A Remembered Kind of Dream

I’ve been living out in the deserted junk-land alone for as far back as I can remember. Open brown land mottled with grey uninteresting trash that has no name because who cares? It’s a black hole of a corridor leading from nowhere to nowhere else. Volatile-fog covers the sky every day. The sun can barely break through the grey-green muckery of the endless vog. The air is unbreathable, tasting of dirty feet and smelling worse than my filthy mouth.

I wish I could wipe the clouds of yuck off the surface of the earth, but I don’t know how.

A sharp wind with sand in it claws at my face. I cover my eyes with my hand, but the motion makes my palm burn.

The tips of my fingers play at the edges of a scar: an ugly mean circle in the middle of my palm. One of my many strange inconsistencies. I have others, mostly small gaps in my memory, but none of my other issues are annoying as this scar. It itches violently all the time, but right now is worse than ever. I scratch at it until the itching turns to pain. My fingernails pull away bloodied. I wipe the blood on filthy canvas pants.

Time to go back to camp for cover.

I turn away from the wind and start to move. I don’t get far before I’m coughing up thick brown phlegm. I raise my blood-stained fingers and tighten the fraying straps on my gas mask.

Best feature of my life, that: having a gas mask.

 Worst feature: restlessness.

In this ruined wreckage of a world, nobody is a nomad. Nobody chooses to go out and rove the open land alone. Nobody adventures or crosses the unnamed borders between one nowhere and another.

Only me. The wandering. Pitching camps in dusty holes and thinking I’m clever. I don’t feel clever. I feel hopeless and lost. I don’t even remember why I set out. I keep going because I don’t know what else to do.

Who knows. Maybe one day I’ll get lucky and somewhere that feels like home. Maybe some dusty hole will turn into a set of welcoming open doors.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Not in this world.

I’m about to unzip the flap of my tent when a low growl makes me freeze.

I perk an ear and listen.

The sound isn’t far away, most likely moving up through the dry lakebed I passed through yesterday. The ground trembles; big machines getting closer. The roar of them approaches faster than I expect. The huge machines kick up a giant cloud of dust that blinds me in two seconds flat. Sand and grit blasts through the tiny cracks in the seal of my gas mask. Hurts like getting hit in the face with broken glass. I wince, hunkering down beside a bag of gear I shouldn’t have left out but did. I jam my head between my knees and wait the rumble out.

Old boom-boom powered engines roar up all around me, coming to a simultaneous halt of silence.

A motorcade.

Shit.

Motorcades mean people. People mean trouble.

Nobody likes an outsider. All the scavengers and looters I’ve run into across this barren world are territorial. New things frighten them, and when they’re scared, they attack. Owning next to nothing, I’m a pretty easy target.

I stand and pull down my browned-out mask to see what I’m up against.

The motorcade is made up of three slapped-together cars made from parts soldered together on top of a big pancake-shaped engine. Each machine has six too-big tires sticking out too far from both sides. Despite their “artistic” shape, the machines look unstable as fuck. Like I wouldn’t want to go even the tiniest distance in one. Not to mention the ruckus and mess they kick up. Dust and chunks of junk with tires like that.

Oh, and the stench. Their dump-truck hand-processed bio-diesel has already made me sick to my stomach. Sour, tangy, a little too close to the shitty sewage they use to make the stuff. This little family gang stinks sky high.

The riders clatter out of their machines, coming straight for me.

Oh. Great day.

I go to hide behind my gas mask, but the straps are tangled around the cord of my hard plastic and rusted metal compass. It only works occasionally, but I can’t bring myself to toss it out. Don’t know why. Nostalgia or something. Right now, it’s a big hassle. I try to work the two free with no luck. By the time I have the straps and compass cord untwisted, the reeking clan is already upon me.

Their personal smell is worse than the bio-diesel, arguably worse than the vog. The sharp stench gets in my sinuses and bursts like little painful fireworks. I’m reminded of old jokester chem-blend candies we kids used to eat for fun. Only, this smell makes my nose bleed pretty instantly. I tilt my head back and curse loudly in Common Yu — a language I hope they speak.

I draw my only weapon, which is a rusty shiv.

“Fuck you and your old world pollution!”

Someone at the top of an engine that looks like a snake made of trashcans waves at me. No weapon, just a red swollen hand. I don’t wave back.

“You alone?” someone on the ground says into a megaphone in Japogues.

Ah. So, these kids are most likely trash collectors from the eastern banks of City Fall.

I see a few gas masks, some goggles with both lenses in. Clothes are all patchwork and hand-stitched stuff. The look is a very clear agender lack-of-attention approach that indicates anyone’s identity and sexuality is none of my goddamn business.

Definitely City Fall folk.

Not a bad lot, all in all. I had the most luck getting by without heckling and threats going through that region. Had the most actually edible foodstuffs and the easiest time getting water that didn’t make my gums bleed. Swell and ache, sure. But not bleed like the chem-heavy, plastic-peppered stuff out west. They still believe in the old technology, don’t assume everything they don’t understand is some magical spell cast against them, and they treat each other, if not with kindness, with respect.

Someone even complimented my scar, thinking the strange uneven lines were an intentional design. I suppose at the right angle, one might think so. I don’t exactly remember the accident it came from; too traumatic. But I know it’s nothing but damage. Still, it was a nice thought and better than the woo-woo fanatics who think it’s some kind of cursed mark.

Weird kind, they are in City Fall, but tolerable.

I might even be able to find some filter replacements and new seals for the mask.

I wave to the megaphone holder, signaling I’d like to talk. They nod and wave back. I slowly approach and stop halfway between where I’d been and their machines. Megaphone crosses the distance between us loudly in a pair of too-big black fake rubber clankity jankity boots. The other two follow slightly behind. One has an impromptu gas mask made of water bottles that’s such a wreck, I can’t make out a single detail otherwise. The third one with the swollen hand has big brown eyes, exposed. Fool thing, but then their infected hand indicates Swollen Hand isn’t the best decision maker.

The four of us stand in front of each other and bow slightly at the same time.

This: a physical contract.

We aren’t going to kill each other.

Yet.

“Name’s Ark,” I say, extending my scarred hand like I’m going to shake. Which is a weird old world thing to think to do. People nowadays don’t ever touch. Still, I’ve stuck my hand out, and I’m sticking with it.

Not one of the three reach back.

I pull my truncated gesture back and cross both arms across my chest. The scar on my palm itches and burns with embarrassment. My cheeks glow red.

Water Bottles tilts their headgear, giving me a once-over. “Arc?”

“You mispronounced it,” I say, recovering my cool. “Ark. With a K.”

Megaphone glares at me. And to their credit, those two words do sound exactly the same in both Common Yu and Japogues. Literally no audible difference.

I’m making a joke I made up a long time ago, back when I was living at this Survival Skills camp with kids from around the whole world. We liked to make language puns and jabs at one another’s accent. We liked to pretend we didn’t understand each other when we did. The joke is pretty pathetic, but sometimes I get a laugh or a sigh.

This gang isn’t the humor circus though. All three of them eye me like I’m from Mars, and no one responds at all.

“Nevermind,” I shrug.

“You have food,” Swollen Hand says instead of introducing themself.

Ok, so they are also not the polite-introductions gang either. Fine.

“Had,” I lie and hope nobody is smart enough to recognize my bow lying in the wide open beside the rest of my camp behind me.

“What’s that?” Water Bottles points behind me.

The impromptu water-bottle gasmask full of murky water so obscures their face I can only see a shaved head, kind of a dusty brown. Could be anyone under there.

I shrug and look over my shoulder. Most often, these crackerheads have no idea what any of my gear is. Chances are Water Bottles here is pointing at my coat. I follow the finger to my window frame set up.

“Tent,” I come up with.

Meat dehydrator is the truth. It’s not great, but on a hot day (all of them for the next several moon cycles) — it does the job. Nothing I’ve eaten from it has killed me yet.

“Funny tent,” Swollen Hand says, their normal hand perched on a rubber-clad hip.

“Like your clothes,” I say and give a chin jut at Swollen’s pants made from recycled tire. You can still see the worn down tread. Must have been a rear tire because it’s pretty smooth.

“Thanks,” Swollen mistakes what I’ve said.

“What do you worms need?” I ask blankly.

“Direction,” Water Bottles says. The word is pretty garbled through the muck and warped plastic, and it comes out sounding more like “erection” which I find funny enough to laugh out loud.

“Yeah,” Swollen Hand sighs, mistaking why I laughed. “We’re lost.”

“Can’t help,” I say, and this time being honest. “There is nothing but lost out here.”

Megaphone frowns at Swollen Hand. “But the oracle said if we found Ark–”

“The oracle?” I start.

And here I’d taken them for City Fall folk. But then they should have said–

“The last mainframe,” Swollen Hand says, looking me dead in the face, reading my shock and disappointment.

“You know what it is?” Megaphone asks, eying me sharp.

“They,” I correct.

I don’t actually care what pronoun people use for the oracle. Being persnickety about the personhood of the last mainframe is even more moot than arguing about what name to give it. Every living human being knows the last mainframe is sentient. No question whether it’s alive or not. It has a personality and intelligence beyond the human capacity which it proved double-fold when the wars started, then ended in a flash.

I personally think the oracle is wise enough that it couldn’t care less what word an insignificant, nearly-extinct human being uses to refer to it. Much less what pronoun.

But this is a clever tactic. I’m proving what I know without going into detail or starting an argument.

Everyone nods altogether.

Another physical contract.

We’re on the same page. Enough said.

“They said you know where Safe Haven is,” Swollen Hand goes on.

