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WesternSFA
Strange Wet Earth
Sequel to Beautiful SilverEarth
by Marian Powell
©2013

Earth is a solar flare!  Earth is an airless vacuum!  Earth is an asteroid hitting the earth!

Oops.  That doesn’t even make sense, but this is so space junky!

I mean, we left the space station to return to earth.  We were supposed to land in the Mojave Desert near Edwards Air Force Base.  All three of our parents said a desert is a very dry place.  Instead, we landed with a big splash in a huge lake of water.  Not one of them can explain that.

“Does all the water mean there won’t be any camels?” Olga asked.

 

Our parents prepared us for landing on earth by having Hope and Olga and me watch the few movies on the space station that showed what a desert looks like.  Olga fell in love with the camels. I like my Pixie better.

When Unkytree slid the door open, Pixie pushed past him and splashed down in the water.  And that scared me so I leapt in to save her.  She’s just a baby. I was afraid she’d be terrified when she hit the water.

I was the one who was terrified!  The water got all in my face and up my nose.  My feet didn’t touch anything.  It was sort of like being on a spacewalk only a lot worse.  Unkybruce jumped in.  I grabbed onto him and he did something really weird.  He kicked with his feet and swung his arms and moved through the water until we reached shore.  I remembered a movie where someone did what he did.  It’s called swimming, I think.

Pixie did better than me, especially after Pepper, her mother jumped in.  Both seemed to know how to swim using all four legs.  It’s called a dog paddle even though they’re not dogs.

Unkybruce stopped suddenly and stood up.  My feet hit bottom and Unkybruce was only in up to his waist.  We walked until we were out of the water.  That water was cold!  I’ve never seen so much water in my life! And I’ve never had my clothes get so wet.  It felt really weird, absolutely space junky. 

I hugged Pixie.  Space junk, a wet goat really smells!  I was glad when she wriggled out of my arms to join Pepper in lapping up the water.

Unkybruce said we can be grateful to Pixie for getting us out of the shuttle and onto the land right away.  He said we can figure out where we are and what we’re going to do next.

I had another big surprise.  The rest came ashore, not by swimming, but in a little boat.  I’d seen the boat on the shuttle of course, but it’s totally different seeing it in the water.  It was hardly big enough for the four of them plus the chickens and a pile of clothing and other stuff.

 

First thing, Auntymom handed out dry clothes for to change into.  Then the three of them started studying the maps.  Auntymom said that since it’s been ten years and we have no way of knowing how much damage the asteroid did, the maps may be useless. Unkytree said the water’s not salty so we’re not in the ocean, but there’s no lake anywhere in the Mojave Desert according to the old map.  I found a place on the map called Owens Lake .  Auntymom said it once had water but Los Angeles took the water a long time ago and it’s dry.

I wondered how far this place is from Florida . I want to go there.  My parents are in Florida .

Mostly, I wanted to get warm.  Even with dry clothes, it’s cold.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the air would just stop moving all the time.  I’m told it’s called wind.  I don’t like it.

I also don’t like the sun, the sky and the clouds.  They all seem out of place. It’s so strange to look up at clouds instead of looking down at them.  Our parents say there are too many clouds in the sky and that’s making it colder than it should be.  They also say that mostly the clouds are white and fluffy and that’s good. It means earth is returning to normal.

I didn’t understand any of this so Hope and Olga and I started looking around. The land has lots of big rocks and bushes just like in the movies called Westerns.  They are nothing like the vegetables we grew on the space station.  It makes me wonder what we’re going to eat when our food runs out.

“Look!” Olga shrieked. She pointed at something smaller than a chicken but with big ears and fur like a goat staring at us from a rock.

“A rabbit!” Unkybruce exclaimed.  “Boy, it’s good to see something on earth is alive.”

“And where there’s one rabbit, there will be many.  We will have food.” Unkytree said.

The rabbit suddenly took off running and soon vanished.

“Speaking of food, we should eat,” Auntymom said. “With so many dead bushes, it will be easy to make a fire.” As she spoke, she started picking up branches that were brown without any green leaves at all.  We all joined in and soon had a big pile.

“I get to try out my invention to light it but first, let me see if I remember how to construct a proper fire.”  Unkybruce pulled out the thickest, heaviest branches and made a small neat pile.  Then he pulled a small metal gadget out of his pocket. 

“Behold, I reinvented the lighter.” He clicked the lighter, a bright yellow light appeared and, when he touched it to the pile, yellow lights began to flicker on the branches.

“The children have never seen fire!” exclaimed Unkytree.  He picked up Olga and told Hope and me to stand back.

I’d seen fire in the movies, of course, but real life was nothing like that.  The yellow flames were warm. It felt wonderful. White and gray and black smoke rose up.  Breathing it made my nose tickle.

