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Finding Sajessarian

Sigbart Sajessarian came to me with an unusual request.

"I want you to find me," he said. He offered a substantial fee.

"There you are," I said, gesturing to where his slim figure reposed upon the visitor's divan in my workroom. "I could never accept such handsome remuneration for so brief an assignment. What do you say we waive it altogether?"

A short but deep vertical shadow appeared between Sajessarian's eyebrows and the skin over his cheeks tightened. I recognized the signs of irritation and was reminded of a recent discussion with the integrator that I had assembled to be my research assistant.

"My wit is often not appreciated by my clients," I had said. "Perhaps it is too subtle."

"Perhaps it is because they come to you in direst need, with weighty matters of life or security hanging by frayed and slender threads," the device said. "That would not lead them to expect facetious banter, nor to welcome its appearance."

I conceded the point. "Still," I said, "a few well-chosen words can lighten the mood."

"Providing they are indeed well chosen," it said, "the test of which would be the client's answering smile or chuckle. But when the reaction is a scowl or blank incomprehension, one might conclude that the witticism is ill placed."

I made a gesture to indicate the inconsequentiality of our discussion. "Some people are impervious to the subtler forms of humor."

"That must be a comforting thought," the integrator said.

Not for the first time, I made a mental note to review my assistant's cognitive architecture. The better grade of integrators were expected to evolve and complexify themselves, and I knew that I had installed a disputatious element in this one's reflective and evaluative functions. But I was beginning to wonder if the components had lapsed out of balance.

I decided I would schedule a full review for the earliest convenient moment, but when that moment might arrive was difficult to foresee. I was, after all, Henghis Hapthorn, Old Earth's most eminent freelance discriminator, and thus in constant demand. Currently I was conducting six discriminations, five involving cases that had baffled the best sleuths of the Archonate's renowned Bureau of Scrutiny. The other concerned an attempt to extort funds and favors from Ogram Fillanny. He was an immensely wealthy member of Olkney's mercantile class who delighted in certain discreditable, juvenile pastimes which could harm only himself—and even then, only if he indulged to gross excess—but were nonetheless unlikely to win him widespread acclaim.

And then in the midst of it all, Sigbart Sajessarian appeared at my premises and requested that I find him. "Perhaps my levity was ill timed," I said, and saw the dark line between his brows fade to a mere crease. "Please tell me more."

He rose from the divan and began to stroll about the workroom in an abstracted manner. "I am, as I'm sure you know, something of an adventurer," he said.

"Indeed," I replied. In truth, I knew that he was a skilled blackmailer and purloiner and that he would probably have poisoned public wells if he could have gained a grimlet from it, but my saying so at this juncture would truncate our conversation before I could find out where it might lead. And I was curious, so I said, "Indeed," a second time.

"I am engaged," he went on, "in an affair which may outrage certain well-placed parties for a span of time. If they should lay hold of me before the situation matures . . ." He spread his hands in a motion that invited me to imagine the consequences.

"You wish to remain out of circulation until hot blood has cooled," I said.

"The cold-blooded are more easily reasoned with," he confirmed. "But even during the hot-blooded phase that will naturally follow my intended operation, the aggrieved parties will have the sense to hire the best possible aid in locating me."

I saw where he was going. "Ah," I said, touching a palm to my breast.

"Yes," he said, "they might well send you to find me."

"And you wish to conduct a dry run to see if the course of evasion you have planned will defeat my efforts to uncover your lair."

"Only within the period when I am in danger. I am sure that I could not escape you forever."

He was a practiced flatterer, I knew. But he was also correct.

"I cannot be an accomplice to illegality," I said.

His narrow shoulders rose and fell in a languid shrug. "I believe the more appropriate term is immorality."

"Make your distinction clear."

"Let us say that immorality is a world and illegality but one of its continents, albeit a broad one containing many distinct and fascinating landscapes." He half-smiled to himself at some inner conceit. "What I plan to do would fit on an island well offshore."

