“Of course, we can change right back—”
Yes, but could they? Could they? Something would be different, would have shifted; they would be in some other and unknown pattern—and suddenly, quickly, they were sliding past each other again, memories, senses, controls, personality particles, swirling by in a giddy two-way stream, reassembling, restoring themselves, each to what was truly hers. They were laughing, but a little breathlessly, really a little frightened now by what they’d almost done.
They’d never tried it again. They’d talked about it. They were almost certain it could be done, oh, quite safely! They’d be two telepaths still, two psis. It should be a perfectly simple matter to reverse the process at any time.
It should be. But even to those who were psis, and in psi, much more remained unknown about psi than was known. Anyone who gained any awareness at all understood there were limits beyond which one couldn’t go, or didn’t try to go. Limits beyond which things went oddly wrong.
The question was whether they would have passed such a limit in detaching themselves from their personality, acquiring that of another. It remained unanswered.
* * *
What she had in mind now was less drastic in one respect, seemed more so in another. She would find out whether she could do it. She didn’t know what the final result would be if she couldn’t.
She dissolved her contact with Noal. It would be a distraction, and she could restore it later.
Larien Selk was fastened securely to his couch. Dasinger and Wergard then fastened Telzey as securely to the armchair in which she sat. She’d told them there might be a good deal of commotion here presently, produced both by herself and by Larien. It would be a meaningless commotion, something to be ignored. They wouldn’t know what they were doing. They had to be tied down so they wouldn’t get hurt.
The two men asked no questions. She reached into a section of her brain, touched it with paralysis, slid to Larien Selk’s mind. In his brain, too, a selected small section went numb. Then the controls she’d placed on him were flicked away.
He woke up. He had to be awake and aware for much of this, or her work would be immeasurably, perhaps impossibly, increased. But his wakefulness did result in considerable commotion, though much less than there would have been if Larien had been able to use his voice—or, by and by, Telzey’s. She’d silenced both for the time being. He couldn’t do more than go through the motions of screaming. Nor could he move around much, though he tried very hard.
For Larien, it was a terrifying situation. One moment, he’d been sitting before the screen, considering whether to nudge the console button which would cause a stimulant to be injected into Noal and bring him back to consciousness again for an hour or two. He enjoyed talking to Noal.
Then, with no discernible lapse in time, he sensed he was lying on his back, arms and legs stretched out, tied down. Simultaneously, however, he looked up from some point in midair at two tense-faced men who stood between him and the screen that peered into Noal’s bubble.
Larien concluded he’d gone insane. In the next few minutes, he nearly did. Telzey was working rapidly. It wasn’t nearly as easy work as it had been with a cooperating psi; but Larien lacked the understanding and ability to interfere with her, as a psi who wasn’t cooperating would have done. There was, of course, no question of a complete personality exchange here. But point by point, sense by sense, function by function, she was detaching Larien from all conscious contacts with his body. His bewildered attempts to retain each contact brought him into a corresponding one with hers—and that particular exchange had been made.
The process was swift. It was Larien’s body that struggled violently at first, tried to scream, strained against its fastenings. Telzey’s remained almost quiescent. Then both twisted about. Then his, by degrees, relaxed. The other body continued to twist and tug, eyes staring, mouth working desperately.
Telzey surveyed what had been done, decided enough had been done at this level. Her personality, her consciousness, were grafted to the body of Larien Selk. His consciousness was grafted to her body. The unconscious flows had followed the conscious ones.
She sealed the access routes to memory storage in the Telzey brain. The mind retained memory without the body’s help for a while. For how long a while was something she hadn’t yet established.
Time for the next step. She withdrew her contact with Larien’s mind, dissolved it. Then she cut her last mind links to her body. It vanished from her awareness. She lay in Larien Selk’s body, breathing with its lungs. She cleared its throat, lifted the paralysis she’d placed on the use of its voice.
“Dasinger!” the voice said hoarsely. “Wergard!”
Footsteps came hurrying over.
“Yes, he’s over there. I’m here . . . for now. I wanted you to understand so you wouldn’t worry too much.”
They didn’t say anything, but their faces didn’t look reassured. Telzey added, “I’ve got his—its voice cut off. Over there, I mean.”
What else should she tell them? She couldn’t think of anything; and she had a driving impatience now to get on with this horrid business, to get it done, if she could get it done. To be able to tell herself it was over.
“It’ll be a while before I can talk to you again,” Larien Selk’s voice told Wergard and Dasinger.
Then they vanished from her sight. Larien’s eyes—no longer in use—closed. Telzey had gone back to work. Clearing the traces of Larien’s memories and reaction patterns from his brain took time because she was very thorough and careful about it. She wanted none of that left; neither did she want to damage the brain. The marks of occupancy faded gradually, cleaned out, erased, delicately annihilated; and presently she’d finished. She sent out a search thought then to recontact the mind of Noal Selk in the brightly lit hell of his bubble, picked up the pattern almost at once, and moved over into his mind.
He was unconscious, but something else here was conscious in a dim and limited way. Telzey turned her attention briefly to the organism which had been implanted in Noal. A psi creature, as she’d thought. The ability to differentiate so precisely between what was and was not immediately fatal to a creature not ordinarily its prey had implied the use of psi. The organism wasn’t cruel; it had no concept of cruelty. It was making a thrifty use of the food supply available to it, following its life purpose.
She eased into the body awareness from which Noal had withdrawn, dimming the pain sensations which flared up in her. It was immediately obvious that very extensive damage had been done. But a kind of functional balance lingered in what was left. The body lived as a body.
And the mind still lived as a mind, sustaining itself by turning away from the terrible realities about it as often as Noal could escape from pain into unconsciousness. She considered that mind, shifting about it and through it, knowing she was confronting the difficulty she’d expected. Noal wouldn’t cling to this body; in intention, he already was detached from it. But that was the problem. He was trying, in effect, to become disembodied and remain that way.
He had a strong motivation. She should be able to modify it, nullify it eventually; but it seemed dangerous to tamper with Noal any more than she could help. There wasn’t enough left of him, physically or mentally, for that. He had to want to attach himself fully and consciously to a body again, or this wasn’t going to work. She could arouse him, bring him awake . . .
He would resist it, she thought.
But she might give him something he wouldn’t resist.
* * *
It was a relaxed dream, universes away from pain, fear, savage treachery. He remembered nothing of Larien. He was on Cobril, walking along with a firm, quick stride in warm sunlight. He was agreeably aware of the strength and health of his body.
Something tugged at him.
Vision blurred startlingly. Sound faded. The knowledge came that the thing that tugged at him was trying to drag him wholly away from his senses, out of himself, into unfeeling nothingness.
Terrified, he fought to retain sight and sound, to cling to his body.
Telzey kept plucking him away, taking his place progressively in the still functional wreckage left by the organism, barring him more and more from it. But simultaneously she made corresponding physical anchorages available for him elsewhere; and Noal, still dreaming, not knowing the difference, clung to each point gained with frantic determination. She had all the cooperation she could use. The transfer seemed accomplished in moments.