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The blackness in the room was complete. She spun the Denton to kill. There was silence around her and then a soft rustling at some distance. It might have been the cautious shuffle of a heavy foot over thick carpeting. It stopped again. Where was Lyad?
Her eyes shifted about, trying to pierce the darkness. Black-light, she thought. She said, "Lyad?"
"Yes?" Lyad's voice came easily in the dark. She might be standing about thirty feet away, at the far end of the room.
"Call your animal off," Trigger said quietly. "I don't want to kill it." She began moving in the direction from which Lyad had spoken.
"Pilli won't hurt you, Trigger," the Ermetyne said. "He's been sent in to disarm you, that's all. Throw your gun away and he won't even touch you." She laughed. "Don't bother shooting in my direction either! I'm not in the room any more."
Trigger stopped. Not because of what that hateful, laughing voice had said. But because in the dark about her a fresh, pungent smell was growing. The smell of ripe apples.
She moistened her lips. She whispered, "Pilli — keep away!" Eyeless, the dark would mean nothing to it. Seconds later, she heard the thing breathing.
She faced the sound. It stopped for a moment, then it came again. A slow animal breathing. It seemed to circle slowly to her left. After a little it stopped. Then it was coming toward her.
She said softly, almost pleadingly, "Pilli, stop! Go back, Pilli!"
Silence. Pilli's odor lay heavy all around. Trigger heard her blood drumming in her ears, and, for a second then, she imagined she could feel, like a tangible fog, the body warmth of the monster standing in the dark before her.
It wasn't imagination. Something like a smooth, heavy pad of rubber Closed around her right wrist and tightened terribly.
The Denton went off two, three, four times before she was jerked violently sideways, flung away, sent stumbling backward against some low piece of furniture and, sprawling, over it. The gun was lost.
As she scrambled dizzily to her feet, Pilli screamed. It was a thin, high, breathless sound like the screaming of a terrified human child. It stopped abruptly. And, as if that had been a signal, the room came full of light again.
Trigger blinked dazedly against the light. Virod stood before her, looking at her, a pair of opaque yellow goggles shoved up on his forehead. Black-light glasses. The golden-haired thing lay in a great shapeless huddle on the floor twenty feet to one side. She couldn't see her gun. But Virod held one, pointing at her.
Virod's other hand moved suddenly. Its palm caught the side of her face in a hefty slap. Trigger staggered dumbly sideways, got her balance, and stood facing him again. She didn't even feel anger. Her cheek began to burn.
"Stop amusing yourself, Virod!" It was Lyad's voice. Trigger saw her then, standing in a small half-opened door across the room, where a wall hanging had been folded away.
"She appeared to be in shock, First Lady," Virod explained blandly.
"Is Pilli dead?"
"Yes. I have her gun. He got it from her." Virod slapped a pocket of his jacket, and some part of Trigger's mind noted the gesture and suddenly came awake.
"So I saw. Well — too bad about Pilli. But it was necessary. Bring her here then. And be reasonably gentle." Lyad still sounded unruffled. "And put that gun in a different pocket, fool, or she'll take it away from you."
She looked at Trigger impersonally as Virod brought her to the little door, his left hand clamped on her arm just above the elbow.
She said, "Too bad you killed my expert, Trigger! We'll have to use a chemical approach now. Flam and Virod are quite good at that, but there will be some pain. Not too much, because I'll be watching them. But it will be rather undignified, I'm afraid. And it will take a great deal longer."
Tanned, tall, sinuous Flam stood in the small room beyond the door. Trigger saw a long, low, plastic-covered table, clamps and glittering gadgetry. That would have been where cold-fish Balmordan hadn't been able to make it against his mind-blocks finally. There was still one thing she could do. The yacht was orbiting.
"That sort of thing won't be at all necessary!" she said shakily. Her voice shook with great ease, as if it had been practicing it all along.
"No?" Lyad said.
"You've won," Trigger said resignedly. "I'll play along now. I'll show you how to open that handbag, to start with."
Lyad nodded. "How do you open it?"
"You have to press it in the right places. Have them bring it here. I'll show you."
Lyad laughed. "You're a little too eager. And much too docile, Trigger! Considering what's in that handbag, it's not at all likely it will detonate if we brightly hand it to you and let you start pressing. But something or other of a very undesirable nature would certainly happen! Flam—"
The tall redhead nodded and smiled. She went over to a wall cabinet, unlocked it and took out Repulsive's container.
Lyad said, "Put it on that shelf for the moment. Then bring me Virod's gun, and hers."
She laid the Denton on the shelf beside the handbag and kept Virod's gun in her hand.
"I'm afraid you'll have to go up on that table now, Trigger," she said. "If you've really decided to cooperate, it won't be too bad. And, by and by, you'll start telling us very exactly what should be done with that handbag. And a few other things."
She might have caught Trigger's expression then. She added dryly, "I was informed a few nights ago that you're quite an artist in rough-and-tumble tactics. So are Virod and Flam. So if you want to give Virod an opportunity to amuse himself a little, go right ahead!"
