By Sharon Best
First posted Feb. 12, 2003 at the old Aurora Universe. Revised for The Bright Empire. Last updated Oct. 26, 2010.
The Velorian Embassy
Naomi's last appointment before lunch was with the new Military Attaché. She glanced through the profile on her PersComp. Major Terri Raul'lan. First name Terri, not Terry. A woman. Interesting. It was very unusual to come across a female Velorian military officer.
Intrigued, Naomi found that the Major's resume was more impressive than she would have expected given an Embassy assignment. She'd spent the last twenty-two years in the elite StarBright Unit of the training command on Erin'dor. StarBright was responsible for the final phase of a Protector's training. It was live fire all the way, as Erin'dor was gold free. Retired Protectors were reputed to be part of the program, often dressed and acting as Aurean Primes. Every few years a scandal arose and was squashed about the intensity of training there, usually after some young Protector died on the firing range. Major Raul'lan had been responsible for that range.
A flip through the pages revealed four preceding assignments, three of them long-term ones at other training sites. Naomi flipped through page after page of details, astonished to find that the Major's assignment history went back nearly ninety years.
She wondered why she was still only a Major. The answers came from her Fitness Reports. 'Excessive Use of Force'. 'Acting Beyond Authority'. "Accidental Death of Trainee'. Interspaced between those reports were dozens more attesting to her dedication and innovation. Seemingly the Major ran her programs with more intensity than Training Command was comfortable with.
Naomi flipped to the bio page. One-hundred and twenty three years old. That meant she must have lived outside a gold field most of her life. The brag sheet showed that her first assignment had been to Starship Security back on Velor, but since then, all her assignments had been off-planet.
Even more interestingly, she'd not only taught combat arts to generations of Protectors, but she'd gone through the training herself. A near impossibility for anyone who wasn't P1. A check of her geno-dat showed that she was a P3. A very rare classification.
She dimmed the screen on her PersComp as she leaned back in her chair. She was totally impressed that the Attaché had made it through such training. A Protector's program was incredibly intense, physically at least, and a P3 wasn't all that much stronger than an M-class like herself. A post-Rites Protector would have a half dozen times the Major's strength. Yet the report said she'd finished the class with her P1 peers. At the bottom of the rankings, perhaps, but still, she'd finished.
She tried to imagine an ordinary Velorian shrugging off nuclear bursts, or diving through the corona of suns, or going hand-to-hand against a young Protector. Or an old and experienced one pretending to be a Prime in a full-contact fight.
But what was she doing here on a peaceful Enlightenment world? A place where educating the local population was the primary function of the staff. That and endless cocktail parties and official functions.
Her PersComp beeped to pull her out of her reverie. The screen brightened to show the face of her receptionist. "Major Raul'lan is here for her appointment, Madam Ambassador."
"Send her in."
Naomi looked up as the door opened. She wasn't sure what to expect, but the short stature of the woman who stepped through the door wasn't it. She was barely 5'8" in her shoes, and she wore a blue uniform that was cut more exotically than was typical of the Velorian military. She looked muscular, wiry even, her hair a more golden blonde than the usual platinum of an off-planet Velorian.
"Welcome to Reigel Five, Major," Naomi smiled, rising to hold out her hand.
"It is my honor, Madam Ambassador. I've heard a great deal about your work here." She held Naomi's hand in a grip that proved to be punishingly strong. Naomi stared into her piercingly blue eyes, finding that they appeared to be both glowing and a bit hollow, almost as if she was constantly imaging in both the visual and tachyon spectrums.
"Please, have a seat, Major. I've got a few minutes before my lunch meeting for us to get acquainted."
The Attaché glided across the floor to settle into one of the large leather chair that sat beside the glowing fireplace. Naomi followed her, noting that the Major's feet floated above the floor, her body moving with the fluidness of a cat. Even more surprisingly, the Major was carrying an enormous load of energy, the deep cut of her top proudly revealing the extent of her power. More energy than the typical Protector, Naomi thought to herself.
The Major's body was also unusually lean, strong-looking to the point of being overtly muscular. That, combined with the fact that she'd arrived on Reigel Five under her own power suggested the behavior of a Protector rather than an ordinary Velorian. She'd allegedly paused to bask in the sun's corona while flying in-system. It was just the kind of thing a Protector would do when visiting a hostile world.
"I'm pleased to have someone of your experience here, Major," Naomi began. "The local military is disorganized and we've had several brushes with Aurean ships in the last year. One landed in the southern continent six months ago and broke into one of the Reigellian laboratory facilities at a place called Simone. A half dozen Betan soldiers. There were many casualties among the local security forces."
