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Half an hour later there still hadn't been any decent openings. Trigger was maintaining a somewhat broody silence at the moment. Mihul, beside her, in the driver's seat of the tiny sports hopper, chatted pleasantly about this and that. But she didn't appear to expect any answers.
There weren't many half-hours left to be wasted.
Trigger stared thoughtfully out through the telescopic ground-view plate before her, while the hopper soared at a thousand feet toward the two-mile square of preserve area which had been assigned to them to hunt over that morning. Dimly reflected in the view plate, she could see the head of the gun-pup who went with that particular area lifted above the seat-back behind her. He was gazing straight ahead between the two humans, absorbed in canine reflections.
There was plenty of bird life down there. Some were original Terran forms, maintained unchanged in the U-League's genetic banks. Probably many more were inspired modifications produced on Grand Commerce game ranches. At any other time, Trigger would have found herself enjoying the outing almost as much as Mihul.
Not now. Other things kept running through her head. Money, for example. They hadn't returned her own cash to her and apparently didn't intend to — at least not until after the interview. But Mihul was carrying at least part of their spending money in a hip pocket wallet. The rest of it might be in a concealed room safe or deposited with the resort hotel's cashier.
She glanced over at Mihul again. Good friend Mihul never before had looked quite so large, lithe, alert and generally fit for a rough-and-tumble. That un-incentive idea was fiendishly ingenious! It was difficult to plan things through clearly and calmly while one's self-esteem kept quailing at vivid visualizations of the results of making a mistake.
The hopper settled down near the center of their territory, guided the last half mile by Mihul who had fancied the looks of some shrub-cluttered ravines ahead. Trigger opened the door on her side. The gun-pup leaped lightly across the seat and came out behind her. He turned to look over his huntresses and gave them a wag, a polite but perfunctory one. Then he stood waiting for orders.
Mihul considered him. "Guess he's in charge here," she said. She waved a hand at the pup. "Go find 'em, old boy! We'll string along."
He loped off swiftly, a lean brown hound-like creature, a Grand Commerce development of some aristocratic Terran breed and probably a considerable improvement on the best of his progenitors. He curved around a thick clump of shrubs like a low-flying hawk. Two plump feather-shapes, emerald-green and crimson, whirred up out of the near side of the shrubbery, saw the humans before them and rose steeply, picking up speed.
A great many separate, clearly detailed things seemed to be going on within the next four or five seconds. Mihul swore, scooping the Denton out of its bolster. Trigger already had the Yool out, but the gun was unfamiliar; she hesitated. Fascinated, she glanced from the speeding, soaring feather-balls to Mihul, watched the tall woman straighten for an overhead shot, left hand grasping right wrist to steady the lightweight Denton — and in that particular instant Trigger knew exactly what was going to happen next.
The Denton flicked forth one bolt. Mihul stretched a little more for the next shot. Trigger wheeled matter-of-factly, dropping the Yool, left elbow close in to her side. Her left fist rammed solidly into Mihul's bare brown midriff, just under the arch of the rib cage.
That punch, in those precise circumstances, would have paralyzed the average person. It didn't quite paralyze Mihul. She dropped forward, doubled up and struggling for breath, but already twisting around toward Trigger. Trigger stepped across her, picked up the Denton, shifted its setting, thumbed it to twelve-hour stunner max, and let Mihul have it between the shoulder blades.
Mihul jerked forward and went limp.
Trigger stood there, shaking violently, looking down at Mihul and fighting the irrational conviction that she had just committed cold-blooded murder.
The gun-pup trotted up with the one downed bird. He placed it reverently by Mihul's outflung hand. Then he sat back on his haunches and regarded Trigger with something of the detached compassion of a good undertaker.
Apparently this wasn't his first experience with a hunting casualty.
The story Trigger babbled into the hopper's communicator a minute later was that Drura Lod had succumbed to an attack of Dykart fever coma — and that an ambulance and a fast flit to a hospital in the nearest city were indicated.
The preserve hotel was startled but reassuring. That the mother should be afflicted with the same ailment as the daughter was news to them but plausible enough. Within eight minutes, a police ambulance was flying Mihul and Trigger at emergency speeds towards a small Uplands city behind the mountains.
Trigger never found out the city's name. Three minutes after she'd followed Mihul's floating stretcher into the hospital, she quietly left the building again by a street entrance. Mihul's wallet had contained two hundred and thirteen crowns. It was enough, barely.
She got a complete change of clothes in the first Automatic Service store she came to and left the store in them, carrying the sporting outfit in a bag. The aircab she hired to take her to Ceyce had to be paid for in advance, which left her eighty-two crowns. As they went flying over a lake a while later, the bag with the sporting clothes and accessories was dumped out of the cab's rear window. It was just possible that the Space Scouts had been able to put that tracer material idea to immediate use.
In Ceyce a short two hours after she'd felled Mihul, Trigger called the interstellar spaceport and learned that the Dawn City was open to passengers and their guests.
