Jo stamped around the bottom level of the ARCH for over two hours, checking each of the support beams, measuring any deviation. She stamped up and down the stairs. She stamped through hallways and through the Atrium. She stamped and stamped and stamped as if the force of her feet into the floor would somehow suck away her frustration and anger. It gave her shin splints.
Three of the main supports in Block 4 were deformed enough to be worrisome, the worst being two centimeters out of vertical. Supports in the other blocks were also showing deviation, all in the same direction. Several of the floor beams were starting to show signs of structural strain, and she had found a floor panel with a previously unnoticed buckling from shearing forces as one part of the ARCH moved in reference to another.
These discoveries had led to Jo standing at the bottom of Block 2, looking up to the rooftop. Block 2 had been one of the habitation structures, filling a vertical space that ran from the ARCH’s hull at the top, along slope of the canyon that cradled the ARCH, to the floor where the support beams had been driven into the rock. Block 2 had been just like Blocks 1 and 3, until an avalanche on the canyon wall a year earlier had sent a series of large boulders into Block 2’s roof, caving it in, and smashing through a dozen floors. The breeches had been horrific, killing eighteen people and wounding over a hundred. The damage had been so bad that Block 2 was abandoned entirely, the walls sealed off, every salvageable item taken. All that remained was the superstructure. The roofline had been restored solely to prevent the winds from damaging the ARCH’s from the inside.
Jo stood on top of one of the boulders, looking up through the shattered shaft to the rattling roof above. She wore a pair of ski goggles to keep out the persistent sand, and scanned the structures to find anything that she could permanently borrow. Her eyes darted to the roof every time there was a sound. With the motorcycle suit allocated to Erik’s repair team, Jo was left with only the hope that the wind wouldn’t tear open another hole and blast the skin from her bones.
The scavengers had done their job: hardly anything remained in Block 2 that couldn’t have been reused elsewhere, or melted down. Running her hands through the sand, all Jo could find was the old bolt or a short length of wiring. The only significant things left in the space were the heavy beams that rose from the canyon’s floor, up through the Block, branching out into a tree trunk-like support structure for desks and the outer hull, keeping the ARCH’s frame rigid and anchoring the massive structure in place. The beams were some of the few things in the ARCH that hadn’t been entirely cobbled together, I-beams scavenged from an incomplete building in Tuba City.
Attached to the beams were girders that kept the sides from falling inwards. Unlike the beams, the girders were inventions of purpose: tubular steel that had been welded together for lightness and strength, no two girders were alike, though they all followed the same basic pattern.
“Todo lo que necesito es uno de esos,” she muttered to herself, her eyes following the girders that radiated out from the main beams. She hopped off the boulder and went from beam to beam, studiously looking at each one. Each beam and its girders were a work in minimalist architecture, one that would have likely resulted in violating several building codes with the lack of proper reinforcements, though Architecture Review would have declared the design “an evolution in thinking about height and volume, opening a compact space into the lightness and freedom”. “Bingo,” said Jo, and started climbing up the frame as if it were a jungle gym, easily scaling three floors in a few moments. She climbed to a point where a girder spanned across a twenty-foot space between beams. She looked down. Below her was a pit of rock and sand.
Clinging to the beam, she pressed her ear to the girder, pulled out her ball peen hammer from her belt, and struck the girder three times. Even over the howling winds that went unmuffled, the clear ringing of the girder showed no fracture to the metal. Jo pulled out a wrench, reached around underneath for the massive bolts that held it to the strut, felt for the wrench to slide over the nut, and hammered the wrench until the nut came loose. She repeated the process seven more times, and pulled all but one of the bolts loose, mostly freeing the girder from the first beam. Climbing back down the beam, she switched to the second one and went to the other end of the girder, removing all the bolts. Despite the force of gravity on such a heavy object, the twenty-foot girder refused to budge. Using her hammer, she whacked at the girder, slowly inching it from its resting point. As it finally slid off the mounting plate, it dangled, then twisted as its remaining connection resisted the movement. If OSHA had still existed, someone would have had an apoplectic fit watching Jo kick the girder sideways. Almost immediately, there was loud, screeching protest as the final bolt tried to hang onto several hundred pounds of steel that really wanted to rest on the rocky floor. The bolt’s head experienced a catastrophic failure, launching from the bolt’s shaft, right into Jo’s forehead. The girder pounded to the pit’s boulder-covered floor.
