She told him soothingly then to go on sleeping, go on dreaming pleasantly. Presently, agitations subsiding, he was doing it.
And Telzey opened Noal Selk’s gummily inflamed and bloodshot eyes with difficulty, looked out into the metallic glittering of the bubble, closed the eyes again. She was very much here—too much so. Her pain shutoffs were operating as far as she could allow them to operate without hampering other activities, but it wasn’t enough. A sudden fresh set of twinges gave her a thought then; and she put the busy psi organism to sleep. At least, that part of it shouldn’t get any worse.
But she’d have to stay here a while. In this body’s brain was the physical storehouse of Noal’s memories, the basis of his personality. It was a vast mass of material; getting it all transferred in exact detail to the brain she’d cleared out to receive it was out of the question. It probably could be done, but it would take hours. She didn’t have hours to spare.
The essentials, however, that which made Noal what he was, should be transplanted in exact detail. She started doing it. It wasn’t difficult work. She’d doctored memories before this, and it was essentially the same process.
It was simply a question of how much she could get done before she had to stop. The physical discomforts that kept filtering into her awareness weren’t too serious a distraction. But there was something else that frightened her—an occasional sense of vagueness about herself, a feeling as if she might be growing flimsy, shadowy. It always passed quickly, but it seemed a warning that too much time was passing, perhaps already had passed, since she’d cut herself off from her own brain and body and the physical basis of memory and personality.
She paused finally. It should do. It would have to do. Her mind could absorb the remaining pertinent contents of this body’s brain in a few minutes, retain it until she had an opportunity to feed back to Noal whatever else he might need. It would be secondhand memory, neither exact nor complete. But he wouldn’t be aware of the difference, and no one who had known him would be able to tell there was a difference. She couldn’t risk further delay. There was a sense of something that had been in balance beginning to shift dangerously, though she didn’t yet know what it was.
She began the absorption process. Completed it. Went drifting slowly off, then through nothing, through nowhere. . . . Peered out presently again through puzzled sore eyes into the gleaming of the bubble.
Hot terror jolted through her—
* * *
Dasinger turned from the couch on which the Larien body lay, came quickly across the room. “Yes?”
Wergard indicated the other figure in the armchair.
“This one seems to be coming awake again!”
Dasinger looked at the figure. It was slumped back as far as the padded fastenings which held its arms clamped against the sides of the chair permitted. The head lolled to the left, eyes slitted, blood-smeared mouth half open. “What makes you think so?” he asked.
The figure’s shoulders jerked briefly almost as he spoke.
“That,” Wergard said. “It’s begun to stir.”
They watched, but the figure remained quiet now. Wergard looked at the screen. “Some slight change there, too!” he remarked. “Its eyes were open for a while. A minute ago, they closed.”
“Coinciding with the first indication of activity here?” Dasinger asked.
“Very nearly. What about the one on the couch?”
Dasinger shrugged. “Snoring! Seems to smile now and then. Nobody could be more obviously asleep.”
Wergard said, after a moment, “So it must be between these two now?”
“If she’s been doing what we think, it should be. . . . There!”
The figure in the chair sucked in a hissing breath, head slamming up against the backrest. The neck arched, strained, tendons protruding like tight-drawn wires. Dasinger moved quickly. One hand clamped about the jaw; the other gripped the top of the skull. “Get something back in her mouth!”
Wergard already was there with a folded wet piece of cloth, wedged it in between bared teeth, jerked his fingers back with a grunt of pain. Dasinger moved his thumb up, holding the cloth in place. The figure was in spasmodic violent motion now, dragging against the fastenings. Wergard placed his palms above its knees, pressed down hard, felt himself still being shifted about. He heard shuddering gasps, glanced up once and saw blue eyes glaring unfocused in the contorted face.
“Beginning to subside!” Dasinger said then.
