The people left at Rammelsberg did not just sit down and wait. They had everybody moving, potting, watering and transplanting seedlings from the cockpit to every free space on the floating village, and then the shelves "Hanging gardens" someone remarked, were filled up with new earth and seeds, this time selecting the plants that needed longer days and more heat.
Inside the plane Sarah was readying pallets and medical things with the help of Granny T and the older children. The two timid Polish girls came over. They were both nurses in training, best friends and eager to help and learn. They repeated all the names of things in English, and Janet and the four children from Castle Kronborg had the wonderful experience of being able to teach someone knowing less than themselves and eager to learn.
When the first aid quarter was almost done, one of the young girls slowly and hesitantly spoke up: "We need move beds. They be ill, maybe. Isolating?"
"Hanna, you're a genius!" Sarah said. "Yes we move. Move to a hut in the village. Let's do!" And Janet, Lil'George, the four from Kronborg, and even Gregor and his best friends, the twins Adam and Benny helped carry pallets, glasses and water bottles and medical things to the plane door where Hanna and Zofia handed them down to Sarah, standing in the boat.
Mary, helped by Astrid and Bengt the Swedish couple, evacuated one of the smaller floating huts and moved some plants so that it would be convenient to carry people aboard on stretchers. "How many do you think they will be bringing back, if any at all" Mary asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Sarah answered, "I hope they find some alive, but I fear no more than 20. Those caves are normally not just walk in-places, you go in in groups, led by guides. Most of those groups are 20, like in Wieliczka" Hanna and Zofia nodded. "We did 20," Zofia said smiling. "And they have to be deep inside to survive. Maybe two lucky groups. By now the old, and the weak will have died. Half left is a good guess."
Some time before sunset Mary, who were keeping watch at the top of Rammelsberg building a small fire, binoculars at the ready, spied the returning boats. She started waving the flag and calling out. Bengt came running over, bringing the megaphone and a fire brand.
"No need for fire," Mary said, "but please call them, they seem to be a bit off course."
Two of the boats could be seen splitting off from the group and turning towards Rammeslberg, the other three continued towards the east.
"They are going to Herrmannscave," Mary guessed. "I fear to hear what they found in the Iberg caves."
Mary's fear was justified. They walked back to the plane in time to show the two boats to the readied hospital hut.
In the boat lay eleven human forms, swaddled in blankets and every piece of clothing that could be expended from the rowers. They were thin, weak, unable to even sit, with big, shining eyes.
"Don't even try to speak," Sarah said. "We'll take care of you." They were carefully carried to the cots in the hospital hut and Sarah, Zofia and Hanna stayed with them. Granny T filled the thermos with new, hot soup and everybody carried blankets and spare clothes to the boats. "We're leaving again immediately," Tom said. "Every minute counts for people as hungry as these."
Mona, Matthew, Lisa and Cordelia was asked to take over in the rowing team and John, James, Pete and Sally gave up their spots to the fresh rowers.
The people left in Rammeslberg gathered in the plane. Pete spoke slowly, softly: "It was terrible. They just lay there, in the opening of the cave in the sparse sunshine. Dead and living among one another. Holding hands. Not reacting, not speaking. I think they thought we were hallucinations. We had to check all of them for signs of life, and some even died as we touched them. Some of the bodies had missing parts, But we found no fires, and it seems that the raw meat had not agreed with them." He shook his head. "I think this is all I need to tell of that cave. If we go there, we'll have to send a clean up squad ahead. We decided to split up with the strongest hurrying on to Hermanns and Baumanns caves. And the other two boats getting those people here and then stocking up on everything they could think of and have young fresh people rowing to catch up. They will be rowing as fast as humanly possible, and we should expect to see them again tomorrow. Keep a lookout and have the fire burning at all time. I'll take the first turn up there," Pete ended.
"Not until you've eaten, you won't!" Granny T said, and led Pete into the kitchen nook.
"I go," Bengt said simply, and patted Pete's shoulder awkwardly. The square, reliable Swede was on his way before Pete even reacted.