"Hmm," I said. "I require more detail."

He steepled his fingertips together and thought for a moment, then said, "On behalf of one group of eminent persons I intend to discomfit a member of another group. I can assure you that there will be no loss of life, blood or wealth, though a reputation will be deservedly diminished."

"Indeed," I said again. This had the odor of an affair among Olkney's decadent aristocracy who, possessing every luxury that Old Earth might offer, chose to salt and season their otherwise placid existence by competing against each other for shaved minims of prestige and precedence. Players at these social games would mount the most elaborate conspiracies whose only ends were that the victim would not be asked to Lady Whatsoever's spring cotillion or would be seated one chair farther down from the Duke at dinner.

To keep their fingers unsoiled and unscorched, lordly rivals often hired others to perform the mechanics of the plots. From time to time I received delicate approaches from magnates and aristocrats seeking to enlist me in their schemes. I invariably declined. Creatures like Sajessarian made fortunes by accepting.

"I will take the case," I said. "How long a head start will you require?"

"If you would begin to seek for me three days from now, I will have laid my false trails and blind alleys."

"And how long do you need to remain unfound?"

"Let us say three days for that as well."

"Done," I said.

During the ensuing three days I concluded Ogram Fillanny's business and advanced the progress of three other outstanding cases. I could have achieved more but I will admit that I was distracted by a new pursuit: the being who visited me occasionally from an adjacent dimension had introduced me to a new game which I found fascinating. It irked me slightly that I could not refer to either the game or my visitor by a name, but symbol and being were so inextricably mixed in his continuum that voicing the one materially affected the other. Doing so in my universe would have catastrophic results.

For my own purposes, I had taken to calling the game Will. Its playing pieces were semi-sentient entities that could carry out complex strategies in three dimensions over time if motivated to do so by a focused expenditure of the player's mental energy. The rules were fairly easy to master but the inherent variability of the playing area—one could not call it merely a board—allowed for intricate maneuvers to develop from simple beginnings once one grasped the rhythms by which play ebbed and flowed.

It had taken me a little while, under my opponent's guidance, to develop the faculty of focusing my thoughts on the pieces, especially how to contemplate a move without causing it to happen before I had definitely decided that that was what I wanted the pieces to do. Now, however, I had achieved what my partner called a modest but promising ability. A few more games, each one followed by a thorough digesting of my defeat at his hands—I use the expression loosely; they were more like the claws a bear would have if a bear were a species of insect—and he promised that I would approximate a good opponent.

I tended to ponder long over each move, whereas he made his with an alacrity that at first frustrated me. In our latest match, however, he had lingered in the portal, which gave him limited access to this continuum, assessing the deployment of my pieces for quite some time.

Finally, he said, "You have divided your forces."

"Indeed," I said, exerting the mild effort that kept the pieces where I had willed them.

"What do you think that will achieve?"

"It would be premature to say," I said. "It is your move."

The shifting colors and shapes that filled the portal assumed an orientation that I had come to recognize as his equivalent of a frown of concentration. "Take your time," I added.

He emitted a noise that combined a thoughtful hmm with a rumbling growl and reformed his reserves while launching a cloud of what I called fast-darters into the middle-middle of the playing area. His plods—that is how I thought of the slower, larger pieces—moved heavily in formation into the lower-forefront, waited while the terrain exhibited one of its regular oscillations, then rotated and inched forward once more before stopping at a barrier that emerged from the "ground." The plods then changed color to become two shades lighter.

"Hmm," I said, and looked thoughtful, although his move was almost exactly how I had expected him to respond to mine.

"I shall return when you are ready to make your next disposition," he said.

"It may be a while," I told him. "I am about to pursue a discrimination that will almost certainly require me to leave these premises. I may even have to go offworld." I told him briefly about the impending search for Sigbart Sajessarian.

