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Survive All The Implications

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Survive All The Implications

*** Part One: "You know, ecstasy ain't free but compromise is chance" ***

Sikes paced the waiting room of the medical centre, looking angrier with every step he took. Cathy sat waiting for news, nervously watching him. They had not said anything to each other on the way over here - it hadn't seemed an appropriate time to discuss their problems - but now she wanted to hold him until he couldn't escape, hold him and tell him what she felt.

It couldn't work, she'd said. But she didn't want Matt to have anyone else, either. She couldn't change what she was, but he had said that he'd never asked her to be human... And he'd said he acknowledged their differences. Could he, despite all her misgivings, actually learn to love their differences, even to rejoice in them? Cathy hadn't thought so, but maybe she had misinterpreted his natural dislike of anything new as an on-going thing. Once something was no longer new and strange to him, Sikes usually relaxed and acted as if it were normal.

As she thought of this, Sikes continued to pace. Finally he burst out with, "Dammit, George! You should have listened to me! But no..." and he trailed off, resuming pacing, looking ready to spit nails. He didn't look at Cathy. He wanted her so badly that he wasn't sure he could ever go near her without wanting to cry, be depressed, wish for something more. But he wasn't sure if Cathy even felt the same way. His thoughts returned to George. "Dammit, George!"

Cathy had gotten up and now she took his hand. Finally Sikes looked at her. "Matt, you should calm down." Her voice was soothing. He wanted to touch her, but he restrained himself. "Doing this to yourself won't help George," continued Cathy. Matt knew she was right. But he was still glad he'd sent Lorraine home. Ha didn't want her to see him this way, to know that, although he liked her, he really wanted someone who was from outer space. And his best friend could be dying! And there was nothing he could do! And the woman he cared for didn't want him, didn't even want to try! And, and, and! Sikes blew his top completely and yelled, "You damn Slags! You always know better, don't you?"

Cathy looked hurt, but Sikes couldn't stop his ranting. "Don't you? George lords it over me at work and look what happened! You misinterpret it when I look at you!" He grabbed Cathy by the shoulders and shook her as he spoke, knowing she could hurt him if she wanted to – she was stronger than he was. "Cathy, I never wanted you to be human. I... you're just you, Cathy. You are an alien, sure. I'd be an idiot not to notice something like that, don't you think? But you're dead wrong, I CAN love the differences."

He let her go, paced back to the other end of the room. "You know what your problem is? You think of me as some sort of, I dunno, blockhead or something. Don't you think I wouldn't spend time with you if I didn't love you? Huh? Do you realise I have no human friends? No, Sikes had to get tangled up with the damn Slags! And what's it brought me? Huh?" He sat down and began to cry.

Cathy sat next to him, understanding at last. He was okay with the differences, could get used to them. But they sometimes treated him as an outsider without meaning to, and his reactions had made them think he wanted something he didn't. He vented to share with her, in some way, not make her something she wasn't. Cathy pulled at his shoulder until he faced her. "Oh, Matt, I'm so sorry. I didn't understand you. It was my... my own pride. I thought I knew humans so well. I was wrong. You know us a lot better than we know you." She managed a weak smile.

Sikes finally looked her in the eye. "Cathy... " and then he said nothing else and just hugged her. They were still hugging when the doctor - a human - walked in. "Detective Sikes?"

"Yeah."

"We've isolated the bacterium, and it shouldn't be too hard to come up with an antidote. We're doing tests now, should have it in a couple of hours. We'll start treatment as soon as we find it. You know, we're lucky they got here early. If it had been a few hours later it might have been too late." He turned to go, but Sikes stopped him. "Can I see them?"

"Not for a while, they're all hooked up to drips and so we put them out." He looked sympathetic. "Why don't you go home and get some rest? I'll call as soon as they re able to talk."

Cathy look up at the doctor. "I'll take him home, Kyle."

The doctor smiled and went out. But Sikes refused all Cathy's attempts to get him to go home. Despite everything that had happened, George was his friend. And he knew now that George had merely been trying to prove himself. If he, Matt Sikes, had been a bit more patient, maybe this would never have happened. "Cathy, I'm not going, and that's final. I'm waiting here until my partner - my BOSS - can speak to me."

It was another ten hours before they heard anything. But, finally, the doctor arrived with news. "We're administering the antidote now and they have to be awake for it, so I don't see why you can't go in. Detective Francisco is in room 4A."

Sikes reassured Cathy before going into the room. On seeing him, George began struggling. "Matt! Where's Susan? Emily? Vessna?" He tried in vain to get up. Sikes pushed him back down onto the bed. "They're all right, George, they'll be okay. The doctors found the antidote."

It dawned on George that Matt was here, worrying about him, still being his friend, after all that had happened. And he also knew that Matt would find those responsible. Perhaps he, George Francisco, had been a bit hasty in assuming total control over everything. Matt wasn't an idiot, and he had been a detective a lot longer, too. So all he said was, "It was the purists, they did this."

"Yeah, I know. Lie down."

George did, but he continued to fight the straps and tubes. "You've got to stop them. Matt, you have to stop them!"

"Yeah, yeah, George, I'll get on it right away, I promise."

The nurse had come in during the exchange and was now setting up another IV. She said pointedly to Sikes, "Mr Francisco will have to be here for at least another few days, and I'd appreciate it if you could avoid upsetting him with work."

"I feel fine," responded George.

"Mister Francisco, your body needs to clear all the bacteria from your system before you'll be anything even close to fine. When we decide you're fine you can go chase bad guys, okay?" She grinned, winked, and left.

George stopped struggling and lay back. He wouldn't be any good to the investigation if he denied being ill. "Matt, get Beatrice to help you. It's a lot bigger than we thought, it must be. Please do something."

It could have been an order, and the Sikes of a day before would have been insulted by an order. But the Sikes of today saw it as a plea, from one detective to another. So all he said was, "Right," and left.

Time enough to go home and change, shower, just relax with the knowledge that George and his family were okay. Matt really intended to change, but all he did when he got home was to collapse on the couch, exhausted. Worrying would do that to you, and he'd worried about almost everything in these last ten hours. At least now he could stop worrying about George. But not about Cathy, or the purists.

Cathy, who'd followed him in, asked, "Want something to drink?"

Sikes smiled slightly. "Yeah, thanks. Grab a soda for yourself."

Cathy got two cans from the fridge and came to sit next to him.

"Matt...”

"Cathy..."

They both laughed, then Cathy began again. "Matt, I did think it couldn't work between us, but now I'm not sure. I... I'd like to try."

Sikes refrained from touching her, much as he wanted to. "Cathy, I... when I saw George in that hospital bed, I tried to think about that. What if it had been you? And I knew I had to make you see that I... " he faltered, went on. "I need you." He shrugged, touched her temple. "Na soos vot."

Cathy was startled. "You love me?"

Matthew wasn't looking at her. He tended to get shy at the funniest times. All he said was, "Yeah," and smiled.

"We... we could learn, I guess." Then a thought occurred. "What about Lorraine?"

Sikes looked nonplussed. "Lorraine? What about Lorraine?"

"Matt, when I saw her here with you, there was no mistaking the situation. I'm confused."

"No, Cathy." Sikes put his arms around her, gently. "There was no situation. Lorraine and I are friends. We, she, I dunno, she was good company, I guess. It could have been more – I mean, we did kiss - but nothing else happened, so." He shrugged again. Cathy titled her head to one side, smiling back at him shyly. Sikes leaned forward, lifted her face to his, and kissed her.

They both reflected that it would take some getting used to. Cathy didn't feel like a human woman, and Sikes was certainly nothing like any Tenctonese man she'd ever gone out with. But at the same time, this second kiss was... special. Warm, and friendly, and loving, and unique. And Sikes held her even closer, wanting more from this one kiss, wanting... He didn't know, except that this was right, and it had to be love.

But Cathy fought against being held any closer. One thing she couldn't forget was that she was stronger than he was, and she night, well, injure him if they went too quickly. She disengaged herself, stood up, as Matt asked, "What? What did I do?"

"You... I... nothing, we... if you're sure, then... then there are some classes we need to attend."

Sikes frowned. "Classes?"

Cathy pulled her jacket on straight, said directly, "Never mind that now. Go have your shower. You have a case to solve." And she walked right out, not looking back. So Sikes showered, changed and went to work.

