|Ordinary Velorians -
The Reactor spaces
Vera and Calen worked feverishly to design and fabricate an armored airlock door and decontamination chamber that could be set into the now repaired main entrance to the containment dome. The extensive decontamination of her body after her first exposure had taken half a day, and then another day to clean up the maintenance area. It was barely within tolerable limits for humans even now. With an airlock, Vera could come and go without further contaminating the outside maintenance area.
By late afternoon, they had the airlock working, courtesy of Calen's design talents and Vera's ability to work the thick steel with little more than her strong hands and blazing eyes. Much like a human sculptor working his clay, she displayed an artistic touch with stainless steel.
Daniels had watched her work for a few minutes, and then headed back to his office, muttering something about never, ever shaking hands with a Velorian. Or making eye contact. He hadn't returned, which was unusual enough in itself.
Things grew even stranger when Alex didn't show up for work or call. Calen was starting to worry about him when two heavily armored Guardians walked into the maintenance area. Vera had her back to them as she smoothed the welds around the airlock, using a combination of heat vision and her thumbs, finally rubbing the glowing steel out with her palms until it was polished smooth.
One of the Guardians motioned for Calen to be quiet as his partner walked stealthily up behind Vera, holding a thick horseshoe of golden metal in front of him. He paused just behind her as she concentrated on her work, the loud exhaust fans covering the sound of his breathing and heartbeat. He tensed himself, and suddenly leaned forward to wrap the gold band around her waist. It snapped closed with a buzzing click, and Vera staggered, slowly turning back to look at the Guardian and then Calen, her eyes narrowing with a look of betrayal.
"What the hell are you..." Calen started to protest, only to have the other Guardian bend him over a table, fastening his wrists tightly with a plastic strap.
The second Guardian snapped a thick pair of handcuffs made of purplish metal to bind Vera's wrists together the same way, then jerked her back to her feet, clearing his throat to announce, "Vera Sho'tovic, I bind you in law."
"What!" Calen shouted at them. "She just saved our collective asses, you idiots. If the reactor malfunctions again, we could die within hours."
"Orders," the Guardian said as he began to wind layers of gold chain around her neck.
Vera looked up the Guardian with smoky eyes, a funny grin on her face. She looked completely out of it now; intoxicated and dreamy-eyed. The air was filled with the scent of her pheromones, a wild tingle of arousal tearing at Calen with passionate power, yet the two Guardians seemed unaffected as they struggled to get her on back on her feet and walk her out of the room. Vera staggered drunkenly between them. Then he saw the filters in their noses and understood. They'd clearly been quickly but thoroughly trained in the art of subduing an empowered Velorian.
One of the Guardians looked back at Calen as he collapsed in his chair, gasped for air, seemingly on the edge of embarrassing himself horribly. The Guardian smirked, "You need to come down to the station for questioning as well, just as soon as you are... capable."
Calen sat in the Security office a half hour later, handcuffs removed, asking a stream of questions that the investigating officer was unwilling or unable to answer.
A detective named Vance Calloway arrived and started to ask him questions, mostly about Vera. Calloway smoked a smelly pipe and had a huge moustache, two anachronisms that would only be tolerated on an 'anything goes' mining world like Corrididor. His questions began to focus in on how Vera had gotten along with Alex.
Calen answered his questions are carefully as he could, but there was no disguising that Alex and Vera hadn't gotten along well at all. A mutual lack of respect was how he described it. As he talked, Calen kept glancing at Vera as she lay on the cot in her cell, moaning softly. Was gold that powerful a drug for Velorians?
Normally, no jail cell could hold a Velorian, everyone knew that. She could easily tear the handcuffs apart and then bend the cell bars outward to escape. Instead, she looked weak and intoxicated, her hair falling over her face as she leaned her head against the wall and moaned softly.
Calloway saw him glancing at her. "Gold does that if it's pure enough and there's enough of it. A series of unbroken bands around a Vel's body confuses the hormones that regulate energy flows. Makes them feel drunk, horny and nearly as weak as a human if you can get enough of it on. The only danger now is the cloud of pheromones she's giving off. We can only vent so much of that outside the cell." He chuckled. "The closed atmosphere of this rock is going to make the docs busy about nine months from now.
Calen had heard those rumors as well, although usually in a bawdy sexual context, but now he had first-hand experience attesting to their power. Supremis pheromones were the ultimate aphrodisiac for human and Supremis alike. Calloway paused to describe the way gold was a catalyst for them, referring to it as part of some Galen plan that he didn't understand.
Calen shook his head and shifted mental gears, realizing that Calloway’s earlier questions had been focused on Vera’s interactions with Alex. "I was wondering what happened to, Alex. He didn't show up for work today. He and I signed on together."
Calloway's expression turned dark. "You don't want to know, son. Trust me on this."
"Actually, I do," Calen said, his sense of foreboding increasing.
"You're going to regret it."
"That's for me to decide."
Calloway paused to look up into Calen's face, and finally shrugged. "Guess you have as much right to know about your friend as anyone. Follow me."
Calloway led the way down two flights of metal stairs and through a doorway into a darkened room with a medical examination table in the middle. The air had a musky, slightly rotten smell that even the strong scent of disinfectant couldn't quite hide.