The impact on Jo’s forehead was beyond what would elicit a mere “ow”, but not so strong that it also elicited blood. It strong enough that Jo’s sense of balance declared a mistrial and her grip on the beam slacked and she wobbled on her feet. Half-aware that something was very wrong, she tried to cling more tightly to the beam. Her foot’s came to rest on what her jumbled memory had thought to be a mounting plate, but wasn’t, her foot completely missed what wasn’t there, and her body’s momentum sheared her grip from the beam. She saw the ceiling fall further away in slow motion. She envisioned her imminent collision with the girder she had just freed. She closed her eyes, deciding she didn’t really want to see her own death.
Jo opened her eyes and saw a ceiling. At least, she thought it was a ceiling. She blinked a few times, and slowly the details cleared up. It wasn’t the ceiling of Block 2; this one was much, much closer to her head. She blinked again, and tried to lift her head. She found it bound to the … bed? … that she laid upon. She couldn’t turn to either side, and her hands and feet were also tied down. She did her best to not panic. “Hello?” she called. Her throat was sore and dry. “Is anyone there?”
“Doctor!” yelled a man’s voice. Jo couldn’t see who it was, and he didn’t come into view.
A moment later, a middle-aged woman wearing cracked eyeglasses and a too-worn blue medical cap appeared over her head. “Hello, Jo!”
Jo breathed in relief. “Hey, Kelly. Am I glad to see you!”
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see you. It’s only been a few days,” said Kelly dryly. She reached down and pulled out Jo’s chart, a small blackboard, from the side of the bed.
“Muy divertido,” Jo smirked.
“You should count yourself lucky,” said Kelly. “That was one hell of a fall.”
“I don’t remember landing. I remember falling.”Jo took a deep breath. “How bad is it?”
Kelly snorted. “Honestly, the only reason that you’re held down is because I wanted to make sure you didn’t roll off the bed onto the floor before I had a chance to check you out. Otherwise, you’re the luckiest shmuck in the place. From what I understand, you landed on a sand pile, right in the middle of two boulders. If you’d been an inch in any other direction, it’d probably have been lights out.” Kelly put the chalkboard back. “What the hell were you doing up there, anyway?”
Though it took a moment of humming to reboot her memory, Jo replied: “Looking for spare parts.”
Kelly looked at Jo with a concern for her own life. “That doesn’t sound good.”
Jo tried to shake her head and found it still bound to the table. “It could be better,” said Jo. “How about you let me out of this?”
Kelly reached around and undid the strap holding Jo’s head in place, then undid her hands and feet. “Okay, try sitting up. But slowly, okay?”
Jo braced herself with her hands, and carefully pushed herself until she was sitting upright.
“How’s it feel?” asked Kelly, flicking a light in Jo’s eyes, one at a time.
“Um… okay?” Jo replied. She cringed at the bright light, which felt like it was piercing the back of her skull.
“No optic damage,” said Kelly. “Roll your head around,” she instructed. “Slowly.” Jo did as she was told. “Anything hurt? Neck, shoulders, back?”
“I don’t think so.”
“How many fingers?” asked Kelly, holding up her hand.
“Good. Can you read the bottom line?” Kelly held up a card with various sizes of text.
“Copyright 2001 The Milwaukee Corporation.”
Kelly laughed. “If you can read the mice type, you’re fine.” She pulled out the papers and quickly jotted a few notes. “Anything else feel sore?”