He and Beatrice worked almost non-stop. This case was a lot bigger than it had at first seemed to be. Both of then felt a sense of panic which they couldn't identify. Then it dawned on him. "Envy - George and I found the link - all those killed had been connected with Judge Keiser's case."

"Yeah, so?"

"So look at it this way. Peris kills Judge Keiser and Doctor Bogg, then gets offed." He looked at Beatrice in triumph. "Why?" And Beatrice suddenly saw.

"There had to be someone else behind it, someone desperate enough to kill Peris to prevent us from questioning him."

Sikes was nodding. "Bingo. And who was the only other person connected to Judge Keiser?"

"Mrs Bryant! She - " and Sikes joined in at the point, "mounted a campaign to get Judge Keiser thrown off the bench!"

"But," this from Beatrice, "where does George come in?"

Sikes knew. He too had once had some thoughts which were uncomfortably Purist-like. And it made him ashamed. But it also gave him the clue to figuring the purists out. "Look, George is the head of the investigation, right? Maybe they figured, kill him and..."

Beatrice answered. "You kill the investigation! You know, Sikes," she smiled, "for a mere underling, you can be pretty sharp when you wanna be."

Sikes gave her a "ha-ha" smile. "Yeah, right. Listen, we'd better order surveillance on Mrs Bryant, see who else is involved. If they needed to get George out of the way, there must be something a lot bigger goin' on here."

"You don't think - " Beatrice suddenly realised. What did the purists want? To get rid of the Newcomers, keep then under control. And so far they hadn't been able to. Sikes nodded.

"I think they're gonna come up with a way to off all the Newcomers."

Beatrice ordered tight surveillance, changed the subject. "How's things with you and Cathy?"

Sikes hated the fact that Beatrice was always right. He began, "Well, dating a human didn't work for ne, so..." She began to laugh. Matt, trying to be dignified, continued. "Well, Cathy mentioned some classes we had to go to."

Beatrice laughed even louder. Sikes was confused. "What? What? Zepeda, come on!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Sikes, it's just... well, I've heard of those classes, they’re so that you know about each other's peculiarities before, uh, you know!” Her giggles echoed throughout the squadroom.

Sikes protested, "But I've watched the er, Newcomer biology video."

"Yeah, but... Yeah? Really?" At his nod she continued. "Well, that was on how Newcomers do it. These will be on how not to get killed during the actual..." and she was off laughing again.

Exasperated, Sikes only said, "I get the picture."

***

Nothing turned up on the surveillance for four days. Sikes and Zepeda visited the hospital where George, now almost completely recovered, had just about to be physically restrained from charging out to find the purists! They had tried to kill his fanily! And George didn't forgive easily, or forget.

Matt and Cathy, meanwhile, went to the three introductory sex-classes. "Cathy, I dunno about this," said Sikes as they were about to leave.

"Matt, are you getting, what's the expression, hot feet?"

"Cold feet... cold feet. No! No! I... do we really need, I mean, you know, sex classes?"

She looked him right in the eye, forthright as always. "You haven't heard about those humans who've been seriously injured during intimacy?"

"You mean, humans can really get... hurt?" he gulped.

And Cathy smiled conspiratorially. "We're stronger than you are."

Sikes’s face flushed with understanding and not just a little embarrassment. "Oh, yeah."

The human male conducting the first class began by inviting everyone to sit on double couches with their loved one. They were instructed to sit in an intimate way which was comfortable for them both. Eye contact was encouraged, as was touch. "Now I want you to remember that you ARE aliens to one another, and must therefore be careful but you must also get to know one another's bodies."

Sikes looked sideways at Cathy, shyly. She looked down at her lap, smiling. Once everyone was settled, the lecture began. Sikes and Cathy sat next to each other, their hands on one another's knees. At least Sikes knew enough not to touch any erogenous zones... not during the first class, anyway.

The first lecture was for the Newcomer halves on human sexuality. The humans, however, were told to pay close attention as well and be ready to explain further to their partner later if necessary. "And remember that your partner will need just as much assurance as you do. Okay?" Sikes and Cathy exchanged shy conspiratorial glances, and paid close attention.

Sikes, thanks to the biology video Cathy had lent him, knew all about Newcomer physiology. He was also the only human to REALLY know how Tenctonese babies got made and born. And when the lecturer at the second session - a Newcomer this time - discussed childbirth, Sikes knew it all - what could cause labour, how long it took the hapakata/h to rise, what would dilate the pouch, everything. It was a dubious honour, he was sure, and he was only embarrassed when asked - pure curiosity on the Newcomer lecturer's part - how he knew. "Well, uh, I delivered a Newcomer baby. Prematurely. But, ah, she's okay, she's fine." He smiled weakly and sat down again, as Cathy took his hand.

The third lecture was going to be the one where they would find out which techniques to use so that the human didn't become injured. Sikes wasn't looking forward to it, but he knew that he'd go, because, despite everything,, this was something he wanted. What he wanted was Cathy.

The surveillance on Mrs Bryant also paid off. Zepeda gave him the news. "She's been seen going into this warehouse here" - Beatrice stabbed a point on the map, in Vernon - "at least four times in the last week. The building belongs to a holding company. Now I couldn't find out who actually owns it, but from property listings around this area I'm sure it's another front for a purist group."

Matt wanted to rush off immediately to see what was what, but then something occurred to him. Would he do this if George were here? He realized then that George was his voice of reason, and had been since they met. He also knew now that he wouldn’t be any better off with a partner more like himself, for he’d miss a lot of things which George’s insight brought into the light. Tug had been like that, too. And Sikes knew that Tugs would have approved of
George. So he wondered to himself what George would do.

He asked Beatrice: why? Why did she think it was the purists?

"All their property is in areas conspicuous for lack of Newcomers, for Newcomer restricted clubs, that sort of thing."

Sikes looked at her in triumph. "Think it's enough for a warrant?"

Beatrice smiled winningly at him. "It better be enough, I think it's our only shot." Beatrice really did like working with Sikes. He was weird, but he could care a lot and he could be fun to talk to. She'd known him for years, and was still amazed at his growth these last years since he'd known George, Susan, Cathy Frankel and the rest of the Newcomers.

They also both knew that, although there was now a cure for the bacteria, if the purists somehow arranged to infect ALL the Tenctonese, they wouldn't be able to save them all the way George and his family had been saved.

They did get the warrant though.

***

There was nothing in the warehouse; only a few boxes. "All right, fan out, check everything, pick up anything conspicuous," ordered Sikes. The cops did so. Finally, one called out, "Over here!" A small sliver of a phial was crunched on the floor of the warehouse. Bagging it, Sikes ordered tests run to see if it was the bacteria.

Two hours later, they had their answer. It was. But they didn't know where to look now. Mrs Bryant was their only lead. They had enough for a warrant for her house too, so...

Sikes banged on the door. "Officer, do you have to be so noisy?" Mrs Bryant was still polite, and seemingly immovable.

Sikes barged in without waiting for permission. "Look, lady. I'll make this quick. I know your Purist group has been making that bacteria in that warehouse over in Vernon. I also know they've moved it. Now you have two minutes to cough up its new location or you'll be under arrest for obstructing justice."

"Do you really think that I want to be a party to the destruction of my own species, officer?"

"I got your destruction, lady. The location?"

"I'm not at liberty to say."

Sikes had Zepeda cuff her, then they began to look through the house. They found lots of purist literature, and they seized her disks as evidence. They found nothing else. "Okay, take this back to the station, begin going through it. Whatever these people are planning, it's gonna go down soon. Isn't it?" he asked pointedly, looking at Mrs Bryant, who remained dignified and immovable.

Leaving Zepeda and others going through the evidence, Sikes rushed off to the third lecture. Cathy was already there when he arrived, full of apologies. But he also couldn't apologise for wanting to stop the purists, for wanting Cathy and his friend George to live.

This time the lecturers - who were licensed to do so - showed drawings, photographs, and gave denonstrations, for male human/female Newcomer and male Newcomer/female human combinations. Sikes - and probably all the humans in the room - had never been so enbarrassed in his life. But it helped. He stole looks at Cathy, who looked back at him quite often, looking not so much embarrassed as... anticipatory? But the lecture wasn't over yet when Sikes got the call. "One William 152."

"52, over."

It was their breakthrough. He had to go back to the station. But Cathy stayed - after all, she could always tell him what had happened later. Or, Sikes hoped, she could SHOW him. Feeling unbelievably irritated with himself for thinking these things when the Newcomers were on the brink of annihilation, Sikes rushed off to find Beatrice.

