OUTSIDERS CHARACTER | Elaina Maria Gonzales was born into a family of emergency workers. Her father, Roberto, worked for San Bernardino Search and Rescue (SBS&R) as a walker—a person who hiked to the place where a person was in trouble. Her grandfather was a trained male nurse—and later a paramedic—who volunteered often in search and rescue operations.
Elaina was a mommy’s girl. Her mother, Sofia, was a listener—someone who monitored emergency communication channels. When Elaina was born, Sofia moved to the position of floater—a person who listened, but wasn’t called on to act unless needed. That allowed her to work from home while raising Elaina. As an only child, Elaina and her mom were constant companions.
At an early age, Elaina learned hand signals. When her mom held up one finger it meant, be quiet. She learned later it was supposed to mean, hold that thought for one second because someone is talking in my other ear. If that finger pointed at her face, it meant, if you don’t shut up right now, you’re in big trouble. That was supposed to mean, I’m serious, this is important. Elaina got used to her mom’s divided attention. Besides, her dad got the same treatment.
When Elaina started school, her mom set up an official listening station in their home. She was an auxiliary dispatcher while Elaina was away at school. Sofia was passionate about helping people, keeping an earpiece tuned into the action, even when off-duty.
One day while Elaina was at school, Sofia drove to get some groceries. In her ear, she was monitoring the emergency channel. No one knows for sure if that had any bearing on the situation, but another car hit hers and she lost control. She was killed instantly when her car careened into an oncoming truck.
When Elaina came home from school that day, she saw her dad’s Search and Rescue vehicle in the driveway—her mom’s was missing. As she approached the front door, she could hear her dad’s wailing voice from inside. When she burst through the door, her dad grabbed her and held her, but he couldn’t speak. Her grandparents arrived a few minutes later, and explained what happened. They took Elaina home with them.
Elaina lived with her grandparents for a couple months as she learned to cope with her loss. When she was ready to return home, Roberto worked with the SBS&R to be there when Elaina came home from school. His parents took her back again when school ended for the summer.
One day the grandparents had to leave town, and Roberto was forced to take Elaina with him to a rescue site. He left her in the emergency shelter set up for rescue personnel. She was fascinated with the watchers—the crew that monitored body cams and drone cameras. She got to see her dad walk down trails and scan for hikers from a camera mounted on his helmet. He gave food and water to emaciated people, and she watched paramedics—just like her grandpa—bandage wounds. It was that experience that turned her into a daddy’s girl.
For weeks after that, Elaina begged her dad to let her go on another rescue. Only twice more that summer did he feel the situation was safe enough to do that. But on that second trip, Elaina saw something. The walkers—her dad’s crew—reported they couldn’t locate a climber who was late for a check-in. “But I just saw him,” Elaina blurted out to the watcher. They sent a drone to that location and discovered a man unconscious at the base of a cliff. His life was saved, and Elaina’s life was changed.
When Elaina moved back home, she was trusted with caring for herself. At fourteen, she could cook her own meals and be trusted to do her homework. Her dad was there most of the time, but his job had demands. Her grandparents lived close, and checked in often. Elaina spent her spare time in her mom’s abandoned office, listening to the emergency scanner. She never felt alone—she could hear her dad’s voice on her mom’s equipment.
One day the scanner made an odd noise. Low level static could be heard in the background of conversations. Its rhythmic staccato nature intrigued her. It wasn’t random. It seemed… intentional. She summoned her dad. As they listened, they heard various combinations of short and long static bursts. Then silence. Roberto recognized something. “S-O-S,” he said, as the sound repeated. “Elaina, that’s a universal distress call. That’s Morse code.”
They listened close, but after a minute all the static stopped. Two weeks passed before she heard the sound again. It was a mix of tones, and didn’t last long, but she did recognize the SOS she heard earlier. When the noise happened ten days later, she was prepared. She had a copy of Morse code tacked to the wall above the scanner. She had pencil and paper to write down what she heard. Maybe she could help someone in trouble, again.