Chapter 4: The Logicians



Zoe had been awake for some time, though she was trying not to show it,
keeping her eyes shut and her ears open. It reminded her of the Telzey
Amberdon stories she'd read as a little girl. Telzey had done the same when
she'd been taken prisoner by the Lion People of Nalakia, she recalled, and
had learned all sorts of useful things. In due course she'd made her escape,
saved the day, and still managed to get home in time for her sixteenth
birthday party.

Of course, Zoe reflected, Telzey had the advantage that she could read and
control minds. The parapsychology training Zoe had received had granted no
such handy abilities, meaning that she was now forced to rely on whatever
fragments or snippets she could hear, which had been precious little.

Abruptly, the room shuddered, and she heard and felt a low, harsh buzzing.
If she'd really been asleep, that would definitely have woken her up. She
opened her eyes, and looked around. She seemed to be lying on the floor,
atop a thin inflatable mattress. The room around her was small and functional,
empty of furniture. Walls, floor and ceiling were all made of what looked
like grey plastic. A metal-edged panel was presumably the door.

Zoe slid her hands into her pockets. Empty. Her captors, whoever they were,
had taken the recall discs. If she was going to get out of here, it wasn't
going to be the easy way. She tried to sit up, gasped in pain, and fell back
on the mattress, her head spinning and her stomach churning. She found herself
wishing that, like Telzey, she'd been organized enough to have the adventure
first and the party afterwards.

*

"I'm afraid things aren't very luxurious," Lieutenant Malmsten said,
ushering her charges into an untidy wardroom.

Samantha shrugged. "We've put up with worse."

"Food machine's there, if you need it. Washroom's down the hall, second on
the right. Now I've got to get back to the bridge. Don't touch anything if you
don't know what it does."

She marched out.

"Not sure I feel up to breakfast," Isobel said, lowering herself into a
tatty-looking armchair. "I'm still a bit delicate after last night."

"I'm not surprised," Samantha said. She turned to Victoria. "What's the
matter? You look all funny. Are you feeling OK?"

"More or less," Victoria said. "But it's about the Lieutenant. I'm sure I
saw her at the party last night."

"No reason why she shouldn't have been there, is there?"

Victoria leaned forward. "She was the woman in the white lacy thing. The
one Zoe was with, the last time I saw her."

"Hmm." Gia perched on a battered chair, considering the matter. "It's
probably just a coincidence. But you'd better ask her if she knows anything,
next time she shows up."

*

The door opened. Zoe looked up.

"Lissa?" she said.

Lieutenant Malmsten removed her helmet. "Yes, it's me. I think you're owed
an explanation."

"Make sure not to raise your voice." Zoe lay back and closed her eyes. "I've
got a splitting headache."

"I'm sorry. Everything you've been through has been for the greater good."

Zoe groaned. "That's not much of a comfort, here and now."

"I hope one day you'll look back on this and agree it was worth it. I do.
This plan was developed by the Grand Master himself. Every significant
contingency has been considered and guarded against."

"You aren't actually explaining anything." Zoe opened her eyes. "What Grand
Master, anyway?"

"Of the Guild of Logicians."

A vague recollection flickered in Zoe's mind. "That question you asked me
last night. Was that to do with the Guild?"

"Yes. It's the start of the Initiates' ritual. I wanted to be sure you
weren't one of us--"

"Before you drugged me and kidnapped me."

Lissa made a conciliatory gesture. "Again, I can only apologise. Don't
worry. When all this is over you won't even remember what happened."

Zoe closed her eyes again. "So you're one of those. I might have guessed."

*

Emmi swept into the wardroom, looking frustrated.

"We still can't get a signal out," she said. "The Captain reckons it'll
take at least twenty minutes before we're clear of the interference field.
This is so annoying. Maybe I'll have him demoted."

"D'ye ken if there's anyone coming after us?" Jamie asked.

"The Captain said there isn't."

"I wonder why not. Surely if someone's chasing you they wouldnae give up
just like that."

