“Look, a star.” I point to the steadily darkening sky and glance at Alex as we lie on the ground staring into the heavens. “Haven’t seen one of those in ages.”
“Tell me about it,” she says. “Wow, that’s a really bright one.” She points to one of the stars. She then rolls up closer to me. “Hey, I just had a bright idea, get it?”
I burst into uncontrollable giggling the moment that leaves her lips. It wasn’t a bad pun but I just feel like teasing her. She jabs me in the ribs with her elbow which leaves me rolling on the ground while groaning.
After we had searched the forest for almost an hour, we found no suitable place to set up camp so as the sky got darker, we just decided to settle anywhere for the night and this small clearing near the centre of the forest was definitely a good choice.
“Shut up, it was good,” she says and I start to giggle more, prompting her to smack me.
“Yeah, if you say so,” I say as I make an ‘I feel so sorry for you’ face toward her and she sticks her tongue out at me. “Anyways, what was the idea you were talking about?”
“Yeah, I was just thinking that we should make a tribute of sorts to our fallen comrades,” she says and I nod slowly. “Like we name some stars after them, or something.”
“That actually isn’t a bad idea,” I say as I adjust myself on the grass since my left arm is beginning to fall asleep. “So which one do we name first?”
“Hmmm, what about Dr. James?” she asks.
“Why him?” I ask.
“I don’t know, just feels right,” she says while Dr. Alfred grunts by us and we check him to see if he’s okay.
She gets off the ground to check on Dr. Alfred.
“So which star do we name after him?” I say when she lays back on the grass next to me.
She scans the sky with her eyes for a moment. “What about that one?” Her tiny finger points to a faint star which keeps flickering between blue and red beside the really bright one we saw earlier.
“Why that one?”
“Look at it,” she says. “It’s because of how it changes colour from red to blue, kinda like how Dr. James kinda blew hot and cold. Get it?”
“Yeah, I get it,” I say. “Quite creative.”
“We could also call that one ‘the bastard’, cos there’s a star in ba-star-d,” she says and I laugh.
“Now that was a good one,” I remark.
“Thanks,” she says demurely. “Okay, now you do the next one.”
“Okay, Dr. Randy Gold, hmmm... okay what about that one?” I say as I point to an interesting looking star.
“Why, because it’s shimmering gold?” she says and begins to laugh.
“It looks gold, Dr. Randy Gold; get the relation?” I say in an attempt to defend my point.
“It’s too straightforward,” she says as she suddenly stops laughing at my lack of imagination. “Be a little bit more creative.”
“I guess I was born without creativity,” I say. “I’ve also always thought that being as brusque and candid as possible makes you look and sound, distinguished.
“That’s garbage,” she says. “It only makes you sound like a boring snob.”
“Hmmm, if you say so,” I say while noting that point mentally. “So which star do you suggest for him?”
“Look, that one!” she exclaims. “It’s perfect.”
The star she’s pointing to is a bright white one that is really unassuming among the other bright shimmering colour-fests but that one is quite peaceful to look at, like a respite from all the overload of shimmering colour.
“How so?” I ask curiously.
“Can’t you see the way all the other stars are trying so hard to twinkle and catch our attention while that star is so cool and collected, kind of like Dr. Randy was,” she says as she cuddles up closer to me.
“Yeah, I see.” I inch a bit away from her; too close for comfort.
She sighs loudly. “I miss them.”
“I miss them too,” I say as I put my hands under my head as we continue to stare up into the lovely heavens.
She snuggles up even closer to me as the warmth of the fire passes over us due to a change in the wind direction but this time I don’t push her away. I just realised that I can’t afford to push anyone away at the moment. They could up and just die.
I think I better try to get some sleep and wait for tomorrow’s goings to arrive.
My eyes start to close gradually...
“Hey Alex, wake up!” I suddenly say after noticing something strange in the sky that causes me to sit up immediately.
I was literally on the verge of sleep but out of the corner of my heavy eye, I suddenly noticed something in the sky that seemed to be getting bigger and bigger by the second.
“Yes, yes, what is it?” she asks impatiently as she sits up too and rubs her weary eyes because it appears that like me, she was beginning to fall asleep.
“Is it just me, or is Dr. Whitford’s star getting, bigger,” I say nervously as I point to the sky.
We both look up into the sky and true to my words, the star really is getting bigger, and very quickly for that matter!
