It ripped down the corridor, freezing us blank-faced in our tracks. A second later, the shocked tableau splintered as all present turned toward the sound of running feet.
Hugo Matheson tore into view, wild-eyed and white-faced, his long legs eating up the passageway. Lu and I instinctively backed out of the way, joining thirty or so other people now pressed against the bulkheads. Putting on a burst of speed as a clear path opened ahead of him, Hugo shot a panicked glance over his left shoulder to find Rune Gaspar and Bill Stallings a few yards back and gaining. The hunted backwards glance threw their quarry off balance, and he stumbled. Screaming curses, he fought to regain his footing, but his own momentum worked against him, and he hit the deck hard, crashing onto his right shoulder and careening into the bulkhead as stunned onlookers scattered. Rune and his fellow agent were on Matheson in a heartbeat. He struggled wildly, trying to buck them off, but they had him restrained in seconds.
"Settle down, Matheson!" Rune growled. He was on his knees, straddling Hugo's back, one hand clamped around the taller man's wrists, which he quickly bound with a black zip tie. Once that was done, Gaspar turned to the beefy, blond Stallings. "You can get off his legs now. I've got him."
Rune swiped a thumb through the perspiration on his forehead. "Yeah. Go get one of the docs. No sense making this harder than it needs to be. They can give him something to make him easier to handle before we try to wrestle him back in there." He glanced down at his captive. "Otherwise, he might decide to wrestle with us some more. He's got a major problem as it is; I don't want to see him bruised and battered on top of that."
Stallings climbed to his feet and brushed off his navy tunic. With a pitying glance at their prisoner, he nodded. "Yeah. All right." He turned to stride quickly up the corridor.
Meanwhile, Hugo started to sob quietly, moaning over and over, "Please, let me go. Just let me go. I'm not hurting anyone."
Swearing softly, Rune surveyed the astonished bystanders. "All right, break it up. We don't need an audience."
The shaken crowd dispersed uncertainly, as each member struggled to get a handle on the frightening scene played out in the corridor. Lowered heads and bewildered, furtive glances testified to the fact that Hugo's escape attempt and subsequent capture had awakened primitive tremors of alarm on some dim level. But did the men and women stealing peeks at Rune as he stood and pulled the now quietly weeping, gangly redhead to his feet understand that in less than a minute the course of our history had shifted again?
For the first time in more than four hundred years we had laid forcible hands on one another.
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