He imagined an antique phone by the bedside. He lifted the receiver.
‘Hello?’ The voice was pleasant and sexless.
‘Enough,’ he said.
The castle vanished before he could replace the handset.
There was ample time before his funeral.
At that point - like all the dead, whether they were high or low, and Privileged or not - he would face the final proof of the crypt’s ferociously impartial judgment. As the saying had it: the crypt was deep and the human soul was shallow. And the shallower the soul, the less of it survived as any sort of independent entity within the data corpus; somebody whose only opinions were received opinions and whose originality quotient was effectively zero would dissolve almost entirely within the oceanic depths of the crypt’s precedent-saturated data streams and leave only a thin froth of memories and a brief description of the exact shape of their hollowness behind, the redundancy of their beings annihilated by the crypt’s abhorrence of over-duplication.
Should that personality ever be called back into existence in the base-level world, it could be recreated exactly from the crypt’s already existing database of sentience types.
It was believed that the certainty of such a verdict provided the incentive for people to improve themselves in a society which gave every appearance of being able to function quite adequately with almost no human input whatsoever.
Sessine, if not as one of the Privileged then as a man who had over the course of several lifetimes assiduously cultivated his own cultivation, was in practice if not in theory guaranteed a continued existence within the corpus as an individual.
Even had he been due solely for the compulsory incorporation that was the fate of lesser mortals when the moment came, there would still have been time for what he had in mind. The three days in physical reality before his funeral equated to over eighty years in the quickened medium of crypt-time; time enough for another life to be lived after death, and easily sufficient to encompass the investigation a dead man might wish to mount into the reason for his murder.
‘The data-set from the time of your death was recorded as a matter of course by your bioware and transmitted to the command car’s event-recorder as well as its own computer; the latter was destroyed along with the car when your murderer turned the car’s gun on the convoy and drew retaliatory fire. The event-recorder survived; it also squirted its primary function-suite state to the nearest convoy units when it realised the car was under attack and these read-outs square with the data in the recorder itself, so we may comfortably assume your final memories are accurate.’
The construct of the clan Aerospace’s chief crypt-lawyer was configured to respond to its clients’ personalities; for Sessine this meant that it appeared as a tall, highly attractive woman in early middle-age who wore her long black hair tied back, used little make-up, dressed in late-twentieth-century corporate-male clothes and talked with quiet authority; Sessine found it almost amusing how perfectly such an image demanded and received his attention. No bullshit, no unnecessary gestures or expressions, no false buddiness, no flimflam and no attempts either to impress or ingratiate. Even his short attention span and low boredom threshold had been catered for; she spoke fast. And in the pauses, he could imagine her unclothed (though, as she was a separate entity within the crypt, such imagining no more made itself immediately actual than it would have had they both been real people in base-reality).
He supposed that a male construct might have worked almost as well, but he
smart, quick-witted, self-assured women, and he despised the off-the-peg models of such constructs just because convention demanded they must exhibit some hint of vulnerability, some girlishness that was supposed to make him feel that despite such obvious capability and presence, this woman was some kind of sexual pushover, or not really his equal.
They were sitting in a vault room of the Bank of England, in Edwardian times. Their seats were constructed of gold ingots and cushioned with layers of big white five-pound notes; their table was a trolley normally used to transport bullion. Primitive electric lights flickered on the metal walls and reflected off further piles and stacks of gold bars. Sessine had salvaged the image from an early twenty-first-century VR fiction.
‘What do we have on the man who murdered me?’
‘He was called John Ilsdrun IV, second-lieutenant. Nothing anomalous in his background or recent behaviour. His implants had been doctored and, if he survives in usable form anywhere, it is not in the general body of the crypt. We’re running deeper checks on all his lives and contacts so far, but they’ll take subjective days to complete.’
‘And the message he received?’
‘A code within the gistics burst:
“Veritas odium parit.”’
“‘Truth begets hatred.” How cryptic.’
The construct permitted itself a smile.
Barely five minutes had passed in base-reality since his death, and he had spent the great majority of that time unconscious, the data-set that was his stored personality being updated with the rigorously cross-checked information from the time and place of his murder before being activated: the wreck of the command car he and the rest of the crew had been killed in was still burning on the fractured floor of the Southern Volcano Room, the convoy had yet to regroup properly after the young lieutenant’s treacherous attack on it, his co-directors at Aerospace had been summoned to an emergency virtual meeting due to take place in a subjective half-hour and a base-reality physical meeting in the Atlantean Tower scheduled in two hours real - two years and three months subjective - time, while his widow had been contacted but had yet to reply.
‘Backtrack on the coded message; how did it find its way into a hardened military narrowcast?’
‘Still investigating. The jurisdictional protocols concerned are complicated.’
Sessine could imagine; the military would not easily be persuaded to open its data corpus to outside investigation.
‘I want to request an audience with Adijine, priority.’
‘Contacting the Palace, royal apartments . . . monarch’s office ... on hold . . . His Majesty’s private secretary suite . . . your call-sign going through . . . private secretary construct on line real time now. Replace?’ ‘Replace.’
