|Ordinary Velorians -
Space Port, the mining asteroid Corrididor
Seemingly moments later, Vera woke to find herself staring up at a roughly-hewn stone ceiling. It had clearly been shaped by explosives, not by particle beams or lasers -- a primitive but very cheap way to move rock. She narrowed her eyes and looked closer, yet instead of coming into sharper focus, she suddenly found herself staring through the ceiling and out into a long, narrow cavern full of plants with brilliant lights overhead. She turned her head, and all around her, the rock walls faded until it appeared she was lying in a glass bowl.
Smiling insanely, she zoomed her eyes in to see people going about their business in their homes and offices, unaware that she was looking over their shoulders. She looked into bedrooms, finding herself an accidental voyeur. She frowned at that, realizing for the first time just how imperfect human bodies were, not to mention profoundly lacking in sexual athleticism. She watched a couple start and finish their lovemaking in only a few minutes. What the hell was that all about? Sex was supposed to last hours, even days.
Shaking off her buzzy, half-awake perceptions, she sat up slowly, cautious not to exert herself, the faint buzz of an artificial gravity field making her skin tingle. Her body felt disconcertingly light as she swung her legs off the bed and tried to walk.
Her first step lifted her off the ground to slam into the rock ceiling, sending a shower of rock chips raining down around her as she fell back to the floor. She rubbed her head, amazed that her skull was still intact, and very slowly stood back up. She promptly smashed into the ceiling again.
Half prepared for that this time, she tried to land back on her feet, only to shoot off the other way and smack into the opposite wall of the tunnel hard enough to send a spider-web of cracks radiating outward. Her next few steps ended in the same disasters. She finally sat down on the rock chips that covered the floor, afraid of moving at all.
Clearly, the mere flexing of her bare toes was powerful enough to launch her into the ceiling. This wasn’t surprising at one level, for she’d done the mental arithmetic while waiting for the courier ship to launch. Still, it was one thing to intellectually understand Velorian strength, and another thing entirely to retune her reflexes for an effective body weight of less than 0.20 kilo. She wasn’t really lighter, but her legs were vastly stronger.
She very slowly got back to her feet, resorting to a shuffling walk that allowed her to float just above the floor, her toes touching down every meter or so. She gingerly opened the door at the far side of the room, only to find to her chagrin that the plastic handle crumbled in her too-strong grip. It felt like spun sugar candy. Closing the door gently behind her, she tried to imagine that the entire asteroid was made of glass, and that she was a helium balloon, bouncing weightlessly along.
She’d started to get the hang of channeling her natural reflexes through those mental models by the time she exited the Customs building, and found herself in a narrow lane with shops on both sides. Rough looking miners in their work suits and shopkeepers in their jerseys were walking around, all of them men. They stared at her as they moved silently out of her path, their eyes watching her floating feet at first, and then rising to her chest. Very few of them reached all the way to her eyes.
Puzzled, Vera looked down at herself, only to be shocked to find that her breasts were riding so high that they looked inflated. That amused her, for she'd never been considered well-endowed on Velor. She made a fist and looked at the hard tendons shaping her wrist and the back of her hand, finding that her biceps bulged even larger than usual.
She felt insanely strong. Even more amazing, every exertion seemed to send a riot of delightful tingles coursing through her body, the pleasant sensations growing stronger the more she exerted herself. She experimented by pouring all her strength into her arm, and her chest flared hot from the sudden rush of orgone metabolism, her nipples growing hard as they began to tingle wildly. The paired sensations of burdening strength and tingling arousal began to feed on each other, so much so that the sweat on her skin began to steam. Gasping for air, she was astounded to feel herself racing upward in a spiraling swirl of desire, her nipples burning with a naughty mixture of pain/pleasure as she pressed her elbows into her sides, expanding her powerful pectoral muscles to lift her breasts even higher.
Vera gulped for air as the unmistakable rush of an approaching orgasm enveloping her in its delicious warmth. Smiling at the pure, hedonistic pleasure of being outside a gold field, she gently pulsed the muscles of her pelvic floor to excite herself further, then slowly arched her back and let the orgasmic rush overtake her. She was at the very edge of losing it when she opened her eyes to see a dozen humans staring at her with wide-eyed curiosity.
Startled by their frank stares, and suddenly embarrassed to be feeling this way in front of strangers, the rush of her orgasm fizzled, and the moment of passion passed her by like a thundering train on nearby tracks, leaving her chest steaming from the flush of orgone heat.
She wasn’t at all sure how a Velorian should behave outside a gold field, but there was little doubt that having sex with herself in public would be crossing the line on any human world. Yet it was so damn easy to get turned on here outside a gold field!
