Torai broke off.
Barely fifteen feet between them, Trigger had been thinking. She could be out of her chair and across that distance in an instant. Attuk sat a good eight yards away. Perr Hasta, relaxed, chair tilted back against the wall, could do nothing to interfere.
Then, with the carving knife held against the brown neck of Torai Sebaloun, and Torai herself held clamped back against Trigger, they could bargain. Torai was in charge here; and whether it was insanity that had been speaking or an entity which, in fact, could make another’s body its own, Torai obviously placed a high value on her life. She could keep it, on Trigger’s conditions.
So, as Torai seemed about to conclude the outline of her plans for Trigger, Trigger came out of the chair.
She’d almost reached Torai when something stopped her. It was neither solid barrier nor energy screen; there was no jolt, no impact—all she felt was its effect. She could come no closer to Torai, whose face showed startled consternation and who’d raised her hands defensively. Instead, she was being forced steadily away. Then she was lifted into the air, held suspended several feet above the carpet, and something pulled at her right arm, drawing it straight out to the side. She realized the pull was on the blade of the knife she still held; and she let go of it, which was preferable to getting her fingers broken or having her arm hauled out of its socket by what she knew now must be an interacting set of tractor beams. The knife was flicked away and dropped lightly to the surface of the little lunch table.
Torai Sebaloun was smiling again. Her hands remained slightly raised, fingers curled, knuckles turned forward, toward Trigger; and all those glittering rings on her fingers clearly had a solid functional purpose.
“Quick! Oh, she was quick!” Perr Hasta was saying delightedly. “You were right about her, Torai!”
“Yes, I was right.” Torai didn’t turn her eyes away from Trigger. “And still she was almost able to take me by surprise! Trigger, it was obvious from what we’d learned about you that at some early moment you’d try to make me your hostage. Well, you’ve tried!”
* * *
Her fingers shifted. Trigger was carried back across the room, still held clear of the carpet, lowered and set on the edge of a couch against the far wall. The intangible beam complex released her suddenly; and Torai dropped her hands and stood up.
“The transfer is made easier by suitable preparations,” she said, “and they’ve now begun. It’s why I told you what I did. A personality that knows what is happening is more readily expelled than one which has remained unaware and unsuspecting until the last moment. You may not yet believe it’s going to happen, but you won’t be able to avoid thinking about it; and that’s enough to provide a satisfactory level of uncertainty. Meanwhile, be at liberty to discover how helpless you are here, in fact, in every way. I’ll be engaged in sensitizing myself to the personal articles I had brought to the satellite with you.”
Perr Hasta also had come to her feet. “Then I can go to Blethro now?”
Torai shrugged. “Why not?”
She turned toward a door. Perr Hasta darted across the room to another door, pulled it open and was gone through it. Attuk got out of his chair, glanced at Trigger and smiled lazily as he started toward a hallway.
Somewhat incredulously, Trigger realized that they were leaving her here by herself. She watched Torai open the door, got a brief glimpse of the room beyond it before Torai shut it again. Attuk had gone off down the hall.
She looked around. The lunch table was sinking through the richly patterned carpet, accompanied by the chair she’d used. Both were gone before she could make a move to recover the knife. The seascape Attuk had studied shut itself off. The chair on which Torai had been sitting followed the example of the lunch table. The one used by Perr Hasta moved ten feet out from the wall, did a sharp quarter turn to the left and remained where it was. The green and gold room was rearranging itself, now that three of its four occupants had left.
Possibly she didn’t rate as an occupant of sufficient significance to be considered. Trigger got up from the couch and started toward the door left open by Perr Hasta. She glanced around as she got there. The couch had flattened down and was withdrawing into the wall.
From the doorway, she looked out at a vast sweep of wilderness—a plain dotted with sparse growth, lifting gradually to a distant mountain range. Somewhat more than a hundred yards away, Perr Hasta was running lightly toward a great sloping boulder. A dark rectangle at the base of the boulder suggested a recessed entrance.
Blethro was there? What was this place?
Perr Hasta could answer that. Trigger set off in pursuit.
She checked almost at once. For an instant, as she came through the door, she’d had the impression of the curving walls of a large metallic domed structure, in which the door was set, on either side of her. Then the impression vanished; and, looking back in momentary bewilderment, she saw neither structure nor door, but only the continuation of the great plain on which she stood.
No time to ponder it. Perr Hasta already was halfway to the boulder. Trigger started out again—and, within a hundred steps, she again slowed to a stop, rather abruptly. What halted her this time was the sudden appearance of a sheet of soft, rosy light in the air directly ahead. She’d come up to a force screen. And the whole view beyond the screen had blurred out.
When she passed through the door leading from the green and gold room, she’d entered a maze, a series of stage settings blending a little of what was real with much more that was projected illusion. To the eye, the blending was undetectable, and other senses were played upon as skillfully. Force screens formed the dividing walls of the maze, unnoticed until one reached them, responding then with a soft glow which extended a few feet to right and left. Trigger would turn sideways to such a screen, feeling its slick coolness under her fingertips, and move on along it, accompanied by the glow. Perhaps within a dozen yards, the screen would be gone, and she’d find herself in another part of the maze with a different set of illusions about her—and, presently, other force screens to turn her in new directions.
She’d simply kept moving at first, trying to walk her way out, while she watched for anything that might be an indication to the pattern of the maze. One point became apparent immediately. She couldn’t go back the way she had come; the maze’s transfer mechanisms operated only in one direction. She passed through a forest glade where a light rain dewed her hair and sweater, and a minute later, was walking along the crest of a barren hill at night, seeing what might be city lights in the distance, while thunder growled overhead. Then a swamp steamed on either side and sent fog drifting across her path. Sounds accompanied her—animal voices, an ominous rustling in a thicket, sudden loud splashes. Something else soon became established: nothing had been left lying carelessly around here that might be considered a weapon. Trigger saw stones of handy size and broken branches, but they were illusion. Vegetation that wasn’t illusion was artificial stuff which bent but wouldn’t break. She hadn’t been able to pull off even a leaf or pry loose a tuft of springy moss.
The settings presently took on an increasingly bizarre aspect. A grotesquely costumed bloated corpse swung by its neck from a tree branch, turning slowly as Trigger went by below. Immediately afterwards, she was in a place where she saw multiple replicas of herself all about, placed in other scenes. In one, she swayed in death beside the bloated horror, suspended from the same branch. In another, she strode across a desert, unaware of a gaunt gray shape moving behind her. An on-the-spot computer composition, initiated by her appearance in this part of the maze—
A few minutes later, she sat down on a simulated beach. There was nothing bizarre here. The white sand was real, and water appeared to sweep lazily up it not many yards away. Sea smells were in the windy air; and there were faint sounds which seemed to come from flying creatures circling far out above the water.
The maze section she’d just emerged from was one she’d passed through before. The illusion view had been new, but she’d recognized the formation of the ground. And when she’d gone through it before, she hadn’t come out on the beach.
So the maze wasn’t a static construction. The illusion views could be varied and exchanged, and there might be easily thousands of such views available. The positions of force screens and transfer points could be shifted, and had begun to be shifted. The actual area of the maze might be quite limited; and still she could be kept moving around in it indefinitely. If she came near an exit point, she could be deflected past it back into the maze. In fact, nobody needed to be watching to take care of that. The controlling computer would maneuver her about readily enough if that was intended.