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Original Fiction
Space Opera by Juxian Tang

Part 03

W ithout looking away from the page, Reo brought the cigarette to his lips and flinched in pain. The cigarette had burnt almost to nothing; cheap shit. He stubbed it into a full ashtray and reached for the pack on the cluttered table. One more left; and a good part of the night in front of him. He turned a page.

"People? There are six or seven of them, I believe, in existence. I caught sight of them years ago. But you never know where to find them. The wind blows them away. They have no roots, which hampers them a good deal."

The screen was quiet, lined with green; well, it always was quiet. Once, there had been an emergency - six years ago: a pleasure boat lost its way. But despite the routine, Reo never tried to skip his night shift. Some people might think he was doing it for an additional supply, he was always short of cigarettes ... if cigarettes was a good name for those brand-less, falling apart thingies that the cargo transport brought to F-400.

Reo appreciated an extra pack he got for watching the screen at night - but cigarettes were not the main reason. He had a mission. And routine was everything he wanted.

He kept reading, stooping over the book; he needed spectacles. If it went like this, soon he'd trace the lines with his nose ...

When the alarm signal came, he couldn't believe it at the first moment. Green lines blurred in front of his eyes - yet he knew he wasn't mistaken: a small green dot was there and it approached.

It was not a cargo ship; there were still two weeks till its arrival and, anyway, it would happen by day. Could it be ... Could it be what Reo always feared?

He looked at the screen, hyperventilating, and realized only moments later that he still was doing nothing, although he was supposed to. Carefully, he unclenched his fists, looked at the violet crescents left by his fingernails without recognition and then reached for the comm.

He had to contact the Board - but he called to another place.

Caesar must have slept - hit the comm button even before switching on the light. At the next moment Reo saw him: his hair in disarray, his eyes squinted in annoyance. Reo felt the words he'd prepared escape.

"There is a ship ... it gets near."

"And what am I supposed to do, Reo? Run and hide?"

Irritation in Caesar's voice was what Reo was afraid and had to expect to hear; his heart sank. It was a stupid feeling, what did it matter how Caesar talked to him when they might both be in danger?

"I told you not to bother me with these things any more." But, almost imperceptible, there was a note of worry in Caesar's voice and it pained Reo even more than Caesar's anger. "What kind of ship is it?"

"I ... I dunno."

"Then find out. And inform the Board. Follow the instructions, Reo, is it so difficult?"

The comm switched off and Reo felt his fingers tremble as if he didn't know what to do. He knew, of course, he'd learned the sequence; it was just he'd never had a chance to use his knowledge before - and the truth was he hoped he never would.

"One day they will come for me." He recalled Caesar's rich, haughty voice. "One day it will happen. And what will you do then? Nothing."

He should have found out about the ship first, before bothering Caesar. Reo clenched his fists again and felt his eyes sting. He could never do anything right, what a waste he was ... With his eyes blurry, he pushed the alarm button, calling for the Board, and grabbed the comm to contact the ship, nearly tearing the microphone out of the moors.

* * *

It felt as if the shuttle was sucking the power out of him. He didn't blame the poor thing, though; in the state it was, one could wonder how it'd managed to drag them through the last two days. Now it lived its last hours, Stacey was sure. He looked at the pulsating displays, knowing that the numbers on them had nothing to do with real data. One of his hands was clenched on the handle of manual control.

His other hand, plaited through Kai's hair, stroked the kid's face. Sometimes, when he wondered if Kai felt it or even if his touches were superfluous, Stacey tried to take his hand away - and Kai stirred then and asked him in his pain-worn voice not to go.

"I won't," Stacey said. He didn't want to let go as well. He knew, by reason, that Kai probably would feel more convenient in bed than in the chair, with his head on Stacey's lap - but they both were past reason now. Even the shuttle kept moving beyond any reason.

The temperature was falling slowly. Kai had suffered from cold during last months even when it was warm - and now, wrapped in two blankets, he didn't stop shivering; but Stacey didn't know if it was more with cold than with pain. He felt it - with his hand, with his body - how Kai clenched, waiting out another spasm. His fingers kept patting Kai's temple; he tried his touch to be pacifying,soothing but felt far from peaceful himself.

"There is a small planet near," he said. "I hope we'll manage to get there."

Meaningless words; even if they got there, what would change? Would Kai hurt less there? Nothing could be changed; maybe, it was a better way for them both never to reach that planet.

No ... Stacey shook his head angrily, denying that he could even think this. He was not a defeatist; he didn't dare to be. It was just that everything went wrong for so long ...

He felt how Kai's body relaxed slowly, a short spell of rest between bouts of pain. The kid's ice-cold fingers touched Stacey's, in a distressingly weak squeeze.

"Shh," Stacey whispered, "don't move."

The comm came to life and he reached to the panel, hit the button.

"Colony F-400 speaking! You're approaching our territory. Please identify yourself."

It sounded good; hope was unreasonable but it made Stacey feel almost dizzy. Hearing from the planet made their chances to reach it somehow more realistic.

"Identify yourself or you'll be destroyed."

The picture on the screen cleared finally. A black-haired man on the screen looked very young and somewhat alarmed.

"Don't fire, sir," Stacey did his best to sound convincing. "We're not a threat. Please give us permission to land."

"Who are you?" The young man's voice was high-pitched, very hostile. Stacey bit the inside of his lip, bracing himself to be patient. These little colonies never welcomed strangers; but bigger colonies treated strangers even worse.

"Just travelers. We got lost, our navigation system was destroyed. Our ship got damaged ..."

"How did it get damaged?"

"A meteorite." It was a lie; Stacey wondered if the man guessed it.

"Give your registration number."

Stacey tried very hard for his face to reflect nothing.

"7-222-157980-B." It was a lie, too. A planet like F-400, they most possibly didn't have an access to the interplanetary Net to check it; the guy just asked because the instructions told so. Well, if Stacey was wrong and they did have an access ...

"How many people are on board?"


"The purpose of landing?"


"Why do you want to land on F-400?"

"I told you." Stacey took a deep breath. "Our shuttle is damaged. We can't continue the flight."

"You won't be able to fix it on F-400," the man said harshly. "You don't get the permission to land. Leave the territory of F-400 immediately or we'll activate the cannons."

They probably didn't have cannons, Stacey thought, just like they didn't have an access to the Net.

"Sir ..." He had to be calm, couldn't let alarm take over him. "We need to land on your planet. Otherwise, we'll die."

"There is a colony F-240 in two hour flight." Did it seem to Stacey - or something changed in the man's eyes?

"We don't have two hours," Stacey said firmly. "We'll land on F-400. You can fire if you want."

He switched off the comm and didn't answer as it continued sending signals. If he was wrong and there were cannons on F-400 ... Well, it would just end then.

* * *

What a bastard ... Reo kicked the table in anger. Think about it! The guy just stopped answering.

"We'll land ... You can fire if you want."

An arrogant redhead bastard! Of course, Reo would like to fire. If only he could.

He ran out to the landing field where Gorn and others already were in position. Gorn's face was sour as he looked up at the sky.

"You should have stopped them, Mein."

"How?" Reo said bitterly.

"We don't want any strangers here."

If only Gorn knew how much Reo didn't want any strangers! Well, maybe, what the redhead said was true - and they really were not of any danger - the man didn't wear a uniform ... and he looked like he was on the verge of exhaustion, Reo thought suddenly.

But why did they have to choose F-400? If not for them, Caesar would be safe ...

"I can't be safe," he recalled what Caesar used to say. "I accept it - so, accept it as well, Reo."

Whatever Caesar said - Reo couldn't accept it. He couldn't lose Caesar.

"We'll stop them ourselves even if you couldn't, Mein," Gorn said firmly and raised the rifle.

Reo felt choking. Would Gorn shoot? A part of him wanted Gorn to be up to his words and shoot and solve this problem; but a part of him hesitated. What was it - qualms? What if the newcomers had nothing to do with Caesar, were just lost, exactly as the brash red-haired guy said? If they were after Caesar, Reo would lay his life to kill them but ...

Fuck it! His thoughts were a mess and his clenched hands nearly soaked with sweat as he looked at the approaching ship.

Oh yes; it was damaged. It looked like wreckage, its original shape barely recognizable. At his side, Reo heard a wheezing and turned to look at Cory. The boy had a cold again - but his wide eyes looked at the unfamiliar shuttle with absorbed fascination.

"Fire at my order," Gorn said. Reo felt it by the man's voice - Gorn was afraid. Six years ago, when Gorn had tried to chase the pleasure boat away, he had to pay a penalty and F-400 was so broke now they just couldn't afford to get into another trouble. Reo watched Gorn raise a loudspeaker.

"Leave the ship one by one, with your hands raised, and put the weapon, should you have it, on the ground."

It was well said; for a moment Reo felt a kind of gratitude to Gorn for handling the things. Then the hatch of the shuttle opened and they saw two figures in the doorway.

Gorn told them to come out one by one, Reo thought, how difficult could it to be to obey - and then understood. One of the men didn't walk but slumped against the other. The red-haired man nearly carried him.

The man Reo had seen on the screen seemed frailer and younger this way; his face sad and very tired. And there was the other one, whom he supported - a thin young man with a loose braid of dark hair - wrapped in a big cloak even though the night was very warm. His eyes were half-closed. He looked as if he didn't understand where he was, Reo thought.

But the redhead, what was his name - he hadn't told it ... he understood. His eyes were narrowed as he looked at the men who aimed at him. His free hand was raised over his head. And there was a blaster in it, held by the handle.

"I'll put it on the ground now," he said carefully. "Don't shoot."

Gorn nodded slightly and the man stooped to let the blaster slide down. Slowly, he looked around until his eyes found Reo and strangely lit up.

"Thank you, sir," he said. "Thank you that you let us land. Please don't shoot. We're alone. We mean you no harm."

Reo felt Gorn's look on himself and knew he would pay for this stranger's thanks but Reo didn't care. He was almost sure now - the newcomers were not sent by the Empire; so, Caesar was going to be okay.

At the next moment Gorn made a sign and his people, obedient as always, grabbed the strangers, separated them. An expression of anger and despair flashed on the redhead's face as he was forced on his knees, his arms twisted up. His companion seemed to come to his senses briefly as he looked back at his friend in anxiety.

"Search them," Gorn ordered.

Reo felt some unease as he watched it; perhaps there was no need to handle them so roughly ... Apart from the fact that they'd landed without permission, he reminded himself. Apart from Gorn's wish to make the newcomers feel as unwelcome as possible.

He heard a huffing sound and saw Cory look at this scene with big eyes. The giant didn't look happy, Reo thought, didn't look proud with what his father was doing. But Cory had a very soft heart, everyone knew it.

They apparently found no more weapon on the redhead man.

"Take off his cloak," Gorn ordered pointing at the other one.

"No!" The redhead wrenched so violently that almost managed to get free from the hands than held him down. It was lucky he didn't get free, Reo thought, seeing how Gorn cocked up the gun. "Don't touch him."

"Why? Does he have something to hide?"

The dark-haired boy's long, exotically cut eyes cleared a little; the pupils were huge, focusing with difficulty.

"It's okay, Stacey," Reo heard him say.

"It's not!"

Reo couldn't bear it suddenly, walked up to the boy and patted over his body.

"He has nothing," he said to Gorn.

"Ask me why I don't trust your words, Mein," Gorn muttered but waved his hand. His people let the strangers go - the redhead was on his feet at once, wrapped his arms around the boy. Gorn walked up to the blaster that lay on the ground and picked it up.

"An interesting construction ... Now tell us where you're from?"

"Just travelers," the man said. "My name is Stacey Radek. We need to repair the shuttle and then we'll leave. We won't bring any trouble to you ..."

His voice sounded a bit too tense, a bit too desperate to convince; Reo felt somehow uncomfortable hearing it and wondered if anyone else heard it. He wondered if it was as obvious for Gorn as it was for him that the strangers were driven to the edge of despair ... and, therefore, whatever they said - whatever Stacey Radek told them - was most likely a lie.

There had been time when Caesar and he had been in the same situation; chased by everyone and accepted nowhere. Reo remembered the strong hold of Caesar's arms around him - Caesar had carried Reo in his arms so often then - the sense of safety Caesar gave him - even if they were never truly safe.

Maybe, that was the reason why Reo's attitude to the strangers would changed like that, from apprehension to almost ... compassion?

It was stupid, he told himself; he didn't know anything about them.

"You won't be able to repair your shuttle here," Gorn said.

"Then we'll leave with some ship."

"The next ship will be in two weeks. You'll be interrogated and stay under arrest till then."

An almost delirious smile flickered on Stacey's lips, then he shook his head.


"Let's lock them up," Gorn said. "Let's put them in the old well."

Well, it was surely a secure place, even if an eerie one. Reo shivered a bit. Pushed by the muzzle of the gun, Stacey made a step - and it was then the dark-haired boy's eyes suddenly rolled up and he went limp.

Stacey didn't manage to hold him, just softened the fall - and dropped on his knees, raised the boy's head on his lap. The boy's face with closed eyes seemed deathly pale and Stacey's face wasn't more colorful.

"What is this comedy? Is he sick?" Reo heard Gorn's shrill voice. "It can be some epidemic, it can be plague! We have to get rid of him!"

Stacey shielded the kid with his body but he must have understood it as well as Reo that it was futile. His voice was desperate, hasty:

"He's okay, he just needs some rest, he'll get up now ..."

"We don't need another nuisance."

Reo saw Stacey's eyes dart to the blaster in Gorn's hand and thought he would jump for it now. What a madness ...

And then, behind himself, Reo heard familiar wheezing. Cory walked forward, stooped, pushed Stacey away with unflinching hand. Reo noticed how Stacey's eyes flashed but he had no time to do anything as no one else had when Cory picked up the unconscious boy in his arms.

The giant turned to them, defiance in his eyes directed equally at Gorn and at the newcomer.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Stacey yelled.

"Really, son," Gorn asked mildly. "What are you going to do?"

Reo saw an annoyed look in Cory's eyes and understood its meaning. The kid shrugged as if pointing out that his hands were too full to talk, then pointed his chin at Reo - and waved his head on the left. Reo guessed the direction.

"To the infirmary?" He saw Cory nod happily. His own voice sounded in unison with Stacey's. "No!"

Well, Reo had a reason to be afraid, he had Caesar to protect - but why did the redhead oppose it?

"Right! Make him see the doctor!" Gorn suddenly exulted, sensed unmistakably the possibility to do something against the wish both of Reo and of the newcomer. "And if he has something wrong with him, I hope it's not too late to get rid of him."

If I sense any danger from him to Caesar, Reo thought comfortingly himself, I'll kill him myself.

"Do it, Cory," he said tiredly. But Cory seemed not to need his consent, he just turned towards the infirmary carrying the boy in his arms.

Reo met Stacey's burning stare as the man moved after Cory.

"Don't try to stop me. I warn you. I appreciate that you left us alive but ..."

Gorn shrugged; his eyes followed his son's back intently. Reo fished out a cigarette and put it to his mouth, suddenly feeling that he couldn't bear a moment longer without smoking. The flash of a match was short and dull in the misty air of dawn.

* * *

The big young man with childish face placed Kai on the table in the middle of a shabby, sharp-smelling room. If not for the smell, it wouldn't look like an infirmary at all, Stacey thought; not like a modern infirmary, anyway. This kind of glass cavities and instruments he'd seen only in old movies. But everything seemed to be worn out on the planet.

A man looked startling; tall, imposing, with long, pure white hair caught in a loose ponytail. His eyebrows and eyelashes were white as well but, strangely, it didn't make his gaze less expressive. He could've been called an albino, Stacey thought, if not for the brightest blue eyes of his - a glance of them made Stacey feel uncomfortable. The man emanated power; even his swift movements, despite a limp, were full of strength.

Stacey watched him touch Kai's forehead briefly, raise Kai's eyelids.

"It's not plague. If it were, he would be already dead - and everyone of you as well." The doctor's voice was husky, full of authority, reminding Stacey unexpectedly how Victor's voice sounded sometimes. The memory still hurt, Stacey expelled it quickly. "Do you even think before you allow strangers on the planet, Governor Gorn?"

"It was your brother's doing," the man muttered grimly. The doctor's eyes stopped on the guy Stacey had talked on the comm with. His brother? They couldn't look any more different. The young man, whip-like thin, had black hair and pitch-black eyes. Dressed in tight-skin leather, he had a silk scarf on his smooth hair and his face had a mixed expression of stubbornness and apprehension.

"How could I prevent them?"

The doc didn't say anything but irony in his eyes was scathing.

"How could you ... Isn't it what you always say, Reo? Now step aside and let me see the patient."

Stacey rushed forward, met the doctor's glare and didn't look away. It would take more than a glare to stop him.

"Go away," the man growled.

" Go away?" Stacey imitated the doc's voice. "Who are you to order me? If you are a doctor, then you can look - but make the others go away."

The man looked at him with the same curiosity some rare insect might deserve. Not that Stacey cared.

