Part 5 of the 8 part A Man Called Mister Brown serial by A.R. Yngve finds Vaino “Green” Fingers and Mister Brown in a prison camp, where they come face to face with Ms. Hitt. — ed, N.E. Lilly

The camp commander, a Cybe named Lyme, was an old acquaintance of Armini Hitt. The Terran Fleet almost always cooperated with the ATAF and its operatives.

He personally welcomed her to Camp Adonis, the asteroid where the Fleet housed a classified number of prisoners. In the low gravity, flesh deteriorated and living bone became brittle when untreated — but Cybes suffered hardly any physical problems.

Ms. Hitt’s ATAF shuttle landed and was hauled down into the hangar cave. Among the parked warships she noticed one: its insignia had been painted over, and it showed signs of wear and tear.

Commander Lyme came over to her on a baggage train, and they embraced. Taller than her, Lyme had a lean build and short gray hair.

“You haven’t changed, Hitt,” he said when their lips had parted. “Still that strawberry taste.”

“I remember what you like,” Hitt replied, and felt his body for signs of changes. “Got upgraded?”

“If you can stay 48 hours, I’ll show you.” He released her. “Right now I’m busy.” He moved the baggage train to the shuttle’s cargo bay and let the robots unload it. “What’re you up to?”

“Let’s talk about it someplace private,” she said. “Say, that old ship… seems familiar.”

Lyme nodded. “It’s unbelievable, I tell you. The Babykiller’s been missing for three years, and 48 hours ago it just popped up on our screens — halfway between Earth and this rock. I sent out a boarding party, they found two passengers and a broken-down robodog. The ship was armed, but somebody had jammed the cannons — otherwise they could have fried my crew!”

“Two passengers. A NeoMartian and an Old Terran with brown skin?”

“How did you know?”

“Agency business. Could I see them?”

“Of course. I was going to visit them anyway. The Greenie, Mr. Vaino ’Green’ Fingers, a real character, he served me this crazy story.” Lyme tried to suppress a smile. “They’d been held hostage on Venus, and escaped in a captured warship that the enemy stored in a cave somewhere. The lie-detector doesn’t work on Greenies — they can control their blood pressure — so we’re holding them here until they decide to talk.”

Lyme detached their car from the baggage train, and steered it toward the prison block.

“And the Terran?”

“Mr. Brown. A known freelancer, but… willful. The lie-detector’s got problems with him too, not sure why. Damned nuisance. He might be working for the Stinkers. I’ll keep him here…”

“…until he talks. Good.” Hitt gave Lyme a squeeze where she knew a Cybe would feel it. “I might have an offer for you… after you show me those upgrades.”

The 1,000 prisoners in Camp Adonis lived and died in a 150 meter wide, oval space in the very center of the asteroid. Gravity here was so low that anyone could kick himself from one end to another; “floor” and “wall” were the same. Each prisoner had just about enough space to sleep; there were 10 toilets. Every 12 hours, the lights dimmed to simulate night. Holo-shows were screened once every standard day.

A handful of bots served as prison-guards. All the bots were blind and navigated by radar and sound alone: no cameras were allowed inside the asteroid. Human personnel served week-long shifts and were quickly replaced before they could get sick from the foul air.

The life-support system recycled water from the prisoners’ body waste, and fertilized the greenhouse with the dry parts of the waste. A persistent rumor circulated among the prisoners, that their meager rations were partly made up of processed meat from dead prisoners, as a form of torture.

The rumor was only partly true: the purpose of reprocessing was to save up on expenses.

Prisoners M-0089 Fingers and T-0010 Brown were on latrine duty when Ms. Hitt came to visit.

Nice work, Brownie.” Green adjusted his filter mask. “I could have been the richest man in the universe, and you had to ruin everything.”

Brown seemed more exasperated than angry. “If I had let you shoot down that boarding party, we’d both be vaporized now. This base is part of the Terran defense ring, and is armed with a proton cannon. It’s your own fault the ship’s cloaking broke.”

