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Escape Pod 687: Four of Seven

Four of Seven

By Samantha Mills

In the waning mild of a man-made sun, Camelia Dunlevy climbed a mountain together with her sister on her back. Delilah was a hole weight, bird-boned from reconstructive surgeries, unbreakable.

The difficulty wasn’t her bones, but her lungs. She panted in Camelia’s ear, unaccustomed to altitude, a small sound which may as nicely have been a struggle drum. Camelia couldn’t name for assist, she couldn’t depart Delilah behind, she couldn’t walk the street for worry of firm men.

And her sister was nonetheless giving dangerous directions.

“There’s a path up the western slope,” Delilah whispered, her breath scorching and tickling. “I swear it.”

“There’s no path.”

“I came up once, with Aster.”

“Then you were on a tram.”

“Yes. I saw it out the window.”

“I don’t know what you saw, but it wasn’t a path!”

An explosion rocked the mountain, pelting them in pebbles and moon dust. Camelia dashed behind the nearest bush—a sickly, transplanted factor, hardly any cover—and counted the seconds before the acquainted grind-whir-scream of a strikebreaker started up. Distant, however not distant sufficient.

Camelia angled east, towards steeper—however higher shielded—ground. She was fifty-two years previous, much younger than she should have been, sheltered by many years in a climate-controlled office and still in no match form for this climb.

She tried not to consider how skinny Delilah’s fingers have been, or how bent her again. She tried not to consider the life expectancy of miners on Excelsior.

“This way is longer,” Delilah complained. “You never listen to me.”

“Because you’re always wrong. I hate taking you places.”

“Why did you come then?”

Shouts reached them on the breeze, megaphone chants became indignant droning by the space, and Camelia sighed. “Because you called, dummy.”

Two hours earlier they have been buckled up in Camelia’s rover, comfortable as plantaworms. Two hours earlier they have been bickering and making amends, making amends and bickering, one often masquerading for the opposite.

And then they reached a knot of protesters, greater than two dozen individuals clogging the roadway, all modded. Camelia nudged the rover by way of a sea of prosthetic legs and arms, luminescent tattoos, hinge joints, respiration tubes that arced delicately over shorn skulls. She nudged previous picket signage and neon projector bulbs aiming slogans at the dome overhead:

Mining not Mourning

Clean Lungs, Clean Arms

Your Limbs Are Your Personal

“I’d be out there if I could walk right now,” Delilah declared, and Camelia bit her tongue as a result of Delilah couldn’t, that was the point. Who did these individuals assume they have been hurting in the event that they blocked up Hospital Street?

After which the street lanterns flared 3 times in speedy succession, a dispersal warning, and Camelia sped the rover as quick as she dared, lurching and spinning on balding treads, her coronary heart ratcheting terribly on the sound of two monumental hatches sliding open to the east and west. The hatches screeched on rusty tracks, hydraulic nightmares birthing an oversized suppression response.

Twin strikebreakers rose from underground, every one a ugly development of steel tubing with a person at the controls—protecting suits for tunnel-diggers tailored for authoritarian use.

The corporate couldn’t afford a wage improve, however they positive might afford to put down protests.

Camelia and Delilah have been only making an attempt to succeed in the hospital on the prime of the mountain. However company males wouldn’t differentiate between a pair of previous ladies in search of medical care and the protesters decrying how mediocre that care can be.

She thought she’d gotten them clear of the altercation—100 ft previous, 2 hundred ft past, the projectors and signs and suppression models shrinking in her rearview—and then the protesters unveiled an outsized response of their very own: an electro-dampener.

The short-circuiting wave of the electrical bomb rolled over them in an invisible bubble, a blanket pressure, a silent, cruel, indiscriminate stopping power.

The rover died. The preventing began.

Almost three hundred ft under the scuffle, a thousand miners have been on shift contained in the more and more hollow core of Excelsior. These have been the household people, the elderly, the sick, probably the most heavily indebted—in other phrases, those most weak to disaster in the event that they dared come up to be a part of the strike.

