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Tuesday, June 12th, 2018, 11:30 am
Carmen and Keith quickly found Samuel in the room with the Iron Lung. Opening the door for the team had actually stabilized the iron lung for the moment. When they arrived he said, “Don’t tell me . . . this is going to be the hang-out spot for young lovers.”
Keith replied, “Ha, I wish we were here to just hang-out.”
“So what brings you here then?” Suddenly concerned, Samuel added, “Is something wrong with the mission? Is the team OK?”
Carmen soothed him, “Everything’s fine, this is actually about the colony. We noticed a . . . well, an awful smell.”
Keith interrupted, “Awful doesn’t do it justice, maybe foul, or awfully foul. How about the awfullest most foul smell ever encountered inside the colony!”
Samuel said, “Really? I’ve never come across any really bad smells; well, except that cooked turkey meat that was left out for weeks.”
Keith said, “This is worse! It smells septic.”
“Oh, no, has somebody clogged the waste recycling system?”
Carmen and Keith both shrugged.
“Well, I’ll go take a look,” said Samuel. ”Thanks, I guess.”
Carmen said, “Oh, we’ll go with you. We didn’t have any specific plans anyway.”
They followed Samuel to the command center where the waste recycling system was. The entire waste recycling system was below the rest of the command center. They had to use a narrow metal staircase to get to it. Many things had been put on this sublevel for safety reasons. The entire section could easily be shut off. The waste recycling system was on the western side of the sub level.
There was no smell in the room. Samuel poked around and then said, “It doesn’t look like much is being processed, and there’s no smell here. Where did you smell it again?”
“It was near the homes. We were heading to the arcade.”
“That’s odd. Can you show me?”
“Of course,” she replied.
They walked back to the door that lead to the hangar and then followed the hall towards the arcade. As they went, all three of them started sniffing around like dogs. They found the smell suddenly. All three of them inhaled it at the same time. Carmen let out a gasp and Samuel coughed.
Carmen said, “What do you think it is?”
“I’d say what I think it is if it weren’t for the presence of a lady.”
Carmen raised her eyebrows and said, “You mean me?”
She softly slapped Keith’s arm and said, “You see that. He called me ‘a lady!’”
Keith said, “Let’s not chat idly with that smell so close, please. It’s really rank!”
Carmen said to Samuel, “So, how about this weather we’re having!”
Keith hit her on the arm the same way she had hit him, “Come on; let’s hurry.” Keith turned to Samuel and asked, “Where is it?”
Samuel said, “Umm . . . I think we’re going to have to follow our noses and find out!”
Despite Keith’s complaints, they continued down the hall. The farther they got, the stronger the smell became. After they passed the school, the smell started to subside.
“You don’t think it’s the school, do you?” asked Carmen.
“Let’s stop by Tara’s home and see what she thinks.”
They went to Tara’s home and Samuel knocked. After a minute, Tara opened the door. As Tara opened her mouth to greet them, she suddenly smelled it and said, “Oh, what is that!”
“That’s what we’re here to find out,” said Carmen.
“Well, good timing,” said Tara. “Come inside, quickly.”
They walked in, relieved the smell was not inside. Her two eldest children were playing in another room and Tara’s youngest was taking a nap. Tara explained that she had not noticed the smell until they had knocked. Tara had been home all day with the kids since the school was closed. She was planning on taking them to the playground at the school in the afternoon.
Before they gave up on getting information from Tara she said, “You know, the toilet wouldn’t flush a little while ago. I was going to wait and try again before mentioning it, but since you’re here and it might be related . . .”
Samuel asked, “Which of the bathrooms?”
Tara pointed and they went inside the effected bathroom. Samuel lifted the toilet’s lid. He tried flushing it, but it only made the water start to rise. He quickly fumbled for the shut-off valve. As he turned the valve, everybody backed up in case he was too slow. The water stopped just as it reached the lip of the toilet’s basin.
He stood up and said, “Phew, that was close.”
They walked back out to Tara’s living room. When Keith and Carmen explained how they noticed the smell, Tara asked, “How did the launch go?”
“Well, I guess,” replied Carmen. “There won’t be a real way to know until they’re back. In fact, everybody has decided to ignore the world monitors unless they are late because time could rapidly shift and change.”
“Won’t we be affected anyway then, at least if they stop the invasion?”
“Yes, but we’ll never know how much,” Carmen continued. “Probably not too much, I don’t think any major decisions were made that would be different from when we got the note.”
