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After breakfast, Telzey set off with Uspurul on a leisurely aircar tour of the area. She'd explained she'd be visiting an acquaintance undergoing treatment at Hute Beauticians later on, and then have lunch with another friend who'd come out from Orado with her. In the afternoon, she might get down finally to serious sightseeing.

With Uspurul handling the car and gossiping merrily away, Telzey could give her attention to opening connections to the guide's mind. As she'd judged, it was an easy mind to enter, unprotected and insensitive to telepathic probing. One fact was promptly established then, since it was pervasively present in Uspurul's thoughts. COS did, in fact, take a special interest in Telzey, but it wasn't limited to her. She had plenty of company.

The reason for the interest wasn't apparent. Uspurul hadn't wanted to know about it, hardly thought of it. The little female was a complex personality. She was twenty-two, had become a bondswoman four years earlier, selling her first contract to COS Services for the standard five-year short-term period. People who adopted bondservant status did it for a wide range of reasons. Uspurul's was that a profitable career could be built on bond contracts by one who went about it intelligently.

She'd chosen her masters after careful deliberation. On a world which sold luxury, those who served also lived in relative luxury, and as a COS guide she was in contact with influential and wealthy people who might be used for her further advancement. Her next contract owner wouldn't be COS. She was circumspect in her behavior.

More was done on Fermilaur than cultivating an exclusive tourist trade and cosmetic clientele, and it wasn't advisable to appear inquisitive about the other things. COS didn't mind rumors about various barely legal or quite illegal activities in which it supposedly engaged; they titillated public interest and were good for business. But underlings who became too knowledgeable about such obscure matters could find it difficult to quit.

Uspurul intended to remain free to quit when her contract period ended. For the past year, she'd been on the fringes of something obscure enough. It had brought her a string of satisfactory bonuses, and there was nothing obviously illegal about what she did or COS Services did. As long as she avoided any indication of curiosity it seemed safe.

She still acted as guide. But she was assigned now only to female tourists who appeared to have no interest in making use of the remodeling facilities. Uspurul's assignment was to get them to change their minds without being obvious about it. She was skillful at that, usually succeeded. On a number of occasions when she hadn't succeeded, she'd been instructed to make sure the person in question would be at a certain place at a certain time. She'd almost always been able to arrange it.

Now she was using the morning's comfortable schedule to keep up a flow of the light general chatter through which she could most readily plant the right notions in a hesitant visitor's mind.

"I was thinking I might have a little remodeling myself while I was here," Telzey remarked, by and by. She took out a small mirror, looked into it critically, arching her brows. "Nothing very important really! But I could have my brows moved higher, maybe get the eyes enlarged." She clicked the mirror to an angle view, pushed back her hair on the left side. "And the ears, you see, could be set a little lower—and the least bit farther back." She studied the ear a moment. "What do you think of their shape?"

"Oh, I wouldn't have them change the shape!" said Uspurul, thinking cheerfully that here came an easy bonus! "But they might be a tiny bit lower. You're right about that."

Telzey nodded, put the mirror away. "Well, no rush about it. I'll be looking around a few days first."

"Someone like you doesn't really need remodeling, of course," Uspurul said. "But it is fun having yourself turned into exactly what you'd like to be! And, of course, it's always reversible."

"Hmmm," said Telzey. "They did a beautiful job on you. Did you pick it out for yourself?"

Uspurul twitched an ear, grinned impishly.

"I've wanted to do that since I was a child!" she confessed. "But, no—this was COS Services' idea. I advertise for the centers, you see. A twenty-two thousand credit job, if I had to pay for it. It'd be a little extreme for the Hub generally, of course. But it's reversible, and when I leave they'll give me any other modification I want within a four thousand credit range. That's part of my contract."

She burbled on. Telzey didn't have the slightest intention of getting remodeled, but she wanted Uspurul and COS Services to think she did until she was ready to ship out. It would keep the situation more relaxed.