They crawled the infinite dizzying cave networks of the moon like ants, like locusts, like piranhas, stripping all they might carry and skittering out of the best way for the subsequent pair of palms. They wore rubber masks on their faces, dented around the edges and scrawled with the initials of every worker who’d owned them before. They lived one dangerous filter away from disaster.

Miners emerged from every shift caked in the poisonous rot of the inside. They collected it from acid-pitted stalagmites and stalactites of astounding measurement, sticky and green and incredibly flamable: exsane speleothem, viridian tar, blasting salts, the miracle gasoline that launched humanity into the celebs.

Twenty % of them can be lifeless by the age of forty. Less than half of the rest would make it by way of their sixties. Perhaps one in a hundred would handle to buy out their contracts and retire.

Camelia sympathized, of course she did. Their mother and father had fled the war-torn surface of the Earth with two youngsters in tow and a third on the best way. They flew in search of a greater life. They signed a piece contract to pay for his or her tickets to the outer ring, similar as everyone else, and their labor made potential the establishment of the colonies. It was terrible work, dangerous work, however essential. Earth was doomed, and only probably the most gullible of dirt-side worshippers thought in any other case.

The Moonreach Firm was saving humanity, and all they asked was a return on their funding.

They needed to cease. Delilah was light-headed, gasping about tunnel vision. Camelia lowered her to the ground, grateful for the break however fretting concerning the time. That they had less than three hours to succeed in the hospital admissions desk, or they’d be locked out till morning.

“There are snacks in my bag,” Delilah whispered, as a result of of course there were. All of the Dunlevy women have been sensible and prepared, formed by a lifetime of calculating every thing to the last cent.

Camelia picked previous a well-known assortment of low cost painkillers, tissues, hair ties, and studying materials, to the shrink-wrapped snack bars on the backside.

“I can’t believe you’re still eating these,” she stated. “They’re practically lard on a cracker.”

Delilah snatched one from her hand. “They get me through the day, don’t they? Not all of us can afford canned green.”

Camelia appeared away, stung by the identical previous sniping. The solar had finished its power-down cycle, turning the panorama a uninteresting night-light inexperienced, and she or he virtually laughed considering what a marvel Ander’s Mountain had been when she was young. Taller than the morning fog. Spotted all over with dwelling crops. Now all she might see have been seams and hatches. It was the moon’s grandest storage unit and moisture farm, held together with roots and bolts.

The not-sky came to life with small purple lights and the click-clack whir of surveillance drones taking position. Robotic voices echoed across the mountainside in stern unison, declaring emergency curfew.

“Get up, get up, get up!” Camelia resisted the thread of panic, the little voice telling her it was already too late, she hadn’t moved shortly sufficient, she’d ruined their possibilities similar as she’d ruined the whole lot else.

She shouldered the too-fragile weight of her sister and wished, for the ten thousandth time, that there have been more of them left.

It had never been straightforward being the fourth of seven sisters.

Ophelia, Rhea, and Aster have been the older women, a tight-knit trio with one- or two-year gaps between them. Hannah, Delilah, and Calliope have been the youthful women, another trio of comparable spread. Each set had a bossy older woman, aggressive center woman, and tagalong child, their roles cemented in the fierce flush of youth and carried nicely into adulthood.

And then there was Camelia, three years under Aster, three years above Hannah, concurrently an older sister and a youthful sister and an solely youngster sandwiched between two inseparable cliques.

Absolutely strong center.

She liked them fiercely, but she couldn’t wait to get away, to carve out a spot for herself, to fly again triumphant and purchase out their mother and father’ contracts—and yes, outshine her sisters slightly bit in the course of.

When she qualified for the Intercolony College scholarship program, there have been two transportation choices. The longer, cheaper route was two years aboard an educational vessel, taking decrease degree courses alongside the best way and then finishing advanced work within the halls of New Andertown.

Or there was the shorter, more prestigious route. Two weeks aboard a sub-FTL ship—an extended delirious orientation with a gaggle of privileged youth she’d never cross paths with on the ground—and a full degree on campus, a surefire path out of the communes and into society. The disadvantage: for day-after-day that slipped by aboard the great ship Schooling Prime, slightly more than a yr passed on the quietly orbiting colonies it left behind.

