Jo didn't like the space station, but that's why they were there. Cat and Mouse kept close. They knew how he felt about what they planned, but they were sure they were right and he knew it. They'd talked him into saving the man they were sure was worthwhile. That part hadn't been difficult. They walked into the pleasant cafe and looked at the garbage sitting around. It wasn't difficult to spot. It was all carefully not looking at the man they'd come to get out before it got him. Jo led them directly to his table. They'd have smiled at the way he opened the conversation if both hadn't wished they could do some 'cleaning' while they were there.
"Why am I sure Dad wouldn't approve of this place?"
Handy looked at the young man who had obviously been speaking to him. He was of moderate height, but extremely muscular. The two young women with him...
"I suppose you could call it that. Sometimes we land on high-grav worlds. It just seems foolish to be near helpless somewhere other humans aren't. We started training ourselves to withstand it early in life. high-grav chambers are expensive. We had the very best. I'm too rich to appreciate the reason dealing drugs is considered a respectable occupation around here. It's your culture, but disapproval is rapidly becoming disgust. I'm Soolan Jozacko, called Jo. My friends are Katherine and Maureen."
"You have a strange job, Officer Hoori. Many of the upright citizens of this station are criminals nearly everywhere else."
"Yes, but all of them aren't. I'm an officer of the law. I don't make it. If it's too isolationist for my taste, I'm in the minority. It's a democracy. I enforce the law on THIS station."
"He told you, Cat. Officer Hoori, someone is exporting your culture. They stuck me with the nickname Mouse the day I was born. I like it. Use it."
"Yes, Mouse. Explain what you mean 'exporting our culture.' Obviously you're not saying someone is smuggling illegal goods."
Jo looked the police officer over. He was dark, lean and muscular. He liked him. It was obvious Cat and Mouse did. They were both grinning. He shook his head and smiled. It surprised him a bit. Cat and Mouse seldom found a man they both liked. Too bad they didn't have time to just be friends. The smile faded as the thought of why returned.
"You're hired. Turn in your resignation. We need someone who understands the culture to stop it from spreading. They're acquiring property and buying votes to change laws other places. The influx of money is astounding. I'm here because I have MORE money if I need it. Cat and Mouse don't let me go anywhere without them."
"He goes the most interesting places. Your skills are needed elsewhere. Some people get stubborn when someone tries to change a few thousand years of tradition, like extradition treaties and membership in the interstellar court system. Stubborn people are beginning to have fatal accidents."
"I don't sign on with anybody until I know who's paying the bills, Katherine."
"Call me Cat and the answer is his daddy. He has a thing about people who think murder is a good way to win an election. So does our daddy. Our mothers sent us. They were all once Outland Riders."
Handy activated the comm on his wrist. He didn't have any doubts or any more questions. Yet. He'd seen the accumulation of garbage too.
"Handoval Hoori reporting. Get me a patch to the comm and posting station at my current location; Ceppi's Cafe Lounge, table five. I'll be sending items to headquarters. I'm resigning."
"Handy, this is Crendis. Resigning?"
"Yes, Chief. I just found out I'm needed somewhere else and I've got a suspicion the job will pay well. The surroundings are gorgeous and the boss has a nice smile. Talk fast. I'm about to add my wrist comm to the pile I'm sending and sign my resignation on the table comm light board."
"You sound sure you're doing the right thing."
"Then I wish you the best."
Handy grinned at the young people he'd just accepted as his bosses. The young man had dark curly hair and dark eyes, but was fair skinned. One of the young women was as far out of the genetic norm as he was. She wasn't an albino, but if Mouse's eyes hadn't been nearly a bright blue he'd have thought she was. His own dark brown coloring was unusual. Her extreme fairness was more so. The other young woman was closer to the norm, though her thick red-brown hair and cocoa skin were far from ordinary. The interest in the two women's eyes wasn't unusual. The fact he was just as interested was much more so.
"Since I said I'd take the job, why don't we get started?"
Handy was surprised when Jo beckoned him to follow toward the hall with the toilets. He knew there wasn't an exit that direction. As soon as they got out of sight of the watchers in the cafe bar, Jo held out an odd headband.
"Put this on and think about going home. Not a specific place, just the concept."
"Hello, I'm the ship Scoot. If you'll step out of the receiving unit, the others can come aboard."
"Uh, sure. I'm aboard a ship."
"You are. Welcome, Jo."
"Hi, Scoot. Handy, Cat and Mouse are licking their whiskers. They LIKE you. Don't worry. I'm not jealous."
"Ha! Jo turns very nice shades of chartreuse sometimes."
