The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 27

John V pounded a small paperweight on the table. “That can be discussed at a later time. You were talking about demo — ‘angel’ enchanted crystal sets. But you have yet to explain their great advantage.”

“Communications are a force multiplier,” Roger said, and Bertrand cleared his throat again.

Roger held up both hands. “Sorry.”

“He’s right,” Bertrand said. “The person who wins the battle is usually the person that has the most people there when the fight happens. If you can get word to your forces faster, they can gather faster, and you can have more force in one place faster than your enemy.”

John V nodded.

“The phones remove the time that it would take for a messenger to travel to forces you have elsewhere, and it also lets you communicate more fully what you need and where you need it. It’s hard to get answers from a scrap of paper with writing on it.”

“And you can make these?”

“Yes, but not cheaply.”

“In that case, we can’t do it at all,” John said. “We have discussed this, Bertrand. Byzantium has a lack of funds because of the costs we have faced in holding the Turks as long as we have.”

“We may be able to help with that, at least some,” Jennifer Fairbanks said, “but it’s not a blank check.”

“What is a check?”

“Never…” Jennifer started to say, then changed her mind. “It is a document that can be used to retrieve money from a bank after it has been placed there.” That led to a careful discussion of banking and the way money worked in the twenty-first century, which Jennifer managed to explain without ever once using the term “fiat money.” Instead, she talked about fractional reserve banking, implying that you needed to keep at least half the deposited money on account, and in which she stressed again and again how vital it was that the government accept such money for payment of taxes and rents.

This wasn’t the twenty-first century with income tax and property tax. It was the fourteenth, where tax time meant guys with swords pounding on your door with a book and taking everything you had, and calling it taxes or rent.

This was the time of the tax farmer, who bought the right to collect taxes for the king and kept as much as they ever remitted to the crown. This, in other words, was a time when the poor were even more screwed than they were in the twenty-first century. Jennifer didn’t want to screw them any more by introducing paper money that they got paid in, but wouldn’t be able to buy anything with.

It was a long and mostly boring meeting, but by the end of it, they had a few things at least sort of straight.

Empress Helena would be in charge of the imperial bank, and certain kinds of transactions would have to be done through the bank.

The twenty-firsters would be contracted to make and enchant a series of crystal sets. Those crystal sets would have about the same relationship with the crystal sets built in the future by hobbyists as a model does a sketch. They would be fancy. They would have screens and microphones and speakers, as well as eyes, all built into the system so that all of them could be shared through the antenna.

And, finally, production would start on a series of rocket boats. Gunboats would be better, but cannons of the sort that a gun boat needed were at least a year away. They had heard of cannon in Constantinople, and John, on his visit to Rome, had even seen some. But there were no cannon factories in Constantinople, not even the primitive sort they had in Paris.

That wasn’t all bad. Starting from scratch they could avoid the flower pot cannons that were all the rage back in Paris, and go straight to something practical. Roger and Wilber would be in charge of that. Bill Howe would be working with the city guard of Constantinople to try and turn it into an actual police force that was capable of investigating crime and finding the culprit.

There was a knock on the door and all the plans went away. Murad I was on his way to Constantinople with a force of four thousand.

An army doesn’t move fast, so they had a few days to get ready. But only a few.

Location: Land of Themis, Netherworld

Time: Roughly 2:35 PM, November 16, 1372

Zeus appeared in Themis’ great hall. “Well,” he bellowed, “what are you going to do about the mortals?”

Themis rolled her eyes. Not like an annoyed teenager rolled eyes. In Themis’ case, they made a complete rotation, which gave her a view of her entire kingdom and the ones around her. Not that that was the point. She could have gained the same information without moving her eyes at all. She was simply making her opinion of Zeus’ arrival clear. “Do sit down, Zeus.” She gestured and a golden throne appeared. “So nice of you to call ahead. Oh, wait. You didn’t, did you?”

Zeus had, on occasion, been her lover, fathering all of her fathered children. A titan like Themis created her world out of her own substance, the land, the plants, the animals, the people. The new computer beside her throne and the desk it was on were all created from her substance. For the most part, they were created to her own design, often copied from the mortal realm. In the case of her children, though, the process was more cooperative. Zeus, as the father, provided much of the design, but more of the substance came from Themis. It was not really like the sex that mortals had, but it did carry much of the same emotional and social connotations. So, to put it in human terms, Zeus was a bully and a horse’s ass, but he was also the father of her children.

Zeus flounced onto the throne. That was the only way to put it. He flounced. Every part of the movement evocative of pouting disapproval. Zeus’ lands, Olympius, were to the southwest and a half a level of entropy above Themis’ lands. Her worshipers had lived, prayed, and died over a thousand years before those of Zeus, although there was overlap.

“What would you have me do about them? It was not the mortals who tore the rifts in the veil between the worlds.”

“How do you know that?”

Themis stopped. She didn’t know that. She had assumed that it was a being of great power, one of the origins, what her followers had called Gaia or Uranus. What the Persians called Angra Mainyu and Ahura Mazda. What the Christians called God and the devil. What other lands called other things, but which meant either the first being, or one of the first few, as the origin started to divide itself into parts.

Could they have done it, the humans? They might have stumbled onto something. After considering for an eternity of half a second, she decided that it was unlikely, but not impossible. “I don’t. But it seems unlikely that the humans could have made the rifts.”

“Maybe they released one of the first ones,” Zeus said.

“That seems more likely. But even if that is the case, what do you want me to do about it?

“Find them and make them put it back. Put them back in their place and make them behave.”

“That would seem to be a job for the Furies, or perhaps Nemesis.” With a thought, Themis called her sister, and created a new throne.

Nemesis appeared a moment later, with her black wings extended and her sword in hand. She looked at Zeus and then at Themis, shook her head, and folded her wings, which disappeared into her back as she sat on the throne. “I take it you didn’t ask me here because you are ready to let me destroy France for the insult they offered you?”

“No, Sister. The one who did the deed is gone now, eaten by a puck, to add insult to his injury. And his mortal tool is in Hades’ hands, and Hades assures me that Philip the Bold will spend eternity being devoured by demons of the pit. At least, his soul will.”

In spite of herself, Themis took a certain pleasure in that fact, even knowing that Philip was never more than a tool of the elder demon, Beslizoswian.

“We have to make the humans stop calling us into the mortal realm,” Zeus bellowed.

“And how do you propose we do that?” Nemesis asked.

“Do you really think that is a good idea?” Themis asked. “They have the right to make their own choices.”

“Not when they compel demonkind,” Zeus insisted.

“Well, I agree to that.” Themis nodded. Then she gave Zeus a sharp look. “Now I understand. Someone managed to get enough of your name to compel you.”