Ansle poured himself a mug of tea from the urn in the senior
common room. As always, the liquid defied analysis; it never remotely
tasted of tea, but it was a recognisable tea-like brown, hotter than
lukewarm, and free. The biscuits were nothing approaching palatable, and
most looked even older than the furniture.
A dozen or so members of staff sat around, discussing, arguing,
and writing on the infernal colourboard. As expected, Chewt was already
seated, reading a paper on somatic illusions or some other damnfool idea,
sipping at her over-milky coffee.
Ansle walked over to her and sat down opposite. She looked up.
Anyone else, and she'd have looked straight back down again, but this was
the chancellor, she was his deputy, and he was the one person in the
Academy that she didn't outrank.
"Good morning, Professor," he opened, in as friendly a manner
as he could muster.
"Good morning, Chancellor," she answered, crisply, but not
Ansle waited a moment, just long enough to worry her. "Last
month, Chewt, I appointed you as the Academy's representative on The
King's commission to look at the power structure in the democracies."
She nodded, slowly. "Two weeks of gathering data, one week
assimilating it, another week to compile the report."
"It's finished, then?" He knew they'd finished four days ago.
"I suppose you want a copy?"
Of course he wanted a copy, stupid woman! "Well it would be
rather useful, yes."
Wearily, she put down her cup and reached for her briefcase.
From inside, she withdrew a neatly bound, newly-printed booklet. She
passed it to Ansle. "I was going to bring you that this afternoon," she
stated, in a matter-of-fact sort of way. "I knew you'd want to read it,
security breach or not."
Always annoyingly efficient, Chewt. Indeed, always simply
"Many thanks, I'll have it back to you in a couple of hours."
He stood up, gulped the rest of his tea so as to taste it as little as possible,
and left for his office. Chewt watched his departure, then kicked off a shoe,
pulled a leg up beneath herself, and returned to her paper.
* * *
The commission's report made interesting reading. They had
managed a more in-depth study than Ansle had supposed, succeeding in
identifying key figures in the government, army, civil service and in
industry. There were about a thousand names. Remove that thousand
people, substitute your own, and the country was yours, complete and
intact. Nice idea; he wondered what a list for the magic-using states would
By now, Justan would have read his own copy, and consulted
the generals. If they were to eliminate all the individuals named on the list,
they'd need magic. The magical support regiment was attached to the
Academy, and Ansle was its (largely honorary) colonel-in-chief. The
Academy also had the only legal research group for magically-based
warfare, its Military Science Department. Through its Education Centre,
the Academy recruited and trained spies, assassins, and other government
He'd doubtless be hearing from Justan shortly...
A study of the democracies, however, meant The King already
had well-developed plans for the Davians and the Voths. Ansle had
personally arranged the gathering of intelligence concerning the
Messenger's forces, and had drawn up a set of alternative scenarios for
consideration. It was clear in all of them that if the Messenger could take
control of Akrea's and Estavia's armies, then even with all the magic in the
world Justan would be unable to stop him. That was why he was moving
now, two years before his own war machinery would be fully ready, and
why Ansle was prepared to back him. It was deeply worrying to Ansle,
however, that he knew nothing of how The King intended to take Davia.
The hour bell rang. He'd best return the report now; a pity he
hadn't had time to copy it. He was smitten by a sudden idea for a 2D
replication device: you could use the ubiquitous Chewt-Farmer to scale
down the image, and again to re-enlarge sections later when you wanted to
read them, as they were doing in the new colourboards. The whole thing
would fit in a couple of sheets of bound glass, using the left one for storing
the shrunken copy, and the right for input and display. He smiled to
himself, both surprised and pleased. Yes, it might well work! Why had no-
one thought of it before? They had large market research programmes to
assess what it was people wanted, surely this sort of thing would have been
indicated? He'd mention it when he spoke to Porett later that afternoon.
* * *
Porett never seemed to be busy. Whenever Ansle called, there
he was, right by his comsphere, always had time to answer, never in a
meeting. Once, Ansle had deliberately tapped in when he knew Porett was
due to be dining with an Estavian merchant, yet he'd still answered. What
did he do all day, sit around waiting for his crystal ball to glow?
