The night passed quickly. Working in the field from daylight until dusk in the searing heat left me completely exhausted, and I slept soundly on Arn’s patch of dry grass.
The next morning we filled our bellies with water from the community water barrel and headed out to the field.
I’d rather spend the day scraping peeling paint off the side of a barn in August than brush leaves all day on Hoth. To think I considered scraping paint a crappy job!
An image of me scraping paint on the side of a large white barn on a summer day briefly appeared in my mind and just as quickly disappeared.
What! Where did that come from? Where did that happen?
“Lost in thought? Arn asked.
“Yeah. I just had this weird image of me scraping paint off the side of a white barn on a hot summer day, but I don’t know where or when that happened.”
“I thought it’s hotter here than it was there. That’s everything.”
“At least you’re getting short flashes of memory. That’s a good sign that you’ll remember more soon,” Arn commented.
How Did This Place Get So Hot?
“Arn, how did this place get so hot? It wasn’t always this hot, right? What happened?”
“No it wasn’t always this hot. A lot of things happened that caused it to get hot. I can tell you what I know, but we’re almost to our work location and it’s a long explanation.
To say our workday that day went faster would be inaccurate. Even knowing that we would get to quit early because the goons would be fertilizing our end of the field at the end of the day helped only a little. It was damn hot!
The field goon appeared a little over an hour before dusk. Of course the time is just a guess. Our only way of keeping time was the sirens that blew to signal the beginning and end of each workday.
“You two can go now. Be sure you’re back here your regular time tomorrow,” the goon announced. He turned abruptly and never watched to see what we did.
Arn immediately stuck the red stick in the ground at the place where we finished working, and we headed back toward our tree. When we passed the edge of the field and started walking down the slight slope in the direction of our tree, Arn veered off to the left. I followed.
“Where we headed Arn? To the ruins?”
“Yes, but first we’re skirting our tree and the shack area. No one needs to know where we’re headed, even though I didn’t see anyone near the shack. The goon probably made them go back to the field when the fertilizer machine finished their areas. “
“Is it against the rules to go to the ruins?” I asked.
“No, but I find it’s always a good idea to keep a low profile. The less they know about us, the better. No point having anyone spying. We might even find some treasure we don’t want to share.”
“You find stuff in the ruins?” I asked.
“Not usually, but this time we have daylight. We might see something I haven’t seen at night.”
The ground started to slope uphill slightly. I had yet to see any ruins.
“How far to the ruins, Arn?”
“Not far. Just over the rise ahead of us.”
“If they’re just over that little rise, there must not be anything very tall sticking up. I can’t see anything.”
“Not much is left except rubble, Tammy. There might be a few pieces three or four feet high, and that’s about it. Everything else is just rubble.”
If he knows what a measurement of a foot is, does that mean we’re from the same place? How is it that he speaks my language, knows about green trees and even knows the measuring system I know?
We topped the rise. A huge field of rubble stretched ahead of us and to our right as far as I could see.
“Come on Tammy. Not much to see, but let’s walk around and see what you think of it.”
Are We Walking on a Street?
We walked on wide paths through the rubble field.
What’s this black stuff we’re walking on? It’s cracked and uneven, but it kinda looks like, like asphalt! Are we walking on a street?
“Was this a street, Arn? What created all of this rubble?”
“Yep, it was a street. We’re in the part of town where people used to live when the rubble was houses.”
I waded into the rubble and Arn followed.
“These are bricks,” I exclaimed. “I think this was once a brick fireplace chimney.”
“Looks like it.”
“Do you remember any houses still standing here when you were a kid?”
“Nope. It’s looked pretty much like this as long as I can remember.”
“What happened to all the people who used to live here?”
“They’re probably all dead,” Arn answered.
What Happened to the People?
“What happened to them? How did they die?”
“Poison. The planet’s poisoned.”
“Yeah. Poison. The planet’s poisoned and so is every one who lives here. There’s poison in the air, in the dirt, in the water, in the plants and in the people. Poison has killed everything and now it’s killing off the last few people. There’s no one on the planet younger than us. The women aren’t having babies.”
“They all look too old to have babies, Arn. The ones I’ve seen all look like they’re eighty.”
“They’re probably about your mother’s age, in their forties. The heat, the sun, the poison has aged them twice as fast as usual.”
“Uh, Arn, you look like you’re about early twenties. So does that mean you’re really eleven or twelve?”
“I don’t know how old I am. I remember six, maybe seven annual cycles, from the longest, hottest days, through the shortest days until we get back to the longest days again. Before that my memory is pretty much nonexistent. Must be something about this place that did it to me.”
“I thought you said Gramps was with you since you were a little kid.”
“I don’t remember anything before Gramps, Tammy. My oldest memories go back six or seven years ago, and I wasn’t exactly a little kid.”
“Is one of your years the same thing as what you call a cycle, Arn?”
“Do you know how many days it is?”
“Gramps told me it is usually three hundred sixty five days. Why?”
“Because it’s the same where I come from. I somehow know that. In some ways things here help me remember bits and pieces of my life before I arrived here. I’m wondering if this is some kind of a parallel planet in a parallel universe where things turned out a little different than where I come from.”
