Delphic Obstacles

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

A sequel to “Blind Justice” and “Moment of Truth”

There could be a place for him here, she’d said. He could get rich here, she’d said. He could even get laid here, she’d said. 

But as his shuttle came in for a landing, Durgin didn’t think it looked like much of a place to find a place. He could see why it had been only a penal colony back in the day – no ordinary humans would have volunteered to spend their lives on such a bleak world, rather than Reigel Five. 

Only Delphi had valuable resources, even xintanite, key component of Vendorian steel – though you had to dig really deep to find it. That had made it well worth keeping the mining operations going here since the change of government on the Reigellian homeworld. 

That in itself didn’t matter to Peter. The only reason he had for making such a long journey was to lose himself… or perhaps find himself.

Naomi Kim’Vallara, the Velorian ambassador on Bering’s World, had told him the mining combines would have a need for men like him, to do the deep drilling, set the Xcelite charges, then do the heavy work of uploading the ore freed by the charges. He’d have to pay a visit to the Delphi labor office first thing after he landed at what passed for a capital – called, without any imagination, Zuerstadt. They wouldn’t ask any personal questions there; they’d only want to know if he could do the job.

Nobody had to know who he was or where he came from. Delphi was a haven for undocumented immigrants. He could leave his true name and fame – if you could call it that – behind him when he stepped off the shuttle. He’d had his ID chip scanned by the Scalantrans when he set out from Bering’s World, but when he transferred from their ship to an insystemer in Reigel Five orbit, he’d tossed the chip in the trash incinerator. 


Kelsor 7 didn’t care if you were native born or an immigrant, nor where you or your ancestors came from, as long as you were true to Kelsorian ideals and your fellow Kelsorians – but they kept careful records just the same. Everybody got along… well, nearly everybody. On Reigel Five just a few years ago, by contrast, there’d been a civil war over ethnic and cultural identities. Peace and reconciliation had been declared, just as they had more recently on Rostran, but…

Rostran. He didn’t want to think about that, and he certainly wasn’t going to talk about it with anybody here. Yet that was still a part of who he was and, more importantly, had made for what he was. On Delphi, however, they’d only care what he was – and they wouldn’t even ask how he came to be a superhuman. 

It was never supposed to have happened; it had been necessary only to save his life after he’d been wounded in a raid on Rostran to save Alisa Liddell (daughter of Naomi; a troublesome coincidence there), the expatriate Velorian with whom he’d had an affair on an earlier mission but who’d broken up with him when tried to take it too far – to get her to actually marry him.

As it turned out, Alisa hadn’t really needed saving on Rostran, but when he awoke after enhancement, he thought he had been blessed – that she would return to his bed. Only, she had rejected him again. And then had come his disastrous decision to visit the Lost City in Cygnias 275, which had led to the near death of her new lover Andre – and to an inquiry that ended up costing him his career in the Survey Service and earning him the enmity of his crew for trying to blame it on Alisa herself. He and the rest had all been enjoined not to talk about what happened on Rostran or at the Lost City – the Secretariat had been scared shitless about what its inquiry had learned.

That put Peter Durgin in a real bind. He couldn’t hide his enhancement, but he couldn’t explain it, either. He had been in his mid-forties with two grown children when he’d set out as captain of the Anders Flame on that fateful expedition. He had returned young and vigorous, super-strong and invulnerable. He couldn’t talk about that, couldn’t have gone back to his ex-wife and their children, even if they’d wanted him; couldn’t find a decent job, couldn’t even find a woman who could survive sex with a man of steel…

That last, at least, could change on Delphi. But there were no guarantees. Mikaela Tristany, pilot of the insystemer’s shuttle, told him that most of the expatriate supremis employed here were men. Their employers were the owners of the mining combines; they came from Reigel Five itself. A lot of other Reigellian, including former prisoners were working for the combines because the pay was good. Their working conditions were a lot better than the prisoners had had to endure before – no certain death from working hands-on with Xcelite. On the other hand, the ex-prisoners were no longer wired for pleasure, and it was still a rough life for them and the other Reigellian hands.

“They all still want to get back home,” Tristany said. 

That wasn’t far, since Delphi was next closest in from Reigel Five. Why it had an actual name, rather than being called Reigel Four, was a historical curiosity; the story was that rival ethnic groups planted on the home planet by the Seeders had never been able to agree on what to call it. Nobody had ever set foot on Delphi until Reigel Five developed its own space travel, and it was the captain of the first ship to land there who had done the honors… It might have been the same with Reigel Three, but that planet was far too hot, even compared to Delphi, to attract settlers – and, unlike Delphi, lacked any resource s of interest to the home planet.

“The thing is, they do need people like you, for the really dangerous jobs,” the pilot was going on. “But it takes time for word to get around the starways, so there’s only a few hundred here now. I guess you won’t have any trouble finding a place with one of the combines. Finding company? Well, you’ll just have to trust to luck.”

Durgin hadn’t had to tell her he was in need of company; that was a given. Just how much luck could he trust to?  Perhaps she saw the look on his face.

“Anyway, the pay for your kind is fantastic,” she said. “Especially if you make a big strike.”

* * *

He was greeted at the terminal by a bored-looking customs official.

“Name?” she asked.

ìDavid Carldon,î Durgin answered. The name had come to him in a dream, on the way here aboard the Intrepid Wayfarer. He had a vague recollection of some distant and useless planet called Carldon.



A lie, but then so was his name.

"Planet of origin?"

"Bering's World."

Sort of the truth...

ìTerran or supremis?î


It was a routine question, which she would have asked even if she could tell for sure by just looking at him. He wasn't sure if she could; he'd been trying to look and act normal. But if he wanted a top mining job here, he had to come out, so to speak.

The official didn't show any sign of what she thought of him. She fiddled with her printer and out came a new ID chip. It was as simple as that. When he didn’t turn about and leave immediately, she looked at him curiously. So he spoke up about what he’d assumed she would have guessed.

“Where do I find the labor office?” 

“Don’t you want to find a place to stay first? A lot of business people are coming here. We’re running short.”

“I imagine I’ll be living at one of the mining camps.”

“But until you get a place there…”

“I suppose you’re right,” Durgin… well, Carldon … conceded.

She gave him directions to both the places he needed to go, and wished him good luck.

* * *

It was hardly more than a cubbyhole. Nothing like what visiting magnates could afford. But the new Carldon’s needs were modest; he wasn’t about to lay out credits for a fancy hotel. A room in what had once been a barracks for prison guards would do. 

He put down his few belongings, took a quick shower and changed clothes – couldn’t hurt to look presentable – then headed for the labor office, where he met with an official named Brian Wilson. 

He was in luck; Wilson consulted his database and... 

“Begglestrom’s looking for a man of your… capabilities. He staked a claim just a year ago, but finding help has been a problem. Older combines have already taken most of the supremis who’ve made it here.”

“Fine. When do I start?”

“His camp’s 500-odd clicks away. It’ll take a while to arrange transport... unless you feel like walking. From your looks, I’m assuming you can’t fly.”

“You assume correctly. But can’t I catch a flitter?”

“They’re only for official business – police and other government agencies. But I doubt you could afford the fare even if things were otherwise.”

“Why aren’t things otherwise?”

