Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mongrel: Arriving at Zoo Hall

Tunnel into Zoo Hall ... Leaving the Sky Behind

Tardi, still with victory in his heart at Shad’s escape, ignored Neil’s fury. The hoverole crossed over grass and parkland as Neil drove toward the back entrance of Zoo Hall with about as much care for lawns and plants as his passengers. 

“Take it easy,” Zebe said. “Have us fined by the garden-bots in a minute.”

She’s not crying now. I was right. All an act. But why? 

“The Tree-hair has been against me from the minute we met,” Neil said. “I’m making sure he gets the full treatment. Get you out from under him too.”

Zebe toggled the passenger’s rear vision mirror, angling it to glare at Tardi. 

Still mad with him. None of it boded well for his welcome. 

“Don’t even dream of you and me as a pair, Neil,” Zebe said. “Not going to happen.” 

Neil braked. “So why are you here?”

“I’m seeing that Tardi isn’t broken in the time it takes Security to get him to the apartments?”

“Why would they break me?” Tardi said. “I’m volunteering to come in, I thought.”

Neil laughed. “Too bad you didn’t come in that first day. I had plenty of time to convince Whit of the whole other story.” He played a brassy tune on the hoverole’s keyboard as they drew up at the wide-open double doors of the unloading dock. 

Half dozen Security operatives swarmed over the hoverole. 

Tardi helped his progress out of the hoverole where he could, to have it over with, and to save himself the worst. Thankfully, Whit Smith, the EMBer, was not among the crew. Though it did mean that Whit sent others to do his dirty work. Something else to know about the man. 

As he was dragged past Zebe, Tardi saw that Neil had an arm around her waist and a hand over her mouth. Tardi didn’t understand Zebe’s actions but surely Neil’s tactics weren’t the way to get resolution either. He felt dimly comforted. 

A pair of operatives held one of his arms each. A second pair led and brought up the rear. All of them forward-staring, as in, they were not getting involved with the captive. 

Fine. He’d enjoy the journey. 

From the buff-painted corridors of the utilities department, they navigated into the rabbit warren of offices and corridors too narrow fro three abreast. 

One of his captors clicked a handcuff around his own wrist then linked the other of the pair around Tardi’s. The other fell back. 

“Why would you even think that necessary?” Tardi said. “I’ve been coming along with you without resistance?”

The head man stopped. Turned. “It’s nothing personal. We were told that you’ve been colonised by a part of the alien-composite. They are stronger than Rambo. Who knows what you might do under their influence?” 

What could he say? The explanations would take all week if he had to sweet-talk the whole scenario all the way up the chain of command? “Take the next left, then a couple of rights to get to where we are going,” he said.

“How do you know?” said the headman.

Would they warm to him if he let them know of his previous familiarity with the place? “I was a tourist here, ten years ago. My little brother was having his life saved at SoHAB. I played hide and seek here with the cleaner-bots. Seeing how long I could stay out of their clutches.”  

The operative behind them chuckled in a rich contralto. “Clever. A smart operator, getting us sympathetic to him.”

Ah. Unfortunately the gang-boss was with them. The rest straightened up and held tighter. They took the next left and following that a couple of rights. Coming into the open of the plaza surrounding the aliens' cage his guards snapped a second cuff around his left wrist. This for a walk of perhaps ten paces. 

Their obvious superior stepped into their path. Tardi remembered him very well. Whit Smith. “So who are you in the scheme of things?” 

 Whit, tall and calm with a flat board under one arm, ignored Tardi. 

Giving him the chance to see what was different about Whit. Thinly blond. No change there. Faded blue eyes that should be looking at distances. How he now dressed as well. Khaki jeans, shirt. Leather boots. He now gave the impression of being an outdoor sort of guy brought indoors. 

Different from when he was rambling round when Steve was being made over. Then Whit was never seen without a white coat.

“Taking no chances I see,” Whit said. 

“Instructions weren’t specific,” said the gang-boss from the back. “I had to interpret. This is what I came up with. You’ll thank me when he takes a bite out of you.”

