Walking Tall

A Velorian Legion Spinoff

Begun by Jordan Taylor, concluded by Brantley Thompson Elkins

Chapter One

Finally some peace!  Patricia Ortiz sighed, washing herself under the heavy falls of the Rio Branco. She emerged from the wash naked and shimmering in the bright, noon sun over Novo Recife.

She gathered her hair over her shoulder, squeezing out the water, to finally let it rest along the curve of her breast. A long time had passed since any of the enhancees had been allowed any leave from their duties, even though the war with the Fernandistas had ended three years ago.

Working with Cristina and Rochelle at the bridge site had made it more bearable for Patricia. She reflected on the antics those two would get up to while the engineers did their work. It wasn’t an uncommon sight to see the two sliding their muddy bodies against each other. By the reaction of the other soldiers, it didn’t go unnoticed.

Rochelle was the worst, not having any problem using her power out in the open, naked. In one instance, she emerged covered to her neck in mud after spending the last couple of hours holding a bridge strut in place. The strut had been too heavy for the engineers' crude machinery to bear, so real muscle was needed.

She stripped the tiny uniform’s shorts from her body to hang out leaving her sex completely exposed. She hardly wore the top, despite the leadership’s disapproval. The men, and some women, gawked shamelessly. She was no doubt one of the more beautiful enhancees, if it was possible to compare.

Rochelle smirked at Patricia, then her face changed to a mischievous grin. Putting two-and-two together, Cristina and Patricia blurred out of view under cover of the brush. Not a moment too soon, as Rochelle began to shake herself, flinging mud everywhere to cover the now thinning group around her. She laughed, as did everyone else. However, she was now clean and dry. That was followed the next day with a tickling attack they played on Patricia while she was holding another section in place.   

Patricia giggled to herself at the last one. It was fun, but she missed home so much. She had spent many nights looking up at the sky trying to see her home. But even its sun was nothing more than a faint point of light, and she had to know just where to look. Still it was enough to comfort her.

She missed her uncle. Teo Garcia had raised her after her parents were killed in a hover accident when she was just a little girl – she hardly remembered them, and she had been their only child, so Uncle Teo was her closest kin. He was a sweet, burly man. Always kind to every living soul he met. He did have his vices, however. He had been known in her hometown of Oviedo as something of a womanizer. Yet Patricia had never thought him as a sexual being, and her own experience had been limited until a year before the Velorians showed up.

Teo had hated the idea, but Patricia had volunteered for service in the military arm of the Vigilancia at the youngest age they would take her, 18. He had warned that she knew nothing of war and thought the Velorians should fight on their own, somewhere else. Yet while she had had only police and rescue work on Alguna Parte, Patricia had believed that it would only be a matter of time before the Aurean enemy made its way to her own soil and she wanted nothing more than to keep that from happening.

The thought of losing a family member or friend had been more than enough to push her to into joining the Exercito. But she would never have guessed that her bioscan would tag her as a Latent, still less that among the Latents she would be the only one selected as “one of the girls” for the Velorian Legion – and recommended two years later for service on Novo Recife by Bidu Braga herself. She’d need the experience of combat if the war ever did come home, and had thus welcomed the chance to serve offworld.

It’s such a wonderful gift, Bidu, she thought. I feel so powerful and free. So uninhibited!  It seems so unnatural that one girl, me of all girls, can decimate an armor platoon bare-handed. I mean, did you see that?   

Patricia remembered how Bidu had smiled at her when they met. So many people looked up to her now. It was a good feeling when they approved of you. And she had seen a sort of action during the Fernandista rebellion. But things were quiet here now, and she might really be needed at home one of these days, so…

She had put in her request for leave back home weeks ago. And leave was all she sought. Yet even as she frolicked in the water, it crossed her mind that it was only luck that her homeworld seemed unthreatened in the kind of universe she had learned about from the Velorians.


Patricia swam to the shore and emerged at a shallow bank on the river. She let the warm sun press against her as she stretched her arms out to welcome it. Any man looking at her would have seen her as a goddess, she knew. But she also knew that she was more than a goddess; she was a supercharged fighting machine – and she owed for that.

Cristina had been watching Patricia for a time. Though she knew her comrade was aware, neither bothered the other. Patricia removed the shells draped around her waist and shoulders and set them next to her clothes. Without dressing herself she turned to Cristina finally.

“Hey Cristi!  How’s things?”

“I could complain, but it wouldn’t do any good.” She smiled. “So, what’s this I hear about a bent gun barrel?”

Patricia’s face reddened in embarrassment. It then contorted to annoyance.

“He hit me! Not the other way around!” Patricia waved her arms about.  She had been doing a live fire exercise with the heavy armor companies as a forward observer.  Not that she would ever be doing that, but it broke monotony and she could bone up on her perishable skills.  It was what they recruited her for in the first place.   

“I understand that, but—”

“But nothing! He’s lucky I wasn’t one of the usual FO’s! Geez, he knocked me right into the berm!”

“That’s exactly the point, you’re not normal. You can’t let a little embarrassment get to you like that. As powerful as we are, we could hurt someone if we don’t control ourselves.”

“I know…I’m sorry, it’s just that…”

“You want to go home.” Cristina helped Patricia out of the water and held her, as a friend.  “Pack your bags, soldier. Your uncle is waiting to see you.”

Patricia smiled.  She gathered Cristina into the circle of her own arms and hugged her.   

“Whoa, ease up, I think my top is burning!”

“Oh sorry. Thank you, Cris.” Patricia wasted no time getting her things together – she was a blur all the way to the housing area.

When Bidu had dispatched her here for her first tour of duty after recruitment and enhancement, her first assignment had been to find and protect endangered kin of local Legionnaires. After the veterans had tracked down and dealt with the Fernandista command, there hadn't been any fighting left but mopping up a few remaining guerrillas. She almost regretted that. She'd signed up to fight, dammit, and the Fernandista campaign hadn’t lasted that long. Well, she'd had to deal with garden variety criminals on occasion, but that was hardly the same thing. Training exercises weren't the same thing, either.

If it hadn't been for public works projects like the Rio Branco bridge, she'd have been bored out of her gourd. Xuxa Sayão, who'd been in charge of the Legionnaires here in Bidu's absence and had since been rotated off-world herself, hadn’t approved of that sort of thing. But this was a little bridge, not like the huge span across the Rio Amado. It was a project the enhancees could take on easily, even without being able to fly, and spared Novo Recife authorities the necessity of bringing the really heavy cranes hundreds of miles into the back country to work on a single link of a farm-to-market road.

* * *

Most of the year on Alguna Parte it was sweltering hot. This was especially the case during the long summers. Humidity wasn’t uncommon and certainly unwelcome, as it made the heat nearly unbearable for the field workers on farms in her area.

Patricia could remember the aroma of orchids on her uncle Teo’s shirts that he left for the wash, which was her duty while he busy working at the mill or in the garden. She remembered him walking through the door of their small home with a weary smile on his face. He would hang his hat beside the door on the rack that he’d made with his own hands, like much of the furniture in the house. Patricia always came running to him to have him lift her up in his arms as she welcomed him home. His rough hands would almost swallow hers when he took it to lead her to the kitchen where he would make homemade lechon asado, and listen to his little niece fill her in on her adventures throughout the day.

As the years passed, as she grew into a woman, as her uncle became less able to lift her up, she was made to work. Patricia never minded working, however.  Between the two of them, and whatever help from his son Ricardo they got, they did well. Working in the fields and lumber mill made her strong. Even then, men were complimenting her on how beautiful she was. They never dared go further, for fear of her uncle’s reprimand.   

Imagine the look on his face when he sees me now! she smiled.   

* * *

“Are you carrying any illegal substances on your person?”

“No, señor.”

“Do you wish to declare any items?”

“No, señor.”

Finally looking up, the customs official paused.

“Are you sure you’re not concealing anything,” he smirked. It wasn’t a friendly smirk. Creepy came to Patricia’s mind. The last time this happened on Novo Recife she had to throw eight men off Legion grounds. It was a short trip over the outer perimeter fence, fifty meters or so. Patricia wanted to avoid any needless displays here, however. The last thing she wanted was unwanted attention while visiting her family.

Patricia looked down at her tight, brief shorts and her midriff baring tank top.    “I’m quite sure, señor.”

“You’re that Legionnaire. Your travel orders say so. Would you mind stepping over here, por favor?”   

“Not at all,” Patricia sighed.

The next few minutes seemed an eternity as Patricia allowed four customs officers to search what was available to search. She stood, hands on her head, as one took his time searching her skin-tight clothing. When he’d slipped his hand between her breasts she crushed his fingers. The others began barking at her to strip naked. Apparently, she’d had a concealed weapon. Patricia smiled as she stripped.   

Maybe an obvious use of power isn’t necessary, she mused.

Three more joined the search for concealed weapons. Upon closer inspection of her breasts, another officer received a broken jaw when she Patricia feigned a cold shiver. Moments later, the other five gave up. All of them were in various states of injury when their commander arrived. She looked about the floor where broken riot clubs, spent stun guns, and even a bent set of brass knuckles were strew over the room.   

“What in God’s name is going on in here?”

A familiar voice. A familiar face.

Carla Rodrîguez, She had been a mere inspector herself back in the day, but had apparently moved up in the world,

“A strip search!” Patricia smiled.

“I knew you’d cause trouble,” Carla laughed as they hugged. “Bunch of pervs, I told them this would happen one day.”

Patricia playfully scolded the others, “You should listen when a woman tells you things.”

“Did they hurt…?  Wait, never mind.”

“Well, my dignity is a little bruised, but I think I’ve been properly adjudicated.”

“Let me take you to Teo’s.  It’s a short hover over. And I'll... take care of things here.”

“Thanks. Just let me phone home first.”

Chapter Two

Patricia leapt from the hover before Carla was able to bring it to a stop. Her old friend watched in amazement as she cleared the two-meter high front gate of the estate with a hop that brought her to the front porch.

Carla stood in her seat. She returned Patricia’s wave, drove off, and said to herself, “Welcome home, freak.”

What? Carla must not realize that enhancement went beyond the obvious super strength and invulnerability. Patricia looked over her shoulder at the hover speeding away into town. “Freak?”

But she didn’t have time to dwell on what Carla might think of her now.

“As I live and breathe, Patricia you look wonderful!” her uncle Teo greeted her. “My goodness how you have grown. I remember when you were such a little girl.” 

He was standing in front of the wall of the rose wall, one of his affectations – along with the notion – had he really come to believe it – that she’d been just a girl when she left? Or was he just kidding?

“Come, come in,” he continued. “Your cousins are coming too. We have so much to talk about. You should show your powers to the new members of the family!”

“Just for them,” Patricia said coyly. “I’m hoping they won’t really be needed here.”

“I don’t think your return will even make the news, despite that business at Customs – the people there will doubtless be too embarrassed to complain about their injuries. They knew who you were, but I imagine the rest of the world has forgotten. You won’t be making the newsnets again.”

“Just as well. I’d rather not be noticed by the… you can guess.” 

“Surely you’ve earned some leave,”

“For a couple of months. But they’ll expect me to report in… if I’m noticed.”

“It’s a risk.”

“But it’s so wonderful to be home again! And this is home, not the Exercito.”

Patricia followed him into her old home. Memories flooded into her mind’s eye. Remembering how she and her cousins ran through the house hiding from uncle when he arrived home, only to jump out at him before he was settled to his chair. His devotion to orchids and other flowers, and then to hand-crafted furniture produced at what had once been just a lumber mill.

But she suddenly also recalled her former boyfriend.

Reynaldo. Her memories were fond, but they could be only memories now – she was a Legionnaire and he was not. Wearing gold, if she’d had any, couldn’t be the basis of a lasting relationship – at least for her. And there were bad memories, fading now but still there, about how gold had been used against her comrades by the Fernandistas…

She hoped he’d found another girl, given he could never have her again. I really should look him up while I’m home. But right now, she couldn’t dwell on that. It was time to catch up with the family.

“Juana and Beatriz are married now,” Teo said. “But I called them up as soon as I knew you were on the way here, and they’re coming over for dinner. Ysabel and I are taking care of that.”

After all the usual hellos and hugs, she asked, “Where’s Rick?”

“He’s downstairs practicing.”

“Really? Finally found himself a hobby, huh? It’s got to be better than hover racing. How silly that was!”

Her uncle laughed. “Well, he’s been at this since you’ve been gone. I’m not sure what he calls it, but I imagine it’s some sort of martial arts. Patricia, he’s got the same idea as you do. He wants to join the Legion like his cousin. You’re a hero to him, you know.”

“Oh, I’m not a hero. Lieutenant Braga is a real hero. Watching her in action is so amazing, even if that was just taking care of rebel stragglers. I wish I’d seen the ‘street fight’ she staged in Santo Antônio during the Revolução. Cristina said that was the most fun ever.” Patricia smiled.

“Well, Ricardo’s nothing like you any more, little one. He figures one way he can compete in some way is to be a great hand combatant.” Her uncle sighed. “Anyway, go say hello and tell him to get his ass up here. He’s in the exercise room.”

“Bueno,” Patricia smiled.

Patricia padded downstairs quickly as her uncle turned to finish setting the table for dinner. It didn’t seem all that long ago that she’d been training for her time in the Legion. “Stop all that nonsense and get to your chores!” her uncle had chided her. “The Legion isn’t doing my laundry!”

The memory actually made her smile. Those were more innocent days. She would never die from any weapon she knew of. Feeling projectiles and energy weapons pepper and lance at her body, it was hard to remember how afraid she used to be of them.

By the time she’d encountered armored vehicles and heavy weapons, it had just been practice. She had come under fire from the Fernandistas who’d gone after the safe house for Legion relatives, but she’d been too busy to really enjoy it. To stand in the open before tanks and machine guns and grenade launchers, taking all they offered… that sent a shiver of delight though her spine, quite apart from the sensual feeling of the impacts on her breasts and… down below.

Power like that was hard to get used to… but very seductive. Only, there wasn’t much point to it. There weren’t going to be any more heavy artillery attacks on Novo Recife. The practice had been a matter of morale – and training Legionnaires for future rotation to planets where they might encounter heavy weapons in actual combat, perhaps wielded by Aureans. Which wasn’t likely to be the case here on Alguna Parte…

In the dim light Patricia watched as her cousin sparred with a heavy bag, his body sweaty and lean from the effort. He never seemed to notice as Patricia approached him from behind. She watched him for a moment, impressed by his skill. Her accelerated eyes could watch the twitch in his muscles as he struck the hanging weight in front of him.

“Not much of an opponent, Rick,” she finally said.

“Neither were you, little one.”

“Care to try me now?”

Rick stopped in mid punch. His head hung and his arms finally rested at his sides. He turned on Patricia quickly to strike at empty air. Patricia whistled her approval from beside the hanging bag.

“Not too shabby, cousin. A bit slow, but not bad.”


“I didn’t stutter,” she winked. Another bit of ancient history.

Rick smirked at her remark. “Welcome home, Patricia. We missed you.”

“I missed you too.” She smiled at him brightly. She had indeed missed him. They stared at one another for a moment. They had history together. He used to protect her. Now they both wondered whose role it was to protect. 

