THE OCEANS OF MARS
On Earth, despite the lack of water, John has managed to find a bit of peace. That is until his brother is killed. Unable to ignore the grievances of the harsh world any longer, John resolves to do the only thing he believes will save the people of Earth, build a spaceship to retrieve the water from Europa. With the enlisted help from Patricia, Stuart, and Tuft, the three manage to build a crude ship. However, they encounter a few troubles in gathering enough provisions for the long journey. Will the ship work? What awaits the crew beyond?
“He’s dead.” It wasn’t what he said but how he said it. As though the death had been expected, completely unintended, but expected. “And where the hell are you going?”
John didn’t want to hear it. A long seven years it had been, too long and now Franklin was dead. It had to end. End forever not just for now. Forever. He knew how, but it was only a dream. What he needed was currency. Eric traveled behind John.
“Franklin is dead, John.” John didn’t acknowledge Eric. “John, you can’t go off half-cocked and do something stupid. Your brother would want you to think about it.”
He turned to face Eric. “I’m going to do what I have to. Whatever I have to.”
“No you’re going to go on a fool’s errand.” Eric sighed. “You don’t even know if the stories are true.”
“You’re right; I don’t know what I’ll find.” John was a tall man. Taller than Eric, certainly, and far more intimidating. When he spoke it was with a forceful voice, trying to emphasize how serious the situation was. “But I’m all that’s left. I have to try.”
The grass was dead, brown as the dirt and brittle. The trees had long since died and the few that survived the fire were nothing more than a trunk. The sky was bright and sunny. So much sun, every day. It was a scorching heat with absolutely no relief.
John at last reached the destroyed house where he had dugout his home. It was old, maybe a home to a happy family at one time, with faded bright paint and dusty furniture. Franklin’s cot was empty just above the trap door, unknowing that its occupant would no longer return. It would forever remain made up.
“Take a seat, Eric.” Eric remained standing. “Suit yourself. Are you in or are you out?”
Eric leaned his head to the side slightly, almost laying his ear on his shoulder. “I’ve known you longer than the famine, the drought and the war. I watched as both your parents were killed and now I was there when Franklin passed on. More than likely you’re not going to survive this.” Eric flung his arms wide. “Do you think I’d miss that?”
John sighed heavily. “Fine. Come on down.” Under layers of rubble, John reached down and pulled open a small hatch. It was only large enough to admit one person at a time, but still a good sized hole the men had dug. Eric followed John down the wooden ladder, closing the hatch before he descended entirely.
The bunker below was just a hole in the ground. The dirt walls were tightly compact with a single cot where John slept and a single candle lit. Otherwise, it was just a hole in the ground.
“This is where I sleep. You’ll stay above.”
“Out in the open,” he said. “No way. I’m going to stay down here with you, away from murderous eyes.”
“Fine. Sleep in the dirt for all I care. But the cot, the cot is mine.”
“You know. Franklin is dead.”
“Yes. I am fully aware, but maybe you’d like to bring it up several more times. How many times have you mentioned it? I’m starting to lose track.”
“You’ll need protection; you ought to be thinking about that.”
“And what do you think you’re here for?”
“No. I mean someone bigger than me. Bigger than you. I know a guy. But it’ll cost you.”
“No. We do this. Just the two of us.”
“And where are we going to build this contraption oh wise one? Or have you thought about that?” Eric opened his eyes wider and pursed his lips.
“We will have a place by the end of the month. First we must secure financial stability.” John sat down on his cot. “A job for the morning. Tonight we rest.” Once Eric had found himself a soft spot of dirt, John leaned over and extinguished the candle.
v v v
She had always hated the name Patty. Her name was Patricia, not Patty. The man lying on his back at her feet knew it and would not soon forget it as his buddies gathered around for a good laugh. Patricia snuck out the back curtain to the street. There were few men outside the establishment.
Patricia hitched her knapsack a little higher up on her shoulder and stared off at the horizon. It was early, the sun just peaking up so the air was moderate yet. The stars were gone, tucked away for another night. Instead the sky was a deep purple. She enjoyed the early morning. It was the most at peace Patricia ever felt in their new world.
“I’m sorry about that Patty…Patricia, I mean Patricia. Geez!” The man wiped sweat from his brow. “You can come back; I promise no more trouble.”
“I should move on.”
“Please don’t. Stay. Have another drink on me.”
“Why? I’m not here for their enjoyment.”
“It’s not like that Patricia.”
“Who are you kidding, Stuart? I can’t stay here. I can’t take it anymore. You can tell them to go screw themselves.”
Stuart looked anxiously to the door, wiping more sweat off his forehead. When he turned back around, Patricia was already a good hundred feet down the road. Stuart ran after her. “I can’t tell them that. They’ll kill me. Patricia…Patricia please…wait.” He stepped in front of her. “Can I come with you? I don’t expect anything.”
She stepped around him.
“So is that a yes?” He continued to follow her. “Patricia you know I’m not like them. I’d never do that to you.”
“That’s because I’m not your type.” Patricia stopped and looked down sternly at Stuart. “You can come, but you’ll fend for yourself and I won’t protect you.” So the two walked. They walked down the road, south, headed toward what? She didn’t know. Though Patricia seemed to think it was the right move, and Stuart trusted Patricia...most of the time.
