By Shadar with edits by JH
San Francisco PD
Fred's meeting with Mandi had ended when she delivered an ultimatum. Fred would turn over every underage prostitution file the department had. She would then take care of the guilty men.
He'd refused, telling her that he wouldn’t help anybody execute police officers, or anyone else for that matter, without a fair trial. His career was built on the foundation of always following the rules, no matter what. That's why he'd been in IA for so long.
Mandi said something about compelling him, but then she admitted that she needed him to exercise his free will. To be imaginative. Fred had looked stubbornly back at her, not understanding.
Mandi had seemed strangely pleased by his obstinacy, almost as if he'd passed some test, She'd called her blonde assistant into the room and asked her to “help him understand.”
Frank had assumed the worst and tried to run. His dash dead-ended at the granite block. He turned back to see the blonde floating his way.
"I'm not going to hurt you," she said softly, "but we've gotta have a serious talk. Just you and me."
Before he could answer or try to run again, she bent down, her body tensing spectacularly as she lifted the huge granite block again. Dazed and disoriented, he felt himself being dragged up the stairs and out into the street. She kept a grip on his wrist as she flagged down a taxi and pushed him into the back seat ahead of her. Once inside, she shocked him by giving the driver the address of his home.
They'd done their homework, he thought.
On the way to his house, Sharon casually told him she would be staying with him until their business was done. Fred thanked his lucky stars that Teresa was out of town, taking care of her mother. Sharon would have been hard to explain, especially moving in with them.
Sharon followed him into the house once he'd unlocked the door, and promptly welded the door hinges closed behind him. She did that the rest of the doors, finally meeting him back in the kitchen.
"So, I'm a prisoner in my own house now?" Fred asked, the anger clear in his voice now.
"Only long enough for me to give you a second chance to join us."
"You're wasting your time, Sharon. That is you name, right?"
She sat down on a bar stool by the Dutch window into the dining room, crossing her long legs. "Can I ask you something, Fred. Something you have to answer honestly?"
"I have a choice?"
"More than you realize."
"So what's the question?"
"Have you ever considered making love to someone other than your wife?"
"What kind of god-damn question is that?"
"A pretty simple one, I thought."
"One that's none of your damned business," he said angrily.
"I hope you don't mind if I answer it for you."
He opened his mouth to say something in reply, he was too shocked to reply when she started to slowly undress, peeling off her black leather outfit in a slow strip-tease..
"I want you to make love to me."
"This isn't exactly a romantic moment," Fred said, his eyes betraying him.
"I can make it one."
"No matter what you do, Sharon, I'll never give Mandi what she wants."
Sharon laughed. "You can't possibly comprehend the passion I can inspire in a man."
He opened his mouth to say something in reply, he didn't even know what, but instead found himself breathing a wonderful scent of honey and wildflower. Frozen in place, he could only stare at her as she started to slowly undress, peeling off her black leather outfit in a slow strip-tease.
"What the hell are you...?"
"Just think of this as the first installment on your reward for helping us."
"I'm not going to help any..." His words evaporated on the way to his lips as the remainder of her clothing fell to the floor, the room suddenly alive with her strong perfume, the scent stealing his thoughts away with every breath to send a waves of tingling heat to his loins. He stared dumfounded at the most perfect female body imagination. He inhaled her scent again, and his body felt weightless.
Sharon smiled at him as her hair began to glow like a halo around her head, her eyes sparkling so blue despite the dim light. Every curve of her body tight and hard. Her skin was flawless and tanned. A wild arousal seemed to explode inside him, raw and urgent, his body suddenly aroused and so very hard. The wild hurricane of hot desire seemed to pick him up and push him into her arms. The next thing he knew, he was leaning over the kitchen table making love to her. I felt like the most natural thing in the world do be doing. So right. So perfect.
More than that, his body surged with a wild strength, his loins so virile and so hot and urgent that it consumed him, body and soul. It was a feast of loving, with Sharon’s body a banquet laid for him to consume, intoxicated by the sweet wine of her kisses.