Calen's heart froze as he suddenly realized he was standing in a morgue. "You mean… Alex is dead?"
Calloway pulled open one of the long drawers and lifted the metallized sheet that covered a body. Calen covered his mouth as he stared down at his friend. Or what was left of his friend. Alex’s body had been crushed down to half its normal size, his shoulders bent inward, sharp protrusions of broken bone pressing up under the skin of his chest and arms, his pelvis as narrow as a young child's and badly distorted.
"No bruising despite the massive internal injuries. She killed him fast."
"Vera?" Calen gasped, finally understanding with a shock why they'd taken her into custody. "No way. She couldn't have done this."
"You know anyone else on Corrididor that could crush a man like that? Look at his chest. See those two rounded depressions where his ribs were crushed? I've seen pictures of someone who was killed by a female Prime. Same pattern, using her fucking supertits against human flesh."
"A Prime, maybe, but Vera's Velorian. She wouldn't hurt anyone."
"I pulled her records from the Proctors back on Velor. Seems she once hung out with drug dealers as part of some flitter-bike gang, the kind of assholes that trash bars and bust people up. Her boyfriend was killed by one of the addicts they were peddling drugs to.” He looked back up at Calen. “She's hardly a sweet young thing."
"You find any record saying she's ever hurt anyone?" Calen challenged.
“You mean other than the guy who killed her boyfriend? She fucked him to death, Arion style. Broke his back. See any pattern here?”
"That’s bullshit,” Calen shouted back. “She didn't do this." Everything he'd learned about Vera in the last few days told him she was willing to risk her own life to help others. She might have lived a rough life on Velor, but in her heart, he knew she was true to the highest ideals of Velor.
"O.K, maybe not intentionally," Calloway shrugged, not wanting to upset Calen further. "Could be the bitch was having her way with him and lost control. Death by passion. Manslaughter or murder, either way she's going back to Velor for trial."
Calen stared at Alex's misshapen body. He looked like he'd been run over by a ground truck. This was no accident. But how could anyone kill a man so cruelly?
Calloway answered his unasked question. "The bitch broke every bone from his pelvis up, and the sharp ends and slivers in turn slashed his internal organs apart. Not only that, but they were fucking at the time. Nobody but a Vel has enough inner strength to kill a man that way. "
"Nobody but a Prime," Calen reminded him darkly.
Calloway shook his head. "We'd know if one of those bastards was on the rock. Scanners can pick 'em up. Showed your Vel clear as day soon as she landed."
"You can track her movements then? Since she arrived?"
"Could if we'd wanted to. But we normally just check new arrivals. Trust me, son, she killed your friend."
"What about a Betan? Can you track them?"
Calloway shook his head. "Not that it matters. There's no way one of them is strong enough to do this kind of damage. Nope, as I see it, this an open and shut case if there ever was one. "
"Would it make a difference if I told you she was with me last night, and all day today."
Calloway looked at him closely, searching for any sign of deception. Prior to this backwater assignment, he'd been a top investigator on Riegel Five, and he'd become a good judge of men. His instincts said Calen was an honest man. "You're sure you had your eye on her every minute? You didn't sleep, go to the bathroom, nothing?"
"Well, no, I mean, yeah, I kind of passed out. But she's been with me every minute since I woke up around seven this morning."
"Well, that doesn't help. Your buddy got crunched at about six. I suspect you're lucky to be alive, son. You had to be next on her list."
"No, I don't buy any of this," Calen said angrily. "She wanted more than anything to stay here on Corrididor, and she's smart enough to know that killing someone this way would point only to her."
"As I said, maybe she didn't intend to hurt him. You know what they say about Vels. They can fuck you to death. And she is new to living outside a gold field. Hell, son, if you were suddenly a few hundred times stronger, you'd be dangerous too."
"Except she was very aware of that, detective. We worked together and she was getting used to her strength."
"Don't know nothing about that," Calloway shrugged again. "Just know what I see. A man killed during intercourse with an immensely strong female. I got the only girl with the muscles right there in that cell."
Calen’s thoughts raced, looking for a way out. It finally came to him. "Get a DNA sample from her vagina. If she did what you say, they'll be some cells that match Alex's. Probably semen too."
Calloway laughed. "Right, and lose my fingers doing it? I'm not getting that close to her; she's still plenty strong despite the gold. We've called for a Protector. She can take her back to Velor for trial."
"And what do you think is going to happen to any genetic evidence by the time she gets here? Or gets Vera back there? Do you know how hot a Vel's body gets diving a wormhole? The heat will vaporize all the evidence."
That got Calloway's attention. Despite the superficial nature of his investigation to date, he was a man dedicated to justice. He looked into Calen's eyes, and shook his head. "Let's wait for the Protector. She can get us a sample before she goes."
"It'll take her three days to get here, maybe more. A Vel's body digests any foreign cells that enter it. Surely you know that." Calen was making that up, but it seemed plausible for an invulnerable being.
"Have to check that out with the doc."
"I'll get you your sample, Calloway. Let the pathologist supervise."
Calloway looked at him strangely. "You two wouldn't by chance have slept together?"
Calen shook his head. "Not exactly. But she is my friend and I know she's innocent. Give me a few minutes before you send the pathologist up with some swabs."
