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Original Fiction
Space Opera by Juxian Tang

Part 02

"As I said, my memory blocking methods have nothing to do with mind-wiping." The Heles' beautifully modulated voice resounded with pride and excitement. A subtle motion of his tentacle made the black cube where Uranus' body resided slide around the room.

The scientist was crippled. For all Victor knew, many years ago the humans had left him dying on a rampaged station of Heles. He'd survived but most parts of his body were destroyed, only the top pair of tentacles, the least strong ones, still worked. Uranus claimed it was the Voices who saved him - took him to a secret place where they carried out their experiments.

"I thought Voices were immaterial," Victor remarked.

"Voices are everything and nothing, everywhere and nowhere, pure intellect and absolute knowledge," Uranus chanted something that reminded Victor a prayer - and then said in his normal, skeptical voice. "If you ask me, I'd say Voices are exactly what they are - voices without bodies. But I owe them my life."

Uranus said Voices made possible the mind-symbiosis between him and Victor - well, a bit one-sided symbiosis since Uranus' mind was closed for him while the Heles could look through his eyes and hear through Victor's ears and, when wanted, grasp some of his thoughts.

What symbiosis gave Victor in exchange were his enhanced abilities, his steadily improving career ...

"You should trust me, comrade - have I ever lied to you? The mind intervention will be as refined as possible, and with your assistance it'll be completely safe. We don't seek to change Radek's personality since it's his individual qualities that make him interesting for us."

Stacey lay flat on a high table in the circle of brighter light. He was still dressed in the grey overalls of the sentenced and the glossy red mark against his heart made Victor clench painfully. It was all in the past, he told himself, Stacey was safe. He would be safe - now Victor would secure it at any price, couldn't lose him again.

He wouldn't think about whether Stacey agreed for what they were going to do. No one was going to ask him.

"You're right. He wouldn't know. Not unless you tell him," Uranus explained. He's been in my mind again, Victor thought acidly. The Heles' tentacles ran over the control panel.

"I surely won't." Victor made a small laughter. It was a nervous sound, unusual for him, but the truth was he wasn't sure what was usual for him any more - what was normal. Something was shaken, something broken, nothing stable in him, after the mock execution.

"Don't worry." Uranus' voice sounded placid. "You'll be the same as ever soon. Don't forget how well I know you, comrade. And so far we never regretted putting our trust into you."

"I appreciate hearing that." His voice was like a dry leaf.

"Now let's start. Take this helmet, comrade, and put it on your friend's head."

The helmet - or, rather, a visor - was cold and heavy, smooth under Victor's palms. He felt sudden fear about placing it over Stacey's face. It looked a bit like the shutter of an execution capsule ... or more than a bit. Victor decided he didn't want to elaborate on this.

Stacey's soft red hair spilled around his face on the white surface of the table and it seemed the only streak of color there, apart from the blood-red mark on his chest. Even his lips were pale, compressed somewhat bitterly - even now, even when he was asleep.

Victor put the visor in place, covering the top part of Stacey's face.

Uranus' tentacles clasped on a similarly looking but bigger visor, the one that fitted the shape of the Heles' head.

"And what about me?" Victor asked. "You said you needed my participation."

"So impatient, human ..." Uranus huffed. "You won't need it. I'll let you into my mind."

Victor felt blood rushed away from his face. It had never happened before, he didn't even know it was possible.

"Yeah, yeah ... A two-way road. Of course, you're not welcome walking it two-way, normally," Uranus muttered. "Now listen. The device is used for memory scanning and for blocking the chosen memories. We'll look through your lover's mind and choose what to block. I hope you'll be able to tell what particular memories hinder him to think positively about joining us."

"We'll look through his memory?" Somehow this thought seemed to Victor violating, worse than anything he'd done to Stacey. Stacey would surely hate it more than electric shocks ...

"The ends justify the means - is it how you humans say? Sit somewhere, comrade, I'm afraid the mind joining might affect you, for the first time."

Victor obeyed and watched how Uranus' thin tentacles flipped over the panel. Reading through Stacey's memory ... He suddenly felt how much he wanted it; in the last days there were so many things he turned out not to know about Stacey. Now he had a chance of ultimate knowledge - all secrets would be eliminated among them.

And not only that! He would have control over Stacey's memories, would be able to delete painful ones, tormenting ones ... Maybe, spare him from those nightmares that Victor witnessed so often as they shared a bed ...

"Just tell what you recommend to block," Uranus reminded him. "But be sparse; the less we change, the less the effect with be noticeable for Stacey himself. The less there would be a chance that his memory would be struggling against the blocks."

"I understand," Victor said; he felt dizzy with nervousness.

"Then let's start."

He leaned back against the back of the chair - and in time; suddenly a wave of nausea overcame him, a weird feeling of disorientation at not knowing where he was. He didn't see the room any more, had no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no voice to cry out.

"Whoops." Uranus' voice came to him from nowhere. "Don't panic or I'll have a headache. You don't see anything because I wear the helmet. You're in my mind, comrade."

It started making sense. It felt strange. The small beeps of the device Victor remembered sounded different, more hushed - but he did hear. He tried to move and couldn't.

"Leave my tentacles alone," Uranus muttered. "We're here to work."

And at the next moment the black emptiness in front of his eyes colored.

He didn't understand at first what it was, some jumbled pictures, fading and mixing together. The execution room? Something red on grey ... A smiling face of a man:

"It was nice to meet you."

That was when he realized it. He was in Stacey's memory!

"I'll try to get as deep as possible," Uranus informed him. "For example the memory that the Heles allegedly destroyed a Red Cross convoy - I don't think it's advisable for him to keep it."

Victor understood they made a jump, over some years, as he saw himself in Stacey's memory, his face surprisingly younger than the one he used to see in the mirror; and less ... less bitter?

"There is everything," Uranus said. "Even what he doesn't know himself he remembers."

Victor recalled the scene he saw even though he hadn't thought about it even once during last two years. The New Year eve of 2095, the officer party - and he was adjusting Stacey's full dress. He heard his own husky voice in Stacey's memory.

"I'd rather take it off now."

"Then do it." Stacey's arms fling around his neck, his lips pressed to Victor's closed ones.

"Stop it, you fool, they'll be waiting for us."

"Oh yes, they won't start without us, right?"

And then Stacey slides on his knees in front of him, his hands tug at Victor's zipper - and he can't resist any more, he resigns ...

"We'll correct his other memories regarding you later," Uranus said. "Now I think we should look for the real reason of his hatred towards the Heles."

Real reason? Apart from you being cold manipulative bitches?

Victor knew Uranus picked up this thought, heard the Heles' laughter everywhere around himself.

"Shangri La," Victor whispered. "We need him to forget why he got there. He thinks the Empire indebted him."

The time of Shangri La was difficult to work with; medicines and virtual world turned it into a mixture that Victor couldn't make out. But they did block the memories about the murder. Victor thought it would do good to Stacey, if he stopped being afraid of himself, of letting out a "murderer" inside him.

They found the information about the attack on the Red Cross convoy, given at school, and a fiction movie made out of it. Victor had watched it, too, but it never affected him.

He wondered suddenly what Heles would find in his memory if they had to scan it.

Or what is they did scan it? Maybe, he just didn't remember - like Stacey would remember nothing. Maybe, there was a reason why he'd slipped into the life as a servant to the Heles so easily. Would it be as easily for Stacey?

Going deeper into Stacey's memory reminded him of a downward spiral. The orphanage. It was a gloomy place, Victor thought, with the boys in dark uniform, dull-green colored walls, the ever-present threat of the flogging post. A few years deeper ...

He gasped in shock.

It was a rape. It was going on for hours; the faces of the boys rose over him, changed, one after one. But the splitting, burning pain never went away.

He was spread on the bed, his wrists held in someone's grip above his head. Victor wondered how old he was then, he seemed awfully little, like five or six. His arms hurt, twisted cruelly and bruised. His legs hurt, too, spread widely to accommodate another boy who entered him. His genitals were swollen and black and blue and it made him cry out every time one of the rapists touched him there. And there was this never-ending pain inside him.

His voice was raw. He couldn't cry any more - and he didn't have tears as well. He just sobbed, not even loudly enough to make them shut his mouth. But he sometimes tried to beg them, the words came out incoherent because his lips were split so badly. And as someone reached to his face to slap him, he tried to kiss their hands.

I didn't know ... Victor felt as if the world was crumbling around him. He wanted to scream but couldn't do even that, locked in Uranus' mind. He hadn't known ... He knew the life in the orphanage was hard, the kids were beaten, maybe, hazed. But this, this ...

He recalled a sudden rigidity of Stacey's body that came in the most intimate moments - Stacey's occasional flinches at the touch between his legs. Stacey's self-abandonment as he gave himself away to Victor. He recalled his own casual cruelty he'd sometimes applied and how Stacey accepted it. Shame and grief flooded him, a desperate wish to correct it somehow, to delete these memories.

If there was anything he wanted to block, it would be this.

"No, comrade. This particular memories don't contain any threat for Heles."

They moved deeper, to the memories that Stacey himself probably didn't know he held - about him as two-, three-year-old child. An adored child, Victor understood suddenly, a loved and cherished one. His mother was a beautiful long-haired woman who petted and spoilt him unreasonably. His father was big and dazzling, in his decorated uniform.

Victor suddenly understood what happened, even before they found it out. Stacey likely had never known it himself - but Victor knew now. The uniformed people with solemn faces came to their house and told something to his mother. Then there were covered mirrors, white mourning clothes and the woman's cut hair thrown on the coffin. Apparently an empty coffin - Heles didn't return the bodies for funeral.

Then there is her constant silence and sadness. And then she disappears, vanishes away, like a ghost she'd become during last months. Strangers come and take Stacey away and he weeps and says he wants back to his mom and dad.

"They fuckin' died," someone says to him.

What rank did Stacey's father have? There must have been documents, Victor thought, he could've found it ...

"Unnecessary," Uranus interrupted him. "I think it's what we're looking for. I'm going to block it."

They returned back. Victor watched again Stacey's memories about the execution and suggested to block the memory of a brief attachment he'd felt to Captain Monk.

"It's too personal."

"Okay, comrade. But I don't think we should touch his memories about thinking you dead. In any case, it should only make him grateful to us that we saved you. Do you want him to remember how you tortured him?"

"Leave it. It's between us two."

I want to be able to make it up for him, Victor thought.

"And how he spat to your face?"

He didn't know if Uranus' insistence angered him or amused him in some cold, scary way.

"Let it be left my best memory," he said and it was not such a lie, after all.

He saw the time Stacey spent locked with other members of Intrepido crew, in the cold huge room. And a beautiful slanted-eyed face titled to Stacey, the stare of light-hazel eyes adoring, gentle.

The little pretty slave, whatever his name was ... Kai. In Stacey's memory there was the warmth of the genetic's thin body pressed to his as they sought each other's heat, the slight tickling of a loose strand of smooth black hair against his neck.

Victor wasn't sure why he felt danger. Was it the feeling of safety he sensed in Stacey when he fell asleep pressed close to the genetic - the safety Stacey had never seemed to feel in Victor's arms. Or was it the gentleness of Stacey's touch as he tucked the kid's hair behind his ears?

"And then you'll be free ..."

"Block these memories, comrade."

"Why?" Uranus' voice was not antagonistic, just interested.

"Because the slave - he is used as a whore on the ship now. And if Stacey remembers his devotion, it may make him feel angry with Heles and other crew members."

"It's a valid argument," Uranus said.

It was just a minor change, wasn't it? Nothing to think about.

"I think it would be enough," Uranus said finally. "Which still leaves it up to you to convince him but I'm sure now this process will go much easier."

"I hope so," Victor whispered. The world turned around him as he came round in his own body again.

"An interesting experience, wasn't it?" Uranus seemed pleased removing the helmet. "I find the possibilities of mind-symbiosis almost endless."

He said something else, something that Victor didn't listen to because he was busy pulling the visor off Stacey's head.

Nothing changed in Stacey's face; everything stayed as before - the bitter curve of his lips, the bluish shadows under the eyes, a stray lock of hair. Sleeping, not knowing that we've just rummaged in his mind and robbed him ...

But, maybe, this loss would make him a bit happier.

Victor plaited his fingers through Stacey's hair and leaned down. He didn't care that Uranus was looking, what hadn't he done in front of his symbiont's eyes? He kissed Stacey's forehead and thought he wanted to stay like this forever, with his lips pressed to Stacey's skin, believing that there were just two of them - and everything was going to be okay.

But everything was going to be okay, wasn't it?

* * *

He entered without using a warning signal. The kid was in the middle of the room, pacing. His fingers plaited his hair quickly in very thin, not quite even braids. He saw Victor and stopped on his tracks, his eyes absolutely void of any expression. Victor felt ill at ease.

It's been two days since Kai's life as the ship's whore had started; seven or eight clients. The kid's clothes were clean, his face not bruised. But it was all Victor could say of good things.

"Hi," he said awkwardly.

"I'll be happy to serve you, sir," the kid whispered. His voice, never loud, was almost soundless now. Victor saw him pull on the plaited braids. "Please would you wait one moment, sir, for me to get ready?"

"Don't," he waved his hand. "Leave it."

Kai's hand dropped; something in his empty eyes changed, a little life appeared there.

I'm not your enemy, Victor thought; I don't hate you.

The truth was he even felt a kind of sympathy when he thought about the daily, endless hell Kai was driven into, his body and mind violated unceasingly.

But Stacey belonged to Victor; no one could stand between them.

In love like in war - everyone fought for himself.

He promised Stacey to make Kai's life easier - and he did try, rehashed the visit schedule so that the visits of crueler humans and Heles fell to different days. It was as much as he could do.

And now Victor didn't even have to be here; he didn't know what made him. Shame? Guilt? Anyway, locked here, Kai likely would never know if Stacey remembered him or not. Something still made Victor feel uncomfortable.

"Why don't you sleep?" he asked mildly. The kid's eyes grew wider, surprise flashed through the numbness.

"Should I, sir?"

"Don't you want to? It's night."

The kid shrugged indifferently - and then his eyes got frightened, worried that Victor could take it as disrespect.

"I'm here to do whatever you want, sir."

Victor didn't know what he felt stronger, annoyance or pity.

"I don't want anything from you," he said rather harshly. Maybe, only an indulgence, an acknowledgement that I've done the right thing making Stacey forget you.

Kai's eyes, shadowed with blue, looked at him with a harassed, anxious expression. The kid probably didn't notice it but his fingers pulled on his hair again, twisted the tiny strands so hard it must have been painful.

"You have to eat and you have to sleep. You can't be so maladjusted that you can't take elementary care of yourself." It sounded cruel but a part of Victor enjoyed this cruelty.

"Oh, I can, sir," Kai said hotly. "My masters sometimes left me alone for days when they had to go somewhere."

Didn't the genetic feel, like, proud of himself?

"Then snap back into your skills, okay?"

"But sir ..." Kai stopped, looking hesitantly. Victor nodded, permitting him to go on. "If I sleep - I will miss the signal then?"

At the first moment it didn't make sense and then suddenly it did. Victor felt a pang of bitter sympathy.

"Sit down," he said and activated the room computer next to the bed. The schedule was among his files and he opened it. "You see, there are eight human crew members and nineteen Heles, seven of them females. You roughly have one or two visits of humans per day and two visits of Heles, till the cycle ends and starts again."

The little slave looked intently at the screen, his hands clenched so tightly the knuckles were white.

"This blue area is your free time. You don't have to worry, no visitors will come then."

"Ah ..." the kid whispered; his gaze stayed the same excruciatingly intent. Then he looked at Victor and Victor realized suddenly he started recognizing Kai's gaze as the kid wanted to ask something.


"Which of them are humans and which are Heles?"

"Can't you see by the names?"

The kid flinched.

"I can't read, sir."

"Is there someone who still can't ..." Victor cut himself short. Of course, the boy didn't lie. On the other hand, he probably didn't need reading for his position.

"Look here." Victor pointed at the screen. "Perhaps you want me to print it out for you, in different colors?" he suggested unexpectedly for himself.

It was probably because of his promise to Stacey; he really tried to make the little whore's life a bit more tolerable.

"Thank you, sir," Kai said seriously. "It'll be lovely."

Perhaps, Victor thought suddenly, he could leave the kid some simple program teaching to read. At least Kai would have something to do, apart from staring at the light indicator and talking to himself.

The thought suddenly softened Victor; the idea that he found something he could do for Kai, as he'd promised Stacey, made him feel relief. He sat on the bed, looking at Kai. The genetic shifted slightly as if Victor's gaze was difficult to endure, then pushed his hair behind his ears nervously.

A sudden image of what Victor had seen in Stacey's memory came to him - Stacey touching the kid's hair, with such casual gentleness.

He probably saw himself in this boy, Victor thought: both of them used from early childhood, both of them labeled as unfit for normal society. Only Stacey had broken through and got free, buried his past in his dreams. And this one would never be free.

He reached his hand to Kai's face, almost mimicking Stacey's gesture. The kid didn't startle away from him but got rigid, very still. Victor's hand fell without touching.

"May I ask another question, sir?"

"Yes, you may."

"You said Stacey Radek was going to join the crew. He will be in the schedule, won't he?"

Victor got up abruptly. His eyes must have darkened so much that Kai looked at him in panic.

How dared he? Fuckin' whore ... After everything Victor wanted to do for him!

