|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.”