"Hey you guys!"
The chief's voice echoed down the pristine winding corridors from the control room. With practised ease, Gisburn and Tarrib ignored it.
"Hey! You guys!"
Gisburn looked up and sighed.
"Think we ought to answer?"
Tarrib spoke without looking up from his viewer. "Why? It won't be anything important. It never is...."
"Hey! You! Control room - NOW!!"
Gisburn scowled in the direction of the door and shouted back: "OK! I'm coming!" He glanced at the biochemist. "What about you?"
Tarrib raised his face from the eyepiece and regarded his colleague with exaggerated patience. "Why don't you go and find out what he wants. Then, if it's important, you can come back here and tell me." He turned his attention back to the matter in hand - under lens, rather - and dismissed Gisburn from his mind.
Gisburn was tempted, momentarily, to throw something at him, but it was only a momentary lapse. The memory of the strange and painful rash he'd developed the last time he'd physically interrupted the intense young scientist's concentration was more than enough to prevent him from trying again. Resisting the urge to scratch, he made his way reluctantly to join the chief.
Shereeff was leaning forward in his seat at the communications console, almost visibly drooling, as Gisburn entered the room. The chief's eyes flickered to his second in command briefly, then back to the console, and he gestured frantically, behind his back, for Gisburn to approach. Curious, the comms officer moved to stand behind his chair - and almost gasped at the sight on the viewscreen.
Three scantily-clad and well-endowed young women were clustered around the transmitter at the other end. Their apparent leader, whose long blonde hair hung entrancingly down over one large blue eye, smiled tremulously at the viewscreen, her lips quivering.
"Hello? Are you really there?"
"Oh yes! Who are you?"
"Hello? Can you hear me?"
"Of course I can hear you! Who are you?"
The blonde glanced back at the black haired beauty behind her. "I don't think they can hear us. Maybe it's a recording...."
Shereeff slammed his hand down on the console, nearly breaking a couple of fingers. Gisburn sighed, leaned over and activated a switch. Shereeff scowled at him, and he raised a sardonic eyebrow.
"You had the mike switched off. Try it now..."
The physicist swing back to the viewscreen, put on his best smile, and coughed gently. The blonde swung back to stare at the screen, startled, her eyes wide.
"You can hear us?"
"Oh yes, indeed we can!" Shereeff grinned.
The lovely blue eyes closed as a slender hand rested itself on the soft white skin above the smooth rise of flesh above her low-cut tunic... Shereeff swallowed compulsively and rose to the occasion.
"How may we assist you?"
The vision on the screen peered up from under her hair and dimpled at him.
"We had thought we were all alone here..... Lost, and at the mercy of the elements. We thought everyone had been killed."
"Well, we're still here!" Shereeff mentally kicked himself for his inanity. "So, how can we help you?"
The dimples deepened. "Well......."
Gisburn held his hands to the wood fire and watched the chief stomping up and down the grass outside the storage depot. Shereeff was not a happy man.
"How could they do this to us? To ME??"
Tempting as it was to point out that he wasn't the only person who was suffering, Gisburn held his peace. After all, he'd fallen for it too... He stared up at the tiny point of light that was the Rottingham Science Satellite and his erstwhile home, and scowled.
It had been so predictable, really. A team of scientists, completely alone in the sector - or so they'd thought - since they'd managed to avoid the Cleansing. Four normal, fully-functioning men. And no women. They'd all coped, somehow, although tempers occasionally got a little frayed. But over the last year and a half they'd achieved an admirably smooth routine, somehow. At least, there'd been no repeat of the time Shereeff had thrown himself at Tarrib, knife flailing for the biochemist's throat as the scientist had pushed his luck too far once too often. It had taken both Gisburn and Deepfriar to hold the chief back, and a large dose of one of Tarrib's more potent potions to calm him down. (Well, render him comatose, actually, but it didn't do any lasting harm. As far as any of them could tell, anyway...)
And then, just when they thought they might actually survive, the transmission from the surface of the planet reached them.... Shereeff had immediately dragged Gisburn to the shuttle bay and launched the primary craft. Gisburn's objections had been overruled. Ignored, rather.
"But what about the others?"
"They did not come when I called. It's their loss!"
And they'd landed in a clearing on the planet, and the lovely blonde had approached the shuttle, her walk a slow, seductive, hip-swaying saunter. Gisburn had swallowed hard and opened the door...
She was definitely a riveting sight. So riveting that they hadn't realised the others had silently entered the shuttle until they both felt cold metal pressed hard into their throats. As they froze, the blonde grinned at them and waved a hand.
The women docked the shuttle - untidily but without causing any permanent damage - and climbed onto the deck.
"What now?" The raven-haired beauty rested the long barrel of her ancient laser rifle on her shoulder and regarded her leader with piercing silver-blue eyes. Her name was Willa. Her friends called her Scarface, because of her habit of carving up the features of those who annoyed her. (Her enemies didn't call her anything - they were all dead.)
Robinja shoved a lock of blonde hair from her eyes and grinned. "Now? We see if there's anyone else on board. I'll take the control room." She snapped her fingers, and the rest of the small band lined up in front of her.
"Willa, take the upper levels." Willa saluted and stalked off.
"BB - get down to hydroponics and check out the labs." Long golden curls tumbled as the demolition expert nodded and headed off towards the guts of the satellite.
"Jain, see if this crate has anything decent in the way of stores." As her second in command disappeared, she regarded the fifth member of the band, and frowned slightly.
"Do you think you could find somewhere safe for Marion? And then maybe run a diagnostic on the satellite's systems?"
The veiled, shapeless figure nodded, and Robinja smiled.
"Good. Report to me in the control room when you're ready."
