The Tower

The jungle slowly gave way, trees growing sparse, than muddy ground hardening into something more resembling solid dirt. A gradual hill led up to the tower, covered with knotty scrub grass. Forms flew in the yellow sky, dark shapes that resembled birds… but there was something odd about them, an unusual twist to their forms, too far away to see clearly but too distinct to escape notice.

Stonewall looked back to Photon. "So we just walk up and knock?"

Warp looked up at the 'birds', shaking his head. "Not much cover…"

Fox smiled at the living targets. "Want me to shoot one down?" she asked, the willingness evident in her voice.

"I only see one problem with that plan." Blink said. "If they have any kind of brain at all, they may decide to attack whatever is attacking them. Or, they may flee in terror like deer. The way our luck is running, I'd bet on the former. I say we just try to find a way into the tower."

Photon shrugged. "There's no need, right now."

Fox just shrugged, "No sweat off me…" she said smiling some. "It just looks like fun target practice."

Stonewall quirked a brow. "How so?"

"Yeah, sis, what's up?" asked Warp.

"No need to shoot, or go in the tower?" Blink quipped with a smile.

"I meant shooting those things," Photon pointed skyward. "No point in doing that. Getting inside, on the other hand… let's see what we can do about that."

Stonewall nodded. "Okay, want me to go check? I'm tough enough to take a few hits if there's a surprise."

Warp looked up at the tower. It seemed unguarded and unprotected. You could just walk up to it…

Fox looked at her, "If you need some back up… I pack extra ammo…" she said, smiling and tapping her marked eye.

Photon nodded at Stonewall. "Go for it." She concentrated briefly, and then a fragile-looking shell of light appeared around her.

Fox looked at them, "Or I can stay here…" she muttered crossing her arms and leaning back against one of the trees. All I know is they'd best not screw up, 'cause I don't want to spend the rest of my fucking life here…

Stonewall nodded. "I'm off." She stalked up to the tower, looking for the door. It was an easy walk. The ground was hard and dry, almost like pavement but far more… organic-looking. It was like walking on the shell of some huge clam or something. The tower was constructed on an island of sorts, a mound of hard carapace rising from what looked like a thick gruel of muck and chunky, meaty-looking… bits, for lack of a better word. The smell of sour water and decay rose off the fluid like heat off some concrete. A single bridge arched over the mire, running straight to the tower.

Gods, I hate this… Blink thought. "Stoney! Wait up. I'll scout with ya. You might be tough, but I can get out in a hurry." She moved to catch up with the tall woman.

She looked at it for a second, feeling a little nervous about this whole thing. The alien world was one thing, but the situation itself just sucked… Squaring her shoulders, she headed over the bridge.

Fox looked at the people left. "They're not gonna get killed, are they?" she asked quite seriously.

Blink and Stonewall walked across the carapace bridge. It was just narrow enough to be imposing, making one some almost about to tumble off into the quagmire below. The women picked up the pace a bit more, stopping in front of the tower. It was featureless, smooth and pale yellow. There was only one opening, a narrow upright slit at its base.

Stonewall looked back to Blink. "Well, here goes nothing…" She poked her head in, then followed slowly.

It was dark inside and hot, even hotter than the swamp they'd just trudged though. The air felt thick, a viscous thing that clung to the skin and oozed into every crevice, leaving a violated feeling in its wake. Stonewall had never wished more fervently for clothes in her life, but somehow she didn't think it would help. The floor squelched under her feet, liquid rising between her toes with each step. She could just make out shapes in the darkness, barely discernable things lurking in the side of the vast hall. Her breathing echoed off, giving a feeling of vastness to the silent hall.

As Stonewall turned, the slit in the tower wall sealed, melting together and plunging her into darkness.

Photon and the others waited, and waited a little more. The others seemed to be taking their time scouting, having been gone at least 45 minutes. Last seen they were crossing the bridge to the tower.

Warp shook his head. "Um, guys… Anyone else getting a real bad feeling about this?"

"Should we go looking for them?" Fox asked.

"Right now," Photon said grimly. "It's been way too long." She headed for the bridge.

