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Aphiemi Station, the Cloud

Present Day

In a bustling way-station a long way from the remains of Earth, a greasy-haired man leaned out over a rooftop. His long brown coat billowed about his legs, threatening to pull him over. The street far below was starting to fill with people going to work: broad-shouldered petradons ploughing through crowds of smaller creatures, stossven clattering about with their hard edges and faulk slipping through the mass with long bobbing strides.

The air was thick and hot. Cold breezes whistled by occasionally, sharp and thin, but it only made the heat harder to ignore. It pressed in, drawing out sweat and letting it sit on the skin. A drop ran down the man's nose and itched, then fell. It jostled back and forth through the air, dragged down fast by the heightened gravity, before bursting against the pavement. He tilted forwards.

'Daedalus,' said a voice from under his coat, 'I can see you.'

Daedalus lifted his hand and scratched his jaw, which was patchy with stubble. The little purple locket over his heart buzzed, demanding an answer.

'I –' he tried. He cleared his throat. 'I'm fine.'

'I'm sure,' said the locket. 'You know how high the gravity is here. You wouldn't want an accident, would you?'

Daedalus poked his toe over the edge of the building.

'No,' he said, 'no accidents.'

'I'll be done soon,' she said. 'I'd hate to have to leave without you.'

'Right.' Daedalus looked up. Far above him, clouds rolled against the ceiling, crashing into each other in slow motion, bursting apart and giving way to steel spires that ran down to the deck, rivers of people flowing around their bases. Light drones buzzed halfway up, lamps dangling on strings. The moment passed, and Daedalus, who had been feeling a comfortable lightness, settled back into his usual self and his headache returned. He picked up his bottle and made for the door leading back down to the street.

'Where are you going?' asked the locket.

'Nowhere.' He moved through the hotel lobby, past the snoring concierge, and emerged into the street. 'I don't know.'

A security camera atop a nearby pylon suddenly jolted and spun to watch him.

'Just be careful, dear,' she said. 'I need you.'

Daedalus shuddered at her words, picked a direction and started walking.

'How long?' he asked. A nearby faulk gave him a sharp look from under her feathers and shook her head, walking faster.

'Two hours, maybe more. This boy you left me with doesn't know what he's doing.'

A while, then. Daedalus kept walking.

The world had changed. It was gone, for a start, and the people on it had been scattered to the stars. Their children's children were now the underfoot nuisance in a galaxy of bigger, stronger and wealthier peoples. Daedalus hadn't seen another human in three weeks. He hadn't talked to one in four months. When humans did pass, there was a flash of recognition, an exchanged glance, but nothing more. Any shared experience there once was had worn away.

Daedalus racked his soggy brain. There was a bar nearby, he was sure. Somewhere. He fumbled for a cigarette and pushed it between his cracked lips. It lit itself with a click and buzzed, spilling sweet-smelling white vapour into the dim station air. Daedalus let out a long, slow sigh.

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