At that point, the graceful thing undoubtedly would have been to just smile and get up on the table. Trigger discovered she couldn't do it. She gave them a fast, silent, vicious tussle, mouth clenched, breathing hard through her nose. It was quite insanely useless. They weren't letting her get anywhere near Lyad. After Virod had amused himself a little, he picked her up and plunked her down on the table. A minute later, she was stretched out on it, face down, wrists and ankles secured with padded clamps to its surface.
Flam took a small knife and neatly slit the back of the Precol uniform open along the line of her spine. She folded the cloth away. Then Trigger felt the thin icy touches of some vanilla-smelling spray walk up her, ending at the base of her skull.
It wasn't so very painful; Lyad had told the truth about that. But presently it became extremely undignified. Then her thoughts were speeding up and slowing down and swirling around in an odd, confusing fashion. And at last her voice began to say things she didn't want it to say.
After this, there might have been a pause. She seemed to be floating up out of a small pool of sleep when Lyad's voice said somewhere, with cold fury in it: "There's nothing inside?"
A whole little series of memory-pictures popped up suddenly then, like a chain of firecrackers somebody had set off. They formed themselves into a pattern; and there the pattern was in Trigger's mind. She looked at it. Her eyes flew open in surprise. She began to laugh weakly.
Light footsteps came quickly over to her. "Where is that plasmoid, Trigger?"
The Ermetyne was in a fine, towering rage. She'd better say something.
"Ask the Commissioner," she said, mumbling it a little.
"It's wearing off, First Lady," said Flam. "Shall I?"
Trigger's thoughts went eddying away for a moment, and she didn't hear Lyad's reply. But then the vanilla smell was there again, and the thin icy touches. This time, they stopped abruptly, halfway.
And then there was a very odd stillness all around Trigger. As if everybody and everything had stopped moving together.
A deep, savage voice said, "I hope there'll be no trouble, folks. I just want her a lot worse than you do."
Trigger frowned in puzzlement. Next came an angry roar, some thumping sounds, a sudden sharp crack.
"Oops!" the deep voice said happily. "A little too hard, I'm afraid!"
Why, of course, Trigger thought. She opened her eyes and twisted her head around.
"Still awake, Trigger?" Quillan asked from the door of the room. He looked pleasantly surprised. There was a very large bell-mouthed gun in his hand.
That was an odd-looking little group in the doorway, Trigger felt. On his knees before Quillan was a fat, elderly man, blinking dazedly at her. He wore a brilliantly purple bath towel knotted about his loins and nothing else. It was a moment before she recognized Belchik Pluly. Old Belchy! And on the floor before Belchy, motionless as if in devout prostration, Virod lay on his face. Dead, no doubt. He shouldn't have got gay with Quillan.
"Yes," Trigger said then, remembering Quillan's question. "I've got a very fast snap-back — but they fed me a fresh load of dope just a moment ago."
"So I saw," said Quillan. His glance shifted beyond Trigger.
"Lyad," he said, almost gently.
"Yes, Quillan?" Lyad's voice came from the other side of Trigger. Trigger turned her head toward it. Lyad and Flam both stood at the far side of the room. Their expressions were unhappy.
"I don't like at all," Quillan said, "what's been going on here. Not one bit! Which is why Big Boy got the neck broken finally. Can the rest of us take a hint?"
"Certainly," the Ermetyne said.
"So the Flam girl quits ogling those guns on the shelf and stays put, or they'll amputate a leg. First Lady, you come up to the table and get Trigger unclamped."
Trigger realized her eyes had fallen shut again. She left them that way for the moment. There was motion near her, and the wrist clamps came off in turn. Lyad moved down to her feet.
"The fancy-looking little gun is Trigger's?" Quillan inquired.
"Yes " said Lyad.
"Is that what happened to Pilli and the other gent out there?"
"Imagine!" said Quillan thoughtfully. "Uh — got something to seal up the clothes?"
"Yes " Lyad said. "Bring it here, Flam."
"Toss it, Flam!" cautioned Quillan. "Remember the leg."
Lyad's hands did things to the clothes at her back. Then they went away.
"You can sit up now, Trigger!" Quillan's voice informed her loudly. "Sort of slide down easy off the table and see if you can stand."
Trigger opened her eyes, twisted about, slid her legs over the edge of the table, came down on her feet, stood.
"I want my gun and the handbag," she announced. She saw them again then, on the shelf, walked over and picked up the plasmoid container. She looked inside, snapped it shut and slung the strap over her shoulder. She picked up the Denton, looked at its setting, spun it and turned.
"First Lady—" she said.
Lyad went white around the lips. Quillan made some kind of startled sound. Trigger shot.
Flam ran at her then, screaming, arms waving, eyes wild and green like an animal's. Trigger half turned and shot again.
She looked at Quillan. "Just stunned," she explained. She waited.
Quillan let his breath out slowly. "Glad to bear it!" He glanced down at Pluly. "Purse was open," be remarked significantly.
"Uh-huh," Trigger agreed.
She laughed. "Safe and sound! Believe me."