Basking in the glow of the still smoldering rush, and strangely enjoying the startled looks she was getting from the humans, she walked proudly down the alleyway, her movements as smooth as a jungle cat now, her posture perfect, her blue eyes reflecting the admiration she saw in everyone’s face. She imagined she was a goddess in their eyes. A goddess who should have been wearing a shimmering, translucent gown made of spun silver and jewels.
That dream didn’t last long, for she was quickly sobered by the realization that she wore her usual outfit; faded jeans and a simple black Lycra top. A top that left her strong shoulders, arms and midriff bare, the best parts of her body in her opinion, but was more appropriate for riding a flitter-bike, not for being an ambassador from Velor on a distant world. Even worse, instead of a goddess’ flowing platinum blonde hair, her dirty blonde hair was tied back into a loose ponytail and she wore a simple pendant her aunt had once given her for good luck.
The first flight of stairs humbled her further. She tripped and fell, her nose banging off every metal step before she crumpled into a heap at the bottom. She got back to her feet feeling sheepish, grateful that no one had witnessed her stupidity. Amazingly, it hadn’t hurt.
The next flight of steps went better. She pushed more firmly off the top step, and found she was able to float down the staircase, but not without flailing her arms and kicking her legs to land on her feet at the bottom. Pleased by her landing, even if she was flopping around like a fish out of water, she started to walk more confidently.
She gave the next staircase the respect it deserved, and managed to reach a wide corridor without further incidents. The sign on a wall proclaimed it as Central. She was astounded to see the corridor walls converging in the distance. It apparently ran the entire kilometer long length of the living spaces.
Satisfied that this was the most likely place for people to find her, she leaned up against the wall near the window of a shop, resting her hand casually on her hip as she tried to look calm and confident. Sure enough, a contingent of humans appeared to march straight toward her.
They were the first humans she’d ever seen, outside of actors on the holos who were really Velorians, and she was appalled. Not because of their various colored hair and eyes and short stature, she’d been prepared for that. Nor did the pasty color of their skin or generally disagreeable symmetry of their faces bother her. What shocked her was the way their muscles hung off their bodies, limp and unexercised. It was one thing to be phenomenally weak and a fragile, everyone knew that about humans, but these humans made no attempt to take care of their bodies. They were just ugly, there was no other way to describe them. For the first time, she truly appreciated why her people were so highly regarded by humans.
A man of medium height, several inches below her own 6’2”, identified himself as the mayor. His body was rounded and soft, his eyes bloodshot. He tentatively offered his hand to her in greeting. “Vera Shos’tovic of Velor, we welcome you to Corrididor,” he said formally.
Vera started to take his hand, but the mayor took one look at her sinewy hand and jerked his back. Startled, it took her a moment to realize why. He was afraid of her. “Good thinking,” she shrugged, confirming the mayor's fears. “I probably don’t know my own strength yet.”
“We have some gold if that will help,” the short, mousy-looking man next to him offered hopefully, his eyes following her every movement.
“I think you’d better just show me the reactor," Vera replied, glaring down at him. "I’m going to need these muscles that you seem to like so much.”
The mayor's assistant quickly looked away and started to cough.
The mayor rolled his eyes at his assistant before giving Vera his own quick once over. "I have to say, I've never heard of a Velorian with tattoos. I didn’t think that was even possible."
"You like them?" Vera beamed as she lifted her top slightly to reveal the flat expanse of her abs. The colored curves of an elaborate tattoo of vines rose to spread outward to embrace the lower curve of her breasts. "You have no idea how hard it was to get these done."
The mayor stared awkwardly at her near nudity, marveling at her flawless skin as much as he did her tattoos. He’d seen images of Velorian women, but never met one before this day. It was as if every square inch of her body had been designed by some master architect. A man with an artistic vision of female perfection. He pushed that thought away, for he knew both statements were uncomfortably close to the truth.
He blinked his eyes and came back to the urgency of the moment. "Our people haven't been able to repair the reactor since the inner vessel cracked. We're ready to evacuate in under 12 hours if you tell us you can't fix it."
"Who's been working on it?" Vera asked as she followed the mayor toward a small flitter that was parked along one side of Central. She was grateful to sit and not embarrass herself further by trying to walk, let alone fly.
"Our two power engineers. Alex Cordon and Calen Donaldson," he said, pointing toward two men who were standing on the other side of the narrow lane.
The men's age and mannerisms told Vera they were recently graduated engineers. She’d dealt with more than her share of whiz kids over the years, but had little respect for them unless they were willing to ask questions and learn. Most young engineers thought they knew it all until something went horribly wrong.
