The Nexus

by David Clarke

Chapter 11


I stared at them, but I couldn't see anything in their faces to suggest that they were joking. Obviously this seemed completely cold-blooded, but then again, that's what they were, and so I found myself believing they would actually be capable of doing something like this.

"How can you even think about doing that?" I asked. "I'm a human being!"

"And so you are intrinsically inferior to us. Why should we not do it?" asked Haless.

"Because it will bloody well hurt, that's why!"

"And why should that concern us?"

"Well, because..." Actually I couldn't think of a compelling reason - at least, not one that might make sense from their point of view. Except... "Well, because I'm helping you," I tried. "I'm going to do everything I can to answer your questions, so you should be grateful enough not to kill me!"

"Why? If you don't help us willingly we could force you, so why should we be grateful to you for doing something you have to do?"

"Well, bloody force me, then!" I said, angrily. "And I'm going to lie to you every time you ask a question anyway, so your results will be crap!"

"You're strange. Do you enjoy shovelling coal so much that you would prefer it to death and release?"

"Yes! At least while I'm shovelling, I'm alive! And I have friends, and on the Ertdays I get to have fun with them - okay, the shovelling isn't much fun, but the Ertdays help to make up for it."

"See, you're using strange words again. What is 'fun'? And I think I understand the concept of 'friends', but are they so very important to you?"

"Yes! Look, suppose Issin died - how would you feel about it?"

"I don't know. I suppose I would regret it."

"You'd regretit? You've been together since the day you hatched! Don't you think you're friends?"

Haless looked puzzled. "We work efficiently together," he said. "Does that make us 'friends' in your view?"

"Oh, come on! You don't just work together - you were joking about with each other on the way here. And you practise sex together, too. That must mean something."

"I never said we did that!"

"Oh, fuck off, Haless!" (The Grey vocabulary module obviously had included swear words). "It's obvious, or you'd just have denied it! Are you saying that doesn't mean anything?"

"Why should it? We've both done that with other boys, too. Are you saying that makes us friends with them?"

"God, your lives must be awful," I said. "No parents, no proper friends, nobody to be close to - how do you stand it, being alone all the time?"

"That's how we are. What is it that you think we lack?"

"Love, mostly."

"What is love?"

I stared at him. "Haless, we're never going to understand each other," I said. "If you can't understand love, you will never understand our species."

"That would be a pity. But perhaps you'll be able to show us what you're talking about... I think I've got an idea. Anyway, it's obvious there's no point in asking you anything else at the moment - you'd just lie. We'll save the questions until we've found a way to change your mind. So you might just as well go to sleep."

"Don't I get anything to eat first?"

"But we saw you eat one of those square things before you left the furnace room, so you can't need any food for a couple of days, surely?"

"Yes, I damned well do! I don't know about you lot, but we eat three times a day!"

"Three times a day? Every single day? Why?"

"Because we need it. If we don't get enough food we stop working."

"So do we, but we only need to eat every two or three days."

"That's because he's endothermic, I think," put in Issin. "He needs all that energy to keep his system operating correctly. We don't."

"That's really inefficient - fancy having to stop what you're doing to eat three times a day!"

"He's a mammal. Mammals are inefficient."

"Okay, so I'm inefficient. Are you going to feed me or not?" I asked.

"Well, you're not exactly falling over yourself to be helpful at the moment, are you?" Haless pointed out. "And I don't think there's a lot that you could eat in the house, anyway, so you'll have to manage for today. But we'll be going back to town first thing tomorrow and we'll see if we can find you something then, okay? Now go to your cage."

"Can I have...?" I couldn't find the word I needed in the vocabulary. "I need to get rid of some waste water."

"Oh. Okay, we'll go outside - I don't want you doing it in here. We have to live here, you know."

"There is a toilet," I pointed out.

"That's for us, not for animals. Come on." And they shooed me out into the clearing.

I walked as far as the nearest tree and took hold of myself.

"Oi, stop that!" shouted Haless. "You said you wanted to pass waste, not stimulate yourself!"

