Foster bent over the paperwork spread before him on the desk and sorted the pieces into separate piles. A knock came at the door. "Come in," he replied without giving it much thought.
The Old Man entered and waited quietly until Foster looked up from his work and acknowledged him.
"Oh, hello, sir," he said.
"I hope I am not interrupting," the Old Man said with the note of a query.
"Oh, no. No," Foster answered. "I need a break about now. Besides I wanted to discuss something with you. I recently read Pilgrim's Progress -- I found it interesting, though it was a little like a catechism. But, despite that, I was intrigued with the logic the characters used in defending their Christian beliefs. I had so long approached religious doctrine with automatic scorn that I never bothered to ask why people believed them. Maybe I'm just getting soft-headed in my old age, but I am actually beginning to see a lot of sense in Christianity -- at least in its moral structure."
The Old Man was slow to speak. He paused and answered, "It is true that the Christian morality alone will produce good results, but I can tell you that history shows that without genuine faith -- even from a solid, active minority -- the morality will not long be sustained by a faithless culture. In fact, when the deterioration comes, the destruction will be swifter and deeper than a culture that never had faith at all."
"It seems like most times it is just a small band of people who do the influencing," Foster said.
He reached for his pipe and began stuffing it with the brown leaves he had so recently been supplied. "Even during the Reformation it was a handful of people who pressed for the changes that eventually became a seedbed for the liberties we find in the American Constitution."
"I recall reading an article written in an obscure 1937 book -- Isaiah's Job it was called," the Old Man said looking up at the ceiling and scratching his jaw. The lazy stream of smoke that emitted from Foster's pipe drifted above. "The author, Albert Nock, contended that the voices of liberty were like the voice of Isaiah -- the truth proclaimed to a multitude of deaf ears. But with a few, scattered listeners mixed in who are the real targets of the message. Nock maintained that it was always a 'remnant' who made the real changes in the world and that the 'masses' usually just played along with whatever was happening. This remnant, according to the writer, was not some elite band of well positioned people but mostly ordinary people who would act upon their known truths. The voice of the prophet was just God's way of nourishing the truths that the remnant was holding to."
"Is that how you viewed Abandon All Hope?" Foster asked.
"Abandon All Hope? Oh, yes, yes -- I mean, no, that's not how I saw it at the time. I was one of those wretched prophets who thought that I was the only one of God's people left -- the Elijah syndrome, I call it. What a proud and boastful thought. My, my."
The Old Man seemed to drift in his thoughts. Slowly he shook his white mane and continued, "I'm glad you read that thing before you knew I penned it. I believe, that despite my arrogance, God used me in that book. And as I read Isaiah's Job a few years -- and a few humbling hard knocks -- later, I realized that the seeds of our little community here were planted partly with that work. There were other prophets of course."
The air in the room was now filled with the sweet, pungent aroma of the tobacco. Foster drew on the stem, leaned back, and blew a stream of dense, blue smoke.
"Others? Who else?"
The Old Man seemed uncomfortable with the question and he shifted on his feet. "You must understand, I'm not comparing myself here, I was just one of the last trumpet blasts -- and, as I said, used in a way that was quite beyond my imperfections. I believe some preachers were used -- Francis Schaeffer, D. James Kennedy, and the like. But there were others. G.K. Chesterton -- of earlier times -- Joseph Sobran, Cal Thomas, and Malcolm Muggeridge. Plenty of others."
"Muggeridge?" Foster responded.
"Yes, Muggeridge -- even when he was an atheist, before his late-in-life conversion to Christianity. He always was one to prick the pretensions of the culture."
