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Chapter 11

 

The bedside ComWeb warned her politely that it was now ten minutes to dive point. Waking passengers who experienced subspace distress in any form could obtain immediate assistance by a call on any ComWeb. If they preferred, they could have their cabins kept under the continuous visual supervision of their personal steward or stewardess.

The Dawn City's passenger areas still looked rather well populated when Trigger arrived. But some of the passengers were showing signs of regretting their decision to stay awake. Presently she became aware of a faint queasiness herself.

It wasn't bad — mainly a sensation as if the ship were trying continuously to turn over on its axis around her and not quite making it — and she knew from previous experience that after the first hour or so she would be completely free of that. She walked into a low, dimly lit, very swank-looking gambling room, still well patronized by the hardier section of her fellow travelers, searching for a place where she could sit down unobtrusively for a while and let the subspace reaction work itself out.

A couch beside a closed door near the unlit end of the room seemed about right for the purpose.

Trigger sat down and glanced around. There were a variety of games in progress, all unfamiliar to her. The players were mostly men, but a remarkable number of beautiful women, beautifully gowned, stood around the tables as observers. Traveler's Companions, Trigger realized suddenly — the Dawn City's employees naturally would be inured to subspace effects. From the scraps of talk she could pick up, the stakes seemed uniformly high.

A swirl of vertigo suddenly built up in her again. This one was stronger than most; for a moment she couldn't be sure whether she was going to be sick or not. She stood up, stepped over to the door a few feet away, pulled it open and went through, drawing it shut behind her.

There had been a shielding black-light screen in the doorway. On the other side was bottled sunshine.

She found herself on a long balcony which overlooked a formal garden enclosure thirty feet below. There was no one else in sight. She leaned back against the wall beside the door, closed her eyes and breathed slowly and deeply for some seconds. The sickish sensation began to fade.

When she opened her eyes again, she saw the little yellow man.

He stood motionless at the far end of the garden, next to some flowering shrubbery out of which he might have just stepped. He seemed to be peering along the sand path which curved in toward the balcony and vanished beneath it, below the point where Trigger stood.

It was sheer fright which immobilized her at first. Because there was not anything really human about that small, squat, man-shaped figure. A dwarfish yellow demon he seemed, evil and menacing. The garden, she realized suddenly, might be an illusion scene. Or else—

The thing moved in that instant. It became a blur of motion along the curving path and disappeared under the balcony. After a second or so she heard the sound of a door closing, some distance away. The garden lay still again.

Trigger stayed where she was, her knees shaking a little. The fright appeared to have driven every trace of nausea out of her, and gradually her heartbeat began to return to normal. She took three cautious steps forward to the balcony railing, where the tip of a swaying green tree branch was in reach.

She put her hand out hesitantly, felt the smooth vegetable texture of a leaf, grasped it, pulled it away. She moved back to the door and examined the leaf. It was a quite real leaf. Thin sap formed a bead of amber moisture at the break in the stalk as she looked at it.

No illusion structure could be elaborated to that extent.

So she'd just had her first dive hallucination — and it had been a dilly!

Trigger dropped the leaf, pushed shakily at the balcony door, and stepped back through the black-light screen into the reassuring murmur of human voices in the gambling room.

An hour later, the ship's loudspeaker system went on. It announced that the Dawn City would surface in fifteen minutes because of gravitic disturbances, and proceed the rest of the way to Evalee in normal space, arriving approximately five hours behind schedule. Rest cubicle passengers would not be disturbed, unless this was specifically requested by a qualified associate.

Trigger turned her attention back to her viewer, feeling rather relieved. She hadn't experienced any further hallucinations, or other indications of subspace distress; but the one she'd had would do her for a while. The little viewer library she was in was otherwise deserted, and she'd been going about her studies there just the least bit nervously.

Subject of the studies were the Hub's principal games of chance. She'd identified a few of those she'd been watching — and one of them did look as if someone who went at it with an intelligent understanding of the odds—

A part of Trigger kept tut-tutting and shaking its head at such reckless notions. But another part pointed out that they couldn't be much worse off financially than they were right now. So what if they arrived in Manon dead-broke instead of practically? Besides, there was the problem of remaining inconspicuous till they got there. On the Dawn City no one whose wardrobe was limited to one Automatic Sales dress was going to remain inconspicuous very long.

Trigger-in-toto went on calculating the odds for various possible play combinations. She developed her first betting system, presently discovered several holes in it, and began to develop another.

The loudspeaker system went on again. She was too absorbed to pay much attention to it at first. Then she suddenly straightened up and listened, frowning.

The man speaking now was the liner's First Security Officer. He was being very polite and regretful. Under Section such and such, Number so and so, of the Federation's Legal Code, a cabin-by-cabin search of the passenger area of the Dawn City had become necessary. The persons of passengers would not be searched. Passengers might, if they wished, be present while their cabins were inspected; but this was not required. Baggage need not be opened, providing its spy-proofing was not activated. Any information revealed by the search which did not pertain to a violation of the Code Section and Number in question would not be recorded and could not be introduced as future legal evidence under any circumstances. Complaints regarding the search could be addressed to any Planetary Moderator's office.

This wasn't good at all! Trigger stood up. The absence of luggage in her cabin mightn't arouse more than passing interest in the searchers. Her gun was a different matter. Discreet inquiries regarding a female passenger who carried a double-barreled sporting Denton might be one of the check methods used by the Scout Intelligence boys if they started thinking of liners which recently had left Maccadon in connection with Trigger's disappearance. There weren't likely to be more than two or three guns of that type on board, and it was almost certain that she would be the only woman who owned one.

