She didn’t know what effect that would have on Osselin, but at the very least it might give him the idea to equip himself with a mind shield as a further safeguard until they’d dealt with the telepath. She’d be stopped then.
She had to be there, with Osselin, to be sure of what she was doing. If she got in touch with him and told him she’d like to talk to him privately, he’d probably want to hear what she had to say. But he’d be suspicious, on guard. It would be easier for Keth to find a plausible reason for another meeting, easier if Keth was around to keep some of Osselin’s attention away from her. . . . The comm grille burred. She gave a gasp of relief as her hand flicked out to switch it on.
Keth took a little convincing then. He’d set their aircar down on a grassy hillside, and they’d moved off until it was a hundred yards below them. He’d turned on this and that antisnoop device. From eight feet away, their voices were an indistinguishable muddle of sound, their features blurred out.
“We can talk,” he’d said.
Telzey talked. He listened, intent blue eyes blinking, face expressionless. Twice he seemed about to interject something, then let her go on. Finally he said, “Telzey, you’re obviously not joking, and I don’t believe you’ve suddenly become deranged. Did you ever try to read my mind?”
“Yes, once. Half a year ago. I thought you were up to something and wanted to find out what it was.”
“Oh? What did you find?”
“That you use a mind shield, of course. I didn’t waste any more time.”
Keth grunted. “All right! You’re a telepath. If the situation is what it looks like, we have a problem. The check on me won’t tell COS anything. Adacee isn’t leakproof, but all they’ll learn there is what I told Osselin. I came to Fermilaur to get a good story. Nothing specific. Any story as long as it’s good enough. Can they find anything in your background to confirm that you’re a mind reader?”
Telzey shrugged, shook her head. “I’ve been careful. What there was has been pretty well covered up. It’s very unlikely they’ll find anything. The trouble is Osselin’s already pretty well convinced of it—he goes by the yoli’s psi sense. And, of course, they can’t prove that I’m not one.”
“No. Not without linking you into a lie detector system. If they go that far, they’ll already have decided to go all the way with us. At any rate, they haven’t made up their minds yet. I parted from Osselin on apparently friendly terms. If the verdict’s favorable, nothing at all will have happened.”
“Unless we try to reach a spaceport,” Telzey said. “Or to get in touch with somebody somewhere else.”
“Yes, they wouldn’t allow that. And, of course, they can seal off the planet as far as we’re concerned. In effect, they own it.” Keth considered. “There’s a man I might contact here, but that would only pull him into the trouble. How about other, uh, functional telepaths?”
Telzey shook her head.
“Starting cold, it probably would be hours before I located one. We don’t have that much time. They mightn’t want to help anyway. It could cost them their cover.”
Keth rubbed his chin. “If it gets to the point of running, a space yacht might get us off.”
“COS Services handles the yacht rentals,” Telzey reminded him.
“Not what I was thinking of,” Keth said. “Plenty of people come here in private yachts. Last year, I got out of a somewhat similar situation that way. It shouldn’t be impossible to borrow one, but it probably wouldn’t be easy.” He reflected. “That Big Deal of COS—the story they think we might be snooping around here for? You got no clue from Osselin what that might be?”
She shook her head. “There’s an awful lot of money involved, and there’s something illegal about it. They’ll protect it, whatever it takes. They think you might have picked up some clues to it somewhere and brought me to Fermilaur to help dig up more. But that’s all I can say. Everything else connected with it was too blurred to make out.”
“Finance, politics, business—the big money areas,” Keth said, watching her. “Nothing about some secret Hub-wide system to gather hot inside information at top levels there.”
Telzey stared at him. “Oh, my!” she said after a long moment.
Keth said, “You went white, Telzey. What is it?”
“That guide I had this morning! Uspurul.” Telzey put her hand to her mouth. “I was reading her mind. There was something odd going on. I didn’t think there was any connection, but I wanted to check with Uspurul again to be sure. I tried to get in touch with her an hour ago. COS Services said she was on another assignment, couldn’t be reached.”
“You don’t think she’s on another assignment?”
“Uh-uh! No. She didn’t know it, but she’s connected with their Big Deal! Hot inside information— When they started checking this afternoon on what I’ve been doing here since I landed, they’d have picked her up to see what a telepath could have got from her.”
Keth said, “The kind of lie detector that pushes unconscious material to view. . . . So just what did you learn from her?”
Telzey recounted the essentials. Keth nodded slowly. He’d paled somewhat himself.
“That will have tipped the fat into the fire!” he said.
A secret Hub-wide information gathering system on the distaff side. . . . Wives, mistresses, daughters of the Federation’s greats streamed in to Fermilaur. Were tagged on arrival, maneuvered into making a remodeling appointment if that hadn’t been their intention.
“Anesthesia, unconsciousness, in-depth interrogation,” Keth said. “Anything they know of significance is filed immediately. The ones who can be typed as foolproof COS agents and have sufficiently valuable connections go home under a set of heavy compulsions, go to work. When their work’s done, they come back, get debriefed. Leaving no trace of what’s happened, in case of subsequent checks. Yes, a big setup! COS’s capital investment program should be spectacularly successful!”
Now and then suspicion might turn on an unwitting agent. When it happened, the agent appeared to go into amnesiac withdrawal and committed suicide at the first opportunity. It wasn’t something the people involved would want to talk about. But there’d been such a case among Keth’s acquaintances, and he’d learned of another very similar one, discovered both women had gone through remodeling centers on Fermilaur in recent months. It seemed worth following up. He’d come to Fermilaur to do it.
“I dislike turning my back on a story before it’s in the bag,” he said. “But I can pick this up at the other end now. We’d better get set to run while we can, Telzey! The decision they’ll reach is to do us in. From their viewpoint, there won’t be much choice.”
“A yacht?” she said.
“Yes. Noticed a few boat parks while I was moving around this morning, and—”
“Keth, how much chance would we have of getting away?”
He hesitated, grimaced.
“It depends. Even odds perhaps, if we act now. Less if we wait.”
She shook her head. “We can do better! Chan Osselin’s really top man in COS, isn’t he?”
Keth looked at her. “Yes. Barrand’s president of the association. I’ve heard Osselin could have the job any time he wants. What he says pretty well goes anyway. Why?”
“You’ve got to think of some reason to see him again immediately, with me. I need more time to work on him, to really get into his mind.”
“What will that do for us?”
“If I get through to him, Osselin will get us off Fermilaur,” Telzey said. “He’s in a better position to do it than anyone else.”
Keth considered her.
“It seems you’re something more than a telepath,” he remarked.
“They don’t know it.”
“All right. How much time would you need?”
She shook her head.
“An hour—thirty minutes—twenty minutes—two hours . . . I don’t know. It’s always different, and Osselin isn’t easy. But we’ll have much better than even odds there!”
“Well, there’s no need to arrange for a meeting,” Keth said. He looked at his watch. “We’ve got a dinner appointment at Osselin’s house two and a half hours from now, our local time. He emphasized that I was to bring my charming young friend along. Two people want to meet us. One’s Barrand, the COS president I mentioned. The other’s Nelt, vice-president and executive officer. They and Osselin are the trio that runs COS. Presumably the decision on what to do about us will be made at that time.”
“Yes, probably,” Telzey said. “But let’s get there early, Keth.”
“By about half an hour? I’m sure Osselin won’t object. I’ve thought of further details about the projects he showed me that I’d like to discuss with him.” He added as they turned back to the aircar, “But we’re not scratching the space yacht idea just yet!”