"I'm a little surprised, I suppose." Foster said sliding up to the edge of his seat. He pointed to a row of books over his cot and said, "I've been reading some of his stuff lately. I remember reading about him in my college journalism class. I envied his abilities, but I couldn't hack his philosophy so I gave up reading his works. It all went contrary to what I was learning in college. I suppose that I secretly smarted when his barbs hit home. Turning a blind eye to the truths he wrote set a bad precedent for my work. I was a much poorer observer of humanity for it. My journalism instructor laughed at my naiveté when I complained of Muggeridge's biased journalism. He told me, 'It is a journalist's job to change society. He is a change agent with a mission and a philosophy. Muggeridge is just doing that -- unfortunately, he is still promoting a time-worn, outdated morality.'
"But I became interested in Muggeridge again when I was assigned to do a lengthy write-up on him when he died in 1990. I was, what Jesus would call, 'Garnishing the tombs of the prophets.' But I had to read some of what he said just to finish the assignment, but I was surprised at how much he said that I -- by then -- agreed with. It reminded me of the old Mark Twain saying about how, when he was 17 he thought his father was stupid, but when he reached 21, he was surprised at how much his dad had learned in the last four years. Anyway, this time I spent digging into Muggeridge -- I think -- was when I began to change. I think Trask's diagnosis about it beginning with Mara's death was wrong.
"One thing that I wonder about -- speaking of Twain -- is how you can -- as a Christian -- collect books from so many people -- like Twain -- who were so antagonistic to the faith?"
The Old Man smiled slightly. "You've got me pegged there. As a matter of fact, when I started out I was going to collect only 'good, wholesome' books. But I quickly discovered that many of those books were just bad writing -- pure propaganda, poorly disguised as literature. So I made a decision to collect good literature wherever I could find it. I was surprised to find a great deal of true literature is informed by Christianity -- or at least its ethical framework. Work like Twain's? Well, he was often right in his criticisms of religious people and, if Christians are ever going to be able to defend their faith, they will have to know their opponent's criticism for what it is.
"Unfortunately, American Christians were not up to this task and they -- by buying into the pleasantries of Middle America instead of hard, Biblical truth -- contributed to the downward spiral we are in today."
Foster's pipe had gone out and he reached for another match.
"I guess I had the wrong idea about what Christianity represented," he said.
"So did I," the Old Man chuckled. "Believe me, I was as blockheaded about this as anyone can be. I used to like reading Muggeridge as well, but only after I learned to appreciate his criticism of my peculiar brand of priggishness. I learned to accept criticism first from the Bible, then I began to see the wisdom of the old saw, 'If the shoe fits, wear it.'"
"It takes a lot of guts to admit it when you're wrong," Foster added. "Well, not really guts, Foster. It's just a matter of self-preservation. You ram you're head against the wall a few times and it's just plain smart to listen to the guy who tells you about the gate. Unfortunately, our society has hit the wall so often that it is too insensible to respond to such directions."
"Maybe Abandon All Hope was proof of that," Foster said.
"Maybe. I just hope all this is worth it," the Old Man replied with a wave of his arm.
"There's something else I've wondered about," Foster said. "Is literature the only thing being preserved? What about films, sculpture, painting, and music?"
"Well, you know we have a few paintings in the vault but the collectors have informed us that there are those who also specialize in those things. I don't know anything about their location or their methods, but I am assured that they exist. I have to content myself with that knowledge, though I confess I worry about some of that as well."
"I think I've figured it out," Sears said in a conspiratorial whisper even though he and Jones were atop the hill in the early morning sunrise where none could possibly hear them. "I think I can reverse the machine -- if I can find it."
"I think I can help you there," Jones replied. "I can tell you where you were found. That should help you locate the machine."
But Sears' thoughts were centered on the workings of the machine, not its location. "I remember the sequence I was using before the time shift happened, and, if I understand some of what the guys explained to me back then, I may be able to cause a reverse time flow."
"But what if it doesn't work?" Jones asked.
"I could be worse off than here," he answered. "I suppose I could just surrender -- maybe tell the truth."
A troubled look crossed Jones' face. "But what about paradox. Suppose our guys can figure out reversing the machine even if you can't?"
"Yeah, so what? From what I can gather of your so-called modern times, you could stand a few changes in the past."