Whit stared past Tardi. “Take the cuffs off him.” He smiled his famous Whit Smith smile, a thin-lipped little glimmer-grin. “So long as he is a man, he won’t be an eater.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mongrel: Concrete Proof for Zebe

Bark Texture, imagine if your back looked like this ...

In which Zebe herself, through her visit to Zoo Hall, organises proof that the monster sometimes exists in Tardi ...

Tardi and Shad softened down hard bread rolls by wetting them under the tap when they heard the individual sound of Neil’s customised hoverole swing through the intersection into the residential community.

“His air intake pipes have got to have been squeezed to make that screaming,” Tardi said. 

“I’ll get the door!” Zebe called.

There had been no communication between Tardi and Zebe since their upset. 

The hoverole squealed to a halt as Zebe reached the front of the house.  

Rumble rumble, said a male voice. Zebe’s voice was insistent about something. Finally Neil gave way, promising something. 

“Couldn’t understand a word,” Shad said. 

Neil followed Zebe into the open plan living space. 

“Gennelman wears his ‘gzitement right out,” Shad said in a broad version of the Stormy dialect.

Tardi nodded. Neil wore a fixed smile and a tense demeanour. His eyes glittered. He rubbed his hands, seemingly over a feeling of success. 

“Neil, could you make us a sandwich?” Zebe said.

Lunchtime was hours ago and surely Neil would’ve eaten in the SoHAB canteen? Zebe gave the man busy work in other words.

“We’ll be upstairs,” Zebe said. She waited on the third step for Shad and Tardi to precede her, almost with her foot tapping. 

Tardi lagged.

“Go on,” she said, not playfully.

“Why?” he said. “When you already decided … your discussing the situation on the front door step?” 

She laughed.

If that wasn’t the last straw. It wasn’t hard to stage him tripping, with soft carpet and narrow treads. 

Not saying a word, Zebe helped him up with a steely hand in his armpit. “I thought we could sit on the settle?” she said. 

Tardi only glanced at the space at the top of the stairs. He followed Shad into the master bedroom. 

“You surely didn’t have to make this much of a mess,” Zebe said. 

Tardi and Shad had stacked the bed and mattress on edge and roughly folded the bedding on top. 

Shad pointed upward. “Broken skylight. A piece of wrack in the wind. We saved as much as we could.”

The patio had the tarp stretched over it for shade since the wind dropped. Tardi’s toe-roots pretty safe on the concrete. And anyway, the tree in him was still in retreat. 

A fire-pit of scavenged bricks lay on the concrete. Embers glowed. Their swags hung drying over the guard rails. 

Tardi watched Zebe noting it all. Pain in her expression. Inadvertent tears that she tried to hide when she saw him watching. Her manner made more sense. How often had he hidden tearful emotions with anger?

Shad started to take down the tarp. 

Neil strode through the bedroom. “Fuckers ate us out of house and home.”

“No power,” Tardi said. “We ate everything that would spoil without refrigeration.” 

“Where’s your mate?” Neil said.

“I think he saw you coming,” Tardi said. “Find him down by the river maybe, if you want him.”

“Damn. I said I’d bring in the both of you. Two half-Stormies make a whole, right?”

“What’s your prize?” Tardi said.

Neil laughed. “Zebe, of course.”

“Neil, please! I asked you to allow me to tell them.” She stared Neil out of the room and down the stairs. She watched him from the top to make sure he went. 

Downstairs, Neil swore. Kicked something. Slammed a door. 

Shad vaulted back over the railings. “Tch. Two halves make a whole! If he only knew.”

“You going along with Neil’s orders, Zebe?” Tardi said. “I don’t expect him to have thought them up himself.”

“Have to. For now,” she said. “It’s not too late, Tar. I mean Tardi.”

“Not too late for what?” he said, frowning. 

“Don’t start. You want this stupid thing. Yes, it’s stupid. I hate it. And to set it up with SoHAB, I’m having to be a Class A bitch. Xanthe was good at that. Not me.”