They crossed the clotted "river" of detritus and came to the tower itself. It was smooth, featureless now. And there was no sign of Blink or Stonewall.

Fox sighed as they traveled along. "Great… they probably found the way out of this shit hole… and it was probably a one time fucking door… and we're gonna be stuck here for the rest of our damn lives to rot!!"

Warp shook his head. "No way. Not those two. More likely they got attacked or something…" He looked to Photon. "Want me to try to get a portal in?"

"Call me crazy, but I think the person in there wants us to try… from the file I read about her, she's certainly arrogant enough to think she can… deal with us without effort," Photon replied. "Let's get a good look around."

Fox shook her head, but resigned herself to the fact that she was stuck with no way home without them. "Lead the way…" she muttered, along with several other choice words about the stinking festering shit hole they were in.

Warp nodded. "Lead the way, sis…"

Hologram watched quietly from the shadows where she had taken herself to rest and regain her energies. There seemed little choice but the tower. No other means of egress presented itself. But somehow, charging in seemed like an even worse idea, especially with the team fractured like it was. Their powerhouse was gone, and they were left with an unknown figure in the equation, this Fox person. So convenient that she had shown up in this mire, and found them. Hologram watched the woman, and pondered what she might mean. When the others moved, Hologram pushed away from the shadows, and followed behind.

There was little else on the island but the mysterious tower. It was flat hard stone or whatever composed the land under their feet. Some shapes flew overhead, far distant.

Fox looked up, trying to identify the odd shapes. "Odd things flying again…" she sighed. "I just want to get fucking home… need some cigarettes… God damn it…"

Photon agreed to Warp's plan of opening a portal inside.

"I will go in how you suggest, you know your team better than I," Fox said.

Hologram waited patiently for them to come up with a plan. If Warp opened a gate successfully, she would follow them through it.

Warp nodded, stepping up to the walls and focusing, opening a hole in space that should open up about ten feet past the wall. Space rippled, then popped open, splitting like an swollen boil. The opening revealed Blink, and perhaps her best side, from behind. She was naked.

"Looks like we found one of them at least…" Fox said grinning.

Hologram glanced at the others, and then stepped forward, passing through the warp to her teammate.

Blink turned around abruptly. "Hey, guys. Nice to see you. There's someone here you may not want to meet…"

Warp darted forward, making a grab for his comrade. "Hey, Blinky! Rescue party's here, babe!"

Inside the air was hot, and dank, even more so than in the swamp. It was like stepping into a living, pulsing throat. Hologram and Warp could feel the floor undulate under them as, somewhere, something massive throbbed and thrummed, beating like the heart of the world itself. In the blackness they could pick out little but one another in the shimmering coming through Warp's slowly shrinking portal.

Warp looked around, squinting into the darkness. "I can't see anything, Blink… So who will we not want to see?"

"Why do I not get a good feeling from this?" Fox said aloud.

Even as Warp began moving forward, Hologram began moving back. This place was setting off all her alarms, and Blink's strange behavior wasn't helping one bit. This looked too much like a trap, too little like anything she wanted to be in. "Warp, get her and follow me out. This stinks of a trap," she said in a low voice, and darted back to the shrinking warp.

Oh to be a fucking telepath! Blink thought grumpily. "Stonewall is trapped in here somewhere, and Dr. Kimagure is here. In some way, I think the tower is her," Blink told them. "Get out if you can. I'm going to get Stonewall out of here. " She looked up. "We'll come to some arrangement, won't we, Doc?" She made no effort to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

Fox just backed out like the other was, she didn't need to be told to do so, it was obvious that they would let her tag along, but not do much to assist her… that would be fine… she just wanted to follow them out.

Warp nodded, heading forward to Blink, and lifting her in his arms. "C'mon, honey, you can tell us about it outside."

When he heard Stonewall, he stopped. "Stoney? Ya know where she is?" He looked back to Photon.

Fox shook her head. That wasn't normal talk… well, she hoped not. "Um, does she always talk like that?" she asked. "I mean no offense, but I have nothing to judge you having trauma on…"

Hologram headed back out through the warp, finely honed survival instincts demanding she get the hell out of this tower.