"But who decides?" Jones pled.
A long pause followed. Sears mulled over the question. The sun had fully risen over the desert and the baking heat began to warm the bones of the two friends.
"That's a good question," Sears answered, "but a better one would be 'What would you change?' According to what I've heard from the Old Man and Foster, the problem was a widespread moral collapse. There's no one thing that could be changed to remedy all that."
"I suppose, I'll just have to destroy the machine if my plan doesn't work," Sears added.
Jones noted the slump in the man's shoulders born of homesickness. The escape plan was all he had -- his last hope of returning to all things familiar. Jones could only pray that the man was right about how to reverse his travels in time.
It was nice to be outside. The picnic was an added treat for Foster as he sat with Lizard's parents, Russ and Cathy.
"It was thoughtful of Lizard to invite me," he told them as they watched the boy and two of his friends running across the valley floor in a boundless game of tag.
Cathy laughed. "He wanted to invite you to spend the night like his other two friends," she said. "He really likes you a lot and he wanted you to be part of his ninth birthday party."
"Well, he probably thinks of me as a grandpa or something," Foster answered. He could see the boys across the way scaling the rocks with Lizard in the lead. "How are his studies coming?"
Russ turned from watching the boys. "You know he's been pretty far ahead of most boys his age. But he seems to be leveling off some. I've been expecting that this might happen. The big trouble is that it is hard to get some of the things that might stimulate him. He has an interest in chemistry, but it would be all theory without lab equipment."
"That makes it tough, alright," Foster replied. "You could get all that back there," he added nodding in the direction of the outside world, "But is it worth it?"
"That's the question I ask myself," Russ said. "We're trying to preserve learning for the world, but sometimes I think we're denying it to our kids. I think about it a lot."
Foster silently watched the boys. Soon he spoke again. "I suspect it may be better for Lizard to learn chemistry as a theory, than the crumbling world's barbarism in practice. What I mean is. . ."
Cathy interrupted, "I know what you mean. Most all the avenues of alternative education -- private schools, homeschooling, and the like -- have been closed or altered to make them Xerox copies of the public schools. I can't imagine what Lizard would be like after eight hours a day of negligent government teachers and promiscuous peers."
"Yeah," Russ said. "That's true enough -- but it just seems there should be some way. . ."
Just then three screaming boys came running into hearing range as they headed toward the trio of adults.
"Hey, Mom. When are we having lunch?" came a familiar voice. Looking at his watch, Russ noted it was barely 10:30.
"Which lunch?" he responded. "The first or second lunch?"
"I don't care," Lizard said barely out of breath as he ran up. "I'm hungry."
"This is news ?" Cathy asked with a smirk and a roll of her eyes.
"The pass you need to take is through here," Jones said pointing to a spot on the map.
"Then you head along the bottom of this set of ridges sort of northward. You were found in this area," he added sweeping his finger across the map.
Sears nodded. "I can now remember some landmarks from just before I passed out in the desert. I'm sure I could find the machine once I get to that area.
"The question now is, how do I get there? And, how do I get rid of this thing on my ankle?"
Jones grinned and pulled a gadget out of his pocket. "The 'thing,' as you call it, is opened with a magnetic key. A strip of magnetic poles arranged in a certain order. This little metallic strip wraps around your anklet where the joint is. Press this button, and the power condenser cuts loose and it overrides the magnetic key sequence."
Sears looked amazed at the tiny apparatus.
"Made it myself," Jones said with obvious pride. "It only works once, so make sure you're ready to go before you use it."
"How can I thank you?" Sears asked.
"Just don't create any paradoxes that make things worse," he answered smiling.
The Old Man sat with the advisors at the large table. The room was lit by a row of fluorescent lights above. While the Old Man's word on community affairs was final, he had selected men to help him make important decisions. Foster had come with a proposal to the council. They sat listening and sipping on hot drinks.
