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A new world...|...new lands to explore...|...and stories within stories to tell.|Welcome to SJORIA

New Story: Grace's Ark

To preface this post, I need to explain that Mae and I have been brain-storming again. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Well, not too afraid. Anyway, we decided that in order to tell SJORIA's story properly, we need to start at the beginning. The *very* beginning. Here is a sneak peek of our latest project...


It was the morning of the second Tuesday in February, 2046. Like many Tuesdays as came before it, the sun rose around a quarter after 7 AM. First morning’s light came without fanfare, in fact, were it not for the necessities of day to day life, which ran more by the face of the clock than by the colour of the sky, it may have gone completely unnoticed. You see, it was a fairly drizzly morning. The skies were still dark, and thus not much reminiscent of a sunrise. Besides the rain, it was a perfectly normal sort of Tuesday, and with the emergence of dawn came also the emergence of young children on their way to school, and men and women, mostly elders, on their way to work.
They would walk, of course, as times were hard and travel by vehicle was more of a rarity in those days. The commodities used to power said vehicles had become a privilege most could no longer afford, especially in the quiet little town of Onalaska, Washington. The people came together and made due, or better, as they always did. The two hundred year old smokestack near Carlisle Lake still stood as a testament to that. When the old Carlisle lumber mill went out of business, their great great grandmothers and grandfathers hadn’t panicked: they banded together as merchants and farmers and kept the sleepy town alive. Now, in the heat of what some were beginning to call World War III, their descendants and those of newcomers whom had picked up the community spirit were still trucking on, making their mark on the world in their own way. If there came a challenge, they would meet it. If there was a need, they would fill it. It was the way things had always been in Onalaska. In recent years, it had been called a tiny town of big people and big dreams. But the people did more than dream. They made the miraculous happen.

Onalaska’s population had swollen to around 7,000 in the past fifteen years, since the opening of the Centralia Alpha Space & Biological Research Center. This was the brainchild of Dr. Grace Kidd and her husband, Jack. Funded by local investors and some government grants, it employed some 500 scientists, engineers, and researchers, in addition to local staff and maintenance, and brought dreamers from far and wide at its conception. The team’s lofty goal was to design the means whereby man could someday explore potentially life-supporting planets beyond the stars.
As it turned out, “someday” started tomorrow at noon. Dr. Kidd, like many who worked outside of town, had been up long before the sun. Her morning started at precisely 4 AM with a cup of coffee and a kiss from Jack. They had a hasty breakfast of bagels with apple butter. Then Jack put on his coat, Grace swept her thick black curls into a ponytail, and they set off into the dark. By 7, the pair of them were shuffling with their umbrellas down Centralia Alpha Road towards the research facility, some six or seven miles from their humble abode in Onalaska. They could not see the building yet, for on either side of the road rose many of Washington’s great evergreens. They said little. That particular Tuesday afforded them little to say and too much to think about. It had a week to the day since the first nuclear weapon of “World War III” had been deployed.
More than 238,000 innocent lives had been lost, for what the enemy trumpeted as “a warning” and allies decried a shot in the dark that had missed its intended target by nearly half the continent. But the crudeness of the attack would not nullify its implications. Two hundred, thirty-eight thousand people… each one a mother, a father, a child, a sibling, a friend, a man or woman with hopes and dreams and stories that now would never be told. If you will take a moment to imagine more than just numbers, but faces and names, perhaps those of people you know and love, you may begin to imagine how it felt to live in such times as I have just described. Regardless of how or when the enemy had managed to obtain or build the weapon, its execution had created a terrible new reality in which death could come at any time, without reason or much warning. It shattered the notion that a worldwide nuclear conflict was impossible. Now, it was speculated that it could be inevitable, for how else would the powers that be fight an enemy with such great power and such little discretion?

