/ Language: English / Genre:sf_fantasy,

Anathem

Neal Stephenson

Anathem is set on a planet called Arbre, where the protagonist, Erasmas, is among a cohort of secluded scientists, philosophers and mathematicians who are called upon to save the world from impending catastrophe. Erasmas — Raz to his friends — has spent most of his life inside a 3,400-year-old sanctuary. The rest of society — the Sæcular world — is described as an "endless landscape of casinos and megastores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change." Their planet, Arbre, has a history and culture that is roughly analogous to Earth. Resident scholars, including Raz, are unexpectedly summoned by a frightened Sæcular power to leave their monastic stronghold in the hope that they may prevent an approaching catastrophe.

Neal Stephenson

Anathem

TO MY PARENTS

Anathem: (1) In Proto-Orth, a poetic or musical invocation of Our Mother Hylaea, which since the time of Adrakhones has been the climax of the daily liturgy (hence the Fluccish word Anthem meaning a song of great emotional resonance, esp. one that inspires listeners to sing along). Note: this sense is archaic, and used only in a ritual context where it is unlikely to be confused with the much more commonly used sense 2. (2) In New Orth, an aut by which an incorrigible fraa or suur is ejected from the math and his or her work sequestered (hence the Fluccish word Anathema meaning intolerable statements or ideas). See Throwback.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

NOTE TO THE READER

IF YOU ARE ACCUSTOMED to reading works of speculative fiction and enjoy puzzling things out on your own, skip this Note. Otherwise, know that the scene in which this book is set is not Earth, but a planet called Arbre that is similar to Earth in many ways.

Pronunciation hints: Arbre is pronounced like “Arb” with a little something on the end. Consult a French person for advice. In a pinch, “Arb” will do. Two dots above a vowel are a dieresis, meaning that the vowel in question gets a syllable all its own. So, for example, Deät is pronounced “day ott” rather than “deet.”

Arbran measurement units have been translated into ones used on Earth. This story takes place almost four thousand years after the people of Arbre settled on their common system of units, which now seem ancient and time-worn to them. Accordingly, old Earth units (feet, miles, etc.) are used here instead of the newer ones from the metric system.

Where the Orth-speaking culture of this book has developed vocabulary based on the ancient precedents of Arbre, I have coined words based on the old languages of Earth. Anathem is the first and most conspicuous example. It is a play on the words anthem and anathema, which derive from Latin and Greek words. Orth, the classical language of Arbre, has a completely different vocabulary, and so the words for anthem, anathema, and anathem are altogether different, and yet linked by a similar pattern of associations. Rather than use the Orth word, which would be devoid of meaning and connotations to Earth readers, I have tried to devise an Earth word that serves as its rough equivalent while preserving some flavor of the Orth term. The same thing, mutatis mutandis, has been done in many other places in the book.

Names of some Arbran plant and animal species have been translated into rough Earth equivalents. So these characters may speak of carrots, potatoes, dogs, cats, etc. This doesn’t mean that Arbre has exactly the same species. Naturally, Arbre has its own plants and animals. The names of those species’ rough Earth equivalents have been swapped in here to obviate digressions in which, e.g., the phenotype of the Arbre-equivalent-of-a-carrot must be explained in detail.

A very sparse chronology of Arbre’s history follows. None of this will make very much sense until one has read some pages into the book, but after that it may be useful for reference.

−3400 to −3300: Approximate era of Cnoüs and his daughters Deät and Hylaea.

−2850: Temple of Orithena founded by Adrakhones, the father of geometry.

−2700: Diax drives out the Enthusiasts, founds theorics on axiomatic principles and gives it its name.

−2621: Orithena destroyed by volcanic eruption. Beginning of Peregrin period. Many surviving theors gravitate toward city-state of Ethras.

−2600 to −2300: Golden Age of Ethras.

−2396: Execution of Thelenes

−2415 to −2335: Life span of Protas

−2272: Ethras forcibly absorbed into Bazian Empire

−2204: Foundation of the Ark of Baz

−2037: Ark of Baz becomes state religion of the Empire

−1800: Bazian Empire reaches its peak

−1500s: Various military setbacks lead to dramatic shrinkage of the Bazian Empire. Theors retreat from public life. Saunt Cartas writes Sæculum thereby inaugurating the Old Mathic Age.

−1472: Fall of Baz, burning of its Library. Surviving literate people flock to Bazian monasteries or Cartasian maths.

−1150: Rise of the Mystagogues

−600: The Rebirth. Purging of the Mystagogues, Opening of the Books.

−500: Dispersal of the mathic system, Age of Exploration, discovery of laws of dynamics, creation of modern applied theorics. Beginning of the Praxic Age.

−74: The First Harbinger

−52: The Second Harbinger

−43: Proc founds The Circle

−38: Proc’s work repudiated by Halikaarn

−12: The Third Harbinger

−5: The Terrible Events

0: The Reconstitution. The First Convox. Foundation of the new mathic system. Promulgation of the Book of Discipline and the first edition of the Dictionary.

+121: Avout of the Concent of Saunt Muncoster split into two groups, the Syntactics and the Semantics, founding the Procian and Halikaarnian Orders respectively. Thereafter, orders proliferate.

+190 to +210: Avout of Saunt Baritoe make advances in manipulation of nucleosynthesis using syntactic techniques. Creation of New Matter.

+211 to +213: The First Sack

+214: Post-Sack Convox abolishes most forms of New Matter. Promulgation of the Revised Book of Discipline. Faanian order splits away from Procian. Evenedrician order splits away from Halikaarnian.

+297: Saunt Edhar establishes his own order out of the Evenedricians.

+300: At the Centennial Apert, it is found that several Centenarian maths have gone off the rails (“gone Hundred”) since 200.

+308: Saunt Edhar founds the Concent of the same name.

+320 to +360: Advances in praxis of genetic sequences made at various concents, frequently arising from collaboration between Faanians and Halikaarnians.

+360 to +366: Second Sack.

+367: Post-Sack Convox. Manipulation of genetic sequences abolished. Sharper lines drawn between syntactic and semantic orders. Faanians disbanded. New Revised Book of Discipline promulgated. Syntactic devices removed from the mathic world. The Ita are created; many ex-Faanians join them. The Inquisition is created as a means of enforcing the new rules. Wardens Regulant installed in all concents; modern system of hierarchs instituted in the form that will endure for at least the next three millennia.

+1000: First Millennial Convox

+1107 to +1115: Detection of a dangerous asteroid (the “Big Nugget”) prompts the Sæcular Power to summon an extraordinary Convox.

+2000: Second Millennial Convox

+2700: Growing rivalry between Procian and Halikaarnian Orders gives rise to Sæcular legends of the Rhetors and the Incanters.

+2780: During a Decennial Apert, the Sæcular Power becomes aware of extraordinary kinds of praxis being developed by Rhetors and Incanters.

+2787 to +2856: Third Sack depopulates all concents except for the Three Inviolates.

+2857: Post-Sack Convox reorganizes the concents. Dowments outlawed. Various measures taken to reduce perceived luxury of mathic life. Number of Orders reduced. Remaining Orders redistributed to bring about greater “balance” between Procian and Halikaarnian tendencies. Promulgation of the Second New Revised Book of Discipline.

+3000: Third Millennial Convox

+3689: Our story opens.

Part 1

PROVENER

Extramuros: (1) In Old Orth, literally “outside the walls.” Often used in reference to the walled city-states of that age. (2) In Middle Orth, the non-mathic world; the turbulent and violent state of affairs that prevailed after the Fall of Baz. (3) In Praxic Orth, geographical regions or social classes not yet enlightened by the resurgent wisdom of the mathic world. (4) In New Orth, similar to sense 2 above, but often used to denote those settlements immediately surrounding the walls of a math, implying comparative prosperity, stability, etc.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Do your neighbors burn one another alive?” was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.

Embarrassment befell me. Embarrassment is something I can feel in my flesh, like a handful of sun-warmed mud clapped on my head.

“Do your shamans walk around on stilts?” Fraa Orolo asked, reading from a leaf that, judging by its brownness, was at least five centuries old. Then he looked up and added helpfully, “You might call them pastors or witch doctors.”

The embarrassment had turned runny. It was horrifying my scalp along a spreading frontier.

“When a child gets sick, do you pray? Sacrifice to a painted stick? Or blame it on an old lady?”

Now it was sheeting warm down my face, clogging my ears and sanding my eyes. I could barely hear Fraa Orolo’s questions: “Do you fancy you will see your dead dogs and cats in some sort of afterlife?”

Orolo had asked me along to serve as amanuensis. It was an impressive word, so I’d said yes.

He had heard that an artisan from extramuros had been allowed into the New Library to fix a rotted rafter that we could not reach with our ladders; it had only just been noticed, and we didn’t have time to erect proper scaffolding before Apert. Orolo meant to interview that artisan, and he wanted me to write down what happened.

Through drizzly eyes, I looked at the leaf in front of me. It was as blank as my brain. I was failing.

But it was more important to take notes of what the artisan said. So far, nothing. When the interview had begun, he had been dragging an insufficiently sharp thing over a flat rock. Now he was just staring at Orolo.

“Has anyone you know ever been ritually mutilated because they were seen reading a book?”

Artisan Flec closed his mouth for the first time in quite a while. I could tell that the next time he opened it, he’d have something to say. I scratched at the edge of the leaf just to prove that my quill had not dried up. Fraa Orolo had gone quiet, and was looking at the artisan as if he were a new-found nebula in the eyepiece of a telescope.

Artisan Flec asked, “Why don’t you just speel in?”

“Speel in,” Fraa Orolo repeated to me, a few times, as I was writing it down.

I spoke in bursts because I was trying to write and talk at the same time: “When I came—that is, before I was Collected—we—I mean, they—had a thing called a speely… We didn’t say ‘speel in’—we said ‘cruise the speely.’” Out of consideration for the artisan, I chose to speak in Fluccish, and so this staggering drunk of a sentence only sounded half as bad as if I’d said it in Orth. “It was a sort of—”

“Moving picture,” Orolo guessed. He looked to the artisan, and switched to Fluccish. “We have guessed that ‘to speel in’ means to partake of some moving picture praxis—what you would call technology—that prevails out there.”

“Moving picture, that’s a funny way to say it,” said the artisan. He stared out a window, as if it were a speely showing a historical documentary. He quivered with a silent laugh.

“It is Praxic Orth and so it sounds quaint to your ears,” Fraa Orolo admitted.

“Why don’t you just call it by its real name?”

“Speeling in?”

“Yeah.”

“Because when Fraa Erasmas, here, came into the math ten years ago, it was called ‘cruising the speely’ and when I came in almost thirty years ago we called it ‘Farspark.’ The avout who live on the other side of yonder wall, who celebrate Apert only once every hundred years, would know it by some other name. I would not be able to talk to them.”

Artisan Flec had not taken in a word after Farspark. “Farspark is completely different!” he said. “You can’t watch Farspark content on a speely, you have to up-convert it and re-parse the format…”

Fraa Orolo was as bored by that as the artisan was by talk of the Hundreders, and so conversation thudded to a stop long enough for me to scratch it down. My embarrassment had gone away without my noticing it, as with hiccups. Artisan Flec, believing that the conversation was finally over, turned to look at the scaffolding that his men had erected beneath the bad rafter.

“To answer your question,” Fraa Orolo began.

“What question?”

“The one you posed just a minute ago—if I want to know what things are like extramuros, why don’t I just speel in?”

“Oh,” said the artisan, a little confounded by the length of Fra Orolo’s attention span. I suffer from attention surplus disorder, Fraa Orolo liked to say, as if it were funny.

“First of all,” Fraa Orolo said, “we don’t have a speely-device.”

“Speely-device?”

Waving his hand as if this would dispel clouds of linguistic confusion, Orolo said, “Whatever artifact you use to speel in.”

“If you have an old Farspark resonator, I could bring you a down-converter that’s been sitting in my junk pile—”

“We don’t have a Farspark resonator either,” said Fraa Orolo.

“Why don’t you just buy one?”

This gave Orolo pause. I could sense a new set of embarrassing questions stacking up in his mind: “do you believe that we have money? That the reason we are protected by the Sæcular Power is because we are sitting on a treasure hoard? That our Millenarians know how to convert base metals to gold?” But Fraa Orolo mastered the urge. “Living as we do under the Cartasian Discipline, our only media are chalk, ink, and stone,” he said. “But there is another reason too.”

“Yeah, what is it?” demanded Artisan Flec, very provoked by Fraa Orolo’s freakish habit of announcing what he was about to say instead of just coming out and saying it.

“It’s hard to explain, but, for me, just aiming a speely input device, or a Farspark chambre, or whatever you call it…”

“A speelycaptor.”

“…at something doesn’t collect what is meaningful to me. I need someone to gather it in with all their senses, mix it round in their head, and make it over into words.”

“Words,” the artisan echoed, and then aimed sharp looks all round the library. “Tomorrow, Quin’s coming instead of me,” he announced, then added, a little bit defensively, “I have to counter-strafe the new clanex recompensators—the fan-out tree’s starting to look a bit clumpy, if you ask me.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Orolo marveled.

“Never mind. You ask him all your questions. He’s got the gift of gab.” And for the third time in as many minutes, the artisan looked at the screen of his jeejah. We’d insisted he shut down all of its communications functions, but it still served as a pocket-watch. He didn’t seem to realize that in plain sight out the window was a clock five hundred feet high.

I put a full stop at the end of the sentence and aimed my face at a bookshelf, because I was afraid that I might look amused. There was something in the way he’d said Quin’s coming instead of me that made it seem he’d just decided it on the spot. Fraa Orolo had probably caught it too. If I made the mistake of looking at him, I would laugh, and he wouldn’t.

The clock began chiming Provener. “That’s me,” I said. Then I added, for the benefit of the artisan: “Apologies, I must go wind the clock.”

“I was wondering—” he said. He reached into his toolbox and took out a poly bag, blew off sawdust, undid its seal (which was of a type I had never seen before), and withdrew a silver tube the size of his finger. Then he looked at Fraa Orolo hopefully.

“I don’t know what that is and I don’t understand what you want,” said Fraa Orolo.

“A speelycaptor!”

“Ah. You have heard about Provener, and as long as you are here, you’d like to view it and make a moving picture?”

The artisan nodded.

“That will be acceptable, provided you stand where you are told. Don’t turn it on!” Fraa Orolo raised his hands, and got ready to avert his gaze. “The Warden Regulant will hear of it—she’ll make me do penance! I’ll send you to the Ita. They’ll show you where to go.”

And more in this vein, for the Discipline was made up of many rules, and we had already made a muddle of them, in Artisan Flec’s mind, by allowing him to venture into the Decenarian math.

Cloister: (1) In Old Orth, any closed, locked-up space (Thelenes was confined in one prior to his execution, but, confusingly to younger fids, it did not then have the mathic connotations of senses 2, etc., below). (2) In Early Middle Orth, the math as a whole. (3) In Late Middle Orth, a garden or court surrounded by buildings, thought of as the heart or center of the math. (4) In New Orth, any quiet, contemplative space insulated from distractions and disturbances.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

I’d been using my sphere as a stool. I traced counterclockwise circles on it with my fingertips and it shrank until I could palm it. My bolt had shifted while I’d been sitting. I pulled it up and yanked the pleats straight as I careered around tables, chairs, globes, and slow-moving fraas. I passed under a stone arch into the Scriptorium. The place smelled richly of ink. Maybe it was because an ancient fraa and his two fids were copying out books there. But I wondered how long it would take to stop smelling that way if no one ever used it at all; a lot of ink had been spent there, and the wet smell of it must be deep into everything.

At the other end, a smaller doorway led to the Old Library, which was one of the original buildings that stood right on the Cloister. Its stone floor, 2300 years older than that of the New Library, was so smooth under the soles of my feet that I could scarcely feel it. I could have found my way with my eyes closed by letting my feet read the memory worn into it by those gone before.

The Cloister was a roofed gallery around the perimeter of a rectangular garden. On the inner side, nothing separated it from the weather except the row of columns that held up its roof. On the outer side it was bounded by a wall, openings in which gave way to buildings such as the Old Library, the Refectory, and various chalk halls.

Every object I passed—the carven bookcase-ends, the stones locked together to make the floor, the frames of the windows, the forged hinges of the doors and the hand-made nails that fastened them to the wood, the capitals of the columns that surrounded the Cloister, the paths and beds of the garden itself—every one had been made in a particular form by a clever person a long time ago. Some of them, such as the doors of the Old Library, had consumed the whole lifetimes of those who had wrought them. Others looked as though they’d been tossed off in an idle afternoon, but with such upsight that they had been cherished for hundreds or thousands of years. Some were founded on pure simple geometry. Others reveled in complication and it was a sort of riddle whether there was any rule governing their forms. Still others were depictions of actual people who had lived and thought interesting things at one time or another—or, barring that, of general types: the Deolater, the Physiologer, the Burger and the Sline. If someone had asked, I might have been able to explain a quarter of them. One day I’d be able to explain them all.

Sunlight crashed into the Cloister garden, where grass and gravel paths were interwoven among stands of herbs, shrubs, and the occasional tree. I reached back over my shoulder, caught the selvage end of my bolt, and drew it up over my head. I tugged down on the half of the bolt that hung below my chord, so that its fraying edge swept the ground and covered my feet. I thrust my hands together in the folds at my waist, just above the chord, and stepped out onto the grass. This was pale green and prickly, as the weather had been hot. As I came out into the open, I looked to the south dial of the clock. Ten minutes to go.

“Fraa Lio,” I said, “I do not think that slashberry is among the One Hundred and Sixty-four.” Meaning the list of plants that were allowed to be cultivated under the Second New Revised Book of Discipline.

Lio was stockier than I. When younger he had been chubby, but now he was just solid. On a patch of disturbed earth in the shade of an apple tree, he was squatting, hypnotized by the dirt. He had wrapped the selvage end of his bolt around his waist and between his thighs in the basic modesty knot. The remainder he had rolled up into a tight cylinder which he had tied at each end with his chord and then slung diagonally on his back, like a bedroll. He had invented this wrap. No one else had followed his lead. I had to admit that it looked comfortable, if stupid, on a warm day. His bottom was ten inches off the ground: he had made his sphere about the size of his head, and was balancing on it.

“Fraa Lio!” I said again. But Lio had a funny mind that sometimes did not respond to words. A slashberry cane arched across my path. I found a few thornless inches, closed my hand around it, jerked it up by its roots, and swung it round until the tiny flowers at its tip grazed Fraa Lio’s stubbly scalp. “Thistlehead!” I said, at the same moment.

Lio tumbled backward as if I’d smacked him with a quarter-staff. His feet flew up and spun back to find purchase on the roots of the apple tree. He stood, knees bent, chin tucked, spine straight, pieces of dirt trickling down from his sweaty back. His sphere rolled away and lodged in a pile of uprooted weeds.

“Did you hear me?”

“Slashberry is not one of the Hundred and Sixty-four, true. But neither is it one of the Eleven. So it’s not like I have to burn it on sight and put it down in the Chronicle. It can wait.”

“Wait for what? What are you doing?”

He pointed at the dirt.

I stooped and looked. Many would not have taken such a risk. Hooded, I could not see Fraa Lio in my peripheral vision. It was believed you should always keep Lio in the corner of your eye because you never knew when he might commence wrestling. I had endured more than my share of headlocks, chokeholds, takedowns, and pins at Lio’s hands, as well as large abrasions from brushes with his scalp. But I knew that he would not attack me now because I was showing respect for something that he thought was fascinating.

Lio and I had been Collected ten years ago, at the age of eight, as part of a crop of boys and girls numbering thirty-two. For our first couple of years we had watched a team of four bigger fraas wind the clock each day. A team of eight suurs rang the bells. Later he and I had been chosen, along with two other relatively large boys, to form the next clock-winding team. Likewise, eight girls had been chosen from our crop to learn the art of ringing the bells, which required less strength but was more arduous in some ways, because some of the changes went on for hours and required unbroken concentration. For more than seven years now, my team had wound the clock each day, except when Fraa Lio forgot, and three of us had to do it. He’d forgotten two weeks ago, and Suur Trestanas, the Warden Regulant, had sentenced him to do penance, in the form of weeding the herb beds during the hottest time of the year.

Eight minutes to go. But nagging Lio about the time wouldn’t get me anywhere; I had to go through, and out the other side of, whatever it was that he wanted to talk about.

“Ants,” I said. Then, knowing Lio, I corrected myself: “Ant vlor?”

I could hear him smiling. “Two colors of ants, Fraa Raz. They’re having a war. I regret to say I caused it.” He nudged a pile of uprooted slashberry canes.

“Would you call it a war, or just mad scrambling around?”

“That’s what I was trying to figure out,” he said. “In a war, you have strategy and tactics. Like flanking. Can ants flank?”

I barely knew what that meant: attacking from the side. Lio worried such terms loose from old books of vlor—Vale-lore—as if pulling dragon’s teeth from a fossil jaw.

“I suppose ants can flank,” I said, though I sensed that it was a trick question and that Lio was flanking me with words at this very moment. “Why not?”

“By accident, of course they can! You look down on it from above and say, ‘Oh, that looked like flanking.’ But if there’s no commander to see the field and direct their movements, can they really perform coordinated maneuvers?”

“That’s a little like Saunt Taunga’s Question,” I pointed out (“Can a sufficiently large field of cellular automata think?”).

“Well, can they?”

“I’ve seen ants work together to carry off part of my lunch, so I know they can coordinate their actions.”

“But if I’m one of a hundred ants all pushing on the same raisin, I can feel the raisin moving, can’t I—so the raisin itself is a way that they communicate with one another. But, if I’m a lone ant on a battlefield—”

“Thistlehead, it’s Provener.”

“Okay,” he said, and turned his back on me and started walking. It was this penchant for dropping conversations in the middle, among other odd traits, that had earned him a reputation as being less than intact. He’d forgotten his sphere again. I picked it up and threw it at him. It bounced off the back of his head and flew straight up in the air; he held out a hand, barely looking, and caught it on the drop. I edged around the battlefield, not wanting to get combatants, living or dead, on my feet, then hustled after him.

Lio reached the corner of the Cloister well ahead of me and ducked in front of a mass of slow-moving suurs in a way that was quite rude and yet so silly that the suurs all had a chuckle and thought no more of it. Then they clogged the archway, trapping me behind them. I had alerted Fraa Lio so he wouldn’t be late; now I was going to arrive last and be frowned at.

Aut: (1) In Proto- and Old Orth, an act; an action deliberately taken by some entity, usually an individual. (2) In Middle and later Orth, a formal rite, usually conducted by an assembly of avout, by which the math or concent as a whole carries out some collective act, typically solemnized by singing of chants, performance of coded gestures, or other ritual behavior.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

In a sense the clock was the entire Mynster, and its basement. When most people spoke of “the clock,” though, they meant its four dials, which were mounted high on the walls of the Præsidium — the Mynster’s central tower. The dials had been crafted in different ages, and each showed the time in a different way. But all four were connected to the same internal works. Each proclaimed the time; the day of the week; the month; the phase of the moon; the year; and (for those who knew how to read them) a lot of other cosmographical arcana.

The Præsidium stood on four pillars and for most of its height was square in cross-section. Not far above the dials, however, the corners of the square floor-plan were cleaved off, making it into an octagon, and not far above that, the octagon became a sixteen-sided polygon, and above that it became round. The roof of the Præsidium was a disk, or rather a lens, as it bulged up slightly in the middle to shed rainwater. It supported the megaliths, domes, penthouses, and turrets of the starhenge, which drove, and was driven by, the same clock-works that ran the dials.

Below each dial was a belfry, screened behind tracery. Below the belfries, the tower flung out plunging arcs of stone called buttresses to steady itself. Those found footing amid the topmost spires of four outlying towers, shorter and squatter than the Præsidium, but built to the same general plan. The towers were webbed to one another by systems of arches and spans of tracery that swallowed the lower half of the Præsidium and formed the broad plan of the Mynster.

The Mynster had a ceiling of stone, steeply vaulted. Above the vaults, a flat roof had been framed. Built upon that roof was the aerie of the Warden Fendant. Its inner court, squared around the Præsidium, was roofed and walled and diced up into store-rooms and headquarters, but its periphery was an open walkway on which the Fendant’s sentinels could pace a full circuit of the Mynster in a few minutes’ time, seeing to the horizon in all directions (except where blocked by a buttress, pier, spire, or pinnacle). This ledge was supported by dozens of close-spaced braces that curved up and out from the walls below. The end of each brace served as a perch for a gargoyle keeping eternal vigil. Half of them (the Fendant gargoyles) gazed outward, the other half (the Regulant gargoyles) bent their scaly necks and aimed their pointy ears and slitted eyes into the concent spread below. Tucked between the braces, and shaded below the sentinels’ walkway, were the squat Mathic arches of the Warden Regulant’s windows. Few places in the concent could not be spied on from at least one of these—and, of course, we knew them all by heart.

Saunt: (1) In New Orth, a term of veneration applied to great thinkers, almost always posthumously. Note: this word was accepted only in the Millennial Orth Convox of A.R. 3000. Prior to then it was considered a misspelling of Savant. In stone, where only upper-case letters are used, this is rendered SAVANT (or ST. if the stonecarver is running out of space). During the decline of standards in the decades that followed the Third Sack, a confusion between the letters U and V grew commonplace (the “lazy stonecarver problem”), and many began to mistake the word for SAUANT. This soon degenerated to saunt (now accepted) and even sant (still deprecated). In written form, St. may be used as an abbreviation for any of these. Within some traditional orders it is still pronounced “Savant” and obviously the same is probably true among Millenarians.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

The Mynster erupted from the planed-off stump of what had once been the end of a mountain range. The crag of the Millenarian math loomed above it on the east. The other maths and compounds were spread below it on the south and west. The one where I lived with the other Tenners was a quarter of a mile away. A roofed gallery, consisting of seven staircases strung together by landings, connected our math to a stone patio spread before the portal that we used to get into the Mynster. This was the route being taken by most of my fellow Tenners.

Rather than wait for that clot of old suurs to clear the bottleneck, though, I doubled back into the Chapterhouse, which was really just a wide spot in the gallery that surrounded the Cloister. This had a back exit that got me into a covered alley between chalk halls and workshops. Its walls were lined with niches where we stuffed work in progress. Ends and corners of half-written manuscripts projected, slowly yellowing and curling, making the passage seem even narrower than it was.

Jogging to its end and ducking through a keyhole arch, I came out into a meadow that spread below the elevated plinth on which the Mynster was built, and that served as a buffer separating us from the math of the Centenarians. A stone wall sixteen feet high sliced it in half. The Hundreders used their side for raising livestock.

When I had been Collected, we had used our side as a haymow. A few years ago, in late summer, Fraa Lio and Fraa Jesry had been sent out with hoes to walk it looking for plants of the Eleven. And indeed they had happened upon a patch of something that looked like blithe. So they had chopped it out, piled it in the middle of the meadow, and set fire to it.

By day’s end, the entire meadow on our side of the wall had become an expanse of smoking carbonized stubble, and noises coming over the top of the wall suggested that sparks had blown onto the Hundreders’ side. On our side, along the border between the meadow and the tangles where we grew most of our food, the fraas and suurs had formed a battle line that ran all the way down to the river. We passed full buckets up the line and empty ones down it and threw the water onto those tangles that seemed most likely to burst into flames. If you’ve ever seen a well-tended tangle in the late summer, you’ll know why; the amount of biomass is huge, and by that time of the year it’s dry enough to burn.

At the inquisition, the deputy Warden Regulant who had been on duty at the time had testified that the initial fire had produced so much smoke that he’d been unable to get a clear picture of what Lio and Jesry had done. So the whole thing had been Chronicled as an accident, and the boys had got off with penance. But I know, because Jesry told me later, that when the fire in the blithe had first spread to the surrounding grass, Lio, instead of stamping it out, had proposed that they fight fire with fire, and control it using fire vlor. Their attempt to set counterfires had only made matters worse. Jesry had dragged Lio to safety as he was attempting to set a counter-counterfire to contain a system of counterfires that was supposed to be containing the original fire but that had gotten out of hand. Having his hands full with Lio, he’d had to abandon his sphere, which to this day was stiff in one place and could never quite become transparent. Anyway, the fire had provided an excuse for us finally to do something we’d been talking about forever, namely to plant it in clover and other flowering plants, and keep bees. When there was an economy extramuros, we could sell the honey to burgers in the market stall before the Day Gate, and use the money to buy things that were difficult to make inside the concent. When conditions outside were post-apocalyptic, we could eat it.

As I jogged toward the Mynster, the stone wall was to my right. The tangles—now just as full and ripe as they’d been before the fire—were mostly behind me and to my left. In front of me and somewhat uphill were the Seven Stairs, crowded with avout. Compared to the other fraas all swathed in their bolts, half-naked Lio, moving twice as fast, was like an ant of the wrong color.

The chancel, the heart of the Mynster, had an octagonal floor-plan (as theors were more apt to put it, it had the symmetry group of the eighth roots of unity). Its eight walls were dense traceries, some of stone, others of carved wood. We called them screens, a word confusing to extramuros people for whom a screen was something on which you’d watch a speely or play a game. For us, a screen was a wall with lots of holes in it, a barrier through which you could see, hear, and smell.

Four great naves were flung out, north-east-south-west, from the base of the Mynster. If you have ever attended a wedding or a funeral in one of the Deolaters’ arks, a nave would remind you of the big part where the guests sit, stand, kneel, flog themselves, roll on the floor, or whatever it is that they do. The chancel, then, would correspond to the place where the priest stands at the altar. When you see the Mynster from a distance, it’s the four naves that make it so broad at its base.

Guests from extramuros, like Artisan Flec, were allowed to come in the Day Gate and view auts from the north nave when they were not especially contagious and, by and large, behaving themselves. This had been more or less the case for the last century and a half. If you visited our concent by coming in through the Day Gate, you’d be channeled into the portal in the north facade and walk up the center aisle of the north nave toward the screen at the end. You might be forgiven for thinking that the whole Mynster consisted of only that nave, and the octagonal space on the other side of the screen. But someone in the east, west, or south nave would make the same mistake. The screens were made dark on the nave side and light on the chancel side, so that it was easy to see into the chancel but impossible to see beyond it, creating the illusion that each nave stood alone, and owned the chancel.

The east nave was empty and little used. We’d ask the older fraas and suurs why; they’d give a wave of the hand and “explain” that it was the Mynster’s formal entrance. If so, it was so formal that no one knew what to do with it. At one time a pipe-organ had stood there, but this had been ripped out in the Second Sack, and later improvements of the Discipline had banned all other musical instruments. When my crop had been younger, Orolo had strung us along for several years telling us that there was talk of making it a sanctuary for ten-thousand-year fraas if the Concent of Saunt Edhar ever got round to building a math for such. “A proposal was submitted to the Millenarians 689 years ago,” he’d say, “and their response is expected in another 311.”

The south nave was reserved for the Centenarians, who could reach it by strolling across their half of the meadow. It was much too big for them. We Tenners, who had to cram ourselves into a much smaller space just next to it, had been annoyed by this fact for more than three thousand years.

The west nave had the best stained-glass windows and the finest stone-carving because it was used by the Unarians, who were by far the best-endowed of all the maths. But there were easily enough of them to fill the place up and so we didn’t resent their having so much space.

There remained four screen-walls of the chancel—northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest—that were the same size and shape as the four that lay in the cardinal directions but that were not connected to proper naves. On the dark sides of these screens lay the four corners of the Mynster, cluttered by structural works that were inconvenient for humans but necessary for the whole thing to remain standing. Our corner, on the southwest, was by far the most crowded of these, since there were about three hundred Tenners. Our space had therefore been expanded by a couple of side-towers that bulged out from the walls of the Mynster and accounted for its obvious asymmetry in that corner.

The northwest corner connected to the Primate’s compound, and was used only by him, his guests, the wardens, and other hierarchs, so there was no crowding there. The southeast corner was for the Thousanders; it connected directly to their fantastical hand-carved stone staircase, which zoomed, veered and rambled down the face of their crag.

The northeastern corner, directly across from us, was reserved for the Ita. Their portal communicated directly with their covered slum, which filled the area between that side of the Mynster and the natural stone cliff that, in that zone, formed the concent’s outer wall. A tunnel supposedly gave them access to the subterranean workings of the clock, which it was their duty to tend. But this, like most of our information concerning the Ita, was little better than folklore.

So there were eight ways into the Mynster if one only counted the formal portals. But Mathic architecture was nothing if not complicated and so there were also any number of smaller doors, rarely used and barely known about, except by inquisitive fids.

I shuffled through the clover as quickly as I could without stepping on any bees. Even so I made better time than those on the Seven Stairs, and soon reached the Meadow door, which was set into a masonry arch that had been grafted onto the native rock. A flight of stone steps took me up to the level of the Mynster’s main floor. I dodged through a series of odd, mean little store-rooms where vestments and ceremonial objects were kept when out of season. Then I came out into that architectural hodgepodge in the southwest corner that we Tenners used in place of a nave. Incoming fraas and suurs obstructed me. But there were lanes of open space wherever the view was obstructed by a pillar. Planted in one of those lanes, right up against the base of a pillar, was our wardrobe. Most of its contents had been dumped out onto the floor. Fraa Jesry and Fraa Arsibalt were standing nearby, already swathed in scarlet and looking irritated. Fraa Lio was swimming through silk trying to find his favorite robe. I dropped to one knee and found something in my size among the ones he had discarded. I threw it on, tied it, and made sure it wouldn’t get in the way of my feet, then fell in behind Jesry and Arsibalt. A moment later Lio came up and stood too close behind me. We came out from the shadow of that pillar and threaded our way through the crowd toward the screen, following Jesry, who wasn’t afraid to use his elbows. But it wasn’t that crowded. Only about half of the Tenners had shown up today; the rest were busy getting ready for Apert. Our fraas and suurs were seated before the southwest screen in tiered rows. Those in the front sat on the floor. The next row sat on their spheres, head-sized. Those behind them had made their spheres larger. In the back row, the spheres were taller than those who sat on them, stretched out like huge filmy balloons, and the only thing that kept them from rolling about and spilling people onto the stone was that they were all packed in together between the walls, like eggs in a box.

Grandfraa Mentaxenes pulled open the little door that penetrated our screen. He was very old, and we were pretty sure that doing this every day was the only thing that kept him alive. Each of us stepped into a tray of powdered rosin so that his feet could better grip the floor.

Then we filed out and, like grains of sugar dropped in a mug of tea, dissolved in a vast space. Something about the way the chancel was built made it seem a cistern storing all of the light that had ever fallen upon the concent.

Looking up from a standpoint just inside the screen, one saw the vaulted Mynster ceiling almost two hundred feet above, illuminated by light pouring in through stained-glass windows in the clerestory all around. So much light, shining down onto the bright inner surfaces of the eight screens, rendered them all opaque and made it seem as though the four of us had the whole Mynster to ourselves. The Thousanders who had clambered down their walled and covered stair to attend Provener were now seeing us through their screen, but they could not see Artisan Flec, with his yellow T-shirt and his speelycaptor, in the north nave. Likewise Flec could not see them. But both could view the aut of Provener, which would take place entirely within the chancel, and which would be indistinguishable from the same rite performed one, two, or three thousand years ago.

The Præsidium was supported by four fluted legs of stone that rammed down through the middle of the chancel and, I imagined, through the underlying vault where the Ita looked after the movements of their bits. Moving inward we passed by one of those pillars. These were not round in cross-section but stretched out diagonally, almost as if they were fins on an old-fashioned rocket-ship, though not nearly as slender as that implies. We thus came into the central well of the Mynster. Looking up from here, we could see twice as far up, all the way to the top of the Præsidium where the starhenge was. We took up our positions, marked by rosin-stained dimples.

A door opened in the Primate’s screen, and out came a man in robes more complicated than ours, and purple to indicate he was a hierarch. Apparently the Primate was busy today—also probably getting ready for Apert—and so he had sent one of his aides in his place. Other hierarchs filed out behind. Fraa Delrakhones, the Warden Fendant, sat in his chair to the left of the Primate’s, and Suur Trestanas, the Warden Regulant, sat to the right.

Fifteen green-robed fraas and suurs—three each of soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass—trooped out from behind the screen of the Unarians. It was their turn to lead the singing and chanting, which probably meant we were in for a weak performance, even though they’d had almost a year to learn it.

The hierarch spoke the opening words of the aut and then threw the lever that engaged the Provener movement.

As the clock would tell you, if you knew how to read it, we were still in Ordinal time for another two days. That is, there was no particular festival or holiday going on, and so the liturgy did not follow any special theme. Instead it defaulted to a slow, spotty recapitulation of our history, reminding us how we’d come to know all that we knew. During the first half of the year we would cover all that had gone before the Reconstitution. From there we would work our way forward. Today’s liturgy was something to do with developments in finite group theorics that had taken place about thirteen hundred years ago and that had caused their originator, Saunt Bly, to be Thrown Back by his Warden Regulant and to live out the remainder of his days on top of a butte surrounded by slines who worshipped him as a god. He even inspired them to stop consuming blithe, whereupon they became surly, killed him, and ate his liver out of a misconception that this was where he did his thinking. If you live in a concent, consult the Chronicles for more concerning Saunt Bly. If you don’t, know that we have so many stories in this vein that one can attend Provener every day for one’s whole life and never hear one repeated.

The four pillars of the Præsidium I have mentioned. Right in the middle, on the central axis of the whole Mynster, hung a chain with a weight at its end. It reached so high in the column of space above us that its upper reaches dissolved into dust and dimness.

The weight was a blob of grey metal shot through with voids, as if it had been half eaten by worms: a nickel-iron meteorite four billion years old, made of the same stuff as the heart of Arbre. During the almost twenty-four hours since the last celebration of Provener, it had descended most of the way to the floor; we could almost reach up and touch it. It descended steadily most of the time, as it was responsible for driving the clock. At sunrise and sunset though, when it had to supply the power for opening and closing the Day Gate, it dropped rapidly enough to make casual spectators scurry out of its way.

There were four other weights on four other, independently moving chains. They were less conspicuous because they did not hang down in the middle, and they didn’t move much. They rode on metal rails fixed to the four Præsidium pillars. Each of these had a regular geometric shape: a cube, an octahedron, a dodecahedron, and an icosahedron, all wrought from black volcanic stone quarried from the Cliffs of Ecba and dragged on sledge trains over the North Pole. Each rose a little bit every time the clock was wound. The cube descended once a year to open the Year Gate and the octahedron every ten years to open the Decade Gate, so both of these were now quite close to the tops of their respective tracks. The dodecahedron and the icosahedron did the same for the century and millenium gates respectively. The former was about nine-tenths of the way to the top, the latter about seven-tenths. So just from looking, you could guess it was about 3689.

Much higher in the Præsidium, in the upper reaches of the chronochasm—the vast airy space behind the dials, where all of the clock-work came together—was a hermetically sealed stone chamber that contained a sixth weight: a sphere of grey metal that rode up and down on a jack screw. This kept the clock ticking while we were winding it. Other than that, it would only move if the meteorite was on the floor—that is, if we failed to celebrate the daily aut of Provener. When this happened, the clock would disengage most of its machinery to conserve energy and would go into hibernation, driven by the slow descent of the sphere, until such time as it was wound again. This had only ever occurred during the three Sacks and on a few other occasions when everyone in the concent had been so sick that they’d not been able to wind the clock. No one knew how long the clock could run in that mode, but it was thought to be on the order of a hundred years. We knew it had continued to run all through the time following the Third Sack when the Thousanders had holed up on their crag and the rest of the concent had been uninhabited for seven decades.

All of the chains ran up into the chronochasm where they hung from sprockets that turned on shafts, connected by gear-trains and escapements that it was the Ita’s business to clean and inspect. The main drive chain—the one that ran up the middle, and supported the meteorite—was connected to a long system of gear-trains and linkages that was artfully concealed in the pillars of the Præsidium as it made its way down into the vaulted cellar below our feet. The only part of this visible to non-Ita was a squat hub that rose up out of the center of the chancel floor, looking like a round altar. Four horizontal poles projected like spokes from this hub at about the height of a person’s shoulder. Each pole was about eight feet long. At the proper moment in the service, Jesry, Arsibalt, Lio, and I each went to the end of a pole and put his hands on it. At a certain beat in the Anathem, each of us threw himself behind his pole, like a sailor trying to weigh anchor by turning a capstan. But nothing moved except for my right foot, which broke loose from the floor and skidded back for a few inches before finding purchase. Our combined strength could not overcome the static friction of all the bearings and gears between us and the sprocket hundreds of feet above from which the chain and the weight depended. Once it became unstuck we would be strong enough to keep it going, but getting it unstuck required a mighty thrust (supposing we wanted to use brute force) or, if we chose to be clever, a tiny shake: a subtle vibration. Different praxics might solve this problem in different ways. At Saunt Edhar, we did it with our voices.

Back in very ancient times, when the marble columns of the Halls of Orithena still rose from the black rock of Ecba, all the world’s theors would gather beneath the great dome just before noon. Their leader (at first, Adrakhones himself; later, Diax or one of his other fids) would stand on the analemma, waiting for the shaft of light from the oculus to pass over him at midday: a climax celebrated by the singing of the Anathem to our mother Hylaea who had brought us the light of her father Cnoüs. The aut had fallen into disuse when Orithena had been destroyed and the surviving theors had embarked on the Peregrination. But much later, when the theors retreated to the maths, Saunt Cartas drew on it to anchor the liturgy that was then practiced all through the Old Mathic Age. Again it fell into disuse during the Dispersal to the New Periklynes and the Praxic Age that followed, but then, after the Terrible Events and the Reconstitution, it was revived again, in a new form, centered on the winding of a clock.

The Hylaean Anathem now existed in thousands of different versions, since every composer among the avout was likely to take at least one crack at it during his or her lifetime. All versions used the same words and structure, but they were as various as clouds. The most ancient were monophonic, meaning each voice sang the same note. The one used at Saunt Edhar was polyphonic: different voices singing different melodies that were woven together in a harmonious fashion. Those One-offs in their green robes sang only some of the parts. The rest of the voices came out through the screens. Traditionally the Thousanders sang the deepest notes. Rumor had it they’d developed special techniques to loosen their vocal chords, and I believed it, since no one in our math could sing tones as deep as the ones that rumbled out from their nave.

The Anathem started simple, then got almost too complicated for the ear to follow. When we’d had an organ, it had required four organists, each using both hands and both feet. In the ancient aut, this part of the Anathem represented the Kaos of non-systematic thought that had preceded Cnoüs. The composer had realized it almost too well, since during this part of the music the ear could scarcely make sense of all the different voices. But then, sort of as when you are looking at some geometric shape that looks like a tangle having no order at all, and you rotate it just a tiny bit, and suddenly all its planes and vertices come into alignment and you see what it is, all of those voices fell in together over the course of a few measures and collapsed into one pure tone that resonated in the light-well of our clock and made everything vibrate in sympathy with it. Whether by a lucky accident, or by a feat of the praxics, the vibration was just enough to break the seal of static friction on the winding-shaft. Lio, Arsibalt, Jesry and I, even though we knew it was coming, practically fell forward as the hub went into motion. Moments later, after the backlash in the gear train had been taken up, the meteorite above our heads began to creep upwards. And we knew that twenty beats later we could expect to feel the day’s accumulation of dust and bat droppings raining down on our heads from hundreds of feet above.

In the ancient liturgy, this moment had represented the Light dawning in the mind of Cnoüs. The singing now split apart into two competing strains, one representing Deät and the other Hylaea, the two daughters of Cnoüs. Trudging counterclockwise around the shaft, we worked up to a steady pace that fell into synchrony with the rhythm of the Anathem. The meteorite began to rise at about two inches every second, and would continue to do so until it reached its upper stop, which would take about twenty minutes. At the same time, the four sprocket-wheels from which the four other chains were suspended were also turning, though much more slowly. The cube would rise by about a foot during this aut. The octahedron would rise by about an inch, and so on. And up above the ceiling, the sphere was slowly descending to keep the clock going during the time it took us to wind it.

I should stipulate that it does not really take so much energy to run a clock—even a huge one—for twenty-four hours! Almost all of the energy that we were putting into the system went to run the add-ons, like bells, gates, the Great Orrery just inside the Day Gate, various lesser orreries, and the polar axes of the telescopes on the starhenge.

None of this was in the front of my mind while I was pushing my pole around and around the hub. True, I did look at these things afresh during the first few minutes, simply because I knew that Artisan Flec was watching, and I was trying to imagine how I might explain these things to him, supposing he asked. But by the time we had found our rhythm, and my heart had begun to thump along at a steady pace, and the sweat had begun to drip from my nose, I had forgotten about Artisan Flec. The chanting of the One-offs was better than I’d expected—not so bad as to call attention to itself. For a minute or two I thought about the story of Saunt Bly. After that, I thought mostly of myself and my situation in the world. I know that this was selfish of me, and not what I should have been doing during the aut. But unbidden and unwanted thoughts are the hardest to expel from one’s mind. You might find it in poor taste that I tell you of what I was thinking. You might find it unnecessarily personal, perhaps even immoral—a bad example for other fids who might one day find this account sticking out of a niche. But it is part of this story.

As I wound the clock on that day I was wondering what it would be like to climb up to the Warden Fendant’s ledge and jump off.

If you find such a thing impossible to comprehend, you probably are not avout. The food that you eat is grown from crops whose genes partake of the Allswell sequence, or even stronger stuff. Melancholy thoughts may never come into your mind at all. When they do, you have the power to dismiss them. I did not have that power, and was becoming weary of keeping company with those thoughts. One way to silence them forever would have been to walk out of the Decenarian Gate in a week’s time, go to live with my birth family (supposing they would have me back), and eat what they ate. Another would have involved climbing the stair that spiraled up our corner of the Mynster.

Mystagogue: (1) In Early Middle Orth, a theorician specializing in unsolved problems, esp. one who introduced fids to the study of same. (2) In Late Middle Orth, a member of a suvin that dominated the maths from the middle of the Negative Twelfth Century until the Rebirth, which held that no further theoric problems could be solved; discouraged theoric research; locked libraries; and made a fetish of mysteries and conundrums. (3) In Praxic and later Orth, a pejorative term for any person who is thought to resemble those of sense 2.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

“Are people starving to death? Or are they sick because they are too fat?”

Artisan Quin scratched his beard and thought about that one. “You’re talking of slines, I assume?”

Fraa Orolo shrugged.

Quin thought that was funny. Unlike Artisan Flec, he was not afraid to laugh out loud. “Sort of both at the same time,” he finally admitted.

“Very good,” said Fraa Orolo, in a now we’re getting somewhere tone, and glanced at me to make sure I was getting it down.

After the Flec interview, I had had words with Fraa Orolo. “Pa, what are you doing with that five-hundred-year-old questionnaire? It’s crazy.”

“It is an eight-hundred-year-old copy of an eleven-hundred-year-old questionnaire,” he had corrected me.

“It would be one thing if you were a Hundreder. But how could things have changed that much in only ten years?”

Fraa Orolo had told me that since the Reconstitution there had been forty-eight instances in which radical change had occurred in a decade, and that two of these had culminated in Sacks—so perhaps the sudden ones were the most important. And yet ten years was a long enough span of time that people who lived extramuros, immersed in day-to-day goings-on, might be oblivious to change. So a Tenner reading an eleven-hundred-year-old questionnaire to an artisan could perform a service to the society extramuros (assuming anyone out there was paying attention). Which might help to explain why we were not only tolerated but protected (except when we weren’t) by the Sæcular Power. “The man who looks at a mole on his brow every day when he shaves may not see that it is changing; the physician who sees it once a year may easily recognize it as cancer.”

“Beautiful,” I’d said. “But you’ve never cared about the Sæcular Power before, so what’s your real reason?”

He had pretended to be bewildered by the question. But, seeing I wasn’t going to back off, he had shrugged and said “Just a routine check for CDS.”

“CDS?”

“Causal Domain Shear.”

This had as much as proved that Orolo was only having me on. But sometimes he had a point when he was doing that.

Correction: he always had a point. Sometimes I was able to see it. So I had rested my face on my hands and muttered, “Okay. Open the floodgates.”

“Well. A causal domain is just a collection of things linked by mutual cause-and-effect relationships.”

“But isn’t everything in the universe so linked?”

“Depends on how their light cones are arranged. We can’t affect things in our past. Some things are too far away to affect us in any way that matters.”

“But still, you can’t really draw hard and fast boundaries between causal domains.”

“In general, no. But you are much more strongly webbed together with me by cause and effect than you are with an alien in a faraway galaxy. So, depending on what level of approximation you’re willing to put up with, you could say that you and I belong together in one causal domain, and the alien belongs in another.”

“Okay,” I had said, “what level of approximation are you willing to put up with, Pa Orolo?”

“Well, the whole point of living in a cloistered math is to reduce our causal linkages with the extramuros world to the minimum, isn’t it?”

“Socially, yes. Culturally, yes. Ecologically, even. But we use the same atmosphere, we hear their mobes driving by—on a pure theoric level, there is no causal separation at all!”

He hadn’t seemed to have heard me. “If there were another universe, altogether separate from ours—no causal linkages whatsoever between Universes A and B—would time flow at the same rate between them?”

“It’s a meaningless question,” I’d said, after having thought about it for a moment.

“That’s funny, it seemed meaningful to me,” he’d retorted, a little cross.

“Well, it depends on how you measure time.”

He’d waited.

“It depends on what time is!” I’d said. I had spent a few minutes going up various avenues of explanation, only to find each of them a dead end.

“Well,” I’d said finally, “I guess I have to invoke the Steelyard. In the absence of a good argument to the contrary, I have to choose the simplest answer. And the simplest answer is that time runs independently in Universe A and Universe B.”

“Because they are separate causal domains.”

“Yes.”

Orolo said, “What if these two universes—each as big and as old and as complicated as ours—were entirely separate, except for a single photon that managed to travel somehow between them. Would that be enough to wrench A’s time and B’s time into perfect lockstep for all eternity?”

I had sighed, as I always did when one of Orolo’s traps closed over me.

“Or,” he’d said, “is it possible to have a little bit of time slippage—shear—between causal domains that are connected only loosely?”

“So—back to your interview with Artisan Flec—you want me to believe that you were just checking to see whether a thousand years might have gone by on the other side of that wall while only ten have gone by on this side!?”

“I saw no harm in making inquiries,” he’d said. Then he’d gotten a look as if something else were on the tip of his tongue. Something mischievous. I had headed him off before he could say it:

“Oh. Is this anything to do with your crazy stories about the wandering ten-thousand-year math?”

When we’d been new fids, Orolo had once claimed that he had found an instance in the Chronicles where a gate somewhere had ground open and some avout had walked out of it claiming to be Ten-thousanders celebrating Apert. Which was ridiculous because avout in their current form had only existed for (at that time) 3682 years. So we’d reckoned that the whole purpose of the story had been to see if we had been paying any attention whatsoever to our history lessons. But perhaps the story had been meant to convey a deeper point.

“You can get a lot done in ten millennia if you put your mind to it,” Orolo had said. “What if you found a way to sever all causal links to the world extramuros?”

“That is utterly ridiculous. You are giving Incanter-like powers to these people.”

“But if one could do it, then one’s math would become a separate universe and its time would no longer be synchronized with the rest of the world’s. Causal Domain Shear would become possible—”

“Nice thought experiment,” I’d said. “Point taken. Thank you for the calca. But please tell me you don’t really expect to see evidence of CDS when the gates open!”

“It is what you don’t expect,” he’d said, “that most needs looking for.”

“Do you have, in your wigwams or tents or skyscrapers or wherever you live—”

“Trailers without wheels mostly,” said Artisan Quin.

“Very well. In those, is it common to have things that can think, but that are not human?”

“We did for a while, but they all stopped working and we threw them away.”

“Can you read? And by that I don’t just mean interpreting Logotype…”

“No one uses that any more,” said Quin. “You’re talking about the symbols on your underwear that tell you not to use bleach. That sort of thing.”

“We don’t have underwear, or bleach—just the bolt, the chord, and the sphere,” said Fraa Orolo, patting the length of cloth thrown over his head, the rope knotted around his waist, and the sphere under his bottom. This was a weak joke at our expense to set Quin at ease.

Quin stood up and tossed his long body in a way that made his jacket fly off. He was not a thick-built man but he had muscles from working. He whirled the jacket round to his front and used his thumbs to thrust out a sheaf of tags sewn into the back of the collar. I could see the logo of a company, which I recognized from ten years ago, though they had made it simpler. Below it was a grid of tiny pictures that moved. “Kinagrams. They obsoleted Logotype.”

I felt old: a new feeling for me.

Orolo had been curious until he’d seen the Kinagrams; now he looked disappointed. “Oh,” he said, in a mild and polite tone of voice, “you are talking bulshytt.”

I got embarrassed. Quin was amazed. Then his face turned red. It looked as if he were talking himself into being angry.

“Fraa Orolo didn’t say what you think!” I told Quin, and tried to punctuate it with a chuckle, which came out as a gasp. “It is an ancient Orth word.”

“It sounded a lot like—”

“I know! But Fraa Orolo has forgotten all about the word you are thinking of. It’s not what he meant.”

“What did he mean, then?”

Fraa Orolo was fascinated that Quin and I were talking about him as if he weren’t there.

“He means that there’s no real distinction between Kinagrams and Logotype.”

“But there is,” Quin said, “they are incompatible.” His face wasn’t red any more; he drew breath and thought about it for a minute. Finally he shrugged. “But I see what you mean. We could have gone on using Logotype.”

“Why do you suppose it became obsolete, then?” asked Orolo.

“So that the people who brought us Kinagrams could gain market share.”

Orolo frowned and considered this phrase. “That sounds like bulshytt too.”

“So that they could make money.”

“Very well. And how did those people achieve that goal?”

“By making it harder and harder to use Logotype and easier and easier to use Kinagrams.”

“How annoying. Why did the people not rise up in rebellion?”

“Over time we were led to believe that Kinagrams really were better. So, I guess you’re right. It really is bul-” But he stopped in mid-word.

“You can say it. It’s not a bad word.”

“Well, I won’t say it, because it feels wrong to say it here, in this place.”

“As you wish, Artisan Quin.”

“Where were we?” Quin asked, then answered his own question: “You were asking me if I could read, not these, but the frozen letters used to write Orth.” He nodded at my leaf, which was growing dark with just that sort of script.

“Yes.”

“I could if I had to, because my parents made me learn. But I don’t, because I never have to,” said Quin. “My son, now, he’s a different story.”

“His father made him learn?” Fraa Orolo put in.

Quin smiled. “Yes.”

“He reads books?”

“All the time.”

“His age?” Obviously this was not on the questionnaire.

“Eleven. And he hasn’t been burned at the stake yet.” Quin said that in a very serious way. I wondered if Fraa Orolo understood that Quin was making a joke—taking a dig at him. Orolo made no sign.

“You have criminals?”

“Of course.” But the mere fact that Quin responded in this way caused Orolo to jump to a new leaf of the questionnaire.

“How do you know?”

“What?!”

“You say of course there are criminals, but if you look at a particular person, how do you know whether or not he is a criminal? Are criminals branded? Tattooed? Locked up? Who decides who is and isn’t a criminal? Does a woman with shaved eyebrows say ‘you are a criminal’ and ring a silver bell? Or is it rather a man in a wig who strikes a block of wood with a hammer? Do you thrust the accused through a doughnut-shaped magnet? Or use a forked stick that twitches when it is brought near evil? Does an Emperor hand down the decision from his throne written in vermilion ink and sealed with black wax, or is it rather that the accused must walk barefoot across a griddle? Perhaps there is ubiquitous moving picture praxis—what you’d call speelycaptors—that know all, but their secrets may only be unlocked by a court of eunuchs each of whom has memorized part of a long number. Or perhaps a mob shows up and throws rocks at the suspect until he’s dead.”

“I can’t take you seriously,” Quin said. “You’ve only been in the concent, what, thirty years?”

Fraa Orolo sighed and looked at me. “Twenty-nine years, eleven months, three weeks, six days.”

“And it’s plain to see you are boning up for Apert—but you can’t really think that things have changed so much!”

Another look in my direction. “Artisan Quin,” said Fraa Orolo, after a pause to make his words hit harder, “this is anno three thousand, six hundred, and eighty-nine of the Reconstitution.”

“That’s what my calendar says too,” Quin affirmed.

“3690 is tomorrow. Not only the Unarian math, but we Decenarians as well, will celebrate Apert. According to the ancient rules, our gates will open. For ten days, we shall be free to go out, and visitors such as you shall be welcome to come in. Now, ten years hence, the Centenarian Gate will open for the first, and probably the last, time in my life.”

“When it closes, which side of that gate will you be on?” Quin asked.

I got embarrassed again, because I’d never dare ask such a question. But I was secretly delighted that Quin had asked it for me.

“If I am found worthy, I should very much like to be on the inside of it,” said Fraa Orolo, and then glanced at me with an amused look, as if he’d guessed my thoughts. “The point is that in nine or so years, I can expect to be summoned to the upper labyrinth, which separates my math from that of the Centenarians. There I shall find my way to a grate in a dark room, and on the other side of that grate shall be one of those Hundreders (unless they have all died, vanished, or turned into something else) who shall ask me questions that shall seem just as queer to me as mine do to you. For they must make preparations for their Apert just as we do for ours. In their books they have records of every judicial practice that they, and others in other concents, have heard of in the last thirty-seven-hundred-odd years. The list that I rattled off to you, a minute ago, is but a single paragraph from a book as thick as my arm. So even if you find it to be a ridiculous exercise, I should be most grateful if you’d simply describe to me how you choose your criminals.”

“Will my answer be entered in that book?”

“If it is a new answer, yes.”

“Well, we still have Magistrate Doctors who roam about at the new moon in sealed purple boxes…”

“Yes, those I remember.”

“But they weren’t coming round as often as we needed them—the Powers That Be weren’t doing a good job of protecting them and some got rolled down hills. Then the Powers That Be put up more speelycaptors.”

Fraa Orolo jumped to a new leaf. “Who has access to those?”

“We don’t know.”

Orolo began moving to yet another new leaf. But before he found it, Quin continued: “But if someone commits a bad enough crime, the Powers That Be clamp a thing on their spine that makes them sort of crippled, for a while. Later it falls off and then they are normal again.”