"Matt, over here." They were all crouched in the bushes behind what looked like a vet's surgery. Sikes made his way over to Zepeda. "They're here?"

"We think so. A black and white spotted a lot of activity going on inside, and it's on our list." The list was of addresses found on Mrs Bryant's disk and literature. It had to be the right location. "Everybody ready? Okay, Beatrice and I will take the front, you all cover any other exits including windows."

They knocked and announced, and as was usual, heard noises which meant their perps were about to flee. They crashed in. "Police, freeze...!"

Surrounded by more than thirty cops, everyone inside had no choice but to put their hands up. One was holding a phial in his hand, but Zepeda had ordered that all Newcomer cops stay away from this bust. "Okay, buster, put it down. Slowly. Slowly, I said!" Sikes wasn't in the best of moods when it came to purists. To say they annoyed him would be an understatement.

"All right, everybody up against the wall."

The search was fruitful. Four huge tanks, the kind used by aeroplanes for crop spraying, stood to one side, and each indicator showed FULL. Other phials of the bacteria were stacked in special boxes awaiting transferral to more tanks, which were presently empty. Beatrice stood looking around, thanking their lucky starts that they had gotten here in time. Sikes was busy on the other side.

"So you're in charge here, huh? You realise we can bust you not only for producing a dangerous bacterium, but also for attempted nurder? Huh?"

"We didn't kill anybody."

"Yeah, but producing the bacteria shows intent. I think we'll have you behind bars for a long, long time."

They marched everybody out, booked them, locked the bacteria up tight. Because it didn't live outside of a host or a controlled container after a few hours, it was decided to fly the bacteria to another part of the country - maybe Alaska - where they could arrange to kill it without fear. That wasn't part of Sikes' worry. All his paperwork was done ("See, Zepeda, I told you I knew how!"), so he could go home.

The next day Cathy's medical centre would begin immunizing the almost 300 000 Newcomers against this engineered death. Thank goodness every Newcomer had been fully fingerprinted and genetically coded in quarantine - this meant they would be able to track down every single one.

Sikes and Zepeda went out for a hamburger, finally finished with that case. "So when's George getting out?"

Sikes, halfway through a french fry, suddenly stopped. "George! He was supposed to get out... two hours ago! Come on!"

Beatrice went with him to the Francisco home, where they found George just getting off the phone with Captain Grazer. "Matt, I'm so grateful. You and Beatrice saved my people."

"Oh, George, stop it, I was just doin' my job."

Susan and Emily were equally grateful, and they even made Sikes hold Vessna. She was truly a beautiful baby. Then Sikes wondered, for the first time since he'd heard the news about the bacteria, where Buck was.

"When he saw we were okay he rushed off again to meet Marilyn."

"Oh yeah, his teacher. Think there's something between then?"

"I don't know, Matthew. He hasn't been around much lately. Will you stay for dinner?"

Both Sikes and Zepeda begged off, on the grounds that they had just eaten. Sikes just went home.

He found Cathy on the roof, looking at her 'family pictures'. "You need a constellation too, Matt. something that can be seen easily, so that, no matter where I am, I'll always be able to see you."

Sikes looked up into the sky. "You picked one out yet?"

Cathy came over to him. "I'll think about it." This time she kissed him. Matt thought that he could definitely get used to this. Cathy wasn't human, but if she were she wouldn't be Cathy. It all made some sort of twisted, illogical sense.

Matthew told her about the case, though she already knew about the immunization program as she was one of those involved. "They really wanted to kill us all? How could people be like that!"

"I dunno, Cathy. It's a way of thinking, I guess. It's easy to hate those who are different, to make jokes about them. We're all like that in some ways - at least, humans are. I just think the purists have stepped over the line." He shrugged.

Cathy touched his hair, just out of curiosity. Human hair fascinated her, but she had only just started to allow herself to give in to her curiosity. She had sometimes tried to imagine Sikes without hair, with spots, but she couldn't. Without that hair he wouldn't be Sikes. "So, Matt, do you want to know what happened at the sex-class after you left?"

Matt frowned and smiled at the same time. "Do I have a choice? But we don't have to go to any more, do we?"

"No, no," she smiled. "What happens next is up to us."

"Well I know what I wanna do," Sikes suddenly announced.

Cathy was completely startled. "You do?"

"Yeah. Get some rest, have a nice breakfast, and then go to work with George tomorrow." He winked at her. "And later on, we can decide what WE'RE gonna do."

"All right." It was a relief for her to know that she wouldn't be putting all her energies into this one night. Then Sikes tantalised her with, "But we can see if we have compatible sleeping patterns..."

Cathy cocked her head to the side. "Okay." They walked off the roof hand in hand, and Cathy went to fetch her pyjanas.

Later, as she lay awake in his arms, she did wonder what would happen when they decided to put what they'd learnt at the lectures into practice. And she looked at Sikes's sleeping face and was very thankful that he didn't snore.

*** Part Two: "I don't hear that drum; I'm looking for something else" ***

It was an uncommonly lovely Los Angeles morning when Sikes arrived at the precinct. Cathy had gone off to her medical centre already, and he had been left to ponder what it was like to hold her in his arms, just hold her, and know that she was there for him. It had been a new sensation, but he had enjoyed it. No one could adequately explain why Newcomers 'felt' different from humans when their skin felt similar on contact, but there it was.

Cathy felt nothing like a human woman, but Sikes was definitely beginning to enjoy her 'otherness'. Perhaps, he reflected, he could learn to like raw veggies since she had shown her willingness to cook. No one had ordered then to like the same food, after all. And she was a herbivore... a vegetarian. Perhaps before they both took that big step which the sex-classes had been preparing them for, they should each try preparing a meal for the other. Unfortunately, thinking of food made Sikes realise he was hungry.

He wanted to rush off and get some ham and eggs, but George, who was already there, was raring to go in another way. They had just been called into Captain Grazer's office to take on a new case. Despite having said that he was going to put in for a new partner, Matthew never had. George had also realised what he had been doing wrong after his promotion, and had vowed to himself that he wouldn't do it anymore. They were still partners, and if he didn't "shove it in Matt's face" he was sure Matt could handle it.

Bryon Grazer hadn't gotten much sleep himself since hearing about the Purist plan, but now that that was over he was very relieved that they could get back to business as usual, or as usual as business ever got in his precinct.

"Nice of you to join us, Detective Sikes." At Sikes's filthy look, Grazer continued. "Okay, guys, this case is right up your alley. Though I'm not sure if I should give it to you, especially after what's happened."

"Why, Bry, what is it?" from Sikes

"A group of Newcomers has been robbing stores and banks owned by known purists. Even though they may have legitimate grievances against these people, this is not the way to solve it. Find them, stop them. And if you get us some good publicity it'll be all in a day's work, okay?"

"Captain, I believe you are correct. My presence on this case will show the public that the police department can be objective." George was eager to take the case.

"Yeah, but do you think I can?" Sikes wanted to know.

"Why, Matt? What do you mean?"

"Well maybe you can forgive and forget, but those sickos tried to kill you. I know I'm not ready to just help 'em out and let them carry on with their crap."

"It's the law, and we'll do it."

Sikes saluted sarcastically, yet he knew George was right. And if George wanted to take the case, he'd back him.

The power relationship had shifted. Sikes knew it, George knew it, but they said nothing. Everyone handed reports to George now, not to him. Sikes would get used to that. George would probably continue to walk up to people and say that he was in charge of the investigation. Sikes would get used to that too. But George would not order Matt around, and Sikes knew that he'd never get used to that if it was tried. Sikes would continue to drive - George was used to that, and, frankly, so were the pedestrians of Los Angeles.

So far, two banks and four stores had been hit. No one had noticed any connection until someone in a black and white had thought to look for their names on mailing lists of various literature. All those with interests in the businesses robbed were receiving purist literature of some type or another. Now that they knew the motive behind the robberies, they had staked out the concerns of other known purists. But so far, nothing.

Matt and George entertained the notion that maybe it was a cop who had organised the heists because those mailing lists were pretty restricted and only cops and insurance companies had any decent access to them. But they came up empty using that theory almost immediately. There had been no accesses from any of their terminals into purist mailing lists. So either it was someone who worked for the post office who was rather PO'd at seeing how many so-called respectable people were hiding purist thoughts, or it was someone who had discovered these people were purists by word-of-mouth and had decided to get even. So the partners headed for Slagtown, also known as Little Tencton.

