The concierge rose from his seat and bowed his head politely. “How may I assist you, Protector Randgarten?”

Martin brought his right hand to his holster and adjusted it, maneuvering his backup phasewave to a more comfortable position. Martin observed, with satisfaction, that the concierge stared at the weapon, too.

“I’m here to assist Dr. Williamson in Science Section Eight.”

“Just a moment sir, while I check.” The concierge reached for the display, but Martin gently held the man’s wrist.

“You needn’t bother. I know where to find him.”

The concierge reclined in his chair. He was probably glad not to have another petty work request. Martin nodded amiably and continued through the ITB atrium toward the main lift bank.

Breaking the rules felt good.

Now, he needed to concentrate on two people: first, Dr. Williamson. Tim had been able to retrieve the doctor’s name before walling off access to ITB. Then Wilmer. Call notification had him right in there with Chanho.

Martin entered the lift.

“Science Section Eight,” he said in a loud, clear voice. His credentials transferred, and the lift headed four floors down. This is it.

The door opened to a spartan lobby. It looked nothing like his memory of the place. It had been over two years since he had come here with any regularity. Gone was the clutter of active research. Most of the scientists had gone, their machines with them.

A pair of technicians in red coats crossed the lobby. They looked lifeless to Martin. He remembered the energy of the old days, when techs would run up and down the hall, giddy with discovery. Especially during the evening shift, when everyone was high on coffee.

The techs entered a room, closing the door. A few moments later, another tech exited a lab, and Martin motioned for him to stop.

“Sir! I need to find Dr. Williamson,” Martin said, hoping his voice was deep and commanding.

The tech jumped. He was a tall, well-built man, but apparently had problems with protectors. He stammered incoherent sounds, and pointed toward a pair of double doors down the hallway.

Beyond the double doors, Martin found an older man behind a desk. He started to get up, but Martin waved him to sit.

“Dr. Williamson? Protector Randgarten. I’m here to assist Protector Wilmer. Will you please tell me where to find him?”

“Not again,” the man grumbled, shifting in his seat. “What did you want?”

“I’m here to assist Protector Wilmer. Where is he?”

Martin hoped it was simple irritation on the doctor’s face and not rising suspicion.

“Dammit, I’m busy here. Can you ask a—”

“Sorry, sir. It’s an emergency,” Martin interrupted. “I need to find Protector Wilmer. Will you help me, or should I contact Protector Van Decker?”

Martin thought he saw a flicker of fear.

“Now, now,” Williamson said. “That won’t be necessary. He’s in Isolation Five. Can you please leave now?”

“Thank you, sir,” Martin said, giving him a tip of the cap. “And please, remember Protector Van Decker has ordered communication silence at all times.”

Instead of waiting for a reply, Martin turned and headed out the door. He hated doing that, but it was Maud’s style. Protectors in the old ITB didn’t give orders and expect everybody to fall in line. How easily they had adapted to her power posturing.

Martin glanced at the display map on the wall. There were eight isolation suites marked in red. Only one registered as occupied. Could it be that easy? Martin continued down the hall and entered unit five.

Two technicians ceased speaking at the sound of Martin’s entrance. They were near the monitor by the door, and blocked most of his view. But Martin could see Wilmer farther in, his back to the door, hands on his hips. This had to be the room. He stepped inside.

The technicians watched him questioningly.

“Protector business. Take a half-hour break, please.”

Wilmer jumped at Martin’s words. The two technicians tidied their tools and left the room.

“Martin, are you okay? What are you doing here?” Wilmer looked confused, crossing the room toward him.

“I’m fine, Darrel.”

Martin looked around. Behind a glass wall to the left was a thin young man with a shock of dark curls, his swarthy skin a sickly green in the harsh light. He was restrained, his eyes closed. Raj Chanho.

“Maud thought I might help extract information,” Martin continued.

Wilmer shrugged. “You can try. He hasn’t said a thing.”

Martin smiled and patted the front pocket of his overcoat. “I’ve got something here that will make him talk.” Glancing around, Martin motioned to the access port in the wall. “Can I get to him through there?”

“Yes,” Wilmer began. “It’s tagged to me. Let me call Maud and authorize—”

Martin put his left arm around Wilmer’s shoulder and slammed his right fist into Wilmer’s jaw. The protector slumped to the deck.

“That won’t be necessary,” said Martin, placing Wilmer’s limp palm on the access port.

“Grace says hello,” Martin said, slipping through the door.

Raj’s eyes snapped open. “Grace! She made it out of surgery? How did she look? Did you see her arms?”

Arms? “We’ve got to get out of here. Keep quiet and follow my lead.”

Raj nodded and followed him without question. Martin dragged Wilmer’s body into the isolation unit and sealed the access port. He stepped behind Raj. “This might hurt,” he said, grabbing Raj’s arms and restraining them.

“If you want to use force, concentrate on my left. Much higher threshold on that arm.”

“Uh, sure.” Mechflesh. Figures. Martin took Raj by the left arm and headed out the door, closing it behind them.

“March, Chanho!” Martin commanded aloud.

They headed toward the lift bank. With each step, Martin felt like ITB was finally on the mend.

Corey OstmanPort Casper