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Episode 13 Part 17

By:  North

The palm trees along the streets still stood.  They had survived the storm, leaving a strange color guard in front of caved in buildings.  Their older dead fronds, which were all that had fallen, tumbled across the pavement pooling in corners.  There they gave a crunch each time the piles were stepped on, but no one heard it.  Too many sounds covered the noise and it became lost in the rubble like everything else.

            Sweat rolled down Bullet’s stomach as he worked.  He wished he could stop sweating.  Every time the cool wind blew it made him shiver despite his jacket.  How did it get so cold so quickly?  He tried to move around more to get warm, but all it did was make him sweat more under his arms.  His eyelids seemed heavy and warm.  He found himself closing them one at a time.  That made him feel better for a moment, but afterwards it was worse than ever.

            Bullet glanced over at Zora.  The two of them had ended up on the far side of a building that had mostly been searched.  She was a few feet away and straining to lever a wooden beam under a pile of rubble.  The plank began to crack as it finally slid home.  Zora kicked a chunk of concrete into place as a fulcrum.  Placing both hands on the board she pulled herself up putting all her weight on it.  The debris merely shifted.  Before Bullet could reach over to help, Zora moved further away from the fulcrum and tried again.  This time the whole load lurched.  Bullet joined her and it was the work of a moment to push all the rubble aside.  As soon as the weight was off it, the makeshift lever fell apart. 

            Zora quickly started to dig around in the cleared area.  Bullet shouted to her, “What are you doing?”  She didn’t seem to hear him.  He tried again.  This time she shouted back over the sirens that she was looking for an elevator shaft.  She pointed to the twisted piles of metal.  It was a blur to Bullet, but the patter of rain on metal was a cacophony that told him more than his eyes could.  Bullet went over to it.  Zora glanced up, but did not bother to ask what he was up to.

            There were a few pieces of wood blocking the way, but he pushed them easily aside.  Once next to the remains of the elevator he took a deep breath.  A story of the last few hours unfolded in an instant of layered smells.  The water had washed away the details, but much of it was still intact.  Desevites had used the elevator throughout the day, but thankfully none were inside now.  The sides had scraped the elevator shaft with enough friction to spark and tint the metal.  With the picture clear in his mind he stepped over the fallen wood and back to Zora.  He crouched down and took deep breaths searching for other pieces of smells that matched the elevator.  Bullet closed his eyes.  There was too much information to get any sort of clear image. It was like trying to read an encyclopedia by flipping through pages.  Tons of smells vied for his attention including something very wrong in the air, but he was not looking for that.

            His eyes opened.  Zora had been close to being right.  He stood up and gestured to Zora to follow him as he walked across the crumbling mess. Bullet found the wrecked elevator opening easily.  The smell of cold metal and hollowness was like a beacon once he started looking for it.  Bullet tried to pry the heavy masonry off the opening, but it wouldn’t budge.  He gestured at Zora and pointed toward the plank they had used earlier.  Together they wedged it into place and moved the debris.  A black opening led down into a cellar below.

            Behind them the blaring sirens retreated back towards the hospital.  Bullet felt he would collapse with relief.  Finally for just a few brief moments he wouldn’t have to hear that terrible head splitting wail.  He immediately felt guilty for thinking such a thing, but it was still a respite.  His relief lasted as long as it took for him to look back into the hole.  “Hello?” he shouted down.  There was no answer, but that didn’t mean anything in all the chaos.  Sure, they were at ground level, but nothing was stable and just walking around on the building sites was unreliable.  Zora had already started down into the broken opening.

            “Wait, what are you doing?” said Bullet grabbing her by the arm.

            “Checking it out” said Zora slowly as if not sure what was wrong with this answer and examining it as it left her mouth.

            “This whole thing could fall in” said Bullet.

            “Yes,” said Zora, “that is why I would like to do this quickly.”

            Bullet unknowingly made a face that most people found themselves making after a few minutes of talking with Sanrook.

            “No, wait- just- hold on a moment.”  Bullet moved closer to the crowd around the emergency vehicles.  He waved his hands and shouted.  Two Desevites saw him and trudged his way.  After some pointing and gesturing they nodded, went back to their vehicle and returned with two Desevites who were wearing helmets and other gear Bullet had mentally started calling ‘fireman outfits.’

