In the land of Idealia, everone got to be and do exactly what they felt was truest to themselves. There was no stigma, no stuffy customs, no backward-looking religion or suffocating morals. There was no longer any need to hold back one’s deepest desires; food and shelter were now plentiful, and technology could deliver all sorts of fabulous things, so everyone was free to experiment. One had only to state what one felt was the goal of one’s Truest Self, and the government made sure that it could be accommodated, posthaste.
A Traveler, making his way through the region, having heard such magnificent things about Idealia (and being of stout-hearted liberal sensibility himself), decided to make a short detour on his route so that he could see this very special place with his own eyes. After arriving late at night and staying at a small inn near the capital city, he stepped out into the bright blue morning and, choosing a nearby street at random, began to walk from house to house. It was already a clear, bustling day, with many people out to enjoy the sunshine or stretch their legs. Many could be found on their porches, or sitting in lawn-chairs out in the front-yard, or stretched out on the grass, enviably carefree. Birds tweeted, dogs barked in the distance, bright clouds swirled between rainbows of unearthly vividness, and children bounced balls in the street. It was idyllic, thought the Traveler, like all the classic neighborhoods he’d ever wanted to live in somehow rolled into one.
The first person the Traveler came upon had on a lab coat and his front porch and the inside of his house was visibly filled with tools and technical equipment, strange crystals and flasks of chemicals.
“Why hello, there,” said the Traveler, waving. “What interesting equipment you have there! You seem like a man devoted to inquiry and progress.”
“Yes,” said the other, “I am fascinated by the study of nature, by the superb order and law hidden within natural phenomena, and by the potential of new technologies that draw on these phenomena. As you can see, I have many different tools and instruments that I use to probe and analyze the truths of the physical world. I seek only to discover and investigate these truths, so as to allow mankind to understand the world without fear and use this knowledge to create useful new tools that can ease man’s estate. I ask only that I be allowed to pursue my investigations without prejudice or interference, and without having to worry about my results being censored or being attacked by angry superstitious people. Here, I can do just that.”
The scientist then displayed some remarkable ultra-efficient engines that he had built, and then demonstrated the spectrum of a new chemical element he had found—a color like none the Traveler had ever seen. The Traveler clapped his hands at this tour de force. “How wonderful!” he said. “Thanks to your work, the world really is getting better and better.”
Continuing on, the Traveler spied a silver-haired woman, with a deeply lined, timeless-looking face and a straw hat, painting at an easel on the front lawn. On the canvas was a remarkable phantasmagoria of color. You could tell it was meant to depict this very street, but somehow, incredible new life had been added: the colors danced and danced, and you could see that all sorts of patterns and details that were barely noticeable in the scene itself had been brought out with great intensity, and combined with new impressions and views. As he looked, the Traveler felt gripped by emotion, as it seemed that some great beauty of the world, hidden in plain sight up till now, had been raised up before his very eyes, clear and new.
“This is extraordinary work!” the Traveler exclaimed. “Is this what brought you here to Idealia?”
“Yes. I started out with sculpture, but then the painterly bug came up and bit me”, said the woman with a chuckle. “I dedicate myself to seeing what others cannot or dare not see, and then shaping that vision into a form that others can then draw strength and inspiration from. I ask only that I be free to pursue my vision of the world as it inspires and speaks to me, and to be allowed to present that vision to the world, take it or leave it, without having to explain myself or apologize to peoples’ sensibilities. If they can’t handle it, they don’t have to look, I always say.”
“How wonderful!” said the Traveler, taking the artist’s card before continuing on.
Soon the Traveler found himself approaching a small park near the center of the neighborhood. There he found a family at a picnic table, cheerfully enjoying a great feast: a father, a mother, and three children. Their skin was dark as midnight, their manner filled with good humor. As they looked over to the Traveler passing by, he waved and asked what they thought about life in Idealia. The father, a powerfully built man with an equally powerful gaze, looked up, put down a huge buttery piece of corn on the cob, and touched his chin thoughtfully.
