Chapter 2

The Season Of Innocence, also known as the Great Forgetting is an extended pause sitting across the track of the past. It is an age of absence, which tantalises the historian because it can only be known through thick veils of mystery and myth. Indeed, in every important sense it is an age without history. In the Season of Innocence, the clocks stopped. There was a wilful and universal refusal to make any record more persistent and less mutable than oral folklore. In that eternal now, tradition tells only of simple bucolic virtues and strange tales of the wonders of the new gene sea spreading like a healing balm over the planet. This is the time of the legend of Klane Kalonia and his wandering over the grassy craters and glassy plains of an all but empty world. We know that the Season Of Innocence began with the Vow Of Earth between the Galactic Compact and the Guardians. We do not remember in this age, why such a Vow was taken. Some say it was a form of atonement for an unimaginable sin against the Galactic Compact. Others contend that it was an act of social therapy on a planetary scale, or a misguided political experiment. No one really knows.   How long did the Season Of Innocence last? More than a thousand years? Certainly. Less than fifty thousand? Probably. The Geigamon might be able to tell us, for history did not stop in the Galactic Compact but the Geigamon were not party to the Vow of Earth and have little interest in it. Powerful winds of change blew across the Galactic Compact whilst the Earth slept through the Great Forgetting.   Let us say only that at length the pulse of history quickened to life again with the arrival of the New Sophisticates. In the time of Foundation they established their seven renowned cities, to be strongholds of learning and to bring the renewal of civilization with all its goods and evils. And the Season Of Innocence was over…   These are the names of the seven Foundation cities of the New Sophisticates; Aberstone, Freewater, Allport, Modyran, Vesper, Paratomb and Anoomenon. And these are the reasons for their renown, Aberstone: the greatest of the Foundation cities and seat of the first parliament of the New Sophisticates, Freewater: the Oasis City, site of the Holy Well with its blue veined canals glinting in the fierce desert sun, Allport: an island city and the hub of trade in spices and pearls, Modyran: the Garden City on the terraced slopes of Mt. Modyran beneath the eyries of the silver dragon wings, Vesper: location of the whispering temples and the cults of the evening, Paratomb: the underground city beneath rock spires and the abode of the second parliament of the New Sophisticates, and finally Anoomenon: the Shining City of the myriad gold sun lamps on the estuary of the river Perque , much later to be called the City Of Exiles.   The seven cities long outlasted their makers, adopted by new causes and subsumed into later structures of power the New Sophisticates could never have envisaged. In the centuries that followed the distant time of the Foundation they witnessed the rise and fall of many rival cities and the coming and going of numerous nations, empires and alliances. And durable though they were, one by one, these ancient homes of the New Sophisticates ultimately succumbed to a variety of disasters, military, political, social and natural to vanish from the records of subsequent ages.   Only Anoomenon remains, lingering in a kind of dreaming half life; the last living representative of these seven venerable Foundation cities; Anoomenon, the Shining City, the City Of Exiles, the subject of my humble history…   The introduction to “Anoomenon: A History” by Dr. Zendzemine Baker
  His true name was Saladoor Dehoph but the Thister-Arcs called him the Ambassador and that was how he now chose to think of himself. He’d had other names before and other roles; many names and many roles. Some of his names were well known in distant parts of the world but it was better not to recall those names in public. The Ambassador was a good enough name and a good enough role in which to serve out his old age and perhaps to make some retribution for his manifold sins against humanity. He squashed his flat round hat tightly round his ears and then bent to light the wick of his lantern with a spill from the fire. The Thister-Arcs were kind to him and they required very little in return; some conversation, some advice and the occasional mission to the local communities. They made no judgements about his past. He took his thick fur coat from the iron hook by the window, buttoned it carefully over his grey waistcoat and unbolted the door, making the decision that it was safe to leave the dying fire in the grate. His hands trembled a little with the cold of early evening and the palsy of age but his footsteps were sure on the steep cobbled alley which descended into the heart of the city. Tonight, the Ambassador was going to dine with the last nobles of Anoomenon. He smiled ironically at the conceit, remembering other nobles in more vibrant cities on distant continents. What would they have thought of his new friends? He shrugged. It didn’t matter. For all his faults the Ambassador was not a proud man.   