            Bullet stood by to help, but nothing came of it.  The ‘firemen’ climbed into the hole, searching with flashlights that looked for all the world like fireflies in the darkness.  They crawled out after their search, while shouting up to Bullet that there was no one in the shaft or in the surprisingly pristine basement below the building.  Bullet helped the men out, then turned to tell Zora.

            She had already wandered away.

Bullet glanced around looking for her in the blurry mess.  It hit him that he had started thinking of her as a teammate.  He spotted her across a leveled wall.  Bullet unsure of his own motivation picked his way over to her.  Maybe it was because they were the only non Desevites, but he could not shake the feeling he was supposed to stay with her.  Perhaps it was just camaraderie that he needed to feel.  After all Nathians were not solitary creatures.  Even their military worked in packs.  Whatever the reason he found himself walking up to her.

            Now that the sirens had abated for a moment he could hear the sound in her throat again. The cough had gotten much worse and now included a bizarre trill.  “I think you need to take a break,’ he said.

            Zora stopped her digging to look at him.  It made Bullet uncomfortable. He couldn’t see her face and he had a strange sense that she could see his just fine. “Yeah,” she said finally, and tossed some debris aside. She started toward the emergency vehicles not bothering to see if he was coming with her.  He went along.

            It was a short trip past the currently loading ambulance and the officer who was in a shouting match with someone who must have been a local reporter.  They found a growing mound of supplies that was being constantly stocked by the rescue workers on their trips back and forth from the shelter.  Bullet and Zora didn’t even have the chance to ask for water before one of the blue vested workers saw them and shoved a bottle into their hands.  She said something that might have been a thank you for their work before she rushed toward the next people she saw.

            The bottle was cool and felt good despite how miserable and cold Bullet felt.  He worked the cap off as he and Zora stepped aside to be out of the way.  He took a long drink of the most wonderful tasting water in the world.  He had no idea he had been this thirsty.  Zora looked at the bottle doubtfully as if making sure it was real.  She seemed to be weighing dire options in her mind then finally reached into her vest pocket.  She pulled out a tiny bottle of pills and carefully knocked one into her palm.  She replaced the bottle with the same care.  Zora popped it into her mouth as she took her first drink.

            “Is that for your cough?” asked Bullet.

            “My cough? Oh, yeah.  I have- um- respiratory issues.” She left it at that and Bullet knew he should drop it.

            “Are you sure you should be out here in this?  It isn’t freezing, but aren’t you cold?”

            “Cold? Na- yeah a little, but it isn’t bothering me.”  She looked down at the water container again and took a long deep swig before continuing, “I didn’t realize how much I liked Desevites until I came here.  They are some seriously nice people.”

            Relief again, someone was talking to him and that made everything seem less uncertain.  “Yes,” he said.

            “I can’t speak for everyone on the planet, but all the Desevites I’ve talked with seemed nice in the end.” As Zora finished her sentence a weird fluttering sound came from her voice.

            There was a silence.  It wasn’t an awkward silence, just the type where two people decide if they have anything worth saying.

            “There are too many smells and sounds here,” said Bullet, “I can’t make any sense of out of what’s around me.”

            Zora shrugged “Makes you like the rest of us.”  In a few more gulps she nearly finished the water.

            “This is terrible,” He gestured toward the buildings, “Thank you for helping.”

            Zora looked at him.

            “I mean you’re a civilian and you just came here as a tourist and-“

            “No worries” said Zora cutting him off before he had a chance to make himself feel more uncomfortable.

            “Will your friend be okay?” Asked Bullet .

            “Arika will be fine.  She doesn’t know it, though.”

            There was another pause.

            “Some smell here has been bothering me” said Bullet, “It’s so familiar, but I can barely-“ Bullet stopped talking and his eyes grew wider. Zora was about to ask what was going on, but Bullet answered first.  “Natural gas.  That’s what it is.  There is this nasty additive they put in it.  They must use the same stuff here.  That’s what I smelled earlier.  Gas must be leaking-“

            Bullet didn’t bother to finish the sentence.  He and Zora both got up and ran toward the emergency personnel.

 

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