The Aurora Universe - Redux
A tribute to the writers of the AUWGF. A retelling of Aurora's first tale.
(Click on highlighted text for the visual imagery that inspired the scene.)
Earth/1, August, 2009
The celestial light show started just after sunset on Thursday night. Brilliant bursts of white light mingled with the flickering stars far overhead, sometimes accompanied by a smear of color that stretched halfway across the heavens. Every amateur telescope on the planet tuned in to the phenomena, but no one had ever seen anything like it before.
CNN devoted ten minutes to it on Friday morning. They interviewed a scientist who said the fireworks were the result of unusually strong solar flares. Another interview with an astronomer disputed that. He claimed that he'd triangulated the location of the lights to a band of space just inside the orbit of Jupiter. A place referred to as the Asteroid Belt.
The flashes were a lot brighter on Friday night. An occasional pinpoint would sometimes grow so bright that it left an afterimage on one's retina. Billions of people stood outside under the stars until dawn, their eyes filled with wonder.
Some people began to worry, especially those who'd made a hobby of reading the better science fiction. The author of the current best selling science fiction novel, Brantley Thompson Elkins of New York, was interviewed by three Networks. In essence he told them that anything that was that bright while that far away was incredibly dangerous. Based on the pure white spectrum of some bursts, he speculated about matter/anti-matter explosions. And the bursts seemed to be getting brighter by morning.
CNN interviewed another astronomer on the morning News. He said the flashes were inside the orbit of Mars now. Whatever it was, it was moving fast.
The sky was so bright on Saturday night that people had to wear dark glasses to keep their eyes from tearing. Faint sparks were now visible shooting across the heavens, dozens of them each hour. At 4:30am, CNN put up a Special Bulletin. NORAD had locked down their Combat Operations Center in Colorado Springs for the first time in thirty-five years. Soon afterward, an orange-white burst turned the heavens into a kaleidoscope of color. CNN reported that the location of that flare was only a million miles from Earth.
The military huddled deep in their underground command posts, and for good reason. Their instruments had determined that the radiated spectrum of some of the bursts was consistent with deuro-tritium fusion, a next generation nuclear weapon whose development had been scrapped after the Cold War ended. On Earth at least. Other bursts consisted of monotonic-frequency photonic particles, the expected result of a matter/anti-matter explosion, just like Elkins had predicted.
People didn't have to know what the flashes were to be terrified by them. It was clear to everyone that they were getting closer. Terrifyingly close. The fear of the unknown, especially horrors from outer space, man's greatest dread, spread like a chilling wave across the world.
The International Space Station was the first actual casualty. A very large burst detonated just outside the Moon's orbit, and the radiation melted the solar panels on the station. The crew made a run for it in their lifeboat: the Soyuz capsule.
They'd barely made it to the protection of the atmosphere when a burst between the Earth and Moon took out all the geosynchronous satellites. A single rocket soared upward from Vandenberg Air Force base in California, and a cooler burst of nuclear annihilation merged with a tiny but very bright return on their radars. The blip continued on as if nothing had happened.
One thousand miles above Canada
Aurora had caught up with and embraced the small weapon just as it rose out of the atmosphere. It was a tactical nuke designed for killing satellites. She'd tried to smother it in her arms, hoping to direct its radiation outward. She didn't want to risk blinding anyone on the ground from such a low-altitude burst. The blazing sun-like heat from the fission made her breasts burn for only a moment before she absorbed most of the energy, effectively snuffing it out. Compared to the massive Arion weapons that had scorched her skin these last few days, it was a welcome snack of pure energy. She was far more concerned with watching the Soyuz detach from the damage space station, its retro-rockets firing to slow it enough to re-enter the atmosphere. Fortunately, it looked undamaged.
She turned her attention the other way, narrowing her eyes to focus in on the remaining Raven. The Arion flight crew was very good. They'd nearly tagged her with a really big nuke after she'd found their ship hiding behind the moon. If it had burst any closer than a thousand metrons from her, she would have been the next casualty of this dirty little war. As it was, it had left her skin and hair glowing as brightly as the sun.
The Raven's crew pressed on, seemingly determined to go to ground like the other half dozen ships that had slipped through her defenses. She knew she should be proud of single-handedly stopping a force of nearly two-hundred Ravens, but six ships still meant that two dozen Arions were on the ground, most of them Primes. She was determined not to add another one to her shame.
Tensing every muscle in her body, she launched herself toward the attacking Raven, accelerating at fifty G's. She'd take it out like she had all the others: using her invulnerable body as a kinetic weapon. A head-on collision at many thousands of kiloms per hour closing rate would tear apart even Vendorian steel, often as not degrading the shielding of the anti-matter engines. They would detonate seconds later, killing most of the Primes on board, leaving only a handful of survivors to drift helplessly in space, doomed to a long, lingering death from dehydration. The Betan pilots and crew would be luckier. Their death would be instant.
It hadn't always been this way. Especially the concept of using her body as a kinetic weapon. Hundreds of years of Arion/Velorian warfare had ground to a standstill during the last fifty years, with the Arions gradually taking the initiative on sheer numbers alone. If not for Professor Yaril And'ricks and his work with the Maternity Engine, and then Aphrodite and her generosity, they'd still be stalemated. But no longer. Aurora was fighting back and she was winning.
Aurora was proud to be the first of her class. P1. She was even prouder of the title that Aphrodite had bestowed on her: Protector. Maybe if the Council understood how hard she fought for them, they'd show some compassion. But instead, they'd condemned her to death. In their eyes, she'd committed the ultimate crime. She'd traveled to Manhome. To the Origin planet. The home of all mankind. To forbidden Earth.
Aurora knew that even if they did find her, even if they took her home to Velor for the ultimate punishment, she'd do it again in a heartbeat. She'd just single-handedly saved Earth from falling into the clutches of the Empire. The Terrans wouldn't have known they were being conquered until it was over. Arion infiltration tactics involved putting their people into high places and gradually taking over the political and commercial power structures of a planet. It was far more profitable to defeat their enemies from inside than to bomb them into submission from space.
She was the only one who’d believed it could happen on Earth. Despite the evidence of Arion infiltration on most other Terran worlds, the Velorian Council had refused to believe that the Arions would ever land on Earth. They were old men and they knew only the lessons of previous battles. They didn't understand the ways that the universe was changing, and they only grudgingly accepted that the Empire had become determined to hold all of humanity in its iron fist. Still, they never believed the Arions would interfere on Earth. The Galen's had declared Earth off limits. The Empire would respect the Galen, out of fear if nothing else. Arions did understand fear.
Aurora had believed that too, at least until she met Valdimar Zag'rev during one of her early training missions from Velor. She'd made a Dimensional Jump to Bedor Two, one of the few planets that welcomed both Empire and Enlightenment. Valdimar was the son of a prominent Arion trader. Primal-born like his father, he'd turned his back on the Empire to join his father's private venture. A venture that looked more like piracy than commerce to the Council.
Aurora’s mission objective had been to bring Valdimar's father to justice. After a violent confrontation with he and his crew, ending when she tore her way into the pirate's Vendorian steel fortress, supposedly an impossibility for a Velorian, she bound him in gold and took him back to her ship. His son Valdimar wasn't on the wanted list, so she naively allowed him to accompany his father to Velor for trial.