Sikes was no longer uncomfortable in Slagtown. In fact, when he looked back and remembered all the things he had said about it, how he had HATED Newcomers and everything about then, he felt very ashamed. But because of that, he at least understood how purists thought. And it was that which had helped him solve the previous case and save his best friend's people's lives.

As Matt had suspected he would, George still went around introducing himself as the head of the investigation. But here in Little Tencton it paid off. Although many Newcomers didn't trust the police, they had read about the attempts on the lives of prominent Newcomers - including George, naturally - and were eager to do anything to help. They knew that, even when George was investigating robberies by Newcomers, he was doing it because he cared about the community and about Earth.

George did have to ask a few people if they should just deny people the protection of the law because of their beliefs, but once he got to the moral imperative, the people would help him. "We're not trying to help the purists, we're trying to stop crime, and there's a big difference," he told one old lady. It made Sikes very proud that George was so persuasive. By now, if it had been him alone, Sikes knew he would have lost his temper, made some purist-like crack and gone off to bother the next person. But he had his voice of reason - George.

They discovered quickly that most Newcomers knew which humans were purists and which were not. Many purists did not want it known what they were and kept a low profile, but due to their own gossip network the Tenctonese knew. They never went near stores or banks operated by purists, which made the Tenctonese feel morally right, even though the fact that no Newcomers came by was probably a great delight to the purists themselves.

By now, Matt and George had realised that questioning people in Slagtown could take forever, for it was clear that it could have been any Newcomer with a grudge who'd recruited his pals to help make the purists "pay".

Stakeouts around and in purist stores could take forever, because there was no clear pattern as to the times of the robberies. They varied from three weeks to a few days, and had happened at altogether different hours. There were not enough police to stake out every single possibility at all hours for weeks on end. They night never catch the perps unless something more radical was done.

Sikes volunteered for the more radical option, which he and George had agreed was the only one which had any chance of working. They would get a detective to go undercover and 'buy' out a store, posing as a legitimate businessperson and a purist. They'd keep it up for two weeks maximum before trying limited stakeouts. They would still keep some men on stakeouts at the properties of the most well-known purists, just in case.

"Matt, do you really think you will do a good job convincing people that you're a purist?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. That guy from New York who I'm posing as has agreed to let us receive his literature for a while, and I'll get it at the store where people can see it."

"Don't you think that is a little too obvious?"

"Maybe, but I think it'll work, don't you?"

"As long as the Newcomers don't realise they're being set up. And as long as no one recognises you."

"Yeah, well, we'll be careful."

Once, Sikes would have been a lot more comfortable with playing this part than he was now. He knew he'd have to be rude to all the Tenctonese who came into the store - it was very close to Little Tencton - and he also knew that every word would be picked up by the wire. He didn't like that one bit, and he didn't want to say things like that which, on the whole, would hurt good people who didn't deserve it.

His first customers for that day were two Tenctonese women. He gave then filthy looks, thinking, "The damn purists!" One came over with a few cans of sloth. Sikes rang it up, took the money and made some comment, almost inaudible - but not quite. "They can't even eat properly.”

The two women gave him very black looks on their way out.

"George, I hope you're listenin'. I think that was very effective, but I really hate doin' this.”

Some humans came in, then what was obviously a rather militant Tenctonese guy. He brought some goose entrails to the counter, and made to pay when Sikes made a face. "You got a problem, buddy?" asked the Newcomer.

"Nah, why should I have a problem, just because you guys came here and took over and didn't ask?"

"Oh, I get it, you're a purist." The Newcomer took the packets back and put then back on the shelves, obviously deciding not to buy anything. As he was about to walk out, Sikes yelled, not too loudly, "I'm not a purist, I just like humans!"

This went on for three days. Sikes got more and more uncomfortable with the idea, but their plan seemed to be working - hardly any Newcomers were coming in by the third day, and those who did received verbal nasties and didn't come back. Sikes served the other custoners, told a few Spongehead jokes, and when there was no one around he kept saying, "George, I don't like doin' this."

George, sitting in the van listening to the goings-on in the store, knew Sikes meant it. He felt for him every time Sikes made some purist-like crack. And Matt, too, felt better knowing George was there and knew him for what he really was.

For these three days Sikes had also avoided Cathy. He just felt uncomfortable being near her when he was playing this part. And he wasn't sure that he could adequately explain exactly how he did it. But on the fourth day he suddenly didn't need to. There stood Cathy, and one of the doctors from the medical centre, in the store. He came up from packing some boxes behind the counter when he saw her. He ducked down again, "George, it's Cathy!" But he knew he had no choice other than to continue playing the part.

Cathy turned around. "Matt!" Unfortunately, just as she said this, another Newcomer came in. Sikes felt panicked. He shook his head at Cathy. She looked puzzled, but she was used to his weird police assignments, so she said nothing.

The doctor also recognised Sikes, but before he could say anything, Cathy steered him around an aisle and out of sight of both Sikes and the other Newcomer.

The other Newcomer brought his cans of squid eyes and other disgusting (to humans) food. Sikes rang it up, muttering, "No wonder they were slaves."

The Newcomer said nothing. Cathy returned with the doctor, and with some various cleaning compounds. Sikes wondered what they were for, but, because the other Newcomer was still in the store, looking at him from eyes that registered extreme hurt, he couldn't ask, and he couldn't explain. So he said instead to the doctor, "How can you hang around them?"

Cathy paid for the stuff, the other Newcomer scuttled out, and the doctor said, "That's not a nice thing to say."

"If I want to be nice," yelled Sikes, "I'll hang out with humans!"

Cathy frowned, but said nothing, and they left.

"George, I hate this!"

***

That night Cathy came over. Sikes opened the door, and started to speak, as did she. Finally all she said was, "Matt, why have you been avoiding me? Is it to do with that stake out or whatever that you've been on?"

They sat together on the couch. Sikes touched her temple. "Yeah. Y'see, there's these Newcomers that've been robbing stores owned by purists, and we think this is our only shot to catch then. I'm sorry about, y'know, this afternoon."

"It's all right, Matt. I understand."

Sikes became rather upset. "I really hate doing it, Cathy. I've hurt so many good people, all to catch some criminals who probably have good reasons for what they're doin'."

Cathy sat up straighter, closer to him. "You've never second-guessed yourself like this before. Matt?"

"Ah, I'm sorry. I just... don't know how to explain."

"You don't need to." She touched his temple also. "I know you're doing it because you believe in what your job is." She leaned even closer, kissed him. Sikes couldn't help but return it. "Cathy."

She leaned backwards, encouraging him. But Matt disengaged himself. "Wait, wait."

"Matt, there's no reason for any of that now. I... think we need this. I'm ready." She looked closely at him. "Are you all right?"

Sikes sat up. "No, I'm not, I... I just want to wait until all this is over, when I don't feel contaminated by what the purists stand for, what they are. They make me feel unworthy. Of you."

"But you're not. We agreed on all our terms. I care about you so much."

"It's not me, it's them. They make me ashamed to be a human sometimes, I feel you should know that."

"You don't want nm?"

"I want you, just... when this is over, okay?"

Cathy smiled, touched his cheek softly, gently. "Okay." She went out. Sikes took off his jacket and threw if forcefully across the room. He went to bed telling himself that, no matter what George said, he'd only carry on with this until the end of the week. He'd had enough.

It had seemed a good plan at first, but he hadn't bargained on feeling so bad about something he'd volunteered for. He loved Cathy. And despite everything he'd felt about them at first, he liked the Tenctonese too. He knew they'd made him a better person, and he wasn't going to let anyone take that away.

The purist world-view was rather catching. Sikes had been drawn away from it rather than towards it, but he understood why some people night be drawn to it. some purists, like the coroner on their dead astronomer case, were concerned for their species rather than being outright racists. They were frightened of being dominated by a clearly more adaptable, stronger species. This was an understandable reason.

But the other reasons, the more racist ones, were incomprehensible. Sikes knew that some people just didn't like those who were different - he'd been one of them - but if you made an effort to learn about others and accept then, the problem went away.

The others, like Mrs Bryant, whose trial was coming up in about six months and who no doubt would be locked up for obstructing justice (at the very least), just hated the Tenctonese because they were Tenctonese. To them, different was wrong. Different was to be exterminated.

