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Chapter 9

 

It was really infernally bad luck! Mihul was going to be the least easy of wardens to get away from... particularly in time to catch a liner tomorrow night. Mihul knew her much too well.

"Like to come along and meet your facsimile now?" Mihul inquired. She grinned. "Most people find the first time quite an experience."

Trigger stood up resignedly. "All right," she said. They were being polite about it, but it was clear that it was still a cop and prisoner situation. And old friend Mihul! She remembered something then. "I believe Major Quillan has my gun."

He looked at her thoughtfully, not smiling. "No," he said. "Gave it to Mihul."

"That's right," said Mihul. "Let's go, kid."

They went out through the door that had appeared in the wall. It closed again behind them.

The facsimile stood up from behind a table at which she had been sitting as Trigger and Mihul came into the room. She gave Trigger a brief, impersonal glance, then looked at Mihul.

Mihul performed no introductions.

"Dress, robe and scarf," she said to the facsimile. "The shoes are close enough." She turned to Trigger. "She'll be wearing your street clothes when she leaves," she said. "Could we have the dress now?" Trigger pulled the dress over her head, tossed it to Mihul and stood in her underwear, looking at her double slip out of her street clothes. They did seem to be a very close match in size and proportions. Watching the shifting play of slim muscles in the long legs and smooth back, Trigger decided the similarity was largely a natural one. The silver-blonde hair was the same, of course. The gray eyes seemed almost identical — and the rest of the face was a little too identical! They must have used a life-mask there.

It was a bit uncanny. Like seeing one's mirror image start moving about independently. If the girl had talked, it might have reduced the effect. But she remained silent.

She put on the dress Trigger had been wearing and smoothed it down. Mihul surveyed the result. She nodded. "Perfect." She took Trigger's robe and scarf from the back of a chair where someone had draped them and handed them over.

"You won't wear the scarf," she said. "Just shove it into a pocket of the coat."

The girl slung the cloak over her shoulder and stood holding the scarf. Mihul looked her over once more. "You'll do," she said. She smiled briefly. "All right."

The facsimile glanced at Trigger again, turned and moved attractively out of the room. Trigger frowned.

"Something wrong?" Mihul asked. She had gone over to a wall basin and was washing out a tumbler.

"Why does she walk like that?"

"The little swing in the rear? She's studied it." Mihul half filled the tumbler with water, fished a transparent splinter of something out of a pocket and cracked the splinter over the edge of the glass. "Among your friends it's referred to as the Argee Lilt. She's got you down pat, kid."

Trigger didn't comment. "Am I supposed to put on her clothes?"

"No. We've got another costume for you." Mihul came over, holding out the glass. "This is for you."

Trigger looked at the glass suspiciously. "What's in it?"

The blue eyes regarded her mildly. "You could call it a sedative."

"Don't need any. Thanks."

"Better take it anyway." Mihul patted her hip with her other hand. "Little hypo gun here. That's the alternative."

"What!"

"That's right. Same type of charge as in your fancy Denton. Stuff in the glass is easier to take and won't leave you groggy."

"What's the idea?"

"I've known you quite a while," said Mihul. "And I was watching you the last twenty minutes in that room through a screen. You'll take off again if you get the least chance. I don't blame you a bit. You're being pushed around. But now it's my job to see you don't take off; and until we get to where you're going, I want to be sure you'll stay quiet."

She still held out the glass, in a long, tanned, capable hand. She stood three inches taller than Trigger, weighed thirty-five pounds more. Not an ounce of that additional thirty-five pounds was fat. If she'd needed assistance, the hunting lodge was full of potential helpers. She didn't.

"I never claimed I liked this arrangement," Trigger said carefully. "I did say I'd go along with it. I will. Isn't that enough?"

"Sure," Mihul said promptly. "Give word of parole?"

There was a long pause.

"No!" Trigger said.

"I thought not. Drink or gun?"

"Drink," Trigger said coldly. She took the glass. "How long will it put me out?"

