Oop, wrote a quick story.
From his balcony carved out of living rock, Teags watched the Great Burn eat its way across the world. Huddled around his coffee in the crisp mountain air, he saw flames licking at the borders of Second Hope. His sister, along with the rest of the township, had been evacuated on schedule according to the proctor’s evaluation of the fire’s path through their sector. It hadn’t been a panicked evac, a full month’s notice gave the people of Second Hope plenty of time to close up and clear out. Teag’s sister had told him before they left that the mayorship predicted an 80% property recovery on return.
“It’s not like the bad old days before we understood the mirrors, Johhan,” her face flickering warmly on the screen. “We’re well-prepared and have plenty of warning.” She smiled and Teags smiled back at her, even though it was a recorded message. “Besides, all thirty-five towns before us in the path have evacuated safely.” Teags sing-songed the familiar joke along with his sister, “fifty years since the last Great Burn death!”
Up in his cliff wall eyrie, Teags had a different evac date than the forest below. He’d built the house into the rock, on the edge of the cut sliced into the mountain by untold cycles of the sun’s fire. The contractors had given him a 98% property recovery rate. His own calculations placed him closer to 90%, but most of the damage would be from dust and extreme radiant heat, rather than forest fire and direct flame. He touched the leaves of a bush growing from a sculpted hollow in the rock. His plants would die, but the things inside the house would stay relatively cool and protected in their man-made cave.
Inside, the phone chimed insistently. Teags stayed on the balcony, watching the fire and finishing his coffee. He listened to the familiar automated message. It reminded him of each individual person’s value to the community, the importance of prudence and safety and gave him the evacuation route for his sector. There was a human-like pause as the program checked its calendar against his position. “The Great Burn will reach your location in one day.”
Teags went inside to make himself a meal, but brought it back out to eat. The air was growing slowly warmer, the first flakes of ash landing on his arms. At night, trails of smoke occluded the stars, reflecting back the light of the flames, pierced by the colourless ray of sunfire chewing its way towards the mountain.
In the morning, Teags ran another systems check. Everything that could be damaged by heat had already been moved deeper into the rock. Satisfied, Teags went back to the balcony, watching from behind dark glasses as the light edged its way into the ravine burned over millennia. Chiming sounded again from inside, the message calm but insistent. Teags had grown to admire the automated system. It had just enough AI to send out notifications and warnings independent of the proctor’s calculations.
With a last look at the fire, Teags closed up his home and followed the winding stairs down to the sub-basements. At the bottom he stumbled in the dark and panicked, worrying about the security’s power grid. His glasses slid down as he shook his head, the soft backup lights shining around the lenses like dawn. Grimacing, he took them off.
Bundled in a heavy coat against the chill, he ran a final check of the air system, already yawning in anticipation of sleep. He never could get used to sleeping under the fire-lit clouds. Finally assured that if he died, it wouldn’t be through suffocation, Teags fell onto a cot under a pile of blankets and slept.
He’d set the lights to dim at night, in an attempt to fend off the timelessness of evenly reflected, constant illumination. They were dialling back up as he woke, sweating, the calendar telling him he’d slept a full day, but no more. Slurping an emergency ration, Teags settled in at the rickety camp table, reviewing charts. He didn’t need them to see that the mirror cycles were speeding up at a geometric rate, the last Great Burn had come through only a month before, the one before just a half year before that. He didn’t want to project when the next one would be.
He gazed blankly at the stack of papers. The sector map was now useless, the last few towns he’d caught radio signals from had gone quiet over the last week. His home-made weather station data gave him nothing helpful. If the world was spinning faster or if only the mirrors had gone insane he didn’t know.
When the lights dimmed again he was still at the table, twirling a dried twig in his fingers. No matter how quickly the new growth was burned off, the native plants on the mountain burst back into fruitful bloom as soon as the temperature dropped below oven-hot. Teags wished he was a botanist, or that a botanist was still around to appreciate what the plants were doing.
He’d stripped to his underwear and slippers, wishing for a shower to take the edge off the pervasive heat. With deliberate movements, he set out the last of the emergency rations and tried to make a banquet out of them, mixing elements the best he could without a kitchen. He decided against watching his sister’s message again and put on a pair of pants and the dark glasses. With a shrug, he started up the stairs.