And Camelia meant to take the longer route, she actually did.

Camelia paused for a second to catch her breath, one hand pressed to a fake boulder, heat and thrumming with the facility of the engine inside.

“Are you all right?” Delilah fretted.

“I’m fine,” Camelia stated shortly. “Just breathing.”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called.”

Camelia sighed. “Don’t apologize.”

“But you sound mad.”

“I’m not mad!” Camelia pushed off the boulder. In fact she was mad, however not as a result of of the decision. She was mad as a result of they have been caught in a rattling mining strike, and she or he should have taken a unique route, and she or he didn’t understand how the hell she was going to fix the rover with out taking out credit—

And yes, okay, somewhat bit mad concerning the call itself as a result of Delilah by no means factored in journey time, she all the time hemmed and hawed till it was almost too late to get anyplace. Camelia was mad as a result of they’d barely seen each other in months—perhaps 3 times since Hannah’s funeral, every visit skittish and temporary—because it harm to see Delilah together with her company-issue chook bones and fading jobsite tattoos. It harm to hear her raspy breath.

It was simpler to be mad than admit it.

Delilah gasped. Camelia instantly veered into the false vegetation to help her down.

“No, no,” Delilah stated, strangling on the words. “Keep going.”

“Is it the pain?” A silly query.

Delilah nodded, a small dig towards Camelia’s shoulder, gasping too onerous to speak. She had described it over the telephone as a collection of contractions, like a knife caught in her stomach being twisted and launched, twisted and released.

Camelia’s breath hitched as properly, however she was battling furious tears. Just one goddamn hospital would take Delilah’s credit, one hospital. Not even a thirty-year miner might afford her personal rover, however the firm only coated one hospital on the prime of a goddamn mountain, they usually’d simply shut down the one tram that reached it.

Purple mild washed over the slope, mixing with the gray-green environment like a tide of sick, and a flat atonal voice demanded, “Papers. Produce your papers.”

A surveillance drone.

She’d run away from house, that was the only method to describe it. She was livid about something she might barely even keep in mind now, a end result of eighteen years feeling unseen. A thundering litany of self-righteous justifications fueled her march to the Schooling Prime, into the enrollment workplace, by way of the paperwork, by way of the launch.

It wasn’t till they started accelerating that panic hit, and by then it was far too late. Camelia sat by way of orientation in shock. Not a single word penetrated the wall of math cascading by way of her head, minutes and hours being converted into days, weeks, months.

She spent almost the complete two-week journey in her bed, barely emerging for food and enrollment shows, answering each friendly overture with monosyllables. She attended one whirlwind icebreaker event by which the opposite college students lifted drinks to these they’d left behind, and just a few appeared as dazed as Camelia felt. The remaining of them have been raised for this, held at arms’ size by monied families planting the seeds of their own retirement. What better option to cement the corporate legacy than to launch your youngster three many years into your future? They returned, young and virile and only a handful of years out from beneath your affect, ready to take over the family business and help you the final of your days. The wealthy didn’t gamble on the love of grandchildren.

And when Camelia acquired there, when she ran wobble-legged via the gilded foyer of the College workplace, begging directions to the ansible—when she waited on the road, almost vomiting with nerves, for anyone to fetch her mom to the neighborhood name booth—only then did the load of fifteen years overwhelm her, the immensity of the space between this rock and the one she referred to as residence.

She whispered, “I’m so sorry,” and her mom’s tone was brisk to hide its brittleness, resigned to a pain that was still recent for Camelia, because of course she’d had on a regular basis on the earth to organize for this conversation, and she or he outlined the final fifteen years like they have been aspect notes in a historical past guide while her daughter wept.

Aster and Hannah had both been married, and Aster’s second baby was on the best way. Papa had misplaced a lung to the mine, two years back. The corporate wouldn’t take an extension on their contract to pay for it, not at their age, so as an alternative (and here she sounded grateful however bitter, so bitter) Ophelia and Rhea had shouldered the fee. Twenty years apiece purchased their mother and father’ retirement and sealed their own fates. They’d never depart Excelsior brief of a miracle.