"Eight to nine hours." Mihul stood by watchfully while Trigger emptied the tumbler. After a moment the tumbler fell to the floor. She reached out then and caught Trigger as she started down.

"All right," she said across her shoulder to the open doorway behind her. "Let's move!"

 

* * *

 

Trigger awoke and instantly went taut with tension. She lay quiet a few seconds, not even opening her eyes. There was cool sunlight on her eyelids, but she was indoors. There was a subdued murmur of sound somewhere; after a moment she knew it came from a news viewer turned low, in some adjoining room. But there didn't seem to be anybody immediately around her. Warily she opened her eyes.

She was on a couch in an airy, spacious room furnished in the palest of greens and ivory. One entire side of the room was either a window or a solido screen. In it was a distant mountain range with many snowy peaks, an almost cloudless blue sky. Sun at midmorning or midafternoon.

Sun and all had the look of Maccadon — they probably still were on the planet. That was where the interview was to take place. But she also could have been sent on a three-day space cruise, which would be a rather good way to make sure a prisoner stayed exactly where you wanted her. This could be a spaceliner suite with a packaged view of any one of some hundreds of worlds, and with packaged sunlight thrown in.

There was one door to the room. It stood open, and the news viewer talk came from there.

Trigger sat up quietly and looked down at the clothes she wore. All white. A short-sleeved half-blouse of some soft, rather heavy, very comfortable unfamiliar stuff. Bare midriff. White kid trousers which flared at the thighs and were drawn in to a close fit just above the knees and down the calves, vanishing into kid boots with thick, flexible soles.

Sporting outfit... That meant Maccadon!

She pulled a handful of hair forward and looked at it. They'd recolored it — this time to a warm mahogany brown. She swung her legs off the couch and stood up quietly. A dozen soft steps across the springy thick-napped turf of ivory carpet took her to the window.

The news viewer clicked and went silent.

"Like the view?" Old Lynx-ears asked from beyond the door.

"Not bad," Trigger said. She saw a long range of woodlands and open heath, rising gradually into the flanks of the mountains. On the far right was the still, silver glitter of two lakes. "Where are we?"

"Byla Uplands Game Preserve. That's the game bird area before you." Mihul appeared in the doorframe, in an outfit almost a duplicate of Trigger's, in pearl-gray tones. "Feel all right?"

"Feeling fine," Trigger said. Byla Uplands — the southern tip of the continent. She could make it back to Ceyce in two hours or less! She turned and grinned at Mihul. "I also feel hungry. How long was I out?"

Mihul glanced at her wristwatch. "Eight hours, ten minutes. You woke up on schedule. I had breakfast sent up thirty minutes ago. I've already eaten mine — took one sniff and plunged in. It's good!" Mihul's hair, Trigger saw, had been cropped short and a streak of gray added over the right side; and they'd changed the color of her eyes to hazel. She wondered what had been done to her along that line. "Want to come in?" Mihul said. "We can talk while you eat."

Trigger nodded. "After I've freshened up."

The bathroom mirror showed they'd left her eyes alone. But there was a very puzzling impression that she was staring at an image considerably plumper, shorter, younger than it should be — a teen-ager around seventeen or eighteen. Her eyes narrowed. If they'd done flesh-sculpting on her, it could cause complications.

She stripped hurriedly and checked. They hadn't tampered with her body. So it had to be the clothes; though it was difficult to see how even the most cunning cut could provide such a very convincing illusion of being more rounded out, heavier around the thighs, larger breasts — just missing being dumpy, in fact. She dressed again, looked again, and came out of the bathroom, still puzzled.

"Choice of three game birds for breakfast," Mihul announced. "Never heard of any of them. All good. Plus regular stuff." She patted her flat midriff. "Ate too much!" she admitted. "Now dig in and I'll brief you."

Trigger dug in. "I had a look at myself in the mirror," she remarked. "What's this now-you-see-it-now-you-don't business of fifteen or so pounds of baby fat?"

Mihul laughed. "You don't really have it."

"I know that too. How do they do it?"