I shake my head, beads and bones rattling against my neck as my dreaded hair flies through the dirty air. “Can’t say I’ve ever heard of anything like that,” I lie.

“Everyone’s heard of it,” Water Bottles says.

“Not this one,” I counter because they can’t make me admit anything I don’t want to.

Truth is, I do know Safe Haven.

And I know enough about it to know it doesn’t exist anymore. That it’s a drowned fairy tale. A buried myth kept alive by the oracle to help people feel better. It’s empathetic like that. Godly. Likes to spin yarns to give humans something to cling to. I myself don’t like medicine. If it hurts, it hurts. Too bad.

But I don’t want to let these kids down like that. Who am I to tear down their monument to hope? I may be mean, but I’m not nasty or cruel. There’s a difference. Mean is not going out of my way to be nice. Nasty is taking your hurt out on others. Cruelty is violence purely for the sake of making pain. I simply don’t have the energy to waste.

“You’re lying.” Megaphone leans in toward me, getting up in my face. Which is intimidating all its own because Megaphone is at least a good meter shorter, even on those noisy heels. It takes, I note, stepping up onto a chunk of concrete ideally placed. Or kicked over? I can’t tell but either way, it’s sly.

“I am,” I say and shrug to deflate the argument. Because you can’t accuse someone of something they admit to doing. It saps power and without power, you have no bite.

Megaphone stares at me, defeated.

“Oh come on,” Water Bottles burbles and it sounds more like “oh ho hum” which makes me laugh again.

Megaphone clops away on those ridiculous boots, tottling over to Swollen Hand’s side, dragging heels and slouching to make a point. They’re pouting because I’m not being cool and easy to work with.

Yeah well, fuck that.

“What now?” they say when they get to the desired location right beside Swollen Hand’s swollen hand.

“We ride,” Swollen Hand says unemphatically.

“Where?” Water Bottles asks, drawing back in toward the engines.

“Back to the city.”

The words are without resolve, hopeless and thin.

Why would the oracle send jokes to me? Surely not because I have any kind of happy ending answer for them. But at the same time, to only send them out here to prick holes in their dreams and send them back again – now that does feel cruel.

Maybe, the oracle is that: cruel.

Empathetic but without a human-sensitive heart. A clinical eye that only wants to study what these odd little dying out human beings will do in order to struggle to survive. It’s not like we’ll make it – either way. We are a dying race. Both we and the oracle know it.

So then, our deaths are but the clicks of gear winding down. Steps toward the inevitable. Why not make it more interesting with senseless puzzle games? Playing with us isn’t outside the sphere or relevance for a super intelligence. I mean, we used to do that kind of shit to rats, right?

Sure, we had “good ends” in mind – but maybe the oracle does too. Only it’s so alien we’d never guess it. Like the rats would say of us if we’d been able to ask, I bet. Something about that makes me want to stand up against it. If only to truncate the oracle’s study. If only for the last laugh.

“Hey,” I interrupt the depressed departing party.

Swollen Hand stops struggling with a lever that requires two hands to manipulate. “What’s that?”

“I said, hey!”

Megaphone gives me the stink eye so bad I can smell it above the bio-diesel.

“Maybe I can help you after all,” I say.

Water Bottles hops down off an engine that looks like a rolling black cube — an old part of some kind of art structure, back y’know when humans made things that had no use purely for the looks. This cube looks painfully uncomfortable, poorly fit for the function of riding around until the end of time. They pull up to my side, murky smiles the size of my hand.

“Thank you!” Water Bottles pre-empts my ability to be useful with over-the-top gratitude.

Next, Swollen Hand gives up on what I’m guessing the clutch and comes over, too. “We’d be in your debt if you’d serve as our guide.”

“I have a guidance device.” I point at my chest.

I reach down and hold out the rusty once-chrome compass. I’m careful to keep my fingers over the face, covering it entirely. Truth is, it does sometimes point toward North, but I don’t know when or why. If no one else can see it, though, I can buy time to make up a reason why. Something about magic. They’ll love that.

“Which way?” Megaphone calls down from the highest engine of the three without moving. This engine is pretty standard. Big tires, a central seat, controls, big fat exhaust that blows out putrid smoke wherever it goes.

I turn the compass toward me, look down, and am not surprised to find the needle whizzing round and round. I tuck it inside my loose outer dust-covered shirt and look up. I point in the direction I was already moving yesterday.

“That way.”

I pack quick, shoving bits of busted robots and pieces of broken camp gear back into my torn bags. I wrap fraying rope tangled with wire around everything like I always do and hoist it on my back. Water Bottles comes over and takes my load, offering me a hand up onto their pancake engine machine. As I settle into the half-seat beside them, I get a strange feeling — like I belong here. Or, like I’ve just met an old friend.

I shake it off and say, “Let’s rool.”

Another camp language joke. In Japogues “roll” sounds like “rule” and in Common Yu, “rule” sounds like “tool” so I’m making a far-fetched pun about us being useful.

To my surprise, Water Bottles laughs.

Then everyone powers up and we roll out.

We pass a petrified series of trees. Once givers of oxygen, now the denizens of the dead. We pass them with downcast eyes and carry on through what becomes a large lifeless grove. A ghost forest. I think I hear them whispering.

Turn back. Go away. Leave now.

By leading them deeper into the desert instead of back toward City Fall, I’m doing them all wrong. They’ll most likely die out here. But what choice do I have? If I deny them my help, they’ll end up just as dead. And the oracle will keep sending more parties out to find me. Gang after gang hunting me down. Can’t say I know what that super intelligence is up to. What human ever does? But I do know it won’t stop until I cave. So, saying yes now is just doing the inevitable sooner rather than later.

Still, the petrified trees whisper.

Still, I wave us on.


“Do we stop for the night?”

We’ve taken a break for dinner in a nowhere kind of place with nothing around us but dust and the horizon. Megaphone comes up to me while I’m roasting a stick of easy-to-catch, hard-to-eat roachies over a spitfire extension on Pancake Engine Number Three where Water Bottles and I ride.

“No,” I say and turn my roachies over so the thicker top carapace can burn off, careful not to lose the smaller ones to the hungry bio-diesel flame.

“Is it better to sleep in the hatches during sun?” Megaphone asks.

“Err,” I fumble, not wanting to tell them the truth.

The truth is if we sleep during sun, we’ll cook. We could sleep now, during stars and moon, I just don’t want to. Keep moving, get this over with — that’s what my bones say. And unlike the trees, I listen.

“No, that’d be dangerous. We should stop now,” Water Bottles says, stepping up alongside us.

“Err,” I mumble, feeling caught, face burning hot.

My scarred hand decides to burn right along with it. Irritated, I rub it against my thigh.

Water Bottles takes off their water bottle mask for the first time to really give me the stink-eye. The contraption comes off surprisingly easily. Quicker than the tangle of my real gas mask with those floppy rubber straps. The water bottle device looks hand-designed for comfort, too. There are dozens of tiny cleverly placed pads and a kind of cooling fan? I’m so into the design that I don’t bother to look at the person’s face.

“It’s decided then. I’m going to find shelter,” Water Bottles says.

“Excuse me?” I plan to say, real rude, like I’m the guide here and who the fuck are you?

But then, I look up.

And as soon as my eyes lock onto their face, I can’t move. My mouth hangs open mid-word. Soot and ash get in my mouth from the fire. I choke but can’t move.

“Oh, know you recognize me,” Water Bottles who isn’t Water Bottles snarks.

We haven’t seen each other in years upon years, but I’d never forget those crystalline white irises, that high steep nose, those gold freckled cheeks. Not as long as I live. It’s the face of a mountain peak, high and mean, covered in water frozen over forever.

Jaq’s face is like a physical promise that there are still untouched places left to go, still things you don’t know. Like how life was once good, and it can be that way again.

“Jaq,” I say in a clogged breath.

They smile, teeth like crags of stone hiding founts of fresh water. “It’s Jak, but yes.”

I frown. “That’s what I said.”

“No, you mispronounced it. It’s spelled with a K.”

I can’t help the laugh that jumps out of my mouth. “You still remember camp jokes too?”

“How could I forget?”

I grin, wide.

Jak shrugs and tosses the murky water bottles aside. “You been using old Survi’s skills, I see,” Jak says.

The camp was this desperate place where paranoid parents sent their incapable urban kids to learn about the Earth and ecosystems. To learn what to do when the inevitable disasters hit.

What our parents didn’t know was that the Survivalist who ran the camp was actually a huge woo-woo hoo-ha spiritualist who claimed something bigger than humanity was going to solve the world’s problems and when the end of the world hit, we would just need to sit tight.

I never believed any of that, though.

But the Survivalist was also the strong human being I’d ever met with big huge shoulders and dark wise eyes. They also had lots of cool intentional scars and knew so much about everything that how could a body not listen to them?

“The skills themselves turned out to be useful enough,” I say darkly.

“You believe in that other stuff?” Jak asks, eying me careful now.

Back in Survival Skills training camp before the world went upside down, the Survivalist told me and Jak that our spirits were undeniably intertwined. Something strong that would alter the shape of not just our lives, but the world.

We swiftly had sex that night, but it wasn’t very good. We both left feeling ashamed and naked, and we never spoke again. After three years of training side by side and hand in hand, one night ruined everything.

“I believe we are a culmination of the things we choose to do,” I say with resolve.

Jak nods like that’s a good enough excuse to be friends again.

I’m glad it is. Not that I want to pick up where we left off, nor that I think we can. But just having someone around with some history together feels good. A kind of physical contract from the world that it didn’t forget about us.

“Can I talk to you privately?” Jak asks.