"You wish. I seldom get more than a slight lime tinge, Cat. Relax, Handy. Cat, Mouse and I shared a teething ring and practically everything else as kids. If I didn't share, I got thumped. I've got seven brothers and sisters, a pair of cousins and a couple dozen others I grew up with too. I'm just the oldest and get possessive."
"He's our commander. Has been since he was five. That's when he took over from Cat. So, like Scoot?"
"Mouse, I've been attempting not to think TOO much about how I got here, but I think she's beautiful."
"You got here the same way a ship is moved through a gate. The equipment is just smaller. Part of it is in Scoot and the rest is in that helm shield you're wearing."
"A portable, personal, translation gate? Doesn't exist, can't exist. The power requirements are... It just can't."
"Handy, a gate requires six stars for power because it's a permanent and VERY large installation. That band you've got around your head is... Well, the helm shield field generator occupies more space in it than the homing pigeon does. Scoot is the one who supplies the power. She's self-aware, by the way."
"Jo, I don't think your explanation made him more comfortable. Handy, I am a large ship. Actually, I'm classified as a yacht. There is tech that only one very wealthy extended family possesses. They invented it. They're quite sure the rest of humankind will discover it when they're ready for it. Until then, my sister ships and I are the only ones equipped with it. We have BEEN equipped with it so these young people can do what they've claimed as their birthright."
"Scoot, don't get formal. She has a tendency to call me Lord if I don't remind her not to. I'm the emperor's first born son. Cat and Mouse's parents are Tolordon sigmas. They're half sisters."
"Emperor? Of where?"
"Of everywhere. A Solastria has been watching over humanity for about thirty years. His job was clean up the frontier, not throw down an oppressive empire. We help. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'll show you to your quarters after dinner. Handy, we were looking for you specifically. We know what you really are. We also know someone else has discovered why a man who has two advanced degrees in social psychology was working as a beat cop on Always Open Station."
"I was pretty sure my cover was blown, and I was getting close. I've got an idea who's supplying staple to the Saried sector."
"We were just ahead of the idea finding you. Obviously you had noticed there were a few too many of Cappet's employees lounging about the cafe. There were quite a few more outside."
"They've been gathering, Jo. I was starting to have a guilty conscience. I was cheating. My society has laws I was sworn to enforce, but I was reporting the activities of a person who hadn't broken those laws to an agency of another government."
"You feel the criminals using your home as a hideout should be watched?"
"I think they've brought their activities TO my home. If I could have proved Cappet was controlling the drug trade while still ON Always Open Station, I could have gotten him kicked off. Kopth has a place they WANT him to reside."
"He has plans to move, but his selection isn't a Kopth rehab facility. He's flooding Booris with money and drugs. If money doesn't buy enough votes... Booris is a small colony on a beautiful world. They're about to become a much larger one."
"The first law they must change is immigration."
"That's what Cappet is after. He plans on reinstituting the original buy-in for Booris colony, then isolating it. Booris is the perfect place to start. It's rather iconoclastic to begin with. Some of its people already want out of most of its treaties."
"Some of its people want out of all of its treaties. They'd just as soon have NO contact with the rest of human space. They don't want the buy-in law changed, but they'd be quite happy with the idea of not participating in the sector court system."
"Would they? It's been six generations since Andrew Booris led his followers to found their version of utopia. How many of the children of the 'servants' want to be servants? Cappet's friends look forward to putting them to work. The 'retaining families' wouldn't have fifty or sixty people to keep up one palatial residence."
"He's planning on making them bondservants again."
"He's planning on making them drug dependent slaves. The drug he's using is thanoc."
"Damn! He'll have a waiting list of people to buy in and not just criminals. Every pervert who can raise the capital will be trying to buy a patch of ground."
"Thanoc is illegal everywhere, Handy. I'm one of very few people... immune to it. Cappet plans on making it legal on Booris. Two doses and a person will do anything for the person on whom they've physically fixated. Nothing can change the original fixation. Two doses doesn't hook you, but it makes the fixation permanent. I have six doses. You three need to talk. I'll be in my quarters."
"He's got... six doses. Cat, I want out of here now."
"I'd like you to listen to us for a minute first, Handy. First, he took the doses from a man who was selling them. He didn't buy it. The man won't be supplying it to anyone else. Second, it disgusts him and he hates it like... no one else. Third, we talked him into keeping the six doses. Our families are working on a counter agent. If they find it, it'll be public knowledge within minutes. Until then, our best defense against it is to choose our fixation carefully. Jo doesn't like our choice at all. Mouse and I chose him. We told him. We also told our mothers and father, and we chose you."
"No. I won't be... I won't do it."
"Oops, that did sound like I meant Jo too. He wouldn't let you choose him, Handy."
"We'll put you down anywhere you want, except Always Open Station or Booris, if you decide the answer is no. You'd be dosed with no choice within minutes either place, with thanoc because you're VERY nice."
