Previously, Menagerie: Rendezvous, Continued (Part 2).
“Please, have a seat.” The mechanical voice came from somewhere near the box-like head of the bot.
W.B. and Tariq both glanced at the diminutive chairs and said, “No, thanks. We’ll stand.”
Liishi went ahead and sat down. The chairs looked comfortable and had an almost new feeling to them. “You’re our contact, I guess.”
The bot tipped its boxy head forward a small degree.
“Why the mind games?” She laid the communicator on the table. “You could have used good, old-fashioned vocal transmission and stayed out of my head.”
“My sincere apologies,” the robot replied, “but our assessment was that such could be easily intercepted. Our wish was not to alarm you.”
Liishi shrugged. “No alarm. Just . . . odd.” She paused a bit. She had no interest in small-talk, had a feeling the robot might not either. “So you have something for us?”
“Hold on a moment.” Tariq stepped to the table and planted both hands on its surface. “You said something about intercepting communications. I understand the package must be really secret to hold a pass off way out here in the middle of nowhere, but we are out in the middle of nowhere. How would anyone intercept communications here?”
The bot paused a moment as if thinking and then said, “If you would permit a demonstration?” and without waiting for a yes, no, or let me think about it from the three, there came a series of subsonic pops (that made Liishi’s jaw ache) and small tendrils of smoke curled up from Liishi’s holster and the top of one boot, from W.B.’s belt and holster, and from Tariq’s belt and holster and both boot tops as well.
W.B. yipped loudly and jumped forward. Tariq jerked back from the table and slapped the top of one boot where loose fringe on a trouser leg had begun to smolder.
“Our apologies for that,” the bot admitted. “Again, the intent was not to cause alarm but to inform you that even out here there are eyes and ears which wish to know your secrets.”
Liishi shared a quick glance with W.B. who shrugged. He had gone over their belongings the moment things had quieted enough aboard the Iron Hide II and found a handful of spy drones and bugs that had attached themselves during their downtime in Willoughbriar. Those he’d disposed of. These either had slipped notice or had been planted afterward.
“OK,” she said, leaning forward and lacing her fingers together on the tabletop. “Someone wants to know what we’re doing. Someone always does. Governments and corporations always pay for information. I’ve carried information in the past, so I’m a target for bugging—”
Tariq just stared at her, eyes narrowed to slits as he mulled this over.
“However,” she continued, “that doesn’t mean I’m all that interested in seeing your hand-waving away things that might not be there. I don’t like the cloak and claw stuff, either. Do you have something for me? What is it? And who am I to deliver it to?”
The bot’s gears whined as it backed from the table. It approached the wall opposite where W.B. stood and a series of whistles and beeps caused a square section of wall to recede. Inside sat a small, black chest. This was retrieved and placed on the table before Liishi.
“This item,” it began as it rolled back to its station at the head of the table, “was given to us for safe-keeping long and long ago.”
“How long ago was that?” Tariq asked and deftly moved his foot when Liishi tried to kick him under the table.
“We were told that it should be delivered to your collective species when you reached a certain state of awareness and level of society,” the bot continued as though never interrupted. “While the level of awareness was reached some time ago, the level of society has only been achieved following your recent internal struggles.”
“The war?” Tariq said. “But that was—”
“Nearly a decade ago,” W.B. overlapped the captain. “That is not so recent.”
“For you, perhaps not, but for us it is,” the bot replied.