Megan had walked about a kilometer in the direction of her ship, when an important thought stopped her.
I can't bring Janny with me back to Earth, she told herself -- I know it's too dangerous to keep looking for her. But I have to bring back proof of what's going on. I defied direct orders and stole military equipment to get here. I'll be subject to court martial, and probably thrown in military prison for years, maybe even for life, and there's no reason for anyone to believe my bizarre story of Freeworld. It'll look like a self-serving attempt to confuse the issue. Or to make it look like I'm insane, and get off that way. But if I prove I was right, that Aurora's crew survived, and that they and their descendants, their clones, are at the mercy of the Hercules cult, which is continuing to do exactly what they were banished from Earth for, only worse...
I need, Megan told herself, to bring a woman back from here. A mindless human turned into a "girlimal" -- who looks exactly like one of the missing Aurora crew. That will be absolutely, totally inarguable evidence, and it will set in motion the rescue of every woman here, including any surviving original crew members -- including Janny. Even if I still get thrown in the brig and the key lost, it will be worth it.
As Megan began thinking out how she could steal a live woman, it occurred to her exactly where she could get one.
Megan was standing in the middle of the road, with Jason's farm in view in front of her. It was morning now. She had passed the night nearby, resting though not really sleeping. She wanted plenty of hours of daylight ahead of her once she started heading for the ship.
She heard one of the cow-women mooing in the distance. Perhaps one with Janica's face.
Megan strongly preferred, if she was going to bring a woman back to Earth with her, that it be one of the Janicas. Even though it obviously wouldn't be the real one, Megan would feel she was somehow accomplishing what she had set out to do. And the real Janica would be rescued soon, once Megan started the wheels turning.
Just grab one of the "cows," then? Megan shook her head. She'd eat so much, and drink so much, with her metabolism geared towards all that milk production. And how would I milk her in zero-G? The stuff would float around the cabin through the whole trip.
I'm pretty sure I couldn't fit one of the "pigs" in the cabin, she thought. One of the "horses" might be good. Or a "dog." But Megan recalled Jason didn't have a Janica clone in either format. Just...
Megan shook her head violently. Not the dolly, no. She'd want to pick up where she left off, Megan pointed out to herself, trying to have sex with me, all through the trip.
But she's imprinted on Jason, Megan reminded herself. She was all over me that night, but only because Jason ordered her. That command has to wear off, doesn't it? Otherwise a dolly would throw herself at every man her master had EVER ordered her to please. And that would defeat the whole purpose of personalizing her to a single man. Probably the snap of Jason's fingers cuts it off. Like I saw it do, twice. He hasn't ordered her to please me again since the last time he stopped her.
Okay then. The dolly.
Megan crept cautiously towards the farmhouse, keeping to the trees, keeping an eye out for Jason. She had to make sure both he and Bret were out of the house, which probably happened pretty often in the daytime. There, she spotted him -- as she had seen him the first time, he was again out in a field, with his plow and "horses." Where was Bret?
Megan sat still for at least twenty minutes, in mounting frustration, trying to see where the boy was. At last she saw movement at the barn door, and Bret emerged... Megan swore quietly. He was headed for the house! The whole point was for him not to be in the house.
A few minutes later Bret emerged again. Perhaps he'd just played with the "dogs" a moment, thought Megan, or more likely washed up after some gritty barn chore. There, now he was trotting out to the field where his dad was!
Megan was on her feet immediately. Keeping the house between herself and the pair of males out in the field, she approached it. She would be in view for just seconds while she was on the porch. She waited until they were both turned away from her, and slipped inside.
The dolly was in her usual place on the kitchen floor, sitting, all her attention on the Jason photocube. She gave it a kiss, and rubbed her cheek against it, looking up for an instant when Megan entered, losing interest immediately when she saw the newcomer wasn't Jason. When Megan thumbed the release button on the wall, the dolly looked at her again, this time shocked -- nobody but Jason ever pushed the button! A cascade of conflicting emotions washed over the dolly's face.
Megan walked over and gently took the dolly's hand, succeeding in getting her to stand. She said softly, "I need you to come with me, sweetie. We're going on a looooong trip."
The dolly showed no inclination to let go of the photocube, and Megan saw no reason to make her. It'll probably keep her calm and occupied, she decided. The dolly followed docilely as Megan pulled her along by the hand.
I wish I could get her some clothes, Megan thought briefly, because seeing Janny naked is just too weird, but I don't have time to go rooting around in Jason's bedroom, and dress the dolly up in whatever I find, considering I won't get any help from her. I'll just have to get used to it.
Megan stood at the door, again waiting for the man and boy to be facing away. At the opportune moment, she pulled the dolly out onto the porch, shading the woman's eyes so she couldn't see Jason. In seconds they were in the yard and lost from Jason's view behind the house.
Megan decided there was no danger from the dolly's collar. The signal that would send a shock through it, if Jason should happen to push the kitchen button to reset it, couldn't have a very great range. There was no reason for it to have one.
