Just another day in utopia

(Re­posted from dis­cus­sion at com­men­ta­tor sug­ges­tion)

Think­ing of Eliezer’s fun the­ory and the challenge of cre­at­ing ac­tual utopias where peo­ple would like to live, I tried to write a light utopia for my friends around Christ­mas, and thought it might be worth shar­ing. It’s a techno-utopia, but (con­sid­er­ing my au­di­ence) it’s only a short in­fer­en­tial dis­tance from nor­mal­ity.

Just an­other day in Utopia

Ishtar went to sleep in the arms of her lover Ted, and awoke locked in a safe, in a cargo hold of a tri­plane spiral­ling to­wards a col­li­sion with the re­con­structed tem­ple of Solomon.

Again! Some­times she wished that a whole week would go by with­out some­thing like that hap­pen­ing. But then, she had cho­sen a high ex­cite­ment ex­is­tence (not max­i­mal ex­cite­ment, of course – that was for com­plete masochists), so she couldn’t com­plain. She closed her eyes for a mo­ment and let the thrill and the adrenal­ine warp her limbs and mind, un­til she felt trans­formed, yet again, into a demi-god­dess of ad­ven­ture. Drugs couldn’t have that effect on her, she knew; only real dan­ger and challenge could do that.

Right. First, the safe. She gave the in­ner door a firm thud, felt it ring like a bell, heard the echo re­turn – and felt the tum­blers move. So, sound con­trol­led lock, then. A search through her shoes pro­duced a small peb­ble which sparked as she dashed it against the metal. Try­ing to ig­nore the om­i­nous vibra­tion as the tri­plane mo­tor shook it­self to pieces, she con­structed a men­tal image of the safe’s in­side from the brief flashes of light. Sym­met­ric gold and gilded ex­trav­a­gances fes­tooned her small prison – French Baroque dec­o­ra­tions, but not yet Roc­coco. So Louis XIV pe­riod. She gave the less vis­ited parts of her mind a good dust­ing, try­ing to re­mem­ber the tunes of Jean Batiste Lully, the pe­riod’s most in­fluen­tial com­poser. She hoped it wasn’t any of his ballets; she was much bet­ter with his op­eras. The dec­o­ra­tions looked vaguely snake-like; so she guessed Lully’s ‘Per­sée’ opera, about the death of the medusa.

The en­g­ine creaked to a wor­ry­ing silence as she was half-way through hum­ming the Gor­gon theme from the opera. Rush­ing the rest of the com­po­si­tion, she felt the door shift, fi­nally, to a ten-times speeded up ver­sion of An­dromeda’s re­sponse to Perseus’s pro­posal. She kicked the door open, ex­ploded from the safe, took in the view of the tem­ple of Solomon rush­ing up to­wards her, sec­onds away, grabbed a pic­ture from the floor, grabbed an axe from the wall, hacked off one of the wings with three vi­o­lent cuts, and jumped out of the plane af­ter it.

Be­hind her, the plane dis­in­te­grated in mi­dair as the tem­ple lasers cut it to shreds and she fell through space, buf­feted by the wind, not los­ing her grip on to the man­gled wing. She had maybe thirty sec­onds to tie her­self to the wing, us­ing the ob­ject’s own can­vas as bind­ing, and she rushed through that. The Machines wouldn’t al­low the fall to kill her, of course, but it would hurt quite a bit (an­other of her choices – she’d al­lowed her­self to feel mod­er­ate amounts of pain), put back her at­tempts to ever find Ted, and, most im­por­tantly of all, be crush­ingly em­bar­rass­ing so­cially.

Once she was lashed to the plum­met­ing piece of wood and can­vas, and she was rea­son­ably con­fi­dent that the fall was slow enough, and her knots se­cure enough, she fi­nally looked at the pho­to­graph she had grabbed dur­ing her ex­plo­sive exit from the plane. It showed Ted, trussed up in chains but smil­ing and ev­i­dently en­joy­ing the novel ex­pe­rience. Un­derneath was finely en­graved note say­ing “If you ever want to see your lover again, bring me the miss­ing Stradi­var­ius by noon to­mor­row. Nero the 2nd”. Each cap­i­tal let­ter was beau­tifully dec­o­rated with heads on spikes.

