|Ordinary Velorians -
Power Central, mining asteroid Corrididor
The three of them were sitting in a conference room ten minutes later. Calen punched up video coverage of the internals of the power plant, and replayed the key events of the last week's capture. The video revealed that several of the liquid sodium control valves had failed first, leading to a loss of coolant pressure and reactor overheat. The heat had increased the core pressure, and that had led to additional ruptures. The cascading loss of coolant finally sent temperatures soaring to the point where the reactor vessel cracked open and the emergency cooling system activated.
"You’re damn lucky the vessel burst gently, not explosively,” Vera said, leaning forward to point toward one corner of the hologram. “We gotta get some more coolant lines installed over there."
“We obviously know that,” Alex sneered. “But the air temperature is approaching 700º C with the hot spots in the sludge above 1,400º C. Not to mention the rads."
Vera turned to stare at him in disbelief. "1400º!" she gasped. "That's almost hot enough to melt stainless.” She turned back to stare at the hologram. “Shit, once the core begins to melt, it's all over."
"Which is obviously why we needed a Velorian," Alex replied with his usual arrogance. "We can't get in there, and you're supposed to be fucking invulnerable."
Vera felt a shiver of fear trace up her back. Normal protocol for this kind of malfunction said to evacuate the area and rig the inside of the plant with megaton-sized fusion explosives. The fusion burst would hopefully vaporize everything and prevent the massive radioactive contamination that would come from a dirty plutonium explosion. That meant that everything within 20 kilometers of the plant would be destroyed, but the planet’s environment would be saved. They'd resorted to that kind of desperation on several worlds when Model 7's went super-critical.
But obviously that wasn't going to work here, not inside this rock. Just as obviously, entering the contaminated dome was insane, even for her. She had no idea how resistant she'd be to the heat and radiation. Unlike a P-class, she’d never been taught the limitations of her abilities outside a gold field.
She shrugged, deciding she’d just have to go slow as she figured it out.
Calen saw the worried look on her face. "You've done this before, right?" he asked. "Helped shut down a rogue breeder?"
She stared at him for a moment, debating whether she should make up some story to reassure them, and then shook her head. "Until two days ago, I was an ordinary maintenance tech, working at a museum, keeping a model 10 running at low power."
"But they briefed you on our problem? How to fix it?"
"They didn't say jack to me. No study time ether, as they zoned me out on sleepy drugs during the flight. All they said was to get my butt on a ship and come here."
Alex stared at her in horror for a long moment before snorting disgustedly. He turned and walked out the door. Calen stayed behind, struggling to smile. He was trying to be supportive... maybe too much so, Vera realized, as he reached down to gently take her hand in his. "I'm sure you could place this beautiful hand in a caldron of molten steel and not be harmed." He lifted her hand to his lips, marveling at her soft skin as he gently kissed the back of her hand. "You're a goddess."
Vera laughed, more than a bit embarrassed by his words, and startled by his soft touch. No one had ever touched her so delicately before, let alone kissed her hand that way. A flutter of little tingles raced through her body to make her squirm. Despite her mental preparation for becoming empowered, and for human reactions to her, she definitely wasn't prepared for a guy to come on to her this way. Freedlings looking for somebody to share a good drunk on gold liquor, that was O.K. Or guys who took her for ride on their flitter, drinking until they fell off the bike to forn the way Velorians do... endlessly and indefatigably. She understood those kinds of men. But she'd never dealt with a man whose touch was so worshipful, a man who obviously put her on a pedestal. She found his affection strangely disturbing, enough to bring out her butchy side.
"So how the fuck do you know that I'm not going to just melt away inside there?" she challenged him crudely, struggling to overcome her growing confusion.
"If you weren't familiar with this kind of equipment," Alex answered first, walking back into the room to rejoin them, "then why did Velor send you? Surely they have people there with far greater... experience." Vera could tell by his pause that he’d substituted a kinder word than the one that had initially came to mind.
"It isn’t the equipment that worries me, but the god-damn environment in there,” Vera spit back at him. “As I said earlier, nobody else knows a fucking thing about breeders nowadays, except my boss, and he's a hundred and eighty. That obviously includes you guys.”
“Hey, we did O.K,” Alex asserted again. “You said yourself, lady, these model 7’s are prone to malfunctions.”
“But with proper maintenance, you can keep them going a long time. And I’m hardly a lady.”
“I was just trying to be nice,” Alex sneered.
“Yeah, well fuck you too.” Vera tossed at his back as she turned to look into Calen's eyes. “What matters is that I can fix old stuff, mostly antique equipment that nobody else is interested in, half of it junk that shouldn't even be running. I've got a special knack. I can probably fix this thing."
“Probably? There are two-thousand lives hinging on your skills,” Alex sneered from behind her back as he walked back out the door.
Calen just stared at her, seemingly mesmerized by her eyes.
"So, Calen,” she finally asked, amused by the look on his face, “have you met other Vels before? You seem to like blue eyes."
"Hell no. There aren’t any Vels out this close to the rim, except this consulate guy who comes to Corrididor once in a while. But I've never seen him. I guess he doesn't hang around for long."
Vera looked around at the gritty walls and sniffed the slightly sulfurous-smelling air, hazy as it was with yellow dust. Behind the sulfur was an underlying scent of machine oil and sweat. "This isn't exactly a holiday destination."
Calen said nothing for a long, awkward moment. “So what’s with the tattoos,” he finally asked as he looked down at the designs that covered her midriff. “I thought you Vels had steel skin or whatever.”
Vera smiled as she followed his eyes down to her abs. Her tattoos were her pride, especially given their rarity on Velor. “Usually, yeah, that’s right. But with enough x-rays and some very sharp Vendorian steel needles, we B-class types can get them. It’s just a matter of pain tolerance.”
“Pain? Something else I didn't think you could feel. So what was the occasion?”
“My boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend now. He and his friends were into it, and I rode with them for a while.”
"Flitter-bike gang. They rode some chopped and customized bikes."
"Sounds like a long story there."
"One you're not old enough to hear."
“I'm not as young as I…” Calen started to object, only to be interrupted by a gravely voice from behind them
"What aren't we gonna to hear?"