In order to unclog the septic tanks in low gravity, the men peered into dirty inspection windows to see where the remote-operated suction tools and brushes would go. To watch raw sewage slosh around for a whole ten-hour shift got boring quickly. They pulled and turned the control rods on the tank lids, and slowly stirred the slag that had packed around the pumping valves.

“Watch out!” a hoarse voice shouted from the vicinity. “Incoming jumper!”

Green and Brown looked toward the center of the cave, where a human figure came hurtling past the hovering floodlights. The falling man was hugging a plastic bag filled with air, and propelled himself with the exhaust hole. As he passed the center of the cave, his velocity increased and the deflating bag made a loud fart-noise.

The jumper slammed headfirst into the concrete some ten meters from the sewage tanks. He did not fall very fast, but his deteriorated skull cracked like an eggshell.

“If I don’t get out of there soon,” Green said, “I’ll go crazy. Martians must breathe open air and sunlight to live. I’ll break out!”

“We’ve only been here one day.” Brown glanced at the curved, inverted landscape. “At least the other cons are too weak to give us trouble. Their bones are so brittle you could snap’em in half with one hand.” His gaze locked briefly on one convict nearby: a grotesquely emaciated Moonie in ragged clothing, who lay curled up against a column. Bags of water and food lay next to him, empty; he was gnawing on his own hands. The skin of his knuckles was worn down so badly that bones and red flesh were showing, and his feet were covered with blue sores.

Brown looked away. “I didn’t know it was this bad.”

Green and Brown still wore their own clothes, for nobody had tried to steal them. Serial numbers had been tattooed on the back of their hands — old-fashioned, buy maybe that was just part of the punishment.

“BROWNNN!” came a cry from the mass of huddled, hollow-eyed prisoners; the echo rang through the closed environment. A large, extremely hairy figure came toward the septic tanks, in skips and jumps. His arms bulged as thick as his legs, and he was too fat to have spent much time in the camp.

“Toe-Eater.” Brown’s scowl deepened. “Go hide, Green. I framed this guy for busting up a place on the Moon, and he’s still mad at me.”

“I can see that!” Green took a clumsy step and sailed away in an arc.

“YOU’RE DEAD, BROWN!” The giant First Martian bounded off the wall and dived down at Brown, who didn’t try to escape. Toe-Eater opened his gap and showed his sharp filed molars. In a few seconds he would hit his target and tear it apart.

Brown’s eyes widened, and suddenly he grabbed a control-rod with both hands. Holding onto the rod as a lever, he rushed around it to gain momentum. His feet flew up in the air and hit the side of Toe-Eater’s head with a crunching noise. Toe-Eater flew away and against the wall, bounced off it, bounced again and rolled into the crowd like a bowling ball. Brown winced at the snapping noises Toe-Eater’s body made as it pummeled other prisoners.

Green came out of hiding and watched as Brown spun around the rod, braking with his feet until he had slowed down enough to stand up.

Brown held his stomach; his knees wobbled. “Stay away. I’m gonna throw up…”

“You never killed a man before, Brownie?”

He groaned. “All that spinning…”

Then they saw the guard-bots approach like huge black spiders, fixing them in their spotlights and laser-sights.

“I didn’t do anything!” Green cried. “It was him! That psycho Terran!”

Lyme’s voice sounded from the speakers on the bots’ heads: “Prisoners Brown and Green. The guards will take you in for interrogation. You have a visitor.”

Green looked at Brown, who shook his head. Neither of them had expected visitors.

The robots brought them to a cell. It had padded seats and handlebars on all walls and floors. The room was separated down the middle by a transparent wall.

From the door on the other side entered Lyme, wearing his dark-blue uniform and white gloves, and another Cybe — a stunning female in a hip-hugging jumpsuit. Ash-blond hair floated like a halo around her pale, oval face. She looked Brown in the eyes and pursed her gray synthetic lips. Her irises shifted from silver to dark blue and her gaze lingered, moving quickly down and up his body.

Brown gave her a scowl. “Haven’t seen you in a while, Hitt,” he said, knowing that she would hear him.