Fox looked to Hologram, "We still have to find Stoney…" she said. "We should have stayed together…" she shook her head some.

Photon was also becoming nervous, though for different reasons than Hologram's. She began to glow brighter, in an attempt to get a better look at the inside of the tower. She would perhaps regret that. The floor, the walls, all of it was seething, pulsing flesh. Pink and raw looking, run through with purple veins, pumping some unknown and vile ichor. Here and there, tumorous lesions grew, weeping yellow slime. There were eyes, wide and starring; drooling mouth-like slits; and other, more questionable orifices. Armored sections of cartilage formed crude supports, and shaped chambers and halls that lead off deeper into the structure.

"This… is one of the more disgusting places I have ever been," Photon remarked. "Okay, as I see it, we either stay in here and find Stonewall and the 'good' doctor, or we leave this place right now and come at this again from a different angle. Any other suggestions?"

Warp knew the decision had better come quickly. Holding the warp open was getting difficult.

Hologram glanced at Fox and said, "The others should have come out with us. That place is nowhere we want to be."

Fox sighed some, "Can you hold it long enough for me to shoot through and bring them back?" she asked Warp. "I can go get them and we can regroup…"

Warp shook his head. "I can't hold it much longer… Easier to go with you, then come back out when we're ready…"

On the one hand, Blink was relieved that the others had found her. Unfortunately, she was now naked, and standing in full view of all the others. That, and anything she said would tell the insane doc what the plan was. "Backup is nice, guys. Not sure it's a good idea, but it's nice. She smiled at Warp. You can put me down, Warp," she said with a smile. "You're not exactly my type."

Fox nodded, "Let's go, then," she said, running through the portal once more, into the unknown.

Hologram shook her head and sighed. "I don't like it, but there seems little choice. We must have them back."

Stepping into the slimy heat, the team peered into the darkness. A mocking chuckle greeted them. "Welcome back. It's been so long since I've seen you last." Kimagure laughed. "And so eager, such excitement… come then… let's begin."

Warp cursed softly, pulling his gun. "Bring it on…"

Fox looked at the group, "Do you know him… err… her… er… it?" she asked. "Why do I feel like I'm missing a giant piece of the puzzle here…"

"Who ya talking to, doc?" Blink asked. Of course, playing dumb might just piss her off… she thought to herself. "I still haven't seen my friend. Where is she?"

"She is with me. Quite safe. Stonewall, as you call her, has found her place." Kimagure explained.

"You'll pardon me, I trust, if I question your definition of 'safe'," Photon remarked. "We've seen what was left of those two officers."

Kimagure chuckled. "Interesting that you should mention that. Stonewall asked after them as well. She found them quite pleasantly intact." A shaft of light came down, beaming from somewhere above. It illuminated two men, huge men, bulging physiques completely naked. Their bodies shone with sweat, the light gleaming off of thickly corded muscles bunched with feral power. One was blonde, the other a redhead. A moment later, it dawned on the group just who they were, under the leering smiles and shining eyes. The two cops from before. Both of them… but changed.

Warp cursed softly, drawing his gun. "Ho boy, land of the evil super clones…"

Fox smiled up at them men, "Who's the hotties?" she asked looking at them. "If she's so happy why don't you let us see her and tell us herself?" she asked. The "hotties" were apparently happy to see them, grinning, leering down at them, obvious erections jutting out, a llittle over a foot in length.

Fox smiled at their obvious attention, "Well I found two more things on the island I like besides those plants…"

Hologram shimmered and vanished. She flipped off her safety, and leveled the weapon at the nearer of the two altered men, and waited.

"Boy, have you got the wrong girl…" Blink Muttered. Louder, she said, "Yeah, doc. You were going to let me see her before." She looked around for her clothes and her gun, but they were lost amid the mire and slime.

The "police" stepped forward. "Follow us."

Warp looked to Photon, then moved to back up Blink.

The two…whatever they were, lead the team out of the chamber, past a veil of what seemed to be moist, living hair serving as a curtain. The hall beyond flexed and pulsed, working like a gasping throat. The unpleasant imagery of walking down the maw of some great beast crossed all their minds, and made the journey seem much longer than it was.