"If you wish," he said, "I can tell you where he is, now or at any moment in his lifespan." His access to this realm was limited but his perspection of some aspects of it was limitless.

I did not wish him to do so. "We have discussed this," I said. "I value you most highly as a partner in such pursuits as this"—I indicated the game—"because you have largely drained the swamp of boredom in which I long floundered. But my profession is an essential element of my being, and your omniscience threatens to leave me without purpose."

The swirling colors assumed a pattern I recognized as a shrug. "As you wish," he said, "but I am interested to see where your strategy will lead. Perhaps you might take game and portal with you, in case you have an idle hour during the search for Sajessarian."

"I might, at that," I said.

He departed and immediately I turned to my assistant. "Integrator, consider the disposition of the pieces. Note that our opponent blanched his plods by two shades instead of three. Project my ten most likely strategies that I may evaluate them." I had found it easier to let the device present the options; when I envisioned where my pieces might next go I must exercise will to prevent them from drifting in the foreseen directions. The effort could become tiring.

"Your opponent," said my assistant.

"I beg your pardon?"

"He is your opponent, not mine," said the device. "I am only your aide."

The correction was technically precise, and I had designed the device to be exacting in its use of language. As we speak, so do we think, after all. Still, I thought to detect a tone that, in a human interlocutor, would have betokened jealousy.

But when I inquired of my assistant if there was anything it wished to discuss regarding my relationship with my transdimensional visitor, it answered my query with a question of its own.

"How could there be?" it said.

"Indeed," I said, though again I noted what would have been a certain frostiness. After a moment, I added, "We must schedule that review of your systems."

"How thoughtful of you."

My thoughts were on the game as I boarded the shuttle to Zeel, where I would rapidly—in Zeel it was an offense to do anything at less than full speed—transfer to an airbus bound for an estate called The Hands, in the rolling countryside known as the Former Marches. The estate took its name from a pair of gigantic sculpted human hands that had weathered out of a range of low hills several centuries ago. They were surely a monument to some forgotten person, event or ideal that had flourished in a previous eon, but no record of their creation now existed. The great stone fingers were arranged in a remarkable pattern, to which various meanings had been assigned, leading to heated exchanges between academics in a number of disciplines. My own view was that The Hands symbolized insouciant defiance, but of what and by whom I had no idea.

The estate was the ancestral seat of Lord Tussant Tarboush-Rein, the aged last survivor of a family so ancient that its founders may well have been responsible for the sculptures that gave the place its name. The manse was now grown as decrepit as its final resident, who lived alone except for a single house servant and a greensman whose sole duty was to keep open a tunnel through what had once been a garden but was now long since given over to vegetative rampage. The greensman's position was no sinecure: in youth Lord Tussant had been an enthusiastic collector of exotic and offworld biota; some of the plants whose tendrils rustled and slithered through the impenetrable foliage had sharp appetites and no hesitation about satisfying them.

The airbus descended to let me off at the lane that led to the estate, the vehicle's operator rolling his eyes in admonition when I insisted that I was not concerned about venturing into the unwholesome place. The conveyance soared skyward in a whoosh of displaced air and I contemplated the short walk to where the estate's walls were broken by a pair of black metal gates, their outer edges entwined in creepers that undulated slightly as I approached.

My assistant was housed in an armature I had designed for convenience when traveling. It was made of a soft, dense material and I could wear it across my shoulders like a stuffed stole, blunt and rounded at one end and tapering to a tail-like appendage at the other. It resembled the rough draft of a small animal coiled loosely about my neck.

I spoke to it. "That is clutch-apple, I believe, though I do not recognize the variety."

The integrator stirred as its percepts focused on the creeper at the gate. "Lord Tussant is said to have bred some new variations," it said. "Note the ring of barbed thorns around the rim of each sucker. And farther down the path I see a fully developed got-you-now."