Hug to comfort her? Better not, he wanted to hear the rest. 

She blew her nose. Continued calmer. “There are no standardised treatments for what you want so I had to sign you up personally. Because how else would they have committed to providing the protocols? Well, that was their argument. And fucking Whit Smith was laughing the whole time because he already knows all about you? I worry about that. How they plan to use you. Neil of course loves the plan.”

“Fuck Neil,” Tardi said. “I’ll hold out for you to doctor me, Zebe. Then you won’t need to live here because they’ll have to house you. Our story will be that I might need you any tick of the clock. Will you, Zebe?”

She sniffed. “Why don’t you hate me?”

He shrugged. “Circumstances. What could you do? Can we kiss and make up?”

“If you’ll try to think up some evidence?” she said. She angled her face. Pursed her lips.

Tardi hugged her. Met her lips with his …

… the fucking monster convulsed in him. It tore him from her with his arms and legs akimbo. 


The wall broke his fall. He slid to the floor. He groaned sorting himself.

“I think there’s your evidence, Zebe,” Shad said. “What possible reason could Tar have to tear himself loose from you with such violence and throw himself backwards to smash into the wall? Something about you that the Great Bastard does not like.” 

He helped Tardi up. “What alerted him?”

Tardi touched his lips. “The disinfectant, I think. You drank the stuff?” he asked Zebe.

“They made me wipe my face with it,” Zebe said, crouching with them. “The monster did that?”

“Guess he still doesn’t want me to go to Zoo Hall where he is still a prisoner. Gonna be hard work getting me there.”

“Time to go,” Neil said from the door. “Are you coming or do I have to drag you, Tree-man?” 

Tardi chuckled. Neil had to drag him. 

Shad held back Zebe. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mongrel: What the Old Time Stormies Figured

Signing the Paperwork

“Tell me again at the same time,” Zebe said. 

Tardi breathed. In. Out. Tell them one more time. Patiently. “I’m not after being feminised. Far from it.”

Zebe interrupted. “Yet that will be the result. The side effect of taking those drugs. There has got to be a really excellent line of reasoning in place to get the chemicals released. And no way can we get anything in that line released without the backing of an organisation.” 

“In other words, a fucking good story,” Tardi said. “I see that. I’ve been thinking on it, gribs and grabs because having to do it without alerting the puppeteer.” He waited for their acknowledgements.
Shad nodded. “Also known to the Stormies as the Great Bastard,” he said for Zebe’s benefit. He cross-legged to the floor in the doorway. 

“Remember that I will want real evidence,” Zebe said. She sat on the bed. 

Tardi marshalled words. “Humanity hasn’t got any way of taming or stopping the Great Bastard that I can see,” he said. “Read tame as contain, because I don’t believe he is an animal such that might be tamed. There have been two deaths among the crew that the fucker chose for himself. IE, he has two fewer glove puppets through Trinnet getting himself killed and Callum doing the deed himself. Does anybody have a clue as to how many more so-far-unknown gloves await his rule?”

Shad held up a finger.

Tardi stopped to let Shad talk. 

“Old-time Stormies figured the Engineer is a kind of live-mind and the Huddle are the equivalent to a bunch of unknown unknowable wild primates,” Shad said. “So said the old ladies. Hence it were always going to be you to tame other-wordly entities.” 

“I so don’t see how he reasoned to that point,” Zebe said about Shad’s information.

Tardi put his hand up to stop the discussion before it got started. “The Engineer is a kind of live-mind …?” he said. “I don’t recall that wording in the three-dot history? I don’t see why a live-mind would care to reformat a planet to make it suit … No. I do see it. He was programmed the same as every other live-mind.” 

Shad grinned. “Maybe I hit a nerve with my needles and you yelled through that bit of the story,” he said. 

“It’s a good way of thinking about the bastard,” Tardi said. “Helpful. The same with the descriptors for the Huddle. Unknowable primates. Because Earth-evolved primates have a shoal of scientists watching them for any bit of behaviour that will help know them. So, what you’re telling me, I need to watch the Huddle like that.” 

