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Revolving Door

Icebreaker

2 June, 2214

They say she isn’t gone as long as you remember her. Not even when she’s dead does she vanish. As long as her face and her voice exist in your memory, she continues to breathe and laugh, somewhere.

Your memory is a mirror of the data of her existence. Her smile, the way she woke you in the lighthouse on the rocky cliff that morning, all shivery with the cold, as you were—all of it, reconstructible from what remains of her in your mind, and on your tongue.

It’s not the same, thinks Artur at the bow of the Dmitri Melnikov, watching water slip under the hull. Not the same as holding hands, holding heat, holding fire. His fingers curl around the rail, snow biting at his cheeks. The cold here is so vicious, its fangs penetrate the fatty layers of his gloves.

The Arctic sea is even darker through his goggles. Out here, where not a speck of anything can be seen in any direction, it becomes easy to imagine that the rest of the continents have vanished—perhaps plucked out of the ocean, or sucked in by it. Here, one’s vessel begins to feel like the only islet of life left in the world.

:::

2190

Artur Volkov grows up in the coastal city of Vladivostok, where the Zolotoy Rog Bay can always be seen. It gleams through every window, and ships from the neighbouring states dock to have their cargo lifted into the port, foghorns blasting into chilly summers.

The eastern coast is home to sculptures and fleets, blue skies, fronds and vines that curl in cornices and windows. People move, and connect, beaming information via digital networks when they’re not brushing shoulders or trading questions on avenues.

As a surveyor-in-training, Artur moves port-to-port on a daily basis. In the smaller towns, billboards become signposts. He sees fishermen haul catch into the docks and sailors drink, drinking the same brands of vodka, seagulls crying overhead.

Not every town is networked as Vladivostok is; some citizens go their entire lives without seeing a smartphone. But they hear and are heard, for where ships visit, information is exchanged.

:::

23 February, 2213

In a corner of the town of Dikson, Artur finds himself seated inside a portable toilet. He isn’t here to relieve himself, nor for any purpose any more interesting.

He is cold. There aren’t more dignified waiting spots for some distance, and he is cold.

Artur sits on the seat, the blizzard pounding on its every wall with a noise like every remaining wolf in Siberia howling in unison. He sits hunched, both arms wrapped around his body, and moodily contemplates the inner surface of the door as he’s been doing for the past fifteen minutes, trying not to breathe too hard because it hurts to do so.

He will die in forty-eight hours if he does not find food. But he can barely feel his toes let alone walk to the nearest eatery, and surely another venture into the cold would knock the remaining strength from him. He is, he surmises gloomily, doomed to die an undignified death upon a toilet seat. What a pitiable way to end in a world so perilous...

Amid his brooding, Artur watches as the door swings open before him. It takes more than a moment for the breach to register.

The newcomer makes an entrance he will never forget: the widening of her eyes the fierce blizzard wind bursts through the door, and the profuse apologies she yelps as she stumbles backward into the wind and snow, falling over.

She lies there for three entire seconds, lips pale, snow spattering her face.

Then he finally finds his senses again, and scrambles from the seat with a shout, reaching out to help her inside. She starts laughing as she shuts the door behind her. She is brown-haired and brown-eyed, and she does not stop laughing nor exclaiming apologies until he assures her that he is not here to use the toilet.

Good afternoon,” he says, tentatively.

Good afternoon to you too.” Her voice is clear, professional. She takes a glance about at the dank unisex cubicle. “This certainly is a strange place and time to be meeting.”

Artur purses his lips, and slowly rises from the seat. There is so little room that he finds himself pulling into the corner by the cistern. “A pleasure to meet you,” he finally says, attempting to meet her eye. “My name is Artur.”

Mine is Sabina. How are you?

Thank you, I am well. And you?”

She casts a glance at the door, which rattles with the blizzard wind. “I could be better.” Her nose wrinkles. “May I use the toilet? You don’t have to leave.”

He quirks an eyebrow. “I can leave if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“I would not send anyone out into that storm for my sake.”

Shrugging briefly, he steps aside and turns to face the door while she pulls her gloves off.

:::

15 June, 2206

A sixteen-year-old Artur squats by the dashboard of a fishing boat when its rope comes off its mooring.

This isn’t the first time he has been negligent, and he merely shrugs his mistake off, setting back to work. But a sudden gust picks up then, and by the time he finally lifts his head to look, the boat has been thrust far out into the blue-green water.