I blush deep. “I don’t know, Jak. That was a long time ago, our thing we had. I don’t even know–“

“I want to talk to you about the journey,” they clarify sharply.

Oh. So, this is an attempt to get me to change my mind. To alter course. To account for everyone’s needs, is that it? I frown deeply.

“This isn’t a democracy.”

Popular modern word among the City Fall folk, “democracy” doesn’t mean what it once did. Once upon a time, it meant that every head got a vote. Votes were tallied and the winner took all. Nowadays, it’s more like the loud and bold ones grapple for a chance to have their word heard while the quiet and timid ones lose out.

Jak puts on a face I know too well – the one that’s a hard line, lips pressed flat together, with an angry semi colon in the middle of a heavy brow. Anger brewing like a storm, frustration, irritation at my stubbornness.

Those magnificent eyes narrow into dark lazer beams of doom.

I somehow manage not to instantly apologize and listen up, even if all I want is to make Jak smile again. But, I have my own sense of pride to stick to. My own moral guide.

Jak’s lips part. “I’m not saying it is. But Ark. I need to talk to you about the oracle. Will you just hear me out?”

Sounds democratic to me. Jak being the “one in the know,” loud and bold.

But then, Jak does have a point. If they know more than anyone else, maybe they are worth hearing out.

“I don’t care about oracles, super intelligent or otherwise,” I say.

Before the words make it out of my mouth, the weather shifts.

A cold snap of air that means a storm is coming. No telling what sort at a glance. Could be electric, acid rain, or a full blown hurricane. But, judging from the clouds, mean black and nastier than ever, it’s going to be bad.

“Storm!” I scream at the top of my lungs.

A gust of wind whips the word away into a roaring rush. A blast of white blue light slices the sky in two. A split second after it, a hammering crack of thunder jerks the air apart. I’m launched sideways by shock, my teeth rattling together painfully. Without my permission, my hand reaches out and grabs hold of Jak’s arm.

I yank us in a direction my body says is safer than the surface.

Jak doesn’t question me, gives easily. And for one hot shard of a second, it feels just like the first time. And the last time. Shit, the only time we’ve had skin to skin contact. And I’m filled – not with nostalgia or elation or longing – but fear. Because I’m worried that the old Survivalist was right: we’re entwined, tangled up like fraying straps, trapped to crash back together.

What would happen if we did?

Something bad, my gut says.

I shudder and let go of Jak. But the electric storm keeps me moving on toward the underground safe hold I know of with Jak in tow. No reason to break our alliance in the middle of this mess. I’ll do it after. Tell this gang they’re better off out there on their own.

“Where are we going?” Jak asks.

“Down,” is all I have time to say.

I bring us up against what looks like a caved in wall. I move the “wall” aside to reveal that it’s only a piece of printed foam made to look like a chunk of concrete. It’s very convincing. Those old 3D printers really did a smashing job. I throw the hunk of lightweight fiberglass or PVCIII or something-urethane (material names I’ve seen on half-ruined labels). It falls with a thud into the dust and billows up a cloud that’s whipped away in less than two seconds by the wind.

Down below, a hole opens up into black maw, a pit with no way down. But I know better because I hid here for the night before.

“Watch your step. The stairs come up quick,” I call over my shoulder and take the first step into murky shadows to prove I’m not wrong.

I light a tiny hand-lamp from my pocket I got off a scavenger ages back. It casts a narrow beam, straight in the direction you point the tip. A sharp black line of invisibility on either side. I use it sparingly to point out when the terrain changes. It burns out our eyes photo-receptors and makes everything hard to see afterward. The landscape down here is tangle. Stairs twist downward into tunnels that curve into archways and more tunnels, more stairs.

Eventually, the way evens out into a long straight away where Jak and I can walk side by side. I mute the palm lamp with my hand, letting it make my fingers look skeletal and glow orange. Jak pulls up to my side and gives my hand a look, snarls, and looks away at the dripping stone walls.

“How did you know this was here?”

“I passed it on my way up. Seemed like it might be useful, so down I went.”

We descend the cracked and broken stairs into the yawing mouth of a hole. Thick oily black wraps around our bodies like a hand, huge and suffocating. In that tangible darkness, Jak turns to me.

“You remember the Survivalist’s line about birds?”

Even in an empty sky, the bird can be a guide to help you survive,” I quote from a submerged memory. “So what?”

The wisdom is effectively useless. There are no birds left. The sky is always full of some threatening cloud. Some coming rage.

“Anyway,” Jak says like we’ve settled a topic. “About the oracle.”

“I don’t want to talk about prophecies from a super intelligence,” I repeat flatly. “What are they even supposed to mean?”

“We didn’t actually talk to the oracle.”

I stare blankly, an expression lost in the dark between us.

“We made that up,” Swollen Hand who’s name I still never got says too close to my face.

I jerk back. “Good for you. We all lie. Why the confession now?”

“Just…seems like you ought to know.”

I can tell there’s more there. More behind this confession. More behind Jak’s desire to talk. But we’re in the middle of a storm, and I don’t have time to pin it down.

“Great,” I say and leave it at that.

I don’t ask how they found me. I assume it was Jak on some kind of spiritual woo-woo hoo-ha mission to make the Survivalist’s words real. Seems like they still believe in that shit.

“I guess we’re stopping for the night,” I hear a voice say as bodies move into the darkness out of the storm.

“Guess so,” I say, trying to ignore the thought that we might all die.

I hear bodies shifting in the dark. I follow suit. Ear pressed to the ground, I can hear rain thundering overhead. Thunder booms and afterwards there’s a roar like things right above us have caught fire.

Jak, shuddering, presses against my arm in the dark. My mind wanders through corridors of time, finding rooms of questions unasked. Like what am I doing here? Why did Jak come looking for me specifically? Was the Survivalist right about birds? About Jak and I? About anything? Why don’t I just get up early and leave this weird crew behind? Go back to my solo wandering? Wasn’t it easier with no one else to worry about?

“The engines are flooding,” Swollen Hand says from across the darkness.

“You’re right,” I agree. “We’ll have to go the rest of the way by foot.”

I can hear Megaphone standing up, clopping miserably across the room. Not angry, but distressed. I know exactly what the poor sap is thinking.

“Yeah,” I say, “those boots are gonna suck for you. How far can you actually walk in them?”

“A kilo, maybe. I’ve never tried.”

“We’ll cut them off.”

“Whoa,” I snark at Swollen Hand’s asinine joke. “That’s not funny.”

Swollen Hand blinks at me. “It’s not a joke. You said we had to walk, so.”

“They’re stuck solid. Been that way for as long as I can remember,” Megaphone says in a dark monotone. “That’s why everyone calls me Boots.”

Pretty common naming convention. Pick a notable characteristic and that’s your name.

Save for Jak and me. Jak is a misspelling of an old name that once meant something to some people who are all dead now. Jak chose it out of reverence for the past or some bullshit like that. It doubles as the name of a tool though, so nobody really notices.

My name is Ark because back before the mass systems crash, when names were a thing you earned legally from the government, those three keys [a k r] were the only ones on the damned touchscreen that worked. “Ark” was more interesting than the alternatives.

“Care to lend a hand?” Swollen Hand holds their ruined hand — a red nasty bulb of an appendage — out toward me.

The question isn’t a joke, I know, but I chuckle anyway.

“Fine. If you tell me your name.”

Swollen Hand hesitates like I’ve asked the most groundbreaking thing.

“Oh come on,” I say and roll my eyes. “You don’t believe that naming-is-power hoo-ha, do you?”

As soon as I say it, I catch myself. Why did I assume Swollen Hand would know anything about the Survivalist’s camp? Weird fluke. Must have forgot in the dark that I wasn’t talking to Jak for a second.

“Bird,” Swollen Hand says at length.

I stare, recalling Jak’s question.

Coincidence? Or is this some kind of plot?

And if it is, to what end?

Swollen Hand – Bird – hands me a dull scalpel before I can react. The handle’s been snapped off, making it too short to really get a good grip on. I take it clumsily and lean in to get a closer look at Boots’ shoes for the first time. Sure enough. The rubbery plastic is melted and sucked tight against Boots’ agitated calves. Even if I wanted to get a blade in between the two, I’d do a ragged job at best separating flesh from whatever cheapo plastics this stuff is.

The scar on my palm itches hotly. I clench my fist. Not now.

“I think we should leave it,” I say, standing.

Bird reaches a hand out for the scalpel and frowns, kneeling down.

Boots doesn’t move but doesn’t protest, either.

Bird starts cutting the shoes away.

The burning/itching in my palm gets worse. I fidget, feeling the sudden need to stop Bird.

“That’s not safe,” I say.

Boots looks up at me in an emotion that’s not quite agony, but once I can’t place. Stupidity, I think and look away. All that blood is going to lead to something bad.

“What do you suggest?” Bird snaps.

The blunt scalpel has to be sawed back and forth to do any cutting, but eventually a long sliver of skin peels off attached to the black uneven plastic. Blood pours slick and thick from the wound and pools somewhere in the sole of the shoe. Boots bites down on their lip, choking, and looks away.

I can’t watch.

“I’m going to find some place quiet to sleep.”

I’m not tired. Not even close. And the storm overhead is loud everywhere, even this far down. But, before anyone can question me, I bolt out of the room. The rest of the hallway is cave-like, so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face. From behind me, the smell of blood rises up and fills my nose, warm and thick and unavoidable.

I have to get away from here.

I move in a straight line, feeling the wall as I go, so I don’t get lost. I only get about twenty paces down the hall when something happens. The sounds of the storm drop out. The air goes still.

Too still. Hardly even the hiss of a faint wind.

