Chapter 45

The Hardest Word

Dante loitered a step beyond the door’s sensor range. Avalon’s illusionary sun had just cleared the edge of its illusionary ocean, a yellowish light bulb floating over a pool of purified water. Around him, invisible clusters of Aethex helped transfer the sensation of morning warmth to his scrubbed clean skin. His hair, still damp, rustled in their breeze.

With a deep breath to calm his nerves, he stepped forward and the apartment doors opened in welcome. Chris Shaw’s archaic decor, with its polished bookshelves and leather upholstery, was waiting for him, as was a pile of grease-stained pizza boxes and empty bottles. Out of sight from the hallway, down at the far end of the lounge, an unfamiliar female voice mused about “complications”. Dante, wishing to avoid any unnecessary encounters, made for the stairs past the kitchen — but even an invisibility cloak would have had trouble fooling the woman watching him from the lounge wall, her face that of a giant’s, her eyes alive with golden specks of augmentation.

Chris Shaw, sat at a table in front of the screen, looked over his shoulder. “Ah, and this would be Dante,” he said. “Remember, the one with that quaint invisibility cloak I told you about?”

“Hello, Dante,” said the woman. She looked to be a year or two older than Chris was — eighteen or nineteen, perhaps — with a deep, bronze tan to compliment her Malkuthian eyes, and thick, layered hair the colour of autumn leaves.

“This,” said Chris, “is my sister, Serendipity.”

“Thank you, Christophoros.”

Sitting opposite Chris, shuffling a deck of cards between his nimble fingers, Lance Algar struggled to contain a snigger. Chris shot him a glare, then turned back to his sister’s looming visage.

“At any rate, I think we’ve about covered the important details,” he said.

“Just don’t get your hopes up,” she replied. “And at least try to stay out of trouble. I’m supposed to be the irresponsible younger sibling, remember?”

After saying a flustered goodbye and cutting the connection, Chris turned to Dante and gestured towards the table, where Lance was dealing out his cards into two even piles. “Would you care to join?” he asked. “It’s a good way to take your mind of things.”

Dante, who had better things to do than play card games, turned to leave — and stumbled into the pile of discarded pizza boxes.

“You can blame Joel and friends for the mess,” said Chris. “I don’t think they took the news about Emily too well.”

If you think ‘Christophoros’ is bad, you should see his full name!