Orbital floating deejay Jet Jetson is reading out stories that he’s caught from the empty space ether into his microphone at the back end of the studio on Haven 2. It’s around 4 am simulated Earth time and the only fools listening are all-night studiers, drunks, and insomniacs. Early rising workers on this station don’t have a penny enough to listen to this broadcast. Jet isn’t sure how he feels about his audience, but he carries on reading the stories anyway. This one has been transcribed from genuine tree bark paper by an ancient computer and fired into Jet’s soundwave lap via an anachronistic message bomb. It is signed ‘H. Pritchard.’
The satellites began to fall three years ago, and for three years I have been chasing them. Now they come at least once a month, sometimes twice, sometimes three times, but there is never less than one. They glide across the wasteland horizon for miles in a downward trajectory before falling into a heap of broken metal resting in a shallow crater. Some have travelled great distances to our patch of Earth out here, with the modern chaos of our skies interrupting their systems and crashing whatever flight plan they were on. There’s more now because of the bad weather, that’s what the bulletin tells us, that the lightning strikes above the clouds are disrupting the satellite’s ability to stay floating. Ell reassures me about the lightning, reminding me that it happened before the collapse too. It’s hard not to worry when you see the silver strike in the sky. Over the last three years I have tracked, hunted, and collected 37 satellites. Most have been sold to the scrap wanderers and the others lay amongst me in this outhouse that my grandfather built nearly a century ago. Writing this, I am entangled with steel, foil, and black plastic wires, that could collide with an over-exuberant flourish from my pen. It’s not a good space to think, but it’s the space I have chosen to detail the events that caused us to leave home in a steadfast manner.
In the early days the satellites were remnants of tv and radio stations, chunks of metal that were lit only by the sun’s reflection. These out-of-fashion noise and visual aids were dull on the workbench but did provide trade for supplies. Then came the personal satellites, remember that craze? People sending anything and everything into the atmosphere, the ashes of a dead family member or pet, national flags in protest, or simply lights so that their name would show on the scanners. Ell always says that this helped to cause the collapse. About two years ago, when the chasing was starting to pick up, I captured a satellite with a faded small monitor that showed a beating monochrome love heart. There would have been a soppy message played alongside the image at some point before it broke through clouds. I gave it to Ell on her birthday, and she called it stupid but stopped me when I tried to throw it away. After the personal satellites dried up, along came the advertisements, and the corporation data collectors, those probes that beamed prices on the horizon and possessed information on our every action. This is where I place my blame for the collapse, and they are worthless now. All that data becomes useless when the entire system is down.
Now the satellites that fall are governmental or militarised. The ones they fired into space out of panic to try and reverse the environmental collapse. Thousands of devices that monitored and tempered storms and heatwaves hung above the atmosphere to achieve precisely nothing, or so we thought, or so it seemed. Jessop says that we get so many in our dust fields and our mountainsides because the rotation of the earth deems it that way. He will pretend to know the science until his last breath. I’ve never acquired a complete governmental satellite, only pieces, and I’m yet to connect two of them together. They come in an array of shapes and sizes, sometimes tubes, and wires, sometimes boxes attached to other boxes. Fragile containers that break apart with a firm kick, a mess of electricals will spill out and spark on the workbench, much to the frustration of Ell, who likes to poke her head around the outhouse door to check that I haven’t blown myself up.
I was onto a live one last night, a falling light still whistling and shaking as it plummeted into the dust. Peering through binoculars catches of light illuminated the satellite tumble between the mountain ridges that protect the desert and the valley. I caught sight of 37 on the edge of my radar a week before, and I was relieved because it was coming to the end of the month. They take some time from their malfunction to reach the desert, and their direction deviates greatly as they fall, meaning the radar isn’t much use once the satellite is beneath the clouds. It is my eyes that scan the sky and predict its landing point, and my bike that takes me around the desert, often in frantic motion. I was following the smoke trail for several hours, eating the afternoon away, until I saw the crash site in a shallow sub-valley below me. The sun had come down over my shoulders, painting my forward vision orange. Hearing a familiar truck engine in the distance, I hurried to the crash site of displaced rock, dirt, and sand. To my surprise, and instantaneous nausea, the satellite was still making noise on the turf, a buzzing that has yet to stop, even now that it sits on my workbench. Usually, the satellite casing is ice cold to touch, and so stupidly, I placed my hand on the outer layer of 37, and the heat scolded my palm. Checking my flanks with a pair of binoculars, I threw a fire blanket over 37, then hauled it on the end of my bike, and rode home as fast as possible.
