By Sharon Best
First posted Feb. 12, 2003, at the old Aurora Universe. Revised for The Bright Empire. Last updated Oct. 26, 2010.
Ulexa sifted through the bloody rags that had been the two women's clothing, looking for something she could wear. Most of the clothes were too far torn to be usable. Frustrated, she kicked an aircar-sized boulder, her toes shattering it into so much gravel.
There was only one thing to do, and that was to find someone else to liberate of their clothing before she got to the Research Center. She turned toward the lowering sun and marched west, gradually breaking into a run as the boulder field began to open up. She was running at nearly two hundred kilometers per hour when she came over the summit of a grassy rise and saw a cluster of four tents less a hundred meters in front of her. She braked to a stop and began sorting through them. Lots of climbing gear. Presumably this was the base camp for the climbers. She found a great deal of women's clothing, most of it athletic wear. One of the women had been tall, approximately her height, 6'1". Probably the witch who'd pushed her over the edge back up on the wall. Ulexa shrugged into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that would be good for running, and then tied up a bundle containing a couple of pairs of pants and shirts, including a jacket.
The only thing left now was to take care of the two missing companions. A quick search showed numerous footprints leading out of the campsite. Ulexa leaped up the rocks of the closest hill, her long legs carrying her upward in a series of long fifty meter leaps to reach the summit in seconds. There she scanned the horizon, finally locating two small figures about four miles away, running in the opposite direction.
She ran down the far side of the summit, taking even larger hundred meter leaps until she reached the spongy tundra that made up most of the land here. She tried to run, on to find that it was almost like running on foam rubber. She resorted to leaping again, each one traveling barely thirty meters due to the soft ground.
Jim and Heather paused on a rocky outcrop, both of the panting for breath. They'd heard the telepathic scream and had seen the fall. Three people fell, not two. It didn't take a genius to put the pieces together. A stealth re-entry, they'd studied those at the Academy, then the warning, talking about 'Aureans on the wall'. Then the fall. No possibility of survival. Except of course for the deadly Aurean Prime.
"Jim. Look!" Heather screamed and pointed to the west. He turned to see a woman chasing after them in huge leaps. Her speed was easily several times theirs."
"Shit! The Prime."
Heather looked down into the tangled brush behind them. To reach it they'd have to descend over a kilometer and run for two more. "Maybe we can lose her if we can get down there before she reaches us."
"She can see through things, Heather. We can't hide. I'm going to try to call for help again."
"I've tried, and I'm a better sender than you. But down in the valley, a couple of kilometers closer, we can try again."
Jim grabbed her hand and pulled her forward. She stumbled and nearly fell before her feet found the trail to race after her husband. They ran for their lives, faster than they'd ever run before.
Soon they were in the tangled brush below the summit, and soon after, in the trees. Heather concentrated on creating a veil of obscurity behind her, hoping that the Aurean's tachyon vision would become confused. Occult powers were supposedly effective against most Supremis.
A half hour later they were still alive when they came gasping to the Silverlode. Heather waded into it and concentrated on sending again, hoping the stream, which ran through the lab complex two dozen kilometers further, would help transmit her psychic call for help.
It worked, and she managed to image their situation to a fellow researcher down at the lab. The link was weak, and Heather had a raging headache by the time she managed to get through, but the man in the lab seemed to understand. She broke the link as Jim created a screening spell of false terrain for them to hide behind as they stumbled down the middle of the stream.
The Holo buzzed at the Embassy Duty Desk two minutes later. "Velorian Embassy. How may I direct your call."
The frantic face of a young man appeared on the screen. "I'm calling from Deux Lab, in the Arcady Province, Southy. We have an Aurean Prime on the ground. Coordinates 60 south, 125 east. Two of our people are being chased down into a streambed. We need help."
The young officer sat up straight in his chair as she quickly scribble down the info. "Give me a datalink. And tell your people not to resist. He'll be more likely to kill anyone who fights back."
"We don't have contact with them. And the Prime is a female. Please, send someone to help us."