Half an hour later they all assembled in control. Their hunt had been successful, and Robinja regarded their two captives with some curiosity.
"Soooooo........ What's the set up here?"
Tarrib stared at the women as though he'd just found some mildly interesting but nevertheless unwelcome new growth on one of his bacteriological samples. BB nudged him in the back with her customised StUzi.
"I'd talk, if I was you. She's not renowned for her patience...."
Tarrib scowled. "What do you want to know?"
Robinja leaned back in the command chair, draping a shapely leg over one arm, and smiled prettily while her voice dripped menace. It was an interesting contrast.
"What is this place?
"The foremost Science Satellite in this sector."
"And what does it do?"
"We produce medical supplies."
"From the plants on the planet. We process them into medicinal preparations."
Robinja nodded, her eyes narrowed slightly in thought. "I see. And what else do you do?"
Tarrib hesitated. BB poked her gun into his ear.
"She asked you a question...."
The biochemist swallowed hard. "We... were also involved in creating narcotics for the Divine Order. Mind control drugs, hallucinogens, a range of unpleasant transgenic viruses....." He closed his eyes, unwilling to confess his involvement in such a debasement of his beloved science. "And some recreational drugs. We were - I was - experimenting with low-gravity yields of some of the more stable mood-altering herbs..."
Robinja's glance flickered to Jain, who grinned behind Tarrib's back.
"I see... And?"
"And... some others... "
"One of the native plants.... It has an aphrodisiac effect..."
"Oh, that one. Yes, we know of it. What were you planning to do with it?"
Tarrib glared at her. "My research was designed to help men with certain... problems."
BB patted his shoulder. "Of course it was...."
He brushed her hand away. "What other use would we have for it?"
The women chuckled.
"I can think of one or two things...." muttered Jain. Tarrib looked scandalised.
"There were no women here. Before you arrived, I mean."
"Could have been interesting, then!"
"Just what do you think we are!"
Robinja smiled, but her eyes were cold. "In trouble, I would say." Her gaze moved to the other captive, who stood quaking with fright, Willa's favourite skinning knife pressed against his cheek.
"And what do we have here?"
Willa tickled his neck with her knife. "And what is Deepfriar?"
"Well, we are honoured! Two biochemists.... And what were you working on?"
"He was assisting me." Robinja's gaze swung back to Tarrib. "Since the Cleansing, there's been little call for slimming and dietary aids."
"Can he cook?"
Tarrib stared at her, startled, and glanced at his colleague. Deepfriar nodded, forgetting the knife until it dug into his flesh. He froze.
"Y.... yes. I can cook."
"Good. You've just been promoted."
"From dead-weight to servant. Go and make us something to eat. Willa, go with him."
As the pair left the control room, Robinja turned to Tarrib, smiling slowly.
"As for you - we have something special in mind for you..."
From the bridge came a familiar refrain...
"All night 'bove my darling I panted,
I couldn't believe my luck..."
Stan groaned in his sleep. Not more doggerel!!
"With the strong manly body I'd borrowed,
We finally got to..."
"This is the Science Satellite Rottingham, calling any ships in the vicinity. Is there anybody out there?"
Stan was up and on his way to the bridge before he'd even fully woken. The voice was female. Better yet, it was young and female. Best of all, it was friendly, young and female...
He arrived as 790 began calling for Xev, and kicked the robot head - almost gently - out of the control pedestal's footrest where Xev had placed him last 'night'. Climbing into his place, ignoring 790's usual stream of invective, he put on his best grin and activated the viewscreen.
"Hello, Rottingham Science Satellite. This is Stanley Tweedle, captain of the Lexx. We received your call... Are you in some kind of trouble?" 'Please be in some kind of trouble - pleasepleaseplease...' he added silently, swallowing hard as Robinja's lovely face filled the screen.
"Hello, Captain Tweedle. I'm Robinja, temporarily in charge here. No, we're not in trouble. But we're a little lonely."
The view pulled back to show Willa, Jain and BB waving and smiling at the viewscreen. Stanley's jaw dropped as his heart rate soared.
"As if you'd be so lucky!" mumbled the robot head. "Those women would have to be blind and comatose before they'd let you touch them..."
"Well..." Stan squeaked, then coughed and tried to keep his voice - and various other parts of him - under control. "How would you feel about having a few visitors?"
"That would be... lovely." answered Robinja. "How many of you are there?"
"Well, there's me - and Xev, she's part cluster Lizard - and there's Kai, but he's dead..."
"And there's me!" piped up 790 from the floor. Stan ignored him.
"Oh." said Robinja, hiding her disappointment with consummate skill. "Well, you are all welcome. Can you home in on our signal?"
Stan looked upwards. "Lexx?"
"Yes Stanley. It is a very clear signal."
Stan nodded at the screen. "We'll be with you shortly."
"We will look forward to it."
As the screen blanked, Stan grinned widely to himself. Four of them. There were four of them! And they were lonely...
"I think you should have found out some more about them, Stan."
"I think so too, oh twin moons of delight."
Xev was pacing, frowning slightly.
"Ahh, you're just jealous 'cause there's no men."
Xev was jealous, just a little, but she certainly wasn't going to let Stanley Tweedle know it! "But do we know what the Satellite actually does? Whether it has any weapons systems? Could it be dangerous?"
"I thought carnivores liked to explore! What's happened to your sense of adventure?"
"Under control, like my libido! It's a lesson you would do well to learn, Stanley."
Stan rubbed his hands together and grinned.
"Well, it's too late now! They know we're on our way."
Xev pouted - but she had to admit she was curious...
As they approached the Satellite, Stan repented and allowed Xev to wake Kai. Not that he really had much choice in the matter. But then again, better safe than sorry...