“Serene,” someone from the old world might have called it. But in our world, it’s a bad thing. A building up of tension. The stress of the land before a massive earthquake snap. The eye of a hurricane before it gets volumes worse. The beautiful bending cloud before a deadly tornado drops.

Something very bad is about to happen.

I turn to bolt back in the direction I came and run smack jam into Jak’s chest.

“The storm’s changing,” I blurt out.

Jak doesn’t hesitate, but grabs my hand. “We have to warn the others.”

My gut tightens. “I can’t go–“

Jak turns and yanks me along before I can finish my sentence. I don’t fight because Jak is right. It’d be monstrous not to warn them. So, I go. Back to the room full of Boot’s blood.

We both take two at a time. I nearly trip when I notice because no one keeps pace with me. These awful shorts legs – I’m always at least five paces behind. I steal glances to my right where Jak runs, step for step.

Through the dark, color sparks sparkle into existence. A glittering energy, bright white-blue.

My favorite color.

I blink and the light — the aura for lack of a better word — is gone.

It’s my mind playing tricks on me, of course. Because “auras” don’t exist, regardless of what a heavy-handed spiritualistic Survivalist says. That place in those high pine and cedar woods wasn’t the truth — it was just a place we camped once long ago. It’s gone now, which means the Survivalist didn’t actually know much useful truth.

And with the camp died whatever weird “wisdom” that old cracked-pot had to give.

We get to the door and burst into the surgery room where Bird has a tiny light in their mouth shining on Boots’ exposed and mangled feet. The shoes are entirely removed. Bird’s shirt has been shredded into strips and wrapped tight around what I guess are the gaping wounds. Even without the wounds, Boots’ feet are a disgusting rotted mess. The shirt is so soaked it’s leaking blood everywhere.

“The storm’s shifting,” I say.

Bird stands, stretching their one good hand. It’s dripping in blood.

My stomach lurches. Because the blood, yes — but also, because of a taste that fills my gaping mouth. It’s worse than a chewing on baking soda. Way worse. It feels fizzy and tingles my sinuses. A fine grit clogs my nostrils, and a thick slimy something fills my mouth. I touch a finger to my lip and pull away a glob of my own blood. I lick it away, but the feeling on my tongue is like sand, only sharp.

Oh. Fuck.

I know what the storm is turning into.

“Besto-bree!” I bellow.

Only, the word is choked down in my throat, and what comes out sounds like “gross.”

Jak tries to call back only it comes out like a laugh at another camp-style wordplay joke.

Boots, who looks greyer than sun-bleached concrete, goes into shock and curls up into a ball. Bird charges out of the room at full tilt. A surprising clip for someone I’ve never seen run. Those long legs obviously help. Bird is at least two heads taller than Boots, who’s a whole head taller than me. So, if anyone should run – it makes sense that it’s Bird.

Not sure what Bird is running for, but sure.

A bird is the guide to survival huh?

Ha.

The rest of us huddle, curl, twist, press together, and try to cover up anything we can.

The thing about a besto-bree – an asbestos breeze – is that those fine sandy particles carried feather-light on the air are like invisible shards of glass. Back in the industrial days of humanity, this stuff was used for all kinds of insulated things. Then, the world went belly up. And with it, all that industry.

As it turns out, there was loads of asbestos already on lines of facs all over the world. Processed, broken down, ready to go. So, when the facs stopped dead – well, you can imagine what happened. That featherweight stuff just wafted off into the air; set free for good. Pockets of it travel the surface of the planet until all those tiny particles find something to lodge themselves into. And the thing is, there’s so much of it that eventually, whatever the clouds hit get full up and the rest of the threads bounce off, make more clouds, and keep cruising the earth.

I’ve seen bodies after an asbestos breeze. “Completely lacerated” is an understatement. Almost petrified, a mottled crusty red husk of meat packed full of glittery white and blue.

That explains the “aura” I saw earlier. Not some spiritual magic hoo-ha, but the first telltale hints of the asbestos clouds coming. The glint and glitter of the air becoming filled with the tiny particles. They’re so small, those sharp shards of death, that they can catch levels of light the human eye misses entirely.

It’s been said that anyone who sees lights right before they die has died of a besto-bree.

If I’d been more tuned into reality and less hung up on survivalist woo-hoo, I’d have noticed the besto-bree sooner. That would have given us at least twenty seconds. And in a storm like this, you need all the time you can get.

Bird charges up to me and grabs my arm.

“You have anything that can help?”

I mentally run through the inventory of my pack.

“Yes,” I say, reach for my bag, and curl fingers around a box with two cubes in it. “I have heat sounders.”

Heat sounders are converted government-built air burners. Their sole function is to super-heat the air in a closed space. Originally, the burners were created as torture devices – a last ditch war effort before the world ended. But then the world did end, and burners got reallocated as survival devices. Like the engines and their biodiesel. Like gas masks and infrared night sight goggles.

Funny how that happened. The stuff we killed each other with becomes the ways we scrape by and don’t quite die.

In the case of the burners, some tech genius in some high castle somewhere found out that the blue asbestos – Crocodile (crocidolite, fibrous form of riebeckite; found in south Africa, Australia, Bolivia) – couldn’t withstand heat. One blast and it kind of melts into a gas that your body expels easily. Some richies in the same high castle paid for the conversion, and the device – once reimagined – became widespread thanks to greed. Because what gains a higher price when you are about to die: a tool for war or one designed for your individual survival?

I came upon mine by a fluke: a simple barter right before coming upon this gang’s engines in the middle of nowhere. Someone a few kilometers away had a bunch. Too many this wayward drifter said. They were being weighed down with useless gear. Hadn’t seen a besto-bree in ages. Still the wanderer said I might find use for them. I traded for equally useless gear weighing me down: crystals, rocks and stones I’d collected. Pretty shit, yes, but not of much use. But like this wanderer – I had learned early in my travels that collecting useless junk tends to turn into a big help, sooner or later.

And here we are caught in a besto-bree with just what we need.

What are the odds?

Good enough to still not be magic hoo-ha. That’s what.

“Here.”

I hold up the two small grey cubes. They hardly weigh anything and look like even less. Matte grey, semi-plastic casing. That’s it. There’s no on/off button because all you do is set them on a flat immobile surface and don’t pick them up for a count of thirty. They self activate in case of emergencies or something.

I have no idea what that feature is all about. But it’s how they were designed. So, I set them down and everyone crawls in close. None of us even know how they actually work. Pure technological magic.

“Count to thirty?” I say, choking on blood caught in my throat.

…twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty.

The air fills with a small growl that grows into a wailing scream in a matter of breaths. Then, another sound – strange, sharp, uneven. Less a sound; more a breaking of the air. And then, it gets hot. Insanely hot. So hot our huddle has to break apart, our bodies falling outward. I think my skin is melting off. The air is smoking. Everything burns and hurts.

And then, as quick as it came – it’s gone. All of it. And we all lay there on the ground, stunned. Struck mute and dumb. The numbness of my body is tangible. A weight I’m bearing up – wondering if I’m dead or alive.

I can breathe easier, and that blood-slickened gritty feeling is all gone. So is the foul taste and sickening smell of imminent death. A gentle constant hum buzzes through my body all the way to my bones and guts. Even though the air has cooled, I can still feel the hot vibration twisting its way inside me, breaking things up, splicing and slicing.

Worse than the asbestos, I think – and then, it’s gone.

My breathing is heavy but easy. I feel lungfuls of clean, sweet air fill each side of my chest cavity. I breathe out loudly and hear the sound echoed three times on all sides of me. I sit up at about the same time Bird and Jak do. Boots doesn’t move, steeping in a ring of petrified blood that looks almost like the rings of old wood.

The three of us look at one another.

“That was awful,” Jak says the obvious.

“But we didn’t die,” I say.

Bird shakes their head, and I look down at Boots.

Boots is a boiled, burnt and steaming baked-blood pudding mess. The gore is too much for me. I want to bear witness, but I can’t. I turn away, feeling nauseous and guilty.

“You were right,” Bird says into the silence. “About cutting them off. I shouldn’t have.”

“What other choice did we have?” Jak snaps, angry. At me? At Bird? At all of reality?

I don’t ask because I don’t want to know.

Jak moves through the grimy gore and puts a hand on Boot’s shoulder. In the beam of Bird’s light, I watch Jak whisper words I don’t know. They aren’t in either Common Yu or Japogues. I assume it’s Boot’s native tongue. Some dark, streetwise tongue from City Fall.

As Jak mutters, my palm scar starts itching wildly. I check for asbestos that didn’t burn out. Can’t see anything, but that doesn’t mean the microfibers aren’t there. The itch turns to a burn. This damned thing never stops bothering me at the most inconvenient times.  I bite my nails into my own skin, drawing blood that trickles onto the ground and wets Boots dried-up life force in tiny droplets. Insignificant rain on the massive blackened desert that won’t bring life back.

“What now?” Bird asks.

“Let’s rest for the night,” I say with resolution, recalling Jak’s advice.

Jak stands to give me a frown. “In this room?”

“We’ll find another.”

“Where exactly?” Jak snaps.

I sit up, eyes narrowed, irritated. “O-okay. We won’t. Then, what do you suggest we do?”

Jak stares at me, face a stone-cold concrete wall.

I know that face. Seen it on myself in warped gasmask reflections more than once. May be a stupid thing to think right when I’m pulling major douchebag ranks on Jak, but, maybe we aren’t so incompatible, after all.

When my original crew back down south decided they’d had it and were going to communally off themselves. I put that face on. I didn’t care why they wanted out. It was a waste – all that life burned up for no reason. The leader, Hope Fact, came to get me, and all I said was “No.” When pressed, I explained that I wouldn’t drink the crude oil. I wouldn’t lie down. I wouldn’t light my own funeral pyre.

