Chapter 17 Hat

        Elidia awoke in her flat, in her own bed. She sat up. She felt fine. She didn't usually sleep in this nightdress, had she put it on last night? She didn't remember last night. There were a row of sticky cloth patches on her arm, two of them with `Do Not Remove!' written on, Dr Porett's handwriting. She left the others on, too, just in case.
        She looked in the mirror. What a mess! Her face colours had completely gone, her lips were thin and pale, her eyes lacked definition. Her hair was a tangled knit - how in the world had it ever got that bad?
        Outside, it looked afternoon. Afternoon?! She must have overslept! She walked into her slippers, pulled her hair back to give some semblance of tidiness, and tapped her comsphere.
        Caltra answered. "Dr Porett is on his way to see you," she advised, tapped out.
        Why was Porett coming here, to her home? Elidia wandered back to the bedroom, picked up a makeover booklet. She thumbed through it one-handed, gestured a simple teeth-cleanser with the other.

* * *

        When Porett arrived, she was her usual presentable self. Her normal workday suit was a little creased, so she'd switched to the royal blue one. She'd chosen a navy leg-sheen to match.
        Porett asked her to sit down, so she did. She offered him a cup of tea, he declined.
        "You didn't remove the shots?" he asked her.
        "No, of course not," she replied, affecting righteous indignity as if it were natural.
        "The top one is a pain filter, you'd better keep that on. The bottom is a memory blank, experimental; it works on bunnies, never tried before on people - I had to send to CBT for it. You can peel it off now."
        She pulled up her sleeve, careful not to wrinkle it, until the shot was exposed. Carefully, she slid a thumbnail underneath and removed it.
        She sat still, thinking, looked at Porett. "I resign. Get out of my apartment."
        Porett didn't move, but was agitated. "Calm down, Elidia, it's not my fault, I didn't know what would happen when Conley broke the connection. I had the sleep shot off you as soon as you stopped talking, hit you with as many wakers as I could. You'd have been dead if I'd left it any longer."
        "What do you mean, `talking'? I wasn't talking."
        "Ah, yes you were, Liddy, sorry, I needed to know what was happening so I had Penderley come in and zip you with a proto CS-490. It's something she's been working on with Madrett, new comms slices. For a while, you were part comsphere-4."
        "So you know everything that happened? Marvellous. Well you have your information now, so go. I'll get a job elsewhere, I - I can't work for you any longer."
        Porett remained seated.
        "Didn't you hear me? I told you to go, get out of my home."
        "I can't let you quit like that, Liddy, you know too much about Porett Technologies." His voice was impassive.
        "Well try stop me!" She was on her feet, heading for the door.
        Porett stood up, began gesturing. "Liddy," he called, "do you know what this is?"
        She turned, looked. Point, fingers, point, wrist, palm, fist...
        Porett smiled at her puzzlement. He opened his left hand. In it was the carved handgrip she'd used in the link to Conley.
        "When I fixed your focus to the grip, it did more than just help your attaching skills. It was really fixed - the grip itself became your focus. So whenever I hold it, I can cast any spell I like at you as if you were making a focus for me - whether you are or not."
        "And what spell are you casting?"
        "It's the final one for a shell, you've had the other three already. A husk they sometimes call it..."
        Her eyes widened. She pulled at the door, opened it.
        "You won't make it down the hall."
        He was right. She stopped at the top of the stairs, frozen like a mannequin in Hease & Eller's window. A faintly bemused smile flickered on her lips. The dark-rimmed eyes were vacant.
        Porett approached, stroked her cheek.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif17.htm