"Technically," she agreed, added, "We were arguing about a Fleet matter."
"I see. We'll call it mutiny." Dasinger checked to be sure Calat wasn't faking unconsciousness. He inquired, "Do you really need these boys to help you?"
Duomart Mines shook her blond head. "Not at all. Flying the Mooncat is a one-man job."
"I did have a feeling," Dasinger admitted, "that Willata's Fleet was doing a little featherbedding when they said I'd have to hire a crew of three to go along with their speedboat."
"Uh-huh." Her tone was non-committal. "They were. What are you going to do with them?"
"Anywhere they can be locked up safely?"
"Not safely. Their own cabin's as good as anything. They can batter their way out of here if they try hard enough. Of course we'd hear them doing it."
"Well, we can fix that." Dasinger stood up, fished his cabin key out of a pocket and gave it to her. "Tan suitcase standing at the head of my bunk," he said. "Mind bringing that and the little crane from the storeroom up here?"
Neither of the Fleetmen had begun to stir when Duomart Mines came riding a gravity crane back in through the door a couple of minutes later, the suitcase dangling in front of her. She halted the crane in the center of the room, slid out of its saddle with a supple twist of her body, and handed Dasinger his cabin key.
"Thanks." Dasinger took the suitcase from the crane, unlocked and opened it. He brought out a pair of plastic handcuffs, aware that Miss Mines stood behind him making an intent scrutiny of what could be seen of the suitcase's contents. He didn't blame her for feeling curious; she was looking at a variety of devices which might have delighted the eyes of both a professional burglar and military spy. She offered no comment.
Neither did Dasinger. He hauled Liu Taunus over on his back, fastened handcuffs about the Fleetman's wrists, then rolled him over on his face again. He did the same for Calat, hung the suitcase back in the crane, slung a leg across the crane's saddle and settled into it.
Miss Mines remarked, "I'd look their cabin over pretty closely for guns and so on before leaving them there."
"I intend to. By the way, has Dr. Egavine mentioned how close we are to our destination?" Dasinger maneuvered the crane over to Taunus, lowered a beam to the small of the Fleetman's back and hoisted him up carefully, arms, head and legs dangling.
The blond girl checked her watch. "He didn't tell me exactly," she said, "but there's what seems to be a terraprox in the G2 system ahead. If that's it, we'll get there in around five hours depending on what subspace conditions in the system are. Dr. Egavine's due up here in thirty minutes to give me the final figures." She paused, added curiously, "Don't you know yourself just where we're going?"
"No," Dasinger said. "I'm financing the trip. The doctor is the man with the maps and other pertinent information."
"I thought you were partners."
"We are. Dr. Egavine is taciturn about some things. I'll bring him back here with me as soon as I have these two locked away." Dasinger finished picking up Calat, swung the crane slowly towards the door, the unconscious Fleetmen suspended ahead of him.
Dr. Egavine stood at the open door to his stateroom as Dasinger came walking back up the passage from the crew quarters and the storage. Quist, the doctor's manservant, peered out of the stateroom behind him.
"What in heaven's name were you doing with those two men?" Egavine inquired, twitching his eyebrows disapprovingly up and down. The doctor was a tall, thin man in his forties, dressed habitually in undertaker black, with bony features and intense dark eyes. He added, "They appeared to be unconscious ... and fettered!"
"They were both," Dasinger admitted. "I've confined them to their cabin."
"We had a little slugfest in the control section a few minutes ago. One of the boys was beating around on our pilot, so I laid him out, and she laid out the other one when he tried to get into the act with a knife. She says the original dispute was a Fleet matter ... in other words, none of our business. However, I don't know. There's something decidedly fishy about the situation."
"In what way?" Egavine asked.
Dasinger said, "I checked over the crew quarters for weapons just now and found something which suggests that Willata's Fleet is much more interested in what we're doing out here than we thought."
Egavine looked startled, peered quickly along the passage to the control section. "I feel," he said, lowering his voice, "that we should continue this discussion behind closed doors...."
"All right." Quist, a bandy-legged, wiry little man with a large bulb of a nose and close-set, small eyes, moved back from the door. Dasinger went inside. Egavine pulled the door shut behind them and drew a chair out from the cabin table. Dasinger sat down opposite him.
"What did you find?" Dr. Egavine asked.
Dasinger said, "You know Miss Mines is supposed to be the only Fleet member on board who speaks the Federation's translingue. However, there was a listening device attached to the inside of the cabin communicator in the crew quarters. Its settings show that the Willata Fleet people have bugged each of the Mooncat's other cabins, and also--which I think is an interesting point--the control section. Have you and Quist discussed our project in any detail since coming aboard?"
"I believe we did, on several occasions," Egavine said hesitantly.
