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II: Undercurrents

Chapter 1

 

At the Orado City Space Terminal, the Customs and Public Health machine was smoothly checking through passengers disembarking from a liner from Jontarou. A psionic computer of awesome dimensions, the machine formed one side of a great hall along which the stream of travelers moved towards the city exits and their previously cleared luggage. Unseen behind the base of the wall—armored, as were the housings of all Federation psionic machines in public use—its technicians sat in rows of cubicles, eyes fixed on dials and indicators, hands ready to throw pinpointing switches at the quiver of a blip.

The computer's sensors were simultaneously searching for contraband and dutiable articles, and confirming the medical clearance given passengers before an interstellar ship reached Orado's atmosphere. Suggestions of inimical or unregistered organisms, dormant or active, would be a signal to quarantine attendants at the end of the slideways to shepherd somebody politely to a detention ward for further examination. Customs agents were waiting for the other type of signal.

It was a dependable, unobtrusive procedure, causing no unnecessary inconvenience or delay, and so generally established now at major spaceports in the Federation of the Hub that sophisticated travelers simply took it for granted. However, the machine had features of which neither Customs nor Health were aware. In a room across the spaceport, two men sat watchfully before another set of instruments connected to the computer's scanners. Above these instruments was a wide teleview of the Customs hall. Nothing appeared to be happening in the room until approximately a third of the passengers from Jontarou had moved through the computer's field. Then the instruments were suddenly active, and a personality identification chart popped out of a table slot before the man on the left.

He glanced at the chart, said, "Telzey Amberdon. It's our pigeon. Fix on her!"

The man on the right grunted, eyes on the screen where the teleview pickup had shifted abruptly to a point a few yards ahead of and above a girl who had just walked into the hall. Smartly dressed and carrying a small handbag, she was a slim and dewy teenager, tanned, blue-eyed, and brown-haired. As the pickup began to move along the slideway with her, the man on the right closed a switch, placed his hand on a plunger.

Simultaneously, two things occurred in the hall. Along the ceiling a string of nearly microscopic ports opened, extruding needle paralyzers pointed at the girl; and one of the floating ambulances moored tactfully out of sight near the exits rose, shifted forward twenty feet and stopped again. If the girl collapsed, she would be on her way out of the hall in a matter of seconds, the event almost unnoticed except by the passengers nearest her.

"If you want her, we have her," said the man on the right.

"We'll see." The first observer slipped the identification chart into one of his instruments, and slowly depressed a calibrated stud, watching the girl's face in the teleview.

Surprise briefly widened her eyes; then her expression changed to sharp interest. After a moment, the observer experienced a sense of question in himself, an alert, searching feeling.

Words abruptly formed in his mind.

"Is somebody there? Did somebody speak just now?"

The man on the right grinned.

"A lamb!"

"Maybe." The first observer looked thoughtful. "Don't relax just yet. The response was Class Two."

He waited while the sense of question lingered, strengthened for a few seconds, then faded. He selected a second stud on the instrument, edged it down.

This time, the girl's mobile features showed no reaction, and nothing touched his mind. The observer shifted his eyes to a dial pointer, upright and unmoving before him, watched it while a minute ticked past, released the stud. Sliding the identification pattern chart out of the instrument, he checked over the new factors coded into it, and returned it to the table slot.

Forty-two miles off in Orado City, in the headquarters complex of the Federation's Psychology Service, another slot opened, and a copy of the chart slid out on a desk. Somebody picked it up.

"Hooked and tagged and never knew it," the first observer was remarking. "You can call off the fix." He added, "Fifteen years old. She was spotted for the first time two weeks ago. . . ."

In the Customs hall the tiny ports along the ceiling sealed themselves and the waiting ambulance slid slowly back to its mooring points.

* * *

The visiting high Federation official was speaking in guardedly even tones.

"I, as has everyone else," he said, "have been led to believe that the inspection machines provided by the Psychology Service for Health and Customs respected the anonymity of the public."

He paused. "Obviously, this can't be reconciled with the ability—displayed just now—of identifying individuals by their coded charts!"

Boddo, director of the Psychology Service's Department Eighty-four, laid the identification chart marked with the name of Telzey Amberdon down before him. He looked at it for a moment without speaking, his long, bony face and slanted thick brows giving him a somewhat satanic appearance. The visitor recently had been appointed to a Federation position which made it necessary to provide him with ordinarily unavailable information regarding the Psychology Service's means and methods of operation. He had spent two days being provided with it, in department after department of the Service, and was showing symptoms, not unusual on such occasions, of accumulated shock.

The policy in these cases was based on the assumption that the visitor possessed considerable intelligence, or he would not have been there. He should be given ample time to work out the shock and revise various established opinions. If he failed to do this, his mind would be delicately doctored before he left Headquarters, with the result that he would forget most of what he had learned and presently discover good reason for taking another job—specifically one which did not involve intimate contacts with the Psychology Service.

Boddo, not an unkind man, decided to do what he could to help this unwitting probationer over the hump.

"The Customs computer isn't supposed to be able to identify individuals," he agreed. "But I believe you already know that many of the psionic machines we put out aren't limited to the obvious functions they perform."

"I understand, of course, that complete candor can't always be demanded of a government agency." The visitor indicated the one-way screen through which they had looked in on the room at the spaceport. "But this is deliberate, planned deception. If I understood correctly what happened just now, the so-called Customs machine—supposedly there simply to expedite traffic and safeguard the health of this world—not only identifies unsuspecting persons for you but actually reads their minds."

"The last to a rather limited extent," Boddo said. "It's far from being the best all-around device for that purpose. In practice a vanishingly small fraction of the public is affected. I couldn't care less about having the thoughts of the average man or woman invaded; and if I wanted to, I wouldn't have the time. Department Eighty-four is the branch of the Service's intelligence which investigates, registers, records and reports on psis, and real or apparent psionic manifestations outside the Service. This office coordinates such information. We aren't interested in anything else.

"I imagine," Boddo went on, "you've been told of the overall program to have advanced psionic machines in general use throughout the Hub in the not too distant future?"

"Yes, and I don't like it," the visitor said. "The clandestine uses to which these machines are being put today certainly are undesirable enough. What is to insure that the further spread of your devices won't lead to the transformation of the Federation into a police state with an utterly unbreakable hold on the minds of the population? The temptation . . . the possibility . . . will always be there.

"And if that doesn't happen," he said, "in a few decades the situation will be as bad, or worse. Inevitably, the machines will multiply the tremendous problems already presented by organized crime, by power politics, by greed, stupidity and ignorance."

"As I've understood it," Boddo replied, "the gradual, orderly introduction of psionic machines is expected to solve the problems you've mentioned progressively as the program unfolds."

"I don't see how that will happen," said the visitor. "Unless that's the reason you track down these so-called human psis. A clever campaign to divert the public's concern to such people might very well leave the psionic machines looking innocuous by comparison."

"Um . . ." Boddo pursed his lips, frowning. "As it happens," he observed, "the purpose of this office is almost the reverse of what you suggest."

"I don't follow that," the visitor said shortly.

Boddo said, "The last thing in the world we'd want is to bring the information this office gathers to the public's attention. The Service, of course, is conducting a continuous campaign on many fronts to reduce uneasiness and hostility about psionic machines. Our specific assignment is to prevent occurrences—arising from the activities of human psis—which might strengthen that feeling. Or, if they can't be prevented, to provide harmless explanations for them, and to make sure they aren't repeated—at least not by the psi in question."

The official scowled. "I still don't see . . . What occurrences?"

"We are not," Boddo said patiently, "in the least worried about what dowsers, professional mind-readers and fortune-tellers might do. Not at all. The public's familiar with them and regards them on the whole as harmlessly freakish. When the performance of such a person is sufficiently dependable, we call him or her a Class One psi. Class One falls into rather neat categories—eighteen, to be exact—and functions in a stereotyped manner. The Class One, in fact, is almost defined by his limitations."

"Then . . ."

"Yes," Boddo said, "there's another type. The Class Two. A rare bird, as he apparently always has been. But recent breakthroughs in psionic theory and practice make it easier to identify him. We feel that the most desirable place for a Class Two at present is in the Psychology Service. I'll introduce you presently to a few of them."

"I . . . what kind of people are they?"

Boddo shrugged. "Not too remarkable—except for their talents. If you met the average Class Two, you'd see a normal, perhaps somewhat unusually healthy human being. As for the talents, anything a Class One can do, the Class Two who has developed the same line does better; and he's almost never restricted to a specialty, or even to two or three specialties. In that respect, his talent corresponds more closely to normal human faculties and acquired skills. It can be explored, directed, trained and developed."

"Developed to what extent?" the official asked.

"It depends on the individual. You mentioned mind-reading. In the Class Two who has the faculty, it may appear as anything from a Class One's general impressions or sensing of scattered specific details on up. Up to the almost literal reading of minds." Boddo looked thoughtfully at the visitor. "A very few can tell what's passing through any mind they direct their attention on as readily and accurately as if they were reading a book. The existence of such people is one of the things we prefer not to have publicized at present. It might produce unfavorable reactions."

Doubt and uneasiness were showing in the visitor's face. "That would not be surprising. Such abnormal powers leave the ordinary man at a severe disadvantage."

"True enough," Boddo said. "But the ordinary man is under a similar disadvantage whenever he confronts someone who is considerably more intelligent or more experienced than himself, or who simply points a gun at him. And he's much more likely to run into difficulties like that. It's extremely improbable that he would come to the attention of a capable Class Two mind-reader even once in his lifetime. If he did, the probability is again that the mind-reader would have no interest in him. But if he did happen to take an interest in our ordinary man, there's still no reason to assume it would be for any malevolent purpose."

The visitor cleared his throat. "But there are criminal psis?"

"Of course there are," Boddo said.

"And your office takes steps to protect the public against them?"

Boddo shook his head.

"Don't misunderstand me," he said. "It isn't my business to look out for the public. I believe you know that the only category of crimes with which the Psychology Service concerns itself directly are those against the Federation or against humanity. That applies also where psis are involved. What a Class Two does becomes of interest to us only when it might have an adverse effect on the psionic program. Then it doesn't matter whether he's actually committing crimes or not. We close down on him very quickly. Indirectly, of course, that does protect the public.

"Ordinarily, it isn't a question of malice. A Class Two may get careless, or he begins to engage in horse play at the expense of his neighbors. He's amusing himself. But as a result, he draws attention. Bizarre things have happened which seemingly can't be explained by ordinary reasoning. At other times, such incidents would cause some speculation and then be generally forgotten. At present, they can have more serious repercussions. So we try to prevent them. If necessary, we provide cover explanations and do what is necessary to bring the offending psi under control."

"In what way do you control these people?" the visitor asked.

Boddo picked up the personal identification chart of Telzey Amberdon.

"Let's consider the case of the young psi who came through the space terminal a short while ago," he said. "It will illustrate our general methods satisfactorily." He blinked at the codings on the chart for a moment, turned it over, thrust one end into a small glowing desk receptacle marked For Occasional Observation, withdrew it and dropped it into a filing slot.

"We knew this psi would be arriving on Orado today," he went on. "We'd had no previous contact with her, and only one earlier report which indicated she had acted as a xenotelepath—that is, she had been in mental communication with members of a telepathic nonhuman race. That particular ability appears in a relatively small number of psis, but its possessor is more often than not a Class One who fails to develop any associated talents.

"The check made at the spaceport showed immediately that this youngster is not Class One. She is beginning to learn to read human minds, with limitations perhaps due chiefly to a lack of experience, and she has discovered the art of telephypnosis, which is a misnamed process quite unrelated to ordinary hypnotic methods, though it produces similar general effects. These developments have all taken place within the past few weeks."

The visitor gave him a startled look. "You make that child sound rather dangerous!"

Boddo shrugged. "As far as this office is concerned, she is at present simply a Class Two, with a quite good though still largely latent potential. She picked up a scrambled telepathic impulse directed deliberately at her, but was not aware then that her mind was being scanned by our machine. A really accomplished Class Two would sense that. Neither did she realize that the machine was planting a compulsion in her mind."

"A compulsion?" the official repeated.

Boddo considered, said, "In effect, she's now provided with an artificial conscience regarding her paranormal talents which suggests, among other things, that she should seek proper authorization in using them. That's the standard procedure we follow after identifying a Class Two."

"It prevents them from using their abilities?"

"Not necessarily. It does tend to keep them out of minor mischief, but if they're sufficiently self-willed and motivated, they're quite likely to override the compulsion. That's particularly true if they discover what's happened, as some of them do. Still, it places a degree of restraint on them, and eventually leads a good number to the Psychology Service . . . which, of course, is what we want."

The visitor reflected. "What would you have done if the girl had realized the Customs machine was investigating her mind?"

Boddo smiled briefly. "Depending on her reactions, the procedure might have become a little more involved at that point. The ultimate result would have been about the same—the compulsion would have been installed."

There was a pause. The official looked thoughtful. He said finally, "You feel then that the Service's method of supervising psis is adequate?"

"It appears to keep the Class Two psis from causing trouble well enough," Boddo said. "Naturally, it isn't completely effective. For one thing, we can't expect to get a record of all of them. Then there's a divergent group called the unpredictables. Essentially they're just that. You might say the one thing they show in common is a highly erratic development of psionic ability."

"What do you do about them?"

Boddo said, "We have no formula for handling unpredictables. It wouldn't be worth the trouble to try to devise one which was flexible enough to meet every possibility. They're very rarely encountered."

"So rarely that there's no reason to worry about them?"

Boddo scratched his cheek, observed, "The Service doesn't regard an unpredictable as a cause for serious concern."

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Scowling with concentration, Telzey Amberdon sat, eyes closed, knees drawn up and arms locked about them, on the couch-bed in her side of duplex bungalow 18-19, Student Court Ninety-two, of Pehanron College. When she'd looked over at the rose-glowing pointers of a wall clock on the opposite side of the room, they had told her there wasn't much more than an hour left before Orado's sun would rise. That meant she had been awake all night, though she was only now beginning to feel waves of drowsiness.

Except for the glow from the clock, the room was dark, its windows shielded. She had thought of turning on lights, but there was a chance that a spot check by the college's automatic monitors would record the fact; and then Miss Eulate, the Senior Counselor of Section Ninety-two, was likely to show up during the morning to remind Telzey that a fifteen-year-old girl, even if she happened to be a privileged Star Honor Student, simply must get in her full and regular sleep periods.

It would be inconvenient just now if such an admonishment was accompanied by a suspension of honor student privileges. So the lights stayed out. Light, after all, wasn't a requirement in sitting there and probing about in an unsuspecting fellow-creature's mind, which was what Telzey had been engaged in during the night.

If the mind being probed had known what was going on, it might have agreed with Miss Eulate. But it didn't. It was the mind of a very large dog named Chomir, owned by Gonwil Lodis who occupied the other side of the duplex and was Telzey's best college friend, though her senior by almost four years.

Both Gonwil and Chomir were asleep, but Chomir slept fitfully. He was not given to prolonged concentration on any one subject, and for hours Telzey had kept him wearily half dreaming, over and over, about certain disturbing events which he hadn't really grasped when they occurred. He passed most of the night in a state of vague irritation, though his inquisitor was careful not to let the feeling become acute enough to bring him awake.

It wasn't pleasant for Telzey either. Investigating that section of Chomir's mind resembled plodding about in a dark swamp agitated by violent convulsions and covered by a smothering fog. From time to time, it became downright nerve-wracking as blasts of bewildered fury were transmitted to her with firsthand vividness out of the animal's memories. The frustrating side of it, however, was that the specific bits of information for which she searched remained obscured by the blurry, sporadic, nightmarish reliving which seemed to be the only form in which those memories could be made to show up just now. And it was extremely important to get the information because she suspected Chomir's experiences might mean that somebody was planning the deliberate murder of Gonwil Lodis.

She had got into the investigation almost by accident. Gonwil was one of the very few persons to whom Telzey had mentioned anything about her recently acquired ability to pry into other minds, and she had been on a walk with Chomir in the wooded hills above Pehanron College during the afternoon. Without apparent cause, Chomir suddenly had become angry, stared and sniffed about for a moment, then plunged bristling and snarling into the bushes. His mistress sprinted after him in high alarm, calling out a warning to anyone within earshot, because Chomir, though ordinarily a very well-mannered beast, was physically capable of taking a human being or somebody else's pet dog apart in extremely short order. But she caught up with him within a few hundred yards and discovered that his anger appeared to have spent itself as quickly as it had developed. Instead, he was acting now in an oddly confused and worried manner.

Gonwil thought he might have scented a wild animal. But his behavior remained a puzzle—Chomir had always treated any form of local wildlife they encountered as being beneath his notice. Half seriously, since she wasn't entirely convinced of Telzey's mind-reading ability, Gonwil suggested she might use it to find out what had disturbed him; and Telzey promised to try it after lights-out when Chomir had settled down to sleep. It would be her first attempt to study a canine mind, and it might be interesting.

Chomir turned out to be readily accessible to a probe, much more so than the half-dozen nontelepathic human minds Telzey had looked into so far, where many preliminary hours of search had been needed to pick up an individual's thought patterns and get latched solidly into them. With Chomir she was there in around thirty minutes. For a while, most of what she encountered appeared grotesquely distorted and incomprehensible; then something like a translating machine in Telzey's brain, which was the xenotelepathic ability, suddenly clicked in, and she found herself beginning to change the dog's sleep impressions into terms which had a definite meaning to her. It was a little like discovering the key to the operation of an unfamiliar machine. She spent an hour investigating and experimenting with a number of its mechanisms; then, deciding she could control Chomir satisfactorily for her purpose, she shifted his thoughts in the direction of what had happened that afternoon.

Around an hour or so later again, she stopped to give them both a rest.

The event in the hills didn't look any less mystifying now, but it had begun to acquire definitely sinister overtones. If Chomir had known of the concept of unreality, he might have applied it to what had occurred. He had realized suddenly and with a blaze of rage that somewhere nearby was a man whom he remembered from a previous meeting as representing a great danger to Gonwil. He had rushed into the woods with every intention of tearing off the man's head, but then the fellow suddenly was gone again.

