SOLARPUNK: Avalon 21st Century, Corner of Chambers and Broadway

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[by ANI FOX]

Roderick rubbed his temples, wondering if he dared take more headache pills.

On the other side of the posh office, Jonesy had started walking a new pair of ward heelers through the NYC Republican spiel. His singsong Bronx accent did nothing to soften the cruelty of his sentiments. You can lie to the Puerto Ricans but not the Elves. They got 20 wards locked up and with the whole joint food thing, another four wards under the Jews and Arabs. They got the gerrymander thing down to an art. The well-dressed youths nodded and took notes.

The horrid man wasn’t wrong – you could not lie to the Elves. Inhumanly disciplined, genius intellects, they kept notes on everything said and promised, kept the receipts so to speak, and come election time voted as a block. The entire population, 100% voter registration and participation, casting ballots for a single candidate. True, they owned 24 of the 38 wards and had total control of the City Council. In a city with 55% voter turnout, their consolidated voting bloc represented 25%. To beat them you had to win 28% of the remaining 30% in a city where people still voted for Oprah, Vermin Supreme, and the Bernie Bro candidate of the month. So yeah, they owned the Mayor’s office as well as the Council.

His boss Diane Tremaine, the State Treasurer and Vice Chair of the GOP, sat on his desk, spreading her well maintained posterior within lateral view. She gave him a grin. She knew he knew that she tended to use her famous thighs to political advantage. “So, hit me with it, Greyson.”

Sure. She might as well have a migraine too. “The too-long-didn’t-read version?”

The woman nodded. “Bullet points only.”

“No, yeah, okay. Look, the Elves have locked down New York, Boston, LA, and now Chicago. Detroit’s got fears. Open area, lots of gardens, the witches there are a crap voting group but defer to the Fey. And there’s lots of Muslims.”

Diane held up her hand. “Question. Why do Elves care about Muslims exactly?”

Roderick shrugged. “I think the Democrats agree with us that the Elves don’t care about anyone but themselves. But they have done a superb job of selling both kosher food and eruvs here and lots of concessions for halal, Friday prayers, and head scarves across the states. They could swing Detroit. Cheap land since the third bankruptcy, only need seven wards to run it, and frankly we’re supposed to be the evil ones but damn Team Blue has screwed the locals fiercely since the Flint water thing spread north.”

Diane gave him the same nonplussed look he’d given when asked to look into the allegations. “How does Detroit figure here in New York?”

“Ah, the Demos are using some astroturfed groups to allege Elven racism because they won’t take the subway.”

She laughed and when he didn’t join in her confused face twisted in thought. “It’s sticking?”

More shrugging. “Apparently well. To date there’s never been a sighting of an Elf in a subway anywhere. Ever. Humanity already feels pretty inferior. So it doesn’t take much to exploit an obvious truth applied to an actual fact.”

She sighed. “That we are inferior or that they are racist?”

The headache throbbed as he tried to find political words. There were none. “Both. It did not help that several aldermen jumped on it and held a press conference in the Bronx. This will be on the nightly news and run a bunch of cycles.”

She stared at him long and hard. All pretext of softness gone from her predatory features. “Go fucking fix it. Now. Kidnap a couple Elves and take them down there. Or fake some tape or whatever. Just keep us out of the fucking news, Greyson.”

His job for the last five years had been just that: to keep the New York State Republicans out of the limelight while they slowly but determinedly sold their souls to the Elves. He’d quashed and distracted, spin doctored and wagged dogs with the best of them. They had started with three wards and now owned 18. Next election they looked to put a GOP Mayor in office – the first in a few decades.

He sighed, grabbed his coat, and left to go find Singer. On his way out the youths could be overheard asking Jonesy for tips on how to manage the voter suppression PAC. They’d fit right in at GOP HQ. Or Dem HQ for that matter. When it came to the Fey, both parties varied only in what color pin they wore while implementing Elven policy.


