Chapter 36 Hat

        Extravagance permeated the very fabric of the building. Porett's suite was extensive, luxurious, and elegant, yet it was strewn with clutter: boxes, large and small, papers, spellbooks and manuals, carved wooden components of odd, dismembered constructions, half-open containers smelling of bananas. Sennary was surprised; Ansle had implied that Porett was almost powered by tidiness.
        As the guard left, Porett appeared from a doorway at the far end of the room, rolling down a sleeve. "Welcome, Lord Sennary," he smiled, held out a hand. "Please excuse the mess, but my rooms are doubling as a warehouse at the moment, don't want the Estavians getting their hands on some of the stuff I brought from Cala."
        "Expensive warehouse..." Sennary followed his host through a link door to a smaller area that appeared to be his office. There were other unguarded exits, too - had he taken the entire floor?
        Porett offered Sennary a chair, but sat on the edge of his desk himself. "Can I get you a coffee?" he asked, reaching for his com-3.
        "No thanks, I had one in the lobby, arrived early."
        "You should have come up," Porett adjusted the band on his pony tail as he spoke, "we could have had more time." He leant his head back and shook it a couple of times.
        Sennary took out his new com-2, tapped it against Porett's 3, kept his eyes on the man. He wondered whether the old-style hair and the beard were kept through conscious intent or unchanged habit, as part of the uniform of a breed of cutters that were now all but extinguished under the restraints of corporate managers with no room for flair.
        He remembered his prepared small talk. "I believe you know a cousin of mine, Roenna of Vasnau."
        Porett leant on one arm. "I never really thought of Roenna as having relatives! Haven't spoken to her for, must be three years, is she still pottering about in Lord Calter's labs?"
        "Yes, I was in Svala four or five months ago, dropped in to see her. She hasn't changed, still cadging manuals and pre-war magic books, flicking out gestures as you talk."
        Porett smiled, wide, a little wistfully. "That's her. She once told me her name meant `insight-seeker' in Old Davian; rather suits her, don't you think? She's half Davian herself, isn't she?"
        "Yes, her mother was my mother's sister; their side of the family helped out mine a lot when I was young."
        "Well, remember me to her the next time you meet up." He rose to his feet. "But now, to business, I don't have much time these days..." He went to a neatly-stacked collection of boxes in the corner. Sennary guessed he was meant to join him, did so.
        Porett took a carton, started opening it. "I wasn't sure what you'd need, so I concentrated on high-fly gadgets you won't be able to get elsewhere. Most of what's here is samples for The King to look at, show him what's possible if he doesn't go flat on magic." He pulled out a dished disc, about a handspan across. "If we'd used this kind of zip at the Erva, we'd have diced the enemy well before their antimagic cut in. Tell me what you want, I'll have it packed, you can take it tomorrow."
        "Gives you time to tag it?" They both grinned. "Fair by me! So what's that in your hand?"
        Porett stroked his beard, idly. "Flash thrower. Top's metal, underneath is glass. Inside, there's dozens of tiny little light sets. They won't burn until they touch the edge of the disc. Don't last long, about thirty seconds, but when you throw the whole plate, it spins them out to the rim, they make contact, and you get a blinding light. Puts it right where you want it - not like light-primes, only good close-up. Safety catch on top."
        "I could maybe use one of those, yes."
        Porett pointed to another box. "You'll need a pair of what's in there, then, antibrightness lenses. In battle conditions, they'd be better worked into a helmet visor, but I guess you don't want to wear one of those all the time. I have some old see-into lenses too, somewhere, let you look through soft things, take a peek at what's inside. Beat most illusions, too."
        "I'll skip on those, thanks, heard of a surgeon in Bay Town who lost his eyes that way, they can rot you."
        Porett shrugged. "Do you have a use for shots? I have some happies, they're not MedSpell but they should be fine. I also have some sads and some sleeps, you never know when you'll need them." He tore a strip of wrapping paper off a brown parcel, teased a shot pack from inside. "These are special: combustion shots. Slap them onto anything, they flare up, set it on fire."
        Sennary was a little wary. "So why haven't they gone up already?"
        "Well when I bought East/Trad, I got my hands on their flux spell at last, coated it on these wrappers. The whole surface is constantly moving beneath the shot, the reactive side never gets a chance to settle, can't detonate."
        "I'll take some of those, then; shots are always handy."
