The Sea of Grass: Chapter 4

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The Sea of Grass

Book cover with dried grasses.

Chapter 4

Dear Jim,

Today we woke up in complete darkness. We had no idea how late it was and even when we checked the time we were not sure what it meant around here. Of course we knew what the problem was: yesterday we did not have time to remove the outer hull of our pod which protected us during the fall through the atmosphere. We opened the door to let in the sunlight and some fresh air – the ventilation system was also less than optimal with the outer hull still attached.

For breakfast we had nutri-bars and something that was supposed to be orange juice, straight from the pack. It was obviously not freshly pressed. We devoured these while sitting on the metal staircase up to our pod and looked around us at the landscape. On the other side of the small river we could see people walking around.

Barbara was silent for a moment.

'Do you hear that sound?' she asked.

I listened and nodded. It was a bit like flutes or an organ but very faint and random. Not quite like a melody but also not unpleasant. We listened for a few minutes but could not make out where it was coming from.

Suddenly someone shouted my name. To my surprise I saw someone standing on top of the pod next to us, at the lake. They were waving at us, so I waved back and called hello, before turning back to breakfast and listening to Barbara talking about the beauty of the landscape. She then got up, stepped down the stairs onto the ground and started to look at little flowers growing between the high grass and the insects sitting on them. She told me things about wings, mouthparts and antennae. I didn't even understand half of it.

There was a call again from the neighbouring pod. Again, the person standing on the roof waved at us. I found it strange, but waved back before turning to the boxes we had stacked yesterday and searching for the one containing tools. Before I could find it I heard the same voice shouting my name again, but as I became slightly annoyed by this calling by now I decided to ignore it. A few minutes later I had found the right box and started to rummage around in it, while Barbara was still telling me no doubt amazing things about the local insects. The one thing I understood: she found it all absolutely stunning and was looking forward to actually starting her research. I reminded her that she would have the rest of her life to do just that but asked her to please help me now because I really wanted to get the dismantling of the pod's hull behind me.

Suddenly there was another call and this time it sounded exasperated.

'Would somebody please come and help me!?' the voice shouted.

Barbara and I looked up from the tool box we hurried over to our neighbour's. When we got there and looked up to the roof, narrowing our eyes against the morning sun, I was quite surprised. Standing up there was the man who had been lying next to me in the infirmary.

He raised his arms in frustration and sighed. 'Finally! I thought I have to spend the rest of my life up here!'

I snorted. 'Why didn't you say you needed help?'

'Why else would I call you so often?' he asked.

It turned out that Peter – which seemed to be his name – is a geologist and he had the same plans for this day as we had. He was just up a bit earlier, had collected all tools and extended a ladder up to the roof of his pod. When he reached the top he accidentally pushed the ladder with his foot and it fell down into the grass. He was trapped up there and had no other way of calling for help as he had left his wrist pad inside. He had felt it would somehow get in the way.

It was of course no problem to locate the ladder next to the pod, although half of it was lying in a muddy pool of water, which meant that the ladder itself had become equally muddy and wet.

Peter climbed down the ladder. As he was standing next to us in the grass I noticed that he was hardly taller than me – and you know I was never able to reach the upper cupboards in grandma's kitchen. Barbara is about half a head taller than both of us. Since we last met he has grown a head of disheveled, short black hair, and he obviously had not shaved in days. Whether he has decided to grow a beard or is just lazy is unclear at this point.

Peter muttered something about idiots and choices of colour, while wiping his muddy hands in his uniform trousers. Then he opened a box which was standing in the grass next to his pod. I noticed that there were far fewer boxes stacked here than in front of Barbara's and my own and they were all relatively small. Peter found a water pack, sat down on the stairs up to his pod and gulped it down in no time.

'Say, where's your housemate? Why didn't he help you during all the time you were stuck up on the roof?' I asked.

Peter shrugged, 'I ended up alone. I heard there are a few pods with only one occupant. As you know not everyone made the journey. . . I heard there will be a cemetery near cluster six.'

For a moment everyone was silent. I looked out at the lake, which was shining in the sunlight. I noticed that not far from the shore there was a small island with a high pointy rock. It seemed exceptionally white, almost blinding. I was shaken out of my thoughts by Barbara and Peter, who had decided that it would be easier to work together as three people to dismantle the hulls of both pods.

And thus we started to work. At first we disconnected the parachute from the top and we had a hard time folding it up and storing it away, as it billowed in the wind. Then we started to take apart the outer hull of the pod and neatly stacking the panels in the grass. This revealed the white painted surface and a large orange number 40 on Peter's pod.

At lunch we warmed up some insta-meal stews to which we consumed a few slices of ten-year-old bread. It didn't taste any older than five, I must say. We had something like a picnic in the grass, while insects were buzzing around us and we could hear the rustling of the grass from tiny paws scuttling about.

'Have you met any of the other neighbours already?' Peter asked, regarding his bread with something like disgust.

I shook my head, my mouth full of stew – which was actually pretty good.

He pointed over to the west, towards the other side of the river.

'There's cargo pod 36 near the lake over there if there's anything you need. And behind that large tree. . . thingy. . . whatever. . . there's pod 39, which is occupied by Maia and Arthur. Nice couple. I met them up on the ship. Further up to the north, that's pod 44. I heard that one's occupied by a farmer. Haven't met him yet. On our side of the river, some way to the north, there's pod 32. It's occupied by Tom and Laszlo,' he explained, like he expected us to remember it all.

I interrupted him at this point, 'I think I've met Tom up on the ship. Rather short guy, trying to grow a beard?'

Peter nodded, 'he's a farmer, too. Laszlo is a carpenter.'

After lunch we went back to work and the three of us together actually managed to get both pods done that day. It is now evening and already dark outside. Barbara and I are sitting on the tiny sofa in our pod and while I am writing this letter she is already taking notes about all the animals she saw today. For the first time we can look out of the window. There is still a faint glow on the western horizon, but many stars are out already and two moons are up in the sky. I see there is light behind the window in Peter's pod and there are more little lights farther away across the landscape. Down in the grass I can see faint shadows move in the darkness and sometimes a pair of eyes or more.

We are telling each other stories from home, and for the first time since we got here I really got homesick. I think it was the same for Barbara. She got very quiet. Did you realize that when I left I was your big sister, but now you are in fact older than me by five years? It is a strange thought. I hope there will soon be news from you.

Love, Sarah

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