Excerpt from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s IMAGER'S CHALLENGE

As you know, I very much enjoyed L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s first volume in the Imager Portfolio sequence, Imager (Canada, USA, Europe) last winter. And I'm eager to read the sequel, Imager's Challenge (Canada, USA, Europe), which will be released next month.

Here's an extract from Imager's Challenge, courtesy of the author.


… I hurried to the dining hall, early enough that most of the primes and seconds weren’t there. I slipped into a seat next to the gray-haired Maitre Dyana, because any other seat I would have taken would have suggested I was avoiding her.

“Good morning,” I offered.

“Next time, don’t scan the table when you’re close enough to have your eyes read.” Her bright blue eyes pinned me in my seat. As always, she wore a colorful scarf above her imager grays, and this one was a brilliant green, with touches of an equally bright violet. Her unlined face suggested she was far younger than did her hair and experience.

I laughed, if apologetically. “Every time I see you, I learn something.”

“Good. You might even learn enough to survive your abilities, young Rhenn. Commander Artois has a good brain encumbered by solid grasp of protocol and procedure. He might listen to you if you can avoid offending him. The easiest way to offend him is to flaunt protocol and ignore procedures.” She handed me the platter of sausages and scrambled eggs. “You’d best eat. You don’t have much time, not if you don’t want to arrive sweating and flustered.”

I took her advice and drank my tea and ate quickly, then set out for my first day at the Civic Patrol, adjusting the gray visored cap that imagers wore when on duty off Imagisle.

Although the headquarters of the Civic Patrol of L’Excelsis was slightly less than a mille from the south end of Imagisle, there wasn’t a bridge there. Instead, I had to take the Bridge of Hopes across the River Aluse and then walk almost two milles along the East River Road, before turning east on Fedre and walking another half mille.

The two story headquarters building was of undistinguished yellow brick, with brown wooden trim and doors. There were three doors spaced across the front. The left one clearly was for a working patroller station, because I could see patrollers in their pale blue uniforms hurrying in and out, the mark of a shift change. The right door looked disused, as if it were locked. So I took the middle door, or rather the right-hand door of the set of double doors in the square archway above two worn stone steps leading up from the sidewalk. The left hand door was locked.

Inside was a table desk, with a graying patroller seated behind it. He took in my imager’s uniform and the silver imagers’ pin. “You’re here to see Commander Artois, sir?”

“Yes… if you’d direct me.”

“Second floor, up those steps and to the right. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.”

The wide steps weren’t stone, but time-worn dark oak. I arrived on the second floor of the anteroom that led to the Commander’s private study just before eighth glass. There were two small writing desks in the anteroom facing the wall on each side of the door through which I’d entered. Each had a straight-backed chair behind it, and two backless oak benches were set against the wall, facing each desk. Between the desks was a door, presumably to the Commander’s private study. At the left desk sat another graying patroller.

“Master Rhennthyl?”

“Yes. I’m here – ”

“To see the commander. You can go in. He’s expecting you.”

I opened the door and stepped into the study, a space no more than four yards deep and six wide. Artois had risen and stepped around an ancient walnut desk set at end of the study closest to the river. To his right, on the innermost wall, was a line of wooden cases. On the wall opposite the desk was a tall and narrow bookcase, filled with volumes. Facing the desk were four straight-backed chairs. Two wide windows, both open, were centered on the outer wall and offered a view of the various buildings on the north side of Fedre and some beyond, but not so far as the Boulevard D’Imagers. There were no pictures or anything else hung on the walls, and only a pair of unlit oil lamps in wall sconces flanking the desk.

Artois was three or four digits shorter than I was and wire-thin. Under short-cut brown hair shot with gray, his brown eyes seemed flat, the kind that showed little emotion.

“Our latest Imager Liaison.” He nodded. “Young… doubtless powerful and shielded, and with Namer-little understanding of the Civic Patrol.”

“Yes, sir. That’s an accurate summary.”

“Are you being sarcastic, Master Rhennthyl?”

“No, sir. I’ve studied the procedures, but I’ve only worked briefly with one patroller. I do think I can learn, and there are situations where I might be helpful..”

“Outside of being an imager, what do you know?”

“I was a journeyman artist for three years after a seven-year apprenticeship, and my family is in the wool business. So I know something about art and the guilds, and about factoring and commerce. I’ve been trained to take care of myself.” I doubted that there was much else I could say that he didn’t know.

“Do you know accounting?”

“I used to do ledger entries.”