The moths docked smoothly in the shuttle bay, where Robinja and Willa met them.
"Ladies!" Stan slapped his hands together and grinned. "I'd like you to meet my crew... This is Xev..." the love-slave and the outlaws regarded each other with a barely disguised hostility that was completely lost on Stan, "and Kai." Willa's eyes widened at the sight of the last of the Brunnen-G, and she glanced quickly at her leader. Kai watched the subtle exchange with veiled suspicion.
Stan sighed and gestured negligently at the robot head in Xev's arms. "And that useless piece of junk is 790."
"Welcome, all of you. We have prepared a meal for you. Please, follow us..."
As Robinja turned to leave the shuttle bay, Stan leered and muttered, "Willingly..."
Meanwhile, down in the labs, Tarrib laboured over the processing equipment, watched closely by the veiled figure. His previously pristine workwear was grimy and sweat-soaked, his eyes darkly shadowed with exhaustion, his hair straggly and unkempt. He glanced at his watcher and groaned.
"Please... Isn't that enough?"
"Just a little more...." The low voice almost whispered the words. Tarrib choked back something that was halfway between a sob and a curse and, hands shaking, turned back to the viciously potent narcotic he was creating.
The two crews assembled in the messhall. Stan was gratified to note that the only other male in evidence was the spaced-out shambolic figure who stumbled into the hall, carrying a large tureen and a serving ladle...
Xev regarded him curiously.
"Who are you?"
The figure grinned lopsidedly, his eyes glazed, and waved the ladle in the general direction of the table. He tried to speak a couple of times, but all that came out was a strangled cough. Finally a flood of what sounded like complete gibberish poured from his mouth...
Xev frowned and glanced down at 790. The robot head gave its equivalent of a shrug.
"As far as I can tell, peach-skinned monument of loveliness, it's a dialect from one of the League planets. I think it might be a recipe for some kind of soup. But I can't be certain without analysing it further."
"Then please do so."
"It's not really worth it, my paragon of perfection. He's not praising your beauty, or adding to what we know about this planet. I'd rather sit and look at you..."
"790." Xev was stern. "I think it would be good to know a little more about this place. Please do as I ask."
Insofar as a robot head can, 790 sulked as it mumbled "oh very well..."
Trembling with exhaustion and need, Tarrib raised a shaking hand to his watcher. "Please... Surely that's enough..."
The veiled figure examined the cache carefully and nodded. Tarrib sighed with relief and stumbled backwards to fall onto a couch, hands clutching furiously but futilely at the bulge at his groin as the watcher reached into a pouch and withdrew a dermal hypo. She pressed it hard against his thigh and depressed the plunger, opening his clothing as she did so: almost of their own accord his hands sought her head and pushed it down towards the throbbing, aching tumescence between his legs...
She was skilful, and the drug both enhanced every sensation and delayed his release, and it wasn't until an hour later that he was able to tumble into a drained and enervated unconsciousness. The watcher smiled grimly and set the chronometer to wake him in three hours time...
"Please" Robinja gestured to the table. "Be seated. Enjoy the meal..."
Stan and Xev took their seats. Willa glanced at the ex-assassin.
"You're not joining us?"
"The dead don't eat."
She scowled and shrugged shapely shoulders. "Oh, very well. Be antisocial if you want."
Robinja turned her bright, seductive gaze on Stanley, who unconsciously sat up straighter and pushed out his chest, giving her what he apparently thought was an inviting smile. She touched a finger to the tip of his nose, and he managed to lick it before she had time to pull it away.
"So, sexy Stanley.... Tell me about that big ship of yours..."
Ignoring Xev's well-placed kick to his shin, he began to explain about the Lexx...
"So this big, sexy ship of yours can do almost anything?"
"Yeah. You just have to feed it every now and then."
"And it's the most powerful destructive weapon ever created?"
"Yes." He frowned. "At least, I think so... We've never heard of anything better."
Robinja nodded thoughtfully, than glanced at Kai, who had joined them at the table during the course of the meal. Leaning forward and twining his loose lock of hair around her finger, she smiled into his face.
"And you are an assassin - which means you are dead, and exist on protoblood. That must be a little limiting for you."
The Brunnen-G regarded her stonily. "Ex-assassin. And yes, it is."
She sat back and folded her arms. "Would you be prepared to give us just a very little of your protoblood for analysis? It may be that we can synthesise more for you - or even improve what you already have. Back before the Cleansing, this satellite was well-known for its knowledge of the science of the Divine Order."
Kai frowned at her, then glanced briefly at Xev - who was trying very hard to hide the delighted hope in her eyes - and the scowling Stan. Reluctantly, the Brunnen-G nodded.
He allowed a small amount of his precious protoblood to trickle out into the glass beaker Willa produced. She stood, grinned, and left the hall...
Robinja had regaled the company with some very funny stories of her experiences on other worlds, and the surprisingly tasty meal was nearly finished. Even Xev was feeling relaxed. As she raised a last glass of some fruity concoction that had made her feel very light-headed, she suddenly realised that Kai was missing. She nudged Stanley.
"How should I know? Maybe he went sight-seeing."
Xev sighed with exasperation and turned to Robinja.
"Did you see where our companion went?"
Robinja smiled. "He expressed a wish to see our labs. Jain accompanied him. I think we are all quietly excited about the possibility of helping him."
Xev looked both hopeful and sceptical. "You really think it might be possible?"
The blonde laid a spuriously sympathetic hand on the love-slave's arm. "I can't promise anything, of course. But our station was renowned for its unique and innovative procedures, back before the Cleansing. I see no harm in investigating the possibilities. And he is a very special person, isn't he?"
