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Psychro Always Gets His Man...Dora
Part Two

Six weeks, two days ago

He was used to waking up in all manner of places, from dumpsters to bed with silken sheets. He'd woken up on a park bench once, and another time in a hammock. He had also, by virtue of his nature, wakened next to all manners of people. Beautiful women, ugly women, happy women, sleeping women, and furious women. Women of all shapes and sizes, in fact. There were men too, but they never had quite the same look of blissful contentment.

All that experience had taught him a valuable lesson; if you don't know where you are, don't move until you do. The overall sensation around him was warmth. There was a warm body pressed against his bare back, with warm slightly damp breath on the back of his neck. The room smelled strongly of animal sweat and that pleasant female scent.

Now then, what did he remember? He'd been on the Ice Moon and had tried to convince Mandora to arrest him. He'd managed to get her onboard his ship and... wait. Was it Mandora whose bosom was pressed tightly against his back? Had he somehow managed to bang the evil chaser and not remember it? That was weird. Had he been drinking, if so how much? That would explain why his head felt all fuzzy. Without thinking the matter through any further, and determined to catch a glimpse of Mandora's nude form, he turned over and promptly screamed. It wasn't Mandora, but a female horse Mutant.

Present day

"Oh right, real romantic," Halleya said, snickering and giving Psychro's shoulder a playful shove. "Just what every girl wants, is the guy they've been sleeping with to scream in their ear."

"As I recall, I had you screaming too, multiple times even, only it was my name and a very different context," Psychro replied, shutting the girl up at once.

Tug Mug's greasy fingers plucked a chicken wing off the plate and tore a strip off it. "How deed you survive the crash?"

"Mostly dumb luck, I'm guessing. Mandora mentioned to me that she had realized that she couldn't get to the Electrocharger safely, especially if she had to deal with my wobbly body, so she remotely controlled it to slow our descent. It must have been enough because I'm still standing."

Six weeks, two days ago

The horse Mutant recoiled from the scream, and his body protested in kind. In a flash his memory of the impending crash and the events leading up to it returned. "I'm so sorry. I was just caught off guard and..." the woman's face softened and she climbed out of bed. He was relieved, in some way, to find that she was fully clothed in a loose fitting outfit. The clothing, almost a really long shirt, was off-white and had gold trim. But what was most striking was the fact that she was a humanoid lavender horse.

"It's alright. I was startled too. I was asleep when you screamed," she said, almost shyly.

"We didn't... I mean, you were snuggled up to me and..." he wasn't usually this awkward around women, just ones he hoped he hadn't slept with. Luckily she didn't seem to catch that undertone, or just didn't care.

"No. You've been in no condition to do much of anything, let alone sex. My name is Ellis, I'm a healer in these parts and I found your ship, actually I'm more of a farmer, but I know a fair amount of medicine. I've never seen creatures like the two of you. We're supposed to turn in outsiders, that is people who aren't like us, but I couldn't. I've always loved the colour purple." He saw a faint blush creeping across her muzzle. Subtly he checked to make sure he still had his pants on, and was almost horrified to find that he was only wearing his boxers. "When I found you two, you were both unconscious and you were so different in body temperature, I worried you might be freezing to death, or that she was heating up. So I used my body to keep you warm and put her next to the freezer."

"The freezer? Wait, you thought we were the same species? Didn't the difference in our skin colour tip you off?" he looked around and took note of his surroundings. A primitive bedroom, with a large double bed, a dresser, a full length mirror and a square window. There was a door near the mirror that he guessed led to a hallway. Was this her bedroom or a guest room?

"You don't know much about my people, do you. I guess that makes sense. We've always kept to ourselves and dislike outsiders, but the short version is that our people, the Equine Mutants of Equidarr, come in many different shades and colours. I'd just assumed that the same rules applied to your species," she looked almost upset, so he gestured for her to sit back down. His body hurt like hell and he was on an unfamiliar planet which apparently had strict policies against aliens. The last thing he wanted to do was to upset what was potentially the only friendly face on the planet.

"There's a lot to understand, and I'm sorry if I offend you in anyway," he said, gently touching her with both his hand and his charm power. Not a lot, just enough to soothe and calm. Besides, his head still felt all weird and fuzzy. Probably from the sleep. "Mandora and I aren't the same species at all. She's human and I'm a Lunatak."

She tensed in his arms and he knew he'd made a mistake. "A Lunatak?" She recoiled and stood again, inching to the door, almost wanting to go and call whatever passed for authorities here. Instantly, though his mind and body begged him not to, he sent waves of desire at her, hoping to rekindle whatever lust had spared his life. "We were told that you were demons, boogeymen meant to scare children." He saw the fear warring with lust on her face, and hoped that if she took him up on it that he'd be up to the challenge. He had yet to truly see what kind of injuries he had, and how much physical exertion he could take.

"I'm no boogeyman. I'm flesh and blood. And I'm not evil at all, come over here and let me show you," he said, dropping his voice lower. He knew all the tricks, but would they work on a species he'd never seen? Her eyes dropped to his crotch momentarily and then flicked away.

"Maybe later," she said. "I'd better go check on your friend and get you some food. You've been unconscious for over a week despite my healing skills."

A week? "I'd like to come with you. If I've been in bed that long, it'll be nice to get these muscles moving again. And I'll instruct you as best I can with Mandora. She'll be needing somewhere warm, for one thing..." he followed her out into the hall, hoping that Mandora was just as scantily dressed as he had been.

The rest of the home consisted of a simply furnished front room, a small pantry and a kitchen. It was in the pantry that he saw Mandora. She still wore her black jumpsuit, but her helmet lay off to one side, allowing her golden yellow hair to pool around her head. Laying there so peacefully on her back, her breathing steady and gentle, her face relaxed, she looked so pure and innocent. Psychro always felt that you saw a person's real face when they were sleeping, it was a time when their guard was down and they showed that beautiful vulnerability.

Ellis helped him move her away from the slight open freezer and went to fetch a blanket while he gently rubbed her skin, trying to stimulate the circulation. Once the Equine Mutant had left he forced away the temptation to take advantage of his situation. He was a gentleman at heart, after all. It was something that people didn't understand it, they saw only the womanizing, but the truth was that he really did want to settle down.

Most of the time, he amended. There were times when all he wanted was casual sex, and he was good about being upfront about it. That was one of the benefits of his so called fan club. Thanks to his reputation as a lover there were a few women who were eager to have the 'Psychro Experience' without strings attached and Heavy Bevy would arrange for a meeting with one if he went too long without. It was a crap shoot, though, and there was no telling whether the woman would be even remotely attractive.

So, although it would be easy to cop a feel for some cheap thrills, he would much rather she gave him permission to do so. Just seeing her face felt like something that he shouldn't be doing. For so long no one knew what lay beneath the helmet. Speculation ran the gamut from having ten eyes to having none, but she was human and she had the normal two.

Ellis returned and together they wrapped her in the warm red and grey blanket. It would suffice until they could carry her to a more comfortable place. It had been a struggle to carry the two wounded people, though Ellis was clearly very strong. Though Mandora wasn't heavy, they both felt that if Psychro could help carry her it would make life easier.

They moved into the kitchen and she placed a porridge like concoction in front of him on the table. It was sweet and tasted strongly of apples, but it was delicious and he had started on his second bowl before she started asking him questions about himself and his life.

He wasn't sure what to reveal, or how much, but he felt reasonably comfortable in talking about Psikaris, day to day life on the Ice Moon, and the like. Mostly neutral topics, and he suspected that she knew what he was doing. She shivered during his telling of the Ice Moon, and how his people adapted to the daily cold. There were no seasons there, just winter and more winter, so their bodies had become accustomed to the cold. He even demonstrated what little powers his Icewalker side granted him, a warming touch and a chilly breath. Neither power was particularly impressive, but she seemed amused by it. The one thing he didn't tell her about was his charm.

Somehow, and he wasn't quite sure how they had come to the agreement, they had decided that it would be best if they waited for Mandora to wake up before they talked about the planet that he and the evil chaser had landed on. Instead, when talk of himself began to wane, she asked questions about humans. This was a harder subject for Psychro because, bluntly put, he'd never taken much interest in human history. Sure, he knew that the Warrior Maidens of Third Earth were somehow connected to humanity, and had heard some stories speculating that the Snow Men of Hook Mountain and Hachiman were human too, but he'd never found himself that interested in the subject, apart from the obvious interest in a society comprised solely of women. Unfortunately, as he'd discovered once, they weren't nearly as sex starved as he had hoped, and had chased him away with bows and arrows.

He knew a little more about Control, having had one or two run ins with the interplanetary force, but even that was mostly limited to specific procedures and rumour. He wondered, as he did often through the conversations with Ellis, whether he had said the wrong thing in admitting to a checkered past. She had already described Lunataks as being demons from legends, so adding a criminal history just seemed to strengthen that opinion. She produced a honeyed cake for him and then led him back up to bed. His body was still weakened from his time out, and he really did need to rest. Within minutes he was asleep again.

Many years ago

His name was Dalien, her first real boyfriend and the only one who was really encouraging her to join the force. She had just come to his home from the entrance exam, having passed with flying colours. He had swept her up into his arms and kissed her passionately at the news, and they'd made love in his bed for the first of many times. Their relationship had been rocky as the realities of Control began sinking in, and were destroyed utterly a year later when she found that she had only been admitted after he'd pulled some strings. If she was going to make it, she wanted it to be on her own merits, not because of a bribe or because someone was coerced. That was the very kind of action that she was trying to combat.

But that one night had been incredible. The torrential flood of emotions and feelings she had experienced were indescribable. She did wonder, once or twice after the chip had been installed, whether her career was worth the price of losing that kind of enjoyment.

Six weeks, one day ago

Mandora woke, startled. It had been almost fifteen years since she'd thought of that failed relationship with Dalien, so why was she doing it now? Years of experience had trained her well, and she immediately pushed the confusing dream aside to analyse the situation. She was in an unfamiliar place, laying on the floor next to a freezer with a coarse blanket tucked around her and missing her helmet. Her body protested as she moved, which indicated that she had been there for some time, and that she had experienced some injuries, which made sense given the crash.

The crash. That was right, she had been in a spaceship with Psychro when they had crash landed. So they had either been rescued, were captured, or Psychro had pulled her out. She wasn't restrained, and the door seemed to be open, from what she could tell, so that probably ruled out capture, although that was no guarantee. Stealthily she rose from the floor and crept over to the door, peering out. There was a dim light, just enough to see by, but not well. Her helmet had night vision built in, but that would only do her any good if she knew where the heck it was.