Vera spun around to see a huge man standing in the doorway, his height equal to hers, yet with a body three times as wide. He wore a brilliantly red beard and a long-sleeve shirt, his collar open to reveal an incredibly hairy chest. Vera stared in amazement; Velorian men didn't have body hair, but this man looked half human and half bear.
"And exactly who are you?" she asked.
"I run this god-forsaken place. Daniels is the name."
"Ah," Vera said, "the GM who buys dangerous reactors, subjecting all his employees to death by radiation poisoning."
"What the hell is she talking about, Alex?"
Alex appeared from behind him. "As I just told you, boss, she doesn’t know shit."
Daniels glared at Vera. "Alex here tells me that you’ve never done a god-damn bit of work on a model 7 before. Other than fixing some valves or some shit back on Velor. Just a bunch of low-level maintenance crap.”
Vera smiled. Despite the challenge, she liked Daniels’ attitude. No namby-pamby management talk here. He said what he thought without giving a damn for her feelings. Corrididor was already living up to its reputation as a tough, no bullshit place.
“At least I can keep my shit working," Vera tossed back. "Now your pretty boys here, they're all schooled on high tech stuff, but they’re the ones who fucked this thing up so bad that it’s trying to kill them.”
“Yeah, we knew there was some risk when we bought this plant.”
“Except I don't see any evidence of a decent maintenance program, not even any workable spare parts. Seems they figured this piece of junk would run forever on its own, like some kind of fancy anti-matter plant.”
“But you can get inside? Shut it down?”
“Don’t know yet. So far, your boys here are more interested in talking my ears off and holding hands than getting down to work.”
"They're trying to figure out if you're going to blow us to kingdom come," Daniels growled, “something I’m kind of interested in too. A fucking catastrophic melt-down might not hurt you, but I got a couple of thousand citizens to worry about."
"Then I'd be seriously worrying about them right about now."
Alex smiled condescendingly. “See, what did I tell you? She’s all mouth and no brains. Velor really fucked us this time. Might as well have sent a god-damned Betan instead of this bimbo technician.”
Vera jumped up, too hard as it turned out, for she hit her head hard enough to sent a riot of cracks radiating across the ceiling. She landed next to Alex to grab his shirt and lift him off the floor, shoving him backwards. He flew twenty feet before crashing into a wall of empty boxes along the far wall. "Betans are fucking Arions,” she hissed through tightly clenched teeth, trying desperately not to stare at Alex. She wasn’t sure how her heat vision worked yet, and she didn't want to find out now. “And, yeah, I might be a fucking technician, but I ain't no bimbo.” She turned on her heel and stormed out the door.
She was thirty feet down the hallway when Daniels burst through the door and raced to catch up with her. He was smiling broadly as he grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop, turning to spit out the stub of a cigar that he'd been chewing on. "My boys don’t like you. Especially Alex. But your stock just went up in my book. I like a lady who can take care of herself.”
“I’m not taking any more shit from that asshole.”
“Good for you. You got some attitude and a fucking temper too. Even better, you aren't tossing any of that university-learned bullshit at me like those boys do.” He held out his hand. "Let's start again, lady. I’m Glen Daniels. I'm the one who asked for and expected a Protector."
"As I told them, I'm not a lady, and I sure as fuck ain't a Protector, Daniels, but your boys in there don't have a clue how to fix your reactor. At best, they'd just shut it down, and without energy, you'd have to abandon the whole complex until you could get another reactor in here.”
“Yeah, a hell of a loss. No time for that before we take a dive around the sun. Be fifteen centuries before we get a second chance.”
“Then what’s it worth to you if I fix your plant and keep it fixed?"
"Fixed?" Patterson sputtered. "Nobody said that was an option. They said we'd be lucky to shut it down in time for a transport to get here and take everyone off."
She pointed a finger into his chest, slamming him back against the wall hard enough to hurt. "That's because you didn't ask me, Daniels. I can fix any fucking thing that your boys here can break, and I can even do it inside that hell they’ve created in your containment dome.”
"Then, by all means," Daniels smiled as he straightened up, massaging his sore chest. "Be my god-damn guest, Vera. What’ja need?"
"Remind your boys how bad they fucked this place up. And then tell them that they're working for me now."
Alex and Calen caught up with Vera in the reactor maintenance shop a half-hour later. Their hangdog faces confirmed that they'd just had the ass chewing of their lives.
“If it makes any difference, you guys got a raw deal here," she said, trying to be conciliatory. She needed them on her side now.
“The equipment Daniels bought us is junk," Alex said defensively. "Everything falling apart. There's nothing here to fix it with. It's not my fault.”
Vera ignored him as she turned to face Calen. "So how many of the coolant pipes are ruptured? Exactly."
"Seven, with two about to go. We're another rupture away from going super-critical."
"Then it’s a good thing you got yourself a super-girl. First order of business is to get some coolant back on the pile."
They followed Vera into a gymnasium-sized store room as she started sorting through some thick stainless steel pipes. "We got to get us some redundancy going as well. How 'bout we run a couple of new lines direct from the coolant engine?"
"Inside the containment dome?" Calen asked incredulously. “That’s imposs…” He paused as Vera lifted one of the pipes off the floor. It weighed half a ton, but it looked weightless in her hands. “Oh, yeah…”
"Always did like it hot," Vera winked at Calen. “Hope you don’t mind staying out here and letting me do the hard work?”
Vera shook her head. "Most of them look like skinny models. Nothing on their bones ‘cept pretty. But I think a little muscle is going to come in handy here."
“A little?” Calen nodded in amazement as he stared at her huge arm, trying to imagine how strong she must be outside a gold field. He’d never seen a human woman with that kind of muscle, let alone a Vel.
“So, you like strong women?” Vera asked as she saw the admiring way he was staring at her biceps.
Calen quickly looked up at her, eyes wide, his feelings of insecurity rising as he felt himself falling back into those incredibly blue depths. "I've read a lot about you... about Vels I mean. I just never thought I'd meet one of you.” Outside of my dreams, he almost said. “Your eyes are... incredible."
Vera smiled at the unusual compliment. Nobody on Velor had ever commented on her eyes. “And here I thought you liked my muscles.”
