A great cheer rang out from all three of them as the humans materialised inside the experiment chamber.
"Excellent! Excellent!" cried old Professor T'zzurt, his mandibles waving enthusiastically as he gave both of his students a congratulatory clap on the carapace. "Wonderful job intercepting their matter transmission beam, Zurrg!" Zurrg flushed pale purple with pleasure.
"Well, let's see just what we've got," said T'zzurt, turning up the magnification on the holoviewer. Currently, it was showing an image of two very confused-looking humans examining the featureless white room in which they'd unexpectedly found themselves. At least, he assumed they were confused, based on the frantic way they were looking around them. He'd had no first-hand experience at reading human facial expressions yet, of course.
"Breeding pair, do you think?" asked Zurrg.
Mkikt, who had so far simply been sitting there with a smugly pleased look in his compound eyes, leaned forward at this, peering closely at the image. "Umm... Let's see... The larger one is a male, I think."
"Definitely a male," said T'zzurt, with more confidence than was strictly justified. "Look at the muscle mass."
"What about the other one?" asked Zurrg.
"Female, I think."
"Don't females have bumps on their thorax?" asked Mkikt.
"We'd need a look at their genitals to be sure," said Zurrg knowingly.
"Do you even know what human genitals look like?"
"Oh, stop arguing," interrupted the Professor, "and just use the brain-scanner, will you?"
"Will it work properly on something this alien?" asked Zurrg.
"Sexual impulses for all known beings reside in the lowest sectors of the brain," T'zzurt lectured, "and should be easy enough to access. Just scan the smaller one, and see what you can pick up."
Several minutes passed as the two students began manipulating the equipment, under the watchful eyes of their mentor. Eventually, Mkikt looked up from the readouts, his face glowing ultraviolet with satisfaction. "Definite indications of sexual interest directed at the larger specimen," he announced triumphantly. "Looks like we have a breeding pair!"
"Wonderful!" cried the Professor. "Zurrg, why don't you go ahead and set up the environment."
"I'm still not sure how accurate the archive files are in regard to human domestic environments," said Zurrg nervously. "I mean, those electromagnetic transmissions we intercepted may well be centuries old, and..."
"Just do it, Zurrg. I'm sure it's close enough to their natural habitat."
"Yes, sir." Zurrg pushed another button.
###"Liberator! Liberator! Answer, damn you!" Still nothing. Avon brought the heel of his hand down on the bracelet's off button rather harder than was either necessary or advisable. "It's no good, Blake. I think something's jamming the transmission."
Blake turned from his fruitless inspection of the blank, apparently impenetrable walls surrounding them. "What do—"
His words cut off abruptly, leaving his mouth hanging open in astonishment, as the walls, the floor—indeed, the very air around them—began to blur and change...
...and suddenly, they were standing in what looked for all the universe like an archaic kitchen.
Avon whirled, gun drawn, and nearly fired at a perfectly innocent (if rather tastelessly frilly) curtain as it fluttered in the slight breeze blowing through an open window. Looking almost sheepish, he holstered his weapon again and joined Blake in staring dumbly around at the environment they now found themselves in.
Besides the aforementioned frilly curtains, the room featured obscenely cheerful flowered wallpaper; pink-and-white chequered tiles; a small wooden table with two uncomfortable-looking chairs; and an entire array of spotlessly gleaming, but nevertheless clearly antique, kitchen appliances in a shade that neither man was capable of identifying as Harvest Gold. Through an open archway, a cosy living room was visible, and beyond it a hallway. Through the windows they could see a neatly manicured lawn complete with a white picket fence and an apple tree, but beyond the fence swirled an odd grey nothingness that was decidedly difficult to look at.
"What the hell?" said Avon.
Blake could only shrug in helpless agreement.
###"Well," boomed T'zzurt, startling a sleepy Mkikt, who'd remained on observational duty during his fellow student's designated sleep period. "What have they been doing?"
"Er, they thoroughly investigated the dwelling..."