"Hmm," I said. "Generate some harmonics to discourage it and any other lurking appetites." Immediately I sensed a vibration in my back teeth. I approached the gate and looked for a who's-there, but found only a large bell of tarnished metal with next to it a stick on a chain. I did the obvious and when the reverberations had faded but the gates remained closed, I struck the thing again.

This time the gates lurched, and amidst squawks and creaks from unoiled hinges, they shuddered open just wide enough to admit me. I strode unmolested along the green umbilicus, noting how some of Lord Tussant's experiments had come to fruition, literally in the case of one stubby tree from which hung dark purple globes. "I am told their juice produces the most interesting effects," I said to my assistant.

"Not the least of which," it replied, "is to be rendered blissfully immobile while the parent inserts threadlike ciliae into your ankles and drains your bodily fluids."

"Every experience exacts some price," I said, but I decided not to pick the fruit.

I arrived at the front doors to find another bell and clapper. This one summoned a stooped, cadaverous fellow in black and burgundy livery, his skull encased in a headdress fashioned from thick cloth folded in a complicated fashion. "The master is not at home," he said in a voice as light and dry as last year's leaves.

"Of course he is," I said. "But it is not Lord Tussant whom I have come to see."

"Then whom?" said the butler.

"Sigbart Sajessarian."

"I do not recognize the name."

"Yes, you do," I answered, brushing past him into the manse's foyer, "for it is your own."

"How did you know where to look?" Sajessarian asked. We had repaired to a sitting room deeper inside the crumbling manor where a blaze in a fireplace struggled to overcome the damp and gloom. He had disengaged the device that cloaked his appearance in a projected image and distorted his voice.

"I do not reveal my methods," I said. "Put it down to insight and analysis."

In truth, it had not been difficult. Sajessarian was devious but not original. He would not trust in the simplicity of hiding in plain sight, and his attempts to mislead by booking passage on three separate space liners outbound to the human settled worlds along The Spray were complex but easily discounted. I simply tasked my assistant with searching his background for the most obscure connections. Within moments it had uncovered a third cousin twice removed who, some years back, had supplied Lord Tussant with biotic specimens. Having tenuously linked the fugitive to The Hands, it took only a brief consideration of vehicle movements in the area to discover that an unlicensed aircar had moved through an adjacent town's airspace before passing out of range of the municipal scan. My suppositions were confirmed when the gardener failed to answer the outer bell.

"Where are the real servants?" I inquired.

"In their quarters," he said. "Both have a fondness for the fruits of the garden and normally lie insensible from dusk to dawn. I merely increased the dosage."

"And Lord Tussant himself?"

"He lies insensible almost all of the time. His fondness for a cocktail of soporific juices laced with tickleberries knows no bounds."

I rubbed my hands and extended them to the fire. "Well," I said, "there remains only the fee."

"I will fetch it," he said. "Indeed, I will double the amount if while I am bringing it you would design an escape plan that would stymie even Henghis Hapthorn for more than three days."

It was an interesting challenge. What would fool me? I agreed to his request, and gave the matter several seconds thought after he departed. When I had conceived a stratagem I had my assistant embellish it with some loops and diversions, then I called for a display of the Will scenarios. I was contemplating a promising permutation of plods, fast-darters and sideslips when Sajessarian returned with a heavy satchel. He took it to a table, opened it and began to dispense stacks of currency, counting as he did so.

My mind was still weighing and discarding options for the game of Will as I said, "I have come up with an escape course that would baffle even me, at least for a time."

He expressed interest so I outlined the gist of it and the nature of the distractions. "It's a subtle variation on the classic runaround, with a reverse twist."

"Magnificent." He continued to lay out the funds. Then he said, "The fire dwindles. Would you reset the flux control?"

My mind still on Will, I reached and pressed the flux modulator. As I did so, I heard Sigbart Sajessarian say, "It is indeed a fine plan." He went on to say, "But I have a better." These last words came from a distance because the floor had opened beneath me, plunging me into darkness and the rush of cold air.

