Black Brillion: A Novel of the Archonate

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9780765308658: Black Brillion: A Novel of the Archonate
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Boro Harkless has devoted his life to the service of the Archonite Bureau of Security, the force tasked with keeping the peace among and within the city-states of Old Earth. An idealist driven by the memory of his heroic father, he comes to the city of Sherit, seeking the notorious Luff Imbry.

Luff Imbry has devoted his life to the enjoyment of wealth. A gourmet, a charmer, and an ever-so-stylish fop, he has come to the city of Sherit to pursue a new fortune. Not, mind you, his own, for Luff is also a mountebank, swindler, and forger of the first water.

Tossed together by circumstance, they form an uneasy truce when they discover a common goal: capturing the grandest con-man of them all, Horselan Gebbling. Gebbling, who made off with Imbry's previous fortune, is posing as Father Olwyn, Sacerdotal Eminence of the Assembly of Tangible Unity, and has chosen as his prey the victims of the first new disease in millennia, the invariably fatal ailment known as the lassitude.

Dangled in front of the victims is the fabled relic of past glories, the gemstone called black brillion. About black brillion, learned men agree on only two things: it can do anything, and it doesn't exist. But Gebbling boasts of having it, and its effects on the lassitude are nothing short of magical.

Riding a landship across the unnatural prairie known as the Swept, Boro and Luff get caught up in an ever-growing tangle of mysteries. Nonsense chants lead to miracle cures. Guests end up crushed beneath the ship's giant wheels. The crew have secrets of their own.

The dangers are not merely physical. On the ship is a noönaut, an explorer of the Commons, the dream realm which contains the memories and emotions of hundreds of thousands of years of human existence. Something in the Commons is calling to Boro to claim him for its own.

What lurks beneath the Swept? What hides within the Commons, eager to come out? And exactly what game is Gebbing playing?

Filled with dollops of drollery and an ancient evil, Black Brillion is a science fantasy caper that grows into a metaphysical exploration of the human psyche. Matt Hughes has crossed Jack Vance with Carl Jung to come up with a bold new novel of life on an Earth grown older by millions of years.

This is the third novel in the Archonate series, following Fools Errant and Fool Me Twice.

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About the Author:

Matthew Hughes lives in Courtenay, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. This is his third novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Black Brillion
Luff Imbry came to Sherit on the shuttle from Olkney, traveling comfortably on a red-tab first-class travel voucher. The ticket had begun as a blue-ordinary, but soon encountered a small but useful device of Imbry's own manufacture, which bedecked it in an electronic mirage that fooled the shuttle's automatic scanners. At ease in the red-tab compartment's sumptuous lounge, the fraudster helped himself to a smattering of delicacies from the circulating buffet and accepted a glass of quite decent golden Phalum.At Sherit's main terminus, Imbry's appearance excited no comment. His only outstanding feature was a pronounced corpulence but even this he used to his advantage, contriving his features into an arrangement that conveyed benign geniality, the image of the jolly fat fellow. His garb was also commonplace in Sherit that year: a voluminous jacket of dark patent leather over flared pantaloons patterned in contrasting stripes of red and white, with shoes that matched the leather and a hat that echoed the cloth.He recovered his carryall bag from the here-you-are, then wove his way through the crowds of travelers to the ring road outside. There he spied a passing omnibus that bore the name of the Trabboline Inn. The slow-moving conveyance was trolling for in-bound travelers who had not yet reservedlodgings, its illuminated sides displaying the Trabboline's rates and attractions.Luff Imbry assembled his face into a pleasing distribution of smiles and winks, then stepped aboard and spoke affably to the vehicle's operator, a stubby person with pale hair and eyes whose gender remained indeterminate under the baggy one-piece work garb typical of lower-class Sheritics. The response was brusque, somewhat more than a grunt although not quite an actual syllable, but Imbry was not so easily put off."I believe the Trabboline offers discrete classes of