The sunglasses provided a needed screen against the blinding sun. The bright circle in the grey skies burned the irises of the unwary. With most of the ozone layer gone, there wasn’t much left to protect the earth from the destructive light of the star.
Nastasia adjusted her headgear and the breathing tubes: the only tool that would allow her to cross the city without choking on the sandy air. Who would believe that less than 30 years ago, this place stood by the ocean. Now the ocean was gone… another 50 miles away East of New York, and Manhattan was merely an island of rubbles and sand in the middle of the desert.
Nastasia didn’t remember the sea: she’d never seen it, except on the plasma screens in the mall before electricity failed 15 years ago. But she remembered sitting by her mother’s knee and listening to tales of the waters, of ships and coolness. It always sounded like a paradise. Her mother always remained subdued for hours after speaking of the sea. Nastasia knew it was because her father was at sea when the world went to shit. He’d been trying to save this planet, studying how to create a UV screen that would replace the ozone layer.
But governments weren’t interested in saving the earth; they made their money on its ruins. Those who organized for her father’s death were most probably dead. Once electricity failed, markets collapsed over themselves. The smokescreen just blew over: money didn’t exist anymore. It hadn’t existed for centuries, everything being virtual, dematerialized. Now bank notes had no value: what mattered was water. And what electricity people could create.
Governments were no more; each city was a country of its own, ruled by the strongest. Hobbes would have laughed probably: he said man was a wolf. Or maybe he wouldn’t have. Because a wolf hunts to feed: Nastasia knew too well that men hunted for sport. Even though there was nothing left, they still did. To maintain a shred of dignity, she’d left her hometown. She wouldn’t become one of the leader’s many wives. She’d rather die than forget what her mother said: women will be the first to suffer from the failure.
She hadn’t lasted long after electricity failed; not a surprise. The blinds of the hospital room had been the only screen against the killing light of the sun that had already left major damage in her mother’s body. A cancer nobody could heal. And when the electricity died, well so did the machine that kept her heart pumping. Nastasia left the very same day her mother was buried. A young woman on her own wasn’t safe, nowhere. But at least here, nobody knew she was a woman, her clothes an inadequate screen against people’s scrutiny if she happened to meet any. She tried to avoid that at all cost.
She spent her evenings alone, subdued… nobody to speak with. She kept precious little with her but she’d salvaged a couple of books that she wouldn’t relinquish to anyone. She read them every evening. It kept her mind sharp. It kept her from giving up. The hope of a world where water wasn’t such a rare commodity that people killed for it. Maybe if she could get to the rift 60 miles away where her father had his lab, she would be able to use them to finish what he started.