"Just as you say, Miss Telzey," he agreed. "I hate to miss whatever you're going to be doing here, but if you don't lock me up now, Miss Halet will figure I was helping you and fire me as soon as you let her out."
Telzey nodded, then cocked her head in the direction of the rear compartment. Faint sounds coming through the door indicated that Halet had regained consciousness and was having hysterics.
"You might tell her," Telzey suggested, "that there'll be a grown-up crest cat sitting outside the compartment door." This wasn't true, but neither Delquos nor Halet could know it. "If there's too much racket before I get back, it's likely to irritate him...."
A minute later, she set both car doors on lock and went outside, wishing she were less informally clothed. Sunbriefs and sandals tended to make her look juvenile.
The parking attendant appeared startled when she approached him with Tick-Tock striding alongside.
"They'll never let you into the offices with that thing, miss," he informed her. "Why, it doesn't even have a collar!"
"Don't worry about it." Telzey told him aloofly.
She dropped a two-credit piece she'd taken from Halet's purse into his hand, and continued on towards the building entrance. The attendant squinted after her, trying unsuccessfully to dispel an odd impression that the big catlike animal with the girl was throwing a double shadow.
The Moderator's chief receptionist also had some doubts about TT, and possibly about the sunbriefs, though she seemed impressed when Telzey's identification tag informed her she was speaking to the daughter of Federation Councilwoman Jessamine Amberdon.
"You feel you can discuss this ... emergency ... only with the Moderator himself, Miss Amberdon?" she repeated.
"Exactly," Telzey said firmly. A buzzer sounded as she spoke. The receptionist excused herself and picked up an earphone. She listened a moment, said blandly, "Yes.... Of course.... Yes, I understand," replaced the earphone and stood up, smiling at Telzey.
"Would you come with me, Miss Amberdon?" she said. "I think the Moderator will see you immediately...."
Telzey followed her, chewing thoughtfully at her lip. This was easier than she'd expected--in fact, too easy! Halet's work? Probably. A few comments to the effect of "A highly imaginative child ... overexcitable," while Halet was arranging to have the Moderator's office authorize Tick-Tock's transfer to the life Banks, along with the implication that Jessamine Amberdon would appreciate a discreet handling of any disturbance Telzey might create as a result.
It was the sort of notion that would appeal to Halet-- * * * * *
They passed through a series of elegantly equipped offices and hallways, Telzey grasping TT's neck-fur in lieu of a leash, their appearance creating a tactfully restrained wave of surprise among secretaries and clerks. And if somebody here and there was troubled by a fleeting, uncanny impression that not one large beast but two seemed to be trailing the Moderator's visitor down the aisles, no mention was made of what could have been only a momentary visual distortion. Finally, a pair of sliding doors opened ahead, and the receptionist ushered Telzey into a large, cool balcony garden on the shaded side of the great building. A tall, gray-haired man stood up from the desk at which he was working, and bowed to Telzey. The receptionist withdrew again.
"My pleasure, Miss Amberdon," Jontarou's Planetary Moderator said, "Be seated, please." He studied Tick-Tock with more than casual interest while Telzey was settling herself into a chair, added, "And what may I and my office do for you?"
Telzey hesitated. She'd observed his type on Orado in her mother's circle of acquaintances--a senior diplomat, a man not easy to impress. It was a safe bet that he'd had her brought out to his balcony office only to keep her occupied while Halet was quietly informed where the Amberdon problem child was and requested to come over and take charge.
What she had to tell him now would have sounded rather wild even if presented by a presumably responsible adult. She could provide proof, but until the Moderator was already nearly sold on her story, that would be a very unsafe thing to do. Old Iron Thoughts was backing her up, but if it didn't look as if her plans were likely to succeed, he would be willing to ride herd on his devil's pack just so long....
Better start the ball rolling without any preliminaries, Telzey decided. The Moderator's picture of her must be that of a spoiled, neurotic brat in a stew about the threatened loss of a pet animal. He expected her to start arguing with him immediately about Tick-Tock.
She said "Do you have a personal interest in keeping the Baluit crest cats from becoming extinct?"
