|Ordinary Velorians -
Ten thousand miles from Corrididor
Calen woke up in silent, freezing darkness. Shivering violently, he rose and began feeling his way along the frost-covered wall in front of him. He tripped over a plastic bag in the darkness, and suddenly knew where he was: inside a garbage scow.
He reached up to massage the aching spot in the middle of his forehead, and suddenly remembered Zarla reaching out to tap his forehead. Her finger must have hit him harder than a boxer's punch, knocking him out cold. Before that, she'd been arguing with her father, something about sending a garbage scow toward another asteroid colony. Clearly that was where she'd dumped him.
He wracked his brain, recalling that Alpha was the closest asteroid, a distance of three, maybe five days. He had no idea how much air and energy a garbage scow held, but he did remember that Zarla had seemed strangely unwilling to kill anyone else. Still, it wasn't comforting to realize that he was trusting his life to her desire to not add to her guilt. She was Arion, and everyone knew they were born killers. She'd proven that when she'd crushed the life from Alex.
He pushed those unsettling thoughts to the back of his head as he continued groping along the wall, finally locating the control panel. He pushed a few buttons and was rewarded when a blinding light came on overhead. He squinted into the light as he started searching through a mound of garbage bags, quickly finding Vera lying crumpled in one corner. Kneeling beside her, he found that her skin was cold, her body stilled, but her eyes were still wide open, staring straight ahead, unseeing. To all appearances, she looked dead. If she’d been merely human, he would have closed her eyes and left her body in peace.
But he knew better than that. He'd read a fascinating article about Velorian stasis as part of his research when he heard a Velorian was coming to Corrididor. It had described the way Velorians could be revived even when seemingly dead for a period of time. Their bodies entered some kind of suspended animation where they could live for years if they were chilled to near absolute zero, even for weeks in a tropical climate. He glanced at his watch. It had only been fourteen hours since Vera’s potentially fatal encounter with the Prime.
The question now was what to do with her. Should he just sit back and endure the journey? Land on Alpha and have the Guardians deal with Zarla? Their medics could presumably revive Vera.
Even more likely, the Protector who was headed for Corrididor would be dispatched to find them. She could cross the gap between Corrididor and Alpha in mere hours, and locate the scow along the way.
No, there was too much risk in that plan. The Protector might decide that chasing Zarla and her father was a higher priority. Even worse, Vera’s repairs on the reactor had been hurried and crude. It wasn’t going to hold. If he wanted to save his friends back on Corrididor, he knew he had to try to awaken Vera and get her to fly them back to the rock. With any luck, Zarla and her father would already be gone before they got there.
The question now, was how to revive her? Supposedly a great deal of electricity was required.
He started searching around the scow, tearing open garbage bags, looking for some wire. He finally found a coil of frayed heavy-duty conduit beneath a bag of frozen kitchen scraps. He was grateful in one way for the cold that was gnawing at his bones. At least it kept the smell down.
Some discarded tools were useful to pry off the cover of the control panel near the door. He peeled away most of the wire insulation, and carefully wrapped one end around a power coupler. Leaving the other lead free, he propped Vera up against the icy wall and wrapped one bared wire around her chest, making sure he had good skin contact with her breasts, twisting the wire around them to make sure. He debated whether to wrap the other wire around her neck or waist, and finally decided on her neck. Her thyroid gland was there and it was supposedly the source of the hormones that controlled Velorian energy storage and conversion. Satisfied with his wires, he paused to carefully arrange her hair and tilt her head so she was looking at him, hoping that she was somehow aware of what he was doing. Then he retraced the wires back to the control panel.
He paused there to consider what would happen when he shorted out the container’s power supply. There were really only two possibilities: Vera could wake up and fly them both back to Corrididor before he either froze or was asphyxiated, or she wouldn't, and his end would come quickly. Without power, the container would drop below -200°C in an hour, and he was only dressed in street clothes. The oxygen generator would fail as well, but he’d be frozen solid by the time that mattered.
Holding his breath as he said a little prayer, he tossed the second loop of wire around the positive power coupling and jumped back.
A blinding flash of sparks erupted from both the control panel and Vera’s body at the same time. The sparks continued for nearly thirty seconds, her body jerking around like she was having convulsions. He hoped that was a good sign -- at least her muscles still worked. Then, before she showed any sign of consciousness, the container was plunged back into total darkness, its power supply exhausted.
He staggered in Vera’s direction, stumbling and falling twice as he tripped over more bags of garbage, his eyes filled with afterimages from the sparks. He gradually became aware of a dull red glow to his left. Heading that way, he kneeling beside her again, and was strangely reassured to find that the glow was coming from her breasts. Was that a sign that her orgone metabolism was starting back up?