"No," Gorn said. "He's dangerous."

"Which one of them?" the doctor asked; there was as little civility in his voice as he talked to Gorn as when he talked to Stacey.

"I won't leave you, Caesar," Reo said.

"Shut up!" the doctor cut them all short. "Get lost! You all!"

"I'll stay ..." Stacey started.

"You all go!"

"You won't do anything, just examine him, promise me."

"I won't do anything," Caesar said.

Stacey gave in; he shouldn't have trusted the man - there was no reason for him to trust a doctor, any doctor. But hope was such a stupid thing, it kicked in at the most unsuitable moments.

If he tries something, I'll yank my blaster from Gorn and ...

They walked out to the corridor where Reo occupied the place at the small barred window, put his chin on his palm. He looked unhappy and tired - and Gorn eyed them all with open disdain, walking around the place.

"If you got any trouble on our heads, you freak ..." For some reason Gorn seemed to be angrier with Reo than with Stacey.

Reo shrugged without answering. Gorn took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. The smell made Stacey light-headed; he'd run out of his supply two weeks ago. He saw Reo pat himself as if looking for cigarettes as well and then wave his hand hopelessly.

Listening to any sound coming from the infirmary, Stacey didn't know whether silence bothered him more. He felt Reo's gaze; the guy stopped looking at the window and watched him.

"If you ..." they started in one voice - and suddenly Stacey understood the absurdness of those threats. He looked at Reo and thought he read the same thought in Reo's jet-black eyes.

He said quietly:

"We don't mean any harm to you."

"Mein." A hand was given to Stacey. "My name is Reo Mein."

"Call me Stacey. If you want, that is."

"Look at that!" Gorn hissed behind him. "They already became buddies. Maybe, you had long-termed plans when you let them land on our planet, you bastard? Maybe, he's another inhuman spawn just like you're?"

"And this is our Governor," Reo said quickly. "And the big guy is Cory, he's mute."

Cory smiled at them; his face with wide grey eyes was sweet but something was not quite right in it. A mental disease ... strange, Stacey thought such kids were either cured or sent to special places ...

"My son may be mute but he's human," Gorn said. "Unlike you, Mein."

Reo didn't answer.

"Some day I'll find out what's wrong with you," Gorn continued.

Reo suddenly was on his feet, his feigned composure gone.

"Yeah, come and find out! Visit me tonight, we'll look together. Maybe, there's nothing wrong? Maybe, you'll be pleasantly surprised?"

Stacey saw Gorn get pale.

"You live here out of mercy, Mein, don't forget it. If not for your brother ..."

The door opened and Caesar was on the threshold, looking above their heads.

"You." Finally he glanced at Stacey. "Come in."

Stacey felt both relief and anxiety. Relief because the waiting was over - and anxiety because ... because Stacey didn't have heart to go through the explanations, questions and all that - once again, with one more doctor.

Kai lay on the table, as before, but covered with a blanket now. His clothes heaped on the floor and the thought of anyone seeing Kai naked made Stacey grind his teeth. He hated Caesar at the moment, Caesar with his grand manners and flowing white hair. It made Stacey sick to think that Caesar touched Kai's body - even to examine it - had seen Kai's state - protruding bones of his pelvis, the bulge of his abdomen, located high, almost under the solar plexus, the ugly trace of a scar from the surgery that hadn't worked ...

"What species does he carry?" Caesar asked.

Stacey looked at him, shocked mute. He expected the man not to be able to figure out the truth or accept it - as it had happened before ...

"Heles," he said.

"I didn't know they normally used humans as incubators. I thought they found it too expensive and complicated."

He stared at the doctor in anguish and irritation.

"I don't care shit what they normally do. All I know is this thing is inside him. And ... it's killing him."

He had another fit of hatred towards Caesar as the man said, as indifferently as before:

"No, it doesn't. Or it does unintentionally. The foetus still needs the incubator to develop. It must have worsened after the attempt of abortion?"

"Yes," Stacey whispered.

The surgery had nearly killed Kai. They had found a man, a doctor, who undertook to remove the foetus, in a clinic in the 'free' zone - and without reporting to the authorities. It cost astronomically; they had sold the mender, almost all automatics from the shuttle, leaving just a bare corpus of it.

But as soon as the surgery started, the foetus injected poison. Kai needed full transfusion - and it cost more money than they had. Stacey didn't want to think what he had to do to earn it; he hated doing two things in his life - fuck for gain and kill. Killing for money paid better ... just one man but enough to remember.

The thing that angered him most was that the doc had apparently known it would end up like this.

"So, sue me for that."

Stacey couldn't, of course. He could've killed the man ... should have killed him if he had known then how bad it would turn out for Kai.

"No wonder," Caesar said. "The foetus went into a self-protective mode. Judging on the state of your friend, I don't think he'll be able to carry the child till the right time."

"What will happen?" But somehow Stacey knew the answer even before he heard it.

"The foetus would provoke premature labors to get out of the incubator's dying body. I don't think your friend will survive it. How many months?"

"Four," Stacey said with numb lips.

"Then in two months maximum."

Stacey wanted to scream. He suddenly stopped hearing anything but the noise of blood in his ears, stopped feeling how his teeth cut his lip. He should have known it would happen ... Kai would die ...

"Why did he leave Heles?" Caesar continued indifferently. "If he stayed with them, they would take care of him: special climate, IV nourishment ... He probably throws up all he eats? The foetus makes him reject food. Then he needs rest and, on later stages, because of the pressure of the foetus on his diaphragm, he'll probably need oxygen equipment. And of course, they would never allow that stupid attempt of abortion ..."

"Shut up!" Stacey thought he yelled it but there was almost no sound at all in his voice. Caesar stopped talking and looked at him.

"You're bleeding."


"Wipe your face." He handed Stacey a tissue. Stacey wiped the trickle of blood and crumpled the soft cloth.

"I should have ... Fuck, I should have ..."

Should have let him die when Kai himself had chosen it, right after the escape from Nostromo ... There wouldn't be so much pain then at least.

Stacey knew suddenly what to do, and his agitation passed. It was his fault that he'd made Kai go through all that - but now he'd correct the mistake. He knew it was what Kai wanted - only his promise to Stacey kept him alive. They would do it together, holding each other ... Kai did always like Stacey to hold him.

"Back!" Caesar snapped his fingers in front of Stacey's nose. "Get back and don't make such a desperate face that I can read every thought in your empty head." He rapped his knuckles against Stacey's forehead; Stacey started away. "He'll die - right - if he doesn't get proper care."

"Kai won't go back to the Heles," Stacey said levelly. "It is not my decision, he told me that." He told me that with lips white with pain - and that he'd never been happier, that being with me was all he dreamed about, that he regretted nothing ... "You think it was a mistake to take him away from Heles. But sometimes life is worse than death," Stacey finished defiantly.

Caesar looked at him as if Stacey was a puppy who made a pool on a carpet.

"You don't want to go back to Heles? The truth is, I wonder how they let you go at all; they're probably getting crazy now over their missing child."

The father of the child is dead, Stacey thought; the mother, Minerva ...

"In any case, I can try ..." Caesar started and stopped, his bright eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "The state of medicine in this place is outrageous but I guess I'll be able to get him back to normal state - and get him through till the point of normal labors."

Stacey took a hitching breath.

"You can save him?"

"I could. If he stayed here."

"What does it depend on? If money - I'll find it, trust me, I'll find as much as necessary ..." He felt Caesar's derisive stare; the man had probably heard about the state of their ship, that Stacey couldn't even leave the planet so far. "I'll do it," he repeated, then another thought struck him. "You're afraid of Heles? But they didn't find us so far, they probably don't even look for - and even if they do, the colony is so tiny ..."

And their presence there was possibly a threat. Stacey had promised not to be a danger for the colony ... He felt so tired, so trapped.

"I'm not afraid of anyone," Caesar said evenly.

"Then will you help Kai?" He didn't know what else to say to convince the man, what words to find. A memory from his childhood came to him, the way the elder boys in the orphanage wanted to be addressed. Stacey slipped down on his knees and pressed his lips to Caesar's boot.

"Stop it, get up immediately!" Caesar's disdainful voice was too loud - and suddenly the door flew open and Reo was there.

"Get away from my brother!"

Stacey looked back at him, suddenly struck with absurdity of the situation. His lips started curving in a smile - and then tears ran from his eyes. He hadn't cried for ages; even at the moments when he wished he could cry; and now crying hurt. He blinked tears away and new ones came, and he saw through the blur how Reo looked from him to Caesar and back.

"What is it all about?"

For a few seconds Caesar was silent. Stacey couldn't see his face.

"Is Gorn here?" Caesar asked suddenly. "I want to talk to him about the Board."

"Left," Reo shrugged.

"I want the Board to let them stay in the colony." Caesar didn't look at Stacey any more, walked to the table and started digging through his instruments. "If you're going to stay kneeling, at least get out of my way."

"Sorry ... Thank you, sir ..." Stacey's voice sounded too hoarse. He flushed, got up on his feet quickly and reeled, suddenly dizzy. Reo steadied him.

"I don't have time for you, so, don't you dare to pass out," Caesar said filling a syringe. Stacey watched him come up to Kai and shook off Reo's supporting hand, grabbed Caesar's wrist.

"What are you going to give him?"

Caesar freed from him disdainfully.

"Painkillers. Soporific. Cardiostimulator."

"No drugs. You'll get him addicted, genetics get addicted instantly ..."

"I know." It looked like Caesar made a huge exclusion, answering him. "He needs rest. And I need time to prepare the nourishing solution, the one that the foetus will accept."

Stacey saw Reo's head jerk as if he was struck. A word from him and I'll slam my fist into his mouth, Stacey thought. He looked at Reo darkly until he was sure the guy understood him. Reo's eyes were wide but he kept silent.

"Is Cory still there?" Caesar asked.

"Yeah," Reo walked to the door and looked out, made a sign.

"I want you to put him on the bed in the next room," Caesar said to the giant and poined at Kai. There was no need to involve someone else, Stacey wanted to rebel, but of course there was. He wouldn't be able to raise Kai in his arms.

He watched how Cory picked up Kai carefully. The next room was a tiny one, with just a narrow bed and a small table near the window. Cory placed Kai on the bed and quickly rearranged the blanket around him. It was a gesture that looked strangely gentle for such a giant. Stacey walked up and sat on the very edge of the bed.

"I'll ask for the Board to gather in the morning," Caesar said. "And now let's get some rest. I wonder where you'll spend the night ..." He looked at Stacey.

"He can ... in my room," Reo suggested quietly.

"I'll stay here."

"Where? There is no bed."

"I'll stay here," Stacey repeated stubbornly.

"Whatever." Caesar turned away and walked to the door. Reo's black eyes gave Stacey one last look as he and Cory walked out, too.

Finally alone ... Stacey felt so worn out suddenly, so weak that he swayed. The hope was tremendous, was almost as exhausting as the uncertainty. He realized he still cried unconsciously, took a tissue from the box on the table and wiped his face and blew his nose.

Kai looked peaceful; his face smoothened, even his lips were a bit colored. Last days, neither of them slept - and before that Kai didn't sleep much as well. Stacey recalled those nights when he woke up in the empty bed and walked out to find Kai pacing around the room, huddling.

"Just couldn't sleep, thought I'd walk a little."

But Stacey knew Kai did it not to bother him with his convulsive movements as pain came.

He found Kai's hand under the blanket and squeezed it. There were lots of things he wanted to say - but he never could, as if there was a seal on his lips. Just like he could never say them to Victor until it was too late. He didn't want to believe it was too late with Kai.

"Please don't leave me," he whispered. "You're the only one I have."

He brushed his lips against Kai's forehead. A small memory came to him, of his own mother doing it, a memory he should have thanked Victor for since before the memory block Stacey had never remembered his parents at all. Then he lay on the floor and curled on his side, his arm for a pillow. He already drifted away to sleep when the door opened.

"Shh, quiet." It was Reo's voice - and then something soft landed onto Stacey. "If you want to sleep here, take those."

A blanket and a pillow. Stacey muttered thanks and snuggled into a soft warm nest.

* * *

His clothes looked exactly as they should have after he'd slept in them. Reo watched how Stacey Radek ran the fingers through the strands of his hair trying to tidy them. Curiously, the redhead looked much better than last night, Reo thought. There still was that painfully tense look but at least he didn't look like he was going to pass out any moment.

"Is it normal that he sleeps so much?" Stacey looked up at Caesar, casting short glances at his friend in bed. If Caesar looked like this at me, Reo thought, I would feel like the most miserable creature in the world. Well, Caesar did look like this at Reo most of the time. But Stacey had this cocky demeanor that Reo almost envied.

"It depends on what you consider normal and what you consider much. I gather he didn't sleep a lot during last time?"

Stacey looked as if he was slapped - as if there was his fault in everything that happened.

Guilt trips ... it was familiar.

"The Board waits for you at nine," Caesar said. "I've talked to Gorn and others and they heeded to my point of view."

Reo looked at him with adoration; when had Caesar found the time for it, with Reo himself and Stacey only getting up. But of course Caesar never stopped amazing him.

"I hope my expressed wish for you to stay on the planet will be enough. In any case, don't fuck up too badly on the Board. Reo, you'll go, too. The Governor said he wanted to talk to you about something."

Oh, he could imagine what Gorn would talk about.

"Thank you, sir," Stacey said quietly. "Thank you for everything you do for us."

"Reo," Caesar stopped him on the threshold. "Take a shot."

He pulled his jacket off his shoulder and winced at the injection.

"Now go."

Reo had known they would have to wait. Stacey paced nervously along the corridor.

"You think they talk about us?"

"Perhaps. Or just chew the same old things." Or simply play on our nerves, Reo wanted to add but didn't.

He didn't like the Board and they didn't like him as well. Reo sometimes scolded himself for it, for F-400 was the only place that had ever given the shelter to Caesar and him. But it was so difficult to like people who suspected him of being an abomination.

Even if he was an abomination.

He barely remembered his life till Caesar, till the escape. A glass wall - and loneliness, despite the eyes that watched him almost all the time. Then Caesar appeared, big, strong and warm - and took him away from the cage - and Reo's life became centered around Caesar since then.

Even when Reo was too little to understand anything else, he still understood how much Caesar sacrificed for him. So much that they wound up on this tiny planet, a dirt-poor colony so far on the backyard of the Empire that even statisticians seemed not to remember it.

The colony on F-400 had started thirty years ago by one of simplistic sects. There had never been any gifts of civilization - but by the time Caesar appeared there, the planet was dying.

The water and the soil had some spores in it - the tests the sectarians had made before landing hadn't shown it or people considered it insignificant. The danger was not noticeable at first, worked its way into the blood slowly. When Caesar arrived, half of the colonists were brain-damaged.

He'd saved them, stopped the process or even reversed it - and every time Reo thought about it, his heart filled with pride. Only Caesar could do it.

The only thing that neither Caesar nor anyone else could do for the colony - was to save their children from pathologies. Pregnancies were rare and ended in childbirth even rarer - and of all children only Cory Gorn managed to survive.

And Cory was the only inhabitant of this planet, apart from Caesar, for whom Reo cared. It was a little funny, wasn't it - to live most part of his life in the place where he liked almost no one? But as long as Caesar was with him, Reo didn't care.

"You'll have to learn how to live without me," he recalled Caesar's words - and again, as on the day when he'd heard them first, they hurt. "I didn't save you to have you die at my feet."

The memory got him agitated; he reached for a new pack of cigarettes, lit one, narrowing his eyes against smoke - and caught a convulsive movement of Stacey who didn't look at him too deliberately.

"Want some?"

"Yeah. Thanks." Stacey's rough-tipped fingers brushed over Reo's hand as he fished out a cigarette and leaned towards Reo for a light.

Sudden closeness was awkward, made Reo feel uneasy, despite the recent injection he'd got from Caesar. Stacey's eyes shone bright-green through the veil of reddish hair.

His eyes are beautiful, Reo thought; different from Caesar's but beautiful nevertheless. It felt strange to think that - before now Reo had never thought beautiful about anyone but Caesar. It must have been hormones ...

Stacey straightened and let a cloud of smoke out.

"Do you think there is something that can make them take the decision in our favor?" he asked.

"If not Caesar's words, then I don't know what."

"They respect him, don't they?"

"He saved their lives. He's a genius, you know. He has such a brain, I can't believe how it works!" Reo was getting agitated again and knew it but couldn't stop. "He was a star. He was seventeen when he became a member of Supreme Academy, eighteen when he got the Interracial Award in Medicine ..."

Twenty when they took him to the station - twenty-three when he escaped it with Reo ...

These things Reo didn't say. He stopped and waited for Stacey's question why this genius had wound up on a planet like F-400.

"He's very stern with you," Stacey said. Reo gasped; it was not what he expected.

"He has the right," he said finally. "I owe him. He ruined his life for me."