"We hired them out of the university on Kelsor," the mayor confirmed as he lowered his voice and leaned closer to her. "Unfortunately, we got our signals crossed and their major area of study was fusion systems, not breeders. Nobody studies those things anymore as it turns out. But they’re good kids… they've been reading the old manuals on this reactor since they came, trying to figure it out, working day and night."
Vera frowned, realizing how impossible it was to repair these old reactors based on book learning alone.
The mayor saw the look in her eye and shrugged. "No other power engineers would sign on here, and the old hands who know breeders are long retired. Not exactly a paradise out here."
So you hired two wet behind the ears kids, Vera thought to herself. Then she considered her own situation and smiled. Outside of her self-taught skills in fixing these old reactors, her brag sheet looked terrible. But nobody else on Velor was willing to fly out here to save a shit-hole like this. Other than a Protector, and what did warriors know about nukes, other than maybe making them blow up?
The engineers walked over to introduce themselves, trying to act confident, but their darting looks gave away their nervousness. Vera was several inches taller than they were and she was Velorian and she was both muscular and tough looking -- definitely not the kind of woman these boys would hang out with. Assuming they even knew any women. The more assertive of the two, Alex, tried to disguise his insecurity by rapidly briefing her on the reactor operating condition. He dumped a torrent of technical information on reactor thermal performance and radiation profiles in her lap, clearly trying to impress her.
Vera didn’t understand most of it, but the gist wasn’t hard to follow. The reactor was in terrible shape. Beyond being ancient technology, it had been poorly maintained, and now it had suffered a cascading series of major breakdowns.
The other engineer, Calen, joined in, trying to be helpful by going over the list of breakdowns. His list went on and on until Vera finally threw up her hands.
“Why the hell are you guys even operating this piece of junk?” she interrupted, horrified by what she was hearing. “Your reactor’s condition is past merely being dangerous. It's a model 7, for Skietra’s sake. Even when properly maintained, they’re bombs ready to go off any moment.
“Budgets,” Calen shrugged. “This whole asteroid is going to melt down again in a decade or so, so the Miners Guild didn't want to install anything valuable. An anti-matter plant would take a hundred years to amortize, and a fusion one fifty years. We needed something cheap that we could just leave behind."
"But where'd you guys find this piece of junk? I've never heard of anything earlier than a model 10 that’s still running."
Alex glared at her, clearly uncomfortable with having a technician demanding answers. "Our GM got it from a Scalantran. And we’ve done pretty good with it so far.”
“But why a Model 7? They've been banned on populated planets for a eighty years, mainly because every damn one of them has either melted down or blown up.”
"Hey, we weren't even hired yet when they installed it," Alex said defensively. "And Corrididor isn't technically a world. Enlightenment laws mostly don't apply here. The Guild makes the rules."
"That's no excuse for stupidity."
“When we were hired, we didn't know what a Model 7 was," Calen admitted sheepishly. "And after we got here, with our transport costs indentured for two years, we figured, what the hell, we’d make it work.”
Alex jumped in. “And who cares what shape it’s in at the end. This whole rock is going to melt down."
"So you turkeys wind up with a vessel breach and 9,000 rads in the dome.” She tapped her forehead. "What university did you graduate from again?"
“Hey, nobody could have prevented that," Alex snarled. "The stress cracking was sudden, and now we've got a significant criticality starting to build in the contaminated sludge that's coating the floor of the containment dome. It’s collecting in the low points.”
“Right,” Calen continued, waving his hands as he talked. “The dirty reaction on the containment floor is producing more radiation than heat. It’s way too hot for us to get in to fix it, even wearing shielded armor."
“Well, this is one total fucking mess," Vera sighed. "And I'm supposed to make it all better? All by myself?"
"We'll help any way we can," Calen said supportively. "But they said you were a breeder expert."
“The Erg’nomics staff. We read their report while we were waiting for you to come off the trank. You're the best Velor has, or so they said.”
Vera sighed, knowing now that her Director had truly set her up. "I've never repaired a malfunction a tenth as serious as yours. Nobody has. I work pumps and pipes, not the reactor core work. Not the instrumentation."
"It’s simple enough,” Alex said with a sneer. “Either you seal the breach and get cooling back on the pile, then clean out the containment dome, or we dump and run." He paused to frown at her. "Either that, or we get someone else from Velor who can."
Vera laughed. "Good luck with that. My boss and I are the only people on Velor who work on these junkers any more."
She didn't tell them that the reason for that was that she had no credentials to work on anything more modern, and he was too old.
"So let's go see your problem child."