Wergard didn’t reply. The legs he was holding down had relaxed, gone limp, a moment before. Howling sounds came from the screen, turned into a strangled choking, went silent. He straightened, saw Dasinger take the cloth from Telzey’s mouth. She looked at them in turn, moved her puffed lips, grimaced uncomfortably.
“You put your teeth through your lower lip a while ago,” Dasinger explained. He added, “That wasn’t you, I suppose. You are back with us finally, aren’t you?”
She was still breathing raggedly. She whispered, “Not quite . . . almost. Moments!”
Animal sounds blared from the screen again. Their heads turned toward it. Wergard went over, cut off the noise, looked at the twisting face that had belonged to Noal Selk. He came back then and helped Dasinger free Telzey from the chair. She sat up and touched her mouth tentatively, reminding Wergard of his bitten finger. He looked at it.
Telzey followed his glance. “Did I do that, too?”
“Somebody did,” Wergard said shortly. He reached for one of the cloths they’d used to keep her mouth propped open, wrapped it around the double gash. “How do you feel, Telzey?”
She shifted her shoulders, moved her legs. “Sore,” she said. “Very sore. But I don’t seem to have pulled anything.”
“You’re back all the way?”
She drew a long breath. “Yes.”
Wergard nodded. “Then let’s get this straight. Over there on the couch, asleep—that’s now Noal Selk?”
“Yes,” Telzey said. “I’ll have to do a little more work on him because he doesn’t have all his memory yet. But it’s Noal—in everything that counts, anyway.”
“He doesn’t have all his memory yet,” Wergard repeated. “But it’s Noal!” He stared at her. “All right. And you’re you again.” He jerked his thumb at the screen. “So the one who’s down in the bubble now is Larien Selk?”
“Well—” Wergard shrugged. “I was watching it,” he said. He looked at Dasinger. “It happened, that’s all!”
He went to the screen console, unlocked the destruct switch, and turned it over. The screen went blank.
The three of them remained silent for some seconds then, considering the same thought. Wergard finally voiced it. “This is going to take a remarkable amount of explaining!”
“I guess it will,” Telzey said. “But we won’t have to do it.”
“Eh?” said Dasinger.
“I know some experts,” she told him. She climbed stiffly out of the chair. “I’d better get to work on Noal now, so we’ll have that out of the way.”
The Operator on Duty at the Psychology Service Center in Orado City lifted his eyebrows when he saw Telzey walking toward his desk in the Entry Hall. They’d met before. He pretended not to notice her then until she stopped before the desk.
He looked up. “Oh, it’s you,” he said indifferently.
Yes, it’s me,” said Telzey. They regarded each other with marked lack of approval.
“Specifically,” asked the Operator, “why are you here? I’ll take it for granted it has to do with your general penchant for getting into trouble.”
“I wouldn’t call it that,” Telzey said. “I may have broken a few Federation laws last night, but that’s beside the point. I’m here to see Klayung. Where do I find him?”
The Operator on Duty leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers.
“Klayung’s rather busy,” he remarked. “In any case, before we bother him you might explain the matter of breaking a few Federation laws. We’re not in that much of a hurry, are we?”
Telzey considered him reflectively.
“I’ve had a sort of rough night,” she said then. “So, yes—we’re in exactly that much of a hurry. Unless your shields are a good deal more solid now than they were last time.”
His eyelids flickered. “You wouldn’t be foolish enough to—”
“I’ll count to two,” Telzey said. “One.”
* * *
Klayung presently laid Telzey’s report sheets down again, sat scratching his chin. His old eyes were thoughtful. “Where is he at present?” he asked.
“Outside the Center, in a Kyth ambulance,” Telzey told him. “We brought Hishee along, too. Asleep, of course.”
Klayung nodded. “Yes, she should have almost equally careful treatment. This is a difficult case.”
“You can handle it?” Telzey asked.
“Oh, yes, we can handle it. We’ll handle everything. We’ll have to now. This could have been a really terrible breach of secrecy, Telzey! We can’t have miracles, you know!”