At last they were told to come in. Reo had been on the Boards before, called up for different misdemeanors. Caesar had told Gorn once that his brother should be treated without any indulgence. Gorn was happy to oblige, of course.

The table was oval, quite long, with a lot of places empty, and Reo knew which ones, knew who'd died in last months in the colony. People died on F-400 but no new people came - before last night, that is. Stacey stopped in front of the table, with his hands behind his back - a gesture that Reo found strangely submissive; but Gorn might've liked it.

It was Reo they dealt with first, though.

"So, you bring strangers over our heads into the colony - and then you and your brother want them to stay?"

Now he was bringing strangers; Reo barely kept from snorting. It was better to keep Gorn in the good mood if they wanted to convince him to let Stacey and Kai stay.

Did Reo want them to stay? Caesar had made this decision and it was enough. But the truth was Reo understood suddenly he wanted it as well. He didn't want the pregnant boy, Stacey's companion, to suffer - and only Caesar could help him. Only Caesar, maybe, in the whole Empire.

"I don't know what you think you are doing," Gorn continued, obviously happy he had a chance to lecture Reo all he wanted. "But of course, why would you feel any responsibility before the colony, a person without roots as you are, a creature that cannot be even called human."

He wondered if Caesar knew what they told him on the Board, Caesar who never got tired of repeating him:

"You're human, remember that."

"You understand, Mein, it's for your own good I say and do it," Gorn went on. "Your behavior cannot go unpunished."

"Yes, sir," he whispered. He felt Stacey's small movement next to him.

"Your ration will be decreased to a half for one month," Gorn declared. "And of course we cannot trust you the duty to watch for the arriving ships any more."

That sucked. No more additional cigarettes.

"And if the newcomers stay, the other one - he cannot work. What will he be getting his ration for?" one of the men asked. It was Jones, one of those whose mind had suffered particularly badly before Caesar's arrival. But now Reo was thankful to him: he made it sound like the idea of letting them stay was not completely opposed. Gorn glared at the man.

"I'll earn it," Stacey said quickly.

"As far as I understand, young man," Jones said arrogantly, "you'll have handfuls of earning your own ration. Don't think anything is given for free on our planet. Everyone has to work."

"Nothing is decided yet," Gorn interrupted.

"Caesar said," Reo interfered, "that Kai wouldn't need a ration, at least for a while. He would be fed IV so far."

"And do you think it costs nothing?" Gorn asked sharply. "And medicines? And care? And the doctor's time that he will spend on a stranger, skipping other patients? If the newcomer needs it all - I don't even mention that I still didn't understand what exactly his illness is like but I never understand our respected doctor's explanations ..."

"I'll pay it all, I promise. I can sign any agreement you want ..." Stacey said.

"An agreement with someone whose name we don't know?" Gorn hissed.

"Why, you know my name ..." Stacey stopped abruptly. Apparently it was not the name one would give a guarantee for.

"The shuttle," Reo said suddenly.

"What?" Even Gorn looked at him with interest.

"He'll give the colony his shuttle."

He glanced at Stacey wondering if he was going to argue. But he didn't.

"The shuttle is worthless," Gorn said.

"No, it isn't. It can be repaired."

"I can repair it," Stacey said. "I'll repair it and give it to the colony as a payment for your hospitality."

A shuttle; the colony never had their own transport.

"It's an interesting suggestion ..." Jones said.

"You'll repair it in your free time, for the ration you'll have to work separately," Gorn said. "And if you ever turn to be a danger for the colony, you'll leave immediately."

"Thank you," Stacey said quietly. "We appreciate your kindness."

On the way back to the infirmary, Stacey thanked Reo again - and now he really meant it.

How he cares for his friend, Reo thought suddenly, how he must have worried for him. He, Reo, cared and worried for Caesar. But Caesar never wanted him to care.

"Will you be able to repair the shuttle - as you said to them?"

"Yeah," Stacey smiled. "I'm good with technical things. I just wonder how we're supposed to leave immediately if they take away the shuttle," he said and giggled. They both laughed.

"I'm sorry you got punished because of us." Stacey's eyes got serious again.

"Never mind," Reo shrugged. "If not for you, it would happen for some other reason."

"What if we share the rations? I mean I'm going to earn something, right? I'll give you some of mine so that ..."

"Forget it." Then a thought came to his mind. "By the way, where are you going to live? Kai stays in the infirmary ..."

"I'd like to be somewhere near."

"Sleep on the floor at his bed? Look, what if I ask Caesar, maybe, you can stay at our place. We live at the infirmary and we have spare room, it's not big but ..."

"I would love to." Stacey stopped and Reo saw again his glimmering green eyes. "I hope Caesar will allow it."

Caesar did; in fact, it seemed to Reo that he'd decided it even before Reo asked anything. Caesar looked ... contented, Reo thought watching him move around the infirmary, his movements so swift despite the limp.

"Glad it turned well," he murmured as Stacey told him about the results. "I thought that idiot of my brother would mess it up somehow."

Did Caesar really need to say the last words? Reo felt the exhilaration drain out of him - and saw how Stacey turned to them abruptly.

"You're mistaken, sir. It was Reo who saved the situation."

It was crazy - to argue with Caesar ... Reo watched how Caesar stopped and looked down at Stacey. No one could stand Caesar's stare if he looked like this, Reo knew it - and he knew Caesar knew it as well. Stacey stood it, at the expense of a bitten lip as Reo noticed.

"So, you think he did good?" Caesar said derisively. "Interesting. Now go to your friend, he's awake."

Stacey made a choking sound and rushed out. Almost involuntarily, Reo made a few steps after him. Through the open door he could see the boy, Kai, who sat in the bed, leaning against pillows - and Stacey who stopped a little distance away from him, as if he'd stumbled. Stacey's hands clasped on each other tightly.

"You look better," Stacey said finally.

"I'm all right." The boy looked at Stacey, smiling - a radiant smile that made his eyes turn light-brown, almost golden. Reo felt ache in his chest suddenly.

"Stop peeping." Caesar's light figure moved past him and the door closed. "Seeing others' intimacy won't do you any good."

The lines on the cracked surface of the door started blurring in front of Reo's eyes.

"I know," he whispered. "No need to repeat it. I know."

* * *

Her memory was shattered. Through the shroud of dull white, colored pieces seemed unconnected, ludicrous - and, for some reason, scary. Being scared was an unusual feeling for her, somehow she knew it, no matter what happened. Something bad happened ... Flashes of fire, dying compatriots with their tentacles convulsing in agony ... someone she had to chase ... something she lost. This alone wouldn't be enough to frighten her; it was rather the emptiness of her mind that she didn't like.

There was no pain - just this whiteness - and the anguish of something she couldn't define.

Then the things started getting together. She was a Heles; female; an Officer; name Minerva. And the whiteness she kept seeing was the high ceiling above her.

She was in a bed, in a spacious room with more beds around. She couldn't quite see who was in them, her vision still didn't work well, but the shapes seemed motionless; just as she'd been motionless for a long while - somehow Minerva knew it. She heard soft beeps of the machine connected to her body. A hospital; she didn't hurt but she felt very weak. And she didn't remember how she got there.

She didn't finish the thought, fell into sleep or unconsciousness again - and when Minerva opened her eyes next, there was a small figure of a nurse at her bed. A human ... Hatred flooded her, unexplainable; the wish to slam her tentacles against the frail figure, shatter it in pieces, was overwhelming. She would do it if she wasn't so weak. Wait ... A human ... Humans never served in Heles hospitals. Was Minerva captured?

She thrashed, touched her throat, realized the voice modulator was gone. For some reason it made her feel naked, unprotected in front of the enemy.

"You bitch, what are you doing here?" she screeched in Heles, knowing that the nurse wouldn't understand her.

The small figure turned. Big blue eyes looked at Minerva without surprise.

"Please don't worry, ma'am. You're safe here."

Her Heles was accented but understandable; and now Minerva could see small chitinous limbs pressed to the nurse's front. She'd never seen a creature like this. A hybrid ... half-human, half-Tsatos ... Minerva closed her eyes fighting sickness. Who could create such an abomination? What was this place she was in?

But a part of her knew it even before the nurse said:

"The station of Voices, ma'am. You've been comatose for over than four months, after the catastrophe. We weren't sure you would come round, after all."

A catastrophe ... She started to remembe. Nostromo was self-destructing ... But she was not on the ship at that moment, she was ... very near ...

"The crew," she asked. "Was anyone rescued?"

The hybrid's enamel-blue eyes widened.

"Of course. As far as I know, there were quite a few casualties. You were in danger because you got under the blast - others got off much easier."

But Vulcan was dead, she thought. She hadn't loved her partner and yet she felt sad.

Why did she get under the blast? Her place had been on the bridge at a moment like this, right? But there was something important, something that still stayed in the white field of her brain.

"You were wounded badly," the nurse said with strange disappointment. "A little more and you would join our project as well."

What was it supposed to mean? Minerva didn't know and didn't have time to ask. The nurse turned away.

"Your supervisor will talk to you later."

Later was in two or three days when Minerva finally could get on her feet. She grew better at magnificent speed; soon only her tentacles felt rubbery and soft from the long immobility but she started training and hoped it would work out soon.

The station of Voices ... She'd heard about it; wasn't it Uranus who told her it was the place where his life had been saved? Sometimes it seemed to her that the old bastard - well, not lied, of course - but, maybe, erred. She'd never heard a Voice before - they probably didn't consider her important enough to talk to her.

"The Voices are nothing but a projection of supreme mind. They are nowhere and everywhere. They give us intelligence that comes without origin. They decide the fates of every race and of the universe."

Wasn't it what Uranus used to say?

She was in a gym, exercising; the station had wonderful facilities and so much place that if one wanted to escape the presence of all those species around - humans, Heles, hybrids and others - it was easy to do.

"Soon you'll be in perfect form, Officer."

It nearly made her drop the weights. The gym was completely empty and the words sounded right next to her. She calmed down quickly; she should have expected something like this, right?

"We are pleased that your treatment turned out successful."

The Voice was soft, sexless, feeling like a breeze as it fluctuated around her, first from one side, then from the other. It made her skin crawl, Minerva couldn't help admitting it. But, maybe, it was what the Voice wanted - to impress her.

"Thank you." She raised the weights again. "And why are you so pleased? What is one life in comparison with the fate of the universe?"

The Voice laughed; she felt stupid talking to the air but the hell she was going to show it.

"You think we shouldn't measure by such small categories? You're not right. Even one life can change future."

"You mean me?"

"Does it surprise you, Officer?"

"My mother always told me I was going to be a princess," she muttered. The Voice laughed again. If hearing it talking was unpleasant, its laughter Minerva liked even less.

"You're a part of our big family all over the universe now, Officer. Our child. Our creation. We care for you."

Child ... There was something she couldn't recall ...

"When am I going away?" she asked. Did she have anywhere to go? "My ship ..."

"There is Nostromo II," the Voice said. "And there is a place for you, Officer. You can join it whenever you want. Unless ..."

She knew it; there was a catch.

"Unless what?"

"While you were in coma, the parameters of your brain were scanned - and it would be very convenient for us if you stayed and participated in our project."

The nurse mentioned some project as well, Minerva remembered. She decided to keep silent for a while.

"So far we used the tissues of dead or dying species," the Voice continued. "Now we want to transfer the mind ..."

"I'm not dead or dying!" Minerva said angrily.


"And my mind," she pressed the tentacle to her head, "is my own."

"You misunderstand, Officer. No one threats you. We never perform any crime against a personality. On the contrary, this kind of crimes we consider the most outrageous. That's why we don't think that humans, or Heles, or Tsatos will be able to inherit the power in the universe. All the species stained themselves by participating in murders. That's why we're seeking crossways for stability."

"Hybrids. Freaks."

"Not only hybrids. Physical compatibility can be achieved quite easily. But psychological one ..."

Physical compatibility ... It reminded her of something, she couldn't pin what. A human ... she quite fancied him ... pleasant to touch, to hold ... she wanted him to belong to her ...

"The explosion of Nostromo gave us the most curious material to work with," the Voice said.

"Shut up." Minerva's tentacles coiled and uncoiled as if she tried to grope for something she couldn't remember. She had been chasing a human when Nostromo blew up. Why ... did she care so much for him?

The baby! Her baby! Suddenly it slammed into her memory. The human incubator carried her child! And he escaped - his accomplice killed Vulcan in the process. She threw the weights down.

"I need a shuttle. I want to leave the station immediately."

"We want you to see the results of our latest project," the Voice continued placidly, as if not hearing her.

"I want to leave now!"

"Your mind could become a part of this project as well. But now you can start another project ..."

"Give me a shuttle!" She tossed the weight, caught the illuminated surface on the ceiling and was showered with splinters. The Voice stopped talking. Minerva shook off the slivers and walked out.

She was not in prison here, right? She could leave. What the hell did the fuckin' nurse say about her being comatose for ... four months? The damned humans had quite a start over her. But she'd find them all the same ... and her baby ... Don't let them dare to do something with it! It was able to protect itself, of course, but ...

Damn the humans! When everything was over, Minerva would tear off their limbs one by one and then rip their hearts out. Stupid incubator ... She would've taken such a good care of him. He would need nothing else ... But she'd return what belonged to her. Minerva promised it.

There was a plan on the wall, in different languages, and she found the shuttle area effortlessly. The creatures she met on her way didn't pay any attention to her. Some of them talked, she noticed it now - even though there was no one near. She didn't care. She wanted to leave.

Disappointment was harsh - the area was locked. Minerva slammed her tentacles against the door but it didn't give in. She needed some weapon ... only she hadn't seen anyone armed yet and didn't know if there was a possibility to get weapons.

"Fuck you!" she screamed in fury. "I want to leave! You have no right to hold me here!"

The Voice didn't answer.

A few species looked at her. She could ... She threw her tentacles towards a frail Tsatos, grabbed and drew the insect-like figure closer to herself. The waist of the creature, even though covered with chitin, was so thin Minerva could break it like a stick.

"Let me go or I'll kill this bitch!"

"Don't demonstrate aggressive behavior." The Voice nearly made her jump. Here it was again. "Let the species go or you will be disabled."

"Open the shuttle area," she hissed and pressed to the wall. Let them try!

Tsatos in her grip was so slim she was afraid to break it inadvertently. She unclasped the tentacles a little ... and suddenly sharp fangs pierced her skin. Pain blazed through her body. Minerva tried to scream but for some reason no sound came. She wanted to crush the Tsatos, the creature who managed to hurt her like this - and couldn't move at all.

She collapsed on the floor and saw the Tsatos withdraw the fangs to the cavity on its belly.

It killed me, Minerva thought; she'd forgotten about the danger of Tsatos, their poisonous fangs ... She was going to die; she wouldn't find her baby.

Species chattered around her but she didn't understand them any more. The last thing Minerva heard was the soft disembodied voice whisper over her.

"We'll talk later, Officer. We'll talk."

* * *

He walked ankle deep in violet blood. The bodies around him were dead or dying - huge bulks of shiny grey - and their tentacles, coiling in agony, showed pinkish suckers on the underside. They reached for him and he shot and fresh blood spattered around.

He thought he was free from Heles - after Victor had blown up Nostromo and himself with it. But here they were again. Stacey felt sick - with the smell of burnt flesh and with overwhelming grey flesh. He also felt sorrow; because he knew something was wrong: he'd done something wrong - and there was no chance to repair it.

Then tentacles, alive and powerful, swirled around him, caught him - and he felt them tighten, crush his ribs. He screamed - and woke up, his mouth dry and raw.

Yellowish light fell into the room through the small window. The shadows on the floor were oblong and still, looking like dead limbs. Maybe, they were a reason for his dream, Stacey thought. It was comforting to find an objective reason for his nightmare, for a change.

If only he didn't have that feeling of utter helplessness linger in him. Shadows and memories - it was all about that, wasn't it? And if he repeated it enough times, he could almost believe in it. Dang; he was getting superstitious. What a fool.

Stacey turned on his belly and tried to sleep; tomorrow he had to wake up monstrously early. But sleep didn't come; Stacey turned again, pulled on his hair and looked at the ceiling.

There was no reason to worry; actually, things were looking up, for the first time in last months. It was three weeks since he and Kai landed on F-400 and almost everything seemed to go okay.

Stacey worked his day shift on a building site - and it the evening, with Cory's and, occasionally, Reo's help, tinkered with the shuttle. Kai stayed in the infirmary - Caesar wanted him to lie in bed as much as possible but Kai apparently didn't always obey.

Kai really was so much better that Stacey almost was afraid to believe it. What Caesar had done was nearly a miracle ... Stacey would pray for the man if he knew how. The only thing that caused Stacey's discontent was that Caesar had forbidden him to sleep in Kai's room.

"You want him to get normal rest, don't you?"

And Caesar was right, of course - since Stacey was a terribly unquiet sleeper. Besides, it was unfair to hope to alleviate Stacey's nightmares at the expense of being able to touch Kai's sleepy body when needed.

He just missed Kai.

