“Oh get out of the way.” The woman pushes the man aside as William gasps and grabs his face. Powerful fingers force his mouth open and shove an inhaler between his teeth. “Breathe now, you stupid boy.”
“And cease calling attention to yourself.” The clicking traitor glares at William from under heavy, black brows. “You have already had more luck than anyone has any reason to expect.”
“So it’s time you stopped relying on it to keep you alive and out of jail,” says the woman, “and start using your goddamn brain.”
William stares into her dark eyes. He has never been this close to a woman before, other than his mother.
“Mu-rau says you are scaring him,” says the man.
“Good,” says the woman. “Perhaps a little fear will induce him to listen.”
William makes a questioning whine from under the doctor’s palm, eyes still following the writhing of the Martian’s tentacles. What is that thing doing here with a sky-man? He can remember seeing the war in space. A four-year-old on his uncle’s shoulders watching hope in fading scratches of light pinpricks of nuclear fire on the face of the moon.
A twitch from the bristled tip of a tentacle sends a shower of mucus onto his face, and William jerks violently in his bed. He nearly screams again, but the woman’s warm hand is still over his mouth.
“In the event that you do not understand my colleague,” says the man, “let me repeat that you owe us your life. We also liberated you of the 30 pounds of explosives you were wearing. Not before we exposed photographs, however.”
“Don’t scare him any further, Mr. Singh,” says the woman. “No one will see those pictures because we will have no reason to endanger the life and freedom of a friend.” She smiles like Uncle Fred. “If I let go, will you scream?”
William shakes his head. “I’m William,” he tells her once he can speak again. He doesn’t want to look at the Traitor and the Demon.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” the smile twists. “You may call me Selma. And these are my colleagues, Dr. Singh and Mu-rau Effendi.”
“What do they want to do to me?”
“Extract from you—“
She waves the Traitor Singh quiet. “We want you to lie back and get better. We want to help you.”
“Help me how?”
“Help you escape from the delusions that currently drive your actions,” says Singh. “You can begin by giving us the name and address—“
“Oh do be quiet,” snaps Selma. “Good lord, Singh, it’s as if you’ve never spoken to a boy before.”
“I haven’t. On the moon, we keep them in pits.”