"We'll get somebody there as fast as we can." He glanced at the map on his wall. The lab's location was almost exactly on the other side of the planet. The closest Reigellian base was two hundred kilometers away, and it was just a satellite relay center. It was doubtful that any armed troops were there. Arcady Province was very remote and rugged. He punched up the coordinates and pushed the Flash button on the military comm unit. It beeped to say that the info had just been sent to the relay site.
Then he remembered what he'd heard yesterday. A Protector was visiting the planet. He had no idea how to find her, but fortunately, his new boss had arrived. She'd boasted that she'd taken out a Prime, one on one. Something that would be suicide for him. He was only B-class. A Prime had five times his strength.
He quickly rang the Major's quarters. No answer. He tried her mobile SatLink. It was off the air. Then he remembered the party at the Ambassador's residence. She'd been invited. So had the Protector. He dialed the Ambassador's private number.
Naomi woke to the sound of soft buzzing. She opened her eyes to see Cher'ee's beautiful face inches in front of hers, their blonde hair intermingling. She was still asleep. They'd talked until four am, and had then fell asleep in each other arms, more like sisters than anything else. The buzz came again. Louder this time. She recognized it for what it was: the Holo-phone. Turning, she thumbed the button, mistakenly hitting the one for full holographic imaging.
The duty officer suddenly found himself facing the lifelike holograph of the Ambassador and a young woman, lying together in bed. The image formed out of thin air in front of him, magnified to twice normal size and seemingly solid.
On the other end, an image of the duty officer formed the same way in the middle of Naomi's bedroom. "We've got an emergency, Madam Ambassador. An Aurean Prime has been reported on the ground in Southy. She's chasing two of the scientists from Deux Labs."
"The Diaboli stronghold?"
"Exactly. I can't find Major Raul'lan, so I called you."
He saw the other woman's eyes blink open, and realized she was younger than he'd first thought. He didn't know that the Ambassador entertained other femmes this way. Wasn't she dating the Reigellian President?
"A Prime?" Cher'ee mumbled softly, half awake. "Where? When?" She sat up and tossed the covers off, giving the Duty Officer a surprise. She wore a Protector's skirt, but no top.
"I've got my SatLink," Naomi said quickly, fully awake now. "Give me the download." She turned to shout through the half open door. "Major Raul'lan. We've got an emergency."
"Go find her, Cher'ee, while I figure out the fastest way to get us to the Prime."
"I thought Reigel Five was safe?"
"Second attack on a Diaboli lab complex. The Aureans are up to something."
Cher'ee hit the floor running, grabbing her top and cape as she dashed through the doorway. She was in James room five seconds later. "Major Raul'lan, we've got a crisis. Your Duty Officer is calling for you. Holo is live in the Ambassador's room."
James looked up to see bare-breasted Cher'ee standing over him. Before he could blink, the Major's body turned to spring steel as she leaped out of the bed. She went past Cher'ee with a flash, heading for Naomi's room. He just grinned up at Cher'ee. "That's a cute look."
Cher'ee looked down at herself and quickly clutched her blue top to her chest. "You should talk. You guys damn near broke the house."
"And what were you up to?"
"Your mom and I talked until late."
"Without your top?"
"I was just getting comfortable. Not what you're thinking."
"Just femme to femme, huh? Mom doesn't usually spin that way."
"Just forget it," Cher'ee said angrily as she spun around to stalk from the room. She had her top back on and was fastening her cape by the time she joined the Major in Naomi's room.
"Get whatever locals you can find up and moving, Lieutenant. Heavy GARS. Do a sweep down that stream bed. The Prime won't want any witnesses. Engage her from the air, try to slow her down."
"Yes, Ma'am. Where will you be?"
"Enroute to Southy. Out of contact for thirty minutes at least. So get them moving or it'll all over before I get there."
The hologram shimmered and then faded away.
"You're not going alone," Cher'ee said.
"Glad to have the company. We got some Aurean butt to kick. Follow me." With that the Major dove over the lip of the drop shaft, Cher'ee right behind her.