"They were doing psychic research down there if I recall."
"You've done your homework, Major. Arcady Province in the Southern Continent is mainly populated by Diaboli, and the man who was running their most sensitive lab was abducted."
"A nasty species. The Diaboli. I'm surprised you allow them here."
"A lot of other Southerners might agree with you, Major. But Reigel Five is an open world to all but the Empire. It's not our choice. A number of the military units in what the Northeners call Southy are Diaboli. They have very unusual tactics I'm told."
"Then I'll see what I can do to improve the local forces, Madam Ambassador. But I may need to bring in some of my old training staff from Erin'dor to work with the Diaboli. We have experts from every race there."
"Temporary assignments, I presume?"
"Six months. No longer."
"Give me the requisitions and I'll have my staff work with the Ministry of Immigration to get them visas."
"I'll also need to be off-planet a fair bit these first months. I checked the Reigellian space monitoring system while flying in-system. Mostly antiquated equipment. It's no wonder the locals didn't spot the Aureans until it was too late."
"I'm used to my Attaché working in an advisory role, Major. Not patrolling space like a Protector."
Terri looked pointedly into Naomi's eyes. "Madam Ambassador. I passed an Aurean scout ship that was diving in-hole just as I popped back into normal space. Reigel is under surveillance, probably even as we speak. You know their ships always work in pairs."
"But why... we don't have..."
"The Diaboli community is more visible here than most places, and we intercepted an Aurean communication last year that described the potential military use of the occult. The Aureans never stop looking for better weapons."
Naomi shifted uncomfortably in her chair, remembering the horror that had spread across the planet after the attack last year. The thought of an Aurean with mind-bending powers was even more terrifying. Then she thought of Cher'ee. "There is a young Protector here, Major. A girl still in training -- she's visiting her Grandfather. She'd scheduled his Omag'en for today, but I heard a few hours ago that he asked to delay it. I'm trying to get her to stay on Reigel Five for a few months."
"I'm quite sure I can handle any Aureans until we get the local forces beefed up." The pride was clear in the Major's voice.
"And if they come with a Prime?"
"I've defeated Primes before." The Major sat ramrod straight in her chair.
"You must have been very lucky," Naomi replied with a shake of her head. "I've seen what those monsters can do."
The self-defense training holo that she'd been compelled to watch before going off-world had shown a Velorian man after hand-to-hand battle with a Prime. His arms and legs were pointing in the wrong directions, and his ribs were crushed. The Prime had finished his torture by breaking the man's neck. "You have only a fraction of a Prime's strength, Major. One could tear you apart with their bare hands."
"Only if they got their hands on me. I fly well, and I've had a century of training. Most of the combat techniques I've developed are required reading by Acolytes."
"They'd know that, Major, and would likely infiltrate now that you are here, pretending to be a local to get close to you. That's why we have Protectors posted on threatened worlds."
"This wasn't a threatened world the last time I looked, Madam Ambassador."
"Then don't let it become one."
The Major's eyes didn't waver. She didn't need an Ambassador to lecture her on Aurean tactics. Or a Protector. "So, tell me about this girl."
"Her name's Cher'ee, and she's a month out of her Rites. Come by my residence tonight, we're still having a party for her grandfather, and you can meet her. The most prominent of our people will be there as well."
The Major rose to stand over Naomi, her feet an inch off the marble floor. Naomi rose as well, only to find that the Major rose so their eyes remained on the same level. If Naomi hadn't known better, she wouldn't have realized that she was three or four inches shorter.
Naomi stared at her curiously for a long moment, trying to understand what was going on behind those blue eyes, and then sighed, nodding her dismissal. "Tonight at eight, Major. Dress for a party. A Velorian party."
The officer spun around in a flash and floated toward the door, not even trying to make it look like she was walking. After living for nearly a century with the power of flight, Naomi wondered if she still could.
On the other hand, if she was right about the second scout ship, then the Major's Protector-like attitude might save some Reigellian lives.
Aurean Scout Ship Shez'hen Prev, Orbiting Reigel Five
"The Reigellian's proximity radar is dense," the meter tall figure in the middle of the encrypted hologram was saying. Behind her, a 3D hologram displayed a great many overlapping sphere. Each sphere represented the search range of a Reigellian sensor array. "On the other hand, Commander, you're pretty much invisible up here. Their orbiting sensors were outdated fifty years ago. Your Stealth systems can easily defeat them."