accommodation," he said, "from Green Basic to Platinum Superior?"The inquiry drew a confirmatory sound from deep in the Sheritic's throat."And Platinum Superior is available only to persons of the renunciant class?"This time the answer was more growl than grunt. Imbry had uncovered a raw patch on the driver's psyche. He proceeded to abrade it. "I am impressed by the renunciant concept," he said. "The wide world marvels at the wisdom of Sheritics in having created such a beneficial institution."At this, the Sheritic voiced a short word that expressed an uncomplimentary assessment of Imbry's views, then reached up and pulled down a folding divider that insulated the operator's compartment from passengers. The vehicle jerked as it picked up speed.Luff Imbry settled back in his seat and regarded the passing scenery with happy anticipation. The driver's smoldering anger had ignited at the mere mention of Sherit's highest social class. Tensions were clearly rising. Conflict and dislocation were in the offing, a situation from which Imbry expected to profit substantially.He alighted in the portico of the Trabboline, a sprawlingseven-story complex of yellow stone and white stucco. The lobby was spacious and quiet, the staff alert and attentive to their guests' needs. Imbry asked for the kind of room favored by commerciants traveling on moderate expense allowance, offering a credit authorization that he had abstracted from its rightful owner and adapted to his own ends. The clerk returned it to him with a discreet flourish, calling Imbry by the name that happened to be impressed on the chit--Florion Tobescu--and adding the general Sherit honorific, "Recipient.""I am curious as to your renunciants," he told the clerk. "Where might I expect to see some of them?"The Sheritic raised his nose to a considerable height. His eyes now seemed to regard Imbry from the far side of an unbridgeable gap. "I regret, Rp. Tobescu, that casual sightseeing is felt to be an imposition," he said."Just so," said Imbry. "Still, if one were inclined to cast an unobtrusive glance in the direction of a renunciant, which direction would you recommend?"The clerk looked away, but one hand fluttered toward an archway on the far side of the lobby. The entrance was blocked by a braided rope of gold slung between two stanchions, and attended by a brisk-looking man wearing a uniform that identified him as either a military officer of overwhelming rank or a menial employed to admit or deny passage beyond the barrier. Idly perambulating through the lobby, Imbry placed himself so as to glance through the archway. It led to a short corridor that soon curved out of sight. He noticed distinct differences in the quality of decor on either side of the braided rope. The carpet beyond was of a deeper pile, its color richer than that which covered the lobby floor. The walls were clad in a fabric that shimmered delicately through several muted shades of pink and gray.A warm scent hung in the air, unrecognizable yet tantalizing.Imbry approached the corridor's guardian. "May I enter?" he said.The doorman looked him up and down in less time than it would take to describe the inspection. "No, recipient. This part of the hotel is for renunciants only.""Yet I am intrigued," said Imbry. "I must know what lies beyond.""First acquire a fortune and shed it to the benefit of the Divestment," said the guardian. "I shall then be glad to admit you.""I might do as you suggest," said Imbry, "but how do I know if the reward is worth the effort? Let me sample the delights reserved for renunciants and I will surely be motivated to better myself."The man stiffened and said, "You are an outlander and perhaps not aware that your proposition borders on the offensive. Please entertain yourself elsewhere."Imbry leaned closer and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial murmur. "I don't suppose a quiet contribution could persuade you to look in another direction while I accidentally wander into this hallway?"The doorman's eyes grew large and a deeper color welled from his neck into his face. "You are now across the border of offensiveness and flush with the gates of criminality. Leave immediately, recipient, or I will summon the provost. Confined to the Contemplarium, you will experience a standard of accommodation much at variance with what you see here."Imbry converted his face into an image of apology, made placatory gestures with his plump hands, and eased away. Clearly, not every Sherit menial was ready to turn on the renunciants, but this loyal guardian's quickness to take offense still echoed an underlying carrier wave of social tension. 
 