Fred woke up three hours later. He tried to move, and the pots and pans and dishes that were scattered chaotically all over the kitchen began to clink and rattle. Plates and glasses were broken all around him.
He cleared the broken glass away to create a space that he could stand up in, only to wince in pain as he tried to rise. His conscience quickly got into the act, pushing aside the last tentacles of sensual memory, reminding him with a sinking feeling that he’d crossed the line.
Professionally he'd just screwed up badly, for Sharon was an accomplice to murder. He'd also put his marriage in jeopardy. In the twenty years he'd been married to Teresa, he'd never strayed this far from her arms.
What saved him were usual post-coital rationalizations of a proud man. He began to search for answers, or excuses. Her strong perfume still lingered, and that reminded him of an Omega briefing that had discussed Velorian pheromones. They were apparently exuded from a Velorian's hair and were powerful enough to control a man's emotions completely.
Of course, that was it... he’d been drugged! He wasn’t responsible for his actions.
He cursed under his breath, knowing that was only part of the answer. He was too good a cop to accept simple excuses. But still, nothing like this had ever happened to him before. He'd never inhaled perfume so delightful, so compelling, and he'd never felt the insanity of total passion come over him since the first months of dating Teresa.
His hands were shaking as he collected his crumpled clothes from the far corners of the kitchen and got dressed, noting that Sharon's leather outfit was still scattered among them. His mind raced confusingly, and he was still trying to convince himself that it hadn't been his fault when he stumbled into the living room, only to find Sharon sitting on the couch, staring off into space.
The thin curtains over the bay window allowed the pale, cold light of a foggy San Francisco early morning in, the pale light washing out most of her colors. She’d brushed her hair out, making it look very full as it hung long over her shoulders. She was leaning forward, arms between her legs.
He knocked gently on the wood paneling next to him, causing her blue eyes to snap up and stare back at him with jewel-like intensity. She was wearing one of Teresa’s old outfits, which added to his unease. It was that special black dress, one that revealed a lot of cleavage and had a very short hemline. She also wore his wife’s brown boots.
His growing unease morphed into a forbidden thrill of arousal as a strange mixture of love for his wife combed dangerously with what seemed to be some kind of chemically-induced longing. The dress looked so exotically different on Sharon, remind him that Teresa was in her mid-forties now, and not in very good shape. But even when she'd been young, she'd never looked like this. Sharon's long legs and that cascade of golden hair, not to mention her stunningly beautiful eyes, made the Velorian look incredible in his wife’s clothes.
Memories flooded back to fill his mind. Memories of how he and Teresa had made out in the back of a taxi while they raced home from a nightclub a month before they got married. They’d made the wildest love of their lives on the living room floor while Teresa wore this outfit, their passion too great to even undress. She’d later told him that was when their son, Andrew, was conceived.
Yet despite those wonderful memories, he found himself irresistibly drawn to Sharon’s Velorian perfection. The way the texture of her skin was so fine that he couldn’t see any pores, the perfect complexion, her inhuman fitness... he felt like he was admiring an exotic sculpture. A woman from a race of women created solely to be desirable. Women created to be the fancy of gods, to ultimately share carnal love with a deity.
He stopped himself before he allowed his thoughts to go any farther down that path, realizing with a shock that he now had his own carnal knowledge of every square inch of her. A knowledge she'd very deliberately granted him. For no matter how crazy he’d gone in the kitchen, clearly the most physical lovemaking of his life, she’d always been in control. She’d made it clear from the start that she was making love to him. For him.
Feeling his body rising again as his memories of his wife mingled with the fresh, erotic memories of Sharon, he reached deep inside to find the gruff voice that was part of his professional stock in trade. It was all he could do to pull the voice out.
He gestured behind him. “What the hell happened in there?”
A tiny smile tilted her lips. “We have some flowery words for it in Velorian, but simple Anglo-Saxon will suffice for the moment. I fucked you.”
“Obviously,” Fred said quickly, the wild tingle in his loins threatening to become irresistible again. The way she looked so intently into his eyes wasn’t helping. Or the way she spoke so plainly about fucking him. He suspected she'd do it again if he asked.
“So what was the question again?” she asked, her voice so soft as to be barely audible.
