Alien

Part one of The Alien Chronicles

 

By

Falschian

 

 

Nelson was in a foul mood, and not just because Lee Crane was a good friend. Oh, he was far more than that, Admiral Jiggs Starke suspected, though he'd never broached the subject with either of them. Colleagues weren't supposed to be as close as they. At least not in his Navy. There'd only been  a few subtle signs so perhaps he was imagining it all. But what about those fond looks they'd frequently given each other before the cruise? It was almost as if there'd been a special  secret between them. A secret that could mean that perhaps they'd gone and become....unnaturally close. They'd certainly had time enough in the last few years. Starke did the only thing he could under the circumstances. He liberated some of Harriman's best whiskey from the sideboard in Seaview's Observation Nose.

 

Checking reported methane vents on this supposedly short cruise had given way to investigating unexplained atmospheric interference as well.  It was an increasingly global problem with no apparent explanation or solution yet. Fortunately, divers had accessed the antiquated undersea telephone cable which hadn't been  affected, so  Nelson was spending most of his time on the phone with other scientists. Starke, aboard as Harriman Nelson's personal guest, instead as Commander of Submarines Pacific, was growing increasingly irritated at being left out of things and had had ample time to ponder Nelson and Crane's relationship. Thank God Crane wasn't aboard for this mission or he'd probably have broached the subject against the ‘don't ask, don't tell' policy of the Navy.

 

"Penny for your thoughts, sir?" Chip Morton interrupted his musings.

"None of your business."

"Aye sir," Chip answered albeit confused, and returned to the Control Room.

"You were a bit harsh, don't you think Jiggs?" Nelson asked from the spiral ladder.

"It's none of a subordinate's business what I think."

"He's the Executive Officer of this submarine, and Acting Captain," Admiral Nelson said firmly as he joined his friend.

"Sorry Harriman...I guess I..."

"Excuse me sir," Sparks called over the PA. "It's the Willow Glen police for you."

"Forgot to pay a parking ticket Harry?"

"Willow Glen is Mrs. Crane's home...Rhode Island. Put it on the speaker phone Sparks."

"...Seaview? Seaview?" a frustrated male voice came over, "Damn these phones..."

"Nelson here. "

"Thank goodness. Sorry to bother you Admiral, but she just insists..."

"What's this all about officer?"

"Mrs. Crane. She insists on speaking with you. Frankly we think she's gone clear off her rocker. Says her son's your Captain.  A Lee Crane. Well she said he vanished in a poof of light, his fork dropping to the floor, and thinks you're responsible."

"I'll speak to her."

"Okay, but make it quick, the guys with the straightjacket are getting impatient."

"Admiral? Admiral Nelson?"

"Yes, this is Nelson. Tell  me exactly what happened. Don't leave anything out, even if it seems...odd."

"You won't let them take me away will you?"

"Of course not. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation. Now, go on. Start from the beginning."

"Thank God, someone who'll listen. Well, we'd just sat down to supper when the power went out. Lee told me to stay put while he got a flashlight to go check the circuit breaker. Then when he came back he said it was fine and we called the power company. We got an automated ‘problem in our area' message, so we got out some candles. Well, just after we lit them and  he was about to have a bite,  there was a God awful noise and a brilliant flash of light and he was gone! Just like that. Then the power came back on and..."

"Can you describe the sound?" Nelson interrupted, the hairs on the back of his neck at full attention.

"Well, not really. I've never heard anything like it before...sort of an electrical ‘boom-boom-boom' only shrill, irritating. You do believe me don't you? I'm not crazy am I? This some kind of experiment you dreamed up and he couldn't tell me? I know he's always been interested in teleportation ever since that old movie when he was a boy. And you're a scientist doing all kinds of weird things....is he there? Can I speak with him?"

"Uh, he's not available just now, can you give the officer the phone for a few moments..... now...officer? You can escort Mrs. Crane home. She's no threat to herself or anyone. And make this a non disclosure situation. "

"I don't have to take orders from you."

"Certainly not. However, I can tell you it's a matter of national security. I'll go to the President to give you a gag order if I have to. Now give the phone back to Mrs. Crane....."

"I still want to speak to my son!"

"Of course you do. He wants to too. But it's just not possible right now. Now, go on home.  We'll be in touch. Goodbye....." he added and ended the call, then called out to Sparks, "I need to speak to the Space Exploration Agency and the President. Chip? Go to Code Red."

Battle Stations, Battle Stations. This is not a drill,” Morton said over the PA as he turned on the Klaxton.

**

"Let me go! Let me go!" Lee shouted, pounding  against the clear tube he was encased in.

"Quiet, Earthman! I have no wish to harm you," the voice said. Suddenly all of Crane's clothing disintegrated, even his shoes. "Disgusting creatures, you humans. But, very profitable if my plans work."

"What do you want?"

"Money, of course. I'm auctioning you off with the other pets. Though there is no doubt of the winner," he snorted. 

"I'm not anybody's  pet!"

Just then, a slightly haughty Centaur draped in silver, gold, and crystalline jade ornaments entered the room. "I was told you had trapped an interesting specimen from the water planet." Then he stopped, pointed and laughed, "Is that its penis or an external sheath housing it?"

"I leave any anatomical examinations to the bidders Lord Tylol."

"You, human," Tylol tapped the tube, "demonstrate your genitalia's functions."

Crane did nothing except to try to hide himself.

"Is it ashamed of its anatomy? Did the transporter harm him in some way?"

"It is not harmed. Well, human, obey Tylol. Show yourself to him. "

"When hell freezes over, you perverts!"

"I thought the Earthmen spoke our tongue adequately enough, but I do not understand that term," Tylol said to Trapper, confused.

"I am not sure, but I think it is trying to be profane."

"The creature shows spirit then," Tylol laughed."

"That is not surprising. It is one of the humans Herzog lost from the failed outpost on Venus. The ‘irritating' one, he called it. He was most determined for it's capture."

"Arrange for my winning bid."

"But Herzog has already..."

"No limit. I will make the arrangements for the human's transportation."

**

As Tylol lounged on his bed of moist rock that night, he began to wonder what it would be like to have sex with a human. Although he hadn't made a habit of mating with any of his pets, ever since Earth had been discovered he'd found himself fascinated with visual representations of the primate species that called themselves “human”, especially those of the male gender. As a double gendered species, it was most curious. 

**

Nelson had quickly alerted the President and his crew of his suspicions. It was not known for certain if their Captain had been abducted by the Centaurs again, but it was better to err on the side of caution. While Nelson, Morton and O'Brian found themselves in a heated debate with the Pentagon, their crew were discussing the matter themselves from their stations or in the Crew's mess....

"What do you think they want with him?" Patterson asked Sharkey.

"I just hope those green slime balls aren't torturing him. Or..."he gulped, "other stuff, you know, like in O'Brian's comics. I've heard tell, and by people who know, that some of these alien bastards want humans for their wild sicko orgies..." he gulped, the idea of  of their beloved Captain being sexually assaulted by anyone, let alone the ‘space frogs' as the Centaurs had been come to be termed by Seaview's crew from their first encounter with them.

"Maybe they only want to talk to him. And they didn't torture him or Morton when they snatched em' to Venus.  And maybe it isn't the Centaurs at all..."

"Well, it sure sounds like the same as last time to me.  It's them frog creeps all right; don't you try to hope otherwise."

**

"Their technology's too far advanced, too foreign for us to even understand or duplicate," General Becker said sadly. The  bull session he'd arranged via S-E-A with Seaview, the Joint Chiefs and the President was proving fruitless. "And we never got that orb Crane brought you all back with to do anything."

"Why kidnap Crane, why not you Harry?" the President pondered, "They came back for you the first time when they found out you’d know more..."

"I've been wondering about that too," Nelson said. "They seemed a bit dim witted to me, in spite of their technology. Perhaps it's just some sort of retribution. Lee did thwart their plans to take Seaview to Centaur."

"With your help, of course. Gentlemen" the President continued, "we can hypotheses all night about what is or isn't going on. Admiral Nelson is correct. Until we know anything further, I'm calling a military red alert and advising NATO of the possibility of an invasion from outer space. Consider Seaview back in the active Navy, Harriman. She'll be your command ship Admiral Starke. S-E-A will work on getting a new laser tracker set up...but I'm concerned about their possible weapons..."

“Considering they use light to transport themselves through space,” Nelson said, “I'd say any weapons are probably based on light wave or raditent energy as well...and with all of the recent so called sunspot interference, they may already be here, or just outside out atmosphere, waiting to attack...what we need is a shield. I have some calculations to make... if we can't exactly fight back, at least we can bend or deflect any light beam energy...polarize it, like sunglasses."

"And Crane? If he's been abducted,that is,  how will he be able to escape back home with something like that in place?"

"You know that as well as I do," Nelson said with a lump in his throat, "He'll die in the net."

 

**

Lee had been in utter blackness in what seemed forever to him; his limbs and body turned this way and that by the auctioneer with some kind of force field. The sound of the audience’s mocking laughter was not encouraging. The bidding finally stopped and Lee found himself ‘sold’ to bidder 51.

**

Nelson had submitted his formulated defense plans. It didn’t help that the reflection from the bow’s headlight in the Observation Nose cast a blood red glow on his face, as if to confirm his part in Crane’s sentence of death if he should enter the atmosphere...

"Admiral? Sir?" Sharkey interrupted.

"Yes, Chief?" Nelson turned, grateful at least to quit his vivid imaginings of Crane vaporizing in agony or his atoms scrambled into an unending stream.

"Well, sir I just wanted to say, I mean, if you need any volunteers to go after the Skipper up there...if you can figure out a way and...."

"We don't even know where Centaur is. And  we don't have space vehicles that can travel at the speed of light. I know you’re only trying to help Francis, but..”

"Uh, what about that orb thingy the Skipper got you all back with?"

"Don't think we haven't tried. Took it out of the safe but nothing's managed to get it to work. It needs whatever the ‘prime source' is, and apparently we don't have anything aboard Seaview or on Earth to compare according to the S-E- A."

"And these satellites you got programmed now to keep them cretins away? There ain't nothing you can do to it to let the Skipper squeeze past ‘em ?"

"That would render the net useless. I'm sorry Francis. The Captain is expendable."

**

"It is useless to resist, human," Trapper said as he dragged the shackled Crane through a rocky tunnel. "Besides," it continued, "You will be well cared for, not some street scum other animals find themselves as." They stopped in front of a door. It dissolved into thin air as he waved his hand over it.  "Your new home,” the creature shoved Lee hard into the room. He fell, and lay sprawled on the floor as the door formed again after Trapper left, locked tight. Lee was grateful his new owner wasn't home, and used the time in a desperate attempt to find a way out, but he was unable to open or break any of the doors or windows he found. Through one, he saw a moon, or was it another other planet, he recalled their first encounter with these aliens...double planet they had called Centaur, and taken their names from them. None of the constellations were familiar. There was a beach below. He heard a noise and turned, ready to defend himself, naked or not.

"Ah, there you are," Tylol said, non chalantly.

"Bow before your owner, Earthman!" a similar Centuar ordered as he helped Tylol off with some of his dangling ornaments.

"Earthmen don't bow to anyone or anything!" Lee said defiantly.

A sharp pain pierced his temples and his legs buckled him to his knees.

"There is no need for that, Vlado," Tylol reached a hand down to Crane, as Vlado released the pain inducer from the orb around his neck. Lee saw that both of the creatures wore them, though the orbs and even the Centaurs varied slightly in appearance. "Here, let me help you up," Tylol said. "Trapper should have removed the shackles."

Crane tried to push him away, but before he could do much else another sharp pain took him with even more force and Lee lay face down, barely able to breathe.

"I told you the human was going to be troublesome," Vlado said.

"Only because you mistreated it in the first place. Now, go. Prepare food. I'm hungry."

"Yes master."

"It can be made more painful," Tylol said as Lee lay, still trying to catch his breath as the pain continued. "I do not condone cruelty to animals but force is necessary at times. To train, to teach, and sometimes to punish. Do you understand? I will use pain if I must, but I don't enjoy it."

"Okay, okay! Just stop the damn thing!"

"Very well," the Centaur said, touching his own orb. Crane's pain ceased immediately, and the shackles dissolved into thin air. "I am called Tylol. I will not hurt you unless I am forced to do so. Now, a pet has certain obligations to its master," the Centaur said as he pulled Lee upright, the strength of his hands bruisingly hard. "Firstly, obedience. That is for your own good. You are too ignorant to protect yourself. You are an exotic here." Tylol waved a hand over the wall, and a shelf containing a plethora of glass and stoneware suddenly appeared. He poured out himself a thick muddy looking drink, "A novelty, as it were," he swallowed the brew, giving Crane the same kind of look Nelson sometimes gave his specimens, Lee noted. "You could be lost, stolen, displayed, or even placed in stasis for future examination. Apparently,” he chuckled, “Lord Herzog holds you, more than any of the other humans he's observed or encountered, responsible for his failed mission on Venus, not that anyone takes his doom and gloom claims regarding Earth all that seriously. Still, you are fortunate I won the bid over his own plans."

"That was no real auction. You bribed the trapper. Besides, you Centaurs know we mean you no harm! He used that ‘whateveritwas' on Chip and..."

"The  Interrogator Cap  was only used on the yellow haired one, not on you or your superior. But you outwitted Herzog. Proof enough for him of humankind's threat and to be honest, I am not sure I will not come to regret my purchase as well. Now, I am what you might call a scientist, but I am also a collector of pets, exotic and plain. Vlado is such."

"But he's one of you."

"Don't interrupt. You monkeys do not understand the nuances of zoology. As I was saying...in here," he gave Lee a gentle shove as the wall dissolved to show a room with a large slanted and polished rock on the floor, "your first obligation is to show obedience. The second is to accommodate me should I desire it. I do not often engage in sexual relations, but I do enjoy it on occasion. I expect you to be compliant should I desire it."

"What?" Lee said, shocked, "That will never happen, you...you reptile!" Lee said, about to strike his captor, but suddenly found Tylol holding his arms behind his back, almost pulling them out of their sockets.

"Well," Tylol laughed, "We will see," he said, in a surprisingly gentle tone at odds with his greater strength, "as I was going to say, we Centaurs contain both of what you regard as gender in our bodies, but not on a level you can understand. After you have acclimated to our gravity and atmosphere, I should like to demonstrate what I mean. For now, you will rest," he let go and Lee sagged in relief, rubbing his arms. "Thirdly," Tylol continued, "as a somewhat intelligent species, you will be expected to assist me in my work. A kind of aide, or clerk, or factotum I think you would call it."

"And just what are your obligations, master?" Lee practically spat.

"To insure that you are fed, housed appropriately, and maintained, of course. Now, do you understand your obligations?"

"Oh, I understand, but don't expect me to comply or to even hang around. It's a prisoner's duty to escape, and mark my words Lord Tylol or whatever you are; I will get out of here."

"And go where? You will quickly die on Centaur without my protection and provision," Tylol walked away, then turned, "By the way, all pets must be registered. We will have to decide on an appropriate name...."

"My name is Crane, Lee, Commander, Captain of SSRN Seaview, 555..."

"Whatever you were, Earthman, Commander, Captain or General," Tylol said, wearily, for it had been a long day at the office, " you are no longer. You are my pet, nothing more. Very well, Cranelee, Goodnight."

The opening dissolved back into rock. Unless he could escape and figure out a way to survive, Lee knew he was doomed.

**

Nelson needed to do something, anything; coffee sounded good and he soon found himself in the Wardroom. Nelson sat down and while sipping a cup of the very strong brew, noticed one of O'Brian's comic books on one of the tables. Absurd, he thought, a grown man.... But as he leafed through it absently, he stopped in horror as he saw the lurid picture of a grotesque multi tentacled monster ravishing its screaming human victim.

"O'Brian!" Nelson called out, irritated.

"Sir?" the Jr. Officer sat down across from him, just having grabbed a doughnut.

"What the hell is this? I'd appreciate it," Nelson said, broking no argument, "if you'd remove this trash! From here, from anywhere on this boat where I or anyone else may see it! Especially considering the present circumstances."

"I'm sorry sir," O'Brian grabbed the offensive matter and fled.

**

As he drank his coffee, Nelson began to wonder that if Lee had been taken by the Centaurs, and he was convinced of it from Mrs. Crane's description, if he might indeed be the victim of some cruel experimentation, anatomical  examination, or God forbid, molestation. But then Nelson comforted himself with the memory that he hadn't even seen genitalia on the Centaurs, and everybody knew O'Brian's space porn was all just a bunch of crap.

"More, sir?" Cookie asked as he was about to refill Nelson's cup.

"No, thanks. I think I'll catch a little rest," he said and retired to his cabin for a badly needed nap.

**

If he'd hoped for a dreamless sleep, Nelson was sadly mistaken. His dream was all too active....

 

...."All we need now are some marshmallows," Lee said as he roast the last batch of freshly over the lakeside campfire.His hair was still wet from the swim in the lake, water droplets glistening on his trunks.  Suddenly Nelson was wondering what he looked like without them. And if he was as gloriously naked  underneath them without having to strip him naked and ravish him to find out. 

 

He awoke to dampness in his pajamas. A wet dream? Not that he never had them, but this... He'd never in his adult life ever been ‘otherwise inclined'! The very idea! He cared for Lee, as a colleague, as a favored friend or brother, perhaps even a little bit as a son, but this? Lee would never forgive him the very thought of it! and he, Nelson, would never ever willingly take Lee  sexually, and certainly not by force.  Never in a million years. What on Earth had given him such a horrible thought! He splashed water on his face, to rid himself of the primal fantasy. And primal it was. Probably brought on by O'Brien's porn. A cold shower should put an end to that. He turned on the spray and soaped himself all over. But even there his mind was plagued with a yet another vision of the naked Lee beneath him, hips raised and legs sprawled, begging Nelson to make them one flesh, one heart, one soul....

A knock at the door startled him from the daydream.

"Harry?" Starke called, having entered the cabin, "S-E-A is ready for another conference."

"Be there in a few minutes, Jiggs," Nelson replied from the small head, relieved to have something to tear him away from these....abominations.

**

"So even the name of the planet..."Becker said on the monitor.

"Double planet," Nelson ,"remember, they called it a double planet."

"Yes, Harry. Now, as I was saying, a few insignificant planetoids had been called Centaurs. But none of them can be matched to this one. You're sure it's in our galaxy?"

"That's what they said. And we've hardly even broached beyond the solar system."

"Have there been any other light trails?" Starke asked.

"Not so much as a flicker," the General said.

"Well, damnit," Starke said, "Is it an invasion or isn't it?"

"We don't know yet... O'Brian?" Nelson suddenly asked, "Bring me all and everything you have on alien abductions; include the damn comics."

**

Crane had spent most of his first night at Tylol's trying to find a way to escape to no avail. He'd heard Vlado complain to Tylol that purchasing the stinking creature was a waste of money, to which Tylol had replied, "Perhaps, but it is my money, don't forget. Now come. I ache, unless you don't wish to accommodate me, as Cranelee insists he won't."

"When have I ever refused?" Vlado laughed, "And he has no choice...What level?"

"All of them..."

"What about Cranelee? He should have been  fed and watered by now..."

"He can wait. Besides, it will do him good to learn that he is totally dependent on us."

**

He could hear the sounds of the Centaur's coupling from the next room and began to wonder just how they were doing it. The whole idea reminded Lee a little bit of some of O'Brian's comic books. He'd had no choice but to allow his Jr. Officer the freedom of reading material, but he'd been shocked by the space porn, nonetheless. He could only wonder, especially as those weird tales seemed now to have a basis in fact, what might be awaiting him, if he was unable to escape.

**

"Eat," Vlado said, as he woke Crane the next morning. Crane looked at the bowl of larvae-like wiggling things that Vlado held. “What is wrong? These are expensive and highly nutritious."

"I can't eat this," Lee said. He'd had to eat some pretty gross things when undercover, or in survival exercises, but nothing like these blue slimy things.

"Then starve."

"What seems to be the problem?" Tylol approached.

"He does not even want to try it," Vlado laughed heartily.

"Do all humans make decisions without first hand knowledge?"

Knowing he was being goaded, Lee tried, but started to gag and spat it out.Vlado took the bowl from him and began to eat the things  heartily.

"Give him some glom fruit," Tylol said, "Bring him to my lab when he is finished. And give him back what is left of the attire I purchased from Trapper. It has not reintegrated well, and the little that did is burnt and frayed and the timekeeping device appears damaged, though it still blinks. Someday Cranelee, you will have to explain to me why you Earthmen are apparently so embarrassed by your bodies and do not have any apparent internal means for calculating the rotation of your planet."
***

"I found something!" Sharkey said over the littered Wardroom table, piled high with every imaginable reference to alien abductions,  "Listen to this," he said of one of the tabloids, "it says here that some of these aliens were frog like....and...Oh God, oh God...I...I can't go on."

Nelson grabbed it, began to scan then read aloud... "There it is. ‘Frog like’…it's written by a woman....’The leader seemed upset that I wasn't a male and blinded me. Later when they left me alone in a deserted field,  I woke up, and reported the incident to the police, they could only confirm I'd been sexually assaulted and with something that felt like it was a mixture of  green slime  mixed with wet sand.'    Oh Lord," Nelson added,  weak in the knees and had to sit down.

"It could be another coincidence, Harriman..."Jiggs said..

"No, Jiggs. The Centaurs looked like frogs, they blinded Chip,...I don't think I need much more convincing than that."

"If those creeps have laid a hand on the Skipper," Sharkey said, "I'll..."

"Chief, calm down," Starke said, "We still don't know for sure if they even took Captain Crane."

"You know damn well they did, Jiggs," Nelson said. "We just don't know if they've...if they've done anything to him."

"But why, why would they want to..to have sex with with Skipper?" Sharkey whined.

"Sexual molestation has been a method of domination and torture humans have used on each other for centuries," Starke said, "no doubt our alien friends have too."

