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The Cave of the Troll

“Callie, wake up! The troll’s sick!”

“Mphble?” I asked, intelligently.

“Get up,” the voice next to my ear insisted. “It’s dark.”

“Oh, good,” I mumbled. “That explains why I’m asleep. Go away.”

“You have to get up,” said the voice, which sounded a lot like Conner. “It’s dark because the power’s out.”

I sat up in bed and forced one eye open. “You mean the troll’s sick? Why didn’t you say so?”

Five minutes later, I staggered out of my room with a backpack over my shoulder and a camping lantern in my hand. I was dressed for work: jeans, white shirt, boots, and my hair done up in a quick braid to keep it out of the way. The girls’ hallway was lit only by the battery-powered emergency exit signs. Conner was waiting outside my door and fell in behind me as I stumbled down the hall.

“What time is it?” I croaked.

“About five. I saw the lights were out when I got up to watch the sunrise.”

I rolled my eyes. Conner’s my best friend, but he’s not quite sane. He’s a morning person. As we passed a window, I could see the sky around Clan Mountain was getting that acetylene-torch-blue glow of early morning. At the end of the hall we came to a heavy metal door with a sign written in black marker:


Cave of the Troll

“I’ll go with you for protection,” Conner said as I fumbled with the doorknob. “Rule twelve.”

Rule twelve doesn’t really apply to the troll cave. And there’s nothing down there I haven’t faced before. Dozens of times. But it’s always nice to have Conner with me. He’s only fourteen, like me and the rest of the clannies, but he’s already six feet tall and built like one of those football players in movies. He’s not exactly smart. In fact he’s kind of a big dorp. But I hang out with the boys a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that being a dorp is normal for them. And if I’m ever surrounded by a pack of wild dogs, there’s no one on earth I’d rather have at my back than Conner. I clomped down the metal steps, holding my lantern high. Behind the boiler and a tangle of pipes, a huge dark hulk sat in the shadows.

“Okay,” I sighed, “what’s wrong with you this time?”

The troll is a greasy old electric generator that powers the school where we live. Our water comes from a well, and I’ve converted our furnace to burn propane, but without electricity to run the furnace blower and pump the water from the well, they’re useless. If the troll gets sick, there are no lights, no showers, no movies, and no electricity in the kitchen for making breakfast, which was the only reason I was awake at five in the morning. Something was broken and I was going to fix it. It’s what I do. 

I handed the lantern to Conner so I could get the toolbox down from the shelf. “Why did the generator stop?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet,” I said, “but I’ll ask it since I have magical powers and I speak the secret language of machines.”

“You have what?”

I opened the engine access panel on the side of the troll. “Magical powers. I just figured it out last week. It explains why I’m so good at fixing things! Now shut up. I need to concentrate.” I reached out a hand and touched the troll. 

Everything else in the world faded away. Nothing existed except for me and the machine. I closed my eyes, but I could still see the generator. Every switch on the control panel, every rusty scratch on the metal frame. I could see the pistons inside the engine and the copper windings in the alternator. I could almost see the electrons, eagerly waiting to be pushed through the wires by magnetic fields. But something had made the troll quit. “Why are you sick?” I asked.

I opened my eyes and checked the dipstick. “Your oil level is good. Coolant is fine. Your injector pump should be okay; I rebuilt that last month. I know you aren’t out of fuel; I just filled you up from that new diesel tanker Ed brought in yesterday. Want to give it another try?” I switched the generator field off so the engine could run without generating any electricity. I turned the glow plugs on and waited a few seconds for them to warm up. Then I pressed the start button. The engine cranked and started up almost immediately with that marbles-in-a-can rattle that diesel engines have. But the growl of the engine sounded just a bit…wrong. I flipped the generator field back on. The troll’s growl changed to a roar as it tried to pick up the load. The overhead lights glowed dimly. Then the troll coughed, sputtered, and conked out. “Huh,” I said. “You’re running okay at idle but struggling under load…”

Of course!

“Oh, poor baby!” I said. “Your fuel filter’s clogged! I’ll have you fixed up in less than a minute!” Every trace of sleepiness was gone now. “One,” I said, under my breath. Two. I shut off the fuel valve, popped off the fuel/water separator, wiped it clean. My fingers moved quickly, almost a blur. Fifteen. Sixteen. I unscrewed the old fuel filter and tossed it into the garbage can twenty feet away. Twenty-two. Twenty-three. I grabbed a new fuel filter off the shelf without looking, ripped it out of the box, spun it into place, gave it a quarter turn to tighten. Thirty-nine. I opened the fuel valve and loosened a fitting near the injector pump to bleed the air out. When clean diesel spurted out, I tightened the fitting, threw the wrench back into my toolbox, and slammed the engine access panel closed. “Fifty-five seconds,” I said triumphantly.

