McCloud’s Daughters

By Shadar, ed. by Brantley

Last AUOW version Jan. 25, 2004; revised version Feb. 1, 2015


We were six weeks out from Velor when I saw it happen. Our ship, the Distant Roamer, was traveling off the normal trade routes as our travel captain and his navigators tried to find a way around the very dangerous explosion of a star along the fringes of the Nastra nebula.

Our next jump point, wormhole Abraxas 52, was uncomfortably close to the disturbance. The gravitational anomalies and x-ray and gamma ray flares were intense enough to confuse the Scalantran ship’s sensors, forcing the travel captain to order re-calculation of our course moment to moment with presumed coefficients and then what amounted to dead reckoning.

This was not a place to get lost.

We were nowhere near the usual vector for the slingshot long jump from Baslilides 69, when the alarms began sounding, The ship’s sensors had detected the spectra of numerous energy weapons being discharged. My blood chilled when the computer reported that the EM signature was Aurean. But to my astonishment, the travel captain announced that the ship would go to the aid of whoever was being attacked. 

Atypical for a Scalantran, Menalem was; but he must have put a lot of faith in the fact that I was on board; I was a Velorian, according to my passport chip, after all, even if I didn’t look it. I must be experienced in combat, maybe even a veteran of the StarBright Command. So I was summoned to the bridge, where I found myself being offered a heavy GAR. 

I got the picture. The rescue was up to me, a very junior official in the diplomatic service. I was on my way to my new assignment in the Vauld. As a Minder, of course. That was what my actual background best suited me for. But I hadn’t said anything about that — my pride had gotten in the way. It was too tempting to try to impress the female adopts in the trading crew — never mind that they were off limits; I didn’t have any gold, let alone an invulnerable condom. 

So there I was, freshly armed and presumably ready. Our eyes were all glued to the viewscreen as a swarm of small ships maneuvered around a larger vessel; the tactics clearly defensive. Our sensors couldn’t pick up any energy signatures from their opponent — which pretty much guaranteed it was biological.

There weren’t too many types of biologicals who engaged Aureans in interstellar space. Protectors mostly. Occasionally Kryp’terrans. Maybe a Messenger they’d waylaid. They were all way out of my league. I began to pray that the Aureans were all Betans. If I could avoid being shot with a GAR, I could handle a bunch of Betans. I stared at the magnified viewscreen as we approached within 100 klicks. The Aurean ship had been holed several times, and its occupants had taken the battle outside. A dozen Singleton ships were swirling around a point in space.

When we closed to 50 klicks, the viewscreen picked up the image a woman in a red and blue Protector’s uniform. The Aureans were blasting her with GAR’s and particle weapons, casting streamers of gold her way, trying to wear her down. Yet rather making a run for it, she kept trying to close on the Aurean ship. The Aureans’ tactics were brilliant as usual. Working on her eyes and lower body with their GARS, they were hoping to temporarily blind her while they used the extreme heat to distract her. They’d then try to get some gold around her. 

Every Protector knew how to fend off that strategy, but this woman wasn’t fighting back effectively. In fact, she seemed to be the worst-trained Protector ever. She looked disoriented and confused as the Singletons closed in on her from all directions. Instead of melting them with heat vision or tearing one apart to create debris she could throw at the others, she kept trying to fly toward the Aurean mothership. The pilots of the Singletons expected that, and they closed in on her each time she tried, finally reaching out to grab her with their gold-plated manipulators.

Six of them were now wrestling with her, their jets flaring to augment their antigravs as they tried to neutralize her flight power. She finally changed tactics and began to concentrate on her attackers instead of trying to hole the ship. My heart was in my throat as I saw her melt one of the Singletons with her heat vision, then destroy another two by wrapping her arms around the small ships and simply crushing them. Just when I thought she was going to break away and make a run for it, a man with a hand-held rocket pack floated out an airlock and blasted across the gap to join in. He wasn’t wearing a space suit. Just black leather, it looked like, stretched skintight over a body that was alive with steely muscle.

A Prime, powering across the gap by dead reckoning. A desperation move by a man who couldn’t fly. He unleashed a fury of GAR fire on her, powerful enough to destroy one of his own Singletons. The woman’s body was glowing white hot when he discarded his weapon and wrapped his arms and legs around her, muscles standing out in incredible relief as he tried to crush the life from her. A Protector should have been able to escape that embrace, even turn that kind of battle around on her attacker, but instead, she fell limp. The gold came out and it was all over.

I stared at the viewscreen in both shock and relief as the Prime returned to the ship, leaving the woman’s body floating in space, tended only by the Betans in their Singletons. They wrapped her in heavy steel cables while her body cooled. Once her skin fell below the melting temperature of gold, they wrapped her with many strands of that hated metal. There was nothing I could do now. We were too late.

Only, Menalem and his navigators stared at me in obvious contempt: I was shirking my obvious duty to a fellow Velorian. Yet I didn’t move. There was something very wrong with this scene, but I couldn’t see through the glare well enough to figure it out. It wasn’t until the woman’s body cooled below incandescence that my suspicions were confirmed. She wasn’t a Protector. Instead, her hair was long and Aurean black.

The travel captain saw it first. 

“What is an Aurean doing wearing a Protector’s uniform and fighting the Empire?” he asked, and then bore down n me, “And you want them to have her? A woman courageous enough to fight against the evil of her own Empire. Wearing the colors of the Enlightenment?” Everyone’s eyes were back on me now. 

The old saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” was on everyone’s lips There wasn’t a clause in that piece of ancient wisdom that excluded certain hair colors. Damn it!

Menalem proved he was indeed a Scalantran in getting himself off the hook, observing that the League itself wasn’t at war with the Empire, and that even if it were a trading ship like his was helpless. “If we approach any closer, they’ll nuke us. But you Velorians can survive nukes.”

The bastard. I should just have told him the truth and been done with it. Told him that I was just an enhanced human. That I had no training in this kind of thing. I glanced up at the screen, and saw the remaining Singleton nudging her body toward the airlock. It was insane, but I had to do something. For the sake of Velorian pride, if not my own. Menalem had made me feel ashamed.

Spinning around, I ran toward the airlock. Cycling through it as fast as could, I was very careful to push off in the right direction. I can’t fly very well even with my extra enhancement, and I wasn’t about to get lost in space by trying. My strategy, more desperation than thought out plan, was to blast the woman with the GAR in the hope of releasing her gold bonds.

I closed to within two klicks before I fired at max power, and was astounded when my first shot hit her. The gold strands surrounding her body vaporized with a flash of energy. She responded by launching the Singleton toward the ship so fast that it punched another huge hole through the pressure hull. The shields were obviously down. She propelled her own body the same way, turning it into a lethal projectile.

I twisted back around to find the Scalantran ship, but all I saw was the infinite star field behind me. I scanned for the tiny dot that was the only intact pressure hull within a billion klicks, but couldn’t see a thing. My eyes weren’t much different than human, and I was fifty klicks or more from the ship. Looking in-system, the yellowish sun was little more than an oversized star from this distance. Whatever planets might be circling it were weeks away, even if I could accelerate/decelerate all the way. The panic started to well up inside me. Unlike a real Velorian, I couldn’t live long in vacuum. A day at most, most of that time spent comatose.

The only ship in sight was the Aurean starship, and its engineering compartments were starting to glow as the rest of the ship went cold. It was dead. Engines probably ripe for a containment breach if they couldn’t reestablish their fields. The attacking woman seemed determined to ensure they didn’t.  My lungs were already burning. Damn it, it wasn’t supposed to end like this.

My vision started to dim as the first sign of hypoxia came over me. I blinked my eyes and turned my head, trying to spot the woman. And I did, just barely. I saw only a blur of black hair approaching. Her strong arms wrapped around me and the next thing I knew, we were hurtling through space at incredible speed, accelerating toward the faint glow of the adjacent system. My thoughts softened further as my vision faded to black. I was falling into a hypoxic dream…

* * *

I saw myself back on Earth. It was my 16th birthday. I was both excited and anxious. Two years earlier, I’d stumbled into a terrorist situation in Llanview; some MOVE die-hards (as I later learned) from Philadelphia had taken over a neighbor’s house. I’d stopped by there to see Jane Drosdick, my middle school science teacher and advisor — and suddenly found myself facing men with guns. 

I was scared out of my wits, but I was just old enough to know men were supposed to be bold and brave and protect the weaker sex. So I made bold to offer myself in exchange for the two female hostages. As I should have known, they just invited me to become their third.

The woman who lived with my teacher was a stunningly hot blonde. I was also just old enough to have the hots for her, but never expected anything to come of it. I mean, really!  But as the terrorists were focused on me, taking their eyes off the women, she suddenly made a lightning move — and took them out with her bare hands. 

“I’ll fly the bodies and guns out of here tonight,” she told Ms Drosdick, who seemed to know what she was talking about. Then she turned to me. “This didn’t happen,” she said. “You never saw those men, and you never saw what I did with them.

Her name was Xara, and she came from some planet called Velor. She was one of its agents, “embedded” here as she put it, as part of her people’s war with those of another world called Aurea. Nobody was supposed to know, except a Very Few People in Very High Places — and, occasionally, Earthlings with whom they formed… “attachments.” 

Well, that left me out. And yet she seemed concerned about me, if only because I knew about her. But she offered me an incentive to keep quiet about the whole thing, saying she was ready to grant me something she called Koral’ing for my bravery. Which meant I could ask anything of her. Like a genie and his lamp but you only get one wish. She promised to come to my birthday two years later to bestow her gift. She’d have to move away for the time being;  that didn’t make Ms. Drosdick too happy — I wouldn’t hear from her again in the meantime, and I didn’t — but deep inside, I believed everything she’d said.

The result was that those next two years were a lifetime. I wished I could tell someone, but I knew I couldn’t. The only one I could talk to about it was Ms. Drosdick, who was worried about it. But I gradually gained her confidence, if not her affection — that was reserved for Xara. She said the didn’t really blame me; “Things could have been worse, if she’d been off on a mission when those bastards showed up. And if you hadn’t shown up, it could have come to gunfire — and it would have been hard to explain to the police how we came out of it alive and unharmed.” 

She wouldn’t talk about what those “missions” involved, but she did share “harmless” information about what it was like out there. It wasn’t just about Velor and Aurea, but about the seeded worlds inhabited by distant cousins of people just like me, taken there by the same god-like beings who had created the Velorians — the Aureans, it seemed, were a splinter race that had rebelled against them. There were the Enlightenment and the Empire, and worlds that belonged to neither, and still others inhabited by alien beings — interstellar trade, she said, was dominated by an alien race called the Scalantrans.

It made me feel differently when I looked at the night sky. I’d thought of becoming an astronaut, but flying to the space station or the Mon, or even Mars, would be like just walking around the block compared to the travels and adventures of the people Out There.

Finally, October 12th, 1996, my 16th birthday arrived. Jerry Tremond, my oldest friend, organized the party, inspired by a movie from the year before called Clueless that had to do with Valley girls out in California but was supposed to be based on some Jane Austen novel I’d never read and probably never would. Everyone was supposed to parrot favorite lines from the movie. Like, the heroine, who was always trying to get friends of hers to hook up, would say things that were supposed to be totally funny, as how her mother died when she was young — “A freak accident during a routine liposuction.”  Karen Mark, the closest I had to a girlfriend —which meant only that she didn’t put me down for my looks — thought it was hilarious.

My mother didn’t think so and, quite frankly, neither did I. But neither of my parents took any interest in teen culture, which was understandable; what grated was they didn’t take much interest in anything else beyond Llanview. Sure, they doted on me; I was an only child. But they never cared what I was interested in, even before what had happened two years earlier. It was only after the party, which was kind of fun, but not a whole lot of fun, that Ms. Drosdick stopped by. She wasn’t my teacher any more, but she still helped me with my schoolwork. She said she wanted to talk about the latest discoveries of extra-solar planets.

I knew what that meant, and couldn’t hide my excitement, Mom and Dad put it down to my obsession with astronomy, wished me well and saw me off — “A surprise birthday present,” he said. He was clueless, of course. As soon as I was safely inside the house next door, with the doors closed and the curtains drawn, there she was in the living room: the tallest and most stunningly beautiful woman I’d ever seen, her blonde hair floating everywhere. Xara was all dressed up in a gold metallic uniform, her skirt so short that it was shocking. The ‘S’ insignia of her profession was proudly displayed on her breast. I stared open-mouthed as she walked up to me and wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me. 

I wasn’t sure if it was her kiss or if we were really flying at first, and after that, I must have passed out. The next thing I remember was lying on my back, next to her in bed. Her perfect breasts proudly defied gravity, and I knew they were completely invulnerable, like the rest of her. Her uniform hung on a nearby chair, and she was naked but for a necklace of gold. She smiled at me. I knew what that meant…

It was too good to be true. I’ve always been a lucid dreamer, and I’d been dreaming of a hundred ways this day could go down. Dreams that lived within dreams. But this was a really good one.

I watched her eyes as she scanned up and down my body before smiling. That wasn’t the usual female reaction to the way I look. Gangly limbs and freckled skin with yellow hair, a lot of it in places other than my head, and milky green eyes and a badly freckled complexion, I was sure no gift to women. If I were a dog, I’d be a cross between a Golden Retriever and a bloodhound.

She turned on her side, wrapping her slender arms gently around my neck to kiss me.

That was nice. Really nice.

Her blonde hair was totally amazing. Platinum pure, every strand perfect and glowing, just like her eyes. Her skin looked like an airbrushed photograph, even up close. No pores, blemish free and smooth as silk, the shade golden tan. And of course, she was wickedly fit. Like a thousand times fit. She looked twentyish, but who could tell with a Vel. They were supposed to live forever.  I felt myself weakening as I looked into those big blue eyes, framed by that platinum hair and those invitingly moist lips. She guided herself upward slightly, and I felt my stiffness pressing against those soft folds at the entrance to heaven.  My imagination raced.

She was going to take me, right now, right here. She was a warrior goddess and her only mission was to fuck me to within an inch of my life. I had until dawn to ask anything of her I wished. Six hours of god-like bliss. Except this time, it wasn’t just my imagination.

I almost went for it. But I’d been thinking a lot during the past two years about the world I lived in — and the universe she lived in. I’d once thought of running away, putting the small Philadelphia suburb and all it stood for behind me, only where would I have gone, what could I have done? Yet if I hadn’t focused on my alienation from my community, even my family, I would have succumbed. She was that alluring… 

Instead, I closed my eyes and shook my head, pushing her away.

Her eyes opened wide, almost as if someone had just slapped her. I’m betting nobody had ever turned her down before. She tried to kiss me again, so I blurted out my wish while I still could.

I said I wanted to finish my education on Velor.

She laughed unkindly; telling me my wish was ridiculous. It was outside her power. I couldn’t survive the high gravity field of Velor for more than a day. I’d have to go through a wormhole to get there in any case. That would take a ship. She didn’t have a ship.

All good excuses to use on anyone else. But not on Ben Shaffer. I stubbornly insisted on my wish, telling her there wasn’t an escape clause in a Koral’ing. I was guessing at that, but she cursed in some language I didn’t know, got out of the bed and pulled her golden uniform back on. God, her legs went on forever beneath that short skirt. I briefly imagined her making it with me dressed that way. I felt my willpower fading — but before I could open my mouth and change my wish, she was gone.

Six months later, Xara showed up again. Ms. Drosdick told me to meet her at a hidden glen in a state park, far from the madding crowd. She wore that same golden uniform, an acre of blonde hair floating around her head… and holding a space suit. As I understand it now, this whole Koral’ing and Kiral’ing business is very central to Velorian culture. If anything is sacred to them, this was it. So while she was still mad at me, she’d come back to honor her promise. Because it really was in her power.

Two hours later I was lying naked in her cabin on what she called a Courier ship. That was what Velorians used on official business; the Scalantran trade ships didn’t call here and, in any case, they were too large and massive to cloak. Xara was floating just above me in a state of total undress. She buried my face buried beneath all that golden hair as she kissed me, wiggling her hips, guiding me to that moist entrance to nirvana — not just my cock, but my lips and tongue. She said I had to do that. Otherwise I’d die.

As if I needed an incentive.

Xara spent four nights with me before diving out the airlock to return to Earth. Four incredible, mind-blowing days during which we made love almost constantly.

And then the reality of what she’d done to me sank in. I was sick as a dog from the retrovirus. I recovered, of course. And when I got back into my cabin and undressed, I found I had some amazing new abilities to master. I couldn’t wait to get to Velor.  A planet with millions of always willing, sexy Velorian girls. When I stepped out the hatch of the shuttlecraft three months later, the Velorian gravity didn’t bother me at all. And all around me, I saw the blonde perfection I’d dreamed of so many times. I felt like a Willy Wonka, lost in a chocolate factory.

To make a long story short, I finished the equivalent of high school on Velor, and then went on to the University. When my graduation day came, I managed to get assigned to the Diplomatic Corps. They always needed help on human worlds, especially in areas where they wanted to stay low profile. Willowy blondes who could make a supermodel feel ugly were definitely not low profile. Especially not when they could bench press your average fully-loaded shuttlecraft. Those things weighed in at just under a million pounds.

My job involved keeping the diplomatic staff and their families out of trouble with the locals. Mostly their kids. Officially, we were called Cultural Analysts.  Less charitably, the adults called us Minders. The kids started with Meddlers before they got really insulting. I didn’t care what they called us. Our job was to keep them out of trouble. And when we couldn’t do that, we fixed what they broke. Broken hearts not included.

