Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove

By Harry Turtledove

In a universe during which Constantinople by no means fell, the Byzantine Empire has flourished by way of constructing know-how and spreading its effect yet reveals itself on the mercy of its jealous enemies.

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He listened to the Jurchen who had first encountered Argyros, then turned to the Roman. “I am Tossuc. ” His Greek was harsh but understandable. Argyros dipped his head. ” Tossuc made an impatient gesture over the front of his tunic. The garment was of maroon velvet, but of the same cut as the furs and leathers the rest of the Jurchen wore: open from top to bottom, fastened with three ties on the right and one on the left. The khan said, “I need to hear no Roman flattery. ”‘ “Then he will not speak to you as to any other man,” chuckled the Jurchen who had accompanied the khan out of his tent.

If you are no spy, why are you here? ” “I have no falsehoods to make up,” Argyros replied. “I am—I was—an officer of scouts; some of your men will have seen me and can tell you it is so. I told the Roman lieutenant-general he was wrong in a council and showed him it was true. As reward, he took away my rank. ” “Kill him,” Tossuc said at once. “No, because then the other Romans would kill me too. But how can I serve the Empire after that? ” The khan rubbed his chin, considering. Orda touched his sleeve, spoke in the nomad tongue.

It’s not easy to write such an if-of-history story. One little change might give birth to another and still another, until a later period becomes radically, almost unimaginably, different from what we now consider reality. Or else such a change may produce a difference which, through some kind of social inertia manages to converge until a later period is reached which is almost identical with what we call reality except for a few amusing—or ironical—changes. Science fiction writers occasionally dare the difficulty.

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