"What you're telling me that there's no way to get a ship down there?"
"Affirmative. Even worse, the commercial ports are on alert, scanning everyone coming in."
"Your Intel people back on Aurea said that Reigel Five was an easy planet."
"I think the last attack woke them up, Sir. They've also brought in a new military Attaché, someone who's been around a bit. She was on Terdyne, also on Bitters World."
"Karom! They were two of our worst defeats. And since when do the Velorians have female military officers? I thought all the aggressive femmes became those cursed Protectors?"
"Obviously not all of them.'
"So be it. I'll deal with her personally. Any other good news that your superior on Aurea forgot to mention?" the Commander asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Just one. When I came through Immigration with that Scalantran Adopt, I was in the next line to a Protector. Very young, looked like she was on vacation or something. Trying not to call attention to herself."
"Shit! Did she see you?"
"Of course. She wasn't stupid. But the surgery was successful. She imaged me, but assumed I was an enhanced Terran. She seemed to be distracted."
"And the Adopt?"
"He's having the time of his life, living the fantasy of having an Aurean lover. I'm very convincing."
"Given that it's not an act for you, I can imagine."
"So when are you coming down, Commander? And how?"
"Have to do a Stealth re-entry. I'll be at your hotel in the morning."
"Good. Be nice to see a friendly face."
"Terrans are already getting to you, huh?"
Sergeant And'rea Cuppers saluted as she mumbled a non-specific reply and asked if there was anything else she could do. There wasn't. The Commander returned her salute and clicked off her holo projector. The directional antenna and frequency mobile transmitter started to fold back up to hide in Andrea's makeup case. The room grew darker as the brilliant glow of the hologram faded away.
And'rea cursed under her breath. She was frustrated by her inability to get the Commander down to the planet's surface in comfort. Like most Primes, her superior hated the helplessness of a stealth re-entry.
Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about it now. Instead of worrying, she turned to check her appearance in the mirror. Without her dulling contact lens, her eyes glowed Aurean bright, and her remarkably firm figure threatened to escape her drop-dead leather outfit. It wasn't surgically-implanted GenTech like everyone assumed, just her natural genetic perfection.
Hugging herself with her Betan strength, she wondered if tonight was the night she'd take the Scalantran Adopt's life? In typical Aurean style. During the peak of ecstasy. The strength of her embrace alone could break his back. She could do worse with her legs. And he'd richly deserve it, too -- humans who embraced the Scalantrans, who put an alien trading empire ahead of.... deserved whatever they got,
No, tonight was too soon. The possessive and selfish Adopt had invited his Terran business associates to the hotel suite to show her off, hoping to impress them with his new girlfriend. Without a doubt, he'd tried to convince them that she was an Aurean, even as he believed otherwise. She smiled at that thought. What a twist it would be when she finally proved that his fantasy had been reality right from the start.
She'd really get into her supposed act tonight. Aureans were supposed to be sexually insatiable, at least when in the arms of ordinary humans, and she could use that myth to work off her frustrations. She'd invite them to all join in. A party. Together, they'd have the strength and energy of a Betan. Her patron liked his sex rough and kinky, but the Adopt had no idea how kinky an Aurean could be. Now it was her turn to return the favor. To take control. To teach him that some fantasies were far more real than others.
Best of all, she could take her mind game with the Adopt to the next level. Given that he was pathologically jealous of other men, all she had to do was act as if she was having fun. Then when it was his turn, he'd be last, she'd act bored and tired.
A thousand miles above the surface of Reigel Five, Commander Ulexa Gabborn stood in the hard vacuum at the back of the scout ship's landing bay. With all her clothing and jewelry left behind, her hair floated free in the zero-gravity vacuum, she felt her body bloat slightly from the differential pressure of her internal organs. Not a pleasant feeling, but hardly painful. She shifted her stance slightly, reminding herself not to tense up during the fall. If nothing else, she didn't want to damage the small GAR that was safely ensconced in her vagina. She hated these stealth re-entries on M-class planets. Her skin would heat to nearly 5,000C during re-entry, yet despite the atmospheric friction, she'd still be moving supersonically when she hit the ground. Not truly dangerous for a Prime, but it would hardly be a pleasant arrival. Falling half way around the planet, plummeting wildly for a thousand vertical miles, completely out of control, was not her idea of a fun evening. Out of control. That was truly the worst part for her. Being in control was what her life was all about.