Val, as she soon called him, wasn't anything like the men she knew on Velor, nor was he a typical Arion. Instead of the insufferable arrogance of a Velorian man, or the crude sexual domination of an Arion male, Val tried to understand her thoughts and respect her feelings. He was fascinated with her unusual strength, never having believed that a Velorian could be stronger than an Arion. Especially not a girl half a dozen years younger than him, not even out of her teens.
He was the first man Aurora had met who was interested in becoming more than merely her friend. She found him both charming and fearless, a combination that made him roguishly handsome in her eyes. Without realizing it, she lost her heart to him. Her virginity soon followed, releasing the pent up lustiness of a Velorian. Val used a pirate’s experience with women to bring her pleasures that only a goddess could know, especially given that she hadn’t bound him with the same gold as his father. In her inexperience and enthusiasm, she forgot about the stigma her people attached to anyone who slept with the enemy.
For his part, Val was entranced by Aurora's pale hair, so different than a raven-tressed Arion, and even more with her gentle nature. Even while capturing his father, he'd seen her use the minimum force necessary to accomplish her goal. So very different than Arion boastfulness and excessive cruelty.
They did nothing but make love and talk during the time it took to get back to Velor. Val described how he'd grown up thinking Velorians were weak and retiring, more concerned with their beauty and blonde perfection than interacting with the rest of the universe. Pale and diminished cousins, they lacked the edgy emotions and lust for life that every Arion was born with. Most significantly, he'd never imagined a girl from Velor could match his erotic strength, nor return even a fraction of his desire.
She told him that her people were changing. Some of them anyway. They were growing stronger, and they had Protectors like herself now. They were going to protect sentient life, particularly humans, wherever they found it. The Enlightenment would expand throughout the universe to bring freedom and self-determination to everyone. She talked endlessly about the honor that came from encouraging a sentient race to develop its potential, much like a delicate flower that needs to be protected from wind and frost.
Val scoffed at her Velorian naivety, telling her that while he had no love for the Empire, its leaders were beginning to lose their fear of the Galen. They would act even more boldly as their mandate to honor the Prime Directive weakened. He'd overheard boasts that said the Empire would soon make Earth its own. Once they'd done that, they would hold the genetic keys to all humanity. A do-good Velorian, focusing on the sensitivities and cultural needs of her protectorate, would not survive long when faced with a team of aggressive and militaristic Arions who wanted to conquer that world.
It was the longest and most excruciatingly frustrating three weeks of the crew's lives. She was the only female on the ship, and she was the source of their misery, casting her pheromones with the inexperience of a teenage girl, her cries of passion seemingly constant. Aurora was oblivious to the crew's plight, having eyes as she did for only one man, her first love. The crew finally spilled out the ship's hatch like rats escaping a trap, seeking comfort in any arms that would have them. Aurora and Val were the last to leave the ship. She'd wished the voyage would go on forever.
Aurora appeared before the Council to talk about Val's boasts, but the old men didn't listen. What would the son of a pirate know about Empire strategy? And what would a woman who'd disgraced herself by sleeping with him know about the higher calling of the Enlightenment?
But Aurora believed him in her heart. And when Val was condemned to death beside his father, she visited him in his prison, allegedly to say goodbye. She shocked the other prisoners and guards by encouraging Val to make love to her through the bars. It was an act that crossed the line of propriety even on a world as sexually liberal as Velor, but the guards didn’t try to stop them. It was his last wish after all, even if he was Arion. What they didn’t know was that between her nineteen year old enthusiasm, Aphrodite's gift of strength and the multiplying eroticism of her passion, she was using her fantastic strength to bend the thick bars of his prison open – something that should have been impossible in a gold field. Each of her youthful cries of passion covered up the squeal of bending steel, her straining back and arms a maze of fantastic curves, her pheromones filling the air. Even the most hardened of criminals felt his heart melt as the young lovers shared their passions with each other for a final time.
Everyone was thoroughly distracted by her scent the time Val squeezed through the bent bars and gathered an exhausted Aurora up in his arms to run for their lives. He was now equally convinced that they were the only people who could stop the Empire from reaching Earth.
She and Val eluded the authorities long enough to reprogram a Dimensional Engine, and her friend Kendor found a way to bypass the safeguards. She shocked Kendor by saying goodbye in the traditional way, barely having time to grab her clothes and make a run for it before the Enforcers beat down the door of the Dimensional Lab. Val pulled her through the hatch of the Engine and bolted the door as their capsule evaporated in a shower of sparks, beginning its one-way trip to the Forbidden Planet.
She hadn't always been so daring. And without Val's influence, she never would have become so. Growing up in Excelsor, an industrial city on the southern continent of Velor, Aurora helped her father run his business after her mother disappeared. Her mother had been part of an elite contingent of Velorian soldiers who'd been trying to perfect new tactics to defeat the more powerful Primes.
Aurora first realized that she was different than other girls when she started school. She was taller and stronger than the other children. She remained so as she went through her Primary years and began the intensive athletics that were the norm on Velor. She asked to play on the boy's teams, and found even then that she was stronger than any of them.
Her father tried to explain why, but he understood only part of the story. He knew that her mother had volunteered to be part of a program to create a more powerful soldier, and that the Maternity Engine had been modified by a genetics team from the University. It had been programmed to create an embryo whose DNA was outside the controls the Galen had placed on Velorian reproduction. Implanted back into her mother, Aurora was the first child born of a new genetic class. They called it P1.
Unfortunately, the always cautious Council members grew fearful of defying the Galen's controls on the Maternity Engine, and immediately ordered the program shut down.
Aurora discovered how horribly difficult it is to grow up being different. Kids at school teased her cruelly about her height and her unusually large muscles, and the boys avoided her. By the time she was eighteen, she was convinced she was the only virgin on Velor.
Her school had no idea what to do with her either. She was academically bright, but undistinguished. Her physical talents were the most obvious. They slotted her into a program designed to develop professional athletes. She became a Scrumbles player, a rough and tumble sport that any Terran would recognize as an extreme form of Rugby. Often as not, it involved tossing the ballcarrier over the goal posts and not just the ball.
Her father knew that she’d been destined for bigger things, and he used the last of his influence to get her a slot at Velor's prestigious military academy. He'd been a distinguished military officer before retiring with his disabilities. There Aurora began to learn the trade of soldiering, just like her parents before her.
She still managed to come home on weekends, as much to help her father in his business as to avoid her fellow cadets. They resented how easily she mastered them in hand-to-hand combat. In the rigid patriarchy of Velor, especially in the military, girls were supposed to be the weaker sex. They filled support and administrative roles. They didn’t join Combat Arms. Aurora was the first.
Walking through the steamy locker room of her father's gym one day, picking up discarded towels and shoving them down the cleaning chute, she paused to look at herself in the mirror. Standing naked as was the custom in a Velorian gym, she saw how her skin was a darker shade of gold than the others, her body lean and hard. Her hair had grown down to her waist now, and was more golden in color than anyone else's. Her eyes were large, their color sky-blue as opposed to the usual aquamarine, and her figure was far more generous. Her muscles were thicker and stronger than any other girl, and she stood a head taller than the normal 1.8 metrons of a Velorian femme.
Her father and his old army buddy, Jarod, were the only ones who told her she was beautiful. Jarod in particular encouraged her to make herself stronger, even going so far as to build gym equipment that only she had the strength to use. She took perverse pleasure in growing stronger yet, often shocking her father's clients by working out during a busy time of the day. Everyone would cluster around her and just watch as she lifted weights that no one else could budge. Jarod would proudly massage her body when she became sore, telling her that her special strength was the gift of anyone born P1.
