Chapter 56 Hat

        Within the com-3, Porett's night had been scarred by disorder and fear. The hurt was not as intense as before, but it lasted much, much longer. He knew he couldn't survive many more such attacks, that the torture would eventually prove lethal. Oh the dream, the joy, if he ever built up a tolerance!
        He detected the com-1's activity, waited for the patch through. His real-world self had managed to dig out the gestures that handled call forwarding, and have some unsuspecting underling spend three days casting them. Would've been two days, but the oaf had missed a gesture, had had to clap out and start over.
        Roenna's smiling, freckled face appeared, her hair a straggle- tangle of auburn wilderness, eyes green, not a trace of makeover anywhere. She grinned. "Hello, Topper!"
        "Greetings, Ro!" They used their old cutter names; he'd almost forgotten them, but Roenna's easy ways had slipped him back in time before he'd even noticed. She hadn't changed much, eyes less sunken now, she was getting sleep, and she didn't look as pale, must've been in the sun. Well yes, the freckles.
        And she still had her boundless, undirected enthusiasm. "Now, have I found something for you! I went to the Academy's bound-book room, like you said, and, surprisey-wisey, all the books were bound. `Nothing special about that', you say, but aha! Even the old sealed books are bound! I ask for one to be opened, and the little bookfetch man obliges. `Why are these books bound?' I ask, innocent as three palms. `Security, madam,' he replies, just like he's been told, `a back-up copy of the list of sealing gestures went missing, so we added Magicorp binders to everything.' `Well well well, is that so?' I ask, `Yes indeed,' he answers, `this one has been read since then, which is why there is no seal on it now.' `Why, thank you young man,' I say, `but I sealed this book myself twelve years ago and I never told anyone what sequence I used.' Exit little bookfetch on urgent business that he's suddenly remembered."
        Porett was smiling; the silly voice Roenna had used to mimic the sub-librarian was as engaging as all her impressions. "So I was right, all the magic has been sucked out, they're trying to cover it up."
        "Looks that way, Topper. What sparked you onto it?"
        "I heard it from a friend who linked to some woman while she was talking to the person who did it."
        "Uh? Whatever you say, wonderboy... Hey, I found something else for you!" She dragged her fingers through her hair, hooked it away from her face and threw it back into the briars. "In the refectory, I catch hold of my little bookfetch again. `Hello, little bookfetch,' I say, `do you want me to bribe you with a voucher for a CBT medical fac where they'll add a handbreadth to your height so you won't be such a stumpy?' I'm a bit more subtle than that at the time. `Yes, kindly lady,' he responds, chomping through some pigmeat that looks about as edible as a leather apron. `Well, young fellow, what I want from you in exchange is a list of all the books that still have their original seals on them, binders or not.' `Easy,' he says, `just the one,' and he gives me the name, so I reward him with the voucher and leave him to his apron."
        "A clinic pass? You'll want me to reimburse you for that..."
        "Not to worry, Topper, I found it where some sieve-brain left it as a bookmark, didn't cost me a click."
        He grinned, good old Ro, ever resourceful. "So what was this book then?"
        "Well here's the funny part, I had to write down the name because it's in Old Chaienish. Estavian, Eletic, Ilathic, I can handle those, but I do have my limits. Got yourself a pen?"
        Oh damn the hell, not in here. Memory time again. "Not a pen, an East/Trad fingerboard." He pretended to open a slot drawer fitted with some kind of fancy, built-in notepad.
        "You devil, you. Well, it's `Kathechsis Reh'." He made like he was taking it down. "I have a translation of that if you want it."
        He stopped faking, looked up. "You devil, you..."
        She beamed a wide smile. "`Kathechsis' is a burst of scooty thoughts ignited by some idea. `Reh' is adjectival, describes something that changes things. Looked them up in a classical dictionary, it's way amazing how many Estavian words derive from Chaienish. Maybe I'll read some more about it sometime."
        Roenna, she'll cut anything... "So a rough translated title might be `Brainstorms Change Things'?"
        She frowned, looked upwards, then smiled again. "Near enough, maybe `Brainstorms Can Change Things', closer."
        "Got it. So why was it sealed?"
        "Well, that's where you've mired me. I originally asked so I could find what books were out when the magic pooped, but this one shouldn't have been there in the first place. It's antique, maybe three K years old, handwritten. Ought to be in the archives with the other musties. They moved it here because it was sealed, but why it was sealed, and which naughty person did it, I don't know. They can't get it open, any case, no- one knows the key."
        "Do they have a duplicate?"
        She gave him that oh-come-on-be-sensible look she affected so well. "A book that old, it's probably the only one in existence. Boggles me why anyone would want it anyway, who reads Old Chaienish these days?"
        "At a guess, they still teach it in Chaien. Maybe they have copies there?"
        "And maybe they won't let you touch them even if they do."
        Porett was thinking. "Do you mind staying at the Academy a tad longer, Ro?"
        She tossed back another dangle of hair that had flopped in front of an eye. "Course not, Topper, I could stay here forever, you know me, Little Miss Books!"
        "Fine, I'll clear it with Lord Calter. I think I'll also get in touch with some people I know in Chaien, have them send round someone who can read the old language."
        "Well unless you have some real finey-winey controls for see- into lenses, your linguist isn't going to be able to read much."
        "We'll have the seal off by then. There's someone I think will know the gestures, he used to be the senior librarian in our day, name of Athur Sage."
        "Athur? Oh yes, remember him well, does he know the pattern?" She rubbed her hands together, conspiratorially. "Well, fear not, then! We're chummy-chummy! I'll have it out of him in a jiff, I used to spend hours in here when I was a student, some nights he'd keep the library open late just for me. Nice chappy, always seemed sort of worried."
        Porett supposed he shouldn't really be surprised, Roenna did used to live in the reading rooms... A thought: "You don't happen to remember his daughter, do you?"
        "Little Roween? Course I do! Earnest girl, yes, sharp as a point, only person I ever met who swallows books ravenously as I do. Why, you know her?"
        Nonchalant, "Oh, not really, no, don't recall her myself. She's a friend of your cousin's."

* * *

        Later, it occurred to him that Roenna hadn't mentioned Roween's eyes when she'd described her. Probably never even noticed them!

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif56.htm