He got up, pretending he just needed to take a leak. The corridor was dark and very quiet and the door to Kai's room was opened slightly. Stacey couldn't resist, pushed it.

Light and shadows fell over Kai's face as he half-sat propped against the pillows - the position made the pressure on his midriff easier. In the last weeks, the deformation of Kai's body became more noticeable, visible even with the blanket pulled up till his chin, and Stacey clenched his teeth thinking about it; there was nothing they could do, just wait, of course. But it hurt to see the kid in this state ... to know it was Stacey's fault he'd been too late then, on Nostromo.

Stacey bit his lip. Kai still looked too frail, too ill. His lips were almost colorless and his eyelashes looked too heavy, too dark for the pale face. Kai's eyelids trembled slightly - and then he looked at Stacey.

Ouch; he must have felt Stacey's gaze ... Guilty, Stacey turned away - and heard Kai's whisper:


"Ugh ... I'm sorry for waking you."

"I didn't sleep."

"Why?" It worried him immediately. "Does it hurt?"


"Why then?"

"I just ..." Kai gave him one of his brief, luminous smiles. "I just missed you. It's silly?"

"Not at all." He felt the same ... Stacey hovered on the threshold. "Would you like me to ... if you don't sleep all the same ... would you like me to sit with you?"

"But you have to work early tomorrow!"

"Never mind."

He saw relief in Kai's gaze and walked up to the bed, sat on the edge. The kid looked so quietly happy that Stacey felt somehow peevish with Caesar; it really wouldn't harm Kai all that much if they could sleep in the same room ... Caesar just liked wielding power.

"It'll be okay," Stacey whispered. "You know Caesar will do everything that is needed. And it's already just three months left. We can go through it, can't we?"

The kid nodded seriously, eagerly. Perhaps 'we' was not a good word, it was Kai who had to go through it - but Stacey saw how Kai's eyes shone at this word. He reached for the kid's hand under the blanket and squeezed it. It was ice-cold.

He's still cold ...

Raising Kai's hand to his mouth to warm it up, Stacey repeated:

"It'll be okay."

"I know. I always knew you'd find a safe place for us."

He knew it ... Even after Stacey had failed him on Nostromo? Even when Stacey's choice caused him months of pain? Even when the attempted abortion in the 'free' zone nearly killed him?

Stacey shook his head; there was nothing he'd done for this trust.

He let Kai's hand go, involuntarily, and suddenly noticed a flash of sadness in the kid's eyes.

"Is something wrong?" He saw Kai shook his head. "I know something is. Like Caesar says: 'You think so loudly'."

It made Kai chuckle; his white hand was curled on the blanket and the kid looked at it.

"You're disgusted to touch me, don't you?"


"Yes. Because of the Heles inside me."

It was so unexpected it took Stacey a few moments to put it all together. He took Kai's hand again.

"Have I ever make you think so?"

The expression in the kid's eyes, raised at him, was heartbreaking.

"How can you not be? Heles are to blame in your beloved's death. He died and I ... I carry one of them."

Victor's death was Heles' doing; or Stacey's doing ... not Kai's, in no way.

"I wish I could be clean for you," Kai whispered with sudden intensity as his hand clenched on Stacey's almost painfully. "I wish I didn't have this thing in me. I wish I didn't have my past, wasn't what I am. If I could be clean for you, could serve you ... But I'll never be clean again, I can never give you what you deserve, Stacey, my master ..."

"You are clean." He couldn't listen to it ... "You can never be unclean to me. You're one of the cleanest persons I've met," Stacey added and knew suddenly that it was true.

He leaned forward, pressed his forehead to Kai's as his fingers plaited through the kid's hair - and felt Kai reach towards him immediately, unthinkingly. The kid's frail body was hot in his arms, Kai's arms clasped tightly around him. Stacey pulled him closer. Now Kai's head was pressed to his collarbone. He ran his palm over Kai's back, over the wing-like shoulder-bones. He could also feel the round bulge of Kai's abdomen pressed against his midriff.

What they had done to him ... And there were three months more to go through.

"Everything is going to be okay ..." he whispered. "My little one. My child."

Suddenly Kai's hands were on his face - and Kai's mouth, soft and warm, locked on his. Kai's tongue plunged in, meeting Stacey's, caressing it. The kid tasted sweet and warm. It felt good ...

It felt wonderful, Stacey thought. Soothing; as if everything really could be okay, after all - the wounds would heal, they both would be safe. At this moment, as his hands were plaited through Kai's hair and his lips were joined with Kai's, he could believe that.

He smiled and let Kai go. The kid's eyes looked a little wild, dazed, the pupils huge. Then Kai reached for him again, pulling him into another kiss.

He hadn't kissed like that for five months, since before Victor's death. And Victor's last kiss - Stacey didn't remember it. He could try to recall but he didn't want. Let it stay as it was - left in blazing fire ... just like Victor was a blazing fire in his life, burning it to the ground ...

Kai's hand touched his chest; Stacey didn't have anything on except his boxers. The touch was light, careful, as if Kai gave him time to push his hand away. Stacey suddenly felt afraid. It was crazy ... how far could he go? The kid was not in the right state ...

Kai touched his nipple, his fingers cool, soft; it was as if checking the way. Crazy ... But Stacey couldn't push him away.

Stacey held Kai's face in his hands, kissed the kid's fluttering eyelids, soft lips. Kai's hands moved blindly, over Stacey's chest and belly, down to his groin. It felt strange; the touches were so brief Stacey wasn't sure if there was any stimulation at all - and he didn't notice how he went hard. Kai's hand slid along his cock, over the thin cloth of his boxers. Stacey felt almost scared, caught Kai's wrist and saw fear and sadness in the kid's eyes.

"Wait a little," he whispered. His hand brushed over the kid's body, over the blanket. "I don't want to harm you."

Kai's fingers intertwined with his; the kid just shook his head, not saying anything - but his eyes said everything. Stacey kissed his mouth again.

It just could work ... he didn't know how but, after all ...

Kai's sudden gasp made him flinch. He looked at the kid's whitened face, his lips bitten.

"I'll call Caesar."

"No." Kai's voice came stiffened, distorted. His hand clenched on Stacey's not letting him go. "It'll pass now. In a moment."

It continued way too long. Then Kai's fingers unclenched from his.

"It just happens from time to time." Kai said guiltily. "I'm so sorry, Stacey, I let you down."

"You stupid!" And at the next moments Stacey regretted it. "Don't say silly things. It's my fault."

His fingers ran over Kai's forehead, brushing his hair away

"It's not you," Kai smiled suddenly. "It's him."

"Him? How do you know it's him?" A sudden thought struck him. "You have a telepathic connection with it?"


"A mind-link!" Stacey realized he gripped Kai's shoulders too hard and let go, touched apologetically.

"No. They just talked ... that it would be a boy ... then."

"Oh God ..." He let out a sigh. Kai kept looking at him, his gaze almost desperate.

"I wanted it so much, Stacey. Remember than, on Nostromo ... you said that some other day we'll do it ..."

"Yes." Stacey remembered; he hadn't thought about it for a long time - but he remembered. "Just not now! I don't want to kill you."

"Will you do it with me, Stacey?"

"When it's all over," he said. "When you get free."

He saw Kai's eyes shine as the residuals of pain dissolved in them.

"I'll be waiting for it," Kai said quietly.

* * *

The house was silent. In the street, gushes of wind sprang up sometimes, making the glass in the window ring thinly; but it only added to the quietness inside.

He was alone. Kai was in his room - and Stacey said 'good-night' early as well; Reo understood it - repair of the shuttle didn't go so brilliantly recently - and there was Stacey's obligatory shift as well - so, it must have been quite exhausting. Reo knew it all - and yet deep in his heart he wished someone was with him now. Someone who could protect him from himself.

His hand reached to his abdomen unconsciously, in a wish to quench the insistent, sucking feeling there - and he jerked it away abruptly. It was dangerous to be alone - Reo's mind told him so; but it was not what his body told, what it demanded from him. He tried to ignore how agonizing the tight leather of his clothes felt against his skin, tried as hard as he could - and still it was not possible.

He needed to do it ... What a shame.

He should have gone to Caesar. Caesar would help him, give him another injection - and it would pass. Caesar ... Too ironic. It's because of Caesar Reo felt as he did, it was Caesar's face and hands and voice that caused him convulse in pain or pleasure somewhere deep inside him.

Caesar ... Caesar would be distressed if Reo told him the injections were not enough any more. He would know Reo's nature was getting its way again and that Reo failed him once more, turned out to be not what Caesar wanted him to. Reo couldn't bear it - everything else was better. Even guilt; even the thought of Caesar's white hair flowing like silk through his hands, his warm palms on Reo's shoulders, on his body ...

Stop it, he told himself.

Too late.

Thinking about Caesar did it; he stopped resisting - as he knew he would. He pulled his top off, unzipped the pants. Reo's body, an ugly thing, always ruled his life ... and he let it rule.

The sight of his own mutilated torso was almost a turn-off. But not turn-off enough, not to stop the low beat of pulse in his lower belly. Reo ran his fingers over the scars, smiling almost deliriously.

Caesar would hate it if he knew what Reo was doing. There was an agonizing pleasure in understanding this, a masochistic one. Caesar would say it made Reo less human. But Reo was not human, after all, so, what was it all about?

He didn't know which scars were worse - left by amputations; or the patches of too pale, almost bluish skin that stayed after removal of chitin; these places never lost their over-sensitivity and Reo shivered every time when he touched them.

But no, of course, he knew what was worse - and it was the place where he ached to touch himself more than anywhere else. The opening on his belly, right above his groin - a tiny slit where the whole of his being seemed to concentrate sometimes.

Tsatos had poisonous fangs hidden there - and Caesar had removed them the first thing as he'd started operating on Reo, when Reo was seven or eight.

"Humans don't hide venomous weapons in their bodies," Caesar said. He still believed then Reo could pass for a human. Reo believed it then, too.

The slit stayed; for years it ached, maybe, with residuals of venom - and then another feeling came, the feeling that Reo loved and hated and couldn't resist. His underdeveloped genitals had never given him such pain and pleasure ...

Human? Of course, not.

He ran the tip of his finger against the slit and felt his fingers get wet instantly. There was no poison any more but mucus kept extracting - faint red, like dissolved blood. Reo's blood had a darker shade, the color that probably wouldn't give him away accidentally but wouldn't escape a notice of an attentive watcher.

Caesar could go to hell, Reo thought and pushed the finger inside the slit.

It made him shudder; it made him bite his lips not to let out a sound. His legs didn't support him any more, so, he collapsed, crouched over his knees and continued finger-fucking himself. It was what he'd wanted to do for the whole day. It was what he'd wanted every time he thought about Caesar.

Only not his own fingers had to do it but ...

Oh really, he was not human ... He was evil, stupid, depraved! For these thoughts Reo hated himself more than for what he was doing. A small roughness of movement could change pleasure to pain - and Reo did it, bit his palm to stay silent as tearing pain pierced him.

He wouldn't think about Caesar this way ... if only he could do anything about it. Caesar called him his brother - that was the only way he wanted Reo in his life, wasn't it clear? Caesar who'd done so much for him, who'd saved Reo's life ...

The opening, slick with mucus, grasped on his finger greedily. There had been time when Caesar promised to change it, too - to give Reo as human a body as it was possible. But the last surgery had nearly killed Reo - and since then Caesar refused to touch him.

"You have to learn to live with it."

He lived with it - what else could he do? Reo's eyes, glazed with pleasure, saw the floating stains of red - red that was leaking over his hand now.

He couldn't stain Caesar ... Caesar was pure - his hair snow-white, his face of killing beauty. His brother ... It was a mockery; Caesar was supreme while he, Reo, was ...

He put his other hand on his cock, rubbed it - the sensation in his groin was just a shadow of what he felt under his thrusting finger. But if Reo imagined it was Caesar's hand that touched him ...

Forget it! He gave out a low, whining sound, convulsed. The slit clamped on his finger and more reddish fluids leaked over his hand. He was a madman if he thought about it.

Caesar belonged to no one. And for Reo there was no hope at all.

He curled on the floor, feeling cold and exhausted. The stains on the floor blurred in front of his eyes. He wrapped his arms around himself - warming up, rocking minutely.

A madman ... Nothing more.

* * *

Kai blurted out the last words:

"It's not important, the war between the sheep and the flowers?"style='font-family: Garamond'> - and looked up at Reo. He expected to see a pained grimace on Reo's face but there was only a little triumphant smile, almost conspiratorial.

"Water?" Reo asked teasingly.

"Yes," Kai nodded taking a deep breath. He almost felt hot - he hadn't felt hot or even warm enough for ages, it seemed. A moment later Reo handed him a plastic cup. His eyes laughed. He had a habit of narrowing his eyes when laughing, Kai noticed, and it made tiny wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, made Reo look knowledgeable, sophisticated - which probably was not true.

"It's funny how I mutilate your favorite book?" Kai asked.

"Difficult?" Reo's thin fingers with violet-ish finger-sockets turned a page for him. Kai emptied the cup and sighed, touching the book on his lap. He sat cross-legged on the bed and Reo walked around the room, stopping at the window now and then to smoke a cigarette.

"I told you. I don't make much progress."

"Fine for me," Reo shrugged. "I don't know who would do better. I certainly didn't. Caesar slapped me near senseless as he taught me to read." He giggled. "It was his idea and he tried to be patient but you can imagine how long he could control himself."

"Oh yes," Kai nodded; the image both made him smile and wince in sympathy.

"So, you're lucky I teach you," Reo praised himself. "Of course, Caesar wouldn't slap you ..."

"He hardly would."

For some reason Caesar was lenient to Kai but Kai knew what the doctor was capable of when in a bad mood. Perhaps seeing Kai, Caesar saw all the time he spent on this patient of his; but at least Kai never became a target for Caesar's anger, as Reo and Stacey and everyone else who visited the infirmary did.

Caesar ... Caesar was wonderful. And Reo was even more wonderful, maybe - warmer, kinder - infinitely patient. Kai sighed; he must have tried Reo's patience a lot.

He loved to be on F-400; he wished Stacey didn't have to work so much there - but everything else - when Stacey came home in the evening and stopped by to see Kai, it was the best thing there could be. Home ... Kai knew he didn't have the right to think like this about the infirmary. It was not his home, he and Stacey were just sojourners here. But he hadn't ever had a home before - so, this place felt closest to what, Kai thought, it had to feel like.

Last weeks before F-400 - Kai recalled them like through a mist. Now, short spasms of pain that still happened to him sometimes reminded him what it must have been like. But he didn't remember it well - and didn't want to. He wondered if it was a part of his genome: that his memories dissolved so quickly. But he remembered Stacey and that Stacey had held him all the time in the shuttle - so, maybe, he forgot only what he wanted to.

Kai wished he could adjust his memories like this: to keep the ones he'd never want to lose and to get rid of others ... like Kazarin and Andrews and more ... Well, maybe, he could forget of Kazarin and Andrews since they both were dead - killed by Stacey ... Stacey didn't ever feel regrets for Andrews but Kazarin was different; Stacey must have known him not in the way Kai had known him.

And there was no way to forget Minerva - so far, at least.

"A penny for your thoughts," Reo said.


"If you're tired, let's stop for today." His knuckles brushed over Kai's forehead. "Don't look so sad, there are going to be other days."

"No ... Ugh ... Just if you're tired."

"I'm not," Reo said enthusiastically. "Why would I? You do all the work. But think how Stacey will be amazed when he finds out that you can read."

"You think so?"

"Sure!" Reo beamed, pulled out another cigarette, then sniffed the air and tucked it away. "He'll be ... blown away."

"And you'll teach me to write, too?" Kai asked in a sudden fit of audacity.

"I will," Reo nodded. "It'll be easy."

Kai had already tried to write something, to reproduce the letters of Stacey's name he remembered since Nostromo - the letters he knew now. But they didn't come off all that similar.

"Caesar told me people in the Empire - on normal planets - they don't read much anyway," Reo said. "There are movies and one can listen to the tapes. But here we don't have anything like this. When Caesar and I came here, he brought some books with him, for me. I couldn't read then - I could barely talk then although I was seven years old. He taught me everything."

"Where did you live before?" Kai asked carefully. It was the first time Reo talked about his past. Kai knew there was something there, from Caesar's hints mostly, but didn't know what and didn't want to pry. After all, he appreciated it so much that Reo never asked him anything as well, never referred to his state. "If you don't want to say, then don't."

"On the station," Reo answered curtly. "I lived in a glass cage. Before Caesar came and saved me."

"He took you away from there?"

"Yes." There was a smile of Reo's face, soft, happy. "He said: 'I'm your brother and we go away'. And then we traveled and no one wanted us, because of me. Until we came here."

"It was the same way with us, Stacey and me," Kai said hastily, feeling strange closeness to Reo. "If he were alone, he would find a place easily, he would, maybe, return to the fleet. But as soon as anyone knew about me ... we had to go."

"Stacey wouldn't leave you," Reo said with a smile. "And he doesn't regret it."

