“Got them!” Gaziel held up a flat purse.
They went quickly through Linden’s pockets, found nothing else they could use. He was breathing noisily but hadn’t moved again. “We’ll just leave him locked in here,” Telzey said as they scrambled to their feet. “That’s a solid door—and he said the place was soundproof. . . .”
They unlocked the door, drew it cautiously open. Everything was quiet. They slipped out, locked the door, started down the passage. Somewhere another door opened; they heard feminine voices, turned back and ducked into the alcove across from the door.
“Once we’re past the office area, we should be able to make it downstairs all right,” Telzey said softly.
Gaziel studied her a moment, lips pursed. “Now we start them thinking we’re hiding out in the forest, eh?”
“Yes. Looks like the best move, doesn’t it?”
Gaziel nodded. “Wish we’d had a few more hours to prepare for it, though. Getting to the aircars is likely to be a problem.”
“I know. It can’t be helped.”
“No,” Gaziel agreed. “Between Linden and Ti planning to mess up our minds and the Martri computer waiting around to introduce some fancy deletion procedure, we’d better try to clear out of here the first chance we get! And this is it.”
* * *
The side door to Linden’s armored car opened to the third key Telzey tried. They slipped inside, drew the door shut.
Telzey settled into the driver’s seat. “I’ll get it started. Look around and see what he has here.”
“Handguns he has here,” Gaziel announced a moment later.
“A kind we can use?”
“Well, they’re heavy things. I’ll find out how they work.” There were clicking noises as she checked one of the guns. The car engine came to life. Telzey eased the vehicle back from the wall of the building, turned it around. It went off quickly across the lawn toward the nearest stand of garden trees. Gaziel looked over at her. “It handles all right?”
“It handles fine! Beautiful car. I’ll come up on the taloaks from the other side.”
“We can use the guns,” Gaziel said. “I’ll tie two of them to my belt for now. Nothing much else.”
Taloaks made great climbing trees, and a sizable grove of them stretched to within a hundred yards of the residential area of the main building complex. Linden’s car slipped up on the trees from the forest side of the estate, edged in among thickets of ornamental ground cover, stopped in the center of one of the densest clusters of growth. Its side door opened. Telzey climbed from the driver’s seat to the top of the door, then onto the top of the car, followed by Gaziel. Each of them now had one of the big handguns Gaziel had discovered fastened to her dress belt. A thick taloak branch hung low over the car. They scrambled up to it, moved on.
Some five minutes later, they sat high in a tree near the edge of the grove, straddling branches six feet apart. They could watch much of the ground in front of the building through the leaves, were safely out of sight themselves. So far, there’d been no indication of activity in the area.
“It might be a while before they start looking for Linden,” Gaziel said presently.
“Unless Ti checks in to see how our indoctrination is coming along,” Telzey said.
“Yes, he’s likely—”
Gaziel’s voice broke off. Telzey looked over at her. She sat still, frozen, staring down at Linden’s gun which she was holding in both hands.
“I’m sorry,” Telzey said after a moment. “I wasn’t really sure myself until just now.”
Gaziel slowly refastened the gun to her belt, lifted her head.
“I’m nothing,” she said, gray-faced. “A copy! A wirehead.”
“You’re me,” Telzey said, watching her.
Gaziel shook her head. “I’m not you. You felt me get that order?”
Telzey nodded. “Ti’s working through the computer. You were to take control of me—use the gun if you had to—then get me and Linden’s car back to the main entrance.”
“And I’d have done it!” Gaziel said. “I was about to point the gun at you. You canceled the order—”
“Yes. I blanked out the computer contact.”
Gaziel drew a ragged breath. “So you’re back to being a psi,” she said. “How did that happen?”
“Linden’s been trying to probe me. Off and on since yesterday. He pushed open a few channels finally. I finished doing the rest of it about an hour ago.”
Gaziel nodded. “And you took him over after you knocked him out. What’s the real situation now?”
Telzey said, “Ti did check. He had his own key to the treatment rooms. I woke Linden up and had him tell Ti a story that got things boiling. What it amounts to is that we put guns on Linden and got his personal standard communicator from him before we knocked him out. We plan to find a spot in the forest where we can hole up in his car and call for help. So they’re coming after us with their other armored cars—eleven of them—in case the order Ti just gave you doesn’t bring us back.”
Gaziel stared at her a moment, face still ashen. “Ti’s going with them?”
“Yes. And he’s taking Linden along. They’re about to start. I’m still in contact with Linden, of course, and I know how to get to the aircars. But they’ve stationed some guards at key points in the complex. It will take us some time to maneuver around those, and if we’re seen, Ti could come back with his patrols to stop us. So we have to make sure they can’t get back.” She added, “There they are now!”
A groundcar swept around the curve of the building complex. Others followed at fifty-yard intervals. They arrowed across the lawns in the direction of the forest wall, vanished behind trees. Telzey said, “Ti and Linden are in five and six. We can start down.” She looked at Gaziel. “You are coming with me, aren’t you?”
“Oh, I’m coming with you!” Gaziel said. “I’ll help any way I can. I simply want all this to stop!”
Telzey locked the last control into position, pushed her hair back out of her face, looked over at Gaziel watching her from the edge of the console pit. A low heavy humming filled the Dramateer Room. “We’re set,” she said.
“Any detectable reaction from the minds yet?” asked Gaziel.
Telzey bit her lip reflectively. “Well, they’re here, all right!” she said. “Around us. I can feel them. Like a whole army. Spooky! But they’re just watching, I think. They haven’t tried to interfere, so it doesn’t seem they’re going to be a problem. After all, we are getting out. It’s what they wanted, and they seem to understand that we’re doing it.” She added, “Not that I’d like to tempt them by walking across one of their stages! But we won’t have to do that.”
“Just what have you been doing?” Gaziel said. “I couldn’t begin to follow it.”
“I couldn’t either,” Telzey said. “Linden did it. I sort of watched myself go through the motions.” She flexed her fingers, looked at them. “Ti’s forest things have cut the groundcars off from the gate and are chasing them up to the fort. One of the cars—well, they caught it. Ti and Linden already are in the fort. Ti’s tried to contact the main complex, but the comm line leads through the computer and it’s been cut off there. He knows the computer must be doing it, of course, and he’s tried to override.”
“The override system’s deactivated?”
“That’s the first thing we did,” Telzey said. “They’ll need a calculated minimum of thirty-two minutes to wipe out the forest puppets from the fort.”
“That will get us to the aircars?”
“It should, easily. But we’ll have a good deal more time. The first groundcar that comes back through the gate into the estate will start up a section of a Ti Martridrama—the third act of Armageddon Five. That’s about what it sounds like, and its stage is the whole estate except for the central building complex. Ti won’t be able to get here until Act Three’s played out—and it takes over an hour. We want to keep him bottled up as long as possible, of course—”
She jerked suddenly, went still for a moment, shook her head.
“Linden just died!” she said then. “Ti shot him. He must have realized finally I had Linden under control. Well, it shouldn’t change matters much now.”
She got out of the console chair. “Come on! Mainly we’ll have to be a little careful. I know where the guards are, but it’ll be better if we don’t run into anybody else either.”
It took them eighteen minutes to work their way unseen through the building, and get into the aircar depot. A line of supply trucks stood there, and four smaller aircars. They got into one of the cars. The roof of the depot opened as Telzey lifted the car toward it. The car halted at that point.