She restored contact—and it was back at once before her: the cold darkness, the emptiness that wasn’t empty, the sense of forbidding, repelling power. She scanned cautiously along the impression but could make out no more about it than before.
So then the initial probe! A sensing psi needle reached, touched, drove in, withdrew. As it withdrew, something wrenched briefly and violently at Telzey.
She waited. The xenotelepathic faculty was an automatic one, operating in subconscious depths beyond her reach. She didn’t know why it did what it did. But when she touched an alien mind, it began transforming alien concepts to concepts sufficiently human in kind so that she understood them; and if she wanted to talk to that mind, it turned her concepts into ones the alien grasped. Usually the process was swift; within a minute or two there might be the beginnings of understanding.
No understanding came here. Her screens had gone tight as something gripped and twisted her. When she relaxed them deliberately again, nothing else happened.
A deeper probe then. She launched it, braced for the mental distortion.
It came. The shields stiffened, damping it, but she had giddy feelings of being dragged sideways, stretched, compressed. And the probe was being blocked. She drew it back. Strangeness writhed for a moment among her thoughts and was gone. Echo, at last, of alien mind—of the mind that wanted no contact!
The sense of violent distortion ended almost as soon as her probe withdrew. The dark lay before her again, sullen and repelling. A psi device, assembled by mind. A shield, a barrier. A formidable one. But she’d touched for a moment the fringes of the alien mind concealed by the barrier, and now contact with it, whether it wanted contact or not, might be very close. She’d have to do more than she’d done. She decided to trust her shields.
She paused then, at a new awareness.
She wasn’t alone. The presence had followed. More than a presence now. Mind, human mind, behind heavy shielding.
“What do you want?” Telzey asked.
Thought replied. “After you make the contact, you may need support.”
She would. “Can you give it?”
“I believe so. Be ready!” The impression ended.
Telzey moved in her shields toward the dark barrier, reached it. The barrier awoke like a rousing beast. Her probe stabbed out, hard and solid. The barrier shook at her savagely, and mind-strangeness flickered again through her thoughts. She caught it, tagged it, felt incomprehensibility and an icy deadliness in the instant before it was gone. Now there had been contact—a thread of psi remained drawn between herself and the alien mind, a thin taut line which led through the barrier. Following the line, she moved forward into the barrier, felt a madness of power surge up about her.
“Link with me quickly before—”
Vast pressures clamped down. Telzey and the other spun together through the thunders of chaos.
She’d joined defenses before the barrier struck. With whom, she didn’t know, and there was no time just now to find out. But she’d felt new strength blend with hers in that moment, and the strength was very, very useful. For here was pounding confusion, a blurring and blackening of thought, a hideous distorting and twisting of emotion. The barrier was trying to eject her, force her back, batter her into helplessness. It was like moving upstream through raging and shifting currents.
But the double shield absorbed it. And her psi line held. For a time she wasn’t sure she was moving at all through the psi barrier’s frenzies. Then she knew again that she was—
She was lying in bed in a darkened room and didn’t have to open her eyes to know it was her bedroom in the summerhouse. She could sense its familiar walls and furnishings about her. How she’d got there, she didn’t know. Her mind screens were closed; not drawn into a tight shield, but closed. Automatic precautionary procedure.
Precaution against what?
She didn’t know that either.
Something evidently had happened. She felt very unpleasantly weak; and it wasn’t the weakness of fatigued muscles. Most of her strength seemed simply absent. There were no indications of physical damage otherwise. But her mental condition was deplorable! What had knocked out her memory?
The answer came slowly.
The Hana had knocked out her memory.
With that, it was all back. Telzey lay quiet, reflecting. That incredible species! Waiting on the three worlds they’d filled wherever they could grow, worlds transformed into deadly psi forts—waiting for the return of an enemy they’d fought, how long ago? Fifty thousand human years? A hundred thousand?
They’d been convinced the Veen would be back and attempt again to enslave or destroy them. And they’d been ready to receive the Veen. What giant powers of attack and defense they’d developed in that long waiting while their minds lay deeply hidden! When an occasional psi entity began to search them out, it was hurled back by the reef of monstrous energies they’d drawn about themselves. None had ever succeeded in passing that barrier.
Until we did, Telzey thought.
They had; and the Hana mind, nakedly open, immensely powerful, believing they were Veen who had penetrated its defenses, began killing them. They’d lasted a while, under that double shield. They couldn’t have lasted very long even so, because life was being drained from them into the Hana mind in spite of the shield; but there was time enough for Telzey’s concept transforming process to get into operation. Then the Hana realized they weren’t Veen, weren’t enemies, didn’t intend to attack it; and it stopped killing them.
Things had begun to get rather blurred for Telzey around then. But she’d picked up some additional details—mostly about the other who’d come through the barrier with her.
She relaxed her screens gradually. As she’d suspected, that other one was in the room. She opened her eyes, sat up unsteadily in bed, turned on the room lights.
Pilch sat in a chair halfway across the room, watching her. “I thought you’d come awake,” she remarked.
Telzey settled back on the bed. “How’s Trigger?”
“Perfectly all right. Asleep at present. She was behind a rather formidable shield at the time of contact.”
“The Old Galactic’s,” said Telzey.
“What was it doing here—in the Hana?”
“A precaution the Old Galactics decided on after they realized what the Hana was,” Pilch said. “If our psi investigations failed and the Hana began to cut loose, it would have died on the physical side. They have fast methods.”
Telzey was silent a moment. “As I remember it,” she said then, “you weren’t in much better shape than I was when I passed out.”
“True enough,” agreed Pilch. “We were both in miserable shape, more than half dead. Fortunately, I’m good at restoring myself. At that, it took me several days to get back to par.”
“It’s been ten days since you made the contact,” Pilch told her.
“Ten days!” Startled, Telzey struggled back up to a sitting position.
“Relax,” said Pilch. “No one’s missed you. Your family is under the impression you’re vacationing around, and it won’t occur to the caretakers to come near the house until we’re ready to let them resume their duties. Which will be quite soon. I know you still feel wrung out, but you’ve been gaining ground very rapidly tonight. A few more hours will see you back to normal health. That was no ordinary weakness.”
Telzey studied her thoughtfully.
“You use anyone about any way you like, don’t you?” she said.
“You, too, have been known to use people, Telzey Amberdon!” Pilch remarked. “You and Trigger, in your various ways, share the quality of being most effective when thrown on your own resources. It seemed our best chance, and it was. None of our xenos could have done precisely what you did at the critical moment, and I’m not at all sure the contact could have been made in any other manner.”
She glanced at the watch on her wrist, stood up and came over to the bed.
“Now you’re awake and I’m no longer needed here. I’ll be running along,” she said. “Trigger can fill you in. If there’s some specific question you’d like me to answer, go ahead.”
“There’s one question,” Telzey said. “How old are you, Pilch?”
Pilch smiled. “Never you mind how old I am.”
“You were there before they founded the Federation,” Telzey said reflectively.
“If you saw that,” said Pilch, “you’ve also seen that I helped found the Federation. And that I help maintain it. You might keep it in mind. Any time a snip of a psi genius can be useful in one of my projects, I’ll use her.”
Telzey shook her head slightly. “I don’t think you’ll use me again.”
Pilch’s knowing gray eyes regarded her a moment. Then Pilch’s hand reached down and touched her cheek. Something like a surge of power flowed through Telzey and was absorbed. She blinked, startled.