“That’s why we’re walking around, Tammy, hoping something will jog your memory and you’ll figure out where you’re from and who you are.”
“Oh, I’m Tammy. I’m sure of that. But I don’t seem to remember much of anything about my life before Hoth.
What Poisoned the Planet?
“I’m curious, Arn. You said this planet was poisoned. Poisoned by what?”
“The other field workers don’t seem to know or care. They just know they’re doomed. But Gramps told me the planet was poisoned by lots of things. Chemicals, things that people burned that fouled up the air, volcanoes, stuff like that.”
“Was there some sort of nuclear war, Arn? If this place was once green, cooler and full of people, did a nuclear war cause this?”
“Gramps said there was a nuclear exchange. That’s what he called it. He said it could have been worse. He told me the planet was already messed up. Dirty air, dirty water, getting hotter. It was spiraling out of control. Once it got to a certain point, people didn’t know how to stop it.
“There was a big volcano eruption and some smaller ones. Then some people blew up some nuclear bombs. That’s when the planet went totally crazy. The sky turned orange and brown like it is now. It got real hot real quick.”
“What knocked down all of these buildings, Arn? Nuclear bombs? What?” I asked, still looking at the remnants of the brick chimney that had once been part of someone’s house.
“Everything about the planet including the people went out of control. No one was in charge. Gramps said raiders destroyed the city. Blew it up. Most of the people who lived here ran away. But there was nowhere to go. They didn’t survive.”
“That happened to the whole planet. Arn?”
“According to Gramps, the whole planet went crazy. It got hot, dried out, there was no food or water, and what was left was bad, poison. Almost everyone died.”
“How did anyone survive?”
“A few people found food, Tammy, and figured out how to get a plant working again that somehow hadn’t been destroyed. It converts ocean water to water we can drink and use to water the plants that keep us alive. It’s in a building that’s just over the mountains on the other side of the field. It’s in a hidden canyon near the ocean, a canyon the raiders missed.
“Someone found some of the plants we brush every day growing in all this heat and figured out we could grow them and eat them. The wind that blows most of the time builds up too much sand and dust on their leaves and then the plants won’t grow. That’s why the goons need us, to brush the dust off their leaves so they’ll grow.”
Your Goon Friend
“You said you have a goon friend. Does he know all of this stuff, Arn?”
“I said I kind of know a goon. Friend would be overstating it. We’ve never talked about any of this stuff. I really don’t know what the goons know, Tammy.”
“How did you get to know a goon?”
“Somehow Gramps set that up. He gave the goon some stuff he said he found in the ruins that got the goon in good with his higher-ups. The goon promised him he’d make sure nothing bad happened to me, if Gramps promised that he’d give any more stuff he might find like that to the goon.”
“What did Gramps find?”
“I never saw it. He called it a box of odds and ends that we didn’t need. Stuff that goons would like.”
“Let’s walk a little more, Arn. It probably all looks about the same, but since these bricks made me remember something, maybe I’ll see something else that will knock loose some memories.”
“That’s the idea, Tammy.”
We walked through the ruins for maybe another fifteen minutes, walking in a circle of sorts that brought us back to almost where we had started. I saw chunks of concrete, rusty metal, more bricks and chunks of stuff I couldn’t identify, all partially covered with sand and dust blown in by the wind.
The end-of-the-day siren sounded. We walked in a wide arc around our tree, trying to keep out of sight of anyone who would be heading to the shack for supper. We waited near our tree until we figured everyone else would have their slime soup, then headed over to get ours.
We stepped up to the window, held out or bowls and Prune Face appeared with ladles of soup.
You Distract Him and I’ll Kill Him
“Your field manager was looking for you.”
“Yeah, well they were fertilizin’ our end of the field and he told us a little while ago we were done for the day,” Arn replied.
“He was here just before the siren blew and asked if I’d seen you. Told him I hadn’t. He said he’d be lookin’ for you tomorrow.”
“We’ll be in our usual place,” Arn grunted.
We walked back to our tree with our bowls of soup. When we were far enough away that we probably couldn’t be heard, we sat down to eat.
“Field manager?” I asked. “We have a field manager?”
“Yes, Tammy, we have a field manager. Everyone but Prune Face calls him the field goon.”
“Why’s he looking for us?” I asked.
“I don’t know. We didn’t break any rules. Maybe Prune Face saw us walking in the ruins. Guess we’ll find out tomorrow,” Arn said uneasily.
“Let’s get our water before everyone else tomorrow morning.” I insisted. “Then we’ll get out to the field and make him come to us out there. We’ll keep apart farther than usual. If it’s something real bad, you distract him. I’ll break his neck and we’ll bury him under our precious plants.”
“Whoa, Tammy. Where’s that coming from? You’re ready to kill him?”
“Instinct. Survival. I don’t know where that’s coming from, but he’s not taking us out.”
“Tammy, Tammy, Tammy. Calm down. The veins on your forehead are popping out. If this was something real serious he’d have been sitting there waiting for us when we got our soup. He probably just has something to tell us about the fertilizing.”
“O.k. Maybe. But in the interest of survival let’s follow my plan, Arn.”
Is Arn right, or am I gonna’ be burying a dead goon tomorrow?