Chapter 39 Hat

        "It's very good of you to spend so long with me, Chancellor, I understand you're a very busy man these days." He was shorter than Ansle, thin-faced, early forties. His swirling Soatian moustache was greying, but the rest of his hair was coal dark - spelled that colour every morning.
        "I have much to do, yes, but not through choice. When anything permits me to leave my ministerial duties for even a short time, I seize my opportunity."
        The moustache twitched. "So, I'm your excuse for a day off!"
        Ansle smiled, looked over to the window. "Unfortunately, Nic, if you're appointed deputy chancellor - and Count Feathe assures me that you will be - then I'll be robbed of excuses for weeks to come."
        The waiter arrived with the soup, vegetable broth.

* * *

        "That was excellent," Nic nudged forward his bowl, dabbed his mouth. "Better than the refectory used to be - has it improved any since I left?"
        Ansle shrugged. "It's improved since I took the position of Minister of Supplies." Both men laughed. "You've been gone for how many years, now?"
        "Fifteen - well before you made chancellor. I could have stayed, but it was too stifling; I wanted to be free to pursue my work without pressure from above."
        "Well I'm glad you did decide to leave; otherwise, it might have been you here as chancellor, interviewing me." He smiled, smug. "So why have you decided to return to academia, anyway?"
        Nic sipped at his wine. "Ahh, well now the situation has toggled. Running my clinics is a full-time occupation - I rarely get chance to research any more. Back here, I'd be second-in-command - high enough a level to work as I pleased without being continually pushed around and having unimportant administrative jobs dumped on me." He sipped some more.
        "What would you do with your chain of surgeries, if you were offered the post?"
        "I'll be selling them in any event - they fit in well with MedSpell's forthcoming diversification into services. I'll stay on in a consultative capacity."
        "That sounds an adequate arrangement. So I'd better buy some MedSpell shares before the news becomes public!"

* * *

        "It was an interesting seminar you delivered this morning."
        Nic swallowed, spoke as he cut fat from the beef. "Well, I knew it was partly so that junior staff members could form an opinion of me; I therefore had to make it something that would impress, without being so technical as to lose them."
        "Wise, yes, but I'm not sure you didn't overdo it. There was hardly anything solid in your talk, it was all speculative. Prosthetic brains: an original idea, but what spells are you designing?"
        He chewed, pointed to the silverside. "This flesh is deceased. Before anyone knew the magic, if people lost a limb then they wore a prosthesis - at least, the ones who could afford it did. But now, thanks to work pioneered over the last twenty years, I could turn this beef into, say, a patch of human skin. Better than normal skin - stronger, tougher. Well," he smiled, "perhaps not this piece; it's the tenderest I've had in a long while!"
        "Yes, yes, so you wonder what would happen if you made a prosthetic brain, I know the question now, but what have you done about it? Have you tried any experiments?"
        Cutting off more fat. "We've done some on animals, yes. The thing is, muscle and bone are different from brain tissue, it doesn't work the same way. You can't make a complex, thinking mechanism from something that previously has only been used for walking. Besides, the subjects invariably die as soon as you remove their original brains."
        "Have you tried making a prosthetic from a dead brain?"
        He stopped, stared at his plate. Ansle bit into the chunk of steak that had been waiting at the end of his fork for the past half-minute. Finally, Nic spoke. "No, no we haven't. It might work - we'd need to modify the connectors to bind it up, and ... no, it would still be useless, the recipients would die when we took their own brains out, no matter how quick we were." He reached for his glass.
        "What if they were already dead?"
        He paused as the wine touched his lips. "What do you mean?"
        Ansle had almost forgotten his food. "The way I understand prosthetic magic, the basic segments that bring life back to dead meat are well understood. The hard parts are grafting it onto the recipient, making it look like the real thing, and fixing it up to the nerves so it can be fully controlled. That's why putting back original severed limbs, if they are available, is easier than making substitutes from pigs' trotters."
        "What are you trying to say? That I should build a person entirely out of prosses?"
        "No, that you should build a person from a single pros." He realised he was speaking loudly, people at other tables looking over, he calmed his voice. "Take a dead body: fix whatever it was that killed it; cast a prosthetic spell over the whole corpse."
        "It wouldn't work - they'd have to make a focus."
        "They're dead, how the life are they going to resist?" He shovelled a forkful of peas.
        "There were some experiments - I remember seeing a mono- graph, between the civil wars. One of the Galurian barons tried making prosthetic rats. Gassed them, then - "
        "That was before Tozhor wrote the recomposition modules, those rats probably had rigor mortis by the time they were prossed back. Died again immediately."
        Nic chewed slowly, thinking, running objections through his mind. "It's easy enough to test..." He tapped his plate with his knife. "I'll do it. Animals first: if prossing enhances brain performance to the same level as it does muscles, who knows? They might end up able to talk!"

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif39.htm