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Limits

Prologue


This was the moment she'd worked for her entire adult life. Claari wondered why she didn't feel excited, or vindicated, or even just plain satisfied. Instead, as she stared up at the ever-darkening sky, she found herself feeling nothing. She didn't even feel fear, which was something any reasonable person might find understandable given the circumstances.

Instead, she reviewed the inhabitant list one more time, ensuring that each and every person on the list had checked in and confirmed presence…and that nobody else had. During the last few years, there'd been several attempts to breach security or circumvent the selection process, from both individuals and groups. There'd even been attempts on her life. This was the first time she'd stood alone under the open sky in months.

It was also the last time she ever would, and she was well aware of that.

Finishing her review, she committed the list to the external computer's memory and entered the final commands to establish the security perimeter. As she reached for the commit button, she felt someone's eyes watching her and looked up.

Saan was standing there, quietly, his hands behind his back. Claari's heart leapt into her throat. "Have you decided to come with us after all?"

Her older brother sighed. "You should know better than that by now."

Where a moment ago she'd felt nothing, now she felt too much. Anger. Fear. Betrayal. Guilt. Grief. She clenched her hands over the control surface in an effort to control her reaction. "Then why are you here?"

"To say goodbye."

"I thought we had already done that."

He walked up to her and took the hands that had been gripping the control surface so tightly they might leave an impression. "I couldn't let things end between us that way, Claari. No matter what, you're still my sister. That won't ever change."

"Even after you're…gone?" She couldn't quite bring herself to say dead, to acknowledge the significance of what they both saw in the sky. What they'd both known was coming for years.

"Even after."

She wrapped her hands around his, fighting back tears. "I wish I understood why you've chosen not to save yourself or your family."

"Save ourselves for what? A lifetime lived out underground, trying to hold on to a destroyed civilization?" He shook his head, crest flying. "You don't even know if you have enough supplies to outlast the sun-storms."

"We have enough to make more," she answered. "That's enough to last as long as we need." It was an old argument, and some part of her knew the time was well past for making it. He might very well be right. But why wouldn't he even try and save himself? Why had he just given up?

"Let's not start that again," he said softly. "Let's just say a goodbye we'll both remember well."

She couldn't keep her tears from starting. "I don't want to lose you."

He pulled her close. "I know."

"I still don't understand why I have to."

"That doesn't matter now." He stroked her crest in a gesture of comfort. "You don't have to understand. You just have to accept."

She took a long, shuddering breath, steadying herself. "When it...the storms break, I hope it will be quick and painless. For all of you."

"I do too." He stepped back, looking at her face. "And I believe it will be."

She touched the side of his face. "I'll miss you so much. Who's going to keep me out of trouble?"

"You'll do fine." He smiled, but she could see tears in his eyes. "May all the good spirits keep watch over you, little sister, and all the bad ones pass you by."

"Yes," she whispered. "You too."

There was nothing left to say after that, and it wasn't Saan's way to prolong a departure. It only made things worse, he always said. So after one last hug, he turned and walked away from the tunnel that led to their underground chamber. She watched him go, noticing that the sky was starting to take on an angry red tinge. The star-storm would break soon.

Taking what she knew was her last-ever breath of surface air, Claari enabled the final security protocol, walked into the tunnel, and shut the door behind her.