Chapter 21 Hat

        Porett didn't take pleasure in his dual existence. His time in the comsphere-3 was boring in the extreme, and his actions strictly limited - just taking calls and making calls. He didn't have a body, couldn't command muscles. When he talked, his mind sent the same cues as when he was outside, and he heard the words, but nothing moved, his anatomy a memory like for a man with an itchy finger in an newly-amputated hand. While in here, he was just an illusion projected into one comsphere or another, looking like he did when he last merged, sounding like himself, but really nothing more than a consciousness wrapped in a bubble of glass.
        It was very empty at times, he needed to keep occupied. He missed not having paper to write things down, having to memorise everything. The comsphere-4 was going to have playback, he could probably get some patches cooked that would upgrade the 3 in that respect, it'd be handy. But come the time when everyone had a 4, with its snoop- proof security, he'd lose the ability to copy in on other communications. That would be a shame. He found the facility highly useful, sure, but it gave him something else, another type of freedom, a sense of reality. Without something to look at, absorb, he could go mad. Perhaps that's what'd happened to Liddy?
        Liddy, yes. She'd been a good secretary, she'd kept her distance. Communicating with some women from here could be distressing at times, especially if they held their comsphere up close, as did Mitya. With no body to react as his emotions directed, no reassuring feedback, it was at times hopelessly frustrating, like watching a porn show while paralysed from the neck down. The mere thought of it was distasteful. Had he been able to shudder, he would have done.
        He stared out of his global glasshouse, looked over the notes his real self had left where he could see them. There was a green tinge to the scene, deepening by the moment. Incoming call. Wait awhile, don't answer it too quickly.
        "Good morning, Porett."
        He pulled back, as if he was returning to his swivel-chair out there in the office, just tapped in. "Hello, Ansle." Better admit it. "Sorry to hear about Chewt, nasty business. Who'd have thought she followed the Messenger? She seemed so stuffy."
        Ansle's hand reached out, enormous as it closed in, stroked his comsphere, brought up the volume. "She was the ideal convert - open- minded, educated, ready to believe, to accept what she was told until the contrary was proven. It's done with now, anyway. I hear you've had problems, too, with Elidia. How is she?"
        Porett was concerned, his non-existent brows deeply furrowed. "No better, she's completely gone, nothing anyone can do. Babbling, crying, staring at the wall, drooling, no bladder control. It's very sad."
        "Well if there's anything I can do to help..."
        "No, thanks for the offer, I've fixed her up with a clinic in Birgue. They'll look after her, put her in a shell, stabilise her."
        Ansle picked up a magnifying glass, stared through it at his comsphere (inside which Porett felt he was locked during the conversation).
        "I thought so, Porett: that calendar on your desk shows yesterday's date."
        Porett didn't know where exactly Ansle was looking, it had been to the left, yes, he kept the wooden block calendar to the right of the com-3. Damn. Of course, it was frozen for the date he'd last merged. He spared a glance in approximately the correct direction. "I'll turn it later." Well, it doesn't look like it ought to roll automatically.
        Ansle leaned back. "I'll find out your secret one day, Porett: I know you don't keep that junk comsphere just to honour the research lab that was blown away making it."
        He shrugged a non-shoulder. "Why are you calling, Ansle?"
        "A change of subject, very well... I called regarding my daughter."
        "I told you where she was, you sent Sennary to pick her up. What's the problem?" Except Sennary left her behind.
        "Let's stop playing games. We are both aware that the girl she's travelling with, Roween Sage, has, shall we say, certain magics at her disposal."
        "Certain magics of disposal, you mean..."
        "Precisely. Now I very much want to find out how she does it; it suits perfectly some schemes I have in mind. I have no commercial interest in it at all. You, on the other hand, would like to exploit it commercially, or at least use it to advance your interests in the business world, rather as I intend to in the political arena. It seems that we could benefit by working together."
        "Team up, yes. So you'd be helped with knowledge from my tags on her, but how would I gain?"
        "You may have the means to locate her, Porett, but Sennary is loyal to me. I have the ability to act. Besides, by joining forces we can share our present theories."
        Porett didn't hesitate, had run through this scenario already. "It's a deal. Let's start by your telling me how you think Roween does it."
        "She has a spell; we've seen her cast it before."
        "In the library?" Ansle closed one eye to him. "Yes, I do know about that. You're sure she doesn't use an artefact of some kind, though?"
        "If she did, then it would clean itself on the first use. I suppose she may have the listings to create another one if she chose."
        "Unlikely: I can detect when she does her trick, and there have been two in close succession. She wouldn't have had the time to fix it to an object, although I guess she could have more than one."
        "You continually astound me, Porett. And does no-one else activate your detector with similar spells?"
        "Empirical evidence suggests not: all I've picked up have verifiably been her doing. Currently, she's the only one using that kind of negation sequence." Thank hell.
        "Good, she must have designed and proved it herself. I have ordered Sennary to wait until Conley knows the secret, then bring her back. Roween can be disposed of in whatever way he finds appropriate."
        Porett grinned, "If you say so." His eyes suddenly widened. "Oh yes, I have a couple more surprises for you, Ansle. One, don't count on Sennary to kill her: he caught her at the library that time, but let her go."
        "Sennary is ultimately dispensable: I have the MSR under my command. If Conley doesn't find this mythical gesture sequence soon, I intend to drive her and Roween west until they are captured by the Messenger, then pick them up at leisure when our forces storm his empire."
        "If they do, Ansle. We're badly outnumbered."
        "Oh, they will. I have Chewt's comsphere, you see, and her ability to cast illusions was in no way singular..."
        He brought his imaged hand to his chin. "Does Justan know you have it?"
        "You've been monitoring my calls, so you're already aware that he doesn't. All he's been told is that Chewt is dead, although I'll inform him of the full truth once I've established communications with her contact. The public story is that she's resigned her position in anger and stormed out."
        Porett sighed. "I guessed you knew I could intercept calls; oh well, it was secret for a while. Keep it to yourself? The comsphere-4 will have shielding anyway, you'll be able to connect guaranteed private."
        "That's what you're still saying about ordinary comsphere-2s. Advertising them as secure..." He snorted. "What was surprise number two?"
        "Oh yes, it's Conley. She has nightmares about her mother."
        "She ought to, she murdered her. Tell anyone, that and I'll fry you."
        Porett smiled, leaned forward like he was going to tap out.
        "Oh, one last thing, Porett..." Porett looked up; Ansle jabbed a finger at the sphere, quick, unexpected. Porett flinched as the huge nail thrust towards him. Damn and damnation!
        "Scared of a finger, Porett? Perhaps there is yet more to your com-3 than I've presently discovered..."

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif21.htm