By Shadar, edits by JH
Upstate New York
Mandi Olson had a splitting headache. It was hardly the best thing to have while dropping through gale force winds and whirling snow, but she was stuck with it. Five thousand meters above the hills of western New York state, she was pushing her tachyon vision to its limit, the strain making her forehead ache terribly. She was trying to find a single white-blanketed farmhouse in the snowy backwoods about eighty miles south-east of Buffalo.
Adding to the strain was the persistent feeling that she didn’t know quite who she was at the moment. She’d stripped the memories from an Omega Directorate agent only 45 minutes ago, visions of a terrifying, tree-hugging helicopter trip at the dawn of a warm summer day, heading toward a safe house. She'd had to dig very deeply into his mind, and It always took her a couple of hours to integrate her victim's memories with her own, leading to a strange sensation of being two people until she did.
She searched his memories deeper, trying to recreate the route while shutting out the sensations of his memory of the helicopter’s erratic motion. The change of seasons from summer to winter made her task a superhuman one. But damn it, she was superhuman, even if she did have the mother of all migraines.
She shook her head for a moment to clear her thoughts and went on to search the next valley. Even if she had to scan another hundred farmhouses in this white-on-white world, she was going to locate the outpost today. The crucial meeting of top government officials that the agent had been so desperate to keep from her was just about to start.
It had taken her four full hours to probe his thoughts until she finally smashed through all the mental barriers his training and sincere belief tried to interpose between her and his secrets. He had been uniquely well trained and a man of incredible determination, and if not for the powers of the Diaboli that she'd inherited from her grandmother, she'd never have broken him. Unfortunately, her assault had been fatal. She'd left him dead, eyes open and staring sightlessly, heat palpitating as his brain stem filled with blood.
She floated above a low ridge, and suddenly it was all worth it. The landscape, the farmhouse, the winding roads, everything matched the agent’s memories. She paused a thousand feet in the hair, hiding inside a particularly dense snow cloud as she considerd her next moves. First, she had to check out the defenses. They were impressive: electronic and human guards were hidden all around what looked like an ordinary farmhouse. A single radar search the air overhead, but she was fortunately already in the blind spot directly over the antenna. Whether they'd seen her coming, she had no idea.
A half hour passed with no sign of movement below. Satisfied, she floated down as silently as the snowflakes to land at an attic window. A burst of heat vision fused the sensor that was supposed to detect breakage, allowing her to use her fingernail to scratch a hole in the glass pane. She reached inside to peel the magnetic sensor off the window and attach it to the sensor, then opened and entered through the window.
The attic felt warm and dry, which was welcome after hovering naked in a dark snow cloud. Even though she hadn't been physically cold, the old sensitivities of he previous body still sent sympathetic shivers through her at times like this.
Some old towels piled in a corner were sufficient to dry her skin before she opened her flight bag and extracted a smartly tailored business suit. One of Sharon’s of course, with the Velorian’s usual short skirt that pushed the boundaries of LA chic, even in an advertising or sales office. But then, they both had the legs for it. She finished dressing by pulling back her hair and tying it, but didn’t worry about makeup. A perfect complexion came with the borrowed genes.
Her sky-blue eyes sparkled as she stared at the floor and saw the solid floors and walls turn into pale grey, transparent panels. The house had numerous intrusion sensors. Deciding on the most direct path, the armored elevator shaft, she increased the sensitivity of her eyes to follow it down a full one hundred and eighty feet underground to a complex of tunnels and rooms. The walls of the sub-basement and elevator were two-meter thick ferro-concrete, and dozens of fiber optic cables and power lines fed into the underground complex. The sub-basement complex was difficult to image -- too much tachyon scattering -- but she could pick out multiple bundles of extra-heavy gauge wiring leading to entrance tunnel that led away from the bottom of the elevator. They were attached to some huge machines, several of which looked like military lasers.
The agent had suspected they were developing advanced weapons with the goal of incapacitating, or even better, killing a Supremis, and that several of those were deployed here at the safe house. She wasn't worried. At best they were three generations behind basic Vendorian technology, and only the last generation of Vendorian weapons had been capable of stopping a P1 Velorian.
Still, she had choices. She could bypass the ‘killing zone’ and tunnel through earth and concrete to burst through the floor of the command post, a messy and slow operation. Or she could just stroll into the tunnel and let them fire on her. After their weapons failed to stop her, they'd take her very seriously.
She refocused her vision on the guards hidden above ground in the house. Killing them would be excessive, but could she move fast enough to avoid them? Her Diaboli powers weren’t reliable enough any more, probably because Sharon’s retrovirus had transformed so much of her DNA to Velorian. She could only be sure of influencing one person at a time, and full control worked only if she had contact with the subject’s skin. She was going to have to do this like a Velorian.
She started by floating down the attic stairs, never touching them or the sensor-laden walls until she reached the ground floor. There she strolled down the hallway as if she belonged there. The startled guards stared at her, eyes wide, her business suit and obvious beauty confusing them long enough to reach them. A quick tap on the sides of their heads knocked them out cold before they could remember their duty. The furthest guard down the hallway managed to raise his weapon, but had it torn violently from his grip when Mandi flicked a coin at his rifle with the speed of a .45 caliber bullet. He was bleeding slightly as she knocked him out as well.
She paused to look at her hands, proud that she’d taken the guards out non-lethally, just like a Vel. No mental powers needed either. Were her thought patterns becoming influenced by her Velorian DNA? No Arion would have left the guards alive.
She turned and put her manicured hands to another use. Jamming her long fingers into the center seam of the armored elevator door, the inch-thick steel yielded to the force of her powerful back and shoulders, bending outward as she jerked her hands back, screeching and groaning like chalk scraping across a blackboard. She slipped through the narrow opening she'd created, and stepped into the shaft to drift downward. She paused eighteen stories later to hover just above the oil-slicked elevator foundation. There she forced the lower armored doors open the same way.
The cylindrical corridor in front of her had highly polished, mirror-like walls. Her first impression was that she was looking down a gun-barrel, which she knew was disconcertingly accurate. She squinted her eyes into the ultraviolet spectrum and thousands of tiny laser beams came into view, crisscrossing the corridor. The grid was so fine that a mouse couldn’t get through it.
Her felt a shiver of fear. Taking a deep breath, she squelched those old instincts, reassuring herself by crossing her arms tightly, feeling the proud, firm breasts of a Velorian, laden with orgonic power. They were what truly made her super. It was no accident that when she stepped forward, her breasts were the first part of her body to break the grid of laser beams.
A huge circular mirror crashed down behind her, blocking the path back to the elevator, and a blinding flash instantly washed out her vision. A thousand pinpricks of intense heat washed over her body as an array of military lasers and a primitive particle beam began to rotate on a turret that filled the far end of the ‘gun barrel’. Some beams struck her directly, some reflected endlessly from the mirror walls to strike her obliquely, others reflected back from the end-plug mirror to strike her back. She was trapped in a gigantic laser chamber, awash in energy that became more and more intense as the mirrors adjusted to focus all the beams on her body in perfect synchrony.