Xev moved her arm as delicately as possible out of Robinja's reach.
"He is indeed. And thank you. We appreciate your help."
"Thank me when we have achieved something. Well," she announced, turning to the rest of the company, "I'm for my sleep. It's been an exciting day."
The other women nodded in agreement, and BB rose from her seat.
"I'd be delighted to escort our guests to their sleeping chambers. If you have no objections," she added, smiling at Stanley and Xev.
"We would prefer to wait for Kai." Xev looked a little anxious. "I won't be able to sleep unless I know he's all right."
Robinja nodded. "I'll have Willa go and search for him." The raven-haired markswoman grinned and prowled from the room, and Robinja turned back to the Lexx crew.
"She will bring him to your chambers once she has found him. You need have no fears for his safety."
Xev forced herself to smile. "Thank you..."
"You are most welcome. Now, please go with BB. She'll show you where you are to stay during your visit."
Xev couldn't sleep. A combination of almost unbearable anticipation, libidinous frustration, and anxiety over Kai's whereabouts, had her pacing the length of the small stateroom she'd been allocated. 790's eyes followed her back and forth.
"Xev? Satin skinned icon of man's whole desire?"
She paused. "What is it, 790?"
"I think I've translated some of the cook's ravings."
Xev draped herself on the bed beside the robot head.
"It's only a rough translation."
"That doesn't matter. Just let me hear it."
790 cleared its throat.
" 'My name is Deepfriar,
Now known as the Scryer,
I see secrets in bubbling steam -
The icing's enticing,
Now, quick - stick the knife in -
The women are not what they seem.' "
The robot head grimaced. "Horrible poetry."
Xev chuckled. "Oh I don't know. It's better than yours!"
790 grumbled quietly to himself for a moment. Xev patted him.
"Oh, you know I'm just joking. But what does all that mean?"
"Probably nothing, my dream of deliciousness. The culinary cretin is obviously completely insane."
Xev pouted thoughtfully. "I hope you're right..."
Stan couldn't sleep. He'd been shown to a sparsely furnished but fairly comfortable room opposite Xev and 790's. He could hear their voices and, occasionally, Xev's laughter. He tossed, and turned, threw off the thin cover, pulled it back on... No good. There were four nubile, lovely, available young women just a short stagger away...
He rose and dragged on his coverall, and glanced quickly in the mirror. Not perhaps the most handsome of men - but he sure had a lot to offer! Leering at his reflection, he pulled on his hat and slipped out of the door.
Outside, everything was quiet. Retracing the route they had earlier followed from the messhall, it didn't take him long to find the right door. It was open. He paused outside, for a moment, listening. Inside, Robinja was talking quietly to another of the women.
"So production is going well?"
The voice that answered was so low and so quiet he could only just hear what was being said.
"Above what we'd anticipated. He is extremely talented and very efficient. It's just a pity we have to ... persuade... him this way..."
"We could hardly expect him to work for us otherwise, could we?"
"I suppose not..."
"Do you want him? When this is all over, I mean. Would you like to keep him?"
Stan couldn't hear the answer, but apparently it was in the affirmative, because a moment later Robinja added,
"I'm sure they won't mind. I'll arrange it for you. Now, is Marion settled for the night?"
Stan pricked up his ears. Marion? Who was Marion?
The other person was speaking.
"Indeed. Fed and watered and as comfortable as possible. Complaining of loneliness and lack of sex, as usual."
Robinja sighed in exasperation. "Same as the rest of us, then. Tough."
There was a moment's silence, then;
"Do you think our new companions might be of assistance?"
Robinja's voice hardened. "That remains to be seen. We'll have to do something about that assassin first." She paused for a moment. "Do you need anything just now?"
"Why don't you call it a night, then? You've done well, and deserve a rest."
"Thank you. I will see you later."
Stan dived into a shallow recess and tried to make himself invisible as a shadowy, veiled figure glided from the messhall. As it moved off, he followed, very quietly and at a respectable distance. At one point it paused outside a door, hesitating for a moment or two, then shook its head and continued along the corridor. Stan also paused outside the door. Could this be the mysterious Marion? It looked like any other door to him... He shrugged and turned to carry on his pursuit of the grey form, but it had disappeared into one of the myriad passageways that spread through the complex. Curious as ever, Stan turned back to the door and tried to open it. To his surprise, it yielded to his touch...
A dim red radiance lit the room inside. He could make out a sleeping platform, with a figure lying face-down on it. As his eyes became adapted to the light, he saw that the figure was shackled to the platform by a sturdy metal chain leading from a ring locked around one of the platform's struts, to a fur-lined cuff fitting closely around an ankle. Stan swallowed, hard, and advanced cautiously into the room.
The figure shifted in its sleep, wriggling its hips, moaning very softly. Stan peered through the gloom - it was difficult to make out any details, but whoever was sleeping on the platform was restless, and seemed to be dressed in a mix of a shiny, slinky material and something lacy and sparkling. Hope, lust, fear and curiosity struggling for supremacy in his mind, Stan moved closer. And closer. Until, as he abruptly found out, he was within grabbing distance...
A hard, strong hand closed over his wrist. The figure on the bed rolled over, gazing up at him with what could, just, have been called a simpering smile. It didn't sit very well on the long, mournful, and very obviously male features.
"Well, well, well. And who might you be?"
Stan froze. The other inclined his head.
"Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you." He pursed red-painted lips and blew Stan a kiss. The captain of the Lexx painfully wrenched his arm from the stranger's grip and staggered backwards. The figure on the platform pouted, and raised himself up on one elbow.
"Oh, don't be like that!" He ran his eyes up and down Stan's form, licking his lips. "You're kinda cute, y'know."