He paced swiftly around the room, clenched his fists, resisting the urge to hit the boy. Finally Victor took himself under control. For God's sake ... After everything that happened, Victor hoped Kai wouldn't hazard to ask about Stacey.

"He will be in the schedule," he said firmly. "Don't worry, he will be there. I'm just not sure he'll want to come here and use something that ... everybody else uses."

It's your own fault, kid, you made me say this.

He expected to see pain in Kai's face but what he saw was even better. Recognition. As if Victor just said what Kai himself knew.

The kid's thin, nearly fleshless fingers started plaiting his thin braids again.

"I know your life is not easy here," Victor said levelly. "Is it? But there is nothing that can be done about it. Just get used to it. You know now what to expect, so, you can be prepared. And although it won't get any better, it won't get any worse as well."

* * *

Tucked under a soft blanket, his palm under his cheek, Stacey seemed heavy and relaxed like a sleeping child. His hair spilled over his face and probably tickled but it didn't seem to bother him. It was not for Stacey but for his own sake Victor wanted to reach and push his hair away, to see Stacey's face, flushed in sleep and warmth.

He wanted to hug Stacey; to have his arms full, to hold and cradle - to get convinced once and for all that Stacey was real, was not going to go away. Holding Stacey would soothe the constant ache inside him, maybe.

Victor sighed deeply. The dull light relaxed him as well as familiar setting and familiar smells of his quarters. He drove away the memories of unnatural sterility of Kai's room and ozone tang in the air because of too frequent use of the mender. He wouldn't think about it now, wouldn't think about the kid. He was with Stacey - and it was the only thing that mattered.

He sat carefully on the edge of the bed and looked greedily at Stacey's face with those swiftly moving pupils under closed eyelids.

I'll fight for you, my dear one, he thought. I'll fight dirty. I want you all for myself, and this kid with his dove beauty and bare-nerve vulnerability can take a part of your heart. I can't risk that. You belong to me and I'll do everything to make it stay this way.

He yanked the collar of his jacket, caught the air - and then his hand froze in thoughtfulness. He wanted to strip, wanted to slip under the blanket with Stacey, to spoon against him and cradle him through his sleep.

He didn't dare ... The thought was bitter but Victor realized it was true. He touched his cheek, recalled the feeling Stacey's spittle on it. What if Stacey would hate him? What if despite everything he and Uranus changed Stacey wouldn't forgive Victor? He felt a trickle of cold sweat run over his spine and shivered. The tips of his fingers he touched his temples with were ice-cold.

Stacey sighed deeply, stirred under the blanket, pushed it away. Victor sat still, looking at him, feeling a feeble smile curve his lips. Suddenly Stacey opened his eyes and smiled - his pupils, slightly misty with sleep, brightened as he looked at Victor.

"If you only knew what an awful dream I had!"

His voice was hoarse with sleep and so familiar - and Victor realized suddenly he worried about it - what if memory blocks could change Stacey in more ways than Uranus promised?

He called it a dream ... What if it was so for Stacey? Hope made Victor light-headed.

"I was going to die ..." Stacey whispered, his eyes widened. "In the capsule, from the laser gun ..."

"Shh." Victor pressed his thumb to Stacey's mouth. "It's okay."

"There was a red mark on my chest, on the overalls," Stacey said casting an involuntary glance at himself. The uniform of the sentenced was gone at last, he was all soft and naked under the blanket. "They executed me ... and then I was alive."

Victor knew it before it was coming - and sadly watched how Stacey's eyes narrowed in recollection. It should have been expected, right? Stacey was just a bit blocked, not mad.

"So, that was real," Stacy said as if in disappointment. His body lost its relaxed stance, curled protectively as he sat up with his arms wrapped around his knees. Victor looked at his face in the halo of disheveled hair, at his bitten lip.

Stacey was strong, he would get over it, Victor thought. Someone who'd gotten over the hell of Stacey's childhood would cope with something like this. Victor knew it; he was proud for Stacey.

"I'm an idiot," Stacey said at last and fell back on the pillow.

"You're angry with me," Victor said. He saw remembrance in Stacey's eyes and a brief flash of shame.

"Not so much. I didn't want to die, you know."

Victor let out his breath. Was it something that Uranus promised him to change?

"You don't have to die."

"Why that?" There was a broken, nervous note in Stacey's voice. "The Heles decided that I was punished enough?"

He still talked about Heles unkindly, Victor thought, but the instinctive repulsion towards them, Stacey's perception of them as his enemies must have been gone, right?

"They gave you life," he said quietly. "Just as they gave it to me."

"But others ..." There was no accusation in Stacey's voice, just statement of the fact. "They are truly dead."

Monk ... He didn't remember Monk.

"Yes," Victor sighed. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be." Stacey rested his forehead on his palm, twisting a strand around his finger. He'd had this habit as long as Victor remembered him; but now it made Victor feel somehow uncomfortable. It reminded him uncontrollable motions of the little genetic, he understood.

Victor dispelled the image with an effort of will; he had no time for Kai. All he could think about now was Stacey.

"I know you couldn't do anything," Stacey said. "It's a war. The Heles live by the laws of war. I don't think humans would be merciful to them. Humans have never been merciful to their enemies."

Victor felt his mouth go dry, his heart flutter. That was it! Now he knew he could press, he had to win.

"Heles invite you to join the crew of Nostromo."

He saw immediately how Stacey tensed, curled like a hedgehog, how his face became sharp, unpleasant.

"They invite me? It's something new."

"They do," Victor confirmed. "But it's not their invitation you have to pay attention to. I ask you. I beg you. Do you want me to kneel in front of you? You don't know what I went through while watching your execution. I can't lose you again. If you die - I swear I'll die, too."

He meant every word he said; or, at least, at that moment he was sure he meant it. He watched Stacey who didn't meet his eyes, looked everywhere but at Victor, sucking on a strand of his hair.

"Think whether it is worth it. Your death and my death for the sake of nothing but a phantom loyalty - while we can be together and happy forever."

He'd said it before. But for some reason he felt it had a different meaning for Stacey now.

"Don't you want to wake up in this bed with me every morning?" Victor asked plaintively.

He saw Stacey's bony shoulders move nervously. He waited. Stacey's eyes, raised at him at last, were infinitely sad but his voice was careless.

"Give me some clothes, okay, Vic? I can't talk serious things when I'm butt naked."

Victor chuckled, walked to the wardrobe, opened it. He didn't hurry.

"I feel strange," Stacey said suddenly. "As if something in my head doesn't work right. You'll think I'm so scared of dying ..."

"Will I?" Victor smiled quietly. "I'll accept any of your decision. Just know that if you die on me one more time, I'll die, too."

"Fuckin' stop talking about it!" Something broke in Stacey's face, as if Victor struck him. His eyes were both angry and hurt.

You hurt me, too, Victor thought.

"Neither of us has to die, fox. Just accept the offer of the Heles. For our happiness together - is it such a big price?"

He took out the black uniform and placed it neatly on the bed in front of Stacey.

A suffering expression in Stacey's eyes was difficult to bear - and there was something else, some kind of doom Victor could see there. It reminded him suddenly how Kai looked when Victor told him Stacey would hardly want to come.

Stacey looked at the uniform, then at Victor's own black jacket, reached his hand slightly, about to touch the cloth.

"You know. It wouldn't be me if I joined," Victor recalled.

Suddenly Stacey reached for Victor's hands, grabbed them, pulled him closer, looking right into his face with desperate intensity and feverish hope.

"We can do it, Vic, right? We'll be in their ranks - but secretly, we can still serve the Empire. And if another ship is captured, more people sentenced to death, we'll be able to help them. It'll be our mission, our calling ..."

Victor felt like slapping him, to make him shut up, not to give himself away. But of course Stacey didn't know about the presence of the third in this room, of the other one in Victor's head.

So, how about your memory-blocking theories, Uranus, he thought bitterly. Everything was lost. Stacey babbled happily about everything they could do if they pretended to serve the Heles but all Victor could see was the shutter of the capsule fall on his face again.

"Don't panic." Uranus' voice came almost like a salvation. "No need to get disappointed in my inventions. It's how the method works. As I said, your lover's personality didn't change. But now he is pretty willing to join."

You don't know him, Victor wanted to said and stopped.

"Leave him his fantasies, comrade. Idealism passes quickly - and I'm sure you'll find the way to keep him out of harm till them."

"If you say so, comrade Uranus"

He looked in Stacey's shining eyes, sensed the tight grip of Stacey's hands - and allowed himself to feel peace, to feel hope.

"That's what I always meant, fox," he said leaning towards Stacey. The warmth was overwhelming; the hardness of the collarbone and resilient softness of Stacey's throat so familiar. He felt a small gasp Stacey made, his breath that became more rapid. "What wouldn't we do together ..."

* * *

Her body felt like a stone next to him, heavy, solid and cold. A living stone that breathed, moved, fluctuated. Enormous black eyes stared at him unblinkingly. Kai tried to forget these eyes - knew nothing would come off if he didn't; but he couldn't forget - couldn't look away.

Minerva's tentacle was cold and heavy, too, forced between his legs. Just between his legs, not inside him - and he was grateful for it. She expected it from him - gratitude. Kai stuck his fingers into unyielding metal of the bolster, made himself breathe normally, willed his body into staying still, open as the cold limb kept massaging his balls.

"Sweet human." The tip of Minerva's other tentacle ran over Kai's cheek. He clenched his hands tighter, congratulated himself that he didn't flinch. He even managed a smile to her, a trembling one, but he knew by now the Heles were not so good at reading human expressions. "Don't we enjoy each other?"

One more tentacle brushed against his erect cock.

Yes, he was hard. His body reacted to stimulation in the beginning of their game; but now he couldn't get off - and panic made it worse. He wondered when she would get tired of being patient, when his non-reaction to her ministrations would anger her. Would she see his inability to come as resistance - or even worse, disrespect?

He gasped, letting his fear come out in this small sound. He didn't know how much time passed, how much of it was left till the end of Minerva's time; she would want him to climax and thank her before she left.

Coward, he thought about himself hatefully. He'd seen enough Heles by now, had been touched in every possible way. Why couldn't he get used to it? And Minerva was kind to him, she really was.

Kai pushed his body towards her tentacle desperately, seeking more contact. Futile hope. The delicate tips of her limbs rubbed his nipples. He was not sure if it felt good or bad; his body seemed both raw and strangely senseless.

Close your eyes, you fool, he ordered himself; do something. Think about something else. He couldn't do it. Not with her near. Alone, Kai had no problem with fantasies. Touching himself, he slipped away into another world, a world that was neither his past nor possible future. A better, brighter world, almost too vague to describe it; but sometimes it seemed to him he knew what it was. In this world, Stacey was there, and they both were safe, and Stacey had no reason to despise him.

Under Minerva's intent stare it didn't work. And Kai couldn't think about Stacey when she was playing with his genitals.

"Come on, little human." There was amusement in her voice and a shade of impatience. "Show me how you enjoy it."

He bit the inside of his lip. There was just one way; he had to do it.

He moved his legs wider, inviting her, knowing that she understood and was pleased; he also knew she wouldn't do it unless he told her.

"Please," he whispered. "Madam, enter me."

She sighed in contentment. The tip of her tentacle was slick and slender, thrust into him. It wasn't deep, it didn't hurt; it brushed against his prostate, making his body clench involuntarily. He heard her chuckle and stir the tentacle slightly.

"Passionate human."

The direct massage of his prostate gland did it. He felt the release build inside him. Minerva's other tentacle wrapped around his cock and stroked in the same rhythm. Kai gasped, finally coming over her limb and his own belly. The huge black eyes stared at him almost with gentleness.

Kai didn't know how many times he'd recalled Victor's words since the time they had been said.

" ...it won't get any better but it won't get any worse as well ..."

It won't get any worse; he sought strength in these words, told himself it was the truth. Victor Gessen, the most powerful human on Nostromo, couldn't be mistaken.

Sometimes it seemed to Kai he understood what Victor meant. In a cycle or two Kai got to know what every one of his visitors was capable of. They couldn't kill him, couldn't damage him permanently - and, after all, every one of them had just one hour of time; even Andrews.

It had to be Kai's own stupidity that he still kept waiting for something to change. What could change? Could he get accustomed to be stretched from inside by the Heles' tentacles? Start liking Minerva's rather gentle treatment - she was the only female Heles who came to him regularly? Oh, Kai knew, deep in his heart, what he waited for. But how could he admit it, after Victor's words, that he waited for the door to open and Stacey to come in?

He wouldn't want to, he wouldn't want, Kai repeated to himself.

Since that night Victor had never come to him again. Not even in his time in the schedule. The little slip of paper Kai studied so hard that he could envision it at any moment. The little black worms - letters - he learned to associate them with people and aliens, those whose names he knew how to be pronounced and those he created names for by himself. He knew Victor missed his turn - and he never knew when Stacey's turn was.

As he lay still afterwards and Minerva's tentacles slid over his body already without demand, just playfully, Kai looked at the dead screen of the computer at his bed. He tried to make it work; he guessed it reacted to the lines of human palm or a tentacle - and Kai didn't have an authorization for it, of course. But he pushed every button he could find ... he had enough time to pursue these meaningless activities. The computer stayed dead. Not that Kai would know what to do with it if he ever could switch it on ...

"Have you got some rest?" Minerva asked mildly. Her tentacle hugged him around the ribcage just with a hint to her real force. "Get up then. I want to give you something."

"To give me?" He thought he must have misunderstood it; but got up, stood in front of the bed, looking at Minerva who also raised from her reclining position.

"Close your eyes," her little giggle was conspiring, excited. "And raise your hands."

He did as she told him - and a moment later something heavy and cold lay around his waist.

Kai thought it was a tentacle and waited and kept silent - until felt that Minerva withdrew from him.

"Now look."

The weight on his waist stayed - a huge necklace clasped around his waist.

He thought it was a necklace, although it technically served as a belt for him - but it was made in this way, huge ovals of roughly polished grey metal with green stones of three shades embedded in them.

He'd never seen any of the Heles wearing jewelry - but if they did, this one might've looked perfectly on them.

He knew the metal; it looked unassuming but it was grey gold, one of the most expensive metals. He looked up at Minerva not knowing what to say.

"Beautiful." She raised her tentacles in delight. "It's yours now, little human."

Kai felt fear suddenly, recalled the last time he'd been given jewelry, the diamond hangings that locked in his earlobes not to be open again. "They are yours, tesoro mio," his master told him then.

He'd never expected to be decorated with another piece of jewelry in his life.

"Thank you, madam." He'd nearly forgotten to say that. But she was not angry, felt too exhilarated at the moment.

"You belong to me, human," she said. "Just as this thing belongs to me. Wear it only when I come to visit you."

I don't belong to you, he wanted to say. If he found courage to say that, Kai thought, like he'd said it to Andrews and others in the hangar, maybe, it would change something, maybe, he would feel less soiled. But his cowardice took the best of him.

He lowered his head looking at the dull shining of the stones on his belt.

"But, madam, how will I know when you come to visit me?" An idea struck him and he nearly gasped in joy. It could work ... let it work ...

She spread her tentacles.

"Didn't you have that paper with schedule?"

"I ... I lost it ... madam ..."

"Humans!" she snorted. "He'd lost it in the locked room! So, what am I supposed to do now?"

"You might ... you might print it out, from the computer ..."

He knew she looked at him intently and it made him tremble. The heavy belt around his waist seemed tightening, too heavy to bear it. Kai made a step forward and caught Minerva's tentacle, pressed it to his lips.

"Please, madam ..."

She made a gesture imitating a shrug and then moved to the computer, pushed one of her tentacles in the slit. Kai clenched his fists to stay quiet. The screen lit up.

"Well, where is it?" she muttered. "Gessen sent me the last variant ... Ah, here!"

The screen switched off immediately but she already held a small paper with the tip of her tentacle.

"Now remember - it's me," she said to him almost gently, her good mood resurrected.

"I'll remember, madam," Kai said seriously.

Later, alone, he studied both papers, comparing every sign on them. He wasn't mistaken, there was Stacey's name there, a new one. Just ... just three days to wait ...

It was unreasonable and Kai knew it; there must have been cycles before now and Stacey didn't come. But the only thing Kai wanted to do was to touch the black letters of Stacey's name with the tips of his fingers.

Even if it were the only way he would ever touch Stacey ... he still couldn't stop himself from doing it.

* * *

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,"Rick Blaine said and as the titles ran on the darkened screen of the computer, Stacey rolled his head against Victor's collarbone.

"You slept," Victor said accusingly.

"No, I didn't."

"And my right arm went numb because of you."

"I didn't sleep," Stacey muttered. "'Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo, or were there others in between? Or - aren't you the kind that tells?' See?"

"I see, I see." Victor giggled. Stacey had a gift to imitate voices. "You're lazy but you memorize easily. Otherwise Heles would complain."

"I learn everything Heles want me to," Stacey said without much enthusiasm. Models of human spacecraft, the methods of their direction and neutralization ... Uranus had mentioned once that they might use Stacey as an agent, something connected with Voices' plans. But it was a long time till then, Stacey didn't prove his loyalty to Heles yet - so, Victor didn't worry.

"Ugh ..."

"What's wrong, Vic?"

"I told you my arm went asleep."

