By Scott Wilson
Word Count: 1624
Grant checked his oxygen gauge. He had close to half an hour of good clean oxygen left and a forty-minute journey back to base camp. The manufacturer’s guide always said to err on the side of there being less air left in your tank by five percent, give or take a percent. That was no help to this young space cadet today; he needed the gauge to be wrong by ten percent the other way. There was no use worrying about it though, the more stressed the body was the faster it breathed and the more precious oxygen it would use.
“Just relax,” Grant said to himself, “just relax kiddo and you will be just fine.”
A soft click in Grant’s ear gave him hope that the battery for his coms device was working after all. Maybe he had just panicked when he slid down that last embankment, puncturing a hole in his main tank and mistook the readout from his coms device. He thought to himself that that was probably it, he had it upside down, and the readout actually said the battery was full. I mean, how could it be empty when it had a two-week life and he had been gone only two days. Yeh, that was it, he was just panicking and everything seemed to be wrong, but it was all going to be alright.
No reply, not even the static of empty cyberspace.
“Come in base.”
Grant shook the coms device and flicked the power switch on and off, then off and on again. The read out flashed and all the green bars appeared next to the battery icon. The battery must have been loose after the fall, not flat, loose.
“Hello, base. This is Grant Bryant, come in.”
“Go ahead Grant, this is base.”
“Base, I had a bit of a stumble five clicks out and lost my oxy supply. Only got about half an hour left. Request immediate help.”
“Got you, Cadet. We are tracking your coms device and will have an emergency pod out there within fifteen minutes.”
“Thank you, oh thank you so much, base.”
“No worries, Cadet. Just sit tight and we’ll bring you home safe as houses.”
“Will do, over.”
Grant sat down and waited. He could stop acting as though he was worried now. But only a little. He still had to appear relieved for his rescuers.
* * * *
“What were you doing in sector 84CA, Grant?”
“It’s called Wynnum, grandpa.” Grant said abruptly. “It’s where I grew up. It’s where we all lived until five years ago. If it wasn’t for those bloody terrorists we would still be living there instead of this oversized bubble.”
“I know Grant; I miss our home and your parents dearly to. We are just luck that they managed to set up these domes across the world before the bio-weapons took everything. You have to stop going out there. They’ll catch you and you will be expelled from the Cadets, you know.”
“I am being careful, grandpa. If they kicked me out of the Cadets I wouldn’t be able to go outside the dome and look for....”
“No one could be alive out there. Not after five years in that environment. Most of those that died died in only a few months of the attack.”
“There has to be survivors. It looks exactly the same out there as it does in here. The sky is blue, the grass is green, the....”
“But there are no living creatures. The gas poisoned all living creatures that we know of.”
“I don’t believe them,” Grant said softly. “How do you know it’s not all a lie? How do you know that it isn’t gone, if it was there in the first place?”
“Don’t let anyone hear you talk like that Grant. That sort of talk will get you kicked out of the Cadets as quick as going outside without a valid mission.”
Grant stood up, walked across the living room of the unit, and opened the draw of his desk. He moved some papers around and pulled out a photo frame. The frame looked slightly tarnished and Grant’s grandpa did not remember seeing it on any of the shelves. Maybe one that was very close to Grant’s heart. One that held special, personal memories that was too painful to be on show and remind him every day of his missing parents and sister. Grant looked at the frame for a minute, and then slowly walked back over to his grandpa. He handed the frame to him and almost pulled back when his grandpa reached out to take it.
Grandpa looked at the photo and felt tears well up in his eyes. Grandpa remembered someone took it at Grant’s eighteenth birthday party on the family yacht. Grant was sitting in between his parents and his sister was sitting on her mother’s lap. Their pet Siberian husky was looking right at the camera, with his paw raised as though he were waving at the photographer. Grandpa had a good idea who the photographer was; Grant’s fiancé, Bree. Bree was studying graphic design at university and her favourite pastime was photography. Grandpa knew that he was on the yacht that day, but was quite sick from some bad oysters he had eaten the night before, so he would not have taken it. This was the last weekend before the attack. The last weekend the family spent together as a family. The last weekend that Grant and his grandpa had seen the rest of the family.
“I remember this, Grant. But I don’t remember seeing if around the unit before.”
“That’s because I only brought it back from our house a month ago.”
“Our house. That means that it is contaminated. You could be executed for this.”
“For what? For showing the public, that it is safe outside. That there is no danger for us to go back to our homes and live the way we used to before the attack.”
“You could have killed me already.”
“No grandpa. I did some tests over the last few months and worked out that it was safe before I brought this back here. I love you grandpa. There is no way I would do anything that might harm you. You are the only family I have left.”
“What sort of tests?”
“Well, in April I noticed that our Cadet leader had a small tear in his suit. We were outside for a week, he never noticed, and he never got sick. Then I brought back a couple of things each week and left them around the Academy. Not in any places that the Cadets ever go. You know only secure areas where only the leaders are supposed to go. No one has been sick and no one has died at the Academy since I started the experiments.”
“You’ve been playing a very dangerous game, Grant. With people’s lives.”
“Not really, grandpa. I overheard some of the leaders talking a year ago about the outside. They didn’t know I was still in the showers after a trip outside, so they were very slack about talking in an unsecure area. Anyway, I started listening more carefully and looking for any signs that this might be the case. “
“A year ago, you’ve been thinking about this for a year now.”
“Yes, grandpa. You know, I have worked as hard as I can at the Academy to gain the trust and respect of the leaders so I could start solo expeditions as soon as I could. I was so wrapped six months ago when I finally got my first solo task. Even if it was only a day tripper.”
“I thought that you had finally got over having to live in the dome. That’s why I thought you had changed after your last birthday. Why you had become happier, less gloomy and glum.”
“That happened when I started to have hope again. Hope that that there might be survivors outside.”
“You did a good job fooling the leaders today then.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well when they told me that they received a distress call from you, you sounded almost hysterical.”
“I hope I didn’t overdo it then. I don’t want them to think I can’t handle solo missions outside. I had to bung it on though, so they thought I was concerned about running out of clean oxygen outside. I mean, it wouldn’t look good to walk all the way back to the dome with no oxygen left. They would know that I knew the lie about outside the dome.”
Grandpa handed back the frame and sat back in his recliner, putting his feet up as the footrest slowly rose up. Old time comforts in a new world. He too pinned for the old world, where there was no outside or inside. No restrictions on what you could or couldn’t own, or talk about.
“I want to disappear outside next time I go out. I want to stay out there and spend all my time looking for them. I have seen animals out there, you know. There are barriers set up out of sight surrounding the dome. Only the leaders and a select few Cadets have even been out that far to see them. They have to be switched off before you can go past them, to turn off the field that keeps all living creatures away from sight of the dome walls.”
“You mean you have seen animals? What about people?”
“No people yet. But I reckon there are other fields out even further that keep people away from the first fence.
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