As she moved out of what she now realized was a pantry, she found herself in a kitchen. The light she had seen was coming from a window set over the sink, allowing her to see wide open plains and a grove of some kind of trees to one side. The sun seemed to be just starting to rise. The place smelled cozy and of Mutant. She was used to dealing with renegade Mutants and the prospect of being in the home of one set her on edge. And where was Psychro? Had he survived the crash or just her? She grabbed a long sharp knife from the counter and cautiously moved even further through the house. There was someone in the living room, she could hear their faint snoring now. She inched closer and peered over the couch, ready to defend herself if need be. It was an Equine Mutant!

In all her years of studying the races and cultures of the various planets in her district, she had heard only in hushed rumours of the existence of these creatures. Plundarrian legend said that they were traitors who had fled into exile rather than face their punishment for betraying their kin. She stepped backwards, and moved into the bedroom and found Psychro fast asleep in there. He was breathing normally, suggesting that he was in relatively fine condition. A bit of a blessing that. If she was going to be stranded on an alien world, having him for an ally might prove beneficial.

She returned to the pantry, pleased to see that she had somehow overlooked her helmet and weapons sitting on a shelf and grabbed something to eat while she was rummaging. As she settled back on the blanket she took stock of the situation. They didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. Her wounds had been tended to, and she didn't see any guards lurking about. Indeed, she had only seen the one Mutant and Psychro himself. She didn't know why he had merited a bed while she got the floor, but that seemed unimportant for the moment.

Her helmet was badly dented along the back, but most of the systems in the visor seemed to be working. Nineteen days she had been out, she noted with some shock as she replayed the logs from the helmet. Although she had been unconscious, the camera in the visor had continued to record long after they'd hit the planet's surface, and she watched as the Equine Mutant walked into view and carried her outside, laying her on some kind of sled. There was nothing for a minute, just empty sky, until she must have been jostled somehow as the screen shook and swayed to the side and she saw part of Psychro's shoulder and chin. It was startling to see the amount of blood on him, and part of a nasty cut and knew that her own condition couldn't have been much better.

There was more jostling, and the sky in the background started to move, suggesting they were being taken somewhere. The trip, as she fast forwarded, took about half an hour and ended at a wooden building. Mandora could see the Equine examining both her and Psychro, turning her head slightly to get a better look. Then Mandora was lifted up, and taken to a pump that was probably at the back of the house. The Mutant examined the helmet and finally managed to take it off, automatically stopping the recording.

It wasn't hard to figure out what happened next. The Mutant had no doubt cleaned her up and tended to her injuries, and then likely done the same to Psychro. What had happened since then was a little harder to gauge. Did anyone know where they were, or was it just this strange Mutant? At what point, if any, had Psychro woken up? And what condition was the ship in? She needed to get off this planet, whatever planet it was, and report what had happened to Control. By now there must be at least a few ships searching the Moons of Plundarr for any clues as to what might have happened to her.

She stopped suddenly, instinct demanding that she take up her boomerang again and be ready as she heard heavy footfalls heading her way. The Mutant looked both surprised and relieved to see her up, though, so she put the weapon away. "You must be Mandora, Psychro has told me a lot about you. Come into the kitchen, he should be up soon."

Less than an hour later, the smells of bread being warmed in the oven drew Psychro out of his slumber and into the kitchen. "Mandora!" he said, stopping himself at the last second from embracing her when he saw the warning look in her eyes. It was less a look of 'keep away from me you disgusting pervert' as it was 'don't forget who I am and your status as my prisoner.' "It's good to see you up and about. See, Ellis, a little rest at room temperature's done wonders."

"It does seem to, as did that draught I gave her before I went to bed. Eat up, both of you. You'll need to keep your strength up and, I will do my best to answer any questions you might have," Ellis said, beginning to put out bread and fruit on the table. If she was nothing else, Psychro had to admit that she was an excellent cook.

"I want to know where we are," Psychro said, crunching into an apple.

"This is the planet of Equidarr as I told you last night. Long ago, eleven generations ago, my people lived on Plundarr with the rest of the Mutants. We were a peaceful people, who disliked the constant fighting between the various races. The other Mutants were jealous of our technological advances and angry with us, and tried to destroy us. In fear we fled, using our spaceships to fly further and faster than anything the others had. In time we found a world perfectly suited to our needs and landed there, populating it and building our cities. In the first few years, we occasionally encountered Mutants who had followed us, and we learned very quickly that if we were to have the peaceful lifestyle that we wanted, that we had to ensure that no outsider ever left to tell where we were," Ellis said. "I'm sorry, Raidash would tell it much better than I did, but I don't believe I left out anything important."

"You're saying we're stuck here?" Psychro blurted. She looked upset, and he knew the look at once. She had hoped that he would stay with her forever, and was now realizing he wouldn't. There were times when it wasn't so good to be handsome.

"I'm afraid so. You might be able to get a new ship, but our air force would surely catch you before you could get very far. It was only because I was in the area that I was able to spirit you away before they got there. I had to answer a lot of questions, and I want you both to realize that I could get in a lot of trouble if anyone finds out I harboured fugitives," Ellis actually looked fearfully out the window, an action Psychro had caught her doing the brief time they'd talked. Now it made sense.

"What do your people do with outsiders and those who help them?" Mandora asked, the law enforcer in her quickly producing similar laws on other planets and judging their sentencing structure against this one's.

"Death. The lawmakers feel that it serves as an adequate deterrent, but I've always found it to be unjust. We are simple people wanting to live a simple life, but we need that outside contact. We need to make allies and make friends, or enemies could destroy us. There are only a few thousand of us, and we'd have no chance against a proper Mutant invasion, if the legends about them are true," Ellis said. She rose and turned away from the duo.

"Once we're out of here," Mandora said, "the Control Force will make sure that everyone respects your desires to be left largely alone. We have a sizable military force at our disposal, and we're not afraid to use it to protect your people."

"Which still leaves the question of how you'll get away."

After breakfast Ellis left the two with strict instructions not to leave the house unless they had to while she tended to her orchard. From the living room window Psychro watched her work for a few minutes, while Mandora fiddled with her helmet, inspecting the dent and trying to gauge how difficult it would be to fix. With proper tools it wouldn't be too hard, but with what little lay around the house... "Nice girl," he commented aloud, receiving a snort from the evil chaser in response. "I mean it. She's taking a big chance by letting us stay with her, and it's all because of my rugged good looks."

"Only you would think that," Mandora said, concentrating on her work.

"It's a fact. She told me herself. She probably would have turned us over to the authorities if it wasn't for my looks. It's a curse. I find a planet full of women who've never heard of me and they fall over themselves wanting to sleep with me," he sighed melodramatically, and flopped down on the couch at the opposite end to her.

"One woman hardly constitutes your theory," she replied. "Besides, she might change her mind. We can't assume that our luck is going to hold."

"You're jealous!" her head snapped up and her green eyes seemed to pierce his skull. "You are, I can smell it. You don't like the competition so you're trying to play down her attraction. Don't worry, Manny, you'll always have a place in my bed." He moved closer and started to drape his arm around her shoulder. Quicker than he'd expected she had twisted it and forced him to the floor, placing her knee in the small of his back to hold him in place.

"We're in a difficult enough situation without you thinking with your crotch," she said crisply, finally getting up and allowing him to take his seat again on the couch.

"Alright then. Business before pleasure. What's your analysis of her then?" He rubbed his shoulder, making sure there was no damage done. Mandora was a trained professional, though. Her attacks were designed to incapacitate only, not inflict real hurt unless she needed to.

"She seems harmless enough, and her motives seem genuine. She's a healer of some sort, so it sounds reasonable to assume that her wanting to avoid deaths makes sense. She has put her life on the line, if the facts are true. I would like to see what kind of computer technology she has access to, to see if I can verify her story. Maybe a look at their laws. We've already violated one, by the sounds of it, by simply being here. I don't want to break any others."

Mandora walked back into the kitchen area and rummaged through the drawers until she found a small wooden mallet. It wasn't strong, but it might be enough to do the job. She gently, but firmly, began hammering the worst of the dent back into place, and cringed slightly when she saw Psychro coming towards her.

"Let me do that. I fix dents all the time, remember? I've got the knack for this kind of thing." He took the tools from her and went to work. "I'm curious though. You're big on this whole 'the law must be obeyed' thing. How do you justify not turning yourself in to accept their punishment? Aren't you suggesting that you're above their laws?"

"No one is above the law, especially not one who is supposed to uphold it," she recited automatically. It was her credo and she had lived by it for all her life. She didn't have a good answer to his question because she wasn't sure. Her conscience was warring with her self-preservation, and she was only barely able to stave off the one for the other's sake. "Once I have a good understanding of their laws, and can formulate a proper defence for my trial..."

He dropped his tools and grabbed her shoulders. It was only because there appeared to be nothing sexual or particularly threatening in the gesture that she didn't flatten him. "You're crazy, you know that? They're not going to give you a fair trial. They want their isolationism, and your admission of guilt is only going to cost us our lives. Tell me what Ellis did wrong? She rescued two injured people and nursed them back to health. And for that she will be put to death. That makes no sense to me, and I know it makes no sense to you either."

"No. But it's the law. No matter how unjust the laws..." he slapped her hard across the face and immediately walked away.

"If you want to be killed, be my guest, but leave us out of it," Psychro snarled as he walked back into the bedroom, leaving Mandora alone to consider what had just happened.

Present day

"And she didn't flatten you?" A Royal Lunatak asked in disbelief.

"Apparently not. I think she was so surprised by it that she didn't know what to do about it. Either way, I'm not going to complain. When Ellis came back inside from doing her chores it was getting close to dinner time..."

Six weeks, one day ago

Dinner was more of the porridge, which was flavoured with something that reminded Mandora of peaches. One time, while visiting Third Earth on a routine patrol, the Thundercats had provided her with one. The Warrior Maidens knew of a grove of the trees and were more than happy to share. They had been quite succulent. Ellis informed them that she was going to go into the city tomorrow to drop some of her fruit off at the market and pick up some things. It was too dangerous for either of her guests to come with her, but if there was anything they needed she would be more than happy to see what she could do.

Mandora was the first to speak. "We need information, more than anything. Laws, history, technology, anything you can provide, really."

"I'll visit the library then, pick up a few books. I can't promise you anything. I don't read well, so I've never bothered with the things, but..." Ellis sighed, almost like she had admitted to some dirty secret. Mandora just hoped that the Equine written language wasn't too different from the Plundarrian standard. She'd noticed a few times during their conversations that some of the words would have different inflections or meanings from the Plundarrian dialects she was used to, and could tell that Psychro was having similar issues. Luckily her helmet, now that she could actually wear it, was able to do a lot of the translating for her.

