(Survival) Chapter 34: Never Give Up
Years back, when he was a little boy, he’d run to Professor Samuel Smith’s home, a few blocks away from his school. The house was simple, dull and nothing special with a very tall palm tree out in the front, but Professor Smith was the most wonderful person Bryan had ever met. One evening, he’d spied the professor with his telescope and asked if he could watch the sky with him. Minutes later he found himself walking hand in hand with the professor towards his home.
Samuel was in his early fifties, with hints of grey, wise eyes and a glowing smile on his face. He had books all over the house, on so many different subjects. They would talk about space shuttles and missions to neighbouring planets, history and wars, humans and their indomitable spirit. Prof Smith was known to be mysterious. Neighbours didn’t know much about him except that he was a private man with lots of suited visitors at odd hours of the day.
“One day, when people would look upon a bleeding world, scarred and wounded by their greed and fallacy, they would be sorry. They would need to reach down to Mother Earth to know what’s worth living for,” said Professor Smith as the setting sun brushed his bookshelves with its golden fingers.
21 years back, those words didn’t mean much. Standing in the rubble and dust, right at the foot of the tall Mexican fan palm, Bryan understood that rescue awaited somewhere beneath the tree. However, he couldn’t possibly start digging here, that would attract too much unwanted attention.
“There has to be another way,” Bryan muttered to himself as he carefully stepped inside the ruin that held good memories in its fallen glory. There was little light and broken glass crackled under his feet. One of the bookshelves, now empty, stood in one of the dark corners, seemingly untouched by the havoc. A steel bookshelf.
Steel! It could be a door!
Bryan ran his fingers along its dusty edges, tapping its surface. It sounded hollow near the bottom.
How does this thing move?
He started trying random bolts and screws until one of them moved back in.
The lowest rack opened up, giving way to a dark passage.
He had no lights in his pockets, just the crumpled map. Matt had gone away, taking Leila to the doctor and there was no one about.
A slight movement caught his attention, a dim blinking light came into the devastated drawing room. It was Felix.
Bryan frowned. “Where did you get the light, Felix?”
“Do you like it? Dr. K helped me put this together from a fidget spinner and some magnets. I need to spin it real fast though..”
Fidget spinners and light? Interesting.
“Would you like a little adventure?” Bryan asked as he motioned a confused Felix to shimmy down the gaping hole in the shelf.
A handful of people sits outside, talking in an undertone. After a gruelling day of pounding shards of concrete and making walls, men and women who had lost everything would sit under the stars and recount the old days.
“You know, the pandemic brought everything to a standstill. No schools, no colleges...”
“No offices, no business and no transport,” added another.
“I know. That’s when we started virtual classes..”
“I lost my brother to the virus.”
“I lost my job and my wife..”
“Don’t you think we should start a school of some sort? It may help...”
“It won’t fill your stomach, stupid...”
The voices ebb and flow, shifting from the pre-war days to now and back. Dr. Kalinda Matthews steps outside her makeshift lab. Rosa was recovering but Leila was critical. Her wounds were too deep and too many. When Matt had brought her in, an hour ago, she was in a delirium, constantly whispering something like a chant. She is sleeping now.
If humans could be demons and destroy civilization, it’s humans who would have to toil hard to bring new life.
Every waking moment, Kalinda was searching for a cure, something that would save the race from getting extinct and bring joy to the people. She couldn’t save her Naomi but she was trying to salvage of what remained in the crumbling world. She was trying her best but...
A familiar face sat at the edge of the fire. Her eyes had a distant look, she was thin and sickly, the only thing that remained unchanged was her high cheekbones, now jutting out painfully.
It was unmistakably Dr. Eleanor Perez, the famous obstetrician!
“Oh my goodness! Is it you, Dr. Perez?”
Clouded eyes searched Kalinda’s face.
Do I know her?
“Dr. Perez.. It’s me, Kalinda, from the City Hospital.. Remember?”
Recognition flickered across her eyes. “Hi.”
“I was wondering if you could help me. I have my diagrams inside, there,” Kalinda pointed to her makeshift lab, “if you’d care to take a look at them. Not a single foetus survived since the blasts and the problem lies with the uterus. So, I thought of modifying Greenberg’s artificial womb machinery a bit. Would you please come in, Dr. Perez?”
Words flowed through her like the wind, but something tugged at her core.
Analise. I’m sorry. Let me do this.
After a long time, she moved. Kalinda saw her eyes regain focus. Dr. Perez got up and dusted her clothes. “Let’s do this.”
The two women walked inside discussing external womb structure and survival chances of the foetus.
They had tripped down the stairs and had walked through the only cylindrical vestibule crisscrossed with diagonal beams and had come to stop before what seemed like a dead end.
“Could you make that light of yours, a bit steady?”
“Umm.. Let me try..”
There has to be something, a chamber, a door.. Bryan felt the cold walls under his palms. Nothing.
“What is this?” Felix aimed the light to his right. A small circular switch in the wall.
Both of them jumped back in surprise as a partition of the dead end flew open, revealing a password protected steel door.
What is the password?
Words were scratched below the password punching machine.
fbsui nbst kvqjufs tvo
Felix used to read a lot of story books before everything went downhill. He used to think it’d be nice to go on an adventure with the Famous Five or the Hardy Boys and here he was stuck in a dark tunnel with a strange code, a blinking LED and a fidget spinner in his tired hands...
Bryan scanned the grotesque characters for a minute.
key 1... Let’s move back one alphabet at a time.
f becomes e, b becomes a, s becomes r, u becomes t and i becomes h... e-a-r-t-h. Earth!
