* * *
The remodeling counselors at the Hute Beauticians center had told Gikkes Orm quite candidly that if she was to be equipped with the leg type she wanted, overall body modifications were indicated to maintain an aesthetic balance. Gikkes hadn’t believed it. But now the cosmetic surgeons had given her a pair of long, exquisitely molded legs, and it seemed the counselors were right.
The rest of her didn’t fit.
“Just look at those shoulders!” she cried, indicating one of two life-sized models which stood against the far wall of the room. They showed suggested sets of physical modifications which might be performed on Gikkes. “I love the legs! But—”
“Well, you might be a little, uh, statuesque,” Telzey acknowledged. She studied the other model. Sinuous was the word for that one. A dancer’s body. “But, Gikkes, you’d look great either way, really! Especially as the slinky character!”
“It wouldn’t be me!” Gikkes wailed. “And how much work do you think I’d have to put in to stay slinky then? You know I’m not the athletic type.”
“No, I guess you’re not,” Telzey said. “When did you first get the idea that you wanted your legs changed?”
It appeared Gikkes had been playing around with the notion for several years, but it was only quite recently that it had begun to seem vital to her. It was her own idea, however—not an obsession planted on a previous trip to Fermilaur. Telzey had been wondering about that. The solution shouldn’t be too difficult. Off and on for some while, Telzey had made use of suitable occasions to nudge Gikkes in the general direction of rationality. It had to be done with care because Gikkes wasn’t too stable. But she had basic intelligence and, with some unnoticed guidance, was really able to handle most of her problems herself and benefit from doing it. Telzey picked up the familiar overall mind patterns now, eased a probe into the unhappy thought muddle of the moment, and presently began her nudging. Gikkes went on talking.
Twenty minutes later, she said ruefully, “So I guess the whole remodeling idea was a silly mistake! The thing to do, of course, is to have them put me back exactly as I was.”
“From all you’ve told me,” Telzey agreed, “that does make sense.”
Mrs. Orm was surprised but relieved when informed of her daughter’s decision. The Hute staff wasn’t surprised. Remodeling shock and reversal requests weren’t infrequent. In this case, reversal was no problem. Gikkes’ experiment in surgical cosmetology probably had reduced her life expectancy by an insignificant fraction, and the Orm family was out a good deal of money, which it could afford. Otherwise, things would be as before.
* * *
A level of the Hute center restaurant was on Keth Deboll’s private club circuit, which in itself guaranteed gourmet food. It was a quietly formal place where the employees weren’t trying to look like anything but people. Keth’s bony inquisitive face, familiar to newsviewers over a large section of the Hub, presumably didn’t go unrecognized here, but nobody turned to stare. He deliberated over the menu, sandy brows lifting in abrupt interest now and then, and ordered for both of them, rubbing his palms together.
“You’ll like it,” he promised.
She always did like what Keth selected, but this time she barely tasted what she put in her mouth, as she chewed and swallowed. He’d mentioned that top COS executives patronized the place, and that he rather expected to be meeting someone before lunch was over.
She’d been wondering how she could get close enough to some top COS executive to start tapping his mind. . . .
She was sliding out discreet probes before Keth had placed his order. After the food came, only a fraction of awareness remained in her physical surroundings. Keth would eat in leisurely silent absorption until the edge was off his appetite, and she might have her contact made by that time.
Several minds in the vicinity presently seemed as open to contact as Uspurul’s. None of them happened to be a COS executive. Something else was in the vicinity—seven or eight mind shields. Unusual concentration of the gadgets! Her probes slipped over them, moved on, searching—
“You might get the opportunity,” Keth’s voice was saying. “Here comes a gentleman who could arrange it for you.”
Awareness flowed swiftly back to the outer world as she reoriented herself between one moment and the next. Keth had reached the point where he didn’t mind talking again, had asked—what? Ah, yes, had asked what plans she had for the day. She’d responded automatically, that she was hoping to get a look at some of Fermilaur’s less publicized projects. . . . Who could arrange it?