“There shouldn’t be any black smoke.  Some of the wood must be wet or green, but who cares as long as it’s hot.”  Auntymom put a pan of water, vegetables and slices of dried Captain on the fire.

“Fire is pretty.  Why didn’t we ever have it at home?” Olga asked.

“Too dangerous and wasteful on a space station.  It would use up oxygen and might even set it all on fire.” Auntymom answered.

I noticed Pepper and Pixie stayed away nibbling at the bushes with green leaves.

“Animals have an instinct to be afraid of fire,” Unkybruce explained.

“If they’re eating the bushes, does that mean we don’t have to worry about feeding them or the chickens?” I asked.  We had let the chickens run loose and they were pecking at the ground as though there was lots of food there in the dirt.

“That’s right,” Unkybruce said and I felt myself relax as a great weight of fear lifted.  Before we decided to come back to earth, all three of our parents had talked about how we couldn’t keep feeding Pixie.  Without Captain, she will never have her own babies and never give milk.  Even Pepper doesn’t give much.  I never liked Cap who could be mean about knocking you down when you weren’t looking, so I didn’t mind eating him.  I just couldn’t imagine eating my Pixie.  So now she’s safe. We’ll find a Captain for her here on earth. She’ll have babies and give milk and everyone will love her.

“Yes. We won’t have to feed the goats and therefore, we can keep them.  Pepper will stop giving milk soon, I think, and it doesn’t matter.  We’ll keep her and Pixie as pets for as long as they live.” Auntymom smiled at me, obviously remembering how scared and angry I had been over what would happen to Pixie.  She had once explained very nicely that we could not keep her as a pet, but that was on the space station where we were running out of food.

I smiled back, feeling wonderful.  I looked towards Pixie, wanting to share my happiness.  Something was very wrong.  Both Pixie and Pepper stood completely still, staring towards a hill with a cloud of dust behind it, rising like smoke.  Their ears were pointed towards the dust and the noise.

We’d all been talking and eating and not paying attention.  I realized now I’d been hearing a strange, low, rumbling noise in the distance.

“Is that thunder?” I’ve always wanted to see and hear a thunderstorm.

“That’s an engine!” exclaimed Unkybruce.

“Take the children and go back to the shuttle,” Unkytree said to Auntymom.

“And what do you think you and Bruce can do if these are bandits?” asked Auntymom.  “We have no weapons and I’d say we’re better off staying together.  The reason for coming back to earth to reconnect with civilization?  Probably, they’re soldiers from Edwards Air Force Base.  They saw the shuttle land and they’re coming to investigate.”

“We’ll soon find out,” said Unkybruce.  “Here they come.  Looks like an old pickup truck.  The motor sounds pretty bad.”

I stared at the vehicle rumbling towards us and at the two animals running beside it, making loud, sharp noises.

“Are those dogs?” Olga asked.

“They’re not camels,” Hope giggled.

“Two pickup trucks,” Auntymom said. “The second is staying back.”

“I see women and children in the second one and only two men in the first.  I think we’re safe.” Unkytree said.

We watched as the first pickup truck pulled up and stopped only a short distance away.  The two dogs barked at us which was awfully loud.  Both men got out and stared at us.  The driver whistled.  The dogs came to him.  He held the door open and they jumped into the truck.

I thought that was a great trick.  I’d have to teach Pixie to do it.

The driver had funny hair for there was much white in both it and his beard.  I remembered from the movies that means you’re getting old.  Both men had beards, just like Unkybruce and Unkytree except Unkytree’s is blond and Unkybruce is brown.

I suddenly remembered the photos I’d seen of my father. The driver looked a little like the man in the photo.  Since we didn’t know where we had landed, maybe we were in Florida instead of California .

No one said a word. I couldn’t stand the silence and my own questions. I took a step forward and spoke to the driver.

“Are you my father?”

Everyone turned to look at me like I had said something really strange.  I thought maybe I should explain so I added my other question, “Are we in Florida ?”

“Dummy, we’re in California !” Hope said.

 

“You don’t know that. We landed in water and there isn’t any in California .” Hope gets real annoying sometimes.

“We were aiming for Edwards Air Force Base,” Unkybruce said. “And we had explained to the children that it’s in a desert.”

Both men’s faces lit up with huge smiles.  The younger one said “Then it’s true?  The government sent you? It still exists and is recovering?”

“We’ve been in orbit since just before the asteroid impact and since then we’ve been out of touch.  We brought ourselves down.”

Auntymom said.

“Oh, then you don’t know any more than we do.”

“You’re not from Edwards?  Isn’t anyone there?  Didn’t they have a shelter?” Unkybruce asked.