"My idea is to release my story publicly -- especially in my home territory -- through the collectors in that area -- through Raylene. I would like to make public what I have told you about my experiences."
Robin, an older woman with a crippled leg, injected into his pause, "Raylene is in an institution, dear."
Foster stopped and muttered, "Gulag. Jeez." Then he looked up at the rest of the advisors. "All the more reason to circulate this story wherever we can. They are telling people that I am dead -- dead on a hike , yet. Maybe I can stir some remaining fire if I write the truth."
"There's a lot of risk, Foster. We may just stir up the antagonism of our enemies and move them to come after us -- and the others -- by doing this. The question is, 'Is it worth it?'" added a younger man Foster had come to know as Pike.
Foster knew the man was no stranger to risk and was not speaking out of fear but the needs of the community. Pike had been a doctor who had lost his license when he had refused to "pull the plug" on a badly brain-damaged man when the man's parents tired of caring for him. The young doctor would not cease feeding the man -- even after UniMed said they would not pay physicians who did not offer -- in their words -- "a full range of services."
Pike went to work as an electronics assembler -- but even here, he would not let it go. He was later accused of helping someone "kidnap" a starving patient from a Missouri State Rehabilitation Center. The patient was successfully taken underground and was never found. Pike ran when he heard they had issued a warrant for his arrest. He was found by a collector in Corpus Christi, Texas.
"I think it is, Pike," Foster replied. "I've only been out for a year and a half. They said I died on a hike and that Ridley was killed in a mugging downtown. If I tell them the truth -- especially about Ridley's death -- I think it will be effective. There won't be any way they can trace it to here. I agree that things may heat up for a while but they are heating up anyway -- and we only have a little more time before we will be completely unable to put out any kind of messages at all."
Pike leaned his head on his hand and covered his eyes. "He has a point, all. We know there has been renewed circulation of clandestine copies of Abandon All Hope as well as the Bible. Most of the former outlets for books, such as your friend, Leon's, Foster, have been closed. The cities mostly cite imminent domain and claim they are going to 'upgrade' that part of town -- then the whole area goes to ruins.
"And, oh, by the way, Foster, on last word, Leon and his son were quite safe."
Foster looked relieved and nodded to Pike.
"Do you have any more specific arguments to support your proposal?" the Old Man asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do," he answered rising from his chair. "The more I study and read, the more convinced I am that there is hope. The only hope may be to wait until a new dawn but let their records show that we did not leave an opportunity untaken -- if I can so abuse the language. We have to send a message into the Night. I don't know what -- or Who -- ultimately causes an awakening. Historically, there is no absolute method or means, but I do know that there are always people who risk to light a candle in the darkness and sometimes -- sometimes -- the candle lights the wicks of a thousand and a whole new era seems to open. I just don't want to risk missing that even if it means that everyone will know that I have killed a man."
The room fell silent. Foster took his seat again and surveyed the faces around the table. Finally, the Old Man said, "We shall pray and consider your proposal, Foster. If we have further questions, we will call you."
Foster took the words as an invitation to leave. He rose, turned to the door, and left the advisors to their examination. Outside, Foster saw Jones. "I waited for you," the younger man said. "I had some free time and I thought you might want to do something together."
"I'm interested," Foster replied. "What do you suggest?"
"I thought we might run a sand-buggy out into the desert and spend a day just loafing around. You haven't been more than five miles from this hole since you arrived."
"Sounds like a plan, Jones. How are you going to wangle permission to use a buggy?"
Jones waved his hand slowly to the side. "In the bag, Foster. In the bag."
Both headed deliberately toward the machine room. Inside were rock-cutters, borers, jackhammers, compressors, generators, and two sand-buggies. Mel Donahey, the caretaker of the power tools and equipment was bent over a compressor grunting as he pulled back on a large crescent wrench.
"D'm, thing," he muttered to himself.