He placed his hands close to her glowing breasts, warming himself, only to find that her chest was still unnaturally quiet – she wasn’t breathing!
Without thinking, he did what he’d seen on holo shows so many times: he slammed his fist into the center of her chest to try and shock her into taking a breath.
His fist bounced painfully off her steel-hard sternum, her skin so hot it burned him. Grimacing determinedly, he interlocked his fingers and used both hands to throw all his weight into the next blow.
Encouraged now, he slammed his fists against her chest again and again, only to feel her fingers painfully grab his forearm to stop his blows in mid-swing.
“Vera… Thank God, you’re…” His words ended in a choking gasp as her grip tightened horribly. He screamed in mortal pain as the air filled with the crunch of cartilage tearing. Horrible, bone-crushing pain raced up his arm as she twisted his wrist and pushed him back, sending him flying head over heels to land in a pile of reeking garbage, his arm broken badly.
Vera gasped for air and opened her eyes, only to be greeted by darkness and a man’s groaning screams. She recognized the voice.
“Calen!” she tried to say, only to have her dry throat swallow her words. She looked around in the darkness, seeing nothing to help dispel her confusion. Where was she?
"God damn it," Calen groaned again, the pain in his voice galvanizing her to action.
The last thing she remembered was the horrible pain of the Arion’s embrace, collapsing her chest. She took another deep breath, and gasped as her chest ached as if it was bruised deep inside. She knew that the pain hadn’t come from the fists that had awoken her, but instead, from Zarla’s terrible embrace, that thing her father called Darla’al.
Everything suddenly made sense except one thing. Why was she still alive? And why did the air smell so bad?
"Is that you, Calen?" she asked, her voice barely as loud as a whisper.
“Over here,” he groaned, his voice weaker now. “Arm’s broken. Bad.”
Vera floated in his direction, struggling to see in the tachyon spectrum. Ghostly gray images began to appear at first. She blinked her eyes and concentrated, and suddenly the scene around her snapped into bright, colorful focus. She saw that she was inside a garbage scow, the walls looking strangely ethereal from their coating of ice. She found she could see through them just as easily as she could image things inside. The view of the starfield around her was brilliant and clear. She turned her head both ways, but couldn’t see any sign of the asteroid.
“Where the hell are we?”
“A half day out from Corrididor,” he grunted. “Heading toward Alpha colony I think. Days away.”
Vera could hear his teeth chattering, and suddenly realized how cold it was. She could see her own breath steaming. A quick look at Calen’s arm revealed that the bone just above the wrist was shattered in a dozen pieces, his flesh bruised badly. “I did that?”
“Don’t… not to worry,” he said through gritted teeth. “My fault. Shouldn’t have been that close when you woke up.”
“Why's the power down?”
“Used what was left of it to wake you.”
She just stared at him for a long moment. “How the fuck did you know about that?"
"Did some reading," he said painfully. "When you were coming."
"Typical for an engineer."
"Damn it's cold in here."
"I can fix that." She focused her heat vision on a portion of the far bulkhead, gradually heating the metal to a glowing incandescence. The air temperature began to rise precipitously. She picked Calen up gently and laid him down close to the glow. “This’ll at least keep you from freezing while I try and figure out how to slow this thing down and head back to Corrididor.”
“And face Zarla again?” he groaned.
“I’ll be smarter next time.”
“She might not even be there. She was saying something to her father about going back to Aria. She sent us away to buy time.”
“Time I don’t want to give her.”
“She’s dangerous, Vera. As much to you as to me.”
"We're obviously both dangerous to you," Vera said as she searched for some materials to splint his arm with.
Calen tried not to think about the pins and needles of impending nerve damage that were starting to join the awful pain coming from his arm. He started to shiver despite the growing warmth. "Think I'm going... into shock," he said through chattering teeth.
"Not on my watch you aren't," she said cheerfully as she returned with a couple of metal bars and some more wire. "Hang on. This is going to hurt a bit."
Corrididor Space Port
“Hurry up, father. This is taking way too long.” Zarla set her heavy load down in the shuttle and turned back to stand in the opening. She was wearing a white top and skirt now. The color of peace, she told him.
She brushed the tousled hair from her face to see her father gathering up some data disks from the station's Nav Console.
“Are you sure you got everything?” he asked her for the third time.
“The place is clean, father. I checked it again.”
“O.K,” he said as he slipped past her to settle into the pilot’s chair. “A five minute warm-up and a systems check and we’ll launch.”