Alisa wandered into the room a moment later, her PersComp still in hand. She was wearing a pair of denim cutoffs and a red t-shirt. "What was that all about?"
"A report of an Aurean Prime the ground on the Southern Continent. Near one of those Diaboli labs that the Reigellians are supporting."
"The Aureans hit one of those a few months ago. Good thing we've got Cher'ee here."
"She isn't trained, Alisa. She flew off in the Major's wake."
"That'll slow her down. The Major's only P3. Cher'ee can fly a lot faster than her. And neither of them know the optimum suborb profile to get to Southy."
"And you do?"
"Sure, Mom. I worked it out the other day. Saves ten minutes off the usual thirty minute hop."
"Ten minutes might make all the difference, honey."
"This isn't my gig, mom."
"It will be soon. You're almost sixteen."
"A Prime is twice as strong as me."
"And four times that of the Major."
"Yeah, but Cher'ee is a Protector. She's gobs tougher."
"Ten minutes, Alisa."
"Shit." Alisa tossed her PersComp on the bed and dove down the shaft.
"This place is very weird," James said as he walked in to sit on his mom's bed. "Breakfast, Mom? We gotta talk."
"My little girl is off chasing an Aurean who might kill her and you want to talk?"
"This is what you wanted. For her to be a Protector. Facing danger alone, fighting for the glory of Velor, all that jazz."
Naomi pulled her robe around herself. "I don't like the feeling."
"Get used to it."
Alisa tensed every muscle in her body as she streaked upward through the heavy snow clouds. Hail the size of marbles peppered her face like buckshot as she broke the Mach once, twice, then three times, still climbing hard. Her simple clothing was torn from her body by the time she broke through the clouds in a swirl of shockwaves. She held up her fingers and used them to judge her angle on the horizon, adjusting her flight. Thirty seven degrees vertical. She shoved her fists out into the supersonic bow wave in front of her and tensed her legs and back with every ounce of her P1 strength.
She was moving more than 35,000 kilometers per hour just minutes later, soaring upward nearly 2000 kilometers into space to a powered apex. Counting the seconds off in her head, she turned sharply and poured on the power again, accelerating ground-ward. She was moving at the incredible velocity of 100,000 kph when she re-entered the atmosphere. She balled herself up, her head tucked in, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. Instead of the usual 6,000C of re-entry, the heat rose far higher -- 8,000C or even 9,000C. If there had been air in her lungs she would have screamed from the pain.
From the ground, her re-entry was accompanied by a blazing light that cast shadows brighter than the sun. Her skin was glowing star bright and a huge corona extended outward hundreds of meters around her. Leaving no trail, she flashed over the northern most portion of the Southern Continent, dazzling everyone who made the mistake of looking up.
Alisa snapped her arms and legs open as she dropped below ten kilometers altitude. She was still moving at Mach 25. She angled her body like a diver, the shockwaves tearing at her hair and skin as she raced toward the Duchess Mountains. Deux Lab was in one of the valleys on western side. She flashed over a small squadron of armored aircars, and left a supersonic flitter spinning in her shockwave as she searched for the lab. The countryside was empty as far as she could see. She dropped below Mach ten just as the Lab complex came into view. She turned further toward the ramparts of the mountains, a popular climbing area, and flashed over a stream that ran down the center of the valley toward the Lab.
Jim and Heather were running exhaustedly through the cold water of the streambed when something flew overhead. It landed with a splash, breaking Jim's concentration. The simulated terrain from his spell shimmered and disappeared.
"No!" Heather screamed as she tried to stop, only to stumble and trip up Jim's legs as well. They fell into the stream with a splash. When the came back to surface, gasping in the cold waist-deep water, they found the Prime standing in front of them, her arms resting on her hips.
"You thought to escape me?" Ulexa asked incredulously. "Blinding me with those degenerate spells of yours?"
Jim struggled to pull the small GAR from his pocket, a weapon useful for protecting them from the wolves which hunted the high terrain along the mountains. He managed to tug it free, only to be blinded by a flash of red light. An excruciating wave of heat touched his arm. He looked down in horror to see that his lower arm was missing, sliced off at the elbow.
