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Goblin Market

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Goblin Market

 

Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?

'Goblin Market', Christina G. Rossetti

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Chapter One
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'All right, you scum. Line up now, quiet like, and listen good. When the ports open, file out, and don't try anything, cause there's nowhere to run to. Got that? There's one likely future for you all -- working in the prison quarries until you die. And one unlikely future -- some fool might buy you as a personal slave. Like I say, that's unlikely, but they tell me everyone needs hope, so that's yours. Enjoy it while you can.'

The exit ports of the prison ship Botany Bay opened with a deep, shuddering clang. Beyond, lay the port of Bay City, the capital of the planet popularly known as Eldorado. Eldorado was a mining planet, and Starsky was here to work in the mines.

The prisoners began to file out, with that defeated slump that marked the condemned. Starsky lifted his head proudly. Whatever the universe thought of him, he did not share that view. He was not defeated until he could not tell his own soul from the image reflected back to him in the eyes of others.

There was a small crowd of spectators watching the parade of the damned. Eyes filled with contempt, amusement, speculation, or simple boredom. Occasionally, the eyes held assessment. Starsky remembered the words of the guard. That someone might be interested in buying a new personal slave. The concept held both hope and despair. Such a fate might be a step up in the world, depending on the buyer. Working in the quarries was a death sentence, and everyone in the column knew it.

The column moved forward slowly, as each prisoner was processed. So far, none of the spectators seemed to be in a buying mood. Starsky couldn't really blame them. Most of these prisoners were scum even in the eyes of the common criminal. Child rapists. Men who had killed their own parents for money. There was a reason Starsky had been included in this group of prisoners, and he knew it. No matter how little love the criminal element had for child rapists, they had even less love for him. He was the lowest of the low in this group, and that fact had been rubbed in his nose every day.

As he moved nearer to the head of the line, he could feel eyes upon him. Perhaps his proud, erect stance had attracted attention. Starsky wondered if that had been wise. The feeling of being watched was making his skin crawl. He glanced around the group of spectators, searching for those eyes.

He found them. They were set in a face that Starsky supposed was handsome. Most of the world would see it that way. But the man himself would so obviously agree with that assessment, and that lessened his attraction, in Starsky's eyes. He seemed amused by Starsky, watching him rather as a cat would watch a mouse. When Starsky reached the head of the line, and his name was called, the man stepped forward.

'Prisoner number 0653228. David Michael Starsky,' called out the guard.

'I will purchase this prisoner,' said the blond man, with the cold eyes.

'Mr. Hutchinson. I would suggest against it, but only for your own safety. This is a highly dangerous prisoner.'

The blond man laughed. 'I like dangerous men,' he said. 'I intend to tame him.' Several of the nearest spectators laughed, along with him.

The guard shrugged. 'As long as you sign this statement, absolving the prison of all liability, you may do what you will with him. That will be 200 credits, please.'

Starsky opened his mouth to protest that he'd rather work in the quarries, if they didn't mind. He shut it again, quickly. There was no one here who cared what his preferences were, least of all the guards. There were always more prisoners to work, and die, in the quarries. The 200 credits were a welcome bonus.

The blond man stepped closer, to sign the release forms, and Starsky shuddered. He wondered exactly how this Mr. Hutchinson intended to tame him, and what he would do when he discovered that Starsky couldn't be tamed. All in all, Starsky thought it might be best to make that clear from the start. By far the best. Let death come quickly, rather than in slow, agonizing torture.

The blond man lifted his pen to sign away Starsky's life.

'Hold on,' said a voice from the back of the crowd. 'Are you sure his credits are good?'

The blond man turned. 'Ken?' he said. His voice turned cold. 'Of course my credits are good. What is this game you're playing?'

'Game?' asked the new man. 'No game. I don't trust you, and you're my own brother. Why should these people trust you? I'm suggesting they should check your credits, and in the meantime, take mine instead. They're above suspicion.' He pulled out his badge, and opened it. 'This trumps any number of credits,' he said.

'Sergeant Hutchinson, are you offering to buy this prisoner yourself?' asked the guard.

'Yes, and as you know, the Bay City Police Department has first choice of all new recruits for the quarries.'

'You were late in arriving,' said the first Mr. Hutchinson. 'I have already bought this slave.'

'Buy another,' said the sergeant. He turned to the guard. 'Let me see the cargo manifest.' He ordered.

'David Michael Starsky. It says here, you were a cop?' asked the sergeant.

'Yes,' said Starsky. He lifted his head even higher. 'I am.'

Sergeant Hutchinson smiled. 'Good,' he said. He turned again to the guard. 'Hand over the key.'

The guard looked back and forth between his two customers. He was, as Starsky well knew, both cruel and brutal, and entirely capable of dealing with the most violent of prison riots. That he now looked worried at the prospect of choosing between the two Hutchinson brothers, gave Starsky pause.

'I… I'm not sure what….'

Sergeant Hutchinson's fist connected with the guard's belly. His knee connected with the guard's groin. His hand connected with the back of the guard's neck. The guard collapsed moaning on the ground.

'Get up!' snapped the sergeant. The guard struggled to his feet. 'Thank you,' the sergeant continued. 'Do you feel a little less unsure now? Good. I represent the law here, not my brother. I require that this man have full use of both his hands for the work I intend to give him. And I don't intend to sign your release. As far as I'm concerned, you're responsible for everything that goes wrong on this planet. Including the weather. Hand over the key.'

The guard looked at one of his assistants. The assistant rummaged through a box of keys, and handed one to the sergeant.

'Let's just be sure it's the right one,' said Sergeant Hutchinson.

Starsky felt cool, rough hands on his for a moment, as the cop opened his hand cuffs, then locked them again.

'Sorry that I have to leave them locked until your release is finalized,' said the sergeant. 'That won't take long. Come along.'

'I won't forget this, Ken,' said Mr. Hutchinson. 'I'd already bought this slave. You were late.'

'My flyer wouldn't start,' said the sergeant. 'Don't try that again, Morgan, or there won't be a flyer in your garage that will ever work again.'

Starsky followed the sergeant to his flyer, feeling the cold, acquisitive stare of Morgan Hutchinson the whole way.

Ken Hutchinson opened the flyer door, and climbed in, then waved Starsky inside. The flyer rose in a slow, vertical lift, until it was in the traffic stream, then shot forward. They flew for a few moments in silence. Hutchinson put the flyer on automatic pilot, and took his hands off the controls. He leaned back in his seat, and turned to Starsky.

'We were in the Academy together,' he said.

'Yes,' said Starsky. 'I remember you now. Was that why you bought me?'

'What? For old times sake? No. Not at all.'

'Do you… do you have some sort of grudge against me, then?' asked Starsky. Now he was wondering if he'd had a lucky break, or not.

Hutchinson laughed. 'A grudge? No. I wouldn't go to all that trouble, just to get revenge for some imagined slight back in my school days. Did you slight me?'

'Not that I remember,' said Starsky. 'I used to get up to some practical jokes, though,' he admitted.

Hutchinson laughed again. 'So did I,' he said. They were silent for another minute. 'What happened?' asked Hutchinson, at last.

'What happened?' Starsky echoed. 'You mean, this?' he waved his cuffed hands, and indicated his prison uniform. 'It's a long story,' he said.

'They usually are,' said Hutchinson. 'You can tell me the whole thing tonight. I want to know your side of it.'

'I can give you my side of it,' said Starsky. 'For what it's worth.'

'What is it worth?'

'For me?' asked Starsky. 'Everything. For the rest of the universe? Nothing, it seems. They did their work well.'

'Who?' asked Hutchinson.

'Gunther and his gang,' said Starsky.

'Ah, yes. Gunther. I still want to hear your story, but you don't need to justify yourself any further. I believe you already.'

Starsky sat silent the rest of the trip, not quite willing to trust his luck. The last couple of years had taught him too well the folly of that.

The flyer landed on the roof of a tall, black tower of glass and steel.

'Metro,' said Hutch, as he drove it into a designated parking space. 'Let's get you showered and into some decent clothes before we go and see Captain Dobey.'

Starsky nodded. 'Do you have quarters here?' he asked.

'Yes. Not very large quarters. You'll have to sleep on the couch for now. But if all goes well, I should be able to apply for larger quarters, and you'll have your own room.'

Starsky nodded again, as if he understood what Sergeant Hutchinson was talking about, though he knew nothing about the customs on Eldorado. On Earth, officers above the rank of Detective had separate quarters off base. Starsky followed his owner into a turbolift, and held onto a railing as it carried them down. He watched the lights blink, from level 75 to level 43. The turbolift stopped. The door opened and Starsky filed out behind the sergeant.

Hutchinson opened the door to his quarters, and waved Starsky in. 'Here. Let me take those cuffs off,' he said. 'If you promise not to try to run, or to murder me, for the next few minutes.'

'Murder you?' asked Starsky. 'Why... why would I do that? I'm no murderer. I thought you believed me.'

The walls of the room seemed to be closing in on him. The sudden change from almost believing he was trusted, to realizing he was not, was making him dizzy. He could hear Hutchinson's voice, saying something about a joke. He could feel Hutchinson's hands, gripping his arms, and he flinched away. He tried to fling up his arms to protect his face, and slumped back against the wall in despair.

'Starsky. Starsky? Here. Drink this.'

Starsky looked up. Sergeant Hutchinson was bending over him, offering him a glass of something that looked highly alcoholic. He took it with his bound hands, and gulped it down. 'I'm sorry,' he managed to gasp, after a moment.

'For what?' asked Hutchinson. 'This was my fault.'

'No it wasn't. I'm not usually so....' Starsky's throat closed, and he couldn't speak another word.

'Finish that drink,' said Hutchinson. 'That's better. Now, let's get those cuffs off. Then, I want you to take a shower, like I said. Get the stink of that transport ship off you. How long were you in space, anyway?'

'Two months,' Starsky managed to say.

Hutchinson removed the cuffs, and hung them on his belt. He offered Starsky his hand, and pulled him to his feet. 'Two months?' he asked. 'Where did you come from? Earth?'

'Yes. I was in prison there for the last two years, until all my appeals ran out. I guess they were worried I'd find some other basis to appeal, so they sentenced me to transportation to the colonies, and I ended up here.'

'For what?' asked Hutchinson. 'What were you accused of?'

'Accused of? Everything in the book,' said Starsky. 'I was convicted of armed robbery and manslaughter. I'm innocent, but I couldn't prove it.'

'I didn't know you had to prove it,' said Hutchinson. 'I thought they had to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'

'Well, they did,' said Starsky. 'To the satisfaction of the jury, anyway. Can I have that shower now?'

'Sure. Sorry. Here's the washroom. Just toss those rags out the door, and I'll get you some of my own clothes. You're a little smaller than I am, but you can roll up the cuffs. Those… shoes you're wearing will have to do for now. We'll go shopping tomorrow. Get you something better.'

Starsky turned on the shower, and stood under the needle-sharp spray for some minutes. The water felt cleaner, and smelt cleaner, and even looked cleaner than the prison water. So did the soap, when at last he picked it up. It smelt like pine needles, he thought. Or smoky leaves in the autumn, from his boyhood. Had he ever had a boyhood, or was that just something he'd read about in a book?

'Starsky?' asked a voice from the doorway.

'Yeah?' he called back.

'You okay?'

'Yeah. I'll be right out.'

'Take your time,' said Hutchinson. 'Just don't pass out and hit your head. We need to see Dobey, and then we need to talk.'

'I'm coming,' said Starsky. He climbed out of the shower, and reached for a towel.

Hutchinson watched calmly from the doorway. 'You're too skinny. You need to eat more,' he said.

'You sound like my mother,' said Starsky.

Hutchinson handed him his clothes, and watched while he dressed. Starsky was used to the guards watching his every move, but Hutchinson's eyes were gentler. Starsky pulled on his shoes, then held out his hands for the cuffs. Hutchinson sighed.

'Just get it over with,' said Starsky.

The turbolift descended once more. Down to level 21, this time. Eyes followed them, as they entered the bullpen. A gruff voice hailed them from an office doorway.

'Hutchinson! Where've you been? And who's your prisoner?'

'Not my prisoner, Captain,' said the sergeant, as he waved Starsky into the captain's office. 'This is David Starsky. I just purchased him from the prison quarries.'

'And why, might I ask? Don't we have enough muscle, for the moment? And he's a bit too thin for that, anyway.'

'I didn't buy him for muscle, Captain,' said the sergeant. 'I need a new partner. Starsky used to be a cop.'

'What?' roared the captain. 'If you think I'm going to allow you to hit the streets with some criminal at your side, you have another think coming.'

'Captain, listen. I need a partner. It's dangerous out there. All they send us anymore, are raw recruits, or broken down old drunks.'

'And what makes you think this crook is any better?'

'He's not a criminal, Captain. I'll stake my badge on that. He was framed, by Gunther and his gang. I went to the Academy with Starsky. I trust him.'

We saw each other, as we passed in the hallways, thought Starsky. No wait. Didn't we take a class together. What was it? Interplanetary Law 305? That's it.

'Doesn't matter how well you think you know someone, Hutchinson,' said Dobey. 'Men change.'

'So they can change back, if given enough incentive,' said Hutchinson. 'I'm willing to take the risk, in this case. What about you, Starsky?'

'Huh?' said Starsky.

'How much do you believe in yourself? Do you want to clear your name?'

'Yes,' said Starsky, slowly. 'I'd like that, of course. But I'm not sure it's possible, anymore. I've been trying for two years.'

'What's two years?' asked Hutchinson.

'A lifetime, if it's spent on Alcatraz,' said Starsky.

Hutchinson dismissed Earth's prison satellite with the insouciance of a man who'd only visited that hellhole once on a field trip. 'Why give up now?' he asked.

'Who says I've given up?' Starsky shot back. 'I haven't given up. I'm just pointing out that clearing my name might not be possible. What is it you're asking me to do, to achieve the impossible?'

'Haven't you been listening? I need a new partner. My last partner got himself killed. And the one before that. The one before that disappeared.'

'And what about the one before that?' asked Starsky.

'He went nuts. He's back where he came from. What does it matter? They were raw recruits, or broken down old drunks. I need a partner. We went through the Academy together. You have experience. At this point, I don't care if you're innocent or guilty. If you can go straight, and watch my back, I'll do my best to clear your name, soon as I get the chance.'

It was a bit of a fool's hope, thought Starsky. What chance would a cop out here in the colonies have to investigate the truth about a crime back on Earth. But any hope was better than none at all. And being Ken Hutchinson's partner beat working in the quarries until he dropped dead.

'I don't like it, Hutchinson,' said Dobey.

'Captain.'

'I don't like it, Hutchinson. But I'll give my consent, on one condition. He wears a collar.'

'Captain!'

'He wears a collar, Hutchinson. I'm not letting him loose out on the streets. Not on anyone's word, not even yours.'

'Captain, you can't make him....'

'I can and I will. You want him as your partner? Fine. You got him as your partner, but on my terms.'

'Starsky? I'm sorry. Would you go along with that? You're a good cop, I believe that. It's a crime to treat you like the common run of muscle around here....'

'It's better than the quarries,' said Starsky. 'Whatever you like.'

'Okay,' said the Captain. 'Take him down to processing, and get the collar put on.'

'On one condition of my own, Captain. We need partner quarters. No, listen. He'll wear a collar, but I'm his master. His only master. He sleeps in my quarters. But he needs his own room. He can't sleep on the couch every night, and be on his feet all day. And he needs proper equipment.'

'No gun!' said the Captain.

'Captain, that's not safe.'

'No gun. That's final. Partner quarters? That's fine. Here. It's all approved.' Captain Dobey passed a credit token over to Hutchinson. 'Take the rest of the day, and tomorrow, off. Get settled. Show him around Bay City, so he knows where the hell he is. Feed him up, he's too skinny. Fill him in on the Goblins, and the Fence and everything. Then, you hit the streets. And if he behaves himself, we'll see about a stun gun. Eventually. Now, get out of here.'

'Thanks, Captain,' said Hutchinson.

'Don't thank me,' said the captain. 'I have a bad feeling about this.'

 

*********

The turbolift carried them down to Stores and Requisitions. Hutchinson fell silent, and he seemed despondent.

'If a collar means I can work with you, and walk about freely, I don't see a problem,' said Starsky, after a few minutes of this. The lift door opened, and Hutchinson waved him ahead, then took his arm, and steered him to the left.

'Of course you don't,' said Hutchinson. 'You're gaining. I'm losing.'

'Losing?' asked Starsky. 'Losing what?'

Hutchinson stopped, outside the door to the storeroom. 'I don't want to be at the other end of this damned collar, okay?' he said, softly. 'I don't want a slave, and I don't want to be your master. I don't want to be anyone's master.'

'Then don't be my master,' said Starsky. 'Just pretend when we're in public.'

'It's not that simple. What if I get into the act too deeply?'

'We can have a safeword,' Starsky suggested.

Hutchinson tossed him a wry grin, and pushed open the door.

'Okay, Robbins,' he said. 'My new partner here needs a collar.'

'New partner?' asked the man behind the counter. 'Since when do partners wear collars?'

'It's a long story,' said Hutchinson. 'And I haven't got time. Just get us a collar. The lightest weight. I need to keep him in line, not torture him every night.'

Robbins looked Starsky up and down, coldly. 'If you say so,' he said. He disappeared into the aisles of stacked equipment, and emerged a few moments later with a slender steel collar. Looped around it, was a matching wrist band.

'Sign for it here,' said Robbins, pointing to an electronic pad.

Hutchinson signed the pad, and added his thumb print. He sighed, but he took the collar and band. 'Let's do this out in the hall,' he said to Starsky. 'Then at least we can go shopping, and find new quarters.'

'New quarters?' asked Robbins. 'You're serious? This guy is really your partner?'

'Yeah, he's really my partner. What's it to you?'

'Nothing,' said Robbins. 'I don't care if he murders you in your bed.' The man snickered, as if at a private joke.

'Murders me in my bed?' asked Hutchinson. 'Why would he do that?'

'Oh, haven't you heard? Seems to be the thing for partners, these days. Mitchison and Levi, for example. One of them killed the other. Think it was Mitchison killed Levi. Or the other way around. Same difference.'

'Didn't they have the corner suite on Level 30?' asked Hutchinson.

'Yeah,' said Robbins. 'What about it?'

'We'll take it,' said Hutchinson.

'Man, you are cold,' said Robbins. 'The body's probably still warm, and the blood's all over the floor.'

'We need a suite, and they don't,' said Hutchinson. 'One of them's dead, and the other has a nice new jail cell. If we clean up the place for you, it will save you a lot of work, so can we have it?'

'Sure,' said Robbins. 'Sign here. There's the key. And don't say I never did anything for you.'

'He's right. You are cold,' Starsky noted, out in the hall.

'Good corner suites are hard to find,' said Hutchinson. 'And I don't have much sympathy for either Mitchison or Levi. Like Robbins said, it's a toss up as to which one murdered the other. Now, come here. This shouldn't feel uncomfortable. Let me know if it does, okay?'

'Okay,' said Starsky. He couldn't help but feel nervous, despite his brave words earlier. He knew the basic principle of restraining collars, but had never actually seen one. They were illegal on Earth. He felt Hutchinson's strong hands on his throat, then the cold steel band settling against his flesh. He closed his eyes.

Hutchinson brushed his hair away from the collar, gently. 'Does it feel tight, or anything?' he asked.

'No,' said Starsky.

'I'm setting it to the lowest setting,' Hutchinson continued. 'If I dared, I'd leave it off, but we better not tempt fate. Someone might notice.'

'Yes,' said Starsky.

'Now I have to put the arm band on, and we're all set.' His voice sounded tight.

'I'll do that for you, if you like,' said Starsky, opening his eyes.

Hutchinson looked a bit pale. 'Why would you do that?' he asked.

'It's not so bad. You gave me a choice. This, or being worked to death in the quarries. Remember? Keep remembering that.'

'I'll try,' said Hutchinson. He unlocked Starsky's handcuffs, and hung them on his belt, then handed Starsky the armband.

'Which wrist?' asked Starsky.

'The left, I guess. I'm right handed, so that's the most convenient.'

'I'm left handed,' said Starsky.

'I noticed. I'm putting this on the lowest setting too. Now, behave, because I don't want to have to use it.'

'What would make you use it?' asked Starsky.

'I don't know. Don't leave wet towels all over the washroom floor? Let's go check out that corner suite.'

Suite 3005 was large. It had two bedrooms, a large living room, a study alcove, and two bathrooms. Also a glass enclosed balcony.

Suite 3005 was a shambles. There was indeed a considerable amount of blood in one of the bedrooms, but no body.

'Is it really all right for us to move in?' asked Starsky. 'Won't someone be around to check out the crime scene?'

'Crime scene? What crime scene?' asked Hutchinson. 'One of them killed the other. What's the crime in that? Or the big mystery, for that matter? Other than the fact that it took so long, I mean. Look at this place. Even I'm not this messy.'

'I hope not,' said Starsky. Hutchinson's own rooms had been neat enough, from what he had seen of them. but everyone had their little hidden depravities. Starsky had roomed with a man at the Academy, who threw his empty beer cans under his bed, behind the couch, and everywhere except in the proper garbage receptacle. Looking around the Mitchison-Levi residence, he wondered if the murder victim was responsible for this mess. If so, he might be persuaded to feel a certain sympathy for the killer.

'Find a broom, will you? If they have one,' he said to Hutchinson, before he thought.

Hutchinson said nothing. He went away, and came back a moment later with a broom, and a mop as well. 'Here we are,' he said. 'I think this bed is a write-off. But the other one is probably usable, and we can bring my bed down from my old suite. Which room would you prefer?'

'Uh...' said Starsky.

'Yeah,' said Hutchinson. 'You can have the other room. I don't believe in ghosts.'

They spent the evening cleaning the new suite. It gave Starsky a certain satisfaction. Clearing out the trash, he thought. It was symbolic, or something. 'I think we need to stop and eat,' he suggested to Hutchinson. 'I'm beginning to feel philosophical.'

'Is that dangerous?' asked Hutchinson.

'In my case, yes.'

They went back up to Hutchinson's old rooms, and the sergeant began pulling food containers out of the refrigerator unit. 'Just sit down over there,' he said. 'Let's relax for the rest of the evening. We can finish moving in the morning, then I'll show you around Bay City.' He opened some containers, and threw out the contents.

'The whole city?' asked Starsky. 'It looks almost as big as Los Angeles.'

'Not quite, but close enough,' said Hutchinson. 'We'll do a fly over, then I'll take you around our beat. Introduce you to some of my friends.'

'Snitches?'

'Those too,' said Hutchinson. 'I just had a thought. Mitchison and Levi had the beat next to mine. How much you want to bet the Captain dumps it all on us?' He opened another container, and looked inside. 'This looks okay,' he said. 'Smells okay.' He put the container in the oven, and set the controls. 'Do you like to cook?' he asked Starsky.

'I love to cook.'

'Great. You can cook dinner tomorrow night.' The oven bell dinged. 'Let's eat,' said Hutchinson.

The stew wasn't bad, after all. 'Did you cook this yourself?' asked Starsky.

'Yes. I like cooking, too. We can take turns.'

'Sure,' said Starsky. They were sitting out on the small balcony, watching the sun set. 'This is a lot more pleasant than the dining hall on Alcatraz. Or on the transport ship. I never saw the dining hall at the prison quarries, but....'

'This is still more pleasant,' said Hutchinson.

'I'm grateful,' said Starsky. 'I wish I could show you how grateful.'

'You can,' said Hutchinson. 'Watch my back. Don't get into any trouble. Don't murder me in my sleep. That's all.'

'You have high requirements for a partner, don't you? Now I'm starting to wonder if I can measure up.'

Hutchinson turned and looked at him. 'Seriously, Starsky. After three years here, that's all I ask.'

'I can give you more than that, Sergeant.'