37 is the first satellite that is still making noise two days after I found it, a quiet buzz that can only be heard when you’re in the same room with it. It is a peculiar object; unlike any satellite I have seen before. It is the size of a microwave, with a rectangular grey casing that is greatly rusted, and attached on its sides are two squares with holes through them, like it is wearing a pair of earrings. There is no head or tail, which explains its chaotic movement as it fell, and it has an open socket on one of the sides. I think this means it must have a sibling satellite. Earlier I opened the casing for the first time, dismissing the irrational fear that it may explode on the workbench when the intrigue of the buzzing became too great. Twisting away the ancient screws I expected the buzz to come to a sudden halt, but when it did not, I rushed to pull away the rest of the casing, seeing a familiar party of wires, and an unfamiliar black box, which had a soundwave reading dancing across the screen in green lines. The lines of the soundwaves were following the beat and sound oscillations of the buzzing. My first guess was a radio, but the old radio satellites that fell years ago were vehicles of the message, used to push the sound further, not create it. I sat back in my grandfather’s squeaking chair and gazed at the clutter around me. The mess was my reward for the chasing, and I can never stay in the outhouse for long. Writing this account in small portions is the only way to get it done, and I am thankful for Ell’s interruptions.
There is a possibility to take 37 into town and see if the bulletin guys will get a message to someone, somewhere who might have an idea what the satellite is, or what it’s trying to accomplish. I’ve found that it’s best to keep something like this a secret, from wanderers, from opportunists, and from other chasers. Jessop mostly, who picked up 37 on his radar too, a day after it appeared on mine. He’s beaten me to a dozen crash sites, and I’ve done the same to him much less so. I would still consider Jessop a friend, but I do not trust him, especially not with a satellite that is talking. He lives alone on the other side of the mountain, and for all I know deals strictly in his metallic findings, selling on his captures entirely. We were closer before the collapse, he was a teacher if I remember rightly, history maybe, or was it Geography? Ell will remember. She has a good ability to stay in the past when existence was easier and less fair. Jessop and I knew each other from hunting in the north of the state where the trees were, when those activities were recreational. I suppose the game won’t be there anymore. He was unmarried and only ever socialised at those hunting meets, and so not much changed for him when the collapse happened. Jessop had a habit of saying that too, nothing has really changed, much to the amusement of Ell.
Taking 37 into town would draw the eyes of a community much controlled by blind faith, also. I fear their prying eyes as much as the selfish grab of Jessop. They are led by the church pastor, Gill, a man who has no right to be in his position, a position designed by himself. You see, after the collapse, those who could build and fix were a commodity, and Gill restored an old protestant church into a place of worship for the grass and crops, developing a kind of Christianity that situated its belief in keeping your kin well fed. He couldn’t have been older than eighteen when the dust settled and survivors appeared from the cracks, and now he stands tall as the town’s eyes, ears, and string-puller. Gill is not a dangerous man alone, and in conversation he is tolerable, but the town’s morale is in balance when he is around. The fear is based on changing that. His church sits at the end of the street, atop a foothill from the central fountain, the flock coming from the rebuilt surrounding suburbia and the town centre establishments of a bank, a general store, a hospital, an inn of sorts, and the bulletin office. Behind the church is the softball field where the town’s team, managed by Gill, plays against the three other settlements nearby in rotation throughout a spring season. It is a good distraction from the ever-morphing weather above, and another method of Gill’s influence in town. Everyone lives close together, and run insulated jobs, never venturing out nor expanding their business. It’s a mutually assured capacity of mind and given everything these people have been through, it’s understandable that their only reach for something greater is through Gill. The bulletin office is our only source of information outside of town, corresponding with the settlements nearby and providing short news pamphlets to reassure everyone that the ground isn’t going to cave in. They have been shrouded in mystery ever since their introduction into town, and Jessop says most of what they say is horse shit. Ell says they are a necessity.
We are thankful to live away from this, a mile out of town on a farm that has been in my family for two hundred years. Starting modestly as a pigpen, as my grandfather liked to say, it became an endless sea of yellow fields and factorised buildings by the time the weather began to falter. It was quite the producer and got to be owned by a mass food line business that took my father’s output and transported it to grocery stores and fast-food restaurants in the nearby city. This was fruitful for my parents, but I think the lack of autonomy killed my father in the end, when he spent his last days sitting around waiting for the cheques to arrive. My mother died soon after, Ell says because of old age, I say because she missed my father. I’m glad they both left before the collapse. It was never my intention to inherit the farm, I was the youngest son and only returned home to go on hunting trips with old friends, or for birthdays or Christmas. And I suppose I haven’t really inherited the farm, there are certainly no deeds or contracts, but I came here when I was the only survivor in the family. Now the farm grows what it can, which is a single field of wheat, and a patch of vegetables. This feeds us and gives the required bread to town. It is the satellite trade that keeps us warm at night, and Ell’s work in the hospital that keeps us in favour in town, which is the only way we’re allowed to be isolated out here. Tonight, Ell came into the outhouse to tell me that Gill has come to visit.
