Author’s Note: I guess I don’t hava any other author’s notes, really. Please give me some feedback if you’re enjoying this string of stories, or if you’re not! Though if you aren’t, you probably haven’t made it to part 8. The whole series is available here.

Dani’s vision was bleary. A sense of total exhaustion hung on every muscle, every bone. Eyes that took their time adjusting to the yellowish light begged for something more; the warmth of the sun, the sparkling beauty of the night sky. None of that existed here, deep under the oppressive weight of the ever-present darkness. Here, there was only the dull uniformity of artificial light.

Dani felt a strange thought, like a memory of a dream, flitting around the outskirts of her conscious mind. There was a sense of peace, a calm that accompanied the sensation. Blinking. Adjusting to the light. It felt somehow wrong; after all, when the light was so manufactured, so perfectly controlled in every inhabited area, why would you ever need a moment to adjust? For all the slivers of recollection, Dani had known no such lights as those she imagined now for as long as she’d lived.

Just the stories of youth playing havoc with a mind under pressure, Dani decided. Everyone knew the legends. That, in what was now an eon ago, men had lived under vast, open skies. They had constructed communities, building with dirt and stone and wood, building with steel and glass. They had made nations, and they had fought over where the lines were defined. In time, their wars and irreverance for nature undid their world, and the new world — the real world — was born.

Dani rubbed her eyes. Why was she sitting in her chamber, dreaming about childhood fantasies? Why was this so vivid, and the world suddenly seemed so dim around her? She looked down. Her hands, locked in their mechanical exoskeletons, lay on her lap. At this point, they were more equipment than flesh. Atrophy had set in at a young age, and while she could perform simple tasks courtesy of modern medicine, they would never look or work like the hands of the healthy.

Still, Dani had a job to do. This wasn’t a free society like the one written about in the books, and every person had to perform their role to keep things moving. It took no fine grip to haul boxes, and Dani’s arms and legs were still those of — well, it was a matter of some debate. This wasn’t the time to be focusing on old arguments. It would only lead to some petty squabble at the warehouse, and these did little to reduce the strenuous nature of the task.

“Ah, Daniel! Feeling better then, are we?” Tom’s voice echoed in the open chamber.

“Hey. Yeah,” Dani said, trying to mask uncertainty. “You know how it goes.”

“Good. Lots to do. You’re not the only one’s been missing some time, so I sugggest you get to it.”

It wasn’t worth reminding Tom what name to use. He wasn’t so bad, but had a way of seeing things that he didn’t care to deviate from. It was probably a simpler way of living. Certainly less complicated, though Dani wondered at times if the old man was as single-minded as he seemed, or if he just put on a show for the others. Either way, he was a firm but kind overseer, and had always treated Dani the same as anyone else in the crew.

Dani kept focused on her work; Tom was right. Things were backed up, and there were deliveries that had missed their intended times already. Dani loaded up a cart with cargo, piling on food for three of the public kitchens, some ores for the smelters; the same deliveries as always. Dani had always preferred deliveries to intake. There were more faces to see, less time spent among the same small crew, less confrontation. Less Kim. Kim was such a —

Deep breath. Don’t get derailed. There’s too much to get through Dani had been missing time, and didn’t know where it had gone, but right now that only meant that it was time to dig in and make up for the work left undone. Circling back through the warehouse, winding through the tunnels to each destination, the day went by quickly and uneventfully. Dani didn’t cross paths with Kim even once.

Dani made her way through the day, ending with a simple meal at the nearest kitchen. Enough had been done to allow some time to savor the food, but tonight’s fare felt bland. Barely noticing what was on her plate, Dani dreamed of a fire under a wide pot of homemade stew until supper was done. Soon after, a determined stride took her away from the hungry masses, away from the warehouse, her path winding through several districts until she reached a nearly-unknown offshoot from an old repair tunnel. She slipped inside.

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