Will Graves stood timidly at the Haven Bus Stop. His parents had dropped him off earlier at Haven’s Visitor Center, then left. They were eager to leave the desert town and continue their road trip to see parts of the country they had yet to visit. He stood alone, observing the small group of other Residents saying goodbye to their families.
The grip of Will’s anxiety distracted him from the heat of the desert town. He had long resigned to remain on the outskirts. He never really felt as though he could relate to other people since leaving Home. Others his age were already well into careers and had already Contracted to the Soil for years. With his premature baldness, he was clearly the oldest in this group of high school grads. He had been behind academically upon leaving Home. After playing catchup on his formal education, and struggling to integrate into ‘normal’ society, Will opted to go to the Plant. He figured the Plant offered him the best way to make something of himself. He expected to live the remainder of his life in the limited company of the Plant’s Residents, while retaining a measure of welcome solitude. Plus, his work would provide the necessary means for his parents and society to continue to progress. Or whatever. Here’s the bus.
A beat-up old school bus pulled up in front of the Stop. Will winced at the screech of its brakes. Okay, just get on the bus, get to the Plant and let’s get this over with, he thought.
“I’m so very sorry, guys. The air conditioner went out yesterday. Couldn’t keep up with this miserable heat wave.” The sun leathered bus driver said, wiping at sweat collected on his brow. The man seemed content to support the Plant in his own way, driving his old bus. Reid figured he must have been beyond the age limit at the time the first calls were made for help at the Plant.
“The maintenance is scheduled to be performed in a couple of days, which doesn’t do you all much good, now does it?” He said with downcast eyes, standing before the group of Residents.
Reid quickly replied, “Don’t worry about it. Nothing is about to ruin our day. We’re all excited to be here and get started at the Plant!” He looked around the small group of new fellow Residents. They all managed smiles despite the very real heat. Paul was squinting hard in the glare of the sun, trying to read the bus driver’s lips. Reid could tell the weathered man took pride in his job and was greatly saddened to hinder their first experience with Haven and the Plant.
The driver quickly perked up at Reid’s response, “Well, then, let me introduce myself! I’m Walter, and I’ll be your bus driver today. Born and raised here in Haven. Been running this bus with my brother, Kenny, since the Plant got going. We’ll be driving you back and forth between the Plant and Haven on your weekends off during your time in Green Key! I’m happy you’re here and eager to get to know you all during our time together!”
“Happy to meet you!” Walter exclaimed, shaking Reid’s hand heartily. Reid boarded the bus with his belongings and took a seat near the back of the bus. The others gathered their bags and followed suit, shaking hands with Walter and boarding the bus in turn.
Paul, hands full of bags and distracted by sweat in his eyes, shoved over a short, bald man who was speaking to Walter. Will Graves sprawled out on the deck, broke the handle off his bag, which now rolled into the street. He crawled hurriedly over to grab his bag and got to his feet shakily, cursing his bum leg. His curse carried heavy resentment as it reminded him painfully of his fractured life. His leg was never quite right since the day they left Home…
Paul turned and saw the commotion. He set his things down and rushed to help the poor man, clinging to his broken bag, struggling to steady himself.
“I’m sorry, sir! Let me help you. There.” He gripped Will’s arm and calmed him. Will’s eyes were frantic in panic and embarrassment.
Paul could not stop himself from chuckling, seeing the man’s state. Will looked as though he would cry, which made Paul laugh in his face. The man welled up to tears and looked away, abashed.
Controlling his laughter, Paul signed, “I really am sorry for laughing at you. I just couldn’t stop myself. I’m Paul. It looks like we’re going the same way. If you’d like, I’ll get your bag for you.” He motioned to Will to hand over the bag.
“I’m Will Graves.” Will signed, regaining his bearings. “I can handle my own bag. Thanks though.”
“Looks like you ‘handled’ your bag all too well.” Paul signed, indicating the broken handle in Will’s hand.
Will looked down and chuckled softly, his worries lightening on his mind. “That’s a good one, Paul. Well, let’s not hold up the other Residents. This is supposed to be a good day, after all.”
Paul gathered his bags again and climbed on the bus.
Paul reclined across the aisle from Reid, while being shuttled to the Plant. Reid sat in quiet excitement, watching the old bus kick up dust, its cloud blowing past the open windows. He was oblivious to his own sweat. The air conditioner continued to blow hot air despite its defeat to the punishing temperatures. Reid’s mind raced with the thrill of the coming days of orientation and acclimation to his new life. Saying goodbye to his family in Haven this morning had left him feeling surreal about the entire situation. Reid began to study the collection of new fellow Residents as they made idle conversation. They were spread across the other seats on the bus alongside their luggage of various sizes and shapes. These strangers were going to be his new family, and he could not wait to get to know them all.
“It’s so hot today. Why couldn’t Dawson have discovered Soil on the beach, or somewhere more temperate?” Paul signed to Reid, wiping the sting of sweat from his eye.
“I think we better get used to it. Dawson willing, we’ll be working here for a very long time!” Reid pinched his shirt, peeling it away from his chest, feeling its saturation.
Paul nodded uncomfortably, and signed, “Exactly what I’m worried about. I hope we get plenty of vacation time to make up for these lame surroundings.”
“The desert isn’t much to look at, but I hear the sunsets are the best here. Then it gets really cold at night. Besides, most of the Plant is underground. So, we won’t have to worry about the weather anyway.”
“There it is!” Walter yelled over the wind howling through the windows. He smiled into the rear-view mirror as the bus rumbled toward a long disused security gate.
Reid sat forward in his seat as the Plant appeared in the distance. The perimeter fence was in disrepair, fallen in various places.
“They don’t use the fence anymore. Not since the old system crumbled. Any real threat to Dawson stopped when the big business owners realized it was all over.” Walter continued to talk to himself, muffled by the blustery wind.
Once through the gate, Reid could see the Plant for the first time. It was simple and unassuming. A utilitarian single story complex, similar to a cinderblock school building, with a shipping dock for large trucks to the left side of the building. A large array of solar panels lay a short distance from the main building within the confines of the perimeter fence. The single mountain peak, Wilson’s Peak, shot skyward with the Plant at its feet. The contrast of the complex to the impressive stature of the imposing mountain left Reid in awe. He was numb in excitement by the time the bus pulled into the circle drive of the Plant.
Walter turned the handle to open the school bus door, cheering, “Welcome to your new home!”