"This one?" Stacey turned quickly, his fingers slid under Victor's collar, ran over his shoulder. "I can heal it."

"Why did watching Humphrey Bogart make you so active? Or is it just an hour and a half of immobility?"

"An hour and a half of leaning against you," Stacey said, smiling at him.

How could his eyes look so both innocent and alluring, Victor thought not unhappily.

He cast a glance at his watch; there were twenty minutes till his shift. Too little time but he'd try to fit in. He caught Stacey's wrists, toppled him over, forced his knee between Stacey's legs and smiled down at him. He could bet it was what Stacey expected from him. He felt Stacey push towards him eagerly but the seriousness of the green eyes surprised him.

"You okay?"

"I'm perfectly okay." He heard Stacey's chuckle. "I'm just ... completely, shamefully happy."

It was what Victor always dreamed to hear, wasn't it?

He slipped into the warmth of Stacey's body, shivered at the immediate, overwhelming pleasure. Looking at Stacey's face, he thrust deeply. It was bliss.

Completely, shamefully happy ... Well, Victor's own feeling was not shameful - a bit scary, maybe. As if there was a balance he had to keep, a thin line he walked. On one side there was a chasm of the past he didn't want to think about; on the other side ... something even more frightening, maybe.

It was a feeling Victor had never had before, fear he'd never known. Two years ago, everything seemed too easy, he couldn't quite believe Stacey was what he really needed. Now he knew. Now he would remember: every day - every night of falling asleep in Stacey's arms, every love-making, every teasing or affectionate gaze Stacey gave him.

He knew what Stacey meant about shame, though. He'd told Victor before.

"It's like I know with my mind I shouldn't be so contented. I mean I compromised something very important, what most men wouldn't survive losing - the Empire. And yet ..." He recalled Stacey's strange, vulnerable gesture he touched his forehead with, as if it hurt somewhere deep there. "I understand it with my mind, not with ... a gut feeling." An apologetic smile Stacey gave him made Victor's heart sink. "You've got a moral freak for a lover, Vic."

"Then everyone in the crew is a moral freak," he said. Which might be well true, of course, especially when one thought about Andrews. But Stacey was different ... and, maybe, Victor himself was different.

He remembered how Stacey's eyes glowed, his small mouth curved in an ironic smile.

"Yeah, right. The Heles probably despise us to no end. That's why they never mix with us, their part of the crew, I mean. And I've never heard about a Heles who'd serve humans against their own race."

"Do you care what the Heles think about you?" Victor remembered Stacey's laughter, so soft, so intimate in the dimness of the shared room.

"Not really. Come to think about it, I don't care what humans think about me any more. Apart from one human, that is."

"I'm glad you understand that at last, fox."

Victor still feared - couldn't help it - that very gut feeling that Stacey missed.

"Are your methods really so good as you say?" he kept asking Uranus, finding comfort in the Heles' usual smugness.

"You'll always know when it's a close call. He's gonna get these headaches when he tries to recall something he shouldn't. Hopefully it'll teach him to stop prying into certain matters."

So far it seemed safe.

He brushed his lips on Stacey's mouth, swollen with kisses lips - raised on his elbows, slamming into Stacey's body and watching the dance of pain and pleasure in Stacey's eyes.

"Say it again, fox."

"I'm awfully happy."

"Say more," Victor whispered kissing him again, biting the lower lip nearly to breaking the skin. "Say that you love me."


He knew it would be this way. Stacey never said it.

"I love you, fox. Do you love me?"

Stacey's body answered it, even if his lips didn't. I should've found something in your past that prevents you from saying it, Victor thought. His body shook, went rigid in orgasm, merged closer than it seemed possible with Stacey's. His reached between their bellies, touched Stacey's cock; and one touch was nearly enough, made Victor feel his palm getting warm and wet.

He glanced at the watch again.

"Think me a brute but I have to run."

"Okay, okay," Stacey muttered sleepily. "I knew you would do it to me."

"I go to the shower, you'll take it later."

Stacey curled cozily with a pillow in his arms when Victor reappeared, buttoning his jacket. Victor knew he didn't sleep, the slits of green followed him whatever he did.

"Hey, fox."


"I wanted to ask you." He was so deliberate to make his voice sound careless, unimportant. "Your turn will be the day after tomorrow but if you want some other time, I can change it."

"Time for what?"

Victor looked at his own face in the mirror, closed his eyes for a second.

"For visiting the ship's whore."

"Ouch." Stacey threw himself on his back, his arms above his head. "Do I have to visit her?"

Victor felt joy flood him.

"It's not her," he said mildly. "It's him."

"Whatever. Is it like, obligatory?"

"Of course, not." Victor bent down and pressed his lips to Stacey's. "If you don't want to."

He felt the hard hands catch his face and Stacey's mockingly threatening voice whispered:

"Now tell me - do you go there?"

He could be difficult to overpower, Victor thought - when he didn't want to be overpowered. But at this moment they fought on one side.

"Of course, I don't," he said seriously. "Because I have you."

"And I have you."

* * *

He won't come; Kai must have repeated it a million times - but his stupid brain couldn't master it. Stacey won't come; Kai will never see him again.

Kai lay on his back, his legs spread widely to accommodate the man between them, the man who slammed his pelvis forward, thrusting into him. Over the man's dark shoulder Kai looked at the place where the wall joined the ceiling, the only place containing some shadow in his room. He continued repeating his mantra.

Stacey won't come. Kai shouldn't have been expecting it. It was so stupid to hope for something, how could he dream to see Stacey in this sordid room? If he were any smart, not like a genetic but like a human ... oh, Kai would listen to the kind words Victor said to him then.

But such people as Kai never learned, did he? He waited ... He caressed Stacey's name with his fingers on the paper and counted hours. He forgot who he was - the Heles' plaything, their bitch ... and worse, because Kai pretended he enjoyed it ... At least with Minerva he did, trying to get into the favor with her.

So many times Kai thought - if only Stacey knew ... And now it was true; Stacey knew - and he wouldn't come.

Every minute, nearly every heartbeat of that hour when Stacey was supposed to come - Kai remembered it so well. He felt like dying ...

If so, why was he still alive, Kai thought feeling a wry smile crawl on his lips. This smile was not a good accompaniment to the man's fucking - but the truth was Kai couldn't care. His own world was more significant and hurt more at the moment.

He waited for Stacey as if he really believed Stacey would come! A fool; a whore and a fool ... And when the hour ended and another man entered, Kai found dozens of explanations why Stacey didn't come. An extra-shift, an urgent business ... every explanation apart from one true one: Stacey didn't want to see him.

Kai sobbed but his eyes were dry. He didn't cry much, it could be annoying for his masters. There was just stinging in his eyes and harshness in his throat. He shivered and made another sob.

Pathetic ...

Sharp pain pierced his shoulders as the man pulled him closer, his fingernails flaying thin strips of Kai's skin. Kai bit his lip right in time to stifle a moan. The man, Kostin - Kai knew his name because he remembered Victor call him like that when the crew of Intrepido had boarded the launcher - was not normally cruel. It was Kai's own fault he'd got on the man's nerves.

He still felt Kostin's hard cock up his ass as Kostin raised over him.

"What's wrong with you, whore? You find something funny?"

It was not that, Kai wanted to say and realized that he still had that lopsided, stupid grin on his face. But his voice didn't obey him and, anyway, he wasn't sure that he could say anything that would make things better.

He delayed long enough for the man to hit him. The blow was numbing.

"Please forgive me, sir," Kai whispered hastily.

"You're a bad whore today. I expected more from you."

Yeah right; more than lying like dead under him, shivering at the violent thrusts.

"I'm sorry, sir. I'll ... I'll make up for it."

"You'd better do." The man's thumb ran over his cheekbone, touched the sore place around Kai's eye that already started swelling. Kostin's gesture was strangely careful, Kai noticed. "I don't like to beat you, you know. You have such tender skin, little whore."

He knew what he was supposed to do; so, he turned his head slightly and caught the man's fingers in his mouth.

"I like when you do it," Kostin whispered, his voice momentarily hoarse with arousal, as he stroked Kai's cheek with his thumb. The frictions started again. Kai kept looking into the man's glazed eyes until the moment Kostin shook and came.

He stay on Kai, though, and Kai knew it wasn't quite over, knew he had to keep working, sucking on the man's fingers diligently. The burning memory of Stacey, of Kai's mistake crowded on him again.

"And you?" Suddenly Kostin moved, got up on his knees. "You didn't come, did you? Now really, something happens to you. Are you ill?"

Not only didn't come but wasn't even aroused, right? It was worth more than one slap; it could cost him a broken rib or two. Kai sometimes didn't know which ones were worse - those who tried very hard, like Andrews and Kazarin, to bring nothing but pain - or those who wanted Kai to get off for them. Taking pain at least didn't demand his participation.

"I'm sorry, sir," he whispered, not knowing whether to reach for his cock or to curl away from blows. "I'll do my best if you let me ..."

His voice broke. Whore ... He'd never hated himself more than at this moment as he so eagerly offered himself - just to escape a little pain.

The man was silent; no pain came - and no order to proceed. Kai trembled, uncertain, looking in Kostin's dark eyes that were intent and kind of sullen.

"If you're unwell, you should see the doctor."

I see him, Kai wanted to say, as often as I see you; his tentacles go as deep and stay as long as any others. He felt hysterical and knew he had to stop it, before he said something irreparable.

But did it matter if he said something? If this man, not unkind, would hate him as Andrews and Kazarin did? Why did he care if Stacey ... Stacey hated him ...

The man's fingers locked on his shoulders, shook him. Kostin's angry eyes stared at Kai.

"Don't give me any shit, whore! I come here to relax, not to wonder about your moods."

Kai's teeth kept chattering even after the man stopped shaking him. He smiled uncertainly, reached his hand carefully and put it on the man's cheek.

"I'm your doll," he said. "Hit me. You'll feel better this way."

I'll feel better this way. He stayed still, lowered his eyes, waiting.

The man didn't hit him. The hands on Kai's shoulders let go suddenly - and Kostin shrunk away from his touch almost violently.

"Stupid prostitute! Kazarin says the right thing, you have no mind of your own ..."

"And what does Stacey Radek say about me?"

He said it with his eyes lowered, a wandering smile on his lips. It was not really a question, rather ... a way to finish it off sooner.

The pause that followed almost rang. I won't look up, Kai thought, I won't wonder what he'll do to me. He looked at his hands that pulled the long strands of his hair. I won't look up ...

He had a feeble mind and no will at all. He looked up, blinked waiting for a fist to slam in his face. Kostin stood with his arms folded, his face distorted.

"How can I know what the little bugger says about you ..." he muttered.

Kai swallowed, looking at him in disbelief. The man actually answered. And Stacey - Stacey was somewhere there, Kostin met him, could talk to him ...

"Don't look at me with these puppy eyes," the man said unhappily. "Makes me feel as if I hit a child. How about that, Kai - I'll say 'hi' from you to that little asshole Radek - and next time you show me best you're capable of?"

How about that, Kai ... He hadn't known the man knew his name - that any of them apart from Minerva did. He felt so happy he couldn't make a sound for a moment, just stared at Kostin, before remembering that the man seemed not to like to be stared at. But for once Kostin didn't seem to mind.

"Agreed, then? What should I say to Radek?"

How Kai wished sometimes he was not so daft! If he could find some words, some few ones but that would mean a lot, would tell Stacey how much Kai wanted his forgiveness, how he knew he didn't have the right to wait but still wanted to see him. To tell Stacey that even when his body was used by someone else, in his heart Kai knew no other master but him.

"Please tell him to come here," he whispered and repeated. "Please tell him to come."

* * *

The slender neck of the bottle clanked softly against the rim of the glass and golden liquid swirled, filling the capacity.

"They say there is as much chance to get synthesized alcohol from the Empire traders as from the supply machine - but at least there is a certain pleasure to pour it from a real bottle," Kazarin said with satisfaction. "What do you drink, Radek?"

"Hmm ..." It'd been a while since he did; there was a prohibition on Empire ships. "Vodka."

"Just a moment." Kazarin deftly unscrewed the lid from an ice-covered bottle.

"Not cognac, like Commander Gessen?" Andrews couldn't keep silent, could he? The man seemed already drunk. "I thought you were similar in everything. Siamese twins, so to say. But, maybe, less aristocratic habits suit you more."

Stacey raised an eyebrow and looked at the thin swirls of smoke going to the ventilation duct.

"To another successful operation?" Kazarin raised his glass. With his peripheral sight Stacey saw Victor approach them, a big round glass in his palm. He noticed concern in Victor's eyes - concern that appeared there way too often during those little clashes with Andrews. What did Victor think, that Stacey was a child incapable to stand by himself?

Well, Andrews was a jerk. One could just wonder how they managed to get along passably on Intrepido if Andrews behaved the same way there.

"He's just envious," Victor said once. "You have more success, although technically, he joined earlier than you. He thinks it's because you sleep with me."

"Which is, of course, an outrageous lie," Stacey snorted.

"Of course."

He just couldn't care less about what Victor called success. More money? But where could one spend money on the ship, anyway? During the shore leaves - or, maybe, save it for the future as Stacey knew some men did. It was his own deficiency, Stacey admitted, that he could never think about future. The present was clear, with Victor near to him, and sometimes Stacey thought it was all he really wanted.

They emptied the glasses.

"But for you, Radek, it was the first operation for Heles, wasn't it?"

"He did all right," Victor said quietly. Sometimes he was just ... overbearing, Stacey thought peevishly; as if always suspecting that he, Stacey, was made of glass, could break any moment - or vanish in the thin air. Well, if to be completely sincere, normally Stacey didn't mind this much attention. He still remembered his terror as, two years ago, he knew Victor was leaving him and could do nothing to make him stay.

"I never said he didn't do all right, Gessen. But you know it better than any other whether the Heles are satisfied with your friend," Kazarin said meaningfully.

Stacey thought he sometimes felt tired - of animosity, of the hints he couldn't figure out, of Victor's evasiveness.

"It was an easy operation, Leon," Stacey said mildly. He didn't want to quarrel with Kazarin - they were quite friendly ...

And the operation was truly easy. Nostromo had to neutralize a trap put by the Empire. There was nothing dishonorable in doing it.

Later, Stacey wondered if it was the reason why a thought of sabotage didn't come to his mind. Really, he could've balked something and let the humans capture Nostromo, as it had happened to Intrepido. But he hadn't done anything - and the truth was that he really didn't want Nostromo to be captured.

How could he want it? It would mean for Victor to be captured, for other men ...

A traitor with conscience, Stacey thought with amusement.

And now the crew celebrated their little victory - at least the human part did.

"The Heles probably despise us," Stacey suggested unexpectedly for himself. He found the thought of how the Heles saw them humans painfully fascinating. "They never cloud their consciousness with poisonous substances."

"Well, they do have other human vices," Kazarin said with a short smile. "Everybody knows it."

He saw something change slightly in Victor's face, like a ripple on serene water.

"Speaking about vices ..." It was another crewmate, completely drunk. "I wish we had some casino here or what ..."

"Shut up, Hoover, you already owe too much to some crew members whose names I don't want to say," Victor said without turning.

Stacey reveled in looking at him. So calm, so confident. He recalled Victor on the bridge during the operation, his face so pale, the line of his mouth so hard. His orders were so fast, his interaction with Heles amazing. Stacey hadn't known him like that before and was happy to admire him.

"At least some of us can indulge in sexual vices now," someone else said.

"Can I buy out your turn, Hoover?" Andrews asked. His voice was slurry, uncertain.

"It is not allowed." Victor again spoke without turning. He couldn't see it - but Stacey saw - as Andrews' face twisted, his fists clenched. There was something so familiar in the man's grimace, he just couldn't remember what. He touched his head in annoyance, feeling an insistent pang of pain. But there was no time to think.

"Dodge." Victor obeyed, fortunately, avoiding Andrews' blow.

The man raised his hand again but was grabbed from behind and pulled away. Victor's face stayed tranquil, his arms folded.

"I'm not going to fight."

"Sure, Mr. Clean! You don't fight, you don't visit whores! You just fuck your little bitch senseless every night! Like it makes you better than I am!"

"Of course, I'm better than you're."

Stacey made a sound of distress; Victor really could look so condescending when he wanted to. Then he saw Victor touch his temple and wince and his heart clenched in compassion. He didn't know if these were headaches, like Stacey had himself - Victor denied it, but he had that disoriented look sometimes, as if listening to something inside himself. A strange pause occurred, even Andrews went quiet. Then Kazarin filled Stacey's glass again.

"Let's better indulge in our vices and have another drink."

"By the way ..." Stacey saw a man make a step towards him. Alex Kostin; they barely knew each other, normally in different shifts. But now the man obviously addressed to him. "The guy - the ship's whore - asked me to ask you, Radek, to come to visit him."

In the moment of silence the words sounded strangely loud. Stacey felt everyone looking at him - and didn't know whose eyes to meet.


"He asked you to come to him," Kostin repeated patiently.

It still didn't make sense. Someone chuckled.

"Huh! He gets a personal invitation, doesn't he? I'd never think the kid was dedicated to his work so much."

The situation was intolerably stupid. Stacey sought feverishly for the right way to react. Was it said as some offense, as a punch line that he didn't get? He looked at Victor and saw him turn away, his face strangely shut, his mouth compressed tightly. Stacey looked back at the others, feeling suddenly as if they crowded on him.