The Shining City had lost much of her lustre in these late days. Proud, beautiful, and powerful, once she’d spurned the advances of the Low Armies and the Thin Princes. Once she’d been fought over by the Allport League and the mercenaries of the Merchant Guilds as they sought to win her for themselves, a prize they had valued so very, very highly but one they would never enjoy. Still later, a whisper from the Grey Kings had been enough to silence the empty boasts of bombastic tyrants in halls around the other side of the world. Those were the days when everyone hung on the words spoken in Anoomenon. No longer. Now the new alliances and authorities were tolerant and respectful, but they paid little mind to the city’s welfare. Now, she was left mostly to herself to decline in peace, but she was still a beautiful place and there were still a few thousand who dwelt in her quiet streets; a dwindling and precious few thousand in a city built to be the home for more than a hundred times their number.   Who was left to witness her empty streets? There were the Bad Theologists of course, but they hardly counted as part of society since they never came out of their towers. The Ambassador didn’t even consider them. As for the rest, well it was a mixed bag of market men, shopkeepers, assorted guild members, stoneworkers and fading aristocrats. He’d be seeing the most important of them tonight.   At the bottom of the alley was a broad boulevard where overgrown parsley trees trailed into a dark canal. He turned left, grateful for easier walking over smooth and once expensive flagstones and came at length to the Timekeepers Bridge which spanned the canal in a high looping arc of sandstone, quartz and pastel plastics. The bridge was wide enough for four lanes of vehicles and had once been lit by heavy iron lamps suspended from triple rows of metal poles at either edge and down the middle. In its heyday the Timekeeper’s Bridge was on one of the most important routes to the inner city and a constant stream of traffic crossed the canal in both directions, but the lamps had not been lit for seventy years and the Ambassador was the only one to make regular use of the old structure now.  The Ambassador’s yellow lantern cut a warm circle out of the growing gloom as he reached the far side of the bridge and walked northwards, passing grand old warehouses with spidery cranes that leant out high above his head and dipped towards the water. He turned right into Taramond Street and began a gentle climb to the Dembaline Plaza. Another lantern cast its yellow glow from a fourth storey window at the end of the street and as he reached it, a rough voice shouted to him.   “Evenin’ yer honor! I’ll be down directly if you’ll hang on a sec. One last canopy to fix. It’s the wrong phase of the moon yer see. Be all sorts o’ damage if it int done right.”   Seven needle black obelisks flanked the southern boundary of the Dembaline Plaza.  Seven heavy cloth awnings erupted from the brick work above them like the wings of giant bats, shading the stone spires from the pale evening sky. The Ambassador waited patiently as intricate details in the elegant facades of commercial buildings were swallowed into enigmatic twilight silhouettes. He had been indulging in a little harmless day dreaming and was somewhat startled when the voice broke into his reverie as its owner emerged from a glass and chrome revolving door.   “All done, yer honor! Best be on our way, eh? Wouldn’t want to keep Mrs. Wragg waiting!"   He gave a friendly and slightly suggestive wink and led the way across the square.   The Ambassador’s new companion was a stocky man in his mid forties with a ruddy complexion, a crew cut head of blue dyed hair shaved fiercely short and a scraggly black beard and moustache. A crown of thorns tattooed round his left wrist identified him as a Restorer, part of the order of archaeological monks who had established a small working monastery just outside the northern gate of the ancient city.  His bottle green woollen robe was tied with a simple white linen rope at the waist and sprinkled with numerous pockets on the inside and outside, from one of which he now produced a crumpled paper bag.   “Mint humbug, yer honor? Just to sharpen your appetite. Go on, you know you want one.”   “Thank you Mr. Renfew, perhaps I will.”   The Ambassador accepted the stripy sweet and popped it into his mouth, sucking slowly.   “Strange thing, yer Old Kerandian obelisk”, the monk said. They were passing the last in the line as he spoke and he stopped to give it a meditative slap. “Solid as a rock in normal circumstances. ‘Tis a rock as like as you can tell. Middle of the day when the sun’s cooking the plaza, these things just sit and soak it up and they’re as cool as ice. But one touch of moonlight when she’s full and before you know it they’re starting to melt. We can’t have that, now can we?”   