They stepped into the elevator. The door closed, and Telzey turned the switch. Some seconds passed. The door opened again.
They stood motionless, looking out and around. Gaziel glanced over at Telzey, shook her head briefly.
“It can’t be as easy as that!” she murmured.
Telzey bit her lip. “Unless it’s locked . . . or unless there’s a barrier field that won’t pass it. . . .”
The door had opened at the back of a large sun-filled porch garden. Seemingly, at least, the porch was open to the cloudless sky beyond. There were rock arrangements, small trees, flower beds stirring in a warm breeze. Near the far end was a graveled open area—and a small aircar was parked on it. No one was in sight.
No, Telzey thought, escape from Ti’s island couldn’t be so simple a matter! There must be some reason why they couldn’t use the aircar. But they had to find out what the reason was. . . .
They moved forward warily together, a few steps, emerged from the elevator, looked around, listening, tensed. Gaziel started forward again. Telzey suddenly caught her arm, hauled hard. Back they went stumbling into the elevator.
“What’s the matter?” Gaziel whispered.
Telzey passed her hand over her mouth, shook her head. “Close!” she muttered. “The sun—”
Gaziel looked. Her eyes widened in comprehension. “Should be overhead, this time of day!”
“Yes, it should . . .” It wasn’t. Its position indicated it might be midmorning or midafternoon on the garden porch.
The garden porch—a Martri stage.
“They set it up for us!” Gaziel murmured. “We asked Challis where we could find aircars.”
Telzey nodded. “So they spotted us coming and spun in a scene from some drama—to get us out there, on stage!”
“They almost did. . . . Look at it now!” Gaziel said softly. “Nothing’s moving.”
The garden porch had gone still, dead still. No eddy of air disturbed the flower beds; no leaf lifted. There was total silence about them.
“They’ve stopped the scene,” Telzey whispered. “Waiting to see if we won’t still try to reach the car.”
“And find out we’ve become part of the action! Wonder what— It’s moving again!”
The garden growth stirred lazily, as before. A breeze touched their faces. Some seconds passed. Then they heard a hoarse shout, a high cry of fear, and, moments later, running steps. A young man and a young woman burst into view from behind a cluster of shrubs, darted toward the aircar.
The Martri scene began to fade. Off to the left, another man was rising out of concealment, holding a gun in both hands. He took unhurried aim at the pair as they pulled open the door of the car. Then flame tore through the two bodies, continued to slash into them as they dropped writhing to the ground, dimming out swiftly now with everything about them.
Telzey turned the elevator switch. The door slid shut. They looked at each other.
“If you hadn’t noticed the sun!” Gaziel said. She drew in a long breath. “If we’d— The computer would hardly have had to modify that scene at all to get us deleted!”
“Wish those minds weren’t in quite such a hurry about that,” Telzey said.
The elevator door opened. They stepped out into the hall from which they’d entered it.
“Oh, certainly we have permanent Martri stages here in the complex,” Ti said at lunch. “They’re generally off limits to personnel, but you two are quite free to prowl about there if you like. The equipment’s foolproof. Remind me to give you a chart tomorrow to help you locate some of them.”
He appeared affable, though bemused. Now and then he regarded them speculatively. He’d spent all morning, he told them, trying to track down the problem in the programming annex. The annex, a relatively simple piece of Martri equipment, was Linden’s responsibility; but Linden was limited.
“I’ll work it out,” he said. “It’s possible I’ll have to modify the overall programming approach used on you. Meanwhile—well, Linden has business offices on the level above your room. I’d like you to go there after you finish. He’s to carry your general indoctrination a step further this afternoon. Go up the stairs nearest your room and turn left. You won’t have any trouble finding him.”
They didn’t. They came to a main office first, which was a sizable one where half a dozen chatty and cheerful-looking young women were at work. One of them stood up and came over.
“Dr. Linden?” she said. “Oh, yes. He’s expecting you.”
They followed her through another room to Linden’s private office. He arose behind his desk as they came in.
“Dr. Ti informed me you were on your way here,” he said. He looked at the young woman. “I’ll be out of the office a while. Take care of things.”
“How long do you expect to be gone, sir?” she asked.
“Between one and two hours.” Linden gave Telzey and Gaziel a twisted smile. “Let’s go!”
He led them up a narrow passage to an alcove where sunlight flooded in through colored windows. Here was a door. Linden unlocked it but didn’t open it immediately.
“I’ll explain the situation,” he said, turning back to them. “I told Dr. Ti in Draise that Telzey might become dangerous, and advised him to have her destroyed. But he was intrigued by the possibilities he felt he saw in her, and in creating puppet doubles of her.” Linden shrugged. “Well, that’s his affair. He’s been attempting to shake you up psychologically—Martri programming takes hold best on minds that have been reduced to a state of general uncertainty. However, his methods haven’t worked very well. And he now suspects you may have deliberately caused the malfunction of the programming annex this morning. So he’s decided to try a different approach—and for once in this matter, I find myself in complete accord with him!”
“What’s the new approach?” Telzey asked guardedly.
“We have devices in the room behind that door,” he said, “which were designed to put difficult subjects into a docile and compliant frame of mind. I’m happy to say that various phases of the process are accompanied by intense physical pain—and believe me, you’re getting the full treatment!”
Telzey said, “One of us is Gaziel. She hasn’t done anything to you. Why do you want to give her the full treatment?”
Linden shrugged. “Why not? Subjectively you’re both Telzey, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re equally insufferable. You’ll find out which of you is Telzey in fact when you’re supposed to. I’ll make no distinctions now. When I feel you’ve been sufficiently conditioned, I’ll put you through the psi depressant procedure again to make sure no problems begin to develop in that area. Then I’ll report to Dr. Ti that his subjects are ready for further programming sessions.”
He smiled at Telzey.
“You,” he said, “had the effrontery to suggest that it would be to my advantage if Dr. Ti gave up his plan to program the two of you. I don’t agree. He feels now that the experiment probably will fail as such, but will produce valuable new information. So he’ll continue with it until neither of you has enough mind left to be worth further study. I see nothing undesirable in that prospect!”
He opened the door he’d unlocked, glanced back down the passage in the direction of the offices.
“This kind of thing could disturb the illusions of the work staff,” he remarked. “Subjects experiencing the docility treatment make a remarkable amount of noise. But the place is thoroughly soundproofed, so that’s no problem. You’re at liberty to yowl your heads off in there. I’ll enjoy listening to it. In you go!”
He took each of them by an arm and shoved them through the door into the room beyond. He followed, drawing the door shut behind him, and locked it from inside. As he started to turn back toward them, Telzey dropped forward and wrapped herself around his ankles. Linden staggered off balance and came down, half on top of her. Gaziel came down on top of him.
It was a brisk scramble. Linden was somewhat awkward but big enough and strong enough to have handled either of them readily. Together, hissing, clawing for his eyes, clinging to his arms, kicking at his legs, they weren’t being at all readily handled. They rolled across the room in a close-locked, rapidly shifting tangle, Linden trying to work an arm free and making inarticulate sounds of surprised fury. A table tipped over; a variety of instruments which had been standing on it crashed to the floor. Telzey saw one of them within reach, let go of Linden, snatched it up—mainly plastic but heavy—slammed it down on Linden’s skull. He yelled. She swung down again with both hands, as hard as she could. The gadget broke, and Linden lay still.
“His keys—” she gasped.