“No. COS might decide to lower the boom before we have a chance to sit down to dinner this evening. And you see, there’re three special yacht types. Racing boats . . .”
The three yacht types had one thing in common: an identical means of emergency entry. It was designed for use in space but could be operated when the vessel was parked if one knew how. Keth did, though it wasn’t general knowledge. “It’s quick,” he said. “We can do it from the car. Since we haven’t spotted the people who are trailing us, they’re doing it at a discreet distance. The chances are we’ll be inside and going up before they realize what we’re thinking about. So let’s put in the next hour looking around for yachts like that! If the situation looks favorable, we’ll snatch one.”
Telzey agreed. Keth was an expert yachtsman.
It appeared, however, that no yachts in that category happened to be in the general area that day. After an hour, Telzey transferred her belongings to the residential tower where Keth was registered. It seemed better not to become separated now. They settled down to wait together until it would be time to go to Osselin’s residence.
Osselin’s yoli was still in timeless communion with the yoli of its dreams but beginning to show indications of uneasiness. The imagery had become static and patchy here and there. Telzey freshened it up. The yoli murmured blissfully, and was lost again.
Since their last meeting, Osselin had added a piece of pertinent equipment to his attire—a psi recorder, disguised as a watch and fastened by a strap to his brawny wrist. Its complex energies registered as a very faint burring along Telzey’s nerves. She’d come across that particular type of instrument before. It was expensive, highly touted in deluxe gambling establishments and the like. It did, in fact, indicate any of the cruder manipulations of psi energy, which had earned it a reputation for reliability. One of its drawbacks was that it announced itself to sufficiently sensitive psis, a point of which the customers weren’t aware. And here it was no real threat to Telzey. The psi flows she used in investigative work were well below such a device’s registration levels.
Barrand and Nelt had showed up presently, bringing two stunning young women with them. The girls, to Telzey’s satisfaction, were gaily talkative creatures. Barrand was short, powerfully built. Nelt was short and wiry. Both had mind shields. Both wore psi recorders of the same type as Osselin’s, though theirs weren’t in sight. And like Osselin they were waiting for the tactile vibrations from the recorders which would tell them that psi was being used.
So they weren’t really sure about her.
She’d split her attention again. Keth knew about that now, knew what to do to alert her if she didn’t seem to be behaving in a perfectly normal manner. With suspicious observers on hand, that had seemed an advisable precaution. Keth and the ladies carried most of the conversation—the ladies perhaps putting up unwitting verbal screens for their escorts, as Keth was maintaining one to give Telzey as much freedom for her other activities as possible. Now and then she was aware that the COS chiefs studied her obliquely, somewhat as one might watch a trapped but not entirely predictable animal. The psi recorders remained inactive. She made progress along expanding lines with Osselin, sampled a series of dishes with evident appreciation, joined occasionally in the talk—realized dinner was over.
“Of course, I want to see Sorem!” she heard herself say. “But what in the world is a guilt-smeller?”
Nelt’s lovely companion made fluttering motions with tapered white hands. “I’ll keep my eyes closed until he’s gone again!” she said apprehensively. “I looked at him once with his helmet off! I had nightmares for a month.”
The others laughed. Osselin reached around for the yoli, perched at the moment on the back of his chair. He placed it on his lap. “I’ll keep my pet’s eyes closed, too, while he’s in the room,” he said, smiling at Telzey. “It isn’t easily frightened, but for some reason it’s in deathly fear of Sorem. Guilt-smeller . . . well, Sorem supposedly has the ability to pick anyone with a strong feeling of guilty apprehension out of a group.” He shrugged.
“He’s unnatural,” Nelt’s lady told Telzey earnestly. “I don’t care what they say—Sorem never was human! He couldn’t have been.”
“I might let him know your opinion of him,” Barrand rumbled.
The girl paled in genuine fright. “Don’t! I don’t want him to notice me at all.”
