Day Nineteen

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AT SOME POINT, SHE had dropped off into sleep. As the creaking of the branches and the whispers of the wind filtered into her dream, she cracked open her eyes. Her stomach clenched and she watched a leaf struggle against the breeze, clinging to the tree until at last it gave in, lifted up and up until it flew away, for beyond her line of sight, a traveller, just like her.

Yesterday's ordeal left a bitter taste in her mouth, and her eyes drifted to the canyon, brimming with a darkness that threatened to overflow, to flood them where they slept. She heard her scream again, a voice so foreign to her own ears, unrecognizable except for its pain. I'm sorry. She had been running from her guilt for so long, and her heart was exhausted. But with a sliver of rest under her belt, she mustered enough energy to do as Arleigh had said: to pull herself out of that void. And to do so, she had to go back to the beginning.

But what was the beginning? Another set of Arleigh's words filtered through her head, about the unerasable legacy of existence. She saw herself, her years of apprenticeship, the success that rolled into arrogance. Had she been doomed since the beginning, since the day she set foot on her family's ship for the first time?

She took a deep breath through and held it for a long moment. When she let it out, her thoughts slowed. One thing at a time.

The promise of the storm had been too good to pass up. The system was shaping up to be the biggest storm succession in decades, and every ship within reach flocked to it, lured by the promise of endless, top-grade lightning. But between it and Raina lay a megastorm, the kind that had flooded dozens of cities for weeks in the old days, one of the first big terrors in the beginning of the end. Hurricane G21. They had stopped naming hurricanes when the number of storms began to far outpace the alphabet. But given what humans were capable of, only a name, a human name, would have given that storm justice.

She watched a small creature circle the base of her tree, scouring the ground in the peace of the dawn. It scurried off through the forest, and black wings swooped down, snatching it between its claws and whisking it away into the sky.

It was in those edges of the storm that a pillar of wind had punched the starboard side of her ship, sending it nearly into a roll. In the engine room, it dislodged the tool crates. But it would not be until she was caught off guard by a microburst that the second gust of wind would barrel into them, scattering the crates and damaging one of their lightning tanks.

She took another deep breath. In her mind's eye, she watched herself make every wrong move, evaluate the risk against the profits and come up short, adjust her coordinates until she condemned them to the crash. She wanted to reach back through time and throttle herself, to scream, to do anything to make herself stop, to break that confidence just enough for her to realize the real danger they were in. But she was too late; twenty days too late.

She had been down in the storage room with Maeve after the tank cracked, evaluating the damage. Turning around was out of the question; hurricanes did not produce much lightning, and it was nearly impossible for any strike to threaten the fault that had appeared in the inner barrier. Any leakage incurred could be contained to the room, sealed off from the engine room beside it.

She had been confident it could be repaired mid-storm with minimal risk, still dreaming of the supercharged system that lay waiting for them a few hours away. Thoughts of an accident did not even cross her mind, so outside of the realm of possibility that her main concern had been that they would have to cut their collection rate, slashing their profits. She remembered the frustration, bordering on anger, at the opportunity that felt like it was being snatched from her grasp, and her determination to snatch it back.

If there was a true beginning, it was there. In her failure to learn the single, grounding lesson of all humanity despite flying over its aftermath her entire life, despite resenting the ignorance of the old world, despite truly believing they knew better.

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