|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.
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.