Singer for the Trees maintained a borough office in Tribeca, fronted by a pair of handsome security personnel in good suits and bulletproof vests wearing assault rifles. Not strictly legal but hard to enforce when the same office approved the annual NYC police budget. Inside the assiduous Elves flitted about like dancers on stage. Some wore their hair braided, some free flowing. As a result, various shades of raven, umber, copper, gold, and flax swirled among herringbone grey Kaiton suits cut severely – rendering the lot androgynously male. Only Singer sported color, wearing an Italian style ensemble of burgundy with a black shirt and white and burgundy tie. On him it looked chic and sophisticated, his crystal green eyes, chiseled features, and golden hair augmented by the contrast of color. The functionaries and vassals – Roderick knew the Elves maintained a strict nine tier caste system – streamed around him, planets to his incandescent sun.

The door opened, a vassal of some lower tier bowed him in, and with a mild flourish a chair appeared. Sit came the thought. It had taken some getting used to the Elfthink. But over time, some humans not only developed tolerance but aptitude for the rapport, telepathy, hive mind, whatever it might be termed. Elves sent words into your head. Not just words, they conveyed meaning, subtlety, menace, power, desire. They seduced and cajoled, bent your will to theirs. Simply by being. By some fluke of birth or perhaps mischance in Afghanistan (minus one finger, plus one plate to the skull) Roderick Greyson, Esquire, happened to be particularly difficult to influence.

You have a request. Singer did not ask, did not need to ask. The issue had already spun out on Fox News and MSNBC before he exited the Varick Street stop.

He had a question, really. Several questions which he allowed to drift out into the office of muted carpets and hanging plants. Why don’t Elves take the subway? Do Elves care about this issue? Are you going to Detroit? What’s going on here?

You wish to know why we don’t do a thing we don’t wish to do?

Put that way it sounded both ironic and mocking. But not incorrect. Yes. Precisely that. Why did they not want to do this thing? Why did they not want to use the New York Subway? He then conveyed the convoluted strategy being launched by apparatchiks of the Michigan Dems to not only defame the Elves but strike a direct blow to their political influence.

Elves cared about politics but not in the same way humans did. When they had first arrived in the 90s, they’d set up shop in small districts, watched, learned, sent their “children” to school, and pretty much kept to themselves. Until ’02 when the world woke up one day and discovered their delightful airy fairy neighbors who sold moonsilk and conjure stones had quietly incorporated multiple Delaware entities, built a Russian doll of shell corporations and legal proxies with which they’d purchased land across gerrymandered wards. In a heartbeat the strange but nonthreatening visitors from Fairy had become landlords and power brokers. By ’06 they ran Boston. By ’12 they owned LA, Chicago, and NYC more or less. Then they stopped and waited. When you live a few thousand years you can sit tight for a decade or two and catch your political breath. In that time, not a single Elf had ever run for office or publicly joined a party. Instead, they worked through cats’ paws and proxies, lawyers and fixers like Roderick.

Singer stared at him and smiled. On Elves it was if the sun had crested over the mountains, all light shining deep with your soul. Roderick could not avoid feeling the warmth and intimacy. We simply had never desired to do so. It’s under the earth, the humans claim they are dirty and crowded, they serve no purpose.

Ah. But they do serve a vital purpose. They move people across the city. Between wards, to stations with buses and trains, the airport. Not everyone owns cars.

Singer considered this. We will see this place, ride on this conveyance. He rose and the room rose with him. The entire office began moving towards the door.

Roderick took his cue and led them to the nearest station which happened to be the Chambers stop. Coincidentally, a station festooned with every kind of media camped out to record just such a rare happenstance. The Elves smiled their radiant smiles, ran interference, and somehow between the bending of minds, and the sudden leavening of the crowd with more military types in suits, Singer led Roderick through to the stairs and then the turnstiles.

The Elf Prince ran a gloved finger over the triangular metal barrier of the turnstile. They are always this filthy?

No one would be served by a lie. Often more filthy. Or broken. Usually much filthier.

The functional station here represented more spent from tax monies than almost anywhere in New York. The Elves had many idiosyncrasies, not least that they paid their tax bills in full without deductions or complaints. Their wards thrived like no others in City history.

Tickets appeared in the hands of functionaries and the group slid through the barriers. To Roderick it looked as if a tide had washed over the crude banks of a castle moat. Then the Elves led him down and through to the station where violinists played, kids capered and sang threats, the poor huddled over their groceries, and as it was mid-day, the post lunch meeting crowd thronged in discrete bunches, oblivious in their noise canceling soundcasters, glued to phones and conversations. At first no one saw them. Then the racket of pursuing media and the surreal beauty of the flock ( hive seemed too insectoid, throng too human) moving as a single elegant unit captured human attention.