As they talked, Samuel wandered about the room a bit and eventually began pacing. Carmen finally asked, “So, Samuel, where do you think it is?”
“Well, I can’t be sure, but I think it’s under this house. We’re going to have to crawl under because the space is very small. The access door is closer to the ocean section.”
“Gee, I can’t wait,” said Keith with mock enthusiasm.
Carmen thanked Tara for her time and they all said their goodbyes. Tara thanked them for the information about the launch. As they went out the door, Samuel said to Tara, “We might be a little loud down there.”
Tara smiled, “Don’t worry; it’s almost time for Jill to wake up anyway.”
They walked out and back into the smell. Keith, who was the last one out the door, closed the door as quickly and quietly as he could, which was not actually that quiet, but at least it was quick.
They walked toward the little door that Samuel had mentioned. While the smell was bad at the front door, it was barely noticeable by the time they got to the little door. Door, of course, was almost an exaggeration. Really hatch would be a better word. Perhaps tiny hatch would be the perfect description!
Keith pulled on the door, trying to open it, but it did not budge. The door was made of thick steel that looked odd set in the wall of concrete, which was painted white. Samuel pulled it open with ease, almost making it embarrassing how hard Keith tried to open it. As soon as it opened, the smell returned far stronger then they had ever noticed it.
Keith exclaimed, “Yep, this is the place!”
The tunnel was only a foot and a half tall. At the start, it was only three feet wide but it quickly opened farther in. Samuel got down on his knees and then on his stomach and crawled in.
Carmen pointed to the door and said to Keith, “After you.”
“Are you sure? What about ladies first? Samuel did say you’re a lady!”
She made a face and said, “Just go.”
He lifted his hands as if he was surrendering, “OK, OK.” He lifted his shirt up over his nose then knelt down as Samuel had done. When he got to his knees, the shirt fell down off his nose. “Oh, I was breathing in as it fell off!”
From inside Samuel called, “Are you coming?”
“Just a minute,” Keith called back. Keith got down onto his stomach. As soon as he was done, he tried to pull his shirt up from the neck over his nose. He could not get it to reach so he pulled the shirt up and out from where it was tucked in his pants. He then pulled it up from the bottom over his nose. Then he began to crawl in.
While Carmen preferred to wear her black boots, she found Keith liked it when she wore pumps and even heels. She was not very comfortable in heels, so she rarely wore them, but since she expected they would be together for the day this was one of the days she wore heels. Although she would never ask, she wondered if Jared was why Michelle always wore heels.
She took off her heels so she could go in barefoot. She had a skirt on, which she wore because it was comfortable more than anything else. She got down carefully on her uncovered knees. Then she lay on her stomach. She quickly crawled in. The concrete outside hurt against her knees, but the inside was metal, so she was fine once she was in.
With her blocking the light from the door, it seemed very dark inside. As she crawled farther in, it seemed to get darker. Eventually, her eyes adjusted and she noticed there were small lights at regular intervals. She was already past the tunnel and into the open area. Large pillars supported the home above them.
As she caught up to Keith and Samuel, Keith called back to her, “I doubt they’ll hear us down here.”
She knew he meant the sleeping child, but her mind added ‘if you scream.’ She shuddered, physically, trying to forget the thought. As she crawled forward, she could see their feet ahead of her. She wondered if that door could be locked and what would happen if somebody locked them in. How much air would we have in here, she thought.
Carmen knew the space was small when she got in, but to actually be inside, it was so small, so cramped, so hot, and of course so smelly. The smell did not bother her as much anymore though. Claustrophobia was starting to set in. Every sound echoed and made her fear the ceiling was collapsing. She wanted to stand up and stretch. She started to cramp up with nervousness. Finally, Carmen thought to herself, ‘I can do this. We’re safe.’
She caught up with Keith and Samuel. They were both looking at a thick pipe that led east towards the command center. Carmen was too disoriented and preoccupied to be able to tell where the pipe led.
“This is the pipe that leads to the waste recycling system. It must be full.” Samuel tapped the pipe, and it made a soft metal noise. “You hear that?”
Keith and Carmen replied, “Yes.”
“If it was empty it should’ve made a ringing sound. We have to follow it and figure out where the clog is.”
Keith said, “What if the whole thing is clogged?”
Samuel said, “Then we have to unclog every component pipe . . . by hand!”
As they followed the pipe, they found a few small leaks at the couplings. The leaks were so small they might have at most released a drop every half hour. Small puddles formed under the leaks. The puddles were hard to see even with the lights on, but they could all tell they were dark and smelly. That was what was filling the area they were in with the smell.