With a shout, Artur scrambles for the helm—but finds the engine locked by a biosecurity system. Banging his hand on the pad does no good except to leave fingerprints on the plastic. He stumbles to the stern of the boat and, finding he is already too far to hear the gulls, begins to yell and wave frantically in the direction of the jetties.

Almost imperceptibly, the water begins to swirl around the boat.

Artur stops shouting.

The vessel begins, gradually, to turn to port, almost on the point.

In the same moment he falls backward, the eddy dissipates, and the boat resumes its outward drift.

Blood and heat rush to Artur’s head. He grips the rails for support, eyes wide. Silently, tentatively, he wills the water against the starboard side, wills it to push the vessel back towards the jetty.

It is about a minute before he notices that the boat is moving in the direction he wants. The water slaps against the side of the hull rhythmically, slowly reversing the vessel’s rocking horizontal drift.

With renewed energy he clings to the rails and wills with clenched teeth, gesticulating as if it would make the current stronger. His heart surges with thrill, with terror, as the waves respond, tiny currents twisting and throwing the vessel with more force than he can anticipate.

Artur stumbles when the boat collides with the corner of the jetty with a jarring bang. He flings the rope around a bollard before he collapses, winded, to his knees.

:::

Sabina does not leave the toilet after she flushes. They stand together in the dimness, both refusing to sit. There are moments of nervous, quiet smiling and attempts at conversation.

Finally, Artur says, “Let us run.”

“Where do we run to? Every building is filled.”

“Is your home not nearby?”

“No, it is at the other end of Russia.”

He perks up. “What are you doing here in Dikson, then?”

Is it not obvious?” she replies, frowning. “My ship was grounded here.”

He nods. “So was mine.”

She doesn’t hear him; she has pulled a rectangular device from her pocket, sized to fit her hand. The start-up screen fades, revealing colourful ranks and files of icons. “Search for connections,” she says in clear syllables into the receiver. The dark rectangle slides offscreen. Whiteness takes its place. “Open the map.”

“Why does your device still have power? Most should be dead at this point.”

“There is a solar charging unit aboard the ship,” Sabina says. “The crew shares it.”

“Crew? What are you?”

“A doctor,” she replies. A map unfolds, filling the screen. She locates Dikson manually. Artur watches her scroll through green and grey. “There is an abandoned lighthouse near here. I do not think anyone would think of taking refuge there.”

“It’s better than a toilet,” Artur replies with a nod.

:::

2208

Artur has a full view of the diplomatic catastrophe as it proceeds, broadcast on the public LED screens in every town, oases of connection in the sprawling emptiness of the north.

In flawless colour he watches the polished arenas on the other side of the sea: tiers and tiers of officials, dressed as diplomats, talking with flurries of gestures. The names of their countries are on plaques before them, and he only recognises half of them. He doesn't understand much.

But he understands the shockwaves of conversation that surge over the docks and the ships for the weeks following. Of war, war, shadow, fallout, the third and final dark age.

"Russia is ruled by a madman!" his assistant surveyor spits as they approach the dock one day.

Another one?” he replies. They are exaggerating, as they always do; no one comes to power here without resorting to questionable means. And he is only a surveyor, and he has a job to do. No time to worry himself over the politics of a state so vast he cannot comprehend it. Only work.

Then he is in the tiny town of Gizhiga when the first nuclear bomb hits, and suddenly Vladivostok no longer exists.

One by one cities begin vanishing from the map, pushing Artur to farther and farther corners of the Russian northeast in tiny vessels, farther into the cold upon the churning oceans, before he can understand this vague sadness he feels, of leaving things behind.

Tenuous connections snap. People flee to cities where they die.

To madmen, the loss of lives simply justifies the taking of more. Farms evaporate, city halls turn to sand. The runaway chain reaction quickly scours every inch of the populated world of all it can give so that nothing remains but the bedrock.

:::

“Down the road, that way!” Sabina shouts, dashing off towards the part of the coast where it grows rockier. The blizzard tears the words from her lips and Artur barely catches them, jogging after his newfound companion, face tingling with numbness. Hunger continues to gnaw at him, and he barely has the strength to redirect the air around them so they do not breathe ice.

The lighthouse takes a while to materialise from the blur of the blizzard—but as soon as they see it, they make a straight course for it. The heat from the run buoys Artur forward. He waves his hands so the blizzard parts before them but Sabina does not notice: her gloves are back on, and she stares at the phone as she runs.

