At the back of a dusty old shop, Annabelle sits every evening and counts boxes. Small tins and wooden chests and neatly folded shapes of old card. It gets cold as the sun goes down, and she brings in an old gas heater and sits close by, fire warming her bones as she neatly orders pile after pile of beautiful boxes.
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.
She feels the water wrap around her body, and a tingling bursting quietly in the back of her neck. Back on the shore, she’s left behind more than her clothes. Here, in the open, she can forget a lot about the land and what occupies it. She smiles and sinks her bare shoulders, her tingling neck, and her eyes below the surface of the water.
The hunter kneels on the side of a sweeping hillock, lets damp blades of grass settle amongst his fingertips.
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—
Rach hobbles down the street, alone on bare feet. The cocktail buzz is slowly starting to wear off, punctured by the cool early morning air. Ahead the gleaming vacancy light of a taxi, shimmering and attractive. She walks past it, carries on into the streets ahead, her mind a few steps ahead, her body fumbling to catch up. For now, she needs to keep walking.
Above, the creatures turn and tumble in their anger. It is thunderous; a cacophony of inevitability that makes the walls of our decaying bunker rattle. I look to Grace. She sits calmly, wrapped in the thinning blanket of her bruised arms. The fear has gone from her some time ago, replaced by a cold quiet. I am envious.
When I was a kid, I used to get dry skin on the back of my hands. I still do, to be honest – I’m a bit of a germaphobe, and wash my hands too much. But back then, I was more carefree. Washed my hands only when I was specifically told to. After all, hand-washing is a chore that is foisted upon all children, accepted begrudgingly in the knowledge that the chicken-salted chips you want to eat will be withheld without meeting the minimum system requirements.
“You are immortal,” he was told. “You will live forever.” This was quite impressive news to take in. To be told that one would never die is like releasing a pressure valve. Time stops, in an instant, suddenly an intangible force. The man drank a cup of tea, and sat in a chair for a long while, and thought about how he would move forward with this impressive news. He got nowhere fast. The tea grew cold, and the chair began to sink.