Two minutes later, Calen was standing in Vera's cell, the cell door locked behind him. She was still exuding pheromones at a terrific rate, but the exhaust fan along the wall was venting most of it outside. He tried to stay upwind and not breathe too deeply. "Alex was killed, Vera, crushed to death, apparently during sexual intercourse. Since there aren't any Primes here, you’re the only suspect."
Vera laughed. "Now that's rich. I've done every damn kinky thing possible, stuff you couldn’t possible imagine, and I walked away from that bar last night without fucking anyone. Never done that before." Her words were slurred slightly, her eyes unfocused. "And Skietra knows how much I wanted to get laid last night."
"But you didn't?"
"I'm unfuckable, damn it all."
Calen cringed at her coarse words. She was definitely drunk. "Then I need a DNA sample to prove that. From your vagina."
Vera laughed again. "What makes you think you can, college boy? I'm invulnerable, remember. As in, inviolate."
"I don't buy that."
Vera boldly spread her legs and laughed again. "Maybe if you brought one of those rock drills down here..."
Calen blushed bright red at that kinky thought. He turned back to see the pathologist standing outside the cell. "Give me the swabs, doc. I'll do it."
He handed Calen a pair of long cotton-tipped rods, who set them on the bed next to her. “Just relax, Vera. This is for your own good.” He started to work on the belt buckle and snaps of her denim jeans, only to have her lean over to try to kiss him, her hair falling silkily over his shoulders, her wrists still bound securely behind her back. He knelt down and tried to tug her jeans downward. They were a very tight fit, no less because she kept moving her legs, her impossibly firm muscles tensing to expand the denim. He lifted her legs to rest her heels on his shoulders and pulled hard on the waistband, and finally succeeded in tugging them down below her hips, then finally off entirely.
“So, maybe now’s the time, Calen babe, gold shit and all. Fuck me now. Your friend’s would love watching that.”
Holding her ankles while trying not to stare between her legs, and failing, Calen ignored her as he gently opened them, marveling at her flexibility as she effortlessly spread her legs as wide as a contortionist. She flopped back on the cot, giggling softly. “’Bout time I got laid on this fucking rock.”
Calen felt his heart racing. He wasn't an innocent, but he'd never seen a woman's sex that looked beautiful before. Sexy, desirable, enticing, yes, but never pretty. Vera's was. Devoid of even a hint of pubic hair, her labia were as perfectly shaped as her lips. He suddenly felt like a monk kneeling before the most sacred of religious idols, in his case worshipping a woman from a race of goddesses, the ultimate sexual beings in the universe. His hands were shaking slightly as he touched her just above her pubic bone, a thrill racing through his body as he found that her skin was impossibly smooth and soft, yet with a tightness that betrayed the powerful muscles that lay relaxed just beneath it.
"Oh, baby, I am, I am," Vera giggled and spread her legs even further, seemingly amused at the three men staring at her.
Her pheromones were so strong now that it was all Calen could do to lean back and put on rubber gloves, adjusting the nose filters Calloway had given him. The last thing he needed was to contaminate her with his own DNA. He took a deep breath and held it as he leaned down to gently spread her labia with two fingers. Despite all the wild rumors about Velorian invulnerability, he was surprised to find that she didn't feel all that much tighter than the girls he'd known back when he was in college. The weakening gold, he realized. She was wearing kilograms of it.
Vera lifted her head and stared down at him as he slipped his fingers deep, her eyes big as saucers. She was licking her lips, clearly trying to hold herself back. "Holy Skietra... you fucking did it?"
Calen struggled, finding as he went deeper that she really was a lot tighter than a human. It took a great deal of strength at first to bury his fingers, but then a ripple of soft, muscular contractions began to circle his fingers, drawing him deeper yet, burying his long fingers to their roots. He worked the cotton swabs along side them, penetrating deeply with one while working the other around the inside of her vulva. She started to moan and lift her hips up and down, clearly wanting more. Calen turned and saw the pathologist nodding to him, indicating that he'd gotten enough of a sample.
"There, that should do it." He reached behind him to hand the swabs to the coroner. He started to withdraw, only to have Vera bear down on them, trapping his fingers.
"Don't you leave me now, cowboy. Jus’ starting ta be fun."
Calen stared up at her, a look of shock in his eyes as he struggled against her supernatural tightness. The wave of contractions rippled even more powerfully, her body wanting more.
"Vera, let me go. This isn't helping either of us."
She just laughed at the look on his face, still very intoxicated. "You got anything else hard besides those fingers? Somthin' a lot bigger?"
Calen didn't reply as he struggled even harder to get free of her. It took most of his strength, but fortunately she was very wet now, which was just enough to let him pull his fingers free with a wet pop. He quickly stood up and peeled off the gloves and retrieved her jeans. She waved her long legs around in mid-air, begging him for more, making it impossible for him to get her dressed. Instead, he stood up to rest his hand on Vera's shoulder as she moaned, and set her jeans on the cot. Both of them were breathing hard now. "You'll be out of here in an hour, Vera, trust me."
