Darkness in paradise

Last week, an arsonist set fire to the base's generators and backup gasoline cache. Because of our lock-down system, we were all trapped inside the living quarters. Every night at dark, the doors lock with a mechanical system and every ranking adult has a code to open them. However, the power went out in the middle of the night, so we were all trapped inside til help came.

Every week we get a gasoline truck to refill the genny's. Unfortunately, the arsonist came the night after our truck, so it was a full week til any help came.

So, the result was a week of no light, little food, rationed water, no moving air in the middle of the hottest summer we've had in years. Thankfully the plumbing still worked, though there was no hot water, so a week of cold showers and 105 degrees plus body heat and humidity. It's no surprise both Belle and I wound up with upper respiratory infections and she got an ear infection by the end of it all.

If there was an upside to the tragedy, it was that, with a week off from work and nothing to do but talk, we all got to know one another much more intimately. It's amazing the kind of progress intelligent minds can make when you take away the computers and test tubes. I learned a lot about what the world was like before the outbreak from Jenna Hart, a senior biologist who has worked on the floor above mine for almost eight years now, and who I had only ever met twice. She's fifty eight, and she had five brothers and sisters, eight nieces and nephews, and an adopted daughter before the outbreak. "Now," she told me Wednesday night about three in the morning, "I have no one. I am alone. The only reason I go on is because I know there are others out there who still have someone to live for and they are depending on me." It's good, sometimes, to know that you are among like people. Maybe not to have that pity party you really want to have, but instead to see how strong they are when you're not feeling so strong. Inspiration.

I learned from Julian Grant about strings. I had learned a little about them in my research to get my degree, but I never understood them so well as he does. His current research is an old project that's been picked back up in the last six months because of a proposition he made to the state that if we could see strings, the most basic basics of the building blocks of reality, we could possibly see the foundation of what makes PTA so different from any other disease. He shared with me on Thursday that this was total bullshit, but because string theory research was on the bottom of the list of priority research, nobody that actually read his report knew that he was making it all up. The real reason he even wrote that proposal was so that he could carry on his father's work after he passed away two years ago. "I'm afraid you'll rat me out," He whispered to me, "But I just can't handle the secrets anymore. I have to know that someone knows. And if this is the end of my time here, so be it." I'm not going to tell our supers.

Everyone had a lot to say, and it feels like we are all more like a family than coworkers. Even secluded little Belle managed to make friends with the Wendz's daughter, Eve. Mr. Wendz, according to Eve, is the person who makes sure that everyone on base gets enough food, and Mrs. Wendz is a doctor. Lucky we had Mr. Wendz, because he was able to make the canned food in our storage, which is only supposed to last everyone on base a maximum of four days, last for all seven. Maybe nobody was full, but certainly no one was hungry.

Every night after most people were gone back to their rooms to sleep, John and I sat in his sitting area and talked for hours. He taught me about xenobiology, and I taught him about human brain function. We compared notes on PTA; it was amazing to see something I'd seen millions of times through someone else's eyes. I feel like I have a much stronger understanding and even a connection with the animal. John has me convinced now that it's not just a parasitic bug, but a living, thinking animal. He believes it's just as intelligent as humans. His theory is that the violent outbursts of the first few weeks of infection is the adolescence. We usually exterminate infecteds by the fourth week, because they become so strong and PTA has such accurate control of their bodies that we can't afford to keep them contained. John believes that if we were to either expose the virus to a vacuum or to extreme conditions of all sorts, we could find out a rough idea of the origins. We could try to trace their home planet down. Or at least find them a new home where they don't have to kill us.

John Smith is a genius. He may not have specific knowledge about human anatomy or biology, but what he lacks in learned intelligence, he makes up for in being utterly brilliant and creative. The last night we were in the dark, I told him so.

"Brilliant," he responded, laughing, "I'll accept, but creative? I think you've crossed the line, ma'am."
"You don't have to call me ma'am," I countered, "I may out rank you in this operation, but I'll permit you to call me 'Dahlia.'"
"Well, Dahlia, if that is your real name," we laughed, "I must admit that I've got a 'thing' for brilliant people. I love to surround myself with intelligent, clever friends. And, while this building is full of intelligent people, I still seem to be having trouble finding a true friend. It seems that the lines of personal relations have been drawn for a long time, and while there is a little shift permitted between long-term acquaintances, I don't seem to qualify just yet. Why is that?"
"Dr. Smith, you've just come in to this community fairly recently. Most of the people here are only here because they've got nothing left at home. Why do you think there are only four or five children below working age here? Because nobody's got their teenage sweethearts still alive. The people here are brilliant because they've got no reason to hold themselves back. Nothing is left to live for, so instead of simply dying, they stop feeling and start thinking. They won't be comfortable with you for a very, very long time. Not til you've stopped feeling, or at least act like you have."
"Have you stopped feeling, or are you just acting? And by the way, you can call me John if you like."
"I still feel. I feel deeply. Deeper than what I can tell is normal, at least from what I've read and seen. I think that's why the people here at least respect me if not accept me. I went straight for the polar opposite as far as reactions to tragedy. While they have a basic need to know things because there's nothing left to hope for, I hope for everything and the only way to tie it all together is to learn and seek the truth. I just can't let it go, you know?"
And that was when Dr. John Smith kissed me.

1 comment:

  1. You cannot just stop there...nothing like leaving your dear readers hangin'!