Chapter 52 Hat

        Porett still enjoyed anonymity. Despite his enormous wealth, few ordinary people knew his face, and he could therefore pass among them reasonably unnoticed. Of course, without using face-changing magic it was clear to everyone here that he wasn't Estavian, but, when he wore his hair loose, he could readily be taken for one of the commonplace overseas visitors whose businesses took them to Trilith.
        Out in the harbour was a small island, once a prison but now a garden of exotic plants. It was the wrong time of year for most of them to be in flower, but the trees were beginning to dapple the lawns with the first falls of their russet, red, golden leaves.
        Porett had taken the public ferry, was now sitting on a bench beneath a tall cedar, watching the birds flocking above the haze of late afternoon. A young couple were walking along a path in front of him, laughing, holding hands, unobservant of their surroundings, wrapped in themselves. The man wore an unusual hat, tall, stiff, some new fashion. Porett felt vaguely jealous of him, didn't immediately know why. His girlfriend? No, not that, she was fair enough but... His youth? Perhaps. His carefree - no, more his hopes. Yes, enviable hopes: he had a life ahead of him, stretching out, time in which to fulfil his ambitions, everything to look forward to - a future full of exhilarating potential, expectancy, dreams.
        What did Porett have? Wealth, yes, but with attendant responsibilities. Ideas, but no opportunity to work on them himself. No goals to aim for, aspirations, things of importance to achieve. He'd done all he'd ever wanted to do; well, all that was realistically attainable. He regretted never having married, had children, but there are some things that you just have to accept as being beyond your reach. The love of women: who was there he would wish to marry?
        He knew the answer, but since she hadn't ever shown the slightest interest in him romantically there was no sense in his making a fool of himself bungling an attempt to date her. Definitely too late now. She'd find out eventually, if she outlived him, if she understood.
        He blamed his com-3 existence for these morose reflections. It was so boring in there, he'd almost obeyed Justan and destroyed it. Having another self, though, it enabled him to live twice the life, do double the thinking. He cherished that. Perhaps it was proxy for the son he would never have? The son that Roween Sage grew closer to murdering every time she blew...
        He considered admitting there were two of him, publicly; let the comsphere handle business, while he himself dealt with the pleasure. He sighed. It wouldn't work, he'd still have to merge periodically, to ensure that his two separate beings didn't drift too far apart. There'd be no escape that way from the tedious realities of commerce.
        What pleasures could he pursue, anyway? Travel, yes, he wanted to see the world, experience its different cultures. So vast, so varied. So dangerous? Not to someone with his money! Taltu had been very fine, a beautiful city, treasure in the coffers of his memory. He felt he could live there, maybe, buy a house in the centre, while away his days in a café or a park, watching passers-by in the shadows of ancient bell towers, flourish-carved fountains.
        It was partly his desire for the new that had led him to despatch the Trans/Disc to Bridges. He was fascinated by this strange companion of Conley's, Roween. Could she really negate magic? Strip it from anything close by her? How did she do it? Did she hide any other surprises? She'd killed the Messenger! He felt the weight of memory: how ghastly, hopelessly painful that had been...
        He was confident that this Idric would deliver the box safely. He'd had it packed with parcelled sachets of spices, herb leaves tied in sackcloth; when he'd finished, the Trans/Disc receiver looked like it was their proper container. If Ansle did find out, did have some way of tracking what was loaded onto Northic freighters, then the excuse would be that Porett merely wanted to visit the Lowlands for business reasons. Or maybe even as a tourist? He'd heard a lot about the region: the architecture bore similarities to middle-period Estavian, but due to pressures on space it was much more compact; it also used a lot of wood, from forests to the south. The people were very friendly, mainly because they lived in drug-granted moods of perpetual pleasantness. The Lowlands were everywhere famous for their painters, though. Reelf, Fandtelsch, Rudnelaan. Or was she a Heran? No, from Seesel.
        He hadn't really ever made a conscious decision to go to Bridges personally, it just seemed sort of assumed. Probably it was the work on Mitya's plague that did it, he'd completed all the creative design and was leaving the uninteresting hard graft to employees. He needed something new to fire his imagination, and antimagic might just be it. Well, it was an excuse to get away for a few days, maybe weeks, an escape from running the company. Exciting - more so than he'd expected: he was actually looking forward to making the trip.
        Conley was heading for Liagh Na Laerich, he knew. The library there was all the place was famous for. This Roween must have some reason for wanting to visit it, but what? Ansle hadn't told him everything, and Sennary was getting hard to contact, what with his promotion and the com-3's supposed destruction - every conversation these days had to go through the military exchange, from Porett's old com-2. There really ought to be a way to transfer call bindings from one comsphere to another, some must have been already written for the prototype com-4.
        Last thing he'd heard, Sennary's men had found the tagged click-well in the monastery, smashed, not emptied of magic; not unless breakage was a side-effect. That was two days ago. Sennary was on his way to quell some riots along the Purian coast now, Zovia being occupied with simultaneous ones in some Nairadi country to the south. Odd, both food- related, Ansle wasn't doing his job. Or was doing it all too well? Hmm, possibilities...
        His thoughts drifted back to the com-2. He'd kept it as a back- up, in case he needed to make a call while his com-3 self was busy. Only to the office, usually - most people who he had cause to contact had upgraded to com-2's themselves, touched them to his flagship com-3.
        Suddenly, two disparate threads knotted in his mind. First, the Eletic library contained books on magic, probably the world's largest collection outside the Academy. Roween had said she'd blasted magic in the latter - maybe she'd found something there? He ought to try discover what it might be, but how could he send anyone to look around, under Ansle's nostrils? It would arouse suspicion, unless the spy had some plausible reason for scouring old volumes. Thread number two: one of his contacts who had a com-1, and who would never have quite got round to replacing it, was his old friend Roenna. And she loved books.
        He realised that, for some time now, he had implicitly accepted the fact that his alliance with Ansle was effectively over.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif52.htm