T’nT Telzey & Trigger by James H. Schmitz

Trigger said, “We do have to go through the playground to get to the lock?”

“It’s the only way that isn’t blocked for us.” Wrann looked at her. “I can get us there. Between us, we shouldn’t need a weapon to take the guard.”

“You’re Torai’s detective; I’m the prisoner, eh?”

“Right. I’m to put you on the Sebaloun cruiser. You have your hands on your head. When we get to the guard, you create a diversion.” Wrann grinned sourly. “You’ll think of something! I jump the guard. We can be off the satellite two minutes later.”

Leaving the Marells behind. Trigger said, “And then?”

“We get in touch with the authorities immediately. I don’t want to give Sebaloun a chance to get off the satellite. With luck, we’ll be back with the law before she even knows we’re gone.”

Trigger said, “Don’t you have a few things to hide yourself, Wrann?”

“Normally I’d have enough to hide,” he agreed. “I understand your suspicions. But I have no choice. We’re dealing with very dangerous people, Miss Argee! How long do you think I’d live—or you, for that matter—if those three stay at large, and the Sebaloun money is looking for us? As of now, I’ll be glad to settle for Rehabilitation!”

Trigger nodded. “All right. Let’s go! It could be a trap, of course.”

Wrann looked startled. “What do you mean?”

“That door mightn’t have been sealed because I was in the hall but because someone knew you were on your way back to the residence.”

“I see. We’ll have to risk that.” As they started down into the garden, Wrann added, “Stay close behind me. I’ll hurry as much as I can, but we must be careful. Setting off even one force screen would alert the playground—and then we’ll have had it!”

* * *

Wrann moved quickly, if cautiously, sometimes half running, rarely hesitating for more than a moment. Trigger concentrated on following in his steps. The maze remained silent and unresponsive as half a dozen illusion scenes slipped past. A stretch of flowering meadow was briefly there, and twice patches of mossy turf where Wrann’s greater weight made him sink in almost ankle deep at every step, though Trigger didn’t have much difficulty.

Then he vanished ahead of her again. She slowed, carefully took the same stride she’d watched him take—and went stumbling through pitch-blackness. She caught her balance, stood still, feeling sand under the soles of her boots.

“Wrann?” she said quietly.

There was no reply. Her heart began to race. Dry, musty odors, warm stirring of air . . . She listened, lips parted, barely breathing, and heard sounds then, soft ones, as if someone moved cautiously over the sand. The sounds didn’t seem close to her.

After a moment, they stopped, and Trigger realized the darkness was lifting. A dim, sourceless glow had come into the air. It strengthened slowly into a sullen light; she began to make out something of her surroundings. It looked like a stretch of steep-walled gully filled with sand, a dry watercourse. No way to tell yet what part was real, what part was illusion.

Then she saw something else. A shape stood on the other side of the gully, farther along it, back against the overhanging rock wall.

It didn’t move. Neither did Trigger, watching it, between moments of scanning the sand about her. A simulated dry watercourse might have contained some real rocks, and she would have felt better with a rock in either hand at the moment. She saw nothing but sand.

She didn’t think that shape was Wrann.

The glow strengthened again. The shape remained motionless and indistinct; but an abrupt jolt of fright had gone through her, for now she recognized the squat demon figure Perr Hasta’s image maker had showed her after she came awake. The thought that Perr was at play again flicked up, but she discarded it at once. The image maker had been used to introduce her to the satellite. It wouldn’t be involved here.

With that, she saw the anthropoid creature move away from the gully wall, start slowly toward her. There was a point some twenty feet to her left where the rock bank wasn’t too steep. She should be able to scramble up there, but she didn’t want to try it yet. She didn’t know what was above; a blur of light shrouded the upper levels of the gully. She looked back. The water-course seemed to twist out of sight beyond its bank fifty feet away. She thought she was likely to meet a force field before she got nearly that far.

She could see the approaching anthropoid more clearly now than she liked. The dwarfishly broad body looked tremendously strong. He made crooning sounds which at moments seemed almost to become slurred words. The yellow eyes stared. Trigger felt a surge of revulsion, began to back away. He continued his unhurried advance as if he knew she wasn’t retreating far—and once those great hands closed on her, all her skills weren’t likely to be of much further use . . .

There was the glow of a force field behind her.

Trigger edged toward the left along the glow. The stalking creature angled in slowly to corner her between screen and bank. She shifted to the right and, as he swerved, back to the left. He came at her suddenly then, thick arms reaching, and she ducked, scooping up two handfuls of sand, slashed sand full into the yellow eyes, and was past him.

* * *

She heard snarling as she made a dash for that not-quite-vertical section of the gully’s bank, scrambled a dozen feet up it, and stopped. A screen had acquired glowing visibility overhead. She looked back. The anthropoid had followed, digging at his face with his hands. She dropped down, slipped under his swift lunge. Fingers clawed along her back and almost ripped the sweater from her, but then she was away and coming up with her hands full of sand again. As he swung around after her, she let him have the second dose. He uttered a gurgling howl.

Full daylight flooded the gully. Torai Sebaloun’s amplified voice announced from above, “I am seriously annoyed with you, Attuk!”

Trigger, moving back, glanced up. The haze effect was gone. A view-screen had taken its place; and the enlarged faces of Torai and Perr Hasta were looking down through it.

Torai appeared very angry, while Perr obviously was enjoying herself. The anthropoid peered up at them, blinking painfully, before he turned and lumbered away. Abruptly, his shape blurred, seemed about to flow apart, then reassembled itself. What it reassembled into was the quite human appearance of Attuk, elegantly clothed. He stalked over to the wall of the gully, vanished into it. The screen had gone blank.

Trigger pulled down her sweater, brushed sand from her palms and turned as Torai and Perr Hasta came walking up the gully behind her.

“So now you know Attuk’s a shape-changer!” Perr said smilingly to her. “What you saw here is what we think is his own shape. It’s the one he almost always uses when he gets someone into his place in the playground. A crude creature, isn’t he? He would have been rather careful with you, of course.”

“Careful or not,” said Torai, “if he’d damaged the body in the least, I should have killed him! As it is, I’ll have to think up a suitable punishment for Attuk. But that can wait.” She added curtly to Trigger, “I’m ready to transfer. You’ll come along now.”

Trigger went along, having no choice in the matter. Torai’s ring beams held her hemmed in as she walked ahead of the two, and the beams controlled the pace at which she could and must walk. Once she tried to slow her steps, and they simply lifted her and carried her on a few yards before she was set down to start walking again.

“Attuk did Wrann very well,” Perr Hasta was saying chattily from a little behind her. “The voice and manner of speaking, too! Of course, Attuk always is very good with voices.”

Torai said, “I’m also somewhat annoyed with you, Perr! You shouldn’t have let it go that far. Their bodies can die of fright, as you know. What good would this one have been to me then?”

“Oh, I called you in time!” said Perr. “Trigger’s charts show she isn’t the kind to die of fright.” She laughed. “Wasn’t it beautiful, the way she sanded up his eyes?”

* * *

The insane conversation went on until they were back in the residence. There Torai’s beams steered Trigger into a narrow room and to an armchair set up at its far end, turned her around and placed her in the chair. Torai took the computer control rod hanging from her belt in one hand and brought her thumbnail down on a point near its lower end. The beam effect released Trigger.

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Categories: Schmitz, James