"Then we'd better assume Taunus and Calat knew that we're looking for the wreck of the Dosey Asteroids raider, and ..."
Egavine put a cautioning finger to his lips. "Should we...?"
"Oh, no harm in talking now," Dasinger assured him. "I pulled the instrument out and dropped it in my cabin. Actually, the thing needn't be too serious if we stay on guard. But of course we shouldn't go back to the Fleet station after we have the stuff. Gadgetry of that kind suggests bad intentions ... also a rather sophisticated level of criminality for an I-Fleet. We'll return directly to the Hub. We might have to go on short rations for a few weeks, but we'll make it. And we'll keep those two so-called crew members locked up."
The doctor cleared his throat. "Miss Mines ..."
"She doesn't appear to be personally involved in any piratical schemes," Dasinger said. "Otherwise they wouldn't have bugged her cabin and the control rooms. If we dangle a few star hyacinths before her eyes, she should be willing to fly us back. If she balks, I think I can handle the Mooncat well enough to get us there."
Dr. Egavine tugged pensively at his ear lobe. "I see." His hand moved on toward his right coat lapel. "What do you think of ..."
"Mind watching this for a moment, doctor?" Dasinger interrupted. He nodded at his own hand lying on the table before him.
"Watch...?" Egavine began questioningly. Then his eyes went wide with alarm.
Dasinger's hand had turned suddenly sideways from the wrist, turned up again. There was a small gun in the hand now, its stubby muzzle pointing up steadily at Egavine's chest.
"Dasinger! What does ..."
"Neat trick, eh?" Dasinger commented. "Sleeve gun. Now keep quiet and hold everything just as it is. If you move or Quist over there moves before I tell you to, you've had it, doctor!"
He reached across the table with his left hand, slipped it beneath Egavine's right coat lapel, tugged sharply at something in there, and brought out a flat black pouch with a tiny spray needle projecting from it. He dropped the pouch in his pocket, said, "Keep your seat, doctor," stood up and went over to Quist. Quist darted an anxious glance at his employer, and made a whimpering sound in his throat.
"You're not getting hurt," Dasinger told him. "Just put your hands on top of your head and stand still. Now let's take a look at the thing you started to pull from your pocket a moment ago ... Electric stunsap, eh? That wasn't very nice of you, Quist! Let's see what else-- "Good Lord, Egavine," he announced presently, "your boy's a regular armory! Two blasters, a pencil-beam, a knife, and the sap ... All right, Quist. Go over and sit down with the doctor." He watched the little man move dejectedly to the table, then fitted the assorted lethal devices carefully into one of his coat pockets, brought the pouch he had taken from Egavine out of the other pocket.
"Now, doctor," he said, "let's talk. I'm unhappy about this. I discovered you were carrying this thing around before we left Mezmiali, and I had a sample of its contents analyzed. I was told it's a hypnotic with an almost instantaneous effect both at skin contact and when inhaled. Care to comment?"
"I do indeed!" Egavine said frigidly. "I have no intention of denying that the instrument is a hypnotic spray. As you know, I dislike guns and similar weapons, and we are engaged in a matter in which the need to defend myself against a personal attack might arise. Your assumption, however, that I intended to employ the spray on you just now is simply ridiculous!"
"I might be chuckling myself," Dasinger said, "if Quist hadn't had the sap halfway out of his pocket as soon as you reached for your lapel. If I'd ducked from the spray, I'd have backed into the sap, right? There's a little too much at stake here, doctor. You may be telling the truth, but just in case you're nourishing unfriendly ideas--and that's what it looks like to me--I'm taking a few precautions."
Dr. Egavine stared at him, his mouth set in a thin, bitter line. Then he asked, "What kind of precautions?"
Dasinger said, "I'll keep the hypnotic and Quist's bag of dirty tricks until we land. You might need those things on the planet but you don't need them on shipboard. You and I'll go up to the control section now to give Miss Mines her final flight directions. After that, you and Quist stay in this cabin with the door locked until the ship has set down. I don't want to have anything else to worry about while we're making the approach. If my suspicions turn out to be unjustified, I'll apologize ... after we're all safely back in the Hub."
"What was your partner looking so sour about?" Duomart Mines inquired a little later, her eyes on the flight screens. "Have a quarrel with him?"
Dasinger, standing in the entry to the little control cabin across from her, shrugged his shoulders.
"Not exactly," he said. "Egavine tried to use a hypno spray on me."
"Hypno spray?" the young woman asked.
"A chemical which induces an instantaneous hypnotic trance in people. Leaves them wide open to suggestion. Medical hypnotists make a lot of use of it. So do criminals."
She turned away from the control console to look at him. "Why would your partner want to hypnotize you?"
