Joe emerged from the labyrinthine depths of the paper mines under Corporea, blinking against the glare of the sun he knew once upon a time in his green days. Emerged into the city, emptied of its citizens, newspapers fluttering like damaged birds along deserted streets. One week after the last ship had gone.
"HELLO," Joe called out, because it made sense to advertise his presence.
HELLO echoed around him, from the glass towers. From the blacknesses of concrete parkades.
Joe caught a passing newspaper page. It was from the Daily's Sports section. He released it. It veered away on the breeze up from the flashing bay before the city. He blinked, spun, raced after the sports page.
The page had rejoined the flock of newspaper pages. All whirled away up the street, formerly the heart of the city's financial district, where trash and street people would promptly have been swept away just one week ago. Buckie Rogers, coach of the Slammers, grinned at intervals from the tumbling sports page. It was the glimpsed story, though, Joe wanted so to read, to properly comprehend.
The flock of papers swirled left, ducked Joe's hand to the right, lifted over dusty cars parked along the road edge, passed expired parking meters. Buckie Rogers grinned, twirled high. Joe wasn't going to catch him, not that sports page. The flock swung right on Hornby on the sea breeze striking the facade of the Royal Bank at the top of the street.
Rasping for breath, Joe stooped over, hands on his knees. A lifetime toiling in Corporea's paper mines hadn't prepared him for athletics. His shirt stuck to his back.
Joe felt a warm puff on his seaward ear he took for the breeze from the bay once crowded with sailboats. Then another warm puff. It wasn't the sea breeze. A dog waited by him on the empty street. A mutt of a dog about knee-high, with wiry grey fur in need of brushing. And gleaming grey eyes. It watched him. Its tail hung, like it hadn't decided yet if it would wag it.
"You never would've caught it," it said.
Joe's mouth fell open.
"Not on your two legs. I might've. I have four, you see."
Joe swallowed. "Buckie Rogers. Something about evacuation. Team training. Lower gravity, I dunno."
"Everybody left. Forgot to feed me. Will you feed me?"
Joe blinked at the dog's shining eyes. "Yeah. Sure. Whatever."
The dog wagged its tail, just the once. "Then I'll call you Master. We should really be running. Now. Fast as your two long legs might carry you. Before the noisy thing comes."
"Wha...?" But then Joe straightened up, saw an odd something, in the sky high overhead. A deeper blue something against the familiar blue sky. And big as a city. The hairs prickled up Joe's neck.
"You don't hear it? Must be your human ears. I've been hearing it for weeks."