Trigger said hastily, “Better wait with that! We’re on a private satellite, Rasolmen System. Somebody had unpleasant plans for both of us, but I’m on my way to a spacelock now. With luck, if we move fast enough, we can make it.” She turned to the left. “Come on!”
Telzey stepped out from the thicket. Trigger’s right hand went under her sweater front, came out with the gun. She shot Telzey through the head, jumped back as she staggered, stitched a line of fire down the front of her body as it fell and began to blur; then stood there, gun held ready, watching it change into something much larger.
Anthropoid Attuk wasn’t dead, somewhat to her surprise. But then it was a life form she didn’t know much about. It was down, at any rate, making watery sounds as it tried to lever itself up on its thick arms. She leveled the gun at the staring yellow eyes.
“No! Wait!” Perr Hasta, slipping out from the thicket, dropped to her knees beside Attuk. “Attuk, too! Oh, Trigger, I’m grateful! I wanted him almost even more than Torai. Now—”
Her face smoothed into its empty feeding look. There was a tug at Trigger’s slacks. She glanced down. The Marells were looking at her, white-faced. “What are those two doing?” Salgol’s small voice asked nervously.
Trigger cleared her throat.
“The big one’s dying,” she said. “The other one’s helping it die. It’s all right—it may have saved us some trouble.”
“How did you know the big one wasn’t Telzey?” Salgol asked. “We thought you’d killed her!”
Well, Trigger thought, for one thing Telzey would have discovered I was around moments after she woke up. Unless something had been done to her mind after Attuk had her brought to the satellite. There’d been that doubt . . .
Trigger said, “I was almost sure as soon as I saw her. But, of course, I had to be quite sure. Did you notice how deeply she sank into the moss? She would have had to weigh almost three times as much as I do.” She shrugged. “So now we’ll let Perr Hasta have her treat!”
Attuk had collapsed meanwhile, and Perr Hasta was bent above him, her long silky hair almost concealing his head. Trigger added, “It won’t take long. Then I’ll talk to her.”
* * *
Perr Hasta said drowsily, “That should last me quite a time! Why, yes, you’re right, Trigger. Your gun would kill me as quickly as it did Attuk. Much more quickly, in fact. My physical structure is delicate and could be easily disrupted. You’d like me to show you to the spacelock? That will be simple. You’re already past the screen barriers.”
Trigger said, “There’s a guard at the lock?”
“No guard,” said Perr. She yawned. “Torai had the satellite planned so no humans would be needed on it, except the ones who come to deliver this and that, or to fix something. And, of course, our visitors. My! What a visitor you turned out to be, Trigger! This has been a most interesting experience.”
“All right,” Trigger said. “No guard. If you’re lying, you’re likely to go before he does. Blethro first, then. I’m not leaving anything human here. Where is he?”
“Blethro’s dead,” Perr said. “Attuk’s been feeding. I’ll take you to what’s left if you want, but you won’t like what you see.”
“Let’s go there anyway,” Trigger said.
She didn’t like what Perr Hasta presently showed her, but there was no question that it had been Blethro.
“Now we’ll go to the spacelock,” she said.
They went there. There was no guard. One vessel was docked in the inner lock area, the Sebaloun cruiser, a luxury boat. Trigger motioned Perr Hasta into it ahead of her with the gun, the Marells following. She checked out the cruiser’s controls, with Perr standing beside her, decided she understood them well enough. “Back outside, Perr!” she said.
She followed Perr Hasta outside. Lock controls next; and they were simplicity itself, computer directed, the satellite computers responding to the cruiser’s signals. No operator required. “Perr—” she began.
Perr wasn’t there.
Trigger looked quickly around, skin prickling. She hadn’t seen Perr disappear, hadn’t been aware of her disappearance. Perr had been there, standing next to her, a bare instant ago. Now Perr was nowhere in sight.
A faint giggle behind her. Trigger turned, gun pointed. Nothing. But then the giggle again. She fired. Pause, and there was giggling overhead, in the dull gleam of the inner lock. Her gun point searched for it. The giggling shifted. This way, that—
A whisper then. “I’d drink your personality now, Trigger! I was saving it up. But I can’t. I’m too full. Perhaps the next time.”
Trigger backed to the cruiser’s entry lock, gun covering the area behind her, slipped in and dove into the pilot seat. The entry lock slammed shut. Engines already on . . . purr of power. She threw in the satellite’s lock switches. The cruiser moved forward into the outer lock. Inner lock slid shut. Outer lock opened. She cut in full drive. In the same instant, it seemed, the satellite shrank into invisibility behind them, and she hit the subspace switch.
Some minutes later, Salgol addressed her tentatively from the seat beside her. “Would it distract you if I spoke to you now?”
“Huh?” Trigger looked around, saw the three of them gathered there, watching her solemnly. “No, it’s all right to talk,” she said. “We’ll be running on automatics for a while.”
Salgol hesitated. “Well, I—we noticed your face is quite pale.”
“I suppose it might be.” Trigger sighed. “There’s some reason for it, Salgol.”
“There is? We aren’t safe?”
“Oh, we should be physically safe enough at the moment.” Trigger shook her head. “But we may find we still have very big problems.”
“How much did the Service tell you after I got back?” Trigger asked.
“Not much at all,” Telzey said. “Just that you were safe and sound but currently incommunicado. And that your little people were all right, too.” They’d been having dinner together while Trigger related her experiences on the Sebaloun satellite.
“Of course, I had my own lines out,” Telzey went on, “so I did pick up a few things. There’s a flock of diplomats preparing for a trip to Marell to make official contact with its civilization, so somebody got to the group which was exploiting the Marells in time. Then I tapped a man who knew that group had a connection to the Sebaloun enterprises. When it was reported that Torai Sebaloun and two close associates had disappeared in space on her private cruiser and were presumed dead, I figured you could have had something to do with it.
“And, by the way, there were a couple of matters we were able to clean up at this end meanwhile. Some detective friends tracked down the outfit Wrann had hired to hunt for you. They were working without a license and had broken a number of unwritten rules on the job, and the big private agencies feel that sort of thing reflects on everyone. Once we’d identified them, all that was necessary was to pass the word along here and there.”
“I hope they weren’t treated too roughly,” Trigger said.
Telzey shrugged. “I didn’t ask. But I understand someone was extremely rough on the hotel security people who fingered you for Wrann and helped smuggle you out. I suppose that was regarded as the nth degree in unprofessional conduct. At any rate, you won’t have problems in that area. No one seems much interested in Blethro’s disappearance. He had a long, very bad record—it was almost bound to catch up with him eventually. But that still leaves a number of people who might connect you to the Sebaloun satellite and Torai Sebaloun.”
Trigger said, “It turned out to be only Wrann and the yacht pilot and some of Wrann’s underlings. They’ve had a case of group amnesia. Anyway, they’re mostly in Rehabilitation.”
Telzey settled back. “So, what were they keeping you incommunicado about?”
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s a special Service group,” Trigger said. “Top-secret. They figured I might as well tell you since you’d be finding out anyway.”
“I’d be trying to,” Telzey admitted.
“Uh-huh. It seems there’s a variety of immigrant creatures that keep out of sight in one way and another. They like the advantages of life in the Hub. Some pretend to be human. Mostly they’re harmless, and some are considered useful. The Service likes to keep an eye on them, but sees no special reason to bother them otherwise.”
“But then there are the ones that aren’t harmless. Symbiote Control pumped me about everything that happened on the satellite. They already knew about the Torai type of entity and the Attuk type. The Perr Hasta type was completely new; but what I could tell them about it seemed to explain some rather mysterious occurrences they have on record.”