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Episode 13 Part 21

By:  North

Bullet could feel the Desivites looking at him.  He couldn’t make out their features in the blurry night, but he could smell their nervousness and expectation. These were just two of the hundreds of layers of smells he was trying to ignore.  Only the bitter industrial odor was what he searched for.  Some planets opted for sulfur smelling additives, but, like Nathians, the Desivites had chosen to make their natural gas smell of rancid gasoline.  Bullet sniffed for it as he tried to ignore the four sets of Desivite eyes watching him in sober quiet.

            Please let me get this right, Bullet begged silently.

            Breezes blew through the alleyways, carrying the vague scent.  Then it obliterated the smell completely.  He stopped and sweated, trying not to notice the way everyone shifted uncomfortably as he tried to pick the trail back up.

            It had not been long since Bullet and Zora had run to the emergency vehicles and had them all turned off.  The workers radioed the helicopters away from the area before shutting their electronics down.  Now there were only five people with him trudging through the fallen buildings, four firemen and Zora, who, like Bullet, had been given a fire jacket.  The things were heavy and hot.  Bullet hopped they were effective.  Zora lugged a heavy tool kit she had gotten from the back of an emergency vehicle.  When Bullet and the others had started away to find the source of the gas leak Zora had volunteered.  Bullet had told her it was too dangerous, but her reply had come out of the darkness like a whip, “What ya gonna do when you find it?  You may need someone who knows how to work with piping.  Anyone here an expert?”  No one stepped forward.  That was the point where she went looking for tools.

            She hadn’t said a word since.

            Bullet looked into the still drizzling rain.  With no flashlights Bullet felt like he was in the bottom of a well.  Stars twinkled impassively above.  Black shapes blotting them out gave evidence to the buildings still standing around them.  Bullet tried to pry the smell from the air.  It was a mess of water, bricks, wire, insulation, sewage, food from recently destroyed refrigerators, Freon, and people.  Always people.  Layers and layers of history and lives lay scattered and dripping on the ground.  Intermittently the Desivites would call out, then he would listen for the sounds of life.  If there was anyone left here they had to get them out.  Find the source of the leak and make sure everyone’s out, Bullet thought to himself over and over.  Worry wracked his mind as he strained to hear.  What if someone was out there right now and he just couldn’t hear them?

            “What does it smell like?” asked the firemen, who Bullet had come to think of as the leader, quietly.  A preternatural hush had floated around the group.  The empty few blocks that seemed to be the source of the gas appeared to be abandoned.  All sound and light was muffled and distant except for the scrape of boots trailing behind him. 

Bullet mulled the question over before answering.  Nathians had scores of words for olfaction.  They had an entire realm of vocabulary devoted to describing scents and there was no hope of any of it translating.  “I – I guess it’s like kerosene.”

The Desivites sniffed around, but seemed to find nothing.  Bullet on the other hand was getting more and more information.  As he rounded a brownstone it all solidified.  The building was in comparatively good repair, but that meant nothing.  Bullet waved everyone to a stop.  Yes, there it was, underneath the ghostly echoes of distant noises down the alleys a hiss reached out to Bullet.  Not this building but very close maybe on the other side.  “I think-“

That was all Bullet heard himself say.  The next thing he knew he was five feet south and six feet lower.  All the sound in the world had been turned off after one big nasty ear splitting bang. 

Bullet realized that his arms were wrapped around his head blocking the masonry falling on him.  As a brick slammed into his arm he wondered if he should have heard a crack.  It was over in an instant.  Bullet was coughing soundlessly into the rain and dust.  He just laid there a moment unsure of anything.  Should he move?  Was it over?  He just wanted to lay there and let whatever was happening happen. 

