The arrival of a Shuttle in Oklahoma City is to shatter the peace and change the city forever. Jay battles between maintaining normal life and taking a chance on a life in space. But only if he can get his family safely onto the Shuttle amidst violence, terrorism and riots.
The Prequel Chronicles
Jay & JonahFour Days
At the sound of the engine, the young boy stood upright. The joints in his spine crackled and clicked as they adjusted to being straight. His bare skin was scorched by the overhead sun, though amply protected by his mothers generous application of sun screen. The Sphere above him filtered most of the UV, but it was still better to be safe than sorry.
The only parts of him that felt cool were his hands, which had been buried in the dirt, tearing up crops and rooting through the soil for peanuts. But now the engine from the truck that was tearing along a dirt road in the middle-distance had drawn him away from his task. Away to the right-side of his vision, was the edge of the city: a suburban area of white houses, neat streets with clipped lawns and swing sets. Further still was the squat towers of Oklahoma Citys business district, dominated by the gleaming glass Devon Tower.
His gaze returned to the truck. He stared closely at the trail of dust and dirt that was cast up in the air by the tires of the vehicle. He stared closer. Amid the dust he could see it. A red truck. Battered, beaten and ugly. But unmistakable.
The young boy threw down the heavy bag of freshly unearthed peanuts hed been dragging across the field and ran. Until then, energy had been hard to come by. But now his legs seemed to find new fuel as he dashed over the newly overturned soil, skipped over plant entrails and hopped over the occasional prairie chicken. The beautifully strange birds would often follow him as he dug out the peanuts. Theyd scrap for the occasional nut which had escaped his attention (sometimes he fed them, but hed never admit to it).
He grew closer to the centre of the farm, where there was a cute little house at the end of the dirt track that led into the suburbs. It looked so small and insignificant; dwarfed by the surrounding farm. Its wooden paneled faade was white-washed and faded by the sun. It was barely two storeys; the upper floor incorporated into the roof and often too cold to bear in the winter, and too hot in the summer. The windows were single glazed and frail-looking, contributing to the dilapidated feel of the ancient farm house.
The battered red truck was already parked up, and a deep jolly voice was booming from within. The boys face lit up in delight and he dashed inside. The door led straight into the living room a room as wide as half of the house and filled with clutter. It was everything the boys mother had ever collected in her life, along with his and his siblings possessions as well as the necessary furnishings.
In the middle of the room was the bulk of his father. He was of average height but built like a wrecking ball. This, and his bushy grey beard, often caused children in the city to call him Santa Claus.
Theres my boy! his voice rumbled, making the boys heart pump with excitement. He ran into his fathers arms, who grumbled and chuckled as he held him tightly.
Jonah! a womans shrill voice cried from the shallow depths of the house. It wasnt very big, once inside. There was just the living room the biggest space a kitchen and two bedrooms. Jonah and his five-year-old sister Amy shared one bedroom, whilst his parents slept in another with his youngest sister, Maisy. Upstairs was reserved for storage and punishment space, though it was rarely used for the latter.
What have you done now Jay Jones chortled heartily.
Jonah Frederick Jones, if you dont have at least two sacks of peanuts with you, youre in big trouble my boy! his mother cried out and he could hear her pacing through the house towards him.
Quick, go Jay flashed him a quick smile and Jonah vanished back out the front door before his mother could catch up with him.
As soon as he was gone, his mother appeared from down the narrow hallway and Jays merry face turned to meet hers. They embraced and when they pulled back, Jays face was completely different. The smile was gone, replaced by stern, stiff lips and a troubled frown.
Whats the matter? she asked him. She reached up with one china-doll hand and placed it on his worried face. Rosa Jones was the complete opposite to her husband in almost every way. Where he was large; she was tiny. Where he was round, she was slender. Where he was pale, her skin was richly dark. His eyes sky-blue; hers hazelnut-brown. Even her hair long and lusciously brown and smooth, conflicted with his short, wiry grey hair. He was almost ten years older than her. Theyd met when shed arrived in Oklahoma City as a refugee from New Orleans. When itd been announced that Oklahoma City had enough funding for a Sphere of its own, people had come from across all of America and Canada to be in with a chance of being accepted to live there. New Orleans itself had been devastated, though not by natural disaster as had so frequently ruined it in the past. The city was torn apart by its own people. Riots erupted and lasted for weeks on end, their demands too high for a Government that was growing weaker and weaker. With the fall of the American political system and leadership came the final days of New Orleans. As America crumbled and order was established and maintained inside the Spheres alone, the rest of the country was left to its own means.