“So, did you just come home to gloat?” He chided her with a quick jab to her shoulder.

“Don’t hurt yourself, Rick.”

“Would I, little one? You still look pretty soft to me.”

“Well, I know of one way to find out, wimp.”

“No. No, I couldn’t.” He shook his head at the floor and chuckled.

“Why not? Never stopped you before,” she teased. “I’ll make it easy for you. I won’t even move.” Patricia made her way into an open space on the floor.

“ I don’t want to hurt you, Patricia,” he said, in a mock-serious tone.

“You can’t.”

“I know. I wish they could have taken me. But I tested negative.”

“There are very few Latents,” she reminded him, suddenly thinking of comrades-in-arms back on Novo Recife who were just like Rick – and had sometimes had to pay the price for that. “And I honestly don’t know which side of the family blessed me as one of those few.”

Rick got his ass in gear and headed upstairs to see what Uncle Teo wanted with him.

Patricia followed a few minutes later, and met Ysabel in the common room.

"Father told you about my sisters, right?”

“Just that they’re married now.”

Ysabel herself, the eldest, was still single. She seemed to have become head of the household by default, as Teo was head of the business.

“So he didn’t mention that Beatriz married Reynaldo?" she said, sounding a bit annoyed. "She’s a Suarez now.” 

Patricia was taken aback, but tried not to show it.

“It’s not like you think. He didn’t go after her, she went after him.”

“It doesn’t matter, really,” Patricia said. “There’s no way we could ever get back together, now that I’m… you know.”

But it did matter, really. 

Reynaldo Lopez had been her first man, taking her virginity at the age of 17. He was 29 at the time, and a star on the Toros –the local commonball team.  He’d also worked for Uncle Teo at the mill.

She’d taken a shine to him, watching him play – and just watching him. She was old enough to become a woman, and she’d invited him to do the honor. It had hurt – she’d been warned about that by the older girls at school, who’d also told her that she should make sure any man she had sex with should wear a sheath on his cock. She’d been relieved to see that he’d already taken care of that.

He also knew enough to withdraw after one stroke, but he was so excited he got off on that – she could see, that the sheath was filled with cum. And, knowing that she’d be too sore down there to try again for a few days, he suckled her breasts until she came. She wanted him to know how much she appreciated that

“Hoy soy una mujer!” she exclaimed. And to further show her appreciation, she offered to suck his cock. When he came in her mouth, there was another surprise – he actually tasted good.

“I’ve been drinking pineapple juice,” he explained when she remarked on it. She hadn’t expected him to get that sort of advice from his elders, although she knew he’d had a lot of practice with other women – and knew how to be good in bed to them.

Within a week, Patricia was able to treat Reynaldo to the pleasure exploding inside her again and again – still wearing his sheath, of course. She loved to feel him filling her cunt, even before he came. She loved watching him come on her breasts when she brought him off by hand – he’d even lick his cum off them as he pleasured them with his tongue and teeth. And she loved eating him and swallowing his cum  – for which he reciprocated by eating her and drinking her juices as she let loose.

She’d been a fool to break up with him just because he’d joined a rival commonball team in Nuevo Burgos, the planetary capital. Oviedo was proud of its team, and people had been upset over his defection – including the Garcias. Anyway, having a lover only by hover was, to say the least, inconvenient. 

And then the Velorians came, with an offer she couldn’t refuse.

All this went through her mind in a flash, as Ysabel begged off catching her up on other matters because she’d be busy fixing dinner.

 “I’ve got to cut the beef cubes for the casserole, and prepare all the vegetables. Plus, I’m making a manjar blanco for dessert. We haven’t had the whole family together here in ages.” 

And that family now included Reynaldo. It was going to be awkward, to say the least. 

“I’ll let you get to it then, Patricia said. 

She knew it was irrational, but she was feeling hot and bothered about her former boyfriend, and desperately needed to relieve herself before she could face him again. Just fingering herself wouldn’t be enough. 

She headed outside and found the hiding place for a personal possession she’d left behind when she’d headed offworld – she had known she wouldn’t be needing it while serving with the Legion offworld, but whenever she returned,,,  

A few minutes later, Patricia was a hundred rods away making use of a dildo that the Velorians had given her out of embarrassment after they had failed to find another Latent on Alguna Parte who could have become a fellow Legionnaire – and pleasured her. 

The sex toy had been fabricated by the Vauld, of course, using a composite of a Velorian ceramic and Vendorian steel. The kind favored by Terrans could never have penetrated her, and if it could have it would have been instantly crushed. Even a pure Vendorian steel model would have begun to melt before long. 

She’d heard that some expatriate Velorians got off on that, or enjoyed impressing Terrans with the sight of rivulets of molten metal running out of them… 

But she didn’t want to think about that; it wasn’t her thing. Reynaldo had been her thing, and he was still the only one she could see in her mind now –the others back on Novo Recife had all been passing fancies

When she came, she moaned his name softly, although she felt like screaming.... and longed to hear him screaming hers, even though she knew that could never come to pass now.

It made it all the harder to have to face him now. But at least she wouldn’t have to embarrass herself by betraying any lingering desire. But would he be embarrassed by the memories he must still share?

Chapter Three

When Patricia finally encountered Reynaldo before dinner, it wasn’t as unsettling as she’d feared. He simply greeted her as an old friend, and asked after her life offworld without saying a word about their previous relationship.

Perhaps Beatriz had persuaded him not to bring up their past, she thought at first. Or perhaps it was her uncle’s doing, even though he himself hadn’t been candid about her old love’s new love.

It turned out that neither of them was thinking of the past, at least not right now. Beatriz was expecting, and was far enough along to be showing,  but she still hadn’t had herself tested – they both wanted the baby’s sex to be a surprise. If it was a boy, she was going to name him Teo. If it was a girl, for her mother Elvira, who had died when she was just a child. 

That pleased the whole family, but when Teo caught them up with the career of his son-in-law – for the benefit of Patricia, although he was canny enough not to put it that way – some unpleasant news surfaced. Only it had nothing to do with the family, rather with the sporting culture – especially in the capital.

Reynaldo had retired from the Guerreros, the commonball team in the capital – as a father to be, he didn’t want to risk serious injury in such a rough sport, and the risk was greater now that he was getting along in years. 

But that wasn’t all he was worried about. He’d taken an administrative job with the Autoridad Deportiva, which oversaw professional sports on Alguna Parte – and was worried about fans as well as players getting out of hand. Fans had always been rowdy, often cursing visiting teams as well as cheering their own, but it had gone beyond that of late.

“Just last week, one of them actually shot a referee,” he complained to Teo and the rest. “Turned out he’d gotten the gun from one of those people who’ve been selling weapons for home defense against an Aurean attack – as if Tala couldn’t take care of that. The referee survived, thank God, and the shooter’s under arrest – but the centinelas can’t do anything about the dealer – he isn’t breaking the law selling ordinary guns, even if he’s raising a scare to attract buyers.”

Tala was Alguna Parte’s Protector, but she was rarely seen onworld – her primary task was to guard the wormhole against an invasion from the Empire; together with the Auxiliary Protectors and the men of the Velorian naval forces (who also took care of the sexual needs of the women) they were more than up to the task.

Velor didn’t get involved in local affairs on the planet, and Gobierno Mundial didn’t want it to. If there’d been any other Legionnaires here, they might take part in any defense on the ground – they weren’t authorized to serve in space. But there weren’t any. It was all up to the local military, the Exercito, of which she was (technically, to her mind) still a member – no point in having a Legion unit for one Legionnaire.

“We have the Guardia Civil,” Reynaldo remarked, as if he were thinking along the same lines. “We don’t need locos running around with guns.”

“Can’t we find something more pleasant to talk about?” Teo asked.

Reynaldo’s mention of the Guardia Civil reminded Patricia to look into signing up to rejoin it. There might be need for her here, after all, even without the Aureans... On the other hand... did she really want to?

* * *

It was at the dinner table that Patricia got to know Juana’s husband, Auderico Nuñez – Rico for short. That amused her, as it must have amused Rick when the two had met and married. Oddly enough, he worked for the Bureau of Customs in Nuevo Burgos, but not at the nearby spaceport. 

Rico dealt with the Scalantrans as Bureau liaison with their Factor General. Akseli had recently lodged a complaint against Xemissa Galactica, a rival trading company that he suspected of supplying offworld weapons; the next Xemissa ship to call would be inspected very thoroughly.

“But somebody might be producing them right here, even if the designs are foreign – some very powerful,” Rico said. “That would put it beyond Bureau jurisdiction. And beyond the law, even if there are those who say we need enhanced weaponry against the Aureans.”

All eyes turned to Patricia.

“I’d have to see them to tell whether they’d be of any use. Chances are they might be powerful enough to kill Betans, but hardly Primes. In any case, we have Tala and other Velorians to deal with them; if there were any landings I could help take on the Betans – but only with plenty of company.”

She was trying to make light of it, even though she didn’t feel light about it. But it was hardly a surprise that the Garcias didn’t take it lightly. At that moment, however, Teo and Ysabel emerged from the kitchen and began serving dinner.

It was like old times, and yet her uncle had planned for occasions like this. When he’d built the native hard ash Mesa Inmenso, as he called the dinner table, it had been far too large for him and the children. But he knew then that the children would grow up, and marry and have children of their own

There hadn’t been any grandchildren yet, but there soon would be – and Teo had matching hard ash chairs waiting for them, and space around the table. He seemed to plan for everything; an expansion of the mill was in the works to turn furniture making from just a local enterprise into a big business with sales in the capital and around the world.

The beef casserole was cooked to perfection, and spiced just right. Ysabel took her role in the family just as seriously as her father took his. Patricia could still remember the grilled pork lechon asado from her childhood, when it was Elvira who had prepared them. It was uncanny how Ysabel had picked up on her skills at an early age.

“I guess I was just a latent chef,” she said when Patricia complimented her.

That drew some nervous laughs, but it also broke the ice for Patricia to talk about her life on Novo Recife, and why she had left it, and what she should do with herself on Alguna Parte. Up to now, they had all been talking around her unexpected return instead of about it.

At first, it was just banter – like Rick suggesting she should use her strength to help Ysabel rearrange the furniture in the house and free up space for other uses, now that her sisters were no longer living there.

“We could both use extra space,” he quipped.

That seemed to annoy Reynaldo, who turned the conversation in a more serious direction.

“Have you considered working for the Guardia Civil again?” he asked.

“I’d have to live in Nuevo Burgos,” she said. “That’s where the crimes and other emergencies are most likely. That’s why I served there before, and lived in the barracks. I can’t fly, after all, and if I’d had to take a hover from out of town…”

“There’s that,” Reynaldo agreed, 

“And I’d rather live here, anyway, for the time being at least. I get the impression that some people there don’t like me.”

She told the story about her run-in with Customs, and how Carla had seemingly come to her defense but then called her a freak. She didn't mention the bit about the injured inspectors. Reynaldo looked as if he had been about to say something, but had thought better of it. 

“Nothing to do with you, Rico,” she added, turning to him half-apologetically.

“No offense taken. Not my department,” Auderico assured her. “I can’t imagine what the problem is, but I could find out.”

“Carla used to be a friend of the family,” Teo remarked. “I assumed she still was, although we haven’t heard from her lately.”

Rick returned to banter, saying he was glad to agree with Rico about looking into the matter.

“Maybe you can help us out with the mill,” Teo suddenly broke in, addressing Patricia. “We’ve going to need strong hands there for the expansion. Rick may have been working out, but I think you’d work out better.”

It sounded facetious, as they took a break for dessert – manjar blanco, of course, a confection of curdled sweet milk and almonds that Patricia remembered from childhood. But it turned out later that her uncle was serious…

Chapter Four

The next day, they went to a commonball match between Oviedo and Cerracina. It was a grudge match for the hometown Toros, but then practically any game was a grudge match – the rival teams in the Eastern League asked no quarter, and gave none.

The game, said to date back to ancient times on Terra, was unlike the football Patricia had encountered in Novo Recife. The players, 14 on each team, used their hands rather than their feet to move the ball – and their bodies to knock it loose from opposing carriers. 

The object was for one team to throw the ball over the heads of the other, and control of the ball would change often until one team was forced behind a white line at its end of the field. But there were hardly any rules beyond that; the rival teams could and did resort to any means necessary, and no substitutions were allowed for injured players – putting opponents out of the game was part of the game.

The players fought bare-chested – Reynaldo’s chest had once impressed Patricia, and commonball had seemed heroic. But since then, she’d seen real heroism, serving in the Legion, and the game no longer seemed the least bit heroic, even when the Toros pulled off a 4-3 victory over the Lupos in the next-to-last minute. 

She wouldn’t want any of these men for a boyfriend, she thought, and she didn’t think they would make good Legionnaires even if they were Latents – they were just too full of themselves. It was just as well, she reflected, that there wasn’t any chance of male companionship here. She would have find some other kind of reward…

In the meantime, there was work to do, and Patricia got at it. First, there was the expansion of the mill itself. She didn’t have any problem handling the steel beams that would support the structure, and her experience with Rio Branco bridge back on Nova Iberia served her well. Uncle Teo marked out where the beams should go, and she then had to dig holes for the concrete stanchions that would hold them up – making sure that they were perfectly vertical and perfectly aligned. 

She made a few mistakes at first, but only at first. It was a learning experience, but it gave her a sense of accomplishment – of making a contribution to her family and even her world. Once the work on the mill itself was completed a couple of weeks later, with the floor poured and hardened, and the walls and roof assembled and bolted into place, it was time to equip it for the manufacturing to come. 

A ground hauler arrived, and Patricia took charge of unloading the machinery and carrying it to the mill. From saws and drills to kilns for drying lumber, planing and sanding machines, there was a lot of heavy equipment involved. And that was just for the wood; Teo was also getting into using steel for desks and cabinets and the like, although it would be strictly a matter of assembly rather than actually producing the parts here.

The project had slowed production of the hand-crafted furniture that Teo had been known for in Oviedo, and he’d have to be taking on new hands to operate the machines and assemble desks, tables and chairs, cabinets, shelves and other items designed for the mass market. 

“This has to be costing a lot,” Patricia remarked at one point.

“A good reason to save on the expense of hand labor!” her uncle kidded – none of those working on hand-crafted furniture, including custom designs, were being laid off. “Seriously, though, it will all pay off. Ranemiro is backing us.”

“You mean…?”

“Yes, the owner of the Toros. There was a reason for going to their game. Señor Izquerido has made a fortune with the team, but he’s been looking for other businesses to invest in, and can see the possibilities here. I’ve known him for years; I can play a part in his plans, and he can play a part in mine. Everybody wins.”

“It’s still got to be a challenge. You’ve been running a strictly local business.”

“Ranemiro has friends in the capital and around the country, and can help find us markets for our designs – whether machine-built, or hand-crafted for the specialty trade. Plus, he has influence with the government; he can get us contracts for public buildings. He’s even helped recruit new workers for the machines – experienced men. We’re on our way now, and it won’t be long before we can repay him from a share of the profits.”