Jones walked over and spoke quietly to Donahey. Foster could not make out the exchange but soon the two were walking to the desk and Jones was signing on a clipboard. Mel flipped Jones the keys and he walked back to his compressor. Jones signaled Foster to follow him to the buggy. Both climbed in and the engine fired and hummed sweetly.
"Boy, I love these things," Jones said. "I wish we had the freedom to use them for recreation."
"Oh, isn't that what were doing?" Foster asked."Sh-h-h," Jones held his finger to his lips. "We are scouting possible locations for a fourth hive -- another hill to tunnel."
"But. . ."
"No buts. Lets get outta here." Jones put the buggy in gear and drove quickly out of the tunnel into the morning sunshine. "Out just in time to see any sensible desert dweller head for the indoors."
Once outside the valley where the three hills of the community lay, Jones headed for the spacious desert and away from the direction of roads. Half an hour later he pulled the buggy into the shadow of a huge rock at the bottom of a bluff.
"There's a nice little spot over these rocks here," Jones said as he climbed out of the vehicle. "Comparatively a garden. It seems to trap more moisture than other spots and rock walls protect it from too much full sunlight. Follow me."
Foster pulled himself out while hanging on to the rollbar then scurried in following Jones' long stride. It was just a few minutes walk to the spot. It seemed to be a small oval punched down into the desert floor. On the desert it was surrounded by a legion of standing boulders. Inside, there was five times the vegetation of any of the surrounding area. There was even a patch of grass. To tunnel-weary eyes, it was Eden.
"I found it when we first started up. Been back a couple of times, but I'm the only one who knows about it -- and now you," Jones said heavily implying that two was enough to know the secret.
"It's nice," Foster said and sat against the lone tree in the hollow. "You sure no one else knows this place."
"Not to my knowledge," Jones answered pulling a canteen from a knapsack. "I suppose some might accuse me of being selfish for keeping it to myself but, to me, it's my prayer place when I become frustrated with the hive."
"The hive? Oh, you mean the tunnels."
"Yeah, but after all this time I'm beginning to call it 'the hive.' I realize the restrictions are necessary, so whenever I get to feeling like a hopeless, mindless drone, I come here to pray and think. It's a last resort."
Foster put his hands behind his head. "I know what you mean. The community has a lot of advantages -- especially considering I would have been 'treated' to shock therapy until my brain liquefied. But still, there are things I really miss."
"Like what?" Jones queried while seating himself on a rock.Several thin white clouds papered the sky where Foster gazed. His answer did not come for a time. "I suppose, in a masochistic sort of way, I miss rain -- I mean, the gentle, steady stuff, not the sudden, on-and-off torrents this desert occasionally sees. I also miss the color green. And ice cream, I really miss ice cream -- though I imagine my cholesterol choked heart doesn't. What about you, Jones? What do you miss?"
"I miss my family," he responded softly. "My mom. My sister -- my dad's dead, but I still miss him. I miss not having my own family -- my own kids. And that's weird, too. I never really wanted kids before I came here. But then the idea grew on me for some reason."
"Pretty dangerous world to bring kids into, huh?"
"Yeah, but the world is always dangerous. I suppose the difference now is that I have hope -- hope that eventually the world will be improved. Either by the second coming of Christ or the salting of the world by Christians. Eventually, this mess will end. Maybe having children is a way of saying to God that you know He will win the struggle and that you want your kids to be there when He does."
Foster paused again. A small warm gust stirred the meager branches of the tree. "That analogy to salt -- like the Biblical saying, 'You are the salt of the earth' -- is interesting. It reminds me of what the Old Man was saying to me the other day about it being just a small 'remnant' who actually change the course of the culture. It's like the salt. You just need a little to entirely change the taste of any dish. I don't know if that's what Jesus meant by that -- I'm no theologian -- but it makes some sense to me."
Silence reigned except for the small desert noises. Temperature differences snapped rock, the occasional gust mourned through bushes, and the "ka-a-a" of an unseen bird in search of carrion rippled the stillness.
