TIME SPIKE – snippet 14:
“Hulbert’s hunting party left a little before sunup,” Lieutenant Joe Schuler said. “The first of the methane toilets are now online, so we’ll find out soon enough if they work. The construction of the first greenhouse will be finished sometime today, and we now have a working well. It’s only nineteen feet deep, but it’s good water.”
Andy nodded. He already knew. He had heard the shouts the second the work crew hit it. If he hadn’t known what they were digging for, he would have sworn they’d struck oil. The way they laughed and shouted reminded him of some of the late night movies he had watched with his grandfather. He had been ten years old and his grandmother had passed away, and his grandfather—it turned out to be his last summer—had reluctantly moved into the spare room in the basement. Every Friday night the two of them had sat on the lumpy green couch the old man had insisted on bringing with him, drinking soda, munching chips and staring at an old black and white television. Twice that summer the two of them had stayed up past midnight in order to watch The Giant. He could still close his eyes and see James Dean covered in Texas’ black gold, shouting to the heavens.
“We will be finished with the inmate relocations sometime today,” Joe continued. “When that is done, we’ll start the cleaning. And then we’ll be able to start assigning permanent sleeping areas for the staff. And you can tell Jenny I’ve got the solar showers hung. People can start showering again.” Joe stopped his report when he realized Andy wasn’t listening. “Is something wrong?”
“I hope not,” Andy answered. He looked at the door to medical then asked, “Did you hear about the east wall, and the—God, I can’t hardly say the word—the dinosaur?”
“It didn’t get in, though. All it was doing was scratching itself.”
“This time. And I don’t care if Jeff says it wasn’t a meat-eater. The damn thing was huge.”
Joe Schuler nodded. Everyone knew they had been lucky. No one had been outside when the creature showed up and the wall had held.
Andy’s face was grim. “I can’t turn them out. If a pterodactyl flies overhead and takes a dump, coating the entire exercise yard, it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter if a dinosaur scratches his ass on the east wall. But if something else shows up, like a tyrannosaurus… I can’t turn the prisoners out.”
“I know, Andy. Besides that, if we’re here, there could be other people. And it would be morally wrong to release some of these guys until we know for sure. You have to wait.”
Andy scanned the interior of the prison then shrugged. “I don’t believe ten percent of them would last more than twenty-four hours on the outside, in any event. We have men who’ve been inside these walls for over forty years. Over fifty years, in a few cases. If they couldn’t make it when things were organized and easy, they aren’t going to survive when one screw-up means you don’t eat, or you get eaten.”
“Hey, Andy, I know that. So does everyone else. We’re protecting whoever else might be living in this timeline, and we’re protecting the prisoners from themselves and…” he shrugged. “None of the prisoners or the C.O.’s are talking about leaving. They’re all scared. No one thinks surviving outside the walls is an option. Not right now, for sure.”
“Do you know what killed Greg Lowry?”
“I heard he had a bad heart and it gave out because of the Quiver.”
Andy shook his head. “No. Aliens killed him! He died because he was afraid some frigging alien was going to jump out of the wall at us.”
Confused, Joe shook his head. “That’s crazy.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what killed him. And if we aren’t careful we’re all going to die because of aliens or God knows what.”
“We’ll do okay, at least for a while. Most of what’s crawling around out there seems content to leave us alone.”
“Joe, I’m not talking about tomorrow. I’m talking about next year, or the year after, or twenty years from now. We have to look ahead to the point when the prisoners are out of their cells and we are living outside these walls. We are going to have to farm and hunt and build factories. And do it in a way some God-awful creature the size of a blue whale doesn’t knock it all down. And none of it can be done with over two thousand men in chains.
“And the water, we have a well, but how long till it runs dry? We need something more reliable. We need a river.”
“Hey, Cap, maybe you should …”
“I’m sorry, Joe.” Andy Blacklock clenched and unclenched his hands, stretching his fingers out then curling them tight. “Today isn’t a good day.” He gave the second lieutenant a phony smile. “Kathleen Hanrahan is in having her baby.”
“Oh.” Joe gave Andy’s shoulder a squeeze then walked away as fast as he could without actually breaking into a jog. He had heard that the kid was probably dead. Everyone had heard that.
