with thanks to Susan Lee and Kim Jones

Cedar is late, so she takes a shortcut down the southwest pipes. The pipes thread through the great caverns, from mountaintop to lake bottom, and serve as ladders, landmarks and boundaries for the endless gang wars. They predate the town; predate even civilization, if the scientists are to be believed.

Cesar is outside smoking when she arrives at the gallery. “Running late,” he says.

“Yeah,” she says. “Guess so.”

It’s mostly empty inside. A few students sitting before the Heinrich’s paintings, one of the regulars quietly weeping in the Room of Mirrors. She slips into her outfit, seventy pounds of mud and branches, and hustles into the New Works Room. The air is still clear, still breathable; she won’t need the rebreather for another couple of hours at least.

Time passes.

A couple wanders through, their eyes distant and absorbed behind the lenses of the gas masks. She shadows them as they approach the installation. One of them turns to speak to her, but the headdress blocks all sound. His mouth forms the question—but what does it mean?—but she hears only the slow wash of her own blood.

A coil of smoke rises up from the machine; someone has called. Cedar slips the rebreather into her mouth and inhales the same breath she’s been breathing for two weeks.