"This time," Marv said, "let's try to leave in a less action-packed way, right? Is everyone cool with that?"

"Fine by me," Furey said, rotating her arm in its socket.

"It wasn't exactly our choice last time," I sighed, straightening up as the lift slowed down and announced its arrival with a ding.

The door opened to reveal the lushest room I'd ever seen in my life. Well, it was more than just a room. We were on the very top of the building's mushroom shape, and the circular space before us was lined with tropical plants. Fountains sprayed up from hidden jets and mixed together to form a pool in the centre. Overhead was a raised canopy lined with vines to keep the sun at bay, while the walls gave way to views out over the city in one direction and the desert in the other. The horizon seemed an awful long way away.

After we stepped out, the lift's doors closed and it descended in its entirety back into the floor, so that there was no machinery left to spoil the aesthetic.

"Thank you for coming to see me," a voice boomed from above. We looked up into the blue sky to see a figure of a man silhouetted against it, enormous wings stretched out either side, beating to control his descent. He dropped through the middle of the trellis, landing gently at the edge of the pool. He was barefoot and paddled through the shallow water towards us, his wings flapping once more, stretching wide then slowly folding back behind him. Dressed head to toe in white, including a soft head-dress, he was remarkably handsome for someone of his age - by which I mean, I'm not normally one to notice anybody over, like, 30 - and carried himself with a regal grace.

I was kind of awed and disturbed at the same time. I'd never actually been this close to a genuine wing.

"I am Prince Karim, and you are all most welcome here. Please remove your shoes and follow me."

We did as he asked, then followed him through the rooftop garden, the cool running water beneath our feet helping to take the edge off the desert heat.

"I understand you had some trouble in Indahl not too long ago," Karim said. "I want you to know that you will not encounter such poor hospitality here. They do not know how to treat their guests. We do."

He gestured to stone seats and we sat, facing in towards the central fountain. I realised that there were real birds flying around up here, even though we'd not seen any in the streets of the city.

"Please, speak freely," he urged.

We looked at each other. Couldn't afford for another meeting to go south. We'd already covered about half our journey to get back to Perlyn and we hadn't had any clear progress yet.

"I'm Kay, and this is Marv. We're both from Perlyn. We've had an unusual year. Our companion here is Rose Furey. She's not from round here."

Karim smiled, then burst into laughter and shook his head. "There's no need to give me the long, gradual speech," he said. "Ms Furey here is from Earth, is that correct?"

Colour me surprised.

Marv spoke first. "You know about Earth?"

Karim held up both hands and shrugged a little. "We have known of Earth for many years. Decades, in fact. We have known the name but not many of the details. A man was captured sixty years ago during the war, a man who didn't fit any known genotype. My ancestors got him to talk - we've always been very good at that - and we learned things that we were not meant to learn. When we tried to bring this information to light the war was turned in upon us. Sanctions were imposed. Borders closed."

"What happened to the man?" Furey asked.

"Ancient history," Karim said dismissively. "What I mean to say is that I am not surprised. But I am excited. Everywhere on this planet my brothers rule. That is as it should be. But they all rule in proxy. The all obey another master. This is not how it should be. Locque should be strong, and independent, not a slave to foreign influencers."

"I'm having one of those moments where everything clicks into place," Marv said. "We're taught from a pretty young age that the Peninsula is a rogue state, with crazy leaders who make all sorts of wild claims. Ridiculous stuff. The media present you like your country is run by children."

"Is that right?"

"Yes. I mean, no offence."

Karim smiled broadly. "None taken. We are never going to win a propaganda war with your western governments. Our claims are too outrageous, as you say." He turned to Furey. "But with you, our claims become fact. Our apparent extremism becomes rational. You are our proof."

"We're looking for allies," I said. "We want to form an international coalition. A movement that can rise up at the same time and topple the wing governments, and make moves towards a peaceful, open interaction with Earth."

"This is where we may be in need of some discussions," Karim said. "Understand that I don't want to see my wing brothers and sisters dethroned. I simply want them unchained. And I don't want peace with Earth. I want to crush our enemies on the other side, so that they can never threaten or control us again."

"Ah," all three of us said at once.

"Yeah, I'm thinking we're maybe not reading from the same book," Marv said. "Or in the same library."

"Do not be too hasty to dismiss our assistance," Karim urged. "I am not proposing all-out war. And as I perceive your situation, you have so far accumulated few allies. We could be your first."

"I'm hardly going to ally myself with a group looking to destroy my own world," Furey said.

"It's not that I don't sympathise with your utopian ideals," Karim said gently, "it's simply that I don't think such a thing is possible in this universe - or the other one."

"We're working on that," I said.

"Then keep working on it," Karim said. "And we will keep preparing for the inevitable conflict. Perhaps you are right and I am wrong. Or perhaps I am right and you are wrong. If we work together, at least one of us will be prepared."

He held out his hand, each finger adorned by a large, decorative ring. "What do you say, Kay? Shall we find out who is right about the future?"


Thanks for reading! Please do vote or leave a comment to let me know what you thought. Chapter notes can be found on my blog: https://simonkjones.com/tag/a-day-of-faces/    

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