I’m in a dream.
The war drones are roaring overhead, their shadows cutting across the sunlit paths between the buildings. I am pressed against a wall, looking back at the panicked, stampeding crowd. We are all tethered to the same fear, a thread pulled so taut it threatens to snap into hysteria. The screams are muffled by the droning of the planes and the resounding booms that crash like thunder bolts in the distance, invisible but pounding closer each second.
Someone takes my hand and pulls me down the steps of the subway. Her hair is long and blonde. Celia! She turns and looks back at me, her eyes wide and calm. No! I don’t want to go, not down there. I look up at the sky, but only catch a glimpse of blue between the drones. A mortar comes crashing down, whistling like a bottle rocket.
The heat from the explosion lingers on my face. I am on the ground, and my ears are ringing.
It is only whisper, but I know it is my father’s voice.
When I open my eyes, the clock on the wall reads 13:17.
“Rosalind.” My father calls to me from his hospital bed, his speech labored. I rise to get him water. The sores have grown worse, I notice. They have spread down his forearm and onto his wrist, blushing into a muddy shade of red. He has been unconscious for three days. The pain he must be in now–I can only imagine.
I pull my chair closer to him, taking his hand in mine. I can see the weariness in his eyes.
“What has happened since we last spoke?”
“The environmental contaminant level has been cleared for preliminary expeditions,” I say, struggling to keep my voice steady. “They are preparing the teams now.”
For a moment, there is silence between us.
Three days prior, the entire shelter had erupted with celebration and relief at the announcement. Approved expeditions had given us a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Each day brings us closer to a new world,” I say, squeezing his hand gently.
I find myself again, looking into his eyes. They are familiar too me, but the blistered and bleeding body, the mind exhausted with pain, this is not who I knew him to be. And yet even though this familiar stranger is only a remnant of my father, he is no less dear to me.
“Roz,” he breathes. I lean closer.
“You must pioneer…this new world…without me.”
A knot surges into my throat.
“You know…what is coming…”
I steel myself, but the tears still fall.
“Yes,” I say, wiping my tears.
The nurse swoops in from behind me, she is silent and stern and quickly has my father’s arm in a pressure cuff.
“Get some sleep,” he says, “I’ll see you…on the other…side.”
I manage a smile, but my head is swimming. I’m uncertain about so many things. I let my hand linger on the doorknob and rest my forehead against the cool wood of the door. I think of the world above, hundreds of feet overhead where the ashes of war coat the earth. We are but one group of survivors. I am but one girl. Life must go on.