“Wow, it’s been an hour already,” Alex says as she checks her communicator’s clock while trying to hide her obvious angst. “He should’ve been back by now.”
“True,” I say while taking note of the worried look on her face.
I honestly didn’t notice that he’d been gone for so long. I guess I’d just been enjoying the peace and quiet which wasn’t constantly interrupted by any useless facts or constant nagging.
“You think we should go look for him?” she asks me.
“Ummm...yeah, sure, why not,” I say a bit tentatively as I get off the ground and wipe the dust off my backside when she draws my attention to it.
I was actually about to remind her of how he’s a grown man who can take care of himself but it actually just dawned on me that he has delayed. No what I think, he is like family to me, well more like that incredibly annoying uncle who keeps yapping nonstop about nothing and pissing everybody off, but he still technically is the closest thing I have to family left, barring Aunt Rachel of course. Wow, Aunt Rachel, I haven’t thought about her in ages. I really miss her.
I spend a few minutes stretching to get my limbs limber, excuse the pun, for the undoubtedly long journey ahead. I then bend over with an audible grunt to pick up my gear bag. The last time we went in that direction I ended up jumping off a cliff so I’m not taking any chances with my aging muscles.
“What now?” I ask as I sling my bag around my shoulders.
“He left his bag here so I guess tracking his communicator is out of the question.” She crouches down to rummage through his bag to make sure and she shows me his communicator. “What if we go this way?” she asks as she points in the direction of the beach in we first landed on when I accidentally-on-purpose pushed Alex off that cliff.
“Why that way? Didn’t he go that way?” I ask as I point in the opposite direction.
“The ‘test’ Alfie wanted to conduct on himself needs salt water to work and the water this way is salty and the one that way isn’t so I just figured that...or maybe not.”
“No, no, you are probably right,” I say in defeat. “Let’s go that way.”
We douse the raging fire in the middle of the campsite by pouring some sand on it and hide our remaining food under some leaves. It’s just past noon so the scorching sun is placed strategically just above our heads to cause maximum discomfort but thanks to these numerous trees canopying the forest floor, the sun only shines through in tiny, irregular patterns. As we make our way through the forest, I periodically close my eyes and listen to the enchanting sounds of leaves rustling, birds chirping and other sounds of nature, periodically opening them to see if I’m walking into a ditch or off a cliff or something. I’m pretty sure I’ll luck out and die the next time that happens so I’d better be careful.
We’ve been walking for what feels like ten minutes through the ambient forest when we stumble upon the crash site of the satellite that damn near killed us. We stand back and stare in awe at the huge crater it has created in the ground. That thing is almost ten meters deep.
“Wow,” I say as I examine it closely. “Imagine if we had fallen asleep when wanted to. We would be somewhere under that thing, crushed together for all eternity,” I say and Alex chuckles a bit then looks at the crater again as if she’s trying to find something in or around it.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m trying to see what channel this thing was broadcasting.”
“Is there supposed to be a logo on it or something?” I ask but she doesn’t answer. Instead, she slides down the side of the sloping crater toward the fallen satellite and almost trips on a rock.
“Hey, be careful down there,” I call down to her.
She opens a small panel on the side of the satellite to reveal a small keypad and she starts to push buttons on it. I just sit and observe her from the top of the crater. After a while, this is getting a bit boring so I lie back down and stare at the sky but the scorching sunlight hits my eye, forcing me to sit back up and rub my burning iris.
“Here, come see this,” she calls up to me waving me down frantically with her free hand which I can discern with my one good eye.
I decide to try the little sliding thing she did some minutes ago because it looked real smooth but after I travel down a couple of metres, it’s pretty obvious that smooth isn’t and never will be my thing because I clumsily trip on a clump of dirt hid amongst all the others and crash nose-first into the side of the metallic satellite.
“Oh my gosh, are you okay?” she asks in surprise and I raise my hand to indicate that I’m fine. “Sorry,” she says as she helps me off the ground while trying hard to suppress obvious laughter.
I rub myself off and check to see if my nose is bleeding but thankfully it isn’t. It just feels like I got hit by a truck only so I guess it’s not that bad, and less painful too right? No. Ouch!