**

Tylol was amused as Vlado and Crane stood before him. Crane was disheveled, his face stubbled, his hair wildly curled, and his thin khakis singed and frayed. He was barefoot; his shoes, underwear, and socks having been completely fried or melted. He wore the damaged watch, even thought it was useless as a timepiece, the dial running backwards .

"He only managed a few bites of the fruit," Vlado said.

"You were ordered to force feed him if he had difficulty."

"He was ill. Cut him a little... slack."

"I do not understand..."Tylol said.

"It's an Earth phrase. He explained it to me. It means..."

"I do not care what it means. I am not interested."

"But I am," Crane said, "you speak my language.  That's botherd me ever since Venus. English isn't the only language on Earth, and why would you use any Earth language unless...unless you'd been there before...or if one of us came here and taught you..."

"I am not a devote' of ancient ‘first contact’ history and your theory of a previous human encounter on this planet is outrageous. You do not even have light wave transportation technology."

"Aren't you even curious?" Lee asked.

"No. Now, tell me, what is this?" Tylol indicated a small item sitting on what looked like laboratory workbench.

"I don't know," Lee said, trying his best to look totally ignorant.

"It is from one of your space exploration vehicles from the outpost on Venus," Tylol demanded.

"I'm just a sub driver. Launching a space probe from Seaview was just an experiment."

"I find it hard to believe you know nothing of his...thing."

"Like I said, beats me."

"I...oh never mind. This...English of yours has more nuances than the stars."

"Cranelee is not the intelligent one, remember," Vlado continued, "That was the one called Nel-son."

Lee casually inspected it, trying to look innocent and curious, while checking the wires and conduits to the TV camera/radio transmitter, wondering if maybe, just maybe, he could get a signal to Earth.

"Trapper was bribed by Herzog to secure Cranelee, not Nel-son, though he would have been a better choice."

"You're still wasting your  time and money on  the Earthlings, no matter who they are," Vlado said.

"What?" Lee asked, "There are more of us?"

"Only the one."

"You've got to let me see him!"

"Why do you assume it is a male?" Tylol asked curiously.

"Oh God, it's a girl? You bastard!" Lee yelled and was quickly zapped into submission to grovel on the floor again.

"How many times must we go through this, Cranelee? If you do not stop this insubordination, I will have no choice but to get rid of you. Do you wish to be disemboweled and stuffed for display in a museum? Or made subservient by having your mind bled of all coherent thought? Do- you- understand? These are the only other options open to you."

"Yes," Lee gasped, "I understand! Just stop the pain! It...it won't happen again," Lee practically whimpered.

"Good boy," Tylol said and released Crane from the punishment.

"Please, please," Crane pleaded, from his knees, "let me see her!"

"Very well, if it will keep you from whining. Vlado, see to it. Then ask Trapper what ‘bastard' means. Cranelee called him that too. "

***

"Over there," Vlado said as Lee searched in vain for the girl in Tylol's collection of interstellar creatures. The collection was housed, if one could call it that, in great outdoor enclosures made to resemble their home worlds. None of the interstellar animals or life-forms appeared to be in distress. In fact, they seemed quite comfortable with their surroundings.

"Where?" Lee asked, getting desperate. "Where is she?"

"Are you blind? There," Vlado grabbed Lee's arm and pointed. Finally Lee saw the other Earthling. She was staring intently at something on the ground.

"But..."Lee said then suddenly laughed, put his fingers to his lips and whistled. She turned, and ran toward him wagging her tail furiously.

"Why didn't you tell me she was a dog?" Lee asked, as he knelt down, petting, stroking and scratching the Border Collie's ears.

"I said it was an Earthling, not a human," Vlado said, "I did not think it mattered."

"He...he doesn't do anything to her, does he?" Lee asked worriedly.

"I do not understand."

"He doesn't..."Lee gulped, "He doesn't do to her what you and he did last night?"

"He has never shown much of an interest with the creature at all. It was auctioned off with a plant specimen from Jupiter. Is it important to know if he has mated with it?"

"Yes. It's wrong, very wrong."

"That is a matter of opinion."

" Well? Are you satisfied now that you have met the other Earthling?" Tylol interrupted, walking toward them.

"Dog, he calls it a dog," Vlado said. "It likes him, It has not even tried to bite him."

"Oh, she'd never do that," Lee scratched her ears again, "would you sweetie?"

The dog responded with a furious wagging of the tail, and licking him in affection.

"She says she only bites her enemies," Crane said.

"I heard nothing," Vlado said, confused.

"He deceives you," Tylol said.

"Shhh!" Lee said again.

Tylol stood, with his arms crossed, shaking his head, almost amused, while Vlado bent forward, trying hard to listen.

"Well?" Vlado asked, "What is she saying?"

"She says she likes you Vlado."

"And me, Cranelee," Tylol said, mocking, "What does she say about  me?"

"She says...up yours."

"I will not even ask what that means," Tylol sighed. "I am certain it is a profanity of some sort."

"You're not so dumb as I thought. So, master, can I keep her?" Lee asked.

"Cranelee can teach us her language!" Vlado said quickly, "and her  presence will help to keep him obedient."

"There is no language for this species. Cranelee is trying to deceive you. Our computers would have translated any language from the specim...dog, it, whatever. I thought you said you regarded anything to do with Cranelee as a waste of my time and money."

"True, but they are both a  scientific couriosity, and now, we can study the interaction between two different species from the same planet...."

"Liar. You're beginning to like Cranelee. My guests will be arriving soon. I'm not sure which of you Earthlings is more offensive to the scent," Tylol sniffed, "Bathe them both, Vlado, then bring Cranelee to the dining area. He will be an item of interest to our guests."

"As long as I'm not the main course," Lee said under his breath.

"That can be arranged, you know," Tylol said.

Crane wasn't sure if he'd been joking or not.

**

"You can't believe any of this, "Doc said giving Sharkey back the tabloid, "Nothing but a cock'nbull story invented to make people buy this trash."

"The Admiral thinks those frog aliens have been here before and...”

"Toads, frogs, amphibians, whatever. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Spermatozoa’s of any kind would be hampered. Semen is all about nourishing and speeding sperm on it's way, not bringing it to a bloody standstill. A consistency like wet sand? Believe me, there’s no place on earth or elsewhere that I’d buy this story.”

"Then why don't I feel better knowing that?"

**

"Well, well, well. Small galaxy isn't it Captain?" Herzog said as he walked around the tattered Crane, his shirt half open as the buttons hadn't rematerialized well either. Other house guests were looking on curiously as they lounged about, eating an assortment of insects, food disks, and what looked like fruit. "I ask you again, when does Earth plan to invade Centaur?"

"And as I told you before, we don't. We'd never even heard of Centaur until you kidnapped Chip and me. Are you stupid or just paranoid?"

Herzog easily backhanded him with enough force to send him to the floor, and splitting his lip.

"General!" Tylol said as he helped Lee up, "That is uncalled for."

"He is lying. Trust me, Tylol. I was duped into believing he would assist my investigation, instead he destroyed my photon generator, stole my transporter and escaped with the other ones. Give me two qualogs with him and I will prove to you he is a very real danger, as is Earth. Or better yet, simply sell him to me. You could purchase more equipment for your beloved laboratory."

"I will choose another time and place  to discuss your proposition. Return Cranelee to his room Vlado."

"He stays in the house?" Herzog asked, aghast then laughed, "Well, I hope you have housebroken him! Trapper said these humans cannot assimilate their bodily wastes as we do. Filthy creatures."

"That may be," Lee said, "but we're a heck of lot smarter than you. Prettier too."

Herzog took a step forward, furious.

"Cranelee, you will apologize," Tylol said quickly, brooking no argument.

"Okay. I'm sorry we're prettier than you, Herzog."

"There," Tylol said.

"Even I can see that was an insult, you idiot!" Herzog said and returned his attention to Crane, "You have a mighty high opinion of yourself Captain."

"Cranelee, its name is Cranelee," Vlado said quickly.

"It is still a Captain. An Earthman of rank. Using names for such an inferior species is unnecessary. You cannot understand such things, Vlado. As for you, Cranelee, be so insolent toward me again and I will make your life here miserable. Do you understand?"

"Go along with Vlado, Cranelee," Tylol said before Crane could answer and waited for Vlado to escort him out. "Now, shall we have dinner? As for the humans being a threat, from what you learned through the Interrogator Cap on the yellow haired one," Tylol said, "they are too busy destroying each other to give us much thought."

"And too curious about other worlds not to leave us alone."

**

"I'm telling you Ski," Sharkey said a few days later, in the Crew's mess, " he's maybe in a zoo or a lab or something. Maybe they want to breed him, or even do stuff to him, you know, like in those comic books…"

"Mr. Morton?" Sparks voice interrupted over the PA. "I'm getting something...it's awfully weak. A UHF frequency. I'm putting it through on all ship wide monitors."

At first it was nothing but a shower of static, but soon the rapidly audible voice became all too recognizable...and an image, though weak formed...

 

"....Cra.. to Seav...Crane to Seav...I don't know if you ca...read me..." suddenly another voice interrupted, and the ‘snow’ gave way to the image of the ragged, stubbled Crane turning away from the disassembled TV Cam unit in Tylol's workshop, as if he was trying to hide something.

"What are you doing?" the Centaur asked.

"Herzog, what an unpleasant surprise."

"What is this?" Herzog picked up and looked into the small round TV cam lens.

"I don't know. I was just taking it apart for Tylol. Ask him if you don't believe me."

"Listen to me Earthman," Herzog grabbed Lee's arm so tightly; his fingernails drew blood through the cloth. "Your owner may tolerate your flippancy, but only I can send you home."

"Your stuff was confiscated by the Council of Elders when you failed on Venus."

"There is confiscation and then there is 'confiscation'…do- you- understand? Yes, I thought so. I will make a bargain with you. Tell the Council Earth plans to invade Centaur, and I will transport you back there."

"So you'll get approval for this pre-emptive military strike of yours? You're pretty darn stupid if you think I'd do anything to put my home in danger."

Just then the dog wagged in with Vlado and began to bark at Herzog.

"Make it stop! It is irritating!"

"If you can't stand the noise, get out of the workshop," Crane said.

This time Herzog hit Crane so hard he fell to the floor, a gash on his hairline beginning to bleed. Just before the dog was about to attack Herzog Crane shouted, "Sassy! No!"

The dog immediately obeyed and returned to Lee to lick Crane's wound as Vlado tried to help him up.

"I am not finished with you yet, Cranelee," Herzog growled at Crane, "Out of my way Vlado," he huffed off. As he did the visual and audio signal to Earth began to weaken and break up.

"He has a heavy hand," Vlado said as he gently touched Lee's temple. "Have you figured the device out for Lord Tylol yet?"

"No," Lee lied.

Then the signal failed....

**

Just about everyone who could had squeezed into the Wardroom where a bull session between the White House, the Pentagon, SEA, and Seaview was taking place. Those who couldn’t fit jammed the corridors.

"Let's review the facts, gentlemen," Nelson said. "First, and most importantl,  Captain Crane is alive. For the time being we'll assume he's on Centaur. Now from what we've seen, he is, for want of a better word, apparently owned or at least provided for by one of the creatures. But he has a definite enemy in the one we did see called Herzog. Now, the signal from the TV camera only worked when Herzog was nearby, but faded when he left. This alien must be wearing or exuding something that prompt's the transmitter's signal powerful enough to reach Earth. Lee might not have even known if the machine was working at all. He has a slight head wound from being struck by this alien, and maybe an older lip wound. And he has a dog. On that basis, I'm led to believe there may be other pets or people there. Any additional observations?"

"I agree the wounds appear minor," Doc said, "but his skin looks yellowish to me. That might simply be the signal or their atmosphere, or he's in renal distress. I also noticed that he's barefoot and that his clothes look burnt in places."

"And he don't  have no underwear," Sharkey whispered, confused, "I could practically see his...”

"Yes, well, never mind that for now, Chief," Morton hissed, embarrassed.

"Did we get a fix on where the signal was coming from?" Nelson asked General Becker of the SEA as that team studied a printout..

"Only the general proximity, and even if we could narrow it down according to this data, it’s several thousand light years away.”

**

"...It remains to be seen,” The TV reporter said, “ if and when the Centaurians attack, but steps have been taken, a net of sorts around our planet  has been established which Admiral Nelson claims should repel any light wave energy away from us.  As for Cranelee, as Commander Lee Crane has become known the world over, one can only pray for this lone warrior against a hostile environment and vile captors...Mrs. Crane  is sequestered at an undisclosed location incommunicado. Sassy the dog is believed to be an immature Border Collie, and hundreds of dog owners have reported that she belongs to them...but for now, at least, she has a new master and more importantly a friend from Earth...and so we, like you can only wait and watch.."

**

Hope began to wane for a new signal as nothing was heard for more than three weeks until one day...

 

The workshop was growing more cluttered or so it seemed. A crazy mixture of ultra future and ultra past. Urns were stacked along the floor and shelves and odd specimens floated in cylindrical tubes of blue liquid. Star charts and a few other tubes littered a wide table that a Centaur was bent over working at. Suddenly Sassy darted in, bumping into the table and sending the contents spilling to the floor.

"Cranelee!" Tylol yelled, "I told you to keep your damn dog out of my way!"

"Sorry," Lee said as he hurried in and bent down to pull some goop out of the dog's fur. His beard had not grown as much as his hair had, the viewers on Earth noticed, "she just got a bit excited. What the heck is this stuff anyway?"

"That is what I am trying to find out," Tylol said, exasperated, both from his research and from Crane's  intrusion. "It was growing on a Venutian plant Herzog had  brought back. I was trying to propagate it. It could be an edible fungus, a new food source. Now go away and let me work in peace."

"Excuse me, Lord Tylol," Vlado entered, "but you are late for the symposium. Cranelee, how many times have I told you not to take household items you want to play with, without putting them back," he held up a large disk.

"It's just the stopper valve for the pong tub. Hardly important."

"It is when one wants to take a bath."

"Oh. Sorry."

"You can apologize by cleaning up this mess," Tylol said. "Well? What are you looking at?"

"I thought you got rid of this," Lee picked up the TV Cam unit.

"You seemed so disappointed when I sold it, the ‘last vestige’ of your home world you said, that I thought it would benefit your mood to buy it back, even if you do not know what it is."

"You did that for me?"

"I thought I made it clear to you that I reward good behavior. You have been helpful cataloging my specimen collection and helping me to learn the Earth's written Alphabet."

"English..."

"Yes, yes. I forget that you are a multi lingual species. Now, clean up in here. And keep your dog out of here in future."

"Sassy, remember?" Vlado said, "He calls the other Earthling Sassy."

"I know what he calls it," Tylol said, departing with Vlado. After a moment, making sure they'd gone, Lee shuttled to the table, TV Cam in hand and began to check it, pursing his lips in frustration as it didn't respond in any way he recognized, the view on Earth jumpy as it's point of view kept changing. Sassy put her nose on the table as Lee tried again, his other hand scruff ling her head. Suddenly she turned, growling and barking toward the doorway.

Before Lee could respond, Herzog, with five other Centaurs were at the entrance to the workshop.

"I have had enough of you," he twisted his orb and the dog disappeared.

"No!!!" Lee yelled, horrified and lunged toward Herzog, the TV Cam forgotten on the table.

Just as quickly Lee was zapped against the wall, in agonizing pain.

"We have some unfinished business, you and I," Herzog said, gripping Crane’s arms, “You will tell the high council that Earth plans to invade."

"No," Lee said firmly, "I won't."

"One last time Cranelee, agree to my demand, or you will be sorry," Herzog said. "I believe you already know the higher levels of the pain inducers. Now, agree."

"Never!" Lee yelled, eyes blazing.

"We'll see," Herzog said, as he and the orb's power pushed Crane to the floor in agony,making  the TV Cam on the table an impotent witness. But it could  and did show the distorted rythmic and pulsating shadows on the wall that merged and seperated as Crane screamed.

 

Twice Herzog promised it would stop if Lee told the Council what he wanted. And twice Lee's tormented voice defiantly refused. Finally the monstrous shadows stilled. One of the Centaurs must have  bumped the table and the TV cam fell to the floor at an awkward angle. Crane was lying on his side, his naked bloodied body  toward the camera. Along with the torn skin on his back, arms, and legs , burns had been inflicted as well. Deep ugly bruises had already formed.. One of his shoulderblades actually  protruded from his skin, as did both hip bones. His arms  looked as if they'd been dislocated. And he had a very bad scalp wound.  But it was the trail of what looked like thick green sludge and blood oozing from his torn ass, down his left buttock and pooling beneath him on the  floor that shocked and  sickened Seaview's crew the most.

"How long will Tylol be gone?" one of the Centaurs asked, as he rolled the  gasping groaning Crane onto his back.  Lee's bloodied face was wet  with tears of pain, shame and total ineptitude against his attackers.

"More than enough time for another round for all of us,” another Centaur laughed, securing Lee’s arms above his head and using his orb to inflict force fields and  more pain. It's weird and bloodied  three pronged and tentacled phallus re-emerged from it's apron of scale, as he  easily raised his victim's bruised ripped hips and spread his  legs apart against Crane's futile attempts to fight off  yet another vile invasion of his body. “After all," the Centaur continued " Herzog arranged the symposium,” he laughed, as the image from the TV cam  began to fail as Crane screamed in agony.

 

There was silence aboard Seaview.

"Doc?" Nelson finally managed to croak over the PA, trying to hold back the tears. "Did you see it?"

"I saw," Jamison gulped, "I  can only make an educated guess. While it's  possible only his sphinter was torn, Lee's peritoneum may have been perforated. He could bleed to death or suffer severe infection, not to mention the severity of dislocated shoulders, musculature,  possibly even his hips are broken; and far too many lacerations and bruises to count...."

Nelson tried very hard to swallow back his emotions, as they all did, but in the end and with difficulty, he excused himself from the Control Room, dazed. Heartbroken from the torture and gang rape of Lee Crane. He barely made it to his cabin before he flung the first loose object he could find to smash against the deck, and sobbed.

**

Lee awoke to a soft warmth he couldn't put a name to. Not cloth as he knew it, but a kind of sponge-like coverlet. He groaned in pain as he tried to move, and then saw Tylol leaning over him. Lee cringed in horror.

"No," Tylol said quickly, "I am not one of them. I am Tylol, remember? Who did this to you?"

"Her...Herzog…" Lee managed to say hoarsely.

"Lie quietly. Vlado will care for you.”

It suddenly dawned on Lee that he was indeed in Tylol's own bedchamber. The Centaur saw Lee's concern.

"Rest easy. Neither Vlado or I have touched you nor will, save for treating your wounds. Here," he held a gourd of liquid gently to Lee's lips, "It will ease the pain and my physician will attend you again tomorrow."

In minutes Lee had fallen into the oblivion of sleep.

**

Time dragged on, day after day, week after week without any further transmission.  Any lingering hope that Crane had survived, had pretty much vanished. Things slowly got back to normal, if normal could ever be applied again as the planet awaited invasion, though a lot of the previous worldwide fear had become impatience. Would the aliens attack or not...was Earth wasting time and resources...and so on. Then the official message came from the White House. Crane had been listed as missing and was presumed dead. It was with a heavy heart that Nelson was about to make the announcement when Spark's voice came through the PA, "We're getting another one!"....

 

Two Centaurs were looking at something that looked surprisingly like a makeshift still in Tylol's workshop, a whittled fishing pole and a bow and arrow leaning in the corner nearby. The blade was hardly sharp. Perhaps it was a primitive decoration.

"Look!" Ski pointed.

On  the formerly bare stone wall was a boldly drawn ‘NIMR-Outer Space Annex’ in a kind of  neon orange. Lee Crane was alive!

 A floating holographic like chalkboard of drawings and equations seemed to show an  attempt to  understand the inner workings of weird gadgets,  photon systems, even the inner workings of an orb.

 

But what brought most interest to Seaview's crew were doodles of Seaview and cartoon sketches of some of her officers and crew on that same wall, including one of the Flying Sub trailing a banner stating ‘First Star on the Right and Straight on till Morning’; Their attention returned to the matter at hand when the Centaurs began speaking.

 

"He says it is good for what ails you," Vlado said, "But I have not tried it yet."

"Where is he now?" Tylol asked.

"Outside. Over there," Vlado waved his hand over the rock wall and it dissolved to show Lee, his hair long and tangled now, and fully bearded. He was garbed in a loosely woven or crocheted fabric of beaten fibers and stuffed with patches of moss.Whatever wounds he'd suffered at the hands of his captors had either not have been as serious as Doc had believed, or they had vastly superior medical knowledge.

Crane was playing baseball with some Centaurian youngsters, using a roughly shaped bat and a grayish blue ball of some kind. In the middle of the field was a willowy ‘flagpole' from which flew an American flag on the same type of straw like fabric that he wore, and stained with what almost passed for red white and blue.

It was apparent the children were enjoying this new game, and even some adults were showing an interest.

"I fail to see the purpose of hitting congealed garbage and running in a square," Tylol said.

"Diamond," Vlado said. "He calls the playing field a baseball diamond."

"That is no diamond I have ever seen."

"You should have heard what he was telling the children today,."Vlado said. "Did you know that once upon a time there was a human child, a boy, remember they have only one gender a piece, unlike us, well this child was made of wood. I don't remember the rest, but he also spoke of  a creature of the air called a duck, that was ugly and there was a great flood and a big boat...and...Cranelee!" he yelled, as a huge scaled bird circled , causing the group to scramble for cover.

Lee picked up one the kids who'd fallen, and got it behind the relative shelter of a rock mound, but then he picked up a stone, took aim and let go. The rock missed. He found another and tried again, and again. This time it worked and knocked the bird to the ground, dead.

"Jackpot!" Lee whooped and hollered.

"Cranelee, what are you doing?" one of the kids asked.

"Celebrating!"

