by Sharon Best
First posted Jan. 12, 2003, at the old Aurora Universe site; last update Dec. 15, 2003
SharonBest, Aurora Universe©, Copyright 2003
Home Page: http://velorian.org/auow Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's concept notes - OVprofiles.html
Cher'ee carefully buttoned her brown faux-fur coat as she stood in the immigration line on Reigel Five. It was winter, and this being the fifth planet out from the yellow sun meant that it was bitterly cold -- more than 50C below zero. The late afternoon sunshine added little warmth to the frigid ambient, and the occasional gust of icy wind sucked out whatever warmth it did impart. Some of the people standing in line were shivering, and she let a woman and two small children go ahead of her. Not everyone could afford the latest in thermal-reactive clothing.
Cher'ee was warm and comfortable despite wearing a thin coat and leather jeans that were intended for the mildness of a Velorian winter, something that did not escape the notice of the Reigelians. The whispers of several of the men in line focused on her lightweight clothing, and on her bare hands. Several of them commented on her unusual height and blonde hair. Inevitably she heard the whispered word 'Velorian' passing from one person to the next, courtesy of having hearing that was many times more acute than a normal human. Reigel Five was an Enlightenment world, after all, and her people lived openly here.
Despite that, she suddenly felt conspicuously on display, and part of her wished she'd hidden herself under the heavy layers of synthetically-heated thermals like everyone else. She smiled at that thought. No, she was not going to hide herself here. This was her first immersion into the world of normal humans and she'd been told to expect a reaction from them, especially now that she had that glow that came from completing her Rites. Despite being politically aligned with Velor, very few Velorians came here, and it was doubtful that very many of these people had even seen one of her people before. Less than a thousand Vels lived on Reigel Five among a Terran population of two billion. Less than one in a million. Her Great-Grandfather was one of them.
Great-Grandpa Cher'el had not only given his name to her, but he'd raised her from the age of five after her parents had been captured during an attack by a marauding Arion ship. They'd been traveling between Daxxan and Velor on official business when they were attacked. Her father had been a teacher at the Institute of Scribes. The route was supposedly safe and routine, with ships going back and forth continuously. Just the kind of situation the Arions liked to exploit to spread their terror.
At first it had been incomprehensible to young Cher'ee that the Arions could capture a ship filled with vital, and most importantly, Velorian citizens. Even at five, she'd heard the stories of a Protector's power when off-planet. It wasn't until years later that she learned that Velorian law required that all passengers, the exception being pilots and Protectors, had to sleep during any transit off-world. A powerful hypnotic drug was administered before they left the gold-field of Velor, supposedly to protect the ship from a hundred suddenly empowered passengers. A smaller does was given to ordinary humans as well, mostly to reduce their demands on food and oxygen during transit.
When it came to Velorians, the forced sleep was to avoid giving them a taste of that forbidden fruit of physical power that came from leaving behind that gold, and to keep those with criminal intentions from escaping the Velorian system. Not everyone was prepared to handle the soaring powers of suddenly becoming a virtual god or goddess, let alone want to return to their previously underpowered state.
The High Council sent a Protector after the Arion pirates and their captives, but she left Velor too late and lost the ship's ion trail after it executed a half dozen wormhole jumps. The story was all over the Holo the next few days. The raid. The abductions. The failure of the new Protector to complete her mission. The lack of preparation by the Council to defend Velorian space. Even speculation that the Protector they'd sent barely knew how to dive a wormhole, let alone track a ship through multiple dives.
Cher'ee had not seen her parents since that day, yet she'd grown up dreaming every night of saving them. She'd watched the archival Holos of the attack, including the feed from the ship's telemetry which showed a female Prime executing a Velorian male as an example to the rest of the captives. Despite her slender build, she proved to be strong enough to break an empowered Velorian man's neck with her bare hands.
Cher'ee had chosen to make this trip to Reigel Five in the same class of ship as the one her parents had traveled on, secretly hoping that the ship would be attacked the same way during transit. The raiders had appeared in Enlightenment space several times in the last ten years, but hadn't captured a ship intact since the one with her parents on it. Velorian transports had since been armed, and they now fired on any ship that tried to approach them.
Still, Cher'ee prayed to Skietra for the privilege of defending her ship -- even more, to take on their mighty Primes in hand-to-hand combat and coerce them into telling her where the pirate's base was. In her dream, she crashed through the armored walls of their command ship to take their computer system apart with her bare hands, defeating its security so as to discover where her parents had been sent.
Unfortunately, there was to be no glory on this trip. Far from exciting, the trip became the most boring two weeks of her life. The only person besides herself who was awake was the pilot, and he was well into his second century of life and uninterested in socializing with someone as young as she. He'd quickly retreated to his world of synthetic reality after the first jump.
His isolation wasn't unusual. Many of the starship crews lived two lives: one based on the reality of guiding their ships, and the other in their elaborate virtual world. It was no secret that most of them preferred their fantasy worlds to reality. Their interlinked simulation was populated with thousands of crew members from hundreds of other ships. It was said that this hidden universe was Utopia, a land of absolute perfection. Whatever it was, it was obviously far more satisfying a place to live and interact with other virtual souls than to vegetate in the sterile reality of floating for weeks and months and years in space. Not even the charms of spending those weeks with a young Protector could dissuade him from plugging and dropping out.
He wasn't insensitive however. Just before he plugged in, the pilot gave her the passwords to the ship's library. He wasn't magnanimous; he just didn't want to be disturbed after he fastened that fiber optic cable to the back of his head. He'd told her that if the ship needed him, it would bring him back to reality.
By the time the first week of the voyage had ended, Cher'ee had beaten every game the cybernetic computers could create. Bored once again now, she'd switched from mental to physical games. She spent the second week outside the ship, exploring the various solar systems they passed near, even enduring one wormhole dive while hurtling along just behind the ship, naked and exposed to the hundred G gradients and star-like heat. Like most Protectors, her early experiences at 'hole diving' or 'jumping' were all gained while flying behind such a ship. She was really getting the hang of it now, if only with familiar holes.
And all the while, she looked forward to seeing her Great-Grandfather again. He'd left the gold-cored Velor more than two years ago in the hope of stemming the progress of his advanced prostate cancer, the inevitable disease of any man who lived long enough. And while his new empowerment on gold-free Reigel Five wouldn't make him immortal, it had been his doctor's hope that it would slow his cancer and give him another few years of life.