“I don’t like where that reasoning is going,” Zebe said.

Tardi forbore to ask her if she at least understood. He’d ask her when he was done. “Which is why I need to get close to them. All the time he’s been on Earth so far, and thousands of years before that as Cele reminded me, the Great Bastard was controlled by the Huddle. They’ll have the answers we need, is how I see it,” he said.

He waited. Did they accept his logic so far? 

“Go on,” Shad said.

Zebe shrugged. 

Tardi continued. “Bringing us to my next problem. How I’m to get close enough to the Huddle that I can get their advice, apart from not even speaking the same language, when I’m a man? When we know they eat all men soon as they clap their eyes on them?” He waited though he doubted that anyone would have a better idea.  

“What’s wrong with using a woman as your go-between?” Zebe said.

“You are volunteering given what happened to your sister?” Tardi said.


“I’ve thought it through a hundred times. Feminising me to the stage where I’m accepted by the Huddle has presented itself to me as the only solution?” He was as passive as he could manage while his temper notched up.  

“Still no evidence,” Zebe said. “It’s not a condition looking for a cure.”  

Tardi breathed. In. Out. Let himself get any angrier and he’d lose her. “What does that even mean, a condition looking for a cure?”

Now they both just breathed. 

She still felt oppositional, Tardi saw from the way she clenched her jaws and narrowed her lips. 

“I give up,” she said. “Sometime soon I need you to tell me, and sign some paperwork, as to why you want to take this step?” 

Tardi’s jaw sagged. “Paperwork? You told someone? Earlier you said …”

“I said that we’d need a good story to convince the people backing us for this project that it’s a good thing to do.” She rushed on. “And I could only think of the one organisation who’d want to back you for this, and that’s the EMBers. They are as keen as you to contain the creature and keener than you that someone other than they themselves does the containing. Of course I told someone, aka Whit Smith, because if he’d said no, I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of not being deregistered for good.”

This time it was Tardi not getting the reasoning, how B followed from A. “As to the why I want to take this step, I guess you weren’t listening. Again.”

“Has anyone ever told you how impossible you are?” Zebe said. She pushed past him and ran down the stairs. Clattered into the kitchen.

“Zebe’s need-to-know is all about concrete evidence, I think, Tar,” Shad said. 

“In other words don’t blame her for not hearing?” Tardi said. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mongrel: When 1 + 1 + 1 = 2

Zebe's badge before she was struck off the medical register
- from
In which neither Shad nor Zebe understand the reasons for what must come to pass ... 

A hoverole that was probably a cab, since it didn’t come with the excruciating sound effects that Neil’s vehicle produced stopped at the front door and went off again after an interval long enough to let someone off. 

The someone negotiated the locks on the front door as if trying to enter without being heard. 

“It’s Zebe,” Shad said.

“Don’t say another word,” Tardi said. “I’m aware of every fucking danger courtesy of all my fucking nightmares.”  He soft-footed down the stairs and entered the kitchen.

Zebe stared into the open fridge.

“Hey there,” Tardi said to her back.

She jumped. “Looking for a snack. Neil scored a night shift he couldn’t wiggle out of. One of his mates dropped me off. Kitchen is pretty tidy for two blokes shut in for the day. Did you eat anything?” She closed the fridge and turned in a smooth move. 

Tardi quirked a smile. She had a rushed explanation that shifted into a judgmental commentary but there was that move. “We picnicked,” he said. “Ate very well, thank you. Cup of tea?” He gestured up the stairs. 

“I wouldn’t mind a hot drink.” 

 She walked up the stairs ahead of him, swaying. 

Ooh la la. Tardi gladly set aside his nightmares and started looking forward to him and her dallying. 
“I’ll have a mug to take away and so will you,” she instructed. “Indian for me.” She continued past the room where Tardi and Shad camped. 

Unfriendly but not so strange. 