The pain was excruciating, but Mandi held her breath and tensed every muscle in her body as she slowly inched her way forward, her vision overwhelmed by the brightness. She shuddered as she imagined herself imprisoned in the mirrored tube, her body heating until she vaporized. No, that was not possible. She was a Velorian. Instead of giving in to the pain, she gritted her teeth and held her ground, knowing that any sign of weakness would ruin her coming negotiations.
The assault lasted for nearly twenty seconds before the lasers blinked out one by one as the massive capacitors fueling them were exhausted. The particle beam fired the longest, its beam reminiscent of a low-powered GAR. Then it too blinked out.
Her vision returned sooner than she had expected, and she blinked her eyes to try to get some moisture in them. She saw her body reflected from the mirrors, her tousled hair was very light now, much of the black dye bleached out by the heat to reveal hints of the blonde hair she’d inherited from Sharon.
Her skin was shimmering in shades of orange and red, with her chest white-hot as it rapidly drew heat from the rest of her body. The orgone synthesis made her nipples tingle wildly, with both of them hugely engorged now. The effect was stimulating and definitely arousing, even more so because she was gloriously naked now.
Armored windows snapped open high on the walls as she resumed walking barefooted down the corridor, barefoot now, the gleam of camera lenses visible behind the view ports.
She paused at the rotating turret that contained the lasers and particle beam, noticing that the two-inch diameter rods were smoking hot from their energy discharge. She heard the whine of capacitors charging through the wall. Debating whether she should force open the armored door or wait for them to do it, she decided to give them a chance to allow her a graceful entry. She’d survived one burst of their lasers, she could survive a second if she had to.
A minute passed. Then two. She had no idea of the recharge time. Just as she began tensing her muscles to ward off the next energy assault, the door gave off a deep metallic clunk. She grabbed the handle and easily swung the heavy door open on its oiled hinges. Stepping through the opening, she found an Air Force Major waiting just inside. He lifted his hands to cover his face as he backed up, the intense heat from her skin making the walls glow softly red. “Follow me,” was all he said as he turned and walked rapidly away.
Conscious of her skin temperature, Mandi stayed ten meters behind him as he led the way around a couple of corners and then through several corridor intersections. All the adjoining corridors were empty. He finally paused in front of another steel door to punch a combination into a keypad. The door gave off a deep clunking sound and began to pen.
Mandi gripped the door frame tightly, unknowingly burning her fingerprints into the polished surface, and followed the Major through. The chamber beyond was a dome, thirty meters across, its upper wall completely paneled with huge hyper-plasma displays. Half the displays showed an expanded world map, with hundreds of dots of various colors decorating them. She focused on the screen displaying the California coast and saw a red dot just off the shore of Cape Conception and a yellow one at Vandenberg AFB. She guessed that these were locations with recent known or suspected Supremis activity.
Scanning the rest of the room, she saw more than forty men and women in military uniforms manning consoles that lined the dome’s periphery. Several countries armed forces were represented. The consoles nearest her were unmanned and there was a group of the operators milling around on the far side of the room. The officer who had led her down the hallway still looked very uncomfortable standing a full three meters away from her.
“Very impressive setup you have, Major, but your data’s not very accurate. If I’m understanding your color-coding correctly, the Vandenberg event should be red. That was my handiwork.”
He swallowed hard. “Yes, Ma’am. I’ll tell Intel.”
She looked toward a glass enclosure which hung suspended in the exact center of the chamber. Seven older men, four in uniform and three in civilian suits, stood watching her from inside.
“Are those the members of Valkyrie7 in there?” she asked, pointing to the glass room.
“Yes, Ma’am. They’re waiting for you to cool off.” He paused for a moment, and then lowered his voice. “We were very impressed that you survived our security measures.” His face was flushed and sweat ran down his cheeks.
“You badly overestimated your defenses, Major. If I’d been a Prime, you would all be dead now. Your organization should know better than to depend solely on untested technology.”
“There isn’t much else that might stop your kind." He paused to glance at her hair, seeing the blonde strands, seemingly confused. "No substance short of diamond could have withstood that particle beam.”
Mandi laughed as she pinched a fold of skin from her side. “Trust me, I’m just flesh and blood. But with a few extra twists in the genes. Humans are capable of so much more than you know.”
“Once upon a time, my people were no different than yours.” She looked down at herself, noticing her breasts were a half size larger than before. “And don’t worry about the heat. I’ll be cool enough by the time we get over there.”
“Then follow me,” the Major said, relieved to be moving again. He wasn’t really sure what to say to a naked superhuman woman standing in his control room anyway.
Every eye was on Mandi’s passage, the operators pulling back from the consoles closest to the aisle as she approached. Most of the women stared at her in fear, many of them men too, while others leered openly at her nudity. A handful were simply curious. All had earnest and hardworking faces. They were here because they wanted to protect Earth. That was good. She needed competent Terrans on her team.
She forced herself to smile back at them, amused by the range of reactions she saw on their faces when she did. A few even returned her smile. She glanced up at one screen that showed a false color image of the lasers striking her body in the corridor, with others showed the unconscious guards upstairs and the mangled elevator doors. The entire staff had probably watched her entire entrance, likely paralyzed with fear after their highest technology defense had failed.
Fear was good. They would negotiate now. Not just to save their own lives, but also because they would be ready to accept her plan to protect the future of the very Earth itself.
Her skin was nearly back to her normal shade, although still above 300 degrees, when she stepped through the doorway and into the glass room. The glass walls suddenly darkened to opaque and some overhead lamps came on. She paused to stand in front of the room, a large display screen covering the wall behind her. It showed a life-sized image of her in Sharon’s business suit just before she took out the guards.
She turned to meet their eyes. “Gentlemen, my name is Mandi Olson, and I’ve come to save your world. With your assistance, of course.”
UCLA, Los Angeles, California
Kitja Best stared back at herself in the mirror, gently biting her thumb as she considered her new look. She definitely had her mother's blonde routine down now, and she kind of liked the way her hair fell over her eyes to cover them. But her face was too pretty, her body too lean. Dr. Patterson didn’t expect a model. Instead, he was expecting her to be half Terran and half Velorian. A little fiction she’d spun when she’d first started corresponding with him.
At least she'd been honest about the half Velorian part. The fact that the other half of her DNA was Kryp'Terran, not Terran, was a detail he didn't need to know.
She turned her back to the mirror and tried again, going for a less exotic look this time. She made her hair a little longer, added some red highlights to the blonde, and removed some of the perfect symmetry from her face, trying for the cute girl-next-door look. Her one concession to vanity was her eyes. She kept them big and bold and Velorian blue. Most men liked blue eyes.
She winced in pain as she concentrated on changing her facial bone structure. That part always hurt the worst. Distracting herself while her body reformed itself to comply with her mental image, she considered what name she should use. Dr. Patterson had been most insistent to learn it on the phone, but she'd managed to escape with the label of Subject X. Which wasn’t too weird given that she’d applied to become the subject in a medical imaging study he was running.