“Inertia. From the penal colony days. Plus budget problems. They don’t have that many flitters here to begin with, and can’t count on getting more – or even replacement parts for those that break down.”

“You learn something every day.”

Wilson was staring at him rather strangely.

“You don’t look like other Betans I’ve seen.”

“Like I said, you learn something every day.”

“Well, speaking of learning, the wait will give you time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with mining technology you’ll be working with.”

“I read about it on the Wayfarer.”

“Reading up isn’t the same as getting practical experience. Whatever you did for a living before you came here, you didn’t learn it just from data chips.”

For a moment, Durgin thought of his old self, remembering how long it had taken him to qualify as a pilot, and later as a captain. He’d done well for himself until… and managed to keep enough in the bank, even after the lean years that followed, to pay his way to Delphi. And as Tristany had said, the pay here was fantastic. 

“I’m hearing you,” he said when he came back to his new self.

“There are working operations closer by. I can call around and see if any of them want to put on a temp.”

* * *

Durgin got a call a few hours later back at his room. 

“Karl Zadek’s willing to take you on,” Wilson told him. “He’s got a big spread that starts just 10 clicks out of town. One of the richest.”

“Lucky for him.”

“Lucky he’s related to the president. Me, I’m only a distant cousin to the acting governor here – and he got his job just to get him out of the way. 

Wilson had to explain about Karl’s first cousin Siemsen Vozeh and the new order back on Reigel Five.

“The Reformasi took over a lot of mines from supporters of the old regime, then parceled them out to their own people. But because it’s an old operation, Karl has to scan really deep and blast really deep. It’ll be an education for you, that’s for sure.”

Not the kind of education I want, but the kind I’m going to need, if I’m ever going to raise a stake and get the hell out of here. 

But he kept his silence about that. He couldn’t afford to come off as knowing or wanting anything that wasn’t part of his Carldon persona.

“He has expatriate Velorians working for him. Velor has been backing the new order, at least that’s their official stance. Velorians are… better qualified than Aureans. The kind of Aureans who come here, anyway,”

Wilson paused a moment.

“You’re a Betan, of course?”


“And might I ask what brings you here?”

“It’s a long story. And I wouldn’t tell you, even if it were short. But I’m here for the money.”

“All right, all right!”

So he got directions and headed for the Zadek mining camp on his own two feet.

* * *

 Karl Zadek was middle-aged, but apparently in good health. He had a wife, who was also middle-aged, and three children – all but the youngest, Stefan, grown and back on the home planet pursuing new careers. There were machinists and machine operators, Xcelite specialists and office staff. And there were the… special people.

“You know if you’ll be working with Velorians?” Karl asked. “Like the ones I have here?”

“All I know is that I’ll be working for a man named Begglestrom.”

Karl gave him a curious look.


“Way the hell out. I’ll have to hitch a ride. They’ll call me.”

“You should find out if they’ve got Vels. They’re harder to come by than Aureans like you.”

Durgin wasn’t about to enlighten Karl about his true origins.

“What difference does it make?”

“If they don’t have at least one Velorian, and better more than one, you’ll have to take all the burden, and all the risks. You’ll have to know how to place the charges, and set them off safely. You’ll also have to know how to operate the deep imaging probe –you don’t have their special vision to spot the lodes, and even the Velorians here have to learn how to focus on depth.”

The lodes. You couldn’t find them just anywhere, and never on the surface. It all had to do with the geological history of the planet. Eons ago, it had been bombarded by a swarm of meteors rich in high-grade ores, but what was left of them was buried deep in the desert sands, and wind erosion had erased any trace of craters.

There was nothing around here but desert. If it weren’t for forested areas near the poles, there wouldn’t be enough oxygen to breath. The forests were off limits to mining claims – but chances were there was nothing to find there anyway.

So Durgin learned to use the probe – how to program the subsonics for different depths, how to read and interpret the images that came up on the screen. He got to know a bit about Karl along the way.

“I came out here after the war, when things were settling down back home. I was with the Reformasi, and they’d come out on top. But Cousin Siemsen – he’s the president now – came out on top himself only because just about all the other people he’d worked with under Bergstrom had been murdered. The best you can say for him is that he was smart enough to appeal to the other factions. He’s gotten them to cooperate, but only because they were too exhausted and too afraid to keep on fighting.”

He saw the expression on Durgin’s face.

“Not that I’m complaining, really. A rising tide lifted my boat, along with a lot of others. Not that you’ll ever see a boat on this world.”

“So what are you doing out here?”

“I wanted to get away from all the political shit. And also do something for the homeworld, believe it or not. The ore we mine and refine here goes into reconstruction projects, and to building more insystem ships that we can market elsewhere; they’re our most lucrative export. See, during the war, Bergstrom’s people wanted high-grade steel just for killing machines to wipe out the rebels, but the rebels somehow got hold of them and… it was a nightmare.”

“I can imagine,” Durgin said. 

“It was a hell of a lot worse for the prisoners here; they were worked practically around the clock, and nobody cared how soon they got killed, because Bergstrom could always send more. Had his brother Erik in charge, and Erik would show up in his fancy yacht to see how things were going. I got an earful about him from ex-prisoners when I arrived – one managed to steal the bastard’s yacht, along with his son and some other big shots. They all ended up dead. Vozeh put a lid on the story; anyway, there was never any official account.”

“So you’re here to make amends?”

“I’m here to get rich. Which I have. One of these days, if the peace holds up back home, I may buy a palatial estate there and retire. But… until then, I’ll be here with Luna and maybe Stefan. And the Velorians. I might even turn the mine over to them when I’m through with it.”

“Will Reigel Five really approve of that?”

“Hey, we’ve had immigrants before – good citizens now, they and their progeny. They can have progeny, you know. The Vels, I mean.”

 Karl paused for a moment.

“Speaking of your own kind, you ever work with Xcelite before?”

“Never been into mining or anything like that.”

“Well you’re going to need to know how to handle it. How to place it deep down, where it will melt the ore into a huge puddle in a huger cavern, all ready for you and the rest to bring up – and the owner to ship out.”

The first time Carldon tried to plant a small test charge, he managed to set the thing off prematurely, In just a second, he was engulfed by the inferno – hot enough to melt ore.  

It didn’t melt him, but it left him totally naked as well as totally unharmed. And totally embarrassed, when he made his way back to where Karl had been waiting at a safe distance in his rig. Karl got an eyeful, and he also got the picture.

“You’ve been keeping a secret,” he said. “You’re a Prime. A Betan could have lived through that, but not without some damage. Aureans here learn to be careful.” 

“Does it make a difference to you?”

It didn’t help that Karl made a crude joke of it.

“Not to me. But I reckon any female Prime cousins of yours would be impressed. Even Velorian women. Now you’ll have a place to stick your dick. Just like back on your home planet.”

It wasn’t a bit funny to a man who didn’t have anything but his hand to pleasure himself. He already knew that the four Velorians working for Karl were two couples – Arnas and Rhea, and Valdor and Jena. He saw them around the camp now and then, but they were usually off doing the hard work of finding and accessing deep lodes. In any case, he had deliberately avoided their company, fearful they’d notice of his aching cock – and also fearful of how they’d feel about him on general principles, as an Aurean, even if they took him as a defector from the Empire. 