The problem was that Velorian expat kids became arrogant brats once they got out of Velor’s gold field. Imagine your average mid-teen boy or girl suddenly becoming a young god or goddess in the middle of a world of ordinary humans? It wasn’t that they were bad kids for the most part, but when you remove all boundaries and limits on a teenager, things get twisted a bit out of perspective. Especially with that inbred Velorian penchant for inducing otherwise decent adults to do really stupid things. What with their looks, their pheromones and their boldness, the girls in particular were wreaking havoc on societal norms by the age of fourteen. If not for the repeal of statutory rape laws for Velorians on Enlightenment worlds, a lot of otherwise good men would have gone to jail. I tried diversion, starting by organizing all kinds of sporting events. Most of them were played with balls the size of small houses, with the goal posts separated by a few thousand klicks of vacuum. Getting these kids off-planet was a godsend. They couldn’t get into trouble in space.

In my second year on the job, I organized spelunking expeditions to the core of some volcanic planets, and then put the kids to work mapping the surface of all the other planets in the system. I turned it into a big scavenger hunt. That actually went over pretty well. Vels are competitive and curious by nature.  Natural explorers.

Naturally, they went too far, turning that game into a kind of solar plunging contest. They guys competed with each other to see how deeply into the sun they could descend.

The girls invented an erotic corollary to the game called ‘stellar sex.’ Testing the guys to see how deeply into the photosphere they could make it with them. The kids really went for that one for reasons only a Velorian could understand. It at least ensured they didn’t have time or energy to play their seduction games with Ordinaries any more.

Just teenage games, but that last game scared me. A Vel who got too enthusiastic and descended too deeply would surely be killed. I didn’t want to have to explain that to some parent. Or why they were there in the first place.  But the kids were faster, stronger and usually smarter than me, so there wasn’t much I could do except lecture them on safe sex, Velorian-style. You can imagine how different that lecture was than the ones I’d heard back on Earthy.  But all that said, lecturing doesn’t have much of an effect on invulnerable teenagers who think they’re hot stuff. Especially the girls. They were the worst.  Fortunately, my first assignment ended without anyone getting killed, either human or Velorian. I considered that a victory.

The Diplomatic Service must have too, because they gave me another assignment. Kellog 2. A dusty, hot mining planet. Two dozen Velorian families lived there. It was the longest three years of my life, especially since the kids were pretty well behaved. I complained about the constant heat, and eventually the Diplomatic Corps responded.

I was transferred to Reigel 5. It was the opposite of Kellog 2. Cold as hell, and the kids were totally screwed up. Especially the ambassador’s children, Nikki and James. I’ll never forget those two. I spent a year trying to untangle the constant messes they got into. Nikki in particular drove me crazy. Being that I was an enhanced human, she constantly tried to wrap me around her fingers. Once she figured out that pheromones didn’t work on me, she started to slip into my bed in the middle of the night. I’d wake up in the middle of this exquisitely passionate dream, only to face the reality of her giving me a blowjob. You can imagine how much willpower it took to kick her out of bed.

I subsequently had this long discussion with her mother about whether a man was responsible for what he does in a dream. Nikki overheard the rationalizations I was spouting under the guise of philosophy, and we both knew that if I woke up any slower the next time, deliberately or not, she’d have me. At which point she quit coming by. The little bitch. It was all a big mind game for her.  Still, it was the Ordinaries that I really worried about, especially with James. As a native Velorian, his sexual release was powerful enough to really injure a woman. I imagined having to clean up after some woman’s head had been blown off. An ugly image. The ladies of course didn’t know that, and they all loved seducing their man of steel, a man with the equipment of a porn star, never realizing how hard he worked to keep in control. He wound up faking orgasms to keep them happy, then going off on his own to relieve the pressure. That was one twisted boy.

Fortunately, the Ambassador’s youngest daughter, her name was Alisa, wasn’t a problem at all. She was reputedly a P1, but didn’t act it. She kept her hair pinned up and wore these big glasses and dressed like a girl headed for the convent. Except for that time she helped arrest that Aurean Prime. She blew me away when she let her hair down and started acting like a Protector. They really do make those P1’s from different stuff.

Then there was the mess with the President, and the Ambassador was recalled to Velor. I heard later that Alisa had refused her Rites back on Velor and ran away. I guess it really is the quiet ones you have to worry about. I was reassigned to the Vauld, the nomadic Vendorian fleet. That was where the Vendorians were currently making their weapons and ships for the Scalantrans and others. They would converge on a mineral rich but unpopulated system that was easily defensible, then link up in space to form an industrial city. A thousand ships, a million Vendorians — all that was left of their species. Supposedly a dozen Protectors were stationed their to augment the already strong Vendorian defenses. The Vendorians kept their most fearsome weapons for themselves.

A pretty big group of supporting expats had moved there from Velor. Some worked in areas of the manufacturing process that were too dangerous for humans. The rest were diplomats and members of the various trade delegations. I was enroute to this new assignment in the Roamer when went to the aid of that dark-haired Protector to free from her bonds.

Chapter One

My dream faded slowly, the way it always had since I’d been enhanced. The closest analogy would be turning down the brightness on a holo, the images turning translucent and then fading to a cloud-filled whirlpool of colors. My protective instincts had cut in when I’d started to dream about dying from exposure. I was lucid enough even in a dream to realize that dreaming about death was a good way to pack it in. Enhanced or not, you were dead if you blew out your own heart.

I struggled with all my willpower to escape the trap of my dream, finally focusing all my concentration on the simple act of moving one finger. If I could regain control of even the smallest part of my body, I could wake up the rest of the way.

It seemed to take forever, but I finally managed to move my little finger. Then I struggled to blink one eye open. Success. A blurry image of a blue ceiling swam into view.  Climbing rapidly out of my intense dream now, I forced both eyes open. A woman leaning over me now. Her hair was Aurean black and long and wavy, her eyes Supremis blue.

An Aurean?

I decided this had to be another dream, for I wasn’t in a cage, chained in gold. I was on a very soft bed. And instead of a black leather uniform, the woman wore a stylish business suit and a tie. Very formal and very Terran. She was speaking English, but with a Velorian accent. Astoundingly, she wore the ‘V’ ring of a Protector on her right hand.

That didn’t make any sense at all given her hair color. I was certain now that I’d lost myself in a dream within a dream. Another bad thing for a lucid dreamer to do. You could lose touch with reality all together that way. Yet her voice was soft and melodious and seemingly real as she talked. She leaned down to kiss my cheek as she thanked me for saving her life. Her lips were soft and warm, her breath sweet with a hint of wildflowers. Her kisses gently traced across my cheek to find my lips. The faint taste of honey delighted me as she breathed softly into my lungs, her breath so fragrant with wildflowers now. I was suddenly wide-awake, my body’s defenses instinctively kicking in to block her pheromones. I tried to sit up, but she kept kissing me, urgently now. It took all my strength to turn my head and break her passionate kiss. I gasped for air, clearly remembering the sensation of the vacuum sucking the air from my lungs, the helpless feeling of my diaphragm tensing and relaxing, yet having nothing to inhale. Then the terrifying sensation of slowly losing consciousness, knowing I was going to die out there in deep space, half a billion klicks from the nearest planet.

“Who… where am I?” I gasped as I shrank away from her. Far from being turned on by her kisses, I had visions of the kind of violent rape that Aureans are infamous for. In their culture, rape wasn’t just a crime committed against women. With their pheromones, they could compel a man to perform for them, despite pain and even serious injury.

“We call this planet Sanctuary. I’m Ann McCloud.”

An Aurean with a Scottish name? Ridiculous. “Sanctuary?” I blurted out. “Never heard of it. And I’m Ben Shaffer.”

She held out her hand and I took it. Her fingers were long and strong, her handshake very firm. “That’s just the point, Ben Shaffer. Nobody knows we exist.” I looked around the room. I could have been back on Earth. “Not even the Empire?” “Especially not the Empire. Sanctuary is a human world. Other than for my daughters and I.”

I sat up to look more closely at her. She was tall, and very slender yet athletic in the way of a Supremis. I looked again at the ‘V’ ring on her finger. Had she killed a Protector and taken her ring as a souvenir? She watched my eyes. “Before you ask, yes, I am. A Protector. Kind of.”

I was still groggy enough that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

“Right. And I’m Superman.”


“Just some Earth myth.”

“You’re from Earth. So that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“That you have only some Velorian powers, and that you don’t look like one, despite your chip.” 

“I used to live there.”

“Yet one of your powers is flight. Fortunately for me.”

“I was enhanced by Xara, who is said to be half Galen, although I didn’t know that at the time.”

Her left eyebrow lifted. “The universe is indeed a strange place, Ben Shaffer, and with some strange people. In this corner of the universe, I am a Protector. And you are a human from Velor who saved my life.”

“Yeah, very strange,” I said, looking around. Too strange.

“I owe you the right of Kiral’ing, Ben Shaffer. For saving my life. And my world.” 

I couldn’t help but laugh again. “I saved you? Last I remember, I was a billion klicks from nowhere.”

“Only a half billion klicks from our front door.”

“Front door?”

“An uncharted wormhole that leads here. My business — our business — is to see that it remains uncharted, We take turns patrolling. And if we come across a ship searching nearby, we eliminate it — we cannot allow them to return whence they came, and spread word.” 

“But now I know about you. And perhaps the Scalantrans…”

“They were only off-course; they weren’t looking for us, and they’ll think we’re both dead in any case. As for you, I have to make an exception.”

“That’s a relief,” I said, cracking a small smile.

“We saved each other’s lives, Ben. Yours through an act of selfless courage. Mine was merely compassion. And obligation. So the Kiral’ing is mine alone.” 

I stared at her as I tried to separate the components of my now fading dream from reality. That’s always a challenge for a lucid dreamer after waking up too fast. What I did know for sure was that Kiral’ing is the greatest honor a Velorian can bestow. It’s a much deeper commitment than that the lesser Koral’ing that Xara had given me years before. And it lasts for a lifetime, not for just one wish. “You seem surprised?” she said softly. “Yet you’ve clearly been around Supremis. You claim to have been on Velor itself, although I’ve never heard of a human living there.”

“I went to school there.”

She smiled. “So you’re one of those really successful enhancees I’d heard about.”

I quickly blurted out my story about Xara.

“You were rewarded by a Protector before? For saving lives? How amazing.”

She kissed me tenderly on my forehead. “You must be a guardian angel.”

I wasn’t ready to go there. After living on Velor, I knew something of angels. They were blonde and beautiful. Instead, I was just in the right place at the right time.

I looked carefully at Ann. She seemed to have an air of authority about her.

And that hair. Definitely Aurean.

She saw the look in my eyes and started to tell me her tale, sitting on the side of the bed as she talked. She had indeed been born Primal, but her parents had been killed in a battle when she was only two years old. Badly injured herself, she was rescued and taken back to Velor to be nursed back to health. She subsequently grew up in Laboratory W on Daxxan, the secretly adopted daughter of the Director. He in turn made an interesting proposal to the Science Ministry.

Velorian scientists had long been worried whether Aphrodite’s enhancement during the Rites would affect an Aurean to the same degree as a Velorian. Could another Galen take the Aureans under her wing, and increase the power of their Primes? Two theories evolved from that discussion. One that said there was something intrinsic in Velorian DNA, and the Rites could only work for the young women of Velor. The other group reminded the Ministry that Velorians and Aureans had once been one people. That the genetic differences were less than one tenth of one percent.

The Director finally proposed a way to end the debate. He offered his secretly adopted daughter up to undergo the same Rites as a Protector. The High Council of Protectors and Aphro’dite herself reluctantly agreed.  Shockingly, Ann gained all the powers and abilities of a Protector during her Rites, even growing a Velorian volatai during the subsequent months. Even scarier, her strength was on the upper fringe of Protectors. If she’d been Velorian, she would have been selected for training as a Virago. 

The High Council, now terrified, asserted its ancient authority and tried to suppress the whole affair, going so far as to order her adopted father to sanitize the project. Her adoptive father was appalled. Ann was only 14 years old. She was an innocent. Furthermore, he loved her more than life itself. He defied the Council by slipping her aboard an outbound ship under an assumed name. The captain was a friend, but he wasn’t a fool. As soon he was out of Velorian space, he’d consigned Ann to a small space capsule that was programmed for a wormhole-of-no-return, so called because no one had ever returned through it. Anything was better than the certain death she’d face when a Protector eventually discovered her. He wiped all the ship’s records and put her on a high dose of tranks.

She awakened from the tranks months later on this isolated planet. She dressed like a local, and inserted herself into the society, hiding her unique abilities. She quickly learned that the planet was called Sanctuary, and it hadn’t had contact with anyone since the Seeders had dropped off the settlers here in a rough landing two centuries earlier. Perhaps the records had gotten lost, or perhaps the colony had been written off after the Seeders’ ship never returned. Whatever the truth of the matter, nobody knew they were here. The dangerous nearby nebula and the scarcity of wormholes in this region of the galaxy ensured that no trade routes passed nearby. And their radio transmissions would take hundreds of years to cross from one star system to the next. They had no working starships or the knowledge to make them. 

Realizing that this was one of the few places she could stay hidden, Ann tried to live a normal life, and had risen to the position of CEO of a small publishing firm. Then an Aurean scout ship stumbled upon their world. She watched, like all other Sanctuarians, as the Aureans destroyed a village, enslaving the most attractive young women to serve them on their ship. Unlike the others, Ann fought back. She dug out the forbidden uniform that Aphro’dite had given her, and before she knew what was happening, she’d destroyed the Aurean ship. There were no Aurean survivors.

She’d traveled off planet many times since then, always pretending to be an Aurean. She struck up a friendship with an elderly Aurean statesman named And’ril, the last living member of the founders of Aurea. He’d been ordered back to Aurea. Past his ninth century of life, he didn’t want to return to weakness and heavy gravity to die. So instead, he and Ann formed a desperate plan. He returned with her to Sanctuary and they subsequently married.

But he could not give her a child.

Ann took wandering again, this time meeting and seducing a Kryp’terran man. He visited at long intervals, eventually giving her the children that And’ril could not.

Aayla was 39, Klara was 33 and Paris was 18.

And then a miracle. Myra was born. She was now the youngest at 16. Her father was And’ril himself. 

Ann’s story was the most fantastic thing I’d ever heard. She really was an Aurean Protector, as nutty as that sounded. Yet in my mind, she was behaving more like a Procreator instead of a Protector, since Protectors are forbidden to have children the natural way.

My face must have shown my disbelief when she finished telling her tale. “You don’t believe any of this, do you?”

I didn’t know what to say. An Aurean, enhanced by Aphrod’ite, the most sacred ritual on Velor. I refused to believe it. The distinctive ‘V’ ring on her right hand was Aphrod’ite’s gift to the girls she enhanced. It looked so out of place given Ann’s hair color.

On the other hand, no Aurean could fly, and she definitely could. Whatever the case, I wasn’t in any danger. A Kiral’ing is sacred. She’d give her own life to protect mine. If anything, the Aureans were even more religious about following the custom than the Velorians.

“Of course I do,” I lied. “It’s just that…” my voice trailed away.

“You need proof. Beyond my battle with the Aurean scoutship?” 

“It’s just so far outside the boundaries of anything I’d even heard rumors about back on Velor, especially given the war and…” 

Ann silenced me in mid-sentence, reaching up and tearing her blouse open. Shockingly, she wore the metallic blue of a Velorian Protector’s uniform beneath her it, complete with the now archaic but still distinctive ‘S’ symbol. “Does this convince you?”

I stared in awe at her very colorful chest as an elderly man walked across the room to stand beside her, putting his arm possessively around her waist. His hair was white, his face wrinkled and he was hunched over, but his still youthful eyes said he was Aurean. This had to be And’ril, her husband. A May/October marriage if I’d ever seen one.

He looked deeply into my eyes as he traced a wrinkled finger over the bright ‘S’ on his wife’s chest. “Nice uniform, isn’t it? A piece of history.” He winked playfully at me. “Doesn’t go too well with the hair, though.” I started to nod, confused by everything I’d just heard, and uncomfortable with the way he was caressing his wife in front of me. It felt weird to watch the two of them embracing each other, obviously still in love, yet with him so old and wrinkled and her so young and attractive.

“Have you told him yet, my dear?”

“He’s barely woken up, And’ril.” Ann turned to lead her frail husband halfway across the large room. They began whispering.

“We need to know soon, Ann, or we’ll have to find someone else.”

“He’s not Velorian. Just an enhanced Terran.”

“How good of an enhancement?”

Ann shrugged and then started to explain how I’d saved her by engaging those Aureans.

“Ah, I don’t mean to intrude,” I said, trying not to blush at her enthusiastic comments, “and I do enjoy hearing about my so-called heroics, but the answer is, it’s very good.”

And’ril looked at Ann with raised eyebrow as his voice returned to normal.

“You should find out for sure, Ann. Before we involve the girls.” 

Ann nodded and kissed her husband on the cheek. Her eyes focused on mine as she walked toward me, the shimmer of her uniform looking so sexy beneath her open top. She took my hand and led me down a hallway and through the door into a huge executive office. She locked the door behind her and began to peel off the rest of her business suit, revealing the rest of a Protector’s uniform.

