"You brought none of your men?" Ansle actually looked
Sennary raised an eyebrow. "Some mercenary I'd be if I couldn't take an unarmed mage!" He closed the door.
"But I might have arranged assistance..."
"You'd certainly have died well before me, if you'd tried!" He laughed, untuned the tension. "Look, Ansle, we're both professional enough to appreciate why you did what you did, and why I did what I did. No sense either of us grudging up about it, it's inconvenient and impractical."
"I concluded the same myself: the matter is now closed. Please be seated." He fluttered his overtly-bandaged hand, unspecific, waited for Sennary to oblige.
"So you'll tell me the rest, then." He sat; the chair was as he'd left it.
Ansle leaned back, interlocked his fingers. "Although I would much rather that you didn't know any of this at all, nevertheless, given that you are aware of the basics, I have concluded that it might help you in your revised task were you to be apprised fully."
"I just hope it's worth more than the extra days they've gained..."
"Days that wouldn't have been lost at all if you hadn't been so unprofessionally inquisitive... Now I've a lot to say, so I'll begin forthwith." He pursed his lips. "When last we met, somewhat under pressure I told you that this Roween girl had done all the work on proving, implying that my daughter had done none at all. Perhaps it would make matters clearer if I rephrased that remark: Conley did do everything herself, but it had already been accomplished by Roween some time beforehand."
"I see - Conley reproduced the work independently. But she had some knowledge of its origins?"
He shook his head. "None, at the time - I was very subtle. During her tutorials, I led her in certain perspicacious directions; I praised her when she made the right conceptual moves, suggested she abandon occasional tempting but inappropriate lines of reasoning, and generally made sure that she reached the desired conclusions without her ever having the slightest inkling that success was predetermined."
"So was any of the length formulation stuff your idea?"
Ansle's expression was one of incredulity. "Good heavens no - if any of it had been mine then I'd have published it myself. I assigned it to Conley because that way I could make its full details known without any danger of personal disgrace were its true heritage uncovered."
Sennary was grim.
"Every last shred of theory - apart from the light-prime component, which was Conley's own - came from our little friend with eyes askew, Roween Sage."
He snorted. "Fine. You snicked up your own daughter to `invent' a revolutionary proof technique which, in reality, you had stolen."
"Yes," Ansle confirmed, calm.
He folded his arms. "I don't know why that bewilders me; I've been aware for some time that you have a huge hole where everyone else has morals..." He waited; the chancellor didn't react. "And Roween really did do it all herself? She didn't dig it out of some old book?"
Ansle smiled, patronising. "Ah, it seems that you have made the same mistake now as, initially, did I." He tilted back his head, regarded the beamed ceiling. "She came to my office one day, showed me her work, explained it, and asked to be admitted as a student to the Academy. She was only a librarian's daughter; she had neither rank nor money, and, therefore, was completely unacceptable. I naturally supposed - as have you just now - that she herself had taken from some third party what she was claiming were her ideas."
"I didn't say I thought - "
He continued, inflexible. "I dismissed her, but retained the thesis, saying that I would read it when time permitted; in fact, I intended to keep it as evidence of her plagiarism for such a date as I discovered its true architect. Even a superficial read, however, demonstrated to me that there was clear merit in what was written. I scrutinised it further, and its arguments grew more and more plausible; eventually, I determined to put its contentions to the test - and at some personal risk, I might add, given what would have happened were Roween's assertions fallacious. Fortunately, her claims held true: I successfully cast for the first time a previously-unprovable magnet repolariser that I had written in my own undergraduate days. Well, at that point it became obvious to me that all this was highly innovatory, and would, literally, transform the way we verified spells. It would greatly increase the lengths for which proofs would be available, and thereby, inevitably, increase the power of those aware of its precepts."
"Yet you still didn't accept it was hers?"
He inflated his cheeks, blew. "It was hard for me to imagine anyone who could have produced it. I'm familiar with the research themes of all the great magicists, but no-one has even touched on this area for over a decade; it was considered a dead-end. Indeed, few people would have been capable of making the eventual findings even if they had pursued it. It wasn't anything that might have grown readily as a side-shoot from existing work; I knew, therefore, that the author had to be a highly gifted individual working alone. As to who that might have been, though..."
"But surely, to undertake that level of study requires access to a library? You should have realised - "
"That seems obvious now," sharp, cut in, "but at the time it was not immediately apparent, I do assure you."
"So why didn't you simply profess it as your own? No-one would have believed Roween had she challenged you." His eyes were narrowed.
"There was still the possibility that she'd procured it from another source, or could have proven in a court somehow that it was hers. No: better that I act indirectly."
"Did you consider keeping it wrapped, then - just using its conclusions to develop spells no-one else could have attempted?"
"Well..." He wrinkled his nose. "I was concerned that Roween might have attempted to sell her theories to someone in the commercial sector, and then they'd have garnered the first-use rewards. I judged it preferable to publish it all openly, for the benefit of everyone, rather than put such power into the custody of any single company. I am, after all, an academic at heart...".
"I follow: you chose to promote the Academy's repute, increase your sway like that. Makes sense." He sounded almost complimentary. "But while you were nurturing Conley's research, Roween could still have gone public at - " He smiled, nodded. "That's when you first engaged me."
"Correct. I had hoped that you would have been able to arrest her cleanly at the library, but sadly neither of us knew then of her most recent technological advance... However, at least you did succeed in causing her to flee the country, which gave me the time I needed to till my daughter."
"What would you have done if I had detained her?"
He closed his eyes. "That's what I figured," resigned. "Ho hum."
"Well!" Ansle clapped. "You know the rest."
