Year 14, day 1.
Things I need to worry about today: Now what do we do?
I stood outside the front door of the school, watching the storm clouds roll in over the west mountains. One very dark cloud rose up higher than the others. As I watched in horror, red eyes opened in the center of the black cloud and swept back and forth. It was Fixer, searching, searching for the little humans it had missed fourteen years ago. I turned to run back into the school and hide, but suddenly the school was a mile away. I tried to run, but my feet were too heavy to move. Fixer was going to see me! And then…
…and then I woke up. I was lying on the exercise mats in the corner of the lunchroom. Someone had tucked a folded blanket under my head. The sky outside the window was a light gray. Some of the clannies were sleeping in corners, some looked like they hadn’t slept all night, but everyone was still in the lunchroom. I draped the blanket around my shoulders and staggered to my table. Conner was already there, poking at a plate of rehydrated eggs. I held up a corner of the blanket.
“Did you make a pillow for me?”
“Thanks.” I was going to ask if he knew anything about Jon, but then I realized Conner had a plate of food and wasn’t eating it. There was no good news.
In fact, nobody seemed to be hungry. I realized now that for years, Jon had been trying to teach us how to run the clan ourselves in case something happened to him. But now that he was lying in sickbay, the life seemed to have drained out of the clan.
After an hour, Tan and Vega came into the room. We all looked up, hoping for good news, but Tan looked beaten. “I can’t do anything,” he said. “Jon’s perfectly stable, but he’s in a coma. We’ve got him on the ventilator, so he’s not going to stop breathing. But we can’t wake him up. Fixer’s got its fangs in him, and it won’t let go.”
“Are we going to catch it too?” asked Aldo, edging away from Tan. “Should we be wearing masks?”
“This is Fixer,” said Tan, “the most contagious cure that ever existed. If it was going to attack us, we’d be lying on the floor unconscious. A couple of hours after that we’d be dead from respiratory failure. Masks didn’t stop Fixer. Nothing stopped it.”
“The shut-off factor stopped it!” I said. “Is it possible we aren’t infected because we still have some of the shut-off factor in our bodies?”
“I don’t think so,” said Tan. “Some medicines can last a few weeks in the body but not fourteen years.”
“Could the shut-off factor cure Jon?” asked Kell.
Tan slid into a bench and put his face in his hands. “Yes. But we don’t have any shut-off. Jon used every drop he had to save us. He once told me they had hundreds of bottles back at the lab where Fixer was created, but he never said where the lab was. He hated to talk about Fixer, so I didn’t push him. Now it’s too late to ask.”
“All we know is the lab was too far away for Jon to get there when Fixer struck,” said Tuck.
“It could be thousands of miles away,” said Harri.
“It could be on the other side of the world!” added Lightman.
“It could be in Orlando,” said Pippen.
Tan’s head snapped up. Everyone turned to look at Pippen who was sitting backward on a bench, suddenly trying to look casual.
“Well, I mean, the lab could be in a place called ‘Orlando,’ couldn’t it?” she finished weakly.
Conner looked at her suspiciously. “Pippen, do you know something?”
Pippen ignored him and turned nervously to me. “Callie, you’re still Cod until after breakfast. Suppose someone had once gone to one of the forbidden places…and suppose she kept a souvenir, just something so whenever she was feeling especially caged in, she could pull it out and look at it and remember her adventure. What would the punishment for that be? I mean, just supposing.”
Conner stomped over to Pippen. His voice was deep and harsh. “Whatever the punishment is, it would be far easier than what would happen to her if she knew something that would help Jon, and she didn’t cough it up!” Conner seemed taller than his six feet as he towered over the cringing Pippen. His big fists clenched and unclenched, making the muscles in his arms ripple. You’ve never seen “threatening” until you’ve seen Conner do it!
Pippen made a tiny squeak and rummaged through her pockets until she pulled out a folded and dirty rectangle of glossy cardboard. I took it from her and unfolded it. It had a logo of a rainbow over a seedling, and in big dramatic letters it said:
THIS is the future of medicine!
Don’t miss the Utopia Labs announcement at the Bioneer Conference!
9:00 AM, June 14
BYU Conference Center
“Pippen!” I said, shocked. “This came from the building where Fixer escaped! The Conference Center is a forbidden place!”
