* * * * *
"Inspector. I'm sure--" Ghunt started.
"That's an order!" the Inspector barked. He switched to an incomprehensible language, bellowed more commands. Several of the thickset Neanderthal types appeared, moving in to seize Dan's arms. He looked around at chinless, wide-mouthed brown faces with incongruous blue eyes and lank blond hair.
"What's this all about?" he demanded. "I want a lawyer!"
"Never mind that!" the Inspector shouted. "I know how to deal with miscreants of your stripe!" He stared distastefully at Dan. "Hairless! Putty-colored! Revolting! Planning more mayhem, are you? Preparing to branch out into the civilized loci to wipe out all competitive life, is that it?"
"I brought him here, Inspector," Dzhackoon put in. "It was a routine traffic violation."
"I'll decide what's routine here! Now, Sapiens! What fiendish scheme have you up your sleeve, eh?"
"Daniel Slane, civilian, social security number 456-7329-988," Dan said.
"Name, rank and serial number," Dan explained. "I'm not answering any other questions."
"This means penal relocation, Sapiens! Unlawful departure from native locus, willful obstruction of justice--"
"You forgot being born without permission, and unauthorized breathing."
"Insolence!" the Inspector snarled. "I'm warning you, Sapiens, it's in my power to make things miserable for you. Now, how did you induce Agent Dzhackoon to bring you here?"
"Well, a good fairy came and gave me three wishes--"
"Take him away," the Inspector screeched. "Sector 97; an unoccupied locus."
"Unoccupied? That seems pretty extreme, doesn't it?" one of the guards commented, wrinkling his heavily ridged brow.
"Unoccupied! If it bothers you, perhaps I can arrange for you to join him there!"
The Neanderthaloid guard yawned widely, showing white teeth. He nodded to Dan, motioned him ahead. "Don't mind Spoghodo," he said loudly.
"He's getting old."
"Sorry about all this," a voice hissed near Dan's ear. Dzhackoon—or Ghunt, he couldn't say which--leaned near. "I'm afraid you'll have to go along to the penal area, but I'll try to straighten things out later."
Back in the concourse, Dan's guard escorted him past cubicles where busy IDMS agents reported to harassed seniors, through an archway into a room lined with narrow gray panels. It looked like a gym locker room.
"Ninety-seven," the guard said. He went to a wall chart, studied the fine print with the aid of a blunt, hairy finger, then set a dial on the wall. "Here we go," he said. He pushed a button beside one of the lockers. Its surface clouded and became iridescent.
"Just step through fast. Happy landings."
"Thanks," Dan ducked his head and pushed through the opening in a puff of frost.