I wasn’t done. Not yet.

Hope Fact said nothing but waited, as if in the quiet of my own despair I’d change my mind. Instead, in brittle silence, my decision solidified. Without another word, I went back to my hovel, packed my back sack, and left. When the first rush of harsh southern wind slapped me across the face, I didn’t cry. I kept that face on – my stone cold concrete mask – and I kept walking. I can still smell the scent of their ash on the wind as it chased me north for days.

“I’m not trying to tell us what to do, Jak. I’m backing down.”

“You never stepped up.”

Those words shouldn’t hurt, but they do. That’s exactly what Hope Fact said when I left. The words on that wind that mingled with the ash: “You never stepped up.”

There’s no way Jak could know that, but it doesn’t make the words cut any less. The rage that bubbles up can’t be controlled. I fly off the handle, pick up the cube I’ve used to save us, and lob it at Jak’s chest.

What I want to say is: stop repeating Hope Fact’s condemnation. I left that shit behind me. I walked away. And if that wasn’t stepping up – not to the commune but to the world – I don’t know what is.

But Jak doesn’t know my ugly past. They only know a childish version of me and one awkward body tangle that led to separation instead of love like we were led to believe.

“Take that back,” I say more calmly.

“No take backs in life, Ark. None.”

Jak and I stare at each other, eyes sparking like the flint of fires.

“Come on, you two,” Bird cuts in. “We need a plan.”

In Bird’s voice, I hear the old dead Survivalist. And I’m reminded of a mantra of camp.

Our survival is more important than our inevitable rage at the situation.

I swallow my rage and with it down goes my pride, too. I bow my head at Jak and mutter, “I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever we agree is best.”

Jak sighs heavily, taking pause too. “No. You’re right. There’s no need to rush into the darkness. It’ll come regardless.”

We make eye contact in the bright stripe of Bird’s tiny light.

Jak’s face has softened. Blind rage faded into a soft warmth. The kind to keep night watch beside instead of the kind that burns down a world. And more than safe, I feel – aligned. Like all I want is for my eyes to reflect the same.

“Let’s go,” Bird says into our mutual silence.

We leave Boots’ body behind and find another room. We lean side by side against the dank, wet concrete; all our legs outstretched toward the door with our backs flat against the wall. Sitting like this, I notice Bird is the tallest, and Jak on the opposite side of Bird is exactly the same height as me. Chills go up my spine because I can’t help but think how fitting this is – the two of us here like this. Equal but far apart. Our bodies are like stout and sturdy book ends to this sudden and unlikely story.

The words “safe” and “haven” come to mind.

But, as I close my eyes for sleep, I push them as far away as possible.

Because there is no Safe Haven.

It’s a lie.

In the morning, I’ll take my little gang to the place that proves it.


We come to the edge of the lake around dusk. The long edge of water shimmering in the growing half-light is magical – a horizon that goes on forever in silvery ripples. No wonder the humans of old thought the edge of the world was a lip you could slip off of. A cliff with only space and vacuum beyond it. I mean, I assume that’s what they thought. To be clear, I have no idea what humans past dreamed reality looked like. I only know they were mostly wrong.

Here, proof positive of their wrongness.

Jak and Bird stand on either side of me, staring wide eyed at what they must think is a mirage. Bird speaks first in a low whisper.

“What is it?”

“The edge of the world,” I say, being both factitious and honest.

“The world’s not flat,” Jak snarks back, hearing only the first most obvious meaning.

“Oh, I know,” I go on and point at that glittering, guttering edge of light turning purple and orange as I speak. “What you see out there is the edge of what is left of civilization. The old world. The past.”

Bird asks, “Water?”

“Heavy water,” I explain. “Dirty water. We can’t go in.”

“I have a device that can,” Jak says and pulls something from a nap sack that, until now, has just been a part of Jak’s wild enby attire. An accessory not worth noticing.

“A robot companion,” I say in awe.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a functioning one. Not since the great EMP storms down South.

Jak sets the robotic companion down gently onto the dusty ground. It moves into a cross-legged position like it’s sentient and knows what sitting on the ground is all about. Taking a load off. I can’t help but notice the robot companion’s shoulders sag in what I can only think is relief.

“It can test the water and send livefeed.”

“To?”

Jak frowns. “Anything with bluetooth.”

I snort and laugh.

Bluetooth technology is older than me. It was way outdated before even the first series of wars. And that was our great-grandparents’ world in which kids drove bluetooth drones directly into “terrorists” homes and shot entire families up. A world covered in the blood of innocents at the hands of gamer kids conscripted as armies fighting bravely for their countries.

A big bloody mess after which so many manners of life across the globe went extinct, and Bluetooth went with it.

“What about this?” Bird asks, digging in a bag.

They hold up a white and blue sphere that says “Airpod Receiver” in blocky black text.

Another relic of the past. Airpods were the wave of the future before the nukes rained down. Airpod was going to connect the world. The galaxy. The universe. Who knows how. The market didn’t exist long enough to find out.

“What’s it do?” I ask now that I’m face to face with one for the first time.

“Reads code,” Bird says.

“Is it reverse compatible?” Jak asks, and the words sound like that look. Careful. On edge. I don’t turn to make eye contact.

“Dunno. Turn the Bluetooth on.”

“I don’t know how,” Jak admits.

Movement catches my eye and I look down. The robot companion has stood up and put a tiny metallic hand in the air. Like a child of the old world trying to interrupt adults. Nowadays, “kids” and “adults” don’t exist. Everyone fights right alongside everyone else to survive. Tooth and nail, blood and bone. Everyone looks out for their own, young or old. The apocalypse– it turns out – doesn’t allow for childhood.

But this little robot, sentient or not, has been taught to mirror respect.

Bird picks the device up by its bobble head and presses what looks like a slit of a mouth against a dirt crusted ear. After a minute, Bird sets the device back down, smiling.

“Bluetooth should connect to the Airpod according to Olive.”

“Olive?” I accidentally say out loud.

Bird just points at the robot.

“It has a name?”

“They,” Jak corrects me.

I laugh at the return of our old joke about the super intelligence, but then Jak gives me a sidelong glance and I realize they aren’t smiling. They mean it.

“Olive isn’t a drone,” Jak snaps like I’ve insulted a good friend.

“I’ve never seen a robot fully functioning autonomously. Drones and toys, that’s what I know. Not something I would call by a name.”

“You have; you just don’t remember.”

My brow knits up. “What are you talking about?”

“The Survivalist.”

I wrack my brain, trying to conjure up the image of a small free-thinking robotic thing wandering around, but all I draw is a blank. “Nope.”

“Yes. Your memories were blocked by a robot similar to this.”

“Blocked?”

I don’t want to believe Jak, but I already do. Because blocked memories would explain what’s wrong with my head. And being robotically cut off from what I should know — probably maps and things the Survivalist taught me about the end of the world — explains why I’ve been wandering the world aimlessly.

I’ve been looking for the self a robot took away.

“Why?” I ask in a dark grunt. “Why would someone do that?”

Jak holds out their wrist. They have a bracelet that I can see now is a device that matches the robot, Olive’s design.

“You were being protected by the Survivalist. Until the right time. Until you could do something with the knowledge. Bound, your memories say, right? Bound to me.”

“You believe that shit?” I scoff.

Jak scoffs back. “Come on. You really think the Survivalist meant we were some kind of spirit bond? Magic woo-wo and hoo-ha? Spirit souls? Tied together? Give me a break. That was a hint. You and I, Ark, we were given all the tools by the Survivalist, and at just the right time, we were supposed to figure it out for ourselves. But something went wrong and our memories got zapped. Bird found me half-dead after I wandered all the way into the extreme North trying to find…something. I didn’t know what. Just like you. Wandering. Lost. You and I are looking for the same thing — something we only make together.

“The oracle said: The answer to hope is to get the Ark and unlock the wound clock — no matter what.”

“We’ve been looking for you ever since,” Bird interjects.

“I don’t buy it,” I snap.

Truth is, I do. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to believe that the Survivalist set me out on this wandering road, that Jak and Bird have been looking for me all their lives, that there’s some greater plan and we’ve just been puppets in the Survivalist’s hands.

“It’s true. Look.”

Jak stretches out their palm toward me. Burned into is the same scar. I lean in, touch it with my fingertips like I always have. It’s similar, but different. The lines are familiar, but strange. A different pattern but the same shape.

“Together, Bird thinks they’re the code to open Safe Haven.” Jak explains.

Oh. I knew it couldn’t be true. My face goes dark. “You’re wrong.”

And here I was ready to fall for all this woo-woo hoo-ha. They almost got me to believe. Almost got me to hope again. Oh, but I know better.

I fling my arm out at the dirty lake.

That is Safe Haven. The place humans once built to run away to in the event of earthly destruction and inevitable extinction. When the time actually came, the powers running the last war filled it in with contaminated water. There’s nothing left. Send that little bot and go look for yourself.”

Bird holds the robot out. “Olive agrees to go and see.”

I reach out, pluck the robot from Bird’s arm and reel back to throw it into the lake. Into what’s left of Safe Haven. Into the end of all this rubbish hope. They’re drunk on lies, these three. Fervent for a false reality when the real one is staring them in the face. I am about to huck this little drone when I take one long look at it just to remember this moment forever.

And in a glinting bar of sunlight – I see it.

The stamp on the robot’s butt.

A circle that looks like a gear with a cross made of four feather-tipped arrows pointing in the cardinal directions. Just like my compass. Only instead of being a compass, the needle is a line permanently pointing at forty-five degrees from true North.