So! It seemed that her mag­nifi­cent en­emy Nero had re­sorted to kid­nap­ping in or­der to get his way. It wasn’t like Nero could ac­tu­ally harm Ted – un­like Ishtar, her lover had never cho­sen to ac­cept any level of pain above mild, brief dis­com­fort. But if he was ‘kil­led’, Ted would feel hon­our-bound to never see her again, some­thing she wasn’t ready to cope with yet. On the other hand, if she gave Nero her last Stradi­var­ius, he might de­stroy it for good. It was her own choice: she had re­quested that her ad­ven­tures have real mean­ing, hence real con­se­quences. If she failed, and if Nero so choose, a small piece of hu­man­ity’s cul­tural his­tory could be de­stroyed for­ever, per­ma­nently stymy­ing her at­tempts to re­con­struct Stradi­var­ius’s vi­o­lin-mak­ing tech­niques for the mod­ern world. Cul­ture or love, what to choose? Those were her fi­nal thoughts be­fore she crashed into an oak tree shaped like a duck.

She re­turned to bleary con­scious­ness fif­teen min­utes later. Her faint­ing was a sign the Machines were only grant­ing her par­tial suc­cess in her es­cape at­tempt; she would have to try harder next time. In the mean­time, how­ever, she would have to deal with shot­gun pressed into her face and the gor­geous man at the other side of it shout­ing “Get off my prop­erty!”.

“Pause,” she said softly. The man nod­ded; she had tem­porar­ily paused her ad­ven­ture, so that she wouldn’t have to deal with dan­ger or pur­suit for the next few min­utes, and so that this guy wouldn’t have to get her away im­me­di­ately to pro­tect his prop­erty from col­lat­eral dam­age. Most Ad­ven­tur­ers dis­dained the use of the pause, claiming it ru­ined the pu­rity of their ex­pe­rience. But Ishtar liked it; it gave her the op­por­tu­nity, as now, of get­ting to know the peo­ple she bumped into. And this per­son definitely seemed to be in the ‘worth get­ting to know’ cat­e­gory. He put down his shot­gun with­out a word and picked up his paint­brush, ap­ply­ing a few more touches to the can­vas in front of him.

After dis­en­gag­ing her­self from both the man­gled wing and the duck-shaped tree (she’d have a dra­matic scar from that crash, if she choose to), she worked her way round to what he was paint­ing. It was a rather good neo-im­pres­sion­is­tic can­vas of her, un­con­scious in the tree, pieces of torn can­vas around her, framed by bro­ken branches and a con­ve­nient set­ting moon. Even with his main sub­ject out of the frame, as it were, he still seemed in­tent on finish­ing his paint­ing.

“Why did you splice your tree’s genes to make it look like a duck?” she asked, when the silence had gone on, in her es­ti­ma­tion, for ten times as long as it should have. He had done a pretty good job with that oak, in fact; the feathers and the fea­tures were clear and dis­tinct amongst the wood – or had been, un­til some­one had crashed a tri­plane wing into the mid­dle of it.

“I didn’t,” he said. “That’s nor­mal oak; I just trim and tie it.”

“But...” she looked at it again in as­ton­ish­ment; the amount of work in­volved to get that de­tail from nat­u­ral wood was be­yond be­lief. And oak wasn’t ex­actly a fast grow­ing plant… “It must have taken you decades!”

“Two cen­turies,” he an­swered with dour satis­fac­tion. “All nat­u­ral, no help from the Machines.” He waved his hand up the side of the hill. “I’m mak­ing the perfect land­scape. And then, I shall paint it.”

The lay­out was a tapestry of se­cret themes. Hedges, streams, tree-rows, path­ways, ridges and twined li­anas carved the land­scape into hid­den pock­ets of beauty. Each such pocket seemed to be a pri­vate re­treat, cut off from the oth­ers and from the rest of the world – and yet all were visi­ble at once, the lay­out a cun­ning dis­play of mul­ti­ple in­ti­macy. Here and there were for­mal gar­dens, with lines of flow­ers all at at­ten­tion, row af­ter row, shad­ing across colour and size from huge or­chids to tiny snow­drops. Some pock­ets were care­fully di­shev­el­led, mini deserts or prairies or jun­gles, perfect frag­ments of wild un­tamed na­ture that could only ex­ist at the cost of supreme ar­tifice. There were herb gar­dens, rock gar­dens, or­chards, wa­ter parks and vine­yards; mod­el­led on an­cient Per­sia, England, Ja­pan, France, Korea, Spain, the Inca and Ro­man em­pires – of those she could im­me­di­ately recog­nise.

