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XVII. The invitation

1.

The Violet Council was represented by eight men and women, of whom only four asked any questions at all of Lilah Bay and Martin Marius. No one asked the other two people in the room anything—those were Doctor Aran Parkavan, also known as Professor Salagon, who was kept stringently subdued behind a nine-word seal, and Henry of Endweith, who sat in his personal prisoner’s dock a few meters to Lilah’s left, a properly regretful look on his face.

The chamber was dimly enough lit for its actual size to be indeterminate. Most likely, Lilah thought, the chamber constituted a wee little cosmos unto itself. She knew better than to think its shadowy corners hid anything more than the meetings of walls, but she appreciated the effect. The Council met around a long table, and the only light sources in the room, three magical globes, floated above it at the one quarter, one half and three quarters marks. She guessed there were ten chairs on each side and one at each end, for a total of twenty-two; as it was, six of the ten seats on one side were occupied, as were both ends. Lilah and Marius got to sit at a small table facing the middle of the table.

Lilah lounged in her chair, which was upright but very comfortable. Marius sat straight up, a patient smile on his face. It made Lilah wonder, how very at ease she felt, how very at ease Marius and even Henry 1 looked. The Council should have intimidated them.

They did not introduce themselves. The two who asked most of the questions sat near the middle, directly across from Lilah and Marius. The one on the left was a messy hippie monk of a man, all scraggly brown beard and voluminous brown robe: his name was Glasni and he was the biggest wizard ever to come out of the Institute of the world of Orbeno. Glasni had a crow, smallish and very black, who sat on his chair-back and gazed intently at Lilah. To his right was a sharp-eyed and sharp-nosed brunette, dressed as a very fashionable nun: she went by the name of Caterina and she hailed from the town of Pare, pronounced Pa-ray, in the hill country of Pathfor. Lilah did not learn the names of most of the others.

Marius passed her a note on a scrap of paper. It had an arrow to the right, and underneath was the word PHOTIUS. “Don’t look yet,” he advised in a whisper.

“Ms. Bay,” said Glasni, his brown eyes meeting hers, “are you in any doubt about the guilt of Henry of Endweith in the mass murder of the residents of the several universes in question?”

“No, not at all,” she replied. “Henry basically has confessed, as you read in my report.”

Glasni gave Henry a grave look. “Is this the case?”

“Yes, sir,” said Henry. “I’ve read the report myself, and I am accurately portrayed.”

“And Dr. Parkavan’s role?”

“We hired him, I and my younger self.”

Glasni shuffled the report’s papers a little. Caterina said, “Your actions caused the deaths of millions or billions of people.”

“Billions,” said Lilah. “And we have hearsay evidence of Henry 2, as I call him in the report, and that is 100% verified by this Henry. I’m sorry it’s so confusing.”

“That’s the world we live in now,” said Glasni, as a few of the others chortled. He looked at Caterina.

“Are we convinced of their guilt?” asked a man to the left of Glasni, a pretty young man who was probably five hundred years old.

“I’m convinced of their guilt,” said Caterina. “So tell us. Why do we have jurisdiction over this? And this crime we’ve adopted for this case, this ‘time manipulation for evil,’ how legitimate is that?”

“We have jurisdiction,” said Marius, “because the crime occurred in universes that have been destroyed by the crime itself. The perpetrators clearly cannot be tried where the crime was committed.”

“May it please the Council,” said Glasni, “I have attempted to visit the regions in question. They were even further gone than they were when Ms. Bay and her team passed through them. The scene was,” and he took a breath, “grisly, at least what could still in any sense be described as a scene.” A wave of nausea passed through the room.

“I kind of like ‘time manipulation for evil,’ actually,” said Lilah. “It’s nice and vague, and it captures the sense of it. They didn’t just murder people, they traveled in time to try and do something bad. I want that to be a crime. We’ll work out the description somehow.”

There was some murmuring, but Caterina said, “Fair enough,” and Glasni nodded. “Now, should we find them guilty, what would you suggest we do with them? Everyone including me thinks the secret of what they did is still exposed.”

“Exposed?” asked the very old pretty young man.

“Can you think, Innenbard,” said Glasni, “of anyone at all who might think it useful to collapse entire histories? I can certainly think of some.”

“I can think of some,” said Caterina, “who might do it just because they can. So, Ms. Bay. Supposing we convict. How do we keep their secrets from escaping, even if they themselves don’t? What do you do, execute them retroactively?”

“If I may,” said Lilah, “you can’t. We talked about this before we picked up Dr. Parkavan. We couldn’t see a way. No, we could see there wasn’t a way. Someone could always find a history where Dr. P already knew how to do this thing, and where we hadn’t got to him yet.”

“You’re saying the cat’s out of the bag,” said Glasni.

“The cat’s still in the bag, but the bag is full of holes.”

“Ms. Bay,” said Caterina, with a sidelong glass at the man and woman to the right of her, and the man at the far right end of the table, the one to whom the arrow in Marius’s note pointed. “Would you consider it within your, uh, jurisdiction, to act to prevent agents from using time travel to get information from such an extant copy of Dr. Parkavan? Would that be time manipulation for evil, in your mind?”

Lilah shifted, lounging left instead of lounging right. Glaring straight at Caterina, she said, “First of all, yeah. I think I would. But second of all, prevent? That sounds like setting up some sort of surveillance, maybe a patrol. That takes a lot more people on our side, and I don’t know if you all are willing to put that out there. And third of all, there’s also extant copies of Henry, um, Henry 1, and even Henry 2. Henry 3 doesn’t know anything. But maybe Henry 4, 5, 6 and 7 do. I guess I just doubt you can do that.”

Glasni raised his prodigious eyebrows and nodded. Caterina gave the tiniest shrug, then smiled at Lilah, while the rest of the Council seemed to sigh with a sort of relief.

“I suspect,” said Caterina, “that we are ready to deliberate. Are there any further questions?”

The man at the right end of the table, the one Marius had indicated was Photius, Photios Patriarchos, cleared his throat. Lilah took the opportunity to look at him.

The first impression he gave was of being a monk, a worldly monk but a monk. He was not fat and not thin; his face looked fifty years old; his head was not tonsured but somewhat balding; his clothes were dark grey and seemed robe-like. He was rather handsome, but the upper half of his head seemed distinctly larger than the lower half: it was as if he used his brain so much that it had grown large like a heavily exercised muscle. He wore no jewelry except for two rings on each hand, and these were not ostentatious. But without advertising their power, they oozed power, as did the man who wore them. Everything about him had a duality: the thing he seemed without trying to seem so, and the thing he was. Holy: not exactly. Humble: not at heart. The power was hidden, but not so it could not be seen.

Lilah Bay and Photios Patriarchos looked at each other. What did he see?

“Do we think,” he asked, “that we have prevented universes from being destroyed?”

She gave that only a moment’s thought. “No.”

“Do we think we ought to prevent universes from being destroyed?”

She gave that slightly more thought. She shook her head. “I wish we could,” she said.

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