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The man who held Trigger's wrists shifted his grip up her arms, and turned her a little so that she could sit upright on the seat, faced half away from him. She had got only a glimpse of him as he caught her, but he seemed to be wearing the same kind of commercial spacer's uniform as the group which had hustled her into the car. The other man in the car, the driver, sat up front with his back to them. He looked like any ordinary middle-aged civilian.
Trigger let her breath out slowly. There was no point in yelling now. She could feel her legs tremble a little, but she didn't seem to be actually frightened. At least, not yet.
"Spot anything so far?" the man who held her asked. It was a deep voice. It sounded matter-of-fact, quite unexcited.
"Three possibles anyway," the driver said with equal casualness. He didn't turn his head. "Make it two... One very definite possible now, I'd say!"
"Better feed it to her then."
The driver didn't reply, but the car's renewed surge of power pushed Trigger down hard on the seat. She couldn't see much more than a shifting piece of the skyline through the front view plate. Their own car seemed to be rising at a tremendous rate. They were probably, she thought, already above the main traffic arteries over Ceyce. "Now, Miss Argee," the man sitting beside her said, "I'd like to reassure you a little first."
"Go ahead and reassure me," Trigger said unsteadily.
"You're in no slightest danger from us," he said. "We're your friends."
"Nice friends!" remarked Trigger.
"I'll explain it all in a couple of minutes. There may be some fairly dangerous characters on our tail at the moment, and if they start to catch up—"
"Which they seem to be doing," the driver interrupted. "Hang on for a few fast turns when we hit the next cloud bank."
"We'll probably shake them there," the other man explained to Trigger. "In case we don't though, I'll need both hands free to handle the guns."
"So?" she asked.
"So I'd like to slip a set of cuffs on you for just a few minutes. I've been informed you're a fairly tricky lady, and we don't want you to do anything thoughtless. You won't have them on very long. All right?"
Trigger bit her lip. It wasn't all right, and she didn't feel at all reassured so far.
"Go ahead," she said.
He let go of her left arm, presumably to reach for the handcuffs. She twisted around on him and went into fast action.
She was fairly proficient at the practice of unarmed mayhem. The trouble was that the big ape she was trying the stuff on seemed at least as adept and with twice her muscle. She lost a precious instant finding out that the Denton was no longer in her robe pocket. After that she never got back the initiative. It didn't help either that the car suddenly seemed to be trying to fly in three directions at once.
All in all, about forty seconds passed before she was plumped back on the seat, her hands behind her again, linked at the wrists by the smooth plastic cords of the cuffs. The ape stood behind the driver, his hands resting on the back of the seat. He wasn't, Trigger observed bitterly, even breathing hard. The view plate was full of the cottony whiteness of a cloud heart. They seemed to be dropping again.
One more violent swerve and they came flashing out into wet gray cloud-shadow and on into brilliant sunlight.
A few seconds passed. Then the ape remarked, "Looks like you lost them, chum."
"Right," said the driver. "Almost at the river now. I'll turn north there and drop down."
"Right," said the ape. "Get us that far and we'll be out of trouble."
A few minutes passed in silence. Presently Trigger sensed they were slowing and losing altitude. Then a line of trees flashed by in the view plate. "Nice flying!" the ape said. He punched the driver approvingly in the shoulder and turned back to Trigger.
They looked at each other for a few seconds. He was tall, dark-eyed, very deeply tanned, with thick sloping shoulders. He probably wasn't more than five or six years older than she was. He was studying her curiously, and his eyes were remarkably steady. Something stirred in her for a moment, a small chill of fear. Something passed through her thoughts, a vague odd impression, like a half aroused memory, of huge, cold, dangerous things far away. It was gone before she could grasp it more clearly. She frowned.
The ape smiled. It wasn't, Trigger saw, an entirely unpleasant face. "Sorry the party got rough," he said. "Will you give parole if I take those cuffs off and tell you what this is about?"
She studied him again. "Better tell me first," she said shortly.
"All right. We're taking you to Commissioner Tate. We'll be there in about an hour. He'll tell you himself why he wanted to see you."
Trigger's eyes narrowed for an instant. Secretly she felt very much relieved. Holati Tate, at any rate, wouldn't let anything really unpleasant happen to her — and she would find out at last what had been going on.
"You've got an odd way of taking people places," she observed.
He laughed. "The grabber party wasn't scheduled. You'd indicated you wanted to speak to the Commissioner. We were sent to the Colonial School to pick you up and escort you to him. When we found out you'd disappeared, we had to do some fast improvising. Not my business to tell you the reasons for that."
