"A few smugglers and confidence men I've had connections with. Fairly good boys for this sort of thing. Then there's an old millionaire sportsman, with a party of six, waiting to transfer to the Camelot for a safari on Jontarou. Old Philmarron isn't all there, in my opinion, but he's dead game and loves any kind of a ruckus. We can count on him and his friends, if they're not too drunk at the moment. Still ... that's not too many to set against something less than a hundred professional guns, even though some of them must be down on the two ships."
"No, not enough." Quillan looked thoughtful. "What's the other idea?"
"Let the cat out of the bag generally. Tell the guests and the employees out here what's going on, and see if somebody can think of something that might be done."
He shook his head. "What you'd set off with that would be anywhere between a riot and a panic. The boys in the Executive Block would simply give us the breathless treatment. Apparently, they prefer to have everything looking quiet and normal when the Camelot gets here--"
"But they don't have to play it that way," Reetal agreed. "We might be dead for hours before the liner docks. If they keep the landing lock closed until what they want has been unloaded, nobody on the Camelot would realize what had happened before it was too late."
There was a moment's silence. Then Quillan said, "You mentioned you'd picked up a clue to what they're after. What was that?"
"Well, that's a curious thing," Reetal said. "On the trip out here, a young girl name of Solvey Kinmarten attached herself to me. She didn't want to talk much, but I gathered she was newly married, and that her husband was on board and was neglecting her. She's an appealing little thing, and she seemed so forlorn and upset that I adopted her for the rest of the run. After we arrived, of course, I pretty well forgot about the Kinmartens and their troubles.
"A few hours ago, Solvey suddenly came bursting into the suite where I'm registered. She was shaking all over. After I calmed her down a bit, she spilled out her story. She and her husband, Brock Kinmarten, are rest wardens. With another man named Eltak, whom Solvey describes as 'some sort of crazy old coot,' they're assigned to escort two deluxe private rest cubicles to a very exclusive sanatorium on Mezmiali. But Brock told Solvey at the beginning of the trip that this was a very unusual assignment, that he didn't want her even to come near the cubicles. That wouldn't have bothered her so much, she says, but on the way here Brock became increasingly irritable and absent-minded. She knew he was worrying about the cubicles, and she began to wonder whether they weren't involved in something illegal. The pay was very high; they're both getting almost twice the regular warden fee for the job. One day, she found an opportunity to do a little investigating.
"The cubicles are registered respectively to a Lady Pendrake and a Major Pendrake. Lady Pendrake appears to be genuine; the cubicle is unusually large and constructed somewhat differently from the ones with which Solvey was familiar, but it was clear that it had an occupant. However, the life indicator on 'Major Pendrake's cubicle registered zero when she switched it on. If there was something inside it, it wasn't a living human being.
"That was all she learned at the time, because she was afraid Brock might catch her in the cubicle room. Here in the Star, the cubicles were taken to a suite reserved for Lady Pendrake. The other man, Eltak, stayed in the suite with the cubicles, while the Kinmartens were given other quarters. However, Brock was still acting oddly and spending most of his time in the Pendrake suite. So this morning, Solvey swiped his key to the suite and slipped in when she knew the two men had left it."
"She'd barely got there when she heard Brock and Eltak at the door again. She ran into the next room, and hid in a closet. Suddenly there was a commotion in the front room, and Solvey realized that men from the Star's security force had arrived and were arresting Brock and Eltak. They hauled both of them away, then floated the cubicles out and on a carrier and took them off too, locking the suite behind them.
"Solvey was in a complete panic, sure that she and Brock had become involved in some serious breach of the Warden Code. She waited a few minutes, then slipped out of the Pendrake suite, and looked me up to see if I couldn't help them. I had Heraga check, and he reported that the Kinmarten suite was under observation. Evidently, they wanted to pick up the girl, too. So I tucked her away in one of the suites in this section, and gave her something to put her to sleep. She's there now."
Quillan said, "And where are the prisoners and the cubicles?"
"In the Executive Block."
"How do you know?"