Conner looked at me like I was glowing. “That was so spiff! How did you do that?”

“I told you. I have magical powers.”

For just half a second, Conner looked like he believed me. Then he scowled. “Do not!”

“Do too!”

“No, you don’t. You’re just really good at fixing things. You’ve got all those repair books you read for fun. I’ve seen you take apart things that aren’t even broken, just so you can look at their insides. You know how everything works, so when you see something that isn’t working, you know what’s wrong. That’s just…figuring things out! It’s not real magic, like in the movies.”

I put the tool box back on the shelf and wiped my hands off on my pants. “Why isn’t what I can do magic?” I demanded.

“Look,” Conner said. “How does Bilbo turn invisible?”

“He has the ring,” I said, “which has magical powers.”

“And how does Dorothy get home from Oz?”

“She has the ruby slippers,” I said. “Well, that’s the movie version. In the book, they’re silver shoes, and Oz isn’t a dream, it’s really real–”

“What I mean,” insisted Conner, “is that real magic power comes from a thing. Yours comes from studying!”

Conner said the word “studying” like he’d gotten a mouthful of spoiled food. I wanted to tell him that studying isn’t disgusting, it’s the most wonderful thing ever and the only source of real magic I know of in this world. I wanted to say that when I’m sad, I can pick up a book and learn something new and the sadness falls away like snow off a tree in the sunshine. I wanted to explain that when I’m working on a machine, if I look at it for long enough, suddenly everything snaps into place and I understand it completely, something I can’t do with people. But I couldn’t find the words. I’m good at talking to machines. Not so good with people. So instead I reached over and thumbed the starter button. The troll roared to life, and the overhead lights came on, steady and bright. 

I still think it’s magic.

Conner and I climbed back up the stairs. The sleepiness was back. “Can I go back to bed now?” I groaned. “I was up late last night.” I didn’t mention it was because I was reading a book about space exploration I’d found at the university.

“Sorry. Today you’re Cod.”

When we got to the school lunchroom, I could hear the big industrial mixer whirring in the kitchen. Kell, making breakfast. I glanced up at the Big Board and saw that under “Controller Of the Day,” it still said “Bonni.” I grumbled as I climbed up the ladder that was alway positioned in front of the board, rubbed out “Bonni” with my hand and wrote in “Callie.” Officially, the Cod duty switched after breakfast, with the handoff of the clipboard, but Bonni was supposed to have changed the Big Board last night before she went to bed. I climbed down and joined Conner at our usual table. It would still be a while before breakfast was ready, but not long enough for me to go to the shop building and get work done. 

“Conner. Food,” I said. He’s always carrying some sort of snack.

He pulled a bag of pine nuts out of his pocket and set it on the table between us. I nommed a few as I unzipped my backpack and got out a three-ring binder and pen.

“New notebook?” Conner asked.

I held it up. “Yup. Jon gave it to me for birthdays yesterday.” I opened the spotless blue cover, brushed my fingertips across the crisp, clean first page, then started writing.

Date: Year 14, day 0.

Things I need to worry about today: 

Contaminated fuel? Check for water in the new tanker. 

I’m Cod today. Ugh.

I chewed my pen cap for a moment. “You know,” I told Conner, “I’ve been thinking of writing a history of the clan.”

“Who for?”

“I dunno. Future historians. Descendants of the clan if we survive. Visiting aliens if we don’t. They’re going to want to know how we lived.”

Conner leaned back against the table and closed his eyes. “Let me know when you’ve made it into a movie.”

 I turned to a new page and started.

My name is Callie and I’m one nineteenth of the population of the clan. This also means I’m one nineteenth of the population of the earth.

I stopped and crossed out what I’d written. That was no good, it would leave too many unanswered questions for anyone reading my clan history. The problem was I didn’t have all the answers myself. There were a lot of holes in what I knew about Fixer and Zero Day. But then how should I start the history of the clan? Frustrated, I put my head down on my notebook. You know, just to rest my eyes for a second.

