Title: Redstone Chapter 10, Part 2.
No fewer than three women approached Robbie as he led his robot posse and their prisoners back toward the entrance. The first one tried coy, the second called his name, and who knew how she’d figured that out, and the third skipped all the middlemen and just stripped her top off. She was blonde, beautiful, curvaceous and perky and terribly scarred across the tops of both her breasts, which she thrust toward him with a smile and a wink. It was both blatant and subtle, a way of coming onto him while letting him know that nothing he could do would be worse than what she’d already lived through. Robbie was impressed.
Not impressed enough, though. “No thanks,” he said as he stepped around her.
“We have boys too, if that’s more your style,” she called after him, rushing to catch up. “Boys who know how to take a man like you, nothing like that scared little bunny your robot’s got his claw around. Or maybe you’d prefer to sample from a broader menu?”
“I’m not hungry,” Robbie said. He swiped his card at the door, then his palm, then let it read his iris as well.
“Everybody’s got hungers, baby,” the woman said knowingly as he left the Pen behind. “If you can’t feed them here, where can you?”
How about at the bottom of a black fucking hole, which is where I’d like to put most of the people in here? Robbie grit his teeth silently but kept moving until they reached the door that led to the intake room on the left hand side. “Get the others to the infirmary,” he directed the bots.
“This one’s physical functionality has ceased,” the bot holding the inmate Isidore had bitten said.
“Then run him to the infirmary,” Robbie snapped. “Go!” Holy shit, he hoped Wyl was installing some sort of improved AI in ZeeBee, because these things were too stupid to live. It was no surprise that the inmates ripped them up for parts; they were no threat unless backed up by less reliable, more dangerous human guards. Robbie moved into the room and the last bot followed with Kyle.
He looked the focus of their entire mission over surreptitiously as he put his weapons away in the stasis case. The case was a precaution against thievery, the assumption being that Robbie wouldn’t need an extra weapon to help him deal with an un-modded prisoner, and that there was no sense in giving them a chance to swipe something useful to take back into the Pen. Robbie was damn sure that that rule was broken all the time, but he wasn’t going to get things off to a bad start. Besides…
“You smart, kid, or are you stupid?” he asked in the same bored tones he’d been using all day.
At least he was prompt. “You wanna prove that, then you’re not gonna make any fast movements. Got it? Because I’m not in the mood for any shit while we process your intake.”
“Got it, sir.”
“Good.” Robbie picked up the official Redstone officer’s tab and pulled up Kyle Alexander’s information, all of it displayed in urgent red tones. “State your name.”
“Kyle Dazemar Holliston Harmony Alexander.” The top line turned green.
“I can see you’re already used to cruel and unusual punishment.”
One side of Kyle’s lips quirked up. “Sir.”
“Twenty-two.” Huh, he’d had a birthday since being in custody. That sucked.
“Planet of origin.”
“Olympus.” Another green line.
“Serial birth number.”
Kyle dashed off the twenty-seven digit number like he was reciting the alphabet. Another green line. “Good. Personal representative?”
“Put your palm here.” He held out the tab and let Kyle set his hand down on it, and waited for it to register his print. It glowed green a moment later. “Good. Just the eyes now.”
“Why rush things, new guy?”
Robbie sighed internally. Of course he wasn’t going to be able to get through this without another confrontation. He turned around and looked at the two men who’d just entered the room. They were the same guards he’d had to force away from his door just a few hours ago. Pushy. “Hey there, friend,” the bolder one said with a manic grin. “There’s no need to throw this pretty thing back to the wolves before we’ve had a chance to do a more thorough intake exam.”
Robbie decided to start by playing dumb. “Bot didn’t say anything about damages, so he doesn’t need the tank.”
“How dense are you?” the second guard demanded. “You might have some ass on the side, but the rest of us have to play the field. Just leave the room for five—”
“Ten,” the first guy amended.
“Yeah, ten minutes and then come back and take him back to the Pen. No fuss, no muss.”
“We’re being recorded right now.”
“No we aren’t.” Robbie could have spread that man’s smug across a slice of bread, it was so thick. “No eyes in this room. Just finish the official intake and get lost for a while, new guy. You said earlier you wanted to be friends, didn’t you? So do we!” He smiled again. “This is a good way to make friends in Redstone.”
Robbie couldn’t let himself be seen as soft toward a prisoner, and not to Kyle Alexander in particular. He couldn’t let Kyle get stuck with these two either, though. It wasn’t an option. Dumb hadn’t worked, so Robbie decided to fall back on belligerent instead. “No recording doesn’t mean we aren’t being timed by the boss,” Robbie hissed. “I get what this is. You’re comin’ in on my first fucking day on the job trying to get me written up for stalling or whatever the fuck I can get in trouble for, as if passing around prisoners ain’t enough to get my own ass thrown into solitary for a while.
