Author : Thomas Desrochers
Grant watched as steam curled up from his mug and disappeared into the foliage above, weak spears of early morning light dancing through the leaves. He smiled – it was rare to have a moment of peace. The girl’s mattress creaked in the next room. His fingers brushed along the edge of the picture frame in the middle of the table.
“Well,” he grunted. “Nothing lasts forever.”
The quiet was a blessing any more, a moment to try and build energy for whatever came next. He needed it – the arthritis in his legs was slowing him down even as the children seemed to get faster and more curious.
Another minute, another hour, another day. It was all borrowed, he knew, in a body that by all rights should have been retired a decade earlier. Time was coming to collect its debt, tapping at the balance sheet with an impatient finger and a smile that brooked no argument; there would be no warning.
He thought it was fitting: a body on borrowed time carving out a life in a ruin that had its own debts coming due. A dying man in a dead city trying to shelter the gleaming spark of a child’s life from the howling wind outside.
The City groaned below. Was it still alive? Maybe. Grant had come across dozens of lonely computers still humming away, tucked in bedrooms and offices, in server rooms alongside scores of dead machines, tucked into the corners of utility spaces. They were being fed, but every time he tried to tap into that energy it had flitted away from him, rerouted like a bird leading him away from a nest. Never any power to tie into, but every time a small gift: an untouched medicine cabinet, a shoe box full of seeds, a stuffed animal the day before the girl’s fourth birthday. Grant cleaned the machines every year, fighting the dust – half out of gratitude and half superstition.
But if it was alive, it was dying too. The computers were going dark. It was rot, he thought, brought about by the cut in The City’s side. It wasn’t large, but it let in the wind and moisture that blew around at ten thousand feet above sea level. Let in the world, and trapped them.
Another groan, humming through the floor and rattling the glass. The City had been the most impressive feat of engineering the planet had ever seen, a country compressed into a building.
Grant wrapped his hands around the mug, the heat providing some relief to his stiff knuckles. His thoughts danced around the question that had bothered him for the last four years: what would happen to the girl when he died? There wasn’t anyone left to pass her on to, or a way down. He hadn’t found a good answer yet. Truth was, he was out of time to find one. He could feel it.
Grant stood, knees popping, and pulled a small notebook from his jacket pocket, leaving it by his tea. He stepped out the apartment’s front door, closing it quietly behind him, and smiled at the trail of soft lights that hadn’t run in years leading away down the corridor. The City was still alive, and knew it was time.
Lyn stepped out of her bedroom, carrying her stuffed walrus in one hand, rubbing her eyes with the other. Another morning, Grant’s tea still steaming on the table, the rosy light caressing a yellowed picture of a young man and woman touching foreheads in the middle of a sunny field, eyes crinkled with happiness.