Elidia made no attempt to disguise her apprehension; if
anything, she exaggerated it. Porett had openly hoped she would rejoice in
the chance to do something exciting for once, different, something no-one
had attempted before. She, however, did not see it quite that way. Anything
not tried, not tested, was intrinsically dangerous. She had no training for
the task ahead, nor did she want it; her only qualifications were that she
was female, and Porett trusted her. At least, that's what he'd said.
She also found the nature of what she was about to do
distasteful. She resented the implied lack of control and she resented the
impassiveness. She did not, however, resent invading Conley's privacy.
"You'd better lie down, make yourself comfortable," Porett
was saying. She was wearing a two-fifty click suit; suits like that have cut,
style, you don't just sprawl over a couch in them, they crease. Porett was
waiting. She removed her jacket, slid off her shoes, reclined.
"Now this isn't going to hurt or anything, but it might be a bit
disorienting at first." He passed her a lathed piece of wood, finger-grips cut
into one side, just slightly longer than the span of his hand. "This is what I
tuned to Conley's click-well. When you hold it tight in one hand and make
a focus with the other, it patches in. Break either the hold or the focus to
patch out. Understand?"
"I understand how to use it, yes, but not what it does. Will I be
able to snap away at any time I choose?"
Porett nodded. "The way it works, you'll be receiving all
Conley's senses, like you were seeing, feeling, hearing them yourself.
You'll also continue to pick up your own senses. Anything you do, it'll be
your body you move, not hers. When you first connect, there'll be a
confusion as your brain tries to react to conflicting signals; just let it wash
over you. Remember, you're lying on a couch in my office, you're not
walking or sitting or whatevering else Conley may be doing, so don't try to
compensate with your body for her actions. Just stay passive, take it all in,
enjoy the ride!"
"I hope you're right about this..."
"Well the half-K of Technologies shares you're getting ought to
sweeten it, either way." She figured his mild agitation was probably due
more to his sharing her worry than to his doubting it, which further
convinced her that her fears were fully justified. "Close your eyes, make a
focus, give it ten seconds, then break."
Elidia focused with her left hand, took the grip in her right. She
squeezed, slowly. She was on horseback, high up. She opened her eyes,
everything was a collage, fading in and out, the mare's head, Porett's face,
the rolling plains. She closed them again, cut off the office scene. Was she
breathing? It felt like it, but had she control? She took a deep breath. She
was rocking back and forth in concert with the motion of the horse, but she
wasn't moving a muscle. She let go of the focus.
She was hyperventilating. Porett was speaking. "You alright?"
She raised her eyelids. Everything fitted again, senses matched
actions. She looked up at her employer. "This isn't going to work,"
* * *
Next time, they were more organised. Elidia had changed into a
loose-fitting silk robe, slackened the ribbon in her hair. Porett provided a
velvet eyeblind that she rested on the bridge of her nose. She wasn't happy
with the arrangement, but at least she knew she could stop any time she
wanted, which made it easier.
She patched in. She was riding, following a muddy road. She
felt giddy, she was falling backwards, but nothing changed, still the road,
did she blink? She smiled, herself, not Conley. This was better than before,
she was getting the measure of it. The double-breathing was awkward; she
tried to match her rhythm to Conley's, but it was difficult. She could
shadow it, but it was hard to throw off awareness of her own lungs. She
felt herself gulping air again, released the connector grip.
"I've an idea," said Porett.
* * *
Elidia wasn't pleased with Porett's suggestion. It meant staying
at the office late; she also suspected his motives. She was going to link to
Conley when Conley would be asleep. That way, there would be no
overwhelming sensory input from either end of the connection, except for
that concerned with breathing. If Elidia could overcome the problem of
dual diaphragm control, she could begin to direct attention to her proper
What worried her this time was the possibility of nightmares.
She did not want to live even a moment of Conley's dreams as if they were
her own reality. Porett wasn't sure whether she would pick them up or not:
the special tag on the click-well could transmit sensations, but not thoughts;
dreams were somewhere in between.
She made the link, broke it seconds later. She hadn't felt
anything, not Conley's breathing, not her bedding, nothing. Porett
hypothesised that the body had some way of cutting off external stimuli
when asleep. Only really strong sensations got through, like loud noises or
pokes in the ribs. She didn't have any better ideas, but neither did she trust
his interpretation of the situation.
It was impossible to learn to conquer double-breathing this way,
* * *
The third day, Elidia was on edge. Porett had temporarily
reassigned Caltra, from Marketing, to her position; she herself was to
devote all her time to this dubious linking magic. Her left hand was giving
her pain from holding it in a focus all the time, and she'd found that once
she'd squeezed the grip into her right then it had to leave completely before
the magic cut out. Vision was easier for her now, and she didn't need the
blindfold any more; if she did open her own eyes, the effect was like
placing an angled mirror in front of one of them - bearable. She was still
having problems breathing.
