By Shadar with edits by JH
International Space Agency Launch Facility, Ghana
Launch Director Pyotr’ Moskovski smiled for the first time in two days. After four aborted countdowns, they finally had a good bird. All systems were Go.
Their payload was the first of the orbital factories that many firms were vying to lift to take advantage of zero G manufacturing techniques. Exotic metals, pharmaceuticals, nanomachines. All could all be built better in space.
The countdown hit zero, and the cluster of solid fuel rockets ignited right after the sustaining liquid fuel engine, and eighty million pounds of rocket and payload started climbing exactly on profile. They’d have orbital insertion within four minutes. With any luck this would be the first successful launch world-wide in at least three months.
He dared to sit back in his chair, fingering the traditional cigar that he and his launch team would smoke once they’d handed the bird over to Orbital Ops. His job ended when he got it up there.
The calm was broken by the urgent voice of the Range Safety officer. “I’ve got an airspace intrusion. Small target, moving very fast from the north, descending fast.”
“On screen,” Pyotr called out automatically.
The huge hyper-plasma display blinked and then revealed a sensor map that covered the region for a thousand kilometers in all directions. The launch site and their climbing bird were highlighted in the center, along with a faint track that was clearly moving on an intercept path.
“Intruder is descending at fifty kilometers altitude, traveling at just over Mach 12. Estimate intercept with our bird in… eleven seconds.”
“What the fuck…” Pyotr gasped. “Descending at 50 klicks?” He suddenly thought of Vandenberg and the rumors of potential alien interference in that launch. The US military had gone quiet about the whole disaster, but there was a stink in the air. “We got anything that can intercept the intruder?”
“At Mach 12? No way,” the Range Safety officer said with a shake of his head. “Nobody has missiles that travel that fast.” He didn’t have to add; nobody on Earth does.
"You got a probably launch point?"
“Looks like the intruder is dropping into the atmosphere to do the intercept, not climbing out of it.”
“Bozhe... moi,” Pyotr said slowly under his breath as he helplessly watched the contact homing in on their perfectly good bird. He closed his eyes as the two tracks converged.
“Major malfunction!” the Propulsion officer called out. “I’ve lost the main engine.”
Pyotr’ didn’t need that report. He opened his eyes to see the tiny dot that had been his bird blooming huge on the sensor display.
The Range Safety team started talking urgently into their mikes. A lot of very heavy debris was about to crash down into the ocean, and there were ships out there. They’d track and alert the captains relative to the predicted impact points of the larger pieces.
His victory cigar forgotten now, Pyotr’ stared dumbfounded as the display. Someone had just deliberately killed his bird. Someone not of this Earth.
Mandi made a tight turn at 50G’s after her body sliced through the lower half of the huge rocket. The horizon behind her was ablaze with burning fuel and flaming debris, but the job wasn’t over yet. She tensed her body even harder as she aimed downward, heading for the tiny dot in the jungle of Ghana that was the European launch facility. Extending both arms straight in front of her, her fists clenched, she tried to maintain Mach 6 as she dove into the rapidly thickening air below.
The cluster of buildings expanded rapidly in her vision. She bent her arms slightly to adjust her course, aiming her body directly toward the bunker that contained the launch center, along with the computers and telemetry. She was going to try a kinetic energy kill on the bunker, a technique that she'd harvested from Sharon's memory.
The final ground rush lasted for scant milliseconds, but her last image was that of the roof of the bunker racing toward her. She was right on target. Her fists contacted the three meters of ferro-concrete that protected the bunker from a launch accident, and a blaze of sparks as bright as the sun turned her world white-hot.
She awoke in total darkness, with her head aching something terrible. She experimented with trying to move, gritting her teeth as she strained, but she could only crack the rock. It had no where to go this far underground, effectively trapping her upside down. A hot wave of panic washed over her, she'd always been slightly claustrophobic. She struggled harder, but it was no use. For the first time she'd cloned Sharon's body into hers, she found her strength inadequate to the task.
It took her a moment to think of another way. She opened her eyes wide, and concentrated on projecting her eye beams against the rock that was jammed against her face. The violent glare blinded her, but she stared at the rock for a long moment, only to gasp as a bubble of glowing lava started to gather around her inverted head.
She didn’t like the idea of lava solidifying in her lungs, so she suppressed her breathing reflex, no air here anyway, and struggled to pull her knees downward and spread her elbows outward. The softened rock yielded slightly, and the harder rock behind it gave off a louder riot of cracks and pops before she ran out of strength again. She was clearly going to have to pulverize it or melt her way out.
The last seemed easier. She blasted the rock with her heat vision again and again, keeping it up for two minutes at a time, then closing her eyes tightly as her head was submerged in melting, glowing rock. It felt incredibly hot, but she was making headway. She struggled to twist herself around in the viscous liquid, finally managing to get upright, and began to scrabble at the rock with her fingernails, blasting it at the same time with her eyes.
It was slow going, taking her nearly an hour to melt and dig her way out of the granite, but she finally emerged just outside the security fence of the launch complex. Her naked skin was coated in powdered rock, her eyes glowing laser blue. Her chest was also nearly flat, her arms and legs aching and exhausted. She hadn’t been carrying enough energy for this kind of operation.
Inside the complex, fire trucks were working to put out a fire in the bunker she’d punched her way through. She saw dozens of body bags lying on the ground around it.
Good. Ghana was going to be down for quite a while what with the Launch Center destroyed and most of their technical people dead.
The next step was to take out the almost abandoned Russian launch site at Baikonur.
That would give Valkyrie7's strategists more than enough ammunition to hammer out a 'launch for dollars' program. A hundred million US dollars to Valkyrie for every launch.
Things were also looking up now that she had a weapons assembly operation under way in Switzerland.
In less than a year, she’d own this pretty little planet.
Turning, she trudged off down the road, searching for the closest power line to recharge herself from.
Mandi returned the next morning to the Valkyrie7 HQ. Despite the heavy snow and sub-zero cold, she breezed through the door wearing a skimpy brown weave top that fastened over her bare shoulders like a halter, showing her décolletage to good advantage, with a swatch of fabric wrapping around her neck like an exotic choker. Below it she wore the tiniest of black thongs, revealing the slenderness of her immensely strong legs. A delicate pair of Italian pumps completed the look.
She dazzled the staffers as she walked sensuously through the command center and into one of the conference room.
The three senators and four military leaders were already settled into their chairs, talking in hushed voices. Mandi could overhear enough to tell that they still didn't trust her motivations. But she'd delivered most of what she'd promised. Production had started on a simplified version of a GAR, and she’d brought the android back from some place deep in space and ostensibly had given Sadler full control. The space launch centers around the world were paralyzed, fearful of another attack. All part of the plan.
She smiled to herself as she sat bolt upright on a hassock to face them. After she was done with them, they'd be the most willing of pawns, trusting her every word.
“I’m pleased that Admiral Sadler here was successful in imprinting himself on Azriel. I see that she’s joined your staff here in an undercover capacity. That’s clever.”
The other men stared at Sadler, then at the stunning red-head in the trim Israeli uniform who sat beside him. They all knew that if word of this leaked out, especially to the wives who'd been friends with Sadler's wife, there’d be hell to pay.
“But I also promised you some personal enhancements. And this is where the rub really comes in. Are you prepared to explain to your families that you are about to get deathly ill, and then, after recovering, you start to grow younger?”
“Younger?” Townsend asked, choking on his words. “That’s... that's impossible.”
“If these last days should have told you anything, Senator, it’s that the range of what is possible and impossible has changed dramatically since I arrived.”
Townsend glanced at his fellow senators, seeing the same worried and surprised look in their eyes. Their distrust for Mandi was far from allayed.
“What I plan to do is to transfer a small portion of my DNA to you. The infectious agent, an highly advanced retrovirus, will inject new genes into every cell in your body.” She saw the shocked looks. “Don’t worry,” she smiled, “you won’t undergo a sex change, but you will feel sick for a short time.”
“That’s what you meant earlier by enhancement?” Sadler asked.
“Yes. You’ll grow more vital, stronger, and fortunately, or unfortunately if you can’t explain it, you will gradually grow twenty to thirty years younger than you are right now.” She smiled wryly at Sadler. "In your case, Admiral, you'll make your young lieutenant much happier."
Sadler looked uncomfortably at Azriel as an excited but disbelieving murmur traveled around the room. She placed her hand on his arm and gripped him reassuringly.
"That's not the kind of enhancement we've heard about from the Velorian or the Arion records," Cranston objected.
"I've told you, gentlemen, that I'm neither Velorian or Arion, and that I have capabilities that neither side can match. One small part of that is the revitalization that I can give you. “Even more interestingly, given the purpose that the Galen designed this DNA sharing concept for, you’ll be far more… capable.” She smiled. “Well, in certain areas anyway. Also, the changes will be permanent.”
“What areas?” Sadler asked, already suspecting the answer.
"Ask the Admiral. He's going to be first."
"Would you quit pussyfooting around," Brown said angrily. "Just lay it on the table, like we talked about before." He and the other senators had made it clear that they didn't like the way Mandi slowly fed them information, telling them no more than they needed to know at any given time. They were used to knowing more than anyone else, not less.
She glared pointedly at the senator. “Asuming you aren't completely shriveled and dried up, your sexual prowess will be immeasurably improved. Far beyond that of even a young athlete, even beyond what are acknowledged as human limits."
Brown cursed and stood up to pace pace along the far side of the room, his face turning red. “How come I’m not fucking surprised by that. First we got some god-damn robot fucking Sadler here, and now you tell us that you’re going to make us into god-damned porn stars? Just what the hell do I tell my wife.”