“What in the world? Stars don’t just fall to the earth! Do they?” Alex asks and gets to her feet and I do same.
“Stars don’t just up and fall from space, do they?” I ask exactly the same question in panic. “What can it be?”
“A satellite!” she suddenly says after pacing around in agitation.
“I don’t think that ‘star’ was even a star at all!”
“What are you saying,” I say.
“Many satellites might still be orbiting the earth even though they don’t broadcast anymore,” she says. “Do satellites just come crashing back down to the earth for no reason?”
“I’m not waiting around to find out if the answer is a yes or no,” I say as I sling Dr. Alfred over my shoulder again and grab the rest of my stuff. “Look!”
I point to the sky and she turns to see the satellite which just entered our atmosphere burning up and heading right for us.
“Christ, we need to go!” she yells urgently.
We find our way through the dark forest as quickly as our legs will carry us. My journey is two or three times as harder with this extra weight on my shoulders; I still manage to keep up a healthy pace in front of Alex.
The thing is drawing closer and closer to the earth now. I can see it taking shape gradually in the indigo late-evening sky. It looks as big as or maybe even bigger than a truck and is undoubtedly going to cause a huge bang when it hits. I don’t want to be anywhere around here when that happens, that’s for sure.
“Faster Alex!” I say as we continue to run through the forest. “We’ve gotta be as far away as possible from it when it hits.”
“Okay, but what if...”
She was saying something and I kept moving while trying to hear her but all of a sudden instead of words, I heard a loud shriek of pain from behind me. When I look over my shoulder, I see her sitting on the ground and clutching her ankle. I ran to her side as fast as I can with a full-grown man on my shoulder.
“I think I tripped on a tree branch or something and did my ankle pretty bad,” she says while she continues to grab her ankle.
I look over her head and see that the satellite is barely a few hundred feet off the ground now and let out a yelp of fear.
“It’s about hit!” I say with visible fear in my voice. “Can you run it off?”
She tries to get up and walk her injury off but her ankle buckles almost immediately when she puts any weight on it and she falls back to the ground.
I rush to her side again. “Are you okay?” I say nervously.
“You need to go on without me,” she says as she grabs her ankle in pain.
“That’s definitely not an option.” I look up. “It’s too late now anyways.”
“We’re dead,” Alex says then lies back on the forest floor while she lets out a sigh of giving up.
I look over her shoulder again and when I see that the satellite is just about a minute away from hitting, my brain goes blank, effectively ruling out an option for a bright idea. We really are dead.
In order to spend what now looks like the final moments of my life in the arms of someone I love, I crawl on the grass to behind Alex, sit her up and hug her tightly around the waist and rest my head on her shoulders while she also decides to hug Dr. Alfred who is still passed out despite all the noise around us.
“So this really is it huh?” Alex asks me as the wind around us begins to swirl violently and debris flies around everywhere due to the force with which the satellite is hurtling toward the earth.
“I guess so,” I say when I look behind me and see that the satellite is just about to make contact with the ground. “It’s been a real pleasure knowing you Alexandria Knoster!”
“It’s been my pleasure Dr...” Before she can finish her sentence, we hear a loud crash behind us so we close our eyes tightly and wait for the inevitable to happen.
No sooner does the large explosion take place does about what feels like two thousand G’s of pure force smash into my back and coupled with the searing heat and sharp debris, it feels like getting hit with a thirty tonne truck made of needles from the sun. I have never experienced such intense pain!
After about a minute of experiencing this incredible pain the likes of which have never been felt before, my back goes completely numb. Even when the air finally cools down, I’m not even sure whether I’m still alive or not. I’m pretty sure I’m alive, maybe.
When my brain begins to function normally a bit after a few minutes, I get to my feet and sling Dr. Alfred over my shoulders. I look at Alex but my ears are ringing so much that I can’t even hear what she’s saying to me. Instead, I just start walking gingerly through the forest with her tagging along closely behind me.
“Where are you off to?” I hear her ask from behind when my hearing partially returns.
The huge impact of the satellite with the ground raised so much dust into the air that I look back to see her but when I don’t, I just keep walking gingerly through the forest in confusion.
“We need to find some shelter to eat and some food to hide under and think of a way to get back to the money world, alive,” I say with a serious expression and with an uncharacteristic grunt in my voice due to all the force that my back just endured.
“What the heck are you talking about?” she says in surprise as she limps beside me. “Quit your weirdness and let’s get back to our camp!”
