Part 48: Ever After
The sun woke me, shining through the open window, red light against my eyelids. I rolled over. The sheets beside me were slightly disturbed, an indentation in the pillow, a warmth lingering to my side. I swung my legs out of bed, and stood, throwing a robe around myself.
The marble floor was strangely warm beneath my bare feet.
She glided into the room quietly, treading carefully, naked and drying her hair with a towel.
“Did I wake you?” she asked.
I shook my head. “You're always up so early.”
She shrugged, brassy metal flowing organically into the gesture. “The pain used to wake me. Fear of the dangers of the world. Worry for my uncle. I suppose I got into the habit of waking at sunrise. Don't let it bother you. You should lie in.”
“I can't. Knowing you're up and about.”
She pulled down a dress from a coat hangar hooked on the wardrobe door, stepped into it. I zipped her up. She slipped her arm in mine and said, casually, “I think a visitor may have slept on our doorstep.”
“Is the doorbell broken?”
“You know how she is.”
We walked downstairs, arm in arm, her feet pattering sharply on the marble steps.
Sigrid looked up at us as we opened the door and stepped out onto the street, her calm eyes waiting for us as if she'd known the exact moment we'd leave the house and had aimed her gaze accordingly. She looked lost without her rifle. Incomplete.
“You should have woken us,” Una said. “You could've slept on the sofa.”
Sigrid barely considered the idea. “Can hardly sleep inside anymore. Or lying down. Not used to it.”
Una met my eye. The world changed, but our sleep patterns stayed the same.
Sigrid stood. “I just came to say goodbye.”
I wasn't surprised. “Where are you going to go?”
“I don't know,” she admitted. “Across the sea. Into the Twisted Forests. Anywhere away from here. I can't make it in Unity City. It's too strange, and everyone else seems too calm and quiet. And I don't want to stick around anywhere nearby either. Too many people from Fortress City wandering around on the wrong side of the wall, still loving the memory of Kirkham and hating the people who killed him. Seen too many of their friends come here and wind up with Sky Spider machines in their heads.”
Una pulled Sigrid into a hug. The riflewoman bore it with obvious ill ease, uncomfortable to be so close to Sky Spider technology. When she turned to me, I just shook her hand.
“Hey,” she said with a toss of her head, “maybe I'll go and finally find EON-2, see what it wanted to say all this time.”
She turned away from us and walked off, into the perfectly white streets of Unity City. We watched her until the road carried her out of sight. She didn't look back.
“I'd be dead several times over if not for her,” I remembered, all of a sudden.
“And she'll die out there,” Una said coldly.
I laughed. “And we'll die in here. That's life. Human life, anyway.”
Una laughed too, looking down at herself, her six, oil-slick black, arthropodal legs, her polished brass bust, her human arms. “Human life isn't what we thought it was anyway.”
The sun had crept up higher into the sky, its white light almost painful as it played on the city's bright rooftops. Figures stirred in the distance, some of them with their heads wrapped in glowing coils, others tall, ethereal, androgynous.
“Our kind of human life is well on the way out,” I said.
Una squeezed my arm. “Everything changes,” she said. “What matters is breakfast.”
She lead me inside.
We sat on the balcony to eat, looking out at the incandescent city. Immense forms moved on the horizon, reshaping the world with slow, powerful grace. And my hand rested in hers.
We looked at one another and smiled.