Aurora sighed at that memory. She’d had to stop working out during gym hours after many of her father’s customers threatened to quit. The most polite simply said that the gym was for men. Others were less kind, talking about the girl with freaky muscles. Freak. How many times had she heard that word. She turned sideways to study her reflection. Relaxed like she was now, she didn't think she looked that much different than other girls. Maybe a few more curves, but being slender, fit and well-endowed was the norm on Velor. It was only when she exerted herself that men either became afraid of her or disgusted by her.
She glanced at her watch as she polished the mirror. If she hurried, she could still meet Kendor for dinner before she had to catch a flitter back to the Academy. At least he was willing to be her friend.
She was almost done cleaning the locker room when Jarod entered. He held a white envelope with red trimmings as he walked up to stand beside her. He smiled at her image in the mirror.
"You are so beautiful, Aurora."
She grimaced. "Only to you and Dad. Everyone else thinks I'm a freak."
"Not everyone." He handed her the letter.
Aurora quickly opened it, only to gasp when she saw the delicate calligraphy inside. She looked back at Jarod, eyes wide. "Aphrodite wants me to meet her? A Protector's Rites?" She turned the note over, but the backside was blank. "What's a Protector?"
"What you were born to be, Aurora. The Council has rescinded its prohibition on enhancement. You are to be the first."
Aurora gasped. She knew about enhancement. The retrovirus that every Velorian carried within them could sometimes transfer a portion of their DNA matrix to another person. It was the most forbidden of all intimacies. It corrupted the genetic perfection of the Maternity Engine.
"It's a sin. And illegal and…"
"And it is your destiny. The Council now permits it, but only for those born P1."
"There are more like me?" Aurora asked breathlessly.
"Dozens, although the next oldest, Kara, is barely in her teens."
"Kara? You mean there are other girls?" For the first time, Aurora felt a thread of hope.
He laughed. "The P1 class is exclusively female."
Aurora said nothing for a long moment as that sunk in. "I don't understand. Men are stronger, more capable of fighting."
"Have you ever found that true, Aurora?"
"Well, not in my case, but then I'm…"
"Special," he finished. "And so are your sisters. What your mother and the researchers found was that only female DNA could endure the changes they made in the Maternity Engine."
"But what does Aphrodite want with me?"
"The Goddess keeps her own council. She has never summoned anyone before. But given that the Goddess has asked for you, and now the relaxation of the law against enhancement, we can only assume it is related to you being a P1."
"She's a Galen and her name is Aphrodite. You can say the words."
"No, we should not, Aurora. She is Velor's greatest secret. If the Arions knew of your dear mother's efforts to bring her here, they'd never let us live in peace."
"My mother brought her here?" Aurora gasped. "Dad never told me that."
"The mission that claimed her life was that of rescuing Aphrodite from being sucked into the neutron star like most of their females. Your mother led a science team that took a Dimensional Engine deep into the gravity well. Aphrodite was old and frail, her lifespan without reckoning, but she carried the power of the creator within her. Your mother exchanged herself for the goddess. She made it possible for Aphrodite to bring a power back to Velor that will soon be yours."
"I'm not sure I…"
Jarod lifted his hands to embrace her in a way that would have been horribly inappropriate on any world but Velor. Caressing her ever so gently, he traced his fingers around her large nipples, making them harder. She gasped as a flurry of wonderful tingles raced through her body, and her eyes grew softer as her body awoke. She leaned her head on his shoulder.
His voice was soft, comforting. "You are a woman now, Aurora, and you are ready for your destiny. You were born for this moment. You are stronger than any other being who has ever lived."
"I'm still a girl… not yet a…"
"Shhh," he said softly. He lifted his hands to brush her silky hair behind her shoulders. "I promised your mother I would help you grow up. Although I had not planned on helping you become a woman in exactly this way."
"I don’t understand," she started to say, even as her pounding heart told him she did. Then, "but I'm too strong. I might hurt you."
"Then it is your strength that we will learn to tame, just as we have before. Not to lift weights or bend steel, but instead, we will learn to turn it inward, making it the source of your pleasures."
He smiled as she looked back at him with a girlish blend of curiosity and nervousness. He saw the trust in her eyes. They'd been close for so long. She smiled as his touch became more urgent, her stiffening nipples signaling the rise of the volcano of passion that all Velorians possessed inside. It lay just beneath the surface, coiled like a spring waiting to be released. "Think of this as just one more type of strength to explore with your unique talents. You will master the art of loving like you have all other physical skills."
That was a year ago. Now she and Val were living on Earth. They were both tremendously empowered by the absence of a gold field, and in her case, also from Aphrodite's enhancement.
It had been a very hard year. After her enhancement in Aphrodite's arms, the Council had once again retreated from their avowed mission to restore the galactic power balance. Under veiled threats from the Empire, they kept Aurora home, sending her out only on what they called training missions. They sent the younger P1’s to a special school, out of sight and mind.
Aurora soon grew frustrated at being constrained. Her dreams each night were those of saving Earth. She eventually took matters in her own hands in the way of a Protector and prepared for an illegal journey to Earth. Her mission was sacred and it was right, even if no one else understood it. Her act of setting Val free after he'd been condemned to death ensured that she was condemned as well. Still, she intended to fight bravely for the loftiest goals of the Enlightenment. Empowering humanity. Nurturing sentience in all its forms. A dream that the Council and most other Velorians had forgotten.
And now she'd finished her greatest battle. She'd stopped an Arion armada that didn't officially exist. She'd fought them in the Sol system where they supposedly never ventured. If she'd not been there to stop them, a thousand infiltrators would even now be corrupting Earth's culture and institutions from the inside out.
Such were her thoughts as she raced toward her head-on collision with the last Arion ship. She narrowed her eyes and channeling all her strength and concentration into the simple act of colliding with it. It grew from a distant spec to a mountain of Vendorian steel in half the blink of an eye. She never felt the shattering impact or saw the blinding flash as its antimatter drive burst in yet another violent flare of color. Groggy and disoriented but alive, she squinted through unfocused eyes toward Earth, desperately hoping that Val was having success in tracking down the landing parties who'd made it to Earth.
Minot, North Dakota
Val and Aurora weren't the ones reeling from the attack. The military commanders from the US Space Command were screaming into satellite Comm links that no longer worked. Radio reception had turned to static as well. Phone lines had a horrible hum on them. The officers in the underground capsules looked at each other and wondered what was going on. Should they launch? And at what? Some moving points in space?
Without effective communication, the world's military leaders began to lose control of their forces. Generals dug deeply into their attack scenarios, only to find that there were no credible battle plans for repelling an invasion from space. Not that it mattered. They had very few weapons which could engage targets outside the atmosphere.
Fortunately, the burst that took out the space station was the closest one to Earth. Subsequent bursts moved further and further away and became less frequent. Some officers hypothesized that an attacking force had been defeated and was now fighting a retreat back to Jupiter. CNN interviewed an influential science fiction writer named Ed Howdershelt from Florida who suggested that someone or something was protecting the Earth. Pure speculation of course, but his interview left one question on everyone's lips. If it was true, who was their protector?
Monday night passed without any more bursts. Yet still the world remained on the brink of war, waiting for the other shoe to fall. Generals began to worry that somebody's finger would flinch on a trigger and start a nuclear war. Days passed, everyone watching, waiting. Slowly, ever so slowly, the world began to relax.
