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Demons of Paris – Snippet 10
Street Outside Chateau du Guesclin
March 6, 1372
Pucorl turned left and entered the opened gates under the arched stone gateway. There were horses in front of him and horses behind him, and he hadn’t gone over ten miles an hour on the quarter-mile trip from the courtyard to the stables. He was watching his fuel consumption like a hawk, but it felt good to have his engine running. He shifted his shocks a little as his right front wheel rolled over a cobblestone that was a bit higher than it ought to have been, preserving the smooth ride. His ability to do that suggested that with the right modifications he might indeed be able to “walk,” in a manner of speaking, over rough terrain.
The trip had been made in the afternoon, lest anyone get the idea that they were trying to hide something. The streets had been lined by Parisians who ranged from curious to violently opposed to his existence. The average attitude was a sort of sullen resentment. That didn’t bode well for his future prospects. The lid was on for now, but there was a boiling stew of fear and resentment beneath that lid.
At this point, Pucorl was just happy to be out of the streets of Paris.
Royal Palace, Hôtel Saint-Pol
March 6, 1372
Charles V looked at the bottle of spirit of wine. It was made by the royal alchemist on the recommendation of his doctors after talking with the twenty-firsters. Yesterday the abscess on his left arm had been washed with what the twenty-firsters called “the sterilizing agent” after being opened and allowed to bleed. Charles wasn’t a healthy man. He had gout in his right hand to go with the abscess on his left arm. He had been in something like constant pain since his youth.
He looked at Doctor of Medicine Filberte Renard. “So you have been poisoning me?”
“Not by intent, Majesty. But when I put together what the twenty-firsters said of the effects of poisons, it fit with what I know of treatments we use. A little foxglove can restore the heart to its proper function. Too much, and the patient dies. Sometimes what is a short-term relief can be a long term poison, and lead is apparently a very long term poison.”
It was politically impossible for Charles V to meet personally with the twenty-firsters. The church had not declared them demonic — not quite. But the fact that they were brought by a demon was enough of a condemnation that to see them was to be painted with suspicion. So, instead, he had asked Filberte Renard to interview them.
Surprisingly, Filberte had not come back screaming about quacks and charlatans. Instead, he had endorsed their knowledge as useful advances. In part that was because none of the twenty-firsters had any medical training beyond what they called first aid. They were no threat to Filberte Renard’s position as the king’s chief doctor. They were simply providing knowledge.
“Sooner or later, Your Majesty, people will start condemning them. And, no doubt, me as well. For there is no joy in learning that your attempts to help have in fact hurt.” Filberte Renard pointed at the bandage on Charles’ left arm and continued. “With the alcohol, I was able to ‘operate’ and ‘excise the infection.’ ”
“So I will not die when the abscess dries up?”
“No, Your Majesty, but you might have, had it not been treated. If it had been left, its drying would have been an indication that your body had given up the fight for life.”
“Now, Your Majesty, there is the true possibility of surgery without having the patient die of infection. A host of ills that couldn’t be treated before may now be dealt with. But it will take years and, unfortunately, many deaths to learn what will and will not work.”
“Very well, Filberte,” Charles V said. “But have a care lest you be burned as a witch.”
Bertrand entered the king’s private office as the doctor was leaving, and he nodded to the man. He wasn’t overly fond of Filberte Renard, but he respected him.
“Bertrand,” King Charles V said, “come in and close the door. What is a gear train?”
Bertrand noted the blue cloth that wrapped the king’s arm where the abscess was. He brought his mind back to the king’s question. “A gear train, Your Majesty?” Bertrand bowed deeply. “I have no idea.”
“Neither do I,” Charles said, “and neither does anyone else. I think you are going to have to put off your trip to the coast.” He waved at the new scrolls in the scroll case. “I need you here to watch over the twenty-firsters. Who came up with that expression anyway?”
“It was one of the demons. The one called Ishmael.”
“Oh.” Charles sounded disappointed. “Well, it’s better than calling them demon-borne because they arrived in the haunted wagon. I know that you think we should let them use the magic, but I can’t afford to offend the church. That’s half the reason I want you here. It’s entirely possible that with you on the coast and me unable to act overtly on the matter without offending Pope Gregory, some bishop or cardinal will decide it’s better to ask Gregory’s forgiveness than my permission, in spite of Monsignor Savona’s presence.”