Psychro, was oddly quiet. She detected a strange vibe off him, residue from their confrontation earlier in the day. He had come back and worked on her helmet, completely ignoring her singular attempt at continuing the conversation, as she tried to explain to him that her way was the right way. It seemed almost out of character for the man, but then she really didn't know all that much about him. They might well be executed together, though, and that was a strange thought. The Lunataks believed in gods, they claimed to have four of them, and some even claimed to have seen them face to face. Mandora never had. The belief in gods didn't fit well into her system of logic. Oh sure, it was plausible that there was some superior being or beings watching over them, but she couldn't fathom anyone watching over every single creature in the universe; it just wasn't practical. When she died, as far as she was concerned, she would be nothing more than worm food. She hoped she was wrong.

As they finished up their dinner, Psychro helped Ellis put away the food and clean the dishes, while Mandora pushed in the chairs. The sun was starting to set, and she gazed out the window at the few stars beginning to peek through the sky. Where was Control in all this? Would they be able to help?

The hours passed and Psychro paced the living room. He had insisted that he was well enough that he couldn't justify kicking Ellis out of her own bed, and Mandora was more than happy with the makeshift bed in the pantry, leaving him with the couch. He almost felt guilty about it, Mandora sleeping on the floor, but he was still angry enough at her not to bother. As a gentleman, it wasn't proper for a woman to have inferior sleeping accommodations than the man, which is what he had told Ellis. But Mandora...

How could anyone be so stubborn? She would rather die while upholding the law than live by running. It didn't make sense. He had rather enjoyed breathing, thank you very much, and if she turned herself in it would lead back here. There was his charm, he thought suddenly. He could change her mind about things. How light a sleeper was she, though? Could he get close enough to have a strong effect on her? He would have to make it sound like he was heading into the kitchen, for one thing, just in case she wasn't even asleep.

A second wicked thought hit him. When a person slept, they were more vulnerable. Not just physically, but mentally too. But should he risk it? What the heck, maybe sleeping with her would make her betrayal easier to swallow. He walked just softly enough that if she heard him, she would assume he was trying not to wake her up, and walked into the kitchen, as close to the door to the pantry as he dared.

"Psychro is right," he whispered, pouring his power into his words and thoughts, directing them at the evil chaser. "Giving up to the authorities is wrong. Staying alive is more important. And he is sexy."

There was no way of knowing if he'd succeeded or not. Not unless she said something obvious in the morning, but he'd done his part. He returned to the couch and sat down. He wasn't even aware that he'd fallen asleep until he felt a hand gently touching his arm. The touch was soft and light and, for a fleeting second, he thought it might be Mandora. When he opened his eyes, he saw Ellis' gentle face looking down at him longingly. He knew what she wanted, what she desperately wanted, and felt a conflict of his own emotions.

It had been a while since he'd had a sexual partner, since before Chilla had made her challenge, and his struggles to get Mandora out of her jumpsuit were only frustrating him more. There was also a sense of obligation. It was his looks that had caused her to save them, and to continue to risk her life. Mandora was right about one thing, there was no guarantee that Ellis wouldn't change her mind some day and turn them in, in exchange for a lighter sentence or something.

He'd never found Mutants overly attractive, other than that Reptilian, but then he had been drunk, but Ellis wasn't unattractive. Rather she was middle of the road. She was also waiting anxiously for him to respond, he could see, and he feared she would bolt in shame if he didn't. He took her hand and followed her into the bedroom, kissing her gently. "I'm a little nervous," he explained, to try and cover some of his hesitation.

"That's alright. You're not as big as most Equines, but you look incredible," she said, sliding her hands around his back and pulling him tightly against her chest. His pride couldn't help but be stung, he considered himself to be very well endowed, and she must have noticed because she whispered "I'm sorry," into his ear. Well, he would show her that it wasn't just size that mattered, not between the sheets, but how you used it.

Present day

"You had sex weeth a horse?" Tug Mug said, clearly showing that while he might not have very high standards, he did have them.

"With a Mutant is more accurate, and that's only slightly better. Look, I did what I thought I had to do at the time, and truthfully she was very good, we agreed that I would spend half the night with her and the other half on the couch so that Mandora wouldn't suspect anything. She probably did anyway, but I almost hope she heard us through the walls," Psychro said. "This went on for almost a week; Ellis brought books home every day, and Mandora pored over them. I think her helmet has some kind of data storage system, so she was able to skim quickly and file the information away for later. My Plundarrian was better than hers, though, and I had to help her along the way. What's strange, though is that somehow through it all she began to become friendlier. I don't know if I was treating her differently because I wasn't so frustrated at my attempts or my powers or even something else, but she seemed more open."

Five weeks ago

Mandora woke up feeling very strange. Truthfully, she hadn't been feeling normal since before the crash, and that worried her. Perhaps, she wondered, she had succumbed to some kind of head trauma. The last few nights she had been having intense dreams, reliving moments in her past of great anger, happiness, and sadness, but most disturbing of all were the more sensual dreams. She'd dreamed of that night with Dalien again, except this time it wasn't Dalien, it was Psychro. But why? Sure, Psychro was attractive, sure there was a lingering smell of sex around him, especially since she knew that he and Ellis were involved in such activities, but that couldn't be affecting her dreams. Her dreams had rarely invoked emotions in her before and now they seemed to be doing nothing but.

The chip! She scooped up her helmet from the floor and looked at where the dent had been. Yes, it was in the right spot. Which made some sense. If the chip were damaged then her body would have resumed its regular supply of hormones, and her brain's emotional centre would be opened up again. She'd spent so long without them that she didn't know how to control them anymore. She padded out in to the living room, seeing Psychro still fast asleep. His chest was bare, giving her a good chance to look at his hard abs, and muscular arms. Her eyes lingered down to where the blanket covered his groin and she wondered what he would look like without it... No! Mandora wrenched her head away and picked up the book she'd been reading from the end table and returned to the pantry. She needed to distract herself from that line of thinking before she did something incredibly foolish.

She was reading about the time of the exodus from Plundarr, and how their leader at the time, Wynd, had guided them to this perfect planet. Wynd had been a scientist before being thrust into a role as leader. She was, as most Mutant leaders tended to be, a large brawny creature, able to back up her words with might, but among her own people she had been respected for her wisdom. Unfortunately power corrupts, and paranoia began to take root. She barred outsiders from their world, and her successors built on that. The punishment for non-Equines changed from simply being unable to leave the planet to death. The arena they built for friendly tournaments soon became a killing field for outsiders and the local creatures.

Unfortunately, it was all too common a story. Mandora had read about similar atrocities on dozens of worlds in her time. Rulers always had blood on their hands, some just had more than others. Psychro was probably right. There would be no real justice here. There probably wouldn't even be a trial. They would be tossed into that arena and put to death. For all their preaching of peace and desiring isolation, she could see that the Equines really weren't that much different than the Mutants. In some ways, they were worse. At least the Mutants could acknowledge that they were ruthless, these people hid behind false morals and fake values.

Mandora put the book back down. So, then, trying to challenge the legal procedures wouldn't work, which left what other avenues? Negotiation from Control might work, threats of sanctions or even violence. Those would only work if she could manage to send a message through to Control and then stay hidden long enough for them to work out a deal. Escape? No, that didn't sit right with her. But what choice did she have. She believed firmly in the law always being right, even when it wasn't. Crimes had to be paid for, no matter what. But she didn't want to die, and certainly not as a criminal; that would be the ultimate shame.

She felt hands on her shoulders, firmly massaging, and glanced up to see Psychro there. It felt good, so she didn't immediately stop him. She had been bent over books for the last few days with very little chance to get any decent amount of exercise in, so she was more tense than she'd realized. At the same time, she knew she should stop him. If Mandora knew him at all, he was getting just as much out of it as she was, and he would see it as her coming around to him. Even if she was, a thought which she sternly ordered from her head, she didn't need him to know it. Let him think her cold and impassive a little longer. She stood and he stepped closer, now clearly in her personal space. His eyes were closed and his lips were slightly pursed. She knew what he wanted in payment. Instead of warm lips, however, he received a closed fist.

"Hey! What was that for?" he snapped, scowling and rubbing at his jaw.

"You know damn well what it was for," she didn't back down, and her stance showed that she would deck him again if she needed to. "You wanted a kiss and I've told you no."

"Come on. You gave me mixed signals. I thought maybe you might be grateful enough for the massage that I'd earned a kiss. A simple 'no thanks' would have done."

She did actually feel a little sorry. He was right. She should have just told him no and only hit him if he persisted. Damned if she'd let him know, though. "I didn't ask for one," she pointed out, "and the fact I didn't hit you for trying should have been payment enough."

"Any luck?" Ellis asked, her entrance dissolving the argument before it could escalate. She moved past the pair and fetched some dried fruit from a shelf. She seemed to feel it was her duty every day to prepare food for the two of them as well as taking care of her orchard. Mandora sensed that a part of her wanted the pair to escape, while the other part was hoping they'd have to stay. That Psychro would have to stay, anyway. Mandora was finding the Equine hard to read when it came to her opinions of the evil chaser, she was cordial enough, but there was an underlying sense that she knew who her competition was for Psychro's affections.

A brief stab of jealousy suggested she should tell Ellis all about Psychro's previous lovers and his reputation for not staying with them very long. But what would that do? Give her Psychro all to herself? Like that was something she wanted to deal with. "Not yet," she replied, "there's not a lot of options with regard to the legal route. If I could get to the Electrocharger, I might be able to access Control's frequency to get them to come to negotiate our freedom. At least that way we won't be fugitives from the law."

"Are you sure that would be a good idea?" Psychro asked. "I mean, what if the Equines refuse to give us up? What if they'd rather fight?"

"What they really want is to be left alone. If Control bothers them enough, it might be incentive enough."

"Or it might start a war. How many space worthy ships do your people have?" Psychro turned to Ellis, who was looking a little more nervous. The Electrocharger would be in the city, and getting Mandora into the right part of the city would be suicidal. She herself could probably get close, but not close enough.

"Not many. Maybe four? We have had little desire to explore or colonize, so we focussed on other things."

"Then they'll be older models. They won't be a match for anything Control has, which means the only trouble is getting in there. You know, I bet if I went along I might be able to hot wire one of those ships, I had to work on a bunch of Plundarrian clunkers in my time. If the technology hasn't changed that much then..."

"We're not stealing anything. Or sabotaging anything either," Mandora said. "Being wanted for trespassing is bad enough. I'm not adding any crimes to my record."

Ellis sighed reluctantly, understanding the scope of the problem more than the other two. "Let me think about it," she said, rushing back into the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

Basking in the afterglow of sex, Psychro lightly ran a hand through Ellis' hair. He was actually grateful that he'd given her a chance. She wasn't the best he'd ever had, but she was in the top ten percent. She was the opposite of his experiences with Royals. With them they were often skinny, short, and delicate little flowers, which was fine most of the time. But Ellis... she had raw power in her arms and legs, she could keep up with him, and it made their lovemaking more invigorating. He was reaching a point with her, though, which he had long recognized in himself. He was getting bored of it. Sure, the sex was wonderful, but it was getting routine seeing the same flesh every day, and there was no challenge in it.