'No. I don't want more than that. Just do your job.'

'I'm not offering more than you want,' said Starsky. 'I'm offering you what you need.'

'Out of gratitude?' asked Hutchinson.

'You make it sound dirty,' Starsky observed. 'That wasn't what I meant. Can't we be friends? Maybe not close friends. We don't really know each other, whatever you said to your Captain Dobey. And even if we had known each other, the captain's right. Men do change. But I swear, Hutchinson. I didn't change. I didn't do what they accused me of doing.'

'I believe you,' said Hutchinson. 'Now, tell me your side of the story.'

Starsky looked out over the darkening landscape of Bay City. What had happened seemed so far away in both space and time. His side of the story. He remembered science classes at the Academy, chiefly because he had struggled through them. But a certain amount of the required information had been pounded into his brain. Earth didn't need or want stupid police officers. You never knew when a piece of information that seemed useless and irrelevant might suddenly become quite relevant and useful in solving a crime.

Take relativity, and the concept that there was no centre of the universe, no single viewpoint that was the correct one. How each object and body was the centre of its own universe, and everything else revolved around it.

'You have to understand that very few criminals see themselves as being in the wrong,' one of his professors had pointed out. 'They see themselves as justified, for whatever reason. And we are the ones in the wrong. If you want to be a truly good police officer, you have to understand that. You have to be able to put yourself in the position of the person committing the crime. Otherwise, the criminals are just incomprehensible foreign bodies to you.'

'Isn't that dangerous?' Starsky had asked.

'Dangerous?' she said. 'Yes. It's dangerous being a police officer. Get used to the idea of danger, because you'll be living with it for a long time.'

'My side of the story?' said Starsky, now. 'My brother, Nicky, is a small time crook. Was. I suppose he's moved up in the world now. Joined Gunther's gang.'

'Oh, yes,' said Hutchinson. 'Brothers.'

'I... I couldn't help but notice that....'

'That I don't exactly get along with my own brother? You're right.'

'I didn't want to mention it earlier, but thanks for saving me from your brother, as well as the quarries. I don't know exactly what he meant by taming me, but it didn't sound pleasant.'

'You have a talent for understatement,' said Hutchinson.

'Was his interest in me sexual?'

Hutchinson laughed. 'Not in the usual sense,' he said. 'He doesn't date men. He has girlfriends. I suppose he gets a sexual thrill out of dominating other men.'

'And you're worried about being like him,' Starsky noted. 'That's why this collar upsets you. I haven't known you for long, but I don't think you're like him at all. He frightened me. You don't.'

'Yes,' said Hutchinson. 'Go on with your story.'

'Nicky. He got involved in some small way with Gunther's gang. I was sent in undercover to investigate. Nicky was getting scared, or so he said, and he asked me to help him get out. I tried. But it all fell apart. The next thing I knew, I was under arrest. I told them I was undercover. They didn't buy it. They said I'd been working with Nicky, that we were in it together. Nicky was still on the lam. I kept expecting him to come in, give himself up, and support my story.'

'But he didn't,' said Hutchinson.

'How'd you guess?' asked Starsky. 'I wasn't involved in the robbery, or the shooting. But they had my DNA at the crime scenes. I told them it must be Nicky's. They said no, that it was mine.'

'DNA evidence can be planted,' said Hutchinson. 'That's why it's not conclusive.'

'Didn't matter at that point if it was conclusive. I realized that Gunther had arranged the whole thing. He must have. Nothing else makes sense, because otherwise, the whole trial made no sense. No one believed I was innocent. Not even my mother. I kept telling people I wasn't there. I didn't shoot anyone, let alone an innocent guard. But no one listened. By the end, even I was starting to doubt myself.'

'Kafka,' said Hutchinson.

'What?'

'Kafka. The Trial. It's an old book. From the Twentieth Century, I think. I remember a line or two. "It consists of this. That innocent persons are accused of guilt, and senseless proceedings are put in motion against them."'

'Yeah,' said Starsky. 'But I guess from their perspective the proceedings weren't senseless. Otherwise, why proceed? Someone got something out of it all.' He yawned.

'You're exhausted,' said Hutchinson. 'Why don't you get some sleep. I'm going out for a while, and I'll have to lock you in. You're not allowed out without me.'

'That's okay,' said Starsky. 'It's none of my business, but will you be back tonight, or in the morning?'

'If we're rooming together, it's your business. I'll be back tonight. Just going to see a friend of mine. Sweet Alice. She's a pro, but a good friend, too. There aren't many women on this planet, even today. And most of them have partners, of one sort or another. If you like, if you're not that tired, Sweet Alice might accommodate you, too.'

'No thanks,' said Starsky.

'Sorry if that was an offensive offer,' said Hutchinson. 'I didn't mean it to sound patronizing. I just supposed it's been a while since you've had female company. Unless you don't care for that?'

'I like women fine,' said Starsky. 'But I'm tired. Maybe next time?'

Hutchinson gripped his arm, in a friendly fashion. 'Sure,' he said. 'Next time. Whenever you like. Make yourself at home. I'll see you later.'

The sergeant grabbed his jacket, and strode out the door on his long legs. The door shut behind him, and Starsky heard the hum of the computerized lock. He was locked in, but this was no jail cell. For the first time in two years, he was truly alone. The apartment was quiet. There were no screaming prisoners banging on their cell walls. No guards coming around to make sure he wasn't trying to hang himself in his cell. No one threatening him with obscene retribution if they managed to get him alone in the showers.

He prowled the apartment, and found the entertainment centre, and a stash of video and audio discs. Music. When was the last time he'd had the chance to listen to whatever music he liked? He put an audio disc in the player. The Starry Night Quartet. Contemporary Jazz and Classical Fusion. The first track was called 'Desire'.

 

*******************

He must have fallen asleep somewhere in the middle of the fourth audio disc, thought Starsky. The lights were very dim, since no movement had occurred in the room for some hours. He stirred, sat up, and one of the lights went back on, very low. He checked the timepiece beside the couch. It was after midnight. The apartment felt empty, and he was sure he would have heard if Sergeant Hutchinson had returned.

He's a grown man, Starsky thought. He's out having a good time with a girl. He can take care of himself.

He's out visiting a prostitute, probably in a rough part of town, thought Starsky, some time later. I don't know much about Bay City, but what I do know isn't positive. Most people here are prospectors in every sense of the term. Out for what they can get. Recognizing no law except the survival of the fittest and the cruellest. Hutchinson wanted me to watch his back. I should have swallowed my pride and gone with him.

He got up and began to pace back and forth. Finally, he tried the door, but the lock was indeed set, and didn't yield to his palm print. I should get him to change that, thought Starsky, once he trusts me more. There will certainly be some occasions when I'll have to go out without him. Maybe there's a spare key around?

He began to search through drawers, underneath cabinets, every possible place someone might hide an extra key, without success. Finally, he admitted defeat, and sat down to think.

Even if he had been able to leave the apartment, how would he find Sergeant Hutchinson, in a strange city? He could ask where the red light district was, for a start. Sweet Alice. He could ask for her. Maybe he could try to contact whoever was on duty at the front desk here in Metro? Maybe they would check on Hutchinson, though the sergeant wouldn't appreciate this interference in his private life. Starsky tried the computer terminal on the sergeant's desk, but it was password protected. Another search of the apartment failed to turn up a spare cell communicator, and he probably wouldn't have been able to use it without a password either.

Damn the man, thought Starsky. I suppose I'm lucky I could use his entertainment centre without logging on with my palm print, and a DNA sample.

At that moment, the apartment door opened, and Sergeant Hutchinson walked in.

'Where were you?' Starsky started to say. He changed it to, 'What happened to you? Your girl got a little rougher than you planned?'

'No,' said Hutchinson. His voice sounded weary. 'I was on my way home. Ran into some trouble. I'm okay.'

'You should have stopped off at the Medic's. Sit down. Let me take a look. I'm no medic, but I know some first aid. You feel cold. Put this around you.' Starsky reached for the blanket he'd been using, and wrapped it around Hutchinson's shoulders. 'You're going to have a black eye tomorrow, and everyone will be looking at me funny.'

'Sorry,' said Hutchinson, sarcastically. 'I should have thought of that, before getting in a fight.'

'I'll wear a sign. It Wasn't Me. Hold on. I'll get you some ice, that's the best thing.'

'Starsky. Don't bother. I'm fine, I keep telling you.'

'Just sit there and be quiet, will you? Are you always so stubborn? No wonder all your partners went nuts.' Starsky got ice from the freezer, and wrapped it in a towel. 'Put this on your eye, and I'll make you something hot to drink. What's in this tin? Herbal tea? You like this crap? Just because something's natural, doesn't mean it's good for you. Poison ivy is natural. Got any pain killers in the medicine cabinet? Ah. There we go. Swallow this… Thanks.'

'Starsky.'

'Yes?'

'Are you always this bossy?'

'Yes. Drink this. Put your feet up on the stool. Now, let me see. They really worked you over, didn't they? What was it all about, do you know? Just random thuggery?'

Hutchinson sighed. 'Not exactly,' he said. 'I was on my way home, like I said. And I came across some goblin hunters.'

'What kind of hunters?' asked Starsky.

Hutchinson took a long swallow of his hot drink. 'Goblin hunters,' he repeated. 'Haven't you heard about our native population? The prospectors call them goblins. They refuse to believe that they're intelligent, or that they're people. They call them goblins, and they hunt them.'

'But that's... that's illegal, isn't it? If they're intelligent? That's murder.'

'Yeah, murder's illegal. So's slavery, but I just bought you this morning, remember? You were officially declared a non-human, once you stepped on board that prison transport. The goblins have never been declared intelligent. They don't have the status of people, so killing them isn't murder. It enrages me. I came across some of the hunters, carrying dead goblins on poles, and I went berserk, I guess. The hunters are in a lot worse shape than I am, but that won't bring those poor goblins back. What have you heard about all this back on Earth? Anything?'

'Nothing much,' Starsky admitted. 'I remember hearing about some kind of funny, ugly animals. Now I think, the guy called them goblins. Or hobgoblins. But nothing about them being intelligent.'

Hutchinson took his arm, in his strong grip. 'They are intelligent, Starsky. I have no proof. I've tried to communicate with them, but I haven't had much success. We don't speak the same language. The thing is, they have their own society. They communicate with each other. They interact like intelligent beings.'

'But... some animals do that, don't they?' asked Starsky. 'Where do you draw the line? How do you define a person?'

'Do animals engage in commerce?' asked Hutchinson.

'I don't know,' said Starsky, after thinking for a long moment. 'What do you mean? Tell me more about them.'

Hutchinson sighed, and it turned into a yawn.

'Never mind,' said Starsky. 'You're too tired to think logically, and so am I. Why don't you go to bed and get some sleep, and we'll talk about this in the morning?'

'I'll take you to see them tomorrow,' Hutchinson said. 'I'll take you through the Fence, if you're brave enough.'

'Brave? Yeah, I'm brave enough, I suppose. But what fence? Why does it take courage to go through it?'

'Come here,' said Hutchinson. 'You can catch a glimpse of the Fence from my bedroom window.'

Starsky followed the sergeant down the hall. They left the lights off, and Hutchinson drew him over to the window. 'It's not the best angle,' he said. 'But if you crane your neck -- see! Just over there.'

'It's glowing,' said Starsky. 'Is it supposed to do that?'

'Of course,' said the sergeant, as if stating the obvious.

'Is it electrified?' asked Starsky.

'No. It's just light. A fence of light.'

'Light,' said Starsky.

'Light. There are creatures out there, beyond the Fence, and they only come out after dark. They're afraid of light, or it hurts their eyes, or something. Whatever the reason, the Fence is the only thing that keeps them from coming into Bay City.'

'What would happen if they did come in?' asked Starsky, after a long moment.

'No one knows for certain,' said Hutchinson. 'When the first prospectors came here, many disappeared when they were caught out in the forest alone after dark. There are stories, but only stories, about what happened to them.' He yawned again.

'I'm sorry for keeping you awake,' said Starsky. 'You should get into bed.' He went to the light panel, and turned it up just enough, then pulled down the covers on Hutchinson's bed. 'Come on,' he said. 'Get undressed. Get some sleep.'

'You know,' said the sergeant. 'I wasn't serious about owning you as a slave. You don't have to wait on me.'

'I'm not waiting on you. I'm just trying to be as different as possible from your friends. What were their names? Levi and Mitch?'

Hutchinson was pulling off his clothes. His skin was very white. He walked quite unselfconsciously toward the bed, his large penis swinging between his legs. Starsky grinned. 'You're hung like a horse,' he said.

'Slaves aren't supposed to make personal comments like that,' Hutchinson observed, sleepily. He crawled beneath the covers. Then he patted the bed. 'Stay with me,' he said. 'I promise I won't make advances. I'm too tired.'

Starsky sat beside him on the bed. 'Are you sure?' he asked. 'Maybe I snore.'

'I'll risk it,' said Hutchinson. 'I'm serious about no advances. But that couch isn't really comfortable enough to sleep on. And I'm lonely. I hurt all over.'

Starsky stood up and pulled off his own clothes. He got under the covers. 'Put your head on my shoulder,' he said. 'I won't make advances either.'

'That's nice,' said Hutchinson. 'Thanks.'

Starsky felt the golden head settle on his shoulder. Then the man's breathing evened out, and a few minutes later, he was asleep.

Who are you, Starsky wondered. I haven't even known you for one day, and you're asleep in my arms. He tucked the covers more closely around them both, and then he fell asleep himself.

 

********************
Chapter Two
********************

Sergeant Hutchinson was already up and about when Starsky woke. He could hear noises from the kitchen, and the sounds were comforting. It was a far better thing to be awakened this way, than by the normal prison routine. He dressed quickly in his borrowed clothes, and went to the bedroom window. The sun was shining, and there was no sign of the Fence. Light had been defeated by light. Bay City looked the same as it had yesterday. No monsters, it appeared, had invaded the city overnight. He wondered if the sergeant's words had been spoken in a dream, or had been, perhaps, a joke.

Hutchinson was preparing breakfast. He looked up as Starsky joined him, and smiled shyly.

'Did you sleep well?' he asked.

'Yes,' said Starsky. 'You?'

'Well enough. Thanks, by the way.'

'For what?'

'For staying with me. It helped.'

'You're welcome,' said Starsky. 'Your bruises don't look too bad. But maybe you should see the Medic later. Just to be safe.'

Hutchinson ignored this sally. 'I made tea,' he said. 'Regular tea, not poison ivy. I'm out of coffee. It's expensive, here. But we can get some later, if you like. I'm making my usual breakfast, but you can hunt through my cupboards. Get whatever you want. We'll stock up on food when we move in.'

'Sounds fine to me,' said Starsky. 'What are you having?'

Hutchinson was mixing something in a food blender. It looked like green sludge. 'It's a drink,' he said. 'Fruit and vegetable juices.'

'What makes it so thick?' asked Starsky. 'And it bubbles. Why does it bubble?'

'Oh. That's the algae. It's local. From one of the ponds in the forest, just outside the Fence.'

'I think I'll pass,' said Starsky.

The tea was hot, and he found crackers in the cupboard, and cheese in the fridge. He sat down across from Hutchinson, and watched him drink his green sludge.

'We'll get you clothes that fit, after we finish moving,' said the sergeant. 'Then I'll show you around our beat.'

'And the forest,' said Starsky. 'You were going to show me the goblins.'

Hutchinson nodded. 'I'll take you there first,' he said. 'So we'll be sure not to get caught out after dark. And we'll visit Huggy Bear. He's one of the most important people for you to know. He's a good friend, and a good source of information. If you're ever in trouble, and I'm not available, go to him.'

Starsky nodded. 'I was worried last night,' he said. 'This is a new world to me. I don't know anyone here.'

'I'm sorry about that,' said the sergeant. 'I should have thought. Made better arrangements. But we'll fix you up with some contacts.'

'A communicator?' Starsky ventured.

'Sure,' said Hutchinson. He drank in silence for a moment. Then, 'I hope I didn't do anything to make you uncomfortable last night.'

'Uncomfortable?' asked Starsky. 'In what way?'

'I know what it's like in prison. Well, I've heard about it. Read about it.'

'It can be ugly,' said Starsky. 'Men become like animals. No, that's not fair to the animals. Like caged animals, maybe? But what does that have to do with you?'

'When I asked you to sleep with me, I hope that didn't....'

Starsky laughed. He put his hand on Hutchinson's. 'I wasn't frightened,' he said. 'You don't look like a rapist to me. Does that make sense?'

'Yes,' said Hutchinson. 'I hate the very idea of rape. It's why this collar makes me nervous.' He reached out and touched the steel band around Starsky's neck. 'I don't want you to feel that I'll use it to have that sort of power over you. If I ever do anything to bring back bad memories....'

'Are you asking me if I've been raped, Hutchinson?'

The sergeant looked stricken. He dropped his eyes, and busied himself gathering stray cracker crumbs from Starsky's breakfast into a little pile.

'Yes, I was raped,' said Starsky, calmly. 'A couple of times, actually. Once by the guards. Once when I was caught in the showers by some of my fellow inmates. I wasn't supposed to be showering with this particular bunch. Not sure how that happened.'

'Starsky.'

'It was prison. These things happen in prison. It had nothing to do with me. Or with you. I'm over it.'

'Are you?' Hutchinson's voice was soft, and comforting, and almost more than Starsky could bear. Why had he thought this man was cold?

'I'm over it,' he answered. 'As much as anyone can ever be over it. They wanted to hurt me, and they did. They wanted to humiliate me, and they did. They wanted to make me feel less than human, less than a man. That was where they failed.'

'Yes. They're the ones who are less than men. So you won't feel uncomfortable living with me?'

'No. You had enough of that poison ivy? Then let's get moved in, so we can start living together.'

They carted the blood-stained bed from the new apartment out to the garbage dump. Then they moved Hutchinson's bed in. Hutchinson's entertainment centre was better than the one left by Levi and Mitchison, so they set that up in the new living room.

'Why don't you take that into your bedroom?' Hutchinson suggested, pointing at the other disc player. 'The computer too. Then when you get tired of my company, you can entertain yourself. I'll set you up with a membership in the library here. You can borrow discs. Whatever you like.'

Starsky couldn't imagine being tired of this man's company, but the idea of having something of his own, of being able to make choices, was intriguing. There was a large desk in his new bedroom, mostly covered in junk. Dirty mugs, and food containers. They threw them out, and set up the computer and disc player.

He opened the blinds on the window, to let in some natural sunlight. That had been in short supply for the last two years, as well. The window, he discovered, went from floor to ceiling, and opened on a tiny, private balcony. It was dirty, and Starsky wondered if the previous owner had ever used it. What had been wrong with those men, he wondered, out loud.

Hutchinson was shaking his head. 'Levi was a raw recruit, sent here straight from the Academy. I suppose he thought being a Space Cop would be romantic. Or maybe he just wanted to kill aliens. Who knows. Mitchison was the old drunk. Bitter. I suppose the brass thought the combination would work. Fresh inspiration, and mature experience? They mixed like oil and water. In other words, not at all.'

Starsky thought about all this for a moment, looking out over the alien cityscape. He wondered if, and when, it would ever be as familiar to him as Los Angeles.

'Why didn't they ask for new partners?' he said, at last.

'Well, they did. Eventually. But by that point, no one else wanted them. Levi tried to ingratiate himself with me, but I wanted him like poison ivy. He spent his off hours hunting goblins.'

'I see,' said Starsky. 'I don't hunt. I don't like the wilderness. And I don't even like killing in self defence.'

'Of course you don't like killing,' said Hutchinson. 'You're sane. That's obvious. In a few weeks, when it's obvious to everyone else here at Metro, I'll have competition. Everyone will want you as their partner. Should I be worried?'

'No,' said Starsky. He turned and looked into Hutchinson's eyes. 'I don't know you well, but I know you well enough. I don't want any other partner.'

'Good,' said the sergeant, and he smiled.

An hour later, they were flying over Bay City. Starsky was wearing his new clothes, including a reinforced leather jacket, that Hutchinson told him would repel attacks by most weapons. When he turned the jacket collar up, it hid the steel collar and his slave status. Hutchinson pointed out various landmarks, and where the city's important districts were. Starsky began to feel less like a citizen of nowhere.

'Wait,' said Hutchinson, suddenly. 'I have an idea.' The flyer settled on the landing pad of a tower of blue glass and steel. 'This is my bank,' Hutchinson added. 'Let's set you up with some money.'

'Money?' asked Starsky.

'Money,' Hutchinson confirmed. 'You ever heard of the stuff?'

'Well, yes, but....'

Hutchinson steered him down a hallway, and into a private office. The receptionist at the front desk recognized the sergeant, and it took only a few moments for them to get in to see the owner of the office. Hutchinson shook the man's hand.

'Ming, this is my new partner, David Starsky,' he said.

The other man looked at Starsky in astonishment. 'David Starsky? The famous David Starsky?' he asked.

'Famous?' asked Starsky. 'Don't you mean infamous?'

The man laughed. 'Perhaps I do,' he acknowledged. 'But certainly everyone in Bay City is discussing your arrival on our little planet. Is it true what they say? That Hutch here stole you out from under the nose of his brother?'

'From under his nose?' asked Starsky. 'True enough. Though I'd say he got up into his brother's face even closer than that.'

'And why do you think he did such a thing?' asked Ming.

'He needed a cop as his new partner,' said Starsky. 'I'm a cop.'

Ming looked him up and down, then shrugged. 'Yes, you are a cop,' he said.

'And now he's my new partner,' Hutchinson said again. 'I need your help, Ming.'

The other man laughed. 'My help?' he asked. 'For someone who put the boots to Morgan Hutchinson? Any time, Hutch. Anywhere. What is it you need?'

'I need a credit voucher for Starsky, in my name. Make it a good, round figure. Not too high, not too low.'

'Certainly,' said Ming, making a note on an electronic pad. 'Then what?'

'Then, I want you to open a small account for him at your bank, in his own name. He needs to establish his own identity, again. He has nothing. If he can establish his credit with your bank, that's something, isn't it? Will you do this, on my word?'

'I told you, Hutch. Anything.'

'Thanks, Ming. You won't lose by it, I promise.'

Ming shrugged, again. 'And then what?' he asked.

Hutchinson laughed. 'What makes you think there's more?'

'With you? There's always more.'

'We need untraceable credit discs. Both of us. My old one has run out.'

'Spendthrift,' said Ming. But a few minutes later, his secretary entered the office, and handed Starsky three small, metal discs. One had Ken Hutchinson's name. One bore the name of David Starsky. The third was blank.

'Aren't these illegal?' asked Starsky, holding up the blank disc.

'Yes, officer,' said Ming. 'Arrest me.'

'Nah,' said Starsky. 'You wouldn't like prison. And then where would my partner get his funds?'

'I like your new partner, Hutch,' said Ming. 'He has good sense.'

'I think so too,' said the sergeant. 'But we don't have the same tastes in food.'

'That's a tragedy. Has he introduced you to his favourite algae pond, Starsky?' asked Ming.

Starsky sighed. 'I think that's our next stop,' he said.

**************

Sergeant Hutchinson landed the flyer in a stretch of open field, just inside the Fence. Or so he said. Starsky could see no sign of the Fence, and he pointed that out.

'Look,' said the sergeant. 'The plants that grow under the Fence are different. They live under its bright light after dark. They grow taller. The plants nearby, but not quite under the Fence, lean toward it. If you ever find yourself in this area after dark, look down.'

'Why not just put up a proper fence?' asked Starsky. 'Wood. Or metal. Or something more noticeable.'

'Around the entire city?' asked Hutch. 'It wouldn't keep the forest out, only the people in. The populace would never stand for that. And it would have to be maintained. Far too much work. The light fence is easy to maintain, and it keeps out the monsters. Whatever they are.'

'So, what you told me last night -- you weren't joking?'

