There is nothing soft to land on in the basement tunnel; the grey-haired woman cries out, having smashed her elbow, skull and tailbone on the cement floor after falling through from above. Mitch is luckier on his landing and his body armour cushions his joints.

A clatter of gunfire resounds and fades in the enormous space above them.

"How do we get out of here?" demands Mitch, who hasn't yet come to terms with the fact that "Mitch" is no longer his shell's name. The woman grits her teeth and hisses with pain as he pulls her upright and then to her feet. "How many people are attacking this building? How far away do we have to get? Is there a safe house? A state line we can cross?"

"I think I've fractured something. I think I'm bleeding."

"What's your name?"

"How can you not know my name?"

"What's your name?"

"...Linisd. Linisd Amarkaya."

"Linisd, we do not have time to be hurt. Tell me how we're going to get out of here."

"But you know! We went over this just a few minutes ago--"

"I don't! Which way? Left or right? We can go through walls, if that makes it any easier. Is there a vehicle? Can you drive it?"

"This way," says Linisd, pointing, and Mitch holds her tightly by the hand and sets off down the tunnel.

After a hundred yards and three right-angled turns they have reached a freight elevator. The car arrives promptly but Mitch stops her from entering. "Before we go, is there any first aid equipment around here? Medical equipment. Bandages."

"No," says Linisd. "Not here."

Mitch enters the elevator with her and lets her select the top floor. They begin to accelerate. Mitch watches the floor indicator above the door, and watches it. "That's pretty poor for a science installation," he remarks. "What about the top floor?"

"We're going to the roof."

"What's on the roof?"

Linisd hisses once more and clutches her arm. "An aircraft."

"What sort of aircraft? Can you fly it?" Linisd glares at him. "Look. I don't know who I was up until fifteen minutes ago. But that person's dead. I'm sorry that you helped write my brain over the top of his, but you did do it. You're the only scientist in this whole situation. I'm not faking it; I don't remember the plan; I don't remember any military training or flight training this other guy might have had. He is dead and I am someone else."

"Then how can you speak our language?" grunts Linisd, leaning against the wall and beginning to sweat. The adrenaline rush is wearing off and Mitch finally realises that her elbow is really quite badly damaged - she is holding her arm as if it was dead, blood is soaking through her sleeve and she recoils instinctively when he reaches for it. Not that he would have the faintest idea how to treat her.

"We've got to get you to a doctor."

"I am a doctor."

"A medical doctor! An emergency room."

"...I don't know what that means."

Mitch starts again. "...Where do people go when they have a medical emergency? You have hospitals, don't you?"

Linisd begins to turn white. "We have temples. Look, Doctor Poole has told us about the medical technology of your time, and it sounds... it sounds like magic, but here, if you get ill, a priest wraps you in holy cloths and you pray to your personal bodily fluid gods. You drink a stinking potion, and that's only if you're formally divinated as being worth healing. We only have literal magic and faith."

"This doesn't make sense. How can you have the neuroscience to bring me back and not know how to set a broken bone? You have-- I saw a spaceship down there. How can you have spaceships?"

"The machine you were inside was a computer. It's just informational plumbing. Do you know how complicated the human body is compared to the brain?"

"Up until now, I thought I did." The elevator stops. Mitch shoulders the door open manually and sees a narrow set of stairs marked as a route to the roof. He hauls Linisd along and begins to help her up the stairs. She's flagging. He keeps talking. "Do you have blood transfusions? Vaccines?"

"No. No."

Mitch fumbles with the lever on the door for a few seconds, trying to figure out how it works. Linisd eventually reaches past him and operates it for him with her good hand. Spring-loaded, designed as a fire escape, the door swings open automatically.

*

The roof of the Hall is a concrete desert - flat, exposed, windswept, scorchingly hot, dazzlingly bright, with seemingly no end in sight. There's not a cloud in the sky. There's a skylight the size of a playing field, looking down on the experiment floor. A final explosion echoes and rattles the roof under their feet, and through the skylight they see the machine which just restored Mitch, with all its major supports now bombed, disconnect from the ceiling of the lab and crumple under its own weight with a deep and drawn-out crash.