That was what had left Chomir in a muddled and apprehensive frame of mind. The man had both been there, and somehow not been there. Chomir felt approximately as a human being might have felt after an encounter with a menacing phantom which faded into thin air almost as soon as it was noticed. Telzey then tried to bring the earlier meeting with the mysterious stranger into view; but here she ran into so much confusion and fury that she got no clear details. There were occasional impressions of white walls—perhaps a large, white-walled room—and of a narrow-faced man, who somehow managed to stay beyond the reach of Chomir's teeth.

By that time, Telzey felt somewhat disturbed. Something out of the ordinary clearly had happened. And supposing the narrow-faced stranger did spell danger to Gonwil . . .

Gonwil had told her, laughing, not believing a word of it, a story she'd been hearing herself since she was a child; how on Tayun, the planet from which she had come to Orado to be a student at Pehanron, there were people who had been responsible for the death of her parents when she was less than a year old, and who intended eventually to kill Gonwil as the final act of revenge for some wrong her father supposedly had done.

Tayun appeared to have a well-established vendetta tradition, so the story might not be completely impossible. But as Gonwil told it, it did seem very unlikely.

On the other hand, who else could have any possible reason for wanting to harm Gonwil?

The instant she asked herself the question, Telzey felt a flick of alarmed shock. Because now that the possibility had occurred to her, she could answer the question immediately. She knew a group of people who might very well want to harm Gonwil, not as an act of vendetta but for the simple and logical reason that it would be very much to their material benefit if Gonwil died within the next few months.

She sat still a while, barely retaining her contacts with Chomir while she turned the thought around, considered it and let it develop. If she was right, this was an extremely ugly thing, and she could see nothing to indicate she was wrong.

Late last summer she had been invited to spend a few days with Gonwil as house guests of a lady who was Gonwil's closest living relative and a very dear friend, and who would be on Orado with her family for a short stay before returning to Tayun. Socially speaking, the visit was not a complete success, though Gonwil remained unaware of it. Telzey and the Parlin family—father, mother, and son—formed strong feelings of mutual dislike almost at sight, but stayed polite about it. Malrue Parlin was a handsome, energetic woman, who completely overshadowed her husband and son. She'd been almost excessively affectionate towards Gonwil.

It was Malrue, from what Telzey had heard, who had always been deeply concerned that the hypothetical vendettists might catch up with Gonwil some day . . .

When his parents left, Parlin Junior remained on Orado with the avowed intention of winning Gonwil over to the idea of becoming his bride. Gonwil, though moderately fond of Junior, didn't care for the idea. But, more from fear of hurting Malrue's feelings than his, she'd been unable to bring herself to brush Junior off with sufficient firmness. At least, he'd kept returning.

And the thing, Telzey thought, it never had occurred to Gonwil, or to her, to speculate about was that Gonwil had inherited a huge financial fortune which Malrue Parlin was effectively controlling at present, and which she would go on controlling if Junior's suit was successful . . . or again if Gonwil happened to die before she came of age, which she would in just three months time.

In spite of Gonwil's diffidence in handling Junior, it must have become clear to both Junior and his mother some while ago that the marriage plan had fizzled.

One somehow didn't consider that people one had met, even if one hadn't liked them, might be planning murder. It seemed too unnatural. But murder was in fact the most common of major crimes anywhere in the Hub, and it was general knowledge that the more sophisticated murderers quite regularly escaped retribution. The Federation's legal code made no more than a gesture of attempting to cope with them. It was a structure of compromises in everything but its essentials, with the primary purpose of keeping six hundred billion human beings living in more than a thousand semi-autonomous sun systems away from wholesale conflicts, while the area of generally accepted lawful procedure and precedent was slowly but steadily extended. In that, it was surprisingly effective. But meanwhile individual citizens could suddenly find themselves in situations where Federation Law told them in effect that it could do nothing and advised them to look out for themselves.

Murder, aside from its more primitive forms, frequently provided such a situation. There was a legal term for it, with a number of semilegal implications. It was "private war."

Telzey's impulse was to wake up Gonwil and tell her what had occurred to her. But she rejected the idea. She had only her report of Chomir's experiences to add to things Gonwil already knew; and so far those experiences proved nothing even if Gonwil didn't assume they existed in Telzey's imagination rather than in Chomir's memory. She would be incapable of accepting, even theoretically, that Malrue might want her dead; and in attempting to disprove it, she might very well do something that would precipitate the danger.

The thing to go for first was more convincing evidence of danger. Telzey returned her attention to Chomir.

* * *

Near morning, she acknowledged to herself she would get no further with the dog. He was responding more and more sluggishly and vaguely to her prods. She'd caught glimpses enough meanwhile to know his memory did hold evidence that wickedness of some kind was being brewed, but that was all. The animal mind couldn't cooperate any longer.

She should let Chomir rest for some hours at least. After he was fresh again, she might get at what she wanted without much trouble.

She eased off her contacts with his mind, drew away from it, felt it fade from her awareness. She opened her eyes again, yawned, sighed, reached over to the end of the couch and poked at the window control shielding. The room's windows appeared in the far wall, the shrubbery of the tiny bungalow garden swaying softly in the predawn quiet of the student court. Telzey turned bleary eyes towards the wall clock.

In an hour and a half, her father would be at his office in Orado City. The city was just under an hour away by aircar, and she'd have to get his advice and assistance in this matter at once. If Gonwil's death was planned, the time set for it probably wasn't many days away. Malrue and her husband were supposed to be on their way back to Orado for another of their annual visits, and Chomir's hated acquaintance had turned up again yesterday. The danger period could be expected to begin with Malrue's arrival.

By the time she'd showered, dressed and breakfasted, she found herself waking up again. Sunshine had begun to edge into the court. Telzey glanced at her watch, grabbed her personal communicator, clipped her scintillating Star Honor Student pass to her hat, and poked at the duplex's interphone buzzer.

After some seconds, Gonwil's voice came drowsily from the instrument. "Uh . . . who . . ."

"Me."

"Oh . . . Whyya up so early?"

"It's broad daylight," Telzey said. "Listen, I'm flying in to Orado City to see my father. I'm starting right now. If anyone is interested, tell them I'll be back for lunch, or I'll call in."

"Right." Gonwil yawned audibly.

"I was wondering," Telzey went on. "When did you say Mr. and Mrs. Parlin are due to land?"

"Day after tomorrow . . . last I heard from Junior. Why?"

"Got anything planned for the first part of the holidays?"

"Well, just to stay away from Sonny somehow. He heard about the holidays."

"I've thought of something that will do it," Telzey said.

"Fine!" Gonwil said heartily. "What?"

"Tell you when I get back. You're free to leave after lunch, aren't you?"

Gonwil clucked doubtfully. "There's six more test chips I'll have to clean up, and Finance Eleven is a living stinker! I think I can do it. I'll get at it right away. . . . Hey, wait a minute! Did you find out anything about . . . uh, well, yesterday?"

"We're started on it," Telzey said. "But I didn't really find out much."

* * *

In the carport back of the duplex, she eased herself into the driver's seat of a tiny Cloudsplitter and turned it into an enclosed ground traffic lane. The Star Honor Student pass got her through one of Pehanron's guard-screen exits without question; and a minute later the little car was airborne, streaking off towards the east.

Twenty miles on, Telzey checked the time again, set the Cloudsplitter to home in on one of Orado City's major traffic arteries, and released its controls. Her father should be about ready to leave his hotel by now. She dialed his call number on the car's communicator and tapped in her personal symbol.

Gilas Amberdon responded promptly. He had been, he acknowledged, about ready to leave; and yes, he would be happy to see her at his office in around forty-five minutes. What was it about?

"Something to do with xenotelepathy," Telzey said.

"Let's hear it." His voice had changed tone slightly.

"That would take a little time, Gilas."

"I can spare the time."

He listened without comment while she told him about her attempt to explore Chomir's memories, what she seemed to have found, and what she was concluding from it. It would be easy to persuade Gonwil to keep out of sight for a day or two, with the idea of avoiding Junior; after that, her loyalty to Malrue might create additional problems.

Gilas remained silent for a little after she finished. Then he said, "I'll do two things immediately, Telzey."

"Yes?"

"I'll have the Kyth Agency send over an operator to discuss the matter—Dasinger, if he's available. If your mysterious stranger is remaining in the vicinity of Pehanron College, the agency should be able to establish who he is and what he's up to. Finding him might not be the most important thing, of course."

Telzey felt a surge of relief. "You do think Malrue Parlin . . ."

"We should have some idea about that rather soon. The fact is simply that if the situation between Gonwil and the Parlins is as you've described it in respect to the disposal of her holdings in case of death, it demands a close investigation in itself. Mrs. Parlin, while she isn't in the big leagues yet, is considered one of the sharper financial operators on Tayun."

"Gonwil says she's really brilliant."

"She might be," Gilas said. "In any case, we'll have a check started to determine whether there have been previous suggestions of criminality connected with her operations. We'll act meanwhile on the assumption that the danger exists and is imminent. Your thought of getting Gonwil away from the college for a couple of days, or until we see the situation more clearly, is a very good one. We'll discuss it when you get here."

"All right."

"I don't quite see," Gilas went on, "how we're going to explain what we want done, in the matter of the man the dog's run into twice, without revealing something of your methods of investigation."

"No. I thought of that."

He hesitated. "Well, Dasinger's agency is commendably close-mouthed about its clients' affairs. The information shouldn't go any further. Are you coming in your own car?"

"Yes."

"Set it down on my private flange then. Ravia will take you through to the office."

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Switching off the communicator, Telzey glanced at her watch. For the next thirty minutes, the Cloudsplitter would continue on automatic towards one of the ingoing Orado City air lanes. After it swung into the lane, she would make better time by taking over the controls. Meanwhile, she could catch up on some of the sleep she'd lost.

She settled back comfortably in the driver's seat and closed her eyes.

At once a figure which gave the impression of hugeness began to appear in her mind. Telzey flinched irritably. It had been over a week since the Psionic Cop last came climbing out of her unconscious to lecture her; she'd begun to hope she was finally rid of him. But he was back, a giant with a stern metallic face, looking halfway between one of the less friendly Orado City air patrolmen and the humanized type of robot. In a moment, he'd start warning her again that she was engaging in activities which could lead only to serious trouble. . . .

She opened her eyes abruptly and the Cop was gone. But she might as well give up the idea of a nap just now. The compulsion against using telepathy somebody had thoughtfully stuck her with was weakening progressively; but the long session with Chomir could have stirred it up enough to produce another series of nightmares in which the Psionic Cop chased her around to place her under arrest. Half an hour of nightmares wouldn't leave her refreshed for the meeting with Gilas's detectives.

Telzey straightened up, sat frowning at the horizon. There had been no way of foreseeing complications like the Psionic Cop when the telepathic natives of Jontarou nudged her dormant talent into action, a little over eight weeks ago. The prospects of life as a psi had looked rather intriguing. But hardly had she stepped out of the ship at Orado City when her problems began.

First, there'd been the touch of something very much like a strong other-mind impulse in the Customs Hall. Some seconds after it faded, Telzey realized it hadn't been structured enough to be some other telepath's purposeful thought. But she'd had no immediate suspicions. The Customs people used a psionically powered inspection machine, and she was within its field at the moment. Undoubtedly, she'd picked up a brief burst of meaningless psionic noise coming from the machine.

She forgot about that incident then, because her mother met her at the spaceport. Federation Councilwoman Jessamine Amberdon had been informed of the events on Jontarou, and appeared somewhat agitated about them. Telzey found herself whisked off promptly to be put through a series of psychological tests, to make sure she had come to no harm. Only when the tests indicated no alarming changes in her mental condition, in fact no detectable changes at all, did Jessamine seem reassured.

"Your father took immediate steps to have your part in the Jontarou matter hushed up," she informed Telzey. "And . . . well, xenotelepathy hardly seems very important! You're not too likely to run into telepathic aliens again." She smiled. "I admit I've been worried, but it seems no harm has been done. We can just forget the whole business now."

Telzey wasn't too surprised. Jessamine was a sweet and understanding woman, but she had the streak of conservatism which tended to characterize junior members of the Grand Council of the Federation. And discreet opinion-sampling on shipboard already had told Telzey that conservative levels of Hub society regarded skills like telepathy as being in questionable taste, if indeed, they were not simply a popular fiction. Jessamine must feel it could do nothing to further the brilliant career she foresaw for her daughter if it was rumored that Telzey had become a freak.

It clearly was not the right time to admit that additional talents of the kind had begun to burgeon in her on the trip home. Jessamine was due to depart from Orado with the Federation's austere Hace Committee within a few days, and might be absent for several months. It wouldn't do to get her upset all over again.

With Telzey's father, it was a different matter. Gilas Amberdon, executive officer of Orado City's Bank of Rienne, could, when he chose, adopt a manner conservative enough to make the entire Hace Committee look frivolous. But this had never fooled his daughter much, and Gilas didn't disappoint her.

"You appear," he observed in the course of their first private talk after her return, "to have grasped the principle that it rarely pays to give the impression of being too unusual."

"It looks that way," Telzey admitted.

"And of course," Gilas continued, "if one does happen to be quite unusual, there might eventually be positive advantages to having played the thing down."

"Yes," Telzey agreed. "I've thought of that."

Gilas tilted his chair back and laced his fingers behind his neck. It was his customary lecture position, though there appeared to be no lecture impending at the moment.

"What are your plans?" he asked.

"I want to finish law school first," Telzey said. "I think I can be out of Pehanron in about two years—but not if I get too involved in something else."

He nodded. "Then?"

"Then I might study telepathy and psionics generally. It looks as if it could be very interesting."

"Not a bad program," Gilas observed absently. He brought his chair back down to the floor, reached for a cigarette and lit it, eyes reflective.

"Psionics," he stated, "is a subject of which I know almost nothing. In that I'm not unique. Whatever research worthy of the name is being done on it has been going on behind locked doors for some time. Significant data are not released."

Telzey frowned slightly. "How do you know?"

"As soon as I learned of your curious adventures on Jontarou, I began a private investigation. A fact-finding agency is at present assembling all available information on psionics, sorting and classifying it. Because of the general aroma of secrecy in that area, they haven't been told for whom they're working. The results they obtain are forwarded to me through the nondirect mailing system."

Oh, very good! He couldn't have arranged things better if she'd told him just what she wanted.

"How useful the material we get in that manner will be remains to be seen," Gilas concluded. "But we have two years to consider what other approaches are indicated."

Telzey took a selection of the chips already forwarded to the bank by the fact-finding agency back to college with her. It had begun to be apparent on the return trip from Jontarou, when she was checking through the space liner's library, that there was something distinctly enigmatic about the subject of psis in the Hub. It expressed itself in the lack of information. She discovered a good deal on the government-controlled psionic machines, but what it all added up to was that they were billion-credit gadgets with mystery-shrouded circuits, which no private organization appeared able to build as yet, though a variety of them had been in public service for years.

About human psis, there was nothing worth the trouble of digging it out.

In her rooms at Pehanron that evening, she went over the fact-finding agency's chips. Again there was nothing really new. The reflection that all this could hardly be accidental crossed her mind a number of times.

Later in the night, Telzey had her first dream of the Psionic Cop. He came tramping after her, booming something about having received complaints about her; and for some reason it scared her silly. She woke up with her heart pounding wildly and found herself demonstrating other symptoms of anxiety. After getting a glass of water, she lay down again to think about it.

It had been a rather ridiculous dream, but she still felt shaky. She almost never had nightmares. But in Psych Two she'd learned that a dream, in particular a nightmare, always symbolized something of significance to the dreamer, and there had been instructions in various self-help methods which could be used in tracking a disturbing dream down to its source.

It took around an hour to uncover the source which had produced the dream-symbol of the Psionic Cop.

There was no real question about its nature. She'd been given a set of suggestions, cunningly interwoven with various aspects of her mental life, and anchored to emotional disturbance points. When she acted against the suggestions, the disturbances were aroused. The result had been a menacing dream.

She dug at the planted thoughts for a while, then decided to leave them alone. If the Psych texts were right, nothing in her mind that she had taken a really thorough look at was going to bother her too much again.

The question was who had been interested in giving her such instructions. Who didn't want her to experiment with psionics on her own or get too curious about it?

From there on, the details began to fall into place. . . .

The odd burst of psionic noise as she came through the Customs hall at the space terminal in Orado City—Telzey considered it with a sense of apprehensive discovery.

The Customs machine certainly wasn't supposed to be able to affect human minds. But it belonged to the same family as the psionic devices of the rehabilitation centers and mental therapy institutions, which did read, manipulate, and reshape human minds. The difference, supposedly, was simply that the Customs machine was designed to do other kinds of work.

But the authority which designed, constructed and maintained all psionic machines, the Federation's Psychology Service, was at present keeping the details of design and construction a carefully guarded secret. The reason given for this was that experimentation with the machines must be carried further before such details could be offered safely to the public. Which meant that whatever the Psychology Service happened to want built into any of its machines could be built into it. And that might include something which transmitted to the mind of psis an order to either enter the Psychology Service or stop putting their special abilities to use.

That was roughly what the suggestions they'd put into her mind amounted to.

But what was the purpose?

She couldn't know immediately—and, probably, she was not supposed to be wondering. The dream had led her to discover their trick, and that had brought her to the edge of something they wouldn't want known.

It wasn't a comfortable reflection. Telzey had listened to enough political shop talk among her mother's colleagues to know that the Federation could act in very decisive, ruthless ways in a matter of sufficient importance. And here was something, some plan or policy in connection with psis and psionics, apparently important enough to remain unknown even to junior members of the Federation's Grand Council! Jessamine would have expressed a very different kind of concern if she'd had any inkling that a branch of Federation government was interested in her daughter's experience with xenotelepathy.

Telzey rubbed her neck pensively. She could keep such thoughts to herself, but she couldn't very well help having them. And if the Psychology Service looked into her mind again, they might not like at all what she'd been thinking.