"Caesar doesn't regret it as well."

"Oh, I think he does." The smile on Reo's face stayed but his eyelashes fluttered.

It was not like that, Kai wanted to say, Caesar was this kind of person who always did only what he wanted - but Reo's long-fingered hand touched his mouth suddenly, shushing him.

"Let's read some more, okay?"

Reo's silk scarf flew up like black wings as Reo flopped on the bed next to Kai, leaned against the wall.

"If someone loves a flower," Kai started diligently, "of which ... just ... one ... example ... ex ... exits ..."

"Exists," Reo corrected without moving; he couldn't see the text from this far, Kai knew it - and, anyway, his eyes were half-closed.

"You know it by heart," Kai said softly.

"' ...exists among all the millions and millions of stars, that's enough to make him happy when he looks at the stars. He tells himself, 'My flower's up there somewhere ...'" Reo quoted. "Yeah. I must have read it a hundred times. Look," he turned to Kai suddenly. "Do you want me to give you this book? I've really read it so many times. And now it'll be yours."

"But you love it ..."

"I'll keep loving it. And you'll love it, too." Reo's hands lay on Kai's, closing his fingers on the book. "Decided. It's yours now."

"Thank you." A memory came to him, of all the times when he was given things, things that didn't belong to him. But Reo never added: "You belong to me," and it made all the difference. "Thank you."

* * *

The rain gushed in huge streams, very cold, unusual for F-400. Piercing gusts of wind sent streams of water almost parallel to the ground. It was lucky the storm started when the work day was almost over - and all the way till the infirmary Stacey ran. He entered the house dripping and shivering, spitting out the water that got between his lips. He knew this story about the water that had been driving people mad and even though he was getting pills, as everyone else, he considered safe better than sorry.

He snorted at his own thoughts, picked up the towel and looked into to the Kai's room.

Reo was there - dry - he worked closer to the house and apparently got in time not to soak through. He perched on Kai's bed, leaning close to the kid.

"Sledge," Reo said softly. "I think it's a thing one can use to slide on the snow."

"Ah," Kai said. "'What had become of him, no one knew, nor could any one give the slightest information, excepting the boys, who said that he had tied his sledge to another very large one, which had driven through the street, and out at the town gate ...'" Kai's soft lilting voice threaded the words carefully. And then he looked up and saw Stacey; his eyes lit up with fright and joy.

"That's good," Reo said, pulling him on the sleeve. "Come on, why did you stop? Ah, Stacey ..."

"You teach him to read?" he asked quietly.

"Does it surprise you?" Reo bristled up immediately.

"No." Stacey smiled. "Yes. I think it's great. Thank you. I should have come round to that myself. Thank you for spending your time."

There just hadn't been time for that before. He saw Reo's gaze soften slightly.

"It's not a trouble. He's very bright."

"What do you read?"

"The Snow Queen," Kai answered. "It's a fairy tale."


"A fairy tale," Reo repeated. "You don't want to say you haven't heard about such a thing."

Stacey gave him a look, and Kai smiled, looking at both of them.

"Why doesn't it surprise me?" Reo drawled. "Now, don't distract us. You'd better go and get dry - look at it, you made a pool on the floor. If you expect me to stand with my ass up wiping it ..."

"I've never seen you wipe the floors as long as I'm here," Stacey retorted. Reo glared at him; Kai giggled.

"Come on, baby," Reo muttered. "Go on reading."

* * *

H e didn't know what happened to him. He'd been so happy Kai could read - and even more so because it was a proof that the kid was not 'a stupid genetic', as Kai said about himself sometimes. Stacey felt so grateful to Reo for doing it.

And yet a part of his mind kept telling him: "It should have been you. It didn't even come to your mind to teach Kai. It didn't come to your mind that you should give something to him ..." He recalled how Kai was happy when Reo had given him that book, even went to sleep with it since then, it seemed.

He, Stacey, couldn't do anything right. Okay, he might've been good in bed - and in fight - but beyond this, he was hopeless. Maybe, it was why Victor had discarded him so easily two years ago.

Vic ... It'd been five months since Victor's death - and his features, his voice started getting blurry in Stacey's memory. He didn't have a photo of his or anything; sometimes in a dream he could see Victor so clearly, could hear his low, husky voice talk to him. But it always escaped Stacey by day.

He must have been deficient; both in his memory of the past and in his perception of the present. Reo probably knew Kai better now than Stacey did .

It was what he was afraid of, right? Suddenly this thought slammed into Stacey's mind. That Kai needed Caesar now - and felt good with Reo - and he, Stacey, stopped being indispensable. The kid probably didn't need him any more at all.

It hurt to think this; Stacey didn't like this thought, tried to expel it quickly - and only found himself returning to it steadily after the supper and back in his room.

Reo ... Reo was handsome and smart and funny and strong, so easy to get attached to ...

Stacey cut it off hitting the wall with his fist. It was stupid! What didn't he like? That Kai had a friend ... or more than a friend? It wouldn't be just stupid to feel the way Stacey felt, it would be unfair ... and selfish. The kid had so few people who treated him normally in his life, he deserved to be liked and be cared for - by Reo ... and Cory ...

Thinking about Cory didn't bother this much. The big boy seemed to care for Kai a lot but he was sincere and simple-minded.

And Reo?

"Come on, baby, go on reading ..."

How could Kai not to get attached to Reo? It was what had to happen.

And if it made Kai happy ... Stacey would be happy for him, too.

If they wanted each other ... Stacey wouldn't stand between them. Perhaps Kai, in his misunderstood loyalty, felt that he owed something to Stacey - but of course it was not that. The kid had the right to do whatever he wanted and Stacey would step away to free him.

" ...you're my master of all times ..."

He'd never taken it seriously, right? Stacey felt something prickle in his nose and sniffed. Was he going to cry or what? Now it was really absurd. Everything was decided. He had to let Kai live his life.

Maybe, it was a good idea to move out, find some other place on the planet, so that not to remind them about ...

Stacey fell face down on his mattress and hugged the pillow. Selfish one; he couldn't be happy. He felt downright miserable.

But whatever Stacey felt, he still knew what was the right thing to do.

Next day he left without breakfast and stayed on the landing field with the shuttle until he felt he'd fall down with tiredness. But it had to work - he was giving Kai and Reo more time.

The day after next was a day-off, so, he couldn't avoid seeing them - and Kai walked up to him, asked quietly:

"Something happened?"

The kid's wide eyes were unhappy, uncomprehending, and Stacey told himself he had to harden his heart. Soon Kai would understand that Stacey didn't stand between him and Reo.

"Not at all," he smiled. "Why do you ask?"

"You have such a face," Kai whispered.

"Just tired," he said flatly. Maybe, it was not a good explanation. Nothing was going well at all but he couldn't do anything about it.

"That's why you don't talk?" Kai asked uncertainly. Stacey felt hurt by the fear in the kid's eyes. As if he tried to please Stacey and didn't know how. Soon Kai wouldn't have to think about it ...

"Yes," he said calmly. "I need some rest."

* * *

R eo entered without knocking. Stacey was in bed with a cigarette between his fingers. The window was ajar but it helped to dispel thick smoke only marginally and Reo wondered how many cigarettes the redhead had smoked by now. Stacey's irritated eyes stopped on Reo and widened slightly. There was something quite unwelcome in his look but Reo decided he wouldn't bother caring about such things.

He had a mission.

"Hi." Stacey's voice was quite inanimate but he got on his feet. As the blanket slid away from him, Reo nearly made a hiss. He had just his underwear on ... That's how a normal human looked without clothes. He thought Stacey noticed his unease.

"Wait a minute, I'll just don something."

"Don't bother for me," Reo shrugged. There was something masochistic in this sight - and at the realization what fuel for his fantasies it would give later. He hadn't seen Caesar without clothes for ages, since Reo was eleven or twelve - and he didn't remember it well. But with Stacey's body as a model, even if they must have looked different ...

He already knew he would be thinking about it later. But not now. Now he was here for another thing.

"What can I do for you, then?"

"You can tell me if you understand you're an asshole or you need me to explain it?"

He saw anger flash in Stacey's eyes - and how Stacey took it under control quickly. The cigarette Reo lit tasted bitter as he took a drag.

"Explain, then."

"I didn't think you're so heartless ..." Reo started and stopped, the words escaped him suddenly. "I thought ... I thought you really cared for him. That's the only reason why I'm here ..."

"Cared for whom?"

He knew the answer, of course - and Reo knew he knew.

"Why do you hurt him like this? I can't believe you don't understand it ..."

One had to be blind not to see it; the startled, lost look in Kai's eyes, the way his arms were wrapped around his body as if he was constantly cold.

"It's nothing," he said to Reo - but it was as if he wanted to convince himself it was nothing.

"He waits for you," Reo said quietly. "And you ignore him. If you're tired of him, if you don't want to bother any more - then be at least honest, talk to him, do it in some decent way! Can you even imagine what it is to wait for you like that?"

He was still talking but something told him Stacey hadn't heard more than his first two phrases. He saw Stacey's gaze, wide, frozen suddenly as if he saw a ghost in front of him, a vision from the past that terrified him speechless.

It was not what Reo wanted to achieve. But he usually failed to achieve what he wanted - nothing new then.

"Did he ... did he send you to ask me?" Stacey's voice almost had no sound. Reo glared at him, taking another drag of the cigarette.

"He doesn't need to. I'm not blind, you know! You break him inside."

Stacey kept silent - and Reo saw how his fists clenched convulsively, a cigarette broken in them, the flakes of ash, still burning, fell on the floor. It softened him a little.

"You'll start a fire," he said and came closer, stomped on the ashes. Close like this, he could see Stacey so well, could memorize every scar of his, every line of his bones and muscles, the shades of his skin and nipples ...

His proximity seemed to bring Stacey back to animation.

"No, it's not what you think ... I just work, I have less time."

"Go lie to someone else!" Another surge of anger overcame Reo at this lame attempt of Stacey to justify himself. "I know how much everyone works, so don't slip me this shit! It's not like you can't ... How could he wrong you? For God's sake, Kai ... he fuckin' lives for you! He worships you! I can't imagine he'd done something so bad ..."

"I don't want him to worship me!" At last it seemed that something broke in Stacey.

"You idiot!" The blow was not strong, and Stacey dodged it automatically, so, it just brushed against his mouth. His eyes narrowed as he looked at Reo.

"Don't try to hit me any more, I won't take it. I don't want Kai to worship me," Stacey repeated quietly. "I don't deserve it and ... I want him to be free, to be with someone he really wants to be. If you two feel good together, it's okay with me, I'll just go out of your way ..."

"We two?" Reo frowned. Stacey's green eyes looked at him spitefully. Reo suddenly recalled the moment when, waiting for the Board, Stacey had lit his cigarette from Reo's - and how Reo thought his eyes were beautiful then.

He didn't want to be Stacey's enemy ...

"You think there is something between us," Reo said slowly.

"And what? You mean it's not true?" Stacey said it derisively but there was hurt in his voice, maybe, unnoticeable for Stacey himself. "You teach him to read and everything."

"What everything?"

"I don't know what everything! I don't want to stop you, I just want Kai to be happy, I really want it!"

"How noble! So, you're jealous, you fool!"

"I'm not jealous!" Stacey's voice fell. "I'm not going to fight or anything. I want Kai to feel free from me."

"Did it ever come to your mind he doesn't want to feel free from you?" Reo asked softly. Oh God ... It was really silly - how could Stacey be so blind?

How could they all be so blind?

Stacey shook his head as if after getting a blow.

"It's not right. If he wants to be with you ..."

"Why the hell did you decide he wants to be with me?" Reo yelled and saw Stacey narrow his eyes stubbornly. "Did you ever ask him?"

"You don't understand, Reo. There were many things happening. Kai thinks he's dependant on me - but it is not so ... He's free to do whatever he wants, there is nothing binding him."

"In other words, he's nobody to you and you're nobody to him," Reo said in an unkind voice.

"We're friends," Stacey said quickly.

"You fool! Maybe, you just can't love, that's why you can't either admit it or recognize it when you see it."

Wham! He was not so good as Stacey - he didn't manage to dodge; he didn't even see it coming. His split lip felt burning and salty. He saw Stacey's eyes very close suddenly, felt his warm hands touch his shoulders, as if checking if he, Reo, was all right.

Stacey's voice sounded soft.

"Reo, I'm sorry ... Does it hurt? I didn't want to, I don't know what came over me ... You ... you don't know shit about me, Reo. There was a man I loved. He died. I actually ... as good as killed him."

"And now you don't have place for anyone else in your heart?" Reo felt he was talking after the books and it angered him. But what did it matter how he talked? "That's why you say all that nonsense about selflessness and giving in?"

His lip hurt but it was too little to stop him.

"I want Kai to be happy."

"Here again. Why do you think you can make decisions for him? Do you think him feeble-minded? What do they say? 'Stupid genetics'?"

He saw Stacey frown angrily.

"You know it's not like this."

"Then why don't you trust him to know at least that - whom he wants to be together with? Why do you do something for his own good - something that hurts him?"

Reo's voice broke. He should have known he wouldn't be able to handle these words. For his own good ...

"I do it for your own good, Reo." Just like Caesar said it.

He saw Stacey look at him, scowling - but the expression in his eyes seemed almost defenseless.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," he whispered.

There was a small pause - and then Reo's rapped his knuckles on Stacey's head.

"I always said you didn't have much here." Reo didn't do Caesar's voice so good as Stacey did - but it still worked. Stacey looked up at him almost with disbelief and then laughed.

"Do you want me not to go to Kai for a while?" Reo asked quietly. "Until you get through with the cockroaches in your head. Because even though I think the more friends for him, the better it is - but I just know that if he had to choose from us two ..."

"I don't want him to choose," Stacey said hotly. "I mean if he ... if you are not ... it's okay."

"Thank you," Reo bowed mockingly.

Stacey looked at him openly. He seemed flushed but his gaze was resolute. He stepped towards Reo and closed his arms around him.

"I'm sorry ..."

Reo flinched hugely. It was the first time someone touched him like that. And Stacey was almost naked ... Through his leather clothes, Reo could feel the heat of Stacey's body and was so scared that wanted to push him away and couldn't.

Caesar would never hold him like this ...

He controlled himself, put his hands on Stacey's shoulders, shook him slightly.

"Okay, stupid. Apologies accepted."

* * *

I won't do it tonight; I'll think about something else, do something, smoke or sleep. I'll tell myself I'll do it tomorrow - but I wish I'd never do it. I'll have enough strength ...

But he never had enough strength. And every night Reo ended on his knees, half-naked, his eyes misted with pleasure - and dissolved red leaked over his hand. He couldn't stop doing it.

Oh he did try. Once he lit a cigarette and stubbed it into the vulnerable, pulsing opening on his belly. He writhed on the floor after that, biting his hands - and then for days even rubbing of the clothes against the blistered tissues was agony. But as soon as fresh thin skin covered it, Reo started sinning again.

He knew one day it would happen. And yet, when the door opened without a knock - and Caesar was there - a part of Reo's brain refused to accept the truth. Reo jerked his hand back, too abruptly, made a choking sound in pain - but it was too late. He could see the answer in Caesar's narrowed eyes looking at him from under the web of white eyelashes.

Please, Reo thought; please don't say anything.

"I knew you were doing it," Caesar said in a low voice. "I knew you disgraced yourself like this."

Disgraced yourself ... It was what Reo did - and Reo knew it - and still hearing it hurt. He wanted to say something, to defend himself - but really; there was nothing to be said.

"I tried to make you normal, Reo. I tried to make you as human as possible - it's not my fault I didn't manage it. But you didn't even try to help me, didn't cooperate. A little self-control - that's all I wanted from you. You couldn't do even this."

I know it, you don't have to say it ... But he knew Caesar would say it all - and he, Reo, would listen.

"Why did you let me down, Reo?"

You don't know how it is, Reo thought, how difficult it is. Well, maybe, Caesar knew; for all those years, Reo knew Caesar gave himself injections as well, the mixture a bit different but with the same purpose. The difference was that Reo had Caesar in front of his eyes every day to drive him crazy - and for Caesar Reo meant ... nothing.

"I'm ... I'm sorry ..." he whispered. It was too little. His head was lowered - and he couldn't help it, tears started rolling over his face. But drops of red fluid rolled over his belly from the slit, so, his tears were worthless. "I thought ... if no one would know ..."

"No one would know? Do you try to be human for someone? Or for yourself?"

The words hurt; Caesar always found the ones that hurt worst of all.

"I can't be human anyway ..."

He shouldn't have said that. Without looking, he knew that these words made Caesar flinch - and Reo regretted it immediately, wanted to take it back.

"You blame me for it."

"I don't ..."

"You blame me," Caesar repeated. "That I couldn't operate on you any more. That you nearly died on me last time and I stopped. You dare to accuse me of it."

