Chapter 1

The Girl from the Sky

A hundred-three thousand, two-hundred and seventy-two kilometres.

Once again, the results tallied with the City’s calculations. Unlike people, the numbers from Dante’s telescope did not lie. As they had for the two months since he started his measurements, the facts defied the fantasy. Catastrophe was still a thousand years away, not days. If only people would listen.

Theia hung low over the eastern horizon, a devil’s grin of a crescent, deep lacerations scarring its corpse-grey surface. For over four billion years, that giant sphere of rock served as the Earth’s constant companion on its voyage through the cosmos. Its cycle of waxing and waning, apogee and perigee influenced countless civilisations throughout the ages — and none more so than the present.

Let Theia fall.

So went the words that brought madness to many. They believed that a moon’s momentum could perish overnight, that some inescapable cataclysm was near at hand, but Dante knew better; Dante knew the truth. He had the proof right there in front of him, arranged in neat rows and columns on his cellular’s hexagonal screen. The laws of physics did not bend on a whim. This was the real world, not some simulated fantasy.

If only people would listen.

With a yawn, Dante scratched his sandpaper stubble. It was half four in the morning and he needed stimulants. He gestured his cellular to return to its base form and let it meld to the back of his hand, then swigged a mouthful of coffee from his battered flask. Torsten was peaceful at this time of morning, as the nearby forest sung in the sunrise, ignorant of the fears that drove so many people underground. His rooftop view of the reclaimed surface, the glints of summer gold in the fields, the night fleeing across vast stretches of wilderness left untouched by human hands, was almost enough to get him painting again.

He shook the urge from his head — he had to focus on more important things. Feeling the tremble of caffeinated rejuvenation, he turned back to his telescope. It was about time to store it away for the day.

She stood there in silence, a figure unlike any he had seen outside of dreams, slender and tall with skin so pale it could never have seen the sun. Her fibre optic hair danced in an unseen wind and her unblinking eyes studied him like a pair of full moons.

“You shall satisfy our curiosity,” she said, her voice somewhere between childish innocence and the snobbish self-assurance of the Sophist Aristocracy. “Share with us all you know of ‘Theia’.”

As she spoke, Dante felt a chill, as if every molecule of his body had frozen inside a heartbeat. In that fraction of a moment he was somewhere else, in a world so blinding he felt as if his body would melt away. A thousand voices rose from the brilliant abyss to sing their questions.

With a sudden jolt, he stumbled backwards, limbs pricking and numb. He grabbed the parapet that ran along the edge of the roof and cursed his incompetence; he’d fallen asleep, if only for an instant. It was just like his dreams to mock him with the fantasies of his childhood, images of the magical Sidhe plucked from his mother’s bedtime stories, of the Malkuthian beauty who descended from the heavens to save her.

“It seems he is less capable than I presumed.”

The girl was still there, wearing a frown that brought to mind images of Phoenix Rogan, reprimanding him for his poor scores at the Theatre. “Very well. If you cannot share your knowledge, you shall have to speak it, as inefficient as that may be.”

Dante steadied himself against the wall. Thoughts raced through his head, possibilities, explanations, but before any of them could take hold, he reached for the slither of Alchemium that arched across the bridge of his nose. With a tap, the intelligent material formed a smooth pair of lenses that bathed his vision in a vibrant field of augmented information. He focused its sensors on the girl.

Nothing. It was as if she wasn’t even there.

With another tap, Dante’s visor returned to its dormant form. Assuming he wasn’t dreaming, he figured she had to be some kind of advanced technology, an immaterial projection of light that took the form of an elfin girl in — was that forest garb? No, it was starting to make sense now — it was a Malkuthian dress, a subtle second skin designed for efficiency, yet with a certain impossible flair. She watched him with an expectant scowl, a look of impatience snatched from the faces of half a dozen women he’d known. He wondered why she was here.

“You want to know about Theia, right?” It seemed as good a place as any to start.

“That is correct.”

He glanced over his shoulder at its waning grin. “Well, it’s a moon.”

“What is?”

For those who are unaware, the Moon is presently around 350,000 to 400,000 km away.

Yeah, shit happened.