A few days later, the great man himself paid the Garcias a visit. He had the air of an aristocrat, although nobody in his family had ever had a title – even in the old days when titles meant anything. But players on his commonball team called him Elmanda – “he commands.”

Patricia was impressed, and it felt great to be a part of a growing enterprise. But when the mill went into full production, that part was over, and there was nothing more for her to do. She could see the men coming in for work, and she could see the ground haulers coming by to load up. A lot of them were headed for Nuevo Burgos, just as her uncle had hoped, but there were also orders coming in from other cities. 

Several months went by. She still hadn’t heard from the Exercito, and she’d just let things slide when it came to an obligation she knew but could no longer truly feel. And yet she couldn’t entirely forget that she was a Legionnaire.

During these months, she had divided her time between the family estate and the capital, just in case there was any news that related to her or the Legion, through both local and Scalantran channels. It was probably nothing, but Reynaldo’s mention of guns had her concerned – she’d been trained to look out for Aurean influence or infiltrators on Novo Recife. None had ever been found, but there had been instances on other seeded worlds. It might be paranoid, but she still wondered about Carla – whether there was more to her strange behavior than simple jealousy.

Rick, meanwhile, had been pressed into service to help keep accounts, because the increased business was more than Teo could handle on his own – he had been used to dealing with individual clients and wanted to devote as much of his time as possible to continuing that. Rick found the work boring, but it had to be done, and he appreciated that his father wanted to keep the actual management of the business in the family. 

There weren’t any jobs around for martial artists, in any case, and he wasn’t keen on commonball – even assuming there were any opportunities. Things had gone badly for the Toros at the Eastern League championship final – against all odds, they had lost. Word had it that some local fans had lost a bundle betting on them, and that somebody had won big putting their money on Consuergra’s Tumulto – which had hit the Oviedo team just like a storm, so to speak. 

“Ranemiro was devastated,” Teo told the family over dinner the next evening. “It was just bad luck, he said. But they’ll bounce back, Just wait and see. And it won’t affect the business here. He’s still good for his investment.”

Indeed, business was so good that Teo even agreed to a night shift. That meant they needed a foreman, since he and Rick couldn’t work round the clock – and it was Ranemiro who found one. His name was Salvador, and he was said to have worked at a hover repair shop in town; with him came a dozen other men from Oviedo who worked the new shift. Salvador kept to himself, as did his men, who commuted back and forth, and the family didn’t see that much of him of them.  But he seemed to be doing his job – doing it so well that there were additional pickups even early in the morning for items produced overnight – the hands must have really been working overtime. But if they weren’t complaining, the Garcias weren’t about to.

Patricia and the rest had been introduced to him when he first arrived, and he was all smiles then. But when Patricia had run into him one morning, sending off a shipment, he glared at her. She didn’t like his looks at all. But it wasn’t as if he were there to appeal to her…

Rick noticed one day that the latest early morning shipment didn’t seem to have been accounted for. Perhaps there were other instances. He didn’t want to bring this up himself, so he alerted his father.

“I’ll take it up with the xefe de la noche,” Teo promised, and that was that.

The next morning, when he didn’t show up for breakfast, Rick went out looking for him with people from the incoming day shift and found him dead outside the mill, shot in the head. Salvador and the rest of the night shift were nowhere to be found.

Chapter Five

Centinelas from the Guardia Civil’s police criminal arm showed up in force when Rick reported the shooting, enough to fill three hovers. Murder wasn’t something they took lightly, and Teo was well known in Oviedo – he’d done most of his business there.

But after looking over the crime scene with Rick and Patricia, they had cause for a greater concern – in their eyes, at least – than the murder itself. 

“It wasn’t an ordinary gun,” Joaquin Escarra, head of the Unidad de Homicidios, told Rick. “No blood on him, or on the ground – just a burn mark. Has to have been an energy weapon. There’s been a smuggling problem with those.”

Rick was stunned. 

“All we have are a couple of hunting guns,” Rick responded. “And we kept those at home, not at the mill.”

“What about these night shift people?”

“Our commonball mandamás Ranemiro Izquerido saw to recruiting them,” Rick said. “He’s taken an interest on the business, and hopes to profit from it.” 

“He’s got his hand in a lot of things these days,” Escarra remarked. “They say he’s going into politics. But we’d better check out this business of the night shift.”

The leader of the murder unit turned to one of his men. 

“Get on the com, Diego, and see what you can find out – from the man himself, if at all possible.”

Escarra turned to the others. 

“The rest of you go with Rick here and check out the mill.”

“Can I bring Patricia?” Rick asked. “She helped with construction of the addition where the night shift worked.”

Escarra looked at her doubtfully.

“She was with the Velorian Legion,” Rick explained. “Stronger than she looks.”

“Oh yeah… we, ah… heard about her.” 

Rick and Patricia showed the centinelas into the mill, where they and the day shift explained the operation, Patricia was familiar with all the new machines, having helped get them up and running. Everything seemed normal as far as she and Rick could see, but one of the day shift hands said the night shift had installed a new lock on one of the bins in back where spare parts and supplies were stored.

“Nothing to do with anything we were using, so we didn’t really pay attention,” Velasco said. “We thought it might be for prototypes of some new designs Rick had them working on.”

“News to me,” Rick said. “I never talked to them about new designs; they were supposed to be working on what we were getting the most orders for, when the day shift couldn’t keep up.”

“Well, let’s see what’s in there,” Escarra said.

Patricia broke open the bin. It was full of what they expected to find, except for a few steel rods and tubes that Velasco said didn’t match those for table legs, and a number of other parts that didn’t seem to him to have any use at all.

Escarra took a look.

“What they do match is parts for energy weapons,” he said. Turning to Patricia, he added, “I’m surprised you wouldn’t recognize them, considering your background.”

“I’ve never seen that many energy weapons,” she protested. “And these aren’t like the components of any I have seen.”

“This is uncalled for,” Rick broke in. “She has nothing to do with this. It’s those night shift people. They murdered my father. You should be looking for them.”

At that moment, Diego came in to report to Escarra.

“Señor Izquerido can’t be reached at the moment,” he said. “But his office says he had nothing to do with hiring people for the mill, or anything to do with its day-to-day operation – that his only involvement was to advance credit.”

“That’s a lie!” Rick shouted. 

“It sounded to me like a prepared script, a cover story,” Diego remarked.

“But we can’t assume that,” Escarra said. “All we can do is report what we found. Since this is a crime scene, subject of a criminal investigation, I must advise all those involved to remain on the scene, and to suspend operations until the matter is resolved.”

“You’re putting us out of business!” Rick cried. “I won’t stand for this.”

“My hands are tied,” Escarra said. “I suggest that you seek legal counsel.”

Rick returned to the Garcia home to break that news to Ysabel. Patricia remained behind to argue with Escarra.

“It’s got to be Izquerido behind this,” she insisted. “Who else could possibly have the connections? Teo had only a small business until Elmanda offered to help him expand – only with a hidden motive, obviously.”

“But it would be your word against his,” said Escarra. “I’d hate to be in your position.”

“Maybe you can’t go up against him, I know. But if you can find his henchman Salvador... I can give you a description.”

“And if we can’t?”

“I’ll have to think about that.”

Rick and Ysabel had other things to think about. Breaking the news to Juana and Auderico, and to Beatriz and Reynaldo, arranging for the funeral... 

Auderico was bound to be interested in the weapons, Patricia thought, and – not knowing her well – might even suspect her of involvement

Reynaldo, she thought… if anyone were could help, it would be him…

Even so, it was a surprise when Rick summoned her to the com.

“Reynaldo wants to speak with you,” he said.

And what he had to tell her was disturbing.

“I knew before Rick called, because Rico had already known before Ysabel called him – and told me,” he said. “We need to meet with you – before the funeral.” 

Patricia had no idea what it was about, but it sounded ominous. She knew she was supposed to “remain on the scene.” But the homicide police were all gone except Diego, who had joined the other centinelas keeping watch on the mill, and she was able to sneak off.

Chapter Six

She caught a public hover from Oviedo to Bureau headquarters in Nuevo Burgos, and was escorted to a conference room where her two adoptive brothers-in-law awaited her. Rico took the lead, and immediately pissed her off

“We have contacts with the Guardia Civil,” Rico said, as if that weren’t obvious. “Señor Izquerido has denied having anything to do with the men who seem to have been working on alien weapons. But Reynaldo has assured me that you couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with what happened.” 

Muchas gracias por los pequeños favores! Patricia could hardly contain her anger. Even if Rico had never known her before her return home, he’d known her family, known Teo. How could he possibly…

But then Reynaldo intervened.

“You should have known better without my saying so,” he said. “And just a few weeks ago, you thought it was only smuggling by rivals of the Scalantrans. But what came of it? Nothing! Your Oficio de la Inquisición sent its agents to search the latest Xemissa Galactica ship to reach port, and came up empty.”

“Just one ship,” Rico grumbled. “We still have our suspicions.”

“About Patricia, too? You’re way out of line. I knew her before she left to join the Legion, long before you met the family. She’s good. She can be trusted, utterly. And she has… certain capacities, and experience. She might be able to find out something about Izquerido – enough to justify calling in the Vigilancia Mundial.”

Reynaldo paused for a moment.

“And consider this: if he’s mixed up in manufacturing alien weapons, what could he possibly want them for?”

Rico seemed taken aback by that.

“So what do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Nothing. Just don’t get in our way. Keep quiet about the whole thing. If it isn’t about smuggling, it doesn’t involve the Bureau. But if it has anything to do with the man who owns the Toros, it involves the Autoridad Deportiva.”

Reynaldo turned to Patricia.

“I’ll explain it all, over lunch.”

* * *

Lunch was at the Gran Juego, a bustling eatery near Reynaldo’s office that was popular with commonball fans, although not with most of the players. 

Part of the game for fans of the Guerreros was to keep their eyes peeled, in hopes of spotting one of their beloved stars. But to keep them coming, the owners had mounted huge video screens that showed highlights of past games, interviews with the stars and even historical documentaries. Between the videos and the crowd, the place was noisy as well. 

“They don’t look for me here any more,” Reynaldo said, after finding a booth near the comparatively quiet rear. “And they won’t be looking for you, either.”

Patricia had already noticed that the staff, besides the waiters, included licensed prostitutes. She’d heard about that sort of thing; where the prostitutes worked, no other women – of whom there were precious few here, she could see, glancing around the place – weren’t allowed pick up men. 

“They’ll leave us alone. Unseen and unheard.”

Without further comment, she looked through the menu.

“You should try their morcilla dulce.” Reynaldo said. “It’s classic.”

That was a fried sausage dish that added orange peel, raisins and walnuts to the basic ingredients – pork meat and blood with rice.

The morcilla lived up to her brother-in-law’s description – she hadn’t thought that pork could be tangy and still taste like pork. Would Ysabel want to try it? The recipe might be available, or perhaps she could to work it out. There might be other culinary surprises in the capital – and not just at the Gran Juego.

Yet the restaurant itself, vulgar as it might have seemed to her step-brother and sisters, was a welcome relief from the austere headquarters of the Bureau. Compared to the Garcias’ family home, the conference room there seemed untouched by human hands – its furnishings stamped out rather than designed, its walls drab and bleak. 

But after enjoying their meal together, and even the atmosphere, it was time for business.

“I should have gotten back to you before all this happened,” Reynaldo said. “But I was worried about Beatriz. Possible complications. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm. She’s right on schedule.”

Patricia hadn’t known there had been any cause for worry, but was nevertheless relieved that now there wasn’t. And she wasn’t about to admit that she still had feelings for this man. That would be cruel. But she did have to let him know that she had put the past behind her.

“I’m glad to hear that,” she said. “And I’m glad that you two are happy together. I could see that at the dinner, but I didn’t want to talk about it because it touches on…”

“It’s all right,” he said. “I cared for you a lot, and I was hurt when you broke it off. But you weren’t my first love, and I knew you wouldn’t be my last. I was jealous, of course, but not over another man; you didn’t have any then although I assume you’ve had some since. It was… how many people here ever have a chance to visit other worlds? To see what it’s like out there?”

“Not as glamorous as you’d think,” Patricia said, and gave a brief account of her stint on war-torn Nova Recife. You should be happy to live on a world devoted to peace and prosperity.”

“Which may be threatened. After all that has happened. So what do we do now?”

“We lay Teo to rest. But there won’t be any rest for us. I want you to work for the Authority – undercover of course.” 

“What was the point of meeting with Rico?”

“He wanted to put us on notice, but I took the opportunity to put him on notice. He’s not really that high up in the Bureau; just pretends to be. My own contacts tell me that his superiors don’t take him seriously. But they are concerned about the weapons; it’s just that their hands are tied if the case doesn’t involve contraband.”

“And my hands aren’t?”


Reynaldo should have shown relief about how things had worked out, and yet he still seemed worried.

“Is there something else you need to tell me?” Patricia asked.

“I don’t think we’ll have any more trouble from Rico. I certainly hope so, because I have something else to hold over him that I don’t want to use, because it would hurt the family more than him. Can I trust you too to hold this in confidence until or unless I tell you otherwise?”

“I can.”

“Remember you were asking about Carla, and what happened at Customs?”

Patricia simply nodded.

“She’s having an affair with Rico. The usual sort of thing – late nights supposedly at the office. She’s probably afraid that you might suspect, although I don’t know why – it isn’t as if Enhancement made you a mind reader. My guess is that she staged the whole strip search incident so that she could come to your rescue, and even cover up the injuries you inflicted – which, after all, seemed accidental.” 

“You know about that?”

“I have my sources.”

“So they weren’t looking for… infiltrators?”

“No reason to suspect anything of the sort.”

* * *

It was a day they dreaded, and yet they had to get through it – go through with it. Had they lived in town, they could have gone to a mortician, had Teo properly embalmed, properly dressed… Here, the day after the day after was the limit, even keeping Teo on ice. It was high summer, after all. 

Things could have been worse. The centinelas could have insisted on taking the body in evidence, but Escarra had persuaded his superiors that photos taken by his men and a later examination at the scene by a doctor from town would suffice. He had given the day shift leave to build a coffin at the mill, and Patricia herself had dug the grave in the family plot. The day shift workers had volunteered to serve as an informal honor guard/

There were other centinelas here today, but not from the Unidad de Homicidios; just regulars sent to keep people away from the mill. Several dozen townsmen – people who had done business with Teo, or just knew him as a friend – had turned out for the service. They’d heard about the investigation, of course; it was front-page news, but knew better than to try to get anything out of the police and were too considerate to bring it up with the family.

“Thank you all for being here,” Ysabel said, a quaver in her voice. “Knowing that Teo was admired and respected by those he knew is our only comfort here today. I hope and pray that we can overcome this tragedy, and bring justice to those responsible for it. For any help that any of you can give, we will be profoundly grateful. And we mean to resume business as soon as possible, for our mutual benefit.”

She bore an armful of orchids – red, white and blue, some varieties having been bred by Teo himself – and cast them into the open coffin, which Rick then closed. Patricia joined him, Auderico and Reynaldo in bearing it to the grave, where they lowered it. Their looks were all grave, and they gave nary a hint of any troubles among them.