Dr. Patterson was actually Professor Dr. Kerry Patterson, the newest professor of anatomy at UCLA. He was 28, but looked like he should still be hanging out on the beach with his old surfing buddies. Born and raised in LA, a competitive surfer from age 6, he had the tousled, sun-bleached blonde hair and rugged good looks that made Kitja's heart melt. He had blue eyes, was tall and athletic, almost Velorian-looking. She was a junior at UCLA majoring in Pre-Med, which by itself was a significant accomplishment for a 19 year old, and Professor Patterson taught her class on Comparative Anatomy.
The only good news was that she’d recently learned through a friend who knew a research associate of his that the professor had applied for and been rejected for DOD funding to study Supremis physiology. Beyond the classified nature of such research, the subject was considered far too dangerous and difficult for the UCLA Regents to sanction.
Kitja had taken advantage of that knowledge, and took matters in her own hands. She called the professor, telling him that she’d heard he wanted a Supremis subject, and would someone who was only half Velorian be O.K?
He thought it was a joke at first. She convinced him by telling him that there would be a very sharp triple sonic boom over his lab in exactly three minutes, fifteen seconds. Then she hung up.
Dr. Patterson sat back in chair, shaking his head at the weirdness of UCLA. Yet strangely, the second hand of the desk clock kept calling to him. With barely one minute left, he leaped up and raced up the stairs to the rooftop. He arrived breathless just as a tiny object flashed overhead and a deafening sonic boom nearly swept him off his feet. He heard three distinct bangs.
When he answered his phone the next time, he asked about the three booms. She said three shock waves formed on her body at exactly Mach 1. One came from her shoulders, one from her chest and one from her hips.
Convinced now, he jumped at the chance to study her. He said he'd find a way to finance it through private resources.
They’d had a number of long conversations on the phone since. He told her how he’d contacted a company his uncle owned, Culver Diagnostics, and they’d provided equipment and partial funding. The project had to stay hush hush, given that the University wanted nothing to do with Supremis research.
He naturally asked a lot of questions about her Velorian side. She tried to give him answers she could remember later, given that she was making most of her history up. She'd grown up on Earth, and all she knew of Velor was what her mother had told her. She didn't talk about it very much.
It didn't help that her head was always spinning when she heard his voice on the phone. She had the worst kind of crush on her professor, and her dreams lately had all been of Dr. Kerry Patterson.
When Kitja told her roommate about her crush, she threw cold water on the idea of doing more than dreaming about it when she handed Kitja a Surfer magazine, a gorgeous blonde modeling Billabong suits on the cover. She claimed the model was Kerry’s girlfriend. The magazine had a short interview with her. She claimed to have been exclusive with one boyfriend, a professor at UCLA, for the last eight years. She was also in her last year of Med School. At 5’10” and ultra-blonde, she looked like a Velorian should. She was totally intimidating.
Kitja was crushed. She hated that Velorian look, and she'd always made sure she didn’t look anything like her mother. Courtesy of her unique conception, with genetic material provided by both her mother and Andrea, a Kryp'Terran who favored her Galen side, she’d been blessed with the ability to change her shape at will. She generally used that ability to look vaguely Hispanic, although with some Danish and Greek mixed in. A real Heinz 57. Attractive, but hardly beautiful, and most importantly, distinctly different than her mom. Hers was a pleasant, north of the border kind of look that didn’t attract too much attention. Which was how she liked it.
Most of the time anyway. Now that she was committed to going into the professor's lab and portraying herself as a Velorian. She looked at the latest Surfer magazine lying next to her. Michelle Peterson was the girlfriend's name. She was Swedish of course. Kitja hated her.
Sighing, she decided she was probably the last 19-year-old virgin in LA, and she’d undoubtedly claim the same honor when she was 20. Her friends said she was too picky, too stuck-up. They were right about the first, for she wasn’t going to become promiscuous like those Protectors. Or become a lesbian like her mom. If she was going to sleep with a guy, he was going to be the one. Besides, there were logistical issues, she called them that to keep from dwelling on the details, that would give her away if she got that close to a man.
She forced her thoughts back to the challenge of giving herself a cover name. Kitja Best sat in Professor Kerry Patterson’s class every day. But… she tossed the mental dice one more time… Andromeda Zay’lev did not. She said the name out loud a few times. It sounded Velorian enough. She could even go by Andi, a cute and bouncy nickname. If there was anything she’d learned growing up in her mom’s household, it was that people saw what they expected to see. If she looked a bit less perfect than a Vel, but she had an exotic name and a cover story, the good doctor would buy the thing about being half Terran.
Kitja walked over and searched around in her closet. Towering now at 5’11” instead of her usual 5’8”, finding something that fit was going to be a problem.
UCLA Medical Research Annex
Andromeda Zay'lev, or so the chart said, lay on the table in the laboratory, wearing only her black thong beneath the thin hospital sheet that covered her. Dr. Patterson walked into the room, and asked his nurse to leave. She gave him a funny look, both of them knowing that it was against hospital policy. He locked the door behind her and walked over to put her x-rays up on the lighted viewer. They were solid black.
"As expected," he said before turning back to face Kitja. "Andrews said he turned the intensity all the way up on his machine, but it seems x-rays don't penetrate your body."
"And that surprises you?"
"Nope. That's why we have this new machine."
Dr. Patterson had told her on the phone that he and some engineers from Culver Diagnostics had modified this magneto-resonance machine to work with a hypersound imager. Both devices were cutting edge in 2050, and could effectively render a human’s body transparent all the way down to the molecular level. A physician could push and prod with the hypersound emitter to cruise around inside organs and even blood vessels, even do a crude DNA analysis, all non-invasively. Dr. Patterson thought this new, more powerful and sensitive equipment would work even with her Velorian physique.
"Well, turn that super-duper machine of yours on."
He smiled as he scanned her chart, that devastatingly handsome smile of his warming his face. “Andromeda Zay'lev,” he winked, telling her he knew it was fake. “Sounds alien enough for me.”
“Andi. I go by Andi.” Kitja’s lips were dry and her heart was pounding.
“O.K, Andi. You remember what we talked about on the phone. The imaging machine we are going to use on you is only a prototype machine, and its not very comfortable to lay on. They'd got the electronics and transducers working, but the ergonomics comes last it seems. I’ll try not to take too much of your time today.”
“You can have me any… I mean, I don’t have any other… appointments.” She almost said classes. “I can stay as long as you need me to.”
“That’s great,” he smiled. “You know how much of an honor this is for me. Nobody has ever been able to get images from inside a Velorian’s body before today.”
“Right. It is really gracious of you to be my subject. Unfortunately, the University doesn't see the urgency of understanding the Supremis physique.
“I’ve got my Terran roots too. I figure it’s time we Supremis stopped being so high and mighty.”
“So what can you tell me about yourself, Andi?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Oh, the usual. Age, weight, height, who you’re dating.”
She looked at him, her eyes opening wide.
“Just kidding about the last part. A little UCLA humor.”
“Nineteen, 123, 5’11” and nobody.”
“Right. The last surprises me. You’re a beautiful woman.”
She was tempted to say, “I’m invulnerable. As in inviolate. Guys get frustrated dating a girl who doesn't put out,” but instead said nothing. The inviolate thing wasn't technically true anyway, but there was no way to hide the fact that she was something more than human when a guy got close enough to discover that on his own.
"So, I'd like to examine you before we run the scan. Is that O.K?"
"That's why I came."