I smiled broadly as she floated in front of me like some bright Christmas ornament, the air filling with her scent. Apparently Protectors everywhere acted the same regardless of hair color. Before I knew it, we were flying.

We landed minutes later in a deserted park at the edge of the city. Lying on the warm grass, Ann looked so impossibly sexy in her tiny skirt and skintight uniform. Her kisses found my lips, sweet, soulful and so sexy, and before I knew it, I was kissing my way across her breasts, stroking her hardening nipples with my strength, tracing my lips up to hers. Her tongue found mine to inflame me with desire, her hands finding my manhood, holding me with an erotic strength that only a Protector possessed. Hers was a desperate, possessive sexuality, almost as if she was afraid to let go. Like she’d found a treasure she never wanted to let go of.  She clearly hadn’t had a man for some time.

I decided to do one more good deed this week. Closing my eyes, I let down my guard against her pheromones. Inhaling their wonder, my body flushed from head to toe, the insanity coming over me only seconds later. I opened my eyes, and leaped playfully into the erotic sea of our desires.

Did I say sea? Try ocean.

My God, what a woman she was. For twelve hours straight she flew from one orgasm to the next, each one seemingly more intense than the last. The Aureans could have come, the world could have ended, the star gone supernova, and we wouldn’t have noticed. She was everything I’d imagined a Protector could be, but never had a chance to discover. A lover of bottomless enthusiasm and intensity. Tenderness, excitement, athleticism, kindness, kinkiness, pain, pleasure… every word that had ever been remotely connected to eroticism, they all became but pale and fancy words for an event that truly had no human equivalent. The total and complete immersion in eroticism. Loving without limits. Every fiber of our bodies and souls merged with the single desire of pleasing each other.

The Velorians call it sorn’fuk. The act of losing oneself in physical love. But if you haven’t lived on Velor, you’d have to expand your imagination to the limits and beyond to have even a clue of what I’m talking about.  I also discovered something new. That sleeping with a woman who wants to get pregnant is different than fucking just for pleasure. Despite the fact that she refused to take off her shiny uniform, out of respect for And’ril and her vows she said, her tiny skirt provided no obstacle to our loving. Penetration was the name of the game. My peaks of passion, expended as deeply inside her as possible, were her passions as well.

But enhanced human or not, a superman by human standards, I eventually ran out of energy. She wasn’t doing a lot better, but together we managed to find our way to her house. And’ril greeted us at the door with hot towels and herbal tea.  He was equally solicitous of me as he was of Ann, massaging her tired body. Then mine. That was a little too kinky for, so I retreated to the large pool behind her house.

Ann joined me, each of us gently bathing the other. She soon gave up on trying to bring any kind of order to my yellow mop. Instead, she climbed out of the pool and made me a great breakfast. Fruits and bacon and eggs and some pastries that melted in my mouth. A big improvement over ship’s food. She was so good to me that I didn’t want to go back to my hotel, doting the way she was on my every whim. But she eventually handed me a key and two envelopes, and then kissed me goodbye at the door.

The first envelope directed me toward a very tall building. Twice as tall as the Empire State building back in New York, although small compared to the towering Hall of Protectors on Velor. The key got me past the doorman, up the elevator and through the door of a very nice penthouse suite on the 190th floor. I felt like a kept man as I wandered through the huge rooms and then out onto the glass balcony. I looked straight down between my feet at the ground two thousand feet below. Thank God heights no longer bothered me since I’d learned how to fly. I spent the evening drinking good whiskey from the well-stocked bar, waiting until I was half drunk before I dared open the second envelope. Inside I found a note with directions and times for a meeting with Ann’s youngest daughter, Myra.

Chapter Two

I was a bit hung over the next morning as I tried to find my way to the designated meeting place: a city park. Nobody who looked remotely like a Supremis was there. Just a lot of scruffy looking people who’d slept the night on the park benches. The phone in my pocket buzzed during my third circuit of the park. It was Ann. She apologized and said Myra had been called into work. Some kind of emergency. She gave me the address of where I could find her. I stepped into the street and flagged down a cab.

The cabbie dropped me off at a street full of flashing lights and jammed up traffic. Some kind of construction accident. An oversized flat-bed truck had tipped over to drop a huge section of prefab concrete onto the road. It had flattened two small cars and part of a bus, and collapsed part of the street. I felt sorry for anyone who’d been in those cars.

I recall Ann telling me that Myra was an elite member of the Fire Rescue Department. A sergeant or something. Not bad for a sixteen-year-old girl. I saw a girl her age talking to the firemen, but I doubted it was her. She wore jeans and denim top, and her skin had a pinkish tint, not the permatan that I was used to from Velor. She was also far too short for a Supremis, looking tiny next to the strapping paramedics and firemen.

Then I noticed that her raven black hair, parted down the center, was shimmering with a hint of dark purple. I’d read somewhere that midnight purple denoted the purest of pure Aurean genetic track. And’ril was supposedly one of the Old Ones, first born after the gene bomb. If this was Myra, then I was looking back into history, staring into a face that matched that of the earliest Aureans.  She seemed to feel my eyes on her back. Turning to stare back at me, her eyes sparkled like blue diamonds in the sunlight. No doubt it now. This was Myra. She gave me a wave, and a shy smile tilted her lips. I started to walk toward her, only to be interrupted when one of the paramedics who was working around the other side of the bus called out something about possible survivors. Myra joined the rush of rescue workers as they converged on his location. Everyone held their breath as Myra brushed the hair from one ear and listened for several long seconds.  Finally, she nodded.

Strangely, instead of digging in with their rescue equipment, the firemen began hauling it out of the way. Myra circled the end of what I could now see was a prefab section of a bridge. She grabbed the end of it, and I heard the crunch of shattering ferroconcrete from fifty feet away as she dug her fingers in to their roots. She bit her lip and tried to lift it. The span gave off an agonizing groan, but it didn’t budge.

Until that moment, I hadn’t fully realized what Ann had meant when she told me that her daughters had been fully integrated into Sanctuary life. Now I knew. They lived openly among the otherwise ordinary humans. Like on an Enlightenment world.

She spread her feet and adjusted her stance to try again.  I scanned the length of the structure, trying to estimate the weight in my head. Easily four hundred tons. Maybe half again that much. I debated walking over to help her, but I wasn’t sure how much I could help.  She gritted her teeth and strained again. This time the span lifted nearly a foot before she dropped it. The ground shuddered beneath my feet. She struggled a third time, arms shaking and face growing red as she finally grunted one end of the span up to waist height. The pavement cracked around her feet as the firefighters bravely ducked under the incredible weight, going to work with their tools. Minutes later, they emerged holding an infant. I heard them shouting about a second girl who was still alive. Three more fireman wiggled their bodies under the span to explore a section of the bus that’d hadn’t been completely crushed. 

Unfortunately, Myra looked as if she were going to drop the span on them. Without thinking, I rushed over to add my strength to hers My legs were soon shaking from the strain as badly as hers, yet together we managed to hoist one end of the massive weight back onto the trailer. Two tires blew out. We shifted it again, and four more tires blew before the trailer rotated back up to rest on all tires. With one end now resting on the flatbed, we walked to the other end. She dug fingers into the ferroconcrete to get a good grip again, and I grabbed the bottom of the span. Together we lifted with every ounce of strength we had, and barely finally managed to slide the span all the way onto the flatbed. 

Myra flashed me silent thanks before walking briskly across the street. She leaned down and wrapped her arms around a steel pillar that had recently been sunk into the sidewalk. I suspected that was what had caused the truck to veer to the side and dump its load, trying to avoid the unplanned No Parking zone. I gawked as she wrenched the pillar out of the ground, tearing a huge hole in the pavement as she did. She did the same for three others, piling them neatly against the building. The owner of the building came out and began to scream at her, talking about his property rights. A couple of cops took him over to their patrol car to fill out some forms.

I walked across the street to join Myra as she brushed her hands off. She held one hand out as she looked up at me.

“Hi. I’m Myra McCloud.”

“There was never any doubt,” I said as I took her hand, glancing back toward the overloaded truck trailer. “That was pretty impressive.” Her fingers were long and slender, her grip slowly tightening, clearly testing me. I was reminded that the Old Ones were stronger than Velorians, notwithstanding the P1’s.

“You weren’t so bad yourself. Ben, isn’t it?”

I nodded. “I couldn’t have budged that thing in a month of Sundays. You were awesome.”

She shrugged. “I inherited some good genes.”

“Good genes?” I grinned. “Is that like saying the sun is warm?” She laughed. “Mom told me you had a strange sense of humor. Welcome to Sanctuary.”

“I’m glad to be here. Considering.”

“I want to thank you for saving my mother’s life, Ben.”

“I think it was mutual. Consider us even.”

“But you left your ship to save her. You didn’t have to do that.”

“It wasn’t as selfless a deed as you might suspect.”

“An honorable one nonetheless. We all owe you one of those debts that can never be paid.”

“You don’t owe me a thing, Myra. Rescuing people seems to be my thing lately.”

“Me too,” she said brightly.

“Speaking of which, that was a rather remarkable piece of rescue work over there.”

She looked back where the fire rescue squad was cleaning up. “Six people died in those cars, Ben, four of them children. The two we rescued have serious injuries. I doubt if the older girl will live. I don’t find that remarkable.” 

“I was talking about the way you got that bridge section off that bus. It would have taken a day to get enough cranes in there to hoist it. Probably too late for the little one.”

She shrugged. “I do what I can.”

“Modesty from a Prime?” I grinned. “I didn’t think that was possible.” She turned back, her eyes smiling. “My only gift is my muscles. And they aren’t really that big.”

“Muscles that barely one in fifty billion beings can match, Myra. Not to mention using that strength to help others. Most Primes are just interested in…” 

“Can I buy you a cup of Espresso,” she interrupted, clearly uncomfortable talking about herself this way. I saw a hint of weariness in her eyes.  “That little feat took a lot out of you.”

She stretched her arms over her head. “I’ll be sore tomorrow, that’s for sure.

That thing was really heavy.”

“Yeah, and you’re a real weakling. I could tell.”

She laughed softly and held my arm tightly as she steered me though the door of a coffee shop. “Not that the locals would ever notice.” “All Ordinaries?”

She sighed. “Unfortunately.”

“You should be proud to contribute to their society the way you do.”

“It’s my society too. I was born here.”

“Which is amazing all by itself. Do you have any idea how few Supremis are born outside the Velorian and Aurean systems?”

She nodded. “It isn’t supposed to happen. Ever. Mom told us. Which is why this place has become our little prison. Keeping the secret of Sanctuary safe and all that jazz.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I’d rather talk about you. Why your ship was so close to our system. And how you got this way? You know, enhanced and all.”

I gave her the Cliff Notes version. She asked a lot about Xara, but I didn’t have much to offer. Xara and I had been too busy on that Scalantran ship to talk much.  Instead, I went on to talk about the latest things I’d heard about Velorian/Aurean politics.

Soon the Espresso appeared. I took a sip of the bitter brew. It was good. Very good.

“So, as I said, you saved Mom’s life out there Ben. I really want to thank you for that. Any way that I can.”

I chuckled. “Your mother already did.”

“Did you enjoy your sorn’fuk?” I saw a half dozen heads swivel to follow the sound of her voice. The accent was on the fuk at the end. It was pronounced like the Anglo-Saxon word.

“What are you talking about?” I sputtered, coffee dribbling down my chin.

“You know, making love to her. Or do Terrans just call it fucking?” 

“I know what a sorn’fuk is,” I said urgently, lowering my voice. Everyone was staring at us now.

“So, did you?”

“We’re not having this conversation,” I said firmly. I was suddenly very aware of Myra’s age.

“Oh, come on, Ben. She’s a healthy woman, barely into her third century, and Dad is well past the age where things work. She told us she granted you a Kiral’ing. What else could you possibly have been doing all weekend?”

I said nothing.

“Well, then how about this one, Ben. Mom asked me to talk to you about your helping us out a bit here. She can’t ask you herself because she owes you. Paris has too much of an attitude to ask anyone anything. Klara is too wrapped up in her little religion, and Aayla is off in her never-never land. So it’s all up to me.” 

“McCloud’s Angels,” I hazarded as I used my napkin.

“So you’ve heard what they call us, huh?”

“Pretty hard not to, Myra. You guys are always in the news. Now, what’s this help you need?”

“Maybe more of a favor. But given that you lived a long time on Earth, you might think it’s kind of a weird. Outside the norms.” 

I smiled. “O.K. I think you’ve got my attention now.” I tried to imagine things that an Aurean would think were outside of Terran social norms.  She twirled a strand of raven hair nervously in her fingers. 

“The situation is this, Ben. We’ve got a rather unique genetic legacy here. Yet we’re outcasts and illegals anywhere else. The Vels were about to sanitize my mother when she came here, and the Aureans, hell, they would take Mom apart just to see what Aphrod’ite did to her.”

I looked levelly at her as I took another sip.

“I’d probably wind up with a job as a ‘living battery’ as Mom calls it, the men lining up to get their daily charge.”

I winced. That was a disgusting thought given her freshness and youth.  She turned to stare out the window as she continued. “Aayla, Klara and Paris could of course live on Kryp’terra, except that nobody knows where that is.”

I set my cup down. “So why don’t you just stay hidden here? No need to get mixed up with that centuries-old Supremis war.”

Her eyes returned to mine. “That’s where the problem lies. We aren’t going to live forever. Then our genetic legacy dies out.”

My heart leaped. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where this was going.  She smiled cutely as she saw the look in my eyes. “But now you are here. Your legacy is interesting, Ben. Human/Velorian enhancement. Good for diversity as you have gobs of junk DNA floating around in your genes. All humans do. Portions of that DNA would get turned on at random during conception to add further diversity to our genes.”

“Yeah, junk DNA, that’s what I’m all about. Ask anyone,” I said sourly.  

“The only problem is that everything we’ve read says that enhanced humans aren’t supposed to be able to father children with Supremis. Our invulnerability extends to our ova.”

“So how can I help?”

She slumped back in her chair and leaned back to look up at the ceiling, combing her hair back behind her shoulders with her fingers. She took a deep breathe before continuing, clearly nervous now. Her blue eyes returned to settle on mine. 

“Mom, ah, she collected a few samples. You know. The lab reported that your motility is almost as good as Velorian. They had an accident just trying to keep the sample in a glass vial. She thinks your sperm quality is good enough to do the job, without the huge risk of birth defect that would come from wearing gold during conception. All we have to do is time our ovulation. That and a lot of practice.”

My heart was racing now. This conversation was heading in a very interesting direction. Still, I decided to play it cool.

“Practice? Are you really asking what I think you’re asking? All of you?”

The look in her face was very serious. “Yes, Ben, I am.” 

I suddenly felt the way I had when I was first en route to Velor. Thrilled to death. Thinking I was the luckiest guy in the universe. Especially given my life back on Earth. I’d been the skinny, geeky kid that no girl would look twice at. Unfortunately, after arriving on Velor, I became the hairy kid with bad skin that didn’t fit in. An enhancee, a ‘fral’let’, which was a synonym for ‘fraud’ or ‘fake’. 

If it wasn’t for Jani’ne, a kinky golden-skinned B-class girl in my math classes who used me to get back at her boyfriend whenever they had one of their fights, I wouldn’t have gotten laid there either. Some years later, on a brief assignment to the atmospheric training school on Atlantea, I was befriended by a fellow trainee named Benteli, who for some reason shared his girlfriend Ivira with me; they even made it a threesome once. I couldn’t figure that one out; it was really peculiar, even for Velor.

I blinked away such strange memories. Now a group of superfemmes I hadn’t even met wanted me as some kind of group husband. My imagination began to race, my body heat rising with it. This was better than anything I’d dreamed about when I was on my way to Velor.

I looked down at my coffee as a more sobering thought punctured that growing bubble of excitement. I would be at their beck and call. Standing at stud, more or less. When someone was ovulating, I’d have to rush to her side. Whether I was in the mood or enjoying someone else’s company or whatever. I imagined alarms going off in the middle of the night, the holo blaring out: Ovulation Alert. I’d leap out of whatever bed I was in and race to another bed to do my good deed. I definitely hadn’t been trained for that kind of job. I wasn’t even sure they trained Messengers for this. And if Ann had exhausted me, her more energetic daughters were going to kill me. Everyone undoubtedly a cteis virgin to boot.  That thought kicked off another very human fantasy. Deflowering virgins. When I left Earth at 16, that was a common enough boast for the jocks who were actually getting laid. My 16-year-old fascination with that concept flooded back. O.K, maybe I could sacrifice my body for the sake of the race. I mean, there were worse jobs, right?

Like being a Minder.

I looked up to see Myra watching me curiously as my thoughts raced, waiting for some reaction. I decided I’d better stop playing hard to get and go sell myself. I didn’t want to repeat my initial mistake with Xara.

“It is true that my enhancement is a good one, Myra. Xara gave a bit too much of herself, if you know what I mean. But I’m not complaining.” 

“That’s what mom said. That you were… impressive.” 

I tried not to blush, but failed miserably. Girls her age had come on to me as a Minder, but my job had been to redirect that youthful desire into more productive paths. Living on Velor around those Messengers, I’d always felt like a runt. The elaborate games of seduction that seemed to amuse Velorian girls endlessly hadn’t included me. I’d developed an inferiority complex as I heard them talk openly about the men they’d had.

