45: The Hardest Word
He set the vendor to recycle and watched, ashen-faced, as it refused to disassemble Joel’s mess. Alchemium only, it stated. Reconstruction of matter was limited to underground refineries. Even Avalon’s technology had its limits.
After throwing the empty boxes across the kitchen floor, Dante paced into the lounge and collapsed into the sofa.
Shelley Eoghan. There was a time when she would have come to Dante for help, bringing him outlandish stories to illustrate. That time, however, was long past. These days, Shelley avoided him whenever possible. He had rejected her stories for the words of the Saptamatrikas and she had never forgiven him for it. Asking for her help now would be like asking Astrid Guirlande for dance lessons — a foolish endeavour that would end in a silent sneer of dismissal.
Dante was considering asking Joel if he had any drugs that might help — after all, his only real successes had come whilst under the influence of sedatives — when the apartment’s artificial intelligence announced he had an incoming call.
From Rembrandt Payne.
“Hello there!” The Chief of Torsten’s Seelie troupe greeted him from the comfort of his office with a cheery wave. “I thought I’d see how you were. Everything healed?”
“Yeah,” Dante replied, clutching his arms around his chest. His injuries, and his time in the hospital, felt like they happened in some other lifetime, not a day previous.
“Excellent,” said the Chief. “And how better to celebrate than with a nice cup of tea!”
A chime rang through the apartment and a screen by the front door announced that, of all people, Dante’s housemate Denny was waiting outside with a tray of tea and biscuits.
“Chief Payne sent me,” she said, handing it over.
“Thanks,” said Dante.
Without another word, Denny turned on her heels and strode off. Dante returned to the lounge and, with a rattle of china, placed the tray down on the table.
“It’s all natural, of course,” said the Chief, raising his own cup in toast. “Help yourself!”
The teapot was warm to the touch. Tentatively, Dante poured himself a cup and added a trio of sugar cubes from the supplied bowl. He wasn’t much of a tea drinker, but Lira Byrne had forced a few mugs down him over the time they’d spent living under the same roof.
He lifted the cup to his lips but, just before he could take his first taste, he stopped and realised how surreal this all was: Rembrandt Payne watching him, a giant painted across the wall, Denny Odette supplying him with tea and biscuits without the slightest hint of synthetic matter, not even in the crockery — it was like something out of a dream…
There’s also an old draft of this scene, but it involves Byron. I should dig these things out and archive them, or something.