Chapter 3The next morning, when the Empress Regent gave Baresmanas the Roman response to Persia's proposal, he was delighted. He had hoped for a larger army, true. But neither he nor Emperor Khusrau had really expected the Romans to send them forty thousand troops.The Roman generosity in not demanding territorial concessions in the borderlands also pleased him immensely. That was quite unexpected.But, best of all—Belisarius. Not every member of the Persian delegation shared his attitude—including his own wife, the Lady Maleka. As soon as Baresmanas returned to the small palace in which the Persians had been housed, right in the middle of the imperial complex, she strode into the main salon, scowling fiercely."I do not approve," she told her husband, very forcefully. "We should not be currying favor from these wretched Roman mongrels, as if we were lowborn beggars."Baresmanas ignored her. He stood before the flames burning in the salon's fireplace, warming his hands from the chill of an April morning."I do not approve!" repeated Lady Maleka.Baresmanas sighed, turned away from the fire. "The Emperor approves," he said mildly."Khusrau is but a boy!""He most certainly is not," replied her husband firmly. "True, he is a young man. But he is in every respect as fine an Emperor as ever sat the Aryan throne. Do not doubt it, wife."Lady Maleka scowled. "Even so— He is too preoccupied with the Malwa invasion! He forgets our glorious Aryan heritage!"Her husband bit off a sharp retort. Unlike his wife, Baresmanas was well-educated. A scholar, actually, which was unusual for a sahrdaran. Lady Maleka, on the other hand, was a perfect specimen of their class. Like all Persian high noblewomen, she was literate. But it was a skill which she had never utilized once she reached adulthood. She much preferred to learn her history seated on rich cushions at their palace in Ctesiphon, listening to bards recounting the epics of the Aryans.Baresmanas studied the angry face of his wife, trying to think of a way to explain reality that would penetrate her prejudiced ignorance.The truth of history, he knew, was quite different from her fantasy version of it. The Iranians who ruled Persia and Central Asia had originated, like their Scythian brethren, from the steppes of Asia. They, too, had been nomadic barbarians once. Over a millennium ago, the Aryan tribes had marched south from the steppes, in their great epic of conquest. The westward-moving tribes had become known as the Iranians and had created the glory of the ancient Medes and Persians. Their eastward-bound cousins had conquered northern India and created the Vedic culture which eventually permeated the entire sub-continent.And then, having done so, both branches of the Aryans had invented a new history for themselves. A history full of airy legends and grandiose claims, and precious little in the way of fact.Myths and fables, grown up in the feudal soil of the east. The real power of the Iranians, now as before, lay on the Persian plateau and the great rich lands of Mesopotamia. But the Aryans—the nobility, at least—chose to remember the legends of the northeastern steppes.And then, he thought sourly, remember them upside down. They don't remember the military strength of barbarian horsemen. Only the myth of pure blood, and divine ancestry. Studying his wife, Baresmanas recognized the impossibility of penetrating her prejudices.So be it. The Aryans had other customs, too."Obey your husband, wife," he commanded. "And your Emperor."She opened her mouth."Do it."Lady Maleka bowed her head. Sullenly, she stalked from the room.Baresmanas lowered himself onto a couch near the fire. He stared into the flames. The hot glow seemed to lurk within his dark eyes, as if he saw a different conflagration there.Which, indeed, he did. The memory of a fire called the battle of Mindouos. Where, three years before, a Roman general had shattered the Persian army. Outfoxed them, trapped then, slaughtered them—even captured the Persian camp.Belisarius. Baresmanas had been at that battle. So had his children, in the Persian camp.He looked away from the fire, wincing.His children would never have been at Mindouos had Baresmanas not brought them there. He, too, for all his scholarship, had lapsed into Aryan haughtiness. It was the long-standing custom of noble Persians to bring their families to the field of battle. Displaying, to the enemy and all the world, their arrogant confidence in Aryan invincibility.His wife had refused to come, pleading her health. (Not from the enemy, but from the heat of the Syrian desert.) But his children had come, avidly—his daughter as much as his son. Avid to watch their famous father, second-in-command to Firuz, destroy the insolent Romans.Baresmanas sighed. He reached up with his left hand and caressed his right shoulder. The shoulder ached, as always, and he could feel the ridged scar tissue under the silk of his tunic.A Roman lance