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Episode 19

Killing the Dream

In the Palace:

“If this dream is one we can kill, we should kill it, O my Peers,” said, or sang, Ao Aoen, and several voices and images of light flowed from his figure. “Our own self-preservation, and the protection of our beloved Golden Oecumene from the horror of war—a horror only we are old enough to recall—both urge us to the tourney against this archangel of fire whom we so fear that we dare not say his name. Our cause is just; but is our strength equal to the task?

“Convince me, O Peers, that the Hortators will aid rather than oppose our efforts to smother the fire of the soul of man—and my fickle convictions may change again. My empire of dreams can reach into the thoughts and smiles of millions; convince me it can be done, O Helion, that you can wrestle with this spiritual fire as you once tamed the fires of the sun. With—oh, of course!—a happier outcome than that event brought forth!”

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Phaethon put in a call to his mansion. “Rhadamanthus! Rhadamanthus! I know the Silver-Gray protocols don’t let you manifest in a way that jars the scenery; but this is an emergency. Something odd happened to me this night; I need your help to find the answers.”

His sensorium signaled to admit a new object. A moment later, out of the high clouds behind him, surrounded with a roaring engine noise, a small black shape darted on wings. It did a snap-roll and came closer, till it paralleled Phaethon’s plunging descent.

It was a penguin wearing bow tie, aviator goggles, and a long white scarf. The penguin’s stubby wings were spread, its bullet head thrown back, its little beak cutting the air. A contrail of vapor issued from its little webbed feet.

“Oh, come now, Rhadamanthus! This blends?!”

The penguin cocked it head. “It is a bird, young master.”

“Realistic images or none at all! That’s the motto of our manor. Penguins do not fly!”

“Hmm. I hate to say it, young master, but neither do young men.”

“But—a contrail—?”

“Ah, sir, you may check my math if you like, but a penguin-shaped object traveling at this speed through this atmosphere—”

Phaethon interrupted. “Be realistic!”

“If the young master would care to look behind himself, I think he will see he has a condensation trail not unlike my own—”

“Good heavens!” Phaethon checked his sense-filter again. The penguin and its contrail were illusions, existing only in mentality. But Phaethon’s contrail was a real object. “How am I doing this? Flying without a suit, I mean.” He checked the properties value on his sense-filter again. It was real.

“If master would care to direct his attention upward, in the extremely high frequency range? …”

“I see a latticework of energy lines across the sky, from horizon to horizon … . A levitation array? But the scale is grandiose. It extends for miles. Ah … hundreds of miles. Was this all built since last night?”

“It was constructed in orbit and lowered into place, young master. A surprise for the guests!” The penguin pointed with a stubby black wing.

He continued: “The wire is buoyant, made of a newly developed material of great tensile strength and high conductivity. The dome extends over the entire Celebration grounds, from the forty-fifth to the fiftieth parallel. If the dome were permitted to relax to its natural hemispheric shape, the apex would be in the stratosphere. It is by no means the largest artificial structure on Earth—the Antarctic Winter Garden is much larger; but it will reduce the expense and trouble of air transport. I deduce the Earth-mind’s Avatar introduced microscopic assemblers into your mannequin-frame—I see traces running from your forehead into your central body—and used them to construct magnetic anchor points and induction generators. A present man could do the same with a heavy jacket of special material.”

“I’m impressed. But you sound sort of nasal, Rhadamanthus, even for a penguin.”

“It saddens me to see a way of life I like pass on, even though I am not myself alive. The new ease of air transport may decrease the advantages of telepresentation, and, over the next four centuries, reduce the prestige of the various manorial and cryptic ways of life. Including mansions like me. Heh. Ironic, isn’t it sir?”

“What’s ironic?”

“That Earthmind should give the technology to you. Not of the levitation array, of course, I just mean the anchor-and-antennae system which allows one to fly with it.”

“Give? Did you say give?”

“Yes. I’ve examined the legal channels, and there is no patent on the hardware, no copyright on the software. I’ve taken the liberty of making out an intellectual property claim in your name, sir, giving you copyright ownership.”

“Do you think She is a testing me to see if I will suppress the technology?”

“Sir, the human mind may not easily grasp the difference between a million and a trillion, but if I have the honor of being able to calculate and correlate a million times faster than a human brain; and if the Earthmind calculates at a trillion times your rate; then, quite honestly, sir, She is as incomprehensible to me as I must seem, at times, to you. I have not the faintest idea why She does anything.”

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