She looked down at my lap, really looking through the table, and smiled. I was starting to get hard just by thinking about it. “So is that a yes?” she asked innocently. “I mean, you used to live on Velor, so this wouldn’t be all that different.”

I wet my lips. This was not the time to admit my inexperience. It was instead a time to be charming.

“If your sisters are even half as beautiful as you, any man would consider it an honor.”

What the hell was I saying? I wasn’t volunteering for anything.  Her skin turned even pinker. “I’m the ugly duckling, remember? Not some superblonde.”

Despite my confusion, I couldn’t help but smile at her depreciating nature. “To be honest, I’m a little tired of walking around in a sea of paleness.” It wasn’t strictly true, but it seemed the right thing to say. What I didn’t say was the dangerous beauty of the forbidden Primes had haunted my dreams for some time now. And a chance to get to know someone linked so tightly to the Old Ones was even more exciting.

She smiled as brightly as the rising sun. I’d obviously said the right thing.

“Which goes to prove that you really aren’t Velorian. How very nice.” 

I was on a roll. “So, assuming I go along with this mission of yours, Myra, how is this supposed to work? There are four of you.”

She pulled out a sheet of paper. 

“I’ve worked a schedule out based on our current ovulation cycles. One week with each of us, time enough to get our ovulation routines stabilized. We Supremis have some control over that as you know. That’s a month running, unless Mom wants in. You just keep making the rounds. Mom thinks we should each have at least four kids, spaced three years apart.”

I took along long sip of my Espresso. My hand was shaking as I set it down. Sixteen children? I’d never given serious thought to having any children, what with my transplant to Velor and then my Minder job. Was this now going to be my life’s work? Being a father?

I cleared my throat, trying to think of something to say in response. “Ah, and I suppose this last weekend with your mother was the interview?” I winced. Damn, that came out sounding stupid.

Myra laughed girlishly. “Well, it didn’t start out that way. Just her way of thanking you in a way she thought you’d appreciate. You’d been mumbling in your sleep about Protectors before you came back around. So she put on that old uniform to impress you.”

A drawback to lucid dreaming. I always talked in my sleep. 

“But you surprised her instead. You know, with your… skills.” 

She paused to watch the look in my eyes, then shrugged. “I mean, not like a Messenger or anything, but she called us all up and we decided to make you this offer. If you accept, you can start tomorrow. Klara will be in town. Her annual review with the bankers, so to speak.” She smirked as she set a white envelope on the table. 

Messengers. Always those damn references to Messengers. Same as back on Velor. Didn’t these superfemmes realize the emasculating effect that had on lesser men?

Lesser men? Now I was saying it. No, I wasn’t going to play this game. Not this time. I slowly leaned back in my chair and tried to look disinterested. For the first time in my life, I was holding all the cards.

“Whoa. I haven’t said I’m actually accepting anything, Myra. And I don’t even know your sisters.”

She looked blankly at me with this ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Like she couldn’t believe I was even debating the offer. “You didn’t know me an hour ago either, Ben. But I think we’re getting along fine.”

“Let’s just say that if I do this, Myra, I do it my way. None of this week here, week there stuff. I decide where I… go, depending how I feel and how my mood is.” I had been about to say ‘where I work’, but that sounded way too clinical. 

“You mean, you decide each day who you want that night?” 

“Something like that. And it’s not necessarily going to be every night.” I thought of beer and shooting pool. My other passions. Hobbies that could be indulged on any world that humans had settled.

She looked angry now. “And what if it’s not equal time? What if it doesn’t match our ovulation cycle? We can control our cycles to some degree, but not to the day.”

“Life is never equal,” I said with a shrug, finding that I was enjoying having a little power of my own. “And we’ll eventually hit the right day.” It was Myra’s turn to slump back in her chair, eying me warily. Clearly this conversation wasn’t going the way she’d expected it.

“I don’t like it. Not at all.  Aayla will just twist you around her fingers. Claim you for her own.”

“Why is that?”

“She’s the oldest, so she always gets her way. She can even look any way she wants. No man can resist her.”

“You’d be surprised what I can resist. Remember that I grew up on Velor. Plus I’ve got a special talent. Pheromones only work on me if I want them to.” Her eyes opened wide. “So Mom was right about that too.” I was on a roll now. “So I’m not interested in any envelopes. What I am interested in is whether you are free tonight?”

Myra frowned and looked away. “You’re just saying that to be nice. Who would want me? The kid sister? The one with just Aurean genes?” I realized at that moment that she’d come to this meeting with her own fears and insecurities. Insecurities I’d been playing callously with just like those girls back on Velor used to tease me. She was alone and isolated here, the only Aurean other than her nearly thousand-year-old father. Even her mother had a lot of Velorian DNA. And her sisters were Kryp’terrans, the closest thing to goddesses outside the Galen.

My little bubble of burgeoning ego collapsed like a punctured balloon. I suddenly felt like an ass.

“You had the courage to come here and confront me, Myra. And that trick with the bridge span and those posts wasn’t so bad. And I think you’re beautiful.” Myra kept her back to me. “Reserve that judgment until you meet my sisters.” “I’m a sucker for dark hair.” A little white lie. “Besides, I’m not interested in meeting your sisters. I have eyes only for the wonder of Aurea. For one who can claim her heritage back to the Old Ones.”

She slowly turned back to look at me, her eyes sparkling beneath hair that nearly hid her face. She laughed softly, a beautiful, tinkling laugh. “Except I’m also the youngest.”

“Which makes you charmingly unaffected.” I didn’t know how else to answer that.

She brushed the hair from her eyes. Eyes so bright and eager. “Does that mean you want to fuck me?”

I stared at her in shock. Despite her crude question, the look in her eyes so innocent and pure. She looked so Terran, but her no-nonsense attitude toward sex was definitely Aurean.

She saw the blank look in my face. “You know, sorn’fuk?” She glanced around the crowded coffee shop. “I mean, this isn’t the best place, but we could slip out back.” She looked back at me with those eager, blue eyes. “If you want, I mean.” 

I wanted that more than anything in my life, but she was too young. Still, my thoughts were spinning, and the rationalizations began. Unlike before, she wasn’t one of my charges. Nobody even knew this world existed. I’d held myself back for years around girls like her. She owed me. I was the only guy on the planet who could make love to her.

The rationalizations won out over my good sense. “So, you Aureans really do grow up fast, don’t you, Sergeant.”

She laughed. “Oh, so now I’m just Sergeant, huh?”

“I’m a sucker for a girl in uniform.”

“I don’t have a uniform. Other than the one I was born with.”

“As I said,” I winked.

It was raining when we went back outside. We ran hand in hand through the puddles, splashing and laughing like children. We’d gone a half dozen blocks when I wrapped my arm tightly around her waist and we flew.  She squealed and giggled like a young girl as I rose straight up like a rocket, thrilled by my levitation. The fascination of every flightless Aurean. I landed us as lightly as sparrows on the balcony ledge two hundred stories up. Pure luck. I usually don’t fly all that gracefully. Naturally, I promptly tripped and fell off the all to land on top of her on the balcony floor. Better than falling the other way.  Two hundred stories is a long way down.

We lay there in the rain, laughing and kissing and tearing the wet clothing off each other. By the time we fell into the bubbling water of the Jacuzzi, I was so ready.

“Oh, my lord,” she gasped, as her hand dipped under the surface to find my erection, her long fingers barely wrapping around me. “I had no idea a man could be so…” Her voice trailed off as she held me with both hands, the water bubbling around me, her touch so gentle, as if she was afraid to hurt me.

“I’m not a Frail, Myra.” I held her hand and squeezed it with all my strength.  Her eyes grew big, and she gasped. Then I did, as she held me a great deal of her Primal strength. Testing me. Far from hurting, it felt so incredible, especially as she began to kiss her way down my chest, my stomach, murmuring something about “my superman.”

Her kisses soon found that most super part of me, teasing me. I tried to lift her up, wanting to take her in a way that no Ordinary could, but she slipped from my grasp to duck under the water. She drew me in, her lips and tongue working their magic. She was good, as in ‘not even close to her first time’ good, and I came with a power that would have injured a lesser woman.

She was smiling as she came back up from under the hot water. I lay gasping in pleasure against the side of the tub. She looked as if she’d just tasted the finest nectar, and it occurred to me that this was probably the only kind of sex she’d ever known. Living on a world of Ordinaries and all.  I was suddenly determined to reward her attentions in a way only I could. Full on. Fortunately, my recovery time was almost as good as a Messenger’s, which means that I’m ready to go again in two minutes flat. I was very full of myself as I lifted her out of the water, holding the rounded curves of her backside as I lowered her trembling form over my proud manhood.

She wrapped her legs around me and held me tightly as I started to enter her, her fingers digging painfully into my shoulders. “Slow… go slow, oh please, not that slow, oh, yes, just go on, harder, oh, now, faster…” she cried out like a confused virgin.

Not yet a woman in all ways.

I did as she asked, more or less. Not that I could do anything else. She was incredibly tight. I didn’t know anything about deflowering virgins, but I’d read somewhere that the art is in gradually advancing, retreating, and then giving her body a chance to recover. She would be feeling entirely new sensations, not all of them pleasant at first.

Well, you can forget that last part. It doesn’t apply to Aureans. Her enthusiasm gathered energy like a summer thunderstorm. Lightning and all. When the obstacle of her maidenhood presented itself, located deeper than any human could find it, guarding the entrance to her cteis, the inner vagina of a Supremis, her long legs tightened around my hips. I grabbed her ass with all my strength, both of us straining against each other. The thin membrane stretched inside her, and I felt a sharp, stabbing pain shoving back up into my groin from the enormous pressure, but I was so turned on by her increasingly excited cries that I didn’t dare think about the titanic forces involved. She desperately poured every once of her superhuman strength into those gorgeous legs of hers into my body, her heels digging painfully into my ass as she screamed in pain/passion so loudly that the overhead windows shattered into a waterfall of broken glass. She launched me backward and we landed hard on her back on the cold floor, glass fragments pulverizing beneath her steel-hard skin. I used all my flight power to thrust into her, and the marble shattered beneath her back.

She screamed out in passionate pain and I was suddenly freed. Falling headlong into the insanity of her first full on sex, she couldn’t seem to get enough of the feel of me all the way inside her, her body soaring and then exploding in desire to take me on the dizzy journey with her. Our enthusiasm eventually collapsed the walls of the Jacuzzi, a wave of hot water washing us across the floor.  Even then, she didn’t slow down as she found new positions and discovered new pleasures every moment.

She was definitely a woman now.

Too much woman as it turned out. My eyes began to blur as my body suddenly ran out of energy. The world disappeared into a black haze.  When I woke up, Myra was standing across the room by a large mirror that was all steamed up from her shower. An actinic blaze of light from her eyes reflected from the glass to dry her long hair in mere seconds. Obviously a very practiced gesture. I lifted my head from the pillow as she slipped into a pair of jeans and a green top. She looked incredibly cute.

“So, my superman awakes. I didn’t hurt you did I?” 

“You were incredible, Myra,” I said with undisguised enthusiasm. “Sorry if I conked out on you. When I run out of energy, it’s like turning out a lamp. No warning.”

She danced across the room to straddle me on the bed, interlacing her fingers in mine to pin my arms over my head, leaning down to kiss me. “That was the best night of my life, Ben. I never knew it could be so good with a man.” 

“And I’ve never been loved with that kind of wildness, Myra.” I winked up at her. “Deflowering virgins is obviously dangerous work.” 

She laughed. “You’ve just never been with an Aurean. Dad says the word Prime comes from Primal. Throwbacks to our barbaric past.” She flipped backwards off the bed to land catlike in the middle of the purple and blue Persian rug that decorated my bedroom.

I rose stiffly from the bed to give her an exaggerated bow. “Then I defer to my barbarian lady.”

She smiled sexily. “A lady who is ready for her next conquest of steel.” I sagged into a bedside chair. “Let me catch my breath first. And get some energy into me.”

“Then we’ll satisfy my other passion instead. Get dressed.” I rose wearily to throw on some clothes, and was barely half dressed when she enthusiastically dragged me out the door and down the elevator to find another coffee shop.

“I’m totally addicted,” she claimed.

The sign over the door said Shalimar. It was a casual place, reminding me of a coffee shop I’d once seen back on Earth while traveling with my folks in Amsterdam. People sat on the floor in the back, pillows all around them, smoking and drinking coffee. The air was thick with the sweetness of marijuana, punctuated by the sharpness of tobacco, the lighting subdued and rosy. Over top of it all was the smell of strong coffee.

We slipped into the crowd of marijuana stoned caffeine addicts, most of them leaning on pillows, some of them reclining to stare up at the ceiling. A highly detailed forest scene decorated the room, murals on the walls depicting mountains and lakes, and a view of the blue sky through trees painted on the ceiling. It wasn’t art, but it was impressive.

I found myself sitting next to a heavily pierced girl who was blurry-eyed stoned. She was rocking herself back and forth, chanting something under her breath.

Myra curled up against my back, wrapping her long legs around me, resting her chin on my shoulder as we waited for our Espresso to come. “So who do you like fuking better, Ben? Me or my mother?”

The pierced girl overheard, and she turned to stare at me, then at Myra, who just laughed. I lowered my voice. “Did you see that look you just got?” 

“Then answer my question and I won’t embarrass you further.” I dropped my voice to a whisper as I twisted around to face Myra, leaning close to touch my forehead to hers. Her legs were still around my waist, her heels digging into my lower back to hold us close. “O.K. If I had to describe her, I’d say she was hungry, even desperate. Like she’d been saving herself up for decades.” 

“And me?”

“You were so sweet. Simple and unaffected. Open and passionate. Fresh.  Primitive. Loving. Warm. Comfortable.” I shrugged. “I guess cause we’re closer to the same age.”

“Comfortable?” she repeated, left eyebrow raising.

“It was weird with your mom. I couldn’t help but keep thinking of her age.”

“She’s not even three hundred yet.”

“And you are what, barely 16? Only last month?”

“So? As you said yourself, we Aureans grow up fast.”

“That’s my point. We’re not that different in age. What’s ten years when we’re going to live for centuries?”

The Espresso came. Myra reached to the side to pick up her cup from the bench, taking a long sip of the bitter brew. Her luminous eyes remained focused on mine. “That was my first time, Ben. Inside like that. Cteis.” I nodded, not knowing how to respond. She’d clearly been far too strong for any Ordinary to make it with her as deeply as that.  “How many women have you slept with, Ben? Other than my mom and the Protector who enhanced you?”

“What’s that got to do with…”

“You don’t have to pretend with me, Ben.”

Could she read minds or something? “Plenty.”

“One. Right?”

My worldly bravado collapsed. How could she know? I sighed and leaned back against some pillows. “Just Jani’ne. A Velorian.” I felt like I was confessing a great sin.

“I thought so. You’re going to need more practice with me before you meet my sisters. Lots more.”

“I don’t… I mean, I haven’t… I don’t need…” 

I saw several men looking strangely at me. “You’re telling me I need practice? This coming from a girl who was a virgin a few hours ago?”

Myra nodded solemnly, trying to keep a straight face. She looked so demure and innocent, so human, but she was definitely Aurean at the core. Sexual competitiveness was never far from the surface. “My skills comes with my genes.  You have to learn yours.”

A thrill raced through my body, making me smile even brighter. “Well, I guess I’ve always wanted a personal trainer.” The thought of Myra as a sorn’fuk trainer was mind-bending.

“Then kiss me, you fool.”

I did. The Espresso was forgotten as we stumbled out the back door into the alley, tearing at each other’s clothes again. She was still wearing her jeans, and only her jeans, as she straddled me. The tough denim tore like tissue paper as she lowered herself over me. She fucked me with such enthusiasm that the stone paving bricks shattered beneath my back. I struggled to roll her over to return the favor, unable to resist the insanity of her pheromones any longer. All that smoke in the coffee shop had done something to me.

I vaguely remember the back wall of the shop collapsing sometime later, bricks raining down on us. I also recall plowing a trough through the paving blocks with her back, then through the wall of the next building, collapsing it with a flurry of frantic thrusts.

I finally had the good sense to get us airborne, and we flew through rain-filled clouds, the lightning attracted to our dense bodies, teasing us with millions of volts. We landed on top of a mountain summit in the middle of a storm, and I was lucky enough to take a direct strike while we were very close to a peak of ecstasy.  The bolt traveling from my body to hers through that intimate pathway. Her orgasm soared to the next level, at least until the summit rocks shattered beneath her back to send us tumbling over a half-klick high cliff. We landed hard in the boulder field far below.

Myra giggled excitedly as I managed to get us airborne again. She pointed this way and that, guiding me toward her favorite beach. We landed in the soft, white sand, experimenting with the grittiness, inside and out. Being Aurean, she decided she liked it, but I didn’t.

I took us out to sea, and we swam and made love with the dolphins as I carefully washed the sand away. The entire pod went crazy around us. Did Supremis pheromones work on dolphins too?

We finally returned downtown to continue our loving on the top of my building. She laughed and hung upside down off the transmission tower as I tried to fly well enough to make love to her in that position. Sort of like a bumblebee trying to harvest pollen from a flower. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm got the best of us, and we fell from the tower to crash through the glass ceiling of a nightclub on the other side of the building from my penthouse. We landed beside the drummer in the middle of what sounded like a rock concert on steroids, fuking to 120-decibel music, the stage smoke billowing around us.