Jo moved her limbs, breathed deeply a few times. “Just the back of my neck. And I’ve got a bit of a headache.”
“The girl falls a storey, misses having her brains turned into jelly, and all she has is a headache,” muttered Kelly. She felt the back of Jo’s head carefully. “Anything sore back here?”
“Nope,” said Jo. “I wish you had some aspirin, though.”
“Don’t we all,” agreed Kelly. She tapped Jo’s knees with a small rubber hammer. Jo’s knees jerked stereotypically. “Well, near as I can tell, you got off scot-free. No so much as a bruise. Stop keeping all our luck for yourself. Share the wealth, will ya?”
“I guess I was born lucky,” Jo laughed lightly.
Kelly shook her head. “Honey, you’d have to have a whole herd of horseshoes up your ass to explain how you’ve managed to not be killed so many times. You haven’t even had so much as a broken toe! The only thing you do when you come in here is,” Kelly jabbed her finger into Jo’s chest as she spoke, “waste my time!”
“Better your time than my life?” Jo offered.
Kelly pursed her lips. “Don’t tempt me.”
“Well, thank you all the same, Kelly. I’m glad to know it’s nothing more serious,” said Jo. “Though I do have to ask … how’d I get here? I’ll assume I didn’t walk.”
“Him,” said Kelly, indicating the man standing to one side. The man was thin, and young. His clothes, a long-sleeved red shirt rolled to his elbows and blue jeans, hung from him. He looked like he was in trouble for something. “He’s been here since he brought you in. That was about three hours ago, in case you were wondering.”
Jo looked at the man, and registered nothing. “Um. Thank you,” she said. “How…?”
“I heard the girder crash. I was afraid there was a collapse,” he said. “I went to look.”
“Most people run away when something falls apart,” said Jo.
“I … um, I thought I could help,” the man said quietly.
“Well, you did,” said Kelly.
“What’s your name?” Jo asked.
“Donner Vasquez,” he replied with a nod.
“Gracias, Donner. Estoy en deuda con usted,” she said.
“Ah, ¿no habla español?” she asked.
“I’m … um, I don’t speak Spanish.”
“If you’re done introducing yourselves, I need the bed space!” said Kelly.
“Oh no. More tunnelling injuries?” asked Jo.
“Always,” said Kelly. “I swear they must just stand there and wait for rocks to fall on them. I’ve already seen four of them this morning, which means there should be another one coming any minute.”
“They’re in the best hands,” said Jo, giving Kelly a quick hug.
“They’re in the only hands,” smiled Kelly. “Just do me a favor?”
“Get some help before you do something that stupid again.”
Jo nodded. “I will. Thanks, Kelly.”
“Thank him, not me. He kept you from being buried alive,” said Kelly, as she left.
Jo shot a look at Donner. “What?”
“The, uh, girder shook loose a lot of sand,” he explained. “I had some trouble getting you out of it.”
“I see,” Jo nodded solemnly. “And, uh, how did you do that?”
“Well, I figured that climbing into the sand would likely get me in the same trouble. So I found a metal pole, made a hook, and pulled you out.”
“‘Made a hook’,” Jo repeated. “Just out of curiosity, Donner, what’s your work assignment?”
“General laborer,” he sighed. “Whatever needs doing.”
Jo hopped down carefully from the bed. Holding onto the edge, she took a few tentative steps. Everything felt otherwise fine. “Are you on shift?” she asked as she walked around the tiny room.
“Uh, yeah,” he said worriedly.
“Don’t worry. Tell Bonnie that if she doesn’t give you a good ticket, I’m gonna kick her ass. Tell her Jo said so,” she grinned.
“Oh… okay,” he said. “Thanks.”
“No, thank you, Donner. You saved my life. I hope I can return the favor at some point.”
“Well, I won’t be falling into pits of sand, if I can help it,” Donner laughed lightly.
“You’d better not,” said Jo, giving Donner a quick hug. “Okay, go. Keep your rations.”