It remained a curious situation. The people to whom Uspurul reported were satisfied if a visitor signed up for any kind of remodeling at all, even the most insignificant of modifications. That hardly looked like a simple matter of drumming up new business for the centers, while the special attention given some of those who remained disinterested was downright on the sinister side. The places to which Uspurul steered such tourists were always resort spots where there were a good many other people around, coming and going places—in other words, where somebody could easily brush close by the tourist without attracting attention.

What happened there? Something perhaps in the nature of a hypno spray? Uspurul never saw what happened and didn't try to. When she parted company with the tourist that day, there'd been no noticeable effects. But next day she'd be given a different assignment.

Of course, those people weren't disappearing. It wasn't that kind of situation. They weren't, by and large, the kind of people who could be made to vanish quietly. Presumably they'd been persuaded by some not too legal method to make a remodeling appointment, and afterward went on home like Uspurul's other clients. They might all go home conditioned to keep returning to Fermilaur for more extensive and expensive treatments; at the moment, that seemed the most probable explanation. But whatever the COS Services' operation was, Telzey reflected, she'd simply make sure she didn't get included in it. With Uspurul's mind open to her, that shouldn't be too difficult. Back on Orado then, she'd bring the matter to the attention of Federation authorities. Meanwhile she might run across a few other open minds around here who could tell her more than Uspurul knew.

The man she was meeting for lunch—a relative on her mother's side—was an investigative reporter for one of the newscast systems. Keth had his sharp nose into many matters, and exposing rackets was one of his specialties. He might be able to say what this was about, but the difficulty would be to explain how she'd come by her information without mentioning telepathy. Keth didn't know she was a psi. Nor could she do her kind of mental research on him—she'd discovered on another occasion that he was equipped with a good solid commercial mind shield. Keth doubted that anyone could really see what was in another person's mind, but he took precautions anyway.

* * *

The remodeling counselors at the Hute Beauticians center had told Gikkes Orm quite candidly that if she was to be equipped with the leg type she wanted, overall body modifications were indicated to maintain an aesthetic balance. Gikkes hadn't believed it. But now the cosmetic surgeons had given her a pair of long, exquisitely molded legs, and it seemed the counselors were right.

The rest of her didn't fit.

"Just look at those shoulders!" she cried, indicating one of two life-sized models which stood against the far wall of the room. They showed suggested sets of physical modifications which might be performed on Gikkes. "I love the legs! But—"

"Well, you might be a little, uh, statuesque," Telzey acknowledged. She studied the other model. Sinuous was the word for that one. A dancer's body. "But, Gikkes, you'd look great either way, really! Especially as the slinky character!"

"It wouldn't be me!" Gikkes wailed. "And how much work do you think I'd have to put in to stay slinky then? You know I'm not the athletic type."

"No, I guess you're not," Telzey said. "When did you first get the idea that you wanted your legs changed?"

It appeared Gikkes had been playing around with the notion for several years, but it was only quite recently that it had begun to seem vital to her. It was her own idea, however—not an obsession planted on a previous trip to Fermilaur. Telzey had been wondering about that. The solution shouldn't be too difficult. Off and on for some while, Telzey had made use of suitable occasions to nudge Gikkes in the general direction of rationality. It had to be done with care because Gikkes wasn't too stable. But she had basic intelligence and, with some unnoticed guidance, was really able to handle most of her problems herself and benefit from doing it. Telzey picked up the familiar overall mind patterns now, eased a probe into the unhappy thought muddle of the moment, and presently began her nudging. Gikkes went on talking.

Twenty minutes later, she said ruefully, "So I guess the whole remodeling idea was a silly mistake! The thing to do, of course, is to have them put me back exactly as I was."

"From all you've told me," Telzey agreed, "that does make sense."

Mrs. Orm was surprised but relieved when informed of her daughter's decision. The Hute staff wasn't surprised. Remodeling shock and reversal requests weren't infrequent. In this case, reversal was no problem. Gikkes' experiment in surgical cosmetology probably had reduced her life expectancy by an insignificant fraction, and the Orm family was out a good deal of money, which it could afford. Otherwise, things would be as before.