“They had to leave when the food and water ran out.  Well, almost everyone.  You folks look harmless.  Let me introduce my family.   When we realized that looked like a shuttle coming down, everyone wanted to come.  I knew my son and I needed to check you out first. Hope you didn’t mind.” He waved his arm and the second pickup truck drove forward.  A woman who also had dark hair with a lot of white in it drove.  Another, holding a baby, sat beside her.  The back seemed full of people; another woman, two boys that were strange and three children about the size of Hope and Olga.

The boys were strange because they were a little taller than me but not as tall as the parents. I’m almost twelve and I’ve always been the oldest. Finally, I figured out they must be teenagers. The truck stopped and they all scrambled out.

I’ve never seen so many people in all my life!

“This is it?” Unkybruce sounded disappointed.  “This is all of you?”

“Yes.”

“You said some stayed.”

“That was me.  I stayed to marry John,” the woman holding the baby said, smiling at the man the driver had said was his son.

“Is that a baby?” Olga asked.

“Yes,” the woman answered. “You’ve never seen a baby?”

“I have!” I said.  “I remember when Olga was born.”

Then the driver introduced everyone and I got confused by all the names. His name is Grandpa.  The other driver, called Grandma, was his wife and all the children were their grandchildren, even the two boys.  Their names were Carlos and Eddie and their mother was the woman who had been sitting in the back of the truck and apparently was the daughter of the two drivers.  There’s so many, it’s hopelessly confusing.    This must be what a city was like!

“You didn’t answer my question,” I said to the Grandpa.  “But if this isn’t Florida , then you can’t be my father.”

“Your parents are in Florida , but you weren’t born there?” He asked.

“Actually, I was but then my mother took me up to the space station.  It was only supposed to be for a week to prove it was safe for babies.”

“I remember!” gasped the woman called Grandma.  “I actually met your parents and you.”

“They were here?”

“No, my husband and I flew to Florida for the launching. We raced back here when we realized the asteroid might hit, not just make a close pass.  But I don’t understand how you managed to land the shuttle without help.” She said to my parents.  That made me mad.  I wanted to ask more questions about my mother and father and what I was like as a baby.  I guess I’ll have to wait until later.

“Badly,” Unkybruce answered.  “If we hadn’t landed in water, we would have really been in trouble.  It kept the landing from being a true crash landing.”

“But you made it.  I am impressed.  It’s lucky for you that the earthquakes that followed the asteroid hit broke the aqueduct.  Owens Lake is a lake again.”

“Obviously, you live nearby since you drove over so quickly.”

“Yes.  Before the asteroid, we were building our retirement home out here in the middle of the desert.  Luckily we had decided to build a cave home. I liked the challenge and building into the earth saves on heating and air conditioning.”

“I saw your home!” exclaimed Auntymom.  “I met the two of you.  I was at your housewarming.  You finished it a year before the asteroid.  I remember you had a problem with water.  You had hit an underground stream while digging.”

“Yes, a major nuisance at the time.  But having a source of clean water literally saved our lives.  I think that’s what ended civilization on earth.  I mean, lots of people had shelters and supplies but no source for water.  Now I want to show you all we’ve done since then.”

“Thank you,” Auntymom said.  Her voice broke and she started to cry.  That scared me.  She never cries.  I took her hand and she smiled through her tears and said, “I’m crying because I’m happy.  It’s so good to be back home and to see people again.”

Pixie bounded up to me at that moment.  Apparently she had decided these strangers were more people to pet her.  And that reminded me of another question.

“Do you have goats?”

“No, we have chickens and cows and alpacas.”

“Do you have camels?” Olga asked.

“No, but alpacas are in the camel family.  They are a distant cousin, you might say.”

“See,” Olga said to Hope.  “I told you there’d be camels!”

We broke up into groups then.  Hope and Olga and the three other children all went to play with Pixie and Pepper and started sort of talking to each other.  All the parents got into a long boring discussion of what had happened since the impact.

Carlos and Eddie and I looked at each other. I puzzled over what to say.

“I was born before the asteroid hit. Hope and Olga came later.”

“So was I,” Eddie said. “Mom says I’m special ‘cause I was the last baby born in a hospital, just before the asteroid.

“I guess I was born in a hospital too,” I said, though I wasn’t sure what a hospital was.

“Our sister is the first child born after the asteroid.”

“She can’t be.  Hope is.” I answered. This was getting tiresome, so I added, “I don’t want to stay here.  I want to go to Florida and find my parents. Is it very far?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie answered. “But I’ll go with you.”

“I want to travel and see the whole world,” Carlos said.  “One of these days, Eddie and I are going to take off and go exploring.  If we find Florida , we’ll come back and tell you.”

“I’ll go with you,” I said.

“You can’t,” Carlos said.  “You’re too little.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Okay, I’ll go by myself,” I answered and that ended the argument.  It felt so space junky to be talking to people I had never met before.

It feels wierd but also wonderful.  Being here isn’t such a solar flare after all.  I think I’m going to like the earth, no matter how strange and wet it is.

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