On the far side of the skylight, on triangular pads projecting out over the edge of the building, is a pair of freakish, bug-looking vehicles, which Mitch deduces are parked helicopters with their rotor blades stowed.

Mitch supports Linisd and they limp towards the nearest chopper. There is nobody around. Mitch has no idea how to fly the aircraft. He probes the deep corners of his new brain just in case there is anything left of the capable pilot whose body he has apparently inherited. Then, as they get closer to the edge of the roof, Mitch comes to see the rest of Science City.

Like every other square kilometre of planet Earth, Science City has been everything, frequently all at once: a vast engineering complex, a Holy Land, an abandoned deathtrap pile of shattered skyscrapers, a fortified haven for two thirds of a million stateless fugitives, an agricultural commune, a solar farm, a financial centre, a major calculation node for The Project, the political centre of an empire spanning entire continents, a warzone and a strategic nuclear target.

But above all things it has been a spaceport, on and off, for almost eighteen thousand years. Every civilisation growing up in the shadow of Science City has its own ideas about what it all means and what should be done with the most impressive constructions - worship them, occupy them, blow them up and carve them into pieces - but sooner or later almost everybody gets around to the idea of duplicating and refining the dreams of their predecessors. Who originally built it, even Anne Poole can't remember-- the first time she led an occupation force on it, it was already a pile of rusted wreckage and half-completed ark ships left over from the previous Crash, overgrown with vegetation and crammed full of terrified families and range weapons. All she knows is that every time she comes back it has grown, buildings bloating and gradually merging into bigger superstructures housing tens of thousands of people, and always a halo of increasingly ambitious launch platforms surrounding it.

There are shiny hangars and chemical refinery complexes bristling with antennae and solar collectors, abutting residential blocks and dusty overgrown parkland like zoning was never invented. There are roads wide enough to drive a Crawler down, fractally complex city walls and, dotted between them all, monuments, statues, blast craters and concrete sarcophagi marking ancient achievements and failures. The buildings don't fit into Mitch's brain properly - they are built according to no architectural style he can make sense of, or maybe a conflation of all styles at once. They look like CGI, not because they look unreal, but because if he was watching this in a cinema he would know that no movie studio had the budget to build it in reality. There are dozens, hundreds of rockets and launch gantries, most of them jagged grey pillars on the horizon, some of them even taller than the Hall. Even while Mitch is watching, there's a colossal BOOM as a stubby red and grey rocketship lifts off from a pad fifteen miles away and accelerates into the cloudless sky at eight gees.

The broad avenues below him are swarming with thousands of people. He sees tiny white square placards and small circles of yellow flame, petrol bombs or similar. He hears gunfire, but can't see who's shooting whom. He hears them roar and sees them surge forward as something or someone is triumphantly brought out of the main entrance. But he can't watch them. He can't keep his eyes off the climbing rocket.

Science City is in the desert. Wide flat planes, faultlessly predictable weather, close to the Equator, an ocean not far to the east for safe splashdowns. At night the gantries creak in the wind and change shape because of the cold. By day, it's huge, it's flat, it's baking hot and there's nothing underfoot but metal and rock and dust. This is hardcore spaceflight, in an environment almost as hostile as the universe gets without leaving Earth entirely. This is hardcore recycling: building vital components of your tin can from the titanium that made up the monument to four men whose own tin can blew up on the same pad one thousand, five hundred and fifty years ago. This is spaceflight for a country - a planet, even - where there's absolutely nowhere worth looking but up; for people with a primal, spiritual understanding of "because it is there" and "forever mankind"; for people who measure human achievement by their furthest living representative's distance from home.

"I'll have to fly the aircraft," Linisd croaks, "get me into-- into--" and passes out.

There's not a cloud in the sky. Just an actinic white star streaking into the stratosphere, shedding stages and already supersonic, and a blistering elliptical noonday Sun, with a luminous streamer of plasma coiling out of its chromosphere and into a vortex in space a solar diameter away.

 

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