“So Patricia? How far are we going to walk?” Stuart struggled to keep up. “Patricia? Come on. You can’t ignore me forever.” The sun stood high over the horizon, starting to really scorch the place. “What I wouldn’t give to see life? Any kind of life really.”
“Don’t you ever shut up?” Patricia suddenly grabbed the switch blade from inside her knapsack pocket and held it to Stuart’s throat. “Shut up. I don’t care what color the sky is. I don’t care how many rocks you’ve seen. I don’t give a damn. Shut up! We are coming into hostile country. Say another word and I find out what color your blood is.”
Stuart didn’t speak; he didn’t need to answer. She had made herself clear.
The sun beat down, hotter than what the two of them had experienced, having always been around some sort of man-made shade. Patricia tied a scarf over her shaved head and used a folded piece of paper to fan herself. Stuart baked in the sun.
“You should really consider shaving your head,” Patricia said to Stuart. “It just makes your head hotter.”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“Well, at least take this.” Patricia pulled from her bag an extra handkerchief. “Put it over your head. Prevents direct contact.”
Stuart took it. “Thank you.”
“At least shave your stubble. Your face will thank you.”
“Patricia?” Stuart asked. He shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted through his sweat soaked eyelashes. “Patricia?”
“What did I say?” she huffed.
“No. Do you see what I see?” Stuart pointed ahead to where three men, all headed directly toward them, were walking. “Were you serious before?”
The two walked slowly. The moment they were within arm’s length of each other, the three strangers all pulled knives.
“Put your stuff on the ground and back away slowly,” the front man said. Patricia pushed Stuart behind herself. “Did you hear me? Put your stuff on the ground!”
“I’m hot and have got a long walk ahead so I’m feeling generous. You have five seconds to move on and I will let you live,” Patricia said. The man laughed. “One…”
“What you gonna do little lady?”
“Stop your countin’. Put your shit on the ground.”
“Four…” The men decided they weren’t waiting any longer. The three lunged at the two travelers. Patricia, in one swift motion, shoved Stuart to the ground, dodged the first knife and stabbed her own in the man’s back. She grabbed the knife from the second guy, kicked him back, stabbed the third one in the eye and then slit the throat of the second one. The third man held his eye as he issued a litany of obscenities under his breath. “Five…”
He stumbled backward. “Please,” he begged. “Please. Finish it.”
“No. You’ll die slow, starving in this hot summer heat. A thief such as yourself deserves no less.” Patricia looked at the other two.
“Patricia, we talked about this,” Stuart said. “You can’t.”
She shrugged, then turned and continued headed south. Stuart followed.
“Please.” Even as they continued down the road, Stuart and Patricia could hear his pleas.
She sighed heavily. With a great deal of irritation, she handed Stuart the handkerchief off her head and a small bottle of alcohol. “Here, use it sparingly.”
“Yes you. You will help him.” Stuart stopped questioning as Patricia’s face grew sterner. The knife hung at her side dripping with blood. “I’ll wait.”
Stuart was gentle, as gentle as he could be with an eye that had been stabbed. “Let me see.” The man pulled his hand away slowly. “Oh my God.” Fighting the urge to gag, Stuart looked at the injury. The eye had deflated, was slowly oozing blood and a thick viscous material. The socket was dark. “I…um…I have to…”
“Just get it over with dammit.” Stuart cleaned out what he could, removing the eye ball and separating the nerve fibers from the remains. Then he cleaned the wound that flanked the orbit. Finally, the handkerchief was used as a make-shift eye patch. “Thanks.”
“Well. Good luck.” Stuart stood up and moved back to Patricia.
“Wait. Don’t leave me.” The man stumbled to his feet, struggling to catch up to his attackers. “Please. I have provisions.” That was the word, the magic word.
Patricia stopped. She turned to face Stuart and the man who held onto Stuart’s shoulder for balance. “You will care for yourself. I won’t protect you.” Patricia then walked ahead of the mousy men. Her head held high.
Stuart gathered up the various bags and walked alongside their new companion. “So…what do you go by?”
“Really?” Tuft shrugged. “And you had that name before this whole mess? Your parents had a weird sense of humor. I’m Stuart and that tall, lean woman is Patricia. Don’t call her Patty. You won’t like her if you call her Patty.”
“Where are you headed? Because I just came from there and there ain’t nothing left.”
“You’ll have to ask our fearless leader. She seems to have the vision.”
“There ain’t nothing south. The north is where we ought to be.”
“We are headed south,” Patricia said. “If you don’t like it, you can turn around and head back on your own.” She never turned to face the two men.
“Whatever you say, ma’am.” Then Tuft lowered his voice to speak only to Stuart. “She’s got a lot of anger in her. But you got to know the religious kooks own the south.”
“I think Patricia knows what she’s doing. She has a feeling.”
“I ain’t going to judge. Sounds like she may fit in just fine.” Silence fell between them. It took another two miles before the group at last reached a small shack built entirely out of old wood pallets. A tattered curtain dangled down in front of the entrance.
Patricia went in first and the boys hurriedly followed. The inside had little more character than the outside. The slats in the wall let small filtered amounts of sunlight into the shack. Otherwise, lanterns hung from the ceiling. The shade, though cooling and comforting compared to the blazing fire outside, was still at least ninety degrees. There was a small bar where patrons could buy alcohol, small amounts of canned foods, or water, if they could afford it. There were no chairs and tables otherwise. People sat on the ground, resting from their journeys.