That was half of why he womanized. If the catch was too easy it sapped the fun. And if he was starting to get to that point now, then he would have to get off this planet, or else hope that there was another Equine woman who would take him in. It wasn't likely. "Ellis?" he murmured, shifting from the long thick hair that ran down the back of her neck to the finer hair of her back. She turned to her other side and stared into his face. "I think Mandora's right. The longer we stay here, the greater the risk we'll be found. I don't want anything bad to happen to you because of me."

"I know," she replied, burying her muzzle in his chest. She had known that this was going to happen someday, and been praying it wouldn't be for a long time. But she knew he was right. She'd barely staved off the investigators, who were still combing the land for the occupants of the crashed ships. Raidash had told her that there were plenty of rumours in the city about where they might have gone. "Tomorrow, then. I think I might be able to get you two into the city. But there's a condition. When you leave, you have to take me with you."

His body tensed, impossible for her not to notice given her location. "There's nowhere safe for you outside this world. Not where I'm going, not to my home. How do you think the Mutants of Plundarr are going to react having a Horse Mutant on their doorstep. They'll hunt you down," he said. He chose not to mention that he wasn't really interested in a long term relationship with her anyway.

"Then we won't go to your home. We'll find a new world," she pleaded.

"Ellis. I love you, I really do, but I have friends and family there, just as you do here. We both knew this wasn't going to last from the beginning. You will always have a special place in my heart but the fates conspire against us. Whenever I look into the night sky I will look towards this planet and wonder if maybe, just maybe, you are looking up, thinking of me," he whispered. It was an old speech, one he'd first used on a Darkling woman named Phantella.

Psychro usually meant every word he said, and did occasionally look up at the sky and wonder how many of the women he'd told it to actually were thinking of him. As often happened when he said it, Ellis pushed him on to his back for one last night of passion.

Present day

"Wait a minute. You used that one on me!" Artemin said. Psychro hadn't even realized that was present until she spoke, and remembered vividly their night together. Her brother hadn't been home, being on guard duty, and they had had their tryst. He'd used the speech to claim that she wouldn't enjoy living with him on the Ice moon. She had agreed, at the time. Now he wondered if he should be using fresher material.

"Of course I did, but I meant it when I said it to you. I just needed something that would get Ellis to understand that she couldn't come with me," he replied smoothly. Luckily Artemin wasn't very bright and bought it. He refilled his beer glass and resumed.

Four weeks, six days ago

The next morning Ellis was the first one up, as she often was. She had been thinking of a way to get both Psychro and Mandora into the city. As she had told them, it would be dangerous for them because if they got caught it would mean the death of them all. She had seen some of the executions and they were bloody things. An unarmed creature claiming to be from the Planet of the Mimes had been forced into combat against a dozen trained soldiers. He had put up a decent fight, especially since he had been stripped of weapons, but the outcome was inevitable. She supposed that it was possible that she could send them off without an escort and hope they didn't divulge her name, but she couldn't do that. Not to Psychro.

Ah Psychro. The source of so many of her problems. She was a little upset that he was leaving her, but she had known from the moment she pulled his body from the wreckage that theirs was a relationship that couldn't last. Heck, at the time she hadn't even known if he would live through the night, let alone feel anything for her. It had been worth it, though. Now all she needed to do was pull off the impossible.

Most disguises were out, with the unique Equine face neither of them would be believable, not without extensive plastic surgery. But there was no surgeon in the city that she would trust enough to do it. She could hide them in her wagon when she went to market, but they were subject to random searches. Raidash was so much smarter at this kind of thing, she would know what to do, Ellis thought to herself, but then Raidash would never have gotten into this situation in the first place. She agreed that the Equines needed to branch out, establish relations with other cultures, but she was too much of a coward at heart.

An idea came to her. The city was basically flat with only a few roads leading into it. All they really had to do was bypass the guards monitoring those roads. Crossing through the plains on foot was still an option. Once they were in the city the chances of being stopped decreased dramatically. They would be visible from a distance though, so they would need to keep low to the ground to avoid being easily spotted.

"So then I will go into the city with my fruit, kept under a tarp, and meet you on the outskirts. You'll slip into the cart and I can take you as close as possible to the government laboratory, which is where your motorcycle will be," she explained once Psychro and Mandora had joined her in the kitchen. Both of them had looked over a map of the city that Ellis had provided, and they hadn't thought of any better options. There was great risk no matter what they did, and it was in their favour to have some kind of transportation.

Mandora and Psychro had taken opposite approaches to their thinking, however. The evil chaser was of the opinion that civilians shouldn't be involved in this, that part of her job was to protect anyone she could from harm. She didn't even want Psychro with her, but also knew that he was her responsibility. There was only slightly more danger in him running around loose than if he was with her. She knew that if she was tortured she could hold out, though, and that Ellis' name would never cross her lips, the Icewalker/Psion hybrid on the other hand... He would probably sing if it meant saving his neck. That, in a nutshell, was why Mandora eventually consented to Ellis' helping out.

Psychro, for his part, was used to taking advantage of situations. If Ellis was willing to help then he was willing to use her. It was one of the reasons he was still alive. Having a beautiful woman distract her raging father while he threw on his pants and fled was an asset that he had used on more than one occasion. So, every one of his plans, when he was thinking about them, involved the Horse Mutant in some way. Of course, about half his plans involved committing sabotage without Mandora knowing about it. He, unlike her, had no qualms about doing something illegal in order to survive. But would he be able to sneak away from Mandora long enough to do it? That was one of those areas where Ellis fit in.

"It's not perfect," Mandora shrugged. "My helmet has a jamming field built in, which should prevent us from being detected by radar. You'd be surprised how many criminal hideouts have some kind of radar equipment."

"Good. I'll drive you close to the city, then, and you'll slip out. I think this area here is our best bet. It's a run down neighbourhood and people have learned to look the other way," she said, pointing at the map.

Mandora shook her head. "People like that are also likely to turn on you if they think there's a profit to be made. Besides, someone might question why a fruit truck is going in that neighbourhood. This area here is close to the market. There's a mechanic's shop on the corner, right at the edge of the city. If you stopped to pick up a spare tire, we would have plenty of time to get in, and people would be less inclined to comment on it."

"Hnh. I hadn't thought about that. It makes sense. Okay then, I'll go load up my cart and you guys help yourselves to anything you think you might need."

A few hours later the trio was ready to go. Ellis had loaded up her cart, towed by a small car, and left a cramped area in the middle for the two outsiders to sit in. It wouldn't be the most pleasant of rides, but it beat the alternative. The two clambered in, taking a quick look around at the scenery. The immediate area was largely flat, populated here and there by trees of varying sorts. In the distance was another house, one that doubtless belonged to the Raidash that Ellis mentioned every now and then, but Ellis had positioned the cart in such a way that they would be invisible if anyone was looking out that house's windows.

The seating was, as she'd predicted, uncomfortable, and it was made worse by having Psychro squished in next to her. She could feel the coolness of his body against her and smell the sweaty odour that seemed to permeate from him. That was one of the drawbacks for Icewalkers, she had been told, they tended to sweat more than the other races because their bodies were accustomed to much cooler climes. His Psion blood made it less so, but she found herself wondering how much that hurt him on the Ice Moon.

"Hey, you ever done it in the back of a fruit truck?" he asked, somewhat predictably. She had been braced for it, and actually found herself snickering at the blatant innuendo.

"That was pathetic, even for you," she chided. The words had little bite to them, however. The whole situation was far too laughable to be even remotely sexual. They were at great risk of being tortured and killed, they were jammed in the back of a cart surrounded by fruit, and the woman he was sleeping with was not very far away.

"You should try it some time. It's not that bad," he said.

She decided to call his bluff. "Who was she then?" She turned her head and stared into his eyes. The eyes never lied, no matter how hard the perpetrator tried.

"Anaela of House Snoeflay. It was a rainy day, and the two of us were visiting the Dark Moon. As you know, it rains there a lot and when it rains, it pours. Anyway, we were feeling very amorous at the time. So then I see this truck dropping off fruit at a restaurant, and I hear the driver say something to the owner of the restaurant that he's going to wait out the storm by having a beer. Anaela and I looked at each other and I could see we both thought the same thing. We opened his truck and started going at it. Took a little longer than we should have, because we had to jump out when he started driving again, but I tell ya, I'll never look at blueberries the same way again," he replied. It was after she'd left back for the Ice Moon that he had encountered Phantella and decided to prolong his stay on the moon.

"That sounds... very unhygienic. I'm sure that must be a health code violation of some kind," Mandora said after a pause. She'd assumed he was lying, she'd hoped he was lying, she was... curious what they'd done with blueberries but didn't really want to know. Either way, she realized that their own cart was moving and wondered how long it would take to reach the city. She pulled the map out of her pocket and examined it. She knew where they were, and the road they planned to take, so she began calculating. It would be about an hour. A long time under these conditions, but doable.

"So you're not interested then. Your loss."

Mandora's estimate was correct. Three minutes shy of an hour they felt the cart come to a stop at the side of the road. Then the tarp was pulled aside as Ellis peered inside. The road they had taken was a quiet one, with very few vehicles going by. She pretended that she was looking for something inside the back and, when the coast was clear, gestured for the two of them to slip out. "I'll meet you at the auto yard in about an hour. Good luck," she whispered as they vanished into the tall grass.

The grass was long, growing up just past their knees, meaning they had to crawl low to navigate through the field. Mandora took the lead, ignoring a comment from Psychro about getting to watch her ass the whole way, as her sense of direction was better. Her helmet also enhanced her vision, hopefully allowing her to spot trouble long before it spotted them. The going was slow and tedious, but they were both in reasonably good shape, so they made excellent time.

As they went, Mandora realized something. In all the books there was almost nothing about other species living on this planet. Even here there was no evidence of any kind of insect or small mammal living among the grasses. Ellis' food hadn't contained any meat, but she had just assumed that might be a hold over of the Equine's previous life on Plundarr, or a personal preference on Ellis' part. But now it was sounding more curious. Was this somehow an extension of their xenophobia? It was something to make note of and inquire about later if she got the chance.

Finally, with twenty minutes to spare, she saw a chain link fence in the distance. She gestured for Psychro to stay put and then raised her head slightly out of the grass. Broken ships of every sort dotted the enclosed area, and a large slate gray building sat in the centre. Her helmet's infrared scanners told her that there was only one person outside the building, but the building itself was impossible to read. That meant Ellis wasn't there yet. What if something had happened to her? What if she were delayed? Judging by the scenery, getting in would be easy, but staying hidden from sight would be harder the longer they stayed.