"It's a joke?" he asked.

Kostin stood in front of him as if waiting for an answer. Andrews, swaying drunkenly, muttered:

"He just wants you to baby-sit him as you did when we're locked ..."

Victor suddenly raised his head, as if lashed, his lip bitten. His eyes looked very dark as he watched Andrews.

When we were locked up ... What was it about? Stacey tried to think about that time the crew of Intrepido spent under the arrest, in the cold premise, but the memories, barely a month old, seemed somewhat blurry. It hurt his head to think about it, made him dizzy.

He stepped back, bracing himself; the people around him, the ones he'd met so many times, seemed threatening suddenly. Victor got at his side but didn't touch him - supportive as always - but now Stacey didn't feel protected, Victor was a stranger - like the others ...

He probably was getting sick, Stacey thought, should have check with the doctor.

Kostin was still in front of him. With an effort of will Stacey met his eyes and then looked at everyone around slowly, eye-fucked them. He barely could discern faces, so dizzy he was, but they didn't need to know it.

"If it's some kind of joke," he said levelly, "then I don't get it. Good-night, gentlemen."

Not waiting what they could say, he walked to the door.

* * *

"He said: 'It's a joke?'" Kostin said flatly. His dark eyes looked at Kai with a curious, intent expression.

Sitting on his heels in the bed, Kai stared up at him, waiting for something else. But Kostin was silent and then it came across to Kai. He grabbed his hair convulsively, tugged on it, repeating Stacey's words. A joke. No ... It didn't make sense, did it?

Of course, it did - Kai just felt too frightened to admit it.

"Did he say anything else, sir?" he asked in a dead voice.

"No, he didn't." Kostin shrugged. "I just pass you what he said."

It's a joke ... Oh God. Stacey said it. It's a joke that Kai could expect him to come here, to denigrate himself like this. Stacey, so clean and hard, like a diamond - and Kai expected him to step into this room, this dirt ...

Of course, it was a joke - and a tasteless one, after all. Why not to laugh at it? A small giggle Kai made sounded weird - and he saw disapproval in Kostin's eyes and shut up quickly. He already was pathetic enough, why to make a show out of it? He bit the inside of his lip.

Stacey probably was angry with him for his request. Oh if only Stacey was angry enough to come here and punish him ... Kai would be happy. If Stacey came to curse him or hit him - it would be wonderful, he wanted nothing more. Just to see Stacey, at least once more, just to see him ...

Well, Stacey hardly hated him; disdained, rather.

Kai felt suddenly that something in him snapped. Pain and hysterics were gone. He felt totally numb - and he was grateful for this state of his mind. He wanted it to stay like this - at least as long as ...

He felt the man's gaze and looked up. Kostin stood with his arms wrapped around his chest, his eyes locked on Kai. Kai recalled ... They'd made a deal. Now it was Kai's turn: the best he could give.

He let go his hair and smiled carefully.

"Sir, let your toy please you ..."

His hand that reached to Kostin's groin was pushed away violently. Kostin's face became fierce. It's because I ignored him for so long, Kai thought but he couldn't make himself be afraid. He kept looking up at Kostin - and the man grabbed his shoulders, so hard that Kai gasped in pain. The man's enraged face drew close to his.

"My toy ..." Kostin hissed. "My doll."

Kai wanted to say he was sorry - he was guilty - but he just wanted to know, about Stacey and everything ... Kostin shook him, his fingernails wounding Kai's shoulders.

Then he pushed Kai away.

"You stupid bitch."

"Please, sir. I'll be good for you."

He kept Kostin's gaze - licked his lips, brought a brash, seductive smile on his lips. He was trained well, the man wouldn't be disappointed ...

"Get away from me," Kostin spat and walked to the door. Kai watched with incredulous eyes how he pressed his hand to the lock. "I don't want anything from you."

He probably heard how Kai laughed as he walked out - his back flinched. But he didn't return. Kai felt soft meaningless sounds break from his lips and couldn't stop them. He covered his mouth finally and muffled himself.

There was no time for it now. He had two more visitors today; after that ... after that he would be free.

He curled on his side in the bed, with his hair blanketing his naked body, and waited.

* * *

The light was dimmed and Victor came in quietly, not wanting to wake Stacey up - and met a stare of green eyes under half-mast eyelashes. Pained eyes; Stacey's face was pale - sharpened and shadowed. But Stacey's reassuring smile he attempted to Victor was even worse.

"Have you seen the doctor?" he asked slowly. It was hypocrisy, he knew no doctor could help Stacey.

"Yeah." A gesture Stacey made imitated unconcern almost perfectly. "I'm already better."

"It's his own fault," Uranus voice sounded in Victor's mind. "He should stop thinking about things that are blocked. That's simple."

Anger flooded Victor, unfamiliar hostility to his arrogant symbiont.

"He can't stop thinking about it, don't you see? Fuck this Andrews! If he says something else to Stacey, he'll go to the next suicide mission, I can promise it!"

"Shh, Commander. Solve your problems in some other way, not at the expense of our servants."

He had an answer to that and kept himself from sending it to Uranus. It was a futile precaution, of course.

"You're angry with me, aren't you, comrade? Sometimes your emotions are so amusing ..."

"Can you give me some privacy, comrade Uranus?"

There was a small anxious smile on Stacey's lips. Victor sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed.

"So, you're okay?"

"Fine. Just a hangover, I think."

"Can you just relax and not think about anything else?"

"I try." Stacey smiled again. "It surely gets better when I see you."

"Then I'll stay with you," Victor said and unbuttoned his collar. Stacey's eyes became hilarious.

"I knew I could count on you."

You can, fox; always. You can count that I'll make your choices, do the right things for you.

But they were together, after all; they were happy. It was the most important thing and the headaches were really not such a big price to pay. If only Victor could keep others from sharing their unnecessary memories ...

"I want to kiss you," Victor said.

"You're welcome."

He touched Stacey's tongue with his own, ran in on Stacey's lips. Stacey's mouth was hot and tasted salty and Victor could see his eyes turn into green crescents as he smiled, licking Victor's tongue.

He heard Stacey sigh.

"I wonder why that guy asked me to come to him. How does he even know about me?"

Again that genetic prostitute ... who could expect him to be so insistent? The little whore should be dead ...

"If it's true what Kostin said," Victor said mildly. It was important not to cause any suspicions.

"All the same." Stacey frowned. "The guy probably has one hell of a life, serving such guys as Andrews and others. He can't be happy here. I wonder how he got in this situation ..."

"It's probably where he belongs," Victor said.

"What is his name?"

He wouldn't answer this question, fuck it, why couldn't Stacey take anything for granted?

"But it's exactly why you're so attached to him." Sudden intervention of Uranus' voice made him flinch.

"You said there is another way to deal with his memories. What is it?"

"I didn't say I could suggest another way, comrade. I told you to find one."

"But you ..."

"The way I have - you won't like it."

"Hey, Vic." Stacey's hands brushed over his temples slightly. "What is that guy's name?"

"Kai," he said.

"I'll probably go to see him in my next turn," Stacey said almost contentedly. Victor's horrified look made him giggle. "Not for sex, of course, I don't think he needs another client. Just to talk. He's probably lonely or what ... he never comes out of his room."

"What is the way you can suggest, comrade Uranus?"

"To delete his memories completely. Not all, some can stay, his attachment to you, for example. But, basically, he'll be ... how do you call it? Tabula rasa - and you'll be able to write there whatever you want. And no headaches - since he wouldn't feel he'd lost something."

"It wouldn't work ..." he whispered aloud, forgetting.

"What wouldn't work?" Stacey's hands touched his face gently. Victor caught one of Stacey's palms and kissed it - not so much in a caress but to pacify him, to get some time for the conversation with Uranus.

"You can't delete someone's memories and have the same person after that ..."

"You're right, it will change him. But he won't ask you inconvenient questions any more."

"I don't want to make him into a mindless doll ..."

"Vic ..." Stacey started.

It suddenly was too much for him.

"Shut up!" he put his palm over Stacey's mouth, muffled his words, looked into the widened eyes that stared at him over his hand. He thought that Stacey had never been more beautiful than now, silent, big-eyed, looking at him in surprise.

"Really?" Uranus laughed. "And I thought it was exactly what you wanted."

"Don't make a sound," Victor hissed, leaning towards Stacey.

The soft red hair brushed against his lips. He kept holding his palm over Stacey's mouth as his other hand slid along Stacey's body, under the blanket. Stacey was half-dressed and Victor yanked his clothes in annoyance getting to the naked skin. He felt Stacey tremble slightly as Victor caught his nipple, twisted it a bit too cruelly. Stacey's eyes, wide, never left Victor's, his breath hot against Victor's palm.

"Silent," he repeated and Stacey nodded. Victor took away the hand from his mouth.

There was something not right in what he was doing, Victor knew. But he wanted to do it this way, couldn't stop - didn't want to resist his urges. The power he felt over Stacey was intoxicating. At this moment Victor demanded silence from him; later he could demand more.

He stuck his hand between Stacey's legs, brought him to erection quickly. Stacey's body was attuned to his touches so well, it was so easy to play it ...

"Put your arms above your head."

He saw Stacey swallow uneasily but obey. There was almost nothing he wouldn't do for me, Victor thought, no order he wouldn't follow. Apart from joining the Heles, apart from ...

It angered him to think about Stacey's submissiveness in bed and yet such stubbornness when other things were concerned. It made his resignation voluntary, made Victor's triumph phantom, made it all just a game ... But of course it was a game, what else could it be ... why else would he want Stacey in this position ... surely not because Victor wanted to break him ... surely not because of this picture he'd seen in Stacey's memory ... he wouldn't do that ... It was just a game.

He pushed Stacey's shirt apart, pulled his pants down and looked at his stretched body; raised arms made it look longish, even narrower. Stacey's eyes stared into his, the eyelashes fell and rose steadily but his lip was bitten and his chest fluttered a little too rapidly.

Victor kissed his sternum and his concave belly, sucked the small hollow of the navel. Stacey relaxed somehow and his body trembled in excitement, not in anxiety. Victor bit him at his navel hard enough to draw blood.

He felt Stacey flinch in pain, his teeth driven deeper into his lip - but he made no sound. Victor lapped on the blood from the small wound. The taste dizzied and excited him.

When he'd watched the pictures in Stacey's memory, he'd promised that he wouldn't hurt Stacey ever again. But how could Victor not hurt him if Stacey accepted it so eagerly - his cock didn't soften during it at all.

Or, maybe, he just take it, it suddenly came to Victor's mind, because it's you who does it to him.

He raised Stacey's legs on his shoulders, spread him wider, freed himself and pressed the tip of his cock against Stacey's opening. I want to rape you, he thought. What happens to me ... I don't want to rape you. Please save me, please make it somehow all right for me.

He felt Stacey's body push forward, trying to open towards Victor's cock. It was enough. He thrust in, met Stacey's efforts, and clenched his teeth in the bliss of being inside.

"Fox ..."

He rocked, watching Stacey's face distorted in pain, with the eyebrows drawn together. It made Victor's heart clench and sent pangs of pleasure through his bottom belly at the same time. He leaned down, adding his weight on Stacey's jack-knifed body - and saw how Stacey's hand clenched around the wrist of the other as he tried to stay still.

He was not tied, he stayed like that on his own accord, Victor told himself, thrusting in and out. He never says 'no' to me ...

"Dolls have their own merits." The sound of Uranus voice made him convulse but at the same time Victor realized it added to his pleasure, in a perverted way. "Dolls you can play with when you want to and shove in the corner when you're bored. Dolls you can dress in beautiful uniform and strip in bed. Dolls you can slap ... or fuck ... or kiss ... or betray ..."

"I love him," Victor thought. "I'll save him."

He thrust in complete silence; there was no sound coming from Stacey's bitten lips. He leaned forward and touched Stacey's mouth and felt hardness of his teeth and salt of his blood. This sent Victor over the edge. He wrapped his arms around Stacey, pulled them both together and came.

He withdrew his softening cock from Stacey's wet opening and noticed with sickening feeling the traces of blood on it. The folly passed. He felt remorse now - and disbelief that it had been him who'd done it, who'd listened to Uranus' insane words.

He felt like hiding his cock before Stacey could see it. It was stupid, of course - who knew it better than Stacey that Victor had made him bleed?

He didn't look at Stacey's, reached to bring him off. Victor didn't expect it: Stacey moved in a fling, passed from complete stillness to abrupt motion. Victor's wrist was caught, twisted so hard it made him yelp - and then Stacey brought it to his lips and kissed it. His eyes were dark, caressing.

Victor felt his hand sting with pain but Stacey's lips made it feel better. Pain and pleasure, he thought with amusement suddenly. It was surely what Stacey meant.

"May I?" he whispered, reaching to Stacey's groin.

"Well, if you ask so nicely," Stacey said in a bright voice.

* * *

He thought he planned everything well. He had free time after the last Heles left and no one was supposed to visit him. So, Kai got up and walked to the shower.

He knew what he was going to do. Rocking under the Heles' tentacles thrust into him, he looked around his room, searching for a thing that he could use. But those few objects he owned were worthless for this purpose. Then he recalled; it made him feel better - it made him feel contented.

In the bathroom, on the wall, very low, a piece of plastic was unbent, sharp-edged; Kai had scratched his ankle against it numerous times. He hoped it was sharp enough.

He sat in the tub and felt hot water drum over his body. It didn't actually matter but there was something good in feeling clean, at least physically. Kai closed his eyes.

He felt peaceful. He wouldn't think about anything, wouldn't blame himself any more. There was no point - and he felt too tired, anyway. He'd better remember nice things, wonderful things. The cold premise - and Stacey's bright voice as he pushed his way through the men:

"'Cause I'm going to take him away ..."

Kai knew he'd never been happier than during that time - having his arm around Stacey's waist, his head on Stacey's shoulder. He would think about it now.

He reached for the piece of plastic blindly and sawed his wrist against it. The edge was jagged and it was too slow and it hurt. But he was not going to give up and he didn't open his eyes until he felt hot blood run freely over his hand.

His left wrist took even more time, the plastic was blunted and he started getting weak - and when he finally felt his tissues rip open, he was exhausted and shivering in pain and not at peace any more. But everything was done now and he could rest. He slumped tiredly. The water was still hot but he started getting chilly. It didn't matter, though; it was just for a little while.

He tried very hard to see nothing but Stacey's shining face in front of his closed eyes - and finally Kai thought he managed it.

* * *

Emergency yanked him out of the bed. Stacey, warm and heavy in sleep, muttered something, as Victor freed his arm from around him. Victor dressed quickly.

"Where is it?" he asked Uranus silently.

"Service quarters."

His heart clenched in premonition. The little whore had finally come to grief. It must have been the fault of some client - maybe, Andrews had gone too far or some Heles didn't calculate his strength. It didn't make Victor happy; he didn't want Kai to die ...

Oh well, he certainly wanted Kai to die.

"He's alive," Uranus snorted. "There is Minerva, too."

Yeah, she was there, dressed as always in one of her blinding garments. Her tentacles trembled in excitement.

The turtle-cleaners were busy with cleaning but there still were pools of water on the floor and dribbles of red leading from the bathroom to the bed.

The genetic was in the bed and the Heles doctor used a mender and some other devices on him that told Victor it was pretty serious. Minerva paced around the bed, not coming close enough to hinder the doctor but never leaving his side either.

"What happened?" The truth was Victor knew, guessed immediately catching a glimpse of Kai's torn, healing wrists.

"The cameras were misted with steam," Uranus explained. "That's why we didn't notice it immediately."

"Why did he have to do it?" Minerva's voice was high, almost shrill. "How dared he? What was wrong with him that he wanted to do this on me?"

Victor probably could answer it. But he was not going to. And he was surprised as well. For all he knew about genetics, they normally were engineered to be very resilient. After all, no one knew to what kind of misery their master could push them - and it wouldn't do to lose valuable property. How did it come to Kai's mind to attempt suicide?

How far he must have been pushed ...

Sudden anguish that seized him was a new feeling for Victor. He might've wished harm to the kid, might've wanted him gone. But at this moment he thought he would like Kai to have what the genetic wanted - death. Not the misery of being rescued.

"How could he do it on me?" Minerva repeated. Her tentacles flew up in an angry gesture. "If I hadn't been in a hurry, it would've been too late, I would lose him ..."

"You were lucky, Officer," he said a bit sharper than intended. She gave him a disgusted look.

"You humans are pathetic ..."

"Be careful with racist pronouncements, Officer. Scientific Officer Uranus hears you."

"We don't need spies among us ..." she muttered. The doctor moved, stepped away from the bed, and Minerva was there at once, her tentacles interwoven pleadingly.

"Is he okay?"

"Oh yes, he is," the doctor said calmly. They used human language for some reason, as Heles sometimes did, rather out of habit than for Victor's benefit. "He lost a lot of blood but now he's safe. Just needs a day or two of rest and then he can be used as before."

Victor winced as if with old toothache. Well, maybe, it was to the better. There would be no rumors, no discussions; everything would go as before. And he'd find the way to protect Stacey. To protect their love.

He looked at the bed suddenly, as if prompted by something - and saw Kai's eyes open, look at them. He was not sure the kid recognized them, there was no awareness in his gaze - just pain and tiredness.