And then a few touches of fancy, such as the seg­ment they were in, with the oaks shaped into an­i­mals. Fur­ther off, a dra­matic slew of moss-coated sculp­tures, with wa­ter pour­ing out from ev­ery nook and cranny. Then a dy­namic gar­den, with plants blast­ing each other with discharges of pol­len, set-up in a sim­ple eight-beat rhythm. And a mas­sive Baobab, its limbs plated with a for­est of tiny bon­sai trees.

“What’s your safety level for all this?” she asked. If he’d cho­sen to­tal safety, he wouldn’t have needed her off his prop­erty, as the Machines wouldn’t have al­lowed his cre­ations to be dam­aged by her ad­ven­ture. But surely he wouldn’t have left such artis­tic cre­ation vuln­er­a­ble to the fal­lout of Ad­ven­tur­ers or ran­dom ac­ci­dents...

“Zero,” he said.

“What?” No-one choose zero safety; it just wasn’t done.

“As I said, no help from the Machines.” He looked at her some­what shyly, as she stared in dis­be­lief. “It’s been de­stroyed twice so far, but I’ll see it out to the end.”

No won­der he’d wanted her out… He only had him­self to count on for pro­tec­tion, so had to chase out any po­ten­tial dis­tur­bances. She felt deeply moved by the whole grandiose, proud and quix­otic pro­ject of his. Act­ing al­most – al­most – with­out think­ing, she drew out a bat­tered pa­pyrus scroll: “Can you keep this for me?”

“What is it?” he asked, be­fore frown­ing and tear­ing up his paint­ing with a sigh. Only then did he look at the scroll, and at her.

“It’s my grand­father’s di­ary,” she said, “with my own an­no­ta­tions. It’s been of great use and sig­nifi­cance to me.” Of course it had been – the Machines would have gone to great pains to in­te­grate such a per­sonal and sig­nifi­cant item deeply into her ad­ven­tures. “Could you keep it for my chil­dren?” When she fi­nally found the right per­son to have them with, she added men­tally. Ever since her split with Albert… No, that was definitely not what she needed to be think­ing right now. Fo­cus in­stead on this gor­geous painter, name still un­known, and his im­pos­si­ble dreams.

“What was he like?” he asked.

“My grand­father? Odd, and a bit tra­di­tional. He brought me up. And when we were all grown up, all his grand­chil­dren, he de­cided we needed, like in an­cient times, to lose our el­dest gen­er­a­tion.”

“He died?” The painter sounded scep­ti­cal; there were a few peo­ple choos­ing to die, of course, but those events were im­mensely rare and widely pub­li­cised.

“No, he sim­ply had his in­tel­li­gence boosted. Re­cur­sively. And he with­drew from hu­man so­ciety, to have di­rect philo­soph­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions with the Machines.”

He thought for a while, then took the scroll from her, de­liber­ately brush­ing her fingers as he did so. “I’ll keep this. And I’m sure your chil­dren will find their ways to me.” An arte­fact, handed down and an­no­tated through the gen­er­a­tions, and en­trusted in a quirky land­scape artist who laboured ob­ses­sively with zero safety level? It was such a beau­tiful story hook, there was no way the Machines wouldn’t make use of it. As long as one of her chil­dren had the slight­est ad­ven­tur­ous streak, they’d end up here.

“This feels rather planned,” he said. “I ex­pect it’s not ex­actly a co­in­ci­dence you ended up here.”

“Of course not.” He was reclu­sive, brilli­ant, prickly; Ishtar re­al­ised a sub­tle se­duc­tion would be a waste of time. “Shall we make love?”, she asked di­rectly.

“Of course.” He mo­tioned her to­wards a bed of soft blue moss that grew in the midst of the or­chids. “I have to warn you, I in­sist that the plea­sure-en­hanc­ing drugs we use be en­tirely nat­u­ral, and picked from my gar­den. Let me show you around first, and you can make your choice.” They wan­dered to­gether through the gar­den, shed­ding their clothes and choos­ing their plea­sures.

Later, af­ter love, she mur­mured “un­pause” be­fore the mo­ment could fade. “Get off my prop­erty!” he mur­mured, then kissed her for the last time. She dived away, run­ning from the vine­yard and onto the street, bul­lets ex­plod­ing over­head and at her feet.

