Back | Next






Fermilaur was famous both as the leading body remodeling center of the Hub and as a luxurious resort world which offered relaxation and scenery along with entertainment to fit every taste, from the loftiest to the most depraved. It was only three hours from Orado, and most of Telzey's friends had been there. But she'd never happened to get around to it until one day she received a distress call from Fermilaur.

It came from the mother of Gikkes Orm. Telzey learned that Gikkes, endowed by nature with a pair of perfectly sound and handsome legs, had decided those limbs needed to be lengthened and reshaped by Fermilaur's eminent cosmetic surgeons if she was ever to find true happiness. Her parents, who, in Telzey's opinion, had even less good sense than Gikkes, had let her go ahead with it, and her mother had accompanied her to Fermilaur. With the legs remodeled according to specification, Gikkes had discovered that everything else about her now appeared out of proportion. Unable to make up her mind what to do, she became greatly upset. Her mother, equally upset, equally helpless, put in an interstellar call to Telzey.

Having known Gikkes for around two years, Telzey wasn't surprised. Gikkes didn't quite rate as a full friend, but she wasn't a bad sort even if she did get herself periodically into problem situations from which somebody else had to extricate her. Telzey decided she wouldn't mind doing it again. While about it, she should have time for a look at a few of Fermilaur's unique restructuring institutions and other attractions.

* * *

Somewhat past the middle of the night for that locality, she checked in at a tourist tower not far from the cosmetic center where the Orms were housed. She'd heard that Fermilaur used resort personnel to advertise its remodeling skills, the general note being that having oneself done over was light-hearted fashion fun and that there was nothing to worry about because almost any cosmetic modification could be reversed if the client wished it. The staff of the tower's reception lobby confirmed the report. They were works of art, testimonials to the daring inventiveness of Fermilaur's beauty surgeons. Telzey's room reservation was checked by a slender goddess with green-velvet skin, slanted golden eyes without detectable pupils, and a shaped scalp crest of soft golden feathers which shifted dancingly with each head motion. She smiled at Telzey, said, "May I suggest the services of a guide, Miss Amberdon?"

Telzey nodded. "Yes, I'll want one." There were no cities, no townships here. The permanent population was small, mostly involved with the tourist trade and cosmetic institutions, and its maintenance systems were underground, out of sight. Much of the surface had been transformed into an endlessly flowing series of parks in which residential towers and resort and remodeling centers stood in scenic isolation. Traffic was by air, and inexperienced visitors who didn't prefer to drift about more or less at random were advised to employ guides.

The goddess beckoned to somebody behind Telzey's back.

"Uspurul is an accredited COS Services guide and thoroughly familiar with our quadrant," she informed Telzey. "I'm sure you'll find her very satisfactory."

Uspurul was a quite small person, some four inches shorter than Telzey, slender in proportion. Like the receptionist, she looked like something COS Services might have conjured up out of exotic mythologies. Her pointed ears were as expressively mobile as a terrier's; a silver horse's tail swished about with languid grace behind her. The triangular face with its huge dark eyes and small delicate nose was unquestionably beautiful but wasn't human. It wasn't intended to be. She might have been a charming toy, brought to life.

Which was all very well, as far as Telzey was concerned. More important seemed a shadowy swirl of feeling she'd sensed as Uspurul came up to the reception desk—a feeling which didn't match in the least the engaging friendliness of the toy woman's smile. It wasn't exactly malice. More something like calculating cold interest, rather predatory. Telzey took note of nuances in the brief conversation that followed, decided the two were, in fact, more anxious to make sure she'd employ Uspurul as guide than one should expect.

Somewhere else, that could have been a danger signal. A sixteen-year-old with a wealthy family made a tempting target for the criminally inclined. The resort world, however, had the reputation of being almost free of professional crime. And, in any case, it shouldn't be difficult to find out what this was about—she'd discovered during the talk that Uspurul's mind appeared to be wide open to telepathic probing.