"How fast can you climb a fence?" she asked, turning her head to meet Psychro's.

"Pretty fast," he replied.

"Right. Angry fathers. There's only one person outside, and I'm going to use my boomerang to distract them. There's a wreck I think we can hide in until Ellis gets here. We'll only have a few seconds, so we'd better make them count," she said. The boomerang could be controlled remotely, but the average person wouldn't chase it for long. Timing was critical to the success of the mission. They moved closer, and Psychro shuffled next to her. The fence was probably three strides away, and it was as close as they dared.

Mandora scanned the area once more, to make sure there were no other visible people, and hurled the boomerang one way while she and Psychro sprinted to the fence and vaulted over. The wreck she'd selected was obvious right away, it was missing a door on the side facing them, and seemed to have plenty of room in the back. Provided it wasn't needed for anything, it would suit their purposes. She made it there first, and clambered into the back. Psychro practically landed on top of her, earning him a brief scowl, and they waited for Ellis to show up.

'Resteam's Fix & Wrecks' the sign said as Ellis pulled up to the gate. It hadn't occurred to her before to ask just how she would find Psychro and the evil chaser, so she hoped it would be obvious. That assumed, of course, that they had even gotten here safely. For the last hour or so of driving through the gate and along the streets she had been expecting to hear some grim news about them, especially when a radio report indicated that an outsider ship had been spotted entering the atmosphere. She climbed out of her car and was stopped by a dark green stallion with a light green mane, he was carrying in one hand a white curved stick, one she recognized immediately as belonging to Mandora. "What's that?" she asked, pointing at it. She figured that if he'd taken it off the evil chaser that he would admit to it.

"This? I dunno. Went whizzing past me a while ago, finally caught the damn thing. Can I help you? The name's Resteam, this is my yard," he said, shoving it under his belt.

"I'd just like to look around. Always good to have a few spare parts lying around. You never know when your car's going to break down," she said, using the lie she had been rehearsing. Without knowing where the two would be hiding, it would be impossible to ask for a specific part. Besides, if he volunteered to help, then he might spy them. "Looks like you've got some Tonkoya's over there at the back I should look at."

"If you need any help, I'm around," he said, waving her on.

That had been quick thinking. Of course if Mandora and Psychro were hiding it would be near the back where they came in. The Tonkoya's back there might provide ample hiding spots. Carefully, slowly, she drove her car around to where they were and began poking around, looking inside each car. When she found them they were lying side by side and she found that her heart ached looking at it. Only last night she had been that close to Psychro, only last night had been erotic. The look on Mandora's face said this wasn't. Once the pair were in position she continued to drive over to where Resteam was waiting. "You don't have the right year for me. Do you think you'll get access to a '42 engine any time soon?"

"A '42? Those are rare, ma'am. Tell you what, though. If I find one I'll set it aside for you," he said. She handed over her name and number as a formality and pulled out of the lot. That was one problem down, and more to go.

The streets of the city were wide, designed so that multiple vehicles could travel alongside each other. This part of town was what one would consider a middle class neighbourhood. Low flat houses lined the road with the occasional store for variety. The buildings were generally made of stone, and were decorated in many different colours.

Ellis had been down these streets dozens of times, but never had she felt this uncomfortable in them. Equines preferred wide open spaces to cramped quarters and heights. It did make her wonder how her kin had gotten into spacecrafts and come to this planet in the first place. It was this desire to be apart from others that had led her and many others to settle further from the city, to live on spacious farms, and keep contact with others at a minimum.

Of course, this time it wasn't simple claustrophobia that had her nerves on edge. The fugitives hiding in the back of her cart were reason enough to be concerned. Security was noticeably heightened along the normally peaceful avenues. With the mysterious ship in their atmosphere, the fear of outsider invasion was heightened, she assumed. Could Psychro and Mandora get to their ship before it was too late?

She slowed her car down as the building they were looking for drew nearer. The science and technology building was the third largest building in the city, rivalled only by the military headquarters and the parliament building. That was the only building in the city that was taller than two storeys, rising a good ten into the sky. At the pinnacle was a large circular room that had windows pointing in every direction, where the leaders of the Equines would sit and discuss whatever needed to be discussed.

She pulled into the laneway reserved for deliveries and saw, much to her relief that there was no one around. Luck wouldn't be on their side forever, though, so she quickly hopped out and helped the two aliens clamber out. "There's a door for receiving there, but there are probably all kinds of people inside," Ellis said a little fearfully. They had a general layout of the lab, but there was no way of telling exactly where the Electrocharger would be.

"We'll climb on to the roof," Mandora said with all the calm and authority of one who has been in worse situations and knows that panicking will only make things harder. "I can communicate with the Electrocharger remotely, I can pinpoint it more precisely from up there."

Ellis knew it would be risky. Any craft flying overhead would spot them immediately. "Go then. I'll park my car and meet you up there." Anyone spotting the car just parked in the receiving lane might draw attention to it, they might run the plates and get her name too. Psychro and Mandora bolted for the closest wall and began to scale up it, leaving Ellis alone to her task.

"I swear I've spent half the day on my hands and knees," Psychro grumbled. They weren't sure just how visible they were from the street, or if that street had much in the way of traffic, so they decided to play it safe and crawl along. The roof was flat and covered with gravel, which made their travel a little more awkward. There was an air conditioning unit on the roof with them and a service hatch, presumably to access the unit. This was where they would need to enter from. There was no comment from the evil chaser, however, and she continued crawling towards it. "Oh come on. No dirty remarks? You know if you'd said something like that I'd have been all over it."

"Then it's a good thing I didn't say it," Mandora replied. Her infrared scanner didn't go too far through the roof, but she could make out a basic lay out of the building from here. The Electrocharger was in one of the labs, surrounded by at least three people. What they would need was a diversion.

"Cause I would totally have said something like 'oh yeah, that's how I like my women.' It was as open as I'd like your legs," he said. This got a reaction. "Don't hit me!" he said, in a heartbeat pouring as much of his charming energy at her as he could.

"It's not worth it," she said, whether because of the charm or despite it he didn't know. "It might be hard for you to breathe quietly with a broken nose. Okay. The hatch looks like it goes down into an empty room. I'll go first, you wait at the top of the ladder for Ellis to catch up. Be ready to move, though, just in case we get company."

"A broken nose might be worth it if you kissed it better," he was about to say, but figured he'd pushed his luck with the previous remark. Her resolve was chipping away, he could tell, and it wouldn't take too much effort to sway her completely. But he had to be careful, his future with her hung by a single thread, and it wouldn't take much for that thread to snap. "Sure thing, Manny," he said instead.

She didn't correct him, she'd long since given up trying to get him to stop calling her that. At least it was better than the threatened Mandorable that he'd mentioned. Mandora climbed down the ladder and found herself in a room that was only about two metres wide. There was a solid wooden door, a few spare filters and nothing else. She glanced up to make sure Psychro was still in position but sheltered and wished she hadn't. He was standing in such a way that his rear end was fully exposed to her view, intentionally no doubt. And he caught her looking too, which in itself was infuriating. She tried to look disgusted and returned to scanning outside the room for any signs of life. People were walking by, but no one seemed particularly interested in coming in.

Then she heard heavy footfalls from up above, and saw Psychro sticking his head out the hatch and waving his arms. The footfalls became lighter and then, very faintly, she could hear shuffling. "Did something right," she thought at Psychro. Ellis had, no doubt, been running to get to them and he had told her to get down and keep quiet. Maybe he wasn't nearly as useless as he seemed. Soon the three were gathered at the foot of the ladder and the hatch was closed.

Mandora waited until the coast seemed to be clear and poked her head out through the door. Good, still no one. The hallway extended in both directions. To the right it ended at a door that led to an oval chamber of some kind, since it didn't have the Electrocharger, she wasn't concerned. The route to the left went around the corner and past several rooms. It was the fifth door that would lead to the hall they needed. She walked ahead of the other two, moving briskly and actually found herself praying that their luck would hold out a little longer.

It didn't. They were just rounding the bend when one of the doors up ahead burst open, and a dozen foot soldiers poured out into the hallway brandishing long guns. Mandora turned to retreat but saw a door behind them likewise empty of soldiers. And they'd been so close too. With nothing else to do, short of dying in the hallway instead, the trio surrendered.

"So," a tall black stallion dressed in dark red robes said as he looked at the prisoners. "You thought you could break in undetected? Our roof hatch has an alarm built in, stupids, we knew you were coming. I expect such things from outsiders, but you? One of our own?" He walked a few paces to look Ellis in the eye.

"These are my friends, and I will gladly die with them to fight our unjust laws," she said defiantly.

"Oh please. You're no friend. You were just a piece of meat for me to screw," Psychro said, shocking all three of the others. "I figured I had to do it to keep you from telling everyone we were on your planet. Heck, I started seducing you the minute you found our crashed ship. If I'm going to be tried and executed I might as well die an honest man. I had my way with you, but it was easily some of the worst sex I've ever had, and believe me honey, you weren't the first."

Mandora picked up on what Psychro was doing instantly, though the two Equines seemed oblivious. "I'm sorry you had to hear it this way, Ellis. He's always been like that. He's been trying to get me to sleep with him for a month. Heck, he had sex with my sister just to catch my attention. He goes through women like he goes through underwear. The only difference is that he treats his underwear with some respect."

"What?" Ellis looked on the verge between sobbing and lashing out. Psychro wanted the latter. He knew that the Equine courts were more likely to go easy on her if she appeared to be the innocent who was vilely corrupted by aliens.

"Hey, I treat women how they deserve to be treated. At least Ellis is good for a few seconds of sex. What good are you? You got us into this mess. Even a nag like her knew to shut up and take it." The stallion stood gape-mouthed, shocked to hear such words spilling out of Psychro's mouth. He was about to demand that the Lunatak speak more kindly when Ellis roared and tackled her former lover, fists pounding on him while Mandora helpfully pinned his shoulders.

"Guards! Separate them. Take this one to her own cell, see that she's treated like a lady deserves. The two aliens will stand trial as soon as the council is ready for them."

With some difficulty, a pair of stallions, one green and one a chestnut brown, pulled Ellis off of Psychro and proceeded to drag her down the hall. Once they were gone Psychro pulled himself back into a sitting position on the narrow bed and checked for injuries. There would be significant bruising all over his chest and face, but there didn't seem to be anything critical. He smiled wryly at Mandora. "Good acting," he whispered.

"Is it, though? It's not a stretch to think that it's true. Women are just nameless creatures, a place to put your penis. You might have spared Ellis an execution, but there's truth in there," Mandora replied, moving over to him to help look for injuries.