So what should she do?

The whole thing was connected, of course, with their top-secret psionic machines. There was one of those—a supposedly very advanced type of mind-reader, as a matter of fact—about which she could get detailed first-hand information without going farther than the Bank of Rienne. And she might learn something from that which would fill in the picture for her.

The machine was used by Transcluster Finance, the giant central bank which regulated the activities of major financial houses on more than half the Federation's worlds, and wielded more actual power than any dozen planetary governments. In the field of financial ethics, Transcluster made and enforced its own laws. Huge sums of money were frequently at stake in disputes among its associates, and machines of presumably more than human incorruptibility and accuracy were therefore employed to help settle conflicting charges and claims.

Two members of the Bank of Rienne's legal staff who specialized in ethics hearings were pleased to learn of Telzey's scholarly interest in their subject. They explained the proceedings in which the psionic Verifier was involved at considerable length. In operation, the giant telepath could draw any information pertinent to a hearing from a human mind within minutes. A participant who wished to submit his statements to verification was left alone in a heavily shielded chamber. He sensed nothing, but his mind became for a time a part of the machine's circuits. He was then released from the chamber, and the Verifier reported what it had found to the adjudicators of the hearing. The report was accepted as absolute evidence; it could not be questioned.

Rienne's attorneys felt that the introduction of psionic verification had in fact brought about a noticeable improvement in ethical standards throughout Transcluster's vast finance web. Of course it was possible to circumvent the machines. No one was obliged to make use of them; and in most cases, they were instructed to investigate only specific details of thought and memory indicated to them to confirm a particular claim. This sometimes resulted in a hearing decision going to the side which most skillfully presented the evidence in its favor for verification, rather than to the one which happened to be in the right. A Verifier was, after all, a machine and ignored whatever was not covered by its instructions, even when the mind it was scanning contained additional information with a direct and obvious bearing on the case. This had been so invariably demonstrated in practice that no reasonable person could retain the slightest qualms on the point. To further reassure those who might otherwise hesitate to permit a mind-reading machine to come into contact with them, all records of a hearing were erased from the Verifier's memory as soon as the case was closed.

And that, Telzey thought, did in a way fill in the picture. There was no evidence that Transcluster's Verifiers operated in the way they were assumed to be operating—except that for fifteen years, through innumerable hearings, they had consistently presented the appearance of being able to operate in no other manner. But the descriptions she'd been given indicated they were vaster and presumably far more complex instruments than the Customs machine at the Orado City space terminal; and from that machine—supposedly no telepath at all—an imperceptible psionic finger had flicked out, as she passed, to plant a knot of compulsive suggestions in her mind.

So what were the Verifiers doing?

One of them was set up, not at all far away, in the heart of Hub finance, a key point of the Federation. Every moment of the day, enormously important information was coming in to it from a thousand worlds—flowing through the vicinity of the Psychology Service's mind-reading device.

Could it really be restricted to scanning specific minute sections of the minds brought into contact with it in the ethics hearings?

Telzey wondered what the two amiable attorneys would say if she told them what she thought about that.

But, of course, she didn't.

* * *

It was like having wandered off-stage, accidentally and without realizing it, and suddenly finding oneself looking at something that went on behind the scenery.

Whatever the purpose of the something was, chance observers weren't likely to be welcome.

She could tiptoe away, but so long as the Psychology Service was theoretically capable of looking inside her head at any moment to see what she had been up to, that didn't change anything. Sooner or later they'd take that look. And then they'd interfere with her again, probably in a more serious manner.

So far, there seemed to be no way of getting around the advantage they had in being able to probe minds. Of course, there were such things as mind-blocks. But even if she'd known how to go about finding somebody who would be willing to equip her with one, mind-blocks were supposed to become dangerous to one's mental health when they were retained indefinitely. And if she had one, she would have to retain it indefinitely. Mind-blocks weren't the answer she wanted.

On occasion, in the days following her conversation with the ethics hearing specialists, Telzey had a very odd feeling that the answer she wanted wasn't far away. But nothing else would happen; and the feeling faded quickly. The Psionic Cop popped up in her dreams now and then, each time with less effect than before; or more rarely, he'd come briefly into her awareness after she'd been concentrated on study for a few hours. On the whole, the Cop was a minor nuisance. It looked as if the underlying compulsion had been badly shaken up by the digging around she'd done when she discovered it, and was gradually coming apart.

But that again might simply prompt the Psychology Service to take much more effective measures the next time. . . .

That was how matters stood around the beginning of the third week after Telzey's return from Jontarou. Then, one afternoon, she met an alien who was native to a non-oxygen world humans listed by a cosmographic code symbol, and who possessed a well-developed psionic talent of his own.

* * *

She had spent several hours that day in one of Orado City's major universities to gather data for a new study assignment and, on her way out, came through a hall containing a dozen or so live habitat scenes from wildly contrasting worlds. The alien was in one of the enclosures, which was about a thousand cubic yards in size and showed an encrusted jumble of rocks lifting about the surface of an oily yellow liquid. The creature was sprawled across the rocks like a great irregular mass of translucent green jelly, with a number of variously shaped, slowly moving crimson blotches scattered through its interior.

Strange as it appeared, she was in a hurry and wouldn't have done more than glance at it through the sealing energy field which formed the transparent front wall if she hadn't caught a momentary telepathic impulse from within the enclosure as she passed. This wasn't so unusual in itself; there was, when one gave close attention to it, frequently a diffused psionic murmuring of human or animal origin or both around, but as a rule it was unaware and vague as the sound somebody might make in breathing.

The pulse that came from the alien thing seemed quite different. It could have been almost a softly whispered question, the meaningful probe of an intelligent telepath.

Telzey checked, electrified, to peer in at it. It lay motionless, and the impulse wasn't repeated. She might have been mistaken.

She shaped a thought herself, a light, unalarming "Hello, who are you?" sort of thought, and directed it gently at the green-jelly mass on the rocks.

A slow shudder ran over the thing; and then suddenly something smashed through her with numbing force. She felt herself stagger backwards, had an instant's impression of another blow coming, and of raising her arm to ward it off. Then she was somehow seated on a bench at the far end of the hall, and a uniformed attendant was asking her concernedly how she felt. It appeared she had fainted for the first time in her life. He'd picked her up off the floor and carried her to the bench.

Telzey still felt dazed, but not nearly dazed enough to tell him the truth. At the moment, she wasn't sure just what had happened back there, but it definitely was something to keep to herself. She told him the first thing to come to her mind, which was that she had skipped lunch and suddenly began to feel dizzy. That was all she remembered.

He looked somewhat relieved. "There's a cafeteria upstairs."

Telzey smiled, nodded. "I'll eat something and then I'll be all right!" She stood up.

The attendant didn't let her get away so easily. He accompanied her to the cafeteria, guiding her along by an elbow as if she were an infirm old lady. After he'd settled her at a table, he asked what she would like, and brought it to her. Then he sat down across from her.

"You do seem all right again!" he remarked at last. His anxious look wasn't quite gone. "The reason this has sort of spooked me, miss," he went on, "is something that happened around half a year ago."

"Oh? What was that?" Telzey asked carefully, sipping at the foamy chocolate-colored drink he had got for her. She wasn't at all hungry, but he obviously intended to hang around until she downed it.

There had been this other visitor, the attendant said, a well-dressed gentleman standing almost exactly where Telzey had been standing. The attendant happened to be glancing towards him when the gentleman suddenly began to stagger around, making moaning and screeching sounds, and dropped to the floor. "Only that time," the attendant said, "he was dead before we got there. And, ugh, his face . . . well, excuse me! I don't want to spoil your appetite. But it was a bad affair all around."

Telzey kept her eyes on her drink. "Did they find out what was wrong with him?"

"Something to do with his heart, they told me." The attendant looked at her doubtfully. "Well, I suppose it must have been his heart. It's just that those are very peculiar creatures they keep in that hall. It can make you nervous working around them."

"What kind of creatures are they?" Telzey asked.

He shook his head, said they didn't have names. Federation expeditions brought them back from one place and another, and they were maintained here, each in its made-to-order environment, so the scientists from the university could study them. In his opinion, they were such unnatural beasts that the public should be barred from the hall; but he didn't make the rules. Of course, there was actually no way they could hurt anybody from inside the habitat tanks, not through those force fields. But it had unnerved him today to see another visitor topple over before that one particular tank. . . .

He returned to his duties finally, and Telzey pushed her empty glass aside and considered the situation.

By now, every detail of what happened there had returned to her memory. The green-jelly creature definitely did hurt people through the energy screens around its enclosure . . . if the people happened to be telepaths. In them it found mental channels through which it could send savage surges of psi force. So the unfortunate earlier visitor had been a psi, who responded as unsuspectingly as she did to the alien's probing whisper, and then met quick death.

She'd fallen into the same trap, but escaped. In the first instant of stunned confusion, already losing consciousness, she'd had a picture of herself raising her arm to block the creature's blows. She hadn't done it, of course; the blows weren't physical ones, and couldn't be blocked in that manner. But in the same reflexive, immediate manner, she'd done something else, not even knowing what she did, but doing it simply because it was the only possible defensive move she could have made at that instant, and in that particular situation.

Now she knew what the move had been. Something that seemed as fragile as a soap bubble was stretched about her mind. But it wasn't fragile. It was a curtain of psi energy she'd brought into instant existence to check the creature's psi attacks as her senses blacked out.

It was still there, being maintained by a small part of her consciousness. She felt certain she could drop it, then raise it again at will—though she had no intention of doing that until she was a good, long distance away from the hostile mind in the habitat tank downstairs.

Although it needn't be, Telzey thought, a particularly hostile creature. Perhaps it had simply acted as it would have done on its own world where other telepathic creatures might be a natural prey, to be tricked into revealing themselves as they came near, and then struck down.

In a public park, ten minutes later, she sat down in a quiet place where she could make an undisturbed investigation of her psi bubble and its properties. After an hour or so, she decided she had learned enough about it for the moment, and went back to the hall of the live habitat scenes. There was a different attendant on duty now, and half-a-dozen other people were peering in at the occupant of one of the other tanks.

Telzey settled down on a bench opposite the enclosure of the green-jelly alien. He lay unmoving on his rocks and gave no indication of being aware of her return. She opened a section of the bubble, and sent him a sharp "You, there!" thought. A definitely unfriendly thought.

At once, he slammed back at her with a violence which seemed to shake the hall all around her. But the bubble was closed again, and there were no other effects. The attendant and the people farther down the hall obviously hadn't sensed anything. This was a matter strictly between psis.

Telzey let a minute or so pass before she gave the creature another prodding thought. This time, he was slower to react, and when he did, it was with rather less enthusiasm. He mightn't have liked the experience of having his thrusts bounced back by the bubble.

He had killed a human psi and tried to kill her, but she felt no real animosity towards him. He was simply too different for that. She could, however, develop a hate-thought if she worked at it, and she did. Then she opened the bubble and shot it at him.

The outworld thing shuddered. He struck back savagely and futilely. She lashed him with hate again, and he shuddered again.

Minutes later, he suddenly went squirming and flowing down the rocks and into the oily yellow liquid that washed around them. He was attempting panicky flight, and there was nowhere to go. Telzey stood up carefully and went over to the enclosure, where she could see him bunched up against the far side beneath the surface. He gave the impression of being very anxious to avoid further trouble with her. She opened the bubble wider than before, though still with some caution, picked out his telepathic channels and followed them into his mind. There was no resistance, but she flinched a little. The impression she had—translated very roughly into human terms—was of terrified, helpless sobbing. The creature was waiting to be killed.

She studied the strange mind a few minutes longer, then drew away from it, and left the habitat hall. It wouldn't be necessary to do anything else about the green-jelly alien. He wasn't very intelligent, but he had an excellent memory.

And never, never, never, would he attempt to attack one of the terrible human psis again.

* * *

Telzey had a curious feeling about the bubble. It was something with which she had seemed immediately more than half familiar. Letting it flick into being and out again soon was as automatic as opening and closing her eyes. And in tracing out the delicate manipulations by which its wispiest sections could be controlled and shifted, she had the impression of merely needing to refresh her memory about details already known. . . . This, of course, was the way to go about that! That was how it worked. . . .

There had been that other tantalizing feeling recently. Of being very close to an answer to her problems with the Psychology Service, but not quite able to see it. Perhaps the bubble had begun to form in response to her need for an answer and the awareness of it would have come to her gradually if the alien's attack hadn't brought it out to be put to instant emergency use. It was a fluid pattern, drawing the psi energy that sustained it from unknown sources, as if there were an invisible ocean of psi nearby to which she had put out a tap. She had heard of soft-bodied, vulnerable creatures which survived by fitting themselves into the discarded hard shells of other creatures and trudging about in them. The bubble was a little like that, though the other way around—something she had shaped to fit her; not a part of herself, but a marvelously delicate and adjustable apparatus which should have many uses beyond turning into a solid suit of psi armor in emergencies.

At the moment, for example, it might be used to prepare a deceptive image of herself to offer to future Psychology Service investigators. . . .

That took several days. Then, so far as Telzey could tell, any significant thinking she did about psionics, or the Psychology Service and its machines, would produce only the blurriest of faint traces under a telepathic probe. The same for her memories on the subject, back to the night when she'd been scared out of sleep by her first dream of the Psionic Cop. And the explanation was that the Cop had scared her so that she'd lost her interest in the practice of telepathy then and there.

Since their suggestion had been to do just that, they might buy it. On the other hand, if they took a really careful look into her mind, the thought-camouflage might not fool them long, or even for an instant. But they'd have to start searching around then to find out what really had been going on; and if they touched any part of the bubble block, she should know it. She had made other preparations for that.

In a rented deposit vault of the nondirect mailing system in Orado City there was a stack of addressed and arrival-dated microchips, all with an identical content; and on Telzey's personal communicator two tiny control buttons were keyed to the vault. Five minutes after she pressed down the first button, the chips would be launched into the automatic mazes of the nondirect system, where nothing could intercept or identify them until they reached their individual destinations. She could stop the process by depressing the second button before the five minutes were up, but in no other manner. The chips contained the thinking she'd done about the psionic machines. It might be only approximately correct, but it still was a kind of thinking the Psychology Service would not want to see broadcast at random to the news media of the Hub.

It wasn't a wholly satisfactory solution for a number of reasons, including the one that she couldn't know just what she might start by pushing the button. But it would have to do until she thought of something better. If there were indications of trouble, simply revealing that she could push it should make everybody quite careful for the moment. And after completing her preparations, she hadn't actually been expecting trouble, at least not for some while. She was behaving in a very innocuous manner, mainly busy with her legitimate studies; and that checked with the picture presented by the thought-camouflage. She'd talked about telepathy only to Gilas and Gonwil, telling Gonwil just enough to make sure she wouldn't mention the esoteric chips Telzey occasionally immersed herself in to somebody else.

Now, of course, that might change to some extent. As Gilas had implied, they couldn't risk holding back information from the detectives he was employing because what they withheld might turn out to have been exactly the information the detectives had needed. If they were as discreet as Gilas thought, it probably wouldn't matter much.

Telzey twisted her mouth doubtfully, staring at the thin, smoky lines of air traffic converging far ahead on Orado City. . . .

Probably, it wouldn't!

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

Several hours after Telzey's departure, Pehanron College's buildings and grounds, spreading up the sun-soaked hills above the residential town of Beale, were still unusually quiet.

Almost half the student body was struggling with mid-summer examinations, and a good proportion of those who had finished had obtained permission to get off to an early start for the holidays. The carports extending along the backs of the student courts showed a correspondingly large number of vacancies, though enough gleaming vehicles remained to have supplied the exhibits for the average aircar show, a fair percentage running up into the price ranges of small interstellar freighters. Pehanron sometimes was accused of opening its lists only to the sons and daughters of millionaires; and while this wasn't strictly true, the college did scout assiduously for such of them as might be expected to maintain the pace of its rugged curriculum. Pehanron liked to consider itself a select hatchery from which sprang a continuous line of leaders in many fields of achievement, and as a matter of fact, it did turn out more than its share of imposing names.

There was no one in sight in Court Ninety-two when Senior Counselor Eulate turned into it, arriving from the direction of the managerial offices. Miss Eulate was a plump, brisk little woman whose normal expression when she felt unobserved was a vaguely worried frown. The frown was somewhat pronounced at the moment.

At the gate of the duplex bungalow marked 18-19, the counselor came to an abrupt stop. In the center of the short garden path, head and pointed wolf ears turned in her direction, lay a giant white dog of the type known as Askanam arena hounds—a breed regarded, so Miss Eulate had been told, as the ultimate in reckless canine ferocity and destructiveness when aroused.

The appearance of Chomir—a yellow-eyed, extravagantly muscled hundred-and-fifty-pounder—always brought this information only too vividly back to Miss Eulate's mind. Not wishing to arouse the silently staring monster now, she continued to hesitate at the gate. Then, hearing the intermittent typing from beyond the open door at the end of the path, she called out in a carefully moderate tone. "Gonwil?"

The typing stopped. Gonwil's voice replied, "Yes . . . is that you, Miss Eulate?"

"It is. Please keep an eye on Chomir while I come in."

"Oh, for goodness sake!" Gonwil appeared laughing in the door. She was eighteen; a good-looking, limber-bodied, sunny-tempered blonde. "Now you know Chomir won't hurt you! He likes you!"

Miss Eulate's reply was a skeptical silence. But she proceeded up the path now, giving the giant hound a wary four feet of clearance as she went by. To her relief Chomir didn't move until she was past; then he merely placed his massive head back on his forelegs and half closed his eyes. Airily ignoring Gonwil's amused smile, Miss Eulate indicated the closed entrance door on the other side of the duplex as she came up. "Telzey isn't still asleep?"

"No, she left early. Did you want to see her?"

Miss Eulate shook her head.

"This concerns you," she said. "It would be better if we went inside."

In Gonwil's study, she brought a note pad and a small depth photo from her pocket. She held out the pad. "Do these names mean anything to you?"

