Chapter Nine – Disambiguation
“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”
Part I – Dark Clouds
“ If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.”
The footsteps drew steadily nearer. They all turned to face the passageway from which they had emerged.
“It doesn't sound like more than a couple of people,” Evan whispered.
They waited, until finally two figures came into the room.
“Well, well,” Eve smiled, “I never expected to meet you two here.”
The men stopped and took in the group. “Eve, Andre, Evan, Mark, hello,” he smiled back at them. “We got diverted,” Howard explained.
“Got diverted?” Eve looked at him, “but you were supposed to be finding Professor Madison somewhere in Morro Bay.”
“We were, yes,” Emret confirmed.
“We received a message about a breach into the mainframe and were told that the hacker had retrieved the information, location and access codes for this evacuation point. We were asked to check it out as they thought it might be the professor's nephew, which of course might lead us to the very person we were tracking.”
“I see,” Eve replied, the others stayed silent.
“How did you end up here, and how did you get in?” Howard asked.
“For some reason,” Eve was now making this up as she went along, “we thought we were coming to the Morro Bay control centre. When we found nothing like that, on the surface, we came to check out the closest building.”
“Yeah,” Evan added. “The coordinates were correct so we wanted to see if there was anything at all here. And voila!” he smiled and spread his arms out.
“So you had the location and the access codes?” Howard looked at Eve.
“The location,” she replied. “When we came down here the doors were open.”
“That's odd,” Emret remarked.
“Yes it is, that's what I thought. We were going to leave, but I was curious about what we'd stumbled across.”
“But why come here when you'd sent us?” Howard asked. “Who gave you the location?”
“Time was pressing, we'd heard nothing from you, and it was Henry who gave me the location and said we should check it out. That it was urgent to stop Project Weatherman and that there was no point staying where we were twiddling our thumbs. Yes, I think those were his exact words.”
Eve was a much better liar than she could ever have imagined, because she certainly seemed to have convinced Howard and Emret.
Seeing that they believed her, Eve pushed her luck by asking, “So what is this place?”
Howard glanced at Emret. “Henry didn't tell you?”
“No, like I said we thought we were coming to the Morro Bay Control Centre.”
Howard thought for a moment, perhaps deciding whether or not what Eve was telling him was plausible. He decided that he didn't have any good reason to doubt her.
“This is an evacuation point,” Howard had now given the place a purpose, but what exactly?
“The pod,” he pointed at the vehicle behind them, “is one of several designated to evacuate survivors to the last interstellar mothership waiting in orbit.”
The way he was so matter of fact left Eve and the others stunned, but she did her best to recover.
“You mean this takes us off the planet if something drastic went wrong?”
“Precisely,” Howard confirmed to her. “And it has.”
“Sorry! It has?” Was this really happening? It was a lot to take in.
Emret pointed at the clock, it read 02:56:34.
“If you want to survive, you'll be in that pod and out of here before zero hour. I think it's fairly sound to assume the worse case scenario, the evacuation countdown has been initiated and all missions are suspended.”
“So we take to the lifeboat and say goodbye to planet Earth?” Andre broke his hitherto silence.
“Nice turn of phrase,” Howard smiled. “Women and children first,” he joked.
“But we don't just get in and go do we? We need to wait in case other people turn up.” Mark had gathered his thoughts enough to try to work out what should happen next.
“We can wait sure, but I think around ten minutes before that clock reaches ZERO we need to be onboard and launch.” Howard told them.
“Plus, there are twelve places and six of us. If more than six people turn up here to join us, well, we will have a problem,” Emret looked a little odd as he was explaining that.
“Well, we wait a bit,” Eve said. “Is there anyway to find out what is actually going on?”
“I could try the sat phone on a general call. When we tried contacting HQ there was nothing, no reply. It's most probably closed down.”
“Give it a go Howard and let's see if we get anybody.”
“I know it's a stupid question,” Steve looked down at Grif with a silly grin breaking across his face, which made Grif smile. “How do you feel?”
“Like I was run over by a truck!”
“Yeah, I suppose all things considered.”
“All things considered what?” Grif wondered if he was suffering after effects because this conversation was skewed.
“I mean being in a coma.” Steve stared at him.
“What is it? Have I changed into a zombie? You're staring.”
“Sorry, but you... forget it. Nothing.”
Now Steve blushed. He had for reasons totally unknown, been thinking that Grif looked very sexy. God knows why he was having those thoughts, but sometimes things like that just strike you for no apparent reason. Maybe because Grif had come round and the huge tension thinking he might not, that he would die, never regain consciousness, had suddenly evaporated.
“No, I can't. Tell me,” Grif insisted.
Steve felt his eyes getting wet. He started fighting to hold back the tears. Grif lay there, staring up into his eyes. Then he had control no longer, Steve dropped his head and the tears overwhelmed him.
For a few minutes the only sound in the medical bay was that made by Steve attempting to cry as quietly as possible. Grif reached out and took his hand. He squeezed and pulled the boy towards him. Steve rested his head on Grif's chest, feeling the dampness from his tears soaking the crisp white linen sheet. He was thankful his face was hidden.
Eventually he sat back up and wiped his eyes. “Sorry, I'm not usually such a wimp.” He avoided looking directly at Grif, embarrassed by his uncontrolled display of emotions.
“Forget it. I guess one hell of a lot has happened whilst I've been asleep.”
“Do you reckon you could walk?” Steve asked, wanting to work out how they might get out of there, but also because he was relieved to ground himself in the immediate actions required.
Grif thought about it. Moved his legs under the sheet. Slowly he tried to sit up, but fell back against the pillows.
“I doubt it. I feel pretty wasted. I don't have any muscle power.”