"For vanquishing the monster?"

"No, for finally getting myself a decent meal!" he flashed a huge smile.

"Well," Vlado said, "he had better not expect me to help him cook the thing!"

Below on Earth it was as if the sun had come out for the first time in weeks.

"Quiet, here he comes," Tylol said.

Crane entered via a side door, proudly dropping the weird dino-bird onto the table and waved goodbye to the ball players before  the wall suddenly formed again.

"Do I earn my keep or what? How's the hooch?" he asked and saw their hesitation. "Pledge of good faith," he said and poured himself a drink of homemade brew. Gasping from the burning liquid fire, he grinned, "smooth," his strangled voice at odds with his words.

Tylol hesitated only for a moment, and then he too took a drink, and gagged.

"It'll get better after the first few swallows," Lee had another try. "Sort of."

"It tastes... antiseptic," Tylol said scientifically.

“Well, it's sure not the Admiral's whiskey, but it should get you drunk quick enough."

"But why would you want to become...."he searched for the word.

"Inebriated is the correct term," Tylol said.

"Yes. Inebriated?" Vlado asked.

"Sometimes you just want to forget…."

"We are not all like Herzog, Cranelee," Tylol said after a moment, even gently, "He and his followers will be punished. I swear it."

"That's not what I meant, “Lee took another swig.

"You realize I cannot return you to Earth even if I could? You have learned far too much about us. Do not misunderstand, my pet. The Council has already decided you could be a danger to us if you return. As much as I do not want to agree with them, it is a possibility, even if remote and...."

"Danger?" Lee asked, incensed. "Danger? You can't believe that. No. It's only Herzog who's any danger to your world. He's paranoid, obsessed even, has too much influence, and...."

"Enough," Tylol interrupted, "take your ...your supper to the kitchen now, please."

"Yes, ‘master'," Lee said sarcastically, lifted the thing but just as quickly set it down, "I'm...I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that," he said contrite. "You've tried to be kind to me, especially after..... I just...I...hell," he said at a loss for words.

"As for this," Tylol ignored the apology, "fire liquid- perhaps it would make a good cleaning fluid...."

"Or an alternate prime source," Vlado added.

Even Crane laughed and lugged his bird away as the Centaurs followed, the image fading...

 

"He's not dead! He's not dead!" Sharkey sagged in relief, sliding down the bulkhead to the deck,  tears of sheer relief running down his face.

"Calm down, calm down! Quiet, everyone! "Nelson said "Did you hear that? Prime Source? Maybe we've been looking at this orb in the wrong way! Sparks, did you record the transmission? I want to look at the Captain's sketches. Chip, get a COM link organized. We have work to do!"

**

"Well, I got the impression that  Commander Crane's captors have grown fond of him," the TV reporter said on the late news. 

"It certainly appears so, however," the co-host added, "I am concerned that the, what did they call it, the ‘Council', considers us a threat, so invasion is still a threat."

"I'm concerned about Crane's shabbiness. These aliens are technologically superior species. So  why is Commander Crane wearing  such primitive clothing?"

"They don't wear any. Perhaps they can't understand the concept.  Did they make it for him? Or did he? As for the tools,  same question. Are they afraid of what he could do if he has access to their technology?''

"There are a great many questions we may never have the answers to as it becoming less and less likely that the Commander will be returned to us. We will of course, interrupt our regular programming should another UHF signal come in again...and that was the day that was. Good night."

**

"It is more the Earthling's workshop now than Tylol's," Herzog  said a few weeks later, as the transmitted image showed him  fingering the stretched leather Lee had made from the dino-bird's skin, it's scales stacked, like bowls.

Lee's growing collection now included  a few more refined knives, fishing poles, and a slingshot. There were also a few undistinguishable devices with 'L. Crane', scrawled on them, and one which looked surprisingly like some kind of satellite dish.

One shelf held polished metal containers with Lee's handwritten XXX's on them, some hardened gourds, one  labeled 'Doc's Revenge', and some slightly lopsided clay pots near a jury rigged kiln. There were also a few primitive wood carvings including a toy boat with a sail made of beaten pulp, toy car about the size of a hand, with wheels that turned, held in place by pegs, and a triangular ultra kite that was apparently a work in progress as it hung from a hook, and a stick loom on which threads of straw like matter were being woven.

"If Cranelee can kill his disgusting food with these sticks and rocks," Herzog continued, " he is just as dangerous as I have said all along."

"He has to kill his meat like that. Our control orbs will only  disintegrate or burn flesh at the level required, and not even Tylol will trust him with an orb. In fact, he would be up on charges if he did."

"He can  always eat our food."

"No, he cannot. Our  processed nourishment disks make him regurgitate. Even our water is of a different formulation from Earth's. Tylol has made some in his lab based on Earth's hydrogen and oxygen atom configuration that he can tolerate better."

"What is that?” Herzog indicated a small weird skeleton on a clay plate.

"One of the finbacks from the beach. He roasted it over what he calls a spit fire. It was quite tasty, so Vlado tells me."

"Revolting carnivore. I am surprised he did not eat the dog."

"Perhaps he would have if you had not destroyed it."

"I did not kill the creature. I merely sent it to the Forbidden Zone. Cranelee must be punished."

"But..."

"And he will go on thinking that it is dead, is that not correct" Herzog pressured.

"That is correct, lord."

"Hurry, I hear them returning. We must not be found here," he preceded the other Centaur out.

The TV transmission abruptly ended just as the viewers on Earth saw the shadowy form of Vlado emerge from a partially hidden alcove, apparently having seen and heard everything.

**

"Anything?" Nelson asked Morton an hour later.

"The signals we've tried to send based on all of these transmissions have all faded just about here," he pointed on a star map on the Wardroom table. "There's no way we can know they ever reached him. And we don't even know where Centaur is."

"Sir? We got anoth..." Sparks began to call out But this time, the routine was pretty well established and before he could finish, Morton had already turned on the nearest monitor....

 

"But..."Lee pleaded as he and Tylol entered the workshop. Lee was noticeably  thinner, and dark shadows circled his eyes, while his long tousled hair and beard were thicker and longer.

"What part of Forbidden Zone do you not comprehend?" Tylol asked. "It is a desolate wasteland, riddled with  photon and electrical disturbances. None of our devices work in the zone. You are too agitated to think clearly. Even our hardiest Centaurs have not been able to survive it."

"Well, I'm not a Centaur. Neither is Sassy. If you're too scared to help me find her, just point me in the right direction, and I'll go after her by myself!"

"He is only thinking of your safety, Cranelee," Vlado said.

"No, you're thinking of yourselves; you don't want to be bothered because you think it's a lost cause. Well, let me tell you something about lost causes. They're the ones we fight the hardest for!"

"Even if I were able supply you with the equipment needed for such a wasteland,," Tylol said, "do you not understand it is...sacrilege? The Council could execute you for trespass alone."

"Small price to pay," Lee said firmly, "Look, if it gets you into trouble, just tell everyone that I knocked you out and escaped or something..."

"You are that determined?" Tylol asked, as he poured himself a mug of hooch.

"Cranelee," Vlado said, "even if you were not exterminated, you would be severely punished. And we could be as well for not preventing you from going."

"Enough," Tylol sighed, "Vlado, bring me the book of legends. It may be of some help to him in the Forbidden Zone.."

"You're letting him go?" Vlado asked after the statement sunk in, incredulous.

"We will make what preparations we can for our journey," Tylol ignored the question, "for what exactly, I am not sure. Even the elders are unaware of all that the Zone bears."

"Our journey?" Vlado asked.

"You can not expect me to let him go alone. You will remain here to take care of business.  What is it, Cranelee? Why do you stare at me?"

"You just kind of remind me of the Admiral sometimes..." Lee said wistfully.

"You miss him, this Nel-son of yours," it was not a question.

"Yeah," Lee took a slug of hooch, "You know, back home I thought I had everything. Career,  friends...my boat, my mother...but...it wasn't until I was up here, alone, so far away, that I realized...well... how much they all mean to me. And I never told them. Any of them, not even him," Lee practically whispered, "And now I never can..."

"Good friends are hard to find, on any world."

"He's more than that...at least I...never mind."

"Cranelee, you are troubled by this...omission..."

"I...I just..." Lee ran a hand through his hair, "You wouldn't understand."

"Ahh. You humans cannot hide your primal nature... You regret never having mated with him, is that it?" he asked gently.

"Why do you think that?" Lee asked, aghast and amazed that his secret had been so visible. "He's like a brother to me! He..he  kind of thinks of me like a son...and I love him like that in return. That's all."

"No Cranelee. Your eyes lie.  You love him  far more than a son his father. I also know this to be true from the way you have always spoken of him. It is not difficult to sense that your feelings were never consummated. Cranelee," Tylol continued gently, "I cannot take this Nel-son's place, but I can offer you some comfort...in the way you would have liked, with him, in bodily union.I have studied his mannerisms from the old outpost images from the Venus archives," Tylol paused then continued, " I would be willing to restrain myself from full arrousal.  And I could program the visualizer to take his image"

"Uh, I'll pass.."

"Yes, I see. You would know it is not him. Then, perhaps you would be willing to mate with me, just as I am. Cranelee, at one time I would have forced myself on you, as Herzog and his minions did, but no longer. He and his group took you fully arroused, far higher than what your frail species can bear without harm. At a lower level, however, you might enjoy our differences. And rememver, we are a dual gendered species as well. Think on it. I will be in my chamber. Do not be afraid, Cranelee. I will not hold refusal against you. I only want you to be happy here, and ‘here' is for a very long time. The rest of your life, as you yourself are aware, no doubt," Tylol finished his drink, and padded away as the image faded but not before showing Lee's face, his brows furrowed in confusion....

 

Below, on Earth, there was an embarrassed silence among most viewers. While Crane had not admitted in any way that he'd had any lurid thoughts about he and Nelson, Tylol had had a point. To some who knew him, Lee would never have had such leanings; the ‘him’ he'd whispered was merely a lost friendship, but to a few others, it was hard to dismiss the momentary flicker of, well, almost longing in Crane's eyes when Nelson was mentioned. As to what was the truth, the matter was to be of some debate for the foreseeable future.

**

Far far away, hidden by the velvety blackness among the stars, Lee found he needed no hallucination in the Centaur's bedchamber to imagine what it would be like to have sex with Nelson. Closing his eyes as Tylol probed his inner places with his three pronged penilian phallus and retractable tentacles, Lee visualized the fully human Nelson taking him, aboard Seaview no less, in the Captain's cabin while life went on aboard as normal with no one aboard the wiser...

But the short daydream evaporated quickly as the alien thrust harder and deeper while the secondary tentacles massaged and stimulated his body. Occasionally Lee felt burning ice-hot spasms from Tylol's pre ejaculate. Then when Tylol's nubbed fingertips massaged his nipples and ran down his hips, Lee couldn't stand it anymore. He was on fire.  Pulling away out from under him, he turned Tylol beneath him, and began to thrust, climaxing quickly.  Rolling Lee back over onto his back, Tylol re-entered him and came himself a short time later, absolutely flooding Lee with proof of his virility. They lay for awhile in total exhaustion, the purple moonlight streaming down on them from the open window.

"That was not so bad now, was it?" Tylol asked.

"Gawd, it was awesome," Lee couldn't believe what he was saying.

"I will take that as a compliment, though...perhaps I was too aroused for you. I must restrain myself better. You are bleeding."

"I'm fine."

"Then you will continue to mate with me on a regular basis? I would offer more tonight but it would be too much for you to endure."

"Just shut up and fuck me any time you like, master," Lee whispered, seduced by the moment and if truth be told, a little more by the alien himself.

**

To say that Lee was embarrassed by his display of wanton abandonment the night before was no exaggeration. He had not been drugged, or drunk, at least not much, and he realized that the decision to become intimate with Tylol had been entirely his.

But now, in the daylight, the guilt that he had in effect ‘betrayed’ Nelson, the man whom he had never even touched in any kind of intimate way, weighed heavily on his mind. It was no use to feel culpable, though. He'd enjoyed sex with Tylol. And it had been comforting, mentally and physically, despite his reddened and raw ass, not to mentionthe dregs of Tylol's colorful gooey semen still dribbling hours later down his legs.

He'd known for some time now he'd have to make a new life for himself here; perhaps it would not be as bad or as lonely as he'd thought and he began to assemble the supplies Tylol thought they might need in their search for Sassy.

**

"Tylol left no word?" Herzog demanded of Vlado later as they entered the workshop.

"I am not his master, Lord. He owes me no explanation," Vlado picked up a plant, checking it for something, then satisfied, set it down.

"The workshop looks...almost bare...where are Cranelee's toys? The ones he makes for himself and for the children?" he picked up the TV cam. Suddenly the Centaurs were upside down... "And what is this?"

"I do not know, neither does he, no matter how much he has tried to figure it out for Tylol . It is from one of the space modules on your failed outpost. As for his toys, perhaps he has taken them to town to sell."

"You are lying," Herzog twisted his orb, leveling Vlado to the floor. "Interrogate him fully," he added as he handed his companion the TV Cam, the transmission to Earth failing.

**

"So, what was all that about this place being such an inhospitable wasteland?" Crane asked in the approaching night as he gathered some scrub brush and charcoal like rocks to make a campfire. "Reminds me of some parts of Arizona, but it's hardly worth worrying about. I've even seen some wildlife...I don't suppose that's some kind a relative?" he asked as a snakelike lizard slithered by.

"No, why do you ask?"

"Then you wouldn't mind if I had it for supper?"

"Suit yourself. I cannot understand the need for meat. The idea is revolting. Would you eat a monkey on your home world?"

"I wouldn't. But some folks do, tribes in the Amazon...but I guess it would seem a bit like canibalizim..."

"Sometimes I cannot tell when you are serious or joking in your Earthy way."

"Go ahead and start the fire," Lee said as he pulled out some dried dinobird jerky he'd made and flasks of water from their contrived backpacks, also made of loosely woven fibers.

"Cranelee? The fire sticks are not working," the Centaur tried in vain to light the fire with some of Lee's makeshift matches by just holding them over the pile of brush.

Lee shook his head, "I can't believe a species so advanced doesn't even know how to make a fire without an orb," he struck one of the makeshift matches against a rock. Nothing happened. "Sorry. I guess we'll have to find some other combustible element in future," he tried again. Finally it caught and soon they had a glowing campfire. Suddenly, the ground tremored nearby, and a giant ‘something’ emerged from under the ground, then trailed away.

"What the hell was that?" Lee asked, "A giant cockroach?"

"I have only seen these insects a fossils. Small, the size of your little finger, nothing like that..."

"Hmm. The Zone may have something to do with it. You said it was laid waste. What did it? A cataclysmic event? A meteor maybe?"

"That is one theory. The other is that it was an explosive device by a now extinct tribe....we had our own birth pangs before Centaur was civilized."

"You know, there’s a saying on Earth that if we manage to blow each other off the globe, the only thing left would be cockroaches...maybe there's a bit of truth to it...they're almost indestructible...hardy buggers. Full plate armor no less..."

Popping a food disk into his mouth, Tylol smirked, "Sometimes I think the major difference between our worlds is the language...you will have to teach me more of your...'sayings'. Ah, look there," he pointed to a shooting star against the backdrop of a brilliant display. "I never grow tired of looking up at the stars, the moons.. and you," he touched Lee's lips softly with his fingers.

It was not much longer before the flames illuminated the two coupling under the envelope of night.

Morning came all to quickly. Lee grinned at Tylol as he pulled on his tunic and started to break up camp.

"Do you have to wear clothing anyway? I would enjoy seeing you without it."

"You're randy again already?"

"Your genitalia is most interesting when you walk. As for the logic of clothing, it is not cold, nor is it hot, you do not need any covering for temperature protection..."

"Sure, and get a full body sunburn..."

"Ah, yes, of course. Forgive me. I had forgotten of your skin's non reflectiveness."

"All set? C'mon then, we got a lot of ground to cover."

"Just do not keep calling the dog's name out continually. My ears are still sore from yesterday. A few times every hour will suffice."

**

"The scanner shows two bipeds just about here," the soldier Centaur showed Herzog the sensor's image.

"They have traversed further than I would have thought. Perhaps we should help the Zone show them they are unwelcome. See to it."

"And the Earth dog? They are nearing the area you sent it,though I have been unable to verify it's movements as it matches the other quadruple beasts in the sensor."

"The dog is of no consequence. Keep me informed of Cranelee and Tylol. I must I ready the weapon for the launch against Earth."

"But you will still need the Council's code..."

"There are always means to circumvent it. I have already begun to work on it.. "

**

"Back to square one. Chip," Nelson said as he boarded Seaview from the flying sub, "We tried everything at the weapons lab. The orb's powerless, so even if we were able to figure it out, it wouldn't transport us. And our satellite net will keep Lee from entering our atmosphere even if he could manage to get away ... How is Mrs. Crane holding up anyway?"

"She has to use a lot of sedatives...Admiral?" Morton closed the divider screen to the Control Room, "There's been some...well...talk lately."

"Talk?" Nelson took off his jacket and began to pour himself a stiff drink, "what kind of talk?

"You know, about...well..." Chip's face reddened, "about the sex stuff that the alien mentioned...some of the crew, some of the reporters, well, they're wondering if...if....never mind."

"If what the alien said about Lee having the hots for me? Is that it? Forbidden lusts quite out of keeping with the strict Naval discipline we're bound by? Well, if he has, he's certainly never shown it to me. Not in actions, not in words...trust me, Lee is as pure as the driven snow."

"I've seen for myself the way he looks, looked at you sometimes. I'm beginning to wonder...."

"If you're that convinced, for the sake of argument, say he did, that he eyed me with unbridled passion; would it really make much of a difference to how you regard him as a Sub Commander? As a friend?" Nelson asked gently.

"I don't know...I've never thought of him in a...in a compromising lifestyle."

"Then it's just that you don't like the idea of Lee maybe having a homosexual leaning."

"Well, yeah, I guess that's it. It's not normal. It's not natural...."

"Actually, thousands of men would tell you that if they're doing it, how can it be unnatural? In the rest of the animal kingdom, it's not exactly uncommon, especially among primates. Monkeys and apes have sex with the same gender all the time. It's even incestuous in some of their family groups... Scientists call it ‘comfort coitus’. Man can't be all that different."

"But what do you feel about it, I mean if Lee's...."

"What I may or may not feel doesn't matter a hill of beans, because Lee Crane is the same man we both love and respect. I would hope his Executive Officer and Seaview's Acting Captain would agree with that, in spite of any whispered innuendos."

"Of course it wouldn't matter, job wise, but...the idea of him enjoying it, I mean, sex with another guy...or with you."

"It's hard for you to think of him as anything other than the ‘can do no wrong’ Captain you've come to practically worship like the rest of the crew, is that it?" Nelson asked gently.

"Yeah. That's it... But when that alien said..."

“I don't care what the damn cretin said! You're letting your imagination run away with you. Lee has never even hinted that he'd like to fuck or be fucked by me! I think I'd have noticed if he wanted to."

"I'm sorry sir. I didn't mean to imply that you'd...I mean..."

"I think you should pay so much attention to all of the ‘if's’ that are being bantered around."

"Sorry sir."

"Chip? Would you really hate him if he were homosexual? Even a latent or unsullied one?"

"Hate? No. Just...disappointed sir. Will that be all?"

"That's all."

As Morton returned to the Control Room, leaving the doors open, Nelson sat in the lounger and frowned. So, even Morton was one of those who would never accept, never have an open mind...and who must never ever know that his Admiral was having wet dreams practically every night about what could have been. And would never be. Damn, it was hard to live a lie. A blasted hypocrite, that's what he, Harriman Nelson was...not even worthy of the love Lee might, if only in Nelson's dreams, have for him.

**

"I am surprised these contraptions work," Tylol said as the jury rigged snow/sand shoes eased their passage through the shifting sands and howling winds further into the great desert now riddled with a multitude of rocky outcrops. Distant rumbles and spectacular flashes of lightening heralded more bad weather ahead.

"I'm just glad these do," Lee indicated the space helmets 'borrowed' from the remnants of the S-E-A's spacecrafts that the Centaurs had retrieved from Venus. Crane had rigged them with fibrous breathing filters. "Hope you don't get into too much trouble when the council finds them missing."

"Tell me, does Earth always expect foreign bodies to be inhospitable?"

"Guess so...we're kind of' paranoid about oxygen, so we usually take it with us..too bad the council didn't think to bring any tanks back with these."

"Yes, your atmosphere is rather thin in total depth around your planet. Until recently we believed your world to be lifeless.... The storm is getting close..."

"Over there, that ledge, we can have some protection from the wind."

"Do you really think the dog could survive this?"

"I don't know," Lee said "But I have to find out and..."

Just then the ground gave way. Twenty feet, a hundred, the two fell, slipping, sliding unable to grab hold of anything against the rock face until they lay on mound of crumbling bones lit by areas of glowing phosphorescence in the great cavern.

"Tylol?"

"I am unharmed. You?"

Lee took off his dirt caked helmet, assuring himself that his companion was okay. "I guess we're not the first visitors," he indicated the bones. "We have to find a way out of here or we'll be joining them."

"We certainly cannot climb back up. Are we... doomed?” he’d searched his mind for the earth word.

"Doomed isn't part of my vocabulary, well, not usually, " he checked to see which of their provisions had fallen with them.

"You are hurt," Tylol touched Lee's bleeding shoulder.

"Just a couple of scratches. C'mon."

"Can we not rest a few moments? To catch our breath?"

"Okay, you rest. I'll just scout ahead a little, then come back..."

"Be careful. I fear this place."

"Just a cave."

"The legends say that there are labyrinths of untold horrors in the Forbidden Zone that no one survives."

"If nobody survived, who told the tale...just a bunch of bunk to scare little children...don't worry. I'll be careful."

**

"Are you sure?" Herzog asked.

"They are no longer on the screen."

"They cannot have simply vanished. Check your equipment."

