I Longed For Wide Experience

Weather-beaten and rangy. The library at her hip is grey steel and rainbow mother of pearl.

The old road, the old imperial highway, winds its way across the top of an old sea, and Ulloa has never been more shivering aware of the depths of the open earth. She pauses at the top of a long, brutal rise, and stares down between the alien curves of sandstone; the earth has dropped away beneath her, and she floats on an imagined horizon. She is normally afraid of heights, but not here — how can you be afraid of the level surface of the water?

Still. She feels the wide mouth of the long-vanished sea yawn beneath her, and picks her careful way back down, past petroglyphs, past pioneer cabins, past the bones of long dead aquatic monsters, past tourist traps. The apocalypse has been and gone so many times from this landscape, what is one more or less?

She is more than half-crazed from the heat, and clings close to the cliffside, away from the open air that promises a cool breeze on the way down to the depths. The sky is so blue it hurts her eyes, even behind the polarized lenses of her breather. She stops when she reaches shade, covers herself with as much of the fine-grained urticating sand as she can, and waits for night to fall. The imperial road catches the light, even now, even in starlight, enough to keep her on firm ground, and she’s got a week or more before even the hope of another person.