“I… I don’t usually treat accessories to murder this way. And my wife and I have a good marriage.”
“This has nothing to do with your wife, Fred. At least not if you cooperate.” She paused to look down at her hands. “Besides, I didn’t give you a choice.”
“Mandi. She told you to… to take care of me?”
“Yes. But it was my decision to treat you the Velorian way. A ritual of greeting for a friend.”
“That was how you greet a friend?” Fred asked incredulously.
She smiled faintly, her eyes glowing so blue. “On Velor it would be. Although not usually in the kitchen.”
Fred desperately blocked out a sudden rush of mental imagery of Velorian greetings, and tried to counter his returning arousal with anger. Mandi’s image leapt back to his mind.
“So you do whatever Mandi tells you?”
“Of course. As you will.”
Fred saw her eyes narrow as she said that, her faint smile fading away entirely. He'd touched a nerve.
“So now what? You keep my bed warm?”
“If you wish. Or anything else you want. Wealth if you'd rather have that. All of which assumes you’ll help us.”
“I told your boss no, and did you really think that by fucking me, I'd change my mind?” His anger was rising again.
“Yes, Fred. I do. It's one of my talents.”
“Well, you're fucking wrong this time,” Fred shouted, letting his anger keep him from racing back across the room to take her in his arms.
Sharon didn't react, keeping her voice soft and sensuous. “Join us, Fred, and I can be yours whenever you want me.” She paused for a brief moment. “Even now, right here, on the floor, in this dress. Like you did so long ago.”
“This is total bullshit,” Fred exploded, his emotions racing. How could she know the history of this dress? Of his private moment with Teresa? The angry words tumbled out of him. “What are you, Mandi's whore, buying me off with your body? How does that make you any different than the men she’s trying to destroy?”
Sharon's remained calm, smooth as honey. “I’m not underage, Fred. And I’m Velorian. That means I can use my sexuality any way I wish.”
“You mean to sleep with anyone Mandi wishes you to?”
“I told you that the sex was my idea. Mandi said only to win you over to our cause.”
"And she didn't expect you to do this?"
"She didn't tell me to do it. But I thought you would find my body exciting. All men do."
Fred saw the narrowing of her eyes again as she said the last, and felt a germ of hope beginning inside as he heard the falseness of her arrogant boast. Even more, he’d seen that look in one of those terrorist bombers he’d arrested years ago. He'd heard the same cocksure belief in their cause, coupled with movements of his eyes and expressions that were inconsistent with his words. That terrorist had been hypnotized by some mullah and told he’d earn seventy-two black-eyed virgins in heaven if he died for the glory of God. It had taken the shrinks weeks to break the hypnotic hold the mullah had on him.
He sensed the same type of conflict going on inside Sharon. The question was how to break it. The usual technique was to find a weakness, a vulnerability, and inconsistency, and exploit that to get inside a perp's head. But where was Sharon's vulnerability?
“You’re vastly stronger than me, Sharon. And invulnerable. Do you expect me to think that you enjoyed our moment together?”
“I enjoyed your reaction to me. I felt your heart beating inside me. You were very enthusiastic. Your pleasure was my reward.”
“And that's enough for you?” Fred growled, realizing that this conversation was starting to get odd now. But that familiar hollowness was clear in her voice. Like she'd been hypnotized.
He suddenly remembered Mandi saying something about compelling him, but that she needed him to keep his free will? Is that how she controlled most of the people around her?
Sharon tossed her hair over one shoulder as she saw the myriad emotions flitting across his face. “It is for the moment, Fred. In the future, perhaps you will be more... capable.”
Fred didn't know what to do with that thought, so he lashed out instead, “And if I tell you to leave? If I swear that I’ll never join you. If I curse you and that twisted abomination who controls you, what happens to me then?”
“Then I clean up the loose ends.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means you will cease to exist, Fred Durst. And so will your wife. And your son.”