'Joking? No. Trust me on that. There is something dangerous in the forest. Don't get caught here after dark. Only bright light will protect you.'

'Sounds like vampires,' Starsky suggested.

Hutchinson laughed. 'Vampires? Long fangs? Drinking your blood? No. Nothing so simple. I have a theory. Want to hear it?'

'Sure,' said Starsky. They had crossed over into the forest, and he was feeling nervous. Keep talking, Hutch, he thought. Maybe your voice will scare away the monsters.

'I think it has something to do with the goblins. Goblins -- for want of a better name, and I only call them that because they haven't told me what they call themselves -- can cross into the city, through the fence. I've seen them. They walk about in daylight, too. But they're mostly defenceless, as far as we can tell. I've never heard of them attacking a human, though they have teeth, and claws. It's strange, but true. They run, and they hide. That's why they've survived so long. But I wonder if this monster is some sort of guardian, that comes out after dark?'

'Why do you think that?' asked Starsky. 'Any evidence to support your theory, detective?'

'Nope,' said the detective. 'Pure speculation on my part. Here's the pond. I'm going to collect some fresh algae.'

'Fresh algae? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?'

Hutchinson ignored him, as he scooped the dark green slime into a small jar. He tucked the jar into his jacket pocket, and they moved on.

'That was quick,' said Starsky. 'Didn't you want to stop to chat with the algae? Ask it how it liked being eaten?'

'Very funny, Starsky,' said the sergeant. But he grinned, as if he enjoyed their banter.

So did Starsky, he had to admit. Hutchinson was strange. Nothing like the typical tough Space Cop of legend. Oh, he was tough enough in public, but in private he was very different. Or were most Space Cops like him, and the rigours of their jobs wore them down, until they were little but shells of their former selves? The only ones who survived had never been anything but shells, without substance, and caring for no one but themselves. Hutchinson had substance, and as Starsky was beginning to see, he cared about people. Perhaps he cared too much.

Hutchinson threw his arm around Starsky's shoulders, quite easily, as if they'd been doing this sort of thing for years. But then, sleeping in each other's arms did tend to lessen the distance between two people, even out of bed. 'I think worrying about the suffering of algae is carrying things a little too far,' he said. 'But let me introduce you to some of my goblin friends. They often hold a market just over that hill.'

Bay City, from what Starsky had seen so far, was much like any other contemporary human city. Towers of glass and steel. Commuter trains flying overhead. Streams of flyer traffic. The major difference was that it was built around the mines. The city's great central core was its enormous transport bays, from which ore could be lifted into the transport ships, and sent back to Earth, or Earth's other colonies.

But this forest was different. Alien. The trees were nothing like those he'd known on Earth. Even Starsky, with his minimal knowledge of botany, could see that.

'What kind of trees are they?' asked Starsky.

'Now that's an interesting point,' said Hutchinson. 'I'm not a botanist, so I don't really know. They're not Earth trees, and don't obey the rules of Earth trees. You'd think that botanists would have studied them, fascinated by the alien flora, wouldn't you? But I've tried to find reports of studies by botanists, without success.'

'When new planets are discovered, they're studied by scientists from every discipline,' said Starsky. 'That's part of Interplanetary Law, remember?'

'Yes!' said Hutchinson, suddenly excited. 'We took that course together. I knew it. See, we did know each other before yesterday.'

'We're old pals,' Starsky agreed. 'And so, old pal, why do you think this planet was an exception?'

'I don't think it was an exception, buddy. It think that experts in every discipline -- botany, biology, geophysics, anthropology, you name it -- were given their usual free rein. Until the rich veins of ore were discovered. Then, the studies were shut down. Lost. The scientists were kicked out, and the mining companies moved in.'

'You think it was a conspiracy?'

'That's what I think.'

'But you have no evidence to support your theory, detective.'

'None. Pure speculation, on my part,' said Hutchinson. 'Do you disagree? Do you think I'm crazy for believing in conspiracies?'

'Who, me?' asked Starsky. 'I'm the one who ended up on Alcatraz. And I know for a fact I was innocent. If there wasn't a conspiracy there, what other explanation do I have? And even if we're crazy, that doesn't mean they're not conspiring against us.'

They crested the hill, Hutchinson's arm still around Starsky's shoulders. He was nervous about this alien forest, and about meeting these strange creatures known as goblins. But somehow, with Hutchinson at his side, he felt he could face anything, even death.

'This is where they usually meet,' said the sergeant. The clearing was deserted, and silent. Not even a leaf crackled underfoot.

'Maybe this is a holiday?' Starsky suggested, hopefully.

'No. It's always this quiet when I show up, until they've had a chance to study me, and come out of hiding. They do seem to know me, to remember me. Even to like me. That doesn't prove they're intelligent, of course. But I like to think it's a sign they're not entirely stupid.'

Starsky laughed. 'You wouldn't happen to be a little vain, would you?' he said.

He heard a chittering noise overhead, and jumped.

'Yes, they're here,' said Hutchinson, softly. 'Pretend you don't notice, and they'll join us eventually. I usually sit down on this rock, and read.' He pulled out his personal hand-held computer, and turned it on.

Starsky sat at his side, leaning against his leg. He felt Hutchinson's hand settle on his shoulder. He looked up.

The sergeant put his computer back in his pocket, and pulled Starsky closer. The forest, the goblins, their personal problems, everything, all faded away, as Starsky put his arms around Hutchinson's neck. The other man's beautiful mouth was inches from his own. And then, Hutchinson's hands touched the steel ring around Starsky's neck, and he jumped back. His movement was slight, but it broke the beautiful spell.

Starsky coughed. 'You were going to do something,' he said. 'Why did you stop? I didn't want you to stop.'

Hutchinson blinked. 'Sorry,' he said. 'But now we have an audience.'

Starsky looked around. They were the subject of dozens of interested stares, from every side. All he could really see at first were eyes. Dark, beady eyes, from behind every rock and bush and tree trunk.

'Hello,' said Hutchinson. 'I'm back. I'm not dangerous, remember? And this is my friend, David Starsky. He's not dangerous either. I have a few things to trade with you. Do you want to trade?'

Hutchinson drew several small objects out of his pockets. Shiny beads, polished stones. 'They like these things,' he said. 'I've tried other trading goods. More practical things. Soap. Umbrellas. Musical instruments. Clothes. They're not interested. They love these beads.'

He got up slowly, and put several beads down on a flat rock nearby, then came back to Starsky's side.

With equal slowness, one of the hidden watchers emerged from behind its rock. Her rock, Starsky amended. At least, he assumed the creature was a she, for she possessed large, pendulous breasts, and didn't appear to have a penis.

And she was ugly. Long fangs overhanging a pendulous jaw. Scraggly hair hanging in greasy locks over a bulbous forehead. In her long, clawed hands, she held what looked like eggs, covered in green hair. She shuffled carefully to the beads, put down the strange, hairy eggs, and picked up two beads. She grimaced, in what Starsky hoped was a pleased smile, and vanished. It was the only way he could describe her disappearance. Starsky jumped, and looked around.

'Where did she go?' he asked.

'Back behind her rock,' said Hutchinson. 'They can move fast when they want to. What did you think?'

'Think? About the... the lady? Very interesting. Doesn't talk much, does she?'

He heard another round of chittering from overhead, and looked up. More beady eyes were studying them, and Starsky couldn't help but feel the watchers were amused. He wondered how they appeared to the goblins. He wondered if they looked as funny to the goblins as the goblins looked to them. More amused chittering. He thought it was a clue to the answer.

****************

'Huggy Bear, this is my new partner, David Starsky.'

The proprietor of the establishment known as The Pits looked Starsky up and down, much as had Ming. 'You the one gave my old friend here a black eye?' he asked.

'Course not,' said Starsky.

'Well, I am disappointed. Thought Hutch had finally met his match.'

'He has,' said Starsky 'But I can be his match without knocking him around.' He took off his leather jacket, and sat down next to Hutch.

'You pretty cocky for someone wearing a slave collar.'

'Huggy,' said Hutch.

'Well, it's true,' said Huggy Bear.

'Yeah, it's true. But that's why I like him. Why I bought him, and made him my partner in the first place.'

'Taking a chance there, weren't you?' asked Huggy Bear.

'It's a chance I'm willing to take. You see, we went to the Academy together. I know he's a good cop.'

'Then why did he arrive here in a prison transport ship?'

'Not everyone who goes to prison is guilty, Huggy. You should know better.'

'And I do, Hutch. I do. Just asking the questions that need to be asked, that's all. You say you know this guy. Fair enough. But I don't know him from Adam.'

'I'm a cop, Mr. Bear,' said Starsky. 'That's all you need to know.'

'Mr. Brown. Huggy Bear Brown. But my friends call me Hugs.'

'We aren't friends yet, Mr. Brown,' Starsky pointed out. 'Sergeant Hutchinson has offered me the chance to clear my name. But most of all, he's offered me the chance to live again. I don't want to spoil that chance. My loyalty is to him. So you don't need to worry about me turning against him.'

'Okay. Fair enough. But what kind of partner can you be, wearing that collar? There are all kinds of restrictions on what you can do. You can't carry a weapon, can you?'

'No, he can't Huggy,' said Hutchinson. 'Captain Dobey has forbidden it. He'd be in a lot of trouble, if he should buy an illegal weapon, and conceal it upon his person. I'd be in trouble, too. But not as much trouble as he'd be in. So, I'm sure he wouldn't do such a thing, even if he knew where to buy one. Ha! This coffee goes right through me. I'll be in the washroom for a few minutes, I guess.' Hutchinson got up, and without looking back, strode off towards the back of the restaurant.

Starsky looked at Huggy Bear. 'Do you know where I can buy such a weapon?' he asked.

'You heard what Hutch said?' asked Huggy Bear.

'Of course I heard what he said. And I saw him get up and walk away, right after he said it. He's giving me the chance to make my own choice. And I choose to buy an illegal weapon, if I can find one, so that I can defend him if I need to. You think I might need to defend the sergeant, Hugs?'

'We friends now?' asked Huggy Bear.

'We are, if you can help me find an illegal weapon,' said Starsky.

'I can find one of those things,' Huggy Bear agreed. 'For a price. How do you expect to pay?'

'With this,' said Starsky, taking out the unmarked, untraceable credit disc.

'Fair enough,' said Huggy, taking the disc. 'Tell me what you want, and I'll make some calls. See what I can dig up.'

Hutchinson came back from the washroom, and they ordered dinner. They talked lightly about Academy days, until Huggy Bear joined them again. Then they talked about Eldorado. They filled Starsky in about some of the recent history, and politics of the planet, and its capital city.

'Bay City is the only city, isn't it?' asked Starsky.

''Rupertians wouldn't be happy to hear you say that,' said Huggy Bear.

'Rupert isn't a city,' said Hutchinson. 'It's a town, nothing more.'

'Where's Rupert?' asked Starsky.

The other men laughed. 'Well might you ask that question, old pal,' said Hutchinson. 'You can barely find it on the map. But the citizenry have their delusions of grandeur, and they are planning, even as we speak, to rival Bay City as the crowning glory of Eldorado.'

'It's the culture capital of the planet, Hutch,' Huggy Bear pointed out. 'Bay City is just a mining town.'

'True,' said Hutch. 'But it depends on what you call culture. Yes all the artists and musicians flock there. Bay City is a cultural desert. But how good are these artists and musicians? They'd be nothing back on Earth. So, I don't see all that much difference.'

'They're all we have,' said Huggy Bear. 'This is a colony. What do you expect?'

'No,' said Hutchinson. 'This isn't a colony. This is a Company Planet. The mining companies run it, in the interests of their businesses. They don't want scientists or writers who might question their business practices to get too close to the truth. That's why only the most mediocre artists come here, and why even they leave for Rupert, as soon as possible.'

'You really are into this conspiracy stuff, aren't you?' asked Huggy Bear.

'Conspiracy stuff? I don't think it was any vast, dark, well planned conspiracy. I think it was a conspiracy that simply happened, on the spur of the moment, out of what the conspirators regarded as necessity. The mining companies value only the endless mineral resources on this planet. To them, the original inhabitants, and the natural environment, are obstacles in their way. They realized that if the scientists revealed the existence of the interesting flora and fauna to the rest of the universe, they'd have less of a chance to exploit those tempting mineral resources. So, they did some damage control. Got rid of the reports. Maybe even got rid of the scientists themselves.'

'You think they were killed, Hutch?' asked Starsky.

'Possibly,' said Hutchinson. 'Possibly killed. Possibly bought off. Who knows? What I do know, is that there had to have been scientific reports on this world, but they've all disappeared.'

The bartender called Huggy Bear over to the bar. He came back with a package, and handed it to Starsky. 'The bag of leftovers you wanted,' he said. 'Hope your little pet enjoys them.'

Starsky didn't look inside the bag. 'Thanks, Hugs,' he said. 'You're a good friend.'

 

****************

 

When they got home, Hutchinson motioned to Starsky to open the door to the apartment. Starsky appreciated the symbolism, as he appreciated every attempt by the sergeant to make him feel free and equal. At any other time of his life, Starsky might have resented it all as patronizing, but at the moment, he was enjoying every element of his new-found freedom.

They made coffee, and sat down to drink it, and eat the pastries they had picked up on the way home. Then Starsky opened the bag Huggy Bear had given him.

'Beautiful,' he commented, as he drew out the small, deadly firearm. Still inside the bag were several extra clips, a rifle grip attachment, an ankle holster, and his blank credit disc. He wondered how much was left on it.

'That's a Parabellum,' said Hutchinson, with a considerable amount of awe.

'Yes,' said Starsky. He turned and aimed the gun at the far wall.

'Don't put holes in it. We just moved in,' said Hutchinson.

Starsky removed the clip, attached the rifle grip, and tried out the sights again.

'We'll go out in the woods tomorrow, early, and you can try it out,' said Hutchinson.

'I don't want to waste too many rounds,' said Starsky. 'I've only got three clips.'

'Let's see the clip?' asked Hutchinson. 'Oh, yes. I can find you more of these. They're reasonably standard. Are you a good shot?'

'Deadly,' said Starsky. He didn't believe in being modest about anything he had no need to be modest about.

'If you're found with that, there will be consequences.'

'I know that, Sergeant. You don't have to keep telling me.'

'Sorry.'

'I didn't buy this for a joke. I bought it so I could fight by your side. So I could be of some use to you.' Starsky put the gun back in its bag. 'And that reminds me,' he went on. 'We have some unfinished business, don't we?'

'Do we?' asked Hutchinson.

'I thought we did. You nearly kissed me, and then you stopped. Now I'm the type of man who believes in finishing what he started. What about you? Are you that type of man, or are you a cock tease?'

'No,' said Hutchinson. 'I didn't mean to tease your cock. I didn't think it was that kind of near kiss.'

'What kind of near kiss was it, then?'

'I'm not sure myself,' Hutchinson admitted.

'How about this kind?' Starsky got to his feet, and stalked toward Hutchinson. He stood over the man, and leaned down to rest his hands one each side of the golden head. 'You're under arrest on suspicion,' he said.

'Suspicion?' asked Hutchinson. 'Suspicion of what?'

'Just suspicion. I'm a suspicious type of man.'

Starsky slid down onto Hutchinson's lap. He said, 'Put your hands on my neck... See! It's just a piece of metal. That's all it is. Leave your hands there, while I do this.' His lips touched Hutchinson's. Those lips were soft, and hard, cool, and hot, fierce, and tender all at once. Hutchinson surrendered, and fought back, until Starsky was dizzy with all the contradictory pleasures.

'Hutch!' he gasped, and then bent down to kiss the man again.

Hutchinson's hands stayed on his collar through several delirious kisses. Then, they slid down, to his shoulders, and pushed him gently away.

'Now it's becoming that kind of kissing,' he said. 'So I think it's time we stopped.'

For a moment, stupid with desire, Starsky didn't understand the gesture or the words, and tried to reclaim the soft, delicious haven of Hutchinson's caresses. He was pushed away a little more forcefully, this time.

'Starsky. Starsky, I'm sorry, but back off.'

Starsky jumped up, and looked down at Hutchinson. The other man studied his face. 'Yes,' said the sergeant. 'This is a dangerous game we're playing, isn't it?'

'Game?' asked Starsky. 'Game? You're playing games with me? I wasn't playing games with you.'

'No. That's not what I meant. Poor choice of words. I meant, this is dangerous. What we're doing.'

'Why? It felt fine to me. Didn't it feel fine to you? Was I doing something wrong? It's been so long....' Starsky stopped, and walked over to the window to look out at the dark alien world that was now his home. Their new apartment had a good view of the Fence. There it was. A thin defense of light against the darkness and the monsters that lurked within.

He could hear Hutchinson get to his feet, and walk toward him, but he didn't turn. He sensed Hutchinson reaching out to touch his shoulder, but the hand dropped before it made contact. 'That wasn't a rejection,' said the sergeant.

'Wasn't it?' Starsky asked, bitterly. 'It sure felt like rejection. Not that I don't understand your reasons. I went too far. I know that. I forgot my place.'

Now, Hutchinson's hand touched his shoulder. Shook it a little. 'That's not what I meant,' he said again. 'That's not why I stopped you. Starsky, a moment ago, you told me the collar was just a piece of metal. It's not. It's a torture device.'

'I know. They're illegal on Earth.'

'Yes,' said Hutchinson, after a moment of silence that said more than his words. 'And I hold the key. I can use it on you, at any time. I don't want to use it, but I might have to. It's not just a piece of metal. Not just a decoration. It's a bond. It can hurt you.'

'A bond,' said Starsky, slowly. 'All bonds can hurt, Hutchinson. That's how you know they're bonds. You can't go through life avoiding all bonds, and all pain. I can't anyway. Two years ago, all my chosen bonds were cut. I lost everything. My family, my lovers, my friends, my job. And I got a prison uniform in exchange. So, I'm sorry if I don't see this collar as the symbol of all evil, the way you do.'

'You might change your mind, if I actually used it. And if we were lovers, you might resent it even more.'

Starsky turned to look at Hutchinson. 'Why?' he asked, mystified. 'Why would I resent it more?'

'Because... because I'm the one who holds the power over you. We're not equals. I don't mean we're unequal as human beings. But in this world, I have rights, and power, and influence, and you have nothing. If we have sex, and then the next day, I'm forced to use my power, how could you help but begin to hate me?'

'You think I'm like that? You think I can't figure out the difference between you and me, here and now, and what might happen out there on the streets? That if we were out there on the streets, fighting the bad guys, and you told me to do something, I'd say no. That I'd say, "Oh don't order me around, Sergeant Honey. Or I won't roll over for you no more." He spoke the last two lines in mincing tones.

Hutchinson laughed. 'Sex,' he said, softly. 'It creates bonds. Yes, all relationships do. But sex is very intimate. And the sort of bonds it creates -- they can be warped. Especially when they're new and fragile. We don't know each other very well. We're just getting to know each other. If we'd met in the ordinary way, there wouldn't be a problem. I'd love to go further. But the way things are.... We don't have a choice about being together. You don't anyway. I could toss you back to the quarries. You might end up in my brother's hands.'

'Would you do that?' asked Starsky.

'No. I wouldn't. But I could, don't you see. What could you do to hurt me?'

Starsky edged a little closer. Let Hutchinson feel the heat of his body. 'You think I'm powerless, Hutchinson?' he asked. 'You do, don't you. You think because you wear that cuff, I'm the one who'd be hurt if you used it. Go ahead. Use it, and we'll see who gets hurt.'

'Starsky. I'm not going to use it. Not unless it's necessary.'

'Why not? Are you afraid? Why should you be afraid? I'm the one who'd get hurt.'

'Stop this right now,' said the sergeant.

'Make me.'

Sergeant Hutchinson sighed. 'It's been a long day,' he said. 'I'm going to bed.' He started walking toward his bedroom.

'I'm not a masochist, Hutchinson,' Starsky called after him. 'I don't love pain. I do love pleasure. But it's a bit difficult to get through life without suffering at least some pain. And it's the pleasure that makes that bearable. I'm thinking that if our relationship was based on pleasure, it would make the pain less, rather than the other way around. I guess you see things differently.'

Hutchinson turned. 'Yes,' he said. 'I think our relationship is going to be based on pain. And that if we try to add pleasure, it will just be warped by the pain into something unrecognizable. You said it had been a long time. Do you mean you had no opportunity for sex in prison?'

'What do you think?' asked Starsky. 'I was a cop. The guards hated me, because they saw me as a traitor who had killed a guard. The prisoners hated me because I was the enemy. There were one or two who offered, but I didn't trust them. So the only people who have touched me in two years, were those men who raped me. I'm sorry. I sound like I'm asking you to fuck me out of pity, don't I?'

'No,' said Hutchinson, gently. 'We're friends. The attraction between us is real. I told you, I'm not rejecting you. This won't change anything between us, unless that's what you want. Is that what you want?'

I want you to touch me, thought Starsky. I want you to put those gentle hands back on my body, and kiss me with that mouth. Savagely, he cut off the pitiful wail. When he thought he could speak calmly, he said, 'No. I don't want things to change. We're friends. That's enough.'

'Good,' said Hutchinson. 'If you like, I'll make an appointment with my friend, Sweet Alice. She's very nice, very kind. Just let me know.'

'I'll think about it,' said Starsky.

Hutchinson smiled, went into his bedroom, and shut the door.

That went well, thought Starsky. He wondered if he could break the glass on his balcony, and jump off. Sweet Alice, he thought. I haven't been touched with love in two years. Until tonight. And he takes it back, and offers me the touches of a whore? I'm sure she's nice. I'm sure she's kind. That's not what I need.

Starsky poured himself fresh coffee, and took it to his bedroom. He left the door unlocked, in case Hutchinson changed his mind. By the look of his face, there wasn't much chance of that. But, as the prison guard had said, no one could live without hope.

Starsky went out onto his balcony. The glass was, indeed, too thick to be broken by anything other than an atomic bomb. This was Metro. Police headquarters. It was a small fortress. And Starsky had no wish to die. Several times over the last two years, he'd had the chance to kill himself, but suicide was not in his nature. He'd wanted to die, when the guards had raped him. And even more, when the prisoners had taken their turn. But he'd lived, and recovered. And now he had found his reward.

I won't give up. Not now, he thought. He opened the air vents on the balcony, and breathed the fresh night air. He wondered if the oxygen content of the air on this planet was a little higher than on Earth. Something was making him light headed and dizzy. Perhaps it was the bond. The other bond that Hutchinson had just laid upon him. And this bond made the steel collar around his neck indeed a decoration. Torture device? The man is a fool, thought Starsky. He doesn't need to use this collar to control me. And I'm going to change his mind. He's going to see things my way. In the meantime, I have to think of something to take my mind off my cock. Masturbation just gets rid of the physical itch. It's not a substitute for the real thing.

The Fence. There it was. A slender band of light. Like this collar, thought Starsky. What does the Fence really control? And why? Are there monsters out there in the forest? And if so, why does the Fence keep them out? Is it because of fear? Pain? Or something else?

Take my collar, thought Starsky. Hutch sees it as a barrier between us. I don't. That's pretty funny, if you think about it. He drained his coffee, and restrained the urge to throw the empty cup at the adjoining wall between their bedrooms. He got undressed and climbed into bed. Last night had been much more pleasant, but that was in another apartment.

*********************

'Mmm. Nice action. Seems pretty accurate. Not as big as yours, of course.'

'Starsky.'

'What?'

'Nothing.'

'I'm talking about your gun, Sergeant. Get your mind above your belt.'

'Sorry.'

Starsky had been in a bad mood when he got out of bed, but shooting a few targets had helped. That, and teasing Sergeant Hutchinson. He wasn't sure if the man believed his protestations of utter innocence or not, but it didn't matter. It was good to feel a gun in his hand again. To feel its kick. To watch target after target explode into tiny fragments. After the first few rounds, he'd started applying imaginary faces to the targets. The faces of the men who'd raped him. Gunther's face. One or two targets had looked like Nick.