Jay heaved a heavy sigh and eased his bulk into a frail old armchair. It was his chair; tattered and torn from use and placed right by an open fireplace.
He shook his head wearily. Theres some news coming. Bad news.
Weve had some bad news in our time Rosa conceded, sitting down on the sofa next to the armchair. Crop failures, dry spells, spending cuts, curfewspretty much every damn thing I can think of.
Jay was still shaking his head. Not like this.
Rosa started to feel worried. It was unlike Jay to be pessimistic. Theyd been on the verge of bankruptcy little over a year ago and even then Jay had managed to keep a steady smile on his face and a spring in his step. He was infallibly happy and eternally optimistic. It wasnt good that he was behaving like this.
How bad? Rosa asked, in a voice that was barely a whisper.
Theyre sending a SpaceShuttle in four days to take people to the International Space Station he answered.
Rose broke into a grin and slapped him playfully on the arm. My god, Jay, you had me worried! She giggled but his face didnt change. He looked up at her with sad, solemn eyes. But this is a good thingisnt it?
Theyre sending just one SpaceShuttle Jay replied. And it will be boarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Oh my goodness Rosa said. Though she still didnt grasp why Jay was being quite so serious about it. I bet people are queuing already.
Queuing? Jay chortled bitterly. That would be nice. People dont queue in this world. No one patiently waits for their turn. If you dont grab hold of life in this world, it will turn its back on you and go to the next person. No. No one is queuing.
Then what? Rosa refrained from raising her voice too much, but she was growing frustrated at her husbands restraint.
Fighting Jay said stiffly. Up in the northeast, over in Spencer and Jones. Fighting on the streets.
Northeast? But honey thats on the other side of the Sphere Rosa said reassuringly.
Rosa, people are killing each other. Theyre fighting because they know not everyone is going to make it. Just one fifth of the citys population is going to get on. Now theyre not bad odds. But theyre even better if you fight for it.
Jay, its just the northeast. You know what its like up over there.
This is just the first day. Itll spread, just you watch Jay turned his head and cast his gaze through the window and across their family farm. He could see Jonah, a short way off, dragging two huge sacks of peanuts. His sister was on the drive, bagging the peanuts up for sale. I fear for them he whispered. Hed never cried in front of his wife, but now tears were shining in his eyes. I fear for all of us.* * *
The sun was going down in the west, about to kiss the horizon and spread its final waves of light through the darkening sky.
The chains of the swing creaked against the metal frame. Jonah swung higher and higher, kicking his legs to gain momentum until it felt like he could launch himself off and reach the Sphere itself.
His youngest sister was running across the back porch, a long leaved limb of a peanut plant in her hand, and striking their mothers wind chimes, causing a cacophony of soothing sounds.
Despite the warmth of the suns rays, a chill suddenly swept over his skin. He stopped kicking his legs and reduced his swing to almost a stop. Beside him, Amy had done the same and was looking at him with a perplexed expression.
Whats wrong? he asked her. Her lips were turned down in a deliberate expression of sadness. She looked like she was about to cry. Jonah hoped she didnt. His parents would only blame him, and he hadnt done anything wrong.
Amy suddenly leapt up off the swing and began tugging at the frame of the swing set in an effort to move it across the garden.
Amy, whats the matter? Jonah jumped off his own swing. He stood back to watch in bewilderment.
I dont like it here! she cried, tugging at the frame of the swing set.
Where do you want it, then? Jonah frowned, humouring her.
There she said firmly, pointing next to the shed at the back of the garden. It wouldnt be too far to move it, not really, from the middle of the garden to Amys new location.
Mummy, mummy! Maisy went running through the back door into the kitchen. Amys gone loopy.
Jonah smirked before dashing after her.
Whats she rabbiting about? Rosa asked in a childish voice as she pulled