Generation Three, Chapter Fifteen
"Mojo, what's been found?" I asked, gripping the hand grip above me as the car bounced over the sand dunes. We were zipping across the desert now and, so far, I'd been given few details as to the nature of the lead. But everyone on the search team had been excited when I landed.
"It may be better for you to see..." Mojo said, sparing an apologetic glance. "It's both promising and disheartening..."
"Well now you have to tell us man," Cobalt chimed in from the backseat. He leaned forward, only to be jolted back by a large bump. "THIS is why you shouldn't have come Zuli," he pointed out, tugging at his seat belt anxiously.
Mojo glanced down at my belly and I imagined him agreeing with my brother, but he said nothing on that topic. With a sigh, he nodded, "we found a grave. Marked with a metal bar from – well it may be from a plane - and a scrape of blue fabric, which appears to have been torn from a seat."
"Blue? SimAm seats are blue," Cobalt pointed out.
"Yeah but so are the seats on a lot of planes – it's a calming color," I countered. "Have they identified the occupant of the grave?"
Mojo nodded. "It wasn't a deep grave and the sand had already begun to uncover her. Whoever buried her, wrapped her in a SimAm blanket and set her passport on her chest – so identification would be easy. She was a passenger from Flight 627," he said. The car slowed and Mojo hopped out. A crowd of people parted as we approached the marked site.
"How long do you think she's been dead?" I asked, glancing at the wrapped figure.
Mojo shrugged, "not sure – I don't think she's been dead for five months though. There's more," he said, before I could press. "After finding this one, I brought in the whole team and sent them out in every direction." He pointed northeast, "there are two more graves this way. One, about forty-seven kilometers, the other another twenty-three kilometers. Both on the passenger list. We think this one," he said, pointing to the grave at our feet, "was the most recent. Suggesting, they came from the northeast."
"And that at least one person is still out there," I said, turning the opposite direction. "Heading that direction. Someone had to bury this person."
Mojo nodded. "I've got teams going in both directions and we've got an expert coming in to examine the remains. I hope that's alright."
"Why wouldn't it be?" I asked, my brain in a fog.
"Well you sign the checks on all this," he pointed out with a small laugh. At that moment, his radio squeaked to life and he spent a moment speaking in an unfamiliar language. "The northeastern team has found something," he said, making a beeline for the jeep. Reluctantly, I turned away from the southern direction and followed Cobalt and Mojo, climbing into the passenger seat.
We drove for over an hour before the broken rim of the plane came into view. One side had a gaping hole in it and most of it was buried but it was definitely a passenger jet. The nose piece, cockpit and first class section was completely missing, possibly torn off during the landing. In the sand to the left of the hole were rows and rows of graves, each marked in the same way as the others. "There are only seventy-five," I said, counting the markers for a third time.
"Well half the plane is missing," Mojo pointed out, scanning the horizon for any sign of it. "How many were on the flight?"
"Ninety-eight including the crew. Ten first class passengers, the pilot, co-pilot and navigator would have been in the forward section. Probably at least one flight attendant. That's fourteen. Plus seventy-eight graves so far."
"That's only ninety-two. Six unaccounted for," Cobalt said, placing his hand on my back.
"It's possible the other two flight attendants were in the front so maybe only four..." I said, still staring at the graves.
One of Mojo's men emerged from the body of the plane, "no one on board anymore. All the luggage is open and there's not a scrap of food or water anywhere in there. Lots of wrappers though."
"They probably stayed here as long as they could – hoping for rescue. The body of the plane would provide shelter," Mojo surmised. Cobalt was nodding with him as well. "The Bekmes is over three hundred thousand kilometers at it's widest point, without knowing where they were or which way was closest to civilization, staying put probably seemed like the best idea."
"Then why leave?" I asked.
"A few months with no sign of another human being – had to wear on them mentally. Maybe they figured they had a better chance of being rescued out there," Mojo offered, with a shrug.
As I stared out across the harsh desert, I felt Cobalt shift behind me. "There's hope ZuZu, why don't we go back to base camp while these people are identified?" Even as he said it, a squad of jeeps rolled up and people started climbing out to begin excavating and transporting the bodies back to the city. Soon, they'd all be on their way back to their families.