At first, he'd felt guilty about that. Nick was his brother. Surely he hadn't meant to drag Starsky down. But he hadn't attempted to set things right, either. He'd stood by, and let his own brother go to jail in his place. The next rock had borne Nick's face once more.

'Killed enough bad guys?' asked Hutchinson, far too soon.

'For now,' said Starsky. Indeed it was getting late, and they'd be on duty soon.

'You're right, you are a good shot,' said Hutchinson. 'I'm not quite so accurate.'

'Doesn't matter, if you can handle an elephant gun like that,' said Starsky. 'I don't think I could stand the recoil.'

'It's pretty powerful,' Hutchinson agreed, as he checked the clip on his Magnum, and housed his weapon. 'We make a good team. I wish... I wish we had the freedom to work together as equals. For so many reasons.'

'Don't eat your heart out over it, Sergeant. You can't change how the world works. You're not responsible for what other people do, or don't do. You can't change how other people think, or behave, or what they think about you. Think about what you can change. Think about what you can have, and take it. The world doesn't stop and wait until everything's perfect for you, just so you can be happy.'

'I know that,' said Hutchinson. He sounded annoyed, which gave Starsky a certain childish satisfaction.

'Well, if you know that, why did we sleep in separate rooms last night?'

'Starsky.'

'I mean, if you don't want me, that's one thing. It's no good, unless both people want it. But I know you want me. I know that for a fact, having sat on your lap last night while we kissed. Or was that just your cock wanting me, and the rest of you hates me? In which case I'd ask why you just don't go with your cock? Maybe it's got more sense this time than the rest of you.'

'Starsky, Starsky, Starsky.'

'You remember my name. So what?'

Hutchinson pulled him close. 'I remember your name,' he murmured into Starsky's hair. 'I remember everything about you. The other night, I was too tired and sore to pay attention, but I saw. When you took off your clothes, I mean. You're all there. You're a beautiful man, and I want you. Just be patient with me. Can you be patient?'

'I can be patient.' Starsky lifted his head, and studied Hutchinson's face. 'I can be patient,' he said again. 'But I think I'm falling in love with you.' He pulled Hutchinson's head down, and took a kiss from his mouth.

'You think you love me?' asked Hutchinson.

'I think. I'm not sure yet. Maybe it's just frustration, and irritation, and desire. It's easy to get confused, isn't it?'

'Gratitude?' Hutchinson suggested. 'Maybe you're just grateful.'

'Gratitude?' Starsky thought about that one for a while. 'Yes, I'm grateful. You woke me up from a nightmare. You've been kind. You're a beautiful man, and I want you. What's wrong with all that? You got some deep philosophical objections?'

'No,' said Hutchinson, but he didn't sound convinced. Starsky was sure that after he'd had some time to think, the man would have an entire treatise worked out, on why it was wrong to have sex with someone you were grateful to, who was kind and beautiful. Far, far better to do it with someone who was mean and ugly, and who you didn't owe a thing to.

'It's more equitable,' he imagined Hutchinson explaining. 'And it develops your character. If you have sex with people you like, who are good to you, you just become boring and predictable. Have sex with criminals, bums on the street, people you hate. Elderly ladies in rest homes. Spread yourself around.'

'What are you laughing about?' asked Hutchinson, as they walked back to the flyer.

'You,' Starsky explained.

'I didn't know I was so comical,' said Hutchinson. He actually sounded a bit hurt.

'You're not,' said Starsky, instantly contrite. 'I'm just easily amused.'

'You want to fly?' Hutchinson offered. 'No, I'm serious. Go ahead, if you remember how.'

'Yes, I remember how,' said Starsky, tossing him a glance out of the corner of his eye. Keep offering to share your things with me, he thought. Your home, your flyer... your bed. Just not your whore. Please.

The flyer arose in a perfect vertical take off. Starsky had dreamed about this moment. Getting his hands on a flyer, and escaping. It had been impossible on Alcatraz, of course. These flyers weren't capable of surviving a trip through the atmosphere of a planet, so there would have been nowhere to escape to. But the fantasy had sustained him. He had invented many scenarios. A passing transport, bound for the outer planets. A handsome captain -- male or female -- who fell in love with the brave, innocent stowaway who landed in the cargo hold and begged for asylum. Starsky grinned, and tossed Hutchinson another look. The reality was far more intriguing.

'Mind if I take a tour?' he asked.

'Go ahead,' said Hutchinson. 'But we're on duty, soon.'

'I know. Just a quick tour. This feels so good.'

Hutchinson smiled, and leaned back in his seat. The morning sun glinted on his golden hair. It had been a long time since Starsky had felt so happy and free.

******************

'If this is a company planet, why are there so many non-company men?' asked Starsky. 'So high a criminal element?'

'Well, it's not really a company planet. I exaggerated slightly there. There are a number of mining companies, not just one. That's the thing. No one company could afford to buy out the whole planet, once its riches became apparent. There was a lot of competition to stake claims, to sabotage the claims of the opposition. There was very little regulation. In a way, that was for the best. If one company had seized control, declared this planet their private domain, they could do what they pleased. But the various companies do regulate each other to a certain extent. Any time one company seems to be going too far, the others hold the threat of Interplanetary Law over them. So, you see, most of the planet is still unspoiled. They've carved out a big chunk, here, around the richest ore veins. But the forest still stands. And the other continents are untouched.'

'How did you end up here?' asked Starsky, after digesting this news for a while. They were walking their beat, checking out the various watering holes, and brothels, and other night spots.

'My brother kept writing home, about how wonderful this place was. About how there was little interference from the law. Then, the offer came. They needed more experienced officers, and the jobs came with an automatic promotion to the next level. I checked out your record. You made detective before I did.'

'Yes,' said Starsky. 'I was about to make sergeant, when it all ground to a halt.'

'I was a Detective II, but it would have been a few more years before I made Sergeant. I thought it was a perfect deal. Get a promotion. Check out what was happening here, and do some damage control of my own.'

'Save the world?' Starsky suggested.

'If you like,' said Hutchinson. 'This world needs saving. It's still worth it.'

'But why are there so many depressed and degraded examples of human beings walking around? Why don't the mining companies do something? Clean up the planet? Kick them out? Something?'

'They provide a source of cheap labour, for illegal activities,' said Hutchinson. 'Dealing in illegal substances, and other goods. Assassinations. The sex trade. I mean sexual slavery, and children. There are two basic industries here. Mining, and vice. I saved you from working in one, so you could help me deal with the other. Still like me?'

Starsky laughed. 'I know nothing about mining,' he said. 'But I was on the vice squad, and the homicide squad in Los Angeles. Is it that much worse here?'

'Wait until you've been here a bit longer,' said Hutchinson. 'Then you tell me.'

Starsky had been paying attention to the activities on the streets, as they walked and talked. He noticed a man harassing one of the girls standing on her corner. Clearly she wanted nothing to do with the man, and Starsky couldn't blame her. He looked like trouble.

'Do you let that sort of thing go on?' he asked Hutchinson, nudging the sergeant, and pointing out what he meant.

'I don't. Not on my beat,' said Hutchinson. 'Come on.'

They stalked up to the arguing couple. 'Sunshine!' said Hutchinson. 'You need any help?'

'Yeah,' said the girl. 'This creep won't leave me alone. I'm not so far behind on making my quota, to give him a blow job. He's in the wrong neighbourhood.'

She was about fifteen, thought Starsky. Legal, but barely.

Hutchinson pulled out his unmarked credit chip. 'Here,' he said. 'Take a break. Get something to eat, on me.'

The girl held out her small, personal hand unit, and Hutchinson transferred enough funds for a quick blow job from his chip to her unit. The girl smiled, said a quick thanks and took off at a run.

The man started after her, but Hutchinson grabbed his arm. 'Not so fast, Rolly,' he said. 'I've told you before. If a girl on my beat says she doesn't want your money, she's within her rights.'

'She's just a whore,' said Rolly. 'She's got no rights.'

'Now that's not true, Rolly,' said the sergeant. 'She's not a slave. You want a slave, you find one of those dives that deals in slaves. I don't let them operate in my beat. They're illegal, and when I find them here, I close them down. So, move on.'

'I've got my rights, too, Copper. I'll walk wherever I please.'

'Maybe we should make it less pleasant for him to walk around in our beat?' Starsky suggested.

'You think so?' asked Hutchinson.

'I think so,' said Starsky.

'Hey! Hey, what do you think you're doing?' asked Rolly, as they dragged him into the nearest alley.

'Showing you some of the less pleasant sights around the area,' said Hutchinson. 'You see this?' He shook his fist under Rolly's nose. 'And take a look at my partner here. In case you hadn't heard, I bought him off the latest prison transport ship. He was sent here, after he was found guilty of manslaughter. We're not pleasant people, Rolly. Why do you want to hang around here?'

'Okay, okay. I'll leave,' said Rolly. 'This is really unfair.'

'You're breaking my heart,' said Starsky.

****************

'It's your turn to cook dinner, remember?' said Hutchinson, when they got home.

'Is it?' asked Starsky. 'I thought that was last night.'

'It was, but we ate at The Pits. So now tonight is your turn.'

Starsky laughed. 'Just let me get a shower and change,' he said.

'Sure,' said Hutchinson. 'You going to change into those new clothes you bought this afternoon?'

Starsky had used some of the credits Hutchinson had given him, to buy clothes that were a bit more stylish than what was available at the Metro stores. Metro carried cop clothes, he had complained to the sergeant. The leather jackets were fine, but that was about as far as it went. He now owned jeans that fit properly, and several silk shirts in bright colours. And he intended to wear them around the house. Show Hutchinson what he was giving up.

Hutchinson was in the kitchen making coffee when Starsky got out of the shower. He took one look and choked.

'Ouch!' he said. 'Doesn't that hurt?'

'Doesn't what hurt?' Starsky asked, innocently. 'I'm going to grill these steaks. Why don't we do that out on the balcony? And I'll put potatoes on to bake.'

'Sounds good,' said Hutchinson, still eyeing Starsky's tight jeans. 'I'm going to have a shower and change, too.'

Starsky smiled, as he carried the grill out to the balcony.

***************

'You did a good job today, Starsky,' said the sergeant, as they sat over their after dinner coffee.

'Thanks, I appreciate that. It's a bit different from being a real cop. I'm not sure what to do sometimes.'

'A real cop? What do you mean, a real cop?'

'I don't have any authority, of course. It's natural. I don't expect to.'

'You have authority with me, as far as I'm concerned. I mean it when I tell people you're my partner.'

'But to everyone else, I'm your bodyguard. Like the muscle, as you call them.'

'For now,' said Hutchinson. 'They'll learn. They'll get used to seeing you at my side every day. It won't be Sergeant Hutchinson, and his muscle. It will be Hutchinson and Starsky.'

'Starsky and Hutchinson,' said Starsky. 'That sounds better.'

Hutchinson laughed. 'If you like,' he said.

'I like,' said Starsky.

'I think it's unfair, Starsky,' said Hutchinson, after a long moment. 'I just want you to know that.'

'Unfair?' said Starsky.

'You should be my equal partner. You should have the same authority as I do. In the sight of the world, as well as in my own eyes.'

Starsky got up, and carried his chair over to sit down in front of the sergeant. 'Can I tell you something?' he asked.

'Of course,' said Hutchinson. 'You can tell me anything.'

Starsky took his hand, and looked deeply into his eyes. 'When I was first arrested, I knew it was a mistake, and I was sure I could prove my innocence. When I was found guilty, I appealed, again and again, sure that every appeal would be the one to succeed. When I began to realize I'd never win, I was angry. Every time I was treated to indignities, every time some guard who would never have made it through one week at the Academy talked to me as if I was dirt under his feet.... I'm only human, Hutchinson. I have to admit, I was filled with hate. I had dreams of escaping and killing everyone responsible. I wondered why I had spent so many years believing in the law, and supporting the law, only to have this dumped on me. It was so unfair, I thought. Because I was innocent. And then one night I realized. I was innocent, that was the important thing. That was better than if I'd been guilty. What if I really had broken the law, gone against everything I believed in, killed an innocent man?'

'Socrates,' said Hutchinson.

'What?'

'Socrates. The philosopher. Ancient Greece. Haven't you heard of him?'

'Socrates? Of course. Everyone's heard of Socrates. Can't remember the names of any of his books, just off hand.'

Hutchinson laughed. 'He never wrote any books. His pupil wrote the books. Plato.'

'Plato. Right. Now I remember. I think I read one of his books. Something about a dinner party. There were all these speeches about love.'

'The Symposium,' said Hutchinson. 'Yes. Socrates had some strange beliefs about love, I think.'

'Oh, yes? Strange how?'

'He thought that it was better not to express your love in a physical way. Handsome young men threw themselves at him, but even though he loved them, he turned them down. He said that denying the physical side of love deepened the spiritual side. That the soul ascends to perfect beauty and goodness. Or something.'

'Is that what you believe?' asked Starsky, a little fearfully. If the man kept putting up new philosophical barriers every time Starsky found a way over the last one, they might be old and gray before their relationship got past the friendship stage.

'Not really,' said Hutchinson. 'I think it's a noble ideal, but hardly practical. And not anything one can prove. In fact, I've known one or two people who never had sex in their lives. They didn't strike me as particularly noble. Anyway, Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death. His wife said the thing that made her most angry, was that he was innocent. And Socrates asked if she would have been happier if he's been guilty. He drank the hemlock, and died, without attempting to escape, or making any fuss about it. The world has praised his nobility ever since.'

'I don't think I'd go so quietly,' said Starsky. 'I'm not that noble, and I'm no philosopher. I just didn't want to get all twisted inside with hate. So, I decided to accept what had happened to me. I couldn't go back and change that. I had to look to the future. Someday, everyone would know I was innocent, and if I kept my honour, then I'd deserve my good fortune.'

'I think that's noble, and philosophical enough for me,' said Hutchinson.

'The world doesn't always make sense. Sometimes it's just so damned unfair, Hutch. But we can't live as if that gives us a license to do whatever we please. When the world doesn't make sense, then we have to make our own sense. When the world is unfair, then we have to be even more fair, to make up for it. I made a vow to be fair, to make sense, no matter how insane the world got. And I've tried very hard to keep that vow. I'm not giving up now, when so much is at stake. Not only my own future, but yours. I want you to know something. It's important, so pay attention. It doesn't matter how the world sees me, sees us. I won't ever argue with you in public, over who is the boss. In the eyes of the world, you are. That's enough for me, and I'm not going to hold it against you. Ever. And if all you ever want from me is friendship, that's fine too. When you change your mind, you let me know. Now, I'm tired and I'm going to bed. But I'm going to kiss you, just once, to remind you of something. Close your eyes.'

Hutchinson laughed, but he did as he was told. Starsky bent down and kissed him, just once. 'There,' he said. 'That's just to mark my place. In case I ever get the chance to pick up where I left off. Goodnight.'

'Goodnight,' said Hutchinson, in a low, breathy voice.

It tugged at Starsky's heart, and at his soul, and at a few rather more carnal parts of him. It was difficult to walk away to his own bedroom and close the door. But it was for the best, he thought. As long as Hutchinson was afraid of his own power, he would go on fighting the inevitable. When he trusted Starsky, and knew he was telling the truth, then there would be a joining, a union, far deeper than anything they could achieve now.

'Be patient with me,' Hutchinson had asked. Patience wasn't one of Starsky's virtues. But then, it was necessary to do something difficult to earn the trust of your beloved.

About an hour after he had gone to bed, and turned out the lights, he heard the sergeant coming down the hall. Hutchinson paused just outside his door for a long moment, before he continued on to his own room. Starsky smiled to himself in the darkness, turned over, and went to sleep.

 

********************
Chapter Three
********************

Over the next few days, they developed a routine. They took turns making breakfast, then flew out to the woods to practice shooting. Hutchinson insisted that they work out together, and Starsky reluctantly agreed.

'I don't like to exercise,' he protested. 'I like to conserve my energy, for when it's really needed.'

'How do you stay in shape?' asked Hutchinson. 'For when it's really needed?'

Starsky shrugged. 'I don't have a problem,' he said. 'I just stay in shape. I always got enough exercise just being on my feet all day, when I was a cop.'

'Didn't your department let you use flyers?'

Starsky thought about it. 'Well, sure they did,' he decided. 'But you know, you have to get out of the flyer once in a while. To interview suspects. And witnesses.'

'I should hope so,' said Hutchinson.

Working out with the sergeant wasn't a complete waste of time though, thought Starsky. They got to put their hands on each other. They each got to learn how the other moved. Hutchinson's centre of gravity was in a different place. He was a little taller, though not by much. They discovered they were pretty evenly matched.

After target practice, and a good workout, they went to the Goblin Market, as Hutchinson had christened it. The goblins were getting to know them, and came out of hiding more quickly with each passing day. Hutchinson spent some time hunting down interesting new beads and pretty stones to trade with them, for the various odd fruits they offered in return. The sergeant said they were edible fruits, and in fact quite delicious, but Starsky wasn't tempted to eat them. He had yet to notice any signs the goblins were that much more intelligent than very clever animals, but if Hutchinson had adopted them as people, who was he to argue?

After patrolling their beat, they might stop in at The Pits to chat with Huggy Bear. If they didn't eat dinner there, they took turns cooking at home. Then they spent the evening reading, listening to music, and talking.

Hutchinson did not make a return visit to his friend, Sweet Alice, nor did he mention the idea to Starsky.

'I've been reading The Symposium,' said Starsky, one night. 'It's nice to imagine that people could spend all their time contemplating pure beauty. But the ancient Greeks had slaves to do their work, didn't they?'

'Yes,' said Hutchinson. 'Slaves.'

'And we're not just souls, we have bodies. To say we shouldn't need to make love in a physical way, only to appreciate some sort of ideal beauty -- it's like saying we don't need to eat, just to imagine the most delicious meal. In the meantime, we're starving to death.'

Hutchinson nodded. 'Plato believed there was a realm of existence beyond the physical, and that we should aspire to live in that realm,' he said.

'Our souls might aspire to live in that realm,' said Starsky. 'But as long as we have bodies, we can only aspire. Perhaps our souls can live there permanently after we die. What about in the meantime? I've been in love a couple of times,' he added.

'Yes?' asked Hutchinson. 'What happened?'

'Both times I was in love with a person. A whole person, not an ideal beauty. Who would want to be loved as a form, that represents an idea of beauty? That's so cold. Talk about turning a person into a thing.'

'I don't think Plato meant it that way,' Hutchinson protested.

'But that's what he did,' said Starsky. 'He suggested that people should look beyond the humanity of their lovers, to some sort of ideal of Love which their lovers represent. So, Love is what they're really in love with, and the person is just an object representing that love. The first time I fell in love, I was just a kid, I guess. I fell in love with an older man. His name was John Blaine. We were happy for a while, but then, he met another, younger man and moved on. I wasn't his perfect ideal any more, because I'd grown up. He said we'd grown apart.'

'There are people like that,' said Hutchinson.

'Are you one of them?' asked Starsky. 'Would you get tired of me if I change?'

'That would depend on how you changed,' said Hutchinson, rather vaguely. 'Who was the second person you fell in love with? If you don't mind telling me.'

'Her name was Terri,' said Starsky. 'She died. I wanted to die, too. But I went on living. Do you think my soul would have joined hers, on some ideal plane of existence?'

'Maybe,' said Hutchinson. 'But no one knows what happens after death, no matter what anyone says. It's all speculation. Do you think it's worth taking a chance on? We all have to die eventually, but why risk it before our time?'

'That's what I decided,' said Starsky. 'But Terri left me a message. She told me not to change. Maybe she would have stopped loving me too, if I didn't come up to her ideal.'

'I can't imagine that happening,' said Hutchinson.

'Can't you?' asked Starsky. 'I've been wondering. Why is it less important to love someone's body, than it is to love their soul? Don't our bodies need love, too? The soul is immortal, we're told. But the body is mortal. It dies. And in the meantime, it's soft. Vulnerable. And so full of feeling.'

'Starsky,' said Hutchinson, softly.

'Yes. I'm here.' Starsky got to his feet, and undid the top button on his shirt. 'Let me show you what I mean.'

'Starsky,' said Hutchinson again, a little more forcefully.

'Be patient,' Starsky answered. 'Just the one button for now.'

He stood in front of Hutchinson, and bent down to undo the other man's top button. He did this slowly, with great care. Then he touched the naked skin with one fingertip. It was as if an electrical current had passed between them. 'You see,' he said. 'Our bodies long to be together. It's their natural state.' He kissed Hutchinson gently. 'Goodnight,' he said, and turned to leave.

'Starsky!' said Hutchinson.

Starsky turned back, with a smile.

The sergeant's face was white. His right hand was on his left wrist, almost touching the cuff. 'I... I'm sorry. I almost used it,' he said.

'Used what?' asked Starsky.

'I almost used the band. I almost.... I'm so sorry. I didn't want you to leave.'

Starsky knelt at Hutchinson's feet. 'Hutch. Don't. It's all right. You didn't hurt me. You don't need to hurt me. If you want me to stay, I'll stay. All you have to do is ask.'

'No. I think I should leave. I'll see you in the morning.' Hutchinson pushed past him and grabbed his jacket.

'Hutch!' said Starsky. But before he could protest further, Hutchinson was gone.

************

It was the middle of the night, and Starsky was still awake, waiting for the sergeant to return. He heard the door open, and Hutchinson's stumbling steps in the hallway. He got up, and opened his bedroom door.

'I'm all right,' said Hutchinson. He was wavering a bit on his feet, and smelled rather strongly of alcohol. 'I'm just drunk.'

'Yes, you are,' said Starsky.

'I'm not like my brother,' said Hutchinson.

'No. Of course you aren't.'

'I'm going to bed now. See you in the morning.'

'That's good,' said Starsky. 'Get some sleep.'

Hutchinson went into his own room, and shut the door.

******************

Hutchinson was making breakfast when Starsky got up.

'It was my turn,' Starsky said.

'I was hungry,' said Hutchinson. He didn't seem too hung over.

'Hutch,' said Starsky. 'Don't play games with me.'

'About what? About breakfast? If you want to make breakfast, go ahead.'

'Fuck you, Hutchinson. No, not about breakfast.' He grabbed the coffee pot out of the sergeant's hands, and slammed it down on the counter. 'I'm talking about last night.'

'Nothing happened last night.'

'No. Nothing happened last night. Nothing had to happen last night, if you didn't want it to happen. If you wanted me to stop, you only had to say so. The same if you wanted me to go on. You don't have to use this thing,' he flicked the wrist band, contemptuously. 'And you didn't have to leave your own apartment, for hours.'

'That's none of your business,' said the sergeant.

'No. You're right. If you want to go out, you can go out. But you don't have to do it because of me. Tell me what you want of me. That's all. Don't play games with me. I don't like it.'

'I'm sorry. You're right. I was frightened by my feelings. I wanted to... I'm not my brother,' he finished.

'No. You're not,' said Starsky. 'And I'm not afraid of you. You know, I survived two years in Alcatraz, Hutch. I can survive you.'

They continued this conversation, as they walked their beat.

'Look around you, Starsky,' said Hutchinson. 'Living on an elevated plane of existence couldn't be worse than this, could it?'

'Maybe not,' Starsky agreed. 'But would it be any better? This is reality. Their reality. Our reality. It's not going away. It's been how long? Since Plato wrote that book? Almost three thousand years. And are we any better off?'

'No,' said Hutchinson. 'But see, I've known people who were so poor they could scarcely scrape together enough for their next meal, and yet, they were happy. I've known people so rich even they had no idea how much money they had. And they were miserable. What made the difference? The rich people had everything they wanted, desired or thought they needed. And still they longed for more. The poor people had everything they really needed. In here,' he said, touching his own chest.

