The great Calculor of Libris was forced to watch as Overmayor Zarvora had four of its components lined up against a wall and shot for negligence. Thereafter, its calculations were free from errors, and that was just as well-for only this strangest of calculating machines and its two thousand enslaved components could save the world from a new ice age.And all the while a faint mirrorsun hangs in the night sky, warning of the cold to come.In Sean McMullen's glittering, dynamic, and exotic world two millennia from now, there is no more electricity, wind engines are leading-edge technology, librarians fight duels to settle disputes, steam power is banned by every major religion, and a mysterious siren ""Call"" lures people to their death. Nevertheless, the brilliant and ruthless Zarvora intends to start a war in space against inconceivably ancient nuclear battle stations.Unbeknownst to Zarvora, however, the greatest threat to humanity is neither a machine nor a force but her demented and implacable enemy Lemorel, who has resurrected an obscene and evil concept from the distant past: Total War.Souls in the Great Machine is the first volume of Sean McMullen's brilliant future history of the world of Greatwinter At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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May 01, 2000
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Excerpt from Souls in the Great Machine by Sean Mcmullen
Fergen had not noticed a suspicious pattern in the pieces on the board by the seventh move. Champions was his best game and he had even its most exotic strategies and scenarios memorized. The Highliber advanced a pawn to threaten his archer. The move was pure impudence, a lame ploy to tempt him to waste the archer's shot. He moved the archer to one side, so that his knight's flank was covered.
The Highliber sat back and tapped at the silent keys of an old harpsichord that had been cut in half and bolted to the wall of her office. Fergen rubbed plaster dust from his fingers. All the pieces were covered in dust, as were the board, the furniture, and the floor. The place was a shambles. Wires hung from holes in the ceiling, partly completed systems of rods, pulleys, levers, pawls, gears, and shafts were visible through gaps in the paneling, and other brass and steel mechanisms protruded from holes in the floor. Occasionally a mechanism would move.
Fergen gave the game his full attention, but Highliber Zarvora tapped idly at the harpsichord keys and seldom glanced at the board. A rack of several dozen marked gearwheels rearranged their alignment with a soft rattle. The mechanisms were part of a signal system, the Highliber had explained. Libris, the mayoral library, had grown so big that it was no longer possible to administer it using clerks and messengers alone.
The Highliber leaned over and picked up a knight. With its base she tipped over one of her own pawns, then another. Fergen had never realized that she had such small, pale hands. Her knight toppled yet another of her pawns, then turned as it finally claimed an enemy piece. Such a tall, commanding woman, yet such small hands, thought Fergen, mesmerized. The knight knocked another of its own pawns aside; then his king fell.
For some moments he stared at the carnage on the board, the shock of his defeat taking time to register. Anger, astonishment, suspicion, incomprehension, and fear tore at him in turn. At last he looked up at the Highliber.
"I must apologize for the surroundings again," she said in the remote yet casual manner that she used even with the Mayor. "Did the mayhem in here disturb your concentration?"
"Not at all," replied Fergen, rubbing his eye. Behind it the early symptoms of a migraine headache were building. "I could play in a cowshed and still beat anyone in the known world in less than fifty moves. Do you know when I was last beaten at champions?"
The question had been rhetorical, but the Highliber knew the answer.
She tapped again at the silent keyboard. The little gears marked with white dots clicked and rattled in their polished wooden frame.
"And now it's 1696," he said ruefully. "I've played you before, but you never, never made moves like these."
"I have been practicing," she volunteered.
"You take a long time between moves, but oh, what moves. I have learned more from this game than my previous hundred. You could take my title from me, Highliber Zarvora, I know mastery when I see it."
The Highliber continued to tap the silent keys and glance at the row of gears. The same slim, confident fingers that had harvested his king so easily now flickered over the softly clacking keys in patterns that were meaningless to Fergen.
"I am already the Highliber, the Mayor's Librarian," she said without turning to him. "My library is Libris, the biggest in the world and the hub of a network of libraries stretching over many mayorates. My staff is more than half that of the mayoral palace. Why should your position interest me?"
