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the condition or process of deterioration with age.

When you're a kid, five years might as well be a lifetime. A five year old can't wrap their little head around being ten anymore than a fifty year old can understand being one hundred. The years get smaller as you get older, though, I've realised. Age fifteen to twenty is a big deal: it certainly was for me, as I ended up triggering a pan-dimensional revolution. Try it.

Once you hit your twenties and beyond, five years starts to shrink. And so the five years since I stood in the gardens below the Aviary and spoke to hundreds of thousands of people seems like I blinked and it happened. It also exists in another part of my brain, compartmentalised away. Some days it risks becoming something which happened to somebody else. It's hard to reconcile those heady days of optimistic dissent with what's come after.

There was a flash of blue sparks before me and then I was caught in a giant bear hug of an embrace. "Kay," Cal said, holding me by the shoulders as he took a step back and grinned. "Thanks for coming." He was my ride, given that he was still the only route in and out of Red. He looked older, with hair receding a little and that vital blue glow in his eyes perhaps slightly less effervescent. We'd all been busy, him included, and none of us were getting any younger. Even my hair had started to get a little brittle and thin.

"You look well," he said.

I raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, yeah," I retorted. "I look stressed. This changing the world business really isn't like the jobs I did at the cinema as a teenager."

"Takes it out of you, right?"

"Like nothing else."

Cal checked out his surroundings. We were standing in an empty field, with a handful of farm buildings a little ways off. "You ready to go now?"

"Sure thing."

I held onto his arms as the world flattened

and we popped out on the other side, standing in the glorious square in Cord beneath the World's Council building.

The lift whisked us up from the square, high above the streets which dropped away as I gazed out of the glass walls. Cord was as beautiful as ever. It's funny how the council had always been in this towering building, which cast a shadow over the city, but it never felt like an imposing, monolithic eye of subjugation like the Aviaries on Locque. The World Council here on Red was a beacon of light, shining out in all directions. As people walked the streets and caught a glimpse between the glass canyons they saw hope and possibility. The power of the place flowed outwards and was shared with everyone.

"How are things?" he asked as we ascended. "How is Marv?"

Marv. Shit. I allowed myself a slow sigh. "Marv is doing fine," I said, "that's what I hear. It's pretty rare that we get to talk. He's been Earth-side for almost two years now."

"That long? Must be hard. Are you two still...?"

I laughed sharply and shrugged. "Yeah, in theory," I said. "But we're on hold. It was us or unification, you know? We could have left it to other people, but it seemed like it was our responsibility after everything."

He nodded. "Don't want others fucking it up. I know that feeling."

We stepped out of the lift and into the wide, open plan area that constituted the World's Council foyer. It was all shiny and metal and transparent surfaces, with posters and statues dotted about the place representing key moments from the history of Red and its sister world. It was bustling, with people darting here and there, disappearing into lifts and offices.

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