All of a sudden, the weight of Dr. Alfred becomes too much for me to bear. All my muscles just decide to fail simultaneously as we both come crashing to the ground with a sickening thud. My head starts to ache violently for some reason. My back and my chest seize up as I try to breathe in but I feel nothing entering me.
Before I pass out, the last thing I see is Alexandria limping over to my side, calling out my name and frantically asking me what’s wrong.
Soon, all I see is blackness.
I wake up to the smell of food permeating the air. I hear the calm and relaxing sounds of nature around me as I recline further onto what my back is resting on. I feel the ground beside me and it feels like soft grass so I just cross my arms and try to continue sleeping but that isn’t happening so I just open my eyes slowly. The bright sun blinds me the moment my eyelids spread apart so I shield my eyes with my hand and look over to my left to see Alex who is roasting something on a fire.
All the fallen trees around and various debris scattered everywhere suggest to me that the events of the last time I was awake was certainly not a dream. I just sit up and rest my back on a tree which is just behind me and stare at Alex.
“Dr. Blay, you’re awake!” she says excitedly as she turns something on the fire. “How’dya sleep?”
“Barely,” I say and rub my sore head.
“I find that hard to believe considering how long you’ve slept.”
“Hmmm,” I just grunt in response then scan my surroundings. “Hey, where are we?”
“Still in the forest,” she says as she wipes a sweat off her forehead with her free hand. “After you passed out, I dragged both of you guys under the last big tree standing for miles. I didn’t know what better to do so I just set up camp here.” She pops a morsel of food into her mouth. “Look, I also found food!” She points to some fruits and fish stocked in a pile by the fire and I smile and nod in approval.
“Good work,” I say as my eyes wander to her foot. “How’s your ankle?”
“Oh much better,” she rolls it around so that I can see that indeed it is better.
“I have no idea how but I think wading around in snow must have served as an ice treatment of some sort.”
“You went wading through ice?” I ask and she nods in answer. “Why?”
“To get the fish silly,” she says while she giggles and adjusts herself on the rock she’s sitting as the fish crackles on the fire.
“Well, good work,” I say again. “So where is Dr. Alfred anyways?”
“Oh, well he’s asleep back there. I put him there to rest and heal up,” she says. “Hey, you hungry?” she asks me and I nod eagerly. “Okay, coming right up.”
She pulls the roasted fish off the stick and hands it to me along with an apple and some other unspecified berries.
“Thanks,” I say as I take the food from her.
I take a bite into the fish that Alex handed me and am surprised at how delicious it tastes despite the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere with no kitchen in sight for kilometres. She stares at me when I make satisfied sounds as a result of her food and I smile at her which she reciprocates. I hold up the fish to indicate that it’s really good and she just smiles and gets back to her roasting.
We sit in silence, barring the crackling of the fire as I finish my fish and use this silence to think about life right now; one word, sucky. I move onto the fruits but that giant fish really stuffed me so I just gnaw at an apple and set it down with a huge bite on one side of it.
As we sit there admiring the cool sounds of nature, we hear a loud moan from behind the tree.
“Alfie!” Alex exclaims as she drops the fish she was roasting and rushes behind the tree I’m currently resting on.
I begrudgingly get to my feet and follow her to behind the tree where Dr. Alfred is resting up.
“Alfie, are you okay?” she asks as she is kneels down beside his head.
His eyes are open for the first time since he was stabbed by that post-humanoid at the core and this is a very good sign. Things may be looking up now.
“I think so,” he says as he sits up slowly and obviously in pain. “My tummy really hurts though. Where are we?” His voice sounds very different, like hoarser, and he’s talking really really slowly and weakly now.
“We are in the middle of a forest somewhere in the middle of nowhere,” she says to him.
“Really?” he asks as he looks around.
“Yes and you got hurt real bad so I think you should lie down and...”
“You got anything to eat?” he asks suddenly.
“Huh?” Alex asks.
“Do you have anything to eat? I feel like I haven’t eaten in days,” he says.
“Oh yeah well you actually haven’t but let me get you something to eat,” she says as she rushes past me and I walk to get back to my apple.
“Wait, help me up Dr. Blay,” he says and I stop in my tracks a bit surprised because I thought he didn’t know he knew I was even here.
I put his arm around my shoulder as I stoop down and help him get to his feet. He keeps his arm around my shoulder as we walk back to where I was. He sits down on the grass and stretches his feet, letting out a relieved sound in the process since this is something I bet he hasn’t done in a long time. Alex hands him some food and he eats heartily as if he hasn’t eaten in days which he technically hasn’t so, yeah, all good.