The drop light beside her turned yellow, telling her it was time to get ready. She curled her toes over the heavy steel jump plate, and watched as the snowy northern hemisphere of the planet rotated beneath her. The ship was turning, positioning her for her jump. She bent down low, touching her buttocks to the backs of her ankles. Her leap had to be perfectly aligned with the ship's axis, and powerful enough to take a thousand kilometers per hour off the ship's speed. An athletic leap even by Primal standards. She gritted her teeth, concentrating on tensing her legs to spring steel. She rose a couple of inches to bounce back and forth, her toes digging into the hard steel of the jump plate. She worked to build up the isometric tension of muscle against muscle in her long legs. Then, just when her leg muscles began to burn, the green light came on. She relaxed the opposing muscles and threw every once of her strength into a single powerful leap.
She held her body rigid, her toes pointing downward she imagined she was a lethal missile coming out of its launcher. Yet there was no sense of movement at all. No air to rush by her, no rush of acceleration. Yet when she twisted her head back around, she saw the scout ship retreating at fantastic speed. Two hundred meters long, it shrank to a tiny dot and disappeared in seconds. Her leap had been a good one. She was now well below orbital velocity and falling fast.
She relaxed her arms and legs to study the planet below. Mostly landmass with only a few scattered oceans, it was a lot more fertile than native Aurea. It also had far more pronounced seasons. From ten degrees north of the equator all the way to the north pole, it was a frozen blue-white mass of snow, reflecting the ghostly moonlight. She couldn't make out the southern hemisphere in the dark, but she knew it was brilliant green. The spongy tundra plants covered everything. She was glad her target was on the so-called Southern Continent. Such an unimaginative name.
She felt the first tenuous brush of air against her face just as the sun began to rise ahead of her. A billion tentacles of orange and red exploded from the planetary rim, and then the overly large sun appeared, yellow-red in color. A cool sun that made up for its lack of intensity with size.
The planet below was growing huge now, filling her view, networks of roads and villages appeared as the terminator swept over them. She felt the wisps of air tugging harder at her hair, and quickly balled herself up. Extending her arms to her sides, she worked to turn her back to slipstream. In seconds, the wisps became sharp whiplashes of sizzling heat. She was traveling fast, more than 40,000 kilometers per hour, and unlike a landing craft with its wings, her ballistic shape just arced her in steeper and steeper. Descending far steeper than any re-entry vehicle, the heat and buffeting built until her entire body was glowing translucent red and orange. The tight skin of her back brightened bluish white and then star-white, her skin temperature reaching past 6000C.
Despite the heat, she didn't expect to be spotted. It was daytime, and Reigel Five was in the middle of their twice annual Perspect meteor shower. One more rock entering the atmosphere would not be noticed. Especially since nothing on her body would burn and leave a trail. Just a brilliant white pinpoint of light that flashed overhead.
The landing would be a bit more dramatic.
Southern Continent, Arcady Province
Jim and Heather Jones were watching their climbing partners inch their way up the west wall of the Edifront Massif when a brilliant light exploded overhead, creating a violent sonic boom knocked them off their feet. Heather lifted her head just in time to see a shower of brilliant sparks cascading down the cliff face. A glowing orange-red spot appeared just below the top of the wall.
She closed her eyes and forced a mental link open to her climbing partners. "<Karen, Sue, are you guys O.K?>"
Heather got back a sensation of anxiety. Nothing more.
"<Karen. Are you there?>"
"<Yeah, yeah, we're here>," a scared voice spoke in her head. "<Something just hit the wall just above us.>"
"<We saw it. A big sonic boom down here. Must have been a meteorite. Perspect shower and all.>"
"<They aren't supposed to hit the ground.>"
"<This one damn sure did. Must have been made out of something harder, something that didn't burn up. Can you guys climb to the impact site? Might be some valuable fragments there.>"
Ulexa shook off the daze of her violent collision, and carefully extended her arms and legs. Falling balled up, tumbling wildly as she'd approached the ground, she had no idea what she'd hit. What she found was bedrock. She tried to move, but the hard rock held her fast. She took her first breath of air in an hour, and concentrated on tightening the fantastic muscles that defined her race. The surrounding granite yielded instantly, popping and shattering all around her. She clenched her fists and put all her native strength to work, extending her arms and legs wide, she enjoyed the simple pleasure of using her strength at its maximum. Her body took on a hundred tight curves, and the pop's turned into deep shudders as the bedrock groaned and shattered, yielding to a most peculiar brand of femininity -- crumbling against hard curves that she proudly knew were a gift of the gods themselves.
