Back | Next
There was a tube portal at the end of the hall outside Doctor Plemponi's office. Mihul stepped into the portal, punched the number of her personal quarters, waited till the overhead light flashed green a few seconds later, and stepped out into another hall seventeen floors below Plemponi's office and a little over a mile and a half away from it.
Mihul crossed the hall, went into her apartment, locked the door behind her and punched a shield button. In her bedroom, she opened a wall safe and swung out a high-powered transmitter. She switched the transmitter to active.
"Yes?" said a voice.
"Mihul here," said Mihul. "Quillan or the Commissioner..."
"Quillan here," the transmitter said a few seconds later in a different voice, a deep male one. "Go ahead, doll."
Mihul grunted. "I'm calling," she said, "because I feel strongly that you boys had better take some immediate action in the Argee matter."
"Oh?" said the voice. "What kind of action?"
"How the devil would I know? I'm just telling you I can't be responsible for her here much longer."
"Has something happened?" Quillan asked quickly.
"If you mean has somebody taken another swing at her, no. But she's all wound up to start swinging herself. She isn't going to do much waiting either."
Quillan said thoughtfully, "Hasn't she been that way for quite a while?"
"Not like she's been the last few days." Mihul hesitated. "Would it be against security if you told me whether something has happened to her?"
"Happened to her?" Quillan repeated cautiously.
"To her mind."
"What makes you think so?"
Mihul frowned at the transmitter.
"Trigger always had a temper," she said. "She was always obstinate. She was always an individualist and ready to fight for her own rights and anyone else's. But she used to show good sense. She's got one of the highest I.Q.s we ever processed through this place. The way she's acting now doesn't look too rational."
"How would she have acted earlier?" Quillan asked.
Mihul considered. "She would have been very annoyed with Commissioner Tate," she said. "I don't blame her for that — I'd be, too, in the circumstances. When he got back, she'd have wanted a reasonable explanation for what has been going on. If she didn't get one that satisfied her, she'd have quit. But she would have waited till he got back. Why not, after all?"
"You don't think she's going to wait now?"
"I do not," Mihul said. "She's forwarded him a kind of ultimatum through Plemponi. Communicate-or-else, in effect. Frankly I wouldn't care to guarantee she'll stay around to hear the answer."
"Hm... What do you expect she'll do?"
"Take off," Mihul said. "One way or the other."
"Ungh," Quillan said disgustedly. "You make it sound like the chick's got built-in space drives. You can stop her, can't you?"
"Certainly I can stop her," Mihul said. "If I can lock her in her room and sit on her to make sure she doesn't leave by the window. But 'unobtrusively?' You're the one who stressed she isn't to know she's being watched."
"True," Quillan said promptly. "I spoke like a loon, Mihul."
"True, Major Quillan, sir," said Mihul. "Now try again."
The transmitter was silent a few seconds. "Could you guarantee her for three days?" he asked.
"I could not," said Mihul. "I couldn't guarantee her another three hours."
"As bad as that?"
"Yes," said Mihul. "As bad as that. She was controlling herself with Plemponi. But I've been observing her in the physical workouts. I've fed it to her as heavy as I could, but there's a limit to what you can do that way. She's kept herself in very good shape."
"One of the best, I've been told," said Quillan.
"Condition, I meant," said Mihul. "Anyway, she's trained down fine right now. Any more of it would just make her edgier. You know how it goes."
"Uh-huh," he said. "Fighter nerves."
"Same deal," Mihul agreed.
There was a short pause. "How about slapping a guard on all Colonial School exits?" he suggested.
"Can you send me an army?"
"Then forget it. She was a student here, remember? Last year a bunch of our students smuggled the stuffed restructured mastodon out and left it in the back garden of the mayor of Ceyce, just for laughs. Too many exits. And Trigger was a trickier monkey than most that way, when she felt like it. She'll fade out of here whenever she wants to."
"It's those damn tube portal systems!" said Quillan, with feeling. "Most gruesome invention that ever hit the tailing profession." He sighed. "You win, Mihul! The Commissioner isn't in at the moment. But whether he gets in or not, I'll have someone over today to pick her up. Matter of fact, I'll come along myself."
