Scale

by Greg Egan

Scale

Synopsis

As the phone started ringing, the leftmost indicator bulb in the row of seven lit up, blinking in time with the jangle of the buzzer but bright enough to shine clearly through the red gel and a patina of dust. Sam hesitated, doubting his own eyes for a moment, then tempted to assume a wrong number and spare both parties the nuisance of a protracted conversation.

But he couldn’t let the call ring out. Even a wrong number from Scale One would be the most interesting thing that had happened to him all week.

He lifted the handset. “Lucid Investigations,” he announced, then he jabbed the DONE button. The exchange let him hear the slow bass rumble as it replayed his taped voice three octaves deeper, then he listened in as it gathered the reply. He could follow most Scale Three and Scale Five speech effortlessly, but he struggled to get any purchase on the tortured syllables splayed out in these strange groans before the exchange stepped in and spared him the effort.

“Do you take clients from District One?”

When electronics importer Cara Leon goes missing, private investigator Sam Mujrif is hired by her sister to investigate. Cara is eight times taller than Sam, but evidence soon points to players much smaller than either of them. As Sam and his cross-scale colleagues pursue the case, it becomes apparent that Cara’s disappearance is linked to the development of technology with the potential to reshape their whole society, and radically alter the balance of power between the scales.


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