25: The Morning After
The logo faded to a scene of cerulean waves lapping against an ivory beach. It was like something out of a painting, a vision of the world as it might have been, thousands of years ago, before Theia’s descent drove the oceans into a cataclysmic frenzy.
Then, with a gaggle of childish laughter, a young woman stumbled into view, her bronze skin glistening beneath the unseen sun, bare but for the slightest of modesties. A man chased after her, toned and handsome, a paragon of Olympian strength. As the camera moved away, they fell into the sand together, hands groping, grasping one another. Dante turned away, flashes of backroom sofas and awkward fumbling rising from the abyss of forgotten shame.
“Avalon,” intoned a kind, feminine voice, “the paradise you always dreamed of, but never thought real.”
With a slice of her baton, Phoenix paused the presentation just as a flare of sunlight peeked out from behind a towering shard of mirrored crystal. “We acquired this propaganda piece early this morn,” she announced. “Avalon is an isolated holiday resort located some two-hundred forty miles southwest-by-west of here. It has technological advances on par with the Third Terrace of Malkuth and supports a currency-free vendor culture.” She turned her dark eyes on Emily. “Ms Fomalhaut, as an immigrant from the Third Terrace, I figured you might have something to say about this, yes?”
Emily, twiddling her bronze thumbs, retreated behind a sweep of sky-blue hair, her lips clasped so tight Dante worried she might bite them off. Before Phoenix could counter her silence with some self-assured snark, Byron sat forward and gestured to the screen with the end of his pipe.
“The luxuries of the Third Terrace command a high price,” he said, brow furrowed. “I doubt all the citizens of Torsten herself could muster up the karma required for even one person’s entry, let alone near three dozen of us.”
Dante shifted in his seat, reminded of his childish hopes of one day reuniting with his mother in the garden paradise atop Malkuth. In reality, even had he survived the journey south, he would have struggled to escape the suburbs of the First Circle, those dense ghettos of wouldbes and wannabes desperate to earn themselves a foothold on the mountain climb to paradise. To reach even the Third Terrace would have taken him a lifetime—perhaps even several lifetimes.
Because, unlike his mother, he was nobody special.
“Eeexactly,” said Phoenix, nostrils flaring. She twirled her baton at the screen and the video continued at double-speed, bombarding the lowly initiates in their Seelie-grown apartment with images of abundance and luxury, of a world where nobody could want for anything. Pastel villas overlooked streets paved in tiles of gold and silver, water clear as crystal flowed down long canals beneath bridges of starlight, and emerald fields stretched across an infinite horizon, split by trees so vast they could have reached the stars. And then there were the people, the beautiful, perfect people with their sparkling smiles and silken hair, never too many of them to look intimidating, but enough to assure you that you would never want for company or companionship.
It looked impossible, and yet there it was. Sufficiently advanced technology. The Paradise Dante had always dreamed about, and but hours away.
With another slice of her baton, Phoenix brought the presentation to a close. “A high price indeed,” she said, “and one I am reluctant to contemplate. However, I believe it in your best interests to know the truth, so that you can decide your future before it is too late.”
O brave new world, that has such people in’t!