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Larien Selk, legally and biologically Noal's junior by twenty-five years, was, in the actual chronology of events, the older brother. He'd been conceived first by three years. The parents were engaged in building up a business and didn't want to be burdened with progeny taxes. The Larien-to-be went to an embryonic suspense vault. When Noal was conceived, the family could more readily afford a child, and the mother decided she preferred giving natural birth to one.

So Noal was born. His parents had no real wish for a second child. They kept postponing a decision about the nameless embryo they'd stored away, and in the end seemed almost to have forgotten it. It wasn't until they'd died that Noal, going through old records, found a reference to his abandoned sibling. Somewhat shocked by his parents' indifference, he had Larien brought to term. When his brother grew old enough to understand the situation, Noal explained how he'd come to take his place.

Larien never forgave him. Noal, a shrewd enough man in other respects, remained unaware of the fact. He saw to it that Larien had the best of everything—very nearly whatever Larien wanted. When he came of age, Noal made him a partner in the company he'd founded and developed. Which put Larien in a position to begin moving against his brother.

Hishee was his first move. Hishee was to have married Noal. She was very young, but she was fond of him and a formal agreement wasn't far away. Then Larien turned his attention on Hishee, and the formal agreement was never reached. Hishee fell violently in love.

Noal accepted it. He loved them both; they were near the same age. But he found it necessary to detach himself from them. He waited until they married, then turned the effective management of the company over to Larien, and began traveling.

Larien set out casually to break Hishee. He did an unhurried thorough job of it, gradually, over the months, eroding her self-esteem and courage in a considered variety of ways. He brought her to heel, continued to reduce her. By the time Noal Selk came back to Cobril, Hishee was too afraid of Larien, too shaken in herself, to give her brother-in-law any indication of what had happened.

But Noal saw it. Larien had wanted him to see it, which was a mistake. Larien wasn't quite as well covered in his manipulation of the company's assets as he'd believed.

Noal, alerted to Larien's qualities, became also aware of that. He made a quiet investigation. It led him presently to the Kyth detective agency.

Then he disappeared.

* * *

Dasinger said dryly, "We'd put you on the Kyth payroll any time, Telzey! It took us some hours to extract half that information from Hishee. The rest of it checks. If Larien thinks it's safe, he'll see Noal broken completely before he dies. No doubt he's made ingenious arrangements for that. He's an ingenious young man. But the time we have for action remains narrowly limited."

"He doesn't know Hishee's gone?" Telzey asked.

"Not yet. We have that well covered. We had to take her out of the situation; she'd be in immediate danger now. But it's an additional reason for avoiding delay. If Larien begins to suspect she had courage enough left to try to save Noal, he'll destroy the evidence. He should be able to get away with it legally, and he knows it."

Telzey was silent a moment. There were some obscure old laws against witchcraft, left deliberately unchanged, very rarely applied. Aside from that, the Federation was officially unaware of the existence of psis; a psi's testimony was meaningless. Legally then, it was probable enough that Larien Selk could get away with the murder of his brother. She doubted he'd survive Noal long; the private agencies had their own cold rules. But, as Dasinger had said, that wasn't what they were after.

She said, "Why do you want to plant the telepath in the house? If he's good enough, he should be able to tap Larien's mind from somewhere outside Joca Village, though it probably would take a little longer."

Wergard said, "One of the Banance security devices is what's known technically as a psi-block. It covers the outer walls of the house. Larien shares some of the public superstitions about the prevalence of efficient mind-reading instruments. Presumably the block would also stop a human telepath."

She nodded. "Yes, they do."

"When he's outside one of his psi-blocked structures, he wears a mind shield," Wergard said. "A detachable type. If we'd known about this a little earlier, we might have had an opportunity to pick him up and relieve him of it. But it's too late now."

"Definitely too late," Dasinger agreed. "If you think you can find us a telepath who's more than a hit-and-miss operator, we'd take a chance on waiting another day, if necessary, to bring him in on it. But it would be taking a chance. If you can't get one, we'll select a different approach and move tonight."

Telzey said, "A telepath wouldn't be much good to you if Larien happens to be probe-immune. About one in eight people are."

"Seven to one are good odds in the circumstances," Dasinger said. "Very good odds. We'll risk that."