Calen nearly ran to the coroner's lab after Calloway let him out of the cell. The doc was studying the screen of his DNA scanner as he arrived. "Son of a bitch, she's clean. Not a trace of human DNA on the swabs." He spun around in his chair to look worriedly at Calen, then glanced up at Calloway as he entered the room behind him. His voice was barely more than a whisper when he spoke. "Which means, gentlemen, that we've got another Supremis here on Corrididor. Someone who doesn't want Vera to stay here. Someone desperate enough to kill an innocent man to achieve that goal. Undoubtedly, a Prime."
"Jesus," Calen breathed as his thoughts raced forward from trying to clear Vera to thinking of the next steps. "We can't let anyone know that Vera's innocent. The Prime will kill us all and make it look like Vera got loose and went on a rampage or something."
Calloway stared back at Calen, fear visible in his eyes. The body in the morgue was a grotesque reminder of the horrors he thought he’d left behind when coming to Corrididor. "Then we’ll tell everyone that the Protector is delayed but still coming," he added as he played nervously with his moustache. “And in the meantime, we keep her locked up. That means you and me, Calen, we gotta find a way to smoke out our Prime.”
Calen looked at him for a long moment. “I’ve got an even better idea.”
“You want me to break out of here?” Vera asked incredulously as she stared through the bars of her cell. “And you think that will force your Prime to engage me directly.”
Calloway nodded as he and Calen stood outside Vera’s cell. They’d taken all the gold but her handcuffs off, and she didn’t seem as intoxicated as before. She was wearing her jeans again. “We’ll spread a rumor that you’re hunting her. That will force her to take the initiative. Her cover here can’t go too deeply. In fact, I still can’t believe a Prime has embedded herself deeply enough in this small colony to escape detection.”
“And you’ve already run profiles on all the women here. I'm sure you have some suspects?”
“We have thirteen women who profile better than 70% to Arion genetics based on appearance alone. The one with the highest score, 95% is one of our Guardians. The others range from wives to medical students. Two of the whores down in Corrididor Town score very high.”
"Don't the medics have DNA scans on everyone?"
Calloway shook his head. "Miners like their their privacy."
“So why don’t you bring them in and screen them then? Especially the whores if they like to wear gold. That’s a classic way to hide among humans.”
“And exactly what do you think would happen if we exposed her?” Calloway said disgustedly. “No weapon we have on Corrididor could stop a Prime. She could kill us all.”
“That’s not exactly true,” Calen corrected. “You already scanned all the suspects coming in, Calloway, and none of them are true Primes.”
“Not that it matters,” Calloway added. “There've been rumors of a new type of Arion, a Kella’prime, who doesn’t show up on the sensors, yet has most of the same abilities. I tried to get info from Velor on how to recalibrate the scanners for them, but Security Services refuses to acknowledge there even are such things as Kella’primes. Best I could find is this report from Kelsor. One of their research ships had a run in with some Kella’primes, or so it seems. Mostly crew talk, and that was over a decade ago. A lot can happen in that time. Anyway, here's what we've got.” He handed a sheet of paper to Calen.
Calen scanned the paper. “Gen-1 with ten times human strength. That wouldn’t be a problem for Vera.”
“Keep reading,” Calloway said.
“Offspring of Gen-1’s are called Gen-2. Five hundred times human strength and near invulnerability?” He looked up. “Sure wouldn’t want to meet one of them in a dark alley.”
“I think that’s exactly what your friend Alex ran into.”
“They also mention a Gen-3, the offspring of two Gen-2’s, but they don’t say how powerful they are. Presumably a lot more I guess.”
“The question is, can your girlfriend handle her?”
Calen shrugged. “Vera’s pretty buff. Maybe.”
“Hello!” Vera waved from inside her cell. “Anybody want to ask me that question? Or am I still the criminal here?”
“Sorry,” Calen said as he walked closer to the bars. “But you’ve not exactly been in your right mind for the last few hours.”
“So I’m better now. How do I get out of here?”
Calen turned to pose the same question to Calloway.
“I figure we use a laser to burn through the gold, something a partner in crime might do, and then you make it look like a real escape. Nobody gets hurt, though.”
“Except for you,” Vera said menacingly. “I’m going to kick your ass, Calloway. If not for my friend Calen here, you’d still be convinced I did the crime.”
Calloway stepped further away from the cell. “The way I got it planned, is that the two of you are going on the lam. We’ll be looking for you, Calen, because you helped your girlfriend escape, and Vera because she’s an escaped murderer. Maximum force manhunt. We’ll make a good show of trying to catch you guys, but fail. Our real job will be to convince the Prime that she has to handle things herself.”
“Police incompetence, huh?” Vera laughed. “That won’t be much of a stretch.”
Calloway ignored her as he handed Calen a police laser. “Wait until I’m upstairs. And use full power, otherwise it won’t melt the outer layer of those cuffs. That's Vendorian steel.”
Calen walked over to the cell as he fumbled with the unfamiliar laser. He thumbed the control to Full and aimed it at Vera. She turned to the side and held her cuffed hands out as far from her back as she could. He pushed the firing stud, only to have the beam miss her and catch the metal frame of the reinforced window to send a riot of sparks flying, the frame sagging as it melted.
The laser was incredibly powerful.
Calen’s hands were shaking wildly as he aimed and thumbed the release again. This time the beam grazed Vera’s back, splashing against bare skin to make it blaze white-hot.