She counted nine people inside the establishment, not including the bartender. A family of four sat in the corner huddled together in fear. Dirt covered them from head to foot with ash, and their clothes were singed off in parts. The youngest, a girl of seven, was crying heavily in her mother’s arms while their son, a boy of thirteen, sat stony-faced. He would not make eye contact with anyone. His father was busy counting the small bit of money they had left, debating how much water they could afford to buy.
A man sat on the floor directly in front of the bar fast asleep. His hair was greasy and matted to his head. In his hand he held a small blade, while his other was tightly grasping a small sack of items. The man wore no shoes or shirt. His shorts had so many holes he might as well have not been wearing that at all. No one paid him much mind even as his head flung backward and his mouth opened wide so the world could hear his breathing. Another man holding a Bible in one hand held a tall glass of beer in the other. He held the beer high above and his head low as though a toast in honor of the days he had lost. Then the man threw the Bible on the ground, downed the beer, and shoved past the strangers back out into the open.
Finally, three boys, barely eighteen, stood in the center of the room, eyeing everyone in turn. Their clothes were the most intact. Each held a glass of water in their hands. Their skin was clean as though recently a bath had been taken by each. One boy had various weapons tucked away in his pockets, but he also bore many cuts, not all of which had healed.
The moment Patricia entered the shack, silence fell. She was used to that reaction. Several eyes, though not all, immediately flashed over the tall, threatening woman. Soon after Tuft and Stuart entered the shack they pushed their way to the front.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked.
“What do you have in the way of food?”
“Well, we have baked beans, peas, cream corn, string beans, cream o’ mushroom, cream o’ chicken, beets and myst’ry can.”
“Dare I ask?”
The bartender slammed a can down on the bar. The label was missing.
“I see. Well I think I’ll be safe with some cream of mushroom. How much?”
The bartender looked over Patricia, eyeing her rather large knapsack. “What you got?”
Patricia threw her knapsack onto the ground and rifled through it. She pulled out a small vile of water and gently sat it onto the counter. There couldn’t have been any more than three ounces in the glass container, but the bartender slid the can toward her, taking the vile in his hand with careful admiration. She took her can and left the counter, finding a spot for herself in the corner. The two boys managed to barter cans of soup as well.
The crying stopped. Patricia looked up to see the girl, her face no longer buried in her father’s chest. Her eyes stared at the can that Patricia held like it was magnetic. Patricia ignored her and continued to eat.
When she had finished her meal, Patricia stood up and approached the bartender once more. “What town are we coming up on?”
“What’s the state of the town?”
“Brother Beasley holds the town.”
Patricia nodded curtly. She then grabbed the half-eaten cans of soup from Stuart and Tuft and silently placed them in front of the family of four. “And…” She reached into her bag and laid down an eight ounce jar of water.
“Thank you,” the father said handing the cans to his daughter and son. He grabbed the jar of water and held it close to his self for protection.
“Come on. We need to move on.” Stuart rose from the floor first and grabbed Tuft's hand to help him up next. She then ushered the boys out of the hut back into the blistering sun. However, Patricia stayed behind a moment. Bending down with a strong determination, she picked up the Bible and dusted off the dirt from the back. It was tucked neatly away into her knapsack before Patricia rejoined the group outside.
“Are we going to go to Marion? It’s a preacher town,” Tuft said.
“We will pass through Marion. As long as we keep to ourselves, we should be fine.”
“They kill smart ones.”
“Well, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
“I’m saying them people ain’t worth fighting. There’ll be trouble.” Tuft then turned to Stuart. “Back me up.”
“I’m not getting in the middle of this. You’re on your own.”
The road became less dusty the more they walked until the group was on black top. The parts of their feet that peeked through the soles of the tattered shoes burned on the pavement. But it was good news; a sight that civilization was close, and indeed buildings, or at least their ruins, came into view. There were houses, some so damaged only the basements remained with the frame buried within. The downtown area was falling apart as well, but a little less so, especially with the people who lived there.
There were as many as a hundred people in the town, all of whom were gathered around a scaffold in the center of the road where a preacher stood giving a sermon. Stuart and Tuft were reluctant to follow as Patricia boldly walked into the crowd.
Standing on the scaffold was a single man. His hair fell to the nape of his neck and greased back from years of not being washed. His face was a beet red, which wasn’t surprising to Patricia since he wore long black robes buttoned down the front of a pair of slacks. He must have been crazy to wear so much in such heat.
“Brothers and Sisters,” the preacher said, his voice powerful enough that everyone heard him above the sweltering heat. “‘And the earth will become desolate because of her inhabitants, on account of the fruit of their deeds’. Micah chapter seven verse thirteen. This world was a desolate wasteland long before the heat. Violence corrupted us, sex consumed us, money drove us. It had to end. Our sins were many. Oh yes, even I have sinned. I have lusted for another so fine the sun didn’t rise until she woke in the morning. I have been filled with greed taking what wasn’t mine and swindling others out of theirs. I have felt a rage so strong that I shot a man in the dead of night. But I changed. And how did I crawl out of the gutter you may ask. I found God. That’s right. I found the light. He showed me the way. It has been seven years to the day since our last rain. Since he gave up on mankind, denying us the most basic element of life. Water. We have thirsted. I have thirsted. We, who wandered these deserts, searching for anything to quench our thirst. And he answered our prayers! He gave us water; he quenched our thirst.” The crowd cheered. “We must stay strong. We’ve got to continue his work. There are those who keep the Lord from eradicating the sinners. All those who resist will desist.” Again, a roar rose from the crowd. Then the preacher turned his attention to the strangers. “Who are you? Sinner or Saint?”
