Dying is easy. It is the path to it that is the hard part. Harder still, to sit and wait for death to find you, hidden and waiting as Snow is.
She is not on Earth, but on the New one, unfamiliar and familiar all the same. Dreams haunt her nights, and sometimes her days, as she exists underground. She is not alone- very far from it. Her family had survived, and she trusts most of the people that share a life with her. She sometimes forgets what life was like before the shadow of sickness came to her, but remembers every minute of happiness she ever had, for that is what keeps her alive, what keeps death from finding her.
She knows there is something coming, something that will save her and everyone else smart enough to survive. She has faith.
This is her story; the impossible tale of tragedy and triumph that has become her. It is one of salvation, and it all begins with that crucial belief that she will be saved.
And she doesn't have long to wait.
"Alright, wake up Snow-flake. The doctor's here," her mother whispered, gently shaking Snow awake. Maria was always awake before everyone else in the community, cooking a small but friendly breakfast and greeting everyone with a smile. She made sure everyone was up and alert by eight o'clock, which was really a safety precaution, but let Snow sleep as long as possible because the doctor demanded it. If she feared for her daughter's life, she only showed it in private, keeping a strong mask on for all to see.
Snow blinked, her eyes adjusting to the suddenly bright light. She sighed and nodded, moving to sit up and trying to ignore the sharp throbbing in her chest. "I'll meet you in there," she murmured, and stood up slowly to move to the empty side of the room where her clothes were kept. It was a communal room; everyone slept on thin pads spread across the splintered wooden floor, but everyone had a locker on the far wall that was their own. Clothing was limited, since most people had used the majority of their possessions to trade with secret suppliers in the outside world, so most people had only a couple sets of clothes.
As she dressed, she tried to get in an optimistic mood for the appointment. She saw the doctor almost every day now, and nothing good ever came of it. There was little he could do for her pain or anything else that was wrong with her. The medications were running out, and there was only so much the little blue pills could do for her. They helped her sleep at night, allowed her to walk around on good days, and give her a little bit of energy for surface missions, but there weren't many left. Medicine was getting harder and harder to trade for, harder still to actually find any drugs not in patch form. And he just didn't have the resources to perform any complicated surgeries in her condition.
When Snow had arrived on New Earth, she was dying. Cancer had taken over her body, and there were rumors of a drug on the new planet that could cure her. When her family came up with the money, they flew across space, more hopeful than anyone that the new world would be a better one.
It turned out that order in New Earth had collapsed, the planet's basic functions ceasing to exist. There were rules about being sick, being different, that turned Snow into an exile, her family forced to hide her away. A community existed underground called the Hidden; they were experts in scavenging, surveillance, and had enough drugs to keep sick people alive.
Snow's family found the Hidden within their first few days on the planet. Patrols came through at 8:15 every night, enforcing their laws and arresting the people who didn't know any better. While they were looking for a hiding place, Tim, Snow's younger brother, tripped over a handle that belonged to one of the many entrances to the underground hideout. Luckily, they were welcomed quickly to the group and Snow was able to continue getting treated. Life with the Hidden was hard, but it worked.
They lived underneath Pharmacytown, a dangerous place to be when people surfaced. Some were stolen for the motorway, and some fell into the trap of the patches, the addictive drugs that people bought with money they didn't have. There were rumors of fatal drugs somewhere, laced into the patches, and as a result the use of mood drugs was forbidden within the Hidden community unless used as a medical sedative.
The most interesting thing about living with the Hidden was the people themselves. Carter, a hardened old man, was the unelected leader, for he had been there longer than anyone else. He was the best at coordinating missions, was a ruthless trader, and knew the streets above ground better than the residents themselves. His daughter, Stella, was just as fierce, and knew what it meant to hide because she was born underground. Her mother had been lost years ago, something that was never discussed between the two, but haunted them greatly.
Aside from Snow's older sister, Fria, Kirsten was the only girl close in age to Snow. She had been there since she was a little girl, after her parents departed for the motorway and never came back. She never understood why, but saw it as something out of her control, a mystery she would never solve.
And it was Kirsten the Snow ran into on her way to the doctor's office. She carried a steaming Styrofoam cup in her hand, containing the almost-coffee solution that most people avoided in the mornings unless they really needed the caffeine. "Hey," she said happily, "We're getting a looting group together for tonight. You in?" She fell into step with Snow as she sipped at the drink, making a face as it burned her tongue.