Still, he reminded himself afterwards that he already had an advantage over Karl, who sweated heavily whenever he was out in the open instead of in his comfortably refrigerated camp quarters: Durgin couldn’t even feel the blistering heat of the desert.

In the days that followed, he mastered working with Xcelite, just as he had with deep image probing. And there was a lot else to learn, like recognizing kinds and grades of ore by sight from the images. But he learned. And not just about mining technology and know-how; Karl had done some checking and found that Begglestrom had an Aurean on his crew – a woman.

Durgin let that pass, but then he wasn’t about to get his hopes up in any case; the woman was doubtless a Betan, and he he’d be at least a bit too much for her… 

Over the next few weeks, he worked and moped and moped and worked. 

And then word came that a transport had arrived to take him to the Begglestrom camp. It was what he’d been waiting for. And there was even a going-away present – the kind he’d been secretly hoping for.

“I know it’s been hard for you,” Karl said. “But I talked it over with the Vels, and Jena agreed. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble making it hard for her.”

Carldon winced at the play on words, but his cock began to stir.

Misinterpreting his expression, Karl was quick to put his mind at rest.

“Valdor’s all right with it too. You don’t know it, but he and the other Velorians here really appreciate how hard you’ve been working, without any help from them – that was my decision, but they agreed with it. I didn’t want you to feel intimidated; I could see that you didn’t want to be reminded that you weren’t one of them, and weren’t free to make free with the women.” 

He paused for a moment.

“But now you’ll get to make free with Jena, and she with you. Nothing held back. Only…” 

“Only what?”

“Only, I’ll be jealous as hell.”

* * *

Jena was a living goddess, like any Velorian woman. Durgin feasted his eyes on her naked body, especially her magnificent breasts. He took in the heady fragrance of her pheromones. 

She in turn took his measure, scanning up and down his body. But then her face took an odd expression, as if something were bothering her.

 “You’re not really an Aurean are you?”

“I changed my name when I came here. A lot of immigrants do, and not only the Aureans – or even some of the Velorians, from what I’ve heard.”

“I know an Aurean when I see one. And there are other indications, subtle but telling... in case you didn’t know.”

He remembered others telling him he looked odd for an Aurean. People who must have seen enough Aureans to notice.

“Nobody’s supposed to know, here or anywhere. Enhancement obviously has its advantages, but in my case it’s had its drawbacks.”

“That’s hard to imagine.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” 

“Well, then, let’s just take advantage of each other. Get those pants off!”

Within moments, she was humping him, but making an odd chant as she did so.

“One, and two, and three – release!”

As she shouted that last word, Durgin exploded inside her, and from the way her inner muscles spasmed against him he could tell she’d come too. Before he could think of anything to say, she forestalled him.

“Don’t worry, I’m not through with you yet. Nowhere near. But I didn’t want you to feel bad if you couldn’t hold it after going so long without. Even if you weren’t still a virgin at this, which I assume you can’t be if one of us went to the trouble of turning you into a super stud, it must have been hell not having anyone since – whatever it was that brought you from there to here.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Durgin said.

“I don’t want you to talk about it, either – not now, anyway. I just want you.

Durgin plunged into her and soon found himself coming again and again as he and she screamed with shared pleasure. He forgot all his troubles, he even forgot Alisa – all he could think about was the eruptions of pure pleasure, a pleasure that became his whole being. And to know that she was feeling the same utter joy…

Free, free, free! 

That was the refrain that echoed in his consciousness, as he lost himself in the transports of their mutual passion. And it was sheer bliss when they turned to other forms of sex with their hands and mouths. Eventually, they had come enough times to relax, lying together in the afterglow. It was if he had been reborn, as if he truly felt his new self for the first time since...

Only, all good things must come to an end. He had known that from the start, but had been able to put it out of his mind. But as he came down from his high, his anxieties returned. And, without meaning to, Jena actually added to them.

“I hope working for Jonah isn’t going to get you into trouble,” she said. “I can understand about him, but a lot of people here can’t.”



“Understand what?”

“Didn’t Karl tell you?”

“Tell me what?” 

“Jonah’s the son of Randik Begglestrom, the man who kidnapped and murdered President Bergstrom’s nephew, along with several hostages – members of parliament, no less – back before the revolution on Reigel Five. He could be in danger from friends and relations out for revenge. There’s a reason he located his claim so far off, aside from the fact that it’s a new place to look for lodes, after some of those closer in have played out. That Aurean he hired might be there to help protect him as well as work his mine – he has Vels as his primary defense.”

Durgin was devastated

“No, Karl didn’t tell me,” he said. “He didn’t seem to know anything about the man.”

“I’m sorry,” Jena said. She looked genuinely distressed,

Was Karl trying to spare me, or only manipulate me? Durgin wondered. Perhaps it didn’t matter – he couldn’t back out of the deal now. 

“It’s all right,” he told Jena. 

He forced himself to say that.

“You’ve given me a good send-off, so to speak,” he added.

And he smiled at her. That wasn’t forced.

* * *

It was a long and boring journey. There wasn’t anything to see from the tractor but sand and rock. And more sand and rock.

The people at the labor office given him enough food and water for the journey; ordinary Aureans did need that for sustenance as opposed to mere enjoyment – and they still assumed he was a Betan, whose needs happened to be like his by coincidence. It was different with Velorians, who could metabolize orgone energy, even if they too could enjoy human things for their own sake.

The trip gave him a lot of time to think, but his thoughts just went around in an endless circle. He thought about Alisa and the others on the Anders Flame. He thought about Rostran. He thought about his lost career as a captain for the Survey Service, out to make great discoveries. He thought about his former wife and their children who didn’t want any more to do with him than his former comrades in the Service. But he also thought about getting caught up as a pawn in the tangled politics of Delphi, and even Reigel Five itself – would he have to be Begglestrom’s guardian as well as his mining engineer?

What were his chances? He might help Begglestrom find a new lode, maybe even xintanite for Vendorian steel if he got lucky. But could he ever use whatever fortune he might make here to set himself up elsewhere, marry and start another family, assuming he could find a Supremis woman? Or would Delphi turn out to be a dead end?

He was still wondering when the tractor approached a natural bridge that led to the Begglestrom camp. It might be a sign that the driver didn’t even approach the camp, but simply dropped Durgin off and continued on his way.

* * *

The Begglestrom compound turned out to be more impressive than he’d expected – a number of buildings scattered over several acres. One looked to be a mansion; that must be where Karl had told him Jonah lived with his wife Leica and two small children. There were a number of outbuildings; some appeared to be residences for employees, others workplaces.

A lot to build in just a year, he thought.

There was a man standing near the mansion, dressed in work clothes that looked ragged and needed a good wash – couldn’t be Jonah himself, unless he was a real hands-on type.

“Enrik Nigurny,” he introduced himself. “I’m in charge of the foundry, but they don’t need me there right now, so Jonah picked me to welcome you… and brief you.”

David didn’t know about Leica being chief engineer, but he supposed he’d find out soon enough, so he changed the subject.

“Im surprised he didn’t send security.”