        Porett raised a finger. "You like shots? I have all sorts, haven't had every last one tested but you're welcome to whatever you want. There's one particular black-fac specialises in emotions: as well as happies and sads, they do fear, bravery, despair, all marked on the individual shots, I'll throw in a pack."
        "Love and hate included?"
        Porett spread his hand, rippled it twice. "No, those are too directed, you can't be in a general state of hatred, you have to hate something in particular." He started pulling at another carton. "There's this other outfit goes for mental faculties, they have these really potent memory blocks, you can't remember anything that's happened for days, sometimes weeks before the shot was applied. You can also get hear-to-listen ones, they don't always work, but when they do the user can't make sense of words, they just seem like meaningless sounds." He withdrew a small roll of waxy paper. "Now, on here we have truth shots. One of these slapped on you, you can't lie. Evade, or fail to answer, yes, but not actually lie. Problem is, it takes about an hour for them to work, and the victims know what they are soon as they try and say something false. Unpredictable duration, too, minutes to hours."
        "Well, just give me a broad selection, they don't take much carrying." How to dampen Porett's enthusiasm, get him onto the less esoteric?
        "Sure. Now, what else do I have, yes, point-armour. Nothing over the normal, well, except it's fireproof, but it's made of lighter material, you should be able to put it under your plate, just for a bit extra protection."
        "Good thinking. Are these things costly to produce?"
        Porett rocked his hand. "Not as much as you'd think, mass production, about eight kilogestures each. I have a couple of weapons, though, they're uniques at the moment. There's an arrow, when it's fired it'll adjust its flight to hit the desired target, so long as you give it enough pull to get it there; well, and nothing jumps in the way or the target moves or something. Ninety K it took us to make it, we can probably optimise down to about eighty but I doubt we'll ever get it low enough to be standard issue. Better that mages stand by a battery of archers and guide in promising arrows when they see them."
        "I'm no bowman, you better keep that. What's the other one?"
        Porett smiled, irrepressibly proud, like a schooly telling his folks he'd come first in drawing class. "It's a sword - a beauty in its own right, wait until you see it. Just don't tell anyone else about it if you want to keep it, especially The King. You can be our field tester." He whispered something to the binder on his desk, tugged at a drawer, and carefully removed the most magnificent longsword Sennary had ever seen. Immediately, he ached to take its hilt.
        Porett knew, but teased. "Light as a snowflake, we've put a floater on so it weighs no more than a dagger. Flux on the blade, keeps it clean, has a ten-minute light-set built in, it'll glow if you press on the stud at the end."
        "It's a dream! May I..?" Porett passed Sennary the sword. Its grip was perfect for his hand, so easy, airy as a breeze. He swung it with a swiftness that surprised them both. "Hot, Porett, this is the sweetest steel I ever held!"
        "There's more besides," smirked. "What I've told you, that's maybe fifteen K gestures, the plain sword itself took longer than that to make. There's another one-twenty K of zip in it." He took the blade, carefully, pointed to the edge. "You know how they make these so sharp? They like fold the hot metal over, reheat, fold again, and keep doing so as many times as they can. Takes patience and skill to strengthen the whole length. Normal, good-quality weapons, they have maybe four folds. Once- a-century, top-class, master-crafted, they can just maybe reach twenty. This one has nine folds, but between each fold we put a breaking spell on it, like what they have in those Agritech rods the peasants use on cattle. By exploiting folding, we got around the usual problem where follow-up spells of a kind already imbued in an object don't take."
        Slowly, Sennary lowered the hilt, rested the weapon on the desk. "You're telling me there are nine breaks in this blade? Anyone it strikes will be dead almost instantly, the slightest knock, the tiniest nick, armour or no armour..."
        "That's right." Porett folded his arms. "You'll need it, though: I've lost my tag on Conley, you'll have to find her without that kind of help."
        "Wait, no, let me get this clear. People who have been skilled in swordplay for thirty years, learnt their trade the hard way, fought in battles, one-on-one combat, it's now all for nothing? Any fool who can beat their guard once, touch them with any degree of force anywhere, leg, arm, will kill them outright? All their accumulated knowledge and experience will be utterly worthless?"
        "Correct. Spell techniques advance inexorably; people who don't run with the trends are left behind, outdated, superseded. That sword represents the leading edge in military science. What do you think?"
        "I think magic is moving too fast..."

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif36.htm