"No, you still look the same."
"Never mind, it's sort of handy I guess, I can make calls from
in here and people will see my regular face, not the illusion."
"These clothes are wrong, though, I'll have to change and
merge again if we want it perfect."
* * *
That merge troubled him. Not the actual co-mingling of his two
personae, no, he was used to that; it was the thoughts and knowledge he'd
acquired in the interim, which had been hard to reconcile in the part of his
mind that wasn't expecting them. Half your head thinking of one thing, half
another; well, it took a couple of minutes to unscramble yourself.
A quick chat with Harbian, the designer/analyst that Farmer had
sent to perform the image-change, confirmed his suspicions. Yes, it was
indeed possible, Magicorp likely could snoop on colourboards. If they had
the sequences for flat-screen comms units, the odds were that they came out
of colourboard technology, and could therefore easily be grafted onto the
originals. All Magicorp need do would be send in a mage to gesture for an
hour, maybe two, and the chosen colourboard would become a transmitter.
Anything written on it, it'd pop out copied on a receiving plate. Life and
damn! How long had they been able to do that? Which boards in Porett
Technologies were tapped? Thanks be, at least they couldn't do it without
getting close to the target.
He fingered the small, glass vial in his pocket. Did they know
anything about this? Did they have an antidote?
* * *
Malva seemed faintly surprised that he'd arrived on time. She
nevertheless smiled her usual expressionless smile. "Ready?"
He walked towards the door. "Just about. You can have them
load up the box now."
She was looking at his face, eyebrows gradually trenching.
"That's rather good. Still recognisably you, but subtle changes. Eyes
slightly closer, skin a lot fairer, hair lighter and with an orangey tint if you
catch it right. Straighter, too, less wavy."
"I should pass for an Elet at range, I think."
A couple of her team that she'd brought along crossed quietly
over to the tower staircase. Casually, she led Porett outside, thumbs in her
belt. "So why can't we all have the same level of protection as you?"
"Illusions? They require fifteen minutes gesturing each day
maintenance; since I'm the only mage, that means I'm the only person who
gets to wear one."
"That's another thing: why no more magicians?"
He twinged a frown at the archaic term. "The nature of the
information I seek is such that I don't wish other trained magic-users to
discover it. Don't worry, though, we have crates of zip with us, plenty
enough to see off the odd Elet marauder, or even an army of them."
"Let's hope they allow us chance to use some of it..."
"If not, we still have the transfer box, we can bring in
reinforcements from Trilith."
"Be nice if I could pick them myself, not rely on your agent."
"Well we don't have the time, sorry, you'll just have to trust
him. He's the best, though, you know that much."
"He has a certain reputation." They passed another Lowlander
temple, now a small, indoor market. "Our horses are stabled round this
corner. If yours is to your satisfaction, we can set off pretty well
* * *
The second scout returned, reported much the same as the first:
the cloud that Justan had despatched over the Cold Sea was rolling back to
land, and fast; within six hours' ride, there existed three tenable roads
leading up to the plateau, and none of them had obvious guards; there were
many, many Elets in view, scurrying around like beetles, but scant sign of
a single, large force; no Elets had yet descended into the Lowlands.
Porett looked up at the tall, greystone cliffs. He could see
people, some moving, some just watching. Were they deliberately leaving
the way up clear, hoping to throw a net round his mercs? They'd be in for a
fight if they did...
He checked his sound-set, it was still in place. If you knew to
look in his ear, you could see it, but it wasn't obvious. Discreet, yet
powerful enough to pick up footsteps at a hundred paces. He flicked back
the loose hair from his face, annoyed he couldn't tail it up. He'd be lucky if
he ever got more than a hundred paces from anyone in Elet, not if it was as
crowded as it appeared to be from here.
"The plan is," Malva told him, "we ignore the first route in,
and make camp at the base of the second. Two hours after midnight, we
double back and enter Elet the first way."
"Anything noisy we're carrying we'll send back to Trilith until
we're safely across the border. Otherwise, good plan, we'll use it."