Freer, Flint, October, Baen
Transcript of Justice Adriaan Vosloo’s reply to Inspector Mohataman Dhal of Sysgov Human Rights Inspectorate on his application for an injunction against the sysnet advertisements of the Women’s Matriarchal Movement for men to accompany their outsystem journey.
“No, inspector, what they’re planning on doing is neither illegal nor a violation of human rights. It would be, if they stayed insystem. But out beyond Öpik-Oort limit they’re also out beyond your and my jurisdiction. And I may tell you that even by the time they get to the Kuiper belt, they’re effectively on their own. The Kuiper colonists like to think they’re independent and they’re only a year’s fast travel from the House of Assembly. What are you going to do when this lot are light-minutes beyond that? The men going along on this trip are all adults. We drew the line at children. In a whole system you’re bound to have enough men with nudist dominatrix fantasies. They probably won’t like it much when the reality gets home to them, but then it’ll be their problem and they’ll have to sort themselves out.”
Lani LaGarda was irritated. And when Lani was irritated wise people stayed out of her way. It didn’t seem that Station-Commander Juno Morgane had got that message. “It was plainly some kind of malfunction, Juno,” she snapped. “I have better things to do with my time than trot off to look at a closed airlock for several hours.”
“I’m not asking you, Lani. I’m telling you. According to the records, we haven’t had a peep out of that alarm system for 403 years. The system says that there are two warm bodies in there. It’s probably runaway men. Go down there, and haul ’em out. And try not beat them too badly. I haven’t forgotten last time.”
Lani scowled at the communicator. “He got up my nose and itched.”
“And he lived. Which is why you’re still at liberty, Lani,” said the matriarch’s Station Commander, grimly. “Now get your ass down to that airlock, open it up and haul them out of there, put them into the cells until someone claims them. In one piece. Get on with it. I’ve got enough problems on my hands with the elevators having stuck again.”
“Except that this is bank three. They haven’t got bank five working yet. At this rate people will have to walk up from skinside to the upper regions.”
“That’s going to be really popular.”
“Tell me about it,” said Juno, sourly. “So I’ve got problems enough without you getting shirty with me. Get moving.”
So Lani got. She took her scoot and headed down the ramps to the airlock. She was one of the nearest officers, fair enough. And catching a couple of runaways before they vented themselves into space would be fun. There might even be bounty, enough to make a down-payment on a first for her harem. The thought was an interesting one, enough to spur her on.
She parked the scoot, illegally, but then who was going to come down here anyway, and, even if they did, who was going to give a Captain a ticket?
She stepped up to Airlock and put in the opening sequence to the coding panel. How had they ever found that out? Well, there was a manual override…
The door swung open.
And Lani, the toughest graduate of Officer’s academy of 395 AD, nearly screamed and ran.
But there was more steel to her than that.
“Ok. Very funny. Very clever. Now get out of them,” she snapped.
The two of them just stared at her, their mouths open with surprise at being caught. “I said get those clothes off,” she said, her temper flaring at having been given such a fright. “MOVE. And the mask! Pervert!”
“Painted Jezebel!” said the taller one. He was very tall, taller by half again than any man she’d ever seen. “Have you no shame! Cover your nakedness, woman!”
Despite what Juno had said to her, she took a swing at him. He didn’t go down. He just stood there rubbing his cheek. “Have you no respect as well as no decency?” he demanded.
She really had no memory of how the nightstick came into her hand.
Howard saw the woman who had just hit him pull a long black club from the belt she was wearing. The belt that was all she wearing, besides a layer of paint, and sandals. Her face was contorted with fury as she lifted her arm to hit him again. He couldn’t actually bring himself to lay a hand on her, but the stick was another matter. He caught it. She was quite strong—for a woman—thought Howard, holding on to it as she struggled to pull it away from him. She swung a kick at him, screeching like a banshee. Fortunately, the suit was well padded and thick, because she didn’t aim for his shins. Well, with a woman dressed, or rather undressed, like that what did you expect? Her eyes opened wide and she grabbed her stick with both hands, kicked both her heels into his stomach and wrenched.
It was enough to knock some breath out of Howard. But certainly not enough to make him let go. Before this he’d simply held the stick and held it and her out at full arm length. It was an effort, but no worse than tossing a two-hundredweight bag of pig-nuts into the loft, which he’d done often enough. Now he shook her stick, and her.
“Put me down!” she screamed.