"I am passing waste - or I will if you shut up and let me."

I began to pee, and was surprised at the noises of disgust that this evoked in my audience.

"Oh, that's disgusting!" declared Issin. "How can you do that?"

"How can I do what?"

"Pass waste through your reproductive organ! Damn, I'm glad I'm not a human female!"

"What's wrong with it? How do you do it, then?"

"We pass waste through the cloaca, like all decent creatures do."

"You mean you..." I really wished they had a word for 'piss'. "You pass water through your arse?"

"Of course! That's the natural thing to do. That's why we have a cloaca. What happens to your waste solids, then - do they come out of your mouth?"

"No, they come out of my..." Clearly the equivalent word was this 'cloaca' they kept talking about, but it sounded odd talking about 'my' cloaca. Nevertheless... "My cloaca," I finished. "Just like you."

"Well, that's something. But why send any waste out using your reproductive system? That just seems filthy to me. Your reproductive system should just be there for sex, not have to double up in that disgusting way."

"I've never thought about it," I said, shaking off. "But, actually, there's a lot of logic in what you say. It does seem weird to have two waste systems. Mind you, it's quicker to get rid of water like we do - you just undo the zip on your trousers, take out your penis, pass the water and then do it up again. You don't have to sit down and it takes hardly any time at all."

"Next time you're dressed you can show us. But I still don't like the idea. Anyway, if you've finished you can go and lie down."

I went into the bedroom and walked into the cage, which was just about big enough for me to stand up in, just about long enough to lie down in, and just about wide enough for the mattress they had put in it. It was the same type as in our dormitory, and so it was only about sixty centimetres wide and not very thick at all. There was also a blanket and a bottle of water.

"Now lie down and go to sleep. If you give us any trouble we'll whip you in the morning."

I had no intention of making trouble, and so I lay down quietly. And despite my fears for the future I fell asleep quite quickly.

I slept through the night - I didn't even wake up when the two Greys came and lay down on the bed that was at the far end of the room, or when they got up the following morning. In the end they had to come and bang on the cage to drag me back to consciousness.

"We're going to town," Haless told me. "We'll bring you back something to eat if you behave. Do you need anything before we go?"

"Not really. But could you find me an empty bottle? That way if I need to pass water I'll be able to do it without making a mess on the floor."

They found me a bottle and went out without another word, and I lay back wondering how I was going to get out of this mess. The cage was solidly constructed, which meant I couldn't get out until they returned anyway, and after that it was hard to imagine that they were going to leave me unattended for any length of time - and in any case it would be hard for me to run away as long as I was naked, because the forest floor would doubtless have plenty of thorns and brambles all over it. And, of course, there were quite possibly guardians in the forest, too. So it looked as if I wouldn't be going anywhere unless the Greys went with me.

They were gone for a good couple of hours (I was still wearing my glasses, my swastika and my watch, which they hadn't bothered removing the previous day), and when they returned they were not alone, as I discovered when they came and took me into the main room: Tommi was standing by the door looking frightened.

"What's he doing here?" I asked.

"We looked at the recording of you in the furnace room and after," Haless told me, "covering the last three days. And it's obvious that this child is drawn to you. Perhaps he is what you'd call a 'friend'?"

I felt sick, because I had an idea where this was going. "Can he speak your language?" I asked.

"No. There's no point - you can translate anything he needs to hear. Anyway, we thought since you didn't want to help us maybe we could try using him instead. So go and sit down and we'll get him ready."


"Go and sit down, I said!"

So I went and sat down, and Issin started to remove Tommi's clothes. He had no difficulty with the footwear or the shirt, but when he tried to remove the shorts Tommi started to struggle frantically.

"Leave him alone!" I cried, standing up, but Haless came over and pushed me back onto the sofa.

Tommi kept struggling, but Issin was far too strong, and soon the shorts came off, and then the briefs... and then Issin seemed to freeze.

"Fuck!" he said. "Someone's taken this child to hell and back. Come and have a look at this!"