"Maybe she won't notice," Mandi smirked, doubting if the uptight senator even had sex with her anymore.
He shook his fist at her. "So what's next? Supersoldiers?"
She glared at Brown, a wave of heat washing over him to make him shrink back. "I will tell you exactly what you need to know, when you need to know it."
"Thirty years would make younger than my oldest daughter," Townsend joined back in.
“Look, you do or tell your family what you have to, gentlemen. But know this; if your families can’t handle it, then either you or they disappear. A plane crash, whatever. You can always move into this hole. It’s up to you.”
“Are you threatening our families?” Cranston jumped in.
"I'm telling you to fucking manage them," she spit back. "And if you aren’t committed to Earth’s future, to preserving your freedom, then I’ll find people who are. I’m sure the Russians or Chinese have their own contingency plans.” She started to get to her feet.
"We're with you on this, Mandi," Sadler said quickly. "But these changes and challenges are outside even our professional experience. You need to give us time."
Mandi rose to walk into the center of the room. All eyes were on her. No matter what else the men thought of her, they couldn't deny her beauty. “There isn't any time, gentlemen. We have to move fast."
"But why the enhancement" We're all healthy"
"I need you to be in top form, gentlemen. You’re all over fifty. You have ten good years left, maybe fifteen. This battle is going to take longer than that. I need fifty good years from you to ensure a smooth transfer of power. After the Supremis influence is removed and we establish a new world order, your leadership will be vital during the first few decades of rebuilding. Each of you will command a portion of Earth, and I need you operating at your absolute prime and then some for at least two generations.”
“And we do what then, outlive our wives, even our children?” Brown demanded.
Mandi nodded, knowing that she was pushing them beyond the boundaries of family, beyond their proscribed responsibilities, even beyond the boundaries of their nation. Their first reaction would be conventional, the words of responsible, virtuous men. But all seven of these men had hidden visions of authority and power, of ambitions beyond the boundaries of family, beyond their prescribed responsibilities, even beyond the boundaries of their nation. She had chosen them because they had the will to form a governing council that would eclipse all governments on Earth, and that will would soon carry them beyond the old moralities and into her service.
“It's just that the concept is bizarre,” Cranston added, "so as the Admiral said, it's going to take time to adjust. But we’re committed to our cause. All of us.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Senator," she said, suppressing a smile. They were already racing each other to run down the path she'd made for them.
Despite all her bravado, Mandi wasn’t certain about what was going to happen when she tried to enhance these older men. Bragus hadn't responded strongly, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. He’d been exposed to all kinds of retrovirus. On the other hand, if she couldn’t do the job, she’d have to enlist Sharon’s services again. But that would be dangerous. The Scribe couldn’t control what she passed on. She might wind up creating men who could physically challenge her. She'd have to kill them at that point, which would set her plans back.
Purging the doubts from her mind, she forced herself to smile back at them confidently. “I accept that this will take some getting used to, but I hardly see this as a sacrifice. I’m offering you what Ponce De Leon and others searched the ends of the Earth for: the fountain of youth. Not to mention what many an older man has sought with drugs and surgery: the sexual vitality of a young man.”
"I've got four children and three grandchildren," Brown said, still visibly upset. "My wife and I have been married for thirty-five years. And you want me to become as young as my son?
"Yes. But stronger and healthier than he'd ever dream of being."
"And let me fucking guess," he continued. "The transmission method is x-rated.” He was starting to get to know Supremis customs too damn well.
“Don’t worry, the work is mostly on my part.”
“Shit,” Brown cursed as he collapsed back in his chair. “I knew it. You Supremis are just one big fucking porn movie.”
Mandi's eyes narrowed. “There is a damn good reason why it's done this way, Senator. The intimacy of the transmission ensures integrity and control. No ordinary man can survive lying between the legs of a Supremis woman during her ecstasy. In fact, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that with my being a thousand times stronger than you, any display of sexual enthusiasm on my part could be fatal. Additionally, the virus cannot easily be transmitted through a third-party medium, which ensures that it cannot be taken from me without my willingly providing it.”
She wasn't about to tell them about Sharon, although after her mind tweak, she was willing enough.
“This genetic technology stuff is insane,” General Adams exclaimed, even as his imagination raced wildly. He’d known his share of lovers, some of them extremely fit, but he’d never worried about his partner’s enthusiasm becoming fatal. But then he looked at Mandi's legs again, and mentally scaled up everything involved in sex by a thousand. The clutching, the thrusting, the loss of control, the wild gyrations in bed as a woman became orgasmic. The thought sent both a wild thrill and also a cold chill through his body.
“In answer to the question I’m sure you all have on your mind, gentlemen, sexual enthusiasm is indeed a function of strength and fitness. That's true whether you are born Supremis or human. And as I'm sure you've noticed, I’m very, very fit.”
The men looked at her. “And we’re pretty ordinary at the moment,” Townsend observed quietly.
“That’s where Azriel comes in. Don’t worry. I’ve worked it all out with her.”
Itu Aba in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea.
Kitja was sitting on the Hopi rug that covered the hard stone floor of Eric and Lisa’s island retreat, with her bare legs bent up against her chest. Her clothing was only a red top that bared one shoulder and that hardly was enough to keep her decent while sitting. A large gold bracelet adorned her left wrist, and a small gold chain on her right.
Her hair was brown with blonde and red highlights, and her eyes were a dark shade of brown, almost hinting at mahogany when the light caught them. Her skin was as smooth and golden brown a burnished copper.
Eric sat down, facing her. “I'm thrilled that you came by, Kitja. Sharon’s always been very secretive about you. Kara told me a few things here and there, but Sharon seems determined that you should have no contact with the rest of us.”
Kitja rested her elbow on her knees as she looked sideways at him. “I think half of it’s her Scribe thing, keeping her ‘objective distance’ as she calls it. I suspect the other half is that she doesn’t want me to grow up like a Velorian.”
Eric considered her last comment for a long moment. “I know she thinks Xara is too much of an exhibitionist, and that she doesn't respect the Prime Directive.”
“I think Xara’s cool. Although that thing in San Francisco was kind of weird.”
“She’s growing up. But she was a horror when she was younger. I thought we’d done everything wrong as parents.”
“Obviously she had to work some things out for herself.”
“I’m sure you have too, Kitja. But you don’t behave like any Velorian I’ve ever heard of.”
“Because I’m not. Not with these brown eyes." She reached up to tug on her hair. "And not with these locks. As Mom says, I’m not fish or fowl.”
“I think you’re very attractive.”
“Thank you. But have you ever heard of a Supremis without blue eyes? I’m a freak.”
“I like it. It’s unique.” Eric smiled as he crossed his legs on the floor.
“But I gather you’re seriously hung up on the ultra-blonde blue-eyed look like most everyone else?”
He shrugged. “I’ve been married to Kara for a very long time. I guess I measure other women against her.”
“Which must make me come up really short.”
“Every woman has her own kind of beauty.”
Kitja laughed. “That’s the bullshit you always tell people. But you don’t believe it. I mean, hell, you’re married to a goddess. Everyone’s in love with her. Even my mom used to be before she met Andrea.”
“And you think that’s easy for me to live with?”
Kitja considered that for a long moment. “No, probably not. But it explains why you can be so nonchalant about other women’s looks. You sleep with the woman the rest of the planet dreams about.”
Eric frowned. “Nonchalant? If you think that, then you can't possibly understand how I feel, Kitja. Hell, I don’t even get to sleep with my wife half the nights, especially not when Zalen is in town. Or when she’s off fighting the Arions, screwing them to death to drain the terrible energies from their bodies. Not to mention sharing her with Crystal and others from time to time.”
“Zalen, huh,” she said disgustedly. “That pompous SOB told me that he would consider ‘making me a woman’ if I was nice to him. That bastard. Who does he think he is, God’s gift to women?”
Eric’s anger faded as her youthful angst made him laugh. “Actually, Kitja, I’m told he is. Those Messengers were bred for the, ah… mission.”
“I’d rather die than let that arrogant creep touch me.”
“An interesting comment coming from someone who’s half Velorian. Most Vels are sexually active at age fifteen. By sixteen for sure.”
“Active? I think we'd call that promiscuous,” Kitja smirked.
“I guess it depends on your perspective. But sexual encounters and contests play a very big part in Velorian life. It comes from the Galen’s genetic mandates and all that jazz.”
“Which just proves all the more that I’m not Velorian like my mom. I haven’t missed it.” It was a lie, and she knew it. Her rush of emotions while pleasing Kerry during that night in his beach house confirmed her Velorian instincts. But she hadn’t wanted to be close to a man since then.
Eric smiled. “After the challenges of raising Xara, I find that comment most refreshing. Would you mind repeating it a few dozen times when she’s around?”
“Xara and Neil, her Gentler,” Kitja smiled. “It’s kind of obvious what his enhancement is. Her boy toy.”
“Not exactly, Kitja. The Gentler relationship is more complex than that. Most people misunderstand it.”
“Well, if he’s not her boyfriend, what’s he doing hanging around with her? My mom told me the two of them sleep together sometimes.”
“As I said, it’s complicated, Kitja. I started my relationship with Kara as her Gentler. That’s still one of my roles. Trust me, it’s a lot more complex than just sex.” He paused, his eyes softening. “And sometimes, Kitja, it can turn into true love.”
Kitja shrugged. “Whatever. It’s all a guy thing as far as I'm concerned, which is why my mom gets so weird about it sometimes. She’s been captured and exploited by Arion men, not to mention that Velorian mad scientist. She has some scars. Not the ones that show, but ones that don’t heal very fast.”
“But now she’s been married to Andrea how long?”
