Chapter 60 Hat

        If Porett had so desired, he could have stolen everything stowed within the box on Idric's ship. A few gestures, and the contents of the two containers would have exchanged, he'd have been able to take whatever he chose. Transporting goods quickly across large distances had been the primary goal of the Trans/Disc project - faster and safer than traditional methods. Unfortunately, the necessary enchantments were very expensive to produce, with a final post-optimisation figure of just under one megagesture per unit. His labs were working on a new model with an overall red bias, as opposed to the green of his present system; that might get the total down to 700K or so, but actual transmission would need a day's worth of flicking for every use. For the existing boxes, it took only a minute. Different views of gesture-efficiency... Either way, one Trans/Disc module would still retail at more than Idric's entire ship, spice cargo and all.
        He'd been hoping to make the first exchange before lunch, but had been delayed: the second box hadn't cleared customs in Trilith as quickly as he'd intended. Just bad luck, Ansle wouldn't suspect anything - he was tracking two mock-up copies of the boxes left back in Cala, identical to the originals in every detail except for being completely non- functioning. Well, almost completely: if someone cast the gestures on one to initiate an exchange, it would cause colour loss and a nice big bang instead. Porett had upped his insurance cover, of course - might as well get something back if it did pop.
        The afternoon's trip was going to be a fact-finding exercise. He hadn't decided whether to recruit his mercenaries in Murak (where they were plentiful but distant), in the former democracies (which would be quicker, but everyone was an army deserter) or in the Lowlands (if they had any pay-soldiers at all). His main Seesel contact, Lauss Wineman, was certain that people could be found, but he had a rather lax attitude to life, and either suffered from a congenital smile or was happied out on fuzzy- dust all the time.
        He tapped his com-3. "Talk time," he said, the phrase he now used as proof of identity to his captive persona.
        His other self looked up. "Just finished speaking to Penderley, there's a grad at the Academy, Thorewt or something, he'll join the team but wants his doctorate first. Maybe six months, he's writing up."
        "He'll replace Vyval fully?"
        "Yes, better in a way, less of a theoretician, likes to cut. I offered him 15K a year, he'll take it, 5K more than he can hope to take lecturing, and he's too specialised for much else."
        He nodded. "Good. Any ideas yet on self-linking?"
        The image shrugged.
        Porett smiled; it still amused him how his second soul echoed his movements perfectly, every nuance. No great revelation, though, seeing himself as others did; he was just how he'd always expected he would be, really. "Well I have had a few thoughts myself; I don't think it'll take much, just need to find someone we can trust to fix my focus."
        "Anyone come to mind?"
        "Why I tapped in. Have you heard from Roenna?"
        "Ro?" He smiled, slowly. "Yes, she'd do it, wouldn't she? We can trust her, fine, and she's not an employee so we could tell her the details. She might even throw a few ideas."
        "So she hasn't called in, then? About the translation?"
        "Bit early for her, especially if she was working late. I can try her sphere, see if she's with us yet?"
        "Why not? Speak to you soon." He tapped out.