“Ouch… that thing’s damn hot,” Vera cried out. “I’m still wearing gold, remember?”
“Sorry. I can’t aim this thing for shit.”
“Then let me get closer.” She rose to walk across the cell and stand a meter from the bars. She turned her back to him, gripping the bars with her handcuffed hands. “Try it now.”
Calen did, and this time the beam hit the handcuffs to tear a huge hole in the alloy covering. Yellow gold began to drip down her lower back.
He fired wildly, releasing three bursts, two of which hit the cuffs, one her lower back, making her tattoos glow as if lit from beneath. The cuffs snapped free to fly across the cell.
“O.K, that’s coo…” Vera started to say, only to gasp as she clasped her hands over her breasts. A riot of sparks exploded beneath her black top, and she slowly sank to her knees as her hair billowed upward, blue sparks enveloping most of her body. Calen dropped the laser and staggered backward, his hair and eyebrows singed. Vera cried out the same way she had in the maintenance closet, and fell to her side to hold her hands between her legs now, writhing across the floor. Clearly, she was caught in the grip of another orgasm.
Minutes passed during which she writhed on the floor, and then the sparks slowly faded. Her jeans were smoking as she tossed her head back to take a few deep breaths. “Skietra, I didn’t expect that!” she gasped.
“We gotta get out of here, Vera. Right now. Make it look good, O.K?”
She leaped to her feet like a gymnast and walked over to grab the bars. Her shoulders and back flexed impressively, and the two-inch steel bars gave off a groaning squeal as she easily pulled them outward far enough to step through the opening. Leaping past Calen, she disappeared up the stairs in a flash.
He pounded up them behind her, arriving just in time to see Calloway fly across the room to crash into a pile of empty boxes along the far wall. Vera slammed her fist down on his desk to shatter it into halves, and then grabbed Calen before leaping through a large glass window, trailing him behind her.
“Gotta make it look good,” she winked back at him as her feet hit the ground.
By the time everyone raced over to look down at the street, they were gone.
Apartment block next to the commercial sector
“What do you mean, she escaped?” Daglon shouted at the holo image of the low-ranking Guardian who secretly worked for him. “They had her bound in gold. A Protector is coming.”
“Seems that her friend, that engineer from Power, he came in and stole a laser and burned the gold off her. She damn near killed Detective Calloway during her jail break.”
“How long is it going to take to find them? This rock isn’t that big.”
“We’ve been searching for two hours. No clues so far. We’re guessing they got a suit and went outside. Could be halfway out of the system by now.”
“No way,” Daglon said with a shake of his head. “She’d need a ship to keep her friend from getting fried by solar radiation. And since she’s a murderer, and she knows now that you Guardians are trained to subdue Supremis, she won’t be so easily captured this time. She’ll probably kill all of you, one at a time.”
The Guardian looked afraid. “The brass is issuing the officers GARs, but nobody is sure if they’ll stop her. Seems she got stronger after exposure to all that heat and radiation.”
Daglon abruptly clicked the holo off, and walked across his small living room to call up the stairs. “Zarla, honey, I need you down here for a moment.”
Zarla looked like she’d been crying when she came to the bottom of the stairs.
“We’ve got a problem, honey. The Velorian escaped.”
She looked at her father in total disgust as she sat down on the couch, arms folded. “Let me guess. You want me to hunt the Vel down now?”
“Nobody else can.”
“I thought you said I wouldn’t have any contact with her?”
He reached out to hold his daughter’s hand. “You know she’ll be hunting us now, honey. And this rock isn’t big enough to hide on forever.”
She sighed deeply before looking back at him, her moist eyes large and luminous. “So how do I do it? She’s very strong.”
“Not as strong as you. You just need a little extra energy.”
Zarla stared at herself in her bedroom mirror as she pulled on the same outfit she’d worn when she met Alex. She carefully buttoned the top up further this time. Leaving to walk down the street, she followed the directions her father's friend had given her, eventually finding herself standing at the end of an alley behind the Guild Hall. There was a large metal box mounted on a pole there.
Deciding this had to be the power junction her father had mentioned, she twisted the heavy padlock until it snapped open and opened the cover to reveal the glowing power conduits, the cables as thick as her wrists. She hesitated for a brief moment, and then took a deep breath and did as her father had told her. She reached in to grab the A and B phases of the power distribution.
Her body stiffened and began to shake violently as a riot of sparks raced up her arms, and the lights in the neighborhood dimmed as the 50,000 volt feed line shorted through her body. She grimaced in pain as the power channeled inward to begin conversion to orgone. Her breasts began to ache and burn horribly, but she pushed past the pain to hold onto the two cables for nearly five full minutes, sucking megawatts of power from the grid. Empowering herself this way, so easy for a true Prime, was pure agony for her. But she wasn’t going to face the Velorian without being empowered.
Her hands and arms were white-hot to her elbows by the time the pain overcame her determination and she had to let go. She fell backward, barely catching herself as she sagged to her knees, blue sparks arcing from one breast to the other as her body struggled to re-establish its internal equilibrium. Her breasts felt painfully swollen as she got back up and closed the power junction box, carefully twisting the lock back in placed to keep any kids out of it, then buttoned her top back up. Ducking back into the shadows, she was two blocks away when the first of the Guardian’s flitters flashed overhead to hover above the junction box.
