“Do it while we’re on our way there. Get into full contact with him at once! Come on!”
“Alicar,” she said, running along behind him. “You’d better let me—”
“I’ll have you put Gulhas under control when we reach the computer room. Don’t bother me now. We might have other problems.”
Telzey didn’t reply. She caught an impression of Gulhas, lost it again. Contact wasn’t easy. She had to give attention to keeping up with Alicar, and there was another distraction. Something was going on; she wasn’t yet sure what. But—
“Come on!” He didn’t glance back.
Telzey broke off. They were passing through the mine’s storage area; and now two men had appeared suddenly in the aisle ahead, stepping out from behind packing cases. Hille and Ceveldt. Guns in their hands, pointed at Alicar. And Alicar, hand hovering above the pocket that held his gun, came to an abrupt halt. She’d stopped twenty feet behind him.
“Mr. Ralke, don’t move!” Hille said quietly, walking forward. He might still be unsteady on his legs, but his face was hard and determined, and the gun didn’t waver. He went on. “The situation has changed! Your actions indicate to Soad that it might be too dangerous to send you back to get the djeel oil you stole. Therefore—”
The gun in his hand went off as Alicar threw himself to the floor and rolled sideways. It went off again, and so did Ceveldt’s, and Telzey saw one of the scarlet darts of Alicar’s gun flash into Hille’s chest. Ceveldt fired again, and Alicar jerked violently around, the gun flying from his hand and skidding down the aisle toward Telzey. She scooped it up, darted behind a piece of machinery on her left, and crouched down, heart pounding.
There was stillness for a moment. She worked herself in farther between the machines and the wall. From there, she could see a section of the floor, Hille lying on his back. She tried to reach his mind, found it disintegrating in death. Alicar—no, Alicar wasn’t dying, not yet! But he was badly hurt and unconscious.
Slow, cautious footsteps. Ceveldt. She shifted contact to his mind. Ceveldt was uninjured and coming watchfully toward the array of machines behind which she crouched, not knowing exactly where she was. She couldn’t see him and didn’t need to. She knew what he was going to say before he spoke.
“Soad can’t permit you to live either, Nessine or whoever you are,” his voice told her. “He knows what you’ve done, and it seems you might cause a great deal of trouble here before he made you understand it was wrong. You can’t get away—the doors are locked now. So come on out!” He added, “It will be painless and quick.”
Did he know she had Alicar’s gun? No, he didn’t; he’d seen it spinning away from Alicar’s hand, but his attention had been on the man, not the weapon. He’d seen her dart out of sight behind the machines, and he wanted to make sure of her before he went back to finish off Alicar, if that was required.
She felt him reach a decision, and crouched lower. Overhead and to her right, something thudded against the wall; heat washed briefly over her, and when she glanced up, she saw a small section of the wall glowing where the bolt had struck. She crept over to a point directly beneath it. He was less likely to fire at that exact spot again in trying to flush her into sight.
There were a dozen more shots, some crashing into metal, some against the wall. Then Ceveldt, not knowing whether he had reached her or not, was coming around the end of the array of machines where he had seen her disappear.
She rested Alicar’s gun on a piece of steel and held it there unsteadily, thumb against the firing stud. She nearly wasn’t quick enough then. Most of Ceveldt’s strength had returned to him in the interval; he was suddenly in view, standing beside the wall, seeing her. He shot. She fired into a blaze of light, felt a succession of shocks jolt through Ceveldt, felt intense heat above her and a spray of fire pain across her back. She dropped flat and rolled over to crush out the sparks on her shirt.
That took only moments. She turned again and crept forward until she was past the impact area of the last shot, then got to her feet. Ceveldt was down, and Ceveldt was dead. She stepped around him and came out from behind the machines.
* * *
Alicar’s left thigh was an ugly, seared mess, and Hille’s gun had punched a hole through his right shoulder. That wound was bleeding heavily. She could stop the bleeding and would—if she had time left for it. The control mechanisms attached to Hille and Ceveldt might not understand death, but she sensed them reacting to the fact that their charges weren’t performing as they were supposed to perform. That reaction was being picked up by the other mechanisms here—and, no doubt, being communicated to Soad.
She started to kneel down beside Alicar, then hesitated. A sound behind her? She turned quickly, bringing the gun around. For a moment, she stood frozen.
Hille’s body had turned on its side. His hand was groping with slow, fumbling awkwardness toward the gun he had dropped. He hadn’t come back to life—Soad’s mechanism was forcing the corpse into a semblance of action. The fingers stretched and curled, reaching. The boots scratched against the floor.
Unnerved, Telzey hurried toward the contorting thing, snatched up the gun, then ran to check on Ceveldt. And dead Ceveldt, too, was being driven to attempt to regain the weapon he’d lost.
She had both weapons now; but there was a furious thudding on a distant door as she ran back to Alicar, and a feeling of despair came to her. Ceveldt and Hille had secured the doors to the storage area from within; and if that lock system had been under the Romango computer’s control, the doors would have reopened by now. So it wasn’t. But it could be only minutes before Soad’s other slaves forced their way in by one means or another; they’d come armed, and that would be the end. Given more time, she might have pried them away from their psi mechanisms in turn. Given the capabilities of which Alicar had so carefully deprived her—
* * *
Realization blazed through Telzey.
She thought: “But of course!”
She stood staring down at Alicar then in such utter concentration that the racket of the assault on the door receded completely from her awareness. Seconds went racing by. Here was where he’d blocked her—and here! And here! The controls dissolved as she came to them. Abruptly, she knew she was free.
She drew a deep breath, reached confidently for one of the minds she’d touched before, restored contact. Psi flashed over the line of contact, struck with calculated violence. That mind went blank.
Barely a minute later, there was only one human mind besides her own still functioning consciously at the Ralke Mine. It was that of Gulhas, computer technician.
* * *
Gulhas was as much a convert to the Child of the Gods as Hille and Ceveldt had been, but he became Telzey’s property before he knew what was happening. She detached Soad’s mechanism from him, disintegrating it carefully in the process, and had him come with a float carrier and medical kit to the storeroom where he helped her do what could be done immediately for Alicar. Then they placed Alicar on the carrier and went to the Romango’s control room with him.
As they arrived there, Soad found Telzey. There was a cold surging of psi, and the palms of her hands were suddenly wet. For a long moment then, Soad was looking at her as a man might look at a domestic animal which has turned unexpectedly intractable. She was prepared for an immediate attack, but none came. Gradually, the awareness of Soad withdrew, though not entirely.
Telzey let her breath out in a sigh. Her mind shield was tight; and whatever the Child of the Gods might be, it was unlikely that he could accomplish much in a direct assault on that shield. The danger should take other forms.
She said to Gulhas, “Give me verbal override on the computer,” and to make sure there’d be no slips, she kept most of her attention on him as he went through the brief process, though he was no more able to go against her wishes now than she’d been able to go against those of Alicar. Some attention, however, she kept on the lingering shadowy presence of Soad, not knowing what that entity might be up to—and, particularly, not knowing where it was at the moment. It hadn’t been in the vicinity of the Ralke Mine when she’d been scanning the area; she should have picked up some indication of the alien mentality otherwise. But the situation might have changed by now.