Gonwil took the pad curiously. After a moment, she shook her head.

"No. Should they?"

Looking as stern as her chubby features permitted, Miss Eulate handed her the photo. "Then do you know these two people?"

Gonwil studied the two figures briefly, said, "To the best of my knowledge, I've never seen either of them, Miss Eulate. What is this about?"

"The Tayun consulate in Orado City had the picture transmitted to us a short while ago," Miss Eulate said. "The two persons in it—giving the names I showed you—called the consulate earlier in the morning and inquired about you."

"What did they want?"

"They said they had learned you were on Orado and would like to know where you could be found. They implied they were personal friends of yours from Tayun."

The girl shook her head. "They may be from Tayun, but we aren't even casually acquainted. I . . ."

"The consulate," Miss Eulate said grimly, "suspected as much! They secretly recorded the screen images of the callers, who were then requested to come to the consulate to be satisfactorily identified while your wishes in the matter were determined. The callers agreed but have failed to show up. The consulate feels this may indicate criminal intentions. I understand you have been placed on record there as being involved in a private war on Tayun, and . . ."

"Oh, no!" Gonwil wrinkled her nose in sudden dismay. "Not that nonsense again! Not just now!"

"Please don't feel alarmed!" Miss Eulate told her, not without a trace of guilty relish. The counselor took a strong vicarious interest in the personal affairs of her young charges, and to find one of them touched by the dangerous glamour of a private war was undeniably exciting. "Nobody can harm you here," she went on. "Pehanron maintains a very dependable security system to safeguard its students."

"I'm sure it does," Gonwil said. "But frankly, Miss Eulate, I don't need to be safeguarded and I'm not at all alarmed."

"You aren't?" Miss Eulate asked, surprised.

"No. Whatever reason these people had for pretending to be friends of mine . . . I can think of several perfectly harmless ones . . . they aren't vendettists."

"Vendettists?"

Gonwil smiled. "Commercial vendetta. An old custom on Tayun—a special kind of private war. A couple of generations ago it was considered good form to kill off your business competitors if you could. It isn't being done so much any more, but the practice hasn't entirely died out."

Miss Eulate's eyebrows rose. "But then . . ."

"Well, the point is," Gonwil said, "that I'm not involved in any vendetta or private war! And I never have been, except in Cousin Malrue's imagination."

"I don't understand," the counselor said. "Cousin Malrue . . . you're referring to Mrs. Parlin?"

"Yes. She isn't exactly a cousin but she's the closest relative I have. In fact, the only one. And I'm very fond of her. I practically grew up in the Parlin family . . . and of course they've more or less expected that Junior and I would eventually get married."

Miss Eulate nodded. "Rodel Parlin the Twelfth. Yes, I know." She had met the young man several times on his visits to the college to see Gonwil and gained an excellent impression of him. It looked like an eminently suitable match, one of which Pehanron would certainly have approved; but regrettably Gonwil had not returned Rodel Parlin the Twelfth's very evident affection in kind.

"Now, Cousin Malrue," Gonwil went on, "has always been afraid that one or the other of my father's old business enemies on Tayun was going to try to have me killed before I came of age. My parents and my uncle—my father's brother—founded Lodis Associates and made a pretty big splash in Tayun's financial world right from the start. Malrue and her husband joined the concern before I was born, and then, when I was about a year and a half old, my parents and my uncle were killed in two separate accidents. Cousin Malrue was convinced it was vendetta action. . . ."

"Mightn't it have been?" Miss Eulate asked.

Gonwil shrugged. "She had some reason for suspecting it at the time. My parents and uncle apparently had been rather ruthless in the methods they used to build up Lodis Associates, and no doubt they had plenty of enemies. The authorities who investigated the matter said very definitely that the deaths had been accidental, but Malrue didn't accept that.

"Then, after the directors of a Tayun bank had been appointed my guardians, some crank sent them a message. It said my parents had died as a result of the evil they'd done, and that their daughter would never live to handle the money they had robbed from better people than themselves. You can imagine what effect that had on Cousin Malrue!"

"Yes, I believe I can."

"And that," Gonwil said, "is really the whole story. Since then, every time it's looked as if I might have come close to being in an accident or getting harmed in some way, Cousin Malrue has taken it for granted that vendettists were behind it. The thing has simply preyed on her mind!"

Miss Eulate looked doubtful, asked, "Isn't it possible that you are taking the matter too lightly, Gonwil? As you may remember, I met Mrs. Parlin on one occasion here. We had quite an extensive conversation, and she impressed me as being a very intelligent and levelheaded person."

"Oh, she is," Gonwil said. "Don't misunderstand me. Cousin Malrue is in fact the most intelligent woman I've ever known. She's been running Lodis Associates almost single-handedly for the past fifteen years, and the firm's done very well in that time.

"No, it's just that one subject on which she isn't reasonable. Nobody can argue her out of the idea that vendettists are lurking for me. It's very unfortunate that those mysterious strangers, whoever they were, should have showed up just now. By Tayun's laws I'll become a responsible adult on the day I'm nineteen, and that's only three months away."

Miss Eulate considered, nodded. "I see! You will then be able to handle the money left to you by your parents. So if the vendettists want to make good on their threat, they would have to, uh, eliminate you before that day!"

"Uh-huh," Gonwil said. "Actually, of course, most of the money stays in Lodis Associates, but from then on I'll have a direct voice in the concern's affairs. The Parlin family and I own about seventy per cent of the stock between us. I suppose those nonexistent vendettists would consider that the same thing as handling my parents' money."

Miss Eulate was silent a moment. "If the people who called the consulate were not the vendettists," she said, "why should they have behaved in such a suspicious manner?"

Gonwil laughed ruefully.

"Miss Eulate, I do believe you could become almost as bad as Cousin Malrue about this! Why, they might have had any number of reasons for acting as they did. If they were from Tayun, they could know I'd soon be of age and they might have some business they'd like me to put money in. Or perhaps they just didn't express themselves clearly enough, and they're actually friends of some friends of mine who asked them to look me up on Orado. Or they could be from a Tayun news agency, looking for a story on the last member of the Lodis family. You see?"

"Well, there are such possibilities, of course," the counselor conceded. "However, I fail to understand then why you appear to be concerned about Mrs. Parlin's reactions. If nothing comes of the matter, isn't it quite unlikely that she'll ever learn that somebody has inquired about you?"

"Ordinarily, it would be," Gonwil said glumly. "But she and Rodel the Twelfth are due to arrive on Orado at almost any moment. I'd been expecting them the day after tomorrow, but Junior called an hour ago to say the schedule had changed, and they'd be here today. Malrue is bound to find out what happened, and, to put it mildly, she's going to be extremely upset!"

"Yes, no doubt." Miss Eulate hesitated, went on. "I dislike to tell you this, but it's been decided that until a satisfactory explanation for the appearance of the two strangers at the consulate has been obtained, certain steps will have to be taken to insure your personal safety. You understand that the college has a contractual obligation to your guardians to see that no harm comes to you while you are a student."

Gonwil looked at her, asked, "Meaning I'm restricted to the campus?"

"I'm afraid we'll have to go a little further than that. We are assigning guards to see to it that no unauthorized persons enter bungalow 18-19, and I must instruct you not to leave it for the next day or two."

"Oh, dear! And all because . . ." Gonwil shook her blonde head. "Cousin Malrue will have kittens when she hears that!"

The counselor looked surprised.

"But why should Mrs. Parlin have, uh, kittens?" she inquired. "Surely she will see that the college is acting only to keep you out of possible danger!"

"She simply won't believe I'm not in danger here, Miss Eulate! When my guardians enrolled me at Pehanron, she didn't at all like the idea of my coming to Orado by myself. That's why the college has had to put up with that monster Chomir for the past two years! My guardians thought it would calm Malrue down if I kept one of the famous Askanam arena hounds around as a bodyguard. They sent all the way there to get one of the best."

Miss Eulate nodded. "I see. I . . ." Her voice died in her throat.

Moving with ghostly quiet, Chomir had appeared suddenly in the doorway to the garden. He stood there, yellow eyes fixed on them.

"He heard me use his name and came to see if I'd called him," Gonwil said apologetically. "I'll send him back out till we're finished."

"No," the counselor said with some firmness, "tell him to come in. I shouldn't allow him to frighten me, and I know it. Now is as good a time as any to overcome that weakness!"

Gonwil looked pleased. "Come on in, boy!"

The Askanam came forward, moving lightly and easily in spite of his size. In the patch of sunlight from the door, an ivory brindle pattern was faintly visible in the short white hair of his hide, the massive cables of surface muscle shifting and sliding beneath it. Miss Eulate, for all her brave words just now, felt her mouth go parched. Ordinarily she liked dogs, and Chomir was a magnificent dog. But there were those stories about his breed—merciless killers developed by painstaking geneticists to perform in the bloody arenas of Askanam and to provide the ruling nobility of that colorful and tempestuous world with the most incorruptible and savage of guards. . . .

"I imagine," the counselor observed uncomfortably, "that Chomir would, in fact, be an excellent protector for you if it became necessary."

"No doubt about that," Gonwil agreed. "And I very much hope it never becomes necessary. It would be a fearful mess! Have I told you what happened when they were going to teach him how to defend me?"

"No, you haven't," Miss Eulate acknowledged, wishing she hadn't brought up the subject.

"It was just before I left for Orado. My guardians had hired an Askanam dog trainer. Chomir wasn't much more than a pup then, but when they're training arena dogs on Askanam, they don't use human beings to simulate an attacker. They use special robots which look and move and smell like human beings.

"I found out why! They turned two of those poor machines loose on me, and Chomir shook both of them to pieces before I could shout, `Stop!' The trainer told me that when he's really clamping his jaws down on something, he slams on close to two thousand pounds of pressure."

"Good heavens!" Miss Eulate said faintly.

"Anyway," Gonwil went on, unaware of the effect she was creating, "everyone decided right then that one thing Chomir didn't need was attack training!" She prodded the dog's hard flank affectionately with a shoe tip. "Of course, he does have a terrific pedigree to account for it. His sire was a famous arena dog who killed thirty-two men and all kinds of fighting animals. He must have been a pretty horrible beast! And on his dam's side . . ."

She broke off, having finally caught Miss Eulate's expression, went on after a moment, "I don't really mind so much being confined to quarters. But I'm hoping the mystery at the consulate will be solved before the Parlins arrive. There's no possible way I could avoid seeing Malrue, and . . ."

She checked herself for the second time, added in a different tone, "That's Junior calling again now!"

"Eh?" Miss Eulate asked. Then, following Gonwil's gaze, she became aware of a faint, silvery tinkling from the table. A tiny, jewel-bright device stood there, out of which the sound evidently came. On closer inspection, it appeared to be a beautifully inlaid powder compact. Miss Eulate looked puzzledly back at the girl.

"A personalized communicator," Gonwil explained wryly. "A gift from Junior which came in the mail this morning. He has the twin to it, and the only use for the set is that Junior and I can talk together wherever either of us happens to be on Orado." She gave Miss Eulate a small smile, added, "Junior is very difficult to discourage!"

The miniature communicator stopped its tinkling for a few seconds, then began again. Gonwil still made no move towards it. Miss Eulate asked, "Aren't you going to answer him?"

"No. If I don't switch it on, he'll think I'm not around."

Miss Eulate sighed and arose.

"Well," she said, "I should get back to the office. We'll trust this has been as you feel, a false alarm. But until we're quite certain of it, we must take whatever precautions seem indicated."

Gonwil grimaced resignedly.

The counselor went on, "And since the Bank of Rienne is acting as your guardians on Orado, I'm also obliged to see to it that they are informed of the occurrence."

At that, Gonwil's face suddenly brightened.

"Miss Eulate," she said, "when you make that call . . . and please make it at once . . . would you have it put through directly to Mr. Amberdon?"

"Why, yes, I can do that. But why specifically Mr. Amberdon?"

"He may be able to do something. Besides, Telzey's gone to see him. She should be with him just about this time—and she can usually think of a way out of anything."

"I'm quite aware of it," Miss Eulate said, rather shortly. Privately she regarded Telzey, in spite of her unquestioned scholastic brilliance, as something of a college problem. She added, "Well, I'll see what can be done."

 

Chapter 5

 

 

There had been enough general activity during the past two hours to leave Telzey unaware, except for a fleeting moment now and then, that she had begun to feel some physical effects of having passed up the night's sleep.

She couldn't, she thought, have complained that her warning wasn't taken seriously! Of course, the fact that Gonwil was a temporary ward of the bank would have required that it be given attention, even without the backing of the personal interest of Rienne's executive officer and his daughter.

A query regarding the internal structure of the Tayun concern of Lodis Associates had gone to Transcluster Finance Central almost immediately after her call to Gilas, and she had barely arrived at the bank when a reply came back.

Transcluster's records confirmed in every particular what she had gathered in casual talk with Gonwil from time to time and failed to give its proper significance. Lodis Associates basically had been set up in a manner which tended to leave control of the concern with the founding associates and their heirs. Shares could be sold only after being offered to all other associates at the original value. Since the original value had been approximately a twentieth of the present one, current sales to outsiders were in effect blocked. If a deceased associate left no natural heirs, his stock was distributed among the surviving associates in proportion to their holdings.

Which meant that Gonwil's death would in fact place the Parlin family in control of the concern . . .

And that seemed enough to convince both Gilas and Wellan Dasinger, the chief of the Kyth Detective Agency, who had arrived before Telzey, that the danger was real. It puzzled her because it hardly looked like conclusive proof of anything, but she decided they were aware of possibilities in situations of that kind which she couldn't know about. Within an hour, the Bank of Rienne and the Kyth Agency had initiated cluster-spanning activities on behalf of the bank's temporary ward which would have stunned Gonwil if she'd been told about them.

So much action should have been reassuring. But her father and Dasinger still looked worried; and presently Gilas appeared to realize again that she was around, and explained. It was a delicate situation. As Gonwil's appointed local guardian, the bank could act with a certain amount of authority; but that advantage was based on a technicality which could be shattered in an instant by her guardians on Tayun. "And they're aware, of course—at least in a general way—of Mrs. Parlin's plans."

Telzey gave him a startled look. "Why should . . ."

"Since Gonwil was a minor," Gilas said, "her guardians could have taken legal steps to nullify the condition that her death would benefit the other members of Lodis Associates. And considering that business practices on Tayun remain close to the level of tribal warfare, they would have done it—automatically on assuming guardianship—unless it was to their own benefit to be a little negligent about the matter."

"Her own guardians would help Malrue kill Gonwil?" Telzey said incredulously.

"Probably not directly. And of course if Gonwil had decided to marry the son, no one would have had any reason to kill her. But as it stands, we must expect that her guardians will try to hamper any obvious efforts now to protect her against Malrue Parlin. So we have to be very careful not to reveal our suspicions at present. Until we can get Gonwil's formal request to represent her in the matter, we'll be on very shaky legal ground if we're challenged from Tayun. And from what I know of Gonwil, it's going to be difficult for her to accept that she might be in danger from Mrs. Parlin."

Telzey nodded. "We'll almost have to prove it first."

Dasinger put in, "Supposing—this is a theoretical question—but supposing this turned into a situation where Miss Lodis saw that in order to stay alive herself it might be necessary to have Mrs. Parlin killed. Knowing her as you do, do you think she could be brought to agree to the action?"

Telzey stared at the detective, realized with some shock that he had been speaking seriously, that it wasn't a theoretical question at all.

She said carefully, "I can't imagine her agreeing to any such thing, Mr. Dasinger! She just isn't a—a violent person. I don't think she's ever intentionally hurt anybody."

"And of course," the detective said, "the Parlin family, having known her since infancy, is quite aware of that."

"Yes . . . I suppose so." It was another disturbing line of thought.

Gilas said quickly, smiling, "Well, we don't intend to let it come to that. In a general way though, Telzey, Gonwil's attitudes are likely to be a handicap here. We'll see how well we can work around them for now."

She didn't answer. There was, of course—as Gilas knew—a way to change Gonwil's attitudes. But it didn't seem necessary to mention that immediately.

* * *

Wellan Dasinger, who might be Gilas's junior by seven or eight years, had an easy tone and manner and didn't seem too athletically built. But somehow one gradually got the impression that he was the sort of man who would start off each day with forty push-ups and a cold needle shower as a matter of course. Telzey didn't know what his reaction had been when Gilas told him she'd been getting information from the mind of a dog, but he discussed it with her as if it were perfectly normal procedure. Kyth operatives had been dispatched to Beale to look around for the mysterious stranger of Chomir's memories; and Dasinger, unhurriedly and thoughtfully, went over every detail she had obtained, then questioned her at length about Gonwil's relationship to the Parlins, the vendetta stories, the maneuvering to get Gonwil married to Junior.

There seemed to be no question of Dasinger's competence. And it was clear he didn't like the situation.

Information began flowing back from Tayun over interstellar transmitters from various contacts of the bank and Dasinger's agency. One item seemed to provide all the evidence needed to indicate that caution was advisable in dealing with the Parlin family. During the past two decades, the number of shareholders in Lodis Associates had diminished by almost fifty per cent. The last three to go had dropped out simultaneously after transferring their holdings to Malrue Parlin, following a disagreement with her on a matter of company policy. Some of the others had taken the same route, but rather more had died in one way or another. There had never been any investigation of the deaths. The remaining associates appeared to be uniformly staunch supporters of Mrs. Parlin's policies.

Dasinger didn't like that either.

"Leaving out crude measures like counterviolence," he told Telzey, "there probably are going to be just two methods to make sure your friend gets a chance to enjoy a normal life span. One of them is to route Mrs. Parlin into Rehabilitation. If she's tamed down, the rest of the clique shouldn't be very dangerous. She's obviously the organizer."

Telzey asked uncertainly, "What's the other method?"

"Have Miss Lodis hand over her stock to Mrs. Parlin for whatever she's willing to pay. I doubt it would be safe to argue too strongly about the price."