“Does it hurt?”

“No.”

A new page. “When you see someone wearing one of those devices, can you tell what crime they committed?”

“Yes, it says right on it, in Kinagrams.”

“Theft, assault, extortion?”

“Sure.”

“Sedition?”

Quin waited a long time before saying, “I’ve never seen that.”

“Heresy?”

“That would probably be handled by the Warden of Heaven.”

Fraa Orolo threw his hands up so high that his bolt fell away from his head and even bared one of his armpits. Then he brought them down again, the better to clamp them over his face. It was a sarcastic gesture that he liked to make in a chalk hall when a fid was being impossibly block-headed. Quin clearly took its meaning, and became embarrassed. He shifted back in his chair and pointed his chin at the ceiling, then lowered it again and looked at the window he was supposed to be mending. But there was something in Fraa Orolo’s huge gesture that was funny, and gave Quin the feeling that it was okay.

“All right,” Quin finally said, “I never thought of it like this, but now that you mention it, we have three systems…”

“The chaps in the purple boxes, the spine clamps, and this new thing that neither I nor Fraa Erasmas has ever heard of called the Warden of Heaven,” said Fraa Orolo, and began pushing through many leaves of his questionnaire—digging deep.

Something had occurred to Artisan Quin. “I never mentioned them because I thought you’d know all about them!”

“Because,” Fraa Orolo said, finding the page he’d been looking for, and scanning it, “they claimed that they came from the concent…bringing the enlightenment of the mathic world to a worthy few.”

“Yeah. Didn’t they?”

“No. They didn’t.” Seeing just how taken aback Quin was, Orolo continued: “This sort of thing happens every few hundred years. Some charlatan will appear and make a claim on Sæcular Power based on an association with the mathic world—which happens to be fraudulent.”

I knew the answer to the following question before I blurted it out: “Does Artisan Flec—is he a follower, a disciple, of the Warden of Heaven?”

Quin and Orolo both looked at me, agog for different reasons. “Yes,” Quin said. “He listens to their casts while he works.”

“That’s why he made a speely of Provener,” I said. “Because this Warden of Heaven claims to be part of us. If there’s anything mysterious or…well, magnificent about this place, why, that just makes the Warden of Heaven seem that much bigger and more powerful. And to the extent that Artisan Flec is a disciple of the Warden of Heaven, he feels some of that belongs to him.”

Orolo said nothing, which made me embarrassed at the time. When I thought about it later, though, I understood that he didn’t need to say anything because what I’d said was obviously true.

Quin was looking a little confused. “Flec didn’t make a speely.”

“I beg your pardon?” I said.

Fraa Orolo was still distracted, thinking about the Warden of Heaven.

“They wouldn’t allow it. His speelycaptor was too good,” Quin explained.

Being old and wise, Fraa Orolo went rigid, pursed his lips, and looked uneasy. Being neither, I said: “What on earth does that mean?”

Fraa Orolo’s hand came down on my wrist and prevented me from writing any more. And I suspect that his other hand wanted to clamp down on Quin’s mouth. Quin went on, “The Eagle-Rez, the SteadiHand, the DynaZoom—put those all together, and it could have seen straight across into the other parts of your Mynster, even through the screens. Or at least that’s what he was told by the—”

“Artisan Quin!” Fraa Orolo trumpeted, loud enough to draw looks from everyone else in the library. Then he made his voice quite low: “I am afraid you are about to tell us something that your friend Flec learned from talking to the Ita. And I must remind you that such a thing is not allowed under our Discipline.”

“Sorry,” Quin said. “It’s confusing.”

“I know it is.”

“All right. Forget about the speelycaptor. I’m sorry. Where were we?”

“We were talking about the Warden of Heaven,” Fraa Orolo said, relaxing a little, and finally letting go my wrist. “And as far as I’m concerned, the only thing we need to establish is whether he is a Throwback-turned-Mystagogue, or a Bottle Shaker, as the former can be quite dangerous.”

Kefedokhles: (1) A fid from the Halls of Orithena who survived the eruption of Ecba to become one of the Forty Lesser Peregrins. In his old age, he appears to have turned up on the Periklyne, though some scholars believe that this must have been a son or namesake of the Orithenan. He appears as a minor character in several of the great dialogs, most notably Uraloabus, where his timely and long-winded interruption enables Thelenes—who has been thrown back on his heels by the heavy sarcasm of his adversary—to recover his equilibrium, change the subject, and embark upon the systematic annihilation of Sphenic thought that accounts for the last third of the dialog and culminates in the title character’s public suicide. From the Peregrin phase of Kefedokhles’s career, three dialogs survive, and from his years on the Periklyne, eight. Though talented, he gives the impression of being insufferably smug and pedantic, whence sense 2. (2) An insufferably smug or pedantic interlocutor.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

“I can puzzle out ‘Throwback-turned-Mystagogue,’” I told Fraa Orolo later. I was chopping carrots in the Refectory kitchen, and he was eating them. “And I can even guess why they are dangerous: because they’re angry, they want to come back to the place that Anathematized them, and even the score.”

“Yes, and that’s why Quin and I spent the whole afternoon with the Warden Fendant.”

“But what’s a Bottle Shaker?”

“Imagine a witch doctor in a society that doesn’t know how to make glass. A bottle washes up on the shore. It has amazing properties. He puts it on a stick and waves it around and convinces his fellows that he has got some of those amazing properties himself.”

“So Bottle Shakers aren’t dangerous?”

“No. Too easily impressed.”

“What of the slines who ate Saunt Bly’s liver? Apparently they weren’t so impressed.”

To hide a smile, Fraa Orolo pretended to inspect a potato. “The point is well taken, but remember that Saunt Bly was living alone on a butte. The very fact of his having been Thrown Back separated him from the artifacts and auts that are most impressive to Bottle Shaker-producing societies.”

“So what did you and the Warden Fendant decide?”

Fraa Orolo glanced around in a way that made it obvious I should have been more discreet.

“Expect more precautions at Apert.”

I lowered my voice. “So, the Sæcular Power will send…I don’t know…?”

“Robots with stun guns? Echelons of horse archers? Cylinders of sleeping gas?”

“I guess so.”

“That depends on to what extent the Warden of Heaven has become the same as the Panjandrums,” Fraa Orolo said. He liked to call the Sæcular Power the Panjandrums. “And that is very difficult for us to make out. Obviously, I can’t make heads or tails of it. It is just the kind of thing for which the office of Warden Fendant was created, and I’m certain that Fraa Delrakhones is working the problem as we speak.”

“Could it lead to…you know…”

“A Sack? Local or general? I certainly don’t think that this is going to culminate in Number Four. Fraa Delrakhones would have heard rumblings from other Wardens Fendant. Even a local sack is most improbable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of roughhousing on Tenth Night; but that’s why we prepare for Apert by moving all of the stuff we really care about to the labyrinths.”

“You said to Quin that radical changes extramuros had twice culminated in Sacks,” I reminded him.

Fraa Orolo let a moment go by and said, “Yes?” Then, before I could go on, he put on the merry-fraa face that he used when he was trying to humor a chalk hall full of bored fids. “You’re not actually worrying about Number Four, are you?”

I murdered a carrot and said Diax’s Rake three times under my breath.

“Three Sacks-General in 3700 years is not bad,” he pointed out. “The statistics for the Sæcular world are far more alarming.”

“I was worrying about it a little bit,” I said. “But that is not what I was going to ask before you went Kefedokhles on me.”

Orolo said nothing, perhaps because I was gripping a large knife. I was tired and testy. Earlier, I had punched in my sphere to make it a bushel basket and ventured into the tangles nearest the Cloister, only to find they’d already been stripped of produce. To find all the stuff we needed to make the stew, I’d had to cross the river and ransack some of the tangles between it and the wall.

I snatched a hard-earned carrot and aimed it at the sky. “You have only taught me of the stars,” I said. “History I have learned from others—mostly from Fraa Corlandin.”

“He probably told you that the Sacks were our fault,” said Orolo—using our, I noted, in a very elastic way, to mean every avout all the way back to Ma Cartas.

Sometimes, when I was chatting with Thistlehead, he would reach out and give me a little push on the collarbone, and just like that I’d be flailing my arms, aware that one more push would topple me. It was Lio’s charming way of letting me know that he had noticed I was standing in the wrong way, according to his books of Vale-lore. I thought it nonsense. But my body always seemed to agree with Fraa Lio, because it would over-react. Once, in trying to recover my balance, I had pulled a muscle deep in my back that had hurt for three weeks.

Fraa Orolo’s last sentence touched my mind in a similar way. And in a similar way, I over-reacted. My face flushed and my heart beat faster. It was just like the moment in a dialog when Thelenes has tricked his interlocutor into saying something stupid and is about to begin slicing him up like a carrot on a plank.

“Each Sack was followed by a reform, was it not?” I said.

“Let us Rake your sentence, and say that each Sack led to changes in the maths that are still observed to this day.”

That Fraa Orolo was now talking in this style confirmed that we were in dialog. The other fraas stopped peeling potatoes and chopping herbs, and gathered around to watch me get planed.

“All right, call them whatever you wish,” I said, and then snorted, because I knew I had left myself open; this was the equivalent of me falling on my arse after one little nudge from Fraa Lio. I should never have brought up Kefedokhles. I was going to pay for that.

I couldn’t stop myself from shooting a glance out the window. The kitchen faced south into an herb garden that filled most of the space between it and the closest of the tangles—the ones cultivated by the very oldest fraas and suurs, so that they wouldn’t have to walk very far to get their chores done. The roof on that side had a deep overhanging eave to prevent sun from shining in and making the kitchen even hotter than it already was. Suur Tulia and Suur Ala were sitting together in the shade of that eave, directly beneath the window, cutting up tires to make sandals. I didn’t want Tulia to hear me get planed because I had a crush on her, and I didn’t want Ala to hear it because she would enjoy it so much. Fortunately, they were explaining something to each other as usual, and had no idea what was happening in here.

“Call them whatever you wish? What a curious thing to say, Fid Erasmas,” Orolo said. “Let me see…may I call them carrots or floor-tiles?” Titters flew out from all around, like sparrows flushed from a belfry.

“No, Pa Orolo, it would not make sense to say that each Sack was followed by a carrot.”

“Why not, Fid Erasmas?”

“Because the word carrot has a meaning different from reform or change in the maths.

“So because words have this remarkable property of possessing specific meanings, we must take care to use the correct ones? Is that a just statement of what you have said, or am I in error?”

“It is correct, Pa Orolo.”

“Perhaps some of the others, who have learned so much from the New Circle and the Reformed Old Faanians, have noted some error in this, and would like to correct us.” And, with the placid eye of a viper tasting the air, Fraa Orolo looked about at the half-dozen fids who had encircled us.

No one moved.

“Very well, no one here wishes to support the novel hypothesis of Saunt Proc. We may continue under the assumption that words mean things. What is the difference between saying that the Sacks were followed by reforms, and saying that they were followed by changes in the maths?”

“I suppose it has to do with the connotations of the word reform,” I said. For I had given up and was willing to let myself be planed, not because I liked it but because it was so unusual for Fraa Orolo to expose his views about anything other than stars and planets.

“Ah, perhaps you could elaborate on that, for I am not gifted with your faculty for words, Fid Erasmas, and would be chagrined if I failed to follow your argument.”

“Very well, Pa Orolo. To say that there were changes seems like a more Diaxan phrasing—raked clean of subjective emotional judgments—whereas, when we say reforms, it gives the feeling that something was wrong with how the maths were run before, and that—”

“We deserved to be sacked? The Panjandrums needed to come in and mend us?”

“When you put it that way, Pa Orolo, and in that tone of voice, you seem to suggest that the changes that were made, need not have been—that they were forced on us wrongly by the Sæcular Power.” I stumbled over a few words, because I was excited. I had glimpsed a way to corner Orolo. For those reforms—those changes—were as fundamental to the maths as going to Provener every day, and he could hardly take a stand against them.

But Fraa Orolo only shook his head sadly, as if he could scarcely believe what thin gruel was being spooned out to us in the chalk halls. “You need to review the Sæculum of Saunt Cartas.”

Avout who spent a lot of time peering through telescopes were known for taking an eccentric approach to the study of history, and so I did not laugh at this. A few of the others exchanged smirks.

“Pa Orolo, I read it last year.”

“What you read was probably selections from a translation into Middle Orth. Many of those translations were influenced by a sort of ur-Procian mentality that took hold during the Old Mathic Age, not long before the rise of the Mystagogues. You giggle, but it is obvious once you begin to notice it. Certain bits of it they translate poorly, because they are skittish about what it means; then, when they get around to choosing selections, they leave those bits out because they’re ashamed of them. Instead you should go to the effort of reading Cartas in the original. It is not as difficult to follow Old Orth as some would have you believe.”

“And when I do this, what shall I learn?”

“That in the very founding document of the mathic world, Saunt Cartas herself emphasizes that it is not an accommodation to the Sæculum but a kind of opposition to it. A counterbalance.”

“The Concent-as-fortress mentality?” suggested one of the listeners—trying to bait Orolo.

“That is not a designation I love,” said Orolo, “but if I hold forth on that, the stew will never get made, and we’ll soon have two hundred and ninety-five hungry avout calling for our heads. Suffice it to say, Fid Erasmas, that Saunt Cartas would never have accepted the notion that the Sæcular Power can or should ‘reform’ the maths. But she would have admitted that it does have the power to wreak changes on us.”

Proc: A late Praxic Age metatheorician who is assumed to have been liquidated in the Terrible Events. During the brief window of stability between the Second and Third Harbingers, Proc was the leading figure in a like-minded group called the Circle, which claimed that symbols have no meaning at all, and that all discourse that pretends to mean anything is nothing more than a game played with syntax, or the rules for putting symbols together. Following the Reconstitution, he was made patron Saunt of the Syntactic Faculty of the Concent of Saunt Muncoster. As such, he is viewed as the progenitor of all orders that trace their descent to that Faculty, as opposed to those originating from the Semantic Faculty, whose patron was Saunt Halikaarn.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

“I understand that some planning took place in the kitchen?”

“Believe me, it was not one for ink or even chalk.”

Fraa Corlandin, the FAE—First Among Equals—of the Order of the New Circle, had sat down across the table from me.

For the first nine and three-quarters years of my time at the Concent, he had ignored me, except in chalk hall where he was obliged to pay attention; lately he was acting as if we were friends. This was to be expected. With luck, thirty or forty new avout would be joining us at Apert. Even though they were not here yet, they seemed to surround us like ghosts, which made me seem older by contrast.

Not long after, if things went according to the usual pattern, the bells would signal the aut of Eliger, and all the Tenners would come together to watch me take a vow that would bind me to one order or another.

Eleven of my crop had been Collected—brought straight into the math from extramuros. The other twenty-one had joined the Unarian math first and spent at least a year under their Discipline before graduating to the Tenners; they tended to be a little bit older than us Collects. All Collection, and most graduation, happened during Apert. Though if a One-off showed exceptional promise, he or she could graduate early by passing through the labyrinth that connected the Unarian to the Decenarian math. But this had only happened three times while I’d been here. The full wiring diagram of how avout came here from extramuros and from small feeder maths in the region, and how they moved from one math to another, was complicated, and not really worth explaining. The upshot was that in order to maintain our nominal strength of three hundred, we Tenners would need to take in about forty new people at Apert. Some—we couldn’t know how many—would be graduating from the Unarian math. The balance would be made up by Collection, and by trolling through hospitals and shelters for abandoned newborns.

Once that was all done, I’d be facing a choice. Fraa Corlandin was sounding me out, perhaps even recruiting me, for the New Circle.

I had always been seen as a fid of Orolo and a few other Edharians who assisted him in his theorics. They spent whole days together in tiny chalk halls, and when they came out, I would go in and see their handwriting all tangled together on the slates—snarled skeins of equations and diagrams of which I understood perhaps one symbol in twenty. At this very moment, I was supposed to be working on a problem that Orolo had set for me: a photomnemonic tablet bearing an image of Saunt Tancred’s Nebula, from which I was supposed to answer certain questions about the formation of heavy nuclei in the cores of stars. Definitely not a New Circle kind of exercise. So why would the New Circle take it into their heads, now, that I might choose them at Eliger?

“Orolo is an impressive theorician,” Fraa Corlandin said. “I regret that I haven’t been suvined by him more.”

The flaw in this was obvious: odds were that Corlandin was going to spend sixty or seventy more years in the same math with Orolo. If he really meant what he said, why didn’t he simply pick up his stew-bowl and walk across the Refectory to Orolo’s table?

Fortunately my mouth was full of bread, and so I did not subject Fraa Corlandin to a withering blast of Thelenean analysis. Chewing my food gave me time to realize that he was just speaking polite nothings. Edharians never talked this way. Spending all my time around Edharians, I’d forgotten how to do it.

I tried to unlimber those parts of my mind that were used for polite conversation: probably a good thing to do anyway, on Apert eve. “I’m sure you could arrange to be suvined by Orolo, if you sat down near him and said something wrong.”

Fraa Corlandin chuckled at my joke. “I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the stars even to say something wrong.”

“Well, today for once he said something that wasn’t about stars.”

“That’s what I heard. Who could have guessed that our cosmographer was an enthusiast for dead languages?”

This entire sentence went by me—a little like when you are eating a slice of canned fruit and suddenly it slides down your throat before you’ve had a chance to chew it. Having finally got the hang of polite chitchat, I returned the favor of chuckling at his remark. But before I could really think about what he was saying, I noticed Lio and Jesry carrying their bowls to the kitchen. Two other fids stood, as though caught up in their wake, and followed them.

Following their glances, I noticed Grandsuur Tamura standing by the exit with her arms folded.

She reacted as if I had hit her with a spitball from across a crowded chalk hall, swiveling her head to strafe me with her eyes. I still had no idea what was going on, but I excused myself from Fraa Corlandin and carried my bowl into the kitchen. Seven of the other fids were there, hurriedly cleaning their bowls, but none of them knew any more than I did.

Incanter: A legendary figure, associated in the Sæcular mind with the mathic world, said to be able to alter physical reality by the incantation of certain coded words or phrases. The idea is traceable to work conducted in the mathic world prior to the Third Sack. It was wildly inflated in popular culture, where fictionalized Incanters (supposedly linked to Halikaarnian traditions) dueled their mortal foes, the Rhetors (supposedly linked to Procians), in more or less spectacular style. An influential suvin among historical scholars holds that the inability of many Sæculars to distinguish between such entertainments and reality was largely responsible for the Third Sack.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

A few minutes later, all thirty-two fids and Grandsuur Tamura were together in Saunt Grod’s chalk hall, which was normally considered to hold eighteen. “Shall we move over to Saunt Venster where there’s more room?” suggested Suur Ala. She was the self-appointed boss of the bell-ringing team—and of everyone else in range of her searchlight eyes. Behind Ala’s back, people liked to say that, of all the current crop of fids, she was the most likely to end up being Warden Regulant.

Grandsuur Tamura pretended not to hear. She had lived here seventy-five years and well knew the sizes of the available halls. She must have chosen this one for a reason—probably, I realized, because no one could hide ignorance, or boredom, when we were packed in so tightly. There wasn’t room to make our spheres into stools, and so we kept them pilled up and tucked inside our bolts.

I noticed that some of the suurs were standing even closer together than was strictly necessary, and sniffling into one another’s shoulders. One of them was Tulia, whom I liked quite a bit. I was eighteen. Tulia was a bit younger. Lately I had dreamed of having a liaison with her once she had come of age. In general I looked at her more often than was strictly necessary. Sometimes she looked back. But when I tried to meet her eye now, she pointedly looked away, and fixed her red and swollen eyes on the big stained-glass window above the slate. Since (a) it was dark outside and (b) the window depicted Saunt Grod and his research assistants being beaten with rubber hoses in the dungeons of some Praxic Age spy bureau and (c) Tulia had already spent something like a quarter of her life in this room, I reckoned that inspecting the window wasn’t really the point.

Dense though I am, I finally put it together that this was the last time that our crop of thirty-two fids would be gathered together, as such, in our lives. The girls with their preternatural ability for noticing such things were responding, the boys with our equally uncanny obtuseness were only affected inasmuch as the girls we fancied were crying.

Grandsuur Tamura was not doing this to be sentimental, though. “Our topic is the Iconographies and their origins,” she announced. “If I am satisfied that you know enough and that you understand the importance of what you know, then you shall be free to roam about extramuros during the ten days of Apert. Otherwise, you shall remain in the Cloister for your own safety. Fid Erasmas, what are the Iconographies and why do we concern ourselves with them?”

Why had Grandsuur Tamura directed the first question at me? Probably because I’d been transcribing those interviews with Fraa Orolo, and had an advantage over the others. I decided to frame my answer accordingly. “Well, the extras—”

“The Sæculars,” Tamura corrected me.

“The Sæculars know that we exist. They don’t know quite what to make of us. The truth is too complicated for them to keep in their heads. Instead of the truth, they have simplified representations—caricatures—of us. Those come and go, and have done since the days of Thelenes. But if you stand back and look at them, you see certain patterns that recur again and again, like, like—attractors in a chaotic system.”

“Spare me the poetry,” said Grandsuur Tamura with a roll of the eyes. There was a lot of tittering, and I had to force myself not to glance in Tulia’s direction.

I went on, “Well, long ago those patterns were identified and written down in a systematic way by avout who make a study of extramuros. They are called Iconographies. They are important because if we know which iconography a given extra—pardon me, a given Sæcular—is carrying around in his head, we’ll have a good idea what they think of us and how they might react to us.”

Grandsuur Tamura gave no sign of whether she liked my answer or not. But she turned her eyes away from me, which was the most I could hope for. “Fid Ostabon,” she said, staring now at a twenty-one-year-old fraa with a ragged beard. “What is the Temnestrian Iconography?”

“It is the oldest,” he began.

“I didn’t ask how old it was.”

“It’s from an ancient comedy,” he tried.

“I didn’t ask where it was from.”

“The Temnestrian Iconography…” he rebegan.

“I know what it’s called. What is it?

“It depicts us as clowns,” Fraa Ostabon said, a little brusquely. “But…clowns with a sinister aspect. It is a two-phase iconography: at the beginning, we are shown, say, prancing around with butterfly nets or looking at shapes in the clouds…”

“Talking to spiders,” someone put in. Then, when no reprimand came from Grandsuur Tamura, someone else said: “Reading books upside-down.” Another: “Putting our urine up in test tubes.”

“So at first it seems only comical,” said Fraa Ostabon, regaining the floor. “But then in the second phase, a dark side is shown—an impressionable youngster is seduced, a responsible mother lured into insanity, a political leader led into decisions that are pure folly.”

“It’s a way of blaming the degeneracy of society on us—making us the original degenerates,” said Grandsuur Tamura. “Its origins? Fid Dulien?”

The Cloud-weaver, a satirical play by the Ethran playwright Temnestra that mocks Thelenes by name and that was used as evidence in his trial.”

“How to know if someone you meet is a subscriber to this iconography? Fid Olph?”

“Probably they will be civil as long as the conversation is limited to what they understand, but they’ll become strangely hostile if we begin speaking of abstractions…?”

“Abstractions?”

“Well…let’s say anything that comes to us from our mother Hylaea.”

“Level of dangerousness, on a scale of 1 to 10?”

“Given what happened to Thelenes, I’d say 10.”

Grandsuur Tamura didn’t favor the answer. “I can’t be too hard on you for over-estimating the risk, but—”

“Thelenes was executed in an orderly judicial proceeding by the Sæcular Power—not a mob action,” volunteered Lio, “and mob actions are less predictable, thus, more difficult to defend against.”

“Very good,” said Grandsuur Tamura, obviously surprised to hear such a cogent answer coming from Lio. “So let us rate its level of danger as 8. Fid Halak, what is the origin of the Doxan Iconography?”

“A Praxic Age moving picture serial. An adventure drama about a military spaceship sent to a remote part of the galaxy to prevent hostile aliens from establishing hegemony, and marooned when their hyperdrive is damaged in an ambush. The captain of the ship was passionate, a hothead. His second-in-command was Dox, a theorician, brilliant, but unemotional and cold.”

“Fid Jesry, what does the Doxan Iconography say of us?”

“That we are useful to the Sæcular Power. Our gifts are to be celebrated. But we are blinded, or crippled—take your pick—by, er…”

“By the very same qualities that make us useful,” said Fid Tulia. Which was why I couldn’t get her out of my mind: in a heartbeat, she could go from blubbering to being the cleverest person in the room.

“How to identify one who is under the influence of the Doxan Iconography? Fid Tulia, again?”

“They’ll be curious about our knowledge, impressed by us, but patronizing—certain that we must be subordinated to intuitive, common-sense leaders.”

“Danger level? Fid Branch?”

“I would put it very low. It is basically the situation we are living in anyway.”

This got a laugh, which Grandsuur Tamura didn’t like very much. “Fid Ala. What does the Yorran Iconography have in common with the Doxan?”

Suur Ala had to think for a minute before trying: “Also from a Praxic Age entertainment serial? But it was an illustrated book, wasn’t it?”

“Later they made moving pictures of it,” put in Fraa Lio.

Someone muttered a hint into Ala’s ear, and then she remembered everything. “Yes. Yorr is identified as a theorician, but if you see how he actually spends his time, he’s really more of a praxic. He has turned green from working with chemicals, and he has a tentacle sprouting from the back of his skull. Always wears a white laboratory smock. Criminally insane. Always has a scheme to take over the world.”

“Fraa Arsibalt, what iconography surrounds the Rhetors?”

He was so ready. “Fiendishly gifted at twisting words and confusing Sæculars—or, what is worse, influencing them in ways so subtle they don’t even know it’s happening. They use Unarian maths to recruit and groom minions, whom they send out into the Sæcular world to get influential positions as Burgers—but in truth they are all puppets of a Rhetor conspiracy.”

“Well, that one makes sense, anyway!” said Fid Olph.

Everyone looked at him to make out whether he was joking. He looked taken aback.

“Guess we know which order you’ll be signing up for!” said one irritated suur, who everyone knew was headed for the New Circle.

“Because he’s a Procian-hater? Or just because he’s socially inept?” said one of her companions in a low voice that was, however, clearly audible.

“That’s enough!” said Grandsuur Tamura. “The Sæculars don’t know about the differences between our Orders and so all of us—not just the Procians—are equally vulnerable to the iconography that Fraa Arsibalt has just explained. Let’s move on.”

And so it went. The Muncostran Iconography: eccentric, lovable, disheveled theorician, absent-minded, means well. The Pendarthan: fraas as high-strung, nervous, meddling know-it-alls who simply don’t understand the realities; lacking physical courage, they always lose out to more masculine Sæculars. The Klevan Iconography: theor as an awesomely wise elder statesman who can solve all the problems of the Sæcular world. The Baudan Iconography: we are grossly cynical frauds living in luxury at the expense of the common man. The Penthabrian: we are guardians of ancient mystical secrets of the universe handed down to us by Cnoüs himself, and all of our talk about theorics is just a smoke-screen to hide our true power from the unwashed multitude.

In all, there were a round dozen iconographies that Grandsuur Tamura wanted to talk about. I’d heard of all of them, but I hadn’t realized that there were so many until she made us sort through them one by one. Particularly interesting was the rating of their relative dangers. After much back-and-forth we concluded that the most dangerous of the lot was not the Yorran, as one might have expected, but rather the Moshianic, which was a hybrid of the Klevan and the Penthabrian: it held that we were going to emerge from the gates and bring enlightenment to the world and usher in a new age. It tended to peak every hundred or thousand years, as people got ready for the Centenarian or Millenarian gates to open. It was dangerous because it raised people’s expectations to the point of delirium, and drew many pilgrims and much attention.

Because of my work with Fraa Orolo, I knew that the Moshianic Iconography was ascendant, in the guise of the so-called Warden of Heaven. Our hierarchs had become aware of this, and the Warden Fendant had asked Grandsuur Tamura to lead us in this discussion.

In the end, she gave the whole crop permission to go extramuros during Apert, which surprised no one: the threat of locking us up had only been to make us pay heed.

The discussion had actually become quite interesting, and the only thing that ended it was the ringing of the curfew bell. It was part of our Discipline never to sleep two nights in a row in the same cell. Assignments were posted each evening on a slate in the refectory. We had to go back there to find out where we’d be sleeping and whom we’d be chumming with. So the entire group made its way out of the chalk hall and around the Cloister, chattering and laughing about Dox and Yorr and the other funny characters that the extras had dreamed up in an effort to make sense of us. Older fraas and suurs sat on the benches that faced into the Cloister, assembling sandals—normally our sort of job—and giving us dirty looks.

It was important that I not let any one of the sandal-makers catch my eye, so I looked elsewhere. I noticed Fraa Orolo emerging from one of the other chalk halls with a sheaf of leaves, cluttered with calculations, tucked under his arm. He started one way, then, seeing our crowd, turned into the garden instead, and headed off in the direction of the Mynster. This gave me a little twinge, for a certain tablet of Saunt Tancred’s Nebula was gathering dust on a table in a workroom up in the starhenge, holding down a couple of leaves stained with inconclusive notes and scratch-outs in my handwriting. Orolo would notice, and know I hadn’t worked on it in days.

A few minutes later I was in the cell that I was to share that night with two other fraas, wrapping myself up in my bolt and making my sphere a pillow. You might expect that, as I lay there trying to get to sleep, I’d be thinking about Apert or about the iconographies. But spying Fraa Orolo in the Cloister had put me in mind of the slippery sentence that Fraa Corlandin had spoken at dinner, and that I’d swallowed without tasting. Now it had become one of those unwelcome thoughts I didn’t know how to get rid of.

That’s what I heard, Fraa Corlandin had said. But my dialog with Orolo had taken place only an hour before dinner. Who among the spectators had run off to spread the story in the New Circle chapterhouse? Why did anyone care?

Until last year, Corlandin had been in a liaison with Suur Trestanas, also of the New Circle. Then one day the bells had rung to signal the aut of Regred, meaning that someone had made the decision to go into retirement. We had convened in the Mynster and the Primate had called out a name: that of our Warden Regulant. Despite all of the penance that this man had meted out to us over the years, we all felt sorrow as we sang the chants of the aut, for he’d been reasonable and wise.

Statho—the Primate—had then named Suur Trestanas the new Warden Regulant. It was a little bit of a surprise because she was young, but not controversial since everyone knew she was bright. She’d moved to the Primate’s Compound where she now had a cell to herself, and took her meals with the other hierarchs. But rumor had it that her liaison with Fraa Corlandin continued. Some avout, of a suspicious mindset, believed that the hierarchs had devices salted around the concent that enabled them to know what we were saying. Believing so was a fad that came and went depending on what people thought of the hierarchs at a given time. It had been on the rise since Suur Trestanas had been appointed Warden Regulant. It was impossible for me not to think of it now. Perhaps she had listened to my dialog with Orolo and then passed it on to Corlandin.

On the other hand (said the part of my mind that pleaded with such thoughts to go away), I had to admit that I myself had thought it strange that Orolo would suddenly take an interest in Old Orth translation errors.

Who could have guessed that our cosmographer was an enthusiast for dead languages? Well, enthusiast was one of those unkillable words that had passed almost unchanged from Proto-Orth all the way up into Fluccish. In Fluccish—which was how I assumed, at first, Corlandin had used it—it simply meant one who liked something. The Proto-Orth meaning, however, was not a very complimentary one to hang on a fraa, especially a theorician like Orolo. And dead languages too was an interesting choice of words. Was it really dead if Orolo was reading it? And if Orolo was right about the translations, then by calling the original “dead,” wasn’t Corlandin sort of making a point—and doing it in a sneaky way, without going to the effort of proving it?

After what seemed like hours of lying awake and worrying about this, I had the upsight that the things Fraa Orolo said—even when they caused me embarrassment or outright pain—never made me wrestle with my bolt in the night-time in the way that these words from Fraa Corlandin had. This made me think I’d rather join the Edharians.

If, that is, the Edharians would have me. I was not so confident that they would. I’d never been as quick to grasp pure theorics as some of the other fids. This must have been noticed. I wondered: why had Grandsuur Tamura asked me the first, and easiest, question? Was it because she didn’t think I could handle anything more difficult? Why did Orolo have me working as an amanuensis instead of doing theorics? Why was Corlandin now trying to recruit me? Putting it all together, I came to the conclusion that everyone knew I just wasn’t fit to join the Edharian order, and some were trying to prepare a soft landing for me.

Part 2

APERT

Ita: (1) In late Praxic Orth, an acronym (therefore, in ancient texts sometimes written ITA) whose precise etymology is a casualty of the loss of shoddily preserved information that will forever enshroud the time of the Harbingers and the Terrible Events. Almost all scholars agree that the first two letters come from the words Information Technology, which is late Praxic Age commercial bulshytt for syntactic devices. The third letter is disputed; hypotheses include Authority, Associate, Arm, Archive, Aggregator, Amalgamated, Analyst, Agency, and Assistant. Each of these, of course, suggests a different picture of what role the Ita might have performed in the years before the Reconstitution, and so each tends to be advocated by a different suvin. (2) In early New Orth (up to the Second Sack), a faculty of a concent devoted to the praxis of syntactic devices. (3) In later New Orth, a proscribed artisanal caste tolerated in the thirty-seven concents that were built around the Great Clocks, all of which are in technical violation of the Second Sack reforms in that their clocks were built with subsystems that employ syntactic devices; the task of the Ita is to operate and maintain those subsystems while observing strict segregation from the avout.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

The last night of 3689 I dreamed that something was troubling Fraa Orolo, and that everyone had noticed, but on no account would he or anyone else speak of it openly. So it was a mystery. And yet everyone knew what it was: the planets were deviating from their courses, and the clock was wrong. For part of the clock was an orrery: a mechanical model of the solar system that displayed the current positions of the planets and many of their moons. It was in the narthex or lobby between the Day Gate and the north nave. It had been exactly correct for thirty-four centuries, but now it had gone out of whack. The marble, crystal, steel, and lapis spheres that represented the planets had moved to positions that were at odds with what Fraa Orolo could plainly see even in the smallest of telescopes. Never mentioned in the dream, but understood by me, was that the problem must have something to do with the Ita, because the orrery was one of the systems driven by the devices that they tended in the vaulted cavern beneath the floor of the Mynster.

The same system, it was rumored, effected subtle corrections to the rate of the main clock. If the error down in the cellar were not fixed, it would lead to greater errors that would be obvious to all, such as the bells chiming midday when the sun was not at its zenith, or the Day Gate opening before or after sunrise.

In a universe governed by the usual logic, those errors would have cropped up later than the tiny discrepancies between the orrery and the planets. But in dream-logic, it all happened at the same time, so that I was wondering what was troubling Fraa Orolo even as I saw the orrery show the phase of the moon wrong, which happened at the same time as burgers were wandering in through the Day Gate at midnight. But for some reason, none of those errors troubled me as much as the sounds emanating from the belfry: the bells ringing the wrong changes…

I opened my eyes to hear Apert ringing. Or so the other fraas in my cell speculated. There was no way of telling unless you listened carefully for a few minutes. The belfry movement could play fixed tunes, for example to chime the hours. But to announce auts and other events, our team of ringers would disengage that mechanism and ring changes, or permutations of tones. There was a pattern or code in them that we were taught to understand. This was supposedly so that messages could be cast to a sprawling concent without the people extramuros knowing what was being said.

Not that there was anything secret about Apert. This was the first day of 3690; therefore, not only the Day Gate but the Unarian and Decenarian Gates would open at sunrise. Any extra who glanced at a calendar knew this perfectly well, and so did we. But for some reason none of us would get out of bed and act upon it until we heard the right sequence of tones ring out from the belfry: a melody reversed, flipped upside-down, and turned back on itself in a particular way.

We sat up, three naked fraas in a cold cell with our bolts and chords and spheres all disheveled on the pallets. Such a day called for a formal wrap, which was difficult to manage alone. Fraa Holbane’s feet had touched the floor first, so I leaned over and rummaged through his warm, stirred-up bolt until my fingers felt the fraying end, which I drew toward me. Fraa Arsibalt, the third one in the cell, was the last to wake up; after some strong language from me and Holbane, he finally took up the selvage end. We went out into the corridor and stretched it between us. Fraa Holbane had made it short, thick, and fuzzy for warmth.

Arsibalt and I pleated Holbane’s bolt and then backed away from each other as Holbane made it three times as long and much thinner. Chord wadded in his hand, he crawled under it and then stood so that it was tented over his left shoulder. Then all he had to do was swivel this way and that, and raise and lower his arms at the right times, while Arsibalt and I moved about him, like planets in an orrery, winding the bolt, spreading or bunching pleats as necessary. The finished wrap was notoriously unstable, so we held it in place for a minute while Holbane passed his chord over it in several places and tied a few important knots. Then he was free to partner with Arsibalt in getting my bolt around me. Finally, Holbane and I did it for Arsibalt. Arsibalt always liked to go last, so that he would get the best results. Not that he was vain. On the contrary, of all of our crop, he seemed best suited to live in a math. He was big and portly, and kept trying to grow a beard so that he could look more like the old fraa that he was destined to be. But unlike, say, Fraa Lio, who invented new wraps all the time, Arsibalt insisted on having it done right.

When we were all clothed, we spent a few more minutes making extra passes with our chords and shaping the pleats that hooded our heads: just about the only part of this wrap where it was possible to show any individual style.

Completed sandals were heaped on the ground next to the exit of the cell-house. I kicked through them looking for a pair big enough for my feet. The Discipline had been created by people who lived in warm places. It allowed each of the avout to own a bolt, a chord, and a sphere, but it said nothing about footwear. That didn’t trouble us much during the summer. But the weather was getting ready to turn cold. And during Apert we might go extramuros and walk on city streets with broken glass and other hazards. We stretched the Discipline a little bit, wearing tire sandals during Apert and soft-soled mukluks during the winter months. The avout of Saunt Edhar had been doing this for a long time now and the Inquisition hadn’t come down on us yet, so it seemed that we were safe. I made a pair of sandals mine, and tied them onto my feet.

Finally, each of us took his sphere and made it fist-sized. As we strolled in the direction of the Mynster, we passed the knotted ends of our chords around these, weaving simple nets to entrap them, then made the spheres inhale and swell to draw the chords taut. Each of us then made his sphere glow with a soft scarlet light. The light was so that we could see where we were going and the color was to mark ourselves as Tenners, which was necessary since before long we’d be mixed up with One-offs.

When all of these preparations were finished, the sphere dangled from the right hip and swung against the thigh, which looked fascinating when a couple of hundred of us were converging on the Mynster in the dark. If you wanted to look like a real Saunt in a statue, you could cup the glowing sphere in one hand and stroke it with the other while staring off into the distance as though mesmerized by the Light of Cnoüs.

Forty avout had risen earlier and gathered in the chancel. They were singing the processional of Decennial Apert as we came in. Woven into this chant was a melody I had not heard in ten years, or since I had stood inside the Decade Gate at sunrise and watched its stone-and-steel doors grind shut on everything I had ever known. To hear that melody now penetrated so deep into my brain that it literally threw me off balance, and I leaned into another fraa: Lio, who for once did not use it as an excuse to flip me over his hipbone and slam me to the ground, but rather pushed me back up straight, as if I were a crooked ikon, and turned his attention back to the aut.

All of the music was synchronized to the clock, which served as metronome and conductor. It went on for another quarter of an hour: no reading, no homily, just music.

The sky was clear, and so at the moment of sunrise, light washed down the well from the quartz prism at the top of the starhenge. The music stopped. We extinguished our spheres. I had an impression that the light from above was emerald-colored at first, or perhaps that was a trick of my eyes; by the time I’d blinked once, it had gone the color of the back of your hand when you shine a light through it in a dark cell. There was an unbearable moment of stillness when we all feared that (as in my dream) the clock was wrong and nothing would happen.

Then the central weight began to drop. This happened every day at sunrise to open the Day Gate. But today it was the signal for everyone to crane their necks and look up to where the Præsidium’s pillars pierced the Mynster’s vault. We heard, then saw movement. It was happening! Two of the weights were descending, riding down their rails to open the Year Gate and the Decade Gate.

We all gasped and exclaimed and cheered and many of us had to wipe our eyes. I could even hear the Thousanders reacting to it behind their screen. The cube and the octahedron descended into plain view and everyone roared. We applauded them as if they were celebrities at an awards ceremony. As they neared the chancel floor we hushed, as if fearing that they might smash into the ground. But as they got closer they slowed, and finally crept to a halt only a hand’s-breadth above the floor. Then we all laughed.

In some ways this was ridiculous. The clock was but a mechanism. It had no choice at this moment but to let those weights drop. Yet to see it happen created a feeling that can’t be conveyed to one who was not there. The choir were supposed to break into polyphonic singing now, and they almost couldn’t. But the raggedness of their voices was a music of its own.

Outside, beneath the singing, I could hear the sound of running waters.

Avout: (1) A person who has sworn a vow to submit himself or herself to the Cartasian Discipline for one or more years; a fraa or suur. (2) A plurality of such persons. (3) A formally constituted community of such persons, e.g., a chapter or a math.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

“There’s no right way to build a clock,” Fraa Corlandin used to say when he was teaching us modern (post-Reconstitution) history. This was his euphemistic way of saying that Saunt Edhar’s praxics had been a little bit crazy.

Our concent was nestled in the crook of a river where it dodged around one end of a range of rocky bluffs—the terminus of a mountain range that stretched for hundreds of miles to the northeast and whose glaciers and snowpacks formed the river’s headwaters. Just upstream was a series of cataracts. We could hear them at night if the slines weren’t making too much noise. Below them, the river, as though resting from all of the excitement, ran still and gentle for some distance, curving across a well-drained prairie. Part of that prairie, and a mile and a half of the river, were encompassed by our walls.

Up at the cataract, the river was easily bridged, and so a settlement tended to be there. During some eras it would grow and engulf our walls, and office workers in skyscrapers would gaze down on the tops of our bastions. At other times it would ebb and recede to a tiny fueling-station or gun emplacement at the river crossing. Our stretch of the river was hazardous with rust-eaten girders and lumps of moss-covered synthetic stone, the remains of bridges that had been raised at that crossing and, in later ages, collapsed and washed downstream.

Most of our land and almost all of our buildings were on the inside of the riverbend, but we had claimed a strip on the far bank and built our fortifications there: walls parallel to the river where it ran straight, bastions where it bent. Three of those bastions housed gates, one each for the Unarian, Decenarian, and Centenarian maths (the Millenarian Gate was up on the mountain and worked differently). Each gate was a pair of doors, supposed to swing open and closed at certain times. This had posed a problem for the praxics, in that the gates were situated far away, and on the opposite side of a river, from the clock that was supposed to command the opening.

The praxics had done it with water power. Far outside of our walls, upstream of the cataract—therefore, at an altitude well above our heads—they had carved a pool, like an open cistern, out of the river’s stony course, and made it feed an aqueduct that cut due south toward the Mynster, bypassing the cataract, the bridge, and the bend. After rushing through a short tunnel and loping on stone stilts across half a mile of broken terrain, this dove into the ground and became a buried pipe that passed beneath what was now a settled neighborhood of burgers. The water in that pipe, pressurized by gravity, erupted in a pair of fountains from the pond that lay just outside of the Day Gate. A causeway ran across the middle of that pond, connecting the central square of the burgers’ town, at its northern end, to our Day Gate at its southern, and passing right between those two fountains.

The elevation of the pond was still above that of the river and plain. Drains were plumbed into its bottom and throttled by monumental ball-valves of polished granite. One of them fed a series of ponds, canals, and fountains that beautified the Primate’s compound and, farther downstream, formed part of the barrier between the Unarian and the Decenarian maths. Three other drains were connected to systems of pipes, siphons, and aqueducts that ran out toward the Year, Decade, and Century Gates. Those systems were dry except at Apert. Now the clock’s descending weights had opened two valves and allowed water to rush from the pond to flood the Year and Decade systems.

In some ways maybe this was a crazy and ramshackle way to do it, but there was one advantage that wasn’t obvious to me until that day. The waterworks had been designed to fill up slowly. So after the rite concluded, we were able to spill out of the Mynster and follow the water at a brisk walking pace as it charged an aqueduct that ran along beside the Seven Stairs, skirted the Cloister, and reached across the Back toward the river.

A stone bridge crossed the river there, anchored on the near bank by a round tower and on the far by a bastion in the concent’s outer wall. Within the round tower was a cistern, now being filled by water from the aqueduct, with a pitcher-lip poised above the petals of a water-wheel. Most of us reached it in time to see the cistern overflow and the wheel begin to turn, accepting energy from the water before exhausting it into the river. By stainless steel gears the wheel rotated a shaft, as thick as my thigh, that ran across the bridge (you might mistake it for a very stout railing if you didn’t know what it was for). Across the river, inside of the bastion, the shaft drove another set of gears that was connected directly to the hinge-pins around which the gates swung.

Hearing them move, we ran toward them, but slowed as we got closer, not knowing what was about to happen.

Well…actually, we had a pretty good idea. But I was still young enough that I could let myself forget about Diax’s Rake when I was in love with some idea. Orolo’s yarn about a math that floated freely in time, surfing on crosscurrents of Causal Domain Shear, had really stirred my emotions, and so for a few moments I let my imagination run away, and pretended that I lived in such a math and that I really had no idea what might be found outside its gates when they opened: Mobs of jumped-up slines rushing in with pitchforks or molotovs. Starving ones crawling in to worry potatoes out of the ground. Moshianic pilgrims expecting to see the face of some god or other. Corpses strewn to the horizon. Virgin wilderness. The most interesting moment was when the gap between the gates grew just wide enough to admit a single person. Who would it be? Male or female, old or young, carrying an assault rifle, a baby, a chest of gold, or a backpack bomb?

As the doors continued to open, we were able to make out perhaps thirty Sæculars who had gathered to watch. Several were planted facing the gate, all sharing the same awkward stance; after a while I figured out that these were aiming speelycaptors at us, or holding up jeejahs to send feeds to people far away. A small child sat on her father’s shoulders, eating something; she was already bored, and wriggling to be let down; he bent and twisted at the hips and insisted through clenched teeth that she watch, just for another minute. Eight children in identical clothes stood in a row, watched over by a lady. These must have come from one of the Burgers’ suvins. A desolate woman, looking as though she’d survived a natural disaster that hadn’t touched anyone else, walked slowly toward the gate carrying a bundle that I suspected was a newborn infant. Half a dozen men and women were gathered around something that smoked. This artifact was surrounded by a loose revetment of large brightly colored boxes, on which some of them sat, the better to eat their enormous drooling sandwiches. Half-forgotten Fluccish words came to me: barbecue, cooler, cheesburg.

One man had planted himself in a disk of open space—or perhaps the others were just avoiding him—and was waving a banner on the end of a pole: the flag of the Sæcular Power. His posture was defiant, triumphant. Another man shouted into a device that made his voice louder: some sort of a Deolater, I guessed, who wanted us to join his ark.

The first to enter were a man and woman dressed in the kinds of clothes that people wore extramuros to attend a wedding or make an important commercial transaction, and three children in miniature renditions of those clothes. The man was towing behind him a red wagon carrying a pot with a sapling growing out of it. Each of the children had a hand on the rim of the pot so that it wouldn’t topple as the wagon’s wheels felt their way over the cobbles. The woman, unencumbered, moved faster, but in a gait that looked all wrong until I recollected that women extramuros wore shoes that made them walk so. She was smiling but also wiping tears from her eyes. She headed straight for Grandsuur Ylma, whom she seemed to recognize, and began explaining that her father, who had died three years ago, had been a great supporter of the concent and liked to go in the Day Gate to attend lectures and read books. When he had died, his grandchildren had planted this tree, and now they hoped to see it transplanted to a suitable location on our grounds. Grandsuur Ylma said that that would be fine provided it was of the One Hundred Sixty-four. The Burger lady assured Ylma that, knowing our rules, they had gone to all sorts of trouble to make sure that this was so. Meanwhile, her husband was prowling around taking pictures of this conversation with a jeejah.

Seeing that we had not massacred the Burger family or inserted probes into their orifices, a young assistant to the man with the sound amplification device came in and began to approach us one by one, handing us leaves with writing on them. Unfortunately they were in Kinagrams and so we could not read them. We had been warned that it was best to accept such things politely and claim we would read them later—not engage such persons in Thelenean dialog.

This man noticed the desolate woman. Guessing that she meant to leave her baby with us, he began trying to talk her out of it in slangy Fluccish. She recoiled; then, understanding that she was probably safe, began cursing at him. Half a dozen suurs moved forward to surround her. The Deolater became furious and looked as if he might strike someone. I noticed Fraa Delrakhones for the first time, watching this fellow closely and making eye contact with several burly fraas who were moving closer to him. But then the man with the sound device chirped out a word that must have been the younger fellow’s name. Having got his attention, he looked up at the sky for a moment (“The Powers that Be are watching, idiot!”) then glared at him (“Simmer down and keep handing out the all-important literature!”).

A tall man was walking toward me: Artisan Quin. Next to him was a shorter copy of Quin, without the beard. “Bon Apert, Fraa Erasmas,” Quin said.

“Bon Apert, Artisan Quin,” I returned, and then looked at his son. His son was looking at my left foot. His gaze traveled quickly up to the top of my hood but did not catch or linger on my face, as if this were of no more note than a wrinkle in my bolt. “Bon—” I began, but he interrupted: “That bridge is built on the arch principle.”

“Barb, the fraa is wishing you Bon Apert,” said Quin, and held out his hand in my direction. But Barb actually reached out and pulled his father’s arm down—it was blocking his view of the bridge.

“The bridge has a catenary curve because of the vectors,” Barb went on.

“Catenary. That’s from the Orth word for—” I began.

“It’s from the Orth word for chain,” Barb announced. “It is the same curve that a hanging chain makes, flipped upside-down. But the driveshaft that opens the gates has to be straight. Unless it was made with newmatter.” His eyes found my sphere and studied it for a few moments. “But that can’t be, because the Concent of Saunt Edhar was built after the First Sack. So it must have been made with old matter.” His eyes went back to the driveshaft, which seemed to follow the arch of the bridge, passing through blocks of carved stone at regular intervals. “Those stone things must contain universal joints,” he concluded.

“That is correct,” I said. “The shaft—”

“The shaft is put together from eight straight pieces connected by universal joints hidden inside the bases of those statues. The base of a statue is called a plinth.” And Barb began to walk very fast; he was the first extra to cross over the bridge into our math. Quin gave me a look that was difficult to interpret, and hustled after him.

An altercation had flared up between the desolate woman and the suurs. Apparently, this woman had been told by some ignorant person that we’d give her money for the baby. The suurs had set her straight as gently as they knew how.

Several more extras had come in. A group of half a dozen, mostly men, all wearing clothes that were respectful, but not expensive. They had engaged a small group of mostly older avout. The foremost of the visitors was draped in a thick, gaudy-colored rope with a globe at the end. I reckoned he was the priest of some newfangled counter-Bazian ark. He was talking to Fraa Haligastreme: big, bald, burly, and bearded, looking as if he’d just stepped off the Periklyne after a brisk discussion of ontology with Thelenes. He was a theorical geologist, and the FAE of the Edharian chapter. He was listening politely, but kept throwing significant glances at a pair of purple-bolted hierarchs standing off to the side: Delrakhones, the Warden Fendant, and Statho, the Primate.

Circumventing this group, I passed in earshot of a side conversation. One of the women visitors had engaged Fraa Jesry. I put her age at about thirty, though the way that extramuros women did their hair and faces made it difficult to guess such things; on second thought, she was a dressed-up twenty-five. She was paying close attention to Jesry, asking him questions about life in the math.

After what seemed like a long time, I got Jesry’s attention. He politely told the woman that he had made arrangements to go extramuros with me. She looked at me, which I enjoyed. Then her jeejah spat out a burst of notes and she excused herself to take a call.

Sline: (1) In Fluccish of the late Praxic Age and early Reconstitution, a slang word formed by truncation of baseline, which is a Praxic commercial bulshytt term. It appears to be a noun that turned into an adjective meaning “common” or “widely shared.” (2) A noun denoting an extramuros person with no special education, skills, aspirations, or hope of acquiring same. (3) Derogatory term for a stupid or uncouth person, esp. one who takes pride in those very qualities. Note: this sense is deprecated because it implies that a sline is a sline because of inherent personal shortcomings or perverse choices; sense (2) is preferred because it does not convey any such implication.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Jesry and I walked out for the first time in ten years.

The first thing I noticed was that people had leaned a lot of junk against the outside of our walls. Apparently some of it had even been leaned against the gates, but someone had cleared it off to the sides in preparation for Apert.

During this era, the neighborhood outside the Decade Gate was where artisans kept their shops, and so the stuff leaned against the walls tended to be lumber, pipes, reels of cable or tubing, and long-handled tools. We walked silently for a while, just looking. But sooner than you might think, we got used to it and forgot we were fraas.

“Do you think that woman wanted to have a liaison with you?” I asked.

“A—what do you call it—”

“An Atlanian Liaison.” Named after a Decenarian fraa of the Seventeenth Century A.R. who saw his true love for ten days every ten years and spent the rest of the time writing poems to her and sneaking them out of the math. They were really fine poems, carved in stone some places.

“Why do you think a woman would want that?” he wondered.

“Well, no risk of getting pregnant, when your partner is a fraa,” I pointed out.

“That might be important sometimes, but I think it’s easy for them to obtain contraception in this epoch.”

“I was kind of joking.”

“Oh. Sorry. Well…maybe she wants me for my mind.”

“Or your spiritual qualities.”

“Huh? You think she’s some kind of Deolater?”

“Didn’t you see who she was with?”

“Some sort of—who knows—a contingent, I think is what they call that.”

“Those were Warden of Heaven people, I’ll bet. Their leader was got up in a kind of imitation of a chord.”

We had gone far enough that the Decade Gate was lost to view around a curve. I glanced up at the Præsidium. The megaliths rising up from the perimeter of the starhenge served as compass points to help me establish my bearings. We had come to a larger road now, running roughly parallel to the river. If we crossed it and kept going, we’d climb into a neighborhood of big houses where burgers lived. If we followed it to the right, it would take us to the commerce district and we could eventually loop back in through the Day Gate. To the left, it ran out into the fauxburbs where I had spent my first eight years.

“Let’s get this over with,” I said, and turned left.

After we had gone a few paces, Jesry said “Again?” which was his annoying way of requesting clarification. “The Warden of Heaven?”

“Moshianics,” I said, and then spent a while telling him about Fraa Orolo’s interviews with Flec and Quin.

As we went along, the nature of the place changed: fewer workshops, more warehouses. Barges could navigate this stretch of the river and so it was where people tended to store things. We saw more vehicles now: a lot of drummons, which had up to a dozen wheels and were used for carrying large, heavy objects around districts like this. These looked the same as I remembered. A few fetches scurried around with smaller loads secured to their backs. These were more colorful. The men who owned them tended to be artisans, and it was clear that they spent a lot of time altering the vehicles’ shape and color, apparently for no reason other than to amuse themselves. Or maybe it was a kind of competition, like plumage on birds. Anyway, the styles had changed quite a bit, and so Jesry and I would stop talking and stare whenever a particularly strange or gaudy fetch went by. Their drivers stared right back at us.

“Well, I was oblivious to all that Warden of Heaven stuff,” Jesry concluded. “I’ve been very busy computing for Orolo’s group.”

“Why did you think Tamura was drilling us last night?” I asked.

“I didn’t think about it,” Jesry said. “All I can say is, it’s good you are around to be aware of all this. Have you considered—”

“Joining the New Circle? Angling to become a hierarch?”

“Yeah.”

“No. I don’t have to, because everyone else seems to be considering it for me.”

“Sorry, Raz!” he said, not really sounding sorry—more miffed that I had become miffed. He was hard to talk to, and sometimes I’d go months avoiding him. But slowly I’d learned it could be worth the aggravation.

“Forget it,” I said. “What have Orolo’s group been up to?”

“I’ve no idea, I just do the calculations. Orbital mechanics.”

“Theorical or—”

“Totally praxic.”

“You think they have found a planet around another star?”

“How could that be? For that, they have to collate information from other telescopes. And we haven’t gotten anything in ten years, obviously.”

“So it’s something nearer,” I said, “something that can be picked out with our telescopes.”

“It’s an asteroid,” Jesry said, fed up with my slow progress on the riddle.

“Is it the Big Nugget?”

“Orolo would be a lot more excited in that case.”

This was a very old joke. The Panjandrums had almost no use for us, but one of the few things that might change that would be the discovery of a large asteroid that was about to hit Arbre. In 1107 it had almost happened. Thousands of avout had been brought together in a convox that had built a spaceship to go nudge it out of the way. But by the time the ship had been launched in 1115, the cosmographers had calculated that the rock would just miss us, and so it had turned into a study mission. The lab where they’d built the ship was now the concent of Saunt Rab, after the cosmographer who had discovered the rock.

To our right, the hill where the burgers lived had petered out. A tributary of the river cut across our path from that direction. The road crossed it on an ancient steel bridge, built, rusted, decayed, condemned, and pasted back together with newmatter. A dotted line, worn away to near invisibility, hinted to motorists that they might consider showing a little civility to pedestrians between the rightmost lane and the railing. It was a bit late for us to double back now, and we could see another pedestrian pushing a cart, piled high with polybags, so we hustled over as quickly as we could manage, trusting the drummons, fetches, and mobes not to strike us dead. To our left we could see the tributary winding through its floodplain toward the join with the main river a mile away. When I’d been younger, the angle between the two watercourses had been mostly trees and marsh, but it looked as though they had put up a levee to fend off high water and then shingled it with buildings: most obviously, a large roofless arena with thousands of empty seats.

“Shall we go watch a game?” Fraa Jesry asked. I couldn’t tell whether he was serious. Of all of us, he looked the most like an athlete. He didn’t play sports often, but when he did, he was determined and angry, and tended to do well even though he had few skills.

“I think you need money to get in.”

“Maybe we could sell some honey.”

“We don’t have any of that either. Maybe later in the week.”

Jesry did not seem very satisfied with my answer.

“It’s too early in the morning for them to be having a game,” I added.

A minute later he had a new proposal: “Let’s pick a fight with some slines.”

