The worst part is the noise. There's no way to get away from it, no barriers to stop the constant sound, nails on a blackboard times a thousand. Times ten thousand. Times a hundred thousand.
The sky is lower than it was before. It's almost possible to touch it now, to drag fingertip trails through the low black clouds.
It wasn't like this before.
He doesn't really remember what it was like before; it's hard to think, now. The noise is everything.
It's part of the sky, that's obvious. There used to be something else that was part of the sky, something that came from the sky - something bad. All that's left is impressions, pale and unstoppable, a high, singing tone, something to cower away from. Now there's no use in hiding, no escape. Now the very air is sound.
Before, closer to the beginning, they tried to find a way to shut out the noise. But it's there with eyes shut, with ears stopped, there if they burrow underground with the tunnel collapsed behind them, filled with earth. There's no shelter from it.
It's hard to remember why. Something happened; he remembers something. They gambled and lost.
He remembers arguments. Sort of remembers what it's like to argue, what it was like at the beginning of after, shouting over the din until he coughed blood, scrawling notes and relying on taps and shakes, on nudges to communicate. They weren't all good at that, but they got by, for a while.
It was enough to get them from gate to gate, trying them all in turn. Entering an address. They have a list of addresses, but there's one they always try first.
That one never goes through.
He can imagine the sound of the chevrons engaging. He remembers it as satisfying, like the tumblers in a turning lock. He sees it happen, now, but it's too quiet to distinguish. Still, the memory plays out in his head, one after another, hopeful. Leading up to a stutter, a ghostlight flicker around the rim, and then nothing.
They have other addresses that work.
He goes down the list.
They don't have pencils anymore. Don't have pens. Can't mark the list, really, but he scratches a little at the paper, each line as they use the address, so they can keep track and try the next, if they have to. The list is the only thing he still has from the laptop. All of that data trapped in a dead plastic shell, with no way to copy anything else out. No time to devote to find a way to charge it, keep it running.
They've gone through each address enough times that he isn't going to be able to read it for much longer. The paper is wearing away, soft and thin.
There's no one on any of the planets.
The sound is everywhere. He isn't sure anymore that he really doesn't hear it between gates. Of course, he isn't even sure he can hear the sound anymore. He just knows he can't hear anything else.
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