Telzey was silent a moment. "Supposing," she said finally, "that Gonwil did agree to . . . well, counterviolence. That would be a private war—"

"Yes, we'd have to register to make it legitimate."

"You—your agency—handles private wars?"

"Occasionally we'll handle one," Dasinger said. "It depends on the client and the circumstances. I'd say this is such an occasion."

She looked at him. "Isn't that pretty risky work?"

The detective pursed his lips judiciously.

"No, not too risky. It would be expensive and messy. Mrs. Parlin appears to be an old hand at this, but we'd restrict the main action to Orado. If she imported her own talent, they'd be at a severe disadvantage here. And the better local boys wouldn't want any part of it after we got word around that the Kyth Agency was representing the other side. We should have the thing settled, without placing Miss Lodis in jeopardy, in about six months, even if we had to finish up on Tayun. But it appears Miss Lodis has a prejudice against such methods."

"Yes, she does," Telzey said. After a moment, she added, "So do I."

"I don't know about your friend, Miss Amberdon," Dasinger said pleasantly, "but I expect you'll grow out of it. At the moment though, it seems our line should be to try to manipulate Mrs. Parlin into Rehabilitation. We should know inside an hour about how good a chance we'll have to do it. I'm waiting for a call."

The call came in ten minutes later. It was from the Kyth Agency.

There appeared to be much Pehanron's law courses hadn't mentioned about the practical aspects of mind-blocks.

The Tayun connection's report to the agency was that the Parlin family had been for years on the official list of those who were provided with mind-blocks for general commercial reasons. These, Dasinger explained, were expensive, high-precision jobs which ordinarily did not restrict their possessor in any noticeable way. But when specific levels of stress or fatigue were developed, the block automatically cut in to prevent the divulging of information from the areas it was set to cover.

"You see how it works," Dasinger said. "You have the block installed, have its presence officially confirmed, and have the fact published. Thereafter, nobody who's bothered to check the list will attempt to extort the information from you, because they know you can't give it. The Rehabilitation machines supposedly can take down any block, but they might need a year. Otherwise, nothing I've ever heard of can get much through a solidly installed block—continuous questioning, drugs, mind-probes, threats, torture, enforced sleeplessness, hypnotics. All that can be accomplished is to kill the blocked person eventually, and if that's your goal there're easier ways of going about it."

Apparently, too, the fancier type of block did not bring on the mental deterioration she'd heard about. Malrue Parlin's faculties obviously hadn't been impaired.

"A commercial block of that nature," Gilas said slowly, "presumably would cover plans to murder a business associate for profit in any case." He looked as if he'd bitten into something sour. "When it comes to the Parlins, we can be sure it would cover them. There've been a number of occasions when Mrs. Parlin must have banked on that for protection if an investigation should catch up with her."

"Getting rid of unwanted fellow associates was a business matter, so the block would automatically cover any action to that end," Dasinger agreed.

Gilas rubbed his chin, took out a cigarette, lit it. He scowled absently at Telzey.

"Then circumstantial evidence isn't going to get us anywhere against the lady," he said. "Either in Federation court or in a Transcluster hearing. It's too bad, because in a few hours this morning we've accumulated almost enough evidence to force the Parlins to clear themselves through a subjective probe. After we've sorted it over, we might find we have enough. But a subjective probe would simply confirm that they're equipped with blocks. Tampering with a recognized block is legally equivalent to manslaughter. That would end our case." He looked at the detective. "So what do you suggest?"

"A trap," Dasinger said. "Now, before they find out they're suspected. Later on they wouldn't be likely to fall for it."

"And how do we go about it?"

"My boys are trying to locate Junior. We're not sure he's in Orado City; at any rate, he hasn't checked in at his hotel. But they should have his rooms tapped for view and sound by now, and when they find him, they'll keep watch on him around the clock.

"Two days from now, when his parents arrive, we should be able to have them under observation before they leave the spaceport. There's no reason to think they'll be taking extraordinary precautions at that time, so we should very shortly pick up enough of the conversation between them and Junior to know what their plans are.

"If the plans include the immediate murder of Miss Lodis, we'll go along with it. And with a little luck, we'll catch either the Parlins themselves or somebody who can be proved to be their agent in the actual attempt to commit murder. If they're to wind up in Rehabilitation, we shouldn't try to settle for anything less definite."

He turned to Telzey. "Naturally, Miss Lodis won't be the bait for our trap. We'll have a decoy, someone who can impersonate her to the extent required. But meanwhile we may have a difficult problem in keeping her out of the way without tipping our hand—unless, of course, something can be done immediately to weaken her trust in Mrs. Parlin."

He'd said it very casually. But he might know more about what a psi could accomplish in that direction than he'd indicated. And she could do it. It would take some time; she had found making the initial contact with the mind of a nonpsi human an involved and rather difficult process—something very different from getting into an exchange with other telepaths, and more involved by a good bit than the same proceeding had been with Chomir. But then Gonwil wouldn't realize she was being influenced in any way while her lifelong feelings about Cousin Malrue began to change. . . .

Telzey said, "I arranged with Gonwil that we'd start out on a holiday trip together after I get back to the college today. We'll take Chomir along. If we can find some place where there isn't too much disturbance—"

Dasinger smiled, nodded. "We'll take care of that."

"Then," Telzey said, "I think I could talk Gonwil into cooperating with us—before Mr. and Mrs. Parlin get here."

"That would be very helpful! And now the dog . . . you mentioned that you should be able to find out exactly why the dog considers that unidentified stranger to be an enemy."

"Yes," Telzey said. Unless she was mistaken, Dasinger had a very fair picture of what she intended to do about Gonwil; and that explained, of course, why he'd accepted her account of Chomir's adventures without question. He did know something about psis. "I think I could get that from him in another couple of hours," she said. "We'd come pretty close to it before I had to stop this morning."

* * *

She left the office area a few minutes later to pick up the Cloudsplitter and start back to Pehanron. She had a plan of her own, but it would be best to wait until they had Gonwil under cover before mentioning it. Gilas mightn't like it; but she'd talk to Dasinger first to find out if it might be feasible to plant her somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the Parlins after they arrived. Gonwil would be cooperating by that time; and while she didn't know whether she could get into a mind that was guarded by a block, it would be worth trying it if she could remain unobserved around Malrue long enough to carry out the preliminary work.

Because if she could do it, they'd do better than find out what the murder plans were. Without knowing why, Malrue would quietly give up her evil intentions towards Gonwil within a few hours, and remain incapable of developing them again or permitting her husband and son to carry on. And that would settle the whole matter in the simplest possible way.

She was approaching the exits to the upper level parking strip where she had left the Cloudsplitter when somebody addressed her.

"Miss Amberdon! One moment, please!"

It was one of the bank guards. Telzey stopped. "Yes?"

"Mr. Amberdon's secretary notified us just now to watch for you here," the guard explained. "There's an open line to her office in this combooth. She said to tell you a very important matter had come up, and you should hear about it before leaving the building."

Telzey slipped into the booth, frowning. Gilas could have reached her through her personal communicator while she was in the bank . . . perhaps he didn't want to chance being overheard by some stray beam-tapper. The door closed automatically behind her as she touched the ComWeb's button, and Ravia, Gilas's blue-haired, highly glamorous and highly efficient secretary, appeared in the screen.

"I thought they might still catch you," she said, smiling. "Your father would like to speak to you on a shielded line, Telzey. You're on one now, and I'll connect you with him."

Her image faded. Gilas came on, said briskly, "There you are! There's been a change of schedule. Take your car down to the general parking area. You'll find two of Dasinger's men waiting for you with a carrier. They'll load on your car and take you back to Pehanron with them. We'll brief you on the way."

"What's happened?" she asked, startled.

"We've had a very unpleasant surprise. You'd barely left when two items of information came in. The first was that Mr. and Mrs. Parlin were found listed among the passengers of a ship which berthed at the space terminal something over an hour ago. We're having the Orado City hotels checked, but we don't know where the pair is at present. And Junior hasn't been found yet."

Telzey swallowed.

"Then," Gilas went on, "I had a call from Pehanron College. I'll give you the details on that a little later. What it seems to amount to is that the Parlins have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of alarm and confusion regarding Gonwil's safety, which should serve to keep suspicions turned well away from them if something actually happens to her. One result is that special measures will be needed now to get Gonwil away from Pehanron without dangerous delays. You probably could handle that part of it better than any outsider. Do you want to try it?"

"Yes, of course," she said.

Telzey discovered the hand that rested on the screen button was trembling a little.

"All right." Gilas gave her a brief smile. "I'll tell you the rest of it after you're in the carrier."

The screen went blank.

* * *

"And all I've been trying to do all morning," Gonwil exclaimed, somewhere between laughter and dismay, "was to settle down quietly without interruptions to get those grisly Finance Eleven chips cleaned up! You'd think everybody had gone out of their minds!"

Telzey looked sympathetic. Gonwil's lunch had been delivered to her in the duplex, on Miss Eulate's instructions; and a few college guards in civilian clothes loafed around outside, trying to look as if they'd just happened to wander into the area and weren't really much interested in anything here. Gonwil filled Telzey in on the morning's events while she ate the lunch and Telzey thoughtfully sipped a mug of milk. The first thing Malrue Parlin and her husband had done after landing at Orado City's spaceport was to check in at the Tayun consulate. The first thing the consul general there, an old acquaintance, had done was to tell them about the ominous strangers who had inquired about Gonwil Lodis early in the day. And the fat was in the fire.

"Cousin Malrue went into a howling tizzy!" Gonwil reported, shuddering. "She said she'd always known it was too risky for me to be studying on Orado. So she wanted to get me away from here now, with the Parlin family, where I'd be safe. Naturally, Pehanron said, `No!'—and am I glad! Old Eulate's bad enough about this, but Malrue . . . !"

"Think she might pop in on you here?"

Gonwil nodded. "The whole family plans to show up at Pehanron this evening. Malrue will be battling with Eulate—and I'll be in the middle! And there's no way I can stop it."

"You wouldn't be in the middle," Telzey observed, "if you weren't here."

"If I weren't . . ." Gonwil glanced sharply over at her, lowered her voice to a whisper. "How . . . when Eulate's got those people staring at my front and back doors? I'm confined to quarters."

"First step," Telzey whispered back, "we move your chips and stuff to my side. Eulate said under the circumstances it'd be all right if I helped you a little on the tests."

"They can see your front and back doors too, dopey!" Gonwil pointed out. "What good will that do?"

"They can't see inside my carport."

"Huh? No!" Gonwil grinned. "The shower window . . ." She looked doubtfully at Chomir. "Can we boost Musclehead through it?"

"We can try. Want to?"

"Ha! When?"

"Right now. Before Eulate realizes you've got a loophole left."

"I should leave her a note," Gonwil remarked. "Something reassuring. I simply had to get away for a few days—or suffer a nervous breakdown. . . ."

"Sounds fine," Telzey approved.

"Then, perhaps I should call Malrue and tell her, so . . ."

"Are you out of your mind?"

Gonwil looked reluctant. "You're right. Me being at Pehanron is bad, but going off by myself would be worse. If we didn't agree to wait till she could pick us up outside, she'd be perfectly capable of tipping off Eulate!"

* * *

Some minutes later, Telzey came out the back door on her side of the bungalow, dressed for a town trip again. The two Pehanron guards stationed across the traffic lane eyed her as she started towards the enclosed carport, but made no move. They hadn't been instructed to keep watch on Telzey.

Inside the stall and out of their sight, she slid behind the Cloudsplitter's hood, roared the main engine experimentally a few times, glanced up. The shower window already stood open. Chomir's big white head appeared in it now, pointed ears tipped questioningly forwards, broad brow wrinkled in concentration. He had grasped that something unusual was required of him—but what? To look out of Telzey's shower window?

Telzey beckoned.

"Down here, Brainless!"

She couldn't hear Gonwil's voice above the noise of the engine, but Chomir's air of well-meaning bewilderment increased. Why, his eyes inquired of Telzey, was Gonwil shoving around at his rear? Then his forepaws came into view, resting on the window sill. Telzey gestured violently, pointing at the ground below the window.

Urged on from in front and behind, Chomir suddenly got the picture. He grinned, lolled out his tongue, sank back, came up and out in a flowing, graceful leap, clearing the window frame by a scant half-inch on all sides. He landed and waved his tail cheerfully at Telzey.

She caught his collar and patted him, while Gonwil, red-faced from her effort to lift more than her own weight in dog straight up, came wriggling through the shower window after him with an overnight bag containing the Finance Eleven chips and her library. Telzey slid open the Cloudsplitter's luggage compartment.

A minute later, she turned the little car out into the traffic lane. She had barely been able to shove the luggage compartment's door shut on her two passengers; but they were safely out of sight. The two guards stared thoughtfully after the car as it went gliding down the lane. They could hear the music of a newsviewer program within the duplex. It might be a good half-hour before they got the first proddings of suspicion about Telzey and her aircar.

Coming up to the force-screen exit she'd used in the morning, Telzey snapped the Star Honor Student pass back on her hat. The guards were screening incoming visitors with unusual care today, but students going out were a different matter. They glanced at the pass, at her, waved her through.

As she lifted the car over the crest of the wooded hills north of the college area, a big green airvan veered out of the direction in which it was headed and turned north ahead of her, picking up speed. Fifteen miles on and a few minutes later, Telzey followed the van down to the side of an isolated farm building. En route, there had been a few cautiously questioning knocks from the inside of the luggage compartment. But Telzey ignored them and Gonwil, puzzled, no doubt, about the delay in being let out but trustful as ever, had subsided again.

In the shadow of the farm building, Telzey set the Cloudsplitter down behind the van. Gilas Amberdon clambered out of the front section of the big vehicle and met her beyond hearing range of the luggage compartment.

"Any problems?"

"Not so far," Telzey said. "They're both inside. Has the Kyth Agency found out where the Parlins are?"

"No," Gilas said. "The calls they've made were routed through Orado City but apparently didn't originate there. The chances are they aren't hiding deliberately and will disclose their whereabouts as soon as they hear Gonwil has disappeared from the college."

He studied her a moment. "I realize we're working you a little hard, Telzey. If you take six hours off and catch up on some sleep after we get to the Kyth hideout, it shouldn't make any difference."

She shook her head. "I don't feel particularly tired. And I want to finish up with Chomir. I've got a hunch what he knows will be really important when we get it figured out."

Gilas considered. "All right. Dasinger would like to have that. We'll be there shortly. You'll get separate quarters as you specified—close enough to Gonwil and Chomir to let you work your mental witchcraft on them. And you'll be completely undisturbed."

"That will be fine," Telzey said.

Her father smiled. "Then let's go!"

He started towards the front of the van. Telzey walked back to the Cloudsplitter and slipped into her seat. Half a minute later, the end of the van opened out. She slid the car up and inside and shut off its engine. Benches lined this section of the vehicle. Aside from that, it was empty.

The loading door slammed shut again and the section lights came on overhead. Telzey waited until she felt the van lift creakily into the air. Then she opened the luggage compartment and let her rumpled passengers emerge.

"What in the world," Gonwil inquired bewilderedly, straightening up and staring around as Chomir eased himself out of the Cloudsplitter behind her, "are we doing in this thing?"

"Being scooted off to a safe hiding place," Telzey said. "That was all arranged for in advance."

"Arranged for—safe . . ." Gonwil's voice was strained. "Telzey! Whose idea was this?"

"The Bank of Rienne's."

* * *

The room they'd put her in here, Gonwil acknowledged, was, though not very large, comfortable and attractively furnished. If, nevertheless, it gave her a somewhat oppressive feeling of being imprisoned, that could be attributed to the fact that it was windowless and lacked means of outside communication.

The only way to leave would be to go through a short corridor and open a door at the far end, which let into an office where a number of people were working. So she couldn't have slipped away unnoticed, but there was no reason to think the people in the office would try to detain her if she did decide to leave. She'd simply been asked to stay here long enough to let the Bank of Rienne determine whether there could be any sinister significance to the appearance of the inquisitive strangers at the Tayun consulate that morning.

During the brief ride in the airvan, Telzey had explained that the bank felt its investigation would be greatly simplified if it could be carried out in complete secrecy. Pehanron College did not seem a safe place to leave Gonwil if somebody did intend to harm her; and to avoid revealing that it was taking a hand in the matter, the bank had called on Telzey, through her father, to spirit Gonwil quietly away from the campus,

Allowing for the fact that, at the moment, everybody appeared obsessed by the notion that Tayun vendettists were after her, it wasn't an unreasonable explanation. The Bank of Rienne did have some grounds to consider itself responsible for her here. "But why," Gonwil had asked, "didn't you tell me all this before we left?"

"Would you have come along if I had?" Telzey said.

Gonwil reflected and admitted that she probably wouldn't have come along. She didn't want to appear ungrateful; and she had now begun to feel the first touches of apprehension. When so many people, including Telzey's eminently practical father, were indicating concern for her safety, the possibility couldn't be denied that there was more to the old vendettist stories than she'd been willing to believe. Cousin Malrue, after all, was no fool; perhaps she had done Malrue an inexcusable injustice in belittling her warnings! Gonwil had only a vague idea of the methods a capable murderer might use to reach his victim; but it was generally accepted that he had a frightening array of weapons to choose from, and that every precaution must be taken in such situations.

At any rate, she was perfectly safe here. The door to the room was locked; she had one key to it, Gilas Amberdon another. She was to let no one but Telzey in, and to make sure that no one else attempted to enter, Chomir was on guard in the corridor outside. It was comfortable to remember now that if Chomir was no shining light when it came to the standard doggy tricks, the protection of a human being was as solidly stamped into his nature as the gory skills of the arena. While he could move, only Gonwil or Telzey would open that door until one of them convinced him he could stop being a watchdog again.

And now that she was alone, Gonwil thought, there was something she should take care of promptly.

Opening the overnight bag she had taken from the college, she arranged her study materials on a desk shelf, then brought out the miniature camouflaged communicator which had come with the mail in the morning. She had dropped Junior's unwanted token of affection in with the library and other items, intending to show it to Telzey later on.