They climbed the Whistling Steps and followed the Iron road into Solar Oven Square. In this part of the city, the back street smelters and craft metal workers had cut and polished in molybdenum steel, silver, gold, electrum and copper. Under the dynasty of the Grey Kings this was also the district where the gene splicers ran their sinister little back street shops, selling artful mutated cacti and illicitly re-sequenced koi for the pond and finches for the aviary to aristocratic aesthetes.   “Ever wondered why the city isn’t choked with weeds?”, Renfew asked. “Strange int it? There asn’t been any sort of a council here in eighty years and the underclass ant got time to waste cleaning the streets. And you know there’s only a handful of Restorers and we don’t do much outside of a few sites. This place oughta be overgrown by now – scrub and grass everywhere. Look at it. It’s still sterile as stone. Cept for some o’ those great civic trees what ave got a bit unkempt and the tangled palace gardens aint no sign of vegetation. Ever wondered why?”   The Ambassador finished his humbug with a satisfying crunch.   “Well, now that you mention it…”, he said   “Me too, me too…”   They’d reached the junction of High Market way and Gedding road and their destination was in sight, just a few hundred meters further up the gentle slope of the hill. It was a round sandstone tower nearly forty metres high. Rows of circular windows broke it up into four stories and a pale yellow light showed that the first floor was occupied. At the top of the tower was a hemispherical translucent dome and by now it was dark enough to see a delicate lime green radiance fluttering in irregular pulses from within. There were a hundred and nine towers like this all over Anoomemon although only sixty seven still showed any kind of illumination. They were the towers of the last of the Bad Theologists.   The Ambassador had visited this tower many times but tonight he was unable to prevent an instinctive frisson of superstitious dread as he contemplated it. The instinct ran too deep to counter. He might be a much-travelled cosmopolitan sophisticate now, but he’d been born and raised in a simple place and time where they cursed the Bad Theologists and invoked their name in fear. There’d been too many horror stories, too many denunciations from the pulpit and too many inbred assumptions. Even now, when sixty years of experience had taught him many times how narrow-minded his upbringing had been the Ambassador still couldn’t break completely free of his childhood prejudices.   The pointed arch of an iron bound elm door gave entry to the stairwell. Over the lintel a freeze was inset into the masonry with runes in middle Emaribokon naming the tower’s custodian as Transcriber-12. They rang the antique doorbell and waited; not for Transcriber-12 whom neither man had ever seen or ever expected to see, but for the Bad Theologist’s servants who were to be their hosts tonight. Mr. Wragg answered the door, wearing a white lab coat stained with acid and grease, white trousers and black boots. He was in his late thirties with thick red hair and wrap around lenses and he looked like a typical member of the underclass, the dwindling band of loyal followers of the Bad Theologists who kept the faith and supported the aberrant academics in their lonely towers. It was the underclass (so called, simply because they literally lived underneath their masters) who maintained the arrays of solar cells which kept the towers supplied with electricity. Adopting the combined jobs of engineer, mechanic and servant the underclass enabled the Bad Theologists to pursue their great Translation unhindered by the practicalities of living in a dying city.   “Come in gentlemen! Come in! You’re the first to arrive”, Mr Wragg said.    He might have looked like a typical member of the underclass but he was something of a maverick. Most of his colleagues were mistrustful of outsiders. They were well aware what the world thought of the Bad Theologists and they kept their own council. They might be happy enough to trade battery-charging time, candles, yeaka eggs, lamp oil and the occasional minor electronic maintenance service for fruit, fish and vegetables at the monastery or the weekly city market but they would certainly never invite anyone inside their towers. Mr. and Mrs. Wragg, however, entertained on a regular basis. In their own way they were ambassadors for the underclass.   