The Garcias weren’t particularly religious, but Ysabel had arranged for a monk from Oviedo, Brother Pedro Páez Xaramillo, lead the service, it being too late for a vigil or a funeral mass. He was dressed plainly, as befitted his order. The words were familiar to one and all, for Alguna Parte had been settled by Catholics from Old Castilia, and those who still believed at all in the centuries that had passed since then believed in its rituals and none other. 

“Lord Have Mercy!

“My beloved brothers and sisters! Ye shall say prayers for the soul of this poor man, who hath been saved by the Lord from the prison of this false world, whose body we bury on this day so that the Lord may place him in his grace on the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, among the chosen ones, his saints who sit upon his right hand; and that this man’s soul may ascend when the Day of Judgment comes. So be it for you all.

“Lord Have Mercy!

Once the burial was accomplished, it was time for the customary meal. Ysabel and her younger sisters had labored the night before. There wouldn’t have been nearly enough to go around if Reynaldo hadn’t brought a hover’s load of fresh fish and greens, but Juana and Beatriz – everyone was glad to see she was up to taking part – saw to the seasoning and helped with the cooking. And the sun shone brightly enough on the tables assembled for the occasion to keep the platters hot.  

It was shortly after Teo’s family and friends had enjoyed the meal and begun to engage in conversation. Patricia was telling newcomers among them about her adventures on Novo Recife – and not just the adventures.

“One of my comrades had an uncle who raised orchids, just like Teo,” she said. “Small universe! Only it had nothing to do with the Seeders; the planet was settled only 200 years ago by the Aureans. Their culture is from some country called Brasil that didn’t even exist when Alguna Parte was seeded. Their cuisine is out of this world, like ours in some ways and different in others. And I could go on all day about their music – I think it will haunt me for the rest of my life. As much as having been recruited here by Bidu – she was a native of that planet, but she married a military man from one of the leading families of Velor itself.”

She was going into further detail when a strange figure appeared to interrupt her. Formally dressed, he turned out to be a court officer. He approached the Garcias’ table and called on them to attend to him. Then delivered a legal bombshell.

“Under a decreto judicial by the Juzgado de la Mercantil of Oviedo, it is ordered that all properties of Teo Garcia and/or his heirs or assigns be surrendered to Empresas del Este, a registered company headquartered in Oviedo, on account of breach of contract and failure to meet debt obligations.”

First came the shock. Then the anger.

Chapter Seven

 “Canalla!” Patricia screamed. “Don’t you know that Teo was murdered here two days ago? Most likely at the orders of the very man you serve!”

The court officer was taken aback at being called a swine, and seemed to be about to try to explain when Reynaldo broke in.

“This is an outrage!” he said. “Izquerido and his minions had better have a good abogado, because they’ll be hearing from ours.”

“Shame!” cried Rick, and the cry was taken up by the day shift and even some of the visiting townspeople. 

“I know nothing of this, I swear,” said the court officer, clearly shaken and abashed. “And I’m not serving that Señor Izquerido or any individual, only the court.”

“We never received notice that he was bringing this case,” Reynaldo said.

“I don’t know what to say,” the officer protested. “I had nothing to do with that. I was told that Señor Garcia had been served, on the basis of a contract with Empresas del Este some weeks ago, and had failed to appear at the hearing.”

“Teo told us that Ranemiro was expanding his business, but he never mentioned this Empresas,” Patricia said. “He invested in our expansion, found workers for the mill, and was going to help market our new furniture. Only, after Teo was murdered, the police came and said the new workers had been making weapons and—”

“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” the officer said. “I was sent to serve notice of the decree. That’s all. You’ll have to take it up with the Juzgado.”

“I’ll have my lawyer file for an injunction tomorrow,” Reynaldo said. “Let me see the decree.”

The court officer handed him the document, then turned and stole silently away, ignoring the hateful stares of the family and guests. 

In the heat of the moment, Reynaldo had forgotten that it would be Midsummer Day tomorrow, when courts and government offices would be closed. But then, he didn’t actually have a lawyer, although he’d surely have no trouble finding one.

Midsummer Day was usually a festive occasion for the Garcias, but they would have nothing to celebrate this year. None of them knew how long it would take to get past their pain and sorrow. 

Father Páez, who had remained silent during the imbroglio, spoke up now.

“I can remain with you for counsel, if that will help,” he said. “And remember that God is always with you.”

Ysabel thanked him, but said it wouldn’t be necessary. 

Patricia, who didn’t believe in God, had some choice words in mind – like, would he want to hear confessions? – but held her peace. She could, however, speak her piece about what to do now.

“We need to call Escarra,” she said. “The police won’t be taking the day off.”

* * *

Escarra hadn’t been in when she called, so she left a message. It wasn’t until the next morning that he returned her call. He hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, then got to the point.

 “We’ve been taken off the case,” he told her.

“What do you mean you’ve been taken off the case? “Since when does the Unidad de Homicidios not pursue murder cases?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the matter.”

Higher authority, she surmised. Izquerido must have gotten to them.

Escarra had already broken the connection.

“I don’t think he’s happy about it, or he wouldn’t have called me back at all,” she told Reynaldo. 

“It’s as I feared,” Reynaldo said. “I don’t think we can expect any help from any quarter in Oviedo.”

Breakfast had been a glum affair, and the word from Escarra made the family even glummer. Rico and Juana had already returned to Nuevo Burgos after the funeral, and it was left up to Reynaldo to call them – Ysabel was too devastated and Rick didn’t feel up to it. 

Not long afterwards, the Garcias had an unexpected visitor – Diego Bordas, who said he had been sent to inform the centinela regulars guarding the mill that they had been reassigned to secure it for Empresas del Este. Yet another blow to the family, and Diego seemed to compound it by asking leave to use the toilet.

“Why can’t you go out to the woods to take a piss or a shit?” Rick asked.

Only Patricia, sensing that there might be more to it, invited him into their home, despite glares from the rest of the family, and pointed the way to the bathroom.

“I don’t really need it,” he said. “But you need to know what Joaquin sent me to tell you. He couldn’t talk about it on the com, and neither could I, but I could take time off for the holiday – the Commisario and his minions are off partying, so they won’t be any the wiser.”

Diego reached in his pocket and pulled out a photo.

“Is this the man you told us about?” he asked.

“Salvador!” Patricia exclaimed. 

“Last name Banderas.”

“Does he work for Izquerido?”

“We thought so, at first. But it turned out he’s played for Tumulto.” 

The team that dealt the Toros a surprise defeat for the Eastern championship, she remembered.

“Do you have any idea where he is now?”

“He apparently left the team, and hasn’t been seen in Consuergra since. That’s all we were able to find out, before...” 

Diego looked at her gravely.

“We’re off the case, remember? And I haven’t been here. I haven’t talked with you.” 

With that, he turned and headed for the door, But he stopped long enough for a parting word.

“I’ll send you a copy of the photo. But it won’t be from me.”

Only when Diego had driven off for Oviedo did Patricia call the others into the house to enlighten them.

“We’ve got to protect him,” she said afterwards. “We can’t let the centinelas or the workers know.”

“Not that we’ll be able to keep the workers,” Rick said.

“Or even the orchids, and the farm,” Ysabel lamented. “The order says ‘all properties.’”

“We can fight that,” Reynaldo said. “The question is, what else can we do with what we know now?”

First he faced Patricia.

“I can get you on the Authority payroll as an investigator under an assumed name and have you assigned to Consuergra,” he said. “I don’t think anybody will recognize you there. Meanwhile, we can go after Empresas in court, block any attempt to enforce the decree. That should keep Ranemiro occupied, and divert any attention your investigation might otherwise arouse.” 

Then Reynaldo turned his attention to the rest of the family.

“But appealing that decree is all we’ll be doing, as far as the public is concerned,” he warned. “If we don’t seem to be getting anywhere with that, we’ll all have to look and act accordingly. If we do make progress, or even win, the same. Remember, it’s about avenging Teo and finding out why they murdered him, not just about keeping the mill and the farm.” 

* * *

Consuergra didn’t have much to recommend it, Patricia thought a few days later. It was a place of narrow streets and decrepit buildings.

There were still signs congratulating Tumulto on the League championship, but they were ragged by now, half a year after the game, and the town itself looked shabby.

“Routine audit,” she announced to the team manager when she presented herself at the office as Selena Gomez and showed her Sports Authority I.D. It had taken her a while to find the place.

“Our books are in order,” said the manager, who gave his name as Pedro Ferrer. “Nothing in them to brag about.”

“But you beat the Toros.”

“Hey, if I’d bet on our side, I’d be out of here, maybe out of town. But nobody thought we had a chance. Not until Salvador showed his stuff.”


“Our first forward. He’d made his mark before, taking out key players for the opposition, but it was as if he really had it in for the Toros. I’ve never seen anything like it. He was practically superhuman the way he knocked them off – left and right. And all by himself, mind you; he never cheated by ganging up with any of our other stars.” 

“So what happened?”

“He disappeared after that championship game, and nobody’s seen him since.”

“Maybe he went back where he came from.”

“None of us ever knew where that was. Only that he had gone by the name Alejo Flores there.” 

“Well, I’ve got to get to the books,” Selena/Patricia said. They were still called that, even though they were electronic records rather than paper and ink. She made a good show of the audit.  But she wasn’t thinking about Tumulto’s accounts.

Aurean, she was thinking. Aurean!

And she knew too who must have made a killing by betting against the Toros. But what was the game behind Ranemiro’s game? Was there more than one Aurean? And was he playing them, or were they playing him? But she couldn’t risk him learning that she was on to him, let alone on to the Aurean connection. She’d have to confide only in Reynaldo; could other members of the family maintain their composure if they knew the truth?

She kept her own as she excused herself and went to find a public hover, pausing just long enough to call him at his home; Beatriz said he was on his way to the Garcias and volunteered to pass on word that she needed to speak with him. 

“Never mind,” Patricia said. “I’ll call him myself from Oviedo. I’ll have to switch hovers there anyway.”

Chapter Eight

 “Mission accomplished,” Reynaldo greeted Ysabel when she answered the door at the Garcia home that evening. “Gustavo’s filed the appeal, and gotten copies of the original papers – including that supposed contract.”

“Come on in,” she said. “We were just sitting down to dinner.” 

“We” meant her and Ricardo. Beatriz wasn’t there; neither was Auderico or Juana Nuñez – things were busy for Rico at the Bureau of Customs, Reynaldo said, and Juana hadn’t wanted to come by herself. As for Beatriz, besides being expectant, needed to “hold the fort” in Nuevo Burgos, waiting for any call from Patricia.

“That is not his signature,” Ysabel Garcia said angrily, looking at what purported to be a loan agreement between her late husband Teo and the company called Empresas del Este.

“Indeed,” Reynaldo agreed. “I hadn’t expected it to be. That’s why I told Gustavo not to waste any time pursuing an appeal on grounds of fraud.”

Gustavo Ozarez, well versed in Alguna Parte business law, had had his marching orders when Reynaldo dispatched him to Oviedo find the facts about the Juzgado order condemning the Garcia estate. Reynaldo related what happened there.

The Secretario Xefe of the Juzgado de la Mercantil, one Ramon Giraldez, had been surprised to learn that the Garcia family hadn’t been aware of Empresa’s action, since the documents in the case included not only the loan – with the names of Teo, Empresas propietario Johan Pelaz, and several witnesses – but a notice that Teo had later been summoned to appear in court to answer the complaint that he had defaulted.

“Gustavo asked him whether he had ever met Teo himself, and he said he hadn’t,” Reynaldo related. “He also said he knew nothing of Pelaz, and couldn’t say whether the company was connected with Izquerido. But he agreed that the witnesses as well as Pelaz should be summoned to appear at the hearing on our appeal. It’s just a question of putting us on the court calendar. In the meantime, there’s a hold on enforcement of the order to evict us.”

“But we’re still effectively out of business,” Ysabel protested. “We can’t pay our workers or market our furniture as long as we’re under a cloud. Nobody in Oviedo will want to deal with us.”

“We can still market our orchids and crops,” Reynaldo suggested. “I don’t think people in town will have any problem with us on that score.”

 “But what about the other business… those weapons?” Rick broke in. “If that’s what this is really all about, they won’t want us around – no matter what the court rules.”

“That’s why I have Patricia working to run down the connection of Ranemiro to Salvador and his gang,” Reynaldo said. “When she finds it, that will warrant intervention by the Vigilancia – Ranemiro may be able to get his way here in the district, but not in the capital.”

“What about this Pelaz?”

“I’d never heard of him before, and Giraldez didn’t know anything about him or the company, which has only the Bank of Oviedo for a corporate address. Turns out that Pelaz is consejero at the bank. But Ranemiro has no previous connection there and—”

The sound of Reynaldo’s com interrupted him. He broke off what he was saying to answer the call – then turned to the family.

“It’s Patricia,” he said. “Beatriz told her I was coming here.” 

Then he returned to the call. 

“Ranemiro bet against the Toros, I’m sure of it,” she said. “Our Salvador had a brief stint as a commonball star – he joined Tumulto just a few weeks before the Eastern championship game. God knows how Ranemiro latched on to him, but I’m sure he’s from a certain hostile planet. He disappeared after the game, and nobody at the team office seems to have any idea where.” 

“Can we find him?” Reynaldo asked.

“Not likely. His real name was supposedly Alejo Flores, but he or Ranemiro must have made that up – I checked the Authority database, and there’s nothing on him except his stint with Tumulto. Anyway, he was really brutal even by commonball standards, and I heard that the referees had looked the other way – that too could have been Ranemiro’s doing. And all so he could make a windfall betting against his own team.”

Reynaldo said little; the others could listen in. When she rang off, they went back to dinner: lentil stew, a common enough dish but uncommonly good as Ysabel prepared it. There would be enough for Patricia to share when she arrived – she had been heading to catch a hover  – and they’d keep it warm for her.

 “We have to seek access to records of the bank as well as Empresas,” he told the family as they were relaxing in the front room an hour later. “If the courts here won’t cooperate, perhaps our friends in the capital can bring pressure. I’ll have to speak to Gustavo again, have him amend our appeal. And then—”

Suddenly the door burst open, and in came a young man they’d never seen before.

“You’ve got to help,” he cried. “They said they’d kill me if I told.”

* * *

If Patricia had arrived only a few minutes later, it would have been all over for the Garcias.

The hover driver had let her off and headed back to Oviedo. Hardly had she closed the front gate behind her and started for the house, however, than the quiet of the evening was interrupted by the sound of a ground hauler – which pulled up in front. 

She looked back, wondering what was up, and who was up to it. They couldn’t be here for a delivery or a pickup – the mill was closed, and the needs of the centinelas on watch there were always taken care of during daylight hours. But then three men got out, and went to the rear of the hauler to unload their cargo.

Weapons. Strange-looking weapons. 

Robbers, she thought. She had nothing to fear herself, but she didn’t dare let them get through to the house. Two of the men began opening the gate.

“Stop right there!” she shouted.

It was an overcast night. They might not have seen her in the dark, but they could hear her, and started shooting in her direction. And they were using explosive bullets, designed to tear human flesh apart rather than merely penetrate it. 

