They were the only two people in the room who weren’t much concerned about what was going on. Telzey couldn’t move her head very far and had caught only one glimpse of Nelt after she and Keth were brought awake. But Barrand remained within her range of vision, and his heavy features were sheened occasionally with a film of sweat. It was understandable. Barrand had to get results to justify his maneuver against Osselin. He might have regarded this as an opportunity to break down Osselin’s prestige and following in the association. And so far Barrand could be certain of only one thing. He was, in fact, dealing with a psi.
He looked as if he almost wished he hadn’t made the discovery.
From Telzey’s point of view, it couldn’t be avoided. Regaining contact with Osselin might be the only possible way to get them out of the situation, and she didn’t know whether she could do it in time. The subtle approach was out now. While Keth, doing his part again, argued angrily and futilely with Barrand and Nelt, she’d been driving out a full-sweep search probe, sensitized to Osselin’s mind patterns. Barrand’s expression when he stared at her told her his psi recorder was registering the probe. So, of course, was Nelt’s, whose impatiently muttering voice Telzey could hear in the section of the room behind her. He was keeping it low, but it was fairly obvious that he was hurrying along preliminary briefing instructions to the lie detector as much as he could without confusing the device or giving it insufficient information to work with. They were anxious to have it get started on her.
She hadn’t picked up a trace of Osselin yet. But almost as soon as she began reaching out for him, she’d run into a storm of distress signals from another familiar mind.
* * *
It had turned into a bad day for Uspurul. Shortly after noon, she was called in to COS Services’ regional office. Something happened there. She didn’t know what. A period of more than an hour appeared to have lapsed unnoticed, and nobody was offering any explanations. She’d heard of amnesia treatments, but why should they have given her one? It frightened her.
She pretended that everything seemed normal, and when she was told to go to her quarters and rest for a few hours because she might be given a night assignment, she was able to convince herself that the matter was over—she’d been brushed briefly by some secret COS business, put to some use of which she was to know nothing, and restored to her normal duties.
An hour ago then, she’d been told to check out an aircar for a night flight to the Ialgeris Islands, registering Miss Amberdon and a Mr. Deboll as her passengers. That looked all right. Amberdon was still her assignment. The Ialgeris tour, though a lengthy one, requiring an expert guide because it involved sporadic weather risks, was nothing unusual. She took the car to one of the Barrand centers where she was to pick up the passengers. There she was conducted to a sublevel room and left alone behind a closed door. Misgivings awoke sharply again. There was no detectable way of opening the door from within the room.
Why should they lock her in? What was happening? Uspurul became suddenly, horribly, convinced that she’d been drawn deep into one of those dark COS activities she’d hardly even let herself think about. A fit of shaking came over her and it was some minutes then before she could control her muscles. Shortly afterward, the door opened. Uspurul stood up quickly, putting on a servile smile. The smile was wiped away by the shock of realizing that the man in the door was Nelt—one of the biggest of the COS big shots, one of the people she least wanted to see at present. Nelt beckoned her out into the passage.
Uspurul stepped out, legs beginning to shake again, glanced up the passage and felt she’d dropped into a nightmare. Barrand, the COS president, stood thirty feet away at an open door, speaking to a man in surgeon’s uniform. Beside them was a float table, and on it lay two covered figures. Uspurul didn’t doubt for an instant that they were those of her prospective passengers. Neither they nor she were to reach the Ialgeris Islands. Tomorrow the aircar would be reported lost in a sea storm, as a number were each year in spite of all precautions—
The surgeon moved the float table through the door, and Barrand followed it. Nelt turned away and walked along the passage toward the room, leaving Uspurul standing where she was. For a moment, hopes flickered wildly in her. She might be able to get out of the center unnoticed, find a place to hide—stay alive!
A great black-gloved hand came down on her shoulder. Uspurul made a choked screeching noise. Nelt didn’t look around. He went on into the room and the door closed.
Sorem, whose black-uniformed tall figure Uspurul had seen once at a distance, Barrand’s bodyguard, whose head was always covered in public by a large, disturbingly shaped helmet, unlocked the door to an adjoining room, went in with Uspurul and shoved her down on a bench. She’d heard stories about Sorem. Half fainting, staring fascinatedly at him, she hoped he wouldn’t take off the helmet.
But he did, and the yellow-eyed black dog head grinned down at her.
* * *
The lie detector was asking its patterned series of trap questions on the matters it had been instructed to investigate, and Telzey was answering them. It was nerve-stretching work. They’d stripped her before fastening her to the frame, and she’d been warned that if she refused to answer or the detector stated she wasn’t telling the truth, the surgeon was ready to restructure one of her arms as a start.
She’d split her awareness again, differently, deeply. The detector’s only contact was with a shadow mentality, ignorant of the split, memoryless, incapable of independent thought. A mechanism. When a question was asked, she fed the mechanism the answer she wanted it to give, along with the assurance that it was the truth. It usually was not the truth, but the mechanism believed it was. Psi sealed Telzey’s mind away otherwise both from the detector’s sensors and from crucial body contacts. There were no betraying physical reactions.
It took much more concentration than she liked—she’d still found no mental traces of Osselin, and a purposeful search probe absorbed concentration enough itself. But she needed time and was more likely to gain time if she kept their attention on her, away from Keth. He wasn’t being questioned directly, but Telzey suspected the detector was picking up readings from him through the chair to which he was fastened and comparing them with the readings it got from her. There was a slight glassiness in Keth’s look which indicated he’d gone into a self-induced trance as soon as the questions began, couldn’t hear either questions or answers, hence wasn’t affected by them. He’d said he could hold out against a lie detector by such means for a while. But a sophisticated detector had ways of dealing with hypnotic effects, and the COS machine obviously was an advanced model. She should keep it working away at her as long as possible.
The questions ended abruptly. Telzey drew a long, slow breath.
She might have caught a touch of Chan Osselin’s mind just then! She wasn’t sure. The stress of maintaining her defense against the detector had begun to blur her sensitivity.
The lie detector’s voice said, “Deboll does not respond to verbal stimuli at present. The cause can be analyzed if desired. Amberdon’s response to each question registered individually as truthful. The overall question-response pattern, however, shows a slight but definite distortion.”
“In other words,” Barrand said from behind Telzey, “she’s been lying.”
“That is the probability. The truth registration on individual questions is not a machine error. It remains unexplained.”
Barrand and Nelt moved into Telzey’s range of vision, looked down at her. Nelt shook his head.
“I don’t like that,” he said uneasily.
“Nor I,” said Barrand. “And we can’t be sure of what else she’s doing. Let’s speed up the procedure! Have the detector get Deboll out of whatever state he’s in and start questioning him immediately. Put on full pressure at the slightest hesitation. Take the girl off the machine for the time being.” Barrand looked at the surgeon. “Get to work. To begin with, I want the left arm deboned to the wrist and extended.”
The surgeon’s look of disinterest vanished. He drew back the sliding top of the instrument table. “A functional tentacle?”
Barrand grunted. “She’s to stay alive and able to talk. Aside from that, keep her functional if you can, but it’s not of primary importance. Let her watch what’s happening.” He added to Telzey, “We’ll stop this as soon as you demonstrate to our satisfaction that you’re willing to cooperate.”