Haless went and I followed him, and Issin swung Tommi round so that we could see his back. And his buttocks were covered in scars - as Issin had said, someone had beaten Tommi with a heavy cane or a whip or something similar, hard enough to break the skin over and over again.

"Oh, fuck...gods, Tommi," I gasped, and I pushed the Greys aside, spun Tommi round and hugged him hard. And his arms went round me and he began to sob.

"Is this how your adults care for your young?" asked Haless.

"No! No, this is horrible... whoever did this is a complete animal," I replied, hugging Tommi and stroking his back. "I've never seen anything this bad."

"It seems unnecessary," agreed Issin. "I can understand discipline, but this looks more like violence for the sake of it. And on a small child, too."

"What happened, Tommi?" I asked in Kerpian, forgetting for a moment that he was unlikely to answer me. "Who did this to you?"

"Don't you... don't you hate me?" he asked.

"What? Of course I don't hate you - you're my friend."

"He said... He... He said anyone who saw would know what an evil boy I was, and then they would never speak to me again. And he said that anyone who heard my voice would know straight away that I'm a liar, too... You swear you don't hate me, Jake?"

"I swear. You're my friend. So who was the bastard who did this?"

Slowly I got the story out of him, translating for the Greys as we went. It seemed that his father had died and his mother had remarried, and the new husband was a Lettrian (my history module had given me no more than a brief knowledge of the neighbouring countries, but I knew that Lettria was north of Kerpia, which put it in the region of Poland and the Baltic States in my world. And apparently the Lettrians still had a very active religion: their gods came from northern Siberia and they disapproved of just about everything - at least, everything that makes life worth living).

So the stepfather had caught Tommi playing sex games with the boy next door, who was a little older than he was, and he had gone completely berserk, hitting the neighbour boy so hard that he killed him and then thrashing Tommi so violently that he was covered in blood by the time the militia, called by the neighbour, arrived. But before he had been taken away the stepfather had drummed into Tommi the lies that he had already repeated to us.

To complete his traumatisation, Tommi's mother had been unable to cope with what had happened and had chosen to kill herself soon after Tommi came home from hospital, which left him an orphan. And he had only been at the orphanage for a couple of months when the Greys arrived and conscripted all the orphans into the mine complex. And today was the first time he had dared to utter a word since.

"And you think we have a bad life because we don't have a 'family'?" commented Haless. "Well, if that's what you think you're completely insane!"

"This isn't what's supposed to happen," I said. "Normal families love each other. It's not Tommi's fault some religious nutcase married his mother... look, can you give me a couple of minutes... I mean a huszak or so, to talk to him? Please?"

"That seems fair to me. Carry on."

In fact they were decent enough to give me a lot more than a couple of minutes, and I spent the time cuddling Tommi and telling him that it wasn't his fault, that he hadn't done anything wrong and that nobody would think badly of him if they saw him undressed. I told him that as far as I could tell everyone in teams Three and Four liked him. And gradually he seemed to calm down a bit.

"But there is one thing I don't understand," I said. "After what happened to you, weren't you worried about... you know, wanting to do sex stuff with me? Weren't you afraid I might react badly?"

He shook his head. "I knew you were nice as soon as I saw you. And somehow I never believed what... he... said about doing that, even though I believed the other stuff. I know Tibor and Hansi - you know, they're in Team Four - sometimes do stuff together, and they think it's normal. And I liked making you feel nice."

"Right, but from now on you have to let me do it for you as well, okay? If I ever get a chance to, that is..."

"What do you mean? What are these Greys doing with you?"

"Oh, it's just an investigation into what the differences are between us and them. I don't know how long it'll take, but I expect I'll be back before too long."

"And why did they bring me up here?"

"I'm not sure. I was telling them about friendship, and they knew from the cameras in the furnace building that we're friends, so perhaps they wanted to see how we behave in real life."

"Then I hope they like what we're doing now."

"I hope so, too. Look, Tommi, I'll get them to take you back as soon as possible - you'll be better off back at the mine. They've said they're going to want to take blood samples and stuff. I don't mind too much, but I don't want them sticking needles into you."