"I don't, I don't ..." Reo looked at his hands and saw that they were smeared - and he couldn't touch Caesar with them, to take and kiss his hands and beg for forgiveness. He wanted to move to Caesar, to crawl up to him on his knees - but he knew Caesar would flinch away from him, would be even more disgusted. "I didn't mean that ..."

"What did you mean then? That I shouldn't have taken you away from Voices, should have left you in a cage - to die?"

He should have ... maybe, he should have - to leave Reo and to never ruin his own life, never doom himself to this loneliness, this oblivion - this constant menace of a possible arrest.

Reo would like to say it - but he knew he couldn't; he'd already said too much. He would listen instead.

And he listened; he knew the words so well, had heard them so many times - of Caesar's guilt, of his betrayal of human race, of his cooperation with Voices, his works for them. He listened about Caesar's inventions and triumphs, the irresistible joy of perfection, of being the best.

Of shame and fear and atonement - and how Caesar had chosen him, Reo, to be his redemption - Reo who was nothing but another test subject, even nameless. And of their escape from the station, escape that left Caesar crippled, limp - and of the days after that - homeless, sad days.

"You couldn't pass a genetic check at any port - you, with your mixture of Tsatos and human blood. Only on F-400 their situation was so bad that I managed to make them overlook the results."

But they knew something was wrong with me, Reo thought, they didn't forget it.

"I tried to make you human, I mended your body best I could. Look at yourself - in your clothes you look normal, no one would even suspect what you really are. But you had to spoil it all ... If you're human - touch yourself in a human way, not like you did, Reo."

Do something; hit me. He wanted to beg Caesar to hurt him - any pain would be better than the one he already felt. And then Caesar would touch him ... then Reo would feel the warmth of his hand, the weight of his palm.

He curled, covering his belly, and shivered. Caesar wouldn't touch him.

"I'll give you double, triple dose of medicine from now on," Caesar said finally, tiredly and Reo knew he'd disappointed Caesar again. "Maybe, it'll help you to keep yourself in line."

"Not as long ..." If Reo never said these words, it would be over at that moment. Caesar would walk away, loathing him - but eventually it would be forgotten, even forgiven if Reo tried very hard. But he said that: he must have been mad, driven to despair. "Not as long as you're with me."

"What do you mean?" Caesar said - and all Reo could answer was:

"You know what."

Perhaps Caesar knew. For a few moments he stood still - and then seemed to want to move towards Reo. To hit him? To touch him?

"Get up."

"What?" There was something bad in Caesar's voice, even worse than before - and yet Reo couldn't disobey. His legs felt wobbly as he got up. Caesar stepped away from the door.

"Go out."

Reo looked at him uncomprehending, reached for his zipper, looked at his top and jacket on the floor.

"No, don't. Go out like this. What's wrong? You don't have shame anyway."

He felt choking; Caesar's blue eyes didn't look away from him, narrowed, merciless - and Reo could read in them that Caesar did mean it, really was going to make him do it.

"No." He stepped back a little; he didn't know if Caesar would drag him out. When he, Reo, had been little, Caesar did touch him, made him do what he wanted by force sometimes. But not recently.

"Go out. Let everyone see what you are. Let people judge whether you're human or not. Show them what you make with your body - how you pleasure yourself."

He gasped; sickness came up in his throat and Reo swallowed quickly not to throw up. How could Caesar do it to him? And as if Caesar read his thoughts, he answered:

"I do it for you, Reo, you know it. You have fancy ideas. I can't let you have them."

What fancy ideas? That he'd said - nearly said - that he wanted Caesar? But who wouldn't want him, with his striking beauty and austerity of an archangel?

"Out," Caesar repeated. "On the street."

It was night, maybe, no one would see him; Reo's mind clung to this thought. But at the same time he knew that Caesar wouldn't let him get away so easily - Caesar who was always ready for his punishment; he wouldn't let Reo escape his.

He wanted to fall; to collapse on the floor and be saved this way. But at the same time he knew his feet wouldn't give up. He'd do everything Caesar wanted him to. He gave out a choked cry - and covered his mouth hastily; he didn't have to complain, couldn't cry. His feet stumbled. He walked step by step to the dark corridor. But it was not darkness Reo saw but nothing - emptiness that disoriented him. He forced himself to keep moving.

And then, even though his eyes seemed to be dazzled, he still saw a figure on the threshold - and knew it was Stacey; bare-chested, disheveled and sleepy.

"Anything, like, happens?" Stacey murmured half-coherently, rubbing his eyes. Then his gaze stopped on Reo and went wide.

Reo had to expect it; it was just the beginning of his punishment. First Stacey would know, then others. Widening of Stacey's eyes was just a foretaste of what he'd see in the eyes of others.

"Don't stop," Caesar said. "Don't cover yourself."

Reo hadn't noticed his hands raised to cover the slit, his smooth, underdeveloped groin. The scars he couldn't cover all the same.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing," Caesar said curtly.

"I," Reo said with a smile on numb lips. "I - it's me."

"Keep going, Reo."

He nodded and made another step; he tried it to be steady but it was not - and he would slump on the floor but instead of it fell into something hard and warm and knew it was Stacey's arms that caught him around the waist.

He made a sound that was almost a shriek. Stacey touched him - again - and now Reo was almost naked. Stacey's hands were on his ribs ... so close to his opening ...

"You're sick ... What's with him, sir?" Stacey turned to Caesar. Reo couldn't look at him, almost didn't see anything at all - and it was good, he wouldn't be able to stand seeing Caesar now.

"He's okay," Caesar said. "Don't touch him."

"He's burning, sir. He's bleeding?"

Reo couldn't listen to it; it was even worse like that ...

"I'm okay. Let me go."

No, he didn't want to get free from Stacey's arms; his body wanted this warmth, this touch - the only way he would ever be touched by another human being.

"He's being punished."


And it was the last thing Reo heard because the warmth of Stacey's arms felt too good and he couldn't give it up - and yet he knew he had to. So, his consciousness gave up first.

* * *

"It's not good to be so meddlesome." There was a low, husky note in Caesar's voice.

Reo moved in alarm, trying to see whom he talked to. Shadows danced in front of his eyes, not wanting to get together in a whole picture.

"What do you want to say, sir?" Stacey's voice was very tight and very unhappy. "That I shouldn't interfere between you and your brother? That I'm not in a position to argue with you because ..."

No, it was not that; Caesar wouldn't mean that. Reo thrashed in anxiety and felt a cool hand lay on his forehead. He realized suddenly where he was. In the infirmary, on a cot. But he was covered, warm. And someone was smoothing the strands of his hair that usually fell over his eyes. Kai.

Caesar and Stacey were there as well, stood at the window. Reo's vision was still blurry but now he could discern their hair - white and light red.

"Don't worry about that," Caesar said. "I know my obligations as a doctor. I'd never turn a patient down."

"Thank you, sir."

"Do you want some tea?" Kai asked Reo quietly. Reo's lips felt cracked and tender and his voice was almost soundless as he whispered:

"Do we have some?"

The kid nodded.

"You think me cruel," Caesar continued quietly - unusually seriously. "But I do it all for Reo. He's not like anyone else, you see."

"No one is like anyone else."

"I just want to teach him to take a blow. People ... if they found out about him - they would hurt him. I have to hurt him myself to harden him."

"I think you take too much pleasure in doing it, sir," Stacey said.

"Do I?"

There was a flash of a match and Reo felt sharp tang of cigarette smoke. Tea tasted herbal and sweet and Kai's hand held his now.

"I love my brother," Caesar said.

These words ... Weren't they what Reo wanted to hear most of all in his life? But there was something too much in them. My brother ... Sometimes it seemed to him that he'd heard Caesar say - during Reo's last surgery, although how could he hear, he was unconscious ... but then the words sounded different.

"I love you ... I love you ..."

"I see," Stacey said.

* * *

S he didn't die; again.

Her body was switched to the machines and her blood pumped out, cleaned and pumped in. But this time there was pain.

"I warned you," the Voice floated over her, got closer and left a little again. "But we won't punished you for your attempted crime. You're already punished enough, Officer. Do you feel sorry for doing what you tried to do?"

Minerva would like to answer, would like to say that she was sorry. Humans said things that were not true all the time - and, maybe, saying that would earn her some points with the fuckin' bitch of the Voice.

But her mind rebelled against this idea. A thing - not even a thing - just something that had no body - couldn't make her bend! No one could.

"Will you stay on the station, Officer, or join your ship?"

Joining the ship was out of question. She wouldn't be able to leave her duties after that.

"I want to find my son."

"We can help you," the Voice said, "if you agree to join the project."

That almost broke her resistance.

"What kind of project?"

And so, she was in a spacious, empty room - and the Voice whispered to her:

"The crash of Nostromo gave us the material for building a more sophisticated hybrid than any other before. We coped with the problem of compatibility. The minds melded and the bodies became one ..."

The door opened. Minerva was prepared to be skeptical; Voices seemed to like big words. But the creature that entered - even seeing all the hybrids on the station by now didn't make it look less startling.

Huge - taller than Minerva and almost as wide, clothed in blinding scarlet leather, it had something of a human in its silhouette - its head was of such a form, at least - half of its face shielded and the other half fine-featured, almost delicate. Its gloved hands seemed human in outline as well - but mechanical - sophisticated machines. It moved with fluid grace, astonishing in such a big body - and the way its uniform fluctuated in its bottom part reminded Minerva her own species. Tentacles? Did it have both tentacles and human-like limbs?

She didn't know if it was the reason why the creature had such a sinister look about it. Minerva was afraid of few things in her life, though; and now she was not going to let herself feel creepy.

"We used the parts of the dying species to form him," the Voice said.

"Welcome on the station, my darling," the creature said.

The voice was human and she recognized it - almost as unmistakably as the appearance, the pale profile and the grey eye looking at her in pair with the artificial, red one. The human - the traitor, the one Heles had trusted the most - and the one who betrayed them the vilest ...

Well, she'd never particularly trusted him - he'd been Uranus' toy. And he'd never dare to call her 'my darling'.

"Victor Gessen ..." she hissed.

"No," the creature said - and suddenly from under the uniform, grey tentacles uncoiled and raised in a greeting gesture. "Controller Janus."

"Vulcan ..." She hated this thought. Did these limbs belong to her dead husband?

"The limbs are cloned, belonging to another Heles, Uranus."

She suddenly laughed. Damn bastards! Victor Gessen and Uranus. She hated both of them. They were to blame for everything that happened, for her loss. Let them be stuck together now - inside this hideous creature!

"Don't misunderstand it, Officer. The Controller is not just the sum of the original species but a completely new creature. The meld allowed to enhance the Controller's abilities drastically."

It made her feel sick. They didn't mean they were going to stuff her into a creature like this?

"Controller Janus is a part of a bigger system, which makes him virtually invincible and allows him to use the devices that are considered stationary."

"Like what?"

"On the left of you there is a shelf," the Voice said. "Take a blaster here. Try to shoot at him."

She did it faster than it was ordered; the ray was directed right at the creature's chest. Even if his reaction was damn good - what could he do about it? And then she saw a slight shimmering around his figure. A shield ... like ships could use.

"Impressive, my darling?" Janus said. The intimacy in this form of address was an insult.

"So, what is your decision, Officer?" the Voice said above her. "Do you agree to join out project? A new Controller will be even more sophisticated one since we'll use living tissue."

No way!

She needed to get out of this room; and she had a blaster. With Janus it was worthless - but later ... If only she could lie her way out.

"You can't deny the possibilities of this project, Officer."

"It's damn ugly," she muttered. Maybe, she shouldn't have said it. She could swear there was a jeer in Janus' eye. And as he talked, his voice was almost a whisper.

"You think me ugly, my darling?"

"Your emotional approach is unexpected for us, Officer."

"I don't want to participate in it. Your Controller is an abomination."

"Let's see if I can make you change your mind, darling."

Janus made a few steps towards her and Minerva saw the plates on his chest move apart. She couldn't help it; his voice didn't seem threatening - but there was something in it that made it sound menacing no matter what. She knew it was pointless but she directed the blaster at him.

"Shoot, honey."

Pain came. Slamming, heavy and wet, thrust right through her chest. Minerva looked in surprise and saw a spike protruding from her body.

Janus was very precise; it went in right between her heart and nerve center. A little bit at any side and she would be dead now. As it was, Minerva just writhed in pain on the tip of the spike - a pinned butterfly ... only she didn't look much like a butterfly. Her violet blood pooled on the floor.

"Let me tell you something," Janus whispered as his hand caressed her face. "I don't want you as another Controller, bitch. Why would I? I don't propagate."

"Controller, let her go." Through the blur of pain Minerva heard the Voice and it sounded concerned. Now look at that - something could worry them ... "You're not entitled to apply violence. This weapon is not a part of your construction."

He kept holding her and his eyes, grey and red, looked at her closely.

"I don't want any competitor ..."

His hand was heavy on her face - and Minerva felt so terrified she couldn't even pull the trigger. His thumb reached to her eye.


"No harm done," Janus said - and pierced her eye.

She didn't know what was worse - plopping sound, tearing pain or the dark stain that suddenly appeared on the left of her. She felt something warm leak over her skin and screamed. He kept holding her, turning his thumb in the wound.

"Kiss me, my darling." He tore the spike out of her body and stepped away.

Minerva fell on the floor, in a puddle of her blood, gasping. Her right, whole eye could see medics hurry towards her. She hurt; she hadn't hurt this much even when Tsatos had stung her. She felt small and weak and violated and wanted to cry.

Controller Janus stood over her placidly.

* * *

T he ship landed at noon. Stacey looked at its almost refined silhouette as silvery metal caught the dull light of F-400 sun. Standing in the crowd of other colonists - a lot of people had left their work for the spectacle - he listened to questions and guesses - more questions, though. There was Cory as well, his fellow-worker - next to Stacey, with a wide-eyed, fascinated expression on his simple face.

The ship was not big; a crew of about twenty, Stacey guessed. He knew this model even if he'd never served on one of those; they were used only in civilian matters.

They couldn't come for him and Kai. They couldn't. He repeated it - and his own words sounded unconvincing - and with every second to fight the panic became more difficult. No one knew where they went; no one looked for them ... they were safe ... Oh God, less than two months were left till Kai was going to be okay - they needed this time so much.

Soldiers spilled out of the ship, fast and efficient. Once their uniform had been akin to Stacey's ... once he'd been a part of the Empire's force as well. Stacey clenched his fists in anger at this thought. He'd never wanted to be an outcast; but it happened like this. Both he and Kai didn't have a place in the Empire any more.

But were they considered so dangerous that the whole ship was sent after them? He watched how a few soldiers surrounded the shuttle that Stacey and Cory had repaired during last months. A grey-haired slim man stepped on the field.

His rank was a Captain, his uniform immaculate, and as he looked around without saying a word, the colonists seemed to hush under his gaze. Gorn walked up to him, said something not loud enough to be heard. Stacey looked at Cory again, frowning. The boy shrugged, wiping his nose against the palm. Well, Cory hardly knew anything: Gorn never shared with his son - and, in any case, recently Cory spent more time with Stacey or in the infirmary with Kai.

Gorn kept talking as the Captain looked at him seemingly without much interest. And when the man talked finally, Stacey heard it - everyone heard it:

"The colony will receive the award. Now show me where he is."

Gorn answered too quietly again - but his gesture was absolutely clear - showing at the direction of the infirmary.

"Cory," Stacey turned to the boy - but Cory was not there any more. Stacey had time to see a sign the Captain gave his people - and ran.

Whatever it was, he was not going to let them arrest Kai. He didn't know if they might've wanted Kai as a runaway slave or if they found somehow about Heles foetus - but Stacey wouldn't let them take him.

At least he wouldn't let them take Kai and him alive.

He stormed into the infirmary.

"The militaries are here, I need to take Kai away ..."

Kai was there, pale and big-eyed - and Caesar - and Cory. Cory must have understood everything even before Stacey.

"It doesn't have anything to do with Kai," Caesar said firmly. "They are here for me."

For a moment Stacey felt shameful relief overcome him - but it was too short.

"How do you know?"

"Cory can read on the lips, don't you know?"

"But why ... why you?"

Stacey recalled suddenly: the hints, the half-phrases Caesar dropped now and then: "As long as I'm here ... When I'm gone ..." Before now he thought it was a pose, Caesar tended to be showy both in his looks and in his words.

"It doesn't matter. I always knew my past would catch on me. I'm not afraid - I'm ready."

"Does Reo know?"

"He doesn't, I think - since he isn't here yet." For one moment a very intense feeling broke through in Caesar's voice. "And I don't want him to know. Until it's too late for him to try anything. He must not get involved into it - you understand me?"

"I do, sir," Stacey whispered.

"I want Reo to take up the infirmary," Caesar continued; his voice was cool, business-like again. "He doesn't have an education but he's a bright boy, I think he picked up a lot during all those years."

It would mean a lot for Reo to know that you called him 'bright boy', Stacey thought. Only when Reo found out about Caesar's arrest, nothing would mean anything for him.

