26: Y Ddraig Goch
The centre of the table opened up and a cake, dripping with a tantalising chocolate cream, rose from unseen depths. Alonie studied it with her solitary red eye while a salivating Lance divided it into five equal portions. He wolfed down his own in two bites.
“What’s wrong?” asked Chris, as the girls stared at their own share. “Have you never tried synthesized food before? It’s perfectly safe.” As if to prove it, he picked up a slice and took a bite. “See?”
Alonie grumbled something, then swiped a finger of cream and tested it with the tip of her tongue. Noticing Chris watching her, as an artist might study the subject of a painting, she swallowed the rest then turned away, shielding her reaction with a sweep of neon-red hair.
Dante claimed his own portion but stopped short of taking a bite. He had never tried synthesized food before — even the Theatre, with all of Seelie’s resources at its command, preferred to harvest its own supplies — and there was every chance that, despite appearances, it would taste nothing like he imagined.
From elsewhere in the cabin, he heard Doyle cheer as the ship supplied him with a pint of ale and a hamburger.
Dante took the slightest bite of the cake, just enough to chew.
“What do you think?” asked Chris.
Dante swallowed, then took another, larger bite. The sponge had a soft, spongy texture and rich taste, while the cream melted in his mouth with just the right amount of sweetness. If he wanted, he could have eaten a dozen more slices and, unlike the ‘real’ thing, he knew it wouldn’t make his stomach churn with regret half an hour later. It was, in effect, perfect, and yet…
He ate the rest without comment. No, it was perfect. It was precisely what Chris had ordered and, despite appearances, despite everything his tongue told him, it wasn’t saturated with the sugars or fats of an ordinary, homemade cake. He could live off nothing else and still lead a long, healthy life. That was the wonder — the miracle — of Ambrosia. Of the Cities. Of technology, sufficiently advanced.
It was getting on for half six when the al-Hakim brothers joined the initiates, alongside Ms Espinosa and Ms Thorbjorn. While her fellow officers claimed a table at the far end of the cabin, Ms Thorbjorn called for her students’ attention. Though a soft-spoken woman in private, she knew how to address a room and everyone stopped their gossiping to listen.
“We would like to thank you all for coming on such short notice,” she said, surveying the initiates with pale blue eyes. With long curls of dark brown hair and a light tan, she had changed little from Dante’s childhood memories, save for the design of her Seelie brooch, which now marked her as a commander. “You have all faced some difficult trials this past week,” she continued, “so we hope you will enjoy this opportunity to relax before the summer term begins.”
There was a murmur from the Veritas table before Phoenix Rogan raised her hand and asked, on no uncertain terms, if that implied none of them would be graduating to the Academy. Ms Thorbjorn replied with a reassuring smile.
“I know things have been a little strange of late,” she said, “but yes, you will still be Second Class initiates when you get back.”
You may recall Ms Thorbjorn showing up in photos with Dante’s parents. He’s known her quite some time.