Central California, that morning
Mandi dropped down out of the low clouds just south of Monterey, a Chevy van perched lightly on her shoulders. The driver was still in his seat, hands gripping the steering wheel in white-knuckled fear. She dropped the van roughly to the ground in a copse of trees. It bounced on its springs as the driver, a pimp from Santa Cruz who'd been running an underage escort service, tried to open the door and get out. Mandi jammed her outstretched fingers into the door lock and jammed it closed.
"Move and you die," she growled in his face.
She'd lured the pimp to her by giving a young girl of fourteen the mental compulsion to offer herself to his service, stripping her inhibitions away. When the owner of the service started to ”interview her”, Mandi swooped in, certain now of her prey. The girl was home with her parents now, her memories erased and none the worse for wear.
She opened the back door of the van and extracted one of the sturdy outfits that Sharon had given her from her flight bag. It was black with a broad choker around her neck that joined into a long strip of fabric than ran vertically down the center of her chest. The exotic outfit covered one arm but left the other bare, the skirt little more than a flare of fabric that clung tightly to her thighs.
The mutagenic transformation of her DNA was complete now, and other than some facial and body shape differences, she was as much Velorian as Sharon. Right down to her blonde hair, which would have been an amazing sight for someone born Arion. She'd taken to dying it black to retain as much of her original coloring as she could.
Now confidently armed with a Velorian's remarkable abilities, Mandi had begun pursuing her long-delayed revenge -- starting by eliminating men who exploited young women. The escort service owner in the front seat was only one of many she'd dealt with this month alone.
Glancing upward, she saw a surveillance-bot flittering over the site of a carnival that was operating in a parking lot just beyond the trees. The hovering machines were everywhere now, recording everything below to provide early warning of a crime about to be committed.
“Observe this,” she said to herself as he rested her arm on her head and looked up. Two pinkish beams of light flashed brilliantly from her eyes to converge on the bot, and it flared white-hot a brief moment before exploding into a thousand pieces. Bits of metal and plastic began to rain down over the carnival crowd, causing them to duck under shelter where they could find it.
Satisfied with her privacy now, she turned back to look at the terrified man squirming in the driver's seat.
“I’ll give you more than you deserve -- the choice of how you die.”
“Fuck you,” the man growled, glaring defiantly at her. “I got friends. Cops. The DA. You can’t touch me.”
“Fuck you? You don't deserve Fal'allure.”
“You hurt me, you bitch, and my people will make your life a living hell.”
Mandi leaned forward, looking directly into his eyes through the open driver’s side window. “I’ve already been to hell. But why don’t you tell me if it’s still as hot as I remember.”
Without waiting for him to reply, she unleashed her newly-gained eye beams. The man’s eyes exploded into sparks as she stared into them, a surge of energy tracing a line through superconducting nerves from her chest to the back of her eyeballs. Blinded by the glare of her own retinas, she was spared the sight of his eyeballs melting to flow down over his cheeks, his brain cooking and swelling until she heard the characteristic wet POP that said his skull had burst. She blinked away the glare to see him sitting frozen in his seat, two white, lifeless eye sockets staring back at her, faint curls of steam coming from his ears.
Careful not to rip her borrowed dress, she bent down to hoist the front end of the van off the ground and then reached far under it to find the balance point again. Walking daintily to the edge of a cliff that overlooked the Pacific, she bent her arms backward to dangle the van behind her head, her fingers buried deeply into the frame. She paused there to recite the brief Arion benediction that was given to vanquished foe, "May the next world find you victorious," even though he didn't deserve it. She finished with a mighty flex of her slender Velorian shoulders to send the van tumbling end over end to splash into the deep water a quarter-mile offshore.
Satisfied with her good deed completed, she brushed off her hands and strolled back through the woods toward the noisy carnival site. She wanted to make sure that no one had witnessed her canceling the pimp.
“Did you realize that man you just killed, no matter how twisted he was, had a wife and two kids at home?”
Mandi spun around to see a tall blonde girl standing behind her. The girl stood with one hand on her hip, the thumb of her other hand tucked under her waistband. Most significantly, her yellow top was unbuttoned to reveal that she wore the archaic uniform of a Protector underneath. Her head was tilted casually to one side.
“Xara Zor’El. To what do I owe the honor of a visit by the goddess herself?”
