megaliths, domes, penthouses, and turrets of the starhenge, which drove, and was driven by, the same clock-works that ran the dials.

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.

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.

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.”

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 Saeculars. The Klevan Iconography: theor as an awesomely wise elder statesman who can solve all the problems of the Saecular 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.

She had written it in Orth with only a few errors (she didn’t understand how to use the subjunctive).

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

part of the First Sack reforms, the avout were forbidden to carry out any further work on newmatter. Within the mathic world, it is

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.

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.

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.

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 could also have been made by some other praxic civilization,” said Barb. Technically, of course, he was right. Socially, he was annoying us.

“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.”

We’d lit the fire as soon as we’d arrived, not to keep warm but as a primitive way to get some comfort. It was what humans had done, long before Cnoüs, long before even language, to claim a bit of space in a dark universe that they did not understand and that was wont to claim their family and friends suddenly and forever.

“Or maybe they don’t write out equations at all,” I said. “Maybe they prove things with music, or something.” Which wasn’t farfetched at all, since we did something like that in our chants, and there had been whole orders of avout who had done all of their theorics that way.

“You know how multicellular life evolved?” “Er, single-celled organisms clumping together for mutual advantage?” “Yes. And, in some cases, encapsulating one another.” “I’ve heard of the concept.” “That is what our brains are.” “What!?” “Our brains are flies, bats, and worms that clumped together for mutual advantage. These parts of our brains are talking to each other all the time. Translating what they perceive, moment to moment, into the shared language of geometry. That’s what a brain is. That’s what it is to be conscious.”

It has become obvious during the writing of this that it might one day be read by people from other worlds.

“Yes. Sort of a prophet, according to them, who found a proof of the existence of God and was Thrown Back because of it.” “That’s funny because if anyone actually did prove the existence of God we’d just tell him ‘nice proof, Fraa Bly’ and start believing in God,” I said.

course, all of this smuggling could have been stopped if the Saecular Power had been serious about doing so, but it seemed they were willing to look the other way as long as illegals showed them the courtesy of being a little bit sneaky.

“It can only look in one direction at a time,” Orolo said. “Yeah, it’s got extreme tunnel vision, and compensates for that by spinning around.” “A little bit like us,” Orolo said.

complete with a canvas cloister in the middle and a digital alarm clock on a stick, where Provener was celebrated.



The same thrust, pushing against a greatly reduced burden, would then yield acceleration that Lio had cheerfully described as “near-fatal.” “But it’s okay,” he’d said, “you’ll black out before anything really bad happens to you.”

And all of the other outcomes would have been bad ones. I’m certain of that. I replay it in my head over and over. And in every case, I happened to do the right thing.” “Well, it’s kind of like the anthropic principle at work, isn’t it?” I pointed out. “If anything had been a little different, you’d be dead—and so you wouldn’t have a brain to remember it with.”

“That is as unsatisfactory as anthropic arguments usually are. I’d prefer the alternate explanation.” “Which is?” “That I’m not only brilliant, but cool under pressure.”

Urnud, Tro, Laterre, or Fthos

“How about this worldtrack? What are the four of them doing in the Narrative that you and I are in?” “I’m in several,” Fraa Jad said, “a state of affairs that is not easy to sustain. Your questions hardly make it easier. So here is a simple answer. The others are all dead.”

“How did you know the code?” I asked. “I selected a number at random,” he said. I’d heard only four beeps from the keypad. Only a four-digit number. Only ten thousand possible combinations. So if there were ten thousand Jads in ten thousand branches of the worldtrack…and if I were lucky enough to be with the right one…

I wanted to say that they were brocade or embroidery, but life among bolt-wearing ascetics had left me with a deeply impoverished vocabulary where the decorative arts were concerned,

“Conservation of momentum,” he announced, “it’s not just a good idea—it’s the law!”

Cord and Yul were joined in matrimony by Magister Sark, who pulled it off pretty well, considering he’d been up until three A.M. in Dialog with Arsibalt over bottles of wine.