“It is so cruel how people can judge a book by its cover, and black people have constantly had to deal with being judged by the color of our skin”, said the father. “We have had a terrible time of it, facing oppression after oppression, often given no voice, no freedom, struggling to be accepted by those around us. We ask only that we be treated fairly and decently, and be allowed to live our lives and pursue our dreams with dignity, and that those who entertain hatred be kept out of sight and out of our way. And also that we should receive some accommodations so we can be sure to catch up to the rest of the world, given all we’ve been through. Here, we receive all that and more. Freedom is a sweet thing.”
“How wonderful!” said the Traveler, and his heart swelled to see historic wrongs and hates being put right and consigned to the past.
Next the Traveler saw two women lying on a big black-and-white blanket spread out near the edge of the park. The first, a skinny brunette, wore sunglasses and a gray camisole that was knotted in the front to show her midriff. She glanced over at the Traveler, turned over to lay belly-down on the blanket, gazing implacably into her smartphone from beneath a large straw hat. The other girl, also staring at a smartphone, did not move or look up at all. As the Traveler headed in their direction, they looked on through their sunglasses, expressionless, neither smiling nor sneering. It was impossible to tell whether he was being watched or ignored.
When he reached what he hoped was still a discreet distance, the Traveler waved. “Ahoy there—I am new around here, maybe thinking of moving—how do you like life in Idealia?”
For a minute, the Traveler was still not sure they had noticed him. But then the brunette spoke up. At first she seemed to yawn as she spoke, but soon the words came with rapid-fire, almost typewriter-like rhythm.
“Idealia’s the best. Here girls can be proud, independent, self-assured, and gorgeous in every way. Don’t think ’cause it’s Idealia that we haven’t worked hard to get where we are. We’ve been through the man’s world, and we’ve come back with heads held high. Here, we owe dudes nothing. Elsewhere, history is ‘His Story’—a sexist farce. But we break the mold. You see how self-assured we are? That’s because we’re comfortable in our own skins. We dream and achieve big. Bet you didn’t know about my organic cosmetics line. All from locally sourced beeswax. Gina here has her own hemp-fabric fashion catalogue—plans for it, I mean, they’re almost done. We do photo shoots together on Insta to help raise funds for it. Sure we got brains, but also our bikini bods are to die for.”
“Like, that’s the kind of innovation you don’t see with patriarchy”, added the other girl. The first girl nodded deeply.
“We ask only that we be treated equally to any man, meaning that whatever we say or do be automatically accepted, and that you always affirm the deep wisdom in it.”
“Totally“, said the second girl. “Oh—and since motherhood is basically oppressive and guys don’t have to deal with it, we ask that we be free to kill our babies, right up to the moment after birth if we want, if we decide having them would be too much of a threat to our freedom.”
“How wonderful!” said the Traveler, heartened to see such pluck, personality and enterprising spirit in these women. So unlike the demure, dutiful girls back home, who were often tediously fixated on marriage, family, and children.
As he was passing out of the park, the Traveler saw what looked like a huge, muscular man laid out on the grass. On a second look, though, he realized the shape was not one man, but two. One, much the smaller, was lying directly on top of the other, running his hands over the chest of the other man, who was spread-eagled on the grass. They were kissing deeply, gazing at each other. As the Traveler walked by, the smaller man, startled, rolled over onto the grass and struck an inquisitive pose, eyeing the newcomer with a hint of irritation. The larger man, smiling dreamily, just gave a little wave with his fingertips.
“Well hello!” said the Traveler, embarrassed to have interrupted. “But who might you be?”
“We are messengers of the victory of love,” said the smaller man, whose features were almost bird-like in their fineness. “Many have said great things about love in the past. But we understand that it’s not the form that love takes that matters, or even how you express it, but just that you feel it strongly enough and aren’t afraid to demand society’s acceptance for it. We seek only to express our natural love by having intercourse with other men as often as the mood strikes, with total freedom to experiment—like using drugs to enhance the amount of love we feel, or getting lots of us together at once. We ask only that you keep your judgments to yourself, and of course redefine the concept of marriage so that it sanctifies our love as much as anyone else’s.”