"I'll stay with you if you want."

"It's okay. I can speak their language now, so I think I'll be all right with them."

We were quiet for a while, and then Haless asked, "Is that some sort of sex thing you're doing, then?"

"What? No, of course not! We're just cuddling, that's all."

"What's cuddling?"

"It's just holding each other close to show how much you like each other."

"Oh. Are you sure it's not a sex thing, then?"

"Come and look," I said. "You can see that neither of us is aroused."

"You're right. So, does what you're doing bring pleasure in some other way?"

"Yes. It shows us that we're not alone."

I led Tommi over to the sofa and we sat down together.

"Do you understand emotions at all?" I asked them. "I mean, do you even know what it means to be happy, or sad, or angry, or scared... or anything at all?"

"Of course we do. There are things that bring us pleasure and things that we don't like, but we try very hard not to let our feelings control us. To allow your feelings to control you is weak. I'll give you an example: suppose that I said something like 'if you don't help us with our experiments we'll kill your little friend'. What would you say?"

I'd more or less expected this, but I couldn't see any way out of it.

"I'd say that I'd help you. I wouldn't like it, but I'd do it to protect Tommi."

"You see? Weakness - your feelings can be used to make you do something you don't want."

"Yes, but it's not only weakness. Suppose for a moment I managed to kill Issin - how would you feel?"

"I'd feel regret, like I told you. But I could get someone else to help me with the experiment."

"Now that's weakness," I said. "Because if you hurt Tommi I swear to God I'll kill you, or die trying. And I'm sure the rest of the boys who work with us would say the same thing."

"Why? That's a stupid way to behave, because if you tried to kill me you'd die yourself."

"Perhaps, but my friends would keep trying, and eventually one of us would get you. In the end you'd pay for hurting our friend."

"But that's insane - you should think of your own life, not someone else's! So what if he dies - you'd still be alive, and that's all that matters!"

"No, it isn't. That's the difference between you and us: man for man you might be stronger, but we all fight together and support each other, so in the end we'll win."

He was quiet for a while.

"See, that's why we wanted to do this," said Issin. "You really are different from us, and not just physically. We can learn a lot from you."

"To use it against us, I suppose."

"No, because I still think we're stronger than you. But it would be really interesting to find out how you mammals think."

"If you promise to help us, we'll take your friend back to the mine," said Haless.

"You'd accept my promise?"

"Yes, I think so. I mean, obviously if you let us down we could go back to the mine and collect him again, but I don't think you'd make us do that. It's strange, but I think I can trust you."

"And are you really going to cut me up alive?"

He looked at me. "What difference does it make?" he asked. "Either you promise to help us, or your friend here gets hurt. Will you really allow us to dissect you alive to protect him?"

And that was a really difficult question, but I knew that unless I agreed now I'd be putting Tommi in danger. Hopefully I'd get a chance to escape before they actually started cutting me.

"Take him back to the mine and I'll co-operate with you all the way," I said.

He looked at me for a few seconds and then nodded. "Okay," he said. "We'll take him back."

"Thanks," I said. "Now... did you bring me anything to eat?"

"Oh, yes. Here you are," and Haless tossed me one of the square rice cakes. Well, it was better than nothing, I supposed. "And we've brought some meat for supper, because we'll want to eat tonight, too."

"Okay. Do you cook your meat or eat it raw?"

"Well, we can eat it raw, but we prefer it cooked, preferably with a good sauce or seasoning."

"Then I'll cook for us all this evening," I said. "I like cooking. Put your meat in the fridge and I'll see if there's anything to go with it. Do you eat vegetables?"

"Yes, but just as a garnish. We really only need the meat itself."

"Then I'll see what I can do."

They parked me in the cage while they took Tommi back, and when they returned and let me out I told them that I was going to teach them a bit more about friendship if they'd let me, and when they agreed I persuaded them to let me get dressed and then told them that we were going to climb the mountain.

"Why?" asked Haless.