"I have. Perhaps they evaporated. We do not know all of what the Zone is capable of."

"We know that it is the ideal place to keep snooping scientists and their pets away .Now search harder."

**

“Do you think Captain Crane’s gay? " one of the multitude of reporters just outside NIMR’s main gate beleaguered one of Nelson’s maintenance staff who simply ignored them as he was waved through. As another employee drove up the question was asked again.

“Look,” Angie said, “I know Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson. They’re as straight as they come.”

“"Well, they sure are chummy from the stuff I've heard," another reporter laughed, “C’mon, you don’t have to protect them. Why with Crane’s looks he could have any woman he wants. And none of the girls we’ve spoken to have said he’s ever even tried to get to third base. And as for Nelson...”

“Perhaps you haven’t been speaking to the right girls!” she said vehemently as she was okayed through the gate as even more questions were lobbed but the Top of Hour TV News report returned to the studio...

“That was the scene just outside of the Nelson Institute which has almost been in a lock down since all of this began. No one here has taken any stand to give credence to the growing feelings that Commander Crane may be a repressed homosexual. So the big question now is, ‘ Will he do it with the alien? Has he done it with the alien? Does he want to do it with Admiral Nelson? We'll update you with the results of our poll later tonight. In the meantime rest assured the military is still on full alert. Good night.".

**

"Well?" Tylol asked as Crane returned.

"We're in some kind of catacomb...tombs carved into the cave walls,” he explained. “C'mon," Lee hefted up one of the backpacks. "I think I felt some air coming from one of the tunnels when I was up ahead...that'll be our best bet."

**

"Uh, Tylol?" Lee hesitated and pointed as they journeyed through the eerie place. There, in one of the larger niches was a complete skeleton, gold jewelry on it's fingers and around it's neck. But it was not the skeleton of a Centaur. It was the skeleton of...a man.

"Are you sure it is not a monkey?"

"Monkey's don't wear jewelry," Lee pulled the ring off it's finger to examine it. "Ow!"

"What is it?"

"Static electricity or the metal's rusted..."

"Gold does not rust...let me see it. There is writing on it," he handed it back to Crane.

"Looks like some kind of hieroglyph...they're rumors aliens helped build the pyramids...I don't buy it...or maybe it was the other way around...that humans visited your worlds first..."

"I would credit that as a possibility except for one thing," Tylol said, "how did he get here?"

"Perhaps the same way Cranelee did," a Centaur suddenly stood before them and zapped them with his orb.

**

"Ow!" Lee said as he found himself sprawled on the dirt, "I thought those things weren't supposed to work in the Zone."

"These have been modified by General Herzog,” the aide said.

"Where's Tylol?"

"That is no concern of yours, Earthman."

"Damn right it's my concern. Where is he, you reptilian reprobate?"

"Trapper was correct. You do have spirit. It is no wonder your master finds you so exciting to mate with," he eyed Crane with interest.

"Get away from me!”

The Centaur laughed and moved closer toward him...

"The choice is yours," Herzog said to Tylol as the two watched the hologram of Crane from inside Herzog's Command Center. "Vinco is already becoming aroused. Just think of what he will do to your poor little human. He is so much more highly....endowed than normal Centaurs like us. Yes, I see it worries you. It would be an agonizing way for the Earthling to die. So, I offer you a deal. Simply tell the Council that the Earthmen plan to invade us, that you know this from Cranelee's attempts to contact them, see?" he held the TV Cam, "If this image transmitter were not so primitive, I would have known what it was long before now...Tell them, and I will transport you both back to your dwelling, saving your concubine certain death,” he laughed, “ Do not be so surprised that I know of your matings. Vlado told us everything."

"If the Council releases the code you need to launch the weapon, Cranelee will never forgive me. And if he managed to make the image box work, he would not order an attack from Earth. Besides, they do not have light speed. Any message would take centuries to reach his world either way."

"We cannot know that the humans have not yet developed light speed, they know they must have it to rescue their poor lost Captain... And how can Cranelee bear you any ill will if you save him? I will also give him back his dog...you know how he loves it so...so you would be doing him a great service...but you must decide now, before Vinco touches him...do you want Cranelee to be violated again. Worse than anything he or even you can imagine? Time is wasting...he will not be able to accommodate Vinco. He will die.."

"Very well. Release him! I will do it Hurry!"

Herzog slapped him on the back and pressed the orb, Tylol disappearing as did the image from Lee's cell.

"Idiot,” Herzog said greatly satisfied.

Just then an aide fingered his orb.

What are you doing?” Herzog asked..

"I have loosed the dog as you promised and...."

"Did I order you to do so?"

"No lord, only you told Tylol that..."

"Only fools believe in promises or are so gullible. And by the time Tylol realizes that fact, it will be too late. For Cranelee and for Earth," he sat the TV Cam on a console, and turned toward the sound of barking, "Just where did you release the Earthdog to?"

"I thought you would be releasing Cranelee, so I sent it to his cell. I thought you would want to transport them to Tylol's together...."

"To his cell?" Herzog pressed his orb and the hologram of Lee's cell formed again.

Crane was still there, but this time he was holding the Centaur around the neck while the dog pulled on it's leg with it's teeth. "Where is Tylol?" Lee demanded, relieving him of the orb, "Answer me! Unless you want me to fry you with this and feed you to Sassy!"

"Please! Do not let the beast eat me!"

"I'll eat you myself if I don't get any answers! Now, where- is- Tylol?"

"The plan was to bribe him. To save you from me."

"Where is he?" Lee increased his grip.

"If the bribe worked, with the Council at this moment. To inform them that you, that all Earthmen, are a risk. That your world plans invasion..."

"That's a lie."

"That is what you humans would say to hide the fact... but it is too late. By now the activation code has probably been released by the Council to launch Herzog's weapon to Earth."

"What kind of weapon? Where is it? Talk, or so help me you'll be served up raw and eaten alive! How do I stop the launch?"

"I would not tell you if I could."

"Fine. Sassy? Save me some leftovers, " Lee pushed the Centaur away, moving aside examining the orb.

"Wait!" the Centaur pleaded as the dog pulled even more furiously on it's leg, then it's arm. "Four pulses, then two will take you to the command center. The weapon is a magnetic photon pulsar. The launch sequence is located in the control's hologram. That is all I know... please! Call off your vile beast!"

"Sass? Sit. Stay," Lee said and the dog immediately obeyed.

"Let me go now," the alien said.

"Oh, no. You're coming with us," he fiddled the orb and there was a flash of light leaving the cell bare in the hologram.

"Ski?" Patterson whispered from his station in Seaview's control room, as he and everyone who could were glued to the transmitting images from Centaur on the monitor. "The Skipper wouldn't really eat the monster would he?"

"Heck I don’t know...”

Suddenly Crane, and the Centaur appeared in Herzog's Control Center in another flash of light.

"What is it they say on Earth?" Herzog said "Out of the frying pan and into the fire?"

"What happened to my dog?” he looked around anxiously. The guard was with him, but not Sassy.

"The Earthdog is back in your cell..."

Lee was furiously punching the orb, which didn't do anything more powerful than blink.

"You do not seriously believe I would entrust my guards with devices as powerful as mine?" Herzog smirked. "It will not work as long as I control it. He is a disgrace, so easily vanquished by such a primitive species," he zapped the guard into oblivion, then returned his attention to Crane, "Observe what you too shall soon become," he kicked the pile of smoldering burnt ash, and clicked his orb and Crane vanished. "Prepare the launch control," he ordered his aides, “I will return as soon as the Council relays the code to destroy the water rock he called home."

**

"Everything's still nominal, in synch," Nelson confirmed to the President a few hours later, the transmissions continuing showing the Centaurs at their consoles seemingly indifferent.

"So all we do now, is wait and...” he stopped as the transmission showed some of Herzog's Centaurs sniggering at a new hologram...

 

Some of them pointed and made rude noises, and parted slightly.

"My God, Harry," the President said.

Crane was being dragged across the ground, then hung up on a high ring on the wall by his wrists, facing it. His watch hung loosely over his bony wrist, the little that was left of his tunic hung in shreds and there was more blood than green slime that rolled disgustingly down his legs this time. Herzog came into view, and tossed something up in the air in victory, easily catching it back into his hand. "Send it to Tylol," he handed it over to an aide, and wiped his hands, "I'm sure he will want a memento of the human's more sensitive anatomy to remember him by."

Hearts aboard Seaview almost stopped for a moment, but as Herzog neared Crane and turned the Earthling to face him, they saw the object that had been torn off the Commander’s flesh was not his manhood but only his left nipple.

"Agree to my terms and I will spare the other," Herzog hissed.

Lee spat on him.

"I suppose it would be better to send Tylol a matched set.”

"What's the real reason you want to attack Earth?" Lee managed between breaths," What is it, some kind of power play? Your bid for supremacy over Centaur? Is that it? Or are you just scared of us? We haven't done you any harm...we would have welcomed you as friends...and we were probably here first. I saw the skeletons in the catacombs."

"You and your kind are a species of warring ants. In time you would try to conquer us. We have a right to protect ourselves. "

"Hitler, 1937."

"I do not understand and I do not wish to. Suffice it here that we will finally be rid of your kind once and for all."

"If you're so convinced of that," it was getting harder and harder for Lee to breathe, "what's the next planet you plan to destroy? With your kind of thinking there won't be anything left intact in the galaxy, universe even. Destroy Earth and you destroy yourselves. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but it will happen. Throw a pebble in a pond and ripples go on and on..."

"That may be. But at least I will have had today. Activate the weapon controller," he ordered an aide and a hologram of Earth's solar system appeared.

"The hologram..." Lee said to himself, remembering what Vinco had said.

“Your world has set up a system of reflective beams they think will deflect the weapon I have developed. A surprisingly intelligent attempt, but flawed in its polarity."

"Polarity?" Lee whispered to himself, "polarity...it can't be that simple..."he started to twist and turn and lunge upward so he could finally grab his watch in his mouth by his bound hands.

"Is the Earthman mad?" one of the aides asked.

"Never- been- saner!" Lee said with difficulty, the watchband dangling from his tongue, "Deflect this!" he tossed it into the hologram with a violent nod of his head, and the hologram disappeared in shower of sparks.

"What have you done!" Herzog grabbed Crane's hair.

"You're the superior species. You tell me!"

It took a moment for the stunned Centaurs to listen to the computerized warning.

"Weapon aborted. Systems failure. Repeat Complete Systems Failure of Command Center," a computer voice crackled. "Reverse polarity intrusion..."

"All crew to the Escape Pods!" Herzog ordered.

"Power grid failing," the computer continued, "Chain reaction will cause facility destruction in five mulars. Repeat Self destructing.."

One of the guards grabbed the TV Cam as a souvenir and fled with the others behind Herzog leaving Crane hanging helpless from the ring, dread replaced by sheer relief. Suddenly there was flash of brilliant light, then nothing.

**

"C'mon," Nelson spoke to the night sky in Seaview's conning tower. "C'mon Lee, give us a sign."

"Harry?" Starke joined him, "Want to talk about it?" he asked gently.

"Please Jiggs. I just want to be alone for awhile."

Starke patted him on the shoulder and left his old friend looking up at the stars as if pleading with them to speak, to tell him that Lee was alive.

**

"Well, that should do it, Admiral," the President said on the videophone," That revised satellite programming will be able to make the net secure from any kind of light wave weaponry from now on, by simply reading their polarity and reversing our field. Well, see you again sometime Harry, God willing under more peaceful circumstances."

"Amen to that."

**

Lee's thick tangled waist length hair was damp beneath him as Nelson penetrated his innermost places. Soft grass of the NIMR outcrop was a lush carpet beneath them, and the sound of waves below rang again and again in Nelson's ears. Finally knocking followed, and voices...

"Admiral? Admiral?" Sharkey said, and shook his shoulder. "Sorry to wake you. There’s another one. Mr. Morton called you over the PA but you didn't respond. He sent me to get you..."he noticed the empty bottle of whiskey rolling on the deck.

Damn, it was such a great dream too, Nelson realized with regret as he hurriedly pulled on a robe to hide his fullness. But he knew that Sharkey knew. At least the Chief chose didn't know who he'd been dreaming of as he turned on the cabin’s TV monitor for him....

 

"Where did you get this?" Tylol asked the Centaur as he looked into the TV Cam.

"One of Herzogs'crew took it. But we convinced him to release it to us. We think you would want it, all things considered...you were very fond of the Earthling..."

"Thank you Councilor. Do you still believe humans mean us harm? You had not yet decided when Cranelee destroyed the launch control."

"We are still undecided."

"Cranelee gave his life to save his world. Would any of us have done the same for Centaur?"

"It is a difficult concept...Herzog's troops have been reassigned."

"And Herzog?"

"What of me?" the Centaur in question stood before them, at the door. He did not have a orb around his neck anymore.

"I despise you," Tylol said.

"That is your privilege."

"What are you doing here?"

"We have reduced him in rank among all Centaurs," the Councilor said. "For his cruelty, and for his boast that if our code would not be forthcoming, he would find another way to launch the attack. We do not sanction individual supremacy. For this, most of all, he will spend the rest of his life in servitude to others...we thought it best to place him here. I am sure you will see to it that he serves you well."

"So, you are one of the elders, you may know. How did the first humans come to be on Centaur?"

"We are unsure if they were humans, the visitors," the Councilor said, "and that of legend long ago, most lost in the records that are now dust. Supposedly a great tailed star was seen in the sky before they came. And they were few and sickened quickly and died, but not before mating with some of us... hence, the two races of Centaurs. You, I, Herzog, the Lords...We are of the pure Centaur."

"You must be so relieved to hear it Herzog," Tylol said as Herzog snorted in disgust.

"Is that an Earth sarcasm?" the Councilor asked, " You will have to teach me the nuances. For the loss of your concubine, I am sorry."

Tylol gently stroked the TV cam on the shelf, then went into the house with the official , the image fading.

**

The rain burned like brimstone on his raw torn back. Even it was made of a different compound from Earth's soothing liquid. He didn't know how long he'd been unconscious. Minutes, hours, or days? At least Lee was free of the broken ring and force cuffs, though his ribs and limbs were aching as badly as his head. The night sky flashed with lightening, and the wind howled bitterly blowing sand against his raw torn skin. The shredded tunic had easily crumbled away against the deluge. But he was not the only captive here...stumbling, crawling over and through the rubble, he shouted Sassy's name in a vain hope that she had somehow survived in the complex as well. Any response he thought he'd heard was obscured by the thunder...

**

It was a somber crew that disembarked when Seaview returned home. The jubilation of Earth's rescue was tempered now with the knowledge of her Skipper's last true measure of devotion, at least that's how the President had described it. Lee Crane would go down in history. Kids would learn of him. Leaders would try to emulate him...midshipmen would walk past his former room at the Academy in quiet awe. He was a hero among heroes....

"Ski? You in there?" Patterson knocked on his head. "Hey, bud, you're miles away...your whole family's waiting ashore...your brother, your mom, you dad...get a move on..."

"I...I can't help thinking about him Pat."

"I know," his best friend sat down and put a comforting hand over his shoulder. "It's gonna' take time..."

"Is the Skipper's mom waiting?"

"Yeah, she's there...Morton pointed her out to me... hope she can bear up at the ceremony tomorrow."

**

He must've passed out. Again, Lee thought sourly, then heard the muffled whimper. With renewed vigor, or at least determination, he began to lift rock after rock, in search for the sound...finally, louder, he heard a bark. "Sas? Sas? Talk to me baby!"

It took a while longer to find her, but finally, hands bleeding, every muscle throbbing, he moved away enough rubble for her to squeeze through and out to freedom. Lee grabbed her, found there were no more injuries than dirty and matted fur, then hugged her whimpering form against him, and wept in sheer relief.

**

For the first time in his career, Chip Morton didn't complain about the dress whites. He, and all the officers of Seaview and NIMR stood at attention with the crew in their freshly ironed though mothballed Navy uniforms. TV coverage showed that the woman looked ready to wilt away, and trying very hard not to cry over the Medal of Honor being awarded posthumously to her son. But in the end she gave way, and buried her head against Nelson's chest, sobbing. The honor guard maintained it's military bearing and retreated allowing the President to gently take her hand and shake it with some kind of empty meaningless words...at least they felt meaningless to her. Lee was dead. And nothing could even bring his body back. She closed the box holding the medallion and held it tightly as she let Nelson's strong arm escort her back to his private bungalow on the grounds.

**

He'd managed to gather what he could but Lee's pickings were slim. A sharp piece of metal and a curved piece of glass from the wreckage that would come in handy for making fire were all that he had to survive with on. No, he corrected himself, he had more than that; he had his brain. And a faithful companion, who had her own senses, especially the superior one of smell that would help lead them to food and water, and home, well, to Tylol's at least. He may be upset with him, but if he was as badly hurt as he thought, the dog would need someone to care for her and he had no doubt Tylol would. He'd chosen the night to begin the trek, recognizing some of the stars from the desert night of lust he'd shared with Tylol. At least they could head off in the right direction. Once they got to the more familiar desert riddled with rock outcrops it would be simpler to find his way back. The hours passed slowly, the pain from his body competing with the pain of his bare feet on the desert ground. “Let’s take a break, girl," Lee said and lay down, looking up at the stars as Sassy nuzzled against him comfortingly. "At least it's calm for now...but," he pointed to the lightening in the distance, "Not for long."

There was nothing they could do but sit huddled together under the deluge when it came. At least they'd been able to drink some rainwater when Lee had cupped his hands for a bowl. "Wait!" he suddenly yelled, getting up, "Over here!" But the men and women he had seen in strange fringed garments, carrying torches of fire paid him no heed. He ran through the mud calling after them finally reaching one and grabbing the man's fringed toga, "Wait! Don't leave me!" but his hand fell through it and he stumbled to the ground. It was just a hallucination again. Damn, he'd had more than a few since they'd begun their trek. Most had been small, simple delusions, like eating grasshopper like insects that had come out in the night, or, he licked the corner of his mouth, he had. Perhaps he'd lost too much blood. He knew a lot of his open wounds were infected. His mind wasn't working right. Suddenly the dog began to bark and the ground gave way.

It took a moment for him to realize they had landed on rather soft dirt, grateful neither were hurt. "You know Sas, I'm beginning to get awfully tired of the forbidden zone. Well, at least we're out of the storm," The cavern was hewn into chambers, lit somewhat by the same kind of phosphorescent growths in the catacombs. Maybe this was part of the same one...if so, they hadn't made much headway...or maybe they'd been going around in circles.

This tomb was different from the others. A blue sky was painted above on an actual ceiling, some of it had flaked off, but the stars and planets he could see looked remarkably familiar. At first he thought the blue planet was Earth, but it's solar system was not hers.... Mourners underneath the sky wore the same kind of clothes as in his delusion...there were some children too.

He bumped his head under the archway into a greater chamber. A lone sarcophagus lay in the center. It was made of crystal, or was it diamond, reflecting all the colors of the rainbow. Not normally one to disturb the dead, and he hated horror movies, Lee found his curiosity peaked, and succumbed to the temptation. If this was a human, he had to know more. Seeing a broken urn in the corner with several others intact, he used the edge as a wedge and loosened the lid, bit by bit until it slid off enough to see inside.

Lee gasped in shock. The man inside was fully clothed in the fringed toga like garment, and undecayed, as if he'd been placed inside yesterday or even today...but his face...was Crane's.

Sassy's tongue woke Lee. For a moment he wondered even the image had been a delusion before he'd fainted. But no, he was lying in front of the sarchopogus. Getting up he stared at his double. The man's beard was curled, as was his long black hair. He wore a gold band around his forehead, like a crown of old. In it were encased what looked like emeralds. The fringes on his tunic were made of gold beads, and the long tunic itself was a blue silk like fabric. His sandals were made of polished inlaid wood and leather. He held a staff with a diamond at it's head. It was the blue orb he held that grabbed Lee's interest next, more than the fact that the man's fingers and toes were webbed slightly. Was it a symbolic icon of kingship, or a representation of his home world. Lee had to know more and plucked it from the dead man's hand, but it slipped from his fingers and hit the ground with an ear shattering noise then simply floated back up and floated. The sound grew worse, and suddenly shattered the crystal sarcophagus, the corpse crumbling into bone and dust except for its hair.

Lee was reminded of some Egyptian mummies he'd seen on TV who's hair that had survived the centuries, even down to the color. With a silent apology Lee robbed the man of the his possessions that had not decayed. Lee needed the items more than he, and began to look around for anything else of use that he could salvage. Suddenly he noticed that another mural of mourners showed a Centaur as the Chief mourner, and that what he'd thought were children in the other, were actually half Centaur-half humans. Now Wouldn't Herzog just love that ,he thought sarcastically. Above them all in this picture the deceased was riding on what looked like flat disk in the sky half hidden by a cloud. A symbolic picture of his trip to heaven? Or a hovercraft of some kind? If they really were humans, even partly, they had to have gotten to Centaur somehow... He returned his attention to a gold inlaid chariot in a corner. At least he could use it to cart some of his new found supplies. Too bad he couldn't find a hover disk like on the painting. That would really have been welcome, if there were such things of course... he wondered what the man had used for horses. There sure weren't any here on Centaur. At least not now...There was a golden bow and three diamond tipped arrows on bronze staffs in the vehicle, and some gold chain ropes. Probably for show, or ceremonial purposes, but mighty practical now. So getting to business, Lee wondered which would be better to use on the unstrung bow, the fringe threaded with gold beads or perhaps the dead king's hair...he'd better try both.

The dusty urns did their job and caught the rainwater outside the cavern's entrance, actually a rock fall that led to the surface, and Lee finished stockpiling the chariot he'd lugged and pushed up his makeshift ramp with some effort, having passed out few times. And so, armed now with tools far better than his left to rot in another tomb somewhere, Lee and Sassy had only to wait for a break in the weather to continue their journey. While they did, he ripped part of the long tunic into a shorter one, thankful for something to protect his skin from the burning sands. The remainder he could use as of face masks. The sandals were big for him, but given the circumstances, who cared. At least his feet would get a chance to stop bleeding.