"They seemed particularly interested in the barrier. They tried firing their weapons at it...."
"You had deactivated them, of course?"
"Um, yes," said Mkikt, who in fact hadn't thought to do so until they'd actually pointed the things at the force field. "And, well, now it looks like the male is asleep. The female seems to be keeping watch."
"Standing guard over her mate, hmm? How charmingly mammalian!"
"Well, good. Carry on. I'll be back in a few days to see how they're settling in."
###Over the course of the next several days, Blake and Avon discovered, through careful, methodical investigation (interspersed with a few fits of blind, frustrated rage), that the swirling grey field which had them imprisoned here could not be knocked down, tunnelled under, blown up (at least, not with the pitiful explosives they'd been able to put together from the household chemicals found under the kitchen sink), or deactivated by sheer force of will. They'd also discovered that the operation of 20th century kitchen appliances is not an intuitive skill for those accustomed to computerised food processing, and that, whatever a "TV Dinner" might actually be, it ceases to have even novelty value after three or four successive meals.
They also discovered that, after a few days, even the game of trading insults and blame for their current situation was beginning to pale. But, having nothing else to entertain them, they kept it up, anyway. Or at least Avon did.
One thing they did manage to agree on, after a particularly prolonged and (from Avon's perspective, at least) entertaining argument was that, whoever their captors might be, it was looking increasingly unlikely that they would suddenly show up in order to murder Blake and Avon in their sleep. And so they dispensed with the custom of keeping a watch, and thus found themselves—inevitably, since neither would suffer being relegated to the sofa—sharing the same slightly-too-frilly bed.
###"Excellent!" cried T'zzurt, rubbing his forelimbs together gleefully. "Now that they seem to have settled into their environment, perhaps they will breed!"
###Slowly, sleepily, Avon reached out under the covers, wanting to draw that wonderful, solid warmth up close to him. Dreamily, he stroked his hand down Blake's flank, his fingers glorying in the silky feel of Blake's skin. Blake murmured, bringing Avon more fully awake, stirring his arousal.
Well, why not? he thought, scooting closer to Blake, trailing a languid hand across Blake's smooth chest.
Blake stiffened, suddenly completely awake. "Avon..."
"Yes, Blake?" The voice was a seductive whisper in his ear.
"What are you...? Stop it!"
"Are you sure you want me to?" The hand moved sideways, fingers sliding provocatively over a nipple.
"Yes!" Blake rolled over abruptly, away from Avon, breaking the contact. He regarded Avon with a slightly embarrassed look. "You're a very attractive man, Avon, really..."
"Oh, spare me."
"It's just, well, you're a man, and..."
"Oh, go back to sleep, Blake. If I'd been awake enough to realise it was you, I'd never have started."
"I mean, I certainly support your right to express your sexuality in any way you choose, in fact, I'd consider it one of the basic freedoms that we're fighting for, but as a matter of personal preference..."
Avon stuck a pillow over his head.
###"They're still not breeding, Professor!" wailed Zurrg.
"What! Not a single mating? Impossible."
"Maybe they just don't breed well in captivity, sir."
"Maybe it's a medical problem," mused the Professor. "I think I'll take a look through some of the more obscure archive files. See if I can figure this thing out."
###"You may feel free to sleep on the sofa, Blake, if I make you uncomfortable."
"No," said Blake, looking uncomfortable. "I trust you."
###Mkikt was on duty when T'zzurt came back and promptly swatted him across his antennae with a rolled-up hardcopy from the archive files.
"You dolt! It's obvious why they're not breeding! Do you know why they're not breeding?"
"Sir?" squeaked the unfortunate student.
"I'll tell you why they're not breeding! It's because you did not get us a breeding pair!"
"Actually, sir, it was Zurrg who selected..."
T'zzurt hit him again. "You got us two males!"
"But, sir, the smaller one definitely..."
But the Professor would not be calmed, his carapace glowing bright orange with anger and frustration. "How are we supposed to observe the interactions of a breeding pair of humans if we don't have a female?!"