Tuft tried to back up, but Patricia pulled him and Stuart to her side. “We are just passing through. We don’t want any trouble.”
“Sinner or Saint?” Brother Beasley asked again, this time more insistent.
“We are what we are.”
The preacher jumped off the scaffold. The crowd parted to let him through to the strangers. Shaking slightly his hand reached out and lifted only for a peak under the handkerchief that Tuft wore. An audible gasp escaped from those few who could see what was beneath, followed by whispers through the crowd.
The preacher then backed away, pointing a long finger at the group. “Sinners!” No sooner did he say it then the group was grabbed. It took four men to hold Patricia. “There is only one penalty for sinners. Death!”
“Death? For what? For a wound that you don’t know where it came from?” Patricia continued to fight as she spoke.
He approached Tuft and gently said, “Who did this to you, son?” A flicker of movement by Tuft’s good eye caught Patricia's attention, enough that Beasley's face lit up; he had his answer. “And you’ve traveled with these people anyway. Heathens. Sinners. Death. Lock them up. The executions will be set for tomorrow at dawn!” The crowd loved that. They cheered loudly.
Kicking and screaming, Stuart, Tuft, and Patricia were dragged off to a cage. It was an old circus cage where a tiger or lion from the act were most likely kept, but was now used for humans. For whatever reason, they were allowed to keep their knapsacks. Patricia supposed it was because in twelve hours’ time they would be executed, and their stuff would become his stuff.
John grabbed several tools from under his cot, loading up a backpack of them. He grabbed some screwdrivers and hammers, nails and screws, and even a wrench. He piled in anything and everything he might need.
Eric sat down on the cot next to John. “What are you planning? I need to know what I should be prepared for.”
“A fight. Be prepared for hostility and violence, and maybe even death.”
“Alright. Well I know I won’t die, but I am prepared to lose you.” Eric closed his eyes as though to take a nap and leaned back against the wall. “I imagine how peaceful it will be when you’re gone.” Eric smirked.
John stood up first. “Come on.” John climbed up the ladder and shut the door behind Eric. “Let’s go. We’re headed north to that little town. We need something to barter with for some of the parts I’ll need.”
“Well, I hope you brought some heavy artillery.”
“I’ve got all I’ll need. These people destroyed the guns when they killed the intellectuals. They don’t have a brain between them.” John walked with Eric by his side. Neither one in front of the other.
They found the paved road and followed it around until they began to reach various ruins. As though he had planned the heist for months. John left the road and went right for the building where their reservoir of water was kept. It sparkled happily in the sunlight.
“What are you doing?” Eric asked. John threw his bag on the ground. He pulled out several items; things of his own design and things that were several years old. At last, however, he pulled out three small vials and a black jar no bigger than a pint. “Hey, don’t ignore me. What are you doing?”
“You’ll see.” The black jar glistened on the ground beside crystal clear water. He filled the three vials first; his bartering chips if he ran into any trouble. The three vials were carefully placed back into the bag while he grabbed the black jar. Then he unscrewed the jar gently as though terrified it might break at any time and placed the lid in the dirt. John crouched down on the edge the reservoir. He wrapped his hands around the bottom of the jar, holding it in the water. Eric watched for him to scoop it back out, but John didn’t. Instead, he held it under the water, without any motion, patiently waiting for the tug.
“I don’t…” Eric stopped speaking. The water became disturbed, slow at first with ripples and a couple waves. Then the water streamed faster and faster toward the jar as the water level went down until there was nothing left. John lifted the jar very slowly, in an attempt not to spill any, and screwed the lid back on. “Holy shit. I have to admit that was pretty cool. What was that thing?”
“Thank you, Eric. I’ve been kicking around a few ideas for a name, but I’m thinking haltengoss sounds cool. Come on, we aren’t done yet.” John peaked out of the building’s ruins and, when the coast was clear, he meandered onto the road once more. Eric followed behind.
“So, what’s your plan? We have the water. What more do you need?” John didn’t answer. “You know there’ll be too many people there to avenge Franklin. You’ll die.” Again John said nothing. “Remember, I’m only in this to watch you die anyway. So, do what you want.”
It felt like nine hundred degrees, if anyone had seen John sneaking around the buildings they probably would have dismissed it as nothing more than a mirage. But he took no chances. John jumped from one building shadow to the next with incredible finesse for his size. The hundred or so people around the scaffold listening to some holy man give a long sermon on the salvation they had been provided had no time to pay attention to the world around them. If they did they would have realized that their water was gone and they would all die. John didn’t want to see that happen to the whole world. Maybe a few deserved it, but not all. He was quite partial to living himself.
At last, John came within a few feet of the cage he knew so well, where Franklin had been kept before his untimely death. He would not falter this time though.
“Oh, I see what you’re up to. You know this won’t work right. They’re about to be executed. If you set the prisoners free, they’ll be on you like a hound on a bone.”
“Keep watch, will you?”