Running effortlessly down the alleys instead of taking the moving walkways, she was soon back at Strangelove’s, the same place where she’d met Alex. The encounter that morning seemed like a bad dream now, but she knew it was just the start of her nightmare. Her first crime committed against humanity. Even worse, the fact that she was back here preparing for battle made her sick. Violence begat violence, isn’t that what every religion taught? The downward spiral was inescapable once it started. It was seductive because it always began with good intentions and was paved with brave deeds, but it led to the orgies of mayhem that had always plagued her people.
She walked into the darkened portal, wondering as she did whether she could truly break the spiral of violence and go back to her studies. Her father said to end it by killing the Velorian and her companion. How many Primes had said the same thing to themselves before going into battle? How many Velorians? Did every warrior think this way, believing they were acting to protect their loved ones? That it would end if they were victorious?
Lost in her introspection, she almost walked into the steel wall that blocked the darkened tunnel. There was a heavily armored door located at its center. She tried the handle, but found it was locked. She gathered her strength and twisted harder, and felt the satisfying surge of strength that made the thick handle vibrate and scream and finally tear free in her hand. She dropped the useless handle as she found that the door was still locked. If the Velorian was hiding here as her father expected, she’d surely know she was coming now.
She was committed now. Pressing her fingers tightly against the door frame, she scrabbled for a purchase with her fingernails, the thick steel crumpling in her grip. Bracing her leg against the door, she pulled with all her strength, violently tearing the thick door from its hinges, sending it flying over her shoulder to clang up against the rock wall of the tunnel.
She quickly ducked through the opening, only to be dazzled by an incredibly intense violet light. Her face burned and her hair billowed around her, a thousand tiny pinpricks stabbing her skin. She blinked her burning eyes closed to protect them from what she belatedly realized was the Velorian’s heat vision, and threw herself to the side, only to have the lethal beams follow her, blazing a glowing path across the tunnel floor. Desperately scrabbling around for a weapon, she found a hand-sized stone, then leaped to her feet to throw it as hard as she could toward the apex of those lethal beams. The rock connected with something, sending sparks flying from its supersonic impact. The violet glare disappeared.
Knowing she had only seconds before the Velorian would target her again, Zarla launched herself at the spot where the Velorian had been standing, assuming that the human would be hiding behind her. The other engineer, Calen, would be her one weakness.
She saw a pair of long legs in jeans go past as she skidded to a stop, finding to her satisfaction that the man she was looking for was huddled against the wall, exactly where her father had expected him to be. The Velorian was still blinking her eyes, her forehead covered in rock dust, as Zarla’s hands found Calen’s neck. She wrapped her long fingers around his weak flesh as she kneeled against his back, pinning him against the floor. She looked calmly over her shoulder, her eyes meeting Vera’s, her voice deceptively calm. “The game ends now, Velorian. Or he dies.”
Vera stared down at Calen in horror, seeing the Prime’s long fingers surrounding his neck, knowing she could crush his windpipe with only the slightest exertion, even sever his spine with her knee. She didn’t understand how the Prime had gotten past her so easily. Given Calloway’s information, she’d expected that the Kella’Prime would be stunned by her heat vision. Yet this girl didn’t look harmed in the least.
And she was still a girl. Early twenties and pretty in a dark-haired way, phenomenally fit as expected, her eyes Supremis blue and glowing even in the dim light of the cavern. She was dressed like a model, and her expression was strangely calm, almost serene, totally devoid of the malevolent arrogance of a warrior.
“Don’t listen to her, just arggh…” Calen gasped before Zarla tightened her grip to choke off his breathing.
“Please, don’t hurt him,” Vera pleaded as she saw Calen’s lips turning blue.
“Will you cooperate?”
“I will… we have no reason to be fighting, you and I.”
Zarla laughed as a strange heat began to course through her body. “No reason? Try a thousand years of warfare. Your kind killing mine, my people protecting ourselves by killing you.”
“With these humans doing most of the dying,” Vera said simply, playing on the girl’s innocence. She saw the Prime’s eyes narrow, her body tensing, tendons standing out on wrist and hand as she struggled against her own strength to keep from killing Calen. The hormonal rush that was built into every Supremis when faced with dangers, adrenaline to the tenth power, was coursing through her veins, darkening her skin. Vera knew she’d have to be careful to talk her down, all traces of a freedling girl disappearing from her speech. “You’ve killed one innocent already today. You don’t need any more blood on your hands, now do you?”
Zarla licked her lips, shaking her head as her body grew warmer, a strange anger building inside her. Anger directed at anyone fair-haired. She bit her tongue, trying to speak rationally instead of just lashing out. “You can’t stay here, Velorian.”
“My name’s Vera. And your name is…?”
“I thought it was your people’s tradition to give your name to one whom you plan to kill. So they can carry word of your conquest to the next life.”
Vera growled. “If you leave Corrididor now, no one else has to die.”
“Perhaps everyone will die,” Vera said smoothly. “I managed to repair your reactor. The repairs are temporary. When it fails again, the runaway reaction will destroy this asteroid.”
