Friday, June 27, 2014

Chapter 23

As Graham waited in the cramped chamber, he found himself thinking again about the decisions he had made in his life.  For someone with an aversion to being confined, he sure had chosen a life that kept him locked up all the time.  For nineteen years now, he had lived without fresh air, cool breezes, a view of the sky . . . without the feeling of the sun’s heat rising off a parking lot on a hot summer afternoon.  He lived in a temperature controlled, humidity controlled, hermetically sealed outpost in the middle of a toxic wasteland.  Every day, he faced walk-in refrigerators, control rooms, and decontamination chambers.  Even his quarters often felt unbearably tight. 
In South Dakota, he had slept with his bedroom window open every night.  Even when it got down to twenty below, he nonetheless opened it just a smidge, so that he could feel his escape route, so that the inside air would not crush him, so that he knew that there was more space just within reach.  He had now grown used to sleeping with everything sealed up.  But more and more he longed to live in a normal house, a place that did not require complicated precautions and security measures just to step out into the world.
Graham’s skin began to itch on his back.  Then, around his ankles.  He looked to turn the air conditioning up in his suit, but it was already at maximum.  His breathing sped up.  He was afraid he might hyperventilate.  He needed to get out of the chamber and the suit – and quickly.
He reached subconsciously for his scar, but the glove and helmet got in his way.  He practiced the breathing techniques that the Army psychologists had taught him and tried to think about starry skies, the expanse of the universe, and the view from the boat out on the wide-open ocean.  Instead, as always happened when he was starting to feel boxed in, he was transported back to the day of his first claustrophobic attack. 
That morning, Graham and his parents attended a pancake breakfast to raise funds for the local soccer league.  Graham was nine.  A few years later, the town council held those same events to help farmers keep their farms.  But these were the good years.  Corn prices were high, and Graham’s father’s farm was doing well. 
On their way back from town, Graham’s father said that he needed to get some of the recently harvested corn into the grain elevator before the rains hit.  Graham offered to help, but his father declined.
When they got home, Graham’s father got to work.  Graham made himself a glass of iced tea and sat down on the porch steps to look through one of his favorite science magazines.  For half an hour, he read and watched the afternoon clouds darken as they marched towards the farm. 
As the first drops of rain began to fall, Graham suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to put away the broom he had used to clean out the main silo in the grain elevator.  His father was down beyond the garden.  Graham yelled down to him, but he could not get his father’s attention.  He noticed the sweat stains on his father’s shirt and the irritation on his face.
Graham put his magazine and empty iced tea glass in the house.  As he walked down the porch steps, he felt the first-to-arrive, windswept sprinkle of rain and that energized, unsettled air that signals the coming of a major thundershower.  A swirl of dust rose up as Graham crossed the yard and stepped into the grain elevator.
There were four silos in the grain elevator.  A week prior, Graham’s father had offered to pay him ten dollars to sweep out the entire area, including all four silos.  It had taken him a few days, but eventually Graham had finished the task.  Entering the largest silo, Graham saw his cat, Ginger.  She had been very pregnant, but was now looking visibly thinner now.  Graham followed her to see where she had given birth to her kittens.  She quickly exited the silo, jumped into a small ventilation shaft, and disappeared.  He knew that his father would be filling the silo soon and thought that all of the dust from the filling process would not be good for the new kittens.  He peered into the shaft, but could see nothing.
“Hiding them from me, huh?” Graham called into the darkness.  He called again to her, but she did not respond.
He figured she was a capable mother and could tend to her litter, so he went back into the large, dark silo to retrieve the broom.  He propped the maintenance door open with a small block of wood and entered the silo.  The rain had picked up; the patter on the corrugated steel roof high above quickened.  After a few moments of groping around, he located the broom and headed for the door. 
Just then, however, he heard a high-pitched meowing, a kitten’s voice.  A second later, Ginger reappeared, scooted past Graham, and crossed over to the far wall.  She had circled back to protect her litter.  He walked over quietly, his eyes adjusting to the darkness.  There, just a few steps away, in a little ball, lay four, squirming kittens – new, blind, and beautiful.  Ginger lay down and wrapped her body around the fury newborns.  They would need to get Ginger and her kittens out of there before they could fill the silo.  He got down on all fours and approached quietly.
“Ginger, come on mama,” Graham cooed.  “You can’t stay here now.”
