Xan’s office is not at Ten Downing Street, historically the seat of British government. Instead, he lives and works in what used to be the Foreign and Commonwealth building nearby.
Xan is doing things as no other leader of Britain has done before. As the opposite of Theo, he ignores history.
A Grenadier shows Theo into Xan’s office, where the full Council is assembled. They sit together on one side of the table, opposing Theo, who realizes that the arrangement is a “ploy intended to disconcert him.”
The Council is arranged to highlight Theo’s exclusion. By leaving the Council, he marked himself as an outsider and perhaps even a threat.
Xan has his hands folded on the table. He wears the Coronation Ring, the ornate and heavy wedding ring of England, on his left hand. Xan notices Theo eyeing the ring, and insists that it was Harriet’s idea he wear it. “The people,” he says, “need their baubles.” Theo tells Xan that there was once a time when Xan “wouldn’t have felt the need to wear it.”
The ring, which symbolizes Xan’s “unquestionable” power, wasn’t on Xan’s finger back when Theo sat on the Council. The fact that he wears it now tells Theo that Xan’s “need” for power—and for a physical reminder of it for himself and for others—has deepened considerably.
Theo sits in the chair designated for him and tells the group that he asked for a “personal” meeting with Xan alone. Xan retorts that since it’s been three years since he and Theo last met, or even spoke, he thought Theo “might like to meet [with] old friends.” Felicia remarks that Theo is not a friend, but an acquaintance, and that she never understood why Theo spent time on the Council in the first place. Xan once again insists that all gathered in the room are “friends,” but Theo hears a threat in his words.
Xan seems to have purposefully drawn the Council into the meeting to throw Theo off, or perhaps to put him on high alert. The Council members are not actually Theo’s “friends,” despite their shared history as the few members of English society aware of what goes on behind the curtain, so to speak.
Theo launches into a report on the botched Quietus he witnessed, asking if a “murderous parade [is] what the Council means by security, comfort, [and] pleasure.” Felicia is aware that that particular Quietus was “mismanaged” and promises “appropriate action will be taken against those responsible.” Harriet chimes in, claiming that “people need their rites of passage,” and want to “feel the touch of a human hand” at the ends of their lives. Harriet and Felicia both insist that there are many “safeguards” in place that protect the safety and integrity of those who choose to participate in the Quietus.
The Council’s inability—or unwillingness—to acknowledge the horrors of the new systems that have emerged under their regime reveals a desire to keep things going as they are, even in the face of knowledge that harm has come to the citizens they are supposed to be protecting.
Xan asks Theo if he is finished. Theo presses on, asking about the Isle of Man Penal Colony, and whether Xan and the Council are aware of the dire conditions there. Felicia insists that Theo had “no objection” to the establishment of the Colony back when he sat on the Council. Theo replies that he assumed the conditions on the island would be better than what they are. Xan says that “the encouragement of criminals is an indulgence [society can no longer] afford,” and asks Theo if he has any more concerns to bring forth.
Theo’s questions and issues with the Council—and with society—are at odds with the apathy he displayed in the past, when he too was a member of the government. The Council members indict and berate him for having “indulgen[t]” thoughts and opinions—opinions which signal the bolstering, motivating effect that Julian’s group and the Quietus have had on Theo.
Theo mentions the Sojourners, questioning why they are treated as slaves and why they are sent back to their countries of origin. Martin speaks up, remarking that immigration is just the arrival of “invading hordes” which damage society. Theo notes that “whoever speaks, [their] voice is the voice of Xan. Xan cuts in to say that “generosity is a virtue for individuals, not governments.”
The Council’s xenophobic worldview is on full display here. Xan speaks of generosity as something governments cannot afford to provide, unfeeling and unthinking as to both the dire conditions the entire world faces and the need for humane, thoughtful treatment of his own citizens.
Carl Inglebach finally speaks; he launches into a tirade about the imbalance between humanity’s faith in the past, present, and future. He tells Theo that as a historian, he should know that man is “diminished” without both knowledge of his past and hope for a future, and in this new world humanity lacks both. Carl feels that Britain has been “spared” the catastrophic return to “starvation, civil war, and human sacrifice” that has plagued many other countries since Year Omega. Carl insists that the Sojourners, the Quietus, and the Man Penal Colony are societal goods which have helped people to cope since the world changed.
Carl reveals a central truth about the world of the novel in his speech to Theo. The imbalance between the weight of the past, the present, and the future has doomed society to a moment-bound, “self-obsessed” way of thinking which mirrors Xan’s personal ethos. Unable to see beyond the present moment or the bounds of the self, society has collapsed into a selfish and diminished state—which is far better, Carl says, than the savage catastrophes that have plagued much of the rest of the world.
Theo concedes that the Council has made many achievements but wonders aloud why some “reforms” can’t be made—the Council could make positive change happen so easily. Xan tells Theo that he is asking too much, and that Theo desires the “ends” that the council has achieved but is refusing to acknowledge the necessary “means” to achieve those ends. Xan stands up and exits the room, and the rest of the Council follows behind him. A Grenadier appears at Theo’s side to show him out, and Theo leaves.
Whereas Carl believes that diminishment is a preferable tradeoff for humanity’s limited but continued survival, Theo, after his encounter with Julian’s group, wonders why the Council cannot ensure that humanity is both protected and shown compassion. He feels it is little to ask, but it’s obviously too much for Xan to be able to grant, or even consider striving toward.