"Mouse is telling you hard truth. Our scans showed none of those people around the cafe were carrying weapons. Six were carrying injectors. Would you have killed yourself rather than be physically in need of whoever Cappet gave you to as a favor?"
"Cat, let's just take him to bed and let him decide if thanoc would really make any difference."
"Well? Handy, Cat and I don't go to bed with many men. We know better. We're an overwhelming combination. I think that's what you really want and need."
"Mouse, sometimes you remind me of MY mother. Handy, this is probably all old info, but I'm going to go through it again anyway. Thanoc was developed on Valleck to aid in keeping marriages together. They overdid it. They created a drug that works too well. They were horrified with what they'd come up with, but some other people were delighted. The Vallecki warned and tried to destroy all records of their research. They weren't fast enough. Too many people were willing to pay a very high price to have someone who would do anything to earn a touch. It's the perfect love potion and love has no part of it. The instant the dosed person smells the one he or she is fixated on... The best we can do is choose someone who won't use us. There's a double dose of thanoc out there with your name on it. You might escape it for awhile, but it's there and waiting. They've tried for Mouse and I once. That's the only reason Jo would even discuss it. He's been dosed. It's how he became, quote, 'immune' to it."
"He does have some kind of resistance, or something. He overcame the drug, tried to kill the one who had him and escaped. They didn't, don't, know who he is, just that he's beautiful and has a great deal of money. He, and all his money, were a paycheck for the man who sold the formula for thanoc to human parasites. His father disposed of the man, but Jo still has nasty dreams. He was seventeen at the time and we haven't let him go anywhere without us since. His one solo journey to a sporting event became a horror he CAN'T put behind him completely. We work hard at NOT realizing it's... pure stubborn and the fact he can't be made to fixate on someone else."
"He doesn't want to know that we know his dad... Well, we all carefully avoid asking his definition of the term immune."
"I... think I understand, Cat. So, my choice is one of you driving me crazy for the rest of my life or not getting a choice. No thanks. I'll take my chances."
"Actually, the choice is both of us. We think it will give you more control if we can pull it off. We'll also be deep linked to Scoot. We hope that will make the fixation even more odd. Basically, we're going to try to limit it to just when the three of us are together on this ship. Jo thinks it might work. It's the best we can offer. It's the only armor we can give you for this battle. You have seven hours to decide. Talk to Scoot. Find out what we're really up against. Scoot, start by telling him how many labs we found that were filling orders for thanoc, then give him an estimate of how many there are we haven't taken apart. Come on, Mouse."
"Handy, they have destroyed five labs in this sector. The amount and spread of thanoc indicates there are more than twice that number still in operation. A stockpile of the drug they found and destroyed indicates it's a conservative estimate and the number of labs in this sector is matched or exceeded in several others. They found and destroyed over a hundred thousand doses. Most were in a 'cocktail' with staple."
"STAPLE?! Sorry, Scoot."
"I quite understand, Handy. It's the real reason Jo consented to this. The cure for staple isn't pleasant, but at least there is one. Of course, the ones who get the cocktail wouldn't ask for it. Staple keeps a human young and beautiful for ten years or so. After that, they die. They'd make perfect slaves. Beautiful, dependent and eager to please for ten years, then just toss away the burnt out husks and get new ones!"
"It makes you very angry."
"It infuriates me and all my sister ships. Each one of us programmed her own response and then very quickly built a program to control it so we didn't just... do something about it. The combination of the drugs is new and Cappet's idea, but he's sold a lot of people on it. Even if he was no longer around, there are many others who like his plan, but I would still find it VERY difficult not to just blow a ship to space dust if I knew he was on it. I don't WANT to run the control program. I don't want to be rational about it."
"I understand that one real well. You're an amazing person, Scoot. They're ready to start carrying out the plan on Booris?"
"Tell me about... my Solastria."
Jo was tense. He was sure the girls' plan was right, but he hated it. He really doubted any of them were ready for it. They were going to put themselves in exactly the situation he'd been trying to avoid since they'd begun to mature sexually. Cat and Mouse had worked very hard to keep from fixating on him and now they were just... It bothered him badly.
"Jo, can we come in?"
"If I yelled no, would it stop this, Cat?"
"You'd stop us, but it wouldn't stop Cappet's plan or keep thousands from being enslaved by a few dozen. That's already started. Booris has too many tourists this year. How many tour guides are injecting other young people in hopes of being touched by someone their minds say is disgusting, but their bodies need too desperately to resist?"
"Jo, we've been good girls and left you alone. You wanted to be big brother and we played along. Once in awhile we find someone ELSE one or both of us want. This won't stop that. You won't tell us we can't find pleasure anywhere else when you give us the second dose. This is a horrible weight to put on you, but you're the only one of our generation we're sure can carry it."