Sikes liked to watch "Star Trek", and knew that different WASN'T always wrong. He had learnt this the hard way, through his own many mistakes. But some people didn't, couldn't, refused to, learn.

Long ago, he had told - what was her name - Cassandra? - that he was a bigot. It wasn't true, not any longer.

George, like Sikes, was pondering the purists. George couldn't understand them at all - in fact he hated them for what they had done. Because he believed in his job, he could ignore that hatred, but it didn't stop him from wondering why they acted like that. He had told Matt that there was no point in getting upset with people like that, but that underlying animosity was there.

Susan understood George's thoughts. "Have you tried asking Matt about the purists?"

"He says that to dislike the different is part of the human condition. He seems to think that humans who are not racists or purists have risen above those baser instincts."

"You know, George, sometimes Matt makes a lot of sense." She cuddled against him. "I think there's something going on with Buck and his teacher.

George craned his neck to look down at her. "Marilyn? I thought she transferred."

"She did. And I think I know why."

"Suse, are you suggesting..." George trailed off. Although he'd noticed Buck's absence from the house these days, it hadn't occurred to him that there night be anything going on besides friendship. "You think we should have a talk with him?"

"I don't see anything wrong with it, George. Not really. But I think we should make sure."

George turned off the light and took his wife into his arms. "All right, we'll have a talk with him tomorrow."

The next morning as Sikes was getting into his "shopkeeper" disguise for another day at work, George asked him, "Matthew, what is your opinion on interspecies relationships?’’

Sikes was immediately on guard. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I think Buck is having an affair with his teacher."

"Yeah? Well, all right!" Sikes seemed to think it was highly amusing.

"Matt, why are you happy about that?"

"Well, George, he's sixteen and he just wants ta sow some wild oats, I say good for him!"

"I'll never understand this obsession humans have with the physical aspects of love," said George. But he did understand humans a lot better every day.

They said nothing more about that topic. Sikes was quite relieved, because he hadn't wanted to say anything to George about him and Cathy... not until the reason for the sex-classes was over with. He did wish he could go home tonight and make love to her like he wanted to... but as long as he felt contaminated by the purists, he wouldn't. He hadn't said anything to Cathy, but it was mainly because he felt he'd contaminate her as well. Best to wait until the case was over.

But on the last day of their stake out, he decided to plan a big celebration. He called Cathy from the store - after all, any customers wouldn't know she was a Newcomer and it wouldn't blow his cover. "Cathy? How about we have a big celebration tonight? I'll buy something for you to eat, and you get something for me, kind've a surprise? Yeah? Then we can see what happens."

When they said goodbye Sikes continued his cover job, barely noticing anything. He realised he was too happy to be really nasty to any of the Tenctonese, and for some reason he forgot all the Spongehead jokes which he often told to unsuspecting human customers to reinforce his stance as a supposed purist.

Just before lunch time, he was surprised to find Cathy in the store. Since it was quiet (the calm before the storm which was always lunch hour), he asked, "Cathy, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, Matt, I'm sorry, but I decided to come before you got a lot of customers. I wanted to ask what your favourite human dish is."

"Why didn't you just call?"

Matter-of-factly she replied, "You didn't give me the store nunber."

"Oh, yeah. Well, uh, I like all the food that's supposed to be bad for you, uh, for humans." Cathy was writing this down. Sikes continued, "Uh, hamburgers, fried chicken, Mexican food, Chinese... Is that enough of a selection?"

She nodded. Sikes didn't reciprocate and ask what she liked, because he had been planning to make her dinner himself. it wouldn't be hard, all he had to do was chop up a lot of veggies and fruit and present it attractively. So all he said was, "I, uh, I've planned something special from my end."

Cathy smiled, making him weak at the knees. "Thank you, Matt."

Sikes looked around. "C'm’ere." Cathy approached him, and they each kissed the other, intensely.

Then they heard a noise at the store entrance. All Sikes saw was a glimpse of spots and what looked like a gun, and whoever it was had run off. Sikes immediately had his gun out, yelled, "Cathy, take cover," and he was out the door.

The perps had not gotten far. George and the guys in blue had then surrounded the place the minute they had seen them approach the store. They turned and made to go back to the store, but Sikes dived to the ground, firing three warning shots. "Police, freeze...!"

The perps stopped, realising they had nowhere to go. Sikes got up. "Guns down! Against the wall, c'mon! Spread 'em!"

As he frisked the guy who seemed to be the leader, the man turned around. "It was a set-up!"

"Yeah," answered Sikes, smiling. "How did you guess?"

"When we heard you were this gung-ho purist, we knew we had to hit your place. But when I saw you kissing HER, one of us, I knew what you were trying to do."

"Well," smirked Sikes, "we got you, didn't we?"

"But why! If you like the Tenctonese you must realise what we're getting at."

"Hey, pal. You broke the law. I agree with your grievances, but this ain't the way to work off your anger, believe me."

After they had booked the guys, George chewed Matt out for what had almost been a total screw-up of their weeks of work. "George, I'm sorry! Cathy surprised me, and, well, I kissed her."

"Matthew, as your - " Sikes thought he was going to say boss – "partner, I think that error in judgement could have cost us the case. But as your friend, what's the expression? Go for it?”

Sikes had gone rather red. He looked at his lap, his shoes, anywhere but at George. "Thanks."

Beatrice was walking past just then, and came over, unable to contain herself. "Hey, George. Did you knew that Sikes here and Cathy went to those special sex-classes?"

George was completely stunned. "You did? And what happened?"

Sikes stood up, having lost it under what seemed to him to be overzealous questioning. "Nothing happened, George! We haven't done anything yet."

Now George became concerned. "Oh...? Why not...?"

"It's not what you think!" Matt said, exasperated. "We just... decided to wait until the case was over."

"And now that it is?" Zepeda wanted to know. George merely smiled knowingly.

"Why don't you two mind your own business!" Sikes got his jacket, pulled it on. "I'm goin’ home."

But he could feel Beatrice and George smiling at his retreating back.

***

Night-time seemed to come very slowly, but by the time Cathy showed up, he had finished preparing her meal. He had put in just about every vegetable he could think of and a few exotic fruits besides. He just hoped that she could eat everything on the plate. Cathy knocked on the door, laden with packages. "C'mon in," invited Sikes. "Uh, you wanna eat here?"

"Or..." she asked, looking around. Everything was nicely set out, even candles, silverware, champaigne glasses.

Sikes shrugged as he often did when presented with a question he hadn't thought needed answering. "Well, uh, we could eat at your place, I don't wanna make you come over here all the time."

Cathy was taking boxes out of the packets. "Oh. Well, we can eat at my place next time. But this is fine." She placed the boxes on the table. Sikes just stared at them. This was enough food for him, Dobbs, Zepeda and whoever else wanted to join in. "What's with all the food?"

"Oh." She sounded contrite. "I couldn't decide what to get, so I just bought everything on the list."

Sikes shuddered. He'd mentioned fried chicken, Chinese food, hamburgers and Mexican food. And it was all here. "Cathy, I can't eat all this."

Cathy eyed the plate of food which stood on the counter. It, too, was a LOT of food. "Matt, is this for me?" At his nod, she said, "This is a bit much for me, as well."

Sikes broke into a broad grin. "Looks like we're both trying to overfeed the other. Ah, well, c'mon, let's dig in. We can always take the rest over to that inter-species shelter later."

After the meal they sat together on the couch. Looking at each other. Not moving. Finally Cathy said, "I nearly destroyed your case, didn't I?"

Matt shook his head. "It was my fault for kissing you."

"I wanted to kiss you, too."

Sikes was looking down again. "Uh, yeah."

"Matt, are we going to sit here like this all night?" Trust her to get right to the point. At this, Matthew perked up, sat up straight. "Uh, no! No, I hadn't planned to, I just..."

"You weren't sure what to do next."

"Yeah."

Cathy put out her hand. "We could... go into the bedroom."

So Sikes took her hand and followed. Cathy closed the door. He looked down at her, feeling oddly powerless. Cathy leaned forward and kissed him, began backing up toward the bed. He had no choice but to follow. "Cathy..."

"It's all right, Matt. We can do this." She was unbuttoning his shirt, concentrating very hard. He took her hands then, held them together as she looked up at him. "Cathy, whatever... whatever happens, I do care about you."