Reetal smiled briefly. "The Duke of Fluel told me."
"Huh? The Brotherhood knows you're here?"
"Relax," Reetal said. "Nobody but Heraga knows I'm working for the Mooleys. I told the Duke I had a big con deal set up when the Camelot came in--I even suggested he might like to get in on it. He laughed, and said he had other plans. But he won't mention to anyone that I'm here."
"Because," Reetal said dryly, "what the Duke is planning to get in on is an hour of tender dalliance. Before the Camelot arrives, necessarily. The cold-blooded little skunk!" She hesitated a moment; when she spoke again, her voice had turned harsh and nasal, wicked amusement sounding through it. "Sort of busy at the moment, sweetheart, but we might find time for a drink or two later on in the evening, eh?"
Quillan grunted. "You're as good at the voice imitations as ever. How did you find out about the cubicles?"
"I took a chance and fed him a Moment of Truth."
"With Fluel," Quillan said thoughtfully, "that was taking a chance!"
"Believe me, I was aware of it! I've run into card-carrying sadists before, but the Duke's the only one who scares me silly. But it did work. He dropped in for a about a minute and a half, and came out without noticing a thing. Meanwhile, I'd got the answers to a few questions. The bomb with which they're planning to mop up behind them already has been planted up here in the normspace section. Fluel didn't know where; armaments experts took care of it. It's armed now. There's a firing switch on each of their ships, and both switches have to be tripped before the thing goes off. Part of what they're after is in those Pendrake rest cubicles--"
"Part of it?" Quillan asked.
"Uh-huh. An even hundred similar cubicles will be unloaded from the Camelot--the bulk of the haul; which is why Nome Lancion is supervising things on the liner. I started to ask what was in the cubicles, but I saw Fluel was beginning to lose that blank look they have under Truth, and switched back to light chitchat just before he woke up. Yaco's paying for the job--or rather, it will pay for the stuff, on delivery, and no questions asked."
"That's not very much help, is it?" Quillan said after a moment. "Something a big crooked industrial combine like Yaco thinks it can use--"
"It must expect to be able to use it to extremely good advantage," Reetal said. "The Brotherhood will collect thirty million credits for their part of the operation. The commodore's group presumably won't do any worse." She glanced past Quillan toward the room portal. "It's O.K., Heraga! Come in."
Sher Heraga was a lean, dark-skinned little man with a badly bent nose, black curly hair, and a nervous look. He regretted, he said, that he hadn't been able to uncover anything which might be a lead to the location of the bomb. Apparently, it wasn't even being guarded. And, of course, a bomb of the size required here would be quite easy to conceal.
"If they haven't placed guards over it," Reetal agreed, "it'll take blind luck to spot it! Unless we can get hold of one of the men who knows where it's planted--"
There was silence for some seconds. Then Quillan said, "Well, if we can't work out a good plan, we'd better see what we can do with one of the bad ones. Are the commodore's security men wearing uniforms?"
Heraga shook his head, "Not the ones I saw."
"Then here's an idea," Quillan said. "As things stand, barging into the Executive Block with a small armed group can't accomplish much. It might be more interesting than sitting around and waiting to be blown up, but it still would be suicide. However, if we could get things softened up and disorganized in there first--"
"Softened up and disorganized how?" Reetal asked.
"We can use that notion you had of having Heraga float in another diner. This time, I'm on board--in a steward's uniform, in case the guards check."
"They didn't the first time," Heraga said.
"Sloppy of them. Well, they're just gun hands. Anyway, once we're inside I shuck off the uniform and get out. Heraga delivers his goodies, and leaves again--"
Reetal gave him a look. "You'll get shot down the instant you're seen, dope!"
"I think not. There're two groups in there--around a hundred men in all--and they haven't had time to get well acquainted yet. I'll have my gun in sight, and anyone who sees me should figure I belong to the other group, until I run into one of the Brotherhood boys who knows me personally."
"Then that's when you get shot down. I understand the last time you and the Duke of Fluel met, he woke up with lumps."
