Chapter 49: No, I’m Canadian

Eirik’s own heart had almost stopped as he heard Jack’s announcement that Celina’s heart stopped.  He felt he would cry, but the 31 percent on the device in his hand had just rolled to 32 percent now.

“Jack, that thing is indicating 32 percent to completion of repairs,” he explained, as he turned the device toward him.

Jack took a second to read the display before venturing to talk.  “It’s 33 percent now, but I thought the first rule of medicine was not to make the patient worse?”

“Look, I’m sure it will be okay.  Trust the Builders!” snapped Eirik. “The blood stopped, right?”

“Yes,” Jack answered, as he turned her legs to have a better view. “The problem is, I’m not sure if I have to give her CPR or not.  If we don’t, by the time the repairs are completed, she could suffer from permanent brain damage.”

“I would give anything for a full ER or to know what the hell we should do,” said Eirik, as Jack started cardiopulmonary resuscitation, thinking that it was better to be safe than sorry.

“Tilt the head back, give her two breaths and then one breath every five seconds and monitor the screen to see if the percentage continues to change,” requested Jack.

“It’s at 42 now,” replied Eirik in between breaths. “43.”

Jack continued CPR counts and wanted to change place with Eirik, as he was getting tired.  But he wasn’t sure if Eirik had practiced it


since his scuba diving rescue course.  As he looked at his buddy giving proper breaths, he decided to continue the rapid chest compression when Eirik announced a few pumps later:  90.  The percentage had accelerated like an athlete being yelled at by his coach.  Only one more lap, he thought.  Jack felt his adrenaline kick in at the same time as the realization that reviving someone with CPR without a defibrillator was as likely as winning the jackpot at a Casino two nights in a row, but he still continued.

Eirik had called 95 and he noticed that the wound seemed closed, and he told Jack to stop at the same time that Eirik stopped giving her mouth-to-mouth.  “Continue the breaths.  Two breaths again since you stopped.  Don’t look at me, go!” yelled Jack, thinking that breaths were more important than the compression at this point.

Within seconds, Jack was washing the blood with the water jet from the water replicator.  After the blood was washed off from the wound on her right leg, he could see that the new skin was paler, but the wound was completely healed.  He touched it with his glove, as if he didn’t believe his eyes, but the result was the same.  Except for the hole in her fatigue that showed the discoloration of the new skin contrasting with the rest of her tanned leg, it was healed. At that moment, Eirik said that it was done and showed Jack the screen, which now indicated repairs completed.  Jack rechecked for a pulse and he detected one.  At about the same time, she woke up and took her first breath.

It took her a minute to remember where she was and to sit up with the help of Eirik.

“How are you feeling?” asked Eirik.

“Great, actually,” she answered truthfully, as she touched her legs through the holes in her pants.  Then she hugged Eirik, who was now shedding tears of joy, and she did too.

“Your heart stopped and we had to give you CPR and mouth–to-mouth,” said Jack pointing to Eirik, feeling that she may take it the wrong way if it had been him somehow.

“Okay, that’s all good, thanks.  But at what point you felt that leg injuries and heart stopping required you to remove my contact lens?” asked Celina, happy and annoyed at the same time, remembering that it was her only pair and without them, she was as blind as a bat.

“We didn’t touch them,” both of them said at the same time.

“I can’t see anything. I’m not totally blind. I can see shapes but my myopia is rather bad and...” and she stopped as her index made contact with her eye lens. She had her contacts in her eyes and was now feeling scared that the repairs had ruined her already bad vision.  After cleaning her hands, she carefully removed one lens and placed it in her freshly washed palm, blinked a few times and everything became clear.  Using her free hand and one good eye, she extracted her contact lens container, filled it with the salty cleaning solution and removed the other one and closed the caps.

“The Builders were amazing people,” she said before starting to jump like a little girl at the end of the school year.  She now had perfect vision without her contacts.  “Oh my God, I can see without my glasses! Damn, that’s cool!”

“Awesome.  I didn’t have that effect because my eyes were okay to begin with,” observed Eirik, as he threw a deadpan look towards Jack’s direction.

“Guys, we need to go,” said Jack. “No offense, Celina—”  But she was already busy making preparations and was ready to take the lead when she remembered that, sometimes, a trap was often accompanied by another to ensure that the enemy could be taken out by at least one.  With that thought, she motioned to Jack to go first this time and they remained doubly vigilant after that.

With their confidence shaken and fear of injuries now ever present in their minds, they walked more slowly and stopped frequently to investigate anything out of the ordinary.  Jack was the only one who had not been injured and the thought that having a device that would heal them from life-threatening injuries was surprisingly not making him feel anymore invincible than a man performing a balancing act with a net.  At least their spirits were high, and that’s what mattered to him.  Soon, they came to an opening and heard what seemed like trucks of some sort, passing slowly from right to left.  As they pressed forward a bit further, they were relieved to finally see the first sign of civilization in more than a week of caves and jungles.