The woman disappeared, turning in a blink into a small wizened man in a black dress coat and holding a long staff. He looked briefly around the vault, stood and bowed slightly to Sessine, then sat again.
‘Count Sessine,’ he said. ‘The King has already asked me to inform you of the profound shock he experienced at hearing of your murder, and to convey his deepest sympathy to you as well as to those you leave behind. He has also asked me to assure you that everything possible will be done to root out those responsible for this foul crime.’
‘Thank you. I would like to request an audience with His Majesty, as soon as possible.’
‘His Majesty can spare a short while between other appointments in twenty minutes real - approximately four months subjective - time.’
‘I must ask for an emergency meeting before then.’
‘I understand your distress and shock, Count Sessine. However, His Majesty is in an important meeting with representatives of the Chapel usurper forces, discussing peace; informing him of your death and giving him time to express the above-mentioned shock and sympathy has already, perhaps, used up whatever diplomatic slack we have with the Engineer delegation; we cannot possibly incur any further interruption without risking an apparent sleight and the breakdown of negotiations.’
Sessine thought about this. The secretary sat smiling patiently at him. Measuring his words, Sessine spoke again: ‘My concern is that the message which appeared to instigate my murder was embedded within a military signal sent from Army HQ, and that this therefore implies either a serious signal-security breach or a traitor in at least the middle-level military.’ He paused to let the secretary speak, then went on. ‘Has the King authorised a full military investigation?’
‘An investigation has been authorised.’
‘At what level?’
‘A level commensurate with your standing, Count; the highest level.’
‘With full military access immediately?’
‘That is not possible; the Army has operational reasons for not being able to reveal such matters precipitously; there are controls, checks and balances which must be negotiated over a minimum real-time scale if one is not to trip a series of automatic security-violation safeguards. The relevant authorisations are of course being sought, but—’
‘Thank you, private secretary. Would you put me on to military High Command, level five, and replace?’
The construct had time to look distinctly annoyed before it was replaced with a young soldier in full dress uniform.
‘Is this level five?’ Sessine frowned. ‘I thought—’
The young soldier stood, quickly drew his ceremonial sword and in the same movement brought it scything above the trolley-table and through Sessine’s neck, parting his head from his shoulders.
? he thought, then everything faded.
He awoke in the tower-bedroom of the ambiently scaled version of Serehfa, alone, on what gave every appearance of being a fine spring morning.
He lay in the bed and looked around. Silk sheets, brocade canopy, oil paintings on the wall, rugs on the floor, wooden panelling, tall windows. He felt washed clean, and distinctly unsettled.
He closed his eyes, said,
and opened his eyes again.
His smile was troubled. ‘Hmm,’ he said quietly.
He got out of bed, dressed in the clothes he had been wearing earlier, and went out onto the balcony.
A dot in the distance, somewhere over the curtain-wall to the west, attracted his attention. A hint of light around it, a thin, hazy trail in the sky behind . . .
He watched the dot expand, then imagined himself on the fast-tower.
/He stood on the gaily painted wooden platform again; the flag snapped in the air above him. He watched the missile tear across the roof-tops below and disappear into the tower where he had been standing a few seconds earlier. The tower erupted; yellow-white flame burst outwards across the balcony, sundering the stones all around that floor and throwing back the tower’s roof, releasing a cloud of slates like some flock of disturbed birds.
Straight through the balcony windows. Sessine felt both impressed and depressed.
He did not see or hear what hit him from behind, just glimpsed a searing light and felt the concussive blast.
He awoke in bed, alone, on what gave every appearance of being a fine spring morning.
He lay there for a second, then imagined himself to the summit of the fast-tower.
/He saw the first missile, crossing the curtain-wall to the west. He turned and saw the other, approaching from the east, level with him and approaching fast. He remembered the feeling he had had when he’d heard the shots inside the scree-car and ducked back in to see what was happening. He imagined the view from the middle of the inner bailey,
/then from a tower on the curtain-wall to the south,
/then from the north,
/then from the eastern gate complex,
/then from some low hills outside the castle altogether.
The whole edifice detonated, disappearing in a scattering series of explosions, flickering light, throwing stones and timbers high into the air, black amongst fire.
He turned, and the image of his first wife was there, standing on the path behind him, as lovely as on the first day they had met.
She never called me—
She was upon him with the strangle-wire before he could move; gripping him, trapping him with a strength no human had ever possessed.
He awoke in the bed, alone.
What is this? What is going on? Who is—?
Light at the window, something—
Then light everywhere.
He awoke in the bed.
‘Alandre,’ the young maid breathed, alongside him, reaching.
/He was on the deck of the clan yacht, at anchor one evening off Istanbul; the Bosporus glittered darkly beneath, the twin bridges arced above. His heart thudded. He looked quickly around. Nobody. He looked up. Something falling from the rail-bridge . . . he started to imagine - then light again, atomically bright, lighting up all the city . . .
/He was in bed, in his apartments in the clan Aerospace’s headquarters in the Atlantean Tower.
The doctor looked down at him, his face somehow familiar, his expression regretful. The young doctor fired the gun straight between Sessine’s eyes.