“What did you call me down here for?” I talk through my nose since I’m still rubbing it to get as much blood flowing through it as possible to ease the pain.
“Look,” she opens the panel further and I bend down to see the logo on the inside of it.
“Toony Webwork Incorporated? Wow, this satellite belonged to Toony Webwork?” I ask and she nods with a big smile on her face. “I loved that channel back when I was a kid.”
“Yeah didn’t we all,” she says. “But that’s actually not what I was emphasizing on. Look at the last broadcast date.”
I squint to look at the tiny keypad and see, ’1st June, 2082, 21:19, wait, that was yesterday, right?”
“Yes, and do you know what this means?” she asks with obvious excitement in her voice. I don’t like where this is going.
“Ummm, yes of course but you go ahead and say it anyways,” I say while lying through my aching nose.
She just shakes her head in amusement with her eyes closed since it’s clear she has caught on to my falsehood and says, “It means, Dr. Blay, that, and what I’m about to say is a ridiculous long shot but it just might be possible.”
“Yes, out with it,” I say impatiently as I continue to massage my aching nose.
“Which people watch Toony Webwork?” she asks.
“I don’t know, kids?”
“Yeah, kids, sure, but to be more precise people, right?”
“Yeah human, kids.”
“Yeah sure, anyways, do you know what this means?” she asks again with very wide-eyes.
“Ummm, that kids love cartoons? Everybody knows this,” I say as I briefly look up from my nose to her then return to it.
“Aaargh! No!” she yells in visible frustration.
“Humans, broadcasting, this thing still active at the time it was, you see what I’m getting at?” she asks hopefully.
“Urrr, that humans...”
“Yes,” she says encouragingly.
“That, human...children, in space, are watching cartoons way past their bedtime,” I say and she lets out a sound of frustration and slaps her forehead very hard with her hand.
“You know what?
“Just listen to me, don’t talk,” she says.
“That would be best.”
“Hey! I said no talking!” she scolds me and my face drops as I continue to massage my sore nose. I make the mouth-zipping up sign and she nods in satisfaction and continues what she was saying.
“So what I was getting at was that, and this is very very wishful thinking but, could it be possible that other humans are alive out there and are still going about their daily lives as normal?” she asks and I immediately realise what she’s been getting at all this time.
“Oh come on Alex, you can’t seriously believe that,” I say and take my hand off my nose. “It’s impossible and you know it.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” she says. “It’s really possible that the blast might not even have gone as far as we thought.”
“Didn’t Dr. Alfred say that the blast destroyed the whole world?” I ask in opposition.
“Yeah but I guess he was wrong,” she says as she searches for something in her bag.
“You may be right,” I say reflectively as I turn and prepare to climb out of the crater.
“You know what?” she asks. “Let’s shelve this issue for now until we find Dr. Alfred then we can get back to it okay?”
“Fine, then let’s get going.”
“Wait, I wanna do something real quick.”
“This’ll only take a minute I promise.”
She removes her communicator from her bag and then connects the built in USB cable which I never even knew it had, to the satellite. She inputs some few commands on it then does the same on the satellite and the screen of the communicator flashes white and she clicks it. After about an agonising five minute wait, she disconnects the two from each other then puts the communicator back in her gear bag and climbs up to me.
“I hope what you was taking from it was really important?” I ask when she reaches me and we climb out of the crater.
“Yeah, you could say that,” she says.
“What did you take from it?” I ask suspiciously in response to the look on her face.
“I might have also taken the number of episodes I missed since the last time I watched Toony Webwork,” she says with a nervous grin on her face. I look into her face for a few seconds and her into mine then I burst into sudden laughter at her childishness. “What?” she asks me.
“Oh nothing,” I say to her. “So when was the last time you watched?”
“Ummm, let me see...I think that was when I was thirteen so, over eighty years ago,” she says as I help her up out of the crater and we keep walking toward the beach.
“So how many episodes is eighty years worth?”
“Roughly about twenty thousand,” she says as if that is something normal but I raise my eyebrows in surprise when she says this.
“Whoa!” I exclaim. Twenty thousand episodes?”
“Yeah, why?” she asks with a light chuckle in her voice.
“You mean you transferred TWENTY THOUSAND episodes from the satellite onto your communicator in just five minutes?” I ask in utter disbelief.