Barrand grinned. “You’re in no danger—unless, of course, you have something to hide.”
“Everybody has something to hide!” she protested. “I—” She broke off.
Faces turned to Telzey’s right. Sorem, summoned unnoticed by Barrand, had come into the room. She looked around.
Sorem wore black uniform trousers and boots; a gun was fastened to his belt. The upper torso was that of a powerful man, narrow at the waist, wide in the shoulders, with massively muscled arms and chest. It was naked, hairless, a lusterless solid black, looking like sculptured rock. The head was completely enclosed by a large snouted helmet without visible eye slits.
This figure came walking toward the table, helmet already turning slowly in Telzey’s direction. In Osselin’s mind, she had looked at the head inside the helmet. Black and hairless like the body, the head of an animal, of a huge dog, yellow-eyed and savage. Barrand’s bodyguard—a man who’d liked the idea of becoming a shape of fear enough to undergo considerable risks in having himself transformed into one. The great animal jaws were quite functional. Sorem was a triumph of the restructuring artists’ skills.
The recorders had indicated no stir of psi throughout dinner. But they thought that perhaps she simply was being cautious now. Sorem was to frighten her, throw her off guard, jolt her into some revealing psi response. So she would show fear—which mightn’t be too difficult. Sorem’s mind was equipped with a shield like his employer’s, but a brutish mirth and cruelty washed through it as he made it plain his attention was on her. Telzey glanced quickly, nervously, around the table, looked back at him. Keth’s face was intent; he didn’t know what would happen, whether it wasn’t their executioner who had been called into the room. Sorem came up, steps slowing, a stalking beast. Telzey stopped breathing, went motionless, staring up at him. Abruptly, the helmet was swept away; the dog head appeared, snarling jaws half open. The eyes glared into Telzey’s.
The yoli squealed desperately, struggling under Osselin’s hand.
There were violent surges of psi energy then. The yoli wasn’t fully aware of what was happening, but a nightmare shape had loomed up in its dreams, and it wanted to get away. Telzey couldn’t afford to let it wake up now, and didn’t. The three psi recorders remained active for perhaps forty-five seconds. Then she’d wiped the fright impressions from the yoli’s mind, made it forget why it had been frightened. . . .
“It must have recognized your creature by his scent,” Osselin was saying. “I had its eyes covered.”
He stroked the yoli’s furry head. It still whimpered faintly but was becoming reabsorbed by its fantasies. Sorem had turned away, was striding out of the room. Telzey watched him go, aware of Barrand’s and Nelt’s speculating eyes on her.
“If I’d been able to breathe,” she gasped suddenly, “I’d have made more noise than that little animal!”
The beautiful COS dolls tried to smile at her.
* * *
“Their recorders couldn’t distinguish whether those psi jolts came from the yoli or from me,” Telzey said. “And with the racket the yoli was making, it really was more likely it was doing it.”
“So the final decision still is being postponed?” Keth said.
“Only on how to go about it, of course. The other two want to know whether I’m a psi or not, what we’ve learned, whether we were after the Big Deal in the first place. Osselin thinks that’s no longer so important. He wants to get rid of us in a way that’s safe, and take his chances on everything else. He’s giving Barrand and Nelt a few more hours to come up with a good enough reason against his plan—but that’s the way it’s to be.”
Keth shook his head. “He thinks that?”
“Yes, he thinks that.”
“And at the same time he’s to make sure that it’s not the way it’s to be? Isn’t he aware of the contradiction?”
“He’s controlled,” Telzey said. “He’s aware of what I let him be aware. It just doesn’t occur to him that there is a contradiction. I don’t know how else to explain that.”
“Perhaps I get the idea,” Keth said.
They were in Osselin’s house. Barrand and Nelt and their retinue had left shortly after the incident with Sorem and the yoli, having plans for the evening. Osselin had asked Keth and Telzey to stay on for a while.