She looked around. A handsome, tall, strong-faced man was coming toward their table. On his right shoulder perched a small creature with blue and white fur, adorned with strings of tiny sparkling jewels. The man’s dark eyes rested on Telzey as he approached. He nodded to her, smiled pleasantly, looked at Keth.
“Am I intruding?” It was a deep, soft-toned voice.
“Not at all,” Keth told him. “We’re almost finished—and I’d intended trying to get in touch with you during the afternoon. Telzey, this is Chan Osselin. He handles publicity for COS and incidentally owns Hute Beauticians. . . . Telzey Amberdon, an old friend. We came out from Orado together. If you have the time, join us.”
Osselin drew a chair around and sat down. His scalp hair was short, deep black, like soft animal fur. Telzey wondered whether it was a product of remodeling, felt rather certain then that it wasn’t. The small animal on his shoulder stared at Telzey out of large pale eyes, yawned and scratched a rounded ear with a tiny clawed finger. The stringed jewels decorating it flashed flickering rainbows of fire.
“I heard of your arrival a few hours ago,” Osselin said. “Here on Adacee business?”
Keth shrugged. “Always on Adacee business.”
“Um. Something specific?”
“Not so far. Something new, unpublicized, sensational.”
Osselin looked reflective. “Sensational in what way?”
“Questionable legality wouldn’t have to be part of it,” Keth said. “But it would help. Something with shock effect. None of your pretty things.”
“So COS is to be exposed again?” Osselin seemed unruffled.
“With some new angle,” said Keth. “On some new issue.”
“Well,” Osselin said, “I’m sure it can be arranged. . . .”
Telzey, absently nibbling the last crumbs of her dessert, drew back her attention from what was being said. She’d known Chan Osselin’s name as soon as she saw him. She’d seen him before as an image in Uspurul’s mind. One of COS’s top men. Uspurul wouldn’t willingly have brought herself to the attention of someone like Osselin. People of that kind were to be avoided. They had too much power, were too accustomed to using it without hesitation or scruple.
There was no trace of the dead, psi-deadening, effect of a mind shield about Osselin—
Telzey reached out toward the deep sound of his voice, paying no attention to the words, groping cautiously for some wash of thought which might be associated with the voice.
She had no warning of any kind. A psi hammer slammed down on her, blacking out her vision, leaving her shaken and stunned.
She drew in a slow, cautious breath. Her psi screens had locked belatedly into a hard shield; another assault of that kind could have no great effect on her now. But none came. She realized she’d lowered her head in protective reflex. Her hair hid her face, and the voices of the men indicated they weren’t aware that anything in particular had happened. Vision began to return. The section of the tabletop before her grew clear, seemed to sway about in short semicircles. A last wave of giddiness and nausea flowed over her and was gone. She’d be all right now. But that had been close—
She kept her face turned away as she reached for her bag. The makeup cassette showed she’d paled, but it wasn’t too noticeable. Listening to a thin, angry whistling nearby, she touched herself up, put the cassette away, and finally raised her head.
The furry thing on Osselin’s shoulder stared at her. Abruptly it produced its whistling sounds again, bobbing up and down. Osselin stroked it with a finger. It closed its eyes and subsided. He smiled at Telzey.
“It gets agitated now and then about strangers,” he remarked.
She smiled back. “So it seems. What do you call it?”
“It’s a yoli. A pet animal from Askanam. Rare even there, from what I’ve been told. This one came to me as a gift.”
“Supposed to be a sort of living good luck charm, aren’t they?” said Keth.
“Something like that. Faithful guardians who protect their master from evil influences.” Osselin’s dark eyes crinkled genially at Telzey. “I can’t vouch for their effectiveness—but I do seem to remain undisturbed by evil influences! Would you care to accompany us to a few of the specialized labs a little later, Miss Amberdon? You should find them interesting.”