“I understand, Majesty. In fact, Monsignor Savona says that the pope is concerned about the same thing. That’s half the reason for his presence. I’ll send Olivier to oversee preparations. Honestly, he’s a bit too interested in the demons for my comfort.”
“Very well, then. Keep them safe and learn what you can, but I still can’t give you permission to enchant any more devices.”
Bertrand nodded then asked, “What if they get permission from Savona?”
“Then I will limit my response to a fine of some sort,” Charles V said. “I can’t just leave it in the hands of the church, either. I can’t afford to have my authority publicly circumscribed in that way.” The king waved his other arm in dismissal, and a candle on the desk flickered.
Wilber’s Room in Chateau du Guesclin
March 6, 1372
“I won’t be summoning a demon, Mrs. Grady. Instead, I will be migrating, or partially migrating, Merlin from my earpiece to my computer.” Wilber pointed at the blank stretch of flooring. It was a fine-grained, dark, wood floor, waxed and polished by hand, but not recently. The room was large for the time, ten by fifteen feet. Apparently, Tiphaine meant it when she had called them “guests.”
Wilber, with the help of Bill, Roger, and two of the household servants, had moved the bed and wardrobe to one side of the room. That had brought Mrs. Grady, as well as Tiphaine de Raguenel and Monsignor Savona, to investigate. Wilber didn’t mention that his having made the pentagram for use in letting Merlin migrate meant they would have it available for summoning other demons. Wilber looked over at Tiphaine and saw a half smile that would have done Mona Lisa proud on her face. They weren’t putting anything over on Madame de Raguenel, but they were preserving her plausible deniability. He looked at Monsignor Savona, who wasn’t smiling. They weren’t fooling him either, and his frown made Wilber nervous.
“What advantage is there to having a demon sharing itself between your computer and your earpiece? Is that even possible?” Madame de Raguenel asked.
“It isn’t that much of an advantage to me,” Wilber said. “And, honestly, Merlin isn’t sure that he can do it. The thing is, he was able to move from the earpiece into the internal part of my implant and there is no physical connection between them, either. If it works, Merlin will have more room and greater computational power, as well as being able to show me things instead of just telling me things.”
“I will want to observe the process,” Monsignor Savona said.
Wilber nodded. “Yes, of course, Monsignor, and Madame de Raguenel as well, if she wishes.”
That half-smile was a little bigger now and Tiphaine de Raguenel nodded her agreement.
It took Wilber another day to paint all the symbols on the floor, having Ishmael, Pucorl, and Catvia check his work. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Merlin, but Merlin could only tell him what to draw, not show him. And besides, better safe than sorry. Trust, but verify.
March 7, 1372
Wilber took off his earpiece and set it on his laptop in the center of the pentagram, then stepped outside the pentagram. It was strange. He could hear now, without the earpiece. His natural ears had been fixed. He could hear the discussions and he understood the Langue d’oil clearly. Merlin’s presence had had an effect.
He started the ceremony of migration, speaking words in languages older than mankind. Mrs. Grady, Bertrand du Guesclin, Tiphaine de Raguenel, Monsignor Savona, Olivier de Clisson — one of Bertrand du Guesclin’s lieutenants — as well as the other students, were watching.
De Clisson wore an eyepatch because he had lost an eye at a battle about six years earlier. To Wilber, he looked like a biker you might find in a movie about the Hell’s Angels. He frankly scared Wilber. De Clisson was here because Bertrand du Guesclin wanted him to see what was going on before he left for the coast. Bertrand was going to stay here in Paris, both as jailor and protector to the twenty-firsters.
As Wilber spoke, an almost-figure of glowing light rose from the earpiece of the implant and looked around the room, then seemed to melt into both the computer and the implant earpiece. Once the incantation was completed, the computer came on by itself and Wilber, careful not to disturb the painted lines, went over and collected his earpiece.
He put it on and immediately heard Merlin say in a deep, rich voice. “This is very nice. It’s like having a room added to your house, I think. At least, that seems the best analogy to what a human might feel. For a demon like me, it’s more like having a new arm added. Two things are very clear to me from this. First, it wouldn’t work if your computer hadn’t had a Bluetooth app for tweaking your earpiece programming, or if one or the other device had belonged to someone else.”
Wilber didn’t even mutter, but he thought the words, “I could hear when I took off the earpiece.”
