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in the half light

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1,331,470 people.

That's how many were left in England after the storm came and took the rest away.

*

(Dan wakes up and it's so quiet. It registers with a sleep-dulled tingle in the back of his mind. There are no taxi horns. There are no sirens. There are no children shrieking and laughing outside.

Only one sound registers: a muted buzzing.

It's a too-familiar sound. He digs his mobile out from between the sheet and the duvet and looks at the screen.

Seventeen missed calls from his mum.

His heart plunges down to his stomach. His mum would only be calling so much if something awful's happened. His first thought is of his grandparents, and he almost doesn't answer just to have to avoid bad news.

He spends too long thinking and misses the call. When he rings her back, it goes straight to voicemail. He realizes she must have immediately tried him back so he waits. It only takes a few seconds for it to light up to life again.

"Mum?" He answers, voice gravelly. He swallows and tries again. "Mum, what's-""

He stops, because he can hear her crying hysterical, gut-wrenching sobs. His whole body feels cold with shock before she even says a word.

But when she finally does:

"They're gone. Everyone's gone."

*

His mum has to tell him over and over. He doesn't understand.

How can everyone be gone?

People don't just - they don't just disappear.

But the sheets beside him are cold.

He's halfway up the stairs when he hears the sound of Phil singing some stupid song and he almost drops his phone in relief.)

*

They call it the storm, because the skies are a strange shade of purple-blue that go darker sometimes. They’re trying to figure out how the people disappeared, where they might have gone. There are no bodies, nothing left behind. In the space of a breath, a fraction of a second, they just ceased to be. Scientists are trying to figure out what caused it, what kind of danger remains, what can be done. But there aren't that many scientists left, and they also need to figure out how to start rebuilding.

*

The storm covers America. It covers Asia. It covers Europe and Australia. Mainlands with dense populations, but small pockets of sparsely populated land and most islands left untouched.

It degrades the cellular signal after a week. No mobiles. No internet. No satellite television. No mass communication of any kind.

But for that one week between the storm appearing and the world going quiet, the news is full of terrifying declarations, countdowns to when the cooling water will be gone from nuclear stations and how quickly the tubes will flood.

Then there’s nothing. They’re just left with the fear and the silence. Unsure what else to do, people try to continue on.

Then pantries begin to empty. Even in the shops whose owners and staff haven't all disappeared there aren't enough factories working, enough lorry drivers transporting, enough stockers left to keep things on the shelves. Riots begin. Power goes out. Darkness feels like it's everywhere, not just above them in the sky.

The parody of normality lasts a matter of weeks, and then talk of evacuation begins.

*

1,331,470 people all needing food, shelter, water.

Population management, they're calling it. No other mainland countries were taking people in, every major continent dealing with their own storm. But Britain has its isles and it plans to make good use of them just as soon as it can.

Housing needs to be built. Trade agreements need to be worked out. Crops need to be planted. Everything is just - stretched too thin. So they settle on a hundred thousand people per month, ferries that will show up at designated spots and a lottery system with evacuation lots engraved onto metallic chips.

Those with specialized skill are taken first. Families get preferential treatment. All the rest are just left to survive in the time before their pickup.

Dan's glad, to be honest. He's glad they don't see mothers carrying their confused, screaming children anymore. He's glad most of them have moved on to something better.

And it has to be better. He has to believe it's better, because he and Phil have nothing left but hope.