"But, but a Master of the Mayor ranks above a mere librarian," spluttered Fergen.
"Only in heraldic convention, Fras Gamesmaster. I enjoy a game of champions, but my library means more to me. I shall tell nobody about your defeat."
Fergen's face was burning hot. She could take his position, but she did not want it! Was an insult intended? Were there grounds for a duel? The Highliber was known to be a deadly shot with a flintlock, and had killed several of her own staff in duels over her modernizations in the huge library.
"Would you like another game?" asked the Highliber, facing him but still striking at the keys.
"My head ... feels like it's been used as an anvil, Frelle Highliber."
"Well then return later," she said, typing her own symbols for / CHAMPIONS: ELAPSED TIME? / then pressing a lever with her foot. Fergen heard the hum of tensed wires, and the clatter of levers and gears from within the wall.
"I could teach you nothing," he said in despair.
"You are the finest opponent that I have," replied the Highliber. "I think it--"
She stopped in midsentence, staring at the row of gears.
"You will excuse me, please, there is something I must attend to," she said, her voice suddenly tense.
"The gears and their dots have a message?"
"Yes, yes, a simple code," she said, standing quickly and taking him by the arm. "Afternoon's compliments, Fras Gamesmaster, may your headache pass quickly."
Fergen rubbed his arm as the Highliber's lackey showed him out. The woman had all but lifted him from the ground! Amazing strength, but to Fergen no more amazing than her victory at the champions board.
Zarvora slammed a small wooden panel in the wall aside and pulled at one of the wires dangling from the roof. After a moment a metallic twittering and clatter arose from the brass plate set in the recess.
"System Control here, Highliber," declared a faint, hollow voice.
"What is the Calculor's status?" she snapped.
"Status HALTMODE," replied the distant speaker.
"What is in the request register at present?"
"And the response register?"
"Forty-six hours for a twenty-minute game of champions, Fras Controller?" shouted Zarvora, her self-control slipping for a rare moment. "Explain."
There was a pause, punctuated by the rattle of gears. Zarvora drummed her fingers against the wall and stared at a slate where she had written 46:30.4.
"System Controller, Highliber. Both Dexter and Sinister Registers confirm the figure."
"How could both processors come up with the same ludicrous time?"
"Why ... yes, it is odd, but it's the sort of error that even skilled clerks make sometimes."
"The Calculor is not a skilled clerk, Fras Lewrick. It is a hundred times more powerful at arithmetic, and with its built-in verifications it should be absolutely free of errors. I want it frozen exactly as it was during that last calculation."
"That's not possible, Highliber. Many of the components from the correlator were exhausted by the end of the game. They were relieved by components from the spares pool."
Too late, thought Zarvora. "We shall run a set of diagnostic calculations for the next hour," she said. "Do not change any tired components. If some fall over at their desks, mark them before they are replaced."
"Highliber, the Calculor is tired. It's not wise."
"The Calculor is made of people, Fras Lewrick. People get tired, but the Calculor merely slows down."
"I'm down inside it all the time. It has moods, it feels--"
"I designed the Calculor, Lewrick! I know its workings better than anyone."
"As you will, Highliber."
Zarvora rubbed at her temples. She too had a headache now, but thanks to the long vibrating wire beneath the brass plate her discomfort remained unseen.
"You are trying to tell me something, Fras Lewrick. What is it--and please be honest."
"The Calculor is like a river galley or an army, Frelle Highliber. There is a certain ... spirit or soul about it. I mean, ah, that just as a river galley is more than a pile of planks, oars, and sailors, so too is the Calculor more than just a mighty engine for arithmetic. When it is tired, perhaps it sometimes lets a bad calculation through rather than bothering to repeat it."
"It is not alive," she replied emphatically. "It is just a simple, powerful machine. The problem is human in origin."
"Very good, Highliber," Lewrick said stiffly. "Shall I have the correlator components flogged?"