Zarla closed the airlock door and wandered forward to sit in the seat opposite her father. Her eyes were soft, unfocused, her thoughts already racing forward to her first glimpse of Aria. She glanced up as something caught her peripheral vision, a dot moving against the starfield. She watched as a garbage scow headed their way. It was coming in very hot. Her heart sank. She’d seen that scow before. “We don’t have those five minutes, father. Look!”
Daglon looked up just in time to see the scow hit the surface of the asteroid hard, skidding and bouncing along the rocky surface, a spray of dirt and shattered rock billowing in its wake. The nose finally dug in to flip the scow upside down, crashing to a stop only meters away. “The Velorian!”
“She can’t open the container out there,” Zarla said, her mind racing. “Not if Calen is still alive.”
They both watched as the garbage scow began to slowly tilt up on one end, then lifted off the asteroid to float across the pad as if by magic to align itself to a personnel airlock. Unfortunately, the doorways didn’t interface. One was designed for people, the other for garbage and industrial waste. “She’s not very bright, is she?” Daglon observed grimly. He looked back down to bypass as much of the checklist as he could. It was only the engines that needed to warm up now. A timer began to count down, starting at two minutes.
Zarla opened her eyes wide to look through the wall of the scow. The Velorian was standing in front of the scow’s door. “I think she’s going to surprise you,” Zarla said urgently. “We have to go now.”
“Two minutes. Interlock will keep the engines off-line until then.”
“No time for that,” Zarla answered, surprised by the calmness of her voice. “Time for plan B.”
"There is no plan..." her father said, his words ending as Zarla jerked him out of his seat and began to run.
Inside the scow, Vera propped Calen behind a pile of the heaviest garbage. “Exhale all the air out of your lungs, Calen, and hang on. This is going to hurt. A lot.”
He scrabbled for a hold, his broken arm in a crude splint, as Vera turned back to face the single layer door.
She flexed her fingers, and then stretched them out and jammed them violently into the crack between the two doors. The spongy sealant gave way to bury her fingers to their roots. She took a deep breath and pulled outward so hard that the metal doors buckled and tore open in a single explosion of decompression and screeching steel.
The air in the scow blasted her through the doorway like a shell from a cannon, slamming her against the far heavier doors of the landing pad. She flailed around for a moment, trying to get her bearings, before starting to work her fingers more gently into the crack of that door. The steel was far heavier and the seals thicker, forcing her to go slower. She had to keep this door intact enough to seal after she got Calen inside. The locking mechanism finally tore apart somewhere deep inside the wall, and the doors opened smoothly, sending a smaller blast of pressure her way. Luckily the inner door of the airlock was closed.
She moved at tremendous speed now, diving back into the scow. Calen looked terrible, his eyes bulging out of his head, his abdomen swollen grotesquely. She wrapped herself around his body, hugging him tightly, placing one hand across his eyes to try to hold him together. She flew him through the cloud of garbage to crash to a stop inside the station airlock, slamming her elbow against the pressure control as she opened her legs wide to dig her toes into the damaged outer doors. The indentations from her feet distorted the doors slightly as she forced them closed. Miraculously, the damaged seals held and the door locked as air flooded into the lock.
Ten seconds later, Calen was choking on the floor, gasping for air, his skin mottled red from burst blood vessels, his eyes bulging and horribly bloodshot. He was bleeding slightly from his left ear and his eyes and mouth were too dry to work, his tongue swollen. But he was alive. Vera held his bloody nose closed as she breathed into his lungs again, wishing desperately that she had some pheromones on her breath now. The hormonal response would help keep Calen alive.
Calen struggled to twist his head away from her grip, his bloodshot eyes opening wide with terror as he awakened. He thrashed around in her arms.
“It’s O.K, Calen, You’re back in pressure. You’re alive.”
His eyes focused crosseyed on hers, her fritzed-up hair sticking nearly straight out from her head, and he knew she was right. He’d thought for sure he was going to die as the excruciating pain of his swelling body had threatened to burst his abdomen open like a rotten melon. He was even more amazed that he could hear, his eardrums intact. “Jesus… that hurt like hell.” His voice was barely a raspy whisper.
“You don’t hurt half as much as that Arion bitch will when I find her.”
“Check… console… ships leaving...”
Vera quickly rose and walked over to look at the control panel mounted in the hallway. “No shit. There’s a shuttle prepping to launch right now. Next bay. No cargo or destination recorded.”