"Oh my God," Heather screamed as she saw the shocked look on Jim's face. He lifted the stump to stare at it in disbelief. There was no blood, the wound was cauterized from the heat. Horrified and angry, Heather grabbed a hand-size stone from the streambed and turned to throw it at the Prime with all the considerable strength she could conjure up. Ulexa's hand flashed out to catch the stone an inch in front of her cheek. She wrapped a protective spell around her body and Jim's.
"You know what they say about not being the first one to cast a stone." Ulexa's hand flashed as she threw it back. Her shield exploded into bright sparks and yielded. The shattered fragments of stone impacted Heather's chest to send her flying backward to crash against the trunk of a tree.
Jim turned to look through a ragged hole in his wife's chest the size of her fist. Heather looked down at herself in amazement, and then back up at Jim. Her green eyes faded and she toppled forward to land face first back in the stream. A cloud of blood tinted the water dark red.
Jim turned back to stare incredulously at Ulexa. "You... you killed my wife!" He threw himself toward her, waving the fist of his good arm.
"Oh, how pitiful," Ulexa laughed sarcastically. "A Frail dies. A Diaboli at that. I'm sure the balance of the universe has just been upset." She stood with her hands on her hips while Jim raced toward her, his thoughts irrational, focused only on avenging his wife. Or to die trying.
Ulexa started to reach out to grab his forehead, intending to crush his skull in her grip. His spell of invulnerability fought against the largest muscles he'd ever seen on a woman's arm. "A test of strength? With me?" She sounded amused.
The pressure on Jim's head grew unbearably tight, his world disappearing in a flash of light. He barely saw his attacker look up when the light crashed through the heavy tree limbs and smash directly into her.
An explosion as powerful as a small bomb threw Jim Jones backward. Despite his spell, the shock wave collapsed one lung and broke half his ribs. He landed hard against the face of a boulder along the side of the stream, amazingly, still conscious. He struggled to focus his eyes, only to see a naked blonde girl punching the Aurean in the face. The raven-haired devil flew backward to tear through the trunk of a two-meter thick tree. The first-growth tree fell with a horrible crash as the Aurean got back to her feet, diving from the stream bank to bury her head in the blonde's stomach. The two of them crashed backward against another boulder as the Prime started to punch the blonde, fists flying so fast they were a blur. The boulder exploded into a thousand pieces.
Alisa was stunned that the tide of battle could turn so quickly. One moment she was jamming her shoulder into the Aurean's stomach at nearly Mach speed, and the next moment she was complete defensive, a hundred powerful blows hammering her body completely through the house-sized granite boulder. Dazed, she fought back instinctively, wrapping her legs around the Prime as she tried to fly. Her plan was to launch the Aurean into orbit where she'd be helpless.
She'd barely climbed a hundred feet when the Aurean landed a sharp blow directly between her breasts. The crack of knuckles against bone sent a horrible pain lancing through her chest, and her volatai went into spasm, vibrating so fast that she spun around in crazy circles to crash back into the streambed. Despite the pain, she fought back instinctively. Fist to fist, blow for blow, she unleashed all of her native strength for the first time. To no avail. The Aurean was stronger, faster, better trained. For every blow that Alisa landed, the Aurean started to land two. Then three. Alisa was soon dazed, staggering, her eyes unfocused. She lashed out with her legs again, knowing a scissor hold could be fatal with her strength, only to slip and fall on her back. Unable to fly, and unused to using just her feet to move, it was the Aurean's muscular legs that encircled her chest now.
They turned harder than steel, squeezing inward with incomprehensive force. Alisa felt her ribs bending, her lungs emptied. She looked up through her golden hair to see the Prime grinning insanely at her, confident of her victory. Flushed with the heat of battle, her nipples hard and aroused, the Prime's body was a maze of sharp-edged muscle.
Alisa knew in that moment that she'd made a mortal error in engaging the Prime alone.