'And what do you think that was?' asked Starsky.

'I don't know,' Hutchinson admitted. 'But I want to find it.'

'I'd like to help you look,' Starsky started to offer, but Hutchinson wasn't listening. His attention had wandered, to a gang of youths creating a disturbance down the street.

'What are they up to?' said Hutchinson.

'They're just drunk,' said Starsky. 'You want to tell them to move on? Would it be worth it? There are plenty more where they came from.'

Hutchinson wasn't listening. 'They've got something tied to a pole, Starsky. They've been out hunting. I think... yes, it's a goblin. Poor thing.'

'Hutch, don't. We can't stop all the goblin hunters. We don't have the law on our side, in this. I'm sorry, but....'

The goblin tied to the pole moved. Its eyes swivelled around to look at Starsky and Hutchinson.

'It's alive, Starsky,' cried Hutch. He drew out his Magnum, and headed for the gang of youths. Starsky had no choice but to run after him and back him up.

The young men were laughing, and joking, as they tormented the poor goblin.

'Anyone want roast goblin?' one of them offered to the passers-by. Starsky noted even the bums on the street looked disgusted.

'You're not roasting that goblin. Not on our beat,' said Sergeant Hutchinson. 'Put the pole down, and go home.'

'Look! It's the Space Cops,' said one of the young men. 'He's got a big gun. You going to shoot me with that gun, Officer?'

'Not if you do what you're told,' said Hutchinson, evenly. 'I told you to put down the pole and leave.'

'You don't have any authority over us,' said another young man.

He seemed a little less drunk than the first one, but that didn't make him less dangerous, thought Starsky. He decided to watch that one closely.

'What gives you that idea?' asked Hutchinson.

'My father is the Chief Executive Officer of Farling Enterprises. He owns most of this planet. You are just an employee, hired to keep the rabble in line.'

'That's what I'm doing,' said Hutchinson. 'Get in line.'

'Cam, Cam. Farling Enterprises doesn't own the planet,' one of his friends protested. 'Seascape does. This cop works for us. Go home, Cop.'

Cam, thought Starsky. The brat has a name. The other young men were cheerfully arguing now about who had the authority over the sergeant. Cam was looking white faced, and determined.

'I'm ordering you to go home, peacefully,' said the sergeant. 'For the last time, put down the pole, and leave.' Hutchinson's voice was getting colder with each sentence. Starsky edged a little closer to his side.

'What is it to you?' asked Cam. 'What is your problem with us? We're only having fun.'

'I'm not explaining myself to you. You've had three warnings. Leave now, or you're under arrest for disturbing the peace.'

'Disturbing the peace? Here? Who are we disturbing? The drunks and the whores?' All the young men laughed at this witticism.

'Hey, whore? We disturbing you?' one of them called out to a streetwalker.

She eyed him nervously. 'No,' she said.

'See, Cop. We're not disturbing anyone. You're disturbing us.'

'Back away from the pole, and up against the wall,' said Hutchinson. 'You're all under arrest.'

The gang howled with laughter. 'Where's your army?' one of them asked. 'You're not really going to shoot us?'

'I will if I have to,' said Hutchinson.

The youths were getting angry, now. One of them bent to pick up a broken bottle from the street, Starsky noted out of the corner of his eye. He kept the main part of his attention on Cam, though.

'Move!' Hutchinson shouted.

Cam moved. He put his hand into his jacket pocket, and drew out a gun. Starsky pushed Hutchinson out of the way just in time. Cam's bullet struck the wall behind the sergeant. Hutchinson fired, and his bullet creased the edge of Cam's shoulder. Cam dropped his gun, and grasped his shoulder in pain. Starsky bent and quickly drew his Parabellum.

'All of you back off,' he said. 'I'll shoot the next man who threatens us, and I shoot to kill.'

Cam looked at the two armed men, standing side by side. He sneered, but he backed up, carefully. 'Come on, men,' he said. 'It's not worth it. It's just a stupid goblin.'

The gang ran off, leaving the goblin behind.

Hutchinson looked around. 'Quickly,' he said. 'Take off that leg holster.' He bent and picked up the gun dropped by Cam, and put it in an evidence bag. 'We're going to need this,' he commented, as he put the bag in his jacket pocket.

Starsky took off his leg holster, and housed his Parabellum.

'The Pits is just around the corner,' said Hutchinson. 'Huggy Bear will hide that for us. You used my hold-out gun. On my orders. Understand?'

'Yes,' said Starsky. 'But....'

'No buts,' said Hutchinson. He bent down, and untied the goblin. The creature was bleeding and looked badly injured, but he didn't make a sound, as Hutchinson picked him up.

'What are you going to do with him?' asked Starsky.

'I'm taking him home for now. He's in bad shape. We can't just leave him like this.'

'No,' said Starsky. 'Of course not.'

'Cam Standish is the son of the CEO of Farling Enterprises,' said Hutchinson, as they walked to The Pits. 'He and his father don't get along, so the old man won't exactly be out for our blood, but he will be preparing to make a point, you can bet on that.'

'I see,' said Starsky. 'The point being?'

'The point being that you're just a slave, and how dare you threaten his son.'

'I see,' said Starsky again. 'What do you think he'll do?'

'He'll probably try to have you sent to the quarries, but I won't let him. You belong to me. And good work by the way.'

Hutchinson's shoulder brushed his, as they walked side by side. Starsky felt a new heat in that contact. Fighting together side by side had definitely raised the temperature between them. Not much longer, he thought.

*****************

'Take the covers off my bed,' said Hutchinson, when they got home with their patient. 'I'll put him down there. And get me some damp cloths, would you?'

'Sure,' said Starsky. He pulled the covers to the bottom of the bed. The goblin had been very quiet, all the way home, but he was still breathing, and seemed content to let Hutchinson take care of him. Though, Starsky wondered, who wouldn't be content? Starsky had taken the controls of the flyer for their trip home, while Hutchinson had held the goblin in his arms, crooning comfort the whole way. Now, the goblin was bleeding all over his sheets. Green blood.

'Why don't we just take him back to the forest?' Starsky suggested. 'That might be better. It's his home, after all.'

'Yes. It might be better,' Hutchinson acknowledged. 'But we don't know, for certain. We don't know anything about their society. He could run into enemies who wouldn't treat him better than those hoodlums we just chased off. Let's just keep him here for now, and if he's feeling better later, he might make his own wishes clear. I wish we spoke the same language,' Hutchinson said to the goblin. 'I don't want to offend against your customs. And I apologize for the treatment you have received at human hands. We're not all like that.'

The goblin looked up at them with beady eyes. He didn't seem to understand anything that was happening.

'Maybe he's in a healing trance,' Hutchinson suggested. He took the wet cloths Starsky handed him, and gently cleaned off the blood. 'Why don't you rest for now,' he told the goblin. 'And if you want to go home later, we'll try to take you there.'

The goblin was silent. Starsky remembered a very old story his mother had read him when he was a child. Something about Brer Fox, and the Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch.

Sergeant Hutchinson sighed. 'I don't see what more we can do with him,' he said. 'We know nothing about goblin physiology. His eyes are open, and he's breathing.'

'That's something, at least,' said Starsky.

'Yes,' said the sergeant. 'I suppose he'll live. But what about you?'

'What about me?' asked Starsky. 'I intend to live, too. Right now, I'm very happy to be alive.'

Their eyes met. The temperature in the room went up by several degrees, Starsky imagined.

'We have to talk,' said Hutchinson.

'Yes,' said Starsky. 'Let's talk.'

Hutchinson moved toward Starsky, and Starsky moved toward Hutchinson, and they met somewhere in the middle.

'You,' said Hutch, and then, for a long time, neither of them spoke. They kissed, and touched each other everywhere they could reach. Starsky pressed his groin against Hutch's and felt the other man's penis swell in response. He ran his hands down Hutch's back, to his ass, and pressed the other man even closer. Hutch suddenly shoved Starsky against the bedroom wall, grabbed his hands and held them high over his head.

'You behave,' the sergeant managed to gasp. 'I'm in charge here.' But he was smiling.

'I'll show you how I behave,' said Starsky. He bit Hutch's neck, sharply.

The slight pain seemed to release every inhibition the other man possessed. Before he knew what was happening, Starsky was on his back on the floor, with Hutch on top of him. Hutch seemed determined to dominate the situation, but Starsky was just as determined to give as good as he got. They tumbled together, biting and kissing with abandon. Starsky reached up and ripped the buttons from Hutch's shirt, exposing the soft, blond hair on the other man's chest.

The softness of that pale skin, and the light dusting of hair, filled Starsky with a sudden tenderness. He licked Hutch's nipples, and they felt like tiny erections under his tongue. I want the real thing, he thought, and struggled in Hutch's hands, needing to move down the other man's body to the large penis he could feel pressing against his leg. He remembered it, swinging heavily from side to side as Hutch walked to the bed that night they had slept together, and he was filled with a deep longing to see it swell and rise in a display of passion. He remembered the feel of the other man's naked skin against his own. That closeness had been healing. It had soothed away the bad memories of the unwanted touch of other men's hands and cocks. The touch of Hutchinson's hands and cock was wanted, desired, longed for.

The trouble was, Hutch's body was large and strong, and the man seemed determined to hold him still and passive. Starsky knew he could fight back, but the effort involved would use up energy he would need for other things. Negotiation would be the better course of action.

'Hutch! Let me,' Starsky complained.

'Let you? Let you what?' asked Hutch.

'Let me suck you,' said Starsky. 'I want your cock in my mouth.'

'Oh, you're going to have my cock,' said Hutch. 'Every way, and every place you can imagine.'

'I can imagine a lot,' Starsky started to say. He was interrupted by a noise. At first, lost as he was in his erotic haze, he couldn't identify it. But the sound continued.

Hutch froze. His face paled, and the expression of lust in his eyes vanished. He let go of Starsky and sat up.

'What's wrong?' asked Starsky. 'What's that noise?'

'It's the buzzer on our door,' said Hutch. 'We have to answer, or they'll just break in.'

'Who?' asked Starsky, confused.

Hutch didn't answer. He got to his feet, and helped Starsky up. At that moment, the apartment door flew open. Captain Dobey stood there, with two burly patrol officers.

'What is this?' asked Sergeant Hutchinson. 'You break in here like you're raiding a brothel that specializes in underage children.'

'We buzzed you,' said Dobey. 'You didn't answer.'

'We were busy,' said Hutchinson.

'So I see,' said Dobey.

One of the officers snickered.

'That's enough, Crighton,' Dobey barked. 'Your presence is requested downstairs in my office, Hutch,' said Dobey,more gently. 'I came up here to warn you, and to check out your quarters in person. I'm not leaving this to anyone else.'

'You're not leaving what to anyone else?' asked Hutchinson, innocently.

'Don't play games with me, son,' said Dobey. 'I have the CEO of Farley Enterprises in my office. He's accusing Starsky here of shooting his son. Starsky is not a police officer, he's a convicted murderer and thief. He's not supposed to possess firearms.'

'Cam Standish shot at me, Captain. Starsky saved my life, and used my hold-out gun to defend me. He drew it, but he didn't fire. I was the one who shot at Standish, and it was in self defense. That's all. Should Starsky have let us both be killed?'

'No, of course not. That puts a different slant on the matter. But it will all be discussed downstairs. Crighton. Moresley. Search Starsky before we go down.'

Moresley grabbed Starsky's arms, and started to turn him around to face the wall. He never finished, because Hutchinson grabbed the man by the neck and flung him across the room.

'Keep your fucking hands off him,' said Hutch, taking his stance in front of Starsky.

'Hutch!' said Dobey. 'We have to search him for weapons.'

'Why? Is he under arrest? I happen to know he doesn't have a gun on him. He used my gun to defend me, and gave it back. I told you that already.'

'Then why don't you want him searched?' asked Dobey.

'I don't want that man touching him,' said Hutch, pointing at Moresley, who was picking himself up off the floor, and not looking very happy about it. 'I'll let you search him, Captain,' Hutch went on. 'But only if you promise to treat him with respect. He's my partner. Starsky? Will you let Dobey search you?'

Starsky turned to face the wall, and Dobey patted him down, gently enough. 'You're right,' said Dobey. 'He's not armed.'

'I told you,' said Hutch.

'We can search the apartment, Captain,' Moresley suggested. He looked as if he'd enjoy taking the place apart, in fact.

'No need,' said Dobey, glancing around the bedroom. 'I believe Hutchinson. There's no gun here.'

Starsky had a sudden thought. Why hadn't the men noticed the goblin, and commented on its presence? He turned and looked at the bed. The goblin was gone. He glanced casually around the room. A pair of beady eyes met his, from behind the armchair by the window. So, thought Starsky. The Tar Baby can move, after all.

'Let's go,' said Dobey.

'Go to what?' asked Hutchinson. 'Is Starsky under arrest? Are we going to have a trial? Or just an execution?'

'Son, you know the muscle doesn't have the same rights we do. There's no need for a trial. He's accused of breaking the rules. Whatever gun he used, it was against the law for him to have one in his hands.'

'So, because he saved my life, you're going to condemn him without trial? On the word of that brat, Cam Standish? He tried to kill me. He should be arrested for attempted murder.' Hutch picked up his jacket, and put it on over his ripped shirt.

'You know that's not going to happen, Hutch,' said Dobey.

'Because his father's some bigshot business man.'

'That's the way this world is run,' said Dobey.

Starsky straightened his clothes as best he could, as he followed the other men to the elevator. That reminded him of something else odd about the bedroom. The bed. When last he had seen it, just before Hutch.... The goblin had been lying in the bed, and the covers had been pulled down. He knew that, because he had pulled them down, at Hutch's request.

Now, the covers had been pulled back up, hiding the green blood, and the evidence of the goblin's presence. He knew he hadn't done that, and Hutch hadn't had the time. So, who had straightened the bed? It must have been the goblin, he thought. A very clever animal indeed.

Starsky walked into Dobey's office behind the Captain, with Sergeant Hutchinson at his side. Most of the gang of goblin hunters were there, with their fathers and what looked like a group of lawyers. Cam Standish was there, of course, with a huge bandage on his shoulder. He wore an expression of exaggerated pain.

'There he is, Dad,' he said. 'There's the man who shot me.'

Mister Standish senior got to his feet, and turned to study them. His eyes skimmed over Starsky to settle on Hutch. Starsky thought he seemed a little surprised and curious.

'Yes,' said Hutchinson. 'I shot your son. In self defense, because he shot at me. If my partner hadn't pushed me out of the way, I might be dead now. And you want to punish Starsky for that? I won't allow it. The fault is mine, because I told Starsky to use my gun in such a case. Try punishing me.'

There was a general uproar in the room. A babble of complaining voices. 'Captain Dobey!' one father shouted. 'We are all getting tired of the actions of your officers. But most of all we're tired of these convicted criminals being given the power to assault our citizenry at will. This man should be sent to the quarries, where he belongs.'

'Indeed,' said the captain. 'And what about the criminals whom you employ to do your dirty work? Everyone knows it. Don't try to deny it. Whatever you may think, the Bay City Police Department does not work for you. We aren't your private guards. We're part of Space Patrol, hired on Earth, to keep the peace in her colonies. We're doing the best we can, with what we have. That's why we buy prisoners, to provide extra muscle for our men, because they're overworked. Sergeant Hutchinson has told me that Starsky only drew a weapon to defend them against a threat, and knowing the sergeant as I do, I'm inclined to believe him.'

'You may be inclined to believe him,' said Standish. 'I prefer to require evidence to back up his claims. Do you possess such evidence, Sergeant Hutchinson?' The man watched Hutchinson's face carefully.

'As a matter of fact, I do,' said Hutchinson. He took Cam's gun, still in the evidence bag, from his jacket pocket. 'Here is the gun your son pulled on me.' He walked over to Dobey's desk, and laid the gun down on the pad in front of the captain's computer. 'Computer!' he said. 'Identify this weapon. State when it was last fired.'

'Baretta. Unidentified origin. Last recorded owner deceased. Fingerprints identified as those of Cam Standish. Last fired this date, time 15:06:23.'

'Thank you,' said Hutch. He removed the Baretta, and replaced it with his own weapon.

'Magnum. Purchased on Earth, Los Angeles California, three years and four months ago, by Detective Ken Hutchinson. Fingerprints identified as those of Ken Hutchinson. Last fired this date, time 15:06:25.'

'Thank you,' said Hutch. He turned to Starsky. 'Place your hand on the pad,' he said.

'Fingerprints identified as those of David Michael Starsky. Formerly Los Angeles Police Department. Detective II. Exemplary career, until two years and five months ago. Arrested and charged with armed robbery and manslaughter. Convicted and sentenced to prison satellite Alcatraz. Transported to this planet and subsequently purchased by Sergeant Ken Hutchinson, Bay City Police.'

'Thank you,' said Hutchinson. 'Has this person fired a weapon in the last few hours?'

'Negative. Not with left hand. Please instruct this person to place right hand on pad.'

Starsky replaced his left hand with his right.

'Negative,' said the computer. 'This person has not fired a weapon in the last eight hours.'

'That is as far back as the computer can judge,' said Captain Dobey. 'Sergeant Hutchinson's story holds up.'

'You should arrest Cam Standish for assaulting a police officer, using an unregistered weapon, and attempted manslaughter. For a start,' said Hutchinson.

'I can't allow that,' said Standish, senior. 'Farley Enterprises will never permit such a trial to take place, let alone allow him to be convicted, so you would just be wasting your time, and ruining your careers.'

Cam Standish smirked.

'I will take care of this matter myself, and I assure you my son will be punished,' said the young man's father, grimly, and Cam ceased to smile. 'In the meantime, I will drop my request for Starsky's transfer to the quarries, and your transfer to another colony.'

'Thank you,' said Hutchinson, ironically, in the same impersonal tone he'd used with the computer. 'Am I to assume that I now work for you, since I owe my job to you? If I should witness a murder committed by your son in broad daylight, am I now expected to pass on the news to you, on your assurance that he will lose his flyer privileges for the next month? My partner and I are now to be targets for every spoiled brat walking around with nothing better to do than take shots at us? What good is this?' Hutchinson took out his badge and tossed it on Dobey's desk.

'Now, now, Hutch,' said Dobey. 'You don't really mean that? You don't intend to resign?'

'No,' said Hutchinson. 'Not yet. I could leave Eldorado, but Starsky can't. If I resign, and stay here, we'd be targets without badges. Could we count on your protection, when you can't even protect us now? We have to protect ourselves, and that's what Starsky was doing.'

'You were harassing us, Sergeant,' said Cam Standish. 'We weren't harming anyone.'

'You were drunk and disorderly, and we told you to move on. That's our job.'

'No, I think you have something against us, personally. You're envious, because we're rich and successful, and you're just a scuzzy cop.'

Hutchinson laughed. 'That shows how little you know about me,' he said.

'I do know you,' said Cam. 'You hate people who are better than you. I've heard that you give money to the whores on the street, for nothing. They don't even give you a blowjob, and you give them money. Why? They're only good for fucking. They should work for a living, like everyone else here. You don't tell them to move on. But you told us, and you looked at us like we were lower than the whores.'

The other kids chimed in to agree. 'They drew guns on us like we were criminals,' one of them said. 'We were only having a little fun.'

One of the fathers stood up. 'It's all well and good, Standish, that you should make them this offer to back down, but what about us? We don't like these rogue cops running around, abusing their powers. They should be going after the criminals, not our children. You might not want this convict punished,' he pointed at Starsky. 'But we do.'

'Punished?' roared Hutchinson. 'Punished for what? For doing his job? For backing me up?'

Starsky hadn't seen the sergeant in such a rage, and it was impressive, he thought.

'I won't allow him to be sent to the quarries,' Hutchinson went on. 'No matter what I have to do to prevent it.'

The elder Standish got to his feet, and stepped between Hutchinson and the other combatants. 'I agree,' he said to Hutchinson. 'The man was just doing his job. On the other hand, he did break the rules, and these people have a point. If he is allowed to use a gun, the next thing we know, every convict who works for your department will be using guns. Then what? If this man is punished in some way, as an example to show your good faith, we'll back down on the quarries. Agreed, Simpson?'

'I don't know,' said Simpson. 'What sort of punishment do you have in mind?'

'I won't allow him to be punished at all,' said Hutchinson.

'You won't allow? Who the hell are you?' asked Simpson. 'Can't you keep your men in line, Dobey? Maybe we should look into this. See about finding a captain who will run this department the way it should be run.'

'Toothless, and useless as tits on a bull?' suggested Hutchinson. 'Is that what you want in a captain?'

'No. We want a captain who will keep his department in line, like I said.'

'Hutch?' said Starsky. 'If I'm punished in some way that allows me to go on working with you, I'll accept that. Would you back down then?'

'I don't know,' said Hutchinson. 'It depends. What punishment are you suggesting?'

******************

The restraints cut into his wrists, and his arms already ached from being tied over his head. The sergeant was fuming in the background, and Starsky wanted to tell him to shut up, that his voice was giving him a headache, and he didn't need the pain. There would be more pain coming soon, and that would wipe out the minor discomfort in his head, so it wouldn't be worth the effort, thought Starsky. Didn't Hutchinson ever get tired?

'This is outrageous. What century are we living in? What millennium? The collars are bad enough.'

'You wouldn't use the collar,' Captain Dobey reminded him. 'Have you changed your mind?'

'No. The collar is for restraint. Starsky doesn't need restraining. He never has. His behaviour has been exemplary.'

'Hutch!' said Starsky. 'I agreed to this. Could we just get it over with? Please?'

'I'm sorry,' said Hutchinson. 'You're right. Let's get it over with. What's taking so long?'

'They're having trouble finding the whip,' said Dobey. 'They think someone borrowed it for a little private fun, and didn't put it back.'

'Great,' said Hutchinson. 'Let's forget the whole thing, then.'

That sounds nice, thought Starsky, but I don't think anyone is going to forget it. And besides, it's too late. There's the executioner with the axe coming in the door, and he's about seven feet tall, with arms like hams. Not much longer, and I'll be able to lie down and moan in peace -- if I survive.

'Oh, no. Oh, no,' Hutchinson protested. 'That goon isn't touching my partner. He'll kill him. This isn't supposed to be a fatal beating. Find someone else.'

'Hutch!' screamed Starsky, losing all patience. 'I don't give a fuck who beats me, as long as it's done and I can put my clothes back on and get out of here. Do you think I enjoy standing around naked with everyone looking at me? Do it yourself if you don't like the designated whipper. Have some pity.'

'What? Starsky this isn't funny,' said Hutchinson.

'No. It's not. So end it. Now!'

'Starsky, I can't,' said Hutchinson.

'Then let him do it. What difference does it make?'

'Hutchinson!' roared Dobey. 'Stop holding up the proceedings. Everyone agreed to this, so let's get it over with, like Starsky says.'

'Fine!' said Hutchinson. 'Give me the whip. He's my partner. This is my fault.'

Wonderful, thought Starsky. He's going to beat me out of guilt. I think I'd prefer the seven foot goon with the arms... but it's too late. And I asked for it.

The whip curled back and lashed at his back, again and again. Hutchinson certainly seemed to know what he was doing, and whipping someone properly wasn't the easiest thing to do, according to some of Starsky's more eccentric friends. Starsky lost count of the blows. There were supposed to be twenty, after Hutchinson had argued the number down from thirty. Starsky had been relieved, but now, twenty didn't seem such a small number. Why hadn't they held out for ten? Surely there had been ten blows by now? Fire coursed along his back, and up his aching arms, and down his legs. He bit into his own arm to stop from screaming. He wouldn't shame himself, or Hutch, by letting it be seen how weak and afraid he really was. The Spartans had done this every day, he remembered, and they had contests -- whipping contests -- to show how manly they were. It was all nonsense, but if such fools could do it, so could he. The twentieth blow would come soon. The next blow must be the last.