She studied the tiny instrument a moment, pensively biting her lip. There had been no opportunity to tell Telzey about it, so no one here knew she had the thing. The lack of communicators among the room furnishings might mean that they'd rather she didn't send messages outside. But they hadn't said so.

And it seemed only fair to send Malrue a reassuring word through Junior now. There would be no need to mention the Bank of Rienne's investigation. She could tell Junior a very harmless story, one designed only to keep his mother from becoming completely distraught when she heard from Pehanron College that Gonwil had chosen to disappear.

Gonwil glanced back a moment at the door. Then she placed the communicator in the palm of her left hand, and shifted the emerald arrowhead in its cover design a quarter turn to the right. That, according to the instructions which had come with it, made it ready for use. She placed it on the desk shelf, and pressed down with a fingertip on the golden pinhead stud in the center of the cover.

A slender fan of golden light sprang up and out from around the rim of the communicator, trembled, widened, and held steady. It was perhaps three feet across, not much over two high, slightly concave. This was the vision screen.

Now, if she turned the little arrowhead to the third notch, and Junior's communicator was set to receive, he should hear her signal.

Some ten or twelve seconds passed. Then Rodel Parlin the Twelfth's handsome, narrow face was suddenly there in the fan-shaped golden light screen before her.

"Well, at last!" he exclaimed. "I've been trying to call you but . . ."

"I didn't switch it on until just now," Gonwil admitted.

"Busy as all that with your tests?" Junior's gaze shifted past her, went around the room. "What's this?" he inquired. "Did Pehanron actually change your quarters because of the vendettist scare?"

So the Parlins hadn't been told she was gone. Gonwil smiled.

"Pehanron didn't!" she said. "I did. The fuss was getting too much for my nerves, so I sneaked out!"

For a moment, Junior looked startled. "You've left the college?"

"Uh-huh."

"Well, I . . . where are you now?"

"I'm not telling anybody," she said. "I've gone underground, so to speak, and I intend to stay out of sight until the thing blows over."

"Well, uh, Malrue . . ."

"I know. That's why I called the first chance I had. I don't want Malrue to worry unnecessarily, so you tell her I'm in a perfectly safe place. Nobody here knows me, so nobody—including vendettists—can find out where I've gone. Tell Malrue I'm being very careful, and whenever you all decide there's no more danger, I'll come out again."

Junior studied her, frowning doubtfully.

"Malrue," he observed, "isn't going to like that very much!"

"Yes, I . . . just a moment!" Gonwil turned towards the door. Sounds of scratching came from it, then a deep whine. "That's Chomir! He heard us talking, and I'd better let him in before he arouses the neighborhood. It's difficult enough to be inconspicuous with him around!"

"I can imagine."

Gonwil unlocked the door and opened it partly, glancing up the hall as Chomir slid through into the room, ears pricked. The door at the far end of the corridor was closed; he hadn't been heard in the office. She locked the door quietly again. Chomir stared for an instant at the image in the view-field, took a sniff at the air to confirm that while he'd heard Junior's voice, Junior was not physically present. Chomir was familiar with the phenomenon of communicator screens and the ghosts that periodically appeared in them. Satisfied, he sat down beside the door.

"I was wondering whether you'd left him behind," Junior remarked as Gonwil came back.

"Oh, I wouldn't do that to Chomir! About Malrue . . ."

He grinned. "I know! She does carry on rather badly at times like this! I'll be tactful in what I tell her."

"Thanks," Gonwil said gratefully. "I wouldn't want her to feel that I'm avoiding her in particular. But would you please not tell her about sending me a personal communicator? Say I was just using a regular ComWeb in making this call. Otherwise, she'd want to argue me out of this, and I'd hate to have to refuse her."

"You can depend on me. When will you call again?"

"Sometime early tomorrow?"

"I'll be waiting." He turned his head to the left, appeared to listen. Then he looked back at her.

"I believe I hear Malrue coming," he said quietly. "Goodbye, Gonwil!"

" 'By, Junior!"

His face vanished. Still smiling, Gonwil bent over the communicator, searching for the pinhead stud. Junior had been on his best behavior this time; she was very glad she'd decided to make the call.

She pushed down the stud, and the light screen disappeared.

From the far end of the corridor outside came the sound of a violently slammed door.

Startled, Gonwil swung about. Footsteps were pounding up the short corridor now, but she wasn't aware of them. She stood dead-still, staring.

The white shape crouched across the room, ears back and down, huge teeth bared, could hardly be recognized as Chomir. He might have been listening to the approaching steps. But then the snarling head moved. The eyes found Gonwil, and instantly he was coming towards her in a flat, long spring, jaws wide.

* * *

As she watched Chomir move off beside Gonwil through the entrance tunnel to the Kyth hideout where the airvan had stopped, Telzey put out a tentative probe towards him.

This time, she was inside the dog's mind at once and so definitely that she could sense him striding along and the touch of the hard flooring beneath his pads. Satisfied, she withdrew. The contacts established during the night's work hadn't faded; she could resume her investigation immediately.

Left alone in the room reserved for her, less than fifty feet from the one to which they had conducted Gonwil, Telzey settled into an armchair and closed her eyes. Chomir still seemed to be moving about, but that made no difference. At this stage, she could work below his awareness without disturbing him or interfering with his activities.

She picked up the familiar memory chains within seconds, and then hesitated. Something had changed here. There was a sense of being drawn quietly away from the memories towards another area of mind.

She didn't know what it meant. But since psi seemed sometimes to work independently on problems in which one was involved, this might turn out to be a short-cut to the information for which she had been digging throughout the night. Telzey let herself shift in the indicated direction. There was a momentary odd feeling of sinking, then of having made a transition, of being somewhere else.

And it had been a short-cut. This was an aspect of mind she hadn't explored before, but it wasn't difficult to understand. A computer's processes might have presented a somewhat similar pattern: impersonal, unaware, enormously detailed and busy. Its universe was the living animal body that generated it, and its function was essentially to see to it that its universe remained physically in good operating condition. As Telzey grasped that, her attention shifted once more—now to a disturbance point in the Chomir universe. Something was wrong there. The body-mind knew it was wrong but was unable to do anything about it.

Telzey studied the disturbance point absorbedly. Suddenly its meaning became clear; and then she knew this was the information she had come to find. And it was very ugly and disturbing information.

She opened her eyes. Her thoughts seemed sluggish, and for some seconds the room looked hazy and blurred about her. Then, as the body-mind patterns faded from her awareness, she discovered she was back in the ordinary sort of contact with Chomir—very clear, strong contact. She had a feeling of catching Gonwil's voice impressions through him.

The voice impressions ended. There was a moment's pause. A sharp surge of uneasiness passed through Chomir.

What did that . . .

Telzey felt the blood drain from her face as she scrambled abruptly out of the chair, reaching for the room communicator. Then her breath caught. She stopped in mid-motion, stood swaying. Electric shivers were racing over her skin. The air seemed to tingle. Psi energy was building up swiftly, oppressively; and she was its focal point.

Fury swept towards her, mindless, elemental, like a roaring wind. She seemed to move, and the room flickered out of existence. Something raged, and about her spun a disk of noise, of shock-distorted faces, of monstrously straining muscles. She moved again, and everything was still and clear.

She was looking into another room, a day-bright room where a man in a yellow suit stood beside a window, studying the small device he held in one hand. Beyond the window, sunlit parkland stretched away in long, rising slopes; and in the far distance, high on the slopes, was the glassy glitter of a familiar cluster of buildings. Pehanron College.

Something appeared to startle the man. His face turned quickly towards her; and as she registered the details of the sharp features and wispy blond mustache, his eyes became round, white-rimmed holes of intense fright.

The room vanished. Then there was one more sensation, remarkably like being slammed several times on top of the head by a giant fist; and a wave of blackness rolled over Telzey and swept her down. . . .

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

"Oh, he's admitted it, all right!" Dasinger said, frowning at the solidopic of the man with the thin blond mustache. "In fact, as soon as he was told why he'd been picked up, he became anxious to spill everything he knew. But his confession isn't going to be of much use against the Parlins."

"Why not?" Telzey asked.

"Because one thing he didn't know was who his employers were." The detective nodded at the chipviewer he'd put on the table before her. "You can get the details from the report faster than I could give them to you. I have some questions myself, by the way."

"What about, Mr. Dasinger?"

"It seems," Dasinger said, "that when you sensed the dog was turning on Miss Lodis, you did three things almost simultaneously. You pinned the animal down in some manner . . ."

Telzey nodded. "I kept locking his muscles on him. That's what it felt like."

"That's what it looked like," Dasinger agreed. "When we got into the room, he was twisting around on the floor and seemed unable to open his jaws. Even so, he gave us one of the most startling demonstrations of animal athletics I've seen. It was a good half minute before somebody could line up on him long enough to feed him a stunner! Besides keeping Miss Lodis from getting killed in there, you've probably also saved the lives of three or four of my men . . . a detail which the Kyth Agency will remember. Now, as you clamped down on the dog, you also blasted a telepathic warning to your father to let us know Miss Lodis needed immediate help."

"Uh-huh. I didn't realize till afterwards I'd done it though."

"Meanwhile again," Dasinger said, indicating the solidopic, "you were putting in a personal appearance in the city of Beale, a good thousand miles away, in the room where this gentleman was operating the instrument which was supposed to be accomplishing the murder of Miss Lodis."

Telzey hesitated, said "I seemed to be there, for just a few moments. He looked scared to death, and I was wondering if he could see me."

"He saw something," the detective said, "and he's described it. The description fits you. The fellow hadn't been told who the intended victim was, and up to that moment he hadn't particularly cared. But his conclusion was that the accusing wraith of the person he'd just helped murder had appeared in the room. That left his nerves in pitiable condition, I'm happy to say, and has made him very easy to handle.

"On the other hand, of course, this experience, again limits his usefulness to us. We don't want him to talk about it, because we don't want to start speculations about you personally."

"No, I see."

"I'm assuming," Dasinger went on, "that it was also a rather unusual experience as far as you were concerned. If you could do that kind of thing regularly, you obviously wouldn't need assistance in solving Miss Lodis's problems."

Telzey hesitated. It seemed to her there had been, in that instant, a completely improbable combination of factors, resulting in something like a psychic explosion. The fury pouring out of the dog's mind might have set it off; and she'd been simply involved in it then, doing what she urgently wished to do, but not at all controlling the fact that she was doing it, or how it was done.

It had worked out very well; Gonwil and some other people and Chomir would be dead now if it hadn't happened in just that way. But she wasn't eager for another experience of the kind. The next time it might as easily work out very badly.

She explained it to Dasinger as well as she could. He listened attentively, frowning now and then. At last he said, "Perhaps you'd better look over the report on Mrs. Parlin's hired assassin. Then I'll explain what the situation seems to be now."

* * *

Whether or not she'd actually gone to Beale in any physical sense during those few seconds, she hadn't relaxed her mental hold on Chomir while she was doing it. And while that had saved lives, it had one drawback. When someone finally poured a stunblast into the big dog, the connection between them was strong enough to transmit echoes of the pounding shock to her brain. It knocked her out, but since she hadn't absorbed the stunner physically the Kyth operatives brought her around again within minutes.

Then, after she'd barely finished giving them the description of the man in Beale, along with the information that Pehanron College could be seen at a certain angle, roughly five miles away, from the window of the room he was in, some well-meaning character slipped her a sedative in a glass of water without stopping to inquire whether she wanted one. Conceivably, she appeared a little feverish and wild-eyed, as who wouldn't under such circumstances? At any rate, she was unconscious again before she knew what had occurred.

The next time she awoke, eighteen hours had passed and she was in one of the cabins of the spacecruiser maintained by the Bank of Rienne for Gilas Amberdon's use. They were in space, though not far from Orado; she was in bed, and a large woman in a nurse's uniform was sitting next to the bed. The large woman informed her firmly that she would remain in bed until Mr. Amberdon's physician had come out from the planet to examine her again. Telzey, with equal firmness, dismissed the nurse from the cabin, got dressed, and went out to learn what had taken place meanwhile.

In the passage she encountered Dasinger, looking harried. The Kyth chief told her Gilas and Gonwil were in the communications cabin, involved in a ship-to-planet conference with Rienne's legal department, and offered to bring her up-to-date.

It appeared that the Kyth operatives dispatched to Beale early yesterday to look for Chomir's menacing stranger had picked up their quarry very shortly after receiving Telzey's description of him and of the area where he could be found. It had been a lucky break; he was on his way to the nearest spaceport by then. They learned his name was Vingar, that he was a native of Askanam where he had some reputation as a trainer of arena animals; and that he had received an extremely attractive financial offer to come to Orado and apply for work in a high-priced veterinarian establishment in the town of Beale, where he presently would carry out a specific assignment. The vet's was the place where Gonwil left Chomir regularly for his check-up and shots.

In due time, acting on instructions, Vingar drugged the big dog and planted a device in his brain, of a type sometimes used on Askanam fighting animals when the betting was heavy. Essentially, it was a telecontrolled miniature instrument which produced at will anything from a brief surge of anger to sustained insane fury. Animals so manipulated rarely lost a fight in which they were otherwise evenly matched, and cheating was almost impossible to prove because the instrument dissolved itself after fulfilling its function, leaving only microscopic scars in the brain tissue. After arousing Chomir from his drugged sleep, Vingar tested his device and found it in good working order.

Some months passed without further action. Then Vingar received instructions to check the dog's response again at the first available opportunity. He had done this from an aircar while Gonwil and Chomir were on one of their customary hikes in the hills. Following his report that the dog had reacted satisfactorily to minimum stimulus, he was told to wait for a signal which would be his cue to employ the instrument at full output for a period of five minutes, after which it was to be destroyed in the usual manner. This would conclude the services for which he had been hired.

Vingar had no real doubt that at least one person would be slaughtered by the white hound during those five minutes—that this was calculated murder. But he was being paid well enough to tell himself that what happened when he pushed down the control plunger was not his responsibility but that of his employers. And a few hours later, he would be on his way back to Askanam, and need never hear what the result of his action had been.

The vendettist scare at the Tayun consulate followed. Professionally, Dasinger regarded it as an unnecessary touch; the authorities investigating Gonwil's death were certain to conclude that her giant pet had gone berserk and destroyed her with the savagery that could be expected of a fierce fighting breed. But the Parlins evidently preferred to have an alternate explanation ready if there were any questions. When Junior established that Gonwil was for the moment alone in a locked room with the dog, the signal was flashed to Vingar to carry out his orders.

It was a complete picture, except for the unfortunate fact mentioned by Dasinger; the man from Askanam simply did not have the faintest notion who had hired him or from what source his pay had come. He did not know the Parlins, had never seen one of them or heard their voices. He had been told what to do through the impersonal medium of a telewriter. The Kyth Agency would keep him under wraps; but there seemed to be no practical possibility of using him as a witness.

Telzey asked, "Does Malrue know it didn't work . . . That Gonwil didn't get killed or hurt?"

"She knows she couldn't have been hurt seriously enough to incapacitate her," Dasinger said. "She also knows we're aware it was attempted murder, and who was behind it."

"Oh . . . how did she find out?"

"Indirectly, from us. It couldn't very well be avoided. Miss Lodis responded in a very level-headed manner after the situation had been explained to her and she was over the first feeling of shock about it. Junior's call immediately before the dog's attack fitted in too well with the rest of it to let her retain doubts about Mrs. Parlin's guilt. She agreed at once to apply to become the legal ward of the Bank of Rienne. That made it possible for us to act freely on her behalf; but when her guardians on Tayun were notified of the move, it told them, of course, that Mrs. Parlin's plans had miscarried and that they themselves were suspected of complicity. They must have warned the Parlins immediately."

"They didn't argue about the bank becoming Gonwil's guardian?" Telzey asked.

"No. The thing had come into the open, and they realized it. Which is why we're in space. It's one way to make sure Miss Lodis is safe for the moment."

Telzey had a sinking feeling. "For the moment? You don't think the Parlins might give up?"

The detective shook his head. "Not after what we've learned about Mrs. Parlin. She's playing for high stakes here. She's planned for years to get Miss Lodis's share of the company in her hands, and she won't stop now simply because it can't be done quietly any more. It's reasonable to suppose she won't be involved in future murder attempts herself, since that might get her into trouble. But all she has to do is set enough price on your friend's head to attract professional sharpshooters. From now on, that's what we'll have to look for."

"But then . . ." Telzey paused. "Then what are we going to do?"

"At present," Dasinger said, "the matter is in the hands of Rienne's attorneys. They'll investigate all legal possibilities. That may take some days. That the Parlins are anticipating moves in that area is indicated by the fact that they've assembled a legal staff of their own. But I don't think they're greatly worried by that approach."

He considered, added, "We'll see what develops. I haven't, of course, suggested to Miss Lodis that we might turn the situation into a registered private war. She's still pretty badly shaken up by the treachery of the Parlin family, and particularly of Mrs. Parlin."

"You're waiting to let her find out there's nothing else she can do?" Telzey asked.

"Perhaps I am."

Telzey shook her head.

"She still won't do it," she said. "Not if it means killing Malrue Parlin."

"It would mean that," Dasinger said. "We might simply frighten the lady into backing off. But it wouldn't settle anything. Miss Lodis would never be safe from her again. Unless, of course, she simply turned her stock over to Mrs. Parlin, on Mrs. Parlin's terms."

"She'd sooner do that," Telzey said. Her skin was crawling.

"Would you like to see it happen?"

"No," Telzey admitted.

"Well, let's let it rest there," Dasinger said. "The lawyers may come up with something. Incidentally, you might see what you can do about Chomir, Miss Amberdon. He's in rather bad shape."

"I thought he was all right again!" Telzey said, startled.

"Oh, the stunner didn't harm him, of course. I'll take you there, and we'll see what you think. If it weren't ridiculous, I'd say he was suffering from a psychotic collapse, brought on by guilt. When Miss Lodis tries to talk to him, he looks away and pretends she isn't there."

