"Huu… 'ive 't back," she gasped, fighting for breath. For the first time in her life Lani had encountered something that frightened her. She worked out for two hours every day. She was used to being stronger than any woman, let alone male. Still, she wasn't about to let the experience stop her.

            "Not until I am sure you are not going to try and hit me with it again," said the big male, crossly.

            The other male came forward, and… extended a hand. She was about to use it to throw him, when she focused on the shape of it. It had three long fingers, and a thumb… in the middle of the wrist. "Let me help you up," he said, or at least a mechanical voice said. "We mean you no harm. We are just passing through."

            Lani spidered backwards, knocking her illegally parked scoot over. She hit the com button of the prone two-wheeler as they walked towards her. "Mayday. This is Delta 95 at the South airlock. Mayday. I say again. Mayday. This is Delta 95 at the South Airlock. Am under attack."

            The big one looked at his monstrous companion. "Maybe we should just go back out of the airlock and return to New Eden. Or climb the equatorial ridge."

            The monster shook his head "I think we should proceed as rapidly as we can, Howard," he said. "She has called for help, by some form of electronic communicator, at a guess. They are not as primitive here as either the first habitat or your one."

            He looked down at Lani. "You didn't injure her, did you? If so we must render assistance."

            The big man shook his head. "No. We do not believe in physical violence except for gentle chastisement of children. I just stopped her from hitting me again, and took the weapon away from her. Although," he said, looking down at her with a curl of lip, "This wanton harlot deserves to whipped on the cart's tail. Let's go then, Kretz. If this is what you encountered before you came to us, I'm not surprised that you were so wary."

            "But this is not the same species as you, surely," said the monster as they began to walk off, leaving her. "The patterning is very different. You have only small spots of darker skin below your eyes, very slight. This is more like the patterning on the striped faced ones, except theirs was in dull and drab colors."

            "It's just paint," said the man before they disappeared around the next corner, walking away from the airlock. The disgust in his voice was almost palpable.

            Lani sat up, eventually realizing that she was still pressing the send button on the scoot's communicator. She took her finger off. "…espond Delta 95. Lani, come in! Delta 95 are you receiving us? Respond…"

            She pressed the send button. "Delta 95 receiving you. They're heading up corridor 9. Over."

            "Lani! Are you all right! Uh, over."

            Lani felt her bruised derriere. It wasn't as badly damaged as her ego. "I'm OK," she admitted gruffly. "Have you got someone going to the 9 H3 intersection? You should be able to stop them there. Over."

            Another voice cut in. "Captain LaGarda. Give us details. How many and who are they? Over."

            Lani felt her face start to redden. "Um. Two. One man and one… something else." She cringed. "The man is quite large and strong." Damn. Of course all of this would be recorded. She could just see them playing it back to her next time she was in the station. And the next. And the next. But he was exceptionally strong. She had to tell them. "Look, you'd better be careful. I think they came from outside. Outside the airlock. Over."

            There was a moment's silence. "Captain, are you sure? Over."

            "One of them is not human, ma'am. And they're wearing clothes. One of them has a pressure suit. The non-human has clothes in orange, lime green and purple. Over."

            "How are they armed? Over."

            Now the blush was positively fiery. They'd never let her forget this. "The man has my nightstick. Over."

            There was a pause. "What other weapons, Officer?"

            Oh so she wasn't 'captain' any more. "None visible," she said hoping that sounded truly dispassionate and professional. Then she realized that she'd forgotten to say 'over'.

            Someone had obviously guessed, however. "All right. Just stay there. Medical and back-up are on their way to you. Over."

            Like she was a casualty. "Send a team here to watch that they don't double back," she said, irritably. "I'm going after them. I don't think the scoot is damaged. Over and out."

            "Captain LaGarda! You are not to attempt to engage them on your own again! That is a an order. Do you understand me? Reply!"

            "Yes," she said, lifting the scoot with the other hand. "I hear you. I won't. I'll keep back, and try to just keep in sight. I'll maintain communicator contact. They're on foot and I'm on a scoot. Over and out."

            "Do that, Captain. Don't do anything stupid. Over and out."

            Reluctantly, as she put her bruised butt onto the saddle, Lani had to admit to herself that it was a bit late for that instruction. She set off after the two of them, wondering whether she should just have stayed and pretended to be injured. But her pride was too deep for that. She'd like a second crack at them, and besides it just wasn't in her to lie, even if the truth had made her look pretty feeble. She was going to take her nightstick back from that big ape and shove it up his ass. Then she heard voices ahead, and slowed the scoot down. She wasn't quite in that much of a hurry, after all.


            "I think we ought to take a cross-passage. Soon," said Howard. "I think I heard something behind us. I don't want to meet up with that painted Jezebel again." Well, that was what his mouth said. To his horror part of his mind disagreed. It wanted to take a closer look. He banished the thought, but it did keep creeping back as they walked. They took a branching corridor, which both impressed and irritated Howard. Their micro-irrigation was so much better. Their pruning—a sure sign of a good hard working farmer—was mediocre. A lot of pruning was a judgement call, and that seemed to be lacking.

            And looking ahead as they rounded the curve it appeared that it wasn't only the pruners whose judgement had been poor. Theirs hadn't been too good either, Howard had to admit to himself. There were at least thirty people waiting for them, and, looking back, several more on the little-two-wheeled things behind them, led by the naked painted Jezebel, grinning triumphantly.

            The people with her—and in front of them—were just as naked and just as painted, or even more painted. Some of them definitely wouldn't have been even Brother Galsson's idea of Jezebel. It began to dawn on Howard that they probably just didn't wear clothes here.

            "Surrender your arms." said an odd booming voice. "Allow yourselves to be peacefully arrested and you can expect lenient treatment. Any resistance and you will be exterminated."

            Kretz looked puzzled. "They want us to take our arms off? Do human limbs detach?"

            Despite being in obvious trouble, Howard had to smile. "No. They mean weapons. Do you have any?"

            "No," said Kretz. "I lost my laser pistol when the stripe-faces attacked us."

            "And I threw that odd stick away." Howard took a deep breath and shouted back, "We don't have any weapons. We're men of peace. Please let us pass. We intend no trespass and no harm. We are just passing through." Then his upbringing got the better of him. "Why do you not put some clothes on and cover your nakedness?" The guilty fantasies that every man had had of naked women had not prepared him for the fact that sometimes clothes could be doing you a favor.

            There was a long pause. "Advance one at a time," said the booming voice. "The bigger one first."

            Howard looked at the women, and felt that perhaps the terrors of space had not been that bad. But there seemed no help for it, so he advanced, trying not to look at them. "Peace be with you, Sisters," he said, holding out his empty hands.

            The Jezebel who had met them at the airlock came running up, and grabbed his arm, twisting it up behind his back. "You're under arrest, scumbag emseepee."

            Howard blinked at the woman next to his left shoulder. "Why?" he asked. "What have we done wrong?"

            "Indecent public appearance. And being out in public without a woman. That'll do for starters. And assaulting an officer!" she said, trying to force his arm upward.

             All Howard could think was that she'd gone mad. Maybe they were all mad here. "It is you who have kicked and hit me, and are now trying to twist my arm!" he protested.

            "Cuff him," she snapped. There was a red blush of fury to her features, that contrasted with the painstakingly painted picture pattern on her face. "You can tell your story to the judge."