He was in the house waiting for me, in his self-attired pastor outfit, which consists of a white shirt with three buttons down, beige trousers, and sandals. I had about ten years on Gill, but the responsibility had shaved the youth from his face. He spoke in measured, soft tones that were disingenuous to anyone who wasn’t deaf, meaning he was well listened to in a town of hand over ears. I had a run-in with Gill a few years ago when a child aged six died in town. He organised this zealous ceremony at his church, which included wrapping the child’s body in dead leaves and placing it into the ground as a seed to attempt to grow a tree, and I tried to stop him. The parents were distraught and could have done without demonstration, but the majority took Gill’s side. I was embarrassed and ashamed. They celebrated the child’s death when a sapling showed signs of growing, then cursed the parents when it rotted away, leaving Gill to calm them, and instil his place as the town messiah. His pretention on this visit was to ask whether I could play in the softball team that weekend because two were out due to sickness. Ell had already told me that there was a bug going around town and that I shouldn’t worry, it was just a circling cold. I told Gill the same thing I always told him, no I don’t want to play in the softball team, now tell me what you really want. He didn’t budge on that regard, professing that his enquiry was his only intention. Ell said to me later that I should go easier on him. Before Gill left, he drank tea in our kitchen and asked if I had found any more satellites recently. I told him I had but didn’t mention the buzzing. He left a bulletin on the table as he walked out. It wasn’t all that exciting, other than noting that a band of wanderers would be passing through town next week.
Gill has a habit of showing up suspiciously, and it makes me wonder if he is touched by some divine presence. He knows something about 37, but how? Jessop won’t have told him because he distrusts Gill more than I do, and rarely makes it across to the town. I am beginning to think that I have something in the outhouse that is valuable, which makes the incoming wanderers’ visit disturbing. The travelling salesman and showmen come through town every few months, with more of an aim to sell than to buy, and to con and deceive. I only dealt in satellite pieces with them, and only to ones I had dealt with before. Each of them carries firepower and sometimes has paid protection from the bigger settlements to the east and they have no time for simple dwellers and their honest economy. I have no real evidence that 37 was known to the wanderers or Gill, but there is an unease emerging in my stomach. Ell, who repeatedly had the answers, said something about melodrama and my determination to see the worst in people. After all, I know nothing about 37 yet. I decided to wrap it back in the blanket, and leave it alone, to see if the buzzing would last.
Ell makes dinner three nights a week, and myself the other four when she comes in late from the hospital. She was halfway through her medical schooling when the first collapse happened, and so spends much of her free time vigorously studying what she missed. I admire her for that, and already she has said that the books have saved at least one life in the infirmary. Children are what she is investigating now, and she has been trying to contact the larger settlement in the east about a study on the depleting birth rate. I try and tell her that the world is not meant for children anymore, and she tells me that is all the world is meant for. We lost a baby before the satellites started to fall when it was hardly a growth inside her stomach and haven’t tried again since. I believe that time has passed us now. Ell was an only child, and her loneliness strikes without warning. I come through the back door and call her name but get no response, then inspect the corners of her house to find her sat dissociated from the world. She hasn’t had an easy ride, and I think that is why she is so wise. When she was eleven her father died, and a month before leaving home for college her mother perished too, and so with no other family to speak of she left for school on her own, and got through her education alone, working a thousand jobs to make ends meet. I often theorised that this is why she came through the collapse, why she managed to drag us through, but then I remember the fools in town that also made it. Almost everyone that survived was under the age of forty, and the oldest resident in town can’t be a shade into their sixties, which I guess means that physical robustness matters more than emotional grit. Ell has both enough for the two of us.