"Because it's there," I said, unoriginally. "And because it's a nice afternoon, and going for a walk in the Black Forest is the sort of thing that friends do. Come on," and I went to the door, and after a moment they followed me.

I couldn't see far because of the trees, but I knew if we walked uphill we would eventually emerge above the trees and then I'd be able to see the summit, so I headed off along a path that ran away behind the house. After a couple of kilometres we reached a road, but it seemed to be heading in the wrong direction, so I crossed it and kept going, and eventually I came out on the track that led up to the loggers' cabins.

"Do you ever do this sort of thing at home?" I asked. "Just going for a walk, I mean."

"Not really. We have to go running at school, and if we join the army I expect we'll have to march a lot, but we don't really walk just for something to do."

"Then you'll like this. Just look for wildlife, listen to the birds and enjoy the fresh air."

By the time we reached the track I became aware that they were breathing heavily: apparently they were finding it hard to keep going. So I suggested a rest for a bit, which they accepted happily.

"We're very fast over short distances," Haless told me. "We find it harder to keep going for long distances, though."

I filed that piece of information away, merely observing that in that case we would take it a bit slower and stop whenever they wanted. So we did that until we had passed the cabins and reached the point where the track forked - and now I could read the sign I saw that the west-bound path was signposted to the summit. So we rested for a little longer before pressing on to the summit, and now that the end was in sight they managed a bit better, until finally we stood on the top. We were lucky: it was a fine clear day and the view was magnificent.

"Don't you think that's an amazing view?" I asked. "And don't you feel that you've achieved something by walking all the way up here?"

"I think we would call it 'pleasurable'," agreed Haless.

"And is it better because you did it with Issin, or would it have been better alone?"

"I think it's better having done it together. Now we'll be able to talk about it later."

"See? That's one of the things about having friends: it means you can share experiences like this. Now I want you to hug each other."


"Like this," I said, hugging Haless briefly. "Do that to Issin - it'll sort of seal the moment of having climbed the mountain together."

So they hugged awkwardly. I did my best to get them into position and tried to make them relax, but it did seem that hugging didn't come naturally to Greys.

"Well, that felt strange," said Haless, afterwards.

"Yes, it did," agreed Issin. "It wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't really pleasant either. I don't think it works for us the way it did for you and the little red-haired child."

"Why do you mammals have hair?" asked Haless, as we started to go back down. "It seems pointless just having it on top of your head - it just makes you look weird. At least most other mammals have hair all over."

"I don't know, to be honest," I said. "It helps to keep the head a bit warm when the weather is cold, and I suppose we don't need hair anywhere else because we wear clothes. Mind you, we still get hair round our balls and under our arms when we get older, and I have no idea why that happens."

"We saw that you have a bit of hair round your reproductive organs," commented Issin. "There isn't very much, though."

"No, but I'll get more when I get older... I mean, if I get older. It starts to appear when we start to mature - I suppose it's a sign that we're ready to father children if we want."

"And have you?"

"God, no! I've never had sex with anyone."

"Not even with other boys, as we do?"

"Not even with other boys... well, not like you're thinking, anyway."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Haless.

"I'll explain when we get back to the cabin."

And once we got back to the cabin I took charge: I wanted to demonstrate that I was going to co-operate with them, because I thought that if I did that they might let their guard down a bit. So I got undressed as soon as we were back inside and said, "Let's talk about sex. Turn your computer on and I'll tell you how it works for us."

I waited while they set the laptop up and opened the record, and then I said, "Where I live we start to mature between about eleven and fifteen, though I'm about average - I was thirteen six or seven weeks ago. You can tell that I'm maturing because I've started to get some hair around my reproductive organs. And I can produce sperm now. You saw what Tommi looked like: no hair and smaller organs, so he hasn't started to mature yet.

"Like I said, I've never had sex, but there are ways to do stuff with friends without actually... you know, fucking each other. Would you like me to show you?"

"Go on, then."

So I lay on the sofa and began to play with myself. This felt a bit strange, but I thought that if I could do this it would establish a link between us that might persuade them not to cut me later on. And soon enough I managed to get myself hard.