“You won’t feel very honored when I’m done with you. The killing stops now, Mandi.”
“And you're the one to stop me, right?”
“You know I can.”
“You have the power, I grant you that. Daughter of a Protector, your father's genetics part-Galen, you were born with some of the gifts of the Creators. Sharon’s told me all about you.”
Xara blinked. “Sharon would never help you.”
“Guess again, little one.”
“Not that it matters, Mandi. We have only to decide if we do this easy or hard? You get the usual choice: leave Earth forever, or die here. Now.”
Mandi laughed. “I don’t like either option. How about a third one? She reached out with blinding speed to grab Xara's hand.
“There isn’t…” Xara started to protest as she tried to pull back, only to have her body freeze as rigidly as steel.
Mandi lashed out with every bit of her mental power, suceeding first in attacking Xara's brain stem to freeze her central nervous system. The girl’s heart and breathing stopped and her muscles froze with the last nerve impulse they'd received, in this case her grip on Mandi's hand.
Mandi winced as the girl's hand constricted around hers, her strength astounding. Xara had grown incredibly strong since Mandi had first encountered her when the girl was 16. Now a year and a half later, she was six feet tall, a cute teenage girl who was metamorphosing into a stunningly beautiful woman.
She was also unusually resistant to mental coercion. Mandi unleashed an assault that would have irreversibly scrambled a human’s brain, but despite the loss of her motor functions, Xara’s strong cerebral cortex contested the mind control for nearly a minute before her eyes went soft and unfocused.
Mandi smiled. She had her now.
Mandi's head began to ache from her mental concentration, her she managed to break through the surface of Xara's thoughts. All the girl's focus was on the single act of pulling her hand back and getting away, but she could not. Struggling to move deeper into her mind, Mandi found the girl's part-Galen mind extremely resistant. With her head aching from the failed effort of reaching Xara's core, Mandi quickly retreated, resorting to planting some superficial compulsions.
She decided on one simple task; further exposing Xara. The news people were on the lookout for anything they could publish about aliens, from either side of the conflict, and she’d give them something for the evening news. She inserted a single hypnotic compulsion that wouldn't trigger any higher level inhibitions in Xara's mind, yet it would compel her to undertake an action without realizing why she was doing it.
Smiling at her own cleverness, Mandi released her grip on Xara's central nervous system, and the slender girl collapsed to the ground, her heart clenched and silent. Unfortunately, a Vel could go for days, even weeks, without a heartbeat and still awaken, or she'd be done with them entirely. The last implanted thought she left behind was to awaken when she heard the honk of a car horn.
Mandi smile broadened. She could hardly wait to watch CNN when she got home tonight. Flexing her sore hand, she turned and walked back into the trees. Hidden there from all eyes, she took to the air, using the volatai she'd cloned from Sharon to accelerate like a rocket. In seconds, she'd sliced through the Mach, then twice and then three times the speed of sound, hugging the shoreline as she headed south toward Cape Conception.
She’d been to the cape before, and it had always been her favorite place to beach camp. Located on a lonely peninsula that jutted out into the Pacific, it was a place of wild winds and huge waves, a refuge for migratory birds and mating seals, but above all, a place too wild for any but the hardiest of surfers and campers. She went there to meditate when the stresses of being hunted by her own people as well as the Velorians became too much.
She wasn’t stressed out today. To the contrary, her plans were falling into place perfectly. Her private vendetta against the Arion Near Earth Command (NEC) was well under way, and she was even making progress on her side-project to clean up the Vice departments of several major police forces. Now it was time to put pressure on the largest and most powerful government on Earth. If she was going to take control of the planet, she had to bring its greatest government to their knees first. Besides, NEC had penetrated too deeply into its political and military infrastructure to allow them to gain additional footholds. She needed to show the US government that none of their rockets would fly unless they came to a deal with her first. She would then sell them the rights to space for billions of dollars. Her personal franchise.
It wasn't all she wanted, but it was a start.
Vandenberg Air Force Base, the U.S. military launch facility, was just north of the cape and the ideal place to get their attention.
