Anyway. Our last Tamara segment: from here we move on to Robbie, who...oh, baby. What have I done to you?
Title: Redstone Chapter 16, Part 2
One of the enduring fads on Pandora was an incessant fascination with all things Old Earth. Naturals were, in some ways, the most Old Earth of any people alive in the universe today. They, like pre-Regen Earthlings, had to heal the old-fashioned way, with time and care. They got sick, they got broken, they fought through pain and physical and mental hardship in a way that few people on Regen had to concern themselves with. There were the occasional Regen-ready individuals whose body chemistry was so turbulent it led them to physical harm, but they were rare.
That fad facilitated the creation of the Library, a building in Pandora City dedicated to Old Earth memorabilia and mementos. It had media in it that was inaccessible with an implant; you had to actually hold the books in your hand to read them, or play the various types of discs in ancient machines. There were traditional clothes from over a hundred Old Earth countries, and games and dolls and shows of all sorts.
A popular fascination during the early twenty-first century in some Old Earth countries had revolved around creatures called zombies. Tamara tried, but she couldn’t quite divorce herself from being ginger and quiet as she stepped around fallen bodies in the halls. If she imagined herself holding a katana while she did it, that was her own business.
ZeeBee trailed along just behind her, silent except for the whirr of his wheels. She got to the admin halls without difficulty, and wound her way to Warden Harrison’s office as quickly as she could. His door was locked. Oh, of course it was.
Tamara pressed the disc, which she’d stuck to the end of her index finger, to the pad outside the Warden’s office as she checked the time with her implant. Twenty-six more minutes. She should be able to finish this well within the half hour time limit.
The pad suddenly glowed, and the door to the office slid open. Tamara stepped inside and made a face. There was something about the Warden, some faint undertone to his scent that made her think of desiccation. Maybe he kept his clothes vacuum sealed, maybe he forbid the cleaning bots from entering his rooms. Whatever it was, it made her nose itch. She did her best to ignore it as she hastened to the desk in front of her. Warden Harrison was slumped over it, obscuring the control panel on the desk.
“ZeeBee, can you move him?”
“Yes.” She waited, but nothing happened.
“Oh.” Darn these literal bots. “ZeeBee, move the Warden out of the way.”
“Affirmative.” The bot slid his arms underneath the man and laid him out on the floor just to the side of the desk. Tamara took his place, wincing at the smear of drool that hit her fingers as she touched the surface of the pad.
“Nasty.” Nevertheless, she pressed her index finger down hard and waited for the program to access Harrison’s personal files.
There were a lot of them. Tamara narrowed her eyes as she stared at the flashing screen. Wyl seemed to have chosen to take way more information than they could possibly use rather than banking on getting too specific and finding nothing, and so everything was being copied and stored on the tiny chip, and from there to several of their personal devices. It was the best way to be sure they got what they needed, but it also took more time than Tamara really liked, especially since she still had to wipe the footage. ZeeBee would help with that, though.
Twenty minutes left. Seventeen…the program indicated it was finished before its tiny icon, a laughing flame, vanished with a virtual poof. Tamara found her way to the camera feeds, then stood up and turned to ZeeBee. “Okay.” She held her arms out from her sides. “Scan me.”
Using a completely current image of her was the only way to be sure they were actually getting her out of the visual feeds. Tamara had been prepared to use a saved image from her implant, but since Wyl had come through with the bot, she didn’t have to. She turned and ZeeBee scanned, a brief flash of green light indicating it was done, and then he stuck the very tip of one of his probes against the panel. Tamara watched as the program winnowed through the footage of her, everything from the moment before the gas was deployed to now, and deleted it. She was erased from the next thirteen minutes of future footage as well, which was a problem she’d solve by taking off her jacket to change her physical profile, just in case the time ran out faster than they’d intended. ZeeBee cleared itself as well, and Tamara grinned as she removed the tiny chip and stuck it beneath her collar.
“Perfect. Let’s get back to the infirmary.” She headed for the office door. The bot didn’t follow.
“ZeeBee?” It didn’t respond, just stared at the camera feed for a long moment. All of a sudden the alarm in the top of its head started going off, startling Tamara so badly she almost fell.