“Right. Can I remove the sheet? I presume you won’t get cold. Aircon has to be kept at 50F in here to keep the equipment cool.”
“Yes, I mean, no, I don’t get cold,” Kitja stammered. Grimacing, she decided she was talking as if her IQ matched her hair color.
She quickly raised her hands to cover her breasts as he folded up and removed the sheet, very aware that her legs were bent almost as if they were in a GYN’s stirrups. That made her feel strangely sexy, undoubtedly because she’d never been to a GYN. She wasn't going to let some doctor root around in there. Turning her head, she looked dreamily into the professor's eyes.
Kerry said nothing at first as he walked around the table, studying her. She turned her head to watch his eyes, and saw the pulse in his neck beating faster. He finally came back to a stop on her left side. “You are an extraordinarily fit woman. Very attractive as well. I have to assume that your Velorian DNA is dominant?”
“I guess you’d know about attractive, given who you’re dating.”
He smiled brighter. “You know my
“She's the cover girl on Surfer magazine,” she interrupted. “I subscribe. There was an interview last month. I connected a few dots and got you as the boyfriend.”
“It's true. We’re planning on getting married next year.”
“Congratulations. I think she looks more like a Vel than I do.”
“But she isn’t, Andi. Which is why you are here. You are going to make medical history.”
“And you’re going to become famous, Professor. Tenure, book deals, the whole deal.”
“All bullshit as far as I’m concerned. I just want to give Earth a fighting chance to understand the genetic technology we’re facing. Kind of hard to get an Arion Prime to come in an help us unlock their secrets.”
“A true man of science,” Kitja said, and meant it.
“So, what influence do your Terran genes have on you?”
“I don’t have my mom’s hearing or her ability to see through things, let alone those eye beams of hers, but everything else is pretty normal for a Vel.”
“About like Supergirl in the comic books.”
He looked up at her. “I don’t exactly know how to quantify that.”
“My mother was born P1. I’m a notch down. About like an M-class.”
Her shook his head.
Andi sighed. She didn’t want to talk about her muscles. “I’m probably about a thousand times stronger than you are.”
“Wow. I guess we won't arm wrestle. How's your resistance to injury?”
“Keep the nukes away from me, Doc, but otherwise, I’m pretty much unhurtable. Poisons, disease, radiation, they don’t affect me either. And I love heat. This bod was made for diving through worm-holes, and the temps in those things are pretty close to the surface of the sun.” She was exaggerating the last. She wasn't as tough as her mother, and she'd never survive diving through a wormhole.
His eyebrow rose as he made some notes on his clipboard, and then he set it aside. Walking closer, he brushed an errant lock of blonde hair from his eyes before picking up a rounded plastic tube, the end about the size of a golf ball. A thick cable trailed off the end of it. “This is the new hypersound imager from Culver. About ten million bucks worth of hi-tech.”
“Nice that they let you borrow it, Ker… I mean, Dr. Patterson.”
He smiled. “You can call me Kerry. I think I’m the one who should be nervous here. Half my friends think Velorians are some kind of goddesses. I’m still working out my own feelings.”
Kitja smiled back, thinking he was the one who looked like the god. “I think Vels are way overrated. Especially me.”
“Humility, even modesty?" he laughed. "I like that, especially from one of the handful of people on this planet who isn’t obligated to display it.”
“I don’t think anyone is exempt from basic human social conventions. Arrogance is ugly no matter who displays it.”
“Then you are indeed, beautiful. Inside as well as out."
"Actually, yes. I hadn’t expected you to be so… human.”
Kitja’s heart felt as if it was going to explode at his words, and her body went all tingly and warm. She’d never felt this way about a man before.
He slipped the earpieces of his active-stethoscope on. The microphone was linked to a variety of instruments, including the headphones he'd just put on. “I’d like to start by listening to your heart. I’m fascinated by the five-chambers.” He reached out to hold the transducer over her chest.
She looked up at him blankly.
“But you’ll have to put your hands down so I can listen.”
Kitja quickly lowered her hands, only to be mortified as she saw her nipples sticking up like small thumbs. The blood rushed faster in her ears.
“That’s a pretty healthy reaction. Pretty much superhuman I'd say. I thought you didn’t get cold?”
Kitja just blushed. "I'm... I'm not," she stammered.
“Could you perhaps palpate your breasts outward with your hands, flatten them a bit, so I can listen along both sides of your sternum.”
Kitja’s blush faded. She’d dreamed he would do that himself. She placed her open palms on her chest and pressed hard, flattening her breasts to the side.
It took him an hour to complete the hypersound investigation of her chest, a magical time for her. Then he spent another hour on her abdomen. That was very sexy, especially as he traced the lubricated transducer down to brush against her thong. She tried to stay relaxed as he coated the transducer with more gel and worked it back and forth, working the edge of her thong a bit lower, coating the area just above her pubic bone with the slick gel.
She was breathing fast when he paused his exam and asked her to turn over, starting over from her back.
"So," he said when he finished, "that was interesting. I'm not sure how much the image enhancement system is going to be able to make out of the images, they weren't very clear, but I think we got something.
Kitja found she was surprisingly comfortable lying naked on the machine now.
"Do you mind of I examine one of your breasts. I'm very interested in how the orgone synthesis and metabolism process works."
She nodded enthusiastically.
He gently held one side of her breast while he worked the transducer all over it, pressing hard at times, gently at other times, building up a 3D image of the orgone tissues inside. His hand felt so warm and so intimate that her nipples stood up even harder, like steel thimbles. She bit her lip and tried to concentrate on something other than the touch that was slowly driving her insane. She tried to think of something else. Some Calculus homework, that too much concentration, and instead started a crossword puzzle she’d memorized from the paper, courtesy of her photographic memory. Her attention was drawn from that to the overhead display. The Culver device was working perfectly, revealing the inside of her breast. She hadn't had any idea what orgone tissue looked like, but now she did. Like a sponge.
He went to work scanning her muscles next, working the transducer up and down her arm. He was fascinated by the vast array of fine fibers. He had the computer make some measurements, and it revealed that each muscle fiber was a hundred times finer than human, which explained why she had a hundred times more of them in the same space. Each one was ten times stronger than human too.
He made her tighten her biceps a dozen times while he imaged the remarkable expansion inside. He decided that each muscle strand had four times the expansion of a fit human woman’s. He did the same with her legs, focusing in on her knees and ankles and finally her feet.
He finally came back to stand by her side. “Physiologically, Andi, every aspect of your skeletal muscles, ligaments, cartilage and joints look human normal, except for the finer strands of your muscles. They get amazingly hard when you tense them.”
“I’m a regular girl of steel,” Kitja laughed through clenched teeth. The sexy ache building up inside her was almost unbearable, especially after he’d worked his gel-coated transducer down the inside of her thighs.
He paused to look at her for a long moment. “You’re really turned on, aren’t you?”
“What was your first clue, Sherlock?” she said without humor. "My 'cut glass' nipples?"
“I’m not used to my patients finding hypersound exams erotic.”
“Yeah, their mother wasn’t a fucking Velorian.”
Kerry laughed and set the transducer back into its holder. “Maybe we’ve done enough for one day. About the only area left is best reserved for a time when you’re a bit more… settled.”