Before Calen could wet his lips enough to speak again, she dashed off down the corridor. Another groaning of tortured steel filled the air as she threw herself against the inner door of the next airlock, bits and pieces of the shattered latch tinkling across the corridor floor. She disappeared inside the shuttle, only to return empty-handed a few seconds later. “Shuttle’s still here,” she shouted as Calen struggled to get to his feet. "Full of their stuff, but they must have gone back inside the station.”
Before Calen could speak, she spun around and raced down the hallway the other way, disappearing.
Calen took a few tentative steps, amazed to find that he could even walk on his swollen legs. It had to have been Vera’s embrace that had kept him in one piece. He started to pass through an intersection of two tunnels, only to have a smooth, feminine voice startled him.
“So we meet again, Calen. Not exactly an expected pleasure.”
Calen froze at the sound of Zarla’s voice. He turned to see her standing in a doorway, dressed in white.
“This fighting is futile, Calen, we both know it. We know how this script ends. You die, my father dies, the Velorian dies, maybe even me. I don’t understand why.”
“You… you killed my friend,” Calen spit out. “Alex. You started the killing.”
“Then I can end it. Tell your friend to meet me outside, about a kilometer south of this airlock, in a pressure cavern there. We’ll finish this where nobody else can get hurt.” She started to turn, and then paused. “And know this. If we meet again, I might forget my vow to not kill again.”
Before Calen could reply, she spun around and disappeared into the airlock. The light turned red and it cycled her out into the vacuum. Shocked for the second time in minutes that he was still alive, Calen staggered over to peer through the glass. He saw Zarla standing in the hard vacuum, her hair billowing around her.
“Vera,” he called as he turned and ran after her. Then louder. “Vera. You’re going the wrong way.” He ran as fast as he could with his broken arm and weakened legs, but it still took him twenty minutes to find her as she raced through the worker’s apartments, scanning through the walls for the Arions.
“She’s outside. Wants to meet you there,” he gasped, his lungs feeling as if they were starting to fill with fluid.
“It has to be a trap,” Calloway said as he met Vera and Calen in his office. “Inside the rock, she has most of the advantages, being stronger and tougher. Outside, your ability to fly would be decisive Vera. Unless she’s trying to commit suicide, she’s got to have something else up her sleeve.”
“She looked very calm to me,” Calen coughed, his lungs aching terribly despite the drugs the medics had just given him. “Determined looking even. And she was dressed in white, talking about some vow not to kill again. I thought Arions always wore black, especially when going into battle?”
The radio crackled next to Calloway’s head. “We got the father,” one of the Guardian’s said. “Not an easy arrest. Strong bastard, but he’s down. We’re bringing him in now.”
Calloway turned to look at Vera, his left eyebrow lifting. “Now this should be interesting. Be nice.”
“Nice? I’m going to rip his fucking head off,” she growled, hands clenching to reveal the steely tendons that signaled her phenomenal strength.
“He’s bound under law. My law. We don’t want any more killing.”
Vera rose and stalked from the room without saying another word.
Calen stared at Calloway. “If you get a Velorian within striking range of an Arion, or vice versa, it’s like tigers fighting over their prey.”
“More like anti-matter,” Calloway nodded. “How ‘bout you keep your girlfriend out of here for a bit.”
“I told you before, she’s not my girlfriend.”
Calloway finished his initial questioning a half hour later, lost in thought as he walked back to his office. A medic was there working on Calen. “I can tell you this," Calloway said as he collapsed in his chair, "Daglon's seriously pissed at his daughter for not killing you two when she had the chance.”
“No surprise,” Vera frowned. “He looks too much like ex-military to me.”
“The operative words are, ‘when she had the chance’. He claims she could have easily finished you off, Vera.”
Vera tossed her head back, trying to get her hair out of her face. It was fuller now and seemed to fall everywhere. “So what’s he trying to say? That she’s going to come and finish me off?”
“I don’t think so,” Calloway said with a weary shake of his head. “Her father says his daughter's joined this Arion peace group, some underground movement called Paix. They’re trying to change Arion society to embrace peace. Even stranger, she apparently wants to become a Healer.”
“How, by ripping humans apart to see what’s inside?” Vera said sourly.
“He claims she only killed Alex because he gave her no choice. He was trying to set you up. Seems her father is sorry now that he ever put her up to it. Not for Alex, but he’s sorry for screwing up his daughter’s life.”
“The self-centered bastard. But it damn near worked,” Vera glared back at him. “If not for Calen, I’d still be locked up in your cell.”
“You ever going to let me off the hook for that?” Calloway asked.
“Not on your fucking life.”
He sighed. “O.K, I guess I had that coming. But the question now is what you’re going to do with the Arion. She just wants to go back to Aria, at least according to her father. Why don't we let her.”