Victor swayed as if pushed in the chest, made a step towards the bed not quite knowing why. A thick tentacle barred his way. Minerva's huge eyes looked at him sternly.

"I'll take care of my human," she said coldly. For some reason these words didn't make Victor feel good.

* * *

The human had wronged her and he had to pay for it. She had waited for two days, just as Odin, the doctor, told her, until Kai regained his health. Then she came to punish him for what he'd done.

She'd probably forgive him - forgive her initial fear she felt at finding him in the bathroom, bleeding, nearly dead, a crumpled heap of slender white limbs and flood of black hair soaking in red water ... and his delicate wrists torn in an ugly way, almost to the bones. What she couldn't forgive was that he dared to encroach on what belonged to her. The human was hers; Minerva decided it almost since she had seen him for the first time.

She came without a signal and he was dressed, curled on the bed, so small that, despite herself, Minerva felt a kind of pity towards him. His frailty always affected her this way, burned and enticed her. His hair was loose and his hands clasped under his chin, his wrists healed, just scarred.

Seeing the traces on his soft skin was enough to remind Minerva of her anger.

She was enraged and the human, Kai, knew it. At first he seemed too withdrawn, as if still partly submerged in death - but Minerva's presence broke through his defenses. She saw sadness and fear in his darkened eyes.

Normally, Minerva didn't like to frighten him, enjoyed the thought that she was the only one of the Heles who didn't put him into this state of speechless terror. But not any more.

"Madam ..." he whispered and got up on his knees and pulled his t-shirt up. Perfect whore! He always served her like that - and then he tried to cheat her in the worst possible way, tried to escape from her!

She didn't wait for him to finish. She hit him, with the fury unexpected for herself, threw him against the wall. His shriek of pain was like a balsam to her tight-wound nerves but the sickening crunch of breaking bones was even better. Hormones sang through her blood, promising her release.

What always surprised her about this particular human was how much damage he could take without crumbling. She'd found him after other Heles, bleeding and torn, and healed him and then played with him. Now she was going to see what she could do to him.

He dragged himself up into a sitting position at the wall, cradling his broken arm against his chest. His eyes were huge and dark with pain. She thought he'd beg now and it aroused her.

But he didn't beg and didn't try to shield himself.

His hair flowed against his cheeks, amazingly becoming, and Minerva reveled in him, in his weakness and fear. The human swallowed convulsively - he probably felt sick with pain. She reached her limbs to him, almost caressingly, touched his face, moving the dark strands away from it. He trembled at her touch, as he always did, even when she managed to make him respond to her ministrations. She raised his face, making him look in her eyes.

"Why did you do it?" she asked.

His eyes grew even wider, as if he couldn't quite comprehend what she asked him; his lips didn't move.

"Answer me!" She slammed him against the wall, breaking some more bones in his body. She knew he was injured seriously but she had enough self-control not to damage him beyond repair. After all, she wanted him to live for her.

"For no ... reason ..." His normally quiet voice was now barely a whisper and some blood rolled out of his mouth. "For no reason at all."

He lied; she knew it. How dared he? The creature so terrorized and frail - how dared he not to tell her the truth? She grabbed the wrist of his broken arm and tightened the coils. His eyes went darker, became all pupils, and his lips went white. Seeing his features sharpen in pain gave her unexpected pleasure. His bones were mauled in her grip and muscles crushed, and Minerva felt the sharp edges of his bones scratch against her skin, his very hot blood leak over her tentacle.

Kai didn't scream but just because, she knew, he couldn't take enough breath. His mouth was half-opened. His eyes started rolling up. Minerva picked him up and threw on the bed. She used the mender to fix the worst of the damage.

She didn't give him enough time to really heal - but she didn't want him healed. He had to suffer for his perpetration. He sobbed convulsively, coming round from a shallow syncope. She hit him in the face, to get his attention. His jaw broke but it was a small injury, not endangering his ability to understand her.

"How dared you to want to die on me?" She made sure he looked at her. His gaze was unfocused and it angered her that she couldn't do anything worse with him, couldn't hurt him enough for him to never forget it. "How could you betray me? Have I ever been less than kind to you?"

Her modulated voice sounded harsh, distorted with emotions but she didn't care how she sounded. He shivered gathering his strength to speak.

"Haven't ... betrayed you ..."

"Why did you want to leave me, then? Didn't you know that I liked you?"

Stupid human!

There was an expression in his eyes of such despair that for a moment Minerva started away. She liked the human for his mildness, his pliancy to everything she wanted to do to him. She liked him moan prettily when coming. But now he confused her, with his almost black eyes. Blood leaking over his chin made his face look wild, reckless. He looked at her and said, the words muffled, nearly incomprehensible because of the broken jaw:

"And you promised ... never to hurt me."

How dared he? He accused her of lying! The human was not stupid, he was mad. She looked at him in disgust and woe. He was hopeless ... nearly hopeless. But if she could save him, she had to do it.

She would hurt him best she could. It probably was too late, to teach him - but she would do all she could to put the fear into him. She raised her tentacles.

It was impossible; he seemed to guess what she was going to do. He dragged himself up lopsidedly. Blood marked his face in messy trickles. He touched his broken jaw carefully - and then, incredibly, there was a smile on his lips.

"Then kill me, madam," he said. "Just kill me."

She didn't answer - she lashed. Her tentacles spread him, pinned him to the bed. He choked in pain; she pulled so hard she tore his ligaments. His clothes were just a flimsy barrier and Minerva ripped through them. Kai's face, distorted in pain, still had that strange expression of triumph.

Too bad! She was not going to kill him.

"Where is the necklace I gave you?" she asked.

He couldn't really answer, wracked with pain, but he understood her question and pointed with his chin at the bottom of the bed. She yanked the jewelry from under the mattress. The heavy decoration locked on his body, his waist so tiny it was smaller than Minerva's neck in her childhood, since it was the necklace her mother gave her when she was a child. The grey metal and green stones shone against his pale skin, lay heavily on his concave belly. She suddenly knew what she wanted to do.

"You think we females can't hurt," she hissed spreading her tentacles. "We can. I just spared you until now - but not any more."

She thrust her tentacles into his body, with as much strength as she could, tearing her way. The hot silk of his orifices enveloped her limbs as she forced them in - smooth, soft and accepting - and she felt regret she'd relinquished this pleasure for so long for the sake of sparing him. He thrashed under her, his frail human body all strained muscles. She held him too hard, his wrists and ankles were breaking but it didn't matter, it was nothing she couldn't fix later. She sent her tentacles inside him violently, feeling his throat contract around her limbs and his intestines expand with her invasion.

The insides of his body were hot, clinging - and she liked it so much, liked to be linked with him almost inseparably, closer than ever, owning him completely.

He couldn't make a sound any more - but she caught his gaze - wide, frozen in pain. Looking in the human's beautiful eyes, she started pumping slowly, adding more length of her tentacles inside him.

She watched him driven to the limits of his endurance. His outstretched limbs vibrated thinly, slick with sweat, and his waxen face seemed haggard, akin to dead. She looked at his slowly swelling abdomen filled with her tentacles and her hormones raged. She had never seen him any more beautiful.

"You are mine," she whispered slamming her spare tentacles against his ribcage, the sensation of his broken ribs sending her over the edge. "No one, nothing will separate you from me."

The swelling of his belly, skin smooth and stretched, was so erotic; she caressed it. He convulsed at her movement inside him; she couldn't take her eyes away from him. That was how she wanted to see him ... always ... always ...

The thought came to her mind as hormones overflowed her, making her shudder in orgasm. She could make him hers in the surest way, could make him what she wanted him to be.

The human would be honored to serve her in a special way - and he would belong to her fully.

* * *

It felt good to wake up with the warmth of Victor's body in their bed. It didn't happen every morning - and sometimes at night Stacey had a vague notion of Victor getting out of their bed for some urgent business. But today Victor was here, turned away from Stacey and hugging the pillow.

He wanted to press his lips to Victor's shoulder, to his smooth back, to fill his hands with Victor's hair but resigned to waiting, not wanting to wake him after what could've been a long night. Stacey wasn't in a hurry; after all, they had enough time for everything.

They had enough time - thanks to Heles and to their ships being such safe things that the normal danger of war was almost non-present. Their losses in the battles were extremely low. Besides, Victor was too smart to get himself killed.

Stacey felt light-headed with pride for Victor; no other human on the ship occupied such a high position - even the Heles respected him. Stacey hadn't thought the opinion of Heles would ever mean anything for him; but somehow it did. After all, it was their reality, serving Heles. It was what let him and Victor be together.

Victor didn't wake up until it was Stacey's time to get up. He hesitated whether to hug him and finally brushed his lips against Victor's ear. Unexpectedly, Victor shuddered and gave him quite a wild look that softened quickly as he recognized Stacey.

"See you in the cafeteria, Vic."

He hard Kazarin's voice when approaching the cafeteria.

"They say it's the last days we can use our little whore."

"Why is it so?" Andrews's voice Stacey recognized at once and didn't know why a wave of anger flooded him. Andrews was a bastard - but there seemed to be no reason for them to hate each other. Except that Andrews hated him as well.

Hearing about the ship's prostitute made Stacey feel uncomfortable. He skipped his turn again - Victor asked him to stay and he couldn't refuse. He didn't regret it but ...

"They have some plans for him, the Heles."

"What plans?" Andrews pouted. "Do they want to keep him all for themselves? It's not like he's getting any worse when we use him."

"He's getting worse when you use him," another man, Kostin, said sarcastically. "Mind you, once you'll get carried away and the mender won't help."

"The bitch is not easy to kill," Andrews grumbled.

Stacey stopped in the corridor leaning against the wall. His hand clenched and unclenched convulsively. Andrews, this asshole ...

But there was no reason to get so mad, he told himself. He didn't even know the prostitute guy ...

A sudden image flashed in front of his eyes, of a big premise full of people - and among them, one cold and lonely, looking defenselessly at him, his long black hair spilled over his shoulders ...

It was not quite a déjà vu; some different thing - but how could it be called, when he could see so clearly something that never happened?

Stacey shook his head and walked to the cafeteria.

"I'll ask Gessen," Andrews continued. "If they take him away from us, they can let us visit him when we want at least."

"Why do you hate him so much?" someone asked.

"Hate him?" Andrews laughed but it was a humorless sound. "I adore him. If anyone hates him, it's Leon."

Kazarin? Stacey who poured himself a cup of cocoa froze. He hadn't known; they hadn't talked about it, after all. But ...

"I hate all of them," Kazarin said putting one of his long beige cigars in his mouth. "All genetics."

"I wonder why."

"They are murderers."

The pause was short, then some laughter sounded.

"Perhaps. But if it was like that, wouldn't we all be dead?"

"A genetic killed my brother," Kazarin said levelly.

There was something wrong about it, Stacey couldn't point what. A genetic ... Something that he was supposed to remember but couldn't. There was something with his head, some emptiness there. Maybe, he was going mad.

He didn't want to go mad, didn't want to have to part with Victor. He just started liking it - being on Nostromo, learning new things ... The headache came as expected. Stacey clenched the cup too hard and heard plastic crack. He made himself relax just in time before the cup broke. His hands trembled minutely as he poured the cocoa into another cup.

"Genetics are not aggressive," someone said after a pause.

"Well ..." Kazarin's blue eyes were so bright, looked at them all almost feverishly. "She didn't stick a knife in my brother's chest herself - but it was as good as if she did it. My brother fell in love with her - this mindless, pretty doll with golden hair and violet eyes. She played with Serge - her master told her to make advances, to give promises, to ask for presents. My brother started gambling trying to buy her out. And lost everything.

"He committed suicide," Kazarin added quietly. "His creditors looked for him and he wouldn't get away so easily if they found him. I pay his debts now, that's why I'm here, among Heles."

I never asked why you were here, Leon, Stacey thought.

"And the genetic bitch?" someone asked. "Did you let her live?"

"It's the other reason why I'm here," Kazarin said smugly. "The crime against property is extremely punishable in the Empire."

"You're an idiot, Leon!" Stacey said hotly, slamming the cup against the table. "You told yourself, her master made her, what could she do?"

He and Kazarin were friends; maybe, Stacey shouldn't have ... He saw fury in Kazarin's eyes.

"If it were someone else who said that, Radek ..."

"But Radek is well known for his love to genetics," Andrews giggled. "Even though now he seemed to lose interest in his toy."

"What?" The headache came again, made him slow, disoriented. He looked at his crewmates; Kazarin met his gaze with hard expression that made Stacey wonder if their relations could be repaired after what they both said. Andrews leered.

"You're so humane, Radek, ain't you? But only when your own interests are not concerned. Why don't you protect your little genetic friend against Heles now? Because they pay you and give you the chance to fuck your beloved Mr. Gessen? It makes it okay for them to fuck the whore, right?"

The accusations were ridiculous. Stacey felt his throat get dry, difficult to swallow. The feeling that he missed something was overwhelming.

He wanted out of there, to be back in the sleepy room with Victor, Victor who had the answers to all questions, Victor who made it all okay.

"I wish I could see how the Heles do him, you know," Andrews said dreamily. "All those tentacles and stuff ..."

"How ..." Stacey heard the hoarseness of his own voice and coughed. "How do they do him?"

Don't ask questions when you can get answers ... Andrews turned to him, grinning.

"Well, I don't know if they have the corresponding organ but I guess it'll be pretty adequately to call it fucking."


He could see the conversation pleased Andrews immensely.

"Yes, Heles, the Mighty, the high race with their jelly bodies and sets of tentacles."

"It's not true."

"What is not true?"

"They can't."

"Surely they can. And they do. I think they want to him at their exclusive disposal, that's why thy take him away from us."

"But he is human."

"We are humans, too," Andrews said with sudden spite. "And look how well they fuck all of us. Except his Excellence, Mr. Proud, Commander Victor Gessen, that is."

Stacey followed the direction of Andrews's eyes and saw Victor enter the cafeteria, his eyes dart from Andrews to Stacey. Stacey felt helpless in front of his own anger.

"It's not true, Commander Gessen, is it?"

"What do you mean, Officer Radek? Officer Andrews?"

Before Victor seemed to understand, before he answer - Stacey suddenly knew everything. It was true - and Victor had known about it.

"For God's sake, he's human!"

He saw Victor look at his gloved hands, then raise his clear grey eyes, always so peaceful.

"We can't argue the decisions of the Heles. Even if we wanted to."

"He is a genetically engineered prostitute," someone said almost mildly. "He was constructed to be used this way. And interracial copulation is normal as long as it can be performed."

"What's wrong with you?" Andrews drawled. "Only a month and a half passed and you started caring? The bitch would be pleased to know that, I bet. Hey, guys, did you notice how the genetic whispers Radek's name when he is really, really hurt? He prays for Radek - he thinks no one notices it and normally he controls himself better - but if you mess him up well, he slips in that mode when he looks crazy ..."

He couldn't stand it any more. It felt like a red-hot poker of pain pierced through his brain and Stacey stopped thinking. He threw the cocoa to Andrews's eyes.

It was not hot and Andrews yelped mostly in surprise and exasperation - and Stacey didn't give him time to come round, yanked Andrews from behind the table and slammed him down. His body was trained for a dirty fight, the heritage of his childhood - he drove his knee between Andrews's legs. This did make Andrews yell.

"You ... you crazy shit ..." But the man's fists were inefficient, trying to catch Stacey blindly.

Anger, amplified with pain, was intoxicating. There was nothing Stacey could see but red. He slammed Andrews against the table and saw a trickle of blood crawl from Andrews's nose. He didn't want to make the man bleed ... He wanted to rip him apart ... to kill him ... A sudden image of a knife flashed in front of his eyes - and blood pooling on the floor ... and more images that he didn't recognize and that threatened to drown him. And then - that exotically beautiful face, with long slanted eyes and shining gaze. A blood-stained t-shirt, long loose hair, small feet icy-cold. A thrust of pain in his mind was unbearable He punched Andrews directly in his face.

"Stop it!" Victor's voice was brittle with anger - and Stacey wanted to stop, just not to cause Victor this anger, this anguish. But pain prodded him, was stronger than him.

He felt his knuckles split against Andrews' teeth - and kept hitting even thought the man already stopped resisting.

"Get him away from him!" His upper arms captured. It was a good turn, they should have stopped him before - his mind knew it. But his body didn't want to stop.

He spat on Andrews's face as the men tugged him away - and kept struggling against the hands that held him. Through the red mist Stacey saw Victor's serene face - and felt relieved, felt safe. Then a fist flew in his face - and red turned black.

* * *

He looked at the gloves in his hands. Finest leather, black and soft. He always found it comforting to feel the thin barrier between his hands and whatever he had to touch. It was the only protection Victor needed.

The leather on the knuckles was torn. Another pair wasted. He threw them to disposal in annoyance.

"They still could serve you. You humans are not thrifty with things," Uranus said contentedly. "I wonder if you're as wasteful with human lives."

He didn't look at the Heles to acknowledge his words. Uranus occupied both a place in front of him and a part of his mind. He felt the Heles touch his thoughts, like delicate fingers running over the strings.

Uranus was the one who pulled the strings, Victor thought suddenly. And he - he was just a marionette jerking at the order of his Heles master. As much a doll as Stacey was ... no, much more.

He recalled how he'd seen Stacey in the brig, a little while ago - curled in the corner, seeming so small. And yet his eyes glimmered bright and wary as if he expected an attack.