“I thought you said we didn’t need anyone else. That only we were to do this thing. Your words, not mine.”
John took off toward the cage, crouched low to the ground.
"Alright, don't say I didn't warn you."
“Relax. I’m going to help.” John fiddled with the lock a moment with a small pocket blade and then slid open the door. “We have very little time. Follow me.”
The group in the cage followed John as he ran back down the road. Eric brought up the rear. When at last they reached the bunker, John ushered everyone below into the cramped space.
“Thank you,” the woman huffed, exhausted from the run with the heavy knapsack. “Thank you so much.” She threw her bag down. “I’m Patricia. This is Stuart and this is Tuft.”
“And I am John. May I...?” John reached over, without a response, and lifted up the handkerchief. “I can help you with that.”
“I appreciate the offer to help Tuft here, but we really should be going on our way. We’re headed south.”
“Unfortunately, you’re not any longer. Nothings free. I’m really sorry.” John stood at the base of the ladder in a menacing manner.
“Nice move,” Eric said. “But I kind of think she can take you.”
“Why? What you want to hold us prisoner for?” Tuft asked from behind the broad frame of Patricia. “We ain’t got nothing to give you.”
“And I don’t want anything of yours. All your possessions are your own.”
“Then what is it?”
“I need help.” John smiled gently. “I need a little help with a project. You won’t be slaves. You’ll be treated fairly; given plenty of food and water and anything else you may desire.”
“Other than our freedom.” Patricia took a seat on the cot. “May we ask what it is that we are going to do?”
“You may ask, but I reserve the right not to disclose such details. My business is my own, but what I need your assistance with is labor. You’ll help me build a device, and when we’re done you are more than welcome to leave.”
“How long will it take?”
John smiled a large yellow, toothy grin. “Not long at all, if my plan works. Maybe a month or so. If it takes longer, then it's longer.”
“How is this any better than our previous predicament with Brother Beasley?”
John struggled to not grimace at the name of Beasley. “I don’t promise death.”
“What happens if we run?” Stuart asked timidly.
“Well, I don’t promise death, but I guarantee you’ll never achieve your freedom.” John motioned for Stuart and Tuft to join Patricia on the cot, a simple gesture to make them feel more comfortable. “I promise that in a years’ time you three will be paid beyond your wildest dreams if you help me. And I have never gone back on a promise.”
“How much are you talking about?” Tuft licked his lips.
“More than you can carry.”
Without a second glance at the others, Tuft stood up and walked to John, hand extended. “I’m in.”
“Good. So you’ve got the help of a man with zero depth perception. Congratulations.” Eric clapped mockingly.
“I will tell you now that I do this begrudgingly. I don’t want payment, just your word that we will have our freedom in no more than three months’ time. Even his greedy ass.” With a curt nod from John, Patricia said, “Alright we’ll help.”
“Wow. You got the big one to agree. I’m impressed. I suppose the spineless loser will agree with whatever she says.” And, indeed, Stuart stood and shook John’s hand with Patricia.
“Now that the matter is settled, I think we should all stay down here until night fall when we can move freely.”
“Are you kidding? Have you seen how cramped it is down here?” Eric objected.
“May have to squeeze together in the dirt, but we’ll manage for the night. It’s too dangerous to go back up today.”
“You don’t think they’ll be looking for us, do you?” Stuart asked, concern tinting his voice. He looked to the hatch in the ceiling, as if silently asking, "Were people up there now?"
“They’re definitely looking for you and me.”
“Why would they assume there was someone else? Wouldn’t it be possible we could have broken out of the cage on our own?” Patricia looked at Stuart and Tuft. “Well, at the very least I could have broken out of the cage on my own.”
“I have no doubt about that. But you’re not the only thing they’re missing.”
“What? What else is missing? What did you take?”
“Their water. I’ve taken all the water that little town had.”
“How? Was it possible to carry so much water? They acted like they had a small lake.”
“How is not important.” John moved his backpack into a corner and stood in front of it.
Eric yelled, “Oh come on! Show them how. They’d shit if they saw that magic trick.” But John ignored him.
“It’s time to lie down, rest for now.”
But Patricia wasn’t done talking. “Those people will die.”
“They’ll die anyway.”
“But you’ve sped it up. You’ve made it so a town of one hundred who would normally die in a year, will now die within the week. Why?”
“Not all will die. Most will move on.”
“Beasley is preaching a good message. It’s too bad he’s an evil man. Wicked through and through. I do not feel sorry for what he’ll suffer.”
“So, you will condemn all for the sins of one. Sounds as though you’re no better than he is.”
John laid down on the ground, backpack pushed against the wall behind him. “Blow out the candle and find a place to lie down. We should rest while we can. The evening will come soon enough.”
v v v
Night fell. Above, in the destroyed houses, men searched the remainder of the day for the prisoners who had escaped with their lives and their water. There were fewer people searching than the town would normally have had. Learning of the disappearance of the water many people left immediately. Times were going to get rough and people would die, some while they slept. There was no need to take such a chance, not when the rest of the world was just as inhospitable. All of a sudden, starvation sounded better than Brother Beasley’s promises.
v v v
John lit the lantern that hung in the corner of the underground bunker. The light flickered off the faces of Patricia, Stuart, and Tuft. Patricia had taken the cot while the other two huddled together on the ground. They were so peaceful and happy. It seemed a shame to wake them up. But they had to move and only had a short amount of time to do so.
