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Come to the City of Lights!
Choose from a wide range of physical and administrative jobs.
Enjoy permissive marriage and child licensing standards.
YOU can build the future -- today.

Teibev stared at the colorful brochure in his hand, then crumpled it. He threw it into the growing pile of rubbish to be carted away. The sanitary crews would be among the last people to evacuate.

As Teibev crammed the remaining clothes inside, the leather satchel creaked from the stress. His evacuation license permitted one bag of personal belongings each for himself and his daughter, and one trunk of household goods. The valuable time crystals had already been salvaged, leaving behind the heavy appliance cabinets. Teibev looked around at the charming apartment full of handsome furniture that he could not take along. He never wanted to see it again. As for his wife's belongings ...

"Mama," whimpered Korai.

Teibev abandoned the luggage to pick her up. "Mama can't be with us anymore," he said, stroking the silky black curls so unlike his own coarse blond thatch. His brilliant, capable wife had died just over a month ago in the big industrial accident that rang the death knell for the City of Lights. As a time crystal engineer, Jamirsha had supervised installing the complex conveniences that powered -- would have powered -- the city. Time crystal lights above every street, food preservation boxes in every home, and other delights had attracted many people. Jamirsha loved all of it.

Industrial accident, hah. Teibev knew what really sent Jamirsha plummeting to her death. Anomaly. Even in the privacy of his own mind, he hardly dared to whisper the word. But he knew.

The Empire had invested so much in the City of Lights. The architects did a stupendous job of designing the ultimate modern metropolis, high on the world's rim with a view even the clouds could envy. Teibev and Jamirsha had believed intensely in the promises of science and civilization.

Then the troubles began, and science could neither explain nor stop them. Some unimaginable force had ruined the beautiful city like an untrained dog sweeping the fine china off the table with its tail.

Teibev did not want to believe in rumors or superstitions. He liked to think of himself as a rational man, a practical man. But he had believed in science and it had betrayed him. Now he did not know what to believe. His faith was a shattered thing inside him that ground together like the shards of a broken bone whenever he tried to think.

So Teibev tried not to think much anymore. He ate, he slept, he took care of the toddler who was all he had left of his wife. That took up all his remaining strength and problem-solving ability. He had nothing left in him to seek a job; his work had been to stay at home and care for Korai while Jamirsha earned the generous income that kept them comfortable. When the evacuation order came, Teibev was grateful for it, because it meant that he did not have to decide what to do next or where to go. The Empire would take care of that much for him, at least.

Teibev fastened the shipping license to the household trunk. Porters would come for it soon. He picked up the two meager satchels and balanced his daughter on his hip. Korai cried quietly against his shoulder. She never made much noise anymore.

As he walked down the hall, a patch of color caught his eye.

Science -- Awareness or Arrogance?
Technology advances faster than safety.
Beware of false promises and leading questions!
There are some things man was not meant to know.

Evidently the Purists had gotten ahold of a printing press somehow. Wonderful. Teibev had heard their ridiculous rhetoric before and dismissed it. But now some of the ideas niggled at the back of his mind. It was inescapably true that the City of Lights, pinnacle of technology, failed to provide safety for its citizens.

Teibev boarded the transport and showed his evacuation license to the Monitor. He sat down, shoving the leather satchels under the seats. He fastened Korai into the seat beside him. There were windows, but he did not look out of them, even when the transport lurched into motion. He would not look back.

"Nomess mithoirarv," he murmured.

It was never meant to be.

Author's Notes

This story came out of the June 29, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from Ellen Million.

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City of Lights

Characters Featured:
Teibev, Korai, Jamirsha,

Referenced Articles:
City of Lights

Story collections:
The Invisible Menace
The Wrong Choice
All Empire Stories and Art

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