So he did. She landed hard enough—on her well-padded behind—to knock the breath out of her instead. She still clung weakly to the stick. He twitched it away from her.
“Huu… ‘ive ‘t back,” she gasped, fighting for breath. For the first time in her life Lani had encountered something that frightened her. She worked out for two hours every day. She was used to being stronger than any woman, let alone male. Still, she wasn’t about to let the experience stop her.
“Not until I am sure you are not going to try and hit me with it again,” said the big male, crossly.
The other male came forward, and… extended a hand. She was about to use it to throw him, when she focused on the shape of it. It had three long fingers, and a thumb… in the middle of the wrist. “Let me help you up,” he said, or at least a mechanical voice said. “We mean you no harm. We are just passing through.”
Lani spidered backwards, knocking her illegally parked scoot over. She hit the com button of the prone two-wheeler as they walked towards her. “Mayday. This is Delta 95 at the South airlock. Mayday. I say again. Mayday. This is Delta 95 at the South Airlock. Am under attack.”
The big one looked at his monstrous companion. “Maybe we should just go back out of the airlock and return to New Eden. Or climb the equatorial ridge.”
The monster shook his head “I think we should proceed as rapidly as we can, Howard,” he said. “She has called for help, by some form of electronic communicator, at a guess. They are not as primitive here as either the first habitat or your one.”
He looked down at Lani. “You didn’t injure her, did you? If so we must render assistance.”
The big man shook his head. “No. We do not believe in physical violence except for gentle chastisement of children. I just stopped her from hitting me again, and took the weapon away from her. Although,” he said, looking down at her with a curl of lip, “This wanton harlot deserves to whipped on the cart’s tail. Let’s go then, Kretz. If this is what you encountered before you came to us, I’m not surprised that you were so wary.”
“But this is not the same species as you, surely,” said the monster as they began to walk off, leaving her. “The patterning is very different. You have only small spots of darker skin below your eyes, very slight. This is more like the patterning on the striped faced ones, except theirs was in dull and drab colors.”
“It’s just paint,” said the man before they disappeared around the next corner, walking away from the airlock. The disgust in his voice was almost palpable.
Lani sat up, eventually realizing that she was still pressing the send button on the scoot’s communicator. She took her finger off. “…espond Delta 95. Lani, come in! Delta 95 are you receiving us? Respond…”
She pressed the send button. “Delta 95 receiving you. They’re heading up corridor 9. Over.”
“Lani! Are you all right! Uh, over.”
Lani felt her bruised derriere. It wasn’t as badly damaged as her ego. “I’m OK,” she admitted gruffly. “Have you got someone going to the 9 H3 intersection? You should be able to stop them there. Over.”
Another voice cut in. “Captain LaGarda. Give us details. How many and who are they? Over.”
Lani felt her face start to redden. “Um. Two. One man and one… something else.” She cringed. “The man is quite large and strong.” Damn. Of course all of this would be recorded. She could just see them playing it back to her next time she was in the station. And the next. And the next. But he was exceptionally strong. She had to tell them. “Look, you’d better be careful. I think they came from outside. Outside the airlock. Over.”
There was a moment’s silence. “Captain, are you sure? Over.”
“One of them is not human, ma’am. And they’re wearing clothes. One of them has a pressure suit. The non-human has clothes in orange, lime green and purple. Over.”
“How are they armed? Over.”
Now the blush was positively fiery. They’d never let her forget this. “The man has my nightstick. Over.”
There was a pause. “What other weapons, Officer?”
Oh so she wasn’t ‘captain’ any more. “None visible,” she said hoping that sounded truly dispassionate and professional. Then she realized that she’d forgotten to say ‘over’.
Someone had obviously guessed, however. “All right. Just stay there. Medical and back-up are on their way to you. Over.”
Like she was a casualty. “Send a team here to watch that they don’t double back,” she said, irritably. “I’m going after them. I don’t think the scoot is damaged. Over and out.”
“Captain LaGarda! You are not to attempt to engage them on your own again! That is a an order. Do you understand me? Reply!”
“Yes,” she said, lifting the scoot with the other hand. “I hear you. I won’t. I’ll keep back, and try to just keep in sight. I’ll maintain communicator contact. They’re on foot and I’m on a scoot. Over and out.”
“Do that, Captain. Don’t do anything stupid. Over and out.”