Green didn’t know her, but he leered at the female and licked his green lips. “I have always been a friend of Cybes,” he declared a little too loudly. “Martians and Cybes are natural allies. We have taken our destiny into our own hands, and cast off the shackles of Old Ea —”

“Shut up!” Lyme’s irises shifted to red, and he pointed a finger at Green. A thin red beam shot out from the fingertip and hit Green’s stomach. The NeoMartian grasped his midsection and doubled over in pain.

“Leave me alone with them,” Hitt said. “No mikes.”

“But —”

“This is about my offer,” she whispered, leaning back against Lyme’s chest. “The Fleet hears, the offer dies.”

Lyme nodded, turned off the laser in his finger, and left the room.

Hitt’s eyes turned completely black as she scanned the room for bugs. She spotted one in the ceiling, grabbed a handlebar, jumped up and squashed the bug with the tip of her shoe.

“Okay,” she said, landing slowly on the floor. “Listen good, Brown. I know about the Lost Plutonium. Green found one of the men who stole it, and Green’s going to tell me everything he knows. And since you came with Green, you must know something too.”

Green swallowed and hid behind Brown. The Afrosian produced a toothpick and bit into it.

“I won’t lie,” he said. “I saw that man die on Venus. Green had been talking to him.”

Now the NeoMartian protested. “I don’t know nothing! Son-of-a-Pink died before he could tell me the precise location!”

Hitt scanned the two men for a few seconds, and her eyes regained their silvery hue. She squinted. “It’s hard to read you. At least one of you is lying. And if you really don’t know anything…” she made a smug face. “Enjoy your stay. They say the food is really special.”

She grabbed another handlebar and made for the door.

“Wait!” said Brown. “Green’s lying. He knows something I don’t.” Hitt stopped and turned her head. She had a long slender neck, the exact same pale color as her face; the thick wires barely showed underneath the skin. “The shipment lies buried in an unregistered graveyard that’s not on any map. The man told me the name of the grave, but not the location of the graveyard. It could lie anywhere in the Solar System, maybe not even on a planet. Green has got to know.”

Green gaped, his lower jaw moved mechanically up and down, his eyes bulged; he moved for the door and clawed at the lock. “I know nothing!”

Hitt reached for a ceiling handlebar and lifted herself without effort, then hung upside down and regarded them with renewed curiosity. “You’re not much making sense, either of you. If I knew the location of the graveyard, why would I need the name of one single grave? I’ll dig up the whole place until I find the shipment. One ton of plutonium leaves a radioactive signature you can’t miss. Green, you are going to talk.”

“She’s going to try and seduce me,” Green confided to Brown. The Terran gave the Martian a disbelieving stare. “I have that effect on women, all kinds.” He grinned and headed for the door. “Goodbye, Brownie!”

The door slid open for him and Green slinked away; the door immediately shut after him. When Brown turned around, Ms. Hitt had also left.

“Green, you sad sorry bastard,” Brown muttered and rubbed his stiff neck.

He waited a while.

A window opened in the far wall, and he could look outside. Brown saw the interior of the transparent cage that surrounded the interrogation room, with a full view of the whole prison block. Around the cage, all the prisoners were watching.

The guard-bots were holding the terrified Green, while Lyme removed his white gloves and revealed his artificial hands. Shiny metal studs grew out of the knuckles, part of his skeleton.

Ms. Hitt stood next to the cell window; she peeked in and winked at Brown, then folded her arms and watched Green patiently.

Lyme spoke to the prison block through the loudspeaker system: “Sing, everybody. Sing the anthem of the United Planets. If I spot anyone not singing, all your food rations are cut by half!”

He switched on the music, and a recorded marching-band rendition of United Planets Forever filled the cave. At first mumbling, then in thin voices, the one thousand prisoners sang:

From the Sun

To the Rim

Every human

Are as one

All we strive

to be free

to be all

we can be…

Lyme began to hit Green — mechanically, methodically, left-hand slap followed by right-hand slap, working him over from head to knee, then back again. Green screamed from the very first slap and didn’t stop screaming.

Hitt looked bored.