“Since before I was born. Nineteen years. And it’s not so weird. Same sex marriages have been legal for forty years in the US.”
“I wasn’t being critical. I’m just glad she isn’t making passes at Kara any more. Many years ago, I thought she was seriously trying to steal her away.”
Kitja decided not to comment on that. She'd heard her mom talk about Kara, and it was clear there was still a spark there, Andrea notwithstanding. “So I’ve got my two mothers, Eric. One Velorian, one Kryp’Terran. Mother and Nother, as Andrea’s known in lesbian circles. Makes life at home a living hell.”
Eric chuckled. “I think that’s more the age than the mothers. Xara seems to think Kara and I are dinosaurs. That we’d get trampled by the changing world if not for her infusing a little cool into us.”
“I don’t think that at all, Eric. I think you’re totally cool. I can talk to you about anything. And hell, after being married to a Vel for so long, I’m sure you’ve got some stories to tell.”
“Remind Xara of that,” Eric winked. “The cool part. She thinks I’m a fossilized old fart.”
“I guess nobody appreciates her own parents at Xara's age.”
“That’s very wise, dear Kitja. And you’re barely two years older than Xara. Maybe Sharon’s hiding you and Andrea away from us for so many years was the right thing to do.”
Kitja shrugged. She hadn’t even known there were other Supremis on Earth until she was ten. “So, we were talking about gifts, Eric. The genetic kind. Enhancements. Whatever.”
“No, you were. But I do have one question. How does gold affect you?”
“Ah, the thing that turns all of us Supremis on. Isn’t that a personal question, Eric?”
“No, it’s a practical one. You’re wearing a fair bit of it right now.”
She looked at the heavy bracelet on her wrist. “Well, if you have to know, gold makes me feel really good, not horny but just good, and it doesn’t weaken me at all.”
Eric whistled. “That could come in handy, especially if it’s a secret. Are your volatai like your mother’s? She was always very fast.”
She brushed her hands across her chest. “I can hold my own, I guess.”
“Impressive. That means you must have her strength too.”
Kitja shook her head. “No way. I just have big volatai and small tits, for a Supremis anyway. I poop out in a hurry.”
“And that’s it? No other little genetic tweaks?”
“I didn’t say that. My pheromones are more diverse than a Velorian’s. Not just for arousal, but I can generate some for submission and fear. I can also hold them back when I want, unlike my mother.”
“Handy when you want to control men’s minds. Or not. How about your eyes?”
“A total crap out. No tachyon vision and I can’t warm a TV dinner without a microwave.”
Eric said nothing. Supremis took a lot of pride in their eyes.
“But my big deal is being able to shapechange.”
Eric stared at her, eyes opening wide. “Like Cat?”
“A Kecklavian who modeled herself after Kara. She could take on the shape of anyone she touched.”
“And she lived on Earth? Mom never told me.”
“She was here for many years. We were all devastated when she disappeared more than ten years ago. The stink of it was that she was killed by a Destroyer. Her body was never found.”
“I would have loved to meet her. There are some aspects about shapechanging, mostly ethical stuff, that I seem to mess up sometimes.”
“I can help you with that, Kitja. Cat and I used to talk a lot about how her different forms affected people. Sometimes for the good, but sometimes people got really confused and hurt.”
Kitja sighed. “I can relate to the later.”
Neither of them said anything for a long moment.
“So, just how enhanced are you, Eric?”
His eyes snapped back to focus on hers. “That’s kind of a personal question.”
“I just told you about myself. Even about the gold.”
Eric shifted uncomfortably. “Mine is more… personal.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Kitja reached out to hold his hand, but he pulled his back. She looked at him funny as he folded his hands back in his lap. “I heard my mom talking to Andrea once. You’ve got some kind of pheromone thing.”
“Tactile pheromones,” Eric admitted. “If I touch a woman, she can react… well, she can react very strongly.”
Kitja looked at him for a long moment, her brown eyes growing larger. “No wonder you didn’t want me to touch you.” She held out her hand. “But I bet I’m immune.”
Eric shook his head. “I can’t control it.”
She leaned forward to boldly take his hand in hers. “See, no lightning. Nothing’s happening.”
He tried to pull his hand back, searching her eyes and body language for the usual signs of arousal, but she held it too tightly. “It takes a few seconds, Kitja. You really should let go.”
"Not until I feel something. I mean, if gold doesn't bother me..." Her voice trailed off as her eyes opened wide. She started gulping for air, her face flushing as her nipples strongly tented the top of her blouse. She quickly snatched her hand back.
“See,” he said. “It’s not controllable. And nobody is immune.”
Kitja fanned her face with her hands, her eyes looking sexily into his. “Wow. What a rush.”
“The bad news is that it doesn’t go away. Not until it’s… dealt with.”
“I can handle it,” she said as she took a deep breath. “Will of steel.”
Eric laughed. “O.K, I’m impressed. Holding my hand that long generally becomes very embarrassing for me, at least if there isn’t a husband or boyfriend close by.”
“You must be really popular at parties.”
“It does create a mood. I’m told the effect of a brief handshake is a bit like cocaine and alcohol. Colors get brighter, scents more pronounced and enjoyable, the mood gets sexy. Everything kind of picks up.”
Kitja rose as she tried to adjust her top to cover herself better. She regretted not wearing a bra. “Yeah, especially the last. My will isn't the only thing made of steel.”
Eric grinned as leaned back against the couch. “So, Kitja, now we know each other’s secrets, why don’t you tell me why you make such an effort to avoid Zalen? It’s not right for a Vel to deny herself that way.”
Kitja looked at him strangely. “And that’s the kind of advice you give your daughter? Not to deny herself?”
Eric chuckled. “No way. But she hardly needs my encouragement.”
“But you let her and your wife go to that… gigolo. That male whore. A man who lives his life between a woman’s legs?”
“I can’t stop them. And part of what they do is technically training. Preparing to handle those deadly Destroyers is critical.”
Kitja laughed. “Rationalizations, Eric. Or Zalen's propaganda. Keep it up, you’re getting good at it.”
He sagged, looking at the floor in front of him. “O.K. To be honest, actually, yes, I hate it.”
“So she comes back to you with stars in her eyes, huh? And she talks to you about it?”
“We have a very open relationship. And what would you know about stars?”
“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I don’t understand sex.” She hugged her knees more tightly to herself and smirked. “Although at the moment, most of my experience seems to involve having sex with myself.”
“Kind of a waste for the rest of mankind.”
She looked up at him. “Is that a complaint? Or a come-on?”
“Just chalk it up to my way of saying you’re beautiful. Any man would be thrilled to share your passion.”
“Remember that part about gold not weakening me? Not exactly any man. In fact, discounting those Arion bastards, and the fact that I hate Zalen, there isn’t anyone for me. Unless I’m just doing it to make the guy happy, of course.” Her eyes were warm and liquid as she looked deeply into his. “Although I'm pretty sure that present company is an exception to the rule.”
It took a long moment for her comment to register. "You flatter me, Kitja, but hardly older than my daughter.” He caught a whiff of her pheromones rising, and he suddenly felt warm and close to her. The fact that she wasn't blocking them a she claimed she could sent a message all of its own.
“Who isn’t your real daughter anyway, Eric. And I thought you were used to Velorian customs?”
“Real daughter, yes. Biological, no. And I thought you weren't into Velorian customs?”
She lay back on the floor. "I'm not sure what I'm in to lately. Besides, isn’t Kara running around with Zalen again? I think that gives you a license.”
“No, she’s working. She’s always working.”
“But I’m not. It's just the two of us, here in the middle of nowhere.”
Eric looked at her sharply. “Is that what you came here to do? Seduce me?”
She sat back up. "I don't even know, Eric. But I do know that Xara mentioned that her mom never wore gold. Yet you were still able to be her Gentler. And then there was that thing with Crystal. About how she spends the night with you guys sometimes. I kind of connected the dots. There’s more of you that’s enhanced than just those pheromones.”
He grimaced. “Xara talks about too many things.”
Kitja was silent for a long moment. When she spoke again, her voice was soft and sexy. “I was hoping that you would ask me.”
“Ask you what?” a more mature woman’s voice floated across the room.
Their heads swiveled as one to see Sharon standing by the far wall. The Scribe was wearing a blue denim dress, her hair unfurled to hang nearly to her waist.
Kitja cursed as she floated to her feet. “Do you sit up nights planning how to ruin my life, Mom, or does this just come naturally to you?”
Eric looked up to see Kitja’s bare feet dangling in mid-air, her fists clenched in anger.
“All I did was walk in the door, honey.”
“You were supposed to be away for the weekend. In Paris.”
“That’s next weekend.”
“No, I distinctly heard you say this weekend. Now you’ve ruined everything.” Kitja glared at her mother as she flew out the open door.
Sharon turned back to look at Eric, her eyes narrowing. “So, exactly what did I just interrupt, Eric?”
He sighed. “I’m not exactly sure. But it was an interesting talk. She’s quite a remarkable young woman.”
“She is. But she’s still young and confused about a lot of things. Too many different Supremis instincts are all mixed together.”
“That explains at least the confusion. But underneath it, between your lifestyle and what she knows of Velorians, she’s trying to find her own way. She’s a bit confused about her sexuality.”
Sharon’s eyes blazed to send a wave of heat washing across Eric’s face. “And what business is that of yours?”
“I was working on redirecting her, Sharon.”
“As in straightening her out? How very male of you.”
“It wasn’t like that, Sharon.”
“Well, based on the state she was in when she left, I’d say that you were about to get my daughter into some kind of trouble.”
"Funny, I thought I was the one she was getting into trouble," Eric said darkly.
