All the energy she could handle was reaching for Osselin’s mind now. But the trace, if it had been one, had vanished. The sculpting frame moved, bringing her down and around. The surgeon’s face appeared above her. An arm of the frame rose behind him and she saw herself in the tilted mirror at its tip.
“Don’t let her lose consciousness,” Barrand was saying to the surgeon’s assistant. “But keep the pain level high—close to tolerance.”
The skin on the odd lump in the center of the surgeon’s forehead quivered and drew back to either side. The lump was a large dark bulging eye. It glanced over at Telzey’s face independently of the other two eyes, then appeared to align itself with them. Part of Telzey’s mind reflected quite calmly that a surgeon might, of course, have use for an independent eye—say one which acted as a magnifying lens.
But this was getting too close. Barrand and the detector weren’t giving her the time she’d hoped to have.
“Chan Osselin!” She blasted the direct summons out, waited for any flicker of reaction that could guide her back to him.
* * *
Uspurul had been in an entertainingly hysterical commotion for a few minutes, but then she’d simply collapsed. Sorem wasn’t sure whether she was conscious or not. When he prodded her with a finger, she made a moaning noise, but that could have been an automatic response. Sullenly, he decided to leave her alone. If she happened to die of fright here, it wouldn’t really matter, but Barrand would be annoyed.
Sorem stood up from the bench on which he’d been sitting, hitched his gun belt around, looked down at the child-sized figure sprawled limply on the floor, eyes half shut. He nudged it with his boot. Uspurul whimpered. She still breathed at any rate. The black dog head yawned boredly. Sorem turned away toward the door, wondering how long it would be before they got what they wanted in the detector room.
Uspurul opened her eyes, looked for him, rolled up quietly on her feet.
Sorem had good reflexes, but not abnormally good ones; he was, after all, still quite human. And, at the moment, he was less than alert. He heard a faint, not immediately definable sound, felt almost simultaneously a violent jerk at his gun belt. He whirled, quickly enough now, saw for an instant a small face glare up at him, then saw and heard no more. The big gun Uspurul held gripped in both hands coughed again, but the first shot had torn the front of Sorem’s skull away.
Telzey couldn’t see the door opening into the lie detector room, but she was aware of it. For an instant, nobody else in the room was aware of it; and after that, it hardly mattered. Sorem had fancied a hair-triggered gun, and Uspurul was holding the trigger down as she ran toward Barrand and Nelt, swinging the gun muzzle about in short arcs in front of her. Most of the charges smashed into floor and wall, but quite enough reached the two COS chiefs. Nelt, already down, moments from death, managed to drag out his own gun and fire it blindly once. The side of Uspurul’s scalp was laid open, but she didn’t know it. Nelt died then. Barrand already was dead. Uspurul stopped shooting.
“Deboll,” the lie detector’s voice announced in the room’s sudden silence, “is now ready for questioning.”
Telzey said softly to the surgeon, “We don’t exactly need you two, you know, but you won’t get hurt if you do as I tell you. She’ll do whatever I want.”
“She will?” the surgeon breathed. He watched Uspurul staring at him and his assistant from twelve feet away, gun pointed. They’d both frozen when the shooting started. “What are we to do?”
“Get me off this thing, of course!”
He hesitated. “I’d have to move my hands . . .”
“Go ahead,” Telzey said impatiently. “She won’t shoot if that’s all you’re doing.”
The frame released her moments later. She sat up, slid off it to the floor. Across the room, Keth cleared his throat. “You,” Telzey said to the bony assistant, “get him unfastened! And don’t try to get out of the room!”
“I won’t,” the assistant said hoarsely.
* * *
“My impression,” Keth remarked some hours later, “was that we were to try to stall them until you could restore your mental contact with Osselin and bring him to the rescue.”
Telzey nodded. “That’s what I wanted. It would have been safest. But, like I told you, that kind of thing isn’t always possible. Barrand wouldn’t let me have the time. So I had to use Uspurul, which I didn’t like to do. Something could have gone wrong very easily!”
“Well, nothing did,” said Keth. “She was your last resort, eh?”
“No,” Telzey said. “There were a few other things I could have done, but not immediately. I wasn’t sure any of them would work, and I didn’t want to wait until they were carving around on me, or doped you to start talking. Uspurul I could use at once.”
“Exactly how did you use her?” Keth asked.
Telzey looked at him. He said, “Relax! It’s off the record. Everything’s off the record. After all, nobody’s ever likely to hear from me that it wasn’t the famed Deboll ingenuity that broke the biggest racket on Fermilaur!”
“All right, I’ll tell you,” Telzey said. “I knew Uspurul was around almost as soon as we woke up. She’s very easy psi material, so I made good contact with her again, just in case, took over her mind controls and shut subjective awareness down to near zero. Sorem thought she’d fainted, which would come to the same thing. Then when I had to use her, I triggered rage, homicidal fury, which shot her full of adrenaline. She needed it—she isn’t normally very strong or very fast. That gun was really almost too heavy for her to hold up.”
“So you simply told her to take the gun away from Barrand’s monster, shoot him and come into the next room to shoot Barrand and Nelt?” Keth said.
Telzey shook her head.
“Uspurul couldn’t have done it,” she said. “She’d never touched a gun in her life. Even in a frenzy like that, she couldn’t use violence effectively. She wouldn’t know how. She didn’t know what was going on until it was over. She wasn’t really there.”
Keth studied her a moment. “You?”
“Me, of course,” Telzey said. “I needed a body that was ready to explode into action. Uspurul supplied that. I had to handle the action.”
“You know, it’s odd,” Keth said after a moment. “I never would have considered you a violent person.”
“I’m not,” Telzey said. “I’ve learned to use violence.” She reflected. “In a way, being a psi is like being an investigative reporter. Even when you’re not trying very hard, you tend to find out things people don’t want you to know. Quite a few people would like to do something about Keth Deboll, wouldn’t they? He might talk about the wrong thing any time. By now I’ve come across quite a few people who wanted to do something about me. I don’t intend to let it happen.”
“I wasn’t blaming you,” Keth said. “I’m all in favor of violence that keeps me alive.”
They were on a liner, less than an hour from Orado. Once they were free, Telzey hadn’t continued her efforts to contact Osselin mentally. They located a ComWeb instead, had him paged, and when he came on screen, she told him what to do. The story was that Sorem had gone berserk and killed Barrand and Nelt before being killed himself. Keth had made his own arrangements later from the liner. Adacee and various authorities would be ready to slam down on the secret COS project within a week.
Telzey’s restrictions on Osselin should hold easily until then. The surgeon and his assistant had been given standard amnesia treatments to cover the evening. They could deduce from it that they’d been involved in a detector interrogation dealing with secret matters, but nothing else. It wasn’t a new experience, and they weren’t likely to be curious. Uspurul was aboard the liner.
“You know, I don’t really have much use for a bondswoman,” Keth remarked, thinking about that point.
“You won’t be stuck with her contract for more than a year,” Telzey said. “Keth, look. Don’t you owe me something?”
He scratched his jaw. “Do I? You got us out of a mess, but I doubt I’d have been in the mess if it hadn’t been for you.”
“You wouldn’t have had your COS story either.”
Keth looked nettled.
“Don’t be so sure! My own methods are reasonably effective.”
“You’d have had the full story?”
“No, hardly that.”
“Well, then!” Telzey said. “Uspurul’s part of the story, so she can be your responsibility for a while. Fair enough? I’d take care of her myself if I didn’t have my hands full.”