Adijine watched as the guard commander’s gaze curved above his King, then around him, then resumed its slow sweep.
Adijine had hoped to find the man day-dreaming, but the guard commander wasn’t thinking of anything at all; he was on automatic pilot, watching, listening, being professional. He did day-dream, very occasionally (it would have been suspicious in the extreme had he never done so) but he wasn’t at the moment. Adijine switched again.
The colonel-in-chief of the Security services was herself remoting into another mind, watching a meeting of clan Cryptography chief programmers through the mind of one who was trying to suppress thoughts of republicanism and revolution. Utterly boring. The colonel-in-chief had a robust, healthy and inventive sex-life and Adijine had spent many a happy hour with her and her partners, but everything seemed to be strictly business right now.
His private secretary was receiving details of a conversation his construct had just had with the shade of the late Count Sessine. Oh yes, thought the King; poor Count Sessine. He’d always felt a certain empathy with Sessine. The private secretary was eating lunch at the same time; anchovy salad. The King detested anchovies rather more than his private secretary adored them, and so switched again.
His seneschal was surveying the zeteticist team monitoring the Chapel usurper party for stray noetic radiations. Boring
His current favourite courtesan was remoting into the mind of a mathematician contemplating an elegant proof - the court retained many mathematicians, philosophers and aesthetes to provide this sort of vicarious epiphany - but Adijine found the third-hand experience less than absorbing.
How frustrating to attempt to pry on people only to discover they were in turn spying on others.
He checked that the ursine ambassadorial emissary was still talking (he was, and the King allowed himself a pre-emptive gloat at how the emissary was going to feel when the bomb workings in the fifth-level south-western solar came on line and he realised that this entire negotiation was just a matérielly inexpensive exercise in time-wasting), then the King dipped into minds elsewhere in Serehfa; a peruker in a tower-roof terrace-town, crouched over her latest extravagant creation; a cliometrician carrelled half-asleep in a bartizan high on the east fifth level; a moirologist petitioning in the sacristy of the northern upper chapel; a funambulist reaping babilia on the pyramid spur of a shell-wall tower.
He checked on his spyers, clinging to ledges and lintels, shivering on shingles and cinquefoils, hooked and netted under hoardings and machicolations or just crawling like half-frozen fleas through the gelid vertical forest of hi-alt babilia while they watched the lofty, cold, snowy slopes and plains of the high castle for enemy movement, or just something interesting ... Another one dead on the tenth-level northern pentice; the spyer-master Yastle insisted acclimatised men could survive at ten thousand metres, but the poor devils kept proving him wrong
... A faller from the seventh level butry gable . . . One watching the black smoke drift inside the white, a tiny snow-scene within the cold cauldron of the Southern Volcano Room . . . One on the south side of the octal tower, snow-blinded and raving . . . Another in a mullion of the seventh-level western clerestory, holding his black, frostbitten fingers up in front of his face, crying, knowing that he would never get down now. Little wonder people thought spyers must be mad. Less dangerous to be a spy.
He examined the view from a few ordinary static cameras and avians; they’d been losing a few of those recently to real birds. Some blip in the crypt’s faunastatus, possibly caused by the workings in the L5 SW solar, the Cryptographers said; they were sorting it out.
He looked in on the Palace Astronomical Observatory; they had instruments watching the sun. Radiation was ninety-one per cent of normal; still falling slowly and still decreasing more steeply in the IR-end of the spectrum. Boring and depressing.
He cast his regard further afield, and was briefly in the mind of a scrape-scrounge haunting the quiet ruins of Manhattan, then looked through the eyes of a wild chimeric condor, high above the southern Andes, then in the mind of a young woman surfing at dawn off New Sealand, before becoming part of a chimeric triple-mind within a sounding hump-back in mid-Pacific, then joining a chanting priestess in some midnight temple in Singapore, followed by a drunken night-guard at an ovitronics plant in Tashkent, an insomniac agronometricist in Arabie, a spanceled Resiler preaching unheeded in the smoky chaos of a traumkeller in old Prag, and finally a sleepy balloonist descending through the dusk above Tammanrusset.
All very mind-broadening, but still . . . ah; the Army colonel-to-the-court was thinking about his new mistress. This was more like it.
... Sessine’s wife!
Now, wasn’t that a coincidence?
You must have thought seven, in the context of having used up seven out of your eight incrypted lives. Unless you are here for the trivial reason that you have been very careless with those lives, I assume you’re in trouble and under direct - and directed - threat.
So you’re here, in the place you prepared for yourself a long time ago, in case. You’re safest staying in the room, where everything works the way it would in reality. Using the screen may be risky, leaving certainly is. You’re in the crypt’s crustal basement, the last sane level before the chaos.
If you know of anybody who remains loyal to you back in the mortal world, you can try to contact them on the screen; it’s a brand new address, never been format-collapsed, so the first call is safe. The rest can’t be guaranteed.
If you think it’s safe to sit and wait to be rescued, look inside the bedside cabinet; there’s a book, a phial and a pistol. The book contains a general library, the phial will make you sleep until somebody comes to get you and the pistol will work on others within the confines of the room.
If you’re going to leave, head west from here - that’s away from the ocean tunnel, which is the direction the room’s window faces - until you reach the walls and then turn left and walk until you reach the spill-sluice; take the steps up. There’s a smoking-tavern called the Half-way House. The hopfgeist is friendly. I hope you never did tell anybody your most-secret code, or forget it. Or change it.