No matter how wild and kinky our night got, Myra never wanted to slow down, she never grew tired or sore, she always wanted more. Like most girls her age, she was indefatigable, caring nothing for what other people saw or thought.  Unfortunately, sometime just before dawn, my body ran out of gas again. I had no idea how many times we’d made love. All I know was that it was the wildest night in my life.

Chapter Three

I’m not completely sure how I got home after that. I do know that I slept alone the next day and night.

I realized now that Myra was only the first of what were going to be a series of cha’lays, the act of deflowering a virgin female. Given that we’re talking about a hymen made of nearly invulnerable tissue, it would have been easier to penetrate armor plate.

I turned on the holo, and was immediately confronted by some very revealing footage of Myra and myself. I gasped as one explicit scene unfolded—the back stage of that pop concert. Millions of people had just watched me proudly transform this lovely McCloud girl into a woman. We were the top story on the news!

My human sensibilities returned and I leaped up to turn the holo off. I couldn’t believe they were showing such things. I was tingling and blushing and embarrassed and angry as I walked back into the living room. The broadcasting rules that I’d always hated on Earth suddenly seemed like a good idea. A wax-sealed envelope was hanging out of my leather bag. How did that get there? I tore it open. Inside was a note saying that I was to meet Klara, and an address at some bank. A folded up street map was attached.  Damn it. Not already.

But I’d promised.

I knew from long experience not to try to follow one of those street maps from the air. Things always looked different up there. Instead, I took the elevator to street level and waved down a cab.

The cabbie dropped me off in front of a large building in the center of downtown. The words above the door weren’t in a language I knew, but it definitely looked like a bank. I walked through the front door and asked for Klara McCloud. 

The cute young thing at the receptionist’s desk looked startled. I asked again and she made a phone call, whispering about the “McCloud man.” An attractive older woman with mousy brown hair soon arrived to look me up and down. She didn’t offer me her hand. “I’m Saran Lightfoot. What business do you have with Klara McCloud at my bank?”

“My business is my own,” I replied, trying to remain polite  “Well, I hope you are going to set her straight. That self-avowed little goddess thinks she can come in here and meddle in things that are none of her business.” “What kinds of things?” I didn’t like the sound of this.

“Feeding the poor. Sharing the wealth. She calls it leveling the playing field.  She has all kinds of euphemisms for theft. But what it comes down to in the end is criminal behavior.”

I glanced over at the cute young thing behind the desk. She was staring dreamy-eyed at my pants. I remembered the newscast, and felt myself blush. Saran saved me by heading off across the lobby. I followed her through a doorway and down a long corridor and finally through a massive vault door. The steel inner walls had a faintly purplish cast. Vendorian? Unlikely given Sanctuary’s technology, unless the Galen had left a database on seeded worlds that gave instructions on some aspects of beyond-Earth technology. But quality Vendorian steel could only be made in zero gravity.

I was about to ask Saran about that when we turned another corner, and I found myself facing a dozen heavily armed policemen. Great, I thought. What have I gotten myself into now?

“He’s a friend of Miss High and Mighty,” Saran said flippantly to the police Captain.

“Exactly what kind of friend?” the Captain asked me, eyes narrowing.

“That’s my business.” I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d never met Klara. He aimed a scanner at me. “He’s just human.” The other policemen relaxed. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or insulted. Most scanners concluded that I was Velorian.

“Your scanner is useless,” Saran said sharply. “Just like those puny weapons you’ve brought. He’s enhanced. Are you too incompetent to even watch the news? Probably too busy eating sweet rolls or hustling hookers.” 

“So, what’s an enhanced human male doing consorting with McClouds?” the Captain asked, his voice still professional despite her insinuations.

“Are you completely dense?” Saran said depreciatingly. “What other man on this planet could…” 

“…help me keep you fat cats from lining your own pockets,” a strong feminine voice interrupted from behind me.

I turned to see a blonde woman approaching down the hallway, her feet barely brushing the floor. She was extremely tall, very slender, and dressed in something that resembled a Protector’s uniform. A pair of red boots made her legs look incredibly long. She wore a skintight blue top, but with no insignia. Her eyes flashed a mesmerizing blue as she paused to face Saran, standing a head taller than her.

Saran wasn’t intimidated. “So, the ultimate thief, Klara McCloud, returns to rip off my bank again.”

Klara turned to look at the smooth steel wall of the safe. “Supersteel this year, I see. That must have cost you a pretty penny.” “

Not even you can open it this time,” Saran said proudly.

Klara ran her hands over the steel wall before turning to face Saran. “Don’t count on that.”

“If your poor people want a better life, Klara, then tell them to work for it.”

“With your laws and your taxes? You take everything from them anyway.”

“I’m not going to argue politics with you,” Saran said coldly.

“Good. Then why don’t you punch in the combination to avoid my making a mess of your pretty new vault?”

“I will not help you steal, Klara. You can’t open it anyway.” 

“Steal? Your money belongs to the people,” Klara said haughtily. “I’m just here to ensure its fair and proper annual distribution to the poor.” 

Saran stood her ground. “This is illegal, Klara. I’ve brought the police this year. If you do this, these officers will be compelled to arrest you.” 

Klara laughed. “Look up the law, Saran. Congress granted we McCloud’s immunity years ago.”

I glanced at the cops. They weren’t drawing their weapons. Instead, they were behaving more like spectators, eyes big, mostly just staring at Klara’s legs. 

“The Senate is considering new laws,” Saran snapped back at her. “Retroactively.”

“They won’t,” Klara said with a toss of her blonde hair. She looked at the policemen. “This is your last chance to prevail upon this deranged woman, Captain, and prevent a lot of expensive property from being destroyed.” 

The Captain glanced at both women before stepping back. “It’s not my call to make. Miss McCloud has a historical claim on interest earnings from certain accounts. That money is in this vault. Your vault, Mrs. Lightfoot. However, you have a right to determine the time and place of its disbursement.” 

“Disbursement? There will be no disbursement,” Saran hissed through clenched teeth. She crossed her arms and glared daggers at Klara. 

Klara rolled her eyes at the Captain. “Right. About as I expected.” She turned around to face the vault door. “Time to do this the McCloud way.” She grabbed the handle while bracing her left knee against the thick door, and pressed the fingers of her other hand against the faintly purplish steel just above the handle. She began to pull. Her back suddenly looked very strong.  A few moments later the steel door gave off high-pitched squeal that was followed by a riot of small pops as the handle bent slightly. Klara pulled harder yet, and the door began to give off a horrible groan. The groan rose into a deafening scream as the handle slowly bent, the door bulging outward with it. My jaw fell open. For all the Primal strength Myra had displayed, Klara’s power was something else entirely.

The purplish steel began to flare white-hot where the handle was attached, a clear indication that it was indeed Vendorian steel. Stress ripples appeared in the door. The entire building seemed to give off a low groan now. Klara didn’t even seem to be working all that hard as she turned to look at me.  A Protector wouldn’t even dream of performing such a feet. Even a massively muscular Virago would be hard pressed to bend Vendorian steel even half this thick. Yet Klara was model thin and she was doing it easily. By any physics or genetics I understood, what I was watching should have been impossible. 

The door unfortunately didn’t understand the impossibility of its own destruction. It was soon hanging crookedly on its mangled hinges, locking bolts sheared and bent, the thick door itself bent nearly in half. Klara walked inside to rummage around before returning with a huge pallet of platinum bars over her head. About twenty tons worth I’d guess. She marched down the hallway to kick open the locked door at its end; her long legs still a wonder to my eyes.

By the time I followed the cops outside, she was gone. She hadn’t even acknowledged my presence other than during her opening comment.  I was wondering what to do next when a young boy walked up to tug on my sleeve. He handed me an envelope. He said the ‘flying lady’ gave it to him to give to me.

The paper inside described a location that was four thousand klicks away. A tropical island.

I’m not that fast in an atmosphere, so it took me nearly eight hours of flying to get there. I descended through mid-afternoon tropical rain clouds to see a beautiful island with sandy beaches. There were ornate buildings in the middle of a jungle of palm trees, the construction suggesting a temple of some kind. Spiraling towers with low stone buildings lay in between, the walls covered with stone carvings. Dozens of monks wearing black robes were walking around, some of them chanting.

I landed on the beach just outside the palm trees and opened my pack to get dressed. For obvious reasons, it’s easiest to fly naked, especially since my top speed is close to the Mach. A pair of shorts and a brightly colored t-shirt were enough for the tropics. I buried my bag in the sand. Remaining barefooted, I followed one of the paths inward.

A young monk met me at the edge of the temple complex. “You are here to worship the Goddess?” he asked.

I didn’t like the sound of that. Both Myra and the woman at the bank had said something about Klara’s religion, but neither had suggested that Klara was the religion. 

The monk smiled angelically as I nodded, then turned to lead me toward the center of the complex. Artwork and sculptures lined the narrow alley. They were almost Hindu in appearance. Mostly phallic and fertility symbols. Some of the larger phallic symbols were made of steel, and most of them had a slightly misshapen and melted look to them. They became more numerous and larger as we approached the central spire. The ones closest to the central temple would have intimidated a Messenger.

I was finally ushered through a triangular door into a large room. The walls were made of red brick with stained glass windows set in them. It looked like the inside of a Christian church. Hardly what I’d expected to find in the middle of this obviously pagan temple. Shockingly, a huge phallic symbol hung overhead. It must have been ten feet long and anatomically accurate for an erection.

Klara was standing in front of the altar, eyes nearly closed, her head tilted as if in a trance. She was wearing a different style of red and blues now. Bare midriff, black leather pants and jacket, her top adorned with the archaic Supremis symbol.  Sexy, but in a street punk kind of way. It definitely wasn’t a divine outfit.  I debated how I was supposed to greet someone who considered herself a goddess but was dressed like this, and finally went with something antiquated but hopefully proper.

“Hello again, Lady Klara,” I said with a little bow.

“Only my mother and sisters call me that. Or that evil witch at the Bank of Sanctuary.” Her eyes didn’t open, and her voice was cold, almost bitter. “You are not of them.”

“I think you made that abundantly clear at the bank today, Klara. I’m surprised they didn’t arrest me for just knowing you.”

She tilted her head upright and opened her eyes to look at me. They glowed purplish blue, dissecting me like a laser. “I’ve shared their misbegotten wealth with the poor every year since I was ten. They keep moving their money around, so I have to find their new location each year.”

“What are you? A Robin Hood type of character?”

“Robin who?”

“Sorry. An old Earth myth. Steal from the rich to support the poor.” 

“That is what I do,” she nodded. “Except its not stealing to return stolen money to its rightful owners. Stolen by improper interest rates. Usury.” 

“Seems like they should save their expensive vaults and just change how the system works.”

“Too logical for Sanctuarians.”

“And here I thought you guys had things figured out on your little world.”

“Hardly. Which brings us to you. Have you come to my island to worship me?”

“Hasn’t Myra or your mother contacted you?”

Klara sighed, her stately manner deflating. She waved Myra’s envelope. “Bearing a child. Saving the race and all that bullshit. How much is my mother paying you for this shit?”

I cringed as she reverted to talking like a girl from the streets. It burst whatever was left of my image of a stately and all caring goddess. And how did she reconcile her Robin Hood-brand social conscience with her arrogance as goddess to a cult? How much of her liberated largesse had gone into the building of this temple? But it would surely be futile for me up bring up that seeming hypocrisy...

“This isn’t about money, Klara,” I said quietly. “It’s not even my idea. But I’ve agreed to help.” 

“Help?” she laughed loudly. “How can you help? No pathetic manhood could or should ever defile my beauty. I can only be worshipped with the perfection and purity of steel.” 

The polished and half melted phallic symbols all over the place suddenly made sense. Plus all the monks who were busy making more. I had an unsettling vision of what must be some very kinky religious ceremonies. Clearly this little cult of Klara’s was intended solely to serve her excessive sexual needs. There was nothing remotely human about it.

“Men are useless and hopelessly soft,” she added, effectively ruining any hope I had of creating a mood. “Unclean too.”

Her attitude was really starting to piss me off now. If not for my promise to Myra, I’d have turned and walked away. Instead, I gave her back a little of her own attitude. 

“Yet you play with the softness of mere steel? How pathetic for a born Kryp’terran.”

“It’s Supersteel,” she said proudly. “It is beyond the power of anyone but a Supremis to bend.”

“Yet it is shaped by ordinary men and their torches and tools. There are far stronger things in this universe.”

She rose to her feet to stand a half a head taller than me in her heels. “You dare challenge the perfect purity of the goddess with mere flesh and blood?” 

“I’m not mere, by anyone’s imagination, Klara, and that steel of yours is far from the hardest thing in the universe. Trust me on this.” My ego was inflating again. Ann and Myra had given me confidence.

“I told you, that is not my name. Here I am merely Goddess.” 

“What you are is a sex starved half-Velorian bitch, Klara. This entire island, this so-called religion of yours, it’s all just a pitiful substitute for a man.” I knew I was pushing it, but she’d pissed me off. And when I’m pissed, my mouth always gets me in trouble.

She stepped closer, fists clenching, muscles standing out like steel cables, an array of angry emotions crossing her face. I wasn’t sure if she was going to scream or cry, or whether she was going to knock me halfway to the moon or kiss me. She did none of those things. Instead, she unleashed her heat vision. 

She had very powerful eyes, and the flare of thousands of degrees hurt like hell as it burned down the front of my body. But I didn’t flinch. Never show fear in front of an attacker, I’d been told. Except I wasn’t sure if this was an attack or some kinky type of foreplay.

I heard a soft gong sounding in the distance, but didn’t have time to wonder what that was before her focus found my rising ardor. Her eyes heated me like a poker in a blacksmith’s forge. Pain turned to sublime pleasure as my hormones soared, inspired by her heat and her dangerous beauty. I became the superman that I was.

Klara blinked her eyes back to normal and just stared down at me, licking her lips, obviously surprised. I wasn’t nearly as large as her most outrageous phallic symbols, but they would have melted under her assault. I was anything but melted. She walked around me, her intense expression reminding me of a hungry cat about to pounce on a rat.

Okay, so maybe it was foreplay. Either that or she was cooking her lunch! When she returned to face me, she shrugged her jacket off, revealing that the blue uniform left her shoulders bare. She looked surprisingly strong considering her slenderness. She slipped her thumbs under the waistband of her leather pants, and effortlessly sliced them down to her ankles, shreds of black leather flying everywhere. Standing back up, naked now except for her Supremis top, she stood close enough for my cock to brush erotically against her flat stomach.

Moving sensuously, she lifted her hands to my shoulders, and tried to push me down. I held my ground, and instead tried to kiss her. She leaned her head back and increased the pressure on my shoulders to enormous levels, using her flying power to keep herself rigid. Her hair swirled wildly around her head as the stone under my feet started to crack noisily. Her strength was utterly shocking, the pressure so great that my knees began to shake, then bending as she slowly drove me to my knees.

I wasn’t thrilled by her using brute strength to overpower me, obviously assuming I was going to pleasure her. But, by God, her legs were beautiful. I couldn’t help myself as I began kissing my way up those long legs. She rewarded me by lessening her grip on my shoulders, and the sculpted steel of her legs softened to silky softness. She opened them slightly, inviting my kisses inward. Her skin carried the faint taste of chocolate accented with honey and a touch of saltiness. But it was the musk and wildflower scent that drew me toward the stronger sweetness of her naked arousal. Her skin was so smooth and warm, almost like as if it was slightly oiled.

She became impatient as I slowly kissed my way upward, tangling her fingers in my hair to hold me roughly to her sex. I gently parted her with my tongue, tracing upward through the musky nectar, that strange hint of chocolate intriguing me. I finally arrived at that nub of her infinite pleasures.

She stiffened and cried out softly as I traced my tongue around it. She hugged my face to herself with a desperate strength, her body vibrating with unrequited desire. It was all I could do to draw that nub between my lips to hold it, my tongue flicking far faster and stronger than any Ordinary could manage. Her body felt like a volcano building toward a cataclysmic eruption, quivering violently with earthquakes of barely restrained desire. Thrilled by my power over her, and wanting to remove all restraint, I gently closed my teeth and held her tightly, vibrating my tongue even faster.

She screamed and her body seemed to explode. I felt myself flying, then crashing into the far wall to be half buried by a shower of broken stone. I shook myself off as I got slowly back to my feet, only to have her tackle me, tangling her long legs tangle up in mine. I fell to the marble floor as she spun around lithely to land on her feet, straddling my face. I looked up between those long legs and saw heaven itself. Above heaven, I saw her red and blue top glowing beneath her tousled blonde hair, and knew she was the most desirable woman I’d ever seen. 

Klara smiled softly as she turned away to walk slowly around the perimeter of the room. She knew the effect she was having on me. Her nipples were so huge now, tenting her top, her body fully aroused. 

The monks gathered around us and gazed in amazement. She was clearly getting off on the concentration of male hormones in the room. These monks were anything but celibate, even if she was inviolate as far as they were concerned. But did they know how much danger they were in now?

Klara finally returned back to face me, wrapping her hands around the length of my erection. She lifted me straight up, by body weight hanging from her grip. The monks started to hum something. I looked uncomfortably at them, realizing that part of me had just become the newest icon in her religion. 

I had to take advantage of that — for their sake. 

“She doesn’t need the likes of you any longer,” I shouted at them. “Begone, or you will suffer my wrath — after I’m done with your Goddess!”