"No! Do nothing out of the ordinary. Just check each of the function registers on both sides of the machine as you run the diagnostic calculations. We must make it repeat its error, then isolate the section at fault. Oh, and send a jar of tourney beer to each cell when the components are dismissed. The Calculor played well before that error."
"That would encourage the culprit, Highliber."
"Perhaps, but it is also important to reward hard work. The problem is a hole in my design, Fras Lewrick, not the component who causes problems through it. We could take all the components out into the courtyard and shoot them, but the hole would remain for some newly trained component to crawl through."
Libris was Rochester's mayoral library. Its stone beamflash communications tower was over 600 feet high and dominated the skyline of the city. Unofficially, the Highliber of Libris was second only to the Mayor in power, and she controlled a network of libraries and librarians scattered over dozens of mayorates and thousands of miles. In many ways the Highliber was even more powerful than the Mayor. There was no dominant religion across the mayorates of the Southeast, so the library system performed many functions of a powerful clergy. The education, communication, and transport of every mayorate in the Southeast Alliance was under the discreet but firm coordination of the Highliber of Rochester.
Rochester itself was not a powerful state; in fact, the other mayorates of the Southeast Alliance deliberately kept it as no more than a rallying point, a political convenience. Neighboring mayorates such as Tandara, Deniliquin, and Wangaratta held the real power, and wielded it shamelessly in the Councilium Chambers at Rochester. Mayor Jefton of Rochester was the constitutional Overmayor of the Councilium, but in practice he was of little more consequence to his peers than the servants who scrubbed the floor, dusted the tapestries, and polished the broad red rivergum table at which the meetings were held.
Libris was the very reason that Rochester was kept weak. A powerful mayorate controlling the vast and influential library network would quickly become strong enough to rule the entire Alliance. The Councilium was wary of that. Zarvora had been appointed recently, replacing a man eighty years her senior. She had become a Dragon Silver at twenty-four, and after two years had jumpedthe Dragon Gold level to be appointed Dragon Black--the Highliber's rank. There had been some luck involved: Mayor Jefton also happened to be young and ambitious, and was weary of elderly men and women telling him what he could or could not do. Zarvora offered him the chance to make Rochester powerful, and outlined some radical but plausible ways of doing it. He proposed her name to the Councilium, giving her the chance to address the Mayors in person. She promised to make both Libris and the beamflash network pay for themselves within three years or resign. The Mayors were impressed and appointed her.
Zarvora became Highliber in 1696 GW and massive changes followed. The Tiger Dragons, Libris' internal guard, were tripled and a branch of them was turned into the Black Runners, a secret constabulary. Parts of Libris were rebuilt and extended, and staff and books were moved into other areas. In the workshops of the expanded library artisans toiled through twelve-hour shifts, day after day, month after month, making strange machinery and furniture. Carpenters, blacksmiths, and clockmakers were recruited from far afield, and the edutors at the University were contracted to solve odd problems in symbolic logic. Large areas of Libris were sealed from outside scrutiny.
Zarvora explained that Libris had become too big to govern manually, and that a vast signaling and coordinating division of clerks, lackeys, and librarians had been set up to manage its books and coordinate its activities. Indeed the efficiency of Libris' activities improved dramatically in only a few months, and by the end of 1696 GW the Mayor could see real savings set against the Highliber's expenses.
There were also drastic changes in the staffing of Libris. Examinations for Dragon Red and Green were changed to favor candidates with mathematical and mechanical backgrounds, rather than just knowledge of library theory and the classics. No recruit was older than thirty-five, and several accepted options to study further at Rochester's University. The changes did not go uncriticized, but the Highliber was dedicated and ruthless. She lobbied, fought duels, had officials assassinated ... and even had the more numerate of her opponents abducted for a new and novel form of forced labor. When those obstructing her had been outside Libris, it had been necessary to arrange other means to push them aside. In the case of Fertokli Fergen, Master of Mayoral Boardgames, she had used humiliation.