“That, and when it comes to education, of course,” added the other man, “children should clearly be taught as early as possible all about the rightness of our ways of loving and experimenting, so that they don’t grow up to be homophobic. Otherwise, we just want to be left alone, so that we can promote love at will.”
“How wonderful!” said the Traveler, for although he admitted his own romantic maturation had worked out well enough, it did now strike him as a bit stodgy and un-experimental.
The park came to an end there, and the Traveler soon rejoined the houses and sidewalks of the main street. Shortly after, he came upon a tall figure in a dress, busily pruning an enormous rose-bush in front of a large old Tudor house. It was difficult to tell whether it was “he” or “she”, since the physique and height were rather masculine—there was a bit of a pot-belly, and traces of an Adam’s-apple. Yet the person also had heavy makeup, fine, soft skin, long albeit somewhat greasy hair, and breasts that, although strangely shaped, were quite substantial.
“Hello there”, said the Traveler, waving. “I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like you before. What brought you to Idealia?”
The person turned and posed with fists on hips, the very picture of determination, then said, with an exaggeratedly lisping, unmistakably masculine voice: “Some people have the luxury of living in the right body. But I am convinced that I was born into the wrong body, and that my real spirit is that of a female. I therefore have had surgical interventions and hormones to bring my outer body into harmony with my real nature. I ask only to be treated with dignity, to be allowed to enter all activities and spaces available to any other woman, and to have all persons acknowledge my female identity and use the particular language about me that I want used—including affirming that my penis is female. Also, any child who wants to transition to be like me, should be strongly encouraged to get chemical alterations and undergo surgery to remove their sex organs, so they don’t have to go through the stigma that I did. Here in Idealia, we do just that.” And then the person turned, as if somehow irked by even having to explain this much, and said no more.
This time the Traveler paused and thought for a moment, since the last part about the surgeries and female penises didn’t quite seem to make sense to him. But a moment later he still said, “How wonderful!” and was on his way again.
Now the Traveler spotted a small, maroon-colored house with a bright red clay roof, with a tall turret on the left side. In the shadow of the porch a resplendent, olive-skinned man with a pointed dark beard could be seen, surrounded by shiny metal blades. There were blades of all sorts, in fact—some shiny, some aged, some long, some squat, some serrated, some arranged on the walls and others hanging from the ceiling. The Traveler could also see that there were framed pieces of elaborate writing on the walls, like illuminated manuscripts. Though he could not make heads or tails of the language, even the writing seemed reminiscent of daggers and knives. The man, it turned out, was currently sharpening a dazzlingly shiny scimitar that he had clamped on a work-bench in front of him. The Traveler waved, and approached with his usual inquiry. The man met him with a penetrating stare from beneath a profound and serious brow and said:
“I? I pursue the greatest of destinies—for I am a warrior for my Prophet, the only Prophet. I have always known that He admires most the powerful warrior, the one who is willing to fight and die for Him at the slightest provocation, or even for no reason at all. I have also always known that He is especially fond of knives, and of all things glistening and sharp. So I love nothing more than going and finding out people who might insult my Prophet, and then making very sure that they never do it again. I ask only that I be allowed to worship my Prophet in peace, and to follow His laws exclusively, and to be able to occasionally behead, flay, or fillet anyone who says any ill of any of these. Here, in Idealia, I am free to do exactly that.”
The Traveler seemed nervous, and went a little pale, and searched his mind to see if he had said anything bad about the warrior’s Prophet. But he couldn’t remember doing so, and the warrior kept at a polite distance, so that at last the Traveler smiled and said, a little hurriedly, “How wonderful!” before continuing on his way.