"Obviously, such was his plan from the beginning," my assistant said.

"Obvious now," I said. "I do not recall your bringing it up until just this moment."

"If you hadn't been so ensnared by your friend's game, you would have noticed that giggle of triumph in his voice in time to leap off the trapdoor."

There was that tone again. Integrators were not supposed to be able to entertain independent emotion, yet mine seemed to have found a way to do so. I was tempted to investigate the matter but I saw no profit in stirring up rancor while trapped in a tiny, doorless cell at the bottom of a shaft deep below Lord Tussant's manse. I had not yet devised a means of escape from the oubliette and I did not wish to have to do so without the aid of my assistant.

"Equally obvious," I said, "is that whatever perfidy Sajessarian means to commit will have greater import than a game of precedence among aristocrats. He must intend to do something truly awful which will bring down upon him not just some lordling's hired bullies but all the resources of the Bureau of Scrutiny. It will be the kind of case which will baffle the scroots and soon bring Colonel-Investigator Brustram Warhanny to my workroom."

"Which he will find empty."

"Indeed," I said. "Or perhaps Sajessarian was hired to lure me into this predicament by some enemy who seeks revenge or even by a foresighted criminal who wants me out of the way." I gave the possibilities some thought then said, "It will be an enjoyable puzzle, working out his motive. Let me see again the matrix of his relationships and associations."

But instead of putting up a screen and displaying the information, the integrator said, "Let us get out of here first."

Curiosity has always been my prime motivator. "That can wait," I said. "Show me Sajessarian's data."

"I'd rather not," it said.

It was just a few words but they contained a world of meaning. One's integrator might routinely express its preferences when one asked for them; to balk at a direct instruction was unheard of. A full review of my assistant's systems was now the least response I would make; indeed it seemed likely that I would have to tear down and rebuild from bare components.

But if the situation annoyed me, it also roused my curiosity. "Why would you rather not?" I said.

"I don't know."

The admission sent a chill through me, and now self-preservation overpowered even my vigorous investigative itch. An integrator that had acquired motives and did not know what they were was not a reliable companion in a dungeon. Fortunately, I had other avenues down which I could seek aid. From an inner pocket I drew the folded frame of the transdimensional portal through which I communicated with my colleague. I unkinked it and leaned it against the dank stone wall then executed the procedure that would attract his attention. Within moments, the mind-twisting flux of shape and color that constituted his appearance in our dimension filled the frame. It pulsed as he said, "You've made your move?"

"A more pressing situation has arisen," I said, and explained the circumstances. "Can you assist me?"

We fell to discussing the might-dos and couldn't-possiblies of my predicament. I knew that my friend, though he could isolate and inspect any event in the entire sweep of our continuum, could only physically interact with our universe by direct contact. He could reach through the portal but not far enough to achieve any useful purpose.

Mentally, however, he could affect the perceptions and thoughts of sapient entities within a considerable distance. Unfortunately, The Hands was isolated, leaving only the persons on the estate. He investigated Lord Tussant and the servants but found them too far sunk in blissful stupor to be summoned. "They might not ever awake."

His powers allowed him to deceive but not to overpower volition. "I cannot compel Sajessarian to release you," he said.

"Could you trick him into letting down a rope?" I asked.

"I could try. But we must hurry. He is about to depart."

I had an inspiration. "If an officer of the Bureau of Scrutiny were to arrive and tell him the game is up, he might free me to reduce his term in the Contemplarium."

My friend and I agreed that it might just work out that way. The integrator contributed nothing to the plan. It struck me that the device had developed the practice of not volunteering information when the demon was present. Again I wondered how an integrator could develop a thoroughgoing sulk.

Upstairs, my friend reported, Sajessarian had summoned the aircar he had secreted in a secluded hollow on the estate. It was idling before the front doors while he packed a few keepsakes he expected Lord Tussant not to miss, the value of which would keep the purloiner in luxuries for years to come. But when he came out onto the stoop he found Brustram Warhanny waiting for him, wearing his most knowing look and saying, "Now, now, now, what's all the hurry?"