Fox received a firm stroke on her rear from one of the beings. He smiled at her, leering despite the mud and muck covering her form.

Fox grinned back at him, "Friendly boy huh?" she asked.

"Foxy, don't let them get to you," Blink said. "That may be exactly what Kimagure wants from you." She continued to follow, although she really wished she had some clothes on now.

The shaft widened into a hall of sorts, a huge vaulted room, lit by luminous patches here and there. The sickly green light spilled over the new arrivals as they came in, making them look rotted and sickly. High above, set in one of the walls, a cocooned form writhed.

Fox kept her eyes on it, she could try to shoot it away with her eye. She wondered if that was where Stonewall was. "Okay… where's Stonewall?" she asked, looking around.

"Oh, this just gets better and better," Blink said. "Stop playing games, doc. Where is Stonewall?"

The cocoon split open with wet tear. Revealed within was Stonewall, her naked body glistening with a film of sweat and mucus. She writhed and shuddered, body caressed by quivering tendrils that explored every inch of her. Two thick ones ran between her legs. One only slightly thinner was down her throat.

Warp looked up. "Oh man… Stoney…"

Fox looked at it. "Damn, she found something better than the plants and wasn't gonna share…" she said gazing at the sight in front of her, feeling herself getting a little wet between the sight and remembering the time with the plants and Stonewall before.

Hologram chambered a shell into her weapon, and glanced around for something to shoot. This horrid violation of a comrade was intolerable and someone, somehow would pay the ultimate price. She vowed silently to find who was responsible for this horror, and kill him.

"So, is that your plan, doc? You have a sick sense of humor," Blink fumed. She moved back close to Photon. "I don't know what to do here, boss lady. Kimagure said she had a similar fate in store for all of you."

"I gave her what she desired, what she needed." Kimagure said, almost sounding hurt. That illusion was dispelled by a vile, soft laugh. "She will be a most potent breeder."

Circe shuddered, but reached out tentatively toward Stonewall, trying to find out if there was any conscious mind still there, wary of the feelings that might obviously be there. Stonewall was there, Circe could feel her hazy, lust-sated thoughts. The pleasure she was feeling was intense, but it didn't take an empath to tell that. One just had to look at the way she was writhing and shuddering, legs splayed obscenely wide, baring her unnatural union to all.

Stonewall, roused, opening her eyes, peering through a mist of slime. The others? Here? She was having trouble focussing, her body tingling…

Warp pulled his gun, moving closer to Photon. "What's the plan, sis?"

Stonewall shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts and vision.

Sensing Stonewall's attempt at resolve, Circe attempted to help her clear her mind of the thoughts that were there, replacing them with resolve and the desire to help her teammates. Stonewall's emotion was languid, almost sleepy. The empath had felt similar ones coming from targets just after coitus.

Blink looked around the room, trying to determine where the voice was coming from. "Breeders, doc? Somehow I don't think I like that plan. I didn't have a choice, but I'll be damned if I stand by and let you do the same to my friends."

More questions popped into Fox's head. Later… I'll ask later… She shook her head. "You want her down? I'll get her down, just have someone play catcher…" Fox said, aiming up with her eye, preparing to shoot the things violating Stonewall and the pod holding her up. All she needed was the go ahead…

"You seem disquieted. Perhaps you can't believe your friend made this decision?" Kimagure chuckled.

"Perhaps I believe it was a manipulated decision," Fox said. "Blink, can you catch quick, too?" she asked.

"As fast as you need, Foxy. Maybe faster." She poised herself to port to where Stonewall might come down.

"There's no need for violence," Kimagure said. "It should always be a last resort." Stonewall was lowered and deposited before them, naked, slimy and shuddering with the lingering aftershocks of myriad orgasms.

Fox cocked an eyebrow. "No… it's my last, first and only, doc," she said, wishing she was back home. If she didn't need them to get out she would have just done what she wanted to, zapped the damn plant and then zapped Kimagure–simple, clean, straight cut.