"Do you really think that? You can judge me like that?" The words were harsher than he'd intended, and he see an actual hurt look flash across Mandora's face. "I don't enter relationships with the intention of them failing. Most of the time, I think I might actually have found the right one, the one who lead me from my ways, who I can raise a family and grow old with. Back home I've got a notebook with precious memories of each one. I've got their name, race, and any other information I can remember. When I'm feeling down I'll just look back and reminisce. And when I just want a fling I'm brutally honest; your sister was like that. I told her flat out what my intentions were, that I was using her to get to you, and you know what? She didn't care. She said that you could use a good lay. Why do you think she bragged to you about me? All carefully planned."

It was true, Mandora knew at once. She had made her career picking up on slight fluctuations in people when they were lying and he wasn't lying. The facts clicked into place and she felt a twinge of guilt over judging him like that. "And what about me? What happens after we have sex? Do you see me as the woman who will bear your children?" her voice was still a whisper, but now softer and without the accusation that it had held before.

He looked away. "No. Look, you are a beautiful woman, and I've wanted you from the day I met you. But no, it's not a long term thing. The truth is that the woman of my dreams, the one woman I am positive is right for me, challenged me. Chilla told me that if I could get you to sleep with me, she would go out with me. I guess it's not going to happen either way, now. That court's going to put us to death and I didn't even get remotely close to you." He swallowed hard, watching her for a reaction. He knew from experience that many women wouldn't like hearing that, not as bluntly as he'd put it, but Mandora was different. Lying to her didn't feel like the right thing to do to an officer of the law. She leaned forward suddenly and kissed him full on the lips, almost so suddenly as though she had to do it before she changed her mind.

"There. Now you've gotten close," she whispered and turned away.

He didn't know when the jailer would come, but right now he felt like he could take on the world. He was one step closer to having Mandora, which meant one step closer to having Chilla.

Present day

"She kissed you?" Another Graviton hollered. There were now at least twenty people gathered around the table, including two women that he had slept with before. Tug Mug still possessed the only other chair at the table.

"Oh yeah, tongue and everything. I tell ya, if I hadn't been there myself, I wouldn't have believed it. Our trial would have to wait, though. What we didn't know at the time was that Reptos had followed our trail and figured what planet we had landed on. The Equines were none too thrilled to find a Mutant ship on their doorstep and promptly shot it down. I guess the trial for Mutants takes precedence over Lunataks and humans. Still, that only delayed things by a day. The next afternoon..."

Four weeks, five days ago

Why had she done it? The question still rattled around her brain as Mandora sat in the cell, eating a watered down porridge. They had been given no utensils, and a guard kept careful watch to make sure they didn't try to fashion the bowl into a weapon of some kind. Of course, with her knowledge of fighting arts, she didn't really need any weapons. That kiss had been impulsive, foolish, and only encouraged his lewd behaviour. Even if it felt wonderful. That one kiss had sent her stomach spinning and her brain craved more of it. If that was what he could do with just one kiss... No. She was an evil chaser. Upholder of the law. Fraternisation with criminals was strictly against policy.

Besides, they wouldn't have time for sex. Not with a trial coming up and death waiting in the wings. As if on cue, a group of ten soldiers of varying colours came to the cell door. The leader, the black stallion in red they'd seen the previous day, gestured for them to get up and follow him.

He led them through the cell block and through the large government building up to the court room. This room was directly below where the council met, though neither prisoner knew that. The stallion took his place beside the two other judges. Mandora had been in numerous courts before, there was a basic structure to them that served to remind the prisoners that they were in judgement, and who held their fate in their hands. The three judges sat high above them, looming down like vultures waiting for their prey to die, while a small crowd of people watched from behind a force fielded wall. Like some courts she'd been in there were no lawyers present, which likely meant that the judges would fill both rolls.

Psychro, she saw, was distracted. She followed his gaze and saw that Ellis was present too, sitting in a deep crimson box. That seemed to be the colour scheme, this dark red, which wasn't highly unusual; many courts had a unifying colour. Ellis' presence was odd though, would she be testifying or had Psychro's display not been enough? Her attention was drawn back to the judges as a gong was rung. "State your names for the court," the black stallion said, his voice resonating throughout the room.

"I am evil chaser first class Mandora, Interplanetary Control Force."

"And I am Psychro, sire of House Myntaello of the Ice Moon of Plundarr."

A ripple went through the crowd. They knew of Plundarr, they had captured and tried four Mutants of Plundarr the previous day. "You are from Plundarr?" a white mare, seated to the left of the black stallion, asked.

"Well, technically I'm from the moons. I'm a Lunatak," he said. The crowd murmured louder at the revelation. As Ellis had told him that first night, Lunataks were creatures of myth and legend, designed to scare children into obedience. They were said to snatch unruly children in the middle of the night if they weren't in bed asleep. And children who spoke rudely to their parents might find a Lunatak cutting off their tongues. In the end Psychro wasn't sure if this reputation was better than that of the hated Mutants, but he figured it would have been discovered sooner or later.

"A Lunatak? Interesting. You are both charged with being outsiders on our world and with corrupting one of our own with your lies. How do you plead?" a light blue stallion to the right of the black one asked.

"What difference does it make? You're going to execute us either way," Psychro thought bitterly to himself. Still, he wasn't the one who had been studying the laws and customs of this planet. He was much better off letting Mandora handle things. Besides he had more important things to worry about, like Ellis. He was trying to read her expression, but the elongated face was not one he was used to. He thought he saw a faint smouldering of hatred in those eyes though and that was upsetting. He had hoped that she would realize what kind of game he'd been pulling, that he'd only lashed into her for the sake of buying her freedom. It did seem to have worked.

"Your honours," Mandora began, picking her words carefully from what it sounded, "we wish to plead that, while it is true we are outsiders on your world and perhaps we did things with regard to Ellis that we should not have done, but our motives are innocent."

"They always pick innocent," the blue stallion muttered, though loudly enough that the accused could hear it. "Explain your motives for the court then."

"Gladly." She did seem relieved to at least have the chance to present their case, rather than being given an automatic sentencing. Psychro didn't find it quite as reassuring, but figured that if anyone could get them out of this, it was Mandora. "Your honours, we came to this planet by accident, fleeing from a Mutant warship, as they had attacked us unprovoked. All we want is to leave and we swear never to discuss your planet to anyone."

Present day

"Aren't you violating that by telling us?" Tug Mug asked, wondering at the same time how he'd managed to get nacho cheese in his hair. It didn't really matter, he supposed, it just provided him with a snack later if he wanted.

"Don't worry, I'm getting to that. Hey these wings are a little bland, got any suicide sauce for them?" Psychro said. Even as he spoke a tiny bowl of thick red sauce appeared at his elbow.

Four weeks, five days ago

"On the other hand, I have an offer to make," Mandora said. The three judges rolled their eyes but waved her to continue. Their reaction was ominous but she had to try anyway. "The organization I'm part of, the Interplanetary Control Force, is a police organization that operates throughout the universe. We have great sway over the peoples of other worlds and would be willing to work towards helping you keep your planet free of outsiders. We would declare your planet off limits and ensure that the rule was enforced. No planet is alone in this universe. I can think of several races that would try to enslave your world if they knew about it and, without our help, you would surely fall. I've seen it happen on more than one occasion. Also with our help we would provide you with medical and food supplies when needed. Control is there to help peoples like yourself."

"An impassioned plea," the white mare noted. "But we have no interest. You may think our people are weak, but we are stronger than you know. Look around. We have little crime, everyone has all they need..."

"Oh really. The way I see it is you're ruling through fear. The penalty for just existing is death. I think people are just too afraid to do anything wrong. You sit up there all high and mighty just because you were born to different parents than I was," Psychro said.

"Shut up," Mandora hissed.

"Shall we turn then to your treatment of Ellis then?" the black stallion scowled. "She told me everything; how she took the two of you in, nursed you back to health, and how you promptly slept with her to save your own neck. Are these the actions of a civilized people? People we want to associate ourselves with? You probably haven't studied our race much, but we treat our women with respect on Equidarr."

Mandora grabbed Psychro's arm hard to prevent him from answering. "Psychro is an aberration, a different culture. A culture, mind you, that is not so different from how yours was years ago. He might not have studied your past, but I have. You were descended from the common Mutant race, but you evolved past that. You became the people you are today through wise leadership and social reforms. I can see clearly that your people aren't the same anymore, there is respect towards everyone, but there is still room for growth. You demand respect from Psychro, that he respect your women, but I tell you that he is showing you the same respect that you show us. You're no better than we are in that vein."

The black stallion looked startled. "You are clearly the most intelligent outsider we've had on this world. Indeed, were you an Equine I could see us being friends and having many healthy debates. It almost saddens me that your fate was sealed long before you came in here, though we will think long about what you said. If you survive, I would talk further with you."

"If we survive?" Psychro sputtered. He hadn't realized there was a chance.

"That's right. The penalty is realistically death, but there is a chance. Outsiders must fight a large number of Equine soldiers. Anyone who is still alive at the end is allowed to leave the world untouched. However, no one has ever lived," Mandora replied without looking over.

"Very good. Your interest in the legal system shows. You and the four Mutants we captured yesterday will be held in the prison below until the celebration of our arrival on Equidarr festival in three days. You will each compete in tests of skill and combat. Ellis herself will be given the chance to avenge her defilement by meeting Psychro in combat. She, along with four others will be armed; Psychro will not. Mandora, you will likewise fight five combatants. Take them away," the blue stallion announced.

These weren't the same cells. These were cells that opened directly into the open air arena. There were two of them, one containing the Mutants and the other Psychro and Mandora. The cells were reasonably clean, though they stank of the sweat and fear of countless victims, and the prisoners were taken care of. Food was supplied, and the bedding was in decent repair. While Mandora inspected the cell, admiring the handiwork no doubt, rather than looking for some way out, Psychro sat on his bed and thought about what was to come.

He had fought women before, even ones he'd slept with. He had had women whom he had been open with, had told that he was looking for a one-night stand, become upset because they had been under the belief that they could change his mind. Truthfully, women like that were never nearly as good in bed as they thought; they just seemed to be trying too hard and he'd learned to detect that a mile away. Ellis was different. She was angry because she didn't realize what he was doing for her, that he really did care about her and that's why he'd said all those things. But then, explaining it to her would only make the fight less convincing. He genuinely felt bad about her, as he did most of the time, and she would never know it.

The gender of his opponent really didn't matter as long as he was focussed. More than once a bouncing breast or too much thigh had distracted him long enough to be caught, and that was something he had to remind himself of. No, the gender didn't matter, the skill did. He was best described as a brawler, beating up the type of person one might find inebriated in a bar. Soldiers were trickier, soldiers weren't addled by liquor and generally knew a thing or two about tactics. He would have to move quickly if he wanted to survive.