Snow shrugged. "Maybe. I'm headed to the doctor's, so we'll see. But put my name down, I haven't been out since… well, a while," she mumbled. A few weeks ago she had had a really bad bout of illness, confined to the makeshift hospital room, a place that she really had no desire to die in. She had eventually recovered, but it was then that everyone realized how serious her disease really was. They had only been living with the Hidden for a year, and it the first really bad week she had had in their presence.
"Alright. I'll catch you later," Kirsten said, smiling encouragingly as they reached the hospital door. She gave a little wave and dashed away, probably off to report back to Carter.
"Yeah, see you," Snow called after her, her voice cracking a little on the last word. She was nervous, but then again, she was nervous before every appointment.
When she entered the room, her mother was talking with the doctor in an urgent, hushed tone, but straightened up immediately as Snow faced her. "Good morning Snow," Doctor Baza said warmly. "Have a seat." Baza had been with the Hidden almost as long as Carter had, and wore the years on his face. He had helped so many people, but had seen more people die than any man ever should.
"Alright, Snow. You know the drill." And she did. It was always the same; his examinations were monotonous and too numerous to list, and every time his face registered the same blank expression. She could never tell if the blankness was good or bad, but it was usually the latter. "Your tests from last week will be ready in a few minutes, actually. Ok, any pain here?" He spoke softly as he worked, gently pressing against her spine.
Snow winced in response. She knew her back was covered with splotchy bruises, she didn't need to look anymore to know that. She flipped on to her back gingerly. He gently felt her abdomen, and she held in a cry when he pressed something just beneath her ribcage. "Alright," he murmured, moving away to his computer, the only advanced technology in the whole underground. Snow sat up and watched him type, not able to make out the words. He flipped through files, reading for a few minutes.
He froze abruptly, his finger hovering in mid-air over the mouse. And Snow knew something had changed, probably for the worse.
After endless minutes, Doctor Baza slowly turned around, taking a seat across from the examination table. Snow was frozen, numbly awaiting her fate while her mother fidgeted in the chair next to her, biting at her nails, her nervous habit.
"It doesn't look good, Snow," he started, leaning forward to take her hand gently.
"Just tell me," she breathed, sitting up straight and trying to control her shaking hands.
"It's spread. And in about a month your organs will begin to fail. The tumors in your abdomen are pressing against them, weakening their tissues, and they won't be able to function anymore." He paused, carefully watching Snow's face. "I'm very sorry, but there's nothing here I can do for you. Perhaps, if we had more time, I would be able to find something, but all I can offer you is something for the pain."
It is one thing to be dying, but quite another to hear confirmation of it.
"You'll see no changes for a week or two, but you'll know when it's coming. My advice to you is this: do everything you can for the next two weeks, then come to me before it gets too ugly. Let those people out there remember you as you are now: strong."
All Snow could do was nod. She had known this was coming, that one day she would be able to count the days she had left on New Earth. There was so much she wanted to say to Baza, but all that came out was, "Thank you."
She glanced over at her mother, but couldn't look for long, since she was crying. She had never seen her mother cry before, as Maria preferred to do it in private, but Snow didn't think she could keep it together if she watched for too long.
Baza shook his head, letting out a long sigh. "I'll be giving all your medication through an IV from now on, so I need you to come here every day before breakfast," he said, reaching into a cupboard and pulling out an IV bag with a clear liquid in it. "I've had a batch of these mixed for months," he admitted, getting it set up.
Numbly, she leaned back and closed her eyes, barely feeling the fluid flow into her system. It hadn't sunken in yet, although she had had years to deal with this day. It just seemed wrong, because she felt so very alive. She tried to feel differently than she had the day before, but she couldn't. She felt just as healthy, and just as sick as she always had been. She felt her mother take her hand, and knew that it would be days before they could talk about it. It wasn't like Maria to talk about negative things, the optimist that she was wouldn't let her.
Even so, Snow felt at peace, though it was possibly the medication which made her quite sleepy. Her mind drifted in and out of consciousness as she rested, and images floated in and out of sight. There were strange things, unfamiliar places and objects that danced on the edges of memory, but something stood out among them all.
It was something blue, something much bigger and sadder than it seemed, something that had been a part of her dreams for as long as she could remember. She had seen it once before, back on Earth as a child, when she thought the world was ending it had appeared in the sky just before things got better. She didn't know what it meant, but it made her feel sane as the universe turned around her unforgivingly, her fate drawing closer with every tick of the clock.
Something was coming.
Alright, so I know that chapter is a little rough to get through, but trust me, the adventure really begins and takes off from here. This is only my second fic, so leave me a comment and let me know how I'm doing, and check out my first fic, 136 Days, if you feel like reading a little more angsty adventure. I don't want to be 'that angsty writer' but… I really like my strong female protagonists : ).