"I also left the instructions to Kai, what must be done about him. You remember, child?" Caesar's voice softened as he talked to Kai. Stacey saw Kai nod silently. "If you do everything right, you'll be able to get through the time that is left till the Heles comes out."

"Thank you, sir."

The reality of what was happening came down on Stacey finally. Caesar was leaving; Caesar who'd bitched this morning that he'd run out of his supply of honey; Caesar who seemed so strong and stable and domineering. Others could seem vulnerable and in need of protection - but Caesar was always the strong one, the clever one - the one who didn't lose.

He lost now. And there was nothing Stacey could do about it. It was reality - and it made him feel ashamed, humiliated. If Kai were in danger, Stacey would lay his life not to let him be caught; he wouldn't fight for Caesar - even though Caesar had saved Kai's life two months ago, kept saving it.

"It's okay," Caesar said - and Stacey looked up at him, not being able to believe the man was reading his thoughts. "You do think so loudly." Suddenly Caesar's finger pushed him in the forehead. "You're not a hero, so ..."

"I'm not."

"And now you really should take Kai away - because it won't be good if soldiers see him."

Stacey flinched and turned to Cory. The big boy looked at him seriously.

"Can you go to the greenhouse with Kai? And stay there until I come for you?"

The giant nodded; Stacey knew he wouldn't let Kai down - knew that the boy cared for Kai in his quiet unassuming way, seemed kind of to take charge for Kai since that first night on F-400 when Cory had brought Kai to the infirmary.

"And you?" It was the only thing Kai said.

"I'll join you soon. Now obey me and Caesar!"

Stacey saw Caesar touch Kai's face briefly, just brush his fingers against Kai's cheek and withdrew his hand swiftly.

"Go, child."

They stayed alone.

"Did you wonder where I got all that knowledge about human incubators?" Caesar said with a small note of challenge in his voice. "It was what I did for Voices. Do you have any idea how many of them died before I found out what the right things were?.."

The door broke open. Six soldiers and Gorn.

"Here he is," Gorn pointed at Caesar imperiously. "The criminal scientist Alexander Miller."

"You're under arrest," one of the soldiers said. Caesar didn't answer, just reached his hands and the cuffs snapped around them. He turned to Stacey.

"Take care of ..."

He never finished. There was Reo in the doorway, his hair fallen out of his scarf, his eyes pitch-black with despair - and Stacey saw his own blaster in Reo's hands. Somehow he'd gotten it, probably stolen it from Gorn ... He moved it from one soldier to another.

"Let him go. Now!"

It was such madness - there were a dozen more militaries on the planet, the Captain would send them if this group failed ... Even if they let Caesar go now - what would Reo do? How long would it take them to shake up the planet?

"You idiot," Caesar said through clenched teeth.

A miserable look Reo gave him was so familiar that Stacey felt he couldn't watch it. He didn't want to watch it at all, he already knew how it would end up.

Keep quiet; you have someone to protect, he reminded himself and stayed still. Reo had his brother but he, Stacey, had Kai.

"I won't let them take you, Caesar," Reo said.

"You freak ..." Gorn hissed. "I hope you'll get in such trouble for that it would be your end."

"And you traitor. You sold my brother ... he saved your life."

"I did it for the colony."

Behind Reo, a figure moved; so fast that Stacey didn't have time to make a sound - as a man slammed the handle of the gun against the back of Reo's head.

Reo fell the floor - soundlessly - and in silence Stacey heard a strange sound, looked at Caesar and understood what it was. Caesar gritted his teeth.

The Captain stood over Reo, smiling.

"You said locals wouldn't give us any trouble," he said to Gorn.

"It's his damned brother." Gorn pushed Reo's prone body with his boot. "Or his whore - I don't know what the fuck they do together."

"A blaster," the Captain said. "Interesting. Take the brat with us, I want to ask him a few questions."

Stacey looked how the men picked up Reo and dragged out.

"You're not going to interfere, are you?" Suddenly Gorn was in front of him, almost chest to chest. The man reminded him someone ... oh yes, Stacey knew whom. Andrews. And Stacey had thought the urges of anger he felt died with the man ...

"You let us arrest your friends just like that?"

"I'm not going to interfere," Stacey said quietly.

"Smart boy." Gorn tousled his hair and walked out.

* * *

H e came round with the feeling of liquid flame in his tonsils; thrashed involuntarily trying to get rid of this pain. Another wave of fire scalded his lungs.

"Good. It'll keep him conscious for a while."

The voice was unfamiliar. Reo tried to look and couldn't; his eyes watered and even an attempt to blink send a wave of pain through his overstuffed head. He'd been hit ... he tried to touch the back of his head and couldn't. His hands were tied; his arms bent behind the chair's back and cuffed while his ankles were cuffed to the chair's legs. There was amazingly little leverage he got when buckling.

"Don't try so hard, bitch." Gorn said and then Reo remembered everything. Caesar was arrested; and he failed to prevent it.

"Where is my brother? What have you done to him?"

"Oh ..." A grey-haired man in sleek uniform stood in front of him, his arms folded. "You have some spirit, kid."

"Where is Caesar?"

"Where do you think he is? We interrogate him; there are many, many things he has to tell us. And if he gets stubborn - believe me, we have means to persuade him."

It was a lie; they couldn't put a finger on Caesar, didn't dare to ... Reo thrashed again - and suddenly his hair was caught. The Captain pulled on it, making Reo look at his face.

"We know how to deal with bad-tempered captives." His thumb pressed to Reo's mouth in a strangely condescending gesture. Reo both wanted to jerk away out of this touch and felt hypnotized with it.

"You don't need to interrogate my brother ... he doesn't know anything."

"We'll see, we'll see," the man said. "By the way, what did you want to do with that blaster?"

"I wanted ... to save my brother."

It was difficult to bear the Captain's stare; the man seemed to laugh at him and Reo didn't know what to do to change it, to make him take Reo seriously.

"By the way, what is your brother's name?"

"Caesar ..." he whispered. His lips felt dry and burnt with whatever the Captain had used to make him come round. "Caesar Mein."

Gorn laughed; the sound made Reo thrash again and pull on his hair in the Captain's grip.

"Or, maybe, Alexander Miller?" the Captain said. "What is it? You don't know your brother's name?"

"Maybe, it's because he's not his brother at all?"

"Dr. Miller ... or Dr. Mein - whatever you like - will tell us everything about it."

"No!" Reo felt sick with fear; and desperate. He couldn't move, could do so little to convince these people, to defend Caesar ... Oh God, he hadn't been able to defend Caesar, hadn't saved him ... "I'll tell you whatever you want to know ..."

His hair was suddenly let go and the Captain wiped his hand on a handkerchief thoughtfully.

"What do you think, Governor? What is it we want to know?"

"Make him tell us what he is," Gorn said with a wry smile.

Reo felt choking; he knew he couldn't expect mercy from Gorn and he would do anything for Caesar ... But this! Well, if he wanted to save Caesar, there could be no exceptions.

"What he is?" the Captain asked.

"Yeah. He isn't human."

"Oh. That's interesting." The Captain took his face, looked at it closely. "And?"

"It'll be better if we just look," Gorn said.

Gorn's voice made Reo sick; if it were someone else, maybe, it wouldn't be so bad. But this traitor ... Reo didn't know how Gorn found out about Caesar's past; perhaps Gorn had always suspected something but considered Caesar too useful. Perhaps it was the arrival of Stacey and Kai that tried Gorn's patience beyond bearable. And he contacted the Empire - through the cargo ship, Reo was sure - to send the militaries. There had always been an award for Caesar, for many years ...

Now Gorn was going to get it. And Caesar would go to prison ... He, Reo, couldn't prevent it, messed up everything; threatened them with a blaster - and was so stupid that let himself be captured.

And now he was acting stupidly again - couldn't outsmart them, couldn't help Caesar in any way ... couldn't help himself. In the books he'd read the characters, even when in dire straits, still found some way out. But Reo was hopeless.

"No, don't - "

The Captain's narrowed eyes kept looking at his and Reo felt so weak in front of this stare, couldn't look away.

"I'll tell you everything, I'll tell you myself."

"Don't listen to him, sir," Gorn interfered.

"I see you really want to do it in the most violent way, Governor." The Captain let Reo go and stepped away. "The kid must have got on your nerves, right? Well, I don't mind if you enjoy yourself."

Gorn smiled, coming closer, and Reo bit his lip so hard he could feel the taste of blood. He couldn't stand it if Gorn touched him ... but was there anything else he could do? And he had to stand everything; if he wanted to distract their attention from Caesar. Trying not to look at Gorn, Reo met the Captain's eyes and kept looking at the man. He saw amusement in the Captain's gaze and knew it was as much as he could achieve. Amuse him and he won't touch Caesar ...

But as Gorn reached to him, he couldn't stand it. There was nowhere he could go, no matter how he thrashed - and then he spat at Gorn, hit the man's clothes.

"Look at this ..." the Captain drawled. "Isn't he funny?"

Gorn didn't find it funny at all. Reo watched how he raised his fist and managed not to close his eyes.

The blow was surprisingly heavy, nothing like those casual slaps Caesar had given him when Reo was a child. His head felt ringing, his eyes watered as his head hit against the back of the chair. His eyes must have looked surprised because the Captain laughed.

"It seems you didn't expect it'd hurt, kid?"

With slightly dazed eyes Reo watched Gorn raise the hand again and felt another blow, on the same side of his face. Numbness turned into fire as spikes of pain shot through his cheekbone.

He bit the inside of his lip and got some blood fill his mouth, so, he spat again. It didn't matter, he realized, what they did - talked to him or beat him - if they stayed away from Caesar during this time.

If only he could keep it like this ... But what would be when the ship left F-400? Would he, Reo, even be alive by then?

The next blow made his head rock and all the side of his face, from the eye to the corner of mouth, felt tender and raw. Gorn looked down at him with satisfaction.

"You lost a bit of your prettiness, Mr. Mein. Or should I say Mr. Miller?"

Gorn backhanded him and looked at his hand in distaste; he must have hurt himself as well.

"Take the knuckles if you want," the Captain suggested. There was nearly exhilaration in his voice. Gorn moved away, walked to the table - and Reo gasped, trying to regulate his breath. He stayed face to face with the Captain now.

"You don't cry," the Captain noticed. "Why is that? You aren't hurt enough yet - or is it pride?"

Reo shook his head; he'd forgotten to cry - his hatred to Gorn choked him.

"I was going to deal with you quickly," the Captain said. "But, maybe, I'll keep you for a while. Those flights are so boring sometimes. And, after all, I always can send you to the airlock."

"Fuck you," Reo made himself say. He was afraid of the man - felt sick with fear - of the Captain's light eyes, nearly delicate hands and a glitter of unceasing laughter in his gaze. He couldn't say anything more refined that this 'fuck you'; and, maybe, the Captain knew it.

Gorn hit him again, now with the fist charged with metal knuckles. Reo saw red and blinding white and choked on blood that filled his mouth. His teeth hurt and the contour was strange against his tongue, too sharp - must have been broken. He was hit again and again.

"You'll break his jaw," the Captain said.

"You see," for a moment the onslaught stopped. "His blood isn't red. I always knew it, sir."


There were more blows and now Reo couldn't keep silent any more. His vision was so blurry that he stopped seeing Gorn and didn't know where the next blow would land.

"You're tired, Governor," the Captain said at last. "Don't try so hard."

"I want to." Gorn was panting.

"Should I make you a small favor for all the amusement you provided me? Ross, Hawkes!"

There were two soldiers in the room and now they stepped towards the Captain.

"Some work for you, boys. I want you to teach the kid a lesson. So that next time he won't wield a blaster at my men ... I don't mind if you break him some ribs - but don't injure him terminally."

Reo braced himself to go through it. "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger."


* * *

S tacey remembered things like through the mist. He knew he must have walked to the greenhouse, after the soldiers were gone - and Kai and Cory were there - and Kai probably read something in his face even before Stacey had time to say something.

"They took Reo?"


Kai's lips went white instantly as he whispered:

"And now you're going to get him out."

"N - no."

He had Kai; he couldn't take the risk. He hadn't been going to take a risk for Caesar ... And with them two it would be even more impossible ... well, not that 'impossible' had any degrees. And, maybe, at this very moment the ship was leaving F-400.

But Reo ... Interfering Reo who came to his room to reproach him - Reo whom Stacey remembered holding in his arms as Caesar went mad with him for that small thing. Reo who taught Kai reading ...

Stacey couldn't bear that.

Kai looked at him with darkened eyes, his thin eyebrows drawn together - and then he made a step towards Stacey - and Stacey hugged him, held him tightly. He knew the right answer - he had to stay with Kai.

"People ... if they found out about him - they would hurt him ..."

"You're good with ships," Kai whispered; his hands didn't let Stacey go, clenched on him, in contrast with his almost calm voice. "You told me they taught you, on Nostromo."

"The shuttle is not ready yet," Stacey answered - and at the next moment it struck him what they were talking about. He shook Kai, gripped him too painfully. "There is no way ... there is just no way ... And even if I try - you can't follow me ... And I won't leave you here."

Gorn won't let you live here ... But the truth was that Gorn probably wouldn't let them both live here. The memory of Gorn's hand pawing his hair made Stacey shiver.

A pull on his sleeve made him turn. Cory; Stacey suddenly felt almost hatred to the boy. His father was to blame in everything ... He saw that his stare frightened the giant but Cory continued, showing something with his hands.

"He says we can sneak somewhere near the ship and if you manage to give a signal ..." Kai translated.

"No. No." Cory could've betrayed them; everything could've gone wrong. The right thing to do was not to interfere ...

But would it save them?

"You want me to try?"

And suddenly Kai clutched him, pressed himself to Stacey as close as he could. His voice was not calm any more but fast and desperate:

"No, I don't want you to! I hate it! I can't bear the thought that you'll risk your life! But it's impossible not to ..."

It was impossible; Kai put it in a weird way but Stacey knew it was right. It would be impossible to live knowing that he didn't even try.

Even if the price of a failure would be too high.

* * *

H e didn't know the extent of terminal injuries. It looked like his body was able to take a lot before crumbling.

Reo lost the track of time so completely that it seemed to him the beating continued for ages, which surely was not like that. The soldiers used the same kind of metal knuckles as Gorn did - worked steadily on him. Being tied in the chair seemed to make it worse, although in the corner of his mind Reo understood it didn't make any difference. He just couldn't struggle, couldn't curl and shield himself.

One of the blows in his abdomen made him throw up and his clothes stank now; and Reo felt sick again - his body didn't obey the order to keep the dignity. His world became shaky, blurry, colored bluish-red - narrowed to slamming pain. He didn't have time to guess where the next blow would come from, there were so many of them.

At first Reo heard the Captain and Gorn talk - and struggled to figure out what about, whether they mentioned Caesar's name. Then their voices mixed up. He felt angry with himself for failing even this minor task, for letting Caesar down again. Then his grip on reality loosened. He wanted to lose consciousness but was afraid beyond imagination to come round and see Caesar brought to an interrogation instead of him.

One of the books he'd read was 1984, an old weird book. But one thing from it he remembered. What if the moment would come when he'd scream: 'Don't do it to me, do it to Caesar!' He wouldn't bear if it happened.

It hurt to breathe. Reo wondered if they did do what the Captain had mentioned, broke his ribs. His bone structure was more durable than of a normal human - but why did it hurt like this ...

He didn't realize it at once that the battering stopped; then sounds reached him - loud, shivering sobs - and with disgust Reo realized he was the one who made them. Was it over? In some way, he didn't think so - and he shouldn't have wanted it to be over. His last mission was to keep Caesar out of harm as long as possible; it was the only thing he could do. But Reo always failed all his missions.

His eyes were swollen shut and he couldn't look, couldn't use his fingers to raise the eyelids. When a hand caught his hair, he gasped and thrashed. He recognized the way the Captain used to hold him.

"How was it, kid? You didn't expect it to be so bad when you pointed your stupid blaster at my people, right?"

He couldn't see ... The Captain's hard fingers touched his face suddenly, dug into his eyes, making Reo shriek in pain. But his eyelashes parted and in the fluctuating red mist Reo saw the man's face neared to his.

"No," he whispered. "I expected to be free ... with my brother."

"Why do you keep calling him your brother?" the Captain asked casually. "It's well-known Alexander Miller didn't have any siblings."

"Because he's my brother."

"You're one stubborn kid." The voice was almost soft but the way the man yanked on Reo's hair made him cry out. "Behave yourself - or I'll mess you up even worse. You don't want that, do you?"

"I do."

For a moment it seemed the Captain didn't hear or didn't understand. Reo's lips were split so badly that the words sounded unrecognizable. Then the man asked:

"What did you say?"

"I do," Reo repeated.

"Well then."

The voice was so calm that Reo wondered again if what he said was clear. The Captain was out of his sight - and then something wrapped around Reo's neck. He recognized the silkiness of his headscarf. It was turned into a thin plait - and this plait tightened, cutting into his throat.