Birna Drellgannoth picked up her tickets and went on board, mingling unostentatiously with a group in a mood of festive leave-taking. She went fading even more unostentatiously down a hallway when the group stopped cheerfully to pose for a solidopic girl from one of the news agencies. She located her cabin after a lengthy search, set the door to don't-disturb, glanced around the cabin and decided to inspect it in more detail later.
She pulled off her slippers, climbed on the outsized overstuffed divan which passed here for a bunk, and stretched out.
She lay there a while, blinking at the ceiling and worrying a little about Mihul. Even theoretically a stunner-max blast couldn't cause Mihul the slightest permanent damage. It might, however, leave her in a fairly peevish mood after the grogginess wore off, since the impact wasn't supposed to be pleasant. But Mihul had stated she would hold no grudges over a successful escape attempt; and even if they caught up with her again before she got to Manon, this attempt certainly had to be rated a technical success.
They might catch up, of course, Trigger thought. The Federation must have an enormous variety of means at its disposal when it set out seriously to locate one of its missing citizens. But the Dawn City would be some hours on its way before Mihul even began to think coherently again. She'd spread the alarm then, but it should be a while before they started to suspect Trigger had left the planet. Maccadon was her home world, after all. If she'd just wanted to hole up, that was where she would have had the best chance to do it successfully.
Evalee, the first Hub stop, was only nine hours' flight away; Garth lay less than five hours beyond Evalee. After that there was only the long subspace run to Manon...
They'd have to work very fast to keep her from leaving the Hub this time!
Trigger glanced over at the Denton lying by the bedside ComWeb on a little table at the head of the divan-thing. She was aware of a feeling of great contentment, of growing relaxation. She closed her eyes.
By and large, she thought — all things considered — she hadn't come off badly among the cloak and dagger experts! She was on her way to Manon.
Some hours later she slept through the Dawn City's thunderous take-off.
When she woke up next she was in semi-darkness. But she knew where she was and a familiar feeling of low-weight told her the ship was in flight. She sat up.
At her motion, the area about her brightened, and the cabin grew visible again. It was rather large, oval-shaped. There were three closed doors in the walls, and the walls themselves were light amber, of oddly insubstantial appearance. A rosy tinge was flowing up from the floor level through them, and as the color surged higher and deepened, there came an accompanying stir of far-off, barely audible music. The don't-disturb sign still reflected dimly from the interior panels of the passage door. Trigger found its control switch on the bedstand and shut it off.
At once a soft chiming sounded from the miniature ComWeb on the bedstand. Its screen filled with a pulsing glow, and there was a voice.
"This is a recording, Miss Drellgannoth," the voice told her. "If Room Service may intrude with an audio message, please be so good as to touch the blue circle at the base of your ComWeb."
Trigger touched the blue circle. "Go ahead," she invited.
"Thank you, Miss Drellgannoth," said the voice. "For the duration of the voyage your personal ComWeb will he opened to callers, for either audio or visual intrusion, only by your verbal permission or by your touch on the blue circle."
It stopped. Another voice picked up. "This is your Personal Room Stewardess, Miss Drellgannoth. Forgive the intrusion, but the ship will dive in one hour. Do you wish to have a rest cubicle prepared?"
"No, thanks," Trigger said. "I'll stay awake."
"Thank you, Miss Drellgannoth. As a formality and in accordance with Federation regulations, allow me to remind you that Federation Law does not permit the bearing of personal weapons by passengers during a dive."
Her glance went to the Denton. "All right," she said. "I won't. It's because of dive hallucinations, I suppose?"
"Thank you very much, Miss Drellgannoth. Yes, it is because of the misapprehensions which may be caused by dive hallucinations. May I be of service to you at this time? Perhaps you would like me to demonstrate the various interesting uses of your personal ComWeb Cabinet?"
Trigger's eyes shifted to the far end of the cabin. A rather large, very elegant piece of furniture stood there. Its function hadn't been immediately obvious, but she had heard of ComWeb Service Cabinets.
She thanked the stewardess but declined the offer. The lady switched off, apparently a trifle distressed at not having discovered anything Birna Drellgannoth's personal stewardess might do for Birna right now.
Trigger went curiously over to the cabinet. It opened at her touch and she sat down before it, glancing over its panels. A remarkable number of uses were indicated, which might make it confusing to the average Hub citizen. But she had been trained in communications, and the service cabinet was as simple as any gadget in its class could get.
She punched in the ship's location diagram. The Dawn City was slightly more than an hour out of Ceyce Port, but it hadn't yet cleared the subspace nets which created interlocking and impenetrable fields of energy about the Maccadon System. A ship couldn't dive in such an area without risking immediate destruction; but the nets were painstakingly maintained insurance against a day when subspace warfare might again explode through the Hub.
Trigger glanced over the diagrammed route ahead. Evalee... Garth. A tiny green spark in the far remoteness of space beyond them represented Manon's sun.
Eleven days or so. With the money to afford a rest cubicle, the time could be cut to a subjective three or four hours.