"That's a bit bigger, but it isn't really very hard yet," commented Haless.

"It's hard enough for what I need. Now, you can do this yourself," and I started to rub it. "That feels nice, but it's better if you get someone else to do it for you. If one of you would like to get your penis out I'll show you."

They looked at each other and then Issin got undressed and came and took my place on the sofa, and after a few seconds the fold in his groin opened and something hard and cream-coloured poked its way out. It wasn't quite as big as mine, but I decided not to comment.

I took hold of it and he gasped, jerking.

"Fuck, that's strange," he said. "His hand is so hot, Haless... oh, fuck..."

He began to thrust against me, so all I had to do was to keep hold. It was almost a perfect cylinder with a rounded point on the top, and it felt cool and very hard.

"Is there a bone in there?" I asked.

"No," Haless told me - Issin seemed incapable of speech - "it's the same as yours: it fills up with blood when we need it to. Though it doesn't go quite as floppy as yours when we're not using it."

Issin was still thrusting and gasping, so to tease him I took my hand away.

"Don't let go!" he gasped. "That felt really good!"

"Okay, but try to keep still this time and I'll do the work," I said, and I started to rub it for him. And once again he writhed around and bucked up against me, and only a few seconds later he cried out and a substantial jet of creamy liquid shot out of the tiny hole in the tip and landed on his shoulder. Four or five equally heavy jets followed it.

"So how did that feel?" I asked, when it seemed to be over.

"Good. Not quite like fucking, but good all the same. You can do that again in a bit."

"How soon will you be ready to do it again?"

"Not long. Do it for Haless and I'll be ready again as soon as you finish with him."

"Wow, that's a fast recovery!" I commented. "It takes me a lot longer to be ready for a second go."

"That's because you're a mammal," said Issin, standing up but not bothering to dress. "Mammals are inefficient."

His penis disappeared back into his groin and he wiped himself down with a tea-towel he found in the kitchen, and while he was doing that Haless took his place on the sofa.

"This had better be good, little mammal," he growled at me. "I wouldn't normally let someone like you see my penis."

"You can call me Jake," I replied, taking hold of it and squeezing, and the reaction was the same as Issin's had been.

"Fuck!" he exclaimed. "It's like wrapping it in a hot towel!"

"I've never tried doing that, but I bet I can do more with my hand than you could with a towel." And I demonstrated, tickling it, stroking it with one finger and generally teasing him. It was slightly bigger than Issin's and so was about the same size as mine both in terms of length and thickness, though it was harder than mine and rounder, too. It felt interesting, though I much preferred the warm feeling of Stefan's.

"Do it properly!" he demanded. "Hold it like you did Issin's!"

"What's my name?" I asked, tickling the tiny hole at the tip.

He seemed reluctant to use my name, and I could understand why - in fact, this was exactly why I was insisting on it: if he started treating me as a person and not just 'the mammal' he might start to relate to me properly, and that would make it much harder for him to kill me. At least, I hoped so.

"All right!" he gasped, finally. "Your name's Jake! Now do it properly - please?"

That 'please' was even better than simply using my name, and so I took hold of it properly and began to rub it slowly. And, like Issin, he loved it, wriggling about and thrusting against me to make me do it faster, and in less than a minute there was lots of creamy liquid spurting out of him.

"Was that okay?" I asked.

"Not bad. Like Issin said, fucking feels better, but that was a pretty close second. I think that will have to be one of your duties from now on."

"Shall we fuck him?" suggested Issin. "I bet he feels really hot inside!"

I didn't fancy that at all - I'd long since decided that the only person I'd let do that would be Stefan. There was no way I wanted to lose my cherry to a pair of lizards.

"I think it would be too hot," I said. "I'm a lot hotter inside than on the surface of my hand. I think it would hurt you."

"Well, show us your cloaca and we'll see," insisted Issin.

Reluctantly I bent over the arm of the sofa and spread my legs, and Issin came and probed against my anus with a finger.