“Who’s in trouble?” an accented voice asked. Andrea walked through the door to look at Eric. She was wearing a pair of black jeans and a loose, black Lycra top that left her shoulders and a great deal of cleavage visible. Also a slice of very toned abs.
Eric’s heart began to race and his mouth grew dry, his usual reaction anytime he found himself in the same room as Andrea. The fact that she was a high-born Kryp’terran, which meant she was mostly Galen, had always disconcerted him. Living around beautiful women with a thousand times his strength might be routine for him now, but Andrea was something else entirely, something that made him understand why so many people thought the Galens were gods incarnate.
Sharon turned her back to Eric. “Kitja was trying to seduce Eric here when we walked in.”
Eric turned to glare at her. “It wasn’t that simple, Sharon. She was complaining about Zalen more than anything else.”
“He is an asshole,” Andrea nodded. “I still can’t believe he tried to hit on me. Apparently Kitja was encouraging him.”
“That doesn’t sound like her,” Sharon said. “She understands our relationship very well.”
Andrea smirked. “Apparently your daughter didn’t get all your genes, Sharon. Imagine the two of us, raising a straight girl. I have no idea how that worked out.”
“Funny girl," Sharon tossed back. "But I think we’re talking nature versus nurture here.”
Eric looked at both of them, not knowing what to say. Lesbian-chic was beyond his reach.
“Hey, if she really wants to get down and dirty with a super guy,” Andrea shrugged, “I could probably manage the shape change. Long as she didn’t know it was me she’d have fun. A little Harlequin Romance style seduction to start, and then some five-star athletics.”
Eric stared at her. “You can change genders? I didn’t know that.”
“Gender isn’t that big of a deal, all things considered, and males are the easiest. Not as many parts."
“When it comes to changing one’s physical sex, most of us would vigorously dispute that statement.”
Andrea laughed as she walked off toward the bedroom. “Good thing I’m not most of us.”
Sharon looked back at Eric and shrugged, her anger toward him evaporating. “Who would be better to teach her than Andrea?”
“Sometimes you’re more of a Velorian than Kara,” Eric frowned. “You look upon sexual prowess as a necessary social skill.”
“It isn’t?” She winked at him to let him know she was kidding. Or not.
“That aside, it seems incredibly kinky, even illegal, what with Andrea being her Nother. Legal guardian and all.”
“Kitja would never know. Andrea can be completely convincing as a man, trust me on this one.”
“I think you’re reading too much importance into all this. Starting with your anger at me. I was just trying to help.”
“Maybe you were, or maybe you were falling under her spell,” Sharon shrugged, reaching out to hold his hand as she smiled at him. “This is a critical period for her. She’s decided to come out of her shell a bit.”
He quickly pulled his hand back. He wasn’t going to start anything with these two. “At least she’s got a better head on her shoulders in this area than Xara. I was congratulating her on her maturity.”
“Don’t presume too much, Eric. She might be nineteen, but she comes across as being more mature than she is.”
“I can see that now.” He started to turn back toward the living room.
Sharon put her hand on his arm, running her fingers down his bare skin to interlace her fingers in his. “You know you’re not consigned to the guest room tonight. Unless you prefer it. Your pheromones would be fun.”
He smiled back at her. “Velorian social graces at work again, huh? Invite the lonely guy to your bed, nobody sleeps alone, whatever.”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere out here, Eric. It gets lonely. And no, you shouldn't sleep alone. It's not healthy.”
“Not to be ungrateful, Sharon, but I think the guest room will be just fine. I’ve got some thinking to do, so I'm probably not going to sleep anyway.”
Sharon shrugged as she removed her hand. “Well, if you change your mind, you know where our bedroom is.”
Three hours later, Eric was in the kitchen getting a drink, his thoughts still racing. He was thinking about Kara, about Zalen and Crystal, about himself, even Lucas, and how the various relationships fit together. He was tempted to tell Kara how he felt. Of asking her not to see Zalen again. But that was dangerous, asking her to deny her Velorian nature. Maybe he should talk to Sharon about it first.
He poured three fingers of Jim Beam and was downing it with a chaser of ice water when Andrea walked into the kitchen. She wore a golden nightgown that barely clung to her shoulders, revealing her dramatic décolletage. An aura of pheromones and the flowery musk of Velorian sexual hormones surrounded her.
She walked over to get a bottle of Perrier before sitting down across the table from Eric. “I’m disappointed that you didn’t join us, Eric.”
His heart raced as it always did around Andrea. The sexual perfume of her skin didn’t help either. “I didn’t want to invade your privacy.”
“Nonsense. Since I rarely sleep and Sharon only needs a few hours for her mental health, we devote each night to loving.”
“Every night? You guys… what, you make it all night long?” He reached for the bourbon and poured himself another double.
“Velorians are insatiable, you know that, and I’ve got enough of the Vel in me to share that trait. Orgasms are the ultimate way to refresh of body and soul. It's the one thing that never wears out.”
“And it never gets boring? Night after night.”
“Not in nineteen years. But that said, some variety is nice at times.”
He shook his head. “You guys are unbelievable. Must be a lesbian thing.”
Andrea laughed. “No moving parts to wear out.”
Eric knew he had to change the subject nlow. “By the way, I don’t think that thing you were talking about with Kitja would be a good idea. If she ever found out, your relationship would be damaged forever.”
Andrea took another drink of her bubbly Perrier before answering. “I agree. For whatever reason, she’s thinking like a Terran when it comes to her sexuality.”
“Sometimes nurture, in this case from the surrounding culture, can overcome nature.”
“Don’t bet on it. She hasn’t had a bout of Ples’tathy yet. Her day will come, and she’ll discover her birthright. She was working on you when we came in.”
Eric decided to punt. “Speaking of birthrights, what about yours, Andrea? We’ve never talked much about that.”
“What do you want to know?”
“For one, is this your natural appearance?”
Andrea shook her head. “I look exactly like my mother, who was born on Gaiea.”
“They say that Velorians are only pale copies of the Galen.”
“I wouldn’t agree with that. Some of them are even more striking than my mother.”
“I was thinking about the big blue eyes, blonde hair and so forth.”
Andrea shrugged. “You wanna see?”
“Just like that, you can become a Galen?”
“I don’t become anything. I just assume my natural form. A little painful, but what the hell.”
Eric’s heart was racing now. He’d studied everything he could find on the Galen, but most of what the Velorians wrote read more like mythology than science.
“Don’t do anything painful on my account.”
“You’ve been a loving husband to Kara. You’ve endured so much. So much frustration too. I can fix some of that.”
“I don’t understand,” Eric said as Andrea rose to stand against the far wall of the kitchen.
“You will.” She placed her hands on her hips and closed her eyes. Within seconds, waves of color began traveling across her body, her skin turning translucent. Her hair billowed around her head like a golden halo as her eyes became piercingly bright, her skin emitting a pale light that gradually grew too bright for Eric to look at. He covered his eyes and turned his back, only to feel the heat radiating from her body. He could have sworn he was standing next to a bonfire.
The heat and light grew stronger yet, forcing him to duck down to protect himself. And then, as suddenly as it had started, it ended. He rose to see an entirely unfamiliar woman sitting across the table. Her blonde hair was lustrous and glowing, hanging down to her waist, and her eyes were huge and piercingly blue. Her shoulders were broad and she was easily 195cm tall, her breasts large and heavy, yet with little hint of gravity working on them. What was left of her golden nightgown hung from her shoulders, bleached nearly transparent.
Eric gulped as he looked up at her. “This is the natural you? This is how a Galen looks?”
“This is how a Galen is,” she said, her voice lower and more sibilant now. “At the moment, I look just like my mother.”
He gawked at her. “Then it’s true… the Vels really are modeled after you guys. Incredible.”
“That’s hardly a revelation.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s just that every Vel, and I’m sure this is true for Arions too, have a different perspective on the Galen. Starting from dismissing them as irrelevant and going all the way to worshipping you as God.”
“We never asked for the later, and I resent the first. My mother’s people created the Kryp’Terrans -- a population we could use for reproductive purposes. It seems we’ve lost the ability to conceive on our own.”
“That’s odd. The Velorians think they were created for that purpose.”
“The Velorians a failed attempt at the same; they weren't powerful enough to actually survive the mating. We Kryp'terrans did better for we had a lot more Galen DNA."
"So your mother and her people just gave upon them?"
Andrea shrugged. "They and their descendents are spread so widely now and so involved in the affairs of humans that the failed experiment has become part of our reality. It can’t be fixed.”
Eric laughed softly. “Fixed? I don’t think that idea would play well in the capitals of Aria or Velor. Supremis have a very high opinion of themselves.”
“That doesn’t make it any less true. My wife Sharon notwithstanding.”
“So why talk to me about it?”
“Because you can understand the truth and deal with it, while few Supremis can. In so many ways, you Terrans have learned to accept things and make changes where they cannot.”
“We don’t have much choice. Not when our strongest racial trait is that of adaptability.”
“Exactly,” she nodded. "You're the ultimate survivors."
“But what about all this business of Galen’s giving the spark of sentience to humans?”
Andrea laughed. “The reality is that it really was a spark, but an ordinary one. My grandmother gave the gift of fire to the last, desperate members of your race. It allowed you to survive.”
“We almost blinked out?”
“You were that close.” She held her fingers closed.
“Yet your mother’s people remain hidden even today on a world that nobody knows how to find. And your world, Kryp’terra, is hidden almost as well. What induces the odd Krypt’terran like you to involve themselves in the affairs of human and Supremis?”
“There are a lot of layers to that answer, Eric. The short answer is that with our powers and our links to the Galen, too much contact with others would destroy the harmony of their societies and possibly our own. Too many people grasp at simple explanations, turning to religion, for example, to explain our involvement. We aren't deities.”