Stan began to inch towards the door, not daring to take his eyes off the sleeping platform. As he backed through the door, his progress was stopped as he bumped into someone. He froze. The figure on the platform scowled.
"Oh, it's you. I suppose you're going to spoil my fun, again. And just as we were getting to know each other so well..."
Stan risked a quick glance over his shoulder. Jain was behind him, smiling grimly.
Before the captive had time to protest, she had closed and palm-locked the door. Stanley stared at her.
"Who was that?"
"That was Marion."
None the wiser, Stan frowned in puzzlement. Jain sighed.
"He's a love-slave."
"A male love-slave? I didn't know there was such a thing."
Jain nodded. "They're very rare, but there were just a few of them. They were created to service the Divine Order's female officers."
Stan considered this. He'd never thought about it before, but it made sense. "So, what happened?"
"He got caught in the wrong bed. Seems it wasn't the first time." She grinned briefly, without humour. "He was shipped to the Cluster, and condemned to be transformed into a love-slave. But something went wrong."
Stan nodded. He'd already worked out that much for himself.
"We think the drone who worked the machine gave him female programming instead of male. At any rate, he's only attracted to men, now."
"So what's he doing with you?"
"We rescued him."
Jain seemed reluctant to explain. "It's not really important. But we thought it might be nice to own a love-slave..."
Stan nodded, feelingly. He'd thought that, too, once... Jain shook her head.
"We didn't know about the wrong programming at the time, of course... Anyway, we tried to reverse it, gave him all sorts of aphrodisiacs and inducements, but nothing worked. Just the opposite, in fact. Now he's completely impotent."
"Yep. Randy as the proverbial vartsnarf and can't even keep it up for a couple of heartbeats. A dead loss." She eyed Stanley speculatively. "I don't suppose you'd like to take his place?"
Stan stared at her, alarmed. "Me?"
"Sure! You're not exactly pretty, but you'd be better than that complete waste of space," she gestured dismissively at Marion's door, and grinned. "Let's face it, you sure as shit couldn't possibly be any worse!"
Down in the bowels of the ship, a dark figure moved swiftly and silently through the complex.
After Willa had escorted him to his room, Kai had waited for a time, then set off back towards the labs. He was sure he had heard something, the faint sound of someone in pain. The two women had ignored it, but it was quite possible that they, with their normal, un-enhanced hearing, had heard nothing. He hadn't commented on the sound, contenting himself with asking instead exactly how many people comprised the satellite crew. Willa had replied, giving the names of all those he had already met. She frowned. "We're the only ones who escaped the Cleansing." She determinedly changed the subject. "And now I really ought to guide you back. Your companions seem anxious about you. Especially the woman..."
And now the Brunnen-G was seeking the owner of that despairing moan. He had retraced their earlier steps, and paused outside the first of the labs, listening intently. With no heartbeat to sound in his ears, and no need to breathe, his own body was silent, those faint distracting sounds that mark the living entirely absent.
Then he heard it - a groan so faint even he could only just discern it. He turned and headed towards its source.
The figure was slumped at a table, one hand over its face, the other rubbing hard - and futilely - at its groin. The ex-assassin frowned.
"Who are you?"
The other's head jerked up. The face was agonised, haggard with exhaustion. For a moment the two men, one living, one dead, stared at each other. Then,
"I might ask the same of you."
"I am Kai, last of the Brunnen-G."
The other shook his head wearily.
"Is that supposed to mean something to me? I've never heard of you."
"I was an assassin for the Divine Order."
"So you're dead, then."
"Yes. Who are you?"
"Dead and single minded with it. I'm Tarrib."
"Your name was not one of those given as a member of the crew."
"I was the principal biochemist here. Before those... harridans took over."
"Who are they?"
"They used to be drug runners, before the Cleansing. Now they want to take their business into the dark zone."
Kai inclined his head. "And they are forcing you to supply them with their narcotics."
Tarrib nodded, both hands clutched to his groin. Kai frowned slightly.
"Are you in pain?"
The biochemist groaned. "I tried to resist. I tried to refuse to do their dirty work..."
"What have they done to you?"
"They... they gave me..." He lowered his eyes, unwilling to look at the ex-assassin, incoherent with embarrassment, his hands kneading furiously. "I can't... and there's no release... until they give me the other... and even then I need help..."
"You mean you have been infected with a preparation that induces continual sexual stimulation without climax, until they choose to provide you with the antidote?"
Tarrib's head sank even lower as he nodded.
"I don't want to talk about it." he mumbled.
Kai glanced around the lab. "Are there any more of you?"
"Three more. But I don't know what the women have done with them."
"Deepfriar is still here. Could the others have been killed?"
Tarrib squirmed, trying and failing to find a more comfortable position. "I don't know. I don't think they're on the satellite any more."
"Can the planet below support human life?"
The ex-assassin nodded. "So the other crew members may be on the planet." He turned to leave the lab, only to be stopped by Tarrib's despairing cry.
"Wait! Please, help me!"
"You heartless....! How can you just leave me here?"
"If I help you, they will know something has gone wrong with their plans. For the present, you must stay here." He smiled grimly. "And you are right. I have no heart."
Xev and Stan had been roused from an uneasy sleep and escorted to the messhall, where Deepfriar 'served' up an interesting breakfast. Xev was about to take a spoonful when she received a shock. A mild electric shock, from the robot head nestling beside her.
"Darling! Don't eat it!"
Xev dropped her spoon and scowled at 790.
"I'm hungry. And in case you're worried about me getting fat, don't. I have a Cluster Lizard's metabolism. I don't put on weight..."