The Call moved across the land at a walking pace, visible only by the creatures that were swept along by its allure. It moved southeast, and within its six-mile depth were dogs, sheep, an occasional horse, and even a scattering of humans. Although it had begun far away in the Willandra Drylands, none of the animals it had first gathered were still walking within its influence, or even alive. Few creatures drawn away by the Call ever reached its source.
Ettenbar was a Southmoor shepherd, living a precarious existence near theborder river between his Emir's lands and the Rutherglen Mayorate. His sheep grazed placidly in a ragged circle, all tied to the central stake that he had knocked in that morning, while his emus walked free among the sheep with great mincing steps, all neck, legs, and shaggy feathers. Striped chicks ran about at their feet.
A movement in the distance caught Ettenbar's attention: a stray ram wandering without a tether. Untethered sheep carried rewards, and unbranded strays were the property of those who caught them. Releasing himself from the tether-stake, he began stalking the spiral-horned merino.
It was wary. It trotted away to a comfortable distance as Ettenbar approached. He circled off to one side, untying his bolas and shaking them loose. The stray still kept its distance. Ettenbar crept closer, driving it to where there were clumps of bushes to cover his approach. The ploy worked. Within fifty yards he began whirling the bolas, he cast--and tangled the stray by the hind legs. As he strode forward to collect his struggling, bleating prize, the Call rolled over him.
For the most fleeting of moments Ettenbar had a choice, yet it was a choice with only one possible outcome. He betrayed himself, he accepted his weakness and wallowed in it, all within a single thought. His discipline and control collapsed, his steps slowed, and he turned to walk southeast. The stray ram also struggled to follow the beckoning, but could not move as fast as the Call with its hind legs entangled in the bolas. Ettenbar's sheep were also drawn by the Call, but got only as far as the length of their tethers. His emus studied them quizzically, cocking their heads with avian curiosity. In spite of being so much larger than a sheep, they were birds and so were immune to the Call. All mammals larger than a big cat were drawn away, but never birds or reptiles.
Only dimly perceiving obstacles, Ettenbar walked on. He waded streams, tumbled down steep hillsides, climbed walls, and stumbled through ploughed fields. He passed a farmer who was straining to walk southeast with the Call. The man was held by a body anchor that had been released by a rawhide timer ten minutes after the Call had caught him. The farmer would live, but Ettenbar was already lost to the world, dead because he was walking freely. Ahead was the broad, brown river that marked the border. Ettenbar waded in and began to swim. Not one-quarter of the creatures drawn along by the Call survived the crossing, but Ettenbar reached the south bank and staggered on.
Three miles into the Christian mayorate of Rutherglen he crashed blindly into a dense thicket of blackberries. The heavy shepherd's leathers and boots that had nearly caused him to drown in the river now protected him from the worst that the thorns could do, but he could not maintain even the slow walking pace of the Call. It continued to beckon to him and he struggled to follow it as thorns tore at his face and hands. Finally his legs became so entangled in thorny branches that he could not move. After three hours the Call finally passed, releasing him.
Ettenbar awoke. He was cold, wet, bleeding, and exhausted. The sun waslow, almost smothered behind gathering clouds. One moment he had been striding to collect the ram that he had snared, and now ... The Call had spared him! With bleeding fingers he drew his knife and cut his legs free from the thorny branches. He stumbled back out of the grove of grasping thorns, prostrated himself, and gave thanks to Allah for the return of his life.
From the setting sun he took a bearing for northeast and began the journey home. He felt ashamed for being caught without his tether, but otherwise walked along proudly. The Call had released him, he was blessed in the eyes of Allah. It was only when he reached the river that he realized where he was.
"Hei, Callshewt!" shouted someone behind him. He hesitated, then bolted for the riverbank. A gunshot barked out and soil sprayed up in front of him. Ettenbar stopped and turned, his hands high.
Three bearded, gore-encrusted spectres approached. They were not border guards but river gleaners--scavengers looking for livestock drowned in the river while trying to follow the Call. Ettenbar saw that only one of them had a gun, and realized too late that he could have run on before the musket was reloaded. They wore stained oilcloths and swenskin breeches, and stank of mutton fat and blood. Three pairs of scabby, dirty knees showed through ragged holes. They had been dragging freshly drowned sheep from the water and butchering them for the Rutherglen markets when Ettenbar had appeared.