“Do you want to wake them up or should I?” Eric asked.
“I’ll do it. You’d have too much fun.” John climbed the ladder and took a peak outside. The last of the men were leaving the destroyed home, seemingly satisfied it was empty, though their heads hung down in defeat. He shut the hatch. “Everyone up. Come on. We have little time to move.”
The bodies began to stir, rubbing eyes and yawning large.
“I was having me a good dream. I’d like to finish it.” Tuft rolled over and re-closed his eyes. Patricia, however, slipped off the bed and kicked him.
“Get up. You heard the man. Don’t you want all those riches he promised you? Then you better get your ass up.” She kicked him again. “Now!”
“Alright, alright. I’m up.”
“Grab your belongings. We will not return here.” John threw his bag onto his shoulder. Patricia grabbed her knapsack from the floor and followed John up the ladder. “We’ll have to be quiet. They were here not that long ago. They’ll be back soon.”
“So where are we headed?” Patricia looked to the night sky. It looked the same as it always did; stars out beautifully shining. The moon was full that night, lighting their path easily. It was a good thing too. John had insisted that they not burn any candles or torches as it might attract too much attention.
“You’ll know when we get there. I just hope it’s still standing.”
John was determined. He didn't stop for anything. If anyone had to relieve themselves, he kept walking and that person was forced to run to catch up with the group when finished. The night air was cool and refreshing compared to the hot days in the sun. The group didn’t mind travelling at night.
“So, John. What’s your story? I think there’s more than meets the eye with you.” He just shrugged. “Don’t you want to talk? What if I tell you a little about myself first?”
“Look, we don’t need to do this. You’ve made it abundantly clear that I am your captor and you are my prisoner. We shouldn’t complicate the relationship with emotional transference. It’ll be easier to say goodbye if we know nothing about each other.”
“That a boy. Brush her off. Who needs friends when you’ve got me,” Eric said.
Stuart pulled his bag in front of himself and dug out a small vial of water, which he greedily downed.
“You might want to pace yourself,” Patricia warned. “That’s your third vial in an hour.”
“I didn’t realize you were babysitting me. I’ll drink my water as I wish; if I recall you told me I had to provide for myself.”
“Just trying to help you out.”
“Well thank you. Thank you for your help.” Stuart brushed past Patricia and walked in front of her and John.
They walked all night, unnoticed by others. When at last the sun began to reach for the sky, John ushered them to the nearest shelter, generally the ruin of some home. Three days they travelled in this way. Sleeping during the day when it was hot and walking at night when it was still hot, but much less so. John mainly kept to himself, trying hard not to confront anyone. Stuart and Tuft grew closer and Patricia felt shunned by them all. She questioned whether leaving the old shack had been such a good idea. At least there she received some attention, at least someone spoke to her, and there was plenty of food. What kept her sane were the stars and the moon. It made her feel as though someone was watching them from above, guiding them safely from shelter to shelter.
The third night, the group had been walking for a little over an hour when a small town came into view. It had no tall buildings as a city would have, but it had no ruins either. People were there and they had preserved their homes. Sure the plants and animals were still dead, but they had honest to goodness places they could call home. It was a true suburban civilization, one that had stood the test of war.
John approached the first home cautiously, stretching out his hand as though to rap on the door, but he quickly withdrew the gesture. “We shouldn’t disturb these people. They’ve created something that works. We don’t want to interfere with that.”
“Yeah, but maybe they’ll have a home we can use for our own. A place to stay for a bit,” Stuart said with hope.
“No. We have to keep moving. We’re nearly to the airfield.” They came out of the neighborhood eventually and walked past what once would have been farmland. In his mind's eye, John pictured fields of beans or corn or wheat or tobacco. It could have been anything once. Now it was just barren.
A large grin overtook John’s face. “It’s still there,” he said taking off at a run toward the hangar.
“So we’ve seen a ton of homes demolished and this stupid airplane hangar is still standing. That’s bull shit,” Patricia mumbled to herself. Stuart and Tuft ran past her. Patricia decided she’d better hurry it up as well.
On the runway, the group passed several broken down air force jets. Some were missing wings while others were missing their undercarriage. A couple were even upside down. Patricia passed one with so much damage she was sure that it had crashed there and not moved since. Along the ground clothes littered the concrete. There were no bodies, just air force uniforms covered in old dried blood and several years’ worth of dirt.
At last they rounded the corner and looked into the hangar. An audible gasp rose from the group, except John, who sighed in relief. “We’ll only need a month,” he announced.
“This. This is what you, what we are going to build. How? Why?” Patricia’s eyes widened.
“My reasons are my own.”
“No. This is different. How do we know you’re not planning on killing several more people? The war was enough.” Patricia faced John now placing a firm hand on his chest. “There’s so few left. What are you going to do with that rocket?”
“I’m not going to kill anyone. I hope to do the opposite.” John pushed forward in a daze. “It’s not a rocket; this thing will take me beyond the stars and save us all.”
“It’s a space ship?” Stuart asked in disbelief. “You’re going to go into space. That’s awesome man, and I wish you the best of luck, but how are we going to help you with this?”
“Gods didn’t build the pyramids. It will work. All we have to do is repair it. It’s not like we’re building one from scratch.”
“And where are you going to get parts?” Patricia asked.