Ginger began to yowl, low and deep.  Graham inched closer, and then Ginger barred her teeth and swatted at him with her sharp claws.  She definitely did not want to be messed with.  His father would know exactly what to do.  Graham backed away, stood up, and grabbed the broom.  As he turned to head out, he heard the silo door slam shut.
Graham walked over to the door and gave it a shove.  The wind had closed it tight.  He banged on the door and called out to his father, but no one was there.  Sweat dripped from Graham’s brow into his eyes, and they began to sting.  He legs were shaking.  He was no longer interested in the kittens.  He just wanted out. 
Then, all of a sudden, the elevator’s conveyor belt started up.  The machinery’s loud grind reverberated through the silo’s walls.  Ginger began to screech and yowl.  Bits of old husks, dirt, and dried corn fell from the conveyor belt above, covering Graham, Ginger, and the kittens with fine, dry dust.  Graham began to sneeze.  After a few seconds, loose, dry corn kernels started to fall into the silo.  First, it was just a couple of grains hitting the metal floor – ding, ding, ding . . . .  A small pile took shape in the middle of the floor.  Then, quickly, the volume of grain increased.  And in an instant, a thick waterfall of corn began crashing down.  Graham moved over to the edge of the silo, next to Ginger and the helpless kittens.
The corrugated steel walls began to shake as thousands of pounds of corn poured into the silo.  Graham banged on the walls, but it was futile; the roar of the machinery and corn was like thunder.  For a moment, he saw Ginger’s mouth as she yowled, but he could not hear her.  The air filled with a thick, grainy dust that got into Graham’s eyes and quickly filled his nose.  He could not catch his breath.  He was gulping down air and dust, coughing, sneezing, and gagging. 
The corn kept coming.  He tried to keep it off of Ginger and her kittens, but he could not block the flood of corn.  The corn reached his knees.  He continued to dig, trying to save the cats.  He got a hold of Ginger for a moment, but as he lifted her away from her kittens, she sunk her teeth deep into his hand.  He tried to hold onto her, but she was thrashing wildly in his grip.  She reached out and clawed him in the face, catching his eyelid momentarily and then tearing a deep cut down his cheek.  He screamed and dropped her. 
The corn quickly rose to his thighs.  He frantically dug down into the corn for the kittens, but it was too deep now.  He had to give up.  The corn reached his chest.  He tried to push himself up onto of the pile, but he could not stay on top.  It was coming too quickly now.  He kept sinking into the rising tide of loose corn.  He thought he would die, buried in the corn and asphyxiated by the dust.  He could not catch his breath and began to shake all over.
The corn reached his neck when all of a sudden the conveyor belt stopped and the machinery fell silent. 
Graham heard his mother wailing from far away, somewhere outside.  She was screaming, “He’s in there, he’s in the silo!  I know he’s in there!  I saw him heading over here.  Graham, where are you?  Answer me!”
Graham tried to call out to his parents, but he could not catch his breath.  He was coughing and spitting corn dust.  He managed a weak yelp.  Then he cleared his throat, spat, and this time, he yelled as loud as he could.  He heard the silo door opening.  A dim light shined from the opening as corn spilled out of the silo.  Graham saw his father’s face coming up through the corn as he climbed up into the silo from the maintenance door.  His father crawled across the corn and grabbed Graham’s hands.  With a couple of forceful tugs, his father pulled him up out of the corn and threw him toward the open door.  They slid down the slope of corn that had spilled onto the grain elevator floor.  Graham reached up and touched the cut under his eye.  His hand came away stained red.  His mother grabbed him and squeezed him against her, repeating, “I thought you were dead.  I thought you were dead . . . .”
Graham saw Ginger skittering away out of the corner of his eye.  He could not stop crying.  He could not catch his breath.  His mother took him into the farmhouse before he could tell her or his father about the suffocating kittens. 
For the next three months, Graham did his chores and went school, but barely spoke a word.  Every night, he re-lived that moment in the silo in the same recurring nightmare.  The corn fell, the dust suffocated.  Ginger and the kittens cried.  The corn buried his legs, his waist, his chest, and then eventually climbed up over his thrashing head. Then it pinned him in place, and he could not move at all.  The weight continued to increase, pressing against his legs, arms, and chest.  He was frozen in place.  He could not breathe.  In this dream, his parents did not find him for months.
