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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
Perseus Spur 24
Bron took a step backward, glowering, and hefted his Harvey. To my surprise, he gave in. "All right. But if the ties go off, I'll have to stay and keep an eye on him."
"You are welcome to do so," the doctor said, "provided that you do not impede our work."
I felt the tight plastic restraints fall away. Soft alien hands belonging to Scientist Milik chafed my numb wrists. I groaned again and smiled at her, attempting a look of piteous gratitude. The ridged exotic face was almost incapable of expression, but her blue lips lifted slightly at the corners.
"This man is in no state to endanger anyone," Woritak said, tucking the reference book into his smock. "He is not only partially paralyzed from a stun-dart graze, but he also suffers from trauma to his ribs, kidney damage, and massive contusions of the dorsal musculature and dermis."
"How long to patch him up?" the assassin inquired insolently.
"Two minutes to administer an antidote to the stun-dart. Ten to stabilize the cracked and broken ribs with injectable bonebrace. Embrocation apparatus will dissipate the infusion of blood in the subcutaneous tissue and minimize pain and swelling from the contusions—another ten minutes. His kidney must heal itself, although one can insert an indwelling antibiotic dispenser to preclude infection. One minute to accomplish that. Total treatment time, twenty-three minutes."
"Then get going." Elgar found a stool and perched on it, the blaster propped on his crossed legs.
Woritak's assistants collected the appropriate repair gear and he put them to work. Scientist Milik, who didn't seem to be part of the medical establishment, yet was obviously Somebody, fetched a flask of cool water and held it while I sipped through the tube. The medic pumped a shot into my neck artery and the paralysis abated.
"Hang in there, Frost," Milik said to me. "You'll feel almost as good as new in a little while."
I thanked her and she went away.
Woritak stuck needles into my ribs and slowly the acute pain vanished, leaving only leftover aches from my encounters with the lacertilian and Bron's trail-stompers. The hit man watched, looking stone bored, as a lepido painted my bruises bright red, then positioned a longish apparatus like a tanning light above my back and switched it on. I felt the contused flesh tingle.
"Don't move," Woritak said. "The machine's ministrations result in an odd sensation, but it will not cause distress. One must now go to procure your antibiotic." He left the room. The stolid lepidos continued to monitor the bruise eradicator. They hadn't uttered a sound.
I said to Elgar, "Did you know we were here on Cravat all the time?"
"What do you think?" His voice was contemptuous.
"Which one of the Rampart board members blew the whistle on me—Cousin Zed? Ollie Schneider? Are Dunne and Rivello in on the Galapharma scam, too?"
"Why should you care? You're finished—whether you live or die."
"I suppose your boss has to decide whether to deep six me or do a Haluk refit job and plug me into the same cockamamy game plan as Eve."
He gave a noncommittal shrug. His blue eyes were more opaque than ever. "It'll all be decided after your interrogation. I couldn't care less myself. But after all the trouble you've given me, I don't mind telling you it'd be a giggle to see you turn lepido."
"You're working for some sick puppies at Galapharma, Bron. And some mighty stupid ones, too. Do you have any idea what could happen to the galactic political situation if the Haluk achieve human-style stability?"
"None of my business. I don't make Concern policy."
"You just follow orders," I said archly. "It's Alistair Drum-mond and the other Concern CEOs who make secret decisions to sell high technology to a hostile alien race, breaking the laws of the Commonwealth and putting humanity at risk."
"The Haluk aren't hostile. Not when you know which buttons to push. They can be downright chummy. Generous, too." He eyed me satirically. "Why, a man properly full of cosmic brotherhood wouldn't even mind his sister marrying one."
Before I could decide whether this was more than an insult, Physician Woritak returned.
He folded the lamp apparatus away from my back and did a diagnostic scan. "Excellent. The contusions are satisfactorily reduced. Please attempt to turn over onto your back."
I accomplished the maneuver gingerly. There was no pain, except for the low-level kidney ache.
"Are you able to sit up?"