“Do you realize what that transducer looks like to me, Kerry. Covered in slippery gel, its size and shape rather… suggestive?”
“It’s been noted before.” The pulse was really pounding in his neck now. For all the professional demeanor he was displaying, she knew the man beneath was as affected as she was.
“This session is all being holographed, isn’t it?”
“Then we’ve gotta stop,” Kitja gasped as she sat up. She reached for the white gown that was lying beside the bed and slipped it on. Her nipples tented the white fabric. “I need my clothes and I need to get out of here before… before I really embarrass myself.”
“I’d like to schedule a follow on, Andi. Just call me when you’re ready.”
“Ready isn’t the problem. Self control is," she said as she quickly turned and literally flew from the room.
As soon as she left, Kerry sat down hard in a lab chair and tried to catch his breath. He’d been really worried about pheromones, and he’d had his nurse ready to pull him out of the lab if he reacted strangely, but Andi hadn’t emitted any that he could detect, even as she became aroused. Not that she needed to. There was something magnetic about her arousal.
His thoughts were racing. He’d never examined anyone so fit. Her skin was resilient to the touch, yet it was almost drum-tight in places. Her muscles felt like steel when she tensed them, but felt very human normal when she didn’t.
She was young and innocent. He was pretty sure she was a virgin based on her embarrassed responses. He knew more than he should about the sexual responses of the innocent, for he and his surfer friends had been the path to womanhood for a lot of LA girls.
Even stranger, Andi reminded him of someone he knew. One of Michelle’s friends maybe? A student. No, couldn’t be. He was certain that he’d never laid eyes on her before.
Still, the sense of familiarity remained. Sighing, he logged out of the lab computer and decided to go home. He hoped Michelle was back from her latest gig. He was really going to need her tonight.
San Francisco Police Headquarters
“This request is a bit personal, Tammi, but also very critical to a local investigation. The local staff people are drawing a blank on this woman.”
FBI Special Agent Tammi Walters, a member of Omega Directorate, was sitting across the desk from Captain Fred Durst. “O.K, I owe you one, Fred. Who’s the girl?”
“Well, first of all, she’s not just a girl.” He swallowed hard. “You see, in fact, she’s a Velorian.”
Tammi’s eyes opened wide and then she laughed. “You’re pulling my leg? You’ve got the hots for Kara? Certainly not her daughter?”
“I don’t have the hots for anyone but Teresa, you know that. But the Zor’Els aren’t the only Vels on Earth.”
“If you know that for a fact, then you know more than anyone in Omega.”
“Then I guess I do.”
Tammi sat up straight. “This I gotta hear.”
“This other Velorian, her name is Sharon Best, is being controlled by this Arion who can apparently influence minds.”
Tammi looked at Fred for a long moment and then closed her notebook. “Fred, I’ve worked with you for five years, and you’ve been the most rational person I know. Until today. This makes no sense.”
“How can you say that? There are aliens all over the place.”
“How? It’s my damn job in Omega to keep tabs on those little beasties. Black-haired and blonde. I know of two Velorians and fifty-three suspected Betans and at least four confirmed Primes. Probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Arions, I admit, but we have teams working on every contact, trying to learn more. But we don’t know about a third Vel, nor an Arion with some kind of mental voodoo.”
“Then you need my information more than you realize, Tammi. We could find this third Vel and gain her help to take down that Arion woman. If anyone has a grudge against her, it would be Sharon.”
“Sharon, huh? Sounds cozy.”
“She has a name, why not use it.”
Tammi was tempted to dismiss his request as nonsense. If she’d heard this from anyone but Fred Durst, as sober a cop as had ever walked the Earth, she would have gotten up and left. But she’d been in the alien intel business long enough to not dismiss things just because they sounded preposterous. “So what kind of contact did you have with these aliens?”
“The Arion, her name was Mandi Olson, tried to recruit me into providing names of dirty cops. Men who’d been involved in the underage flesh trade.”
Tammi sat up straighter in her seat. “Holy shit. She’s the Prime who did those dozen cops in? She had you in her clutches and she let you walk away?”
Fred nodded. “When I told her I wasn’t going to rat out my fellow cops, dirty or not, she turned this assistant of hers loose on me. I’m convinced Sharon was hypnotized into working for her. Not that it made her any less lethal. She threatened my life and that of family if I didn’t cooperate.”
“And you reported this all to IA?”
“Jesus, of course not!” Fred shouted as he stood up to begin pacing the room. “They wouldn’t understand.”
“Understand what? Someone tried to recruit you, threatened your family. It happens.”
“She’s a fucking Vel, Tammi. Nobody can protect my family from her.”
“So you cooperated.”
“Not exactly. What I did was to break Sharon out of her hypnotic trance. At least I think I did.” He paused to sit on a corner of the desk to stare earnestly down at Tammi. “We have an incredible opportunity here, Tammi. With Sharon’s help, we can take down this Arion vigilante before she kills more cops.”
Tammi whistled. “A hidden Vel, mind-controlled by the Arions, and you think she’s willing to work for you? What did you do to gain such an insight into her heart? Sleep with her?”
Fred rose to turn his back to her.
“Oh, shit, you did! That’s bad. Very bad.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Fred replied angrily. “She used those damned pheromones on me. I didn't have a choice.”
Tammi whistled. “You’re right about not telling IA. They’d crucify you. The woman’s obviously an accessory to murder.”
“This is very hard for me, Tammi. I worked IA for a long time. I know I’m way over the line here.”
Tammi smiled softly at her friend. “Not so far as you think. Seduction is a key part of Supremis recruitment. You aren’t the first. But the others usually aren’t so willing to admit it.”
“I’m not admitting anything. I’m only talking to you.”
“So tell me about this Best woman.”
Fred shrugged. “She looked a lot like the other Vels, but there was something in her manner, a kind of blankness in her eyes, that suggested that someone was pulling her strings. She was like this machine.”
Tammi laughed. “That’s one way of describing Velorian sexual habits. Like Energizer bunnies, they keep going and going.”
“This isn’t funny. And I wasn't talking about that.”
“So I heard it wrong?”
“We aren’t having this discussion, Tammi.”
“If you want my help, then we are. I thought we promised one thing to each other when we met on that job five years ago. No secrets between us.”
Fred said nothing for a long moment, then, “what do you want to know?”
“Strictly professional interest. The pheromones. What they’re like.”
Fred closed his eyes and tried to find a way to put it into words. “Do you remember the first time you fell in love and started sleeping with someone? How it was an almost religious experience?”
“I do very well. His name was Thomas. I thought my heart was going to melt.”
Fred nodded, remembering how it had been when he first met Theresa. They hadn’t been able to get enough of each other’s bodies.
“Nobody ever forgets their first love, Fred, even if they move on in life. Most of all, I remember the insatiable desire to be close. I was filled with this mystical energy, and all I wanted to do was make love. It was the end all, be all of my existence. I never got tired of loving him. Each time, I swore the Earth moved. If I could have held that feeling forever, it would have been heaven.”
“You don’t have to be that graphic.”
Tammi smiled coyly. “You asked.”
