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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.

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."

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."

"Why take care of her at all?"

"Because not everyone in COS is going to believe Osselin's version of what happened. They don't dare do anything about him, but there was enough to show Uspurul was involved somehow in what went on tonight. She's a rotten little creature in some ways, but I'd sooner not think of her being worked over by COS interrogation methods. They can break down amnesia treatments sometimes, so Osselin wanted to have her killed immediately to be on the safe side." Telzey added, "Uspurul's got a really good brain, and you'd be surprised at the things she's learned working for COS Services! Adacee should find her an asset. Give her half a chance, and she might make a great newscaster!"

"Adacee and I thank you," said Keth.


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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