Seated in an overstuffed chair on the other side of the Trabboline's lobby, a slim young man named Baro Harkless watched Luff Imbry's encounter with the doorman from the corner of one eye while feigning interest in a periodical. Had he wanted to, he could have surreptitiously eavesdropped on the conversation, could have recorded it in both image and sound, could even have measured the autonomic responses of both men. The equipment for such surveillance was secreted about his person, but Baro was operating on the assumption that Imbry was cunning enough to take habitual measures to determine if he was under observation. Consequently, the agent restricted himself to level-two passive observation, as specified in the surveillance handbook of the Archonate Bureau of Scrutiny, which he had memorized entirely, along with every other manual and standing order that governed Bureau operations.When Imbry had recrossed the lobby and stepped into an ascender tube, Baro went to the desk. "I believe I just saw an acquaintance take the ascender," he told the clerk, "though his name temporarily escapes me."The clerk gave him a look that indicated no wish to learn more about Baro Harkless's acquaintances, past, present, or future. "The recipient is a guest of the hotel. His privacy may not be trod upon."Baro looked about to ensure that no one was within hearing, then produced a card that identified him as a Bureau agent, though he covered the part of the card that defined his status as still probationary. "Perhaps we might tread just a little."Archonate authority could not be gainsaid. "He is Rp. Florion Tobescu, a traveling commerciant.""And what room?""West eighteen on the seventh floor.""What does the window of that room look out upon?" Baro asked, and learned that Imbry had a view of the hotel's inner courtyard, which contained a formal garden and an outdoor refectory."Thank you," he said. "Now I would like a room across the courtyard, with a window that looks in on his."The clerk worked the keys of an instrument set below the level of the counter, then indicated where the young man should press his palm to a sensor. "And the account?" he asked."To the attention of Directing Agent Ardmander Arboghast, Bureau headquarters in Olkney," Baro said. "And of course you will say nothing to the person we have been discussing."The clerk sniffed. "Of course."Established in a room directly opposite Imbry's, Baro resumed level-two surveillance: that is, he sat in a shadowed part of his room and stared through the two intervening thicknesses of glass and the expanse of air that separated them. The target of his steadfast gaze had reposed himself upon the bed, with his hands clasped behind his head. He appeared to have fallen asleep.Baro watched the even rise and fall of Imbry's rounded abdomen and thought, not for the first time, about contacting Directing Agent Arboghast. He knew that he was technically breaching procedure, and that by following the quarry from Olkney to Sherit he had overstepped the terms of his assignment.His section chief had ordered him only to shadow the swindler about the city for the day, then compose a written report. It had been a training exercise, the target chosen from a Bureau list of career felons who were not regarded as dangerous and who were not targets of active investigations. Baro Harkless had been sent on the training drill because, althoughhe had graduated with high marks from the Academy, he had not completed his field training.There were rumors about Arboghast, that he had been transferred to the training command from the investigations branch after a major case came apart in his hands. There were hints of other faults besides. Baro paid no heed to gossip, but he did know that Arboghast was a man of strong opinions. The weight of those opinions, when they were landing on probationary agents, was equivalent to that of a moderate-sized boulder.Baro had begun the day loitering near Imbry's lodgings in the fashionable Quabbs district of Olkney City. When his target came down to the street, he had followed the man, at the prescribed distance and using available opportunities for concealment, to a local bistro where Imbry breakfasted on cakes and punge. The fraudster had then gone home, but reemerged almost immediately with carryall in one hand, the other raised to hail a passing jitney. Fortunately, another vehicle for hire was passing, and Baro managed to get into it before Imbry was out of sight.Their destination turned out to be Olkney's main airdrome, where the trickster had apparently booked passage on the Sherit shuttle. By the time Baro reached the wicket and obtained a ticket, the airship had already begun running up its gravity obviators in preparation for departure. There was no time to contact his superior. The young man threw himself along the connecting tube into the blue-ordinary compartment just as the crew was closing the aircraft's door.En route to his seat, he looked about for Imbry, and felt something cold climb his spine as he realized that his quarry was not in any of the blue-tab seats. Had the swindler spotted him for a clumsy neophyte and decided it would be a good joke to gull the greenhorn into a long and pointless trip out oftown? A droplet of chill sweat ran between Baro's shoulder blades as he imagined the ensuing conversation with Arboghast. It would involve a great deal of standing at quivering attention on his part, while the section chief indulged his well-known proclivity for inventive profanity and unflattering rhetorical questions.He rose, and was about to ask the cabin attendant to halt the aircraft's departure. But the crewman was busy pulling closed the curtain that separated red-tab travelers from blue-ordinaries. Behind the cloth, first-class passengers lolled, freed of any uncomfortable awareness that, nearby, fellow human beings were crammed into seats designed to suit only the abnormally short and underweight. Beneath the attendant's raised arm, as the curtain was drawn, Baro caught a brief glimpse of his quarry hoisting a goblet of golden wine in first class.The sweat evaporated from Baro's brow and he sank back into the undersized seating. He comforted himself: whatever else Imbry was up to, he could now be charged with fraudulent conversion of a travel authority. As well, although it was not an offense to have unknowingly frightened an agent of the Bureau, Baro meant for Imbry to learn that it was nonetheless a bad idea.Now, as the probationary agent sat in his hotel room and watched Imbry sleep, his mind again reluctantly turned to Ardmander Arboghast. The lull in activity afforded him ample opportunity to make contact with his section chief, yet Baro did not do so. His thinking was leading him in other directions.He had definitely overstepped when he had followed Imbry out of Olkney, and there was no guarantee that Arboghast would accept his protestations of being too hurried to make contact. He sensed that there was a mutual lack of empathy between his commander and himself. His explanations, no matter how cogent, might therefore meet with automatic dismissal.He could find himself branded unsuitable for field assignments. Instead, as his Academy tutor, Bost Hamel, had recommended, he might be consigned to the desert of the Bureau's research branch, to spend his career coaxing correlations and coincidences out of endless data banks.The prospect of forty years in the research office was not what had drawn Baro into the Bureau. It had been a desire to follow in the footsteps of his father, Captain-Investigator Baro Harkless, who had blazed a brilliant career in the investigations branch--or at least the first half of a brilliant career.His father had died in the crash of an aircar while bringing Cham Fretilin, the selective cannibal, to face justice. The aircar's controls had failed over a populated area. Unable to prevent its fall, Captain Harkless had wrestled with the steering yoke, managing to guide the aircraft into the sea.Now, watching Luff Imbry, Baro knew that if he were to make contact with Directing Agent Arboghast when he could report nothing but the presence of a somnolent criminal on a hotel bed, his career within the Bureau might be diverted into unwelcome channels. On the other hand, if Luff Imbry were to lead him to an actual offense in progress--and he had no doubt that crime was the trickster's aim--then Baro could swoop like an unsuspected nemesis at the appropriate cusp and affect an arrest.That would give him undiluted credit for scotching Imbry's scheme, an accomplishment sure to outweigh any quibbles over whether or not he had reported in quite as often as was stipulated in the manual on surveillance.He allowed himself a few moments to savor images of Imbry's apprehension, then replayed it with variou...

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