It is a forever of burning cold numbness before they enter the lee of the towering structure. As they approach, they find the door ajar, a rusty chain hanging from one handle.

She shoves the door open with a well-padded shoulder; it bangs against the wall, revealing dilapidation. Thin streams of sunlight filter through boarded windows. Access to the staircase to the light room is blocked by chains: he frowns, but Sabina is already wriggling through the gaps, kicking up dust.

Artur shuts the door behind them. The temperature inside the room seems to increase by ten degrees when they can no longer hear the wind.

He waits on the staircase while Sabina scrambles about above, shifting and throwing wood with heavy clatters. “Come here! I found supplies!” she shouts, prompting him to dash after her despite his misgivings.

His companion stands before a gathering of crates. She has already lifted the lids off all of them, and is cradling a box in her arms.

Artur smiles, feeling his knees weaken as his hunger tackles him bodily. He trembles and smiles still, snatching the edge of the nearest crate for support.

Exclaiming, Sabina immediately tosses the box to him. He clumsily peels it open with gloved fingers: packets of crackers. He begins to thank her, tearing the first packet open and cramming the contents into his mouth, and she begins climbing to the room above while he feasts.

Artur feels the warmth in the stairwell before he enters the third floor. In this room, there is a fireplace, and a sink in the corner. Sabina is seated on the moth-eaten rug, her snow-speckled outerwear lying in a stack beside her. A vacant wooden chair stands before the red glow of the fire.

“Sabina, you did not have to leave the chair for me.”

She shakes her head. “You almost fainted downstairs.”

Artur frowns indignantly. “You exaggerate.” He thanks her anyway, finally daring to remove his outer layers. He drops his fur jacket and sweater in a pile by the chair and seats himself amid flickering shadows, continuing to open packets of wheat crackers and wolf them down without inhibition.

“Artur?” says Sabina. She is still staring at the fireplace. “Why do you think this lighthouse was abandoned?”

He shrugs. “Perhaps its keeper died.”

Do you think this food will last us all six days of the storm?”

“We shall see in six days’ time,” he replies, sagging in his seat.

:::

2209

The war goes cold when the supply lines break down. By then half the world’s city centres are gone and two-thirds of the world will not survive, starved by the fallout and the nuclear winter.

The survivors left are huddled in tiny settlements in the three remaining centres of the world: the Arctic Circle, Australia, Central Africa.

Here at the far edge of Siberia, deserted by light and warmth, they wait for the world to die. With every fuel resource drying up quickly, settlements regress thousands of years. One by one, the fossil fuel power plants go silent, and entire towns black out, falling to the mercy of the burgeoning winter.

The well-prepared finally turn to the rations in their basements, and they board up the windows so that the neighbours do not find out and arrive with beggar’s bowls—or guns. But they all know that they are living on borrowed time, that their stores will eventually run out, and that no possible reprieve could come.

Every day they sit together in the cold, waiting to freeze over.

Of course, as humanity is wont to do, it attempts to postpone its death. The Arctic Oil Coalition, an international company of engineers and researchers, emerges from the wreck, operating by all the means it can scrounge up with no higher authority to regulate it. They begin amassing ships in secret and sending them on expeditions to the Arctic—the emergency reserve, locked out of reach by a network of diplomatic agreements.

They say they found oil there, two hundred years ago. But then a treaty against drilling in the region was signed by 190 nations, locking it beyond the reach of the world.

That treaty probably burned when New York City was reduced to rubble, along with the rest of the American East Coast.

:::

The second day barely dawns upon the lighthouse, for the sky is still thick with clouds. Neither Artur nor Sabina has slept more than an hour since arriving, but they have exchanged barely a word since.

Artur climbs to the light room once. Even though the walls are all glass, the view is dismal. A few feet are visible of the black sea beneath the cliff, but not much else beyond the white-grey storm. The light no longer functions, and the quartz lens that would once have split the beam is chipped in places. He finds an old hairpin in the dust.

The light of the sun deserts Dikson before they have even begun lunch. Artur graciously accepts the meals that his companion cooks from the resources which, while not tasting of much, are the best he could hope to have.

Sabina, are you sure we shouldn’t leave?” he asks, watching steam billow from under the lid of the pot on the stove. “Would your crew not be worried?”

Sabina shakes her head, stirring dried herbs with pungent preserved meat. “They are too far from here for meeting them to be worth the risk.”