**

"I tell you I am fine," Tylol insisted.

"If you persist in not eating you will do yourself harm," Vlado said.

"I cannot keep anything down."

"Perhaps the Earthman infected you with an Earth virus," Herzog said.

"And perhaps you do not know what you are talking about," Vlado said, "get back to work and do not interfere in matters that do not concern you."

"Cranelee would be proud of you for that Vlado," Tylol said.

**

Lee was startled awake by the sound of some small variety of dinobirds circling the great quagmire he'd set up camp by. He'd already caught a few from some well aimed rocks, and they would be a welcome addition to the smoked fish and lizards he was making jerky out of.

Apparently the birds had figured out the fishing was good here, and dove bombed rather successfully for the feast, but found themselves hindered by the quicksand like glop that stuck to their wings. They didn't fly too high or very far away to enjoy their meals.

Sassy had gotten into the act of chasing and barking at some of the birds. Suddenly one of them decided to fight back, extended it's talons, and nipped at the dog.

"Okay, okay, we get the point!" Lee yelled as put himself between the bird and Sassy, "Get out of here you big bully!" he tossed a rock at it. It did, but not before stealing one of the fish out of Lee's smoker...actually a shallow pit of embers.

"And thief, too it appears....you okay girl?" Lee scratched Sassy's head, "I told you we weren't exactly welcome here..."he sighed. "C'mon, let's break camp. By the time we're done, the fish'll be dried enough to keep. I'm not so sure about the lizards...as for the birds, well, I hope you don't mind them a bit burnt."

The gold circlet he put on made a great headgear to attach the dust scarf to, even if it did hurt a little. At least it kept his hair out of his eyes and the sand out of his face when the wind blew. He wondered what time it was. He'd discovered it was hard to judge in the zone. The sunlight varied daily from an orange cast to even green, but never consistently. He'd also learned most of the sandstorms were later in the day, but the torrential rains, winds, and electrical storms happened any time, sometimes for hours, sometimes no longer than a few minutes. There were no rainbows afterward...of course not. No Noah's Ark here... the image in his mind of rainbows and raincoats and soaked uniforms depressed him. He was the alien here. He wanted to go home. Sassy seemed to notice he needed a friend and planted herself at his feet, looking up. He scruffed her fur and it was not much longer before they were on their way.

**

"I said I'm not interested," Nelson scolded Angie as he stared out his office window.

"But I made this apple cake just for you..."

"Did I ask for apple cake?"

"No, but..."

"But what?" he turned, irritated. "Your duties here as my Assistant do not include mothering me!"

"Somebody has to! We miss Lee too you know!" she began to blubber. "You have to eat something!"

"I'm not hungry...and I have no appetite."

"I'll take it," Starke entered, and nodded for Angie to give them some privacy. She closed the door but not before taking in the dark circles under his eyes too.

"Harry. You can't bring him back, you know...frankly, you've been acting more like a lover than a friend....Harriman?"

Nelson said nothing and Jiggs placed the cake on the desk, noticing the piles of forms and inquires and reports on his desk still needing his attention.

"Harry? Have you been listening to me?"

"I heard you. Now go away."

"Harry? Were you?" he asked quietly, "Were you and Crane lovers?"

"No, but I..."he turned to face his old friend, "Jiggs, what I'm about to tell you may destroy everything I've worked my life for, but I can't go on like this..." he paused, took a breath and began. "I started to have dreams...feelings...about Lee even before he was taken from us."

Starke furrowed his brows.

"Don't try to look confused. You know what I mean. Sex, Jiggs, Sex! Pure unbridled lustful thoughts and even dreams of shoving my dick up his ass, and his.. in mine. Filling each other up with the seed of our very beings. Does that shock you old man? It certainly shocked me when they started. At first, they were disturbing...then, well, I found them curiously exciting. Jiggs I longed for it. Something I knew I'd never act on of course. But then, when he was taken, up there, all alone, so far away...I knew. I knew that it was Lee Crane who'd made my life complete. Not my brilliant career, not Seaview or the Institute. Him. And that I'd lost the chance to tell him. I would you know, today, if he were here. I'd tell him I wanted to make love to him, making us one heart, one soul and...."

"Look,"Jiggs interrupted, "Lee never touched you. You never touched him...right? It sounds to me like you're just...curious.”

"You don't understand," Nelson added quietly, "I also," he pause before he continued hurriedly or he'd never be able to admit it, "I also can't stop thinking that it should have been me to take Lee's virginity! Lovingly, gently....not in a vile, filthy rape or seduction by those frog creatures!" he flung his fist on his desk, his eyes watering. "So, there, you know, I'm a latent fag aren't I?” Nelson asked, appalled at himself.

"I think you have a overactive imagination," Starke said, not quite believing what he was saying, but Harry was one of his best friends, damn it, "probably brought on by all the suggested gossip, C'mon. Let me buy you some ribs and we'll discuss it."

**

"You keep this place like a shrine," Herzog complained as he cleaned the workshop, giving the TV cam a disgusting glance along with what was left of Crane's possessions.

"I will do as I like," Tylol said.

"He was only a human."

"No. He was...my life."

**

The rock outcrops were a welcome sight as master and dog settled down for another night. Lee was growing more and more exhausted. Maybe he'd lost more blood than he'd thought. What he wouldn't give for an orange or a floret of cauliflower or broccoli; foods he normally had to be bribed to eat. He was getting enough protein; the fish here couldn't be all that different nutritionally than back home. He hadn't been able to stomach the lizard. He was half hoping for another dino-bird to show itself when the ground suddenly split open again, swallowing Lee into it's depths.

**

He came around to the sound of whimpering far above him as lightening briefly showed the rock face of the crevasse and Sassy looking down from the heights. It looked as if she was going to try to jump down.

"No! Stay!" he ordered finding his arms and legs a little bloody and tingly. But if he didn't move now, he never would. It was morning by the time he'd finally managed to climb, scale, and slither up the rock face. At least this one had reasonable footholds. Sassy had never left her post, even when the drenching rain exploded over the area, and greeted him in canine exuberance when he finally emerged from the pit.

**

"You will get fat," Vlado patted Tylol's growing belly, as the transmission began, " if you continue to eat your experiments."

"Do not scold me. I must be certain of the element's food value."

"Well, I....what is that noise?" he waved his hand over the wall to show children and adults running, shouting toward something in the distance.

"Cranelee! It is Cranelee!" one of the jubilant Centaurs was heard to call to others, "He has returned from the Forbidden Zone!"

He was exhausted, caked in grime, his silken garment sported the odd blood stain from the neck down, and it was clear every step hurt. The crowd of Centaurs took over, making Lee and Sassy get in the laden chariot, and carted it themselves to Tylol's.

He finally faced the friend who had betrayed him as he stepped down.

Tylol embraced Lee warmly and gently. His enthusiasm was not returned. Lee had not moved, his face a mask of non emotion. Everyone grew quiet.

"I was forced to comply, Cranelee. Herzog told me it was the only way to save you from ravishment...it would have killed you. It is not our way to place the many above the one...I am sorry if I was swayed to harm your world....Herzog is already punished... Cranelee?" he whispered, touching Lee's cheek softly, as if pleading for something far more significant than forgiveness. Lee's bitterness vanished and nodding, he allowed himself to be kissed by Tylol on the forehead. Vlado helped the crowd drag the chariot into the workshop, as the image to Earth faded..

**

"C'mon, you guys' know more than you're telling..." the bartender said at the crew's favorite haunt more than a month later.

"You kidding?" Sharkey said, " They don't tell us nothin'. All Nelson can do is keep hoping one of those special frog dudes goes back into the workshop and gets the TV Cam to start working again."

"You got the luck of the Irish Sharkey? Here comes another picture...."

 

"Vlado?" Tylol asked as he found the servant munching on something in a bowl while examining the floating blue ball in the workshop. "Where is Cranelee? The physician has been waiting. Why is he not here?"

"You just answered your own question," Vlado laughed. "Besides, he is healing well enough he says."

"You know he is not progressing as well as he should....what are you eating?"

"Exploded grain. Cranelee calls it popcorn, though he says it is a little different from the kind on Earth. "

"I have never seen grain treated this way..." he ate some, "This could be a new food source. Is it difficult to process?"

Vlado lifted out a melted glass container, "His first attempts were not successful, though I believe the failures were due more to his difficulty using our heating elements than the grain itself...the kernels are from some of the water plants and..."

"What is that?"

"He calls it a rainbow," Vlado said enthusiastically of the colorful holographic drawing, "it is similar to the refracted lights we see from our work crystals, but I have never seen any shaped like this one, enormous, in the sky. He thinks it has something to do with our atmosphere...But I do not understand this odd looking boat on the mountain and the animals walking down it, though the children call it the ‘ark' and...."

"Is he coming or not? I have other patients," the doctor entered. "I know I have told you before, but his lesions are badly inflamed, externally and internally. They need to be cauterized and irrigated with the antibody compound regularly. The abscesses are infected, and his bruises need more recellularization treatments than I thought originally. Frankly, Tylol, if you continue to mate with him, you may harm him more than his captors and become infected yourself."

"Yes, yes, we know your diagnosis..."

"Good. Just so you don't forget to bring him to my office. I can not believe he is not here by merely forgetting. He continually resists my examinations and treatments..."

"It must be an Earthman thing," Tylol said.

"Where is Herzog? I thought he was your servant now."

"I insisted the Council make Herzog serve his punishment elsewhere. I do not want Cranelee to have to look at him."

"Perhaps that was not wise...Everyone knows that Cranelee has become more of a cherished companion than a pet to you... Herzog is not the only one who may be uneasy about such continued intimacies. I will expect my patient to be here tomorrow then," he took a handful of the popcorn and munched on it, "this is very tasty...market this, and you may be able to pay my bills on time..."

Suddenly Sassy wagged in ahead of Lee, who strode in with his freshly killed dino bird and stopped in dismay, "Busted," he sighed as he saw the doctor. Setting his golden bow and arrows in the corner and taking off his circlet he whispered to Vlado, "I thought you said he'd be gone by now."

"I am sorry Cranelee. I underestimated his patience."

"We will have a talk later Vlado," Tylol said. "Cranelee?" he indicated the doorway into the living quarters. Casting both Tylol and the Doctor an irritated pout of submission, he did as he was bid.

"Man, some things never change," Riley laughed gently, but like his pals from Seaview, chose to ignore the latest revelation of the Skipper's conjugal activities.

"Next time," the doctor was continuing, "I would appreciate it if he were bathed first. One could make a weapon of his body odor. I do not know how you can stomach it and...'

"He does bathe. Frequently. In lightwash and in the ponds. It is a species trait he cannot help...it is the garment that is most offensive... And he is working on a chemical substance that should remedy things...soap he calls it. But he has not gotten the formula right yet. He only has a rudimentary knowledge of it's making. He was a submersible Captain, not a scientist."

"Well, the sooner the better. I should charge double for the smell alone..."

Tylol held his hand toward the entrance and allowed the doctor to precede him...the image faded.

**

The ménage de' trios was unlike any he had ever imagined, let alone engaged in. Exhausted, Nelson wondered what the hotel's housekeeping staff would think of the soggy messed up sheets from the king sized bed he shared with Lee and Tylol...jealousy had given way to simple acceptance. Lee was all that mattered Nelson realized as the sound of the early morning garbage truck woke him. Sighing in frustration he tried to remember just how they were doing it in the dream...but it had faded in the way of most dreams, lost and unremembered.

**

"Where is your lord and master?" Herzog said, entering the workshop a few weeks later.

"You are forbidden to come here," Vlado said, "and Tylol is not here."

"I did not mean Tylol."

"What do you want?" Vlado answered irritated.

"I merely want to try some of the exploded pond grain everyone has been speaking of."

"Popcorn. Cranelee calls it popcorn. And there is none left."

"Pity. I understand it is a good purgative."

"Get out!"

"Tell me, Vlado, now that Tylol has made the Earthman his legal mate, do you find it difficult to serve the human?"

"Cranelee is not my master."

"What else can he be now as he shares in all of Tylol's assets. Do not be surprised if you find Tylol murdered. Then Cranelee can have the death settlement as well."

"I am sure you would welcome my decease, even if he were not entitled to the funds, " Tylol said from the open outside door,

"I understand congratulations are in order; tell me, is it always your name Cranelee cries out in the throes of passion or Nel-son's?"

"If he has, it is none of your business. Speaking of business, conclude yours and be on your way."

"You are bound by law to accept my money for goods and services."

"I told you, there is no more popcorn," Vlado said.

"I do not believe you... I am within my rights in that case to stay and ask Cranelee himself."

"Suit yourself, but it will be a long wait," Tylol said," he is running along the perimeter of the township."

"Peasants," Herzog said and left.

"Well? Does he?" Vlado asked, "Does Cranelee call out the other's name when..."

"What's up with Herzog?" Lee bounded in with Sassy, fresh from his run. "He looked like he's just swallowed something bad. Didn't say anything, just glared at me...what else is new."

"He is angry there is no more popcorn,"Tylol said,

"But there's plenty. Vlado and I made some just a little while ago, before my run."

"I could not in good conscience let him have any," Vlado said, "He insulted you."

"You're a good and loyal friend, Vlado. I'm proud of you," Lee said gently, patting his shoulder.

"Cranelee?" Tylol took him aside, "Do you still pine for Nel-son? You were hesitant about the joining ritual...."

"What brought all this on? You're not sorry now, are you?"

"Never. It is the best way to protect you from those who would do you harm, but... I am reminded of when you called out Nel-son's name when we...."

"We were both a little drunk the first time and I was kind of maudlin, thinking about things that well... could have been."

"But you are...what is the word... you are okay with it? More than the legal protection you now have? Our union?"

"I was sharing your bed long before you took the oath; what do you think?"

Tylol touched his cheek softly, "Speaking of bed..."

"Vlado?" Crane said, "If we get any more visitors, we're...busy."

The couple retreated into the house and the image failed.

**

"His mate? The godamned alien his mate?" Starke yelled, in his Pearl Harbor ComSubPac office as Lt. Cmdr. Jackson turned off the TV. "The press is going to have a field day with this."

"But isn't there anyway that..."

"The fact remains that Crane's getting it in the ass and he's not objecting to it. He'll have to be dishorabley discharged. Low key probably...he saved the planet after all, but still it's a blatant case of homosexuality. There may be a few objections, but rules are rules...and there may be other people involved who'd be hurt if it's just swept under the carpet...you for example."

"Me? Lee's a good friend, nothing more."

"Then you won't object to the Navy doing it's job."

"No sir, I guess not...but..."

"All of Crane's friends, colleagues, even shipmates are at risk, they might be investigated themselves, especially if they complain about it. Now, get me Nelson..."

"Was the transmission a little garbled on your end?" Beckman was asking Nelson as Starke was piped through as a conference call, "We've been noticing a lessening of quality..."

"Now that you mention it, they have been getting a bit gritty..."

"The camera's probably failing...if it were run on batteries I'd understand, but we don't even know how the thing's working up there....it's almost as if there was a ghost image on it this time ...wait..."he bent over to listen to a few of his female staff, "What? Give me a minute Harry, there's something communications wants to check...oh hello Jiggs....there is definitely another image on the Centaur. One our staff has just examined a bit closer...they're bringing a higher resolution picture over....there..."he pointed, "The women are convinced of it, and they should know. That image, gentlemen, is a kind of sonogram, how we have no idea. That ‘ghost' image we saw occasionally in the transmission...is a child...the alien is pregnant."

**

"....So if there's any substance to the rumors," the reporter said, "Mrs. Crane may just become a grandmother!. As for the further revelations of the Commander's bedroom activities in Outer Space, the Navy is being pressured to overlook his apparent homosexual predilections, and simply remove him, if they must, without the dishonorable designation on his discharge. The situation has opened a floodgate of pros and cons regarding the entire topic of gays in the military or pseudo military as Nelson's employees are. Even Congress is being urged to review the possibility of rescinding the standing orders against homosexuality in the services.. The Admiral, aboard Seaview somewhere in the South Pacific, declined to comment...."

**

" Thought I'd find you here," Morton climbed down the ladder into the flying sub. It was the only place aboard other than his cabin or lab where Nelson would go just get away by himself.

"Do you think it's Lee's?"

"They just showed a digi-enhanced picture on TV. I guess you have to know your stuff, but the technicians point to what they say is the fetus's eyeballs. They're definitely Centaurian, and, something that looks, at least at this stage like a human penis...unless Tylol's been playing house with some other human we don't know about up there. Does Lee know, I wonder? Maybe that's why he agreed to...I guess I should call it a marriage, with the Centaur?"

"Perhaps...I doubt it though...Lee wasn't acting like a prospective parent...neither was the alien."

"Well, I sure wouldn't want either of them to be around when Herzog finds out...."

**

Crane was fast becoming an enigma as time passed without any further transmissions from Centaur. On one hand he was touted as the epitome of man's resilience and ingenuity, on the other, well, man's weakness for a pretty face, even if it was a faggy frog's.

Patterson had used his brief time ashore to place a bet on a big horse race, and was irritating everyone in the Crew's mess with shhssing them so he could watch and listen to the commentator on the sport's channel. The horses were just about to cross the finish when the scene switched unbidden by anyone on the boat or at the broadcasting station to Centaur...

 

"In there," Herzog said to the Councilor, pointing to the hallway.

"He was fatally stabbed,” the Doctor emerged, "I have logged the murder weapon."

 For an eternal moment, just about all hearts stopped beating on planet Earth.

"The unborn half-breed is dead too,” he continued, “ Neither died quickly."

"I told you Cranelee could not be trusted," Herzog said, "He nearly killed me too, before I subdued him!"

"Where is the Earthdog?"the Councilor asked.

"It has been sent to the detention center along with the human."

"And Vlado?'

"Unknown."

"I will arrange for the hearing..."the Councilor said.

"He does not deserve the courtesy," Herzog interrupted, "Execute him. Now."

"We are not uncivilized. We will act according to the law, as you should know. Here," the councilor caused Herzog’s control orb to appear on his neck, “you are returned to your former authority."

After the Councilor and Herzog disappeared in the flash of light transport, and the image failed just as the Doctor now picked up the TV Cam as a curiosity.

***

"I don't agree," Nelson said to the President on the Wardroom monitor a few hours later, "Lee Crane is about as capable of cold blooded murder as...as...as the Pope!"

"Harry, Harry...I'm not saying it was premeditated. It was probably a spur of the moment thing, a crime of passion. I mean find out your well, spouse, is pregnant with a child you don't want or maybe Herzog was right...kill the guy, get the money...."

"I don't care what it looks like! There's no way Lee..."

"Sir?' Sparks called out, "We're getting another one... but this time it's really clear....like it's cable..."

 

It was a horizontal view of a spot lit Crane in the middle of a black mirrored floor in an equally darkened arena. He was naked, disheveled and had clearly been beaten again, but there was no apparent evidence of any sexual assault this time. He was bent forward on his knees, his arms bound behind him by force field handcuffs. There was yellow Centaur blood in his waist length hair, and on his body.

"Behold the human," Herzog said, coming into view, strutting around him, "the guilt of his crime still a stench upon his body!"

"No!" Lee shouted, "I couldn't have...I..."

"Quiet," the Councilor said using a pain inducer to bend Crane further to the floor, " Continue Herzog..."

"I was outside the workshop waiting to be received. Then I heard it. A scream. I had no choice but to enter. I was too late...Tylol was dead, his life liquid spilling out of him, then this murderer lunged for me...I barely managed to subdue him and his beast."

Lee was still whimpering to himself , "I couldn't kill him, I couldn't...

"He claims," Herzog pulled Crane's head up by his hair, "that he does not remember. That he awoke to find himself as you see him, in our detention block. How very convenient. And cunning. I tell you all humans are a species of guile. Not one can be trusted. And you allowed your children to play with him!"

"Kill him!" voices began to call out. "Kill him!"

"Toys," Herzog said, waving his hand now to reveal a spot lit pile of Lee's tools, woodcarvings, and possessions," Innocent toys for your children to play with, so we would grow complacent. Tools," he picked up the murder weapon, "for hunting and eating flesh. He even told one of my trusted aides that he would eat him."

The crowd hidden in the dark arena hissed angrily.

"I do not say that Cranelee has not done us any service. The discovery of the catacombs are an interesting diversion and may prove our legends are in fact part of the history of our planet. I will not say the inferior race of Centaur does not share a common ancestor, as the human may to the tomb's occupant, but I find Cranelee's vanity that it looked just like him, disgusting. Look at him! Smell him! No, I do not need to tell you what you have already found out here. As for his motive...greed. Pure and simple. Death inheritances are substantial for the guild of Lords. But to murder for gain, especially when one's own child is at stake..."

"I didn't even know there was a child!" Lee shouted.

"You claim you do not even remember, how can you be sure of anything? Surely even a human could see what a swelling belly and illness meant."

"He said it was my cooking!"

"I find it difficult to believe the Centaur who so treasured you to enough to elevate you to his station by taking the oath of mateship, would not tell you of the child's impending arrival, half breed though it was. I ask the Council members that Cranelee be put to death. Let us be rid of him, and humankind, once and for all," Herzog finished to the applause of the crowd, his ring glinting in the spotlight. Lee furrowed his brows.

"Destroy Earth! Destroy the humans!" the crowd shouted.

"I didn't kill anyone!" Crane yelled, "And Herzog knows it! Can't you see he's using you? All of you...I didn't kill Tylol, he did!"

The Centaurs laughed, unseen from the arena..

"Let the Earthman speak. We still have laws here, before the members vote," the Councilor said.

"He must have drugged us somehow," Crane said, " maybe when he purchased some hooch, then later, when we'd blacked out, killed Tylol and put the knife in my hand...how else would he take the ring? My ring! I gave it to Tylol last night; he swore never to take it off! Never!"

