Chapter 28

An Illusion of Paradise

Dante sat at the back of the shuttle carriage, watching the trail of lights map out their journey on a nearby wallscreen. Contrary to initial assumptions, their ship had not arrived in Avalon, but at a Seelie outpost on the island of Dartmoor. Avalon was located some thirty-seven kilometres further west, on the isle of Bodmin. Their shuttle, speeding through the underground, would see them there in ten minutes.

Although similar in design, with clusters of seats around cellular tables, the shuttle lacked the dragon-ship’s luxuries. There were no menus, no offers of nourishment or entertainment, no windows looking out upon a fabricated landscape of calm oceans and blue skies — just simple maps, weather reports, and a Seelie news feed reporting on an outbreak of conflict on the island of Exmoor to the north. As the report cut to scenes of Seelie officers launching an offensive against what looked like an oversized bear crossed with an armoured scorpion, Theseus Armstrong interjected with his own colourful commentary. He’d seen it all before, of course, both as a soldier for the Torsten militia and field reporter for Veritas.

His commentary stumbled, however, when the camera turned to a second beast, almost as massive as the first, its naked chest bristling with scars and its hair a wild mane of fire, hunching down to discuss battle strategies with the weary officers. When the report  began cutting between footage of the ensuing battle and a follow-up interview with that same beast — the ‘Impenetrable Stone’ Keith Rockshard, according to the caption— Dante had to wonder if he was watching some fabricated fantasy show, the sort of make-believe farce that Joel Gibson took for quality entertainment. Was it any wonder the Sophists put such strict sanctions on what the Theatre could broadcast?

Dante glanced at the map. They were almost halfway to Avalon. The sooner he could escape the shuttle’s cramped confines and breathe fresh air again, the better.

The next report started up, but this time it was Byron d’Arcadie’s turn to address the carriage, and with far greater theatrics than Theseus could ever muster. As a spokesman for Seelie’s Antarctic operations unit addressed concerns about the snow-laden continent’s perpetual night, the poet jabbed an accusatory finger at the nearest screen.

This sort of thing,” he lifted his voice to fill the carriage, “is why I find myself questioning the priorities of our benevolent overseers. How often must we hear of these people, be they of Seelie or Cities, with technology to work miracles unparalleled, yet no care to bestow their gifts upon those that need it most?”

It was one of those rants Byron had trialled out on Dante numerous times over dinner and poetry critique sessions. Unwilling to upset his one source of sedatives and stimulants, Dante had never done much besides nod his head and mumble his agreement. From the way they were reacting, Byron’s peers had learned to do the same thing. Even Phoenix Rogan kept her lips clenched tight, though she allowed herself a disapproving glare in the poet’s general direction. She knew there was no point in arguing with Byron d’Arcadie. They all did.

Except, it seemed, for Chris Shaw. Clearing his throat and raising a hand, the Malkuthian drew Byron’s attention his way. “I think you should look into the Prometheus Clause,” he said.

Apologies for the delay: I’ve come down with a virus, so I had lots of fun polishing this up.