“Oh, it actually took only about two minutes to finish that. It was the flight records and other vital information that really took a lot of time.”
“You mean three minutes?” I query in more disbelief.
“LOL, what is?” she asks.
“Did you just say ‘LOL’ in real life?”
“LOL, yeah why?”
“Stop it; it’s weird.”
“LOL, I hear,” she says and I give her a death stare. “So what were you saying is incredible again?”
“I was talking about the communicator; it’s an incredible piece of technology, almost alien.”
“Thanks, a lot of work was put into making it.”
“I would think so,” I say as we finally exit the trees and step out onto the beach. The blaze of angry sunlight immediately greets us as we walk on toward the water.
“Alfie!” Alex screams suddenly, drops her gear bag in the sand and begins to run toward the water. I do same even though I can’t see anything that is any cause for alarm.
When I reach her, she has her arms around Dr. Alfred’s neck, crying as his blood stains the water all around him. He seems to have lost quite an amount of blood this time; this doesn’t look good at all. I bend down to check his pulse again as she bawls her eyes out.
“Alex, Alex, he’s not dead,” I say and stoop down to check his pulse. She stops crying momentarily. Something smells sweet. I smell my hand which passes in the water with his blood in it. It smells like, soda. That’s odd. “His pulse is very weak,” I continue. “We need to get him back to the camp and patch him up before...”
“Before what Dr. Blay?” she cuts in. “Before he DIES? Everyone is dying Dr. Blay and it’s my fault! I shouldn’t have lied to him about those berries! He would never have come all the way out here alone!”
“You’re not being fair on yourself; he was already hurt before he came out here. What we need to do now is get him back to the camp and figure out a way to get us back home. Come on, get up, dry your eyes,” I say sternly but with a comforting tone.
“What’s the use? He’s just gonna die anyways,” she says as the tears flow more steadily.
I think I’ve got to be harder on her. “So you’re just going to leave him here to die? You’re not even going to try?” I say with a scolding tone. “I don’t know about you but I would never be able to live with myself if I left my dying sibling in water for birds to pick at his carcass when I know I could have done something to help. I honestly thought you were better than that but I guess I was wrong.”
She stares at me with daggers in her eyes while the rock I just kicked makes a loud splash in the water. I think she’s going to either insult me or attack me. I’m actually looking for a reaction so I’m prepared for what she’s about to unleash on me.
“You know what Dr. Blay?” Oh God here it comes. I’m ready, I think. “You’re right; we can’t just leave him here. Let’s do what we can, for Alfie.” Wow, a voice of reason. I didn’t expect that.
“Yeah,” I say. “For Alfie.”
“Lift with your back Alex!” I yell as I feel my back locking up from pain.
“I thought you are supposed to lift with your legs not your back?”
“That’s when you are lifting something off the ground. If you lift with your legs while walking, you’re leaving all the weight for me.”
“Fine, but if I get a backache, you will give me a massage.” I don’t know if she sees that as a punishment because that sounds pretty good to me. Wink wink.
“Just lift,” I say. “We are almost there.”
As we lug Dr. Alfred through this forest full of rocks and exposed branches, I was expecting one of us to trip but surprisingly, neither of us has stumbled so far. We’ve only dropped him twice too.
“Where do we put him?” I say when we finally reach the camp after what seems like an age. My whole body is cramping up simultaneously and if she doesn’t speak soon, I will drop him on the pointy rock he is currently suspended precariously above.
“Ummm, urm, maybe over, naah, wait over there, naah.”
“Hurry!” I say as my butt cheeks contract suddenly.
“What about over there? In that pile of soft-looking leaves,” she finally says. We drop him ‘softly’ on the leaves beside the pointy rock and I collapse to floor in exhaustion.
“Get up Dr. Blay,” she says. We need to dress his wounds.”
“You do it. I’m about to have a heart attack and die.”
“Lazy bones,” she mutters under her breath. “What do I do?”
“You’ll have to find something soft, stretchy and gauzelike and something tight like a bandage to dress the wound with. Also some gentian violet and rubbing alcohol would be good too.”
“Oh, okay, and can you please point me to the forest-in-the-middle-of-nowhere pharmacy again?” she says sarcastically.