When he awoke from these nightmares, one image always stuck in his mind:  the broom and those kittens under all that corn.  It often made him sick, and he would have to rush down to the bathroom to vomit.  Then, he would sit alone on the linoleum, stroking the developing scar under his eye until he felt calm enough to return to bed.  His mother took him to see the school therapist and then to a psychologist in Sioux Falls.  The nightmares gradually went away, but the claustrophobia and the scar were indelible.   
One afternoon, a week before Thanksgiving that same year, his father came back from town with a new pocket knife.  It had a thick blade and wooden sides.  Burned into the wood were Graham’s initials.  He sat down with Graham at the kitchen table and said, “Son, I want you to carry this pocket knife with you everywhere you go, from now on.  It’s yours, okay?  If you’d had it in the silo, who knows, you might’ve been able to pop the hinges off and squirm out of there on your own.  It’s the best knife they carry down at the hardware store.  It’ll last you – you don’t have to worry about that.”
Graham did as he was told and carried the knife with him everywhere, never showing it at school, keeping it under his pillow at night.  Over the years, his grease and sweat seasoned the wooden handle to a dark gray.
Graham reached down.  Through his hazmat suit, he could feel the familiar shape of that pocket knife resting against his thigh.  He held it tight as he repressed the waves of panic that washed over him.  He almost screamed out twice, but managed to hold it in as he waited for the moment of his release from the overheated decontamination chamber and stifling suit.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chapter 22

A moment later, the hover transport vehicle smashed into a dumpster on the side of the street, spun around, and then ran into the side of a house.  The collision ripped the rear door off of its hinges, and a cloud of mold spores blew into the vehicle.
Graham instantly opened the emergency comm channel.  “Is everyone okay?”  Without waiting for a response, he continued, “Nobody move!”
“Colonel, the vehicle’s contamination level is red,” the pilot reported. 
“Obviously!” Graham responded.  “Check the levels in the goddamn suits.”
After a moment, the pilot reported, “The system says that all of the suits are good to go.  No breaches at this point, sir.”
“Thank god.  Now everyone stay still.  Your lives depend on maintaining the integrity of your hazmat suits.  Private, how bad is the damage to the vehicle.”
“Sir, it looks like the right rear blower overheated,” the pilot said.  “That’s what caused the loss of control.  The skirt was severely damaged on impact.  There’s no way for me to get this thing going again.  I just tried to radio Central Command.  It seems we’ve lost external communications as well.”
Graham turned around to address Charley.  “Lieutenant, we’re a quarter of a mile from the Windmill Pier.  We could wait here for a rescue vehicle.  Or we could walk.  I don’t love the idea of waiting.  The HEPA units on these suits are not designed for long-term air filtration.  But walking is risky too.  What do you think?”
“We walk to the pier, sir.  If we go slowly and everyone’s careful, we shouldn’t experience any problems.  Waiting here just prolongs our exposure.  The sooner we get into a decontamination chamber, the better.”
“I agree.  Listen everyone,” Graham announced.  “Carefully unbuckle your seat belts and exit the vehicle.  When we get outside, I will lead us to the pier.  Slow and steady and watch where you step.”
As the group began to exit the vehicle, Graham noticed that Ian had picked up his camera bag.  “Leave your bag,” he said, “it could tear your suit.”
“No.”  Ian turned to face Graham.
“Look, we’ll retrieve it later and return it to you,” Graham said.  “You have my word.  Right now, it’s just a big liability.”
“I never go anywhere without my cameras.  Anywhere.  Okay?”  Then he turned away with his bag over his shoulder and walked off the vehicle through the hole where the rear door used to be.
“Ignore him,” Peggy Lee said.  “If he gets himself killed, it’s his own fault.”  Then she followed Ian out into the fog.  The two escort soldiers, the pilot, Charley, and Graham all quickly exited the vehicle.
Graham organized the group into a single file line and led it into the street.  Visibility was limited to about seven feet.  The fog quickly condensed on their visors, further inhibiting visibility.  The hazmat suits were not equipped to sense the navigational heat nodes.  But Graham had travelled to and from the Windmill Pier hundreds of times; he knew the way.
They walked on a carpet of mold.  Clouds of spores puffed out from underfoot with each step.  Their suits were soon covered from head to toe in deadly spores.  When they reached 47th Avenue, Graham led them into the Park.  A few hundred feet in, they came to the Windmill Pier. 