Trigger said hesitantly, "Those people who were chasing this car—"
"What about them?" he asked thoughtfully.
"Were they after me?"
"Well," he said, "they weren't after me. Better let the Commissioner tell you about that, too. Now — how about parole?"
She nodded. "Till you turn me over to the Commissioner."
"Fair enough," he said. "You're his problem then." He took a small flat piece of metal out of a pocket and reached back of her with it. He didn't seem to do more than touch the cuffs, but she felt the slick coils loosen and drop away.
Trigger rubbed her wrists, "Where's my gun?" she asked.
"I've got it. I'll give it to the Commissioner."
"How did you people find me so fast?"
"Police keep bank entrances under twenty-four hour visual survey. We had someone watching their screens. You were spotted going in." He sat down companionably beside her. "I'd introduce myself, but I don't know if that would fit in with the Commissioner's plans."
Trigger shrugged. It still was quite possible, she decided, that her own plans weren't completely spoiled. Holati and his friends didn't necessarily know about that vault account. If they did know she'd had one and had closed it out, they could make a pretty good guess at what she'd done with the money. But if she just kept quiet, there might be an opportunity to get back to Ceyce and the Dawn City by tomorrow evening.
"Cigarette?" the Commissioner's over-muscled henchman inquired amiably.
Trigger glanced at him from the side. Not amiably. "No, thanks."
"No hard feelings, are there?" He looked surprised.
"Yes," she said evenly. "There are."
"Maybe," the driver suggested from the front, "what Miss Argee could do with is a shot of Puya. Flask's in my coat pocket. Left side."
"There's an idea," remarked Trigger's companion. He looked at her. "It's very good Puya."
"So choke on it," Trigger told him gently. She settled back into the corner of the seat and closed her eyes. "You can wake me up when we get to the Commissioner."
"In some way," Holati Tate said, "this little item here seems to be at the core of the whole plasmoid problem. Know what it is?"
Trigger looked at the little item with some revulsion. Dark green, marbled with pink streakings, it lay on the table between them, rather like a plump leech a foot and a half long. It was motionless except that the end nearest her shifted in a short arc from side to side, as if the thing suffered from a very slow twitch.
"One of the plasmoids obviously," she said. "A jumpy one." She blinked at it. "Looks like that 113. Is it?"
She glanced around. Commissioner Tate and Professor Mantelish, who sat in a armchair off to her right, were staring at her, eyebrows up, apparently surprised about something. "What's the matter?" she asked.
"We're just wondering," said Holati, "how you happen to remember 113, in particular, out of the thousands of plasmoids on Harvest Moon."
"Oh. One of the Junior Scientists on your Project mentioned the 112-113 unit. That brought it to mind. Is this 113?"
"No," said Holati Tate. "But it appears to be a duplicate of it." He was a mild-looking little man, well along in years, sparse and spruce in his Precol uniform. The small gray eyes in the sun-darkened, leathery face weren't really mild, if you considered them more closely, or if you knew the Commissioner.
"Have to fill you in on some of the background first, Trigger girl," he'd said, when she was brought to his little private office and inquired with some heat what the devil was up. The tall grabber hadn't come into the office with her. He asked the Commissioner from the door whether he should get Professor Mantelish to the conference room, and the Commissioner nodded. Then the door closed and the two of them were alone.
"I know it's looked odd," Commissioner Tate admitted, "but the circumstances have been very odd. Still are. And I didn't want to worry you any more than I had to."
Trigger, unmollified, pointed out that the methods he'd used not to worry her hardly had been soothing.
"I know that, too," said the Commissioner. "But if I'd told you everything immediately, you would have had reason enough to be worried for the past two months, rather than just for a day or so. The situation has improved now, very considerably. In fact, in another few days you shouldn't have any more reason to worry at all." He smiled briefly. "At least, no more than the rest of us."
Trigger felt a bit dry-lipped suddenly. "I do at present?" she asked.
"You did till today. There's been some pretty heavy heat on you, Trigger girl. We're switching most of it off tonight. For good, I think."
"You mean some heat will be left?"
"In a way," he said. "But that should be cleared up too in the next three or four days. Anyway we can drop most of the mystery act tonight."
Trigger shook her head. "It isn't being dropped very fast!" she observed.
"I told you I couldn't tell it backwards," the Commissioner said patiently. "All right if we start filling in the background now?"