Reluctantly, as she put her bruised butt onto the saddle, Lani had to admit to herself that it was a bit late for that instruction. She set off after the two of them, wondering whether she should just have stayed and pretended to be injured. But her pride was too deep for that. She’d like a second crack at them, and besides it just wasn’t in her to lie, even if the truth had made her look pretty feeble. She was going to take her nightstick back from that big ape and shove it up his ass. Then she heard voices ahead, and slowed the scoot down. She wasn’t quite in that much of a hurry, after all.
“I think we ought to take a cross-passage. Soon,” said Howard. “I think I heard something behind us. I don’t want to meet up with that painted Jezebel again.” Well, that was what his mouth said. To his horror part of his mind disagreed. It wanted to take a closer look. He banished the thought, but it did keep creeping back as they walked. They took a branching corridor, which both impressed and irritated Howard. Their micro-irrigation was so much better. Their pruning—a sure sign of a good hard working farmer—was mediocre. A lot of pruning was a judgement call, and that seemed to be lacking.
And looking ahead as they rounded the curve it appeared that it wasn’t only the pruners whose judgement had been poor. Theirs hadn’t been too good either, Howard had to admit to himself. There were at least thirty people waiting for them, and, looking back, several more on the little-two-wheeled things behind them, led by the naked painted Jezebel, grinning triumphantly.
The people with her—and in front of them—were just as naked and just as painted, or even more painted. Some of them definitely wouldn’t have been even Brother Galsson’s idea of Jezebel. It began to dawn on Howard that they probably just didn’t wear clothes here.
“Surrender your arms.” said an odd booming voice. “Allow yourselves to be peacefully arrested and you can expect lenient treatment. Any resistance and you will be exterminated.”
Kretz looked puzzled. “They want us to take our arms off? Do human limbs detach?”
Despite being in obvious trouble, Howard had to smile. “No. They mean weapons. Do you have any?”
“No,” said Kretz. “I lost my laser pistol when the stripe-faces attacked us.”
“And I threw that odd stick away.” Howard took a deep breath and shouted back, “We don’t have any weapons. We’re men of peace. Please let us pass. We intend no trespass and no harm. We are just passing through.” Then his upbringing got the better of him. “Why do you not put some clothes on and cover your nakedness?” The guilty fantasies that every man had had of naked women had not prepared him for the fact that sometimes clothes could be doing you a favor.
There was a long pause. “Advance one at a time,” said the booming voice. “The bigger one first.”
Howard looked at the women, and felt that perhaps the terrors of space had not been that bad. But there seemed no help for it, so he advanced, trying not to look at them. “Peace be with you, Sisters,” he said, holding out his empty hands.
The Jezebel who had met them at the airlock came running up, and grabbed his arm, twisting it up behind his back. “You’re under arrest, scumbag emseepee.”
Howard blinked at the woman next to his left shoulder. “Why?” he asked. “What have we done wrong?”
“Indecent public appearance. And being out in public without a woman. That’ll do for starters. And assaulting an officer!” she said, trying to force his arm upward.
All Howard could think was that she’d gone mad. Maybe they were all mad here. “It is you who have kicked and hit me, and are now trying to twist my arm!” he protested.
“Cuff him,” she snapped. There was a red blush of fury to her features, that contrasted with the painstakingly painted picture pattern on her face. “You can tell your story to the judge.”
They put metal links onto Howard’s arms which clicked shut.
“Right. Let’s get the other one,” said the woman. “He could be just as dangerous.”
Kretz had walked forward while they were talking. Now, suddenly, abruptly, he began to run headlong. Whether it was a dash for freedom or an attempt to rescue him, Howard never found out, as one of the women brought him down with a running tackle. He too was handcuffed. They were marched forward to a small trolley-like device which had a single wheel and a seat in front and a cage behind, balanced on two wheels. “Take them to central,” said one of the the women—a plump one carrying an odd cone-like device. “You’ll have to go via 34th upramp. Elevator bank three is out.”
“Still?” said the virago who had captured him.
“Still,” said the plump woman. “And it is causing problems enough without your false alarms, Lani.”
“It wasn’t a false alarm!” she protested.
“Right,” said the plump woman dryly. “Forty-five officers to deal with two… people. Unarmed people.”
Jezebel-Lani put her hands on her hips. And took a deep breath. “He stole my night-stick! And you have to admit that the other one is not human!”
“He’s a freak, I admit. I’ve never seen anything like him. Or the other one. But they didn’t exactly put up a fight, did they?”
“You weren’t there!”