We were almost to the end of the bridge. We had just scurried out of the path of a fetch operated by a man about our age who drove it as if he had been chewing jumpweed, with one hand on the controls and the other pressing a jeejah to the side of his face. So we were physically excited, breathing rapidly, and the idea of getting into a fight seemed a tiny bit less stupid than it would have otherwise. I smiled, and considered it. Jesry and I were strong from winding the clock, and many of the extras were in terrible condition—I understood now what Quin had meant when he’d said that they were starving to death and dying from being too fat at the same time.

When I looked back at Jesry he scowled and turned his face away. He didn’t really want to get into a fight with slines.

We had entered into the fauxburb where I had come from. A whole block had been claimed by a building that looked like a megastore but was apparently some new counter-Bazian ark. In the lawn before it was a white statue, fifty feet high, of some bearded prophet holding up a lantern and a shovel.

The roadside ditches were full of jumpweed and slashberry poking up through sediments of discarded packaging. Beneath a grey film of congealed exhaust, faded Kinagrams fidgeted like maggots trapped in a garbage bag. The Kinagrams, the logos, the names of the snacks were new to me, but in essence it was all the same.

I knew now why Jesry was being such a jerk. “It’s disappointing,” I said.

“Yeah,” Jesry said.

“All these years reading the Chronicles and hearing strange tales told every day at Provener…I guess it sort of…”

“Raised our expectations,” he said.

“Yeah.” Something occurred to me: “Did Orolo ever talk to you about the Ten-thousanders?”

“Causal Domain Shear and all that?” Jesry looked at me funny, surprised that Orolo had confided in me.

I nodded.

“That is a classic example of the crap they feed us to make it seem more exciting than it really is.” But I sensed Jesry had only just decided this; if Orolo was talking to all the fids about it, how special could it be?

“They’re not feeding us crap, Jesry. It’s just that we live in boring times.”

He tried a new tack: “It’s a recruiting strategy. Or, to be precise, a retention strategy.”

“What does that mean?”

“Our only entertainment is waiting for the next Apert—to see what’s out there when the gates open. When the answer turns out to be the same crap except dirtier and uglier, what can we do besides sign up for another ten years and see if it’s any different next time?”

“Or go in deeper.”

“Become a Hundreder? Haven’t you realized that’s worthless for us?”

“Because their next Apert is our next Apert,” I said.

“And then we die before the next one after that.”

“It’s not that rare to live to 130,” I demurred. Which only proved that I had done the same calculation in my head and come to the same conclusion as Jesry. He snorted.

“You and I were born too early to be Hundreders and too late to be Thousanders. A couple of years earlier and we might have been foundlings and gone straight to the crag.”

“In which case we’d both die before seeing an Apert,” I said. “Besides, I might have been a foundling, but from what you’ve said of your birth family, I don’t think you’d have.”

“We’ll see soon enough,” he said.

We covered a mile in silence. Even though we didn’t say anything, we were in dialog: a peregrin dialog, meaning two equals wandering around trying to work something out, as opposed to a suvinian dialog where a fid is being taught by a mentor, or a Periklynian dialog, which is combat. The road dovetailed into a larger one lined with the mass-produced businesses where slines obtained food and stuff, enlivened by casinos: windowless industrial cubes wrapped in colored light. Back in some day when there had been more vehicles, the full width of the right-of-way had been claimed by striped lanes. Now there were a lot of pedestrians and people getting around on scooters and wheeled planks and pedal-powered contraptions. But instead of going in straight lines they, and we, had to stitch together routes joining the pavement slabs that surrounded the businesses as the sea surrounds a chain of islands. The slabs were riven with meandering cracks marked by knife-thin hedges of jumpweed that had been straining dirt and wrappers out of the wind for a long time. The sun had gone behind clouds shortly after dawn but now it came out again. We ducked into the shade of a business that sold tires of different colors to young men who wanted to prettify their fetches and their souped-up mobes, and spent a minute rearranging our bolts to protect our heads.

“You want something,” I said. “You’re grumpy you don’t have it yet. I don’t think that what you want is stuff, because you’ve paid no attention at all to any of this.” I jerked my head at a display of iridescent newmatter tires. Moving pictures of naked women with distended breasts came and went on the sides of the wheels.

Jesry watched one of the moving pictures for a while, then shrugged. “I suppose I could leave, and learn to like such things. Frankly it seems pretty stupid. Maybe it helps if you eat what they eat.”

We moved on across the pavement-slab. “Look,” I said, “it’s been understood at least since the Praxic Age that if you have enough allswell floating around in your bloodstream, your brain will tell you in a hundred different ways that everything is all right-”

“And if you don’t, you end up like you and me,” he said.

I tried to become angry, then surrendered with a laugh. “All right,” I said, “let’s go with that. A minute ago, we passed a stand of blithe in the median strip—”

“I saw it too, and the one by the pre-owned-pornography store.”

“That one looked fresher. We could go pick it and eat it, and eventually the level of allswell in our blood would go up and we could live out here, or anywhere, and feel happy. Or we could go back to the concent and try to come by our happiness honestly.”

“You are so gullible,” he said.

You’re supposed to be the Edharians’ golden boy,” I said, “you’re supposed to be the one who swallows this stuff without question. I’m surprised, frankly.”

“And what are you now, Raz? The cynical Procian?”

“So people seem to think.”

“Look,” Jesry said, “I see the older avout working hard. Those who have upsight—who are illuminated by the light of Cnoüs”—he said this in a mocking tone; he was so frustrated that he veered and lunged in random ways as he moved from one thought to the next—“they do theorics. Those who aren’t so gifted fall back, and cut stone or keep bees. The really miserable ones leave, or throw themselves off the Mynster. Those who remain seem happy, whatever that means.”

“Certainly happier than the people out here.”

“I disagree,” Jesry said. “These people are as happy as, say, Fraa Orolo. They get what they want: naked ladies on their wheels. He gets what he wants: upsight to the mysteries of the universe.”

“Let’s get down to it then: what do you want?”

“Something to happen,” he said, “I almost don’t care what.”

“If you made a great advance in theorics, would that count?”

“Sure, but what are the odds I’ll do that?”

“It depends on the givens coming in from the observatories.”

“Right. So it’s out of my control. What do I do in the meantime?”

“Study theorics, which you’re so good at. Drink beer. Have Tivian liaisons with as many suurs as you can talk into it. Why is that so bad?”

He was devoting way too much attention to kicking a stone ahead of him, watching it bound across the pavement. “I keep looking at the shrimpy guys in the stained-glass windows,” he said.

“Huh?”

“You know. In the windows depicting the Saunts. The Saunts themselves, they’re always shown big. They fill most of the window. But if you look close, you can see tiny little figures in bolts and chords—”

“Huddled around their knees,” I said.

“Yeah. Looking up at the Saunt adoringly. The helpers. The fids. The second-raters who proved a lemma or read a draft somewhere along the way. No one knows their names, except maybe the cranky old fraa who takes care of that one window.”

“You don’t want to end up as a knee-hugger,” I said.

“That is correct. How does that work? Why some, but not others?”

“So, you want a window all to yourself?”

“It’d mean that something interesting happened to me,” he said, “something more interesting than this.”

“And if it came to a choice between that, and having enough allswell in your blood?”

He thought about that as we waited for a huge, articulated drummon to back out of our way.

“Finally you ask an interesting question,” he said.

And after that, he was quite a pleasant companion.

Half an hour later I pronounced us lost. Jesry accepted it with pleasure, as if this were more satisfactory than being found.

A boxy vehicle rolled past. “That is the third coach full of children that has gone by us recently,” Jesry pointed out. “Did you have a suvin in your neighborhood?”

“Places like this don’t have suvins,” I reminded him. “They have stabils.”

“Oh yes. That comes from—it’s an old Fluccish word—uh, cultural…”

“Stabilization Centers. But don’t say that because no one has called them that in something like three thousand years.”

“Right. Stabils it is.”

We turned where the coaches turned. For the next minute or so, things were fragile between us. Inside the math, it didn’t matter that he had come from burgers and I had come from slines. But as soon as we had stepped out of the Decade Gate, this fact had been released, like a bubble of swamp gas deep in dark water. Invisibly it had been rising and expanding ever since, and had just now erupted in a great, flaming, stinking belch.

My old stabil looked, in my eyes, like a half-scale reproduction of itself thrown together by a sloppy modelmaker. Some of the rooms had been boarded up. In my day they’d been crowded. So that confirmed that the population was declining. Perhaps by the time I was a grandfraa there would be a young forest here.

An empty coach pulled out of the drive. Before the next drew up to take its place, I glimpsed a crowd of youngsters staggering under huge backpacks into a canyon of raucously colored light: a breezeway lined with machines dispensing snacks, drinks, and attention-getting noises. From there they would carry their breakfasts into rooms, which Jesry and I could see through windows: in some, the children all watched the same program on a single large screen, in others each had his or her own panel. To one end, the blank wall of the gymnasium was booming with low-frequency rhythms of a sports program. I recognized the beat. It was the same one they had used when I was there.

Jesry and I had not seen moving pictures in ten years and so we stood there for a few minutes, hypnotized. But I had got my bearings now, and once I had nudged Jesry back into motion, I was able to lead us down the streets I had wandered as a boy. People here were as keen to modify their houses as their vehicles, and so when I did recognize a dwelling, it would have a new, freestanding roof lofted above the old one, or new modules plugged and pasted onto the ones I saw when I dreamed about the place. But I was helped by the fact that the neighborhood was half the size of what I remembered.

We found where I’d lived before I was Collected: two shelter modules joined into an L, another L of wire mesh completing a weedy cloister that housed one dead mobe and two dead fetches, the oldest of which I had personally helped set up on blocks. The gate was decorated with four different signs of varying ages promising to kill anyone who entered, which, to me, seemed much less intimidating than a single sign would’ve. A baby tree, about as long as my forearm, had sprouted from a clogged raingutter. Its seed must have been carried there by wind or a bird. I wondered how long it would take to grow to a size where it would tear the gutter clean off. Inside, a loud moving picture was showing on a speely, so we had to do a lot of hallooing and gate-rattling before someone emerged: a woman of about twenty. She’d have been a Big Girl to me when I’d been eight. I tried to remember the Big Girl’s names.

“Leeya?”

“She moved away when those guys left,” the woman explained, as if hooded men came to her door every day incanting the names of long-lost relations. She glanced back over her shoulder to watch a fiery explosion on the speely. As the sound of the explosion died away we could hear a man’s voice demanding something. She explained to him what she was doing. He didn’t quite follow her explanation, so she repeated the same words more loudly.

“I infer that some kind of factional schism has taken place within your family while you were gone,” Jesry said. I wanted to slug him. But when I looked at his face I saw he wasn’t trying to be clever.

The woman turned to look at us again. I was peering at her through an aperture between two signs that were threatening to kill me, and I wasn’t certain that she could see my face.

“I used to be named Vit,” I said.

“The boy who went to the clock. I remember you. How’s it going?”

“Fine. How are you?”

“Keeping it casual. Your mama isn’t here. She moved.”

“Far away?”

She rolled her eyes, vexed that I had leaned on her to make such a judgment. “Farther than you can probably walk.” The man inside yelled again. She was obliged to turn her back on us again and summarize her activities.

“Apparently she does not subscribe to the Dravicular Iconography,” Jesry said.

“How do you figure?”

“She said you went to the clock. Voluntarily. Not that you were taken by or abducted by the avout.”

The woman turned to face us again.

“I had an older sib named Cord,” I said. I nodded at the oldest of the broken fetches. “Former owner of that. I helped put it there.”

The woman had complex opinions of Cord, which she let us know by causing several emotions to ripple across her face. She ended by exhaling sharply, dropping her shoulders, setting her chin, and putting on a smile that I guessed was meant to be obviously fake. “Cord works all the time on stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?”

This question was even more exasperating to her than my earlier “Far away?” She looked pointedly at the moving picture.

“Where should I look?” I tried.

She shrugged. “You passed it on the way probably.” And she mentioned a place that we had in fact passed, shortly after leaving the Decade Gate. Then she took a step back inside, because the man in there was demanding an account of her recent doings. “Keep it casual,” she said, and waved, and disappeared from our view.

“Now I really want to meet Cord,” Jesry said.

“Me too. Let’s get out of here,” I said, and turned my back on the place—probably for the last time, as I didn’t imagine I’d come back at next Apert. Perhaps when I was seventy-eight years old. Reforestation was a surprisingly quick process.

“What’s a sib? Why do you use that word?”

“In some families, it’s not entirely clear how people are related.”

We walked faster and talked less, and got back across the bridge in very little time. Since the place where Cord worked was so close to the concent, we first went up into the burger neighborhood and found Jesry’s house.

When we’d gone out the Decade Gate, Jesry had been quiet and distracted for a few minutes before he had gone on his rant. Now I had an upsight, which was that he’d been expecting his family to be standing in front of the gate to meet him. So as we approached his old house I actually felt more anxious than I had when approaching mine. A porter let us in at the front gate and we kicked off our sandals so that the damp grass would clean and soothe our blasted feet. As we passed into the deep shade of the forested belt around the main residence, we threw back our hoods and slowed to enjoy the cool air.

No one was home except for a female servant whose Fluccish was difficult for us to make out. She seemed to expect us; she handed us a leaf, not from a leaf-tree such as we grew in the concent, but made by a machine. It seemed like an official document that had been stamped out on a press or generated by a syntactic device. At its head was yesterday’s date. But it was actually a personal note written to Jesry by his mother, using a machine to generate the neat rows of letters. She had written it in Orth with only a few errors (she didn’t understand how to use the subjunctive). It used terms with which we were not familiar, but the gist seemed to be that Jesry’s father had been doing a lot of work, far away, for some entity that was difficult to explain. But from the part of the world it was in, we knew it had to be some organ of the Sæcular Power. Yesterday, she had with great reluctance and some tears gone to join him, because his career depended on her attending some kind of social event that was also difficult to explain. They had every intention of making it back for the banquet on Tenth Night, and they were bending every effort to round up Jesry’s three older brothers and two older sisters as well. In the meantime, she had baked him some cookies (which we already knew since the female servant had brought them out to us).

Jesry showed me around the house, which felt like a math, but with fewer people. There was even a fancy clock, which we spent a lot of time examining. We pulled down books from the shelves and got somewhat involved in them. Then the bells began to ring in the Bazian cathedral across the street, followed by the chimes in the fancy clock, and we realized that we could read books any day and sheepishly re-shelved them. After a while we ended up on the veranda eating the rest of the cookies. We looked at the cathedral. Bazian architecture was a cousin to Mathic, broad and rounded where ours was narrow and pointy. But this town was not nearly as important to the Sæcular world as the Concent of Saunt Edhar was to the mathic world, so the cathedral looked puny compared to the Mynster.

“Do you feel happy yet?” Jesry joked, looking at the cookies.

“It takes two weeks,” I said, “that’s why Apert is only ten days long.”

We wandered out onto the lawn. Then we marched back out and headed down the hill.

Cord worked in a compound where everything was made of metal, which marked it as an ancient place—not quite as ancient as a place made of stone, but probably dating back to the middle of the Praxic Age when steel had become cheap and heat engines had begun to move about on rails. It was situated a quarter of a mile from the Century Gate on the end of a slip that had been dug from the river so that barges could penetrate into this neighborhood and connect to roads and rails. The property was a mess, but it drew a kind of majesty just from being huge and silent. It had been outlined by a fence twice my height made from sheets of corrugated steel anchored in earth or concrete, welded together, and braced against wind by old worn-out railroad rails, which seemed like overkill for a wind brace. In fact it was such conspicuous overkill that Jesry and I interrupted each other trying to be the first to point it out, and got into an argument about what it meant. Other parts of the perimeter were made of the steel boxes used later in the Praxic Age to enclose goods on ships and trains. Some of these were filled with dirt, others stuffed with scraps of metal so tangled and irregular that they looked organic. Some were organic because they had been colonized by slashberry. There was a lot of green and growing matter around the edges of the compound, but the center was a corral of pounded earth.

The main building was little more than a roof on stilts straddling the last two hundred feet of the canal. Its trusses were oversized to support a traveling crane with a great hook dangling from a rusty chain, each of whose links was as big as my head. We had seen this structure from the Mynster but never given much thought to it. Teed into its side was a high-roofed hall enclosed by proper walls of brick (below) and corrugated steel (above). Grafted to the side of that, down low, was a shelter module with all sorts of homey touches, such as a fake wood door and a farm-style weathervane, that looked crazy here. We knocked, waited, then pushed our way in. We made lots of noise, just in case this was another one of those places where visitors were put to death. But no one was there.

The module had been designed to serve as a home, but everything in it had been bent to serve the purposes of an office. So for example the shower stall was occupied by a tall cabinet where records were filed. A hole had been sawed into a wall so that little pipes could be routed to a hot-beverage machine. A freestanding urinal had been planted in the bedroom. The only decoration, other than those crazy-looking rustic touches that had shipped with the module, was oddly shaped pieces of metal—parts from machines, I reckoned—some of which had been bent or snapped in traumatic events we could only imagine.

A trail of oily bootprints led us to the back door. This opened straight into the cavernous hall. Both of us hunched our shoulders as we stepped over the threshold. We hesitated just inside. The place was too big to illuminate, so most of the light was natural, shining through translucent panels high up in the walls, each surrounded by a hazy nimbus. The walls and floors were dark with age, congealed smoke, and oil. More hooks and chains dangled from overhead beams. The light washing round these gave them a spindly, eroded look. The floor sprawled away into haze and shadow. Widely spaced around it were crouching masses, some no bigger than a man, others the size of a library. Each was built around a hill of metal: from a distance, smooth and rounded, from up close, rough, which led me to guess that these had been made in the ancient process of excavating molds from sand and pouring in a lake of molten iron. Where it mattered, the rough iron had been cut away to leave planes, holes, and right angles of bare grey metal: stubby feet by which the castings were bolted to the floor, or long V-shaped ways on which other castings could slide, driven by great screws. Huddled beside these things or crouching under them were architectures of wound copper wire, rife with symmetries, and, when they moved, brilliant with azure-tinged lightning. Tendrils of wire and of artfully bent tubing had grown over these machines like ivy exploring a boulder, and my eye followed them to concentrations where I was sometimes surprised to see a human being in a dark coverall. Sometimes these humans were doing something identifiable as work, but more often they were just thinking. The machines emitted noise from time to time, but for the most part it was quiet, pervaded by a low hum that came from warm resonating boxes strewn all round and fed by, or feeding, cables as thick as my ankle.

There were perhaps half a dozen humans in the entire place, but something in their posture made us not dare approach them. One came our way pushing a rusty cart exploding with wild helices of shaved metal.

“Excuse me,” I said, “is Cord here?”

The man turned and extended his hand toward something big and complicated that stood in the middle of the hall. Above it, the rational adrakhonic geometry of the roof-trusses and the infinitely more complex manifolds of swirling mist were magnified and made more than real by the sputtering blue light of electrical fire. If I saw a star of that color through a telescope, I would know it as a blue dwarf and I could guess its temperature: far hotter than our sun, hot enough that much of its energy was radiated as ultraviolet light and X-rays. But, paradoxically, the house-sized complex that was the source of the energy looked orange-red, with only a fringe of the killing radiance leaking out round edges or bouncing from slick places on the floor. As Jesry and I drew closer, we perceived it as a giant cube of red amber with two black forms trapped in it: not insects but humans. The humans shifted position from time to time, their silhouettes rippling and twisting.

We saw that this machine had been robed in a curtain of some red jelly-like matter suspended from an overhead track. The blue light could blast straight up and kill germs in the rafters but it could not range across the floor and blind people. Obviously to me and Jesry, the curtain was red because it had been formulated to let only low-energy light—which our eyes saw as red—pass through it. To high-energy light—which we saw as blue, if we could see it at all—it was as opaque as a steel plate.

We walked around the perimeter, which was about the size of two small shelter modules parked side by side. Through the red jelly-wall it was difficult to resolve fine details of the machine, but it seemed to have a slab-like table, big enough to sleep ten, that eased to and fro like a block of ice on a griddle. Planted in its center was a smaller, circular table that made quick but measured spins and tilts. Suspended above all of this, from a cast-iron bridge, was a mighty construct that moved up and down, and that carried the spark-gap where the light was born.

An arm of tubular steel was thrust forth from the apex of the bridge toward a platform where the two humans stood. Pendant from its end was a box folded together from sheet metal, which looked out of place; it was of a different order of things from the sand-cast iron. Glowing numbers were all over it. It must be full of syntactic processors that measured what the machine was doing, or controlled it. Or both; for a true syntactic processor would have the power to make decisions based on measurements. Of course my thought was to turn away and get out of the room. But Jesry was rapt. “It’s okay, it’s Apert!” he said, and grabbed my arm to turn me back around.

One of the two humans inside said something about the x-axis. Jesry and I looked at each other in astonishment, just to be sure we’d actually heard such a thing. It was like hearing a fry cook speak Middle Orth.

Other fragments came through above the sputtering of the machine: “Cubic spline.” “Evolute.” “Pylanic interpolation.”

We could not keep our eyes off the banks of red numbers on the front of the syntactic processor. They were always changing. One was a clock counting down in hundredths of a second. Others—as we gradually perceived—reflected the position of the table. They were literal transcriptions of the great table’s x and y position, the angles of rotation and tilt of the smaller table in the middle, and the altitude of the sizzling blaster. Sometimes all would freeze except for one—this signaled a simple linear move. Other times they would all change at once, realizing a system of parametric equations.

Jesry and I watched it for half an hour without speaking another word. Mostly I was trying to make sense of how the numbers changed. But also I was thinking of how this place was similar in many respects to the Mynster with its sacred clock in the center, in its well of light.

Then the clock struck, as it were. The countdown stopped at zero and the light went out.

Cord reached up and threw back the curtain. She peeled off a pair of black goggles, and raised one arm to wipe her brow on her sleeve.

The man standing next to her—who I gathered was the customer—was dressed in loose black trousers and a black long-sleeved pullover, with a black skullcap on his head. Jesry and I realized at the same moment what he was. We were dumbstruck.

Likewise, the Ita saw what we were, and took half a step back. His long black beard avalanched down his chest as his mouth fell open. But then he did something remarkable, which was that he mastered the reflex to cringe and scuttle away from us, which had been drilled into him since birth. He thought better of that half-step back. He resumed his former stance, and—hard to believe, but Jesry and I agreed on this later—glared at us.

Not knowing how to handle this, Jesry and I backed away and stood out of earshot while Cord did one small quick necessary chore after another, celebrating some aut of shutting down the machine and making it ready for re-use.

The Ita peeled off his skullcap—which was how they covered their heads when they were among their own kind—and drew it out into the slightly mushroomed stovepipe that they wore when they were out and about so that we could identify them from a distance. He then set this back on his head while sending another defiant look our way.

Just as we would never let the Ita come into the chancel, he saw it as sacrilege that we would come here. As if we were guilty of a profanation.

Perhaps obeying a similar impulse, Jesry and I hooded ourselves.

It was almost as if, far from chafing under the stereotype of the sneaky, scheming, villainous Ita, this one was embracing it—taking pride in it, and pushing it as far as he could without actually talking to us.

As we waited for Cord and the Ita to conclude their business, I kept thinking of all the ways that this place was similar to the Mynster: for example, how I had been taken aback when I’d stepped into the hall, so dark and so light at the same time. A voice in my head—the voice of a Procian pedant—admonished me that this was a Halikaarnian way of thinking. For in truth I was looking at a collection of ancient machines that had no meaning: all syntax, no semantics. I was claiming I saw a meaning in it. But this meaning had no reality, outside of my mind. I had brought it into the hall with me, carrying it in my head, and now I was playing games with semantics by pasting it onto these iron monuments.

But the longer I thought about it, the more certain I became that I was having a legitimate upsight.

Protas, the greatest fid of Thelenes, had climbed to the top of a mountain near Ethras and looked down upon the plain that nourished the city-state and observed the shadows of the clouds, and compared their shapes. He had had his famous upsight that while the shapes of the shadows undeniably answered to those of the clouds, the latter were infinitely more complex and more perfectly realized than the former, which were distorted not only by the loss of a spatial dimension but also by being projected onto terrain that was of irregular shape. Hiking back down, he had extended that upsight by noting that the mountain seemed to have a different shape every time he turned round to look back at it, even though he knew it had but one absolute form and that these seeming changes were mere figments of his shifting point of view. From there he had moved on to his greatest upsight of all, which was that these two observations—the one concerning the clouds, the other concerning the mountain—were themselves both shadows cast into his mind by the same greater, unifying idea. Returning to the Periklyne he had proclaimed his doctrine that all the things we thought we knew were shadows of more perfect things in a higher world. This had become the essential doctrine of Protism. If Protas could be respected for saying so, then what was wrong with me thinking that our Mynster, and this machine hall, were both shadows of some higher thing that existed elsewhere—a sacred place of which they were both shadows, and that cast other shadows in such places as Bazian arks and groves of ancient trees?

Jesry meanwhile had been staring at Cord’s machine. Cord had manipulated some controls that had caused the lightning-head to retract as far up as it would go and the table to thrust itself forward. She vaulted up onto that steel slab. In small premeditated steps she came to the part of it that tilted and rotated (which, by itself, was a machine of impressive size). Before resting her weight on a foot she would wiggle it to and fro, scattering shards and twists of silver metal to either side. They made glinting music as they found their way to the floor, and some left corkscrews of fine smoke along their paths. A helper approached with an empty cart, a broom, and a shovel, and began pushing the scraps into a pile.

“It carves the metal from a block,” Jesry said. “Not with a blade but with an electrical discharge that melts the stuff away—”

“More than melts. Remember the color of the light?” I said. “It turns the metal to—”

“Plasma,” we said in unison, and Jesry went on: “It just carves off all the bits that aren’t wanted.”

This raised the question of what was wanted? The answer was clamped to the top of the rotating table: a sculpture of silver metal, flowing and curved like an antler, swelling in places to knobs pierced by perfect cylindrical holes. Cord drew a wrench from the thing she was wearing, which seemed more harness than garment, as its chief purpose was to secure tools to her body. She released three vises, put the wrench back in its ordained pocket, threw back her shoulders, bent her knees, made her spine long, raised her hands, and clasped them around two prongs of this thing she had made. It came up off the table. She carried it down off the machine as if it were a cat rescued from a tree and set it upon a steel cart that looked older than a mountain. The Ita ran his hands over it. His tall hat turned this way and that as he bent to inspect certain details. Then he nodded and exchanged a few words with Cord and pushed the cart off into smoke and quiet.

“It’s a part for the clock!” Jesry said. “Something must have broken or worn out down in the cellar!”

I agreed that the style of the thing reminded me of some parts of the clock, but I shushed him because I was more interested in Cord just now. She was walking toward us, almost but not quite stepping on strewn shards of metal, wiping her hands on a rag. Her hair was cut short. I thought at first that she was tall, perhaps because that was how I remembered her. In truth she was no taller than I. She seemed stocky with all that hardware strapped to her, but her neck and forearms were firm. She drew to within a couple of paces and clanked to a stop and planted herself. She had a quite solid and deliberate manner of standing. She seemed as though she could sleep standing up, like a horse.

“I guess I know who you are,” she said to me, “but what is your name?”

“Erasmas, now.”

“Is that the name of an old Saunt?”

“That’s right.”

“I never did get that old fetch to run.”

“I know. I just saw it.”

“Took part of it here, to be machined, and never left.” She gazed at the palm of her right hand, then looked up at me. I understood this to mean “my hand is dirty but I will shake it if you please.”

I extended my hand and clasped hers.

The sound of bells drifted in.

“Thank you for letting us see your machine,” I said. “Would you care to see ours? That’s Provener. Jesry and I have to go wind the clock.”

“I went to Provener one time.”

“Today, you can see it from where we see it. Bon Apert.”

“Bon Apert,” she returned. “Okay, what the heck, I’ll come see it.”

We had to run across the meadow. Cord had left her big tool-harness behind at the machine hall, only to reveal a smaller, vestlike one that I guessed held the stuff she’d not be without under any circumstances. When we broke into a run, she clanked and jounced for a few paces until she cinched down some straps, and then she was able to keep pace with us as we rushed through the clover. Our meadow had been colonized by Sæculars who were having midday picnics. Some were even grilling meat. They watched us run by as if our being late were a performance for their amusement. Children were chivvied forward for a better view. Adults trained speelycaptors on us and laughed out loud to see us caring so much.

We came in the meadow door, ran up stairs into a wardroom where stacks of dusty pews and altars were shoved against the walls, and nearly tripped over Lio and Arsibalt. Lio was sitting on the floor with his legs doubled under him. Arsibalt sat on a short bench, knees far apart, leaning forward so that the blood streaming from his nostrils would puddle neatly on the floor.

Lio’s lip was puffy and bleeding. The flesh around his left eye was ochre, suggesting it would be black tomorrow. He was staring into a dim corner of the room. Arsibalt let out a shuddering moan, as if he’d been sobbing, and was just now managing it.

“Fight?” I asked.

Lio nodded.

“Between the two of you or—”

Lio shook his head.

“We were set upon!” Arsibalt proclaimed, shouting at his blood-puddle.

“Intra or extra?” Jesry demanded.

Extramuros. We were en route to my pater’s basilica. I wished only to learn whether he would speak to me. A vehicle drove by once, twice, thrice. It circled us like a lowering raptor. Four men emerged. One had his arm in a sling; he looked on and cheered the other three.”

Jesry and I both looked at Lio, who took our meaning immediately.

“Useless. Useless,” he said.

“What was useless?” Cord asked. The sound of her voice caused Arsibalt to look up.

Lio was not the sort to care that we had a visitor—but he did answer her question. “My vlor. All of the Vale-lore I have ever studied.”

“It can’t have been that bad!” Jesry exclaimed. Which was funny since, over the years, no one had been more persistent than Jesry in telling Lio how useless his vlor was.

By way of an answer Lio rolled to his feet, glided over, grasped the edge of Jesry’s hood, and yanked it down over his face. Not only was Jesry now blind, but because of how the bolt was wound around his body, it interfered with his arms and made it surprisingly difficult for him to expose his face again. Lio gave him the tiniest of nudges and he lost his balance so badly that I had to hug him and force him upright.

“That’s what they did to you?” I asked. Lio nodded.

“Tilt your head back, not forward,” Cord was saying to Arsibalt. “There’s a vein up here.” She pointed to the bridge of her nose. “Pinch it. That’s right. My name is Cord, I am a sib of…Erasmas.”

“Enchanted,” Arsibalt said, muffled by his hand, as he had taken Cord’s advice. “I am Arsibalt, bastard of the local Bazian arch-prelate, if you can believe such a thing.”

“The bleeding is slowing down, I think,” Cord said. From one of her pockets she had drawn out a pair of purple wads which unfolded to gloves of some stretchy membranous stuff. She wiggled her hands into them. I was baffled for a few moments, then realized that this was a precaution against infection: something I never would have thought of.

“Fortunately, my blood supply is simply enormous, because of my size,” Arsibalt pointed out, “otherwise, I fear I should exsanguinate.”

Some of Cord’s pockets were narrow and tall and ranked in neat rows. From two of these she drew out blunt plugs of white fibrous stuff, about the size of her little finger, with strings trailing from them. “What on earth are those?” Arsibalt wanted to know.

“Blood soaker-uppers,” Cord said, “one for each nostril, if you would like.” She gave them over into Arsibalt’s gory hands, and watched, a little bit nervous and a little bit fascinated, as Arsibalt gingerly put them in. Lio, Jesry, and I looked on speechless.

Suur Ala came in with an armload of rags, most of which she threw on the floor to cover the blood-puddle. She and Cord used the rest to wipe the blood off Arsibalt’s lips and chins. The whole time, they were appraising each other, as if in a competition to see which was the scientist and which was the specimen. By the time I got my wits about me to make introductions, they knew so much about each other that names hardly mattered.

From yet another pocket Cord produced a complex metal thing all folded in on itself. She evoluted it into a miniature scissors, which she used to snip off the strings dangling from Arsibalt’s nostrils.

So bossy, so stern a person was Suur Ala that, until this moment, I had feared that she and Cord were going to fall upon each other like two cats in a pillowcase. But when she drew focus on those blood soaker-uppers, she gave Cord a happy look which Cord returned.

We frog-marched Arsibalt out of there, hid his carnage under a huge scarlet robe, and came out for Provener only a few minutes late. We were greeted by titters from some who assumed we’d been extramuros getting drunk. Most of these wags were Apert visitors, but I heard amusement even from the Thousanders. I was expecting that Jesry and I would have to do most of the work, but, on the contrary, Lio and Arsibalt pushed with far more than their usual strength.

After Provener, the Warden Fendant crossed the chancel and came through our screen to interview Lio and Arsibalt. Jesry and I stood off to one side. Cord stood close and listened. This influenced Lio to use a lot of Fluccish, to the annoyance of Fraa Delrakhones. Arsibalt, on the other hand, kept using words like rapscallions.

From his description of the vehicle the thugs had driven and the clothes they had worn, Cord knew them. “They are a local—” she said, and stopped.

“Gang?” Delrakhones offered.

She shrugged. “A gang that keeps pictures of fictional gangs from old speelys on their walls.”

“How fascinating!” Arsibalt proclaimed, while Fraa Delrakhones was absorbing this detail. “It is, then, a sort of meta-gang…”

“But they still do gangy stuff for real,” Cord said, “as I don’t have to tell you.”

It became clear from the nature of the questions Delrakhones asked that he was trying to work out which iconography the gang subscribed to. He did not seem to grasp something that was clear enough to me and Cord: namely, that there were extras who would beat up avout simply because it was more entertaining than not beating them up—not because they subscribed to some ridiculous theory of what we were. He was assuming that rapscallions bothered to have theories.

Cord and I therefore became frustrated, then bored (and as Orolo liked to say, boredom is a mask that frustration wears). I caught her eye. We drifted to one side. When no one objected, we fled.

As mentioned, we Tenners had a bundle of turrets instead of a proper nave. The skinniest turret was a spiral stair that led up to the triforium, which was a sort of raised gallery that ran all the way around the inside of the chancel above the screens and below the soaring clerestory windows. At one end of our triforium was another little stair that led up to the bell-ringers’ place. Cord was interested in that. I watched her gaze traveling up the bell-ropes to where they vanished into the heights of the Præsidium. I could tell she wouldn’t rest until she had seen what was at the other ends of those ropes. So we went to the other end of the triforium and began to climb another stair. This one zigzagged up the tower that anchored the southwestern corner of the Mynster.

Mathic architects were helpless when it came to walls. Pillars they could do. Arches they were fine with. Vaults, which were just three-dimensional arches, they knew everything about. But ask them to construct a simple wall and they would go to pieces. Where anyone else in the world would construct a wall, they’d fill in the space with a system of arches and tracery. When people complained about wind, vermin, and other things that would be kept out of a normal building by walls, they might be troubled to fill up a vacancy with a stained-glass window. But we hadn’t got round to putting all of those in yet. On a windy and rainy day it made buildings like this hellish. But on a day like this one it was fine because you could always see. As we scaled the flights of the southwestern tower we had views down into the Mynster, and out over the concent.

The upper reaches of this tower—the place where it devolved into piers and pinnacles, the highest part, in other words, that you could get to without ladders and mountaineering equipment—was at about the same altitude as the Warden Regulant’s headquarters. It sported one of the most elaborate works of stone-carving in the whole concent, a sort of cupola/tower/walk-through statue depicting planets and moons and some of the early cosmographers who had studied them. Built into the middle of this was a portcullis: a grid of bars that could be cranked up and down. At the moment, it had been drawn up out of the way, giving us the freedom to attack yet another stair. This one was cut right into the top of a flying buttress. It would take us up and inwards to the Præsidium. If the portcullis had been closed, we’d have had nowhere else to go, unless we wanted to cross over a sort of bridge into the Warden Regulant’s quarters.

Cord and I passed through the cupola, moving slowly so that she could take in the carvings and the mechanism. Then we were on our way up. I let her go ahead of me so that she could get an unobstructed view, and so that I could steady her if she got dizzy. For we were high above the ground here, climbing over the curve of a stone buttress that seemed about as thick as a bird’s bone when you looked at it from the ground. She gripped the iron banisters with both hands and took it slowly and seemed to enjoy it. Then we passed through an embrasure (sort of a deep complicated Mathic archway), built into the corner of the Praesidium at about the level of the belfries.

From here there was only one way up: a series of stairs that spiraled up the inside of the Præsidium just within its tracery walls. Few tourists were game for that much climbing, and many of the avout were extramuros, so we had the whole Præsidium to ourselves. I let her enjoy the view down to the chancel floor. The courts of the Wardens, immediately below us, were cloister-shaped, which is to say that each had a big square hole in the middle where the Præsidium shot through it, lined with a walkway with sight-lines down to the chancel and up to the starhenge.

Cord traced the bell-ropes up from the balcony and satisfied herself that they were in fact connected to a carillon. But from here it was obvious that other things too were connected to the bells: shafts and chains leading down from the chronochasm, where automatic mechanisms chimed the hours. It was inevitable that she’d want to see this. Up we went, trudging around like a couple of ants spiraling up a well shaft, pausing now and then to catch our breaths and to give Cord leisure to inspect the clock-work, and to figure out how the stones had been fitted together. This part of the building was much simpler because there was no need to contend with vaults and buttresses, so the architects had really gotten out of hand with the tracery. The walls were a fractal foam of hand-carved, interlocking stone. She was fascinated. I couldn’t stand to look at it. The amount of time I had spent, as a fid, cleaning bird droppings off this stone, and the clock-works inside…

“So, you can’t come up here except during Apert,” she asserted at one point.

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, you’re not allowed to have contact with people outside your math, right? But if you and the One-offs and the Hundreders and Thousanders could all use this stairway any time you wanted, you’d be bumping into each other.”

“Look at how the stairway is designed,” I said. “There’s almost no part of it that we can’t see. So, we just keep our distance from each other.”

“What if it’s dark? Or what if you go to the top and bump into someone at the starhenge?”

“Remember that portcullis we went through?”

“On top of the tower?”

“Yeah. Well, remember there’s three more towers. Each one has a similar portcullis.”

“One for each of the maths?”

“Exactly. During the hours of darkness, all but one of them is closed by the Master of the Keys. That’s a hierarch—a deputy of the Warden Regulant. So on one night, the Tenners might have sole access to the stair and the starhenge. Next night it might be the Hundreders. And so on.”

When we reached the altitude where the Century weight was poised on its rail, we paused for a minute so that Cord could look at it. We also looked out through the tracery of the south wall to the machine hall where she worked. I retraced my morning’s walk, and picked out the house of Jesry’s family on the hill.

Cord was still looking for flaws in our Discipline. “These wardens and so on—”

“Hierarchs,” I said.

“They communicate with all of the maths, I guess?”

“And also with the Ita, and the Sæcular world, and other concents.”

“So, when you talk to one of them—”

“Well, look,” I said, “one of the misconceptions people have is that the maths are supposed to be hermetically sealed. But that was never the idea. The kinds of cases you are asking about are handled by disciplined conduct. We keep our distance from those not of our math. We are silent and hooded when necessary to avoid leakage of information. If we absolutely must communicate with someone in another math, we do it through the hierarchs. And they have all sorts of special training so that they can talk to, say, a Thousander in a way that won’t allow any Sæcular information to pass into his mind. That’s why hierarchs have those outfits, those hairstyles—those literally have not changed in 3700 years. They speak only in a very conservative ancient version of Orth. And we also have ways to communicate without speech. So, for example, if Fraa Orolo wishes to observe a particular star five nights in a row, he’ll explain his plan to the Primate, and if it seems reasonable, the Primate will direct the Master of the Keys to keep our portcullis open those nights but leave all the others closed. All of them are visible from the maths, so the Millenarian cosmographers can look down and see how it is and know that they won’t be using the starhenge tonight. And we can also use the labyrinths between the maths for certain kinds of communication, such as passing objects or people back and forth. But there’s nothing we can do to prevent aerocraft from flying over, or loud music from being heard over the walls. In an earlier age, skyscrapers looked down on us for two centuries!”

That last detail was of interest to Cord. “Did you see those old I-beams stacked in the machine hall?”

“Ah—were those the frames of the skyscrapers?”

“It’s hard to imagine what else they’d be. We have a box of old phototypes showing those things being dragged to our place by teams of slaves.”

“Do the phototypes have date prints?”

“Yeah. They’re from about seven hundred years ago.”

“What does the landscape in the background look like? A ruined city, or—”

She shook her head. “Forest with big trees. In some of those pictures they are rolling the beams over logs.”

“Well, there was a collapse of civilization right around 2800, so it all fits together,” I said.

The chronochasm was laced through with shafts and chains that in some places converged to clock-movements. The chains that led up from the weights terminated up here in clusters of bearings and gears.

Cord had been growingly exasperated by something, and now, finally, she let it out: “This just isn’t the way to do it!”

“Do what?”

“Build a clock that’s supposed to keep going for thousands of years!”

“Why not?”

“Well, just look at all those chains, for one thing! All the pins, the bearing surfaces, the linkages—each one a place where something can break, wear out, get dirty, corrode…what were the designers thinking, anyway?”

“They were thinking that plenty of avout would always be here to maintain it,” I answered. “But I take your point. Some of the other Millennium Clocks are more like what you have in mind: designed so that they can run for millennia with no maintenance at all. It just depends on what sort of statement the designer wanted to make.”

That gave her much food for thought, so we climbed in silence for a while. I took the lead, since, above a certain point, there was no direct route. We had to dodge and wind among diverse catwalks and stairs, each of which had been put there to provide access to a movement. Which was fine with Cord. In fact she spent so much time working out how the clock functioned that I became restless, and thought about the meal being served at this moment in our refectory. Then I recollected that it was Apert and I could go extramuros if I wanted, and beg for a cheeseburg. Cord, accustomed to being able to eat whenever she pleased, wasn’t concerned about this at all.

She watched a complex of bone-like levers wrestling with one another. “Those remind me of the part I made for Sammann this morning.”

I held up my hands. “Don’t tell me his name—or anything,” I pleaded.

“Why can’t you talk to the Ita?” she asked, suddenly irritated. “It’s stupid. Some of them are very intelligent.”

Yesterday I would have laughed at any artisan who was so presumptuous as to pass judgment on the intelligence of anyone who lived in a concent—even an Ita—but Cord was my sib. She shared a lot of my sequences and had as much intrinsic intelligence as I. Fraas were kept sterile by substances in our food so that we could not impregnate suurs and breed a species of more intelligent humans inside the concents. Genetically, we were all cut from the same cloth.

“It’s kind of like hygiene,” I said.

“You think the Ita are dirty?”

“Hygiene isn’t really about dirt. It’s about germs. It’s to prevent the spread of sequences that are dangerous if they are allowed to propagate. We don’t think the Ita are dirty in the sense of not washing. But their whole purpose is to work with information that spreads in a promiscuous way.”

“Why—what is the point? Who came up with all these stupid rules? What were they afraid of?”

She was quite loud. I’d have cringed if she’d talked this way in the Refectory. But I was happy to hear her out alone in this chasm of patient, deaf machines. As we resumed our ascent, I searched for some explanation to which her mind might be open. We had passed above most of the complicated stuff now—the machines that moved the clock’s dials. All that remained were half a dozen vertical shafts that ran up through holes in the roof to connect with things on the starhenge: polar drives for the telescopes, and the zenith synchronizer that adjusted the clock’s time every day at noon—every clear day, anyway. Our final approach to the starhenge was a spiral stair that coiled around the largest of those shafts: the one that rotated the great Telescope of Saunts Mithra and Mylax.

“That big machine you use to cut the metal—”

“It’s called a five-axis electrical discharge mill.”

“I noticed it had cranks, made for human hands. After the job was finished, you turned them to move the table this way and that. And I’ll bet you could also use those cranks to cut a shape, couldn’t you?”

She shrugged. “Sure, a very simple shape.”

“But when you take your hands off the cranks and turn control over to the syntactic device, it becomes a much more capable tool, doesn’t it?”

“Infinitely more. There’s almost no shape you couldn’t make with a syndev-controlled machine.” She slid her hand down to her hip and drew out a pocket-watch, and let it dangle at the end of a silver chain made of fluid, seamless links. “This chain is my journeyman piece. I cut it from a solid bar of titanium.”

I took a moment to feel the chain. It was like a trickle of ice water over my fingers.

“Well, syndevs can have the same amplifying effect on other kinds of tools. Tools for reading and writing genetic sequences, for example. For adjusting proteins. For programmatic nucleosynthesis.”

“I don’t know what those are.”

“Because no one does them any more.”

“Then how do you know about them?”

“We study them—in the abstract—when we are learning about the First and Second Sacks.”

“Well, I don’t know what those are either, so I wish you would just get to the point.”

We’d been standing at the top of the stair that led up to the starhenge. I pushed the door open and we walked outside, squinting in the light. Cord had gotten a little testy. From watching Orolo talk to artisans like Flec and Quin, I knew how impatient they could be with what they saw as our winding and indirect way of talking. So I shut up for a minute, and let her look around.

We were on the roof of the Præsidium, which was a great disk of stone reinforced by vault-work. It was nearly flat, but bulged up slightly in the middle to shed rainwater. Its stones were graven and inlaid with curves and symbols of cosmography. Around its perimeter, megaliths stood to mark where certain cosmic bodies rose and set at different times of the year. Inside of that ring, several freestanding structures had been erected. The tallest of these, right in the center, was the Pinnacle, wrapped in a double helix of external stairs. Its top was the highest part of the Mynster.

The most voluminous structures up here were the twin domes of the big telescope. Dotted around from place to place were a few much smaller telescope-domes, a windowless laboratory where we worked with the photomnemonic tablets, and a heated chapel where Orolo liked to work and to lecture his fids. I led Cord in that direction. We passed through two consecutive doors of massive iron-bound hardwood (the weather could get rough up here) and came into a small quiet room that, with its arches and its stained-glass rosettes, looked like something out of the Old Mathic Age. Resting on a table, just where I’d left it, was the photomnemonic tablet that Orolo had given me. It was a disk, about the size of my two hands held side by side, and three fingers thick, made of dark glassy stuff. Buried in it was the image of Saunt Tancred’s Nebula, dull and hard to make out until I slid it away from the pool of sunlight coming in the window.

“That’s about the bulkiest phototype I’ve ever seen,” Cord said. “Is that like some ancient technology?”

“It’s more than that. A phototype captures one moment—it doesn’t have a time dimension. You see how the image seems close to the upper surface?”

“Yeah.”

I put a fingertip to the side of the tablet and slid it downwards. The image receded into the glass, following my finger. As it did, the nebula changed, contracting into itself. The fixed stars around it did not change their positions. When my fingertip reached the bottom of the tablet, the nebula had focused itself into a single star of extraordinary brilliance. “At the bottom layer of the tablet, we’re looking at Tancred’s Star, on the very night it exploded, in 490. Practically at the same moment that its light penetrated our atmosphere, Saunt Tancred looked up and noticed it. He ran and put a photomnemonic tablet, just like this one, into the great telescope of his concent, and aimed it at that supernova. The tablet remained lodged there, taking pictures of the explosion every single clear night, until 2999, when finally they took it out and made a number of copies for distribution to the Thousanders.”

“I see things like this all the time in the background of spec-fiction speelys,” Cord said, “but I didn’t realize that they were explosions.” She traced her finger up the side of the tablet a few times, running it forward thousands of years in a second. “But it couldn’t be more obvious.”

“The tablet has all kinds of other functions,” I said, and showed her how to zoom in on one part of the image, up to its resolution limit.

That’s when Cord saw the point I was making. “This,” she said, pointing at the tablet, “this has got to have some kind of syndev built into it.”

“Yes. Which makes it much more powerful than a phototype—just as your five-axis mill is much more powerful because of its brain.”

“But isn’t that a violation of your Discipline?”

“Certain praxes were grandfathered in. Like the newmatter in our spheres and our bolts, and like these tablets.”

“They were grandfathered in—when? When were all of these decisions made?”

“At the Convoxes following the First and Second Sacks,” I said. “You see, even after the end of the Praxic Age, the concents obtained a huge amount of power by coupling processors that had been invented by their syntactic faculties to other kinds of tools—in one case, for making newmatter, and in the other, for manipulating sequences. This reminded people of the Terrible Events and led to the First and Second Sacks. Our rules concerning the Ita, and which praxes we can and can’t use, date from those times.”

This was still too abstract for Cord’s taste, but suddenly she got an idea, and her eyes sprang open. “Are you talking about the Incanters?”

Out of some stupid, involuntary reflex, I turned my head to look out the window in the direction of the Millenarian math, a fortress on a crag, on a level with the top of this tower, but shielded from view by its walls. Cord took this in. Worse, she seemed to have expected it.

“The myth of the Incanters originated in the days leading up to the Third Sack,” I said.

“And their enemies—the what-do-you-call-’em…”

“Rhetors.”

“Yeah. What’s the difference exactly?” She was giving me the most innocent, expectant look, twirling her watch chain around her finger. I couldn’t bear to level with her—to let her know what stupid questions she was asking. “Uh, if you’ve been watching those kinds of speelies, you know more about it than I do,” I said. “One sort of glib explanation I heard once was that Rhetors could change the past, and were glad to do it, but Incanters could change the future—and were reluctant.”

She nodded as if this weren’t a load of rubbish. “Forced to by what the Rhetors had done.”

I shrugged. “Again: it all depends on what work of fiction you happen to be enjoying—”

“But those guys would be Incanters,” she said, nodding at the crag.

I was getting a little restless, so I led her back out onto the open roof, where she immediately turned her gaze back to the Thousanders’ math. I finally worked it out that she was merely trying to reassure herself that the strange people living up there on the crag that loomed over her town were not dangerous. And I was happy to help her, especially if she might go out and spread the good news to others. That sort of fence-mending was the whole purpose of Apert.

But I didn’t want to lie to her either. “Our Thousanders are a little different,” I said. “Down in the other maths, like the one where I live, different orders are mixed together. But up on the crag, they all belong to one order: the Edharians. Who trace their lineage back to Halikaarn. And to the extent there is any truth whatsoever in the folk tales you’re talking about, that would put them on the Incanter side of things.”

That seemed to satisfy her where Rhetor/Incanter wars were concerned. We continued wandering around the starhenge, though I had to give wide berth to an Ita who emerged from a utility shack with a coil of red cable slung over his shoulder. Cord noticed this. “What’s the point of having the Ita around if you have to go to all of this trouble to avoid them? Wouldn’t it be simpler to send them packing?”

“They keep certain parts of the clock running…”

“I could do that. It’s not that hard.”

“Well…to tell you the truth, we ask ourselves the same question.”

“And being who you are, you must have twelve different answers.”

“There is a sort of traditional belief that they spy on us for the Sæcular Power.”

“Ah. Which is why you despise them.”

“Yeah.”

“What makes you think they’re spying on you?”

“Voco. An aut where a fraa or suur is called out from the math—Evoked—and goes to do something praxic for the Panjandrums. We never see them again.”

“They just vanish?”

“We sing a certain anathem—a song of mourning and farewell—as we watch them walk out of the Mynster and get on a horse or climb into a helicopter or something, and, yes, ‘vanish’ is fair.”

“What do the Ita have to do with that?”

“Well, let’s say that the Sæcular Power needs a disease cured. How can they possibly know which fraa or suur, out of all the concents, happens to be an expert in that disease?”

She thought about this as we clambered up the spiral stair that wrapped up and around the Pinnacle. Each tread was a slab of rock cantilevered straight out from the side of the building: a daring design, and one that required some daring from anyone who would climb it, since there was no railing.

“This all sounds pretty convenient for the Powers That Be,” Cord commented. “Has it ever occurred to you that all this fear about the Terrible Events and the Incanters is just a stick they keep handy to smack you with to make you do what they want?”

“That is Saunt Patagar’s Assertion and it dates from the Twenty-ninth Century,” I told her.

She snorted. “I’ll bite. What happened to Saunt Patagar?”

“Actually, she flourished for a while, and founded her own Order. There might still be chapters of it somewhere.”

“It’s frustrating, talking to you. Every idea my little mind can come up with has already been come up with by some Saunt two thousand years ago, and talked to death.”

“I really don’t mean to be a smarty pants,” I said, “but that is Saunt Lora’s Proposition and it dates to the Sixteenth Century.”

She laughed. “Really!”

“Really.”

“Literally two thousand years ago, a Saunt put forth the idea that—”

“That every idea the human mind could come up with, had already been come up with by that time. It is a very influential idea…”

“But wait a minute, wasn’t Saunt Lora’s idea a new idea?”

“According to orthodox paleo-Lorites, it was the Last Idea.”

“Ah. Well, then, I have to ask—”

“What have we all been doing in here for the 2100 years since the Last Idea was come up with?”

“Yeah. To be blunt about it.”

“Not everyone agrees with this proposition. Everyone loves to hate the Lorites. Some call her a warmed-over Mystagogue, and worse. But Lorites are good to have around.”

“How do you figure?”

“Whenever anyone comes up with an idea that they think is new, the Lorites converge on it like jackals and try to prove that it’s actually 5000 years old or something. And more often than not, they’re right. It’s annoying and humiliating but at least it prevents people from wasting time rehashing old stuff. And the Lorites have to be excellent scholars in order to do what they do.”

“So I take it you’re not a Lorite.”

“No. If you like irony, you might enjoy knowing that, after Lora’s death, her own fid determined that her ideas had all been anticipated by a Peregrin philosopher 4000 years earlier.”

“That’s funny—but doesn’t it prove Lora’s point? I’m trying to figure out what’s in it for you. Why do you stay?”

“Ideas are good things to have even if they are old. Even to understand the most advanced theorics requires a lifetime of study. To keep the existing stock of ideas alive requires…all of this.” And I waved my arm around at the concent spread out below us.

“So you’re like, I don’t know, a gardener. Tending a bunch of rare flowers. This is like your greenhouse. You have to keep the greenhouse up and running forever or the flowers will go extinct…but you never…”

“We rarely come up with new flowers,” I admitted. “But sometimes one will get hit with a cosmic ray. Which brings me to the subject of this stuff you see up here.”

“Yeah. What is it? I’ve been looking at this poky thing my whole life and thinking it had a telescope on top, with a crinkly old fraa peering through it.”

We’d reached the top of the “poky thing”—the Pinnacle. Its roof was a slab of stone about twice as wide as I was tall. There were a couple of odd-looking devices up here, but no telescopes.

“The telescopes are down in those domes,” I said, “but you might not even recognize them as such.” I got ready to explain how the newmatter mirrors worked, using guidestar lasers to probe the atmosphere for density fluctuations, then changing their shape to cancel out the resulting distortions, gathering the light and bouncing it into a photomnemnonic tablet. But she was more interested in deciphering what was right in front of her. One was a quartz prism, bigger than my head, held in the grip of a muscular Saunt carved out of marble, and pointed south. Without any explanation from me, Cord saw how sunlight entering into one face of the prism was bounced downwards through a hole in the roof to shine on some metallic construct within. “This I’ve heard of,” she said, “it synchronizes the clock every day at noon, right?”

“Unless it’s cloudy,” I said. “But even during a nuclear winter, when it can be cloudy for a hundred years, the clock doesn’t get too far out of whack.”

“What’s this thing?” she asked, pointing to a dome of glass about the size of my fist, aimed straight up. It was mounted at the top of a pedestal of carven stone that rose to about the same height as the prism-holding statue. “It’s got to be some kind of a telescope, because I see the slot where you put in the photomnemonic tablet,” she said, and poked at an opening in the pedestal, just beneath the lens. “But this thing doesn’t look like it can move. How do you aim it?”

“It can’t move, and we don’t have to aim it, because it’s a fisheye lens. It can see the entire sky. We call it Clesthyra’s Eye.”

“Clesthyra—that’s the monster from ancient mythology that could look in all directions at once.”

“Exactly.”

“What’s the use of it? I thought the point of a telescope was to focus in on one thing. Not to look at everything.”

“These things were installed in starhenges all over the world around the time of the Big Nugget, when people were very interested in asteroids. You’re right that they’re useless if you want to focus in on something. But they’re great for recording the track of a fast-moving object across the sky. Like the long streak of light that a meteorite draws. By recording all of those and measuring them, we can draw conclusions about what kinds of rocks are falling out of the sky—where they come from, what they’re made of, how big they are.”

But as Clesthyra’s Eye lacked moving parts, it didn’t hold Cord’s attention. We’d gone as high as we could go, and reached the limit of her cosmographical curiosity. She drew out her pocket-watch on its rippling chain and checked the time, which I pointed out was funny because she was standing on top of a clock. She didn’t see the humor. I offered to show her how to read the time by checking the sun’s position with respect to the megaliths, but she said maybe some other time.

We descended. She was feeling late, worrying about jobs to do and errands to run—the kinds of things that people extramuros spent their whole lives fretting about. It wasn’t until we reached the meadow, and the Decade Gate came in view, that she relaxed a little, and began reviewing in her mind all that we’d discussed.

“So—what do you think of Saunt What’s-her-name’s Assertion?”

“Patagar? That the legend of the Incanters is trumped up so that the Panjandrums can control us?”

“Yeah. Patagar.”

“Well, the problem with it is that the Sæcular Power changes from age to age.”

“Lately from year to year,” she said, but I couldn’t tell whether she was being serious.

“So it’s awfully hard to see how they could maintain a consistent strategy over four millenia,” I pointed out. “From our point of view, it changes so often we don’t even bother keeping track, except around Apert. You could think of this place as a zoo for people who just got sick of paying attention to it.”

I guess I sounded a little proud. A little defensive. I said goodbye to her on the threshold of the Decade Gate. We had agreed to meet again later in the week.

As I walked back over the bridge, I thought that of all the people I’d talked to today, I was probably the least content in my situation. And yet when I heard the system being questioned by Jesry and by Cord, I lost no time defending it and explaining why it was a good thing. This seemed crazy on the face of it.