Surprise flickered in his eyes for an instant. Then he smiled.
"I admit I do, Miss Amberdon," he said pleasantly. "I should like to see the species re-established. I count myself almost uniquely fortunate in having had the opportunity to bag two of the magnificent brutes before disease wiped them out on the planet."
The last seemed a less than fortunate statement just now. Telzey felt a sharp tingle of alarm, then sensed that in the minds which were drawing the meaning of the Moderator's speech from her mind there had been only a brief stir of interest.
She cleared her throat, said, "The point is that they weren't wiped out by disease."
He considered her quizzically, seemed to wonder what she was trying to lead up to. Telzey gathered her courage, plunged on, "Would you like to hear what did happen?"
"I should be very much interested, Miss Amberdon," the Moderator said without change of expression. "But first, if you'll excuse me a moment...."
There had been some signal from his desk which Telzey hadn't noticed, because he picked up a small communicator now and said "Yes?" After a few seconds, he resumed, "That's rather curious, isn't it?... Yes, I'd try that.... No, that shouldn't be necessary.... Yes, please do. Thank you." He replaced the communicator, his face very sober; then, his eyes flicking for an instant to TT, he drew one of the upper desk drawers open a few inches, and turned back to Telzey.
"Now, Miss Amberdon," he said affably, "you were about to say? About these crest cats...."
Telzey swallowed. She hadn't heard the other side of the conversation, but she could guess what it had been about. His office had called the guest house, had been told by Halet's maid that Halet, the chauffeur and Dr. Droon were out looking for Miss Telzey and her pet. The Moderator's office had then checked on the sportscar's communication number and attempted to call it. And, of course, there had been no response.
To the Moderator, considering what Halet would have told him, it must add up to the grim possibility that the young lunatic he was talking to had let her three-quarters-grown crest cat slaughter her aunt and the two men when they caught up with her! The office would be notifying the police now to conduct an immediate search for the missing aircar.
When it would occur to them to look for it on the Moderator's parking terrace was something Telzey couldn't know. But if Halet and Dr. Droon were released before the Moderator accepted her own version of what had occurred, and the two reported the presence of wild crest cats in Port Nichay, there would be almost no possibility of keeping the situation under control. Somebody was bound to make some idiotic move, and the fat would be in the fire....
Two things might be in her favor. The Moderator seemed to have the sort of steady nerve one would expect in a man who had bagged two Baluit crest cats. The partly opened desk drawer beside him must have a gun in it; apparently he considered that a sufficient precaution against an attack by TT. He wasn't likely to react in a panicky manner. And the mere fact that he suspected Telzey of homicidal tendencies would make him give the closest attention to what she said. Whether he believed her then was another matter, of course.
Slightly encouraged, Telzey began to talk. It did sound like a thoroughly wild story, but the Moderator listened with an appearance of intent interest. When she had told him as much as she felt he could be expected to swallow for a start, he said musingly, "So they weren't wiped out--they went into hiding! Do I understand you to say they did it to avoid being hunted?"
Telzey chewed her lip frowningly before replying. "There's something about that part I don't quite get," she admitted. "Of course I don't quite get either why you'd want to go hunting ... twice ... for something that's just as likely to bag you instead!"
"Well, those are, ah, merely the statistical odds," the Moderator explained. "If one has enough confidence, you see--"
"I don't really. But the crest cats seem to have felt the same way--at first. They were getting around one hunter for every cat that got shot. Humans were the most exciting game they'd ever run into.
"But then that ended, and the humans started knocking them out with stunguns from aircars where they couldn't be got at, and hauling them off while they were helpless. After it had gone on for a while, they decided to keep out of sight.
"But they're still around ... thousands and thousands of them! Another thing nobody's known about them is that they weren't only in the Baluit mountains. There were crest cats scattered all through the big forests along the other side of the continent."
"Very interesting," the Moderator commented. "Very interesting, indeed!" He glanced towards the communicator, then returned his gaze to Telzey, drumming his fingers lightly on the desk top.