It must be the enemy, she thought, But where did they get their weapons? Could they have stolen them from the Guardia Civil?

As the bullets continued to explode harmlessly against her invulnerable body, she tried to ignore the effect on her nipples and clit – stiff with desire. And another thought came to her.

Aurean weapons?

Her assailants couldn’t be Aureans themselves, she was sure, or they would have attacked her with their fists, assuming as they seemed to that she was only human. Yet she clearly wasn’t. Couldn’t they tell now that she was still standing? She could make them out clearly with her enhanced vision, but they still might not realize what they were dealing with. She decided to rattle them.

Can’t you even shoot straight!! 

“Where the hell is she?” the first man asked’

Their night vision was that bad? They really thought they’d only missed? They still didn’t get the point?

“We can’t just fuck around,” said the second. “We’ve got to get all of them.”

“Let’s burn her!” said a third man, who was carrying something that looked like a portable weed sprayer. “She can’t hide from this!”

“Light her up!” the first man shouted.

It wasn’t a weed killer, but a flame thrower, erupting with a stream of burning oil that splashed all over her – she was lit up for sure, and they could see her plain as day. Only, what were they to make of her standing there totally unharmed as the flames made short work of what was left of her clothing? 

The sizzling oil covered her chest, caressing her breasts, and worked its way down between her legs, into her cunt. It was more the could resist… she felt herself, cumming, cumming, cumming!

It was at that moment that the centinelas arrived, attracted by the sound of gunfire and shouting. They were armed only with handguns, but they outnumbered the attackers, whom they could be see easily by the light of her fire and a portable spotlight they’d brought. They didn’t know who she was, but could guess what she was, since he obviously wasn’t succumbing to either the flames or the hail of bullets clearly directed at her. To avoid being hit themselves by ricochets, they quickly spread out to her left and right before returning fire.

Patricia herself had been distracted by her orgasms, but now she was coming down, and her training as a Legionnaire recalled her to her duty here – to save at least one of the enemy for interrogation. 

“Take them alive if you can,” she belatedly urged the centinelas. 

But the lawmen were too fired up themselves, given that they too were being shot at, and blew them away the attackers in a torrent of shots.. 

The blazing oil on her body burned itself out, but the fire itself had spread to the nearby brush, As soon as it was safe to do so, she dropped to the ground and rolled back and forth to smother the flames. Some of the centinelas were sent back by their captain to fetch water and did their bit. Only when the fire was extinguished did they take notice of her naked glory as they shined the spotlight on her. 

They apparently hadn’t known she was a Legionnaire. Now that they could see how beautiful she was, and knew what it had to mean that nothing could harm her body, a couple of them made lewd remarks. But their captain, who had introduced himself to her as José Sacristan, reprimanded them, and assigned them to keep watch over the dead men and their weapons while he and the rest headed for the Garcia home.

* * *

Patricia was grimy and smelly when she got inside; she was desperate to take a shower, but Sacristan had come with her while stationing the rest of his men outside as a precaution, and wanted her to brief the family – he had already reported to headquarters about the firefight. 

Ysabel and Ricardo and Reynaldo had heard the shooting, and been terrified. They had hidden in an old root cellar off the basement, and come forth only when Patricia went down and shouted out to them. 

“They were after all of you,” she told them, after they made their way upstairs, where she introduced them to Sacristan. “They wanted the whole family dead. It must have something to do with Empresas, but with those men dead how can we ever prove it? Only, why would they be so desperate? Why should they take things this far?”

Reynaldo seemed to be about to say something, but held his peace.

“I wonder if they knew you have special… protection,” Sacristan remarked. “It was certainly a surprise to us, and doubtless will be to headquarters. But as to the attack itself, I gather you think it has to do with your court case. Only, why would their side take it so far, and in such force? There has to be a reason for it.”

That was when Reynaldo spoke up.

“I’ll show you the reason,” he said, and returned to the basement to fetch the boy who had sought refuge with the Garcias – and brought the truth about Empresas. Some of it, at least. 

“I had to be sure you weren’t a threat to our witness,” Reynaldo told Sacristan. “So we decided to leave him behind when we came up. But we have to trust somebody, and we have to get his story out.”

Ysabel and Ricardo already knew that story, but now it had come time to bring Sacristan up to date about their visitor – who still looked frightened, but seemed to calm down gradually during Reynaldo’s retelling.

His name was Tomas Oriol, and he was a clerk at the Juzgado de la Mercantil. As such, he had been asked to be one of the witnesses to the agreement Teo had allegedly signed with Empresas. Only, when he’d processed the Garcias’ appeal, he’d seen that it included a picture of the real Teo, who was definitely not the man Tomas had seen. When he’d asked about that, he’d been warned to keep quiet – or else. But he feared for his life, even if he complied, and was ashamed at his fear. So he’d risked everything to come here, avoiding the road and cutting through the fields and forests to “do the right” thing as he put it. As the details of the story unfolded, Tomas would say, “It’s true,” or simply nod in agreement.

Sacristan might be all ears now, as was Patricia herself; but Tomas himself was all eyes – and those eyes were fixed on her. All the grime couldn’t distract him from staring at her breasts and pussy. They must have told him about her. She didn’t need to use enhanced vision to tell how excited he was – and, to her embarrassment, she was getting wet between her legs. It was so long since she’d had a man…

No chance here and now to pleasure herself, as she’d been accustomed to since her arrival – with or without the ceramic dildo – while fantasizing about her lovers on Novo Recife and even – she was ashamed to admit it to herself – Reynaldo. She also still felt embarrassed at having come from the fire and gunfire just a sort time ago. 

But Tomas was so adorable… Did he have a wife or girlfriend already? She couldn’t help fantasizing about this young man, whose last name meant… only she didn’t have any gold. That brought her back to reality, and spared her further embarrassment; she was able to get control of herself.

But had she given her arousal away by the way she had looked back at him? He squirmed and suddenly blushed, and she realized that he must have come in his pants. She quickly looked away, and around; nobody else seemed to have noticed. 

Reynaldo had been talking further about Tomas’ without even glancing at him, and Ysabel and Rick had joined the conversation, when Sacristan received a return call from headquarters. He frowned as he listened, and seemed upset when he broke the connection.

“What’s the matter?” Reynaldo asked.

“They’re saying we’re here only to keep our eyes on the mill for the court,” he said, in a tone of obvious annoyance. “That we shouldn’t get involved in your ‘private quarrels.’”

Private quarrels?” Patricia exclaimed. “That’s crazy! Don’t your commanders know or care who these people were?” 

Not that I don’t have a pretty good idea where they came from. Only, should I tell the rest to Sacristan and his men? Do we dare trust them, even after what they’ve seen? 

Tomas had a pretty good idea, too – and he didn’t keep it to himself.

“Somebody must be on the take, just like at the Juzgado,” he broke in, glaring at Sacristan – who winced, but held his peace... for the moment, at least. 

He turned to Patricia, as if in appeal.

Shit, she thought. That tears it.

But that wasn’t all she was thinking. She had come here only to brief the family about getting the goods on Ranemiro; she hadn’t counted on the attack, or the centinelas getting involved. Whatever headquarters might be telling him, Sacristan didn’t look happy about it. But how much could or should she share with him? Should she leave it up to Reynaldo? She needed time to gather her thoughts…

“We need to have a serious discussion,” she said, “But I hope you don’t mind if I get cleaned up first.”

Sacristan blushed, as if he’d only just noticed her state of undress. 

“I’m heading for the shower,” Patricia added. 

“I’ll find you something to wear,” Ysabel responded, then turned to Rick: “You take care of the dishes.”

And now it was time to appeal to Reynaldo, without giving anything away to the lawman.

“Maybe you guys can talk about commonball or something while we’re gone.” 

They all headed out, leaving only Tomas and Sacristan with Reynaldo. He took the hint from Patricia’s allusion to commonball, and went with it.

“Our soon-to-be cleaned and clothed sister is right,” he said. “We need a serious talk. And commonball’s part of it. One of the players, at any rate – one involved with the man who’s become a quite a player in Oviedo. A man I’m sure you’ve heard of. A man we suspect of playing games with the Aureans. You can guess who I mean. But I’ll wait for Patricia to tell you the whole story.”

That she did when she returned, everything she’d learned about Salvador.

“Show him the picture,” she said. “The one nobody sent.”

Reynaldo got out the photo, and handed it to Tomas.

“He was there!” Tomas exclaimed. “At the signing.” 

“Was he one of the witnesses?”

“No. Nobody said who he was. But they looked kind of nervous.”

“As well they might. He’s an Aurean. Do you know what that means?”

“I’ve read about them. They’re the enemies of the Velorians. The people… you worked for.”

“More like worked with. But close enough. And Captain Sacristan here also knows about the Aureans. I’m sure. Only not, until now, that we’ve been dealing with one.”

Patricia laid it out about Salvador and his connection with Ranemiro… and the murder of Teo. About how the Unidad de Homicidios had been called off its investigation. About how the mysterious Empresas del Este seemed to be manipulating the justice system as well as the police. And she told her own story…

It wasn’t as if the captain’s jaw dropped, but he nodded as if in understanding.

“It was about higher authority then, and it’s still about higher authority now,” Reynaldo said. “It’s about who that higher authority answers to. We have enough to take to the Vigilancia, and even the Protector. But we can’t do that yet, and we can’t let it get out about Salvador to anyone else. There’s still a good deal to learn before we can nail the case down. We need help – including yours. Are you game for that?” 

“I’m game,” Sacristan said, with hardly a pause. “But… my men?”

“They know what they’ve seen. Only, they don’t need to know any more. You can have them examine the bodies and the weapons, and inform the homicide unit – that would be standard operating procedure, right? You’ll still need to play along with higher authority, even if they quash the investigation; but you can trust two of the homicide officers, Joaquin Escarra and Diego Bordas – it might help to compare notes with them... on the sly”  

“I wonder if your enemies have compared theirs,” Sacristan said. “I’d think they’d have sent Salvador after you, if they already knew about Patricia being a Legionnaire.”

“I could have dealt with him,” Patricia interjected. “Still could. Just a Betan.”

“But what if they have more of them? Maybe even a Prime?” 

“That’s why we may need Tala and the auxiliaries. We don’t have any other Legionnaires.”

* * *

Things began to break fast the next day. 

First, Reynaldo heard from Custavo. It seemed that court officers had been unable to find Johan Pelaz, owner of record of Empresas del Este, to serve notice of the Garcias; appeal. He hadn’t shown up at the Bank of Oviedo, where he was one of six counselors.

 So what happens to the case?” Ricardo asked.

“We win by default. End of story, We can put our people back to work. We’re back in business.”

“And Ranemiro gets away with murder,” Ysabel said angrily.

“Not necessarily, There’s bound to be a criminal investigation of Empresas. And don’t forget the Sports Authority; we might still find a connection.”

“Should I follow up with that angle?” Patricia asked.

“Not right away. And I can’t leave the family unprotected in any case, with Salvador still on the loose. But a Velorian auxiliary couldn’t work undercover, like you did in Consuerga – Vels are too recognizable, especially on a planet with our ethnic origins. So it makes sense to uses them only where we want our protection recognized.”  

“What about Tomas?”

Tomas was staying with the Garcias, but wasn’t part of the family council, and said he didn’t want to be.

“Theoretically, he shouldn’t be in any danger now that the Empresas case is out of the picture. But now he’s going to be a witness in the criminal investigation – and there’s always a chance that even if Salvador is gone Ranemiro might send one of his minions…”

“I’ll talk it over with him.”

Only Tomas wasn’t much for conversation.

“All I know is what I saw at the signing,” he said. “I don’t know anything about the rest of it. I don’t think I even want to know. I just want to get back to my life.”

“As a clerk?”

“That’s just to save money for university. I want to study to be a lawyer, like Reynaldo’s Gustavo. Maybe even become a judge someday. I want to see justice done, and not because of this case. My parents—”

Suddenly there was a catch in his voice, and hesitations as he continued.

“Father and mother are dead… and might as well have been murdered… They lost their farm in Cerracina district to an estancia.... Its patrón there claimed to have title dating back to the Seeding, but it was a lie... Only they couldn’t prove it was a lie... They ended up as campesinos, I was only nine at the time, and… they didn’t want me to share the same fate, so they sent me…”

And suddenly he burst into tears.

Patricia wanted to comfort him, but realized she didn’t know how. She felt ashamed at having fantasized about him  the night before. She had turned him on, of course, but turning men on came naturally to her, but what she wished she could do now didn’t. All she could do was let him cry himself out.

“It was from overwork and lack of medical attention,” Tomas told her when he was able to speak again. “They both caught some sort of fever, and couldn’t get a doctor, and died a few days later. Esteven had to break the news to me.”


“That distant cousin, Esteven Rossel he runs a hover service here. He took me to the funeral at the local church there – one place that wasn’t beholden to the patrón… their friends and relations wanted to do something about it, but they were too poor. And even if they could have afforded to bring a case, it would have been just their word against the patrón’s… Maybe someday. But even if I could ever get that farm back, what would I do with it? I don’t know anything about farming.”

“Teo could have taught you,” Patricia said, in jesting tone. “Maybe Ysabel and Ricardo and he hands still could.”

Tomas cracked a brief smile. Under the circumstances, that was a triumph.

“I think I’ll pass on your kind offer,” he said. “But if you need any clerical help…”

The farm and the furniture business, it was back to normal as soon as the Empresas case was formally closed, and the centinelas took their leave. And Tomas actually did help with the accounts.

“At least it keeps me busy,” he said. 

But he didn’t speak further about his family, or anything personal. Like, did he have a girlfriend? None of her business. She had to keep control of her own feelings, which had nothing to do with his previous life, or his career dreams, or anything else except his looks and the brighter side of his personality.

It was only after the exchange of banter that Patricia got to the real point of the conversation.

“I’m here to safeguard you, as well as the family,” she said. “I may have leave to pursue another aspect of the investigation, but only if we can secure the services of a Velorian auxiliary during my absence. I will never leave you unprotected.”

“Well, meeting a Velorian would be a first for me. I don’t think there’ve been any planetside, at least not on duty, since that recruiting program. If I hadn’t had obligations here, I might have applied – but no way was I going to be dragooned offworld fighting in wars I had no part in, and having to wait forever to take home leave.”

“It doesn’t have to be quite forever.”

“But you’ll have to return to duty offworld.” 

Patricia smirked. “In a year, Unless I desert.”

“I expect the Legion directorate would have something to say about that.”

“Indeed. I wish I could stay. But that would mean serving with the Exercito, I haven’t heard from them yet; maybe they haven’t noticed I’m back, despite that dustup at Customs. But sooner or later...”

“Any idea why nobody else was recruited from here?”

“You’d have to ask the Protector, Maybe the pickings here were too slim for Latents.”

There wasn’t much more to say, there or at the dinner table or at the mill for the next two weeks.

No further word had come out about the investigation of Teo’s murder, or the subsequent attack on the Garcia homestead. As a matter of course, Reynaldo had shared what he knew about Salvador with the Vigilancia, leaving it to them to contact the Protector’s office, just in case they needed its help.

