Telzey bit at her lip, gaze fastened on Larien, who lay on a couch a dozen feet from her. They’d secured his hands behind his back, which wasn’t necessary; she’d left her controls on him, and he was caught in unawareness which would end when she let it end. That strong, vital organism was helpless now, along with the mind that had wasted itself in calculating hatred for so many years.
There was something here she hadn’t wanted to see . . .
A psi mentality needed strong shutoffs. It had them, developed them quickly, or collapsed into incoherence. The flow of energies which reached nonpsis in insignificant tricklings must be channeled, directed, employed—or sealed away. Shutoffs were necessary. But they could be misapplied. Too easily, too thoroughly, by a mind that had learned to make purposeful use of them.
There was something she’d blocked out of awareness not long ago. For a while, she’d succeeded in forgetting she’d done it. She knew now that she had done it, but it was difficult to hold her attention on the fact. Her mind drew back from such thoughts, kept sliding away, trying to distract itself, trying to blur the act in renewed forgetfulness.
She didn’t want to find out what it was she’d shut away. By that, she knew it was no small matter. There was fear involved.
Of what was she afraid?
She glanced uneasily over at the screen showing the brightly lit metallic interior of the bubble. Wergard stood before it, working occasionally at his recordings. She hadn’t looked at the screen for more than a few seconds since coming into the room. It could be turned to a dozen views, showing the same object from different angles and distances. The object was a human body which wasn’t quite paralyzed because it sometimes stirred jerkily, and its head moved. The eyes were sometimes open, sometimes shut. It looked unevenly shrunken, partly defleshed by what seemed a random process, skin lying loosely on bone here and there, inches from the swell of muscle. However, the process wasn’t a random one; the alien organism within the body patched up systematically behind itself as it made its selective harvest. Outside tubes were attached to the host. The body wouldn’t die of dehydration or starvation; it was being nourished. It would die when not enough of it was left to bind life to itself, or earlier if the feeding organism misjudged what it was doing. Dasinger had said its instincts were less reliable with humans because they weren’t among its natural food animals.
Or Noal Selk would die when it was decided he couldn’t be saved, and somebody’s hand reached for the destruct switch.
In any case, he would die. What the screen showed were the beginnings of his death, whatever turn it took in the end. There was no reason for her to watch that. Noal, lost in the dark sea, in his small bright-lit tomb unknown miles from here, was beyond her help, beyond all help now.
Her eyes shifted back to Larien. It happened, she decided, at some point after she’d moved into his mind, discovered what he had done, and, shocked, was casting about for further information, for ways to undo this atrocity. Almost now, but not quite, she could remember the line of reflections she’d followed, increasingly disturbed reflections they seemed to be. Then—then she’d been past that point. Something flashed up, some horrid awareness; instantly she’d buried it, sealed it away, sealed away that entire area of recall.
She shook her head slightly. It remained buried! She remembered doing it now, and she wouldn’t forget that again. But she didn’t remember what she had buried, or why. Perhaps if she began searching in Larien Selk’s mind . . .
At the screen, Wergard exclaimed something. Telzey looked up quickly. Dasinger had turned away from the table where he’d been sitting, was starting toward the screen. Sounds began to come from the screen. She felt the blood drain from her face.
* * *
Something was howling in her mind—wordless expression of a terrible need. It went on for seconds, weakened abruptly and was gone. Other things remained.
She stood up, walked unsteadily to the screen. The two men glanced around as she came up. An enlarged view of Noal Selk’s head filled the screen. There were indications that the feeder had been selectively at work here, too; but there wasn’t much change in the features. The eyes were wide open, staring up past the pickup. The mouth was lax and trembling; only wet, shaky breathing sounds came from it now.
Wergard said, “For some moments, he seemed fully conscious. He seemed to see us. He—well, the speaking apparatus isn’t essential to life, of course. Most of that may be gone. But I think he was trying to speak to us.”
Telzey, standing between them, looking at the screen, said, “He saw you. He was trying to ask you to kill him. Larien let him know it could be done any time.”
Dasinger said carefully, “You know he was trying to ask us to kill him?”
“Yes, I know,” Telzey said. “Be quiet, Dasinger. I have to think now.”
She blinked slowly at the screen. Her diaphragm made a sudden, violent contraction as a pain surge reached her. Pain shutoff went on; the feeling dimmed. Full contact here.
Her mouth twisted. She hadn’t wanted it! Not after what she’d learned. That was what she hadn’t allowed to come into consciousness. She’d told herself it wasn’t possible to reach Noal where he was, even after they’d shut off the psi block in the walls of the house. She’d convinced herself it was impossible. But she’d made the contact, and it had developed, perhaps as much through Noal’s frenzied need as through anything she’d done; and now she’d been blazingly close to his mind and body torment—
She brushed her hand slowly over her forehead. She felt clammy with sweat.
“Telzey, is something wrong with you?” Dasinger asked.
She looked up at their watchful faces.
“No, not really. Dasinger, you know you can’t save him, don’t you?”
His expression didn’t change. “I suppose I do,” he acknowledged. “I suppose we all do. But we’ll have to go on trying for a while, before we simply put him to death.”
She nodded, eyes absent. “There’s something I can try,” she told them. “I didn’t think of it before.”
“Something you can try?” Wergard said, astonished. His head indicated the screen. “To save him there?”
Dasinger cleared his throat. “I don’t see . . . what do you have in mind?”
She shook her head. “I can’t explain that. It’s psi. I’ll try to explain as I go along, but I probably won’t be able to explain much. It may work, that’s all. I’ve done something like it before.”
“But you can’t—” Wergard broke off, was silent.
Dasinger said, “You know what you’re doing?”
“Yes, I know.” Telzey looked up at them again. “You mustn’t let anyone in here. There mustn’t be any disturbance or interference, or everything might go wrong. And it will take time. I don’t know how much time.”
Neither of them said anything for some seconds. Then Dasinger nodded slowly.
“Whatever it is,” he said, “you’ll have all the time you need. Nobody will come in here. Nobody will be allowed on the estate before you’ve finished and give the word.”
Telzey nodded. “Then this is what we’ll have to do.”
She had done something like this, or something nearly like this, before . . .
Here and there was a psi mind with whom one could exchange the ultimate compliment of using no mental safeguards, none whatever. It was with one of those rare, relaxing companions that she’d done almost what she’d be doing now. The notion had come up in the course of a psi practice session. One was in Orado City, one at the tip of the Southern Mainland at the time. They’d got together at the thought level, and were trying out various things, improving techniques and methods.
“I’ll lend you what I see if you’ll lend me what you see,” one of them had said.
That was easy enough. Each looked suddenly at what the other had looked at a moment ago. It wasn’t the same as tapping the sensory impressions of a controlled mind. Small sections of individual awareness, of personality, appeared to have shifted from body to body.
It went on from there. Soon each was using the other’s muscles, breathing with the other’s lungs, speaking with the other’s voice. They’d got caught up in it, and more subtle transfers continued in a swift double flow, unchecked: likes and dislikes, acquired knowledge, emotional patterns. Memories disintegrated here, built up there; vanished, were newly complete—and now quite different memories. Only the awareness of self remained—that probably couldn’t be exchanged, or could it?
Then: “Shall we?”
They’d hesitated, looking at each other, with a quarter of the globe between them, each seeing the other clearly, in their exchanged bodies, exchanged personalities. One threadlike link was left for each to sever, and each would become the other, with no connection then to what she had been.