"Keep that nail sheathed!" I said, nervously.

"Don't worry. But I don't think we could get in there - that entrance is really small and tight."

Too right it was - I was keeping it as tight as I could.

"Well, if mammals are as small and tight as that, how do they reproduce?" asked Haless, getting up and coming to see for himself. "There has to be a way in there."

"We don't reproduce that way," I said. "Human females have another entrance here," and I stood up and indicated the base of my penis. "It's a bit like your sheaths, but it opens inward. That's where my penis would go if I was having sex with a female."

"Is that true?" asked Haless.

"Yes, I swear. And they get rid of waste water there, too, though the plumbing is a bit more complicated."

"Shit, you mammals are strange," said Haless. "I can't imagine having sex like that - in fact the whole idea of using the same equipment for sex as for disposing of waste water seems absolutely disgusting. Still, I suppose it feels nice to you... anyway, if your cloaca is too tight maybe we won't do that to you. You'll just have to rub it for us instead."

"Why don't you try doing it to each other?" I suggested. "It won't feel quite the same, but it'll be a useful comparison - and while you do that I'll go and start cooking supper, okay?"

"I suppose it would be an interesting experiment," said Issin, who was already exposed and clearly ready for another go. "Try it, Haless, and then we can get Jake to do it again and see which is best."

He lay down on the sofa, and at that point I left them to it and went to make a start on supper. I found five steaks in the fridge, and I assumed that was two each for them and one for me, which I thought a bit unfair, but then any steak would be a whole lot better than what I would have eaten at the mine. Elsewhere in the kitchen I found some tinned mushrooms and a couple of onions, and in the freezer were some frozen chips and peas. Normally I would have chosen either the mushrooms or the onions, but since I was hungry I decided to cook both - and if the Greys didn't like them I'd just have to eat them all myself...

So I got to work. Unlike the kitchen at Hub Two this one was fully equipped with cooking oil, condiments, butter and everything else I could ask for (which suggested that the cabin hadn't been abandoned for quite as long as the Greys had thought, because the butter was still fine), so I laid everything out ready, went into the shower room to wash my hands thoroughly, and then started trimming the steaks and chopping the vegetables. The noises emanating from the next room suggested that the Greys were having fun, but I resisted the temptation to peek round the corner of the room: I wanted to serve a really good meal and further deepen the bond I was trying to establish with them...

And then I had another thought, along completely different lines. I thought of what I knew about large snakes, how when they have eaten they often sleep for several days while they digest the meal. I didn't think the Greys would sleep for anything like that long, but they would probably sleep fairly soundly that night. And if I could persuade them not to lock me in the cage, maybe I would be able to escape while they slept... except...

I remembered the guardians. How could I get past them? The only way would be to make one of the Greys come with me... or find some way of masking my human pheromones...

By now everything was cooking nicely. I had decided to grill the steaks, since that would leave the hotplates free for the vegetables, and I thought it was time to find out exactly how Greys like their meat. So I went back into the main room and started to ask, "How do you like your steaks? Rare or..."

I broke off and stared: Issin was bent over the arm of the sofa and Haless was fucking him.

"Go away!" cried Issin, loudly.

"No, stay," contradicted Haless, grinning. "You might as well come and see how we fuck, little mammal. Come and see!"

Issin looked very unhappy and in fact seemed to be trying to get out from under, but Haless was able to keep him pinned down and went on thrusting against him steadily.

"Come and look properly," invited Haless. "Watch it going in and out. I'm sure Issin won't mind if you watch him acting like a female!"

It was obvious that Issin did mind, but there wasn't much he could do about it.

"Why didn't you come in sooner?" he said. "Then it would have been him on the receiving end - and you wouldn't have liked that, would you, Haless?"

"Obviously not. It's just your bad luck that Jake has seen you getting fucked. I'm sure he won't forget it, either."

"Look, I only came in to find out how you want your meat - well-cooked or just a bit cooked," I said, backing away. "If I'd known you were fucking I wouldn't have come in. So - well-cooked or lightly cooked?"

