A breeze stirred the desert sand into small gritty clouds as the first of the planetís two moons came up over the horizon, its faint white light moving like a small slow stream over the desert until it lit the deck of the small cabin. There were just the two of them, one wiping the neck of the liquor jar before handing it over. "Time," he said, " is only nature's way of stopping everything happening at once."
The second man laughed. The first man ignored him. "It is only when you succeed in fucking yourself you discover this can be the truth." The jug was passed back. "Reckon the Marshal found time can happen not once but twice. Time is just a circle. Like to hear the story?"
The second man shook his head. "Nope."
The first man filled his pipe with the weed growing through the cracks in the deck. It burnt with a fierce blue flame. The first man sucked on the pipe reflectively and coughed. "Tastes like shit." He coughed again. "Well, this was how it was, the ways I remember."
The purple smoke given off from the drinks they served in the Mayday Saloon made it difficult for anyone to see anything. A group danced in one corner to soundless music picked up through the soles of the feet. Elsewhere space poker was being played inside a force field so powerful it gave off flashes every time a card was dealt. From the safety of the steel-armored bar, Ginger Jake was shouting his customary obscenities. Most of these were directed at two huge, green rubbery trolls engaged in a vicious knife fight.
Oblivious to all this, seated alone at a small table, staring into an untouched drink, was something very different. To the Marshal it looked promisingly humanoid. The smoke, the flashes, and the eerie glow from the bright green goo spreading across the floor from the holes in the two duelists, could not conceal a tall, beautifully sculptured female.
He stared at the shiny black body suit, tall boots with silver spurs, long black gloves and a shiny Stetson with a wide brim that prevented him from counting her eyes - but did not stop him from admiring the rest of the face and her curving lips!
He poured himself another finger of whiskey. He could not explain it but he did not feel he was quite himself, not his normal hot and healthy self. He decided he urgently needed some sexual stimulation. He went on staring at the contents of the shiny black suit until Ginger Jake had collected the various pieces of the loser in the fight and tipped them, along with the still screaming head, unceremoniously out of the swing doors and into the street. He waited until a near-silence had moved into the smoke and the floor had been washed near-clean with a bucket of water. Then he went over and introduced himself.
Beside her, there was a long-handled whip of unusual design, the handle carved with a masked face and staring, moving jeweled eyes. He never saw her reach for it. One moment he was bending down showing her his silver badge with 'Marshal' in illuminated letters; the next he was sitting in a pile of broken furniture and bottles at the other side of the bar.
Ginger Jake - accustomed to this kind of thing - lifted the Marshal back to his feet and suggested he tried a different line of chat-up as this one wasn't working too well.
The Marshal protested he had barely had time to say a few words before she had shouted at him: called him an evil, stupid, careless bastard. Something had hurled him backwards; something that had left a long weal on his face. He turned around to look. The drink was still there on the table, still smoking, untouched. But she wasn't.
Being bounced over a bar had certainly quietened the thing between the Marshal's legs which had been giving him hell all week. It had, he noted, when he went out to pee into the dirt, lost all interest in any other activity. Aiming the stream at the still grumbling disembodied head lying against the sidewalk, he decided to place the mystery lady on the programme for his wet dreams, contenting himself with conjuring up the picture of what lay under that glossy black suit, a face beneath the helmet with inviting black lips, breasts the size of mini-moons and decorated with silver studs that matched the neck collar. This would be far safer because females that carried that kind of jewellery and whips usually came with health warnings.
It didn't work. When the sun finally decided to rise over the desert, the Marshal, red of eye and with hurting heart, arose with the temper of a trail boss after a stampede.
Ginger Jake was engaged in pushing the green head off the porch using a broom when the Marshal landed his heli-horse beside the Dingy Disco. Together they looked at the head which overnight had re-grown enough of a rubbery body with vestigial arms and legs to climb back onto the porch, shouting in a green rubbery language.
"I hate sore losers" said Ginger Jake giving the head a kick with his boot. "And speaking of that" - he looked hard at the Marshal - "you will be a loser if you try anything else with that dame you tangled with last night. She is an Animod and they are trouble. Rustlers I can understand but Animods are mind thieves and time benders. I heard they won a range war because they kept moving the gun fighters into different time zones. Some guys kept dying over and over so they were some pissed off."
The Marshal dismissed Ginger Jake's objections. It was his duty, as a material witness, to supply a name and address so she could be brought before a judge.
Ginger Jake groaned. "The law is always the same. The sheriff is never around when you want him, too busy looking into matters that don't matter."
The Marshal wrote the name 'Alixia the Animod' on the wanted notice, signed his own imaginative illustration of the 'criminal' with a flourish and sent two of his deputies to deliver it and bring her back.