'Twenty!' cried Hutchinson, his voice sounding hoarse, as though he had been doing Starsky's screaming for him. The whip touched Starsky's back lightly, more lightly than any other blow, and Starsky drew a deep breath of relief.

Then he heard a scream behind him, and turned to look over his shoulder. The whip had curled back after landing on Starsky's back, and somehow by accident it had hit Cam in the face.

'Oh, dear,' said Hutchinson, sarcastically. 'I guess you were standing too close.'

'You should arrest him, Father,' said Cam. 'That was assault.'

'Shut up,' the elder Standish explained. 'You got what you deserve. Part of it, anyway. I've had enough of this. You shut up, too, Simpson,' he said to the man who was still muttering that twenty blows hadn't been sufficient punishment in his opinion. 'It's over. Let's go home.'

'Yes,' said Hutchinson, in a voice like ashes settling in a fireplace. 'It's over. Let's go home.'

*****************

Sergeant Hutchinson was in the washroom, throwing up. He was trying to be quiet about it, but Starsky could hear him. The sound was distressing. Starsky was the one who needed to be sick, and he had thought that once they returned to their own apartment, he could relax and suffer all he wanted. But Hutchinson was here too, and by the look on his face, he was suffering more than Starsky.

I told you, thought Starsky. I told you it would be you who would suffer.

Hutchinson threw up again. The sound tore at Starsky's heart. He sat up, feeling dizzy and sick himself. The goblin was lying at the foot of the bed, and he sat up too.

'Yes,' said Starsky. 'Let's go. I think he's the one needs comforting, now.' Starsky struggled to his feet. His back protested the sudden movement, violently. The goblin reached out, and offered his hand to help him up. 'Thanks,' said Starsky. 'The blind leading the blind.' They stumbled down the hall into the washroom.

Hutchinson was on his knees in front of the toilet making retching sounds. From the sounds, and the smells that filled the room, there wasn't much more to come up, if anything at all. Starsky sat on the floor, at Hutchinson's side. He touched his shoulder gently, and Hutchinson jumped.

'What are you doing in here?' the sergeant asked. 'You're supposed to be in bed.'

'That's where I want to be,' said Starsky. 'But I want you there, too. You've thrown up everything in your stomach, so why are you still in here?'

Hutchinson retched again. 'Starsky,' he groaned. 'Just be quiet for a moment, and I'll help you back to bed. But you don't want me there. What are you talking about?'

'Don't tell me what I want or don't want. Come on, Hutch. It smells in here. It's nicer in bed. Come keep me company, like I did with you that night. Remember?'

Hutchinson sobbed, as Starsky pulled him into his arms. 'How can you talk about that night in the same breath? Starsky, I'll do anything you need, but how can you want me....'

'Listen, you idiot. We need to be in bed, not here on the cold floor. The goblin, too. He's worried about you, same as I am. Poor Tar Baby.'

'Poor who?' asked Hutchinson.

'Well, we don't have a name for him, so I gave him one. Comes from a really old story. Thousands of years old, I think. Centuries, at least. Come on, help me up... Ouch! I'm all right. I'm all right. Not going to die yet. Can I lean on your shoulder? That's better... Now, you lie down there beside me, and be quiet. All this apologizing is giving me a headache. Of course I want you here. I won't have to shout so loud if I need anything, for one thing. My mother used to read me a story, can't remember the name. But there's a fox, called Brer Fox. I don't know why he's called that. Just listen. He wants to catch Brer Rabbit, who's really sneaky. So, he makes a baby out of tar. The Tar Baby, see. And Brer Rabbit thinks it's a real baby, and talks to it. But the Tar Baby didn't say a word, and Brer Fox, he lay low. Brer Rabbit gets real mad, because he thinks the Tar Baby is stuck up. But the Tar Baby stays still, and Brer Fox, he lay low. Brer Rabbit gets mad, and hits the Tar Baby, and his fist sticks in the tar, but the Tar Baby stays still, and Brer Fox....'

'He lay low. What's this have to do with the goblin?'

'Well, we were talking to him, and everything, and he didn't say a word, and just stayed still.'

'Should we be looking around for Brer Fox?' asked Hutchinson. 'Is he laying low?'

'Maybe,' Starsky agreed. 'It's just a nickname I gave him. Doesn't mean anything. But, Hutch. What's wrong? What were you doing in there, all alone? Why didn't you think I wanted you here? Do you think I blame you for this?'

'It was my fault,' said Hutchinson, stubbornly.

'How do you figure that?'

'If I hadn't bought you that day...'

'I'd be working in the quarries, or dead, or being tortured by your brother.'

'Morgan. Yes.'

'So why's this your fault, again?'

'If I hadn't let you buy that gun...'

'That was my choice. And we might both be dead. Cam certainly looked as if he intended to kill us.'

'Maybe,' said Hutchinson. 'But I should have been able to argue those people out of this... it's ridiculous, in this century. Whipping people. Like it was the Middle Ages, or something. And not letting the medic give you anything strong enough for the pain? That's barbaric.'

'It's over now, like Standish said. So, why's it your fault? You still haven't explained it to my satisfaction. And I intend to be satisfied.'

'I'm not my brother,' said Hutchinson, apropos of nothing.

'I know,' Starsky started to say, but he stopped, and stayed quiet, like the Tar Baby.

'I'm not my brother,' Hutchinson said again. 'I'm not. I won't be like him.' He was shaking in Starsky's arms, as if he had been whipped.

'Tell me,' said Starsky, softly.

'Morgan. He likes hurting things. Really likes hurting things. People. Animals. He likes to have power over them. We... my family, we tried to keep an eye on him. To make sure he didn't do anything too extreme.'

'Like murder?' asked Starsky.

'Yes. But I don't think he wants to kill. Just to torture.'

'People can start out that way, and move on to killing,' said Starsky. 'Is that why you really transferred here? Because you were worried about what he might get up to?'

'That was a reason, yes,' said Hutchinson.

'Go on,' said Starsky. 'Tell me.'

'I told you I don't think it's really sexual in Morgan's case. He has girlfriends, and he's never given any signs he likes to torture them. Or even to dominate them. It seems to be a sideline, with him.'

'In Morgan's case,' said Starsky.

'I never meant to tell you this. It wasn't important, because I never intended to do anything about it. But now you deserve to know. I've always had fantasies. Sexual fantasies. Just… fantasies, that's all. But they troubled me.'

'Because of Morgan. Because you thought that made you like him? Hutch, do you want to hurt people? You're the kindest person I know. So what if you have fantasies? I have friends who like to play games with whips and chains.'

'I know all about that,' said Hutchinson. 'But I was always afraid to try. It's not playing games, to me. What if it changed me? Made me like him? But today, when you asked me to whip you, it was the only way I could do it. To pretend it was one of my fantasies, you see? I told you it was dangerous, what we were doing. I told you it would get all twisted. Right after we were making love! How can you want to touch me, or have me near you, after that?'

Starsky sighed. 'I'm not afraid of you, Ken Hutchinson. I'm tired, and I need to sleep. Stay here with me, and keep me company, will you? Promise? Good. We'll get some sleep, and in the morning we'll talk about these fantasies of yours. But they're not important. They don't make you a monster. See? The Tar Baby doesn't think you're a monster either.'

The goblin had curled up on Hutchinson's other side, as if to comfort him.

'Close your eyes,' said Starsky. 'It's hard work, whipping people. I don't know from experience, but that's what my friends tell me. You must be tired out. Get some sleep.'

Hutch shook his head, dubiously, but he obeyed.

 

*******************

At first the soft scratching noise on the balcony seemed to be part of Starsky's fevered dreams. He tried to go back to sleep, but the scratching persisted. He opened his eyes. It was dark, and the darkness seemed to vibrate around him, like a bright light, only the opposite. That made no sense, he thought, happily. It was good, at times, to make no sense. His back was on fire, and his front was freezing cold. That's not right, he thought. That's not making sense in a good way. He reached out across the bed. Hutch was there, he'd just moved away in his sleep, probably still thinking Starsky didn't want him there. They should have made love, thought Starsky. If only they'd made love before this had all happened. If they'd been lovers, Hutch would have known better. Hutch had been wrong. They should have made love, and then Hutch would be holding him in his arms now, soothing away the pain.

'Hutch!' he called out. 'Make the pain go away. Stop that scratching sound on the balcony. It's making me itchy.'

'Huh?' said Hutch. 'What scratching sound? It's just a dream, Starsky. Go back to sleep.'

'No, it's not. It's not a dream. There's something on the balcony.'

The goblin was sitting on the bed, staring at the balcony. He got up, and walked to the French doors. He looked at the latch for a moment, then opened it, easily. The doors slid back.

There were two goblins on the balcony, lit by moonlight. In their hands they carried the strange, furry fruits that Starsky had seen before. Like eggs, he thought, covered in animal hair. He had never dared to eat one, though Hutch said they were delicious.

The two goblins stepped inside, bringing the moonlight with them. Brer Fox, thought Starsky. And Brer Rabbit.

They chattered with Tar Baby, for a moment, in goblin language. Then Tar Baby sat at their feet. One of the new goblins, the taller one Starsky had christened Brer Fox, bit into her furry fruit. She chewed for a moment, then spit the fruit into her hand. She bent down, and massaged the mashed fruit into Tar Baby's wounds. Tar Baby curled up in a ball on the bedroom floor. He lay there for a few moments, then sat up. He stretched, and smiled a toothy smile.

'Hutch?' asked Starsky. 'Are you seeing this, or am I dreaming?'

'I'm seeing this, Starsky. I told you they weren't just clever animals.'

'I know. You were right.'

Brer Fox took the other furry fruit from her friend, Brer Rabbit. She chewed on that for a long moment, then walked toward Starsky.

'Hutch? What do you think I should do? I think she wants to mash that fruit into me. Do you think I should let her?'

'That's up to you, Starsky. But the fruit isn't poisonous. I've eaten it myself. I've never noticed it had healing qualities, but it can't hurt.'

Starsky's back was on fire. The thought of anything cool, even chewed up fruit, being spread on it, filled him with longing. He turned over, and lay flat. He could hear the goblins chittering behind him. They sounded distressed, and angry. Then he felt something cool and healing settle on his burning flesh. Slowly at first, and then more quickly, the pain subsided, and disappeared. The darkness wrapped around him like a cloak. He sighed, and surrendered to its comfort.

******************

When next Starsky opened his eyes, he saw to his astonishment that night had turned to day. He remembered long ages of green darkness. Blue darkness. Brown darkness. Even black darkness. Great fountains of the dark. Cool, deep pools of the dark.

Starsky raised his head, and looked about in the light. Sergeant Hutchinson was sitting in a chair by the bed. His head rested on his arm, which was resting on the bedside table. He looked tired, as if he hadn't had enough sleep of his own, before he sat up to watch Starsky sleeping in the green darkness.

Starsky stirred a little, and bit back a groan. His back felt far better than it had the night before. The angry flames had died down to mere embers. But clearly he wasn't completely healed. Tar Baby, he remembered, had been fine after a few moments, but then, the remedy had been developed for the goblins, and likely didn't work as well on humans.

Hutchinson must have heard him move, or felt him move, or something. He opened his eyes, lifted his head, and studied Starsky. 'How are you?' he asked, softly.

'Not bad, considering,' Starsky answered.

'That's good,' said Hutchinson. 'Would you let me look at your back?'

Starsky nodded, and lay back down, while Hutchinson carefully examined his wounds.

'The marks are almost gone,' the sergeant agreed. 'The goblins left some of that mashed fruit. I have it here in a jar, if you want more.'

'No, not yet,' said Starsky. 'It put me to sleep last night, and I need to wake up. I'm thirsty, and I should use the toilet. And I'm hungry.'

'I'll make breakfast,' said Hutchinson. He sounded weary.

Starsky used the washroom, and even had a quick shower. He put on clean pants, and a loose shirt that he left unbuttoned. He felt less vulnerable with his clothes on. Hutchinson was in the kitchen, making coffee.

'How about one of your fruit drinks?' Starsky suggested. 'Maybe that fruit is better for you than I thought.'

Hutchinson nodded, and mixed a drink for both of them. It tasted strange, but Starsky drank it down. Maybe it would cure the ache in his insides, he thought.

Hutchinson was watching him carefully. 'You fell asleep so quickly last night,' he said. 'I was worried, but your fever disappeared almost immediately. I never would have thought the fruit could do that. But I don't think it was just the fruit on its own. The goblins chewed it, first. So it must be their saliva that releases the healing properties.'

'That's interesting,' said Starsky. 'And by the way, we have proof now that you were right about the goblins. We have to do something for them.'

'We? We are doing nothing, Starsky. I'm sending a message to my family. I'm asking them to help us... to help you escape.'

'Escape,' said Starsky. 'Where's that fruit stuff, again? No, wait.' He took a mouthful of the fruit drink, and spit it out. 'Hold still,' he said, and smeared it on Hutchinson's forehead. 'Hmmm. Is your brain fever gone? Are you thinking more clearly now? No? Maybe I need to crack open your skull, and pour this stuff in. Escape? Escape from what? To where?'

'From me,' said Hutchinson. 'From this planet. To somewhere more sane.'

Starsky snorted. 'If there were such a place, everyone would be moving there,' he said. 'Hutch. I don't need to escape from you. I don't want to escape from you. I'm not running away, without you. If you want to arrange it so we can leave here together, safely, that's one thing.'

'Starsky. You're my slave. I own you.'

Starsky shrugged. 'So why do you want to throw me away? What did they call it back in ancient times? Sell me down the river? I have my honour, Hutch. Once it was all I had left, and I made a vow never to sell it. Not for anything. And now you think I'm going to abandon you? You need me, remember? Have you changed your mind about that?'

'No,' said Hutch. 'But I thought you'd want to get away from me. Be free. Don't you want your freedom back?'

'Freedom,' said Starsky, rolling the word around in his mouth like a sip of wine. 'Freedom. Freedom doesn't mean much, all on its own. Freedom to do what? To run away for the rest of my life, until they catch me, and drag me back? Freedom to sink lower and lower, until the only thing I can do is sell myself to the highest bidder? Some crime syndicate. Gunther, maybe. I'd much rather be your slave, than his.'

'My family could arrange something better than that,' said Hutchinson.

'I thought we'd arranged something better, already,' Starsky noted. 'And how could your family arrange all this? Who are they? I didn't know the Hutchinsons were that rich and important.'

'They aren't,' said Ken Hutchinson. 'Not all that rich and important. Though we're not poor. No, I was talking about my mother's side of the family.'

'Your mother?' asked Starsky. 'Who is she?'

Hutchinson opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by the buzzer. Starsky had a brief fantasy of ripping the thing out of the door frame. Hutchinson, of course, got up to answer it. And Starsky didn't really want a repeat of yesterday's raid, he had to admit.

The caller was Captain Dobey, alone this time. 'I came by to see how you were doing,' he said to Starsky.

'He's alive, as you can see,' Hutchinson answered for him. 'No thanks to you.'

The captain sighed, heavily. 'Do you think I wanted that?' he asked. 'Do you think I believe in slavery, and beatings?'

'No,' said Hutchinson. 'You don't believe in them, you were just doing your job. And so was I. I have no right to criticize you, and I know that. I've been trying to convince Starsky to let me help him escape, but he won't go.'

'I see,' said Dobey. 'And why are you telling me this?'

'I'm hoping maybe you'll do a better job in convincing him. Since you don't believe in slavery, and beatings. Or maybe your disbelief is merely theoretical, and when it comes down to practical solutions to the problem, your disbelief system undergoes a sea change? Suddenly, it's just too much trouble. You might have to actually do something.'

'I'm not running away, Hutch,' said Starsky. The two men ignored him. Starsky shrugged, and poured himself more coffee.

'I'd like to do something to help, Hutch,' said Dobey. 'But you know it really is the companies that run this planet. I don't have enough manpower, or enough support from Earth. And you did break the rules. You knew ahead of time, that you'd be in trouble.'

'Yes, we knew that,' said Hutch.

'Well, it worked out pretty well for you in the end. You've been holed up in here, so you don't know. Starsky's a bit of a hero, in the eyes of your fellow cops. You too, for fighting so hard to protect him. I'm a villain at the moment, but I can live with that. And there's quite a tide of opinion against Simpson, and the companies and their interference with police business. I'm going to use all this to see if I can gather more support from Earth. So Starsky's right. You should stick around.'

'And how do we know there won't be a backlash against Starsky? That he won't become the sacrificial lamb? If there's a fuss made about slavery here on Eldorado, and their use in police work, Starsky could find himself in the quarries anyway. It's his duty to escape, in my opinion. Shouldn't all slaves want their freedom?'

Starsky laughed. 'I'm going to recommend you for the Master of the Year Award, Hutch. We already talked about this. What kind of freedom are we talking about? I told you. I'd rather be your slave than Gunther's. Remember?'

'I remember. I've been thinking about what Milton said, or the words he put in Satan's mouth, rather. That it's better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.'

'Well, I haven't reigned in Hell, but I lived there for two years. I'd rather serve you, if I have a choice.'

'I'm not God, Starsky.'

'No.'

'I'm not all powerful. I can't protect you from everything.'

'Did God?' asked Starsky. 'I prayed to God, to help me. To set me free. To give me the chance to clear my name.'

'Do you really believe in God?' asked Hutch.

'I wasn't sure, at the time. But now, I'm closer to being sure. I think God answered my prayers. And you are that answer.'

'Starsky. I'm not. I'm not sent to you by God. Why would God choose me, of all people? That's ridiculous.'

'I don't know. You don't look ridiculous to me.'

'I mean that I can't protect you. The companies could use their power, and take you away from me at any time. God should have sent someone more powerful to help you. That's why you have to escape.'

Dobey had been following this exchange carefully. 'There is a way you could protect him, Hutch. The laws are still on the books. I checked. You could marry him, and have him paroled into your custody.'

Marry him, thought Starsky. Marry him? Marry who? Marry me? Hutch can't marry me.

'Marry him?' Hutchinson was asking. 'You're suggesting we get married?'

'It would solve most of your problems,' said Dobey.

'And create new ones,' Hutchinson pointed out.

'Yes,' said Dobey. 'Marriage has that effect. So it all depends. How much do you want to help Starsky? You seemed to be ready to put your career, your reputation, and even your life on the line for him. Have you changed your mind?'

'No. Of course not. That's not what I'm worried about. I'm worried about jumping into something that will create new problems, before I'm sure it will solve the old ones. Exactly what does this involve? I've heard of the law, of course. We read about it at the Academy. But how often does it happen these days? Would it really make our situation any better?'

'It should,' said Dobey. 'Yes, it mostly applies to colonists. That's why the law was created, and then revived with every new wave of colonization. The regulations are pretty stringent, but you should qualify. Other than the fact you went to the Academy together, there was no previous relationship before Starsky's life of crime, for a start.'

'Life of crime?' asked Starsky. 'Some life of crime I had. No fun at all.' The other men ignored him.

'And it will make your partnership inviolable,' Dobey was saying. 'If that's what you want. You will be responsible for his behaviour, of course. And you won't be able to get rid of him easily. Divorce in these cases is a lot harder than for ordinary couples. You couldn't sell him to the quarries when you get tired of him.'

'Then I'd have to make sure he didn't get tired of me,' said Starsky.

'Starsky?' asked Hutchinson. 'Would you agree to this? Would you want to marry me?'

'Captain Dobey, do you mind giving us a few minutes alone?' said Starsky. 'We need to talk in private about this.'

'Of course,' said Dobey. 'I have some business to attend to. Just send me a message about your decision. If you decide to go ahead, I can have it all arranged for this afternoon.'

'Sure,' said Starsky, feeling a bit dizzy and disoriented. But that was becoming a regular thing in his life, he thought.

Captain Dobey left the apartment, and shut the door. They were alone again. Just Starsky and Hutch, and the huge elephant in the room.

'Marriage,' said Starsky.

'Yes. It's a big undertaking,' said Hutchinson. 'I was married once, and it didn't work out. I wasn't ambitious enough for her. She left me, and became a famous model. Vanessa. Have you heard of her? Now she's an actress. She sent me a copy of her latest video. It's around somewhere.'

Vanessa? Oh, yes, he'd heard of her. Who hadn't heard of her? Well, maybe the goblins hadn't heard of her, though he wouldn't bet on it. Tall, and curvaceous. Long hair like a dark, rippling waterfall. Beautiful, of course. Beautiful and ruthless. Rumours abounded about her meteoric rise to the top. It been funded by Gunther, they said. Her first big break came when she murdered her rival, they said. And Hutch had been married to this femme fatale? Starsky felt the first stirrings of real jealousy. How could he ever compete, with his hairy body and scarred soul?

'Listen, Hutch. We can't get married.'

Hutchinson swallowed. 'No. Of course not,' he said. 'Why would you agree to such a thing? We'd be joined at the hip for life. Those kind of marriages are murder to get out of. Sometimes literally. Even when you prove your innocence, and become a free man in other respects, you'd have a hard time getting rid of me. I'd get you the evidence you needed for a divorce, of course, if you ever asked for it, so you wouldn't be forced to murder me, but....'

'Hutch! Will you stop babbling and listen to me? I'm not worried about myself. It's you I'm thinking about. You can't marry me. I have nothing to offer you. I have nothing, Hutch. No money. No job. I'm a convicted killer and thief. My name has been dragged through the mud. My friends and family....'

'...don't deserve you,' Hutchinson finished for him. 'And I thought you did have something. I thought you had your honour.'

Starsky felt his resolve to be noble fading away fast. 'What about your family?' he asked, desperately. 'They wouldn't be very happy, would they?'

'Not at first,' Hutchinson allowed. 'They'd probably try to get the marriage annulled, so we'd have to consummate it.'

Consummate the marriage, thought Starsky. Of course we have to consummate the marriage. Who wouldn't want to consummate....

'It should be in front of witnesses,' Hutchinson went on. 'But video evidence will do. I'm sorry, but it might end up being necessary. And after that, I won't touch you without your permission. I promise.'

'Well, what fun would that be?' Starsky heard himself shouting. 'Hutch! I'll make all the videos you like. Let's start a collection. Some day when we're old, and have trouble getting it up, we can lie around in bed and watch, and laugh, and wonder if we were ever that young.'

Starsky got to his feet. His back was starting to hurt a little, and he longed to return to bed, with Hutch there as a pillow. But there was too much to do, and this was important, so he had to hold on until it was resolved. He knelt at Hutch's feet, and took his hands.

'I have nothing to give you,' he said again. 'Nothing but what I am. I don't even own the clothes on my back, because you gave them to me. That's not why I want to marry you, if you're wondering. I'd marry you, if we were both fugitives from every planet in the galaxy. But think about it, Hutch. I didn't commit those crimes. Someone set me up, I swear. That means I have enemies, and you might inherit those enemies yourself. Are you sure you want that? And if you're sure, then will you marry me?'

*******************
Chapter Four
*******************

There was a small crowd outside Dobey's office. Since he had become Sergeant Hutchinson's slave partner, he had not engaged in one conversation with any of the other Bay City police officers he met. They had simply ignored him. Starsky had gathered that their relationship as partners was unusual, but not entirely unprecedented. The other officers seemed to regard him as they might some new weapon Hutchinson had bought. They had looked him over, and then moved on.

'Starsky!' one of them said, proving they knew his name. 'You're actually going to marry this man? Are you sure it's worth it? He's never shown the least interest in men before this. What did you do to him, anyway?'

Several cops offered suggestions, each more obscene than the last, but it all seemed friendly and not judgmental. No one mentioned the beating directly, but someone opined that Starsky had balls, and there was a general chorus of agreement.

The department had gotten together, and bought them a gift. It was a plant of some kind -- an unimaginative choice, but then they hadn't had much time, and Hutchinson was happy. Starsky had expected nothing but dour looks, at the best. But for some reason, the department had decided to adopt them.

Dobey was in his office, with another man he introduced as Judge Hanumi.