“Most of them are out at the dig – just as you’re going to be. We couldn’t handle the mining without them, and we need all we can get to go deeper. You’ve proved that you’re up to the job, and Jonah’s looking for a mother lode – one that’s going to make a fortune for him and his family.”

“He looks as if he’s doing pretty well already,” David remarked, looking around at what must be homes for the employees – there was nothing cheap or makeshift about them.”

“Somebody on Reigel Five staked him to all this. He won’t talk about that. I don’t think he even knows who the stake comes from. It’s not as if the new government has any reason to think it owes him anything. Quite the contrary. But like I said, he won’t talk about that – or anything to do with his father back then. I think he wants to make up for it somehow, but that’s none of your business. Your business is going to be strictly business. Understand?”

“I understand.”

With that, Enrik led him to the front entrance of the mansion and rang the bell. A doorbell? David thought that was quaint.

But there was nothing at all quaint about the man who answered the door. He was youngish, well groomed, and dressed casually, but fashionably. 

“Jonah Begglestrom,” he said, extending his hand. “Come on in!”

Leica was there behind him, a gorgeous redhead who could have been a model, but who David already knew was part of the operation. She too was dressed casually, but also wore an eyecomp – she must have just been working on something to do with her job.

David came on in, and no more was seen of Enrik… maybe he’d gone back to the foundry.

“Meet my right-hand woman,” Jonah said.

“He’s my right-hand man,” Leica added. “Together, we’re getting things right.”

A real power couple in the making, thought, David who also observed that their furnishings were elegant yet functional – tables and chairs were hung from the ceiling, and there was a cleaning robot in a corner. 

Leica noted his interest.

“We don’t waste any time with housework here,” she said.

“Or anything that doesn’t have to do with our real work,” added Jonah “Except for Stina and Anders, of course.”

“The children,” Leica put in. “They’re napping now.”

Anders? For a moment it had him thinking of himself as Durgin again. It had to be just a coincidence, and nor something David could bring up. 

If the look on his face had threatened to betray him, Jonah didn’t take any notice.

“We may have trouble finding them playmates when they’re older,” he said. “Karl must have told you why we rarely have visitors, and few contacts with other families in on Delphi.”

“He didn’t want me to bring that up.”

“I get the impression that you too have a past you’d rather put behind you. You’ve come to the right place for that. Once we reach the really deep lodes, Leica and I and the children will have a chance to move on – and so will you.”

“Only you seem to have some idea where you’ll want to go,” David said. “I can’t say the same for myself.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 “Not really. Jena must have told Karl about me, if he didn’t already know. Did he tell you?”

ìAbout your enhancement? It’s rare thing even for women, and more troublesome for men thanÖ when it comes to relationships.î

So Jonah knew the score there – Velorian-born and enhanced with could have safe sex with ordinary men, as long as they wore gold to weaken them. But the invulnerable sperm of Velorians and enhanced menÖ

ìI’d rather not talk about it,î David said. ìI’m sure there are things you’d rather not talk about.î

Only, for a few moments, Jonah did.

ìI never really knew my father,î he said. ìJust that I was a hard luck boy. Years later, I learned I had a hard luck name. Something to do with a character in the Bible who was swallowed by some sort of huge fish and then vomited out. His name became something of a curse.î

ìNo fish here, small or huge,î David remarked, in an attempt to make light of what he knew of the story from Karl.

ìBut we have what we need. And we have what you need. Well, one of the things you need. Our Vels are paired off, but it happens that we have an Aurean. A very special Aurean. Enrik can take you to see her at the mating house. You'll make good partners, I trust, and not just in work. She'll tell you more."

* * *

“You can call me Jewel,” she said. “It’s as real a name as David.”

“Certainly not Aurean.”

“You wouldn’t recognize the one I was born with. But an Imperial agent might. It’s a good idea not to attract attention. I presume you don’t want to attract any, either, from what Karl passed on.”

“I’m not going to talk about that. Karl could tell I wasn’t Aurean myself, but he didn’t press me any further. Care to tell me what brought you here, since you don’t mind me knowing you’re from the Empire?”

“I’m a deserter from the Special Forces.”

“Would I recognize the uniform, if you still had it on?”

“Actually, I’m wearing all I ever had to – my insignia of unit and rank.”

David had noticed the tattoos, but hadn’t given them any particular thought – he assumed they were just an affectation, and was too busy staring at her body, especially her breasts.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that before.”

“It was an elite unit. Very elite.”

“But… what about body armor?” 

“I’ve never needed that, either. Not since I was enhanced. I’m as invulnerable as a Velorian. As invulnerable as… you.”

“The Empire has gotten into enhancement too?”

“Recently. To compete with Velor. To produce a new kind of weapon against Velorians. Living weapons to seek out those in strategic places and/or sensitive positions who may be unhappy with their lot or their relationships, using bodies designed to tempt the weakest-minded among them to betray the Enlightenment. Of course, I myself had to convince Aurea of my dedication to the cause – choose a unit and study hard to qualify; the insignia came before the… process. It was like that for the rest of the unit – and a way up in the world for the rest. But for me, it was a way out – I could never have gotten away if I’d still been a Betan.”

Jewel smiled at him, and there wasn’t any doubt what was on her mind,

“But that doesn’t matter here. What does – quite apart from the obvious fact that we can both work the lodes safely, which is what we owe Jonah and will redound to our profit as well as his  – is that we’re made for each other. Your cock is made for my cunt, and my cunt is made for your cock.”

They looked at each other. And looked. And looked. She showed off her muscles, very much like his own.


David could tell that she was aroused. He was already hard.

“What with the Vels here paired off, I’ve had to make do with ingots,” she teased him. “But ingots can melt. Your cock won’t melt, will it?”

“I guess not,” David said, practically blushing.

“Jena told us how she broke you in. She said you’ve got what it takes.”

“Is nothing sacred?”

“Nothing but our bodies, and what we can do with them. And it’s all going to be just between us. The mating house is soundproof and—”

Only, before she could get out another word, there came a loud sound of klaxons, and Jewel froze.

It’s an attack!” she shouted. There isn’t a moment to lose!”

She rushed for the massive door, smashing right through it, and David followed.

* * *

David and Jewel looked in every direction, but didn’t see any signs of the attack.

At first… 

But then Jewel cast her eyes to the skies.

“Look!” she shouted.

The Velorians had taken to the air, and were heading to intercept what seemed to be a flight drones heading for the foundry. Supermen and superwomen had to dart back and forth to catch them all. They exploded on contact, some so close to one another that it was like a chain reaction. 

“They know their business,” Jewel said. “They’re trained for this. If only I could fly... 

“No flight, no fight,” David agreed. “But we’ll still have work, at least – more ore for the foundry.”

But they heard the sound of a motor – a ground car approaching. Was it just some of the foundry workers returning from a break, or a routine delivery, or…

Two men jumped out of the car. Both were armed with automatic weapons.

“You’re about to live up to your name, Jonah,” one of them said.

“He means you’re about to die for it,” the other added.

David had only a second to wonder how they could have managed to mistake him for the owner. And then they opened up.

He felt a hail of bullets all over his body; some even hit his face; as if by instinct, he closed his eyes. But others impacted between his legs, he felt them knock his cock back and forth and… it felt… good. Then he heard Jewel crying out – not in pain but in pleasure, as the slugs brought her to orgasm. Moments later, there were indeed cries of pain – but from the gunmen, hit by some of the scores of bullets that had ricocheted from their invulnerable bodies.