I’m the one who’ll be done with him,” she shouted back. “But none of you are worthy to witness that.”

I had been afraid she’d gainsay me, and if she had… 

She remained in control as the monks fled, slowly guiding me into herself, and I thrust impatiently upward into her engulfing warmth, only to find that she was astoundingly tight. I closed my eyes as she began to breathe hard as she lowered herself over me, finally giving herself up to her fuking.

Of course, the hotter she got, the tighter she held me inside her. Much, much tighter, finally trapping me at full stroke. She opened her eyes and stared down at me, smiling like a tigress gloating over her prey, her body quivering and eyes fluttering as the first brush of orgasm teased her.

“No… no man can withstand… my power,” she whispered hoarsely. “The gift… of power… power of a true… Goddess!”

I threw myself against her, managing to move a few inches deeper, and her words ended in a scream as she suddenly stiffened, her mouth opening in a perfect O. I tore my fingers from the stone to reach up and hold her tightly. No Ordinary should be this close to a Supremis during orgasm. 

I struggled desperately to roll her over on her back, but the powerful muscles that were holding the length of me began to ripple inside, vaporizing the last shreds of my self-control. That wondrous chilling buzz of total release exploded inside me as she began to sing, her voice rising in half scream, half music, growing so loud that it shook the small tower.

I was barely aware that her legs weren’t wrapped around me, a requirement to contain the shared hormonal conflagration inside her body. Then the insanity washed over me as I came in a gigantic rush, and the heat of Supremis hormonal annihilation exploded deep inside her body. The world turned nuclear white around me.

When I came to, I found myself lying in a depression of crushed granite. I was alone — there was no sign of the monks. When I stepped outside what had once been a temple. I saw Klara walking along the beach as if in shock. 

“We could have killed them,” she said. “I could have killed them.”

“But you didn’t. We didn’t.” 

“You’ve set me free.”

Whatever she had felt before, whatever she felt now, turned into hot passion. At first I thought she was trying to fuck me to death. We dueled back and forth trying to steal each others energy, but my ability to withstand the insanity of her pheromones left me enough in control to control her passion, to guide her, and to eventually please her. By morning we were moving in perfect synchronicity, an angelic smile on her lips. I felt as if I’d just broken a wild mare that had been running free on the range.

Yet my body was aching and sore. I needed time to recover. To regain my energy. That was going to take days this time, not minutes. We parted without further words, but with a kiss. 

My first attempt to fly ended with a belly flop in the sand. I spit the sand from my mouth as I picked myself and ran toward the opposite side of the tiny island. I managed to stay airborne on my second attempt. I flew low and slow. It was a very, very long way home.

Our encounter had been a close call, I realized, for both Klara and myself. But I knew we were both the better for it. At least I hoped so. 

Chapter Four

Four days later, another envelope arrived through the pneumatic tube, the usual way of transmitting documents on in the city. It instructed me to fly to Paris. Not the city, but the girl.

Myra’s note described a surfing hangout on the southern edge of the southwestern continent, fourteen thousand klicks from the city. Paris lived there with a community of surfers.

I smiled; imagining a blonde teenager slicing through the water, doing cutbacks and aerials that nobody else could match. Surfing is a sport that every water world has. Gravity can affect wave size to a small degree, but the effects of ocean wavelength, storm energy and bottom topography are far more important. In short, every world where the surface area is more than 30% ocean has at least a few coastlines with outstanding surfing.

I debated taking a commercial flight to the southwestern continent, but I didn’t like the idea of being trapped in a metal tube for more than 20 hours. If pressed, I could do a suborbital hop. Real Velorians love those. You can get just about anywhere on a planet in less than an hour.

Unfortunately, the re-entry corona was extremely distracting for me. I’d end up a long way from where I thought I was going — one of the quirks of my enhancement. Vels had been born to fly between the stars.

I’d been born to walk. Flying was just a borrowed trick.

With the McClouds’ cash, I decided to rent a local aircraft instead. A singleseater, open cockpit, powered by a rotary engine, it was good for 600 mph at 10,000 feet altitude.

I flew for eight hours before running into parallel lines of tropical thunderstorms. They gradually pushed me higher as I tried to get over them, but soon the entire horizon ahead of me became a mass of violent storms. The atmosphere was too unstable and the flitter too underpowered to go over the top, and the seat wasn’t really braced well enough for me to add my own flying power to it, so I circled downward to try to go under them.

I was soon skimming across the white-topped waves, dodging the heaviest rainsqualls, when I flashed over a small island. Recognizing it as the godsend that it was, I circled back to find an unpopulated atoll. I landed the flitter on the sandy beach, and then propped it between two palm trees to form a crude shelter. Five minutes later, a very heavy thunderstorm swept over the island. I sat in my impromptu shelter, luxuriating in the warm tropical rain and the crashing of thunder, proud of my ability to find shelter in the middle of nowhere. I leaned back on the sand and nodded off.

I woke up hours later to a huge explosion A lightning bolt had hit the flyer, attracted as they often were to the metal frame of the grounded flyer. Bits and pieces of it were scattered about.

I propped myself up on one elbow. Some crabs approached, trying to make a meal of me, but soon turned on each other, apparently concluding that I wasn’t edible after all. When one of them fell, the rest pounced on it and shredded it in seconds. Cannibalism among crabs. Just like on Earth.

Rising to my feet, I started to look around. The palm tree on the left was shattered from the bolt, the one on the other side still smoking. But the storm front had passed; overhead, the black clouds were beginning to give way to the usual puffy clouds of the tropics.

I suddenly didn’t care about the aircraft, or even Paris. My thoughts floated into the bright sky and roamed freely, while I stood full of wonder at it all. Here I was, a guy who’d been born into a modest family in Pennsylvania, USA, Earth, and now I was lying on this deserted tropical island in an empty ocean on a world halfway across the galaxy that nobody had even heard about, watching crabs that hardly differed from Earth’s. The parallels I’d found in my travels had never ceased to amaze me. Parallel evolution, or was it all the Galens’ work? Or that of an even greater power?

That had to be it, I thought. Galen were superhuman, but they were still flesh and blood — only flesh and blood beings couldn’t have reached all these worlds and spread life through the Galaxy. The Galen had to be just another advanced race. Clever technicians, masters of DNA, who had made the Supremis in their image as weaker tools to be used by the masters. Nothing more, despite the way some looked up to them as if they were gods.

If so, who were the Kryp’terrans?

What was their role in all of this?

Klara was the first even partial Kryp’terran I’d met, and she’d astounded me with her overwhelming strength. Yet other than that, she wasn’t that much different than a Velorian.

An upgraded Protector perhaps.

Yet I’d heard so many wild tales about the Galen. How they could change their shape. How they used all kinds of different pheromones, not just the crude scent of arousal. But I’d seen no sign of that in my brief fling with Klara.

And what about us poor humans?

Ordinaries. Frails. Naves. Earthers. Whatever anyone wanted to call us. Physically weak but full of creativity.

We lived by our brains, not our brawn. Although some would say we lived on our emotions.

We couldn’t be some construct of the Galen. Why would they have made us so fragile?

Instead, everything I’d seen convinced me that our genetic heritage had come from another source. The Galen had merely used humans as a convenient genetic platform for their experiments. Maybe they did help us cross the gap from ape to man as the Velorians believed, perhaps they provided some spark. Clearly they had helped transport humans to many other worlds, but so had the so-called Seeders, whom we knew so little about.

Long before them were the even more mysterious Old Galactics. They were said to have created the wormholes and their navigational beacons. Were the Galen merely the current wave of advanced beings that were interacting with humanity?

And if so, it begged the question of what a Galen’s true form was. Perhaps they only looked like humans when they interacted with humans? Or did they actually favor the human form? Maybe they’d enhanced it sufficiently to their liking? Taken on a new shell like a hermit crab.

I pushed those unanswerable questions away as I got up and stretched. A hazard of having some Velorian DNA was that I got stiff really fast. There was a good reason that whenever you saw a Supremis, they were probably doing stretching and flexibility exercises.

I thought of more mundane things. There would be hell to pay when I didn’t return the flitter to the rental agency, but I figured Ann could take care of the bill.

I stuffed my backpack with whatever I could salvage, and turned to run toward the water. Just before I reached the edge of the surf, I leaped into the air. In seconds, I felt the familiar shockwave traveling down my body to attach itself to my feet.

Moving at my best speed, transsonic, the second half of my flight went faster than the first. Just thinking about the bigger picture seemed to uplift me.

And I realized that I did so like to fly, given the right element.

The endless ocean horizon eventually turned brown and then white. I dropped lower as I approached a region of coastline where the breakers were piling up in wave after wave, marching out to the sea. You didn’t have to be a surfer to see that this was an awesome shore. A deep underwater canyon guided huge waves inward to break on layers of reefs. In one place, I saw perfect pipeline waves that were easily eighty feet high. Despite being half deafened from the sound of my own slipstream, I could hear and feel the power of the surf from two klicks up. This place made the north shore of Oahu on Earth look like flat water.

I free fell most of the way to the ground, coming to a stop a half-klick down the beach from a large collection of huts. Biran’gin’bong was the name of the village according to the note from Myra. I wondered if that really meant something in some language or if was just local surfer lingo.

The warm sand felt good between my toes as I trudged along the beach. Pure white shell sand, hard packed, with coral outcrops along the surf line, and reefs just offshore. Like all premier surf locations, the bottom was a tangle of razor-sharp coral and knife-edged rocks.

At least Paris wouldn’t have to worry about that. How the Ordinaries coped with it, I had no idea. Probably a lot of stitches.

As I approached the jumbled collection of huts, I left the beach for the cover of the trees and bushes, so I could observe Paris for a bit before she responded to my presence. Some topless girls ran down the beach, laughing. Their lack of clothing distracted me for a moment.

I moved closer to the village, only to see that all of the women were bare-breasted.

A nudist surfer colony?

I smiled. Sanctuary wasn’t as stuffy as I’d first thought.

I circled the periphery of the village, staying hidden in the jungle, until I saw a stunningly cute blonde girl. She was sitting barefoot on a wooden deck, her back to an old hut, with a pair of male surfers sitting with her. Her upper body was nude like the others’, her golden hair wavy and unbrushed, her eyes a pale blue. Her legs looked long, emphasized by a tiny red skirt and silver belt, blue panties visible beneath. Gold bands surrounded her neck, waist and wrists.

She looked athletic without even moving. She had to be Paris.

Her body was terrific, even given her age and genetics. Her breasts sat high and firm, her nipples large and dark. Her skin was the color of burnished gold, the color dramatic even for a Velorian. Her skin was oiled smooth and flawless.

One of the two men was in his late twenties, the other in his forties, and both were chatting with her as they stared at the enormous waves. Rick and Tommy, I guessed, based on Myra’s note. Other surfers from young to old emerged from the huts and gazed out at the building waves, more attracted to them than to Paris.

I couldn’t understand that. God, she was beautiful. So beautiful that I was intimidated, despite her girlish looks.

Or maybe it was a delayed reaction to meeting Klara. The beauty and strength had been there too, but her arrogance had turned our tryst into a dare, and it could have turned into a disaster — for the monks, for her and for me.

Putting that aside, by the time I understood her enormous power, I had been committed. Loving her had been an incredible challenge for me, her orgasmic spasms so powerful that I sometimes felt helpless in her arms. Yet she seemed to have drawn enormous pleasure from my body, perhaps because for the first time, she wasn’t completely in control. She was surely the better for it.

Could I do the same with Paris and Aayla?

I had only Myra’s reservations about Aayla to go by. She thought of her as always having to be in control of everything and everyone, like Klara had been but perhaps even worse; what was that never-never land she played in? Paris was supposedly the opposite. A free-spirit. She was also younger, only eighteen, but girls that age had unrealistic expectations of men. Yet she’d known only the company of ordinary men. How many years of frustration would I uncork when we first made love?

The idea of releasing so much passion revived my pride. If I had survived Klara I would surely survive Paris.

I stepped out of the bushes. Tommy and Rick immediately looked my way, their eyes narrowing in a typically male reaction. Except for a quick flicker of her eyes toward me, Paris continued staring out to sea. I could feel the tension building as I walked toward the group. I stopped just outside the wooden deck, and addressed her.

“Hi, Paris. My name is Ben,” I said as cheerfully as I could.

She didn’t answer.

I looked at the older of the men, holding out my hand. “You’re Tommy, right?”

He refused to shake my hand.

I looked at the younger man, but he turned his back to me.

I shrugged and turned back to look at Paris. She lifted an envelope and waved it at me without taking her eyes off the shore.

“Myra told me about you. So helpful that her boyfriend is willing to stand at stud for her poor, deprived little sister.”

“Is that what she told you?”

Paris shrugged. “More or less.”

“Well, I’m not her boyfriend. And I was told that this arrangement was a consensus.”

“Mother dear was very convincing,” she said in a mocking tone. “My ‘genetic obligation to the future’ as she called it.” She spat out the word ‘obligation’ as if it was a dirty word.

“Hey, it’s no big thing,” I shrugged, trying to play it cool, but not succeeding. Shades of Klara. “I only traveled fifteen thousand or so klicks to meet you.”

Her head snapped around to face me, her eyes sending a wave of heat washing across my face. “And that makes it right? What exactly am I supposed to do with Tommy and Rick here? Invite them to watch you fuck me?”

“That’s up to…” I started to say.

She leaped to her feet in a blur. “God, you are such an asshole. So fucking typical for a man who’s been living on Velor, although frankly, a human should know better. Don’t you think my friends have feelings too? Human feelings? You do remember what they’re like?”

Off balance from her anger, I was searching for something to say when she walked over to lean her back against the older man. He wrapped his arms around her narrow waist to hold her.

When he saw me watching him, he boldly lifted his hands to cup her breasts. Paris placed her hands over his and turned to look at me, the two of them clearly sending me a message.

Did Tommy have any idea what he was holding? Those warm mounds each contained enough orgone energy to match the power of a nuclear weapon if suddenly released. Enough to vaporize half this coastline. Seen like that, they were a perverse combination of beauty and destructive power. Yet none of that could be going through Tommy’s mind. This was much more primal—marking her body as his territory.

Damn it.

I had to deal with the jealousies and feelings of ordinary humans, also? Three years of Terran high school had taught me how powerful those emotions could become around a high-profile woman like Paris. God, did I know.

I tried again. “Look, Paris, Tommy and Rick too, you guys make the call. I can fly out of here just as easily as I flew in.”

“So you’re really a Velorian now?” Rick finally spoke up. “I didn’t think enhancees could fly.”

“No, I’m not a Velorian, but really not a Terran any more either. A bit of a freak, I guess. Some things about me are enhanced. Others aren’t.”

“Yeah, we read what Paris’ little sister wrote,” Tommy said, glancing enviously down at me. “Kind of like a Messenger dude.”

If the guys hadn’t been looking at my shorts with such intensity, I would have laughed.

They had a far less favorable opinion of me back on Velor.

“Hardly that. I don’t even make it to the wading pool by Velorian standards.”

“But you were just like Tommy and Rick once?” Paris asked as she reached out to hug both men to her sides.

I looked at the two strapping surfer jocks. Tanned and muscular. I looked geeky and scrawny compared to them. “More or less,” I lied.

“So what’s this enhancement all about? Mom says it’s a retrovirus. Isn’t that dangerous?”

I saw the curiosity burning in their eyes, and decided to tell it straight. “That’s right, it’s dangerous. The main danger is that it’s only available at the peak of an extreme orgasm, and outside of contact with the energy field of a living body, it can’t live for more than a few milliseconds. It’s secreted from a tiny organ at the base of the clitoris. She needs a truly legendary orgasm to release it. Nothing held back. And the tongue and lips are the only way to transfer it alive from one body to another.”

“But… that’s impossible,” Paris burst out, her face turning red. “No ordinary man could be… I mean, you know, right there, that way, at that moment.”

Tommy and Rick’s fearful looks confirmed that they understood that equally well.

“That’s the big catch, isn’t it?” I was having fun now, despite my still aching body. I may not look like a surfer dude, but I had my talents.

“But how did you survive?” Tommy asked. “You know, your initial enhancement?”

“I was lucky. Protectors are trained to restrain themselves at that precise moment. They undergo deep hypnosis during their training, so they can fall into this trance under very specific circumstances. They can totally relax their bodies while still orgasming.”

“Specific circumstances?” Paris asked.

“Enhancement of the locals is an emergency measure that they are trained to use if the Aureans are about to overrun them.

“Now that is some seriously weird shit,” Rick added. “Having sex with the soldiers just as you are about to be overrun in battle.”

“Well, Protectors have a pretty weird job. And even with all the hypnotic suggestion and training, less than half of Protectors master it well enough to be sure the human will survive.”

I wasn’t going to tell them that ten percent of those who ingested the retrovirus died during the subsequent fever, although the rate was a lot lower for an enhancee that had been in a long-term relationship with the Protector. Enhancement of anyone else was usually an act of desperation. I wasn’t going to complicate things by trying to explain Xara’s motivations. Her reasons for enhancing me had nothing to do with desperation. Except maybe to get rid of me.

Apparently her part-Galen DNA had given her some special abilities, like giving me the power of flight. Come to think of it, maybe Paris would have them too – but what a chance to take.

“You could train me then?” Paris asked hopefully.

