Chapter 44 Hat

        Within the comsphere-3, Porett waited. He knew Justan's call was due soon, but wasn't exactly sure what the time was. Late in the day, anyway. He could ask his real self, though it wasn't as if the information would be of much use; knowing the time doesn't make it pass any quicker.
        He checked the usual comspheres for traffic, there was none. He even looked in on Ansle, curious if the encryption glass was up, but there was nothing cutting. Not surprising; few people would still be making calls now, out of office hours. He could maybe risk hailing Caltra at home, see if Liddy was getting any better, but he then couldn't switch to Justan if the royal call came through in mid-conversation. Well, not without alerting Caltra's suspicions.
        Suddenly, the shell around him glowed green. At last, something to do. Mightn't be Justan, but even a bored buy-talker trying to sell magazine subs would break the monotony. He opened the line.
        "Hello, Sir Porett, and how are you today?"
        "Fine, your majesty, and you?"
        "Busy as always. I can't talk for long, I'm out in Brasna - one of the Nairadi countries - we're just fording a river before making camp."
        "You could have called earlier, I wouldn't have minded."
        Justan smiled, amusedly, knowingly. "I chose this time for a reason, which I'll explain later. First, however, I have some good news for you. The Messenger's army is effectively broken, so I see no reason to delay investing you as Lord Porett of Trilith. I always pay my debts. Congratulations."
        Porett grinned, he'd been hoping for that, why he'd been anxious. "Thank you, your majesty."
        "The three castles remain mine, but you may administer the harbour as you see fit. My armed naval vessels have their own facilities further down the coast."
        "I'm very grateful: Trilith opens onto the whole of Panavia and the west, it's a gateway used by merchants from nearly every nation. Its harbour gives me easy access to a huge new market."
        "Someone has to have the barony, it may as well be you. I trust you will use the title to a greater degree than you did your knighthood." He stopped a moment, waved disparagingly at someone Porett couldn't see, it was getting dark.
        "I have news, too, your majesty. The matter we discussed..."
        "Mitya's plague? You have results?"
        "Some, yes. We've tested the carrier magic, and it works. First, we set a matrix on, well, a lab rat at the moment. Every thirty minutes, the matrix pulses, and any other rat within about two paces picks up a copy. From then onwards, it will act as a generator itself. This way, the magic is swiftly propagated throughout a population."
        "Good. And the affliction itself?"
        "We're still bundling on that. The most promising version at the moment is a form of decomposition, where the victims start losing particles at a set rate, and after a time they've lost so much that their cell structures break down. Their bodies can't continue to function, and they die. There are quicker methods, but we can't see how to tie them to the carrier. This way works because we can make the matrix itself decay, taking real matter with it."
        "I understand." He looked as if he did, too. "Can you limit the effect to a specific group of people? Or could we all die once it is released?"
        "We can localise it to a species, but not to a race or a nation. I have some people working on a matrix-jammer, though, to stop it from pulsing if it becomes a problem."
        "Get that working on the rats before trying anything on other subjects. I also want something to arrest decay in those infected - stopping contagion is no use once you've caught it."
        "I'll see what I can do."
        "Very well. Is there anything else you wish to tell me?"
        "Nothing that my administrators can't sort out with your administrators. Oh, you said you had a reason for calling when you did?"
        "Yes, Porett, that's true." He cleared his throat. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're in Taltu, are you not?"
        "I am, yes."
        "I made my connection just after sunset."
        Porett felt uncomfortable, there was a thought stirring in the back of his mind, something about environmental mimicry... "Yes, I noticed it was darkening up at your end, I can hardly see you now."
        "Whereas I can still see you perfectly well, even though you haven't activated a light set since we began our chat."
        Hell, how am I going to explain this? "Oh, that's because this com-3 has an enhancer built-in, your majesty; if the light level drops below a standard threshold, it amplifies whatever there is to bring it up to a reasonable viewing quality."
        "So when dusk fell, your comsphere increased transmission brightness to account for it. Clever."
        "I like to think so, yes."
        "So can you explain to me why it is that when I look through your office window I see that sunset in Taltu has not yet occurred, even though it has now done so in Brasna? By my reckoning, I'm so far west of you that darkness should have fallen in Estavia at least an hour ago. Or are you telling me that your enhancer makes the night sky look blue?"
        Porett closed his eyes, groaned inside.
        "Lord Porett, enough. Destroy that model 3 without delay."

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif44.htm