“I… I’ve never met anyone who looked like you,” Calen stammered, not sure what he was supposed to say to a superwoman.
Alex stared disgustedly at the two of them before turning to head for the control room, announcing his intention to keep Calen updated on the reactor vitals.
Vera went to work stacking a half-dozen pipes near the entrance to the containment dome while Calen did some calculations on what sizes she’d likely need inside. She sifted through the nearly empty storeroom to gather up whatever else she could.
They finally met again in the maintenance shop, both of them staring at the vault-like door into the containment dome. "I figure the heat and radiation have welded it closed by now," Calen volunteered. "You'll have to cut it open." He pointed to the plasma torch beside her.
She turned to look back into his eyes. "I'm going to walk into the fires of hell itself, Calen, and a whole lot of that hell is going to escape into this work area. I'd get your butt out of here and join your friend in the control room."
Calen nodded, numbed by the mere thought of anyone exposing themselves to the heat and radiation he knew was behind that door. He started to turn away, only to have her reach out and take his hand.
“Wait a second.”
He turned back to see Vera reaching up to take her diamond earrings and necklace off.
"Take these." She opened his hand and placed them in it.
Calen nodded, still numb.
"And these too." She crossed her arms and quickly pulled her top off. She wore nothing but tanned perfection beneath it. Her breasts sat high and were perfectly round, her nipples unusually large. The intricate design and colors of her body art were dazzling.
"Wow," Calen said as he swallowed hard, his heart leaping as Vera winked at him and undid her belt to peel her jeans off as well. Her flat stomach flowed downward to her naked sex, stunning him with the realization that the architects of her race had made everything perfect. Her labia were as beautiful as her lips.
"I... I, ah, see that rumors of Velorian perfection aren't exaggerated," he stumbled, trying to keep his cool as he traced his eyes over her tight curves and flawless skin, admiring the full scope of her elaborate tattoos. They wound their way upwards to her breasts and down the inside of her legs and across her back, the elaborate designs and vivid colors taking his breath away. "You’re a work of art. So incredibly beautiful."
Vera’s cheeks took on a rosy glow, her nipples firming visibly as she rested her hands on her hips and took a deep breath, unable to resist showing off her improved figure. "I've been called many things back on Velor, but beautiful was definitely not one of them. Not with these tattoos. Most people considered them a form of self-mutilation."
"Then the people of Velor are insane," he said in a serious voice, still trying to catch his breath. “You’re a living, breathing superfemme, and a work of art from head to toe.”
"No argument on the second point," she said as she folded up her clothes neatly. "I just hope I can claim the first point an hour from now.”
“With your strength? No problem.”
Vera laughed. “It’s more my ability to withstand all that heat and radiation that worries me. My only protection is bare skin and Velorian genetics.”
"I’m not sure why, but I find that incredibly… exciting.” Calen was going to say arousing, but he was starting to feel intimidated. What kind of man would impress a woman like Vera? He pushed that misplaced thought away. “I mean, it’s just so kick ass cool that you can bend steel bars and all that jazz.”
Vera laughed, trying not to blush further. "I guess only a human could appreciate that. On Velor I was weak, ugly and low-class, not to mention uneducated."
Calen winced, painfully remembering his early comments on her lack of credentials. "Sometimes, we don't understand about different..."
Vera spun around without waiting for him to finish. She picked up the plasma torch and tested it by firing it up and playing it across her fingers, the white-hot flame nearly blinding Calen. Vera jerked her fingers back and put them in her mouth to cool, a high-pitched sizzle of steam escaping. "Ouch, that’s hot.”
Calen just stared, well aware that the plasma torch burned at 10,000ºC. “I think you’d better start, ah, probably at the top of the door," he said woodenly, his brain racing in two many directions at once to think clearly. "Lower part of the door is probably wet from the radioactive coolant slush. The last thing we need is to let some of that escape and contaminate the working spaces."
Vera stood facing him, enticingly naked, a funny smile on her face, as the plasma torch blazed blindingly bright in her hand. “Got it. Now get you butt out of here. It’s going to get seriously nasty here once I break the seal.”
Calen turned and ran, his eyes watering from the glare of the torch, a headache already growing from having looked at the flame.
Vera turned back to study the top of the door, located twelve feet off the ground. She wasn't going to be able to float up and hang there. Not yet anyway. Until she got some practice, her flying skills were limited to hops and jumps.
Instead, she leaped up and wrapped her legs around the vertical I-beam that was part of the door frame. The steel gave off a muted groan as it collapsed slightly between her thighs – she was gripping it too enthusiastically.
That amused her, bringing with it a more sobering thought. If I-beams couldn’t handle a gentle squeeze of her legs, God help a man. Getting laid here was going to be a problem for sure.
She pushed that misplaced thought away as she leaned far to the right to begin playing the plasma flame across the upper seam of the door. The steel squealed and bubbled and finally melted to run down the front of the door like water. She heated a meter-wide section of the door to white-hot incandescence, and then dropped the torch to let it swing on its lanyard as she stretched her arm out to dig her long fingers into the glowing crack. She had to strain a bit, the steel was inches thick and only the outer inch or two was near molten, but she managed to peel the softened steel back far enough to widen the crack, the jelly-like glowing metal running over her hand and wrist, making her skin glow, but not burning her.
The escaping heat from inside the dome was another thing. Noxious radioactive gasses blew her hair backward as she leaned over to look through the crack. She saw the massive stainless steel reactor standing in the middle of a large room, one corner of it glowing bluish-white. Even more horrifying, the floor was a churning mass of molten sodium mixed with steel alloys. Half-critical blobs of plutonium sent swirls of orange and blue and pink bubbles rising. It was the most dangerous mixture from hell ever conceived by man.
She gritted her teeth and put her raw strength to work now, her arms and shoulders coming alive with Velorian muscularity as she peeled the thick steel door outward with every twist of her wrists, the protesting door screaming from the strain. She thought briefly of Calen, knowing he was watching her on the monitor, most likely studying the intense definition of her back muscles as she dug her fingers even deeper into the thick steel. That somehow made her feel even stronger as she bent the vault-like door open, all six-inches thick of it. Within minutes, she'd created a gap wide enough to slip her body through.