It was the perfect planet for an ailing scientist to retire on. Its local University was struggling to get Enlightenment accreditation, and his presence on the academic staff, even if mostly honorary, was a boost to the school's reputation. They'd also brought in a department chairman in Astrophysics from Kelsor 7. The Kelsorian University was the most prestigious school of science in the known Galaxy.
She owed Great-Grandpa Cher'el everything. He'd lovingly raised her from the age of five until he arranged her entry into Protector School at the age of fourteen. As the memory of her real parents had faded over the years, she'd begun to think of him as her father. The two of them were now the last known members of their lineage.
As expected for one of her status, the process of obtaining an off-world visa back on Velor hadn't been difficult for her. Protectors, even the youngest, were considered to be adults, and were free to come and go at will, and were encouraged to stay awake during a ship's transit. Other Velorians had to queue up for the few hundred visas that were issued each month and then endure the drugs and forced sleep. Despite those restrictions, thousands of Velorians now lived on Enlightenment worlds such as Reigel Five. Once they left Velor, they rarely returned. The taste of power was the ultimate drug.
Among the ex-pat Velorians was her aging Great-Grandpa.
Cher'ee was sixteen years and one month old now -- barely a month past her Rites. She looked older. The Rites always had the side-effect of rapidly maturing a Protector's physical being, even as that same enhancement ensured that any further aging would happen at less than a tenth the rate of an ordinary human. The sudden leap in physical maturity went to some girl's heads, but not Cher'ee. She'd always acted older than her age. She had a brilliant mind, and despite her upcoming mission to protect some distant world, her first love had always been mathematics.
That skill came from Great-Grandpa Cher'el as well. He was one of the top theoretical physicists on Velor, and he'd imbued her birth matrix with a portion of his genetics, combining his mathematical skills with the scientific curiosity that came out of the genetic tracks of his children, her grandparents. Their family had always been class M, its members born to become scientists and academics.
The Maternity Engine had added the usual genes for extreme physical prowess, something that was essential for anyone designated as P1. And while they normally focused a P1's intellect on the practical skills of a warrior, Cher'el had prevailed upon one of the senior technicians, a student in his University course, to 'forget' to edit out his donated genes for mathematical genius.
The result was that Cher'ee and Great-Grandpa Cher'el had enjoyed challenging each other with the most difficult of mathematical puzzles since she was seven years old. By the time she was ten, she was routinely solving puzzles that less than one in ten thousand adult Velorians could solve. By fourteen she could solve the toughest problems that her Great-Grandpa could think up. Problems that none of his Graduate students at the University could solve.
Delightfully, she'd found that the Rites quickened her intellect further. She'd recently taken to working fourth-dimensional geometry problems in her head when she was bored -- problems that used to be a real struggle to solve without assistance from her PersComp. She'd even sent a new puzzle to Great-Grandpa, hoping that her new sharpness of mind would finally allow her to stump him.
The ship docked on Reigel Five thirteen days into the voyage. A day early, thanks to a few hours a day of Cher'ee's exercises. She'd combated her boredom by using her phenomenal muscles and flight power to further accelerate and then decelerate the ten thousand ton ship.
The drugged sleep-groggy passengers, all of them ordinary humans except for Cher'ee -- normals as the Vels usually referred to them -- shuffled out to stand in the long Immigration line. They were glad to get back into a normal gravity field after completing their business on Velor. Velor's heavy gravity field made it a punishing place to visit, not the least for the way the Velorians flitted around them as if they were nearly weightless. Even in a concentrated gold field, a Vel had many times normal human strength.
Cher'ee stood among them, her body pulsating with power. Outside a gold field, she now had many thousands of times the strength of her shipmates. She didn't think about that. Instead, she was busily amusing herself with a favorite mathematic proof. It was part of the puzzle she'd sent her Great-Grandpa, and it involved the best way to optimize a ship's shields to offset the field strength of a degenerate singularity worm-hole exit locus. She suspected that no one else in the Immigration Hall would even know what a worm-hole exit locus was, let alone know the transfer functions that described it.
The remembered voices of her instructors interrupted her in the middle of her pleasant daydream.
'A Protector must always maximize her situational awareness.'
'The enemy can strike at you anywhere, even using innocents as shields, so find him before he finds you.'
Sighing, and already missing the challenge of her puzzle, she put her more basic talents to work instead. Closing her eyes for a moment, she concentrated on activating the special tachyon rods that were embedded into her retinas. This shift had always been troublesome for her -- she was still a long ways away from being able to image in both the visible and tachyon/neutrino spectrum at the same time. But the Immigration line was as good a place as any to practice her skills.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself standing in the middle of a room full of translucent bodies, their skeletons glowing like something out of a Hallows Night party. She shifted her receptor frequencies upward, and everything faded but the skeletons and the structural steel and wiring in the building. The unpleasant sight of skeletons shuffling around inside a 3D wire-frame wasn't very useful. She shifted her vision the other way, lowering her eye's receptor frequencies to reveal a room full of naked people, the bits and pieces of their denser clothing fading in and out of view.
The people weren't pretty -- just ordinary humans. She quickly narrowed her attention to the Immigration booth at the end of the long line, and observed that it was fitted with a number of hidden sensing devices. Everyone was being secretly scanned while they stood having their papers examined. She pushed the discrimination frequency of her eyes back up a notch, and was assaulted by the full-frontal nudity of the Immigration clerk. He was overweight and vastly under endowed, at least by Velorian standards. A brief flutter of nausea forced her to look away. The view to either side was no better. Everyone seemed to be over or under weight, most of them poorly exercised, and many with blemishes and blotches on their skin. Saggy or under-endowed, pale and soft, they were physically imperfect, at least by Velorian standards. It was her first look at ordinary humans.
She was reminded of one of the Scribe's Journals she'd read. It had described how some of her sisters seemed to find Terran men sexually exotic. She shrugged. Perhaps these people on Reigel were less attractive than most. Then a less worthy thought crossed her mind. Maybe even a Velorian got desperate when she lived off-planet too long. Another glance around the room convinced her that she didn't want to live that long.