The ground floor of the tower was windowless; a combined storeroom and work area, lined with arcs of shelves and lit by three fluorescent strip lights. The racks of tools were clean and well organised with an extending ladder on rails, which allowed Mr. Wragg to reach the higher ledges. Three metal benches met in a T shape in the centre of the room. There were a variety of screwdrivers and their screws, hammers and nails, a soldering iron, assorted wiring and a couple of ammeters laid out next to more complex sensors and instruments of indeterminate purpose.   The men climbed a spiral of open stone stairs running round the tower walls to reach the first floor living quarters. A trap door slid open automatically to admit them and they ascended into a small alcove screened from the rest of the tower by a combination of wooden panels and blue velvet curtains. A small mechanical owl was perched on the top of the nearest panel. Its head swivelled to eye the new arrivals with unblinking interest and it hooted softly. They extinguished their lanterns and placed them on a small table in the corner.   “May I take your hat and coat?” Mr. Wragg asked. The Ambassador extracted a glass bottle from the inner pocket and allowed his host to hang the coat on a wall peg with his beret on top.  They entered the living room and the owl performed its function as watch bird and major domo, announcing their names in clear musical tones.   “Mr. Tobias Renfew of the Restorers and the Ambassador to the Thister-Arcs!”   After the cold of the streets it felt good to be in the warmth of such a hospitable room.  Groups of soft furniture followed the curves of the round walls to make the most use of the space and a large oval table occupied the centre of the floor, with maple wood chairs for a company of five diners.  Six small circular windows were inset into the thick cream painted stone, spaced regularly at forty five degree clockwise compass points relative to the entrance lobby, and half way between each pair an angle bracket light cast a soft yellow pool of illumination. To the immediate right of the lobby, a gleaming brass ladder occupied the wall space, instead of a window. Four poles formed an open square set slightly in front of this ladder, ascending from floor to ceiling and providing the framework for a steam platform lifting mechanism. Ladder and lift offered two ways for the Wraggs to access the next level of the building where their private rooms were situated. Transcriber-12 lived three levels higher still and never came down from the top of the tower.   “I’d better change into something a little more suitable for the evening”, Mr. Wragg said, looking as if he’d only just noticed he was still in his lab clothes, “but I’m sure I can leave you in the capable hands of my wife.” He climbed up the nearest ladder, pulling the dome shaped hatch closed behind him and could just be heard pottering about above their heads and humming some tuneless song as he washed and dressed himself.    The two men took seats near to the door where Helen Wragg offered them drinks of soda and pear juice. She was an attractive woman perhaps a few years younger than her husband with thick waves of dirty blonde hair and a mobile intelligent face.   “I’m afraid my husband has forgotten how time moves on”, she smiled rolling her eyes at the ceiling with exasperated amusement.   “Well, I must say you’re lookin as lovely as ever, Mrs Wragg”, Mr. Renfew observed with a cheeky wink as he lifted his glass. Already dressed for her guests in a trim black cocktail dress with a blue jewelled broach at her throat, their hostess was certainly worth complementing and the incorrigible monk was rewarded with a pert dimpled smile which showed she was not displeased. Wisely, though, she made no verbal answer, probably remembering what a dreadful flirt Tobias could be. The Ambassador took a sip of the sharp liquid to consider his own opening conversational gambit when the watch owl saved him from speaking by announcing the next guest.    “Communicator Dewy; City Librarian”   The new arrival did not come up from the ground floor but instead scanned itself politely into existence, relayed through the tower wide beam immersion simulators. Dewy was an avatar of the ancient Anoomenon Council QLogic Banks – a sustained personality in the old language. He (it really, but it was difficult not to mentally apply a false gender to the apparition) took the form of a bespectacled man of indeterminate age, with receding black hair and a wrinkled forehead bearing a more or less permanently quizzical or even worried expression. The Librarian was the last of the Civic avatars left running in active mode. The QLogic Banks had archived all the old advisors and Council civil servants, and now they were only sustaining a skeleton service fed by a trickle of power. The Ambassador rather liked the Librarian. Dewy had a diffident attentiveness which made him a good listener and a helpful librarian but he also had a wry sense of humour and a questing mind which liked to probe beyond the limits of the knowledge over which he was the custodian.   “I’m afraid I can’t offer you a drink Mr. Dewy”, Mrs Wragg observed, “but you’re most welcome as ever”.   