“Sarcasm? Real mature Alex,” I say. “You’ll have to improvise. You can use something sticky and stretchy like...”
“Spider webs?” she says while swatting some away from her face.
“Precisely, and maybe we can use some of those sticky leaves as bandages.”
“Okay, got it. Be right back,” she says.
“Wait, take this,” I say as I grab a large rock which is lying beside me and toss it to her.
“What’s this for?” she says with surprise.
“You are taking a spider’s home by force,” I say as I lie back down. “Don’t expect it to give it up without a fight. Good luck.”
The look on her face right now is priceless. She looks completely mortified as she walks away, clutching her big rock ready to crush some huge spiders or vice versa. I know she’s going to call for help anytime soon so I try to fall asleep as soon as possible to ensure that I have a legitimate reason for ignoring her.
“Wake up Dr. Blay.” I hear a faint voice above me and slowly open my eyes.
“Huh, what, who’s there?” I open my eyes to see Alex bending over me with her arms tucked suspiciously behind her back.
“I’m back,” she says with a very mischievous smile spread across her face. Something is very wrong here.
“Did you get the stuff?” I say while rubbing my heavy eyes.
“I’ve dressed and stitched Alfie up already.” She walks over to the tree and leans on it.
“That’s good,” I say and I sit up. I look at her and the smile she has on her face as she stares at me is really creeping me out. “Why what’s up? Why are you staring at me like that?”
“Oh nothing.” She checks her nails while keeping one hand hidden behind her body. I feel like getting up to run away because she could have hit her head while I slept, gone crazy and conspired to kill me. She could be hiding a gun behind her. “But, you know something Dr. Blay?”
“No, what?” the fear in my voice is very easy to discern as I get to my feet.
“I called you, many, many times for help but you never responded,” she says and takes one step toward me. I take a step back and almost trip over the pointy rock.
“Oh, you did? I was, you know, asleep?” I say while pointing to my red eyes and rub them to buttress my point.
“Really?” she asks and I nod. “Then it’s good that I brought this back with me.” The mischievous smile on her face graduates to a full-on evil grin.
“Really? What is it? More berries?” I say and my stomach churns from hunger.
“No? Then what is it?”
“You sure you want to know?” she teases. “You might not like it.”
“Ummm, yes, I think so.”
“Okay, you asked for it,” she says. “Close your eyes and spread your palms.”
“Just do it.” I stare at her for a few seconds to detect any holes in her facade but after seeing none, I decide to play along.
I close my eyes slowly and spread my palms, waiting for her to place something in it. After a few seconds, I feel a weight in my hands and feel it. It feels, prickly, like some sort of warm fruit; I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it, it feels juicy.
“Okay, you can open your eyes now.” I open my eyes slowly and expect to see a fruit or food of some sort but instead what I see is much more horrifying. The moment I react, the giant black tarantula leaps from my hands and attaches itself to my face.
“That is for letting me go out into the forest alone you jerk!” she says while I struggle with the huge, and surprisingly strong creature on the ground.
I roll in the leaves a few times to encourage it to hop off but this doesn’t help at all; if anything, it just made it angrier. I manage to stumble to my feet despite the intense pain and try tugging at each one of its eight hairy legs that are piercing my face. It refuses to budge. This thing isn’t letting go without a fight! I start to run around in circles, hoping that the speed and random changes in direction will disorient it, causing it to let go of my face but that only makes it give out a loud screech and grip tighter, and also make me dizzy. This leaves me with only one choice apart from ripping my beautiful face off my body.
I feel around until I find a tree with a considerably huge bough and go as far back as possible without hitting anything. I then steady myself and then sprint at it with full force. This causes the creature to jump off once I hit my head on the rough tree and scurry up into the leaves, leaving me with a bruised nose and many bleeding scratch marks but at least it’s off now.
“Are you nuts? That wasn’t funny at all!” I say when I spot Alex literally rolling on the ground with laughter. “That was incredibly mean.”
“That may be true but you deserved it,” she says as she picks herself off the ground and dusts herself off.
“You have serious issues,” I say as I cross my arms and sulk.
“Keep on whining. Andre is lurking up in that tree just looking for you,” she says as she tickles me and starts laughing again.