Sennary laid an elbow on the desk, fingers stroking a bunch of papers. "Yes, I know it - although I defer judgement on the truth of what you've just told me preceded it. I don't doubt that you really are cold- hearted enough to engineer your own daughter's actions in that manner, but I'm as yet unsatisfied by your comparative altruism in not keeping the information to yourself..."
"And my assertion that our little freak is an intellectual?"
He opened his mouth wide, faltered a little. "I hadn't thought of her that way before..." The `that' was spat.
"It's of slender consequence. So! Now, perhaps, it is time for me to explain how this history can aid you." He scratched the side of his nose, frowned at his desk. "As I commented yesterday -"
"No, hold a moment. I still don't know why Roween allowed Conley to find her."
"Revenge - isn't it obvious? Now if you'll just grant me leave to continue..." He cleared his throat. "Yesterday, I commented that my daughter is an insecure young woman. However, she is not stupid. She realises now that perhaps she was spoon-fed just a little too much while studying for her dissertation, and she has therefore concluded that I, in fact, am the true architect of `her' theories. Naturally, I have denied it, but she is convinced nonetheless. She never really settled in well at Porett Technologies - she felt she was there under false pretences. I understand also that she was the subject of pernicious gossip among her peers concerning the very fact that she had thought her chosen subject a worthwhile topic for research at all. This all eroded her self-belief, until eventually she sought an opportunity to prove - to herself - that she really did deserve her formidable reputation as a theoretician."
"Yes, yes, so somehow she found out about this spell of Roween's, and decided to tackle her. But she won't simply copy the sequence, that wouldn't replenish her self-esteem any."
"That's true." He coiled a lock of beard round a finger. "What I guess she's planning to do is to take the crude, basic version of Roween's spell, refine it into a short segment, and splice the result into other spells. She really does have a gift for doing that, and she can perform quite complex proofs in her head. I almost feel guilty about selecting her as my vehicle for demonstrating Roween's techniques to a wider audience; Conley could probably have turned in an excellent thesis of her own."
"We'll never know, though, will we?" Sennary allowed a little venom to his tone.
Ignored. "Her new goals are noble, yes - and a portable segment that could be patched into spells to cancel others, or self-cancel, would be very useful, perhaps itself well deserving of a doctorate. I think she may be harbouring the further intention, however, of attempting the formal deduction, from such a cut-down magic-negating segment, of a second, inverse sequence, which would achieve the precise opposite: making spells' effects pertain forever. Their present life-span is usually rather limited."
Sennary stared out of the window. "Indefinitely long spells..." He paused, absorbing the suggestion. "If she could deliver, it would be a stupendous advance!" His eyes flashed back to Ansle. "You think she can?"
"Unhindered, yes, I do, but you're going to stop her."
He raised his cheeks slightly. "And why's that?"
"Because I'm paying you to do so."
"Not a good enough reason," jaw forward.
"On the contrary, it is perfectly sufficient. You will relocate Conley and Roween, establish whether Conley knows the basic antimagic spell, and, if so, persuade her to return here. You are then to kill Roween."
He gaped. "Kill her? Me? I'm a mercenary, not an assassin - I kill soldiers, not civilians!" He shook his head, emphatic. "Forget it. I'll bring her in for you, but I won't be her murderer."
"All the full-time assassins I can call on use magic as their weapon. Can you imagine how far they would get against someone who can switch that magic off, just like that?" He snapped his fingers.
"Kenrith is no mage: he uses steel to - "
"Kenrith is just the name we give to what is now precious more than a collection of prosthetics. There's very little of the original Kenrith left. If I sent him at Roween, they'd have to mop - "
Sennary raised his hand. "Spare me your imagery... So I'm the nearest thing to an assassin available. Great. But suppose Conley doesn't want to come back?"
"Oh she will, Sennary; that's the whole reason that I've told you of Roween's involvement in her life. Without knowledge of this earlier saga, it's very unlikely that you could ever coax Conley to return willingly; physically forcing her would be madness, too - her unbounded rage would act as an immutable gag, she'd tell me nothing. That's why my initial plan called for the recovery of Roween - I could make her talk, I'm sure, though it would take several months to find out everything. Now, however, you do have the means to bring back Conley in an amenable mood, and Roween's capture is therefore no longer a necessity. Furthermore, Conley is likelier than I to extract a complete and truthful version of the details that I require, and, what's more, to do so comparatively quickly - Roween wants to speak to her, remember."
"And if you have Roween offed once she's outed the gestures, that also ends all chance that she could murk you as the thief of her proof theories..." He clicked his tongue. "So how do you suggest I work on Conley?"
Ansle affected his smuggest voice. "Conley knows that Roween has a skill with counter-magic, but she hasn't the slightest clue that it was also Roween who first formulated the foundations of what became her thesis. If she won't return at your behest, you merely have to inform her who really deserves the accolades for her work, that it's the same person she's been using as the inspiration for her new ideas, and she'll come to pieces. She'll envisage the whole cycle repeating itself, and she'll decide to find some other way to redeem her self-confidence. I know her: once she accepts that her second world-shattering idea has the same root as her first world-shattering idea, she'll be too proud, to principled, to continue with any of it. You merely have to follow her until you're certain that she's learned the necessary gestures from Roween, then tell her all of this and she'll want to come home."
Sennary pulled an earlobe, thoughtful. "If she's as emotionally fragile as you say, might this not make her a little unstable? I don't want to have to deal with a magic-wielding crazy woman."
Ansle picked up a pack from the desk, tossed him it. He caught it one-handed, read the label: `Evergreen Deeps'.
21st January 1999: isif7.htm