Unspoken remained the truth that none of the other women would, either. They only hadn’t yet signed away sufficient years to interrupt the illusion of perhaps.

“I’ll work so hard,” Camelia swore. “I’ll take the physics track, I’ll work through breaks to graduate faster, I’ll live cheap and send you everything else I make until we can buy everyone out—”

“There’s something else.” Her mother’s voice cracked, a sound Camelia had only heard three or 4 occasions in her whole life. “I don’t know how to say it, so I’m just going to say it. Calliope is dead. Nine years ago. Sepsis, after a broken leg…”

She continued to elucidate, but Camelia hardly heard a word over the static in her ears.

It wasn’t till she was eleven years previous, and just discouraging individuals from calling her Melly, that Camelia realized her household was poor.

The belief solely took so long as it did because their house was equivalent to each other house of their neighborhood. Her mother and father left at the similar time every morning for a similar job as all of their neighbors. Cocooned as she was in this net of symmetry and sameness, it took a class journey to the mining administration constructing to crack an egg of questions in her chest.

“Why don’t we have windows?” she requested at dinner. “At the office everyone had their own screen. And their own room with their own desk, and their clothes were all different colors, and they gave us sandwiches for lunch with three different cheeses—”

It was Aster who snapped, “We can’t afford those things, Melly.”

Their mother and father have been working late and their older sisters have been getting dressed for their shifts at the laundry, so Aster had boiled up noodles. At fourteen she’d already adopted the authoritative tone of their mother, although only when Ophelia and Rhea have been out of the room. At college or on the town, the Dunlevy women have been a united entrance, but at residence there was a clear, unforgettable hierarchy.

A hierarchy which, as regular, had Camelia on baby obligation. Specifically, holding Calliope in her seat. The 2 sisters spaced between them weren’t robust enough to wrangle a squirming five-year-old who was sick of consuming noodles.

“Why not?” Camelia asked, dodging a grimy hand.

“Because we’re miners.” Aster shoved two bowls at her. For a second she seemed indignant, but the expression shortly twisted into something else. “Listen. Just promise me you won’t ask mama or papa about this, all right?”

It was embarrassment on her face. Aster was embarrassed. That greater than anything shut Camelia up, that greater than anything forged the dinner table in a disorienting new mild. The chipped bowls. Hannah and Delilah eating in their underwear in order that they wouldn’t get their day clothes soiled. Calliope scratching her chair with the identical dented child-size fork that at the least four women had used earlier than her.

Camelia didn’t ask their mother and father about cheese or garments or windows, as promised, but after that evening she observed each plate of noodles, each hand-me-down, each sliver of cleaning soap stretched out by glomming it onto the subsequent bar. Her heartrate picked up when Ophelia and Rhea in contrast receipts from the laundry, and if she stayed awake she might hear her mother and father on the pull-out sofa, whispering late into the night time about numbers. That they had carried out a exceptional job preserving their finances out of the youthful women’ listening to, however they couldn’t disguise the truth that that they had seven youngsters stacked into two small bedrooms whereas they slept within the den.

A yr later, when Camelia’s class made their first journey to the tutorial check middle, she scored so high the counselor set down an entire binder full of career choices. Camelia hardly had to look. She’d already made her choice, a life plan sketched in her mind in coloured chalks.

Something off-moon. Anything with a 3rd bracket salary. Camelia had her sights set on New Andertown, and from there she’d work anyplace in the colonies if it meant she might deliver her household alongside.

“Papers,” the drone repeated, and the purple mild above its glossy digital camera face began shading toward purple.

“Bottom…pocket…” Delilah breathed. She huddled at Camelia’s ft, eyes squeezed shut. She was too pale, too weak, they have been losing time over nothing.

However Camelia dug via the bag once more, slowed by the shaking of her own palms. Her own ID was already scanned, but when Delilah was mistaken, if she’d left hers at house—

There. Camelia held out the card. It was slightly thing, to carry so much weight.