"Maybe we could get... Ouch!" said Mkikt, as the Professor swatted him again.
"No, it's too late for that. I've already written up the proposal."
"Well, er, perhaps we could alter the biology of one of them," said Mkikt, hopefully. "The female morphology ought to be encoded in the males' dormant genes, and..."
"Mkikt!" roared T'zzurt.
Mkikt winced in anticipation of another blow.
But his mentor's carapace had shifted to a delighted purple. "You're brilliant!"
Mkikt sighed in relief.
###Avon woke up in the middle of the night, feeling the call of nature. As he stumbled out of bed, eyes half-closed, he was vaguely aware that something felt strangely... wrong. But there seemed to be nothing dangerous in the room—well, nothing more dangerous than Blake's snoring, anyway. So, with a slight shrug, he stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the light...
Blake was awakened by the sound of a woman screaming.
Naked save for his underwear, he dashed into the bathroom. When his eyes had adjusted to the glare, he could see that there was, indeed, a woman in the bathroom. She was staring at herself in the mirror, her eyes huge and panicky.
"Who... What... How did you get in here?" He took a closer look at her. Attractive woman. Well, hard not to notice that, given that she was completely naked. Nose was a bit large, though. Dark hair. Pretty mouth. Dark eyes, like chips of obsidian, which had started to lose their panicky look and were now glaring at him as if he were contemptibly stupid...
"It would appear," said an almost-familiar female voice, "that our captors have a fairly advanced biological technology. And a decidedly odd sense of humour."
###"Are you sure this is a good idea, sir?" asked Zurrg dubiously.
"A minor change, my boy! A minor change! They'll soon adjust."
###It was a long time before they gave up trying to figure it out and went back to bed, and, of course, neither of them was quite able to sleep.
Eventually, Blake gave in to temptation. Why not? He was interested before... Slowly, gently, a hand ventured forth to stroke Avon's breast...
"Ouch!" he cried, sucking slap-stung fingertips into his mouth.
"If you didn't want me with a cock, Blake, you're certainly not going to have me without one."
"Tease." He muttered it into his pillow so Avon couldn't hear.
###Mkikt and Zurrg were sharing a shift... and a sense of growing despair.
"They're still not mating!" wailed Zurrg. "And they do nothing but argue all the time! What are we going to do? If they refuse to exhibit a normal human domestic life, the Professor will lose his funding..."
"And probably take it out on us," muttered Mkikt.
"And we'll never get our theses written, and we'll never graduate, and we'll both end up swabbing out the egg chambers for minimum wage!" concluded Zurrg desolately.
"Well, what do you suggest we do about it? I mean, we've already tweaked this experiment more than is scientifically justified, if you ask me..."
Zurrg slowly began to change colour.
"Oh, no. You do have an idea."
"What if," said Zurrg. "What if we just... adjusted them a little?"
"But we already did..."
"No, I mean, mentally. You can set that brain-scanner to 'send' instead of 'receive', can't you?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"Reprogram them a little? Temporarily, of course. Make them a bit more... normal? More like the humans in the archive tapes? Maybe even adjust their memories?"
"It... may be possible," Mkikt conceded.
"Aw, go on. What can it hurt?"
"Well... All right."
###Kerri dusted her flour-covered hands on her floral-print apron with a sense of satisfaction, and moved to the door to greet her husband with a peck on the cheek. He'd been out working on the picket fence: repairing and whitewashing it. He was so handy. And so very manly, with his shirt off and perspiration glistening on his broad, smooth chest.
"I baked chocolate-chip cookies," she murmured in his ear. "Your favourite!"
He kissed her deeply, thrillingly. "I know what I'd rather have to eat," he said, an impish smile on his face. His hands caressed her under the apron.
"Oh, Roj! In the middle of the afternoon?"
"Day, night, afternoon... As often as possible, Kerri, if we want the baby to come."
"Oh, Rojjy!" she cooed. "Make a woman out of me!"