And then, out of the blue, Captain Sacristan called Reynaldo at work to tell him that the men who had attacked Patricia had been former players for Tumulto, hired away by a man they knew as Flores. Also that Pelaz had resurfaced and that the civil case was still on.

Chapter Nine

It was two days later, and things were at a standstill in the Empresas case was concerned. As for any criminal case…

“Of course, Sacristan can’t take any action against Tumulto,” Reynaldo pointed out when he met with the family again. “Dead men tell no tales. And if there was any connection between them and the murder of Teo, it’s a dead end – and we already know we can’t trust the local centinela command.”

“Is there anyone we can trust?” Ysabel asked.

“The Vigilanicia, If I can get them involved.”

“The Velorians,” added Rick.

“If the Vilgilancia can get them involved.”

“Tomas,” Patricia suddenly broke in. “He’s the key to the civil case.”

All eyes turned to her. Tomas himself blushed.

“He could identify the man who posed as Teo,” she explained.

“And how would we find him?” asked Auderico, who’d been persuaded to attend the family gathering by Reynaldo, and wasn’t happy to be here. “We don’t even have a picture of him.”

At that moment, Reynaldo looked as if something had just dawned on him.

“But we could. I understand the Vigilancia has a really good artist in the capital… Tomas, do you think you could describe the man’s face in enough detail for he to make a portrait?”

“I could try.”

“Can their artist come here?” Patricia wondered.

“No, we’d have to go to their headquarters. It might be just as well; nobody there would know Tomas, and there wouldn’t be any chance of the wrong sort of people finding out that their artist was here.”

“The wrong sort of people might find out he was leaving.”

“But not where he was going, or at least not why.” 

“They’ll know I’m leaving too. The two of us together.”

“I rather doubt that anyone would be on to us. Still, we can’t afford to take a chance. And I have an idea how we could throw them off the track.”

When Reynaldo explained, Tomas and Patricia were both embarrassed.

“Only, to accommodate the artist, we’ll have to make it a threesome,” he added.

They were even more embarrassed.

“Do you really think she’ll go for it?” Patricia asked.

“I hope so. It will be just for appearances, you understand. And for a good cause, as I’ll make plain to the Vigilancia. 

* * *

There was nothing subtle about the Palacio de Amor. It was open and aboveboard. Nothing to do with prostitution, mind you; there were other venues for that – with less provocative names, and located far from the downtown arteries of Nuevo Burgos. 

The Palacio was for true lovers, not for commerce – although the lovers had to be able to pay a hefty tab for rooms with elaborate beds and overhead mirrors, new and classic erotic art on the walls, oversize showers, tubs big enough for two or three, plus sex aids and toys of every description. They could be newlyweds, couples celebrating anniversaries, or unmarried partners in umbers up to five. A few were gay or lesbian; the management didn’t care, as long as they paid.

Patricia and Tomas had arrived by hover and registered under their true names. They looked as if they couldn’t wait to get naked and ravish each other, and that look was as true as their names, even though they both knew it was not to be. They carded the door to their opulent room.

There was a painting on the wall over the head of the bed that had to be a reproduction of one from Earth; it looked like nothing produced here, or likely to have been produced on some other seeded world.


The origin of the painting and the identity of the model would remain a mystery, but there wasn’t any mystery whatever about what it depicted: a woman in lust, a woman welcoming some lucky man to join her on the couch, where she and he could have their way with each other. What those other figures in the background had to do with it, Tomas and Patricia couldn’t imagine. But they could well imagine what they themselves longed for… if only. She was wet between the legs, her clit and nipples erect. He had already come in his pants, although she wasn’t crass enough to call attention it. 

“You might still get lucky,” Patricia tried to reassure him. 

“With a perfect stranger? Anyway, she isn’t here for that.”

“Stranger things have happened.”

Tomas didn’t bother asking what those might have been.

The perfect stranger was Maria Bañuelos, who by pre-arrangement with Reynaldo had arrived by ground taxi and registered to share the room they had already taken. She knocked and they answered and she entered, carrying an easel and drawing pad.”

“All ready to go, as you can see,” she announced. “I told them downstairs you wanted a picture of the two of you… doing it. They’ll probably spread that around, and nobody will suspect otherwise.

Maria appeared to be in her 20s. Medium height, dark brown hair… and nicely built in all the right places. Cute, Patricia though with a twinge, just like Tomas… But she didn’t seem to want to make anything of it. She was strictly business.

“Mariano explained everything to me,” she said.

That was for the Vigilancia. 

“Your colleague Reynaldo was there. He said he regretted any embarrassment about the arrangement to meet here, but explained that it was a matter of security; he didn’t even say what your interest is in… the subject.”

“A family matter,” Patricia said; that didn’t actually reveal anything.

Maria looked at Tomas. “You’re the witness, I was told.”

“That’s right,” he said, rather sheepishly. It was obvious that he liked what he saw, but just as obvious that he didn’t want to make a thing of it.

“The way it works is, I ask questions about how the man looked. You answer, and I draw what you say, and you look at what I’ve drawn, and if it isn’t right you tell me how it isn’t right, and I make changes, and we keep working on it until you’re satisfied I do have it right,”

She set up her easel, and tacked up a blank sheet for her first try.

“All right,” she said. “Let’s start.”

“He had brown hair, lighter than yours, and a bit curly. Brown eyes, too. And a mustache.”

Maria began a rough outline, in charcoal, and showed it to Tomas.

“It’s just black and white; that’s how I always do them.But I’ll make note of the colors,” she explained.

“I think his face was rounder than that, and his hairline a bit higher.”

So it went. It took more than an hour.

“So how did you get into this?” Tomas asked.

“I’ve always been interested in art. When I was a girl, I drew pictures of birds and flowers – I knew I wasn’t good enough to do humans, which was doubtless a blessing to my family. And the birds and flowers looked as if they came from another seeded world. I got better, of course, and took courses in painting, and—”

“But how did you get into this?”

Maria’s face turned somber.

“I’d moved here to study, and one day my friend Julia and I were just walking down the street after lunch when a man who’d just robbed a bank came running out, shooting to scare people out of his way, and he hit her and she was killed. Right there. Right before my eyes.”

She paused for a moment.

“I drew his picture from memory, and gave it to the Vigilancia. They caught him. He was garroted. I didn’t watch. But the Vigilancia found a use for me, and it pays for my further education. Maybe I’ll be a famous artist some day, though I don’t think I’ll be able to match whoever painted that.”  

Maria gestured to the painting above the bed.

“Wanta fuck?” she chortled.


“It’s what the naked woman there must be about to say.”

Tomas blushed,

“It’s all right; I can see that you and Patricia must be an item. The way you look at each other. This isn’t going to be my night.”

Tomas looked at her wistfully.

“It’s not like that,” he said. “But I can’t tell you—”

“Can you keep a secret?” Patricia broke in. She was feeling sorry for Tomas, knowing that she couldn’t have him whereas Maria could.

“You’re married to somebody else? Or, God forbid, his sister?”

Patricia grimaced.

“Nothing like that. But you can’t talk about it, except with your xefe – Reynaldo will have told him. It has to do with the case.”

“All right. But know what?”

“I’m his bodyquard. No relation.”

“Why should that matter?”

“I’m a Velorian Legionnaire, on leave. And the crime is connected with an Aurean terrorist, who may be in league with the man we’re looking for and some powerful people in Oviedo. We expect the Velorians to become involved, once we put the pieces together. I’ll say no more.”

That really floored Maria, who couldn’t speak for a minute.

“I don’t think I want to know any more,” she finally said. “But I guess I’ll find out anyway, in due course, and get some of the credit.”

“But in the meantime, you can give Tomas what I can’t – assuming you’re free to do so.”

“I’m between men right now. But even if I weren’t, I’d love to do Tomas a good turn. And he’s so sexy.”

“Hey, don’t I get a say in this?” Tomas interjected in just.

Maria responded by doffing her clothes, and turning to him, with a winning smile.

“Wanta fuck?

Chapter Ten

“It’s in the bag,” Reynaldo said. “Tomas’ testimony will clinch it. And once we win here, the Vigilancia can act against the perpetrators – and the corrupt centinelas. Even if they don’t come after us again.”

Despite repeated attempts by Empresas del Este to delay the proceedings, the Juzgado de la Mercantil was about to hear the Garcia family’s appeal. Reynaldo was there, along with his attorney, Gustavo Ozarez, and the Garcia family, and a number of its employees. And, of course, Tomas and Maria.

Patricia had glanced at them as they boarded one of the hovers for the trip to Oviedo. Tomas was the real hero here, having risked his life for the Garcias, without having even met them, let alone known the merits of their case. A good start for a man who wanted to become a lawyer himself…

But she couldn’t help remembering that night at the Palacio do Amor, where Maria had offered him what she herself could not – she had been torn between relief and jealousy as they made love. She had tried to keep out of sight in the bathroom, but couldn’t help peeking. Seeing his naked body had her so horny she could hardly contain herself. To make matters worse, he showed he knew what to do with Maria’s body. He’d covered her with kisses, from her lips to her breasts to between her legs, and she showed her readiness by reaching for a condom and slipping it lovingly onto his cock before lying back invitingly, like the woman in that painting. Tomas buried himself in her cunt and began thrusting – but not entirely wildly. He paced himself, matching his rhythm to hers, until she signaled that she was on the verge.

“Now!” she moaned, and he pounded her into the bed with complete abandon.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God!” he shouted as he came.

“Yes, yes, yes!” she screamed as she came.

Patricia couldn’t stand it any longer, and retired to the shower. Even there, however, she dared not give voice to the explosion that soon came as she fingered herself. When she looked out, Tomas and Maria were at it again – sensente-nueve this time – and after they came, with ecstatic shouts, they cooed about how good they had tasted to each other. 

Would these two become an item, even a loving couple? Patricia wanted to believe it with all her head –but in all her heart she felt quite otherwise. She fantasized again about using gold, even though that it be futile in the long run... but apart from that and other considerations, it would be frowned upon in the Legion – Legionnaires were expected to be comrades in all things, including sex. For that matter, they were ordinarily discouraged from exercising their powers on their homeworlds. Only, things weren’t ordinary here… 

No matter what else came to pass, she would guard Tomas’ life. She would protect the family. And now she would have help – Reynaldo and the Vigilancia would see to that. They were prepared for any eventuality – even having called in Velorian assistance. Everything was in place for them to set the trap and trick their enemies into springing it. But only she and her closest confidants knew.

There wasn’t the least hint of trouble on the way, nor in Oviedo itself. It was quiet outside the Juzgado courthouse; no sign that people in the vicinity knew what an important case was on the docket. A few centinelas down the street glanced idly at the arrival of the convoy of hovers but appeared to take no interest in the Garcias and their supporters. 

The Garcia side dominated the courtroom; Empresas del Este was represented only by the previously elusive Johan Pelaz, his attorney – who had the intimidating name of Rafael Narcis Sivatte I Grau – and several officials who had witnessed the contract at issue.

There were the preliminaries to go through; a reading of the original decree and the appeal, identification of the witnesses to testify on each side – it was the first time the other side, officially at least, would learn about Tomas and Maria – they knew who he was, of course, but did they have a clue about her?   

In direct examination, Pelaz stuck to the Empresas story, testifying that he had dealt with Teo only by com in negotiating the deal, and had never actually met him until the day of the signing. The other witnesses on his side supported his account, and some of them also testified as to his good character. Ozarez asked them only a few perfunctory questions; he wanted to move things along.

Now it was the Garcias’ turn, as he recalled Pelaz to the witness chair.

“Is this the man you met at the signing?” Ozarez him, showing a picture of Teo.

“It must have been. But I don’t have a great memory for faces of people I’ve just met.”

“And have you ever seen this man?” the avogado responded, showing Maria’s sketch.

Pelaz seemed to be startled for a moment, but quickly regained his composure.

“I don’t think so. But as I said, I don’t have a great memory for faces.” 

“Would it surprise you that one of your own witnesses saw him, and that he represented himself to be the late Señor Garcia.”

“I don’t believe that Señor Garcia was ‘late’ at the time. And perhaps your witness doesn’t have a great memory for faces, either.”

“You are aware that Señor Garcia was murdered, and—”

“I object,” said Sivatte 

“You are correct,” ruled Baltasar Garzon, the årbrito assigned to the case. “That is a civil criminal matter, not within the purview  of this tribunal.”

“Does your company have any connection with Ranemiro Izquerido?” Ozarez pressed Pelaz.

“None whatever.”

Empresas had conceded nothing, but now it was time for Ozarez to present his case.

Ysabel was the first to testify, telling the story of how Ranemiro Izquerido had personally invested in the expansion of the family furniture mill, telling Teo that he could turn it from just a local craft operation into a major enterprise with a global market. She told about his visit to the family homestead, and his role is supplying more hands for the mill. 

But Garzon wouldn’t let her testify about the mysterious Salvador, or the suspicious activity of the night shift – or the death of Teo.

“Do you have any record of your husband’s dealings with Señor Isquerido?” Savitte asked her on cross.

“It was all a matter of spoken agreements, and apretón de manos,” she said.

“So you don’t have any evidence at all,” Savitte snapped.

Other members of the family also recalled Ranemiro’s visit, and his previous relationship with Teo. They too were unable to offer proof, and Savitte made the most of that.

Tomas and Maria would be next to testify – devastatingly. 

But it was getting on to lunch time and Garzon, to no one’s surprise, called a recess. The witnesses and counsels headed for the cafeteria in the Juzgado building. All but Tomas and Maria – and, of course. Patricia. 

Reynaldo told them well before the recess, within the hearing of Pelaz and Savitte, that they would dine at the Comer Rápido, a restaurant a block away. But the place had been ordered cleared because of a gas leak, and local police had closed off the entire block, Unknown to them, the Comer Rápido had been occupied by the Vigilancia squad under Coronel Felipe Constaños. A Velorian was hiding across the street, just in case she was needed, but the trap would be sprung by Costaños’ men.

“You saw how Pelaz reacted to that sketch?” he observed. “It was stupid of him to have their pet centinela stand in for Teo! And how when he took a break to answer a call of nature, he was also calling somebody on his com? Maybe Jorado, maybe even Ranemiro.”

Miguel Jorado was comendador of internal affairs for the Oviedo police. It was his responsibility to ensure that the centinelas toed the line – by disciplinary measures or threats of same. Only, the “line” in the Garcia case had been ordered from outside the department… Reynaldo didn’t have any doubt about where outside, but they needed proof.  

“The trap has been set,” he said now. “Are you ready to spring it?”

“Ready!” said Patricia.

So they headed off to play out the ambush the ambushers. 

But as they came down the street, ready to take cover, they encountered what appeared to be an Exercito troop carrier, apparently passed through the Oviedo centinelas’ lines. Out stepped men dressed as soldiers – one armed with a weapon the likes of which Patricia had never seen – but with components she thought she had seen where the night shift had worked back at the factory.