Mandora finally settled down on the bed next to him. "These Equines are formidable fighters," she spoke in a low voice. They weren't sure if there were any listening devices, and they certainly weren't inclined to give their Mutant neighbours any tips. "They're fast, strong, and they've got better endurance than either of us."

"Thanks for the pep talk," he said, sighing heavily.

"Listen to me. They are all those things, but they can be beaten. There's a reason most people lose, and that's because they don't go in there with the right mind set, they're beaten long before they set foot in the arena. I'm going to win my match because I believe I can. The Equines have weaknesses. Their eye sight is limited, for example, and their legs can be crippled. That's where you'll want to attack."

Psychro glanced towards the other cell and heard whimpering from the pair of Jackalmen. He understood what Mandora was getting at. Confidence was a big part of winning a fight, it was the same attitude he took when courting a woman. His powers. He still had his powers. While they wouldn't be terribly effective over the long haul, they might help him sneak a shot in or two which could make all the difference in the world. "Wait a minute," he said. "Why are you helping me? It can't be because of that busted tail light. You like me, I should have realized it from that kiss but you really like me."

"Don't get an inflated ego, buster," she said. "I need you alive because you're a good mechanic and I don't know what shape the Electrocharger is. I tried accessing its systems and I couldn't get very far. You're more likely to be able to repair it than I am."

Or maybe it didn't mean anything. Maybe he'd looked pathetic enough that she'd kissed him out of pity. That wasn't an emotion he'd have used on Mandora before, but she seemed very little like the stories he'd heard of her. Actually, she seemed much different ever since the crash. "And what's in it for me? I go from here directly to another court, not really to my benefit, is it."

"You want incentive? Your life isn't motivation enough? Fine. I will sleep with you if we both get out of here alive. Does that make you happy? Is that where you were taking it?" she snapped a little louder than she'd intended.

"I'll take that deal too, yes?" Reptos sneered.

"I'd make her have sex with me now, if we were sharing the same cell," Geckren added.

Psychro walked over to the bars and glared daggers at the Mutant, the cells were too far apart for him to reach him, but he would have if he could. "Shut it, Reptile, or I'll ask for a warm up match against you pathetic thugs." He walked back over to the other bed.

Mandora watched the overly macho display. She could have handled the Mutant himself, but hadn't felt like wasting the energy. Besides, she was too stunned by her own offer to do much else. Why had she said something so foolish? It couldn't just be the influx of hormones racing through her system, it had to be something more. Whatever it was, it was made worse by the damage to her chip, with it she would have been able to block her lust.

But would she have been able to make quite so impassioned a speech before the judges? Certainly the facts wouldn't have changed, but it had been the delivery of them that had swayed the one judge to her side. Would they have gotten a lighter sentence? Heavier? Would it, in fact, have made any difference at all.

Would the offer, she suddenly thought, serve as a motivation to herself? Now that was an interesting question, and the answer depended greatly on whether or not she really wanted to sleep with the Lunatak. As she had noted, he was physically very attractive, but did she really want to stoop to some one night fling? Was she content to be just another notch on his bed post? And did she really want anything more than that? Hers was a life spent travelling the cosmos, going from planet to planet in the pursuit of justice. She had a home but she rarely stayed there. She barely saw friends or family outside of the rare day off. She had very few possessions. There was little time in her life to be either wife or mother. It just wasn't her.

The lights in the narrow corridor began to dim, signalling that they were being forced to sleep, so Mandora curled up on the bed, and let her sleep be haunted by the prospects, both good and bad, in front of her.

"Alright perpetrator, you were warned. Prepare for judgement," Mandora said. It was a dream. She knew it was a dream, and yet it was the kind of dream where one feels more like an observer than a participant. She didn't dream often, and when she did it was analysing cases and witness statements. This one felt different. Her dream self pushed open the door to the hotel room and saw Psychro in nothing but his boxer shorts inside.

"What's my crime officer?" he asked.

"I saw that busted taillight of yours. And the punishment for a busted taillight is a spanking on your tail, and it won't be light." She looked horrified at the words that had come out of her mouth, but then realized that her outfit was different; it was tight black leather and she carried a whip instead of a boomerang in one hand. "Now drop your boxers and submit to me."

Four weeks, four days ago

Dammit. Those dreams were becoming more regular. Mandora scowled in Psychro's direction, wondering whether he had any kind of psychic abilities. She'd never heard of any, but then anything was possible given his Psion heritage. It was morning now, she could see the first rays of sun shining through the door that led outside. Now that it was light she could get a good glimpse at what was out there. A wide open field surrounded by bleachers. There was a door far in the distance that presumably led to where her opponents would be coming from. The terrain was basically flat and mostly barren, though grass was trying to grow here and there.

As she watched she could see Equines beginning to decorate the arena with colourful signs. A trio of soldiers emerged from that other door and began stretching. This would prove educational. Getting a chance to watch them might help her identify specific strengths and weaknesses if she were to meet any of them in her fight. It would also give her an idea of the kind of tactics she could expect out there. "Whatcha doing?" Psychro asked, still laying on the bed. She wasn't sure what had awakened him, and didn't really care. His appearance in her dreams was still unnerving.

"Scouting the opposition," she replied. He walked over and she moved aside a little to let him look. "They're pretty good. Hnh. That one's a lefty." Mandora knew that the rules of combat allowed the opposition to carry any weapon they chose, but that it was traditional to use close quarters weapons unless it looked like the prisoner was winning. Each carried a small hand pistol that required a code to fire, preventing such weapons from being taken by a prisoner and making their escape easier. The one she'd spotted carried his weapons on the opposite side than the others, marking him as a left hander.

"Does that make a difference?" Psychro asked.

"It makes all the difference. The weapons come at you from a different direction than you're used to. I wonder if they'll let us work out."

"Would you two be quiet? Some of us are trying to sleep," one of the Jackalmen said.

"Yes, it's bad enough we're in this mess because of you, but now we're losing sleep as well," Geckren said. "If you'd handed Psychro over like we told you to..."

"Oh lay off her. She's got the hots for him, that's the only reason she wouldn't hand him over."

"Like any snivelling Jackal wouldn't turn over their mate for the sake of their own hide."

"Like any self-respecting Mutant, you mean. You Reptiles like to think you're so high and mighty, but I bet you'd turn in your mate if you could get one."

"Why you cowardly dog!"

Mandroa cast a look over her shoulder at where the Jackal and the Reptile were brawling with their two comrades trying to break them apart. They wouldn't be winning their fights, she could tell. She wouldn't even bet on them in an even odds fight with those Equines. The Horse Mutants were beginning to do laps around the field, showing more discipline than their kinsmen. It was hard to believe that they descended from the same stock.

One look at Psychro and she knew that he was thinking the same thing. The biggest advantage she and the Lunatak had was real world combat experience. The two of them had been in countless fights over the years, against many different types of opponents. She had taken lives before too, something she would have to do here if she wanted to live. She didn't technically have to do so, but being willing to take a life was part of the deal. Mandora knew that she couldn't afford to take it easy on the Equines, but if she could merely cripple instead she would do it.

"The lefty looks a little slower than the others," Psychro murmured. She looked out the window and realized he was right. That one was lagging behind after the third lap, and was beginning to look fatigued. So there was a weak link in the group, good to know. It was also nice to see that Psychro was paying attention. He might actually survive this.

After lunch, another meal of watered down porridge, Mandora requested some time out on the field to get familiar with her surroundings and was granted it. She and Psychro walked the perimeter, making mental notes of spots where the ground was softer and places where it dipped. Chances were good that they wouldn't really be able to make use of that information, but the knowledge that it was there create a sense of comfort, so that they were less likely to be taken by surprise by it.

Now that they were outside, they could see that the walls were solid steel, flecked in many places by assorted colours of blood. It was clear that the bodies were taken away, but that little else was done in the way keeping it clean. Psychro wondered, if the walls could talk what they would say. How many souls had died here in this field? And what tactics had been effective against the Equines? Surely someone had come close.

Mandora walked with him to the centre of the field and she began teaching him some basic fighting techniques. He wouldn't become a master by any stretch of the imagination, but if they improved his abilities at all it might be worth it. His basic techniques weren't bad, just unrefined. Psychro really was better suited to bar room brawling, and gave little thought to things like tactics or strategy.

She started him off with a few simple strikes. "You're giving away your punches," she commented, "look where you're hitting, but try to throw off your opposition. Vary your attacks. This isn't like pro wrestling, this is real. You're going to need to fight dirty." He tried following her advice, with limited success. He wasn't sure if the Equines were likewise scouting, so he didn't want to give away too much. He did, however, manage to impress her by executing a neat little leg sweep that took her off her feet momentarily.

They weren't given much time, probably only about two hours, before they were returned to their cell. As soon as they were back inside, the Mutants were given an equal amount of time to survey the battlefield. To Psychro's surprise, the black stallion and white mare were waiting for them when they returned. "Evil chaser first class Mandora, I would be honoured if you would eat dinner with me this evening. You seem to have a fine grasp of law, and I would like to hear more about your opinion. Psychro will be unable to join us as Ellis has requested some time to talk to him," the stallion said.

"We tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. Don't worry, there will be a guard present to ensure your safety," the mare added.

"I would be honoured," Mandora replied.

Psychro, for his part, was too stunned to make a response of any kind. Ellis wanted to see him? This close to their epic fight? Was this pity, love, a chance to get some answers? Had she perhaps even figured out what he'd done for her. There was only one way to find out, and that would only happen by accepting the offer to see her. But maybe he shouldn't. The harsh reality was that if her mood towards him was different the council might notice. "Tell her no. I'm done with her," he forced himself to say. The temptation was strong, but he couldn't give in to it. There was also the possibility of execution day sex. He wondered where that ranked to other kinds of sex.

"You weren't being given the choice. Come with me. You are to be bathed before we take you anywhere," the white mare said, opening the cell door. Neither Psychro nor Mandora offered any resistence as they were taken away.

The corridors in this part of the government building were much nicer than any Mandora had seen so far on this planet, which spoke to the bureaucracy of the civilization. As with most cultures that preached equality, some still ended up with better possessions than others. Whereas Ellis' home was simple, almost rustic, this area spoke of wealth and power. Each of the three judges were granted a third of the eighth floor for living and presently they were heading to Fastwynd's personal dining room. He and Arra were the black stallion and white mare respectively that she had seen in the court, and they were married.

"It's unusual for a couple to be acting as judges, but we manage to keep our personal and professional lives separate for the most part," Arra explained at Mandora's questioning look. "It does make life awkward for Storm now and then, having to pick sides, but it seems to work." Storm, Mandora assumed, was the light blue stallion.

The dining room itself, for all the grandeur of the rest of the home, was small and quaint. A large metallic table, etched with pastoral scenes, dominated the room, while eight chairs were arranged around it. The three settled into chairs at one end, with Fastwynd taking the middle seat.