The newly elected US President, Arnold Schwarnager, finally decided to put on a show of normality. He'd fought a long battle to get to the White House, including politicking for the passage of a constitutional amendment that allowed a naturalized citizen to become president. He liked the pressure, and he was used to being the top newsmaker. His only problem was that since the lights in the sky had begun, he'd felt like a character in one of his old movies, and that scared him more than anything. But he put on a brave face and told people to go back to their jobs and back to school. He asked them to pick up their lives where they'd left off.
He provided an example by flying to Mexico with his wife to attend a celebrity golf tournament. The two of them were the darlings of the world's media. Sometimes also the butt of their jokes, but that came with the territory. The Terminator and the Kenney. Between her vast connections and his popularity among ordinary men and women, they ran the country as if it was a small town. They doled out straight talk and common sense and not a lot of complicated policies. Unfortunately, simplistic ideas of government didn’t always work as well in real life as his "I'll be back" plots had done in the movies. But after the StarWar, as the space battle was now called in the news, the world needed the bravado of the Terminator to regain its confidence.
The Secret Service naturally wasn't happy that the President was out of the Hole, and they sent extra agents to Mexico with him. That was just as well, for all the crazies, kooks and whack jobs had crawled out of their holes by now. The truly insane were like canaries in a coal mine -- the first ones to go off the deep end when the global anxiety rose. The End-of-the-World people were screaming into every microphone they could commandeer. Someone needed to put the lid back on it all, and the Terminator, as he was called by his fans, was just the man to rebuild confidence.
Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam
BinTran sat next to Maya as they enjoyed their lunch. They were at an outdoor café next to the orphanage that she'd founded, and he was one of the young boys she'd given a new life to. He watched her eyes as she did her little trick again, making the bottle of chili sauce start bubble just by looking at it. Magic.
He called her mother, although she wasn't really. He didn't care. He was just happy that she was generous and kind and beautiful. People said she was a lady from heaven itself. He believed them.
Maya had saved his life that one day near Danang. He'd been playing along the side of a trail, and had stepped on an old landmine. It had triggered with a loud click. Like all the children of Vietnam, he knew to freeze. If he took his weight off the trigger, he would be blown to bits. He screamed and cried for help, even as he knew at his young age that no one would come to help him. With the horrible certainty that only a four-year-old boy in Vietnam could feel, he knew he was going to die.
Yet someone did come. A car driving by on the dusty road stopped and a Western woman had gotten out. She'd rushed over to sit at his feet, wrapping her long legs around his ankle as she hugged him in her arms. She spoke in his native tongue, asking him to be brave. He nodded, tears running down his cheeks. He felt her hand on his ankle, and he screamed fearfully as she jerked his foot free. What he didn't know was that she closed her bare legs tightly around the powerful mine at the same time.
The only thing he remembered was a loud bang and the feeling of flying through the air, and then falling into the woman's arms as they splashed down in a rice paddy. Her dress was torn and smoking, but she was smiling like an angel. From that day forward, she'd become the mother he'd never had.
"What do all those lights in the sky mean, Maya," he said, his English almost flawless now.
"It means that I am no longer alone, BinTran."
"The others have come? Like you?"
She nodded. "Soon, your world will be safe again. No more wars. No more suffering."
"I love you, mommy," he smiled. If the others were like her, then he would not be the only boy lucky enough to have a new mother.
"But I have to go away for a while, BinTran."
"A month. Maybe two." He reached out to hug her tightly. She kissed his forehead, tears in her eyes as well. "I have to tell my friends what I have learned, BinTran, so they can bring peace to Earth as fast as possible."
Maya didn't like to lie to BinTran, but things were happening too fast now for her to know precisely what to say. She'd delivered the last of her cache of gold to the orphanage office only that morning. Assuming no one stole it, it would provide for the children for the next ten years. If her worst fears were confirmed, she might not come back at all.
She'd cried as she'd watched the destruction of the first wave of their proud ships. Clearly the Terrans hadn't repelled them, and the Vendorians had been decimated decades ago and were no longer a threat. That left only the Velorians. But that made no sense either. They'd chosen to isolate themselves on their golden planet, confident in their belief in the Prime Directive, hoping the rest of the universe would forget about them.
She decided that it must have something to do with the rumors she'd heard about a new weapon system. Unconfirmed rumors of course, but even when she left home three years ago, there had been whispers about something called at Protector. Presumably a stronger kind of Velorian, although other rumors had said the Velorians had abandoned the concept. From what she’d just seen in the sky, that was obviously untrue.
Her job was to find this Velorian and destroy him. Something that normally wouldn't be that much of a challenge for a Prime such as herself. She had many times the strength of a Velorian male, and she'd learned a hundred ways to kill. Still, the idea of a stronger kind of Velorian was disconcerting, but once she got close enough to use her pheromones, her scent would compel him to embrace her, just like any other man. And once she had him in her arms, most importantly once he was engrossed in making love to her, the remaining moments of his life would be numbered. Like all Arion femmes, her greatest strength was inside, and her skill at draining a man's lifeforce during loving were legendary.
That thought sent a wave of tingling desire through her. After living on this world of Frails, a Velorian's strength and vitality would provide for great sport. She'd have to make sure he didn't die too quickly.
President Schwarnager was on the 8th hole of the Guadalupe Golf Course when the Secret Service's radio links began crackling. A young woman had just stepped out of the crowd to approach one of the agents. She claimed to have new knowledge about how the space station had been destroyed. The agent wasn't impressed. A million other cranks thought they had the answer too. He was about to order the woman back into the crowd when she started talking about deuro-tritium and directed-energy weapons. Also something about anti-matter bursts. The agent had no idea what they were, but he called it in just in case.
Jolie Howardson, the President's Press Secretary was in the Command Center when his call came in. She listened to the agent's report, and when he repeated the woman's comments about the weapon types, her ears pricked up. She'd learned far more than she'd ever wanted to know about nuclear weapons during the last weeks. Only a handful of top government leaders were supposed to be privy to NORAD's spectral analysis. Clearly, they had a serious security leak on their hands.
"She's probably just hysterical," Jolie told the agent in charge. "Bring her around to the parking lot behind the trailer." She didn't need another loony freaking out in front of a CNN camera.
The girl wasn't hard to find. A dozen agents and support team members were gathered around a very tall blonde. She looked young, nineteen or twenty perhaps, and easily six feet tall. She wore a frilly blue denim dress that was cut low in the front and short in the hem. She was lean and athletic looking with waist-length hair and sky blue eyes set in a rounded face. She also had a figure that could get a rise out of Hugh Hefner. And he'd been dead for years.
Unexpectedly, the girl proved to be the least hysterical looking person Jolie had ever met. Her posture and eyes projected an unnatural sense of calmness and confidence. When she looked at Jolie, she seemed to look inside, not just at the surface.
"I need to see the President," was the first thing she said when Jolie walked up to her. "Alone." Her voice was strongly accented, but Jolie couldn't place it. Almost Russian, but with a lilting touch of French?
"That isn't possible," Jolie said with a shake of her head. "He's a very busy man." She knew this game all too well. A number of beautiful women had thrown themselves at the President since he'd come into office. Part of Jolie's job was to keep them away. Schwarnager had once had a reputation as a womanizer, and they didn't need a repeat of the Clinton catastrophe. "But you can tell me anything you'd tell him. In confidence."
"Nothing is impossible," the girl replied stubbornly. "And I will talk only to him." She pushed her blonde tresses behind her shoulders to reveal the low cut of her dress.