“Well, start with that sensation and then multiply it by five, then throw in enough adrenaline and whatever alien hormones I apparently picked up from the Vel’s body fluids to make me feel like Superman. All it takes is a deep kiss seems to turn your body into fire and then make you tireless and even stronger than normal. Your brain has only one thought, and all those ancient caveman instincts are freed. A total release of the id, even to the point of violence, but with a single purpose.”
Tammi exhaled. “Wow. A break all the furniture kind of night. My favorite kind.”
Fred looked at her strangely. Tammi was athletic, but he’d never had cause to imagine what her sex life was like. “Ah, yeah, I guess. All I remember for sure, was that given I knew she was unhurtable, there was no holding back. What I did would have been considered violence, even injurious to an ordinary woman.”
“Are you trying to intimidate me or turn me on?”
“I’m just describing this complete and total insanity of adrenaline pumping athletic sex. Of using every ounce of my strength to try to please her. Or myself. Hell, I don't know what the hell I was doing, I only know that it was as much violence as it was sex.”
“Not all women are fragile, Fred.”
“You don’t understand. There was no gentleness. I was like an animal.”
“She’s obviously used to men of her own race,” Tammi shrugged. “Makes sense they’d pump up a human or whatever to do the deed.”
“The part that was most bizarre was that except for some slightly sore muscles, I was O.K right after it. Hell, I should have been dead from overexertion alone. My heart should have blown out. I shouldn’t have been able to keep going that long in the first place. It was like I was frozen at the peak of ecstasy for what had to be hours.”
“Obviously a lot more drugs in that mix than just analogs of human pheromones. Way more than adrenaline. Definitely alien. If we could bottle a weakened version of it, we’d make billions.”
“You’re taking this all in stride?” Fred asked incredulously.
“Not at all, I’m just trying to be analytical. And I grew up dating in the gym club scene. One workout led to another. Very athletic.”
“That’s more information than I need.”
Tammi winked at him. “You’re the one who just slept with a Vel, so don’t get holier than thou on me.”
“Sorry. I’m having enough trouble dealing with my own story.” Fred sat down heavily in his chair. “So, are you satisfied with embarrassing me, Tammi? Or do you need more personal details?”
“Not at the moment, but if I think of some later, I’ll call.”
“Great,” Fred moaned.
“Don’t worry. I just needed to know what I’m dealing with, given that if we are successful, you’ll be coming into contact with her again. I’ve been collecting intel on the Supremis for some time, and intimate affairs between Vels and humans aren't that rare, but they are rarely documented. We mostly have anecdotal data. And as far as the Arions go, they leave behind bodies with most of their bones broken after sex. Brutes.”
“Vels obviously have more of an ability to hold back.” He wasn’t going to tell her the way Sharon’s self-love had wrecked his house.
“Well, at least we know one who does. Your Sharon.”
“She’s not ‘my Sharon’.”
“Whatever,” Tammi shrugged. Despite herself, she was feeling more than a bit of feminine jealousy. Which made no sense. Fred was happily married and fifteen years her senior. There was just something about dealing with a Velorian that put her teeth on edge. A woman so beautiful that no man could resist her, not even a loyal husband like Fred Durst. A woman born with physical gifts beyond the wildest imagination of any human women. A woman who didn’t need to sweat her butt off two hours a day in the gym to look buff.
Tammi took a deep breath and tried to push away those inappropriate thoughts. “So you figure that our finding your Vel will somehow work in Omega’s interests as well?”
“Won’t it? You guys have a fair bit of contact with the Protectors. Have you ever wondered why they never told you about the third member of their group?”
“Maybe she’s not a member of their group. Maybe she’s here for a different reason.”
“That’s exactly what I’m hoping, Tammi,” Fred said excitedly. “The Protectors are aloof and secretive, bound up in arcane rules. What if you had someone working for Omega who wasn’t bound by such conventions?”
“Then I guess you’d have given Earth a tremendous gift.”
“No, Tammi, not just me. Us. I can’t do this without you.”
Valkyrie7 Operations Center
Mandi’s last statement about “save your world” still echoed around the room.
“If you don’t mind,” Air Force General Donald Abrams said coolly, “we’ll reserve our own opinions on that subject until we understand the reason for your visit.”
Mandi glared at him. “That’s arrogant bullshit, General. ‘Reserve our own opinions’, indeed. If I’d chosen to do so, I could have already killed every living being in this underground bunker of yours. You expended your futile defenses on me, and the only casualty was my clothing. My genetics eclipse your grasp of possible technology by a millennium.”
The men glanced at each other and then back at her, but no one replied.
“Did you really think that such primitive weapons could stop a Velorian?”
“A Velorian?” gasped a man wearing a civilian suit. He was Senator Cravis Townsend of California. “There are only two confirmed Velorians on Earth. Kara Zor’El and her daughter Xara. You are not either of them.”
“But you suspect there are more, am I right?”
Townsend glanced back at the other men, and the older senator sitting behind him spoke up. “I think we can be frank with our guest, gentleman. Clearly the future of Valkyrie7, even our very lives, will be decided in the minutes to come.”
Mandi recognized the speaker as Thurgood Brown of New York. He was the most senior and respected senator on the Hill.
Townsend nodded and responded to Mandi’s question. “We have indeed suspected that, Ms. Olson. One other has been confirmed, but her identity is unknown. Plus a mystery woman with black hair who can levitate.”
“That would be me. I apologize for the black hair dye, but for obvious reasons I prefer not to be known as a Velorian to members of the Arion Command.”
“Then you aren’t allied with the other Velorians?” the third senator asked. He was Peter Cranston of Illinois. These three men were the ranking members of the Senate.
“No, I am not. You see, gentlemen, I believe that the Velorians are mishandling the defense of Earth, and if we allow them to continue, even worse, if we put our trust in them, they will inevitably force the Arions to take more active measures to bring Earth into the sphere of the Arion Empire. That will ensure the everlasting servitude of your entire planet.”
The men shared knowing glances with each other. Her words were the same ones they used so many times. They had been analyzing Arion tactics for years, and they were used to embracing realities that most people would think were outrageous fiction. They were also capable of burying some realities so deeply they’d never be found. Most of all, they were men who took advantage of any tactical or strategic advantage given to them. They knew how to wield power better than any other group of men on the planet.
Admiral Kirk Sadler of the Navy rose to drape his ribbon and medal decorated jacket over Mandi’s bare shoulders, his large jacket falling closed to cover her. She flashed him a smile. She'd lived on Earth long enough to appreciate the gallantry of his gesture.
He sat back down to address Mandi. “We all hold much the same position, Ms. Olson. That’s why we formed this secretive organization, Valkyrie7. We saw the positioning of Earth forces behind the spearhead of Velorians, especially the formation of Omega Directive, as a dangerously incomplete strategy. A narrow defense that could easily be flanked by a clever enemy.”
Mandi flashed him another quick smile of thanks, more for making her case than the modesty of his jacket. She shifted her hips slightly, causing one side of his jacket to fall open, but pretended not to notice. “If there is one thing we know about Arions, Admiral, beyond their physical perfection and powers, is that they are clever. They’ve defeated the Velorians on a hundred worlds, while the Velorians in turn have had precious few successes of late. The Velorian Prime Directive, combined with the simplistic morality and narrow thinking of their Protector Corps, continuously leads them into making the same mistakes.”