Sleep catches up by late afternoon. They lie before the fireplace with bowls in their laps, eyelids drooping. The faint hum of the blizzard is becoming familiar, and the stone walls shield them from thoughts of death.

“These blizzards feel like they last forever,” murmurs Artur, eyes closing to the glow of the flame. He and Sabina remain mysteries to one another.

:::

March, 2210

The scientists find Artur in a bar near the port of Murmansk. They—one man and one woman—don’t take long to explain the cause of their visit. They ask if he knows how to sail and, when he nods, if he will ferry them to the Frantsa-Iosifa research base in exchange for money and rations.

The choice is easy. It is not in his nature to remain idle.

“Is Murmansk your preferred base of operations?”

“I don’t prefer any particular place.”

Arrangements are made quickly. There are three major research bases on the ice sheet: Polyus, Barneo, Frantsa-Iosifa. Only the third interests them. He will make a round trip every six months. Do as their regulations recommend, and the risk of death is zero. Simple for him. Not so simple for them.

Artur understands perfectly. He is a classification surveyor with but incidental knowledge of science. He accepts his place quickly. There is no one left to anchor him, and no place left to go.

He learns their extreme cold weather protocol in fur and goggles, then leaves the Chukotka shore at the helm of the Dmitri Melnikov on the same day.

:::

On the third day, a spark catches.

During those four precious hours of daylight, Artur returns to the light room. Staring into the fogginess, he tries to picture the sea beyond it, bright and beautiful. He thinks of the ocean of his childhood—the Zolotoy Rog Bay, the ships, the green foliage.

A chorus of footsteps up the staircase alert Artur to Sabina’s presence. Instead of calling him back down as he expects, she halts, and does not speak.

What is it?” he finally asks, turning away from the sky beyond the glass.

She steps closer, hands tucked behind her back. “What are you looking at?

He considers deflecting the question, but the solitude of the little glass room, so far above all else, makes it easier for him to be honest. “I am thinking of the old world.

“There is much to reminisce upon, yes.” She pauses. “Where were you from?”

“Vladivostok.”

Ah.

Artur nods quietly, an ache gripping his throat. “I cannot form the images in my mind anymore. They…slip away, before I can make them solid. My parents, the house, the—grass. I cannot remember.”

He trembles, eyes stinging. He feels a hand on his arm.

I can’t remember them. Is this the fate of all things? Am I fated to follow them into the dark? Are you? Why do things disappear like this?

Her hand has crept to his back. “That is how it is, to be in the business of living in a world like ours.”

“We are all doomed,” he says bitterly, a tear wetting his right cheek. “I don’t understand what possesses the scientists to seek a solution so fervently. What good is a little oil? They can’t fool me. I know the world is dying. I know it’s all pointless.”

“Have you heard of entropy?” Sabina says, almost offhandedly.

Artur turns to her, blinking another tear from his eye. “What is that?”

“It is the tendency of all things to fall from order to disorder. Everything is always unravelling, don’t you see? The universe’s heat is dispersing and the stars will die one by one. You are right, all things are doomed to relinquish their meaning eventually. But what use is thinking about it?”

He frowns. “That is not reassuring.”

“Well, you are no longer crying,” she replies, rubbing his back. “We can keep talking like this, to keep you from thinking about what you cannot change.”

He nods wordlessly, and they descend again into the room below, seating themselves before the fireplace, which she has already stoked.

:::

Five years of the same route, six months every time. Nothing changes, but at the same time, everything does. Villages are crumbling all around them. Murmansk is quieter each time Artur visits it. The scientists whom he serves have yet to make much headway on their oil surveying.

They have but a single chance to find the optimal point for drilling, after which there is no telling if they will be able to scrounge up enough metal to build another.

Long journeys provide countless chances for idle conversation. “Have you received word from Lukoil?” he hears a little brown-haired scientist say over cards one evening.

They want to negotiate,” answers the boss, Doctor Andreyeva. “All I have learned in the past year is how difficult it is to regulate energy use.

“Before we talk of regulation, we must ensure that we have a product to regulate at all.”

“A few hundred gallons a day—Lukoil cannot be hoping to make a profit from that little, in this climate! I tell you, we should have established our own power plant, or stolen one.” Andreyeva slaps her hand of cards onto the table. “Pay up.”