He opened his eyes.  Through the cloud the shadow of a Desivite was slowly extending his quills as he pushed himself back to his feet.  Bullet’s dark vision had been obliterated in a flash as the hot cloud blew up around them.  A few other shadowy forms stirred.  He counted four.  Bullet clawed his way up quickly looking for Zora.  He saw movement a few feet further away near a pile that looked like parts of a ruined kitchen.  He could barely make out her clumsy jacketed shape as she struggled with something.  The glow of fire from around the brownstone revealed a glint of light.  Maybe a bottle she was dragging out of her tools.  Bullet finally pulled himself up and stumbled toward her.  Sound started filtering back through the haze.  First it was base thumps as floors collapsed near them.  He could feel these more than hear them.  Then there was the sound of coughing and cracking wood, but the noises were muffled as if they were coming through thick layers of cotton. 

By the time Bullet reached her, Zora had managed to sit up.  She was taking large draughts of the water then choking and sputtering.  She gasped, clutching her shirt over her face and neck.  “Dust” she managed to say in a strangled voice.

“Respiratory problems?”  He wasn’t sure if he was talking loudly or not. 

She did not reply, but instead shook with gagging coughs.

Bullet turned back toward the building.  It had saved their lives.  From where Zora had been blown to, he could see that its northern façade had been bashed inward leaving the remains of the south side smoldering but whole.  The building just beyond it was a smoldering wreck.

They had almost been there.  It was maybe a minute’s difference between where they were now and where they would have been.  If anything had been different in any way, if Zora had not taken so long getting the tools, if he had noticed the smell sooner, if they had not stopped to call out and listen just the right amount of times, if they had not happened to stand behind the brownstone, then everyone of them would have died only a moment ago.  Bullet forced it out of his mind, instead choosing to watch the Desivites slowly stand.  One of them was holding his shoulder another limping badly and holding on to the youngest Desivite, who appeared unhurt.  Bullet said a silent prayer of thanks then helped up Zora.  She was shaking.

“We found it,” she managed to wheeze.

“What if there were peopl-“

“Don’t” she coughed.

The leader Desivite stumbled up beside them.  He stood an instant as if there was so much to say that he couldn’t process it into words. Then it came out in a rush, “We found it, we need to spread out from here and make sure we have everyone clear.  That includes ourselves.”

“We need to shut off the-“

“Too late.  Besides the utility company will have already shut down the main lines leading in.  We just have to let it go and find everyone we can.”

Zora pulled away from Bullet and followed the Desivite into the night. 

The group shouted and stopped over and over as they made their way down the streets away from the still burning center of the explosion.

Empty street after empty street waited for them.  There was no sound and no sign of any more leaks.  Bullet’s ear twitched.  His ears still rang like an ambulance was driving through his head, but he was the only one who heard it when a voice finally, quietly made its way out of a shattered window nearby.  Bullet rushed to the door around the side of this concrete building, but it wouldn’t budge no matter how hard he banged on it.  He gave it a solid shove, but one of his arms wasn’t working right. 

Deciding that the door was wedged in under collapsing weight, the leader Desivite went to the window with Zora’s tools.   He broke through the glass and reached his arm inside to open the lock.  Gauzy curtains fluttered around his arm.  Somehow they, of all things, had remained in place through it all.  Zora and the youngest Desivite fireman were small enough to slip through the opening into the wreaked apartment.  As they disappeared into the dark Bullet waited anxiously, ears cocked for the slightest sound he could pick up through the half deafened haze.  A few very long moments later the two crawled back to the window dragging someone with them.  Ever so carefully they helped the conscious, but addled man out of the window. 

“He was pinned” the young fireman explained as he pulled himself back through the same opening.  “Only person we could find in there.”

“Come on” said the leader as they steadied the man on his feet, “We have to keep looking.  Can you walk?”

“The man nodded, but struggled none the less as they made their way back toward the place where they had left the vehicles and other emergency personnel.

As they dragged themselves forward listening and calling out interchangeably, Bullet noticed the most meager of hints of color in the eastern sky. Had it really been so long already?  He could not believe he was seeing the first slivers of blessed daylight.  He listened with all his might and smelled for any trace of more gas.  Exhaustion and pain settled on him like mud in the bottom of a pond.  


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