"It had slipped from his finger," Herzog said, "I meant no disrespect. I am honoring his memory."

"Honor? You don't know the meaning of the word!"

Herzog used his pain inducer.

"Remove the pain. I am still in charge here," the Councilor said.

"Apologies Councilor," Herzog released the charge.

"And return the ring to him."

Herzog removed Lee's ring reluctantly, and flung it to the floor in front of the prostrate form.

"There are no witnesses on behalf of the accused," the Councilor continued, "Did the Interrogator cap find nothing out?"

"Of the murder, nothing,” Herzog said, “ Even it can not bring up a lost memory. But it did reveal his treachery when augmented by physical persuasion. He admitted that Earth plans invasion, the first wave of which shall be launched from his own submersible, the Seaview.."

"That's a lie!" Lee shouted, back on his knees.

"What is our weapon status?" the Councilor asked.

"Excellent. The humans are aware of some of our energy patterns. I have altered our transport waves to a pattern their primitive net cannot see nor shield them from."

"Why was this not done before?"

"It had not yet been perfected."

"And the weapon?"

"Behold,” he waved his hand a crystalline ball about the size of an apple appeared on it’s spot lit pedestal. "Once transported to Earth, and aboard Seaview, it will use the vessel’s own frequencies to launch her weapons. The humans will retaliate all over their world and soon it will be nothing more than a wasteland fit for nothing more advanced than the cockroaches Cranelee is so fond of speaking of to some of you."


"You may prepare it for use against Earth.'

"And the prisoner?" Herzog asked.

"The evidence shows his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. .."

"No! No! No! I didn't do it! I couldn't have! I..."

"And we of the Council are in agreement that he be put to death at our convenience."

"Now!" the crowd yelled, "Now!"

"It is decided," the Councilor said. Crane was pulled to stand upright by two guards. Herzog picked up the ring from the floor and played with it in his hands, "Ah well, I'll get it back soon enough," he laughed, and handed it to a guard who placed it on Lee's hand behind him. "And this time you will predecease your kind. Call it a kind of ...insurance."

"Does the prisoner have a last request before execution?" the Councilor asked.

"Sas...I want to see my dog."

"Very well, " the Councilor ordered.

"Unbind him," the Councilor said, as the dog ran to him, "but maintain a manual hold."

Lee was released from the force cuffs, his arms still held by the two behemoths, as he hugged and petted Sassy.

"How touching," Herzog said, "I suppose you want to play a game of catch too," he said sarcastically.

Crane suddenly remembered the catacomb’s floating ball. And Herzog's weapon was based on sound and crystal...what if, well, there was only one way to find out...Herzog's control orb was already set to send the weapon to Seaview...he could die in the attempt, and it wasn't really fair to Sassy to put her at risk, but there was no way he would leave her and no way he could stay here..."Yes, actually,” Lee said, “The blue ball, the one that floats in the air.."

"It is so ordered,' the councilor said and within a few moments it was handed to Crane.

"I was being sarcastic," Herzog said.

"Then you play with it!" Lee suddenly threw the ball hard against the floor, the ear shattering noise causing the crystalline weapon to shatter and the Centaurs grovel to the floor in pain. Before the startled guards could resume their hold, Lee had pulled the control orb over and off of Herzog's neck, held on to Sassy, and in one last desperate move, twisted the device until he felt the set pulses and was gone.

"We're getting the beam, Admiral!" Sparks yelled as the light beam image was superimposed on the bottom left screen of the monitor while the image from the arena was still being shown...

 "You see?"Herzig complained, "The treachery of Earthmen! The destruction of my weapon!"

"You are the one who is treacherous! Just as Cranelee said," a dusty Centaur said, out of breath, entering the arena.

"Vlado!" the Councilor said, "where have you been?'

"The doctor transported me my mistake, he did not realize he was using a modified orb. Herzog told to him to destroy me because I saw him, Herzog, killing Tylol. He must not have realized his was a modified orb at the time. I have run all the way from the outer perimeter."

"You lie!"Herzig yelled.

"No," the doctor admitted " Vlado speaks truly. I will not loose my life for you Herzog. I only helped to knock the lovers out. I did not use the knife."

"You are excused from execution," the Councilor said, "But you will be suspended from practicing medicine again."

"I am content with the punishment."

"Death seems too lenient for you Herzog. Do not smirk. I wonder how well you will survive in the Forbidden Zone with nothing to help you survive." In a flash of light he vanished.

"I took this, as a memento,” the doctor said, the image jerking as he handed the TV Cam to Vlado.

"It is blinking, it has never done that..."Vlado said confused, no one paying him any attention.

"Our sensors indicate that the transport was in flux," a Councilor's aide said." It is doubtful the human survived."

"Then, we need no fear of future contact, friendly or otherwise...this hearing is adjourned... So" the Councilor returned attention to Vlado, " now that Tylol is dead, what will you do?"

"Perhaps...I will sell popcorn."

Both laughed gently, and as the image became weaker with intermittent flashes, the viewers on Earth could see Vlado looking up and saying, "goodbye Cranelee." The signal failed. Not even snow showed now...nothing.

 

A minute passed, five, ten...much longer than the beams had ever taken before...perhaps...well...

Suddenly there was a flash of light aboard in the control room.

Lee lay sprawled on Seaview’s control room deck, dazed, hugging the scared and whimpering dog close to him. Then he saw he was lying near the base of the periscope island, so the rubber decking got a hysterical hug and kiss as well as he kept telling Sassy as if he couldn't believe it, “It worked! It worked!' and groped himself into a more upright position, finally taking in the sight of his stunned officers and crew above him... "Permission to come aboard Chip?" he asked weakly.

"Permission granted,” Morton said, his voice choked in emotion, "Welcome home!"

Everyone clapped and greeted Lee with one welcoming phrase or another, then his emotions caught up with him and he sank against the island wall and began to sob, overwrought and exhausted. Nelson was bent over him in moments, taking his trembling form into his arms. Lee lost it then, and began to cry in sheer relief against his comforting chest. Sassy was a little confused, and a little wary, but showed her concern by squeezing her nose between his face and Nelson's chest, and giving him a lick.

"Admiral?" Doc said softly after a few minutes, taking over ,wrapping the still all too emotional and unclothed and rather odiferous Crane up in a warm blanket, "I'll take him, somebody do something about this dog.'

"Sassy. Her name's Sassy," Sharkey said as Nelson and Doc helped pull Lee to his feet.

"We'll take care of her Lee," Chip said, "you go on to sickbay..."

Lee stumbled, fortunately Doc held him firmly on one side, Nelson the other, "I guess I don't have my Earth legs back yet...."

Just about every crewman who could squeezed themselves into his path and said something as he was helped to Sickbay. Sassy refused to be kept away, and took her rightful place at his side along the route.

**

"Well?" Nelson asked, changing his tear stained shirt, as Morton entered the cabin.

"We're civilians again, and I've laid the course for home. The President wants us to have an escort," he handed Nelson a communiqué, "Every vessel in the Navy wants the honor, he's leaving it to us to choose the lucky six. Lee's the most important man on the whole planet...."

"Any idea when Doc'll be finished? He kicked me out point blank. He even sent the corpsman away for coffee after a few minutes they tell me. I've never known Will to that. Chip? Did Lee look worse in person to you?"

"I didn't want to say anything, but yes, he does..."

Nelson folded his discarded shirt, too carefully, Chip noticed, like a treasured relic he thought, and placed it on the edge of his bunk.

Even the relatively small piece of fabric had soaked up Lee's stench that even now the maintenance crew was trying to mask with disinfectant in the Control Room. Perhaps, Chip thought, he should have them drop by Nelson's as well.

"Frank," Doc's voice came over the PA, "You can return to Sickbay now."

"Right away Doc," was the answer.

"You didn't have to send him away you know," Crane's weak voice came over unaware he was ‘live’ on the Doctor's desk intercom.

"The irritations are still bad, Lee; and those abscesses haven't healed well at all. Frankly I'm surprised you allowed Tylol any conjugal rights after either rapes and..."

"How do you know about Tylol?" Lee gasped.

"Of course, you wouldn't know... The space module's TV camera...you got it to work."

"What?"

"Not very well, it really only came through when certain Centaurs were in range...we only had glimpses now and then, nothing...explicit except for.... except for when Herzog assaulted you the first time..and then those were pretty much only shadows. But...we did see a few other things, little glimpses of your life.... Sparks has the entire compliment of the transmissions recorded if you'd like to see them..."

"Not particularly," Lee said bitterly, “there are some things I don't want to remember...But, I think I'd better, especially since I'll have to face some pretty loud music about...certain things...so how am I otherwise?"

"In a nutshell, you’re dehydrated, malnourished, and severely bruised. Normally you should have died from the peritonitis and hemorrhaging. I don’t know how they treated you, but it probably saved your life. You have premature arthritis, early osteoporosis, but that is probably due to the lack of calcium in your food, two of your teeth are loose. I'm surprised you can't feel it. Eye strain, probably from the atmosphere and their sunlight. Abnormal buildup of toxins we'll have to keep an eye on, might have to put you on dialysis to begin with. And there's something that shows a family resemblance to Pentothal, it may be what the doctor used to knock you and Tylol out and surprisingly, your hair follicles have grown at an accelerated rate on your scalp but your facial growth has slowed."

For a moment there was silence.

"If that's a nutshell, what's the full report?"

"Simply, aside from some badly needed rest and nourishment, you'll live to complain about Jell-O another day."

"If you let me brush my teeth, I'll eat all the jell-O you want," Lee laughed weakly.

"That's it...lean on me...oh Frank, you're back, good. Give us a hand will you? To help him get cleaned up? We'll use the disinfectant wash...and...oh shit,"he said as the corpsman clicked the intercom off.

***

"No, Mrs. Crane," Morton said on the private line coming through the Radio Shack about an hour later. "I haven't had a chance to speak with him yet...he, we, were all a bit overwhelmed...he's in sickbay...no, I haven't gotten a report yet...yes, I'm sure Lee will want to speak with you as soon as possible...well, a bit thin...seems a bit weak..." Morton stepped aside as the cleaning crew completed the finishing touches spraying the aerosol and mopping the deck kill Crane's lingering odor... "No, the Admiral hasn't had a chance yet either...but it shouldn't be long....yes, I'll tell him...goodbye," he signaled Sparks to disconnect.

***

"So, what do you really think?" Nelson asked Doc as he poured himself a stiff drink and joined Jamison and Chip in the Observation Nose later that evening.

"His physical condition is bad enough, but not life threatening now that he can get the proper care. To be honest, I'm more concerned about the emotional trauma he's been through, all of it, and we have accept that he's in effect lost a spouse, and an unborn child, regardless of any personal feelings to the contrary. He might not seem too upset about it right now, but Tylol's death is going to catch up with him as well as everything's he been through.. if it hasn't begun to already...Frank was going to cut his hair after he shaved, but Lee stopped him and said ‘Ty’ liked it long...then he just clamed up and said he was going to call his mother..."

"Doc? Doc?" Frank called on the PA frantically. "I've lost the patient!"

"Use the paddles! I'll be right there!" Doc hollered into the intercom on the desk.

"No, no, that's not what I mean! He's not dead, he's missing! I left him alone to call home, but when I came back he was gone...I searched the immediate area, I'm in officer's country now...no sign of him and..."

"Lee? Lee?" Chip said into the mike, "pick up....Lee, if you can hear me, pick up..." he waited a moment, then "Attention all hands," Chip said after a moment;, "this is Morton. You heard him, all off duty personal, search for Captain Crane. He could be lying unconscious someplace."

"You don't think them frogs took him back again?" Sharkey said worriedly.

"Damn I hope not."

"Found him sir," Ski's voice came over with a slight chuckle. "He's in the brig."

"The brig?

"Yeah, he's all cuddled up with the dog. Sound asleep...I guess he wanted to see her. You want me to wake him up?

"No," Doc said. I'll be there in a moment..."

***

Sassy began to growl as Doc bent over Crane.

"Look," he whispered, "I'm just checking..."

"Mhphh?" Lee turned... "uh oh," he took in the sight of Jamison, Frank and Nelson beside him, and the crowd of grinning crewmen just outside of the open cell. "Shh, Sas...it's okay," he took Doc's hand," see, friend," he yawned, and she did likewise, but the dog still planted herself in front of her master, daring anyone to disturb him.

"You nearly gave me a heart attack," Will said. "When Frank said he'd lost the patient..."

"Wha..."Lee began to laugh, "well, I guess I might be gaining a roomie..."he said as Will helped him sit up.

"C'mon, back to sickbay Lee," Nelson said.

"Do I have to? Look, I know she was put her here for sanitary reasons, but...honestly...it's clean, has it's own head...give me a couple of blankets and it'll be the Hilton."

Everyone laughed.

"She saved my life," he said softly scruffing her head. "If she hadn't been up there, I...I don't know if I could have gone on..."

"Well?" Nelson asked Jamison.

"It's as clean as sickbay or I ain't the chief,"Sharkey said.

"Chip?" Will asked Morton, "Talk him out of it, or I won't be responsible."

"We washed the dog real good, sir..."Sharkey said to Morton, "when the Skipper was getting scrubbed, we figured she'd better be too. Smells real good now too don't she sir?"

"I think you're outnumbered Will," Morton said, as Patterson showed up with a pile of fresh bedclothes, including more pillows and blankets that Crane or the dog could possibly use, "all right. No, Lee, let Pat make your bunk up, as for the rest of us, let's get out of here and let Captain Crane get some sleep."

"Sweet dreams, sir," Sharkey said.

"Thanks...I think I'm long overdue for a few..."

Finally, a chance to speak with him, Nelson thought as Pat finished making up the bunk, and the area cleared. Unfortunately the security camera clicked on. Doc's suggestion no doubt. Not a good time to have a heart to heart...

"Well, Lee, I think those dreams waiting in the wings are a bit more important than anything I have to say just now...we'll talk later...sleep well."

***

It should have been easy to sleep, knowing the Earth was safe and Lee was back, but Nelson looked at his clock. 0456. he might as well give up. In less than twenty minutes he was showered, shaved, and in uniform and headed to the Nose. The spot lit waves on the bow windows indicated they were on the surface, and he headed to the Control Room.

"Shooting the stars, Mr. O'Brian?"

"No sir, Captain Crane requested it. Don't worry sir, Connors is up there with him."

"I think I'd better join them," Nelson climbed up.

Crane was in s pajamas and bathrobe, leaning on the coaming and looking up at the stars.

Connors gave Nelson a puzzled ‘I don't know’ look with his arms. Nelson dismissed him a nod.

"Do you want to talk about it Lee?" Nelson asked gently after they were alone.

"He didn't deserve to die..."

"I'm sorry Lee. I know it's hard to loose someone you..."he fought for the word.

"Someone you fuck? Like a cheap whore?" Lee misinterpreted Nelson's hesitation. “Isn’t that what you were going to say? I've seen what the press has been saying...it wasn't like that..."

"I'm sure it wasn't...tell me about him, Lee."

"He...he had a kind heart...only it took me awhile to realize it...then...things started to...happen...I didn't plan for it....and I'm not saying it was love, Admiral. Not like...not like the kind that's...forever...but I liked him, I really did...maybe it was a kind of love...damn, I...I miss him," he said noticeably surprised at the revelation.

"He gave you companionship and affection in an hostile and alien world, and you returned it, I'd say that's love..."

"Perhaps...what's going to happen now? The Navy's not going to want me anywhere near any boat, not even Seaview. I'm not ashamed of what I did up there. I won’t apologize for it. So, how do you feel about it...me being a fag now," Lee said bitterly.

"Lee, you can't think that I'd.."

"Excuse me sirs," Sharkey popped up "But Doc's heard the Skipper's up here, and you'd better come down before he bursts a blood vessel or something..."

"In a minute Chief," Crane said.

"But sir.."

"He said in a minute," Nelson ordered. Sharkey was torn between obedience and the knowledge that Doc was going to lay into Crane. "Go on, get below Chief."

"Admiral?” Lee waited till Sharkey was well out of sight and hearing, “There's something...something I have to tell you...something you should know. I just don't know how to tell you...you won't like it..."

"Lee," Nelson touched his shoulder.

"No, wait...I know you'll hate me...but I can't...I can't go on without letting you know...even the way I feel, felt about Tylol. when I was up there...even when I had his devotion, I still kept looking up in the night sky, searching for a familiar star, any star I might recognize, any star that was a part of Earth...part of... you. No, let me finish...you see...even before...even before I was taken...I...I had thoughts....dreams...about you...us...intimate dreams...sex dreams. I don't know why. I'd never thought of a guy like that before. I wanted you so bad it hurt...it still does...even if I miss Ty and loved him in a way, it's you I, I guess I could say worship...there, I've said it," Lee let out a breath, "I just want you to know I understand how you must feel, that I'm unworthy to be your friend and deserve the discharge."

"Lee," Nelson placed his fingertips on Lee's lips, "Did you ever stop to think that I might feel the same way about you?"

"But..."

"Trust me, I know exactly how you feel, how we both feel," Nelson grabbed Lee close and pulled his head down to meet his lips with his own then, "I'm just sorry neither of us took steps to tell each other earlier. You're the fulfillment of my life, Lee. You are my heart, my soul, my very reason for existing...I know that sounds a bit syrupy, maybe it is, or maybe I read it somewhere, but the fact is that I love you Lee Crane...and maybe it's frowned on, and illegal in just about every state in the Union, and means a dishonorable discharge for me too, but... will you do me the honor... of being my...mate?"

"No, I won't be responsible for ruining your life."

"Haven't you heard a word I've said? You are my life.."

"Skipper?"Sharkey's voice called up... "Doc says if you're not in Sickbay in five seconds he's gonna come after you with a hypo and knock you out for a week....and uh oh...too late."

"We'll talk later," Nelson said and herded Lee toward the ladder.

"How could you!" the pajama clad Doc was berating O'Brian, "How could you let him spend 45 minutes up there in nothing more substantial than a pair of pajamas and bathrobe! You want him to catch his death?"

"Enough," Lee said as he was helped down the ladder by Nelson above and then by Sharkey below until he stood before the physician. "I talked him into letting me go topside. I lost track of time, that's all."

"He's still the OOD and it's his responsibility to keep even you from making stupid errors of judgment!"

"Don't talk to me about errors in judgment!" Lee suddenly yelled, furious. "Don't you think I've had a belly full of them?! My own, the Navy's? Everyone's?!"

"Sickbay," Doc ordered after a troubled pause at Lee's outburst.

"Okay, okay...sorry I got you into trouble O'Brian. It won't happen again.." he shrugged off Jamison's assist and did as ordered albeit slowly and leaning against the bulkhead now and then for support.

***

Frank reported on time at 0600, only to find Jamison fuming at his desk. He was already dressed.

"We heard about the Skipper's little tantrum...you okay?"

"Me? I'm fine. It's Lee I'm worried about...I knew the stress would catch up with him...he didn't say a word to me when I got him here. I even tried my usual horse and buggy stories from my grandfather when I took his vitals, gave him a brief exam, silly jokes that he likes..anything to get him to say something. Finally he simply looked at me with an expression that'd freeze Hades. I simply nodded to the door when I was finished and he was gone."

"Well, you were kind of hard on Mr. O'Brian...Skipper's kinda' possessive of his ‘only I can chew the crew out like that’ rights."

"No, that may have triggered his outburst, but I'm convinced this is something else..."

“He's got a lot on his mind..."

"I just hope he can handle the official debriefing...the team'll be here before noon. I hope he gets a little more rest..."

**

Thompson carried the morning meal of cereal and raw meat to the brig for Sassy, surprised to find her alone. Usually she and Crane were joined at the hip. He even tended to the necessary doggy housekeeping chores and had been grooming the dog with the luxury of a brush and comb. But it wasn't her combed fur in the wastebasket, Thompson noticed, it was Crane's long hair. In a way he felt sorry. It was all over the boat that he'd kept it that length out of respect for his deceased..uh...whatever it had been between him and the alien.

**

"Admiral? Harry?” Lee tried the unfamiliar but more intimate name, “Did you mean it?" Lee asked, still in his pj's and bathrobe, as he stood at Nelson's half open door, after the man's ‘enter’ to his knock. "What you said topside? And everything that goes with...that type of companionship?"

"Every word of it Lee."

"I...I've never actually done it with a guy before...if you don't count the Centaurs..."

"Neither have I," Nelson stretched out his hand, " so we'll just have to learn together..."

**

"But he said he was fine!" O'Brian insisted over breakfast aka his supper, now that the graveyard watch was over.

"He always says he's fine," Morton replied, " that doesn't mean he is...you know that. At least you should. You've served with him long enough for God's sake."

"He wanted to go topside. What else could I do? We were already on the surface. I'd just shot the stars and when bang, there he was looking up me from below the hatch asking if he could get some fresh air. If you'd seen his eyes..."

"We're all suckers for his ‘puppy’ looks, not that he uses them much but still, as Acting Exec you should have had the gumption to decline or at least to check with Doc first. Do you know if he'll be okay for the debrief? The men in black are due in a few hours."

"Sick bay hasn't said anything to the contrary."

"That's a relief at least."

**

Ski had pulled mop and bucket duty was just rounding the corner when he noticed Crane's dog sniffing her way toward the Admiral's cabin. "Hey, girl," Ski called, "You lost?" Suddenly he heard a muffled cry from inside the cabin. Ski was about to knock and offer assistance for whatever Nelson had bumped into when he heard more, a rhythmic bumping that was quickening. Sassy simply curled up in front of the door and took a post breakfast snooze. The original cries were beginning to take on recognizable ownership, then were joined by Nelson's. Oh God, they weren't cries of pain, at least, not all of them. Some might have been, but.... Ski decided the deck looked clean enough for him, but just as he turned the corner he bumped head on into Sharkey.

