Gaziel said blandly, “You know, Ti’s wife reminds me of someone. But I simply can’t remember who it is.”
So she’s noticed it, too—the general similarity in appearance and motion between Challis and the auburn-haired puppet who’d come walking along the restaurant terrace in Orado City. . . .
A brisk elderly woman appeared a few minutes later. She led them to a sizable room two building levels above the hall, showed them what it contained, including a wardrobe filled with clothing made to their measurements, and departed after telling them to get dressed and wait here for Dr. Ti.
They selected other clothes, put them on. They were the sort of things Telzey might have bought for herself and evidently had been chosen with considerable care. They opened the door then and looked out. No one was in sight. They went quickly and quietly back downstairs to the entrance hall.
Linden’s armored car still stood where they had seen it. There was no one in sight here either. They went over to the car. It took only a moment to establish that its two doors were locked, and that the locks were of the mechanical type.
They returned hurriedly to their room.
“Here,” said Ti, “you see my current pool of human research material.”
They were on an underground level of the central building, though the appearance of the area didn’t suggest it. It was a large garden, enclosed by five-story building fronts. Above was a milky skylight. Approximately a hundred people were in sight in the garden and on the building galleries. Most of them were young adults. There were few children, fewer of the middle-aged, no oldsters at all. They were well-dressed, well-groomed; their faces were placid. They sat, stood, moved unhurriedly about, singly and in groups. Some talked; some were silent. The voices were low, the gestures leisurely.
“They’re controlled by your Martri computer?” Telzey asked.
Ti nodded. “They’ve all been programmed, though to widely varying degrees. Since they’re not being used at the moment, what you see is a random phase of the standard nonsleeping activity of each of them. But notice the group of five at the fountain! They’ve cued one another again into the identical discussion they’ve had possibly a thousand times before. We can vary the activity, of course, or reprogram a subject completely. I may put a few of them through their paces for you a little later.”
“What’s the purpose of doing this to them?” said Gaziel.
Ti said, “These are converging lines of study. On the one hand, as you’re aware, I’m trying to see how close I can come to turning a Martri puppet into a fully functioning human being. On the other hand, I’m trying to complete the process of turning a human being into a Martri puppet, or into an entity that is indistinguishable from one. The same thing, of course, could be attempted at less highly evolved life levels. But using the human species is more interesting and has definite advantages—quite aside from the one that it’s around in abundance, so there’s no problem of picking up as much research material as I need, or the type I happen to want.”
“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught?” Gaziel said.
Ti smiled. “No. I’m quite careful. Every day, an amazing number of people in the Hub disappear, for many reasons. My private depredations don’t affect the overall statistics.”
Telzey said, “And after you’ve done it—after you’ve proved you can turn people into puppets and puppets into people—what are you going to do?”
Ti patted her shoulder. “That, my dear, needn’t concern you at present. However, I do have some very interesting plans.”
Gaziel looked up at him. “Is this where the one of us who’s the original Telzey will go?”
“No,” Ti said. “By no means. To consign her to the research pool would be inexcusably wasteful. Telzey, if matters work out satisfactorily, will become my assistant.”
“In what way?”
“That woman puppet you were so curious about—you tried to investigate its mind, didn’t you?”
Gaziel hesitated an instant. “Yes.”
“What did you find?”
“Not too much. It got away from me too quickly. But it seemed to me that it had no sense of personal existence. It was there. But it was a nothing that did things.”
“Did you learn what it was doing?”
Ti rubbed his jaw. “I’m not sure I believe that,” he remarked thoughtfully. “But it makes no difference now. I have a number of such puppet agents. Obviously, a puppet which is to be employed in that manner should never be developed from one of the types that are in public dramatic use. That it happened in this case was a serious error; and the error was Linden’s. I was very much annoyed with him. However, your ability to look into its mind is a demonstration of Telzey’s potential value. Linden, as far as I can judge the matter, is a fairly capable telepath. But puppet minds are an almost complete blur to him, and when it comes to investigating human minds in the minute detail I would often prefer, he hasn’t been too satisfactory. Aside from that, of course, he has many other time-absorbing duties.
“We already know that Telzey is a more capable telepath than Linden in at least two respects. When her psi functions have been restored, she should become extremely useful.” Ti waved his hand about. “Consider these people! The degree of individual awareness they retain varies, depending on the extent and depth of the programming they’ve undergone. In some, it’s not difficult to discern. In others, it’s become almost impossible by present methods. That would be one of Telzey’s tasks. She should find the work interesting enough.”
“She’ll be a wirehead?” Telzey said.
“Oh, yes, you’ll both be programmed,” Ti told her. “I could hardly count on your full collaboration otherwise, could I? But it’ll be delicate work. Our previous experiments have indicated that programming psi minds presents special difficulties in any case, and I want to be quite sure that nothing goes wrong here. Your self-awareness shouldn’t be affected for one thing.” He smiled. “I believe I’ve come close to solving those problems. We’ll see presently.”
Telzey said, “What do you have in mind for the one who isn’t Telzey?”
“Ah! Gaziel!” Ti’s eyes sparkled. “I’m fascinated by the possibilities there. The question is whether our duplication processes have brought on the duplication of the original psi potential. There was no way of testing indirectly for that, but we should soon know. If they have, Gaziel will have become the first Martri psi. In any case, my dears, you can rest assured, whichever you may be, that each of you is as valued by me as the other and will be as carefully handled. I realize that you aren’t reconciled to the situation, but that will come in time.”
Telzey looked at him. Part lies, part truth. He’d handle them carefully, all right. Very carefully. They had value. And he’d weave, if they couldn’t prevent it, a tightening net of compulsions about them they’d never escape undestroyed. What self-awareness they’d have left finally might be on the level of that of his gardening supervisors. . . .
“Eshan and Remiol are wireheads, too, aren’t they?” she said.
Ti nodded. “Aside from Linden and myself and at present you two, everyone on the island is—to use that loose expression—a wirehead. I have over a hundred and fifty human employees here, and, like the two with whom you spoke, they’re all loyal, contented people.”
“But they don’t have big bank accounts outside and aren’t allowed off the island by themselves?” Telzey said.
Ti’s eyebrows lifted.
“Certainly not!” he said. “Those are pleasant illusions they maintain. There are too many sharp inquiring minds out there to risk arrangements like that. Besides, while I have a great deal of money, I also have a great many uses for it. Why should I go to unnecessary expense?”
“We didn’t really think you had,” Gaziel said.
* * *
“And now,” said Ti, stopping before a small door, “you are about to enjoy a privilege granted to none other of our employees! Behind this door is the brain and nerve center of Ti’s Island—the Dramateer Room of the Martri computer.” He took out two keys, held their tips to two points on the door’s surface. After a moment, the keys sank slowly into the door. Ti twisted them in turn, withdrew them. The door—a thick ponderous door—swung slowly into the room beyond. Ti motioned Telzey and Gaziel inside, followed them through.
“We’re now within the computer,” he said, “and this room, like the entire section, is heavily shielded. Not that we expect trouble. Only Linden and I have access here. No one else even knows where the Dramateer Room is. As my assistants-to-be, however, you should be introduced to it.”
The room wasn’t large. It was long, narrow, low-ceilinged. At the end nearest the door was a sunken control complex with two seats. Ti tapped the wall. “The computer extends downward for three levels from here. I don’t imagine you’ve been behind a Martri stage before?”