Day Four

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RAINA HAD BARELY FALLEN back asleep after her shift when Kieran shook her awake, his haggard face still cloaked in shadow from the barely-breaking dawn. She lay still, staring up at the ceiling of the cave, narrowing her attention to her breathing as the night before swirled through her head, the screams crashing and clanging against each other until she was certain she would go deaf. She closed her eyes.

"You okay?" Rance asked.

She nodded, still not opening her eyes. "Just need a moment."

The crew shared another few cans of food, their supplies already starting to feel dangerously light on their backs, and refilled their canteens with river water, Calen carefully measuring the purifying tablets. When they were packed and ready to go, Raina ensured they armed themselves--from knives to wrenches, the weapons felt odd in their hands, so out of place so far from the deck where they were mere tools, not instruments of their survival. Then they struck out south.

The skies bled pink with the first cracks of sunlight over the rocks, painting streaks of rose and gold on charcoal that smudged like fingerprints across the horizon. Then, as the light pooled around them and pushed out the night, the world exhaled, a cool release from the stillness of the dawn. It swept through the grass beneath their feet, twining up their legs, grazing their suits and teasing at their masks, the crisp relief of a dewy morning just begging to kiss their skin.

The group glanced around, eyes roaming the rocks. Their weapons felt heavy in their hands. But the thump of their feet remained the only sound as they trudged on, the shadows creeping back into the night. A bird trilled into the silence.

They fell into a formation, the strongest of them flanking the sides, and continued on until they had left the rocks behind, entering a long expanse of plains guided by gently rolling relief. But the peace of the morning could not last. The fresh layers of the dawn soon peeled away into sweltering humidity, choking off their air and squeezing heat into their suits as they walked among the burnt, yellowing grasses of parched terrain.

The canteens they had filled only hours before began to dwindle as they fought against their thirst, the unreachable itch of the first stages of dehydration. There was no shade. Raina's mask fogged up over her eyes, and as she panted, the hot air pressed against her face, a cruel product of the open skies for which they had prayed only two nights before.

The heat wriggled into her suit and bloomed, burying itself in her skin until she could not breathe, sharp pangs of panic striking her as she overheated. She pried off her mask and peeled back its hood, unzipping the front of her suit. The blast of air that hit her body did not even feel warm, whisking away the fire that had been brewing beneath the black layers of insulation.

"Screw it," Maeve said behind her, and Raina heard a zip as she undid hers as well. "I'll take radiation over this heat."

Raina took a deep breath, relishing in the open air, letting the breeze wick away the sweat that dripped down her face, the back of her neck. It was not long before the others followed suit, too desperate for relief to concern themselves with the fears of poisoning they had learned above. But as more hours passed and the canteens neared empty, the heat that had trapped them was replaced by one even more vicious, one they could not undress. By midday, the sun glared with such intensity that Raina's eyes grew hazy, a headache thumping against the inside of her skull as she handed the last of her water to Zenia, who promptly handed it back to her, insisting she finish it.

"How did people live in this heat?" Atticus asked as they paused midway up a hill, the gentle incline steadily searing their calves and stabbing the soles of their feet.

Raina longed for the brave winds of the sky, travelling across oceans before finally striking her where she stood on deck, the strength of a global journey behind it pushing the cold into her bones. She closed her eyes, imagining herself poised at the bow, arms thrown wide, soaking in the clouds. Looking down on the lands below, wondering what that same moment held for the world down below, the tree swaying in the winds of the same system, the waves hurling themselves against stone. Moments meant only to be wondered about.

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