Struggling for a way to put her talents to more productive use, she began reading everyone's papers, and soon found at least two forged passports. One of those was in the possession of a swarthy Scalantaran trader who couldn't take his eyes off her. He clearly knew who, or rather what, she was. The other was in the possession of the pretty, dark-haired woman who clung to his arm. Cher'ee imaged her chest and was gratified to find that her four chambered heard proved she wasn't Arion, although her silicone-filled breasts and the hidden scars of numerous plastic surgeries said she'd been enhanced to look like one. She'd read something about high-priced call girls who pretended to be Arion Betans. Perhaps this was one.
The eyes of most others glanced away when she turned to scan the rest of the room. Clearly the Scalantaran wasn't the only one staring at her. While Velorians lived in full view of the populace here, a thousand Velorians mixed in with two billion normals, they remained a sought after curiosity. She'd done her homework, and had found that much had been written in Reigellien books and magazines about Velorians, most of it true. Unfortunately, many of the articles had focused on Velorian sexual habits. Even one amusing article that described how to seduce a Velorian. She didn't understand why men didn't just ask for what they wanted. Normals seemed to be endlessly fascinated by sex, allegedly because they never got enough of it -- something that made little sense to a girl Velorian born. Did they also not breathe enough?
She amused herself by wondering what the Scalantaran would think if he knew she was a Protector. Unlike ordinary humans, the frail and diminutive Scalantaran's were fascinated by extreme strength, especially when it was kinkily combined with sex. Naturally this made the Supremis exotically fascinating to them. Protectors were their ultimate passion, but Cher'ee's sisters were rarely seen in this quiet and civilized part of the galaxy. The Visa clerk back on Velor had told her that she was the first Protector who'd applied to visit Reigel Five in more than last ten years.
Of course, experienced Protectors usually came and went without documentation, traveling under their own power. But Cher'ee wasn't about to try diving through strange wormholes on her own until she completed her training. A dive into the wrong hole -- there were many of those, even ones marked with tachyon beacons that had collapsed since they'd been mapped by the Galactics -- could be fatal. So could a slight miscalculation in course. And given that you needed to be flying at least 0.2c on hole entry, often more than 0.4c, you had to make a commitment many millions of miles before you got there. No chance for second thoughts once you got lined up.
It didn't matter, she thought to herself. She was barely sixteen. She had plenty of time to learn. The slower the better, as that gave her more time with Great-Grandpa. She pondered what would happen if she failed some of her post-Rites courses and had to repeat them? Would that failure condemn her to serve on some backward world? Perhaps a place the Arions hadn't found yet? The thought was intriguing, especially if that world had a good University.
Such were her private thoughts as the line slowly inched forward until she was finally standing at the counter. The Immigration clerk froze as she started to hand him the polished Vendorian steel jacket of her passport, the purplish metal embossed with the red and black 'S' symbol of a Protector. He stared into her sparkling blue eyes for a long second, clearly startled, before slipping the passport from her fingers. His hand shook as he opened it reverently, a look of awe in his eyes. Clearly, he'd not met a Protector before.
Her amusement at his reaction turned to embarrassment when a kaleidoscope of colors burst from the passport's holographic generator, forming a completely lifelike figure of Cher'ee in her Protector's red and blue uniform. The life-like hologram stood eight inches tall, and turned slowly in his hand, cape and blonde hair floating in the brilliant glow. Cher'ee tried not to blush as a dozen heads turned to stare first at her passport hologram, and then at her. Only a Protector carried such an indestructible and colorful passport.
"Truly, I had no idea that one of your clan was visiting us today," the clerk gushed. "The VIP reception is over there in the First Class lounge."
"I'm not here on business," Cher'ee shrugged, "and I'm not traveling First Class. Just a personal visit."
"But still, we would be most pleased to..."
"I'm just visiting my Great-Grandfather," she interrupted, wishing he would close her passport and squelch the brilliant glow of the hologram. Given that only a month had passed since her Rites, she was still embarrassed when appearing in public wearing her flamboyantly colored Protector's uniform.
The clerk stared at the blonde perfection of her hologram for another long moment, and then at her, and reluctantly closed it. He handed it back to her. "You clearly don't need any stamps, My Lady. Welcome to Reigel Five."
Cher'ee nodded as she slipped the passport back into her bag. She could feel all eyes in the room on her back now.
The clerk wasn't done. "And if there is anything I can personally do to make your visit more enjoyable, perhaps a tour of our fine city, please just let me know." The lecherous tone of his voice made her nauseous. He had to be forty if he was as day.
She straightened to her full 5'11" height and tossed her hair over her left shoulder, and gave him the Chill. That was the practiced look which told a man that she wasn't interested in him. Even more, that he wasn't worthy of her. The narrowing of his eyes and his quick glance away told her he'd gotten the message. She turned and slipped past the counter without another word.
She wasn't proud of herself. By using the Chill, she'd just confirmed the prevailing Reigelien image of a Protector as being haughty and cold. Arrogant. But this wasn't Velor and the customs were different. Whether it was discussing the possibilities of a playful romp in one's bed, or debating the best way to achieve multiple orgasms, the small talk between Velorians was tantamount to erotica on most worlds. But she'd been taught that those kinds of discussions were considered inappropriate when talking to normals, especially to strangers. Fortunately, her training had prepared her to avoid getting into the wrong kinds of conversations. She'd also learned the icy stare and studied indifference of the Chill, and it had worked the very first time she'd tried it for real.
Confident on one hand and regretful and confused on another, mostly feeling a bit like a fish out of water, she grabbed her overweight bag off the turnstile in baggage claim -- two-hundred kilos of Velorian delicacies for her Great-Grandpa -- and strolled up to the street level.
Unfortunately, the line waiting for the bus was as long as the one in Immigration. She looked for a private livery, but saw none. Impatient now, she strolled out into the middle of a parking lot full of private vehicles while fastening her huge bag over her back. She look around sheepishly, and took a couple of quick running steps before leaping into the air. The gasps of the onlookers at the bus stop she soared over reminded her too late that it was considered impolite to take off that way in the middle of a crowd of normals.
She rationalized her actions by telling herself that she didn't have time to waste before getting back to Velor. The truth was that she was already growing weary of this charade of hiding her talents. That thought was chased away by another as the voice of her Protocol instructor echoed in her ears.
'You must not act arrogant among normal humans.'
'You must hide your talents. Act demure. Become one of them.'