"I don't know," Dasinger said. "He hasn't admitted that he intended to do it."
"Is he a criminal?"
"I wouldn't say he isn't," Dasinger observed judiciously, "but I couldn't prove it."
Duomart puckered her lips, staring at him thoughtfully. "What about yourself?" she asked.
"No, Miss Mines, I have a very high regard for the law. I'm a simple businessman."
"A simple businessman who flies his own cruiser four weeks out from the Hub into I-Fleet territory?"
"That's the kind of business I'm in," Dasinger explained. "I own a charter ship company."
"I see," she said. "Well, you two make an odd pair of partners...."
"I suppose we do. Incidentally, has there been any occasion when you and Dr. Egavine--or you and Dr. Egavine and his servant--were alone somewhere in the ship together? For example, except when we came up here to give you further flight instructions, did he ever enter the control room?"
She shook her blond head. "No. Those are the only times I've seen him."
"Certain of that?" he asked.
Duomart nodded without hesitation. "Quite certain!"
Dasinger took an ointment tube from his pocket, removed its cap, squeezed a drop of black, oily substance out on a fingertip. "Mind rolling up your sleeve a moment?" he asked. "Just above the elbow...."
"It's because of the way those hypno sprays work," Dasinger said. "Give your victim a dose of the stuff, tell him what to do, and it usually gets done. And if you're being illegal about it, one of the first things you tell him to do is to forget he's ever been sprayed. This goop is designed for the specific purpose of knocking out hypnotic commands. Just roll up your sleeve like a good girl now, and I'll rub a little of it on your arm."
"You're not rubbing anything on my arm, mister!" Duomart told him coldly.
Dasinger shrugged resignedly, recapped the tube, and dropped it in his pocket. "Have it your way then," he remarked. "I was only ..."
He lunged suddenly towards her.
Duomart gave him quite a struggle. A minute or two later, he had her down on the floor, her body and one arm clamped between his knees, while he unzipped the cuff on the sleeve of the other arm and pulled the sleeve up. He brought out the tube of antihypno ointment and rubbed a few drops of the ointment into the hollow of Duomart's elbow, put the tube back in his pocket, then went on holding her down for nearly another minute. She was gasping for breath, blue eyes furious, muscles tensed.
Suddenly he felt her relax. An expression of stunned surprise appeared on her face. "Why," she began incredulously, "he did ..."
"Gave you the spray treatment, eh?" Dasinger said, satisfied. "I was pretty sure he had."
"Why, that-- At his beck and call, he says! Well, we'll just see about ... let me up, Dasinger! Just wait till I get my hands on that bony partner of yours!"
"Now take it easy."
"Take it easy! Why should I? I ..."
"It would be better," Dasinger explained, "if Egavine believes you're still under the influence."
She scowled up at him; then her face turned thoughtful. "Ho! You feel it isn't that he's a depraved old goat, that he's got something more sinister in mind?"
"It's a definite possibility. Why not wait and find out? The ointment will immunize you against further tricks."
Miss Mines regarded him consideringly for a few seconds, then nodded. "All right! You can let me up now. What do you think he's planning?"
"Not easy to say with Dr. Egavine. He's a devious man." Dasinger got himself disentangled, came to his feet, and reached down to help her scramble up.
"They certainly wrap you up with that hypno stuff, don't they!" she observed wonderingly.
Dasinger nodded. "They certainly do!" Then he added, "I'm keeping the doctor and his little sidekick locked up, too, until we get to the planet. That leaves you and me with the run of the ship."
Duomart looked at him. "So it does," she agreed.
"Know how to use a gun?"
"Of course. But I'm not allow-- I don't have one with me on this trip."
He reached into his coat, took out a small gun in a fabric holster. Duomart glanced at it, then her eyes went back to his face.
"Might clip it to your belt," Dasinger said. "It's a good little shocker, fifty-foot range, safe for shipboard use. It's got a full load, eighty shots. We may or may not run into emergencies. If we don't, you'll still be more comfortable carrying it."
Duomart holstered the gun and attached the holster to her belt. She slid the tip of her tongue reflectively out between her lips, drew it back, blinked at the flight screens for a few seconds, then looked across at Dasinger and tapped the holster at her side.
"That sort of changes things, too!" she said.
"Tell you in a minute. Sit down, Dasinger. Manual course corrections coming up...." She slid into the pilot seat, moved her hands out over the controls, and appeared to forget about him.
Dasinger settled into a chair to her left, lit a cigarette, smoked and watched her, glancing occasionally at the screens. She was jockeying the Mooncat deftly in and out of the fringes of a gravitic stress knot, presently brought it into the clear, slapped over a direction lever and slid the palm of her right hand along a row of speed control buttons depressing them in turn.