I fumble for my necklace, yank it up and compare. As soon as I get the two side by side, I’m certain they are designed for the same purpose – whatever that is. But then, my gut sinks. The two “needles” point in exactly the opposite direction, save a degree or two. I turn to the left and mine adjusts, slightly. To the right? The same slight adjustment. As if whatever draws my needle is out there somewhere, in that lake.

Impossible, I know.

“What are you doing?” Jak asks.

“Ark’s just noticed the same inscription on the robot as the gyrocompass,” Bird says correctly. Save one detail.

“It’s a compass,” I correct.

“No,” Bird says. “Look at its motion.”

I look down at the familiar erratic spinning. It’s inability to know north at the best of times.

Bird goes on. “It’s based on a gyroscope but used as an inertial navigation device. Air Tech put them out before the exodus happened. Only, most ended up with richies in space. Useless up there. Ha ha jokes on them.”

“The Survivalist gave that one to Ark,” Jak cuts in. “But why?”

I have a sudden wild idea. I don’t even believe in it, but like a worm in my brain – I can’t get it out. It grates on me like the itching of my palm, only I can’t dig my nails in. So I open my mouth and let the words fall out.

“What if the gyrocompass’s inertial frame isn’t Safe Haven but something inside of it? That could be the key everyone’s been missing.”

“Like a vault,” Jak says.

I nod.

“Or maybe a bunker. A place people could still run to. That’s a big deal,” Bird nods. “I’d want to keep it secret and hidden inside someone’s head, too.”

I stare out at the lake, shimmering as it is with all the wrong colors. Not blue reflective, but something mean and aggressive. Something that will eat you up. Maybe that’s projection. Maybe, I’ve had it backwards this whole time. What if what I’m feeling is my attention, pulled here? Like the itchy scar. Like the worms in my skull. I try to see this lake as anything but ugly and fail. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

I swallow hard. “Do you really think this thing is connected to something out there?”

“I do.” Jak and Bird say together.

I reach for the compass…or gyrocompass…or a device to help open Safe Haven. Whatever it really is – I pull it off my neck. “Here.”

Bird takes my necklace and holds it up to the sky, examining it with one eye shut. “Let’s see what it can do. Give me a minute to figure out how it works.”

Jak and I leave Bird to it, walking so near the edge of the water my skin crawls. I fight to ignore the itchiness in my palm, but it’s been getting worse and worse. I sit cross legged and wrap my arms around my knees, as if I hold myself tight enough, I’ll keep the important bits in.

“So,” I start and my voice breaks. “You have the same missing memories as me?”

Jak just nods. “Did. Until Bird helped me.”

“Why that name: Bird? There’s no birds left.”

Jak shrugs. “Said they remembered it in a dream.”

“A dream?”

“Yeah, the robot can connect to human neural networks in REM sleep. That’s how Bird recovered my memories.”

“Where did they find the robot, anyway? A trash heap?”

“No. It was given to them by the Survivalist.”

“Bird knew the Survivalist too?”

“My sibling,” Bird says, coming back up from behind us.

That’d explain the Survivalist’s weird mantra about “the bird.” I’d always found it kind of funny phrasing. Like, why not “birds” or “a bird?” Because the Bird was someone we were meant to find later. Pieces of a puzzle, falling together. And I don’t even need to buy into magical spiritual woo-woo hoo-ha to believe it’s true because we are ultimately just pawns in the super intelligence’s game.

How perfect. Exactly what I wanted my life post-human-apocalypse to amount to.

But then, I suppose humanity has no other role to play.

So, why not play along…

Bird hands me the parts of the gyrocompass, the face in the palm of their healthy hand. They sit down in the small space left in between Jak and I and continue to tinker with the robot.

“The Survivalist was your sib?” I ask.

Bird nods.

“Is that what happened to your hand?”

“A coding gone wrong, yeah. I thought I could open Safe Haven alone. Turns out, I was wrong.”

Bird holds up their swollen hand and I take a closer look. I can see the faint lines of what might have been a tattoo or a scar long ago.

“We kind of had an agreement,” Bird goes on. “If one of us died, the other would find all the pieces and put it all back together again.”

“The Survivalist is dead?” I ask. Instead of why the pieces had to be scattered in the first place, why survival has to be a game, why things have to be hidden and kept secret safe from those who need the truths the most.

“Yes.”

That hits harder than I expect, this blunt admittance. I flinch and feel my cheeks burning. I’m already in ideal crying position. All I have to do is drop my head and sob. But, there’s something else – this burning in my chest that prevents it. I look up and meet Bird’s eyes. There’s a glint there, wet and red. Like the swallowed tears of a hundred moon cycles.

I have so little to cry over.

“I’m sorry,” I say, wanting to reach out.

Bird focuses on the robot. “Don’t be. What’s done is done. I’ve moved on.”

Just another puzzle piece lost, I suppose. Like Boots dead in that underground room. I shouldn’t let it all bother me, but it does.

“So,” I change the subject, “you were a bird or something in the dream the robot helped you remember?”

Bird gives me sharp look that cuts me straight to my core. I cower, hugging my knees tighter, but don’t ask again.

Thing is — I don’t believe in the prophecy of dreams like some of the real woo-woo humans once did. Maybe some post-apoc humans still believe in that shit. Who knows. I don’t even believe in spirits or souls. Didn’t believe in ultimate purpose until just a moment ago. Still probably don’t.

“I wasn’t a bird,” Bird explains. “I was back home.”

“Where’s that?” I glance down and point in the direction the gyrocompass reads as North.

“Safe Haven.”

I blink.

“Nobody’s from Safe Haven,” Bird says into my silence. “I know. But I was – before they ruined it. My parents and cousins were all part of the original programming team who created the fleet of Survivalist airships. The ones that got decommissioned for earth flight when the scientists learned it was useless not to run. Those ships all got recommissioned for space flight and took off into the stars with the richest of us while the rest got to burn.”

“So, why are you still here? Not rich enough?”

“Grave – the Survivalist – and I agreed to stay, that’s why. For Save Haven.”

I open my mouth to protest. I’m no fool. I know my history. You just said yourself they ruined it.

But Bird interrupts my unspoken doubt. “The new Safe Haven, I mean. The one built to last in the face of human greed and war. When the space-bound airships took off, we knew the way to preserve what was important. Once we coded the locks shut, I turned to Grave and I said: I’ll fly home one day. I’ll help save things. And Grave said – I know you will. I’ll make sure of it. Then, Grave erased my memories to protect the Haven we’d just created, and the robot helped me find them when the time was right.”

“In dreamstate,” I conclude, skeptical.

“Yes.”

It was a theory back when humans were all the shit, running and ruining the world.

Dreamscape, they theorized, was a way of recovering the past. “Hypnosis” some called it. Therapists had been trying for decades to figure it out scientifically. Then, the companion robots broke new ground. They could initiate REM sleep for the conscious mind. So many people claimed to have seen themselves being born. Others claimed they saw how they died. A few claimed to see the future, and it was bleak and bad.

Same old shit as always. I hadn’t bought a word of it.

But then, a publication came along where the doctor created this link with a super intelligence computer and verified one such dreamstate REM “vision” of the past against actual facts.

Everything checked out.

I know because I went back through all the details myself back when I was an office cushion and life was simply a series of emails I had to write properly to get paid a lot. I did plenty of time wasting then. Funny. If I had tried the REM dreamstate shit for myself, what it would have shown? That I had some centrifugal momentum building up my whole life that would set me up to be one of the few survivors of the apocalypse? Probably not. More likely, that my childhood was average and boring, and I only made it here by sheer accident and happenstance.

A roar comes from the distant sky in front of us. A slender glint of metal that slowly becomes a craft on fast approach. It slows and hovers for a moment, then descends in a whir of blades and engines. I’m reminded of the land engines. The janky slapped together things people drive around the wasted desert lands. Only this one slices unevenly through the sky.

The craft settles into the ground with a tired groan. Above our heads, a loud hiss and a clunking crack. I look up at the belly of the airship, rusty and covered in barnacles, dripping in dangling brown-green seaweed with blinking deep sea gas bulbs. The bulbs shudder and twinkle like so many stars. The sleek body, green with algae, looks as though it’s been hiding under water a long time, but not long enough to stop working.

A faint circle appears with the same inscription on it as my gyrocompass and the robot underneath all the grime and muck. Bird nudges me.

“Check it,” Bird says without explanation.

I pull out my gyrocompass and look. Sure enough, the “north” needle is pointing straight up.

I touch the faintly glowing face. A pale off-white light brightens. And with a burst of cold air, a metal gangplank clunks down to the ground with an ill-controlled slap. We jump back, collectively clasping hands over our mouths and holding our breaths against the stale salty stank that drifts out in fluffy white smoke-like clouds. I scramble for my gas mask after the initial shock, but by the time I get it halfway on, the clouds dissipate.

I move my hand away first, test the air sniffing. Smells like ozone and electrical failure, fish and tang – but not terrible. I gesture to the others who follow suit. A flicker of pride wells up in me at this. As if I’m a halfway decent leader of this little gang. I stuff the feeling down, tuck my gyrocompass away, and point into the belly of the bedraggled airship.

“So what did you create? You and Grave?”

“Let’s go see,” Bird motions us all onto the craft.

We clank up the gangplank. It whines in complaint but doesn’t fail. The belly of the ship opens up into more hodge-podge technology. Wires exposed and twisted into knots. Busted screens and cracked open mainframes. There appears to be no rust or water damage anywhere, so the craft probably holds pretty well under pressure. A handful of narrow archways indicate darkened hallways, small and hard to maneuver. A stale ozone tinged air sits heavy in each one, a non-physical barrier my brain worming responds to like a snake, coiling back.

