When he married Elena, Anton didn’t know that she was an anti-imperialist. When she said that the Ve-based society would crash, he argued that it wouldn’t be within their lifetimes. When she asked him if he was willing to leave behind everything to live on a floating island that would be carved out of a cliff face and buoyed in the ocean by masses of kelp-like ika plants, he told her that he loved her, and would follow her anywhere.

“Children? Now?” he asked, trying to keep his voice down. They were as far as they could get from the town, but it wasn’t very far. Although they had gotten the rock to float, it was a close thing, and only the tips of the four subislands poked above the water. The botanists said that as the ika grew, it would lift the Island higher and higher. Anton hoped it didn’t take too long.

“Yes, now,” Elena said. “I’m not going to wait for some perfect set of circumstances that doesn’t exist.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for a better time than this, though? What would they eat, haaku berries?” Anton crouched down and picked a sprig of haaku to emphasize his point. It pulled a pieces of rock with it. It was already breaking up the top layer of rock, before long, the Island would be covered in a layer of soil.

“Yes, if they have to. Fish, too,” Elena said.

“I don’t know,” Anton said. He looked down at his hands. He had been absently pulling the haaku apart, leaf by leaf and stem by stem. “I just can’t imagine bringing children into the world right now.”

Elena didn’t say anything, but moved closer. Anton pulled away from her, and started to walk back towards the town.

That evening, Anton sat on the outer edge of the subisland, watching the horizon that hid the land he had left less than a month ago and had not seen since. As the sky darkened, he noticed a varicolored light reflected by the clouds. The sky dimmed until there was only a slight blush along the Western horizon, and then only the light reflected by the clouds that hung over the mainland. It was stunning, as though the entire mainland had been consumed by a massive driftwood bonfire, burning blue and red and green and white in strobing, swirling patterns.

“It’s begun,” Elena said from where she sat next to him. He hadn’t noticed her there. He scooted closer and squeezed her knee. “The Eternal Empire has started to collapse. It won’t be long before it’s all gone.”

“Did you know?” Anton asked.

“That it was coming? Yes,” she said. “When? No.”

“Why didn’t you warn them?”

“We tried, if you recall,” she said.

Anton looked at his wife, and her face was that of a soldier, afraid that if she allowed herself even the slightest bit of compassion that it would open the gates for guilt as well. He looked back towards the mainland. His past was being burned, erased. Friends, enemies, triumphs, shame, the good burned along with the bad. Anton pulled Elena close and held her as he wept.

“Yes,” he said.

“Yes to what?” Elena asked.

“Children.”