Cher'ee pushed those thoughts away. Hopefully she wouldn't be stationed on an undisclosed world where she had to hide herself.
She climbed two miles high to avoid making a further spectacle of herself, and flew fast, eager to escape the gaffe at the airport. The memorized landscape of Reigel Five unfolded beneath her like a holographic map. She flew two hundred miles distance in thirty minutes time to arrive over Klaxton Mountain just after sunset.
It was dark on the eastern side of the mountain where the town was nestled between two snowy summits, but her eyes could still make out the unlighted street signs from a mile up. She found Splendid Lane on the northern edge of town. The minus 60C cold of the night sky was suddenly forgotten as she soared down to gently land at the edge of the frozen pond behind his house.
She was finally going to see Great-Grandpa again!
Nobody was outside to see her land -- understandable given the gathering darkness and bitter cold. She practiced her skills further by air-walking a fraction of an inch above the deep snow, leaving no footprints on her way to the back door of his house.
She knocked. No answer. Then again. Silence. She opened her eyes wide to look through the door. The house was quiet and dark inside. She tried the lock, and found it was fastened. Great-Grandpa was either asleep or not at home. Either way, she reasoned that he'd want her to make herself comfortable. She stuck her manicured fingernail in the keyhole and twisted. The frozen metal of the case-hardened lock shattered to fall with a tinkle to the stone doorstep. She fished around inside the lock to pull the locking dog back, and the door swung open.
"Great-Grandpa?" she called out as she stepped through the doorway. She was startled to find that it was nearly as cold inside the house as out. "It's me, Cher'ee."
Still no answer.
The kitchen was empty but clean, although an empty bottle lay on its side in the middle of the table. Cher'ee picked it up, only to feel a wave of weakness trace up her arm. She read the label more closely: Kendarian Gold. The nerves of her hand started to tingle painfully, forcing her to drop the bottle. It broke, sending a spray of liquid gold across the tabletop. One drop landed on her hand to numb it further.
Truly worried now, she wiped the drop off as she walked into the empty living room and then up the stairs. A man's body lay crumpled at the top of the steps. She quickly kneeled and turned him over to reveal a weathered and lined face.
"Oh, no, Great-Grandpa!" She shook him. He didn't waken. She brushed the hair from her ear and leaned down to listen to his heart. It was beating irregularly. His breathing was very shallow, and his skin was icy cold and clammy wet. Classic signs of energy depletion combined with intoxication.
"No! You are not going to die on me, Great-Grandpa," she growled. Scooping him up in her arms, she carried him to the bathroom. There she stripped his clothing off and propped him up in a corner of the shower. Reaching to turn the hot water tap on, it snapped off in her hand. The pipes were frozen.
She looked around wildly, knowing she had to heat him up, forgetting the obvious for a moment. Then it came to her. She opened her eyes and set them glowing.
Her first burst of heat vision sent a riot of sparks flying outward from his chest. She closed her eyes too quickly, dazzling herself with the reflected glare. She blinked several times to send a series staccato bursts of starlight to flare against her Great-Grandpa's chest. She struggled mightily to control the intensity of her stare, but failed. She was still learning to modulate her heat vision. She finally resorted to blasting him again and again with short bursts, allowing several minutes for the glow of his chest to fade each time.
Soon his skin was turning pink again and his heart was beating faster and stronger.
Both his heartbeat and respiration were normal an hour later when Cher'ee tucked him into his bed. She'd induced him to vomit a half dozen times as his body started to function again, getting rid of the poisonous liqueur, and then he'd lost control of his bladder, but at least he was alive.
Satisfied that he was tucked into the warm bed, she went back downstairs to rummage through her bag for her PersComp. A quick search reported that Kendarian Gold liqueur was 130 proof, and that a bottle the size of the one on the kitchen table contained a half ounce of finely powdered gold. It was more than enough to kill a severely weakened Velorian. Despite their invulnerability, Velorians could not easily metabolize alcohol if it got into their bloodstream. The powdered gold ensured that it did. The database said that Kendarian Gold was outlawed on Enlightenment worlds, and that it was potentially poisonous when consumed in large quantities, and an intoxicant when sipped in smaller doses.
Satisfied that Great-Grandpa was going to stay warm enough for the moment, she half flew and half clambered down the rickety steps to the basement. There she found that the plasma valves were turned off. She broke the seal that had been placed on them, apparently for non-payment of his utility bills, and the heat exchanger began to glow as it drew plasma from the street conduit. Within minutes, the house was warming up.
She floated back up the stairs to scrounge around in the kitchen, hoping to make him a simple dinner. While empowered Velorians didn't need food for energy purposes, the nutrients did help balance their systems. She found some local vegetables, mostly wilted, and a bag of mushrooms. She stir-fried them on the stove with sesame oil. By the time she returned to the upstairs bedroom with the plate of food, her Great-Grandpa was awake.
"By all that's holy, it really is you, Cher'ee! I thought I'd died and gone to my just rewards, what with such a lovely angel hovering over me."
Cher'ee didn't smile. "You almost did die, Great-Grandpa. If my ship hadn't docked a day early, you might be dead by now."
He coughed. His lungs sounded bad. "I'm sorry, my dear. But I had no idea you were coming." He paused to cough again. "I...I'd thought, what with your Rites and all, that you'd be half way across the galaxy by now."
"Not without visiting my Great-Grandpa a few more times. Didn't you get my message?"
"Sorry things aren't as you remembered," he said softly. "I'm not... very well. Out of money too. PersComp is turned off. Just like the heat."
"But the doctors gave you years to live, Great-Grandpa. Empowered Velorians don't get sicknesses."
"Well, apparently if you've already got one, then leaving the gold behind doesn't help as much as they'd thought."
Cher'ee reached out to hold his hand. His return grip was so weak. "Has it come back? The cancer?"
He nodded. "In my bones and lungs now." Another cough wracked him, a fine spray of blood wetting his lips. "Only a few months left now. Maybe only weeks. I wanted to just be done with it." He struggled to smile. "But Skietra, it's so good to see you again, Cher'ee."
"You too, Great-Grandpa. And I'm going to stay right here with you."
"No, honey. Please. You don't need to see this. You are young. You have more important work to do."
"And let you die alone? After you spent ten years of your life raising me?" She gripped his hand tighter. "This is where I belong."