“Really?” Merlin sounded surprised, and Wilber didn’t think he was faking. Merlin wasn’t a puck, and therefore wasn’t prone to joking and tricks.
Then Merlin spoke again. “My goodness, your ears have been repaired. It’s . . . It must be. . . . To the best of my knowledge, no demon has ever been placed in a prosthetic before. Not of any sort. But the design of the implant and earpiece was to facilitate your hearing and that was also what your ears and the nerves going from them to your brain were for, along with the parts of your brain that translate sounds into words and meaning. It never occurred to me that this might happen. What has happened is your implant has been integrated into your nervous system in a way that it wasn’t before. It’s almost alive now. A little piece of me is stuck in it, and a side effect of that was that I, a part of me, fixed your ears.”
“Did it hurt you?” Wilber asked, concerned. He had learned enough about demons that he knew they didn’t heal. They reconstituted gradually after being torn apart, but they didn’t heal. If Merlin had left a part of himself in Wilber, that piece was gone, at least for as long as Wilber lived. And since they were in the mortal world, it might mean that a piece of Merlin was gone forever.
“No. I have been looking, and apparently I got something from you as well. In the meantime, we don’t want to mention this.”
“Duh!” Wilber thought to him. “I’m not an idiot. What did you get?”
“I don’t know. It’s very tiny, like a seed. A seed of humanity.”
Olivier de Clisson nodded slightly and turned away. This would bear thinking about. He had only recently arrived in Paris. He was here to examine the new situation. Where else was he going to be able to see a demon summoning, or rather a demon shifting? He continued to contemplate the ramifications as he walked out of the room.
Olivier got on well enough with Tiphaine. Until all this happened he’d considered her as flighty as one of the fairies she believed in. With her horoscopes and divining bowls, she seemed the sort that would walk off a parapet, expecting the clouds to hold her up. Bertrand always swore she got most things right, but Bertrand had — in Olivier’s view — an over-inflated opinion of education.
On the other hand, Olivier was a man who could change his opinions when the evidence changed. When the English treated him well, he served them loyally enough. When that changed, he changed sides. Now, fairies did exist, at least in some form. He had seen a presence rise out of the hearing device and migrate to the other device. He knew from talks with Pucorl that something had recently happened to allow much greater contact between the real world and the netherworld.
What had happened? Pucorl claimed he didn’t know, although he thought it was concentrated somewhere in the direction that humans called “the east” and demons called by several different names depending on the context. Pucorl was similarly noninformative about the question of where the dead went, insisting that it was too weird for mortal comprehension.
Olivier waved his groom Robert over. “Get my horse ready. I will be returning to the inn.” What with the guests from the twenty-first century, Bertrand’s townhouse was overcrowded. Olivier considered having one of the devices stolen, but demon kind were apparently great respecters of legal ownership and having a computer stolen would be both dangerous and difficult to hide.
That just left the possibility of purchase and he knew that those devices would be worth much more than their weight in gold. But Olivier wanted a demon. If demons were going to exist in this world, he wanted one badly.
Inside Wilber’s Computer
Merlin spent the first few minutes dividing his attention between reassuring Wilber and getting used to his new vessel. Then he found POV-Ray, Blender and VR-landscape, a suite of programs on Wilber’s computer that could be used to draw images and create virtual three-dimensional worlds within the computer. He turned them on easily enough, because he was the computer now. And in them he built himself a house and a body with eagle wings on a human form. He built himself a computer room with a computer interface to Wilber’s computers, a virtual machine that was magic and science combined. He built a virtual beer in a virtual beer mug, and he didn’t have to keep his concentration on them to keep them from changing shape.
That was the difference between the computer-generated virtual world and his place in the netherworld. In the netherworld, a loss of concentration meant a loss of cohesiveness, a loss of reality. But here, as long as the computer was running, he could maintain this virtual form indefinitely. He reached a hand that was human in form and grasped the beer mug, but when he lifted the hand the beer mug stayed where it had been. The physics of the mortal world didn’t translate to the virtual world, and neither did the physics of the netherworld. He read Advanced Placement Physics 101 which was both a book and a program on Wilber’s laptop.
The physics of the mortal world were incredibly simple to create such a level of complexity in outcome, Merlin thought, while the physics of the netherworld were complicated and even contradictory from location to location. For instance, the law of similarity worked in some parts of the netherworld but not others, as did the law of contagion, the law of words of power, the law of elements, and so on. Merlin realized that the physics of the netherworld was as different from the physics of the mortal world as either were from the non-physics of this virtual world inside the computer. In the virtual world of the computer, everything was made up of shapes, usually triangles, just like part of the netherworld. But in the computer those shapes were made of points in virtual space, which were just numbers.
