The question was what might look interesting enough in her background to draw COS’s attention to her. It wasn’t that the Amberdon family had money. Almost everybody who came here would meet that qualification. There were, Telzey decided, chewing meditatively on her lower lip, only two possible points of interest she could think of at the moment. And both looked a little improbable.
Her mother was a member of the Overgovernment. Conceivably, that could be of significance to COS. At present, it was difficult to see why it should be.
The other possibility seemed even more remote. Information services had yet to dig up the fact that Telzey Amberdon was a telepath, a mind reader, a psi, competent and practicing. She knew that, because if they ever did dig it up, she’d be the first to hear. She had herself supplied regularly with any datum added to her available dossiers. Of the people who were aware she was a psi, only a very few could be regarded as not being completely dependable. Unfortunately, there were those few. It was possible, though barely so, that the item somehow had got into COS’s files.
She could have a problem then. The kind of people who ran COS had to be practical and hardheaded. Hardheaded, practical people, luckily, were inclined to consider stories about psis to be at least ninety-nine percent superstitious nonsense. However, the ones who didn’t share that belief sometimes reacted undesirably. They might reflect that a real psi, competent, practicing, could be eminently useful to them.
Or they might decide such a psi was too dangerous to have around.
She’d walk rather warily tomorrow until she made out what was going on here! One thing, though, seemed reasonably certain—COS, whatever ideas it might have, wasn’t going to try to break through the door to get at her tonight. She could use a few hours of rest.
She climbed into bed, turned over, and settled down. A minute or two later, she was asleep.
After breakfast, Telzey set off with Uspurul on a leisurely aircar tour of the area. She’d explained she’d be visiting an acquaintance undergoing treatment at Hute Beauticians later on, and then have lunch with another friend who’d come out from Orado with her. In the afternoon, she might get down finally to serious sightseeing.
With Uspurul handling the car and gossiping merrily away, Telzey could give her attention to opening connections to the guide’s mind. As she’d judged, it was an easy mind to enter, unprotected and insensitive to telepathic probing. One fact was promptly established then, since it was pervasively present in Uspurul’s thoughts. COS did, in fact, take a special interest in Telzey, but it wasn’t limited to her. She had plenty of company.
The reason for the interest wasn’t apparent. Uspurul hadn’t wanted to know about it, hardly thought of it. The little female was a complex personality. She was twenty-two, had become a bondswoman four years earlier, selling her first contract to COS Services for the standard five-year short-term period. People who adopted bondservant status did it for a wide range of reasons. Uspurul’s was that a profitable career could be built on bond contracts by one who went about it intelligently.
She’d chosen her masters after careful deliberation. On a world which sold luxury, those who served also lived in relative luxury, and as a COS guide she was in contact with influential and wealthy people who might be used for her further advancement. Her next contract owner wouldn’t be COS. She was circumspect in her behavior.
More was done on Fermilaur than cultivating an exclusive tourist trade and cosmetic clientele, and it wasn’t advisable to appear inquisitive about the other things. COS didn’t mind rumors about various barely legal or quite illegal activities in which it supposedly engaged; they titillated public interest and were good for business. But underlings who became too knowledgeable about such obscure matters could find it difficult to quit.
Uspurul intended to remain free to quit when her contract period ended. For the past year, she’d been on the fringes of something obscure enough. It had brought her a string of satisfactory bonuses, and there was nothing obviously illegal about what she did or COS Services did. As long as she avoided any indication of curiosity it seemed safe.
She still acted as guide. But she was assigned now only to female tourists who appeared to have no interest in making use of the remodeling facilities. Uspurul’s assignment was to get them to change their minds without being obvious about it. She was skillful at that, usually succeeded. On a number of occasions when she hadn’t succeeded, she’d been instructed to make sure the person in question would be at a certain place at a certain time. She’d almost always been able to arrange it.
Now she was using the morning’s comfortable schedule to keep up a flow of the light general chatter through which she could most readily plant the right notions in a hesitant visitor’s mind.
“I was thinking I might have a little remodeling myself while I was here,” Telzey remarked, by and by. She took out a small mirror, looked into it critically, arching her brows. “Nothing very important really! But I could have my brows moved higher, maybe get the eyes enlarged.” She clicked the mirror to an angle view, pushed back her hair on the left side. “And the ears, you see, could be set a little lower—and the least bit farther back.” She studied the ear a moment. “What do you think of their shape?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t have them change the shape!” said Uspurul, thinking cheerfully that here came an easy bonus! “But they might be a tiny bit lower. You’re right about that.”
Telzey nodded, put the mirror away. “Well, no rush about it. I’ll be looking around a few days first.”
“Someone like you doesn’t really need remodeling, of course,” Uspurul said. “But it is fun having yourself turned into exactly what you’d like to be! And, of course, it’s always reversible.”
“Hmmm,” said Telzey. “They did a beautiful job on you. Did you pick it out for yourself?”
Uspurul twitched an ear, grinned impishly.
“I’ve wanted to do that since I was a child!” she confessed. “But, no—this was COS Services’ idea. I advertise for the centers, you see. A twenty-two thousand credit job, if I had to pay for it. It’d be a little extreme for the Hub generally, of course. But it’s reversible, and when I leave they’ll give me any other modification I want within a four thousand credit range. That’s part of my contract.”
She burbled on. Telzey didn’t have the slightest intention of getting remodeled, but she wanted Uspurul and COS Services to think she did until she was ready to ship out. It would keep the situation more relaxed.
It remained a curious situation. The people to whom Uspurul reported were satisfied if a visitor signed up for any kind of remodeling at all, even the most insignificant of modifications. That hardly looked like a simple matter of drumming up new business for the centers, while the special attention given some of those who remained disinterested was downright on the sinister side. The places to which Uspurul steered such tourists were always resort spots where there were a good many other people around, coming and going places—in other words, where somebody could easily brush close by the tourist without attracting attention.
What happened there? Something perhaps in the nature of a hypno spray? Uspurul never saw what happened and didn’t try to. When she parted company with the tourist that day, there’d been no noticeable effects. But next day she’d be given a different assignment.
Of course, those people weren’t disappearing. It wasn’t that kind of situation. They weren’t, by and large, the kind of people who could be made to vanish quietly. Presumably they’d been persuaded by some not too legal method to make a remodeling appointment, and afterward went on home like Uspurul’s other clients. They might all go home conditioned to keep returning to Fermilaur for more extensive and expensive treatments; at the moment, that seemed the most probable explanation. But whatever the COS Services’ operation was, Telzey reflected, she’d simply make sure she didn’t get included in it. With Uspurul’s mind open to her, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Back on Orado then, she’d bring the matter to the attention of Federation authorities. Meanwhile she might run across a few other open minds around here who could tell her more than Uspurul knew.
The man she was meeting for lunch—a relative on her mother’s side—was an investigative reporter for one of the newscast systems. Keth had his sharp nose into many matters, and exposing rackets was one of his specialties. He might be able to say what this was about, but the difficulty would be to explain how she’d come by her information without mentioning telepathy. Keth didn’t know she was a psi. Nor could she do her kind of mental research on him—she’d discovered on another occasion that he was equipped with a good solid commercial mind shield. Keth doubted that anyone could really see what was in another person’s mind, but he took precautions anyway.