Hatzel said, “For the moment only. That’s Toru’s affair, not ours. As Lord of the Games, I’ll be attending the Regent’s ceremonial Glory Day dinner in the House of Wirolla tonight. So, I understand, will the Askab Casmard and his guests. Before the evening’s over, Casmard will have abdicated formally. The vacancy will be filled at the end of Glory Day.”
“Casmard’s an old friend of my family,” Telzey said. “If you’re determined to set yourselves up in Tamandun, you could make an arrangement with him. He isn’t much interested in remaining Askab. I’d see to it that he didn’t remember afterwards there’d been psis involved in the matter.”
Sams shook his head. “I’m afraid we can’t do that. It’s too late for it. We’re prepared to deal with Toru and the Servant of the Stone tomorrow. The manifestations we’ve scheduled will make it easy to do and we’ll have enthusiastic public approval. But it needs exact timing. We’ve made Toru’s plans for Casmard part of our plan. If Casmard were still alive and still Askab on Glory Day, everything would have to be revised. At best, we’d wind up with something less effective.”
“Aside from not interfering ourselves,” Hatzel added, “we must also, of course, make sure that no one else does—in any way! And while we know Miss Amberdon’s a telepath, it hasn’t yet been established what Miss Argee’s special abilities are.”
* * *
“I have no special psi abilities,” Trigger said shortly.
“Now that,” one of the other men remarked, “is an interesting lie. I’ve been attempting to probe that young woman’s shield since she entered the room. I can vouch for the fact that it’s an extraordinary psi structure—unanalyzable and of extreme resistive power.”
Trigger shrugged. “Somebody else developed the shield for me. I couldn’t have done it. Not that it makes any difference.”
Sams smiled at her. “I agree! And I’m sure you both realize that we can’t run the risk of letting you upset our plans. Once Glory Day’s over, it doesn’t matter what you do. We’ll be glad to see you safely off Askanam then, assuming Toru’s let you remain alive, which might seem rather doubtful if you won’t join forces with us. Until that time, at any rate you will have to allow the group to control what you say and do. It’s really the only safe way, isn’t it?”
“Forget it, Sams!” Telzey said. “Our screens stay tight.”
“Will they?” Sams said mildly. “I don’t like to put pressure on you, but we still have too much work to get done today to waste more time over this. . . .”
The room went quiet. Then a wave of heat washed over Telzey. It ebbed, returned, and intensified. Trigger gave her a quick, startled glance. Telzey shifted her shoulders.
“So you have a pyrotic with you,” she remarked.
Sams smiled. “We have several. Their range is excellent! Even if we allowed you to leave this room and building—though we won’t—you couldn’t get away from the effect. You don’t want your blood to start boiling, do you? Or find your hair and clothes catching fire—as a start?”
Trigger, sweat beginning to run down her face, looked at Telzey. “Do you know who’s doing it?”
Telzey nodded across the room.
“The tall thin man two seats left of Dovari.”
Trigger’s hand went to her cosmetics purse, and the gun made its abrupt appearance.
She said to the thin man, “I won’t kill you if this doesn’t stop immediately. But I’ll stun you so solidly you won’t have begun to come awake by the end of Glory Day. And it’ll be two weeks after that before your nerves stop jumping.”
The heat faded away. The group sat staring at Trigger. She jerked, made a choked sound of surprise, looked down at her hand. The gun had vanished from it.
Sams and a few of the others were laughing. Sams said, “Neat enough, Hatzel! Ladies, let’s stop this nonsense. Since you can’t win, why not give up gracefully? Telzey, you at least are aware you can both be killed in an instant as you’re sitting there.”
Telzey nodded. “Oh, I do know that, Sams. But I haven’t just been sitting here. I’ve found out Hatzel’s shielded, and, of course, all you telepaths have your psi shields. But six of your most valuable people aren’t shielded at all, and apparently couldn’t operate if they were. Six psi minds—wide open! It would take an instant to kill us, and you can be quite sure that in that instant you’d lose those six. So I don’t think you’ll try it.”