She was riding, and talking. The other girl was slightly-built,
very scruffy, and with absolutely no dress-sense. She had a streetworn
accent, without much body behind her voice, and she spoke with food in
her mouth. She'd also had some amusing spellwork done to her eyes. Some
men might find it attractive, Elidia surmised, but it looked ridiculous to
"And just because a mage could reproduce an illusory copy of a
painting or a sculpture in a fraction of the time it took to make the original,
why does that invalidate its worth?"
"The skill is in the creation," she - as Conley - replied. "If
anyone can create, it dilutes the overall accomplishment. It becomes
commonplace. In Murak today, to say you can paint is as meaningless as
saying you can breathe." Elidia - as herself - winced.
"There's a distinction between creating and copying. Artists are
trying to say something, to express an opinion, convey an emotion. They're
not merely capturing reality. Why don't people use magic to fashion new
works of art? Why'd they just copy?"
"In a way, we do: spells can be artistic. They're like music, a
series of notes - gestures - strung together in a format which can be pleasing
to others. One mage can find a purity in another's sequences that is so
profound, so crystal, it can overcome you." She sighed. She felt tears
welling up; Conley was remembering such an experience.
"But that contradicts your earlier argument, since any spell-
prover can reproduce it. Mages have an obsession with form over content.
It's not how you do it, it's what you do with it. Why don't you academics
realise that? Why isn't there a single mage who uses their artistic talent for
something that ordinary people can understand? Why waste it on honing
gesture sequences down to optimal lengths?"
"I don't see what you mean. How could - "
"In Vadessa, in the gallery, you looked at the painting of the
girl in the bridal dress. What did you say?"
Elidia was beginning to feel dizzy. She broke the focus.
"I wondered why she looked so sad."
Elidia sat up in panic, throwing the grip in the air. Porett was
"Sorry, Liddy, you were doing so well I didn't want to break
the link just to tell you. I took the liberty of putting an FF between you and
the grip, while you were still able to make a focus."
She was panting. "An FF?"
"Focus fix, it keeps your focus tied to the grip, you can use it
now without having to make a focus at all."
"You did what? You should have told me first! You can't take
advantage of a personal focus like that!" She realised she was losing her
calculated coolness, swiftly reined it back.
"Yes, well I said I was sorry, but the idea just hit me, and it
was the longest you've ever been connected; I thought I'd try it while I
"You've no right," she coughed. "I almost passed out because
"Well don't worry about that any more, I have it sorted now.
We'll use these." He reached over to his desk, pulled out a strip of shots.
"Sleepers, they'll work, I'm certain of it."
She was breathing regularly now. "Tell me one thing, Dr
Porett: why don't you do this yourself, if you're so sure about everything?"
"Would you link to Conley if she was male?"
* * *
"Now keep calm. All you need to find out is who the other girl
is, where they are, and what they're doing. Try and remember as much as
"How long will these sleep shots last? What if something
happens to me while I'm in Conley? I won't be able to drop the grip."
"Three days, tops," he said, unpeeling a shot and placing it on
"Three what?!" She tried to pull it off, but she couldn't; her
arm wouldn't obey her. She was holding a rein in her hand, resting it on
her saddle. They were on the same mud track, riding across the same
Davian plains. She couldn't even feel the wooden grip any more, let alone
She hated every second. She was trapped, her own body cut off
from her mind the same way that Conley's had been when asleep. All she
could do was observe, through someone else's eyes, looking where they
wanted to look, focusing on what they wanted to focus on, all input, no
Her bitterness she directed at Porett. She was angry, very very
angry, that she had been imprisoned in this way. She was an excellent
organiser - Porett Technologies relied on her - and she knew a lot, she
knew the kind of things Magicorp would pay well for. When she was out of
this, Porett was going to suffer, suffer so much.
If she could have cried, she would have.
* * *
"We'll be in Akrea within a couple of hours," the short woman
"I hope they don't have cornfields, I'll go crazy if I see many
more of these," she heard herself reply.
"Didn't used to be like this, it's the rains that fall in the Svalan
hills, the Davians draw water off the river, use it for irrigation."
"What do they do with so much wheat? We've seen enough to
feed all of Davia for ten years."
The other woman forced a smile. "Akrea, Estavia, they've a
much larger population than they can feed, they monopolise the farming
syndicates, just like in our country. It doesn't matter to them whether their
grain comes from Davia, Galur, Soat, so long as they get it cheap, don't
have to give much in return."
"I see," she felt herself nod, "economic rather than military
domination. Take what they want from the lowlife, throw them a few
manufactured goods in return."
"Comes of their being traders at heart. The reason we all speak
Estavian is because when they had an empire they imposed it on us, just for
the sake of trade."