* * *

Dasinger's diagnosis was accurate enough. Telzey found Chomir lost in a black stew of despondency. His memory of what had occurred after the rage stimulus began to blaze through his brain was a horrid muddle of impressions; but he knew the evil stranger had been nearby in his insubstantial way, and that he, Chomir, had done dreadful things. And the stranger had again escaped. Chomir felt miserably unable to face Gonwil. . . .

It might be possible actually to delete unpleasant memories from a mind, but Telzey hadn't found out how to do it. However, it wasn't difficult to blur out some remembered event until it was barely discernible, and then to shift over other little chunks of memory and imagination from here and there and work them together until, so far as the owner of the mind was concerned, a completely new memory had been created in place of the obscured one.

After about an hour and a half, Chomir wasn't even aware that he had been glooming about something a short while ago. When Gonwil showed up, having heard that Telzey had awakened and was with the dog, he was plainly back to normal behavior.

Other problems, unfortunately, weren't going to be as simple to solve. Gonwil felt that after the first round of conferences with the Bank of Rienne's legal department the lawyers' initial attitude of cautious optimism was beginning to fade. The possibility of bringing charges against the Parlin family in Federation court had been ruled out almost at once. A conviction could be obtained against Vingar; but not—while their mind-blocks protected them from subjective probes—against the Parlins. And there was, of course, no point in prosecuting Vingar alone. It would be preferable to leave the Parlins unaware for the present of what had happened to their hireling from Askanam.

Rienne's attorneys regarded the prospects of a Transcluster Finance ethics hearing as somewhat more promising, though one would have to give detailed consideration to the evidence which might be presented for verification before forming a definite conclusion. If it could be shown in an ethics hearing that the Parlins had planned the murder of a business associate for profit, the results would be almost as satisfactory as a court conviction. Transcluster's adjudicators could not route them through Rehabilitation, but they could order the confiscation of their holdings in Lodis Associates and block them for life from again playing an open role in the Hub's financial world.

The alternative—not infrequently chosen in such cases—was voluntary Rehabilitation. Rienne's attorneys' hope was that some connection could be established between the Parlin family and the death of various other members of Lodis Associates who had been known to be in opposition to them. Added to evidence obtained from the attempted murder of Gonwil Lodis, it might give them a case, though a most difficult one to prepare. The Verifier gave no consideration to probabilities and did not evaluate evidence aside from reporting that the mental information made available to it had showed a specific claim to be true or false, or had failed to show either its truth or falsity. Any facts obtained must therefore be carefully arranged into a pattern which would condemn the Parlins when confirmed by the mind-machine. And that would take time.

The truth of the matter probably was, Telzey thought, that a Verifier, or its operators, was capable of sizing up the merits of a case almost as soon as an ethics hearing began—if her calculations about the function and potential of the Psychology Service's machines had come anywhere near the mark. But in dealing with them it could make no practical difference, because they wouldn't admit to seeing more than they were supposed to see, even if it meant letting a hearing end in favor of someone like Malrue Parlin. Of course, they couldn't have maintained their big secret otherwise. But it seemed very unlikely that the lawyers were going to dig up something in Malrue's past which could coax a damaging report out of the machine. Malrue would have been as cautious about leaving no direct evidence of earlier murderous activities as she had been in her plans for Gonwil.

The lawyers obviously weren't counting on it either. Another matter they would investigate was the possibility of breaking the clause which effectively prevented Gonwil from selling her stock in Lodis Associates to anyone but another associate. If the Bank of Rienne acquired the stock, it would put an end to Malrue's maneuverings. At the moment, however, it looked as if six or eight years of wrangling in Tayun courts might be required to force a favorable decision on that point.

All in all, Telzey reflected, Dasinger's pessimism was beginning to appear justified. And the mere fact that they were at present confined to the spacecruiser was an intimation of what it could be like to live for years on guard against some unknown assassin's stroke, or hiding somewhere, shut off from normal existence. Dasinger might, as a matter of fact, have arranged the temporary retreat from Orado in part to demonstrate just that.

When they gathered for dinner, she learned that Pehanron College, after being privately briefed by Rienne officials on the current state of affairs, had sent word it was cooperating by placing both Gonwil and Telzey on technical sick leave for as long as might be necessary.

That seemed somehow the most decisive move of the day.

After dinner, she retired early to her cabin. It was possible, as Dasinger had suggested, that the attorneys would still come up with a practical solution. But one clearly couldn't depend on it.

She sent out a thread of thought for Chomir, located him in the cruiser's lounge with Gonwil and Gilas, and slipped back into his mind. It was as easy now as walking into a house to which one owned the key. When ship-night was sounded an hour or so later, she was with him as he followed Gonwil to her cabin. And quite a little later again, she knew Gonwil finally had found troubled sleep.

Telzey withdrew from Chomir and put out the drifting telepathic probe which by and by would touch one of Gonwil's sleeping thoughts and through it establish the first insubstantial bridge between their minds. Then, in a day or two, she would be in control of Gonwil's mental activities, in the same unsuspected and untraceable way and as completely, as she was of Chomir's.

She felt uncomfortable about it. It hadn't disturbed her at all to tap the minds of strangers, just to see what was in there and to experiment a little. Intruding on the private thoughts of a friend, secretly and uninvited, somehow seemed a very different matter.

But the way things appeared to be going made it necessary now.

* * *

It was a week before the subject of registering for a private war came up again; and now it wasn't Dasinger's suggestion. The bank's attorneys recommended the move, though with obvious reluctance, to Gilas and Gonwil, as an apparently necessary one if Mrs. Parlin's designs on Gonwil's share in Lodis Associates were to be checked.

By then, nobody, including Gonwil, was really surprised to hear of it. It had been a frustrating week for the legal staff. While they felt they weren't at the end of their resources, it was clear that Malrue Parlin had been prepared for years to face a day of reckoning. The investigators on Tayun reported many suspicious circumstances about her activities, but produced no scrap of legal evidence to connect the Parlins to them. Malrue had few allies with whom she had worked directly; and all of them had protected themselves as carefully as she did.

Other approaches had brought equally negative results. The rule barring members of Lodis Associates from selling shares to outsiders before their fellows were given an opportunity to purchase them at a prohibitively low price was found to be backed in full by Tayun law. While Gonwil was still a child, the rule could have been set aside with relative ease, but there appeared to be no way around it now that she would be a legally responsible adult within a few months. The minor shareholders in the concern had declined offers of her stock at something approximating its present value, and indicated they would have no interest in it at any price. They clearly didn't intend to get into Malrue Parlin's game.

The Parlins were still on Orado, equipped with a formidable bodyguard and an equally formidable corps of lawyers, both imports from Tayun who evidently had preceded Malrue and her husband here, to be brought into action if needed. But Malrue had made no immediate moves. She might be satisfied to let Gonwil's supporters find out for themselves that her legal position was unassailable.

Telzey had remained a detached observer of these developments, realizing they were running uncomfortably close to Dasinger's predictions. She was giving most of her time to Gonwil. Her previous investigations of human minds had been brief and directed as a rule to specific details, but she felt there was reason to be very careful here.

What was going on inside Gonwil's blond head nowadays wasn't good. Harm had been done, and Telzey was afraid to tamper with the results, to attempt the role of healer. It wasn't a simple matter of patching up a few memories as with Chomir; there was too much she didn't understand. Gonwil would have to do her own healing, at least at the start, and to an extent she was doing it. During the first day or two, her thoughts had a numbed quality to them. Outwardly she acquiesced in everything, was polite, smiled occasionally. But something had been shattered; and she was waiting to see what the people about her would do, how they intended to put all the pieces together again. When she thought of Cousin Malrue's treachery, it was in a puzzled, childish manner.

Then, gradually, she began to understand that the pieces weren't simply going to be put together again now. This ugliness could go on indefinitely, excluding her meanwhile from normal human life.

The realization woke Gonwil up. Until then, most of the details of the situation about her had been blurred and without much meaning. Now she started to look them over carefully, and they became obvious enough.

The efforts of Rienne's lawyers to find a satisfactory solution had begun to bog down because this was a matter which the Federation's laws did not adequately cover. She had been one of the Hub's favored and pampered children, but in part that was now the reason she was being forced towards the edge of a no man's land where survival depended on oneself and one's friends. Unless something quite unexpected happened, she would soon have to decide what the future would be like.

The thought startled her, but she accepted it. There was a boy in the Federation Navy, a cadet she'd met the previous summer, who played a part in her considerations. So did Telzey, and Dasinger and his agency, and Malrue and her husband and Junior, and the group of professional gunmen they'd brought in from Tayun to be their bodyguards. All of them would be affected in one way or another by what she agreed to. She must be very careful to make no mistakes.

* * *

Gonwil, seen directly in her reflections and shifts of feeling now that she'd snapped out of the numbed shock, seemed more likable than ever to Telzey. But she didn't like at all what was almost surely coming.

It came. Mainly perhaps for the purpose of having it on record, Rienne's legal department had notified the Parlins' lawyers in Orado City that Miss Lodis desired to dispose of her stock in Lodis Associates. A reply two days later stated that Malrue Parlin, though painfully affected by Miss Lodis's estrangement from herself and her family, was willing to take over the stock. She was not unmindful of her right to purchase at the original value, but would pay twice that, solely to accommodate Miss Lodis.

In Telzey's opinion, the legal department flipped when it read the reply. It had, of course, been putting up with a good deal during the week. It called promptly for a planet-to-ship general conference, and pointed out that the sum Malrue offered was approximately a tenth of the real value of Gonwil's share in the concern. In view of the fact that an attempt to murder Miss Lodis already had been made, Mrs. Parlin's reply must be considered not a bona fide offer but a form of extortion. A threat was implied.

However, Mrs. Parlin might be showing more confidence than she felt. If violence again entered the picture, she was now not invulnerable. To some extent, at least, she was bluffing. To counter the bluff, she should be shown unmistakably that Miss Lodis was determined to defend herself and her interests by whatever means were necessary.

The legal department's advice at this point must be to have Miss Lodis register the fact that against her wishes she had become involved in a private war with the Parlin family, and that she was appointing the Kyth Agency to act as her agent in this affair. The events and investigations of the past week provided more than sufficient grounds for the registration, and its purpose would go beyond making it clear to the Parlins that from now on they would be in jeopardy no less than Miss Lodis. It had been discovered that while the rule which prevented the sale of Lodis Associates stock outside the concern could not be broken in court, it could be rescinded by a two-thirds majority vote of the shareholders, and Miss Lodis and the Parlin family between them controlled more than two thirds of the stock. No doubt, forcible means would be required to persuade the Parlins to agree to the action, but the agreement would be valid if obtained in that manner under the necessities of a registered private war. Miss Lodis could then sell her shares at full value to the Bank of Rienne or a similar institution, which would end the Parlins' efforts to obtain them, and take her out of danger.

Registration, the legal department added, was a serious matter, of course, and Miss Lodis should give it sufficient thought before deciding to sign the application they had prepared. On the other hand, it might be best not to delay more than a day or two. The Parlins' attitude showed she would be safe only so long as they did not know where she was.

* * *

"Has she discussed it with you?" Dasinger asked.

Telzey looked at him irritably. Her nerves had been on edge since the conference ended. Things had taken a very unsatisfactory turn. If Malrue Parlin would only drop dead!

She shook her head. "She's been in her room. We haven't talked about it yet."

Dasinger studied her face. "Your father and I," he remarked, "aren't entirely happy about having her register for a private war."

"Why not? I thought you . . ."

He nodded. "I know. But in view of what you said, I've been watching her, and I'm inclined to agree now that she might be too civilized for such methods. It's a pleasant trait, though it's been known to be a suicidal one."

He hesitated, went on. "Aside from that, a private war is simply the only practical answer now. And it would be best to act at once while the Parlin family is together and on Orado. If we wait till they scatter, it will be the devil's own job roping them in again. I think I can guarantee that none of the three will be physically injured. As for Miss Lodis's feelings about it, we—your father and I—assume that your ability to handle emotional disturbances isn't limited to animals."

Telzey shifted uneasily in her chair. Her skull felt tight; she might be getting a headache. She wondered why she didn't tell the detective to stop worrying. Gonwil had found her own solution before the conference was over. She wouldn't authorize a private war for any purpose. No matter how expertly it was handled, somebody was going to get killed when two bands of armed men came into conflict, and she didn't want the responsibility for it.

Neither did she want to run and hide for years to keep Malrue from having her killed. The money wasn't worth it.

So the logical answer was to accept Malrue's offer and let her have the stock and control of Lodis Associates. Gonwil could get along very well without it. And she wouldn't have consented to someone's death to keep it.

Gonwil didn't know why she hadn't told them that at the conference, though Telzey did. Gonwil had intended to speak, then suddenly forgotten her intention. Another few hours, Telzey had thought, to make sure there wasn't some answer as logical as surrender but more satisfactory. A private war didn't happen to be it.

She realized she'd said something because Dasinger was continuing. Malrue Parlin appeared to have played into their hands through overconfidence. . . .

That, Telzey thought, was where they were wrong. The past few days had showed her things about Gonwil which had remained partly unrevealed in two years of friendship. But a shrewd and purposeful observer like Malrue Parlin, knowing Gonwil since her year of birth, would be aware of them.

Gonwil didn't simply have a prejudice against violence; she was incapable of it. Malrue knew it. It would have suited her best if Gonwil died in a manner which didn't look like murder, or at least didn't turn suspicion on the Parlins. But she needn't feel any concern because she had failed in that. The shock of knowing that murder had been tried, of realizing that more of that kind of thing would be necessary if Malrue was to be stopped, would be enough. It wasn't so much fear as revulsion—a need to draw away from the ugly business. Gonwil would give in.

Cousin Malrue hadn't been overconfident. She'd simply known exactly what would happen.

Anger was an uncomfortable thing. Telzey's skin crawled with it. Dasinger asked a question, and she said something which must have made sense because he smiled briefly and nodded, and went on talking. But she didn't remember then what the question had been or what she had replied. For a moment, her vision blurred and the room seemed to rock. It was almost as if she'd heard Malrue Parlin laughing nearby, already savoring her victory, sure she'd placed herself beyond reprisal.

Malrue winning out over Gonwil like that was a thing that couldn't be accepted; and she'd prevented Gonwil from admitting it. But she was unable to do what Gilas and Dasinger expected now—change Gonwil's opinions around until she agreed cheerfully to whatever arrangements they made. And if people got killed during her private war, well, that would be too bad but it had been made inevitable by the Parlins' criminal greed and the Federation's sloppy laws, hadn't it.

It was quite possible to do, but not by changing a few of Gonwil's civilized though unrealistic attitudes. It could be done only by twisting and distorting whatever was Gonwil. And that wouldn't ever be undone again.

Malrue laughed once more, mocking and triumphant, and it was like pulling a trigger. Dasinger still seemed to be talking somewhere, but the room had shifted and disappeared. She was in a darkness where laughter echoed and black electric gusts swirled heavily around her, looking out at a tall, handsome woman in a group of people. Behind Telzey, something rose swiftly, black and towering like a wave about to break, curving over towards the woman.

Then there was a violent, wrenching effort of some sort.

* * *

She was back in her chair, shaking, her face wet with sweat, with a sense of having stopped at the last possible instant. The room swam past her eyes and it seemed, as something she half-recalled, that Dasinger had just left, closing the door behind him, still unaware that anything out of the ordinary was going on with Telzey. But she wasn't completely alone. A miniature figure of the Psionic Cop hovered before her face, gesticulating and mouthing inaudible protests. He looked ridiculous, Telzey thought. She made a giggling noise at him, shaking her head, and he vanished.

She got out a handkerchief and dabbed at her face. She felt giddy and weak. Dasinger had noticed nothing, so she hadn't really gone anywhere physically, even for a second or two. Nevertheless, on Orado half a million miles away, Malrue Parlin, laughing and confident in a group of friends or guests, had been only moments from invisible, untraceable death. If that wave of silent energy had reached her, she would have groaned and staggered and fallen, while her companions stared, sensing nothing.

What created the wave? She hadn't done it consciously—but it would be a good thing to remember not to let hot, foggy anger become mixed with a psi impulse again! She wasn't Gonwil, but to put somebody to death in that manner would be rather horrid. And the weakness in her suggested that it mightn't be healthy for the psi who did it, unless he had something like the equipment of that alien in the university's habitat museum.

At any rate, her anger had spent itself now. The necessity of doing something to prevent Gonwil's surrender remained.

And then it occurred to Telzey how it might be done.

She considered a minute or two, and put out a search-thought for Chomir, touched his mind and slipped into it. Groping about briefly, she picked up the artificial memory section she'd installed to cover the disturbing events in the Kyth Agency's hideout.

She had worked the section in rather carefully. Even if Chomir had been a fairly introspective and alert human being, he might very well have accepted it as what had happened. But it wasn't likely that an intruding telepath who studied the section at all closely would be fooled. She certainly wouldn't be. It seemed a practical impossibility to invest artificial memories with the multitudinous, interconnected, coherent detail which characterized actual events. Neither was the buried original memory really buried when one began to search for it. It could be brought out and developed again.

And if such constructions couldn't fool her, could they fool a high-powered psionic mind-reading device, built for the specific purpose of finding out what somebody really thought, believed and remembered . . . such as Transcluster Finance's verifying machines?

They couldn't of course.

Telzey sat still again a while, biting her lip, frowning, mentally checking over a number of things. Then she went to look for Gilas.

* * *

"It's a completely outrageous notion!" her father said a short while later, his tone still somewhat incredulous. He glanced over at Dasinger, who had been listening intently, cleared his throat. "However, let's look at it again. You say you can manufacture `memories' in the dog's mind which can't be distinguished from things he actually remembers?"

Telzey nodded.

"I can't tell any difference," she said. "And I don't see how a Verifier could."

"Possibly it couldn't," Gilas said. "But we don't really know what such a machine is doing."

"Well, we know what it does in an ethics hearing," Telzey said. "Supposing it did see they were fake memories. What would happen?"

