25: Tears (part 2)

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25.2 Can Do

London: 3 June 2128

"Mila!" Rick shouted.

"What? Where are you?"

Then Mila's eyes opened and she groaned. Another damned dream.

She stretched and dragged her body up into a sitting position. Her back ached but at least they'd found dry shelter for the night. They were, she estimated, somewhere in Chelsea, just north of the river. She'd noticed names like Ralston Street and Ormonde Gate late the previous day but, without a map of any sort and no ability to mentally scan her surroundings, she could only guess at their exact location. They might be close to the river, or still miles from it.

Across the room partly buried underneath another bundle of blankets Alin Yan continued to snore. She forced herself to her feet and peered out a window. Merely cracked instead of shattered, it had managed to hold the elements at bay for ten days so far. It looked as if it wouldn't last much longer.

She sighed, wondering the same also herself and Alin. It seemed hopeless.

Outside, the day was grey with the endless downpour. She wished it would give over even for just a few minutes. Then again, the rain did its best to hide the state of most of the buildings around them. The low construction in which they'd spent a slightly more comfortable night had escaped the worst of the earthquakes.

Ten days, Mila thought. They had achieved so little in that time? Much of it had been spent cowering from the storms, scrabbling for anything edible. Would she ever eat a proper meal again? A hot bath had become a craving.

A distant rumble that wasn't thunder reminded her that the planet was still far from settled. She rubbed at her ankle – an unexpected tectonic jolt two days ago had caused her to fall and twist it.

She gently shook Alin's shoulder. He grunted and groaned, "Oh, leave me alone. Just another ten– twenty minutes... or years."

"We don't have any way of telling the time," she replied. "It might be as late as noon for all I know."

"Does it matter?"

Indeed, did anything they might do now matter in the long term? Mila had no answer to that. She bit her bottom lip, trying to stave off tears. Self-pitying fool, she thought. Crying was for the weak. When had she become so weak? Rick, she concluded – the cursed source of her hope and fragility, and possibly now, her doom.

Hunger and thirst eventually made them venture out. What little they had found to eat and drink over the past few days – mainly remnants of what had fallen from the Tree – had been used up the previous day. The rain couldn't be drunk. It had a bitter, sulphurous taste and boiling it was out of the question as they could find nothing with which to light a fire.

"I really need to drink something," Yan rasped. "Throat's like sandpaper. Do you think the Thames might be drinkable?"

Mila shrugged. Might be worth a try, she thought.

By the afternoon the rain had finally started to ease. Two days ago they had repurposed some clear plastic sheets to use as makeshift umbrellas. Mila slung hers over her head and ventured out.

"That way, I think," she said, pointing.

Alin Yan merely nodded and followed in her footsteps.

The road curved to the right and, to her surprise. brought them face to face with the river. However, despite the rain, the level of water in the Thames was ominously low. The river bed had risen in several places revealing small mountains of accumulated debris. The water that did remain danced sluggishly in muddy eddies around the blockages.

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