The digital camera shuttered. The light flickered again to full purple. The voice of a reside operator emerged from the machine, human however with hardly extra inflection than the recording: “You’re violating curfew.”

“Our rover was disabled,” Camelia stated shortly. “We were already on the road when curfew was announced. We’re trying to reach the hospital, maybe you could send—”

“This sector is on curfew until further notice.” A flash bulb went off. The digital camera shuttered. A time-stamped photograph of their faces was filed away as proof: Camelia indignant and unsurprised, Delilah nonetheless gasping at her ft.

“You may continue to the hospital,” the drone-operator conceded. “Your tickets for curfew violation will be posted within three business days.”

Delilah cried out, but the drone was already lifting away, the communication line minimize, and when Camelia provided her back, Delilah latched on with out one other phrase.

A ticket was dangerous information for Camelia, however for her sister it’d show disastrous. Delilah already lived dollar by greenback. Relying on what the advantageous totaled, she would have to ask Camelia for help.

Each family was a community of debts, troublesome to quantify and unattainable to settle. Typically Camelia thought she’d drown in them. These little ones, a handful of dollars here and there, have been probably the most contentious. They have been tiny reminders that she might by no means save a buffer for future emergencies because there were all the time so many rattling emergencies.

But the heaviest debt of all, the one she’d never stop repaying, the one that might hang-out her to the grave? The truth that she’d escaped the mines, but in a ship solely large enough for one.

Camelia by no means needed to crawl on her belly by way of a pancake squeeze or hook a lifeline to a stalactite thirty ft above a cavern flooring. She never scraped her arms uncooked amassing blasting salts with gloves two weeks past their fail point, or had her lungs scraped even rawer to remove the glitter-green dust that broached the cracks of previous respiration masks.

Camelia by no means wanted chook bones or braces. She worked in an office, fielding calls from consumers, and drove house in a rover, and slept in a one-room condominium she paid for by herself, and ate three meals a day, not one of them boiled or gathered by the roadside. She’d failed everyone but herself.

So it didn’t matter if her back was creaking with the pressure, if her knees have been threatening to offer out, if her shoulders have been howling with the awkward clutch of a dwelling, respiration backpack who significantly should have asked for a experience very first thing in the morning as an alternative of hemming and hawing till she was in crisis. It didn’t matter that Delilah hadn’t visited in a month, that their last call led to tears, or that Camelia was never going to forgive her for an off-hand remark made within the flush of grief at their father’s wake: “You’ll be fine.”

Camelia carried her sister up the mountain as a result of it was the only help she had to supply, and because if their conditions have been reversed Delilah would have proven up with stirrups.

Sadly, Camelia had lacked that willpower at eighteen. She only moved via the motions of faculty, leaving her dorm simply lengthy sufficient to attend class earlier than slinking again to the yawning emptiness of her room. She’d by no means been alone in her life, and now she confronted infinite hours of isolation. How many days, months, years had she spent learning, testing, pushing herself to succeed? She’d had academics and tutors and research teams and proctors. And never one of them had taught her how one can depart residence.

She barely lasted a yr. A yr of mediocre grades, of mistakes and misunderstandings and learning that a bit of innate sensible wasn’t particular in a faculty that skimmed up the most effective the twelve colonies had to supply.

A yr of being completely strong center.

She crawled residence the great distance, two years aboard an academic vessel dropping off current grads and choosing up late-starters. She labored within the kitchen to offset the fee of her return, and, removed from the directors who would have frowned on such charity, the instructors let her sit in on low degree admin and language courses.

Everyone was there when she arrived (everyone but baby Calliope, of course), assembled in their mother and father’ too-small house beneath a welcome banner like she’d come again from an extended hospital stay. Two mother and father and five sisters and three spouses and four nieces and nephews she’d never met, and her mother and father have been previous, previous for miners a minimum of, early sixties and searching every minute of it. Her sisters have been of their thirties and forties, grown ladies, working ladies, household ladies, and Camelia was just shy of her twenty-first birthday, a baby and not using a plan.