Gilas hesitated, said slowly, "The Verifier would report that it had found nothing to show that the Parlins were connected in any way with the attempt to use Chomir to commit murder. It would report nothing else. It can produce relevant evidence, including visual and auditory effects, to substantiate a claim it has accepted. But it can't explain or show why it is rejecting a claim. To do that would violate the conditions under which it operates."

Dasinger said quietly, "That's it. We can't lose anything. And if it works, we'd have them! Vingar is the only one who can prove the Parlins never came near his device. But we're keeping him out of sight, and the Parlins can't admit they know he exists without damning themselves! And they can't obtain verification for their own claims of innocence—"

"Because of their mind-blocks!" Gilas concluded. His mouth quirked for an instant; then his face was sober again. "We will, of course, consider every decision. Telzey, go and get Gonwil. We want her in on it, and no one else." He looked at Dasinger. "What will we tell the lawyers?"

Dasinger considered. "That we feel an ethics hearing should be on the record to justify declaring a private war," he said. "They won't like it, of course. They know it isn't necessary."

"No," Gilas agreed, "but it's a good enough excuse. And if they set it up for that purpose, it will cover the steps we'll have to take."

 

 

Chapter 7

 

"The statements made by this witness have been neither confirmed nor disproved by verification."

The expressionless face of the chief adjudicator of the Transcluster ethics hearing disappeared from the wall screen of the little observer's cubicle before Telzey as he ended his brief announcement. She frowned, turned her right hand over, palm up, glanced at the slender face of her timepiece.

It had taken less than two minutes for Transcluster's verification machine to establish that it could find nothing in the mind of Rodel Parlin the Twelfth relevant to the subject matter it had been instructed to investigate, and to signal this information to the hearing adjudicators. Junior, visible in the Verifier's contact chamber which showed in the far left section of the screen, had not reacted noticeably to the announcement. It could hardly have been a surprise to him. His parents had preceded him individually to the chamber to have their claims of being innocent of homicidal intentions towards Gonwil Lodis submitted to test, with identical results. Only the stereotyped wording of the report indicated in each case that the machine had encountered mental blocks which made verification impossible. From the Parlins' point of view, that was good enough. The burden of proof rested with their accusers; and they simply had no proof. The demand for an ethics hearing had been a bluff, an attempt perhaps to get a better price for Gonwil's capitulation. If so, it had failed.

The central screen view was shifting back to the hexagonal hall where the Verifier was housed. It appeared almost empty. A technician sat at the single control console near the center, while the machine itself was concealed behind the walls. When he brought it into operation, the far end of the hall came alive with a day-bright blur of shifting radiance, darkening to a sullen red glow as he shut the machine off again. So far, that and the reports of the chief adjudicator had been the only evidence of the Verifier's function; and the play of lights might be merely window dressing, designed to make the proceedings more impressive. It had to be that, Telzey thought, if her speculations about the machine were right. It wasn't really being switched on and off here, but working round the clock, absorbing uncensored information constantly from hundreds or thousands of minds, and passing it on.

But watching the hall darken again as the technician turned away from the console and began to talk into a communicator, Telzey acknowledged to herself that she felt a shade less certain now of the purpose for which the Psychology Service was quietly distributing its psionic machines about the Hub. Gilas was in the observation cubicle next to hers, with two of Rienne's attorneys; while Gonwil waited with Dasinger and a few Kyth men in some other section of the great Transcluster Finance complex for a summons from the adjudicators to take Chomir to the contact chamber. The hearing had been under way for a little over an hour.

That was the puzzling point. She had come in nervously ready for an indication that the Verifier and the human minds behind it knew what she had been up to before the hearing even began. Her own thoughts were camouflaged; but Gonwil, Gilas and Dasinger were unconsciously broadcasting the information that she was a psi who had manipulated the memories of a hearing witness in a manner calculated to trick the verification machine into making a false report.

While it was the only way left to get at Malrue, the Psychology Service certainly must consider it as flagrant a violation of their rules against the independent use of psionics as could be imagined. But, so far as Telzey could tell, nothing happened then . . . nothing, at any rate, that didn't conform in every detail to what was generally assumed to happen at an ethics hearing.

The hearing got off to an unhurried and rather dull start. One of Rienne's attorneys formally presented the general charge against the Parlins—they had planned and attempted to carry out the murder of Gonwil Lodis for financial gain. He brought out background data on Lodis Associates to show the motive, displayed the device used to throw Chomir into a killing rage, explained the purpose for which similar instruments were employed on Askanam. A description of the occurrence in the Kyth Agency's hideout followed, including Gonwil's preceding conversation with Junior by the personalized communicator he had sent her, though naturally excluding Telzey's role in checking the dog's attack until a guard had been able to stun him.

Then the specific charge was made. The Parlins had caused the demonstrated device to be used on the dog at a moment when they could assume it would result in Gonwil Lodis's death, leaving no indication that her death had been planned.

From what Telzey had heard, it was the standard sort of introduction. An ethics hearing developed like a game of skill, unfolding from formalized beginnings, and it wasn't until after a few moves and countermoves had been made that significant revelations could be expected. On this occasion, however, the Parlins' attorneys evidently felt they could afford to skip such cautious preliminaries. It was clear now that Vingar had been captured before he could leave Orado and had talked; but while he presumably would appear as a witness, nothing he knew could endanger the Parlins' position. The attorneys announced that their three principals denied the charges and wished to testify to their innocence under verification if the commercial mind-blocks they employed would permit this.

Having demonstrated then that the mind-blocks, as a matter of fact, did not permit it, the Parlins had retired to wait out the rest of the hearing unchallenged.

Which meant that the next witness up should be Chomir . . .

* * *

The use of an animal as a verification witness had been cleared in advance with the adjudicators. It was not without precedent; Chomir would be admitted even if, for some reason, the opposing attorneys objected, and objections weren't expected. The Verifier would be instructed only to establish whether anything could be found in the dog's memory to show the Parlin family had been directly responsible for the murder device planted in his brain.

It was what she had planned. But she had expected to have some intimation by now of what the Verifier's reaction to their doctored witness would be. And there'd been nothing. . . .

Telzey leaned forward suddenly and switched off the central screen and voice transmitters. It might still be several minutes before Chomir was taken to the contact chamber. They'd been told he would be doped first to keep him quiet while the machine carried out its work.

She shifted in the chair, laid her hands, palms down, on the armrests, and closed her eyes. The psi bubble about her mind opened. Her awareness expanded out cautiously into the Transcluster complex.

It wasn't quiet there. Psi whispered, murmured, muttered, in an incessant meaningless trickling from the swarms of humanity which crowded the vast Central. But that seemed to be all. The unaware insect buzz of thousands of minds faded, swelled, faded monotonously; and nothing else happened. She could detect no slightest hint of an active telepath, mechanical or human, nearby.

She didn't know what it meant. She opened her eyes again, nerves on edge, and as the psi whisperings receded from her awareness, the side screen showed her Chomir already standing in the contact chamber, looking sleepy and bored. She reached out quickly, switched the center screen back on.

Pitch-blackness appeared before her, gleaming with a suggestion of black glass. After a puzzled instant, Telzey realized she must be looking at the projection field within which the Verifier sometimes produced impressions connected with the search it was conducting. The field hadn't come into action when the Parlins were in the chamber; there had been nothing to show. Its appearance in the screen now indicated the machine had begun its work on the dog.

Too late to stop it; she could give Gilas no plausible reason for interrupting the hearing at this point. She watched the screen, waiting, her hands gripping the chair.

There was a sudden strong impression of somebody looking at her. Automatically, Telzey glanced around at the blank wall of the cubicle. No one was there, but the feeling persisted.

Then she knew Transcluster's Verifier had found her.

Her left hand made a panicky flick to her communicator, jabbed down a tiny button. Why had she imagined it would be similar to a human mind, the mind of any living being? This was like being stared at by the sea. And like a vast, cold sea wave it was coming towards her. The bubble snapped tight.

Ordinarily, it might give only a splinter of its attention to the ethics hearings for which it was supposedly here, and to the relatively unimportant people involved in them; so perhaps it wasn't until this moment that it had become aware some telepathic meddler had been at work on the animal mind it was to investigate . . . and that the meddler was present at the hearing. In any event, it was after the meddler now.

The cold psi wave reached the bubble, rolled over it, receded, came again. An unprotected mind must have been flooded in an instant. As it was, Telzey stayed untouched. It closed over the bubble again, and now it remained.

It might have lasted only for seconds. There was a sense of weight building up, of slow, monstrous pressures, shifting, purposely applied. Then the pressures relaxed and withdrew.

The machine mind was still there, watching. She had the feeling that others watched through it.

She brought out the thought record she had prepared for them, and flicked the bubble shielding away from it. And if that let them see she had never been so scared in her life, the thought record still spoke for itself.

"Take a good look!" she invited.

Almost instantly, she was alone.

Her eyes fastened, somewhat blurrily, on the projection field in the screen. Colors were boiling up in it. Then there was a jarring sensation of opening alien eyes and looking out from them.

How it was done Telzey couldn't imagine. But she, and presumably everyone else watching the verification field at that moment, was suddenly aware of being inside Chomir's head. There came a reddish flash, then a wave of rage building up swiftly to blazing fury. The fury receded again.

A picture came into being, in glimpsed fragments and scraps of almost nightmarish vividness, of the white-walled room in which Chomir had found himself when he awoke with the microscopic Askanam device freshly inserted in his brain. As he had done then, he was pacing swiftly and irritably about the room, the walls and a semi-transparent energy barrier at one end flowing past him in the projection field.

Again came the red flash, followed by the surge of rage. The dog stopped in mid-stride, head swinging towards the barrier. A figure moved vaguely behind the barrier. He hurled himself at it. The barrier flung him back, once, twice. As he came smashing up against it for the third time, the scene suddenly froze.

At this distance, only inches away, the energy field was completely transparent. Three people stood in the section of the room beyond. Rodel Parlin the Twelfth a few feet ahead of his parents, right hand holding an instrument, a small but readily recognizable one. His thumb was on a plunger of the instrument, pressing it down. All three stared at the dog.

The projection field went blank.

For a second, Telzey had the feeling of somebody's screams echoing through her thoughts. It was gone immediately, so she couldn't be sure. But precisely how Malrue Parlin was reacting to what she had just seen in the Verifier's projection field was obviously of no particular importance now.

Telzey put the tip of her left forefinger on the second of the two little buttons she'd had programmed recently in her communicator, and pushed it gently down.

* * *

A ComWeb chimed persistently. Half awake, Telzey frowned. She had been dreaming, and there seemed to have been something important about the dream because she was trying to hang on to it. But it faded from her awareness like a puff of thin smoke, and she couldn't recall what it had been. She woke up all the way just as the ComWeb went silent.

And where was she? Couch in the semi-dark of a big, comfortable room, rustic type, with the smell of pine trees . . . The far wall was a single window and it was night outside. Moving pinpoints of light and a steadier radiance glittered through a pale, ghostly swirling. . . .

Tor Heights . . .

Of course! Tor Heights, the mountain sports resort . . . in starshine with a snowstorm moving past. With the hearing over, Gilas had suggested she go ahead with Chomir and rent a cabin here, so she and Gonwil could relax from recent stresses for a few days before returning to Pehanron College. He and Gonwil would stay on until the posthearing arrangements with the Transcluster adjudicators and the Parlins' attorneys had been concluded, and then follow. After she'd secured the cabin and fed Chomir, she found herself getting sleepy and curled up for a nap.

That might have been a couple of hours ago.

As she climbed off the couch, the ComWeb began chiming again in the adjoining room. This time the summons was accompanied by Chomir's attention-requesting rumble. Glancing at her watch, Telzey ran to take the call. She switched on the instrument, and Gonwil's face appeared in the screen, eyes big and sober.

"Hi!" she said. "Your father and I are leaving Draise in about twenty minutes, Telzey. Thought I'd let you know."

"Everything over?" Telzey asked.

"Not quite. They still have a lot of details to settle, but they don't need us around for that. What made it all very simple was that Malrue and Rodel Senior signed up for voluntary Rehabilitation, rather than take Transcluster's penalties." She hesitated. "I almost feel sorry for them now."

"Don't be an idiot," Telzey said thoughtfully. "They've had it coming for years."

"I know. But still . . . well, I couldn't have done it! Not to keep from losing the money."

Telzey admitted she couldn't have done it either. "What about Junior?"

Gonwil smiled briefly. "He wasn't having any! He told the adjudicators that losing his Lodis holdings still would leave him enough to be a playboy the rest of his life, and he couldn't care less about getting placed on Transcluster's black list. The adjudicators said he was practically frothing! Apparently, they were all in a severe state of shock when the hearing ended."

"Glad to hear it," Telzey said. She didn't find herself feeling in the least sorry for the Parlins. "How will you like having Malrue back in Lodis Associates after they let her out of Rehabilitation?"

"I don't know just how I would feel about it," Gonwil said, "but I won't be there when she comes back. That ruling's been canceled, and I'm selling to the Bank of Rienne. I decided I'm not really cut out to be a Tayun financier. Besides, I've . . . oh, started to develop other interests."

"Like in the Federation Navy?" Telzey asked.

Gonwil colored slightly. "Perhaps."

* * *

After she had switched off, Telzey found and pushed the button which started the big fireplace in the main room going, then another button which let the sound of the soft, roaring rush of the storm pass through the cabin. She got a glass of milk and sat down reflectively with it before the fire.

Of course, the Parlins had realized they'd lost the hearing as soon as they saw themselves in the projection field. They must have nearly gone out of their minds for a while. But they couldn't prove they'd never been in such a room with Chomir, and to dispute a Verifier's report was useless. What had happened seemed impossible! But they were trapped, and they knew it.

Nevertheless, Telzey thought, it was very unlikely the senior Parlins would have preferred rehabilitation to losing their Lodis stock—if it had been left up to them. That was what had jolted Gonwil: she knew such a decision didn't really go with the kind of people they were. But it couldn't be explained to her, or to anybody else, that the decision hadn't been their own.

Telzey sipped meditatively at her milk. Clear and obvious in the thought record she'd displayed to the Verifier, and to whatever Psychology Service agents were studying her through their machine, was the information that unless a certain thing was done and certain other things were not done, vast numbers of copies of a report she'd deposited in a nondirect mailing vault would be dumped into the nondirect system within minutes, tagged with randomly selected delivery dates extending up to fifteen years in the future.

On any day, during that fifteen-year period, there might show up at some of the Hub's more prominent news services a concise statement, with data appended, of every significant fact she had deduced or suspected concerning psis and psionics in the Hub, and particularly of the role the Psychology Service and its psionic machines appeared to be playing. The first such missive to reach its destination should make quite a splash throughout the Hub. . . .

So she'd blackmailed a department of the Overgovernment, and while they mightn't relish it much, frankly, it felt good. Among the things they weren't to do was to try to take control of her, mentally or physically. And the thing to be done, of course, was to see to it that the Parlins were found guilty at the ethics hearing of the crime they'd planned, even though the methods of convicting them might be open to question.

Considering the Verifier's ability to scan minds at large, they must have been aware by then that the Parlins were guilty, though they wouldn't have lifted a finger to help out Gonwil if they hadn't been forced to it. Being forced to it, they turned in a fast, artistic job, using Telzey's fabrication but adding a number of lifelike touches she couldn't have provided, and presenting it in a convincing dramatic manner.

Then they'd had to take immediate additional action to keep the stunned Parlins from wailing loudly enough to raise doubts about the infallibility of the ethics hearing procedures. As she knew from experience, the psionic machines were very good at installing on-the-spot compulsions.

So Malrue and her husband had applied for rehabilitation. The machines in the rehabilitation center would take it from there. The Psychology Service might have exempted Junior as being too much of a lightweight to worry about, but they certainly had seen to it that he wouldn't do any talking.

So far, so good, Telzey thought. She put down the glass of milk and slipped off her shoes. Chomir had strolled in from the next room and settled himself in front of her, and she placed her feet on his back now, kneading the thick, hard slabs of muscle with toes and heels. He grunted comfortably.

Gonwil's difficulties were over. And now where did she stand with the Psychology Service?

She considered it a while. Essentially, they seemed to be practical people, so they shouldn't be inclined to hold grudges. But she would look like a problem to them.

She'd reduced the problem as much as possible. Letting somebody look into sections of your mind was a good deal more satisfactory than making promises when you were out to create an atmosphere of confidence. If they had seen what you really intended, they didn't worry about cheating.

The Psychology Service knew now she wouldn't give away any of their secrets unless they forced her to it—which again was a practical decision on her part. She couldn't talk about them to Gonwil or her parents or Dasinger because their minds would be an open book any time they came near a psionic machine, and if she had told them too much, they might be in trouble then.

And in her own interest, she had no intention of telling people in general what she knew about psis—not, at least, until she understood a great deal more of what she'd be talking about.

Again, so far, so good.

Then there was the matter of having threatened to use the nondirect mailing system to expose them. She hadn't let them see whether she intended to give up that arrangement or not. As a matter of fact, the package of prepared reports had been destroyed shortly before she set off for Tor Heights, because of the risk of something going wrong accidentally and, not inconceivably, changing the course of Federation history as a result. They probably had expected her to do it, but they couldn't be sure. And even if they were, they didn't know what else she might have cooked up.

So the probability was they would decide it was wisest to leave her alone as long as she didn't disturb their plans. For her part, she would be very happy to leave them alone providing they didn't start trying to run her life again. No doubt, they could have taught her what she wanted to know about psionics; but their price looked like more than she was willing to pay. And she didn't seem to be doing too badly at teaching herself.

The Federation of the Hub was a vast area, after all. Aside from occasional contacts with their mechanized spy network, there was no real reason, Telzey concluded, why she and the Psychology Service should ever run into each other again.

Satisfied, she reached around for a couch cushion, placed it behind her neck, wriggled into a different position, laid her head back and closed her eyes. Might as well go on napping until Gilas and Gonwil arrived. On checking in here, she'd been told that float-ski conditions were perfect, so tomorrow should be a strenuous day. . . .

 

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