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.They curled inwards, a spinning vortex with Britta at its centre.She was surrounded by her diary, it formed a shrinking cylinder that enclosed her like a rotating prison.The words overlapped and intertwined, trapping her inside a lattice that solidified as it shrank.Britta could see nothing through the spinning wall of words.She was standing inside a tube.The turbulent air caught her hair and her clothes.She pulled in her shoulders, but still the cylinder contracted.It would crush her.It brushed against her arms, turning her, tearing the cloth of her jacket.Her legs twisted.Her legs were lifted from the floor.She began to spin.She screamed.The tube disappeared.Britta fell on her hands and knees.‘A warning,’ Lacuna’s voice again, in Britta’s mind and in the chamber.‘You have been chosen to help our work.The rewards are great.Beyond your comprehension.Disobedience will not be tolerated.’Britta looked up.Lacuna was staring at her, eyes bright with excitement, a smile of genuine pleasure on her face.Under the circumstances, Britta found the sight reassuring.‘How,’ she said, pulling herself to her feet, ‘how did you do that?’‘You misunderstand, my dear.The power is not mine, I am merely a maidservant.I am Lacuna.A sensory organ of the Corporation.’Something about the tone of Lacuna’s voice, or a slight inclination of the misshapen head, gave Britta the clue.‘The Corporation,’ she said.‘The Spinward Corporation is –here? On Arcadia station?’‘Well, well.Not just beauty, but also a brain.You have much to contribute.’The idea of resistance died as quickly as resentment had flared, but Britta could think of no strategy other than defiance.‘What makes you think I’ll even want to contribute?’ she said, with more confidence than she felt.‘And who is Pool?’‘You are under contract,’ Lacuna replied.‘You have no choice.And your consent is not required.You have experienced a demonstration of the Corporation’s might.You are not ready to meet Pool.Few ever do.But let me show you something.’ Lids dropped over the intense eyes.Something was inside Britta’s mind again.And then Britta was inside somewhere else, a place that she somehow knew was vaster than she could imagine.She was disembodied, an incorporeal observer in the darkness.And yet it wasn’t exactly dark.And it wasn’t an empty vastness.Gentle light was everywhere, revealing the outlines of shapes.It was like being underwater and able to discern the submarine rock formations.But there was no sense of up or down; just a viscous medium crowded in every direction with more solid shapes.Britta knew, without knowing how she knew, that she could see only a tiny part of whatever she was in.She moved effortlessly through streams of colour, moving between structures that varied in size from a cube no larger than a fist to a rippled, curving cliff-face whose edges were beyond sight.Some of the shapes were regular, others were nebulous.Many were translucent, some were black, a few were bright with colours.And the shapes were moving, too, meeting each other and parting again, but also changing their formations.She saw a polyhedron become a sphere, and then an ovoid, as she passed it.Bright streaks of light, like comets, flashed playfully between the shapes and, Britta saw, moved equally freely inside the translucent bodies.They left glittering silver trails in their wakes as they darted back and forth.In some places there were no streaks of light at all, in others there were lone sparks, while round and between some of the shapes the swooping and zooming fireflies were as thick as bees swarming round a hive.Britta sensed something else.She caught sight of a movement, a darker presence at the edge of her vision.She turned, but it had gone: For the first time since finding herself in this strange environment, she felt the touch of fear.And she was back in the circular chamber, under Lacuna’s unwavering gaze.‘Where was I?’ Britta said.‘You were inside an analogy,’ Lacuna said.‘A model.A paradigm.It is as close as you – or I – can come to experiencing the reality.Was it not magnificent?’‘Yes.Yes, it really was.But what was it?’‘You haven’t understood, have you?’‘Oh.I think I see.That was – that’s the Spinward Corporation, isn’t it?’He cut a hole.I couldn’t move.I was so scared.I wanted to shout, but my mouth felt blocked up.I wet myself.She was screaming, but there was no noise.She was in a golden cloud, it was killing her.She was twisting like a tree in a storm.I saw a goldfish die once, flapping from side to side.She was like that, on her bed, inside a golden cloud.He was getting nearer.You can always tell.Those footsteps.He cut a hole.‘She’s improving, Gerald.Surely you can see that? She’s making sounds again.’‘You call that an improvement? I said the leeches were a waste of time.Old wives’ tales.Look at her.Gibbering like a monkey.’‘The chirurgeon says the shock could have brought on pressure in the brain.He says we should consider drastic action, whatever that means.’He cut a hole.Ace lay nonchalantly on the couch, trying not to look as though she was craning her neck and squinting through nearly closed eyes.Only one door was marked No Admittance – Medical Personnel Only.That had to be the one.One of the other doors opened and the ship’s doctor walked into the diagnostic bay.He was youthful-looking, but Ace knew that was no indicator of age.He was plump and smooth-skinned, with watery eyes and a vacant smile.Ace knew that vacuity of expression could conceal acuity of mind: it was one of her own favourite techniques.The doctor started to remove the detector pads from Ace’s head, neck and arms.‘Don’t tell me, doc.Let me guess.There’s nothing wrong, right? I’m as clean as a Tarian asteroid.’‘On the contrary, trooper.You’re suffering from a viral infection.’‘What?’ Ace was seriously alarmed.‘But that’s not supposed to be possible.That shot you gave me before we jumped –’‘No trace of it.Quite remarkable.But then, your virus is unusually pervasive.Every cell in your body is infected, according to my machines.’‘Oh.’ Ace thought about illness for a while.Something didn’t add up.When in doubt, muck about, that was Ace’s motto.‘So – how long have I got, doc? And should I leave my body to science?’The doctor’s smile widened.‘I didn’t say you were ill.Your virus appears to be benign.Have you noticed any unusual symptoms lately?’Ace sat up on the couch and combed her hair with her fingers while she pondered.That was something she was doing more and more these days: thinking before opening her mouth.Had she been feeling sick? No – not at all.Not so much as a head cold or a hangover.Not for years.Not since before she left –‘Doctor,’ she said softly, ‘what have you done to me?’‘Done? What do you mean? These were diagnostic tests.’Ace burst out laughing.‘Not you, doctor.A different Doctor.’ She could hardly speak for laughing [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]