The hellish glare of heat and violent radiation was blasting through the opening with hurricane strength now, giving her face and hair a reddish glow as she tried to worm her way headfirst through the gap. Sucking in her breath as her bare chest scraped uncomfortably across the ragged steel, she popped through to splash down on the floor of the containment dome.
She promptly slipped and nearly fell, the god-awful radioactive alloy coating her legs. She held her breath as she submerging her arms in the knee-deep sludge to feel her way around a large valve that was submerged in the sludge. The lethal mixture of alloys burned her skin wherever it touched her, the radiation powerful enough to have disintegrated a human in seconds. Lethal dose for humans was between 150 and 500 rads, yet more than 9000 rads were bombarding her now.
Not that a human would have noticed. The thousand degree Centigrade heat would have vaporized their body before they even came in contact with the molten alloy.
She looked down at her chest and saw a blue glow surrounding her body on the side facing the reactor, the effect making it look as if she was encased in a forcefield. A shimmer of sparks traced across it to make her skin prickle unpleasantly. Amazingly, the hard gamma rays were being bent and deflected by her invulnerable skin, which created the blue glow of Cerenkov radiation. The energetic deflection of rays were exciting photons in the ultraviolet to visible blue spectrum. She'd read about the effects of hard radiation against active shields, but had never thought her body would do the same.
She had no time to wonder about it, for the caustic radioactive vapors were tearing at her lungs, making every breath an agony. She emptied her lungs and held her breath as she sloshed her way across the hellishly hot floor, her skin itching like a thousand fire ants were biting her as the blue glow surrounding her front-side grew brighter by the step. She ignored the pain as she narrowed her eyes and began studying the reactor.
She was quickly horrified to find that she could see all the way through a fissure in one corner and see the fuel rods melting inside, releasing more molten plutonium to flow down into the slush even as she watched.
They didn't have a day before it went critical, but hours at most!
“One more fuck-up…” she tried to say after taking a tiny breath, but her lungs were so hot that her words came out as little more than a whistle of steam.
She spun around and slogged her way back toward the door, only to trip over another piece of submerged machinery. This time she fell to her knees, her head spinning so dizzily from the radiation and heat that she could barely get back to her feet. Not only that, but she lost her grip on the torch, losing it beneath the sludge. Unable to even think of flying now, she leaped up to grab the top of the door, astounded to see two parallel grooves from where her nipples had dug into the steel on her entrance.
She left two more grooves as she wormed her way back through the crack to drop down into the now contaminated maintenance shop, the air blessedly cool. She didn’t pause to enjoy it before gathering up the heavy coolant pipes and launching them through the high opening like spears. Soon a dozen of them were submerged in the radioactive sludge inside.
Emptying her lungs again, not that the air was that much better outside the dome now, she popped back through the opening to fish around for them. Given that she’d lost the plasma torch on her first trip, her heat vision, hands and legs were the only tools she had now. Primitive, but hopefully effective tools, given the unique abilities of her empowerment.
She started her work by leaping up to straddle one of the thick steel pipes, the metal glowing cherry-red from the super-heated coolant. She gritted her teeth and crossed her ankles, concentrating on closing her thighs. Unlike the I-beam she’d accidentally deformed, the thick-walled high-tensile pipe took some real muscle to deform. Her thighs bulged with even harder steel as she slowly crushed the pipe closed, the four-inch thick walls squealing like a thing alive as she finally pinched the pipe off. Relaxing her legs, she scooted backwards along the pipe to an intact section, placing her hands between her legs to press her fingernails against the steel pipe.
She jerked her shoulders to the side as she tried to fly sideways, the grip of her legs instead propelling her body in a circle around the pipe while digging her fingernails deeply into it. It took a dozen rotations to neatly cut the pipe in half, her body behaving like a gigantic pipe-cutter. She dropped down and cleaned up the edges as best she could with her nails, and then jammed a section of new pipe up against the old.
Welding it with her heat vision required a lot more skill than merely crushing and tearing it. Her first join looked terrible, the thick steel sagging all along the bottom of the weld, the pipe dimpled and half melted. It was the ugliest weld in the universe, she thought, but by Skietra, it was holding.
Her next weld went better, and by the time she’d joined a half dozen pipes, they were almost respectable. Unfortunately, her eyes were dry and burning now and her head ached terribly. Even worse, a line from her forehead to her chest felt like it was on fire from all the energy she’d been conducting through her nervous system. She pushed through the pain, knowing she had little time to finish the job.
Less than an hour later, she'd restored sufficient liquid sodium flow back to the pile to stop the fuel rods from melting further. The task now was to close the breach in the reactor itself.
That proved to be even harder, as the six-inch thick steel had peeled back and partially melted to join the sludge on the floor. Fortunately, her skin temperature was now so close to that of molten steel that she could use her body as a crude welder. She spread her arms wide around one corner, exposing her bared chest directly to the lethal inner glow of the reactor as she squeezed her arms inward, trying to seal the gap. The steel bulged uselessly above and below her hands. Frustrated, she spread her legs the same way, adding the surface area of her inner thighs to her hands as she tried to get the thick steel to flow back to close the gap. Frustrated when it still squished together the wrong way, she had a burst of inspiration. She pressed her sternum against the gap and pressed her hands inward against her breasts, using that softer flesh to distribute her incredible strength as she rubbed herself up and down the fissure.
Strangely, the blinding pain in her head and chest seemed to recede a bit as the heat and radiation blasted against the center of her body from chin to pubic bone, heating her both inside and out. The burning and prickling of her skin was washed away by an overwhelming burst of enticing tingles that seemed to come from nowhere.
She onto those tingles to surf along on a hurricane of raw needfulness, her body vibrating tantalizingly, the wash of erotic heat nearly overwhelming her with its urgency, engulfing her in the most difficult battle of contrary forces she'd ever experienced.
It took all her determination to keep her hands from her body and focus that raw erotic strength into sealing off the melted plutonium. But a few more kilograms of plutonium on the containment floor, and her body’s coming release wouldn’t be the only explosion she had to deal with.