Prakdor reloaded his gun while Mikmis and Allendean examined their prize. Although their leader, Prakdor, let Mikmis do most of the talking. He had been in his mayor's army once, and knew the fate of the loud and vocal.
"Southmoor sheepshagger," Mikmis observed as they bound Ettenbar's wrists and hobbled his ankles.
"Hold 'im? Ransom?" Allendean asked.
"Ransom? A sheepshagger? We'd not get the price of the rope. Better march him to Wahgunyah and sell him to a bargemaster as a rower."
"Wahgunyah. Long trek," Allendean grumbled.
"He's strong. He'll fetch twenty-five silver nobles if he gets one."
While they argued Ettenbar looked across the river to the fields that were home. Until this day he had never traveled more than twenty miles from where he had been born, but now he was unlikely to ever see those fields again.
"Jorah," he murmured.
"What say?" snapped Allendean.
"Jorah, it's Southmoor for the Call," said Prakdor. "It means Changer of Lives."
"Shewt, he got that right," chorkled Mikmis. "Kiss your sheep goodbye, sheepshagger." The three river gleaners burst into hoarse, raucous laughter.
"I--hey, can he count?" Mikmis suddenly exclaimed.
"Southmoor sheepshagger? Give break!"
"Can you count? Er ... Prakdor, do you know how they say--"
"Vu numerak, isk vu mathemator?" Prakdor asked in the dialect of the neighboring Southmoors.
Ettenbar nodded proudly. The local mosque had a fine school.
"So, he can count! I've heard the Warren pays one gold royal for Southmoors who can count--two if they speak Austaric."
"Sheepshagger nayn't," Allendean grumbled.
"Shewt pighead, it's still four times what he'd fetch as a rower."
They turned to Prakdor who considered, then nodded. "We'll take him to the camp and clean him up. Mikmis, go to Wahgunyah, see the Warrenmaster."
Nothing symbolized the power and authority of Libris better than the tall beamflash towers that stood in every town. In Rutherglen the tower was within the grounds of the Unitech, but some distance from its library. Lemorel had been walking purposefully down the cobbled streets of the Unitech, yet something made her pause to gaze at the tower.
It was wooden and whitewashed, gleaming starkly against the clouds of the late-winter afternoon. White fumes poured from the outlets at the summit as magnesium flares powered the beamflash equipment in the absence of direct sunlight. A signal was going west, to Numurkah, from where it would be relayed southwest to Rochester. The distance that a message could travel in moments might take Lemorel months, or even years ... . but no matter. Today she would take another step on her journey to the capital.
She was saved from abduction by being a librarian. Five men in shabby oilcloths loitered near the gates of the Unitech, staring at a sheet of poorpaper that might have been a map. They seemed to be itinerant farmworkers trying to find their way around an unfamiliar town.
"Lemorel Milderellen, Dragon Yellow Librarian," one of them muttered as Lemorel walked through the gates.
Another shook his head. "Let her go."
"She won the Unitech prize for mathematics," insisted the first.
"Abducting even a Dragon White Librarian is a good way to get us shot. Who is this next one?"
"Joakim Skinner. Assistant edutor in Accounting."
"That's more like it. Mark him down."
"Five. He makes five."
"Five is enough. Two gold royals for each of us."
"That Constable's Runner is staring at us again," their tall, gaunt lookout reported.
"Then let's find a coffeehouse and bide."
They had not noticed the color of the armband that the librarian had beenwearing. Lemorel had been promoted to Dragon Orange rank only that afternoon. The rise in rank could not have come at a better time, as there was a Regional Inspector visiting the town. Libris recruited librarians from outside Rochester at the level of Dragon Red and above. She had a minimum of two years more before she became eligible for the exams, yet there were now ways of hastening promotions with Highliber Zarvora in charge.