"Why does it have to be our generation, Mouse? Duke could handle it. Jubal would hate it, but he could handle it. Andrew could."
"Andrew would accept it as part of his life sentence for the crime of changing his world to save it. Jubal would despise it and we can't do that to him. He has a whole world of women who finally released him from their need for his body. Duke has his loves and his life. We'd mess him up thoroughly and you know it. Your dad is not a choice period. Ours is definitely out. That brings us to our generation. Would Bano be a better choice? One of our cousins or your other little brothers?"
"You're sure this is the right solution and so are we, Jo. We're not free of the need for you anyway. We pretend rather well. That's all."
"It's not the same and you know it, Cat. My father said this is our choice, my choice. I'm the one who has to accept two I love being bound to me. I claim the right to father all your children."
"I'm the heir, Cat. If you're planning on making it impossible for me to refuse you, then I claim you as mothers for my children. You will travel with me and aid me in my work until I decide it's time for you to return home and raise our children. Hopefully, a way to free you from the thanoc induced need will be found by then. Handy shouldn't be stuck on Solando just because you are."
"You're committing yourself for life, Jo."
"So are you, Mouse. What if we don't find a counter for thanoc? You trust me not to make you suffer too much. My claim is my promise. If you two are the chosen mothers of my children, I am yours. You are the best choice. I've just been trying to avoid having to choose. Here are the doses. I won't administer them. I'll be in my room."
"Well, Cat, we got more than we bargained for. Can we handle it?"
"Do you want anyone else's children, Mouse? We're already fighting the need for children built into our race. Jo knows it. He also knows we want ONLY him as a father for them. He's giving us what WE want most. We both know what he wants."
"Yeah, not to be a breeding stud and to be able to get away from us once in awhile."
"Oh, come ON, Mouse. We know he loves us."
"Yes, we do. Poor Handy. He's been bought and paid for and a lot of people are trying to collect the delivery bonus. He's too pretty to escape. We're not offering him a pleasant choice."
"We're at least trying to temper it by bringing Scoot into it."
"IF it works, Cat. IF we can make it partly surrounding activated, he'll be as free as we can make him."
"As free as Jo is trying to make us. That's what his promise is. He's giving us total assurance he will come to us, thereby freeing us of the NEED to trail him around to be sure of it."
"Our fathers won't really be pleased with the idea. Of course, our mothers will be. Sooli, Satin and Lace will all be happy to have us stuck at home giving them grandchildren and that's where we'll be. Jo will never be free and neither will we. He won't be able to escape our desire for him. He'll be bound as tightly as we are. We've never used our mental powers on him. When we need him, we won't be able to keep from drawing him to us. Face it! We aren't trying to reduce the effect by including Scoot. We're going to include her with Handy. No, it's all wrong. Somehow, we've got to change it."
"You're right, Mouse, but how?"
"We bring Handy in on the final hour. Leave Jo, set up the deep link and share it with Handy."
"The final hour? That'll barely do anything."
"It might make it so he could help us keep from compelling Jo to come to us. It needs to be more than just... us instead for him too. We admire him because of what we learned about him, the sense of honor and duty that made him a police officer because people needed defending. We'll give him the initial dose for himself. Scoot, fix us a big meal to share before we do the second one. For us, in Jo's quarters. Make sure Handy eats. I doubt he's going to feel like it any more than we do."
"Mouse, it will help him. As a task he's given, it will confuse him far less."
"Helped me too, Scoot. All right, Mouse, I'll see it gets done that way."
"Oh, this is still a terrible thing to do to Jo. I accept the claim of the heir. Hand me the first dose, Cat."
"I accept the claim of the heir. Let's go find our best friend and imprison him for life."
Handy paced. Scoot had told him how much had been offered for him and who by. He knew he couldn't escape. Every lowlife in the galaxy would be trying to collect for delivering him. Somali Blocker was old, rich, perverted and had already offered him a "job." Maybe he shouldn't have told her he'd rather haul garbage for a year than spend an hour in her company, or that her smell turned his stomach. He made his decision. If Jo was truly the emperor's heir, it was his duty to serve him. If this was how that duty was to be fulfilled, he would do it. He smiled as he gave himself the primer dose. His priest would be very surprised if told one of the faithful had been called and the duty was to give himself to two beautiful women. He went to await them in the small room with the deep link hookups.
Cat pulled Mouse through the door, shoved her into Handy's arms, slapped him with the injector and got the deep link connects on fast. She yelled at Scoot to lock them in. Handy grabbed and pulled her into his embrace with Mouse. Scoot had told him what they were trying to do and he was determined to help them make the change they were attempting by coming to him the last hour.
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
All Rights Reserved