Emmi drew herself up to her full height. "No-one would dare to attack one
of my father's ships. He'd have them burned out of space."

"I'll take your word for that," Isobel said. "I suppose we'll just have to
kick our heels, then." She looked around the room. "I think that neat-freak's
been here, too."

"But it's a complete mess in here."

"No, it isn't. Not really. I know what a complete mess looks like."

"So do I," Samantha said. "I've seen your studio."

"I see your point," Victoria said. "I've never seen such organised chaos.
But does it matter?"

"I don't know. It just feels a bit weird." Isobel turned slowly, examining
the room. "You've gone quiet again, Gia. What are you thinking about?"

"Coincidences," Gia said. "Miss Sheffield, can you tell us about the young
woman who was taken ill, when you were waiting to meet your fiancÚ? What did
she look like?"

"About her size," Emmi said, indicating Victoria. "She was wearing an
old-style pink dress with ruffles and bows all over. And a ginger wig -- it
fell off when she was rolling about screaming. Her actual hair was dark, I
think. Why?" She looked around at the group. "Have I said something wrong?"

"That's how Zoe was dressed," Jamie replied. "And if Victoria's right, yon
Lieutenant's got something to do with it."

"So what?"

"So she's one of your plotters, isn't she? That's why they're not chasing
us. They're here already. You've not escaped at all."

"No." Emmi shook her head vigorously. "No!"

"It sounds all too plausible to me," Gia said.

"But they wouldn't dare--" She broke off, as the room shuddered. The lights
dimmed, and the air was filled with a hum that rapidly rose in pitch.

"Now what?" Isobel asked.

"I don't know," Emmi said grimly. "But I'm going to find out. Come with
me."

She pushed the wardroom door open, and led the others down the ship's
main corridor. Before she reached the door at the far end, it opened, and
a man stepped through. Judging by the number of stripes on his sleeves, not
to mention his respectable appearance, this was clearly Captain Tseng. He was
followed, a moment later, by Lieutenant Malmsten, and then by another
officer. All three calmly drew blasters, and aimed them at Emmi's party.

"Captain!" Emmi said. "What are you doing?"

"We're now travelling through shuntspace," the Captain said. Had it not been
for the gun in his hand, he might have been trying to reassure nervous
passengers that there was no cause for concern.

"I didn't tell you to! Stop at once!"

Tseng shook his head. "That isn't a decision for you to make."

"When we get back to Earth you'll be dismissed without a character. I'll
see that nobody ever employs you again. My father--"

"I think you're labouring under a misapprehension, Miss Sheffield. Since we
undocked from the /Orchid Spray/, I no longer work for your father. Nor do my
crew. You are to consider yourselves my prisoners, all of you." He gestured
with the gun. "Now, move."

"But you can't--" Emmi began.

Victoria took her by the hand. "I'm afraid he can. There's nothing we can
do except follow orders."

"Very sensible of you," the Captain said.

"Aye, well, we've done it enough times," Jamie said, raising his hands
resignedly. "I don't suppose you'll say who's behind all this? Who are you
working for?"

"It isn't necessary to tell you," the Captain replied. "Lieutenant, search
them."

Relieved of their pendants and recall discs, plus (in Jamie's case) a
penknife and a replica Walther PPK, the party were herded into a storage
closet. Unlike the wardroom, it was completely devoid of furnishings, and
barely large enough for them all to sit on the floor. The door closed behind
them with a forbidding click.

Emmi's first reaction to the situation was to burst into tears.

"This can't be happening," she sobbed. "It can't."

"I'm afraid it is," Victoria said, patting her on the hand. "The question
is what we are to do about it."

"There isn't anything to do. You can't fight these people. They've thought
of everything."

Victoria, to her own considerable amazement, found herself exchanging an
eyeroll with Samantha.

"There's plenty we can do," Jamie said. "There's got to be."

