In the Boardroom, the round oak conference table stretched off into the distance to either side. Infinitely big, and growing as new chairs were built, and then left vacant. Walls of innumerable televisions, monitors, and windows cast dim, ever-changing colours across the Boardroom. Many were filled with static or SMPTE color bars in lieu of an active signal, while others showed shifting glimpses of different places and times, changing tableaux of city life. The sound was all murmured traffic and muffled, grating conversations, sampled from microphones and skimmed off radio waves before being ground into white noise. Light from the screens cast dim shadows on the figures sitting around the table, leaving them barely more than silhouettes.
“The Way in the Rockies has been compromised.” New York’s voice was a cacophony of horns and furious shouts. The City was angry. “We must limit access; I vote to close all our roads.” New York looked across the Boardroom, attention resting for the briefest instant on every City present. There were far more empty seats than full, even the nameplates of the missing were scorched or crumbled into illegibility, as befitting their demise. Forgotten.
Tokyo and London sighed in unison, like trains coming to rest at the end of the line, but it was Singapore who spoke next. “I stand by my argument to leave the roads open. They may need our help.” Her voice rustled like wind through the leaves, and even the shadows around her took the shape of boughs and blossoms. “If a true Ancient finds its way through the compromised Way, our roads may be the mortal kin’s only chance of escape.”
“Mark me: I warned you all of this eventuality.” Beijing was more difficult to see, wreathed by pungent yellow smog. Her once sing-song voice was raspy and clipped. “The word of the álfar means little since they broke faith with their old masters, and the word of mankind means even less. I agree with New York; we cannot allow the outbreak to spread. No more Ways must be allowed to open. The world is not ready. I also vote to close our roads. Let man and álfar deal with their own mistakes. May they each reap the profits of their efforts. Alone. ”
New York grunted, screeching breaks and chittering vermin. “An open vote, then. If successful, all roads must close.” The attention he directed to Singapore was weighted. “Even a single road left open will be disastrous. Whatever corruption is cracking opening the Ancient Ways, it rides our roads. They must all be closed.”
“Then we could control this. Direct it to a place where we can trap it within our network.”
“We do not know enough to take that risk. It is not possible.” A quiet, elderly, but stern voice echoed across the table. Several others added their agreement, until the murmur rose to a gale.
“I submit to the will of the City Council.” She replied, sitting tall, her branches creaking and cracking, but refusing to snap until the force of their dismissal.
“What of Toronto?” Kiev spoke softly, but one could never mistake her tone for frailty or hesitation. She would rather listen than speak.
Toronto’s seat was occupied, if only in the most technical sense of the word. No coalescent spirit took form in his place, but the numbing drone coming from the shadows made even the white noise of the monitors seem lively. Only shapeless static filled Toronto’s space.
“The CN Tower’s interference is sufficient; we will not attempt contact.” New York replied, after an exhaust-filled pause. “Let the vote begin.”
No words were spoken, but each city cast their vote, sending their intent towards the center of the Boardroom. It was over in moments, as time was reckoned in that space.
“The votes have been collected.” New York didn’t need to say it; they could all see the results in the flickering light. But speaking made it official; turned intention into law. “The roads will be closed until the outbreak is contained and the Ways are resealed. Until then, we wait and observe. Begin.”
The room was, for less than a second, crushed by the sound of a million slamming doors and crashing gates. New York’s grunt of approval was somewhere between a rumbling engine and a pit bull’s warning growl. Then, one by one, the Cities retreated from the Boardroom, returning their spiritual attentions homeward and fading back into the darkness, until only New York and Singapore remained.
The silence stretched on, but neither City moved nor spoke.