"The Duke doesn't love me," Quillan admitted. "But there's nothing personal between me and Movaine or Marras Cooms--and I'll have a message for Movaine."
"What kind of a message?"
"I'll have to play that by ear a little. It depends on how things look in there. But I have a few ideas, based on what you've learned of the operation. Now, just what I can do when I get that far, I don't know yet. I'll simply try to louse the deal up as much as I can. That may take time, and, of course, it might turn out to be impossible to get word out to you."
"So what do we do meanwhile?" Reetal asked. "If we start lining up our attack group immediately, and then there's no action for another five or six hours, there's always the chance of a leak, with around twenty people in the know."
"And if there's a leak," Quillan agreed, "we've probably had it. No, you'd better wait with that! If I'm not out, and you haven't heard from me before the Camelot's actually due to dock, Heraga can still take the group--everyone but yourself--in as scheduled."
"Why everyone but me?" Reetal asked.
"If nothing else works, you might find some way of getting a warning to the liner's security force after they've docked. It isn't much of a possibility, but we can't afford to throw it away."
"Yes, I see." Reetal looked reflective. "What do you think, Heraga?"
The little man shrugged. "You told me that Mr. Quillan is not inexperienced in dealing with, ah, his enemies. If he feels he might accomplish something in the Executive Block, I'm in favor of the plan. The situation certainly could hardly become worse."
"That's the spirit!" Quillan approved. "The positive outlook--that's what a think like this mainly takes. Can you arrange for the diner and the uniform?"
"Oh, yes," Heraga said, "I've had myself put in charge of that detail, naturally."
"Then what can you tell me about the Executive Block's layout?"
Reetal stood up. "Come over to the desk," she said. "We've got diagrams."
"The five levels, as you see," Heraga was explaining a few moments later, "are built directly into the curve of the Star's shells. Level Five, on the top, is therefore quite small. The other levels are fairly extensive. Two, Three, and Four could each accommodate a hundred men comfortably. These levels contain mainly living quarters, private offices, and the like. The Brotherhood men appear to be occupying the fourth level, Velladon's group the second. The third may be reserved for meetings between representatives of the two groups. All three of these levels are connected by single-exit portals to the large entrance area on the ground level.
"The portals stood open when I went in earlier today, and there were about twenty armed men lounging about the entrance hall. I recognized approximately half of them as being members of the Star's security force. The others were unfamiliar." Heraga cleared his throat. "There is a possibility that the two groups do not entirely trust each other."
Quillan nodded. "If they're playing around with something like sixty million CR, anybody would have to be crazy to trust the Brotherhood of Beldon. The transmitter room and the control officers are guarded, too?"
"Yes, but not heavily," Heraga said. "There seem to be only a few men stationed at each of those points. Ostensibly, they're there as a safe-guard--in case the imaginary raiders attempt to break out of the subspace section."
"What's the arrangement of the ordinary walk-in tube portals in the Executive Block?"
"There is one which interconnects the five levels. On each of the lower levels, there are, in addition, several portals which lead out to various points in the Seventh Star Hotel. On the fifth level, there is only one portal of this kind. Except for the portal which operates between the different levels in the Executive Block, all of them have been rendered unusable at present."
"Unusable in what way?"
"They have been sealed off on the Executive Block side."
"Can you get me a diagram of the entry and exit systems those outgoing portals connect with?" Quillan asked. "I might turn one of them usable again."
"Yes, I can do that."
"How about the communication possibilities?"
"The ComWeb system is functioning normally on the second, third, and fourth levels. It has been shut off on the first level--to avoid the spread of 'alarming rumors' by office personnel. There is no ComWeb on the fifth level."
Reetal said, "We'll shift our operating headquarters back to my registered suite then. The ComWebs are turned off in these vacant sections. I'll stay in the other suite in case you find a chance to signal in."
Heraga left a few minutes later to make his arrangements. Reetal smiled at Quillan, a little dubiously.
"Good luck, guy," she said. "Anything else to settle before you start off?"