More questions:. They allow music down here? They do not provide these musicians however? The children are from gangs? Why do these people lack baskets? Where do these tunnels lead? Why had no one cleaned the lights? Are those rats intentional?

He answered them politely and followed Singer as the man entered a random car, started walking up and down the various cabs, pointing to passengers mentally, asking questions and making observations. Wherever they went, the mercenaries with rifles preceded and followed and among them wove the sinuous gray suited vassals, smiling and yet somehow not at all putting Roderick at ease.

Summed up later to Diane and the big boss, the GOP Chairman Stubbs Montgomery, Roderick had condensed the afternoon to these three questions: Is it always this filthy? Are we allowed to improve it? Are the rats, gangs, poor, damages, graffiti, trash, urine stink, drug addicts intentional?

By the end of the day, nine Elven delegations from Staten Island to the Bronx had ridden the subway to the befuddled delight of the media. The Detroit machine had stuttered and regrouped, mixing editing tricks, camera angles, and slander to showcase every imagined sneer and snub offered by the curious Fey as they came face to face with the flora and fauna of New York’s most urban ecosystem. But the damage had been done – Elves could no longer be said to avoid the subway.

Roderick drank a half bottle of scotch, put his phone on silent, fed the cats a double portion of wet food and dropped into a fevered sleep on his couch, shoes off, tie loose, suit half discarded on the matching loveseat.


A paw rasping on his tongue woke him long enough to realize someone rude had been pounding on his door for far too long. He sputtered, spit out the offending fur, and shambled to his entry. By the time he got the locks open and the hinge working an exasperated and oddly sweaty party man nearly tackled him as he rushed in and past.

“Sure Harry, come in. Why not?”

The man looked around grimacing. “You don’t answer your phone.”

Roderick blinked twice hard. Why had they sent Harry ‘The Hammer’ Twilk. The man did three things: file torts, crush the weak, and manage away moral indiscretions. He was a few steps above flunky duty. “Whatcha doin’ here Hammer?”

“Right, um, you gotta get dressed and come with me. Prolly shower first. Why does this place stink of cat?”

Roderick sniffed. Great. “Yeah, smells like Noriega got pissed with me being gone and then asleep, so she left me a sternly worded letter on the bed.”

The lawyer stared at him. “You named your cat Noriega?”

Roderick shrugged, shuffling towards his bedroom. Yeah, the cats had taken turns peeing on the bedspreads again. He texted Mrs. Cruz and then turned on the shower, dumping his clothes on the floor. “I named them Noriega, Louverture, and Castro. Reminds me never ever to get on the wrong side of an imperial power. So now,” he lathered and ducked under the semi-scalding water. From the ledge he grabbed his toothbrush and multitasked. “Whaddya doin’ here Hammer?”

From the other room a hoarse voice rose over the pounding staccato of the water. “Your damned Elves have started messing with the subways.”

He let that sink in as he turned off the water and found a clean towel. Castro had a weird habit of pulling them down and making a nest of them. But only on days when he left them alone past 8pm. Having gotten home past nine last night he expected and found most of his linens vandalized.

“Define my Elves.” He looked at the available suits. Funeral, press conference, fundraiser, date night (still in plastic), military events, work. He grabbed a pin stripe blue work suit, a plain white shirt, and a power tie with the New York GOP crest on it. By the time he had socks and a pair of unscuffed shoes in hand, Harry had poured himself a drink and stood ready to debrief.

“Your Elves as in the Singer guy and his cohort. As in all of New York Fucking City and every other city. As in the whole damned Elfy Elf world got a sudden wild hair up their arses and have started invading the subways.”

Roderick raised an eyebrow and continued dressing. “Define invade.” As informants went, the Hammer lacked concision. Actually, he lacked most virtues. It begged the question as to why this man of all possible ones had been selected to fetch him.

The Hammer guzzled down something brown from a bottle he tucked back into his rumpled coat. “Look, they got a whole bunch of …, look just come see. they got a crew down there. Working, screwing with things, making people scared.”

What became clear: the Elves scared Harry Twilk sufficiently to make any conversation pointless. Roderick sent further instructions to Mrs. Cruz, sighed as he considered the damage the cats would do in his absence, and let the crass minder guide him to the scene of apparent mayhem, possibly criminal trespass and vandalism.