Of a sudden, their firing ceased, and their weapons fell from their hands, David could see the blood gushing from their wounds as they collapsed onto the ground; they looked to be dead or at least fatally wounded. He looked at Jewel – she was peppered all over with smudges left by the bullets, but she wasn’t paying any attention to that; she was dripping between the legs, and moaning with desire. 

It was only then that he that realized he himself had come…

Enrik found them a few minutes later. He quickly took in the situation, including the dead bodies.

“It was either a diversion or a two-pronged attack,” he said, after David and Jewel curtly filled him in on the details. “Looks as if we owe you. Though it would have helped if you could have kept them alive for questioning.”

Enrik must have been really embarrassed, or he wouldn’t have raised that point; he couldn’t help noticing that David was still aroused – as if the shreds of his clothing could have hidden anything.

David himself was just as embarrassed, but gestured toward the abandoned car.

“Yes, we’d better check that out,” Enrik said, finding a way out of the situation. “You two had better go back inside and… freshen up.”

David and Jewel headed for the mating house. It wasn’t soundproof any more, but they didn’t care – and nobody else was going to mind. Enrik was sure to spread the word that they had saved Jonan and his family. And Jonah would doubtless be summoning the authorities to deal with what was left of the attackers, find out who they were and where they came from…

 “Would you believe I was a virgin at this?” Jewel asked, after they’d had at each other.

“You’ve can’t be serious,” David said, as he stroked her breasts and kissed her.

“It’s true. You’re the first man I’ve had because I really wanted him. On Aurea, it was all part of an agenda – in service to my escape plan.”

“Right, you never enjoyed it!”

“Of course I enjoyed it, she said. “Down here.”

She stroked her cunt with her right hand.

“But not up here,” she went on, touching her head. “Not entirely. But with you, it’s all come together.”

“And with me,” David confessed. “To know that you wanted me for myself. That you weren’t just a perk or an incentive – like with… that Velorian at Karl’s. I’m still not sure what his agenda was… or is.”

He hesitated for a moment.

“Not that I didn’t love it with Jena,” he admitted. “And she loved it. But it wasn’t as if she loved me. She just made me forget my… previous disappointments.”

“Just as you’ve made up for those ingots I had to settle for before they sent you here. God, how I wanted a living cock… a loving cock!’

“God how I wanted… a woman who wanted me. Really wanted me.”

“I’m hungry again,” Jewel said. “Really hungry. And I’m sure you must taste as good as you look.”

Of a sudden, he knew what he had to do next.

“My name is Peter,” he said softly. “Peter Durgin.” 

“Sirren,” she whispered. “My name is Sirren. Only, nobody else can know.”

“I understand.”

She and he knew the understanding was mutual. And she was eager to speak both their names, as well as take pleasure with him again.

“Would you like to try your Sirren’s tasty body again, Peter?”

* * *

By the time Peter and Sirren were through, the police had arrived by flitter, and wanted to know what they knew.

Which was nothing.

“We have you down as David Carldon,” said the lead cop, Jerry Brisco. “Either of those deaders look familiar?”

“Never saw them before,” Peter answered. “But I’m new on Delphi. Just in from Bering’s World. I’m just getting to know Jonah and the rest here.”

“What about you… Jewel, is it?” asked Brisco.

“I’m a recent arrival myself,” Sirren said. “Half a year ago, from Corrididor. Lot of ex-pats there, but I heard I could find better chances here.”

Enrik had had the presence of mind to bring Peter and Sirren changes of clothing when he got together with them at the mating house to tell them that their presence was required outside, but even a modest work outfit left little to the imagination stretched tightly on Sirren.

“I guess it’s lucky you’re both Aureans,” he said, in a vain attempt to overcome his embarrassment. His gaze was centered on her breasts, though it was hardly relevant to the investigation whether the bullets that killed the attackers had ricocheted from there, or from her abs… or from her companion. 

“Right,” Peter and Sirren chorused, as if on cue.

Two other cops were over by the crime scene, taking pictures of the bullet-riddled bodies and recording their comments. Then a second flitter arrived, large enough to carry the bodies to Zuerstadt. 

“Shouldn’t have any trouble identifying them there,” Brisco said. “We’ll keep you posted. I assume the Velorians here will keep watch – they can protect you better than we could.”

“You assume correctly,” Enrik said, “But you can rest assured that Jonah and his family, and our workers, appreciate your efforts.”

* * *

They were the heroes of the hour, even to the Velorians. Jonah and Leica both embraced them.

“I don’t know how we can possibly reward you,” Jonah said.

Leica giggled.

“From the sound of things, I’d say they’ve rewarded themselves.”

Jonah blushed.

“Good thing the kids aren’t old enough to understand what the shouting there was all about. But we’ll have to fix the door and the soundproofing.”

“Seriously speaking, you may need to update security,” said Sirren, looking into the late afternoon sky, where the setting sun brought out the colors of the dusty clouds. It was beautiful as well as bleak. But the Aurean Prime couldn’t let herself be distracted by that. The emptiness around the Begglestrom compound was vast.

 “Another deadly attack could come from any direction,” she reminded Jonah, as if he didn’t know.

“We have Shyla and Lavral back on patrol right now,” Jonah said –“just out of sight for the moment.”

Then his face took a grim look.

“If we can find out where the attackers came from, we’ll have to deal with them,” he said. “I won’t leave it up to the authorities. There’s too much at stake.”

He paused for a moment.

“But that’s just between us here,” he reminded the Peter and Sirren. “Officially, we’re cooperating with the police. But as a practical matter, any action we take will also have to be left to the Vels – wherever our enemies may lurk, they can fly there, take them out, and be back in a hurry. But you Aureans are just as important. The sooner we can get off this planet the better, and that depends on—”

“Finding a mother lode,” Sirren finished.

“And you two will be rewarded for that,” Leica broke in. “Xintanite can make us all rich, and with the Vels now otherwise occupied, you’re the only ones who can make it happen. For Jonah and me, and our children. We can introduce them to you now; they’re too excited to go back to napping – even if they don’t have any idea what the excitement was about.”

Four-year old Stina and two-year old Anders were in their playroom, absorbed in a children’s show about some distant world on their vid.

“Even Stina’s too young to really understand it, but she thinks it’s pretty,” Leica whispered to Peter and Sirren. “And it’s visual stimulation for both of them. Not that the world outside seems as boring to them as it does to us – but it’s nothing like home....”

In her normal voice, she called out to them.

“Stina! Anders! We have a new man here. His name is David.”

Peter winced inwardly at that, and the mention of Anders.”

The children looked up from the vid. Anders spoke first.

“I see Dayvd,” he said. Then, “Want food.”

“Din din later,” Leica said. Anders seemed disappointed.

“David’s a really big man,” Stina remarked. “Did he come here today?”

“He came this morning.”

“Can he fly?”

“No. He’s like Jewel. Really strong, He’ll be working with her in our mine.”

“Digging deep holes?”

Very deep.”

“Can I watch?”

“Not when they use the boom-booms.” 

