Chapter 2 Hat

        The chancellor's study was, of course, large. Unlike the rooms of the other senior staff, however, it was also oak-panelled, though barely- noticeably; twenty-two years in academia had necessitated his gradual accumulation of some fifteen floor-to-ceiling, glass-fronted, integral-binder bookcases, which lined every section of wall except for where they'd obscure either the window, the door or the (outdated) blackboard.
        Ansle sat at the larger of his desks. He deliberately didn't look up as the dullness that was Chewt entered, seated herself opposite. She waited, silently, for him to speak.
        He let her. The other members of staff charitably attributed her permanent air of polite boredom to the supposition that she'd much rather be spending her time considering important matters of fundamental research. Alone among them, however, Ansle knew her from the early days, when neither of them had been professors, had had authority. He'd determined then that the reason she always seemed so bored was because she herself was so boring; it simply reflected back on her, so those she bored, in turn, bored her.
        He deferred a moment longer, then leaned away, began. "Now, Chewt, it's about this year's prospectus..." He locked his fingers. "I notice that in your draft you've lengthened the entry for the Department of Illusion to nine pages."
        She hesitated, unemotional, eyes still. "Chancellor: since the publication of my sequence in the second half of last year, people have become correspondingly more interested in the subject."
        Ansle shook his head. "People who were already interested have perhaps become more so, yes, but they'd almost certainly have applied to study something here anyway. The purpose of the prospectus is to persuade gifted young people to choose magic as a career instead of, say, engineering or architecture. Who's going to switch to magic because illusion suddenly appeals to them? Are we trying to attract," disdainfully, "artists?"
        "Engineers and architects do use magic."
        Ansle glared.
        "I'll cut the entry back down to seven pages."
        He continued, sneering. "And as for its being your sequence - I would like to point out that it was Farmer who did all the work. Your only contribution was to publish prematurely and have East/Trad lure him away the instant he'd completed his thesis!"
        Chewt closed her eyes a moment, slowly. "I am well apprised of your views on that subject, Chancellor. Will that be all?" She began to rise.
        "Be seated. You expanded the introduction, too: what's all this `recent times' nonsense?"
        She sat again, wearily, patient. "The other major colleges invariably boast about their history. The Academy is not as old as they, but our influence on society has been more profound than ever theirs was. People in the process of selecting a career should be made aware of the fact explicitly."
        Ansle frowned, snorted. "This explicitly?" He reached for the copy on his desk, turned to the bookmarked page. "I quote: `The Academy of Magical Sciences is not primarily concerned with academic excellence, nor has it ever been. Its main function is power broking.' Power broking? I can't believe this! Are you completely mad?" He snapped the folder shut, slammed it down. "You can't put that sort of thing in a prospectus!"
        She nodded, ran a hand through the slate of her hair. "In the first few years, when the potential of magic was only beginning to be recognised, different factions hoped to gain control of the Academy; they wished to use its resources to - "
        "Do you have to live in Lecture Land all the time? Everyone knows what happened - but that's not the point. You just can't say straight out in a prospectus that the Academy isn't concerned with academic excellence! It's the very justification for our existence!"
        "Once, yes, but no longer. The Academy resisted domination by becoming a faction itself; its priorities now are to influence, not to educate." She smiled. "I find the concept simple enough..."
        He was about to shout, checked himself, strummed on the desk. "And telling people this outright will make them want to come here?" He shook his head. "It's meant to be a prospectus, to convey information concerning the courses we'll be offering; it's not a first-year social psychology essay." He felt her eyes on him, heavy with pride, sighed. "Look, Chewt, I do agree that, by way of introduction, we ought to describe the Academy's place in society to some extent, and I can see how it might be productive to remind people that, say, it was we who orchestrated the final coup which cemented four-country unification; but this cold-blooded admittance of our wider influence doesn't make for good relations with the remaining `factions', as you call them."
        "On the contrary, I think it does." She was looking him in the beard, now, rather than the eye; he hated it when she did that. "By formalising our status, we - "
        "Enough!" She fell quiet, seemed mildly melancholic. "It is for me to determine such matters, not for you. If you wish to make suggestions, then you are, of course, free to do so; do not, however, attempt to pursue new policies independently. I am chancellor: you are merely my deputy. I am your master in all matters."
        She looked beyond him, out through the window. "Even by your own admission, I supervised Farmer; because of me, his was the most original - "
        "And I supervised my daughter! Without her work, you wouldn't have even been able to prove Farmer's sequence!"
        "You're over-stating - "
        "What?!" His face was red. "Listen, Chewt: ten years ago, the maximum length of spells was around twenty-five K. Remember then? Many more gestures, and the number of potential interactions caused the proofs always to show failure even for spells that were demonstrably safe. Farmer's sequence would have trashed out in five minutes if we still had to use the old tests. It was only after Conley published her first report four years ago - under my supervision - that the whole field opened up. The Department of Military Science had a three hundred K wallshaker written and proven within months! And Conley herself developed the induction for proving light flashes any prime number of gestures long from seventeen onwards. We'll be seeing megagesture commercial products soon! And you have the audacity to throw Farmer at me as some kind of evidence of academic superiority? Farmer's optical meddlings don't even compare with the magnitude of a breakthrough like Conley's! So if you're implying that I'm somehow your junior in supervisory excellence, you're hopelessly mistaken."
        She stared back, didn't say anything.
        Ansle breathed deeply. "Well," he picked up the report, straightened his sleeve. "Now that's understood, I trust that we can resume our original discussion..." He turned a page, faked like he was reading. "Yes, yes... I suppose you can retain most of what you've added to the introduction; I expect Justan - The King, rather - will be modestly pleased to learn that he `out-manoeuvred' my predecessor `in a totally humiliating fashion' and only `shortly after ascending the throne'... I'm relieved to see your loyalties have finally moved with the times." He paused. "In fact, by using this opportunity to accept publicly that the Academy's ambitious regional power proposals of ten years ago were premature - or, rather, ahead of their time - it places us well to the fore now that The King is finally advocating a similar approach himself. Yes," he put down the folder, pushed it toward her. "Any questions?"
        "I'll pad the extra pages back in by expanding the biographies." She stood, tiredly.