"Subcolor job in the clothes. They're not really white. Anyone looking at you gets his vision distorted a little without realizing it. Takes a wider view of certain areas, for example. You can play it around in a lot of ways."

"I never heard of that one," Trigger said. "You'd think it would be sensational in fashions."

"It would be. Right now it's top secret for as long as Intelligence can keep it that way."

Trigger chewed a savory morsel of something. "Then why did you tell me?"

"You're one of the gang, however reluctant. And you're good at keeping the mouth shut. Your name, by the way, is now Comteen Lod, just turned eighteen. I am your dear mama. You call me Drura. We're from Slyth-Talgon on Evalee, here for a few days shooting."

Trigger nodded. "Do we do any shooting?"

Mihul pointed a finger at a side table. The Denton lay there, looking like a toy beside a standard slender-barrelled sporting pistol. "Bet your life, Comteen!" she said. "I've always been too stingy to try out a first-class preserve on my own money. And this one is first class." She paused. "Comteen and Drura Lod really exist. We're a very fair copy of what they look like, and they'll be kept out of sight till we're done here. Now—"

She leaned back comfortably, tilting the chair and clasping her hands around one knee. "Aside from the sport, we're here because you're a convalescent. You're recovering from a rather severe attack of Dykart fever. Heard of it?"

Trigger reflected. "Something you pick up in some sections of the Evalee tropics, isn't it?"

Mihul nodded. "That's what you did, child! Skipped your shots on that last trip we took — and six months later you're still paying for it. You were in one of those typical Dykart fever comas when we brought you in last night."

"Very clever!" Trigger commented acidly.

"Very." Mihul pursed her lips. "The Dykart bug causes temporary derangements, you know — spells during which convalescents talk wildly, imagine things."

Trigger popped another fragment of meat between her teeth and chewed thoughtfully, looking over at Mihul. "Very good duck or whatever!" she said. "Like imagining they've been more or less kidnapped, you mean?"

"Things like that," Mihul agreed.

Trigger shook her head. "I wouldn't anyway. You types are bound to have all the legal angles covered."

"Sure," said Mihul. "Just thought I'd mention it. Have you used the Denton much on game?"

"Not too often." Trigger had been wondering whether they'd left the stunner compartment loaded. "But it's a very fair gun for it."

"I know. The other one's a Yool. Good game gun, too. You'll use that."

Trigger swallowed. She met the calm eyes watching her. "I've never handled a Yool. Why the switch?"

"They're easy to handle. The reason for the switch is that you can't just stun someone with a Yool. It's better if we both stay armed, though it isn't really necessary — so much money comes to play around here they can afford to keep the Uplands very thoroughly policed, and they do. But an ace in the hole never hurts." She considered. "Changed your mind about that parole business yet?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," Trigger said.

"I'd let you carry your own gun then."

Trigger looked reflective, then shook her head. "I'd rather not."

"Suit yourself," Mihul said agreeably. "In that case though, there should be something else understood."

"What's that?"

"We'll have up to three-four days to spend here together before Whatzzit shows up."

"Whatzzit?"

"For future reference," Mihul said, "Whatzzit will be that which — or he or she who — wishes to have that interview with you and has arranged for it. That's in case you want to talk about it. I might as well tell you that I'll do very little talking about Whatzzit."

"I thought," Trigger suggested, "I was one of the gang."

"I've got special instructions on the matter," Mihul said. "Anyway, Whatzzit shows up. You have your interview. After that we do whatever Whatzzit says we're to do. As you know."

Trigger nodded.

"Meanwhile," said Mihul, "we're here. Very pleasant place to spend three-four days in my opinion and, I think, in yours."

"Very pleasant," Trigger agreed. "I've been suspecting it was you who suggested it would be a good place to wait in."

"No," Mihul said. "Though I might have, it anyone had asked me. But Whatzzit's handling all the arrangements, it seems. Now we could have fun here — which, I suspect, would be the purpose as far as you're concerned."

"Fun?" Trigger said.