She steeled herself for recriminations, humiliation, the inevitable questions on what went mistaken. However her family opened their arms and didn’t breathe a single word about faculty or job prospects, and that was one way or the other even worse, like they hadn’t held out much hope anyway.

Camelia let the standard chatter swell all around her. The environment and the quantity have been unchanged, but the subject matter was virtually incomprehensible. She’d missed eighteen years of in-jokes and onerous occasions. She’d missed weddings and funerals and births, Hannah’s transition, her father’s lung transplant, a dozen financial disasters, each one of which was solved by her sisters chipping in additional of their time, their lives, their livelihoods.

Even Camelia’s failure gave her an advantage over them. She was young and recent and without debt. She’d discovered enough of the intercolony commonplace dialect on the journey house to qualify for an office job: year-to-year, no long-term wage locks, subject to advancement as she earned extra certifications. She made simply enough to get by as long as she didn’t have any accidents. However her dream of buying out anyone else’s contract was lifeless.

There was a specific brand of bitterness to her guilt. It was the information that the one means she might have exceeded her circumstances was by hanging out on her own. Lots of of hundreds of miles away, surrounded by formidable college students raised to take cost of the machines of business, Camelia had faced a selection: her household or her future.

And she or he’d chosen, she’d chosen, it hadn’t even come close.

She solely wished she might overlook what she’d given up.

The hospital revealed itself like a cool lake after miles of desert mirages. It towered, seven stories of brick and glass, almost brushing the curve of the habitat dome.

Camelia staggered into the foyer on legs gone lighter than the high-altitude air. Recent power buoyed her at the sight of scrub-clad bodies bustling by means of the top of their shift. “We made it,” she stated, but Delilah didn’t answer past an encouraging wheeze.

An unlimited clock flash ominously over the admissions desk, but seventeen minutes was seventeen minutes. They have been on the window they usually couldn’t be turned away. Camelia slumped to her knees, after which there was a flurry of activity: the hunt for medical papers, the recitation of symptoms and credit numbers, the hasty triage to ensure Delilah wasn’t about to die on their squeaky-mopped flooring.

“I heard there’s trouble down-mountain,” the receptionist stated, eyes on her display as she copied over Delilah’s medical card information.

Wearily, Camelia stated, “I’d check the radio before leaving, if I were you.”

And then the wait. Delilah was curled up in a wheelchair, head lolled on her chest, breath shallow. Camelia sat next to her, operating a hand up and down her sister’s arm, warming the chapped skin like their mother used to do when the heater went out.

“I’ve always hated coming up here,” she stated. Delilah sighed, and whispered, “So did Calliope.”

Camelia’s breath caught, and she or he seemed away. It was too much to consider now, not right here, not respiration antiseptic air beneath shadow-scouring lights. Baby Calliope was eighteen when she died, the same age Camelia was when she ran away, the identical age she was when she acquired the news.

Their mother and father went next, one after the opposite, only 5 years after Camelia returned house and halfway by means of the twenty that Ophelia and Rhea had shouldered to pay for their retirement. Camelia was so surprised she couldn’t even cry on the funerals.

That they had a fifteen-year respite earlier than Ophelia died, her lungs virtually turned to stone, and by then Camelia was awake to the longer term that loomed before her, and she or he wept so onerous she couldn’t hear the litany. The subsequent yr it was Aster, solely sixty however infection-prone from a nasty pneumonia in her teenagers, and by the point Rhea died, robust Rhea who’d seemed immortal until she fell in a mining accident, Rhea who only had one baby and forbade him from shopping for any of her time—by then, Camelia had hardly any tears left at all.

Now Hannah was scarcely a yr gone, and her funeral had been so small, simply Camelia and Delilah and two of their nephews who begged the time without work work to lend help. Camelia had never settled down herself, and she or he hadn’t been around when her sisters’ youngsters have been small—she was just younger Auntie Mel to them, and she or he couldn’t imagine what obscure affections they’d hassle reciting when her time came.