* * *

        She answered after three or four flashes, awake and about, near her com-1. Porett couldn't tell if she'd been up long - her hair was a total mess, but then it was always like that. He spotted the shot on her temple, worn label, one she'd cooked herself from a spent Evergreen. Naughty girl, Roenna, time to snap into reality... Cheerfully, "Morning, Ro, how'd it go last night?"
        "Hello, Topper," she grinned, eyes half-closed, her head continually making tiny movements in all directions. "Wait a tiny-winey," her voice was almost musical, "I'll just... nearly finished anyway..." She peeled off the shot, took a deep breath, quickly. "Gods, those are strong!"
        "Still flicking your own, Ro?" He'd liked it at first that she'd changed so little since their student days, yet why did her old habit bother him now? He must be pruding up! Or maybe he'd always disapproved?
        "Celebrating, Topper, your Chaienish girl's a smarty! We both went into cut mode, zipped through the book real quick, finished about three thirty." She looked over her shoulder, down, Porett couldn't see exactly where. "She's still snoozing, I think the happy was too much for her."
        He widened his eyes. "You gave her one of your specials?"
        "She asked! Said it would relax us. Don't think she's used to them though, are you Tulip?" She glanced low to her right again.
        "What did the book say?"
        "Oh, she'll do a full translation for you over the next four weeks, maybe five. It'd be quicker, but she can't control those East/Trad lenses you sent, without me it takes her a good half hour to focus on the next page."
        "Well if you'd talked Athur Sage into taking off the seal..."
        "I told you, Topper, he doesn't know the sequence, he did it random. He was real sorry, but he screwed it deliberate, so's he couldn't remove it, ever. I told you!" She looked hurt.
        He felt guilty. "Yes, well, sorry Ro, I didn't mean to dig at you. So what did you learn, anyway?"
        She grinned again, eyebrows kicking up. "Right, well, it's a book on Chaienish magic, as practised many Kyears ago. Makes some pretty wild claims, what theory there is sounds wackers to me, all develops from this premise that there's no limit to what magic can do. Wish they'd demonstrated the idea, made the text self-translating or something!" She chuckled.
        "How did their magic cut? They didn't have gestures..."
        "No gestures, that's right, same as they still do it in Chaien today. Some dollop of a priest kills a goat, and before you know it there are daisies growing out of your eyebrows. There's a ceremony beforehand, course, and a lot of chanting, moan moan moan, droning on about what it is they want the gods to grant them. According to the book, about the only thing they won't ever get is the goat back to life."
        "So when you say `anything', you mean the range of possible spells is the same as with our gesture magic, but the processes of casting and proving are less well-defined?"
        "I mean..." She stopped, blinked a few times. "Sorry, Topper, where was I? Think I took off my shot too quick." She rubbed her temple, screwed up her face, pouted. "Ah! Remembered! Range! Well, that's the interesting bit! Although they don't really know how to ask for things in such a way as to get exactly what they want - as faced by what the gods decide to give them - our book assumes that sooner or later they'll crack that minor obstacle, and that then they can pull pretty much anything. Course, the author was a bitty-witty optimistic, they still have exactly the same probblies in working new spells today, but if anyone ever does find out where they're doing it wrong, this book will be ready for them!"
        Porett tightened his pony tail, not that he needed to in the com-3, just something he sometimes did when he was thinking. "Sorry, Ro, still don't see where this gets us. If they could formalise their casting, their system would at best be equal in power to ours, just with phrases instead of gestures. Perhaps more expressive, but paid for by harder proofs."
        "Well that's where it gets real real real interesting! In the book, they have no idea of any limits to magic, so it's an axiom that when they do get to work spells as advertised, they'll be able to cut anything at all with them - and that includes changing how magic itself functions. A zinger, isn't it?"
        His eyes were wide. "They what? But that's ridiculous! If that happened, they might crumple it up for everyone!"
        "Yes, they say that too, so they go into lots of possibilities, think of all these cloudhead magic schemes that might build in some robustness, stop people from misusing it, so on. Really brambly, tied in knots so tight you wonder whether the author spent too long in a mirrorhall. I'm going to have to read it again". There was a moan from the floor behind her, she frowned at its source. "Dearie here is coming to, expect she'll want me to explain things to her, what she's called, where she is, little things..."
        "I'll let you get on then, Ro, thanks for our chat, might call you later about coming up to Trilith. Oh, last thing, what did the book conclude in the end?"
        "Pointless, really, it couldn't see a solution, dooms us to much nothingness. Spooky, had me worried, hope it never cuts."
        "If it does?"
        She frowned. "Not pretty, there might be something fancy could be done, but my guts tell me the only answer would be use it to turn off magic for keeps. Drastic, hey? Can you imagine?" She shuddered, exaggeratedly.
        Porett was already imagining.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif60.htm