Natasha shivered in the corner of the shattered room, racing against the sputtering warmth of her dying candle. She held in her numb hands her last connection to the outside world—the Morse Code telegraph that had been serendipitously stowed with the emergency supplies in the one corner of the room not destroyed. Or perhaps the devices had been placed everywhere, in the event of catastrophe, but there was no one left to ask.
She worked her telegraph furiously, blowing on her hands. SOS 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E. Find me. Alive. 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E.
The candle gave its last cough of light, warmth and comfort, plunging Natasha into darkness. The stars were obscured behind the lingering haze of death—dust, ash, and particles of things she would not name. Beyond the waist-high ruins that were her shelter, there was nothing but sand, rocks, night, and leftovers of a people who felt make-believe and yet vibrant in her memory.
It was impossible to gauge time in this place of everlasting darkness, cold and ghostly vibrations of a once-life. Even the sun would not deign to shine here like in her homeland, and mornings were marked by skies of gray, brown and almost-blue. The echo of bombs, screams and concrete blasted into pieces still haunted her ears. It was hard to determine what was worse: the chaotic noise or the desperate silence that followed in its wake.
Natasha waited for a response, counting each breath to mark time. A hundred breaths. She worked out her message like a prayer. SOS 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E. Find me. Alive. 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E.
The stars peeked through and she gazed at them, throwing out an invisible tether to connect her to something real.
Delicate fingers of twilight teased the edge of the horizon. Morning approached, but she had no candles left for when night fell again.
Natasha had a watch with a backlight she could activate with a push of a button, but how long would the battery last? Even solar-powered, it too would eventually expire.
Her rations had run out some time past, and scrambling for sustenance in this barren landscape would not get her much further. If she hadn’t injured her foot, she could have attempted to walk beyond this plateau of obliteration, but she had to preserve her strength.
A hundred breaths. She repeated her plea.
Somewhere, far beyond this place, people still lived and remembered her; someone would hear her, someone would come.
Without the basic warmth of her candle, the frost of winter crept over her, entering the crevices of her lungs and seizing her breath, but she forged on with her focused in-out, in-out, counting.
Alas, she had counted on her Ronald to have her back, but she hadn’t expected that to work out literally—he had been her shield against the flying debris, grabbing her from behind and throwing her down, absorbing the battering instead.
She had held him with her whole body in the aftermath, as if she could funnel her own life back into him, allow him to live a little longer, but even Superman couldn’t have healed from those wounds. Not even if he had flown clear into the sun.
Ronald had smiled at her, and squeezed her hand. Even though he could not speak, she had known how deeply he loved her, and with the smallest squeeze in return, she had conveyed fifteen years of unspoken conversations; the things she had wanted to say but had never had the chance to, and at least, they had had that moment where they didn’t need any words. There was nothing, in the end, left to say.
Often she had felt him with her, holding her, keeping vigil with her across the realms that separated them.
How long had it been, really, since she had heard the sound of another in happiness? How many nights had she passed in this broken solitude?
A hundred breaths. She fumbled through her message, unfeeling fingers clumsy. SOS 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E.
Natasha lit the backlight on her watch. It was set to the time of her old life, and she had not yet changed it to match the current zone. It reminded her there were other people, other places, which still possessed the innocence of youth, the simple joys of being alive; those brief memories had acted as her sustenance but would not hold her much longer.
It was 10:42pm in her homeland. Parties would be winding down, children would be sneaking out, young lovers plotting secret rendezvous. She smiled to herself, her fingers telegraphing her farewell of their own accord. 10:42pm. Ronald. Find me. I love you.
Natasha curled into herself and drifted into nothingness. The stars reached for her and embraced her with their warmth, carrying her away.