I could and did, with only a bit of wooziness, causing the metallic blanket to slide to the floor. "Hold still for insertion of the renal antibiotic," the doctor said. He poked me with something. "The internal dispenser will dissolve when its function is accomplished. Your treatment is now concluded. All of your injuries are ameliorated. After sleeping for a few hours, you should be quite fit."
"He can sleep after he sings," Elgar said. "Get him some clothes. Can he walk?"
"Certainly not. We can provide an antigrav invalid chair, however."
One of the orderlies dressed me in a set of lightweight green scrubs, similar to those worn by the doctor, while the other fetched the chair. At Elgar's orders, they immobilized my arms and legs with strong padded straps, detached the chair's small control pad, and handed it to the assassin.
Elgar said to Woritak, "One last thing, Physician. Come to the security rooms in an hour and bring a sedative for the prisoner. By then, he'll need one."
The Haluk doctor clapped his hands soundlessly in assent. The lepido-style gesture must have conveyed less than wholehearted enthusiasm because Elgar said, "Your attitude will be reported to your superiors ... When you come with the sedative, be sure to leave your translator behind."
"As you wish," said Woritak.
Elgar activated the chair's control pad, turned on his heel, and left the hospital room. I trundled along after him like Mary's little lamb, headed for the slaughter.
I woke up coughing, with water running out of my mouth, down my chin, and onto my neck. My aching head rested on something soft and warm.
"Stop," I moaned. "Choking."
"I'm sorry. I was trying to wake you. You've been unconscious for a long time."
I tried desperately to climb to my feet. "Must help Eve... get her out of the damn tank... Ivor! Oh, God, Ivor... Mimo! Call the patrol... send every cruiser in the zone!"
"Hold still. Don't try to get up. It's all right."
"I told the bastard everything. Everything..."
Strong arms held me in a tight embrace. I heard a voice murmur soothing inconsequentialities, saying over and over again that my perfidy wasn't my fault. My frantic, disjointed thoughts melted into a paroxysm of shamed weeping. Objectively, I knew that emotional breakdown is an inevitable postinterrogation syndrome. The knowledge didn't help.
"Easy, Helly. Easy. No one can defeat the machines. It's over now and you're safe. Safe with me."
Eventually I got hold of myself. The hangover-style headache diminished when I took a pop from the medicuff. After a long quiet time I looked up at Matt Gregoire's face and realized that my pillow was her lap. One of those stiff cheap polyfoam blankets covered me.
I wasn't really safe and the ordeal certainly wasn't over; but when she smiled at me, I grinned back and said, "Hi."
"Hello yourself. How do you feel now?"
"Apart from a terminal guilt complex, I'm probably in better shape than I was back on board Plomazo. A Haluk doctor did some fast fixes." I remembered the savage blow Elgar had given her during the fracas. "How's your head wound?"
"Hurts. There's a goose egg. But not to worry, the Gre-goires have thick Creole skulls. I wasn't out for long. Actually, I regained consciousness as I was being taken here and played possum. One guard was human and the other was a Haluk. The alien wore a translator and said rude things about a certain Commander Elgar. Called him an arrogant odoriferous accumulation of lepido nose-wax. The human guard thought that was very funny."
I didn't dare laugh myself. It might have
split open my brittle skull. "Where are we—in the Haluk slammer?"
"An improvised brig, I think. There were containers in here that the guards removed before depositing me. It's a small dead-end cave, walled off and equipped with a heavy locked door. At least it's dry."
She sat, and I lay, on a narrow rock terrace padded with a strip of polyfoam slightly thicker than the blanket. A tiny wall lamp like those we'd seen in the tunnel gave wan illumination to the walls of pink and brown limestone. The wedge-shaped cell was about seven meters long and less than three wide at the door, narrowing rapidly to a mere vertical crevice at the innermost extremity. The ceiling was lost in dark shadows.