Next the Traveler came upon a strange-looking woman on the sidewalk, who was taping posters to a lamp-post. Half her hair was dyed violet and arranged in what looked like an attempt at cornrows, while the other side of her hair had been shaved almost flat, with four mysterious capital letters carved almost down to the scalp: “ACAB”. She was pierced through the nose, lip and eyebrows, and her pallid skin was practically wriggling with tattoos of serpents and astrological signs.
“So many of us are still victims of the system,” she told the Traveler, even before he introduced himself, “but I have broken free into a new world of unbiased thought. I do this, naturally, by realizing that everything is hopelessly, systematically biased and oppressive, and needs to be completely reconstructed—according to my specifications, of course, since my approach alone is truly unbiased. I love nothing more than redefining words, reducing all thought to essential identity-categories that describe people’s true selves and true intentions, and also leading healthy, healing actions where individuals are forced to admit to their limitless guilt and bias. I ask only that I be allowed to collect an immense salary for policing and redefining ordinary words and making even the simplest thoughts unthinkable or terrifying, and also that I be free to denounce as ‘racist’ any one who stands between me and what I want, and if need be, lead a mob against them. Here, I am free to do exactly that.”
“How wonderful!” said the Traveler, although he suddenly worried that he may have agreed only because he was afraid of being called “racist”, and might therefore be quite systemically biased after all.
It did not take long to notice the next house, for it was badly run-down, and the front yard featured big drums with pools of flaming liquid. In the center of the drums sat a small man with deeply recessed, bead-like eyes.
“Hello, there”, said the Traveler, looking a little concerned. “Say, are you all right there? I’ve never seen quite so much fire in someone’s yard, even for barbecuing!”
The man looked up and made a tense, haunted attempt at a smile. “I guess you could say I have had my share of frustrations in my life. You see, many people have ended up with more things or nicer things than me. My family life was rough, if you’d call it ‘family’ at all. Well, before I came here, I had all that frustration balled up inside, like poison. Didn’t know what to do with it all. But then I remembered that I have always loved fire—ever since I was a child. Its bright orange plumes amaze me every time I see them. And I feel so grateful for fire and its beauty that I feel it is only right to feed it, so that it will stay beautiful and so that there will be even more fire in the world. But maybe what is most beautiful about fire is that when I feed it, I can make sure that what I could never have, no one else will have, either. So when I see something that reminds me of the old frustration, I feed it to fire, and then I feel like I’m really my true best self again. I ask only that I be allowed to pursue my chief love, by setting fire to buildings, cars, trees, neighborhoods, and sometimes people, so that I can watch fire always getting bigger, brighter, and happier, and bringing justice to the downtrodden. Here in Idealia, I get to do exactly that.”
The man quickly pulled out a lighter, struck it, and touched it to a ball of oily rags held in his asbestos-gloved other hand. The hand was instantly surrounded in a globe of orange flame. He turned his gaze to his hand, studying it intently, as if the Traveler was not even there.
The Traveler sweated a little, and took a step back towards the fire hydrant by the curb, almost tripping on his own feet.
“…wonderful–” he said, in a shaky voice.
Reflexively the Traveler turned back to the street, but immediately he bumped into a man headed the other way in a gray turtleneck, with hefty biceps and a sallow face. He seemed to have come from nowhere. The man spoke at once, as if delivering a well-practiced pitch.
“When I’m on the block,” this man said, “you know you’re going to get only the best. I love finding the purest bespoke opioids, both natural and synthetic, and then blending them with my secret combination of drain cleaner, cough syrup, and methylamine. I wish only to be able to conduct honest business, regulated just like any other, and to bring joy to my customers, ensuring their satisfaction so that they will always and forever come back to me. Here in Idealia, my dreams, and my spirit of service, are allowed to flower.”
“Excuse me”, said the Traveler, “I’m so clumsy. And how wonderful!” The Traveler tried hard remembering all his college classes about libertarianism, the wisdom of market equilibria and the rules of arbitrage. He even wondered for a moment, before hurrying past, if widespread heroin use might actually be an unfairly-maligned, community-building experience.
