Decompression Sickness

80 floors in under a minute; 13 feet a second.

Petra’s ears pop and she struggles to swallow, dry-mouthed and nervous, even though this is long-familiar. The view, too, is familiar, or should be, but somehow it always catches her off guard. It’s a grey predawn down on the street, but early morning up here; the hallway is bathed in rosy-fingered light, and the terminator sweeping over the valley from the mountains takes her breath away.

Vertigo: she feels the earth dropping away beneath her, curving away from the sun.

The man in the bed is old, with the delicate paper skin they all have, the curled spine. This one is well-fed, comfortingly — yesterday’s was light as a bird, scarely more than a skeleton and memories, disquietingly closer to a wire sculpture than a human. She wheels the bed to the window, and the man smiles up at her, eyes wide and calm, all pupil. They spend a moment looking out at the early morning, crisp and clear before the heat closes in, until their breath settles into a shared rhythm, until her pulse keeps time with the gentle ticking of the monitor.


Petra pulls the window shut again, and leans her head against the glass. She cranes her head toward the street, listens for an impact that never comes. Where they go, she doesn’t know, but she rides the elevator down alone, as always.