* * *

A level of the Hute center restaurant was on Keth Deboll's private club circuit, which in itself guaranteed gourmet food. It was a quietly formal place where the employees weren't trying to look like anything but people. Keth's bony inquisitive face, familiar to newsviewers over a large section of the Hub, presumably didn't go unrecognized here, but nobody turned to stare. He deliberated over the menu, sandy brows lifting in abrupt interest now and then, and ordered for both of them, rubbing his palms together.

"You'll like it," he promised.

She always did like what Keth selected, but this time she barely tasted what she put in her mouth, as she chewed and swallowed. He'd mentioned that top COS executives patronized the place, and that he rather expected to be meeting someone before lunch was over.

She'd been wondering how she could get close enough to some top COS executive to start tapping his mind. . . .

She was sliding out discreet probes before Keth had placed his order. After the food came, only a fraction of awareness remained in her physical surroundings. Keth would eat in leisurely silent absorption until the edge was off his appetite, and she might have her contact made by that time.

Several minds in the vicinity presently seemed as open to contact as Uspurul's. None of them happened to be a COS executive. Something else was in the vicinity—seven or eight mind shields. Unusual concentration of the gadgets! Her probes slipped over them, moved on, searching—

"You might get the opportunity," Keth's voice was saying. "Here comes a gentleman who could arrange it for you."

Awareness flowed swiftly back to the outer world as she reoriented herself between one moment and the next. Keth had reached the point where he didn't mind talking again, had asked—what? Ah, yes, had asked what plans she had for the day. She'd responded automatically, that she was hoping to get a look at some of Fermilaur's less publicized projects. . . . Who could arrange it?

She looked around. A handsome, tall, strong-faced man was coming toward their table. On his right shoulder perched a small creature with blue and white fur, adorned with strings of tiny sparkling jewels. The man's dark eyes rested on Telzey as he approached. He nodded to her, smiled pleasantly, looked at Keth.

"Am I intruding?" It was a deep, soft-toned voice.

"Not at all," Keth told him. "We're almost finished—and I'd intended trying to get in touch with you during the afternoon. Telzey, this is Chan Osselin. He handles publicity for COS and incidentally owns Hute Beauticians. . . . Telzey Amberdon, an old friend. We came out from Orado together. If you have the time, join us."

Osselin drew a chair around and sat down. His scalp hair was short, deep black, like soft animal fur. Telzey wondered whether it was a product of remodeling, felt rather certain then that it wasn't. The small animal on his shoulder stared at Telzey out of large pale eyes, yawned and scratched a rounded ear with a tiny clawed finger. The stringed jewels decorating it flashed flickering rainbows of fire.

"I heard of your arrival a few hours ago," Osselin said. "Here on Adacee business?"

Keth shrugged. "Always on Adacee business."

"Um. Something specific?"

"Not so far. Something new, unpublicized, sensational."

Osselin looked reflective. "Sensational in what way?"

"Questionable legality wouldn't have to be part of it," Keth said. "But it would help. Something with shock effect. None of your pretty things."

"So COS is to be exposed again?" Osselin seemed unruffled.

"With some new angle," said Keth. "On some new issue."

"Well," Osselin said, "I'm sure it can be arranged. . . ."

Telzey, absently nibbling the last crumbs of her dessert, drew back her attention from what was being said. She'd known Chan Osselin's name as soon as she saw him. She'd seen him before as an image in Uspurul's mind. One of COS's top men. Uspurul wouldn't willingly have brought herself to the attention of someone like Osselin. People of that kind were to be avoided. They had too much power, were too accustomed to using it without hesitation or scruple.

There was no trace of the dead, psi-deadening, effect of a mind shield about Osselin—

Telzey reached out toward the deep sound of his voice, paying no attention to the words, groping cautiously for some wash of thought which might be associated with the voice.

She had no warning of any kind. A psi hammer slammed down on her, blacking out her vision, leaving her shaken and stunned.




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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