“So where do you fit into all this?” Senator Brown demanded roughly. “You seem to be neither fish nor fowl from your descriptions.”
“My motivations are simple, gentlemen. I would be convicted of capital crimes if taken to either Aria or Velor. So I operate independently. A rogue in some people’s minds, an adventurer in others, a privateer even. What I really am is a woman who wishes to live her own life, free of Empire or Enlightenment. I want to live on a world that is free of outside influence, a world where I have a starring role, as your Hollywood people might define it.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Brown asked. "You're an outside influence by definition."
“It’s simple, Senator. I want all governments to amend their constitutions and laws to show that I am the ultimate authority on Earth.”
“That’s…. that’s preposterous!” Brown snorted. The other members of the committee began to talk angrily as well.
“It is but one of your choices, gentlemen. You can also choose to fight the war against Aria your own way, and then lose it and become enslaved like many more advanced worlds have. But I would like to offer you a softer form of rule. A single woman of benevolent intent who would like to see Earth prosper. A woman who would empower your militaries, and then unite all the Earth from the leadership of the one superpower on the planet. The United States. My seat of government.”
“That’s more than preposterous,” Brown sputtered. “No other country would submit to such a system. Our own constitution would have to be overthrown as well."
“Even if the alternative is for your people to be hauled off and forced to work in the asteroid mines? To your streets, your places of government, even your churches full of Arion warriors? Your daughters collected and pressed into service to comfort them?”
“The leaders of many countries are not driven by logic,” Townsend said calmly. “Especially in the Middle-east.”
“All solvable problems, gentlemen. You just have to throw the rules away and start with a blank sheet of paper. One I will give you . But I need you to write the new history of Earth on it.”
“We’d tie the planet up in war for a hundred years by trying to take control that way,” Brown snorted.
“If you tried to manage it the usual way, I’m sure you would. But there are methods of success that involve genetic technology that you are not aware of. Slower but much more effective methods. Selective infertility, genetic selection, mutagenics, the list goes on. With a few changes, Earth could be the most beautiful planet in the galaxy.”
“Changes?” Brown asked warily.
“Mostly by solving your problem of rampant overpopulation. Everything gets easier after that.”
An angry conversation traveled around the table several times before General Douglas Adams of the Army rose to face Mandi. “You’re talking about ethnic cleansing. Erasing billions from existence as you create a new racial elite.”
“It’s going to happen anyway, General. If we don't do it, the Arions will. The difference is who winds up in control. Why not focus your efforts on building a strong and lasting Earth instead of wasting your efforts on a futile defense?"
She could hear the men’s hearts racing. She knew how forbidden such thoughts were to these otherwise decent men. But she also knew that they’d made their reputations by picking the best out of a basket of bad choices.
"Do not forsake your people, gentlemen. It’s a far better end I describe than having your people spread across the galaxy, the planet largely depopulated to become slaves, your offspring lost and dying a thousand light-years from home.”
The men looked at each other before Adams spoke again. They knew that they were being asked to make the most important decision in all of Earth's history. “Assuming we agreed, and that we even had the power to deliver what you ask, how would you accomplish the task of eliminating the Arions? Your Protectors seem incapable of it.”
“So you are practical men, as I expected,” Mandi nodded as she walked slowly around the table. “You want to calculate the probabilities of success before you decide. I would have expected no less."
"We're not calculating a damn thing," Brown growled. "Just want to hear your pitch."
"O.K. It goes like this. First, you have to realize that Protectors fight with virtual gloves on. I do not, since I am not bound by their laws or Directives. I would give you the means to develop weapons that can injure even a Prime or a Velorian. I would even transfer a portion of their genetic legacy to you. You've seen what my body is capable of. That is our ultimate technology.”
The men began talking rapidly among themselves again, a rising sense of excitement filling the room, punctuated by a few doubts.
“Trust me, gentlemen, weapons that can kill Primes do exist, but based on the defenses you just used to try to stop my entrance, it will take you decades to develop practical versions of them on your own.” She paused to let the effect of her next statement strike full force. “I’ve seen the Arion plans, and you don’t have that much time left.”
The room fell quiet. “Go on,” Adams finally said. “What else?”
“Second, I have certain abilities that other Velorians do not, most particularly the ability to influence minds. I could use those abilities to reduce the effectiveness of key high ranking members of the Arion contingent, as well as leaders on Earth whose support you require. And I will use them to weaken the Velorians, as we eventually need to get rid of them as well.”
“Mind control?” Senator Cranston asked in surprise.
Mandi shrugged. “A crude term for a very sophisticated ability. It began as a genetically engineered attempt at telepathic enhancement performed on my parents by a race that is an enemy of the Supremis. I was fortunate enough to have benefited from their misfortune.”
“I thought Supremis had only enhanced physical abilities?” Cranston continued. His staff had made a study of every document in the alien and UFO files that might relate to the Supremis race. He was the team’s expert on the subject of Supremis biology.
“The other race, the Diaboli, are masters of the mind's power. I have a portion of the abilities of both races.”
“All the more reason not to trust you,” Adams mumbled.
Mandi ignored him. “The third thing I will do, gentlemen, is to train your forces, and enhance key members of your elite fighters so that they can stand a chance against an Arion. They will practice their tactics on me, and once they become effective, we can deploy your elite forces without suffering huge casualties or loss of scarce and valuable weapons.”
“To transform their DNA partially into that of a Supremis. With the right training and weapons, a handful of enhanced humans could go toe to toe against a Prime.”
“This is incredible. You'd be willing to share Supremis genetic technology with Earth? To make it part of our gene pool?”
“As I said, I am bound my no rules or outdated concepts of morality, either Terran or Supremis. I want freedom for Earth, and any price is worth that prize.”
She knew she had them now. Their eyes were dancing at the thought of getting their hands on Supremis gen-tech. Of breaking human DNA out from the deadlock that the Galen had created for Earth.
“So what guarantees any of this?” Senator Brown asked soberly.
“From your side, your lives. If any of you betray me in even the smallest way, the traitor and his family, as many generations of it I an find, will die a horrible death. Do not doubt I have the ability to do so, despite your best attempts to stop me.”
“That’s simple blackmail!”
“I see it more as a reminder to keep you focused and allied with each other. Because if I fail… if we fail, gentlemen, then your children and grandchildren will grow up working their lives out in the Arion slave mines and factories. Or if they are blessed with beauty, they will become the concubines and personal pets of high ranking Arions. An even shorter and more brutal life. It is a fate that would befall every family on Earth. There is no escaping it except by agreeing to my terms.”
The men looked back at her, the blood draining from their faces. “And what do you offer to guarantee your intentions?” Brown asked, his voice still calm.
“A personal gift beyond your wildest dreams.” She shrugged her shoulders and the Admiral’s jacket fell to the floor, revealing her perfection again. “My body contains the finest genetics technology in the universe, a limited portion of which can be shared with you. If our relationship prospers, I could extend your working lives by a hundred years. Years filled with vitality greater than you possessed as young men. Years that you would spend as my lieutenants, that is true, but years during which you will determine the future of Earth. You will make this planet the shining jewel, the paradise, that it was created to be. To finally realize the genius of the Garden of Eden.”
