Chapter 3: A Damsel in Distress

"Get in the bed," Jamie said instantly. "Under the covers." He climbed
into the bed beside the newcomer. "Someone go on that side of her."

"Might as well be me," Gia said, ducking into the bed and pulling the
covers over herself.

"Right. If anyone comes looking for yon lassie, we fell asleep here after
the party and no-one's seen a thing."

"Got it." Isobel turned out the lights, and adopted a posture of slumber
on one couch, while Samantha hastily flung herself onto another. Hardly had
the group got into position, than somebody hammered on the door from outside.

"Who's there?" Jamie called.

"Security. Open the door."

"Go away," Isobel retorted. "We're trying to sleep."

There was a low, muttered, conversation outside; then the lock clicked, the
door opened, and the light came on again. Two men, dressed in grey uniforms,
strode in, and glanced briefly around, seeing only drowsy, dishevelled

"No dice," one of them said. "Sorry to intrude."

The lights snapped off, and the door closed.

"No-one move," Jamie's voice whispered. "Just in case."

They waited in silence for a few minutes lest the men had only pretended
to leave. When, after that time, there was no sign of the men returning,
Jamie switched on a bedside light.

"Right," he said. "Let's have a look at you."

The girl cautiously emerged from the sheets between Jamie and Gia.

"Thank you," she said. "Listen, I need--"

Victoria chose that moment to return from the bathroom, her face pale and
scrubbed. She stopped and stared at the trio in the bed.

"James Robert McCrimmon," she said, once she'd recovered the power of
speech. "I hope you have an extremely good explanation for this."

"This young lassie's in trouble," Jamie said.

"Of course she is. She's in bed with you. That would be enough trouble for
anyone. Gia, what are the three of you doing in there?"

"Make up your own explanation," Gia said. "It's got to be more convincing
than anything I could come up with."

"Please!" the girl said, before the argument could continue. "I need to get
to the docking bays before those men come back."

"Just a minute," Samantha protested. "How do we know you're not a burglar
or something? What's going on?"

"Come with me and I'll tell you." From the sound of her voice, she was used
to giving orders, and not brooking disagreement. "There's no time to waste."

"We need to find Zoe," Isobel protested. "Not go tearing off on some
wild-goose chase."

"Zoe's probably just overslept," Jamie said. "This lass needs our help now."

In next to no time, the whole group were hurrying down a gently-curving
corridor that was still strewn with the debris of the previous night's party.
Empty and half-full drinking vessels were interspersed with discarded items
of clothing -- and, here and there, a comatose partygoer who hadn't made it
to one of the bedrooms. The newcomer, having glanced nervously both ways,
launched into her story.

"I'm Emmi Sheffield," she said. Her tone suggested her listeners should find
that significant, but all she got by way of return was puzzled glances. "/The/
Emmi Sheffield, you know. My dad's the CEO of Sheffield Industries?" She shook
her head. "OK, all you need to know is he's a big man back on Old Earth.
Anyway, he doesn't know I'm here. I'm supposed to be on a gap year doing
something dull and worthy with the poor of Lorn VII, but I wasn't going to
miss this. So I agreed a pickup with Rollo -- he's my boyfriend, sort of.
Rollo Hetherington," she added, as an aside. "Heir to GCI Chemicals. If you
don't know who I am, you probably haven't heard of him, either."

"Correct," Gia said. By now, they had reached a circular, domed hall where
several of the corridors joined. A broad spiral staircase ran round the outer
wall, marked with a deck number and a temporary banner reading CRASH ZONE.
At the centre of the hall stood a circular reception counter, manned by
several people in smart-looking uniforms. Jamie crossed to the desk and
handed the nearest official something that resembled an outsize key.

"That was the pass for our room," he said. "Just in case some of you weren't
sober enough to remember."

"I remember," Gia said. "In outline, at least. I was with you when we booked

"That makes sense," Samantha said. "Why we ended up sleeping on settees and
things, I mean. You got there first and bagged the bed."

"You could have shared with her," Victoria said. "There was plenty of room."

Samantha shook her head. "I don't swing that way."

"Come along!" Emmi called. She was standing at the top of the downward
flight of stairs, and set out down them with out checking to see if anybody
was following her.

"Who died and made you King?" Jamie muttered, hurrying after her.


The circular theme that ran through this liner was no less apparent on the
docking bay level. Once more, the staircase led to a domed hall, and once
more corridors radiated from it. The ship's designers had settled on a forest
theme; the walls were painted to resemble trees, and clumps of realistic
greenery hung from the ceiling.

"Here's what happened," Emmi said. "Rollo and I were going to meet at his
space yacht. I got there in good time and waited for him in the docking bay,
and he showed up after a bit. I saw him on the other side of the bay-- there
were quite a lot of people around, you see. Then some girl chose that moment
to have a fit. Rolling on the floor, screaming, foaming at the mouth, the
works. Everyone was fussing round her, calling med-bay and so on. And by the
time she'd been carted off, I couldn't see Rollo anywhere. I checked his
ship, but it was empty. And my pendant couldn't locate him."

"Hang on, you can do that with one of these things?" Isobel asked. She
took hold of her own pendant. "How?"

"Like this. Pendant, where is Rollo Hetherington?" She held the device up.
"Look. 'Unknown.'"

"What did you do then?" Victoria asked.

"I tried asking people if they'd seen where he was. I didn't want to go to
Security, you see, because then it would be official and my father would
find out I'd been here. Then I went to med-bay to see if that girl had
recovered. I thought she might have seen something. No-one there had even
heard of her. The whole thing must have been faked.