Pippen rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know! Read what it says on the other side.”
I flipped the card over. On the back it had an address.
255 Industry Way
“That’s got to be the address for the Fixer lab!” I said. “This means we can go to Florida, get the shut-off factor, and save Jon!”
“Where’s Florida?” asked Newt.
We all ran together down the hall to A4 where Jon had been teaching geography yesterday. Tuck ran to the map, grabbed a marker, and put a dot in the middle of the left side. “We’re here, in Utah. Florida is…um…here!” He circled a long finger of a state way over on the bottom right.
Lightman looked at the scale on the bottom of the map. “But that’s thousands of miles!”
Sal wiped her tear-stained face. “We’ve never been out of this valley!”
“So what?” asked Tan. “We just get in the bus and drive. It’s like going on an adventure!”
“Yeah, an adventure!” said Ort. “Our last adventure nearly killed us!”
Fahina nodded. “I don’t think Jon would want us to risk the survival of the clan to save him.”
“She’s right,” said Tuck, looking at the map. “Jon says back when this country was uncivilized, pioneers would die just trying to get from one side of the country to the other.”
“But there are roads now!” protested Ed.
“How do you know if the roads are still there?” asked Tuck. “That’s all uncivilized territory again!”
“Maybe it’s not,” said Tan. “What if there are other groups of people who survived Fixer? Maybe if we go looking for help, we’ll find someone out there who can save Jon!”
Newt countered, “Or maybe there are other survivors, but they’ve become cannibals, and they hide by the side of the road and eat travelers!”
“Why are we rushing into this?” asked Lightman. “Jon’s fine right now. Maybe he’ll wake up in a few days.”
More arguments broke out right and left. Sal huddled in the corner and sniffled. Tuck was busy drawing hungry monsters all over Florida. Pippen was keeping her mouth shut for once. I think she was hoping no one would remember she still hadn’t been assigned a punishment. I’d seen this kind of discussion at Clan Council before. They’d argue and debate for hours, and nothing would ever get decided. Meanwhile, our guardian and protector was lying unconscious. Who was going to protect him now? I turned and walked out of the room. The world was broken, and I was going to fix it. It’s what I do.
Back in my room, I dumped all my books out of my school backpack and stuffed in a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt and some socks and underwear. There. Packed. There was a little extra room, so I put in my notebook and some pens, a water bottle, and my favorite screwdriver. I put on my leather jacket, tucked the card with the address into the front pocket of my backpack, and slipped it on.
When I got back to A4, the arguments were still going on.
Lightman was insisting, “It’s too big of a risk! We can’t endanger the future of humanity just to save one person, even if it is Jon!”
Moon looked at me as I came in. “What are you all geared up for?”
“I’m going to go outside,” I said fiercely, “and I’m going to get into a truck, and I’m going to drive to Florida by myself! I’m going to find the lab, get the shut-off factor, and bring it back here and save Jon! If I don’t come back, I’m just one person; humanity will survive without me. But I don’t want to survive if it means I have to spend my whole life knowing I let Jon lie there when I could have done something about it!” It was an awesome speech, spoiled only a little by my chin quivering.
“You can’t go all the way across the country alone!” protested Conner.
I marched right up to him and poked him in the chest. “Are you going to stop me?”
“No,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, “I’m going with you.”
All the bluster puffed out of me like a punctured tire. I started to protest, but nothing came out. Actually, I had about a thousand times better chance of surviving the trip if Conner came along.
Then I felt a hand on my other shoulder. “You’re going to need me,” Tan said. “The lab will be a medical facility. You don’t know what to look for, but I do. There’s nothing I can do for Jon here. Vega can take care of him while I’m gone.”
Excited chatter broke out. Now that someone had actually made a decision, all the objections evaporated.
Then Pippen’s sarcastic voice cut through the noise. “Let me get this straight. A wizard who talks to machines, a big dumb warrior, an apprentice healer, and a little thief are going on a quest to retrieve the Elixir of Life?”
“Um, yeah, that’s pretty much it,” I said. “Wait, you said ‘a little thief’? Does that mean you’re coming with us?”
Pippen jumped up.
“Just try to stop me!”