Telzey told them what she’d learned. Dasinger nodded. “Costian’s been Larien Selk’s underworld contact on Orado. It’s probable that the pros delivered Noal to him.” He scratched his chin. “Now what’s the best way to take the agency guards out gently? We have no dispute with Colmer.”
Wergard said, “Going through the gate’s still possible, but it’ll call for fast moving once we’re through or we’d risk disturbance. The long way around past the cliffs seems safer to me.”
Telzey shook her head.
“That won’t be necessary,” she said.
* * *
Sommard presently shut his eyes for no particular reason except that he felt like it. The road gate across the court opened slightly, stayed open a few seconds, closed quietly again. Sommard then roused himself, looked briskly about. He glanced at his two colleagues, stationed at the corners of the house on either side of him. They stood unmoving, as bored as he was. All was well. He scratched his chest, yawned again.
Thirty feet from him, invisible as far as he was concerned, Telzey settled herself on the low balustrade above the court, looked at him, reached back into his mind. She waited. Something like a minute passed. The guard at the corner to Sommard’s left took two stumbling steps to the side and fell backward.
Sommard’s awareness blanked out in the same instant. His knees buckled; he slid down along the wall against which he had been leaning, went over on his side and lay still.
Telzey looked around at the guard at the other house corner. He was down and out, too, and Wergard and Dasinger were now on their way along the sides of the house to take care of the two guards at the rear. She stood up and went over to Sommard. What she’d done to him was a little more complicated than using a stun gun, a good deal gentler than a stun gun’s jolt. The overall effect, however, was the same. He’d go on sleeping quietly till morning.
She stayed beside him to make it easier for Dasinger to find her when he came to take her to the back of the house. There was an entry there which led to the servants’ quarters below ground level. They would use that way to get into the house. There should be only three men in the servants’ quarters tonight—Larien Selk’s second gate guard team. They might be asleep at present. The estate’s normal staff had been transferred to other properties during the past week. In the upper house were Costian, Larien Selk, probably Noal Selk, and two technicians who kept alternate watch on the instruments of the protective system. That was all.
Getting into the house wasn’t likely to be much of a problem now. But the night’s work might have only begun.
“I’m getting traces of Larien,” Telzey said.
“And Noal?” Dasinger asked.
“I’m not sure. There was something for a moment—but—” Her voice trailed off unsteadily.
“Take your time.” Dasinger, leaning against a table ten feet away, watching her in the dim glow of a ceiling light, had spoken quietly. They’d turned off the visual distorters; the ghost haze brought few advantages indoors. Wergard had found the three off-duty gate guards asleep, left them sleeping more soundly. He’d gone off again about some other matter. Telzey and Dasinger were to stay on the underground level until she’d made her contacts, established what the situation here was.
She leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, sighed. There was silence then. Dasinger didn’t stir. Telzey’s face was pale, intent. After a while, her breathing grew ragged. Her lips twisted slowly. It might have been a laborious mouthing of words heard in her mind. Her fingers plucked fitfully at the material of the coveralls. Then she grew quiet. Wergard returned soundlessly, remained standing outside the door.
Telzey opened her eyes, looked at Dasinger and away from him, straightened up in the chair, and passed her tongue over her lips.
“It’s no use,” she said in a flat, drained voice.
“You couldn’t contact Noal?”
She shook her head. “Perhaps I could. I don’t know. You’ll have to get the psi block shut off, and I’ll try. He’s not in the house.” She began crying suddenly, stopped as suddenly. A valve had opened; had been twisted shut. “But we can’t help him,” she said. “He’s dying.”
“Where is he?”
“In the sea.”
“In the sea? Go ahead.”
She shrugged. “That’s it! In the sea, more or less east of Joca Village. It might be a hundred miles from here, or two thousand. I don’t know; nobody knows. Larien didn’t want anybody to know, not even himself.”