She had the firmest figure Jolie had ever seen. She sighed at the sad thought of all that silicone in such a young woman, and held out her hand. "I think we're getting off on the wrong foot, young lady. My name is Jolie Howardson. I'm the President's Press Secretary."
The girl held out her hand, and Jolie winced in pain from the strongest handshake she'd ever felt.
"I've come to save your world. Just tell your President that."
Jolie tried not to smirk. Another crazy for sure. She decided to be kind anyway. The last weeks had been nerve wracking for everyone.
"Give me your name and we'll get back to you."
"I'll share it only with him."
"Well, I'm very sorry then," Jolie said with a note of finality. "But the President can't see everyone who wants to help."
"Some of us can help a great deal more than others."
Jolie rolled her eyes toward one of the agents, and started to turn away. This wasn't going anywhere.
"Perhaps you should tell him about this," the girl said.
Jolie stopped to look back as the girl casually bent down to grip the bumper of the armored SWAT van that was parked next to them. When she stood back up, a shocking maze of tight muscle was visible across her back and bare shoulder. Even more startlingly, the front end of the SWAT van rose with her.
"What the hell… what kind of trick is this?"
"The point is… it isn't," she said smoothly, no effort audible in her voice. Her forearm slowly turned hard-edged with even more muscle. Jolie stared uncomprehendingly as the thick steel groaned and squealed as it gave way under her grip. She watched as the girl studied her own hand as if it was a curiosity, and then slowly straightened her wrist. The truck's springs groaned and the frame gave off an alarming series of popping noises. Everyone gasped as the back end of the truck rose off the ground to dangle level with the front. The girl turned to smile at Jolie as she stood up tall, holding her arm straight out at shoulder height.
For the first time in her life, Jolie was at a loss for words. What she was seeing was impossible. Then she remembered the girl's words: "Nothing is impossible."
The Secret Service agents reacted as they'd been trained to do when facing an unknown threat. Before Jolie knew what was happening, one agent slipped protectively in front of her as another pushed her down and leaned over her. Men were shouting at the girl to lay face down on the ground.
Despite her confusion and fear, Jolie looked up to study the girl's eyes. They sparkled not only with intelligence, but with a soft edge of compassion. And maybe just a little sadness. It was the look of an angel. A thrill raced through Jolie's body as it finally dawned on her what was going on.
This girl wasn’t of this world!
Her mouth went dry and her ears began to ring as a chilling tingle rose up her back. The word extraterrestrial echoed through her mind. A voice in the back of her head told her she was witnessing what would later be considered one of the most dramatic moments in Earth's history.
A sense of calm came over her. She suddenly knew that this was the destiny she'd been born to fulfill. Her name was going to be in every history book. That unworthy thought was quickly chased away by another. This wasn't about her. She rose back to her feet and brushed herself off. She'd always managed to remain cool no matter what the crisis. It had always been her job to keep thinking even when everyone else was on the verge of panicking. The greater the tension, the more Jolie's thoughts turned to humor, usually the ironic kind.
Whatever grand thoughts science fiction writers had predicted for the first shared words between human and extraterrestrial, they weren't what Jolie blurted out. "Let me guess? Your friends call you Supergirl?"
Aurora smiled as she continued to hold the armored truck at arm's length. "Only in bed."
Jolie laughed, surprised to find that the girl had a womanly sense of humor. "So you know a few things about Earth culture." An ironic thought cross her mind. Comic book heroines and Earth culture? Now that was really funny.
"What do you want us to do with her, Ma'am?" the agent in charge asked nervously. He was staring dumbfounded at the DOT placard on the heavily loaded truck. The placard said it weighed 29,127 pounds. Empty.
Jolie glanced at the questioning agent, then back at the girl. She forced herself to smile. "I suppose you can set that thing down now, deary. I think you've made your point."
The statuesque blonde smiled softly as she lowered the truck. It bounced heavily on overloaded springs as she slowly tore her fingers from the mangled steel. She brushed her hands off as her muscles softened, her arms looking slender again. The transformation was dramatic. "Now will you take me to see your President?"
"I need time to make some arrangements." Jolie wanted to talk to both the FBI and Justice first. She had no idea what the laws said about jurisdiction over extraterrestrials.
"It would also be best if as few people as possible know what you have just learned about me."
Jolie glanced at the cameras over on the other side of the golf course. Was she trying to avoid being seen by someone monitoring Earth's communications? She looked down at the twisted steel of the truck's reinforced bumper and shivered. Anyone that could worry this girl must be some kind of monster.
Jolie shook off that scary thought. It was her job to manage the boundaries of fact and fantasy, to decide what was disclosed and what was not. She thought of the premise of Occoms Razor. Assuming there were multiple explanations for a phenomena, the simplest explanation was usually the right one. Schwarnager's reputation as a womanizer wasn't deserved, but if the news hounds got a picture of this girl with him, they'd assume the worst. It would be damaging publicity for sure, but it would also be the perfect smokescreen to cover up the reality of a First Contact.
The girl looked upward to stare off into space for a long moment. She looked worried when she looked back at Jolie. "We don’t have much time left."
Jolie made her decision. "Get me two grounds keepers up here,” she snapped at the agent in charge. “I'll take her out to see the President myself."
The agent looked doubtful. "I can't authorize such a risk. We don't know anything about…"
"Then I will authorize it," Jolie interrupted angrily. "Besides, you want to try to stop her if she decides to go on her own?"
The agent glanced at the bent bumper, up at the blonde and then back at Jolie. "For the record, she's your responsibility, Ma'am."
Two green-jacketed grounds keepers showed up a moment later, both of them trying valiantly not to stare at the blonde. They weren't very successful.
"Where's the President now?" Jolie asked.
"Getting ready to tee off on the ninth."
"Take us there. Fast." She turned to lead the way down a long green carpet that led to the golf carts. Turning back to glance at the girl, she saw her slip her arm through the older grounds keeper's arm. She looked ridiculously young and outrageously blonde as she smiled back at Jolie. Good God, the Press was going to go nuts when they saw her.
President Schwarnager was selecting a club for his second shot from the fairway when he saw Jolie and two green-jacketed men drive up in an oversized golf cart. They stepped out of the cart to stand beside a strikingly tall blonde. Her hair glowed like spun gold in the sun, and her eyes sparkled pale blue as they met his. "Hold on Stuart," he said to his Secretary of State. "I think Jolie has something for me."
Stuart Caldwell paused in mid-swing to follow his boss' gaze. He chuckled. "You lucky old dog. Is Jolie pimping for you now?"
"It's not that. Something's up, Stuart," Schwarnager said in his famous accent. "She wouldn't bring a looker like that out here in front of the cameras if it wasn't vital."
Both men stared as Jolie led the way up the small rise in front of them. She was breathing hard as she struggled up the slope, but the blonde walked with an athletic grace that was almost feline. She looked as if her feet were barely touching the ground. "Mr. President, this may sound strange, but this young woman knows what's been going on lately. She's one… ah, she's one, you know, of them."
Jolie glanced upward.
Schwarnager followed her gaze, then quickly looked back down at the girl. His practiced eye dissected her before concluding that she had one of the best figures he'd ever seen. He remembered the way she'd walked. Like she was weightless. He lifted one eyebrow as if to ask Jolie, "are you sure?" She nodded.
