That plan was promptly discarded again. Ti had opened the door to a large office, and a big-boned young man sitting there at a desk looked up at her as they came in.
He was a telepath.
The chance meeting of two telepathic psis normally followed a standard etiquette. If neither was interested in developing the encounter, they gave no sign of knowing the other was a psi. If one was interested, he produced a mental identification. If the other failed to respond, the matter was dropped.
Neither Telzey nor the young man identified themselves. Ti, however, introduced them. “This is Linden, my secretary and assistant,” he said; and to Linden, “This is Telzey Amberdon, who’s interested in our puppets. I’m letting her see what we have in the vaults at present.”
Linden, who had come to his feet, bowed and said, “You’d like me to show Miss Amberdon around?”
“No, I’ll do that,” said Ti. “I’m telling you so you’ll know where I am.”
That killed the notion of probing one of the puppets in the vaults. Now they’d met, it was too likely that Linden would become aware of any telepathic activity in the vicinity. Until she knew more, she didn’t want to give any hint of her real interest in the puppets. There were other approaches she could use.
The half hour she spent in the vaults with Ti was otherwise informative. “This one,” he said, “is part of an experiment designed to increase our production speed. Three weeks is still regarded as a quite respectable time in which to turn out a finished puppet. We’ve been able to do a good deal better than that for some while. With these models, starting from scratch and using new hypergrowth processes, we can produce a puppet programmed for fifteen plays in twenty-four hours.” He beamed down at Telzey. “Of course, it’s probably still faulty—it hasn’t been fully tested yet. But we’re on the way! Speed’s sometimes important. Key puppets get damaged or destroyed, and most of some Martri unit’s schedule may be held up until a replacement can be provided.”
* * *
That night at her home in Orado City, Telzey had an uninvited visitor. She was half asleep when she sensed a cautious mental probe. It brought her instantly and completely awake, but she gave no immediate indication of having noticed anything. It mightn’t be a deliberate intrusion.
However, it appeared then that it was quite deliberate. The other psi remained cautious. But the probing continued, a not too expert testing of the density of her screens, a search for a weakness in their patterns through which the mind behind them might be scanned or invaded.
Telzey decided presently she’d waited long enough. She loosened her screens abruptly, sent a psi bolt flashing back along the line of probe. It smacked into another screen. The probe vanished. Somebody somewhere probably had been knocked cold for an hour or so.
lzey lay awake a while, reflecting. She’d had a momentary impression of the personality of the prowler. Linden? It might have been. If so, what had he been after?
No immediate answer to that.
There was a permanent Martri stage in Orado City, and Telzey had intended taking in a show there next day—a Martridrama looked like the best opportunity now to get in some discreet study on puppet minds. Her experience with the psi prowler made her decide on a shift in plans. If it had been Wakote Ti’s secretary who’d tried to probe her, then it could be that Ti had some reason to be interested in a telepath who was interested in Martri puppets, and her activities might be coming under observation for a while. Hence she should make anything she did in connection with the puppets as difficult to observe as she could—which included keeping away from the Orado City stage.
She made some ComWeb inquiries, arrived presently by pop transport shuttle in a town across the continent, where a Martridrama was in progress. She’d changed shuttles several times on the way. There’d been nothing to indicate she was being followed.
She bought a ticket at the stage, started up a hall toward the auditorium entry—
* * *
She was lying on her back on a couch, in a large room filled with warm sunshine. There was no one else in the room.
Shock held her immobilized for a moment.
It wasn’t only that she didn’t know where she was, or how she’d got there. Something about her seemed different, changed, profoundly wrong.
Realization came abruptly—every trace of psi sense was gone. She tried to reach out mentally into her surroundings, and it was like opening her eyes and still seeing nothing. Panic began to surge up in her then. She lay quiet, holding it off, until her breathing steadied again. Then she sat up on the couch, took inventory of what she could see here. The upper two-thirds of one side of the room was a single great window open on the world outside. Tree crowns were visible beyond it. Behind the trees, a mountain peak reached toward a blue sky. The room was simply furnished with a long table of polished dark wood, some chairs, the low couch on which she sat. The floor was carpeted. Two closed doors were in the wall across from the window.
Her clothes—white shirt, white shorts, white stockings, and moccasins—weren’t the ones she’d been wearing.
None of that told her much, but meanwhile the threat of panic had withdrawn. She swung around, slid her legs over the edge of the couch. As she stood up, one of the doors opened, and Telzey watched herself walk into the room.
It jolted her again, but less severely. Take another girl of a size and bone structure close enough to her own, and a facsimile skin, eye tints, a few other touches, could produce an apparent duplicate. There’d be differences, but too minor to be noticeable. She didn’t detect any immediately. The girl was dressed exactly as she was, wore her hair as she wore hers.
“Hello,” Telzey said, as evenly as she could. “What’s this game about?”
Her double came up, watching her soberly, stopped a few feet away. “What’s the last thing you remember before you woke up here?” she asked.
Her voice, too? Quite close to it, at any rate.
Telzey said guardedly, “Something like a flash of white light inside my head.”
The girl nodded. “In Sombedaln.”
“In Sombedaln. I was in a hall, going toward a door.”
“You were about thirty feet from that door,” said her double. “And behind it was the Martri auditorium. . . . Those are the last things I remember, too. What about psi? Has it been wiped out?”
Telzey studied her a moment. “Who are you?” she asked.
The double shrugged. “I don’t know. I feel I’m Telzey Amberdon. But if I weren’t, I might still feel that.”
“If you’re Telzey, who am I?” Telzey asked.
“Let’s sit down,” the double said. “I’ve been awake half an hour, and I’ve been told a few things. They hit me pretty hard. They’ll probably hit you pretty hard.”
They sat down on the edge of the couch. The double went on. “There’s no way we could prove right now that I’m the real Telzey. But there might be a way we can prove that you are, and I’m not.”
“Psi,” said the double. “Telzey used it. I can’t use it now. I can’t touch it. Nothing happens. If you—”
“I can’t either,” Telzey said.
The double drew a sighing breath.
“Then we don’t know,” she said. “What I’ve been told is that one of us is Telzey and the other is a Martri copy who thinks she’s Telzey. A puppet called Gaziel. It was grown during the last two days like other puppets are grown, but it was engineered to turn into an exact duplicate of Telzey as she is now. It has her memories. It has her personality. They were programmed into it. So it feels it’s Telzey.”
Telzey said, after some seconds, “Ti?”
“Yes. There’s probably no one else around who could have done it.”
“No, I guess not. Why did he do it?”
“He said he’d tell us that at lunch. He was still talking to me when he saw in a screen that you’d come awake, and sent me down here to tell you what had happened.”
“So he’s been watching?” Telzey said.
The double nodded. “He wanted to observe your reactions.”
* * *
“As to which of you is Telzey,” said Ti, “and which is Gaziel, that’s something I don’t intend to let you know for a while!” He smiled engagingly across the lunch table at them. “Theoretically, of course, it would be quite possible that you’re both puppets and that the original Telzey is somebody else. However, we want to have some temporary way of identifying you two as individuals.”