Since the dolly had at least seen Megan before, Megan guessed that she found it acceptable to be led by her. Perhaps a total stranger could kidnap her in the same way -- Megan had no idea how much independent volition the woman had, if any. It apparently didn't occur to her reasoning powers that she was getting farther away from Jason. Maybe she thought Megan was taking her to him.
Megan tried to establish a brisk pace through the woods, keeping an eye on her scanner to establish the direction to the ship, but her companion didn't seem to understand the idea of hurrying. Megan doubted she'd ever been in the forest before, or anyplace like it, and she kept looking around in wide-eyed wonder. Megan hoped they could make it back to the ship before sunset. Luckily it was still early morning, but Megan and her wordless friend had a very long walk ahead.
At least the dolly's feet seemed tough enough to handle a barefoot walk through the underbrush.
After a few hours, the dolly slowed even more, and looked a little sad and petulant. She was kissing the photocube more often now, with tears threatening to leak from the corners of her eyes. Megan decided it was lunchtime anyway. She picked out a tiny clearing and stopped there, unshouldering her pack and picking out some rations. The dolly sat beside her, staring into the photocube, periodically bringing it up to her mouth and licking it.
The rations weren't terribly interesting -- nuts, dried fruit, dried meat. Megan wished she knew if there were any fruit trees nearby, but didn't want to waste time looking.
After a few bites, she held out a handful to the dolly. The woman just stared at it, puzzled. Megan wasn't sure what the problem was. The dolly had just seen Megan eating it.
It occurred to Megan finally that the woman might never have used her hands to eat. Who knows, Megan thought, maybe during her training she was even punished for doing it. Megan had only seen her eat directly from a bowl.
Megan grabbed a big handful of her rations in one hand and then cupped her hands, letting the food spread out into the palms of both. The dolly looked at it intently, leaned down and sniffed it, and twisted around to stand on all fours as she bent down to lick the food out of Megan's hands.
Megan shook her head in amazement. It never stopped hitting her between the eyes, the endless display of animal behavior in a woman Megan couldn't stop seeing as Janica.
The dolly ate quickly, and in moments was running her tongue along Megan's palms to lick up the last crumbs. Before Megan knew what was happening, the dolly had opened her mouth and sucked in Megan's index finger, running her tongue under it, her wetted lips caressing it, a soft moan issuing from her throat.
As if she'd touched a hot iron, Megan snatched her hand away. "No!" Megan had only just begun to have some success in thinking of the dolly as a person distinct from Janica, but the distinction was so tentative that what had just happened felt to Megan very much as if Janica had issued her little sister an erotic invitation, and though it had happened before in the bathtub, being seduced by Janica remained, in Megan's mind, the farthest thing from the realm of possibility, as if the sun had suddenly pulled out a banjo and begun singing.
Suddenly Megan started laughing. It wasn't Janica, after all, only a trained sex toy who looked like her. "For God's sake, can't you go five minutes without wanting sex?" In spite of not being imprinted on Megan, Megan could see that to some extent, the dolly had a need for sexual contact so deeply ingrained that any related physical stimulus, such as licking another person's skin, might set it off.
Luckily, the moment had passed. The dolly gave Megan a slightly hurt look, but made no effort to continue what she'd started.
Megan sighed. "Look, if you weren't my sister, I wouldn't mind having a little fun together. But you are. Not just that, you look exactly like the sister I grew up with. The one that used to help me with my schoolwork and put plastines on my cuts and bruises... my big sister. Don't you get what that means?" She broke off, suddenly noticing the look of intense concentration on the dolly's usually placid face. She frowned. "What is it?"
The woman reached out and touched Megan's chest, covered in the uppermost part of her flight suit. She seemed to struggle with her mouth, then let out a gentle teakettle sound. "Ssss..."
Megan suddenly remembered that moment in the bathtub at Jason's. Her face lit up with excitement. She remembers that! The word! "Yes!" Megan reached out and touched the woman. "Sisters! You're my sister! Can you say that? Sister? Siss-ter?" She drew the word out slowly.
The dolly squeezed her eyes shut as if listening, or screwing up her concentration, and said, "Ssisss..."
Megan almost bounced on the ground in excitement. No language skills my ass! When we get home, she thought, we're going to get you talking, and explain to you what an awful, inhuman thing these men did to you!
Megan's knew that her great-great grandmother could help. She was an expert in developmental psychology, and had recently published her latest paper on language acquisition skills. Megan knew from what g-g-gram had told her that there's no age like zero to three for picking up language -- children who somehow had been isolated through those first formative years and not given a chance to learn a tongue usually couldn't use language effectively later, no matter what teaching efforts were made. But this is Janny! I know she can do it! Megan laughed with delight. "Sister!" she said again. Megan had a sudden thought. "Your name is Sissy! Okay?" Megan thought that would be easier to say than "sister," and would give Megan something she could call the dolly so she could stop thinking of her as Janica. She touched the dolly's chest again. "Sissy! Your name is Sissy!"
The dolly had caught some of Megan's happiness. "Ssisss..." That seemed to be as near an approximation as she could manage for the present. But it was enough. Impulsively, Megan leaned towards Sissy and hugged her tightly, her chin on Sissy's shoulder.