Soaring just above the wind-whipped waves, her body thrilled to the vibrations of the supersonic compression waves angling off her hard curves. The shock waves kicked up a rooster tail that rose hundreds of feet in to the air, and the sharp crack of her sonic boom startled beach-goers up and down the coastline as she flew past them, showering the beach with a violent blast of spray.
Despite the turbulence of her low-level passage, she felt better than she'd ever had before. Along with Sharon’s genes had come the ultimate healthiness of a Velorian and the indescribably wondrous freedom of flight. She closed her eyes to savor the pleasures of the moment and concentrated on the sensations that filled her body, starting from the way the shock waves tickled her nipples down to the itchy arousal she felt whenever she used her strength. The more she exerted herself, the stronger that persistent, smoldering arousal grew, the teasing promise of an orgasm just over the next horizon making her feel so completely and totally alive.
Opening her eyes as she felt heavier spray slapping against her face, she dropped lower yet, laughing like a child as she blasted through the tops of the largest waves, swooping high and diving downward to catch the swells. Each impact shook her body with tens of tons of force, sending a shower of water and steam a thousand feet into the air. During one of her swoops, she spotted a huge container ship slowly working its way down the coast. Another gleeful memory surfaced and chased away the simple joy of riding the air and water at will. Only a year and a half ago, after her first encounter with Sharon, she had nearly sunk another container ship near here. It would be fun to try it again.
She altered course toward the ship and pushed her velocity to the limit, accelerating through Mach 4 only a dozen feet above the swells. She briefly wondered what the people on the ship’s bridge must think of the gigantic rooster tail of water that was flashing toward them, and imagined them shouting and pointing as they scrambled to find binoculars to train on her. Unlike the previous time, when she held her arms tightly against her sides, she stretched them straight out to her sides now, maximizing the surface area of her body during the coming impact. Flying face first with her eyes wide open, her head bent backwards as she smiled with anticipation, she watched the huge ship grew from a tiny dot to a huge wall of steel in mere seconds.
Old reflexes forced her to close her eyes a millisecond before she collided face-first against the thick hull, her impact point directly beneath the bridge and just above the waterline, so she didn't see the dozens of steel bulkheads, equipment and crewmen she exploded through. By the time she opened them, she'd exited the other side of the hundred foot wide ship in a spray of molten metal, her speed reduced to only a few hundred miles per hour, a shower of white-hot sparks following her for hundreds of yards.
Glancing back over her shoulder, she could momentarily see daylight all the way through the ship. She also saw the flash of a camera on the bridge. That was a problem. Circling upward more than two miles, she dove directly back at the ship, falling like a bomb, scanning ahead to find the person with the camera. She saw him aiming his camera upward, right at her. Aiming for the camera, she hit hard again, arms still outstretched, speed just over Mach 3. The man, his camera and most of the bridge disappeared in a flash of kinetic energy, her body tearing downward into the guts of the ship. She crashed through a steam boiler and out the bottom of the hull.
Smiling as she turned upward to explode from the water beside the doomed ship, the bridge on fire, clouds of steam rising from the exploded boiler, she remembered the Lloyds of London response denying the insurance claim for the last ship:
"Hull damage caused by an extraterrestrial attack. Exclusion clause (Section 17.3.1) denies payment for losses caused by hostile alien interference."
That litigation was just getting started, and here was another case for the Frails to haggle over. A sunken ship, most of the crew dead. It amused her to think of the man-years of legal work that would follow her few seconds of exuberance. She'd been on Earth long enough to develop a distaste for the legal profession.
She resumed her course northward, flying low and slow while curving inward toward the cape. Relaxing her body further, she slowed to a stop just above the huge waves as they started to break a quarter mile offshore.
Luxuriating in the feel of the swirling winds and the primitive wildness of this familiar refuge, she inhaled the cold, salty spray as it blew through her hair. Dropping into the cold water, she began to bodysurf toward the shore, eventually joining a group of startled surfers. Her exotic dress looked completely out of place while surfing a wave.