Newmatter: A solid, liquid, or gas having physical properties not found in naturally occurring elements or their compounds. These properties are traceable to the atomic nuclei. The process by which nuclei are assembled from smaller particles is called nucleosynthesis, and generally takes place inside of old stars. It is subject to physical laws that, in a manner of speaking, congealed into their current forms shortly after the inception of the cosmos. In the two centuries following the Reconstitution, these laws became sufficiently understood that it became possible for certain of the avout to carry out nucleosynthesis in their laboratories, and to do it according to sets of physical laws that differed slightly from those that are natural in this cosmos. Most newmatter proved to be of little practical value, but some variants were discovered and laboriously improved to produce substances that were unusually strong or supple or whose properties could be modulated under syntactical control. As part of the First Sack reforms, the avout were forbidden to carry out any further work on newmatter. Within the mathic world, it is still produced in small quantities to make bolts, chords, and spheres. Extramuros, it is used in a number of products.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Fraa Lio perfected a new wrap that made him look like a parcel that had fallen from a mail train, but that could not under any circumstances be pulled over the face by a foe. We proved as much by trying to do it for a quarter of an hour, Lio getting more and more pleased with himself until Jesry ruined the mood by asking whether it could stop bullets.

Cord came back, accompanied by one Rosk, a young man with whom she was having some sort of liaison. They had supper with us in the Refectory. She wore fewer wrenches and more jewelry, all of which she had made herself out of titanium.

Arsibalt managed to walk to the basilica unmolested, but his father refused to talk to him, unless his purpose in coming was to repent and be consecrated into the orthodox Bazian faith.

Lio roamed the fauxburbs in the hopes that he would be set upon by a gang of thugs, but instead people kept offering him rides and buying him drinks.

Jesry’s family filtered back into town, and he went to visit them from time to time. I accompanied him once and was struck by their intelligence, their polish, and (as usual) how much stuff they owned. But there was nothing underneath. They knew many things but had no idea why. And strangely this made them more, rather than less, certain that they were right.

Stung by Jesry’s earlier remarks, Lio persuaded some of his new friends to take him out to an abandoned quarry in the foothills where people amused themselves by discharging projectile weapons at things that didn’t move. His bolt and sphere became targets. Lio took up arms against two of his three possessions, assaulting them with bullets and broad-headed arrows. Bullets apparently passed through the weave of the bolt—the newmatter fibers stretched to let them go through, leaving gaps that could later be massaged away. But the razor-sharp arrows cut some of the fibers and left irreparable holes in the garment. The sphere, however, distorted and stretched without limit, like a sheet of caramel if you try to shove your finger through it. The bullets poked it nearly inside-out and knocked it back like a batted balloon. Lio’s verdict was that the sphere could be used as a defense against gunfire: the bullet would still penetrate your body, but it would pull a long stretchy finger of sphere-stuff behind it, which would prevent fragmentation or tumbling, and which could be used to pull the bullet out of the wound. We were all much comforted by this.

Cord came back for yet another visit, this time without Rosk. We had a nice stroll around the math and even went into the upper labyrinth for a look round. The conversation was first about where various members of our family had ended up, and later about where she hoped she’d be at the next Apert.

Eight days into Apert, I was sick of it, and thoroughly mixed up. I had a crush on my sib. This might mean all kinds of bad things about me. As I thought about it more, though, I saw it was not the kind of crush where I wanted to have a liaison with her.

I would think about her all day, care too much what she thought of me, and wish she would come around more often and pay attention to me. Then I’d remember that in a few days the gate would close and I wouldn’t have any contact with her for ten years. She seemed never to have lost sight of this, and had kept a certain distance. Anyway, I reckoned, the parts of the concent that were most interesting to her were those that concerned the Ita, and, in a sense, she had access to that all the time because she made stuff for them.

On any given day of Apert I could have written an entire book about what I was thinking and feeling, and it would have been completely different from the previous day’s book. But by the end of the eighth day, the thing had been settled in such a way that I can sum it up much more briefly.

Liaison: (1) In Old and later Orth, an intimate (typically sexual) relationship among some number of fraas and suurs. The number is almost always two. The most common arrangement is for one of these to be a fraa and the other a suur of approximately the same age. Liaisons are of several types. Four types were mentioned by Ma Cartas in the Discipline. She forbade all of them. Later in the Old Mathic Age, a liaison between Saunt Per and Saunt Elith became famous when their hoards of love-letters were unearthed following their deaths. Shortly before the Rebirth, several maths took the unusual step of altering the Discipline to sanction the Perelithian liaison, meaning a permanent liaison between one fraa and one suur. The Revised Book of Discipline, adopted at the time of the Reconstitution, described eight types and sanctioned two. The Second New Revised Book of Discipline describes seventeen, sanctions four, and winks at two others. Each of the sanctioned liaisons is subject to certain rules, and is solemnized by an aut in which the participants agree, in the presence of at least three witnesses, to abide by those rules. Orders or concents that deviate from the Discipline by sanctioning other types of liaisons are subject to disciplinary action by the Inquisition. It is permissible, however, for an order or concent to sanction fewer types; those that sanction zero types are, of course, nominally celibate. (2) A Late Praxic Age bulshytt term, as such, impossible to define clearly, but apparently having something to do with contacts or relations between entities.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Fraa Orolo had noticed how distracted I was and summoned me to the starhenge shortly before sunset. He’d reserved the Telescope of Saunts Mithra & Mylax for the night. The weather was cloudy, but in the hope that it would clear up, he had gone there late in the afternoon to aim the telescope and blank a photomnemonic tablet. I found him at the controls of the M & M just as he was finishing these preparations. We went out and strolled around the ring of megaliths. My tongue was a long time in loosening, but after a while I told Orolo of what I’d been feeling and thinking about Cord. He asked all sorts of questions I’d never have thought of, and listened carefully to my answers, all of which seemed to confirm in his mind that I wasn’t feeling anything about her that was inappropriate for a sib.

Orolo reminded me that Cord was all the biological family I had left, not to mention the only person I really knew from extramuros, and assured me that it was normal and healthy for me to think about her a lot.

I told him about the conversations I’d been having lately that called into question all kinds of things about the Discipline and the Reconstitution. He assured me that this was an unwritten tradition of Apert. This was a time for the avout to get all of that out of their systems so that they did not have to spend the next ten years worrying about it.

He slowed and stopped as we rounded the northeastern limb. “Did you know that we live in a beautiful place?” he asked.

“How could I not know it?” I demanded. “Every day, I go into the Mynster, I see the chancel, we sing the Anathem—”

“Your words say yes, your defensive tone says something else,” Orolo said. “You haven’t even seen this.” And he gestured to the northeast.

The range of mountains leading off in that direction was obscured during winter by clouds and during summer by haze and dust. But we were between summer and winter now. The previous week had been hot, but temperatures had fallen suddenly on the second day of Apert, and we had plumped our bolts up to winter thickness. When I had entered the Præsidium a couple of hours earlier, it had been storming, but as I’d ascended the stair, the roar of the rain and the hail had gradually diminished. By the time I’d found Orolo up top, nothing remained of the storm except for a few wild drops hurtling around on the wind like rocks in space, and a foam of tiny hailstones on the walkway. We were almost in the clouds. The sky had hurled itself against the mountains like a sea attacking a stony headland, and spent its cold energy in half an hour. The clouds were dissolving, yet the sky did not get any brighter, because the sun was going down. But Orolo with his cosmographer’s eye had noted on the flank of a mountain a stretched patch that was brighter than the rest. When I first saw what he was pointing at, I guessed that hail had silvered the boughs of trees in some high vale. But as we watched, the color of it warmed. It broadened, brightened, and crept up the mountainside, setting fire to individual trees that had changed color early. It was a ray coming through a gap in the weather far to the west, levering up as the sun sank.

“That is the kind of beauty I was trying to get you to see,” Orolo told me. “Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.”

From Fraa Orolo, of all people, this was an astonishingly poetic and sentimental remark. I was so startled that it didn’t occur to me to wonder what Orolo was referring to when he spoke of the ugliness.

At least my eyes were open, though, to what he wanted me to see. The light on the mountain became rich in hues of crimson, gold, peach, and salmon. Over the course of a few seconds it washed the walls and towers of the Millenarian math with a glow that if I were a Deolater I’d have called holy and pointed to as proof that there must be a god.

“Beauty pierces through like that ray through the clouds,” Orolo continued. “Your eye is drawn to where it touches something that is capable of reflecting it. But your mind knows that the light does not originate from the mountains and the towers. Your mind knows that something is shining in from another world. Don’t listen to those who say it’s in the eye of the beholder.” By this Orolo meant the Fraas of the New Circle and the Old Reformed Faanites, but he could just as well have been Thelenes warning a fid not to be seduced by Sphenic demagogues.

The light lingered on the highest parapet for a minute, then faded. Suddenly all before us was deep greens, blues, and purples. “It’ll be good seeing tonight,” Orolo predicted.

“Will you stay?”

“No. We must go down. We’re already in trouble with the Master of the Keys. I must go fetch some notes.” Orolo hustled away and left me alone for a minute. I was surprised by a little sunrise above the mountains: the ray, sweeping invisibly up through empty sky, had found a couple of small wispy clouds and set them alight, like balls of wool flung into a fire. I looked down into the dark concent and felt no desire to jump. Seeing beauty was going to keep me alive. I thought of Cord and the beauty that she had, in the things she made, the way she carried herself, the emotions that played on her face while she was thinking. In the concent, beauty more often lay in some theoric proof—a kind of beauty that was actively sought and developed. In our buildings and music, beauty was always present even if I didn’t notice. Orolo was on to something; when I saw any of those kinds of beauty I knew I was alive, and not just in the sense that when I hit my thumb with a hammer I knew I was alive, but rather in the sense that I was partaking of something—something was passing through me that it was in my nature to be a part of. This was both a good reason not to die and a hint that death might not be everything. I knew I was perilously close to Deolater territory now. But because people could be so beautiful it was hard not to think that there was something of people that came from the other world that Cnoüs had seen through the clouds.

Orolo met me at the top of the stairs, notes under his arm. Before we began our descent, he took one last look at the stars and planets beginning to come out, like a butler counting the spoons. We went down in silence, lighting our way with our spheres.

Fraa Gredick, the Master of the Keys, was waiting by the portcullis just as Fraa Orolo had predicted. Another, slighter person stood next to him. As we came down the buttress, we saw that it was Gredick’s superior: Suur Trestanas. “Ugh, looks like we’re going to get penance,” I muttered. “This just demonstrates your point.”

“Which point do you mean?”

“The ugliness coming in from all directions.”

“I don’t think this is that,” Fraa Orolo said. “This is something exceptional.”

We stepped down into the stone cupola and crossed the threshold. Gredick slammed the grid down behind us with too much force. I looked at his face, thinking he was angry we’d made him wait. But that wasn’t it. He was unsettled. He only wanted to get out of there. We all watched him fumble with his key ring. As he was locking the portcullis down, I looked north to the Unarians’ cupola and then east to the Centenarians’. Both of their gridirons were also closed. The whole thing seemed to have been shut down. Perhaps a security precaution for Apert?

I expected Gredick to leave so that Suur Trestanas could give me and Orolo a scolding. But Gredick looked me in the eye and said, “Come with me, Fid Erasmas.”

“Where to?” I asked. It was unusual for the Master of the Keys to make such a request; it wasn’t his job.

“Anywhere,” he said, and then nodded toward the head of the stairs that would lead us down.

I looked at Orolo, who shrugged and made the same nod. Then I looked at Suur Trestanas, who only stared back at me, putting on a show of patience. She was early in her fourth decade of life, and not unattractive. She was brisk and organized and confident—the kind of woman who in the Sæcular world might have gone into commerce, and scampered up the hierarchy of a firm. During her first months as Warden Regulant, she had handed out a lot of penance for small infractions that her predecessor would have ignored. Older avout had assured me that this was typical behavior for a new Warden Regulant. I was so certain that she was going to give me and Orolo penance for being late that I hesitated to leave before she had done so. But it was clear that she had come here for another purpose. So I took my leave of Trestanas and Orolo, and began descending the stairs, followed by Fraa Gredick.

When Trestanas judged that Gredick and I were far enough away, she began telling Orolo something in a low voice. She talked for a minute or so, as if delivering a little speech that she had prepared.

When Orolo answered—which he did only after a long pause—it was in a voice that was wound up tight. He was making some kind of argument. And it was not the cool voice that he used when he was in dialog. Something had upset him. From this I knew that Suur Trestanas had not given him penance, because that was something one had to accept meekly, lest it be doubled and doubled again. They were talking about something more important than that. And Suur Trestanas had obviously told Gredick to get me out of that place so that she and Orolo could have privacy.

This was not a very satisfying end to the conversation that Orolo and I had shared on the starhenge! But it was further proof of the point he had made, and a challenge for me to put the idea into practice.

You must have this and hold to it or you’ll die. By the time I awoke the next morning I could not recall whether this was something Orolo had said in so many words, or a resolution that had formed in my own mind. Anyway I woke up exhilarated and determined.

In the Refectory I saw Fraa Orolo, sitting alone, several tables away. He gave me a tight smile and looked away in the next instant. He did not wish to fill me in on his argument with Suur Trestanas. He ate quickly, then got up and headed in the direction of the Decade Gate for another day on the town.

More important than the argument with Trestanas was my conversation with Orolo just before. I knew I could not talk about this in the Refectory. It would not survive Diax’s Rake; it would not be considered sound by the avout. Those of a more Procian bent would say I’d become a kind of Deolater. I’d be unable to defend myself without invoking all kinds of ideas that would sound ridiculously fuzzy-minded to them. At the same time, though, I knew that this was how the Saunts had done it. They judged theorical proofs not logically but aesthetically.

I wasn’t the only one with a lot on his mind. Arsibalt sat alone, ate practically nothing, and then skulked out. Later Tulia picked up her bowl and came over and sat by me, which made me happy until I understood that she only wanted to talk about him. Arsibalt had been doing a lot of brooding, and he had been doing it in conspicuous places, as much as demanding that we ask him what was wrong. I’d refused to do so because I found it such an annoying tactic. But Suur Tulia had been checking on him from time to time. She let me know I ought to go and see him. I did so only because the request had come from her.

After the Reconstitution, the first fraas and suurs of the Order of Saunt Edhar had come to this place where the river scoured around a ramp of stone and attacked it with explosives and water-jet cutters, cleaning away the scree and rotten rock—which they moved to the perimeter and piled up to fashion the concent’s walls—until they hit the sound stone at the heart of the mountain. This they cleaved off in slabs and prisms that tumbled to the valley floor, sometimes rolling almost to the walls before they came to rest. The ramp became a knob, the knob was sharpened to a crag. The first Thousanders whittled a narrow meandering stair up its face and went up there one day and never came back again, but pitched a camp on its top and set to work building their own walls and towers. The valley below remained a rubble-field for centuries. The avout swarmed over the strewn stones wherever they had come to rest and carved out of them the pieces of the Mynster. Almost all of them were now gone, and the land was flat, fertile, and stoneless. But a few of the great boulders were still dotted around the meadow, partly for decoration and partly as raw materials for our stonecutters, who were still fiddling with the Mynster’s gargoyles, finials, and such.

I found Arsibalt perched on the top of a boulder, surrounded by empty beverage containers that had been strewn around the place by slines. All around him, visitors were sleeping it off in the tall grass. Across the meadow, Lio was cavorting around a statue of Saunt Froga, flinging the end of his bolt out and letting it waft over the statue’s head, then snapping it back like a whip. I wouldn’t have looked twice if this hadn’t been Apert. But there were visitors on the meadow, watching, pointing, laughing, and speelycaptoring. Another useful function of Apert: to be reminded of how weird we were, and how fortunate to live in a place where we could get away with it.

Exhibit A: Fraa Arsibalt. Speaking whole paragraphs, complete with topic sentences, in perfect Middle Orth, with footnotes in Old and Proto-Orth, he explained that he felt aggrieved by his father’s refusal to talk to him, because he was not so much abjuring his father’s faith as trying to build a bridge between it and the mathic world.

This struck me as an ambitious project for a nineteen-year-old to undertake, seven thousand years after the two daughters of Cnoüs had stopped speaking to each other. Still, I heard him out. Partly so that I could later impress Tulia with what a good guy I was. Partly because I didn’t want to be a Lorite. But also partly because what Arsibalt was saying was nearly as crazy as my discussion with Orolo the evening before. And so perhaps, after I had heard Arsibalt out, he would let me confide some of my thoughts. But as the conversation (if listening to Arsibalt talk could be called that) went on, this hope curdled. It had not crossed his mind that I too might have some things I wanted to discuss—perhaps not as clever or as momentous as what was on his mind, but important to me. I bided my time. And just when I saw an opening, he changed the subject altogether and ambushed me with a rhapsody about “the exquisite Cord.” And so instead of talking about what I wanted to talk about, I was forced to come to grips with the idea of Cord as being exquisite. He wondered whether she might be open to an Atlanian liaison. I thought not, but who was I to judge? And a boyfriend who was (a) sterile and (b) only allowed out once every ten years seemed like a safe boyfriend to have, so I shrugged and allowed that anything was possible.

Then, back to Suur Tulia to file a report.

Seventeen years ago, Tulia had been found at the Day Gate, wrapped in newspapers and nestled in a beer cooler with the lid ripped off. The stump of her umbilical cord had already fallen off, which meant that she was too old and too touched by the Sæcular world to be accepted by the Thousanders. Anyway she had been sickly at first and so she had been kept in the Unarian math, which was more convenient to Physicians’ Commons. There she had been raised (as I pictured it) by the doting burgers’ wives and daughters who populated that math until she’d graduated through the labyrinth at the age of six. She had emerged, all alone, from our side of the maze and gravely introduced herself to the first suur she saw. Anyway, she had no family on the outside. Watching the rest of us cope with our families during Apert had led her to understand how very fortunate she might be. She was too deft to say anything, but it was clear she’d spent the whole time being bemused at the rest of us. She had seen me strolling around chatting with my sib and concluded that everything was fine and simple for me. I sensed it would boot me nothing to try to explain to her what I had discussed with Orolo.

So, instead, I talked to groups of total strangers from extramuros who showed up to take tours of the Unarian math.

My math was small, simple, and quiet. The Unarian math, by contrast, had been built to overawe people who came in from outside: ten days out of each year, groups of extramuros tourists, and the rest of the time, those who’d made a vow to spend at least one year in it. Few of these graduated to the Decenarian math. “Burgers’ wives trying to feel something,” was an especially cruel description I had once heard from an old fraa. As often, they were younger, unmarried, and looking for the final coat of polish and prestige needed to go out into adult society and seek a mate. Some studied under Halikaarnians and became praxics or artisans. Others studied under Procians; these tended to go into law, communications, or politics. Jesry’s mother had done two years here just after she’d turned twenty. Not long after coming out, she’d married Jesry’s father, a somewhat older man who had put in three years and used what he’d learned to start a career doing whatever it was he did.

Plane: (1) In Diaxan theorics, a two-dimensional manifold in three-dimensional space, having a flat metric. (2) An analogous manifold in higher-dimensional space. (3) A flat expanse of open ground in the Periklyne of ancient Ethras, originally used by theoricians as a convenient place to scratch proofs in the dirt, later as a place to conduct dialogs of all types. (4) Used as a verb, utterly to destroy an opponent’s position in the course of a dialog.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Around dawn of the tenth day of Apert, Suur Randa, who was one of the beekeepers, discovered that during the night some ruffians had found their way into the apiary shed, smashed some crockery, and made off with a couple of cases of mead. Nothing so exciting had happened in eons. When I came into the Refectory to break my fast, everyone was talking about it. They were still talking about it when I left, which was at about seven. I was due at the Year Gate at nine. The easy way to get there would have been to go extramuros through the Decade Gate, walk north through the burgers’ town, and approach it from the outside. But thinking about Tulia yesterday had given me the idea of getting there through our lower labyrinth—retracing the steps she’d taken at the age of six. Supposedly she had made it through in about half a day. I hoped that at my age I could get through it in an hour, but I allowed two hours just to be on the safe side. It ended up taking me an hour and a half.

As the clock struck nine, I stood, formally wrapped and hooded, at the foot of the bridge that led to the Year Gate, which rose up before me in its crenellated bastion. Bridge and gate were of similar design to those in the Decenarian math, but twice as big and much more richly decorated. On the first day of Apert, four hundred had thronged the plaza that I could now see through the Year Gate, and cheered as their friends and family had poured out at sunrise to end their year of seclusion.

This morning’s tour group numbered about two dozen. A third of them were uniformed ten-year-olds from a Bazian Orthodox suvin, or so I guessed from the fact that their teacher was in a nun’s habit. The others seemed a typical mix of burgers, artisans, and slines. The latter were recognizable from a distance. They were huge. Some artisans and burgers were huge too, but they wore clothes intended to hide it. The current sline fashion was to wear a garment evolved from an athletic jersey (bright, with numerals on the back) but oversized, so that shoulder seams hung around the elbows, and extremely long—descending all the way to the knee. The trousers were too long to be shorts and too short to be pants—they hung a hand’s-breadth below the jersey but still exposed a few inches of chunky calf, plunging into enormous, thickly padded shoes. Headgear was a burnoose blazoned with beverage logos whose loose ends trailed down the back, and dark goggles strapped over that and never removed, even indoors.

But it was not only clothing that set the slines apart. They had also adopted fashions in how they walked (a rolling, sauntering gait) and how they stood (a pose of exaggerated cool that somehow looked hostile to me). So I could see even from a distance that I had four slines in my tour group this morning. This troubled me not at all, because during the previous nine days there had been no serious trouble on the tours. Fraa Delrakhones had concluded that the slines of this era subscribed to a harmless iconography. They were not half as menacing as their postures.

I backed up onto the crest of the bridge to get a little altitude. Once the group had formed up below me I greeted them and introduced myself. The suvin kids stood in a neat row in the front. The slines stood together in the back, maintaining some distance to emphasize their exceptional cool, and thumbed their jeejahs or suckled from bucket-sized containers of sugar water. Two latecomers were hustling across the plaza and so I went a little slowly at first so as not to strand them.

I had learned not to expect much in the way of attention span and so after pointing out the orchard of page trees and the tangles on this side of the river, I led them over the bridge into the heart of the Unarian math. We skirted a wedge-shaped slab of red stone, carved all over with the names of the fraas and suurs whose remains lay underneath it. It was our policy not to talk about this unless someone asked. Today, no one did, and so a lot of awkwardness was avoided.

The Third Sack had opened with a week-long siege of the concent. The walls were far too long to be defended by so few, and so on the third day the Tenners and Hundreders had broken the Discipline and withdrawn to the Unarian math, which was somewhat easier to defend because it had a smaller perimeter that included some water barriers. The Thousanders of course were safe up on their crag.

By the time the siege was two weeks old, it had become obvious that the Sæcular Power had no intention of coming to their aid. Before dawn one day, most of the avout gathered behind the Year Gate, threw it open, and stormed out across the plaza in a flying wedge, driving through the surprised besiegers and into the town. For one hour they sacked the town and the besiegers’ supply dumps, gathering medicines, vitamins, ammunition, and all that they could find of certain chemicals and minerals that could not be obtained within the concent. Then they did something even more astonishing to the attackers, which was that instead of running away they formed up into another wedge—much smaller, by this point—and fought their way back across the plaza and went back in the gate. They didn’t stop until they’d crossed the bridge, which was immediately dropped by explosives. There they threw down the stuff they had scavenged and collapsed. Five hundred had stormed out. Three hundred had come back. Of those, two hundred died on the spot from wounds suffered during the operation. This wedge of granite was their tumulus. The stuff that they had gathered was sent up to the Thousanders. The rest of the concent fell the next day. The Thousanders lived alone and untouched on their crag for the next seventy years. Besides ours, only two other Millenarian maths in the world had made it through the Third Sack unviolated and unsacked. Though in many cases there had been enough warning that avout had been able to run away, carrying what they could in the way of books, and live in remote places for the next decades.

The wedge monument was aimed, not out toward the city, but in toward the clock. This was to emphasize that those buried under it had returned.

Fifty paces from its vertex lay the entrance of the Hylaean Way. After the Mynster, this was the dominant architectural feature of the concent. The style of these buildings was more Bazian than Mathic—less vertical, more horizontal, reminding people of arks, which traditionally spread wide to welcome all comers.

I held the door open long enough for the two latecomers to scurry inside, then closed it, content—maybe even smug—in the knowledge that Barb was not with us. During the first two days of Apert, the son of Quin had attended almost every one of these tours. After memorizing every word that the guides said, he had begun to ask crippling numbers of questions. From there he’d moved on to correcting the fraas and suurs whenever they’d said something wrong, and amplifying their remarks when they were insufficiently long-winded. A couple of wily suurs had found other ways to keep him busy, but it was difficult to keep him focused for long and so he would still make occasional strafing runs. Quin and his ex-wife seemed content to give Barb the run of the concent at all hours, which was as good as telling us that they wanted him Collected.

The architects of the Hylaean Way had played a little trick by making its grand-looking entrance lead to a space that was unexpectedly dark and close—suggestive of a labyrinth, but not nearly that complicated. The walls and floors were made from slabs of greenish-brown shale quarried from a deposit that fascinated naturalists because of the profusion of early life-forms fossilized in it. I explained as much to the group as we all waited for our eyes to adjust to the dimness, then invited them to spend a few minutes looking at the fossils. Those who’d had the foresight to bring a source of light, such as the suvin kids and some of the retired burgers, dispersed into the corners of the chamber. The nun had brought a map so that she knew just where to look for the really weird fossils. I circulated among the others with a basket of hand-lights. Some accepted them. Some waved me off. Probably these were counter-Bazian fundamentalists who believed that Arbre had been created all at once in its present form shortly before the time of Cnoüs. They ignored this phase of the tour as a silent protest. A few more wore earbuds and listened to recorded tours on jeejahs. The slines only stared at me and made no response. I noticed that one of them had his arm in a sling. It took me a few moments to place this memory. Then I drew the obvious conclusion that this was the very group that had attacked Lio and Arsibalt. I felt helpless in my formal wrap—the one that could easily be pulled down over the face—and wished I’d paid more attention to how Lio had been wearing his bolt lately.

Backing away from them, I announced: “This chamber is two things at once. On the one hand, it’s an exhibit of ancient fossils—mostly weird and funny-looking ones that did not evolve into any creatures known to us today. Evolutionary dead ends. At the same time, this place is a symbol for the world of thought as it existed before Cnoüs. In that age there was a zoo of different thought-ways, most of which would seem crazy to us now. These too were evolutionary dead ends. They are extinct except among primitive tribes in remote places.” As I was saying this I was leading them around a couple of turns toward a much bigger and brighter space. “They are extinct,” I continued, “because of what happened to this man as he was walking along a riverbank seven thousand years ago.” And I stepped forth into the Rotunda, quickening my pace to draw the group along in my wake.

A long pause now, so as not to ruin the moment. The central sculpture was more than six thousand years old; it had been a world-famous masterpiece for almost that long. How it had found its way to this continent and this rotunda was a long and lively story in itself. It was of white marble, double life size, though it seemed even bigger because it was up on a huge stone pedestal. It was Cnoüs, aged but muscular, with long wavy beard and hair, sprawled back against the gnarled roots of a tree, staring up in awe and astonishment. As if to shield himself from the vision, he had raised a hand, but could not resist the temptation to peek over it. Gripped in his other hand was a stylus. Tumbled at his feet were a ruler, a compass, and a tablet graven with precisely constructed circles and polygons.

Barb hadn’t looked at the ceiling when he’d come in here for the first time. This was because Barb’s brain was so organized that he was blind to facial expressions. Everyone else—even I, who’d seen it many times—looked up to see what was having such an effect on poor old Cnoüs. The answer (at least, ever since the statue had been installed here) was an oculus, or a hole at the apex of the Rotunda dome, shaped like an isosceles triangle, and letting in a beam of sunlight.

“Cnoüs was a master stonemason,” I began. “On one ancient tablet, which was made before he had his vision, he is described by an adjective that literally means one who is elevated. This might mean either that he was especially good at being a stonemason or that he was some kind of holy man in the religion of his place and time. At the command of his king, he was building a temple to a god. The stone was quarried from a place a couple of miles upriver and floated down to the building site on rafts.”

Here one of the slines broke in with a question, and I had to stop and explain that all of this had happened far away, and that I was not speaking of our river or our quarries. A jeejah began to crow a ridiculous tune; I waited for its owner to stifle it before I continued.

“Cnoüs would draw up measurements on a wax tablet and then walk up to the quarry to give instructions to the stonecutters. One day he was trying to work out a particularly difficult problem in the geometry of the piece he needed to have cut. Under the shade of a tree that grew on the riverbank, he sat down to work on this problem, and there he had a vision that changed his mind and his life.

“Everyone agrees on that much. But his description of that vision comes to us indirectly, through these women.” I extended my arm toward a pair of slightly smaller sculptures, which (inevitably) formed an isosceles triangle with that of Cnoüs. “His daughters Hylaea and Deät, thought to be fraternal twins.”

The counter-Bazians were way ahead of me. They had already moved to the foot of Deät and knelt down to pray. Some were rummaging in their bags for candles. Others, peering into their jeejahs as they snapped phototypes, stumbled and collided. Deät was a cloaked figure sunk to her knees, facing toward Cnoüs, her garment shielding her face from the light of the oculus.

Our Mother Hylaea, by contrast, stood erect, pulling her cloak back to bare her head, the better to gaze straight up into the light. With her other hand she was pointing at it, and her lips were parted as if she were just beginning to offer up some observation.

I recited a legend concerning these two statues. They had been commissioned in −2270 by Tantus, the Bazian Emperor, specifically as companion-pieces to the older one of Cnoüs, which he had just acquired by sacking what was left of Ethras. He had also acquired the quarry whence the marble for the original statue had come, and so he had caused two more great blocks to be extracted from it and shipped to Baz in specially made barges. The finest sculptor of the age had spent five years carving these.

At the formal unveiling, Tantus had been so taken by the look on Hylaea’s face that he had ordered the sculptor to be brought before him and had asked him what it was that Hylaea was about to say. The sculptor had declined to answer the question. Tantus had insisted. The sculptor had pointed out that all of the art, and all of the virtue, in this statue lay in that very ambiguity. Tantus, fascinated, had asked him a number of questions on that theme, then drew the Imperial sword and plunged it into the sculptor’s heart so that he would never be able to undermine his own work of art by answering the question. Later scholarship had cast doubt on this story, as it did on all good stories, but to tell it at this point in the tour was obligatory, and the slines got a kick out of it.

In my opinion, these two sculptures were such bald pro-Hylaea, anti-Deät propaganda that I was almost embarrassed by them. The Deolaters, however, seemed to take precisely the opposite view. Over the course of Apert, Deat’s pedestal had become bedizened with so many candles and charms, flowers, stuffed animals, fetishes, phototypes of dead people, and slips of paper that the One-offs would be cleaning it up for weeks after the gates closed.

“Deät and Hylaea went out searching for their father and found him lost in contemplation under the tree. Both saw the tablet on which he had recorded his impressions, and both listened to his account. Not long after, Cnoüs said something so offensive to the king that he was sent into exile, where he soon died. His daughters began telling people different stories. Deät said that Cnoüs had looked up into the sky and seen the clouds part to give him a vision of a pyramid of light, normally concealed from human eyes. He was seeing into another world: a kingdom of heaven where all was bright and perfect. According to her, Cnoüs drew the conclusion that it was a mistake to worship physical idols such as the one he had been building, for those were only crude effigies of actual gods that lived in another realm, and we ought to worship those gods themselves, not artifacts we made with our own hands.

“Hylaea said that Cnoüs had actually been having an upsight about geometry. What her sister Deät had misinterpreted as a pyramid in heaven was actually a glimpse of an isosceles triangle: not a crude and inaccurate representation of one, such as Cnoüs drew on his tablet with ruler and compass, but a pure theorical object of which one could make absolute statements. The triangles that we drew and measured here in the physical world were all merely more or less faithful representations of perfect triangles that existed in this higher world. We must stop confusing one with the other, and lend our minds to the study of pure geometrical objects.

“You’ll notice that there are two exits from this room,” I pointed out, “one on the left near the statue of Deät, the other on the right near Hylaea. This symbolizes the great forking that now took place between the followers of Deät, whom we call Deolaters, and of Hylaea, who in the early centuries were called Physiologers. If you pass through Deat’s door you’ll soon find yourself outside where you can easily find your way back to the Unarian Gate. A lot of our visitors do that because they don’t think that anything beyond this point is relevant to them. But if you follow me through the other door, it means you are continuing on the Hylaean Way.” And after giving them a few minutes to roam around and take pictures, I went out, leading all but the Deät-pilgrims into a gallery lined with pictures and artifacts of the centuries following the death of Cnoüs.

This in turn gave on to the Diorama Chamber, which was rectangular, with a vaulted ceiling, and clerestory windows letting in plenty of light to illuminate the frescoes. The centerpiece was a scale model of the Temple of Orithena. As I explained, this had been founded by Adrakhones, the discoverer of the Adrakhonic Theorem, which stated that the square of a right triangle’s hypotenuse was equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. To honor this, the floor of the chamber was adorned with numerous visual proofs of the said theorem, any of which you could puzzle out if you stood and stared at it for long enough.

“We’re now in the period from about 2900 years before the Reconstitution to about negative 2600,” I said. “Adrakhones turned Orithena into a temple devoted to exploration of the HTW, or the Hylaean Theoric World—the plane of existence that had been glimpsed by Cnoüs. People came from all over. You’ll notice that this chamber has a second entrance, leading in from the out of doors. This commemorates the fact that many who had taken the other fork and sojourned among the Deolaters came in from the cold, as it were, trying to reconcile their ideas with those of the Orithenans. Some were more successful than others.”

I looked over at the slines. Back in the rotunda, they had spent some time speculating as to the size of certain parts of the anatomy of Cnoüs (which were hidden under a fold of his garment) and then gotten into a debate as to which they fancied more: Deät, who was conveniently kneeling, or Hylaea, who was beginning to take her clothes off. In this chamber, they had gathered beneath the most prominent fresco, which depicted a furious dark-bearded man charging down the steps of the temple swinging a rake, striking terror in a group of deranged, eye-rolling dice-players. It was clear that the slines loved this picture. So far, they’d seemed docile enough. So I drew closer to them and explained it. “That’s Diax. He was famous for his disciplined thought. He became more and more distressed by the way Orithena was being infiltrated by Enthusiasts. Those were people who misunderstood how the Orithenans used numbers. They dreamed up all kinds of crazy number-worshipping stuff. One day Diax was coming out of the temple after the singing of the Anathem when he saw these guys casting fortunes using dice. He was so furious that he grabbed a rake from a gardener and used it to drive the Enthusiasts out of the temple. After that, he ran the place. He coined the term theorics, and his followers called themselves ‘theors’ to distinguish themselves from the Enthusiasts. Diax said something that is still very important to us, which is that you should not believe a thing only because you like to believe it. We call that ‘Diax’s Rake’ and sometimes we repeat it to ourselves as a reminder not to let subjective emotions cloud our judgment.”

This explanation was too long for the four slines, who turned their backs to me as soon as I got past the rake fight. I noticed that one of them—the one with his arm in a sling—had a curious, bony ridge running up his spine and protruding a few inches above the collar of his jersey. Normally this was concealed by his trailing burnoose, but when he turned away from me I saw it clearly. It was like a second, exoskeletal spine attached to the natural one. At its top was a rectangular tab, smaller than the palm of my hand, bearing a Kinagram in which a large stick figure struck a smaller one with his fist. It was one of the spine clamps Quin had described to me and Orolo. I guessed it had disabled the man’s right arm.

A fresco on the ceiling at the far end showed the eruption of Ecba and the destruction of the temple. The following series of galleries contained pictures and artifacts from the ensuing Peregrin period, with separate alcoves dedicated to the Forty Lesser and the Seven Great Peregrins.

From there we came out into the great elliptical chamber with its statues and frescoes of the theoric golden age centered on the city-state of Ethras. Protas, gazing up at the clouds painted on the ceiling, anchored one end. His teacher Thelenes commanded the other, striding across the Plane with his interlocutors—variously awed, charmed, chastened, or indignant. The two bringing up the rear had their heads together, conspiring—a foreshadowing of Thelenes’s trial and ritual execution. A large painting of the city made it easy for me to point out the Deolaters’ temples atop its highest hill, where Thelenes had been put to death; its market, the Periklyne, wrapped around the hill’s base; a flat open area in the center of the Periklyne, called ‘the Plane,’ where geometers would draw figures in the dust or engage in public debate; and the vine-covered bowers around the edges, in whose shade some theors would teach their fids, from which we got the word suvin, meaning “under the vines.” As far as the nun was concerned, that one moment made the whole trip worth the trouble.

As we worked our way to the farther end, we began seeing theors standing at the right hands of generals and emperors, which led naturally enough to the last of the great chambers in the Hylaean Way, which was all about the glory that was Baz, its temples, its capitol, its walls, roads, and armies, its library, and (increasingly, as we approached the end) its Ark. After a certain point it was priests and prelates of the Ark of Baz, instead of theors, advising those generals and emperors. Theors had to be sought out as small figures in the deep background, reclining on the steps of the Library or going into the Capitol to spill wise counsel into the dead ears of the high and mighty.

Frescoes depicting the Sack of Baz and the burning of the library flanked the exit: an incongruously narrow, austere archway that you might miss if it weren’t for the statue of Saunt Cartas cradling a few singed and tattered books in one arm, looking back over her shoulder to beckon us toward the exit. This led to a high stone-walled chamber, devoid of decoration and containing nothing except air. It symbolized the retreat to the maths and the dawn of the Old Mathic Age, generally pegged at Negative 1512.

From there the Hylaean Way took a lap around the Unarian Cloister and petered out. There was room on the other side where exhibits might one day be added about the rise of the Mystagogues, the Rebirth, the Praxic Age, and possibly even the Harbingers and the Terrible Events. But we had seen all the good stuff, and this was customarily the end of the tour.

I thanked them all for coming, invited them to backtrack if they wanted to spend more time with any of what they’d seen, reminded them that all were welcome at the Tenth Night supper, and told them I’d be happy to answer questions.

The slines seemed happy for now to savor the pictures of Imperial Bazian galley combat and library-burning. A retired burger stepped up to thank me for my time. The suvin kids asked me what sorts of things I had been studying lately. The two visitors who had rushed in at the last minute bided their time as I tried to explain to the kids certain theorical topics that they’d never heard of. After a minute the nun took pity on me (or possibly on the kids) and hustled them away.

The latecomers were a man and a woman, both probably in their fifth decades of life. I did not get the sense that they were having a liaison. Both were attired for commerce, so perhaps they were colleagues in a business. Around each one’s neck was a lanyard leading to a flasher of the type used extramuros to demonstrate one’s identity and control access to places. Since such things weren’t needed here, both of them had tucked their flashers into their breast pockets. They had been appreciative tourists, trailing the group, cocking their heads toward each other to discuss fine details that one or the other had noticed.

“I was intrigued by your remarks about the daughters of Cnoüs,” the man announced. His accent marked him as coming from a part of this continent where cities were bigger and closer together than around here, and where a concent might house a dozen or more chapters in contrast to our three.

He went on, “It’s just that normally I would expect an avout to emphasize what made them different. But I almost got the idea you were hinting at a—” And here he stopped, as though groping for a word that was not in the Fluccish lexicon.

“Common ground?” suggested the woman. “A parallel between them?” Her accent—as well as the bone structure of her face and the hue of her skin—marked her as coming from the continent that, in this age, was the seat of the Sæcular Power. And so by this point I had made up a reasonable story in my head about these two: they lived in big cities far away, they worked for the same employer, a business of global scope, they were visiting its local office for some purpose, they’d heard it was the last day of Apert and had decided to spend a couple of hours taking in the sights. Both, I guessed, had spent at least a few years in a Unarian math when younger. Perhaps the man’s Orth had grown some rust and he was more comfortable confining the discussion to Fluccish.

“Well, I think many scholars would agree that Deät and Hylaea both say that one should not confuse the symbol with the thing symbolized,” I said.

He looked as if I’d poked him in the eye. “What kind of way to begin a sentence is that? ‘I think many scholars would agree…’ Why don’t you just say what you mean?”

“All right. Deät and Hylaea both say that one should not confuse the symbol with the thing symbolized.”

“That’s better.”

“For Deät the symbol is an idol. For Hylaea it’s a triangular shape on a tablet. For Deät, the thing symbolized is an actual god in heaven. For Hylaea, it’s a pure theorical triangle in the HTW. So, do you agree that I can speak about that commonality in itself?”

“Yes,” the man said, reluctantly, “but an avout rarely takes an argument that far only to drop it. I keep waiting for you to base some further argument on it, the way they do in the dialogs.”

“I take your point clearly,” I said. “But I was not in dialog at the time.”

“But you are now!”

I took this as a joke and chuckled in a way I hoped would seem polite. His face showed a trace of dry amusement but on the whole he looked serious. The woman seemed a bit uneasy.

“But I wasn’t then,” I said, “and then I had a story to tell, and it had to make sense. It makes sense if Deät and Hylaea took the same idea and mapped it onto different domains. But if I’d described them as saying totally contradictory things about their father’s vision, it wouldn’t have made sense.”

“It would have made perfect sense if you had made Deät out to be a lunatic,” he demurred.

“Well, that’s true. Maybe because there were so many Deolaters in the group I avoided being so blunt.”

“So you said something you don’t actually believe, just to be polite?”

“It’s more a matter of emphasis. I do believe what I said before about the commonality—and so do you, because you agreed with me to that point.”

“How widespread do you suppose that mentality is within this concent?”

Hearing this, the woman looked as if she had got a whiff of something foul. She turned sideways to me and spoke in a subdued voice to the man. “Mentality is a pejorative term, isn’t it?”

“All right,” the man said, never taking his eyes off me. “How many here see it your way?”

“It’s a typical Procian versus Halikaarnian dispute,” I said. “Avout who follow in the way of Halikaarn, Evenedric, and Edhar seek truth in pure theorics. On the Procian/Faanian side, there is a suspicion of the whole idea of absolute truth and more of a tendency to classify the story of Cnoüs as a fairy tale. They pay lip service to Hylaea just because of what she symbolizes and because she wasn’t as bad as her sister. But I don’t think that they believe that the HTW is real any more than they believe that there is a Heaven.”

“Whereas Edharians do believe in it?”

The woman shot him a look, and he made the following adjustment: “I specify Edharians only because this is the Concent of Saunt Edhar, after all.”

If this man had been one of my fraas I might have spoken more freely now. But he was a Sæcular, strangely well-informed, and he behaved as though he were important. Even so, I might have blurted something out if this had been the first day of Apert. But our gates had been open for ten days: long enough for me to grow some crude political reflexes. So I answered not for myself but for my concent. More specifically for the Edharian order; for all of the Edharian chapters in other concents around the world looked to us as their mother, and had pictures of our Mynster up in their chapterhouses.

“If you ask an Edharian flat out, he’ll be reluctant to admit to it,” I began.

“Why? Again, this is the Concent of Saunt Edhar.”

“It was broken up,” I told him. “After the Third Sack, two-thirds of the Edharians were relocated to other concents, to make room for a New Circle and a Reformed Old Faanite chapter.”

“Ah, the Powers That Be put a bunch of Procians in here to keep an eye on you, did they?” This actually caused the woman to reach out and put her hand on his forearm.

“You seem to be assuming I’m an Edharian myself,” I said, “but I have not yet made Eliger. I don’t even know if the Order of Saunt Edhar would accept me.”

“I hope so for your sake,” he said.

The conversation had become steadily odder from its very beginning and had reached a point where it was difficult for me to see a way forward. Fortunately the woman got us out of the jam: “It’s just that with all that’s been going on with the Warden of Heaven, we were speculating, as we were on our way here, whether the avout were feeling any pressure to change their views. And we wondered if your take on Deät and Hylaea might have reflected some Sæcular influence.”

“Ah. That’s an interesting point,” I said. “As it happens, I’d never heard of the Warden of Heaven until a few days ago. So if my take on Deät and Hylaea reflects anything at all, it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately for my own reasons.”

“Very well,” the man said, and turned away. The woman mouthed a “thank you” at me over her shoulder and together they strolled off into the Cloister.

Not long after, the bells began to chime Provener. I walked across the Unarian campus, which had been turned inside-out. Many avout, as well as some extramuros contract labor, were cleaning the dormitories to make them ready for the crop that would be starting their year tomorrow.

For once, I reached the Mynster with plenty of time to spare. I sought out Arsibalt and warned him to be on the lookout for those four slines. Lio overheard the end of that conversation and so I had to repeat it as we were getting our robes on. Jesry showed up last, and drunk. His family had thrown a reception for him at their house.

When the Primate entered the chancel, just before the beginning of the service, he had two purple-robed visitors in tow. It was not unusual for hierarchs from other concents to show up in this way, so I didn’t think twice about it. The shape of their hats was a little unusual. Arsibalt was the first to recognize them. “It appears that we have two honored guests from the Inquisition,” he said.

I looked across the chancel and recognized the faces of the man and woman I’d been talking to earlier.

I spent the afternoon striping the meadow with rows of tables. Fortunately, Arsibalt was my partner. He might be a little high-strung in some ways, but beneath the fat he had the frame of an ox from winding the clock.

For three thousand years it had been the concent’s policy to accept any and all folding chairs and collapsible tables made available to it, and never throw one away. On one and only one occasion, this had turned out to be a wise policy: the millennial Apert of 3000, when 27,500 pilgrims had swarmed in through the gates to enjoy a square meal and see the End of the World. We had folding chairs made of bamboo, machined aluminum, aerospace composites, injection-molded poly, salvaged rebar, hand-carved wood, bent twigs, advanced newmatter, tree stumps, lashed sticks, brazed scrap metal, and plaited grass. Tabletops could be made of old-growth lumber, particle board, extruded titanium, recycled paper, plate glass, rattan, or substances on whose true nature I did not wish to speculate. Their lengths ranged from two to twenty-four feet and their weights from that of a dried flower to that of a buffalo.

“You’d think that after all this time someone might have invented…oh, say…the wheel,” Arsibalt mentioned at one point, as we were wrestling with a twelve-foot-long monster that looked like it might have stopped spears during the Old Mathic Age.

Dragging these artifacts up from the cellars and down from the rafters was an almost perfectly stupid task. It was not much more difficult to get Arsibalt talking about Inquisitors and the Inquisition.

The gist of it was that the arrival of two Inquisitors wasn’t a big deal at all, unless it was a big deal, in which case it was a really big deal. The Inquisition long ago had become a “relatively non-psychotic, even bureaucratized, process.” This was evidenced by the fact that we saw the Warden Regulant and her officers all the time even when we weren’t in trouble. Though they reported to the Primate, they were technically a branch of the Inquisition. They even had the power to depose a Primate in certain circumstances (Arsibalt, warming to the task, here threw in some precedents of yore involving insane or criminal Primates). Consistent standards had to be maintained across all the world’s concents, or else the Reconstitution would be null and void. And how could that be achieved unless there existed this elite class of hierarchs—typically, Wardens Regulant who had doled out so much penance to their long-suffering fraas and suurs that they’d been noticed, and promoted—who traveled from concent to concent to poke around and keep an eye on things? It happened all the time. I just hadn’t noticed it until now.

“I’m a little rattled by something that happened just before Provener,” I told him.

We were out in the meadow, working on our second acre of tables. Suurs and younger fraas were scurrying around in our wake, lining the tables with chairs, covering them with paper. Older and wiser fraas were hauling on lines, causing a framework of almost weightless struts to rise up above our heads; later these would support a canopy. In an open-air kitchen in the center of the meadow, older suurs were trying to kill us with the fragrance of dishes that were many hours away from being served. Arsibalt and I had been trying for ten minutes to defeat the latching mechanism on the legs of an especially over-designed table: military surplus from a Fifth Century world war. Certain levers and buttons had to be depressed in the right sequence or the legs would not deploy. A dark brown leaf, folded many times, had been wedged into the undercarriage: helpful instructions written in the year 940 by one Fraa Bolo, who had succeeded in getting the table open and wanted to brag about it to generations of unborn avout. But he used incredibly recondite terminology to denote the different parts of the table, and the leaf had been attacked by mice. At a moment when we were about to lose our tempers, throw the table off the Præsidium, consign Fraa Bolo’s useless instructions to the fires of Hell, and run out the Decade Gate in search of strong drink, Fraa Arsibalt and I agreed to sit down for a moment and take a break. That was when I told Arsibalt about my conversation with Varax and Onali—as the male and female Inquisitors were called, according to the grapevine.

“Inquisitors in disguise, hmm, I don’t think I’ve heard of that,” Arsibalt said. Gazing worriedly at the look on my face, he added: “Which means nothing. It is selection bias: Inquisitors who can’t be distinguished from the general populace would of course go unnoticed and unremarked on.”

Somehow I didn’t find that very comforting.

“They have to move about somehow,” Arsibalt insisted. “It never occurred to me to wonder how exactly. They can’t very well have their own special aerocraft and trains, can they? Much more sensible for them to put on normal clothing and buy a ticket just like anyone else. I would guess that they happened to come in from the aerodrome just as your tour was beginning, and decided on the spur of the moment to tag along so that they could view the statues in the Rotunda, which anyone would want to see.”

“Your words make sense but I still feel…burned.”

“Burned?”

“Yeah. That Varax tricked me into saying things I’d never have said to an Inquisitor.”

“Then why on earth did you say them to a total stranger?”

This wasn’t helpful. I threw him a look.

“What did you say that was so bad?” he tried.

“Nothing,” I concluded, after I’d thought about it for a while. “I mean, I probably sounded very HTW, very Edharian. If Varax is a Procian, he hates me now.”

“But that is still within normal limits. There are whole orders that have prospered for thousands of years, saying much more ridiculous things, without running afoul of the Inquisition.”

“I know that,” I said. Looking across the meadow I happened to see Corlandin and several others of the New Circle getting in position to rehearse a carol that they would sing tonight. From a hundred feet away I could see them grinning and exchanging handshakes. I could smell their confidence as if I were a dog. I wanted to be like that. Not like the crusty Edharian theoricians carrying on bitter debates about the vector sums on the vertices of the canopy struts.

“When I say burned, maybe what I’m getting at is that I burned my bridge. What I said to Varax is going to get repeated to Suur Trestanas and then filter down to the rest of her lot.”

“You’re afraid the New Circle won’t want you for Eliger?”

“That is correct.”

“You can avoid the stink then. Better for you.”

“What stink, Arsibalt?”

“The stink that’s going to permeate this place when most of our crop join the Edharians. The New Circle and the Reformed Old Faanians are going to be left with floor-sweepings.”

Trying to seem casual, I looked around to be sure that we were not in earshot of any of the fids Arsibalt considered to be floor-sweepings. But the only person nearby was the primeval Grandfraa Mentaxenes, shuffling around waiting for a purpose, but too proud to ask for one. I approached him with the gnawed table-opening codex of Fraa Bolo and asked him to translate it. He couldn’t have been more ready. Arsibalt and I left him to it, and trudged back toward the Mynster for the next table.

“What makes you think that’s going to happen?” I said.

“Orolo has been talking to many of us—not just you,” Arsibalt said.

“Recruiting us?”

“Corlandin recruits—which is why we don’t trust him. Orolo simply talks, and lets us draw our own conclusions.”

Bulshytt: (1) In Fluccish of the late Praxic Age and early Reconstitution, a derogatory term for false speech in general, esp. knowing and deliberate falsehood or obfuscation. (2) In Orth, a more technical and clinical term denoting speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said. (3) According to the Knights of Saunt Halikaarn, a radical order of the 2nd Millennium A.R., all speech and writings of the ancient Sphenics; the Mystagogues of the Old Mathic Age; Praxic Age commercial and political institutions; and, since the Reconstitution, anyone they deemed to have been infected by Procian thinking. Their frequent and loud use of this word to interrupt lectures, dialogs, private conversations, etc., exacerbated the divide between Procian and Halikaarnian orders that characterized the mathic world in the years leading up to the Third Sack. Shortly before the Third Sack, all of the Knights of Saunt Halikaarn were Thrown Back, so little more is known about them (their frequent appearance in Sæcular entertainments results from confusion between them and the Incanters).

Usage note: In the mathic world, if the word is suddenly shouted out in a chalk hall or refectory it brings to mind the events associated with sense (3) and is therefore to be avoided. Spoken in a moderate tone of voice, it takes on sense (2), which long ago lost any vulgar connotations it may once have had. In the Sæculum it is easily confused with sense (1) and deemed a vulgarity or even an obscenity. It is inherent in the mentality of extramuros bulshytt-talkers that they are more prone than anyone else to taking offense (or pretending to) when their bulshytt is pointed out to them. This places the mathic observer in a nearly impossible position. One is forced either to use this “offensive” word and be deemed a disagreeable person and as such excluded from polite discourse, or to say the same thing in a different way, which means becoming a purveyor of bulshytt oneself and thereby lending strength to what one is trying to attack. The latter quality probably explains the uncanny stability and resiliency of bulshytt. Resolving this dilemma is beyond the scope of this Dictionary and is probably best left to hierarchs who make it their business to interact with the Sæculum.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Somehow that canopy got raised. The struts were newmatter dating back to the founding of the Concent; as dusk fell, they began to emit a soft light that came from all directions and made even Fraa Mentaxenes look healthy. Beneath it, twelve hundred visitors, three hundred Decenarians, and five hundred Unarians celebrated Tenth Night.

This had originated as a harvest festival, coinciding with the end of the calendar year. Thanks to some adroit sequence-writing that had been done before the Second Sack, we had a few crops that could grow almost year-round. In our greenhouses we could cultivate less hardy plants in midwinter. But that stuff wasn’t glorious in the way that tangle food was at this time of the year.

The tangle had been invented way back before Cnoüs, by people who lived on the opposite side of the world from Ethras and Baz. Cob grew straight up out of the ground to the height of a man’s head and bore rich heads of particolored kernels late in the summer. In the meantime, it served as a trellis for climbing vines of podbeans that gave us protein while fixing nitrogen in the soil to nourish the cob. In the web that the podbean vines spun among the cob stalks, three other kinds of vegetables grew: highest from the ground, where bugs couldn’t get to them, red, yellow, and orange tommets to give us vitamins and flavor our salads, stews, and sauces. Snaking along the ground, gourds of many varieties. In the middle, hollow pepperpods. Tubers of two kinds grew beneath the ground, and leaf vegetables gathered whatever light remained. The original, ancient tangle had comprised eight plants, and the people who cultivated them had over thousands of years bred them to be as efficient as they could be without actually reaching in and tinkering with their sequences. Ours were more efficient yet, and we had added four more types of plants, two of which had no purpose other than to replenish the soil. At this time of year, the tangles we’d been cultivating since thaw were in their glory and sported a variety of color and flavor that couldn’t be had extramuros. That’s why Apert took place now. It was a way for those inside the math to share their good fortune with their neighbors extramuros, as well as to relieve them of any babies not likely to survive the winter.

I saved seats for Cord and her boyfriend Rosk. Cord also brought with her a cousin of ours: Dath, a boy of fifteen. I remembered him vaguely. He’d been the kind of youngster who was always being rushed to Physicians’ Commons for repair of astonishing traumas. Somehow he’d survived and even put on passable clothing for the event. His dents and scars were hidden beneath a mess of curly brown hair.

Arsibalt made sure he was seated across from “the exquisite” Cord; he didn’t appear to understand the significance of Rosk. Jesry caused his entire family to sit at the next table, which placed him back to back with me. Then Jesry flagged down Orolo and persuaded him to sit in our cluster. Orolo attracted Lio and several other lonely wanderers, who proceeded to fill out our table.

Dath was the kind of sweet untroubled soul who could ask very basic questions with no trace of embarrassment. I tried to answer them in the same spirit.

“You know I’m a sline, cousin,” I said. “So the difference between slines and us is not that we’re smarter. That is demonstrably not the case.”

This topic had come up after people had been eating, drinking, talking, and singing old carols just long enough to make it obvious that there really were no differences. Dath, who had come through his early mishaps with his good sense intact, had been looking about and taking note of this—I could read it on his face. And so he had raised the question of why bother to put up walls—to have an extramuros and an intramuros?

Orolo had caught wind of this and turned around to get a look at Dath. “It would be easier for you to understand if you could see one of the pinprick maths,” he said.

“Pinprick maths?”

“Some are no more than a one-room apartment with an electrical clock hanging on the wall and a well-stocked bookcase. One avout lives there alone, with no speely, no jeejah. Perhaps every few years an Inquisitor comes round and pokes his head in the door, just to see that all is well.”

“What’s the point of that?” Dath asked.

“That is precisely the question I am asking you to think about,” Orolo said, and turned back round to resume a conversation with Jesry’s father.

Dath threw up his hands. Arsibalt and I laughed, but not at his expense. “That’s how Pa Orolo does his dirty work,” I told him.

“Tonight, instead of sleeping, you’ll lie awake wondering what he meant,” Arsibalt said.

“Well, aren’t you guys going to help me? I’m not a fraa!” Dath pleaded.

“What would motivate someone to sit alone in a one-room apartment reading and thinking?” Arsibalt asked. “What would have to be true of a person for them to consider that a life well spent?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they’re really shy? Scared of open spaces?”

“Agoraphobia is not the correct answer,” Arsibalt said, a little huffy.

“What if the places you went and the things you encountered in your work were more interesting than what was available in the physical world around you?” I tried.

“Okayyy…”

“You might say that the difference between us and you is that we have been infected by a vision of…another world.” I’d been about to say “a greater” or “a higher” but settled for “another.”

“I don’t like the infection metaphor,” Arsibalt started to say in Orth. I kneed him under the table.

“You mean like a different planet?” Dath asked.

“That’s an interesting way of looking at it,” I said. “Most of us don’t think it’s another planet in the sense of a speculative fiction speely. Maybe it’s the future of this world. Maybe it’s an alternate universe we can’t get to. Maybe it’s nothing but a fantasy. But at any rate it lives in our souls and we can’t help striving toward it.”

“What’s that world like?” Dath asked.

Behind me, a jingle began to play from someone’s jeejah. It wasn’t that loud, but something about it made my brain lock up. “For one thing, it doesn’t have any of those,” I told Dath.

After the jeejah had been singing for a little while, I turned around. Everyone in a twenty-foot radius was staring at Jesry’s older brother, who was slapping himself all over trying to determine which of the pockets in his suit contained the jeejah. Finally he extracted it and silenced it. He stood up, as if he had not drawn enough attention to himself, and bellowed his own name. “Yes, Doctor Grane,” he went on, staring into the distance like a holy man. “I see. I see. Can they infest humans as well? Really!? I was only joking. Well, how would we be able to tell if that had happened?”

