“We need to move some of these people out,” said Jo. She stood in one of the intersections of the second level of tunnels, talking with Carl, Smiley, and Francis. It was a tight conversation, the four of them barely able to find space to stand amongst the throng of people that hummed like a relaxed herd of seals.
“Finally!” Carl exclaimed.
“Did Erik approve this?” asked Smiley. He garnered a harsh look from both Carl and Francis.
Jo shook her head. “Not yet. It’s dangerous to have this many people in here, someone’s going to get hurt. We have to thin out who’s in here, get them into the safer parts of the ARCH until we tunnel at least another level. I think we can agree on that?”
Carl nodded. “Yeah. Exactly. So how many can we put back?”
“There’s, what, nearly five thousand in the atrium at any moment?”
“Give or take,” said Francis. “I think I counted around that the last time I looked.”
“You did a full circuit of the ARCH?” asked Carl. “What does it look like?”
“The atrium’s shot. About a quarter of the roof went down. The side end is fine, but it’s almost impossible to breathe in there, without the noise. Fortunately, that’s about as far as the damage got: only Block 4 is really affected, and only the atrium. The lower decks are fine, and with the doorways to the atrium sealed, we can easily get back into the greenhouse, kitchen, dining hall, toilets, and the workshop. We can spread people out around the ARCH, and keep some in here. Once the rooms are carved out, we can set up racks in here.”
“So we can move almost half of everyone in here,” said Carl, sweeping his arms.
“Ish,” added Jo. “Enough at least to make things here less cramped. And then we can worry about fixing the roof.”
“Really?” asked Francis. “Why bother?”
“Time,” said Jo. “We’re nowhere near ready for the population in here. The longer we keep the ARCH up, the longer we have to get things ready. We might not put anyone back in the atrium, but we’ve got to keep the hole closed so the wind and sand doesn’t do any more damage.”
Carl nodded. “The longer we have, the more time we have to tunnel—“
“We need to tunnel quickly, Carl. I’m not talking about weeks or months. I’m saying days or hours. That roof collapse was out of nowhere. I can’t actually tell you how it happened. My gut says there was no reason for it to fall. That means we have a critical problem, why I think we don’t have long. But we can’t keep everyone in here. We need food harvested, our waste processing is out there, our core infrastructure is all out there. We’re not ready in here. Not yet.”
Carl nodded again. “I won’t argue.”
“Bueno,” Jo said cautiously, studying Carl. “Let’s move out who we can for now.”
“How quickly can we have additional tunnel space?” asked Jo, looking at Smiley.
Smiley looked awkwardly at Carl for a moment. “Eh, two weeks?”
Jo mulled the time. “How many can we get into a tunnel?”
“With or without rooms?” asked Carl.
“How long does it take to dig out a room?” asked Jo.
“A couple of days, depending on the rock,” said Smiley.
“How many rooms are we supposed to have on each level?” Jo asked.
“Eighty,” Smiley said slowly.
“Eighty,” Carl confirmed.
“How … how do we get everyone out of there and in here?” asked Jo. “That’s not enough space!”
“We’ve got some ideas,” Carl said quickly. “Can we move people out now? We need to get digging.”
Jo nodded. “Sí. I’ve barricaded the atrium from the tunnel entrance, so we can move people out into the other blocks. I suggest we get the gardeners, kitchen staff, and delivery staff back on duty, get people eating again.”
“I think we should move the wounded out, too,” said Carl. “They’re not doing well in here. Is the infirmary intact?”
“Kelly will have to approve it, but structurally it seems okay,” said Jo.
“So we’re agreed?” Carl asked.
“Not exactly,” said Bonnie, hopping around people to join the group. “I’m not sure I want to go back in there.”
Carl groaned. “Bonnie, this is a Council call.”
Bonnie snorted. “You’re a person short. Where’s Erik? He’s the Chair now, he should be making a final decision, right?” None of the Council moved. Jo rubbed her fingers together and tried not to stare too intently at the floor. “Really? You’re going to act like you didn’t hear me?”
“It’s not that, Bonnie,” said Francis. “What do you want us to do?”
Bonnie folded her arms. “Oh, I dunno, maybe find him and involve him?”
“We have been looking for him!” Carl grumbled. “He’s nowhere in the tunnels, and no-one’s seen him in the ARCH.”
“He went looking for Jo, last I heard!” said Bonnie, glaring at Jo. “A repeat of the other night?” she asked. Jo blushed, but said nothing.
Smiley frowned. “A repeat of what?”
Francis ignored Smiley’s question. “Well, where is he, Jo?”
“I dunno,” Jo answered quickly.
“Yeah, that sounds believable,” Bonnie said. “Out with it!”
Francis piped up next. “Sorry, Jo, but this is kind of important. Where did you last see him?”
Jo shook her head in refusal. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Carl shook his head in disbelief. “This isn’t a ‘want’, Jo. This is a ‘need’. Where’s Erik?” he asked sternly.
“You’re not in charge,” Jo snapped.
“Neither are you!” he returned. “And you’re acting like it. Now, where is Erik?”
