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48

Within the first two days, the changes were undeniable. There was no hope; they would all die. All the anomalies that could break out, did. Those that did not perished in the chaos. Personnel went with them. Sites. Cities.

Magnus. Kiryu. Bright.
Rights. Gears.

They found each other in the rubble of their collective site and continued on. A magazine of bullets between them. Enough food to last several weeks. A beat up car with a full tank of gas.

— — —

Ophelia Rights never had a mother. Her birth certificate left an offensive blankness where a mother's name should be. They found her in an empty apartment room of white walls, red wine on the floor, plates of food left to spoil at careful placement on the dinner table. He found her, Adam Bright, who had always wanted a son. He settled with a daughter. She clung to his aging arms with fingers sticky from drool and smiled up at him.

Adam wept. A loss only his bones understood.

72

Gears burned with fever. The antibiotics hadn't worked. What started as a nasty scrape fell into infection. He was the oldest of them. Michael Magnus took over his night shift as if the extra sleep could save him. At least he had lost his appetite early on. More food for the rest of them. The five sat around the fire, huddled against the night.

"We should call ourselves an MTF. The last MTF. Got a good name?"

"No."

"MTF-Nu! Perfect. What's our title?"

"Fuck off, Jack."

"MTF-Nu, the Fuck Off, Jack." Bright nodded, and ducked as Magnus swung a fist towards him the thickness of his thigh.

"You know what's funny? People like Tilda were still saying we just needed to find a new way to adapt to the anomalous. She kept saying it in meetings. It killed her, you know. Not abandoning the place." Jack Bright laughed, angry and helpless. Magnus moved to punch him again for disrespecting the dead.

The glassy eyes of Gears followed neither the shadows left in their movement by the fire, nor the moving shadows beyond. He would babble, eventually, a nonsense tongue that echoed in the night. They all wondered if it was a cognitohazard, at first. They were no less common than any other virus now.

Kiryu pronounced Gears dead in the morning and Magnus buried him.

Animals that could once have been called wolves dug him back up. His organs were still warm when their claws cut him open. His heart was still pumping, weakly, when their teeth sank in. The fever had taken his nerves, and Gears felt no pain.

The broken sky cracked a little more each day. It had fallen ages ago. It remained falling still. The mutilation of the world traveled at a savored pace.

— — —

Adam started a little family of people like him. People with unknown holes in their lives. They drew to each other the way skin is sutured. Daniel and William DeMarco came in as adopted grandfathers for Ophelia, at a retirement home funded by a singular Michael of no origin. Ophelia met them when she learned to wander her neighborhood in her preteen years, a duo who had never known their well-endowed third.

Daniel held Michael's posture. William, his saunter. Sometimes they caught each other in the dim evening light, and the name is left unspoken on their lips. A plea.

Come back, brother. Whatever you left us— we don't want that. We just want you.

120

Five days after the world ended, the car had run out of gas. They would have to walk now, and had no way to escape the various creatures that ran about. According to a map Rights had taken, there would be a city a week's walk away. It was uncertain if the city would still be standing, or if it was even safe. Too easy to be exposed to something or other. Still, they needed to resupply.

Bright padded forward in the body of a wolf they had tricked with the rotten meat of his old arm. He smelled the air for disease, death, food and water. At least he could fight much better like this. He would flee their camps for much of the night, returning with killed rabbit, some roots, or the kills made by other predators.

"Hey, Magnus. You worked in metaphysics, right?" Rights kept the air busy around them.

"Yeah?"

"Do you think times works on the other side differently than ours?"

The man paused for a few steps, then continued forward in a jaunty saunter. "I couldn't see why it would work the same. Too much warping in our world. Their perfect pace is basically unmarred."

"A perfect place. They'll never know. And that will be for the best." Mark Kiryu sighed.

Bright let out a low growl to shut everyone up, and urged them forth. The day was still safe for them. Sunlight filtered in rainbow rays under the fracturing sky.

— — —

Daniel posed for Ophelia's camera, his face shifting variously angry and blissful. William slept a lazy chair. The golden rays of morning warmed the room. Ophelia had taken upon photography. She was obsessed with taking pictures, trying to capture each moment before they fled into the past.

Each day is another day further away. The loss became more acute. Ophelia held tightly to her family and fled into the future.

The only dreams were one's hopes and illusions. Sleep had always been a restful darkness.

720

Every day was a search for food. Every night, for shelter. It had been a month after the world felt its fatal blow and its slow bleed had paled the grasses yellow, drained the trees to husks. It still rained just enough to survive on. They had met with the remainder of the Black Queen, every iteration of Gears' daughter was in a bad state.

When she heard her father had died weeks ago, the Black Queen had nothing else to live for. Every piece of her died inside that day. She left MTF-Nu her remaining supplies and left to meet her end with the dignity of choice. Perhaps in the writhing fields of metal, where the Factory mined the decaying world of worth in its dying throes.

Mark Kiryu had taken to weeping on his night shifts. Rights lay beside him.

"What're you thinking about, Mark?"

"Zyn, my little sister. I just… I never should've brought her in."

"You couldn't have known, Mark. You couldn't have known."

Magnus overheard, and rolled over, his eyes alight in the fire. "…My daughter, too. Megan. I heard she was with the Mana Charitable shelters… before the Broken God raids. But maybe my brothers are alright. They don't know. We should think of them. They're in a better world, now."

