When my editor rightfully shamed me about Will being such a wimp that he stayed away from SPARK for 40 days, I had to make some other tweaks beyond getting rid of the dog.
One sub-theme I liked was the impersonality of the universe. The black grass didn’t care. It just turned toward the strongest source of radiation. When a tiger takes a boar, it’s not because the tiger cares one way or another about the boar. The tiger is simply hungry. When someone cuts you off in traffic, it’s because they’re in a rush, not because they want to piss you off. And yet we take things personally. Don’t. Gravity tugs everyone proportionally to their mass, not how popular they are.
Same rules and caveats as before. This is an early, unedited, draft. In this version he’d been dumpster diving and living rough for over a month and was losing weight and routinely flirting with dehydration. At that point in the story, he carried two knives that he had stolen from his foster home. Eventually he got here:
Reality set in quickly. $2000 turned out to not be much when there wasn’t anything coming in. His bus ride from Houston had cost him $250. Eating, even at Mickey’s, wasn’t cheap. Will economized. Summer here was hot, but dry. Dust and dirt accumulated. Nobody wanted to hire a kid that looked homeless. The sound of the sprinklers woke him up.
Will followed one sprinkler in a slow circle. It blasted him clean. He air-dried sitting in the bleachers. His money was gone. Spent. He checked his backpack again. He had enough to make one more peanut butter sandwich. The jelly had run out two days ago. Two granola bars of questionable age. And his knives. They were always there.
Mornings were cold, especially after the sprinkler shower. It was August 7th, he realized. Guam Remembrance Day. He counted days. This was the fortieth day since he had left Spark. Forty days in the desert. Something biblical there, he thought, but couldn’t remember what.
Barstow hadn’t worked out. Dumpster diving and freeganism opportunities were limited and competition was high unless you wanted to fight. Knives aside, he wasn’t much of a fighter. Time to move on. Will pulled another notch in his belt as he filled his water bottle at a fountain. He slung his nearly empty backpack over his shoulders and started walking. The interstate was too busy and dangerous, so he stuck to access roads. Eventually he found the road to Solar Prime and decided that he might as well go see black grass up close.
This is farther than I thought, he mused. Will kept far enough away from the road to be left alone. The water had run out a couple hours ago and it was blistering. He found some shade under a weirdly shaped cactus-looking tree and slept; one knife clutched in his hands.
Will woke feeling out of sorts; his head was pounding. It was still light. He was hot and couldn’t remember where he was going or why it was so important. He looked around until he could see the smudge of black that was Solar Prime itself and decided to head directly there. What he didn’t realize was that by moving as far away from the road as he had, he made the going tougher. Fatigue and dehydration were nibbling away at his cognitive ability.
It was fully dark, and the moon was high when he hit the fence. There was a barren strip of desert between the fence and where the black grass began, about as wide as a two-lane road. He was close enough to see how the blades of grass faced the moon. Huh, he thought, I guess that makes sense. The moon is reflecting a bunch of radiation from the sun. Why not absorb it? He stood by the fence, frozen in thought. On the other side of this fence, he realized, stood the future of energy – a way to absorb and use whatever the universe pumped out. Cool. A small arc-shaped patch of grass near him slowly turned so that the flat side of their blades faced him. For that band of grass, he realized, I’m the best energy source available. He radiated. The black grass absorbed. He gave. It took.
He didn’t really remember falling. Will’s body slowly crumpled. His knees folded, and he lost his grip on the fence. The fall caused no damage, dehydration had done that. Blades of black grass began reorienting toward the moon.
Security picked up his movements well before he got to the fence. Motion detectors, low-light and IR cameras triangulated and identified the approaching mass as a single human. Two guards were in a jeep and on their way before he even touched the fence. They didn’t see the fall but saw him on the ground. Professionally paranoid, they assumed he was trying to breach the fence. They hit him with the spotlight on the jeep.
“Raise your hands and move away from the fence,” the senior guard, Olsen, called out. He repeated his warning.
“I don’t think he’s moving,” his partner said. “Do you think he’s dead?”
“Shit!” yelled Olsen and stopped the jeep next to Will.
They both hopped out. Will’s body was oddly folded – almost as if he had bent to do a squat and then simply stopped. They shined their lights on him.
“Shit,” Olsen repeated. “He’s just a kid.” He checked for a pulse and found a weak, rapid one.
Abruptly his demeanor changed. In his professional opinion, Will was not a threat. Olsen made the decision that he was likely a citizen, and definitely a minor. For the guards, that invoked what some called “the sheepdog response.” Between the flock of sheep and the wolves, stood the sheepdog – the line of defense and protection. Will was ruled out as a wolf, that meant he was one of the sheep. Their duty was clear. They carefully placed him in the back of the jeep and headed to the gate and the nearest source of medical help. Field training kicked in, and the junior guard climbed in the back with Will and assessed him.
It was dark, but his headlamp showed a flushed face, and hot, dry, skin. “He’s burning up.” Olsen handed him his water bottle over his shoulder. We should have taken one of the Humvees, he thought, they had a lot more room and a full med kit. They had anticipated a trip just to shoo someone away from the fence, not a medical rescue. His partner poured the water over Will as they entered the gate. They had Will quickly inside the med bay and turned over to the doc on duty. Solar Prime had rudimentary trauma treatment facilities.
Will didn’t need a major facility, he needed fluids and a chance to get his core temperature back down. In the grand scale of medical emergencies, this was very minor. The doc hooked him up to an IV and kept an eye on him while they decided what to do. “Catch and release,” was the best option. No sense getting local authorities involved. Will came to.
“Back from the dead, or nearly dead,” the doctor said.