The barest hint of strength coursed through his tendons this time as he tried to smile. "You're all that's left of our family now, Cher'ee. Our genetic line ends with you."
Cher'ee smiled bravely. "I don't plan on ending anything, Great-Grandpa."
"But you're a Protector. Protectors don't have children. They just use a matrix of your DNA and integrate that with protagonists and vectors from..."
Cher'ee laughed. "Now you're starting to sound like my Great-Grandpa again. For a moment there, I thought the Arions had abducted you and stuck some creepy Betan with bleached blonde hair here to take your place. "
He grinned at her as he tried to sit up in the bed. She helped him, and then played her heat vision across his bare chest to further warm him. He sighed, luxuriating in her warmth. "You have such beautiful eyes, my dear."
"Tell that to the Arions. I've been trained to use them as weapons. This much power would cook a Betan."
"Yet you were always a gentle girl, Cher'ee. Always collecting frogs and injured birds. Nursing them back to health."
"I was born to be a Protector, Great-Grandpa."
"My little super girl. Now you'll have to be strong for both of us. Right now, a Betan could kick my ass halfway to Daxxan."
"Oh yeah?" Cher'ee said in the low, commanding Voice that she'd been trained to use. "Well, I could kick a legion of their bloody Primes right back to those holes they crawl out of."
"Very good," Cher'el said, clearly impressed with her use of Voice. "My little girl has truly become a big bad Protector."
"Not so little anymore, Great-Grandpa. I've done some growing since I was fourteen."
He struggled to sit further upright, leaning back against the headboard. "So, let's see what an overdose of orgone is good for. Not to mention Aphrod'ites's charms."
"O.K, but brace yourself. I'm not so skinny any more." She unbuttoned her fur coat and pulled the tails behind herself, opening the coat wide. She wore only a white bikini top beneath it.
He stared up at her as she kept her eyes focused on his. They lowered to pause on her chest. A strange sense of pride filled her as his eyes opened wide.
Despite his near death experience, his eyes danced like a Velorian's should as he traced his vision down the expanse of flawless skin from her neck to her tiny white bottom, tied across her hips, and then back to her chest. He finally whistled softly and looked back into her eyes.
"You know, Cher'ee, sixteen year old girls aren't supposed to look anything like this. Are you sure we didn't miss a half dozen years here somewhere?"
She giggled, sounding like a girl again. "Charms of a Protector, or so my boyfriend says. His name is Jaz'la by the way. And you know exactly how old I am. You sent me a Rites card two months ago."
"All I know is that you're even more beautiful than your mother, Cher'ee. More of everything. She would be so proud to see you today. The first Protector to grace our family in ten generations."
"Also the first to break our family legacy by not becoming a scientist or mathematician."
He waved his hand. "The mere power of the mind is overrated. You were destined to have other forms of power as well."
"Yeah," she mused as she looked down at herself. "I guess it is about time one of us had a little bit of physical prowess."
"A little bit?" he chortled, sounding almost like himself again. "You are strong enough to protect planets -- not to mention beautiful enough to enslave the residents of those worlds with your mere presence."
Cher'ee blushed. "Well, whatever else has happened to you, you haven't lost your silver tongue, Grand-Grandpa. Thank you."
"It's I who should thank you. I'm an old man, and it's been a very long time since I saw a Protector, and never one standing over my bed looking so wickedly sexy."
Cher'ee pulled her coat closed again. "O.K, that does it. You're officially back among the living," she winked. "If I knew it was going to be this easy to perk you up, I would have left my clothes at the door."
Cher'el laughed. "Spoken like a true Protector, my dear. But I think I'm just a bit too old for such delicious coercion."
"Uh, huh," Cher'ee said doubtfully, glancing at a picture of an attractive woman beside the bed. She picked it up. "New girlfriend?"
"Just an acquaintance. Her name is Naomi Kim'Vallara. She's the Velorian ambassador here."
"Hmmm. I don't see a ring on her finger."
He shrugged. "She's dating the President of Reigel. People are speculating that they might be getting married."
"But you and she...?"
"Are just friends."
She laughed. "Right. Which just goes to prove that you'll be a Velorian to your dying breath, Great-Grandpa."
"Well, there are only a few things that we truly need to survive. Orgone and heat and..."
"Great-Grandpa!" she interrupted. She wasn't going to talk about his sex life, especially given that he'd nearly died a few hours earlier. He still looked so weak despite the energy she'd transferred to him. "And speaking of food, you are going to eat some of this. And then I've got this puzzle I want you to try to solve. I hope your illness hasn't dulled your brain. For my part, I think all this Orgone is making me smarter."
"Don't tell anyone else that," he smiled. "They'll drum you out of the Corps for excessive intelligence. Too much orgone is supposed to just make a Protector horny."
"Well, that too," Cher'ee said, suddenly blushing, thinking of her last weekend with Jaz'la.
Cher'el was sitting at one end of the living room couch a half-hour later, bundled up in a thick blanket to stay warm. The food hadn't agreed with him and he'd thrown it up. His face was glowing bright red, courtesy of another invigorating burst of her heat vision.
Cher'ee lay on the couch, her blonde hair splayed across his lap, her fur coat discarded in the warmth, and wearing just her leather pants and white top. She looked up at him, worried now that he wasn't metabolizing enough orgone to keep warm. She suspected that if she left him alone, he would quickly grow cold and become comatose from lack of energy. Maybe even die.
"So, Cher'ee, tell me all about these Rites of yours. They seem to be the biggest mystery on all of Velor."
"You know I can't, Great-Grandpa. They swear us to absolute secrecy."
"And I'm your only kin. And old man. Plus we're a thousand light years from Velor and I'm dying. Who will ever know if you whisper a few secrets in my ear?"
"You've made your peace, haven't you, Great-Grandpa?"
He looked thoughtfully at her for a long moment before answering. "I guess I have, Cher'ee dear. It's just the next phase of life, or so everyone says." He shrugged. "No stopping it in any case."
"And you want to take my secret to your grave? One that only the inner circle of the Hall of Protectors knows?"
"Actually, I'm just curious what my little girl has been up to the last couple of years." He rested his hand on her slender waist; enjoying the warmth of her skin.
She smiled at this touch. "I hadn't really discovered boys when we parted, Great-Grandpa. That's changed. Your heart may not be strong enough to know just how much."
"I'm just as much a Velorian as you, my dear. And I've been around a lot longer."
