The girl from the fifth planet

The dress – of a crepeish material and the green of slow light slipped, puddle-soft, to the bottom of a pond – had fallen from her shoulder. James could see the mark.

He had been looking eight years and a dozen worlds. Through deserts and oceans; under incense-clouded canvas and starry skies. In crowded basement bars beneath the playgrounds of the mega-rich: sky-tall palaces with penthouses in which oxygen masks (or hybrid lungs) were necessary accessories. And here she was, at last, with the nine dark dots across her pale skin and, flaring around the fifth, a star to guide her home.

The third planet

On Yadyniar, a small lush planet third from the star in a solar system not unlike our own, water is turned on its head. Damp days start as glistening concrete, fleck-speckled grass, before the clouds break through the pale sunlight and the uppours begin. Yadyniarians, reaching bleary-eyed around shower curtains, are stung not by cold spray from above but by an upward attack, square in the face. Geysers are unremarkable. Rivers start in gaping estuaries and spin their way into hills and mountains, giving more and more of themselves to the land until, drawn out, they put themselves to bed.