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Chapter V

            Days passed swiftly, and all thoughts of marriage were abolished as they worked side by side, the mutant and the schoolteacher, to rebuild the demolished city. There was no semblance of order beneath the miraculously uncracked dome; the people worked here and there alongside the tractors and bulldozers and derricks and wreckers to put up rude shelters for themselves and their families. Alice, with what little money she could find scattered in the ruins of the apartment building, had purchased a tent from the government emergency shop that had been set up in the middle of the devastated business section; and there the three of them lived, ate from tins, and slept on blankets for a week after the earthquakes were considered over. They were considered over but that was not the case.
            On the eighth day, they went shopping in the West city to get some of the necessities that the station in the North city ran out of. Sandy clutched her doll, now looking more like a nurse that had come through the Crimean War, as she came out of the subway into the brightness of the Venusian sunlight once again. North city was coming back to life. Already large tenements were started in various sections of the enclosure. The taller, more-deeply rooted buildings that were left standing were matched again and again as the buildings shot up out of the dust once more. Squat shacks were standing everywhere; they had been built by the families in the city and were now called home by those less fortunate who couldn't afford to rent a room in the rambling tenements. Sandy skipped ahead down the still-littered road. Some sections had been cleaned off by the enterprising young men but others were left; not all had survived the disastrous blow. Lee looked like he "fit" in this place, Alice mused. He stood, outlined against the clouds, in his burlap-bound feet and torn pants and bare from the waist up. His hands were grimy from lifting the broken bricks into place for a more solid, igloo-reminiscent, house. Beads of sweat stood out on his back and made rivulets in the topsoil on his chest. She impulsively ran up the mound of stones to tell him how impressive he looked, how handsome and virile. She never reached the top. Noises echoed, the ground rose, fell, stones tumbled from their places, newly constructed shacks fell in on themselves---unsubstantial, after all.
            Lee stumbled down the mound, Alice teetered, fell; Sandy looked around, frightened. "Mommy, Daddy, hold me, I'm gonna fall," she wailed. Lee pulled Alice up and went toward Sandy to comfort her. Three feet away from her, he put out his arms to receive the child as she raced over to him. She didn't make it. The ground yawned beneath her feet and with a soul-shattering scream, she disappeared. In a flash Lee was at the brink, peering over. He swooped down and grabbed Sandy, who had landed on a small ledge of rock three feet down from the top, countless hundreds of feet up from the bottom. No sooner had her feet left the ledge when a searing river of steaming water gushed up to the ledge, undermining, devouring. The ground closed as rapidly as it had opened. Steam filled the air as the water, compressed as it was by the pressure of its closing, hurled its defiant head into the air. Live steam scalded the trio. The burlap around Lee's feet caught fire and only by digging them into the hot sand did he save his entire leg. Sandra screamed endlessly. She had been badly burned by the steam. The doll was lost forever.
            They had left the underground railway just then and were standing by the huge iron air lock that allowed access to the city from the outside. They noticed that the inner door was sprung; the outer one might buckle. The ground heaved as if alive. Waves of ground could be seen going high into the air, down. This section of the planet had been a lake of some unknown molten metal, but it had had to be reclaimed because of the air currents of the planet and the deadly whirlwinds that sprang up at a moment's notice elsewhere, and made other places unsafe for the landings of the spaceships. Huge coolers had been set up and they cooled the lake to a practical level, spread soil around to enable crops to be grown, made a stable foundation for the dome that had to be erected to keep the precious oxygen in the city. Now the tremendous earthquakes had set the lake on which the city had been built to rolling and the ground above it rolled too. The dome flashed in the sunlight as it changed position. It could split apart at any time. Foolishly, they ran to their house to see if they still could salvage anything. Wondrously, it still stood, a tribute to Lee's practical mind. He stooped, entered, and disappeared into the dark interior. The walls were buckling. Alice looked across the street and saw the family over there race from their shivering shanty. As the children left the house one of the walls fell in, the roof sagged. The mother raced out carrying a crib over her head. She stood a while in the doorway, waiting. Another section of the wall collapsed and a scream sounded from the house. The woman wrung her hands in anguish and entreated the unseen person to come out. A head appeared at the door; the house caved in on itself. The father of the family across the street made a dive for freedom, almost. The lintel fell on him, crushing his ribs. His face reddened and his mouth distended in a horrifying yell. The chimney fell in a shower of stone, a brick hit his head, he lay still. With the aid of her son she heaved at the huge board that had fallen across his back; she could have seen at a glance that it was useless; he was undoubtedly dead.
            In her mind's eye Alice could see the same thing happening to Lee. She called into the darkness, a tremor hit, she heard a crash inside. Disregarding his warning to say outside, she plunged into the darkness. The candle that illuminated the interior shone no more. She could see his dim shape lying on the floor, a leg of the cot that they had purchased for Sandy pinning his midriff to the floor. Bits of wood and rock were falling from the ceiling, pummeling his body unmercifully. He looked up at her as she came in.
            "You get out of here," he commanded roughly, "I can get this off myself." Without a word of answer she bent her back and tugged at the cot. In itself it was moderately light, but the rocks had been continuously falling on it and it was heavy, too heavy, she thought worriedly as she tried vainly to lift it. She couldn't budge it. Stones fell continuously on them and the cot. She started lifting the rocks off the bed, one by one. She could scarcely lift some of them. How could he stand it? she thought.
            "Ahhhhhhhhhh," a long drawn-out cry of anguish, unendurable pain. Her heart stopped as she found herself kneeling on the bed as she cleared the stones off. The leg was thick and blunt, so it did not pierce the skin, thank heaven, she prayed. He no longer helped her, she was too busy to find the reason. As the last rock was lifted and thrown to the floor, she heard him crying. Crying as only a five-year-old can cry. Her heart broke, bled that she should have caused him such torment, torture.
            "Lee, oh Lee---stop it, STOP IT," she cried too. She pulled him to his feet and his wails rent her heart; tears sprang to her eyes; weeping, they left the house; it fell behind them.