“Look around you. We can use parts from different sources around here, but we still may need to trade for a few items. That’s what the water is for.”
“Are you sure this is going to help people?”
“With my dying breath, this will work.”
“Alright, let’s do this. Where do we start?”
John glanced at the ship with glazed over eyes. “Let me scope it out first. We may not be able to begin tonight. Why don’t you three go out and find any food or water that may have been left in the jets. We could always use more rations.”
Patricia, Stuart and Tuft walked back out of the hangar to rummage through the planes. John, however, walked closer to the spaceship. He went underneath, checking every wheel, every side panel, every bolt. Rust was one of his many concerns. Most appeared to be okay, but his trained eye also told him a few things would need to be replaced.
The side hatch to the shuttle was hard to reach; there were no stairs, no ladder and no tower to get inside. So he had to climb up. He found a small bucket he could use to stand on to jump up to the un-collapsed wing. Then John slowly lifted himself on top, making his way to the door. The inside was not in as good of shape as the outside appeared to be. Numerous renovations needed to be done on the inside. It needed new seats, ones that would actually be secured to the floor. It also needed new belts, paneling, and everything else. The control panel was fried. Someone had removed most of the wiring and the switches. The entire computer system in the ship was probably going to have to be rebuilt as well. So much for only a month.
Despite his shakiness in the area of computer programming, John was confident that he had learned enough from his father and mother to develop something proficient enough to get them there. At least he hoped so.
Making his way back down to the ground, Eric stood waiting. “Well, is this going to work?”
“Yes. I don’t want to jinx it, but I definitely see potential.”
“Franklin would disagree with you.”
“Franklin’s not here anymore. He’s dead as you’ve said. I’m doing the right thing here. You’ll see.”
“What? What about him? He was never as smart as I am. He knew nothing of this burden.”
Patricia approached John slowly. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah.” He gave his head a quick shake. “Yes. Just a little tired.”
Skeptically, she changed the subject. “So how much work are we going to have to do?”
“The outside of the shuttle is in pretty good shape, considering how long it’s sat here. I think we’ll just have to switch a couple of panels and maybe a couple fasteners. Our biggest issue is going to be the inside. Unfortunately, every system needs to be completely rewired, and the computer, it's nothing more than a pile of junk.”
“Can you do all that?”
He took a strong hand and patted Patricia on the shoulder. “There are many things I can do. This happens to fall into my wheel-house.”
“How can we help?”
Stuart and Tuft weren’t back yet, but John still looked toward the door as though they were being listened to. “Can I trust you? I mean really trust you. Are you going to try to run?”
“Honestly, you have my curiosity. I’m going to see this one through to the end.”
He smiled. “Thank you.” Digging into his knapsack a moment, John pulled out the three vials of water. “Take these to the town we passed through and barter as much wire and computer parts as you can from those people. This should be more than enough for such seemingly worthless items. Take Stuart with you. I’ll keep Tuft here with me.”
Patricia placed the vials of water carefully into her bag, which she swung back over her shoulder. She smiled to John and exited the hangar to locate Stuart.
“Hey, Stuart,” she called. He was rummaging through a bag he had found in one of the jets that now lay upside down on the runway. “Stuart, we’ve got a job to do.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, tossing the bag aside after pulling out all the food he could find.
Tuft stopped rummaging as well. “You and I are going back to the town we passed through. We need to barter for a few items. He wants Tuft to stay here.”
“Why do I got to stay?” Tuft asked.
Stuart shrugged. “I guess he likes you.”
“Come on. We should make it there by dawn.”
“The walk back is going to suck.” Stuart grabbed his bag and walked beside Patricia down the road. The sky was slowly turning that dark purple it had been when the two of them started their journey. “Why are we doing this?”
“Because he needs some supplies from these people and we’ve agreed to help.”
“No, why are we doing this? There’s one of him and three of us. We could have thanked him, taken his stuff and left. We wouldn’t be here stuck as his prisoners.” Stuart threw up his hands in exaggeration. “Hell, you could have killed him. You took on three men on your own. How did we go from prisoners to slaves without even a fight?”
“It’s best not to create waves in this world.”
“Seriously. I know you. You kicked a man’s ass for calling you Patty. This isn’t you, Patricia. Why are you helping him?” She didn’t answer. “Do you like him? Is that it? Or are you afraid of him?”
“Neither. I’m not going to kill an innocent man. He seems like a genuinely good guy.” Patricia grabbed a hold of Stuart’s shoulder. “We’re just a few good Samaritans helping out a fellow human being when he needs us most.” She patted his back, but quickly withdrew her hand.
They reached the small town just as the sun crept over the horizon. The houses were cookie cutter ones, made from sturdy materials. That was the only way they would have survived. In the daylight, Patricia could make out more details. The way the light glistened off the boarded-up windows and chipped painting. Waves of heat rose from the roofs even in the early morning. The yards were brown to the cracked sidewalk, which was only in slightly better shape than the street.
People filtered out into the streets to greet one another, until they saw the two strangers creeping up the road. Anyone feeble looking, weak from hunger and thirst, made their way back inside buildings, while those able enough met the strangers on the outskirts of the suburban neighborhood. Every person without exception wore crusted clothes filled with holes and caked-in dirt. Those who had glasses had at least one lens broken. None had shoes any longer and few had on holey socks. Each moved with confidence, stopping only feet from the strangers.