She'd better go get the Denton immediately... and then vanish again into the public sections of the ship! Some Security officer with a good memory and a habit of noticing faces might identify her otherwise from the news viewer pictures taken on Manon.

And he just might start wondering then why she was traveling as Birna Drellgannoth — and start to check.

She paused long enough to get the Legal Code article referred to into the viewer.

Somebody on board appeared to have got himself murdered.

She reached the cabin too late. A couple of young Security men already were going over it. Trigger said hello pleasantly. It was too bad, but it wasn't their fault. They just had a job to do.

They smiled back at her, apologized for the intrusion and went on with their business. She sat down and watched them. The Denton was there in plain sight. Dropping it into her purse now would be more likely to fix it in their memory than leaving it where it was.

The gadgets they were using were in concealing casings, and she couldn't guess what they were looking for by the way they used them. It didn't seem that either of them was trying to haul up an identifying memory about her. They did look a little surprised when the second cabin closet was opened and found to be as empty as the first; but no comments were made about that. Two minutes after Trigger had come in, they were finished and bowed themselves out of the cabin again. They turned then toward the cabin occupied by the ancient retainers of the Askab of Elfkund.

Trigger left her door open. This she wanted to hear, if she could.

She heard. The Elfkund door also stayed open, while the racket beyond it grew shriller by the moment. Finally a ComWeb chimed. A feminine voice spoke sternly. The Quavering outcries subsided. It looked as if Security had been obliged to call on someone higher up in the Elfkund entourage to come to its aid. Trigger closed her door grinning.

On the screen of her secluded library, she presently watched a great port shuttle swing in from Evalee to meet the hovering Dawn City. It would bring another five hundred or so passengers on board and take off the few who had merely been making the short run from Maccadon to Evalee in style. Solidopic operators were quite likely to be on the shuttle, so she had decided to keep away from the entry area.

The transfer operation was carried out very expeditiously, probably to make up for some of the time lost on the surface. When the shuttle shoved off, the loudspeaker announced that normal space flight would be maintained till after the stopover at Garth. Trigger wandered thoughtfully back to her cabin. She closed the door behind her.

Then she saw the man sitting by the ComWeb cabinet. Her breath sucked in. She crouched a little, ready to wheel and bolt.

"Take it easy, Trigger!" Major Quillan said. He was in civilian clothes, of rather dudish cut.

Trigger swallowed. There was, too obviously, no place to bolt to. "How did you find me?"

He shrugged. "Longish story. You're not under arrest."

"I'm not?"

"No," said Quillan. "When we get to Manon, the Commissioner will have a suggestion to make to you."

"Suggestion?" Trigger said warily.

"I believe you're to take back your old Precol job in Manon, but as cover for your participation in our little project. If you agree to it."

"What if I don't?"

He shrugged again. "It seems you'll be writing your own ticket from here on out."

Trigger stared at him, wondering. "Why?"

Quillan grinned. "New instructions have been handed down," he said. "If you're still curious, ask Whatzzit."

"Oh," Trigger said. "Then why are you here?"

"I," said Quillan, "am to make damn sure you get to Manon. I brought a few people with me."

"Mihul, too?" Trigger asked, a shade diffidently.

"No. She's on Maccadon."

"Is she — how's she doing?"

"Doing all right," Quillan said. "She sends her regards and says a little less heft on the next solar plexus you torpedo should be good enough."

Trigger flushed. "She isn't sore, is she?"

"Not the way you mean." He considered. "Not many people have jumped Mihul successfully. In her cockeyed way, she seemed pretty proud of her student."

Trigger felt the flush deepen. "I got her off guard," she said.

"Obviously," said Quillan. "In any ordinary argument she could pull your legs off and tie you up with them. Still, that wasn't bad. Have you talked to anybody since you came on board?"

"Just the room stewardess. And a couple of old ladies in the next cabin."

"Yeah," he said. "Couple of old ladies. What did you talk about?"

Trigger recounted the conversation. He reflected, nodded and stood up.

"I put a couple of suitcases in that closet over there," he said. "Your personal stuff is in them, de-tracered. Another thing — somebody checked over your finances and came to the conclusion you're broke."

"Not exactly broke," said Trigger.

Quillan reached into a pocket, pulled out an envelope and laid it on the cabinet. "Here's a little extra spending money then," he said. "The balance of your Precol pay to date. I had it picked up on Evalee this morning. Seven hundred twenty-eight FC."

"Thanks," Trigger said. "I can use some of that."

They stood looking at each other.

"Any questions?" he asked.

"Sure," Trigger said. "But you wouldn't answer them."

"Try me, doll," said Quillan. "But let's shift operations to the fanciest cocktail lounge on this thing before you start. I feel like relaxing a little. For just one girl, you've given us a fairly rough time these last forty-eight hours!"

"I'm sorry," Trigger said.

"I'll bet," said Quillan.

Trigger glanced at the closet. If he'd brought everything along, there was a dress in one of those suitcases that would have been a little too daring for Maccadon. It should, therefore, be just about right for a cocktail lounge on the Dawn City; and she hadn't had a chance to wear it yet. "Give me ten minutes to change."

"Fine." Quillan started toward the door. "By the way, I'm your neighbor now."

"The cabin at the end of the hall?" she asked startled.

"That's right." He smiled at her. "I'll be back in ten minutes."

Well, that was going to be cozy! Trigger found the dress, shook it out and slipped into it, enormously puzzled but also enormously relieved. That Whatzzit!

Freshening up her make-up, she wondered how he had induced the Elfkund ladies to leave. Perhaps he'd managed to have a better cabin offered to them. It must be convenient to have that kind of a pull.

 

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