Three robot gang­sters roared through the street in a 1920 vin­tage car, spray­ing bul­lets from their Tommy guns. The bul­lets ri­co­cheted off the crys­tal pave­ment and gen­tly mov­ing wind-houses, caus­ing the passer-by’s (all of whom had opted for slight ex­cite­ment that week) to duck en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to the floor, with the bul­lets care­fully and barely miss­ing them. Div­ing round a con­ve­niently placed mar­ket stall a few sec­onds be­fore it ex­ploded in a hail of hurtling lead, she called up her friend:

“Sigsi­mund, bit busy to talk now, but can you meet me in the Tem­ple of Tea in about five...” a laser beam from a cir­cling drone sliced off the pave­ment she was stand­ing on, while three robot samu­rai rose to bar her pas­sage, katanas drawn (many hu­mans were ea­ger and en­thu­si­as­tic to have a go at be­ing evil mas­ter­minds, but few would set­tle for be­ing minions). “...in about ten min­utes? Lovely, see ya there!”

It ac­tu­ally took her twelve min­utes to reach the Tem­ple (she’d paused to vote ‘yes’ on the ques­tion as to whether to bring back ex­tinct species to the new Ama­zo­nian Rain­forests, and to do some light re­search on the Stradi­vari). It was nearly-safe ground, mean­ing that ad­ven­tures were only very rarely per­mit­ted to in­trude on it, just enough to give a slight fris­son of back­ground ex­cite­ment. She would cer­tainly be safe for the du­ra­tion of her con­ver­sa­tion.

The priest, in gold and white robes with huge translu­cent but­terfly wings, bowed to her as she en­tered. “I shall need to Know all about you,” he in­toned, to her nod­ded agree­ment.

Sigsi­mund waved at her from a float­ing table that was mak­ing its way serenely through the tem­ple’s many themed rooms, float­ing on a river that brought them through the Seventy-Seven Stages of Civ­i­liza­tion. Ishtar swam out to join her, tak­ing her seat at the gon­dola-shaped table.

“By your cur­rent lack of clothes,” Sigsi­mund said, “I take it you’ve been putting my ad­vice into prac­tice.”

Sigsi­mund was one of those who wished above all else to help their fel­low hu­man be­ings. In a world with­out poverty, dis­ease or death, she spe­cial­ised in the re­main­ing ar­eas of per­sonal pain: re­la­tion­ship difficul­ties, jeal­ousies and emo­tional tur­moil. It was quite a pop­u­lar and re­spected role, since most hu­mans were un­will­ing to get rid of those nega­tive emo­tions ar­tifi­cially, lest they be­come less than hu­man; but at the same time, they ap­pre­ci­ated those who en­sured they didn’t have to suffer the full sting of these painful ex­pe­riences un­aided.

Sigsi­mund had first de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in Ishtar when her long term re­la­tion­ship with Albert had fallen apart. Albert was a physi­cist (by mu­tual agree­ment with the Machines, physics was one of the ar­eas where re­search was re­served to hu­mans; so all fun­da­men­tal new dis­cov­er­ies about the na­ture of re­al­ity were en­tirely triumphs of the un­aided hu­man mind), and his need for monogamy had ul­ti­mately proved in­com­pat­i­ble with Ishtar’s de­sires. In Sigsi­mund’s ex­pert anal­y­sis, the first stage in Ishtar’s re­cu­per­a­tion was a lot of ca­sual sex; she dis­ap­proved of Ted for this rea­son, feel­ing her friend wasn’t leav­ing enough time for play be­fore start­ing an­other se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship (she dis­missed com­par­i­sons with her own 78-year re­la­tion­ship, started two days af­ter her pre­vi­ous one ended, with the line “we ain’t all the same, you know”).

So as Ishtar re­counted her ad­ven­ture, while strate­gi­cally wrap­ping her­self in an em­broi­dered sarong that fell from the tem­ple’s sarong-tree, Sigsi­mund started pos­i­tively glow­ing.

“Fab­u­lous!” she said. “I couldn’t have de­signed it bet­ter. And, even more perfect, you’ll never see or hear from him again, and didn’t even get his name. Maybe we can move on to the next step of my re­cu­per­a­tion cur­ricu­lum?”