"Still, there are things that fathers, not to mention great-grandfathers, aren't supposed to know."
Cher'el started to laugh, only to break into another round of coughing. Still, his eyes were sparkling with intelligence when he was able to speak. "I think it has more to do with that pedestal we all put our daughters or grand-daughters on. The one where they go from little girls to grown women without any funny stuff going on in between."
"You know what I'm talking about, Cher'ee. 'Not a girl, but not yet a woman.' There's a song from Earth that talks to that."
"Then you really don't understand the Rites do you?" she winked up at him, snuggling comfortably in his lap. "Trust me, I'm all grown up now."
He lifted his hand to give her breast a quick squeeze. Far from being inappropriate, it was an expected embrace between two adults, even between parents and grown children. "And very full of yourself too, as a Protector must be."
She placed her hand over his. "Aphrod'ite's gift seems to have settled there." She was proud that she was now too full for his hand to envelop.
He held her playfully tight. "Gee, let me guess. The Rites involved some sex?" He rolled his eyes as if to say that everyone on Velor knew at least that much.
"Only if you also describe a Category 5 hurricane as a stiff breeze."
He stared down her for a moment, feeling the unconscious hardening of her nipple against his palm as her thoughts drifted back to that day. He quickly lowered his hand. "Suddenly I'm not so sure I do want to know. I haven't had a chance to take you off your pedestal yet. To think of you as anything but my little girl."
"I hope you never do, Great-Grandpa." She sat up and quickly removed her top. Before he could take a single surprised breath, she lifted one corner of the blanket to curl up beneath it to share the energetic warmth of her enhanced breasts with him. "Never, ever, ever."
He smiled, his eyelids closing as the weariness overcame him again.
Cher'ee carried her Great-Grandpa to his bed and then slipped under the covers with him, her final bit of clothing left behind on the floor. His body felt so weak and cold against her own vitality that she briefly debated the practicality of using the kind of recharging that the Arions were infamous for. That would allow Great-Grandpa to tap deeply into her orgone reserves, drawing it from the depths of her body in raw form. She blushed as she remembered practicing that technique with a Messenger during one of her classes. It had taken him hours to drain her. Unfortunately, the required simultaneous orgasm during the deepest of intercourse was probably beyond Great-Grandpa's current physical abilities. Not to mention a light-year outside the boundaries of their father/daughter relationship.
Instead, she concentrated on just making her breasts very warm, their reddish glow soon escaping from under the covers as she pressed herself tightly against his skin. Their glowing heat should get him through the night. She glanced hopefully at the Ambassador's picture on the table. She'd worry about getting him recharged tomorrow.
By morning she knew just how serious his condition was. She had to use her heat vision on him several times to keep him warm. The cancer had nearly destroyed his ability to metabolize orgone. Within weeks, it would likely complete the task, at which point even her heat vision wouldn't do more than warm his body. He would not be able to convert the heat into the orgone energy needed to sustain his life force.
Velorians could not live without orgone. Everyone knew that. And while an energy-depleted Velorian could become lifeless for weeks -- no heartbeat, no respiration, stone cold -- and still be revived, it was only the' metabolism of orgone that gave them back life.
Her thoughts raced as she considered the alternatives, starting with the bold concept of suffusing him with activated retrovirus. Unfortunately, a search of the databases on her PersComp didn't return a single case of that technique having been successful. The retrovirus rarely worked on another Velorian, and even then, it provided only the tiniest of improvements to the most healthy of subjects. Outside of Aphro'dite, who could transform Velorian girls into Protectors, Velorian DNA was invulnerable to their own retroviruses.
She sat down and discussed this with him.
"I could have told you that if you'd asked me yesterday," he replied tiredly. "But it was so good to feel at least a bit of my old self emerge for a day." He struggled to smile. "And to spend that day with you."
"So what's next?" Cher'ee asked bravely. "Recharging?"
He looked startled. "No, I mean even if I could, not with my grand-daughter."
She leaned forward to rest her hand on his arm. "I would be honored, Great-Grandpa."
"No, I'm past the point where that is even possible. And even if I could, that's not the last memory I want you to carry with you."
"I'm a Protector," she shrugged. "We're trained to be practical." Despite her brave words, she was greatly relieved that he'd refused.
"I think I should instead like an Omag'en."
It was Cher'ee's turn to look shocked. She quickly forced her expression back to neutral, nodding. They'd always talked so openly. "A living memorial service. But I can't get you back to Velor in this condition. It would take weeks. I'm not exactly up to carrying you through wormholes yet."
"There are other Velorians here. The Ambassador and her family. Brent Nichol'son from the University, also Xen Amb'rens from Deep Search."
"How do I find them?"
"Start at the Ambassador's residence. It's located in the capital city of Senegal, back where your ship landed."
She said nothing for a long moment. Then she drew herself up to her full height, no longer self-conscious that her clothing was still strewn about the house. She used the Voice. "I would ask for the honor of being your Dala'syn." It was a form of euthanasia, used to end a suffering relative's life, always performed lovingly by a relative.
He reached out to rest his hand on the hard smooth curve of her thigh. "You more than anyone has the power. I would be similarly honored."
Cher'ee debated donning her Protector's uniform for her visit to the Ambassador's residence. She finally stuffed it back into her bag. This wasn't an official visit. She chose instead a silver metallic body suit, what some people called a skinsuit. The stretchy millimeter-thick fabric hugged her from neck to toes, covering everything yet revealing everything at the same time. A glance in the mirror almost made her toss it back into her bag along with her uniform. Every contour of her body was starkly revealed. She looked down to see that she might as well be nude -- even the shape of her mons was visible beneath the paint-thin fabric. She tugged the fabric down to try to make it fit a bit less revealingly over her crotch. It didn't help much. And now her oversized nipples stuck out like tiny thumbs. She was still feeling self-conscious after her encounter at Immigration, and this outfit wasn't going to help. On the other hand, this kind of clothing was acceptable to wear on Velor and she was going to visit her own people. If the normals thought it was too provocative, then that was their problem. She decided to leave it on.
The skinsuit was perfect for one thing: flying. She noisily broke Mach 3 on her way back to Senegal, trailing a cone of violent shockwaves behind her that left all the dogs barking. Unlike her flapping fur coat, only her hair and small backpack whipped around in the slipstream now.