I nodded, reluctantly. As much as I wanted to stay, I knew it was time to start making calls. The press would have the story soon enough and I wanted the families to hear from me first. I waved Mojo over, "I need to make some calls, can someone drive us back to camp?"
Cobalt raised his hand, "I'll drive – if it's okay."
Mojo nodded and tossed him the keys to jeep. He unclipped his radio and handed it to me. "Channel three. I'll relay the identities to you as we uncover them – I assume you want to call the families personally." He'd already given me the names from the other three graves on the ride over – I'd be calling them first.
"Thanks," I said, taking the offered radio and nodding. "Call in extra people – locals, anything. I want the forward section found, and any survivors."
"Yes ma'am, already on it," he said. "Drive carefully. There's GPS on the dash and water in the back."
By the time we'd reached camp, nearly two hours from the crash site, I had the complete list – which didn't have Lochi's name on it. Of the seventy-five graves, two were flight attendants as I suspected. Three out of the flight's five children were buried as well. Cobalt hovered, just out of earshot, as I started making calls. Although there were a lot of tears, there was also a lot of relief at finally having an answer. I called Crete Dingley last and offered him the chance to call the crew's families.
Emotionally drained, I leaned back against the wooden support beam and tossed the phone on the cot. Outside, Cobalt must have sensed the shift because he poked his head around the door. "How you doing?"
"Been better, been worse," I said. I unclipped the radio from my belt and offered it to him. "Wake me up if anything new happens. Anything Cobalt – okay?" He nodded and took the radio from me, then let the door close behind him.
Though it felt like mere minutes, I must have slept for a few hours before Cobalt shook me awake. Outside, harsh, electric lights lit up the camp as night had fallen. "ZuZu, wake up!" Outside, I heard the rev of jeeps as they pulled into camp and the flurry of footsteps as people ran out to greet them.
"Medic! We need a medic!" It was Mojo's shouting that got me moving. "We found six Zuli – they're still alive!" he called out, as he spotted me running toward the chaos. Four of the six moved under their own power, though obviously hungry and dehydrated. They were led toward one tent, which was quickly being converted into the medical center.
The fifth, a young child, clung tightly to Lochi's arm, unwilling to release him. I pushed through the crowd and gave her a reassuring smile. "Coral? Your name is Coral right?" She nodded timidly, with fat tears in her eyes. "My name is Lazuli, I'm a friend of Lochi's and I'm a friend of your mom's." Now her eyes grew wide and she peered out around the crowd hopefully. "If you come with me, we can call her together? Would you like that?" Coral released Lochi's arm immediately and allowed me to scoop her into my arms so the others could move Lochi into the medical tent. She started to struggle as he disappeared in the crowd. "Shh, he'll be okay – they're going to to take care of him," I said, trying to reassure both of us.
A few minutes later, we were settled back in the tent and I pulled out my phone to show her. She didn't know her number but she recognized a picture of Akaroa I had in my contacts and started to get excited. As I placed the call, Cobalt showed up with a bottle of water for the tot and settled down in the chair across from us. After a couple rings, Akaroa picked up and the water was forgotten. "Momma!" Coral shouted reaching for the phone at the sound of her mother's voice. "Momma, you dare?"
On the other end I heard Akaroa sobbing. I stood up and Cobalt nodded, reassuring me he'd watch the child. I ran for the medical tent and saw the other conscious passengers had all been given phones to call their families and a tray of food and water. "They're alright mostly, walked at night and rationed the water they had as much as possible. They were lucky – there have been some rains lately so they were able to collect more," Mojo said, slipping in beside me. "They said he led them out and always gave up his water for the kid," he added, pointing toward Lochi's still form.
"Is he..." I gulped, stepping closer to Lochi. The locals parted immediately, only the medic stayed as he inserted an IV into Lochi's wrist. "Is he going to be okay?"
The medic glanced over at me and shrugged sadly, "I don't know yet. He's breathing at least..."After doing all he could, the medic turned toward the others, waiting patiently as they spoke to their loved ones. "Hopefully some fluids and some food is all they need but the doctor should be here by morning to check everyone out."