Mark just wept, and wept. Eventually, he let Bright have his body. It was a way to die and waste no bullets. And so the four became three.

— — —

Ophelia grew up in a world of plastic toys and action figures that only moved when she touched them or when batteries were installed. Adam eventually bought her a golden retriever and she called him Doctor Kain Pathos Crow on a whim. The dog licked her face whenever she tried to put her glasses on his face. The dog was accompanied a year later with a tabby cat named Doctor Blaire Roth.

"If dogs could talk, what do you think they'd say, Ophelia?"

"Probably something kinda dumb? I mean, goldens are pretty smart but they're still really dumb."

"And cats?"

"Dad, everyone knows cats are assholes."

"Who taught you that word?"

"Who named the cat's favorite box 'Fort Asshole'?"

4320

"We need to move on, Agatha. It's been three months. We know his regen isn't that fast." It had been six months after the End, and MTF-Nu hadn't seen another survivor in two of them. Perhaps they were the last that were.

Rights sighed, a dry noise in the dusty air. Bright was right. The little pond they had found four months ago wouldn't last another week. The scars in the earth were undeniable now in the way a corpse's skin breaks open to the elements at last. Wide cracks spilled molten stone with an intestinal messiness. This made water unpredictable and hard to come by, with lakes drying away overnight.

Michael Viktor Magnus did not heed the sulfur warnings three months ago. The ground yawned under his feet. Sometimes, Rights thought she could hear him screaming still, under the earth. She had hoped that he'd come back within a few weeks at most. In her nightmares, the Oneiroi tell her stories where Magnus comes back to his molten hell, again and again, until the sky finally fell.

She comforted herself by thinking of her daughter. Ophelia could have an entire life in the pure, purely mundane world. Beyond the cracked sky lay a terrible nothing, as black as the darkbody that burned the world clean of anomalous taint. The Foundation lay in the ashes, and they were all swept into the void.

The difference between day and night had been lost weeks ago. The perpetual twilight would be dangerous to travel through, even moreso now they had been reduced to a duo.

— — —

In the junior year of Ophelia's highschool, William had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was unlikely to survive his first year. Daniel visited him every day. Ophelia visited almost as often. Her grades suffered. Adam could do nothing, working as he was. Anderson Robotics was in a shortage of qualified research scientists. The bell curve of researcher ages remained a saddle, as if something had tenderly brushed an entire generation off the face of the earth.

"Ophelia. You need to go home and study." Daniel put a hand on her shoulder. "You have finals coming up."

After some convincing, when she left, Daniel moved to hold the hand of his brother.

"I sometimes… think I hear screaming. A man's scream. He sounds like you. He sounds like me. But different. He hurts so much."

Daniel would do anything for a world without cancer. It was one of the greatest evils he knew.

8760

A whole year. They lasted a whole year, the two of them. Bright died again and again in their defense. And now Rights could tell he was tiring of it. They had run out of food two days ago and they had been holed up in this cave for the past three, waiting for the wildfires to cease. At least it kept them warm.

There remained a single bullet between the two of them. "I guess this is it, Jack."

"I guess it is, Agatha."

She drew her lucky coin, one she had hoped to pass on to her daughter someday. "Heads or tails?"

"Tails."

The coin chimed against the stone floor, echoed on stalactite teeth. Agatha pressed the gun against Bright's pendant and fired, then threw the body into the roaring flames outside. She huddled against the deepest part of the cave and waited.

By the third day, shards of sky were falling in thick chunks. Agatha did not pay any heed. She thought of her daughter. The weight of Ophelia in her arms. The soft tuft of baby hair. She would give anything to change another set of baby diapers. To wake up in her apartment with her red wine and the sounds of her colicky child.

She liked to think that Ophelia was thriving without her. Found herself another mother, perhaps moved in with her biological father. Maybe a cousin, even. She imagined how Ophelia may look grown. How she would've helped her through her first break up. The way she'd wave on her first day of school. Her first day of work. The long days alone as she was gone to college. The pride of seeing her graduate. Maybe Ophelia would take after her, and become a doctor. Or perhaps she would go rebellious, and become a poet.

Agatha imagined all the countless futures, and in every one she could love her daughter. In the psychosis of starvation, she imagined teaching Ophelia traditional recipes. The way her hands would grow from little, clumsy things to being capable of typing essays and texting her friends, the way she would say "I love you, M—


The world bled its last, then, and there was no more.

«The End.»





87600

Ophelia accepted the little roll of paper that signified her degree, although the real thing would be arriving in the mail a week or so later. She had graduated with a summa cum laude in bioinformatics, one of the new generation of researchers here to finally fill the lack in labor. Soon, the job market would predict a glut of science doctorates but that would be after her time. She already had a job lined up at Prometheus Labs, the foremost company in medical diagnostic research.

She stood on the stage area and stared out into the crowd. She saw countless proud parents, holding hands. Adam sat in the back, as much a father as she had ever known. Yet still, the vision brought the old grief in her bones. Of course she would have had a mother somewhere out there. Would her mother be proud? Did her mother ever love her? For what reason, what possible reason could her mother have abandoned her to face the wide and frightening world with all its dangers, utterly alone?

Ophelia turned and walked down the steps, back to her seat, and waited for the ceremony to be over. She still had her own life to lead.

Within a generation, there would be nothing recognize what the world lost in order to gain.

«The Continuance.»

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