The Ambassador's residence was easy to spot from two miles up. It was a stately old stone house near the central government buildings. An additional five stories of glass had been built on top of the native granite. In the usual Velorian custom, the floors, ceilings and walls were transparent, giving the occupants the impression of flight. It wasn't a comfortable place to visit if you had any fear of heights. Or if you had any need for privacy. Fortunately, Velorians didn't need bathrooms for any reason other than showering, what with their perfectly efficient bodies. And with their casual nudity and open sexual customs, bedroom privacy was rarely needed, even among family members.
The first thing she saw when she landed on the transparent roof was someone taking a shower two floors below. She didn't need her tachyon vision to see that it was a guy about her age. Or that he was Velorian. Besides his blonde hair and perfect physique, the phenomenal endowment of a Velorian man was instantly recognizable. A tingle of arousal traced down her back as he started to slowly wash that remarkable part of himself. She looked politely away as was the custom, and began to scan the rest of the house.
An older woman was drinking coffee in the ground floor kitchen. She was dressed smartly in a blue business suit. Remembering the picture in Great-Grandpa's bedroom, she recognized her as the Ambassador. Cher'ee quickly walked to the edge of the roof and dove headfirst toward the ground. She pulled out at the last second to land barefoot on the snowy doorstep.
She pushed the doorbell. The resulting clamor of chimes startled her. A quick look through the stone wall revealed a huge chime that extended for two stories above the entranceway. The purplish color marked it as Vendorian steel, which explained the unusual tones.
The Ambassador turned to look back through the stone wall, her eyes sparkling blue as she focused them into the Tachyon spectrum. She nodded to herself and smiled, almost like she'd been expecting Cher'ee. She quickly walked over to open the door. "Cher'ee Belan'gan I presume?"
"How did you...?" Cher'ee stopped in mid sentence as she remembered showing her passport at Immigration. "Oh, yeah. You'd know who came in."
"I was hoping you'd stop by, Miss Zor'el," she said, using the honorific form of a Protector's name. "I don't believe we've ever had a Protector visit our world before today. To what do I owe this honor?"
Cher'ee saw the worried look in the Ambassador's eyes. Protectors usually arrived on worlds just before, or after, an Arion attack. "Nothing official, I'm glad to report. My Great-Grandpa lives here. Do you know Cher'el Belan'gan?"
"Cher'el! Of course I know him. But I thought he'd gone back to Velor for some medical treatments?" She opened the door wider to welcome Cher'ee inside. "I'm Naomi Kim'Vallara"
"I'm afraid it's too late for that, Lady Ambassador. And please, call me Cher'ee."
"I would have thought you'd prefer to use the honorific of Zor'el?"
"As I said, I'm not here on business."
"Then you can just call me Naomi. To what do I owe this honor?"
"I've come to invite you and your family to my Great-Grandfather's Omag'en."
"Oh, no. I'm so sorry my dear. And he looked so healthy last year."
"You know why he came here to live on Reigel Five?"
"The cancer, yes. But we'd hoped it was arrested. He's been so helpful in setting up a new department at the University. He also tutored my daughter Nikki. My problem student."
Cher'ee didn't mention the picture of the Ambassador in her Great-Grandpa's bedroom. Clearly the Ambassador and her Great-Grandpa had socialized as well. Nothing unusual when Velorians met on worlds populated by normals.
"Is that your son?" Cher'ee glanced upward.
"Yes. His name is James. He's nineteen and in his first year at the University." She pushed the button to turn on the espresso machine in front of her. "Coffee?"
"Please," Cher'ee answered, realizing at that moment that she hadn't had a good cup of coffee since she left Velor. An import from ancient Earth, it was now cultivated on many worlds.
Naomi handed her the cup when the machine finished. The delicate crème of a good espresso denoting its excellence. She sat across the table from Naomi and took a sip of the coffee. The nutty smooth smoky taste of perfect espresso filled her senses. "This is wonderful."
"One of my few luxuries, I'm afraid."
"You mentioned your daughter Nikki. How many children do you have?"
"Nikki is seventeen. She's the artist in the family. And Alisa, who's fifteen. She's P1 like you are. James you saw. And my oldest, Sara, lives back on Velor."
"Congratulations. When does Alisa go for her Rites?"
"Six months from now. Although I'm afraid she's more interested in her studies than in preparing for life as a Protector."
"She has a love of science. Very uncharacteristic for a Protector. I'm not sure whether to be proud or horrified."
Cher'ee laughed. "I know exactly the feeling."
"When did you take your Rites, if I may ask, Cher'ee?"
"Just a month ago."
"That explains why you look so young. And it explains the visit to your Great-Grandfather. You're still in training?"
Cher'ee nodded. "I presume you'll be sending Alisa back to Velor fairly soon? The months leading up to the Rites are... well, let's just say difficult, especially if she's been living off-world."
Naomi's face darkened. "So far, she's found reason after reason to delay her trip. But I've made arrangements for her to stay with Sara, starting next month. Do you know of the Holo series called Allura?"
"Are you kidding? It's one of the most popular shows on Velor. All about the secret life of a Protector."
"Well, Allura is played by my oldest daughter."
"Of course! Sara Kim'Vallara. I wondered where I'd heard your last name before."
"Seemingly actresses are a lot more popular on Velor than Ambassadors," Naomi smiled.
"Quite some family you have. A Protector to be and three M-classes. One who's a Holo star. Impressive."
"Actually, James was born B."
"A man of discipline and organization. Good for him." Cher'ee didn't say that she detested B-classes. They had no imagination, little intellect and in her experience, were only good for becoming bureaucrats. Velor already had way too many of them.
Naomi smiled. "That was a very politic answer for a Protector, especially one so young as you." The antagonism between P-classes and B-classes was legendary on Velor.
Cher'ee shrugged and changed the subject. "My Great-Grandpa also mentioned Brent Nichol'son from the University, and Xen Amb'rens from something called Deep Search. Do you know where to find them?"
"Of course. When is his Omag'en?"
"Tomorrow if possible. He's very ill. I just need to find a place to hold it."
"Problem solved. You can hold it here. And tomorrow night would be perfect. I'll make all the arrangements, including inviting everyone in the Velorian community here who knows your Great-Grandpa."
"Perfect. I didn't know where to start other than to visit you."