"I believe it, oh luscious morsel of loveliness. But that's not why I stopped you. Based on my calculations, a drug has been introduced into the food."
Xev stiffened, then, noticing Robinja's eyes upon her, forced herself to pretend to eat.
"What sort of drug?" she hissed urgently at the robot head.
"Oh, nothing lethal. Just something to make you drowsy and suggestible."
She bit her lip. "I'd better tell Stan."
"Why bother? No one would notice the difference."
Xev spared him a quick glare, then tried to attract Stan's attention. Unfortunately, being engrossed in leering at various parts of Robinja's anatomy, he had none to spare. Xev shrugged. Ah well...
Before the end of the meal, Jain entered, looking very pleased with herself. She sauntered over to the table and carefully placed a stoppered vial of something pink and gooey in front of Stan. He grinned lop-sidedly.
"Ooooh, wassat? Dessert?"
"No, honey." Jain flashed a swift smile at Xev, who remembered, just in time, to start acting dopily. "It's something rather special. If we replace the assassin's protoblood with this, it will initiate a wholesale cellular regeneration. In time, it will re-grow all his organs, respiratory and vascular systems, nerves, the missing parts of his brain - everything."
Xev looked blank. "So, what does that mean?"
"It means, dear heart, that we can bring him back to life..."
Xev's jaw dropped. "Is this true?"
Robinja nodded. "You can trust Jain. She knows her business!"
Xev stood up abruptly. "I must go and find him!"
"Of course you must. Let him know the good news."
Xev left the hall at a run, leaving Stan and 790 behind in her excitement. Ignoring 790's complaints, Jain hefted the robot head and unceremoniously dumped him into one of Deepfriar's larger pots and slammed down the lid - then glanced at Stan, who was nestling into Robinja's shoulder, lost in his own little world. The leader smiled, a little forcedly.
"I don't think we need to worry about him." Her gaze flickered to the vial. "What is it? Surely not the real thing?"
"Of course not! I gave the real protoblood to the biochemist and told him we wanted something that could pass for an improved version, but render the assassin completely helpless. And I added he wouldn't get any more antidote until he'd finished. It's amazing how fast he can work under pressure." She chuckled. "Excuse the pun. Anyway, I have to admit he's done a fine job. It looks and smells entirely convincing."
Robinja grinned and shifted the dreaming Stan to a slightly more comfortable position. "Excellent. Now we just have to persuade the assassin himself to comply. I think the woman will probably be able to do that by herself."
"I hope so. But if not, I've asked BB and Willa to be on hand with their weapons. Thank the powers that be we never switched to blackpacs! Those old rifles should be effective enough against him - at least long enough to get him into the tank." She noticed Robinja's puzzled glance and grinned. "The biochemist modified one of the old siphoning vats to serve as a temporary drainage vessel. Crude, but it'll serve the purpose."
"And then we load our biochemists and their equipment on board the Lexx, give Stanley some of that wonderful stimulant, and head off for the Dark Zone and a new and exciting - and lucrative - life."
"What about Marion and Xev?"
Robinja chortled. "A male love-slave who only wants men, and a female love-slave who's part Cluster Lizard? I'm sure they'll find ways to console each other. And if they don't, do we really care?"
Jain shook her head and rubbed her hands together. "Well, I suppose now all we have to do is wait for Xev to reappear with the assassin..."
While the rest slept, the last of the Brunnen-G had made his way unobserved from Tarrib's lab to the satellite's shuttle bay, and climbed into one of the moths. A short while later he was scanning the planet's surface, expecting to find the missing scientists quickly: in fact it took a surprisingly long time. (He wasn't to know it, but Shereeff had insisted on their staying on the move. Having been taken by surprise once, he had no intention of letting it happen again!) Finally the moth's instrument panel picked up an anomalous heat source in a clearing in the forest, and, a heartbeat later, the presence of two humans. Moments later Kai had landed a short distance away and, blending with the shadows, was soon close enough to overhear the conversation taking place across the fire.
"We've got to do something!"
Gisburn sighed. "You have said that at least seven times a day for the last seventeen days."
Shereeff scowled. "So why aren't you doing anything about it?!"
"What do you expect me to do? We've no shuttle, they destroyed the comms equipment at the depot beyond even my ability to repair, and even if I could fix it, who do you think would hear us?"
Shereeff began to pace again.
"This is ridiculous! Haven't those two idiots up there," he thrust a fist in the direction of the satellite, clearly visible in geostationary orbit above them, "worked out where we are yet?"
Gisburn stared gloomily into the fire. "They may be dead."
"Then why aren't we?"
"How should I know? Perhaps they're saving us for later!"
Kai had heard enough. He stepped forward into the firelight.
Shereeff's jaw dropped. "Who..?"
Gisburn was still staring at the fire, his back to the newcomer. He glanced up at his chief's face, then swivelled to the Brunnen-G. His eyes widened.
"Where did you come from?"
Shereeff interrupted. "More importantly, can you get us off this rock?"
A little later, satellite-bound in the moth, Shereeff and Gisburn were arguing how best to steal back on board and take back control of the satellite.
"But you've only seen four of them?" Gisburn was growing more anxious the closer they flew. Kai nodded.
"Yes. But there may be more."
"Could the others help us?"
"I think not. The one you call Tarrib is incarcerated in his laboratory. The other seems to be in a drugged state, only just able to function."
"Not much difference from normal, then." growled Shereeff irritably. Gisburn ignored him.
"If we can just get out of the shuttle bay unseen, we should be OK."
"Remain in the moth and wait until the shuttle bay is empty. You know your way around the satellite well, but the women do not. It should not be too difficult for you find somewhere to regroup."
Gisburn nodded. "What will you do?"