"You have any kids, Foster?"
"No. It just never happened. Of course, it's still not too late for you. There are single women in the community -- pretty ones, I might add. And no dummies, either. Take. . ."
"Take your mind off that, Foster. I've got a lot of work to do. There's simply not time to marry and have a family."
"Time?" Foster chuckled. "Time is the least of your worries. That's as much an excuse as the 'terrible world' excuse. Up until the 1900s, men worked between 12 and 16 hours a day and still raised families. I don't see the Old Man making you punch a timecard. When you marry, you make time."
Jones looked to the clouds and considered the older man's remarks. "Hm-m-m" escaped his lips.
When the two arrived back at the hive, it looked like a hive. People were swarming around the entrance. The whole community seemed to be mobilized.
"What's going on," Foster asked aloud knowing that no answer could come from Jones.Jones quickly returned the buggy and repeated the question to the nearest person.
"That kid -- Lizard -- is missing. Were forming search parties to find him.
"Foster leaped out of the buggy belying his age and dashed to the crowd. Locating an authoritative voice, Foster moved closer to hear.
"Last seen, Lizard was on the main hill here, so half the searchers will work this mountain. We'll split up the rest to cover the other two hills. I will coordinate the search here -- Pike will take number two, and Mel Donahey, number three," the Old Man was saying.
Russ Kiley stood beside him. His wife Cathy was nowhere to be seen.
"These hills are like a labyrinth and it's getting dark," a voice cried out. "We need to call in outside help."
A few voices murmured assent.
"We can't risk exposure," the Old Man answered. "Besides, it's pretty early to be that desperate. The boy might just be up there in the open with a sprained ankle. Grab a flashlight and start looking. Those who are searching hills two and three, go over there." He gestured toward the second hill.
Foster approached the Old Man.
"Where's Cathy?" he asked."Those who can't search are on the prayer team. She's with them."
The Old Man saw Marty approach the crowd. The Major, for thus he became when he took command, captured the group's attention.
He turned to several men and pointed to each one in turn, "You -- take a group up the main trail to the top. Move slowly and flank your men to either side in the rocks. Look for crevasses, caves, and such. You -- take the water collection runoffs to the south, and you -- take the north runoffs."
Organized into small squads, the people set off on their tasks.
Turning back to Foster, the Old Man said, "You know a lot about the boy, do you have a notion of his favorite spots?"
"Yeah, I could show you some," Foster answered and grabbed a flashlight. "Come on."
The two disappeared into the gathering darkness.
Hours later, Foster and the Old Man -- as well as other groups -- straggled dustily and dirtily into the cavern where the machine room held the community's vehicles and equipment. The room was large and well lit and had been assigned as "command central" in the search for the missing boy. The room held the air of dispirited weariness.
As Foster walked through the room, he overheard snips of conversation. Several tired-looking men grumbled about the autocratic decision to eschew outside help. But most were too tired for words.
"The Major called in about half the searchers. He wants them to sleep and begin anew at first light," the Old Man said. "The others will take their rest when the new shift begins in the morning. I want you in with the morning group, Foster, so go bunk in. It's nearly midnight."
Foster did not answer. He knew there would be no sleep in him tonight. Silently, he prayed, "If You are there, please help little Lizard. I know I have no business asking You for favors, but I don't have any other place to turn."
Foster slept as soon as his head hit the pillow. His exhausted body had not been so strained in years.
It was still dark when Foster opened his eyes though the stars were beginning to fade in the eastern sky. Every muscle ached as Foster tried to rise and he kneaded his thighs as he swung his legs over the side of the cot.
No time for aches and pains, he chided himself as he painfully drew on his pants.
As he moved down the hall, a woman passed him pacing quickly.
"They found Lizard," she informed him. "The Old Man has gathered men in the mess hall for work details. The boy is in an old shaft."
Foster picked up his pace and headed for the eating area.
