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'I'm sorry,' Constantine says, 'but there's no time for lessons today. I
have .. .' he pauses to search for a word, 'a conference. But tomorrow, I will
send Mr Martinus at the usual time.'
Tick tick tick . .. Telia's child clicks back and forth in his automated
swing, each clack of the gears pacing off another torpid moment to the end of
the shift.
'Tell me about him,' Telia says. It's a slow period, with few calls on
Aiah's computer. There's something wrong with the air circulation again, and
Aiah's windowless office is hot and close and smells strongly of the sleeping
baby's diapers. Aiah spends her spare time reading, a text on plasm theory,
while Telia works puzzles and talks with friends on the phone.
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'Who?' Aiah asks absently, and her eyes turn to the picture of Gil in its
wetsilver frame. She feels a pang in her heart - though not, perhaps, the
usual pang.
'The man who picks you up after work. In the big car.' Telia smiles. 'Are you
doing a little stepping out? I wouldn't blame you, the way Gil treats you.'
'Gil treats me perfectly well,' Aiah says automatically. 'It's not his fault
he's away.'
'Who is he?' Telia's white smile is relentless. 'Gelen from Tasking says that
he's a Barkazil.'
Who? Aiah wants to ask, not having heard of Gelen from Tasking till this
minute. Not that it matters - Telia's network of friends in the Authority is
complex beyond comprehension.
'He's not a Barkazil,' Aiah says, 'he's Cheloki.'
'Is he rich?' Telia asks. 'He must be, to drive an Elton. You're dressing
better, I've noticed.'
Aiah fluffs an annoyed hand through her chin-lace. Two suits, she thinks, a
pair of shoes, and now she's a kept woman.
She wonders what Telia would say if she'd come to work wearing the diamond
necklace.
Tick tick tick. The swing marks off the seconds to Aiah's answer.
'The man Gelen saw is the car's driver, not its owner,' she says carefully,
knowing that Gelen and every other correspondent of Telia's are going to be
retailing this over the entire Authority building in the next few hours.
Telia's gray eyes glitter. 'I'm impressed.'
'It's work,' Aiah says. 'It's a consulting job I've taken to make ends meet.'
'Oh.'
'And I haven't asked the Authority's permission, so I'd appreciate
discretion.'
'Ah.'
'And he's married. Well, good as.'
Telia digests this for a moment. 'What does Gil say about it?' she asks
finally.
i haven't spoken to him since I started.'
'Ah.'
'But,' stubbornly, and feeling heat creep up her neck, 'I don't see why he'd
care.'
'But this man's rich, that you're working for?' Telia leans across the table.
'I believe he is.' Amusement twitches the corners of Aiah's mouth. 'Though he
seems to enjoy complaining about money.'
'Some rich people are like that,' Telia says.
Aiah looks at her. 'How many rich people do you know?'
'Really rich? Well. ..'
'He's rich enough so that he doesn't have to count his clinks. But he does,
because being rich is still a game with rules, and not being taken advantage
of is one of them. I think.' She knits her brows, i think that's how it
works.'
'And what does he want you to do for all these clinks he's paying you?'
Aiah laughs. 'God knows. Nothing he couldn't do himself, if he wanted to.'
'And is he happy with his wife, or'whatever she is?'
'Personal assistant.'
Telia laughs. 'Personal assistant!' She shakes her head. 'How are they getting
along?'
'I believe they are not in agreement.'
'Girl!' Telia claps her hands. 'Wake up! You can have him!'
Aiah laughs, shakes her head, dismissively slides the pads of her fingers
across the surface of her scarred metal desk. 'I don't think so.'
'Well  what if you can? What are you going to do about it?'
Take all the money I can, she thinks. He's my passu, damn it.
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By far the safest course.
'Either it will occur to him or it won't,' Aiah says. 'I think what happened
is that it occurred to him and he decided not.'
Telia looks a little disdainful. 'Takes the pressure off you, then. But I
still think you should try something.'
'Sorry to disappoint you.'
'You'll tell me if anything happens, won't you?'
Tick tick tick . ..
Aiah looks at Telia out of the corner of her eye, and as the seconds click by
it occurs to her, a Barkazil notion, that there is more than one kind of
passu.
'Of course,' she says. 'I'll tell you everything.' Aiah say's goodbye to
Martinus, steps out of the Elton, and heads toward the Loeno lobby. Plasm
seems to buoy her every step. Her senses dance to the scent of the fresh
northeasterly wind that has blown away the previous day's clouds, the
aftertaste of wine on her tongue, the astringent scent of the potted
chrysanthemums that line the path to the door.
She's just finished a lesson with Constantine. They had concentrated on
telepresence technique, invoking and using the sensorium, the battery of
sensory perceptions carried from place to place by the anima, the telepresent
plasm-body that can be made to fly from place to place, independent of matter.
Aiah concluded the lesson with her senses refreshed, hyper-sensitive; the
usual wine, fruit and cheese that waited for her in the car seems ecstatic in
its power to delight her palate.
Here on the cusp between service and sleep shift, when few people are awake,
Aiah meets no one on her route to the elevator. When she reaches the apartment
she can hear, through the door, a voice, and she recognizes Gil's tones
grating from the speaker of her message system.
As soon as the bolt slams back Aiah pushes the door open and dashes for the
communications array, hand outstretched to snatch up the headset.
'Da? Hello?' Clapping one earpiece to her ear.
'Aiah?'
'I just stepped through the door. I'm glad I caught you.'
Aiah settles the headset in place, then maneuvers backwards to the limits of
the cord, catches the door with her heel, swings it shut.
'Where have you been?' Gil asks. 'I've been calling every second shift for
days. I was starting to get worried.'
'Let me stop and catch my breath,' Aiah says. 'I was so afraid you'd hang up.'
'I was beginning to think I should call your sister or something and find out
if you were all right.' 'Nothing's wrong. I've been working  I've taken on a
consulting job to help pay our debts.'
'Consulting? Who for?'
'I'll tell you when I see you. It's too long a story to waste telephone
charges on.'
And besides, she hasn't worked out what to tell him. It might be dangerous
even to breathe Constantine's name over the telephone.
'Well, you won't have to keep the job for long,' Gil says. 'The company's
finally reimbursed some of my expenses  a lot of the entertainment, and the
bed money thing. Hillel went to headquarters in Jaspeer and took care of it
personally.'
'That's good.'
'So I'll be sending you a cashgram for eight hundred tomorrow.'
'Thank you,' she says. 'That will be useful.'
There is a little hesitation on Gil's end of the line. Aiah knows that pause,
knows the little creases between Gil's brows that deepen when he pauses to
think.
'You don't sound precisely overjoyed,' he says.
Two weeks ago, Aiah thinks, she'd have fallen on her knees and thanked the
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immortals for that money. But now it's redundant, and she can't tell her lover
why. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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