“Look Felix! It’s a Caesar cipher with a shift of one letter. The first one is Earth, then Mars, then it’s J-Jupiter... ”
“Sun”, Felix finished. ” But we have numbers only.. Then?”
Bryan thought for a moment. Numbers.
“Okay, Earth is the third planet, Mars is fourth and Jupiter’s fifth in our solar system...”
“The Sun? It’s not a planet. It’s a star..”
“What is in there anyway? Why are we doing this?”, Felix stopped the fidget spinner. Everything went black.
“3-4-5-0. The Sun is at the center of the solar system but is not a planet. If all the planets were assigned numbers, the Sun would be given a null value, which is zero. Now work your spinner, Felix.”
Bryan punched in the numbers while Felix watched him in utter amazement. This man who had agreed to protecting all of them had a flair for solving codes?
The metal door creaked.
Bryan pushed into a dark room. There was a rustle and a muffled ‘ouch’ before blinding lights flooded the small room. Bryan turned back. Apparently, Felix had tripped on a complicated set of gears and switches and was presently gawking at the neat room. Three wide passages labelled ‘Laboratory’, ‘Ammunition’ and ‘Miscellaneous’ spread out from the small dome shaped room.
A table with stacks of paper and lots of pencils and pens, sat in front of them. An envelope rested on top. Bryan pulled out a typed letter.
If you are reading this, we can safely say that you have experienced the Third World War. You are in dire straits because fools decided to play with power. What is stored in here should help you. There are medicines, equipments, computers, generators, all kinds of things we thought would be necessary. There are some books, paperback and hardback and some more in pen drives, in case you need them. There are some weapons too, if the devils choose to return.
One last thing: Never give up.
Bryan’s voice broke the calm. “Felix, bring in Dr. Matthews and anyone who could work in the labs. I’ll be on guard. Be fast.”
Before Felix took off, Bryan grabbed a torch from a drawer and handed it to him.
Sitting outside, Matt was massaging Haley’s legs as instructed. Inside, a now awake Rosa, Eleanor and Kalinda were poring over test results and analysis, debating and discussing the probable solutions.
“Dr. K! Dr. K!” Felix came running into the room, flailing his arms wildly.
“Labs... Underground... Now.. Anyone who could help...”
Everyone looked dumbfounded.
“What? I’m serious!”
“Yeah.. Come with me.”
“Okay. Calm down first,” Kalinda spoke as she gathered the most essential papers and diagrams. “We need to take someone from the power grid construction site, right? Matt, please stay here, okay?”
Eleanor picked up the setup for embryo preservation along with the tangle of wires that helped to keep the container frozen.
Felix led the way.
The entire structure is earthquake proof with ball bearings all around and underneath to make it more resistant. There is inbuilt ventilation and water purifiers. The plans and other documents that Bryan had gone through in this short while, mentioned the San Andreas fault line. They were damn lucky to be still alive. He had rifled through ‘Ammunition’ and found lots of walkie talkies, batteries, flashlights, knives, guns, revolvers and rounds of bullets.
He had never expected Miles and Sue to return from Banks’, but they did. They were still shaking and holding onto each other as they recounted everything.
“There are lots.. around 237 men. I counted them. And 18 shelters.”
“They have lots of weapons, firearms. Where did Banks get those?”
“And Sue. There is Leila.”
“Yes. She shot one of Banks’ men just before we managed to escape..”
“She had a lot of injuries, though..”
“Do you think she switched sides?”
At least, they had weapons now. He’d have to remember to gather some able bodied people to keep their newfound facilities secure.
Bryan looked up to see Dr. Matthews standing open mouthed, gaping at it all. The woman who’d smiled for him a few days back was also there, carrying a box and too many wires attached to it. Another man with a heap of papers stood, surprised by the view. Felix was smiling ear to ear, standing behind them all.
“Welcome to... Phoenix!”
“Labs! Oh! The power grids would finally be complete”- the man rushed inside with glee.
The woman tugged Kalinda. ” Come on. We’ve lots to do.”
Before she stepped inside the lab, Kalinda smiled at Bryan.
One big heart-stopping smile.
It feels familiar again. I have a purpose. This is where I belong; test tubes, samples, reports, decanters, monitors - they are my friends. I look at Kalinda and Rosa fretting over today’s procedures.
For a week, we three had worked together, setting up the apparatus, making the right solutions. An artificial womb - circular, elastic, complete with amniotic fluid (with extra doses of human chorionic gonadotrophin) for the extracted foetus to lie in, inlets for oxygen and nutrition, outlet for carbon dioxide, ducts for blood pumps, sensors, a dialysis unit (to which the umbilical cord will be attached, indirectly) hooked with the setup ; the entire extra-uterine chamber lined with transparent semipermeable membrane, now sits in a temperature controlled glass case. Vials of hormone line the shelves beside it.
Haley would be completing her first trimester in two days and we can’t delay any longer. She comes in, clean and fresh, seated in a wheelchair. Matt walks in behind her with a pensive face. Kirkland stops at the door and gives us a thumbs up. We start with the disinfection processes. As I put on my gloves, I look at the mother, her hand resting protectively on her belly... It reminds me of Analise.
I’d never fail you. I’d never give up.
Rosa helps Haley onto the surgical table. I pick up the syringe filled with anaesthetic. Matt brushes a kiss on her lips and leaves the room along with Bryan.
This is it.
My little baby floats in the transparent machine. So many pipes going in and coming out of it scares me and I find myself in Matt’s loving arms. We hug each other for a long time, Matt curling his arms around me as I sit in the wheelchair.
Love needs no words. It just needs hearts. And in that moment, I knew, our three hearts would create a beautiful home.