"I guess we'd better," she admitted.
"Fine," said Commissioner Tate. He got to his feet. "Then let's go join Mantelish."
"Why the professor?"
"He could help a lot with the explaining. If he's in the mood. Anyway he's got a kind of pet I'd like you to look at."
"A pet!" cried Trigger. She shook her head again and stood up resignedly. "Lead on, Commissioner!"
They joined Mantelish and his plasmoid weirdie in what looked like the dining room of what had looked like a old-fashioned hunting lodge when the aircar came diving down on it between two ice-sheeted mountain peaks. Trigger wasn't sure in just what section of the main continent they were; but there were only two or three alternatives — it was high in the mountains, and night came a lot faster here than it did around Ceyce.
She greeted Mantelish and sat down at the table. Then the Commissioner locked the doors and introduced her to the professor's pet.
"It's labeled 113-A," he said now. "Even the professor isn't certain he could distinguish between the two. Right, Mantelish?"
"That is true," said Mantelish, "at present." He was a very big, rather fat but healthy-looking old man with a thick thatch of white hair and a ruddy face. "Without a physical comparison—" He shrugged.
"What's so important about the critter?" Trigger asked, eying the leech again. One good thing about it, she thought — it wasn't equipped to eye her back.
"It goes back to the time," the Commissioner said, "when Mantelish and Fayle and Azol were conducting the first League investigation of the plasmoids on Harvest Moon. You recall the situation?"
"If you mean their attempts to get the things to show some signs of life, I do, naturally."
"One of them got lively enough for poor old Azol, didn't it?" Professor. Mantelish rumbled from his armchair.
Trigger grimaced. Doctor Azol's fate might be one of the things that had given her a negative attitude towards plasmoids. With Mantelish, and Doctor Gess Fayle, Azol had been the third of the three big U-League boys in charge of the initial investigation on Harvest Moon. As she remembered it, it was Azol who discovered that plasmoids occasionally could be induced to absorb food. Almost any kind of food, it turned out, so long as it contained a sufficient quantity of protein. What had happened to Azol looked like a particularly unfortunate result of the discovery. It was assumed an untimely coronary had been the reason he had fallen helplessly into the feeding trough of one of the largest plasmoids. By the time he was found, all of him from the knees on up already had been absorbed.
"I meant your efforts to get them to work," she said.
Commissioner Tate looked at Mantelish. "You. tell her about that part of it," he suggested.
Mantelish shook his head. "I'd get too technical," he said resignedly. "I always do. At least they say so. You tell her."
But Holati Tate's eyes had shifted suddenly to the table. "Hey, now!" he said in a low voice.
Trigger followed his gaze. After a moment she made a soft, sucking sound of alarmed distaste.
"Ugh!" she remarked. "It's moving!"
"So it is," Holati said.
"Towards me!" said Trigger. "I think—"
"Don't get startled. Mantelish!"
Mantelish already was coming up slowly behind Trigger's chair. "Don't move!" he cautioned her.
"Why not?" said Trigger.
"Hush, my dear." Mantelish laid a large, heavy hand on each of her shoulders and bore down slightly. "It's sensitive! This is very interesting. Very."
Perhaps it was. She kept watching the plasmoid. It had thinned out somewhat and was gliding very slowly but very steadily across the table. Definitely in her direction.
"Ho-ho!" said Mantelish in a thunderous murmur. "Perhaps it likes you, Trigger! Ho-ho!" He seemed immensely pleased.
"Well," Trigger said helplessly, "I don't like it!" She wriggled slightly under Mantelish's hands. "And I'd sooner get out of this chair!"
"Don't be childish, Trigger," said the professor annoyedly. "You're behaving as if it were, in some manner, offensive."
"It is," she said.
"Hush, my dear," Mantelish said absently, putting on a little more pressure. Trigger hushed resignedly. They watched. In about a minute, the gliding thing reached the edge of the table. Trigger gathered herself to duck out from under Mantelish's hands and go flying out of the chair if it looked as if the plasmoid was about to drop into her lap.
But it stopped. For a few seconds it lay motionless. Then it gradually raised its front end and began waving it gently back and forth in the air. At her, Trigger suspected.
"Yipes!" she said, horrified.
The front end sank back. The plasmoid lay still again. After a minute it was still lying still.
"Show's over for the moment, I guess," said the Commissioner.
"I'm afraid so," said Professor Mantelish. His big hands went away from Trigger's aching shoulders. "You startled it, Trigger!" he boomed at her accusingly.
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