"Good for you, boy!" Mihul said relievedly. "Did you get anything out of yesterday's grabbers?"
"A little. 'Get her, don't harm her' were their instructions. Otherwise it was like with those other slobs. A hole in the head where the real info should be. But at least we know for sure now that someone is specifically after Argee. The price was kind of interesting."
"What was it?"
"Flat half million credits."
Mihul whistled. "Poor Trigger!"
"Well, nobody's very likely to earn the money."
"I hope not. She's a good kid. All right, Major. Signing off now."
"Hold on a minute," said Quillan. "You asked a while ago if the girl had gone ta-ta."
"So I did," Mihul said, surprised. "You didn't say. I figured it was against security."
"It probably is," Quillan admitted. "Everything seems to be, right now. I've given up trying to keep up with that. Anyway — I don't know that she has. Neither does the Commissioner. But he's worried. And Argee has a date she doesn't know about with the Psychology Service, four days from now."
"The eggheads?" Mihul was startled. "What do they want with her?"
"You know," Quillan remarked reflectively, "that's odd! They didn't think to tell me."
"Why are you letting me know?" Mihul asked.
"You'll find out, doll," he said.
The U-League guard leaning against the wall opposite the portal snapped to attention as it opened. Trigger stepped out. He gave her a fine flourish of a salute.
"Good morning, Miss Farn."
"Morning," Trigger said. She flashed him a smile. "Did the mail get in?"
"Just twenty minutes ago."
She nodded, smiled again and walked past him to her office. She always got along fine with cops of almost any description, and these League boys were extraordinarily pleasant and polite. They were also, she'd noticed, a remarkably muscled group.
She locked the office door behind her — part of the Plasmoid Project's elaborate security precautions — went over to her mail file and found it empty. Which meant that whatever had come in was purely routine and already being handled by her skeleton office staff. Later in the day she might get a chance to scrawl Ruya Farn's signature on a few dozen letters and checks. Big job! Trigger sat down at her desk.
She brooded there a minute or two, tapping her teeth with her thumbnail. The Honorable Precolonial Commissioner Tate, whatever else might be said of him, undoubtedly was one of the brainiest little characters she'd ever come across. He probably saw some quite valid reason for keeping her here, isolated and uninformed. The question was what the reason could be.
Security... Trigger wrinkled her nose. Security didn't mean a thing. Everybody and everything associated with the Old Galactic plasmoids had been wrapped up in Federation security measures since the day the plasmoid discovery was announced. And she'd been in the middle of the operations concerning them right along. Why should Holati Tate have turned secretive on her now? When even blabby old Plemponi could contact him.
It was more than a little annoying...
Trigger shrugged, reached into a desk drawer and took out a small solidopic. She set it on the desk and regarded it moodily.
The face of an almost improbably handsome young man looked back at her. Startling dark-blue eyes; a strong chin, curly brown hair. There was a gleam of white teeth behind the quick, warm smile which always awoke a responsive glow in her.
She and Brule Inger had been the nearest thing to engaged for the last two and a half years, ever since Precol sent them out together to its project on Manon Planet. They'd been dating before that, while they were both still attending the Colonial School. But now she was here, perhaps stuck here indefinitely — unless she did something about it — and Brule was on Manon Planet. By the very fastest subspace ships the Manon System was a good nine days away. For the standard Grand Commerce express freighter or the ordinary liner it was a solid two-months' run. Manon was a long way away!
It was almost a month since she'd even heard from Brule. She could make up another personal tape to him today if she felt like it. He would get it in fourteen days or so via a Federation packet. But she'd already sent him three without reply. Brule wasn't at all good at long distance lovemaking, and she didn't blame him much. She was a little awkward herself when it came to feeding her personal feelings into a tape. And — because of security again — there was very little else she could feed into it. She couldn't even let Brule know just where she was.
She put the solido back in its drawer, reached for one of the bank of buttons on the right side of the desk and pushed it down. A desk panel slid up vertically in front of her, disclosing a news viewer switched to the index of current headlines.