This mild witticism was a lot older than the speaker and the listener but the Librarian dutifully smiled. The door bell rang.   “Gracious me, everyone is arriving at once”, Mrs Wragg remarked, looking just a little flustered. In the absence of her husband she went down to the lower floor to open the door to her new guests, leaving Dewey, Renfew and the Ambassador on their own.   The Ambassador cleared his throat. “I should warn you gentlemen that we may be in for an unusually lively evening tonight. I’ve been consulting the Wraggs about the guest list as a favour to a certain august personage. There could be a little friction at first but we’ll see…”   “Politicking again, eh Amabassador”, the Librarian said with a grin.   “It’s what I do”, he replied simply.   “Yes but you don’t normally meddle in Anoomenon’s internal affairs. Are you getting bored of attending to the Thister-Arcs?”   “Not at all, not at all, this is just something that needs resolving and I’m always glad to help out.”   Suspecting that these two knew what they were talking about and not having any idea himself, Renfew popped another humbug into his mouth and crunched it loudly and ostentatiously. Then having drawn their mildly shocked attention he swilled his mouth round with the pear juice and swallowed.   “Are you going to say what you mean yer Honor or just keep dropping hints?”   “Oh just dropping hints I should think”, the Ambassador said. “That’s what Ambassadors do. But you’ll find out soon enough.”   “No time to discuss it now”, the Librarian warned them as the sound of climbing feet came from the lower room.   “Baron Brending and the Honourable Charles Brending”, the watch owl called. The two newcomers, father and son, were dressed alike in the traditional red doublet and bottle green hose of the Brending household, garments which in truth looked rather faded and warn to the Ambassador, though of course he would have been far too polite to even hint at such an observation in public conversation. Baron Brending was remarkably tall – he had to stoop to get through the door and his shoulders had a permanently hunched look as though he was always confined to rooms and to clothes which were just a little too small for him. He was late middle aged, hair which had once been thick and brown now shot through with grey and keen eyes sunk into angular hollows which had deepened over the years. His son, the honourable Charles Brending, was in his late teens – a sulky looking lad almost as tall as his father, morose and seemingly bored. The Ambassador knew he had a keen interest in hunting and that by repute he was skilled with the spear and the quarrel, but this was the first time he’d seen the young man in person.   The introduction in the doorway was not considered a proper greeting and now that they were in the presence of the guests, the Baron made an elaborate bow to Mrs. Wragg.  A small but significant social faux pas followed. In moving forward to bestow a respectful kiss on his hostesses wrist young Charles caught Dewey standing apparently day dreaming in the wrong place and passed part way through his projection before either of them had chance to avoid the non-collision. There was no physical effect beyond a slight distortion of the Librarian’s image but this kind of violation of personal space between reality and avatar was very much frowned upon in polite society. Both parties instantly withdrew, the boy standing up sharply and the Librarian jumping his image to the other side of the room.   “My humble apologies”, Dewey offered with a vague smile. As the less exalted, it was his role to accept blame for the incident.   The Baron frowned.   “Apology accepted”, he said on behalf of his son. He seemed to be remembering that there had been a time when a Council avatar would never have been invited to an aristocratic social gathering. But in these days, what very little remained of Anoomenon high society could not afford to be so fussy. If they wanted to enjoy sophisticated conversation they had to widen their extremely small social circle to embrace all the remaining notables of Anoomenon and that certainly included the Librarian.   Mr. Wragg returned to the company, descending through the roof and now more suitably attired in a formal dark crimson doublet. He nodded amiably to acknowledge the arrival of the Librarian who was an old friend but reserved his speech for the aristocrat.   “Good to see you Baron” he offered with a hearty handshake, “and your son, of course! How’s Brending Manor these days? Are those auto-lifters still working properly for you?”    “Yes, yes, Mr. Wragg”, the Baron answered. “They’re doing a fine job, thank you. We’ll have the West Wing repairs completed before the weather turns I think. Always assuming”, he added darkly, “that we don’t get pulverized by some meteor which those clowns in the Orbital Guard let through the defences!”   “Ah, yes, you refer to today’s astronomical surprise I think?”   “Indeed. We should not let this incident pass without complaint!”   “Hmmm… and possibly with some investigation of our own”, the Librarian put in mildly.   “Well, yes, it does add a little extra weight to an issue I thought we might discuss when we’re all gathered”, Mr. Wragg said thoughtfully.   “All gathered?” the Baron said with a frown. “I thought this was to be the complete company?”   “We await only one other, my Lord, yet I think it best that we do not start without her, even if we must wait a little longer to dine.”   The Baron glowered ominously, clearly suspecting the identity of the missing guest. Society in Anoomemon was hardly big enough for it to be anyone else and yet he had avoided the lady in question for nearly two years and had no wish to renew his acquaintance today. It was too late though. His suspicions were confirmed before he had any chance to withdraw the Brending family from the tower.   “Please be upstanding for the Countess of Gess”, the watch owl announced, and the highest of the current generation of Anoomenon aristocrats, nominal ruler of the city and one of the last remnants of the line of the Grey Kings entered the room.   There were few citizens taller than Baron Brending and few older than the Ambassador, but the Countess was both. Her sharply chiselled DNA was in part, a legacy of the subtlest of the occasionally respectable factions of gene splicers that had once served the courts of the Grey Kings and in part an infusion of her mixed Kerandian and Lunar ancestry. It was widely held that she had been something of a beauty in her younger days and though he had not known her then, the Ambassador could well believe it, for she carried herself well, her complexion was pellucid and her dark coiffured hair still elegant and lustrous though now flecked with grey. Yet she had never married. By all accounts there had once been a final turbulent and ill fated romance which ended in mysterious circumstances. At the time, the Countess had not been in the direct line of succession but within two years a particularly lethal strain of the Eyeling Plague would sweep through Anoomenon and carry off more than half of its people, including much of the royal line and she was propelled into power.   When he was contemplating this final stage of his career, the Ambassador had made a careful study of the history of the period, understanding that it would tell him much about the ruler of the city where he may well end his own days. He had learned to be cautious and he never made a move of any kind without meticulous planning. Most observers agreed that the Countess had managed her transition to leadership with subtlety and skill and dealt effectively with the ensuing political crises. Even before the Eyeling Plague, Anoomenon had been losing power and significance for at least three full generations if not longer. The great days of the apotheosis of the Grey Kings when the Shining City was at the centre of the world lay even further in the past. The Countess, though technically able to declare herself queen, had chosen not to do so, for reasons which simultaneously acknowledged the weakness of the city to shrewd observers, yet also allowed her to play more interesting games with the foreign suitors for its remaining influence. By the skill of her diplomacy she had managed to unite the oft squabbling aristocracy, steering a careful course into a managed decline which avoided war and preserved an important part of the city's independence. Anoomenon was technically part of the Protectorate Of Tree’skivo now and beholden to the Protector's Council, but in practice it continued to administer most of its own affairs within the confines of the old state heartlands. This was the Countess's finest achievement.   "Oh, do sit down everyone", the Countess urged as she was shown to her seat at the head of the table by her faintly unctious host and they all took their places. "I must say it's lovely to see you all", she said when the scraping of chairs had subsided. "Thank you so much for hosting this little gathering", she smiled at Mr. Wragg, even as his robot servitors began to bring out the starter course and pour drinks for the assembled company. "I hope we can put our little differences aside for a while", she continued, addressing Baron Brending directly.   "Of course Countess". Really, what else could he say? The Baron forced a wintry smile, although it seemed to cost him some effort to do so.   "Good! Then I'm sure we'll all have an enjoyable evening."   