"We Ambassadors are good for something, Ms. Zor'el, even on a quiet world such as this."
"Please, it's Cher'ee."
"I'll have to introduce you to Alisa, Cher'ee. I'm sure you two would have a lot to talk about. P1 stuff. How long to you plan to be here?"
"A few weeks at the most. Great-Grandpa doesn't have much time left."
"And you have permission to delay your training that long?"
"No, not yet. I was hoping that an official letter from you would help, Naomi. Something that suggests official as well as personal business."
"The Council isn't very understanding about personal matters, are they?"
"You could say that. I mean, they ask us to give up our families and leave Velor forever. A dying relative is hardly reason to delay my training, at least in their eyes."
"Let me help with that. You just worry about your Great-Grandpa. Cher'el is a wonderful person."
"I gather he thinks the same of you. I saw your picture on his night table."
Naomi rose, clearly embarrassed now. "A secret to remain with us, please. I have... another commitment."
"Sure," Cher'ee shrugged. "We Vels have to stick together." She wondered what the big deal was. So what if they'd slept together? She shrugged and took another drink of the wonderful coffee, only to pause when she heard footsteps behind her.
"Are you going to introduce me, Mom?" A male voice. Undoubtedly James.
Cher'ee turned to see a very tall man standing in the doorway. He was a few years older than she was, and dressed casually in a size too small t-shirt and tight jeans. Her heart skipped a beat. His body was slender, bordering on effeminate, yet his every movement hinted at muscles of tensing steel. He was as cute as a Messenger.
"James, this is Cher'ee. She's visiting her Great-Grandfather. You remember Cher'el Belan'gan?"
"The mad scientist who's been tutoring Nikki. Talk about mission impossible. Glad to meet you, Cher'ee." He walked over to take her hand in his. Instead of shaking it, he lifted it gallantly to his lips. Cher'ee giggled as he gently kissed the back of her hand, his eyes staring warmly into hers. The archaic greeting was distinctly Terran, and so very sexy.
"She's a Zor'el, James. So behave yourself."
He froze, his eyes opening wider. "You're kidding me? A Protector? On Reigel Five?"
"Not officially," Cher'ee smiled as she enjoyed the way he held her hand. She resisted the sudden urge to return his kiss. "I've got a bit of training to go before I get my first assignment."
"Then that explains your stunning beauty. When I first saw you, I thought an angel from heaven had come to visit. I was right."
"Just don't piss her off like you do the other Velorian girls, James. She's got a hundred times your strength."
His eyes danced over Cher'ee's silver skinsuit, a frown replacing his smile. "But like my little sister, it doesn't show." He glanced meaningfully at his watch. "Gotta go. Late for classes." He turned and left without saying goodbye.
"I'm afraid James reserves his passion is for the local women," Naomi confessed. "He's caught a bad case of the 'god-man syndrome'. Half the normal women at the Embassy are chasing him. The other half have already caught him. He's a legend with the ladies. Sort of a Messenger, but only for amorous normals."
Cher'ee looked startled as she tried to imagine the way a man of steel with a Velorian's endowment must excite a normal woman. He'd dazzle them with his size and pheromones as he brought them wicked pleasures that no other man could. Still, it seemed so inappropriate, showing off his genetic superiority that way. She'd read about Velorian men, often as not B-class, the weakest of all Velorians, who used their unique abilities this way. It was considered highly improper -- and very dangerous. The heated rush of a Velorian male's orgasm could take a normal woman's head off. He must be using gold to restrain himself, she thought, or he was very disciplined. A gigolo in any case. Which made her further wonder why Naomi had mentioned it so casually.
"He really needs to get to know what Velorian girls are all about," Naomi continued. "But there are very few girls his age here, and none seemingly to his liking. He prefers older women, although none of the Velorian women will as much as talk to him now."
"So he's decided to become a man-god among the locals," Cher'ee mused. She looked pointedly at Naomi. "I'd have guessed that the Lady Ambassador would be discreet and somewhat guarded about such a family secret."
Naomi frowned. "First of all, you're a Protector. Plus it's no secret here. Everyone knows. Between Nikki's wild behavior and James's amorous pursuits, I am at risk of being recalled to Velor. It's been said that if I can't control my own children, how can I influence a government to work closely with Velor?"
"I was a teacher before I took this job, Cher'ee. Politics isn't my true profession." She reached out to grip Cher'ee's hand. "And it is so nice to talk, girl to girl, with someone new from Velor. We get so few visitors here."
"So you are concerned about getting your son properly introduced to the wonders of Velor?" Cher'ee asked daringly. "To divert him away from the Frails." She deliberately used the pejorative term for ordinary humans.
"Do you read minds too?" Naomi laughed nervously.
"I just presumed you were hoping I'd volunteer for the job?" Che'ree giggled, holding her hand tighter.
"I was that obvious, huh? You must think I'm terrible?"
"No. Just practical. Like me. We Protectors are supposed to be objective problem solvers. Your son has a problem. One I might be able to solve. We Protectors have no limits."
"Now who's playing up stereotypes? That's the biggest bunch of bull I've ever heard. No limits? Objective?"
Cher'ee laughed. "Well, to be truthful, sexual therapy isn't high on my list of talents, I'm afraid. Not at my age."
"Then forget I mentioned it."
"On the contrary, consider it done, Lady Ambassador." Cher'ee winked at the older woman. "I'll do my best to convince him that some activities are better performed without gold."
"You know, I think I like you, Cher'ee. It's been a while since I could let my hair down this way, girl to girl."
"And I haven't spent much time around grown women, Naomi. My Great-Grandpa raised me, and I've been hanging with the other P1 girls for the last two years. So it's refreshing to talk to a femme who doesn't break into giggles every third sentence."
"A femme? Do you know what that means on Velor?"
"I was using the word more generically."
"So you aren't?"
"Of course not. That implies exclusivity." She looked meaningfully at Naomi. "Like most Protectors, I like to keep my options open." The words sounded strange coming from her mouth. Other than the men at her Rites, her only partner had been her boyfriend Jaz'la. Which made her almost chaste by Velorian standards.
"Then we really do have to get James back here."
Cher'ee laughed again as she held Naomi's hand Velorian tight. Her Great-Grandpa's fate was momentarily forgotten as she pushed the espresso machine button again. Anyone who had this good of an espresso machine could win a place in her heart.