"Good," he said. He still looked somewhat puzzled. "Put the eye on Belchy for a few seconds then. We're taking Lyad along. I'll have to carry her now."
"Right," Trigger said. She felt rather jaunty at the moment. She put the eye on Belchik. Belchik moaned.
They started out of the little room, Pluly in the van, clutching his towel. The Ermetyne, dangling loosely over Quillan's left shoulder, looked fairly gruesomely dead. "You walk this side of me, Trigger," Quillan said. "Still all right?"
She nodded. "Yes." Actually she wasn't, quite. It was mainly a problem with her thoughts, which showed a tendency now to move along in odd little leaps and bounds, with short stops in between, as if something were trying to freeze them up. But if it was going to be like the first time, she should last till they got to wherever they were going.
Halfway across the big room, she saw the golden thing like a huge furry sack on the carpet and shivered. "Poor Pilli!" she said.
"Alas!" Quillan said politely. "I gather you didn't just stun Pilli?"
She shook her head. "Couldn't," she said. "Too big. Too fast."
"How about the other one?"
"Oh, him. Stunned. He's an investigator. They thought he was dead, though. That's what scared Lyad and Flam."
"Yeah," Quillan said thoughtfully. "It would."
Another section of wall hanging had folded aside, and a wide door stood open behind it. They went through the door and turned into a mirrored passageway, Pluly still tottering rapidly ahead. "Might keep that gun ready, Trigger," Quillan warned. "We just could get jumped here. Don't think so, though. They'd have to get past the Commissioner."
"Oh, he's here, too?"
She didn't hear what Quillan answered, because things faded out around then. When they faded in again, the passageway with the mirrors had disappeared, and they were coming to the top of a short flight of low, wide stairs and into a very beautiful room. This room was high and long, not very wide. In the center was a small square swimming pool, and against the walls on either side was a long row of tall square crystal pillars through which strange lights undulated slowly. Trigger glanced curiously at the nearest pillar. She stopped short.
"Galaxy!" she said, startled.
Quillan reached back and grabbed her arm with his gun hand. "Keep moving, girl! That's just how Belchik keeps his harem grouped around him when he's working. Not too bad an idea — it does cut down the chatter. This is his office."
"Office!" Then she saw the large business desk with prosaic standard equipment which stood on the carpet on the other side of the pool. They moved rapidly past the pool, Quillan still hauling at her arm. Trigger kept staring at the pillars they passed. Long-limbed, supple and languid, they floated there in their crystal cages, in tinted, shifting lights, eyes closed, hair drifting about their faces.
"Awesome, isn't it?" Quillan's voice said.
"Yes," said Trigger. "Awesome. One in each — he is a pig! They look drowned."
"He is and they aren't," said Quillan. "Very lively girls when he lets them out. Now around this turn and... oops!"
Pluly had reached the turn at the end of the row of pillars, moaned again and fallen forwards.
"Fainted!" Quillan said. "Well, we don't need him any more. Watch your step, Trigger — dead one just behind Pluly."
Trigger stretched her stride and cleared the dead one behind Pluly neatly. There were three more dead ones lying inside the entrance to the next big room. She went past them, feeling rather dreamy. The sight of a squat, black subtub parked squarely on the thick purple carpeting ahead of her, with its canopy up, didn't strike her as unusual. Then she saw that the man leaning against the canopy, a gun in one hand, was Commissioner Tate. She smiled.
She waved her hand at him as they came up. "Hi, Holati!"
"Hi, yourself," said the Commissioner. He asked Quillan, "How's she doing?"
"Not bad," Quillan said. "A bit ta-ta at the moment. Double dose of ceridim, by the smell of it. Had a little trouble here, I see."
"A little," the Commissioner acknowledged. "They went for their guns."
"Very uninformed gentlemen," said Quillan. He let Lyad's limp form slide off his shoulder, and bent forward to lower her into the subtub's back seat. Trigger had been waiting for a chance to get into the conversation.
"Just who," she demanded now, frowning, "is a bit ta-ta at the moment?"
"You," said Quillan. "You're doped, remember? You'll ride up front with the Commissioner. Here." He picked her up, plasmoid purse and all, and set her down on the front seat. Holati Tate, she discovered then, was already inside. Quillan swung down into the seat behind her. The canopy snapped shut above.
The Commissioner shifted the tub's controls. In the screens, the room outside vanished. A darkness went rushing downwards past them.
A thought suddenly popped to mind again, and Trigger burst into tears. The Commissioner glanced over at her.
"What's the matter, Trigger girl?"
"I'm so s-sorry I killed Pilli. He s-screamed."
Then her mind froze up with a jolt, and thinking stopped completely. Quillan reached over the back of the seat and eased her over on her side.
"Got to her finally!" he said. He sat down again. He brooded a moment. "She shouldn't get so disturbed about that Pilli thing," he remarked then. "It couldn't have lived anyway."
"Eh?" the Commissioner said absently, watching the screens. "Why not?"
"Its brains," Quillan explained, "were too far apart."
The Commissioner blinked. "It's getting to you too, son!" he said.
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