Victor thought about softness of Stacey's mouth as he'd slammed his fist against it. Stacey's lip was still swollen. But he was not angry with Victor, forgave that as he'd forgiven everything else.

"I'm crazy, Vic. It's cheaper to shoot me than to keep me."

He remembered Stacey's laugher that nearly broke his heart.

"You're not."

"Oh yes, I am. There is something with my head. I don't remember things I should. I can't control myself."

It's not your fault, Victor wanted to say. Yet whose was it? His own fault? The fault of Heles? Of Voices?

"Poor Andrews. He surely has a reason to hate me."

"He got on your nerves."

"No, he didn't. I ... He was just talking ..." And then misery shone from Stacey's eyes at Victor. "The genetic, Kai ... Something has to be done for him."

Victor felt glad his face was shadowed and Stacey couldn't see his expression.

"Something will be done. The Heles want him for something different."

"For what?"

"I don't know," he said. "Trust me, it can't be worse than it is now."

He realized what a creepy meaning his words had but felt too bitter not to say them. Everything went wrong. And he ... He just wanted to be happy with his beloved ... Was it so impossible, so much to ask for?

It was good at least Stacey didn't know about his conversation with Uranus.

"What about the prostitute? You are going to remove him, aren't you?"

"Minerva asked for him as her sole property for the next eight months."

"Eight months?"

"She and Vulcan wanted to propagate for a long time already and obtained a permission but there was always something coming up."

Propagate ... Victor's mind filled with recollections, prompted not by his own knowledge but by Uranus. The Heles didn't carry out their children, but grew the foetus in incubators.

"Were humans ever used as incubators?"

"As a matter of fact, yes, comrade. There were tests like this done. It proved expensive and difficult but by all means possible. Minerva is our best female officer, I think letting her use the incubator up to her liking is a good means of incentive."

He felt disgust sweep him and tried to shut his mind before Uranus dipped into it. He still knew he didn't manage to deceive the Heles.

"Will the genetic even survive it?" It sounded lamely but he couldn't help it.

"Obviously. If taken good care of - which we can provide for him."

Nothing could make him say any of that to Stacey. He told him sternly instead:

"You are going to stay on the brig for three days. See you after that."

And now he sat in front of Uranus and didn't know what to say.

"Three days will be enough for your buddy to cool down. You humans do have short-tempered personalities. But if he persists in his violent behavior - if he becomes a danger for other species ..."

Stacey is a danger for himself, Victor wanted to say.

"There is a way to fix it," Uranus said quietly. "You know it. It will make the human less useful for us - and for the Voices, I believe - but at least you'll keep him. And he wouldn't harm himself or anyone else."

"Delete his memories ..."

"It's my advice, comrade. You don't know when he'll snap again. Appraise the danger, consciously."

"Delete his memories." Victor's mind reeled. "I'll lose him then, won't I? He won't be the same after that, right?"

"It's better to relinquish a part of him to keep the rest, isn't it?"

He didn't have to nod, he knew Uranus felt his resignation. And Uranus also knew that Victor would do it, would obey. He was an exemplary human, a perfect officer, an honored symbiont.

"I like it when we understand each other, comrade," Uranus said.

* * *

It was entirely his fault.

When everything was over - and he was strapped to the chair, unable to look away from the screen, he kept repeating it in his mind. It was his fault, his weakness - he shouldn't have let it happen.

But he got afraid. He feared to lose - to lose Stacey's thin strong arms around his neck, Stacey's hot body pressed against his. He was afraid nothing would feel the same way after the mind-wipe, kisses wouldn't be so sweet, sex so passionate.

And finally Victor lost all this - and more. They both lost everything.

He remembered Stacey on the bridge, during the negotiations. They promised usual things - execution for General Davidson and safety for his wife, daughter and grandchildren - everyone who was on a yacht that strayed away from Great Cup regatta.

"We don't fight civilians."

He noticed a little movement Stacey made as Captain Achilles said those words. But Stacey couldn't remember: neither Red Cross nor his own family ... and the Heles didn't harm his mother, after all, she killed herself after losing her husband ... and left Stacey for those terrible years in the orphanage.

It was all in the past; in the present Stacey controlled himself perfectly. Everything went smoothly. It was going to be another successful operation.

Davidson hesitated; he didn't want to die. But everybody knew what decision he would take eventually. Then Victor heard Stacey's voice, ringing with tension:

"An Empire ship approaches."

Davidson must have sent a SOS signal that was heard. Or, maybe, it was a trap all the way. Heles tried hard to understand how humans thought - but humans learned the rules of Heles as well.

"Destroy the yacht."

It was a revenge, of course, but if humans didn't want to play fair ... Victor was the one who passed the order.


The tentacles reached to the console. And then ...

"No fuckin' way!"

The console in front of the Heles exploded and two of his tentacles burst with blood and tissues. The scream the Heles made was deafening but Victor didn't look at him. He looked at Stacey who kept holding his blaster at ready.

"Keep back or you'll lose them fuckin' all!"

Oh God ... It was such madness, it couldn't be happening ... A mutiny ... an attack on a Heles ... Victor felt the ground give up under his feet. He looked at the black muzzle of Stacey's weapon - and at his dark, desperate eyes - and knew there was no way back.

"Commander," the voice of Uranus in his mind was urgent, angry. "What is going on? Follow the order."

"Officer Radek ..."

"No one moves."

"What are you doing, Stacey ..." He suddenly couldn't continue using rank. Stacey looked at him stubbornly, turning the muzzle of the gun around.

"You promised me, Vic, didn't ya? We have to be together in it!"

What kind of promise?

"That if we have a chance, we'll help our people ..."

What a fool! Anger swept him. Stacey's pale face blurred in front of Victor's eyes. He wanted to hit him, to slap him senseless - to shut him up and stop it all before it was too late.

He should have never asked Uranus for a postponement ... It had been the first time when Victor regretted it; after that there were countless more times.

"The Empire ship prepares to fire," someone said.

"Shoot Radek."

Uranus' voice in his mind was inarguable.

"You know I won't do it."

"I said 'shoot him', not kill him. Stop this comedy and fire at the humans'."

He knew he could do it; he was the only one on the bridge at whom Stacey's blaster was never directed. And even if it was - Victor knew Stacey would never shoot at him.

He didn't move.

"Do it, comrade." The order slammed in his brain with such force that it almost made him reel. "You already endangered your position. Don't aggravate it further."

"What will be ... with Stacey?"

If he could make Uranus promise to leave Stacey unpunished ... just mind-wiped ...

"Do what I say!"

"Oh fuck! What the hell are you doing, Radek?" Suddenly Kazarin was at the console, shoved his fingers into the buttons. The blast threw him against the wall, a huge smoking hole in his belly. Victor saw how Stacey looked at his gun and then at the dead man, his face white and empty of any emotions.

"Leon ..."

And then it happened. Victor could see it clearly and knew he couldn't do anything. He saw Stacey's face go blank in pain for a moment as the blaster nearly fell out of his hands. And then darkened, desperate eyes looked at Victor.

"I killed him," Stacey whispered. "Just like I killed that boy. Oh God, I remember it. I remember things ... I must have been mad to get here, I hate the Heles ... they killed my father."

It was impossible, he hadn't remembered it even till the memory block!

"Leon ..." he repeated, looking at Kazarin's dead body.

"Kill him."

No way, Uranus!

But Victor's body didn't listen to his mind any more - and his mind was not really his. The reign was taken by Uranus, Victor's hands raised the blaster, pointed it at Stacey. Stacey noticed it, turned his gun against Victor instinctively - but there was this surprise in his eyes, as if, no matter what, he still couldn't believe Victor would shoot at him.

How wrong he was ... Even if Victor wouldn't do it - Uranus would.

Shoot, fox, he wanted to say. Kill me before I kill you.

But it was too late.

He pulled the trigger.

He saw Stacey's eyes go wide - and with incredible effort of will Victor threw the shooting blaster up. Sparkles and bits of plastic showered the bridge.

"The ship fires at us," someone screamed.

The impact rocked the ship, both humans and Heles were knocked off their feet - and at the next moment Victor felt a strong arm wrapped around his waist - and the hard muzzle of the blaster pressed under his chin. Stacey hauled him up on his feet.

"Let's get out of here, friend-assassin." The voice sounded like from afar, Victor must have been shell-shocked. The blaster tilted his face up but Stacey's embrace was not ungentle.

He still didn't know about Uranus ...

"What are you going to do?" Victor felt his lips ask.

No, don't answer, he wanted to scream, I don't want to know. It's not me who's asking. But he couldn't - and Stacey didn't hear, didn't know about his symbiont, didn't know that he held Uranus in his arms now, not Victor.

"You always said you knew what was the right thing to do, Vic. Now I'll do the right thing for you. We're getting out of here."

You won't be able to ... But Victor's lips were sealed.

"I just need to pick up someone else," Stacey muttered against his ear. Victor didn't want to know whom he meant - but he knew - and, therefore, Uranus knew it, too.

It didn't matter, actually; there was no way Stacey would be allowed to leave the ship, alone or with the ballast, but misery kept clenching Victor's heart.

"Open it!" The blaster shoved under his chin, making his head jerk. Uranus obeyed, pressed Victor's palm to the panel that locked Kai's door. The door opened - and Stacey shoved Victor in, stepped in himself.

He was in this room of misery again ... immaculate clean - and the frail, long-braided young man sat on the bed and stared at them. Victor thought he had never seen more desperate eyes in his life. More loving eyes - and more unhappy.

He suddenly understood everything - but it was too late. In Kai's huge eyes he saw the reflection of a dark mass behind them - and as Stacey started turning back - Uranus, real Uranus, raised his tentacles and slammed them down on Stacey's head.

He watched how Stacey slid on the floor and knew now everything was over for real. For both of them.

* * *

Something hissed steadily and softly above him. And the monstrous headache that had haunted him even through unconsciousness ebbed. Through the thick veil his mind was clouded with some things started making sense. He lay on something soft - a bed? - and something hard and warm - someone's lap?

"Vic ..." he whispered.

Then something warm and soft splashed on his face.

"You cry ... so wetly ... Kai."

Now he could see - the pale frightened face tilted down to him, long braid nearly brushing his cheek. The kid's lips trembled - half in a smile, half in tears.

"Your hair," Stacey said. "It's tickling."

Kai's smile became a bit steadier; he threw his braid back.

Stacey felt as if this gesture opened some gaps in him - and, unstoppable, memories flooded him.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "Oh God, Kai, I'm so sorry ..."

Moving hurt - but memories hurt even more - and Stacey got up onto his knees, turned towards Kai. He wanted to look in the kid's eyes, to meet his gaze and take everything Kai would say to him, all blame and anger ...

"No, Stacey, be quiet, I didn't finish ..."

The kid's hands with a mender flew up, trying to stop him. There was no hatred in Kai's eyes - just sadness and warmth.

Only it was even worse. Stacey felt choking as anger flooded him - anger at himself.

"Only a month and a half passed and you started caring?.. Hey, guys, did you notice how the genetic whispers Radek's name when he is really, really hurt?.. If you mess him up well, he slips in that mode when he looks crazy ..."

He knew now what Andrews' words meant. He couldn't hate himself more than he already did - for not knowing it before.

Anger brought dizziness over him - he swayed - and was caught in Kai's arms, distressingly gentle.

"Don't hold me ..." Stacey muttered, struggling. Why was he so weak that he couldn't stop Kai from hugging him? "I'm no good ... I betrayed you. Hate me."

The terrified expression in Kai's eyes was haunting, just as the tightening of his arms around Stacey. With his eyes closed in shame, he listened to the sound of Kai's voice, the same feather-light, childish voice.

"Don't talk. You aren't well. Lie down. One of the Heles hit you on the head."

"Should've killed me ..." Words felt like ashes on his lips - and then soft fingers touched his mouth as if to prevent him from talking. The gentleness of this touch made him shudder. The warmth of Kai's arms around him was distressing but he couldn't struggle with it any more. He caught Kai's wrist and pressed the kid's palm to his lips.

"Kai, I left you ... I didn't come, didn't try to do anything for you ..."

He could feel thin lines of scars on Kai's wrist under his fingers - the traces that Stacey knew for sure hadn't been there before.

"I always knew you would come," Kai said quietly.

"Don't forgive me. Don't care for me."

He was cradled, rocked - and it made him lose the track of his thoughts, made his words jumbled, confused. Kai's fingers touched his face lightly, stroked his cheek. Stacey moaned in misery and wrapped his arms around Kai, held onto him.

"I don't need to forgive you. You gave me my life, you made me what I am. My life belongs to you. My heart belongs to you. It's up to you to take it or not - but you're my master of all times."

Stacey burrowed deeper into Kai's arms, leaned into the soft touch, lulled away with the soft words. Their meaning almost escaped him - but not the sound of Kai's voice, not the caresses of his fingers.

"Will you trust me again?" he whispered, catching Kai's hand, intertwining their fingers.

"I trust you, Stacey."

"I'll get us out of here. I don't know how yet - but I promise you. I'll deserve your forgiveness."

He felt how Kai's hand clenched on his - and there was such strength and despair in this gesture that Stacey opened his eyes in amazement. The kid's face was so sad, his eyes full of such grief that Stacey felt frightened, for once. Kai looked as if he wanted to say something and couldn't.

"It's a lucky thing they put us together," Stacey said hastily, trying to chase away this expression of anguish from Kai's face. "I'll protect you, I'll do everything for that, believe me."

The kid's hand trembled in his - and then Kai asked quietly:

"Do you know why they put us together?"

* * *

Stacey felt sick and angry and he fiended for a cigarette but otherwise he found it quite surprising how little Kai's words disturbed him. He had his arms around Kai and finally the kid stopped shaking. The touches of Stacey's fingers that smoothed his hair seemed to pacify him.

"I don't want them to do it to you," Kai whispered tiredly. His lips were soft against Stacey's hand that he held tightly. "They can do it to me, it's okay - I'm used to it. But not to you ..."

"Don't worry," Stacey muttered, "we'll think of something. Nothing bad will happen."

"Really?" Kai looked up at him, his eyes shining with hope.

"Really." But his heart sank at this word. "But did they say what they planned to do about you?"

"No, they didn't. Stacey ..." Kai's voice fell to barely audible and his hands clenched on Stacey's again. "It's all my fault ... If I didn't want you so much to come here ... I prayed for it. And now ..."

"Shh, silly." He remembered suddenly how he had blamed himself for Victor's death, because of the words he'd said to his lover once. Victor, Victor ... damn you, beautiful traitor ...

"Everything will be okay."

"You don't understand! What they want to do to you ... you won't bear it ... it's horrible ..."

It made Stacey flinch - the thought what Kai had been through, the anger at Heles, at Victor, at himself.

"They can't do it, it's unfair," Kai said miserably. "You're so clean ..."

"I'm not clean." And it was the truth.

Now it was him who cradled the kid and Kai nestled up to him, his hands holding on Stacey's jacket - and despite everything, Stacey felt comforted. If only he could hold Kai forever ...

He heard slight hiss of the opening door and looked up at two Heles who entered the room. Minerva ... and another officer, male, Vulcan. They didn't waste their time. Stacey glared at them and kept holding Kai.

"What a touching scene." Minerva's old-fashioned voice was laced with irony and definitely irritated. She moved closer to the bed and Kai started trembling in Stacey's arms. Kai's hands were white-knuckled, clenched unconsciously on Stacey's jacket.

He realized only now that his own arms held around Kai as tightly.

"Sorry but I am going to separate you," Minerva said reaching for Kai. "Let's go, my human."

A wave of sickness flooded Stacey at the sight of the tentacles slithering against Kai's body, the suckers clinging to his skin. He felt Kai let him go, turn to the Heles - but Stacey himself couldn't open his arms.

"What's that?" Minerva seemed astonished. "I told him to go with us, Radek."

Her tentacle reached with a possessive gesture, touched Kai's face. Stacey acted almost unthinking: caught the boneless limb, wrapped it around his palm ... An expression of astonishment on Minerva's face gladdened him - and then he slammed the sharp end of Kai's hair comb through her tentacle.

The scream she made sounded both out of the voice modulator and out of her mouth opening - shrill, screeching cry. Violet blood fountained from the wound, spattering the sheets and Stacey's hands. He screamed at her, too:

"Bitch! Leave him the fuck alone!"

Next moment, Vulcan's tentacle pulled the comb out of Stacey's hand - and a heavy blow threw Stacey off the bed, slammed him against the wall. He felt crushed, boneless, his vision blurred. Blood filled his mouth. He didn't have time to try to get up as Minerva's huge body towered over him, her tentacles raised in an assaulting stance.

It was the end, he thought - a stupid end at that; but any end was stupid, after all. It should have all been finished when they had put him into the execution capsule ...

"Disgusting human ..."

"Don't hurt him!" Kai was between him and Minerva - and Stacey thought desperately that it was his fault again he'd brought it on the kid.

The tentacles never went down; Minerva stepped away a little, cradling her hurt limb. Her voice was derisive but almost calm.

"I am not going to hurt this pathetic excuse for a human. Others will do it. I just want you to go with me, my pretty one."

Stacey watched with dazed eyes how Kai got up and walked to the door before Minerva. He wanted to scream, to stop it - pulled himself up - and Vulcan uncoiled his tentacles, slammed them against Stacey's belly. Stacey hit the wall again as a huge ball of pain burst inside him. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was Minerva wrap her tentacle around Kai's waist.