My head snapped up as Kell dropped a tray of steaming pancakes onto the table. While my eyes were closed, the table had gotten set with plates, silverware, syrup, and glasses of Tang. One by one, clannies trickled in and found tables. Pippen slid onto the bench next to Conner. She barely came up to his shoulder. She looked like a little elf sitting next to him. Actually, Pippen looks like a little elf sitting next to anybody. She has orange hair that always looks like she combs it with a fork. This is because she does. Pippen slid a few pancakes from the tray onto her plate and then flopped face-first into them. Conner put a couple of pancakes on my plate then piled the rest onto his own. He glanced down at Pippen. “What’s wrong with you?”

Pippen mumbled through her pancakes. “I got punishment yesterday, and Bonni was Cod. I had to get up this morning at six and clean toilets! Do you know how hard it is to get up at six?”

“That must have been just horrible for you,” I said. “Maybe you shouldn’t have snuck out to the mall by yourself. Rule twelve says–”

Pippen lifted her head. “‘–If you’re out of sight of the school, you must have a buddy with you.’ I know the rules! I just…choose to ignore them sometimes. I’m so bored. When was the last time we went on an adventure?”

“Six months ago,” said Tan, sliding into the bench next to me. Tan has black spiky hair and dark eyes that sparkle when he’s excited about something. And they sparkle all the time. “Zow!” he said. “We have Tang again!” He picked up the glass and took a gulp. We drink a lot of Tang in the clan, and it’s been getting harder and harder to find in stores in the valley. Tan put the glass down and continued. “Jon was going to take us out of Clan Valley for the first time, to see Salt Lake City, but then the bus broke down in a snowstorm and we almost died which is why he hasn’t taken us on another adventure since then. Jon always says the number one priority of the clan is to–”

“‘–to survive and re-establish civilization,’” said Pippen. “Yes, I know! So here we sit. Surviving. Ung!” She dropped her head back into her pancakes.

I dug into my own breakfast and listened to the racket of half a dozen conversations going on around me. Sal was explaining something she’d read about called “smog.” Ed and Newt were having a belching contest. Lightman and Moon were arguing about who would win in a fight between The Hulk and Hello Kitty. Ah, breakfast with the clan!

An adult voice broke in. “Today is Monday…Ahem! People, can I have your attention?” 

Jon was standing in front of the Big Board with the clipboard. Jon’s tall and skinny and really ancient, like fifty or something. Newt had to find him bifocal glasses last year so he can still read. He’s in charge because he’s the only adult in the world, not because he was a professional parent or anything. Eventually we quieted down a few decibels.

“Is everyone here? Sound off, please.”

In rapid-fire precision, we shouted out our last (and only) names in alphabetical order.

“Aldous!” said Aldo.

“Bonnell!” said Bonni.

“Callahan!” I yelled.
















“And Jon,” Jon finished. Nobody was missing. The entire population of earth was in the room. Jon read from the clipboard. “Today is Monday, year fourteen, day zero.”

I noticed Jon didn’t say anything about the significance of the date. Yesterday he made a big deal about everybody’s birthday, but he didn’t even mention the anniversary of Zero Day today. He never does.

“I have a few announcements. Group class will be United States Geography in room A4. Don’t forget to bring your States of the Union textbook to class. If you go out finding today, please be careful. Grace found a rattlesnake in a store yesterday, so remember not to stick your hand anywhere you can’t see. The barometer is falling today, which might mean a storm is coming. Finally, I’m sure you’ve all noticed we have Tang again! Pippen found a whole case yesterday in a basement.”

Pippen climbed onto the table and took a bow while the clan cheered. Everyone does finding, but Pippen is the only member of the clan with the official job of “Finder.”

After breakfast everyone except for me headed off for individual study. This is usually my favorite part of the day. We get to learn anything we want to as long as we hand in reports so Jon knows we’re really learning. Tan goes to “sickbay,” which used to be the teacher’s lounge, but he’s been hauling medical equipment into it for several years. He spends most of study time reading medical textbooks, practicing on his rats, and waiting for one of us to need a doctor. Most of the time he just waits. We never even get a cold or the flu since there are no sick people left to catch it from. Fixer succeeded in eliminating diseases from the world, just not in the way its creators intended. Tan doesn’t lose hope though; there’s always a chance someone will trip and break their arm. 

This week, Conner and Harri are spending study time watching survival documentaries. Officially they both have the job of “Hunter,” but they like to think of themselves as the clan warriors.