“This guy doesn’t even sound like an Arion anymore,” Calen said with a shake of his head. “I think he’s bullshitting you, Calloway. He certainly seemed Arion enough when he was threatening to break my neck.”
“No argument from me. I suspect his daughter might even have a GAR,” Calloway added. “Maybe it’s a trap. A direct hit from one of those and you’d be toast. Those things work damn well in a vacuum.”
“After all I’ve been through,” Vera shook her head, “I don’t think a little heat can hurt me. I’m getting tougher or something. Radiation maybe.”
Calloway sat up straight in his chair. “That’s where you’re wrong. Dead wrong. They’re particle beams, not lasers, and they're designed to disrupt the nonlinear bonds of Supremis flesh. Those things were designed to stop Primes and Protectors."
"But they don't work very well, right?"
"A Prime is a damn tough animal to kill."
"If you saw the remains of Alex's body down in the morgue," Calloway said disgustedly, "you'd say animal too."
"Well, for all that," Vera said as she combed her fingers through her blonde hair, "I don't think you understand all that much about the difference between Velorians. I might not be a Protector, but there's no way this little..."
"No way?" Calloway nearly shouted. "The slightest brush of a GAR beam instantly vaporizes human flesh, even Betans. It'll eat its way through meter-thick steel like a flashlight shining through a smoky room. Sure, an M-class Vel might be able to handle a couple of good bursts before their flesh catches on fire, but a GAR would probably inflict third-degree burns on you instantly, and a two second burst in the face would leave you with burned out eye sockets and cooked brains oozing out your ears.”
“How in the hell do you know all that?” Vera asked, her eyes opening wide in horror as tried to imagine the last.
Calloway waved his hand dismissively. “I spent some years on Reigel Five," he said softly, looking down at the floor, "and was trained by the security chief at the embassy there. A Velorian military officer. She was a P-class, and she used her own body as a target to familiarize us with the weapons."
Vera cursed. "God-damn Protectors can do anything."
He looked up a her. "She wasn't a Protector, Vera, but the next thing to it. We had an Arion problem there for a bit, and she led the campaign. We kicked some serious butt.”
"Just as I'm going to do, Calloway." Vera spun around on her heel and headed for the door. "You just fucking watch."
Vera retreated to the police locker room to don the gold-colored top she’d brought with her from Velor, discarding what was left of her torn and burned outfit. She finished by pulling on a tiny silver thong. She'd bought both of the items years before from a guy in a rival gang who sold stuff on the black market. They were made of Vitamax, the nearly invulnerable fabric that made up a Protector's uniform, and were the most valuable things she possessed. Not to mention the most illegal.
She stepped out the office door and turned to walk down the hallway to the little courtyard behind Calloway's office. A stone wall bordered a small patch of grass and a tiny garden. Calen had said something about Calloway having brought a tiny piece of Riegel Five with him, and she suspected this was it.
She was enjoying the feel of the soft grass between her bare toes when she heard footsteps behind her. "This place is amazing..." she started to say, only to hear the whining scream of a weapon firing. A violent burst of prickling heat struck her in the center of the back, the burn so intense that if felt as if it was boring a hole through her body. She jerked her head, terrified that someone had just shot her with the GAR that Calloway had been describing, only to see Calen holding a police laser in his good hand, a ripple of heat rising from the end of the barrel.
“This may hurt a bit, Vera, but you’re going to need more energy. A lot of energy.”
She nodded, eyes wide, and gritted her teeth against the pain. “I swear you’re more dangerous than that fucking Prime sometimes.”
He fired again, and Vera gasped as her back burned horribly. She tensed her body against the pain, and was quickly rewarded with the now familiar surge of arousal. The pain faded, morphing into a delicious tingling that made her nipples itch terribly. She wanted desperately to reach up and hold herself, but instead forced herself to pull her hair out of the way of the laser.
Strangely, her hair was far lighter in color now, closer to the shade of blonde that everyone associated with Protectors.
She held her head tightly, her arm tightening with her fantastic birthright as she gasped for air. Her lungs grew superheated, and her exhalations turned into hisses of live steam. Knowing that she really didn't have to breath, despite the aching desire to do so, she emptied her lungs as Calen kept firing, feeling the heat radiating upward to her neck and face.
“Turn around,” Calloway's voice shouted over the maddening scream of the laser’s power synthesizer. “You’re doing it all wrong.”
Vera hesitated for a moment, cringing at the thought of that beam finding more sensitive flesh. And then she realized that was exactly what she had to do. Her breasts had to absorb the energy, not her body. Otherwise her blood would boil to make her dizzy like she'd been inside the reactor, maybe even passing out. She gritted her teeth and turned.