Eric struggled to keep his thoughts focused. The air was warm and he was startling to feel funny inside. A good kind of funny. “An interesting thought... who defines the reality of a deity? The god or the worshippers?"
"In this case, the worshippers. We're just a more advanced race. And as I mentioned, we have to be so very careful not to interfere in the growth of other cultures. Our mere presence is enough to change their entire theology."
"That sounds a lot like a Prime Directive, but with a theological twist.”
“The Galen aren't that authoritarian, and neither are we. More like a common understanding, with each adult trusted in general to make the right decisions.”
“That doesn’t explain why you chose to involve yourself with Sharon, Kitja and now me. We live on a world that your mother’s race put off-limits to all interference.”
Andrea lowered her hands to rest them on the table as the glow from her skin faded completely away. Eric tried not to stare at her prominent breasts and nipples. She was almost a giantess, yet perfectly proportioned. He struggled to keep his thoughts focused.
“Kitja is strong with the power of my mother’s people, but also weak in other ways. I wanted to ensure she was cared for.”
“You keep track of your racial offspring? Those with pronounced Galen characteristics?”
Andrea nodded. “My relationship with Sharon started that way. But then I fell truly in love.”
Eric smiled brightly. “Yeah, Sharon does seem to have that effect on people.”
Andrea floated closer to him, reaching out to take his hand in hers. “So, Eric Banks, when you are alone and your thoughts roam, what do you dream of?”
He looked startled, but didn’t try to pull his hand back. “I don’t understand?”
She smiled warmly at him. “In my mother’s form, I have certain unique abilities. Until the morning’s light comes, we have a special opportunity. One that I won’t tempt you with again if you decide not to take advantage of it now.”
“Opportunity?” he repeated, his heart pounding.
“To find the furthest corner of your imagination, and make that your new reality.”
"And you claim to not be a god?" Eric said, startled by her claim.
She laughed. "Well, perhaps just for tonight, that can be our secret. In this form, I can be your goddess. All you need is to envision yourself in a new way. The rest I can manage."
Kara flew a suborbital trajectory toward Europe, following the lead she’d gotten from Omega Directorate to a mountain-top resort near Geneva. It was a former research center for the Planck Institute, but had been purchased recently by a German consortium which included former members of the Thyssen heavy industry group. Omega had an agent on the inside who reported that it was actually a front for a weapons manufacturing group. A number of Betans and humans had been hired to produce a stripped down version of the venerable GAR, but using Terran technology. A clear violation of the PD and a new threat. She would never allow the Arions to arm Terrans with super-weapons.
Kara decided on a show of force instead of a stealth entry to the complex. Convincing Terran allies of the Arions to abandon the hopeless Arion cause was just as important as ridding the planet of the Arions themselves.
Hovering a hundred feet above the mountain top, the Alpine summits spreading out to the horizon behind her, she waited for them to react. Intel had said no Primes were present, so she was dealing with Betans and their Terran sympathizers, most of whom were probably dupes in any case.
Peering through the walls of the complex, she only had half her thoughts on the people who were scrambling to charge up their weapons; the other half was on the pitch she was going to give to the Board of Directors at Tyrell that afternoon. She rehearsed her speech, looking for ways to strengthen her message.
Below her, a weapons crew had uncovered one very large weapon on the roof top. It was a copy of an HGAR, a laser-assisted particle beam weapon. that was the most powerful type of GAR. It's crude manufacture indicated that it had been built here, but crude or not, no weapon developed on Earth could match even a fraction of its power.
The HGAR had been designed to take out force-field protected armor. It was ridiculously overpowering when used against Terran armor. A 10 milliscond blast could melt a fist sized hole in one side of a giant Navy ship, through dozens of steel bulkheads, and finally shine through a hole of the same diameter on the far side of the hull, the beam still searching hungrily for something more substantial to annihilate. If the beam was slowly swept up and down, it could cut an aircraft carrier in half in seconds.
Watching as the leaders of the complex barked out their orders, she could already see that they were too impressed with their own toys, too wrapped up in their mission and ultimately too arrogant to understand the futility of trying to stop her. The Arion misinformation machine made it sound easy. Just aim the gee-whiz ray gun, and anyone and everything in front of it goes away.
There had been a time when that was true. The GAR had been developed before Aphrod’ite began to pass on more Galen abilities to the Protectors she made. It would take far more power than an HGAR to break down the defenses of a modern-day Protector’s body. On the other hand, anything more than a glancing shot could still badly injure or kill an ordinary Velorian.
Pulling her thoughts fully back from her job at Tyrell Pharmaceuticals, Kara hardly had to remind herself that she was special. Still, the distractions of her twin lives, both CIO and Protector, forced her to concentrate on making this failure an object lesson in the futility of resistance. The Betans would never learn, but their Terran sympathizers needed a chance to see the light and set things right. The more Terrans she was able to persuade or frighten into deserting the Arion cause, the more the word would spread.
Resistance was futile. And old Startrek theme from the Borg or something, she recalled.
Now it was time to prove that it was true in her case. Hovering in mid-air, she let the HGAR shooter line her up in his sights. He pressed the trigger, and the weapon gave off a blinding flash of orange-yellow energy. The pale blue laser beam struck her stomach full on, creating a vacuum between her body and the weapon. The charged particles flashed through the evacuated track, striking her body with annihilating force.
If she’d been made out of anything lesser than a Protector’s flesh, she would have disappeared in a flash of light. Each charged particle could disrupt a normally charged molecule. Steel, diamond, rock or air. It made no difference.
Yet in this case, the resulting flash was small, as only the dirt that was clinging to her uniform could be ionized. That and the scant air particles around her. Still, her uniform and skin heated to ten thousand degrees in less than two seconds.
She cradled her neck with her hands and just stared back at them, daring them to keep shooting.
John Adams hid behind a corner of the roof and watched the defense, praying that the HGAR beam would vaporize the Velorian. He’d been a member of EarthFirst for two years, and he’d come to this complex in Switzerland for special weapons training. He’d quickly learned the dark, inner secrets of EarthFirst. He learned that they were working for the Arions.
At first he didn’t care. His daughter had been killed during a fierce battle in LA between the Protector and a band of Arions. The fragments of metal that had sliced through her fragile body had splintered off a car when the Protector had attacked the Arions. Kara Zor’El had killed his daughter as surely as if she’d crushed his Janie in her bare hands. He’d been convinced from that day forth that only the strength of the Empire would bring peace back to Earth.
But now that he’d seen their weapons plan, realizing that most of the weapons were designed for use on Terrans and not on Supremis, he’d grasped the full horror of Arion conquest. Millions, possibly even billions, were going to die. The world would be transformed into an Arion colony.
The Protectors weren’t going to stop it. Especially not the woman who’d killed his daughter.
Watching in horrified fascination along with everyone else as the scantily-dressed Protector absorbed the HGAR beam as if it was of no consequence to her, he knew that if he was ever to escape this place, now was the time. He ducked over the side rail of the rooftop and fell twenty meters to the deep powder snow below. Buried head deep, he flailed his way through the fresh drift, searching for the oversized snowboard that he’d buried against the north wall of the complex. After a brief moment of panic at not being able to breathe, he broke through the drift and found his board in its hiding place. Putting the skills he’d learned as a youth in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to use, he strapped on the board and dropped into one of the shadowed ravines that led downward from the summit. He was soon flying down the fifty degree slope, running for his life.
A quick flash of Kara’s eyes revealed that the escaping man on the snowboard was Terran. Ignoring him, she focused her eye beams on the HGAR and its operator, a Betan. The weapon flared a brilliant red and the Betan screamed as Kara's eyes focused her power into narrow beams, the shooter's hair and clothing bursting into flames. He leaped from his weapon to dash for the railing, but Kara was able to see through the glare of her own eyes well enough to track him. He collapsed near the edge of the rooftop, his body fully engulfed in flame, flesh melting and fat rendering in a puddle around him, greasy black smoke rising. Such was the punishment for an Arion who’d unleashed lethal force on Earth: an even more lethal response. Every Arion knew that much. It was the Protector’s code. Force for force. Death for death.
Turning back to the HGAR, she stared at it until it exploded in a burst of sparks. Bits of metal and burning plastic were still raining down when she dove for the roof, tearing through the armored doors on the roof. A wild crossfire of GAR beams and projectiles tore the corridors apart as she walked deeper into the complex, but she advanced steadily, letting the men’s fear rise with every step. Only she knew that she planned to kill no Terrans, and was angling her body to keep them out of the crossfire.
It was a different story for the Betans. They’d crossed the line. They’d brought down Supremis weapons. There would be no survivors among them.
Tyrell Headquarters, San Francisco
It was dicey for Kara to make it back to Tyrell before the board meeting, but five minutes before its start, she landed in an alley a block away from Tyrell corporate headquarters, in an alley hidden by old factories and railroad warehouses. She quickly pinned her hair up as she walked down the alley.
Gerald Bighorn was there to meet her as planned. A member of the Sioux Indian tribe, he was on the payroll as her bodyguard, a job that they both knew was the most unnecessary one on Earth. But foregoing a bodyguard was unthinkable for executives, and more important, Gerry was discreet and covered when Crystal couldn’t escape from the office.
“Welcome back, boss. A few less bad guys around this morning, I presume?”
Kara gave Gerry an appreciative smile as she quickly pulled on her expensive outfit, uncharacteristically leaving her uniform on beneath it. The jacket would close high enough around her neck to let her get away with it.
