Chapter 18

Antony, with quickness fit to his age, leaped up, turned to the direction to which Miriam was pointing and simultaneously reached for the binocular hanging on his neck. The old man put the gadget to his eyes, adjusted the focus and as if they’re at the distance of a couple of steps, neatly discerned a man and a woman. It seemed they just now appeared from behind the bush.
“Ahem,” he grumbled discontentedly. “Where from they’re showed up, ha? Seemingly during the last three months, we didn’t see the vagabonds. I even was happy, thinking that they’re over at last and take this, they’re here again! Honey, cock your gun but leave it on a safety lock.”
“Who’re they?” the girl asked concernedly and pulled the breech-block.
“The woman and the man,” her grandfather answered tensely.
Antony didn’t want to start any conversations. What he remembered, during the last years almost each of them ended with a shooting. That was why they just one month ago started to bring their livestock on the pasture, until that they’re arranging quick sorties to store up the hay.
And now strangers are here! The old man lifted his hand and waved it showing to aliens that they should go away as if they were able to see that clearly like he was seeing them thru his gadget. Miriam aimed them, though at that distance she was vaguely discerning who is there. Nevertheless, the new arrivals stopped and were stood motionlessly. Then one of them, the man, stretched his hand to his fellow traveler as if to introduce her. Followed to this invitation the old man began carefully examining the woman. The latter lifted her blue t-shirt up, and the old man saw blood-stained, grey bandage around her body. That was obviously the shirt of her fellow whose torso was naked.
“Damn!” Antony murmured.
“What’s up?” ¬the granddaughter asked. ”Should I shoot or into the air at first?”
“I don’t know: there’s a wounded woman out there,” her grandpa told slowly.
“So what?” the girl didn’t understand the reason for his hesitation.
The old man began thinking aloud.
“They don’t look like the robbers… maybe let’s allow them to approach us…? But what if that’s a trap? While the wounded woman distracts us, the rests, hiding behind the bushes, will attack? Ha?”
“How do you know there is anyone else? Did you notice someone?” the fear admixed to child’s voice. She helplessly looked toward her home. It’s so far – no one would come in time to reinforce them.
“No,” the old man calmed her down. “I’m considering just in case.”
Then they both became silent for a pretty long time during which Tony was deciding what to do. In the end, he said resolutely:
“OK. Let’s see.”
“What to see, grandpa?” Miriam didn’t grasp again.
Instead of the answer, the old man ordered:
“Put the gun off the detent and look around attentively. I’m going to allow them to approach…”
Seeing teenager’s astonished expression he explained:
“Don’t be surprised, they really don’t look like common hungry vagabonds. And you know what Mira? We’ve been keeping aloof for a long time here. Maybe it’s time to learn what’s happening in the rest of the world. Is it possible these ones know something and will tell us? How do you think?”
“But grandpa, a minute ago you told me about Grandma Margo, how…?” the girl didn’t finish.
“I remember that, but those tricks long ago became old. Who would plan the attack today, leaning on them?” Tony was as if convincing himself.
“I don’t know, grandpa. I never talked to other people… and why do we need to know what is going on at other places?” the girl asked with suspicion.
First Tony stared at her with a long, attentive look and then said:
“Well, honey, since you’re asking such a question, then we surely need to talk to them! But be careful!”
“OK,” the girl agreed reluctantly. “What a weapon they have?”
“A weapon? Huh, I’ve missed that, you know!” The old man became vexed. “It seems that fact assisted me to let them come – they aren’t gunned at all! That’s strange… maybe I’m too hurry?”
After a moment he slightly reformed his previous decision:
“We allow approaching only to a woman.”
The old man started beckoning them that the man should stay on the spot and the woman can move. It turned out that it’s not so easy to explain to them this idea from that distance. When strangers headed together toward them, Antony and Miriam aimed them by their guns clearly and menacingly. Patently flustered aliens immediately stopped. Seeing that, Antony pondered over and made several steps toward them at the same time asked Miriam to stay on the place. The strangers, watching this, hold a short consultation and then it seemed they grasped what’s going on. The man sat down on the grass and the woman very slowly went towards them.