'We've been doing a check of your records,' Dobey informed them. 'There's no evidence you were in contact at the time Starsky was arrested. Hutch certainly has enough funds to make reparation for any crimes Starsky may commit in the future....'

'I don't intend to commit any crimes,' said Starsky. 'Unless I'm pushed to it. Let's get this over with.' So we can get to the consummation, he thought.

'Let's check over the contract, first,' Hutch suggested.

'You check it over,' said Starsky. 'I don't think anyone cares about my rights here, except for you. I have no rights, in the eyes of the law, remember?'

'Well, I'm going to make sure your rights are respected,' said Hutch. 'At least on paper. That's better than nothing.'

Starsky left him to it.

'Where are they? Where is the happy couple? Am I too late?' The tall black man pushed his way through the crowd by the office door. 'Oh, good. You two cannot get legally married without Huggy Bear there. And what a festive crowd this is, I might add.'

Huggy was carrying a large basket, wrapped in a purple velvet table cloth. 'Here's a little token of my esteem,' he said, dumping the basket in Hutch's hands. 'It's unlucky to open it until the wedding is over though. Save it until you're alone.'

Hutch eyed the purple tablecloth with disdain. 'Thanks, Huggy,' he said.

'Attention!' said Captain Dobey. 'We are gathered together, for the joining of these two people in legal marriage, according to the laws of colonization, which state that any person may take a convicted criminal in marriage, as long as he or she had nothing to do with the original crime. That first party is then responsible for the second party's future conduct. Responsibility may be both legal and financial. Do you both understand these terms.'

'I do,' said Sergeant Hutchinson.

'I do,' said Starsky.

'Have you read the contract?' asked Judge Hanumi.

'I have,' said Hutchinson. 'And Starsky has agreed to abide by my judgement. I've added a few riders to the contract. I've signed over some of my personal funds for his use.'

'Hutch! That's not necessary,' Starsky protested.

'I think it is, and it's my choice.'

'Are you going to have your first fight?' asked Huggy Bear. 'May I sell tickets?'

Hutchinson laughed. 'No,' he said. 'Starsky said the contract was up to me. He can't change his mind now.'

Starsky smiled. Caught you, he thought. Now this is all your idea.

'Well, if you are both agreed, then join your hands,' Dobey told them.

They reached for each other's hands at the same moment, and clasped them together.

'Ken Hutchinson,' said Judge Hanumi. 'Will you take David Starsky as your legal spouse, knowing everything about his past history? Will you take all responsibility for his future actions? Will you give your word to do your best to reform him, and make him into an honest citizen?'

'I will,' said Sergeant Hutchinson.

'Then I now declare....' the judge began.

'Wait!' said Starsky. 'Don't I get to make vows?'

'It's not usual,' said the judge. 'Not in cases like these.'

'I know, because I'm not legally a person,' said Starsky. 'But this isn't only a legal contract. It's a bond between two souls. I want to make my vows, from soul to soul. It doesn't matter what happened, or didn't happen in the past. Only Hutch believes in my innocence, and so I make these vows to him. I will live my life for him, until I prove that I'm worthy of his trust. That's all.'

'Thank you,' Hutchinson said, softly.

'Well, at last,' said Huggy Bear. 'And I thought romance was dead.'

***************

Starsky was feeling a bit dizzy, as they rode up in the elevator. He leaned his head against the wall for a moment, and closed his eyes.

'How are you doing?' asked Hutch, softly.

Starsky snapped to attention, quickly. He wanted to give in, to let go, to let Hutch take care of him. But now was not the time. The most important thing right now, was to consummate their marriage -- and not only in case Hutch's family tried to have it annulled. They had three days Married Leave before they went back on duty, and Starsky intended to use that time wisely.

'I'm doing fine,' he said. 'The pain's almost gone.'

That wasn't quite true. The pain had started up again, but he wasn't about to surrender to it. It was merely pain, he told himself. He could control it. It would not control him.

The turbolift stopped at their floor, and the doors swished open. Starsky started out the door, but his legs didn't seem to want to work. Starsky ordered them to move, but they were unimpressed with his authority.

'Go ahead,' he said to Hutch, waving him out of the lift. 'I'll be along after I've had a nap.'

Hutch put the plant and basket down, and took Starsky's hand. 'Come here,' he said. 'Put your arms around my neck. That's it. Can you pull yourself up a little, so I can get my arms under your ass?'

'Sure,' said Starsky. 'My ploy is working. You've got your hands on my ass. What's next?'

'I'm putting you to bed, Tough Guy. That's what's next.'

'Good. That's where we need to be, Hutch. Time to consummate. But really, you know? We don't want to make videos yet, do we? I'm all out of practice, it's been so long. Might do it wrong. Wouldn't want your family to see my fumbling around. Then they'd really wonder why you married me.'

Hutch carried him down the hallway, to their apartment door.

'Can you stand here on your own for a moment, while I open the door?' Hutch asked.

'Sure,' said Starsky. 'Why is the floor moving? Reminds me of Los Angeles. Didn't know this was an earthquake zone. An eldoradoquake zone, maybe?'

'Something like that,' said Hutch. 'Come on,' he added as the door opened.

Starsky tumbled inside the apartment, and almost fell, but Hutch caught him. 'Don't forget the basket, and the plant,' Starsky added. 'They're the only wedding presents I'm ever going to get.'

'Lie down there on your bed, and I'll get them,' said Hutch.

Starsky lay back against his soft pillows, and gazed up at the ceiling. My wedding night, he thought. Well, wedding afternoon. It wasn't exactly as he had imagined, when he was young. He'd really imagined himself marrying a woman. It was a bit easier -- simpler -- to create a family with a woman. You had sex, and if all went well, in a few months, you had a baby, complete with your DNA, and hers.

If you had two men or two women, it was a bit more complicated. But sex with men was nice, so that made up for it. Sex with men was simpler. When he was with a man, they were usually on the same page. Usually. He wasn't even sure what book Hutch was on, but he was willing to experiment, and see if they could arrive at the same chapter.

Hutch returned to the apartment, gifts in hand. He closed the door. 'Here you are,' he said. 'Wedding gifts. Happy?'

'Ecstatic,' said Starsky. 'Come to bed. We need to practice.'

'Practice what?'

'Consummating. Remember? We have to consummate the marriage, and make a video. Unless you want witnesses? I don't. But if that's what you want....'

'No. The video is fine. But not right this minute.'

'That's what I say too. Let's practice first. Rehearse. I could write a little play. We come in the door, fall into each other's arms. Fall on the bed. Tear each other's clothes off. How am I doing so far?'

'That's good, Starsky. Really good. Here. Let me take off your clothes now? Just for practice?'

'That's a good idea. Then I get to practice taking off your clothes.'

'Mmmm. Later. Let's just do this for now.'

This? Lie here and let Hutch caress him? He could do this, but where was it leading? He needed to know where this was leading, because Hutch, he'd begun to figure out, was the sort of man who had a plan. There was a plan, here, but Starsky was too tired and sore and dizzy to figure it out. He let Hutch stroke him, instead. He could feel his cock begin to fill. Not enough, but it was a beginning. Now, if he could only get Hutch to co-operate.

'Hutch?' he said.

'Yes, Starsky?'

'Let's consummate the marriage. So it will all be legal.'

'Shh. Turn over.'

Ahh. That was more like it. That was easy enough. Let Hutch do all the work for now. Starsky turned over.

'Ah. Your back looks sore. I'm so sorry, Starsky.'

'Don't. Don't spoil the moment. Don't apologize again. Please, Hutch.'

'I won't. Let me kiss it?'

He felt Hutch's soft warm mouth against his back. This was better. Much better. Gentle hands massaging his shoulders, and neck. The tension draining out of his entire body. The pain fading. Something wet and cool and green against his wounds. The goblin fruit!

'No! No, not that again. Hutch! It puts me to sleep. I don't want to sleep. We need....'

'Shh,' Hutch whispered. 'I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. We have lots of time. Just sleep, now.'

Damn you, thought Starsky. It was his last thought, for some hours.

***********

There was soft music playing down the hall. Warm smells from the kitchen. Starsky sat up. Most of the pain in his back had gone, and the dizziness, too. At the foot of the bed, someone, probably Hutch, had laid out fresh clothes.

No, not clothes, Starsky discovered. Some sort of loose, silk dressing gown, though the colours were suitably dark and masculine. The silk felt good against his back.

Hutch was in the kitchen, cooking dinner. Really cooking, not just heating up leftovers. The lights were dim, and there were candles on the dining table. Hutch had covered the table with the purple velvet cloth from Huggy Bear. The almost-empty basket was sitting on one of the chairs.

'Behold your wedding present,' said Hutch, waving at the table. 'The candles came from the basket, and the wine glasses. And check out what's at the bottom.'

Starsky peered into the basket. There, at the bottom, was his Parabellum, wrapped in a purple velvet napkin.

'Huggy Bear has his priorities right,' said Starsky.

'You look better,' Hutch commented. 'Sound better, too. Am I forgiven?'

'I'm thinking about it,' said Starsky. 'You didn't have to trick me.'

'Didn't I? You weren't exactly thinking logically. Seemed to have some idea we had to consummate the marriage right then, or the deadline would pass, and our marriage would expire. I'm afraid you're stuck with me.'

'I'm not stuck with you yet,' said Starsky. 'But I'd like that. After dinner, maybe?'

'After dinner,' Hutch agreed. He lit the candles, and turned down the lights. 'Have a seat,' he said.

Hutch served dinner.

'This is a good roast,' Starsky commented. 'When did we buy it? I don't remember. And I don't remember this robe.'

'After I was sure you were sleeping soundly, I slipped out for a while. The robe is my wedding present for you.'

'What would you like as a present from me?' asked Starsky.

'I'll think about it, and let you know,' said Hutch, seriously. 'You know, about yesterday, I never got a chance to tell you....'

'That you're sorry?' asked Starsky. 'I sort of figured that out, Hutch.'

'Yes. Yes, I'm sorry. But I wanted to tell you how brave you were.'

'It wasn't courage, Hutch. Just necessity. Sometimes, that's all it is, you know?'

'I know,' said Hutch. He poured Starsky a glass of wine. 'Have a drink,' he said. 'Then we should talk.'

'About the consummation?'

'About the consummation, yes,' said Hutch, with a smile. 'Don't worry. We'll get to that. Starsky....'

'Remember what I said, Hutch? When I asked you to marry me? Everything will be all right. Everything's allowed. I want to give you happiness, to give you what you need. Not to pay you back for all you've done for me, whatever you think. I wouldn't offer that sort of freedom to just anyone. But I feel it. We'll be good together. It was good when you were kissing me, when we were down there on the floor, before we got interrupted. We can just go on with that, and it will be good, won't it? You liked that?'

'Yes. Yes, of course.'

'But if you have special needs, I'm not afraid. I told you.'

'I won't. Starsky, I can't. I can't do it again.'

'Well, no. I'm not saying I want to be hurt so badly, but there might be other things we can do.'

'Starsky, I don't want to talk about it. Not now.'

'No. Of course not. I'm sorry. I just wanted you to trust me, to know I trust you. Before we start. I keep telling you I'm not afraid. Look at me.'

Hutch looked. He gazed back calmly into Hutch's eyes.

'I do trust you, Starsky. But it's not what you really want, is it? I wouldn't be giving you pleasure, so it would all be one-sided.'

'Well, sometimes pleasure is just one-sided. Maybe you'll have more pleasure one time, and the next time will be my turn. And other times, we'll both be having fun. Have a bite of my dinner.' Starsky held out his fork to Hutchinson, and watched as the beautiful mouth closed around the piece of meat. 'Now, see. I didn't taste that myself,' Starsky pointed out. 'I just watched you taste it. But I enjoyed it. It was fun watching you eat.'

Hutch smiled. Then, the smile faded. 'But I wasn't actually hurting you,' he said. 'It would be different if I was hurting you. You wouldn't enjoy that.'

'That's true. We'd have to be very careful. I have friends -- used to have friends -- who did these things. I remember one of them told me it didn't always hurt so badly. It depends. But don't worry about it now. You don't want to tie me up and whip me right now, do you?'

'I don't ever want to tie you up and whip you, Starsky. I told you.'

'Yes. So you say.' Starsky stood up, and dropped the silk robe from his shoulders. 'Are the marks all gone? Or can you still see them?' he asked. He turned to show Hutch his back.

Hutch gasped. 'I can still see the marks a little,' he said.

'Touch them!' Starsky ordered.

'Starsky.' Hutchinson touched his back with gentle, hesitant hands.

'Can you feel them?'

'Yes.'

'How do they feel?'

'Like welts. Like whip marks.'

'Touch them. They're your marks. You put them there.'

'Starsky, don't.' Hutchinson was backing off. The warm hands were gone.

Starsky turned and grasped Hutchinson's wrist. 'Oh, no,' he said. 'Don't quit. Not now. This is our wedding night, and I belong to you. Those are your marks that you put on my body. Touch them. Lay me down, and touch them. Take what's yours.'

'Starsk,' Hutch gasped. 'How did you know? How did you know?'

The floor, thought Starsky. Hutch pulled him close, and Starsky let his weight tug them down to the floor. It was cool, and hard, but closer than the warm, soft bed waiting for them, and so safer. Hutch would have less time to think, and come up with more objections. Starsky's back hit the hard floor, and he cried out a little with pain, and then Hutch was on top of him, and by the look on his face, he was not thinking of objections.

'Yes,' said Starsky, and bit Hutchinson's throat, as he had the day before. This time, there were no interruptions.

'Turn over!' said Hutch.

This was promising, but... 'You're holding me down,' said Starsky. 'Lift up a little.'

'Sorry.'

Hutch was back to apologizing, but he moved enough to let Starsky turn over.

'I hurt you, Starsky. But I didn't want to do it. I had to.'

'I know,' Starsky whispered. 'That's all true. And I forgive you.'

'Do you? Do you forgive me?'

Hutch was murmuring words of love, kissing and caressing Starsky's back. Starsky lay still, and left him to it.

'Let me show you,' Hutch was saying. 'Let me make love to you.'

That's the idea, thought Starsky. Keep it up. Meanwhile, I'll lay low.

Hutch's tongue was doing funny things to his backbone. Licking. From the back of Starsky's neck, down, just a little, then back up, then down a little farther. His hands were tracing the map of Starsky's wounds. Like an act of worship, thought Starsky. He let his legs fall open, inviting more worship.

He heard soft sounds. Clothes being removed. Then a gentle pressure between his legs. His lover's cock. Starsky stayed quiet and still.

'You like it like this?' asked Hutch.

'Mmm,' said Starsky. 'That's nice. Just don't move too fast, or too hard.' He had a brief, horrible memory of the men in the prison showers, and the things they had done and said. But Hutch was moving slowly and carefully, asking him if he was in too deep, or not deep enough, telling him how beautiful he was, how warm he was, how much a man he was, how brave he was -- an endless hymn of love.

'Starsk!' Hutch cried.

Starsky could feel his lover's cock jerk a little inside him. He imagined the liquid spurts of semen filling him. Hutch collapsed against his back, and lay there, breathing deeply.

Starsky hadn't come himself, but his heart was pounding so hard he thought it might burst out of his chest. The emotional pleasure, the spiritual pleasure of such a joining went far beyond the physical pleasure, he had learned as he grew older. That was why rape hurt so much, why it was so ugly. It was a mockery of that communion between lovers.

He felt Hutch slide out of his body, and reached for him to protest. 'You can stay,' he said. 'I liked you there.'

'It was almost too much,' Hutch whispered. 'But I'll come back later, if you like.'

'I like,' said Starsky. 'But would you do something for me, when you catch your breath?'

'Anything,' said Hutch.

Starsky rolled over on his back. 'Would you suck my cock?' he asked. He trembled at the thought of that beautiful mouth, closing around him.

Hutch sighed, and smiled. He turned around, and rested his head on Starsky's thigh. 'When I catch my breath,' he promised. 'In the meantime, I won't let you feel neglected.' He took Starsky's cock in one of his hands. With the other, he stroked Starsky's side, and ran his fingers through the hair on Starsky's chest. 'Did you like what I did?' he asked.

Hutch seemed lighter, happier. The shadow was gone from his eyes. The pain and tightness were gone from his voice.

'I loved it,' said Starsky. 'We could have been doing that this past week, you know.'

'But it was worth waiting for,' Hutch pointed out. 'It wouldn't have been right, if we'd done it when you were my slave. And what happened yesterday -- that would have driven me mad, Starsky, if we'd been lovers. If I had memories of lying like this with you, of being inside your body, of feeling your blood coursing through your veins. If I'd ever done this with you....' Hutch bent down, to take Starsky's cock in his mouth.

At first it was just the head of his cock. Hutch licked it, tiny flicking motions of his tongue that drove Starsky wild. His cock bobbed around, pursued by Hutch's tongue, until Starsky reached down to grasp it himself, and hold it still. Hutch brushed his hands away. 'Don't!' he said. 'This is mine.'

'What are you trying to do to it?' Starsky asked. 'To me?'

'It's like a wild thing,' said Hutch. 'I'm trying to tame it.'

Starsky laughed. 'Good luck,' he said. 'I've been trying to tame it for years. Never managed to. And it's mine.'

'No,' said Hutch. 'It's mine. Come to me,' he crooned to Starsky's cock. 'Come to my mouth.'

His cock bobbed around for a moment, as if confused, and then did seem to slide into Hutch's mouth quite happily. 'You are insane,' said Starsky. 'I like you this way.' Hutch reached behind Starsky's balls, and touched the opening of his ass. And then it wasn't possible to say anything coherent for a long time.

Starsky watched his cock sliding in and out of Hutch's mouth. He thrust up a little, to see if Hutch liked that. Some men didn't like it. Neither did some women. They seemed to feel it was an assault, or something. But Hutch hummed in approval, and Starsky began to thrust harder, still being careful not to go too deep. Hutch's soft furry tongue, and the warmth of his mouth. The thrust of Hutch's fingers into his ass. The memory of Hutch's cock inside his own body. All, all tugged at him, drew his orgasm out of his body, like a dark force of nature. His semen filled Hutch's mouth, and spilled out over his chin. Hutch laughed, happily.

'Ah,' he said. 'You have a strong flavour, to match all these beautiful muscles.'

'Why did your friends think you weren't interested in men?' Starsky asked, curiously, after he caught his own breath.

'I'm not interested in any of them, that's all,' said Hutch. 'I've always tried to keep my work life, and my love life separate.'

'You've broken that rule now,' said Starsky, sleepily.

Hutch sighed. 'Yes,' he said. 'But I can't be sorry.'

*************************

They slept for a time, and awoke to make love again. They stumbled to Hutch's bed, and made love there. And then to Starsky's bed. At last they slept, deeply and peacefully, Hutch's head resting on Starsky's shoulder, much as they had that first night.

It was midnight, thought Starsky, as he awoke once more. Hutch was still asleep. At first Starsky wondered what had roused him, but the soft scratching on the balcony came again. He slipped from their bed, and opened the balcony doors. There were the three goblins. Tar Baby, Brer Fox, and Brer Rabbit.

The goblins sidled inside, as if the apartment were now their own home. Tar Baby jumped up on the bed, and shook Hutch awake.

'What's goin' on?' asked Hutch.

'We have visitors. Our goblin friends,' said Starsky. 'I have to thank you,' he said to Brer Fox. 'You have strong medicine. It fixed my back up nicely, and I didn't have to see the Medic.'

Brer Fox chittered at her friends, and ambled up to Starsky to check his back. She shook her head a little, and made a few disapproving noises, but then patted his shoulder, and seemed to dismiss him as her patient.

Tar Baby jumped down from the bed, and bounced over to the balcony. Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit joined him. They looked over their shoulders at Starsky and Hutch, and chittered at them.

'Sorry,' said Hutch. 'We don't speak your language.'

The three goblins conferred for a moment, then Brer Fox turned back to them. She made gestures out to the balcony. 'Come!' she hissed. The word was oddly accented, and more a whisper than a spoken word, but it was clear.

'Hutch!' said Starsky. 'She spoke. In our language.'

'Yes. I heard.' Hutch climbed out of bed, and they followed the goblins out on the balcony. 'What do you want us to see?' asked Hutch.

Tar Baby slithered through one of the air vents, and hung there, clinging to the glass.

'What?' asked Hutch. 'You want us to come with you?'

'Come ithhhh.' said Brer Fox.

'But we can't. We can't climb through the vent like you can,' said Hutch. 'We're too big. Hold on.' He went back inside, and started dressing. 'Starsky? Are you going to come, or are you going to stand out there naked all night?'

Starsky went back inside, and found his discarded clothes from the day before. He pulled them on. 'Where are we going?' he asked.

'Your guess is as good as mine,' said Hutch. 'Maybe one of their friends is hurt.'

'Maybe, but they don't seem upset.'

'Maybe we're invited to a goblin party.'

'A goblin party? Where would that be? Out in the forest?'

'I'd say so. That's where they live, after all.'

'But, Hutch. The Fence. It's after dark. Long after dark. You said it was dangerous.'

'It is, but not for the goblins. If we're escorted by the goblins, we should be fine.'

Starsky wasn't so sure. But Hutch seemed determined to go, and there was no way he was letting Hutch go without him. He finished dressing, and strapped on the Parabellum. It might not work against whatever was out there in the forest that made men disappear so they were never seen again, but it made Starsky feel better just to know it was there. He'd suffered a lot, for the right to wear it, and he wasn't leaving it behind. If he died, he'd go down fighting.

'Come!' said Brer Fox, for the third time.

'We're coming,' said Hutch. 'We'll meet you, down below, in a few minutes. Understand?'

The goblins conferred again, in their chittering language, then all of them climbed through the vents in the balcony glass, and started down.

'Let's go,' said Hutch.

**************

Hutchinson led him down the hall to the stairwell, instead of to the turbolift.

'What? Are we walking?' asked Starsky. 'That will take forever.'

'Not walking. There's a separate service elevator. Right here.' There was indeed a small door to an elevator hidden in the stairwell. Hutch inserted a key disc, and after a moment, the door opened. 'It's faster,' said Hutchinson. 'We use it in emergencies. Only officers above Second Detective have the key. It's for security reasons. Otherwise, everyone would be using this lift to make it to roll call on time.'

Starsky laughed, and clung to the security rail, as the turbolift took off at what seemed like light speed. 'I can see that,' he said. 'But I bet the junior officers know about it, and there are spare keys floating around.'

'Which is why the keys are changed every month,' said Hutchinson. 'I'll get you your own copy, first chance I have.'

The turbolift opened on the first basement level. The area was deserted. Hutchinson led him out, into the loading bay, and from there, into the alley. The goblins slithered out of the shadows, and joined them. Brer Fox seemed to be the leader, and she headed north. Hutch started after her.

'Wait,' said Starsky. 'We'll be going through the roughest part of the city. Why not take the flyer?'

'Because it's in the Metro garage, and that area is videotaped. We'd be seen climbing into the flyer accompanied by three goblins. Think about it, Starsky,' said Hutch, turning to him with one of his deadly serious expressions. 'Have you ever wondered why I don't just get up in public and declare to everyone that I believe the goblins are an intelligent species and should be termed People?'

Starsky thought about it. 'Because they wouldn't take you seriously? They might think you were crazy, the way I did at first? No. That's not it. Because they would take you seriously, if you had proof, and you might disappear, the way those scientists did.'

'You thought I was crazy?' asked Hutch. He sounded bewildered.

'A bit,' said Starsky. 'In a nice way, I mean. Like the sort of man who would buy a convicted criminal as a slave, and make him his partner, and sleep with him the first night without even asking for sex, and marry him a week later, just because he forgave him for whipping him. That sort of crazy.'

'You think I'm crazy, because of that?' asked Hutch, sounding even more bewildered than the first time he asked the question. They were standing in the dark alley, surrounded by the curious goblins, staring at each other.

