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Scavenger Hunt (sample)
Julia H. West
Originally published in Oceans of the Mind, issue XI (Colonies), Spring 2004.
Shouts, and somebody rattling the privacy wall, woke Mod. She sat up in bed, stared around in the half-light, and listened to her sisters' frightened murmurs all around her. Should she take her air tanks out of the box by her bed? No, first find out what's going on. She lifted the wall, poked her head outside, and yelled, "What?"
It was one of the Leary kids from the farm next door. "The water purifier busted, and it's pumping salt water into the paddies."
Mod scrabbled for her shorts and blouse. She slipped her sandals on and ran to her parents' area, yelling, "Mom, Dad, we've got a problem."
The family, from Dad to five-year-old Annet, assembled in minutes. "We'll check the main irrigation canal first," said Mom. "Hope we can close the inlet off before salt water gets to our fields."
"How'll we know?" asked Annet.
"Taste it, silly," Mod said.
Walking with care—it was still dome night—the family followed concrete paths through the paddies. Mod ran ahead to the main water inlet for their fields and scooped up a handful of water, sipping some from her palm. Brackish.
"Too late!" she called back to the rest of the family.
Dad told the family, "Okay, split up. Check each distribution channel until we find how far the salt water has traveled. If you find a channel that's sweet, block its input from the main channel, quick. I'll close the main channel."
Mod ran along the levees between the plots, stooping at every cross channel to test the water. "Here." No salt taste. She dropped the channel's gate and ran on.
When the family gathered again on the front porch, mud-splattered and tense, Mod asked, "So now what?"
Her oldest sister, slumped on the lowest step, said, "I say let's leave. This is the second crop we've lost."
"There's too much stuff breaking down here in Chai Complex. I vote to move," Mod's older brother said.
Mom looked at Dad. He nodded. "When everybody started talking about closing O'Connel Dome, we applied to immigrate to Seifert's Reef," she said.
"But I don't want to go!" said Mod. "I've helped fix the pump before—I can fix this, too. We won't know anybody there, and we'll have to work twice as hard.…"
Mom cut her off. "Please, Modlene, you're fourteen—one of the older children. Help us this time, don't hinder us."
"Mod wants to move topside and live in a concrete bunker on Island," teased her older sister. "Lots of machinery, even if she can't go outside because of the storms."
"Oh, shut up." Mod flounced into the house and dropped to her knees in front of her box. She simmered with anger. It had taken three years to find all the passwords to get into the nearby abandoned domes, and people in the dome finally trusted her to fix their equipment. But now the whole family wanted to pack up and leave.
Mod took her air tanks, mask, and regulator out of the box. She checked that the tank valve was clean and the straps had no worn spots. Her friend Donal, the owner of the dive shop, had charged the tanks for her yesterday after she fixed his compressor.
If I can help fix the water purifier, Mod thought, maybe we won't have to move.
"Hey, Mod, where're you going? Can I go with you?" Her younger brother Simon tugged on her loose blouse sleeve.
She was about to snap 'no' and pull away, but reconsidered. Though he was only nine, Simon was a pretty good dive partner. "Okay, kid, get your stuff out of the dive locker. As soon as I know what's gone bad, I'm going to Terpenning Complex to scrounge the part for the water purifier."
Cover design by Danica B. West, all rights reserved. Composited and photomanipulated from: diver: http://www.flickr.com/photos/73052058@N00/4181542452/ machinery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnavy/5984598740/ All photos used under Creative Commons license.
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Other stories by Julia H. West from Callihoo Publishing:
The Peachwood Flute (collaboration with Brook West)
Weeds (collaboration with Brook West)
|Banner by Danica B. West
This page created 26 September 2011
Last update 20 March 2014