Somewhat to the Baron's surprise, it actually was an enjoyable evening. The eclectic mix of guests and the warm hospitality of the Wraggs, seasoned with some of Renfew's mildly off colour jokes actually succeeded in kindling faint flames of conviviality which slowly built as wine was drunk. The mouth watering scent of the meal as it came to the table gave everyone except the incorporeal Dewey an appetite. Perhaps also, the novelty of dining in the tower of one of the infamously reclusive Bad Theologists, added a certain dash of mystery to the party. Convincing Mr Wragg to persuade his master to allow them to use the tower had perhaps been the ambassador's cleverest move, providing a neutral and intriguing venue for both of the most important guests. In any case, the signs were promising, at least for so long as issues questions could be avoided, even if they would have to be discussed at some point. That was, after all, the not so well hidden purpose of the occasion.   The meal continued without good humour and no mention of the sensitive matters that had caused a rift in Anoomenon society until the dessert had been consumed and complemented by everyone, a fine honey sponge with a crushed chocolate topping. Then the Countess spoke up.    "It's so nice to see you Baron", she began sweetly. "I hope you won't mind if we can have some frank discussions? I know things haven't always been that..."   She seemed to hesitate, as though selecting the next word was a difficult task, but given her famed diplomatic skills, the ambassador knew she would have measured it carefully long before she spoke.   "clear between us. Clear is the right word."   The Baron frowned. The lovely meal and the interesting and unusual company had disarmed him but he wasn't going to be pacified so easily. Of course it was going to come down to business eventually. He'd always known that.   "I'm not asking for much", he said stubbornly. "Only the services Oustone Barony has always been able to call on the city to provide. We need to keep the canals clear or we can't keep supplying stone and you know very well that they are silting up."   "I AM sorry about the dredging machines. It's not been possible to procure replacements for the ones we lost. The main channel has to be kept open and the flood defence program has to have the highest priority after that. Nothing's changed since we talked about all this last winter."   "Surely the city can afford to restock now?"   There was an awkward pause.   "Well actually it can't." It was Dewey who surprisingly spoke.   "It can't! How expensive are these things?"   "Not particularly expensive", the Countess acknowledged. "The problem is that the Anoomenon treasury is empty."   "What!"   "This is why I thought you should both meet", the Ambassador said. "Rather than falling out over a miscommunication or two."   "There is a problem with the city treasury investment funds. They've dried up", Dewey said. "We're not getting any information about why, either. Our brokers in the Helsporan Wheel are silent."   "Authority from the master account holder is needed to release market sensitive information, apparently", the Countess said. "That's me. They'll accept nothing less than a personal visit for security reasons."   "What! I thought they worked for us?"   "They're supposed to, but they are insisting I meet with them face to face. That's why I'm going to Helsporan and up to the Wheel itself to find out what exactly is going on, and I will need your help Baron. This is an important embassy. I'll be taking a small entourage and I want your son to come with me. I also want you to take care of the business of Anoomenon in my absence."   The Baron was silent for a moment as he processed her words. It was the last thing he had expected. Rather than another fight for resources he was being asked to take on a major responsibility on behalf of the city for the Countess. If matters with the treasury had really got so bad that was a plausible and disturbing explanation for all their recent difficulties. These requests were a peace offer of a kind, an acknowledgement of his importance and a bid to bring the city leadership together. It would also be a good opportunity for Charles to see the wider world and perhaps learn important lessons about politics and business. He looked over to his son seeing the boy's eyes brighten. Was he ready for a task like this? He must be.   "Very good", the Baron said at last with a smile.   "Thank you", the Countess replied simply,  "We'll meet formally at Gess Palace for a longer briefing and to discuss some of the more sensitive issues in private. I hope tomorrow is not too soon for you, Baron? I plan to leave in three days."   And just like that, the interim transfer of power was agreed in principle and the plans for the Countess's trip could go ahead. As the Ambassador sipped his drink he reflected on what a successful evening it had been, but he knew too that this was only a beginning. Bringing the leaders of Anoomenon together was far from sufficient to solve the city's problems. They needed money and he had no clue as to why Anoomenon's foreign investments were failing. The Countess would have to find that out for herself.

Cover image: The Discontinuum by DMFW


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