“No,” said the plump woman. “If I had been we wouldn’t have all wasted our time. Now let’s move out.”
The cage trolley—driven by one of the under-dressed women—she had a belt and sandals—which seemed to be the total uniform of these women, started moving. It’s motivational power was something of little miracle to Howard. It just went. There was no horse. It squeaked. In Howard’s opinion it needed oiling—but then maybe it was part of the unseen propulsion system.
“What are they doing with us?” asked Kretz.
“I don’t know,” said Howard. “Perhaps they’ll take us to some men we can ask. These women don’t seem quite sane, as well as being daughters of Magdalen.”
“Oh. I am very afraid, Howard,” said Kretz
Howard didn’t want to admit that he was too. Instead he patted Kretz’s shoulder—an awkward thing with the cuffs on his hands, but the act seemed to soothe the alien slightly. “I’m sure it will be all right. God will protect us. We’ll be taken to see a man in charge, who will put a stop to this women’s foolishness.
“I hope you are right,” said Kretz, despondently. He closed his eyes and lay back on the bars.
So Howard sat and looked at the passing world through the bars. In many ways it looked rather like home. There were a few dead areas—like home. Unlike home there were few homesteads. When they did occur they were in clusters. There were also a few people walking—all, Howard noted, naked. There were other wheeled vehicles—a few, rather than many, and not one horse. Then, as they went a little further—Howard realized why there were so few homesteads. The people here all lived together. On top of each other! There was no greenery here at all! It made him feel claustrophobic just looking at it. And there were plenty of people here. Naked people. Women, mostly, but here and there a woman was trailed by what Howard realized to his shock were painted men. Men who were all smaller than the women they followed. Naked too.
Howard also noticed that it was warmer here. Well, it would have to be. He was perspiring in the heavy pressure suit, but he certainly didn’t fancy the alternative.
It was thrust on him by force though.
The cage-trolley had taken them to the back of building, into an enclosed courtyard. From there they’d been taken to a small room, which was overfull of naked women.
“Strip,” said the grim-looking female with a silvery baton who was obviously in charge.
Kretz began undoing the fastenings on his multicolored suit. Howard stood stock. “That means you too.” She touched her baton to Howard’s neck.
It bit him. Jolted him, savagely.
Howard had never felt anything quite like it. He wasn’t keen to do so again. But still, there were some things a man had to stand up for! He folded his arms. “No. It is not decent.”
“Taser him and strip him.”
Behind the bars of his new cage Howard wished that he had co-operated. They might not then have cuffed his hands behind his back.
Kretz, naked but calm—which was more than you could say about the women looking at him—had asked to be allowed to keep his necklet—in which, it appeared, his ‘Transcomp’ resided. The women were willing to accept that he needed it, and that he was alien—on the evidence before their eyes.
They had examined both of them with a shameless curiosity. “Who has been hiding you two?” one the women asked Howard, staring at him in what was—to put it mildly—a most embarrassing way.
“No-one has hidden us. We’re just travelers from outside your habitat. We would like to have our clothes back and go away. We will do you no harm.”
“Darn tootin’ you won’t,” said the grim looking woman. “Not behind the bars.”
“What are you going to do with us?” asked Kretz, plainly fearful. Howard felt he had to try and deal with his own fear and discomfort to help the poor fellow.
“You’re due up before Judge Garanet in about half an hour. She’ll decide,” said the grim-looking woman. “Now, go on all of you. Show time’s over. I’ll call you when you’re needed.”
“Ah you just want to have fun with both of them, Sarge,” said one of the women, cheerfully. “He’s well hung, huh? And the other one is… different.”
“You’ve got no mind above your belt, Ruby,” said the Sergeant, with a glance at Howard, who hastily turned around. There was no wall to face.
“Nope,” said Ruby cheerfully. “What else are they any good for?”
“We must escape from here,” whispered Howard, forgetting that he’d been doing his best to keep up a brave face for Kretz. “They’re an evil people without decency or morals.”
“They’re still better than the ones in the first bead,” said Kretz. “Try not to antagonize them further, Howard. You seem to be offending them.”
Howard thought about it. They certainly offended him. But the council had imposed a stern duty on him to look after Kretz. Kretz felt that he needed help among humans… well, so far Howard had to admit he’d been absolutely useless at that aspect. He would just have to try to ignore his nakedness. It was heavy cross to bear.
A little later Kretz was taken out of the cage and led through to an adjoining room. Howard had to stand there alone.