Mojo dispersed the observers and brought me a chair before leaving himself. I settled down beside Lochi and took his hand in mine. I felt the tears streaming down my face but did nothing to squelch them. "You have to live Lochi," I whispered. "You have to live because it's supposed to be you and me okay? Five years from now, or ten or twenty. It will be you and me and these twins so you have to live for that. Do you hear me? You're gonna be a father..." Still clutching his hand, I laid my head against him and closed my eyes.
Around us, people celebrated the rescue and rejoiced with their families over the phone. I knew there'd be people flying in soon, ready to hug and kiss their loved ones. I knew I should make more calls – I should call Crete Dingley back at SimAm and I should call the media. I should do a lot of things but I couldn't will myself to let go of Lochi's hand. After awhile, I felt Coral climb into my lap and snuggle there. She had a fresh bandage on her arm – they'd probably given her a bag of fluids to be safe – so I knew she'd be checked over by the medics as well. "Momma come soon," she said simply.
I wasn't sure if she'd meant it as a statement or a question so I merely nodded. "She'll be here before you know it Coral. She'll be so happy to see you and I bet you've grown a lot."
"Lo-key say I big girl," she said proudly.
"Lochi is right, you'd have to be a big girl to cross a desert," I said.
"Lo-key be okay," she said. Once again, I wasn't sure if she was asking or telling but this time I offered no response. Cobalt showed up a few minutes later and scooped Coral into his arms. She was too tired to fight his attempts to tuck her into bed a couple cots away. "Nigh, nigh," she said meekly. Everyone in the cot grew silent for her and began to filter outside or lay down themselves.
"You should get some more rest ZuZu," Cobalt said quietly. "In fact I think I insist."
"Insist nothing, I'm not going anywhere," I protested, squeezing Lochi's unmoving hand. Still, a yawn broke through and Cobalt grinned triumphantly. "I'll sleep right here," I muttered, shifting in the metal chair.
"Oh no you don't. You will go lay down on a cot. I will wake you if there's any change," he said, dragging me to my feet and steering me toward the door.
"You're very over protective," I said, though I allowed myself to be directed out into the desert night. With me moving in the correct direction, Cobalt returned to the medical tent and assumed my cold, metal chair at Lochi's side.
I slept for a few hours, waking up to the sound of loud cheers and laughter within the camp. The sun wasn't completely up yet but it peeked at the edge of horizon, turning the sky pinkish orange. My phone, which I'd silenced the night before, was full of messages. I ignored them all and headed right back to the medical tent.
Cobalt was curled up on Coral's cot, his arm wrapped tightly around the child The other survivors were all crowded around Lochi's cot and talking animatedly about the rescue and their families. I spied Mojo and the medic in the mix and nudged my way through. As soon as they saw me, another cheer went up around the circle and Mojo grinned at me before standing up to offer me his chair. "I should go get an update from my team in the field," he whispered.
For a second, I considered following him – I wanted to know if the forward section of the plane had been found yet – but my eyes fell on Lochi's face for the first time that morning. His glittering aqua eyes met mine and I nearly fell from the chair as I got to my feet. "You're awake!" I said, grabbing his hand. "You're awake and alive and... oh thank the berry!"
"Zzz..." he reached for his throat with his hand and then saw the IV line extending from it. By now the bag had emptied, pumping much needed fluid back into his body, but his throat was still dry. The medic shushed him quickly and poured a cup of water, with a straw, for him. Carefully, we helped him sit up and take several slow sips. "Z-zuli," he said hoarsely.
"You shouldn't try to talk too much right off," the medic admonished. "But keep taking slow sips – not too much at once or you'll get sick." After switching the IV bag out for a fresh one, he turned his attention to the survivors and urged them all to drink and eat more. After five months lost in the desert – they didn't need to be told twice.
Coral started to stir and fussed under Cobalt's arm until his eyes opened and he shifted for her. "You have a fan there," I said, watching as Coral climbed off the cot and toddled across the room toward them. "You saved her life – maybe all their lives," I said.
"And you saved mine," he whispered, squeezing my hand. He felt the opal ring on my finger and fiddled with it a moment before smiling up at me. "You're still wearing it. Is that a yes?"
"I thought he told you not to talk," I teased, placing a finger over his lips. "I will absolutely marry you but it won't be just us for long," I said, lifting his hand to place on my baby bump. "I left China with a couple stowaways."
"A couple?" he asked, his eyes wide.
"Well, twins run in my family," I said.