“Okay listen. I'm going to look for supplies. I'll see if I can find a GPS, we'll need at least that to get to this so called escape pod. That and a vehicle. Will you be alright here?”
“Yeah, sure. Go.”
Steve stood up. He was reluctant to leave Grif alone, seeing as he'd only just now woken up from a long coma. But there was no choice. It seemed like it was urgent to find and launch this escape pod.
As he was leaving he turned back briefly, “I'll be as quick as I can.”
“No problem, take your time.”
He turned to go out and start looking. Take your time he thought about that, he wasn't at all sure that they had much time.
Joel was in the control room talking to his uncle and Joseph. Everywhere the clocks showed the countdown rather than real time, a constant reminder.
“Kado said he'll be here in around five hours, which is cutting things fine,” Joel told the professor.
“Yes it is, but I have a vehicle ready, charged and programmed to get you to the evacuation point.”
“One car won't be enough for eight of us.”
“Six,” his uncle corrected. “Joseph and I aren't going.”
“But if there is gonna be one almighty flood and no energy afterwards?” Joel didn't see why his uncle would want to stay.
“I want to see what we might be able to salvage. It's just possible we could find a way to repair things. It really all depends exactly what happens. You can understand how responsible I feel?”
“Of course, but the picture you painted was rather like doomsday, the end of the world.”
“Well yes, I suppose you’re right there,” Clement chuckled. “But we might just come back from the brink. Did you get in touch with your other friends?”
“Sent a message, just have to hope they got it.”
“Let's hope so. I'm sorry Joel, but now you have to excuse us, because Joseph and I have a lot to monitor and a lot of preparation to do.”
“Sure, and thanks.”
Joel turned and walked out to go and find Mark and Jack. Until now he'd always had a fairly low regard for his Uncle Clement, but his opinion had changed, he could see things in a different light. The guy was not so bad when you got to know and understand him.
“So what's happening?” Mark asked.
“My uncle and Joseph are staying here. Somehow he thinks he might be able to salvage something from the disaster. There's a car charged and ready to take us to the evacuation point, so we just have to wait for Kado to get here.”
“If the professor thinks he can get things working again after this flood that's coming, then why leave?” Jack asked.
“Yeah, why leave?” Mark echoed.
“I guess we have a few hours to think about that. But I sent a message telling Steve to get out. It’d be weird if they found themselves alone on that ship.”
“Yeah, but did he even get the message?” Mark asked.
“Can these escape pod things communicate? Maybe you could send a message to the pod so he gets it if he makes it there.”
“What a fucking mess,” Joel wasn't sure what to do.
“Listen, I'll go ask Joseph,” Jack volunteered.
He left the other two and set out to find Joseph. Mark immediately put an arm round Joel in a sort of semi-hug.
“It'll work out,” he squeezed his boyfriend.
Joel appreciated the closeness, but made no reply. He sure hoped it would, but there was no way of knowing. It was a bit like flipping a coin, heads you win, tails you lose. Only the difference here was you might win and lose both at the same time. We could all end up together, but still be fucked, he thought. Or all escape together, and then what? The emptiness of space for the rest of your life.
“I found a GPS,” Steve said, coming to sit down beside the bed.
“Is there anyone left here?”
“Completely deserted as far as I know.”
“That's the big problem. Nothing. No, there was a couple of cars, but one was completely out of service and the other I set to charge, but it seems to have a battery problem, it didn't indicate it was charging.”
“I guess that's why they got left behind.”
“So what do we do?”
“Key in the coordinates you got. Let's see how far it is.”
“Yeah, but Grif, you can't even sit up. No way can we walk there.”
“You could. Alone.”
“Fuck, NO!” Steve raised his voice almost screaming.
“Woah! Calm down. I just thought one of us could survive.”
“No fucking way am I leaving you. We go together or we stay here.”
Grif looked up at Steve. The boy's got a heart of gold, he thought, whilst at the same time wondering how he could convince him to go alone. He knew that he was doomed to rest here. If he ever got any strength back in his limbs it wouldn’t be for now. It might come back, but too late.
Kado checked the time on his watch, still just over two hours until they got to Morro Bay. He wondered how bad things really were, perhaps Joel had exaggerated, the boy never really seemed very logical. Let emotions take over in a situation like this and you could end up totally out of control. Henry had made the choice to stay, he had made it seem like some altruistic gesture, that as a man who had lived his life, he didn't have any purpose taking an evacuation place.
Logically that's all bullshit, he didn't believe it for a minute. What he could see would be Henry enjoying life onboard an interstellar spacecraft with amiable young men to entertain him. Just like always. If he was staying then there was a future here, nothing was maybe quite as bleak as the picture getting painted.
What happens if all the important people evacuate? It leaves a vacuum to fill here. No opposition, no one to appease any more. A new beginning, with new people. Perhaps it was all a Machiavellian ploy by Henry to take control, and he was getting rid of him as well.
Kado decided he would have to tackle the professor about the exact state of affairs when they arrived. There wouldn’t be too much time if he needed to evacuate, but he usually relied on his instinct and gut feeling. He had been swept up in the panic, but on this trip he'd had time to think. His gut feeling told him to stay. Take the gamble.
Joel's mum was trying to get Charlie to take a nap, but it wasn't working. The kid was too excited about where they were going, about seeing his big brother and his uncle.
“How much longer mom?” Charlie whined for the umpteenth time.
“Not too long darling,” his mother replied calmly.
“But how long?”
He was anything if not persistent. She was however used to that.
“You will just have to be patient. Whining won't get us there any quicker.”
Charlie pulled a face and turned his attention back to the game he’d been playing.
Kado who had been half listening to this new exchange, the same irritating questions repeated over and over, had to control himself. If his mother wasn't here, I'd take the little brat and whop his ass that would soon shut him up.