We kept busy in the week before the wanderers’ arrival. Ell continued her study and her work at the hospital, and I manned the farm, and the scanners, not worrying about 37. I have been attending to this writing in the mornings, when the atmosphere is less dense, and when the hue of blocked sunlight at least gives some natural light. In the evenings I sit on the porch under the warm storm clouds and listen to an old baseball game that the bulletin office was transmitting from the east. They have repeats from classic games every night. Occasionally I remember the result and feel extremely melancholic. It wasn’t as though I cared who won or lost back then, or that I longed for life before the collapse, it was that the games and the commentators and the crowd noise were a mist of death. This is an irremovable weight in the centre of the body, the mist of death that hangs beyond us. I worked in non-fiction publishing as a sub-editor, meaning I spent all day reading manuscripts on lifestyle subjects such as fitness, cooking, and mental well-being that would never get published. There was never any time to write or to read anything else, and now with all the time in the world, I am putting pen to paper. I was proofreading my first contracted work when Ell told me we were packing and moving to the farm. She knew something was wrong before most others, and I suppose I knew my family had already gone.
When we made it out here to the farm twelve years ago the fields were ablaze, and the factories had been destroyed by the tornados with hardly a trace that they were once there. My eldest brother who was running the land was killed during one of the early storms, leaving a compound of workers debating whether to flee or repair the farm. Those that remained were doing what they could to restrict the fires, but when the rains came, they headed west, leaving Ell and me with thousands of acres of nothing. For two years we hunkered down like everyone else, in the house and outhouse that hadn’t been destroyed, living off scraps, waiting on the clouds to clear. Of course, we are still waiting on that, but the heavy storms did stop, and the summer heat became manageable. We came out of hiding to find a farm mostly cleared of debris and a town already functioning. I stared up at the sky much more back then, anticipating those small gaps through the clouds at the sun, but these days I like to keep my eyes on the road.
Today is a Tuesday and will be my last day on the farm. The wanderers arrived this morning to much fanfare in town. Almost everyone had a kiosk set up outside their home, wonky tables covered in books, ornaments, clothes, and other junk. The wanderers would trade for one of their items if they were lucky, and trick residents into acquiring useless items that they thought might be valuable in the future. Shiny objects, I would call them, polished coins that promised brighter days. Ell was already at work in the hospital when I came into town in the afternoon. I visited her first and kissed her on the cheek after she warned me that there were new faces amongst the wanderers. On the main street, I spotted Jessop hauling a trailer of metal by hand. I walked over to give him a hand. “Nice chase,” he said. “Anything good?”
“Nothing special,” I said.
“Oh yeah? I thought there might have been something about it, with the whistling and the shaking and all. I’ve never seen one like that.”
“It was like all the others when it hit the ground.” We pulled the trailer down to the fountain and watched the herd of wanderers approach. They were an enigmatic bunch, dressed in a combination of colourful outfits all in one, always with bits and pieces attached to their body, and always with a sidearm on their hip. The richer had pack mules and bodyguards ambling alongside them. Jessop made good business, and a couple of enquiries came my way about what I had to offer, or what I was looking for. I told them the same thing I always did; I only dealt with people I had dealt with before. There were no wanderers I trusted in town earlier today.
Gill was fluttering around in excitement up and around the church. He was relishing being the host to a wanderer who had three healthy pack mules with him, as well as a female bodyguard the size of two men. After the rest of the wanderers had done with Jessop, the three-mule wanderer came down the hill towards us. He was a short man with a bald head and was wearing a pair of black goggles. His bodyguard towered over him, blonde and muscular, with a rifle hung off her shoulder. The wanderer introduced himself as Hoyt, exposing his protruding belly as he got closer. “I am in the market for something particular,” Hoyt said. “My friend in the church tells me you two are the best satellite chasers for a hundred miles.”
“I’ve sold most of my gear already,” Jessop said, plainly.
“I’m not looking for scrap metal. I am looking for a functioning piece of equipment that has travelled a long way.”
“Everything that falls is dead by the time we catch it,” I said.
“That’s right,” Jessop said.
The bodyguard twitched. “I am offering a price so high it will make your nose bleed,” Hoyt said. “A kind of blank cheque. I take the satellite and you have access to choose from my entire collection. You can even have her if you want.”
“It doesn’t matter what you’re offering if we don’t have what you want,” I said.
“Now, wait a minute,” Jessop said. “What is it about this satellite that makes it so valuable? And how can you be so sure it’s landed out here? You heard right that we’re the best chasers for a hundred miles, if you tell us more about this thing you can be sure we can track it down.”
“It’s so valuable because my client in the east demands to have it,” Hoyt said. “That’s all you need to know. We have scanners that can surpass your monitors tenfold, and we have been following the light for some time, and we know it has already landed.”
“Why haven’t you tracked it yourself then?” I asked.
