27 September 2012
As they flew northwest they saw mostly desert below, occasionally crossed by spidery aqueducts and tiny patches of green where oxygroves grew around a spring. It would have been tempting to land in one of these oases but the groves were turning yellow and Holden remembered enough from his school days to know that meant the leaves were dying which meant that they would eventually stop producing oxygen.
In the crystal dome on dark days the nuclear power plant generated light that kept the oxygen producing plants alive. But there were no power plants in this vast desert. “We should head south,” said Jihi. “There must be oxygroves down there that stay green all year round.”
“That takes us too close to the Organarium,” said Holden. “There used to be evergreen forests in the north. Maybe there still are. If you see anything green you’ll know it has to be producing its own O2.”
“I don’t see colors,” said Jihi, “at least not the way you do. I’m visually blind. I ‘see’ with my ears and I hear colors but not the ones you see. But obviously I can’t hear the landscape through this synthglass bubble.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Holden.
When they came to the coast the sun was descending in sumptuous splendour of purple and gold then its light was swallowed up and they kept flying through the dark until the moon broke thru bright-edged clouds, illuminating the sinuous line where waves continued to break as they had always done but now on a sterile shore. He was starting to nod when his sleepy brain caught the light, a tiny beam of light that blinked and rotated as it swept the sterile sea. Holden pushed the lift stick forward and the hovertruck descended and circled the gleaming source. The beam rotated from the top of a dark tower on a high headland that jutted far out into the ocean. By moonlight he could see just well enough to set the hovertruck down on a beach in a rocky cove below. Then he lay back in his seat and closed his eyes. He was so sleepy there was nothing else that he could do.
In the morning they strapped on their lung beans and weapons and found an ancient trail that led them to the top of the ridge. It was dotted with cone grass and small tetratrees, still deep green but too small to shelter an animal as large as a woman or a man. They were both very thirsty so they chewed blades of cone grass and sucked them dry. The tower loomed above them now, its light no longer flashing. They hesitated for a moment. “Maybe we should go to the mainland,” said Holden. “I’m sure there are larger trees there. These are small because they’re exposed to the wind.”
Jihi smiled and shook her head.
The round, cement block tower still bore flaking yellow paint on its southern side and there was a concrete stair that wound up to a red steel door. Holden tried it without luck then stood back and used his new heat gun to melt the lock. They stepped inside, pulled the door shut behind them and stepped into an airlock. He removed the stem of his lung bean to test the air. It was stale and devoid of oxygen. He looked around and found a switch panel. He tried a switch. It turned the anteroom light on and off. Another switch did nothing then he saw a dusty red knob, brushed off the dust and saw the white letter O. He pressed the knob and something large began to hiss and hum. Presently he tried the air again and his chest began to fill with light.