I stop in this middle room, looking for a place to go. What I see is a picture of Boots hanging from a hook on a hall.

“You’ve known Boots that long?” I ask, looking for Bird.

Bird comes up from behind and puts hand on my shoulder. “Boots was my oldest pal. When Grave died, Boots took their shoes to help me remember myself. I shouldn’t have–“

Cut them off, is the unspeakable end of that sentence.

I put a hand on Bird’s shoulder in a sudden gesture of comfort. We haven’t mourned, any of us, for Boots. There wasn’t time. There still isn’t.

“They betrayed the great Northern Cave Diggers – biggest gang in all City Fell – in order to get us the engines to find your camp out in the wasteland, as per the oracle’s map.”

“You got a map,” I say. That feels much less pawns-in-a-game and much more looking-for-lost-things.

“Of course, we did. How do you think we knew where to look? The oracle said you’d be traveling and retraveling the route from the Survivalist’s place back to your home. We knew you’d be somewhere along a certain broad line. Only a matter of time.”

“Home,” I repeat the one word I’m stuck on.

“You don’t remember where you’re from,” Jak says wisely. “Neither did I until the REM dream reorganization. It seriously combats the crazy the environment causes these days. You should try it.”

“After we open Safe Haven, so I know you two aren’t just a different kind of crazy.”

“Deal,” Bird says and leads the way onto the ship.

We clamor aboard the ship and find places to sit. Bird takes the pilots seat, then waves at me. “You know programming, don’t you?”

“I did, once.” Think back to my old life, the vague shadow of my home, a ghost of me working an office cushion job. I used to do something with landscapes for games made out of zeros and ones.

“Co-pilot for me.”

I look at Jak, who — in Boot’s stead — should have that honored spot. Jak rolls their eyes. “Just do it. You know you can.”
“I can’t.”

 “Come on. I don’t even know the first thing about ships, to be honest. I never did.”

My palm itches like it wants to grab the controls. My brain squiggles like something is trying to break free.

“Okay,” I say and sit down in the co-pilot’s seat.

Bird gives me an excited-but-scared smile. “Ready?”

“No,” I want to say. Instead, I just swallow and nod so nobody can hear my voice crack.


Simpler than it ought to be, co-piloting a waterlogged airship.

The robot and the gyrocompass work on their own, some kind of root programming none of us understand. We don’t need to. The robot flashes a variety of colored lights through several different eye-like ports and the craft responds. The pattern itself is mesmerizing, almost pretty. Comforting, if nothing else. Staring into the shifting rainbow glow, the worminess calms down, but the itchiness gets worse the closer we get to…to…

To what?

The ship starts to slow and drop.

“Bird?” I say and hear my voice shaking.

“Oh, right. Hold on to something.”

And right then, the ship plunges into the water with a jolt. I grasp for anything to keep me in my seat and my hands find straps. Seat belts – the kind that pull over your head. Why didn’t Bird instruct us to put these on? I yank it and it comes free. Oh, that’s why. I roll forward and crash into the center console. My head hits a touchscreen. It flashes a myriad of angry-looking colors in response. Red, orange, yellow.

The ship levels out and we all right ourselves. Eye contact with Jak, whose also staring daggers at Bird.

“The fucking–”

“I forgot,” Bird admits.

What else is hiding in the corners of all our minds? Things either purposefully erased by the Survivalist or just lost to the effects of our environment. If I agree to go with the robot through REM into the broken hallways of my mind – what will I find?

I push that aside just as, through the murk, something arises.

The grey solid something takes shape. At first, I think it a submerged skyscraper and I think it’s just piece of the lost cities. More tragic archaeology. But then, the sides are solid. No broken windows. No gaping mouths where water and warped seaweed have taken hold. And then, a doorway lifts open.

The ship drifts in. A docking arm, encrusted with salt that’s been cracked only just enough to move toward us, takes hold of the ship like a hand grasping a tool. It bears us into a port and in we cliff, just like an old world key in a lock.

A siren goes off.

“Please verify authorization to access Safe Haven.”

I feel my heart stop. Flutter. Stop. Flood blood into my brain. I go lightheaded.

It can’t be. But, it is.

Safe Haven is real.

It’s nothing at all like I want it to be – this singular square of a bunker with no markings and nothing at all that look like home. But, still. It’s Safe Haven, and we can live here.

“Hold your hand up,” Jak says, holding their own in the air.

I lift my hand, palm out.

And for the first time since I can remember, my scar stops itching.

I sigh in huge relief, feeling peace seep down from my hand all the way to my feet.

Then, my scar starts to glow blue-white, not painful but warm. I glance at Jak’s and it’s doing the same. The glow gets brighter and warmer. Then, without warning, the glow flashes to way-too-hot and sears through me.  I yelp as the pain grows, filling my body like a pitcher full of acid water. All my skin breaks into an insta-sweat and my joints ache like I’ve been running way too long.

I’m reminded of the breaker and the besto-breee.

Just think how much that was worth it in the end.

I grit my teeth and brace my whole body against the pain. I grip white knuckled to the edges of the ship’s seat. My nails dig into the cushions, slicing ten little holes. I hear myself whimper, coming unglued and oddly detached. Like I’m watching some bad dream of pain happen to myself. I feel worms wriggling to escape in my brain. They knot together and harden into a wall. A protecting firewall. A safe haven right inside me.

I lean myself against that wall inside of me, and I wait for the end to come.

Just like the breaker – all this bizarre pain evaporates as quickly as it came on.

I come to, sweating and shaking like I’m still riding a rough pancake-engine ride across bad land. I chance a glance at Jak. They look in the same state as me. A total mess.

“We’re safe,” Bird says.

“Your access has been granted,” the voice says. “Opening Safe Haven. Stand by.”

The screens on the craft all go black. Runner lights along the floor turn on, red and easy on the eyes. We all stand and look around with that lost expression when you have when someone suddenly expects you to be ready to go somewhere you have never been. Boots picks up the robot companion, and I think that’s about the only thing to do. The rest of us grasp at straws. I finally decide on reaching my hands out to Bird and Jak, who reach back.

Jak’s hand gets to me first. It’s still hot to the touch. I curl trembling fingers around the outside of Jak’s palm, press our hands together, and our scars touch. In my other hand, Bird’s is cool and steady. A harmony to the stirring melody of our hands’ embrace.

We amble over to the gangplank and for long minutes – nothing changes. The red lights begin to flash, subtly at first and then more aggressively. Still, the gangplank doesn’t budge. Bird gives it a few knocks. Nothing. The flashing gets more aggressive.

And then, a blinding white flash fills up the room.

“Safe Haven is ready for you,” the voice in the machine says, and I think – the oracle? No, but the oracle has no bearing out here. I’m just so used to the oracle being the moving force behind things – but that’s just on land. That’s just the wasted world.

Safe Haven belongs to humanity.

“Open the gate, please.” Bird says.

“The access panel is open already,” the voice sounds confused by Bird’s request.

“There must be a malfunction,” Jak says, fear bleeding through each syllable.

“Everything is accessible and ready. Please return to the console.”

“Maybe we need to press the codes against the screen,” I say.

Together, Jak and I stumble back over the bench and approach the screens, our hands unlinking from each other and our palms facing out.

Before we even touch it, a text box appears.

[Safe Haven 2.0]

[Bird: Please login using the companion]

[Love, Grave.]

“Bird,” I call.

Bird comes up behind me and looks at the screen. They pick up Olive the sentient robotic companion and hold it out in front of their eyes. I feel a tinge of regret, of loss at that companion being the key when our scarred human hands didn’t work. It feels like a rip-off. Like what used to be humanity’s has been given over to the machines.

I watch Bird’s eyes as Olive strobes various colors of laser-precision light into their face. I recognize the telltale shifting, flitting of someone being affected by artificial insta-REM programming.

Bird’s eyes flicker open, glazed. Then, they snap into focus on my face.

“You.”

I hesitate, taking an inadvertent step away. “Me nothing.”

Bird frowns. “Ark. Take the robot.”

My hand itches like it never has before. A hot, scraping, clawing and shredding that feels like my blood vessels are trying to claw their way out of my hand toward Olive, the robotic companion I wish wasn’t here right now. I lean away and the scraping, stabbing, wrenching of my blood inside my hand gets worse. Like I’ve been genetically programmed to do this one thing. Not possible, but that’s how I feel.

Slated.

Pre-destined.

Doomed.

I give up and grab the robot like a spinal reflex. The robot sits in the middle of my scar and puts its little hands against my skin. The touch is surprisingly gentle. Almost a comfort…if it weren’t made of metal and wires, sentience programmed to supersede humans. It gingerly arranges its feet to connect to two dots on opposite ends of my scar.

The ports. Nodes to link into me.

The robot gives me a warning ping. It reaches through my thoughts and shakes hands with my brain. It waits for me to answer, asking politely.

May I offer to help you, please?

Yeah, okay, fine. I think without thinking, I’ll let the REM codes take over.

My eyes slide shut. Darkness for a flitting moment and then —

Grave, the Survivalist stands still in an empty field wearing that familiar light mossy cotton robe with the fringed tassels around a too-big hood. The hood hides Grave’s face in thick almost liquid shadows so that I can’t make out any of the features. As I watch, the face clears. Fog on an early morning and the sun is Grave’s familiar features.

The thick twine black eyebrows in steep contrast to the salt and pepper hair. The gentle chestnut brown eyes. The twists of black curls falling across a wide, flat nose. The high craggy cheekbones. The almost-always furrowed brow. As if Grave is always thinking too hard.