Next the Traveler spotted a man lying in a hammock on one of the porches, with a pudgy, somehow infantile face and a receding hairline. He had a small girl with him, who looked to be about eight years old, wearing a two-piece swimsuit covered in bright, happy cartoon figures. The girl was running her hands slowly and somewhat clumsily around his upper thighs as he lay back, looking into space. He paused once to caress the girl’s head, and held a glass of lemonade to her lips. As she drank, he looked up at the Traveler. The girl looked, too: her gaze had a strange, piercing worldliness about it, unnerving in someone so young.
“Well hello,” said the Traveler, “I’m more tired now than I realized. And this is your daughter, I take it?”
“Ah—no, not my daughter,” said the man. “This is—ah—Allie, my little spirit-friend, who comes to help me every week or two. A common mistake, don’t worry about it. As for me, I am a beautiful soul, a connoisseur of young love—the tenderest, most beautiful, and purest sort of love. That is why I have always been tremendously excited by small children. Especially when I touch them or—ah—they touch me. I feel like I truly get to understand children this way, and that I can then be part of their wonderfully innocent world. I have always had such feelings, and I know that a feeling so wonderful can’t possibly be wrong. I used to live in a neighboring country, where I was shamed and even—ah—imprisoned. But here at last I can be satisfied and whole. I ask only that I (and all minor-attracted persons) be allowed to express the rich love in my heart by touching and undressing young children, and that they in turn be freed to discover their sexuality by performing pleasurable acts on me from time to time, without the rest of the world involving itself and getting all judgmental.”
“How wonderful?” said the Traveler, though his heart wasn’t really in it, and he found himself already turning away and heading back to the street, with a pang in his chest that felt strangely like guilt.
It was not long before the Traveler noticed a balcony where there stood a serious and thoughtful man, approaching middle-age, with somewhat wild-looking hair. He wore sandals and Bermuda shorts, and a t-shirt that had odd-colored stains on it. With his strongly protruding brow and wild hair, he vaguely resembled a caveman.
“Well, hello there—you look like you have had an adventure or two—what’s your line?”
“My line?! Well, I used to be a vegetarian—”, laughed the man, “—until I found out what real meat tastes like. I speak of course of the human body. Its combination of delicate texture and slightly piquant flavor is unrivaled among the victuals of the world. But it is also an extraordinary versatile resource in general. Excellent for soup, jerky, even chew-toys for dogs made from the bones and hide! Admittedly there is a bad reputation concerning the use of the hide—yes, the lampshades—that story is apocryphal, by the way, although the hide does have excellent physical properties. We therefore only make gloves and purses from it, to allay any concerns. We are highly ethical, we ethically requisition all our stock. And we know better than not to use every possible part of the animal. Nothing goes to waste, I assure you, so that the ecological footprint is, if anything, negative! Of course there is a more intimate aspect to the eating of others, almost like devouring not just their bodies, but their souls as well, and that too is precious to me. I ask only that I be allowed to slaughter and prepare people, in a fully consensual and well-regulated manner, so that I may enjoy this most exquisite of pleasures and run my very ethical business in peace. Here in Idealia, I am free to do just that.”
The man smiled, revealing a row of curled, strangely discolored, and unusually long front teeth. As he exhaled, an aroma like rotting pork and burnt hair swelled up everywhere. The Traveler, who had been listening very calmly, suddenly felt vomit surging at the back of his throat. He turned away from the man and ran towards the street, landing on all fours above the rain-grate just in the nick of time, as he puked out half his breakfast.
“How wonderful,” he coughed.
