Excerpt from Sirat, a novel by Tamara Wilhite
Excerpt from Tamara Wilhite's Novel "Sirat"
Jensen was close to the air-seal when he heard an unidentifiable sound behind him. Instinct kicked into gear. He picked up Dennison and held on tighter to his son Jeran as he started running. He made it to the air seal when a louder sound filled the whole space, before he heard the nightmarish sound of muffled screams.
He kept running, to put another seal or more between him and what he hoped had not happened. He was through the second air seal when he stopped to look. The first seal he’d past through was bulging into the sun room … in the direction of low air pressure.
He prayed that he’d see someone else come through but didn't dare slow to look back, not when the lives of the children he carried depended on him. It couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. He felt frozen in place when a dim voice of reason told him to keep moving. It took another precious moment to realize why.
The first air seal was tearing, and the second one Jensen had just come through had begun to bulge. Jensen could feel his ears trying to pop. They were losing pressure. Jensen started running again. The thin air in one compartment was replaced by full pressure in the next one. Dennison was starting to squirm. Jeran was screaming, but Jensen kept going. His lungs burned, but he refused to waste time or air on anything but seeking shelter. Barrier after barrier gave before him as he ran through until he was back to the central living quarters. The old traditional airlock was open to the long rocky corridor that led to the new sunroom.
He put down both children, trying to catch his breath. The popping sounds were no longer threateningly closed. He looked down at the two children. Jeran was screaming on the floor, tears streaming down his face. Dennison was staring in the direction they had come. He didn’t understand what was wrong, but he understood that Jensen was scared and that frightened him. With a tentative voice, he asked, “Where’s Mommy?” Jeran paused his whining long enough to point and repeat, “Mommy!”
A series of pops scared both children silent. They were coming closer. He might not have much time. He closed his eyes against the children’s’ renewed fearful crying.
If he closed that airlock, anyone who had followed him would be guaranteed a cold and suffocating death. If he didn’t close the door, he risked losing pressurization in the central living quarters and the two lives he had responsibility for at this very moment. It was the most agonizing decision of his life. He walked up to the door and manually closed it slowly, desperately hoping and praying a set of hands would reach around and stop him. Or that a voice would yell for him to wait. No one did.
Tears streaming down his face, he closed and sealed the door. As he turned around to face the children, he heard the final pressure seal give. The airlock door cycled after a brief puff against the pressure drop against it. Outside air pressure. Decompression. No one else had arrived before the air left; no one else was coming.
Jeran had slowed in his wailing in confusion. Dennison was crying now. He was staring at the airlock door. Jensen collapsed down on the floor. His mind was blank. He couldn’t function. Jeran started taking off his diaper. Dennison sat down next to Jensen and held his hand. “Daddy?” Jensen couldn’t speak. “Daddy?”
The child had tried calling him that in the past and Jensen had corrected him to “uncle”. Biological fathers were “Daddy” and other men in the family were “Uncle” and unrelated men were “Sir”. He wasn’t going to correct Dennison now. “Yes, Dennison?”
“Are you OK?”
The thought of a child asking him if he was OK was ludicrous. No. It was hilarious. He started laughing. Dennison had no idea that everyone was dead. That his mother and siblings were dead. That they couldn’t do a damn thing about it. He was asking Jensen if he was OK. He was the only one alive! Jensen threw his head back with laughter, tears streaming down his face. Dennison asked again, “Are you OK?”
It was too much. “NO! I’m not OK! Everybody’s dead! Don’t you realize that! Everybody but us! Go to your room and don’t come out!” Jeran stopped crying at the sound of his father’s voice before crying again at the screaming. “Take him with you!”
“Go potty!” Jeran screamed back.
“And take him to a bathroom!”
Dennison got up, confused, and took Jeran’s hand. Jeran had an angry pouty look on his face. Dennison took the younger child to a bathroom and didn’t come out.
Jensen sat and stared at the closed airlock for a long eternity. He didn’t know what to do. Far too much for one person to do, especially when he had to take care of the kids, too. And he was doing a really bad job right now.
He needed help. He stared at the airlock and then at the closed bathroom door. He wanted to go to sleep right now. If he woke up, maybe this would all turn out to be one really bad nightmare. He’d wake up next to Sharice and she’d tell him he was just having a silly little nightmare. He wished it were true. But he couldn’t go to sleep without taking care of the kids. And he didn’t want to take care of the kids right now.