After a few minutes, Leica decided it was time for them to do something more active than watching vids; she set Stina to playing with lettered blocks to spell out simple words, and Anders to kicking small balls to improve his coordination.”

“Will you be returning home?” Peter asked Leica outside.

It was Jonah who answered.

“Reigel Five can’t ever be home again to us,” he said. “I have enemies there, just as you’ve seen I have them here. My mother still lives there, under an assumed name, but she’ll come with us – wherever we end up.”

“But I’ll miss my own family…” Leica lamented.

“I know. But it can’t be helped.” He looked towards Peter and Sirren, then back to his wife. “We really shouldn’t be discussing this here and now.”

“We don’t mean to intrude,” Sirren said. “We know as much as we need to know. Anything beyond that is none of our concern.”

Peter nodded in agreement.

There was nothing more to say, but even if there had been, a sudden interruption by Enrik would have put a stop to it.

“I’ve just heard from Brisco,” he said, pocketing his com. “Those drones were stolen from a police warehouse. No surprise there; only the police are supposed to have them. But are we dealing with a criminal group, or rogue cops? Now Governor Wilson is talking about taking personal charge of the investigation.” 

Peter did a double take on hearing the governor’s name, remembering about how William Wilson’s cousin Brian at the labor office had recommended him for the job here. 

“It’s good to know they’re taking this seriously,” he remarked.

“Not necessarily a good thing. He was defense minister under the old regime on Reigel Five, but didn’t really have any qualifications; the Reformasi sent him here to just get him out of the way. They must have figured he’d be harmless, and he’s been pretty much a figurehead. That’s what Brisco told me, anyway – he doesn’t strike me as a take-charge man.”

“So who’s really been in charge?”

“The bureaucracy he inherited from the old regime, including the police – though most of those were replaced because they were too used to the old ways. But the military might also get involved now.”

“Reigel Five’s?”

 “Of course, on the grounds that there could be an anti-Reformasi conspiracy. But perhaps with an assist from the Velorians.”

“How could the Vels here—”

“Not like Shyla and Lavral and the rest. Enlightenment military. Some Velorians were advisors during the civil war back home, against the Aryans.”

“Aryans?” Sirren asked.

“Not the same as Aureans. Long story.”

Peter had heard the short story, but the details were new to him.

* * *

There was a new sense of urgency at the Begglestrom compound. Nobody knew whether the investigation of the attack would bear fruit, or whether the family would be safe. 

“We have to act as if there’s no time to lose,” Jonah said. “The Vels think what we’re looking for may be within reach, but they don’t have time to continue excavating. You’ve got to get busy.”

So down the shaft Peter and Sirren went – or rather, fell, given that they couldn’t fly, Once there, they used bare fists to smash their way further downwards, then loaded the broken rock into a huge scoop to be hauled to the surface by Jonah’s crew. They too would be brought up for social breaks. It was awkward work; mine owners who weren’t fortunate enough to have Vels or Aureans in their employ had to use heavy machinery to do the digging – and set off bombs only by remote control. 

Only, machinery there often had to be repaired, and eventually replaced, whereas there was no need for that here with the Aurean and her enhancee lover. They couldn’t get hurt, and could toil for hours and hours without getting tired. What they could and did get was bored, but they could take sex break, and every evening (by surface time) they returned to the surface to spend time with the family. Down deep once again the next day, they would have to work and fuck in the dim light of lanterns for which they had to create new stanchions as the pit deepened.  

In their nights at the Begglestrom home, they caught up on the investigation. The dead gunmen had been identified as former enforcers for police – the kind once assigned to torture prisoners who got out of line. Their names meant nothing to Peter and Sirren or their hosts. And investigators hadn’t been able to determine who else had been involved in the attack, or whether they were the same ones who stole the drones in the first place..

“They covered their tracks pretty well,” Jonah told them the third night. “The lead detective was upset about the only known potential witnesses having been killed, after Wilson complained about the lack of progress. As if you two had planned it that way!”

“Did Brisco set him straight?” Peter asked.

“He tried to. That’s what he told me, And I trust him.”

“What does it matter?” Sirren wondered. 

“What matters is how many people are still out there who are after us.”

“I get nervous just letting the children play outside,” said Leica. “Even if my head knows the Vels can prevent another air or ground attack, by heart… and they sense it; Stina and Anders know something’s wrong. And we can’t tell them; we can’t. All we can say is that we might be moving to another world soon; and they get excited about that.”

“Do you have another world in mind?” Peter asked.

 “Maybe Bering’s World. we’ve heard good things about it.”

Bering’s World? 

“Who from?”

And it was only then that Jonah opened up about how they had managed to stake a claim here.

“The banker back home who arranged our mysterious stake here,” he said. 

Peter was startled by the revelation, but tried to make light of it. He didn’t want to talk about his own connection with Bering’s World. Had to be coincidence…

Somebody on Reigel Five must like you!”

“And a lot more don’t. She was clear on that.” 

“Did she have a name?”

“Talia Swartz.”

“Did she have any reason?”

“She said her husband had been killed by a rogue Velorian.”

What? I don’t understand.”

“Neither did we. It had nothing to do with the identity of our benefactor, as far as we could tell.” 

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

“Well, it’s up to the two of you to uncover the mother lode – and then we’ll find out. Or so Talia told us. I can only pray that time isn’t running out. But the probe shows you’re near a really heavy mass – let’s hope we’re in luck. Another day or two and it will be time to blast.”

Peter and Sirren made it a day – they were as eager as the Begglestroms to see this through – and Enrik’s men carefully lowered the Xcelite charge to the bottom of the tunnel. Now it was time to set it off. The blast would have deafened ordinary men even if it hadn’t vaporized them, but Peter had been through this before with Karl. And hr knew his Aurean partner was up to it. The explosion of intense created brightly-lit cavern, with a pool of molten rock that felt comfortably warm against their invulnerable bodies – but what they saw thrilled them as much as what they felt: a red and yellow-hot mass that was not molten. It had to be xintanite.


Enrik and his men would feel some of the heat at the surface, even if the blast itself didn't reach that far; this dig was a lot deeper than the test pit at Karl's, and it would be a some time before it was safe enough to lower the scoop to where Peter and Sirren could climb into it. There was no way to share the news until then; no communication device could have survived here.

Their minds were otherwise occupied. Their bodies glowed like the molten rock that covered them up to their chests – but for them it was pleasantly warm. They gazed into each other’s eyes, reveling in the awareness that nothing could harm them. Only at this moment on that day, there was more to celebrate…

“We’re rich!” Peter cried. 

“I’m hot!” Sirren responded, reaching between her legs, 

He couldn’t see her cunt beneath the lava, but he knew what she meant – how the molten rock was working its way into her. She was moaning as she fingered herself.

She couldn’t see his cock, but she had to know how hard it was– as hard as the Vendorian steel that could be made here with the xintanite. The feel of the lava against it was more than he could stand, and he came violently.

She came a moment later, but was still hot. So was he. Nothing could make him go soft as he felt the lava bathing his cock and drank in the beauty of her face and breasts. She splashed the molten rock against her chest and his cock twitched as he watched it run harmlessly down her belly.

Fuck me!” she shouted.