“Yeah, Andre,” she says. “I named the spider Andre. You got a problem with that?”
“Why the heck would you do that?”
“Why? So because we are on a mission I can’t have a pet?”
“If you call that, ‘thing’ a pet then you’ve completely lost it,” I say as I squeeze the blood out of one of the Andre-inflicted punctures near my chin. “Look what he did to my face! My beautiful face! Such anarchy! That thing is a menace and it needs to be exterminated, now.”
“If you touch my Andre you’ll be sorry,” she says with incredibly amusing seriousness written on her face.
“You really are crazy,” I say and take a seat on the incredibly uncomfortable pointy rock.
“Normal is boring Dr. Blay.”
“If that was true, then we should all probably be in mental health institutes fighting other spider-loving inmates for used dental floss to use as leashes.”
She bursts into laughter before saying, “You’re one crazy dude.” I sit down on the ground and stretch my tired legs properly.
“Look who’s talking,” I say and she gives me a daggerful look in return.
I stare at the sky until her voice recaptures my attention. “So what do we do about Alfie?” she says.
“Huh, oh yeah Dr. Alfred,” I say. I sit up and look over to where he’s laid on the ground sleeping. “We need to get him home as quickly as possible.”
“We need a vehicle,” she says.
“True, but where the heck will we get a vehicle out here, in the middle of nowhere?”
“You know, if we had enough time, I’m pretty sure I could make one from all this, green,” she says as she examines her leafy surroundings.
“That’s impossible,” I say bluntly.
“Come on, it’s impossible and you know it.”
“Nothing is impossible when you have a working brain and two arms to work those ideas,” she says as she extends both her arms. “The engineer’s motto.”
“And that idea is?”
“One word Dr. Blay...steam.”
“Hmmm, steam huh?” I say reflectively while rubbing my chin.
“Yeah, a car that runs on water,” she says. “Sounds good doesn’t it?”
“Incredibly so,” I say.
“Well when, or if, we ever get back, remind you to show you my first ever invention, a toy car that runs on only water. It’ll blow your mind.”
“Sounds good,” I say. “Now let’s focus on how we will get home at all. Use that brilliant mind Alex.”
I watch her as she thinks deeply. I can almost hear the cogs and wheels in her brain turning. “Wait, I just had an idea,” she says with a bright expression on her face.
“All we need to do is communicate with the guys back at the Underworld for them to come get us right?”
“Yeah, basically,” I say.
“Good. Then what if instead of spending three weeks building a steam-powered car we build something easy and useful, like a transistor radio?” she says.
“Brilliant Alex!” I say and get up to high-five her. “So where do we get a transistor from?”
“Oh no, I didn’t think of that.”
“I think I have an idea.”
“Yes, I do. Don’t sound too surprised.”
“Sorry,” she says with a chuckle.
“Anyways, doesn’t the hoverbus have like all sorts of electronics inside it?”
“Yes! You’re right Dr. Blay!” she says. “With all the parts in the bus I could fashion a transistor radio no problem.”
“Good,” I say while I grab my gear bag and get to my feet, “Let’s go, we’re burning daylight.”
Alex also gets to her feet and joins me as we walk away from the camp. She takes out her communicator to check something and I immediately realise something.
“Wait Alex,” I say.
“What’s wrong?” she says and we stop walking.
“Why don’t we just use the communicators to call back to the guys at the Underworld?” I ask.
“I already thought about that but it doesn’t have that kind of range so we need to build a transistor radio to amplify its signal.”
We continue walking away from the camp but Alex suddenly stops. “Oh my God I forgot Alfie!” she says and rushes back to the camp.
“What about him? We can’t bring him with us!” I say in exasperation.
“We also can’t just leave him in the open like that; we have to move him.”
“Fine,” I say in defeat.
We sprint over to where Dr. Alfred is sleeping in the leaves, lift him and prop him up by the tree. We cover him with some giant leaves and put some food by him in case he wakes up and gets hungry or something.
“Better?” I ask her.
“Yeah, we can leave now,” she says in satisfaction.We turn around start toward the beach again. We have to begin there since that is the place we first fell into when we ‘fell’ off the cliff. At least now we have given ourselves a realistic chance of getting back home.