"Rejoin my... friends. We will do what we may to assist you."
"We'd appreciate it. Perhaps you could distract the outlaws?"
"Perhaps. But the safety of my companions must take priority."
In the event, a distraction was unnecessary. As Kai landed the moth - Gisburn and Shereeff trying very hard to hunch down and become invisible in the rear compartment - Xev ran forward to meet him, eyes and smile brilliant with happiness and anticipation.
"Kai! They've done it!!"
The Brunnen-G gazed down into her face and stoically endured her tearfilled hug. Xev beamed at him.
"They've found a way to reverse the process! They know how to bring you back to life!"
Given what he had learned from the fugitives from the planet, this seemed at the very least unlikely to Kai. Nevertheless, appearing to accede to their 'discovery' would certainly give Gisburn and Shereeff the time they needed to free their companions and re-take the satellite.
He nodded. "Very well. What is involved in the process?"
Xev led the ex-assassin from the shuttle bay and back to the messhall.
Robinja looked up as they entered, and smiled over Stan's head.
"Ah, good! Shall we make our way down to the lab?"
Xev nodded. The outlaw leader rose, dumping Stan unceremoniously onto the seat, and ushered the others towards the exit. As they left the hall, Stan shook his head dazedly.
"Hey! Wait f'me!"
Absent-mindedly pocketing the vial of pseudo-protoblood, he staggered somewhat groggily from the room. By the time he caught up with the group, he'd managed to shake off the worst effects of the sedative. Robinja spared him a swift smile over her shoulder, and continued explaining the forthcoming 'operation'.
"It's not really complicated, although it does require us to drain all of your existing protoblood from your body."
Both Xev and Kai stopped dead.
"But..." said Xev hesitantly, "surely... if you drain it all, Kai will be dead. Dead dead, I mean."
Robinja nodded. "For a very short time, yes. But the new blood can't start to work if any of the old remains in his body. Don't worry, we shall replace the protoblood as soon as it is fully drained."
Kai frowned. Robinja inclined her head, eyes wide and ingenuous.
"Don't you trust us?"
The Brunnen-G very nearly said no. However, he reasoned that if there was any sign of treachery, he would be able to take action even with a large part of his sustenance missing. Not a great deal of action, or for very long, but enough to ensure Stan and Xev's survival. And if he refused to go along with the plan, it might cause problems for Shereeff and Gisburn. He sighed silently and nodded. Robinja rewarded him with a bright smile.
"I'm so pleased. You do want to be alive again, don't you?"
Xev spared him the necessity of answering. "Oh yes! Of course he does."
"Then we're all in agreement. Here we are!"
The lab door slid open to reveal a spacious room filled with the arcane equipment so beloved of the scientific fraternity: Willa, BB and Jain were already there, looking professional and efficient as they busied themselves checking dials and connections. In the centre stood a large, tank-like vat, made of some thick metal and long enough for a man to lie in. Beside it was an equally large tank filled with the thick, pinkish protoblood replacement. Xev glanced uneasily at Kai.
"Kai... if you're worried... we can always change our minds..."
The Brunnen-G shook his head. His enhanced hearing had caught the faint but unmistakable sounds of laser weapons being charged.
"But what if anything goes wrong?"
"Oh, that's no problem." said Jain. "All we need to do is remove the new blood and pump in the old protoblood again. He won't suffer any ill effects. Not even a headache!"
Kai considered pointing out that the dead don't get headaches, but in view of what they were, supposedly, trying to do he decided not to bother. He faced Xev, mouth quirked in half-smile.
"Then let us make the attempt."
She laid a hand on his chest, eyes huge and dreamy with anticipation and hope.
Kai leapt lightly into the vat and stretched out on his back, pulling open the patch on his costume to reveal the ugly metal construct that was the bioscholars' legacy. He watched as Willa attached his tubes to a pump - then relaxed as that familiar, distant feeling began to grow as his pseudo-life drained away.
Suddenly there was a strange sound, as if a large piece of fabric had been jaggedly torn in half. Everyone's eyes went to the door - except for Kai, who, lying supine as he was, was the only person to see the ugly expression of hate that passed over Robinja's lovely features. Hate - and sudden fear.
"OK everyone. Hands on your heads and get away from the equipment." The voice was familiar. Gisburn, acting with his customary efficiency. "Turn off that pump."
Willa reached for the device, at the same time slipping one of her throwing knives into the sleeve of her overall. Kai groped for the control panel and switched the machine into reverse, feeling strength flood back into him. He sat up.
Gisburn stood with his back to the door, looking somewhat incongruous with the massive laserifle held a little awkwardly but nonetheless effectively in his arms. As the Brunnen-G climbed out of the tank, he grinned.
"Thank you. It worked."
Stan looked completely lost. "What worked?"
"Stan, Xev, move away from the women." Kai pushed his companions towards Gisburn. Robinja scowled.
"Damn you. All of you."
At that moment the door opened again, to reveal Shereeff, hoisting another rifle, and, beside him, the limping Tarrib - supported by the veiled woman. Willa's face became a mask of fury.
"You... traitor! You damned slut!!"
Before anyone could move, her throwing knife flashed, burying itself deeply in her erstwhile comrade's heart. She dropped to the floor without a sound.
Tarrib staggered, staring disbelievingly at the still form, then knelt beside her, feeling for a pulse. He glared up at Willa.
"Dead. Was that really necessary?"
Willa stayed silent, but there was a look of satisfaction on her face...
"So what are you going to do now?"
Stan, Xev, Kai and 790 were relaxing in the messhall with the satellite crew. Deepfriar, now slowly recovering from his enforced stupor, had served a very pleasant meal. The outlaws were locked in Marion's room.