“Like I said. We know it has already landed.” The wanderers had returned to the fountain to watch the scene, as had the townspeople. I held strong, trying to find Ell’s face at the back of the crowd, but she wasn’t there. It would only take a second for that brute of a bodyguard to yank her rifle around and shoot me and Jessop right where we stood. I watched as Jessop continued to plead for more information from the ugly wanderer, and I watched as he hovered his hand over the gun tucked in his waist. For the first time, I was glad to see Gill coming towards me. He came jogging down the hill to defuse the situation.
Gill stood between us and reassured Hoyt that if such satellite were to be found he’d be the first to know, but it would have to be a fair trade, and not a bloodbath. God is watching, he said. Hoyt held for a second then said he would be in the area until the end of the week, and I told him not to hold his breath. The wanderers and the townspeople dispersed, leaving Gill, Jessop and I stood next to the fountain. “You better give that man what he wants,” Gill said, pointing. “The last thing we need is a swarm of city folk from the east coming into town.”
“We can’t give him what we don’t have,” Jessop said, and Gill retreated to his church. Several of the town residents followed behind him, giving us a cautionary look. I was about to go and find Ell, when Jessop took hold of my arm and invited himself round for dinner, saying he needed to speak to me about something.
Even though it was my turn to cook dinner that night, Ell took over, because she knew I was too preoccupied with 37 and Jessop’s visit. She made a soup from leftover vegetables and took a loaf of bread fresh out of the oven. I was tinkering over some technological papers when Jessop arrived. We ate before we discussed anything over the cramped kitchen table that sits below an oval window. Behind us is an open-plan living area that is walled with wood and stone. I think now of the few memories left behind there, saved photographs, a baseball mitt, and a record player that Ell would curate the selection from. The eagerness on Jessop’s face as we ate was palpable. I told him he could speak in front of Ell, and so he did. “I’ve been tuning in to the radio waves coming from the east,” Jessop began. “Not the baseball relays from the bulletin office, I mean from the east, east. That big settlement they have over there. You see fragments of their signal just gets caught amongst the old towers and into my radar net. Few tweaks here and there and suddenly my little dots turn into sound.”
“That’s how you’re beating me to all the crash sites,” I said.
“Not all of them. I’ve got have a wider range than you, but it comes with all this white noise, and it’s distracting. I know that satellite is still alive, friend, because I can hear it on my scanner, and you can be sure that wanderer and whoever sent him knows it too.”
“Does it have an exact location?”
“No. I think you’d already be dead if it did. The only reason I know you have it in that shack back there is because I saw you on the chase.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Money. You heard what that guy said, a blank cheque, the kind of trade that could get you out of this dustbowl and somewhere safe when the next rain comes. Look at the sky, it’s only a matter of time. Together we can get the best deal for this thing. That guy Hoyt might not be the highest bidder.”
“We don’t even know what the satellite is.”
“I have an idea. He said it had come a long way, right? I’ve been hearing through the white noise parts of a transmission about missile messengers from space. Coded messages delivered via satellite tubes from somewhere off earth.”
“I don’t understand. Off earth?”
“This is where it gets interesting. Remember those plans to evacuate people to space stations when they knew the collapse was coming?”
“Yes, but they never finished them in time.”
“I’m thinking that they did. You hear through the wanderers and on the sound waves that there are colonies up there, shielded by the clouds and the sun, that house those that could afford to get off earth when the time came. The satellite you collected isn’t a satellite at all, it’s a message of some kind from them, and whoever wants it thinks it will secure a passage into space.”
“This is conspiracy theory lunacy, Jessop. You don’t seriously believe there are whole colonies of humans in space?”
“I can prove it.”
Jessop went outside to his truck, whilst I sat in stunned silence. Ell watched on from the counter, smiling, with a cup of tea in her hand as though a load of cosmic shattering information hadn’t just been spewed onto the dinner table. In those minutes waiting for Jessop, I didn’t believe him for a second on the colonies, but I did believe that Hoyt and his employer wanted 37, and it would only be a matter of time before they found it. I wanted to get rid of it, to keep the farm, and to keep Ell safe. The dreams of having a better life or a normal life were long gone. My dreams were full of Ell and the fields, and the books I read, and the words on this page. I see only the present. Jessop returned with two cardboard boxes that had dangling wires hanging from them. I took him to the outhouse. Inside we manoeuvred past the clutter to the workbench, and I pulled away the blanket to show 37. Jessop admired the satellite for a second, then began assembling all his radio equipment. He had two large dishes opposed from one another, with a console at the centre, and he ran a wire from this to 37, tying the wires together. Then he sat down on the workbench whilst I stood. The buzz blasted out of the dishes, and I had to hold my hands over my ears it was so loud, if Hoyt didn’t know where the satellite was, he did now. Jessop awkwardly twisted a dial around, and the buzz slowly transformed into words. They were inaudible at first, so Jessop moved his hand to another dial, and the words grew clearer.