Besides the mattress, the blanket, and the water bottle that Matt had set aside, the makeshift lockup held a covered white plastic bucket, a little red crate containing some amorphous items, and us. I still wore the Haluk scrub garb. No shoes. Matt had on the sweats and bootees she'd worn beneath her envirosuit, which lay neatly folded on the floor.
"Don't suppose there's any food," I ventured. "I'm damn near starving."
"We have bread and some kind of synthocheese. I've already had some. Let me help you."
She eased me out of her lap, fetched the crate with the food, and I sat up to dine with the blanket hung over my shoulders. The bread was delicious and the
analogue abominable, but there was plenty of it and I wolfed it down, feeling my strength return.
When I finished eating, I told Matt about the interrogation. She listened in silence, her dark eyes huge, as I described how I'd spilled every bean in my brainpan, every single detail of our investigation. By now the data had been transmitted to Elgar's superiors at Galapharma—and to the Haluk Starfleet.
"You told them about Mimo, too?" she said.
"They asked me the right questions, and I had to answer. They know Plomazo is in orbit around Cravat, hidden in a dissimulator field. A good optical sensor device will spot the ship soon enough."
"I'm afraid we're finished, Matt. And so is any hope of proving a conspiracy. Plomazo's disappearance—with all of us allegedly aboard—can easily be attributed to pirates. Bob Bascombe's death will be called a tragic hunting accident. As for Karl... he knows nothing about these secret underground facilities and has no proof of Haluk involvement on Cravat. In time the Gala moles at Rampart Central will find a way to neutralize him and the others."
She was staring at the cell floor. "There's still a long chance that the Haluk won't find Mimo before our deadline expires."
"I doubt it." My recovering mind began to consider time-frame equations. "Any idea how long I was unconscious?"
"They took my navigator so it's hard to say. I'd estimate five hours, at least."
"The only starship able to take out Plomazo would be one of those new ball-retractor Haluk jobs. Two of their colonial worlds are well within striking distance of Cravat. I think we can presume that poor old Mimo's history."
She sighed. "I suppose they'll kill us now as well."
"Maybe. But Elgar implied that I might be transmuted into a Haluk, just like Eve."
I shook my head. "Presumably to put more pressure on Simon."
"But it makes no sense, Helly! I've been thinking about your sister and the possible motive for her transmutation. It can't simply be part of a scheme to force Simon's hand in the Gala takeover."
"I admit the idea is just a tad Byzantine ..."
"Threatening Eve's life—and yours—in a straightforward manner would be far more likely to influence your father. Simon would certainly be appalled to discover that two of his children had been changed into Haluk, but he's no fool. One of his advisors would surely tell him that the genen procedure could be reversed. So why should Galapharma bother with such a grotesquely complex ploy, when tactics used by ordinary kidnappers would be so much more effective?"
"Well," I said reluctantly, "Elgar did drop another nasty hint." And I told her the one about a Haluk marrying my sister.
She burst out in disbelieving laughter. "That's even less plausible. If the Haluk covet your precious Frost DNA, they could mince you up and obtain all they wanted through tissue culture. Sorry, Helly. Alien miscegenation doesn't wash as a motive, either."
"Then damned if I know what the crazy fuckers are up to. The plain fact is, Eve's out there in that tank being transmuted, and I might join her, and maybe you will, too. The reason why is immaterial."
I had drunk a lot of water with my meal, and at least one of my kidneys had been operating efficiently. I took the covered bucket and went to the dark end of our cell and relieved myself. Inspecting the product afterward, I found no blood and shared the scintillating news with Matt.
"I'm well on the mend, if not mended. The Haluk genetic engineers will have a healthy subject to play with."
I started prowling about the cave. The sialcrete floor was icy beneath my bare feet. The door, made of impervious ceram-alloy and firmly cemented into the stone, had no peephole that might have revealed what lay outside.
My next move was a rather silly attempt to climb the irregular wall above the makeshift bunk-ledge, with a view toward escaping via some natural opening in the lofty, shadowed ceiling. I managed to claw my way up nearly four meters, taking advantage of every crack and protrusion. But above that the rock was eroded slick as a banana peel and I slid down, defeated, with broken fingernails and abraded toes. "So much for the Great Escape."