People turned back to their meals, but conversations were slow to restart, because of sporadic incursions from Jesry’s brother.

Arsibalt cleared his throat as only Arsibalt could; it sounded like the end of the world. “The Primate’s about to speak.”

I turned around and looked at Jesry, who had realized the same thing and was waving his arms at his brother, who stared right through him. He was negotiating a bulk rate on biopsies. He was a very tough negotiator. Women in the party—sisters and sisters-in-law of Jesry—had begun to feel ashamed and to tug at the man’s elbows. He spun around and stalked away from us: “Excuse me, Doctor, I didn’t catch that last part? Something about the larvae?” But in his defense, as I looked around I could see that he was only one of many who were using jeejahs for one purpose or another.

Statho had already addressed us twice. The first time had been ostensibly to greet everyone but really to nag us into taking our seats. The second time had been to intone the Invocation, which had been written by Diax himself while the rake blisters were still fresh on his hands. If you could understand Proto-Orth and if you happened to be a mushy-headed, number-worshipping Enthusiast, the Invocation would make you feel distinctly unwelcome. Everyone else just thought it added a touch of class to the proceedings.

Now he told us we were going to be entertained by a contingent of Edharians. Statho’s grasp of Fluccish was weak; the way he phrased it, he was commanding us to be entertained. This made laughter run through the crowd, which left him nonplussed and asking the Inquisitors (who were flanking him at the high table) for explanations.

Three fraas and two suurs sang a five-part motet while twelve others milled around in front of them. Actually they weren’t milling; it just looked that way from where we sat. Each one of them represented an upper or lower index in a theorical equation involving certain tensors and a metric. As they moved to and fro, crossing over one another’s paths and exchanging places while traversing in front of the high table, they were acting out a calculation on the curvature of a four-dimensional manifold, involving various steps of symmetrization, antisymmetrization, and raising and lowering of indices. Seen from above by someone who didn’t know any theorics, it would have looked like a country dance. The music was lovely even if it was interrupted every few seconds by the warbling of jeejahs.

Then we ate and drank more. Then the New Circle fraas sang their piece, which was much better received than the tensor dance. Then we ate and drank more. Statho made it all tick along, like Cord running her five-axis mill. We weren’t used to seeing him do a lot of work, but he was earning his beer this evening. To the visitors, this was just a free feed with weird entertainment, but in truth it was a ritual as old and as important as Provener and so there were certain boxes that had to be checked if we were to get out of it without drawing a rebuke from the Inquisition. And Statho was the kind who would have done it the right way even if Varax and Onali hadn’t been sitting there asking him to pass the salt.

Fraa Haligastreme was introduced to say a few words on behalf of the Edharian chapter. He tried to talk about what I had mentioned to Dath earlier, and bungled it even worse. He was the funniest man in the world if you just walked up to him and asked him a question, but he was helpless when given the opportunity to prepare, and the sporadic alarums of the jeejahs shattered his concentration and reduced his talk to a heap of shards. The only shard that lodged in my memory was his concluding line: “If this all seems ambiguous, that’s because it is; and if that troubles you, you’d hate it here; but if it gives you a feeling of relief, then you are in the right place and might consider staying.”

Next up was Corlandin for the New Circle chapter.

“I’ve been with my family the last ten days,” he announced, and smiled over at a table of Burgers who smiled back at him. “They were kind enough to organize a family reunion during Apert. All of them have busy lives out there, just as I do in here, but for these days we suspended our routines, our careers, and our other commitments so that we could be together.”

“Myself, I’ve been out watching speelys,” Orolo remarked. Only about five of us could hear him. “Ones with plenty of explosions. Some are quite enjoyable.”

Corlandin continued, “Making dinner—normally a routine chore we perform to avoid starvation—became something altogether different. The pattern of cuts my Aunt Prin made in the top crust of a pie was not just a system of vents to relieve internal pressure, but a sort of ritual going back who knows how many generations—an invocation, if you will, of her ancestors who did it the same way. The conversations we had about, say, when Grandpa Myrt fell off his porch roof while cleaning the gutters, were not just debriefings about the hazards of home renovation but celebrations—full of laughter, tears, and sometimes laughter and tears at the same time—of how much we loved each other. So you could say that nothing was about what it superficially seemed to be about. Which in another context might make it sound all just a bit sinister. But obviously it was nothing of the kind. We all got it. You’d have gotten it too. And that’s a lot like what we fraas and suurs do in this concent all the time. Thank you.” And Corlandin sat down.

Slightly indignant murmuring from avout—not at all certain that they agreed with him—was drowned out by applause from the majority of visitors. Poor Suur Frandling had to get up next and say a few words for the Reformed Old Faanians, but she could have been reading from an economic database for all anyone cared. Most of the avout were peeved by Corlandin’s eloquence—or glibness—and Orolo was among them. But to his credit he pointed out that Corlandin had smoothed over an awkward moment and probably won us some sympathy extramuros.

“How do you know when someone is really glib?” Jesry muttered to me.

“I’ll bite. How?”

“It doesn’t cross your mind that he’s glib until someone older and wiser points it out. And then, your face turns hot with shame.”

More music then, as most of us avout got up to clear plates and fetch dessert. The entertainment, which earlier had been so intimidating, had become a little easier to enjoy. Many of the carols traditionally played over loudspeakers in stores and elevators at this time of year were derived from liturgical music that had originated in the maths and filtered out at Apert, and so many of the visitors were pleasantly surprised to hear familiar melodies spilling from the lips of these bolt-wrapped weirdos.

Dessert was sheet cakes baked and served in broad trays. One of them ended up in front of Arsibalt—not a coincidence. He picked up the spatula that had arrived with it: a flat metal blade about the size of the palm of a child’s hand. Just before he plunged it into the cake, I had an idea, and stopped him. “Let’s have Dath do it,” I said.

“As hosts, it is our duty to serve,” Arsibalt demurred.

“Then you can serve, but I want Dath to do the cutting,” I insisted. I wrenched the spatula from Arsibalt’s grip and handed it across to Dath, who took it a little uncertainly.

I then talked him through cutting the cake; but I had him go about it in a very specific way, working through the steps of an old geometry proof* that Orolo had taught me when I had been a brand-new fid, up all night crying because I missed my old life. This took a little while, but when all was said and done, it was clear from the look on Dath’s face that he understood it, and I was able to tell him: “Congratulations. You have just worked out a geometric proof that is thousands of years old.”

“They had sheet cakes back then?”

“No, but they had land and other things they needed to measure, and the same trick works for those things too.”

“Uh huh,” Dath said, gobbling a vertex from his serving.

“You say uh huh like it is not a big deal, but it is a big deal to us,” I said. “Why should a proof that works for sheet cake work as well for a plot of land? Cake and land are different things.”

We had gone a little over the head of Dath, who just wanted to eat his cake, but Cord saw it. “I guess I have an unfair advantage here since I spend so much time thinking about geometry in my work. But the answer is that geometry is…well…geometry. It’s pure. It doesn’t matter what you’re applying it to.”

“And it turns out that the same is true for other kinds of theorics besides geometry,” I said. “You can prove something. Later the same thing might be proved in a totally different way; but you always end up with the same answer. No matter who is discussing these proofs, in what age, whether they are speaking of sheet cake or pasture-land, they always arrive at the same answer. These truths seem to come out of another world or plane of existence. It’s hard not to believe that this other world really exists in some sense—not just in our imaginations! And we would like to go there.”

“Preferably without having to die first,” Arsibalt put in.

“When I’m cutting a part, sometimes I get obsessed with it,” Cord said. “I lie awake in my bed thinking about its shape. Is that—perhaps—related to how you all feel about what you study?”

“Why not? You’re carrying this geometry around in your head that fascinates you. Some would say it’s only a pattern of neurons firing in your brain. But it has an independent reality. And for you, thinking about that reality is an interesting and rewarding way to spend your life.”

Rosk was a manual therapist—he put his hands on people to fix them. “I’ve been working on someone who has a pinched nerve because he has lousy posture,” he said. “I was discussing it with my teacher, over the jeejah—no pictures, just our voices. We had this long talk about this nerve and the muscles and ligaments around it and how I should manipulate them to help alleviate the problem, and suddenly I just flashed on how weird the whole thing was—two of us both relating to this image—this model—of another person’s body that was in his mind and in my mind, but—”

“Also seemingly in a third place,” I suggested, “a shared place.”

“That’s what it felt like. It freaked me out for a little while, but then I put it out of my mind because I thought I was just being weird.”

“Well, it’s been freaking people out since Cnoüs and this is like an asylum for people who can’t stop thinking about it,” I said. “It’s not for everyone, but it’s harmless.”

“Since the Third Sack anyway,” Rosk said.

That he said it so innocently made it ten times as rude as it was to begin with. I saw Cord’s face flush, and guessed she’d probably have words with him after dinner. It was anyone’s guess whether he’d ever really understand why it was such an abhorrent thing to say.

People were shushing us because we had reached that part of the aut where the newcomers were presented at the high table.

Eight foundlings had been Collected. One was sickly and would stay in the Unarian math where it would be easier for the physicians to keep an eye on her. Two of them still had the stumps of their umbilical cords attached, which meant that they were destined for the Millenarian math, by way of a brief sojourn among the Hundreders. We would pass them along via our upper labyrinth. The remaining five were a little bit older, and so would be passed to the Hundreders.

Thirty-six youngsters were to be Collected. Seventeen of these, including Barb, would come directly to our math. The others would stay with the One-offs, at least at first. With any luck, some of them might graduate to our math later.

Twelve of the One-offs had decided to graduate to our math. Nine more had arrived from another, smaller concent in the mountains that acted as a feeder to ours.

All of these were brought up before the high table, welcomed, and applauded. Tomorrow, after the gate closed, we would celebrate their arrival in a much more tedious ceremony. Tonight was the time for the extramuros authorities to supply their own special brand of tedium. By ancient tradition, the highest-ranking Panjandrum present at this dinner was supposed to stand up and formally hand the newcomers over to us. At that moment, they passed out of Sæcular, and into mathic jurisdiction. We became responsible for housing them and feeding them, caring for them when they ailed, burying them when they died, and punishing them when they misbehaved. It was as if they ceased in this moment to be citizens of one country and became citizens of another. It was, in other words, a big deal from a legal standpoint, and it had to be solemnized by the speaking of certain oaths and the ringing of a bell. And there was an almost as ancient tradition that the official in question would use it as an excuse to “deliver some remarks.”

This turned out to be the rope-draped oddity who had appeared at the Decade Gate with his contingent on the first morning of Apert. He was, as it turned out, the mayor.

After thanking everyone from God on down and then back up to God again, and then, as a precaution, tacking on a blanket thank-you for any persons or supernatural beings he had left out, he began: “Even those of you who live at Saunt Edhar must be aware by now that the extraordinary re-configuration of prefectural boundaries mandated by the Eleventh Circle of Arch-Magistrates has literally transformed the political landscape. The Plenary Council of the Recovered Satrapies has passed through a tipping point of no return, placing five of the eight Tetrarchies within the grasp of a new generation of leaders who I can promise you will be far more sensitive than their predecessors to the values and priorities of New Counterbazian constituencies and our many friends who may belong to other Arks, or even to no Ark at all, but who share our concerns…”

“If there are eight of them, why are they called Tetrarchs?” Orolo demanded, drawing an exasperated look from Jesry’s father, who had been listening intently—he was taking notes.

“There were four of them originally and the name stuck,” Arsibalt said.

Jesry’s father seemed to relax a bit, thinking that the interruption was over. But we were just beginning.

“What’s a New Counterbazian?” Lio wanted to know. Jesry’s brother shushed him. To my surprise Jesry rose to Lio’s defense. “We didn’t tell you to shut up when you were bellowing about your infestation.”

“Yes you did.”

“I’ll bet it’s a euphemism for one of those Warden of Heaven nut jobs,” I said to Lio. This brought a cataract of shushing down on me. Jesry’s father sighed as if he could thereby rise above all of this, and cupped a hand to his ear, but it was too late; we’d planted a branching tree of arguments and recriminations. The mayor was going on and on about the beauty of our clock, the majesty of our Mynster, and the magnificent singing of the fraas and suurs. At no point did he say anything that was not as sugary as words could be, and yet the feeling I got was one of foreboding, as if he were urging all of his constituents to mass before our gates with bottles of gasoline. The argument between Jesry and his brother decayed into sporadic sniper fire across the table, suppressed by glares and arm-squeezings from exasperated females who had wordlessly squared up into a peacekeeping force. Jesry’s brother had decided that with our hair-splitting debates about how many Tetrarchs there were, we’d shown ourselves to be a lot of insignificant pedants. Jesry informed him that this was an iconography that dated back to before the founding of the city-state of Ethras.

In some eerily quiet way that he must have learned from a book of Vale-lore, Lio had vanished. Strangely for one who studied fighting so much, he hated conflict.

I waited until the bell had rung to induct the newcomers, then excused myself and walked out during the standing ovation. I felt like getting some fresh air. By tradition, the revelry would wind down and the cleanup gather momentum until the gates closed at dawn, so it was unlikely I’d miss much.

The meadow was lit partly by the harvest moon and partly by light diffusing through the skirts of the great canopy, which, when I turned around to look back on it, looked like an enormous straw-colored moon half sunk into a dark sea. Lio was silhouetted against it. He was moving in an odd, dance-like fashion, which for him was hardly unusual. One end of his bolt was modesty-wrapped, but the other was all over the place—flinging out like a bucket of suds, then wafting down for a few moments only to be snapped back and regathered: the same thing he’d been practicing on the statue of Saunt Froga. It was strangely fascinating to watch. I was not his only spectator: a few visitors had gathered around him. Bulky men. Four of them. All wearing the same color. Numbers on their backs.

Lio’s bolt slapped down on top of Number 86 and draped him, making him look like a ghost. The lower part was all in a thrash as he flailed his arms to throw it off. His head was a stationary knob at the top—hence a fine target for the ball of Lio’s foot, which was delivered in a perfectly executed flying kick.

I started running toward them.

86 went down backwards. Lio’s momentum carried him to the same place. He used 86’s torso to cushion his landing, and rolled off smartly, staying low like a spider and snapping his bolt free. 79 was coming in high. Lio spun clear of the line of attack and in so doing got his bolt around 79’s knees. Then he stood up, bringing 79’s knees with him; 79’s face dove at the ground and he didn’t get his arms up—excuse me, down—fast enough to avoid getting a mouthful of turf. For just a moment after Lio spiraled his bolt loose, 79 remained poised upside-down with his legs splayed. Lio absent-mindedly rammed his elbow down into the vee as he turned to see who was next.

Answer: Number 23, running right at him. Lio turned and ran away. But not very fast. 23 gained on him. It was his fate to step on Lio’s bolt, which was dragging behind Lio on the grass. This demolished his gait, which had been clumsy to begin with. Lio sensed it—as how could he not, since the other end of that bolt was lashed around his crotch. He whirled and yanked. 23 somehow remained on his feet, but the price he paid for doing so was that he ended up staggering, bent forward at the waist, leading with his head. Lio planted a foot in his path, got a hand on the back of 23’s head, and used the other’s momentum to flip him over his knee. 23 didn’t know how to fall. He came down hard on his shoulder and pivoted around that to a hard landing on his back. I knew what was coming next: Lio would follow with a “death blow” to the exposed throat. And that is just what he did; but he pulled it, as he always had with me, and refrained from staving in the man’s windpipe.

One remained. And I do mean one, for he had a large numeral 1 on his back. This was the man with his arm in a sling. With his good arm, he had been been rummaging through the pockets of the fallen 86. He found what he had been looking for and stood up, holding something that I was pretty sure was a gun.

His spine-clamp exploded in light, flashing alternately red and blue. He uttered a common profanity. He dropped the gun and collapsed. Every muscle in his body had lost tone in the same instant, jammed by signals from the clamp. All four of the attackers were down now, and the meadow was quiet except for the plaintive warbling of their jeejahs.

A solitary person, somewhere nearby, began clapping. I assumed it was a sline who’d had too much to drink. But looking toward the sound, I was surprised to see a hooded figure in a bolt. He kept shouting an ancient Orth word that meant “hail, huzzah, well done.”

Stalking toward this fraa, I shouted, “I hope you’re stinking drunk, because if not, you’re an idiot. He could have gotten killed. And even if you really are that big of a jerk—don’t you know there’s a couple of Inquisitors skulking around?”

“It’s okay, one of them skulked out to get away from that idiotic speech,” the fraa said.

He pulled back his hood to reveal that he was Varax of the Inquisition.

I can’t guess what my face looked like, but I can tell you that the sight of it was the most entertaining thing Varax had seen in a long time. He tried not to show it too much. “It never ceases to amaze me, what people think of us and why we’re here,” he said. “Will you please forget about this. It is nothing.” He looked up at the top of the Præsidium. “Larger matters are at stake than whether a young fraa at the remote hermitage of Saunt Edhar practices his vlor on some local runagates. For God’s sake,” he continued (which sounded funny to me since few of us believed in God, and he didn’t seem like one of them; but maybe it was just an oath used by cosmopolitan people in the sorts of places where our concent was thought of as a “remote hermitage”). “For God’s sake, raise your sights. Think bigger—the way you were doing this morning. The way your friend, there, does when he decides to tackle four larger men.” And with that Varax drew his hood back over his head and walked back toward the canopy.

He passed the Warden Fendant and the Warden Regulant hurrying the other way. The two of them parted and stood aside to let him pass. Each nodded and uttered some term of respect that no one had ever bothered to teach me.

Both of the Wardens were looking rather tightly wound. In ordinal time, the boundary between their jurisdictions was clear: it was the top of the wall. During Apert, things became complicated as the wall ceased to exist for ten days.

Suur Trestanas was for throwing the Book at Lio. Fraa Delrakhones was satisfied with how things had come out, with a few quibbles: when Lio had noticed the four slines sneaking out the back, he ought to have alerted someone instead of going out to confront them himself.

“Well, is that an offense or isn’t it?” demanded Suur Trestanas.

“It is an overlookable offense, as far as I am concerned,” said Delrakhones, “but I’m not the Warden Regulant.”

“Well, I am,” said Suur Trestanas unnecessarily, “and for one of our fraas to be brawling, during Apert, when he’s supposed to be welcoming newcomers and busing tables, strikes me as something that could even lead to being Thrown Back.”

This was such an outrageous thing to say that I spoke immediately—as if Lio’s impulsiveness had jumped like a spark into my head. “If I were you, I’d run that by Inquisitor Varax before taking it any further,” I said.

Trestanas turned and looked at me, head to toe, as if she’d never seen me before. And perhaps she hadn’t. “The amount of private time you are spending with our honored guests is remarkable. Extraordinary.”

“And accidental, I promise you.” But Suur Trestanas was—I realized too late—jealous of me for this. Almost as if she pined to be in a liaison with Varax and Onali, but they had a crush on me. And she’d never believe that my encounters with them had been mere accidents. You didn’t get to be Warden Regulant by believing such things.

“It is obvious that you have no conception of the power that the Inquisition may wield over us.”

“Uh, not true. They may put the concent on probation for up to one hundred years, during which time our diet will be restricted to the basics—nutritional but not so interesting. If we haven’t mended our ways after a century they can come in and clean the place out top to bottom. And they have the power to fire any hierarch and replace him or…her…with…a new one of their choosing…” I was faltering because my brain—too late—was working through the implications. I had only been spewing back what Arsibalt had told me earlier in the day. But to Trestanas it would, of course, sound like a taunt.

“Maybe you think that Saunt Edhar’s current hierarchs are not handling their responsibilities well,” Suur Trestanas proposed, too calmly. “Perhaps Delrakhones—or Statho—or I—ought to be replaced?”

“I have never thought anything of the sort!” I said, and bit my tongue before I could add until now.

“Then why all of these secret assignations with the Inquisitors? You are the only non-hierarch who has spoken to them at all—and now you have done so twice, both times under circumstances that were extraordinarily private.”

“This is crazy,” I said, “this is crazy.”

“More is at stake than a boy of your age can comprehend. Your naivete—combined with your refusal to admit just how naive you are—imposes risks on us all. I am throwing the Book at you.”

“No!” I couldn’t believe it.

“Chapters One through…er…oh…Five.

“You have got to be kidding!”

“I believe you know what to do,” she said, and looked across the meadow to the Mynster.

“Fine. Fine. Chapters One through Five,” I repeated, and turned toward the canopy.

“Halt,” Suur Trestanas said.

I halted.

“The Mynster is that way,” she said, sounding amused. “You seem to be going the wrong direction.”

“My sib and my cousin are in there. I just need to go and explain to them that I have to leave.”

“The Mynster,” she repeated, “is in that direction.”

“I can’t do five chapters before sunrise,” I pointed out. “The gates are going to be closed when I come out of that cell. I have to say goodbye to my family.”

Have to? Curious choice of words. Let me bring you up to date on semantics, since you who worship at Hylaea’s feet are so keen on such things. You have to go to the Mynster. You want to say goodbye to your family. The whole point of being a fraa is to be free of those wants that enslave people who live extramuros. I am doing you the favor of forcing you to make a choice now, in this instant. If you want to see your family so badly, go see them—and keep on walking, right out the gate, and don’t ever come back. If you will remain here, you have to walk straight to the Mynster now.”

I looked for Lio, hoping he might convey a message to Cord and Dath, but he was some distance away now, recounting the fight to Delrakhones, and anyway I didn’t want to give Suur Trestanas the additional pleasure of telling me I couldn’t.

So I turned my back on what remained of my family and started walking toward the Mynster.

Part 3

ELIGER

Boredom is a mask that frustration wears. What better place to savor the truth of Fraa Orolo’s saying than a penance cell of the Warden Regulant? Some cunning architect had designed these things to be to frustration what a lens was to light. My cell did not have a door. All that stood between me and freedom was a narrow arch, shaped in the pointed ogive of the Old Mathic Age, framed in massive stones all scratched with graffiti by prisoners of yore. I was forbidden to stray through it or to receive visitors until the penance was complete. The arch opened onto the inner walkway that made the circuit of the Warden Regulant’s court. It was trafficked at all hours by lesser hierarchs wandering by on one errand or another. I could look straight out across that walkway into the vault-work of the upper chancel, but because of its parapet I could not see down to the floor two hundred feet below where Provener was celebrated. I could hear the music. I could gaze straight out and see the chain moving when my team wound the clock and the bell-ropes dancing when Tulia’s team rang changes. But I could not see the people.

On the opposite side of the cell, my view was better. Framed in another Mathic arch was a window affording a fine view of the meadow. This was just another device to magnify frustration and hence boredom, since, if I wanted, I could spend all day looking down on my brothers and sisters strolling at liberty around the concent and (I supposed) discussing all sorts of interesting things, or at least telling funny stories. Above, the Warden Fendant’s overhanging ledge blocked most of the sky, but I could see to about twenty degrees above the horizon. My window faced roughly toward the Century Gate, with the Decade Gate visible off to the right if I put my face close to the glass. So when the sun rose the morning after Tenth Night, I was able to hear the close-of-Apert service. Looking out my cell’s doorway, I could see the chains move as the water-valves were actuated. Then by stepping across the cell and looking out my window I was able to see a silver thread of water negotiate the aqueduct to the Decade Gate, and to watch the gate grind closed. Only a few spectators were strewn about extramuros. For a little while I tortured myself with the idea that Cord was standing there forlornly expecting me to run out at the last moment and give her a goodbye hug. But such ideas faded quickly once the gates closed. I watched the avout take down the canopy and fold up the tables. I ate the piece of bread and drank the bowl of milk left at my door by one of Suur Trestanas’s minions.

Then I turned my attention to the Book.

Since the sole purpose of the Book was to punish its readers, the less said of it the better. To study it, to copy it out, and to memorize it was an extraordinary form of penance.

The concent, like any other human settlement, abounded in nasty or tedious chores such as weeding gardens, maintaining sewers, peeling potatoes, and slaughtering animals. In a perfect society we’d have taken turns. As it was, there were rules and codes of conduct that people broke from time to time, and the Warden Regulant saw to it that those people performed the most disagreeable jobs. It was not a bad system. When you were fixing a clogged latrine because you’d had too much to drink in the Refectory, you might not have such an enjoyable day, but the fact of the matter was that latrines were necessary; sometimes they clogged up; and some fraa or suur had to clean them out, as we couldn’t very well call in an outside plumber. So there was at least some satisfaction in doing such penance, because there was a point in the work.

There was no point at all to the Book, which is what made it an especially dreaded form of penance. It contained twelve chapters. Like the scale used to measure earthquakes, these got exponentially worse as they went on, so Chapter Six was ten times as bad as Chapter Five, and so on. Chapter One was just a taste, meted out to delinquent children, and usually completed in an hour or two. Two meant at least one overnight stay, though any self-respecting troublemaker could bang it out in a day. Five typically meant a stay of several weeks. Any sentence of Chapter Six or higher could be appealed to the Primate and then to the Inquisition. Chapter Twelve amounted to a sentence of life at hard labor in solitary confinement; only three avout had finished it in 3690 years, and all of them were profoundly insane.

Beyond about Six, the punishment could span years. Many chose to leave the concent rather than endure it. Those who stuck it out were changed when they emerged: subdued, and notably diminished. Which might sound crazy, because there was nothing to it other than copying out the required chapters, memorizing them, and then answering questions about them before a panel of hierarchs. But the contents of the Book had been crafted and refined over many centuries to be nonsensical, maddening, and pointless: flagrantly at first, more subtly as the chapters progressed. It was a maze without an exit, an equation that after weeks of toil reduced to 2 = 3. Chapter One was a page of nursery-rhymes salted with nonsense-words that almost rhymed—but not quite. Chapter Four was five pages of the digits of pi. Beyond that, however, there was no further randomness in the Book, since it was easy to memorize truly random things once you taught yourself a few tricks—and everyone who’d made it through Chapter Four knew the tricks. Much harder to memorize and to answer questions about were writings that almost but did not quite make sense; that had internal logic, but only to a point. Such things cropped up naturally in the mathic world from time to time—after all, not everyone had what it took to be a Saunt. After their authors had been humiliated and Thrown Back, these writings would be gone over by the Inquisition, and, if they were found to be the right kind of awful, made even more so, and folded into later and more wicked editions of the Book. To complete your sentence and be granted permission to walk out of your cell, you had to master them just as thoroughly as, say, a student of quantum mechanics must know group theory. The punishment lay in knowing that you were putting all of that effort into letting a kind of intellectual poison infiltrate your brain to its very roots. It was more humiliating than you might imagine, and after I’d been toiling on Chapter Five for a couple of weeks I had no difficulty in seeing how one who completed a sentence of, say, Chapter Nine would emerge permanently damaged.

Enough of the Book. A more interesting question: why was I here? It seemed that Suur Trestanas wanted me removed from the community for as long as the Inquisitors were among us. Chapter Three wouldn’t have taken me long enough. Four might have done it, but she’d given me Five just in case I happened to be one of those persons who was good at memorizing numbers.

The dawn aut—which was attended only by a smattering of avout who were especially fond of ceremonies—woke me every morning. I snapped my bolt off the wooden pallet that was the cell’s only furniture and wrapped it around myself. I pissed down a hole in the floor and washed in a stone basin of cold water, ate my bread and drank my milk, set the empty dishes by the door, sat on the floor, and arranged the Book, a pen, a bottle of ink, and some leaves on the surface of the pallet. My sphere served as a rest for my right elbow. I worked for three hours, then did something else, just to clear my head, until Provener. Then, during the whole time that Lio and Jesry and Arsibalt were winding the clock, I was doing pushups, squats, and lunges. My team were working harder and getting stronger because of my absence, and I didn’t want to be weak when I emerged.

My teammates must have somehow figured out which cell I was in, for after Provener they’d have a picnic lunch in the meadow right beneath my window. They didn’t dare look up or wave to me—Trestanas must be glaring down at them, just waiting for such a mistake—but they’d begin each lunch by hoisting tankards of beer in someone’s honor and quaffing deeply. I got the message.

Plenty of ink and leaves were available, so I began to write down the account you have been reading. As I did so, I became haunted by the idea that there was some pattern woven through the last few weeks’ events that I had failed to notice. I put this down to the altered state of mind that comes over a solitary prisoner with nothing to keep him company save the Book.

One day about two weeks into my penance, my morning work-shift was interrupted by strange bells. Through my door I could see a stretch of the bell-ropes that ran from the ringers’ balcony up toward the carillon. I moved round to the other side of the pallet, turning my back to the window, so that I could observe the jerking and recoiling of those ropes. All avout were supposed to be able to decode the changes. I had never been especially good at it. The tones melted together in my ears and I could not shape them into patterns. But watching the movements of the ropes somehow made it easier; for such work my eyes were better suited than my ears. I could see the way in which a given rope’s movement was conditioned by what its neighbors had done on the previous beats. In a minute or two, without having to ask anyone’s help, I was able to recognize this as the call to Eliger. One of my crop was about to join an order.

After the changes were rung, half an hour passed before the aut began, and it was another half an hour of singing and chanting before I heard Statho intone the name of Jesry. This was followed by the singing of the Canticle of Inbrase. The singing was vigorous but rough around the edges—so I knew it was the Edharians who were inducting him. During all of that time, it was difficult for me to concentrate on the Book, and afterwards I could get very little done until after Provener.

The next day those changes rang again. Two more joined the Edharians and one—Ala—joined the New Circle. No surprise there. We’d always expected her to end up as a hierarch. For some reason, though, this one kept me awake late into the night. It was as if Ala had flown off to some other concent where I’d never see her again, never get into another argument with her, never compete with her to see who could solve a theorics problem first. Which was absurd, since she was staying right here at Edhar and I’d be dining with her in the Refectory every day. But some part of my brain insisted on seeing Ala’s decision as a personal loss for me, and punished me by keeping me awake.

There was a little lesson hidden in the way I had deciphered the Eliger changes by seeing them. For as I continued to write out my account of the preceding weeks—all the while nagged by the sense that I was missing something—I eventually came to the part where I set down my conversation with Fraa Orolo on the starhenge, and his muffled argument with Trestanas immediately afterwards, down by the portcullis. As I wrote this, I looked out my window to the place where it had happened, and noted that the portcullis was closed—even though it was daytime. I also had a view of the Centenarians’ portcullis. It too was closed. Both of them had been closed the whole time I’d been here. With each day that went by I became more and more certain that the starhenge had been altogether sealed off, and had been from the very moment that the Master of the Keys had slammed the grate down behind me and Orolo on the eighth day of Apert. This closure of the starhenge—which I was pretty sure was unprecedented in the entire history of the Concent of Saunt Edhar—must have been the topic of the angry conversation between Orolo and Trestanas.

Was it too much of a stretch to think that the arrival of the Inquisitors, a couple of days later, had been no coincidence? Ours looked at the same sky as every other starhenge in the world. If ours had been closed—if there was something out there we weren’t supposed to see—the others must have been closed too. The order must have gone out over the Reticulum on the eighth day of Apert and been conveyed by the Ita, to Suur Trestanas; at the same moment, I reckoned, Varax and Onali had begun their journey to the “remote hermitage” of Saunt Edhar.

All of which made a kind of sense but did nothing at all to help me with the most perplexing and important question: why would they want to close the starhenge? It was the last part of the concent one would ever expect the hierarchs to concern themselves with. Their duty was to preserve the Discipline by preventing the flow of Sæcular information to the minds of the avout. The information that came in through the starhenge was by nature timeless. Much of it was billions of years old. What passed for current events might be a dust storm on a rocky planet or a vortex fluctuation on a gas giant. What could possibly be seen from the starhenge that would be considered as Sæcular?

Like a fraa who wakes in his cell in the hours before dawn smelling smoke, and who knows from this that a slow fire must have been smoldering and gathering heat for many hours while he slumbered in oblivion, I felt not only alarm but also shame at my own slowness.

It didn’t help that Eliger was being celebrated almost every day now. For the last year or so, I’d sensed myself falling slowly behind some of the others in theorics and cosmography. At times I’d resigned myself to joining a non-Edharian order and becoming a hierarch. Then, immediately before Trestanas had thrown the Book at me, I’d made up my mind to angle for a place among the Edharians and devote myself to exploring the Hylaean Theoric World. Instead of which, I was stuck in this room reading nonsense while the others raced even further ahead of me—and filled up the available spaces in the Edharian chapter. Technically there was no limit—no quota. But if the Edharians got more than ten or a dozen new avout at the expense of the others, there’d be trouble. Thirty years ago, when Orolo had come in, they’d recruited fourteen, and people were still talking about it.

One afternoon, just after Provener, the bell team began to ring changes. I assumed at first that it was Eliger again. For by that time, five had joined the Edharians, three the New Circle, and one the Reformed Old Faanians. But some deep part of my brain nagged me with the sense that these were changes I had not heard before.

Once more I set down my pen—wishing I’d been given this penance in less interesting times—and sat where I could watch the ropes. Within a few minutes I knew for certain that this was not Eliger. My chest clenched up for a few moments as I worried that it was Anathem. It was over, though, before I could make sense of it. So I sat motionless for half an hour listening to the naves fill up. It was a big crowd—all of the avout in all of the maths had stopped whatever they’d been doing and come here. They were all talking. They sounded excited. I couldn’t make out a word. But I sensed from their tone that something momentous was about to happen. In spite of my fears, I slowly convinced myself it could not be Anathem. People would not be talking so much if they had gathered to watch one of their number be Thrown Back.

The service began. There was no music. I could make out the Primate speaking familiar phrases in Old Orth: a formal summoning of the concent. Then he switched to New Orth, and read out some formula that by its nature had to have been written around the time of the Reconstitution. At the end of it he called out distinctly: “Voco Fraa Paphlagon of the Centenarian Chapter of the Order of Saunt Edhar.”

So this was the aut of Voco. It was only the third one I’d ever heard. The first two had occurred when I’d been about ten years old.

As I absorbed that, a gasp and then a deep moan welled up from the floor of the chancel: the gasp, I reckoned, from most of the avout, and the moan from the Hundreders who were losing their brother forever.

And now I did something crazy, but I knew I could get away with it: I stepped over the threshold of my cell. I crossed the walkway, and looked over the railing.

Only three people were in the chancel: Statho in his purple robes and Varax and Onali, identifiable by their hats. The rest of the place, hidden behind the screens, was in an uproar that had stopped the aut.

I’d only meant to peek over the rail for an instant so that I could see what was going on. But I had not been struck by lightning. No alarm had sounded. No one was up here. They couldn’t possibly be here, I realized, because Voco had rung, and everyone had to gather in the Mynster for that—had to because there was no way of knowing in advance whose name would be called.

Come to think of it, I was probably supposed to be down there! Voco must be one of the few exceptions to the rule that someone like me must remain in his cell.

Then why hadn’t the Warden Regulant’s staff come and rousted me? It had probably been an oversight, I reckoned. They didn’t have procedures for this. If they were like me, they hadn’t even recognized the changes. They hadn’t realized it was Voco until it had started—and then it had been too late for them to come up and fetch me. They were stuck down there until it was over.

They were stuck down there until it was over.

I was free to move about, at least for a little while, as long as I was back in my cell when the Warden Regulant and her staff trudged back up here. Whereupon I’d be in trouble anyway for having ignored Voco! So why not get in trouble for something that people would be talking about in the Refectory fifty years from now?

All of those exercises I’d been doing were going to pay off. I tore around the walkway, took the stairs up through the Fendant court three at a time, and so came into the lower reaches of the chronochasm. Here I had to move with greater care so as not to clatter and bang on the metal stairs. But by the same token I had a clear view down, so I could keep track of what was going on. Nothing had changed that I could see, but a new sound was rising up the well: the hymn of mourning and farewell, addressed by the Hundreders to their departing brother. This had taken a little while to get underway. No one had it memorized. They’d had to rummage for rarely-used hymnals and page through them looking for the right bit. Then it took them a minute to get the hang of it, for this was a five-part harmony. By the time the hymn really fell together and began to work, I was halfway to the starhenge—clambering up behind the dials of the clock, trying to stay collected, trying to move as Lio would, and not let the end of my bolt get caught between gears. The song of mourning and farewell was really hair-raising—even more emotional, somehow, than what we sang at funerals. Of course I had not the faintest idea who Fraa Paphlagon was, what he was like, or what he studied. But those who were singing did, and part of the power of this music was that it made me feel what they felt.

And—given that Fraa Paphlagon and I were both striking out alone for unknown territory—perhaps I felt a little of what he felt.

The main floor of the starhenge was just above my head now—I’d come up against the inward curve of the vault that spanned the top of the Præsidium and supported all that rested on its top. A few shafts penetrated the stonework, delivering power to the polar drives. A stair spiraled around the largest of these. I ran to the top of it and rested my hand on a door latch. Before passing through, I looked down to check the progress of the aut. The door through the Centenarians’ screen had been opened. Fraa Paphlagon stepped out into the middle and stood there alone. The door closed behind him.

At the same moment I opened the door to the starhenge. Daylight flooded through. I cringed. How could this possibly go unnoticed?

Calm down, I told myself, only four people are in the well where they can see this. And all eyes are on Fraa Paphlagon.

Looking down one more time, I discovered a flaw in that logic. All eyes were on Fraa Paphlagon—except for Fraa Paphlagon’s! He had chosen this moment to tilt his head back and gaze straight up. And why not? It was the last time he would ever look on this place. If I’d been in his situation, I’d have done the same.

I could not read his facial expression at this distance. But he must have seen the light flooding through the open door.

He stood frozen for a moment, thinking, then slowly lowered his gaze to face Statho. “I, Fraa Paphlagon, answer your call,” he said—the first line in a litany that would go on for another minute or two.

I passed onto the starhenge and closed the door softly behind me.

I had been expecting that everything would be filmed with dust and speckled with bird droppings—Orolo’s fids spent an inordinate amount of time up here keeping things clean. But it wasn’t too bad. Someone must have been coming up here to look after it.

I came to the windowless blockhouse that served as laboratory, passed through its light-blocking triple doors, and fetched a photomnemonic tablet, blanked and wrapped in a dust jacket.

What image should I record on it? I had no clue what it was that the hierarchs didn’t want us to see, so I had no way of knowing where I should aim a telescope.

Actually, I had a pretty good idea what it must be: a large asteroid headed in our direction. That was the only thing I could imagine that would account for the closure of the starhenge. But this didn’t help me. I couldn’t take a picture of such a rock unless I aimed Mithra and Mylax directly at it, which was impossible unless I knew its orbital elements to a high degree of precision. To say nothing of the fact that aiming the big telescope in these circumstances would draw everyone’s attention.

But there was another instrument that didn’t need to be aimed, because it couldn’t move: Clesthyra’s Eye. I started jogging toward the Pinnacle as soon as this idea entered my head.

As I climbed the spiral stair, I had plenty of time to review all of the reasons that this was unlikely to work. Clesthyra’s Eye could see half of the universe, from horizon to horizon, it was true. The fixed stars showed up as circular streaks, owing to the rotation of Arbre on its axis. Fast-moving objects showed up as straight paths of light. But the track made by even a large asteroid would be vanishingly faint, and not very long.

By the time I’d reached the top of the Pinnacle, I’d put these quibbles out of my mind. This was the only tool I had. I had to give it a try. Later I’d sort through the results and see what I could see.

Beneath the fisheye lens was a slot carved to the exact dimensions of the tablet in my hand. I broke the seal on the dust jacket, reached in, and got my palm under the opaque base of the tablet. I drew off the dust jacket. The wind tore it out of my grip and slapped it against the wall, just out of reach. The tablet was a featureless disk, like the blank used for grinding a telescope mirror, but darker—as if cast in obsidian. When I activated its remembrance function, its bottom-most layer turned the same color as the sun, for that was the origin of all the light now striking the tablet’s surface. Because the tablet was out in the open with no lenses or mirrors to organize the light coming into it, it could not form an image of anything it saw—not of the bleak winter sun lobbing across the southern sky, not of the icy clouds high in the north, and not of my face.

But that was about to change, and so before doing anything else I drew my bolt over my head and shaped it into a long dark tunnel. If this precaution actually turned out to be necessary—that is, if this tablet ever found its way to the Warden Regulant—I’d probably be found out anyway. But as long as I was up to something sneaky, I felt an obligation to do a proper job of it.

I introduced the tablet into the slot below the Eye and slid it home, then closed the dust cover behind it. It would now record everything the Eye saw—beginning with a distorted image of my bolt-covered backside scurrying out of view—until it filled up, which at its current settings would take a couple of months.

Then I’d have to come back up here and retrieve it—a small problem I had not even begun to think about.

As I was descending the Pinnacle, thinking about this, something big and loud and fast clattered across the empty space between me and the Millenarians’ crag. It scared the life out of me. It was a thousand feet away, but it felt as immediate as a slap in the face. In tracking its progress, I sacrificed my balance and had to collapse my legs to avoid toppling from the rail-less stair. It was a type of aerocraft that could rotate its stubby wings and turn into a two-bladed helicopter. It made a slicing downward arc, as if using the Mynster as a pylon, and settled into a steep glide path aimed at the plaza before the Day Gate. My view of this was blocked from here, so I rose carefully to my feet, ran down to the base of the Pinnacle, then sprinted across the lid of the starhenge. Realizing that I was about to hurl myself from the Præsidium—something I no longer cared to do—I aimed myself at one of the megaliths, put on the brakes, and stopped myself by slamming into it with my hands. Then I peered around its corner just in time to see the aerocraft—rotors now pointed up—settling in for a landing on the plaza. The rotor wash made visible patterns in the surface of the pond and splayed the twin fountains.

A few moments later, two purple-robed figures came into view, having just emerged from the Day Gate. Varax and Onali stripped off their hats so that the wind from the rotors wouldn’t do it for them. Two paces behind was Fraa Paphlagon, leaning forward into the hurricane and hugging himself, clawing up handfuls of wayward bolt so that he wouldn’t be stripped nude. Varax and Onali paused flanking the aerocraft’s door and turned back to look at him. Each extended an arm and they helped Paphlagon clamber inside. Then they piled in behind him. Some automatic mechanism pulled the hatch closed even as the rotors were spinning up and the aerocraft beginning to lose its grip on the plaza. Then the pilot rammed the throttles home and the thing jumped fifty feet into the air in a few heartbeats. The wings tilted. It took on some forward velocity and accelerated up and away over the pond and the burgers’ town, then banked away to the west.

It was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen and I couldn’t wait to talk about it in the Refectory with my friends.

Then I remembered that I was an escaped prisoner.

By the time I got into the chronochasm, Voco was long since over. The sound of voices still crowded the well, but it was dwindling rapidly as the naves emptied. Most were leaving the Mynster but some would ascend the stairs in the corner towers to resume their work in the Wardens’ courts. I banged and clanged in my haste. As I got lower, though, I had to be more judicious in my movements in spite of the fear that the quickest of the climbers would get there before I could.

The first ones up were two young hierarchs on the Warden Fendant’s staff who were climbing as fast as they could in the hope that they could get to their balcony and catch a glimpse of the aerocraft before it flew out of sight. I reached the Fendant court from above just before they reached it from below. Caught on the walkway, I looked for a place to hide. This level of the Mynster was cluttered with things that only a Warden Fendant could think of as ornaments: mostly, busts and statues of dead heroes. The most awful of these was a life-sized bronze of Amnectrus, who had been the Warden Fendant at the moment of the Third Sack. He was depicted in the pose where he’d spent the last twenty hours of his life, kneeling behind a parapet peering through the optics of a rifle that was as long as he was tall. Amnectrus was cast in bronze but the rifle and the lake of spent shell-casings in which he was immersed were actual relics. The pedestal was his sarcophagus. I dove behind it. The two fleet-footed ones sprinted down the walkway, headed for the west side of the balcony. They passed right by me. I got up, took the long way round to avoid any more such, and plunged down the steps to the Regulant court. I dove to the floor behind the half-wall that ran around the walkway, then levered myself up to hands and knees. In that attitude I scurried round until I found my cell. I’d never thought I’d be happy to see the place.

Now there was only the small problem that I was streaming with sweat, my chest was heaving, my heart was throbbing like the rotors of that aerocraft, I had abrasions on my knees and palms, and was trembling with exhaustion and nervousness. There was only so much I could do. I used some blank leaves to wipe sweat from my face, drew my bolt around me to cover as much as I could, and arranged myself on my sphere before my window, back to the doorway, as if I’d been gazing out at the scene below. Then it was just a matter of trying to control my breathing as I waited for the moment when someone from the Warden Regulant’s staff came to look in on me.

“Fraa Erasmas?”

I turned around. It was Suur Trestanas—looking a bit flushed herself from the climb.

She stepped into the cell. I had not spoken to her since Tenth Night. She seemed oddly normal and human now—as if we were just two cordial acquaintances having a chat.

“Mm-hmm?” I said, afraid to say more in case my voice would sound funny.

“Do you have any idea what just happened?”

“It’s difficult to make out from here. It sounded almost like Voco.”

“It was Voco,” she said, “and you should have been there.”

I attempted to look aghast. Maybe this was easy given the state I was in. Or maybe she wanted me to be aghast so badly that she was easily fooled. Anyway, she let a few moments go by so that I could twist in the wind. Then she said: “I’m not going to throw the Book at you, not this time, even though it is technically a serious offense.”

Besides which, I thought, you’d have to give me Chapter Six—which I could appeal—and you don’t want to have to defend that.

“Thank you, Suur Trestanas,” I said. “In the unlikely event that we have another Voco while I’m here, should I go down for it?”

“That is correct,” she said, “and view it from behind the Primate’s screen. Return here immediately afterward.”

“Unless it’s I whose name gets called,” I said.

She wasn’t looking for humor in this situation and so this only flustered her. Then she was annoyed at having become flustered. “How are you progressing on Chapter Five?” she asked.

“I hope I’ll be ready for examination in one or two weeks,” I said.

Then I wondered how I was going to retrieve that tablet from Clesthyra’s Eye and sneak it out of here in that amount of time.

Suur Trestanas actually showed me the beginnings of a smile before she took her leave. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the two Inquisitors had just left, and whatever strange motivation lay behind her throwing the Book at me had departed along with them. Anyway, I got the idea that for all intents and purposes my punishment was finished now, and the rest was just a formality. This made me most impatient to get on with it. During the rest of the day I made more progress on Chapter Five than I had in the previous week.

The next day Eliger rang again. Two more joined the Edharians, two the New Circle, and again the Reformed Old Faanians came up with nothing.

One of the names called out for the New Circle was Lio. I was astonished by this, and wondered for a time if I’d heard it right. It’s difficult to say why, because it made perfect sense. Lio was an obvious candidate for Warden Fendant. His fight with the slines on Tenth Night must have impressed Fraa Delrakhones to no end. Working for the Warden Fendant meant being a hierarch, and for some reason that was associated with being in the New Circle. So why did it surprise me? Because (as I figured out, lying awake on my pallet that night) Lio and I had been on the same Provener team for so long that I’d grown used to his being there, and had assumed that he and I and Jesry and Arsibalt would always be together in the same group. And I had believed that they shared these feelings and assumptions. But feelings can change, and I was beginning to see that they had been changing rapidly while I’d been up in this cell.

Two days later, Arsibalt joined the Reformed Old Faanians. It was just dumb luck that no one down below heard me yelling, “What!?” I could lie awake all night long if I pleased and no upsight would be forthcoming to explain this. The Reformed Old Faanians had been a dying order for almost as long as they’d been in existence.

The only thing for it was to get out of this cell. I gave up on daily exercise and stopped writing the journal and did nothing but study Chapter Five after that. By the time I gave word that I was ready to be examined, eleven had joined the Edharians, nine the New Circle, and six the Reformed Old Faanians. My options, assuming I still had any, were narrowing by the hour. In my gloomier moments I wondered if throwing the Book at me had been a sort of recruiting tactic on the part of Suur Trestanas—a way of forcing me to join some non-Edharian order and thereby pushing me down the path that would lead to my toiling in the Primate’s compound as a lesser hierarch, always under someone’s thumb. Ordinary fraas and suurs answered to no one except the Discipline. But hierarchs were in a chain of command: it was the price they paid for the powers they wielded.

My examination took place the next day, following an Eliger in which one more went to the New Circle and three to the Reformed Old Faanians. Of those, two were what Arsibalt had had in mind when he had spoken of floor-sweepings. One was unusually bright. Of my crop, only I and one other now remained. Since I hadn’t been writing names down, I probably would have lost track, by this point, of who the other one was—if not for the fact that it was Tulia.

The examiners numbered three. Suur Trestanas was not among them. At first I was relieved by this, then irritated. I had just sacrificed a month of my life doing this penance, and thrown away any chance I’d ever had of getting into the Order of Saunt Edhar. The least she could have done was show up.

They began by asking me some trick questions about Chapter Two in the hopes that I’d have rushed through it on the first day and then forgotten it. But I had anticipated this, and had spent a couple of hours reviewing the first three chapters the day before.

When I recited the 127th through 283rd digits of pi, the fight went out of them. We only spent two hours on Chapter Five. This was exceptionally lenient. But Eliger had pushed everything back to late in the day. We were nearing the solstice, so it got dark early, which made it seem even later. I could actually hear the examiners’ stomachs growling. The head of the panel was Fraa Spelikon, a hierarch in his seventh decade who’d been passed over for Warden Regulant in favor of Suur Trestanas. At the last minute he seemed to decide I hadn’t been grilled hard enough, and began putting up a fight. But I snapped out an answer to his first question, and the other two examiners said with their postures and their tones of voice that it was over. Spelikon snatched up his spectacles, held them in front of his face, and read something from an old leaf that said my penance was over and I was free to go.

Though it felt later, a whole hour remained before dinner. I asked if I could go back to my cell to collect some notes I had left there. Spelikon wrote out a pass giving me permission to remain in the Regulant court until the dinner hour.

I thanked them, took my leave, and walked around to my cell, waving my pass at any hierarchs who crossed my path. By the time I had reached my cell and pulled my journal out from beneath my pallet, an idea—which had not even existed thirty seconds earlier as I had bid goodbye to the examiners—had flourished inside my head and taken control of my brain. Why not sneak up to the starhenge right now and collect that tablet?

Of course my better sense prevailed. I wrapped my journal up in the free end of my bolt and walked out of that cell—forever, I hoped. Fifty paces down the walkway took me to the southwest corner, the head of the Tenners’ stair. A few fraas and suurs were passing up and down, getting ready for a change of guard at the Fendant court. I stood aside to make way for one who was on his way up. He was hooded, and not looking where he was going. Then my feet came into his view. He pulled his hood back to reveal a freshly shaved head. It was Lio.

There was so much to say that neither of us knew where to begin, so we just stared at each other and made incoherent sounds for a few moments. Which was probably just as well since I didn’t want to say anything in the Regulant court. “I’ll walk with you,” I said, and turned to fall in step alongside him.

“You have to talk to Tulia,” he muttered, as we were ascending to the Fendant court. “You have to talk to Orolo. You have to talk to everyone.”

“Going to your new job?”

“Delrakhones has me doing an internship. Hey, Raz, where the heck are you going?”

“The starhenge.”

“But that’s—” He grabbed my arm. “Hey, idiot, you could be Thrown Back!”

“It’s more important that I do this than that I not be Thrown Back,” I said. Which was pretty stupid, but I was feeling rebellious and not thinking very hard. “I’ll explain it to you later.”

I had led Lio off the inner walkway, which was too crowded for comfort, and out toward the periphery of the Fendant court as if we were going to stand on the ledge. Along the way we had to pass through a narrow arch. He made an after-you gesture. I stepped into the arch—and realized at the same instant that I’d just turned my back on him. By the time that had penetrated my brain, he had my arm wrapped up the wrong way. I had a choice: move, and spend the next two months with my arm in a sling, or not move. I chose not to move.

My tongue still worked. “Good to see you again, Thistlehead. First you get me in trouble—now this.”

“You got your own self in trouble. Now I’m going to make sure you don’t do it again.”

“Is this how they do things in the New Circle?”

“You shouldn’t even try to speak of how Eliger came out until you know what’s going on.”

“Well, if you’ll let go of me so I can get up to the starhenge, my next step will be the Refectory where I’ll get all the latest.”

“Look,” he said, and levered me around so that I could see back the way we had come. A hush had fallen over the stairs. I was half afraid we’d been seen. But then I saw a procession of black-clad figures in tall hats on their way up. They passed into the chasm above and began to clang on the ironwork.

“Huh,” I said, “no wonder it’s so clean up there.”

“You’ve been up there!?” Lio was so startled that he tightened his grip on me in a way that hurt.

“Let go! I promise I won’t go any farther up,” I said.

Lio released my arm. I slowly and judiciously got it arranged in a more human position before standing up to face him.

“What did you see?” Lio wanted to know.

“Nothing yet, but there’s a tablet up there I have to retrieve that might—might—give us a hint.”

He considered it. “That will be a challenging operation.”

“Is that a promise, Lio?”

“Just an observation.”

“Do those Ita go up there on some kind of a predictable schedule?”

Lio parted his lips to answer, then got a shrewd look on his face and said, “I’m not going to tell you that.” Then something occurred to him. “Look, I’m late.”

“Since when do you care about that?”

“A lot has changed. I have to go. Now. Talk to you later, okay?”

“Lio!”

He turned to look back at me. “What!?”

“Who was Fraa Paphlagon?”

“He taught Fraa Orolo half of what he knew.”

“Who taught him the other half?” I asked, but Lio was already gone. For a minute I stood there listening to the upward progress of the Ita, wondering whether they checked the equipment for tablets. Wondering where I could get myself an Ita disguise.

Then my stomach growled. As if it were wired directly to my feet, I headed for the Refectory.

It had been ten years and a couple of months since I had watched a moving picture, but I could still remember a kind of scene where a spaceman walks into a starport bar, or a steppe rider into a dusty saloon, and all goes silent for a few moments. That was how it was when I entered the Refectory.

I had arrived early—a mistake, since it gave me no way of controlling who I would sit with. A few of the Edharians had come early and staked out tables, but they glanced away from me when I tried to catch their eye. I got in the queue behind a couple of Edharian cosmographers, but they turned their backs on me and put on a show of discussing, with great intensity, some new proof that they had found in the ten years’ worth of books and journals that had been dumped on the threshold of the library at Apert.

It was the Reformed Old Faanians’ night to serve dinner. Arsibalt gave me an extra dollop of stew and shook my hand—the first warm greeting I had received. We agreed to talk later. He seemed happy.

I decided to sit down at an empty table and see what happened. Within a few minutes, fraas and suurs of the New Circle began to cluster around me, and each had some jovial remark to throw my way about my time in the cell.

After a quarter of an hour, Fraa Corlandin showed up cradling something old, dark, and crusty, like a mummified infant. He set it down on the table and peeled off some wrappings. It was an ancient firkin of wine. “From our chapterhouse to you, Fraa Erasmas,” he announced, in lieu of a greeting. “One who has endured extraordinary penance deserves an extraordinary libation. This won’t give you those weeks back. But it will help you forget everything about the Book!”

Corlandin was being a little bit clever. I was glad of it. Given his liaison with Suur Trestanas—which I assumed was still going on—this moment was bound to be awkward. The wine was both a kind gesture and a way of sliding past that awkwardness. Though as he fussed with the stopper I felt a little uneasy. Was this also meant to be a celebration of my joining their order?

Fraa Corlandin seemed to be reading my mind. “This is strictly to celebrate your freedom—not to encroach on it!” he said.

Someone else had fetched a wooden case and opened it to reveal a matched set of silver thimbles, each engraved with the crest of the New Circle. A fraa and a suur plucked these one by one from their velvet-lined niches and polished them with their bolts. Corlandin busied himself with the stopper, a brittle contraption of clay and beeswax, difficult to remove without shattering it and contaminating the wine. Just to watch Fraa Corlandin was to feel a link to a time when concents had been richer, classier, more well-endowed, and—though this made no sense at all—somehow older than they were now.

The cask was obviously made of Vrone oak, which meant that the wine inside of it had been made, in some other concent, from the juice of the library grape, and sent here to age.

The library grape had been sequenced by the avout of the Concent of the Lower Vrone in the days before the Second Sack. Every cell carried in its nucleus the genetic sequences, not just of a single species, but of every naturally occurring species of grape that the Vrone avout had ever heard of—and if those people hadn’t heard of a grape, it wasn’t worth knowing about. In addition, it carried excerpts from the genetic sequences of thousands of different berries, fruits, flowers, and herbs: just those snatches of data that, when invoked by the biochemical messaging system of the host cell, produced flavorful molecules. Each nucleus was an archive, vaster than the Great Library of Baz, storing codes for shaping almost every molecule nature had ever produced that left an impression on the human olfactory system.

A given vine could not express all of those genes at once—it could not be a hundred different species of grape at the same time—so it “decided” which of those genes to express—what grape to be, and what flavors to borrow—based on some impossibly murky and ambiguous data-gathering and decision-making process that the Vrone avout had hand-coded into its proteins. No nuance of sun, soil, weather, or wind was too subtle for the library grape to take into account. Nothing that the cultivator did, or failed to do, went undetected or failed to have its consequences in the flavor of the juice. The library grape was legendary for its skill in penetrating the subterfuges of winemakers who were so arrogant as to believe they could trick it into being the same grape two seasons in a row. The only people who had ever really understood it had been lined up against a wall and shot during the Second Sack. Many modern winemakers chose to play it safe and use old-fashioned grapes. Developing a fruitful relationship with the library grape was left to fanatics like Fraa Orolo, who had made it his avocation. Of course, library grapes hated the conditions at Saunt Edhar, and were still reacting to an incident fifty years ago when Orolo’s predecessor had pruned the vines incorrectly, poisoning the soil with bad memories encoded in pheromones. The grapes chose to grow up small, pale, and bitter. The resulting wine was an acquired taste, and we didn’t even try to sell it.