When they reached the first puddle a wave of nausea seized Carmen. The heat from crawling and the confined space was starting to get to her. She backed away from the puddle and controlled the impulse to vomit.
All of them made a great effort to avoid crawling in it, especially Carmen. They crawled east following the pipe. At regular intervals, a small pipe curved down from the home above into the pipe they were following. At each of the intervals, Samuel would knock to see if it was full or not. After what seemed to Carmen like miles Samuel hit the tube and it rang more loudly like it was hollow.
Samuel said, “It’s empty on both sides of this one. It must be between here and the last one.”
They backtracked a little with Samuel tapping as they went. A third of the way back to the previous coupling was where the sound changed. It slowly went from the loud ringing to a muted bang. Samuel stopped and waited for Keith and Carmen to catch up. Keith, who still had his nose covered, quickly arrived. It took Carmen a little longer, mostly because of her anxiety, but also because she was smaller.
“It must be here. I'll make a mark.” He took a very small roll of duct tape out of his back pocket. He ripped off a piece and taped it to the pipe. Next, he took a pen out of the same pocket and scribbled something that was illegible.
Keith asked, “Do you always carry duct tape on you?”
“Of course, it’s like the force; it has a dark side and a light side and binds the universe together!”
Keith replied, “Umm, OK, I guess we’re all geeks here!”
“I think we’re under one of the empty homes. Let’s get out and take a look. We’re going to have to shut off the water and then open these pipes.”
Carmen said, “Is there a quick way out?”
“Yes, follow me.” They followed Samuel to a door that looked like the one from which they entered. When Carmen first saw it, she panicked and thought, ‘It’s closed. We’re stuck in here, and it’s closed.’ As they got closer, she realized it was too close to be the door they had entered from. Samuel gave it a push, but it did not budge. Carmen let out a short squeal of fear. “It’s all right, just needs a bigger push.” Samuel pushed again, and this time it opened.
Samuel crawled out, and Carmen quickly got out with him, not caring what kind of show Keith got because of her skirt. When she was out, she took a deep breath then kneeled down to help Keith out. Keith got up cautiously, his shirt still over his nose.
Carmen suddenly noticed his stomach was covered with blood. “Are you OK?”
As he pulled his shirt back down he said, “What, what do you mean.”
She grabbed his hand to stop it from pulling the shirt onto his bloody skin. She pointed, “Look, can’t you feel that?”
He looked down and said, “Oh, I felt a scrape in there. I didn’t think it was bleeding.”
Samuel, now looking at the blood said, “You should have my wife take a look at that.”
“Nah, I can take care of it. It looks worse than it is. It must have happened when we first got in, so it just looks bad because it was bleeding for so long. I’ll go to the clinic and clean it up.”
Despite their mutual smell from not only being inside but also from their sweat, she gave him a quick hug, careful not to hurt him. He looked down at her feet.
Keith asked, “Where are your shoes?”
“Oh, I left them when we went in. It’s tough to crawl in heels you know!”
“No, I don’t know. I’ve never tried!”
“Well, good, I had my doubts,” she said.
Keith waved and walked to the clinic to take care of his cuts. Samuel offered to get Carmen’s shoes, but she said she would get them herself. Samuel had been right: they had appeared at the wall to the empty home between Keith’s home with his parents and his sister’s home with Mike.
Samuel walked with Carmen to get her shoes. As they walked he said, “This is going to be a tough job. It’s so cramped in there. We have to open those clogged pipes and clean them out.”
“We can do it,” she replied. “We have to!”
When they arrived at the door they had first entered through she asked, “Do we have any replacement pipes scanned?”
“Of course, all the parts that would ever need replacing were scanned. We have several of many parts in the command center, too, in case the builders break.”
“This should be pretty easy then,” she said. After explaining her plan, she told him to meet her back at the door in half an hour.
She wiped her feet before she put her shoes back on. Her feet were clean, but sweaty . . . and sore. The concrete ground was harsh on her feet. Her dress and shirt had some black marks from all the crawling.
“Good thing we have builders to replace those clothes,” he said, referring to her outfit.
She looked down, but didn’t really see anything too terrible. “I can get these clean, better to conserve the builders.”
They walked back towards the command center. When she turned in at her door, he smiled and said, “OK, see you in half an hour then!”
She waved, “Yep. I’ll be better dressed for it too!”
Copyright (C) 1998-2001 East Coast Games, Inc. and 2001 - 2006 Forest J. Handford