Sams stared at her. The others were silent a moment. Then one of the women said sharply, “Sams, she’s bluffing! You said she’s good, but between us all we certainly can block her as she strikes out. Then we can handle both of them as we wish.”
Sams shook his head slowly. “I wouldn’t care to count on it.”
Dovari said in a strained voice, “Nor I! And I don’t want to die while you’re finding out whether you can, or can’t, block her. Let them go, Sams! If they try to interfere, you can still deal with them in some other manner.”
Trigger glanced back at the closed building door behind them. She looked both furious and relieved. “What do we do now?” she muttered.
“Keep walking,” Telzey said. “Back to the Regent’s palace. And we walk rather fast until we reach those trees ahead. I’ve still got my contacts back there. Some talk going on . . . Hatzel seems to be second in command to Sams. So he’s a teleport—” She glanced at Trigger. “Too bad you lost your gun.”
“That’s not all I lost.”
“My underpants went with the gun.”
“Well,” Telzey said after a moment, “a minor demonstration, as Sams would say. A teleport at Hatzel’s level is a very dangerous person. He didn’t have to do that, of course. They were trying to make us feel helpless.”
Trigger nodded. “And it worked just fine with me! I’ve never felt more helpless in my life.” She looked over at Telzey. “Touch and go for a moment, wasn’t it? I didn’t think you were bluffing!”
“I wasn’t. A bluff like that wouldn’t have got past Sams.”
“What makes them that kind of people?” Trigger said. “With everything they can do—”
“That’s partly it. Most of that group are bored psis. They’ve used their abilities to make things too easy for themselves. It’s stupid but some do it. Now they’ve run out of fun and are looking for something new—almost anything that seems new.”
They’d reached the trees, were hurrying along a path leading through the grove. Trigger checked suddenly, glanced down at the cosmetics purse. She slapped it. The gun popped into her hand.
“Well!” she said. “I felt the weight in the purse just now.” She reached into the purse, pulled out a silky garment, shoved it into a pocket. “Briefs returned with the gun.” She bit her lip. “Perhaps I should feel grateful. Somehow I don’t!”
“Come on!” Telzey turned away, broke into a trot. “They did that to show you your gun doesn’t impress them at all. But now you have it back, you might get a chance to express your lack of appreciation to Hatzel. We’ll have to hurry!”
“What do you mean?”
“Can you set it to stun somebody for just a short time—a few minutes?”
“That’s a bit tricky, but, yes, I can. Five minutes, say.”
“Fine. Hatzel’s been called to the palace to talk to the Regent. He’ll be coming through the gardens on a scooter. If we get far enough ahead, we may be able to spot him and cut him off.”
“All right. And I stun him. Then?”
“That’s no telepath’s shield he’s using. It’s a gadget. And if the gadget’s the kind I think it is, I can open it and get to his mind before he comes around. Sams or somebody might realize what’s happening, of course. That’s a risk we’d better take. The quicker we get it over with, the less likely we are to be noticed.”
They crouched presently at the edge of a terrace, winded and hot from the run, shrubbery about them. “He might still turn off on another route,” Telzey remarked. “But it looks like he’ll be coming by here now, doesn’t it?”
Trigger nodded. “Seems to be heading this way.”
“That break in the bushes is the place to take him. How far will we have to work down to it?”
“We won’t. Right here is fine. He’s just chugging along.”
“That’s a good fifty yards, Trigger,” Telzey said doubtfully.
“And I’m a good fifty yards marksman. Some day I’ll have to teach you how to use a gun.”
“Perhaps you should. I never warmed up to guns. When I’ve had to use one, I just blasted away.”
“What are your contacts doing?”
“Back to rehearsing their Glory Day surprises. They’re not thinking about us at the moment. Sams might be, now and then. It’s hard to be sure about him. But we should be able to get away with this.”