Woman’s arrival dragged on and during this time the old and the young were closely searching not only her but entire surroundings. They took into account if there is anybody hiding behind the livestock? Miriam never felt such hard palpitation – previous menaces she was meeting always at home, at her fortress.
Finally having approached, the stranger stopped and let the farmers examine her. It was a woman of about forty, lean, middle height, with thick dark hair. She had a narrow face with high, pleasantly looking cheekbones. In addition to the blue t-shirt, he wore the shabby grey pants and threadbare gym-shoes. At first Tony wanted to search her, but the glance of the exhausted traveler prevented him from that.
“We’re the orderlies from the power plant,” the woman said instead of greeting. She had a low, slightly raucous voice. ”I’m Agnetha and my colleague is Hans.”
The old man and the girl silently waited for the continuation and time to time tensely looked around.
“Didn’t the electricity at your farm ever cut?” she asked an unexpected question.
“Never,” the old man answered, “are we deep in debt? That’s why you came?” He asked watchfully.
“When the famine started,” the woman went on without paying attention to his tone, “the most part of our colleagues left their duty to take care of their families. Only four of us, three men and I, remained.”
“You mean you’re the workers of nuclear electro-station and you’ve been living there for all those years? Who was giving the food to you then? Why didn’t you leave as well?” Tony even didn’t try to take on trust anything the woman said.
“Can I sit? My side…” the newcomer asked with a worn out smile.
Tony, don’t put barrel away from the woman, one more time observed the vicinities and then nodded in sign of agreement. Agnetha heavily descended on the grass and continued to talk in her style, with disjointed phrases, saving the words.
“None of us had a family, our homes are too far; we’d no chance to get there by our feet. Next, a nuclear plant is a well-defended object, almost inaccessible for any outsiders.”
Paused, she took a deep breath and then fallowed to her story:
“When the crisis just started a great store of conserved food and weapons had been delivered to the station to help us hold out on our own for some time…” she bitterly smiled, “people believed the disaster was to end soon.”
The woman asked the water and after she sipped several gulps from Tony’s flask, she proceeded with the speech.
“In reality, you know, the situation was getting worse and we understood that our supplies wouldn’t last long, we ought to think about the future. For that purpose we’d fenced a patch of land outside of station’s courtyard and put the current through the entanglement: you know, we had no lack of energy. In that way was laid out the vegetable garden.”
Agnetha sipped once again.
“Gradually, together with decreasing of the stream of starving people, our kitchen-garden got enlarged. All this time the station worked on minimal power. Besides our own needs, the electricity was distributed only to one line, where a controllable user remained according to the readings. As far as I understand now, that was your farm.”
The woman with a faint smile glanced at the surprised teenager and muted. Tony was also silent, though he didn’t stare at the woman in amazement, like a child who never saw anybody outsider in her life. He was constantly surveying the neighborhood and now gave voice to the girl to wake her up.
“It seems our cattle like this place; it’s almost motionless at that patch.”
Hearing this, the girl, as if really came to herself, turned her gaze from the not guest but a person with undefined status and carefully observed the field in every direction.
“Yes. The animals are here and there is quietness around,” she agreed with her grandfather with the appearance which showed that the later could comprehend – the girl correctly grasped his innuendo and she is concentrated again.
Turned to Agnetha, this time Tony bombarded her with harsh questions:
“So, you’re saying that you spent almost twenty years into the power station? Always stayed there, didn’t manage to connect with anybody? You, like we, also didn’t know what’s going on in the world? Have your livestock?”
“No. We didn’t have cattle,” it was evident that Agnetha is tormented with the conversation but what she could do? If she wanted to get help from these people, she ought to convince them that she deserved it. So, the woman was trying in spite of pain and extreme tiredness. She understood very well that today it’s impossible to gain anyone’s sympathy with only her appearance.
“Sir, I’ll answer your questions by turns…” Agnetha waited but Tony simulated that he didn’t hear her unfinished proposal and the woman continued: “we have the meat of the bird and the rabbit’s one. First, we caught a couple of ducks miraculously survived the massacre of those times. Then we got the rabbits remained in the same magical way. They all are in the cages. That’s it. The beef is the legend for us,” she smiled with effort.
“So you didn’t arrange the connection with anyone?” The old man showed impatience.