By the time they hit the 72nd street station, Roderick felt certain the stress would have him retching if a much anticipated hangover did not. To his surprise the stairs smelt of lavender and green apple. Not a familiar scent anywhere near the New York Subway and absolutely alien on a stairwell leading down into a station. A flight down, as if he’d been waiting all day, stood one of Singer’s “men” in a grim suit smiling and even more unusually waving them forward. The Elf had plaited auburn hair interlaced with tiny marigolds.

The vassal bowed to him. Let us be known to one another. I am Delights of the Moon. Your people call me Delighted.

Next to him the Hammer lurched as if struck. Ah. Most folk found Elfthink overwhelming. Nothing in the man’s moral or intellectual make-up suggested he’d be able to resist Delighted’s charms. Indeed, he seemed dazzled and perplexed, a cross between a stunned pigeon and gawking child.

I am known as Greyson child of the Stanwick. Elves sorted humans by their mother’s clan name and except in friendship went by surnames. It reminded Roderick to call his mother more often, so theoretically win-win.

Delighted motioned them down and obediently the bemused fixer followed with Roderick in tow. The stairs themselves looked absurdly spotless. As the descended singing could be heard in counter position to the bass beat of some primitive but stirring music. They found a work gang of cheerful humanity, all wearing bright periwinkle overalls, scrubbing, cleaning and otherwise rendering the station, tracks, walls, ceiling, and various furnishings not only spotless but functional, graffiti and stain-free, and where worn, torn, broken, or chipped, replaced by what appeared to be a fleet of hourly workmen who charged obnoxious fees. Among them sang the Elves, accompanied by three strange hairy creatures that might be trolls or ogres, or simply another kind of Fey, who kept time on long thin drum heads which resonated without being loud.

We did not realize these transit ways were useful. These are very ingenious. Delighted inspected the work being done, nodding here and there to his fellow Elves. A train pulled into the station to genuine cheers and when the doors opened, the occupants stepped out gobsmacked to waves and hellos as well as the joyful music of the Elves. For the duration of the stop industrious hands wiped the sides and windows.

Roderick watched the interactions, calculating what a few thousand Elves and ten or twenty thousand gleeful workers in watercolor jumpsuits might do to the emotional temperature of NYC. It made him chuckle. The Elves turned as one and watched him.

You have had a thought Greyson Stanwick?

Yes, apologies for laughing. It occurred to me that the governor and mayor may be panicking because your response has been both unpredictable and unprecedented.

Roderick did not add: it probably looked like the Aum Shinrikyo cult incident all over again until someone noticed the deck brushes and bubbles. Panic followed by rage followed by inchoate wonderment no doubt. You couldn’t arrest someone for cleaning their own subway, though likely lawyers had argued that issue before a closed courtroom earlier. He looked at The Hammer, still lulled by the Fey, and put all the pieces together.

Joy. His bosses had tried to sue their own constituency into compliance and when that failed, they’d hauled him out of bed for damage control.

The Elf turned to him and his face made a moue. He seemed to be expressing a uniquely Elven emotion, something like wry amusement that suggested sorrow. Huh. We had surmised this. We suggested to our legal adversary he engage you as an intermediary. You are known to Singer, and trusted.

That made Delighted part of the city legal team and of the highest rank. Not a vassal, but some other kind of Prince or Duke. Or likewise suggested that the Elves did not put their leaders forward, having them stand behind someone charismatic who finessed things on their behalf.

He considered the issues. He needed to ask delicate questions, dreaded to ask, and knew for certain he’d be relying on a variety of medications by day’s end unless something went very right very fast.

He bowed deeply to the elite Fey. May one ask if Singer actually runs the New York office or merely serves as an intermediary? For example, as I do. Rarely had Roderick been more grateful to skip breakfast.

Delighted stared into the distance, perhaps contemplating, perhaps simply affronted. For example, yes, he intervenes for our council. But as you surmise, he also has rank. Your people would say of him, the lowest of the highest?

Five years and he had just now cracked a vital code in the Elven political management. By accident, no less. Roderick frowned, trying to keep the roil of emotions tightly under his skin. No one knew to what extent Elfthink worked in reverse – could they feel human emotions, sense thoughts, read minds?

In this case one asks what the highest of the high would ask of me in this circumstance.