Under normal circumstances, the transport vehicle would have parked, and soldiers in the pier’s main terminal would have connected a sealed skyway to the rear of the vehicle.  They would have all entered the main terminal and then boarded the boat through a sealed gangway without once being exposed to the outside.  They would have boarded the boat in groups of four (the capacity of the decontamination chamber), gone through the decontamination process as a precautionary measure, and then removed the hazmat suits as the boat headed out to the facilities.
But these were far from normal circumstances.  Graham needed to get them all into the boat’s decontamination chamber ASAP.  He bypassed the main terminal and walked down the pier to an emergency entrance to the sealed gangway, marked by a red light above the doorway.  He pressed a buzzer on the door until a soldier, in a perfectly clean hazmat suit, appeared in the window.
“Soldier, can you hear me?” Graham asked.
“Loud and clear.”  The soldier held up his wrist display to show Graham that he had manually activated the emergency comm channel on his suit.  “We saw you approaching the terminal on foot.”
“Seal the gangway from the terminal,” Graham said.  “We need to board the boat immediately.  Also, send word to Captain Sherwood that we need to begin decontamination right away.  When we’re on board the ship, you’ll need to manually decontaminate the gangway.”
“Yes, sir.”
A few seconds later, the red light above the doorway began flashing green.  Graham pulled the door open and entered the gangway. 
The gangway led them directly into the boat’s decontamination chamber.  A sign above the entrance read, “Maximum capacity:  4 adults.”  They were seven.  They would have to make it work.  Prolonged exposure just increased the risk of infection.  Ian and Peggy Lee entered first followed by the pilot, the two escort soldiers, Charley, and finally Graham. 
“Squeeze in!” Graham called out, as he attempted to shut the door.  He could not get it shut.  “Move back!  Move in!”  The group shuffled further into the room, squeezing against each other.  Graham repositioned his feet and pulled the door hard.  It sealed shut.  The lights dimmed.  Graham’s heart began to race.  They were packed in cheek by jowl, and there was no escape.
“The irradiation process will take approximately ten minutes,” he said, closing his eyes and leaning his helmet against the door. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Chapter 21

Graham watched the hover transport pilot negotiate the streets of San Francisco as they turned off Pine Street onto Divisadero.  Steve McQueen ripped through these streets in Bullitt, the first film Graham watched when he got to headquarters; he always was a sucker for car chases.  He had then spent days studying old maps of San Francisco.  He wondered if he was the only person left in the world who knew these street names. 
Graham saw a bus stop that had been crushed by a falling tree many years ago and knew exactly where they were.  In a few blocks, they would turn right onto Fulton Street and head west, past Golden Gate Park until they reached the Windmill Pier, named after the old Dutch Windmill at the end of the park.  The dilapidated windmill, once famous for its surrounding fields of tulips, now stood partially submerged in the Pacific Ocean, directly adjacent to the Army’s main pier.
The Army had installed thousands of heat nodes along the route between headquarters and the pier.  The vehicle’s heat-sensing eyes produced an image of the street superimposed on the windshield.  The clear lines of steady, red lights cut through the swirling, ever-obscuring fog, making the pilot’s job ten times easier. 
Graham turned towards Peggy Lee who was looking out the large window on her side of the vehicle.  “See anything interesting?” he inquired over their private comm line.
She turned her head slowly.  She was quietly crying.  “I see a whole, big, empty city out there,” she answered before turning back to her window.
Graham looked out his own side window.  He remembered being struck by the sadness of it all.  San Francisco had been evacuated and was now a completely toxic city where no life – except for the deadly mold and a few lonely soldiers sealed up in the Transamerica Building – could exist.  During momentary breaks in the fog, he saw brief glimpses of the life that had existed before the fog and mold had taken over.  He noticed a Korean shop front with a handwritten sign still partially visible under a thin layer of mold: “Best BBQ in SF!”  He saw an old mountain bike, missing its front tire, locked to a parking meter.  A large, metallic billboard advertising a once-famous pizzeria had rusted, fallen to the pavement, and become almost completely covered with mold.  A playground appeared momentarily before disappearing again into the fog.  The merry-go-round dripped mold from its curved hand rails. 