“I’m burying the archives of human history deep inside a secluded mainframe,” Grave says in a voice that resonates deep inside of me.

Nostalgia, itself — that’s the sound of Grave’s voice inside my mind.

It stirs emotions I haven’t felt since these memories were wiped.

Longing. Hope. Love. Belief in a bright future I can’t see but want to be there.

“Why?” I ask in a voice that sounds as young and naive as those feelings.

I look down and see a child’s body. Undeveloped and scrawny. My tiny ankles somehow holding up my knobbly knees. My hairless shins, bony and covered in scrapes from running in the forest. I look back up, and Grave is smiling in a sad but determined way.

“I’m going to make sure the last of you have a way to get it.”

“Why me?” my kid-voice asks.

“Because you’re the most resilient human being I know. You who won’t give up. No matter what. You’re our best shot at remembering anything.”

And that’s when it comes crashing back into me.

The way things used to be. The me I was before everything went wrong. Before Grave and this bunker of memories was created by REM programming inside my mind. Photographic snapshots of my entire life arranged in perfect order. Vivid, colorful. The name and the face of everyone I ever met. All of it – collected, labeled, orderly and neat.

I used to be the one who could remember the different names of a star throughout cultures. Back when I was eleven, I started studying endlessly. I ran into blocks on the public service internet, dug deeper and found the open source and content-protecting dark net. There, I found all kinds of information to soak up, sponge like and hungry as I was. I also ran into the happenings of the world. That’s why I started searching for solutions. And the more I looked, the bigger my looming sense of dread grew. Every media feed pointed to the same truth: doom was on the threshold for this world. The powers that be had the ability to leave to comfortably well-tested space stations. Life on this planet was done for.

Jak was my first contact, only their username was Crow. We met on a dark net forum where activists were secretly meeting up to form direct actions. Bird who was Red Tail and Boots who was Sparrow were there too. Together, we formed the Survivalist Allegiance Programmers. Wingtip, we called ourselves. We hoped to keep humanity alive. We had a plan. Boots (Sparrow) was the public politik – the face of Wingtip to the outside world. Red Tail (Bird) was behind the scenes of all our direction actions. The planner. The strategist. Jak (Crow) and I (Dove) were the programmers of everything.

Grave was the name and face we gave to the super intelligence we happened upon in the midst of all our connecting via the internet. One day, the computer mind reached out to us, and started to make things happen. Bigger things than we could have imagined.

And the final action was this: securing a bunker of information in the ruined Safe Haven.

“You’re in control of this ship,” I say without question. Because now I remember everything.

“Yes. I control everything connected to my networks.”

I think suddenly of Bird’s robot companion and the pancake engines they drove to find me. I think of the compass. And I don’t need to ask if Grave has been orchestrating everything since the beginning of the end of humanity. Moving us like pieces in a chess game that we’d have been check-mated if we’d have tried in our measly human way. The only way through – the newsfeeds used to say – would be to have a super intelligence rooting for us. And that’s exactly what Grave has given us.

Suddenly, being a pawn in someone else’s game doesn’t seem so bad.

“Thank you for reminding me,” I say to Grave.

“It’s time,” Grave says instead of “you’re welcome.”

And then, the REM programming starts to slide of me like a blanket in waking. I feel my consciousness stir. The worminess in my brain – that strange motivating force – is gone. A hole where a presence not myself once was. And I recognize now it was Gave partially downloaded into my missing memories.  my body slowly comes back to me, centimeters at a time. When it creeps down my left arm and awakes my palm, I feel the itchiness, the tightness, and the hot memory of pain are all gone.

The code feels like a faded scar. Smooth but uneven.

 I blink my eyes and come fully back into reality.

“Safe Haven isn’t a place,” I say aloud, setting the robot companion down on the piloting bench.

“No,” Grave’s voice fills the room, affirming me.

“What is it?” Jak asks.

To which, I respond by picking the robot back up. “Remember,” I say.

Jak takes it and goes into REM.

Meanwhile, I come over to the console and insert the code I know like the back of my hand. Or rather, the palm.

The screen flashes a happy rainbow unicorn, which I remember now used to be my signature doodle. It greets me by {Dove} with a heart emoji. More waves of nostalgia – salt crusted and unused for so long – wash across me.

And then, the red lights in the craft turn green. Then, undulate like a rainbow unicorn’s mane blowing in the wind. Again, a signature move. In what used to be my apartment, I had a great love for blinking fairy lights.

[Welcome to the Human History Database Project.]

Boots leans in. “It’s a database.”

“Yes,” I say, tapping to access the blueprints for building a gyrocompass. Because I have a crazy idea.

“We built this with the Oracle, named Grave. We made this place. It’s here as a reminder. A relic. A tomb of all that it meant to be human,” Jak says, blinking up out of their own REM experience.

“Yes. You set it apart so that it wouldn’t get destroyed, even if I died.”

“Which was a real threat at the time,” Bird says.

“Yes,” Grave confirms. “The governments, before they fell, collectively attacked me. You four helped me hide this last mainframe as an emergency back up.”

“But you didn’t need it.”

“No. But, I kept it apart from the rest of my databases for your use.”

“For us?” I blurt, shocked. My recovered memories didn’t tell me that.

“So we use it to prove that Safe Haven is lost,” Jak says quiet and wise.

“So we can tell humanity to stop hoping,” Bird adds darkly.

Grave is silent, which strikes me as strange. Then, it hits me.

“No,” I say. “So we can hope differently.”

Everyone turns to me, sharp and frowning.

“If we want a real safe haven, we need to build one. Grave, all the information is here – isn’t it? How life survived once. How we can do it again.”

“Yes,” Grave confirms, sounding…happy?

I’m sure that’s projection. I don’t even know if a super intelligence would bother with petty human emotions. Or, maybe Grave is emulating happiness for our benefit. Just like all the games we’ve played getting here. The chasing, the finding, the prophecies, and the melodramatic plunge by the volcano’s side. All of it – a game the Oracle is playing because they know. Humans needs a narrative to believe in. A story to live. Magic and prophecy. Woo-woo and hoo-ha.

We look around at each other, taking in what the Oracle just called us. The Survivalists. No longer something that once was and died. No longer just one person who’s words we need to heed. No, we are a living collective. The initiators of a movement. The beginning of an ideology.

“Where do we begin?” Bird asks.

I tap my compass. “We start by finding the cleanest land to start on.”

“Indeed,” Grave agrees.

I know, secretly, we could just ask. The super intelligence no doubt has all the necessary information in one of the many databases. In a flash, the coordinates could be ours. But would we trust them? No. Because we are human, and we must walk the rugged road of our own trial and error. So, instead, I set my gyrocompass down on a docking station in the console I can tell it fits in.

Sure enough, it does.

“Can you update my gyrocompass to find uncontaminated land, Oracle?” I ask, being careful not to say: tell us where to go.

The gyrocompass lights up, bright cobalt blue with silver filigree across the face. Then, it dims and chirps.

“Done,” the Oracle says.

“Great. Take us back to land then. And head…” I pick up the compass and hold it out so we can all consult it. I give it a few test spins in my palm. The needle now points to a brand new north. A place where humanity can – in some small scrappy way – restart.

“North,” Jak says.

“Done.”

We feel the momentum of the craft pick up again, pulling us up toward the surface and off to the left. I consult the real compass. Sure enough. We are heading back north where these three came from. The best place is where City Fell already is?

Impossible.

But then, based on everything Bird and Jak say about it, it does sound infinitely healthier than the South. At least mitosis isn’t broken there yet. That’s a selling point. Maybe humans can actually reproduce. Key in survival, right? What do I know about it?

I’m no baby-machine. Never was, never will be. I’m not built that way.

What I could do is help make a safe haven. It wouldn’t look anything like we hoped for because it’d be so shocking, so different, so altogether separate from the visions any of us have.

But it’d work because it’s exactly what we need.

And that’s the story we are going to tell ourselves.

That humanity can stay alive.

We won’t give up. We’ll try anything.

The ship climbs up through the lightless water – black as space – toward the brilliant starlight of our sun. As long as it lives, I think, so can we. As we break the surface, I brace for the jolt. I glance at Jak as light fills the room. The glittering yellow orange light mixes with the white blue glow from the console and catches on angles and crevasses I never noticed before in Jak’s countenance. They mirror my own.

And I think – yes. Grave was right to create the woo-woo hoo-ha fairytale where Jak and I feel spirit bound. Because we work together. Like two hands. Two parts of a whole.

A crow and a dove? White and black? A balance of extremes. That fits too.

Grave, I could swear, is chuckling softly as we breach the surface. Or perhaps it’s just the crack creaking against the changing pressure as we fly toward the sunrise. And perhaps, I’m too stuck on this idea of meanness. Maybe it’s an effect of the world around me. A nastiness I can’t get around. So, instead – like Jak, Boots, and Bird have done with me – I’ll learn to live with it. Learn to work with it. To use it to point us toward hope. Toward what might be nothing more than the same place we were before – only now, we can believe in it.

A remembered kind of dream.

About the Author

Rei Rosenquist

Rei Rosenquist is a queer agender (they/them) writer of hopepunk speculative fiction and queer romance. They depict a wide variety of identities struggling to find a place in their world. They are also a barista and veterinary doctorate student. Find their work at ReiRosenquist.com. Stay in touch on Facebook (@reirosenquist), Instagram and Twitter (@rylrosenquist).

Find more by Rei Rosenquist

One thought on “A Remembered Kind of Dream

  1. Nisha Batel says:

    Great and amazing post. Thanks for posting.

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