Roderick stared as blankly as he knew. But what reflected back seemed eerily his own self fragmented in a psychic mirror. He felt not so much Delighted’s thoughts but his own conflicted fears and frustrations. Weeks on end sleeping on the couch, neglecting his only three friends – smally furry and often furious – it had been months, god, years since he had a real date. His marine buddies had moved on, gotten married and bought houses. He schmoozed the mediaschmoozed media and drank too much. Occasionally remembering to call his mom.

We will take you to Singer. We operate in this fashion. He will convey the sentiments of the Holy High. Delighted gave him another version of the moue. But we laud you for asking. We find you worthy of trust.


By the time the coterie of functionaries and grim suited elves had moved Roderick through a corridor of mercenaries and media, he needed the requisite cup of tea. Sweet, somehow astringent, and smelling of lemongrass, he would be offered five small cups, each smaller, sweeter, and darker than the last. No one actually knew what the ritual meant nor whether it applied to humans alone or was something common among the Fey. Still, they drank the tea and hoped it conveyed polite cooperation.

He sipped. The cup held espresso. Damn good espresso at that. Singer approached, waving him back down into his seat. Ah, we may dispense with the outsider’s tea.

Roderick’s phone buzzed. Several texts popped up at once. Mrs. Cruz had started cleaning the shambles left by his trio of furry marauders. Jonesy sent notes on a recent joint bipartisan planning session. Diane sent him a terse four words: “don’t come back. fired.”

Huh. Roderick downed the espresso and was gratified to find a vassal at hand with a new cup. My office may have removed me from formal power.

Singer nodded, giving him a thin but genuine seeming smile. Nothing menacing or emotional radiated from it. We have been informed. The legislators have heard about my move and acted accordingly.

Roderick sipped. More espresso but laced with a liqueur. Delicious. I’m sorry, what. You are moving?

The Elf nodded, taking a sip of his own coffee. Yes. You have shown us the value of these metropolitan transit authorities. Of how they can better cities. The high of high councils have met. I have shared your thinkfeelshow explanations. They agree with you.

He sat and considered. In days he’d witnessed genuine movement and change from the Elves. Ostensibly nothing had been done differently but either they’d crossed a threshold of trust or by sheer chance the subway issue had allowed Roderick to provide the Elves with something they valued. That meant the last five years had been about doing necessary but ineffectual finessing. And they’d just fired him for it.

Singer made a small bow. Precisely Roderick of Greyson Stanwick, you have moved us.

Literally? You are changing locations?

This as well. We see value in Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. These places have subways and ground trains. Our households have grown unwieldy and must find balance. My own household, here he waved at the room, will be moving to manage the Atlanta presence.

Among them stood Delighted, his eyes twinkling with mirth. Between the sudden lack of emotional pressure and the espresso, Roderick found himself inside the Elves’ world. What does the High of Highs ask of me, Singer? I have been removed from my job. The thought somehow pleased him.

Ah. Ask instead what the High Holy may do for you, Roderick. We owe your candor and trust repayment in kind.

He sat and thought. He’d squandered – no spent them mercilessly but not fruitlessly – the better part of a decade between mustering out, getting the legal degree finished and joining the Republicans. He had adopted three awesome cats, paid off his very expensive townhouse, gotten to know Mom better, and learned an indecent amount about Elves.

I, too, am unwieldy and need to find… respite maybe, balance and harmony definitely. He thought of his platoon sergeant Mitch who had a third kid on the way. The one who lived in Atlanta, owned a BBQ palace, and was always asking him to come visit.

Singer bowed low. We shall revisit this conversation when you arrive. They rose, Roderick almost perfectly in unison with his host. They made their way to the door which the man himself held open, offering the rarest of honors – an arm to arm embrace. Shock of shocks, the room as one gave him a low bow, Delighted included.

He stood out on the sidewalk, befuddled, before he realized he’d bowed back with exact precision and gave them that strange moue in return. With a shrug he pulled out his phone. He’d have to let Mrs. Cruz know he’d be home early today. Then a wicked smile crept over his face. At least the subway would be clean.


  • Ani Fox is the author of The Autumn War, Requisition, Bugbear Blues, and Jobs Stranger than Fiction. His most recent novel is titled: The Ridiculous Misadventures of the Imperial Garden Boy (2022).

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