had put that scar there. At Mindouos. Baresmanas, like all the charging noble lancers, had been trapped in the center. Trapped, by the cunning of the Roman commander; and, then, hammered under by the force of his counter-blow.Belisarius. Baresmanas could remember little of the battle's final moments. Only the confusion and the choking dust; the growing, horrible knowledge that they had been outwitted and outmaneuvered; the shock and pain, as he lay dazed and bleeding on the trampled ground, his shoulder almost severed.Most of all, he remembered the terror which had coursed through his heart, as if hot iron instead of blood flowed through his veins. Terror, not for himself, but for his helpless children. The Persian camp was unprotected, then, from the triumphing Romans. Baresmanas had known the Roman soldiers would ravage it like wolves, especially their Hun auxiliaries, raping and murdering.And so they had; or, at least, had started to do.Until Belisarius, and his cataphracts, had put a stop to the atrocities. He had been as decisive and ruthless toward his own Huns as he had been toward the Persians.Weeks later, after he had been ransomed by his family, Baresmanas had heard the tale from his daughter Tahmina. Seeing the oncoming Huns, she and her brother had hidden themselves under the silk cushions in their tent. But the savages had not been fooled. A squad of Huns had found Tahmina soon enough, and dragged her out of the tent. Her brother had tried to come to her rescue, but it had been a futile gesture. The Huns had not killed the boy—alive, he would bring a good price on the slave market. They had simply split his scalp with a blow, casually, while they began stripping off his sister's clothing.The Roman general had arrived then, accompanied by his cataphracts, and ordered the Huns to cease. Tahmina had described to Baresmanas how the Hun who held her by the hair had taunted Belisarius. And how the general, cold-faced, had simply spoken the name of his cataphract. A cataphract whose face was even colder, and as wicked-looking as a weasel. The cataphract had been as quick and deadly as a weasel, too. His arrows had slaughtered the Huns holding Tahmina like so many chickens.Belisarius.Strange, peculiar man. With that odd streak of mercy, lying under the edge of his ruthless and cunning brain.Baresmanas turned his head, staring back at the fire. And now, for the first time since he learned of the Malwa butchery of Mesopotamia, could see the enemy roasting in the flames.Belisarius. Chapter 4It was the most beautiful cathedral Justinian had ever seen. More beautiful, and more majestic, than he had even dreamed. The capstone to his life. The Hagia Sophia that he had planned to build.The Mese, the great central thoroughfare of Constantinople, began at the Golden Gate and ended at the base of the cathedral. Down its entire length—here in scatters; there, mounded up in piles like so much offal—were the bodies of the plague victims.Half the city was dead, or dying. The stench of uncollected rotting bodies mingled with the sickly smell of burning cadavers to produce a thick miasma, hanging over Constantinople like a constant fog. The same miasma that he had seen hanging over Italy, and North Africa, and every province which Belisarius had reconquered for him.Justinian the Great. Who, in the name of restoring the greatness of the Roman Empire, had bankrupted the eastern half to destroy the western. And left the entire Mediterranean a war-ravaged breeding ground for the worst plague in centuries.Justinian the Great. Who, more than any other man, caused the final splintering of Greco-Roman civilization. * * *Justinian jerked erect in his chair."No more," he croaked. "I can bear it no longer."He leaned forward and extended his arm, shakily. In the palm of his hand rested a shimmering, glowing object. A jewel, some might have called it. A magical gem.Belisarius took the "jewel" from Justinian and replaced it in its pouch. A moment later, the pouch was once again suspended from his neck.The "jewel" spoke in his mind.He is not a nice man. Belisarius smiled crookedly.No, Aide, he is not. But he can be a great man. The crystalline being from the future exuded skepticism.Not sure. Not a nice man, at all. "Are you satisfied, Justinian?" Belisarius asked.The former emperor nodded."Yes. It was everything you said. I almost wish, now, that I had never asked for the experience. But I needed—"He made a vague motion with his hand, as if to summon up unknown words.Belisarius provided them:"You needed to know if your suspicions were warranted, or not. You needed to know if the elevation of my stepson to the imperial throne stemmed from motives of personal ambition and aggrandizement, or—as I claimed at the time—from the needs of the war against the Malwa."Justinian lowered his head. "I am a mistrustful man," he muttered. "It is rooted in my nature." He opened his mouth to speak again. Clamped it