Rutherglen had been the vineyard heartland since the earliest records began, and the rhythm of life was closely tied to the grape harvest and its cycles. This was late winter, a time for repairs and barrel building, for hunting wild emus in the open woodlands to the south, and for long philosophical discussions in the evenings over old vintages beside fires. Bright flags, ribbons, and bunches of evergreens hung from the lintels of most houses and shops in celebration of the Drinkfest. Out of sight on some roof a band was practicing. Lemorel noted that the cornetton was slightly out of tune and the two snailhorn players were probably drunk. Smoke from cooking fires hung over the streets, mingling with genuine fog and hinting at stews and baking. Overloaded lever-pedal tricycles on unsprung wooden wheels creaked and rumbled along the Callside of the road.
There had not been a Call for over three weeks, Lemorel reminded herself as her clockwork Call timer clattered its warning of a minute's grace. She reached down to her waist, twisted the reset dial to a half hour, and wound the mainspring. A Call was due soon, and she hoped that it would not interrupt her interview. The houses on the north side of the street were all blank walls of abandonstone, tarbrick, and red shingle: no street had two sides. If a Call came, those inside houses would walk to the blank wall at the back and wander there mindlessly, but in safety. No windows or doors ever faced in the direction of the Call. Just like the people themselves, open and welcoming on one side but blank and unassailable on the other, Lemorel mused. Those who recognized her quickly looked away and found something to be busy with. She fantasized about being the source of the Call itself, a godling that people protected themselves against with their blank sides. Even though it was an old and tired fancy, it was her only armor against the townsfolk who shunned her.
In the distance she could see the Wayfarer's Rest, a hostelry for the better class of traveler. The Regional Inspector was waiting there. Her appointment was for 4 P.M. The single arm of the clock on the Mayor's palace was touching the numeral but the chimes had not yet begun. She slowed her pace. Whether it was passing exams, arriving for appointments, or shooting in duels, timing was all important.
For Lemorel this was a chance to escape with dignity. Being a librarian with a reputation for shooting straight meant that she might bypass the lengthy rounds of protocol maze-running to get into Libris. The new Highliber was as refreshingly young as her predecessor had been stultifyingly old. Traditions that datedback centuries were being uprooted and opportunities were being made for the young and competent.
Lemorel was with the Rutherglen Unitech library, and like all libraries in the Southeast Alliance it was affiliated to Libris. When Lemorel had been appointed as a Dragon White, the lowest librarian ranking, the Highliber of Libris had been in office forty-one years and was 106 years old. He had died within a year and was followed by Zarvora Cybeline.
Zarvora was dynamic and dedicated, had an edutorate in applied algebra from Rochester University ... and was twenty-six. She had killed the Deputy Highliber's champion in a duel a day after gaining office and within a month had sent three-quarters of the executive staff into exile. All at once Lemorel's temporary job within a hidebound profession became a marvelous opportunity to get ahead.
Lemorel glanced at the clocktower and shivered in the still, cold air. The arm was right over the numeral four. The trip rod on the hour gearwheel would be pressing against the release lever of the horlogue barrel by now. Weights on a pulley would soon rotate the barrel, and studs on its surface would move another set of levers that would trip spring-loaded hammers to strike a tune on brass bells. Lemorel's father had maintained the mechanism for years, and some of her earliest memories were of the inside of the mayoral clock. Now there was a proscription on him working there and the mechanism was slowly going out of adjustment. There was a distant, muffled clack, and the chimes of the horlogue began. Heart racing, Lemorel entered the hostelry taproom and caught sight of a portly man in casual maroon robes wearing the silver badge of the Inspectorate Service. He was twirling the waxed beardspike on his chin and frowning. The last chime sounded as she crossed the room.
Vellum Drusas had a round of vineyard towns that he went to some trouble to visit in the winter. It was a good season, as people had time to spare and were glad of company from outside the mayorate. There was, of course, the matter of the business that justified his travel in the first place, but while Drusas might have been indolent, he was not stupid enough to abuse his travel allowance. If he worked minimally to justify trips to his favorite vineyards, at least he worked.