She was no longer in the cockpit. She had been thrown from her seat, evidently, and drawn back into the long central corridor of the ship on a tide of molten air. Her head stung, distracting her from the more familiar pain still left in her arm. The throbbing of her temples was fierce, and her vision was clouded – by more than the burning ship.
Akane remembered being a child, running through this garden, blissful and unaware. Her friends would visit her, and sit for hours at the bases of trees, feeling the cool, clear wind, marvelling. She could never understand it. Now, after years in Osaka and in the United States and on long haul space flights to the distant Alpha colony, Akane could finally recognise the wonder in a soft breeze.
Howard still sat with his eyes closed in the Captain’s chair, looming up and over Akane’s station at the front of the cockpit. She could hear him breathe, slow and smooth. She shuddered as she imagined the warm breath cooling on the back of her neck. She gripped the ship’s controls tight, snatched at them to escape the feeling of surveillance, and felt one of her hands slap wetly on the stick. "You're bleeding on my ship, Pilot."
Akane sat poised on her bunk, slowly easing up the sleeves of her Cabinet-issue uniform. The ship was warm, most of the time – the heating slightly off-kilter, rusted and cracked like everything else. Akane still chose the long sleeves, despite the cloying artificial atmosphere and all of the fucking dust.
The tight corridor on the sixth floor of the endless tenement was packed, loud and sweaty, people blowing off steam at the close of a long week. A district full of bars and rotting speakeasies, lining the sides of the narrow hall. Summers held her backpack in front of her, clutching it tightly, trying to move through the crowd and make it home to sleep. She needed sleep, could feel it desperately scratching away behind her eyes. Nine, ten, eleven—
As he walked down the narrow aisle between rows of cubicles, he felt green fluorescent light creep into the sides of his eyes. Out the window, saw the glowing lights of a city encased in thick, man-made fog. Heard barely a sound but for the nearly inaudible whirr of the building’s network. Did it have to be here? Wasn’t there somewhere else he could do this, somewhere where the air was less dry and the carpet a bit dirtier?
Up here, far above the crippling, coloured chiaroscuro of Osaka, everything was soft. The ground, the light, the shades of green and white and blue. The air was thin, and Kiko’s lungs took a while to adjust. As she trudged forward, moving from concrete road to stone path to dirt track, she felt fatigue creep through her more quickly than normal, but she liked it. Revelled in it, even; felt it hold her to the earth like an anchor.
Kiko stepped gingerly through the mess, desperate not to disturb any of it. She could feel the woman’s eyes on her back, willing her not to interfere. She had shown Kiko through the house, taken her to the room, but had stayed half a metre back the whole time. Kiko could understand. She was carrying finality into the woman’s life like a virus.