Merlin was a scholar and an assistant to a wizard or a greater demon, not a puck. He was closer to what the Greeks or Romans would have called a muse. Still, he was less able to do magic than to instruct others in the doing of magic. As he looked through the files on Wilber’s computer, there wasn’t much of a physics simulator installed. He used the computer’s radio, its Bluetooth connection, to contact Ishmael and Catvia, looking for physics simulators. Ish and Cat each had physics simulators as parts of games, but they were limited. For now, at least, if he wanted his beer mug to stay in his hand, he would have to do it manually, adjusting the numbers of each point of each triangle. He reached, using his mind, and watched with half an eye as the numbers describing the position and angle of the beer changed in the simulation. Merlin was a moderately powerful demon. Not a demon lord, but still powerful, and a big part of that power was his ability to keep his focus through distractions. What he wasn’t, not by any stretch of the imagination, was a programmer.
Merlin could read Wilber’s programming books, but that wasn’t the same thing. There was an art to programming and it was an art that required practice and creativity. Merlin wasn’t lacking in creativity, but he was very, very old and had been doing very much the same thing for a fair slice of eternity. It would take him a while to learn the new way of thinking that was necessary to do more than play in Wilber’s computer.
There was also the matter of taste and smell. The computer had no nose and no mouth. The beer had no flavor but memory.
Wilber turned on his computer and instead of his start screen an image of a room appeared. On a couch in that room, a man in Greek or Roman robes lounged. The man sat up as Wilber’s screen lit, and Merlin’s voice came through his implant. “Hello, Wilber. I’ve made myself a virtual world based on my memories, but I was wondering if I could get your help with the programming.”
Then the screen opened up to the worst chunk of spaghetti code Wilber had ever seen. There was no structure at all, no recursion, no procedures, nothing but instruction after instruction without rhyme or reason.
It took Wilber most of the rest of the day to figure out what was happening. Merlin wasn’t programming the computer. He was barely even using the programs that were already there. He was simply instructing the computer.
“What’s the use of all this, anyway?” Wilber finally asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, can any of this virtual reality you’re trying to make be brought out into the real world?”
“I am not sure. The law of similarity works in this part of the netherworld and my presence brings a bit of the netherworld into the mortal world. I am uncertain of the extent to which the nature of the netherworld can be inserted into a virtual world.”
“Then what’s it good for? Why should I be working on it rather than on learning magic to do stuff?”
There was a pause and on the screen Merlin stood and flapped his great golden eagle wings, which didn’t raise a breeze or even knock anything over when they passed through other objects. “It makes it easier for me,” Merlin finally admitted. “It takes concentration, something like energy or will, to hold my form in the netherworld. But in this virtual reality, using the software and structure provided by the computer, I can almost ignore my form without it coming apart.” Merlin folded his wings and held out his hands in supplication. “That makes it much easier for me to operate. Easier to be. The more I can do through the computer, the less I have to focus my will on.”
“All right, Merlin. I’ll try. But we have other stuff to do as well. I need to learn magic. We need to find this thing — whatever it is — that’s killing people.”
“I understand. Can a virtual world be copied from my computer to another?”
“Sure. It would be a series of object files and the software to run them. The other computer would have to have enough memory and the right supporting software.” Wilber considered. “Yes, just about any of the computers we have here have the memory and processing power, and we could set up apps for the phones too.”
“That would be very helpful, my young friend.”
“Because the same thing that is true for me is true for the others, Catvia, even to an extent, Pucorl. And giving them this gift will wed them to our service.”
Merlin thought of something as he discussed the idea of inserting the laws of the netherworld into the virtual world. He began to wonder if the programming of the virtual world could be put into the netherworld.
Merlin maintained a connection to the netherworld. Demons almost never went wholly into the mortal world when summoned. The connection to their part of the netherworld didn’t disappear. Now it occurred to him that the consistency of his virtual form could be used in the netherworld to give him a more solid base, one that didn’t depend so strongly on the mental focus of the moment to remain stable.
That would make him more powerful. He wondered if he could maintain that advantage when he returned to the netherworld in truth.