But it would have been foolish anyway to sleep through the one trip on a Hub luxury liner she was ever likely to take in her life.
She set the cabinet to a review of the Dawn City's passenger facilities, and was informed that everything would remain at the disposal of waking passengers throughout all dives. She glanced over bars, fashion shows, dining and gaming rooms. The Cascade Plunge, from the looks of it, would have been something for Mihul... "Our Large Staff of Traveler's Companions" — just what she needed. The Solido Auditorium. "...and the Inferno — our Sensations Unlimited Hall." A dulcet voice informed her regretfully that Federation Law did not permit the transmission of full SU effects to individual cabins. It did, however, permit a few sample glimpses. Trigger took her glimpses, sniffed austerely, switched back to the fashions.
There had been a neat little black suit on display there. While she didn't intend to start roaming about the ship until it dived and the majority of her fellow travelers were immersed in their rest cubicles, she probably still would be somewhat conspicuous in her Automatic Sales dress on a boat like the Dawn City. That little black suit hadn't looked at all expensive
"Twelve hundred forty-two Federation credits?" she repeated evenly a minute later. "I see!"
Came to roughly eight hundred fifty Maccadon crowns, was what she saw.
"May we model it in your suite, madam?" the store manager inquired.
"No, thanks," Trigger told her. "Just looking them over a bit." She switched off, frowned absently at a panel labeled "Your Selection of Personalized Illusion Arrangements," shook her head, snapped the cabinet shut and stood up. It looked like she had a choice between being conspicuous and staying in her cabin and playing around with things like the creation of illusion scenes.
And she was really a little old for that kind of entertainment.
She opened the door to the narrow passageway outside the cabin and glanced tentatively along it. It was very quiet here. One of the reasons this was the cheapest cabin they'd had available presumably was that it lay outside of the main passenger areas. To the right the corridor opened on a larger hall which ran past a few hundred yards of storerooms before it came to a stairway. At the head of the stairway, one came out eventually on one of the passenger levels. To the left the corridor ended at the door of what seemed to be the only other cabin in this section.
Trigger looked back toward the other cabin.
"Oh," she said. "Well... hello."
The other cabin door stood open. A rather odd-looking little person sat in a low armchair immediately inside it. She had lifted a thin, green-sleeved arm in a greeting or beckoning gesture as Trigger turned.
She repeated the gesture now. "Come here, girl!" she called amiably in a quavery old-woman voice.
Well, it couldn't do any harm. Trigger put on her polite smile and walked down the hall toward the open door. A quite tiny old woman it was, with a head either shaved or naturally bald, dressed in a kind of dark-green pajamas. Long glassy earrings of the same color pulled down the lobes of her small ears. The oddness of the face was due mainly to the fact that she wore a great deal of make-up, and that the make-up was a matching green.
She twisted her head to the left as Trigger came up, and chirped something. Another woman appeared behind the door, almost a duplicate of the first, except that this one had gone all out for pink. Tiny things. They both beamed up at her.
Trigger beamed back. She stopped just outside the door.
"Greetings," said the pink one.
"Greetings," Trigger replied, wondering what world they came from. The style wasn't exactly like anything she'd seen before.
"We," the green lady informed her with a not unkindly touch of condescension, "are with the Askab of Elfkund."
"Oh!" said Trigger in the tone of one who is impressed. Elfkund hadn't rung any bells.
"And with whom are you, girl?" the pink one inquired.
"Well," Trigger said, "I'm not actually with anybody."
The smiles faded abruptly. They glanced at each other, then looked back at Trigger. Rather severely, it seemed.
"Did you mean," the green one asked carefully, "that you are not a retainer?"
Trigger nodded. "I'm from Maccadon," she explained. "The name is Birna Drellgannoth."
"Maccadon," the pink one repeated. "You are a commoner then, young Birna?"
"Of course she is!" The green one looked offended. "Maccadon!" She got out of her chair with remarkable spryness and moved to the door. "It's quite drafty," she said, looking pointedly past Trigger. The door closed on Trigger's face. A second later, she heard the lock snap shut. A moment after that, the don't-disturb sign appeared.
Well, she thought, wandering back to her cabin, it didn't look as if she were going to be bothered with excessively friendly neighbors on this trip.
She had a bath and then discovered a mechanical stylist in a recess beside the bathroom mirror. She swung the gadget out into the room, set it for a dye removal operation and sat down beneath it. A redhead again a minute or so later, she switched the machine to Orado styles and left it to make up its electronic mind as to what would be the most suitable creation under the circumstances.
The stylist hovered above her for over a minute, muttering and clucking as it conducted an apparently disapproving survey of the job. Then it went swiftly and silently to work. When it shut itself off, Trigger checked the results in the mirror.
She wasn't too pleased. An upswept arrangement which brought out the bone structure of her face rather well but didn't do much else for her. Possibly the stylist had included the Automatic Sales dress in its computations.
Well, it would have to do for her first tour of the ship.
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