“Go on”, Ishtar said sus­pi­ciously.

“Have you con­sid­ered spend­ing some time as a man? It would broaden your per­spec­tives on things.”

Ishtar stared fixedly for a full twenty sec­onds, hop­ing to con­vey the full ridicu­lous­ness of the sug­ges­tion. “I am en­tirely con­vinced,” she said, “that that would be en­tirely un­helpful.”

“As some­one who has been mend­ing peo­ple’s psy­ches for a hun­dred and seven years, and who has ac­cess to your full psy­cholog­i­cal pro­file and de­tailed record­ings of your ac­tivi­ties and emo­tions for the last decade, let me say that I am en­tirely con­vinced that it would be en­tirely helpful.” A pass­ing clock­work in­sect dropped a plump ap­ple-straw­berry into her hand, and she de­voured it. “You should learn to live a lit­tle.”

“Why don’t you ever have Ad­ven­tures?”, Ishtar asked. “You’re the one who should live a bit.”

“Oh, just let me con­tinue spread­ing hap­piness and heal­ing pain all around me. Ad­ven­tures aren’t re­ally my thing.”

“99.7% of peo­ple have had ad­ven­tures,” Ishtar said, lift­ing a lime sher­bet from a leaf float­ing past. “That makes you, my friend, a mem­ber of a tiny and dwee­bish minor­ity.”

“Yes, but most peo­ple just have short ad­ven­tures when they’re teenagers or on hon­ey­moons. Only...” she let the thought out to the world, and the an­swer ap­peared in her mind a sec­ond later: “...only 32% of peo­ple have ad­ven­tures as a ma­jor part of their lifestyle. And as for peo­ple like you, whose whole lives re­volve around ad­ven­tures, the num­ber drops pre­cip­i­tously… J’ac­cuse you of be­ing the mem­ber of a tiny and dwee­bish minor­ity. Also, I need time to learn Akka­dian prop­erly, if I’m go­ing to be any use in my next dig. In­ci­den­tally, what do you think of my new face? You haven’t com­mented on it.”

“I like it,” Ishtar said, po­litely. “Very… colour­ful. Eth­nic, even.” Though of no eth­nic­ity known to man or beast, she added men­tally, and the uni­verse is very thank­ful for that fact. Though maybe some of the more brightly coloured lizards could find some small as­pects of it al­lur­ing, she con­ceded. In dim light. If they didn’t have to see it all at once.

“I find it brings out the best in my friends,” Sigsi­mund said with a huge rain­bow grin. “No­body likes it, no­body dares say any­thing.”

“Whereas I hope that is not the ver­dict you shall give on my tea,” said the tem­ple priest, hold­ing a tiny cup aloft as his ivory throne de­scended lazily from the sky. “Madame Ishtar, I have down­loaded your full his­tory, biolog­i­cal records, run thou­sands of simu­la­tions with mod­els of your taste buds, Glos­sopha­ryn­geal nerve and brain stem; looked through your his­tory for all pleas­ant and un­pleas­ant taste as­so­ci­a­tions I could find, analysed your stom­ach con­tents and re­cent con­sump­tions, cast your horo­scope, com­puted your chi, and peered deep into your chakras. And added a bit of flair and feel­ing. I be­lieve this is the best cup of tea you ever had.”

The smell hit her be­fore her hand even touched the cup, a light scent of burn­ing grass that cat­a­pulted her into her child­hood, danc­ing with her sisters in front of the tra­di­tional for­est fires. It was the young girl and the woman who both clasped their finger across the cup, re­united across time by the sin­gle perfect aroma. She wasn’t con­scious of drink­ing the tea, but she must have, for it ex­ploded in her mouth, hot, spicy, cool, fruity, choco­laty and lemony. The tastes chased each other across her tongue and nerves, al­ter­nat­ing with rapid and smooth tran­si­tions. She had just enough time to ap­pre­ci­ate one taste com­bi­na­tion, reg­ister a dozen half-formed mar­vel­lous im­pres­sions, feel that her joy was about to peak – but already the tran­si­tion had hap­pened, and she was in a new taste-world. She lost the con­scious­ness of her tongue and nose; the sen­sa­tions were ap­plied di­rectly to her brain, the me­di­at­ing ma­chin­ery stripped away.

