Unexpected find in the desert
Once powered up, Bree reconnected me to humanity
The little hand in the red dirt curled open to reveal something glinting in the blazing, midday sunshine.
I stooped down and gently pushed the tiny fingers open to reveal the locket. I carefully unraveled and untangled it and held it up to the light.
Clearly made of solid gold, gauging from its weight, it was heart-shaped and strung on a short, fine chain made for a child. A child who was sadly no more.
Tucking the locket into my dirty, overall, chest pocket, I lifted the little girl up and carried her lifeless body back to my camp.
I knew just the right spot to lay her to rest properly. One of the few trees that still grew in the desert was a handsome baobab, about a century old I'd guessed. My camp was built into the base of the same tree.
Its stark branches, silvery grey, stretched out like rickety, arthritic arms and provided a modicum of shade on days which grew hotter and hotter.
The mass meteor strikes of 2050 had literally knocked the world off its axis and it now zoomed around on an ever-decreasing, erratic orbit.
Scientists estimated it was only a matter of decades before the beloved blue planet would combust. Seas and rivers were evaporating, birds dropped dead from the skies en masse and those people who had survived the meteor shower had headed for the poles seeking relief from the 50+ daily temperatures.
I had set off into the bush in my 4-wheeled-drive before its engine overheated and it broke down. I then hiked on until I found an oasis of sorts. A natural, ground spring and my tree. I had been alone for so long that at first I didn't recognize the bundle of clothes as swathing a fellow human being.
I had been so focused on finding food on my daily forage that I'd assumed it was a pile of rags strewn from some ancient convoy. As I got closer, the tousle of blonde hair and little feet and hands protruding from the sandy smock came into view.
I started to run. My heart leapt at the thought she or he could still be alive. I was so lonely. But it wasn't to be. All I had of her was the locket.
Later that day, after I'd buried her, I built my fire and ate my dinner before brushing the red dirt off the locket. Holding my breath, I gently prised it open to reveal two tiny photographs, heart-shaped to fit into the insides of the locket. They were of two women, one freckled face, sandy-haired and smiling defiantly and the other, dark-skinned and also smiling, laughing even.
I would have liked to have known them, I thought. From the expressions in their eyes, I could see that they had been strong and determined to ride out this nightmare for as long as they could.
But where were they? How had this little person become separated from them? I shuddered. Maybe it was better that they hadn't known her fate. I picked up the crumpled, canvas backpack I'd found clasped in her other tiny hand.
A doll, handmade from calico and stuffed with dry grass dropped at my feet, a small box of beer jerky, a tin of peaches, a red bucket hat, soft, and a half-empty plastic bottle of water. I studied the doll's face with its woolen stitches for eyes, nose and mouth and black-and-white-checked dress.
I felt paper beneath the dress and lifted it to find a note, neatly folded into a strip and fastened around the waist of the doll with a rubber band.
By the flickering light of my campfire, I squinted to read its contents.
IF YOU ARE READING THIS THEN YOU HAVE FOUND OUR DAUGHTER. HER NAME IS BREE AND SHE IS FIVE. SHE IS AN AI SO IF SHE IS UNRESPONSIVE, HER BATTERIES ARE FLAT. SHE IS SOLAR POWERED AND REQUIRES 8 HOURS TO BE FULLY OPERATIONAL. WE BUILT HER TO SURVIVE THE DISASTER. SHE WILL KNOW HOW TO CONTACT US.
DR SAMMY WILDER AND DR PETRA ALGONQUIN
No sooner had I read the letters "AI" then I found myself digging and scraping at the sandy grave like a madwoman. After a minute, the blonde hair was visible, then the little hands again, folded across her chest.
"Oh sweetheart, come here," I whispered, cradling the lifeless bundle to my chest, "We'll wait 'til the morning to get you back up and running then we can find your mummies."
I crawled into my sleeping bag with Bree lying beside me under an old, tartan picnic rug.
I slept badly, my dreams full of Sammy and Petra, walking along a deserted beach, the wind ruffling their hair under their bandanas, with little Bree skipping between them, all holding hands.
I could tell it was a cool afternoon and I vaguely remembered those days when your skin felt chilled and alive and the sea breeze was a welcome visitor after a warm, summer's day. You'd dig a pit on the shore and pile it high with driftwood for a fire as you told stories to the crescendo of the white-tipped waves crashing against the beach head.
The morning sun burnt my cheeks and I awoke with a start. I pushed Bree's dress down to reveal two, sleek, midnight blue solar panels where her back should have been. Propping her against my trusty tree, I made sure she was exposed to the brightest rays throughout the long day.
By noon, she was moving ever so slightly, just her eyelids and her little fingertips then by 3pm, her eyes miraculously sprang open, a brilliant emerald green flecked with amber, and seemed to focus in on my face. An hour later, she was smiling and by 5pm, she was giggling with delight and running around my messy campsite, kicking up the sand.
Finally, she collapsed next to me. "Where's my mamas?" she asked.
"They're coming," I said reassuringly, "I have to call them."
"Then do it NOW," Bree said, instinctively reaching for her neck and fumbling about, looking confused. "Where my lock-lock?" she said.
I sprang to my feet and found the overalls I had been wearing the day before. Grabbing the locket, I handed it to my young companion.
She squealed with delight and carefully bent the two heart flaps back on themselves until there was a loud click. "Plug in!" she said turning her back to me and gesturing at a small gap between the two panels. I took a sharp exhale as the locket snapped into place. A low, melodious beep began to sound and I realized I had activated a beacon of sorts.
"Now I can go bye byes," Bree announced while at the same time ensconcing herself in the moth-eaten blanket. "Mamas are coming," she trailed off as the first stars began twinkling, studded like diamonds in the vast, black firmament above us.