She rode down the face of one huge wave until it broke just off the shore, finally bursting from the foamy water to fly just over the heads of the people wading along the shore. Their wide-open eyes followed her passage as she raced toward the bluffs that backed the narrow beach. Tensing her body, she did a fast pull-up at the last second, one that was ten times sharper than any military jet fighter could do, and soared straight up and over the rocky cliffs.
Relaxing her body once again, she spread her arms wide and gently floated downward and into the lee of the cape where Vandenberg AFB was located.
It was time to catch her rocket.
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Mandi’s rocket was just ahead -- the huge machine sitting on its pad waiting for liftoff. It was Endeavour, the last of the Gen-2 Space Shuttles, and the largest rocket ever to be built on Earth. A powerful antique, it had been converted for unmanned missions. Its enhanced chemical engines had greatly increased its lifting abilities over the last thirty-plus years, and it was now used exclusively to lift payloads that were too sensitive or too heavy for the commercial anti-grav ports to handle.
Clouds of vapor were rising from the Shuttle's wrinkled sides. The shuttle's massive tanks were full of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen at only a few degrees above absolute zero. LOX and LH, when properly mixed, formed an awesome explosive.
Pausing to take a deep shuddering breath, she felt small and insignificant compared to that monster of a rocket. She knew so well what it was like to be small. She'd grown up in a starship run by a half dozen tyrannical Primes, and they'd sold her into various forms of slavery through her teenage years. Her strength and resistance to injury hadn’t been that much greater than a Terran's until these last few months. It was only mental powers that she had acquired that had saved her.
The towering rocket looked so powerful and so dangerous. How could she survive the imminent maelstrom? How could a mere woman's strength overcome such incredible power?
She struggled to push back the feeling of vulnerability. Remembering the power of Sharon’s body, she made a fist. Looking down at her arm as she bent it upward, she saw her muscle rising impossibly large, the huge ball of steel stretching her soft skin impossibly thin. Tensing her biceps as hard as she could, she saw the muscle start to glow softly from the fantastic inner pressures.
Like other P1’s, Sharon had been created to be a mistress of power, but she had wasted that by being more interested in telling the story of her people than in using her powers.
Now she had all of Sharon's strength and abilities – and the guts to use them as they should be used. That proud thought sent a surge of confidence flooding through Mandi's body, flushing out her self-doubt. She was a superwoman now, a goddess of power. No Terran machine could resist her, no matter how big or noisy it might be.
Aglow with confidence, Mandi resumed her flight toward the launch pad, threading her way through the cables and support beams of the gantries to land barefoot on the concrete pad directly beneath the massive engines. They were emitting white plumes of mist. She shivered briefly as a thin cloud of subzero vapor flooded over her body.
The blast of a siren startled her, the noise so loud that she fell to her knees to cover her sensitive ears. This was one of Sharon’s gifts that she hadn’t adjusted to. Thankfully, the siren died away quickly, to be followed by a loud metallic CLANK and BANG, the noise coming from halfway up the rocket. Mandi rose and walked out to the edge of the pad to see that the umbilical arms that fed the rocket had separated.
A sudden shower of sparks sprayed upward into the three cones of the main rocket engines. Amused that her timing had been so precise, she walked back to stand directly in the middle of the sparks. The huge cone of one of the rocket engines towered directly over her.
Turbines began to whine as they spun up, the sounds coming from the massive fuel pumps that fed the engines. Their piercing whine went supersonic just as a loud BANG came from inside the Orbiter. She was suddenly deluged in a shower of liquid oxygen and hydrogen. The awful, almost absolute-zero cold made her shiver again.
But not for long.
The hydrogen-oxygen engine ignited, and violent shock diamonds from the exhaust gases heated her skin to temperatures that would have annihilated any living thing born on Earth.
Mandi opened her eyes wide and stared up into the roaring engine as the very fires of hell washed across her face, reveling in her Velorian powers. She was barely aware of the huge holdbacks retracting as the massive solid fuel boosters fired. A hurricane of even more violent exhaust gases slammed into her, sweeping her off her feet. She tumbled across the launch pad, the exhaust pressure flattening her against a concrete wall with literally tons of force. Grinning fiercely, she struggled to turn around to face the maelstrom, and then used most of her flight power to lean her body forward as if she were fighting her way into a hurricane.
