1: The Girl from the Sky
“Bad memories,” he replied.
There was something about her expression that frightened him even more than the name he feared to think, a look of eager excitement that brought back memories of Katrina Ritches, his surrogate sister for as long as he could remember, preparing to shoot down one of his arguments. “Show me,” she said, as she took another step forward.
Dante felt the edges of the moment start to freeze and backed away as far as the parapet would allow. Something about those eyes told him that, if she wanted to, she could dive inside his head and excavate anything she wanted, no matter how obscure or repressed. Quickly, he formulated a logical explanation: she could create a connection to his mental functions like those employed by simulated reality units. He rubbed the back of his neck, just to make sure she hadn’t planted a temporary link without him knowing. He was clean.
The girl hovered there for a moment more, eyes screwed up in focused concentration, then withdrew with a sad sigh. “There is no need to be so unfriendly,” she said. Her eyes skimmed to her right. “I am not overstaying my welcome.”
Dante thought she was.
“You should be honoured by my presence!”
He checked his neck a second time.
The girl pursed her lips. “I only wish to help you,” she said, her earnest tone almost convincing him to give her a chance to do exactly that. Before she could take advantage of that smallest of cracks in his conviction, a harsh voice ripped through the morning air.
“Dammit, Orpheus,” cried Lira Burn from somewhere inside the rooftop garden, “what have I told ye about leaving the feckin’ shed door open? Ye’ll be getting me tools nicked!”
With a look of delighted surprise, the mysterious girl pirouetted, and then she was gone.
Lira’s voice soon followed. “Oh gods, what the feck’re you after?”
Before the stranger could ask Dante for help in dealing with his abrasive housemate, he pulled his cloak around him and vanished from sight. Yet even hidden beneath a veil of technology he felt exposed, as if those eyes could pierce even the most advanced of Malkuthian tricks.
Of course, if she were a Malkuthian trick herself, it at least made sense. Assuming, of course, that Dante’s theory was right. A whisper in the back of his mind suggested otherwise, but Dante had long ago learned to ignore such things. Logic always trumped fantasy.
If only people would listen.
‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Therefore, a sufficiently advanced society should no longer believe in magic.’
—The Credo of the Saptamatrikas
The words hung on the Tablet’s surface, a black blemish of truth on a smooth plane of white. Dante pondered them as he sat at his desk, watching as the morning sun kissed the City’s distant peak. There was no place for silly superstitions in the great mountain pyramid of Malkuth, no time for uninformed fears of falling moons or childish fantasies of supernatural spirits. Its people used technology to further their understanding of the world, not enslave others in ignorance.
And, one day, once he had proven himself worthy, Dante would join them — them, and his mother, in the place where there was no darkness.
A place so unlike his hometown as to be another world.
Dante’s view of Torsten was not a pleasant one. His window looked south, towards the City, but before that, and before the wilderness that he would one day traverse, lay a maze of derelict streets and a grey moat of rubble around the twisted carapace the townsfolk called ‘the Scar’. The Scar was a dirty grey dome a good fifty metres tall that encased a slice of the town in a permanent twilight, serving as a constant reminder of the lunacy that gripped the outside world. Just as people thought Theia about to fall on their heads, so too did they believe the Scar some cursed, haunted tomb, left there by some wicked power or demonic influence.
Dante figured otherwise. After all, sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic, and if humanity had the means to build a mountain-sized pyramid whose upper terraces reached into the clouds, then something like the Scar was a trivial feat indeed. All it took was for some Malkuthian technology to fall into the wrong hands — and there were plenty of wrong hands out here in the Fifth Circle, four walls removed from the City’s sanctuary.
How many fingers am I holding up, Dante?