And suddenly, unaware of the transition, she was crying -- crying for the real Janica, who might still be alive, just a few kilometers away after such a long time being light years distant. Megan gripped Sissy still more tightly, sobbing helplessly, her shoulders shaking.
The dolly didn't understand, but caught the mood. Megan could hear her sniffling and crying in her arms.
Megan pushed herself back, sternly forcing the tears away. She looked at Sissy's tear-streaked face, and hugged her again, saying, "Shhh, shhh... stop."
In a few minutes Megan leaned back, as both of them sniffled. Megan managed a small smile. "You're going to have a great life on Earth, Sissy. You'll have everything you need, and you'll learn to talk and all kinds of other things." She touched Sissy's face, and said her name again.
Sissy's face lit up once more. "Ssisss..."
Megan laughed. "That's close enough for now. Maybe I can get you to say the whole thing later." She wiped the last bit of tears out of her eyes and stood up, returning the leftover food to her pack. "Let's get going. I'd really like to get back to the ship before dark." She helped Sissy to her feet, took her hand again, and started walking.
They had hardly gone a hundred meters when Sissy stopped suddenly, jerking her hand out of Megan's, and stood looking at both her hands in distress. They were empty. Megan knew exactly what was missing as soon as she saw that, and wasn't surprised to hear a high pitched moan erupt from Sissy's throat. Sissy dropped to the ground, pawing at the endless bed of lettuce at their feet, almost hyperventilating. Megan quickly dropped down beside her, grasping her shoulders. Sissy was shaking like a leaf, breathing in short, heartbreaking sobs.
Megan said quietly, "Sissy! Sissy! We'll go back. Sissy, stop, it's okay!"
Somehow the sound of the word, her name, quieted Sissy somewhat, though she looked at Megan as if expecting a slap. Megan jumped to her feet and pulled Sissy up, almost dragging her along as she trotted back through the trees. Just as Sissy seemed about to lose it again, Megan bent and grabbed the photocube out of the lettuce at the place where they had eaten. Sissy snatched it out of Megan's hand with relief written all over her face and hugged it between her breasts, then lifted it and planted frantic kisses on its surface.
Megan laughed. "I guess I know where I stand. Let's move on, Sissy." She took Sissy's hand again and resumed their walk.
Less than a kilometer from the ship, Sissy sank to the ground, looking exhausted. Megan wanted somehow to tell her how close they were to their goal, but knew Sissy needed a rest. Megan unshouldered her pack again, deciding a meal break would be reasonable, and might boost Sissy's energy. The sun was nearing the horizon, but if it gets dark, thought Megan, I can still find the ship from here.
As before, she held the food out to Sissy in her cupped hands, suppressing an exasperated groan as Sissy went into animal mode again, on her hands and knees licking the food out of Megan's hands. That's another thing we'll have to get straightened out at home, thought Megan. You have so much potential, Sissy. You deserve to live your life as the human you were born to be. And I can't take somebody looking so much like Janica and acting so much like an animal.
As Megan reached back into her ration kit to take a handful for herself, something pricked her attention. Something that shouldn't be there. She froze, opening her eyes wide. She couldn't see anything out of place.
A sound! Something moving through the underbrush. On a world where extraneous sounds were nearly absent. There are no animals here, she reminded herself. Except the human ones. And they should all be twenty kilometers behind me.
The sound was repeated. Closer. Megan leapt to her feet and yanked Sissy upright. "Sissy, we've got to run! Come on, come on!" She began sprinting, dragging the confused Sissy behind her.
She heard Sissy cry out, her hand slipping out of Megan's as she fell to the ground. Megan dug in her heels to stop, whirled and quickly knelt down next to Sissy. She shook her shoulders. "Sissy, Sissy, come on, gotta go, gotta go!"
The dolly's eyes fluttered, then closed. Megan leaned down quickly to listen for a heartbeat, then took Sissy's chin and wriggled it back and forth, trying to get her attention. "Sissy, come on, wake up, wake up!" She gasped as she saw something stuck in Sissy's side, near her waist, shining redly in the setting sun: a tiny needle, about two centimeters, slightly thick in the middle, very sharp at both ends, including the end buried in Sissy's flesh. Megan heard another sound now, the sharp whisper of a pressure gun that fired off the small anesthetic darts.
Megan's hand shot to her own waist and she unclipped the blaster, sweeping it around her in a slow arc, not sure which way she should be pointing it. She felt her left sleeve twitch, and looked down to see a dart caught in the silvery fabric. She whipped the blaster around to the direction from which the dart had come, as another dart stuck in the material covering her thigh. She squeezed off, watching as a beam of light lanced out and a nearby tree burst into flames. The tree had no doubt taken the brunt of the beam -- she didn't hear any cries of pain behind it. She aimed slightly left, at a more open area, prepared to squeeze the trigger again, and gasped as she felt a sharp sting in her neck. She reached out and plucked out the dart quickly, hoping she hadn't got a full dose. She tried to raise the blaster again as the trees seemed to begin to circle around her. She reached down with one hand to steady the ground, which had tilted and seemed to want to rise up towards her. It was on a collision course with her head. She never felt it hit.