The subordinate groans, laying a bottlecap on the table. “How about the reports from the climatologists? Unless the nuclear winter settles, there’s no saying our efforts serve any purpose. We are only delaying the inevitable, or administering an anaesthetic. And what’s the use?”

She sighs. “Do you believe in God?”

:::

Artur and Sabina become more liberal with conversation. He talks about senior school, his lack of friends, his dislike for social gatherings. “You are still the same,” she replies with a laugh. She tells him about college and work, about administering painkillers and watching people die, which brings him to his work, and the assignment that took him to Gizhiga the week his hometown was destroyed.

By the fourth day, Sabina has learned that Artur enjoys green tea. He awakens to the scent of the drink and the warmth of the vapour wafting against his face, and finds it accompanied by the best breakfast his companion could put together from ingredients in the stores.

Good morning,” she says. “There are barely three days left to this storm.” He finds that she stares more when he does not tie his hair.

He sits down beside her, feet restless. “Can I…show you something?”

She glances about. “I hope this isn’t as lewd as it sounds,” she answers.

He tries to ignore his blushing. “No, it is far stranger than you could anticipate.”

Perking up in interest, Sabina shuffles into a comfortable position. “What strangeness can faze me, now that two-thirds of the world have been destroyed?”

“I don’t know…” He lifts a hand and stares at the cup. In synchrony with the twitch of his finger, the condensation thickens into a vertical column, then shrinks back into the cup, like a snail withdrawing into its shell.

Sabina’s eyes grow ever wider as the tea begins to swirl, making the spoon appear to be stirring of its own accord. He smiles and lets the utensil fall back into place with a clink.

“This is truly amazing,” she murmurs. She affixes him with a gaze that strikes him as significant, and he cannot help but to feel slightly embarrassed. “I am sorry the world will never know of your talent.”

“The world would be afraid. Are you not?”

“I am not the kind to be afraid of the unknown.”

They exchange a glance that lasts several seconds long, and it hits him like an arrow—the awful realisation that she will be gone soon.

“I wish we had more time,” he says against his better judgment. “I wish this would last.”

“Why do you think it will not last?” Sabina replies, standing. “You will remember these exceptional days, and I with them, no? They are not the sort easily forgotten.” She comes to sit down beside him, eyes fixed on the cup of tea in his hands.

“Yes, I shall,” he finally says, lifting the cup to sip from it. But it’s not the same thing.

:::

“No, I do not. I do not believe in anything whose effects I cannot measure.”

“Well, you cannot measure the effects of love, for they are so scattered and so various, and so hard to capture. Do you have any doubt that love exists, though?”

“Love is a psychological phenomenon. You are implying that God, too, is one.”

“Perhaps He is, but does that make Him any less real?”

:::

By the fifth night, they can already feel their hopes starting to tangle with each other’s in messy snarls.

Sabina lays her head on Artur’s lap and promptly falls asleep that night, wrapped up in her brown fur jackets. He spends a while staring before recovering the dignity to look away. He does not move, though, at least not until sleep begins to tug on his eyelids.

Precious things have no place in the Arctic Circle. You learn to discard things as you move, to let the snow bury them.

When Sabina wakes the next morning, she looks at Artur in quite a different way, and he looks at her the same way she does. Like he cannot bear the thought of leaving her behind.

They try not to notice that the sounds of the storm have settled, choosing instead to eat their meagre breakfasts, hungrily, with their shoulders pressed together.

Discard her, he thinks, as she turns to smile up at him, and he responds by kissing her forehead.

No one has ever pierced his numbness before. As he is looking into her brown eyes, it suddenly becomes bone-bitingly clear just how much he misses green Vladivostok and the sun on the porches and all those fading paper people in his memory.

Tears come once again because her company, he realises, almost feels like having all those things back.

:::

2211

The distance between Russia and the Arctic ice sheet is remarkably narrow. It has grown in the wake of the nuclear winter, reversing the damage of centuries of heat, and now extends so far south that it splits the Arctic Ocean into two.

Through an ad-hoc radio network, the scientists relay communications to their various bases over the sea, taking and giving instructions through beeps and static whirrs. The deck is caked with snow at least three inches thick, and the first ice floe glows otherworldly white on the horizon.

The ocean sounds slightly different when it is freezing over.

The Northern Lights still dance beneath the shimmering stars where the black shell of nuclear debris fragments to reveal the missing sky. The geologic earth is unfazed by the fallout from the petty human war on its surface, and the sun yet casts vast glowing veils across the Arctic sky, human notions of beauty irrelevant.