shut."There is no need, Justinian," said Belisarius. "There is no need."The general's smile grew more crooked still. He had had this conversation once before, in a nightmare vision. "It would take you hours to say what you are trying to say. It will not come easily to you, if at all."Justinian shook his head. "No, Belisarius. There is a need. For my sake, if not yours." Harshly: "I sometimes think losing my eyes improved my vision." He took a deep breath. Another. Then, like a stone might bleed:"I apologize."The third occupant of the room chuckled. "Even in this," he said, "you are still arrogant. Do you think you are the world's only sinner, Justinian? Or simply its greatest?"Justinian swiveled his head."I will ignore that remark," he said, with considerable dignity. "And are you certain, Michael of Macedonia? Of this—creature—you call the Talisman of God?""Quite certain," replied the stony voice of the monk. "It is a messenger sent by the Lord to warn us all.""Especially me," muttered Justinian. The blind man rubbed his mangled eye-sockets. "Has Theodora—?""No," replied Belisarius. "I offered, once, but she declined. She said she preferred to take the future as it comes, rather than seeing it in a vision.""Good," stated Justinian. "She does not know about the cancer, then?"It was Belisarius' turn to jerk erect in his chair, startled. "No. Good God! I never thought of that, when I offered to give her the jewel.""Seventeen years," stated Justinian. His voice was very bleak. "She will die, then, from cancer."The Macedonian cleared his throat. "If we succeed in defeating the Malwa—"Justinian waved him off. "That's irrelevant, Michael. Whatever other evils the Malwa will bring, they are not responsible for cancer. And don't forget—the vision which the jewel gave me was of the future that would have been. The future where the Malwa were never elevated to world mastery by this demonic power called Link. The future where I remained emperor, and we reconquered the western Mediterranean."He fell silent, head bowed. "I am right, Belisarius, am I not?"Belisarius hesitated. He cast his thoughts toward Aide.He is right, came the reply. Aide forestalled the next question:And there is no cure for cancer. Not, at least, anything that will be within your capability for many, many years. Centuries. Belisarius took a deep breath."Yes, Justinian. You are right. Regardless of what else happens, Theodora will die of cancer in seventeen years."The former emperor sighed. "They burned out my tear ducts, along with my eyes. I damn the traitors for that, sometimes, even more than my lost vision."Shaking himself, Justinian rose to his feet and began pacing about the room.The plethora of statuary which had once adorned his room was gone, now. Theodora had ordered them removed, during Justinian's convalescence, worried that her blind husband might stumble and fall.That fear had been quickly allayed. Watching the former Emperor maneuver through the obstacles littering the floor, Belisarius was struck again by the man's uncanny intelligence. Justinian seemed to know, by sheer memory, where every one of those potential obstructions lay, and he avoided them unerringly.But the obstacles were no longer statuary. Justinian had no use, any longer, for such visual ornament. Instead, he had filled his room with the objects of his oldest and favorite hobby—gadgets. Half the floor seemed to be covered by odd contrivances and weird contraptions. Justinian even claimed that his blindness was an asset, in this regard, since it forced him to master the inner logic of his devices. Nor could Belisarius deny the claim. The general stared at one of the larger mechanisms in the room, standing in a corner. The device was quiescent, at the moment. But he had seen it work. Justinian had designed the thing based on Belisarius' own description of a vision given to him by Aide.The first true steam engine ever built in Rome—or anywhere in the world, so far as he knew. He had not seen its like even during his long visit to Malwa India. The thing itself was not much more than a toy, but it was the model for the first locomotive which was already being planned. The day would come when Belisarius would be able to shuttle his troops from one campaign to another in the same way he had seen Aide describe in visions. Visions of a terrible carnage in the future which would be called the American Civil War.A voice drew him back to the present."Seventeen years," mused Justinian sadly. "Whereas I, according to the jewel, will live to a ripe old age." Pain came to his ravaged face. "I had always hoped she might outlive me," he whispered. Justinian squared his shoulders."So be it. I will give her seventeen good years. The best I can manage.""Yes," said Belisarius.Justinian shook his head. "God, what a waste. Did the jewel ever show it to you, Belisarius? That future that would have been, had the Malwa never risen? The future where I had you ravage