“What do you want?” a man by the name of Thomas asked. He held a large spear, clearly something he had made himself.
“We don’t want any trouble,” Patricia said.
“Then turn around.”
“You’re good at pissing people off,” Stuart said. “We’ve come to trade for items we need. We’ve got water.”
Patricia pulled the three vials from her bag and the spears lowered themselves.
“What are you looking for?”
“We need wire, like electrical wire, and anything computer related. Anything you have.”
“I don’t know how much we have to spare.”
“Whatever you have.”
Several people ran back to their respected households, and when they returned, armfuls of electrical equipment weighed them down. Wires and sockets and switches. To Patricia's disappointment, only a few returned with laptops, tablets and phones. “What do you want?”
“I was thinking all of it for these three vials.”
Thomas shook his head. “No. You’ll need more water than that.”
“These items are worthless. We’re giving you a hell of a deal!” Stuart yelled.
“Then why do you want to make the trade this bad. You need this equipment as much as we need water. Up your offer or you won’t walk away with anything.”
Stuart started to argue again, but Patricia hushed him. “We’ll give you another two vials.”
“Then how much do you want?”
“At least thirty-two ounces.”
“That’s robbery!” Stuart barked.
“Hush Stuart, the man is entitled to his opinion. We will not give you that much. How about twenty ounces?”
“I stand by our offer. Thirty-two ounces. No less.”
“Thirty-two is simply too much. It’s not going to happen.” The men started to withdraw some of the items they had brought out. “I don’t want to have to take this stuff by force, but I will if need be.”
The men dropped the electrical equipment to take up their spears once more.
“You really don’t know who you’re dealing with,” Stuart said.
“Please, there are children we have to think about. We’ve managed to keep this place a safe haven so far, but our supplies will be depleted soon. Thirty-two ounces is what we need. Take it or leave it.”
Patricia crouched down and placed the three vials in the dirt. She rummaged through her sack to see what was left. “Give us a moment.” With a sigh, she rose from the dirt and walked with Stuart out of earshot. “How much water do you have to spare?”
“I’ve got maybe five ounces I can give them from my reserves, but I’ll die if I give them any more than that.”
“Alright. I think between the two of us and the three vials we were provided with we can give them…twenty five ounces.” Patricia returned to the people with the offer ready. “Twenty five ounces is all we can spare. Take it or leave it.”
“Why do you need these items so desperately? There hasn’t been much use for electronics since the grid went down three years ago. What could you possibly be doing with all this junk?”
“Not a clue. But the man who sent us to trade has a pretty clear vision and is convinced it’ll help mankind. Anything’s worth a shot at this point, don’t you think?” Thomas and Patricia both smirked. Then she gathered everything up, with the help of Stuart, and bid the men and women a good day. She was sure they’d be back to barter for more items.
“I hope this is enough stuff,” Stuart said sarcastically as he laid it on the hangar's concrete floor. John paid no mind to the comment, crouching down to look at the various items more closely.
“How much did it cost you?”
“More than you gave us.”
He stood back up and looked Patricia in the eye. “How much more?”
“Sixteen ounces more.” He didn’t respond. Simply pulled out sixteen ounces worth of water from his bag and handed them to Patricia. “Um…thank you.”
“I wasn’t expecting them to have this much or I would have sent you with more.”
“Hey, you made it back. Look at what he did.” Tuft ran over, his handkerchief gone. His socket, no longer empty, now contained a shiny glass eye. The lid, which had been cut when the eyeball was damaged, was sewn up with precision. It was still a somewhat gruesome, but at least it would attract less attention. “He says I’ll have a scar, but I look normal again.”
“It looks great, Tuft.”
“Yeah, a whole new you.” Patricia turned to John. “You’re just full of surprises. Is there anything you can’t do?”
“I could never cook an omelet, but I suppose that’s irrelevant now.”
“Why weren’t you killed?”
John crouched down again. “I should be alone. The sun is up and it’s much too hot to work on anything right now. Perhaps you’d better get some rest. You can lie down in the corner of the hangar over there. I’ll keep an eye out for danger.”
Patricia, Stuart and Tuft did as they were instructed. Ready for a well-deserved rest. “She’s just trying to help, you know,” Eric said, his eyes watching Patricia walk away. “She’s kind of cute.”
“I really need to concentrate. Do you mind?”
“Ah yes, the all-important mission. I look forward to your failure.” John ignored Eric. “Failure reminds us we are human.”
“I won’t fail.”
Changing subjects, Eric crouched beside John. His long fingers brushed the hair out of John’s face and then turned his attention to the various wires and circuit boards. Picking up a wire, he dropped it haphazardly back into the pile. “What will you do with Brother Beasley?” The wind howled. It was a strong hot gust that did little to help the sweat dripping from John’s nose. “John? What will you do? You can’t avoid the subject. If you go through with this, you’ll be gone a while. So will you kill him before hand? Or maybe you’ll reserve that little pleasure as a reward for a safe journey home. I know you want revenge. It’s in there John. Embrace it. Do it.”
“Why not? You have a team of assassins at your command. He’s weak. Take him out.”
“Not yet.” John continued to work, brushing away the distraction of Eric.
This title does not have Book Reviews.
Please check back for updates.
Company Information Order Options Booksellers Careers Charity Programs
Copyright © 2003 - 2016 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.