The beam splash harmlessly against her bare stomach as she glanced up at Calen’s worried face, then turned to look at Calloway. He was motioning for her to lift her top. She bit her lip and lifted her top free her breasts.
Calen’s aim remained on her stomach for a few more seconds, the look of agony on his face fading into a crooked smile as he realized the obvious as well. He lifted the aiming point of his cruel beam, focusing it for a few seconds on the left, then the right, then back again.
She gasped as a wicked rush of warmth infused her breasts, magnifying the needful tingling to the point where it weakened her legs. Arching her body backward, she daringly pushed her chest outward as she slowly sagged to her knees, her body racing toward nirvana as it hungrily absorbed the power of the laser.
The laser ran out of power two minutes later, but by that time, her upper body was glowing as brightly as an arc welder, forcing both men to look away to avoid burning spots into their retinas. Her own eyes were closed as she leaned forward to hug her knees, enveloping her burning breasts, her forehead touching the floor to send blonde hair spilling across the tiles.
Several minutes passed before the arc welder glow faded to a cherry-red, then to a softer ruby glow. She lifted her head and floated weightlessly to her feet, pulling her top back down at the same time. The twin glows that shone from beneath it faded fast now, and her skin began to take on a normal skin tone. The only difference was that she was fabulously endowed again, her erect nipples tenting the yellow fabric like tiny thumbs.
“That… that was so awesome,” Calen breathed reverently, glancing at the depleted laser before turning his gaze back to her, his eyes as big as saucers.
Calloway winked at him, seeing infatuation in the young man’s eyes. He punched Calen in the arm to shake him out of his trance, and turned back to meet Vera’s glowing eyes. “Now go kick some Arion butt, little sister.”
“Little sister?” she laughed, still trying to adjust her undersized top as she headed for the door. "I don't think there's anything little about me now." She paused at the doorway, her look turning serious again. “Can you track the Prime yet, Calloway?”
He shook his head. “Velorian security wouldn't give me the frequencies. Claims they don’t know shit about Kella’primes.”
“Probably waiting for some bureaucrat to sign off on a inch-thick pile of legal forms. Typical for Velor.” She held her hand out to Calen. “Come on. We’ll just take care of her ourselves, won’t we Calen?”
He dropped the laser and gripped her hand in return.
“You’re both going to get yourselves killed,” Calloway said darkly.
“We're all going to be dead if we don't stop her," Vera shrugged, ignoring Calloway’s warning. "So where’s that pressure cave she mentioned,”
“Look,” Calloway pleaded with her. “I’ll release her father, and then the two of them can go back to that snake pit called Aria.”
Calen paused. “He’s right, Vera. She won't stay here now. Not with a Protector coming.”
“What, and let her go back and get trained and probably kill one of my people on some other world?”
“She wants to be a Healer.”
“So she says. Even then, every Prime she saves will kill more Velorians,” Vera said angrily. “What’s the fucking difference?”
“The difference is that she won’t start killing Velorians here,” Calen said softly, truly worried about Vera now.
“And what about Alex? Wasn’t he your friend? Don’t you want to avenge him?”
Calen shook his head. “We can’t bring Alex back. I say, just be done with it.”
Vera turned and walked stiffly across the room, then back, arms crossed, eyes flashing. She finally shook her head. “No… I can’t just let her leave like this. Not after murdering a human. It goes against everything my people stand for.”
“You’re not a Protector, Vera.”
Her eyes snapped up to meet his, her irises glowing so brightly that they dazzled him. “I’m the closest god-damn thing you got to one right now. Let me do my fucking job." Before either man could reply, she turned and flew out the door, moving fast enough to send papers flying.
Calen looked at Calloway, who shrugged. “At least she can fly half decently now. Maybe that will even the odds.”
“Is there a way to get to that cavern from inside?”
Calloway turned to punch up some data on his PersComp. A network of tunnels lit up his screen. “Yup. It’s just off Central. Corridor 77H.”
“You’re a cop, Calloway. You’re supposed to prevent crime. A crime is about to be committed.”
"They're Supremis. None of our business."
"You said you'd fought them before, and Vera looks stronger than before. How is this different than your fight against the Arion on Riegel Five?"
Calloway looked at him for a long moment, and then he turned to open a cabinet to take out an ugly looking weapon and set it on his desk. He handed a second one to Calen. “A couple of GARs might even the odds a little. Just be damn sure not to hit Vera.”