“I don’t care,” Jo grumbled. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”
“They had a fight,” Bonnie mused. “Big one too, I’d wager.”
Jo’s eyes flared. “Shut up! It’s none of your business.”
Bonnie stepped around Francis, and stood toe-to-toe with Jo. “It is my business when you refuse to help. Your little lover’s quarrel is getting in the way of getting things done. I don’t know what you two talked about, and I really don’t care. What I do care about is talking to him, now.”
Jo gritted her teeth. “I don’t—“
“What are you hiding?” Bonnie demanded.
“I’m… nothing!” Jo balked.
Bonnie snorted again. “You’re hiding something. You don’t want to talk about it. And we don’t care what it is. Erik is needed here, now, regardless of your stupid ego.”
“Ego? How the hell—“
“You strut around here like you own the place, you went to Batesworth when you didn’t get your way, you argued with everyone because it had to be your way, and no-one else’s. You never listened to anyone else’s opinion, and god forbid someone said you were wrong,” Bonnie snarled. “So stow it, missy. Your attitude isn’t winning anyone here today!”
Carl looked half-admirably and half-astonished at Bonnie. He nodded slowly, and looked at Jo. “Bonnie’s right. Enough’s enough. Now.”
Jo looked at all the others. They all looked back at her. The wall behind her suddenly felt far too close for comfort. “The last time I saw him was in the greenhouse,” she muttered. “We had a fight. That was three hours ago. I don’t know where he is now.”
Carl scratched his head. “Alright, we’ll have to just deal with it for now.” He looked at Bonnie. “Okay?”
“Whatever,” Bonnie shrugged.
“Jo, can you get the gardeners going?” asked Carl. “I’ll talk to Kelly. Bonnie, find the kitchen staff and get them running. Then let’s have everyone who wasn’t living in the atrium back to their rooms, and we’ll sort out what’s left.” The group nodded, and broke up.
Jo found Anita and the gardeners in a corner on the third level. They had left the greenhouse, each carrying a plant, in the event of complete catastrophe. “Es el momento de volver,” she said.
“¿Estas seguro?” asked Anita. “Yo no quiero estar ahí abajo si algo más se reduce de nuevo.”
“Creo que sí. El efecto invernadero no sufrió daños, y el RAMC es estable por ahora,” Jo explained.
“Eso suena como ‘tal vez’ para mí,” said Anita.
Jo held her hands together. “Lo sé. Odio preguntar esto, pero te necesitamos ahora mismo. Todos nosotros. Sin ustedes, nos morimos de hambre.” Jo took Anita’s hands in her own. Sé que usted no se siente seguro. Si yo fuera usted, no me siento seguro, tampoco. Tú me conoces, Anita. Usted sabe cómo trabajo, tú sabes que yo quiero para mantener a todos a salvo. No voy a pedir que te vayas. No quiero hacerlo, y me odiaría por hacerlo. Yo no le pido que vaya, si yo pensaba que estaría en peligro. Es seguro. Confía en mí. ¿Por favor?”
“Okay,” Anita nodded with a grim smile. She waved to the others, who all started to head out of the tunnels. Almost immediately, a wave of clapping and cheering followed them, and they saw every starting to smile, brightness coming back to their eyes. Normally tucked away from view, none of the gardeners spent much time away from the greenhouses, except for sleeping. By the time they left the tunnels, they all walked a little taller. The kitchen staff, as unrecognized as the gardeners, received nearly the same reaction when they left a few minutes later. Normalcy, it seemed, would come back soon.
The winds were inside; the Banshee was inside.
Jo stood at the other end of the atrium, away from the hole, studying it. There had to be a way to repair it. They had built it once before, out of scrap bits and a lot of willpower. There was nothing stopping them from doing it again. Except for the wind. And the wind had an awful lot to say.
“¿No has matado a suficientes personas?” Jo asked of the wind. “¡Esta es mi casa! ¡El hecho de que hayas llegado a nuestra fiesta no significa que puedas quedarte! ¡Eres un invitado no invitado!” The sand continued to swirl about in its own conversation, unaware of the animate being’s admonishment.
She felt the thumping coming from behind before she could hear it. She smiled and turned: “Look, Erik, I’m sorry for earlier, it’s just that—“ She blinked. “Sorry, I thought you were Erik.
Donner looked terrible. His face had the look of someone with urgent bad news. “Jo! You need to hide!”
Jo’s face scrunched. “What? Why?”
“They think you killed him!” he blurted.
Jo’s blood froze, knowingly.“Killed who? Who’s dead?!”
Donner froze. He hadn’t expected her to not know.
She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook. “Who died, Donner??” Jo’s voice panicked.
Donner replied. He was so quiet that the hurricane at the other end of the room stole the sound before it had even left his mouth. Jo heard enough for panic to spread from her voice to the rest of her. Her response barely left her lips.
Running was only possible in areas that had been evacuated, immediately slowed by clusters of people returning to the ARCH. She pushed through, careened off of walls and open structures, caught herself on exposed ridges and edges, and even fell a flight of stairs, all in the urgent need to get to the greenhouse.