As he said this she had managed to maneuver him onto the bed, in a sitting position. She knelt in front of him, brought his hands to her belt. Sikes undid it, began unbuttoning her blouse. As she leaned forward to kiss him again, she whispered, "I know, Matt. I know."

***

Across town, George was relating this whole state of affairs to his wife. "I think Cathy has been good for him. He needs someone to care about."

Susan put Vessna back into the crib. "Cathy's a nice person. Okay, honey," she cooed to the baby, "there's a girl." She turned back to George. "This will be the only planet Vessna ever knows. I'm glad she'll have a chance to know people like Matthew and Cathy Frankel."

"Hm," answered George. "Have you seen Buck?"

"He's at Marilyn's, told us not to wait up." Susan frowned at George. "You're not worried about him, are you? You said your talk went well."

"I dunno, Suse. He said he knows what he's doing. I just hope that Marilyn knows what she's doing!"

***

Marilyn knew was she was doing, all right. Buck sat on the carpet cross-legged, reading to her from Descartes. Marilyn knew that this had to stop, and yet, Buck was no ordinary student. He shared all her passion for justice and the rights of people, and he obviously enjoyed being with her. Yet she still felt like Mrs Robinson. "Buck, what did your parents say about this?"

Buck looked up, shrugged. "Since you're not my teacher anymore they said I could be with you. He smiled cynically. "My father gave me a long talk about sex and love and responsibility. I think it was supposed to make me feel guilty."

"And do you?"

"How can I when it feels so right?" He asked it earnestly.

"Do you think it'll always be this way? Won't you find some girl your own age who interests you?" Marilyn was checking the territory. She didn't want Buck here if he was just here to feel privileged. But he got up, put his hand under her chin, "Marilyn, girls my own age don't feel the same way about things that I do. They're so... different. I don't want to be with then. I want to be with you. Okay?"

She gave up. "Okay."

***

And in Sikes' apartment, Cathy was pondering something. "Matt?"

"Huh?" He looked sideways at her, his hair all mussed. Cathy did her best not to laugh, he looked so cute. "Do you know what 'Matthew' means?"

Sikes grabbed her hand; entwined his fingers with hers. "Nah, never bothered. So what does it mean?"

Cathy brought his hand to her temple. "God's gift."

Sikes was barely awake. "Yeah?"

Cathy snuggled further under the covers. "Hmm hmm." In a softer, almost hushed voice, she continued, "That's what you are to me," as she toyed with strands of his hair. Getting no answer, she looked at him more closely. He was fast asleep, smiling very faintly.

Cathy smiled wistfully to herself, wondering if Matt knew what 'Cathy' meant, and went to sleep as well.

*** Part Three: "Out to lunch, honey, thanks a bunch" ***

The apartment was quiet this time of morning, since it was a Sunday and neither Matt nor Cathy had to go to work today. Sikes lay awake and enjoyed the silence. He stared up at the ceiling and pondered the strange twists his life had taken. He'd never be the same, that much was certain. Almost six years ago he had been going along, minding his own business, when everything he'd counted on had been thrown wrong-side up.

He could still remember that first day: he and Tug walking into the precinct and everybody asking, "Did you hear? Did you hear?"

"Hear what?"

"About the UFO, the one that landed out in the desert."

"Oh, sure, get real," was all Tug had said. But it had soon become obvious that there really WAS a UFO in the desert, and people - well, ALIENS - were spilling out of it.

Pictures relayed by TV cameras showed that they looked pretty human. Sikes remembered thinking that the only thing that looked different about them was that they had no hair. There had been lots of speculation about whether they were invading, or were there to offer their help and advanced technology, or just to say hi. As it turned out it was none of those, as they quickly realised when the ship blew up. The aliens were herded into various holding facilities - camps - until they learned English... and human life on Earth would never be the same.

Sikes had stayed away from the Newcomers (as they had been immediately dubbed) as much as possible when they had been released from Quarantine, but you couldn't cut yourself off completely if you lived in LA, because the Newcomers had started getting jobs everywhere and trying to fit in.

And then of course it had all gone down the tubes: his partner had been killed by a Newcomer, or so he'd thought; he'd volunteered to team up with George; they'd discovered that William Harcourt had been making an alien drug (Sikes now thought that Harcourt had probably been an Overseer); they'd stopped Harcourt; he'd met Cathy and subsequently learnt more about Newcomers than he'd ever wanted to.

Matt looked at Cathy. She was still asleep, looking innocent and free. And he was glad their ship had crashed.

He was pondering whether to wake Cathy up with a kiss when there was a sound at the door. Sikes instantly grabbed his gun as Cathy sat bolt upright. They both looked up at the door, to see Kirby's face peering at then both. Sikes put his gun down, Cathy attempted to pull the bedcovers up higher, and Kirby's face broke into a smile. "Hi, Dad!”

Sikes looked at Cathy, panic in his eyes. For a full minute they all just stared at each other, not knowing what to say. Then Sikes realised that Kirby was his daughter and he could damn well tell her to take a hike if he wanted to. "Kirb, do you mind?"

"What? Oh, sorry." She moved to close the door, put her head around it again. "I really need to talk to you."

Sikes nodded once and Kirby went out.

Sikes turned to Cathy. "Well, I think I handled that badly, don't you?"

Smiling, Cathy nodded. "That was your daughter?" It wasn’t really a question.

Sikes was putting his pants on. "Yeah." He pulled a tank top over his head. "I better go talk to her."

Cathy got up, pulling the sheet around her. "I'd like to meet your daughter, Matt."

"Sure, okay," was his response as he left the bedroom.

Kirby was sitting idly on the couch, twisting her hair. Looking at her, Sikes suddenly wondered where Thor was. "Where's Thor?"

His daughter jumped up, looking upset now. "You and Mom were right about him." She shrugged. Sikes had a suspicion that that shrug - his own - probably drove Victoria crazy, though she'd never admit it. "I left him in Pennsylvania. He was a rat; Mom was right. So I decided to come and give college another try."

"Just like that?"

"Yeah." She kissed him on the cheek. Sikes knew there was something here that his daughter was leaving out. "But...?" he asked.

"But I haven't seen Mom yet."

"Oh, Kirb!" Typical of anyone named Sikes.

"Dad, you know what she'll say. She told me so, she already gave me the money, she let me make my own mistakes and look what happened. I want to get a job and go to UCLA. Can I stay with you?"

Sikes was already halfway through the sentence. "Your mother would be right you know... What?"

"Can I stay with you? Please?"

"Are you gonna tell your mother about this?"

"Eventually. But I want to do this myself or she'll keep on at me until I'm an old lady."

Matt knew that Victoria probably would, too. He sighed, weighing up the pros and cons. "Okay, sure. For a few days. And you tell your mother the minute you register, understand?"

"Okay, thanks, Dad!" She made a move in the direction of the door. Sikes yelled, "Wait! Where're you goin'?"

"To get my things. They're in the van. Be right back!" And off she went.

Cathy came out of the bedroom. "Where's your daughter?"

"Went to get her stuff."

He strode forward, kissed her. "Good morning. Want some coffee?"

"Sure, but I'll get it." Sikes made terrible coffee.

As she poured, Cathy smiled to herself. Strange to have established such a comfortable routine with a human. But this seemed right, seemed to be as it was meant to be.

She smiled at Matt. He was tidying up a bit, smiled back. He still hadn't said anything to George, and this had been going on for a week. He was putting off telling George anything, putting off facing her mother. Ah, well.

Kirby returned with a rucksack and not much else. Finally Sikes got to introduce then. "Ah, Cathy, this is my daughter, Kirby, Kirby, this is Cathy, my neighbour."

"Hi," said Kirby, apparently unconcerned with her father's love-life.

"Hullo," responded Cathy. "Look, Matt, I'll go have breakfast and... do some reading."

"Look, you don't have to leave."

"No, you spend some time with your daughter, I'll be back later. Nice to meet you, Kirby."

"Yeah," responded the teen, "sane here." Cathy went out, Kirby began to drink her coffee. "So, Dad, how long has this been going on?"

"What?"

She nudged him. "You know."

"Uh, not long."

"Is it serious?"

"I think so." Sikes hated questions like this, and Kirby was nothing compared to George in grilling a person about all their habits. But his daughter broke into a grin. "Good for you! I always wanted you to find someone since you and Mon split up."

"You did?"

"Yeah." She kissed his cheek again. "I gotta run and see if I can find a job."