It came as something of a jolt, then, when Porett's face did not
appear as the green incandescence hazed out. It was Elidia, his secretary.
Young face, all severe contrast: dark eyes, hair, lips, pale skin.
"Elidia? Where's Porett?"
Elidia smiled that sweet, patronising smile she reserved for all
powerful people who weren't perhaps quite as well-informed as she. "Dr
Porett is using his comsphere, Chancellor Ansle, he's transferred incoming
calls to me."
Ansle sighed. "Yet another irksome feature to which we'll all
have to accustom ourselves when he finally puzzles out how to make
another mark 3... Well have him call me back when he's finished, would
"Of course, Chancellor. Goodbye." She tapped out, the
mindless, sing-song voice she affected still grating on Ansle's nerves. She
reminded him of a younger version of Chewt, but with about fifty times the
ambition. She, too, would probably never marry.
* * *
When his comsphere radiated its emerald glimmer (well, that's
how the blurb on the box had described it), he was standing at the
blackboard. This copier idea really did have potential. That would be Porett
now, he'd see whether Technologies were interested.
It wasn't Porett, it was Chewt. A very worried Chewt.
"Chancellor, it's missing - my copy of the report."
"Missing? But I returned it you about an hour ago."
"I know, but it's gone. I had it on my desk with some other
things, and they've gone too."
"I see. Have you remained in your office since I left?"
"Yes. I've already checked for an illusion, but everything is
clear; the report has definitely gone."
"Very well, I accept that it's `gone'... I'll come over."
* * *
Her office was, in its own way, almost as well-planned as his.
Whereas he relied on old things of character to imbue the room with that
certain mood he required, she preferred to make the whole place look like
the lounge of a country hotel. Lots of well-padded chairs, even a sofa; low
tables with high-brow magazines methodically arranged on them, respect-
able books within easy reach, everything insufferably neat and tidy. The
incongruous colourboard beside the window was always a vague source of
When he arrived, she was wringing her hands, pacing the floor.
She looked relieved; an unusual show of emotion. "So where was it you
left the booklet?"
"Over here, Chancellor." She indicated an empty place on her
"How did you come to notice it was missing?"
"I was reading a paper. I glanced up for some reason, and just
realised that the report was gone. So was everything in the pile beneath it.
"Was there a binder on it?"
"No, I didn't get around to placing one. I was reading when
you returned it, I thought I'd bind it later."
"You did move it, though; I remember putting it down
somewhere over here."
She waved a hand. "Well it was in the wrong place, things to
take home go over there."
"What else were you taking home?"
Chewt thought a moment. "Books," she said, "and some
designs to mark..." She touched her forehead. "I had a Porett Technologies
manual for my comsphere, some patches to upgrade it to a comsphere-2."
"Rather than mess about re-establishing connections, yes...
When did you acquire this manual?"
"One of my old students dropped in this morning; he works for
Porett, and left it behind for me. He unbound it, but that's all he did."
"And it was on the bottom of the pile?"
"Yes, I think so, I can't be sure but..."
"Very well, Chewt, I think I know what's happened. Let me
clear it with The King, don't worry about it any more."
Chewt looked very appreciative. "That's especially good of
you, Chancellor, I'm grateful." Of course, she still had to ask. "But how
did it disappear, then?"
"Have you heard of Porett's Trans/Disc project?" She frowned,
puzzled, which didn't surprise Ansle any. "Well," he continued, "it's a
way of moving objects from one place to another."
She nodded. "You think Porett wanted to see the report and
concealed such a Trans/Disc in the binder?"
"It's worth considering," he answered. "Leave it with me."
As he left, Ansle put on his `understanding uncle' face, trusting
that his worries weren't apparent to Chewt. A couple of days ago as he'd
passed her office, he'd heard her speculating about the Trans/Disc project
with one of her students. They'd correctly guessed the problem it
addressed, since it was a continuance of basic research begun by Ansle's
predecessor, but they'd completely underestimated the granularity of
Porett's solution. `Trans/Disc' meant "Transfer/Disconnect", the objects
used were the size of rowing boats, and there were only two of them, 900
K gestures invested in each.
She was certain to rediscover the lost document when she
learned of her mistake...