She gritted her teeth like a true heroine and pushed past her needs just the way she’d pushed past her pain earlier, and put her heat vision to work welding the crudely closed gap in the steel. Her eyes began to burn even more horribly from the unaccustomed energies, and her breasts were soon aching from the rapid orgone metabolism and the tons of force she was exerting against them. Fortunately, she was absorbing energy nearly as fast as she was burning it. She patiently passed the focal point of her eyes along the seam again and again, using the smoothness of her breasts to work the steel inward, smoothing it, trying to get it to weld shut. Finally, the welds started to hold and the increased coolant flow began to cool the reactor down.
She felt like she was going to explode from inside out as she dropped back down into the knee-deep sludge, but she was also intensely proud to be female. No man could have repaired the fissure.
The problem now was the way the heavier molten plutonium was gathering in the low spots of the floor, threatening to reach super-critical mass. She remembered Calen saying something about an exhaust tube that led all the way to the surface of the asteroid to vent off radioactive gasses in case of a less severe malfunction.
She narrowed her eyes and tried to look beneath the sludge, but her tachyon vision wasn’t working due to the amount of lead that was mixed in. She resorted to dropping down on her hands and knees to begin feeling her way around until she found what felt like a pressure valve. Without considering the consequences, she tore at it with her fingers, ripping it out of the floor with a Herculean tug. A violent vortex appeared in the sludge as it began racing down the hole, giving off a sound like a half-clogged vacuum cleaner hose. Clearly there was hard vacuum on the other side.
Without considering the consequences, she lay on her side to form herself into a crude plow and started to push the sludge toward the hole. The radioactive poisons penetrated every opening of her body, every crevice, the heat seemingly homing in on that hooded nub of pure pleasure that was her desire. She bit her lip and focused instead on keeping the miners alive, on Calen in particular, as she struggled to get as much of the sludge down that tube before the pressure inside the living spaces fell low enough to threaten the miners with decompression and hypoxia. Her breach of the airlock door into the dome had eliminated their safety mechanism.
Four minutes passed before she managed to get most of the sludge close enough to the pipe entrance for the tube to evacuate it. She took a last look around the containment dome, seeing that her crude welds were holding, and then scrunched her shoulders inward and dove head-first into the vacuum tube.
It was a long trip to the surface, eleven kilometers to be exact, and along most of the length, the steel pipe was replaced by rough walls of rock that were coated with molten plutonium and steel. She finally exited the far end of the tube to splash into a huge holding tank that was anchored to the outside of the asteroid.
Turning back, she folded and hammered the end of the pipe closed with her fists, sealing it off to restore the asteroid’s atmosphere. Only then did she dare look around, opening her eyes wide to see through the walls of the HazMat scow. She was rewarded by a vision of stars. And largest of all by far, was the sun.
She was miles outside her expertise now, but she knew she had to get this radioactive hell away from the asteroid. Her flying power was the only way. Turning to press her back against the inner curve of the tank, she spread her arms and legs wide to distribute the stress across the thin steel, and began to concentrate on flying. Her breasts tingled even more wildly as a sense of weightlessness filled her, her nipples standing up like small thumbs again, her breasts lifting as if she was in zero-G before flattening against her ribs as her volatai tried to displace her backward.
The grapples that attached the tank to the asteroid began to shudder, the vibration shaking the tank wildly. She bit her lip and concentrated harder, building the buzzy, weightless, tingling in her chest, seemingly homing in on her nipples.
The long suppressed needs of the last hours finally caught up with her, bringing with them a long-threatened orgasm. A explosion of new tingles raced downward across her straining abs to zero in on her needful sex. She suddenly felt as if her body was exploding from the inside out as the most intensely erotic pleasure of her life tore the last of the sensibilities from her mind, hot, sharp, tingling wonderfulness filling her body, washing away every conscious thought to replace it with the sheer pleasure of unbounded sexual release.
She never felt the grapples exploding apart as the tank lurched free to begin careening outward, accelerating so rapidly toward the sun that it blinked out of view in two seconds flat.
It was sheer pandemonium inside Corrididor as the pressure alarms screamed.
"Where’s that alarm coming from?" Daniels shouted over the roar of wind as he ran gasping through the door of the control room. The air was already getting thin.
“Containment dome… emergency evacuation tube is torn open and we can’t isolate the work area. The door into the dome can't be closed. The Vel tore a hole through it.”
“Well, geniuses. fucking do something or we’re all dead.” Daniels’ normally ruddy face was white as a sheet.
Then, as suddenly as the decompression had started, it ended. "What the..." Daniels started to say, only to have one of the operators point at a screen
"Shit... look at that!"
Daniels looked up to see one of the HazMat waste containers accelerating away from the asteroid. "What the hell... those things don't have engines."
"Vera... she followed the evacuation of the reactor sludge down the pipe," Calen said in astonishment. "She's inside it."
"And she's flying my friggin' waste container exactly where?" Daniels demanded.
Alex looked up from his instruments. "Towards Klaxton, near as I can compute. She broke the docking clamps."
"The skin of that container is over 1000ºC and rising, " Calen added as he checked the display in front of him. "And it's radiating gamma rays like mad. God knows how she’s surviving inside that hell.”
“She's going to save us all,” one of the control room technicians gushed worshipfully. “Like an angel from heaven.” Several of the men began to cheer and clap. One of them kneeled down and began to pray.
Daniels grunted, his usual brusqueness returning now that the emergency had passed. "Cost me a fucking half million credits to get her here. Now she steals a god-damned HazMat container. She damn well better have fixed that sick reactor of yours, or I'm going to get my money's worth out of your hides."
Vera cycled in through the airlock a day later, dehydrated and sore. Her travel to the sun had been helped along by a hundred orgasms as the heat and radiation overcame her. It had been all she could do to re-aim the container toward the sun after each of her wild flailings around inside. In the end, she'd barely been aware enough to punch through the softened walls as it fell into the sun, giving the container a last push to ensure its fatal spiral into the core.
She was coated in cooling steel and plutonium alloy from head to toe. Inside as well, which was starting to irritate her, making a lie out of the Velorian myth of absolute invulnerability. The decontamination process took forever as the now hardened alloy was everywhere. Ears, nose, mouth. And all the way in to her cervix. Not nice.