Quillan nodded. "Couple of details. If you're going to be in your regular suite, and Fluel finds himself with some idle time on hand, he might show up for the dalliance you mentioned."
Reetal's smile changed slightly. Her left hand fluffed the hair at the back of her head, flicked down again. There was a tiny click, and Quillan looked at a small jeweled hair-clasp in her palm, its needle beak pointing at him.
"It hasn't got much range," Reetal said, "but within ten feet it will scramble the Duke's brains just as thoroughly as they need to be scrambled."
"Good enough," Quillan said. "Just don't give that boy the ghost of a chance, doll. He has a rep for playing very unnice games with the ladies."
"I know his reputation." Reetal replaced the tiny gun in her hair. "Anything else?"
"Yes. Let's look in on the Kinmarten chick for a moment. If she's awake, she may have remembered something or other by now that she didn't think to tell you."
They found Solvey Kinmarten awake, and tearfully glad to see Reetal. Quillan was introduced as a member of the legal profession who would do what he could for Solvey and her husband. Solvey frowned prettily, trying very hard to remember anything that might be of use. But it appeared that she had told Reetal all she knew.
The blue and white Phalagon House diner, driven by Heraga, was admitted without comment into the Executive Block. It floated on unchallenged through the big entry hall and into a corridor. Immediately behind the first turn of the corridor, the diner paused a few seconds. Its side door opened and closed. The diner moved on.
Quillan, coatless and with the well-worn butt of a big Miam Devil Special protruding from the holster on his right hip, came briskly back along the corridor. Between fifteen and twenty men, their guns also conspicuously in evidence, were scattered about the entrance hall, expressions and attitudes indicating a curious mixture of boredom and uneasy tension. The eyes of about half of them swiveled around to Quillan when he came into the hall; then, with one exception, they looked indifferently away again.
The exception, leaning against the wall near the three open portals to the upper levels, continued to stare as Quillan came toward him, forehead creased in a deep scowl as if he were painfully ransacking his mind for something. Quillan stopped in front of him.
"Chum," he asked, "any idea where Movaine is at the moment? They just give me this message for him--"
Still scowling, the other scratched his chin and blinked. "Uh ... dunno for sure," he said after a moment. "He oughta be in the third level conference room with the rest of 'em. Uh ... dunno you oughta barge in there right now, pal! The commodore's reee-lly hot about somethin'!"
Quillan looked worried. "Gotta chance it, I guess! Message is pretty important, they say--" He turned, went through the center portal of the three, abruptly found himself walking along a wide, well-lit hall.
Nobody in sight here, or in the first intersecting passage he came to. When he reached the next passage, he heard voices on the right, turned toward them, went by a string of closed doors on both sides until, forty feet on, the passage angled again and opened into a long, high-ceilinged room. The voices came through an open door on the right side of the room. Standing against the wall beside the door were two men whose heads turned sharply toward Quillan as he appeared in the passage. The short, chunky one scowled. The big man next to him, the top of whose head had been permanently seared clear of hair years before by a near miss from a blaster, dropped his jaw slowly. His eyes popped.
"My God!" he said.
"Movaine in there, Baldy?" Quillan inquired, coming up.
"Movaine! He ... you ... how--"
The chunky man took out his gun, waved it negligently at Quillan. "Tell the ape to blow, Perk. He isn't wanted here."
"Ape?" Quillan asked softly. His right hand moved, had the gun by the barrel, twisted, reversed the gun, jammed it back with some violence into the chunky man's stomach. "Ape?" he repeated. The chunky man went white.
"Bad News--" Baldy Perk breathed. "Take it easy! That's Orca. He's the commodore's torpedo. How--"
"Movaine ... he ... uh--"
"All right, he's not here. And Lancion can't have arrived yet. Is Cooms in there?"
"Yeah," Baldy Perk said weakly. "Cooms is in there, Quillan."
"Let's go in." Quillan withdrew the gun, slid it into a pocket, smiled down at Orca. "Get it back from your boss, slob. Be seeing you!"
Orca's voice was a husky whisper.
"You will, friend! You will!"