Wergard had come into the room. She looked over at him, back at Dasinger. “It’s a bubble for deep water work. Something the Selks made on Cobril. Marine equipment. Larien had it brought in from Cobril. This one has no operating controls. It was just dropped off, somewhere.”
An automated carrier had been dispatched, set on random course. For eight hours it moved about the sea east of the mainland; then it disintegrated and sank. At some randomly selected moment during those eight hours, relays had closed, and the bubble containing Noal Selk began drifting down through the sea.
She told them that.
Dasinger said, “You said he’s dying . . .”
She nodded. “He’s being eaten. Some organism—it tries to keep the animals it feeds on alive as long as it can. It’s very careful . . . I don’t know what it is.”
“I know what it is,” Dasinger said. “When was it injected?”
“Two days ago.”
Dasinger looked at Wergard. Wergard shrugged, said, “You might find something still clinically alive in the bubble five days from now. If you want to save Noal Selk, you’d better do it in hours.”
“It’s worth trying!” Dasinger turned to Telzey. “Telzey, what arrangements has Larien made in case the thing got away from him?”
“It isn’t getting away from him,” she said. “The bubble’s got nondetectable coating. And if somebody tried to open it, it would blow up. There’s a switch in the house that will blow it up any time. Larien’s sitting two feet from the switch right now. But he can’t touch it.”
“Why not?” Wergard asked.
Telzey glanced at him. “He can’t move. He can’t even think. Not till I let him again.”
Dasinger said, “The destruct switch isn’t good enough. Isn’t there something else in the house, something material, we can use immediately as evidence of criminal purpose?”
Telzey’s eyes widened. “Evidence?” For a moment, she seemed about to laugh. “Goodness, yes, Dasinger! There’s all the evidence in the world. He’s got Noal on screen, two-way contact. He was talking to Noal when I started to pick him up. That’s why—”
“Anyone besides Costian and the two techs around?” Dasinger asked Wergard.
“Put them away somewhere,” Dasinger said. “Telzey and I will be with Larien Selk.”
* * *
They weren’t going to find the bubble. And if some accident had revealed its location, they wouldn’t have got Noal Selk out of it alive.
They hadn’t given up. Dasinger was speaking to the Kyth Agency by pocket transmitter within a minute after he’d entered Larien’s suite with Telzey, and the agency promptly unsheathed its claws. Operators, who’d come drifting into Joca Village during the evening, showing valid passes, converged at the entry to the Selk estate, set up some lethal equipment, and informed Village Security the section was sealed. Village Security took a long, thoughtful look at what confronted it in the gate road, and decided to wait for developments.
Dasinger remained busy with the transmitter, while Wergard recorded what Larien’s two-way screen showed. Telzey, only half following the talk, spoke only when Dasinger asked questions. She reported patiently then what he wanted to know, information she drew without much difficulty from Larien’s paralyzed mind—the type of nondetectable material coating the deep water device; who had applied it; the name of the Cobril firm which installed the detonating system. They were attacking the problem from every possible angle, getting the help of researchers from around the planet. On Cobril, there was related activity by now. Authorities who would be involved in a sea search here had been alerted, were prepared to act if called on. The Kyth Agency had plenty of pull and was using it.
The fact remained that Larien Selk had considered the possibilities. It had taken careful investigation, but no special knowledge. He’d wanted a nondetectable coating material and a tamper-proof self-destruct system for his deep water device. Both were available; and that was that. Larien had accomplished his final purpose. The brother who’d cheated him out of his birthright, for whom he’d been left in a vault, ignored, forgotten, incomplete, had been detached from humanity and enclosed in another vault where he was now being reduced piecemeal, and from which he would never emerge. As the minutes passed, it became increasingly clear that what Dasinger needed to change the situation was an on-the-spot scientific miracle. Nothing suggested there were miracles forthcoming. Lacking that, they could watch Noal Selk die, or, if they chose, speed his death.