We had better luck with trees and casks. For while the Vrone avout had been busy creating the library grape, their fraas and suurs a few miles up the valley at the rustic math of Upper Vrone Forest had been at similar pains with the trees that were traditionally fashioned into casks. The cells of the Vrone oak’s heart-wood—still half alive, even after the tree had been chopped down, sliced into staves, and bound into a cask—sampled the molecules drifting around in the wine, releasing some, making others percolate outward until they precipitated on the outside of the cask as fragrant sheens, rinds, and encrustations. This wood was as choosy about the conditions under which it was stored as the library grape was about weather and soil, so a winemaker who treated the casks poorly, and didn’t provide them with the stimulation they liked, would be punished by finding them crusted and oozing with all the most desirable resins, sugars, and tannins, with nothing left on the inside of the cask but cleaning solvent. The wood liked the same range of temperature and humidity as humans, and its cellular structure was responsive to vibrations. The casks, like musical instruments, resonated in sympathy with the human voice, and so wine that had been stored in a vault used for choir rehearsals would taste different from that stashed along the walls of a dining room. The climate at Saunt Edhar’s was well suited to growing Vrone oaks. Better yet, we were somewhat renowned for our prowess with aging. Casks felt comfortable in our Refectory and our Mynster, and responded warmly to all the talking and singing. Less fortunate concents shipped their casks here to age. We ended up with some pretty good stuff. We weren’t really supposed to drink it, but every so often we would cheat a little.

Corlandin got the stopper out without incident and decanted the wine into a blown-quartz laboratory flask, and from there served it out into the thimbles. The first of these was passed to me, but I knew better than to drink from it right away. Everyone at the table had to get one—last of all Fraa Corlandin, who raised his, looked me in the eye, and said, “To Fraa Erasmas, on the occasion of his freedom—long may it last, richly may he enjoy it, wisely may he use it.”

Then clinking all around. I was uneasy about the “wisely may he use it” part, but I drank anyway.

The stuff was tremendous, like drinking your favorite book. The others had all stood for the toast. Now they sat down, allowing me to see the rest of the Refectory. Some tables were watching the toast and hoisting tankards of whatever they were drinking. Others were involved in their own conversations. Standing around the edges of the place, mostly alone, were the ones I most wanted to talk to: Orolo, Jesry, Tulia, and Haligastreme.

Dinner became quite long, and not very ascetic. They kept refilling my glass. I felt very well taken care of.

“Someone get him to his pallet,” I heard a fraa saying, “he’s finished.”

Hands were under my arms, helping me to my feet. I let them escort me as far as the Cloister before I shook them off.

My time in the Mynster had made me well aware of which parts of the concent could not be seen from the Warden Regulant’s windows. I made several orbits around the Cloister, just to clear my head, and then went into the garden and sat down on a bench that was shielded from view.

“Are you even a sentient being at this point or should I wait until the morning?” a voice asked. I looked over to discover that Tulia had joined me. I was pretty sure she had woken me up.

“Please,” I said, and patted the bench next to me. Tulia sat down but kept her distance, the better to get a thigh up on the bench and turn sideways to face me.

“I’m glad you’re out,” she said, “a lot has been going on.”

“So I gathered,” I said. “Is there any way to sum it up quickly?”

“Something’s…funny with Orolo. No one knows what.”

“Come on! The starhenge has been locked! What else is there to know?”

“That’s obvious,” she said, a little bit annoyed at my tone, “but no one knows why. We think Orolo knows, but he’s not telling.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

“It has been shaping Eliger. Some fids who were expected to join the Edharians have gone to other orders.”

“I noticed that. Why? What’s the logic?”

“I’m not so sure it is logical. Until Apert, all the fids knew exactly what they wanted to do. Then so many things happened at once: the Inquisitors. Your penance. The closure of the starhenge. Fraa Paphlagon’s Evocation. It shook people up—made them rethink it.”

“Rethink it how?”

“It got everyone thinking politically. They made decisions they might not have done otherwise. For one thing, it cast doubt on the wisdom of joining the Edharians.”

“You mean because they are on the outs politically?”

“They’re always on the outs politically. But seeing what happened to you, people got to thinking that it was unwise to turn one’s back on that side of the concent.”

“I’m starting to get it,” I said. “So a guy like Arsibalt, by going to the Reformed Old Faanians, who want him desperately—”

“Can become important in the Reformed Old Faanians, right away.”

“I noticed he was serving the main course at supper.” That was an honor normally reserved for senior fraas.

“He could become the FAE. Or a hierarch. Maybe even Primate. And he could fight some of the idiotic things that have been going on lately.”

“So the ones who have been going to the Edharians—”

“Are the best of the best.”

“Like Jesry.”

“Exactly.”

“We’re going to screen you Edharians, protect you on the political front, so that you can be free to do what you do best,” I said.

“Uh, that’s the gist of it—but who’s this ‘you’ and ‘we’ you’re talking about?”

“Clearly where this is going is that tomorrow you join the Edharians and I join the New Circle.”

“That’s what everyone expects. It’s not what is going to happen, Raz.”

“You’ve been—holding a space for me in the Edharians?”

“That’s an awfully blunt way of putting it.”

“I can’t believe the Edharians want me that badly.”

“They don’t.”

“What!?”

“If they held a secret ballot, well, it’s not clear that they would vote for you over me. I’m sorry, Raz, but I have to be honest. A lot of the suurs in particular want me to join them.”

“Why don’t we both join them?”

“It is considered impossible. I don’t know the particulars—but some sort of deal has been made between Corlandin and Haligastreme. It’s decided.”

“If the Edharians don’t want me, why are we even discussing this?” I asked. “Did you see that keg the New Circle tapped for me? They want me bad. So why don’t I join them and you go to the loving embrace of the suurs of the Edharian chapter?”

“Because it’s not what Orolo wants. He says he needs you as part of his team.”

That affected me so much that between it and the wine I almost cried. I sat quietly for a while.

“Well,” I said, “Orolo doesn’t know everything about what is going on.”

“What are you talking about?”

I looked around. The Cloister was too small and quiet for my taste. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said.

I said no more until we were on the other side of the river, strolling in the moon-shadow of the wall, and then I told her about what I had done during Voco.

“Well!” she said, after a long silence. “That settles that, anyway.”

“What settles what?”

“You have to go to the Edharians.”

“Tulia, first of all, no one knows besides you and Lio. Second, I’ll probably never come up with a way to retrieve the tablet. Third, it’s probably not going to contain any useful information!”

“Details,” she scoffed. “You’re missing my whole point. What you did shows that Orolo is correct. You do belong on his team.”

“What about you? Where do you belong, Tulia?”

She wasn’t comfortable with that. I had to ask her again.

“What happened, on Tenth Night, happened. All of us made decisions. Maybe later we’ll think better of them.”

“And to what extent is this seen as my fault?”

“Who cares?”

I care. I wish I could have come down out of that cell to talk people out of it.”

“I don’t like the way you are thinking about this at all,” she said. “It’s like the rest of us became adults while you were up there—and you didn’t.”

That one made me stop in my tracks and blow air for a while. Tulia kept going for a couple of paces, then rounded on me. “To what extent is this seen as my fault?” she said, mimicking me. “Who cares? It’s done. It’s over.”

“I care because it has a big effect on how I am seen by the rest of the Edharians—”

“Stop caring,” she said, “or at least stop talking about it.”

“Okay,” I said, “sorry, but I’ve always thought of you as a person others could talk to about those kinds of feelings—”

“You think I want to spend the rest of my life being that person? For everyone in the concent?”

“Apparently you don’t.”

“All right. We’re done. You go find Haligastreme. I’ll find Corlandin. We’ll tell them that we are joining their respective orders tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I said with a fake-nonchalant shrug, and turned around to walk back toward the bridge. Tulia caught up with me and fell in step alongside. I was silent for a while—a little bit distracted by the prospect of joining a chapter that didn’t want me, many of whose members might blame me for taking Tulia’s place.

Some part of me wanted to hate Tulia for being so hard on me. But by the time we had crossed over the bridge, that voice, I’m happy to say, had been silenced. I was to hear it again from time to time in the future, but I would do my best to ignore it. I was scared to death to be joining the Edharians under these circumstances. But to forge ahead and just do it without leaning on Tulia’s, or anyone else’s, shoulder felt better—felt right. As when you just know you’re on the right track with a theorical proof, and all the rest is details. A splinter of the beauty Orolo had spoken of was reaching out toward me through the dark, and I would follow it like a road.

“Do you want to talk to Orolo?” was Fraa Haligastreme’s question, after I broke the news to him. He wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t overjoyed. He wasn’t anything except tired. Just looking at his face in the candlelight of the Old Chapterhouse told me how exhausting the last few weeks had been for him.

I considered it. Talking to Orolo seemed like such an obvious thing to do, and yet I’d made no move to do it. Considering how the conversation had gone with Tulia, I was no longer inclined to stay up half the night telling people about my feelings.

“Where is he?”

“I believe he is in the meadow with Jesry conducting naked-eye observations.”

“Then I don’t think I’ll disturb them,” I said.

Haligastreme seemed to draw energy from my words. The fid is beginning to act his age. “Tulia seems to think that he wants me…here,” I said, and looked around the Old Chapterhouse: just a wide spot in the Cloister gallery, rarely used except for ceremonial purposes—but still the heart of the worldwide Order, where Saunt Edhar himself had once paced to and fro developing his theorics.

“Tulia is correct,” Haligastreme said.

“Then here is where I want to be, even if the welcome is lukewarm.”

“If it seems that way to you, it’s largely out of concern for your own well-being,” he said.

“I’m not sure I believe that.”

“All right,” he said, a bit irritated, “maybe some don’t want you for other reasons. You used the word lukewarm, not chilly or hostile. I refer now only to those who are lukewarm.”

“Are you one of those?”

“Yes. We, the lukewarm, are only concerned—”

“That I won’t be able to keep up.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, even if that’s how it works out, you can always come to me if you need to know some digits of pi.”

Haligastreme did me the courtesy of chuckling.

“Look,” I said, “I know you’re worried about this. I’ll make it work. I owe that much to Arsibalt and Lio and Tulia.”

“How so?”

“They’ve sacrificed something to make the concent work better in the future. Maybe with the result that the next generation of hierarchs will be better than what we have now—and will leave the Edharians to work in peace.”

“Unless,” said Fraa Haligastreme, “being hierarchs changes them.”

Part 4

ANATHEM

Six weeks after I joined the Edharian order, I became hopelessly stuck on a problem that one of Orolo’s knee-huggers had set for me as a way of letting me know that I didn’t really understand what it meant for two hypersurfaces to be tangent. I went out for a stroll. Without really thinking about it I crossed the frozen river and wandered into the stand of page trees that grew on the rise between the Decade Gate and the Century Gate.

Despite the best efforts of the sequencers who had brought these trees into being, only one leaf in ten was high-grade page material, suitable for a typical quarto-sized book. The most common flaw was smallness or irregularity, such that when placed in the cutting-frame, it would not make a rectangle. That was the case for about four out of ten leaves—more during cold or dry years, fewer if the growing season had been favorable. Holes gnawed by insects, or thick veins that made it difficult to write on the underside, might render a leaf unusable save as compost. These flaws were especially common in leaves that grew near the ground. The best yield was to be found in the middle branches, not too far out from the trunk. The arbortects had given them stout boughs in the midsection, easy for young ones to clamber on. Every autumn when I’d been a fid, I’d spent a week up on those branches, picking the best leaves and skimming them down to older avout who stacked them in baskets. Later in the day we’d tie them by their stems to lines stretched from tree to tree, and let them dry as the weather turned colder. After the first killing frost we would bring them indoors, stack them, and pile on tons of flat rocks. It took about a century for them to age properly. So once we’d gotten the current year’s crop under stone we’d go back and find similar piles that had been made about a hundred years earlier, and, if they seemed ready, take the rocks off and peel the leaves apart. The good ones we stacked in the cutting-frames and made into blank pages for distribution to the concent or for binding into books.

I’d rarely gone into the coppice after harvest time. To walk through it in this season was to be reminded that we only collected a small fraction of its leaves. The rest curled up and fell off. All those blank pages made an uproar as I sloshed through them, searching for one especially grand tree I’d always loved to climb. My memory played me false and I wandered lost for a few minutes. When I finally found it, I couldn’t resist climbing up to its lower boughs. When I’d done this as a boy I’d imagined myself deep in the middle of a vast forest, which was much more romantic than being walled up in a math surrounded by casinos and tire stores. But now, with the branches bare, it was plain that I was close to the eastern limit of the coppice. The ivy-snarled ruin of Shuf’s Dowment was in plain sight. I felt foolish, thinking Arsibalt must have seen me from a window, so I let myself to the ground and began walking that way. Arsibalt now spent most of his days there. He had been pestering me to come out and visit him, and I’d been making excuses. I couldn’t slink away now.

I had to get over a low hedge that bounded the coppice. Shoving the snarled foliage out of my way I felt cold stone against my hand, pain an instant later. This was actually a stone wall that had become a trellis for whatever would grow on it. I vaulted over it and spent some time yanking my bolt and chord free from hedge-plants. I was standing on someone’s tangle, brown and shriveled now. The black earth was gouged where people had been digging up the last potatoes of the season. Going over the wall made me feel as though I were trespassing. To elicit such feelings was probably why Shuf’s Lineage had put it there in the first place. And that explained why those who’d found themselves on the wrong side of that wall had eventually become fed up with it and broken the lineage. Tearing the wall down was too much trouble and so that work had been left to ants and ivy. The Reformed Old Faanians had more recently got in the habit of using this place as a retreat, and when no one had objected, they’d slowly begun to make themselves more comfortable there.

Gardan’s Steelyard: A rule of thumb attributed to Fraa Gardan (−1110 to −1063), stating that, when one is comparing two hypotheses, they should be placed on the arms of a metaphorical steelyard (a kind of primitive scale, consisting of an arm free to pivot around a central fulcrum) and preference given to the one that “rises higher,” presumably because it weighs less; the upshot being that simpler, more “lightweight” hypotheses are preferable to those that are “heavier,” i.e., more complex. Also referred to as Saunt Gardan’s Steelyard or simply the Steelyard.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Very comfortable, as I saw when I came up the steps and pushed the door open (again fighting the sense that I was a trespasser). ROF carpenters had been at work furnishing the stone shell with wooden floors and paneled walls. Actually “cabinet-makers” was a fairer description than “carpenters” for avout who chose woodworking as their avocation, and so the place was all fitted and joined to tolerances that Cord might have envied. It was mostly one great cubical room, ten paces square, and lined with books. To my right a fire burned on a hearth, to my left, clear northern sky-light rushed in through a bay window so large that it formed a sort of alcove, as broad, round, and comfortable as Arsibalt, who sat in the middle of it reading a book so ancient he had to handle the pages with tongs. So he had not seen me tree-climbing after all. I could have slunk away. But now I was glad I hadn’t. It was good to see him here.

“You could be Shuf himself,” I said.

“Ssh,” he commanded, and looked about the place. “People will be cross if you talk that way. Oh, all the orders have their special hideaways. Islands of luxury that must make Saunt Cartas roll over in her chalcedony sarcophagus.”

“Pretty luxurious, that, come to think of it—”

“Come off it, it’s cold as hell in the winter.”

“Hence the expression ‘cold as Cartas’s—’”

“Ssh,” he said again.

“You know, Arsibalt, if the Edharian chapter has a luxurious hideaway, they’ve yet to show it to me.”

“They are the odd ones out,” he said, rolling his eyes. He looked me up and down. “Perhaps when you have attained more seniority—”

“Well, what are you, at the age of nineteen? The FAE of the Reformed Old Faanians?”

“The chapter and I have become most comfortable with each other in, yes, a short time. They support my project.”

“What—reconciling us with the Deolaters?”

“Some of the Reformed Old Faanians even believe in God.”

“Do you, Arsibalt? All right, all right,” I added, for he was getting ready to shush me for a third time. He finally began to move. He took me on a little tour, showing me some of the artifacts of the Dowment’s halcyon days: gold drinking-cups and jeweled book-covers now preserved under glass. I accused his order of having more of the same hidden away somewhere for drinking out of, and he blushed.

Then, as all this discussion of utensils had put him in mind of food, he shelved his book. We left Shuf’s Dowment behind us and began walking back for the midday meal. We had both skipped Provener, a luxury that was possible only because some younger fraas had begun to spell us winding the clock a few days a week.

When we gave up altogether on clock-winding, which would happen in two or three years, each of us would have enough free time to settle on an avocation—something practical that one could do to help improve life at the concent. Between now and then, we had the luxury of trying different things just to see how we liked them.

Fraa Orolo, for example, and his ongoing conversation with the library grape. We were too far north. The grapes were not happy. But we did have a south-facing slope, between the page trees and the outer wall of the concent, where they deigned to grow.

“Beekeeping,” Arsibalt said when I asked him what he was interested in.

I laughed at the image of Arsibalt enveloped in a cloud of bees. “I always thought you’d end up doing indoor work,” I said, “on dead things. I thought you’d be a bookbinder.”

“At this time of year, beekeeping is indoor work on dead things,” he pointed out. “Perhaps when the bees come out of hibernation I won’t favor it so much. How about you, Fraa Erasmas?”

Though Arsibalt didn’t know it, this was a sensitive subject. There was another reason you needed an avocation: so that if you turned out to be incapable of doing anything else, you could give up on books and chalk halls and dialog and work as a sort of laborer for the rest of your life. It was called “falling back.” There were plenty of avout like that, making food, brewing beer, and carving stone, and it was no secret who they were.

“You can pick some funny thing like beekeeping,” I pointed out, “and it’ll never be anything more than an eccentric hobby—because you’ll never need to fall back. Not unless the ROF suddenly recruits a whole lot of geniuses. For me the odds of falling back are a little greater and I need to pick something I could actually do for eighty years without going crazy.”

Arsibalt now blew an opportunity to assure me that I was really smart and that this would never happen. I didn’t mind. After my rough conversation with Tulia six weeks ago I was spending less time agonizing and more time trying to get things accomplished. “There are some opportunities,” I told him, “making the instruments on the starhenge work the way they’re supposed to.”

“Those opportunities would be much brighter if you in fact had access to the starhenge,” he pointed out. It was safe for him to talk this way since we were sloshing through leaves and no one was near us, unless Suur Trestanas was hiding in a leaf pile with a hand cupped to her ear.

I stopped and raised my chin.

“Are you expecting an Inquisitor to fall out of a tree?” Arsibalt asked me.

“No, just looking at it,” I said, referring to the starhenge. From here, on this little rise, we had a good view of it. But nestled as we were in the coppice, we’d be difficult to make out from the Mynster and so I felt comfortable taking a long look. The twin telescopes of Saunts Mithra and Mylax were in the same position where they had rested during the three months or so we’d been locked out: slewed around to aim at the northern sky.

“I was thinking that if Orolo was using the M & M to look at something they didn’t want him to see, then we might get some clues from where he pointed it the last day he had access to it. Maybe he even took some pictures that night, yet to be seen.”

“Can you draw any conclusions from where the M & M is pointed now?” Arsibalt asked.

“Only that Orolo wanted to look at something above the pole.”

“And what is above the pole? Other than the pole star?”

“That’s just it,” I said. “Nothing.”

“What do you mean? There must be something.”

“But it messes up my hypothesis.”

“What, pray tell, is that? And can you explain it as we walk toward a place that is warm and has food?”

I started moving my feet again, and talked to the back of Arsibalt’s head as I let him break trail through the leaves. “I had been guessing it was a rock.”

“Meaning an asteroid,” he said.

“Yeah. But rocks don’t come over the pole.”

“How can you say such a thing? Don’t they come from all directions?”

“Yeah, but they mostly have low inclinations—they are in the same plane as the planets. So you’d look near the ecliptic, which is what we call that plane.”

“But that is a statistical argument,” he pointed out. “It could simply be an unusual rock.”

“It fails the Steelyard.”

“Saunt Gardan’s Steelyard is a useful guideline. All sorts of real things fail it,” Arsibalt pointed out, “including you and me.”

Orolo sat with us. It was the first time I’d talked to him in ages. He sat where he could gaze out a window at the mountains, in much the same mood as I’d been looking at the starhenge a few minutes earlier. It was a clear day, and the peaks were all standing out, seeming as if they were close enough to throw stones at. “I wonder what the seeing will be like tonight on top of Bly’s Butte,” he sighed. “Better than here, anyway!”

“Is that the one where the slines ate Saunt Bly’s liver?” I asked.

“The same.”

“Is that around here? I thought it was on another continent or something.”

“Oh no. Bly was a Saunt Edhar man! You can look it up in the Chronicle—we have all of his relics salted away somewhere.”

“Do you really mean to suggest that there’s an observatory there? Or are you just pulling my leg?”

Orolo shrugged. “I’ve no idea. Estemard built a telescope there, after he renounced his vow and stormed out the Day Gate.”

“And Estemard is—”

“One of my two teachers.”

“Paphlagon being the other?”

“Yes. They both got fed up with this place at about the same time. Estemard left, Paphlagon went into the upper labyrinth one night after supper and then I didn’t see him for a quarter of a century, until—well—you know.” A thought occurred to him. “What were you doing during Paphlagon’s Evocation? At the time, you were still a guest of Autipete.”

Autipete was a figure of ancient mythology who had crept up on her father as he lay sleeping and put out his eyes. I had never heard Suur Trestanas referred to this way. I bit my lip and shook my head in dismay as Arsibalt blew soup out his nostrils. “That is not fair,” I said, “she’s only following orders.”

Orolo squared off to plane me. “You know, during the Third Harbinger it was quite common for those who had committed terrible crimes to say—”

“That they were just following orders, we all know that.”

“Fraa Erasmas is suffering from Saunt Alvar’s Syndrome,” Arsibalt said.

“Those people during the Third Harbinger were shoving children into furnaces with bulldozers,” I said. “And as far as Saunt Alvar goes—well, he was the sole survivor of his concent in the Third Sack and was held captive for three decades. Locking the door to the telescopes for a few weeks doesn’t really measure up, does it?”

Orolo conceded the point with a wink. “My question stands. What did you do during Voco?”

Of course I’d have loved to tell him. So I did—but I made it into a joke. “While no one was looking, I ran up to the starhenge to make observations. Unfortunately, the sun was out.”

“That damned luminous orb!” Orolo spat. Then something crossed his mind. “But you know that our equipment can see some things during the daytime, if they are very bright.”

Since Orolo had decided to play along with my joke, it would not have been sporting for me to drop it at this point. “Unfortunately the M & M was pointed in the wrong direction,” I said. “I didn’t have time to slew it around.”

“The wrong direction for what?” Orolo asked.

“For looking at anything bright—such as a planet or…” I faltered.

Jesry sat down at an empty table nearby, facing me and Orolo, and remained still, ignoring his food. If he’d been a wolf his ears would have been erect and swiveled toward us.

Orolo said, “Would it be too much trouble for you to bring your sentence to a decent conclusion?”

Arsibalt looked as rattled as I felt. This had started as a joke. Now, Fraa Orolo was trying to get at something serious—but we couldn’t make out what.

“Aside from supernovae, very bright objects tend to be nearby—within the solar system—and things in the solar system are, by and large, confined to the plane of the ecliptic. So, Fraa Orolo, in this absurd fantasy of me running to the starhenge to look at the sky in broad daylight, I’d have to slew the M & M from its current polar orientation to the plane of the ecliptic in order to have a chance of actually seeing anything.”

“I just want your absurd fantasy to be internally consistent,” Fraa Orolo explained.

“Well, are you happy with it now?”

He shrugged. “Your point is well reasoned. But don’t be too dismissive of the poles. Many things converge there.”

“Like what? Lines of longitude?” I scoffed.

Arsibalt, in similar spirit: “Migratory birds?”

Jesry: “Compass needles?”

Then a higher-pitched voice broke in. “Polar orbits.”

We turned and saw Barb coming toward us with a tray of food. He must have been listening with one ear as he stood in line. Now he was giving the answer to the riddle in a pre-adolescent voice that could have been heard from Bly’s Butte. It was such an odd thing to say that it had turned heads all over the Refectory. “By definition,” he continued, in the singsong voice he used when he was rattling off something he had memorized from a book, “a satellite in a polar orbit must cross over each of the poles during each revolution around Arbre.”

Orolo stuffed a piece of gravy-sopped bread into his mouth to hide his amusement. Barb was now standing right next to me with his tray a few inches from my ear, but he made no move to sit down.

I had the feeling I was being watched. I looked over at Fraa Corlandin a few tables distant, just in the act of glancing away. But he could still hear Barb: “A telescope aimed north would have a high probability of detecting—”

I yanked down on a loose fold of his bolt. One arm dropped. All the food slid to that end of his tray and threw it out of balance. He lost control and it all avalanched to the floor.

All heads turned our way. Barb stood amazed. “My arm was acted on by a force of unknown origin!” he stated.

“Terribly sorry, it was my fault,” I said. Barb was fascinated by the mess on the floor. Knowing by now how his mind worked, I rose, squared off in front of him, and put my hands on his shoulders. “Barb, look at me,” I said.

He looked at me.

“This was my fault. I got tangled up with your bolt.”

“You should clean it up, if it was your fault,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I agree and that is what I shall do now,” I said. I went off to fetch a bucket. Behind me I could hear Jesry asking Barb a question about conic sections.

Calca: (1) In Proto- and Old Orth, chalk or any other such substance used to make marks on hard surfaces. (2) In Middle and later Orth, a calculation, esp. one that consumes a large amount of chalk because of its tedious and detailed nature. (3) In Praxic and later Orth, an explanation, definition, or lesson that is instrumental in developing some larger theme, but that, because of its overly technical, long-winded, or recondite nature, has been moved aside from the main body of the dialog and encapsulated in a footnote or appendix so as not to divert attention from the main line of the argument.

—THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

One form of drudgery led straight into another as Suur Ala helpfully reminded me that it was my day to clean up the kitchen following the midday meal. I hadn’t been at it for long before I noticed that Barb was in there with me, just following me around, making no move to help. Which irked me at first: yet another case of his almost perfect social cluelessness. But once I got over that, I decided it was better that way. Some things were easier to do alone. Communicating and coordinating with others was often more trouble than it was worth. Many tried to help anyway because they thought it was the polite thing to do, or because it was an avenue for social bonding. Barb’s thinking wasn’t muddled by any such considerations. Instead, he talked to me, which in my view was preferable to being “helped.”

“Orbits are about as much fun as what you are doing,” he observed gravely, watching me get down on my knees and reach elbow-deep into a grease-choked drain.

“I gather that Grandsuur Ylma has been teaching you about such things,” I grunted. Drain-cleaning made it easy to hide my chagrin. I hadn’t learned about orbits until my second year. This was Barb’s second month.

“A lot of xs and ys and zs!” he exclaimed, which forced a laugh out of me.

“Yes,” I said, “quite a few.”

“You want to know what’s stupid?”

“Sure, Barb. Lay it on me,” I said, hauling a fistful of vegetable trimmings up out of the drain against the back-pressure of twenty gallons of dammed-up dishwater. The drain gargled and began to empty.

“Any sline could stand out on the meadow at night and see some satellites in polar orbits, and other satellites in orbits around the equator, and know that those were two different kinds of orbits!” he exclaimed. “But if you work out the xs and ys and zs of it, guess what?”

“What?”

“They just look like a lot of xs and ys and zs, and it is not as obvious that some are polar and some are equatorial as it would be to any old dumb sline looking up into the sky!”

“Worse than that,” I pointed out, “staring at the xs and ys and zs doesn’t even tell you that they are orbits.”

“What do you mean?”

“An orbit is a stationary, stable thing,” I said. “The satellite’s moving all the time, of course, but always in the same way. But that kind of stability is in no way shown by the xs and ys and zs.”

“Yeah! It’s like knowing all of the theorics only makes us stupider!” he laughed excitedly, and cast a theatrical glance over his shoulder, as if we were up to something incredibly mischievous.

“Ylma is having you work it out in the most gruesome way possible,” I said, “using Saunt Lesper’s Coordinates, so that when she teaches you how it’s really done, it’ll seem that much easier.”

Barb was dumbfounded. I went on, “Like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer—it feels so good when you stop.” This was the oldest joke in the world, but Barb hadn’t heard it before, and he became so amused that he got physically excited and had to run back and forth across the kitchen several times to flame off energy. A few weeks ago I would have been alarmed by this and would have tried to calm him down, but now I was used to it, and knew that if I approached him physically things would get much worse.

“What’s the right way to do it?”

“Orbital elements,” I said. “Six numbers that tell you everything that can be known about how a satellite is moving.”

“But I already have those six numbers.”

“What are they?” I asked, testing him.

“The satellite’s position on Saunt Lesper’s x, y, and z axes. That’s three numbers. And its velocity along each one of those axes. That’s three more. Six numbers.”

“But as you pointed out you can look at those six numbers and still not be able to visualize the orbit, or even know that it is an orbit. What I am telling you is that with some more theorics you can turn them into a different list of six numbers, the orbital elements, that are infinitely easier to work with, in that you can glance at them and know right away whether the orbit goes over the poles or around the equator.”

“Why didn’t Grandsuur Ylma tell me that to begin with?”

I couldn’t tell him, because you learn too damned fast. But if I tried to be overly diplomatic, Barb would see through it and plane me.

Then I had an upsight: it was my responsibility, just as much as it was Ylma’s, to teach fids the right stuff at the right time.

“You are now ready to stop working in Saunt Lesper’s Coordinates,” I announced, “and begin working in other kinds of spaces, the way real, grown-up theors do.”

“Is this like parallel dimensions?” said Barb, who apparently had been watching the same kinds of speelies as I had before coming here.

“No. These spaces I’m talking about aren’t like physical spaces that you can measure with a ruler and move around in. They are abstract theorical spaces that follow different rules, called action principles. The space that cosmographers like to use has six dimensions: one for each of the orbital elements. But that’s a special-purpose tool, only used in that discipline. A more general one was developed early in the Praxic Age by Saunt Hemn…” And I went on to give Barb a calca* about Hemn spaces, or configuration spaces, which Hemn had invented when he, like Barb, had become sick of xs and ys and zs.

to go Hundred: (Derogatory slang) To lose one’s mind, to become mentally unsound, to stray irredeemably from the path of theorics. The expression can be traced to the Third Centennial Apert, when the gates of several Hundreder maths opened to reveal startling outcomes, e.g.: at Saunt Rambalf’s, a mass suicide that had taken place only moments earlier. At Saunt Terramore’s, nothing at all—not even human remains. At Saunt Byadin’s, a previously unheard-of religious sect calling themselves the Matarrhites (still in existence). At Saunt Lesper’s, no humans, but a previously undiscovered species of tree-dwelling higher primates. At Saunt Phendra’s, a crude nuclear reactor in a system of subterranean catacombs. These and other mishaps prompted the creation of the Inquisition and the institution of hierarchs in their modern forms, including Wardens Regulant with power to inspect and impose discipline in all maths.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

I caught up with Fraa Orolo late in the afternoon as he was coming out of a chalk hall, and we stood among page-stuffed pigeonholes and chatted. I knew better than to ask him what he had been getting at earlier with his weird discussion of daytime cosmography. Once he had made up his mind to teach us in that mode, there was no way to get him to say the answer straight out. Anyway, I was more worried about the things he had been referring to earlier. “Listen, you’re not thinking of leaving, are you?”

He got a slightly amused look but said nothing.

“I always worried you were going to go into the labyrinth and become a Hundreder. That would be bad enough. But the way you were talking I got the idea you were going to go become a Feral like Estemard.”

This was Orolo’s idea of an answer: “What does it mean that you worry so much?”

I sighed.

“Describe worrying,” he went on.

“What!?”

“Pretend I’m someone who has never worried. I’m mystified. I don’t get it. Tell me how to worry.”

“Well…I guess the first step is to envision a sequence of events as they might play out in the future.”

“But I do that all the time. And yet I don’t worry.”

“It is a sequence of events with a bad end.”

“So, you’re worried that a pink dragon will fly over the concent and fart nerve gas on us?”

“No,” I said with a nervous chuckle.

“I don’t get it,” Orolo claimed, deadpan. “That is a sequence of events with a bad end.”

“But it’s nonsensical. There are no nerve-gas-farting pink dragons.”

“Fine,” he said, “a blue one, then.”

Jesry had wandered by and noticed that Orolo and I were in dialog, so he approached, but not too close, and took up a spectator’s position: hands folded in his bolt, chin down, not making eye contact.

“It has nothing to do with the dragon’s color,” I protested. “Nerve-gas-farting dragons don’t exist.”

“How do you know?”

“One has never been seen.”

“But I have never been seen to leave the concent—yet you worry about that.”

“All right. Correction: the whole idea of such a dragon is incoherent. There are no evolutionary precedents. Probably no metabolic pathways anywhere in nature that could generate nerve gas. Animals that large can’t fly because of basic scaling laws. And so on.”

“Hmm, all sorts of reasons from biology, chemistry, theorics…I suppose then that the slines, who know nothing of such matters, must worry about pink nerve-gas-farting dragons all the time?”

“You could probably talk them into worrying about it. But no, there’s a…there’s some kind of filter that kicks in…” I pondered it for a moment, and shot a glance at Jesry, inviting him to join us. After a few moments he took his hands out of his cloak and stepped forward. “If you worried about pink ones,” he pointed out, “you’d have to worry about blue, green, black, spotted, and striped ones. And not just nerve-gas farters but bomb droppers and fire belchers.”

“Not just dragons but worms, giant turtles, lizards…” I added.

“And not just physical entities but gods, spirits, and so on,” Jesry said. “As soon as you open the door wide enough to admit pink nerve-gas-farting dragons, you have let in all of those other possibilities as well.”

“Why not worry about all of them, then?” asked Fraa Orolo.

“I do!” claimed Arsibalt, who had seen us talking, and come over to find out what was going on.

“Fraa Erasmas,” said Orolo, “you said a minute ago that it would be possible to talk slines into worrying about a pink nerve-gas-farting dragon. How would you go about it?”

“Well, I’m not a Procian. But if I were, I suppose I’d tell the slines some sort of convincing story that explained where the dragons had come from. And at the end of it, they’d be plenty worried. But if Jesry burst in warning them about a striped, fire-belching turtle, why, they’d cart him off to the loony bin!”

Everyone laughed—even Jesry, who as a rule didn’t like jokes made at his expense.

“What would make your story convincing?” Orolo asked.

“Well, it’d have to be internally consistent. And it would also have to be consistent with what every sline already knew of the real world.”

“How so?”

Lio and Tulia were on their way to the Refectory kitchen, where it was their turn to prepare dinner. Lio, having heard the last few lines, chimed in: “You could claim that shooting stars were dragon farts that had been lit on fire!”

“Very good,” said Orolo. “Then, whenever a sline looked up and saw a shooting star, he’d think it was corroboration for the pink dragon myth.”

“And he could refute Jesry,” Lio said, “by saying ‘you idiot, what do striped fire-belching turtles have to do with shooting stars?’” Everyone laughed again.

“This is straight from the later writings of Saunt Evenedric,” Arsibalt said.

Everyone got quiet. We’d thought we were just being playful, until now. “Fraa Arsibalt is jumping ahead,” Orolo said, in a tone of mild protest.

“Evenedric was a theor,” Jesry pointed out. “This isn’t the kind of stuff he would have written about.”

“On the contrary,” Arsibalt said, squaring off, “later in his life, after the Reconstitution, he—”

“If you don’t mind,” Orolo said.

“Of course not,” said Arsibalt.

“Restricting ourselves to nerve-gas-farting dragons, how many colors do you think we could distinguish?”

Opinions varied between eight and a hundred. Tulia thought she could distinguish more, Lio fewer.

“Say ten,” Orolo said. “Now, let us allow for striped dragons with alternating colors.”

“Then there would be a hundred combinations,” I said.

“Ninety,” Jesry corrected me. “You can’t count red/red and so on.”

“Allowing for different stripe widths, could we get it up to a thousand distinguishable combinations?” Orolo asked. There was general agreement that we could. “Now move on to spots. Plaids. Combinations of spots, plaids, and stripes.”

“Hundreds of thousands! Millions!” different people were guessing.

“And we are only considering nerve-gas-farting dragons, so far!” Orolo reminded us. “What of lizards, turtles, gods—”

“Hey!” Jesry exclaimed, and shot a glance at Arsibalt. “This is becoming the kind of argument that a theor would make.”

“How so, Fraa Jesry? Where is the theorical content?”

“In the numbers,” Jesry said, “in the profusion of different scenarios.”

“Please explain.”

“Once you have opened the door to these hypotheticals that don’t have to make internal sense, you quickly find yourself looking at a range of possibilities that might as well be infinitely numerous,” Jesry said. “So the mind rejects them as being equally invalid, and doesn’t worry about them.”

“And this is true of slines as well as of Saunt Evenedric?” Arsibalt asked.

“It has to be,” Jesry said.

“So it is an intrinsic feature of human consciousness—this filtering ability.”

As Arsibalt grew more confident, Jesry—sensing he was being drawn into a trap—became more cautious. “Filtering ability?” he asked.

“Don’t play stupid, Jesry!” called Suur Ala, who was also reporting for kitchen duty. “You just said yourself that the mind rejects and doesn’t worry about the overwhelming majority of hypothetical scenarios. If that’s not a ‘filtering ability’ I don’t know what is!”

“Sorry!” Jesry snapped back, and looked around at me, Lio, and Arsibalt, as if he’d just been mugged, and needed witnesses.

“What then is the criterion that the mind uses to select an infinitesimal minority of possible outcomes to worry about?” Orolo asked.

“Plausibility.” “Possibility,” people were murmuring, but no one seemed to feel confident enough to stake a claim.

“Earlier, Fraa Erasmas mentioned that it had something to do with being able to tell a coherent story.”

“It is a Hemn space—a configuration space—argument,” I blurted, before I’d even thought about it. “That’s the connection to Evenedric the theor.”

“Can you please explain?” Orolo requested.

I wouldn’t have been able to if not for the fact that I’d just been talking to Barb about it. “There’s no way to get from the point in Hemn space where we are now, to one that includes pink nerve-gas-farting dragons, following any plausible action principle. Which is really just a technical term for there being a coherent story joining one moment to the next. If you simply throw action principles out the window, you’re granting the world the freedom to wander anywhere in Hemn space, to any outcome, without constraint. It becomes pretty meaningless. The mind—even the sline mind—knows that there is an action principle that governs how the world evolves from one moment to the next—that restricts our world’s path to points that tell an internally consistent story. So it focuses its worrying on outcomes that are more plausible, such as you leaving.”

“You’re leaving!?” Tulia exclaimed, utterly horrified. Others who’d joined the dialog late reacted similarly. Orolo laughed and I explained how the dialog had gotten started—and I did it hastily, before anyone could run off and start rumors.

“I don’t think you’re wrong, Fraa Erasmas,” said Jesry, when everyone had settled down, “but I think you have a Steelyard problem. Bringing in Hemn space and action principles seems like an unnecessarily heavyweight way of explaining the fact that the mind has an instinctive nose for which outcomes are plausible enough to worry about.”

“The point is conceded,” I said.

But Arsibalt was crestfallen—disappointed in me for having backed down without a fight. “Remember that this came up in connection with Saunt Evenedric,” Arsibalt said, “a theor who spent the first half of his life working rigorous calculations having to do with principles of action in various kinds of configuration spaces. I don’t think he was merely speaking poetically when he suggested that human consciousness is capable of—”

“Don’t go Hundred on us now!” Jesry snorted.

Arsibalt froze, mouth open, face turning red.

“It is sufficient for now to have broached this topic,” Orolo decreed. “We’ll not settle it here—not on empty stomachs, anyway!” Taking the hint, Lio, Tulia, and Ala took their leave, headed for the kitchen. Ala shot a frosty look over her shoulder at Jesry, then leaned in close to Tulia to make some remark. I knew exactly what she was complaining about: Jesry had been the one who had brought up the profusion-of-outcomes argument in the first place—but when Arsibalt had tried to develop it, he had gotten cold feet and backed out—even mocked Arsibalt. I tried to throw Ala a grin, but she didn’t notice. There was too much else going on. I ended up standing there grinning into empty space, like an idiot.

Arsibalt began to pursue Jesry across the cloister, disputing the point.

“Back to where we were,” Orolo continued. “Why do you worry so much, Erasmas? Are you doing nothing more productive than imagining pink nerve-gas-farting dragons? Or do you have a particular gift for tracing possible futures through Hemn space—tracing them, it seems, to disturbing conclusions?”

“You could help me answer that question,” I pointed out, “by telling me whether you are thinking of leaving.”

“I spent almost all of Apert extramuros,” Orolo said with a sigh, as if he had finally been run to ground. “I was expecting that it would be a wasteland. A cultural and intellectual charnel house. But that’s not exactly what I found. I went to speelys. I enjoyed them! I went to bars and got into some reasonably interesting conversations with people. Slines. I liked them. Some were quite interesting. And I don’t mean that in a bug-under-a-microscope way. They have stuck in my mind—characters I’ll always remember. For a while I was quite seduced by it. Then one evening I had an especially lively discussion with a sline who was as bright as anyone within this concent. And somehow, toward the end, it came out that he believed that the sun revolved around Arbre. I was flabbergasted, you know. I tried to disabuse him of this. He scoffed at my arguments. It made me remember just how much careful observation and theorical work is necessary to prove something as basic as that Arbre goes around the sun. How indebted we are to those who went before us. And this got me to thinking that I’d been living on the right side of the gate after all.”

He paused for a moment, squinting off toward the mountains, as if judging whether he should go on to tell me the next part. Finally he caught me giving him an expectant look, and made a little gesture of surrender. “When I got back, I found a packet of old letters from Estemard,” he said.

“Really!”

“He’d been posting them from Bly’s Butte once every year or so. Of course he knew that they’d be impounded until the next Apert. He told me of some observations he’d made, using a telescope he’d built up there, grinding the mirror by hand and so forth. Good ideas. Interesting reading. Certainly not the quality of work he’d produced here, though.”

“But he was allowed to go up there,” I said, gesturing toward the starhenge.

Orolo thought that was funny. “Of course. And I trust that we shall be re-admitted to it one day before too long.”

“Why? How? What basis do you have for that?” I had to ask, though I knew he wouldn’t answer.

“Let us say I too am gifted with the faculty that you have, for envisioning how things might play out.”

“Thanks a lot!”

“Oh, and I can also put that faculty to work imagining what it would be like to be a Feral,” he said. “Estemard’s letters make it plain that this is a hard way to live.”

“Do you think he made the right choice?”

“I don’t know,” Orolo said without hesitation. “These are big questions. What does the human organism seek? Beyond food, water, shelter, and reproduction, I mean.”

“Happiness, I guess.”

“Which is something you can get, in a shallow way, simply by eating the food that they eat out there,” Orolo pointed out. “And yet still the people extramuros yearn for things. They join different kinds of arks all the time. What’s the point in that?”

I thought about Jesry’s family and mine. “I guess people like to think that they are not only living but propagating their way of life.”

“That’s right. People have a need to feel that they are part of some sustainable project. Something that will go on without them. It creates a feeling of stability. I believe that the need for that kind of stability is as basic and as desperate as some of the other, more obvious needs. But there’s more than one way to get it. We may not think much of the sline subculture, but you have to admit it’s stable! Then the burgers have a completely different kind of stability.”

“As do we.”

“As do we. And yet it didn’t work for Estemard. Perhaps he felt that living by himself on a butte would fill that need better.”

“Or maybe he just didn’t need it as much as some of us,” I suggested.

The clock chimed the hour. “You’re going to miss a fascinating talk by Suur Fretta,” Orolo said.

“That sounded kind of like changing the subject,” I pointed out.

Orolo shrugged. Subjects change. You’d best adapt.

“Well,” I said, “all right. I’ll go to her talk. But if you’re going to leave, don’t just walk out of this place without letting me know, please?”

“I promise to give you as much advance knowledge as I can if such a thing is going to happen,” he said, in an indulgent tone, as if talking to a mentally unhinged person.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then I went to Saunt Grod’s chalk hall and took a seat in the large empty space that, as usual, surrounded Barb.

Technically, we were supposed to call him Fraa Tavener now, for that was the name he had adopted when he had taken his vow. But some people took longer than others to grow into their avout names. Arsibalt had been Arsibalt from day one; no one even remembered his extramuros name any more. But people were going to be addressing Barb as Barb for a long time.

Whatever his name, that boy was going to save me. There was a lot he didn’t know, but nothing he was afraid to ask about, and ask about, and ask about, until he understood it perfectly. I decided to make him my fid. People would think I was doing it to be charitable. Maybe some would even think I was getting ready to fall back, and was making the care of Barb my avocation. Let them think so! In truth it was mostly self-interest. I had learned more theorics in six weeks, simply by being willing to sit next to Barb, than I had in six months before Apert. I saw now that in my desire to know theorics I had taken shortcuts that, just like shortcuts on a map, turned out to be longcuts. Whenever I’d seen Jesry get it quicker than me, I had misread equations in a way that had seemed easier at the time but made things harder—no, impossible—later. Barb didn’t have that fear that others were getting it faster; because of how his brain was set up, he couldn’t read that in their faces. And he did not have the same desire to reach a distant goal. He was altogether self-centered and short-sighted. He wanted only to understand this one problem or equation chalked on the slate before him now, today, whether or not it was convenient for the others around him. And he was willing to stand there asking questions about it through supper and past curfew.

Come to think of it, Ala and Tulia had come up with a similar way of learning a long time ago. The creature with two backs was a term Jesry had coined for those two girls when they stood together outside of a chalk hall discussing—endlessly—what they had just heard. It wasn’t enough for one of them to understand something. Nor for both of them to understand it in different ways. They both had to understand it in the same way. The sound of them furiously explaining things to each other gave the rest of us headaches. Especially when we’d been younger, we’d always clap our hands over our ears and run away when we spotted the creature with two backs. But it worked for them.

Barb’s willingness to do things the hard way in the near term was making his advancement toward the long goal—even though he didn’t have one—swifter and surer than mine had ever been. And now I was advancing in step with him.

As a possible avocation, I had been teaching the new crop how to sing. Extramuros, everyone heard music but only a few actually knew how to make it. These new fids had to be taught everything. It was excruciating. I already knew this wasn’t going to be my avocation. We met three afternoons a week in an alcove in what passed for our nave.

One day as I was leaving one of these practices I happened to run into Fraa Lio, who was coming in to do whatever he did at the Warden Fendant’s court. “Come up with me,” he offered, “I want to show you something.”

“A new nerve pinch?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“You know I’m not supposed to look out from the high levels.”

“Well, I haven’t gone through hierarch training—yet—so neither am I,” he said. “That’s not what I want to show you.”

So I began to follow him up the stair. As we climbed, I became nervous that he was going to carry out a plot to raid the starhenge. Then I recalled what Orolo had said the other day about worrying too much, and tried to put this out of my mind.

“You’re not supposed to look out beyond the walls,” he reminded me, as we were getting closer to the top of the southwest tower, “but you are allowed to remember what you saw there during Apert, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“Well, did you notice anything?”

“Say again?”

“Extramuros, did you notice anything?”

“What kind of a question is that? I noticed a ton of stuff,” I sputtered. Lio turned around and gave me a brilliant smile, letting me know this was just his goofy sense of humor at work. Humor vlor.

“All right,” I said, “what was I supposed to notice?”

“Do you think the city’s getting bigger or smaller?”

“Smaller. No question about it.”

“Why are you so sure? Did you look up the census data?” Another smile.

“Of course not. I don’t know. Just a feeling. Something about how the place looked.”

“How did it look?”

“Sort of…weedy. Overgrown.”

He turned around and held up his index finger like a statue of Thelenes declaiming on the Periklyne. “Hold that idea,” he said, “while we pass through enemy territory.”

We looked at the closed and locked portcullis, but didn’t say anything. We crossed the bridge into the Regulant court and followed its inner walkway round to the stair that led up. When we had reached safe ground above—the statue of Amnectrus—he said, “I was thinking of making gardening my avocation.”

“Well, considering all of the weeds you’ve pulled over the years doing penance for beating me up, you are well qualified,” I said. “But why on earth would you want to?”

“Let me show you what has been going on in the meadow,” he said, and led me out to the Fendant’s ledge. A couple of sentinels were making the rounds, swathed in bulky winter-bolts, their feet swallowed up in furry mukluks. Lio and I were hot from climbing the stairs and so the cold didn’t bother us much. We took a moment to hood ourselves. This was a way of showing respect for the Discipline. Our bolts, drawn far out in front of our faces, gave us tunnel vision. When we walked to the parapet and leaned forward, we could see down into the concent but not up and out to the world beyond.

Lio pointed down at the back fringe of the meadow. Shuf’s Dowment rose up just on the other side of the river. With the exception of a few evergreen shrubs, everything down there was dead and brown. It was easy to see that, near the riverbank, the clover that carpeted most of the meadow became thin and patchy, and blotched with darker, coarser stuff: colonies of weeds that favored the sandy soil near the bank. Nearer the river I could see a distinct front where the clover gave way altogether to a snarl of woody trash: slashberry and the like. Behind that front I could see splats and rambling trails of green; some of the stuff back there was so tough that not even hard frost could kill it.

“I guess your theme today is weeds. But I don’t see where you’re going with it,” I said.

“Down there, come spring, I am going to stage a re-enactment of the Battle of Trantae,” he announced.

“Negative 1472,” I answered in a robotic voice, that being one of the dates drilled into the head of every fid. “And I suppose you want me to play the role of a hoplite who gets a Sarthian arrow in the ear? No, thanks!”

He shook his head patiently. “Not with people,” he said, “with plants.”

“Say again?”

“I got the idea during Apert from seeing how weeds and even trees are invading the town. Taking it back from humans so slowly that the humans don’t notice. The meadow is going to represent the fertile Plains of Thrania, the breadbasket of the Bazian Empire,” Lio said. “The river represents the river Chontus separating it from the northern provinces. By Negative 1474 those have long since been lost to the Horse Archers. Only a few fortified outposts hold out against the barbarian tide.”

“Can we imagine that Shuf’s Dowment is one of those?”

“If you like. It doesn’t matter. Anyway, during the cold winter of Negative 1473, the steppe hordes, led by the Sarthian clan, cross the frozen river and establish bridgeheads on the Thranian bank. By the time the campaigning season has opened, they’ve got three whole armies ready to break out. General Oxas deposes the Bazian Imperator in a military coup and marches forth promising to drive the Sarthians into the river and drown them like rats. After weeks of maneuver, the legions of Oxas finally meet the Sarthians in the flat countryside near Trantae. The Sarthians stage a false retreat. Oxas falls for it like a total dumbass and charges into a pincer. He’s surrounded—”

“And three months later Baz is on fire. But how are you going to do all of that with weeds?”

“We’ll allow the invasive species from the riverbank to make inroads into the clover. The starblossom vines run along the ground like light cavalry—it’s incredible how fast they advance. The slashberry is slower, but better at holding ground—like infantry. Finally the trees come along and make it permanent. With a little weeding and pruning, we can make it all work out just like Trantae, except it’ll take six months or so to play out.”

“That is the craziest idea I have ever heard,” I said. “You are some kind of a nut.”

“Would you rather help me, or go on trying to teach those brats down there how to carry a tune?”

“Is this a trick to get me to pull weeds?”

“No. We’re going to let the weeds grow—remember?”

“What’s going to happen after the weeds win? We can’t set fire to the Cloister. Maybe we could sack the apiary and drink all the mead?”

“Someone already did that, during Apert,” he reminded me gravely. “No, we’ll probably have to clean it all up. Though if people like it we could let nature take its course and let a grove of trees grow on the conquered territory.”

“One of the things I like about this is that, come summer, it will put me in a good position to watch Arsibalt being chased around by angry swarms of bees,” I said.

Lio laughed. I thought to myself that his plan had another advantage as well: it was flagrantly silly. Until now, I had been dabbling in avocations, such as looking after Barb and teaching fids how to sing, that were sensible and virtuous. Typical behavior for someone who was getting ready to fall back. To spend the summer doing something absolutely ridiculous would flaunt the fact that I had no such intentions. Those members of the Edharian chapter who hadn’t wanted me would be furious.

“I’ll do it,” I said. “But I guess we have to wait a few more weeks before anything starts to grow.”

“You’re pretty good at drawing, aren’t you?” Lio asked.

“Better than you—but that’s not saying much. I can make technical illustrations. Barb is freakishly good at it. Why?”

“I was thinking we should make a record of it. Draw pictures of how it looks as the battle goes on. This would be an excellent vantage point.”

“Should I ask Barb if he’s interested?”

Lio looked a little uneasy at that. Maybe because Barb could be so obnoxious; probably because Barb was a new fid and shouldn’t have an avocation yet. “Never mind, I’ll do it myself,” I said.

“Great,” Lio said, “when can you start?”

Lio and I read some histories of the Battle of Trantae during the next week, and pounded stakes into the ground to mark important sites, such as where General Oxas, pierced by eight arrows, had fallen on his sword. I constructed a rectangular frame, about the size of a dinner tray, with a grid of strings stretched across it. The idea was that I’d set this up on the parapet and look through it like a windowframe as I sketched; if I continued to use it in the same way throughout the summer, then each illustration would tally with the next. One day we’d be able to line them up in a row and then people would walk down the line and see the weed-war unfold like a speely.

Lio spent a lot of time thrashing around in the brush along the riverbank looking for particularly aggressive specimens of various kinds of weeds. Yellow starblossom was going to represent the Sarthian cavalry, red and white their allies.

We were both waiting for the moment when we would get in trouble.

Sure enough, a couple of weeks into the project, I looked up during supper to see Fraa Spelikon come into the Refectory, accompanied by a younger hierarch of the Regulant staff. Conversation dimmed for a moment—sort of like when the power threatens to go out and the room becomes brown. Spelikon looked around the Refectory until he found my face. Then, satisfied, he snatched up a tray and demanded some food. Hierarchs were allowed to dine with us, but they rarely did. They had to concentrate pretty fiercely not to let Sæcular information slip out and so this was no way to have a relaxing meal.

Everyone had noticed the way Spelikon had looked at me and so, following the brownout, there was a brief jovial uproar at my expense. For once in my life I wasn’t worried. What could they accuse me of? Conspiring to let weeds grow? Probably they had misinterpreted what Lio and I were up to. The only hard part was going to be explaining it to a man like Spelikon.

The younger hierarch—Rotha was her name—ate quickly, then rose and walked out of the Refectory hugging a fat wallet of papers that swiveled as her hips moved. Spelikon ate more heartily but refused offers of beer and wine. After a few minutes he pushed back, wiped his lips, stood up, and came over to me. “I wonder if I might have a word with you in Saunt Zenla’s,” he said.

“Certainly,” I said, then glanced across the room at Lio, who was dining at another table. “Would you like Fraa Lio to join us or—”

“That will not be necessary,” Spelikon said. Which struck me as odd, and left me with physical symptoms of anxiety—pounding heart, moist palms—as I followed Spelikon around the Cloister to Saunt Zenla’s.

This was one of the smallest and oldest chalk halls, traditionally used by the most senior Edharian theoricians to collaborate or to teach their senior students. I’d only been in the room a couple of times my whole life, and would never have dared to barge in there and claim it like this. It had one small table, large enough for at most four people to sit around it on their spheres. Rotha had already covered the table with stuff: a constellation of glow-buds whose pools of soft light merged to illuminate a stack of blank leaves and a few manuscripts, or excerpts of them. Several pens lay in a neat row next to an uncapped ink-bottle.

“Interview with Fraa Erasmas of the Edharian chapter of the Decenarian math of the Concent of Saunt Edhar,” Spelikon said. Rotha scribbled out a row of marks on a blank leaf—not the customary Bazian characters, but a kind of shorthand that hierarchs were trained to use when taking down transcripts. Spelikon went on to tell the date and the time. I was mesmerized by Rotha’s skill with the pen—her hand swept across the whole width of the leaf in as little time as it took to draw breath, leaving in its wake a row of simple one-stroke glyphs that, it seemed to me, couldn’t possibly convey as much meaning as the words we were speaking.

My eyes wandered to the other manuscripts that Rotha had set out on the table. Most of them were also written in that same shorthand. But at least one was in traditional script. My script. Bending closer, I was able to make out several words. I recognized it as the journal I had started keeping when I’d been in the penance cell in the Mynster. I saw the names Flec and Quin, and Orolo.

My movements had gone all jerky. Some primitive threat-response mechanism had taken over. “Hey, that’s mine!”

Spelikon saw to it that this was written down. “The subject admits that Document Eleven is his.”

“Where did you get that?” I demanded, now sounding no older than Barb. Rotha’s hand flitted across the leaf and immortalized it.

“From where it was,” Spelikon answered, amused. “You do know the whereabouts of your own journal, don’t you?”

“I thought I did.” One of the niches outside of Saunt Grod’s chalk hall, up high where only a few people could reach it. But to take someone else’s leaves out of a niche was just about the rudest thing an avout could do. It was only acceptable when someone had died or been Thrown Back. “But,” I went on, “but you’re not supposed to—”

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of what we are and are not supposed to do,” Spelikon said. As he spoke these words he made a gesture with his hand that stilled Rotha’s hand, so none of it was written down. Then he made a different gesture that undid the spell, and she began to write again. “This inquiry does not concern you directly and, in fact, need not take up very much of your time. You have already supplied most of what we wish to know in the leaves of your journal. Clarification and confirmation are all that we require. On the day before Apert, did you serve as amanuensis during an interview conducted in the New Library between Fraa Orolo and an artisan from extramuros named Quin?”

“Yes.”

“Document Three, please,” Spelikon said. Rotha drew out another manuscript, also written in my hand: my transcript of Orolo’s interview with Quin. I didn’t bother asking where they’d gotten it. Obviously they’d been rooting around in Fraa Orolo’s niches too. Outrageous! But for all that, I was beginning to relax. There was nothing wrong with the conversations Orolo had had with those artisans. Even if the Warden Regulant wouldn’t take my word for it, well, others had been in the library the whole time and could vouch that it had all been harmless. This must be some petty and misguided harassment of Fraa Orolo that would come to nothing, and—I hoped—make Fraa Spelikon look like an idiot.

Spelikon had me confirm that Document Three was mine before going on: “There are discrepancies between the account of the Orolo—Quin conversation as you transcribed it at the time, and the version you later set down in your journal.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m not like her.” I nodded at Rotha. “I can’t take shorthand. I only wrote down what was germane to the research that Orolo was doing.”

“Which research do you mean?” Spelikon asked.

I’d thought that was obvious, but I explained, “His study of the political climate extramuros—part of normal preparations for Apert.”

“Thank you. There are several such discrepancies, but I’d like to draw your attention to one, late in the Quin interview, concerning the technical capabilities of speelycaptors.”

This was so unexpected it blanked my mind. “Uh, I vaguely remember that topic coming up.”

