Thursday, 16 July 2009 - 10:17 pm

Filtered water

Dr Kostoya allowed a few of us upstairs today. We caught him sneaking around downstairs when the foragers were heading out and he asked if we would give him a hand with something. I went up with Ben, Sally and Conroy.

He has settled himself in his lab with a bed of piled blankets on an old couch in his office. “My home away from home is now just home,” he told us with a shrug.

We were much more interested in the things he had set up in the lab. So many pipes and tubes, tubs and bowls and vats. At first, he didn’t want to talk about any of that stuff – he asked us to help him hook up a new pump to a nest of pipes in the corner. It was a big, heavy thing that had to be held up while it was propped in place and attached to the system.

We struggled to get it into position, but it seemed a lot lighter than it looked. Kostoya was surprised while he hurried around us, fastening things. I couldn’t help but notice that Ben didn’t seem to strain under it as much as the rest of us did, but maybe that’s just yesterday’s conversation colouring things. I’m looking for changes now, so maybe that’s why I’m seeing them.

Kostoya explained the pump after it was dealt with: it would stop the water in the defensive pipes from freezing. He babbled something about convection but I missed exactly what he was saying. I did catch that he has a rainwater tank on the roof that he’s using to supply the system.

That’s not all he’s using the rainwater for, either. Conroy and I peeked at some of the things he has on the counters and were quickly shooed away from them.

“You’re investigating the rain?” Conroy asked him. Of all of us, he’s the one most likely to understand the professor’s mumblings.

“Yes! Of course. What else would I be doing here?” Kostoya was flustered and defensive, but not enough to chase us away. I think he liked that we seemed interested; we reminded him of his long-gone students.

“What have you found out about it?” I said. I didn’t know what I hoped for; it has been so long since we had any chance of discovering anything about the rain that I had given up on answers.

A lot of things, he told us. He’d discovered so many things, and yet he had barely scratched the surface of it. It’s not organic, he said, and it’s not just laced with acid. It’s more than that. And despite it bearing a faintly green tinge, it’s linked to the orange taint to the clouds.

But it can be filtered clean. With the right mixture of stones and soils and enough time, the acid can be sifted right out of the rainwater. It can be made safe.

“Won’t even make you sick,” he said, holding up a glass of water that looked muddy but brown rather than green.

It took me a long moment to realise what he meant. Ben was silent and Conroy’s mouth fell open just a heartbeat before the penny dropped inside my skull.

“The Sickness is linked to the rain?”

“Yes, yes of course.” Kostoya seemed surprised. “What did you think caused it?”

None of us knew what to say to that. It makes an awful kind of sense. I went through the list of those I had known with the Sickness: Sax, with his burnt arm; Ben, with the acid splatter over his chest; Alice, with half her face missing; and, more recently, Steve with his bandaged arm. Of the others – the priest, the Rats – I don’t know if they had ever been burned by the rain, but it’s entirely possible.

Our stunned silence was broken by Sally’s abrupt departure. The lab doors flapped in her wake.

Kostoya decided that was a wonderful idea and shooed us all out. Down in our teaching room again, things were strange. Conroy was fascinated; Ben was silent and internal; Sally was curled up and apparently asleep. I turned it all over in my head until the others got back, my feet carrying me in restless circles around the building. It’s hard trying to keep watch with such a distraction.

I think the rain just got a little more terrifying.

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