With a bend of her long legs, she leaped upward to fly between the roaring rocket engines. Scrabbling for a purchase on the massive frame that the engines were attached to, she sank her fingers into the three-foot thick titanium beam near the center backbone of the shuttle. She bent her legs upward and wrapped them as well around the huge girder.
The legs she’d inherited from Sharon, legs that her friends thought could set the modeling world on fire, were now put to a very different purpose -- that of matching the power of the massive solid fuel rocket boosters that roared on either side of her. The huge shuttle rose slowly, slowly into the air, shuddering from the mismatched forces, the engines roaring loud enough to be heard for fifty miles.
She was thrilled by the wicked sensation of using her full strength, not to mention the violent shockwaves that buffeted her body, and her breasts began to glow brightly from channeling the energies of her flight power. The rising sensation of arousal that always came when she exerted herself now washed over her. Lost in ecstasy, she gave herself up to a Velorian's desires.
A thousand feet away, alarms were going off in the launch center. The external TV cameras revealed that the shuttle was creeping upward at perhaps a third of normal, and slowing rapidly as the engines began their pre-planned power decline curves. The engineers checked their gauges, convinced that one of the liquid-fueled rockets must have shutdown. The computer readouts said the engines were all running at peak power. Yet the shuttle was struggling upward.
The men in Launch Control realized they had a very serious malfunction on their hands. Uncovering the Abort switch, the Range Safety Officer waited nervously for the command she already knew was coming.
The launch officer delayed that command for a few more moments as he tried to understand the impossible. Then his face turned white and his hand trembled. The internal stress monitors were redlining. Some force inside the shuttle was opposing the thrust, so powerful that the rockets themselves were beginning to vibrate. They could see the waves of stress running up and down the exterior metal walls of the rockets; in moments the imbalanced energies would tear the whole thing apart.
The Safety Officer shouted out that she couldn't destroy Endeavour this close to the launch pad without severely damaging or even razing the facility. They all knew that this was the last operational chemical rocket launch pad in the world.
Praying that the Shuttle would gain some more altitude, that it would at least clear the launch area before he destroyed it, the launch officer was dismayed to see it settling downward instead. The solid fuel rockets, which provided 85% of the liftoff thrust, were running down. Knowing that he had no choice now, he lowered his arm to signal the Safety Officer to stab her finger on the red Abort button.
The encoded radio wave took only microseconds to reach the Shuttle.
Milliseconds after that, a series of programmed explosions began to rip the rocket apart, the massive tanks of liquid oxygen and hydrogen rupturing to create a fireball nearly a mile across. The explosion knocked the men and women in the launch center from their feet.
Lost in the endless wonders of Sharon’s body, luxuriating in the ways a Velorian's physical stress turned magically into arousal, Mandi barely felt the first explosion. Then hundreds of tons of exploding rocket parts began raining down on top of her. Her insane laughter was swept away as fifty tons of melting rocket motor landed on her lower body.
Her ecstasy was sidelined for the moment by the impact, and she kicked her bare legs upward to throw the remains of the engine assembly aside. Leaping upward into the heart of the explosion, still struggling to tame her swelling desires, she tore through the disintegrating girders and fuel tanks, smashing upward through the center of the exploding rocket to tear into the payload section. There she grabbed the hundred-ton satellite inside, and tore it from the shattering Orbiter.
She drifted to a halt nearly fifty thousand feet above the Pacific. Feeling the last of her arousal fading as the cold air of the upper stratosphere washed over her, she worked with her fingernails to tear through the thin walls of the satellite to find its power source. It was an advanced xenon-plutonium reactor designed for space usage. Unshielded and instantly lethal to any human within a hundred feet when it was operating, it was the power supply for what only moments before had been a powerful military subsurface surveillance satellite. Ripping the reactor from the satellite, she released the shattered remains of the earth-penetrating radar satellite. Sixty tons of debris fell toward the cold water far below.
The government would pay attention to her now. It was but the first step in uniting Earth under a single leader. An Empress named Mandi Olson.