"But it's Sunday..." Sikes' voice followed her out into the hall. Shaking his head, he went to get some food for himself.

***

The new semester was starting in less than three weeks, so Kirby managed to get a late application in and was accepted. Sikes this time signed all the forms. He had a suspicion his child had forged her mother's signature, but he really didn't blame her. On the way home, she asked, "Dad...”

"Kirby, I'm not telling your nother."

"Please...? Please, Dad? If I do it I'll only get a long speech. If she talks to you she night be reasonable."

Sikes knew that was the farthest thing from the truth - Victoria would be furious no matter who called, and probably even more furious because it was him and not their child - but he finally agreed. ''Okay. Just this once."

But he didn't have a chance to call Victoria before he and George got a homicide to investigate. "The body of a human was found at this advertising company this morning," said Captain Grazer. “She'd been strangled. Get over there, see what's happening." He turned to Sikes after giving them the address and relevant information. "That's where Victoria works, isn't it?"

Sikes was already halfway out the door. "Later, Bry."

George found this interesting. "Your ex-wife works at this agency?"

"Yeah. C'mon, what're we waiting for?" Sikes tried to change the subject.

They got to the place where the body had been removed. "Hi, I'm Matt Sikes and this is my partner, George Francisco. He's in charge of the investigation."

They looked around but didn't see anything. George and Matt had to question co-workers. Sikes talked George into questioning Victoria as he couldn't face her just yet.

Unfortunately George made the mistake of addressing her as "Mrs Sikes". "That's all I know, detective... what?" She didn't look happy.

George realised he'd made a boo-boo. "Uh, nothing..."

But Victoria was fast. "You know my ex-husband?"

"He's my partner."

"And he made you come and question me." She stormed out the door, rushed up to Sikes. "Really, Matthew, I don't bite."

Sikes turned to her, thanking the man he'd been questioning. "Yeah, well I didn't think I could face you."

"And why not?"

So it was going to be here after all. "Kirby showed up at my place four days ago."

"And how long were you going to wait before telling me?"

"She wanted to get into college first, and get a job. I let her stay with me," he said, as if that cleared everything up.

"I'm her mother. Don't you think I had a right to know that my daughter has come to her senses after driving around the country with that hippy?"

Sikes became defensive. "He wasn't a hippy! What am I saying! Look, Vic, she wanted to get herself organised first so that you could see that she can make her own decisions."

Victoria was nodding knowingly. "Thor dumped her. Didn't he, Matthew?"

"I don't know!" yelled Sikes. "She said she left him in Pennsylvania, okay? Look, Vic, we have work to do here. Call me tonight and we can discuss it."

"Fine." Shaking her head, his ex moved off back to her office.

They finished the questioning and drove back to the precinct to enter the data in the computer. On the drive back, George was impressed. "So that was your ex-wife."

"George..." threatened Matt.

But George wasn't easily put off, and he felt compelled to make an observation. "Were you two ever compatible?"

"She was my high school sweetheart," he replied. "I dunno, George. We grew apart. She became someone I couldn't live with, and I became someone she wanted to change. But neither of us realised it for a long time."

"But you were married a long time?"

Sikes' hands closed tightly on the steering wheel. "Yeah, sixteen years. Geez, that WAS a long time!"

"And you only had the one child?"

"George, do you have to know my entire life story?" George said nothing. "Yeah, okay, I'll tell you, then will you shut up? She miscarried once and then after that she wanted to 'establish' her career. So we didn't have any more children. Okay?"

"Okay." They went back to the precinct where they entered the data and began following up a few leads. All they had to go on so far was that whoever had done the strangling had had small hands. So it was either a very small man or a woman. But the murderer was definitely a human – there was no mistaking human skin cells for anything else.

But all through the rest of what seemed to be an interminably long day, Sikes found himself thinking back to when they were young, and in love. Everything had been different then, not bitter. He knew everything that had happened was partly his fault: he'd worked long hours and had taken his wife and child for granted. He wasn't going to do that to Cathy. George's comment about children stuck, though. Sikes had always wanted another child, but it wasn't meant to be. He'd learnt to live as a bachelor, now, with no real place in his life for that.

What would it have been like? Kirby had had everything thanks to her mother's high-powered job, but she'd never had companionship as a child. And Sikes was sorry for that.
But there was something else he hadn't considered, it hadn't seemed important at the time. That night, he stayed at Cathy's apartment. "Cathy?"

“Hmm?”

"Can you get pregnant?"

She turned around, looked at him. "What?"

Sikes looked away. "You know, can you uh... get pregnant?"

Cathy laid her head on his chest, snuggled closer. "I don't think so, Matt."

"But don't both species have the same number of chromosomes?" Sikes remembered reading that somewhere.

"Yes, but remember we need Catalysts to be able to breed successfully. I've never heard of any successful human/Tenctonese conceptions." She lay silent for a while, thinking. Whatever could have prompted that question? "Matt, why?”

"Nothing, just wondering."

Cathy smiled to herself. "I always wanted to have a child, but I was never paired by the Kleezantsun/h. They had other plans for me, they said." She shivered and Sikes held her closer. Then he had a sudden sensation of throwing caution to the winds. "You wanna try?"

Cathy sat bolt upright, stared at him. "WHAT?"

"You wanna see if it's possible?"

She put her hand on his cheek, savoured the sensation. "Oh, Matt, I don't know. Let's not think about that just yet. We have a long way to go."

Sikes drew her to him. "Yeah. Okay."

***

For the next week Sikes and Francisco did some following up, but it was only after three days that they got their one solid lead. They suspected the killer was someone who had been tapping into the company's confidential files. It had been so subtle that, if they hadn’t started some re-filing at the company, it would most likely have gone unnoticed.

But Sikes' mind wasn't really on his work - he was pondering what he'd said to Cathy. Finally one day, when Matt was at George's house for dinner, me waited until George left the room and then said, "Susan, can I ask you something?"

"Of course, Matt." Susan was quite surprised, because Sikes was usually very self-sufficient. He didn't ask if he could ask questions, he usually just launched right in. So Susan sat up and took notice - this had to be important.

"But you promise you won't say anything to George?"

This WAS big. "Okay."

"Do you think it's possible for humans and Tenctonese to interbreed?"

"Matt, I'm not a doctor or biologist." Why did he want to know this, anyway?

"I know, I know. But I just need to ask someone."

"Well, both species have 46 chromosomes, but no one is sure how the different information is arranged in their genes. It might be possible if there are only minor variations in the gene pattern, but I really don't know."

That seemed to satisfy Sikes. He thanked Susan and then said nothing else about the subject, which was probably wise because just then George came in. Sikes wondered why George hadn't asked him anything more about him and Cathy - a week ago he had been wanting to know all the details - but since then he hadn't said a word.

At the table, they began to discuss work, something which irritated Susan. But she was interested in who the killer was. They seemed to have an idea. "Well," began Sikes, "no one noticed until yesterday that someone had been accessing the company computers late at night and apparently making copies of some of their most important files."

Susan didn't get it. Why would anyone kill for a couple of files? George explained. "The kind of tampering we are talking about carries a ten-year jail sentence under the law of '93. And the information contained in those files could be worth a lot of money. I would say that's a motive for murder if you were caught."

"So you think that the murdered woman stumbled onto the person who was tampering, and to prevent her saying anything, this person killed her?"

"Yeah," answered Sikes.

"Matt!" George suddenly realised something. "It was difficult to detect the tampering the first time. We assumed it had stopped. But how can we be sure that it won't happen again?

"Money's a helluva motive, George. And..."

George completed the thought. "If anyone else stumbles onto the hacker, they'll be next!"

George and Matt deserted the table to rush off, leaving Susan and Emily sitting there.

***

They screeched to a halt outside the building and rushed in, but found nothing. They split up to double-check. "George, I'm here at the main floor of terminals. Nothin' here."

George was at the main filing room, where extra disks were kept and where the main filing computer was. "Same here."

"Ah well, it was worth a shot."

"Agreed. But we'd better warn the employees and get a stake-out unit here."

They went home. Sikes opened his door to find Victoria sitting on his couch. "Well, Matthew, been working?"

Sikes wasn't in the mood for Victoria just at the moment. "Save it. And yeah, we have been working. Trying to find out who's been tapping into YOUR computer system. Who let you in?"

"Your neighbour." Sikes wondered what Cathy had thought of this woman he'd once been married to. But Victoria had something definite on her mind. "Where's our daughter?"