"To put you into a good frame of mind for that interview, might be the idea," Mihul said. "I don't know. Three days here should relax almost anyone. Get in a little shooting. Loaf around the pools. Go for rides. Things like that. The only trouble is I'm afraid you're nourishing dark notions which are likely to take all the enjoyment out of it. Not to mention the possibility of really relaxing."

"Like what?" Trigger asked.

"Oh," Mihul said, "there're all sorts of possibilities, of course." She nodded her head at the guns. "Like yanking the Denton out of my holster and feeding me a dose of the stunner. Or picking up that coffee pot there and tapping me on the skull with it. It's about the right weight."

Trigger said thoughtfully, "I don't think either of those would work."

"They might," Mihul said. "They just might! You're fast. You've been taught to improvise. And there's something eating you. You're edgy as a cat."

"So?" Trigger said.

"So," Mihul said, "there are a number of alternatives. I'll lay them out for you. You take your pick. For one, I could just keep you doped. Three days in dope won't hurt you, and you'll certainly be no problem then. Another way — I'll let you stay awake, but we stay in our rooms. I can lock you in at night, and that window is escape-proof. I checked. It would be sort of boring, but we can have tapes and stuff brought up. I'd have the guns put away and I'd watch you like a hawk every minute of the day."

She looked at Trigger inquiringly. "Like either of those?"

"Not much," Trigger said.

"They're safe," Mihul said. "Quite safe. Maybe I should. Well, the heat's off, and it's just a matter now of holding you for Whatzzit. There're a couple of other choices. One of them has an angle you won't like much either. On the other hand, it could give you a sporting chance to take off if you're really wild about it. And it's entirely in line with my instructions. I warned them you're tricky."

Trigger stopped eating. "Let's hear that one."

Mihul tilted the chair back a little farther and studied her a moment. "Pretty much like I said before. Everything friendly and casual. Gun a bit, swim a bit. Go for a ride or soar. Lie around in the sun. But because of those notions of yours, there'd be one thing added. An un-incentive."

"An un-incentive?" Trigger repeated.

"Exactly," said Mihul. "That isn't at all in line with my instructions. But you're a pretty dignified little character, and I think it should work."

"Just what does this un-incentive consist of?" Trigger inquired warily.

"If you make a break and get away," Mihul said, "that's one thing. Something's eating you, and I'm not sure I like the way this matter's been handled. In fact, I don't like it. So I'll try to stop you from leaving, but if it turns out I couldn't, I won't bold any grudges. Even if I wake up with lumps."

She paused. "On the other hand," she said, "there we are — together for three-four days. I don't want to spend them fighting off attempts to clobber me every thirty seconds. So any time you try and miss, Comteen, mama is going to pin you down fast and hot up your seat with whatever is handiest."

Trigger stared at her.

She cleared her throat.

"While I'm carrying a gun?" she said shakily. "Don't be ridiculous, Mihul!"

"You're not going to gun me for keeps to get out of a licking," Mihul said. "And that's all the Yool can do. How else will you stop me?"

Trigger's fingernails drummed the tabletop briefly. She wet her lips. "I don't know," she admitted.

"Of course," said Mihul, "all this unpleasantness can be avoided very easily. There's always the fourth method."

"What's that?"

"Just give parole."

"No parole," Trigger said thinly.

"All right. Which of the other ways will it be?"

Trigger didn't hesitate. "The sporting chance," she said. "The others aren't choices."

"Fair enough," said Mihul. She stood up and went over to the wall. She selected a holster belt from the pair hanging there and fastened it around her. "I rather thought you'd pick it," she said. She gave Trigger a brief grin. "Just make sure it's a good opening!"

"I will," Trigger said.

Mihul moved to the side table, took up the Denton, looked at it, and slid it into her holster. She turned to gaze out the window. "Nice country!" she said. "If you're done with breakfast, how about going out right now for a first try at the birds?"

Trigger hefted the coffee pot gently. It was about the right weight at that. But the range was a little more than she liked, considering the un-incentive.

Besides, it might crack the monster's skull.

She set the pot gently down again.

"Great idea!" she said. "And I'm all finished eating."

 

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