Orphic Phantasia

37: Chasing Emily

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Imperfections the doll behind the desk would never have. She greeted them with the forced emotion of a machine, but it was her eyes that really betrayed her true, soulless existence. The only difference between her and the synthetics that worked the island’s utility tunnels was the dress she wore, tight enough to please the clientèle but with enough exposed, pale-grey flesh to remind them she was just an AI construct in a lab-grown body. There wasn’t much sport to be had from breaking those that had no will of their own.

Chris flashed her his cellular, Meeray his equivalent. Emily, of course, didn’t need identification. She was merchandise.

Behind the desk, a giant screen played out the latest round of the underground’s gladiatorial games. Emily had counted at least three different arenas since her arrival in Bolventor, each of them defined by those four same pillars that lay behind her in the palace foyer, and above in the simulated fields of Avalon, where they took the form of oversized trees. Where these plentiful coliseums were located, however, Emily did not know. Perhaps they lay somewhere above them, on the floors between Bolventor and Avalon, or perhaps the tower burrowed even deeper into the earth, down into the places only synthetic beings could hope to survive.

As the ‘Magic Gun Alchemist’ won another victory, bringing the armoured stranger’s winning streak up to an unprecedented — according to the commentators — seven, Chris pushed a velvet pouch into Emily’s hand. “It’s just a few maku,” he said. “People will get suspicious if you’re not gambling. They might even mistake you for a wager yourself.”

Emily accepted the offer with a forced smile and slipped the pouch into Dante’s cloak pocket, where it fell next to the Saptamatrikas’ cellular and the figurine she had bought from Bolventor’s market. Next to her, Meeray watched Chris expectantly, but the Malkuthian’s generosity only extended so far.

“Don’t you have an account of your own?” he asked, as they stepped up to the elevator that would carry them to the casino above.

“I have always accepted my payment via other means,” Meeray replied, his smile as faked as Emily’s own.

“Your loss,” Chris replied.

Juxtaposition!