Zarla’s eyes flicked back and forth nervously as she suddenly worried about her father. She felt as if she was standing on pins and needles. “I don’t believe your pale lies,” she hissed in reply. “And even if it were true, we can evacuate.”
“Is that what you want? To run away? To find another place to hide among these humans? To start over, pretending to be a Frail?”
“What do you know about starting over?” Zarla snarled. “You Velorians are so in love with your perfect golden planet. You haven’t seen what war does to people. You haven’t been to Earth. You haven’t seen how war kills everything good that’s inside us.”
“No, I haven’t,” Vera said softly, convinced now that the girl wasn’t a warrior. “All I know is that you need Calen and me to keep this world alive. Isn’t that enough?”
Zarla blinked as she listened to words that she herself might have said. The battle lust of her hormones faded ever so slightly, but they still had a grip on her. She shook her head violently, hair flying, trying to push past it. “No. He can do it alone. You cannot stay. My father prohibits it.”
“Your father?” Vera laughed. “And here I thought I was talking to a woman, not a child.”
Zarla glared at Vera as Calen struggled to speak. “Her name… is Zarla,” he choked out. “Zarla Sophra... medical studen…” His words ended as Zarla mercilessly tightened her grip.
“My father has fought you Pales on many worlds,” Zarla started to say. “Your words…”
“You’re a medical student?” Vera exclaimed. “On my world, physicians save lives, they don’t crush the life out of weaker beings.”
“There… there are sacrifices that the Empire requires…” Zarla started to say, only to hesitate as she heard her own words. She was defending the Empire? Impossible. She thought instead of her father. “This is our home. A place away from the killing.”
“Then what was that this morning? A moment of passion? A misguided moment? Or was it Arion mayhem? The murder of an innocent human? Done just because your father commanded it?”
The tortured look in Zarla’s eyes said Vera was on target with the last.
“I did what I had to do,” she said sullenly.
“Cold-blooded killing? Fighting for the glory of Aria? I don’t believe you.”
Zarla looked up sharply, a flash of anger crossing her face. Yet she said nothing.
“If you truly believe that, then your killing isn’t done, Zarla for I’m not leaving Corrididor. But don’t hide behind that human. Face me like the warrior you seem to want to be.”
“Do as she says,” a male voice said from the doorway. “She is not your equal.”
Vera jerked her head to the side to see a man standing inside the bulkhead door, and guessed he was Zarla’s father. He moved faster than humanly possible, dashing down the tunnel to stand beside Calen. Before Vera could react, he’d replaced his daughter’s hands with his, and lifted Calen cruelly off the ground by his neck, his feet dangling as he struggled to breathe. A Gen-1, Vera thought, remembering what Calloway had said about Kella’Primes, but even then, he’d have ten times Calen’s strength.
She looked calmly back at Zarla, knowing it was the girl, not her father, who was going to decide the outcome. “So this is how it’s going to be, Zarla. Your father holding an innocent man hostage while we fight, the victor deciding the fate of Corrididor? And I thought you Kella’primes were different than your progenitors.”
“Don’t… don’t do it,” Calen gasped, momentarily loosening Daglon’s grip. “She’s Gen-2, a lot stron…” His words ended in a choking gasp.
Zarla walked slowly toward Vera, her fists clenched, her face flushing as the primitive warrior’s battle rush threatened to overcome her again. Vera glanced back at the bulkhead door, knowing that an empowered fight would likely be lethal to Calen in the enclosed space of the tunnel, the shockwaves from their blows alone might bring the roof down on them. Her best defense was to exploit the Prime’s overconfidence. She relaxed her body, opening her arms wide. “Kill me if you must, Zarla, but I’m not going to fight you.”
“Then we claim the right of Darla’al,” Daglon said urgently.
“And that is?” Vera asked innocently.
“The culling,” Daglon answered in a growl. “A fatal embrace. Submit and your friend will survive.”
“You’re asking me to let your daughter hug me to death?” Vera asked incredulously, a sliver of fear lancing through her practiced calm. Calen had told her how Alex’s body had been crushed, most of his bones broken. “Only an Arion could be sick enough to corrupt such a loving, human gesture.”
“Do I look sick to you?” Zarla challenged her as she unbuttoned her mother’s borrowed top, dropping it behind her to reveal the perfection of her empowered body. Her slender frame was gloriously endowed from her energy absorption.
Vera’s smile faded as she saw how well the Prime had prepared herself for battle. She forced a smile back to her face as she met the challenge, her own top landing at Calen’s feet. She tensed her upper body, revealing a maze of sharply defined muscles.
Zarla’s eyes opening wide as she saw her tattooed body, so tight with muscle.
“As you can see, I’m hardly a Frail like the man you killed this morning. I will not be easy to kill. Your father and my friend may not survive our battle.”
Zarla swallowed hard as she began to circle Vera, her arms extended, fingers tensed in claw-like grips. They were on their third circuit when Vera leaped forward, bowling Zarla over, trying to twist her arms behind her back to subdue her.
Zarla fought back with tremendous strength, ripping her hands from Vera’s grasp, her long legs wrapping around Vera’s torso like a python claiming its prey. She hugged Vera to her breast, slamming her against the tunnel wall. Vera fought back with her flight power, propelling the two of them into the far wall of the tunnel, their impact shattering enough rock loose to half bury them.