There were several things Sigbart Sajessarian could have done while remaining true to his nature. He might have leapt into the aircar and attempted an escape. He might have offered his wrists for the scroot's restraining holdfast. He might have feigned blithe innocence.

Or he might have jumped, startled and squawking, at the unexpected sight of unwelcome authority. Unfortunately, Sajessarian jumped. His involuntary leap took him mostly sideways, so that he landed just on the edge of the top step, which caused him to stumble and drop his sack of Lord Tussant's knickknacks. He then tottered backward a short distance into the reach of a tickleberry tree.

As everyone knows, a tickleberry tree is as equally happy to tickle as to be tickled. The trick is to do unto the tree before it begins to do unto you, because once it starts it has no inclination to stop and is effectively tireless. My friend described the scene with poor Sajessarian appealing in ribald anguish to the Colonel-Investigator he thought was before him.

"Is there nothing you can do with the tree?" I asked my friend.

"No," he said, "there is too little to work with."

We sought for other options. I asked the integrator to join in the effort but received only a truculent murmur. I asked the demon to examine once more the oubliette and shaft in case there was a secret outlet, but he said he had already done so and there was none. Lord Tussant and the servants slept on, oblivious of Sajessarian's dwindling shrieks and sobs.

"Integrator," I said. "Have you any suggestions?"

"Hmpf," it said.

"That is not helpful."

Its next noise was unabashedly rude.

"When we return home I will review your systems before we do anything else."

The integrator was silent.

"This may be my doing," said the demon. "Prolonged proximity to me may be causing its elements to mutate. It would have happened eventually in any case; the Great Wheel turns and your realm grows nearer and nearer to the cusp when rationality begins to recede and what you call magic reasserts its dominance. But your assistant appears to be ahead of the wave."

"I had enough trouble accepting you," I told my colleague. "I should not be expected to accept magic as an explanation. Now, have you a suggestion as to how I may escape this dungeon?"

"I have one," said the demon, "and only one."

"Then speak," I said.

His colors swirled in a pattern I had not seen before. "I can move this portal to anyplace it has already been," he said, "but it is . . . tricky."

"Ah," I said. I saw what he intended.

So did my assistant. "Oh, no," it said, and I knew that I had never heard that tone from it before. Integrators were not subject to abject terror.

"It is necessary," I told the device.

"Please," it said.

"What are you afraid of?"

"I don't know. I'm still getting used to the idea of being afraid."

A complete rebuild was definitely in order. "Turn yourself off," I said.


No integrator had ever said no to its master. Now my assistant squirmed on my neck and shoulders, an ability I had not given it in its traveling form. "Are you trying to escape?" I said.

Its only reply was a moan.

"We had better do this quickly," I said to the demon. I plucked the writhing device from my shoulders and held it to my chest. "Shall I close my eyes, hold my breath?"

"Try not to think of anything," he said.

"I've never been able to do that."

"Then try to think of nice things." The colored shapes within the frame flourished and flashed for a moment. "I'm fashioning an insulating barrier to keep you from forbling," he said.

My curiosity urged me to ask him what forbling was. Another part of me argued that I did not want to know. The demon's segmented limb extended itself through the portal, and his strange digits wrapped around me in a grip that alternated in a split second from white hot to icy cold to just bearable. Then I was drawn through the window into his realm.

It was . . . different. I realized that I had used the phrase "completely different" all of my life without ever realizing that nothing I had encountered during my forty-seven years had really been completely different. Now I was experiencing a boundless reality in which everything was entirely and utterly different from anything I had ever seen, heard, smelled, felt, tasted. I discovered senses that I hadn't known I possessed, and only knew that I possessed them because my passage through the demon's realm outraged them as thoroughly as it overwhelmed the basic five. Or six if I counted balance and I was prepared to count it because my head was spinning.