This is what the message said: This is Haven Four relaying through H1. Messaging receiver on Earth at East Home. Accept message and second missile will be fired.
I could feel Jessop’s eyes on the side of my face. “See,” he said. “Haven must be the name they give the stations. East Home must be what they call their connection down here.”
“I don’t see anything yet,” I said. “First of all, how did it end up in the middle of the desert if they were aiming for the settlement in the East? If they have the technology to build colonies in space, surely, they can hit a target with a missile.”
“Come on, it’s the weather. Same reason why we get so many actual satellites falling out here.”
“The gravity, or whatever you say.”
“Exactly. Think about much we don’t know, how much we still don’t know about the collapse. We get drip-fed little bits of information from the bulletins, apparently from this mysterious settlement in the east. But how much do we know about this place? It could just be an empty building that the colonies pump information through to keep us in the dark.”
“Hoyt was working for someone.”
“Yeah, probably someone like me who’s caught wind of what the message might contain. All we have to do now is figure out how to accept the message.”
“I think we already did.” I pointed my finger at a tiny green dot on my radar.
“How long until that thing hits the ground?” Jessop asked.
“Four hours, maybe five,” I said.
Questions and doubts flooded my brain. Space colonies for the rich would have made sense before the collapse, but now we are so far removed from that time that it doesn’t feel real. That was a bad dream, and this is the reality we have woken up in. Had our vision grown too narrow? Could I not see beyond my lost family and friends, and former life, and Ell? She is patiently waiting back in the house. Jessop had gone again, promising he would be back soon with his satellite hunting gear. The mist of death is approaching once again, in a much heavier form. I am writing this in the outhouse stuck in position and wondering whether they are humans above my head living in harmony. I feel no envy. The grief for those lost in the collapse has slipped away, and I am indeed blind to anything but Ell and the life we have built out here. Twelve years ago, I saw people fall in the streets and bodies lie in the corridors of my apartment building. My friends became ghosts, the writers I admired vanished, the baseball players I mythologised turned into memories overnight, and now I sit unable to move because they may have escaped when they had the chance. We never got the call-up. The one percent of the one percent abandoned the fallen portion, and perhaps rightfully so, how hypocritical of me it would be to say I wouldn’t put my needs, or Ell’s needs first. The desperate liberalism I may have bled for in my younger days drifted into irrelevancy when we were begging over inches of water, and meditating, I see no use in anger, only a feeling of a reach that cannot grasp out at discernment. I need to get out of this chair and move around and use my legs to rid of the indigestion in my soul. The rest of my notes will have to be completed later.
Ell had fallen asleep whilst we were playing in the outhouse, with a book on infant vaccination resting on her chest. I stood in the doorway and her eyes opened. In a single breath I explained the message, the colonies, the incoming satellite, and that the wanderers were onto us. “We don’t have much time then,” Ell said. “Is there anything you would like to say to the house or the fields?”
“I’m going to give them 37,” I said. “And Jessop can find that other satellite on his own. We don’t have to say goodbye to our home. I still don’t believe that the colonies exist.”
“We would have heard about them. We would have seen something. I don’t remember being so blind twelve years ago when the clouds were not full.”
“We’re hearing about them now.”
“You believe Jessop then.”
“I do. But it doesn’t change anything. This is my world and my life. I have my work and my practice here.”
“The weather, Ell. It’s coming again, and who knows if we can make it out this time?”
“You didn’t believe a moment ago, and now you are trying to buy a ticket.”
“I don’t know what I’m saying or what I believe. I’m scared of what is about to happen. You know better than I do that whatever we have here is temporary. We saw that with our child, and the town, Ell. They are one disaster away from sacrificing one another in the church garden.”
“We’ve always had each other. I wish you would stop worrying so much. This is all a simple problem to solve. I don’t think we can negotiate with the wanderers without the second satellite, so we chase it with Jessop, like you have with all the others, and maybe we can travel to the sky in a literal or figurative mystical boat. Or maybe it’s a bunch of nonsense, and we pack our things, and we drive west and further west until we find a new home. I take my books and we start again, and when the weather comes, it comes. There is no umbrella big enough to shield us, and no hole deep enough to protect us. But we’ll have each other.”
“You’re right, as always.”