"You knucklehead!" Sharkey said from the deck, the bucket stopping it roll against his leg, "why don't you watch where you're going!"

Just then the fast moving O'Brian came up behind him and slipped on the wet deck and careened past them.

"Oh gawd! Oh gawd! Oh Harry!" Crane screamed.

It was then that the XO and the Chief realized what their ears hadn't quite registered before, as the bucking bunk became louder and louder and faster and faster...and from what each knew was the only cabin in the adjoining companionway. O'Brian gingerly peered around the corner. No, they hadn't imagined it. Crane's dog was a sort of proof that the man had to be inside, and...

"Aghhghh!"Nelson yelled, as Crane added his own wail of orgiastic excitement. Then there was silence.

"It's just some air in the vents makn' all that racket isn't it Mr. O'Brian?" Sharkey asked hopefully, knowing full well it wasn't.

"Of course it is...it’s all in the pipes..."O'Brian lied.

"And Sassy knows the Admiral's a sucker for getting a treat...he keeps them in his desk, chocolate cupcakes and stuff..."Ski added his own uh...explanation.

But they knew. And they knew they all knew.

"This incident never happened, right sir?" Ski asked.

"Just hurry up and clean that deck before somebody breaks his neck," O'Brian ordered and limped away as quickly as possible.

**

The two lay entangled, sticky and sore from their double intercourse.

"You sure you're okay Lee? You're raw and that blood...."

"It's nothing. I told you, just an odd abbesses that bursts open now and then, that's all. You're sore too you know..."

"Anyone would be sore with that outsized dick of yours in their ass. But you can't hide it. I know I hurt you, no matter what you said. I..I just didn't want to stop," he ran a hand over Lee's right nipple, then the missing one's scar...I guess I was a little...anxious.."

"Okay, okay, I’ll admit it hurt a bit, but it's not enough to make us celibate....besides there's a fine line between pain and pleasure. And the pleasure was incredible."

"All right, all right, my ears are still ringing with your appreciation...but I still want you to tell me if I ever hurt you too badly...understood?"

"Aye aye sir," Crane gave him a mock salute.

Nelson ran a loving hand through Lee's hair, "You'll want the barber to do this over. Lee...I didn't want you to feel you had to give up Ty's memory..."

"I haven't..but it was nothing like this...to be owned by you...possessed...utterly and completely part of you. It's awesome enough just to know you love me, but it's mind blowing physically. I love you Harriman Nelson. Until the stars fall from the sky itself, I'll never let you go."

"Nor I you."

For a moment both men just enjoyed holding each other. There hadn't been time for finesse in consummating the need to merge their bodies. There had been no real foreplay, no fondling. They hadn't really thought of it, as it was something foreign to them outside of man/woman sex. Now, after the fact, they found their hands had minds of their own and began to tenderly stroke and brush each other's bodies, while searching each other's lips...time stood still...

**

"Anybody see the Skipper?" Frank asked as he popped his head into the crew's mess, "It's time for his pills and he's not in the brig..."

"Well, I haven't seen him," Cookie said, clearing away the last of the hot food from breakfast, "Thompson? You took the scraps to the dog..."

"Wasn't there when I fed Sassy..."

***

"Hey ski," Patterson said as he joined Ski in the crew's quarters, "Watch your step, Starke’s aboard. Talked himself into the debrief. The guys in black are setting up in the conference room while Morton’s escorting him to the Admiral’s cabin right now and...what?”

Ski had practically turned green and dashed out post haste in the hopes of postponing the inevitable, but it was too late. Morton just stood in the corridor, Starke beside him, his hand on the doorknob, the door itself wide open....

"Hmmm..that's nice," Lee was awakening from the doze in the darkened cabin. His nude form was hardly hidden in the mussed sheets. The dog had bounded in was licking his face, "Sass, what are you doing here, you know, for a moment I thought you were..." he suddenly realized the light was from the open door.....

"Lee," the freshly showered Nelson was saying as he emerged from the head, "I'm in the mood for pancakes, how abou..."

Starke was looking at Nelson in disappointment, and Morton's face was a study in non-emotion, as he simply turned and closed the door as Ski nearly bumped into him.

"Watch where you going sailor," Starke said. "Did you know about this?” he added.

Ski said nothing.

"Kowalski?" Morton said blankly but meaning business.

"I..uh..well no..not really, I mean we had our suspicions..."

"We?'

There was no way out of it, Ski sighed and told the simple truth, “Me, Sharkey.And Mr. O'Brian.."

"Chip?" Lee emerged in nothing but his bathrobe. Damn he was good looking, Morton couldn't help thinking. Even disheveled and gaunt, Cane'd turn the heads of a hundred straight men. Turning slightly pink with the unintentional mental pun, he was still pretty disgusted with him." We need to talk," Lee continued.

"I don't think that's necessary Commander Crane," Starke said, "I'd say the circumstances speak pretty well for themselves, don't you? You, sailor, I'll need your testimony as a witness," he said as Ski was trying to sneak away. "And there I'd been thinking," he continued to Crane, that maybe I'd gotten it wrong, that you had to submit to survive, but here, now, safe and sound, you're...you're actually...actually...and with Harriman! You and only you could have corrupted him, seduced him! Is that how you became the youngest sub Commander in Navy? Slept your way to the top? Is that it? Is it?"

"Now, wait a minute Jiggs," Nelson had finally managed at least to pull on some pants before confronting his old friend. "You know damn well that..."

"Commander Morton?"Starke ignored him, "You saw. And I want those sheets bagged for evidence, and an examination by the CMO of both of them,” he huffed off.

"Well that went well," Lee said, as Nelson was already racing after Starke , to complain or confront, Lee didn't know.

"Lee?" Chip asked, a zillion questions in his mind, then realized the crewman was still there. "Kowalski, Admiral Starke gave you an order; go to security and come back with the evidence protocols."

Ski reluctantly obeyed.

"We're not ashamed of it," Lee explained to Morton, gently." We knew there'd be consequences, but what we don't know is, in spite of everything, can you still be our friend?"

Chip looked hard at Crane. His hair was uneven, wildly curled, and though the long tresses had been untidily sheered off, it was still too long for military standards. Five o clock shadow stubbled his face...hollow cheeks and yellowed skin under dark bruises and scaring told of the months of malnourishment and torment. But his eyes...it was his eyes that were Chip's undoing...there was an innocence there...a pleading innocence that confirmed crane believed irrevocably in what he'd said...

Morton sighed, there was no way he could stay angry with this man... "I'll....try," gently touching Lee's shoulder, but just as quickly removing his hand, embarrassed.

"Don't worry, it's not contagious," Lee said.

**

"Don't speak to me right now Harry," Starke said firmly as Nelson caught up to him in the corridor.

"What is wrong with you? You know what I told you about...."

"I also know that you'd never take action. He must have talked you into it."

"He didn't talk me into anything! And for your information, I asked Lee to be my mate, not the other way around."

"Your what?"

"My mate. Call it what you will, companion, partner, a kind of wedded even if you get right down to it, and Lee agreed. And if you'd like all the sordid details, we consummated that agreement this morning. That forensic exam of the sheets and the medical you want will reveal we were quite active in that department. In fact, I fucked him so hard he bled. But do you know what? He encouraged me...he even lied about it not hurting...because he wanted to satisfy me, us, because we love each other so much, yes, Love, a word you seem to have little respect for, that we wanted to be as close to each other as humanly possible, to be inside each other...and right now he is...oh you can't see him, but Lee's essence, his very presence, cum is the common vernacular if a stuffed up prude like you doesn't know the word, is moistening my pants even now. And I am damn glad of it. Now you tell me just who seduced whom!"

"I think I should warn you that even that revelation will have to go in my report."

"Without Lee," Nelson said quietly, "without Lee, in a covenant relationship, my life would be a living death....do you really want that for me, old friend?"

"I can't allow a past friendship to keep me from my duty. Damnit Harriman! I don't have the luxury of ignoring what I've heard or seen. Space hero or not, Crane's a disgrace to his uniform, to his country, and everything's that decent. And now you! I won't say anything about this development to the debriefing team. Just let them get it over with before I have to report this and the Navy take's action. You know, it's ironic, the SECNAV told me this morning they were just going to sweep it under the carpet, sex with the frog...JAG stressed some kind of technicality that it had a female gender and it was nobody's business how frog couple has sex, but now..."

"All you saw was Lee in my bunk."

"Harry...I can't...it's my job....." he walked off as Crane approached Nelson, having heard the tail end of the conversation.

For a moment neither said anything about the retreating form.

"Are you okay?" Lee asked.

"I will be, as long as I have you."

**

Crane, in a uniform only a couple of sizes too big, recalled what he could about his ordeal and observations on the other world for the debriefing team. But when they had the gall to require technical explanations and rough sketches of the alien sex acts, from the brutal to the sublime, Nelson was embarrassed, Doc was intrigued, and Starke felt uneasy. Crane was a hussy, he mused, and the more responsible of Nelson's infatuation, of that he had no doubt, but was it worth destroying two fine officers?

**

It was with some relief that Starke felt compelled to return with the team instead of his planned stay aboard Seaview for her hero's return home. And as for the great sub's Naval escort, it was a disappointment for them when she had only surfaced to relieve herself of the debriefing team to the chopper and sank back into the depths to be unseen until she came closer in range to home.

** 

"... enthusiastic crowds gathering as close as they can to the Nelson Institute," the TV reporter was saying as Admiral Starke wearily stopped by his office a few days later. It had been a long way back and two flights back to his base of operations. Too bad that chopper couldn't have grown jet engines, “...which has been a beehive of activity awaiting the return of Seaview and Commander Crane, which, if the submarine is on schedule, should arrive within the next few hours. Streamers, balloons, ribbons and holiday lights have not only begun to appear on Institute buildings that can be seen from the beach and the roads, but in the town as well. security has been heightened everywhere and there is an almost carnival like atmosphere..."

 

 "How did he look sir?" Starke’s aide Lt. Cmdr. Jackson asked after he'd made the call to the Navy's forensic lab for Starke.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Huh? I mean he was so thin in those pictures from outer space and..."

"He'll live," Starke said slamming the door to his inner office and picked up the phone. He listened to the report then asked confused, "What do you mean there's no sign of sexual activity on the sheets?"

"This is a test, right?" the technician asked.

"No, this is not a test. There's no semen?"

"There's nothing, no DNA, no hair, no sweat, except for some normal dust mites that like to eat cotton, the sheets are relatively sterile. Not even a fingerprint..."

"Sir?" Jackson asked Starke, "Seaview's almost back, "would you like to join us in the cafeteria to watch? We're kind of having a party."

"I have work to do," Starke said, dismissing the jr. officer, envying Nelson and Crane their crew's loyalty for tampering with the evidence...the sheets had to have been brand spanking new...and there was the official report from Morton, standard sub movement, Crane's return, but the medical report was delayed due to ‘equipment trouble.’ Even Starke knew Doc could have simply eyeballed the evidence.

 

"... The escort has been spotted just outside the Santa Barbara Harbor by our news helicopter..we're going live..'

"...The sub hasn't come up yet, ' a voice from the chopper said, ".some pleasure yachts are being warned off by the Coast Guard and a few harbor police boats.They'll have their hands full as...there she is!...'

Horns, whistles, and cheering men and women aboard the escort fleet greeted the great sub as she broached the surface. People in the cafeteria did as well.

".... Some crewmen have cracked the hatch in the conning tower, I think that's the correct term.... I think that's acting Captain Morton and...there's Admiral Nelson joining him and...'

The noise was deafening as it exploded from the escort ships.

"...'There he is! There he is! Captain Crane is on the ...what? I've just been informed that the bells of the old Santa Barbara Mission have begun to ring! Smaller pleasure boats are trying to edge there way closer..as you can see,.it's got to be a nightmare to navigate in that sea of small craft as the submarine gets closer to where the Navy escort will finally have to break off and the sub will make for the NIMR channel....I've just been told that bells, and horns from churches and police stations have begun to sound across the country...'

"...'That's right," the main reporter came into view. ...'I don't think there's been a time in recorded history when someone has been given such a welcome home...even the NY stock exchange has closed to watch via satellite...Congress has recessed to witness Captain Crane's return..we're turning you over to NIMR itself..."

"...Wwe can't see the sub yet from our position here at the main dock at the Nelson Institute," a new voice said, "but the President and Mrs. Crane have been told of her imminent arrival...the small cortege of vehicles stands by to whisk them away to a private ranch owned by the Governor who's here too...the security arrangements have been a nightmare....just about all NIMR employees are waving signs and balloons and sparklers... we should also remember they have loved ones they're greeting too....did you hear that? That boom was from a borrowed cannon placed on the outcrop of NIMR property overlooking the shore...the boat has made it's way into the special channel and should be...there she is! Just a few minutes more....some crewmembers are taking their positions on deck...she's raised the flag...she's coming in..'"

"...' Nelson and Crane have dissapeared below deck,' the chopper reporter said...'while Acting Captain Morton gives orders to bring the great sub into her berth...'"

"...'Whoa, don't slip Mr. President," the NIMR reporter said, "That patch of dirt and mud from this afternoon's storm is from where some new paving is going to be laid...Mrs. Crane looks well don't you think considering the strain she must have been under all this time...and the boat has docked and is being secured. Captain Morton has left the conning tower..."

"...'Nelson is the first off the sub, a few pleasantries with the President.....Captain Morton is taking care of a few details...it looks like the crew has been dismissed but they're all waiting, as we are...and there he is! You couldn't hear a jumbo jet with all the cheering! Sassy's with him, truly mans' best friend...Crane's saying a few words to his crew, to Captain Morton...now...ah,there's the salute to the flag at the back of the boat...'"

"...Sstern."

"...'Stern .He's walking down the gangplank...and he steps ashore saluting the President and..takes his mother into his arms who's practically smothering him in kisses...she's being introduced to Sassy...who's sticking next to Crane like glue, a bit confused by all the excitement...what's he doing?He's kneeling on the ground and picking up some dirt...Ah, showing the dog what it is...oh my God...he's holding some against his face...he's...a bit overcome...oh the simple act of reverence...the good Earth...the crowd here is just as emotional...tears everywhere...he's being helped up by his mother and Nelson...and escorted to one of the waiting limos...but first he...look! He's pointing to a rainbow...and like he's grabbing it, and now bringing his hand back down to his lips....my God, if I live to be a hundred I will never forget the drama of this day....what a heart wrenching smile on his tear stained face as the Captain waves to the crowd and gets in the limo with his mother as the President takes his leave of Nelson and retreats into his with the Governor, planned to give the Crane's a little badly needed privacy. Now they're heading off to the ranch....the route has been classed as a no fly zone so we can't bring you pictures from our chopper... and now the rest of Seaview's crew departs the boat and greets their families....I'd like to say it's going to be some party here in Santa Barbara...indeed...around the world...'"

 

Back in Starke's office the official form was waiting for his signature. He'd filled it out himself in his bold hand as soon as he'd gotten back to ComSubPac but now... he glanced at the TV he'd been unable to bring himself to turn off... the hell with the rules, he ripped the form up, and tossed the remnants into the garbage.

**

Nelson sank into his overstuffed lounge chair in his bungalow at NIMR. Not his prime residence, it was a convenience he was glad off...he could still hear the noise of the remaining employees who had no other family members waiting...even some cheap firecrackers were heard...supervised of course by security on the NIMR outcrop. The same one he'd dreamed of taking Lee...

His private line rang and he picked it up wondering, hoping...only a few people had this number, and Lee was one of them.

"Nelson."

"Harriman?"

"Jiggs? I thought you weren't speaking to me until after the courts martial you planned."

"There’s not going to be one. Now listen you old seadog, there's an official mission I have for you. A Navy mission."

"What? We just got back! My crew needs a rest. The boat is going in for refit while Crane's on R&R..."

"We know that. But Crane may be out of it awhile. Anyway, the temp. Captain’s been selected by the top brass."

"Jiggs, they can't do this. Besides, Morton's more than proved his mettle..."

"I wouldn't be so hasty if I were you. You’re lucky I didn't report you and Crane. Don't get any ideas. I still don't like what you two were doing...but in view of things...just keep it discreet unless you really do want me to report it...capiche old friend?"

"What changed your mind?"

"Let's just say I'm reserving judgment... God, Harry did you see it? I don't think anything could've crowned that boy with more glory than when he put his face into those cupped hands full of Earth..."

"It got to you too, did it?"

"And then that rainbow coming out when it did..people are talking...like he's’ ‘chosen’, or ‘anointed’...My wife says it was like a sign, ordained from Heaven..."

"Perhaps it was..."

"You know damn well Providence does not approve of your behavior! But the Navy hasn't had such good PR in ages, despite his objectionable behavior with the aliens, and I'm not going to be the one to burst the proverbial bubble! That will be entirely up to you and if you can keep your paws off each other...or at least limit it to the privacy of your bedrooms ashore."

"We'll be discreet."

"Very well."

"So, just who's been posted to Seaview for this Navy mission? I'd like his dossier."

"Sorry, classified."

"Do I have to take this assignment?"

"You do if you want to keep Seaview's Reserve status. I'll contact you again with mission details when I have them...and Harry? I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings but I still can't bring myself to approve of , well, you know."

"Well, at least you're still speaking to me."

Both men laughed a little.

"Take care of yourself," Jiggs said.

"You too, Jiggs," Nelson ended the call.

His mind drifted to Lee, and wondered how well he was holding up at the Governor's private ranch. It was an ideal getaway...just the thing really for Lee to get a little well deserved rest.

**

"Doc?" Patterson asked in the nearly deserted Seaview, holding a wadded bundle of sheets," Got a minute before you go home?"

"What's the problem..."

"Well, it's just... I was collecting all the bunk linens from the racks and the hampers for the laundry, and...well," when I stripped these off the Admiral's bunk, well," he turned a small area of the soiled sheets over for Doc to see the splotches of blood and orange splatters. He purposely did not unfold the sheet in it’s entirety. "I kinda' thought you should know...I mean if you're treating him for something...it looks like whatever it is might need to fixed up again..."

"Has anyone else seen these?"

"No sir."

"Good...good...take them to Sickbay...just put them in with the soiled scrubs bin...I'll take care of it."

"Uh, the Admiral okay sir?"

"That, is a matter of opinion," Jamie almost snorted. "He'll be fine...I'll check him out though...get along now, I'm sure you want to finish up so you can go home.'

As the relieved seaman went about his business, not having had to admit what he knew the Doc probably knew already, Jamie shook his head in aggravation. There was only one explanation for the stains and he didn't like it one bit.

**

"Jaimie!" Edith Nelson greeted the CMO with open arms, "It's nice to see you! I didn't know Harry had asked you to supper..."

"I’m sorry dear. Not a social call. May I talk to the Admiral? Privately?"

"Of course...this way," she said worriedly interrupted from leaning against the door trying to eavesdrop when security buzzed the door and handed her the pizza.

**

"I see," the President said on the phone in the easy chair before the fireplace. Are you sure it's a problem? He hasn't complained about any discomfort or...hmm. yes...I think I can insure confidentiality unless you'd like to do the examination yourself......yes I can have a chopper pick you both up, very well, we'll see you here in oh, about 40 minutes..."

"Problems Tom?" the Governor asked.

"It seems as though our guest of honor has a medical condition that may need some treatment."

"He seems fine to me," the Governor looked toward the patio where Crane, changed into jeans and sweater, was lying on the lawn, hands behind his head, looking up at the sky while Sassy snuffled her nose against his chest and his mother looked on adoringly from the hanging porch swing.

"I don't have the details but I guess it's something to do with what the Centaurs did to him...they found some blood on his sheets...he didn't tell anyone..."

**

Almost as soon as she'd paid the man and set the box on the kitchen table, Nelson and Doc emerged from the study, their expressions grim.

"Harry?"

"Sorry sis, go ahead and eat. I'll be back as soon as possible..."

**

"You had no right!"Doc yelled at Nelson.

"Stop it! It's not his fault!" Lee interrupted, finally able to pull up his pants. "I'm not hurt that badly and the damn things burst all the time. Sometimes completely on their own."

"It wasn't just the abscesses that burst. Your anal ring and tissues have been rubbed raw."

"Okay so were a bit...enthusiastic."

"And stupid! You haven't completely healed yet from the Centaurs! Or Tylol! Add to those irritations, and you never will. Nelson could easily have torn your sphincter and even perforated your peritoneum!"

"I was how many months up there? I was gang raped more than once and I had sex with Tylol regularly...didn't seem to do me as much damage up there as you seem to think down here and they have three penis's each! Well sort of...call it a three pronged phallic whatever. And tentacles! And..."

"You know damn well the rapes almost killed you! Thank goodness Tylol thought to get you treated by his doctor. Well I don't have the kind of technology that can just undo lacerations or a magic light or ointment to regenerate damaged or missing tissues! And if I remember correctly, that doctor had to give you several treatments! It's was hard enough to believe that you'd taken on a mate, but if you persist in sexual intercourse with Nelson, you had better make damn sure you do it right. And don't smirk at me. I'm serious. Haven't either of you heard of lubrication? Now, you two listen to me and you listen good! You," meaning Crane, "will not have any anal sex for the next month. And don't you dare forget to insert the antibiotic ointment I've given you. And you," he indicated Nelson, "when, and only when you're given the go ahead from me that you can safely have coitus with Lee again, you will tell me of any and I mean any discharge that's not either shit or semen, is that understood?"

"Crystal."

"Good. By the way, I'd like to examine you too, Admiral. That's not a request. Gad it's like teaching pubesant boys hygiene..."

**

"How long are they going to be in there I wonder?" Mrs. Crane asked worriedly as she looked toward the bedroom door.

"I'm sure it's nothing serious," the Governor said.

"Of course it is, or why would the President send his own helicopter to pick the doctor and Nelson up?"

Just then the door opened and Crane emerged, quickly bent down and kissed his mother. "I'm fine."