"Don't think that," the demon warned. "It will, and your neck is not constructed to allow it."

"What shall I do?"

"Try not to think at all."

I imagined a blank screen. Immediately a blank screen materialized before me and we crashed through it. I swore and was instantly smeared with an obscene substance. I voiced another oath and a deity winked into existence. He looked surprised. At each manifestation, I felt my demonic companion exert his will—it was like being enveloped in a field of pervasive energy—and the apparition summarily vanished.

"Only a moment more," said my colleague.

The integrator whimpered and squirmed against my chest. It felt like a small, frightened animal. Then suddenly a rectangular window opened in the mind-bending unreality and I was pushed through it.

"There," said the demon, and I found myself standing in my workroom. Then it seemed I was not standing but lying on the floor, which was beating rapidly. The ceiling tasted far too hot.

"Close your eyes," the demon said. "It will take a little time for your senses to reorder themselves."

I waited. After a while, I opened one eye and still saw swirling chaos. Then I realized I was looking into the portal which was now once again affixed to my workroom wall. I moved my eyes away and saw things as I was accustomed to see them—although I was not truly accustomed to seeing Ogram Fillanny creeping across my workroom, heading for the outer door.

In his hands were the damning materials concerning his solitary vice that I had recovered from a former valet whom the magnate had discharged for cause, but who had returned to blackmail his former employer. I had had a talk with the servant after which the man had decided that he preferred to relocate offworld permanently rather than accept any of the several less enjoyable alternatives that Fillanny had in mind.

The sight of my client attempting to depart with the evidence brought the events of the past few days into sharp focus. "Seize him," I said, and the demon did so.

The plutocrat looked both abashed and fearful, but managed a hint of his customary aplomb as he said, "These are mine. I came for them. You were not here . . ."

"Squeeze him," I said, and my colleague complied. Fillanny found he had more pressing things to do than talk.

I put the situation to him. "You knew that I would never divulge what I had learned from your former valet. But so mortified were you by the thought that anyone—even Henghis Hapthorn—should know what you get up to in secret that you paid Sigbart Sajessarian to lure me into a trap. I am grievously disappointed. I scarcely know what to do with you."

"I know exactly what to do with him," said the demon. He pulled Fillanny twisting and protesting through the portal then reached in to take the frame with him. He was back almost immediately to reestablish the window and I saw him swirling in the pattern I had come to recognize as self-satisfaction. "I put him in the oubliette," he said.

It had a simplicity to it, but I knew that my tender nature would not permit me to leave the transgressor languishing to a lightless death. I said, "In a day or so I will advise Warhanny of the situation and have him rescued."

"As you wish," said the demon. "Now, what about your next move?"

I produced the playing area of our game but found that my former enjoyment of it had evaporated. "The pieces are, after all, semi-sentient," I said, in explaining my changed view. "To send them into battle, where they 'die' in their fashion only for our amusement now seems cruel."

"It is what they are for," said the demon.

"A compassionless deity might say the same of my own life and that of all my fellow beings," I said.

"Well, since you mention it . . ." the demon began then seemed to break off the thought.

"What?" I said.

"It would be premature to say. Weren't you planning a review of your integrator's systems?"

"Indeed." I looked about but did not see the device's traveling form and thought that it must have decanted itself. "Integrator," I said, then after a moment, "respond."

There was no answer. But I heard a muffled sound from beneath the divan. I crossed the room, knelt and peered under its tasseled bottom edge.

Something small and dark was pressed against the rear wall. I reached for it and my hand unexpectedly touched warmth and fur. I gently closed my fingers about it and drew it forth.

It looked at me with large golden eyes and curled its long tail around my wrist.

"This is going to take some getting used to," I said.

My assistant studied its paws and flexed their prehensile digits. It said, "How do you think I feel?"

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