She could dimly recall something, something that had happened before this cold and infinite darkness. The memory was warm and comforting. She clung to it as the wires in her hands and temples threatened to snatch it away. There were people – people whose faces she knew – and a child… A smile crept across her blank face as remnants of the sound of laughter echoed through the cavernous empty passageways of her mind.
She heard footsteps, felt the rush of air as the door opened. The shastem stopped by the dials on the wall and there was a clicking noise. Then there was a rumbling as the transformer prepared for the morning’s work, and she screamed as the life force drained out of her again, and ripped away the warm memory of the people and the laughter.
* * *
Dawn spread her long warm fingers over the old continent of Erop. She crested the waves of the dying seas, poured her warm orange light onto the dry wasteland that was now Celan, and illuminated the millions of wind farms dotted around the coast of Rans. She fed the many solar panels, hungry after their night’s slumber, and revealed the towers of the power stations, hundreds of them, thundering into life. Hydrogen-fuelled minicars zoomed along intercounties in Innand and battalions of soldiers stamped around military enclosures in New Birminam. Then a cloud of radioactive gas drifted across the sun, and the warm yellow light seeping into Askin’s window was replaced by cold grey daylight. Nevertheless, it began a reaction in the solar cells of her alarm clock, and soon she was dragged from her sleep by its indignant squealing. She threw herself straight out of bed – no point just lying there and going back to sleep – and clattered down the hallway, activating the lights as she did so. Dom was already in the small kitchenette, making a cup of cheap synthetic coffee. He gestured questioningly at the kettle, but Askin made a face.
“No thanks.” She’d gone off tea and coffee, roughly since they’d started manufacturing them from Lantic seaweed. Dom shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He went back to his coffee. She smiled fondly at the back of his tousled dark head as she felt around in the cupboard for the Go!, the only cereal on the market that cost less than $60 a packet. To be honest, cardboard chips tasted better soaked in milk, but the choice of food was limited, and journalism did not pay as well as some jobs. She forced herself to eat the synthetic protein-fibre, grimacing as she did so. Dom turned round and saw her face.
“I don’t know why you eat that stuff, I really don’t.” Askin groaned. They’d had this discussion every morning for the past three weeks, and Askin was really getting sick of it. She knew he was just winding her up. She hit back with her usual reply: “How much do they pay you to keep quiet about that black market food they get hold of at your office?” His indignant scowl had a smile hidden behind it as he downed his coffee and went to have a shower. Askin grinned. She enjoyed living with Dom. It was nice to have somebody to chat to. She’d met him several years ago, when they were both students. She’d advertised for a roommate to joint rent a flat, and when they’d finished studying they decided to just stay there – they’d both managed to get jobs in the area and they got on like a house on fire. He was from London, originally, but his family was evacuated with the other twenty million Londoners who had to move after the flood of 3.87, which had bust the New Thames Flood Barrier and caused chaos throughout Erop, with so many refugees spreading to other urban areas. He had spent his teenage years in South Wales where his father had managed to get a job working as a structural engineer on the HEP dams in the Brecon Beacons, before heading east to Oxford to study 21st century history. Dom was nice, a playful soul, and provided a welcome antidote to the doom and gloom she saw in her job every day.
She finished her cereal and dumped the bowl in the sink, securing herself an irritated lecture on tidiness from Dom when she got home, before heading down the hallway to get dressed.
* * *