Shereeff stretched, comfortably. "Well, I think we'll be quite comfortable now. There are four of us, and four of them, and the satellite has almost everything we need..."
"But... but they're criminals! They tried to kill us!" Stan was goggling at the chief. "How could you trust them?"
Tarrib smiled, grimly. "While I was being forced to work for them, I also made a female version of the serum they gave me. Of course, it works slightly differently, since it's geared to female hormones. And I've created no antidote - the only way to stave off its particularly painful effects is to have sex every six hours or so. In a little while I shall inject them with it. Believe me, they'll be happy to do what we want."
"Tarrib has only been able to devise a partial cure for himself." explained Gisburn, ignoring the young scientist's embarrassed scowl. "He doesn't need the antidote anymore. However, he does need to... uh.... 'relieve' himself every few hours. And we're about to have four women who also need relieving. So all in all, it's all worked out quite well, really."
Stan looked thoroughly miserable. "You mean, you get to have all those women, all the time?" He glared at Xev. "I want to stay. Why can't I stay?"
"Because we need you and your magic hand to fly the Lexx." Xev repeated patiently - although by now her patience was wearing thin.
"Well, why don't you all come with us then? The Lexx is big enough..."
Shereeff grinned. "Thank you, but no thank you. We're quite happy here."
"I don't suppose... before we go... I could just..." Stan indicated the general direction of the women's temporary prison with his head. Shereeff shook his head firmly.
"I'm afraid not."
"And we really should be going." Xev rose decidedly. "We must get Kai back into cryo-stasis."
Shereeff rose and offered his hand. "From all of us, thank you for your help."
"You're welcome." Xev kissed his cheek. "We wish you luck."
"And we hope you find yourselves a home."
As Shereeff ushered the Lexx crew to the shuttle bay, Tarrib turned to Gisburn with a frown. "Cryo-stasis? Hmm.... Well, I suppose it will conserve his energy reserves. I would have thought the cellular regeneration would have kicked in by now, though..."
Nine days later Stan remembered the vial of pseudo-protoblood. Pulling it out of his pocket, he frowned at its glistening pinkness.
"I wonder what it really is."
Xev glanced at him. "Why don't you let 790 analyse it?"
"Suppose it won't hurt..."
It took the robot head very little time to examine the liquid - but he seemed reluctant to share his findings. Eventually Xev had to insist, in no uncertain terms, that he divulge the results.
"Very well, oh bloom of midnight's glory. But you won't like it."
"Just tell us, 790..."
"It's a complex organic neuro-reactive compound, consisting of human deoxyribonucleic acid in a nutritive jelly, designed to initiate and sustain the re-growth of excised body tissue."
"I didn't expect you to understand, Tweedle."
"I don't understand either, 790."
"What it means, honeyblossom, is that it would have done exactly what those pale reflections of your loveliness in a cracked mirror claimed it would have done."
There was a stunned silence. Then Xev said, hesitantly, "You mean, it really could bring Kai back to life?"
"I'm afraid so. I don't know how he did it, but that biochemist has somehow found a cure for death."
Xev grabbed Stan by the front of his coverall. "Turn us around! We have to go back!!"
Stan didn't argue...
The Lexx excelled itself. The planet appeared on the very edge of their scanners within five days, and Stan immediately began trying to hail the satellite. But there was no reply.
"Probably all still in bed." he grumbled, sticking out his lower lip in a pout.
"Keep trying!" hissed Xev. She hadn't slept since 790's discovery, and was now pacing back and forth on the bridge like a caged Cluster Lizard on legs.
Stan kept trying. The speaker stayed stubbornly silent. Finally he turned to Xev.
"Look, we'll be there in a day, then we can moth down to the satellite in person. They're all probably just enjoying the first sex they've had in years..." He frowned to himself. "I wouldn't answer either, under those circumstances."
Xev nodded tightly. "I expect you're right. I just... I want to be sure."
Stan glanced at her, reluctantly sympathetic. "I know..."
The speaker crackled. Stan nearly fell off the pedestal.
"Rottingham Science Satellite? This is the Lexx..."
The voice that answered sounded like Shereeff, but it was difficult to be sure - it was shrill with incipient terror.
"Lexx!! Thank the Shadow you're back!"
Static drowned out the next sentence, then -
"You've got to help us!!"
Stan and Xev exchanged worried glances.
"What's your problem? How can we help?"
"The women! The women are out of control!!"
Behind the static, in the background, they faintly heard another voice shouting - "No! No! Don't touch that! It's the self-dest...."
On the screen, a tiny brilliant spark flaring against the soft green of the planet below marked the violent end of the satellite that held all their hopes...
Xev had mourned alone for several days, and Stan respected her desire for privacy. It wasn't until he heard the familiar strains of the Brunnen-G battle chant floating from her sleeping chamber that he risked disturbing her. He paused at the entrance.
"Yo ay oh, homm varay..."
"Xev? It really is time to come out now."
"No, Xev, I won't. Look, we still have the sample, and I'm sure we can find someone, somewhere, who can duplicate it. Hiding in there isn't doing anyone any good."
There was a moment's silence, followed by a deep sigh, and Xev appeared at the doorway.
"You're right, Stan."
He nodded. "Good. Come to the bridge and let's decide where we want to go next."
Disconsolately, she followed him through the corridors. Finally, watching the starscape on the Lexx' viewscreen, she laid a hand on his shoulder. He glanced at her, surprised.
"Next time we wake Kai... Please don't tell him what happened."
He patted her hand.
"Of course not."
She nodded, then, with a supreme effort of will, forced herself to be cheerful.
"OK... Where shall we go today?..."
© 1999 Joules Taylor
© 1999 WordWrights.