Unfortunately, they weren’t concerned with her needs of the moment. Nothing they offered was going to be of any help on the Sebaloun satellite. There must be some way of controlling the processes, but she didn’t know what it was. Verbal instructions produced no effect.
She came back presently to the green and gold room to which she’d been conducted when she came awake. The door through which Torai had gone was closed. Trigger glanced at it, went to the passage along which Attuk had disappeared. The first door she opened there showed a fully furnished room. Something like an ornate bird cage with a polished black nesting box inside was fastened to one wall about five feet above the floor; and standing in the cage, grasping a bar in either hand, and gazing wide-eyed at Trigger as she peered around the door, was Salgol.
She came quickly inside, drew the door shut and went to the cage. “Where are Smee and Runderin?”
Salgol nodded at the box. “In there. They’re afraid of these people!”
“I don’t blame them.” Trigger gave him a low-voiced condensed account of her experiences. Runderin and Smee came out of the box while she was talking, and Salgol passed the information on in the Marell language. “Do you think they really aren’t human?” he asked.
“I don’t know what to think,” Trigger admitted. “So far I’ve seen no evidence for it. But at any rate, it’s a bad situation because they control the satellite. They may not intend to harm you three physically.”
“We’d still be prisoners, and that’s bad enough,” Salgol said. “Isn’t there something we can do to help?”
“There might be. Let’s see if I can open the cage lock.”
The lock wouldn’t open, but Trigger found she could bend the bars with her hands. She pried two of them far enough apart to let Salgol squeeze through. “Now,” she said, “I know where Torai probably is keeping my gun. If you found it, do you think you could move it?”
“Perhaps not by myself. But two of us could.” Salgol spoke to his companions. They replied quickly in voices like miniature flutes. “They both want to help,” he told Trigger.
“Good. But if two of you can handle the gun, one of them will help best by staying in the cage.”
“To make it seem you’re all still there, in case someone comes into the room.”
Salgol spoke to his companions again, reported, “Runderin will come. She’s the stronger. Smee will stay.”
Runderin peeled out of her colorful but cumbersome outer clothes, and Salgol took off his purple coat. They arranged the clothing in the sleep box so it could be seen indistinctly by someone looking into the cage. Then the two squirmed out between the bent bars, and Trigger set them on the floor. She squeezed the bars back into place, gave Smee, who was now sitting on display in front of the box and looking rather forlorn, a reassuring smile, and left the room with two Marells tucked under her sweater.
The reduced furnishings in the green and gold room would have given her no place to hide; but Salgol and Runderin were quickly concealed behind chair cushions near the door Torai had used. From what Torai had said, Trigger’s personal belongings should be in the room beyond the door. If she came out and left the door open, the two would try to get the gun as soon as she was out of sight. If they found it, they’d hide it and wait for an opportunity to let Trigger know where it was.
With the gun, she might start to even up the odds around here rather quickly.
* * *
Trigger resumed her wary prowling. The Sebaloun residence remained silent. In empty-seeming rooms, the satellite’s mechanisms responded to her presence and produced the room equipment for inspection. She inspected, went on.
Then a door let her into a wide low hall. Not far ahead, the hall turned to the right; and on the far side of the turn was another door. Trigger stood listening a moment before she went down the hall, leaving the door open behind her. Thirty feet beyond the turn, the hall was open on a garden. She glanced over at it, went to the door in the far wall, and found it locked.
She’d had no intention of checking the garden, nor did she go into the branch of the hall that led to it. It seemed too likely it would prove to be another trick entry point to their playground maze. But as she came back to the door by which she’d entered the hall, she found it blocked by a force screen’s glow.
It sent a jolt of consternation through her, though it had been obvious that the satellite’s masters would act sooner or later to limit her freedom of motion. But if the only exit from the hall was now the garden, and if the garden was in fact part of the maze, she’d been driven back to her starting point. Venturing a second time into those shifting computer-controlled complexities would be like stepping deliberately into quicksand.
She went part way down the branch of the hall and looked out at the garden from there. It was of moderate size, balanced and beautiful, laid out in formal lines. A high semicircular wall enclosed it; and above the wall was the milky glow of a light dome. There was no suggestion of illusory distances.
It might be part of the residence, and not a trap. But Trigger decided she wouldn’t take a chance on it while she had a choice. If she stayed where she was, something or other must happen presently.
And then something did happen.
Abruptly, the figure of a man appeared on one of the garden paths, facing away from Trigger. He glanced quickly about, turned and took a few steps along the path before he caught sight of her.
It was Wrann, the Sebaloun detective who’d engineered her kidnapping in the Orado City hotel.
Trigger watched him approach. He showed marks of their encounter on the yacht—bruises around the eyes and a plastic bandage strip along the side of his head where she’d laid him out with the barrel of his gun. Wrann’s feelings toward her shouldn’t be the friendliest, but he was twisting his mouth into an approximation of a disarming grin as he came quickly through the garden toward her. He stepped up into the hall, stopping some twelve feet away. She relaxed slightly.
“I’ll be as brief about this as I can,” he said. “My employers haven’t forgiven me for nearly letting you and Blethro get away. I’m in as bad a position as you two now! I suggest we consider ourselves allies.”
“Somebody may be listening,” Trigger said.
“Not here,” Wrann told her. “I know the place. But they may find out at any time that I’m no longer locked up and block our chance of escape. Minutes could make the difference!”
“We have a chance of escape?”
“At the moment,” he said impatiently. “The delivery yacht we arrived in has left. It never stays long. But there’s a separate spacelock where Sebaloun keeps her private cruiser. Unfortunately, I found an armed guard there. I didn’t expect it because they rarely allow personnel on the satellite when they’re here themselves. Sebaloun may have considered the circumstances unusual enough to have made an exception. At any rate, the man is there. I didn’t let him see me. He knows me and isn’t likely to know I’m no longer Sebaloun’s trusted employee. But he’d check with her before letting me into the lock. So I came back to get a weapon.”
“You know where to find a weapon?”
“I know where Attuk keeps his guns. It seemed worth the risk of being seen.”
“It probably would be,” Trigger agreed. “But unless you can unlock that door over there, we can’t get into the residence from this hall. The other door’s sealed with a force screen. Or was, a few minutes ago, after I came out here.”
Wrann looked startled. “Let’s check on that!”
The force screen was still present; and Wrann said he didn’t have the equipment to unlock the other door. “I’m afraid we’ll have to forget about Attuk’s guns.”
“Why?” said Trigger. “You know your way around here. Can’t we go to another entry to the residence?”
Wrann shook his head. “I wouldn’t want to try it. The garden’s part of a mechanism they call their playground—”
“I’ve been there,” Trigger said. “A maze effect.”
“Yes, a maze effect. When somebody’s let into the maze unaccompanied by one of the residents, the controlling apparatus develops an awareness of the fact and begins to mislead and confuse the visitor.”
“How did you get through it just now?”
Wrann said, “I’ve been shown the way. I’ve had occasion to use it. And I didn’t stay in the playground long enough to activate the mechanisms significantly. Working around to another residence entry would be another matter!” He shook his head again. “We’d never make it.”