Ulexa smiled ferociously as she forced Alisa under the water, her legs slowly tightening like a constrictor snake. She knew that the Velorian was doomed. Only a Protector could withstand the grip of her legs, and then not for long.
Alisa tore frantically at Ulexa's legs as she swallowed lungs full of water. She tried to fly again, but her volatai just fluttered, useless. She felt her ribs bending, the keening of tortured bone filling the inside of her body with a roar. A sharp pain lanced into her heart. Then, just as she knew that keen was going to turn into the breaking glass of Supremis bones, the pressure suddenly was relieved. The legs around her disappeared.
She came bubbling back to the surface in time to see Cher'ee landing a blow against the Aurean's face that blasted her through both sides of a ten meter diameter boulder. The Major hit her from the other side, driving her back toward Cher'ee at fantastic speed. Cher'ee fist swung around again, this time in a perfectly timed roundhouse that filled the air with sparks as it hit the Aurean's cheekbone. The raven-haired assassin flew headfirst into another boulder, leaving only her feet sticking out. She didn't move.
They were all back at the Lab two hours later. Jim Jones was in surgery and was expected to live. There was no hope for Heather. The rock had torn her heart out. Cher'ee and the Major were dressed in white lab coats as Alisa sat on the doctor's examination table, wearing nothing.
"I think she loosened my front tooth," Alisa said as she pressed against it. "It hurts like hell."
The doctor said nothing as he listened to her heart and lungs. He finally folded up his stethoscope, a throwback to an ancient era.
"I hate to admit it, young lady, but I know nothing about Velorian physiology. But what I do know is that you are by far the healthiest patient I've ever examined."
"The Aurean almost killed me. Look at the bruises on my chest."
"They've almost faded away, Alisa. At this rate, you'll be good as new in another hour."
"Hmmm... maybe. My tooth is starting to hurt less now too."
"What I do know, unlike my people, your race has an amazing ability to regenerate after injury. Assuming anything can injure you in the first place."
Alisa looked up into his green eyes. "That's what I was hoping. The healing. I haven't been injured before."
"I'm Diaboli, Alisa. Physically, I'm not any stronger than a Terran. But sometimes I can sense other people thoughts even when I'm trying not to."
"Are you reading my thoughts right now?"
"That's not something we do to outsiders without a reason. Or without permission. But yes, sometimes the strongest thoughts cross over anyway."
"That's not how I hear it. You can control minds. You practice the occult."
"We aren't enemies, Alisa. And we have our own ethics. They don't allow for us to mess around in other people's heads."
"Our progenitors, your Elders and my Galen, certainly are enemies. Or were."
"That doesn't mean we have to be."
"So, you think I'm healthy, huh?"
"More than I expected, even for a Velorian."
Alisa shrugged. "The Elders went for strong minds, the Galen for strong bodies."
"But did they have to make you so beautiful?"
"I think it's time for the robe, Doctor La'Reu," Alisa giggled. "We P1's have a strange effect on men."
He looked startled. "You're a Protector?"
"No. Just the same genetic class."
"But you will be?"
"If my mom gets her way, yeah."
"Then it's no wonder you are so stunningly fit. A Protector's beauty is legendary among my people. Unlike the rumors, I now see that your fabled Rites have nothing to do with your good looks."
"Nope. It just builds strong bodies," Alisa smirked. "Some kind of sexual enhancement orgy thing."
The doctor laughed. "I may be fresh out of Med School, but I do know when someone is pulling my leg."
"Anyway, that's what my brother thinks," Alisa said as she slipped into her robe. "He keeps kidding me about it because I'm a virgin."
"Why are you telling me all this?"
"You're the first doctor I've ever seen. Aren't I supposed to tell you everything? You can just read my mind and figure it out anyway."
He laughed. "I hadn't expected that my first encounter with a Velorian would be so... eclectic."
"Eclectic? You haven't seen anything. Call me sometime, I'm the Ambassador's daughter, and I'll show you eclectic. You should see what I do in my spare time?"
"Move small planetoids around?"
"Way wrong. Trust me, it'll be a surprise." With that, Alisa waltzed out the door of the exam room.