Once he had recovered himself, the Traveler, walking more slowly, more haggardly than before, noticed a man just stepping out onto the front door of an exceedingly tidy, modern-looking house. The house was so spotless, in fact, that it looked almost like it constantly cleaned itself. With his jaunty steps, his gleaming, freshly pressed designer shirt and slacks, elegantly coiffed black hair, his flawlessly moisturized skin, and his clear, pale gray-blue eyes, the man practically radiated well-being, affluence. His face seemed as if somehow moulded from a single piece of living plastic, with a prominent, horseshoe-shaped brow that seemed to flow around his face in a single uninterrupted sheet, as if the power of his mind was pouring directly into his face. In fact, everything about him gave an effect of sleek, completely unified intelligence: the Traveler was not sure he had ever seen a person who looked so intelligent. Attracted (despite himself) to the promise of a dose of normalcy after all he had seen, the Traveler waved to the man and asked about his role in Idealian society. With perfect politesse, the man sauntered over and shook his hand, smiling impishly.
“Well,I guess you could say my interests lie on the crossroads between Transhumanist and Technocrat—and we are all at a crossroads, aren’t we? So many things need done, and quickly, if humanity is to move to the next level. That is where I come in. I love nothing more than manipulating the very building-blocks of life and thought—and in fact, manipulating everything that I possibly can. Everything I touch, I always make better and better, healthier and safer. Of course I am all about the Knowledge Economy, Equity, Social Infrastructure, and Added Value. But more than anything, I would say, I am a student of unification—of using my skills and knowledge to bring people together and right the wrongs of past ages of darkness. Enlightenment is my oxygen, pretty much, and of course I offer it freely. Through the miracles of networking and distributed information, I am totally committed to offering people choices so they can be more free—and also making sure they are always the right choices, of course. Proper shaping and nudging of behavior is so critical, after all, if we are not to fall behind.”
“Of course,” stammered the Traveler.
“So, how do you like Idealia so far?” the man continued, with a playful little gesture of his hand, as if it was a soufflé he’d just whipped up. “You know, you could even say that I built this whole place. You’re welcome. You’re free to explore all you like, even move here! I ask in return only that I be allowed to endlessly record, control, manipulate, and of course monetize every aspect of every event and every thought and attitude you have, everywhere, ever, and to arbitrarily substitute it with my own experiments and visions—and also that I be free to treat you, like all humanity, as raw feedstock to be endlessly modified, played with, perhaps discarded, in service to the species’ future perfection and to my inspirations of the moment. Anyway, I have a very important appointment that’s about to take place, so I must be on my way. Thanks so much for stopping by; stay as long as you like. Oh and—would you please do me one little favor from now on and call me… ‘God‘…?”
At this moment the Traveler noticed a weird, penetrating coldness spreading over his body, as if he had been laid out naked on an iced metal table and then given an electric shock. Shivering, he edged back from the Technocrat, who continued smiling, with only the slightest glimmer of mockery in his eyes. As the Traveler withdrew, he noticed that the strange, bone-piercing chill he had just felt abated proportionately with distance.
The Traveler did not say that it was wonderful this time. Instead he turned and ran back to the sidewalk and then a ways further still, feeling the mild summery warmth of the day return to his skin. Then, after huddling himself for warmth for a minute—for traces of the cold lingered, as if they had been implanted deep in his bones—he said, to the whole neighborhood as it were:
“I must say, you Idealians truly have a unique society here—but I’m afraid this has gotten a bit much for me! I mean, hell, a lot of this “self-expression” is really nothing but slaughter, depravity, stupidity, power-madness and destruction! At least some of you, actually, are kind of screwed up! Maybe you should get some help! And I have to say, I’m not really sure I can get on board with some of the things that seem to be happening here with children—”
At this moment, a large man appeared by the Traveler’s shoulder. He had braids in his hair, metal spikes in his ears, arms like cannon-barrels, a leather jacket, and a huge black beard. He grasped the Traveller by the shoulders, holding him fast. The Traveler soon realized it was useless to struggle.
“Hello, who are you?” the Traveler asked.
“I am a Minder,” said the man. “My greatest joy is to find and collect skeptics, doubters, and especially haters“, said the man. “And you sound just like a hater. I ask only that you come with me, and that you not struggle or otherwise make this more difficult than it has to be.”