* * *

The human was cuffed to the chair. It was not because Uranus doubted his power over the symbiont - he could easily have Victor in control just with the power of his mind. But he intended to focus on other things; besides, he enjoyed those small, restricted movements that the human made.

"I hope there won't be any misunderstanding between us, comrade. We don't talk about your resistance to me. We talk about you not fulfilling your obligations."

The symbiont's face was ghostly pale, his normally light eyes dark and widened, looking unblinkingly at the screen in front of him. There was a small trickle of blood sliding over his chin from under his teeth. Uranus noticed when it appeared - when Victor saw Vulcan hit his redhead lover.

"You know you deserve punishment - just as your protegee deserves it. So, punishment it will be."

The human didn't answer. He seemed to disregard Uranus' words as if they had no meaning - or infinitely less meaning than what happened on the screen in front of him. Uranus was not going to take it.

He hit into Victor's brain savagely, singed the nerve endings, and saw how the face of the human went blank in pain. Blood ran in a thicker jet from his bitten lips and his eyes started rolling up as Uranus kept ravaging his mind.

He slumped on the chair as Uranus withdrew his invasion. There was some damage done to the human's brain but not too serious. Uranus prodded Victor into lucidity.

"Watch and listen - do both. I'm sure you can do it, comrade."

There was a tired, bitter expression on Victor's face as he looked at the screen that showed the empty room and Stacey, lying in a crumpled heat at the wall. The young human was unconscious, his soft hair fallen over his face.

"Explain it to me." Uranus touched Victor's mind again not to let the human slide away from him. "Why did your friend do it?"

"What?" The human's voice was so faint, emotionless, a strange contrast with misery that Uranus could savor in Victor's mind.

"Why did he attack Minerva? He must have understood it would bring nothing but repercussions for him."

"He was angry," Victor said. His eyes were locked on the screen with the expression of naked despair. "Or, maybe, he wanted to show ... the boy, Kai, that there was no need to be afraid of Heles."

"What a stupid way to act. He just aggravated his position."

Can his position be aggravated, he read the human's thoughts.

"Don't you think," Uranus continued enthusiastically, "that it is a curious coincidence that this human will have to play this role from now on? Didn't you tell me he was used as a kind of whore during his childhood, in the place for orphaned children where he grew up? There must be something defective about him if he winds up in this situation again."

He felt a wave of anger rise from Victor, saw the human thrash minutely as if he tried to free from his tethers. The emotions were interesting to explore. His symbiont used to be a man with a confused mind - Uranus rarely could get from him messages with such purity of feeling.

He expected there would be more fascinating revelations as the time went.

* * *

The room was spacious and white, just with a few cabinets here and there - and three Heles moved freely in it without the danger to misplace anything. Mesmerized, Kai looked at the stirrups placed in the middle of the room.

"Well, human." The Heles doctor glanced at him without interest. "What are you waiting for? Undress."

Kai wanted to fight and run and scream his heart out - but he didn't. It didn't matter what was going to happen to him - nothing mattered now, after they'd left Stacey bleeding on the floor in Kai's former room - injured and defenseless to anyone who would want to hurt him ...

Kai's hands didn't tremble as he removed his clothes.

"Get up there."

"I'm so happy, my darling," Minerva drawled as her tentacles slid against his thighs, moving his legs apart. She didn't need to force him, he would cooperate - but he knew she liked handling his body. The fasteners closed on his wrists and ankles, holding his legs spread widely. They had never needed this kind of preparations to have sex with him before.

"I waited for it for so long ..." Minerva whispered. Her limbs brushed against his belly caressingly. "Soon my child will grow there."

"Just one more thing," the doctor said. Kai felt something metallic forced into his anus, not painful at the first moment - but then spreading, stretching him wider as uncomfortable feeling turned into pain. He refused to scream - not if he could help it. He refused to think about Minerva's words, too - but it was more difficult.

* * *

Kai had told him there would be a signal. But either it was not obligatory or Stacey's vision was too cloudy to see it. The door just opened - and there was a black-uniformed man standing there. Stacey struggled to discern his face, to figure out more than a blurry silhouette and felt frustrated with the weakness of his mind. Blood left metallic tang in his mouth and he felt so broken it seemed unthinkable to move.

But of course he had to move. He made himself get on his knees and lost the balance, landed on his fours. His hair made an additional veil in front of his eyes. The man moved towards him, and suddenly Stacey realized that one thought hadn't come to his mind: that it could be Victor.

It was not Victor. The man came closer and Stacey saw his polished boots - and then one of the boots was shoved in his side.

"Don't bother to greet me standing." It was Andrews's voice that reached Stacey through the beating of blood in his ears.

He hated the weakness of his own body - hated the instinctive motion he tried to shield his broken rib with. It was pathetic. He had to get up, to face Andrews. But he couldn't.

Another kick caught him to his abdomen that felt bloated and tender after Vulcan's blow; Stacey couldn't help it, cried out harshly at the piercing pain.

"I think I owe you something," Andrews said and Stacey raised his head to see a short thick lead baton in Andrews's hand - the baton he slapped against his other palm. "I prefer to pay my debts in time, redhead."

* * *

Minerva's tentacles swirled over his body, touched him everywhere. The suckers pressing to his nipples made Kai shiver. The stretching of his anus stopped just when he thought it would be torn apart. He felt opened so widely it seemed he had a gaping wound there.

"You're so pretty," Minerva whispered. "My child will have the prettiest incubator in the world."

He shivered in pain when his legs were yanked apart even wider to accommodate her bulk and suddenly Kai understood she didn't have her usual garment on.

As if hypnotized, he watched how the folds of her skin move apart and the long cylinder of her ovipositor appear. He knew now why he needed the speculum to open him - not to damage the tender tissues of her organ.

He felt as if a spear was slammed through his guts as she entered him, the cold tip of her organ positioned so deeply that he seemed to feel it almost near his midriff. He saw her strain and felt cold spread inside him.

* * *

His left wrist was broken. The baton turned out to be surprisingly heavy and Andrews aimed well. The second or third blow smashed Stacey's cheekbone and now blood leaked both into his eyes and his mouth. He didn't try to get up any more - he just couldn't. There was nothing he could do at all.

The blows stopped but Stacey couldn't stop writhing on the floor, still shivering with pain. Andrews stepped on his shoulder, keeping him from those humiliating motions. Through the blood that flowed over Stacey's eyes he saw the man's smiling face lean to him.

"You're a better sport than your genetic was. I did it to him, too, you know."

Andrews got what he wanted - Stacey thrashed and spat blood in his face and missed. Andrews grabbed him by the collar, raised, threw face down on the bed. Stacey screamed as Andrews pulled his jacket off and the sleeve caught on his wrist. Andrews wrapped the jacket around his hands, tying them. Then Andrews kept beating him until getting tired.

He turned Stacey face up.

"I should've cut you open, like you did with Kazarin." He panted; his face was distorted with hatred. "Kazarin was a million times more a man then you."

Leon ... A madman, a hater of genetics, a friend ... Stacey knew he wouldn't forget Kazarin - and he didn't need Andrews to remind him about what he'd done.

"He was a million times more a man than you," he whispered choking with blood.

Andrews hit him in the face, then smiled and raised the baton again.

"Whore. I want to look in your eyes when I beat you."

* * *

He'll kill him. This thought in the human's mind repeated persistently - and the fear, the misery of it was clear for Uranus. But there was also another thought, which that mesmerized Uranus. Please let him die ...

"I thought you wanted to keep your little friend alive."

The human's eyes were shadowed with pain. He looked exhausted. Uranus didn't like how slowly his mind reacted to the stimulation.

"Sometimes death is better ..." It was a mere whisper. Blood leaked from the human's mouth. He was so stubborn, making Uranus torture his mind more, ruin it almost hopelessly.

"Andrews doesn't have a permission to kill him," Uranus said.

* * *

He lost consciousness and came up to the smell of ozone and hissing sound of the mender over him. Andrews was healing him ... how ironic.

The sheets stank - blood, bile and piss ... he must have pissed himself. Stacey felt the cleaners work on his clothes and was thankful for it. It was better to go through it clean.

"Baby-face," Andrews whispered hoarsely as his hand pawed Stacey's face and hair. "Redhead doll. You know why they sent me to you? To tame you. Not that I mind..." He chuckled.

He pulled Stacey's pants down and fucked him and it didn't hurt more than anything else in his broken body did - and Stacey couldn't do anything to prevent it all the same.

Later, Andrews played with him some more, tightened his belt on Stacey's throat until black and red exploded in his head. Andrews had to use the mender again after it - and once more after twisting Stacey's tied arms up until a shoulder joint snapped.

There was another rape after that.

"You're fun to mess up, Officer Radek. And I like to wipe this haughty expression from your face. You don't feel so pure any more, do you - with my cock up your ass? I'm your first customer, Radek, but there will be many more."

Stacey couldn't help it - he laughed.

"What makes you think you're the first? You're late ... for about thirteen years late."

He still shrieked when Andrews thrust particularly violently. His mind swam, balanced on the verge of consciousness as Andrews kept slamming into him. He didn't feel how the man came.

"Good bitch." Andrews spat on him. Another thing that Andrews owed him ...

Stacey felt the man withdraw - and a few seconds later another thing entered him, brutal, cold and relentless - the lead baton.

* * *

She retrieved the ovipositor slowly while her tentacles stroked his chest. She had made him weep; Kai hated his tears but couldn't do anything about it. He hated her for what she was doing to him. He didn't want it to happen. He couldn't stand it; being a whore, a toy was so much better ... in comparison to it.

"Be comfortable for my son," Minerva whispered.

"Now your turn, comrade Vulcan," the doctor said.

It was weird - for all the time as the Heles had used him for their pleasure, as many times as they penetrated him in every possible way, it was always with the tentacles, never with their penises. Kai didn't even know if Heles had these organs. Now he knew, could see an emerging cylinder of almost translucent flesh that came from the hidden vault on the male's body.

"Fertilize him for me," Minerva said and her tentacles intertwined with Vulcan's.

* * *

Andrews was done. His come was on Stacey's thighs and his piss on Stacey's face as Stacey lay face down, like a rag doll on the bed. Stacey tried not to let his teeth chatter but it was about as much as he could do.

"It was actually nice," Andrews smiled, looking back from the door. "I hope you'll like your other customers as well. See you soon."

He wanted nothing more than to see Andrews go, to be left alone; the pain submerged him, so huge that it left place for nothing else, not even for shame. Stacey just wanted to die.

But if he let Andrews walk out now ... No, he couldn't think about it, he didn't have strength ... If he let Andrews go ... he wouldn't have another chance.

"Is it the best you're capable of?"

He didn't recognize his own voice - but it made Andrews stop.

"What are you muttering, bitch?"

"You're pathetic, you know. You make me laugh. You can't even do serious damage."

"I prefer to keep damaging you 'not seriously' for a long time than to finish you off quickly. You don't get away from me."

"Coward. Weakling. Slut."

For some reason the last word did it. Andrews was back with him, pressed his palm to Stacey's neck, drove his face into the sheets. Stacey heard a short swish of the blaster taken out.

He tried to be prepared; but the slow burning of his skin, with the blaster set on the lowest level, was beyond anything he could imagine. He felt his tissues boil and screamed unceasingly.

* * *

"I can't believe how stupid this human can be." Uranus turned away from the screen in annoyance. Victor's face was like a mask of dead as he kept watching the scene. "Why did he call him back? Does he hope to provoke him into killing? Officer Andrews is sensible enough not to do it. He knows we have different plans for Radek."

"What plans?" There was almost no sound in the human's voice. Uranus thought with distaste how he could ever choose for his symbiont this broken, listless thing.

"As long as the genetic is used by Minerva for her purposes, your friend will entertain the crew. After that, we'll give him to Voices. They specifically asked for him."

There was nothing new in the human's face, his silver-grey eyes stayed the same weary, unhappy.

"Oh my, he screams so loudly that I start having headache," Uranus complained. "And you don't want me to get a headache, symbiont. It'll probably kill you."

He turned down the sound on the screen to barely audible and looked Victor.

"My beautiful symbiont ... You disappointed me so."

The tip of his tentacle tugged the corner of Victor's mouth, making the human wear a lopsided smile. His eyes looked past Uranus, never leaving the screen.

"So fascinated with your lover? Maybe, you'll be able to visit him, later. But you won't be a Commander any more."

"Make Andrews ... a Commander ..."

Uranus didn't expect irony; he hesitated whether to punish the human for it but decided it was more amusing this way.

"And he'll sent you all to hell ..." Victor added.

Angry, Uranus wrecked the human's mind some more - and then decided he had a more refined weapon than pain.

"Maybe, I'll visit your lover as well. I like how you humans feel." His tentacle slid under Victor's jacket, pinched his nipple. "You're soft and warm. Almost as pleasant as your mind is."

* * *

Approaching unconsciousness ebbed quickly and new pain came when Andrews turned him. The destroyed skin on Stacey's back, at the contact with the sheets, made him shriek. With unfocusing eyes he looked at the muzzle of the blaster pointed at his face.

"How about that? Did you like it, bitch?"

The words were huge in his mouth, impossible to pronounce.

"A bit ... better ..."

The blaster pressed to his nipple and he saw his skin blister and swell.

He hit with both his feet, aiming for Andrews's groin. The sound the man made was rather a gurgle than a scream. Stacey yelped in pain, getting on his feet, and kicked again, sending Andrews on the floor. The blaster fell out of the man's hand, rolled on the bed burning the sheets. Stacey put his tied wrists under the ray, feeling the flame wrap around his wrists - and yanked them apart with relief; the jacket was cut open.

He jumped for the blaster at the same moment as Andrews did - and he was faster. His finger moved the setting to the highest at the very moment he shot. Andrews collapsed on the floor with a burnt line against his midriff.

"Oh shit ..." The man's lips moved - and then everything went quiet.

* * *

"You still like me, don't you, comrade Uranus?"

Suddenly the human came back to life. His voice was just a fraction more animated than before but it gladdened Uranus. His symbiont could be very amusing if he wanted.

He looked at Victor ironically.

"Don't you take too much upon yourself, human? To like you?"

"Yes." Victor's eyes, widened with pain, looked directly in Uranus', the gaze insistent, unfathomable. "My mind ... and my body ... don't you want to find out how it feels?"

"You're a slut, human," Uranus said imperiously. He'd never noticed it in his symbiont before, had never expected him to offer his body like that. There was something weird about it.

Perhaps the human went mad with grief and pain, Uranus decided, after looking at his lover's misery. He started turning to the screen and Victor's urgent voice stopped him.

"Look at me, comrade Uranus. I can make you feel good. There is so much you can do to me."

"If you think it'll mitigate your fate or the fate of your lover ..."

He ran the tips of his tentacles through the human's dark wavy hair. So soft ... such warm skin. Could Uranus feel something again, even with more than half of his body destroyed?

* * *

There was no time. He knew about cameras, expected Heles or humans to appear in the room any moment. The mender had to wait till later. Stacey picked up the blaster and took Andrews's hand by the wrist. The cut was precise and easy. He donned his cut jacket, clenching his teeth when the cloth touched his burnt skin - and pressed Andrews' palm to the lock.

* * *

"You humans are an amazing race." Uranus liked the undivided attention he finally got from his symbiont. Victor's eyes, exhausted and still beautiful, looked in his serenely. "You hate other races - and yet you are so willing to prostitute yourselves to whoever pays more. No wonder Voices have written you down as an unworthy race. In a century or two ... you won't be any more."

The human didn't seem to be scared. A century or two must have seemed a long term to him. Or it just confirmed Uranus' suspicion - humans rarely cared for their descendants.

"You will be no more soon, too, maybe," Uranus whispered. He didn't want to decide yet what to do to the human - to let him continue serving Heles, broken as he was - or kill him - or ... "But before that I'll enjoy your body just like I used to enjoy your mind."

"Don't touch him."

There was something not right about it. The voice of the redhead human ... but Uranus had switched off the sound ... and the voice sounded here, not on the screen. He turned abruptly and faced Stacey Radek, bleeding and swaying, but with a blaster pointed at him, at Uranus.

"Get away from him."

How could it be ... Just a short while ago, the human was on the screen, convulsing in pain, and now ... Uranus understood everything. His symbiont had deceived him, tried to seduce him to distract from the cameras ... He screeched in anger; the muzzle of the blaster mesmerized him. Uranus didn't want to die.

"Unfasten him," Stacey said.

"Or what?" Uranus did his best for his voice to sound calm. "Or you'll kill me, just as you killed your compatriot?"

"Do you think I won't do it?"

"Come on, try then," Uranus laughed. "You'll kill him by that as well. You hurt me - you'll hurt him. I'm a part of his mind."

There was a confused, uncomprehending expression on Stacey's face. And then Uranus' symbiont writhed in the chair and screamed so loudly it covered all other sounds.

"Kill him, Stacey, he lies! Kill him now! He's hurting me, make it stop!"

The human accused him of lying ... But Uranus didn't have time to think how ridiculous this idea was. Stacey pulled the trigger - and pain sliced through Uranus.

Uranus had been hurt in his life; especially when he'd lost a half of his body. But this pain was different - final one - of dying.

His scream sounded in unison with Victor's.