As always, as always, as always. I lean on Ell’s shoulders, and it was settled, I was to hunt down the satellite with Jessop. Hoyt and his bodyguard could arrive at any time, but Ell took her time gathering provisions for a possible fast escape, creating a survival kit, and storing it by the back door. I ran to the outhouse to prepare for the chase. This involved using the radar, where the green dot had shifted greatly and then predicting where the satellite would fall in the desert. I marked on a map a wide circle of where it could land, not far from the farm in a similar area to where 37 crashed. Then I packed the fire blanket, a pair of night vision binoculars, a crowbar, a shortwave radio, and a large duffel back onto the back of my bike. I took my rifle off the wall and searched in the workbench drawers for a box of ammo. Once I had loaded a clip into the gun, I moved the gear and 37 to the main house.
The sound of Jessop’s truck engine shook the blood in my veins when it pulled up outside an hour later. In the back was the equipment he had set up in the outhouse earlier. He came out of the truck dressed like he was going to war, with an automatic rifle across his shoulder, and two sidearms on either hip. Seeing his arsenal, I thought for a second that I had made a fatal error trusting him, but he was all smiles coming towards me. I commented on his excessive weaponry, and he said it was better to be prepared, then told me to lift my bike into the back of the truck, because we might need it. It was a two-man job and we struggled to haul it next to the two dishes, whilst Ell giggled behind us. She was walking over to help when I heard the sound of more engines coming over the hill. I dropped the bike against the truck, and looked down the road, seeing lights peaking over. “Get back in the house,” I said. The bike fell onto the ground with Jessop letting go to release his rifle from his shoulder. I ran to Ell, and she pulled me inside the house. Jessop stood guard on the porch. The minimal light through the clouds had faded, and beyond our short vision it was almost pitch black, the main source of light the candles scattered around the bottom floor of the house.
From the dining room window, I could see the guests bustling down the road in three cars. In the lead were Gill, Hoyt, and the female bodyguard. What deal had that selfish preacher made? What God did he pray to? In the other vehicles were more wanderers, menacing, all with weapons, piling out onto the farm in unison. They formed a sort of battle line across from Jessop, his truck adjacent to us by the window. Of course, it was Gill to speak first. “We are here for the satellite Jessop,” he said. “Nothing else.”
“Is it true?” Jessop asked.
“The satellite is a message from a space colony.”
“It’s true.” This is when I grabbed my rifle. “We have been chosen.” I rushed outside gun in hand.
“Who has been chosen?” I asked. “You and your gang of wanderers. Whoever sent these guys from the east?”
“No, the entire flock can ascend. The message will promise us so.”
“How are we supposed to ascend?”
“A ship will come for us. I have seen it in my dreams.”
“You can’t lie your way through this one, look around you. Look what you have brought to my home. Can’t you see they are using you, just like you have been using the people in town? You of all people should see deceit when it arrives.”
“Even Jesus had enforcers amongst his disciples.”
“Have you ever heard the message Gill?” Jessop asked.
“I know what the message will be,” Gill said. “I know it in my heart.”
Hoyt stepped forward, with a big great revolver in his palm. “Have you heard the message?” he asked.
“We have,” Jessop said, and with that Hoyt blew the side of Gill’s face off. I looked away, and Jessop pointed his rifle formally at the crowd in front of him.
“Easy,” Hoyt said, some of Gill’s brain on his cheek, all of Gill’s body by his feet. “That is the only death necessary tonight. Give us the satellite now.” I hesitated for a second then placed my hand on the barrel of Jessop’s gun, and he lowered it. Ell had the bag with 37 inside ready behind me. I took it from her and threw it across to Hoyt’s gang, the bag thudding with a metallic clang. Hoyt took the satellite from his bag and passed it to one of the wanderers, then exclaimed, “And the second half of the message?”
“That’s when the bargaining comes in,” I said. “You won’t be able to find the satellite in the desert without us. When we find it out there, you can have it, as long as you leave town after and never come back.”
“Seems fair,” Hoyt said.
“No, that’s not the deal,” Jessop said, gripping tight to his gun once again. “The message came to us, and so we are Haven’s contact. We have the right to go off-world too.”
“Jessop, stop,” I said. “We don’t even know if that’s what the message is offering.”
“Listen to your friend,” Hoyt said.
“We won’t know what it’s offering until we find it,” Jessop said. “We can get to it twice as fast as these guys. You blew Gill away because he hasn’t heard the message and we have. You need us.”
“You won’t leave the farm alive,” Hoyt said. “The message is for my employer and no-one else. This isn’t a question of leaving this cursed planet, it’s a question of ownership. Your preacher lies on the ground because he was in the way.”