She put both into the hospital. The doctor pointed out the beautiful symmetry in whip marks when applied by an expert.
The Marshal was impressed. Animod spelt backwards explained a lot. He put on his most striking smoke colored suit with the silver embellishments; placed his silver-handled pistols in their holsters, buckled the spurs to his boots and mounted his heli-horse. It unfolded its wings and, after a canter down the street scattering settlers to left and right, rose into the clouds.
He found the cabin at a little distance from the ranch at the end of a canyon. A window opened. A single thong, fifty feet long, shot out and pulled him off his heli-horse before he had even taxied in for a landing.
He pulled himself out of the woodpile to see her recoiling the whip with the staring handle, and watching him from the door. She looked magnificent in her body-hugging suit: beautiful, dominating, sexy, kinky. His mind was overcrowded with all the adjectives jostling for space.
"Have you come to arrest me or shoot me?" She took off the helmet, releasing a cascade of dark hair, and crossed one booted leg over the other making the costume creak and rustle invitingly like a gift-wrapped parcel. She patted the space beside her. "Let me put Petwhip away and we will talk about it."
He tried to say something about upholding the law but Petwhip glared at him. "I have been told lawmen are all gentlemen and don't shoot their female prisoners with a gun but use a more personal weapon?" She put her black circle lips close to his.
Three celibate years had been a very long time. "Very long," he muttered, pulling his shirt with his badge over his head; looking down, admiring a weapon coming up already loaded.
The bed was the size of a small paddock complete with brass hitching rails. Alixia placed herself in the center, putting her hands to her covered breasts, drawing up her booted knees to stop the spurs cutting the sheets. "You won't mind if I don't undress - Iím rather shy?"
Alixia stared at the Marshal and looked down. "You are quick on the draw - and a long barreled pistol too! Is that all for me?" She made an effort at looking both coy and virginal but, failing at both, gave up and fiddled with her suit.
"You will be gentle, it is my first time." She leant forward and seized him with her gloved arms and pulled him on top. She sighed. "As your prisoner I have no choice but to submit to your animal lust. I would plead with you to preserve my virginity. I could trying sobbing, but you wonít want to see tears or waste any of your time listening to me begging." She pushed pillows down the bed and placed herself carefully.
There was no resistance, rather Alixia was like a vacuum cleaner, the kind with adjustable suction. He didn't mind. He was having a great time anyway. She was making the right kind of SSS noises: sighing, sobbing, screaming. As for her request to be gentle, there was nothing gentle in the way she was writhing with him all over the bed.
It was not at all what he expected. One moment he was on top pushing between her legs; the next he seemed to be floating upside down and finishing under her. Instead of the delicious sensation he was used to, he felt a tempest somewhere down in his dungeon regions. It seemed to last a long time.
He slept. There were dreams. His deputies featured in them. There was a rodeo at the ranch with the winged horses. There were parties and a rowdy picnic under the twin moons. What was strange about these long, confusing dreams was that he could see himself in all of them - smiling at himself.
It was not just that which bothered him but the deputies seemed to have been hardly treating him with the respect due to his rank. He already knew they were all sexual deviants - the only kind of deputies worth having - but the sexual overtures and the kissing, even for a dream, were a bit far-out.
He awoke. He was on the paddock-sized bed. He looked down. He saw shiny black. First he saw the toes and the silver spurs of shiny black boots and then gloves.
With heart-freezing shock he realized he was dressed in her black shiny suit..
A voice - Alixia's voice - inside his head - said, "Ah, good, so you are in Full Realization at last. You certainly took your time. That comes of not having a multi-dimensional mind, I suppose."
He got to his feet and, the unfamiliar boots creaking, moved to the mirror. He saw her complete in every detail, even the dark hair plaited in a ponytail.
He heard the other half of his mind scream, "What has happened to me?"
Her voice went on calmly. "Minds and bodies can be detached, can be realigned, exchanged, relocated in both space and time..."
"Look, where am I? I mean, me, the real me?" His half of his mind was doing its best not to express the terror it was feeling.
"I am - you are - in the Centuri Canyons. We left some time ago to round up some three and four-eyed Ninjuns who escaped from the reservation. Don't you even remember the farewell party you threw for the Marshal, the judge and the deputies? Don't you remember - you almost got seduced by the judge in the hay barn?"
Panic now took over. Frightened by what he could see, he moved from the mirror. On the table there was a huge bowl of purple-scented Podnata cactus blooms. There was a card with them. It said "Thank you for Everything - I mean Everything." It was signed by him but it wasn't his writing, more of a feminine hand.
"How long have I been like this?"
Her part of his mind thought about it. "Maybe a month, probably two, more likely three, I am not good at calculating time the way you do."