* * *

        After lunch, Ansle was rubbing a chalky note from his blackboard when he realised he was bathing in the green glow of the comsphere on the desk behind him. He turned, tapped it. The green misted out; Chewt's face appeared.
        "Chancellor, I have news from Lord Sennary." She looked even less happy than usual.
        "He's lost track of Conley's ring?".
        "Yes, she must have removed it. He went in anyway, but was too far behind: by then, she had gone."
        "Tell him to return here." He reached for the sphere again.
        "There's more: she struck an inn with some kind of devastation magic. She left with - "
        " - with a girlish-looking woman blighted by over-focused eyes." He tapped out the image, Chewt's comparatively astonished expression fading to clear glass.
        Ansle half-sat on the desk. When he'd lost his private tag on his daughter's lenses, he'd known immediately what had been the cause. Of course Chewt, tracking the figment-diamond ring, would merely assume that Conley had slipped it off, even though both she and Conley knew it would revert to quartz if the gold ever left flesh. Chewt, though, was not the kind of woman who understood vanities...
        The important thing was that Conley had actually found the girl, the librarian's daughter. Ansle gazed at the lines of books packing the shelves, covering the wall. He should have accepted her offer when she first came. Instead, he hadn't accorded her story credence - but surely that was forgivable? Her theory was, after all, incredible! Suspicion of its veracity had welled only gradually - it had taken almost a year before it piqued him into sending Sennary and his men for her that night. Only then was it that belief came, sudden, undeniable; then that he'd learned her magic really was of a different order...
        And from today's events, it was clear that she was still way ahead technically. No more lenses, no more ring, no more tags...
        What new lessons could she teach? Or be prevented from teaching?

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif2.htm