Gerry took the long view, she realized. Every Arion she took out was one step closer to victory. He had no idea how many Betan soldiers the Arions could mobilize if the wished. Millions. This war would be won when the Arions lost their will to fight it, or they faced greater priorities, not for lack of resources.
“A few, Gerry. But it’s like shooting rats in the sewer. They just breed faster.”
He dug her outfit’s skirt out of his bag as he watched her put it on, enjoying the flash of the most beautiful legs on the planet. With her flawless skin and constant tan, she never needed stockings. He handed her a pair of heels, wishing she’d let him kneel down and put them on. But Lisa Banks of Tyrell was too much a lady for that.
She resigned herself to wearing shoes again, never as comfortable as being barefoot, and finished adjusting her hair as she spun slowly around. “How do I look, Gerry? Anything hanging out?”
“Ten by ten as usual, boss. I got the express elevator waiting.” He glanced at his watch. “We got three minutes fifteen to get up there.” Grabbing the empty clothing bag, he jogged toward the executive portal of their headquarters. Lisa arrived at the entry at the same time, her heels never clicking once on the hard pavement.
“Here’s your biocard,” he said, handing her a plastic card with a clear scanning window on it. She held the card out and stepped briskly through the five-meter clear zone in front of the security portal, ostentatiously ignoring the stun cannon and laser defenses, just like all the other executives. Beyond the zone, two guards in blue uniforms with razor-sharp creases took the card and ran it through a reader while concealed scanners verified her body characteristics, retinal scan, fingerprints and clothing. Some years ago, there had been a fad for nitropolyglycerine clothing -- worn by suicide bombers. Fortunately, her uniform was designed to pass as Terran and her biocard had been heavily doctored to report consistent Terran, not Velorian, signatures.
“O.K, Ms. Banks,” said one of the guards as he waved her through. The executive portal had human guards, despite the expense, as one of the status symbols/perks that the upper echelon received. She and Gerry zig-zagged through the passive defenses and finally arrived at the elevator. He inserted his Executive key and selected the 155th floor.
When the door opened three minutes later, Crystal was there to hand Lisa a folder. “You’re a few seconds late, Lisa. Board’s settled in.”
She nodded, flashing Gerry a quick smile. She was a fanatic for timing and always made sure she arrived within a few seconds of the scheduled start of any meeting. It was something she’d learned on Velor. Say what you want, describe what you need, and then do exactly what you said you were going to do. It also sent a strong subliminal message that she didn’t tolerate sloppiness.
Any sloppiness had been left on the mountaintop in Switzerland, where less than forty minutes ago she’d torn through the armored wall of the basement to face the last stand of the Betan warriors. She’d unleashed her eye beams on them, leaving only charred walls and blackened corpses. Now she was facing a very different kind of fight, one that she had a lower probability of winning than the one in Switzerland.
Jeff Madson, the board chairman, smiled reassuringly to her as she sat down beside him. He leaned closer. “You’re fifteen seconds late. Rodolfo was getting worried.” Rodolfo Gonzalez Mejia was Tyrell’s general counsel.
“Issues with orbital transport again, Jeff. But I think we’re on track now.”
“We’d better be,” he whispered. “Art Narr brought a hell of an offer to the board, and I think Rodolfo’s with him.”
Madson stood up to start the meeting. “I’m sorry for calling the Board together on such short notice, but Rodolfo insists that we have to take a position on this offer from CyberChem by tonight. As you know, they’re offering a 30% premium on our shares.”
“It’s way too low, Jeff,” Lisa said, stepping in quickly before Narr could make his pitch. “Once we get the orbital labs running, the stock will double in value. CyberChem hasn’t been able to get launch time on their labs. All they want is our orbital lab time.”
“Time in labs that are themselves one year behind schedule?” Jim Morrisey asked quizzically. He was the latest addition to the Board.
“We’ve got launch time in Ghana next month, Jim,” Lisa said. “Guaranteed.”
Morrisey slid a memo across to Lisa. “You did until today. They had a launch accident this morning. Six months' downtime on the pad.”
She glanced at the memo, cursing under her breath. Odds are it was CyberChem sabotage. She was wondering why Narr was sitting back, letting her talk ahead of him. Well, she had some surprises too. She looked back up at Jim. “No sweat. I’ve got a backup. We’ll be up on time.”
Narr made a move. “Backup? All the launch capacity on the planet is constrained now. We’ve lost Vandenberg for a year, and Ghana for six months.”
Lisa rose, looking around the room. “I made a private contract. Not with a launch group, but with one of the aliens. Xara Zor’El. She understands the need to get our NextGen manufacturing underway, we can save millions of lives, and she knows that it can only be done in orbit. She’s agreed to put up our entire constellation.”
Everyone started talking at once. Lisa sat down and looked at the chairman.
He touched his finger to his forehead in a salute. “So that’s where you were this morning. Nice work.”
Lisa said nothing as Narr stood up and attempted to get the meeting back on his side. “I don’t mean to doubt you, Lisa, but no one has ever been able to get one of those aliens to help us out that way. They always claim violation of some damn Prime Directive.”
“Times are changing, Arthur. The first lab goes up tomorrow. If we launch and CyberChem doesn’t, we can turn the tables and buy them. Without a premium.”
“If, that’s the operative word. If we launch,” Narr said again. “But with your news, we can almost certainly get a 50% premium on our shares if we push. Having the alien working with us will change the whole landscape for CyberChem.”
“Except that the young woman will only do it as a personal favor to me,” Lisa said coolly. “And if we accept CyberChem’s offer, I walk.” She rose to stand at the head of the long conference table. “The world needs Tyrell the way it is, gentlemen. CyberChem is infamous for milking every dollar from their customers on critical drugs. Their form of marketing is more like blackmail than responsible medicine. And it will come back to destroy them, sooner rather than later.”
“And what the hell are you doing, Lisa?” Narr said ominously. “Dealings with aliens who are not co-operating with our government? Threats of resignation? Failure to keep the members of the executive team in the loop? Going around behind the board’s back?”
“At the last meeting, I asked the board if they wanted me to develop alternatives. Arthur, and I did. But I didn’t go to our least-reputable competitor and offer them an ‘in’ to acquiring us.”
“I was only acting in the interest of all of our stakeholders, considering the multiple ramifications of an orbital manufacturing strategy and the best interests of our employees, especially the ones with significant equity interests. In this age of rapid change and intense scrutiny, it is incumbent on us not to pursue risky initiatives and to safeguard the core businesses of this company with appropriate regard to diversity, community and corporate responsibility.”
“Yuck,” ran through Lisa’s mind, and, as she scanned the faces around the table, probably the minds of a majority of the other board members. Narr used jargon like a squid used ink -- as a smokescreen for escape. But she thought she had the advantage now.
Madson seemed to have come to the same conclusion. “Well, gentlemen, Lisa did what she said she’d do. This new alternative has so much potential that I don’t see how we could accept the CyberChem offer right now.” He caught the general counsel’s frown. “Of course, Rodolfo, we’ll have to go through the due diligence portion of your package to show that we’ve given full attention to the matters. Can you hold it below three hours without pissing off the SEC-FC?”
A series of groans came from all sides of the table.
Taos, New Mexico
Kara sat across the table, watching her daughter as she ate breakfast the next morning. Under the pressure of the moment during yesterday’s board meeting, she’d committed Xara’s help before asking her. Now she just had to get her daughter to actually go through with it. She took a deep breath. Managing Xara was harder than handling the Board.
“What’s your class schedule today, honey?”
Xara munched her bowl of Muesli. “I’m free after fourth period. What’s up?”
“You know where you offered a while back to put up some satellites. I know I said it was a bad idea, but with all the launch failures lately, I need a favor.”
“Let me guess? One of your own orbital labs?”
Kara smiled. Xara had a Protector’s instinct to find the bottom line in a single step. “It’s important. CyberChem had made an offer on Tyrell, and if I don’t get a bird up today, we may lose control of the company. CyberChem has no interest in solving the cancer epidemic. They’ll find a way to suck money out of the rich patients and let the poor ones go without.”
Xara looked at her mother for a long moment. “Is this what’s called situational ethics, Mom? One day it’s a violation of the PD, the next day it’s O.K. to save your company?”
“You know how much good Tyrell does, honey. Treating all the cancer that came after the wars. We’ve already saved millions of lives. But there are millions more that only the zeroG-manufactured drugs can help.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, Mom. I think you were right the first time. We can’t make the Terrans too dependent on us.”
Kara's heart skipped a beat. Damn it, Xara was going to be difficult. “But it’s different when there are so many lives at stake, honey.”
“That’s why they came up with the PD, Mom. Because we can’t always be objective. The more we care, the more involved we get, the harder it is to stay neutral. And you’re way too involved, Mom.”
Kara stared at her daughter. “You’re refusing?”
“I didn’t say that. But I am helping you keep a grip. Are you sure you aren’t too wrapped up in that corporate stuff? I mean, you’re a Protector, not a businesswoman fighting off a acquisition of your precious company.”
“Xara, I can’t do this myself. It would compromise everything I’ve been trying to do for years.”
“Maybe you need to find another way, Mom. That’s what you always tell me to do. There’s always another way around a problem.”
Xara grabbed her bag and headed for the door. She paused there to look back at her mom. “But, if you really need me, where am I supposed to be and when?”
Kara beamed at her daughter. “Our manufacturing facility in Burbank, next to the airport. The old Hughes hangar. Two this afternoon would be good. I’ll only call you if I can’t find another way.”
Kara sat down heavily in her chair as Xara left, knowing that for all her good intentions, Xara was wrong. This situation demanded a response outside the PD. They had to serve the greater good, not be slaves to an obsolete set of rules.