He gasped in surprise, yanked on his wrists instinctively - but of course he couldn't get free. The slipknot tightened some more, cutting his breath off. Reo struggled for the air, realized he could get none and panicked - but there was already nothing he could do. His hands and feet twitched but the cuffs held well.

Why have I done it? There were no clean, selfless thoughts any more - just fear and wish to turn it back. Then huge bells boomed in his mind and there was nothing.

He didn't want to die; he didn't want to hurt. It was the first thought that came to his mind and it meant he was still alive. He did hurt - pain was scalding his lungs with impossible sweetness of air. He breathed again.

"How about that?" The Captain twisted the scarf in his hands. "Next time I can keep it even longer. I like how you flail."

"Go to hell," Reo whispered.

* * *

He'd pissed himself. The shame burned through Reo's mind and it was nearly the only thing in the world, together with pain, that stayed real. He didn't know how it happened, apparently during the second time when the Captain tightened the scarf around his neck. When Reo came round, he was already dripping and Gorn laughed and the Captain wiped his hands on the scarf.

"At this rate, I won't have to throw you to the airlock, kid. You won't leave F-400 alive."

"Sir, maybe I ..." It was Gorn's voice but Reo didn't have any strength left for hatred. "We wanted to check ..."

"Sure," the Captain said.

What did they talk about? It was crucial, Reo knew it but he felt so weak and couldn't think straight. Through the haze, he saw a blaster in Gorn's hand. Did Gorn want to kill him? But this death would be easy ...

"How do you make it not lethal?" Gorn asked.

"Here," the Captain showed.

And then a thin line of fire ran over Reo's front, melting the leather, cutting it open.

It was melting his body as well. Not slicing it, for that the level was too low - but burning steadily, like a trickle of molding lava. He screamed wildly, tossed his head back, hitting it against the chair. For a moment it seemed to Reo the cuffs got off; but it was just his wrist snapping. The fire went down, over his chest and to his belly, almost to his groin, separating the leather on its way.

"Oh look at this ..." someone said and, in agony, Reo didn't recognize the voice.

He still convulsed in pain, tried to curl over his abused front as Gorn leaned down and yanked his clothes apart.

"I knew he'd surprise us."

And now Reo knew what it meant. They all looked at him - Gorn, the Captain, the soldiers. They looked like he'd known they would look.

"He's damn disgusting," the Captain said.

"His 'brother' was apparently a specialist in creating monsters ... and this is one of them."

"What the fuck is it?" The blaster in the Captains hand touched Reo, traced the scars marking his ribcage. Reo clenched his teeth. No one had touched him there ... except Caesar, by necessity - and Stacey - that time. "How weird."

"He's a freak, I always said that."

"And this ..." It was even worse - as the blaster touched his belly. Reo flinched and closed his eyes. But of course he knew it would come.

"Oh shit. It looks like ..." the Captain said thoughtfully as the blaster traced the slit and Reo tried to get away from it, would do anything for that - only the metal of the chair was unyielding. "It looks like a tiny cunt, doesn't it?"

"He's neither male nor female," Gorn said.

"A hermaphrodite?" the Captain asked. The blaster went up and raised Reo's face. "Is it what you are, kid?"

It didn't matter what he answered, so, Reo said nothing.

"Answer me!" A slap made him shiver.

"I'm not," he whispered. "It's ... another thing ..."

"What the hell is he talking about?" Gorn said with disgust. "It's clear what he is - a monster! And this thing he uses for ..."

Reo never heard the continuation. He didn't even know whether it was Gorn or the Captain who did it - shoved the blaster inside his slit and pulled the trigger.

He screamed wildly, thrashing in his cuffs. His belly seemed to fill with liquid fire - fire that splashed there, looking for a way out and finding none. His scream was not human at all at this moment - shrill, anguished sounds of agony. Reo choked and shrieked again, even as the blaster was taken away.

"It looks like he really feels something there," the Captain said.

The world was black and rocked. The words sounded distant, having little to do with him.

"Yeah, the spawn is really hurt. He's leaking."

Reo couldn't feel it but mucus probably seeped out of him now. And then another flow of pain made him spasm, made his eyes fly open. Gorn shoved his fingers inside the slit, rubbed the burnt skin.

"The bitch seems to be aroused - look how wet it is."

I'm not female, he wanted to whisper - but did it matter, after all? Was there something worse than they had already done to him?

"I wonder if he has some strange things on his back as well," Gorn said. "Wings, maybe?"

Reo was uncuffed but he already couldn't struggle. His clothes were discarded and then his hands cuffed again, behind his back. It made him shudder when his broken wrist was fastened. He couldn't stop gasping; it was agony. His slit clenched and pain seemed to tear right to his heart.

The hands and the muzzle of the blaster ran over his back, traced the scars. It had never been that bad on his back, he could practically pass for a human.

"See how neat." He heard the Captain's voice - and pain slammed into him, threw him on his knees. Reo choked and shivered as pain coursed through him from his kidneys. "His anatomy is similar to human here."

Reo cried out as the hands yanked him up on his feet by his cuffed wrists - and then his arms were pulled up, making him bend over. He did; his forehead almost touched his knees - but it still was not enough to alleviate the pressure.

"Almost human," the Captain repeated - and he felt the muzzle of the blaster push into his anus.

Would they burn his insides like that? It surely would kill him ... but, maybe, not quickly enough. He clenched, feeling the ripping of his flesh.

"Hawkes. I see you're interested. Do you want to try the freak boy?"

It couldn't be, Reo prayed, it couldn't happen to him. He couldn't bear it.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

Reo couldn't move, his arms were still pulled up - and then he felt another body behind him. Hands lay on his ass, spreading his ass-cheeks apart. He tried not to think, not to feel. But as harsh, burning pain came, it was not possible not to feel.

He'd wanted it to be different ... if ever. His fantasies had never gone that far. And the one he'd shared it with in his fantasies, the one he could let do it ... with him it would be different. But Caesar was under arrest now, in as much danger as Reo was ... maybe, he would never see Caesar again.

He hated them for doing it - and he hated himself, for still being alive, even as they bent him over and fucked him. He shouldn't have been allowed to live through this.

But pain was not killing him; it was not even as bad as the burning in the slit on his belly. He felt heat of the soldier's body against his, the impact of his pelvis on every thrust. He was getting cloudy with his bent over position and would fall if they didn't hold him. The soldier twitched and froze for a few moments, then wrenched out of him. The hands stopped holding Reo as well and he collapsed of the floor.

"How is he, Hawkes?"

"A hole is a hole." With his peripheral side Reo saw the man wipe his bloodied cock with a tissue.

"Ross? Do you feel like?.."

Please no more, he thought - and stifled his wish to beg. They wouldn't obey; they would just be amused. There would be more - he had to know it and go through it. Till the moment they'd let him die.

He was pulled up on his knees, his legs kicked apart to accommodate another body. This time the man entered quickly. Reo sagged over his knees, kept only by the hands hooked into his hips. Maybe, they'd let him die soon ...

The hand yanked his head up and he looked at Gorn's face.

"I always felt like doing it ..."

"You aren't afraid to put something in his mouth, are you?" the Captain asked mockingly.

Yeah, come on, put it in my mouth ... even it'll be the last thing I do in my life.

"I don't think about his mouth," Gorn answered.

Reo knew what he meant but his mind rejected it. They couldn't do it, he would die on the spot ... Gorn pulled him closer, almost like for a hug. And then searing pain came and it didn't kill him.

He stopped seeing, stopped feeling Gorn against him or the soldier working at his backside. Only this pain existed as his slit was wrecked, torn open by the entering organ.

He choked and screamed again - thrashed, squeezed between two bodies, but feeling just the violated core of his own.

"So slick," Gorn said. "So tight."

* * *

H e was doing things automatically. A lot of what they'd taught him on Nostromo - Stacey didn't know he remembered. But the knowledge must have stayed and his body was wise - so, he still wasn't caught even as he moved through the ship. They didn't even know he was there.

He recalled where cells had to be located from the plans he must have seen on Nostromo; Heles had really good knowledge of human technics - unsurprisingly. He and got to the cells and saw two guards there. He had a rifle - an old one; Cory had given it to him and Stacey was not sure it could shoot. Well, he'd find out now. If it shot, maybe, he would be able to kill one or both of them. If not ... they'd kill him.

He didn't want to kill them ... But he didn't have time for qualms.

He almost walked out from behind the corner as a sound in the cell made him stop, made the guards turn back.

"Open the door," Caesar's voice said.

It didn't make sense - why would they obey him? Did Caesar consider it was enough just to ask them? Stacey frowned, irritated somewhat with Caesar's arrogance. In the best case the guards wouldn't pay attention - in the worst - they would get angry.

He clenched the rifle and prepared himself to attack.

"Open the door." The voice was level, low, strangely pacifying. There was something in it - Stacey couldn't explain ... but suddenly the idea didn't look so ridiculous to him. "Open it."

He's hypnotizing them; the thought came all of a sudden and the power of Caesar's voice was gone. For Stacey - not for the guards. In silence, Stacey watched how one of them walked up to the door and started entering the code. The other seemed to be frozen, as if listening to something inside him.

The door slid open - and at the next moment Caesar jumped like a big cat. Everything Stacey had known about him - it still didn't prepare him for the speed Caesar moved with, to the single motion it took to break the the guard's neck.

As the dead body slumped to the floor, the other guard seemed to come round - and Stacey stepped from behind the corner, broke the butt of the rifle on the man's neck. Caesar's cold eyes met his.

"You're here. I told you not to play the hero."

"You're as good at killing as at curing, sir," Stacey whispered. There was a strange glittering in Caesar's that made him look feverish; or just extremly satisfied.

"They shouldn't have taken my brother. Now help me."

They dragged both guards, dead and alive, to the cell - and Caesar knelt in front of the alive one. His long fingers ran over the man's temples and Stacey saw the guard open his eyes that widened in terror immediately.

"Where is the other captive?" Caesar's voice was quiet but Stacey felt shivers go through his body at the sound of it. The eyes of the knocked down man were huge with fear.

"He's ... he's ... at the Captain's quarters ... They interrogate him."

Caesar's face went marble at these words. He put his hands on the man's face, preparing to turn.

"Please ..." the man whispered.

"You want to kill him?" Stacey had time to say just that.

"I've killed him." A short snap - and the man's eyes went dull - and Stacey grabbed Caesar's wrist.

"There was no need, he told everything we wanted him to!"

He didn't notice the movement Caesar made to free from his grip - so swift it was. And then the gun of one of the guards pointed at him.

"I'm not going to lose time because of you," Caesar hissed. "If you can't kill - you'll die."

The muzzle was black and round, Caesar's eyes were blue and slit-like but they were equally implacable.

"I can kill," Stacey said.

He proved it a few minutes later as they saw two more men in front of the Captain's quarters. There was no other way. Stacey shot in the chest of one of them and saw him crumble on the floor - and near to him Caesar took off the other soldier point blank.

I can kill ...

He was the first to get in - and took in the picture instantly: two soldiers - the one who reached for the weapon was to shoot first - the Captain, and Gorn ... and a crumpled, bleeding body on the floor, with the only recognizable thing about it the shine of raven hair. Oh Reo ... No, he couldn't think about it yet, there were things he had to do.

He stepped away, letting Caesar in - they both shot and the soldiers collapsed on the floor. The Captain had a blaster in his hand - the blaster he was passing over Reo's curled body - and he turned it at Stacey, shot. Shit, Stacey thought, but the pain that seared his shoulder was just like a small splash of fire. The blaster was set on minimum.

The Captain needed a split second to understand it - but even that was too much. Caesar shot; a blast threw the Captain against the wall. The blaster fell out of the man's hand as he gasped in shock and pain. His side was burnt black and bleeding.

Stacey saw Caesar aim again and screamed:

"Don't!" It was not compassion. "We'll need him."

He noticed Caesar clench his teeth - but he seemed to understand Stacey.

"We don't need this shit, though." He aimed at Gorn.

The Governor looked like an animal caught in the headlights of a car; his hands trembled - and Stacey could see streaks of violet-red on it. Reo's blood.

Cory, he thought, it was Cory's father.

"Wait a moment, sir," he said harshly.

His shoulder pierced with pain as he bent for the Captain's blaster - and the Captain jumped for it as well. But the man was in much too bad state, collapsed on the floor, writhing in pain.

"Keep quiet," Stacey said tiredly. "You're not dead yet - but you can be at any moment."

And he wished him dead, for God's sake, he did. Just like he wished Gorn dead - Gorn who stood like a wooden dummy now. Gorn who had done all that ... Stacey couldn't think about it; he could smell burnt flesh and blood - and the sight of Reo's naked body, broken and defiled, was almost too much.

He saw Caesar drop on his knees in front of Reo. Small sounds that were breaking from his lips - Stacey wouldn't ever believe he'd hear them from this man. Caesar's hand trembled as he reached to Reo, touched his shoulder, and Reo shuddered at the touch, curling tighter. A keening sound he made caused Stacey to want to cover his ears.

They were too late for Reo - he knew they were too late. Just like he'd been too late for Kai on Nostromo.

"A blanket," Caesar said expressionlessly. "Or a sheet. Something."

Stacey pointed the gun at the Captain and the man said through clenched teeth:

"In the closet. But what do you try to achieve, Miller? And you, young man? You want to die?"

Stacey couldn't afford to watch Caesar even with peripheral sight, just knew that the man moved, must have found the blanket, leaned to Reo again.

"Sir. Please watch them. I need to get Kai."

It seemed to him Caesar didn't hear him, could hear and see nothing but Reo's abused body in front of him.

If he doesn't do it now, I'll ... But Caesar heeded, picked up the blaster and took the aim.

"Announce on the comm for no one to stop me," Stacey said.

"And if I don't do it?"

Stacey didn't have time to answer - Caesar pulled the trigger. The Captain screamed as the fingers of his right hand were cut off. Gorn was making sounds as well - small yelping ones; his lips and cheeks trembled.

"Use the comm," Caesar said.

The Captain reached for it, with his left hand - and Stacey heard his tight voice.

"Everybody stays on his place. Don't use the weapons. Don't interfere."

* * *

He couldn't believe it would work - even as Kai met him, his eyes shining with joy and then frightened immediately as he saw Stacey's burnt shoulder.

"I'm okay," Stacey said and smiled and took his hand. "We need to go."

Cory's eyes were desperate as he looked at them - and Stacey remembered Gorn and Reo's blood on the man's hands.

"We're leaving the planet," he said quietly. "Will you join us? Will you leave your father and your home for ... for Kai?"

He didn't expect the giant's nod to be so eager.

"Then look after Kai." Well, it was not right - to use the boy like this. But Stacey needed his attention elsewhere - and he was sure Cory would do everything for Kai to be safe.

He felt sick with fear as they stepped back to the ship; the situation wasn't secure, Caesar could still lose his gamble. But they were not apprehended and reached the Captain's quarters unimpeded.

"It's us, sir," he said coming in - and knew at once something was different in the room. One more corpse on the floor - Gorn's.

He met Caesar's eyes and the man muttered:

"He tried to attack me," - and Stacey knew it was a lie. But who was he to judge Caesar - when his brother lay on the floor unconscious and blood was soaking through the sheet that covered him?

He heard a small sound Cory made behind him - and saw the boy's widened eyes locked on the body of his father.

"Why did you take him ..." Caesar said.

"We don't have time for that." Stacey looked away with an effort, noticed fleetingly that Kai turned Cory towards himself, away from Gorn's body, his hands on the boy's face, covering his eyes. The giant face wrinkled as tears sprang. "Order the crew to leave the ship, Captain."

"Or what?" The man's voice was distorted with pain and hatred. "Or you'll shoot me as you shot the Governor? Or you'll torture me?"

Like you tortured Reo ... The man must have seen something in his eyes and reached for the comm.

"And what about me?"

"You'll be let go," Stacey said. "Once everybody leaves the ship."

It took the Captain a few moments of hesitation, then he reached for the comm again.

"Tell them they'll go to the tribunal if they endanger the life of their Captain," Stacey added. Even if someone of the soldiers could be tempted to play a hero - none of them was a fool, he hoped.

They waited in silence for the crew to follow the order.

"Were are you going to go? You think we don't catch you?" the Captain continued.

It was eight days till the arrival of the cargo ship - the first opportunity to contact the Empire from F-400. Plenty of time for the fugitives. But Stacey knew how small the Empire could get when you were on the run. Yet there was nothing he could do.

"I'm going to the bridge," he said finally.

"And I? You promised to let me go!" For the first time the Captain seemed to show fear.

"I lied. So, sue me."

Stacey flinched at his own words and turned away, walked out. From the bridge, starting the ship, he could see the soldiers who ran to the shuttle, in an attempt to chase them. He fired, destroying the shuttle, and knew there were more dead.

"Look at me, Vic," Stacey whispered as the ship started. "Heles would be proud of me. I kill more humans than they ever wanted me to."

The End of Part 3

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