“Baby protocol discontinued! Alpha protocol engaged!” ZeeBee turned and shot past her down the hall, zipping around bodies like it was a sport. Tamara watched it go in complete astonishment, which turned to horror when she heard Warden Harrison groan. Oh, fuck. Fuck. The gas was wearing off early, and ZeeBee was waking people up with his noise. Tamara ran down the admin hall as fast as she could, tracing her path back to the infirmary. She had to get there before Doctor Kleinman woke up, she had to—shit, she had to make sure Wyl was all right, what else could the alpha protocol be?
Tamara was breathing hard again by the time she got back to the infirmary, but while people were stirring, no one was entirely awake yet. She pulled off her jacket, lay down on the floor close to where she’d been with ZeeBee and then, for good measure, smacked her head against the wall hard enough to make herself see stars. That hadn’t been in the original plan, but she needed to make sure no suspicions came her way. It helped that the doctor was so vehemently anti-natural, but it paid to be certain. Dizzy and worried, she calmed her breathing as best she could and waited.
“What in the name of…oh, good grief!” She heard the doctor push himself up off the floor. Demarcos followed with a grunt a moment later, and then cold fingers pressed against the pulse point in her throat. Tamara whimpered.
“Just what I need, another—” They’d never find out what derogatory thing he needed, because at that moment another alarm went off, this one rippling through the walls. Tamara recognized it. It was the alarm that sounded when there was a riot in the prison. “I don’t have time to deal with her; put her back in her room! I’ll return presently!” Doctor Kleinman rushed off, and a moment later a much warmer set of hands found their way under her head.
“Hey,” Demarcos murmured. “Tamara. You okay? Tamara, talk to me, damn it.”
“Mm fine,” she whispered, even though she wasn’t. “Take me to the general infirmary, not the private room.”
“I need to see if someone is there. Please.” She wasn’t too proud to beg. She’d have kept at it until he agreed out of sheer exhaustion, but Demarcos just rolled his eyes.
“Of course you do,” he said. “You’re more cryptic than the president himself, you know that?”
“There’s no need to be rude,” Tamara said, but she smiled a little bit regardless. “Thank you.”
“You owe me so many explanations.” He sounded angry, but he was gentle as he assisted her to her feet and put one of her arms over his shoulders. It was a bit of a stretch but she didn’t say anything, just let him lead her like a docile little child into the larger treatment room in the infirmary, where the Regen beds were kept.
She actually went a bit limp with relief when she saw Wyl lying there, one hand rubbing his throat, the other looking around curiously. He smiled politely when he saw the two of them, giving no indication he’d ever seen either of them before. “Hi there. What the hell happened, huh?”
Fortunately, Demarcos set Tamara down right next to Wyl, where she could make a bit of conversation about what really interested her. “Where’s ZeeBee?” she asked, almost soundlessly.
A slightly panicked look came into Wyl’s eyes. “ZeeBee was supposed to find you! Didn’t…what about…”
“ZeeBee did find me. It was very helpful, but...it ran off at the end! Something about alpha protocol, I thought that meant ZeeBee would be back here with you.”
Wyl frowned. “Alpha protocol comes into play in case of imminent physical damage for the primaries, that’s me and Robbie. But I’m fine, and Robbie should be…” Wyl didn’t just panic this time, he went completely white. “Oh, fuck. Robbie’s on duty. He’d on fucking duty and now there’s a riot, what if he was in the Pit when the gas went off? When did ZeeBee leave?”
“Right after we finished with the visual feeds.”
“ZeeBee must have seen something happening to Robbie.” Wyl got up like he was going to march off into the penitentiary himself, but Tamara jerked him back onto the bed. Demarcos watched the two of them like they were both crazy.
“Running around busting doors down to go after Robbie will only draw attention,” she whispered. “If ZeeBee saw something, it’ll hand it. Besides, Magpie is in there. He can help Robbie.”
“How?” Wyl demanded. “How can he possibly handle anything without blowing his cover? Robbie us a guard; no prisoner stands up for guards. He’s going to be killed.”
“You don’t know that,” she insisted. We don’t know anything, she thought, a bit helplessly. At this point, all she could do was keep Wyl from ruining the game.
Robbie would have to look after himself.