Keth was to be shown a few projects COS didn’t talk about otherwise, which might give him the kind of story he wanted. They preferred that to having him dig around on Fermilaur on his own. She told Osselin she’d be delighted to go along.
The yoli appeared to be falling asleep, but she sensed its continuing awareness of her. A psi guard—against psis. Its intelligence seemed on the animal level. She couldn’t make out much more about it, and didn’t care to risk trying at present. It probably would react as violently to an attempted probe of its own mind as to one directed against its master.
And now she might be in personal danger. The number of shields she’d touched here suggested some sophistication in psi matters. Ordinarily it wouldn’t disturb her too much. Mechanical anti-psi devices could hamper a telepath but weren’t likely to lead to the detection of one who’d gained some experience, and other telepaths rarely were a problem. The yoli’s psi senses, however, had been a new sort of trap; and she’d sprung it. She had to assume that Osselin knew of his pet’s special quality and what its behavior just now signified. A man like that wasn’t likely to be indifferent to the discovery that someone had tried to reach his mind. And the yoli had made it clear who it had been.
If she dropped the matter now, it wasn’t likely that Osselin would drop it. And she wouldn’t know what he intended to do then until it was too late. . . .
* * *
Some time later, as the tour of the special labs began, there was an attention split. Telzey seemed aware of herself, or of part of herself, detached, a short distance away. That part gazed at the exhibits, smiled and spoke when it should, asked questions about projects, said the right things—a mental device she’d worked out and practiced to mask the sleepy blankness, the temporary unawareness of what was said and done, which could accompany excessive absorption on the psi side. On the psi side, meanwhile, she’d been carrying on a project of her own which had to do with Osselin’s yoli.
The yoli was having a curious experience. Shortly after Telzey and Keth rejoined Osselin, it had begun to pick up momentary impressions of another yoli somewhere about. Greatly intrigued because it had been a long time since it last encountered or sensed one of its kind, it started searching mentally for the stranger, broadcasting its species’ contact signals.
Presently the signals were being returned, though faintly and intermittently. The yoli’s excitement grew. It probed farther and farther for the signals’ source, forgetting now the telepath it had punished for trying to touch its master. And along those heedlessly extended tendrils of thought, Telzey reached delicately toward the yoli mind, touched it and melted into it, still unperceived.
It had taken time because she couldn’t risk making the creature suspicious again. The rest wasn’t too difficult. The yoli’s intelligence was about that of a monkey. It had natural defenses against being controlled by another’s psi holds, and Telzey didn’t try to tamper with those. Its sensory centers were open to her, which was all she needed. Using its own impressions of how another yoli, a most desirable other yoli, would appear to it, she built up an illusion that it was in satisfying communication with such a one and left the image planted firmly in its mind along with a few other befuddling concepts. By that time, the yoli was no longer aware that she existed, much less of what she was up to.
Then finally she was able to turn her attention again to Osselin. Caution remained required, and she suspected she might be running short of time. But she could make a start.
* * *
The aircar floated three thousand feet above foggy valley lands—Fermilaur wilderness, tamed just enough to be safe for the tourist trade. Tongue tip between lips, Telzey blinked at the clouds, pondering a thoroughly ugly situation. There was a sparse dotting of other cars against the sky. One of them was trailing her; she didn’t know which. It didn’t matter.
She glanced impatiently over at the comm grille. Keth Deboll was in conference somewhere with Osselin. She’d left a message for him at his residential tower to call her car’s number as soon as he showed up. She’d left word at her own tower to have calls from him transferred to the car. In one way or the other, she’d be in contact with him presently. Meanwhile she had to wait, and waiting wasn’t easy in the circumstances.
Chan Osselin couldn’t sense a telepathic probe. Except for that, she might have been defeated and probably soon dead. She’d found him otherwise a difficult mental type to handle. His flow of conscious thoughts formed a natural barrier; it had been like trying to swim against a current which was a little too strong. She kept getting pushed back while Osselin went on thinking whatever he was thinking, unaware of her efforts. She could follow his reflections but hadn’t been able to get past them to the inner mind in the time she had available. . . . And then she’d been courteously but definitely dismissed. The guided tour was over, and the men had private business to discuss. Shortly after she left them, she’d lost her contact with Osselin.
She’d absorbed a good deal of scattered information by then, could begin fitting it together. As she did, the picture, looking bad enough to start with, got progressively worse—
Normally, even people who accepted that there might be an occasional mind reader around had the impression that telepathy couldn’t pick up enough specific and dependable information to be a significant threat to their privacy. That might have been the attitude of the top men in COS up to a year ago. Unfortunately, very unfortunately for her, they’d had a genuine psi scare then. They spotted the psi and killed him, but when they realized how much he’d learned, that they almost hadn’t found him out in time, they were shaken. Mind shields and other protective devices were promptly introduced. Osselin hated shields; like many others he found them as uncomfortable as a tight shoe. When an Askab lady provided him with a guard yoli, he’d felt it was safe to do without a shield.
He still felt safe personally. That wasn’t the problem. COS had something going, a really important operation. Telzey had caught worried flashes about it, no more and not enough. The Big Deal was how Osselin thought of it. They couldn’t afford the chance of having the Big Deal uncovered. Keth Deboll was a notoriously persistent and successful snoop; a telepathic partner would make him twice as dangerous. The fact that the two had appeared on Fermilaur together might have no connection with the Big Deal, but who could tell? COS was checking on both at present. If they couldn’t be cleared, they’d have to be killed. Risky, but it could be arranged. It would be less risky, less suspicious, than carrying out a double mind-wipe and dumping them on some other world, which might have been an alternative in different circumstances.
And that was it! Telzey wet her lips, felt a chill quivering again through her nerves, a sense of death edging into the situation. She didn’t see how they could be cleared. Neither did Osselin, but something might turn up which would make it unnecessary to dispose of them. The Amberdon girl’s demise or disappearance shouldn’t cause too much trouble, but Deboll was another matter. Too many people would start wondering whether he hadn’t been on the trail of something hot on Fermilaur, what it could be. This would have to be very carefully handled! Meanwhile COS was taking no chances. Neither of the two would be allowed to leave the planet or get near an interstellar transmitter. If they made the attempt, they’d get picked up at once. Otherwise, they could remain at large, under surveillance, until the final decision was made. That should turn up any confederate they might have here.
The final decision was still some hours away. How many, Telzey didn’t know. Osselin hadn’t known it yet. But not very many, in any case. . . .
Osselin himself might be the only way out of this. Their information on psis was limited; they thought of her only as a telepath, like the other one, and didn’t suspect she could have further abilities which might endanger them. She had that advantage at present. Given enough time, she should be able to get Osselin under control. She’d considered trying to restore mental contact with him at long range, wherever he happened to be. But she wasn’t at all certain she could do it, and the yoli made it too risky. Its hallucinations should be self-sustaining for some hours to come if nothing happened to disturb it seriously. She had to avoid disturbing it in resuming contact with Osselin, which meant working with complete precision. A fumble at long range could jolt the creature out of its dreams and into another defensive reaction.