I looked at the longing in her blue eyes. I wanted to say yes. We could practice for days, weeks. That would be fun. She was so beautiful. Instead, I closed my eyes and pushed that enticing thought away. Even my flexible ethics wouldn’t allow me to build her hopes up like that. I shook my head. 

“I probably couldn’t have survived you, Paris. Without the hypnotic training, the paradox of your having to let go completely while not losing control would overcome you.”

“What about Myra? She’s not nearly as strong as me.”

“Could work for me. But not with an Ordinary. Not without the hypnosis and training.”

I didn’t volunteer that the Old Ones had enhanced many humans. There were entire colonies that had been founded by Aurean enhancees. On the other hand, I suspected there had been a lot of casualties along the way.

“But she and Mom can be weakened by gold,” Paris said hopefully “Even Klara.”

“That’s the other catch,” I said with a shake of my head. “Gold suppresses the retrovirus. You can’t be intoxicated during the act.”

“Shit! Who in the hell came up with this insanity,” Paris cursed angrily, slamming her fist into the deck hard enough to splinter it.

I smiled at her girlish anger. I’d thought much the same when I first read about it.

“Presumably the Galen. They built a lot of controls into their creations.”

“So my only choice is to have a child with you?” Paris smirked, the disdainful look on her face and the disgust in her voice all too familiar from my days on Velor and Earth. Her words felt like a slap in the face. My head was filled again with the twin emotions of inadequacy and anger, which always seemed to be near the surface.

Once again, I was facing a beautiful girl whose attitude screamed that I was some kind of lower life form. And once again the words escaped my mouth before I could think. “If you want to know what a real fuck is, to know what it’s like to go all the way, without limits, then yes. Unlike the wimpy make-believe sex that you and your toy boys must…”

I never saw Paris’ fist coming. Just an explosion of stars and then blackness. 

I don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke up, the left side of my face hurt like hell. It was dark and I was lying on a reed mat inside one of the huts.

My clothes were sticky wet with salt water. I reached up to find caked blood on my face.

Damn, she’d clocked me. Served me right, and reminded me that I could be fucked over by another Supremis, not just fucked.

My last words to her came back to me, and I winced before I gingerly lowered my back to the mat. When was I ever going to learn to keep my mouth shut when I was pissed?

Whenever that inadequacy button was pushed, I freaked out.

When would I get past that?

I sighed and stopped flogging myself long enough to lift my head again and look through the door opening. There was a glow outside. I struggled to get to my feet, but as I tried, the hut spun around crazily. I sagged back to my knees until it steadied, and then took a few deep breaths. I tried again, slowly putting one foot ahead of the other, taking it one shaky step at a time.

Moments later I was standing outside. The stars were bright overhead, the surf was washing gently against the shore. Nobody was in sight except for an older man sitting pensively by a large bonfire. I limped over to sit down hard on the sand beside him.

He looked up at me. It was Tommy. He turned back to study the fire, stirring it with his stick. “She sure got to you there… Ben.”

“I wasn’t supposed to be able to get hurt,” I groaned. “Should have known better.”

“Us too — the shock wave knocked Rick and me out. My ears are still ringing. Rick can’t hear a thing.”

“Shit. Where’d I land?”

“Way offshore.”

“And she brought me back here?”

“Nope. Someone took a waveskimmer out and found you floating face down. Paris refuses to even talk about you.”

“Sorry for what I said. Old wounds. My previous life had its disappointments.” I didn’t feel like explaining.

“I figured something like that.”

Tommy said nothing more for several minutes. Then, “Paris wants to be a Protector, Ben. Can you believe that? First surfer girl to cruise the Galaxy, saving worlds from the evil Empire. Our own little Protector. Our Golden Surfer.”

I rolled my eyes. These boys had surfed a few too many waves down here. Not a good idea, Tommy. Consider yourself lucky that nobody out there knows you guys are here.”

The bonfire suddenly collapsed, sending a cloud of sparks spiraling upward. I watched them float, only to be startled as a slender female figure uncurled and stood up in the flames. She shook her blonde hair, which sent a massive cloud of sparks rising, and then stepped out on the sand in front of me. Leaning against a boulder that had been heated by the fire, she looked back over her shoulder at me.

Of course it was Paris. She was nude, her skin glowing red-hot and her figure even more pronounced than earlier today. So this was how she gathered her energy. A bit crude, but it obviously worked.

“You’ve met some Protectors, right?” she asked me, acting as if nothing had happened between us. “I mean, in person?” She stared at me, eyes glowing.

I said nothing. I was still pissed.

“O.K, look, I’m sorry, Ben. You pushed the wrong button back there.”

“You did more than that,” I growled.

“I’m really sorry. Can we start over? Please?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said doubtfully.

“Tell me about them. The Protectors. More importantly, how you got to be what you are.

All the details.”

I closed my eyes for a long moment. I didn’t feel like telling that story right now. “It’s kind of involved.”

“Waves are blown out. We’re not going anywhere. I need to decide how to deal with you, and with my mother’s request of me.”

So, she was reconsidering.

I sighed, and began to slowly take them through the story. It took an hour. I was starting to get good at telling it.

“So to your point,” I ended, “I’ve known lots of Protectors.”

The last was only technically true. I didn’t feel like sharing that the P1’s in school back on Velor wouldn’t have anything to do with me. None of them had invited me to sponsor them in their Rites. After that, they were off in training and then they left the planet. I’d met a Protector at an embassy function on Reigel 5, Cher’ee was her name, but we hadn’t done more than exchange pleasantries. I’d just stared at her in fascination, dressed as she was in her official uniform, cape and all. There was definitely something about a girl in uniform.

The reality was that I’d always felt inadequate and insecure around true Velorians.

Invisible even. It was even worse with Protectors.

That was O.K most of the time. My job was to be unremarkable, and I excelled at that.

Which is why I’d become such a good Minder.

“What do you know about Kryp’terrans?” Paris asked.

“Just rumor and innuendo. All of which seemed exaggerated until I met Klara. She was… impressive.”

“She’s still worried that I hurt you. She called to ask if you were O.K.”

“How would she know?”

“I called Mom, and Mom called her.”

“Well, I was hurt, obviously,” I said, gesturing to my swollen eye.

“Sorry, I’ve got a temper,” Paris said, as if by way of explanation. Hardly an apology.

“And as Myra told you, we’re a lot stronger than Protectors.” She made a fist, and an enormous biceps rose from her slender arm. It glowed as if lit from inside as she strained. “See?”

I did. I’d never seen a muscle like that, not even in the holos depicting Viragos.

Swallowing hard, I said, “I don’t know how to train someone as strong as you, Paris.”

“Then how about Myra? Teach her. She can then enhance my guys. Enough for me to finish the job at least.”

“Are you sure, Paris?” Tommy added. “It might not work. And this is a big chance for you. With Ben. To know… you know, true pleasure. Happiness.”

She smiled at him. “I’ve always known true pleasure in your arms, my love. I don’t need a superman to make me happy. Only you and Rick.”

Tommy and Paris hugged each other close, her kisses returning his.

I suddenly realized that there was no place for me here. Paris had her men. She wanted to find her own way to have her children. I’d have talk to Myra about that. Maybe there was a way.

Rising, I faded back into the darkness, and was soon flying low over the pounding waves, heading north across the vast ocean.

This time at least I had the energy to make it home.


Chapter Five

A week later I was looking for Aayla’s studio in the middle of the city. Since the directions were complex, I again hired a taxi to get me there.

Unfortunately, we were stopped by a road closure where an elevated highway was being built. A huge shadow fell over the cab, and I looked out the window to see a span of four-lane wide concrete that must have been two hundred meters long float overhead. A very slender blonde-haired woman, wearing an ordinary pair of jeans and a leather jacket, was supporting it at the exact center.

I tossed some money at the cabbie and scrambled out the door to join a gathering crowd.

Our eyes never left the woman as she gently lowered the long span onto three support columns. Her hair billowed around her head as the energy left her body, and the determined look on her face evidenced the strain of supporting the gargantuan span while nudging it exactly into place.

This had to be Aayla.

Dozens of workmen were positioned by the supporting columns, preparing to weld the exposed steel rods in place. As with Myra’s feat earlier, I tried to estimate the weight. There was no comparison. This huge span had to be a hundred times heavier. Far, far outside the strength range of a Supremis. Even greater than the most optimistic reports I’d read about the Kryp’terrans.

Ann was right. She and her daughters formed an incredibly robust genetic pool.

I watched openmouthed as Aayla slowly nudged the span it into exact alignment, her eyes flashing to make the first welds of the protruding rebar. She steadied it for long minutes as the army of workmen made enough additional welds to secure it.

She finally floated downward to land on the street. She was very tall, 6’2” at least, looking like a lanky fashion model rather than the voluptuous curves of a Protector. She clenched and unclenched her fists as she walked toward the crowd, working the strain out of them. Her leather top was unsnapped to reveal a red top and bare midriff.

I tried to imagine her having a hundred times a Protector’s strength inside that slender body, but failed completely. I was still trying when in the blink of an eye, she vanished into thin air.

The gawking spectators began to drift away, knowing the show was over. A honk from the nearby street said my taxi driver hadn’t given up on me. I ran over and got back inside.

“Who was that woman?”

“One of them McCloud girls,” the cabbie replied with a shrug. “Supposed to only be four of them, but I swear I’ve seen a dozen different looking ones.”

He started to regale me with stories about the McClouds as he edged the cab through the crowded streets. The accounts sounded more like mythology than fact. He described what they looked like, and I recognized Ann, Myra and Klara in his descriptions. Paris too. But the other half-dozen vivid descriptions couldn’t all be Aayla.

A half hour later, he dropped me off in front of a modern glass building. Ten stories tall and made of clear glass, I could see large canvases and murals displayed inside. The words “McCloud Gallery” were melted into the marble facade. Obviously Aayla’s personal touch.

I walked into the open gallery. Most of the displayed murals were shots of Sanctuary from space. Some of the other planets in the system as well, along with other worlds I didn’t recognize. Because the people of Sanctuary had no space flight capability, the McClouds provided their only views of their planet from space.

A couple of employees were scurrying around as they helped some browsing customers. I joined them to admire Aayla’s artwork. I quickly discovered that her images were incredibly detailed, yet with none of the distortions of a lens. I was soon staring at a gigantic wall mural of Sanctuary, forty feet on a side. Intrigued, I leaned closer, only to realize with a shock that I could actually see roads and buildings.

I picked up a large magnifying glass from a table and leaned close. I was astounded to find I could actually read road signs. Yet the image had clearly been taken from several thousand klicks in space. How could she have rendered such incredible detail?

One of the employees finally spotted me and asked if I had an appointment. She was a redhead in her early twenties, her eyes an amazing shade of forest green. I handed her the envelope, addressed as it was to Aayla McCloud.

She nodded, seemingly expecting me. “Follow me.” She guided me down a maze of corridors and through a door that opened into a large room. Inside, the same woman I’d seen lifting that huge section of roadway was practicing with an energy sword. The glowing blade made a buzzing, groaning noise as she swept it through the air, her movements sure and fast. Her leather jacket was gone, and she now wore a black sleeveless top and the same jeans.

The generator in the sword hilt was glowing red-hot, her hands and forearms heating to incandescence from the radiation. Aurean Primes often used this type of lethal sword, as it could inflict great pain and even injury when used against a Velorian’s skin. However, no human or Betan could hold the glowing hilt without serious injury, let alone resist a cut from the blade. It was strictly a Prime’s weapon.

She proved its power by spinning around to slash at a larger-than-life statue, an abstract depiction of a man. The blade cut through the meter-thick polished black stone in a blaze of sparks. The upper half of the statue fell cleanly to the floor. She spun and stabbed again, the flaring blade penetrating and melting a hole in the statue’s stomach this time. Molten rock trickled from the hole as the sword generator went into overdrive.

Her entire upper body gave off a faint reddish glow by the time she spun around to take a stance directly in front of me, legs spread, sword held in both hands and upraised, prepared for a killing blow. She stared into my eyes.

“Who the fuck are you? And why are you following me?”

“Didn’t Myra…” I paused. I tried again. “You are Aayla, aren’t you?”

She answered by spinning around to deliver a kick to the side of my head that sent me flying. I hit the far wall and crumpled to the floor. She gave off a little cry as she leaped after me, straddling my hips as I looked up into her sparkling eyes. Before I could move, she stabbed the sword’s tip against my chest.

A riot of sparks obscured my sight as a horrible vibrating pain lanced through me, my clothing bursting into flames. It felt like my heart was going to explode. Yet instead of running me through, I looked down in amazement to see only a small red spot in the center of my chest. I should have been killed!

“So, you finally came to play with me, Ben Shaffer,” she said with a smirk. “Pity that you left poor Aayla for last. But at least Klara’s enhancement worked on you.” There was a barely perceptible hint of a smile on her lips.

I backed away. Enhancement! That had to be it. 

“Not even a full Velorian could resist that sword,” she said as she retracted the energy blade. “Good thing you’re not a Velorian.”

She handed the hilt to me, adding, “Of course, it’s not as powerful as me. I can still get my kicks in, and you had one coming...”

The hilt glowed painfully hot in my hands, but not too much to hold it. “But… how?”

“My sisters Klara and Paris also have my father’s genes, although they don’t share all of my abilities. After Myra and my mother gave me that glowing report about your potency, I decided that fucking them and Klara and Paris might just give you the extra power to make you interesting for me. So I had myself placed last on the schedule.”

“Interesting?” I sputtered. “How did you know that sabret wasn’t going to kill me?”

“I didn’t. But if it did, you’d be no use to me.”

“Why you…” I stabbed the button with my thumb, almost pushing it through the socket, and the blade buzzed back to life. As fast as I could, I swept it toward her waist, but she ducked lithely under the blade.

“You’re angry,” she teased. “Good, maybe that will turn you into a fighter instead of just a lover.”

I growled and began slashing and hacking and spinning my way across the room, trying to touch her. She was always just a fraction of a second faster than I, leaving my blade to cut glowing swaths through the air.

Minutes passed before I unexpectedly altered my strokes and spun the opposite way, and barely succeeded in landing a glancing blow on her shoulder.

A riot of sparks filled the air.

She halted to look down at her glowing skin. “Very good. You’re faster than I expected.”

“I claim the right of conquest,” I growled.

She smiled, and knelt on the floor. “You’ve studied Aurean culture. Good. I like their sense of honor in battle.” She lifted her hair to bare her neck. “I offer you my life, noble warrior.”

Leaning down, she shouted, “Sha’mir.”

I just stared down at her, not sure what I was supposed to do with that offer. I’d just wanted her to admit defeat. Her life was the last thing I wanted. Instead, I bent down and gently slipped the tip of the glowing blade along the inside of her left thigh. The denim of her jeans vaporized in a blaze of sparks, revealing a stripe of smooth, tanned skin, with only a faint red mark marring her skin from the sword’s power. I daringly worked the blade tip up her other thigh as well, and her body began to tremble, her skin glowing brilliantly.

She leaned her head back, her hair falling over her shoulders as she smiled up into my eyes. She gasped loudly and began to quiver as I reached her pubic bone. I began to lift her body upward with the tip of the sword. A sizzling squeal joined the groaning buzz of the blade as she slowly rose to face me.

The remains of her jeans were on fire now. Her body trembled violently, a wicked flare of light obscuring the apex of her legs, as a pleading look lit up her eyes. She was gasping for breath, lost in what had unexpectedly turned into an erotic moment. A small voice in my head said to back off. That I was playing with fire. Literally.

I took a step back, only to have her snatch my hands and pull them and the hilt toward her center. As she forced the energy beam into her glowing nether lips, the blade gave off a deafening squeal and swelled under the tension as it shortened and slowly disappeared. A wave of painful heat washed over me as her lower body heated to incandescence, the groan of the blade and the scream of the energy generator forcing me to release the hilt and cover my ears.

I stumbled back as she wailed in obvious passion with such force that I was slammed back against the wall. Her body was white-hot as she knelt, arching her back as the hilt of the sword finally shorted out from the overload and exploded in a shower of blinding sparks.

When I could see again, I found her cuddled up in a corner, half her body enveloped in flames, shaking.

I walked across the floor to kneel beside her, feeling the intense heat. I helped her rise, and she staggered a few steps, her knees touching as she tried to walk. Her inner thighs looked like the glowing metal of an iron foundry.

“That… that was impossible,” I gasped. “To live through that and find pleasure in it …”

“Impossible? Nothing… nothing is impossible,” she gasped as she tried to catch her breath as well. “It hurt so bad that it felt sublime. Wonderful.”

She sat down heavily on a wooden chair, only to have it catch fire. She rose again, and struggled to float crookedly just off the floor. Her equilibrium was off. Was she some kind of masochist? So into pain that she experienced it as pleasure?

“Quench the fires within me,” she cried. “Please.”

Despite the overwhelming heat, I did my best.

We were lying exhausted on the floor of her studio an hour later. The room looked as if a hurricane had blown through it. Some worried employees peeked around the charred door. Aayla sent them away with a wave of her hand.

“Lady Aayla, I see it is all true now,” I said as gallantly as I could. “Your powers have to be the greatest of all. I had not expected so great a difference between sisters. First that bridge span, far too heavy for any Supremis, and now cheating death with that lethal sword. Death turned instead to pleasure.”

“Especially given that I’m so thin,” she said, wetting her lips with her tongue, her slender legs still intertwined with mine.”