Despite her pride, it still took Ulexa a few minutes to create a space big enough to unfold herself into. She crawled hands and knees back up a rock tunnel, traveling ten meters forward to the wide opening. Rising to stand tall, she found herself looking down a vertical wall of rock that extended nearly a kilometer to the ground below. A few hundred meters below her, two small figures were inching their way up the wall, shifting their bodies from one handhold to another, both climbers roped together. She dropped to her haunches, amused by the thought that they were climbing to their doom.
Ten minutes later, Karen was working her way up the spider web of new cracks that extended from the impact site, now just a few meters above her. She finally got close enough to lunge upward and grab the lip of impact site. She was startled to find that the rock was almost too hot to hold onto. Committed to her handhold, she quickly began to pull herself up, only to feel something grab her wrist and tighten around it like a steel band. She instinctively let go of the rock, but instead of falling on belay, she was jerked upward with incredible strength to land hard on the edge of the impact site.
Dazed, she looked up to see a very tall woman standing in front of a glowing tunnel of molten rock. Karen covered her face with her hand, trying to block the crater's heat. She peered out between her fingers to see that the woman was twisting her head from side to side now, massaging her neck.
She wore no clothing, her skin was absolutely flawless tanned, her elbows and shoulders glowed faintly from the violence of her impact, her breasts also. Her hair was raven black. Her legs were long and very strong-looking. No trace of hair anywhere on her body except her head.
Like a Supremis!
Her eyes confirmed the woman's identity. They were crystalline blue and child-like in their clarity.
"I need your clothing," the woman said in passable English, her voice rich with harmonics combined with a touch of guttural inflection. A voice as beautiful as the woman who owned it.
That's when Karen knew for sure that she was going to die. Naked women with this kind of unearthly beauty and raven hair didn't just appear a kilometer up a cliff face. Nor did they fall from the sky. Not unless they were Aurean Primes. She'd studied Imperial tactics at the Academy, shortly before her brief period as a commissioned officer.
Karen acted on pure instinct, just the way she'd been trained. She turned and leaped back over the edge. Better to fall a kilometer to her death than die in an Aurean's hands. And Sue's belay would probably stop her. She screamed to her climbing companion as she started to fall. "Go down, Sue. Now!"
The rope that was tied to her harness jerked Karen to a stop before she'd fallen twenty feet. The rope jerked painfully a second time, and she flew upward to crumple into a heap in the shaft opening. She cried out in pain as the rocks burned her hands. Brushing the hair form her eyes as she struggled to get to her feet, she saw the Aurean femme leaning over the edge, hauling Sue up by the attached rope. Karen didn't pause long enough to think. She did what she'd been trained to do. She launched herself at the Aurean.
Karen hit hard, her chin smacking into the Aurean's to fill her eyes with stars. She ignored the pain as she concentrated on a spell of strength, focusing it on her legs. She pushed off as hard as she could, and barely managed to shove the stronger Aurean off balance. The alien reached behind her to grab the rock ledge, but Karen's second spell struck like a lightning bolt, sending the Prime spinning toward the ground so far below. Instead of the rock, the Prime's hand found the rope. It snapped taught to jerk Karen off the edge as well.
They fell together as Karen struggled to undo her rope to save her climbing partner. Despite her spell of unentanglement, the rope snapped tight to jerk Sue off the wall as well.
Her terrified scream echoed from the opposite wall of the canyon.
Ulexa twisted herself around to look up at Karen, one eyebrow lifting in the Aurean expression of respect. "That was a very brave move for a Terran, and very stupid. This fall will hardly hurt me. Can you say the same?"
"You bitch," Karen screamed in anger as she threw a punch at the black-haired devil. Ulexa caught her fist in her hand and squeezed. Karen screamed in pain this time as she felt her hand crush, bones splintering. Her physical scream turned into a telepathic one as well.
"<Karen? Are you O.K?>" It was Jim, down at the base camp below. His words formed inside her mind after her scream had formed in his.
"<Jim, Heather, we've got an Aurean here. On the wall. Falling. Get hel...>" Her mental shout ended as Ulexa backhanded her face. Karen bounced off the racing surface of the rock wall, and then started tumbling wildly. Barely conscious now, and her eyes dazzled by a firestorm of bright sparks, she tried casting all the levitation spells she knew. Nothing happened. She was spinning around at the end of the rope so fast she couldn't concentrate on up and down. She was still chanting when she caught a glimpse of Ulexa curling herself up in a ball.
She screamed inside her head, knowing it was too late to do anything but warn her friends: "<Run...>"
SharonBest, Aurora Universe©, Copyright 2003