The difference of opinion among the COS chiefs was based on the fact that Osselin was less willing to risk a subsequent investigation than his colleagues. The forcing lie detector probes Barrand and Nelt wanted would involve traceable drugs or telltale physical damage if the subjects turned out to be as intractable as he suspected these subjects might be. A gentle anesthesia quiz wasn’t likely to accomplish much here. It would be necessary to get rid of the bodies afterward. And the abrupt disappearance of Keth Deboll and a companion on Fermilaur was bound to lead to rather stringent investigations even as a staged accident. Osselin intended to have them killed in a manner which could leave no doubt about the accidental manner of their death. A tragic disaster.
“What kind of disaster?” Keth asked.
“He’s got engineers working on that, and it’s probably already set up,” Telzey said. “We’ll be seen walking in good health into the ground level of our tower. Depending on the time we get there, there’ll be fifty to a hundred other people around. There’s an eruption of gas-equipment failure. A moment later, we’re all dead together. Automatic safeguards confine the gas to that level until it can be handled, so nobody else gets hurt.”
Keth grunted. “Considerate of him.”
Objectively considered, it was a sound plan. The tourist tower was full of important people; various top-level cliques congregated there. There’d be then a substantial sprinkling of important victims on the ground level. Even if sabotage was suspected, nothing would suggest that Keth and Telzey had been its specific targets.
* * *
On a subterranean level of Osselin’s house was a vault area, and he was in it now. They hadn’t accompanied him because anyone else’s body pattern would bring the vault defenses into violent action. Telzey remained in mental contact; she hadn’t quite finished her work on Osselin, though there wasn’t much left to do. He was sewed up as tightly as she’d ever sewed anyone up. But he remained a tough-minded individual, and she wanted to take no chances whatever tonight. Things seemed under control and moving smoothly. But she wouldn’t breathe easily again until Fermilaur vanished in space behind them.
In one respect, things had gone better than they’d had any reason to expect. “Will you settle for a complete file on the Big Deal?” she’d asked Keth. “The whole inside information gathering program? The file goes back almost three years, which was when it started. Names, dates, the information they got, what they did with it. . . .”
Osselin kept duplicate copies of the file in the vault. She’d told him to bring up one copy for Keth and forget he’d had that copy then. After that, it would be a question of getting off Fermilaur—not too easy even with Osselin’s cooperation. He couldn’t simply escort them to a spaceport and see that they were let through. They were under COS surveillance, would be trailed again when they left the house. COS police waited at the ports. If anything began to look at all suspicious, Barrand and Nelt would hear about it at once, and act at once.
Osselin obviously was the one best qualified to find a way out of the problem, and Telzey had instructed him to work on it. He came back up from the vault presently, laid two small objects on a table, said matter-of-factly, “I have some calls to make on the other matter,” and left the room again.
Keth shook his head. “He seems so normal!”
“Of course, he seems normal,” Telzey said. “He feels normal. We don’t want anybody to start wondering about him.”
“And this is the COS file?” Keth had moved over to the table.
The objects were a pair of half-inch microcubes. Keth smiled lovingly at them, took out a card case, opened it, ran his thumbnail along a section of its inner surface. The material parted. “Shrink section,” he remarked. He dropped the cubes inside, sealed the slit with the ball of his thumb. The case was flat again and he returned it to an inner pocket.
Telzey brushed her hair back from her face. The room wasn’t excessively warm, but she was sweating. Unresolved tensions. . . . She swore mentally at herself. It was no time to get nervous. “How small are they now?” she asked.
“Dust motes. I get searched occasionally. You drop the whole thing into an enlarger before you open it again, or you’re likely to lose whatever you’ve shrunk.” He glanced at his watch. “How far has he got on that other matter?”
“I haven’t been giving much attention to it. I’m making sure I have him completely tied up—I’ll probably have to break contact with him again before we’re off Fermilaur.”
“You still can’t control him at a distance?”
“Oh, I might. But I wouldn’t want to depend on that. He seems to have the details pretty well worked out. He’ll tell us when he gets back.”
“The pattern will be,” said Osselin, “that you’ve decided to go out on the resorts. What you do immediately after you leave the house doesn’t matter. Live it up, mildly, here and there, but work around toward Hallain Palace, and drop in there an hour and a half from now. If you don’t know the place, you’ll find its coordinates on your car controls.”
“I can locate Hallain Palace,” Keth said. “I left money enough there five years ago.”
“Tonight you’re not gambling,” Osselin told him. “Go to the Tourist Shop, thirteenth level, where two lamps have been purchased against Miss Amberdon’s GC account.”
“Lamps?” repeated Keth.
“They’re simply articles of the required size. You’ll go to the store’s shipping level with them to make sure they’re properly packaged, for transportation to Orado. They’re very valuable. You’ll find someone waiting for you with two shipping boxes. You’ll be helped into the boxes, which will then be closed, flown directly to Port Ligrit, passed through a freight gate under my seal, and put on board an Orado packet shortly before takeoff. In space, somebody will let you out of the boxes and give you your tickets.” Osselin looked at Telzey. “Miss Orm and her mother are on their way to another port, accompanied by two Hute specialists who will complete Miss Orm’s modeling reversion at her home. They’ll arrive at the Orado City Terminal shortly after you do. You can contact them there.”
* * *
“How far can you trust him?” Keth asked, as Osselin’s house moved out of sight behind their car.
“Completely now,” Telzey said. “Don’t worry about that part! The way we’re still likely to run into trouble is to do something at the last moment that looks suspicious to our snoops.”
“We’ll avoid doing it then,” said Keth.
Telzey withdrew from contact with Osselin. He considered the arrangements to be foolproof, providing they didn’t deviate from the timetable, so they probably were foolproof. Tracer surveillance didn’t extend into enclosed complexes like Hallain Palace, where entrances could be watched to pick them up again as they emerged. By the time anyone began to look through the Palace’s sections for them, they’d have landed on Orado. There’d be nothing to indicate then what had happened. Osselin himself would have forgotten.
They stopped briefly at a few tourist spots, circling in toward Hallain Palace, then went on to the Palace and reached it at the scheduled time. They strolled through one of the casinos, turned toward the Tourist Shop section. At the corner of a passage, three men in the uniform of the Fermilaur police stepped out in front of them.
There was a hissing sound. Telzey blacked out.
Barrand said, “Oh, you’ll talk, of course. You’ll tell us everything we want to know. We can continue the interrogation for hours. You may lose your minds if you resist too stubbornly, and you may be physically destroyed, but we’ll have the truth from both of you before it gets that far.”
It wasn’t the escape plan that had gone wrong. Barrand and Nelt didn’t know Osselin was under Telzey’s control, or that she and Keth would have been off Fermilaur in less than an hour if they hadn’t been picked up. They’d simply decided to override Osselin and handle the situation in their own way, without letting him know until it was too late to do anything about it. Presumably they counted on getting the support of the COS associates when they showed that the move had produced vital information.
Their approach wasn’t a good one. Telzey had been fastened to a frame used in restructuring surgery, while Keth was fastened to a chair across the room. Frame and chair were attachments of a squat lie-detecting device which stood against one wall. A disinterested-looking COS surgeon and an angular female assistant sat at an instrument table beside Telzey. The surgeon had a round swelling in the center of his forehead, like a lump left by a blow. Apparently neither he nor the assistant cared to have the miracles of cosmetology applied to themselves.