The rain started to let up some. “It’s warm, isn’t it,” Jack muttered quietly as he folded up his umbrella, “For the season.” It wasn’t a question, merely an observation, which would be better translated as It’s a sorry state of things, Grace, a sorry state.
She glanced at him and smiled a little. He adjusted his glasses and looked up at her, as he was a portly man who stood about a foot shorter than her at five-foot-two. Behind his thick lenses, his intelligent blue eyes seemed small on his large, round face. The creases of forty-two years of smiles and worries chiselled his round, rosy features. He had started balding in his mid-twenties, and by now all that was left of his youthful golden mane was behind his head and about his ears. She took his hand in hers reassuringly, a gesture which meant, No matter what happens, we’re together in this.
He gave her a quick squeeze as if to say, Yes, we are. “You’re wearing red today,” he said aloud, which meant, You look lovely. You always look so lovely. How did I get so lucky as to get to be your husband? She smiled in full and looked down. How he admired her confident gait, her intense, dark brown eyes, the defined square of her jaw. He noted that she hadn’t had the time that morning to apply her makeup--dark mahogany, mink, and highlights of gold which she preferred so as to compliment her deep brown complexion--but the lack thereof hardly detracted from her beauty. There was the hidden smile at the edge of her pouty lips, where the corners turned slightly up naturally so that sometimes she looked like she was smiling even when she was not. He remembered it used to drive her crazy when they were young teens and he would mistake her for not taking situations seriously.
Grace looked up just as the trees began to thin and the research facility came into view. Truth be told, it looked more like a low hill off the roadside, with small douglas firs and lush grey-green and russet flora growing across its head. The Kidds had partnered with the local landowners and Washington Farm Forestry Association to design the lab in such a way as to not interfere with the land’s productivity. Fifteen years ago, the lot had been cleared and harvested in the usual fashion, but rather than going right to planting new trees, the landowners had allowed the excavation and development of the facility. Once it was finished, it was covered with earth and the new trees were sewn right on top. In another fifteen years, nuclear devastation notwithstanding, the trees would be harvested and the forestry cycle would be repeated. The only thing that differentiated CASBRC from the regular landscape were the stone steps leading down into the round top alcove entrance of the research center.
The Kidds proceeded down the stone steps and stopped at the glass doors of the research center. Grace took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “By tonight, it’ll be as good as done,” she said without looking at him. She grasped the door handles, but hesitated a moment before opening them. Finally she concluded, “Tomorrow is our last day on Earth.” She meant it exactly the way she said it.
Jack nodded quietly. For better or for worse, that was certainly so.

They entered into the facility onto a chromium deck which overlooked CASBRC’s main hall.  From there they could see the whole of the circular great room, front desk at its center, and doorways to the five halls at regular intervals, which branched out to the main laboratories of research. The white interior and clear bright wall fixtures throughout gave the whole facility a fresh, clean atmosphere.
. They continued at a brisk walk down the spiral flight of stairs. There were elevators, of course, but they had been decommissioned with the onset of the war to conserve energy. The power they had was sourced from their own solar-hydro generator, and would be put to better use powering the ventilation systems and lights.
“Good morning, Grace. Morning, Jack,” said Kailee Burke, one of the two secretaries working at the front desk. The other was Aslan Garcia. He seemed lost in a particularly engrossing novel and only looked up when Kailee nudged him.
“Oh, sorry. Hi Mr. and Mrs. Boss!” the lanky twenty-something said with a wide smile.
“What’s that you’re reading, Mr. Garcia?” Jack inquired.
“Oh, this?” asked Aslan, raising the book. He flipped it closed and examined the front cover with a troubled expression, as if he had forgotten. “It’s an old classic, one of Mi Abuela’s favorites. I guess it’s about a boy wizard or something. I’m on book three. You probably wouldn’t be interested though, sir, it’s not really your thing.”
Grace smiled. “Why is that?”
“Well, you know, it’s not really academic. It was written back in the 2k-Zeroes, when you could actually get away with writing big fat serials. Book three’s over a hundred thousand words, just by itself.” He whistled. “Nobody dedicates that much time to fiction these days. Kids’ attention spans must’ve been a lot longer back then. It’s just a bunch of fluff, really.”
“That just might be my favourite kind,” Jack said. Grace’s eyes twinkled with amusement, but Jack had said it so casually it was hard to tell if he were serious or not. His voice was always so level and straightforward, you might be tempted to believe whatever he said was fact, even if he were joking.
“Dr. Grace?” said Kailee. “Miss Bateman from the Onalaska High School called. She would like to know the feasibility of scheduling a tour of the Space Wing for the freshman next week. After the terrible events of last week, she wanted to give the teens a more optimistic take on the future. I know we’re scheduled to be really busy in the coming months, but she was insistent, so I told her I would ask you and Jack about it.”
“Thank you, Miss Burke. I’ll bring it up before the board of directors this afternoon.”
“Thanks Grace.”
Jack had been looking over the sign-in sheet at the desk. “Dr. Poulson isn’t in yet?”
“No sir, which is odd, he’s usually here even before I am,” said Kailee.
Jack tightened his lips. “Hmm.” He looked at Grace.
“Page us as soon as he checks in, will you?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Thank you. We’ll be in the Main Wing. And Mr. Garcia--” He snapped his head up from the book again, his eyes wide and brows high. Grace chuckled. “Keep reading those classics. Even the fluffiest tale could have the power to open your mind to a new perspective, and that’s a key you can use to get into locked doors.”
“Will do, Mrs. Boss,” he said with a sideways smile.
The Kidds continued on their way towards the Main Wing. “What do you suppose is keeping Dr. Poulson?” Grace asked after they had crossed the threshold of the main hallway.
“Hmm, could be anything.”
“Well, not anything. Nothing good could have held him up, I’m afraid.”

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