The road was like Celina had imagined it from the memory of her trips to Africa and the data from the glasses.  It was of a bright grey colour and made of powdery stones, almost like sand but very hard, likely due to the layering process and the rather infrequently passing vehicles, as they had observed in the previous twenty minutes.  The road in front of them was wide enough for two cars, provided that one slowed down and placed its wheels on the dirt-and-stone embankment to let the other pass.  No different from some of the roads in Europe, she thought, remembering Florence, but at least Italy had been clean unlike this one.  It took another thirty minutes for a truck to appear from the east and turn towards their direction, to the general direction of Kinshasa.  A fleeting idea came whisked through Celina’s mind as she watched the truck approach.  It would be like she often did when she was backpacking across Europe with her boyfriend, where she stayed alone on the side of the road until a car stopped and then she would introduce him.  The game was the same now, but with two guys instead of one.

An old truck slowed down and, when the driver saw her, he stopped and turned off the engine—to save on fuel and not the environment, she was sure.  She walked toward the truck.  The window was already rolled down; the smell of manure and the sound of chickens in the back of the truck were obvious.  She thanked the wind for blowing the smell away from her nose.

On est perdu?” asked the black man, his muscled arm on the side of the rolled down window, clearly showing someone used to heavy labour.

“Yes, we are lost, my friends and I.  We were in the forest studying plants.  We are scientists,” she replied in very good French.

“You are American?” he asked in his native French that could have almost be Creole by the way he pronounced it.

“No, I’m Canadian,” she answered, knowing that Canadians were more welcomed than Americans in most parts of the world.

“Where are you going?”

“Ultimately to Kinshasa, but to a bus terminal, if it is possible, would be good enough,” she hoped, as the other two emerged from the woods, with Philie in front of them as she analyzed the air carrying the nice smell of manure-coated chickens.

The Beagle had not eaten for two days, although she didn’t know that nor felt it, as far as the dog was concerned.  She had been running in nice fields and chased games, had the best food and been petted often, all thanks to the virtual reality provided by the storage device.  However, the analysis of her brain had taken a lot of power from the device, and it was now almost completely depleted.

“I’m going close enough to Kinshasa and I can take you to the international hotel area, which will be safe for you,” he proposed.  “But you know, more weight and a detour mean more fuel, and more fuel means more money.”

“How much for three people and a dog, all the way to the United Nations compound in Kinshasa?” she asked, knowing there was one.  Eirik was now next to her, surprised that her French was that good.

“Whatever you feel is just.”

Damn it.  That was always the same with that type of negotiations.  Why can’t people just tell you an amount?  Be decisive and name a price and be done with it.  But of course, the seller didn’t want to offer a price because the buyer might have been willing to pay more.  So the seller dropped the usual It is up to you, appearing generous.  But the truth was, who knows the salary and the price of gas in Congo these days, she thought.  Offering too low to the seller would be offensive, arguments would start, and if you didn’t offer more, it ended up with bad feelings on both sides or worse, no deal at all, a lot of time wasted for nothing.

“I don’t know the price for gas or the distance we have to travel, but I have five hundred US dollars with me and it is all yours,” Eirik offered, knowing that it was not his money, anyway.

“Two thousand.  It is a long drive and you’re three.”

“I don’t have two thousand, but what about five hundred and three hundred grams of pure gold?” asked Eirik, ready to give him all the camping gear if asked.  He then looked at Jack’s and Celina’s faces for agreement, but found only astonishment and a lot of frustration in Celina’s eyes.  He felt guilty at once, not knowing what he had done wrong.  But it was too late, the driver had already accepted eagerly, not believing his luck.  He stepped off the truck to help load the bags and the four-legged passenger in the back with the chicken cages.

Eirik had already extracted the gold from his pocket and paid the man, against the protest of Celina, who was wondering if he had heard of half now and half at destination.”  But it seemed clear to her that Norwegians were living in a fair society, with a fixed-price system determined by the cost of the goods and labour and a reasonable profit margin, and that they wouldn’t survive a day in a barter system.  She then tried to distract her mind by discussing the sitting arrangement with Jack, where they concluded that it was best for her to remain in the back with Eirik, primarily because they didn’t want the latter to chat with the driver too much and embarrass them with more tourist-like behaviours.  Jack, for his part, would be the one riding shotgun with the driver and have a better vantage point on the road ahead.

Jack also looked passively at the one-sided negotiation and had relocated his 9MM from his back to his front, as he expected the man to try to attack them on the spot.  In his mind, unarmed scientists weren’t supposed to travel with bars of gold and those who did were just asking for their throats to be slit.