Trigger glanced over the headlines, while a few items dissolved slowly here and there and were replaced by more recent developments. Under the "Science" heading a great deal seemed to be going on, as usual, in connection with plasmoid experiments around the Hub.
She dialed in the heading, skimmed through the first item that appeared. Essentially it was a summary of reports on Hubwide rumors that nobody could claim any worthwhile progress in determining what made the Old Galactic plasmoids tick. Which, so far as Trigger knew, was quite true. Other rumors, rather unpleasant ones, were that the five hundred or so scientific groups to whom individual plasmoids had been issued by the Federation's University League actually had gained important information, but were keeping it to themselves.
The summary plowed through a few of the learned opinions and counter-opinions most recently obtained, then boiled them down to the statement that a plasmoid might be compared to an engine which appeared to lack nothing but an energy source. Or perhaps more correctly — assuming it might have an as yet unidentified energy source — a starter button. One group claimed to have virtually duplicated the plasmoid loaned to it by the Federation, producing a biochemical structure distinguishable from the Old Galactic model only by the fact that it had — quite predictably — fallen apart within hours. But plasmoids didn't fall apart. The specimens undergoing study had shown no signs of deterioration. A few still absorbed nourishment from time to time; some had been observed to move slightly. But none could be induced to operate. It was all very puzzling!
It was very puzzling, Trigger conceded. Back in the Manon System, when they had been discovered, the plasmoids were operating with high efficiency on the protein-collecting station which the mysterious Old Galactics appeared to have abandoned, or forgotten about, some hundreds of centuries ago. It was only when humans entered the base and switched off its mechanical operations that the plasmoids stopped working — and then, when the switches which appeared to have kept them going were expectantly closed again, they had stayed stopped.
Personally, Trigger couldn't have cared less if they never did move. It was nice that old Holati Tate had made an almost indecently vast fortune out of his first-discovery rights to the things, because she was really very fond of the Commissioner when he wasn't being irritating. But in some obscure way she found the plasmoids themselves and the idea of unlimitedly plastic life which they embodied rather appalling. However, she was in a minority there. Practically everybody else seemed to feel that plasmoids were the biggest improvement since the creation of Eve.
She switched the viewer presently to its local-news setting and dialed in the Manon System's reference number. Keeping tab on what was going on out there had become a private little ritual of late. Occasionally she even picked up references to Brule Inger, who functioned nowadays as Precol's official greeter and contact man in the system. He was very popular with the numerous important Hub citizens who made the long run out to Manon — some bent on getting a firsthand view of the marvels of Old Galactic science, and a great many more bent on getting an early stake in the development of Manon Planet, which was rapidly approaching the point where its status would shift from Precol Project to Federation Territory, opening it to all qualified comers.
Today there was no news about Brule. Grand Commerce had opened its first business and recreation center on Manon, not ten miles from the Precol Headquarters dome where Trigger recently had been working. The subspace net which was being installed about the Old Galactic base was very nearly completed. The permanent Hub population on Manon Planet had just passed the forty-three thousand mark. There had been, Trigger recalled, a trifle nostalgically, barely eight hundred Precol employees, and not another human being, on that world in the days before Holati Tate announced his discovery.
She was just letting the viewer panel slide back into the desk when the office ComWeb gave forth with a musical ping. She switched it on.
"Hi, Rak!" she said cheerily. "Anything new?"
The bony-faced young man looking out at her wore the lusterless black uniform of a U-League Junior Scientist. His expression was worried.
He said, "I believe there is, Miss Farn." Rak was the group leader of the thirty-four Junior Scientists the League had installed in the Project. Like all the Juniors, he took his duties very seriously. "Unfortunately it's nothing I can discuss over a communicator. Would it be possible for you to come over and meet with us during the day?"
"That," Trigger stated, "was a ridiculous question, Rak! Want me over right now?"
He grinned. "Thanks, Miss Farn! In twenty minutes then? I'll get my advisory committee together and we can meet in the little conference room off the Exhibition Hall."
Trigger nodded. "I'll be wandering around the Hall. Just send a guard out to get me when you're ready."
Back | Next