“Your memory was not vague at all when you wrote this,” he said, and reached down over Rotha’s shoulder and picked up the journal. “According to this, Artisan Quin said, at one point, and I quote, ‘Flec didn’t make a speely.’ Does that make your memory any less vague?”

“Yes. The day before, at Provener, we had sent Artisan Flec to see the Ita so that they could show him to the north nave. Flec wanted to make a speely. But later Quin told us that it hadn’t gone as planned. The Ita didn’t allow Flec to operate his speelycaptor in the Mynster.”

“Why not?”

“The image quality was too good.”

“Too good in what way?” Spelikon asked.

“Quin rattled off some commercial bulshytt that I tried to capture in the journal,” I said.

“When you say you tried to capture it, are you saying that what you wrote in the journal is only a guess at what it said? Here it reads—quoting again—‘the Eagle-Rez, the SteadiHand, the DynaZoom—put those all together, and it could have seen straight across into the other parts of your Mynster, even through the screens.’ Did Quin actually use those words?”

“I don’t know. It’s partly my recollection and partly an educated guess.”

“Explain what you mean by an educated guess in this case.”

“Well, the point of the story—the basic technical reason that the Ita wouldn’t allow Flec to use the speelycaptor—was that from where he was going to be sitting, behind the north screen, he would have been able to take pictures of the Thousanders and Hundreders by pointing his speelycaptor across the chancel. With our naked eyes, we can’t see through the screens into the other naves because of the contrast between the screen, which is light-colored—cosmographers would say it has high albedo—and the dark space beyond. Also because of distance and other factors. The gist of it was that the Ita had looked up the specifications on Flec’s speelycaptor and figured out that it had some combination of features that would make it possible to see things that the naked eye couldn’t. Now, it’s a fool’s game trying to make sense of the commercial bulshytt that the makers of speelycaptors use to describe those features. But from my experience with cosmography, I have a pretty good idea what it would entail: some kind of zoom or magnification feature, a way of detecting faint images against a noisy background, and image stabilization, to correct for shaking of the hands.”

“And that is what you mean by an educated guess,” Spelikon said. “Educated, in the sense that anyone with a knowledge of cosmographical instruments would be able to infer what you inferred about the capabilities of Flec’s speelycaptor.”

“Yes.”

“It says in your journal,” Spelikon continued, “that Fraa Orolo’s hand came down on your wrist just after that, and stopped you from writing. Why?”

“Being older and wiser,” I said, “Orolo saw where the conversation was headed. Quin was about to go off chattering about Sæcular stuff, and about what had happened between Flec and the Ita, which obviously is not the kind of information we ought to be exposed to.”

“But if your ears were going to be exposed to it anyway, why did Orolo stop your hand? Why did he not plug your ears?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t the most logical thing for him to do. People don’t always think clearly at such moments.”

“Except when they do,” Spelikon said. “Well, at any rate, that is all I have for you concerning the Orolo—Quin interview. There is only one other question.”

“Yes?”

“Where were you on the ninth night of Apert?”

I thought for a minute, and frowned. “That’s one of those simple-sounding questions that is hard for a normal person to answer.”

Spelikon was almost too quick to agree with me. “If by ‘normal person’ you mean ‘non-hierarch,’ then let me assure you I have no specific memories of what I did that evening.”

“Well, I was scheduled to give a tour the next morning, so I didn’t stay up late. I had supper. Then I’m pretty sure I went to bed. I was doing a lot of thinking.”

“Really?” Spelikon asked. “About what?”

I must have gotten a very strange look on my face. He chuckled and said, “I’m just curious. I don’t think it matters.” He drew up another leaf. “According to the Chronicle, on that night you were assigned to share a cell with Fraa Branch and Fraa Ostabon. If I were to ask them, they’d both say you were in the cell with them that night?”

“I can’t imagine why they’d say anything else.”

“Very well,” Spelikon said, “that will be all. Thank you for your time, Fraa Erasmas.”

Spelikon opened the door for me. I stepped through it to discover Fraa Branch and Fraa Ostabon waiting in the gallery.

My talent for envisioning things, and spinning yarns in my head, failed me that evening, as if it had gone on vacation. I could make no sense of my interview with Spelikon. I put it down as further evidence that Suur Trestanas was cracking, and would soon be sent to Physicians’ Commons to get better—hopefully very slowly.

The next day I was up early to help serve breakfast. I spent the morning in a chalk hall with Barb, working on some fundamentals of exterior calculus that I should have understood years earlier but was only now getting a real grip on. As I was reaching the point where my brain couldn’t take any more, and noticed myself making dumb mistakes, Provener rang.

This was one of the days that my old team was supposed to wind the clock, so I went to the Mynster. It was sparsely attended, with few hierarchs in evidence. I didn’t see Fraa Orolo or any of his senior students, and Jesry didn’t show up, so Lio and Arsibalt and I had to do it without his help.

Between that and the long morning in the chalk hall, I was famished, and ate like a dog in the Refectory. When I was almost finished, Orolo came in, fetched himself a light lunch, and sat down alone in what had become his favorite spot: the table from which he could look out the window and down the mountains when the weather was clear. Today, it wasn’t; but it felt as though the clouds might later be rinsed away by a cold clear river of wind. When I had finished eating, I went over and sat with him. I guessed that Spelikon must have been pestering him with questions too. But I didn’t want to bring it up. He must be sick of it.

He gave me a little smile. “Thanks to the hierarchs,” he said, “I shall soon be making observations again.”

“They’re going to open the starhenge? That’s great news!” I exclaimed. Orolo smiled again. Things were beginning to make sense. Something had spooked the hierarchs. They had misinterpreted Orolo’s pre-Apert activities in a way I still didn’t understand. Now finally they were coming to see that they’d been mistaken, and things were about to go back to normal.

“I must admit, I have a tablet up in the M & M that I’ve been dying to get my hands on,” he said.

“When are they going to open it?”

“I don’t know,” Orolo said.

“What are you going to look at first?”

“Oh, I’d rather not say just now. Nothing that requires the power of the M & M. A smaller telescope would suffice, or even a commercial speelycaptor.”

“Spelikon was asking me all kinds of questions about those—”

He put his finger to his lips. “I know,” he said, “and it is good that you answered his questions as you did.”

I was distracted for a few moments, working through the implications. The news was good. But when people began going up to the starhenge again, they might find the tablet I’d left in Clesthyra’s Eye, which could get me in a lot of trouble. I felt stupid now for having put it there. How was I going to fetch it back?

Orolo looked out a different window, reading the time from the clock. “I saw Tulia a few minutes ago. She and Ala were rounding up the team. She asked me to give you a message.”

“Yes?”

“She won’t be turning up for this meal. She’ll see you at supper.”

“That’s the message?”

“Yes. The team have got some unusual changes to ring—it’s going to require their full attention. They’ll be starting in half an hour or so. She seemed to think that you of all people would find this especially important. I’ve no idea why.”

Voco.

It had to be another Voco. So I was going to get my chance to sneak up to the starhenge again—that was the real message that Tulia was trying to send me.

Did Orolo understand all of this? Did he know what was going on?

But once the changes began to ring, I couldn’t very well go charging up the Mynster stairs against the traffic of Regulant and Fendant staff coming down to attend the aut. This was only going to work if I ascended first, before the bells sounded, and hid myself up there.

And I had a perfect excuse for doing so, thanks to Lio.

I stood up. “See you in the Mynster,” I said to Orolo.

“Yes,” he said, and then winked. “Or perhaps not.”

I was frozen for a moment, again wondering how much he knew. This made him smile broadly. “All I meant,” Orolo said, “was that one never knows who will remain in the Mynster after one of these auts, and who will depart.”

“You think you might be called up at Voco?”

“It is most unlikely!” Orolo said. “But just in case you are called—”

I snorted. Now he was just having fun with me.

“Just in case you are called,” he said, “know that I have seen the progress you have been making in recent months. I am proud of you. Proud, but not surprised. Do keep at it.”

“All right,” I said. “I’ll keep at it. In fact, I have some questions for you later. But I have to run.”

“Run then,” he said. “Mind your step on those stairs.”

I turned around and forced myself to saunter, not sprint, out of the Refectory. I fetched my drawing-frame and sketches from the niche where I’d been stashing them, and walked as quickly as I could, without looking like I was in a hurry, to the Mynster. When I had ascended to the triforium, I looked over to the bell-ringers’ balcony and saw Ala and Tulia and their team there, going through the motions of the changes they were about to ring without actually pulling on the ropes. Tulia saw me. I looked away, not wanting to be obvious, then went the other way and climbed the southwest tower stairs as briskly as I could.

The Regulant court was as crowded as I had ever seen it, but quiet, as everyone seemed intent on something. Which made sense, just before a Voco. I actually saw Suur Trestanas for a moment as she was passing from one office to another. She looked a little surprised, but then her gaze dropped to take in my drawing equipment, and she saw me attacking the next flight of stairs. Something clicked into place in her mind and she forgot about it.

Lio was waiting for me by the statue of Amnectrus, looking a little flushed himself from climbing the stairs. He fell in step beside me. “Don’t go to the ledge,” he said, “too conspicuous. Come with me.”

I hooded myself as I followed him around the inner walkway. Neither of us spoke, as we always seemed to be in earshot of someone. Finally he dodged into a chamber that was lined with heavy wooden doors all around—a muster room, they called it, where a squad might gather to brief and equip before a mission.

“You planned this whole thing, didn’t you?” I whispered.

“I created opportunities, in case we might need them.” Lio slid one of the doors open to reveal a storage chamber lined with metal boxes, neatly stacked. Then he grabbed my bolt in front of my chest, yanked me forward, and shoved me into the locker. By the time I’d got my balance back, he’d slid the door shut behind me. It was dark. I was hidden.

No more than a minute later, the bells began to ring strange changes.

My eyes had adjusted to the darkness. I took the minor risk of making my sphere give off a faint glow. The boxes stacked around me were stenciled with incomprehensible words and numbers, but I was growing certain that they contained ammunition. I had heard stories. The lifetime of this stuff was a few decades. Then it had to be flung off the Mynster and shoveled into wagons to be carted off for disposal. The whole concent would then queue up on the stairs and convey the fresh ammunition up to this level by passing the boxes from hand to hand. This hadn’t been done in a while, but some of the older avout remembered it clearly.

Anyway it gave me something to think of while I waited through the ringing of the changes and the half-hour of assembly time that followed. No one up here needed half an hour. They could go on about their business for fifteen or twenty minutes and then hustle down at the last minute. So it took a while for the place to empty out. At some point Fraa Delrakhones himself made a sweep, commanding everyone to leave now. He wanted to be the last one down, and he didn’t want to have to run.

After that, I felt it was safe to go out into the muster room. I cracked the door of the locker and paused to let my eyes adjust, then crept out and squatted behind the exit door for a minute, just listening. But there was nothing to hear—not even from the Chancel and the naves, which sounded as if they had been abandoned.

I was afraid that Delrakhones might still be hunting for stragglers, and there was no particular reason to hurry, so I waited until the voice of Statho resonated up the well, intoning the Convocation. Then I bolted from cover, charged around to the stairs, and raced into the space above. Statho went on at some length, pausing from time to time as though sifting through hastily assembled notes, or gathering strength.

I was about halfway to the starhenge, high up behind the face of the clock, when I first heard the word Anathem.

My knees collapsed, like those of a beast when something unexpectedly touches its back. I lost my stride and had to stop myself and crouch down lest I bang into something.

It couldn’t be real. The aut of Anathem had not been celebrated in this place for two hundred years.

And yet I had to admit that the changes Tulia had rung had sounded new to my ears—different from Voco. The crowd in the Mynster had been dead quiet before the aut. Now they were muttering, producing a gravelly sound the likes of which I’d never heard.

Everything that had happened since Apert now made sense in a new way, as if a pile of shattered fragments had been thrown up in the air and reassembled itself into a mirror.

Some part of me said that I must keep moving. That this was my only chance to fetch that tablet. Not that the images stored on it mattered any more. But Orolo had gone out of his way to tell me, a few minutes ago, that he wanted the tablet from the M & M. I had to get both of them. If I blew it, I’d get in huge trouble—perhaps be Thrown Back. Worse, I’d fail Orolo.

How long had I been crouched on this catwalk not moving? Wasted time! Wasted time! I made myself move.

Whose name would they call? Perhaps mine? What would happen then if I failed to step out? There was some dark humor in that. It got darker as I imagined one way to answer the call: by jumping down the center of the well. With luck I’d land on Suur Trestanas. Now that would be a story that would live on forever in the lore of Saunt Edhar and the mathic world beyond. Perhaps it would even make the local newspapers.

But it would not get that tablet from Clesthyra’s Eye, nor the one that Orolo wanted from the M & M. That was a prize worth taking risks for.

I climbed as Statho read some ancient prattle about the Discipline and how it must be enforced. Maybe I didn’t climb as quickly as I might have, for I could tell he was leading up to the moment when he would call out the name of the one who was to be Thrown Back, and I wanted to hear it. I reached the top, and put my hand on the door that led to the starhenge, and actually killed time for a minute.

Finally he said “Orolo.” Not “Fraa Orolo,” for in that instant he had ceased to be a fraa.

How could I be surprised? From the moment I had heard “Anathem” I had known that it would be Orolo. Still I said “No!” out loud. No one heard me, because everyone else was saying it in the same moment; it came up the well like the beat of a drum. As it died away, a very weird sound replaced it, something I’d never heard the likes of before: people were screaming down there.

Why did I cry out “No!” when I’d known it all along? Not out of disbelief. It was an objection. A refusal. A declaration of war.

Orolo was ready. He emerged through the door in our screen immediately, and closed it firmly behind him before his former brothers and sisters could begin to say goodbye, for that would have taken a year. Better to just be gone, like one who is killed by a falling tree. He walked out into the chancel and tossed his sphere to the floor, then began to untie his chord. This dropped around his ankles. He stepped out of it and then reached down, grabbed the lower fringes of his bolt, and shrugged it off over his shoulders. For a moment, then, he was standing there naked, holding a wad of bolt in his arms, and gazing straight up the well, just as Fraa Paphlagon had done at Voco.

I opened the door to the starhenge and let the light flood in. Orolo saw it and bowed his head like a Deolater praying to his god. Then I passed through and closed the door behind me. The entire, terrible scene in the Mynster was eclipsed, and replaced by the lonely vista of the starhenge.

In the same moment I began sobbing out loud. My face drew back from my skull as if I were vomiting and tears ran from my eyes like blood from gashes. I was sad—rather than surprised—because I had known that this was coming from the moment Fraa Spelikon had begun asking about speelycaptors. I hadn’t foreseen it only because it was too dreadful to think about until I could not escape it any more—until it had happened. Until now. So I didn’t have to waste any time being astonished, like those fraas and suurs down below me; I went straight to the most intense and saturating grief I had ever known.

I found my way to the Pinnacle more by groping than by sight, as I could perceive little more than light and dark. By the time I’d reached the top, I’d moved on to hysterical blubbering, but I wiped my face a couple of times with my bolt, took some deep breaths, and settled myself long enough to get the dust cover open and withdraw the tablet from Clesthyra’s Eye. This I wrapped in my bolt, which called to mind the memory of Orolo stripping his off.

He would stand there naked while the avout sang a wrathful song to Anathematize him. They were probably singing it now. You were supposed to sing it like you meant it. Maybe that would be easy for the Thousanders and the Hundreders who had never known him. But I suspected that little coherent sound was coming from behind the Tenners’ screen.

I went into the control chamber of the M & M and looked for the tablet that Orolo had placed in its objective when he and I had been here just before the whole place had been locked down. But it was empty. Someone had been here before me and confiscated it. Just as they would now go through the niches that he had used and take all of his writings.

Then I did something that might have been foolish, but that was necessary: I went to the same place where I’d watched Fraa Paphlagon and the Inquisitors take off in their aerocraft. I crouched at the base of the same megalith, and waited until Orolo walked out of the Day Gate. Once he had passed out of the chancel, and out of sight of the avout, they had given him a sort of gunny sack to cover his body, and an emergency blanket made of crinkly orange foil, which he pulled around his shoulders as he got out into the plaza and the wind hit him. His skinny white ankles were lost in a pair of old black work boots and he had to shuffle lest they fall off. He moved away from the concent without once gazing back over his shoulder. After a few moments he disappeared behind the spray of one of the fountains. I chose that time to turn my back on him and head back down.

As I passed back into the chronochasm and heard the aut of Anathem concluding, I thought it was a small mercy for me that I’d had this last sight of Orolo extramuros. Those in the Mynster merely saw him be swallowed by the unknowable beyond, which was (and was meant to be) terrifying. But I had at least seen him making his way out there. Which didn’t make things any less horrible and sad. But to glimpse him still alive and moving under his own power in the Sæculum was to have hope that someone would help him out there—that maybe, before dark, he’d be sitting in hand-me-down clothes in one of those bars he had frequented during Apert, having a beer and looking for a job.

The remainder of the service was a reaffirmation of vows and a rededication to the Discipline. I was happy to miss it. I wrapped up the tablet in a leaf of drawing paper and stashed it behind a can of ammunition; Lio could always retrieve it later.

The one question was: would my absence have been marked by any of the Tenners? But in a group of three hundred, it was easy for such a thing to go unnoticed.

In case anyone asked, I concocted a story that Orolo had dropped a hint of what was going to happen (which—come to think of it—he had, though I’d been too dense to get it) and that I had skipped the aut because I was afraid I couldn’t bear it. This would still get me in trouble. I didn’t much care. Let them Throw me Back; I’d figure out where Orolo had gone—probably to Bly’s Butte—and join him there.

But as it came out, I never had to tell anyone that lie. No one had noticed I was missing; or if they had, they didn’t care.

The story of how Orolo had come to be Thrown Back had to be reconstructed over the next few weeks, like a skull in an archaeological dig being fitted together one shard at a time. We would get lost for days as rumor or convincingly wrong data sent us up some promising path that only later proved a logical cul-de-sac. It didn’t help that all of us had suffered the psychic equivalent of third-degree burns.

He had somehow known, days before Apert, that there would be trouble related to the starhenge. He’d put Jesry to work doing some computations. He had not allowed Jesry to see the photomnemonic tablets from which the givens had been extracted; indeed, he’d gone to a lot of effort to obscure the nature of the work from Jesry and his other students, perhaps to shield them from any consequences.

When Artisan Quin had spoken of the technical capabilities of Flec’s speelycaptor, the idea had come into Orolo’s head that he might use such a device to make cosmographical observations. On the ninth night of Apert, after the starhenge had been locked, Orolo had gone to the apiary and stolen several crates of mead. He put on clothes that made him look like a visitor from extramuros and went out the Decade Gate with a large wheeled beer cooler in which he hid the loot. He made a rendezvous with a shady character of some description whom he had presumably met while hanging around in bars extramuros. Indeed, his entire motive for having frequented such places during Apert might have been to recruit such a person. In exchange for the mead, Orolo had taken delivery of a speelycaptor.

The little vineyard where Orolo pursued his avocation was difficult to see from the Mynster. During the winter, he sometimes went there to mend trellises and prune vines. In the weeks following Apert he devised a rudimentary observatory there, consisting of a vertical pole somewhat taller than a man, free to rotate, with a crosspiece lashed athwart it at eye level that could be swiveled up and down. Into this crosspiece he’d whittled a niche to fit the speelycaptor. The pole and crosspiece enabled him to hold the speelycaptor steady for long periods as he tracked his target across the sky. The device’s image-stabilization, zoom, and low-light enhancement features enabled him to get a decent look at whatever he was so curious about.

The idea of Orolo stealing from the concent, conspiring with a criminal during Apert, and making forbidden observations in the vineyard was shocking to everyone, but the story did make sense, and it was just the kind of logical plan that Orolo would have come up with. Sooner or later we all came to terms with it.

My role in the story led some Edharians to view me as a traitor—as the guy who had sold Orolo out to the Warden Regulant. This was the kind of thing that, before Anathem, would have kept me up all night, every night, feeling bad. On even-numbered nights I’d have felt guilty about what I had divulged to Spelikon and on odd-numbered nights I’d have seethed with impotent rage at those in my chapter who so misunderstood me. But against the backdrop of all that had been going on, being worried about these things was a little bit like attempting to see distant stars against the daytime sky. Even though Orolo was not my father, and even though he was still alive, I felt about Fraa Spelikon as I would have about a man who had murdered my father before my eyes. And my feelings toward Suur Trestanas were even darker since I suspected that, in some sneaky way, she was behind it.

What had Orolo seen? We might have been able to get some clues from the computations Jesry had been doing before Apert. But the Warden Regulant had confiscated these from their niche and so all we had to go on were Jesry’s recollections. He was fairly certain that Orolo had been trying to calculate the orbital parameters of an object or objects in the solar system. Normally this would imply an asteroid moving in a heliocentric (sun-centered) orbit that happened to be similar to the orbit of Arbre. A Big Nugget type of scenario, in other words. But Jesry had a hunch, based on certain of the numbers he remembered seeing, that the object in question was orbiting, not the sun, but Arbre. This was extremely unusual. In all the millenia that humans had been observing the heavens, only one permanent moon of Arbre had been found. It was possible for an asteroid in a sun-centered orbit to pass near a libration point and be captured into an Arbre-centered orbit, but all such orbits were unstable, and ended with the rock striking Arbre or the moon, or being ejected from the Arbre—moon system.

It might have been that Orolo was looking at the triangular libration points of the Arbre—moon system, which harbored concentrations of rocks and dust that were visible as faint clouds chasing or being chased by the moon in its orbit about Arbre. But it was not clear why such a project would create so much hostility in the Warden Regulant. And as Barb had pointed out, the orientation of the M & M suggested that Orolo had been using it to take pictures of an object in a polar orbit, which was unlikely in a natural object.

Of our group, it was Jesry who first had the courage to give voice to what was implied by all of this: “It is not a natural object. It was made and put there by humans.”

It was not exactly spring. Winter was over, but frost still threatened; bulbs were thrusting green spears up through crystalline mud-ice. Several of us had spent the afternoon chopping down the dead stalks and vines of our tangles. We left these up through most of the winter to prevent soil erosion and provide a habitat for small animals, but the time of year had come when we had to take it all down and burn it so that the ashes could fertilize the soil. Now, following supper, we had gone out into the dark and set fire to the slash we’d heaped up during the day, creating a huge gaseous fire that would not last for very long. Jesry had found a bottle of the peculiar wine that Orolo used to make and we were passing it around.

“It could also have been made by some other praxic civilization,” said Barb. Technically, of course, he was right. Socially, he was annoying us. By putting forth his suggestion, Jesry had stuck his neck out—had exposed himself to the risk of ridicule. By agreeing with him, silently or not, we were accepting the same risk. The last thing we needed was Barb speculating about bug-eyed space monsters.

Another thing about Barb: he was the son of Quin, who in a sense had instigated all of this by making indiscreet remarks about the excellence of modern speelycaptors. This was hardly Barb’s fault but it did create a negative association in one’s mind that bobbed to the surface at awkward moments—and Barb was a copious source of awkward moments.

“That would explain the closure of the starhenge,” Arsibalt said. “Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Sæcular Power has divided into two or more factions—perhaps arming for war. One may have launched a reconnaissance satellite into a polar orbit.”

“Or several of them,” Jesry said, “since I got the impression I was making calculations for more than just one object.”

“Could it have been one object that changed its orbit from time to time?” Tulia asked.

“Unlikely. It takes a lot of energy to change an orbit from one plane to another—almost as much energy as launching the satellite in the first place,” Lio said.

Everyone looked at him.

“Spy satellite vlor,” he said sheepishly, “from a Praxic Age book on space warfare. Plane change maneuvers are expensive!”

“A satellite in a polar orbit doesn’t need to change its plane!” Barb snorted. “It can see all parts of Arbre by waiting long enough.”

“There’s one big reason why I like Jesry’s hypothesis,” I said. Everyone turned and looked at me. I hadn’t been talking much. But in the weeks since Anathem, I had come to be seen as an authority on all things Orolo. “Orolo’s behavior in the days just before Apert suggests that he knew there was going to be trouble. Whatever it was that he had seen, he knew that it was a Sæcular event and that the hierarchs would make him stop looking at it as soon as they found out. That wouldn’t have been true if it was just a rock.”

I was only agreeing with the consensus. Most of the others nodded. But Arsibalt of all people seemed to take what I’d said as a challenge. He cleared his throat and came back at me as if we were in dialog. “Fraa Erasmas, what you have said makes sense as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far. Since Anathem was rung down on Orolo, it’s easy for us to fall in the habit of thinking of him as a malcontent. But would you have identified him as such before Apert?”

“Your point is well taken, Fraa Arsibalt. Let’s not waste time taking a poll of everyone standing around this fire. Orolo was as happy to abide under the Discipline as any avout who ever lived.”

“But the launching of a new reconaissance satellite is clearly a Sæcular event, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“And, moreover, since that kind of praxis has been around for millenia—long enough that Fraa Lio here can read of it in ancient books—there is nothing new that Orolo could have learned by making observations of such a satellite, is there?”

“Presumably not—unless it embodied some newly developed praxis.”

“But such a new praxis would also be a Sæcular event, would it not?” Tulia put in.

“Yes, Suur Tulia. And therefore no concern of the avout.”

“So,” said Arsibalt, “if we accept the premise that Fraa Orolo was a true avout who respected the Discipline, we cannot at the same time believe that the thing he saw in the sky was a satellite recently launched from the surface of Arbre.”

“Because,” said Lio, completing the thought, “he’d have identified any such thing as being of no interest to us.”

All of which made sense; but it left us with nowhere to go. Or at least, nowhere we were willing to go.

Except for Barb. “Therefore it must be an alien ship.”

Jesry inhaled deeply and let out a big sigh. “Fraa Tavener,” he said, using Barb’s avout name, “remind me to show you some research, back in the Library, showing just how unlikely that is.”

“Unlikely but not impossible?” Fraa Tavener shot back. Jesry sighed again.

“Fraa Jesry,” I said, and managed to catch his eye and throw him a wry look—exactly the kind of signal to which Barb was oblivious. “Fraa Tavener seems very keen on the topic. The fire’s dying fast. We only have a few more minutes here. Why don’t you go on ahead of us and show him that research. We’ll put out the fire and tidy up.”

Everyone was quiet for a while, because every one of us—including I—was startled by what had just happened: I had bossed Jesry around. Unprecedented! But I didn’t care. I was too busy caring about other things.

“Right,” Jesry said, and stomped off into the dark with Barb in tow. The rest of us stood there silently until the sound of Barb’s questions had been drowned out by the seething of the fire and the burble of the river over ice-shoals.

“You want to talk about the tablet,” Lio predicted.

“It’s time to bring that thing down and look at it,” I said.

“I’m surprised you haven’t been in more of a hurry,” Tulia said. “I’ve been dying to see that thing.”

“Remember what happened to Orolo,” I said. “He was incautious. Or maybe he just didn’t care whether he got caught.”

“Do you care?” Tulia asked. It was a blunt question that made the others uneasy. But no one edged away. They all looked at me, keen to hear my answer. The grief that had hit me at the moment Statho had called Orolo’s name was still with me all the time, but I had learned that it could transform in a flash to anger. Not jumping-up-and-down anger but cold implacable fury that settled in my viscera and made me think some most unpleasant thoughts. It was distorting my face; I knew this because younger fids who had used to give me a pleasant greeting when I encountered them in a gallery or on the meadow now averted their eyes.

“Frankly no,” I said. This was a lie, but it felt good. “I don’t care whether I get Thrown Back. But you guys are all involved in it too, and so I’m going to be careful for your sakes. Remember, this tablet might have no useful information whatsoever. Even if it does, we might have to stare into the thing for months or even years before we see anything. So we are talking about a lengthy and secret campaign.”

“Well, it seems to me that we owe it to Orolo to try,” Tulia said.

“I can bring it down whenever you like,” Lio said.

“I know of a dark room beneath Shuf’s Dowment where we could view it,” Arsibalt said.

“Very well,” I said. “I only need a little bit of help from you guys. I’ll do the rest myself. If I get caught, I’ll say you knew nothing and I’ll take responsibility for whatever happens. They’ll give me Chapter Six, or worse. And then I’ll walk out of here and try to find Orolo.”

These words made Tulia and Lio quite emotional in different ways. She looked ready to weep and he looked ready to fight. But Arsibalt was merely impatient with me for being so slow. “There is a larger matter at stake than getting in trouble,” he said. “You are avout, Fraa Erasmas. You swore a vow to keep the Discipline. It’s the most solemn and important thing in your life. That is what you are putting into play. Whether or not you get caught and punished is a detail.”

Arsibalt’s words had a strong effect on me because they were true. I had an answer ready-made, but it wasn’t one that I could speak aloud: I no longer respected that oath. Or at least, I no longer trusted those who were charged with enforcing the Discipline to which I had sworn. But I couldn’t very well say as much to these friends of mine who did still respect it. My mind worked for a while, looking for a way to answer Arsibalt’s challenge, and the others were content to stand there and poke at the dying fire and wait for me to speak.

“I trust Orolo,” I finally said. “I trust that, in his mind, he was in no way violating the Discipline. That he was punished by lesser minds who don’t understand what is really going on. I think he is—that he will be—a—”

“Say it!” Tulia snapped.

“Saunt,” I said. “I will do this for Saunt Orolo.”

Part 5

VOCO

Lineage: (1) (Extramuros) A line of hereditary descent. (2) (Intramuros) A chronological sequence of avout who acquired and held property exceeding the bolt, chord, and sphere, each conferring the property upon a chosen heir at the moment of death. The wealth (see Dowment) accumulated by some Lineages (or at least, rumors of it) fostered the Baud Iconography. Lineages were eliminated as part of the Third Sack reforms.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Whatever you might say of his rich descendants, Fraa Shuf had had little wealth and no plan. That became obvious as soon as you descended the flagstone stairs into the cellar of the place that he had started and his heirs had finished. I write cellar, but it is more true to say that there was some number of cellars—I never made an exact count—cemented to one another in some graph that no one fully understood. It was a real accomplishment, in a way, to have left such a mess under a building so small. Arsibalt, of course, had an explanation: Shuf’s avocation was stone-mason. He had begun the project, circa 1200, as a sort of eccentric pastime. He’d meant only to build a narrow tower with a room at the top where one avout could sit and meditate. That done, he’d passed it on to a fid who had noticed the tower beginning to lean, and had spent much of his life replacing the foundation—a tetchy sort of undertaking that involved digging out cavities beneath what was already there and socking huge stone blocks into the holes. He’d ended up with more foundation than was really needed, and passed it on to another mason who had done more digging, more foundation work, and more wall-building. And so it had gone for some generations until the Lineage had begun to gather wealth beyond the building itself and had needed a place to store it. The old foundation-work had then been rediscovered, re-excavated, walled, floored, vaulted, and extended. For one of the toxic things about Lineages was that rich avout could get not-so-rich ones to do things for them in exchange for better food, better drink, and better lodging.

Anyway, by the time that the Reformed Old Faanians had begun sneaking back to the ruin of Shuf’s Dowment, hundreds of years after the Third Sack, the earth had reclaimed much of the cellars. I wasn’t sure how the dirt got into those places and covered the floor so deep. Some process humans couldn’t fathom because it went on so gradually. The ROF, who had been so diligent about fixing up the above-ground part, had almost completely ignored the cellars. To your right as you reached the bottom of the stairs there was one chamber where they stored wine and some silver table-service that was hauled out for special occasions. Beyond that, the cellars were a wilderness.

Arsibalt, contrary to his reputation, had become its intrepid explorer. His maps were ancient floor-plans that he found in the Library and his tools were a pickaxe and a shovel. The mystical object of his quest was a vaulted sub-basement that according to legend was where Shuf’s Lineage had stored its gold. If any such place had ever existed, it had been found and cleaned out during the Third Sack. But to rediscover it would be interesting. It would also be a boon for the ROF since, in recent years, avout of other orders had entertained themselves by circulating rumors to the effect that the ROF had found or were accumulating treasure down there. Arsibalt could put such rumors to rest by finding the sub-basement and then inviting people to go and see it for themselves.

But there was no hurry—there never was, with him—and no one was expecting results before Arsibalt’s hair had turned white. From time to time he would come tromping back over the bridge covered with dirt and fill our bath with silt, and we would know he had gone on another expedition.

So I was surprised when he took me down those stairs, turned left instead of right, led me through a few twists and turns that looked too narrow for him, and showed me a rusty plate in the floor of a dirty, wet-smelling room. He hauled it up to expose a cavity below, and an aluminum step-ladder that he had pilfered from somewhere else in the concent. “I was obliged to saw the legs off—a little,” he confessed, “as the ceiling is quite low. After you.”

The legendary treasure-vault turned out to be approximately one arm-span wide and high. The floor was dirt. Arsibalt had spread out a poly tarp so that perishable things—“such as your bony arse, Raz”—could exist here without continually drawing up moisture from the earth. Oh, and there wasn’t any treasure. Just a lot of graffiti carved into the walls by disappointed slines.

It was just about the nastiest place imaginable to work. But we had almost no choices. It wasn’t as if I could sit up on my pallet at night and throw my bolt over my head like a tent and stare at the forbidden tablet.

We employed the oldest trick in the book—literally. In the Old Library, Tulia found a great big fat book that no one had pulled down from the shelf in eleven hundred years: a compendium of papers about a kind of elementary particle theorics that had been all the rage from 2300 to 2600, when Saunt Fenabrast had proved it was wrong. We cut a circle from each page until we had formed a cavity in the heart of this tome that was large enough to swallow the photomnemonic tablet. Lio carried it up to the Fendant court in a stack of other books and brought it back down at suppertime, much heavier, and handed it over to me. The next day I gave it to Arsibalt at breakfast. When I saw him at supper he told me that the tablet was now in place. “I looked at it, a little,” he said.

“What did you learn?” I asked him.

“That the Ita have been diligent about keeping Clesthyra’s Eye spotless,” he said. “One of them comes every day to dust it. Sometimes he eats his lunch up there.”

“Nice place for it,” I said. “But I was thinking of night-time observations.”

“I’ll leave those to you, Fraa Erasmas.”

Now I only wanted an excuse to go to Shuf’s Dowment a lot. Here at last politics worked in my favor. Those who looked askance at the ROF’s fixing up the Dowment did so because it seemed like a sneaky way of getting something for nothing. If asked, the ROF would always insist that anyone was welcome to go there and work. But New Circles and especially Edharians rarely did so. Partly this was the usual inter-Order rivalry. Partly it was current events.

“How have your brothers and sisters been treating you lately?” Tulia asked me one day as we were walking back from Provener. The shape of her voice was not warm-fuzzy. More curious-analytical. I turned around to walk backwards in front of her so that I could look at her face. She got annoyed and raised her eyebrows. She was coming of age in a month. After that, she could take part in liaisons without violating the Discipline. Things between us had become awkward.

“Why do you ask? Just curious,” I said.

“Stop making a spectacle of yourself and I’ll tell you.”

I hadn’t realized I was making a spectacle of myself but I turned back around and fell in step beside her.

“There is a new strain of thought,” Tulia said, “that Orolo was actually Thrown Back as retribution for the politicking that took place during the Eliger season.”

“Whew!” was the most eloquent thing I could say about that. I walked on in silence for a while. It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. If you couldn’t be Thrown Back for stealing mead and selling it on the black market to buy forbidden consumer goods, then what wouldn’t bring down the Anathema? And yet—

“Ideas like that are evil,” I said, “because some creepy-crawly part of your brain wants to believe in them even while your logical mind is blasting them to pieces.”

“Well, some among the Edharians have been letting their creepy-crawly brains get the better of them,” Tulia said. “They don’t want to believe in the mead and the speelycaptor. Apparently, Orolo brokered a three-way deal that sent Arsibalt to the ROF in exchange for—”

“Stop,” I said, “I don’t want to hear it.”

“You know what Orolo did and so it’s easier for you to accept,” she said. “Others are having trouble with it—they want to make it into a political conspiracy and say that the thing with the mead never happened.”

“Not even I am that cynical about Suur Trestanas,” I said. In the corner of my eye I saw Tulia turn her head to look at me.

“Okay,” I admitted, “Let me put it differently. I don’t think she’s a conspiracist. I think she’s just plain evil.”

That seemed to satisfy Tulia.

“Look,” I said, “Fraa Orolo used to say that the concent was just like the outside world, except with fewer shiny objects. I had no idea what he was getting at. Now that he’s gone, I see it. Our knowledge doesn’t make us better or wiser. We can be just as nasty as those slines that beat up Lio and Arsibalt for the fun of it.”

“Did Orolo have an answer?”

“I think he did,” I said, “he was trying to explain it to me during Apert. Look for things that have beauty—it tells you that a ray is shining in from—well—”

“A true place? The Hylaean Theoric World?” Again her face was hard to read. She wanted to know whether I believed in all that stuff. And I wanted to know if she did. I reckoned the stakes were higher for her. As an Edharian, I could get away with it. “Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know if he would have called it by that name. But it’s what he was driving at.”

“Well,” she said, after giving it a few moments’ thought, “it’s better than spending your life swapping conspiracy theories.”

That’s not saying much, I thought. But I didn’t say it out loud. The decision Tulia had made to join the New Circle was a real decision with real consequences. One of which was that she must be guarded when talking about ideas like the HTW that they considered to be superstitions. She could believe in that stuff if she wanted; but she had to keep it to herself, and it was bad form for me to try to pry it out of her.

Anyway I now had an excuse to hang around at Shuf’s Dowment: I was trying to act as a peacemaker among the orders by accepting the ROF’s standing invitation.

After breakfast each morning I would attend a lecture, typically with Barb, and work with him on proofs and problems until Provener and the midday meal. After that I would go out to the back part of the meadow where Lio and I were getting ready for the weed war, and work, or pretend to, for a while. I kept an eye on the bay window of Shuf’s Dowment, up on the hill on the other side of the river. Arsibalt kept a stack of books on the windowsill next to his big chair. If someone else was there, he would turn these so that their spines were toward the window. I could see their dark brown bindings from the meadow. But if he found himself alone, he would turn them so that their white page-edges were visible. When I noticed this I would stop work, go to a niche-gallery, fetch my theorics notes, and carry them over the bridge and through the page-tree-coppice to Shuf’s Dowment, as if I were going there to study. A few minutes later I’d be down in the sub-cellar, sitting crosslegged on that tarp and working with the tablet. When I was finished I would come back up through the cellars. Before ascending the flagstone steps I would look for another signal: if someone else was in the building, Arsibalt would close the door at the top of the stairs, but if he were alone, he’d leave it ajar.

One of the many advantages that photomnemonic tablets held over ordinary phototypes was that they made their own light, so you could work with them in the dark. This tablet began and ended with daylight. If I ran it back to the very beginning, it became a featureless pool of white light with a faint bluish tinge: the unfocused light of sun and sky that had washed over the tablet after I had activated it on top of the Pinnacle during Fraa Paphlagon’s Voco. If I put the tablet into play mode I could then watch a brief funny-looking transition as it had been slid into Clesthyra’s Eye, and then, suddenly, an image, perfectly crisp and clear but geometrically distorted.

Most of the disk was a picture of the sky. The sun was a neat white circle, off-center. Around the tablet’s rim was a dark, uneven fringe, like a moldy rind on a wheel of cheese: the horizon, all of it, in every direction. In this fisheye geometry, “down” for us humans—i.e., toward the ground—was always outward toward the rim of the tablet. Up was always inward toward the center. If several people had stood in a circle around Clesthyra’s eye, their waists would have appeared around the circumference of the image and their heads would have projected inward like spokes of a wheel.

So much information was crammed into the tablet’s outer fringe that I had to use its pan and zoom functions to make sense of it. The bright sky-disk seemed to have a deep dark notch cut into it at one place. On closer examination, this was the pedestal of the zenith mirror, which stood right next to Clesthyra’s Eye. Like the north arrow on a map, this gave me a reference point that I could use to get my bearings and find other things. About halfway around the rim from it was a wider, shallower notch in the sky-disk, difficult to make sense of. But if I turned it about the right way and gave my eye a moment to get used to the distortion, I could understand it as a human figure, wrapped in a bolt that covered everything except one hand and forearm. These were reaching radially outward (which meant down) and became grotesquely oversized before being cropped by the edge of the tablet. This monstrosity was me reaching toward the base of the Eye, having just inserted the tablet and secured the dust cover. The first time I saw this I laughed out loud because it made my elbow look as big as the moon, and by zooming in on it I could see a mole and count the hairs and freckles. My attempt to hide my identity by hooding myself had been a joke! If Suur Trestanas had found this tablet she could have found the culprit by going around and examining everyone’s right elbow.

When I let the tablet play forward, I could see the notch-that-was-me melt into the dark horizon-rim as I departed. A few moments later, a dark mote streaked around the tablet in a long arc, close to the rim: the aerocraft that had taken Fraa Paphlagon away to the Panjandrums. By freezing this and zooming in I could see the aerocraft clearly, not quite so badly distorted because it was farther away: the rotors and the streams of exhaust from its engines frozen, the pilot’s face, mostly covered by a dark visor, caught in sunlight shining through the windscreen, his lips parted as if he were speaking into the microphone that curved alongside his cheek. When I ran the time point forward a few minutes I was able to see the aerocraft flying back in the other direction, this time with the face of Fraa Paphlagon framed in a side-window, gazing back at the concent as if he’d never seen it before.

Then, by sliding my finger up along the side of the tablet for a short distance, I was able to make the sun commit its arc across the sky-disk and sink into the horizon. The tablet went dark. Stars must be recorded on it, but my eyes couldn’t see them very well because they hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet. A few red comets flashed across it—the lights of aerocraft. Then the disk brightened again and the sun exploded from the edge and launched itself across the sky the next morning.

If I ran my finger all the way up the side of the tablet in one continuous motion, it flashed like a strobe light: seventy-eight flashes in all, one for each day that the tablet had lodged in Clesthyra’s Eye. Coming to the last few seconds and slowing down the playback, I was able to watch myself emerging from the top of the stairs and approaching the Eye to remove the tablet during Fraa Orolo’s Anathem. But I hated to see this part of it because of the way my face looked. I only checked it once, just to be sure that the tablet had continued recording all the way until the moment I’d retrieved it.

I erased the first and last few seconds of the recording, so that if the tablet were confiscated it would not contain any images of me. Then I began reviewing it in greater detail. Arsibalt had mentioned seeing the Ita in this thing. Sure enough, on the second day, a little after noon, a dark bulge reached in from the rim and blotted out most of the sky for a minute. I ran it back and played it at normal speed. It was one of the Ita. He approached from the top of the stairs carrying a squirt-bottle and a rag. He spent a minute cleaning the zenith mirror, then approached Clesthyra’s Eye—which was when his image really became huge—and sprayed cleaning fluid on it. I flinched as if the stuff were being sprayed into my face. He gave it a good polish. I could see all the way up into his nostrils and count the hairs; I could see the tiny veins in his eyeballs and the striations in his iris. So there was no doubt that this was Sammann, the Ita whom Jesry and I had stumbled upon in Cord’s machine-hall. In a moment he became much smaller as he backed away from the Eye. But he did not depart from the top of the Pinnacle immediately. He stood there for several moments, bobbed out of view, re-appeared, approached and loomed in Clesthyra’s Eye for a little bit, then finally went away.

I zoomed in and watched that last bit again. After he polished the lens, he looked down, as if he had dropped something. He stooped over, which made all but his backside disappear beyond the rim of the tablet. When he stood up, bulging back into the picture again, he had something new in his hand: a rectangular object about the size of a book. I didn’t have to zoom in on this to know what it was: the dust jacket that, a day previously, I had torn off this very tablet. The wind had snatched it from my hand, and in my haste to leave, I had, like an idiot, left it lying where it had fallen.

Sammann examined it for a minute, turning it this way and that. After a while he seemed to get an idea of what it was. His head snapped around to look at me—at Clesthyra’s Eye, rather. He approached and peered into the lens, then cocked his head, reached down, and (I guessed, though I couldn’t see) prodded the little door that covered the tablet-slot. His face registered something. If I’d wanted, I could have zoomed in on his eyeballs and seen what was reflected in them. But I didn’t need to because the look on his face told all.

Less than twenty-four hours after I had slipped that tablet into Clesthyra’s Eye, someone else in this concent had known about it.

Sammann stood there for another minute, pondering. Then he folded up the dust jacket, inserted it into a breast-pocket of his cloak, turned his back on me, and walked away.

I moved the tablet forward to a cloudy night, thereby plunging myself into almost total blackness, and I sat there in that hole in the ground and tried to get over this.

I was remembering the other evening, standing around the campfire, when I had criticized Orolo for being incautious, and told my friends that I’d be much more careful. What an idiot I was!

Watching Sammann pick up that dust jacket and put two and two together, my face had flushed and my heart had thumped as if I were actually there on top of the Pinnacle with him. But this was just a recording of something that had happened months ago. And nothing had come of it. Granted, Sammann could spill the beans any time he chose.

That was unnerving. But I could do nothing about it. Feeling embarrassed by a mistake I’d made months ago was a waste of time. Better to think about what I was going to do now. Sit here in the dark worrying? Or keep investigating the contents of this tablet? Put that way, it wasn’t a very difficult question. The fury that had taken up residence in my gut was a kind of anger that had to be acted upon. The action didn’t need to be sudden or dramatic. If I’d joined one of the other orders, I might have made acting upon it into a sort of career. Using it as fuel, I could have spent the next ten or twenty years working my way up the hierarch ranks, looking for ways to make life nasty for those who had wronged Orolo. But the fact of the matter was that I’d joined the Edharians and thereby made myself powerless as far as the internal politics of the concent were concerned. So I tended to think in terms of murdering Fraa Spelikon. Such was my anger that for a little while this actually made sense, and from time to time I’d find myself musing about how to carry it off. There were a lot of big knives in the kitchen.

So how fortunate it was that I had this tablet, and a place in which to view it. It gave me something to act on—something, that is, besides Fraa Spelikon’s throat. If I worked on it hard enough and were lucky, perhaps I could come up with some result that I could announce one evening in the Refectory to the humiliation of Spelikon, Trestanas, and Statho. Then I could storm out of the concent in disgust before they had time to Throw me Back.

And in the meantime, studying this thing answered that need in my gut to take some kind of action in response to what had been inflicted on Orolo. And I’d found that taking such action was the only way to transmute my anger back into grief. And when I was grieving—instead of angry—young fids no longer shied away from me, and my mind was no longer filled with images of blood pumping from Fraa Spelikon’s severed arteries.

So I had no choice but to put Sammann and the dust cover out of my mind, and concentrate instead on what Clesthyra’s Eye had seen during the night-time. I had kept track of the weather those seventy-seven nights. More than half had been cloudy. There had only been seventeen nights of really clear seeing.

Once I allowed my eyes to adjust to the darkness, it was easy to find north on this thing, because it was the pole around which all the stars revolved. If the image was frozen, or playing back at something like normal speed, the stars appeared as stationary points of light. But if I sped up the playback, each star, with the exception of the pole star, traced an arc centered on the pole as Arbre rotated beneath it. Our fancier telescopes had polar axis systems, driven by the clock, that eliminated this problem. These telescopes rotated “backwards” at the same speed as Arbre rotated “forwards” so that the stars remained stationary above them. Clesthyra’s Eye was not so equipped.

The tablet could be commanded to tell what it had seen in several different ways. To this point I’d been using it like a speelycaptor with its play, pause, and fast-forward buttons. But it could do things that speelycaptors couldn’t, such as integrate an image over a span of time. This was an echo of the Praxic Age when, instead of tablets like this one, cosmographers had used plates coated with chemicals sensitive to light. Because many of the things they looked at were so faint, they had often needed to expose those plates for hours at a time. A photomnemonic tablet worked both ways. If you were to “play back” such a record in speelycaptor mode, you might see nothing more than a few stars and a bit of haze, but if you configured the tablet to show the still image integrated over time, a spiral galaxy or nebula might pop out.

So my first experiment was to select a night that had been clear, and configure the tablet to integrate all the light that Clesthyra’s Eye had taken in that night into a single still image. The first results weren’t very good because I set the start time too early and the stop time too late, so everything was washed out by the brightness in the sky after dusk and before dawn. But after making some adjustments I was able to get the image I wanted.

It was a black disk etched with thousands of fine concentric arcs, each of which was the track made by a particular star or planet as Arbre spun beneath it. This image was crisscrossed by several red dotted lines and brilliant white streaks: the traces made by the lights of aerocraft passing across our sky. The ones in the center, made by high-flying craft, ran nearly straight. Over toward one edge the star-field was all but obliterated by a sheaf of fat white curves: craft coming in to land at the local aerodrome, all following more or less the same glide path.

Only one thing in this whole firmament did not move: the pole star. If our hypothesis was correct as to what Fraa Orolo had been looking for—namely, something in a polar orbit—then, assuming it was bright enough to be seen on this thing, it ought to register as a streak passing near the pole star. It would be straight or nearly so, and oriented at right angles to the myriad arcs made by the stars—it would move north-south as they moved east-west.

Not only that, but such a satellite should make more than one such streak on a given night. Jesry and I had worked it out. A satellite in a low orbit should make a complete pass around Arbre in about an hour and a half. If it made a streak on the tablet as it passed over the pole at, say, midnight, then at about one-thirty it should make another streak, and another at three, and another at four-thirty. It should always stay in the same plane with respect to the fixed stars. But during each of those ninety-minute intervals Arbre would rotate through twenty-two and a half degrees of longitude. And so the successive streaks that a given satellite made should not be drawn on top of each other. Instead they should be separated by angles of about twenty-two and a half degrees (or pi/8 as theoricians measured angles). They should look like cuts on a pie.

My work on that first day in the sub-cellar consisted of making the tablet produce a time exposure for the first clear night, then zooming in on the vicinity of the pole star and looking for something that resembled a pie-cutting diagram. I succeeded in this so easily that I was almost disappointed. Because there was more than one such satellite, what it looked like was more complex:

But if I looked at it long enough I could see it as several different pie-cut diagrams piled on top of each other.

“It’s an anticlimax,” I told Jesry at supper. We had somehow managed to avoid Barb and sit together in a corner of the Refectory.

“Again?”

“I’d sort of thought that if I could see anything at all in a polar orbit, that’d be the end of it. Mystery solved, case closed. But it is not so. There are several satellites in polar orbits. Probably have been ever since the Praxic Age. Old ones wear out and fall down. The Panjandrums launch new ones.”

“That is not a new result,” he pointed out. “If you go out at night and stand facing north and wait long enough, you can see those things hurtling over the pole with the naked eye.”

I chewed a bit of food as I struggled to master the urge to punch him in the nose. But this was how things were done in theorics. It wasn’t only the Lorites who said that is not a new result. People reinvented the wheel all the time. There was nothing shameful in it. If the rest of us oohed and aahed and said, “Gosh, a wheel, no one’s ever thought of that before,” just to make that person feel good, nothing would ever get done. But still it stung to risk so much and do so much work to get a result, only to be told it was nothing new.

“I don’t claim it is a new result,” I told him, with elaborate patience. “I’m only letting you know what happened the first time I was able to spend a couple of hours with the tablet. And I guess I am posing a question.”

“All right. What is the question?”

“Fraa Orolo must have known that there were several satellites in polar orbits and that this wasn’t a big deal. To a cosmographer, it’s no more remarkable than aerocraft flying overhead.”

“An annoyance. A distraction,” Jesry said, nodding.

“So what was it that he risked Anathem to see?”

“He didn’t just risk Anathem. He—”

I waved him off. “You know what I mean. This is no time to go Kefedokhles.”

Jesry gazed into space above my left shoulder. Most others would have been embarrassed or irritated by my remark. Not him! He couldn’t care less. How I envied him! “We know that he needed a speelycaptor to see it,” Jesry said. “The naked eye wasn’t good enough.”

“He had to see all of this in a different way. He couldn’t make time exposures on a tablet,” I put in.

“The best he could do, once the starhenge had been locked, was to stand out in that vineyard, freezing his arse off, looking at the pole star through the speelycaptor. Waiting for something to streak across.”

“When it showed up, it would zoom across the viewfinder in a few moments,” I said. We were completing each other’s sentences now. “But then what? What would he have learned?”

“The time,” Jesry said. “He would know what time it was.” He shifted his gaze to the tabletop, as if it were a speely of Orolo. “He makes a note of it. Ninety minutes later he looks again. He sees the same bird making its next pass over the pole.” Lio referred to satellites as birds—this was military slang he’d picked up from books—and the rest of us had adopted the term.

“That sounds about as interesting as watching the hour hand on a clock,” I said.

“Well, but remember, there’s more than one of these birds,” he said.

“I don’t have to remember it—I spent the whole afternoon looking at them!” I reminded him.

But Jesry was on the trail of an idea and had no time for me and my petty annoyance. “They can’t all be orbiting at the same altitude,” he said. “Some must be higher than others—those would have longer periods. Instead of ninety minutes they might take ninety-one or a hundred three minutes to go around. By timing their orbits, Fraa Orolo could, by making enough observations, compile sort of—”

“A census,” I said. “A list of all the birds that were up there.”

“Once he had that in hand, if there was any change—any anomaly—he’d be able to detect it. But until such time as he had completed that census, as you call it—”

“He’d be working in the dark, in more ways than one, wouldn’t he?” I said. “He’d see a bird pass over the pole but he wouldn’t know which bird it was, or if there was anything unusual about it.”

“So if that’s true we have to follow in his footsteps,” Jesry said. “Your first objective should be to compile such a census.”

“That is much easier for me than it was for Orolo,” I said. “Just looking at the tracks on the tablet you can see that some are more widely spread—bigger slices of the pie—than others. Those must be the high flyers.”

“Once you get used to looking at these images, you might be able to notice anomalies just by their general appearance,” Jesry speculated.

Which was easy for him to say, since he wasn’t the one doing it!

For the last little while he had seemed restless and bored. Now he broke eye contact, gazed around the Refectory as if seeking someone more interesting—but then turned his attention back to me. “New topic,” he announced.

“Affirmative. State name of topic,” I answered, but if he knew I was making fun of him, he didn’t show it.

“Fraa Paphlagon.”

“The Hundreder who was Evoked.”

“Yes.”

“Orolo’s mentor.”

“Yes. The Steelyard says that his Evocation, and the trouble Orolo got into, must be connected.”

“Seems reasonable,” I said. “I guess I’ve sort of been assuming that.”

“Normally we’d have no way of knowing what a Hundreder was working on—not until the next Centennial Apert, anyway. But before Paphlagon went into the Upper Labyrinth, twenty-two years ago, he wrote some treatises that got sent out into the world at the Decennial Apert of 3670. Ten years later, and again just a few months ago, our Library got its usual Decennial deliveries. So, I’ve been going through all that stuff looking for anything that references Paphlagon’s work.”

“Seems really indirect,” I pointed out. “We’ve got all of Paphlagon’s work right here, don’t we?”

“Yeah. But that’s not what I’m looking for,” Jesry said. “I’m more interested in knowing who, out there, was paying attention to Paphlagon. Who read his works of 3670, and thought he had an interesting mind? Because—”

“Because someone,” I said, getting it, “someone out there in the Sæcular world must have said ‘Paphlagon’s our man—yank him, and bring him to us!’”

“Exactly.”

“So what have you found?”

“Well, that’s the thing,” Jesry said. “Turns out Paphlagon had two careers, in a way.”

“What do you mean—like an avocation?”

“You could say his avocation was philosophy. Metatheorics. Procians might even call it a sort of religion. On the one hand, he’s a proper cosmographer, doing the same sort of stuff as Orolo. But in his spare time he’s thinking big ideas, and writing it down—and people on the outside noticed.”

“What kind of ideas?”

“I don’t want to go there now,” Jesry said.

“Well, damn it—”

He held up a hand to settle me. “Read it yourself! That’s not what I’m about. I’m about trying to reckon who picked him and why. There’s lots of cosmographers, right?”

“Sure.”

“So if he was Evoked to answer cosmography questions, you have to ask—”

“Why him in particular?”

“Yeah. But it’s rare to work on the metatheorical stuff he was interested in.”

“I see where you’re going,” I said. “The Steelyard tells us he must have been Evoked for that—not the cosmography.”

“Yeah,” Jesry said. “Anyway, not that many people paid attention to Paphlagon’s metatheorics, at least, judging from the stuff we got in the deliveries of 3680 and 3690. But there’s one suur at Baritoe, name of Aculoa, who really seems to admire him. Has written two books about Paphlagon’s work.”

“Tenner or—”

“No, that’s just it. She’s a Unarian. Thirty-four years straight.”

So she was a teacher. There was no other reason to spend more than a few years in a Unarian math.

“Latter Evenedrician,” Jesry said, answering my next question before I’d asked it.

“I don’t know much about that order.”

“Well, remember when Orolo told us that Saunt Evenedric worked on different stuff during the second half of his career?”

“Actually, I think Arsibalt’s the one who told us that, but—”

Jesry shrugged off my correction. “The Latter Evenedricians are interested in exactly that stuff.”

“All right,” I said, “so you reckon Suur Aculoa fingered Paphlagon?”

“No way. She’s a philosophy teacher, a One-off…”

“Yeah, but at one of the Big Three!”

“That’s my point,” Jesry said, a little testy, “a lot of important Sæculars did a few years at Big Three maths when they were younger—before they went out and started their careers.”

“You think this suur had a fid, ten or fifteen years ago maybe, who’s gone on to become a Panjandrum. Aculoa taught the fid all about how great and wise Fraa Paphlagon was. And now, something’s happened—”

“Something,” Jesry said, nodding confidently, “that made that ex-fid say, ‘that tears it, we need Paphlagon here yesterday!’”

“But what could that something be?”

Jesry shrugged. “That’s the whole question, isn’t it?”

“Maybe we could get a clue by investigating Paphlagon’s writings.”

“That is obvious,” Jesry said. “But it’s rather difficult when Arsibalt’s using them as a semaphore.”

It took me a moment to make sense of this. “That stack of books in the window—”

Jesry nodded. “Arsibalt took everything Paphlagon ever wrote to Shuf’s Dowment.”

I laughed. “Well then, what about Suur Aculoa?”

“Tulia’s going through her works now,” Jesry said, “trying to figure out if she had any fids who amounted to anything.”