Desperate to protect Calen from the collapsing tunnel, Vera struggled to take the fight outside, but managed to crash into the ceiling instead, showering them with more rock. She spun around in mid-air, trying to fly, and managed to send the two of them crashing into the steel bulkhead, the clanging impact bending it outward.
Zarla merely smiled at Vera as she slowly tightened her grip on Vera’s chest until her volatai began to spasm, ending any hope of her flying them away. All traces of Zarla’s girlish confusion was gone now, replaced instead by the feral confidence of a predator with its prey in its teeth.
Vera fought back by grabbing the girl’s hair to bend her head back, pressing it into the thick steel bulkhead, then tearing at the steel wall with her other hand to rip a ragged gash in it. She jammed Zarla’s head into the gap, folding the jagged steel downward against Zarla’s exposed throat to mold the inch-thick steel around her neck to immobilize her.
Zarla jerked her head back with horrifying strength, the steel tearing apart with a scream, her eyes blazing directly into Vera’s.
Blinded by Zarla’s heat vision, Vera tore at Zarla’s eyes with her fingers, only to cry out in mortal pain as Zarla’s arms continued to tighten horribly. Her chest cavity compressed until her heart began to pound painfully, skipping beats as Zarla’s incomprehensible strength threatened to break her ribs. She used the last of her own vaunted strength to slam her forehead into Zarla’s, the blow sending violent shock waves reverberating through the tunnel. She tried to fly them closer to the entrance, and the steel bulkhead bulged and popped as it nearly gave way before he volatai started to spasm a final time.
Vera's eyes felt like they were protruding from her sockets as her collapsing chest sent waves of compressed blood through the rest of her body. She tore desperately at the girl’s hands, trying to loosen her arms, her proud muscles flexing more powerfully than they ever had before.
It was no use.
Zarla’s body was as hard as sintered steel now, her Primal genetics superior in every way. Horror turned to panic as Vera realized the futility of her struggle.
Zarla tried to finish it quickly by slamming Vera up against the side of the tunnel, the granite cracking like eggshells around them, and placed her lips tightly over Vera’s and pinching off her nose to explosively exhale the air she still held in her lungs. The super-compressed air added enough internal pressure to freeze Vera’s heart in mid-beat.
Zarla released her grip to allow Vera’s limp body to fall to the floor, the feral look quickly fading from her eyes. She knew that while Vera’s heart was stopped, she wasn’t yet dead.
“You know what to do now?” Daglon asked his daughter.
Zarla nodded, the horror of crushing bones and tearing cartilage from the morning's attack coming back to haunt her. She kneeled down, brushing the blonde hair gently from Vera’s blue eyes to see her looking up at her helplessly, her pupils dilated and fixed. She wondered if the Velorian could still see her.
“Kill her. Quickly,” Daglon hissed. “Don’t think, just do it.”
Zarla stared into Vera’s wide eyes for a long moment, the horrible sensations of the morning filling her with nausea, and shook her head slowly. She rose and turned to face her father. “I cannot kill again. I will not.”
Daglon saw the tortured look in his daughter’s eyes. She was not trained for this. But she had to act. “This is the last time, Zarla. I promise you. Never again. Do this now, and we are free. Forever!”
Zarla closed her eyes as she made the most important decision of her life. “You told me that just this morning, and it was false. I understand now the seductive spiral of violence. It has to stop now.”
“She’s Velorian,” Daglon hissed again, suddenly terrified by his daughter’s refusal to finish the job. “She knows who we are. She and her kin will hunt us down. They will not show the same mercy toward us!”
Zarla shook her head again as she walked across the tunnel, retrieving her discarded top and buttoning it back up. Despite defying her father for the first time in her life, she strangely felt confident and sure of herself. A confidence she hadn’t felt since her mother died. “I won’t kill for you, father. I won’t kill for anyone. I will live up to the vows I’ve taken with my brothers and sisters in Paix.”
“Paix? Those fanatics? Then you are dooming us both to the death chambers. Or worse.”
“I think not, father. Release the human and prepare one of the short-range garbage scows. Put enough air and food on board for the man and send the two of them toward another colony. That will give us time to leave here and return to Aria.”
Daglon stared at his daughter as if she was insane. “I can’t return without completing my mission. Do you have any idea what they’ll do to me? To you?”
“It can’t be any worse than this senseless killing.”
“You have no idea how much worse it can be,” Daglon pleaded.
“At least on Aria, I can argue my case about becoming a Healer. More importantly, I can add my voice to those who want to stop the killing.” Her heart soared as she dreamed of the joys that would come from joining with her brothers and sisters in the Paix movement, all of them trying to bring a message of peace to all of Aria. To be with them physically, not just some collection of photons dancing in the air.
“You don’t understand, Zarla. You’ve never been on Aria. The Empire does not suffer fools or traitors. It isn’t a democracy.”
“Traitors? We are returning to save our world. And you are the fool, father if you don’t understand the changes that are coming.” She smiled warmly, her blue eyes sparkling with the dreams of youth. “The age of the Kella’prime is coming. Together, my brothers and sisters are going to change the Empire. We will sweep away the old order and bring peace to our world. And to all others.”