“Your appearance is deceptive, I’ll admit.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Klara told me so much about you, Ben. You made a big impression on her, which is why I bothered to play with you. Now you have impressed me.”

“I was lucky that Klara was so receptive. Otherwise, I would never have a chance at an enhancement.”

“I never had any doubt about it. And don’t worry about Klara. She’s back with mother now. Her little religion forgotten, at least for the moment.”

“Can’t have a religion without worshippers. Klara was too arrogant to listen to me, and too proud of her own abilities to listen to my warning. Even though that one set of muscles of hers has got to be the best developed in the universe.”

“Did she hurt you?”

“I recover quickly.”

“Always the oblique answer. You should be a diplomat.”

I grinned at her, finding that I liked her forthrightness. “With my current responsibilities, as well as my past ones,” I said, “diplomacy may be a requirement.”

Aayla laughed. “Klara is young, as they all are. In experience especially.”

“I’m not sure if that comforted the men on her little island. They could have died.”

“Ordinaries are always dying.”

I frowned. “You sound like Klara did. Putting yourself above them.”

“We are above them. Physically but not morally. I care about their suffering. That’s why mother was almost killed out there. It was her turn to patrol. Usually that’s my job. I get to do my imaging while I’m in space, outbound or inbound. That is my passion.” She winked at me again. “Most of the time, anyway.”

“Do just the two of you take turns?” I didn’t want to talk about her passions. Not while my head was still reeling.

“Only Mom, Paris and me. Being a do-good goddess has been a full time job for Klara,” she smirked. “And of course, Myra can’t fly.”

“Well, we had luck on our side this time around.”

“The name of that luck is Ben Shaffer. If you hadn’t come along, my mother would be in gold cuffs and on her way to Aurea.”

“Yeah, well, I shouldn’t even have been there.”

“But you were, and you acted selflessly. And you proved that your bravery was no accident by standing up to me with that sabret. You have earned your place in our hearts.”

I tried to change the subject again. I was still uncomfortable with being a hero. “Do you take turns wearing that uniform as well?”

“Paris usually keeps it, sometimes Klara as you saw. Paris would like nothing more than to be commissioned as a Protector and sent to some far corner of the universe, but she can’t go near Velor for fear of exposing us. Fortunately, she doesn’t need the Rites to have more than a Protector’s abilities — not with Krypt’ blood in her veins.”

“Which makes her stronger than your mother?”

“Stronger than any Protector, including your vaunted Viragos.”

That scared me. “There were some moments with Klara when I wasn’t sure if I was going to live to see the dawn.”

“I’m sure she wasn’t sure either. Or that she wanted you to. But you’ve changed her.”

“Sometimes a good sorn’fuk does that.”

Aayla’s smile widened. “Spoken like a true Velorian. For a man born a human, you’ve become very impressive. Too bad Paris is being such a little bitch about it all.”

“She’s in love. I think she would have played along if not for Tommy and Rick.”

“They’ve always held her back. But she’s young and Ordinaries don’t live long. She’ll learn.”

“Myra was afraid you’d try to monopolize me.”

“I might. I don’t share well.”

“And she says that people can’t say no to you.”

“Because of my other pheromones. Not just arousal, but also the lesser scents of fear and domination. Which I’m told you can suppress.”

“I never heard that any Supremis could use those lesser Scents.”

“They can’t.”

“Then I don’t understand.”

“Our father was special. His genetics were closer to Galen than those of most Kryp’terrans.”

I just stared at her for a long moment. The words burst from my lips. “You’re Galen?”

“More rather than less.”

“No wonder Myra is afraid of you.”

Aayla put the hilt of her energy sword back in its case. “She’s not afraid of me, but she’s terrified about how I can control others — human or Supremis, they can be controlled by the three scents. The Galen instilled that in humans when we helped you cross the gap from ape to man.”

“And then they instilled the gold weakness in the Supremis?”

Aayla nodded. “The Galen made it their business not to underestimate humans and their derivatives. According to my father, you were to be their successors in this galaxy when they moved on. But until then, you needed controls.”

“Were? Has the plan changed?”

“I think so. It’s all a big secret anyway.”

“But you’re telling me.”

“Only what I know, and that isn’t much. Besides, it appears that you can resist those pheromones, when you try. The first woman who enhanced you was part Galen. Surely you suspected that?”

“I thought Xara was a Protector when I first met her, but I later learned better.”

“My father worked with a group of Galen that keeps tabs on the Velorians and Aureans, trying to divert them from activities that weren’t appropriate. Just like Velorians and Aureans who hide themselves in human populations, we hide among the Supremis. He spent some time on Earth.”

“We? You’re really part of that group?”

“Sorry. Slip of tongue. Everything I know my father told me. And only me. He left when the others were too young to understand.”

“But you confine yourself to this system as well?”

“Hardly. Mom wouldn’t understand, but I’ve been through the back door to our system as well as the front door. A second uncharted wormhole. It leads to a planet named Rostran. A world as isolated as this one.”

“That explains the images I saw here of worlds outside this system. Was one of those Rostran?”

Aayla nodded. “An interesting planet, but not one you’d like. A matriarchy of Primes.”

I shuddered at that thought. “Do you masquerade as an Aurean there?”

“I’m a bit elusive there, taking on a variety of forms. I’m trying to mellow their warlike tendencies by influencing their culture and government. I settled a bitter dispute there some time ago, and they see me as their goddess. As such they’ve built all these social mechanisms that serve me. It keeps them out of trouble.”

“Really? The way you were talking about Klara, I wouldn’t peg you as a candidate for goddess-hood.”

“She was really insecure at heart. The worship of her acolytes was a way of soothing her doubts without resolving them. I don’t need that kind of validation; it’s just a tool for achieving my ends.”

That self-assurance – or egotism – didn’t leave much else to be said, so I went on with another question. “But I thought the Galen were the model for Velorians? You really can look like an Aurean?”

“I can, although I suspect you wouldn’t appreciate that, essential as it is to my mission on Rostran.”

“An interesting way to manipulate an entire culture. By becoming a deity.”

“Good for a woman’s ego too,” she winked.

“I hardly think your ego needs stroking. You’re gorgeous.”

“Which is Myra’s worry. She didn’t show it, but she’s afraid you won’t return to her, Ben. She thinks I’ll steal you.

“I will. Return I mean. In fact, I liked her best…” I stopped. “I mean, she was the most human of all. The person I most identified with.”

“But she doesn’t look like the women you admire.”

“Come to admire.”

“Let me get dressed and you can take me to dinner. I’m starved. We can talk then.”

Dinner was at a corner restaurant serving local curries and breads. Hot, spicy and delicious. Naan bread in several flavors. I tasted hints of Indian and Thai spice in the gravies, as well as some indefinable but interesting local spices. It never ceased to amaze me how far Earth culture had spread across the galaxy. But in the case of Sanctuary, the most recent had been brought by the Kryp’terran father of Ann’s older daughters, who had himself visited the Homeworld — although he’d never said why during his occasional visits.

We talked all evening long about humans and Galen, of Velorians and Aureans, and finally about the intersection of those races with the Kryp’terrans. She seemed to enjoy having someone she could talk openly to, someone who’d visited more worlds than she had. We retired to the bar, and she rested her elbows on it as she looked at me with one blue eye, listening intently as I described my experiences on Reigel 5 and Velor. Also my misadventure on Cara’s World. She laughed at that tale.

Outside of that humorous moment, the rest was a sad tale. I told her how hard it had been to go to school on Velor, and the way the girls had excluded me because of my genetics. Teenagers tend to be cruel toward kids who are different, but usually everyone can find some kind of group to belong to. As the only human on Velor, I had no one to turn to. So I was universally ostracized. I tried to convey the depth of disappointment I’d felt.

She seemed to read my mind. “So you still have this unrequited longing for the girls of Velor? Despite their cruelty and rejection?”

“I can’t get past it,” I admitted, looking down, nervously playing with my napkin. This was getting too close to home again.

“Klara must have helped scratch that itch.”

“I was fighting for my life, Aayla. And I knew she wasn’t Velorian.”

“Then why don’t we scratch that itch together? I have an interest in exploring Velorian social norms and behavior with someone who has been there, and you have your passions. I’d like to see how they converge.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “You aren’t Velorian either.”

She stood up as I talked, reaching for her leather jacket. “Not right now. But come back to my place with me and perhaps we can create a little bit of Velor here on Sanctuary.”

I had no idea what she was talking about until she was standing in the shadows of her living room a half hour later. A look of concentration crossed her face, and I heard a sickening crunch, almost like bone and cartilage tearing. Then her left shoulder began to twist in a way that only broken bones would allow. Another wet tearing sound sent a grimace of pain flitting across her face.

She turned her back to me. “Leave… leave me for a little while,” she gasped.

I reached behind my back to grope for the doorknob, reluctant to tear my eyes away from her. I’d heard stories about shape changing, but had never observed it. Unfortunately, a further series of wet pops and crunching of bone sent me running.

In the garden outside, I was suddenly ashamed of my reaction. The idea of her changing form had seemed appealing, even sexy, until I saw it start. I couldn’t imagine the horrors that were going on back in the room now, but my stubborn imagination insisted on trying. 

Downing two fingers of the local whiskey, my sensibilities returned enough to appreciate its almost perfect Scotch flavor. It was very good. I poured a further three fingers and collapsed in an overstuffed chair. Fortunately, alcohol and drugs still worked on me to some extent. Or at least it felt as if they did. And it sure tasted good going down.

I thought about Ann McCloud’s daughters, and the way they were turning out to be even more challenging than I’d expected. Each was so different. Paris and her refusal to participate, preferring instead to attempt the creation of her own supermen. The little surfer girl and her two lovers. She was going to attempt the impossible. Klara and her misguided sense of social justice, not to mention creating and then destroying a religion that revolved around herself. I had no idea what to expect of her the next time we met.

Now Aayla and her art, her fascination with the Galen part of her Kryp’terran heritage, and this business about becoming a goddess on another world — a world of Primes. I knew there had to be a lot more to that story.

And then of course, Ann McCloud herself and her grand plan to create her own branch of the Supremis. Aurean and Kryp’terran/Galen, her legacy from Aphro’dite, and my own blend of Terran and Velorian. The Kryp’terran father, and now Aayla turning out to be more Galen than anything else. Finally, little Myra, so much like an Old One. An amazing group. But was creating her own branch of the Supremis a matter of arrogance, or a simple practicality on Ann’s part? I wasn’t sure yet. But she’d done really well at genetic diversity so far. And by including my genes, she’d definitely mix things up further.

The challenge would be the next generation. They would be my children. Unless I passed on really diverse gene sets to different kids, not impossible with my mutt background, we would need another male to strengthen the line — preferably Velorian to avoid mixing any more junk DNA with my own.

Another Velorian femme would be good too. Velorian DNA was the cleanest in the universe. No recessive or regressive traits. They would mate with my children. That would clinch the deal. I thought of Nikki back on Reigel 5. She had very good genes, but no future in the Enlightenment given the way she’d chosen to live. Would she prosper here on Sanctuary or simply continue her destructive behavior? Even if she could be persuaded to come, I still had to find another male. That would have to be Aayla’s job.

I smiled as I thought of Myra last and longest. The girl with the ancient genes, but the delightfully unaffected personality. I felt something special with her, despite her young age. She didn’t see herself as a goddess, but just as a girl with some unusual talents. She was the closest of all the sisters to having a human heart. Again, despite her youth, she also seemed the most centered. I was suddenly surprised to find that I couldn’t wait to get back to her.

That thought made me smile even brighter. Here I was, the guy who’d always had such expansive dreams of Velorians, and I was falling for the short little Aurean girl. I looked back toward Aayla’s door, and my heart raced in anticipation. O.K, maybe I still had some of those dreams. An itch to scratch. I suddenly couldn’t wait to see what Aayla had in store for me. Whatever form she was creating, I suspected it was going to be a memorable one. 

Nearly two hours and an entire bottle of whiskey later, she called for me. I was half drunk when I opened the door and stepped through. My jaw dropped as I saw a totally unfamiliar looking blonde sitting on the floor. Tangled golden blonde hair fell over her face, and she was buffed to the point of being muscular. Also incredibly endowed. Her blue eyes were huge and bright, and her skin was glowing with that permatan color that is so uniquely Velorian. It was also perfectly smooth, no pores or tiny hairs to mar her perfection. Teeth and whites of eyes like bone china.

She’d put on a pair of studded leather sandals that featured a shin guard. I assumed she thought they were appropriate for a Protector. She was tugging on the useless straps of her now ridiculously undersized brassiere. Her bottom was little more than a leather g-string. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest. I’m still a hopeless sucker at heart for that powerful super-blonde look. I swallowed hard.

“If you looked any more like a Protector, Aayla, we’d have to make you a Virago.”

She smiled wryly. “I’m a lot stronger than a Virago. And isn’t this how Ordinary Terran guys imagine Velorian Protectors? Bimbos with big blue eyes, ultra-blonde hair and supertits? Muscles strong enough to tear Vendorian steel apart in our bare hands, and sexy enough to fuck you to death if we wanted to?”

If anyone else said such a thing, it would be the height of arrogance. But I realized that I was looking at a woman that those people on Rostran legitimately regarded as a goddess. I wasn’t one of them, but I was willing to worship her. In one way, anyway.

She began to sing sweetly as she rose to change into her Protector’s red and blues, watched in growing arousal as she adjusted the red skirt, her back to me, her body so buffed, so golden. She turned her head to look back over her shoulder, her singing growing louder.

“Come away with me, and we’ll kiss on a mountain top.

“And I want to wake up with the rain, falling on a tender leaf.

“While I’m safe there in your arms.

“Come away with me in the night, and we’ll embrace the sun.

“To wake in God’s golden arms.”*

I won’t say a lot more about Aayla except to say that she fulfilled every dream I’d ever had about the passion of a true Protector. She seemed to read my mind, drawing my fantasies out and enabling each and every one of them. As exciting as the other McClouds had been, Aayla was truly a goddess of love.

Over the next days, we made love on each and every planet in the solar system, even on the surface of a comet as it raced around the sun. We wound up our erotic tour of the system by loving in the photosphere of the sun itself, sinking deeply into that nuclear fire as our passions rose from the heat. Heat that no longer burned me.

A week later, we were back on Sanctuary, and it was close to my time to leave Aayla and return to Myra. We stood in her studio as she prepared to create one of her images.

I looked over her strong shoulder. “How do you include such detail in your paintings?”

“They aren’t truly paintings, Ben. The process is more photographic, although more accurate than any camera lens.”

“But the selling point of your art is that there is no technology involved.”

“I have a photographic memory. And I’ve learned to project an image I’ve memorized. I tune my eyes to the ultraviolet spectrum, enabling my heat vision, and then using a special photographic film that’s sensitive to those frequencies.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“There are a lot of things in this universe that you haven’t heard of. But perhaps we’ll learn a few more together.”

I turned to glance out the window. I was already late for my meeting with Myra. “I have to go, Aayla. I’ll return next month.”

“I don’t want you to go, Ben.”

“But you won’t stop me. You gave your word to Myra.”

She closed her eyes for a long moment. “My word. Always my word.”

“She is your sister.” I saw tears forming in Aayla’s eyes as she nodded bravely. I grabbed my pants and walked out to the beach behind her studio. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Aayla followed me out onto the deck. “You are not the man you were when you first met her. Be careful with her.”

I turned to look back at her, her bright smile and dazzlingly blue eyes a vision in Velorian perfection, and then I leapt into the air.

As I cut through the puffy clouds, I reflected on what had happened to me. Interestingly, I’m not a lot stronger than before, still well short of a Prime. And I am not better endowed or anything like that. Just a bit better at handling heat and energy. Aayla’s passion. Apparently a Galen thing.

I was humbled by Aayla and Klara’s power to further enhance me in ways that even Xara hadn’t dreamed. My body had now been tweaked and tuned by three Galen goddesses. What were the odds of that happening to a gangly kid from Pennsylvania? A trillion to one.

That thought reminded me of Aayla’s telling me about her living two lives. One here, one on Rostran. And her mother and sisters didn't even know about it. Would they approve?

I was new here; I had a lot to learn… and yet I too knew something of living two lives.

Was she heading for Rostran now? Spending the next month as her alter ego? Telling everyone that she was off doing her imaging work while she became the goddess of another world? I mused about asking to travel to Rostran with her. I assumed an enhanced man would be welcome there. A world of superwomen. To be honest, I thought the concept was exciting as hell.

But then I remembered what I’d heard about Primal lovemaking. That it was a form of combat. Fatalities happened, although they were said to be rare. It was definitely sex… but hardly intimacy. Anyway, I was hardly a Prime. Beyond that, what did it say about Aayla that she was enamored of such a world?

My thoughts returned again to my next meeting with Myra. Smiling, I remembered how enthusiastic she’d been.

Yet still gentle, seeming reacting to me with human sensitivity. And so mature for a girl of sixteen. Paris and Klara I could do without. But Myra and Aayla? Such lovely contrasts to each other.

I decided I wasn’t ready to give up human sensitivities and culture just yet. My body might have moved beyond human, but not my soul. With Myra’s help, hopefully it never would.

I grinned into the supersonic slipstream as I eagerly looked forward to the simple joy of Myra’s sweet smile. To a girl I could truly fall in love with.


Story sequence continued in Bird in Paradise

*Lyrics inspired by Norah Jones song, “Come away with me” from the album of the same name.