Stonewall shook her head, moaning a bit. She looked up around. "Guys? Hey…"

Blink looked around the room once again. "All right, let's just get this out in the open, then. What exactly do you want, Kimagure?" She moved over to Stonewall. "You okay, Stoney? I didn't think we got separated that long."

Stonewall shook her head a bit. "Huh? It's kinda fuzzy…"

Fox walked over, keeping her 'eye' out for Kimagure. "You okay, Stoney?" she asked.

Photon moved closer to Circe. A bad idea had just occurred to her, and Circe was the only one who might be able to verify it. "Are you sure that's really Stonewall?" she asked the empath, whispering. "It just occurred to me that someone with Kimagure's skills at genetic manipulation could easily clone…"

"Could she clone her memories?" Fox asked, looking to Stonewall. "Stoney would be able to tell me what we did when we went to the bathroom," she said, thinking of how they played with that plant after it had scared Stonewall.

Circe looked at Stonewall, then the others. "I can check her," she said softly. "The emotional patterns would still be there, and what I got before was purely emotion. Stonewall," Circe said. "Look at me for a minute." Circe reached out, trying to gather in the emotional pattern that was Stonewall, to 'see' if this was their friend standing in front of them. Somehow, this woman must be stopped… Circe thought to herself. If only I could tell where she was…

She felt the woman's confusion, her fatigue and the lingering after effects of sexual congress. It "felt" familiar, like what she'd picked up from her before, very much so, but Circe was an empath primarily, not a thought reader. Sifting through her recent emotional pattern, Circe was struck by the intensity of the young woman's feelings. It was as if she felt everything far more intensely. The walls most people put up around themselves just weren't there for her. Circe read recent lust and pleasure primarily.

Stoney blinked a few times. "Hey babe… Dance in my head anytime…" She grinned wearily.

"Well?" Fox asked looking, between the pair.

Before Circe could answer, the "floor" shuddered under them. The two naked Goliaths looked up, the languid expressions on their faces vanishing instantly. Again, the fleshy material underneath rippled, twitched like skin crawling with an unpleasant itch, then it erupted. The center of the room swelled, growing dark, sizzling. The sickening smell of burned flesh filled the air seconds before the boil burst, blowing chunks of seared flesh across the group. Things boiled up from the wound, hard shelled, scuttling things that looked almost like crabs, but huge and distorted mollusk dredged up from the depths of some nightmare ocean.

Fox stared at the disgusting scene before her and uttered a well thought- out and prepared statement as she took aim. "What the fuck…?"

Stonewall rolled over. "Oh man… This is going real well…"

"Why am I not surprised?" Photon muttered under her breath. A fragile-looking translucent shell formed around her. "Now, Doc," she said in a louder voice, "that wasn't very nice…" She drew a bead on one of the "crabs."

Blink looked at the others. "I am so fucking sick of this! I don't even have a weapon!" She moved back from the eruption, looking for anything she might use.

Circe drew her gun and made ready to fire. "We have to talk to the powers that be about more firepower!" she said, making a rare joke.

The two "cops" leapt at the swarming things, wading into them, faces contorting into feral raging masks. Shells crushed, and ichor sprayed as they tore into the beasts. But in turn, the creatures struck back, wielding odd devices, like large twisted pieces of shell that spat electrical arcs and nipping with pincers and horn.

"Um, guys…" Stonewall began, "if they're Kimagure's, why are those guys attacking them and not us?"

Fox looked at her, "Great–who do we fucking help?"

Blink looked at Fox. "Can I borrow one of your guns, Foxy? I seem to find myself underclothed at the moment." She watched the crabs as they poured through. I still don't trust Kimagure… she thought. I wouldn't be surprised if she did this herself… to gain our 'trust'.

"No offense, but Kimagure hasn't treated me that bad… Well, aside from the pod thing… And her boys are at least human, or they were…" She stood up. "I say for now, we help the guys who look like guys."

Fox looked to Blink and nodded throwing her one, and only gun, seemingly disarming herself. "Use it wisely, it's almost out of shots…"

"We don't help either one," Photon replied. "Let 'em fight it out amongst themselves, and defend ourselves if attacked. And, of course, if the Good Doctor should show…" Photon relaxed her stance, but did not drop her field.

