ISLAND IN THE SAND
Star and Jameson stepped carefully away from the end of the plank, slightly distancing themselves from one another. Slowly, they circled the power plant until they could see the tunnel entrance in the distance. They moved together toward the entrance without saying anything. The two boys, crouched down about twenty yards away, were stationed on each side of the tunnel entrance. The boys had arrows nocked into place, with bows drawn partially back. As Star and Jameson approached, the boys adjusted their weapons, drawing their strings fully back, letting the tips of the arrows track the pair’s progress.
“You’ve got guns. You came to shoot us, we know,” one of them yelled when Star and Jameson were close enough to hear.
“We have guns, yes,” Jameson yelled back, cupping one hand to the side of his mouth to carry the distance. “But we don’t want to shoot unless you make us. Put the bows down and stop acting like idiots.”
“You shot last time. We saw you shoot True,” but the boy who’d done the shouting lowered his bow and motioned for the other boy to do the same.
“And that was a better situation than we’re in right now,” he murmured as their arrow tips touched the floor.
“Put the weapons on the ground and we’ll talk,” Star said, keeping her voice gentle. “We could shoot you from right here but were not going to unless you make us.”
“Okay,” the boy replied, motioning to the other boy.
Both released the tension on their bowstrings and laid the weapons in front of them. Star and Jameson walked forward until they were only a few feet away. They both kept their side arms pointed at the floor of the chamber.
“What are you doing here? Why didn’t you go with the others?” Star asked.
“We’re supposed to guard you from following,” the boy answered. “Sly said they needed food and rest until they could come back with some for us. The machine told them where there might be food.”
“Well,” Jameson said, “you’re great at talking, apparently, but pretty lousy at guarding,” Jameson pointed out.
“We were just waiting for you to come,” He said, pointing at the other boy. “We weren’t waiting to kill you. Sly’s probably not coming back. We know that. He doesn’t come back for anyone.”
“I’m Theo and this is my brother Val. We both want to join you.”
“We talked about filling the chamber, but we were never actually going to do it,” Star said. “Well we didn’t come down to this place to kill you, or anyone else,”
Theo said. “We came down here to survive. Can we join you?”
“What do you suppose True will say to that?” Jameson asked, turning slightly so Star could hear.
“True’s alive?” Theo asked, with obvious surprise in his voice.
“They broke some lights further down the tunnel,” Jameson offered, pointing behind him.
Star peered into the tunnel, noting for the first time that there was a short distance of darkened passage before the light line became continuous again.
“Why would they do that?” she mused to Jameson.
“Maybe they were experimenting to see how hard it would be to break all the lights?” he responded. “Maybe we ought to take a look.”
Without further discussion, they moved deeper into the tunnel, walking on either side of the slightly raised rails, with Theo and Val leading, each on a different side of the passage. Star noted some sort of construct or impediment centered between the rails at the same time as Val stopped and whispered.
“What was that? They must have left it. I stepped on something…” he didn’t finish.
A snapping ‘thunk’ was heard, and then the hiss of an arrow. Val screamed and fell to the floor of the tunnel. Star saw the head of an arrow sticking out of his back, as he went down. Jameson and Star crouched as low as they could, staring at the contraption Sly’s band had built to launch the cross-bolt projectile. Theo leaped to his brother’s aid. As Star surveyed the scene she realized that Sly’s breaking the lights had given the device just enough cover to avoid detection before Val tripped over its activating string.
“Let’s get him back to the sphere, if we can,” she instructed, rising to her feet.
Jameson helped Theo to get Val up and moving. The boy whimpered but was able to walk with their assistance. The arrow had penetrated his chest, high up near his left collar bone. The arrow looked bizarre, sticking completely through him. There was almost no blood leaking form either wound, although Star grimaced in looking at it. The arrow would have to come out and the blood flow might prove unstoppable. Medicine had fallen into decline, even while Star had been living in the orphanage. Nobody wanted to be responsible for anyone or anything as once someone got sick or injured they either recovered on their own or died an agonizing death anyway. She knew there’d once been doctors and hospitals, but none of that part of the culture had survived. In some places, there were nurses and shaman. In those places, they fought like cats and dogs and few patients survived.
The chamber lights went on as they exited the tunnel and staggered back toward the sphere. What looked like clear clean water filled the moat, and the plank was extended with the door open when they got there. Wren, True, Tal and Sol were outside, waiting.
Jordan let us watch you in the tunnel,” Wren said. “Did someone get hurt?”
“So much for Sly not wanting to really hurt anyone,” Star said to True, ignoring the kids.
“I know. I don’t know why they follow him,” True answered, coming across the plank to guiding the injured boy across the plank and into the operations center.
“They follow him for the same reason you did,” Jameson said, raising his voice. “They follow him because they’re afraid. Afraid of him, afraid of having no food or water, and afraid-like you, that you can’t think of anything to do about it.”
“Jameson, we need food,” Star informed him, taking him by the arm and pulling him away from the children, and changing the prickly subject. “We have water, but the food is becoming critical, not for us but for the children. You’ve got to go out there. Wren and I can take care of Val, if he’s going to make it.”
“I can only carry so much, depending on what I find there,” Jameson responded.
“Take True. I know we can’t trust him yet, so watch him. Make him lead, just in case Sly left any more devices behind. Load him up and march him back. He’s got a lot to make up for.”