'In the nicest way, of course,' Starsky explained, again. 'But Hutch, anyone would see it was crazy, what you did. You didn't even know me. You still don't know me. And you trust me so much even I can't believe it -- and I know you can trust me. I know I would never hurt you.'

'But, Starsky, I do know that. I'm not crazy. I do know you're innocent. I knew from the moment I saw you. Even when I asked you to tell me your side of the story, I was just interested in the details. I already knew you were innocent.'

'But how?' asked Starsky, bewildered himself, now. 'How could you know?'

Hutch's face closed, like a door shutting firmly on something private. 'Never mind,' he said. 'We're holding up the parade. Come on.'

'Well, thanks for explaining,' said Starsky.

'You're welcome,' said Hutch. 'Any time.'

He stalked off on his long legs, and after a moment, Starsky ran to catch up. He slipped his arm around Hutch's waist, and grabbed hold of his belt.

'I'm not letting you go,' he said. 'The goblins might decide to keep you as a love slave.'

'I don't think they find me attractive,' said Hutch. 'Too tall and skinny.'

'Yes. That's what I think, too. And your eyes are too blue, and your hair too blond. All that, and you trust me too easily. But I can live with it.'

'I don't trust easily,' said Hutch. 'Not at all.'

Starsky thought about that for a while, as they navigated the alley's and back streets, toward the Fence. So, Hutch didn't trust just anyone he met, out of some kind of altruism. He had a personal reason to trust Starsky.

'Did you know about my case before?' he asked. 'Did you decide I was innocent, and that's why you bought me?'

'What is this? An interrogation? No. I didn't even know you were on that transport, other than as one of a number of anonymous convicts. I usually meet the prison transports, looking for possible recruits, that's all. Morgan likes to get there ahead of me. It's a game with him.'

'But not with you,' said Starsky.

Hutchinson ignored this sally. 'I knew nothing about your case when I bought you,' he said. 'I checked you out later, and I thought the evidence was pretty conclusive. Based on that, I would have convicted you.'

'Thanks,' said Starsky.

'Don't mention it,' said Hutch.

'I won't,' said Starsky. And then, after a moment, 'So what was it made you decide I was innocent?'

'Starsky! Why are you asking me this now? You didn't seem to care about it before? We've been living together for days, and you never really asked why.'

'Yes,' said Starsky. 'It's a mystery. What's changed, since yesterday?'

'I... I'm sorry, Starsky. Of course things have changed. I've gotten out of the habit of explaining my inner motivations to people.'

'Ah. This has to do with an inner motivation. I see.'

'No, you don't see. You don't see at all.'

'Then show me,' said Starsky. 'Otherwise, why shouldn't I think I'm a pawn between you and your brother? You bought me to win out over him.'

'What?' Hutchinson grabbed Starsky's arm, and pulled him into a doorway. 'That's nonsense. You're no pawn.'

'How do I know that, if you won't explain?'

'There isn't time right now. It's a long story. The goblins are waiting. I'll explain later, when we get home.'

'If we survive the forest,' said Starsky.

'We'll survive,' said Hutchinson. 'What reason would the goblins have to lead us to our death, out of all our race? We're their only friends and allies.'

'I hope you're right,' said Starsky.

'So do I,' said Hutchinson.

The night streets of Bay City were mostly deserted, except by those who either could not afford to enter the covered malls that offered safer venues for entertainment, or who were drawn to the danger of unsupervised night life. The Bay City police ignored, for the most part, the dives that lined the alleys and byways of the street levels of their beats. They didn't have the manpower to arrest everyone who broke the law, so they concentrated on the serious crimes, and left the rest of the policing to the general populace. If someone was murdered, the police would investigate. If someone was beaten and robbed because they ign,ored all warnings and went clubbing on the streets, they were on their own. Everyone understood this, and accepted it.

Most BCPD officers made an effort to create a certain level of police presence on the streets, though. They patrolled, and would interfere when criminal acts took place before their eyes.

'Hutchinson!' said a voice behind them. 'And, um, Starsky.'

'That's us,' said Hutchinson. 'How's it going, Swenerton?'

'Fair enough. Rough district, though. I thought you were off duty for the next few days. Married leave? You got a divorce already? Back on duty? I can go home?'

'No, we're just out for a stroll,' said Hutchinson.

'This time of night? Around here? No accounting for taste.' Swenerton eyed them, suspiciously.

'I have strange tastes,' Hutchinson agreed. 'It's my wedding night, and I like doing it in dark alleys. Got any objections?'

'Who, me? No. Have fun.' Swenerton shrugged, and moved on.

The goblins popped their heads out from behind an abandoned flyer. They chittered impatiently.

'Yes,' said Hutchinson. 'Let's get a move on.'

The dark alleys gave way to a more suburban area, of smaller housing units, and parks. Once they got past the towers of glass and steel, they could see the Fence, glowing like a ribbon of light. The noise of the city had vanished. Here, silence reigned, as if the darkness of the night forest cast a spell that filtered through the Fence despite all the efforts of the light to defeat it.

The goblins chittered excitedly, now. They gestured toward the Fence, and the forest beyond.

'Are we sure?' asked Starsky. 'I've never been in this forest after dark. Have you?'

'No, of course not,' said Hutchinson.

'But you're suggesting we just stroll in there now?'

Hutchinson turned to him, his face serious. 'I need to know what's going on here, Starsky. I came here to protect all the helpless people of this world, including the goblins. There's a crime being committed on this world, every time the humans hunt the goblins, and I haven't been able to stop it. There might be clues about how to stop it, to prove the goblins are people, hidden in the forest at night. I'm a detective, I can't let danger stop me. I won't force you to join me, though.'

'Like Hell I'll stay behind,' said Starsky. 'I'm a detective, too. And you're all I have left in the entire universe. It's me and thee, darling.'

'Yes,' said Hutchinson. 'Me and thee.'

They clasped hands, and stepped out into the open, the goblins in the lead. The light of the Fence surrounded them. There seemed to be no one around, on either side of the Fence, to notice what they were doing. Nor was there any reason for someone to care that they were entering the forest after dark. Nevertheless, Starsky felt watched.

'Someone is watching us, Hutch,' he said.

'I know,' said Hutch. 'But we're almost over the line. Come on.'

The goblins slithered ahead, and disappeared into the darkness.

'Wait,' cried Starsky. 'Wait for us. You're our escorts.'

Brer Fox popped back into sight, and sighed impatiently, but she waited. Then, she jumped at something she seemed to spy over their shoulders. Starsky turned to look behind him.

'Well, if it isn't the happy newlyweds,' said Morgan Hutchinson. 'Going on your honeymoon?"

 

'Morgan,' said Hutch, coldly. 'What are you up to?'

'What am I up to?' asked Hutch's brother. 'What are you up to? That's more the question. It's past midnight. The Fence is lit. And you're heading for the forest. And what was that just ran into the woods? A goblin? What is it about you, and your love for inferiority? I thought you had finally seen the light, when you bought this slave, but then you made him your partner. And yesterday, my hopes were revived. I heard you gave in to your instincts, and treated him the way he deserves. It's what he really wants and needs, isn't it, Slave? Well, answer me?'

'You are speaking to me, I assume?' asked Starsky.

'Brilliant!' said Morgan Hutchinson. 'He's the only slave here, and he assumes I'm addressing him. Planet Earth was doomed, the minute the masses were educated, and stepped up beside their betters, as though they were equals. My brother made an effort to teach you about your true self, yesterday. Did you learn anything from the experience, Slave?'

'Did I learn anything?' asked Starsky. 'Oh, yes. I learned that being whipped hurts. Is that what you mean?'

'Pathetic,' said Morgan. 'But I suppose it's not your fault. Ken doesn't have the courage to be anyone's real master. He's not like me. You lost out there, when he won the draw. I would have led you on a journey of self-discovery like nothing you've ever known.'

'Now, that's true, Starsky,' said Hutch. 'If Morgan had claimed you, soon you wouldn't recognize yourself. Your own mother wouldn't know you.'

'That would have been a good thing,' said Morgan. 'I would show you your own true soul, Slave.'

'Only God knows my soul,' said Starsky.

Morgan smiled. 'If I were your master, I would be God to you. Ken is afraid to take up his proper role, aren't you, Ken? You came close to the edge, but then you stepped back. And now you've married him? What is the purpose of that? Marriage to another man? And not even a particularly bright one. At least if it were a woman, she could give you children. What can he give you?'

'That's none of your business, Morgan,' said Hutch. 'It would be far beyond your understanding.'

'Yes. Very likely,' said Morgan. 'I've never understood you, brother. He spent too much time with Mother,' he added, in an aside to Starsky, as if sharing a family confidence with his new brother-in-law. 'Warped him for life. And what a life! He could be anything he wanted to be, with his background, and brains, and education. Unlike you. But what does he choose to be? A police officer! Lower than a garbage collector.'

'Well, Morgan,' said Hutch. 'Nice talking to you. We have to go now. Goodnight!'

'Oh, certainly,' said Morgan. 'I'll head off home. Want to send a message to the family. Tell them all about this, and your new little friends the goblins. You've lost your mind, Ken, and this is proof. They'll be here at warp speed to rescue you, I don't doubt.'

'And I don't doubt you'll enjoy running to them, and telling tales, Morgan. You always did.'

'I've always felt it's my duty to help you grow, and take responsibility for your actions. Clearly I've failed in that. But at least I can make up for it, by saving you from this so-called marriage. I'm sure the family will do all they can to free you from him, once I reveal the truth.'

'The truth?' asked Starsky. 'Are you sure you do know the truth?'

'What do you mean?' asked Morgan.

'Ah. So you aren't God, after all. You don't know everything.'

'I know all I need to know about you, and I will deal with you, believe me.'

'You won't lay a finger on him, Morgan,' said Hutch. He pulled his gun from its holster, and aimed it at Morgan.

'What are you going to do, Ken? Shoot your own brother?'

'I'll protect Starsky from you, if I have to kill you,' said Hutch.

'No need for that,' said Starsky. 'He's not important, Hutch. He knows nothing, I told you. He'll just look like a fool, when the truth comes out. Call your family, Morgan. They don't frighten me. I have the goblins on my side. They aren't the harmless creatures you think they are, and neither am I. It's not Hutch who owns me, it's the other way around. This whole thing was all a plot, and now I have control of him, and his money. And you can't do anything about it, because you don't know what's really going on. In the forest, I mean.'

'What's really going on?' asked Morgan. 'You expect me to believe anything is going on in that forest that could threaten me?'

'Believe, or don't believe,' said Starsky. 'It's all one to me.' He turned to Hutch, hoping the man hadn't registered any appearance of surprise at his words. But Hutch lowered his eyes submissively, at Starsky's glance. 'Come on,' said Starsky. 'The meeting should be already started, and we're late.' Starsky turned, without looking back, and headed for the forest, Hutchinson following behind.

'You're not really going with him?' asked Morgan. 'You don't expect me to believe....'

Starsky and Hutch crossed from the Light into the Darkness, and the forest closed in behind them. Starsky turned, and waited hopefully. He started counting to ten, slowly. As he reached ten, Morgan appeared, silhouetted against the Fence of Light.

'Well,' said Morgan. 'Here we are. Where is this great meeting you're going to?'

'Right here,' said Starsky. 'Our meeting is with you.'

'With me?' asked Morgan. 'You mean this was all a trick? I'm not hanging around to be lied to. I'm leaving.'

'Go ahead,' said Starsky. 'Leave. Who's stopping you?'

Morgan Hutchinson turned back toward the Fence, but the trees blocked his way. 'Where is it?' he asked. 'Where is the Fence? I can't see.'

'It's right in front of you,' said Starsky.

'This is some sort of joke, isn't it? I can see you. There's light all around you. What have you done?'

'I've done nothing,' said Starsky. 'I'm sure you'll find your own way out. Come on, Hutch. We're wasting time.'

'Wait!' called Morgan. 'You're not leaving me here. I'm going with you. Where are you going?'

'To the real meeting,' said Hutch. 'The meeting with the goblins.'

'The goblins?' asked Morgan. 'Those loathsome little crawly things? They should all be killed. They're a waste of good air.'

He had been in this forest before, thought Starsky. Not in the daylight hours, with Hutch, but alone, in the dark. This forest was the dark. It was green darkness, blue darkness, waterfalls of darkness falling into pools of darkness. It frightened him, but he could tell one darkness from another. He could navigate the paths, and lead Hutch through them.

'Where are we, Starsky?' asked Hutch. 'Can you see, better than I can? You seem to know where we're going.'

'Not really,' said Starsky. 'I'm following the goblins, but I remember some of this. I was here, in my dreams, when the goblin fruit put me to sleep.'

'The goblin fruit!' said Hutch, suddenly. 'When we spread it over your back, it got into your bloodstream. I've eaten it, on and off, but it didn't affect me as deeply as it affected you. The goblin saliva, remember?'

'You think it changed me?' asked Starsky. He shuddered, imagining the goblin saliva running around in his bloodstream, altering his cells, maybe even his DNA. Would he turn into a goblin, eventually? Would Hutch still love him if he did? Probably, thought Starsky. Hutch was like that. But would he still want him? It would be terrible, if he wanted Hutch, and Hutch felt no desire for him.

'Don't worry,' said Hutch, as if reading his mind. 'You still seem perfectly human to me. Well, as human as you ever were. I think it just affected your senses in some way. Like a drug might do. And if it does change you into a goblin, I'll use the fruit and change myself. How's that?'

'What are you two talking about?' asked Morgan, from behind them.

Starsky had almost forgotten his existence, and was frankly surprised to see he was still following.

'What is this about fruit, and saliva, and dreams? Are you both insane?' Morgan continued.

'It's a long story,' said Hutch.

'Yes,' Starsky added. 'And look! We're almost there. The meeting. This must be what the goblins asked us here for. Can you hear them?'

Ahead of them, was the clearing, the one the goblins used for their little markets, where they exchanged the fruits for the little stones offered by Hutch. Only now, there were far more of them, and rather than shyly hiding behind bushes, they were openly, and noisily, engaging in a great deal of commerce. Brer Fox, who was in the lead, called out to the gathering, and the other goblins stopped all their activities, and turned to stare at the approaching group of goblins and humans.

'Can you see what's happening, Hutch?' asked Starsky.

'Faintly,' said Hutch. 'The trees glow. This is a Goblin Market. A big one, not like the markets they hold for us, in the day. Will they let us join, do you think?'

Hutch took something out of his pocket. A full string of beads. He walked into the group of bargaining goblins, with the same confidence he had when he strode into Huggy Bear's. One of the goblins held up a basket of fruit, and Hutch broke off one bead, and held it out. The goblin took the bead, and put three fruits into his hands.

One was as pale as Earth's Moon, Starsky could see. One was green. And one was black as coal.

Starsky had no beads with him. He'd always left the goblin commerce to Hutch. But now, joining in seemed politic. He pulled the extra button from the inside of his jacket. It was made of gold coloured metal, with an interesting carved design. He strode among the goblins, and one held up her basket of fruit for him to investigate. He offered her the button, and she smiled, and chittered. She gave him three fruit. Blue, dark red, and golden brown. They were like large, furry eggs.

'What about you, Morgan?' asked Hutch. 'You're a businessman. You appreciate commerce. Why not come and buy their fruits?'

'Come buy!' said the goblins. 'Come buy!' They chittered and danced.

'What fruit?' asked Morgan. 'Do you think I have the time for such filth? I'm going home. Show me the way.'

'You entered the forest of your own free will,' said Hutch. 'If we help you find your way out, you owe us. Promise not to harm the goblins ever again. And promise not to harm Starsky.'

'Of course,' said Morgan. 'I give you my word.'

'You lie,' said the goblins. 'You lie.' They chittered and danced.

'He's lying, Hutch,' said Starsky.

'I know,' said Hutch. 'But he's my brother. How can I leave him to die in the forest alone? I couldn't really have shot him, either. What are we going to do, Starsky?'

'Offer him the fruit again,' said Starsky. 'It changes your perceptions. Maybe it will change his.'

Hutch walked toward his brother, holding out the three fruits in his hands. One was white. One was green. And one was black as coal.

'Choose,' said Hutch. 'Choose from the goblin fruit, and we will lead you home.'

Morgan reached for the fruit, but as his hands touched the first one, the white one, the fruit screamed.

'You die,' said the goblins. 'You die.'

 

All over the market now, the goblin fruit was screaming. The goblins were chanting, 'You die! You die!' They were dancing around the clearing now, chanting, chanting.

'What is this? What is happening?' Morgan cried.

'Perhaps you made the wrong choice,' said Hutch.

'The wrong choice of what?' asked Morgan. 'This stupid fruit?' He reached out, and dashed the fruit Hutch was holding to the ground.

The clearing fell silent.

Hutch bent down, picked up the tumbled fruit, and put it carefully in his jacket pocket. 'The fruit is important to the goblins,' he said, gently.

'It's nothing to me,' said Morgan. 'I'll find my own way home.'

'Too late,' said Starsky, suddenly. 'Look behind you.'

The trees were closing in, growing new branches to create an impenetrable wall around the clearing.

'You shouldn't have entered the forest after dark,' said Starsky. 'It's not like you weren't warned.'

'You lured me in,' said Morgan. 'This is your fault. Let me out!' He turned and ran toward the trees, trying to squeeze through the narrowing cracks between the branches.

'Morgan, you'll get stuck,' said Hutch. 'Wait here with us. We'll negotiate with the goblins. They know us, and maybe they'll let us stay here until morning.'

Morgan wasn't listening. He started pounding against the trees, and then, to run around the clearing in a panic, looking for a way out. He grabbed one of the goblins, and shook it. 'How do I get out of here?' he said. 'Show me the way out.'

'You die,' said the goblin. 'You die!'

'I'm not dying,' said Morgan. 'But you will.' He grasped the goblin by the throat, and started to choke it.

'Morgan! Morgan, put him down,' Hutch ordered. 'Listen to me. The goblins know us. If you calm down, and let us handle this....'

Morgan stopped choking the goblin, and appeared to listen.

'If you calm down,' said Hutch again. 'And let us handle this. Dawn is only an hour away. We can hold out that long.'

Morgan said nothing. The goblin wiggled out of his hands, and dropped to the forest floor.

'He dies,' said the goblin. 'He dies.'

The goblins were chanting now. 'He dies. He dies.'

'No. Please!' said Hutch. 'He's my brother. Don't kill him. He was afraid, and he panicked.'

Starsky put his arms around Hutch, and held him close. 'Too late,' he said. 'Look!'

Morgan had grown very still. His feet were turning to roots. Branches were growing from his arms, and his head. His skin had grown dark and thick, like bark. Leaves sprouted from the branches. The branches waved, once or twice, and then were still once more.

'He's dead,' said Hutch, and fell to his knees.

'Not dead,' said Starsky, kneeling beside him. 'He's turned into a tree. Trees are alive.'

'Yes,' said Hutch. 'But hardly alive in the way we think about life. He's trapped here. He can't move, or speak, or go home. Ever again.'

'He'll have to stay here, among the goblins, and think,' said Starsky. 'He'll have to confront his own soul.'

Hutch got to his feet, and walked to Morgan -- the Morgan tree, thought Starsky. 'I'm sorry about this,' said Hutch. 'But there's nothing we can do. And you deserve it. You've killed many goblins since you came here, and they didn't even threaten you, until you refused to adapt to their customs. If you'd listened to us, you may have been safe.'

'Hutch!' said Starsky. 'There's a path opening in the trees.'

The trees were parting, creating a doorway in their trunks and branches. The goblins were lining up to leave the clearing, but they looked back at Starsky and Hutch, waiting for them to join in the exodus.

'Come on,' said Starsky. 'Don't be so sad. Morgan did this to himself, and he's not dead. Aren't there old stories about people turning into trees? Maybe he'll turn back into a human, one day.'

'When he's learned his lesson?' asked Hutch.

'Sure. Why not? Men do change, like Dobey said. And Morgan has certainly changed, now. For better, or for worse.'

Hutch smiled a little, and nodded, and they joined the line of goblins leaving the clearing. The goblins danced along the woodland path, quite cheerfully.

'Did you love your brother?' asked Starsky. 'In spite of everything?'

'Yes,' said Hutch, simply. And then, after a moment, 'We didn't get along. Ever. I didn't like him, or agree with him. He worried me. Frightened me sometimes. But I didn't want him to die.' Hutch turned to him with a slight smile. 'Or turn into a tree,' he added.

Starsky took Hutch's hand. 'I wouldn't want Nick to turn into a tree, either,' he admitted. 'It's embarrassing, for one thing. How do you explain it? People ask about your family. They want to know if you have brothers or sisters. Oh, yes. I have a brother, you say. He lives in the woods. No, wait. He is the woods.'

Hutch chuckled a little. He still seemed a bit shaken, and he held Starsky's hand tightly, but he walked on. The parade of goblins ended in yet another clearing. Here, the tree branches rose overhead in great, cathedral arches. The goblins formed a circle around the perimeter of the clearing, and waited. Waited for something.

The moon of Eldorado rose overhead, and its rays illuminated the forest floor.

'What's that?' asked Hutch, suddenly interested in the proceedings once more. 'It's like a mural. Can I move closer, to see?' he asked the goblin on his right hand.

The goblin took Hutch's hand, and drew him forward, toward the mysterious mural. Starsky still held Hutch's other hand, and followed.

'It is a mural,' said Hutch. 'Look! It's made of stones, and beads. Some of our beads, I bet.'

A goblin appeared at Starsky's other side. She held the button Starsky had traded for the fruit. She bent down, and placed the button in an empty space. Other goblins joined the activity. One of them added the bead from Hutch's string.

'This is amazing!' said Hutch. 'There's a pattern here, but I can't make it out. What do you think?'

'It makes my head hurt,' said Starsky. 'I'm not sure I can understand it. Maybe it's a map? A family tree?'

'A book,' suggested Hutch. 'Where did that come from? I'll have to think about this.'

'I'll have to sleep on it,' said Starsky. 'I'm tired, Hutch. I'm going to lie down, and sleep. Wake me when it's morning?'

'Sure,' said Hutch. 'You sleep. I'm going to think.'

He began walking around the mural, studying it from every angle. Starsky left him to it. He found a comfortable tree root, and curled up against it. 'Don't turn me into a tree,' he cautioned the tree. 'I have no hostile intentions.'

The branches over head shook, in what seemed to Starsky's tired brain, to be silent laughter.

******

It was morning. Hutch was gently shaking him awake.

'Come on,' said Hutch. 'It's light. The goblins have gone home, wherever that is. We should go home, too.'

Starsky stretched. 'Ouch!' he said. 'My back hurts. I'm hungry.'

'Then wake up, and we can go home. I'd really like some coffee.'

The mural had disappeared.

'Where is it?' asked Starsky. He kicked around the leaves, looking for hidden beads and pebbles.

'It started to vanish, as soon as the day began,' said Hutch. 'Like it sank into the earth, or something. I have a pretty good picture of it in my mind though. I want to get home. Try making some drawings. Figure out what it means.'

'Maybe it means nothing,' Starsky suggested, as they started home. He looked around for the Morgan tree, and was sure Hutch was watching for it too. But Morgan had disappeared into the forest, along with the mural.

The reached the Fence. The light was gone, of course, and only the taller grass marked the margins of the darkness and the light. The wildness and the civilized.

'I think it means something,' said Hutch. 'We're detectives. We can figure it out. And I'm going to prove those creatures are an intelligent species. One day, we'll be arresting the goblin hunters for murder. I swear to you, Starsky.'

'We're going to need help,' said Starsky. 'We can't fight the companies on our own.'

'No. We can't,' said Hutch. 'I'm going to have to do something I swore I'd never do. Ask my family for help.'

They looked at the tall towers of glass and steel. The companies were powerful, like the steel, thought Starsky. It would take a powerful force to break them.

 

***The End***