Stonewall nodded. "Works for me… I'm not much in the mood to fight."

Fox nodded. "Understood." She let one arm fall to her side and the other rest on her hip.

Warp looked around, his gun drawn. "Still, stay sharp…"

The pair of…well whatever they were seemed to be holding their own. The crab creatures fought with claws and odd clumps of shell the fired electrical energy. The fighting was up close, though, and they were no match for the clones. Each blow shattered a carapace, or ripped off a limb.

Fox smirked some at Warp's comment, "Always am, baby… always am…" she said, her eyes scanning the action and the surrounding area.

A passage opened up behind them with a wet sucking sound. The yawning passage dripped grayish mucus and undulated in a most unwholesome fashion. "Enter," Kimagure spoke again, seemingly unconcerned about the battle taking place in the heart of her territory.

Stonewall looked to Photon. "Boss lady?"

Fox looked to the others and shrugged some moving forward while keeping an eye on the action behind her. "What the hell…" she muttered.

Photon scanned the orifice with a jaundiced eye. "Oh, that does not strike me as a good place to go. Anyone got any ideas?"

"I've had nightmares about places like that," Blink said. "What for, Doc? We don't want to be part of your experiments…"

"You would prefer to be a part of this battle?" Kimagure asked dryly.

Stonewall stood. "I'll go first."

Fox didn't understand again, "This isn't the time or place, but what the fuck is going on?"

"A battle, a futile but annoying one," Kimagure said dryly.

"Okay… let me spell it out for you since I confused you. What experiments, where the fuck are we and what the fuck is going on with pods and crab things and shit?" Fox asked again.

"Why offer us a way out, doc?" Blink asked. She turned to Photon and spoke softly. "I don't think the clone boys are going to win, and that leaves us to fight the crabs. No win either way." She sighed. "I just wish I had some damned clothes." Looking up, she said, "My vote is for the tunnel, icky as that is."

Fox shook her head in frustration. No one was going to answer her, she was just running around in a fucking jungle for, apparently, no reason whatsoever. "Tunnel it is…" she said, walking towards it.

Hologram fades from sight and heads for the tunnel at a cautious pace.

The gaping opening quivering, seemingly in anticipation as Hologram, Stonewall and Fox approached. A gust of warm, but thankfully odorless air blew forth as the tunnel widened.

Hologram chambered a shell into her .45, and moved forward at a cautious rate. When she sees that others are following, she falls back to cover them.

Warp looked to his sister. "Well?"

Photon looked back at the battle, then motioned toward the waiting 'door.' "After you," she said.

Fox looked back a moment and then shrugged. "I'm not feeling much like foreplay," she said, stepping into the tunnel, trying to avoid touching the sides as her eyes scanned ahead for any dangers or potential targets.

Hologram follows the others, keeping an eye out behind them for any sign of pursuit. There was no need to worry. The passage sealed behind them, constricting. They climbed and emerged in a huge vaulted room. Rib-like struts that ran through the white/pink "flesh" supported the walls. Vessels throbbed and squirmed across the surface, carrying God knew what kind of fluids through this massive living structure.

There, in the middle of the chamber, rose a dais of polished white bone. Standing like a throne, it held a single figure, thickly muscled, armored with black bone and cartilage, she–it–was nude, but recognizably female. She lounged on the throne, watching the group with dark eyes. Bizarre as she was, the figure possessed an alien beauty and reptilian grace.

Stonewall shook her head. This didn't look like the same 'Kimagure.'

"Okay… alrighty… what… err… who the fuck is this?" Fox asked the others, hoping that they had some bloody idea of who the woman was.

The figure straightened and steepled her fingers. "Now, I'd think that would be fairly obvious…"

"Might be if I had some fucking clue of what was going on," Fox said, putting her hands on her hips.

Hologram slipped to the side, covering the alien woman.

Stonewall walked forwards. "So… What's up, doc?"