"Could have told you that," she said, chuckling, "but the exercise was good for you."
"I don't suppose they left the utility belt on your enviro-suit." I picked up the garment and inspected it. It was scuffed and filthy but otherwise undamaged. The headset was missing. None of its life-support gadgetry seemed useful in our present predicament.
"The belt was gone when the guards tossed me in here. My backpack, too. I don't remember them taking it, but they must have."
"Figures," I said glumly.
"I tried tapping on the cell door earlier, hoping that Ivor might hear it and tap back. But there was no response. Do you have any idea where they might have put him?"
I took her hand. "Matt..."
She tensed. "Oh, no."
"After the fight, Elgar and his troopers brought us down into the big cavern. He told them to lock you up. But Ivor was to be thrown into a kind of subterranean drain. To drown."
She began to weep and I held her close, saying nothing, wrapping the blanket around both of us. When she stopped crying and wiped her eyes on her shirt, I tilted her face up and kissed her lips gently. Her mouth softened for a moment and my tongue touched hers. She drew away, but remained nestled in my arms.
"Weird," I said, "the way total disaster turns the thoughts to positive things."
Her body was absolutely still. I stroked her hair slowly and felt myself come to life for the first time in God knew how long. It seemed I'd misjudged that Haluk physician with his human repair manual. He'd done a dandy job after all—not that it was going to do me much good.
"Helly." Matt's voice was low. "We got off on the wrong foot at the very beginning and I'm sorry about that. Truly."
"Mm." Was I imagining things, or had a note of warmth crept into her voice?
"I mean, I'm . . . willing to keep an open mind. Give you the benefit of the doubt on the matter of your felony convictions."
"Oh, good," I said, a shade too curtly.
"I never gave you a chance to present your case."
"Chief Gregoire, I presented it three years ago. And lost."
"Tell me about it."
"No. It's a sorry tale, and I'd rather think those positive thoughts."
"You've been thinking them from the first moment we met."
"Can't deny that. When you walked into the Rampart boardroom, I fell madly in lust with your ojos negros y piel canela"
"What does that mean?"
"Black eyes and cinnamon skin." I told her about the Nat Cole
song, and she insisted that I try to sing it. We both dissolved in laughter at my off-key imitation of a serenading ca-ballero, there in the rockbound prison cell underneath the alien jungle, fourteen thousand light-years from old Mexico.
She took my hand again. Hers was cold and callused. I lifted it and kissed the knuckles, one by one.
"Helly..." She didn't pull away as I touched her breast.
"I know. Maybe—just maybe!—you're willing to consider that I might not be a rogue cop. But I sure am a lowlife beach bum. And a reckless hotdogger who insists on leading the Boy Scout troop even when he's incompetent and incapacitated. It's my fault that Mimo and Ivor and Bob are dead and you and I are heading for the last roundup. So I can't blame you if you don't—"
She said, "Oh, shut up," and began to pull my clothes off.
* * *
No one came to check on Matt and me for a long time, which probably should have raised our suspicions. But we had those positive thoughts—and actions—to occupy us.
Our first coupling was a frenzied race to sexual oblivion. Later, with the overwhelming need satisfied, we settled into a mutual exploration deliberately prolonged, considerate, and ingenious. Neither of us spoke of love, but together we found a respite from pain and fear. After the second blazing release, we fell into a postcoital doze.
When we woke we were languorous and disinclined to talk. The past was irrelevant and the future didn't bear worrying about. We ate and drank again, then indulged ourselves to the point of physical exhaustion—and near hypothermia, once the sexual fires diminished. We put our clothes back on and drifted off into sleep, snuggled together spoonwise on the narrow mattress. Her body fitted sweetly against mine.
We were roused almost immediately by the sound of the cell door being unlocked. Both of us sprang to our feet, expecting that it would be Bronson Elgar come to announce our fate.