She was sitting in a cushiony deep chair; there was a belt around her waist, and her hands were fastened to the belt on either side. There was a tick in her right eyelid. Other nerves jerked noticeably here and there. The man who’d addressed her stood a few feet away. Another man, who wore a gold-trimmed blue uniform, sat at an instrument console farther up in the compartment. He’d swung around in his chair to look at her. This was a spaceyacht; and that splendid globe of magenta fire in the screen might be a sun she’d seen before.
“Nerves jumping,” she said in reply to the question. She ran the tip of her tongue over her lips. “And thirsty. This is the Rasolmen System?”
The uniformed man laughed and turned back to the console. The other one smiled. “Good guess, Miss Argee! You’re obviously awake at last. You had me worried for a while.”
“I did?” Trigger said. He’d shoved back the flap of his jacket as he spoke, and she had a glimpse of a gun fastened to his belt.
“It was that knockout method we used on you,” he explained. “it’s one of the safest known, but in about one out of every three hundred cases, you can run into side effects. You happen to be that kind of case. Frankly, there were a couple of times I wasn’t too sure you mightn’t be going into fatal convulsions. But you should be all right now.” He added, “My name is Wrann. Detective by profession. I’m the man responsible for picking you up—also for delivering you in good condition to my employer. You’ll understand my concern.”
“Yes, I do,” Trigger said. “How did you find me so quickly?”
He smiled. “Good organization—and exceptionally good luck! We had your description; and you’d been lunching at Wehall’s. There was a chance you were among the store’s listed customers. We ran your description against the list in the Wehall computer and had a definite identification in no time at all.”
“I thought that list was highly confidential,” said Trigger.
Wrann looked somewhat smug. “Few things remain confidential when you come up with enough money. You were expensive, but I’d been told to find you and a certain box, and find both fast, and ignore the cost. We’d thrown in a small army of professionals; but, as it turned out, you’d selected one of the first hotels we hit with your pictures and name. The name was no help. The pictures were. That identification came high, and the suite keys higher, but we got both. We were taking you out of there minutes later.”
“What was hotel security doing all that time?”
Wrann grinned. “Looking the other way. Amazing, isn’t it, in a fine establishment like that? Enough money usually does it. You were very expensive, Miss Argee. But my employer hasn’t complained. And now we’ve almost reached our destination. Feel able to walk?”
Trigger moved her elbows. “If you’ll take this thing off me.”
“In a moment.” The detective helped her stand up, nodded at a passage behind them. “We had a comfortable little cell ready for you, but I was keeping you up front as long as you were in trouble and conceivably could need emergency treatment to pull you through. You’ll find drinking water in the cell. If you’ll do me the favor, you might straighten yourself out a bit then, before I hand you over at the satellite. You look rather rumpled.”
She nodded. “All right. Did you bring along my makeup kit?”
“I brought along whatever you had at the hotel,” Wrann said. “But I was told to keep your property together. You’ll find a kit in the cell.”
There were two barred cells then, facing each other at the end of the passage. Trigger stopped short when she saw who was in one of them. Wrann chuckled.
“Surprise, eh?” he said. “My employer also wants to see Mr. Blethro. Mr. Blethro was reluctant to make the trip. But here he is.”
He unlocked the door to the other cell and slid it back, while Blethro stared coldly at Trigger. Wrann motioned her in, shut the door and locked it. “Now, if you’ll back up to the bars—”
Trigger moved up to the door, and Wrann reached through the bars, unfastened the belt from around her waist and freed her wrists. “If you need anything, call out,” he said. “Otherwise I’ll be back after we’ve docked.” He went off down the passage to the front of the yacht.
Trigger drank a cup of water thoughtfully, returned to the cell door. Blethro sat on a chair, moody regard fixed on the floor. The yellow moustache drooped. She heard Wrann say something to the pilot in the forward compartment. The pilot laughed.
“Blethro!” Trigger said softly.
Blethro gave her a brief, unpleasant glance, resumed his study of the floor.
Trigger said, “Are you in trouble with whoever it is we’re being taken to see?”
Blethro growled something impolite.
“It is my business,” Trigger said. “I know how we can get out of this. Both of us.”
* * *
He lifted his head, moustache twitching with sudden interest. “How?”
“You heard what Wrann said about that knockout stuff they used on me?”
“Some of it,” Blethro acknowledged. “I heard you earlier.”
“Oh? What were the sound effects?”
Blethro considered, watching her. “Someone choking to death. Gasps—hoarse! Groaning, too.”
“Fine!” said Trigger. “And I’ll now have some dandy convulsions right here in this cell. As soon as I start, yell for Wrann. If I can get his gun and keys, we’ll go after the pilot next.”
Blethro stared at her a moment longer, grinned abruptly.
“Why not?” he said. “I’ve become inconvenient to them—I’ve got nothing to lose.” He stood up, came over to the bars of his cell. “You might even do it! But you’d better be quick. Wrann’s a tough boy—tougher than he looks.”
Trigger raked fingernails down the side of her face and dropped to the floor. Blethro bellowed, “Wrann! Better have a look at that girl! She’s throwing a fit or something!”
Footsteps pounded along the passage before he finished. Trigger, contorting, eyes drawn wide, clutching her throat, breath rasping, heard Wrann’s shocked curse. Then the bars rattled as the cell door slid open. Wrann came down on his knees beside her, reaching for an inner coat pocket.
Trigger’s right hand speared stiffly into his throat. Wrann’s head jerked back. She turned up on her left elbow, slashed her hand edge across the bridge of his nose, saw his eyes glaze, gripped his head in both hands, hauled him down across her and rammed his skull against the floor. Wrann made a gurgling sound.
Stunned but not out. His gun first—and she had it, hearing the pilot call, “Need some help back there, Wrann?” and Blethro’s, “No—he’s handling her all right!” as she squirmed out from under Wrann’s weight and got to her knees. Wrann clamped a hand around her ankle then, pushing himself up from the floor; and she twisted around and laid the gun barrel along the side of his head. That was enough for Wrann. He dropped back, face down; and Trigger came to her feet.
She went quickly over to the cell door, Blethro watching in silence. Wrann’s key was in the lock. Trigger took it out, glanced along the passage. She couldn’t see the pilot from the door; but he could see the passage and anyone in it if he was at the console and happened to look around. She whispered, “Catch!” and Blethro nodded quickly and comprehendingly and put a big cupped hand out between the bars. She tossed the key over to him. He caught it. A moment later, he had his cell door unlocked and drew it cautiously open far enough to let him through.
They slipped out into the passage together. The pilot sat at his console, back turned toward them. Blethro muttered, “Better let me take the gun!”
“I can handle it.” Trigger eased off the gun’s safety, indicated Wrann. “Lock him in if you can do it quietly. But wait till I’m in the control section.”
* * *
She started off down the passage without waiting for his reply. She wasn’t exactly trusting Blethro. Her own gun would have been preferable, but if her luck held, shooting wouldn’t be necessary anyway. The magenta sun was sliding upward out of the yacht’s screen; the pilot was using his instruments. She came up steadily behind him.
He reached out, pulled over a lever, then leaned back in his chair and stretched. “Wrann?” he called lazily. He turned, beginning to get out of the chair, saw Trigger ten feet away, gun pointed. He stared.
“Get up slowly,” she told him. “That’s right. Now keep your hands up and go over to the wall.”
She knew Blethro had entered the compartment; now he came into view on her right. He grinned. “I’ll check him.”