He needed help. Then everything would be OK. He could go to sleep without any guilt and wake up and this whole nightmare would be over. Maybe being stuck with two small kids and no help was the worst part of the nightmare. If that was true, then the solution was a call away.
Jensen got up and walked over to the phone. Who to call? Lanning? He couldn’t help with kids. It needed to be someone who’d help with both kids. Erin, his mother. She said she wanted to spend more time with them. Why not now? He needed her now. And he knew that number by heart. His fingers dialed the number automatically once he made the decision. It rang for a while before she came on.
“Jensen! It’s Landing Day, and you know what your father thinks of interruptions of the ceremony –“
“You need to come here.”
She realized something was wrong from his tone. “What happened?”
He heard other voices in the background, but she didn’t respond to them. “Jensen, what happened?”
“We had pressure loss.”
“Is anyone else …?” she couldn’t finish the question.
“Jeran and Dennison are in the bathroom.”
“We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
What was he going to do with the kids? It’d be at least an hour before anyone got here, assuming Erin left as soon as she finished the conversation. Jensen went up to the bathroom and opened the door. Jeran was standing in a dirtied pair of pants. He wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t crying. Dennison was trying to clean up the mess. “I tried to get him to go potty right, but he’d already done it! I’m sorry! I’ll clean it up!” Jensen reached down and stopped the child’s futile scrubbing. “Grandma Erin will take of the mess.”
“I’m not in trouble, am I?”
Jensen let himself go on automatic. If he tried to think, he wouldn’t be able to function. “No. You’re not.” Jeran was whimpering at his father’s cold tone. “Daddy?” Jensen stared at the child, unable to reply. If the boy asked for Mommy at that moment, he’d be thrown through the airlock to join her. “Jeran, you’re going to bed. Dennison, too. So am I.”
“You’re going to bed. Be quiet.” Jensen picked up the almost-a-two-year-old, not caring about the child’s mess. Dennison followed wordlessly. The nursery seemed the best place to take them. “We’re going to take a nap.”
“Why?” Dennison asked.
“Because I said so.”
Realizing it wasn’t a good time to argue, Dennison lay down. The toddler sat back up and glared at his father. “Jeran, it’s nap time.”
“No!” Jeran stood up and yelled, “I want Mommy!” Jensen’s hand flew of its own accord and knocked the child flat on his back. Jeran fell flat on his back. He howled and hid behind Dennison.
“Nap time!” he roared at both children. They immediately huddled together and lay down, scared of the stranger beside them. Jensen lay down next to them. After a moment of thought, he closed the door. It wouldn’t do to have them wandering off. Once closed, he could sleep in peace and guilt free. The two boys were trying to pretend to be asleep, though they still glanced up at him from time to time.
Jensen closed his eyes. Sharice would be next to him in a few moments, when he woke up from the nightmare and told him it was all a bad dream. He could feel her next to him then. The dim form, her belly sticking out with the child that might or might not have been his, curling up next to him. She put a hand in his hair soothingly. He wanted to speak to her, but she put a silencing finger to his lips. It was bedtime. It was time to sleep. He curled against his love’s warm form and slid into a dreamless sleep.
“We don’t know how he got back to the main quarters in time. The five year old said they were going to the bathroom, which might explain it. They were on their way here when the seals failed in succession. We’re lucky we didn’t lose the whole clan.”
Jen and Erin stared down at their sleeping son. Three survivors of nearly 35 members was too enormous to absorb at the moment. A Clan friend had taken the two children to be bathed and fed. Their terror might never fade. The brief joy was that Jensen was alive. That their probable grandson was alive too was one more grace. Unfortunately, Jensen was oblivious to attempts to wake him. A doctor was on the way.
A clean up team had been assembled. The “sunroom” had been temporarily sealed. However, that once wonderful new plastic was now in doubt. The initial engineering analysis suggested that when the sunroom’s strut buckled from the load of ice, the plastic cracked and failed. The rush of high-pressure air out had been too much for the “natural airlock” to survive. It had bought time, but it was not a replacement for traditional metal doors.
The news of had already reached everyone on the planet. In one moment, 3% of the world’s population had been lost. The Plague had taken more lives than this freak accident. But the Plague had taken months to kill its victims, and a defense had been found. This could have happened to any of the offshoot clans. It could have happened to anyone’s children. That made it so much worse.
Bodies were identified and moved toward the crematorium. Under the law, Jensen would inherit everything that was left. In terms of property, he was the richest man in the world. For those that knew him, he was the poorest.