She could tell nothing at all from his expression now, but she guessed he was thinking hard. There was supposed to be no native intelligent life in the legal sense on Jontarou, and she had been careful to say nothing so far to make the Baluit cats look like more than rather exceptionally intelligent animals. The next--rather large--question should be how she'd come by such information.
If the Moderator asked her that, Telzey thought, she could feel she'd made a beginning at getting him to buy the whole story.
"Well," he said abruptly, "if the crest cats are not extinct or threatened with extinction, the Life Banks obviously have no claim on your pet." He smiled confidingly at her. "And that's the reason you're here, isn't it?"
"Well, no," Telzey began, dismayed. "I--"
"Oh, it's quite all right, Miss Amberdon! I'll simply rescind the permit which was issued for the purpose. You need feel no further concern about that." He paused. "Now, just one question ... do you happen to know where your aunt is at present?"
Telzey had a dead, sinking feeling. So he hadn't believed a word she said. He'd been stalling her along until the aircar could be found.
She took a deep breath. "You'd better listen to the rest of it."
"Why, is there more?" the Moderator asked politely.
"Yes. The important part! The kind of creatures they are, they wouldn't go into hiding indefinitely just because someone was after them."
Was there a flicker of something beyond watchfulness in his expression. "What would they do, Miss Amberdon?" he asked quietly.
"If they couldn't get at the men in the aircars and couldn't communicate with them"--the flicker again!--"they'd start looking for the place the men came from, wouldn't they? It might take them some years to work their way across the continent and locate us here in Port Nichay. But supposing they did it finally and a few thousand of them are sitting around in the parks down there right now? They could come up the side of these towers as easily as they go up the side of a mountain. And supposing they'd decided that the only way to handle the problem was to clean out the human beings in Port Nichay?"
The Moderator stared at her in silence a few seconds. "You're saying," he observed then, "that they're rational beings--above the Critical I.Q. level."
"Well," Telzey said, "legally they're rational. I checked on that. About as rational as we are, I suppose."
"Would you mind telling me now how you happen to know this?"
"They told me," Telzey said.
He was silent again, studying her face. "You mentioned, Miss Amberdon, that they have been unable to communicate with other human beings. This suggests then that you are a xenotelepath...."
"I am?" Telzey hadn't heard the term before. "If it means that I can tell what the cats are thinking, and they can tell what I'm thinking, I guess that's the word for it." She considered him, decided she had him almost on the ropes, went on quickly.
"I looked up the laws, and told them they could conclude a treaty with the Federation which would establish them as an Affiliated Species ... and that would settle everything the way they would want it settled, without trouble. Some of them believed me. They decided to wait until I could talk to you. If it works out, fine! If it doesn't"--she felt her voice falter for an instant--"they're going to cut loose fast!"
The Moderator seemed undisturbed. "What am I supposed to do?"
"I told them you'd contact the Council of the Federation on Orado."
"Contact the Council?" he repeated coolly. "With no more proof for this story than your word Miss Amberdon?"
Telzey felt a quick, angry stirring begin about her, felt her face whiten.
"All right," she said "I'll give you proof! I'll have to now. But that'll be it. Once they've tipped their hand all the way, you'll have about thirty seconds left to make the right move. I hope you remember that!"
He cleared his throat. "I--"
"NOW!" Telzey said.
Along the walls of the balcony garden, beside the ornamental flower stands, against the edges of the rock pool, the crest cats appeared. Perhaps thirty of them. None quite as physically impressive as Iron Thoughts who stood closest to the Moderator; but none very far from it. Motionless as rocks, frightening as gargoyles, they waited, eyes glowing with hellish excitement.
"This is their council, you see," Telzey heard herself saying.
The Moderator's face had also paled. But he was, after all, an old shikari and a senior diplomat. He took an unhurried look around the circle, said quietly, "Accept my profound apologies for doubting you. Miss Amberdon!" and reached for the desk communicator.
Iron Thoughts swung his demon head in Telzey's direction. For an instant, she picked up the mental impression of a fierce yellow eye closing in an approving wink.
"... An open transmitter line to Orado," the Moderator was saying into the communicator. "The Council. And snap it up! Some very important visitors are waiting."