Peter drew her to him, and impaled her on his cock, which plunged right through the lava that filled her cunt. In moments they were fucking with wild abandon… fucking and fucking as they’d never fucked before, coming and coming. They hugged and kissed between fucks, and frolicked in the lava, splashing each other if they were playing in a wading pool instead of an inferno.

It was only hours later, as the yellow-hot lava began to turn red and solidify, that they had call it a day. They climbed atop one of the xintanite masses, shaking off chunks of cooling lava that had clung to them. Now that they were in full view of each other, she could suck his cock and he could eat her out, and they could thrill to the tastes of their come. He could ravish her magnificent breasts and bring her off, then come on them. So it went. Though they were no longer literally aglow, they felt aglow inside. And they felt something else – hope.

“Now we can go anywhere we want, be anything we want,” he murmured.”

“We have our new lives before us,” she mused.

“I can hardly wait to tell the Begglestroms,” he observed. “But we still need a lift. Too bad the Vels can’t give us one – but they have other priorities just now.”

As if in answer to his unspoken prayer, a few minutes later they saw the scoop coming down, its jaws open to receive them. Peter broke off a piece of xintanite to bring to the surface.

“We found the light at the end of the tunnel!” he proclaimed when he saw Jonah and Enrik waiting to greet them, and handed over the sample to its rightful owner.

Peter could tell he was overjoyed, as he and Enrik gazed at it. But it was also clear that he was eager about something else. So eager that he seemed not to notice that they’d come up naked. Not that their nudity could have been a surprise, but…

“We’ve just got other news too,” Jonah said. “But I’ll let Enrik tell you about it. It was his idea.”

* * *

“We’ve broken the case,” Enrik said. “They couldn’t hide from the Diaboli.”

Diaboli were familiar back on the homeworld, but there hadn’t been any here on Delphi; the old regime had considered them a security risk, and even after the Reformasi took charge, there had been a sense that they wouldn’t be welcome. Some prejudices die hard.

When Enrik had broached the idea of bringing in a mind reader, Jonah confessed he was embarrassed for not having thought of it himself, and that he might have shared that same prejudice. And when Enrik had contacted the police, they too had been nervous about it.

“It had to be a police officer, not a civilian, they told me – somebody trained to follow the rules and use his power only on official business with official sanction. They made that clear when they contacted the Department of Justice in Senegal.”

That was the capital of Reigel Five, Enrik had to explain to Peter, before going on with the story. The DOJ had sent Krit Funtang, a veteran detective who had sided early on with the Reformasi, after coming to being killed during Sandal Bergstrom’s coup. His daughter Amy was known for her work on combating a viral attack during the Civil War. She later married a fellow researcher at Deux Labs. That marriage had made the news, as part of the press for reconciliation after the Civil War, but Krit, brought back to the DOJ, had stayed out of the limelight.

“His posting was necessarily undercover,” Enrik continued. “But he had to follow established procedures – like having a warrant to search minds, just like any cop would need one for the ordinary kind of search. But in this instance, it had had to be broader – authorizing him to scan people in the government center for their vibes, and deep scan only those showing the wrong vibes.”

“So what did he find?” Peter asked, with impatience bordering on impertinence.

“One of the conspirators was just a clerk in the acting governor’s office. Guy by the name of Streyker. A holdover from Erik Bergstrom’s time, but considered harmless. Only he had access to Bergstrom’s old private server, which Wilson never knew about. Streyker used it to contact… reliable useful idiots in the police and other agencies.”

“So what’s happening now?”

“They’re all being sent to Senegal for trial. Wilson’s likely to follow them soon, but only in disgrace.”

“I guess we should thank this Funtang.”

“You’ll have your chance. He’s at the house now.”

“Leica’s entertaining him,” Jonah added. “He wanted to speak with us because of things he’s leaned about… my family. Not from scanning, but just from records he found back home. But no doubt he’ll be interested in meeting you two. An unusual couple.”

Sirren squeezed his hand.

“Very unusual,” she said. “But maybe we should get dressed first.”

Enrik hustled back to the house to get their clothes. In the distance, they could see the Begglestrom children playing. Jonah glanced back at them.

“It’s a relief to know that we’re safe here,” he said. “But could we be safe back where we came from? I don’t think we’d find a welcome, anyway – that’s why we may still end up moving on… when everything’s settled here.”

“The bank should be happy.”

“More than happy.”

“As I said a while back, somebody on Reigel Five must like you. Any idea why?”

“Talia Swartz wouldn’t talk about it – said she was sworn to secrecy. I know the bank had been blown up during the war, and somebody from offworld bailed it out. Or so the story goes. But I can’t see how there could be any connection.”

“Doing a good turn, after being done one?”

“Plenty of other good turns to be done there, especially just then.”

Nothing more to add; Jonah was at a loss.

A few minutes later, Enrik returned with the clothes. When they arrived at the house, they found Shyla and Lavral there, along with Leica – apparently the Velorians too had been due for a briefing, but they didn’t seem to be talking about anything now with the middle-aged man who was sitting in front of the decorative brick wall.


“Krit Funtang, at your service,” he introduced himself. “David and Jewel, I take it?”

He suddenly frowned for just a second, as if he didn’t take it. But only for just a second; then he came back to himself.

“You give off good auras,” he said. “But I’m not a voyeur, and in any case I don’t have the right to pry. Not covered by my warrant.”

If he was expecting a laugh, he didn’t get one. For sure, he wasn’t reading them.

“I’ve been talking with Leica here, but just minor stuff,” he said, turning to Jonah. “But there are other matters I need to get into.”

Jonah turned to Shyla and Lavral.

“Can’t hurt to get to work on bringing up the xintanite, now that you don’t have to worry about us,” he told Enrik. “You can tell them at the foundry to get things ready.”

“We’ll get things moving,” Enrik said. “Maybe we can have a shipment ready in a day or two.”

“Should we head back and help the Vels?” Peter asked.

“Hell no! You’ve earned a break,” Jonah said. “And I can’t forget you saved our lives before. If I have anything to say about it, whoever we end up selling the mine to after we make a killing will have jobs for you and the Vels.”

“Have you decided yet?”

“We want to wait on that, now that we’re no longer in danger,” Leica said. “We want a planet that’s good for the children as well as ourselves.”

“I have something to add now,” Funtang interjected. “It has nothing to do with the end of the case, but it does have to do with its beginning. You may want to send these two away.”

“I don’t mind if they hear,” Jonah said. “What about you, Leica?”

She just nodded her head in assent. 

“You already know that this whole tragedy began with the death of a child.”

“I don’t like to be reminded of it,” Jonah reacted curtly. “It had nothing to do with me, or Mother – she’d left Randik when he got involved with that Aurean Nygard. But I suppose I might find out anyway, somehow, sometime. Especially if we have to go back home to settle our affairs with the bank, now that our efforts here have paid off.”

“Did you know how things went wrong?”

“Just that President Bergstrom had launched a mission to free his nephew and the other hostages, and that it went south on him. That’s what Justice told us, anyway – they sent the lowest-ranking underling they could find.”

“Did you know that a Velorian was involved?”

“A likely story; a Velorian would surely have gotten the job done. Randik would have been out of our lives, Bergstrom’s nephew would have been saved, and his people would have let us be.”