Taos, New Mexico
Kara heard the upstairs door slam closed, and knew that Xara had even returned. Crystal had already left for San Francisco to get her backlogged paperwork ready for her return on Monday. She made a cup of hot chocolate and floated up the spiral staircase to Xara’s door.
“Can I come in honey?”
Kara opened the door, only to see Xara’s crumpled uniform strewn across the bed. She walked across the room to find her daughter standing out on the balcony, the bright New Mexico sunset reflecting off their private lake. She was nude, her arms crossed and hair wet and tangled from the quick swim she’d just taken. The lake was really a blue hole, the deepest part descending nine-hundred feet into a limestone cavern. The flooded caves were Xara’s refuge when she wanted to be alone. No human diver could descend to such depths.
Kara set the hot chocolate down on the outside table.
“Rough day, huh?”
“Mom, that little bitch made me remove my top in front of a hundred cameras. Easily a billion viewers. And do you have any idea how many replays of that moment and emails about it are floating around on the Net? I’ve never been so… hell, I don’t even know what I feel. Embarrassed, silly… mostly, I don’t know… out of control.”
“All feelings Mandi intended you to feel. She wants to weaken your self-confidence.”
“I just…” Xara paused, tears welling up in her eyes.
Kara opened her arms and her daughter fell into them.
“I just felt so stupid staring into those cameras with my tits hanging out, mom. My last words, “fuck me,” are still echoing in my head. All those shocked looks on their faces, many of them turning into these knowing, lecherous grins. I think some of those men really thought I was going to march out there and have sex with them.”
“You could have. The entire auditorium. And not been the worse for it. You’ve lately begun to even overwhelm Zalen, and I didn’t think anyone could wipe the grin off that arrogant SOB’s face.”
Xara leaned her head back to look strangely at her mom. “And that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“I’m just reminding you how special you are, not encouraging you to do it. You don’t share any of those kinds of limitations with humans, other than the emotions you allow to influence you. Even among my clan, the Zor’Els, every daughter a Protector, you stand out as special. No one can match your strength, not even a muscle-bound Virago, and you’ve not really even begun to understand your Galen half yet.”
“O.K, I’m like their comic book Supergirl. So what? Mandi can make me dance around like her hand puppet.”
“Mandi is trying to work on your self-confidence. She’ll try to erode it so that at some critical moment, she can play on your self-doubt and fears to escape you. She knows that of all her enemies, she cannot possible defeat you. Not unless she breaks down your will to fight her.”
Xara snuggled back in her mother’s arms.
“She could have had you do far worse things, honey. She was just playing with you. Trying to put you off balance.”
“Worse? I don’t wear a disguise at school, mom. Don’t you think more than a few people might wonder why Xara Zor’El and Dani Banks look exactly alike? Right down to details like these oversized nipples.” She leaned back to hold herself.
“We’ve been hiding in plain sight for years, honey. And as far as the later goes, they’ll just think you were really cold.”
“It’s no secret that Vels don’t get cold.”
“Surely there aren’t that many people at school who know you that well?”
Xara decided to dodge that very motherly question. “The difference, mom, is that until this year, rumors of our existence were just that… rumors. Now, thanks to shit like this, more and more of the public believe everything they see or read about us and the Arions. And most of that news is influenced by EarthFirst.”
Kara nodded. “There is little hope of maintaining the tenets of the PD. But it’s still best to let Terrans know as little as possible. And not to interfere in their internal affairs unless we suspect the Empire’s hand at work.”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should just go totally public, mom. I could have really solved that NASA thing, and saved the environment from that Shuttle explosion at Vandenberg if I hadn’t been held back by the PD.”
“You know I can’t go there, honey. I swore an oath. The most important one in my life.”
“I didn’t swear anything.”
“All I know, honey, is that it’s getting increasingly hard to maintain two identities. We may have to move again, and start wearing disguises or something. Our private lives are too important to give up.”
Xara looked at her mother for a long moment, finally understanding. “You’re going to let her get away with this, aren’t you? You think that by confronting her, she’ll ruin what remains of your private life. Your precious job at Tyrell.”
“I’m doing more to help people there than I am as a Protector. All those cancer drugs that wouldn’t even exist without the samples I brought from distant planets. They’ve saved millions of lives since the nuclear wars.”
“So that’s what Mandi threatened you with? That’s how she got you to back off?”
Kara didn’t answer directly. “As embarrassing as today was, honey, she didn’t have you hurt anyone. Perhaps she was just sending a reminder to me to leave her alone.”
“I don’t appreciate being her messenger,” Xara said darkly.
“We are Velorians, Xara. Nudity isn’t a taboo in our culture. And you’ve got a great body.”
“Jesus, mom, that is such a crock! You have a good body! As if that excuses showing it off on TV like some porno queen.”
“It wasn’t an excuse, just a reflection of reality. Velorian rules are different than Terran. You can’t be tethered to concerns that don’t apply to you.”
“So exactly what am I? I’m not Velorian -- they won’t even let me visit the planet. I’m not really Galen either, and now you’re making sure as hell I can’t call myself human.”
“I’m just telling you, don’t hold yourself to human limitations. Don’t let a simple violation of Terran cultural norms rattle you. It’s exactly what Mandi would want.”
Xara sighed. “Everybody is going to be staring at me when I go back to school.”
“Outside a few stray comments, the kids will just toss it off as a weird coincidence. Just pretend to be as surprised as they are that Xara looks like Dani Banks. And if they want to believe the person they saw was you, then let them. Just allow them room to doubt themselves.”
“Easy for you to say. You were raised on a planet where clothing is optional.”
“That’s an exaggeration, Xara, and you know it.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. Xara turned her head to glance through the door. “I don’t want to see Neil.”
“Honey, don’t let Mandi get to you. Shrug this thing off.”
Kara rose to open the door while Xara walked back out on her balcony. “She’s in a lousy mood, Neil. This probably isn’t a good time.”
“I was watching the TV and… is she O.K?”
“I’m fine, Neil,” Xara said as she walked back into the bedroom, still nude. She rested her hands on her hips. “I have a good body according to my mom. And it’s O.K. for a Velorian to show off her tits.” She shook her upper body. Nothing jiggled.
Neil stared at her, not sure what to say.
Kara glowered at her daughter. “That isn’t exactly what I said, Xara.”
“Ah, I think I’ll just leave you guys be,” Neil said with a little wave. “I just wanted to check on you, Xara.” He turned and walked briskly down the hallway.
Kara closed the door. “That’s the one person you don’t want to take your moods out on, honey. He loves you without regard to himself, even as he knows he will only share a small slice of your life.”
Xara sat down in her chair with a sigh. “You’re probably right. He must have been mortified to see me on the holo-TV.”
“Then get dressed. You two guys should go out for pizza or something. And tonight, stay with him. Let him slowly bring you back to your center.” Kara paused to smile at her daughter. “He offers you a very special gift, Xara. The selfless sharing of a human heart. That is the most precious thing any man can give you.”