His look wasn't lost on the girl. "I was the target of those deuro-tritium weapons, Mr. President. By letting them exhaust their weapons on me, I slowed them down. I also managed to take out their first wave of ships. Most of them anyway. But we need to work together if Earth is going to remain yours."
Schwarnager glanced back at Stuart, who winked at him. A private joke?
"Don't underestimate her," Jolie whispered in his ear. "Think Supergirl and you'll be getting warm."
Schwarnager smiled vacantly while trying to figure out the joke. It wasn't his birthday or anything. "Nice body," was all he said as his eyes wandered. He caught himself staring at her legs. He jerked his eyes up to look sharply at Jolie. "This is a bad joke. Or bad timing. The Space Station crew barely got back. The world is watching."
Jolie was taken back. The President thought it was a joke? She cursed. Of course he would, he hadn't seen what she'd done with the SWAT truck. She had to think fast. Her eyes landed on the golf ball in his hand. She took the girl's hand and pulled her closer to the President. She moved smoothly, compliantly. She put her slender hand in his big mitt. "Show him."
Aurora nodded. She pulled Schwarnager's hand forward against her stomach as she gripped the golf ball between thumb and index finger. Nobody but the three of them could see what she was about to do. Schwarnager looked down, forcing his eyes below her cleavage, his look puzzled. The strong tendons on her hand tensed, and the ball gave off a crunching sound. Incredibly, the tough cover split open and the inner core squished out as she crushed the ball flat. With two fingers. She closed his hand to hide the evidence of her strength in his hand, and stepped back.
Schwarnager's thoughts raced wildly. His staff had just spent the last two weeks considering dozens of ways that the aliens might contact him. He'd had his own dreams about what Earth's protector might look like, but even he hadn't dared imagine a girl this achingly beautiful. Then there was Jolie's earnestness, not to mention her strange reference to a blonde heroine from the comics. And now the impossibility of the crushed golf ball he held in his hand.
Arnold Schwarnager was a man who'd prided himself on accepting reality, no matter what form it took. He looked closer at the blonde as she flicked her long hair over her shoulder, noticing for the first time the incredible definition of her arms. He never seen anything like it. She had the absolute perfection that thousands of bodybuilders had strived for but failed to achieve. He among them. He felt like he was floating in a dream as he held his hand out. "Then let me be the first to welcome you to Earth."
Aurora looked blankly at his huge hand for a long second, and then took it.
Schwarnager was shocked to feel an incredible surge of tingling strength race up his arm. He gripped her back with all of his considerable strength, only to have her easily meet it with her own. The breeze carried a hint of her perfume to him, and it reminded him of the freshness of wildflowers after a rain. He inhaled deeply, and a nearly overwhelming thrill quickened his body. He was suddenly so turned on that it felt as if even his hair was standing on end. "My, ah, my friends call me Arnie."
"And mine call me…" Aurora paused. A Supremis never gave her real name to anyone but her closest friends. Not unless she was about to kill them. She tried to think of an assumed named, only to smile as she remembered the name of the spunky and precocious young girl who lived next door to her. "My name is Fairchild."
"Fairchild. What a lovely name for so fair a lady." She flashed him a brilliant smile. Her eyes were so bright that he felt as if he was staring into the sun. "And exactly where up there do you call home, Fairchild?"
San Francisco Airport
Maya stood in the Immigration line, happily chatting to the woman behind her. She'd arrived from Paris about the same time as Maya's plane had arrived from Hong Kong. The woman's daughters, two adorable little blondes, were racing around their legs, unwinding twelve hours worth of built up energy. Twins she said. Six years old next month. Maya knelt down and talk with the girls, supressing her distaste when their pale hair brushed across her skin. They looked like tiny Velorians. She stood back up to tell the woman about BinTran and his orphanage in Vietnam. She sounded like any other proud mother.
Maya's eyes kept drifting around the room, the irises glowing startlingly bright. All of the bodies dissolved reassuringly into white skeletons, their human flesh transparent to tachyons. She was about to blink her eyes back to normal vision when a very tall man stepped through the doorway on the far side of Customs. He looked solid to her eyes, only his clothing turning transparent. Her pulse quickened and she stopped chatting. Narrowing her eyes to zoom in on him, she noted that he had black hair, large dark-blue eyes, and was wickedly fit. No ID in his pocket. His muscular physique and a superman's endowment conformed that he was a Prime.
A surge of tingling chills ran down Maya's back. She suddenly felt exposed and attracted to him at the same time. The last was instinctual. Still, her instructions were to stay hidden, even from their own people. She glanced around, looking for another way out, suddenly angry with herself for being distracted by talking about children. She was still third in line at Immigration. No way to get out of here quickly without making a scene. She glanced back at the man and told herself to relax. He was very young, not quite mid-twenties. Probably one of the newly landed soldiers, she decided. Likely he was searching for the other members of his team. She'd seen two Ravens enter the atmosphere over South East Asia, but there were probably more.
The latest protocol after landing on Earth called for a meeting in Las Vegas at Caesar's Palace. For everyone but her, that is. There were always a lot of strange goings on in that adult playground, and a group of Arions would hardly stand out among the rich and beautiful casino goers. The trick was to arrive in the latest styles and throw a lot of money around. Especially on girls. Given a superman's prowess and the money they threw around like it was worthless paper, the top escort girls in Vegas would soon flock into the penthouses of Caesars. It was the perfect cover.
Maya felt a flush of warmth when the man’s eyes finally found her. She smiled at him, but he didn't return the same. She was very aware of how long it had been since she'd enjoyed the company of a Primal man. Three years, seven months and four days. She felt her body responding to that last thought, her nipples tingling erotically as they grew harder, becoming visible under her thin top. Surprisingly, the man began to frown. He was obviously expecting someone else. She sighed as she studied him closer. He wore denim and cowboy boots, his hair cut very short. She briefly wondered what his talent was.
Each member of an Arion infiltration team had an advanced skill that would allow them to rapidly rise through the ranks of industry or government. If someone blocked their way up the ladder of success, they would mysteriously disappear. The result was that it rarely took more than five years to completely infiltrate the highest levels of a world's institutions. Once done, the new movers and shakers of the world would shape policies so that the world government would ask to be included in the Empire. If that didn’t work quickly enough, then they'd provide additional incentive in the form of a nasty little war or an economic collapse.
She hoped that wouldn't be necessary on Earth. There had already been too much war and suffering here. She'd have to return to Vietnam to protect BinTran.
BinTran. How she wished she could have brought him with her. She hadn't intended to become involved with any of the Terrans, but after saving BinTran from that landmine, she'd learned of the desperate nature of the orphans of Vietnam. BinTran had touched a part of her that she thought was dormant. Her mother's heart had melted at BinTran's plight. If Earth joined the Empire, she might take BinTran home to Aria. Once he was old enough to be enhanced to survive the crushing gravity of her homeworld that is.
She walked over to Baggage Claim and grabbed her bags while continuing to stare through the wall and directly into the man's eyes. She debated dazzling him with a burst of heat vision and then making a run for it. Turn everything around him into a conflagration that would blind him for a few brief heartbeats. No, he was just a comrade in arms. Plus there was no need to sacrifice any Frails.
She lifted her heavy bags from the conveyor and walked through Customs and out into the meeting area. She sensed something in the air and felt a quickening as she approached him. A faint touch of sexual musk made her nose wrinkle. Very male, very intense. God, it had been a long time since she'd smelled that wondrous scent. She felt her scalp itch as she cast a few of her own pheromones his way. It was a long way to Vegas. Plenty of time to enjoy some natural beauty. She loved to make love outdoors. Perhaps on top of one of those rock pinnacles in the desert.