“I don’t buy that your employer is anything more than a ghost to scare regular folk. I reckon you bunch of freaks are as opportunistic as they come. Got on the trail from the soundwaves, just as I did.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. The freaks outnumber the regular folk as far as I can count.”
Jessop turned to me. “Ready?” he asked.
“Don’t try it,” I said, but it was too late. It was the blonde bodyguard who shot first, shattering the glass to the side of my head. Jessop didn’t panic, holding his rifle up to his eyes he began pumping rounds into the wanderers, his fire rate startling them. I felt a tug on my waist and fell backward into the house on top of Ell. “We have to get to the truck,” she said. “Jessop’s decision is made.”
From there, who knows who was still standing outside. Jessop had got a couple of them, emptying a full magazine of bullets in a spread across the vehicles. I caught sight of him getting hit in the chest and arm as we moved to the back door. He must have switched to his pistols because the sound of his gunfire changed, and he continued to spray as he was bleeding out. Ell took the lead out the back door and round to the truck, keeping close to the wall, whilst I pointed the rifle behind her. She had Jessop’s keys and jumped in the driving seat. I took a last look through the gun’s sights before getting in the passenger side, seeing the bullets slowly sputter away at the car paint. It wasn’t until Ell started the truck that the gunfire stopped.
I directed Ell as she drove away from the farm, saying that we only had a few minutes until the wanderers got their cars going, if there were any of them left. We drove along the wide road for a mile, then down the valley sides on the dirt going another two miles towards the circle on my map. The crash site wasn’t like any that I had seen before, mainly because it was encircled by a fragmented ring of fire. Black smoke was filling the air above and covering any light emitting from the flames. Ell parked the truck, keeping the headlights on, and I exited the vehicle with my rifle still in hand. I couldn’t hear any engines behind us, and besides from the crackling of flames, it was silent. This satellite, number 38, was not making noise as 37 did. Ell followed behind as I found a gap in the fire to jump through, seeing the broken mess in the centre of a shallow crater. It was certainly the other half to 37, a child could fix that jigsaw, but it looked destroyed. The heat around us was growing so we began searching around for something salvageable. It was hopeless. The fire had burnt up the edges of any tangible parts, and we’d have to wait for the mess to cool before we could get close. Ell said we should go back to the truck and start driving west.
Out of the ring of fire, Hoyt and his bodyguard were waiting. The giant bodyguard had shrunk in pain and was keeled over the passenger door with blood falling in gushes from her belly and neck. She died slowly in front of us. Hoyt had been winged on the side of his head but otherwise was standing quite well, with enough energy to point that great revolver at us. It was dark and we were looking at each other in shadows. Hoyt came around the car whilst his bodyguard withered to the ground. “Where’s the satellite?” he called across the sand.
“It’s destroyed,” I said.
“That’s impossible. Get out of the way.”
Hoyt pushed through us into the flames. Let’s go, Ell said, holding onto my hand. Determination struck, momentarily, and I lost her sweaty grip and re-entered the fire. “Hoyt,” I shouted, and he turned, already kicking around bits of metal. “Why did you shoot Gill back there?”
“The same reason I was planning on killing you,” Hoyt said. “There are only so many spots in paradise. The preacher would have clawed at my heels to get onto the colonies. It was better to rid of him quickly once he had served his purpose.”
“How do you know all of this is true?”
“This is not new knowledge, you are just new to the story. We that travel the wastelands have known about the colonies for a decade, but this is the first message. We must be the first to respond. Help me with this rubble and I can promise you a passage.”
“Everything is melting, and you’ll burn in here, and your face.” Hoyt turned back away and continued his booting of the debris. I returned to Ell.
She said, I hope he finds what he’s looking for, destroyed or not.
Right now, we’re on the side of the road taking a bathroom break about fifty miles further west. We haven’t seen a single soul or any sign of a settlement. The pack of food and gear that Ell grabbed on our rush out of the house will keep us going for a week or so. I reckon we’ll bump into something by the end of tomorrow. There is a part of me that wants to turn around and see if the fire has burnt out and the satellite has cooled off. Ell calls me silly. The sun rose behind the clouds this morning as it has done for the last twelve years, and I gazed up to try and spot space stations in the cracks of light. All I saw was a brightness that gave me sore eyes.
‘Well, there you go folks. Another story from the long uninhabited Earth, which means it’s time for an oldie. Here’s ‘Dreaming of Another World’ by the ‘Mystery Jets.’