Vera cycled out the same airlock Zarla had left through, and the now familiar bite of hard vacuum sucked the air from her lungs in a cough, her ears squealing and popping as rumbling vibrations circling her body. The venting gasses left behind only the unnaturally deep beating of her heart, the sound traveling by conduction to her inner ears.
She walked on her toes as she followed Zarla’s footprints across the dusty surface of the asteroid, the artificial gravity of the populated areas of the asteroid now replaced by the fractional gravity of the asteroid itself. In some places, the gravity was almost a quarter of Terran normal from leaks in the artificial gravity field, and other places is was the asteroid’s normal .05g.
The footprints ended at the lighted door of an airlock. Vera didn't hesitate. She walked into the lock and pressed the green Pressure button. The process of evacuation was repeated, her ears popping even louder as the pressure rose. She took a welcome breath of air; despite not needing air, she didn’t like the feeling of empty lungs, and stepped out into a hundred-meter long cavern. Zarla was there, standing in the middle of the empty space with her back to Vera.
“Why do we fight each other?” Zarla asked softly, her voice echoing from the walls. “I want only to bring peace to my world, you just want to live in peace on yours. Yet we fight, we kill. And innocents die, the worst crime.” She turned to face Vera. “So how does this act of our little play end, Vera? Do we both die here? One of us only? Or do we find our own kind of peace? Just two women, neither of us warriors.”
Vera's heart was beating fast, her body readying for a fight. It was only the softness and indecision in Zarla's voice that gave her pause. “You killed a human. The Protectors consider that reason enough to take your life.”
“So we fight, and likely I will take yours. You know that by now. A very special portion of my DNA came from my donor's grandmother. It skipped my mother to manifest in me.”
“So what. I’m stronger than I was earlier.”
Zarla shook her head slowly. “Not enough. Only now have I realized the power of my own eyes. I can do this…” Her words trailed off as her eyes flared a pale blue, the nearly invisible beams trapping Vera at their apex.
A wave of weakness coursed through Vera's body, weakening her legs to drop her to her knees. A horrible sensation like a million tiny knives seemed to tear through her.
Zarla's eyes faded back to their normal blue. “Your body has no defense against my eyes, Vera. The x-rays I can project are specifically tuned to defeat your vaunted invulnerability. I don’t have to even touch you to kill you.”
Vera looked up at her, feeling her strength returning in a rush. She’d never felt so weak and vulnerable as she had when those lethal beams were touching her. Still, she couldn't just give up.
She began to circle Zarla, hoping to get close enough to take her hand to hand. Then she remembered Zarla’s terrible strength. She was stronger too. Plus there was no way to get close enough in this open space without those eyes taking her.
Zarla stood with her hands on her hips. “You see now why we have to talk, Vera. You see how I could be a force within Aria’s own underground, within our peace movement. I might be only Kella’prime by birth, but with my donor grandmother's birthright, no Prime can defeat me.”
“As long as you see them coming,” Vera replied. “They’re murderous bastards. And far stronger than you.”
“Which is why the secret of my eyes cannot travel to Aria.”
Vera forced herself to laugh. “I’m not exactly applying for a tourist visa.”
“It’s my father that I worry about. He doesn’t know. He can never know.”
“Which means you can’t kill me that way. He’d know.”
Zarla glanced at the walls, her eyes flaring briefly again before returning to Vera's. “This is something we must work out, Supremis to Supremis. This is their world, but humans have no place in our discussion.”
“Not for long. Your friend and that Guardian are almost here.”
“What do you want?” Vera asked as she paused in front of the girl. She looked so short, four inches less than her own height, her hair tousled, her expression soft, peaceful.
“To simply leave in peace with my father. You are the only one who could try slow us down, and that would force me to kill you."
"I could stop your father. So could the men."
"I need your word you won’t hurt him.”
“He’s bound by law. I have no jurisdiction over him.”
“This is not a matter of Enlightenment law, Vera. This is just you and me. Bring him to the space docks. Then we’ll leave and be only a memory.”
“With one detail. A murder.”
A pained look crossed Zarla's face. “Sometimes mistakes are made.”
“Tell that to his family.”
“I would if I could.”
Vera found that despite her still racing blood, her emotions so high, she believed Zarla. She opened her mouth to so, only to have her ears pop as the inner door into the cavern opened. She turned to see Calen and Calloway enter, both of them armed with GARS. “NO…” she shouted, only to see Calloway aim and fire his GAR.
A sizzling bolt of pure death raced across the space, striking Zarla’s body in a blaze of white-hot sparks. Calen raised his weapon and fired too, both beams converging on Zarla. The explosion of the particle beams ate the very air in their path, the blast throwing Vera across the cavern. She caught herself in mid-air, and turned to see Zarla standing in the beams, her body glowing as hot as a sun, her hands still resting on her hips. The men fired for several seconds before their GARs shut down to avoid an overheat.