the western Mediterannean in the name of reconstituting Roman glory? Only to see half the Empire die from the plague while I used the royal treasury to build one grandiose, useless monument after another?""The Hagia Sophia was not useless, Justinian," demurred Belisarius. "It was—would have been—one of the world's genuine glories."Justinian snorted. "I will allow that one exception. No—two. I also codified Roman law. But the rest? The—" He snapped his fingers. "That secretary of yours. You know, the foul gossip. What's his name?""Procopius.""Yes, him. That fawning toad even wrote a book glorifying those preposterous structures. Did you see that?""Yes."Michael spoke. "I hear you've dispensed with the reptile's services, now that you no longer need him to pass false rumors to the enemy. Good riddance."Belisarius chuckled. "Yes, I did. I doubt very much that Malwa spies place any more credence in his claims that Antonina was spending all her time at our estate in Syria holding orgies in my absence.""Not after she showed up at the Hippodrome with her force of Syrian grenadiers and smashed the Nika insurrection!" barked Justinian. The former emperor rubbed his eye-sockets. "Since he's out of work, Belisarius, send him to me. I'll give him a book to write. Just the kind of fawning propaganda he wrote for me in another future. Only it won't be called The Buildings. It'll be called The Laws, and it will praise to the skies the Grand Justiciar Justinian's magnificent work providing the Roman Empire with the finest legal system in the world."Justinian resumed his seat. "Enough of that," he said. "There's something else I want to raise. Belisarius, I am a bit concerned about Antonina's expedition to Egypt."The general cocked an eyebrow. "So am I!" he exclaimed. "She's my wife, you know. I'm not happy at the idea of sending her into a battle with only—""Nonsense!" snapped the former emperor. "The woman'll do fine, as far as any battles go. Don't underestimate her, Belisarius. Any woman that small who can slaughter half a dozen street thugs in a knife fight can handle that sorry bastard Ambrose. It's the aftermath I'm worried about. Once she's crushed this mini-rebellion, she'll be moving on. To the naval side of your campaign. What then?" He leaned forward, fixing Belisarius with his eyeless gaze."Who's going to keep Egypt under control?""You know our plans, Justinian. Hermogenes will assume command of the Army of Egypt and—"The former Emperor snorted. "He's a soldier, man! Oh, a damned fine one, to be sure. But soldiers aren't much use, when it comes to suppressing the kind of religious fanatics who keep Egypt in a turmoil." He sighed heavily. "Trust me, Belisarius. I speak from experience. If you use a soldier to squash a monk, all you create is a martyr."Justinian now turned to face Michael. "You're the key here, Michael. We will need your religious authority.""And Anthony's," qualified the monk.Justinian waved his hand impatiently. "Yes, yes, and the Patriarch's help, of course. But you are the key.""Why?" demanded Michael.Belisarius replied. "Because changing an empire's habits and customs—built through the centuries—will require religious fervor. A popular movement, driven by zeal and conviction. I don't disagree with Justinian, on that point. He's right—soldiers just create martyrs." He cleared his throat. "And, for the other—well, Anthony is as kindly, even saintly, a man as I ever hope to meet. The ideal Patriarch. But—"A wintry smile came to the monk's gaunt face. "He is not given to smiting the unrighteous," concluded Michael. The Macedonian shifted position in his chair, much like a hawk sets his talons on a tree limb. "I have no such qualms, on the other hand.""Rather the contrary," murmured Justinian.The former Emperor smiled grimly. He quite approved of Michael of Macedonia. The Stylite monk was a holy man, which Justinian most certainly was not. Yet they shared a certainly commonality of spirit. A Thracian peasant and a Macedonian shepherd, as youths. Simple men, ultimately. And quite savage, each in their own way.Belisarius spoke again, shaking his head. "We've already decided to send Michael's monks to Egypt, Justinian. I agree that they'll help. The fact remains, however, that without military force those monks will just wind up another brawling faction in the streets. Our military forces were already stretched—and now, I will be taking what few troops we can spare to combat the Malwa in Persia. We cannot divert those forces, Justinian, and the imperial treasury is too bare to finance the creation of a new army."Suddenly, images flashed through Belisarius' mind.Ranks of cavalrymen. Their weapons and armor, though well made, were simple and utilitarian. Over the armor, they wore plain tunics. White tunics, bearing red crosses. Parading through the main thoroughfare of a great city. Behind them marched foot soldiers, also wearing that simple white tunic emblazoned with a huge red cross. The general burst into laughter.Thank you, Aide! He turned to Michael. "Have you chosen a name for your new religious order?"The Macedonian grimaced. "Please, Belisarius. I did not create that order. It was created by others—""Inspired by your teachings," interjected Justinian."