Then he clapped the Traveler in twenty-pound irons and a big steel collar, and began leading him away towards the gray concrete complex that crouched on the eastern horizon, like a huge gray eagle with its wings held low to the ground. For the first time the Traveler noticed this complex had long, thin lines leading from it, like threads. He gradually perceived that these lines were made of people.
At this moment, a group of noisy, smiling passersby were going the opposite direction down the street. They spotted the Traveler—now a wretched sight, struggling in the heavy irons, with the huge bearded man just behind, ushering him onward to an unsettling fate.
The Traveler glanced towards the passersby in some forlorn hope of succor or sympathy, but he was almost immediately distracted by a surreal sight directly behind him. A stupendous transformation had occurred. Half of the block had rapidly been engulfed in fire, while two severed heads now rested in the middle of the street, beneath the gleam of one of the Warrior’s blades. Crouched on one of the lawns beside a bush, the little girl was cutting her wrists alongside the man-who-was-really-a-woman, who seemed to be muttering instructions while inserting a needle into his/her/hir/its own arm. The “former vegetarian” was sauntering nearby with a hungry little smile, a paring-knife ready on his belt. All at the same time, an extremely strange sort of grayish-metallic goo seemed to be advancing over the trees, turning them into electronics and weird, mutated forms. One of these trees was not actually a tree, the Traveler realized, but had moments before been the proudly standing form of the Technocrat, arms spread wide, as if ready to receive the world’s prayers and plaudits at the moment of his supreme victory. Now he was frozen solid, covered in little metallic crystals that looked like a cross between hoarfrost and computer-chips.
Straining his neck against the big iron garrote, the Traveler waved frantically at his captor, gesticulating towards the horrid scene.
“Hey, hey, you might want to have a look over there—there’s a p-problem—”
But the black-bearded man did not look. He only shook his head slowly without changing his pace, as if he had heard one too many lame tricks like that before to be fooled. At the same moment, some of the passersby began pointing at the Traveler, chattering loudly again.
“How wonderful!”, he heard them exclaim, smiles all around, even as the fire advanced on them and began to swallow house after house. No one ran, no sirens could be heard. No one, it seemed, had ever thought such a mess could even happen in Idealia.
Now the Traveler kept up his pace even under the weight of his restraints, and even sped up. The disaster that was unfolding no doubt gave the possibility of escape—a possibility that minutes before had seemed remote. But any hope of escape was countered by a sinking, more philosophical despair that weighted him even more than the big iron bonds. Idealia had once been one of the most beautiful of thoughts, of worlds—maybe the most beautiful world ever, in fact. Who could have denied as much, in its earlier days? Perhaps even the chilling, manipulative Technocrat, in his time, had been truly kind, humble and well-meaning, a mere student just learning with delight how his own brilliance could bring relief to a miserable world. It had not always been lies; even now, as it burned and descended into chaos, it was not entirely lies. Some part of the Traveler, incredibly, actually yearned to apologize for his “hating”: to make amends to Idealia for his sin, to throw himself on its legendary acceptance, and then gratefully accept whatever verdict might come down on him.
But it was too late for any of this. The madness, the conflagration of acceptances, was now spreading behind him, completely unchecked—the whole country being nothing but a tinder of acceptances, and with all refusals banned, the flame could spread, indeed it must spread, till nothing but the mountains were left standing. He could feel the heat on his shoulders now, and the Minder, walking behind, could only be even more aware of its oppressive intensity. No doubt in a few minutes more it would overtake them, and his captor would be forced finally to turn, and see the truth of what was happening, and release these heavy bonds which cumbered them both in order to save himself. The time for joyful rubbernecking, or judgments, or for rueful reminiscing on lost dreams, was over: in the next few minutes, every thought, every ounce of will and persuasion he still possessed would have to turn upon the task of surviving Idealia, resisting Idealia—and if he could be so lucky, leaving Idealia.