"At least they don't make us pay for using it..."
"In a way, they do. Chaien is much closer than Estavia, yet
because many of the city states reverted to Old Chaienish we hardly trade
with them at all. Estavia, Akrea, they take a lot of our stuff, sell us our
own grain in return, stock their ships full of zipped toys. You'll probably
see more comsphere-2s in Rhiev than you ever did in Cala. And Rhiev isn't
even the capital."
"Why don't they make their own artefacts? Why do they import
ours?" She felt a twinge in her knee as her horse pulled to the right; Conley
brought it back.
"Why should they bother? Why risk using a tool as dangerous
as magic when they completely control the market anyway? Porett and
Magicorp are driven by export orders, that's partly why they're successful.
East/Trad is even owned by an Estavian consortium. The smaller companies
specialise in one area, maybe even one product, and hope to grow one day
like Magicorp did when its binders started selling by the cartload. Some just
make cheap copies or obsolete kit for the home market most light-sets these
days are cooked by smaller outfits with low profit margins."
"Where did you learn all this?" she asked. Elidia wanted to
"Had plenty of time to think, spent long enough in Cala Bay
Town to get to know some people, merchants. How I met Medreph."
"You're full of surprises, Ro..."
* * *
It cost them five clicks to pass through into Akrea. It should
have been four, but Conley had been a little too condescending to the
Elidia was finding the ordeal endurable, but every moment her
displeasure grew. Porett was going to rue what he'd done to her. Conley
had eaten fish in the evening, she hated fish, it tasted ghastly. Conley had
an itch on the back of her hand that she just would not scratch - couldn't
she feel it or something? It was infuriating!
They were in a room in an inn. For some reason, Conley had
asked Ro or whatever her name was whether it was safe to use the click-
well. Did she suspect it was tagged? Ro had given it a nod, anyway.
It was conversation time again. Elidia could do nothing but
listen, remember, plan revenge. She spoke, "Rhiev tomorrow, then?"
"Yes," replied Ro. "It's the nearest city both to the Purasan
states and to Davia. It'll be near where the battle takes place." Battle? What
if Conley were killed?
"Seems unfriendly here; is it just the country folk, or will Rhiev
be like it, too?"
"They don't have country folk in Akrea, well, no peasants,
everyone is educated. They dislike uncultured foreigners at the best of
times, but they'll be very wary of us now. The Messenger hasn't got this
far yet, but he could be crossing the border already for all anyone knows,
so any non-Akrean will be treated as a potential enemy."
"You've been here before? Do you know their customs? Could
we blend in?"
"You'll be fine, long as you don't speak. You're tall and
blonde, so are most Akreans. Me, I'll have to bleach my hair or something,
colour it lighter, they might think I'm younger than I am."
Elidia felt herself falling backwards onto the bed. These sudden
whims of Conley's were really irritating. "How are you going to do that,
then? Tinting magic isn't going to help." Why not? Conley's supposed to be
one of the hottest casters around.
"They go heavy on cosmetics here, I'll buy a bottle of
something, maybe get some powders and pencils, they'll think I've
darkened my eyebrows and lashes." She didn't sound too enthusiastic to
Elidia. Unsurprising - creams and shadows were a chore to apply and a
devil to remove, that's why publishers made so much out of make-up
books; stacked with short illuso-spells provably safe within a 5% margin of
error, even schoolies could use them. Why didn't Ro?
Elidia wondered who would take the bed, but didn't find out.
Conley removed her topcoat. In the pocket was the click-well. For Elidia,
the universe disappeared.
She was unable to see, hear, feel anything. No background
smells, noises, no faint murmur of a heartbeat. She was just a
consciousness in emptiness, independent, unconnected to anything else. She
knew nothing of movement, there was nothing to move, she was blind in
every sense. Perhaps sleep was always like this? Perhaps when she awoke,
she would forget it, as people lose memory of their dreams?
* * *
She had no awareness of how long it lasted, a moment or two,
an hour? But she was sitting up, the room swimming into view, Porett
slapping her face, her hair tumbling down over her eyes. She was laughing,
or was it crying? Laughing, and more the harder Porett hit her. Panic
gripped her, she couldn't stop, nothing made sense any more, it was so
funny, so frightening, she was shaking as the tears flew with every slap. He
pulled something from a paper strip, pressed it to her temple. The serenity
of sleep closed in.
* * *
She opened an eye. Porett was dozing in a corner. She was still
on the couch. Every muscle ached, stiff. What time was it? What day? She
propped herself up on an elbow, swung her feet to the carpet, tried to
stand, fell. She felt so weak. Her throat was dry. She wanted to go back to
Porett was kneeling beside her. "Liddy? You alright?" He
cradled stroked her hair.
"Bastard," she spat, lapsed into unconsciousness.