Remember that if you do leave this room, or transmit more than once from it, you are vulnerable, and that if you communicate openly with the crypt you will betray both your identity and location. You can ask information of other constructs you can trust, and you can move within the crypt. That is all.
You are an outlaw now, my friend; a fugitive.
I am - that is, you are - setting all this up in direct-link just after a snort of Oblivion, so if it works - worked - you may remember once waking up on the floor of your study on a Wednesday evening with a head-full of nothing, wondering what possessed you to take that stuff. And if anything goes wrong, that’s because you were drunk when you had the idea. I’m drunk now but I feel fine, in here. Anyway, Alandre; best of luck. I’ll be with you all the way.
Sessine folded the sheet of paper and tore it into little strips, slowly and carefully, thinking.
He was in the level of the crypt just above the chaotic regions, where - apparently perversely - things worked much more according to the rules of the real world than they did elsewhere in the corpus. Throw yourself off a roof here and you wouldn’t be able to decide suddenly to fly; you’d hit the ground and die. Here, knowing how literally things worked, it was difficult to make the kind of mistake that might lead one to enter the crypt’s chaotic regions accidentally; it was the last safeguard the system provided.
He wasn’t sure what to do with the sheet of paper he’d just read, so he shrugged to himself and imagined it gone, but of course it didn’t go. He ate one of the strips but it tasted bitter and he felt foolish. He shook his head and put the paper scraps in one pocket of his jacket.
He looked at himself in the bedroom mirror. He was wearing ... he tried to instigate a search but that, too, didn’t work, so he had to resort to a laborious shuffle through his own memory ... Grief, what did you call this stuff? And this stuff? A lifeless, ill-fitting, creased blue shirt, a jacket of ... tartan? plaid? and the trous ... Nimes, de Nimes ... neams? Geams? Something like that.
Awful stuff; the shirt felt scratchy, the jacket had great hairy bits of fabric sticking out from it like mussed hair and the geams had enormous, crude, visible stitches. Late twentieth-century corporate dress would have been his choice, but then maybe that was what people would be looking for, if they were still looking for him.
He inspected the bedside cabinet. The items his note to himself had listed were indeed there. He hefted the pistol; an ancient automatic projectile weapon. It wasn’t supposed to work outside the room. He put it down the back of his trousers anyway. He took the little glass phial, too.
He went to the screen. He thought of calling his wife but she was probably still busy fornicating. He was reasonably certain she had started seeing some courtier recently and round about now had always been her favourite time of day for sex. He hadn’t bothered trying to find out who the fellow was; it was her business.
He smiled regretfully, thinking of his own latest affair. A girl in the air corps, keen on skiing and ancient flying machines; long red hair and a wicked laugh.
Never again, he thought. Never again.
Well, he could be her incubus, of course, but it would never be quite the same.
Perhaps if he appeared to her in the guise of an antique airman . . .
... Anyway, he would call Nifel, the clan Security chief; the man was ferociously efficient and he felt they had become friends over the years. Probably never have got into this mess if Nifel had been in charge; trust the Army. Nifel; just the man, Sessine thought. He turned the screen on, sound only.
‘Nifel, Mika; officer clan Aerospace, Serehfa.’
‘Count. We have heard. Commander Nifel is shocked and saddened. He—’
‘Really? How unoriginal of him.’
‘Indeed, sir. He wishes to know why you did not want the in-crypt support systems instigated around your data-set.’
‘But I do,’ Sessine told the construct, and felt fear. ‘I always did. Kindly institute them immediately and tell Nifel the Army may be behind all this; Army intelligence, especially. I am down to my last life in here and whoever killed me the other seven times comes very well-equipped, very well-informed and with the ability to intercept calls from the crypt to specific Army high staff.’
‘I shall inform Commander Nifel—’
‘Never mind informing him; first get those support systems running and give me some back-up down here.’
‘It is being done.’ There was a pause. ‘What is your location, sir?’
‘I’m in . . .’ Sessine hesitated, then smiled. He had died eight times today; seven of them in the space of about a tenth of a second, real time. He was becoming cagey at last. ‘First,’ he said, ‘complete this phrase, if you will: Aequitas
sequitur . . .’
‘Thank you,’ Sessine said.
‘. . . your location, sir?’
‘I beg your pardon. Of course. I am near the representation of a place called Kittyhawk, North Carolina, North America.’
‘Thank you, sir. Commander Nifel, on your instructions—’
‘Would you excuse me for a moment?’
He switched the machine off and sat on the bed for a moment, his head in his hands.
So there was nowhere in the real world to turn.
Aequitas sequitur funera
had been the more mordant version of the saying he and Nifel had settled on.
He stood, looked once around the room, then opened the door and left. The gun’s bulk simply vanished from the small of his back as soon as he crossed the threshold. He paused.
Well now, he thought, for the duration of these real days I am like the ancients used to be; restricted to one careful life in a time of danger. Every instant might be his last, and the only memories he could access were those in his own mind.
Nevertheless, he told himself, he was still better off than those of purely mortal ages; he could hope that he would wake up again after his funeral, and rejoin the universe of the crypt for at least a little of eternity. Somehow, though, given the ferocity and apparent profundity of the forces ranged against him, he doubted that was really likely, and suspected he was indeed on his own, with one slim chance of survival.
, he thought, and smiled, amused at his fall from power and grace.
He wondered anew how the ancients had endured such fragility and ignorance, then shrugged, closed the door and walked down the dim, deserted corridor.
Aequitas sequitur funera.
Justice follows the grave, not the law.