Burbank, County of Los Angeles
Lisa joined Jeff Madson in the corporate jet as they flew down to land at Burbank Airport. Their plane taxied over to the old Hughes hangar where a huge crowd had gathered. Technicians and engineers in their short-sleeve shirts and Dockers pants, workers in Tyrell T-shirts and jeans, and the local management team in their suits. Reporters with their bulky holo-TV cameras were setting up. It looked far too much like a media circus for Lisa’s taste. She’d asked to keep the launch low-key, but somebody had screwed up. Or Arthur was playing one of his games.
A large container sat outside, wrapped in gold foil and hermetically sealed in a heavy plastic shroud. It was the size of eight semi-trailers and weighed three million pounds, including the reactor power source. Originally designed to be put up in four separate launches, Lisa had asked them to pre-assemble most of it in Burbank. She knew how strong her daughter was. The technicians had made some last minute modifications by welding extremely strong handles on the hardpoints just beneath the orbital factory’s center of gravity.
She was following Madson down the jet's stairs when an even larger crowd of people spilled out of the hanger. They were gathered around a very tall seventeen year old girl wearing a red and blue uniform. Xara paused against the blue wall just outside the hanger for photographs, part of the Tyrell corporate logo, crossing her arms as she stared across the tarmac at Lisa.
Lisa saw that Xara was wearing her deeply dished top, her arms crossed under her breasts to emphasize her cleavage further, her hair pinned up with only a couple of wisps hanging down to frame her face. The skirt of this uniform was vaporously short, revealing too much of her legs. Uncharacteristically, Xara had emphasized her long legs further by wearing a tiny pair of heels that laced up across her calves.
Clearly, she was here to put on a show. It was her first public appearance since that debacle in San Francisco, and she was determined to leave a better impression this time.
The crowd grew larger around Xara as she walked toward Lisa and Madson, everyone wanting a look at the most fabulous teenager on the planet. It didn’t take Tachyon eyes to see that the men closest to her were very affected by her presence.
Lisa realized with a shock that Xara was exuding pheromones. A lot of them based on the looks in the men’s eyes. She saw adoration and arousal everywhere she looked. Not just arousal either; probably a mix of subservience and sexual pheromones, the combination something she called her ‘goddess scent’. It was messing up with everyone’s hormonal systems.
Lisa wasn’t surprised to find that Xara was going to extract a price for her performance today. It had taken two phone calls before she’d been able to convince her to even come to Burbank. On the other hand, Xara was inadvertently helping protect her corporate identity. She was cementing the concept in people’s heads that the proximity of a Velorian was chemically arousing and profoundly exciting. Lisa herself was very careful to never exude a hint of pheromones while dressed as Lisa Banks.
The crowd parted as Xara approached the executives. She stood two inches taller than Jeff Madson as she walked up to shake his hand. Gerry Bighorn and Crystal stood off to the side, the two of them only half understanding what was going on with this public display. They of course knew that Xara was Lisa’s daughter, but Gerry had never met her before.
“Mr. Madson,” Xara said, reaching out with both hands to hold his, “I’m so pleased for the opportunity to help Tyrell,” she said loudly enough for the holo-TV mikes to pick up. “Your firm has dedicated its resources to the mission of putting human lives ahead of mere profit. Uncounted millions of people are alive today because of your advanced cancer drugs, which you alone of all drug firms have made available at prices the world can afford. I’m honored to be able to assist Tyrell in advancing to the next frontier. ZeroG advanced manufacturing.”
Lisa tried not to smile as he saw Madson trying to maintain his composure. Xara’s pheromic mixture was screaming for him to kneel down before this teenage goddess. To his credit, he maintained that famous smile of his. Even better, Xara had delivered the message she’d given her, even if it had sounded too much like a Corporate Comm script than a teenage girl’s testimonial. But the news flacks had definitely caught it and were broadcasting it live. Every word.
She could already imagine the reaction over at CyberChem. Not only was CyberChem’s hostile acquisition offer dead and buried now, but Tyrell had blown them completely out of the water when it came to public relations. And now, Lisa had something CyberChem could never get. An unlimited number of launch windows. Manufacturing was already working around the clock to accelerate the production of the next four orbital factories. In six months, they’d own the sky.
Xara turned to face Lisa next. Yet instead of shaking her hand, she knelt down in front of Lisa, emulating the bow of fealty from the era of King Arthur’s court in Old England. Lisa tried to look embarrassed; it wasn’t hard, as Xara rose back to take her hand. Xara’s powerful grip sent her own special welcome to her mother.
Lisa turned to smile triumphantly at Madson, and saw the same astonished look in his eyes that she saw in most other men’s. Xara’s pheromones were swirling like an invisible cloud around her. Not only that, but Xara’s outrageous show of kneeling in front of the second most powerful executive at Tyrell wasn’t lost on anyone. Their top female executive.
“If not for your dedication to new manufacturing systems and technology, Mrs. Banks, not to mention your research division’s exploration beyond the usual frontiers of medicine, I would not be here today.”
“Thank you, Miss Zor’El,” Lisa said, playing her role with aplomb. “Mr. Madson and I are especially pleased that you recognize the value of our firm's efforts to improve life for everyone on Earth. Not just for those who are blessed with wealth and power.” Her eyes were sparkling as she added one last thing. “That’s an interesting perfume you’re wearing, Ms. Zor’El,” she said pointedly. “Is it alien?”
Xara smiled briefly. “Yes. And if you’d like to bottle it, perhaps to create a new product line, just let me know.”
Lisa tried not to laugh. That promise alone was probably worth two points on their stock.
Xara turned back to face the crowd. “So how does this work?” she whispered over her shoulder. “Some kind of countdown, or do I just walk over and pick it up?”
“The Chief Engineer will meet you by the payload,” Lisa whispered back. “Just do as he says.”
Xara nodded, and she and her crowd of admirers began to drift toward the glistening gold-foil of the payload.
“Jesus, you really pulled our asses out of the fire this time, Lisa,” Madson said as he stepped closer, his voice full of wonder. “But she is a little show-off, isn’t she?”
“You’ve got a daughter about the same age, Jeff. Imagine if she had Xara’s powers. I think it might go to her head as well.”
Madson nodded, his eyes fixed on Xara’s back. “That was some perfume. Were those the pheromones I’ve read about?”
Lisa slipped her arm through his to steady him. “I think so. But you did fine though, Jeff. I just wish I could say the same for our overly enthusiastic engineers and workers. Everybody is walking funny.”
Madson laughed. “Why do you think I’m standing still.”
“Let’s give the press a few more minutes with her and then get this show on the road. Or into orbit as the case may be.”
Lisa felt Jeff’s breathing and heart rate slowing. His level of self-discipline had always impressed her.
“Let’s see if I can hurry things up,” he said once he was under control. He walked over to talk to a couple of staffers, and minutes later, the Security people had formed a perimeter around the payload.
Xara paused to float in mid-air as she made a show of unwrapping the ribbons holding her high heels on, then tossing her shoes into the shouting crowd. Barefoot now, she walked down a sloping ramp beneath the payload. The Chief Project Engineer and the Launch Specialist met her in the lighted tunnel, the two of them instructing her how and where to grip the orbital lab to keep from damaging it.
Xara positioned herself in the cramped space, her body sandwiched between the two men, and reached up to adjust her grip on the payload handles. She squeezed the titanium/steel alloy until she felt it give slightly, her fingers forming ridges in the steel that would give her a better grip.
“That’s a wicked grip you’ve got,” the Chief Engineer smiled as he watched the tendons stand out on her slender wrists. “Especially for someone who looks like a model, not some weight-lifter.”
“Just a matter of quality versus quantity,” Xara shrugged. “You guys ready?”
“Just about,” the Launch Specialist said, his face serious. “The trick here, Xara, is to keep the wind loading below twenty pounds per square inch. We didn’t have time to rig a shroud over the protective foil, but the hermetic seal beneath is air tight and sterile. It will burst when the atmospheric pressure drops below fifty torr.”
“So I have to fly slow.”
“Right. I’d like you to go as nearly straight up as you can until you reach twenty miles altitude. The air’s thin enough at that height so that you can begin to accelerate. We’re looking for a circular orbit at 1200 miles altitude, but we can adjust with the stabilizing jets once you get it close.”
“And what about all this foil and wrapping stuff?”
“Unwrap the lab and then ball the wrapping material up as best you can. Either bring it back, or let it burn up when you re-enter. We don’t want the junk floating around up there.”
“Simple enough. You’ll need to give me an hour to get it there. I’m going to take it real slow.”
“That’s what we want.”
“O.K. You guys ready?”
“Clear for liftoff,” the Launch Specialist said nervously. He’d worked or NASA and then ISS, but he’d never imagined a launch as silent and beautiful as this one.
Xara flashed him a reassuring smile, and then took a deep breath. She exhaled as she straightened her arms and began to slowly rise up on her toes, her calves tensing powerfully. The payload gave off a chorus of creaks, groans and pops as the frame flexed slightly. “Is that a problem?” she asked, pausing.
The Chief Engineer’s radio crackled; someone reading off a lot of numbers. He shook his head. “A lot of strain is being focused into the area your hands are contacting, but we’re within structural limits. Barely. Just take it slow.”
Xara nodded and kept on rising up on her toes. The hard concrete pad at the base of the tunnel began to crack noisily, her toes digging into the pulverized concrete. Both men stared at her toes lifted off the ground and she began to float slowly upward, her long legs tight with muscle as they passed close by their faces. Daylight streamed into the tunnel as her feet rose over their heads. They scrambled out of the tunnel to see the payload hovering fifty feet overhead. Xara’s toes were pointed downward, bits of pulverized concrete trickling down from them, her entire body looking very strong now, her breasts nearly overflowing her form-fitting top.
