by Liz Williams

When Sao entered the Lyceum, he saw that the Duality members had already arrived and were conversing upon the steps. Their back-faces were turned towards him and he took the moment of respite to check that all was as it should be, that the welcoming committee had hung the correct banners from the pillars and that the air was scented with a dust pleasing to the Duality. There had been a regrettable incident during the last confluence, involving the Murn, and they did not want a similar unfortunateness occurring on the Duality’s first visit to Karquom for many years. But all appeared correct. The mica-fronted columns of the Lyceum glittered in the desert light; the three hundred foot windows showed the panorama of the eastern mountains in their best aspect. Apart from a little turret, the last traces of the Uniqt city had been swallowed by the sandstorms during the previous season, something Sao regretted as a lifelong archivist, but for which he felt a kernel of secret relief. The Uniqt were gone, and now Karquom belonged purely to the Lyceum.

Not many universities, especially human ones, had the luxury of an entire planet. At least they didn’t have to fight for funding. And it had become a popular conference venue, as witnessed by the presence of the Duality now.

“Vice Chancellor?” Archivist Moynec sidled up. “Things seem to be going very well.”

“So far.” Sao had been accused of a predisposition towards gloom. He had retaliated by saying that he’d stop being a cynic when he stopped being proved right. “What about their welcoming banquet? Did you get those fruit?”

“Yes, yes, everything came exactly as it was ordered and we have followed the preparation instructions most carefully.”

“I gather that’s essential,” Sao said. “Someone – I forget who, perhaps Therabin – once said that a predilection towards poisons was the mark that a race had reached its apogee of decadence.”

Back to the Excerpts