Dr. Alex La'Reu stared at her strong calves, flexing with a perfect diamond shape on every step. His heart pounded. He'd never examined a Diaboli or Terran woman with a tenth of her physical fitness.
"So, what do we have?" Alisa asked as she joined the Major and Cher'ee down on the Lab's loading dock.
"A Prime who's decided not to talk to us," the Major said with satisfaction. "I don't think she likes this gold very much."
The Aurean woman was hanging from a hook over the dock, a dozen meters of gold chain wrapped around her body. Her arms and legs were manacled with steel cuffs.
"So what do we do with her now?"
"It would be easiest to just kill her. She deserves no better. She killed three Diaboli today."
"No," Cher'ee said. "The death penalty is only mandatory if an Aurean kills Terrans."
"She's supposed to go before a judge in either case," Alisa added.
"Do you guys even know what your talking about?" the Major fumed. "Primes are incredibly dangerous, even in captivity. They have a way of getting free. Few jails can hold them. And Diaboli or Terran, who cares? She's a murderer."
"You seem to have plenty of gold," Alisa said. "Let's take her back to Senegal and let the authorities decide. Terran authorities. This is their planet after all. We and the Diaboli are visitors."
"No," the Major said as she cracked her knuckles. "She dies here like the vermin she is. Or we turn her over to the Diaboli. What do you say Cher'ee?"
Cher'ee shrugged, looking confused. "That's what they train us to do." She paused. "But it feels wrong, Major. She's our captive. That means we have responsibilities."
"Bullshit," the Major spit out. "Our responsibility is to..."
"I forbid it," Alisa interrupted.
The Major turned to stare at her. "You have no authority here, little one."
"I'm the Ambassador's daughter. You work for her. That means you work for me."
Major Terri Raul'lan laughed. "Little Protector to be, don't grow bigger than your britches." She glanced down at her half open lab coat. "Especially when you don't have any."
Alisa pulled her coat closed as she glared back at the Major. Something snapped in her head, and before anyone could stop her, she leaped up and grabbed the hook over the Prime's head. She twisted her wrist, send the broken steel chain links clattering across the concrete floor. She then flew out the open door with the Aurean in tow. Her lab coat fluttered to the grass a hundred meters away as she climbed into the darkening sky.
Cher'ee turned to look at the Major, her left eyebrow raising.
"Hey, you fucking take care of this," the Major fumed. "You're the god-damned Protector. She's one of yours." With that, the Major leaped into the sky and flew off the other way.
Cher'ee turned to see a small gathering of Diaboli watching her, their green eyes glowing eerily from the shadows. A riot of unwanted thoughts raced through her head. She saw herself back at the party, talking to Naomi about Alisa's future. Then talking to her grandfather about his illness. About his Omag'en. A chill suddenly ran down her back as she remembered that the Diaboli had the ability to read thoughts. Even to plant new ones in someone's head. Suddenly afraid of the latter, she turned and walked briskly away from them, unbuttoning and dropping her lab coat on the floor as she reached the open loading dock door. There she leaped into the sky like the others. In seconds she'd caught up with Alisa.
"To keep from melting the gold chains," Alisa shouted over the slipstream, "we have to fly slow. Below Mach four. A long ride home."
"Not if we sandwich her between us. Shield the gold from the re-entry heat."
"Cool," Alisa said. She tugged the silent Prime up to wrap her arms around her from the back.
Cher'ee did the same from the front, wrapping her longer arms around Alisa as well. She found herself staring into the bottomless blue eyes of the Prime.
The Prime smiled arrogantly at her.
"Don't be so confident I won't be your death yet, Aurean," Cher'ee said, using the Voice. "You should be afraid. Very afraid."
The Commander's expression never varied, her silence unbroken. She knew the new protocol. If she didn't check in within one day, the scout ship would summon a Cruiser. It would lay waste to the planet, starting at its most remote towns and working its way toward the populous cities until she was released. If she died, then so would most of the inhabitants of this planet.
The Velorians would understand and release her once they knew. They placed far too much value on these helpless Frails.