—and practically foisted upon me." The monk scowled. "I have no idea what to do with them. As much as anything else, I offered to send them with Antonina to Egypt because they were demanding some holy task of me and I couldn't think of anything else to do with them."The general smiled. For all his incredible—even messianic—force of character, Michael of Macedonia was as ill-suited a man as Belisarius had ever met for the executive task of leading a coherent and disciplined religious movement."Someone must have brought them together," he said. "Organized them. It wasn't more than a month after you began your public sermons in the Forum of Constantine that bands of them began to appear in the streets spreading your message."The Macedonian snorted. "Three of them, in fact. Their names are Mark of Athens, Zeno Symmachus, and Gaiseric. Zeno is an Egyptian, from the Fayum; Gaiseric, a Goth. Mark, of course, is Greek. Mark is orthodox, Zeno is a Monophysite, and Gaiseric is an Arian.""And they get along?" asked Belisarius lightly.Michael began to smolder, then relaxed. "Yes, Belisarius. They regard the issue of the Trinity as I do—a decoy of the Devil's, to distract men while Satan does his work." He smiled. "Not, mind you, that any room they jointly inhabit isn't occasionally filled with the sound of disputatious voices. But there is never any anger in it. They are each other's brothers, as they are mine.""And what position do you advance, in these occasional disputes?" queried Justinian."You know perfectly well my position," snapped Michael.The former emperor smiled. Justinian adored theological discussion. Other than Theodora's care, it had been the company of Michael and Patriarch Cassian which, more than anything, had enabled him to find his way through the darkness of the soul, in the months after his blinding."My opinion on the Trinity is orthodox, in the same way as Anthony's," stated Michael. "Though more plainly put." He snorted. "My friend Anthony Cassian is Greek, and is therefore not satisfied with simple truth until he can parse it with clever Greek syllogisms and make it dance to dialectical Greek tunes. But I am not Greek. I am Macedonian. True, we are a related people. But to the Greeks God gave his intellect, and to us he gave his common sense."Here, a wintry smile. "This, of course, is why the great Philip of my ancestry lost his patience and decided to subdue the whole fractious lot of quarreling southron. And why his son, the Macedonian Alexander, conquered the world.""So the Greeks could inherit it," quipped Justinian."Place them in charge of the order, then," said Belisarius. "And find women with similar talents. There must be some."Michael stroked his great beard. "Yes," he said, after a moment's thought. "Two, in particular, come immediately to mind. Juliana Syagrius and Helen of Armenia.""Juliana Syagrius?" demanded Justinian. "The widow of—?"Michael nodded. "The very same. Not all of my followers are common folk, Justinian. Any number of them are from the nobility—although usually from the equestrian order. Juliana is the only member of the senatorial classes who has responded to my teachings. She has even offered to place her entire fortune at my disposal.""Good Lord!" exclaimed Justinian. "She's one of the richest people in the empire!"Michael glared. "I am well aware of that, thank you! And what am I supposed to do with it? I have lived on alms since I was a youth—a habit I have no intention of changing."The sour look on his face made plain the monk's attitude toward wealth. He began to mutter various phrases concerning camels and the eye of a needle. Unkind phrases. Very unkind phrases, in point of fact.Belisarius interrupted the gathering storm."You will use that fortune to buy arms and armor, Michael. And the provisions needed to support your new order.""They will beg for t
eir support, damn them!" snapped Michael. "Just as I do!"Belisarius shook his head. "They will be too busy. Much too busy." The general smiled—broadly, not crookedly. "Yours will be a religious order of a new kind, Michael. A military order."A name flashed through the general's mind. "We will call them the Knights Hospitaler," he said, leaning forward in his chair.Guided by Aide through the labyrinth of future history, Belisarius began to explain. After Michael was gone, hurrying his way out of the Great Palace, Justinian sighed. "It will not work, Belisarius. Oh, to be sure, at first—" The former emperor, veteran of intrigue and maneuver, shook his head sadly. "Men are sinners. In time, your new monks will simply become another lot of ambitious schemers, grasping for anything in