As he entered he heard, ". . . about 70 feet down the shaft. It was an unmarked hole that was probably tried over 100 years ago. Jones has figured the angles and checked his terrain maps and thinks we can meet it by horizontal tunnel coming in from here," the man pointed to a spot an enlarged map of the hill. "We have to be careful to come in just below the boy and drop him into our laps. If we try reach him from above we could bury him with our diggings. We know that he is alive but we don't know the extent of his injuries."
"I still think we need outside help," a man called out.
The Old Man raised his hand and the room stilled. "I understand your desire to do that," he answered. "But help is many hours away and they wouldn't be able to provide better equipment than we already have for at least a full 24 hours. If we start now, Lizard can be out before that time. This kind of emergency is precisely the kind of test of our ability to work together which will determine the ultimate success or failure of our purpose here. If we cannot take care of ourselves in the green tree -- now, when things are relatively easy -- what shall we do in the dry? You have all been given assignments, now let's get this work done and get Lizard out of that shaft."
The hum of voices started again and the flow of bodies was toward the door. Foster forced himself against that flow to reach the Old Man. "Are you sure we can handle this? After all, it is Lizard's life we're gambling with."
"That's true," the Old Man replied. "But this is no gamble. What I said was true -- it would be at least 24 hours before anything more sophisticated could be brought out here and we can reach him by then. There is no sense exposing the community's location to the outside if we can accomplish the same by ourselves."
"But what if something goes wrong?"
The Old Man winced and sighed. "That's always a possibility, but we have to use the information available to us and make the best decision we can. God doesn't always speak from the heavenlies, you know."
The two looked silently at one another for a long moment.
"What do you want me doing?" Foster finally asked.
Sears was not permitted on the hunt for Lizard -- ostensibly for fear that he might wander too far and set off the explosive in the anklet. The Major assigned him duty refilling canteens for the other searchers and other duties behind the lines, as it were.
Stealthily, while there was a lull in his activities, Sears managed to secret a spare key for one of the desert buggys.
Soon, he thought,Very soon.
The day progressed hotly as the men burrowed into the side of the mountain. Bucket after bucket of crushed sandstone was handed out through the channel of life being extended toward Lizard. Dust literally formed a cloud on the side of the hill which could be seen for miles. Tailings were poured over the side of a berm near the tunnel entrance. The shirtless men were covered with dust-browned sweat as they passed the buckets hand to hand along the line. With methodical precision, without missing a beat, replacements occasionally spelled those longest in the line.
"I need to check the angle of the tunnel," Jones said to the crew chief. "We'll have to stop for me to do that. We can't afford to dig above him or come in exactly where he is."
The foreman passed the word and the human machine stopped while Jones made his measurements. Above where the old shaft began, Foster had faint contact with the boy in his catacomb through a jerry-rigged intercom which had been lowered into the shaft. The boy's voice was weak. Foster hoped it was not shock or head injuries but dehydration that caused it. The others could be deadly.
"We are staying away from the edge so we don't push dirt in on top of you, Lizard," Foster spoke carefully. "Jones is tunneling toward you and will reach you from underneath. You'll just sort of drop into his lap."
There was a small response from Lizard but it was impossible to determine his state of mind. Already, the digging had been going for twelve hours and had been delayed once when a segment of harder rock had been encountered in the horizontal shaft. Cathy, Lizard's mother, took the microphone and began talking to the young boy.
When the tunneling was finally successful, the boy was rushed inside where the community's medical personnel examined him. Foster found this time as excruciating as the tunneling. Eventually, the verdict was in -- Lizard was dehydrated and suffering from some shock. The severest damage was to a shattered ankle which, the doctor reported, may never heal properly without surgical intervention that was beyond the resources of the community. Taking Lizard outside for medical treatment would require a UniMed card -- and the risk of exposing the community.
When he was fully healed, the doctor said, Lizard's climbing would be greatly limited and he would likely acquire a limp. There were some in the community who were not happy with this outcome.
Go To Chapter Eleven