She hovered there long enough for the cameras to capture it all, and then began rising straight up, accelerating slowly. It took fifteen minutes for the massive payload to shrink to a tiny dot and then disappear completely from view.
Lisa finally excused herself to walk toward the Admin office, and Jeff Madson headed the other way to join the launch team in the Engineering lab. She went through the engineering offices and then exited out a back door to enter the rear of the lab complex. Gerry followed closely behind her, as was his job as her bodyguard. The two of them found a corner that wasn’t monitored by the cameras.
“I want to add some insurance to the launch, Gerry. I’m going up with Xara.”
“Got it, boss. But you aren’t wearing your uniform under that outfit today.” Her dress was cut too low to hide the rune that adorned the front of most of her uniforms.
“I always have this metal foil outfit with me for emergencies.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a tiny gray packet. She held it by one corner and snapped her wrist with Velorian quickness. A cloud of millimeter-thick foil expanded like a cloud in front of her.
Turning her back, she quickly undressed, treating him to a view of her nude backside. She dressed quickly, leaving her hair pulled tightly back, and then turned back to face Gerry. She held an expanse of red material in her hands. It was useful to wrap around a passenger if she had to carry them high or fast.
“I swear you always look years younger in the outfit, boss.”
“Even crinkly as this one is?” she smiled. “Why don’t you take this extra material and my street clothes back to the office. Take the jet with Madson and tell him that I’m working on a new problem and had to take a quick hop down to the San Diego lab.”
“Done,” Gerry nodded as Lisa, now Kara Zor’El, climbed out a back window and was gone. He started gathering her clothes up, pausing to hold her still warm panties for a long moment, a flush of warmth filling him as he detected a touch of musk mixed with a flowery scent. He slipped those into his coat pocket, hoping she wouldn't miss them. The rest he packed into a small case that he found nearby. He locked it securely and headed back toward the corporate jet.
He was halfway back through the maze of corridors when he came across a young woman standing in the hallway. Dressed in a blue shirt, the top two snaps tantalizingly undone, she was strikingly attractive, especially given her large and luminously blue eyes. Her long hair was dark brown with reddish highlights. A white skirt and pair of low heels completed her outfit.
“Isn’t that a little kinky, watching your boss strip down to change into that ridiculous outfit of hers?” she asked, stepping in front of him to block his way. “Then stealing her panties.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Gerry growled back at her.
“I’m talking about Lisa Banks, your boss and the big, bad Protector of Earth. As in, your favorite Martian.” She snickered. “Make that Velorian.”
“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Gerry said as he reached behind his back for his 9mm. He had orders to detain anyone who knew Lisa’s secret.
“Oh, so now you’re going to shoot me?” she laughed. “After all that flowery propaganda your boss and her daughter peddled to those news flacks?”
Gerry pointed his 9mm at her. “I’m going to have to detain you for questioning, lady. Turn around.”
Mandi Olson laughed. “’Died in the line of duty’. That’s what they would have put on your tombstone if you hadn’t been thrown out of the Seals, Bighorn. But now, you’ll be lucky to get one of those state markers they use for executed convicts. The ones nobody can read.”
“I’m fucking serious, lady,” he growled, truly angry now. How the hell did she know about the Seals? “If you don’t want to get hurt, turn around right now, hands behind your back.”
“What if I do this instead?” She moved faster than Gerry’s eyes could track, her face materializing inches in front of his.
He looked down to see the barrel of his gun pressing against the center of her chest. His eyes grew huge as he looked back up into hers, a twinge of fear twisting his gut as he saw the same crystalline clarity that he loved in Lisa’s eyes.
“So why don’t you just pull the trigger? Protect your boss’ little secret for another day.”
Instead, Gerry reached out to grab her wrist and tried to twist her around to cuff her. He was a very strong man, but he couldn’t budge her.
“Oops… those soft muscles just aren’t going to work here I don’t think.” She easily twisted her wrist from his grip and placed her outstretched fingers against the center of his chest, slamming him back against the concrete wall as if he was weightless. “Why don’t we just see what other secrets Lisa is hiding from me.”
She blocked his trigger finger with her own as she pushed his gun hand to the side. She leaned forward to make Psi contact with her lips. He quickly turned his head to the side, cursing her as he struggled against her phenomenal strength. Mandi grabbed his hair and painfully straightened his head to kiss him on the lips. Her tongue intruded between his teeth, and he instinctively opened his mouth to allow her deeper kiss. Realizing what he was doing, he cruelly bit down on her tongue as hard as he could.
Mandi just smiled and kissed him deeper, feeling no pain from his teeth, finding instead that her Psionic contact with his body improved marginally. She slipped easily into his mind and began to sift through his memories. His thoughts were dominated by the trauma of being drummed out of the Navy Seals after he’d been found guilty of negligence during an amphibious operation where two men had died. The horrible image if his Court Martial was cemented to the front of his consciousness forever. Moving past that, she found images of his day-to-day job at Tyrell. Officially Lisa’s bodyguard, unofficially he was the one that got things done that couldn’t be handled through normal channels. He was intensely proud of the fact that he was the only person other than Crystal who knew Lisa’s secrets. His loyalty to her had no bounds.
Crystal. Now that was a new name. She’d have to find that woman next.
She spent a few more minutes sifting through the confusing images in his mind before her head began to ache. Breaking off her kiss, she smiled warmly at him. He stared at her with unfocused eyes, his thoughts sluggish and confused. “That wasn’t so bad, now was it, Gerry.”
“Fuck you,” he spit back at her as he snapped out of his mental paralysis. He wiped his free hand across his lips as if he’d just kissed a venomous snake.
“Much as I’m sure you’d like to, we don’t have time right now. Instead, I have a little problem you need to help me solve.”
He tried to pull away from her, but she kept her grip on his gun hand as she spun him around. She wrapped her other arm around his chest and held him so tightly that he struggled to breathe. He fought back as best he could, but she lifted his feet from the ground to carry him bodily toward the control room. She kicked the locked door open, hinges ripping from the frame, and pushed him into the room ahead of her. Horrified by his helplessness, Gerry screamed with the last air in his lungs as she drew his forefinger back, forcing him to fire his gun directly into the closest man’s forehead. Blood and gray brain matter splattered the wall behind him, and the man crumpled at his feet.
Gerry struggled frantically to regain control of his gun. but he was hopeless against her strength. He could only watch in horror as she aimed his gun from forehead to forehead, snapping off rounds faster than people could duck. The electronic consoles and walls were soon splattered with gore, her perfect marksmanship leaving a neat hole at the bridge of everyone’s nose. The engineers fell like dominoes as her aim point circled the room, the tinkle of brass cartridges hitting the floor interspaced with the loud barks of the 9mm.
Mandi paused with the gun aimed at Jeff Madson. He backed up against an electrical cabinet and lifted his hands.
“Don’t you know how fucking dangerous it is to employ an alien as your CIO?” she asked him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Madson looked confused, but his voice was still strong, despite the bloody carnage that surrounded him.
“Lisa Banks is Kara Zor’El. Gerry here knows that. So does her Admin. How come you don’t? You’re the chairman, you're supposed to know who your executives are.”
“That’s… impossible…” Madson started to say, his thoughts racing as he tried to figure a way to talk his way out of the situation. “Lisa?”
“Tell him, Gerry. Tell him the big secret of Tyrell Pharmaceuticals. Tell him where Lisa’s remarkable so-called breakthroughs came from.” She released her hold marginally on his chest so he could breathe.
“Don’t say anything, Mr. Madson," he gasped. "This woman’s insane.”
Madson looked at Gerry, his heart pounding. “Is it true, Gerry?”
Gerry looked back at Madson. How could Lisa hide any of this now? A Prime was here, infiltrating the company. She knew everything and she was going to tell the whole world. He closed his eyes for a long moment, and then nodded.
“Even if you didn’t figure out that half your drugs were alien in origin,” Mandi said coldly, “did it ever occur to you to ask how Lisa got Xara Zor’El, who’s really her daughter by the way, to come and help launch your lab? And why Xara would help only your firm?”
“I didn’t think…” he started to say.
“Yeah,” Mandi interrupted him. “I figured as much. Too busy counting your greedy profits.”
“We were helping… millions.”
“Who are going to die anyway. Just a little slower than you are.” She squeezed the trigger, and another shell casing tinkled to the floor. Madson’s eyes opened wide as a neat red hole appeared over the bridge of his nose. He crumpled to the floor, leaving yet another splatter of core on the instrument bay.
Mandi shoved Gerry across the floor to crash into a console. He hit his head and passed out, falling into the puddle of blood that was spreading across the floor. The cops would conclude that he’d gone berserk and had shot everyone. There would only be his fingerprints on the gun.
Brushing off her hands, Mandi walked back down the hallway to disable the fire prevention system the same way she’d earlier turned off the video surveillance. Nobody would know about a fire on the production floor until too late, as the workers were still outside at the launch celebration. She finished by deactivating the inert gas system, ensuring that it wouldn’t put the fire out automatically.
She walked next to the production bay, where she focused her eye beams on the exposed wiring harnesses, chemicals and lubricants in the lower belly of each lab unit. The heat source from her eyes would leave no residue and be untraceable. The investigators would assume Bighorn had sabotaged them as well.
In seconds, all four orbital labs were burning brightly. Mandi blinked her eyes back to normal vision and turned to walk out the rear loading dock. By the time the people on the tarmac saw the smoke, she would be miles away.
The Protector had taken out her weapons manufacturing operation in Switzerland, and now she'd retaliated by destroying Kara's orbital lab production.
The next step was going to be up to Kara.