She had to resort to using her heat vision, reflected from a mirror to reach the hard places, melting the deadly alloy so it would flow out of the various cavities. She hoped she’d never have to explain how she did that to anyone. All she knew was that it was suddenly very good to be super flexible. She finished by scrubbing her skin down a dozen times, first with her fingernails and then with various steel-bristled brushes, finally some plastic scrubbies.
Her hair took forever, along with a lot more heat vision. Fortunately her wise act of holding her breath had kept the liquefied metal out of her lungs. She had no idea how she would have cleaned them, and her radioactive exhalations would have given new meaning to bad breath.
She was soon more or less back to normal, except for carrying a huge energy load. She stood in the maintenance shop adjusting her clothing, finally deciding that nothing she’d brought from Velor was going to fit worth a damn. She flexed her arm, and her biceps rose large and sharp-edged, the merest exertion sending unwanted tingles through her body. Exerting herself when she carried this much energy had a wickedly erotic effect, but she'd had quite enough experience having sex with herself the last day. What she really needed was a couple of nights back with the gang on Velor.
Calen walked out of the control room at that moment, grinning wildly as he found her standing there.
“Wow! You’re back to normal..." He paused to look at her oversized chest. "Well, almost.”
“Orgone,” she shrugged. “I gotta burn it off.”
"Speaking of burning, I still don't believe what saw in there, what with you using your body as some kind of welder."
"Twarnd't nothing," she winked, knowing it had in reality been the most dramatic act of her life.
"Bullshit. But the reactor is holding. Amazing repairs."
“Thank Skietra for the small miracles," she shrugged as she flashed him a brilliant smile. Her teeth were as white as ivory now. "Don't tell anyone, but I was a fucking mile over my head in there."
"But you said you could fix anything. I'm a believer."
"Don't count your blessings yet. Give it a day or two to see if it holds. I just hope I don't have to do that again. "
"Yeah, I saw Alex’s calculation. You were exposed to more than ten-thousand rads in there. Yet watching you wading around nude in that molten alloy, coated from head to foot, you might as well have been a goddess..." Calen gushed before he caught himself, blushing a little. "I'm sorry... but it was just so incredible. I don’t know what words can describe it."
"What part? The repair or watching me parading around naked?"
Calen laughed. "We'll have to make you our naked goddess of technology. But seriously, that was something right out of those erotic Velorian science fiction holos that are floating around the Net."
Vera laughed. "So I’m really a goddess now, huh? That's a switch. You don't even want to know what they called me back on Velor."
"Beautiful, I'm sure."
"Yeah, I'm sure," she smirked.
"But with your mix of strength and beauty...” he gushed, trying to restrain himself, “combined with your absolute invulnerability. And those gorgeous tattooes. Only a goddess could claim such perfection. "
Vera smiled. "Keep talking like that, and I'll have to have my way with you."
Calen looked startled as she winked at him while casually juggling two large steel bearings in her hands. They were almost too large to get her fingers around.
"Don't try this at home," she winked as she paused to grip them as tightly as she could. The tendons on the backs of her hands rose like steel cables. She lifted her hands to stare at them. "I have to admit, it's seriously cool to be this fucking strong. And the harder I work out, the better I feel. I swear could get off just by working out."
Calen couldn’t help but blush as he daringly reached out to touch her forearm, never dreaming that mere exertion could be so erotic... for both of them. He traced his fingers lovingly over the hard tendons of her wrist, then upward, following the steel of her forearm. He had to step behind her as she poured her strength into the steel bearings, heating them from compressive friction. Her skin was so warm and silky, yet it was stretched as tightly as steel foil over her proud muscles. "God... you are so amazingly strong. I would love to see you... work out more."
Vera smiled, knowing that wasn't exactly what he had in mind. "It would be nice to have you here... touching me… when I do."
Calen boldly lifted his hands higher, his fingers wrapping around the hard swell of her biceps. It felt like a warm ball of living steel, and so large that he couldn't get his fingers around it. He'd never met a woman so profoundly muscular, even less a women with a hundredth of her strength. His heart pounded like a jungle drum as he struggled to comprehend the fantastic power that filled his hands.
Getting off on his excitement, Vera kept pouring more and more strength into her hands, the tingle of her straining muscles growing ever more demanding, which in turn made her stronger yet. Her hands began to glow white-hot as half-molten steel began to ooze from between her fingers.
Realizing with a shock where this was going, knowing she’d quickly become too hot for Calen to be near, she quickly dropped the mangled bearings on the floor, shaking the remnants of molten steel from her hands so they could quickly cool. She was far more interested in his touch now than merely showing off, his gentle fingers sending wild thrills tracing across her skin. His touch was like erotic fire.
As soon as her body had absorbed most of the heat, she reached behind her to open the door to a maintenance closet, and grabbed his shirt to pull him in behind her. A tangle of valves and pipes and machinery surrounded them, but she had eyes only for him. "Touch me," she gasped. "Everywhere."
Alex boldly placed his free hand on her chest, pulling downward on the black stretchy fabric, struggling to free her left breast. She shrugged her shoulders to free her top, and helped him pull it down to her waist. He closed his hand over her fullness, finding her breast deliciously firm, yet still so very feminine, her large, erect nipple boring into his hand.
"Oh, Skietra, yes..." she gasped as he held both the hardest and softest parts of her body with equal enthusiasm. She began to squirm under his hands, her nipples growing impossibly larger. Her legs began to shake and she staggered, slipping partway down the wall to sit down softly on the floor. Her mouth opened in a perfect O as she began to shake her head from side to side, her eyes distant and unfocused, body vibrating with desire.
Realizing with a shock that she was at the very edge of an orgasm, Calen released his tight grip on her breast and circled his fingers delicately around her nipples. She cried out in encouragement, and he knew in that moment that she was going to come, right here among the machines and valves of her trade. She was going to come for him.
He played his touch against her nipples like a pianist at his keyboard, and she became the willing instrument of his desires.
The back alleys of Corrididor
Calen wasn’t sure if he was entering the door of heaven or hell an hour later as he led the way through the narrow, winding streets of Corrididor Town, passing a number of very rough-looking pubs until he came to one that looked at least half respectable. Vera had wanted to go drinking, and he knew that this bar catered to the mining superintendents, foremen and engineers. The fake wood front with shuttered windows and the flashing 'Globst' beer sign over the door further marked it as an upscale bar. Not that anything was really upscale on Corrididor.