Pippen’s teaching herself to be a ninja. 

Normally during individual study time, I’d be in the shop reading manuals or keeping the clan vehicles running, but today I was Cod. As the last clannie filed out of the lunchroom, Jon came over with the Cod clipboard. I took it reluctantly.

“You’ll do fine,” Jon reassured me. “I’ll be here to help you, but first I’ve got to look some things up in the library.”

Jon left me alone in the lunchroom. I sat down behind the Cod desk and looked up at the Big Board. This is an entire wall covered with whiteboards. It has the finding list, the rotating assignments, and all 37 rules. Near the top of the Big Board is the list of permanent jobs. A few years ago, Jon created a list of all the jobs a real society needs and asked us to pick one. It took me two seconds to tell him I wanted “Engineer,” and it only took me that long because I had to spit out the Tang I was drinking first. Vega chose “Veterinarian,” Fahina picked “Farmer,” Newt wanted to be “Computer Geek,” and so on. By Jon’s name it simply says “Guardian.”

So far, nobody needed the Cod. That was a good sign. I unzipped my backpack and pulled out my notebook. Maybe I should start the clan history by describing myself. 

Hi, I’m Callie. I have blue eyes and straight blonde hair. I’m a fourteen-year-old girl, which I’ve been for a day now. Fourteen, I mean. I’ve been a girl all my life.

Yeesh, that was awful! I scribbled it out and instead drew a picture of my favorite tool, a beautiful six-in-one screwdriver that Jon had given me for birthdays two years ago.


The lunchroom door slammed open and Bonni stomped in, dragging a protesting Pippen with her. I groaned and closed my notebook. Having to resolve cases was the part of being Cod that I’d been dreading. I looked desperately at the door, hoping to see Jon walk in. Nothing. I was going to have to handle this alone. I picked up the clipboard. “Okay, what’s the problem?”

“Pippen stole my diary!”

Pippen shook off Bonni’s hand. “Why the spack would I steal your diary?” It was just a clan word, but Bonni gasped in shock. The big faker! I’ve heard her use real past people swear words when Jon isn’t around. 

“What makes you think it was Pippen?” I asked Bonni.

“Because I left my diary under my pillow and locked my door before I came to breakfast. When I went back after breakfast, the door was still locked, but my diary was missing!”

Bonni had a point. That did sound like Pippen’s work. 

“I’m sick of the little thief getting into my stuff!” Bonni steamed. She pointed at the Big Board. “Rule eight says ‘No stealing.’ You’ve got to make her clean toilets again!”

I looked up at the list of rules on the Big Board. I didn’t really need to look, I have them all memorized, but this would give me a minute to think. Stealing isn’t normally a problem in the clan. If someone has a diamond bracelet you like, you just ask them where they found it and go get one yourself. I didn’t want to make Pippen scrub toilets again because it would break her little spirit. Bonni knew as well as I did that Pippen only did this sort of thing for the challenge. Tomorrow the diary would be back under her pillow again. But Bonni was demanding the maximum punishment. What I needed was a way to get Pippen off easy that still followed all the rules. And I had to come up with it quickly, because any minute now, Bonni was going to notice the diary-sized lump in the pocket of Pippen’s cargo pants. There was a way out, but first I had to get Pippen to confess.

“Well?” demanded Bonni.

I tapped the clipboard thoughtfully. “So your room was locked, but the thief still managed to take your diary. I wonder how he did it?”

“How she did it,” corrected Bonni.

“Obviously you left your window open, and the thief came in through the window. It was probably really easy.”

“It was not!” protested Pippen. “I had to crawl on my hands and knees through the…” Pippen stopped and then grinned sheepishly. “Oops! Okay, fine, I took your stupid diary.”

Before Bonni could react, I said, “Pippen, give Bonni’s diary back and apologize.”

Pippen fished a small pink book out of her pocket and held it out. She lowered her head. “Here, Bonni. I’m sorry.”

Bonni snatched the diary out of Pippen’s hand.

I wrote on the clipboard and spoke in my best Cod voice: “Pippen apologized to Bonni and returned the stolen diary. Case resolved.”

“You didn’t punish her for stealing!” Bonni complained.

I pointed to the Big Board. “Rule twenty-five says that if someone is sorry for doing something wrong, and confesses, and does their best to make up for what they did, we forgive them and give them a lighter punishment. Pippen admitted to taking your diary, gave it back, and I say her punishment was apologizing to you.”