The woman, Dr. Kimagure, didn't seem to get the joke. "What is up… is that I'm offering you a chance to be a part of the greatest event since the dawn of life on Earth. Stonewall," she turned her gaze to the naked tank, "you have already experienced the joys of entering my service…" She looked to the rest. "Each of you is a powerful being, blessed with the gifts of the Elder Wyrm, but you could be so much more… if you only knew. And you, Blink, you have been chosen above all and know nothing of it… reject it, in fact," Kimagure's voice dropped to a sibilant hiss that dripped with venom and contempt. "But I will take you as well. Perhaps you might be useful yet."

"Elder Wyrm," Fox said questioningly, "Look all I know is that I fucking wanna go home, they seem to know how to fucking get there so you're not fucking taking anyone!" she said, her silver hand sparkling.

Hologram slid the hammer back. She was about an inch from emptying her clip into this psycho's brain. She was spouting the sort of pro-meta rhetoric that the White Hand had used. She could feel her heart racing, as her fingers tightened on the trigger.

"No thanks, doc. I have no intention of selling my soul to someone who looks and behaves like an inhabitant of R'lyeh, in order to get more power that I don't need and don't want." Photon's statement was firm.

"Sorry doc, but spending my life in a pod being a baby factory ain't my idea of a big career move." Stonewall crossed her arms.

"You wished for physical pleasure and it was given to you. It was not to be your sole purpose," Kimagure sighed, "but it seems you are too limited. A shame, truly…"

Stonewall shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not… You never said anything about a pod. That's an omission, maybe a lie in my book… You've been giving me the runaround… How do I trust you?"

"After copulating to exhaustion with my creations, you did need a period of rejuvenation, my dear. And if I intended to keep you, why would I have released you, given you this choice when I already had you?" Kimagure asked.

Hologram normally hated to use lethal force on anyone who wasn't using it on her, but this woman was really starting to press all of the Asian meta's buttons. The stench of her metacentric garbage was making Hologram sick. She flipped the safety off her weapon, and sighted down the barrel.

"The weapon is useless, child. Put it away before you harm yourself," Kimagure said, without looking at Hologram.

"Fuck this shit, I wanna go home!" Fox said, glaring at the odd creature… woman… whatever. Her eye locked on, ready to fire off at the first sign of it becoming necessary.

"But you are home," Kimagure said.

"Last time I looked this wasn't my home–this whole world is a festering waste. So much for your choices, huh? You're not gonna let us go–you're just fulla shit."

"This world is the home of all life on Earth. When the planet was a barren ball of rock, millennia ago, the Elder Wyrm descended upon it and lay the very seeds of life," Kimagure sighed, rapture written on her strange alien features, "the first seeds of what you have become…"

She's very confident here, Photon thought to herself. So where's the flaw? There's got to be one… She didn't allow herself to finish the thought with 'or we're fucked.' Outwardly, she sighed. "Shall we get this over with?" she asked.

"We shall see…" Hologram whispered, and opened fire, her sight on the creatures eyes. She squeezed off three shots in rapid succession, as she had been taught. The whipcrack shots echoed across the chamber. Kimagure's head seemed to jerk, as if struck, head lolling back at an impossible angle. But slowly, it rose, her serpentine neck straightening. Eyes blazing, she glared at the group, a thin trickle of greenish ichor running down from her split scalp.

"Oh shit…" Stonewall muttered, straightening a bit.

Warp moved up to Photon's side.

"Okay, that was nasty…" Fox said, aiming to finish the job if possible, but holding off her shot for a moment, trying to see what Kimagure was going to try to do.

The walls seethed. Dozens of muscular tendrils shot out, all of them directed at Hologram. Tipped with wicked barbs, they whipped and lashed at the mutant, laying open several ugly gashes. Kimagure watched with seething fury, the cut in her scalp sealing in seconds.

Fox jumped and started trying to shoot the tendrils with her eye, hoping to keep Hologram from getting too badly injured. Her beam cut through a few tendrils, but the others kept attacking.

Don't attack her, attack her creations, Photon thought. She pointed at the walls of the chamber surrounding them and fired. The beam slashed a burn in the wall.

Stonewall moved in a flash, trying to put herself between Hologram and as many of the tentacles as she could. They didn't attack her, but reached around, ignoring the platinum blonde all together.

