“Stretch your hand out toward me,” Torai said.
Trigger hesitated, reached out, saw a screen glow appear in the air a few feet ahead of her. She drew back her hand. The glow vanished.
“You’re sealed into that end of the room,” Torai told her. “So you might as well relax.” She turned her rings toward another armchair in the room, and the beams drew the chair over to a point opposite Trigger, about twelve feet from her. Torai settled herself in the chair, and Perr Hasta came up and stood beside her, smiling at Trigger.
Torai studied Trigger a moment then, with an expression that seemed both hungry and contented. She nodded slowly.
“Yes, a good selection!” she remarked. “I should be well satisfied with that one. And I see no reason for further delay.” She leaned back and closed her eyes.
Trigger waited. Presently, something began to happen; and she also shut her eyes to center her attention on it. A sense of eager greed and momentary scraps and bursts of what might be somebody’s thinking were pushing into her awareness. She studied them a moment, then started blanking out those impressions with clear strong thoughts of her own which had nothing to do with Torai Sebaloun or the Rasolmen satellite, but with people and events and things far away, back in time. It went on a while. Her defense appeared rather effective, though new Torai thoughts kept thrusting up, quivering with impatience and anger now, until Trigger blanked them away again. The Old Galactic shield remained tight, and it might be Torai hadn’t counted on that. Frustration grew in the thoughts still welling into Triggers awareness; then, abruptly, anxiety and acute alarm.
“Perr—you’re not helping! Perr! Perr Hasta!”
No reply from Perr. A sudden soft thumping noise, and Torai screamed once; and Trigger’s eyes flew open.
Torai had fallen out of the chair and lay shaking on the carpet; and Perr Hasta was on her knees beside her, peering down into her distorted face with much the same avidity Trigger had seen in Torai’s own expression and in the yellow eyes of anthropoid Attuk. Perr looked up at Trigger then, and laughed.
“I knew it!” she said. “She got stuck in that mind thing of yours, Trigger! If she had any difficulty, I was to start absorbing your personality to make it easier for her, but I didn’t. She can’t get through, and she can’t get back.”
Perr looked down at Torai again. “And—now, now, now! I’ve waited a long time for the personality of the Torai thing, and now I’ll take it all, and there’s nothing it can do about it.”
The child face went blank, though a smile still curved its lips; and Perr’s body began weaving gently back and forth above Torai.
Trigger got quietly out of her chair.
If Torai Sebaloun had succeeded in implanting her personality in Trigger’s body, she would have found herself behind the force screen which now held Trigger imprisoned at this end of the room, with the computer control rod which had switched on the screen fastened by its satin strap to the belt on the dead Torai body on the far side of the screen.
Hence, since Torai must regard Attuk and Perr Hasta as somewhat uncertain allies, there should be a device to release the screen on this side. Trigger had been waiting for an opportunity to start looking for that device; and now, with Torai helpless and Perr Hasta preoccupied, the opportunity was there.
Unfortunately, the switch, button, or whatever mechanism it was, seemed well hidden. Trigger went quickly over the smooth walls, glancing now and then at the two outside. Something that might be Torai’s thoughts still flickered occasionally through her mind, but they were barely perceptible, and she no longer bothered to blank them out. Perr Hasta, completely absorbed, showed no interest in what was happening on this side of the screen.
When the walls provided no clue, Trigger began searching the armchair. Engaged with that, she discovered suddenly that Perr was back on her feet and watching her. At the same time, she realized she could sense no more Torai thought impressions, and that Torai, who’d been stirring feebly when she looked last, was now quite motionless. Perr Hasta gave her a slow, dreamy smile.
“Torai was very good,” she said. “Every bit as good as I’d expected! So you’d like to get out?”
“Yes,” Trigger acknowledged. “Do you know what I have to do in here to turn off the screen?”
Trigger bit her lip. “Look,” she said. “If you’ll take that control rod on Torai’s belt—”
“Goodness,” said Perr, turning away. “I wouldn’t know how to use the thing. Besides, why should I let you out? I must go find Attuk.”
She sauntered out of the room, humming. Trigger gritted her teeth and resumed her search. One nightmare was down; but two were still up and around. She had to get out, fast!
A tiny voice cried, “Trigger!”
She jerked about. Salgol and Runderin were dancing up and down on the other side of the glowing screen.
“We found your gun!” Salgol piped. “Is she dead? What is this thing between us?”
Trigger let out a breath of partial relief. “You have my gun? Good! Yes, she’s dead, but the other two might show up any time. That’s a force screen between us. Now, look—”
She explained rapidly about the computer control rod. She’d been watching Torai and was able to describe exactly where Torai had pressed on the rod to turn on the screen. There must be some kind of switch there.
The Marells confirmed there was a button there. In fact, the rod was covered with grouped rows of tiny buttons. The trouble was that depressing the button in question proved to be beyond their combined strength. Trigger, watching their struggles, exclaimed suddenly, “Stuff in my handbag!” They looked at her, breathing hard. “Keys!” she went on. “Something Salgol can slam down on the button—”
They’d turned and darted halfway out of the room while she was still speaking. Trigger resumed her investigation of the armchair. It seemed to her she’d already looked everywhere. In frustration, she banged her fist down on the chair’s padded backrest. There was a sharp click.
She stood frozen for an instant, swung back toward the screen, reaching out to it.
No glow . . .
She stepped through the space where it had blocked her and unfastened the control rod from Torai’s belt with shaking fingers. Manipulating the ring beam mechanisms probably would take plenty of practice—no time to bother with that now! She ran out of the room after the Marells.
* * *
The playground maze was still trying to be a problem; but the computer rod made the problem rather easy to handle. The force screen controls seemed to be grouped together at one end. When they encountered a screen now, Trigger hit the studs there in quick succession until she came to the one that switched off the screen; and they’d hurry on until checked again. Salgol, Runderin and Smee had no trouble keeping up with her. Her interference with the screens might be confusing the overall maze mechanism. Sound effects soon died away, and the scenery took on a static appearance. At this rate, it shouldn’t be long before they’d passed through the playground area.
Force screens, however, might not be the only difficulty. If Attuk was aware Torai’s transfer attempt had failed and that Trigger was again free, he could be waiting to intercept her with a gun near the periphery of the playground. He’d said an armed guard had been stationed at the spacelock; and if that was true, she might, in fact, have two guns to deal with before she got off the satellite. When the surrounding scenes began to look unfamiliar, she moved with growing caution.
One more screen went off. Trigger started forward over springy moss, along the side of a simulated weathered stone wall, watching the top of the wall and the area ahead. The Marells followed close on her heels. Some thirty feet on, the wall turned to the right. She checked at the corner. The wall disappeared in dense artificial vegetation not far away. More of the stuff on the left. A path led between the two thickets.
Had a shadow shifted position in the shrubbery at the moment she appeared? Yes. She could make out something there now. It seemed to be a rather small dark shape.
She glanced down at Salgol who was peering up at her. She whispered, “Be careful, you three!” and started slowly toward the thicket. She stopped again. The shrubbery stirred—the half-glimpsed shape was moving. Something familiar about it?
A hand parted branches; a quite familiar face looked out warily. Telzey’s blue eyes went wide.
“Trigger! You’re here! ”
“I didn’t know you were here, Telzey.”
“I woke up just a few minutes ago.” Telzey shook her head. “Last thing I—”