“You’ve killed men in the line of duty. How many and under what circumstances?”

I had to think for a moment. Diazt, the first assassin, the Ferran, Vhillar, and at least two others. “At least six, sir.”

“At least? You don’t remember?”

“When the Ferran envoy’s assassins tried to attack, I blew up their wagon. There were at least three people killed, but I got knocked unconscious. So I don’t know if there were more.”

“Let me put it another way. How many have you killed face-to-face at different times?”

“Three.” That was counting Vhillar.

“You realize that many patrollers have never killed anyone. That’s not our task.”

“Many imagers have not, either, sir, but even more people would have died if I had not acted.”

“How many did you attack first, before they did anything?”

“None, sir. One of them tried to kill me three times before I killed him.”

“Three times?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I doubt they were all reported.”

“The first and last times were.” I paused. “I don’t know that. Patrollers were there the first and last times. I don’t know what they reported.”

Artois smiled, faintly. “Don’t you trust our finest?”

“It’s not a question of trust, sir. I don’t know what they did. I reported to Master Dichartyn. He was my superior.”

Those words actually got a nod, a grudging one, I thought.

“Do you know why we agree to have imager liaisons, Rhennthyl?”

“I’ve been told why the Collegium wants me here; I haven’t been told why you agree to it, and it would be only speculation on my part to say.”

“Only speculation.” Artois repeated my words, sardonically. “Would you care to speculate?”

“No, sir. I’d rather know than speculate.”

“You are here because you are potentially a powerful imager. Powerful imagers can cause great problems if they do not understand how L’Excelsis works. The Civic Patrol is a key part of the city. We want you to understand how matters really work. Occasionally, you will be helpful. Until you have a better idea of how, just stand back, protect yourself, and watch.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You will actually report to Subcommander Cydarth, and he will rotate you through observing various patroller operations. When and if you finish your initial rotations, you will use the empty desk in the outer study here. That won’t be for some time.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You need to meet the Subcommander.” Without another word, Commander Artois turned and walked past me, opening the door.

I followed him out through the anteroom and to the right to the next door, where we entered a slightly smaller anteroom arranged in a similar fashion to that of the one outside the commander’s study, save that there was only one desk, and no one was seated there. Artois pushed open the study door, already ajar, and stepped inside.

Subcommander Cydarth was standing beside his desk, looking out the window. He turned. He was taller than the commander and had black hair and a swarthy complexion. Part of his upper right ear was missing.

“Cydarth, here’s your liaison, Maitre D’Aspect Rhennthyl.” Commander Artois nodded to me. “I’ll leave you in the most capable hands of the Subcommander.” He left the study without a word.

“The Commander can often be abrupt, but he’s quite effective.” Cydarth’s voice was so low it actually rumbled. I’d read of voices that deep, but I’d never heard one before.

“That is what Master Dichartyn said.”

“I doubt he said it quite that way.” Cydarth’s smile belied the sardonic tone of his words.

I waited.

“There’s one thing I want to emphasize before we get you settled. Most patrollers will call you ‘sir’ or ‘Master Rhennthyl.’ That is a courtesy, in the sense that you are not their superior. You cannot order even the lowest patroller to do anything. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, sir. Master Dichartyn made that clear.”

“He would have. He understands a bit of what we do.”

I managed to keep a pleasant smile on my face, but I had no doubts that Master Dichartyn understood far more than either the Commander or the Subcommander realized.

“For the next few days, you’ll be assigned to observe the charging desk here in headquarters. I want you to study every person charged, and then read whatever past records we have on them, not that there will be many.” He looked at me. “Do you know why?”

“To note on their charging record, because those who have committed a single major offense will either be executed or will spend the rest of their life in a penal workhouse. Those who have more than three minor offenses will be spending years in the penal manufactories or on road or ironway maintenance.”

“Exactly…. except for one thing. Do you know what it is?”

I had no idea. “No, sir.”

“What if they’re of common appearance and have changed their name?”

“Aren’t major offenders branded on their hip?”

“They are, but there are minor offenders who move to another city after serving time for one offense and then change their names. You’ll learn to recognize that type.” He gestured toward the door. “Let’s get you settled in with First Patroller Gulyart. He runs charging downstairs.”

Again, I found myself following as Cydarth walked swiftly to a narrow staircase at end of the hall and headed down it…

3 commentaires:

Colin said...


Jeff C said...

I'm really looking forward to this one as well. I thought Imager was probably the best of the 8 books I've read by him.

Dave said...

Sounds pretty good maybe ill check out the first book