Star felt a tug on her arm and looked down.
“We want to go too. With Jameson to get the food. We can carry a lot, or maybe we can find a wagon or something,” Tal said, her big eyes, round and serious. “Remember, we found the way into the other food room.”
Star rubbed her forehead before answering. “All right. You can go. You do everything Jameson tells you to do and never, I repeat never, go anywhere he can’t see you. Understand?”
Tal and Sol leaped into the air in celebration.
“We’re going on an adventure with Jameson and True,” they sang together and then ran off to get their packs.
Star waited until Jameson and True were ready to leave before approaching the console. “Jordan, how are we going to find the elevator opening at the bottom of the chamber? There was nothing there before. Not that we could see.”
“The doors are seamlessly concealed for security,” Jordan replied. “If there is no security risk the doors can be opened now for visibility and location. Communication is possible from within the elevator itself, if it is still functional.”
Tal and Sol rushed to stand by Jameson and True’s side, dragging adult-sized packs behind them.
“You’ll take care of the outsiders?” True asked, his voice sounding doubtful.
“They’ll will get the best of what we can give him, although it doesn’t look good right now. We’ve got to get the arrow out and stop the blood, and then we have to hope he won’t get infected. It’s the infection we have to worry about. He’s young and healthy enough to get through the rest.”
“I know.” True remarked. “Everything we live around is so dirty. Only this place is clean,” he marveled, his head and eyes turning to take in the amazing complex around them.
“There’s hope in that,” Star concluded. “Now move out and hurry back. The kids haven’t eaten and they’re almost too hungry to go on. I’m not sure the food we find in cans has much energy left in it, but I don’t know what else to do. We’ll just have to eat more.”
Jameson headed out without comment, True in the lead, and Tal and Sol running around behind him, as if playing some sort of game, the rules of which only they knew.
“Talk to Jordan when you think you’ve found where the elevator might be. I’ll miss you,” Star yelled at their departing backs before turning to the sphere and stepping across the plank.
Jameson turned his head, briefly, but did not reply. Star would have loved to strip and lounge in the soothing fresh water of the moat, but Val’s critical condition required her immediate attention. Her last comment to Jameson had simply slipped out, and that bothered her a bit. She did not need to become weakened by any attachments, especially not to someone she barely knew. Going it alone for the kids was wise, but sometimes the loneliness almost overcame her.
Val lay supine not far from the console, two packs braced under him to keep the arrow tip off the floor.
“Jordan, we have one of our people who was struck by an arrow. The arrow is sticking through his torso. Can you provide any assistance?” Star asked, on a lark, not knowing if the machine had the ability to manipulate anything, except turning electrical stuff on and off or opening and closing things.
“Traumatic thoracic injury. Please designate placement on the display,” Jordan answered, instantly.
Star looked at the display of an unmarked human body that appeared vertically before her. An arrow was next to the figure.
“Align the arrow to represent its penetration of the torso,” Jordan instructed.
Star brought her fingers up toward the display, then backed away, and then went forward again. She felt like she was dealing with the arts of black magic so banned and outlawed on the outside. She gingerly moved the arrow around until it was sticking through the figure like it was sticking through Val.
“It would appear nothing vital was hit, but it is hard to tell using such representation. Please measure respiration and ask the subject if there is any wheezing or difficulty in breathing.”
Star bent and spoke to Val. “He’s in a lot of pain but breathing fine,” Star reported.
“You must break or cut the tip of the arrow off and then retract the shaft gently through the wound. Bleeding in that area will be copious, but will also help to prevent sepsis. Use cloth pads to press on both sides of the wound for at least an hour. Alcohol should be used to clean and purify the area.”
“What alcohol? We don’t have any alcohol,” Star told the machine.
“I will produce a sufficient quantity for your needs in the dispenser mounted below the console. The amount will serve to cleanse the wound. Oral consumption of the remainder will ease the pain, although the side effects can be a headache, vomiting, dehydration and depression. Please place a container under the extended spigot.”
A whining sound was heard as a bent pipe-like device slowly protruded out of the side of the console.
Star rummaged through her pack for a plastic cup. She placed it under the spigot and was about to inform Jordan when liquid flowed into the cup until it was nearly brimming over. She brought the cup to her lips to drain drink some and allow it to be moved easily. The liquid burned her mouth and throat as she swallowed, fighting to keep herself from choking and spilling the remainder of the alcohol.
“Oh,” she breathed out. “That is awful.”
“One hundred percent alcohol. Flavor can be added to your taste,” Jordan offered.
“Yuck. Thank you very much,” she said sarcastically, kneeling to prepare Val for the operation, her head spinning slightly from the alcohol.
She’d heard of alcohol but never experienced it before. It was a good and bad feeling, all at the same time, she decided, not motivated to try any more of it.
Breaking the arrow shaft was not difficult. Star pulled an old, but sealed, Kleenex container she’d been saving from her pack. As they were untouched, the Kleenex would be clean, and it was all she had that was. Before going to work, she held up Val’s head and told him to drink from the cup she placed at his lips. Fearfully, the boy complied. He coughed and choked several times, but Star made him drink more than half the liquid in the cup.
“This is going to hurt,” she told the already hurting boy.