“Not only of our state ones, but we had the phone numbers of all Europe atomic stations too, but what benefit from it? You know that the mobile and the net fell simultaneously… but there is a satellite phone at the station. Yet it was only for connection with department and rescuers, their numbers were written in that gadget. We never use that facility before but when the time had come, nobody responded to us at those numbers. Later we countless time tried to call at another, random phones, but never meet anyone. At that point, we’re the same as you, yes.”
Such long speech finally exhausted the woman. Stopped again, she drunk quite a lot of water. Miriam yet didn’t dare to intervene in adult conversation and meanwhile, the old man thought out a new question:
“What happened next?”
“Next…” here her voice started trembling, the tears appeared at her eyes. She made a couple deep breathes and having herself calmed down, went on:
“The misfortune came unexpectedly, yesterday… I and Hans were coming back to the station after being on busyness. Tomas and Casper, our colleagues, remained at home accordingly to the rule. Hum, the station indeed long ago turned to us in home …” Here Agnetha inhaled one more time and then uttered with difficulty, “instead of them we saw a terrible scene.”
Her voice shivered again and she was forced to get one more pause. This time Tony didn’t hurry her. Soon Agnetha continued:
“I don’t know what happened… we were always concentrated. Whatever we were doing, one of us always was watcher… cameras worked every time… maybe they were spying for us…?”
The woman engrossed in thoughts, it seemed she is trying to unravel that fatal accident, to think about the case she had no opportunities till now. He said with abruptly muffled voice:
“As I and Hans had comprehended later, we were saved by that fact that we approached station not from the road as usual, but from the opposite side. On our way back we visited the ravine, where we were storing up some berries… vitamins… and along that ditch, we insensibly approached the kitchen garden.”
Agnetha again took the flask from Antony, moistened her mouth and continued:
“If you never saw it, I can tell you that the APP’s courtyard is fenced by the spear-like, three-meters height, black painted steel poles and it’s very difficult to climb over it or cut up or bend it. It couldn’t be overcome secretly, especially taking into account the cameras. Obviously, it is impossible to cultivate anything on the asphalt and therefore behind station territory we cut out a wicket and, as I said, and enclosed additional land. That kitchen-garden has both insecure the wicket and the fence, we’re putting current in them only by night. But APP’s entrance installed in pole-fence is reliable and equipped with a coded lock.”
Agnetha took breath one more time, her eyes become wet again and her chin quivered. The woman restrained crying with all her will. Nevertheless Tony was looking at her with a severe frown. Miriam was evidently confused with this situation; she didn’t know what to do – sometimes she was looking at the women with sympathy, another time she was gaining inexorable expression when she was glancing at her grandpa.
“I don’t know,” Agnetha resumed her speech, “now I think that the bandits first killed the watcher if I know who was then, Casper or Tomas? so… when we passed the vegetable garden and entered the courtyard, we couldn’t believe our own eyes!”
The woman pronounced these words aloud, almost screamingly. Seeing this, Tony was bothered whether that woman has an attack of hysteria? But no, Agnetha instantly bridled herself and returned to her toneless voice.
“Our dead friends, blurry with blood, were lying side by side… the murderers hid them behind the command module. Next moment we noticed three armed scumbags. Two of them were watching the road and one investigating his gun.”
Here Agnetha paused again but not because she wanted to restrain her tears one more time. Quite the contrary, she several times shook her head with disappointment and then spoke frustrated:
“When we saw Tomas and Casper dead we were seized by horror. For a second we even lost the ability of reasoning. We didn’t appraise the situation, didn’t comprehend it… I and Hans just glanced to each other once and then sneaking with fast steps up to evildoers almost came over them because they were looking at another direction. In the blink, we filled them up with bullets.”
Agnetha shook her head again and deeply sighed.
“Three bandits we killed on the spot,” she continued, “but exactly what was our mistake. We didn’t envisage that maybe they’re more than three, we should act more carefully, more intelligently… to not protract, just we had finished those three, when from above, from command module’s third floor we been shot. Fortunately this time we operated rightly, we didn’t run immediately; instead, we turned to the enemy and opened reciprocal fire. This new American M-36 contains many cartridges.”
