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interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

It felt like a reunion. The gang was back together and we were not only safe but we'd found ourselves somewhere that was actively friendly. This is a point I can't overstate: people were not trying to arrest, or shoot, or torture me.

I'd forgotten what it was like to be secure. A rock had been crushing me for months and months and I hadn't even known it until it was lifted off. I spent hours just staring out windows at the city, or lounging in armchairs, not even thinking about anything and allowing the place to flow over my senses. One of the doctors said I was in shock and it was my brain responding to the sudden change of circumstances. Maybe he was right, but I'd always thought shock would be unpleasant - this felt like a warm summer breeze on the coast.

That feeling lasted about a day, then the rock started coming down again. Sure, we were safe while we were here but there was still work to be done. We couldn't stay here forever. 'Here', while I'm on the subject, was known simply as 'Blue' to the locals. Apparently the companion world was called 'Red'. It was all very minimalist. The city itself was called Cord, which was appropriate enough.

Hold on. How could I understand them? And how could they understand me? It made a kind of sense that most of Locque spoke the same languages as on Earth, as they'd been socially engineering that convenience for centuries. But Blue had no connection to either of our worlds. Mysterious. Idle thoughts like that pop into your head when you're not being shot at, turns out.

They gave us some time to get back on our feet, which didn't take long as their medical knowledge surpassed even Earth's. The drugs from the detention centre were pumped out and we were set right by the end of that first day, although they warned us that the psychological impacts could be farther reaching. I spent most of that time alone in a fancy hotel room, adjacent to Furey and Marv's. Everything was pretty and smart and clean. It was so perfect that it actually felt a little bit weird at times, like something was missing.

A bit of dirt makes a place real, you know?

The hotel was next door to the enormous World Council structure, which was shaped like two spheres that had collided with each other. The metaphor wasn't subtle, and it took me a moment to realise it was an actual building and not a giant sculpture. It was a short walk down a corridor with a plush carpet and across a glass walkway, high above the city streets, after which I was directed to a waiting room. The far wall was glass, looking out across the cityscape. The ceiling was arched and arced down to one side. Everything was a red/blue two-tone, from the walls to the furniture. Some marketing guys probably spent days working up that one.

Cal was silhouetted against the glare of the sky. I rested my hand on Marv's shoulder momentarily as I walked past where he was sat with Furey, then approached Cal.

"Two questions," I said.

He raised an eyebrow. "Only two?"

"Number one," I continued, "how come I can talk to people here?"

"They have tech that auto-translates everything, I think. Was pretty crucial to getting the worlds to work together back in the day. I don't really understand how it works."

I nodded. Sounded legit. "Number two, then. What happened to all those guards at the detention centre?"

I saw Cal's jaw clench and he gazed out at the vehicles zipping through the sky. "I took them somewhere else."


"They won't be coming back."

"No," I said quietly, "I thought they probably wouldn't."

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