“She didn’t confess! You tricked her into it!”

“Well, that’s my judgment as Controller Of the Day,” I said stiffly. “There will be Clan Council on Thursday, if you want to contest the judgment.”

“You bet I do!” snarled Bonni.

“Okay, then I’ll need the diary back,” I said. “You know that a lot of people in the clan insist on examining the evidence before voting to overturn a ruling by the Cod. That isn’t a problem, is it? I’m sure you haven’t written anything mean in there about other clannies.” I leaned over the desk and reached for the book slowly, to give Bonni time to think about it. 

“Never mind!” Bonni snapped. She whirled around and stomped off with the diary clutched to her chest.

Pippen looked up at me, eyes moist. “Oh, thank you! Thank you for giving me a second chance! I won’t disappoint you!” She glanced over to see that Bonni had left the room, then leaned in close. “I made photocopies! Want to see them?”

“Of course not!” I said, shocked. “That would be a violation of my duties as Controller Of the Day!”

“Are you sure? She has two whole pages about you.”

“Meet me after breakfast tomorrow.”

After Pippen left, I opened my notebook and gave the clan history another shot. 

The day after I was born, seven billion people died.

I crossed it out.

Several hours and ten scribbled pages later, I still couldn’t figure out how to begin the history of the clan. I was about to give up and design a rocket when I noticed the time on the official Clan Central clock. I hit the “all call” button on the intercom at the desk. “Twelve o’clock! Time for lunch!”

People started drifting into the lunchroom. We keep the pantry in the kitchen fairly well stocked. Most of it is canned or dried food we find in stores or houses. Kell bakes fresh bread every day, Conner and Harri provide us with rabbit and deer meat, and Fahina can actually grow potatoes in the dirt! I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crust cut off, found a can of Orange Crush in the walk-in fridge, and took my lunch back to the Cod desk. Jon came over carrying a bowl of soup and a package of crackers. 

“Jon, where were you?” I demanded. “I had to resolve a case on my own!”

Jon pulled a chair up to the Cod desk and set his lunch down. “I’m sure you did fine, Callahan. Probably better than you think. Sorry about being late. I was trying to find a book on Delaware. Some days I really miss the internet.”

I couldn’t stay mad at Jon. “Did the internet have stuff about machines?” I asked eagerly.

“Oh, the internet had everything! If you took a library and a bulletin board and a toy store and a garbage truck and shook them all together, you’d have the internet!” Jon chuckled at his little joke. When he saw I wasn’t laughing he sobered up a little bit. “So, what’s it like being you, Callahan?”

See, this is Jon’s idea of a conversation-provoking question. He asks you odd things so he can psychoanalyze you. The problem is, since he’s the only adult around, it’s hard not to spill your guts to him. 

“Some days I think I’m the luckiest person ever born!” I said. “The world’s a magical place, just waiting for me to explore it. But sometimes I feel like…” I stopped, looking around to see if anyone else was close enough to hear. 

“Go on,” Jon prompted.

“This is sealed, okay?”

“I won’t tell anyone unless you unseal it.”

I blurted everything out in a rush. “Most of the time I’m proud of what I do but sometimes I get a little voice in the back of my head that says, ‘You’re a phony! You’re just a little girl pretending to be an engineer and so far what you’ve done has worked but soon your luck will run out and you’ll have to do something big and important and you’ll fail and everyone will realize what a fraud you are!’” I stopped, out of breath. What would Jon think of me now?

He threw back his head and laughed. I uncover my darkest fears, and he laughs? A few people glanced over, then went back to their lunch.

Jon wiped tears from his eyes. “Callahan, everyone feels like they’re faking it at some point.”

“Really? Adults too?”

“Adults too. The trick is to ignore that voice of doubt and just keep doing your best until you develop confidence in what you’re doing.” 

I felt like someone had altered the gravitational constant of the universe and I weighed ten pounds less. 

“Callahan, Let me tell you how I see you. You’re a very smart girl. And you have an amazing talent for understanding machines.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, modestly.

“But I’ve noticed your talent has come at the cost of other areas. I don’t want you to take this wrong, but you are sometimes a bit…awkward socially.”

“Pffft!” I said. “This I also know.”

“So you need to work on your people skills. If you can do that, I think some day you’ll be a great leader.”