"I don't think she still needs you to be her chaperone," answered Matt.

"I came to fetch her at her request, and surprise, surprise, I get here and she's missing."

Sikes knew that his ex clearly blaned him for their daughter's unpredictable behaviour. But he tried very hard to remain calm. He'd had a lot of practice where Victoria was concerned. "Look, Vic. I'm glad that Kirby wants to go home. She has everything when she's with you. But you gotta let her live her own life."

"I think she's proven that she's too irresponsible to know what's best for her."

They were both so concerned with discussing Kirby that they didn't even notice it when she came in. Sikes was saying, "What's best for her is for her to make her own decisions."

"Why does this always happen with you two?" yelled Kirby. "Can't you try to understand me?"

"Your mother wants what's best for you, but... your father suddenly gets a conscience...it's MY life... don't argue with me, young lady... I think she should argue with you, no one argues with you enough... oh that's a low blow, Matt... why is everybody yelling!" This three-way exchange came to an abrupt halt when they turned around to find Cathy standing in the doorway.

Cathy tried to salvage the situation. "Ah, I thought there was some trouble. I guess not."

Sikes swallowed, came forward. "Cathy, do you know Victoria? Vic, this is Cathy."

Victoria nodded, said to Sikes, "We met outside. Look I don't have time for this. Kirby, if you're coming, get your things."

Kirby wordlessly went and got her rucksack. She kissed Sikes on the cheek - Sikes who was staring at Cathy, hoping she didn't think this was the way he had always conducted his home life. "Dad, can I leave my trailer here for a while?"

Sikes smiled at his daughter. "Sure. Call me, okay?"

Victoria had said nothing else and now she went towards the door. Kirby followed. "Okay, I promise." They closed the door.

Cathy came forward. Sikes touched her temple. "It's been a long day."

"Matt, being so hostile towards your ex-wife isn't good for you, or for your daughter." She held him by the shoulders. "Yeah, I know," he answered. "Y'know, sometimes I wonder how Vic and I ever got along considering we're so different." He smiled wryly. "We seemed so compatible back in high school."

"People do change, Matt." Cathy always knew how to reassure him.

"Yeah. I'm glad you're here," he said. "But I've changed more since I met you and George than any time before." He smiled at her. And Cathy smiled back, looking into his eyes, proud of him.

***

Unfortunately he and George got no closer to figuring out who had been doing the tampering. Whoever it was had covered his or her tracks well - they couldn't even find out which terminal had been used to access the data. Eventually, when the stake-outs came up blank, they got a subpoena to bug the company's computer so they would get a signal when the hacker tried it again.

They had to work in the night, because the last murder had been at night, and the hacker seemed to be doing the tampering at night. The third night, Kirby called. She was enjoying college and her job, though her mother was still trying to keep an eye on her. "Dad, she still tries to make me keep to her curfew, and now she wants to choose my college courses! Can you talk to her, please?"

Sikes sighed. "Sure, okay, but I don't think it'll do any good. Put her on."

"Oh, she's not here. She's working late tonight. Some big contract they just got stuck with."

And George suddenly said, "Matt! The hacker again."

Sikes slammed the phone down, leaving his daughter wondering what had happened, and was out of the door almost in a flash.

As he and George sped along, George said, "I hope the hacker is still there, I hate wasting time."

"George, Victoria's there too!" He drove even faster.

They burst into the building, guns out. "Her office is on the third floor," whispered George unnecessarily, "I'll take the stairs, you take the elevator."

***

Victoria was coming out of the filing room when she noticed the glow of another computer terminal in the main office. She walked softly along the carpeted floor to see what was what. She also recognised the woman at the terninal. "You shouldn't be in here, you're not cleared to look at those contracts," she said, looking at what was on the screen. But she'd hardly said it when she realised exactly what was going on. Dropping the files .she had in her hands, Victoria turned and ran. The elevator was taking too long. She turned to run down the stairs.

The other woman was not far behind. She flung herself at Matt’s ex-wife, bringing them both to the ground. Victoria screamed, George rushed out of the elevator, and Sikes banged through the door to the stairs. "Freeze! Police!"

The other woman had no choice. "All right," said George calnly, "against the wall, please." He handcuffed her then read her her rights.

Sikes found himself holding his not-so-dear ex. "Are you all right? Vic?" He looked down at her.

She nodded, stepped back. "I'm fine." She smiled at him. "You know, for once I'm not sorry you were working late."

Sikes smiled back. "I'm not too happy you were," he said, and they all laughed.

Victoria had to go down to the precinct to give her statement. When it was over, she looked at Sikes.

He said, "You think we can discuss Kirby from now on without starting a major war?"

"You're a cop, Matthew. It's what you are. I could never accept it as your wife, but maybe I can accept it now." She sounded like a diplomat negotiating for a truce. Which maybe this was. "You don't undercut me as a parent and I'll try to listen to you more often." She got up to go.

"Vic." Victoria turned around. "Loosen the reigns a bit. Our daughter has a pretty good head on her shoulders."

Sikes saw his ex smile, and knew that Kirby, at least, would have a little bit more of a chance to enjoy her college years.

It was very, very late when Sikes arrived home. He'd just walked in the door when he got a call from Susan.

"Matt, remember that question you asked me? Well I asked a doctor friend of nine, I met him through my ad agency...?"

"Yeah?"

"He says that theoretically it is possible."

"Thanks, Susan."

"Wait!" There was a bit more which he probably needed to hear more urgently than the rest. "This doctor says that the human male won't need a binnaum. Matt, are you there?"

Sikes thought of what that meant for him and Cathy. Oops. "Yeah. Thanks again." He put the phone down. Now, what was he going to say to Cathy?

***

Susan smiled as she put her phone down.

George came out of the bathroom. "Were you talking to Matthew?"

"Yes. He asked me a private question. I was just answering it."

"Oh. Anything to do with Cathy?"

"I promised not to tell you." As George got into bed, Susan put her head on his shoulder.

"Really?" responded George, in an amused tone. Then he told her what else had been on his mind. "Suse, did you know that Matthew and Cathy were going to sex-classes?"

Susan looked at him, not surprised at all. "I'm glad for him." She turned out the light. "And has he said anything since?"

"No. But he looks happy." They went to sleep, happy for their friend.

***

Sikes was telling Cathy about the case, about Victoria and Kirby, and finally about what Susan had told him. He was taking his clothes out of the washing machine and putting them in the dryer. Cathy was putting hers into the washer. The scene had an intimacy that wasn't lost on them.

"So, you think you and your ex will get on better from now on?"

Sikes shrugged. Cathy found the shrug very sweet. "I dunno. Probably not, but we'll pretend to be civil to each other." He shrugged again. "It's a start."

"It was nice to know more about your life, before. It helps me to understand you."

"Oh, no you don't! Don't psychoanalyse me. I don't need that."

Cathy smiled at him. "I wouldn't dream of it, Matt. But it does make me feel more a part of your life."

They hugged. Sikes deliberately touched the small of her back. "Matt, are you doing that on purpose?"

"Oh yeah."

"I thought so."

"I wanna be a part of your life, too, Cathy. I love you. I guess I want it all - y'know, the house in the country and the 2.6 kids. The whole bit."

"I wonder if I will be able to get pregnant?" Cathy mused.

"All we can do is practice," laughed Sikes. "Y'know," he said, suddenly sounding very serious, "maybe we should get married." Unfortunately his smile betrayed him.

Cathy smiled back, hugely amused. "One thing at a time."

"Okay." Then he remembered something she'd said a few weeks back. "Cathy - what about my picture in the sky?"

"Come on." She took his hand and dragged him up to the roof. It took her a few moments to get it with the telescope, but finally she said, "There."

Sikes was very surprised. "Hercules? My constellation is Hercules?"

"You've also been through many difficult labours, Matt. And most of then were for us, for the Tenctonese. I think it's perfect." She nodded to him.

Sikes was touched. "Yeah, I've learnt a lot, haven't I?" When she said nothing, he went on, "Thank you, Cathy."

And they kissed on the roof beneath the stars, thinking it a most appropriate location.

After we've gone a million miles
Made true our dreams with sweat and bone
After we've built it up with our bare hands
Made strong a place we can call home

I want to lay down on your shoulder
Just inside your arm
I want to listen to your heartbeat
And your breathing on and on
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Surrender to your peace
And go to sleep

THE END