Shad ladled hot water from a pan bubbling by the fire onto Zebe’s Indian tea leaves, and onto Tardi’s Stormy blend. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I got a lot of thinking to do. My comfort zone and such.” 

“Thanks, Cuz.” Shad not present should make dealing with Zebe easier. 

Tardi followed Zebe into what was clearly her room away from home with a Celtic-design bed spread, Celtic cross above the bed and Celtic knot above the door. He set her tea on her bedside shelf near where she sat. The bed took up most of the room leaving a narrow alley around the sides and foot-end. 

Zebe frowned. “What’s with loose tea leaves? No milk and no sugar?”

Tardi laughed. “Teabags are a waste according to Shad. A pinch of leaves does the trick. He’d say we don’t take a cow with us on the road. And that you can add what poisons you desire yourself. Which is why I have the blend.” 

Zebe set down the mug after a sip. “Bitter.” She stood up. 

Tardi set his mug on the floor in the angle of the walls. “Mine is too hot yet to taste anything.” Here’s hoping she falls into my arms. Good fantasy or what? 

Zebe slipped by him which was when he should’ve made some kind of move. No evidence of her former willowy moves is what put me off. 

She started walking along remaining two sides of the bed. “I came back as soon as I discovered what you’re really asking,” she said. She turned slightly each time she addressed him to throw the words at him. “Do you realise? The extent, results, the changes in you?”

He didn’t get the chance saying that he wasn’t asking for the full treatment.

“Because that’s what it amounts to? A chemical sex change?” she said.

“That doesn’t sound like what I am after,” he said. “I thought Cele might have explained that I need to get in with the Huddle?”  

“I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now,” Zebe said. 

Had she even taken in his explanations? Did she even hear him just then? “Why? Because you know me so well suddenly?” Tardi said. 

“I find an actual man and he asks me to organise him a sex change?” She scoffed. “What’s that about?”

Oh. She did understand at least part of what Cele told her. “Unfortunate coming together of circumstances,” he said. “I thought that with Cele’s program … what you’re calling the protocol … I quote, Only go so far and then maintain.”

She flushed pink, not red. Too bad he didn’t have a gauge on him to explain what pink meant. 

“I didn’t buy it then or now because I don’t have evidence,” she said.

Surprising him. 

“I may have been struck from the register, but I am a medical doctor and I need a good reason, real in-your-face evidence before I’ll recommend so severe a cure.”

“Oh. Well." All Tardi’s counter-accusations fell away. He picked up his tea and drank it down in a couple of gulps. Dropped the mug. Clunk. It didn’t even break. 

“Well?” Zebe said.

“I’m trying to remember if I knew that,” Tardi said.

 Shad, at the door, chortled. “You stumped him, Doc.” 

Zebe frowned. “What do you know about me?”

Shad moved his hands to make peace. “Be easy, Zee. Can I call you that? Stormy-kind everywhere know how easily government paperwork is claimed to go missing. It’ll be your caring hands they recall.” 

Zebe was incredulous, Tardi saw. “Since when did you know of Zebe, Cuz?”

“An I just now put three together to make two,” Shad said. “One. A story she told of her sister calling her a Celtic twin for her olive skin, dark hair and hazel eyes.” 

He counted on his fingers. “Two. That scar on your arm, Zee. Where you tangled with the wildlife along one of the inland rivers. Saved that kiddie. Stormies living there tell that story. You might know them as Skanzies.”

Now Zebe really blushed. Red. 

“Three,” Shad said. “All this Celtic stuff in your room. Your sister’s doing probably, making you feel at home. Making you the healer who doctored them along the inland rivers. They are the two.” 

Zebe laughed. “Goodness me, I must have made quite an impression to be known up and down the country.” 

“Tar, I trust her with your life but” Shad said.

“Not with the feminising of me is what you’re wanting to say,” Tardi said. 

“Why is it really necessary?” Shad said.

Tardi all but slumped. What he felt like, just giving up. Couldn't Shad see that by himself Tardi hadn't a hope of controlling, let alone containing the Great Bastard?