Brown clenched his fists and teeth. All he could do was watch, to learn whether Green was going to survive. The marching-band drowned out the screams and grew to a crescendo as the prisoners’ brittle voices sang the refrain:

United, all our many planets

United in our quest for peace

United, working all together

For a future harmony…

Brown pressed his hands over his ears. The anthem had ten verses.

The music finished, and Commander Lyme wiped his hands before he put his gloves back on. “He’s all yours, Hitt. My quarters in five hours?”

She nodded, lifted Green and carried him back into the cell where Brown waited.

Brown’s designer-tissue coat contained medical patches. He took off the coat, removed Green’s bloodied shirt and jacket, and wrapped the coat around the Martian’s upper body and head. He filled a flask from the wall tap and poured the water over Green’s swollen face.

“You might as well tell her,” Brown said. “Or we’re both gonna die here.”

Green coughed up purple-red blood and gazed at Brown through thick, clotted eyelashes. “I… tell… them… nothing. Let her take us away first. Tell her… we say nothing more unless she takes me home.”

“You don’t have a home.”

“When you’re about to die… then you remember where you came from. Tell her… that I long for my home planet… in the winter. I must go to Mars in the winter. Remember. Mars in the winter…”

Brown nodded, stood up, and knocked on the cell door.

Ms. Hitt’s quarters in Camp Adonis consisted of a low-ceilinged, wide bedroom with a bathroom alcove. Handlebar niches dotted the ceiling. Her luggage lay scattered on the floor. In the very light gravity, Brown and Hitt moved around by their hands, merely touching the floor with their feet.

Hitt ran a finger down the middle of her jumpsuit and the fabric split open, folding together by her feet. She stepped out of her shoes and toward Brown; he stood with his back to the door.

“Have you ever done it with a Cybe?” she asked. Her irises shifted to a luminous dark blue.

“Not that I know of, no. I figured I’d end up getting my genitals squeezed flat.”

“That’s a myth.” At once she seemed quite serious, as if his words had hurt. “Inside, I’m just like real flesh. Soft. Moist. Yielding.”

Brown’s gaze tried to stay on her face but kept wandering down, to her hips; Hitt’s pubic hairs were the exact same white color as her eyebrows.

He asked: “Do you feel things, the same way as before you were changed?”

Hitt raised her arms above her head and grabbed the ceiling, letting her breasts jut forward. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“I know what you’re thinking.” A smile played on her lips when she glanced at the bulge in his pants. “That’s why women rule the world, Brown. We had to take charge, to keep men from destroying everything.”

“The way you keep men like Lyme from destroying other people?”

She smirked and tossed hair from her face. “You couldn’t find a sane person to do his job. I use Lyme as long as it serves a greater purpose. The shipment will be used to free people.”

The bulge in Brown’s pants began to shrink. “Cut the speech. You’re no better than Green.”

Hitt brought her arms down, grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled him close. “You want to rot here? With your ethics and the other human garbage?”

Brown swallowed. Hitt’s knuckles were squeezing his windpipe, and her Cybe body had at least twice his strength.

“Green will die rather than talk, as long as he thinks you’ll dump him here. You need — we need him. He won’t live long in this environment. And we need your resources to move the shipment. Take us to Mars in the winter, and we’ll take you to the site.”

Hitt released his collar and he drew a deep breath.

“I suppose you want to negotiate your share?”

The bulge in Brown’s pants rebounded. “So you can read minds?” Now he smiled.

“Always could.” She put her arms around him, and he tasted her body. Hitt released scented pheromones through micropores in her skin. The chemicals helped her partner perceive her as a person of flesh and blood.

“Strawberry?” he asked, without stopping. “Inside too?”

Hitt hummed a yes, and pulled him down onto the bed.

A.R. Yngve started out as a cartoonist, but soon turned to writing. Published works include the Swedish TERRA HEXA book trilogy and short stories in Swedish, British and Chinese magazines. He has recently written a script for Scandinavian radio. Dislikes: Cats, fan fiction. Likes: Philip K. Dick, MST3K.

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