"Why not have breakfast with me in my room tomorrow?" she said to the guide. "We can set up a schedule then." And she could ferret out at her leisure the nature of the interest the remodeled myths seemed to take in her.

They settled on the time, and Telzey was escorted to her room. She put in a call to Mrs. Orm from there, learned that Gikkes would be in treatment at the main center of Hute Beauticians during the early part of the morning and was anxious to see Telzey and get her opinion of the situation immediately afterward. Mrs. Orm, having succeeded in transferring the responsibility for decisions to somebody else, appeared much less distraught.

Telzey opened one of her suitcases, got out a traveler's lock and attached it to the door of the room, which in effect welded the door to the adjoining wall. The only thing anyone trying to get in without her cooperation could accomplish was to wake up half the tower level. She continued unpacking reflectively.

Fermilaur didn't have a planetary government in the usual sense. It was the leasehold of COS, the association of cosmetologists which ran the planet. Its citizen-owners, set up in a tax-free luxury resort and getting paid for it, had reason to be happy with the arrangement, and could have few inducements to dabble in crime. The Hub's underworld reputedly had its own dealings with COS—bodies, of course, could be restructured for assorted illegal purposes. But the underworld didn't try to introduce its usual practices here. COS never denied reports that criminal pros found attempting to set up shop on the leasehold vanished into its experimental centers. Apparently, not many cared to test the validity of the reports.

Hence, no crime, or almost no crime. And crime of the ordinary sort hardly could be involved in the situation. The receptionist and the elfin guide never had seen her before. But they did seem to have recognized her by name, to have been waiting, in fact, for her to show up.

Telzey sat down on the edge of the bed.

The two were COS employees. If anyone had an interest in her here, it should be COS.

The tower reservation had been made in her name five hours ago on Orado. Five hours was plenty of time for a good information service to provide inquirers with the general background of the average Federation citizen. Quite probably, COS had its own service, and obtained such information on every first-time visitor to Fermilaur. It could be useful in a variety of ways.

The question was what might look interesting enough in her background to draw COS's attention to her. It wasn't that the Amberdon family had money. Almost everybody who came here would meet that qualification. There were, Telzey decided, chewing meditatively on her lower lip, only two possible points of interest she could think of at the moment. And both looked a little improbable.

Her mother was a member of the Overgovernment. Conceivably, that could be of significance to COS. At present, it was difficult to see why it should be.

The other possibility seemed even more remote. Information services had yet to dig up the fact that Telzey Amberdon was a telepath, a mind reader, a psi, competent and practicing. She knew that, because if they ever did dig it up, she'd be the first to hear. She had herself supplied regularly with any datum added to her available dossiers. Of the people who were aware she was a psi, only a very few could be regarded as not being completely dependable. Unfortunately, there were those few. It was possible, though barely so, that the item somehow had got into COS's files.

She could have a problem then. The kind of people who ran COS had to be practical and hardheaded. Hardheaded, practical people, luckily, were inclined to consider stories about psis to be at least ninety-nine percent superstitious nonsense. However, the ones who didn't share that belief sometimes reacted undesirably. They might reflect that a real psi, competent, practicing, could be eminently useful to them.

Or they might decide such a psi was too dangerous to have around.

She'd walk rather warily tomorrow until she made out what was going on here! One thing, though, seemed reasonably certain—COS, whatever ideas it might have, wasn't going to try to break through the door to get at her tonight. She could use a few hours of rest.

She climbed into bed, turned over, and settled down. A minute or two later, she was asleep.




Back | Next

Title: TNT: Telzey & Trigger
Author: James H. Schmitz, edited by Eric Flint & co-edited by Guy Gordon
ISBN: 0-671-57879-0
Copyright: © 2000 by James H. Schmitz, edited by Eric Flint, co-edited by Guy Gordon
Publisher: Baen Books