She saw a warm wave of arousal slowly spreading through the room as her pheromones spread. Men and women who were strangers suddenly started talking and laughing, moving closer, touching each otehr as if they were old friends. Lovers even. She was smiling from her own sexy thoughts when she turned back to look at the Arion man.
Her world dissolved into a kaleidoscope of sparks.
The glass windows of the terminal exploded outward as the shock wave from the man's supersonic punch swept travelers and their luggage across the floor, rupturing dozens of eardrums. Four elderly travelers died instantly, the shock wave collapsing their lungs. A clap of thunder shook the building like an earthquake.
Maya never saw or heard any of that. His uppercut under her ribs sent her crashing through a half dozen brick walls, finally tumbling over top of two parked airliners. Her face dug a long groove across the hard tarmac. She didn't move when she came to a stop.
Back inside the wrecked terminal, Val looked at his glowing fist, then at the circle of destruction that surrounded him. Despite Aurora's cautions about not using too much force around Terrans, he'd hit the woman with everything he had. He was his father's son after all, and if he’d learned anything from him, it was that rules were made to be broken. Unfortunately, he hadn't adjusted to his strength here on Earth. Not only from the lack of gold, but there was something about making love with Aurora every night that was making him stronger.
Maya blinked her eyes, but saw only shooting stars at first. She lifted her head and shook it, chasing most of the sparks away. She started to struggle to her feet, only to hear a crash behind her. The Arion man was tearing his way through the smaller hole she'd made in the outer wall, collapsing it to bring part of the roof down. She performed a quick back flip and grabbed a long, low vehicle that was hooked to the nosewheel of an airliner. Fantastic muscles flexed in her arms and back.
The eight-wheeled airplane tug hit Val with the force of ten tons traveling at nearly the Mach. The inertia swept him before it as it plowed back through the same walls he'd exited, traveling completely through the terminal to crush two taxis and knock a city bus off its wheels. Stunned and only half conscious, it took all his concentration to pull his legs up and brace them against the chassis of the tug. He shoved hard, and the remains of the tug and bus flew two stories into the air. He stared in horror as the wreckage crashed down on a crowd of screaming passengers who were waiting for the Hertz bus.
He got up to help them, but was knocked back down by a basketball-sized chunk of transonic concrete. The woman was good. Very good. She was tearing chunks of concrete from the taxiway with her bare hands and throwing them at him as she ran the other way. A taxi beside him exploded from a near miss. Another ragged chunk exploded through a crowd of Japanese tourists, sending cameras and body parts flying everywhere. Exploding concrete shrapnel from his steel-hard body cut down even more passengers.
He leaped after the woman, hoping to get away from the crowds to save lives. He ignored the collapsing building as he ran, determined to bring this violent Prime back for Aurora to interrogate.
Maya paused in the middle of a runway as a huge airliner raced toward her. She might not be able to outrun whoever her attacker was, but she could out-fly him. She bent her legs as she watched the Boeing 777 lift off a quarter of a mile further down the runway. Climbing rapidly as its wheels retracted, she concentrated on timing her leap so she could catch its wing as it flew four hundred feet overhead. She'd ride it out over the ocean a ways and then drop free to swim to shore. There was no way the Prime could follow her on the ground.
She watched nervously as her attacker accelerated toward her, running at fantastic speed. He was going to be traveling close to the Mach when he got to her. She glanced back at the big Boeing as it roared toward her. God it was going to be close. The Arion dove at her just as she leaped upward, his body passing under her as she climbed toward the roaring airliner.
Unfortunately, her forced leap had come a split second too soon. Instead of catching the leading edge of the wing, she saw the massive eight-foot wide maw of the left engine heading directly for her. Like a grouper inhaling its prey, the engine's 90,000 pounds of thrust sucked her in. The last thing she saw was the blur of giant fan blades. She covered her face with her hands and screamed.
Val tried to stop as the Boeing's left engine exploded just above him. Fan and turbine blades shot out like bullets from a gun as Maya's invulnerable body was sucked through them. The glowing blades raked the Boeing's wing, severing hydraulic lines and flight control actuators. The center section of flaps on the left wing began to retract.
With 90,000 pounds of thrust and intact wing flaps on one side, and zero thrust and retracting flaps on the other, the massive jet began to roll uncontrollably. It flipped onto its back and dove into the end of the runway. 700,000 pounds of airframe, passengers and fuel exploded into a fireball that could be seen twenty miles away.
Val picked himself up from grass and began to run straight toward the fireball. He plunged into the worst of the flames. Yet instead of trying to save passengers as any Velorian would have, he began tearing through the wreckage, searching for the left engine. Nearly blinded by the fierce flames, he finally found it. He attacked the engine with his bare hands, scattering half-molten aluminum and titanium alloy all around him. He had to find the infiltrator before she went to ground. Before she killed anyone else.
Unbeknownst to him, Maya wasn't there. The exploding engine had spit her out the backside, and from there she'd dropped into a drainage ditch that bordered the runway. She was burning like a torch as she ran, her body blackened and stinking of half burned jet fuel, her clothing shredded by the engine and crash. She paused to catch her breath when she was a mile away from the burning aircraft. Squinting as she used her tachyon vision, she saw that her attacker was still tearing his way through the wreckage looking for her. Confident that he was distracted, she climbed out of the ditch and walked calmly over to board one of the commuter planes. The passengers had spilled out of the open doorway and were sobbing uncontrollably as they stared at the horrific crash. The pilot's eyes grew large as she walked up the aircraft stairs, naked and stinking of jet fuel. She pulled the door closed behind her.
"We don't have clearance. The airport is closed. The crash." The pilots stared at her, knowing that she'd somehow survived the crash. She was obviously hysterical.
Maya grabbed the copilot's head and twisted, his neck breaking with a sickening crunch. "Fly this plane or else I don't need you either."
The pilot began pushing buttons. The turboprop blades began to turn.
Maya collapsed into one of the seats. She was confused and disoriented, as much by the Arion's attack as from the crash. The last thing she'd expected was to be attacked by one of her own people. Primes didn't fight Primes. Not unless one of them had changed sides. She thought of all the time she'd spent in Vietnam working on rebuilding the orphanage. Had someone in Command decided that she'd gone soft, that she'd aligned herself with the Terrans? Unlikely. She still submitted her reports every month and there had been no questions. The only other explanation was that her attacker was the one who'd defected. He'd have expected new operatives on the ground, and it was standard procedure to use the airlines to get around. He'd been waiting for her, and his attack had been pre-emptive.
Impossible as it seemed, he'd been trying to capture or kill her.
She smiled to herself. Now it was her turn, and she'd never failed at anything in her life.
White House lawn
The President's entourage returned to Washington immediately after the golf tournament. The statuesque blonde who'd been spotted talking to Schwarnager on the fairway thankfully hadn’t been with them. Jolie was ready to do damage control, but there wasn't much to control. The paparazzi and tabloids had more important things to worry about, as did the Networks. They never realized that the alien they were searching for was right in front of their eyes. For once, Occum's Razor had been proven wrong. The explanation for Fairchild's appearance was the most convoluted one possible.
The emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room went on all night. Fairchild sat at one end of the table, wearing a blue striped top and low-cut jeans, her bare midriff looking wildly out of place among the uniforms and suits. The meeting had started with a lot of questions about her physical abilities. Her answers weren't exactly what they were expecting. Way too many digits to the left of the decimal point as one staffer observed. Several men punched numbers into calculators as they whispered in disbelief to each other. Other people just stared at Fairchild. The air was a rich soup of adrenaline, sweat and hormones, the last being out of the norm for the Situation Room. Schwarnager passed around the crushed golf ball. Others mentioned the SWAT truck.
The only thing Fairchild was willing to demonstrate was a quick flight around the room. That seemed to satisfy them on that point, although she wasn't about to try to answer how she did it. They were already staring at her tits enough as it was.
The military intuitively understood her invulnerability, for they'd all seen close-ups of the explosions in space. She explained that her toughness came with the genes, although it got kind of weird when everyone wanted to know what a girl of steel felt like. They were surprised to find that her skin was even softer than their wives or girlfriends. She finally made a muscle to show them where the steel lived, her skin stretching tightly over the largest biceps they'd ever seen on a woman. Everyone wanted to feel that too.
She got a lot of strange looks when she read a few people's drivers licenses while they were still in their wallets. Some men rested their hands in their laps after that, hoping to maintain some modesty. Other staffers, the ones in really good shape, got off on the strange thrill of knowing they appeared naked to her.
After watching that reaction, Aurora decided not to tell them about projecting energy with her eyes. They already had enough on their plate, and it was hard enough to get anyone to look her in the eyes as it was.
To their credit, the President’s advisers buckled down and started planning how to stop a second wave of Arion attackers. The top-level plan was simple enough. Aurora would destroy as many as possible in space, while the Terran forces would be used to track the ships that got through. She told them it would be suicidal for their troops to engage a Prime. The trick was to keep tabs on the aliens until she could deal with them. Once they went to ground, they'd be hard to find.
Morning eventually came. Despite the long night without sleep, Aurora looked fresh and alert as she wandered out into the garden to soak up some sunlight. She was starting to get low on energy and her figure showed it. She calculated how long it would take to fly to the sun to recharge. Too long. She wished she’d been able to absorb more energy from all those nukes the Arions had hit her with, but the flash of energy came and went too quickly in vacuum. If not for that rocket that had risen from Earth, the warhead small enough to embrace and still survive, she'd have been depleted long ago.
She was surprised to find the President exercising on a Nautilus machine in the small courtyard outside his office. He was working hard, his huge muscles straining. Despite all the things she'd read about him in the News, not always complimentary, she was pleased to see that he had a truly incredible body. Unlike the muscular expansion of her own people, her body able to go from svelte to massively muscular and back again with mere exertion, his muscles were always big.
Arnold's arms were shaking as a burly Secret Service agent helped him bench the huge weight. "You are never too old to lift."
"I'll keep that in mind," she smiled.
"You want to try?"
Aurora laughed. "Only if you promise to let me use the White House as a weight."
"I think the Secret Service might object." He winked at the agent, who was looking doubtfully at her. "What do you say, Claude?"
"I only know what I hear. Rumors."
"She's damn strong."
"She's a girl."
Schwarnager winked as she rolled her eyes. She hated it when men talked about her as if she wasn’t there, but the President was obviously in a light mood this morning. She decided to play along. Looking around, she picked up one of the 50kg weights and twirled it around as if it was weightless. The agent gawked at her as she grabbed one side of it and gripped it tightly enough to sink her fingers into it. The steel gave off a screeching groan as she pulled her hands apart. Arms that had been slender only a moment before now flexed impossibly strong as the two inch-thick plate began to stretch like warm taffy. She slowly tore it into two ragged pieces. The steel was glowing red hot from friction as she held up a piece in each hand. "I have my own ways of working out."
"But that wasn't actually one of the ways. That was just to impress you."
"Six thousand times my own strength," Schwarnager proclaimed proudly, as if he was somehow responsible.
Aurora caught a whiff of musk. She looked down to find that he was totally turned on. Impressive too, at least for a man his age. A strange thought made her smile. She wondered just how well behaved he was now that he was President.
"Doesn't your agent have something else to do, Mr. President?"
The Secret Service agent promptly turned and left.
"He's well trained," Aurora mused.
"This isn't exactly a normal morning around here."
"Is that so?"
"So can I continue my workout? I presume you can spot me."
"Only if we do it Velorian style."
"I don't understand."
"We don't wear clothes when we work out."
Schwarnager smiled. "Far be it for me to violate cross-cultural norms."
Aurora turned to look through the bushes. Jolie was walking their way. She turned back and pulled off her top, quickly slipping out of her jeans. She wore nothing beneath.
Schwarnager's flag rose even higher as his eyes sparkled. "Wow. They really do make you perfect, don't they." To his credit, he didn't just stare at her breasts.
"Genetic engineers. Scientists. I overheard you talking to one of my staff. Unbelievable muscle tone."
She unselfconsciously made a muscle. "I guess. Not as big as yours though."
"Thank God. You're a pretty girl."
She glanced pointedly at his sweats, which had grown even tighter. He quickly pulled his top off, but hesitated before pulling down his shorts. Fairchild lowered her hands to her hips, raising one eyebrow.
"You are demanding, aren't you?" he laughed nervously. “But I’ve always liked strong women.”
“Then you’ll love me.” She glanced at the floor. He complied by stepping out of his shorts and strap.
"Nice… body," she giggled as he stood at attention in front of her. "Let's see what its good for."
He looked startled.
"You know, those muscles of yours? Lifting weights?"
"Oh." He sounded disappointed as he lay back down on the bench.
Fairchild straddled the bench to stand over him. She reached up with one hand to unbench the huge 500 pound bar. Holding it over her head, she leaned to the side to add two more 25kg disks to it. She then leaned low over him, holding the augmented bar over her head. All he could see was her breasts. Instead of reaching for the bar, he reached up and grabbed her tits. He held her very tightly, kneading her, thumbs exploring her large nipples. Fairchild just smiled as she lowered herself until he was throbbing between her legs. He was positioned almost perfectly. Another inch, and he'd be legally committed. "You want this?"
"Oh, God, yes. Yes!"
"Good. Here it is then." Fairchild handed him the bar and stood up just as Jolie walked into the private courtyard. She picked up her clothes and brushed past Jolie, getting dressed as she walked out onto the White House lawn.
The agent saw Aurora walk out naked and feared the worst. He rushed back to his boss. He found Jolie trying to help an extraordinarily excited President from being crushed by the bar. It took all three of them to bench it.
She walked into the bushes beneath the window of the Oval Office. A television was blaring overhead, something about a terrorist attack at San Francisco Airport. She felt a quick stab of fear. Val had said he was going to watch the San Francisco Airport, hoping the catch some of the infiltrators as they traveled into the US.
Peeling her clothes off yet again, she wadded them up and stuffed them under a bush. Still hidden, she leaped upward with all her strength, long legs turning to steel, accelerating her faster than either eyeballs or radar could track.
San Francisco was a long fifteen minutes away.
(So, that was more or less how I'd write the opening chapter of the Aurora Universe today. Not sure if you like it better than the original. I have mixed feelings myself. But it was fun. My model for Aurora this time, recent pictures of Anna Kournikova, is a bit different too. But then, I'm ten years older. Fantasies change.
Hope you also liked the picture from South East Asia. That's more or less my home turf lately, so this is what lunch looks like for me every day. Well, maybe not the Arion lady. Just as well. I like breathing.
Be well... Shadar.)