“Is this your way of making a play for my man? Get me sent to discipline, then you can get your hands on him while he’s alone?” The startled glance the two men exchanged was enough to let Robbie know they probably hadn’t thought that far ahead, but he was on a roll now. “You’re so anxious for some boy pussy, you can go fuck each other, because this intake is ending on time and I’m keeping my goddamn nose clean.” Robbie held the tab up to Kyle’s face and scanned his iris briskly, then slapped his own palm down on the surface to finish the formal registration.
“You don’t know who you’re making enemies of here, new guy,” the first guard said. “You think it’s just us? If you’re not more careful, you won’t have any friends at all. Then where will you and your husband be?”
“I guess we’ll find out.” Robbie motioned for the bot to take hold of Kyle again, retrieved his weapons and headed for the door, knocking into the other guards’ shoulders to clear them out of the way. He took Kyle back down the hall and steeled himself to let him go back into the Pen. The atmosphere of the place made Robbie’s skin crawl; he couldn’t imagine how it must feel to be there as much as Kyle was.
The faster they put the rest of Garrett’s plan into effect, the better.
Rory was shaped so strangely that it was hard for Isidore’s brain to register him as human at first, and coming from a man who’d spend the last decade on Solaydor, that was saying a lot. Rory looked like a human who’d been crushed in a gravity field, compacted down and out. He was a foot shorter than Isidore and maybe four times wider, and so thick through the shoulders and chest it would have been impossible for Isidore to reach all the way around him. His muscles were hard slabs of sculpted meat, and his enormous hands could have doubled for mining picks.
Rory sat at a table at the back of the pen, alone, using a sharpened sliver of metal to clean beneath his fingernails. When Sylvester brought Isidore through the crowd to him and motioned him to sit down, Isidore immediately began to calculate all the ways that Rory could take him apart with that tiny metal toothpick. According to rumor, there were dozens of possibilities.
It didn’t matter. Isidore sat and waited, but he didn’t have to wait long.
“You,” Rory said, his voice surprisingly smooth, “aren’t much of a fighter.”
“No,” Isidore agreed.
Rory glanced up at him. “You admit that rather readily.”
“I know my own weaknesses. Combat is certainly one of them.”
“But you also have a good handle on your strengths, of which deception seems to be at the top. What did you do to Nathaniel, anyway?”
Might as well tell the truth. It wouldn’t do to lay false expectations about the man’s recovery. “I poisoned him.”
Rory nodded. “I thought so. He won’t be coming back, will he?”
“Not unless they’ve found an antidote for cluthe that works faster than the time it will take that bot to get him to the tank.”
“However did you smuggle something like cluthe in here?”
Isidore smiled. “That would be telling.”
“Clever and quiet.” Rory shook his head. “I should have taken you for one of mine when you first got here. You’re a political, though, and I tend to avoid the politicals. Radicals of any kind aren’t the sort of people I care to deal with. Too many ideals getting in the way of the practicalities of life and death.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“You can make it up to me by explaining your interest in Kyle Alexander.” Rory shifted slightly, his massive bulk moving with inexplicable sinuousness. “He’s a high value commodity. Why should I let you keep him?”
“Apart from the fact that you’re not sure I can’t kill you, me and everyone within a twenty foot radius before you could stop me?” It was a minor bluff, but after what he’d just done to Nathaniel, Isidore was willing to bet that Rory would give him the benefit of a doubt. He wasn’t wrong, and the rapid backpedaling of dozens of feet brought smiles to both of their faces.
“Apart from that,” Rory agreed.
“Kyle Alexander is as political as it gets.” Isidore would have to play it close to the line here; he wasn’t a good enough liar to do otherwise. “The highest political powers in the universe want him dead or under their control. If he’s under my control first, I get a stake in that.”
“Interesting.” Rory moved on to cleaning his other hand. “And you think you can hold onto him for the time it will take to make your play?”
“I don’t know, but I’m willing to use every trick I’ve got to try and ensure that.”
Sun-bright eyes looked him over. “And you’ve got quite a lot of them, don’t you?”
“More than you know.”
Rory grinned, then put his little shiv away. There was a collective exhalation in the room. “I like you, Isidore. Being near you is like walking side by side with death. I’ve done that, you know, in the Beyond. I challenged death there, and I won.” He leaned over slightly. “I like my chances with you too, but I’ll put my personal desires aside for now. Curiosity is the only cure for boredom, I’ve found, but sometimes even curiosity serves you better if you delay it.”
“I agree.” The door to the Pit started to open again.
“Go get your boy, and remember to expect the unexpected. After all,” Rory bared his teeth in a grin, and they were all as black as space. “Turnabout is fair play.”