SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 34:
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.