“You killed them too?” Miriam couldn’t stand it longer and unintentionally hurried her.
“I don’t know,” Agnetha murmured. “First we found shelter behind the reactor module and then, continue shooting for they couldn’t show even their noses from the window, we left the courtyard. It was very hard for me; their very first volley hit my side. I think it broke my rib, because there’re two holes in my side and it is hard to breathe, though, no blood appears with my exhale. I was barely walking… to stay there and keep on fighting was senseless. By that time we both had almost empty guns.” The woman, after hardly uttered these words, hung her head, what probably did make it clear that she finished the story.
The people who survived the planetary crisis weren’t much impressed with the death of a human, but this time old man and child grieved indeed. Maybe because hitherto they were repelling scoundrels’ attacks and now they see the disaster of decent, innocent people. Soon become obvious that Agnetha has another thing to say:
“I and Hans recalled the object consuming the energy constantly and we hoped there’re the people, not just electronics. It was a hard path to me, especially in the end…”
“It’s a pity such that thing happened to you, but I can’t imagine how we can help you,” as if he was waiting till the end of this speech, Antony said rapidly.
This time woman responded immediately:
“I understand, our times are too hard for trusting but I and my comrade want to reclaim the station not just to avoid starvation and became vagabonds. It’s very important also to you, even no lesser than for us,” now the steadfastness added to her expression.
These words instantly changed the old man’s attitude. Imperceptibly for a newcomer, he gave a wink to Miriam, saying –be careful. Then turned to Agnetha and told with unfriendly tone:
“Why it’s so significant for us? We would be deprived of the electric light? And by that reason, we should sacrifice ourselves fighting with marauders number of which nobody knows? I don’t think electricity absent is worth it,” he concluded coldly.
Agnetha nodded several times till she uttered one unfinished phrase:
“Lack of current you can bear easily indeed…”
The suspicion strengthened in Tony’s voice:
“Of course, we have enough of candles and…” but even not finishing this sentence he stopped with opened mouth.
Old man’s face changed and with every next moment it grew gloomier. Miriam stared at her grandpa with waiting. In a couple of minutes, at last, extremely disappointed Tony asked:
“Ignorant robbers now are in control of the nuclear equipment, is that what you’re saying?
“Exactly,” Agnetha confirmed quickly. “The station contains plutonium reserves for one hundred years, intended for a full load. What would be a consequence of leaving it without control, I think, there is no necessity to explain it. If you were interested in history ever, maybe you heard that three centuries ago, the station less powerful than ours one, transformed huge territory into the uninhabitable zone around Chernobyl City, in Ukraine.”
After such a long speech the woman through habit took a deep breath before she terminated to talking:
“Those twenty kilometers that hold away your farm from the NPP, represents nothing at all.”
It was clear that what Agnetha said, it changed Antony’s mood drastically. Miriam also comprehended that they can’t overcome this complication with old-fashioned rigidity, can’t get rid it with a burst of fire. They should do something else. Meanwhile, the station’s engineer hung her head again and wasn’t looking at old man and teenager. Especially she didn’t hurry or persuade them. She certainly knew that these, judging from their behavior, good people, what evil could be nested in a teenager? Will make a conclusion known in advance, whatever duration their consideration will take.
They had no wish to participate in the battle for the station but they should. If they didn’t, they also would become homeless, hungry wanderers. Or more correctly to say, there’re countless abandoned houses but the matter is that they should move off from this place as far as possible. And who let them to travel so freely, when no one is feeling themselves in perfect security, even being in their fortress-homestead?
It seemed that Agnetha’s and Tony’s thoughts were flowing in the same course. Because after a lot of thinking and what depicted at his face, many hesitations, the old man started to talk and this time visibly with soft, it can be said, with practical tone:
“What did you say? Where from do you and Hans were returning? From hunting? Or did you were looking for something?”
Agnetha listened to these questions with head down as before and even don’t show that she heard them at all. Then she cocked her head, attentively stared at grandfather and grandchild, while the strange smile shimmered on her lips. Finally, she said:
“Your questions helped me to think out that maybe we have one more reason for your assistance.”
“You’re right,” Tony replied, “the more reasons for aid, the better.”