A two-month trip must produce results equal to the value of the fuel expended, and Artur often finds himself alone at the helm, for all the scientists are occupied running calculations and consulting pre-apocalypse databases beneath the deck.

In those moments, he has the entire sky to himself, free of burden and free of fear. He watches the aurorae flutter over the endless mosaic of floes, lavender and distant green gleaming off their faces.

:::

“Russia is huge. You do not think about it because you live your entire life inside a small piece of it. But there were people halfway across the globe who answered to the same man as you. Think about it. Is that not bizarre and amazing?”

Russia no longer exists,” answers Artur. The morning warmth—as warm as it can be, anyway—glows down the shaft from the light room, and he knows Sabina must leave very soon.

“You don’t think about it, the volume of freight they were shipping—fuels, foods, raw materials—from Europe and China, across the oceans—how much of our lives came from somewhere else. No one realised how much they were destroying, when they declared their treaties breached.”

“I never had to think about these things. I was just a surveyor.”

“No one has to. No one did. That is why the world went the way it did.”

:::

The sky has cleared and half the bay is visible. Artur stands in the light room once more, staring through the quartz, and Sabina thanks him perfunctorily from the staircase.

He turns, and a painful lump appears in his throat when he sees that she is in all her furs, her backpack slung over a shoulder.

“Are you going to leave…just like that?”

“Yes,” she says with the severity of a blade cutting thread. “My crew must be growing restless in my absence.”

His heart screams. “Do you feel no lingering desire to stay? Here, with me?”

She is silent.

She clears her throat.

“I do, but I know I should not heed it. I know you must leave, just as I must. We have jobs to do.”

A shock of pain, localised in his chest, makes him clench his jaw. “What is the use?” he exclaims, and his attempts to obscure the pain are thwarted when his voice breaks. “Why do we do our jobs to keep this dying world running?” He clutches at his head and laughs. “I’m not worth anything in a world like this! I am a ferryman! I do nothing but send scientists back and forth, back and forth once every six months—and I’m just waiting, and waiting, for the day they no longer need me—”

Sabina’s face contorts. “Why do anything, if we all die?” she retorted. “Why did every single one of those billions of people who have ever lived—why did they do anything at all?”

“I don’t know!”

“Me neither! I would be deluded to believe that my work will change the world’s fate! But there is no way the alternative could be better. There is no way not existing could be better than existing, and trying. Because—I saved a man’s life last week. Because I am the meaning to someone else’s life, and I have no right to decide for them that life isn’t worth the while—”

She breaks off, and their gazes meet again, both wet. Artur steps forward, and takes her in a gentle embrace.

“I hope…to see you again,” he replies, unable to keep the sharp sting of grief from fragmenting his sentence. “I am in Dikson every year in February.”

“I shall try to return soon.”

Then Sabina kisses him. And then she descends the creaky wooden staircase, and Artur does not follow.

And then she is gone.

:::

2 June, 2214

“Seismology readings indicate 82’ 32” N 55’ 10” E crust less than a kilometre thick, 80-90% chance of being an oil trap.”

The transmission sends all the cabins into a frenzy. Even Andreyeva joins in the impromptu below-deck festivities that night, and Artur continues to hear about the findings for several days.

They must have found what they are looking for, then, and he tries to be happy for them. A couple of scientists ask him that evening—in a friendly tone, of course—if he is able to steer them faster. He says he will see what he can do.

That evening, as he stands alone facing the ocean at the helm of the ship, surrounded by the banshee-screams of the wind, he lifts his hands like a conductor before his orchestra.

No one notices that waves are parting more easily at the bow, or that the Dmitri Melnikov is moving two knots faster than its top speed.

:::

Artur closes his eyes, and is overwhelmed by a sudden cascade of memories, like a collapsing tower of cards, falling from a shelf above.

Vladivostok…the Zolotoy Rog Bay…his family…Sabina…all that.

It’s all in his memory somewhere. If only he could project it onto reality, the way the scientists in history said the universe is projected from two-dimensional data. If only his remembering were enough to make it exist again.

“Will I see anyone more than twice?” he asks the air, the water at the hull full of ice fragments. A stream of aurora has lit up on the horizon. “Does it matter if I never do? If I forget her, does she stop existing?”

And the surface of the world continues to cool beneath the nuclear dust, trees giving out to the darkness, and he braces himself as the icebreaker bow cracks the edge of the floe.


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