###"See!" shouted Zurrg, flushing deep ultraviolet. "It's working!"
"I'm still not sure about this..."
"Pessimist. Look, they're finally mating!"
###Kerri lay passive beneath her husband, submitting to his strength, his passion, his utter possession of her.
"I love you, Roj!" she cried as he pounded into her. "I love you!"
He was too busy thrusting to answer.
###They were so excited that they didn't even take note of the colour of T'zzurt's carapace when the Professor came bursting into the Observation Room.
"Look, Professor!" burbled Zurrg. "They're breeding!"
T'zzurt clouted them both painfully across the antennae.
"You idiots! What have you done?"
"Sir?" Zurrg looked genuinely puzzled. Mkikt groaned.
"You've been messing with the subjects' psyches, haven't you? Don't deny it!" He smacked them both again, even though neither of them actually had denied it. "The whole experiment's compromised! This was supposed to be a non-invasive observation of humans in their natural habitat! And look what you've done!"
"But, sir, you said..."
"Quite, Zurrg! You've done quite enough damage, I think. Thanks to you imbeciles, I've got the Scientific Ethics Committee breathing down the back of my exoskeleton! We could not only lose funding, I could lose my shot at tenure! Reverse the alterations, right now!"
###What the...? Avon had vague memories of how he—she—had got into this position, but none of them made the slightest bit of sense. That was, however, not the most relevant point right now. The most relevant point right now was that she was lying under Blake in a most humiliatingly submissive fashion while he... Well, actually, those sensations were really exceedingly... interesting. Not to mention pleasurable. But this was most decidedly not the way to be going about things.
Without stopping to give it another moment's thought, she twisted out from under Blake, rolling him onto his back and rapidly tying him to the bedframe with the belt from the bathrobe that had so conveniently happened to be hanging from the bedpost.
He looked comically startled. "Kerri?"
"Don't call me that!" she snarled, and, pinning him firmly down onto the mattress, proceeded to lower herself onto his straining erection.
###"The physical alterations, too! Quickly, now! Before the Ethics people get here!"
"But, Professor, you authorised..."
Mkikt began pushing buttons.
###Two simultaneous screams of pain rang out as Avon, who had pulled herself completely off Blake in order to prolong his delightfully passionate frenzy, descended with considerable force onto Blake's penis with the intent of engulfing it into an opening he suddenly no longer possessed.
Once they had recovered from the initial shock of the pain, the two of them spent an additional moment staring in bemusement at Avon's newly-restored masculine genitalia.
Avon shrugged philosophically and reached for the tube of hand lotion on the nightstand.
###"What do we do now, Professor?"
"Nothing. Just... Let them be."
###Feeling greatly re-energised but more anxious to escape than ever, Avon came up with a so-crazy-it-might-just-work plan which involved using the wiring from a smoke detector, the power pack from one of the Liberator handguns, some random pieces pulled from various kitchen appliances, and a few bottles of household chemicals. In theory, the gadget he was putting together, in combination with certain brilliant modifications to his teleport bracelet, might just manage to set up a signal on the appropriate frequency to deactivate the force field and allow them to escape.
###"Uh, Professor, the humans have somehow managed to deactivate the force field. What should we do?"
"Oh, let them go. They're scientifically useless. Damned mammals."
###"Liberator! Liberator are you there?"
"Keep trying, Blake. With the field down, we should be able to contact them. Assuming they haven't simply left, of course."
"Blake, is that you? We thought we'd lost you for good!"
"We weren't entirely certainly about that for a while, ourselves. Stand by to teleport, Jenna."
"Well? What are you waiting for?"
"Just a minute, Avon. I wanted to bring something." He vanished into the kitchen and came out holding a bunched-up piece of cloth.
"Blake, what the hell could you possibly want with that apron?"
"I was hoping I could get you do wear it again sometime. It was quite a turn-on." He grinned hugely. "Jenna, teleport!" he yelled. And ducked.