“Only there was a Velorian. Not a Protector; she wasn’t up to the job, but she’d been in a relationship with Bergstrom and thought she owed him. And when she failed, she couldn’t forgive herself. She was the Velorian ambassador, Naomi Kim’Vallara.” 

Peter’s jaw fairly dropped. Suddenly, everything was falling into place… he had been played by Naomi on Bering’s World, but now it looked as if that must have been part of a greater plan – to redeem herself by making up, as best she could, for the harm she had wrought a generation ago. 

* * *

Word of what had gone down here was quickly sent to Reigel Five. By the time a response came, the first load of xintanite was on its way from the Begglestrom foundry to the shipyard at Zuerstadt. 

Within a few months, the Begglestrom strike was the talk of the planet – and the family was talking again about pulling up stakes.

So were Peter and Sirren.

“The way things are going, we could afford a ship,” Peter remarked. “A real ship, not just an insystemer.”

“But where would we go?”

It was only then that he told her about Bering’s World… and Naomi.

“She seems to have a secret agenda. Like me. Only, could she have truly arranged all the circumstances that brought you here?”

“She couldn’t have arranged us. She wouldn’t even have known about you.”

“And we don’t have to take her advice on where to go when the time comes, or what to do with our lives.”

But they didn’t learn how far Naomi must have taken the arrangement until the day a spaceship arrived at the Begglestrom compound. An interstellar ship. They had been expecting visitors from Reigel Five, but only the captain and crew stepped out.

The captain came to the estate house and asked for Peter Durgin, who stepped out to meet his unexpected visitor. 

That visitor, who gave his name as Dwight Betancourt, carried a document… well, 

actually a printout of the electronic document in the ship’s memory, 

“It’s the title to the ship,” he explained. “It’s yours to keep.” 

Durgin was speechless for several moments, but finally managed to ask whence had come this bounty.

“The Planetary Bank of Reigel Five.”

He learned in due course this was same bank that had staked Jonah Begglestrom to his mining claim. But Talia Swartz’ name wasn’t on the transfer of title to the ship.

“It had to be Naomi,” Peter opined. “I’d be willing to bet that she was behind the mining stake, too.” 

* * *

“I guess you’re ready to wrap things up here,” Jonah said the next day. “Do you have any plans in mind for what you want to do next?”

By this time, Peter had brought the Begglestroms up to speed on Peter’s life history on Kelsor 7, and how things had gone wrong for him there after his enhancement – he still felt the obligation not to tell just where and how that had happened. 

“I can’t go back home,” he said. “Too much bad blood. No place for me there. But I want to go back to the kind of career I had as a captain of survey ships. And with Sirren and a few Velorians as part of my crew, I could start a Survey Service of my own – we could explore worlds that wouldn’t be safe for the Kelsorians. I have some experience at that, as I mentioned before.”

“We’d be willing to give you a stake to help you get started,” Jonah said. “As for the Velorians, here or elsewhere on Delphi, that would be up to them. We still might offer the claim to ours, once we’ve banked enough of the proceeds to keep us comfortable for the rest of our lives. But we don’t know where to go from here – there must still be people who don’t want us back on Reigel Five if that attack here is any indication.”

“If you’re willing to work as well as play, you might consider Kelsor 7. You could get a job in the shipbuilding industry there; they use a lot of Vendorian steel. Only, don’t mention my name – and if you work on the engines they produce for export, you’ll have to keep the secret of the Quantum Electric Drive if you value your lives.”

“I’ve heard about that,” Jonah said.

But he and his family still hadn’t made up their minds when Peter and Sirren took off a few weeks later.


Peter had never lived on Bering’s World, or wanted to, and yet it felt like coming home. It was the same with Sirren.

It was a beautiful world; nothing like Delphi. It was a peaceful world; nothing like Reigel Five. And it was a world that welcomed them; nothing like Kelsor 7 – at least, not the Kelsor 7 that had shunned him after the Cygnias 275 affair. 

The Second Chance, as he and Sirren had named their ship, had recruited half a dozen Velorian ex-pats from Delphi, but none of them from the Begglestroms or Zadek – they agreed that would hardly be playing fair, even if some of them had been willing, which was hardly likely for those with a potential stake in the Begglestrom claim. Those who did sign on were in for the long haul, and a share of the profits. Terrans with a taste for travel and adventure had signed on here, but for these it was a matter of there-and-back-again, and only to worlds it was safe for them to visit.

Travel and adventure were also where the profits would come from. Their maiden flight had been to Madstop, the world once famed only for its dawn’s eyes ––volcanic jewels fetching such fabulous prices that mere Terrans had established mining outposts there though the planet was deadly to them. They could venture outside their habitats in armored and cooled vehicles only when the volcanoes they mined were relatively calm. But they learned from experience; the casualty rate had dwindled and they had become some of the richest Terrans in the Galaxy.

But the planet later also gained fame as site of the Madstop Conference, at which the Velorian Enlightenment had come into formal existence. In the centuries since then, it had thus attracted wealthy pilgrims from hundreds of Enlightenment worlds who fell the need to see where it all took place. There wasn’t really that much to see in the Conference Dome; vids of the discussions and debates were available anywhere. True, there was a memorial to Kalla Zaver’el, the Fist Companion, who had lived long enough and was revered enough to serve as chair, and each seat in the hall bore the name and planet of he or she who had occupied it. But these were nothing much to look at.

Yet to actually be where history had been made. So the pilgrims kept coming, and while the Scalantrans still dominated the pilgrim trade as well as the dawn’s eye trade, there was enough demand among the especially wealthy for independent operators like Peter and Sirren, and they thus found a profitable business catering to them. Their first pilgrims were from Bering’s World itself, and while the pilgrims were doing their thing, the proprietors of the Second Chance ventured outside into the hellish volcanic  wilds that the Terran visitors didn’t even want to think about.

Nothing could harm them here, and nothing could tear them apart; they were free to travel together wherever they would – even to worlds that were deadly to ordinary humans. They could fuck in heavy gravity that would have reduced Terrans to smears on the ground; fuck in the densest atmospheres, fuck in the hottest fire or molten lava or acid seas. Those other journeys were part of the survey work that Peter was able to contract; it wasn’t all about fucking, and with the help of the ex-pat Vels, they were able to add to the sum of human knowledge – and even find and catalog exotic life forms on some of the worlds previously assumed to be lifeless. 

But after several years in business together, they no longer needed such escapades to prove their devotion to each other – they became secondary to their real work, and to their time off on their adopted planet.

Their home overlooked the verdant landscape. Sirren loved to pose against the scenic splendor while stripping down, showing off her magnificent body. And Peter never tired of watching her take it off while already naked himself, his rampant cock harder than the Vendorian steel that had brought them their wealth; and she loved to see him explode – his load spurting upwards out of sight. 

He might come several times, but she knew he’d be up again in moments. When she was totally naked, she would lie down and invite him to plunge his cock into her, or ask him to lie down and then impale herself on him, knowing that they were truly made for each other, made to bring each other an ecstasy ordinary humans could hardly imagine. 


She was down to her panties now, her insignia showing. And she knew the drill, even if it was no longer a military drill.

“I command you to fuck me!”

“Your command is my wish.”