Ringing Vale: (1) A mountain valley renowned for the many small streams that spill down its rocky walls from glaciers poised above, producing a musical sound likened to the ringing of chimes. Also known as the Rill Vale, or (poetically) Vale of a Thousand Rills. (2) A math founded there in A.R.17, specializing in study and developments of martial arts and related topics (see Vale-lore).

Vale-lore: In New Orth, an omnibus term covering armed and unarmed martial arts, military history, strategy, and tactics, all of which are strongly associated, in the Mathic world, with the avout of the Ringing Vale, who have made such topics their specialty since a math was founded there in A.R.17. Note: in informal speech and in Fluccish, the word is sometimes contracted to vlor. However, note that this variant emphasizes the martial-arts side of Vale-lore at the expense of its more academic and bureaucratic aspects. Extramuros, Vlor is an entertainment genre, and (for those Sæculars who can be moved to stand up and practice such things, as opposed to merely watching them) a type of academy.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Working in a hole in the ground had made me ignorant of all these goings-on. But now that Jesry had let me know that my fraas and suurs were working so hard, I redoubled my efforts with the tablet. Stored on that thing I had all of seventeen clear nights. Once I got the knack, it took me about half an hour’s work to configure the tablet to give me the time exposure for a given night. Then, using a protractor, I would spend another half hour or so measuring the angles between streaks. As Jesry had predicted, some birds made slightly larger angles than others, reflecting their longer periods, but the angle for a given bird was always the same, every orbit, every night. So in a sense it only took a single night’s observations to make a rough draft of the census. But I went ahead and did it for all seventeen of the clear nights anyway, just to be thorough, and because frankly I had no idea what to do next. I could polish off one, sometimes two nights’ observations every time I got a chance to go down into that sub-cellar, but I didn’t get that chance every day.

By the time I finished, I had been at it for about three weeks. Buds were out on the page trees. Birds were flying north. Fraas and suurs were poking around in their tangles, arguing about whether it was time to plant. The barbarian weed-horde was marshaling on the riverbank and getting ready to invade the fertile Plains of Thrania. Arsibalt was two-thirds of the way through his pile of Paphlagon. The vernal equinox was only a few days away. Apert had begun on the morning of the autumnal equinox—half a year ago! I could not understand where the time had gone.

It had gone the same place as all the thousands of years before it. I had spent it working. It didn’t matter that my work was secret, illicit, and could have got me Thrown Back. The concent didn’t care about that. Certain persons would have cared a lot. But this was a place for the avout to spend their lives working on such projects. And now that I had a project, I was a part of that concent in a way I’d never been before, and the place was the right place for me.

Since Arsibalt, Jesry, and Tulia had their minds on other projects, I didn’t tell them about Sammann. That was a topic reserved for Lio when we were out in the meadow coaxing the starblossom to grow in the right direction. Or, since it was Lio, doing whatever else had most recently jumped into his mind.

We had reacted in different ways to the loss of Orolo. In my case, it was bloody revenge fantasies that I kept to myself. Lio, on the other hand, had become entranced by ever weirder varieties of vlor. Two weeks ago, he had tried to get me interested in rake vlor, which I guessed was inspired by the story of Diax casting out the Enthusiasts. I had declined on grounds of not wanting to get a blood infection—a weaponized rake could give you mass-produced puncture wounds. Last week he had developed a keen interest in shovel vlor, and we had spent a lot of time squatting on the riverbank sharpening spades with rocks.

When he led me down to the river again one day, I assumed it was for more of the same. But he kept looking back over his shoulder and leading me in deeper. I’d been on enough furtive expeditions as a fid to know that he was checking the sight-lines to the Warden Regulant’s windows. Old habits kicked in; I became silent, and moved from one shady place to another until we had reached a place where the bending river had cut away the bank to form an overhang, sheltered from view. Fortunately no one was there having a liaison just now. It would have been a bad place for it anyway: mucky ground, lots of bugs, high probability of being interrupted by avout messing around on the river in boats.

Lio turned to face me. I was almost worried that he was going to make a pass at me.

But no. This was Lio we were talking about.

“I’d like you to punch me in the face,” he said. As if he were asking me to scratch his back.

“Not that I haven’t always dreamed of it,” I said, “but why would you want it?”

“Hand-to-hand combat has been a common element of military training down through the ages,” he proclaimed, as if I were a fid. “Long ago it was learned that recruits—no matter how much training they had received—tended to forget everything they knew the first time they got punched in the face.”

“The first time in their lives, you mean?”

“Yeah. In peaceful, affluent societies where brawling is frowned on, this is a common problem.”

“Not being punched in the face a lot is a problem?”

“It is,” Lio said, “if you join the military and find yourself in hand-to-hand combat with someone who is actually trying to kill you.”

“But Lio,” I said, “you have been punched in the face. It happened at Apert. Remember?”

“Yes,” he said, “and I have been trying to learn from that experience.”

“So why do you want me to punch you in the face again?”

“As a way to find out whether I have learned.”

“Why me? Why not Jesry? He seems more the type.”

“That is the problem.”

“I see your point. Why not Arsibalt, then?”

“He wouldn’t do it for real—and then he’d complain that he’d hurt his hand.”

“What are you going to tell people if you show up for dinner with a busted face?”

“That I was battling evildoers.”

“Try again.”

“That I was practicing falls, and landed wrong.”

“What if I don’t want to mess up my hand?”

He smiled and produced a pair of heavy leather work gloves. “Stuff some rags under the knuckles,” he suggested, as I was pulling them on, “if you’re that worried about it.”

Grandsuurs Tamura and Ylma drifted by on a punt. We pretended to pull weeds until they were out of sight.

“Okay,” Lio said, “my objective is to perform a simple takedown on you—”

“Oh, now you tell me!”

“Nothing we haven’t done a hundred times,” he said, as if I would find this reassuring. “That’s why we came here.” He stomped the damp sand of the riverbank. “Soft ground.”

“Why—?”

“If I put up my hands to defend my face, I won’t be able to complete my objective.”

“I get it.”

Suddenly he came at me and took me down. “You lose,” he proclaimed, getting up.

“Okay.” I sighed, and clambered to my feet. Immediately he wheeled around and took me down again. I threw a playful blow at his head, way too late. This time he took me down a lot harder. Every one of the small muscles in my head felt as if it had been strained. He planted a dirty hand on top of my face and shoved off while getting back to his feet. The message was clear.

The next time I tried for real, but I didn’t have my feet planted and wasn’t able to hit very hard. And he was coming in too low.

The time after that, I got my center of gravity low, planted my feet in the mud, made a bone connection from hip to fist, and drilled him right on the cheekbone. “Good!” he moaned, as he was climbing off me. “See if you can actually slow me down though—that’s the whole point, remember?”

I think we did it about ten more times. Since I was suffering a lot more abuse than he was, I sort of lost track. On my best go, I was able to throw him off stride for a moment—but he still took me down.

“How much longer are we going to do this?” I asked, lying in the mud, in the bottom of an Erasmas-shaped crater. If I refused to get up, he couldn’t take me down.

He scooped up a double handful of river water and splashed it on his face, rinsing away blood from nostrils and eyebrows. “That should do,” he said. “I’ve learned what I wanted.”

“Which is?” I asked, daring to sit up.

“That I’ve adjusted, since what happened at Apert.”

“We did all that to obtain a negative result?” I exclaimed, getting to my knees.

“If you want to think of it that way,” he said, and scooped up more water.

I’d never get such a fine opportunity again, so I rolled up, put a foot in his backside, and sent him headlong into the river.

Later, as Lio was engrossed in the comparatively normal and sane activity of shovel-sharpening, I got us back on the topic of what I’d been seeing in the tablet: specifically, Sammann’s behavior during his noon visits.

Once I’d gotten over that sick feeling of having been found out, I’d begun to brood over some other questions. Was it merely a coincidence that the Ita who had discovered the dust jacket was the same one who had visited Cord in the machine hall? I reckoned that either it was a simple coincidence, or else that this Sammann was some kind of high-ranking Ita who was responsible for important tasks having to do with the starhenge. In any case, it booted me nothing to speculate about it.

“Has dis Ita tried to cobbudicade wid you?” Lio asked through puffy lips.

“You mean, like, sneaking into the math at night to slip me notes?”

Lio was baffled by my answer. He showed this in his usual way: by correcting his posture. The scrape of the rock on the shovel paused for a moment. Then he got it. “No, I don’t mean in real time,” he said. “I mean, on the tablet does he—you know.”

“No, Thistlehead, I have to confess I haven’t the faintest idea—”

“If anyone understands surveillance, it’s those guys,” Lio pointed out. “If you buy into Saunt Patagar’s Assertion, sure.”

Lio seemed disappointed that I was so naive as not to believe this. He went back to work on that rock. The scraping really set my teeth on edge but I reckoned it must be putting the hurt on any spies who might be eavesdropping.

Apparently my new role at the Concent of Saunt Edhar was to be the sheltered innocent. I said, “Well, answer me this. If they have us under total surveillance, they must know everything about me and the tablet, right?”

“Well, yeah, you’d think so.”

“So why hasn’t anything happened?” I asked him. “It’s not like Spelikon and Trestanas have soft spots for me.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he insisted. “I don’t think there’s anything strange about that.”

“How do you figure?”

He paused long enough to give me the idea he was making up an answer on the spot. He dipped his sharpening-rock into the river. “The Ita can’t be telling the Warden Regulant everything they know. Trestanas would have to spend every minute of every day with them, to take in so much intelligence. The Ita must make decisions as to what they will pass on and what they will withhold.”

What Lio was saying opened up all sorts of interesting scenarios that would take me some time to sort out. I didn’t want to stand there with my mouth hanging open any longer than I already had, so I bent down and grabbed the handle of the shovel. It wasn’t going to get any sharper. I looked around for a stand of slashberry that needed to be massacred. It didn’t take long to find one. I made for it and Lio followed me.

“That’s giving the Ita a lot of responsibility,” I said, raising the shovel, then driving it down and forward into the roots of the slashberry canes. Several of them toppled. Most satisfying.

“Assume that they are as intelligent as we are,” Lio said. “Come on! They operate complicated syntactic devices for a living. They created the Reticulum. No one knows better than they do that knowledge is power. By employing strategy and tactics in what they say and what they don’t, they must be able to get things they want.”

I took down a square yard of slashberry while thinking about what he said.

“You’re saying there’s a whole world of Ita/hierarch politics going on over there that we know nothing about.”

“Has to be. Or else they wouldn’t be human,” Lio said.

Then he used Hypotrochian Transquaestiation on me: he changed the subject in such a way as to imply that the question had just been settled—that he had won the point and I had lost. “So, back to my question: does Sammann do anything else on the tablet that sends you a message—or at least indicates he knows that his image is being recorded?” He chucked his sharpening-rock into the river.

The correct response to Hypotrochian Transquaestiation was Hey, not so fast! but Lio’s question was so interesting that I didn’t make a fuss. “I don’t know,” I had to admit, after I’d spent an enjoyable minute or so taking down more slashberry. “But I’m getting bored measuring pie-slices. And I honestly don’t know what else to look at next. So I’ll have a look.”

After that I couldn’t get into the cellar for almost a week. The concent was getting ready for some equinox celebrations and so I had chant rehearsals. The weed war was entering a stage that demanded I draw at least one sketch of it. I had to get my tangle planted. When I was free, there always seemed to be other people at Shuf’s Dowment. The place was becoming hip!

“Be careful what you wish for,” Arsibalt moaned to me, one afternoon. I was helping him carry a stack of beehive frames into a wood shop. “I invited one and all to use the Dowment—now they are doing so—and I can’t work there!”

“Nor I,” I pointed out.

“And now this!” He picked up a putty knife, which I was pretty sure was the wrong tool for the job, and began to pick absent-mindedly at a patch of rotten wood on the corner of a frame. “Disaster!”

“Do you know anything about woodworking?” I asked.

“No,” he admitted.

“How about the metatheorical works of Fraa Paphlagon?”

“That I know a few things about,” he said. “And what is more, I think Orolo wanted us to learn about them.”

“How so?”

“Remember our last dialog with him?”

“Pink nerve-gas-farting dragons. Of course.”

“We must come up with a more dignified name for it before we commit it to ink,” Arsibalt said with a grimace. “Anyway, I believe that Orolo was pushing us to think about some of the ideas that were—are—important to his mentor.”

“Funny he didn’t mention Paphlagon, in that case,” I pointed out. “I remember talking about the later works of Saunt Evenedric, but—”

“One leads to the other. We would have found our way to Paphlagon in due course.”

“You would’ve, maybe,” I said. “What’s it all about?” This seemed a reasonable question. But Arsibalt flinched.

“The sort of stuff Procians hate us for.”

“Like, the Hylaean Theoric World?” I asked.

“That’s what they would call it, as a backhanded way of suggesting we are naive. But, starting at least as early as Protas, the idea of the HTW was developed into a more sophisticated metatheorics. So you could say that Paphlagon’s work is to classical Protan thought what modern group theory is to counting on one’s fingers.”

“But still related to it?”

“Certainly.”

“I’m just thinking back to my conversation with that Inquisitor.”

“Varax?”

“Yeah. I’m wondering whether his interest in the topic—”

“Correction: he was interested in whether we were interested in it,” Arsibalt pointed out.

“Yeah, exactly—whether that might be further evidence for the existence of the Hypothetical Important Fid of Suur Aculoa.”

“I think we should be careful speculating about the HIFOSA until Suur Tulia has actually found evidence of his or her existence,” Arsibalt said. “Otherwise we’ll be coming up with all manner of speculations that would never make it past the Rake.”

“Well, without telling me everything you know about it,” I said, “can you give me a clue as to why anyone in the Sæcular world would think Paphlagon’s work might be of practical importance?”

“Yes,” he said, “if you fix this beehive for me.”

“You know about atom smashers? Particle accelerators?”

“Sure,” I said. “Praxic Age installations. Huge and expensive. Used to test theories about elementary particles and forces.”

“Yes,” Arsibalt said. “If you can’t test it, it’s not theorics—it’s metatheorics. A branch of philosophy. So, if you want to think of it this way, our test equipment is what defines the boundary separating theorics from philosophy.”

“Wow,” I said, “I’ll bet a philosopher would really jump down your throat for talking that way. It’s like saying that philosophy is nothing more than bad theorics.”

“There are some theors who would say so,” Arsibalt admitted. “But those people aren’t really talking about philosophy as philosophers would define it. Rather, they are talking about something that theors begin to do when they get right up to the edge of what they can prove using the equipment they’ve got. They drive philosophers crazy by calling it philosophy or metatheorics.”

“What kind of stuff are you talking about?”

“Well, they speculate as to what the next theory might look like. They develop the theory and try to use it to make predictions that might be testable. In the late Praxic Age, that usually meant constructing an even bigger and more expensive particle accelerator.”

“And then came the Terrible Events,” I said.

“Yes, no more expensive toys for theors after that,” Arsibalt said. “But it’s not clear that it actually made that much of a difference. The biggest machines, in those days, were already pushing the limits of what could be constructed on Arbre with reasonable amounts of money.”

“I hadn’t known that,” I said. “I always tend to assume there’s an infinite amount of money out there.”

“There might as well be,” Arsibalt said, “but most of it gets spent on pornography, sugar water, and bombs. There is only so much that can be scraped together for particle accelerators.”

“So the Turn to Cosmography might have happened even without the Reconstitution.”

“It was already happening,” Arsibalt said, “as the theors of the very late Praxic Age were coming to terms with the fact that no machine would be constructed during their lifetimes that would be capable of testing the theorics to which they were devoting their careers.”

“So those theors had no alternative but to look to the cosmos for givens.”

“Yes,” Arsibalt said. “And in the meantime we have people like Fraa Paphlagon.”

“Meaning what? Both theors and philosophers?”

He thought about it. “I’m trying to respect your earlier request that I not simply bury you in Paphlagon,” he explained, when he caught me looking, “but this forces me to work harder.”

“Fair is fair,” I pointed out, brandishing a crosscut saw that I had been putting to use.

“You could think of Paphlagon—and presumably Orolo—as descendants of people like Evenedric.”

“Theors,” I said, “who turned to philosophy when theorics stopped.”

“Slowed down,” Arsibalt corrected me, “waiting for results from places like Saunt Bunjo’s.”

Bunjo was a Millenarian math built around an empty salt mine two miles underground. Its fraas and suurs worked in shifts, sitting in total darkness waiting to see flashes of light from a vast array of crystalline particle detectors. Every thousand years they published their results. During the First Millennium they were pretty sure they had seen flashes on three separate occasions, but since then they had come up empty.

“So, in the meantime, they’ve been fooling around with ideas that people like Evenedric came up with when they reached the edge of theorics?”

“Yes,” Arsibalt said. “There was a profusion of them, right around the time of the Reconstitution, all variations on the theme of the polycosm.”

“The idea that our cosmos is not the only one.”

“Yes. And that’s what Paphlagon writes about when he isn’t studying this cosmos.”

“Now I’m a little confused,” I said, “because I thought you told me just a minute ago that he was working on the HTW.”

“Well, but you could think of Protism—the belief that there is another realm of existence populated by pure theorical forms—as the earliest and simplest polycosmic theory,” he pointed out.

“Because it posits two cosmi,” I said, trying to keep up, “one for us, and one for isosceles triangles.”

“Yes.”

“But the polycosmic theories I’ve heard about—the circa-Reconstitution ones—are a whole different kettle of fish. In those theories, there are multiple cosmi separate from our own—but similar. Full of matter and energy and fields. Always changing. Not eternal triangles.”

“Not always as similar as you think,” Arsibalt said. “Paphlagon is part of a tradition that believed that classical Protism was just another polycosmic theory.”

“How could you possibly—”

“I can’t tell you without telling you everything,” Arsibalt said, holding up his fleshy hands. “The point I’m getting at is that he believes in some form of the Hylaean Theoric World. And that there are other cosmi. Those are the topics Suur Aculoa is interested in.”

“So if the HIFOSA really exists—” I said.

“He or she summoned Paphlagon because the polycosm somehow became a hot topic.”

“And we are guessing that whatever made it hot, also triggered the closure of the starhenge.”

Arsibalt shrugged.

“Well, what could that possibly be?”

He shrugged again. “That’s one for you and Jesry. But don’t forget that the Panjandrums might simply be confused.”

Finally one day I made it down into the sub-cellar of Shuf’s Dowment and spent three hours watching Sammann eat lunches. He made the trip almost every day, but not always at the same time. If the weather was fine and the time of day was right, he would sit on the parapet, spread out some food on a little cloth, and enjoy the view while he ate. Sometimes he read a book. I couldn’t identify all of his little morsels and delicacies, but they looked better than what we had for lunch. Sometimes, if the wind blew out of the northeast, we could smell the Ita cooking. It always seemed as if they were taunting us.

“Results!” I proclaimed to Lio the next time I was alone with him in the meadow. “Sort of.”

“Yeah?”

“You were right, I think.”

“Right about what?” For so much time had passed that he had forgotten our earlier talk about Sammann. I had to remind him. Then, he was taken aback. “Wow,” he said, “this is big.”

“Could be. I still don’t know what to make of it,” I said.

“What does he do? Hold up a sign in front of the Eye? Use sign language?”

“Sammann’s too clever for that,” I said.

“What? It sounds like you’re speaking of an old friend.”

“I almost feel that way about him by this point. He and I have had a lot of lunches together.”

“So, how does he—did he—talk to you?”

“For the first sixty-eight days, he’s a real bore,” I said. “Then on Day Sixty-nine, something happens.”

“Day Sixty-nine? What does that mean to the rest of us?”

“Well, it’s about two weeks after the solstice and nine days before Orolo got Thrown Back.”

“Okay. So what does Sammann do on Day Sixty-nine?”

“Well, normally, when he gets to the top of the stair, he unslings a bag from his shoulder and hangs it around a stone knob that sticks up from the parapet there. He cleans the optics. Then he goes over and sits on the parapet—it has a flat top about a foot wide—and takes his lunch out of that bag and spreads it out there and eats it.”

“Okay. What happens on Day Sixty-nine?”

“In addition to the shoulder bag, he is carrying something cradled in one arm like a book. The first thing he does is set this down on the parapet. Then he goes about his usual routine.”

“So it’s sitting there in plain view of the Eye.”

“Exactly.”

“Can you zoom in on it?”

“Of course.”

“Can you read its title?”

“Turns out it’s not a book at all, Lio. It is another dust jacket—just like the one Sammann found up there the first day. Except this one is big and heavy because it contains—”

“Another tablet!” Lio exclaimed, then paused to consider it. “I wonder what that means.”

“Well, we have to assume he had just picked it up elsewhere in the starhenge.”

“He doesn’t leave it there, I assume.”

“No, when he’s finished eating he takes it with him.”

“I wonder why he’d choose that day of all days to snatch a tablet.”

“Well, I’m thinking it must have been around Day Sixty-nine that Fraa Spelikon’s investigation of Orolo really began to pick up steam. Now, you might remember that when I sneaked up there during the Anathem, on Day Seventy-eight, I checked the M & M—”

“And found it empty,” Lio said with a nod. “So. On Day Sixty-nine, Spelikon probably ordered Sammann to fetch the tablet that Orolo had left in the M & M. Which Sammann did. But Spelikon didn’t know about the one you’d put in Clesthyra’s Eye, so he didn’t ask for it.”

“But Sammann knew,” I reminded him. “He had noticed it on Day Two.”

“And had made up his mind not to tell Spelikon. But on Day Sixty-nine he didn’t try to hide the fact that he’d just grabbed Orolo’s tablet.” Lio shook his head. “I don’t get it. Why would he risk letting you know that?”

I threw up my hands. “Maybe it’s not such a risk for him. He’s already Ita. What can they do to him?”

“Good point. They can’t be nearly as afraid of the Warden Regulant as we are.”

I was a little bit irritated to be reminded that we were afraid, but, considering all of the skulking around I’d been doing lately, I couldn’t argue.

I’d been getting better, I realized. Recovering from the loss of Fraa Orolo. Forgetting how sad and angry I was. And when Lio mentioned the Warden Regulant, it reminded me.

Anyway, there was a long silence now as Lio assimilated all of this. We actually got some work done. On the weeds I mean.

“Well,” he finally said, “what happens after that?”

“Day Seventy, cloudy. Day Seventy-one, snowing. Day Seventy-two, snowing. Can’t see anything because the lens is covered. Day Seventy-three, it’s brilliant weather. Most of the snow has melted off by the time Sammann gets there. He cleans the place up and has lunch. He’s wearing goggles.”

“Like sunglasses?”

“Bigger and thicker.”

“Like what mountain climbers wear?”

“That’s what I thought at first,” I said. “Actually, I had to watch Day Seventy-three several times before I got it.”

“Got what?” Lio asked. “It was bright, there was snow, he wore dark goggles.”

Really dark,” I said. “I don’t think that these were ordinary goggles like an outdoorsman would wear. I’ve seen these goggles before, Lio. When I saw Cord and Sammann in the machine hall, during Apert, they were wearing these things to shield their eyes from the arc. An arc that’s as bright as the sun.”

“But why would Sammann suddenly start wearing such a getup to clean the lenses?”

“He doesn’t actually have them on while he’s cleaning. They’re dangling around his neck on a strap,” I said. “Then he puts them on and eats his lunch as usual. But the entire time that he’s eating, he’s staring directly into the sun. Sammann is watching the sun.

“And he never did this before Day Sixty-nine?”

“Nope. Never.”

“So do you think that he learned something—?”

“Something from Fraa Orolo’s tablet, maybe?” I said. “Or something Spelikon told him? Or perhaps scuttlebutt from other Ita in other concents, talking, or whatever they do, over the Reticulum?”

“Why watch the sun? That is completely off the track of what you have been doing, isn’t it?”

Completely. But it’s something. It is a big fat hint. A gift from Sammann.”

“So, have you started looking at the sun too?”

“I don’t have goggles,” I reminded him, “but I do have twenty-odd clear sunny days recorded on that tablet. So starting tomorrow I can at least look at what the sun was doing three and four months ago.”

Big Three: The Concents of Saunt Muncoster, Saunt Tredegarh, and Saunt Baritoe, which are geographically close to one another and which have numerous characteristics in common, e.g., founded in 0 A.R., relatively populous, richly endowed, and enjoying high status for past achievements.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

The next morning, after a theorics lecture, Jesry and Tulia and I went talking in the meadow. It was the first really fine spring day and everyone was out walking around, so it felt as though we could do this without being conspicuous.

“I think I found the IFOSA,” Tulia announced.

“You mean the HIFOSA,” Jesry corrected her.

“No,” I said, “if Tulia has found such a person, it is no longer Hypothetical.”

“I stand corrected,” Jesry said. “Who is the Important Fid?”

“Ignetha Foral,” Tulia said.

“The surname sounds vaguely familiar,” Jesry said.

“The family has been wealthy for a few hundred years, which makes them old and well-established by Sæcular standards. They have a lot of ties to the mathic world—especially Baritoe.”

Saunt Baritoe was adjacent to landforms that made a huge and excellent harbor when the sea level was behaving itself, when it wasn’t buried in pack ice, and when the river that emptied into it had not dried up or been diverted. For about a third of the time since the Reconstitution, a large city had existed around Baritoe’s walls—not always the same city, of course—and so it had the reputation of being urban and worldly, with many ties to families such as, apparently, the Forals. The Procians were powerful there, and in their Unarian math they trained many young Sæculars who later went into law, politics, and commerce.

“What are we allowed to know of her?” Jesry asked.

The question was aptly phrased. Once a year, at Annual Apert, our Unarians reviewed summaries of the Sæcular news of the year just ended. Then, once every ten years, just before Decennial Apert, they reviewed the previous ten annual summaries and compiled a decennial summary, which became part of our library delivery. The only criterion for a news item to make it into a summary was that it still had to seem interesting. This filtered out essentially all of the news that made up the Sæcular world’s daily papers and casts. Jesry was asking Tulia what Ignetha Foral had done that was interesting enough to have made it into the most recent Decennial summary.

“She had an important post in the government—she was one of the dozen or so highest-ranking people—and she took a stand against the Warden of Heaven, and he got rid of her.”

“Killed her?”

“No.”

“Threw her into a dungeon?”

“No, just fired her. I speculate that she has some other job now where she still has enough pull to Evoke someone like Paphlagon.”

“So, she was a fid of Suur Aculoa?”

“Ignetha Foral spent six years in the Unarian math at Baritoe and wrote a treatise comparing Paphlagon’s work to that of some other, er…”

“People like Paphlagon,” Jesry said impatiently.

“Yeah, of previous centuries.”

“Did you read it?”

“We didn’t get a copy. Maybe in another ten years. I already went into the Lower Labyrinth and shoved a request through the grille.”

Someone at Baritoe—presumably a Unarian fid—would have to copy Foral’s treatise by hand and send it to us. If a book were very popular, fids would do this without being asked, and copies would circulate to other maths.

“You’d think a rich family would have had copies machine-printed,” Jesry said.

“Too vulgar,” Tulia said. “But I know the title: Plurality of Worlds: a Comparative Study of Polycosmic Ideation among the Halikaarnians.

“Hmm. Makes me feel like a bug under the Procians’ magnifying glass,” I said.

“Baritoe is Procian-dominated,” Tulia reminded me. “She wasn’t going to get anywhere calling it Why the Halikaarnians Are So Much Smarter than Us.” Too late I remembered that Tulia belonged to a Procian order now.

“So, she was interested in the polycosm,” Jesry said before this could flourish into a spat. “What could have happened that would be observable from the starhenge and that would make the polycosm relevant?” It was the sort of question Jesry would never ask unless he already knew the answer, which he now supplied: “Something’s gone wrong with the sun, I’ll bet.”

I was poised to scoff, but held back, reflecting that Sammann had, after all, been looking at the sun. “Something visible with the naked eye?”

“Sunspots. Solar flares. These can affect our weather and so on. And ever since the Praxic Age, the atmosphere doesn’t protect us from certain things.”

“Well, if that’s where the action is, why was Orolo looking at the North Pole?”

“The aurora,” Jesry said, as if he actually knew what he was talking about. “It responds to solar flares.”

“But we haven’t had a single decent aurora this whole time,” Tulia pointed out, with a catlike look of satisfaction on her face.

“That we could see with the naked eye,” Jesry returned. “This tablet of ours could be the perfect instrument for observing not only auroras but the disk of the sun itself.”

“I notice it’s ‘our’ tablet now that it’s got something good on it,” I pointed out.

“If Suur Trestanas finds it, it’ll go back to being ‘your’ tablet,” Tulia said. She and I laughed but Jesry was determined not to be amused.

“Seriously,” Tulia continued, “that hypothesis doesn’t explain why they Evoked Paphlagon. Any cosmographer can look at solar flares.”

“What’s the connection to the polycosm, you’re asking?” Jesry said.

“Exactly.”

“Maybe there is none,” I speculated, “maybe Ignetha Foral just wanted a cosmographer, and happened to remember Paphlagon’s name.”

“Maybe she’s being persecuted as a heretic, and they yanked Paphlagon so that they could burn him too,” Jesry suggested. And we chatted about such ideas for a few minutes before discarding all of them in favor of the proposition that Paphlagon must have been chosen for some good reason.

“Well,” Jesry said, “the way that the theors of old found themselves talking about the polycosm in the first place was by thinking about stars: how they formed, and what went on inside them.”

“Formation of nuclei and so on,” Tulia said.

“And not only that but, when the stars die, how do those nuclei get blown out into space so that they can form planets and—”

“And us,” I said.

“Yeah,” Jesry said. “It leads to the question, why are all of those processes so fine-tuned to produce life? A sticky question. Deolaters would say, ‘Ah, see, God made the cosmos just for us.’ But the polycosmic answer is, ‘No, there must be lots of cosmi, some good for life, most not—we only see one cosmos in which we are capable of existing.’ And that is where all of this philosophical stuff originated that Suur Aculoa likes to study.”

“I think I see where you’re going now when you guess something’s gone wrong with the sun,” I said. “Maybe there are some new solar observations that contradict what we thought we knew about the theorics of what goes on in the cores of stars. And maybe this has ramifications that extend all the way to those polycosmic theories that Paphlagon’s interested in.”

“Or—more likely—Ignetha Foral mistakenly thinks so, so she’s yanked Paphlagon, and is now sending him on a wild goose chase,” Jesry said.

“I think she’s pretty smart,” Tulia demurred, but Jesry didn’t hear her because a resolution was forming in his head. He turned toward me. “I want to go down there and view this with you,” he said. “Or without you, if you are busy.”

For about twelve different reasons I hated this idea, but I couldn’t say so without making it look like I was trying to be a pig and monopolize the tablet. “Fine,” I said.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Tulia said—sounding as if she were pretty sure it wasn’t. But before this could develop into a proper fight, we all took notice of the approach of Suur Ala, who was heading straight for us across the meadow. “Uh-oh,” Jesry said.

Suur Ala was unusual-looking in a way I’d never been able to pin down; sometimes I found myself staring at her during lectures or at Provener trying to make sense of her face. She had a round head on a slender neck, lately accentuated by a short haircut she had gotten during Apert; since then, one of the other suurs had been maintaining this for her. She had huge eyes, a delicate sharp nose, and a wide mouth. She was small and bony where Tulia was generous. Anyway there was something about her physical form that matched her soul.

She didn’t waste time greeting us. “For the eight-hundredth time in the last three months, Fraa Erasmas is at the center of a heated conversation. Carefully out of earshot of others. Complete with significant glances at the sky and at Shuf’s Dowment,” she began. “Don’t bother trying to explain it away, I know you guys are up to something. Have been for weeks and weeks.”

We all stood there for a long moment. My heart was pounding. Ala was squared off against the three of us, scanning our faces with those searchlight eyes.

“All right,” Jesry said, “we won’t bother.” But that was all he said. There followed another long silence. I was expecting a look of fury to come over Ala’s face. For her to make a threat to bring down the Inquisition on us. Instead of which her face slowly collapsed. For a moment I thought she might show some other emotion—I couldn’t guess what. But she passed from there to a blank resolute look, turned her back on us, and began walking away. After she’d gone a few paces, Tulia went after her, leaving Jesry and me alone. “That was weird,” he observed.

I could hardly respond. The miserable feeling that had kept me awake in my cell on the night that Ala had joined the New Circle had come over me again.

“You think she’ll rat us out?” I asked him.

I tried to put it in an incredulous tone of voice, as in are you really stupid enough to think she’d rat us out? but Jesry took it at face value. “It would be a great way to score points with the Warden Regulant.”

“But she was careful to approach us when no one else was around,” I pointed out.

“Maybe in hopes of negotiating some kind of deal with us?”

“What do we have to offer in the way of a deal!?” I snorted.

Jesry thought about it and shrugged. “Our bodies?”

“Now you’re just being obnoxious. Why don’t you say ‘our affections’ if you’re going to make such jokes.”

“Because I don’t think I have any affection for Ala,” Jesry said, “and I don’t think she has any for me.”

“Come on, she’s not that bad.”

“How can you say that after the little performance she just put on?”

“Maybe she was trying to warn us that we’re being too obvious.”

“Well, she might have a point there,” Jesry admitted. “We should stop talking out in the open where the whole math can observe us.”

“You have a better idea?”

“Yeah. The sub-cellar of Shuf’s Dowment, next time Arsibalt sends us the signal.”

As it turned out, this was only about four hours later. It all worked fine—superficially. Arsibalt sent the signal. Jesry and I noticed it from different places and converged on Shuf’s Dowment. No one was there except for Arsibalt. Jesry and I went below and got to work.

But in every other way it was wrong from the start. Whenever I went to Shuf’s Dowment, I took a circuitous route through the back of the page-tree-coppice. I never went the same way twice. Jesry, on the other hand, just crossed the bridge and made a beeline for it. But I couldn’t say his way was any worse than mine, because that day I encountered no fewer than four different people, or groups of people, out strolling around to enjoy the weather. Within a stone’s throw of the Dowment I almost tripped over Suur Tary and Fraa Branch who were enjoying a private moment together, all wrapped up in each other’s bolts.

When I finally reached the building, it was with the intent of calling the thing off. But Jesry wasn’t about to walk away. He talked me into going down there as Arsibalt looked on, growingly horrified, eyes jumping from door to window to door. So down we went, and crammed ourselves into that tiny place where I had spent so many hours by myself. But it wasn’t the same with him there. I’d grown used to the geometric distortion wreaked by the lens; he hadn’t, and spent a lot of time zooming in on different things just to see what they looked like. It was no different from what I had done on my first few sessions with it, but it made me want to scream. He didn’t seem to understand that we did not have time for this. When he got really interested in something, he would talk much too loudly. Both of us had to go out and urinate; I had to teach him about the “all clear” signal involving the door.

It seemed like two or three hours went by before we actually got around to observing the sun. The tablet worked as well for this as it did for looking at distant stars. It could only generate so much light, and so the sun appeared, not as a blinding thermonuclear fireball, but as a crisp-edged disk—the brightest thing on the tablet, certainly, but not so bright you couldn’t look at it. If you zoomed in on it and turned down the brightness, you could observe sunspots. I couldn’t really say whether there was an exceptional number of these. Neither could Jesry. By blacking out the sun’s disk and observing the space around it, we could look for solar flares, but there was nothing unusual going on that we could see. Not that either of us was an expert on such things. We’d never paid much attention to the sun before, considering it an obnoxious, wayward star that interfered with our observations of all the other stars.

After we became discouraged, and convinced ourselves that the hypothesis about Sammann and the goggles was wrong, and that we’d wasted the whole afternoon, we attempted to leave, and found the door at the top of the stairs closed. Someone else was in the building; it wasn’t safe to go out.

We waited for half an hour. Maybe Arsibalt had closed the door in error. I crept up and put my ear to it. He was carrying on a conversation with someone there, and the longer I listened to their muffled voices the more certain I became that the other person was Suur Ala. She had tracked us here!

Jesry had uncomplimentary things to say about her when I came back down to report this news. Half an hour later she was still there. Both of us were starving. Arsibalt must be in a state of animalistic terror.

Clearly our secret was out, or soon to be out, to at least one person. Squatting there in the darkness, trapped like rats, we had more than enough time to think through the implications. To go on as if this had not happened would be senseless. So, having nothing else to do, we pulled the poly tarp up off the floor and wrapped the tablet in it. Then we maneuvered and squirmed into the remotest place we could find—the utmost frontier of Arsibalt’s explorations—and used his shovel to bury the tablet four feet deep. When we were finished with that project, and nicely covered with dirt, I went up and put my ear to the door again. This time I heard no conversation. But the door was still closed.

“I think Arsibalt has abandoned us in favor of supper,” I told Jesry. “But I’ll bet she’s still up there.”

“It’s not in her character to leave at this point,” Jesry said.

“Say, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about her.”

“What do you think we should do, Raz?”

It was strange to hear Jesry asking for my views on any topic. I savored this novel experience for a few moments before saying, “If she intends to rat us out, I’m dead no matter what. But you have a chance. So, let’s go out together. You hood yourself and go straight out the back door and make yourself scarce. I’ll approach Ala and talk to her—she’ll be distracted long enough for you to melt into the darkness.”

“It’s a deal,” Jesry said. “Thanks, Raz. And remember: if it’s your body that she wants—”

“Shut up.”

“Okay, let’s do it,” Jesry said, pulling his bolt over his head. But I could see him shaking his head at the same time. “Can you believe this is what passes for excitement around this place?”

“Maybe someday your wish will be granted and something will happen in the world.”

“I thought this might be it,” he said, nodding toward the sub-cellar. “But, so far, there’s nothing but sunspots.”

The door opened and a light shone on us.

“Hello, boys,” said Suur Ala, “lose your way?”

Jesry was hooded; she couldn’t see his face. He bounded up the stairs, pushed his way past Ala, and headed for the back door. I was right behind him. I came face to face with Suur Ala just in time to hear a terrible thud from down the hall. Jesry was sprawled over the threshold, covered by a mess of bolt—from the waist up.

“No point hiding, Jesry. I’d know your smile anywhere,” Ala called.

Jesry got his legs under him, let his bolt drop back down over his arse, and ran off. Now that my eyes had adjusted to the light I could see that Ala had stretched her chord across the doorway at ankle level and tied it off between a couple of chairs flanking the exit. Lacking any other way to keep her bolt on, she had thrown it over herself loosely and was holding it up with one arm. She turned her back on me and shuffled over to retrieve the chord.

“Arsibalt left an hour ago,” she said. “I think he lost half his weight in perspiration.”

I couldn’t muster a lot of amusement, since I knew she was in a position to say equally funny things about me or Jesry if she wanted.

“Cat got your tongue?” she asked, after a good long while.

“How many other people know?”

“You mean, how many have I told? Or how many have figured it out on their own?”

“I guess…both.”

“I’ve told no one. As to the other question, I guess the answer would be, anyone who pays as much attention to you as I do, which probably means…no one.”

“Why would you pay attention to me?”

She rolled her eyes. “Good question!”

“Look, what do you want, Ala? What are you after?”

“It’s part of the rules of the game that I mustn’t tell you.”

“If this is about you trying to be some sort of junior Warden Regulant—her little protegee—then get it over with! Go and tell her. I’ll march out of the Day Gate at sunrise and go find Orolo.”

She was winding her chord about herself as I said this. Suddenly the bolt seemed to grow twice as large as all of the breath went out of her. Her chest collapsed and her head drooped. The big eyes closed for a few moments. Here was where any other girl would have gone to pieces.

It is hard to say just how monstrous I felt. I leaned back against the wall and let my head thud back as if attempting to escape from my own, hideously guilty skin. But there was no way out of it.

She had opened her eyes. They were gleaming, but they saw everything. Anyone who pays as much attention to you as I do, which means no one.

In a voice almost too quiet to hear, she said, “You need to take a bath.”

For once in my life I actually managed to see the double meaning. But Ala was already gone.

Eleven: The list of plants forbidden intramuros, typically because of their undesirable pharmacological properties. The Discipline states that any specimen noticed growing in a math is to be uprooted and burned without delay, and that the event is to be noted in the Chronicle. The list originally drawn up by Saunt Cartas included only three, but their number was increased over the centuries as Arbre was explored and new species were discovered.

— THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

I’d have become a Deolater and gone on a pilgrimage of any length to find a magic bath that would wash away the mess I’d just made. The hardships of the journey would have been pleasant compared to my next week or so in the math. Not that Ala told anyone. She was too proud for that. But all the other suurs, beginning with Tulia, could tell she was suffering. And by breakfast the next morning, everyone had decided it must be my fault. I wondered how this worked. My first hypothesis was wrong on the face of it: that Ala had run home and narrated the story to a chalk hall full of appalled suurs. My second hypothesis was that she had been seen coming home miserable after having missed supper; I had been seen skulking home a little while later; ergo, I had done a bad thing to her. It wasn’t until later that I understood the much simpler truth: others had noticed that Ala had her eye on me, and so if Ala were miserable, it could only be because I had done something—it didn’t matter what—bad.

In a stroke I had been Thrown Back by every young female in the math. All the girls seemed to be aghast, all the time, because that was the look that would come over every girl’s face when she saw me.

The thing grew over time. If Ala had simply written up an account of what I’d done and stapled it to my chest, it wouldn’t have been so bad; but because the amount of information about what I had done was exactly zero, people’s imaginations went crazy. Young suurs cringed away from me. Older ones glared at me through supper. It doesn’t matter what you did, young man…we know you did something.

I did not see Ala again for four days, which was statistically improbable. It suggested that other suurs were acting as lookouts, tracking my movements so that they could tell Ala where not to be.

Arsibalt was so rattled that he could hardly speak until three days later, when he came to supper all dirty, and told me in a whisper that he had dug up the tablet from where Jesry and I had buried it (“ridiculously easy to find”) and hid it in a much better place (“safe and sound”).

Jesry and I knew better than to try to find any object that Arsibalt considered to be safe and sound. All we could do was wait for him to calm down.

I figured out why I never saw Ala: she and Tulia were spending an inordinate amount of time at the Mynster, doing some maintenance on the bells, practicing weird changes, and passing their knowledge down to the younger girls who would eventually replace them.

Sunny days came more frequently. I could look up to the top of the spire sometimes and see Sammann eating his lunch and staring fixedly into the sun through his goggles. Jesry and I discussed smoking a pane of glass and using it to do likewise, but we knew that if we did it wrong we’d go blind. I even contemplated going over the wall, running off to the machine hall, and borrowing a welding mask from Cord. But all of these were really nothing more than distractions to get my mind off the Ala problem. Early on, I had thought of this as a matter of salvaging my reputation. But as time went by, and I thought about it harder, the real nature of the thing became clear: I had made a mess inside of someone else’s soul at a moment when that soul had been open to me. Now it was closed. I was the only one who could clean up the mess; but in order to do this I first had to get in there. And I had no idea how, especially in the case of someone as fierce as Ala.

But it occurred to me, one day, as I was pursuing the weed project, that unilateral disarmament might work with someone like her. The work Lio and I had been doing along the riverbank was bringing me into contact with many spring wildflowers. The girls were up in the Mynster doing maintenance on the belfry. Suddenly it all seemed obvious. I put the plan into motion before I’d really thought it through. Ten minutes later I was sleep-walking up the Mynster stairs with a bunch of flowers on my arm, covered under a fold of my bolt because one of them was of the Eleven and I was about to carry it straight through the Warden Regulant’s court.

The portcullis was still locked down, the stair up the buttress inaccessible, the upper Præsidium off limits. Our carillon was in the lower reaches of the chronochasm, reachable by a ladder that ran up from the Fendant court. This route dead-ended in a sort of maintenance shack just below the carillon; you couldn’t go any higher up the Præsidium that way, so I could go there without arousing any concern that I might be attempting to look at the forbidden sky.

The bells themselves were open to the weather. Below them was this shack that sheltered some of the machinery that made the bells ring. I could hear Ala and Tulia up there talking. The ladder led up to a trapdoor in its floor. My heart was bonging like a bell as I climbed; I gripped the rungs hard so I wouldn’t fall off. I’d stuffed the flowers into my bolt to leave both hands free, and now I was sweating all over the blossoms. Disgusting. Ala laughed at some witty remark of Tulia’s. I was happy to hear that she was capable of laughter, then chagrined, in a weird way, that she’d already gotten over me.

There was no way to make a smooth entrance. I shoved the trapdoor up and out of my way. The girls became silent. I heaved the bouquet through the aperture and dumped it on the floor to one side, thinking that this would make a more favorable first impression than my face, which of late had practically made young females run screaming. But this was only delaying the inevitable. My face was attached to the rest of me. It and I would have to arrive together. I poked the sorry thing up through the door and looked around, but couldn’t see a thing; the shack had windows, but they’d been covered. The girls, however, recognized me with their dark-adjusted eyes, and became even more silent, if such a thing is possible. I hauled the rest of me up through the door.

Tulia made her sphere emit light. She and Ala were sitting side by side on the floor, leaning back against the wall. I wondered why. But I was leery of opening my mouth for any purpose other than the one at hand. So I knelt to one side of the trapdoor and regathered the bouquet. This gave me a few moments to realize I had no plan and nothing to say. But having grown up with Suur Ala and knowing how she reacted to things, I reckoned I couldn’t go wrong asking permission. “Ala, I would like to give you these, if it wouldn’t kill you.”

At least one of them inhaled. Neither raised an objection. The place was larger than I imagined, but so cluttered with beams and shafts I wasn’t certain I could stand up, so I knee-walked over to where they were sitting. Something brushed past me—a bat? But the next time I took a count of persons in the room—which was much later—there were only two of us. So it must have been Tulia teleporting herself out of the place like a space captain in a speely.

“Thank you,” Ala said—guardedly. “Did you carry these things up through the Regulant court? I guess you must have.”

“I did,” I said. “Why?” Though I already knew why.

“This one here is Saunt Chandera’s Bane, isn’t it?”

“Saunt Chandera’s Bane makes a weird-looking blossom around this time of year, which I have decided is beautiful.” I was getting ready to make an analogy to Ala’s appearance but faltered, wondering how to phrase the part about her being kind of weird-looking.

“But it’s one of the Eleven!”

“I’m aware of it,” I said, getting a little tense, as she had broken into my analogy only to start a dispute. “Look, I put it there because it’s forbidden. And this thing between you and me—this mess that I made—is all about something else that’s forbidden.”

“I can’t believe you carried this right up the stairs under the nose of the Inquisition.”

“Okay. Now that you mention it, it was pretty stupid.”

“That wasn’t the word I was going to use,” she said. “Thanks for bringing these.”

“You’re welcome.”

“If you sit next to me I’ll show you something I’ll bet you never expected,” she said. And here I was pretty sure there wasn’t a double meaning. By the time I’d gotten myself seated in Tulia’s former spot, Ala had already climbed to her feet—she could stand up in here, at least—and padded over to the trapdoor, which Tulia had left open. Ala closed it. She sat next to me and extinguished her light. It was totally dark in here now. Totally dark, that is, except for a single splotch of white light, about the size of the palm of Ala’s hand, that seemed to hover in space just in front of us. I didn’t imagine that this was a coincidence; the girls had been sitting here because of the splotch of light. I reached out and explored it with my right hand (the left, curiously, was beyond use, as it had somehow ended up around Ala’s shoulders). There was a plank leaning against the wall, with a blank leaf pinned to it, and the light-splotch was being projected against that leaf. Now that my eyes had adjusted, I could see that the splotch was round. Perfectly circular, in fact.

“Do you remember the total eclipse of 3680 when we made a camera obscura so we could see it without burning our eyes?”

“A box,” I recalled, “with a pinhole at one end and a sheet of white paper at the other.”

“Tulia and I have been spring cleaning up here,” she said. “We noticed these patches of sunlight moving around on the floor and the walls. They were shining through from an old opening up high in the wall, over thataway.” She squirmed as she pointed invisibly in the dark, and somehow ended up closer to me. “We think it was put there to ventilate the place, then boarded up because bats were getting in. The light was leaking in through chinks between the boards. We fixed it—almost.”

“That ‘almost’ being a nice neat little pinhole?”

“Exactly, and we set up the screen down here. We have to move it, obviously, as the sun moves across the sky.”

Ala could insert the word obviously into an otherwise polite sentence like nobody’s business. I’d spent more than half of my life being sporadically annoyed by it. Here, finally, I let it go. I was too busy admiring the cleverness of Tulia and Ala. I wished I’d thought of this. You didn’t need a lens or a mirror of ground and polished glass to see things far away. A simple pinhole could serve as well. The image that it cast was faint, though, and so you had to view it in a dark room—a camera obscura.

Apparently Tulia had told Ala everything about the tablet, about Sammann, and about my observations. But it seemed like years since I had cared about that stuff as much as I cared about fixing my mess. In fact, as we sat there in the dark together I was finding it difficult to muster even the least bit of interest in the sun. It was shining. Photosynthesis was safe. There were no major flares, and only a few spots. Who cared?

It was even harder to care a few minutes later. Kissing was not a subject taught in chalk halls. We had to learn by trial and error. Even the errors were not too bad.

“A spark,” Ala said—muffled somewhat—a while later.

“I’ll say!”

“No, I thought I saw a spark.”

“I’m told it’s normal to see stars at times like this—”

“Don’t flatter yourself!” she said, and heaved me aside. “I just saw another one.”

“Where?”

“On the screen.”

Somewhat bleary-eyed, I turned my attention to it. Nothing was on that page except the same pale-white disk.

And…

a spark. A pinprick of light, brighter than the sun, gone before I could be certain it was there.

“I think—”

“There it is again!” she exclaimed. “It moved a little though.”

We watched a few more. She was right. All of the sparks were below and to the right of the sun’s disk. But each one was slightly higher and farther to the left. If you plotted them on the page, they’d form a line aimed right at the sun.

What would Orolo do? “We need a pen,” I said.

“Don’t have one,” she said. “They’re coming about once a second. Maybe faster.”

“Is there anything sharp?”

“The pins!” Ala and Tulia had used four stick-pins to fix the page to the plank. I worried one loose and let it tumble into her warm little hand.

“I’m going to hold the plank still. You poke a hole in the page wherever you see a spark,” I said.

We missed a few more while we were getting ourselves arranged. I knelt to one side, bracing the plank against the wall with my hand, holding its base steady with my knee. She threw herself down on her belly and propped herself up on her elbows, her face so close to the page that I could see her eyes and the curve of her cheek in the faint illumination scattering from the page. She was the most beautiful girl in the concent.

I saw the next spark reflected in her eye. Up came her hand as she poked it on the page.

“It would be really good if we knew the exact time,” I said.

Poke. “In a few minutes this is,” poke, “going to migrate off the page, obviously.” Poke. “Then we can run out and look at,” poke, “the clock.” Poke.

“Notice anything funny about these sparks?” Poke.

“They’re not instant on-off.” Poke. “They flare up quickly,” poke, “but fade slowly.” Poke.

“I was referring to the color.” Poke.

“Kind of blue-y?” Poke.

A sudden grinding noise nearly gave me a heart attack. It was the belfry’s automatic mechanism going into action. The clock was striking two. At this time it would have been traditional to plug one’s ears. I didn’t dare; Ala would have assailed me with that jabbing pin. Poke…poke…poke…

“So much for knowing the time,” I said, when I thought she might be able to hear again.

“I made a triple hole on the spark that came closest to the stroke of two,” she said.

“Perfect.”

“I think it’s been curving,” she said.

“Curving?”

“Like—whatever makes these sparks isn’t moving in a straight line. It is changing its course,” she said. “It’s obviously flying between us and the sun—it’s passing right across the sun’s disk, at the moment. But the line of pinholes doesn’t look straight to me.”

“Well, assuming it’s in orbit, that’s really weird,” I said. “It ought to go straight.”

“Unless it’s in the act of changing its course,” she insisted. “Maybe these sparks are something to do with its propulsion system.”

“I remember now where I’ve seen that shade of blue before,” I said.

“Where?”

“Cord’s shop. They have a machine that uses plasma to cut metal. The light that comes from it is that shade of blue. The same as a hot star.”

“It’s passing off the edge of the sun’s disk,” she said. Then: “Hey!”

“Hey what?”

“It stopped.”

“No more sparks?”

“No more sparks. I’m sure of it.”

“Well, before I move this thing, make some pinpricks around the edge of the disk of the sun, so we know where it stood in relation to all this. Between that and the time—we can find this thing!”

“Find it how?”

“We can work out where in the sky the sun stood at two p.m. on this day of the year. That is, which of the so-called fixed stars it’s passing in front of. This plasma-spark thing that we were tracking—it was in the same place. That means that unless it changes its orbit again, it will pass over the same fixed stars on each orbit. We can find it in the sky.”

“But it seems to have no difficulty changing its orbit,” said Ala, meticulously outlining the sun’s disk with a series of closely spaced pinpricks.

“But part of the puzzle we’ve failed to understand until now—maybe—is that it only does so when it’s passing near the sun. So as long as we have this camera obscura, we can be on the lookout for that.”

“Why should the sun’s position make any difference?”

“I think it’s hiding,” I said. “If it did what it just did in the night sky, anyone could see it with the naked eye.”

“But we were able to detect it with a pinhole and a sheet of paper!” Ala pointed out. “So it’s a pretty ineffective way to hide.”

“And Sammann can apparently see it with welding goggles,” I said. “But the difference is that people like you and me and Sammann are…”

“Are what?” she said. “Knowledgeable?”

“Yeah. And whoever, or whatever this thing is, it doesn’t or they don’t care if knowledgeable people know they are up there. They are letting their existence be known to us—”

“Which the Sæcular Power doesn’t like—”

“Which is why Orolo got Thrown Back for looking at it.”

It took us a while to get out of there. Too much was going on. I rolled up the page and stuck it inside my bolt. Ala picked up the bunch of flowers. This reminded me of why I’d come up here in the first place and of what we’d been doing before Ala had noticed the sparks. I felt like a jerk for letting this slip my mind. By that time, though, Ala had remembered about the Saunt Chandera’s Bane and was wondering what to do with it. So we traded; I gave her the chart and she gave me the flowers so that I could accept the risk of sneaking them back down.

“What should we do next?” I wondered out loud.

“About…?”

We had opened the trapdoor. There was plenty of light. I was about to blurt “what we just saw” when I noticed a look on her face—steeling herself to get hurt again. I think I stopped myself just in time.

“Do you want to—should we—” I began, then closed my eyes and just said it. “I think we should be honest about this in front of everyone.”

“I’m fine with that,” she said.

“I’ll set it up for tomorrow, I guess. After Provener.”

“I’ll tell Tulia,” she said, and something about the way she pronounced that name informed me that she knew everything; she knew I’d once had a crush on her best friend. “Who do you want as your witness?”

I had been about to say Lio, but Jesry had been such a jerk about this that I decided he had to be the one. “And our free witness can just be Haligastreme or whoever is handy,” I said.

“What kind of liaison are we to publish?” she asked.

This was not a difficult question. Liaisons were supposed to be announced when they were formed and when they were dissolved. It was a way to curtail gossip and intrigue, which could so easily run rampant in a math. The Concent of Saunt Edhar recognized several types. The least serious was Tivian. The most serious—Perelithian—was equivalent to marriage. That was out of the question for two kids of our age who’d hated each other’s guts until forty-five minutes ago. If I said Tivian, Ala would throw me out the trapdoor to my death, and I’d spend the last four seconds of my life wishing I’d said Etrevanean.

“Could you stand having people know that you were in an Etrevanean liaison with that big jerk Fraa Erasmas?”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“Okay.” Then awkwardness. It seemed appropriate to kiss her one more time. This went over well.

“Now, are we going to talk about the fact that we have just discovered an alien spacecraft hiding in orbit around Arbre?” she asked in a tiny, coy voice—most unlike her. But she wasn’t as used to being in big trouble as I was and so I think she felt as though, on such questions, she had to defer to a hardened criminal.

“To a few people. I’m pretty sure Lio’s down in the Fendant court. I’ll stop there and tell him—”

“That works. We should go about separately, anyway, until our liaison is published.”

Her agility in jumping between the love topic and the alien spacecraft was making me dizzy. Or perhaps giddy. “So I’ll meet you below later. We’ll spread the news to the others as we have opportunity.”

“Bye,” she said. “Don’t forget your forbidden flower.”

“I won’t,” I said.

Just like that she was gone down the ladder.

I followed a minute later and found Lio in the reading room in the Fendant court. He was studying a book about a Praxic Age battle that had been conducted in the abandoned subway tunnels of a great city by two armies that had run out of ammunition and so had to fight with sharpened shovels. He looked at me blankly for a while. I must have looked even blanker. Then I realized that the recent events weren’t written on my face. I would actually have to communicate.

“Incredible things have happened in the last hour,” I announced.

“Such as?”

I didn’t know what to say first but concluded that alien spaceships were a better topic for the Warden Fendant’s reading room. So I gave him a full account of that. He looked a little deranged until I got to the point about how the spark track curved, and mentioned plasma. Then his face snapped like a shutter. “I know what it is,” he said.

He was so certain that doubting him never crossed my mind. Instead, I just wondered how he knew. “How can you—”

“I know what it is.”

“Okay. What is it?”

For the first time he took his eyes off mine, and let his gaze wander around the reading room. “It might be here…or it might be in the Old Library. I’ll find it. I’ll show it to you later.”

“Why don’t you simply tell me?”

“Because you won’t believe me until I show it to you in a book that was written by someone else. That’s how weird it is.”

“Okay,” I said. Then I added, “Congratulations!” since that seemed like the right thing to say.

Lio slammed his book shut, stood up, turned his back on me, and headed for the stacks.

Back at the Cloister I came to understand that things were going to move much more slowly than I wanted them to. I was on supper duty, so I spent the remainder of the afternoon in the kitchen. Ala and Tulia didn’t have to cook, but they did have to serve. While dumping a hot potato into my bowl Ala gave me a look that moved me in a way I won’t describe here. While burying it with stew Tulia gave me a look that proved Ala had told her everything. “The pinhole: nice!” I told her. Fraa Mentaxenes, who’d been nudging me in the kidney with his bowl, trying to get me to move faster, had no idea what I meant and only became more irritated.

Lio didn’t show up for supper. Jesry was there, but I couldn’t talk to him because we were at a crowded table with Barb and several others. Arsibalt sat as far from us as he could, as had been his habit of late. After supper he was on cleanup duty. Jesry went off to a chalk hall to work with some of the other Edharians on a proof. Those gu