From a car window, they aimed Linden’s guns at the power section of the nearest truck. After some seconds, it exploded, and the trucks next to it were instantly engulfed in flames. A chain reaction raced along the line of vehicles. They closed the window, went on up. Nobody was going to follow them from Ti’s island. The energy field overhead dissolved at their approach, closed again below them. The car went racing off across the sunlit sea toward the Southern Mainland.
Gaziel sighed beside Telzey, laid the gun she’d been using down on the seat.
“I did have the thought,” she said, “that if I shot you now and pushed you out, I could be Telzey Amberdon.”
“I knew you’d be having the thought,” she said, “because I would have had it. And I knew you wouldn’t do it then. Because I wouldn’t do it.”
“No,” Gaziel said. “Only one of us can be the original. That’s not your fault.” She smiled, lazily, for the first time in an hour. “Am I dying, Telzey?”
“No,” Telzey said. “You’re going to sleep, other me. Don’t fight it.”
* * *
Some six weeks later, Telzey sat at a small table in a lounge of the Orado City Space Terminal, musing on information she’d received a few hours before.
It happened now and then that some prominent citizen of the Federation didn’t so much disappear as find himself becoming gradually erased. It might be reported for a while that he was traveling, had been seen in one place or another, and eventually then that he’d settled down in quiet retirement, nobody seemed to know quite where. Meanwhile his enterprises were drifting into other hands, his properties dissolved, his name was mentioned with decreasing frequency. In the end, even former personal acquaintances seemed almost to forget he’d existed.
Thus it would be with Wakote Ti. He’d demanded a public trial. With his marvelous toys taken from him and an end made to the delights of unrestricted experimentation, he’d felt strongly that at least the world must be made aware of the full extent of his genius. The Federation’s Psychology Service, which sometimes seemed the final arbiter on what was good for the Federation and sometimes not, decreed otherwise. The world would be told nothing, and Ti would be erased. He’d remain active, however; the Service always found a use for genius of any kind.
“What about all the new principles he discovered?” Telzey had asked Klayung, her Service acquaintance. “He must have been way ahead of anyone else there.”
“To the best of our knowledge,” said Klayung, “he was very far ahead of anyone else.”
“Will that be suppressed now?”
“Not indefinitely. His theories and procedures are being carefully recorded. But they won’t be brought into use for a while. Some toys seem best reserved for wiser children than we have around generally at present.”
It was on record that Ti had deeded a private island to the planetary government, which would turn it into the site of a university. The illusory bank accounts of his innocent employees had acquired sudden reality. The less innocent employees were in Rehabilitation. His puppets and Martri equipment had disappeared.
Telzey watched a girl in a gray business suit come into the lounge, sent out a light thought to her.
Acknowledgment returned as lightly. The girl came up to the table, sat down across from Telzey.
“You’re taller than I am now, aren’t you?” Telzey said.
Gaziel smiled. “By about half an inch.”
Taller, more slender. The hollows under the cheekbones were more pronounced. There’d been a shift in the voice tones.
“They tell me I’ll go on changing for about a year before I’m the way I want to be,” Gaziel said. “There’ll still be a good deal of similarity between us then, but no one would think I’m your twin.” She regarded Telzey soberly. “I thought I didn’t really want to see you again before I left. Now I’m glad I asked you to meet me here.”
“So am I,” Telzey said.
“I’ve become the sort of psi you are,” said Gaziel. “Ti guessed right about that.” She smiled briefly. “Some of it’s surprised the Service a little.”
“I knew it before we left the island,” Telzey said. “You had everything I had. It just hadn’t come awake.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t dare do anything about you myself. I just got you to the Service as quickly as I could.”
Gaziel nodded slowly. “I was on the edge then, wasn’t I? I remember it. Have they told you how I’ve been doing?”
“No. They wouldn’t. They said that if you wanted me to know, you’d tell me.”
“I see.” Gaziel was silent a moment. “Well, I want you to know. I hated you for a while. It wasn’t reasonable, but I felt you were really the horrid changeling who’d pushed me out of my life, away from my family and friends. That was even after they’d taken the puppet contacts out of my head. I could think of explanations why Ti had planted them there, in the real Telzey.” She smiled. “We’re quite ingenious, aren’t we?”
“Yes, we are,” Telzey said.
“I got past that finally. I knew I wasn’t Telzey and never had been. I was Gaziel, product of Wakote Ti’s last and most advanced experiment. Then, for a while again, I was tempted. By that offer. I could become Gaziel Amberdon, Telzey’s identical twin, newly arrived on Orado—step into a ready-made family, a ready-made life, a ready-made lie. Everything really could be quite simple for me. That was a cruel offer you made me, Telzey.”
“Yes, it was cruel,” Telzey said. “You had to have a chance to see if it was what you wanted.”
“You knew I wouldn’t want it?”
“I knew, all right. You’d have stayed a copy then, even if no one else guessed it.”
Gaziel nodded. “I’m thanking you for the offer now. It did help me decide to become Gaziel who’ll be herself and nobody’s copy.”
“I’d like to think,” Telzey told her, “that this isn’t the last time we’ll be meeting.”
“When I’m free of the Telzey pattern and have my own pattern all the way, I’ll want to meet you again,” Gaziel said. “I’ll look you up.” She regarded Telzey a moment, smiled. “In three or four years, I think.”
“What will you be doing?”
“I’ll work for the Service a while. Not indefinitely. After that, I’ll see. Did you know I was one of Ti’s heirs?”
“One of his heirs?”
“He isn’t dead, of course. I drew my inheritance in advance. I used your legal schooling and found I could make out a rather strong case for paternal responsibility on Ti’s part toward me. It was quite a lot of money, but he didn’t argue much about it. I think I frighten him now. He’s in a nervous condition anyway.”
“What about?” Telzey said.
“Well, that Martri computer he had installed on the island is supposedly deactivated. The Service feels it’s a bit too advanced for any general use at present. But Ti complains that Challis still comes around now and then. I wouldn’t know—nobody else has run into her so far. It seems he arranged for the fatal accident the original Challis had. . . .” Gaziel glanced at her watch, stood up. “Time to go aboard. Good-bye, Telzey!”
“Good-bye,” Telzey said. She looked after Gaziel as she turned away. Klayung, who wouldn’t discuss Gaziel otherwise, had said thoughtfully, “By the time she’s through with herself, she’ll be a remarkably formidable human being—”
Gaziel checked suddenly, looked back. “Poor old Ti!” she said, laughing. “He didn’t really have much of a chance, did he?”
“Not against the two of us,” Telzey said. “Whatever he tried, we’d have got him one way or another.”
Trigger had been shopping at Wehall’s that morning, winding up with lunch on one of the store’s terrace restaurants. She had finished, and was leaning back in her chair contemplatively when a tiny agitated-sounding voice spoke to her.
“Good lady,” it said, “you have a kind face! I’m a helpless fugitive and an enemy is looking for me. Would you let me hide in your handbag until he goes away?”
The words seemed to have come from the surface of the table. Someone’s idea of a joke . . . Trigger looked casually around, expecting to discover an acquaintance. People sat at tables here and there about the terrace, but no one was at all near her. And she saw no one she knew.
“Good lady, please! There isn’t much time!”
She shrugged. Why not go along with the humorist?
“Where are you?” she asked, in a conspiratorially low tone. “I don’t see you.”
“Between the large blue utensil and the smaller white one. I don’t dare show myself. The abominable Blethro wasn’t far behind me!”
Trigger glanced at the blue pitcher on the table, moved it a few inches back from a square white sandwich warmer. Her eyes widened briefly. Then she laughed.