No time for Tomas and Maria to flee into the restaurant, but they’d been briefed on contingencies and knew the drill – they darted into an alley on the other side of the street, where the Velorian had been advised to lurk. Patricia confronted the lead gunman. The other goons gotten up as soldiers headed for the Comer Rápido – and the sounds of gunfire soon rang out. The Vigilancia must be firing back from inside, but she couldn’t come to their aid yet – she had to deal with the menacing figure in front of her.

It should be easy enough to take him down, she thought – unless he was an Aurean. He must know what she was, or why bring a super weapon? But how super? She’d just have to take her chances.

On sudden impulse, she reached for his weapon – and he fired. 

The beam struck her in the chest, setting fire to her blouse. It felt warm, nowhere near hot enough to hurt, even if the gunner had had a chance to keep it up – which he didn’t. Patricia grabbed the business end of his weapon and crushed it. But the gunman cried out in pain, and she hadn’t even touched him. He collapsed onto the pavement, his uniform smoldering, then lost consciousness. Not an Aurean after all, she supposed, but—

“Heat vision,” said a voice behind her. She turned and saw that it was the Velorian. 

Patricia patted out the flames on her own chest as she turned her attention to the rest of the action. The Empresas goons – what else could they be? – were targeting the Vigilancia in the restaurant with military-grade rifles, obviously hoping to take them out, and then track down their real targets – Tomas and Maria.

Patricia and her Velorian companion intervened, advancing on the gunmen through a hail of bullets. Like typical goons encountering superwomen on any planet, they aimed for their chests – the slugs tickled her breasts even as they shredded what was left of her scorched blouse. What were the gunmen going to make of it? Would they be pissing their pants in terror? Amazed by the sight of her now fully-exposed invulnerable breasts? Did they know she was enjoying their fusillade, that her nipples and her clit were erect, that she was even wet between the legs?

No time to dwell on that. It took the matones less than a minute to realize that it was all over for them. They dropped their guns and raised their hands.

“Gracias!” said the Vigillancia commander, emerging with his comrades from the Comer Rápido. “Coronel Felipe Constaños, at your service.”

“Auxiliary Protector Axinia Damian, at your service,” the Velorian mimicked him.

As if Constaños didn’t already know, Patricia thought. But there were formalities to be observed, and it was the colonel’s place to observe one of them, as he faced the defeated matones.

“Estás bajo arresto!”

Chapter Eleven

Constaños’ men had taken charge of the scene, in the name of the planetary government, and were busy questioning the gunmen and the men from the Guardiia Civil. The gunmen were refusing to say anything, but the centinelas said their orders had come straight from headquarters.

“We were advised that there had been a threat of terrorism in the neighborhood, and that a military unit had been dispatched to deal with it,” said Pablo Duterre, sargento in charge of the Oviedo street patrol. “We were told to stay out of it.” 

That was all Patricia and Tomas and Maria knew when they returned to court. The Legionnaire had had to borrow a shirt from one of the Vigilancia to cover her naked breasts; he’d looked embarrassed as well he might. Reynaldo expressed relief at how things had gone down outside, but also told them for the first time that he and Ozarez had managed to sneak in a surprise witness – who was waiting in a side chamber to be called.

They said nothing about it to Årbitro Garzon when he called the court back into session, but they could tell that Pelaz was upset. For the moment, however, he was expecting only Tomas and Maria. And that followed the plan he must already know… but not necessarily dread.

Tomas testified about having been summoned as a witness to the Empresas contract, and having been introduced to the man identified as Teo Garcia. He described the man, who he said looking nothing at all like the true Teo he had later seen in a picture filed with the family’s appeal. He recounted how Reynaldo had introduced him to Maria – without mentioning where, or anything else that had followed – and how they had gone through the process of creating the sketch.

Maria, in turn, outlined her professional qualifications, and previous work for the Vigilancia. 

“They say. I see. It all starts there,” she remarked – and went on to give her take on how she’d worked with Tomas.

Ozarez was done with them, but not Savitte.

“How we know that the Garcias didn’t make this up?” he asked. “How do we know there’s even any such person as the man in this sketch?” Senora Bañuelos may be everything she says she is, but she had nothing to go but what this boy told her.”

It was the moment the family avogado had been waiting for.

“Honorable Årbitro, we have another witness who can identify the man in the sketch. I call Captain José Sacristan.”

“I object!” screamed Pelaz, without waiting for Savitte. The Empresas avogado was flustered; he glanced at Pelaz, then at Garzon, then back at Pelaz.

“I see nothing irregular in this,” Garzon said. “Does the counsel for Empresas have anything to say?”

Pelaz whispered something to Savitte,

“There is a matter of privileged information,” the latter said – rather halfheartedly.

Pelaz got up, as if about to leave.

“Señor Pelaz, as a principal in this case, I must insist that you remain here,” Garzon warned him. “It may be necessary to recall you as a witness, depending on the testimony we are about to hear.”

Pelas sat down, but squirmed in his seat. He whispered to Savitte again, but Savitte shook his head. 

“Let Captain Sacristan be called,” Garzon announced.

Ozarez fetched him, and he was sworn in.

“State your name and position,” the avogado asked.

“Captain José Sacristan, criminal division, Guardia Civil.”

“What is your latest assignment?”

“Originally as one of the shift officers in charge of guarding the scene of a crime – the building where Teo Garcia was murdered. But we have since also been asked to secure the property on behalf of the defendants in this appeal, Empresas del Este.”

“Isn’t this dual role rather irregular?”

“It is indeed, but I and my men have been following orders from higher authority.”

“And what would that higher authority be?”

“The Xefe Supremo of the Oviedo unit, Román Di Santo. Or so I was advised.”  

“How did you become acquainted with the Garcias?”

“We helped thwart an armed attack on the family estate. The attackers were all killed, but the family thinks they must have been connected with the earlier attack that cost Teo Garcia’s life.”

“Who else did you meet on that occasion?”

“Tomas Oriol, who I understand testified here earlier today.” 

“I show you this sketch of the man Señor Oriol testified to be of the man representing himself to be Senor Garcia in the execution of the contract at issue in this case, Do you recognize him?”

“It is Miguel Jorado, our comendador of internal affairs.”

“It’s a lie! It’s a lie!” Pelaz screamed.

“You are out of order,” Garzon snapped. “Be silent!” 

“It will be easy enough to settle this,” Ozarez interjected, “Señor Jorado must be called to appear.”

Garzon appeared troubled.

“This could become a criminal case rather than a purely business affair,” he observed. “I have no choice but to order a recess until the issue is settled.”

“It is an internal matter for the Guardia Civil,” Savitte tried to argue. “We should leave it to them.” 

Then Ozarez lowered the boom.

“If the Guardia Civil itself is engaged in criminal conduct, it is a matter for the Vigilancia Mundial, a unit of which is standing by outside even as I speak.”

“And that is where they should be,” declared Garzon. “The Juzgado de la Mercantil cannot and must not be, or even seem to be, a party to this. I am inclined to uphold the appeal of the Garcia family in this case, based on what I have heard here, but I will need proof before making a final ruling. For now, this court stands in recess. You are all free to leave.”

The Årbitro himself rose, and retired to his chambers.

The Garcias and their counsel and witnesses headed outside, Pelaz seemed reluctant to leave, even as Savitte headed for the door – but where else could he go?

Coronel Constaños awaited them in the street, where a dozen more men had joined the Vigilancia force to watch every possible exit from the Juzgado. The neighborhood centinelas were also there, and Sargento Duterre was on the com with somebody.

“We have orders from Xefe Di Santo to take custody of one Johan Pelaz, and assure him safe conduct to his home,” he ventured to Constaños.

“Señor Pelaz is subject to a criminal complaint that touches on global security – as may soon be the case with your xefe. We have another unit en route to Guardia headquarters.”

Duterre must have realized he was out his depth. Whatever was going on between the global and local law enforcement agencies, he didn’t want to be caught up in it.

“Very well,” he muttered.

And to his men, “Time to return to routine patrol.”

“We’ll have Jorado soon,” Constaños assured the Garcia party. “We’ve broken this case wide open.”

Only, moments later, he answered his com to hear of another shocking development,

“Señor Jorado has been found dead in his office at Guardia headquarters. His skull had been crushed, as if by a vise. One of the officers had seen a man come and go, but had thought nothing of it – he’d been seen there before, and everybody thought he’d been just a friend.” 

Salvador,” Patricia reacted. “It has to have been Salvador.” 

“It was Mariano himself who found the body,” Constaños continued, referring to de Castro, the head of the Vigilancia Criminal Investigation unit. “He has taken Xefe Di Santo into custody for questioning. The Guardia will need an acting xefe.”

“Joaquin Escarra, head of the homicide unit, might be a good choice,” Reynaldo said. “We can vouch for his honesty and integrity.”

“We’ll take that under advisement,” Constaños said. “But right now, we had better return to court and let the árbitro know about these developments.” 

They filed back into the Juzgado, and Ozarez asked a scribe send word to Garzon. But when he returned with the árbitro, they were followed by Pelaz, who was  accompanied by Savitte.

“I wonder if he tried to sneak out,” Reynaldo whispered to Patricia. 

No need for her to be reminded that he wouldn’t have made it past the Vigilancia sentries, but the fact that his lawyer was still with him… before she could ponder that, Garzon called the court to order, citing the case in legal terms. She and the Garcias, Ozarez and Constaños remained standing, following protocol.

“You may all be seated,” he said now. “I was asked by Señor Savitte to confer with Señor Pelaz, who has agreed to withdraw Empresas del Este’s claim against the Garcia family, with prejudice against any further action by that company or any party connected with it. Let him state as much for the record.”

Pelaz rose, looking glum but calm, rose.

“Your honor, I, Johan Pelaz, chief officer of Empresas del Estes, do hereby withdraw the demanda judicial  at issue today against the heirs and assigns of Teo Garcia, and renounce any future claim against the said heirs and assigns. Asi que ayúdame Dios.”

“Counsel for the Garcia heirs and assigns, is this acceptable?”

“It is indeed,” said Ozarez.

“Then the Juzgado’s business here is concluded.”

 They could go home now. They could get back into the furniture business. They could live normal lives.

It was all over.

But, of course, it wasn’t.

Chapter Twelve

Ysabel had gone all out for a banquet to celebrate their victory in court, with plenty of help from Beatriz and Juana. It wasn’t to be for just the family, but for their community – most of the men who had worked for Teo had returned, even giving up jobs in Oviedo, and they did their part by arranging tables from the factory, which was now back in operation. And the men of the house did the fetching and carrying, from the kitchen the to the grounds next to the orchid garden – not long ago the site of Teo’s funeral, but now a picnic area.

“There aren’t any kings here,” Ysabel declared. “But it will be a king’s feast, just the same.” 

Indeed, the main course was Asado de Reyes: breast of lamb sprinkled it with pepper and caraway, plus stalks of fennel, olive oil, almori (fermented barley), cinnamon, rubbed thyme, beaten eggs and salt. One of the side dishes was chickpeas with almond milk; the recipe also called for diced onions, parsley, basil, marjoram and ginger. And, of course, there was plenty of rioja – a red wine dating back to even before Roman times.

It was Ysabel who raised the first toast.

“To the future,” she said. “To the end of troubles.”

“To the future,” family and friends responded.

“To Ysabel, who has brought us back to ourselves,” Reynaldo offered, and everyone cheered.

And they dug in. They ate and drank and were happy. The sun cooperated; it was a bright and cloudless day, and yet a breeze from the North had brought the summer temperature lower than normal. Heaven and Earth seemed to be on their side, and even the cleanup after the meal was an occasion for cheer.

There would soon be another occasion for cheer: Beatriz was soon to give birth, and the first grandchild of Teo would assure the continuation of the family and the family business. She had planned to have the baby delivered at Los Inválidos Hospital in Nuevo Burgos near where Reynaldo worked – but that had been long before the murder of Teo and the continuing threat that now obligated the family to stay together. The same threat discouraged her and Reynaldo from going to the municipal hospital in Oviedo when the time came – they had an arrangement for a doctor to catch a over here, but just in case he might not arrive on time, Juana had been studying up on midwifery.

There hadn’t been any complications; Beatriz knew from the movements of the baby’s feet that it was head down as it should be. Between her and Juana, even without the doctor, it should be a smooth delivery. 

As first-born, Teo or Elvira – Beatriz and Reynaldo had stuck by their resolve not to test their child for gender – would one day inherit the estate and the enterprise from Ysabel.

“How hard has he been kicking?” Rick wondered, apparently assuming that a boy would kick harder than a girl – and also showing he hadn’t familiarized himself with the stages of pregnancy. 

“It’s more like lurches now,” Beatriz said. “Our little one isn’t little any more. There isn’t room for her to make those rapid-fire kicks like she did a couple of months ago.”

Rick must have known that her use of the female pronoun was a reproach rather than a prediction – the rest of the family certainly did.

“She’s been turning over,” Beatriz added. “And she isn’t digging into my ribs any more; she’s looking for the exit. Any day now…”

Good news, any day now…

* * *

There was good news of another kind the next day: the Vigilancia had raided an abandoned warehouse in Oviedo, where a cache of energy weapons had been found – like the one Patricia and Axinia had encountered, and apparently made from parts like those produced by the night shift under Salvador at the factory. The phony soldiers had told the investigators where to find the weapons, but had no idea where they were produced – and where the energy units came from, Constaños men still had no idea. Still, the raid had presumably stalled any plans that Empresas or the people behind it might have had for a major terrorist operation.  

It was just the kind of news they had been waiting for, even as the toasts and cheers at the banquet had been just what they needed to restore their spirits the day before. 

Yet in private, Reynaldo himself couldn’t conceal the worry he still felt. And he wasn’t alone.

“Salvador,” Patricia responded. ”Can we ever be safe, as long as he’s at large?”

Nobody had mentioned him at the Juzgado hearing, and with good reason. The people behind Empresas didn’t know that the Garcias were on to him as an Aurean. Some of them may not have known about him at all, or at least known nothing about him except from commonball.

It hadn’t surprised her that Pelaz had been taken into custody by the Vigilancia after the civil case was dismissed, or that he must have agreed to tell what he knew about Empresas. But would he live to tell it?

 “Axinia will see to it that he doesn’t meet the same fate as Jorado,” Reynaldo reassured her. “Ranemiro’s the one who has to worry; even if he isn’t killed, he’s finished. Everything will come out about him and Empresas – the bank will have to open its records now, and the Vigilancia will be doubtless be raiding his home soon thereafter. They’re not about to let him burn his bridges behind him. And I don’t think he can have other Aureans here – surely he would have deployed them by now,

He paused for a moment.

“As for Salvador, If he does try to threaten us, we have you.”

The family protector. It was a responsibility even greater than she had borne as a Legionnaire. But bear it she would. And Reynaldo and the rest were doing all they could on other fronts.

Ozarez had moved in with the family, to work with Reynaldo on their civil action against Empresas, and Tomas had been sitting in on their sessions  – as an aspiring lawyer himself, it would be valuable experience. They’d talk at the dinner table about Alguna Parte’s legal system, which had had its origins in the country called España before the Seeding. 