A new sun had been born inside the cavern, the heat so great that the floor and ceiling began to melt around Zarla, her bare feet sinking into the softened rock. Yet she seemed otherwise unaffected as she walked slowly toward the men, the glow of her skin fading fast.
The men cycled their weapons again and prepared to fire. “No, don’t,” Vera screamed in time. “She doesn’t want to hurt any of us.”
Calen lowered his weapon hesitantly while Calloway continued aiming.
“Don’t force her to defend herself, Calloway. She could destroy us all with just a flash of her eyes.”
“It seems your little weapons are not dangerous to me,” Zarla added, her words high pitched as superheated steam hissed from her lungs.
“Not dangerous?” Calloway shouted back. “Do you know what these weapons are?”
“No,” Zarla said as she paused in front of the two men, both of them looking down at her glowing chest, her skin nearly white-hot. “And I don’t care.”
“I don’t understand,” Calloway said fearfully as he backed away. He’d seen Primes targeted by GARs before, and they'd survived, but none of them had shrugged off the ferocious heat like this girl had.
“You didn’t show up on our scanners,” Calloway he said, his thoughts racing, "yet you were stronger than Vera. You have to be a Kella’prime.”
"But they are not as powerful as a full Prime."
"It seems that Aria made a mistake in my case. My genetic donor’s great-grandmother was Galen. And her grandmother’s honorific was Aerie.”
Calen looked at her blankly, not understanding.
Calloway started cursing. “Shit, she’s Tset’lar. No wonder the GARs couldn’t…”
“That word no longer has meaning with my people,” Zarla interrupted sharply. “The Tsets are all dead, their genetics diluted. I have but a fraction of my donor grandmother’s abilities. But still, nothing you could possibly do could harm me.”
“The Tset’s were monsters, created to kill anyone Velorian. Even their Viragos!” Calloway said fearfully, finally realizing just how hopeless their battle had been.
Zarla nodded slowly, grateful that her father was still in the jail cell. But now three people knew her secret. “The last few days have revealed many things to me. Secrets that neither my father, nor any other Arion, can know.
"So you kill us to keep your secrets?" Calen asked fearfully, only to see Vera shake her head.
"I don't intend to kill anyone."
“Anyone else, you mean,” Calloway added, unable to get the horrible image of Alex’s crushed body from his mind. He started to open his mouth to ask her what she wanted, only to have Calen's comm unit buzz loudly. The emergency ring!
Calen looked up at Zarla, then at Vera, a tortured look in his eyes. He knew what that signal meant.
“The reactor is failing again, Zarla. Vera is the only who can repair it.”
Zarla nodded. “Then I suggest you leave my father and me to our fate. We are leaving, and you have far more important things to attend to.”
Calen answered his comm, listening for a long moment before snapping it shut, a look of horror on his face. He shook his head. “No… there is no time. The welds Vera made in the vessel have failed badly. Far worse than before. Radiation is soaring second by second. We've got a super-criticality!”
Vera looked at Zarla, a tortured look in her eyes. “I barely was able to fix it last time. I can’t do it alone this time. I need you.”
Zarla closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. “This world is no longer my concern.”
“Bullshit,” Calen shouted back at her. “You killed an innocent man. My friend. Now is your time to repay the debt by saving a thousand.”
Zarla turned to brush past him, heading for the inner doorway of the cavern. He reached out to grab her arm, and she stopped. "Your father won't make it either, Zarla. It's too far to his cell and then back to the port. You can't fly."
Vera flipped over his head to land in front of Zarla, blocking her way. “Is it any different to kill by your inaction than your action, Zarla?” she asked softly. “In either case, you have a blood debt to repay.”
Zarla looked angrily at Vera, the glow from the GARs nearly faded from her skin now. “We are done, Velorian. A truce. But working together… that's impossible.”
“It's the only way to save these people,” Vera insisted. “And your father." She turned and ran toward the door calling over her shoulder, "I don’t have time to argue, and I won’t plead. Decide now, or you can carry the death of thousands on your conscience.”
Zarla glanced into Calen's eyes, and saw the truth. She sighed resignedly. “There truly is no way without me?”
“We won’t know until we get in there. But I think not.”
Zarla turned to Calloway. “You’ll release my father and escort him to our shuttle while I'm helping her?”
He nodded, knowing she was saying that just to let him retain some of his pride. She could rip the bars from her father’s cell apart and free him even easier than he could unlock it. "Of course. Now go."