Day Eight

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THE BLACKNESS THREATENED TO consume her. It pushed at her, tangible, threatening, smothering her until her lungs constricted and she was drowning not in water, but in fear. She sat up. 

Cradling her arm, she tested her legs, lifting one in the air, then the other. She bit her lip as she moved her right leg, her skin damp beneath the bandages, and held her breath as a wave of pain overtook her. She waited until it eased again, and then slowly, sliding her other leg beneath her, pushed herself to her feet. Ava stirred beside her, but did not wake. 

She looked around, but saw only black, a darkness more absolute than anything she had ever seen in her life. The panic began to rise again, and she took a deep breath, feeling along the walls until she felt the steps to the door. She pushed upwards and it opened a crack, and she hovered, listening for any sounds of life. Then she hauled herself out. 

She crept outside, armed with an old, rusting blade Rance had given her. She had not asked where he had found it; she had seen the weapons buried around the most recent graves, the last survivors of the planet marked with whatever could be found. The blade grew heavier in her hand. 

She stared up at the stars. At constellations more familiar than the scars on the back of her hand, the sky itself nearly an extension of her. Venus beamed through the sparse cloud cover, winking through the charcoal fog like an old friend. Some had once believed Venus to have been hospitable, far more like Earth, until the sun brightened. Then the oceans began to evaporate into the atmosphere, thickening it, warming it, causing more evaporation until finally, the water boiled off and left a planet of unthinkable heat. 

She looked around at the city. A mixture of sadness and rage simmered in her, something she had never felt quite so acutely before. 

They had known. For centuries. Discovered it in the 1800s. Recognized it by the 1940s. Nearly stopped it in the 1980s. But they didn't. 

Somehow, knowing all that they did for as long as they did, they thought they could outrun it. But Raina knew better than most that the planet always took what it was owed. 

The door to the bunker was concealed beneath a vaulting stone archway, reinforced with steel that held up its collapsing bones, overgrown with greenery that tried to smother it, erase it from the world where it sat along a street of rubble. Raina wrapped her arms around herself. They had studied the firsthand accounts in the sky; they knew the stories. But the witnesses were right--one could not truly imagine such a thing unless they had seen it. They could not picture it and also feel it in their soul. But here she was. And her soul shuddered.

This city was like most of the northern hemisphere. The bomb craters stopped short of it, but it had been by no means spared. When the climate disruptions grew too great, the storms too powerful, the flooding too severe, the first thing humanity lost was access to clean water. One day they woke up, and it was gone. Millions and millions of people within a hundred square kilometres. 

The wealthiest shuttered themselves away, paid exorbitant amounts for reserves. But the wealth gap had exploded for decades; there were very few wealthy enough, even fewer generous enough to share, and far too many left without. 

She hopped to a tree, barren and rotten, and wrenched off a branch as a walking stick. Then she hobbled further out, encased in the silence of the wreckage, emotions pouring out of her as the sight punctured a hole in her heart. A rusted sign teetered next to a sinkhole, half-cloaked in plant life. She approached. 

L s pil a ds s  ont ab  t us

She scratched at its face with her dagger, the scrape of metal on metal cleaving apart the silence of the street. She carved away the plants, wearing down the rust, until she could at last make it out. 

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