Constance nodded dutifully. In her experience, pre-Epiphanals came in two varieties: Those who would never, ever talk about life before the Event, and those who seldom went two days without mentioning it.
Little Tessa Jackson had finally fallen into a fitful sleep. Mopping the film of perspiration from the seven-year-old’s brow with the sleeve of her coveralls, Constance Beckett carefully transferred the child’s weight to one of the blankets that had been piled in the center of the common area of the colonist deck, pausing a moment to ensure that the movement hadn’t disturbed her. But no, she was exhausted like the rest of the children in their little group. Having been given charge of the eight youngest colonist children for several hours while their parents either worked or tried to sleep, Constance had elected to mock a campfire. Of course, a real fire was impossible, even when there wasn’t a poverty of oxygen. But she could set a battery-powered lantern in the center of a nest of blankets and try to keep the children amused with whispered stories and, though her voice was nothing to write home about, familiar lullabies. Loud songs or raucous games were out of the question, and in any case, the kids were too uncomfortable and grumpy to be so inclined. Now, by some miracle, she had gotten them all to sleep. Her eyes anxiously traced over each of their faces to ensure that they were, in fact, still breathing. But that was irrational fear, she reminded herself. The air was heavy, but she had been assured that nobody was in danger of actual suffocation anytime soon.
Getting up to stretch her legs, Constance suddenly had the distinct feeling that she was being watched. She turned her head in the direction of the residences to see Miss Anna standing several yards away, beneath the glow of a dim and flickering lamp. Her sharp eyes were observing the young woman intently, and she made no move to adjust her gaze when Constance spotted her. Constance took a deep breath, receiving a spell of dizziness in exchange for the effort, and padded barefoot across the grass-like carpet to meet the older woman.
“Miss Anna,” She greeted, using the woman’s first name as all the colonists did.
“Miss Beckett,” Anna nodded.
“How are you feeling, ma’am? Can I get you something?”
“I remember nights,” Miss Anna said in a wistful tone, “felt much like this. Like a hot blanket. Before the dark and the cold.”
Constance nodded dutifully. In her experience, pre-Epiphanals came in two varieties: Those who would never, ever talk about life before the Event, and those who seldom went two days without mentioning it. Miss Anna was among the latter. “You should be sitting,” Constance said.
“Don’t worry about me,” The older woman smiled. Her eyes, ice blue against the brown of her skin, were no less alert than they had ever been. “It ain’t my time. Yours neither.”
“I’m worried about the kids,” Constance admitted. “There’s so little we can do for them.”
“I’ve seen,” Miss Anna assured her, “That not a hair on their heads will be lost. Do you believe?”
Constance forced a weak smile. “I believe, ma’am.”
“And yet you’re angry,” Miss Anna observed.
Next: Second Chances