Mary found some stones stowed in the sides as ballast and heated theme and swaddled them in soft rags. She filled a basket of these and rowed to the sick hut. Hannah received her with thanks. "Those poor people. They have used up all their energy just staying alive. Keeping them warm and feed them soup and sweet tea by the spoonful is all we can do. And then hope and pray of course. And, Mary, could you ask for someone speaking German, I have to tell them so that they understand ... deep inside that they are safe now."
Mary hung a big hunk of her best soap on a rope outside the sick hut. "And you use it!" she said to Hannah and her team. "We'll need no viruses or whatever going around!" Then she rowed back and repeated Hanna's request. One of the young men called Adam from Wieliczka arose and said that he spoke German. "Even if my English is not very good, my German is," he said.
"As long as you understand English well enough to repeat what Hannah tells you," Mary said with relief.
"I'll go there as well," father Paul said. "My German may not be much, but I can pray!" Father Paul rowed the boat for the short distance, then they disappeared into the hut.
"We have to make another hut ready for reception of possible people from those two other mines," Mary said simply.
"We prepared 20 cots. Eleven are now occupied, How many more do we need?" Ulla said.
"I don't know," Mary said. "But I'd rather have 100 too many than one too few when they return."
They agreed upon evacuating and readying two more huts, making room for 60 people in all.
"I can't make up my mind whether I hope to fill those beds up or not," Granny T said. "We're running low of foods too fast for my liking, and those ones too will need high fat and protein foodstuff. We need a cow! This all was never thought for so many, so hungry people."
Pete came to her aid. "I saw a big bag of chickpeas in the store room the other day. We can make some sort of nut-mash with those. It won't be tasty, but if we add oil, sugar and ground up vitamin supplements it will pump them back up in next to no time. As soon as they can eat, they should be given 6 spoonfuls a day. I'll prepare some, and then go to the huts with it."
Minna looked lovingly at her husband: "Do you remember what I said about him being a health freak," he said to Mary. "This is so much him."
Hannah, Zofia and Sarah set a schedule for the care of the famished people from Iber. Always one of the three at attendance, and Hannah sleeping in the small hut next to the sick hut. Father Paul sat on a chair in the sick hut, praying or softly singing until he almost fell from the chair and Hannah ordered him to lie down on one of the empty pallets. "You're no help to anybody if you fall over from sheer lack of sleep!" she said in a half mocking tone.
Father Paul meekly obeyed, sleeping with one eye open and always ready for a comforting word or a short prayer.
In the morning all eleven were still alive. Ten of them seeming to grow stronger, but one very fragile looking man with a moustache kept getting weaker and more translucent with each passing hour.
Father Paul walked over to him and took his hand. "I know you're told not to speak," he said in faltering German. "But listen, you can do!" The man nodded once. "I am a priest. And I am telling you that we all need you here. Not in Heaven! You are not alone any more. You will not be left alone. I sit here. I stay!" Father Paul knew the Lord's prayer in a multitude of languages, his only hobby, he once told Allan was collecting prayers in foreign languages. And now he prayed this prayer over and over again, dozing and praying all day. The man with the moustache still lived as the sun set. Father Paul heard the commotion as the other boats returned, but he stayed at the man's side, fed him soup and tea with a drop of whiskey and prayed and sung. All through the night father Paul held his hand, eating and drinking one-handedly, even peeing in a bucket with a blanket round him for privacy. Next morning the man looked better, his skin had lost its paper white translucency and he slept peacefully.
"Father, you worked a miracle there," Hannah said. "The other boat have brought 13 living dead back. They are a bit better off. Tom says Allison is livid. They seem to have slaughtered and eaten all the colourless olms in that cave in order to to survive."
"No problem!" the man with the moustache whispered.
"Don't speak," Hannah said automatically, but father Paul asked: "Why is it not a problem that they ate the probably last animals on earth?" The man tried to swallow, and father Paul fed him more lukewarm tea. He got several teaspoons inside before whispering: "All males."
"The olms in that cave were all males?" father Paul said and the man nodded and fell asleep. "Hannah, will you please go and tell Allison that those strange creatures might have saved the life of 13 people, and that they were not destined for survival anyhow. What a story!" father Paul said with a soft but hearty laughter.