His first impressions were of a dark wet street, with buildings on either side – high blocks of black windows and walls – and a continual sense of shadow. Of course, the shadows were more illusory than real, for here there could be no sun. His boots rang on the sunken rivets of the paving.
Eventually he came to a tall iron door, with an intercom tube beside it. He pressed on the bell, but heard nothing from within. After waiting a little longer he pressed again. At this, the stained and discoloured video monitor beside the door crackled into life, and he saw the face of a young woman appear. Her hair had been cropped close to the skull, which gave her something of the appearance of a porcupine – an impression assisted by her sunken cheeks and forward-tilted face. Only her head and shoulders were visible, and she was wearing, from what he could see, a rumpled white singlet. She looked as though she had just been awakened from sleep.
“Sorry to disturb, but orders given to report to Building 7, quadrant 34. This is?”
She knuckled her eyes a little and gave a great yawn before replying: “Sorry, yeah. This is Building seven. But I don’t think … we weren’t told anything about you.”
“Orders given. May I come in?”
“Ah … dunno really. Where’re we gonna put you?”
She seemed to be speaking to herself, rather than continuing the conversation. He looked at his watch. The figure it showed was, of course, quite meaningless: a set of arbitrary numbers. He had not yet been issued with a sidereal chronometer, indispensable for the Stations. This was, it seemed, the middle of the night – or possibly, given the girl’s disorientation, the deepest hours of sleep before morning.
Misinterpreting his gesture, the girl frowned slightly and rapped out, “Well, anyway, you can’t stay out there. ‘Orders given,’ you say. I don’t know who the fuck you are, or why we haven’t had any orders about you, but you’d better come in.”
The screen died back into greyness and a short buzzing noise supervened. At once he was transported back to another apartment building, aeons away in