"Well-cooked," said Haless.

"Issin?" I asked.

"The same. Now go away, please!"

I went back to the kitchen, thinking that shame was obviously an emotion the Greys could feel, and embarrassment, too. I just hoped it wouldn't make Issin angry with me, because I really didn't want to get locked in tonight.

While everything was cooking I made a start on the washing-up, cleaning the chopping boards and washing the knives... and that gave me yet another idea, a much more drastic one. I thought it through, looking for flaws, but I was sure it would work.

I put everything away, checked on the progress of the steaks and took three plates out of the cupboard. I went and laid the table, and by now both Greys were dressed again, thought Haless looked a lot happier than Issin.

"Look, Issin," I said, "I'm really sorry I saw that. I know you all do it, and I know that you don't really like taking the female role in front of an audience, especially one like me, who isn't even the same species as you. It doesn't change anything as far as I'm concerned: I don't think badly of you, I swear."

"Why would I care what you think?" he said, though without looking at me.

"Exactly: you don't need to worry at all. I'm never going to tell anyone about it - it's none of my business, anyway. Now if you'd both like to sit down, supper is served."

I piled two plates up with two steaks each and as many chips, peas, mushrooms and onions as I could fit on the plate, and that still left plenty of everything for me. Then I took the plates through and served, adding a bottle of red wine I had found in the cupboard - I wasn't sure whether it would be any good, but I'd had a sip and it seemed fine to me.

They got stuck in and seemed to be enjoying it, so I simply got on with enjoying my own meal. I was a little worried that my recent diet might have reduced my appetite, but apparently it hadn't, and there didn't seem to be a lot wrong with their appetites, either, because their plates were both empty long before mine was.

"That was good, Jake," said Haless. "A bit too many garnishes and not quite enough meat, but it was good, all the same. You can cook for us again. What do you reckon, Issin?"

"Yes, it was good," said Issin, though he still didn't seem to be looking at me.

"Maybe we should just keep you as a pet," said Haless. "You could cook for us, and help us with sex.... Or maybe not, because that won't make us famous the way the experiment will. Still, we won't need to cut you up for a good while yet..."

So trying to establish a link didn't seem to have worked.

I collected the plates, carried everything through to the kitchen and started on the washing up, and after a few minutes Haless came in and said, "Don't be too long, little mammal: we need to sleep. Come through to the bedroom as soon as you have finished."

"Okay," I said, and proceeded to drag my feet for at least half an hour - and by the time I got into the bedroom they were already lying on the bed side by side and snoring gently. So at least the food had had the desired effect.

I ran through the plan once more, and again I couldn't see any flaws: if this went according to plan I'd be out of here and guardian-proof in about fifteen minutes. That left me trying to decide what to do after that: should I just get back to Hub One as fast as I could, hope that the Capsule had recharged and flee back to Hub Two, where I could just keep trying doors until I found the one that would take me home? That would certainly be the easiest thing to do, but I didn't think I could just abandon Stefan, Alain and Oli - or Tommi either, come to that. Somehow I would have to rescue them.

If I could find a truck in town I could drive it to the mine, but I was sure that if I just drove in unannounced the cameras would pick me up and there would be Greys everywhere by the time I got to the furnace building...

I thought about it for a long time, but I simply couldn't see a way around it - unless I tried to find some of the Kerpian Resistance. I knew they existed, because Harsen Karel had spoken about the power supply to the mine being sabotaged, but I had no idea where to find them. Still, that might well be the best way.

I collected the two largest knives from the kitchen and took them through to the bedroom, where the Greys were still sleeping. All I had to do was a couple of quick knife-strokes across their throats: that should produce plenty of blood, and if I rubbed it into my skin and clothes it would effectively mask any trace of human pheromones and so protect me from the guardians. I didn't think it would be easy, but, after all, they still intended to dissect me alive, and a quick slash of a knife across the throat would give them a far quicker and cleaner death than that. And they were the enemy, after all.

I raised the knives and stepped closer to the bed.