Psychro was led from one section of the dungeon to a solid room in the floor above. A security camera hung from the ceiling and a set of manacles hung on one wall. It appeared to his eyes that this was a room designed for interrogations. The pair of guards who had brought him here, hastily clamped his wrists in the shackles and stepped aside so that Ellis could enter.

"I take it you know why you're here?" she asked. Her eyes were softer, indicating she did understand. He looked pointedly at the camera, hoping she had either noticed it or knew about it, and was rewarded with a very subtle incline of the head. Good, then she was in on the act. That made life a little easier on Psychro.

"I assume this is a very kinky conjugal visit? Just couldn't get enough of me and wanted to ride the Psychro Express one last time?" he said, managing to sound as slimy as he could.

"In your dreams, you disgusting pervert. I wanted you to understand that I really did love you once. I thought maybe, just maybe, you might be the man for me. I don't know if our species is compatible, but I'd almost wanted to settle down and raise a family with you. Now, I plan on taking the 'Psychro Express' home with me as a trophy. I just hope you're still alive when I cut it loose." She stepped closer, inches from his face, pretending for the world to see that she furious with him. "I still love you," she whispered.

"I love you too, and I'm sorry," Psychro replied.

"I'm done in here, take him away." The guards obliged, dragging Psychro back to his cell. He felt better, though, and his guilt was washed away. He'd still gotten her into a hell of a mess, one that wasn't quite over yet, but at least she understood why he'd done what he'd done.

Spiced cider was decanted from a silver ewer, a delicious pasta dinner with salad was provided for Mandora. It was excellent fare, prepared by the government kitchen staff. The cooks and their assistants were on call twenty-four hours a day and provided meals for all three officials. "It's unusual for government officials to handle both the lawmaking and the judging. I suppose that's a testament on how little crime you have here," commented Mandora, before stabbing another leaf of lettuce.

"Yes. And it's precisely that which makes us hesitant to make contact with the outside world. Ours is a paradise, little crime, little disease. Despite what your friend thinks we do not keep order through fear, our people are genuinely happy with things the way they are," Arra said.

"And you worry that opening your doors will upset the balance?"

"Precisely. We have worked hard to create a peaceful environment. We have soldiers, police and weapons technology, but their use is limited and that's the way we like it. We have no doubt that your Control would mean well but..." Fastwynd said.

"You must understand, we know there is a lot that your people can do. We've just found something that works for us," Arra added.

"I've seen it before, on other planets. The risk you find yourselves in is isolating yourselves too much. Right now the Mutants of Plundarr don't know where you are, but if they did they would send an armada to enslave you. I just don't think your limited air force would be sufficient in stopping them. I'm sure you would fight valiantly, but it would be in vain," Mandora said.

"So under Control, there are no wars between planets? I find that hard to believe, or is Control some sort of super army keeping everyone in line?" Fastwynd asked.

Mandora bit back her immediate quip. More than once it had been suggested that the Interplanetary Control Force was no better than a conquering army, threatening violence and sanctions if its members didn't toe the line. She knew better, but there were times it was hard to see. "Actually, it is allowed. We act as mediators and caregivers. We make sure that universal laws are followed, but allow each planet to function as they see fit. If two planets wish to go to war, we will let them, but we will ensure that prisoners of war are treated fairly, and will assist when the war comes to an end or if one side surrenders we will step in to make sure their plea is listened to." There were about thousand of procedures and protocols involving Control and interplanetary wars, and she knew most of them by heart. Typically her sector of space was quiet, leaving her to do little more than handle traffic violations.

"So Control wouldn't step in unless we surrendered to the Mutants?" Arra asked.

"It's more complicated than that. In a case such as this, the Mutants would have to formally declare war. If you then said that you weren't interested in a war, we would intervene and seek a more peaceful solution to your quarrels. The difficulty is that some races might have grounds for complaint. Your execution of outsiders could be interpreted as a hostile action."

"What would you have us do? We don't dare just let people go and ask them not to tell about us, nor do we want to have them languishing in our dungeons."

"That's something Control could help you with. We could arrange for prisoners to be brought to one of our facilities. We have means of removing information from people's brains. For obvious reasons this is carefully guarded, but I can imagine that we'd be willing to use it for your benefit."

What were they talking about, Psychro wondered. Mandora had been up with those horses for two hours now, and still she hadn't returned. The Mutants had, though, returning to their cells in worse condition than when they'd left them. Reptos, he noted, was the only one not sporting a new wound, while one of the Jackalmen was licking at a deep cut in his shoulder. None of them would last five minutes against those Equine warriors. Well, maybe if they ran they would.

Reptos didn't look at all concerned. Maybe he was just at peace with his own mortality, or maybe he was taking solace in the knowledge that Psychro was probably going to die as well. The Reptile took a portion of each of his underlings' food for himself and they didn't protest.

Psychro almost snorted at the absurdity of it all. One of those rare times that he regretted sleeping with a woman and it caused all this. And yet if he hadn't, he might not have gotten quite this close to nailing Mandora. Life was funny, in a way, and he suspected that the gods must have one wicked sense of humour. He'd find out for sure if he failed his end of the trial by combat.

The Ice Lunataks, which was what he basically considered himself to be, worshipped Lunis; goddess of warriors and fertility. She would probably be proud of him. Heck, he'd always assumed that she was favouring him. In a scrap he often gave as good as he got, and in the bedroom... well, even with all the lovers, he'd yet to contract anything, and had only gotten two pregnant. He had had a daughter with Heavy Bevy named Rathja who refused to speak with him, and then there was Icilia. Her sister, Glacin had been his first love. Oh they had made love numerous times, and he'd finally, after only a few months, asked her to bond with him formally. She had laughed at him. Her family was one of those that preached the purity of the race, despising crossbreeds, and she told him that she had only lowered herself to sleeping with the scum of the moon to get at her father, the sire of House Whitestar. Out of revenge, his feelings hurt and his emotions raw, he'd convinced Icilia to sleep with him.

When she learned she was pregnant, and with his child no less, she had taken her life to spare herself her family's shame. Psychro had always suspected her father's hand in the matter, but he'd never been able to prove it. Such a powerful and influential house, information to the contrary disappeared. He always wondered, though, what it would be like to have a child, to raise it, to be a father. He was going to be an uncle, assuming he lived long enough, but that wasn't the same.

"I'm told the Zebra Mutants were exterminated after you left Plundarr," Mandora said. Talk had moved from politics and lawmaking, which seemed to be sensitive subjects, to history. The two seemed fascinated to hear everything that had happened on Plundarr since their exodus to Equidarr.

"Our history books say that we tried to convince them to come with us. None did, tragically," Arra said.

"If only they'd listened," Fastwynd added.

"Most of the other Mutant races became more fearful after you left. They watched for any signs of other deserters and punished them severely. Eventually five major races firmly took control. The Reptiles, the Rats, the Jackals, the Simians, and the Vultures. There are other races around too, but their numbers are low. I wouldn't blame yourselves though, you started something that was going to happen eventually. The Mutants of Plundarr aren't a peaceful race, and they would have seen your attitudes as harmful," Mandora noted. They had since moved into a study filled with books. "Besides, a peaceful Plundarr would have left you open to attacks from the Lunataks."

"If Psychro is an indication of the Lunataks, then I'm grateful we got out of there. The way he treated poor Ellis, it's unimaginable," Arra shuddered visibly and snatched a sugar cube from a small box by her chair. Obviously, from the clenching of his fists, Fastwynd had considered what he would do to the Lunatak if Psychro had tried seducing his wife.

"In a way. Lunataks generally only think of themselves, it's practically the only reason they're not a greater power in the universe. They're violent and think nothing of using others. And yet I've seen great acts of kindness out of them. They feel love and devotion just like you and I. It's like anyone, there is capacity for good and evil, it's a question of the quantity and which voice you listen to," Mandora said, memories of the kiss she'd shared with Psychro returning unbidden.

"It's getting late. We could arrange separate accommodations for you, if you want," Fastwynd said.

"No. An officer of law doesn't request special treatment. My cell with Psychro will be adequate." Fastwynd nodded his approval and escorted her back to the dungeons. He felt reasonably confident that Mandora could handle herself if Psychro tried anything untoward, but stationed an extra guard nearby in case. Little did he know that there was a chance Mandora would let him.

Present day

"Come on, Psychro. Get to thee good part!" Tug Mug said. "Tell us how she was een bed."

"You want to hear the story, you'll hear it the way I want."

Four weeks, two days ago

Festival day. Banners were hanging in the arena, and Equines from the outlying parts of the land were venturing into the city. There was great excitement in the air as one of the 'demonic' Lunataks had been captured and was going to fight for his life. Children squealed at the knowledge that, indeed, the boogeyman did exist.

In the prisons, the atmosphere was less festive. It had been a trying night for all six of the condemned. If it wasn't the anxiety over their own fates, it was the simpering of the two Jackals. Eventually, Reptos had to threaten to kill them himself to get them to be quiet long enough for them all to get a few hours of rest.

Psychro woke before the others, feeling restless, and found himself staring out the window at the goings on. There was a band setting up at one edge of the field, and he found himself wondering what kind of music one played at an execution. He was about to carry the thought further when he saw four ships rocketing across the sky. They were heading much too fast to be getting ready for an air show, causing an uneasy feeling to settle in his belly. A gentleman with some sort of headset, who had been directing the band's progress, suddenly began barking orders, sending the band people scattering. "Something's up," he muttered, shaking Mandora. Whatever was happening he wanted her awake and paying attention.

"Heh, heh, heh... That's right, Lunatak, something is up. Your time," Reptos said, sneering. The other Mutants had roused themselves and were watching through their cell's window.

"We're going to live! By all the slime of Plundarr, we're going to live!" one of the Jackalmen said, pumping his fist.

"Mutant warships," Mandora cursed, tuning her visor to focus in on the tiny specks in the distance.

The words sent chills up Psychro's spine. Mutant warships meant that Reptos had managed to send a message back to Plundarr before being subdued by the Equine forces. While his fate prior to this hadn't looked particularly promising, it looked bleaker now. Mutants weren't known for being gentle to Lunataks under the best of circumstances, and these were anything but the best of circumstances. As if to confirm his fears he heard Mandora curse. Heavy footfalls announced the arrival of Fastwynd.

"Mandora! It's the Mutants, they're attacking!" he said, panicked.

"That's right, stupid horse, you and your precious people, will be our slaves!" Geckren said.

"Get me to the Electrocharger," Mandora said. "There's still time for Control to intervene."

"Alright," he sighed reluctantly and opened the cell doors. "Follow me."

"They'll be too late. You're all going to die! Plundarr forever!" Reptos called after them as Fastwynd, Psychro and Mandora disappeared down the hall.

On to Psychro Always Gets His Man...Dora - part three
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