And then, in three glo­ri­ous sec­onds, it was over, and only one word could de­scribe her feel­ings with suffi­cient po­etry and pre­ci­sion:

“Wow!”

She also recog­nised the tell-tale sign of her dopamine sys­tem be­ing in­hibited. This was an es­sen­tial pre­cau­tion with any su­per-stim­u­lus, to pre­vent ad­dic­tion: though she liked the tea more than any­thing in re­cent mem­ory, she wasn’t filled with an ir­re­sistible want for it. It was just a perfect mo­ment for her to trea­sure.

“It is tra­di­tional,” the priest in­toned, “for guests to leave a lit­tle some­thing in ex­change.”

Ishtar thought deeply. She wasn’t that used to rit­ual situ­a­tions, and she couldn’t think of any­thing she had of com­pa­rable value to ex­change. “Well,” she said, “I did spend two decades as house-wife, a while back.” The priest’s ex­pres­sion didn’t change. “One of the things I be­came good at was… bak­ing cook­ies.” Still no sign as to what the priest was think­ing, in any di­rec­tion. “I did a whole lot of chem­i­cal re­search, of course, and some of them turned out sub­lime… One batch in par­tic­u­lar, took my breath away and pounded my lungs with the sheer joy of be­ing al­ive and tast­ing ex­is­tence it­self. And choco­late. I can… I can share the mem­ory of that with you. It’s… very pri­vate, so please don’t go bandy­ing it around to any­one...”

“That is...”, the priest said, as the mem­ory was down­loaded into his mind, “...gen­er­ous.”. He bowed and his throne lev­i­tated away.

They sat in silence for a minute, un­til Sigsi­mund felt it was time to re­turn their thoughts to triv­ial­ities. “By the way, I had a chat with Nero,” she said.

“You did?” Ishtar blinked, strug­gling to con­ceive of Nero as any­thing else but the mag­nifi­cent and con­stant bane of her ex­is­tence, the perfect en­emy.

“Oh yes,” Sigsi­mund said, “He’s an­other one of my friends; he’s do­ing quite well, in fact, and is trend­ing happy and well bal­anced and look­ing around for a healthy, low has­sle re­la­tion­ship.”

“Well, I’m happy for him, I sup­pose...”

“In fact,” Sigsi­mund said, wag­ging eye­brows the size of maple leaves as sug­ges­tively as she could, “I would go so far as to say, that if you’re in­ter­ested (and I recom­mend you to be in­ter­ested) the ri­valry be­tween you might be amenable to… end­ing up in the tra­di­tional way, if you catch my drift. No pres­sure, just a thought to keep in mind when you both end up sweaty and wrestling over an ex­plod­ing vol­cano.”

“That’s in­ter­est­ing,” Ishtar al­lowed, grudg­ingly. She sat in silence for a while, a stray thought nag­ging the rest of her brain for at­ten­tion. She brought back the mem­ory of the pic­ture of Ted in chains. They had felt a lit­tle odd and fake, like they were made of plas­tic. Or maybe not weigh­ing as much as they should. Like there wasn’t enough grav­ity. Not space or the moon but maybe...

“For the mo­ment, I need a bit of a break,” she said. “You want to go skiing?” Sigsi­mund shook her head. “With rock­ets?” Still more head shak­ing. “On the moun­tains of Mars?”

“Now you’re talk­ing!” Then Sigsi­mund’s gaze grew a lit­tle more se­ri­ous, star­ing over her friend’s shoulder. “Though I see you’ll have to take the long route?”

Ishtar turned round. There, pad­dling slowly to­wards her through the stream, was the largest me­chan­i­cal tiger she’d ever seen, its di­a­mond-and-steel jaws glow­ing in the light of the tem­ple as the other guests ar­ranged them­selves around it to wit­ness the spec­ta­cle. Smoke belched from its nos­trils alongside a tinny syn­the­sised ver­sion of Nero 2’s laugh­ter. Ishtar’s hand reached for her weapon, which she didn’t have, so it closed around a cheese knife in­stead. “If I make it, meet you to­mor­row at the lit­tle Ital­ian star­port at the foot of Olym­pus Mons, okay?”

“See ya there,” Sigsi­mund said, and saluted, as her friend gave a blood re-cur­dling scream and launched her­self over a fleet of tiny sailing ships bat­tling each other, cheese knife pointed di­rectly at the tiger’s clock­work heart.