The gardeners were outside, huddled in a group. They whimpered, cried, and consoled one another. A few sat in shock. She rushed up to them. “¿Donde?”
They looked back in horror. Jo wasn’t certain if it had been the horror of the event, or of they had seen something in herself. One of them pointed inside the greenhouse, and whispered: “Allí”.
Bursting through the barriers, Jo immediately drew the attention of Kelly, who was perched over something shrouded behind a row of potato plants, and Carl, who stood beside Kelly. The look on Kelly’s face was enough to convey the news. Carl preferred more direct means: “Stop her!”
Gary appeared to one side, and Dylan to the other. Jo darted before they could grab her. She ran through an asparagus patch to avoid them, jumped over a row of potato plants, and rounded a water barrel. Gary gave up after the first few paces, Dylan followed Carl’s hand signals to come in around to prevent Jo from escaping.
Not that she was going to try.
When she saw the body, all strength went from her legs, her momentum sent her flying to the ground. The small stones that formed the floor of the greenhouse dug into her palms, reopening her scarcely bound wound. Jo didn’t notice, she had gone numb. Her jaw trembled, her heart banged erratically, her eyes wanted to fly from their sockets, her ears heard nothing but the sound of blood draining from her skull. A strained, squeaky whisper eked from deep within, a piece of her soul rushing free from herself to join the one to which it had bonded.
Erik’s body lay next to the potato plants, effectively shielding it from anyone not venturing far enough into the greenhouse to see it. His head would have been facing Jo’s direction, if it hadn’t the appearance of having been imploded. She couldn’t see his eyes, but there was no mistaking the beard, or the shirt. His blood had poured all over the ground, and even the floor’s ability to soak up spills had been taxed with Erik’s demise.
Gary and Dylan appeared at Jo’s side, forcing her to the ground.
“Why?!” Jo cried. “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!”
“Jo,” Kelly started calmly. “It’s not good for you to be here. You need to leave.”
“Please! I want to know what happened!! Who did this?!”
“You did,” said Carl, calmly. “Your little performance there is pretty good, but we don’t give out Oscars anymore.”
“Fuck you!!” Jo screeched. “I didn’t kill him!!”
“Huh,” muttered Carl. He squatted down next to Erik’s smashed corpse and prodded a bloody clump with a gardening spade. “You know what this is?” He didn’t expect — or wait for — an answer. “It’s a neat little gadget, with all sorts of little tools … and knives. Like the one that apparently slashed Erik’s throat. He bled out. But you know that, of course.”
Jo’s sorrow had retreated, hiding in the corner as its darker sibling, fear, took hold. “What is that?” She already knew. Fear had already told her how everything was about to unfold. And fear was having a heyday.
Carl looked at the blob thoughtfully. “You don’t recognize it? Hmm, maybe all that blood does make it a bit difficult. I suppose that happens when it starts to dry from being out for so long—“
“It’s mine,” whispered Jo. It had been more of a question than a statement, meant mostly to confirm the script her fear had been reading out to her.
Kelly tried to look Jo in the eyes. “Jo, you don’t have—“
“Yours,” Carl nodded.
“I lost it in the rush to get into the tunnels,” she said, holding up her bloodied palm. Kelly immediately grabbed it, and wrapped a torn cloth over the wound.
“I see,” Carl mused. “Convenient. And the argument you had with him? How bad was it? Did he accuse you of being abrasive and arrogant? Did he hurt your feelings?”
Jo’s face flipped into fight. “I swear I’m gonna—“ Gary shoved Jo down hard.
“Kill me?” Carl finished. “I wouldn’t doubt it. You did a pretty good job on your boyfriend. I wonder how he looked when you stabbed him. I wonder if all the love you exchanged ran as brightly as his blood.”
Jo screamed. She screamed in protest. She screamed in anger. She screamed in anguish. She screamed to be heard. She screamed to be freed. She screamed in fear. She screamed against nature. She screamed against humanity. She screamed to be saved. She screamed to kill. She screamed so powerfully that she thought that her vocal cords would shear. She screamed so long that she worried her lungs might collapse. She screamed so perfectly that four nearby glass panes in the greenhouse shattered.
When Jo had finally ran out of breath, Carl motioned for Gary to tie Jo’s hands behind her back, and wrap another rope around her head, and through her mouth. “Get her out of here,” he said lowly. Gary and Dylan hauled Jo to her feet. She struggled against then, and tried to kick them. Carl walked up swiftly and socked her across the temple with his fist.
As Jo’s head flopped about in a daze, Carl came close. “You know, I talked with José after Henry had died. He had an interesting thought,” Carl said. “He told me that the Banshee isn’t outside. She’s right here, with us. You never get hurt, have you noticed that? You’re always the one who escapes death. That’s because you are death. You bring it with you. Everyone who’s died here has been around you, or near you. You killed Henry. You killed the Professor. And now you’ve killed Erik. Well, it stops now.” He leaned in close to her ear. “We’re putting you outside, where you belong.”