t then it is time to “get with the program” we are offering you a chance at survival. Don’t you think that is worth a few risks?” “Okay Jack, we’re about to go round the corner, so here’s what we’ll do. We’ll brainstorm this and do some rough calculations but in the meanwhile I want you to get some rest and stay safe, we’ll talk again in the morning. Okay?”
“Okay,” Jack said.
“I promise that we’ll seriously check out your plan,” Steve said.
The evening sky had darkened with rain clouds as they were talking and Jack closed and locked the skylight as the first drops started to fall. They made their way through the dark house to the basement. There was an awkward moment before getting into bed but it did not last long because they were both exhausted. He turned off the flashlight and with the light gone he lay listening to her breathing in the darkness. He knew she was not asleep and he asked her, “Do you think we can do it?”