“Kathleen, wait. Don’t push, not yet.” Jenny wiped the woman’s face with a cool cloth.
“I don’t understand this. I’ve had three babies. None of them were this hard to bring. None of them. Each baby is supposed to get easier.” The woman’s water had broken and she had been in hard labor for over fourteen hours. She was exhausted, close to the breaking point. She was also terrified that the reason she was having such a hard time was because something had gone wrong with the baby.
“You are a lot older than you were back then. Your muscles have been stretched and pulled by those other births. They don’t ever go all the way back. Just relax and don’t worry. It won’t be much longer now. The last time I checked, you were dilated to an eight.” She flashed the woman a smile. “When you hit the magic number ten, the baby will be here.”
“I know, but I just can’t.” Another contraction came, arching her back and causing her to moan. “I can’t,” she sobbed.
“Relax,” Jenny said to the woman and moved to the “catcher’s position.” Barbara replaced her near the woman’s head. She took one of one of Kathleen’s hands; Lylah took the other. Jenny made a quick check then smiled. “Magic time, Kathleen. You’re ready.”
She motioned for Barbara to join her at the foot of the examining table. “Okay, Kathleen, you have to relax and work with the baby. The baby needs you to help it be born. Do you understand?”
Kathleen nodded. The contraction had ended. For the moment she could concentrate.
“I want you to take a few deep breaths. Come on. You need to oxygenate your blood, and the baby’s. Come on, breathe.”
Kathleen did as she was told. She took deep breath after deep breath. A new contraction was coming.
Jenny could feel the woman begin to tense up. She started rubbing her legs, pressing on the flesh as hard as she could without causing pain. “Kathleen, it’s a wave. Feel the wave. Ride it. Up. Up. That’s it, ride the wave to the peak.” She could feel the contraction through the woman’s skin. “That’s it, it’s peaking. Push. Push. That’s it. It’s plateauing. Good. Stay with it. Now. Feel it. Stop pushing. Relax. It’s coming down. Down. You can take this. Ride the wave down.”
Kathleen relaxed. The contraction was still there, but she was on the back half of it. She could relax. She could do it. “How many more?”
Jenny’s eyes had never left the woman’s pubis. The baby had crowned. “One, maybe two more. Then you’re done with the hard part.”
Kathleen nodded, then said, “Another one’s coming.”
Jenny concentrated on the baby, her heart in her throat. The infant’s hair was plastered to its scalp. Black hair streaked with blood. A thin dusting of white. The baby moved forward a centimeter. “Push, Kathleen. Push!” Another centimeter. The contraction peaked. “Push!” The baby’s head was free. Quickly she worked her fingers around its neck. No cord. Thank you, God. She could see the baby’s pulse beating in the top of its head. It was regular and strong. Maybe we’re going to be lucky. “Kathleen, don’t push. Wait for the contraction.”
They waited. Twenty seconds, thirty, the contraction began. Another twenty seconds, thirty, and the baby was free.
As the umbilical cord prolapsed, Jenny suctioned the baby’s nose and throat with a new ear syringe she had found inside the med room. He was gray and chilling quickly, but his heart beat within his thin little chest. “Please,” she whispered. “Please… breathe!”
The baby jerked in her hands, gave a small choking sound, took a breath of air and then whimpered. It was such a small sound, but it could be heard by everyone in the room. The three nurses had been holding their breath. Barbara and Lylah’s tears were flowing as fast as Kathleen’s. Jenny fought to keep from joining them. She lost the battle and gave a soft sob.
“My poor baby.” Kathleen reached for the newborn. Jenny wrapped a heated bath towel around the infant, gave the child a quick hug then handed him to his mother.
“Congratulations, Mom.” she said. “You have a beautiful, healthy son. What are you going to name him?”
Kathleen’s tears came harder. “I don’t know. He was supposed to be called Samuel Ray. He wasn’t going to be named for anyone. We had done that with the older boys. It was just a name from a baby book that we liked. It sounded good. But now, I don’t know if that’s good enough.” She gazed at the baby and wiped her eyes. “I think his name is too important to have picked it from a book.”
Jenny patted the woman’s leg. “You don’t have to decide today. You have time.”