He pulled a ring from his finger, put both hands under the table level, brought them to view again as fists. “You,” he said to Telzey, “will guess which hand is holding the ring. If you guess correctly, you’ll be referred to as Telzey for the time being, and you,” he added to the double, “as Gaziel. Agreed?”
They nodded. “Left,” Telzey said.
“Left it is!” said Ti, beaming at her, as he opened his hand and revealed the ring. He put it back on his finger, inquired of Linden, who made a fourth at the table, “Do you think she might have cheated by using psi?”
Linden glowered, said nothing. Ti laughed. “Linden isn’t fond of Telzey at present,” he remarked. “Did you know you knocked him out for almost two hours when he tried to investigate your mind?”
“I thought that might have happened,” said Gaziel.
“He’d like to make you pay for it,” said Ti. “So watch yourselves, little dears, or I may tell him to go ahead. Now as to your future—Telzey’s absence hasn’t been discovered yet. When it is, a well-laid trail will lead off Orado somewhere else, and it will seem she’s disappeared there under circumstances suggesting she’s no longer alive. I intend, you see, to keep her indefinitely.”
“Why?” Telzey asked.
“She noticed something,” said Ti. “It wouldn’t have seemed too important if Linden hadn’t found out she was a telepath.”
“Then that was your puppet I saw?” Gaziel said. She glanced over at Telzey, added, “That one of us—Telzey—saw.”
“That we saw,” Telzey said. “That will be simplest for now.”
Ti smiled. “You live up to my expectations! . . . Yes, it was my puppet. We needn’t go further into that matter at present. As a telepath and with her curiosities aroused, Telzey might have become a serious problem, and I decided at once to collect her rather than follow the simpler route of having her eliminated. I had her background checked out, which confirmed the favorable opinions I’d formed during our discussion. She should make a most satisfactory subject. Within the past hour, she’s revealed another very valuable quality.”
“What’s that?” Telzey said.
“Stability,” Ti told her. “For some time, I’ve been interested in psis in my work, and with Linden’s help I’ve been able to secure several of them before this.” He shook his head. “They were generally poor material. Some couldn’t even sustain the effect of realizing I had created an exact duplicate of them. They collapsed into uselessness. So, of course, did the duplicates. But look at you two! You adjusted immediately to the situation, have eaten with every indication of a good appetite, and are no doubt already preparing schemes to get away from old Ti.”
Telzey said, “Just what is the situation? What are you planning to do with us?”
Ti smiled at her. “That will develop presently. There’s no hurry about it.”
“Another question,” said Gaziel. “What difference does it make that Telzey’s a psi when you’ve knocked out her psi ability?”
“Oh, that’s not an irreversible condition,” Ti informed her. “The ability will return. It’s necessary to keep it repressed until I’ve learned how to harness it, so to speak.”
“It will show up in the duplicate, too, not just in the original?” Gaziel asked.
Ti gave her an approving look. “Precisely one of the points I wish to establish! My puppets go out on various errands for me. Consider how valuable puppet agents with Telzey’s psi talent could be—a rather formidable talent, as Linden here can attest!”
He pushed himself back from the table. “I’ve enjoyed your questions, but I have work to take care of now. For the moment, this must be enough. Stroll about and look over your new surroundings. You’re on my private island. Two-thirds of it is an almost untouched wilderness. The remaining third is a cultivated estate, walled off from the forest beyond. You’re restricted to the estate. If you tried to escape into the forest, you’d be recaptured. There are penalties for disobedience, but more importantly, the forest is the habitat of puppet extravaganzas—experimental fancies you wouldn’t care to encounter! You’re free to go where you like on the estate. The places I wouldn’t wish you to investigate at present are outside your reach.”
* * *
“They have some way of knowing which of us is which, of course,” Gaziel remarked from behind Telzey. They were threading their way through tall flowering shrubbery on the estate grounds.
“It would be a waste of time trying to find out what it is, though,” Telzey said.
Gaziel agreed. The Martri duplicate might be marked in a number of ways detectable by instruments but not by human senses. “Would it disturb you very much if it turned out you weren’t the original?” she said.
Telzey glanced back at her. “I’m sure it would,” she said soberly. “You?”
Gaziel nodded. “I haven’t thought about it too much, but it seems there’s always been the feeling that I’m part of something that’s been there a long, long time. It wouldn’t be at all good to find out now that it was a false feeling—that I was only myself, with nothing behind me.”
“And somebody who wasn’t even there in any form a short while ago,” Telzey added. “It couldn’t help being disturbing! But that’s what one of us is going to find out eventually. And, as Ti mentioned, we may both be duplicates. You know, our minds do seem to work identically—almost.”
“Almost,” said Gaziel. “They must have started becoming different minds as soon as we woke up. But it should be a while before the differences become too significant.”
“That’s something to remember,” Telzey said.
They emerged from the flower thicket, saw the mountain again in the distance, looming above the trees. It rose at the far end of the island, in the forest area. The cultivated estate seemed to cover a great deal of ground. When they’d started out from a side door of the round gleaming-white building which stood approximately at its center, they couldn’t see to the ends of it anywhere because groups of trees blocked the view in all directions. But they could see the mountain and had started off toward it.
If they kept on toward it, they would reach the wall which bordered the estate.
“There’s one thing,” Telzey said. “We can’t ever be sure here whether Ti or somebody else isn’t listening to what we say.”
Gaziel nodded. “We’ll have to take a chance on that.”
“Right,” Telzey said. “We wouldn’t get very far if we stuck to sign language or counting on thinking the same way about everything.”
They came to the estate wall ten minutes later. It was a wall designed to discourage at first glance any notions of climbing over it. Made of the same gleaming material as the central building, its smooth unbroken surface stretched up a good thirty-five feet above the ground. It curved away out of sight behind trees in either direction; but none of the trees they saw stood within a hundred feet of the wall. They turned left along it. Either there was a gate somewhere, or aircars were used to reach the forest.
They came to a gateway presently. Faint vehicle tracks in the grass led up to it from various directions. It was closed by a slab set into the wall, which appeared to be a sliding door. They could find no indication of a lock or other mechanism.
“Might be operated from the house.”
It might be. In any case, the gateway seemed to be in regular use. They sat down on the grass some distance away to wait. And they’d hardly settled themselves when the doorslab drew silently back into the wall. A small enclosed ground vehicle came through; and the slab sealed the gateway again. The vehicle moved on a few yards, stopped. They hadn’t been able to see who was inside, but now a small door opened near the front end. Linden stepped out and started toward them, scowling. They got warily to their feet.
“What are you doing here?” he asked as he came up.
“Looking around generally like Ti told us to,” said Gaziel.
“He didn’t tell you to sit here watching the gate, did he?”
“No,” Telzey said. “But he didn’t say not to.”
“Well, I’m telling you not to,” Linden said. “Move on! Don’t let me find you around here again.”
They moved on. When they glanced back presently, the vehicle had disappeared.
“That man really doesn’t like us,” Gaziel remarked thoughtfully.
“No, he doesn’t,” Telzey said. “Let’s climb a tree and have a look at the forest.”
They picked a suitable tree, went up it until they were above the level of the wall and could see beyond it. A paved road wound away from the area of the gate toward the mountain. That part of the island seemed to be almost covered with a dense stand of tropical trees; but, as on this side, no trees grew very close to the wall. They noticed no signs of animal life except for a few small fliers. Nor of what might be Ti’s experimental Martri life.