The bullets came close, striking the bony dais and bouncing off. "Enough. And I thought of uplifting you pack of fools." Kimagure shook her head, waving a dismissive hand. The floor opened up, yawning wide, into a sucking orifice under Hologram, pulling her into a dank passage. The others found themselves standing on a slippery sloping depression that undulated under their feet.

Stonewall staggered for a moment, trying to get her footing. "Well, frankly, doc, you're going around this shit all wrong…" She slipped, tumbling downward, rolling into Hologram's barely visible form, knocking the wind out of her.

Warp moved to Photon, opening a portal to get the two of them to more solid ground. The portal opened, but seemed unsteady.

Photon looked dubiously at the portal. "Is it safe?" she hissed, doing her best to keep her balance.

"Compared to what?" Warp asked, looking around.

Fox saw the ground change and got a sickening feeling, she looked up and tried to aim her eye, shooting for Kimagure's hand and throat as she tried to balance herself.

"Do you want to return home?" Kimagure said, seemingly unmoved by Fox's threat.

Fox looked at her. "Damn straight, but I've fucking gotta return with all of them now," she said, not willing to leave them behind.

"I didn't think you would be the reasonable one. Your companions live. They are stored somewhere where they can cause no more harm."

"Then why not let us go?" she asked. "Why store us?"

"You decided to attack me. I'm sorry I couldn't obligingly sit by and allow you to destroy me," Kimagure said. "Now, if you continue to be reasonable, I will return you to where you all belong."

"Why do I doubt it's that fucking easy?" she asked. "And why did you separate us? What the fuck do you want from me?" Fox asked.

"You were the ones shooting at me, remember? I want nothing from you except civility." Kimagure sat back, reclining on her organic throne.

Hologram looked around at her new surroundings, trying acclimate herself to where she was. As she examined the area she had been dropped into, she slid the partially expended clip from her Glock, and inserted a full clip. Not much ammo left, just one full clip after this, and what was in the other. Not much bang to try and fight her way free of a deranged lunatic who seemed to have all the power of an entire world behind her.

She was waist deep in a syrupy, lumpy fluid. Small mercy, there seemed to be little smell, but she wasn't inclined to inhale deeply.

Stonewall cursed loudly and creatively for a few minutes. "I'm taking a fucking week long bath after this job!"

Hologram began making her way through the muck. Perhaps there would be a wall she could follow, or some light she could use as a guide for herself. She felt around the edge of the chamber, touching the disgusting warm walls. There didn't seem to be an opening, but she was only about halfway around.

Stonewall sighed, heading to check the walls as well. They were soft and pulpy, the warmth making the texture all the more revolting. Hologram continued around the room, looking for some exit.

"Oh man… What I wouldn't give for a pair of fucking panties." Stonewall tossed the thing across the room. "Yo! Hol! Find anything?"

The room convulsed, shooting Hologram and Stonewall back up into the central chamber in a spray of ichor.

"There, they are returned," Kimagure said.

Fox looked them over. "You guys okay?" she asked.

"Someone get me a fucking shower… And some pants!" Stonewall yelled.

Hologram snarled in anger, but refrained from using her weapon. This creature was too powerful here. They would have to escape. Fighting was no longer an option.

"Now, if there are no further hostilities, I will return you to where you belong," Kimagure said.

Warp looked to Photon. "I think this one's a wash, sis… We keep coming up short…"

Hologram simply refrained from saying anything at all, though hatred burned behind her dark eyes.

Fox blinked some and looked to the others, "That's it? You're sending us home?" she asked not quite believing home and where Kimagure believed they belonged was the same place.

"Yes. It's just that simple," Kimagure replied.

Stonewall sighed. "Then let's just do it."

"Very well," Photon said. There's a time and a place for every battle… and this is neither the time nor the place for this one. She lowered her force field as she and Warp crossed toward the others, but her bearing said quite loudly that she was only trusting Kimagure as far as she had to.

The reptilian woman smiled. It was worse than the look of cool disinterest, or even anger. "It is good to settle things civilly, is it not?" The floor started to vibrate under them.

A line from an old movie drifted across Photon's mind. I've got a bad feeling about this…