Stupid human ... As Uranus slid down slowly on the floor from the cube where his body had been settled, he could see Stacey's astonished eyes as he rushed to Victor who slumped in the chair. And even through the agony, Uranus triumphed.

"You should have listened to me, human. You killed him."

Stacey's face was blank with shock as he knelt in front of Victor, unfastened his cuffs, shook him as if unable to believe what he saw. As a distant reverberation of his own pain, Uranus felt the human's agony as Victor's eyes opened.

"Oh God, Vic, what have I done ..."

"You did right, fox."

"You killed him, human."

"I'm just paralyzed." Victor's lips were white and the words sounded muffled, said with just a half of his mouth.

"You live as long as I live," Uranus commented from the floor.

"Go away, Stacey. Run."

"I won't leave you!" The redhead human was hysterical. "We'll go together!"

How annoying. And pointless. Weak as he was, Stacey couldn't even get Victor up on his feet, how was he going to carry him?

Victor's hand clasped on Stacey's.

"Go away. You need to do something. Take Kai ... he is at the infirmary ... and go to the shuttle. I can crawl, I'll meet you there."

Uranus knew the human lied but didn't know if it made sense to reveal it to Stacey.

"You promise?" Stacey's eyes were dark with grief and yet Uranus knew he would do exactly as Victor told him, would obey just as he obeyed everything Victor ordered him, a mindless puppet ...

"I promise."

* * *

He knew that of all his memories, this one would stay with him till his death: how Victor's body hung deadly in his arms, how Victor talked to him with lopsided mouth. And Stacey also knew he would never forget that he was the one who'd done it to his beloved. He'd shot despite what Uranus said. He believed Victor. And he had crippled Victor.

He hobbled along the corridor; pain and exhaustion threw him against the wall every few steps. He cried out in pain and muffled the sound into his palm. But he knew he couldn't stop.

The door of the infirmary was closed; he didn't take Andrews' hand with himself and, anyway, the door, likely, wouldn't open all the same; the bastard probably didn't have authorization. Stacey hit the door with his fist hopelessly. Precious time was running away - and his strength, too - and soon there would be nothing left at all.

" ...trust me ..."

He begged Kai to trust him ... so many promises they all gave - with no way to keep them.

"What do you want, human?" The door opened suddenly and he shot without thinking, cut the Heles in the middle. Violet blood splashed on his feet as he stepped over the corpse.

Kai was there. Two other Heles were there, too. Minerva, astonished, looked at the dead creature on the floor. And Vulcan was located between Kai's legs. The kid's eyes were dark, full of agony - and the Heles' tentacle entered Kai's mouth unceasingly, deeply almost to the root. He saw Stacey and withdrew, the tentacle smeared in blood at hideous length.

Stacey shot again, kept shooting until the head of the Heles was separated from his body and rolled on the floor, spilling blood around. Minerva shrieked.

"You ..." The modulated voice of the Heles female broke with hatred. "You ... What have you done ... My husband ..."

"You fuckin' bitch, stay where you are. I'll be happy to slice your head off as well."

She recoiled to the corner, watching him as he unclasped Kai's cuffs. The kid's anus looked terrible - unclosing, yawning, bruised almost blue. There was some jelly-like substance covering Kai's thighs.

How did they violate him - again? What horrible things did they do to make him look as he did - shocked - zombie-like?

"Come on, Kai, get up." He pulled Kai on his feet and for a moment the kid's passivity reminded him about Victor's crippled body in his arms. He gasped with terror - and at the next moment Kai straightened, stood on his own.

"What are you going to do?" Minerva came to life, hissed at them from the corner. "Leave him here! He belongs to me!"

"Like hell he does," Stacey whispered with unfeeling lips. He saw how Kai started trembling.

"Stacey ... She ... I ..."

Oh fuckin' bitch! He wanted to kill her just for the broken note in the kid's voice.

Give me an occasion, he thought.

"Kai, get dressed. Please."

The kid obeyed him, moved as quickly as possible.

"You can't take him away! My child ... He ..."

"Shut the fuck up!" The beam of the blaster dug into the plastic inches away from Minerva. Stacey kept holding her at the aim as he and Kai walked out. He barely had time to close the door before Minerva's huge body slammed against it. He shot at the lock and sealed it. Kai, looking like a ghost, with bluish lips and frozen stare, stood next to him.

"Let's go."

* * *

"Where are you going, human? Stay with me."

An unsaid, there was derisive: let's die together; but Victor found it surprisingly easy to ignore Uranus. The hold of the dying Heles on his brain was getting weaker - even as with this weakening Victor's own life oozed away.

But there still was some time. He pushed his body forward for a few inches more. The right side of his body trailed after him.

"My beautiful symbiont ... There is no you or me. We are one thing now ... one body, one mind ..."

Uranus must have been mad. Victor couldn't listen to the ravings of the dying Heles. He crawled to the door and rolled out. The voice kept sounding.

"One body ... one mind ... a new born from two old ..."

Uranus' voice ... impossible to understand where it sounded, in Victor's mind or in his ears ... But it was not Uranus' voice at all, was it? A voice without body ...

Victor laughed with wry mouth. Was he one of those chosen humans who was honored to hear a Voice?

"One mind ... one body ..." it kept whispered to him. "Meld together ..."

"Shut up," Victor said.

The way to the shuttle was down the corridor; the way to the tech room - up. He crawled up, digging his fingers into the slits in the plastic of the floor, tugged himself, inch by inch. The Voice didn't stop talking to him and Uranus laughed in his head.

* * *

Another step failed. Stacey felt his feet give up and would have hit the floor if Kai didn't catch him. For a moment he thought it was bliss - to stay like this, held warmly and strongly, in peace. Then he met Kai's sorrowful, intense gaze.

"Thanks, Kai, I'm okay. Let's go."

"I ... Stacey, I ..."

There would be time to talk later; he clasped the kid's hand, pulled him. A man stood in front of them in the corridor. Stacey pointed the blaster.

"Don't shoot!" Kostin raised his hands in a pacifying gesture. "I won't stop you. I'm not going to stop you."

Was it fear for his life - or something else - Stacey didn't know. He just felt grateful that he didn't have to kill another one.

There was no one at the shuttle. Victor didn't come. Perhaps it was too early, he was on the way ...

But no, Stacey knew it was not that! Victor lied to him, he wouldn't come to the shuttle. He nearly screamed in anguish.

Then he'd go and drag Victor here.

"Kai, the shuttle is piloted automatically. I have to find Vic ..."

The sound of the comm made him nearly jump.

"Fox ... Listen here. I'm at the tech room. Do you understand me?"

He felt dizzy with joy of hearing Victor's voice.

"Stay there, I'll come for you."

"No, listen to me." The words were slurry, nearly incomprehensible. "It's not enough to get to the shuttle. The point is not to be shot down. I'll take care of it. You ... is Kai with you? You two go."

No. No fuckin' way.

"Do it, fox. If I don't see the shuttle start within sixty seconds, I'll shoot myself. Don't bother to come for my dead body."

"I don't believe you," Stacey whispered.

"Believe me." There was a tinge of irony in Victor's voice. "I'll do it. I never hesitate. Neither when I betrayed you ... nor when I blocked your memories ... Go, fox."

I'll do it. Stacey knew he would.

He sobbed but tears didn't come. Victor must have heard.

"Don't cry, fox. Go. Tell Kai I'm sorry. Tell him."

"He hears you, Vic," Stacey whispered.

"I'll take care of everything. Trust me."

He saw Heles and humans approach, Kostin among them, and Stacey knew now Kostin would try to stop them, just like all the others.

He pushed Kai to the shuttle, jumped there, too, and shot at the lock. It would stop them for a little while.

"Stacey, please don't ..." Kai's voice was tormented but Stacey couldn't listen to his words. He started the shuttle.

I didn't tell you I love you, Vic, he thought.

* * *

I know, fox. I know.

Through the viewing port Victor watched how the little cubicle of the shuttle separated from the ship.

"He left you," Uranus said in his mind.

"He loved me," he whispered.

"Unsanctioned leaving. Prepare the cannons."

Victor listened to the mechanic voice and pushed the buttons. A red alarm signal started flashing in front of his eyes. Then the system complied, sealing the cannons. They'd unseal them, Victor knew it; but not yet.

I wanted so much to be with you. Please, if you forget everything else, remember that, fox. I wanted to be with you, at any price. Through serving the enemy, through betrayal, through crime. Through mutilating your mind, my beloved. Through mutilating others.

He knew he would never say these words to Stacey. The shuttle was just a small dot that moved slowly away.

"You're pathetic, human."

There would be nothing soon. No never-ending presence of Uranus' in his mind, no remorse.

No shared bed and lazy mornings and his beloved, so beautiful in his black uniform ... But Victor regretted nothing.

"You'll regret it, human. I promise you."

"Fuck off."

"Unseal the cannons."

He felt the invasion into his mind for the last time. Uranus, even in agony, tried to own him. And suddenly, with a splitting effort of will, Victor sent his mind into the consciousness of the dying Heles. He heard an angry scream Uranus made - and smiled. He got all the information he needed. The fingers of his left hand ran over the buttons.

"Self-destruction mode started," the mechanic voice said.

"You're a fool, symbiont."

"Not right, Uranus," Victor smiled watching contentedly the frenzied flashes on the panel. "You have to say 'you're dead'. But we both are dead."

The shuttle was barely visible now and Victor's eyes refused to see any more.

I have to free you from me, fox. After all the evil I did to you - before I can do more, before I manage to taint you. Live for me ...

And you, little whore, love him for me.

He huddled on the floor listening to the howl of the alarm and voices screaming behind the door. They had a reason for screaming, they didn't want to die. They possibly wouldn't, would be rescued. It didn't matter.

Something exploded in front of his eyes and he didn't know whether it was the first sign of self-destruction - or the storming crew - or the last flash of his consciousness because on another floor, separated from him so far, Uranus was dying.

Victor didn't regret anything.

* * *

He closed his eyes - and when he opened them again, the dark bulk of Nostromo started blossoming with fire. Like in his dream ... Stacey had thought he'd dreamed about the past, about the explosion of Colonel McBride's ship - but now he knew: it was what he'd seen.

And like in his dream, Stacey knew he was losing Victor ... losing forever. And it was his fault.

He pressed his palm to the glass of the viewing port. The dancing fires seemed so close, as if he could touch them. But the glass was so cold.

He could've stayed there, Stacey thought, could've stayed with Victor ... and died with him. And it would hurt less. He'd chosen life - so, he couldn't cry now.

Behind him, Stacey felt an uneasy motion of Kai, as if the kid wanted to touch him and didn't dare. A part of him suddenly craved for this touch, for warmth of Kai's arms around him, for support. He didn't want to be alone ... He wanted Kai to anchor him, to drag him away from this sight of the exploding ship.

But a part of him was dying with Victor now and nothing could change it.

"I killed you, Vic ..." he whispered. "Just like in those virtual programs ... I keep killing you."

For a moment his mind reeled towards this thought: it was just a game, a virtual world, he'd never left Shangri La and everything that happened to him in past three years was just wild fantasy of the educators. If only he could believe it ...

He smiled - and this smile took more strength from him than anything else. He swayed, and at last Kai's arms were around him, thin, gentle, familiar. Stacey turned and looked at Kai and was submerged in the warmth shining from his eyes.

"Don't ..." he whispered. "Don't let me go ..."

Then the solid floor of the shuttle swirled under his feet - and he slipped into darkness.

* * *

Stacey was fast asleep now, tucked under the blanket. His face looked like made of ice, nearly translucent, his lips pale, the shadows under his eyes blue. He looked older - sick, Kai thought sitting next to him, brushing Stacey's hair away from his face.

It was a lucky thing there was a mender in the shuttle, and Kai had used it just in time. He tried not to let himself dwell on the state of Stacey's body; he recognized Andrews' touch unmistakably.

At first Stacey was unconscious, then opened his eyes, almost black, and Kai thought he knew what Stacey kept seeing even now: exploding modules of Heles ship. Maybe, he would never stop seeing it.

Kai wished he knew what to say, could find the words that would have meaning, would reach Stacey in his misery. But he didn't - so, he kept silent and worked with the mender. Finally Stacey grasped his hand.

"Leave me now. Take care of yourself."

"I'll do it," Kai said softly. "Let me ... just a little more."

Stacey nodded finally and his fingers on Kai's wrist slackened but never quite left until he fell asleep.

Then Kai covered him and sat with him, stroking his hair. He would remember how soft Stacey's hair was, how light and smooth; it was the memory he would want to take with him.

He didn't hurt; he still felt uncomfortable, as if his insides were jumbled and his anus too wide open but he didn't want to pay attention to it. He knew what it was - and he would take care of it later. But now he wanted to be with Stacey.

He wished there could be more; more closeness, more touches. But at least there was something he could do. Stacey would never know about it and so, he wouldn't feel tarnished, wouldn't hate Kai for it. Kai leaned and brushed his lips against Stacey's temple. Then he got up and walked out.

The narrow handle of the mender was smooth, the heavy handle of the blaster was finned to made it convenient. Perhaps it would work. If not, Kai had to try all the same. He had to try it now, before Stacey knew anything. Now Kai was happy he didn't have time to say to Stacey what had happened. He couldn't put it on Stacey, the knowledge that he'd brought an enemy with him on the shuttle, that he'd let his friend die for someone who was an abomination, an incubator for a Heles.

Kai bit his lip pressing the palm to his abdomen, trying to find where this thing was placed inside him. He couldn't feel it, it must have been too small. Just the residuals of the pain from the intrusion told him how deep it could be.

He entered the bathroom. Hard bright light there was what he needed. He sat on the floor, leaned against the wall and set his feet against the bottom of the tub. It was comfortable. He opened his pants and raised the t-shirt. It wasn't cold around but he didn't want to stay naked for some reason.

He sought the place on his belly, chose it right below his solar plexus. It felt like they'd reached there; maybe, he was wrong. His braid between his teeth was supposed to muffle the sounds even if he didn't keep from screaming. Kai took the mender in his left hand and the blaster in his right. He was afraid. But he knew he would do it.

He felt the cold muzzle of the blaster pressed to his belly and touched the trigger.


The cry stopped him, broke his concentration. Kai looked up at Stacey who stood in the door. How foolish ... he should have locked it ...

"It's not what you think," Kai whispered. "It's not, Stacey ..."

The expression of betrayal in Stacey's eyes was impossible to bear.

Kai looked away - and at the next moment Stacey was on him, and Kai's wrist was captured and twisted. Stacey's fingers were cruel, hard, as he wrenched the blaster out of Kai's hand.

"You wanted to leave me ..." Stacey's eyes looked blind. No, Kai wanted to say, I didn't ... "Just like he left me ..."

The blaster was in Stacey's hands now - and he threw it away, as far as possible; the blaster was the proof that could help Kai justify himself.

"I didn't try to kill myself," he said desperately. "It was on the lowest level. I would fix it." He raised his hand with the mender. Stacey's eyes were uncomprehending, full of anguish. It was breaking Kai's heart. He reached for Stacey's face, touched his cheek. Stacey flinched as if it burned him.

"Why? For God's sake, why?" There was such misery in his voice.

"They placed a foetus inside me," Kai said. "I tried to remove it."

That was it; if Stacey didn't want to be touched before, now he would start away from Kai. Kai looked down at the mender on his lap not wanting to see it. Disgust in Stacey's eyes - it was too much; it was what he couldn't bear.

"Oh ..." It was a small sound - and then Stacey's arms were around him, desperate, strong, holding him almost tight enough to hurt. Kai thrashed - but it was not a struggle, it was involuntary reaction of his body, shivers racking him. And Stacey didn't let him go, pressed him tightly, crushing Kai against his chest. His hands flew over Kai's face and hair, like blind, like trying to make sure he was there, was real.

"Kai ..."

He trembled; this voice, these strong arms around him, the heat of Stacey's body pressed to his - he'd dreamed so much about it. He couldn't give up on it. Sobbing, Kai clung to Stacey's arms, held on them, and felt Stacey rock him slightly, his hands getting more peaceful, stroking Kai's hair.

"Please don't do it," Stacey whispered against his hair. "It'll kill you. We'll find another way. We'll find a doctor who will do it, safely, please ... Just wait a little longer."

I can't wait, Kai wanted to say, how can you hold me when this thing is inside me - but he couldn't say a word, just shook his head.

Stacey's arms tightened some more on him but it didn't hurt, it felt good. Kai needed all Stacey's strength to hold him.

"You said your life belonged to me," Stacey said. "You said I was your master. You can't take what doesn't belong to you. I want you to live for me."

It was madness - Stacey didn't understand, couldn't want such a wretched creature as him to live ... But what else Kai could answer him. He nodded.

"Good," Stacey murmured. His palm stroked over Kai's hair unceasingly. "Good child."

I'm not a child, Kai wanted to say - but being held by Stacey was so good, his caressing hands were better than anything else.

"Come here," Stacey whispered. "Let's go to bed."

The mender clattered on the floor and Stacey picked it up. Kai kept holding on to Stacey, unclenching his hands just to let his clothes be pulled off him. He felt the mender used on him but one of his hands still was in Stacey's.

And then, under the blanket, with the heat of Stacey's body against his, their arms intertwined and Stacey's hair against Kai's cheek, he felt safe and peaceful.

As long as Stacey held him, he was safe.

The End of Part 2

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