Day One

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WHEN SHE AWOKE, THEY were moving.

Flying. 

Raina tried to sit up, but her body gave out, and she thudded down onto the bed. A bed. She savoured in its softness as hands prodded her, a machine ticking in her face.

"You're safe now," a voice said. They had gentle eyes. 

Raina turned her head, her neck giving a throb. Maeve lay beside her, bandages covering half her head, but her heartbeat monitor was ticking. Beyond her, his leg in a cast, lay Rance. 

"Are they okay?" she asked. She swallowed. For the first time in a month, her throat was no long parched.

"Yes," the nurse said. She could just make out their smile beneath their suit--made for radiation, to protect from her. They would face endless rounds of testing when they returned. "You will all be properly treated in the sky. We're on our way to medical now. You three have more injuries than I can count, and you're all severely malnourished and dehydrated, but you're alive. You made it, Captain."

"Raina," she said. "Just Raina." She blinked again and struggled to lift her head, taking in her surroundings. She rested on a makeshift bed on the ground, in a small room with a window. Outside, the world slipped by beneath them like leaves on a river. "Are we really going home?" she asked, her voice cracking.

"Yes."

She tipped her head back and let the tears spill from the corners of her eyes, relief blooming like a flower in her chest, wrapping around her body in a sweet, warm embrace. "I'm alive," she whispered. "We're alive."

"Your friend is waking," the nurse said. They pulled out another device, placing it on Maeve's chest as her eyes cracked open. They eased a cup of water into her mouth and she finished it in seconds. 

The nurse put it down, and Maeve frowned, squinting against the ship lights. "Wh--"

"Maeve, it's okay," Raina said. "We made it." 

Raina watched the realization dawn on her friend, saw it in the glow that lit her eyes. Her face became a myriad of emotions, all merging into one--grief, despair, anger, hope, gratitude, awe, love, relief. She turned that face to Raina. As difficult as they had been with each other on the ship, and for the first leg of their journey, they were very much one and the same. And whatever Maeve saw in Raina's face showed a new kind of admiration for her, a new kind of respect. Tears in her eyes, she merely nodded, but it spoke more than words ever could. 

"We cannot treat you here," the nurse told her, "but we can keep you comfortable until we reach aid. If--"

"Can we look out the window?" Raina asked. 

Maeve grinned--actually grinned, with a giddiness Raina had never seen. 

The nurse nodded and smiled. Refusing to let them walk, they carried Raina, then Maeve across the room, bringing crates for them to sit on, faces pressed against the glass. Within minutes, Rance joined them. 

He held up a heavily bandaged hand and smiled. "Maybe they'll give me a new finger," he said.  

"I'll leave you a moment," the nurse said, stepping away. Then they opened the door, giving the group a glimpse of a deck bustling with life, before vanishing.

Outside, just visible as they soared away from the hurricane, the sun had begun to rise. It echoed the blaze of nights before, a breathtaking spread of colours that blended one into the next so seamlessly it looked like a fantasy.

"It's really over," Raina whispered, elation, joy, fear, sadness, all of it crushing her heart in her ribcage, crashing over her all at once. "It's really, truly over." She turned to Rance and Maeve and hugged them as tightly as she could as they rose and rose, back to the sky, back to the ports, back to their home. She said it as much for them as for herself. She pulled away and smiled faintly, her body too weak for much more, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. They did the same.

The moment was bittersweet as they rose alone, painfully aware of all the faces that were no longer with them. Kieran. Arleigh. Calen. Finn. Zenia. Atticus. Ava. Perry. Erin. Adox. Nelson. Kinsley. Killed without malice by a world that had little room for them anymore. A strand of Raina's hair fell into her face, and her eyes landed on its singed ends. The planet was not cruel, or kind, or anything--it could not be scaled down to humanity, condensed into mere emotions. It just was, the totality of life, moving along as they scrambled to keep up. It was threatening, but not a threat. She pinched the strands between her fingers. That was reserved for humanity, and its creations. 

She had dreamt of flying back up, of finally escaping, and had always believed she would hate the earth once she had left it. Old Earth. But she found, strangely, that she could not. It had little room for their struggles, an independent beast, so wild and free that even after seeing it at its worst, it still filled her with awe. Because she had also seen it at its best.

"What do we do now?" Rance asked. His voice soared with them, lighter than she had heard in a month, sounding so much like the old him that it was easy to forget, just for a heartbeat, how much that month had changed them. 

"We heal," Maeve said. "Whatever that means." 

Raina nodded. "There's a lot to think about." She felt the gas on her skin, slowly breaking down her defences, the drowsiness setting in... 

Their colonies had been founded on violence. No matter who they were two hundred years on, there needed to be a reckoning. And there would be. But she had to grapple with her own demons before she could take on those of the sky. 

Rance reached over with an outstretched hand. She took it. 

They had seen so much. She hoped in time the pain would wane, but had a feeling it could be a lifetime before she could forget some places, make peace with herself. And that was okay. Because back in the sky, she would have that lifetime, enough that she could learn to truly accept the horrors, and they would fade away.

But the sunrise that blazed in a fury of fire in her eyes... That was something she would never forget. 

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