Chapter 47 Hat

        "You seem troubled, friend Porett." Thidlic spoke softly, in that most perfect of Estavian accents, Citadellian. They were sitting on the terrace of his villa, high on Trilith's Eastern Mount, overlooking the sea and city.
        "Sometimes I tire of business. It takes so much time, I wish it could look after itself, give me chance to do some cutting." Thidlic raised his eyebrows, quizzically. "Design work, I mean."
        "It would be a great pity if you passed the reins to someone else, you have a marvellous gift for management. Porett Technologies wouldn't perform one half as well without you in charge."
        Porett smiled at the Estavian. His face was craggier than when they'd first met, his eyes not as deep a blue, and his blonde hair had receded alarmingly. "Thidlic, you're one of my closest friends. When others from Estavia shunned my early products, you alone saw their potential, risked importing them. It's now ten or twelve years later, and we're both very rich. We could live like gods for the rest of our lives. Don't you sometimes wonder why you keep on doing it? Have you no desire just to sell up and retire?"
        "Ah, Porett, but I have my art collection to extend, and that certainly keeps me interested in acquiring money. Tol Savna originals do not come cheaply!"
        Porett stared out over the harbour. Ships were waiting on the tide, trading vessels, loaded with goods from ports near and far, ferries, heaving with people, yachts, pleasure boats, weaving between heavy coastal barges. "I don't know what I want."
        "I think you do, but you won't face it."
        "Perhaps." He folded his arms, sighed deeply.
        "What's brought this depression upon you, friend Porett? You've been granted Lordship of Trilith, you govern," he waved aimlessly over the balcony, "everything you see. You even have a seat in the High Chamber, should Justan ever re-institute our democracy."
        "Oh, there are a number of things that have come all at once, none of them very interesting, all of them baying for action. Justan has ordered me to destroy my com-3, and has also gone behind my back to MedSpell regarding an idea I had. I need to ship something to Bridges secretly, but Ansle has the customs officers under his jurisdiction and is watching every move I make, despite our having a co-operation arrangement. Magicorp have realised control of territory in Cala Bay Town that contains three of my best black-facs. Someone is selling confidential East/Trad research papers, my Akrean distributors are being taken over by a finance house, my bankers in Taltu want to renegotiate a loan to one of my subsidiaries, I'm being sued because some toddler swallowed a click- well. It goes on and on..."
        "I have staff to handle things like that for me, and so do you. Your legal department is weak, hire more lawyers. Get some better accountants, too - you shouldn't have to worry about Taltuan bankers or finance houses seeking a short-term profit. Magicorp, well you can soon scruff them out of your black-facs: there are plenty of mercenaries around at the moment, eager to be hired. Send a few into East/Trad, as well; give them a gross of those truth shots you showed me, they'll soon find your spy."
        "Yes, you're right; I should smarten up my thoughts. I'll write something to stop the com-3 from taking incoming calls, then Justan won't know it's still alive. I've checked, it isn't tagged."
        "For the rest, though, it seems to me your secretary is remiss."
        Porett sighed. "Caltra's good, but she's new to this, she's no Elidia, not yet - not ever. I spoke to her, you know? Elidia. I put a sound- receipt sequence onto her focal object, comsphered it, talked to her, to her, not her madness, told her how I felt, that I wanted her mind to return, yearned for it to do so." He shook his head. "Useless."
        Thidlic looked out to sea. "She'll be back, in time, believe me. Have patience: let her be, and wait. Hers is not a temporary state, and the sooner you let go and accept it, all the better it will be for you."
        He smiled, grimly, nodded. "You're right - again, you're right. I'll have Caltra clear out Liddy's desk in the morning, put all her things into storage. She can burn the damned focus, too; while that's around, I'll always be searching for ways I could use it to help, depressing myself worse each time I fail."
        Thidlic laughed, put his hand on Porett's back. "See? Doesn't life become easier when you talk to friends?" They grinned. "Now, this cargo you need shifting to Bridges, how big is it?"
        "How big?" He shrugged. "A fair size, like a double wardrobe - I don't recall the exact dimensions. It's zip, a Transfer/Disconnect box: I'm expecting to pay a visit out to the Lowlands soon, but I can't afford the travelling time and no-one must know I've gone."
        Thidlic rubbed his cheek. "I may be able to help you. There is a Northic ship, the `Free Dragon', captained by a man of my acquaintance, one Idric. It sails in two or three days for Vatnalunt, carrying spices. They could easily take your transporter, drop it off on the way. Discreetly."
        "Can this Idric be trusted? It is essential that no-one knows I am at all involved."
        "He's very good, I've had cause to rely on his discretion before. I recommend him."

* * *

        The merging took longer than usual, he fluffed a gesture and had to start again. It happens, if you're in a hurry.
        Into his mind jumped thoughts, images, feelings, all seeking a place to rest, trying to mesh with what was already there. Conflicts of knowledge or opinion, changes of focus, subsumption of skill. He'd done it often enough now, was used to it. Still unnerving, though, still a relief to be sane at the end of it, still a blessing for the half that found itself on the outside...
        Pain, there was pain, brought into focus by merge-refreshed memories... He battled to ignore it, wore it down, made it tolerable, dulled. It took longer, this time, though, much longer: he had to find a way to stop her, before it got too much to bear.
        Other recollections surfaced in the melting pot of his mind. He'd received more intelligence from MedSpell: they definitely had the matrix generator now, and were working on a surrogate - something which would ride a pulse from host to host in the same manner as his infection magic, but which would proffer itself to be destroyed in place of the intended target. There would be two viruses, one malevolent, one benevolent. His form - the decayer - would prefer to take MedSpell's form - the surrogate - instead of eating at the doubly-infected victim; the decayer would bind to magic rather than to matter. Neat. Justan's idea of insurance. If only he wasn't paying for it with money from Porett Technologies...

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif47.htm