"They're better than seven to one," Telzey told him. "Probe-immunes usually don't know that's what they are, but they usually don't worry about having their minds read either. They feel safe." She rubbed her nose, frowning. "A Psychology Service psi could do the job for you, and I can try getting one. But I don't think they'll help. They won't lift a finger in ordinary crime cases."

Dasinger shook his head. "I can't risk becoming involved with them here anyway. Technically it's an illegal operation. The Kyth Agency won't be conducting it unless we come up with evidence that justified the illegality. I resigned yesterday, and Wergard and some others got fired. We'll be acting as private citizens. But that's also only a technicality, and the Service is unpredictable. I don't know what view they'd take of it. We might have them blocking us instead of helping. Can you find someone else?"

She nodded. "I can get you a telepath. Just one. The other psis I know won't touch it. They don't need the fee, and they don't want to reveal themselves—particularly not in something that's illegal."

"Who's the one?" Wergard asked.

"I am, of course."

They looked at her a moment. Wergard said, "That isn't what we had in mind. We want a pro who'll take his chances for the money he's getting. We needed information from you, but no more than that."

Telzey said, "It looks like it's turned into more than that."

Wergard said to Dasinger, "We can't get her involved."

"Corvin Wergard," Telzey said.

He looked back at her. "Yes?"

"I'm not reading your thoughts," she said. "I don't have to. You've been told who I am, and that I'm sixteen years old. So I'm a child. A child who comes of a very good family and has been very carefully raised. Somebody really too nice to get shot tonight, if something goes wrong, by a Colmer guard or Joca Security people, or ripped up by Brisells. Right?"

Wergard studied her a long moment. "I may have had such notions," he said then. "Perhaps I've been wrong about you."

"You've definitely been wrong about me," Telzey told him. "You didn't know enough. I've been a psi, a practicing psi, for almost a year. I can go through a human life in an hour and know more about it than the man or woman who's living it. I've gone through quite a few lives, not only human ones. I do other things that I don't talk about. I don't know what it all exactly makes me now, but I'm not a child. Of course, I am sixteen years old and haven't been that very long. But it might even be that sometimes people like you and Wellan Dasinger look a little like children to me. Do you understand?"

"I'm not sure," Wergard said. He shook his head. "I believe I'm beginning to."

"That's good. We should have an understanding of each other if we're to work together. The agency would save the fee, too," Telzey said. "I don't need it. Of course, there may come a time when I'll ask you to stick your neck out for something I'd like to have done."

Wergard asked Dasinger, "Has that been the arrangement?"

Dasinger nodded. "We exchange assistance in various matters." He added, "I still don't want you in this, Telzey. There will be risks. Not unreasonable ones; but our people are trained to look out for themselves in ways you're not. You're too valuable a person to be jeopardized on an operation of this kind."

"Then I can't help you help Noal Selk," she said. "I'd like to. But the only way I can do it is by going along with you tonight. It would take more time than you have to hunt around for somebody else."

Dasinger shook his head. "We'll use a different approach then. With a little luck, we can still save Noal. He isn't your problem."

"How do you know?" Telzey said. "He mightn't be if he were someone I'd only heard about. If I helped everybody I could help because I happen to be a psi, I'd have no time for anything else the rest of my life. There isn't a minute in the day I couldn't find someone somewhere who needs the kind of help I can give. I'd keep busy, wouldn't I? And, of course, everything I did still wouldn't make any real difference. There'd always be more people needing help."

"There would be, of course," Dasinger agreed.

She smiled. "It gave me a bad conscience for a while, but I decided I wasn't going to get caught in that. I'll do something, now and then. Now, here I've been in Hishee Selk's mind. I'm still in her mind. I know her, and Noal and Larien as she knows them—perhaps better than most people know the members of their family. So I can't say their problem isn't my problem. It wouldn't be true. I simply know them too well."

Dasinger nodded. "Yes, I see now."

"And I," said Wergard, "made a large mistake."

Dasinger looked at his watch. "Well, let's not waste time. The plan goes into operation in thirty minutes. Telzey, you're going high style—Joca Village level. Wergard, take her along, have her outfitted. Scratch Woni. We won't need her."




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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