?Map of Phase
?1. Clef (F)
'I could give you some sleepfog,' the lady robot said. 'You stayed awake all night researching, and the Game is this afternoon. You have to rest.'
'No drugs!' Stile snapped. 'Better to be keyed up than fogged out.'
'Better yet to be rational,' she said.
He shook his head, looking at her. She was so exactly like a woman that most people never realized the truth. Not only could she function in all the ways of a living human female, she was extremely well formed. Her hair was a sun-bleached brown, shoulder length; her lips were full and slightly tinted, kissable; her eyes were green behind long lashes. She was the sort of creature rich, lonely men obtained to gratify their private passions more per fectly than any real woman would. But Stile knew her for what she was, and had no passion for her. 'This is one time I wish I could just click off the way you can.'
'I wish I were flesh,' she said wistfully. She was programmed to love him and protect him and she was absolutely true to her program, as a machine had to be. 'Come on-I'll put you to sleep.' She took Stile's head in her lap and stroked his hair and hummed a lullaby.
Oddly enough, it worked. Her body was warm and soft, her touch gentle, and he had complete faith in her motive. Stile was dose to few people and he tended to feel easier around machines. His tensions slipped away and his consciousness followed.
He found himself dreaming of the time several days before, when he had passed the Platinum Flute on to the musician Clef and guided the man across the curtain. In this dream he followed Clef's consciousness, not his own.
Somehow this did not seem strange. Stile had felt an instant and deep camaraderie with the man when they played music together. Stile himself was highly skilled with a number of instruments, but Clef's musical ability amounted to genius. It had been impossible to remain aloof from a person who played that well.
Clef had never been to the frame of Phaze. He stared at the lush tufts of grass, the tremendous oaks and pines, and the unicorn awaiting them, as if he were seeing something strange.
'This is Neysa,' Stile informed him, perceived in the dream as a different person. The unicorn was black, with white socks on the rear feet, and was as small for her species as Stile was for his. Clef towered over them both, and felt awkward. 'She will carry thee to the Platinum Demesnes.'
What affectation was this? Stile had spoken normally until this moment. 'I don't even know how to ride!' Clef protested. 'And that's a mythical creature!' He eyed the long spiraled horn, wishing he could touch it to verify that it was only tacked on to the horse. He had been told that this was a land of magic, but he found that hard to credit.
'Well, I could conjure thee there, but - '
'Absolutely not! Magic is - incredible. Wherever I have to go, I'll walk.'
Stile shrugged. 'That is thy business. But I must insist that Neysa accompany thee. Until thou dost reach the protection of the Little Folk, this region is not safe for thee.'
'Why are you suddenly talking archaically?' Clef de manded.
'This is the tongue of this frame,' Stile explained. 'Now must I conjure clothing for thee.'
'Clothing!' Clef exclaimed, daunted. 'I am a serf, like you, forbidden to - I can not - '
Stile had recovered a package of clothing from a hiding place and was putting it on. 'Here in Phaze, thou art a man. Trust me; clothe thyself.' He paused, then said in a singsong voice: 'An ye can, clothe this man.'
Suddenly Clef was clothed like a Citizen of Proton, with silken trousers, shirt, jacket of light leather, and even shoes. He felt ludicrous and illicit. 'If anyone sees me in this outrageous costume - ' He squinted at Stile. 'You were serious about magic! You conjured this!'
'Aye. Now must I conjure myself to the Blue Demesnes, to report to the Lady Blue. Neysa and the Flute will keep thee safe, methinks. Farewell, friend.'
'Farewell,' Clef responded weakly.
Stile sang another spell and vanished. Clef contemplated the vacated spot for a while, absorbing this new evidence of enchantment, then felt his own clothing. Blue trousers, golden shirt - what next? 'And I'm supposed to travel with you,' he said to the little unicorn. 'With thee, I should perhaps say. Well, he did warn me there would be tribulations. I don't suppose you know the direction?'
Neysa blew a note through her horn that sounded like an affirmation rendered in harmonica music. Clef had not realized that the animal's horn was hollow, or that she would really comprehend his words. He followed her lead.
The scenery was lovely. To the near south was a range of purple-hued mountains, visible through gaps in the for est cover. The immediate land was hilly, covered with rich green turf. Exotic birds fluttered in the branches of the trees. No path was visible, but the unicorn picked out an easy passage unerringly.
'Are you - art thou able to play music on that horn?' Clef inquired facetiously, feeling a need to assert himself verbally if not physically.
For answer, Neysa played a merry little tune, as if on a well-handled harmonica. Clef, amazed, fell silent. He would have to watch what he said in this fantastic frame; more things were literal than he was inclined to believe.
The pace became swift, as Neysa moved up to her limit. Clef had always liked to walk, so was in no discomfort, but wondered just how far they were going. In Proton, with the limitation of the domes, it was never necessary to walk far before encountering mass transportation. Obvi ously there was no such limit here.
Thе animal perked up her small ears, listening for some thing. Clef knew that horses had good hearing, and pre sumed unicorns were the same. It occurred to him that a world of magic could have magical dangers and he had no notion how to cope with that sort of thing. Presumably this equine would protect him in much the way Stile's distaff robot protected him in Proton; still, Clef felt ner vous.
Then, abruptly, the unicorn became a petite young woman, wearing a simple black dress and white slippers. She was small, even smaller than Stile, with lustrous black hair that reminded him of the mane or tail of -
Of course! This was, after all, the same creature, in a different shape. She even had a snub-horn in her forehead, and her shoes somehow resembled hooves, for their slipper tops tied into thick, sturdy soles.
'Stile is getting married,' Neysa said. There was the suggestion of harmonica music in her voice. 'I must go there. I will summon a werewolf to guide thee.'
'A werewolf!' Clef exclaimed, horrified.
But the girl was a unicorn again. She blew a loud blast on her horn.
Faintly, there was an answering baying. Now Neysa played a brief harmonica tune. There was a responding yip, much closer. She changed back into the girl. Clef tried to ascertain how she did that, but it was too quick; she seemed simply to phase from one form to the other with no intermediate steps. Perhaps that was why this frame was called Phaze - people phased from one form to an other, or from nudity to attire, or from place to place.
'A bitch is coming,' Neysa said, startling Clef again; he had not expected such a term from so pert a miss. 'Farewell.' She changed into a firefly, flashed once, and zoomed away to the north. There seemed to be no conservation of mass here.
A dark shape charged toward him, low and furry, gleaming-eyed and toothed. Clef clutched the Platinum Flute - and suddenly it was a fine rapier. 'Will wonders never cease!' he exclaimed. This was a weapon with which he