"Then what..."

"A simple misdiagnosis, isn't that what you called it Will?" Lee dared Jamison to say anything.

"I'm sorry we disturbed your rest, Lee," Nelson came to the fore. "I guess we're just over anxious about you. Especially since Morton is down for the count. Damn flu."

As Nelson and Jamison departed, and the Governor and President retired for a game of billiards, Mrs. Crane looked at Lee. That cherubic innocent look confirmed her doubts.

"Lee..."

"I'm fine."

"Flu season's been over for months."

"Imported variety..."

"And Chip looked just fine on the TV this afternoon, while you were in the tub. In fact he was with a girl...on the beach when they interviewed him."

"Nothing can keep that man down.”

"Lee..."

"Hey Sass, how about a game of Frisbee?" he moved toward the sliding glass door of the patio.

"Lee Crane you come back here and tell me what's wrong!"

"Mom..."

"Can you swear, on a stack of Bibles, that you're okay?"

"I'm fine, or I will be," Crane gave up the pretense, but could not bring himself to tell her of his relationship with Nelson, not yet. "All I need is a little time to recover from some injuries that you probably know all about already."

"Then it was something to do with what those horrid creatures did to you?"

"Well," he tried to look guilty. “Sort of.”

"Oh my baby...I wish I could take it all away....you go play with Sassy now, supper will be soon."

"You think she knows?" Nelson asked Jamison a bit nervously as they boarded the helicopter.

"There's no way she'll be able to add it up."

She'd seen it coming of course...the way the Centaur had spoken of Nelson, the way Lee had all but admitted he had the hots for his boss...and now, safely home...well...she might not like the idea, and she wasn't ignorant of the dangers of man to man sex, but if it made Lee happy, she wouldn't behoove him a life with the old man...if that's what was going on of course...

**

The next month was a bit of overkill on the topic of Lee Crane Versus Centaur. Magazines, legitimate and otherwise, newspapers, evangelists, and TV talk and news shows all had their say.As for the man in question, he was growing increasingly frustrated by his enforced isolation at the Ranch. It was supposed to be a secure place for a little rest and relaxation for him to recuperate fully form his ordeal. Secure was too elementary a word. His mother laughed when he said a fly wouldn't be able to penetrate the perimeter's electric fence and motion detectors. While the President had returned to the White House and the Governor to his city home, there were still servants and guards hanging all over the place...news teams and paparazzi parked outside the gates...waiting for a glimpse of the conquering hero. He was in effect a prisoner again.

**

"Man, it was just one little spot Sharkey grilled me on!" Riley complained as sat down in the NIMR lounge, "I hope the new Skipper'll appreciate us getting the boat all spic n'span for him...When's he due anyway?"

"About a week, they keep changin' the schedule," Ski said, "Morton's takin' it pretty well, but it's gotta bruise his ego. Being brushed aside like that when he's been doing just fine as Acting Captain," he turned on the afternoon TV talk show already in progress. "Hey!It's the Skipper!.....

"...Are you still on medical leave then?' the hostess asked him, one of four guests on the show. Sassy lay at his feet.

"...Technically, there're still few debriefings...things they missed..technical observations I can remember...but there are a few other considerations that need to be resolved before I can return to Seaview even if I pass the fit reps....'

"..Do you think,like a lot of people have been saying, that we should avoid future space explorations?"

"...Well,.I don't think we should bury our heads in the sand because of what happened to me on Centaur. Just like Earth, Centaur has it's own share of good and bad individuals...probably other worlds do to, but does that mean that we shouldn't make contact? There's a lot I don't understand about the universe, ours or any others out there, but life, any life is precious and we owe it to ourselves and to the Creator of them all to learn what we can..and to right... greet our brothers in life as friends."

"...But the Centaurs certainly didn't treat you as a brother, you were more like a specimen, and they almost annihilated us.”

"...Herzog almost annihilated us, there's a difference"

"...Aside from their technology, they seemed a bit slow on the uptake to me.”

"...To our way of thinking, yes, I'd have to agree, but it may be that they've just become so dependant on that technology that they've forgotten how to think, how to recognize what we'd call the obvious...as for the few that blew their superiority out of proportion, well, you can't hold the entire species accountable for the paranoia of a few. Then we'd be as guilty as they...I won't say that there aren't dangers in contact with other species,megolamania's not restricted to our planet, as in Herzog's case, but we can't let fear rule our lives..take appropriate defense postures, certainly but let's not forget that we could welcome new worlds as friends as well, especially the kids....funny thing about children, they don't have any prejudice unless they're taught.”

"...Well, to change the subject... you believe you've narrowed down Sassy's ownership to fourteen possible owners?"

"...Some inquiries are only drawings and letters from kids, but they strike me as if they know really know her...others have vet's records and pictures...there were over 300 to begin with,”' he scratched her head to which she responded delightedly.

"...'You'll give her up just like that?"

"...I don't want to," his eyes were moistening, " but as much as I wanted to come home, I don't have a right to keep her from hers. She knew to come to a whistle before Trapper took her. A stray wouldn't have known that. But I had to teach her Frisbee, sit, and stay..."

"... Will you be there next week when she'll hopefully sniff out her owner from the assembled claimants and their families?"

"...I'd like to be, but it might confuse her...I just wish I could say goodbye.. " the sadness was beginning to tell,if she hadn't been there...I don't think I'd have survived"' a tear formed and rolled down his face as he looked at the dog her face looking up at him. “Whoever coined that term ‘ man's best friend’ didn't know the half of it.. I'll never forget you my friend," he whispered to her, and stroked her neck.

"...Will you have visitation rights?

"....I don't know...it might be difficult to arrange. My future's not exactly set yet."

"....Well, we're out of time. I'd like to thank all my guests for appearing today, and that includes you," she scratched the dog's head and the audience applauded, along with the guests....

**

"Now, listen up," Sharkey said, "even if we don't like it, we're gonna treat the Navy's golden boy like he's right at home."

"Okay okay...cheech, like you've only told us a zillion times, we'll be on our toes, especially with Starke aboard..how'd he wheedle his way in this time?"

"Hey this is a great picture..." Sharkey said of the pen and ink drawing on the cover of TIME magazine. It was of Crane and Sassy, that tear running down his cheek as master and dog looked adoringly at each other on the talk show.

"Ski’ll be glad you approve," Riley said... "It's his."

"That correspondence crap he's been touting, they helped him draw like this?"

"Nah, they only helped him, hone it, he said. Almost as good as the one he did for Pat of the winning horse nobody saw. Got it all from the replays after the pre-emps."

"So where is he anyway? He's on the list to pipe the Navy's Captain aboard proper like."

"In the Nose with the brass waiting like the rest of us...but don't worry. Starke's putting him to good use, doing his portrait."

**

"You sure you don't want me to stay still?" Starke asked

"No sir, just keep on talking as if I weren't here...captures the moment, the personality."

"Well you certainly did a good job with that dog," Nelson laughed. "I hope TIME won't be luring you away from Seaview."

"Not a chance sir."

"Captain dockside!" the topside OOD called out.

"Uh..."

"Go on ahead Ski..."

"Well,” Nelson shook his head, "I guess I'd better put my best foot forward. I can't say I'm pleased about this Jiggs. If Lee knew about this he'd be livid."

"Nonsense...Navy mission, Navy captain..."

Nelson and Starke crowded in with the assembled men in the Control Room, some out of duty, some out of curiosity, as they heard Ski's "Captain on Deck!” from above followed by a shrill whistle.

The polished shoes and crisp Navy Whites began their descent as inward groans for a spit and polish Captain permeated the Control Room. Nelson raised an eyebrow to Starke, who looked mighty pleased with himself. This was going to be one God-awful cruise.

"Permission to come aboard?" a familiar voice asked as it's owner jumped off the third to the last rung.

"Lee?" Chip exclaimed.

"My orders, Captain Morton" Crane grinned, handing the manila envelope over.

Morton pulled the legal document out...everything was in order, except for Lee being in the active Navy, "You have command...Skipper," he took Lee's hand warmly as crewmen offered there own warm greetings.

"Well, at least you look Navy!" Starke said a huge smile on his face.

"You knew about this all along didn't you Jiggs?" Nelson asked, "In fact, you probably engineered it!" he added as he shook Lee's hand himself.

"Captain Crane?" Sparks approached the men, "A message from the Navy," he handed him a slip of paper and winked at Starke as Crane furrowed his brows, as there was a hush in the room. "Seaview will not depart until the Captain accepts new orders, what new orders?" Crane asked Sparks curiously.

"Mine," Starke said, "Or rather the Navy's...Commander Crane, front and center."

"What?"

Starke shook his head, "By order of the President," he removed two shiny silver eagles from his pocket, and two four striped shoulder boards, "you are hereby promoted to the rank of Captain with all rights and privileges therein. And none of that ‘I’m less approachable with four stripes' you always say crap. Harry, you want to do the honors?"

Nelson's pride showed in his face as he replaced the three striped board with the four.

"Now, as I recall there were some methane vents that needed charting," Starke said as the crew was still applauding

"Take her out Mr. Morton..."Lee acknowledged his crew's favor, and began to unbutton his collar as they returned to stations or lingered just to soak in Crane's presence, “In the meantime," he pulled his top buttons loose, "I'm getting out of this monkey suit."

**

It was good having Lee back, Morton thought with a satisfied sigh as Crane had returned and taken the conn, attired in the familiar khakis. Though Chip had done a reasonably good job as Captain, he didn't like it as much as he enjoyed being Seaview's exec. The title of Skipper had stuck in the throats of the few crewmen who'd used it. Even he hadn't liked it.

"Missed a spot," Chip told Kowalski as he headed off for a bite to eat. Instead of scowling, as when instructed by Captain Morton, this time the seaman pulling the mop and bucket duty flashed the XO a huge smile. Yes, things were definitely getting better.

**

It was a moderately boring mission. Methane vents were dangerous, but the mechanical probes took the place of divers, and special equipment that had been rebooted did most of the laborious work of charting. So Seaview was getting back to into her normal rut. Except for the fact that Jiggs was having a difficult time engaging Nelson in conversation again as he ate a light meal in the Observation Nose...

"Harry? Are you listening to me?

"Oh, sorry...my mind was elsewhere."

"Yes," Starke smirked, "in Crane's pants."

"Jiggs!" Nelson practically leapt to close the flex doors between them and the Control Room.

"Oh relax, nobody's paying any attention to us...you know, I thought you were managing it pretty well, keeping out of his hair this trip, but I've seen you looking at him. And he's sent you a few lovey dovey glances himself...I'm afraid I have no choice..."he sighed and picked up the mike. "Captain, will you come to the Nose."

"Jiggs, please , we haven't done anything. We've barely even said two words to each other outside the line of duty and..."

"Sir?" Crane had opened then reclosed the flex doors.

"Well?"Starke said pointedly to Nelson.

"Well what?"

"Damnit man, you can't be that much of an ignoramus. Go on! Take your Captain to bed! You won't be any of use to me until you have."

Both Nelson and Crane were dumbstruck.

"I see I may have to take a more direct approach," he picked up the mike. "Mr. Morton you have the conn. Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane will be in conference and don’t wish to be disturbed. Any concerns, contact me first."

"Aye sir."

"Well, what are you waiting for," Jiggs placed Crane's hand in Nelsons, "enjoy the, er, honeymoon, but not too loudly this time, hmm?"

Crane hesitated...he was embarrassed and he and Nelson had agreed once they met again to keep it strictly outside of their professional relationship.

"Oh good grief, go!" Starke ordered.

With a raised eyebrow to Lee, Nelson nodded to the spiral ladder and in moments the two had practically scurried up and disappeared.

Starke smiled to himself...it would so much more exciting for them thinking what they were doing right under the nose of their senior officer. He took out the communique Jackson had just sent...the rules against homosexuality in the armed or pseudo armed services had been rescinded. Still, those two had better use a little common sense. NIMR got a lot of contracts from private companies that might not be quite so understanding...

**

Ski would rather have been scrubbing out the head. Checking the various controls and seams in the ventilation shafts wasn't easy for a man his size. He was just about to pass Admiral Nelson's quarters when he heard something. Something a bit familiar...Nah, he thought, but....conference was it? Hardly, he thought, if he heard their muted voices and actions correctly. He was almost at the end of the inspection route...why should he go all the way back instead of just a few yards? He was no voyeur. He'd just have to crawl his way very cautiously past the grillwork that opened onto Nelson's cabin...

**

"Whatever would Will think of using that as a lubricant?" Lee asked later that afternoon, pulling his ring back on. He'd put it on Nelson's little finger when the man had questioned if he really meant more to him than Tylol had. Nelson would have kept it on, but that would cause at least a few raised eyebrows. Lee was still wet from the shower and wrapped in a towel, as the bathrobed Nelson sucked on one of the old NASA tubes of yogurt left over from their work with the SEA.

"He'd say better to grease you up than have you report to sickbay...he did give you approval didn't he?" Nelson asked as an afterthought.

"I thought you were supposed to be the one he spoke to.."

"We'll ask him later. Want to miss lunch again?" Nelson asked huskily.

"The crew's probably beginning to wonder exactly what we're discussing.”

"Just the action and adventure we can expect, no doubt. Speaking of action..."

Lee reclined sideways, suggestively like in a women's magazine pose. "C'mon then, take me."

"My goodness, this mission is simply plagued with our necessary discussions."

**

"Hey Ski?" Patterson ducked his head into the aft crew's quarters, "You got anything for the mailbag?"

"Yeah, actually I do," he rifled through his sketches, "Hey, who's got my lobster?"

"Over here," Riley said, looking at the humorous picture of Cookie and a lobster having it out.

Later Ski was to admit he hadn't been paying attention when he stuffed it into an envelope without realizing it already contained a few others. Others he'd hidden away from prying eyes...

Quickly addressing the envelope and stamping it, he put in the mailbag for the chopper to take to a flattop and from there to the nearest port post office.

**

The watch had just changed when Ski found himself summoned to the Captain's Cabin a few days later. Not an uncommon enough occurrence, but the hushed tones between Starke and Nelson looking at him sadly on his commute did not bode well.

"Ah, good. Kowalski. Sit down," Crane said, trying to find the words, he gave up and shoved the tabloid across the desk. "Am I correct in assuming this is your work?"

On the cover was a colored pencil rendering of a Centaur engaged in sex with the naked, long haired Crane under him...and Nelson in between.

"Uh..."Ski turned red, "It was just my imagination...from the transmissions and from what Frank said about the debrief...I didn't send it anywhere! It..oh shi...it must’ve been in the envelope I used to send the one I did of Cookie...but that was to a legitimate magazine. Somebody must've swiped this...I'm sorry Skipper, it was a mistake...an honest mistake and...I didn't mean to hurt anyone, especially you and the Admiral and...."

"I believe you Kowalski...are there any other pictures I should be aware of? It's not so much myself I'm concerned with. I suppose a lot of people have been curious, but you did take a few shall we say liberties especially putting Nelson it it. Well? Any others?"

"Uh, yeah...but not with the frog in them..."he said guiltily.

"Do you still have them?"

"Yes sir."

"I'd like to see them...bring me all your sketches...I'll excuse you from the watch..."

It was a matter of some conjecture among the crew as to what the top secret mission was that took Skarke off on the Flying Sub.

**

The tabloid in question was not the only publication to jump on the bandwagon to show the anonymous artist's work. Some of the men had standing subscriptions to magazines, even tacky ones like this. There was really no doubt as to the artist, the style was all too recognizable, and the meeting with the Skipper...yeah...had to be Ski's. The crewman in question was almost shunned despite his artistry. In any event they all awaited the last mailbag before they made for port.

Sharkey almost opened it with dread, and yep, there it was, another damn paper carrying Ski's porn picture...but there was something different about it...It was the same drawing, but there were some additions, and some deletions and notations...

 

...Captain Crane Corrects Anonymous Artwork

The offices of more than twenty publishers received a notarized letter from Captain Lee Crane with corrections and notations of the offending picture seen so recently, stating neither he nor Admiral Nelson harbored ill will toward the imaginative and anonymous artist, but hoped that in future the artist would pay more attention to detail or to the lack of it. As you can see the anatomy of the Centaur has been altered by Crane who should know, and Nelson has been scratched out who would not..

 

 Well, Sharkey thought, at least he wouldn't have to break in a new crewman.

**

Sharkey pushed his way through the crowd of NIIMR staff and lingering members of Seaview's crew after she'd finally returned home after completing her mission. Nelson was standing with them, his arms folded, bemused at what he was watching...

"No, there's no doubt that she's ours Captain," the mother of four was saying as Lee was knelt on the ground scrufling Sassy's fur. "And she liked seeing us again, and is good enough with the children, but most of the time all she does is whimper and whine, looking out the windows and doors, and holds onto that toy you'd given her like it's a part of her...we think she's already decided who her real owner is."

"Please Captain crane," a little girl said, "she loves you. She only likes us."

"Maybe she needs a little time..."

"She's had that," the father said, "frankly, Captain, it's not working out. And we have another dog now you know. The children hardly remember her, we only had her a short while...she was barely more than a puppy when she went missing. and well, perhaps it was unwise of us to want her back...I guess the notoriety of it all..."

Still on the ground, Lee extended his hand to the little girl, then to the rest of the kids, "Is this something you really want to do? Be honest. Sassy needs you to be honest. I need you to be honest."

The little girl put her arms around Lee, "She wants to go home with you."

"Take her Captain Crane," another said.

"Yeah...she really likes you best."

"Well?" the father asked, handing him her papers.

"Looks like I need an apartment that allows pets."

There was some gentle laughter and smiles all around from the family as they said good bye to the dog then were escorted to the gate by security.

**

"...And so, Sassy the Space Dog has been officially registered to Captain Lee Crane in the city of Santa Barbara. It remains to be seen where their new residence will be. In the meantime, both will be staying at one of the Institute's guest cottages. It is not known who will look after the dog when he's on duty with Seaview, though reliable sources say that the Captain's mother will be taking up residence here soon and may find herself drafted.... Good night, and remember, have your pets spayed or neutered. You don't have to go to outer space to do it.."

**

"Ski get off okay?" Lee yawned as Nelson entered the guest cottage.

"Never flown first class before, you should have seen his eyes. big as saucers... big step for him, taking on the commission to do all those action drawings for the Navy's new recruiting campaign."

"I had a little difficulty convincing him it wasn't a bribe to keep silent," Lee said. "His work speaks for itself. I’m just glad Starke agreed to sponsor him".

"It certainly does," Nelson opened the leather portfolio, "how much you pay him for these?"

The sketches were of the two during and after making love. In one, Crane was on his back, his legs spread wide, just after Nelson had climaxed and withdrawn. God, Nelson thought, he was getting horny just looking at it.

"Scale...I checked with TIME...You know, Ski offered to destroy all of them, but I didn't feel right about it. As far as he knows I paid him for them so I can dispose of them. Owners privilege and artist ego salved. Case closed."

"Does he know that we know he saw us?"

"No, I didn't tell him that my ring on your finger in the sketches was a dead giveaway that he must have been watching."

"So, how'd the apartment hunting go?"

"Signed, sealed, and the deposit is just waiting clearance from the bank. All I have to do now is wait for Mom to arrive and redecorate."

"Lee...it might still be...inconvenient having her share your place."

"Ah, but it has a mother in law suite, and her own entrance...just the thing for those romantic entanglements."

"I'm not sure I can, knowing she's in earshot. I mean your mother."

"I didn't necessarily mean us...besides...she knows."

"What?'

"I had to wheedle it out of her...it was something she said and tried to put back in her mouth, but ever since Doc's visit at the ranch, she added it all up and said she loved me anyway, and for my sake, will love you too."

"Omygod, Doc! I forgot all about him...Lee, if he finds out we've gone and done it without his permission, we'll never hear the end of it...."

"That's for sure," Jamison stood at the kitchen door, holding up a steak on a huge fork, Sassy at his feet. "I've already chewed Lee out, now's your turn...I'll wait until after I grill these though...Lee? Did you know this dog prefers marigolds to meat?

Lee just laughed and stretched out.

"Well?" Nelson demanded.

"Oh, Lee's cleared. Now, how do you like your poison rare medium or well done?"

**

It was nearing midnight as Nelson woke, and Crane had not returned from taking Sassy out. Then he saw them through the window...just sitting on the outcrop that overlooked the waves. Lee was pointing a star our to her. There was no need to wonder which star it was...invisible of course, just out there, somewhere...the place where both had been held hostage, the place that had forged their friendship, and the place where they'd had enemies, friends, and Crane a lover. Nelson had come to grips with the fact that Lee's past was not forgotten and never would be, and part of him ached for Lee's loss.

"What do you suppose they're all doing up there right now?" Nelson asked softly, placing a warm robe around Lee's pajama clad shoulders.

"Oh, just about anything I guess. I'm glad I was able to see that last transmission on the tape...I just wonder sometimes how they're all doing...Vlado, the kids..."

"Herzog?"

"If I know Herzog, he'll have survived somehow...but at least they'll think twice before following his lead in anything again.." Lee fell silent and looked up again, "gotta be a zillion of them...stars, planets, other life forms we can't even comprehend, it kind of makes me feel mighty insignificant."

Nelson picked up a handful of dirt, "'’And God created man from the dust of the Earth’...he didn't think we were insignificant Lee...none of his creations are."

A couple of shooting stars passed and the two sat watching the stars in silence, enjoying the closeness of the moment and of life.

**

Meanwhile, on one of those unseen specs in the sky, Vlado was having a very hard time filling all the popcorn orders from the children around him.

"Lord Vlado, Lord Vlado, tell us a story!"

"Well, children...I am not that well versed in this new art form, but...I think I can try...let me see. How do they all begin...ah, yes...'once upon a time...and very far away , and way up past the stars, on a magical world where bows of color paint the sky lived an Earthman. As brave and as noble and as exasperating as they come. And his name- was Cranelee...”

 

The End

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