Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Bloody hell but it’s a long way down.

It always gets to me at least once each shift. Burlaria has a vast atmosphere envelope. The result of it becoming the capital of the Nineteen Worlds was a huge increase in population. As the planet prided itself on the beauty of its natural countryside, something had to be done.

An architect called Gingky came up with the idea of ‘Skyspires’. Vast tower blocks, supported by the latest in deep space technology and each independently powered by the gravitic core housed at the apex of the tower. Which allowed the core to be jettisoned into orbit with ease in the event of an emergency.

The idea swept all before it and within the constraints imposed by the physics involved, each Skyspire was permitted to be individual in appearance and style. Kilnrock looks like a classic evil wizard’s tower from old fantasy tales. Orbitville is the preferred habitat for spacers. There are six hundred Skyspires and they themselves have become a tourist destination: airships full of sightseers take tours around them, snapping movies and stills of the light shows, inlaid designs and, my personal favourites: the gargoyles.

The gargoyle had been a mountain dwelling winged predator in danger of extinction. Burlaria had tried so many times to halt the decline of these long-lived, magnificently ugly, stony-skinned pre-sentients. They were unique in the experience of the NWFPC – Nineteen Worlds Fauna Protection Council – but that uniqueness doomed them. There were no applicable behavioural or environmental models to adapt.

Then the Skyspire I’m on today, Lifespear, was completed. Within a month, there were sightings of gargoyles in the uppermost zones. Investigation showed gargeries in numbers never before seen.

The height was the thing. When Burlaria had been discovered, it had gigantic polyps drifting in the high sky. They were part edible, part refinable and part weavable. The rest was top-grade fertiliser. Extinction occurred before controls could be introduced.

It seems that the gargoyles needed the polyps to lair and reproduce, high above the highest-flying competing raptor species.

Skyspires gave them back their havens and their population has recovered, with divergent species and variants still being catalogued, eight decades later.

Something small, fluorescent and purple hurtles past me, a vicious rattle emanating from its throat sacs.

“Leave me be, you ugly son of a gull!”

I patch my video feed directly to ‘Gargoyle Central’, as we call the NWFPC watch station here.

“Gail, darling. What’s glowing purple and wants to eat my eyes?”

“Casey, that’s a broodmother of the Lesser Mauve Tyrant subspecies. Very, very rare. If she’s threatening you, you must be near a newly-established gargery. So stop what you’re doing.”

A gargery? Made from excreted resin and scavenged rubbish in whatever aperture appealed.

“Gail. Is this species a hot laying or cold laying one?”

“Hot. Why?”

“I’ll come back in, but you have to call Lifespear Maintenance and tell them exactly why their expensive contracted external works engineer will not be clearing the heat exchanger on level seventeen-hundred, but will still be charging them his premium callout rate.”

She’s laughing as she replies: “Done.”

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