“So, tell me,” he says to me after he swallows the last of his food. “What the heck has happened since I was out? Because judging by all this destruction I’m guessing a lot.”
“Wow, well a heck of a lot I guess,” I say not really in the mood to elaborate further than that.
He keeps looking at me with eager eyes just urging me to elaborate further but I don’t want to so we are locked in a mental battle of wills as I stare into his eyes and him into mine.
“You won’t believe what happened last night Alfie,” Alex says suddenly as she saves my hide, again.
“What happened?” he asks then looks away from me to her.
“Well, a satellite crashed to the earth and I twisted my ankle pretty badly so Dr. Blay used his body to shield us from the explosion and we survived. Isn’t that something?”
“It really is...good, work Dr. Blay,” he says with a bit of a sarcastic hint in his tone so I just salute in response.
“But isn’t it strange that a satellite just up and crashes to earth for no apparent reason?” she asks.
“Yeah I guess so but there must have been a fault in how it was designed or something,” he says with a suspiciously shifty tone in his voice. “Do you know how those satellites are designed?”
“No.” I say bluntly in an attempt to get him to shut up.
“Well, when there is no one to control them, they go into autopilot mode but since there is no atmosphere above some parts of the earth, it must have destroyed the autopilot controls and sent it crashing down to earth.”
“Wow that is interesting,” Alex says.
“It really is,” I say sarcastically and look up into the sky and think about what he just said. I feel Dr. Alfred’s scathing gaze on me as I nonchalantly look up into the sky, refusing with all dignity and pride to acknowledge it.
“Wait, that makes absolutely no sense!” I say suddenly after thinking for a while.
“What doesn’t?” Alex asks me.
“The explanation he just gave about satellites! It was total rubbish!” I say as I get to my feet in anger. “I smell something fishy going on here!”
“Calm down Dr. Blay,” Alex says.
“Yes calm down. The explanation was very sound and the something fishy you smell must be the cod, I think it’s going bad.”
“Fine, I’ll buy your story for now but know this, I’ve got my eye on you,” I say as I sit back on the ground and my words hang like a bad scent in the air.
“Anyways,” Alex says after a period of very awkward silence, “How did you guys enjoy the food?”
“It was delicious Alex,” he says as I continue to stare suspiciously at him.
“It was great,” I say without taking my eyes off him.
“Thanks guys. I used some spicy berries I found on a bush to really make it sizzle and pop,” she says while signing ‘sizzle and pop’ with her hands.
“Wait, what?” he asks with shock written all over his face. “These berries didn’t have any black spots on them did they?”
“Naah,” she says and his face relaxes. “The ones I picked were white and had just one black dot, kinda like a freaky eye.”
In the last five seconds, Dr. Alfred’s face went from almost heart attack to almost post-constipated relief but the nervousness attacks his face again when she says this and I laugh as he violently scratches his tongue.
“Wait, maybe she picked the viscum album and not the actaea pachypoda so I might be okay,” he says to himself. “Alex, where are the berries you picked?”
“Oh, I used the last of them on this fish I’m roasting. Why, do you need it?”
“Yeah Dr. Alfred, why are you stressing over some little berries?” I ask and look at him closer to detect any twitches.
“The reason I’m ‘stressing’, is because unlike you two, I actually care about my health and those berries she described are highly poisonous. I need to conduct a test on my urine to be sure,” he says and disappears behind the tree. The moment he is far enough away from us, we laugh our hearts out at his expense.
“Wow Alex, that was mean,” I say.
“What was?” she asks with a bit of a giggle in her voice.
“You didn’t really find any fancy poisonous berries, did you?”
“Well, not exactly but I just said that because you looked like you needed some entertainment, and it isn’t hard to get Alfie agitated,” she says with a mischievous smile on her face.
“Tell me about it; stressing over some tiny berries that probably doesn’t even exist. Blech!”
“Oh the actaea pachypoda really does exist. Rumour has it that if you eat it, it relaxes your cardiac muscles and then kills you.”
“Wow, talk about being lulled to death,” I say.
“You have no idea. That berry isn’t known to grow in weather like this though,” she says.
“That’s good,” I say as I relax on the tree behind me.
“Yeah.” She gets off the rock and comes to relax on the tree beside me.