"This joint probably isn't up to your standards," he said apologetically, "but this is the best watering hole on the rock."
Vera laughed as she followed him into the dingy interior. "If you had any idea of the places I used to hang out on Velor, you'd think this was a fucking palace."
A number of burly miners sat at the bar, still in their jumpsuits. One of them spotted Vera in the doorway and nudged the man next to him. Soon everyone was turning to stare at Vera as she walked under the lights, her hair glowing a brilliant blonde after the bleaching effects of the radiation. She was incredibly tall and statuesque, like some kind of Valkyrie. The men looked from her to Calen and back, seemingly disbelieving that he was accompanying such an incredible woman.
Or so Calen imagined. He tried to guide Vera to a table in the darkest corner of the bar, but she turned and walked over to the bar, slamming her palm on it. "You got any decent god-damned bourbon in this place?" she challenged the bartender.
So much for low profile, Calen groaned.
The one-eyed man behind the bar, a disabled miner, stared at her for a long moment before gesturing toward the bottle rack behind him. "Whatever I got is right there, honey. Or down here." He grabbed his crotch.
Vera laughed. "I think I need something a lot stronger than that. What's in the bottles?"
Calen sighed and followed her over to sit down on one of the bar stools, glancing anxiously at the huge miner sitting beside him. The miner put his hand on Calen's chest and slowly pushed him backward to keep from blocking his view of Vera.
"Give me and my friend a double BC," she said. Ballard’s Canyon was the best bourbon money could buy in the Enlightenment, although it was usually watered down or faked in cheap bars.
The bartender poured two shots and then set the heavy leaded glasses down in front of her. Vera downed hers in a single gulp. Then, before Calen could lift his, she startled him by crushing her shot glass to powder, opening her hand to let the glass fragments float down to coat the top of the bar. She placed her hand over Calen's drink. "That was complete shit,” she scowled at the bartender. “How about serving us the real stuff. From the bottle you keep under the bar."
The bartender stared at her again, then at the glass shards, before slowly reaching under the bar for an identical looking bottle. He poured two more drinks. "That stuff was pretty good,” he said apologetically. “Not many can tell the difference."
"Hey, you're that Velorian," the miner next to Calen said as he leaned toward Vera, crowding Calen back even further. He stuck out his hand. "I just heard the fucking news. You saved all our asses."
Vera tossed her second drink down as she reached out with her other hand to grip the miner's huge mitt. He winced slightly. "I am that. Name’s Vera. And you are?"
"Ted Danvost. Superintendent at the Etos mine."
"Glad to meet 'ya, Ted. This is my friend Calen. He's one of the power engineers that keeps your place running."
Danvost looked doubtfully at Calen before offering his hand. It was Calen who winced this time as the miner's huge mitt closed painfully around his hand. "You guys are friends, huh?" He looked at Vera, then back at Calen, his right eyebrow lifting. "I would'a thought a woman like you would go for a man with a little more… substance. Backbone even."
Vera wrapped her arm around Calen and cooed as she lowered her hand to his lap. "It's not his back bone that interests me."
Calen’s eyes opened wide as her fingers traced his hardening outline. Danvost guffawed. "Yeah. We heard that about you Vels." He looked doubtfully at Calen. "Must be a hell of a lot more to you than meets the eye, boy."
Vera winked conspiratorially at Calen before continuing. “You wouldn’t believe what he just did to me in a maintenance closet. I’m still trying to catch my breath. Never felt so hot in my life. Power guys rock.”
"Then, by God, I'll drink to power," another miner bellowed. Calen recognized him as chief engineer at the Spyron mine. "Bartender, another round of good stuff for my two new friends here."
Six drinks and an hour later, Calen was passed out in one of the booths, and Vera was sitting at a corner table with a half dozen burly miners. Three of the strongest were gasping and groaning as they strained together to arm-wrestle her. Her upper body was incredibly defined, a maze of hard muscular curves rising as she appeared to be straining mightily, never letting the men know that she was directing more than 95% of her strength internally, straining against herself isometrically, the mere 5% of strength that she directed toward the three men proving sufficient to slowly bend their arms down on the table.
"Another round, bartender," she chortled as the men fell gasping to the floor, their arms cramping. Three more huge men took their place and she did it all over again, this time while downing the drinks they'd set in front of her.
It continued this way for the next half hour. The miners were determined, and all six of them joined up to oppose her single arm. They didn't last any longer. Finally recognizing the futility of it all, they turned back to serious drinking, slamming their shot glasses back onto the table after each round, sometimes hard enough to shatter them.
Vera astounded the men by putting one of the glasses in her mouth and slowly crunched it up and swallowed it like it was little more than a potato chip. They bought her another drink just to watch her do that again.
She found herself falling back into the demonstrative and flirtatious pattern that she'd enjoyed while hanging out with the freedlings back on Velor. She teased the men, touching them at lot, allowing their hands to wander a little as well before finally rising to stand against the wall. The men had become increasingly curious about her physical talents, and it was time to show them something. Something that would rock even their most fantastic imaginings about her people.
She posed while flexing her left arm as hard as she could and then held it. Orgone energy flashed upward from her breasts to power her exertion, her large biceps gradually beginning to glow in the subdued light of the bar. She poured more and more strength into it, almost to the point fo cramping, and her nipples began to burn, her breasts heating enough to glow a dull red as the rush of orgone metabolism fueled her nearly white-hot biceps. Her top burst into flames as her upper body turned red hot, and the paint on the wall behind her began to blister.
The entire bar just stared at her open mouthed, astounded as the flames licked around her body, gradually revealing the extent of her elaborate tattoos. She stood like a glowing beacon of naked art as her top was reduced to a circle of ash around her feet.
The miners shook their heads and slapped each other on the backs as they staggered back to the bar for another shot, glancing back at her every few seconds, laughing about how she was the ultimate ‘hot chick’.
Vera joined them when her skin cooled, remaining bare-breasted as the men's hands wandered a bit more familiarly as they took turns singing the old songs of their native worlds. The singing and drinking soon became a contest to see who was going to be the last person standing.