Peggy Lee had been correct; the silver slayer had claimed over two million people from these very streets.  The media had called it the modern equivalent of the Black Plague.  Morgues overflowed.  People stored the dead in supermarket meat lockers.  Now, all of the neighborhoods, office buildings, shops, museums – everything that once was the city – stood silent and empty, testaments in concrete, metal, and mold to the tragic history of the once-glorious San Francisco.
But Graham tried not to think in those terms anymore.  The past was in the past.  Each wisp of fog was a glass of water for someone somewhere who needed it.  The price had been extreme, but what choice did they have back then?  Without the water production facilities, the western half of the United States would have become completely uninhabitable.  The megalopolis of Los Angles, with its tens of millions of people, would have quickly become empty and lifeless – its fate marked by sand dunes, unrelenting heat, and sun-bleached skeletons.  As much as it had cost in human life, the creation of the water production system had been the lesser of two evils – a means of preventing an even greater cataclysm of human suffering and death.
Graham could not cry for San Francisco.  He was far too concerned about the future to worry about tragedies of the past.  The secret about the failing solar panels portended great suffering.  When the water production facilities quit working, the devastation of San Francisco in the mid-60’s would pale in comparison to the horrors that would mark the fall of the L.A. Climate Shelter Zone. 
As Peggy Lee cried quietly, Graham felt the weight of it all.  Unless some solution could be found to the overheating solar panels, the end was coming fast.  He could ignore that reality for spells, but it was starting to eat at him more and more each day.  He knew that he should put his hand on Peggy Lee’s shoulder and reassure her, but in the end, he felt like he was the one in need of reassurance. 
Or escape. 
He’d do anything to escape with her.
The pilot turned onto Fulton.  For ten minutes they floated slowly along the dark street in silence.  They were nearing the Windmill Pier.
Graham looked at Peggy Lee, who was still turned toward her window.  He gazed at the back of her hazmat suit and helmet, thinking of the golden hair inside her helmet, her freckled skin beneath the tyvec, nylon, elastic, and cotton . . . her curves, her ribs, her earlobes, her teeth, her perfect fingernails . . . . 
But was she even there?  Was it just an empty suit next to him?  Was she a fiction?  An empty promise?  Was her heart really beating under all those layers?  Did she breathe? 
Graham remembered an old movie in which a little boy could speak to dead people called The Sixth Sense.  The main character, a child psychologist, tried to help the boy.  In the end, the psychologist realized that he had been murdered months earlier and that the little boy was the only one who could talk to him because he was now among the dead.  Graham now thought that the twist at the end was all too real – at least for him in the present times.  He felt like he was living with the dead – the walking, breathing dead, painfully unaware of their looming demise.
Was Peggy Lee a ghost?  Were they were all just ghosts now?
Graham reached over the aisle and squeezed her elbow.  She slowly turned and looked at him.  Her gray-blue eyes glistened through her visor, but no trace of tears remained on her face.  A faint smile appeared on her lips. 
“You okay?” he asked.
“Of course,” she responded.  “It’s just . . . well, I knew someone who died here.  I was thinking about him.  I’m fine now.  I just needed to get it out of my system.  I’ll tell you about him sometime.  You remind me a great deal of him.”
She is real.  Complicated, tender, tough, and . . . oh so breathtaking.  “Okay.”  Graham nodded and let her turn back to the window.
Just then, the transport vehicle veered to the left, and its emergency siren began to blare.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Chapter 20

A deep voice blared through the speaker overhead:  “Secure hover transport doors.”  Thirty seconds later, it continued, “Decontamination Chamber One is now fully contained.  All personnel in D.C. One, secure hazmat suits and transmit the all-clear to central command.”
“Now for the helmets,” Graham said to Peggy Lee.  He then turned and spoke to Charley who sat one row back and across the aisle.  “Help Ian here with his helmet and gloves and show him the main features of the suit?”
“Yes, sir,” Charley said. 
As Graham turned back to the front of the craft, he could see the pilot snapping his helmet into place.  The two escort soldiers sat directly behind the pilot in side-facing, pull-down seats.  They too attached their helmets and were now dialing into central command from the keypads on their forearms. 
Graham secured Peggy Lee’s helmet, helped her with her gloves and seat belt, and then turned up her suit’s air conditioning.  He then sent the all-clear from her suit.  He also keyed in a communication line between her helmet and his so that they could speak privately.