The offices of Jontarou's Planetary Moderator became an extremely busy and interesting area then. Quite two hours passed before it occurred to anyone to ask Telzey again whether she knew where her aunt was at present.
Telzey smote her forehead.
"Forgot all about that!" she admitted, fishing the sportscar's keys out of the pocket of her sunbriefs. "They're out on the parking platform...."
The preliminary treaty arrangements between the Federation of the Hub and the new Affiliated Species of the Planet of Jontarou were formally ratified two weeks later, the ceremony taking place on Jontarou, in the Champagne Hall of the Shikaris' Club.
Telzey was able to follow the event only by news viewer in her ship-cabin, she and Halet being on the return trip to Orado by then. She wasn't too interested in the treaty's details--they conformed almost exactly to what she had read out to Iron Thoughts and his co-chiefs and companions in the park. It was the smooth bridging of the wide language gap between the contracting parties by a row of interpreting machines and a handful of human xenotelepaths which held her attention.
As she switched off the viewer, Halet came wandering in from the adjoining cabin.
"I was watching it, too!" Halet observed. She smiled. "I was hoping to see dear Tick-Tock."
Telzey looked over at her. "Well, TT would hardly be likely to show up in Port Nichay," she said. "She's having too good a time now finding out what life in the Baluit range is like."
"I suppose so," Halet agreed doubtfully, sitting down on a hassock. "But I'm glad she promised to get in touch with us again in a few years. I'll miss her."
Telzey regarded her aunt with a reflective frown. Halet meant it quite sincerely, of course, she had undergone a profound change of heart during the past two weeks. But Telzey wasn't without some doubts about the actual value of a change of heart brought on by telepathic means. The learning process the crest cats had started in her mind appeared to have continued automatically several days longer than her rugged teachers had really intended; and Telzey had reason to believe that by the end of that time she'd developed associated latent abilities of which the crest cats had never heard. She'd barely begun to get it all sorted out yet, but ... as an example ... she'd found it remarkably easy to turn Halet's more obnoxious attitudes virtually upside down. It had taken her a couple of days to get the hang of her aunt's personal symbolism, but after that there had been no problem.
She was reasonably certain she'd broken no laws so far, though the sections in the law library covering the use and abuse of psionic abilities were veiled in such intricate and downright obscuring phrasing--deliberately, Telzey suspected--that it was really difficult to say what they did mean. But even aside from that, there were a number of arguments in favor of exercising great caution.
Jessamine, for one thing, was bound to start worrying about her sister-in-law's health if Halet turned up on Orado in her present state of mind, even though it would make for a far more agreeable atmosphere in the Amberdon household.
"Halet," Telzey inquired mentally, "do you remember what an all-out stinker you used to be?"
"Of course, dear," Halet said aloud. "I can hardly wait to tell dear Jessamine how much I regret the many times I...."
"Well," Telzey went on, still verbalizing it silently. "I think you'd really enjoy life more if you were, let's say, about halfway between your old nasty self and the sort of sickening-good kind you are now."
"Why, Telzey!" Halet cried out with dopey amiability. "What a delightful idea!"
"Let's try it," Telzey said.
There was silence in the cabin for some twenty minutes then while she went painstakingly about remolding a number of Halet's character traits for the second time. She still felt some misgivings about it; but if it became necessary, she probably could always restore the old Halet in toto.
These, she told herself, definitely were powers one should treat with respect! Better rattle through law school first; then, with that out of the way, she could start hunting around to see who in the Federation was qualified to instruct a genius-level novice in the proper handling of psionics.
by JAMES H. SCHMITZ At that, you know the power to enforce the Golden Rule would make a terrible weapon!
Menesee felt excitement surge like a living tide about him as he came with the other directors into the vast Tribunal Hall. Sixty years ago, inexcusable carelessness had deprived Earth of its first chance to obtain a true interstellar drive. Now, within a few hours, Earth, or more specifically, the upper echelons of that great political organization called the Machine which had controlled the affairs of Earth for the past century and a half, should learn enough of the secrets of the drive to insure that it would soon be in their possession.