They were big, hard-drinking men and they could handle their booze, but a freedling chick from Velor was definitely more than they could handle. Especially after she undid her hair and began running her fingers sensually through the long strands. The tiny pheromone glands in her scalp filled the room with the faint scent of honey and wildflowers. The already aroused and drunken men awakened like they never had before, the complex chemistry of her pheromones, capable of briefing invigorating a man far beyond normal human limits, serving to both sober and arouse them. They soon felt like the supermen they often imagined they were during their drunkenness.
Enjoying their primitive reactions to her scent, not to mention their increased alcohol tolerance, Vera barely resisted the desire to flop on her back in the middle of the pool table and invite one and all to celebrate their sexuality. Such had been her drinking habit since she was fifteen and traveling with the freedling gang. Unfortunately, her favorite kind of sex, athletic and inexhaustible, competitive even, wasn't going to work with these men.
The men seemed to understand. Most of them were experts in drilling, and they recognized hard rock when they saw it.
Smiling, she offered them an alternative, and led them down the street to a place they'd passed on the way down here. Purple Heaven was the best brothel on Corrididor, and Vera convinced the madam to give her new friends a world-class night. She offered to let them in on the secret of Velorian lovemaking if her girls would burn the nearly superhuman power of the men's pheromic highs. For free.
Vera sat with the madam as the men played, the madam eager to learn the secret of what she’d done to the men to get them so hot. Vera looked through ceilings and walls to see the men having their fun, feeling sad that she couldn’t join in. Sighing, she let the madam smell her hair, draping it over her as she watched the changes awaken the old whore's body. The madam went from businesswoman to her willing sexual slave in two minutes flat. The madam's arousal so complete that she was could barely contain herself.
"All that from your hair," she gasped. "If I had some of that, I'd be a millionaire."
"Sorry, the hair doesn't come off," Vera smiled as she allowed the randy madam to kiss her fondly before saying her goodbyes. She returned to the bar to gather the sleeping Calen up in her arms and carried him out into the street.
Her long, blonde hair was the last thing the madam saw of her that night as she ran down the street at fantastic speed.
Calen opened his eyes to find that he was lying on his bed. It was already the daylight period, and artificial light was streaming through the windows of his bedroom. He turned his head to the side and winced; it felt as if someone was pounding on the inside of his head with little hammers. He turned further, and was rewarded by the sight of Vera’s tattooed back beside him, her jeans hanging from the chair by his desk. Startled to find himself in bed with her, he tried to remember how he'd gotten here, even more urgently, to remember what they'd done together. Frustratingly, the last thing he remembered was the bar spinning around him.
He ignored his pounding head to roll over and take a closer look at the perfection of her back. Even sleeping, her muscle tone was remarkable, the subtle curves revealing the steel that lay beneath the almost airbrushed look of her skin. The tiny hairs that covered a human's body were absent, even when he studied her this closely, and the pores of her skin were nearly invisible, leaving only the very fine texture of human skin. Somehow the fact that her skin still had human texture comforted him, even though he already knew that Velorians and humans had come from the same base genome. He gently brushed his fingers through her glowing hair, and found it was silky and warm.
She stirred at his feathery touch, and rolled over to face him, her blue eyes large and luminous, her breath sweet despite the long night of drinking. "I think I like this place, Calen."
“Corrididor. Also your bed.”
A thrill of desire raced through his body as he smelled the remnants of that wonderful honey and wildflower scent rising from her hair. The thrill magically erased his hangover, leaving him staring deeply into her amazing eyes.
Her invitation was clear, but unfortunately another part of his biology asserted itself with even great urgency than his desires. He had to relieve himself. Unfortunately, when he planted his first foot on the floor, the room started to spin around again and his stomach lurched nauseously. Vera quickly flipped herself across the bed to wrap her long legs around him, steadying him. He inhaled more of the scent from her hair and the room stopped spinning again. “Jesus, if we could bottle that pheromone stuff, we’d made billions.”
She tossed her head, covering him with her silky hair. “The madam was thinking millions last night."
"What madam?" he asked, turning his head back to look at her.
She winked. "Let my scent be my gift to you.”
"What... what the hell happened last night?"
"You mean, besides you passing out?”
“You so don't want to know."
"Jesus," he groaned as he staggered to his feet. Vera guided him toward the bathroom, holding him steady as he stood over the loo. "I'm such a wimp."
She shrugged. "Some men have brains, some have brawn, but rarely the two. Yesterday I needed your brains, just as I will today, but last night I needed something else. It was best you passed out early. Freedlings and miners, we have a few tastes in common."
Calen turned to stare back at her again, his imagination racing to fill in the blanks. Wild rumors about Velorian sexual habits had become rampant on Corrididor since she’d arrived. A miner’s claim to fame was his brawn and his endurance and his smarts around machinery. In contrast, Calen did all his work with his fingers on a keyboard or with his mind attached to a neural link, and he had the pale, undeveloped body to show for it. He felt Vera's breasts pressing warmly against his back as he leaned over the toilet and began to download last night’s over indulgence.
He was strangely relieved when Vera started to get dressed when they came back out of the bathroom, pulling on one of his t-shirts to replace her burned one. He felt himself stir as he saw the erotic way she filled it out. He stood in his skivvies, half aroused and half hung-over, not sure what to do now.
He decided the safest thing was to pick up where they left off at work yesterday. "I'm, ah, I'm going to let Daniels know that the repair you did on our reactor is unlikely to hold. And the containment dome is going to be too hot for Alex or me to re-enter for many years. We need a good reactor tech here. Someone who isn’t affected by hard rads."
She smiled broadly, the china-white of her teeth brightening the room. "I was thinking the same thing. If we can get Daniels to put his chop on your report, my boss might agree."
“Why would he give you up?”
She laughed. “That asshole has been looking for a way to get rid of me for months. My only regret will be that I can’t work with this old engineer that I shack up with. But he’ll understand.”
"Well, after I get done with my report, nobody will dare pull you off this rock. Hell, you can ride it into the sun if that's your pleasure."
"Anything except to go home, my friend," Vera said as she hugged him gently, "anything at all."