“Delilah,” she stated, her voice breaking (she’d received to date with out crying, and now her face was traitorously wet), “Delilah, I don’t want to be the last of us.”

But her sister was unresponsive, overcome by the journey and whatever torment wracked her physique from inside. The nurse returned, all sympathy and smiles, and took the handles of the wheelchair.

Camelia’s hand slipped back into her own lap, and she or he watched her sister disappear via flapping doors.

Before all of that. Earlier than university, earlier than profession testing, earlier than shift work, before the definition of the phrase poor, it was just seven women elevating a racket in a cookie cutter house on a company street, seven women with only twelve years separating the oldest from the youngest.

Later, when Delilah was determined to go to satellite camp, they all did chores across the neighborhood for 2 months to boost the money for her ticket.

And when Aster contracted her first lung an infection, Ophelia and Rhea took turns night-nursing her, Camelia read to her within the afternoons, even baby Calliope tried to cheer her up with a foolish toddler dance.

And when Hector finally advised them what they all already knew, and asked to be referred to as Hannah, and cried—not as a result of she was afraid, however as a result of of how much it will value—the remaining of them laughed because she’d thought-about for one second that she’d should bear it alone.

Before all of that. Before the stress sank in, earlier than the constant calculations and little indignities. Back when their mother and father have been nonetheless concealing how poorly off they have been (although they all knew long before they knew they knew; the longer they spent in class the extra they compared their life to life in the vids)—

Even then, their mother was getting ready them for the world forward. After each sibling squabble and jealous tantrum and melodramatic menace to run away, she would collect the aggrieved events close and tell them, so typically and so firmly that Camelia couldn’t even keep in mind the first time:

“One day your father and I will be gone, and you’ll have to take care of each other. That’s it. That’s what matters. In this life, all you have is your family.”

Camelia slept, towards her better intentions. She ought to have been pressured out at the closing hour, but the receptionist made some excuse about waiting for the roadway to clear and retaining the lights on for safety, and finally, she stayed at her desk and let Camelia shut her eyes.

Little mercies meant probably the most.

Camelia woke to a mild nudge. She lurched up, momentarily forgetting that she was slumped over in a hospital waiting room. Each strained muscle had stiffened: her legs, her again, her neck—

Nevertheless it was Delilah. Delilah was sitting next to her, pale and sunken-eyed with fatigue, and really much alive, very much still right here.

“What is it?” Camelia rubbed at her face, hoarse and thirsty. “Is it your lungs? Is it…” She couldn’t even finish the thought.

“They did a scan…” Delilah ducked her head, limp hair swinging forward, shoulders hunched, and Camelia needed to grab her, shake her, beg her to only spit it out and be executed with it—and Delilah coughed. “It’s a gallstone.”

Camelia blinked. “What.”

“A gallstone. The pain was my gallbladder contracting, it…” She put a hand on Camelia’s shoulder. “Oh Melly, don’t cry. It’s not so bad.”

Camelia had buried her face in her palms. She appeared up with tears on her cheeks, but she wasn’t crying. She was laughing. “Oh my god, you bitch. I carried you up a mountain for a gallstone? Oh my god. Oh my god!”

“Well they can lead to worse problems,” Delilah stated, a bit sniffily all issues thought-about. “The doctor asked me to monitor fat intake for now…” She trailed off, embarrassed.

Camelia sighed. “It’s the snack bars, isn’t it?”


“Oh, come here.” Camelia pulled her shut, inhaling a well-known mix of dust and low cost detergent. Delilah murmured, “Don’t worry, Melly, you’re not rid of me yet,” and Camelia’s shoulders shook again, however this time she stored her face hidden.

And then the receptionist coughed, ready pointedly to the aspect together with her coat firmly cinched and a bag in her hand, they usually broke apart.

Delilah swayed a bit—not terminally unwell in any case, however nonetheless a sixty-three-year-old miner with half her body weight in prostheses—and asked, “How are we getting home?”

Camelia put a steadying hand underneath her arm and helped her towards the door. “I don’t know,” she stated. “But we’ll figure something out.”