Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

They met each other on the high wall that surrounded the empty city. It was truly empty now: even the soldiers had left, abandoning the surface, chasing the population underground, into bunkers or into the big groundstations in the desert.

He had a bag of food and drink, scavenged from shops and homes that had survived the evacuation intact. She looked like she’d just come from a party in the good end of town. She was wearing a long black dress, inset with reflective scraps so that it shimmered like the night sky, and she had a music box tucked under her arm.

When the evacuation order had come, they’d both separately judged that it would be pointless to run and hide. She was too proud, he was suspicious of the government. The cracks crazing across the sky drove them both to distraction.

The wall was as wide as a good road. The inside edge was a sheer drop, fifteen metres down into the leafy walldistricts. The outside edge was protected by a raised ledge about a metre high and the same wide.

He dropped his bag by the ledge, rummaged in it, and brought out a folded square of cloth. He spread it over the ledge: the edges draped over each side. He quickly unpacked a meal of bread, smoked meat and chopped vegetables that had been encased in clear plastic. Two tall metal beakers followed out of the pack. He poured wine into hers and water into his. Reflexively, he was deferring to her: she didn’t notice.

She sat delicately on the ledge opposite him, sipped his wine and took small bites of his meal. They didn’t say a word, but looked out from the city that had been their home, out into the desert that the walls had kept back. Every once in a while, one or the other of them would glance upwards at the sky, at the cracks which were perceptibly crawling across it.

The sun began to set. He produced several small lanterns from his bag and set them down on the wall, forming a wide circle of illumination. She placed her music box in the centre of that circle, and lightly tapped the top of it. And suddenly, they were not alone: the box grabbed photons out of the air, and reformed them, projecting four abstract figures. Blurry, unfocused musicians, each with a different instrument. For the first time since he’d seen her on the wall, he tried to speak, but found that he couldn’t. She pointed to the box and the phantom band, attempting to explain that the music box pre-emptively cancelled any other sounds. He didn’t understand, but shrugged and seemed to accept it.

The band struck up. She smiled, twirled and laughed silently, the lanternlight reflecting brilliantly from her dress. She hopped up onto the ledge, and beckoned him to follow. Slowly at first, but gathering courage and confidence with each measure the band played, they danced up and down the wall, within their pool of light.

The damage to the sky had reached a critical point, and fragments began to fall. They heard nothing, wrapped up in the music, the flash and whirl of it, the ever-quickening steps. A fragment crashed into the city, and they felt the shockwave. A moment of unsteadiness, but they carried on regardless: dancing under the light of a moon that neither of them had known was there.

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