"After I'd been to med-bay I decided I'd have to make things official," Emmi
continued. "I mean, it's obviously a conspiracy directed at Rollo or me.
Father would blow his top, but I'd rather that than end up dead. But when I
went to the security guys... They didn't seem to believe me, but they said
they'd put a call in to their chief and I should wait till he got there. I
waited for ages and no-one came. I think they were just trying to delay me
as long as possible. In the end I said I was going. They said I shouldn't.
I realised they must be in it, too, so I made a run for it."

"And that's when they started chasing you," Jamie said.

"That's right."

By now they had reached a docking bay similar to the one Emmi had described.
Here, the woodland illusion was marred by five circular hatches on the far
well, too large to disguise as vegetation or rocks; though each was flanked
by two huge trees, or things that looked like trees.

"Is this where your young man's ship is?" Gia asked.

Emmi shook her head. "It's under guard. I couldn't get to it. But I did a
search, and there's a Sheffield Industries light freighter, the /Vanguard/,
docked on this pylon. Bringing supplies for the party. I'll take command of

"You?" Victoria asked. "Are you a pilot?"

"No, but I'm the CEO's daughter. The captain will do what I say." She
crossed to one of the hatches, and placed her hand on a palm scanner. The
massive circular hatch split into four irregularly-shaped segments, each
retracting into the wall.

"Just a moment," Isobel said. "Pendant, where is Zoe Heriot?" She looked at
the gadget. "Oh. 'Unknown.'"

"She must have gone back to the Round," Jamie said. "She'll be sorry she
missed this."

Victoria pointed down the corridor they'd arrived from. "Look. Guards!"

Sure enough, grey-uniformed security men were hurrying in their direction.
The group lost no time in diving into the hatch; Emmi waited until they were
all through it, then manipulated the controls again. The hatch closed with a
boom, leaving them in a sparse, utilitarian airlock.

"Right. I'll go and talk to the captain," Emmi said. She led them through
the inner door of the airlock. The area beyond differed sharply from the
spacious, lavishly-appointed space liner; it was a grubby-looking, windowless
cargo bay, lit by a harsh, functional light. "You'd better wait here."

"What about those men?" Jamie asked. "Can't they get in?"

"They wouldn't dare. But I'll get the captain to undock and stand off, just
in case. Back in a bit."

She swept regally across the bay, in the direction of a similar airlock at
the far end.

"We don't actually have any reason to be here, do we?" Victoria said.
"Those men are looking for Emmi, not us."

"We couldn't abandon her," Jamie said. "She was in trouble."

"Yes, but now she's with her own people. She doesn't need our help any

"Well, we could ask her to drop us off somewhere. Or just go back to the
Round. You've all still got those things, haven't you?"

A hasty check of their clothes reassured them that nobody had lost their
recall discs.

"Wonder why she cut all her hair off?" Samantha said, irrelevantly.

"Fashion, I expect," Isobel said. "People do the weirdest things because
it's fashionable."

"No kidding." Samantha looked around. "You're very quiet, Gia."

"Professional interest," Gia said. "Most of our business at T-Mat is
freight." She gestured at the contents of the bay. "Looks as if the standard
pallet size hasn't changed much since my time. And they don't seem to be
teleporting the stuff out. Momentum transfer must still be a problem."

Jamie looked at her, picturing her expression the previous evening, when
she'd tried to open her heart to him. There was no trace of any tenderness
in her now, only her usual brisk efficiency.

"What's that, then?" he asked.

"Where shall I start? Well, imagine someone threw a big, heavy ball at
you, really hard. It might knock you over or break your ribs."

"Aye, I can see that."

"If you tried to beam someone from a planet to a spaceship with one of my
T-Mats, something similar would happen. You'd probably rip the spaceship
apart. Or the person."

"I wish you hadn't said that," Victoria said. "I can't stop picturing it
now. Please can we change the subject? This place is very tidy."

"Isn't it?" Isobel said. "Have you noticed? All the crates are arranged
symmetrically. Whoever's in charge must be an artist -- or a neat freak."

Victoria shook her head. "I hadn't. Don't you think it's a bit-- oh!"

The hold shuddered, and a brief, harsh vibration ran through the deckplates.
Jamie grabbed at the closest person to hand, who happened to be Samantha.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"I presume we've undocked," Gia said. "That noise was probably the
thrusters. What a way to travel."

"I wish there was a window," Isobel said. "We'd be seeing that great big
liner from the outside. It must look amazing."

Victoria, already pale, went a few shades paler. "Please excuse me for a
moment. I need to sit down."

She suited her action to her words, sitting on the floor and putting her
head between her knees.

"Take deep breaths," Isobel advised her.

"Are you all right?" Jamie added, letting go of Samantha.

Before Victoria could reply, footsteps could be heard approaching, and Emmi
strode into view. She was accompanied by another woman, in her early twenties
by the look of her, who was dressed in a smart jumpsuit with two gold bands
round the sleeves. On her head, she was wearing an odd-looking helmet that,
to Isobel's way of thinking, resembled a coal scuttle.

"Did you get through to your dad?" Samantha asked.

Emmi shook her head. "There was some sort of communications interference.
So Captain Tseng's going to move us out into space a bit."

"Interference? You mean those fake security guys are jamming your radio?"

"More or less. Anyway, I've got to get back to the bridge. Lieutenant
Malmsten will take care of you."

She hurried away.

"Good morning," the Lieutenant said, with a bright smile. "I'm afraid
you're stuck here for the time being. Obviously you want to get off as soon
as possible, but that's going to depend on whatever Miss Sheffield and the
Captain decide. If you'd like to come this way?"

Victoria held out her hands, and Jamie pulled her to her feet. Over his
shoulder, she saw the Lieutenant properly for the first time, and recognised
her at once.

"Let me introduce myself," the Lieutenant continued. "Lissa Malmsten,
Lieutenant Second Class. Welcome aboard."

Chapter 4: The Logicians

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