I laughed. “Me a leader? I don’t think so! Conner, maybe. He understands people.” Then I had a thought. “Hey, Jon, you ought to do a class on leadership. You know, teach us how to be responsible and make decisions and stuff.”

Jon smiled slyly. “Thanks for the idea, Callahan, but I’ve already done that. Just work on your people skills, okay? Learn to understand people who disagree with you.”

“Ha! Luckily, most of those people are dead!” The words slipped out of my mouth before I had time to think. Jon turned away, but I caught the pain in his eyes. I was such an idiot! 

When we ask, Jon will tell us about the past people, and what the world used to be like, but he won’t talk about Fixer or Zero Day. Over the years, we’ve been able to squeeze a few drops of information out of him, pushing him carefully so he doesn’t clam up. But I should have known better than to say something stupid like that! Jon had to watch as the population of the world went from seven billion to almost zero in one day. I’ve never seen anyone die, so I can only imagine what it must have been like. For Jon, it was the end of the world.

We kids never knew the old world or the past people. Fixer struck the day after we were born. Of course, all the past people who died outdoors have long since been dragged off by wild dogs, but we see the dried-up bodies when we’re finding inside buildings. They’re usually curled into a ball, with their knees pulled up to their chests, and their heads tucked in. They look like they’ve gotten cold and curled up to take a nap. A very long nap. I can tell the bodies bother Jon because he always looks away. But we’ve grown up seeing them, and it’s no big deal. Zero Day was just something that happened that made our world what it is today. That’s the difference between us. To Jon, the day Fixer struck was the end of the world. To us, it was the beginning.

I stood and put a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “I’ve got to go do Cod rounds now. See you in class, okay?” Jon didn’t answer.

By group class time, Jon was back to normal, pointing to the big map of the United States and rambling enthusiastically about places we’ll never see. I couldn’t dredge up any interest. If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s nobody left to hear it, does it matter what past people used to call that forest? I woke up at the end of class with my head on my desk in a puddle of drool. 

I’ve seen movies where the teacher assigns the students “homework.” That was school work, but you had to do it after school was over. That makes no sense. If there wasn’t enough time during school to get all your school work done, they should have either made school longer or not assigned so much work! Sometimes I think past people were crazy. 

After dinner we gathered in the living room. This used to be the school’s front lobby, but we’ve made it more comfy with rugs and soft chairs and a huge TV screen for movies. I should explain about the importance of movies in the clan. Movies are our only exposure to how adults talk and how a real society works and how the world used to be.

“Let’s watch Star Wars!” said Ort.

Newt and I raised our hands eagerly, seconding the suggestion.

“Why don’t we watch Casablanca?” suggested Jon. Only his hand went up.

The problem with most of the movies Jon nominates is they only make sense to past people. They’re about confusing things like high school and television and money and all those laws that past people understood. 

“Let’s watch Princess Bride again,” said Tuck. 

Everyone cheered.

The great thing about science fiction and fantasy movies is they create a brand-new world, so they always explain the rules as you go along. And after you’ve watched a lot of fantasy movies, you start to recognize the standard parts. You don’t need an explanation about what a wizard is or a warrior or a thief or a healer, and you can spot a quest coming a mile away.

Jon stood up. “Okay, okay, Princess Bride it is. I think the disc is in…”

For a moment, Jon looked dizzy. He reached out a hand to a chair to steady himself. Then he crumpled to the floor. Nobody moved. Sal laughed nervously. Was this one of Jon’s little jokes? Tan was the first to recover. He bolted out of his chair and knelt by Jon, shaking him gently.

“Jon? Jon!” Tan lifted his eyelid but only white showed. “Conner!” Tan ordered. “Get him to sickbay now!”

Conner scooped up Jon and ran down the hall. We all ran after him, but even carrying a full-grown adult, Conner beat us. Everyone shoved their way into the room. Conner set Jon down on one of the hospital beds, where he lay curled up and unmoving.

“Is he…is he dead?” gulped Aldo.

Tan tore Jon’s shirt open and held a stethoscope to his chest. “He’s not dead, but his heart rate and breathing are really slow, and his skin is clammy. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Vega, help me get him more comfortable.”

Vega and Tan took Jon’s arms and legs and gently straightened Jon out on the bed. As soon as they let go, Jon slowly curled back into a ball with his knees up to his chest and his head tucked in. He looked like he’d gotten cold and curled up to take a nap. 

A very long nap.