"And you have stolen my body?"
"Not stolen, more like borrowed. Do try and take care of my body, by the way. Take plenty of exercise and no late nights."
"When will you be back? I can't stay in a female body. Please." His mind was pleading for him now.
"That rather depends on how quickly we can round up Ominoreg and his Ninjuns Shouldn't be too long now, as we are about to head them off at the pass. I have to be back there with you to do it - same method - sexual orgasmic exchange it is called."
"I feel sick. What am I supposed to do?"
"Be me, of course. Feeling sick - reminds me - I need to talk to you about that."
He did not let her finish. "Just shut up and get out of my head."
Her voice faded from his mind and he was left alone staring at the flowers. Then he was sick, completely spoiling the expensive floral arrangement.
He needed a drink. He very badly needed a drink. Petwhip, its winking lights reminding him it had not been taken anywhere for a long time, lassoed a winged horse for him and reminded him where the saddle and bridle was kept.
He rode slowly up to Ginger Jakeís Saloon trying to organize his mind inside her body. It seemed to be reluctant to obey him now that he was in sole charge. Having two large lumps on his chest got in the way every time he pulled the bridle; the space between his legs did not adjust comfortably to the saddle as he was acutely aware of something missing. He worried about what to do when it came to having a pee.
He found a quiet table in a corner. Ginger Jake took his order. He heard himself asking in her voice for a sandwich as well as the drink: cream cheese and pickled walnuts. Ginger Jake looked at his customer, puzzled. "No call for those - Mex peppers on rye is all."
He felt himself shake her head. Why did he have a curious, overwhelming need to taste a food he never normally liked and nor - somehow he knew - did she?
Her voice was there again, drifting into his mind like mist. "There is no easy way to put this but, yes, youíre pregnant. It was that first afternoon when you so splendidly serviced me. I do so enjoy being raped as the climax is so liberating for the mind. It is the perfect opportunity for mind exchange but I am just as surprised as you are."
There was a pause and then Alixa said, "Now, I don't want you to panic, you are in good health and you have the equipment in excellent working order, even for breast feeding."
There was another pause while he tried to swallow but couldn't. Her voice continued. "In case I donít get back in time, there are some bigger sized suits in the wardrobe. Now that I look down at you, I think it is time you got into one."
A vein began throbbing in protest in the frontier area between the two minds. He heard Alixia laugh. "Think of it as a human first. The ultimate in do-it-yourself."
There was a pause. "I had a peek while I was supplying you with nutritional intake telepathically during your long sleep and itís girl." Another pause. "So I think we should discuss possible names, donít you?"
He said nothing. Deep into his nightmare, staring into his drink, he was oblivious of the noise, the flashing lights, the sickly sound of knives carving green flesh, the screams of pain, the smoke and the pat-pat-shuffle-shuffle of the disco dancers moving to their silent music. He was not even listening to Alixia's ante-natal guide to breathing exercises and bearing-down. He was not even conscious of her promise of a meeting sooner rather than later. Nothing stirred him until he became conscious of someone standing above him, flashing a flickering badge and mouthing words. He looked up. Wearing his smart uniform, was his familiar figure, smiling, smirking, asking for a dance.
Confused rage filled his mind. Petwhip was there on the table, appearing there as though of its own volition. The face cut into the carved handle glowed and it moved and placed itself obediently into a gloved hand. Its power went into the arm and its thongs moved out at supersonic speed. He saw himself lifted off his feet, crashing up and over the bar. "You evil, stupid, careless bastard". It was her voice that shouted but the thought was all his.
The sand had stopped flirting with the breeze and the desert was quiet under the two moons.
"You got another jug?" the first man asked.
The first man sighed. "Then weís got to get another."
The second man pulled a face. "Ah, gee, George. Doing that gives me a two day headache."
Only way, Louie. Going back only ways I knows."
The two men sat staring at the desert, their brows drawn down.
"You concentrating Louie?"
"Concentrating. Concentrating, George."
There was a long silence while the two moons slowly moved down to the horizon until just the first one was left to light the two figures. Then, with an almost audible pop, they rose again and the breeze came back and played with the sand.
"Hand me the jug, Louie."
The man named George took a long drink. "Damn me, if that ainít tasting better than last time." He handed the jug back.
"I got me a humdinger headache, George. Same every time we do this time shifting stuff."
"Enough of this cactus juice and it will crack you a better one." George filled his pipe with the weed growing through the cracks in the deck. It burnt with a fierce blue flame. He sucked on the pipe reflectively and coughed. "Tastes like shit." He coughed again. "Well, letís see now, my tale about the Marshall; this was how it was, the ways I remember."