Day Seventeen

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SHE AWOKE WITH A soft smile on her face. She had dreamt last night. Not a nightmare, not exhausting nothingness, but a real dream, of warmth and joy and peace. She closed her eyes again, basking in that feeling of security for a minute more, drawing out its final moments, savouring its flavour, its gentle touch. Then she sat up and let reality wash over her, wash off the last imprints of her imagination, and she watched its colours drift away across the field, into the forest barely lit by the first traces of dawn.

They had found Rance and Maeve. Amidst all the chaos, despite the injuries from the fire and the monsters lurking among the trees, despite her leg, and in spite of everyone they had lost, her crew was still here. Seven of them, all together.

She watched, resting her head on her arm, as Niska returned to the cave with two animals slung over their shoulder and handed them off to Tarak, who drew a large knife and began to skin them. Every movement so deliberate, precise, practiced a thousand times over. She thought of her ship, the feel of the wheel beneath her hands as the numbers on the screens in front of her spoke the language of the wind, but best of all was standing on the deck, levers in hand, feeling the storm on her skin. Lifting her mask and lowering her hood just long enough to let the wind consume her. And the lower altitudes, where she could actually breathe, standing on the deck and losing herself in the feel of the air the despite all of Calen's warnings of toxins, of dangerous materials whisked up by the wind. "We have inoculations for that," she would tell him. "How am I supposed to guide this ship if I don't know my own skies?"

She watched the morning in her mind's eye, another day beginning with the sun creeping up over the false sea of clouds beneath them, rounded and bumpy like a mass of bubbles--like sea foam on the surface. They reminded her of snow, of the one time they had flown north enough to find it while chasing a hurricane, of the hills and hills of white along the coastline. She had marvelled at the thought that it had once blanketed entire swaths of continents, and relished in the moments when she flew below cloud cover and thick flakes would come to rest on her gloves, the few times when she could imagine herself in that old world, a world where the biggest threats were political, where compromise was the goal, and often the solution. There was no compromising with nature, with science. But people did not realize that, not truly, not in its absolute, world-shattering form, until it was far, far too late.

She sat up. Her leg seized as she pushed herself to her feet, and she leaned on the wall as she gave her body the chance to wake up, her limbs stiff from lying still for so long. Niska watched her limp out into the open and slip around the edge of the cave, their eyes following her until she slipped out of sight to relieve herself. In another life, Raina suspected they would have been friends.

When she was done, she paused, staring out at the world—the forest around her, the mountains rising to the south, the cracks of the ocean visible to the west from her vantage on high ground. An ideal spot for a cottage, or perhaps even a town, a city. Now without a trace. What would it have been like, to wake up two hundred and fifty years ago in this same spot? Who had stood where she did, looking out into the dawn? Perhaps they were thinking about family or money, an obligation, even paperwork, or everything they had to do that day. The to-do list that guided them from cradle to grave, the un-winnable game of chase. What would they think, if they could see her now?

It was in moments like these that she felt a hand reaching out through time. A missed connection of several centuries, an irrevocable distance that felt just barely out of reach. As if she could breach it, if she pushed hard enough. And on the other side were people like her, like Rance, like Maeve, like all of them, lingering but invisible, embedded in the landscapes of the planet.

There was not a single hint of them left. Was she standing on a grave? Was she staring at someone's last sight? So close to the ocean, nearing the latitudes of hurricane sweet spots, it would not surprise her. How many lives had this land claimed?

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