The same deep voice from the loudspeaker spoke softly now from small speakers inside the helmets.  “Prepare for D.C. One contamination.  Doors will open in three, two, one – outer doors opening.  Have a safe trip.”
The hover transport vehicle remained still as the doors opened.  The pilot tapped in coordinates and flipped on the headlights.  Wisps of fog licked the sides of the portal and snaked into the chamber along the ceiling.  Graham knew that the thick outside air was warm, but the fog’s dark veil felt cold.  Goose bumps crept up his arms.  Visibility decreased rapidly as dense fog filled the chamber.  The line of lights on the walls glowed faintly through the fog like a string of lanterns.  Graham glanced at Peggy Lee.  She was watching the pilot completed his run-throughs.
The pilot then pushed on a large central lever, and the main engine, which had been idling quietly, roared to life.  The vehicle rose nose first, as its skirt inflated.  The fog outside Graham’s window swirled into tight eddies – a panicked stream – and then dissipated quickly, driven back outside by the hover transport’s powerful blowers.  The vehicle leveled out, now floating ten inches above the chamber floor.
Graham liked going out to the facilities, but every time he left the relative safety of headquarters, he was reminded of one of the worst days of his life.  This time was no different.
It was September 25, 2071, two years after basic training.  His platoon was running drills in Wyoming in preparation for deployment to the Alaska border.  The Alaskan Rebellion had ended disastrously for America earlier in the year.  The U.S. Army was secretly readying its troops to retake control.
Graham was sitting directly behind the pilot of a troop transport helicopter as they crossed the Red Desert region of south-east Wyoming after a long day of field exercises.  He watched the pilot and co-pilot attempting to steady the chopper as they sped through an unexpected and ferocious sand storm.  They had flown in worse weather, Graham reassured himself.  He leaned back in his chair, tried to relax, and watched the dark waves of sand pelting the windscreen.  He was hungry and his legs ached from the day’s exercises.  He wanted to be in the mess hall, sitting down to a hamburger and some fries.
All of a sudden, a blast of wind ripped the windscreen from the helicopter.  One minute it was there, and the next it was gone.  The helicopter began to spin uncontrollably.  The pilot attempted to regain control, but it was no use.  Grit blew through the cabin, filling Graham’s ears, nose, eyes, and mouth instantly.  He tried to take a breath, but there was no air to breathe, just sand.  He covered his face with his hands as they hurtled through the gritty emptiness, waiting for impact.
Graham could never remember everything that happened next.  He just recalled pulling soldiers from the burning wreckage through the raging sand storm.  His knee and shoulder screamed for him to stop.  But he kept going.  He pulled three bloody soldiers from the chopper and was going back for more when it exploded.  A massive fire ball lit up the bleak, brown void surrounding the wreckage.  Graham struggled back to the guys he had pulled out.  As he checked their vital signs, he realized that he had saved one soldier who was still – just barely – alive . . . and two corpses. 
Twelve hours later, Graham was the sole survivor.  The Army gave him a Bronze Star for his bravery.  He didn’t want to accept it, but had no choice. 
They say there is no better feeling than saving a life.  Graham had his own theory:  there is no worse feeling than blowing the opportunity to save lives by stupidly dragging already dead people out of a burning helicopter.  Who was still alive in that chopper when it went up in flames?  What would those good soldiers be doing now if Graham had pulled them out instead of the dead and dying?
The accident, and other similar accidents, led to a sharp decrease in the use of helicopters, in both the military and civilian sectors.  After a wide-scale investigation, including interviews with Graham, the U.S. government concluded that helicopters were no longer a safe form of transportation.  Unpredictable rogue winds with speeds of up to 250 mph, like the one that caused Graham’s accident, were becoming more frequent throughout the Rocky Mountains and Mid-West.  High and low pressure systems, climatologists said, were clashing with increased ferocity each year, causing violent and deadly wind storms throughout the nation.  The military moth-balled its helicopters in 2076, five years after the accident.
After he had healed up, Graham was offered his choice of assignments.  He chose a two-year assignment at the water production facilities because it did not require flying or acts of bravery, and he would be helping people in the L.A. Climate Shelter.  He had long ago given up on his dream of going to college and becoming a scientist, but a tour at the water production facilities seemed like a step in the right direction.
As the hover transport vehicle pulled away from headquarters and into the dark fog, Graham made a silent wish for a safe trip.