"But my father--"

"Shut up," Isobel said, "and listen. As things are, it doesn't matter who
your father is or how rich you are. None of that's going to help us get out
of this. So unless you've got any decent ideas, keep your mouth shut and
leave it to the professionals."

Samantha couldn't help laughing. "Professionals?"

"Well, semi-professionals," Isobel conceded. "Experienced amateurs. And my
point stands."

"OK. If you're so good, any ideas how we get out of here?"

Isobel thought. "Suppose I pretended to be ill? Then they'd send someone to
check me over and we could bash them and make our escape."

"That trick's got hairs on," Samantha said. "They'd never fall for it."

"Suppose I was actually sick? I think I could do that."

"It's bad enough in here without you sticking your fingers down your throat
and puking all over everywhere. Probably set the rest of us off, too. We'd
be swimming around in the stuff."

Victoria winced at the mental image. "You have such a way with words."

"Has anyone got any better ideas, then?" Isobel asked, looking put out at
the reception her idea had received. She looked around. "Gia, are you
canoodling with Jamie again?"

"What do you mean, 'again'?" Victoria asked.

Gia, who was holding Jamie's hand in both of hers, shook her head. "Emmi,
you said these people had thought of everything. Well, they didn't. They
haven't taken Jamie's wristwatch."

"What good's that to us?" Emmi sniffled.

"Not a lot, in the normal course of events. But have you forgotten who he's
supposed to be dressed as?"

Isobel's jaw dropped. "You are having me on. Aren't you?"

*

"Hello again," Zoe said. She was able to sit up, now, but between her
hangover and the aftereffects of whatever she'd been drugged with, standing
was out of the question. "Don't you have anything better to do with your
time?"

"I've got a proposition to make to you," Lieutenant Malmsten replied.

"I hope it's better than the last two."

"Oh, it will be." Malmsten sat on the floor beside Zoe, and looked her in
the eye. "How would you like to join our Guild?"

Zoe opened her mouth, closed it again, and sat for a while in silence.

"Tell me more," she said. "What sort of organisation is this Guild?"

"The greatest combination of intelligence in history," Malmsten said
eagerly, leaning forward. "We recruit the finest, the most sophisticated
minds, wherever we find them. Our planners and strategists are unrivalled."

"And presumably you drugged and kidnapped me for some plan or other. What
was it?"

"I suppose it can't do any harm to give you some of the background. This
operation is aimed against Sheffield Industries. Our Inner Circle feel that
for three generations, they have been the enemies of responsible government.
We do not have the power to challenge them directly--" this admission sounded
reluctant "--but subtler approaches were devised. Our plan was to secure the
heiress presumptive, Emmi Sheffield. This, we have now done."

"And where do I fit into this?"

"One element of our plan involved distracting Miss Sheffield at a crucial
moment. With the right drugs, you were that distraction."

"Thank you very much!"

Malmsten had the grace to look slightly contrite. "You should be back to
normal in a few hours. And sometimes the greater good requires minor
sacrifices from individuals."

"Minor sacrifices," Zoe repeated. "And what are you going to do with this
heiress now you've got her?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you that. Not yet, anyway. Explaining something
that's already happened is one thing, but future plans are quite another.
Perhaps we could trust each other more if you were to tell me something."

"Such as?"

"When you were searched, we found two coinlike objects, of unknown origin,
composition and purpose. What are they, and where did you get them?"

"Sorry," Zoe said. "I can't tell you that, either."

"Well, we'll return to the subject later. Now, do think carefully about my
offer."

She got to her feet, and turned to go.

"One question," Zoe called after her. "Why me? What made you think I was
good enough for your guild?"

"We're always on the lookout for suitable candidates. I thought you might
make the grade when we met at the party. That was one reason why I chose you;
so I could talk to you in private here. I had to get Captain Tseng's approval
first, of course."

"He's one of your Guild, too? I suppose all the crew must be."

Malmsten gave her an enigmatic smile. "I can't confirm or deny that."

She left Zoe alone with her thoughts.




Chapter 5: Exploring Possibilities

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