The air was heavy; baked and left to cool, it smelled like the screen of an old television set. Her feet flexed inside her close-fitting shoes, grinding tight circles in the dust. She breathed in steadily, fighting the urge to cough, seeing in her mind the oxygen reddening her blood. The blood reddening her skin. She ran her hand over her bare arms, a nervous gesture, and shuddered in the heat.

Now run. She ran, testing her legs, her stability, her breath. Everything was difficult. Her feet smashed into the floor with each step, jolting her bones against each other. The ground was unforgiving and unstable. Loose rocks chipped at her balance, tripped at her toes and left holes to grab at her heels. The land rose around her, the track dipping in to the heart of the world.

Her mind began beating the rhythm her feet were missing. Breathe. Breathe. Draw life from this dead place. Live. Live. Her running became more fluent, finding the flat ground between the rocks. Step. Step. Everything felt natural now. The flow of the skin over her muscles over her bones, her heart beating in her chest, nestled between her lungs.

A new wind plucked at the land. Dust devils traced her path. The landing ship boomed its wordless hello. Her pace slackened as she signalled once to the unseen operator – world is habitable. We can begin. She took off the helmet and breathed fresh air for the first time in a decade.

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