sight."Image. A magnificent palace. Through its corridors, adorned with expensive statuary and tapestries, moved men in secretive discourse. They wore tunics—still white, with a simple red cross. But the tunics were silk, now, and the hilts of the swords suspended from their scabbards were encrusted with gems. "True," replied Belisarius. His voice lost none of its good cheer. "But they will not lapse until Malwa is done. After that—" Belisarius shrugged. "I do not know much, Justinian, of the struggle in the far distant future in which we find ourselves ensnared. But I have always known we were on the right side, because our enemies—those who call themselves the 'new gods'—seek human perfection. There is no such thing, and never will be." He rose from his chair."You know that as well as I. Do you really think that your new laws and your judgements will bring paradise on earth? An end to all injustice?"Justinian grunted sarcastically."Why do it, then?" demanded Belisarius."Because it's worth doing," growled Justinian.The general nodded. "God judges us by what we seek, not what we find."Belisarius began to leave. Justinian called him back."One other thing, Belisarius. Speaking of visions." The former Emperor's face twisted into a half-smile. It was a skeptical sort of expression—almost sardonic."Have you had any further visions about your little protegé in India? Is she making Malwa howl yet?"Belisarius returned Justinian's smile with a shake of the head. "Shakuntala? I don't know—I've certainly had no visions! Aide is not a magician, Justinian. He is no more clairvoyant than you or I." The general smiled himself, now. There was nothing sardonic in that expression, though. And it was not in the least bit crooked. "I imagine she's doing splendidly. She's probably already got a little army collected around her, by now.""Where is she?"Belisarius shrugged. "The plan was for her to seek exile in south India. Her grandfather's the King of Kerala. Whether she's there or not, however, I don't know. I've received no word. That's the very reason Irene is accompanying Antonina to Egypt. She'll try to re-establish contact with Shakuntala and Rao through the Ethiopians.""I can't say I'm happy about that, by the way," grumbled Justinian. "I didn't oppose the idea at the council, since you seemed so set upon it. But—Irene's a fiendishly capable spymaster. I'd be a lot happier if she were here at Theodora's side in the capital, keeping an eye on traitors."Skeptically:"Do you really think this little rebellion you took so much time—and money—to foster is anything but wishful thinking?"Belisarius studied the blind man for a moment, before replying. Justinian, for all his brilliance, was ill-equipped by temperament to gauge the power of a popular rebellion. The man thought like an emperor, still. Belisarius suspected that he always had, even when he was a peasant himself."I know the girl, Justinian. You don't. For all her youth, she has the potential to be a great ruler. And in Rao she has one of the finest generals in India.""So?" grunted Justinian. "If the success of your rebellion hinges so completely on two people, the Malwa can take care of that with a couple of assassinations."Belisarius laughed."Assassinate Rao? He's the best assassin in India himself! God help the Malwa who tries to slip a knife into that man's back!" He shook his head. "As for Shakuntala—she's quite a proficient killer in her own right. Rao trained her, from the time she was seven. And she has the best bodyguards in the world. An elite Kushan unit, led by a man named Kungas."The skepticism was still evident on the former emperor's face. Belisarius, watching, decided it was hopeless to shake Justinian's attitude.He was not there, as I was—to see Shakuntala win the allegiance of the very Kushans who had been assigned by Malwa to be her captors. God, the sheer force in that girl's soul! He turned away. Then, struck by a memory, turned back."Aide did give me a vision, once, while I was in India. That vision confirmed me in my determination to set Shakuntala free."Justinian cocked his head, listening."Many centuries from now, in the future—in a future, it might be better to say—all of Europe will be under the domination of one of history's greatest generals and conquerors. His name will be Napoleon. He will be defeated, in the end, brought down by his own overweening ambition. That defeat will be caused, as much as anything, by a great bleeding wound in Spain. He will conquer Spain, but never rule it. For years, his soldiers will die fighting the Spanish rebellion. The rebels will be aided by a nation which will arise on the island we call Britannia. The Peninsular War, those islanders will call it. And when Napoleon is finally brought down, they will look back upon that war and see in it one of the chief sources of their victory."Still nothing. Skepticism.Belisarius shrugged. Left. Outside, in the corridor, Aide spoke in his mind.