Lines of inheritance

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Having decided to let inexplicable, confounding new things wash over him, Tarn took much of Aviar in his stride, even while it by turns alarmed, confused and stunned his companions. He was used to feeling like the only person who didn't understand how the world worked; it was a curious feeling to be on the same level as them for the first time.

The descent from the airy streets and parks to the outskirts, past the enormous turbines holding the city aloft and back down through the cloud layer he therefore took in his stride, observing the ground below as it came up to meet them. The fog had lifted slightly, allowing a better view around the circumference of the crater. At height, it seemed less circular and he thought he could perhaps make out the imprint of the floating city, as if it would be possible to slot Aviar neatly back into place. The ground rose up unevenly the further he looked from the crater's edge and was pockmarked with dark patches, which must have been the caves they'd been told about. The air was oddly still around the disc, even while the mists swirled about them.

when he'd woken, Kirya and Fenris at his bedside, for a few moments he had been unable to recall where he was or how he'd got there. The bed was comfortable but unfamiliar, the room even more so, with its bright, translucent columns and white, clouded ceiling that seemed to suggest something above without it being truly visible. It was only when he'd wobbled to his feet, aided by Kirya, and had made his way to the window that his memory jogged and he remembered the floating city. How could he ever have forgotten, even for only a moment?

The city gleamed, vehicles flying back and forth and disappearing into openings on the larger buildings. Some of the vehicles were deceptively simple, like the disc they had arrived on, while others were more recognisable, enclosed and with a cabin and top deck. There were even airships to be seen which were more like the ones in the valley. It was a city out of a dream - in fact, it occurred to him that he most likely had seen this in a dream, before ever knowing of its existence - and he started to feel that same urging, clinging sense of belonging that he'd experienced a couple of times since escaping the machine rooms. Perhaps this was where he'd find a home, and family. He had looked at Kirya, stood beside him holding his arm, and wondered whether she would one day be family. Perhaps she already was - he'd spent longer with her and Fenris than anyone he'd known outside of the machine rooms: far longer than he'd been with Wide Riley and the others. He was unsure how you knew who was family; time spent with them didn't quite seem right.

His thoughts drifted back to Fiffdee, and a pang of guilt settled into the back of his mind. He hadn't thought about his friend for longer than he could remember. Had it been days, or weeks? Tarn wondered if that made him a bad person. Perhaps he didn't deserve a family, or friends, if he couldn't even hold them in his mind.

"How are you feeling?" asked Kirya, pulling him back to the present. They were coming in for a landing near the entrance to one of the caves, which was larger than he'd expected. Flickering lights could be seen within the cave's mouth, some moving.

"Better," Tarn said. "I'm looking forward to understanding everything."

Kirya raised her eyebrows and smiled. "I don't know about everything," she said, "but I'd settle for something."

"I wish Tranton had come with us," Tarn said, feeling their companion's absence even more now that they were back at ground level. The explorer had remained on the floating city, refusing to be seen or talk to anyone.

Fenris put a hand on Tarn's shoulder. "He's chosen his own path," he said gently. "Give him time."

Akila, still their guide, led them across the rock-strewn ground and into the cave. Tarn couldn't suppress a growing anxiety at being underground again, even with the entrance so near, and had a flash of fear that he was being led back into the machine rooms. Again, he wished Tranton was there. If only he hadn't tried to attack Aera! He should have known that was a bad thing to do, inside her own house. Then again, Kirya had tried to explain that Tranton had been intending to help him, and that it was a misunderstanding. As with so many things, it made little sense to Tarn.

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