The Fuero Juzgo, as it was called, dated back to the Terran year 681 and dealt with everything from kinship, marriage and inheritance to murder, theft and other crimes. Some provisions no longer applied, such as those dealing with heretics and fugitive slaves – heresy had been a crime and slavery legal on the old world. Yet on the other hand, women had been afforded greater rights to property and inheritance of same than had been the case under the law of the Roman Empire of which España had once been a province. That was why Ysabel had inherited the Garcia estate, and she knew enough about the business to take charge there – although she was deferring to her son-in-law Reynaldo in dealing with legal matters…

Only, Patricia realized now that there had been injustice here as well as on Novo Recife – something she might never have realized but for the tribulations her family had suffered since her return. But Tomas had already known from experience; his own family had suffered terrible injustice, and that had set him on the path that led, however inadvertently, here. While she had been fighting for justice on Novo Recife, the Oriols had had none to fight for it on Alguna Parte. She had never thought about the injustices to the powerless like the small farmers and campesinos here on her own world; her family had seemed secure – only it wasn’t – not when it got in the way of powerful interests... And then young Tomas had come to their defense at the risk of his life – what could they offer him in return?

It had been a stroke of luck that Maria had become involved in the investigation that led to the exposure of Empresas – and involved with Tomas himself. Only, staying with the Garcias now, even if it was necessary for his safety, meant he couldn’t pursue a relationship with her – she was back to work at Vigilancia HQ. Patricia felt she was somehow responsible for that, and reproached herself over her feelings towards him – and yet she couldn’t help thinking of him as Tomas, whereas she never thought of Ozarez as Gustavo.

Ysabel had things well in hand at the factory, Shipments had begun again – the contacts Teo had made in Nuevo Burgos and elsewhere as well as Oviedo after expanding production, were still there and still eager t do business, even though Ranemiro was no longer in the picture. There was nothing for her to do to take her mind off what troubled her personally, as a Legionnaire, and as a native of a world she still loved but could no longer love unreservedly.

And then all hell broke loose.

Chapter Thirteen

It was well into the night when Beatriz’ time came. 

But when her water broke, and Ysabel tried to reach the doctor at the hospital, she couldn’t get through. So she roused Juana, who had turned in by then, to do her duty. Juana rose to the occasion, seeming to find a new reserve of energy. Patricia carried her half sister from Reynaldo’s guest bed to a new bed at the factory – a design of Ysabel’s that wasn’t designed for birthing but that Juana thought was better suited just the same.

Reynaldo himself was about to follow when his pocket com buzzed.

It was Diego Bordas, from the Guardia Civil.

“There’s a riot here,” he said. “Word somehow got out that Izquerido fixed the match with Tumulto. Toros fans marched on the Oviedo stadium, hoping to find him – as if he’d show his face there. They lit fires outside, and some agitator made a fiery speech, and now they’re going to march all the way to Consuergra. Not a chance they’ll find Elmanda there either, but they might try to sack and burn the town. The Gobierno is calling out the Exercito – it’s too much for the Vigilancia to handle, let alone the Guardia, but the troops may not get there in time, at least not in sufficiient numbers. My own men are steering clear of the riot, but Joaquin’s sending a few men your way – just in case somebody’s crazy enough to think you people are in leagues with that bastard the fans are after. That’s all.”

Reynaldo brought word to Patricia.

“It could be that somebody picked up on the business about those phony soldiers being former Tumultos,” he said. “But it’s more likely that one of Ranemiro’s people ratted him out, hoping to save his own skin when the whole story inevitably broke.”

But Patricia wasn’t thinking about that. She was thinking about what it meant that such mass lawlessness could erupt on her homeworld. She recalled Reynaldo telling her, the first time they met after her return, the story about a commonball referee being shot – and he’d thought that was serious.

“There was talk of a march on Tumulto after their surprise victory,” he revealed now. “But Ranemiro came out against it, and the fans weren’t about to go against the Elmanda. Only he isn’t their Elmanda any more. And now they want to take it out on people who had nothing to do with—”

“I need to be there,” Patricia interrupted.

“What? Be where?”

Consuergra. With the Exercito.”


“We can work it out – have one of the Vels take over here. But we need to get word to the Exercito. I can’t shirk my duty at a time like this. There’s too much at stake.”

* * *

It was the Minister of War Alfonso Ramirez who returned the call. 

Patricia could tell he was shouting when Reynaldo answered the com, although she couldn’t make out the words. But she got an earful when he handed to com over to her.

“If this weren’t a dire emergency, I’d have you chained in gold and manacled to a post in Plaza Mayor to be stoned – not that the stones would hurt you, but people could think of other things to throw. Like mierda. Only now we have to give you a buildup, tell the world that you’ve just now returned in our hour of need. And then send you by hover to meet our forces defending Consuergra. You’ll do an interview for the newsnets on the way. Once there, you’ll be right out in front, to show your stuff – and hope it scares off the Toros bunch. If any of my men are killed or injured, it will be on your head. And if we can’t punish you as you deserve, I trust the Velorians can find a way – afterwards, of course.”

“I understand,” she said.

This was no time for argument.

“And I understand that the Garcias weren’t responsible. None of them will suffer for your dereliction of duty, But Tala can’t assign anyone to protect them. I am aware that Axinia is guarding one of the suspects in a criminal case involving them, but only because it also involves a suspected Aurean. Since they fear the same suspected Aurean, she has decided to guard your family’s estate in your absence. But they will have a new guest: the suspect Pelaz. And you’d better hope that the Aurean and the now unfortunate Ranemiro Izquerido surface; unless the connection to a foreign power can be proven, Tala and those under her have no jurisdiction.”

“I understand,” Patricia repeated. 

She would miss the birth of the Garcia grandchild. 

So be it.

She had time to bid Beatriz and the others farewell.

So be it.

The hover would arrive soon.

So be it.

She would think of something inspiring for the newsnets.

So be it.

And then she would do her bit – and pray for the best.

Chapter Fourteen

The showdown was at hand the next morning, just outside the Tumulto stadium. Hundreds of camorristas had gathered to defend their honor, and faced hundreds of Toros gamberros – the rival fans had adopted what had once been epithets for troublemakers and, and now used them with pride. 

The Exercito troops facing the Toros were far outnumbered – only a bare hundred; the last contingent had just arrived. They were better armed, of course, with military rifles – but they didn’t relish inflicting bloodshed any more than suffering it themselves. They didn’t know what to expect from Patricia; none of them had ever seen her before, and they knew her only from the newsnet interview they had picked up on the hover screens.

“I have served the cause of law and justice on another world, Novo Recife; and I serve it here now,” she had said. “Vendettas serve neither law nor justice, and violate the freedom of ordinary citizens. This lawlessness cannot go unchallenged, by the Exercito or myself.”

The broadcast had included archived footage about the Velorian Legion program, and the recruitment of volunteers who qualified for Enhancement – explaining how that granted them most of the powers of Velorians. It didn’t go into the details of the Enhancement process itself, but stressed their idealism and commitment to service on distant worlds as well as their own. Facing the Toros, Patricia tried to give the same impression.

The gamberros knew they couldn’t harm her, but knew just as well that she couldn’t protect the Tulmultos. Only they were facing, not just camorristas, but the men and women of the Excercito – men and women who had come to the aid of people like themselves, some of them their own kith and kin, against fires and accidents and natural disasters and other emergencies that threatened their lives. . 

“Estos son sus hermanos y hermanas,” she said. “Yo estoy aqui con ellos. Fijar sus armas y se deja que haya paz.”

It was the kind of appeal that they might have expected – to lay down their arms in recognizing the troops as their brothers and sisters with whom they should peace.”

“I too am one of your sisters,” she said now. “I love this world, to which I have returned from afar.”

She paused for a moment.

“Hear me out,”  she addressed the rival fans. “I know how this all started, as you have only just learned – with an enemy Aurean recruited to play for Tumulto. But the other Tumulto players never knew, only the man you some of you once called Elmanda – the only one to profit from fixing the regional final and then betting against his own team. That man had my uncle murdered, when he found out he was involved with the Aurean in producing illegal weapons to advance his own power, and threatened other members of my family. If we can find him and the enemy Aurean, they will pay and pay dearly.” 

She paused again.

“But if you insist on settling your score here and now, what you need is a rematch. With me as the prize.”

That drew gasps of astonishment. And when she began stripping...

* * *

It was an impromptu match, with the leaders of the rival gangs choosing 14 players each. It was hardly a classic match – the players were amateurs, after all. But they knew the rules of the game, such as they were, and went at each other with a will. It was chancy, because another victory for Tumulto might lead only to a renewal of violence, But Patricia had reckoned on the shame factor – knowing how their team had been given such an unfair advantage in the professional match, the camorristas couldn’t summon quite as much will as the gamberros. It was close, just the same, but it was fair. And it played on the newsnets.

Patricia had watched from the seat at the Tumulto stadium usually reserved for the Consuergra alcalde. She was clothed once more – naked, she would have been too much of a distraction. She was surrounded by the soldiers of the Exercito, who were ready to deal with any further trouble – but they weren’t needed now, which was a great relief to them as well as to Patricia, Her gamble had paid off. 

And she was ready to keep her bargain, but only in the Tumulto clubhouse – safe from the prying eyes of all but the winning players. Finding gold hadn’t been a problem; there was a jeweler in Consueragra, and a couple of the troops had secured a necklace and bracelets. As on the field for the match, there were rules here – hastily adopted. The gamberros would have at her in alphabetical order of their last names, and each would have three rounds – that wasn’t out of concern for her dignity, she surmised, but only to spare some of them embarrassment if they couldn’t get it up again after that.

Patricia had never been in a gang bang before, although she’d gone at it with other Legionnaires on Novo Recife, sometimes on the spur of the moment. But she’d had to go without since returning home; she had felt the hunger, and knew these men could feed that hunger….

Not that these gamberros had any finesse. They cared nothing for foreplay, for hugging and kissing and tender words. Most of them would just maul her breasts and then jam their cocks into her and pump away. Yet it had been so long since she’d had a man inside her that she welcomed even this rough love – she was wet for them every time, and came every time from the pounding of hard male flesh against her inner triggers. But a few showed greater appreciation – biting her nipples and even her clit before getting down to fucking, and she came all the harder with them. And there was one who cried out in delight as he felt her squeezing his cock with wild abandon.

“Heaven! I’m in Heaven!” he exclaimed as he exploded inside her.

Patricia found herself thinking of Tomas… of taking him to Heaven and him taking her to Heaven…

* * *

When it was over, she took off the gold, and took a quick shower – she had been bathed with sweat from the gamberros, and was oozing their cum. They had made blushing but perfunctory farewells before leaving the clubhouse, and none of them had suggested she have return engagement somewhere else – they were realists on that score, at least.

Outside, the Exercito troops were awaiting further orders. The camorristas and the rest of the gamberros had mostly dispersed, heading home. She should be heading home now herself…

Only just then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a man in the distance who seemed to be hanging out with the gamberros – but who, instead of joining their trek back to Oviedo, started headiing past the Tumulto stadium and on to Consuergra. She couldn’t tell for sure, but it might be Salvador.

She approached the capitan, whose name she couldn’t recall but whose name badge said Ferrer.

“See that man?” she asked, pointing him out – he was too far off to identify, but the only one person in that direction.

“Si, Señora Ortiz.”

“I think he may be the enemy Aurean. He might lead us to Isquerido. But I can’t afford to have him spot me following him. We need to watch him from a hover.”

The nearest hover had been borrowed by the Exercito, and didn’t have any military insignia. It wouldn’t be the only one overflying the town, and shouldn’t attract any notice from Salvador – if it was Salvador. But he had a head start, and it was hard to catch sight of him again – Patricia recognized him above only by his clothing, which for  some reason was bright orange.

The streets of Consuergra were crowded, but their subject soon turned in to a back alley, where the man she thought was Salvador entered the door of some shabby habitation. The alley was so narrow that there wasn’t room for the hover to land there.

“Find a place to set down, and join me,” Patricia advised, and jumped out of the hover, falling nearly 100 feet to the pavement and landing on her back. No matter if she cracked a few of the cobblestones; she was back on her feet in a moment, and smashing her way through the door. 

The fist thing she saw on Salvador’s face was the shock. The second was the anger. He launched himself at her, and almost bowled her over. He took her in his arns and tried with all his might to crush her, but she was in luck – this was no Prime, only a Betan. She fought herself free, and went on the attack – she wanted to kill him, oh how she wanted to kill him – the murderer of her beloved Tio Teo. But she knew he would be needed as a witness, so she contented herself with breaking his arms and legs – he wouldn’t be going anywhere.

It was only then that another man emerged from a back room – Ranemiro. 

He had something to say to her, in the moments before the Exercito troops arrived to formally take him and Salvador into custody. 


It would all come out at the trial of Izquerido for high treason. Or so the world thought, But neither he nor the man known as Salvador – who never revealed his true identity – would testify. So there were actually loose ends. Pelaz and others involved in the conspiracy had never been taken fully into their leader’s confidence.

It did come out that Salvador had cleared Customs with false papers identifying him as a Legionnaire. He never reported in to the Exercito, of course, and word came down that anyone else claiming to be a Legionnaire should be subject to greater scrutiny.

So that’s what it was all about, Patricia mused when that bit came out.

But how Ranemiro had made contact with Salvador in the first place remained a mystery. 

It became obvious that Izquerido had had delusions of grandeur – imagining that he could create an army out of Toros fans, armed with energy weapons, to take over the whole Oviedo region, and go on to challenge the Gobierno Mundial itself. And creating Empresas del Este as a front had been a matter of desperation, of threats to and bribery of the centinelas and criminal elements alike– rather than one of conviction and loyalty to a cause, 

But what Patricia would always remember was what he had told her

“He didn’t have to die, you know – your uncle. All he had to do was join us. He could have become my deputy, and your family could have become rich beyond all imagining. But he threw all that away – he was such a fool.”

No, she thought. He was such a hero.

It was a consolation to her that the likes of Ranemiro could never understand.

Chapter Fifteen

They were celebrating today at the Garcia estate, and family and friends and allies were all dressed in their finery. Except for the infant Teo, of course – there wasn’t any point to designer diapers. 

But the Velorian Axinia was decked out in a finery the likes of which they’d never seen before. Her outfit was certainly a sight to behold, with its fur trim and jewelry; and Axinia was always a sight to behold – but had she or any other Velorian been seen like this back on Velor or a seeded world like Alguna Parte?

It was two months after the trial and execution by garroting of Ranemiro Izquerido, for rebellion and high treason. The Aurean known as Salvador had also been executed – that task having been assigned to one of the men in the Velorian military whose name was kept confidential – Patricia and Axinia had been spared witnessing it. A number of Izquerido’s minions were serving hard time.

None of that was cause for celebration. But in the civil case against Ranemiro’s estate, the Garcias had just won a huge judgment – most of which Ysabel intended to plow back into the business. But she and the rest of the family thought it was all right to splurge on other things – like dressy attire. Their new wealth was something to celebrate.

But what they had all really come to celebrate was that they were finally safe. They didn’t need Axinia for protection – she was there to honor them. They didn’t need Patricia for protection, either; she was just a member of the family. Only, she might have to leave them again, as a Legionnaire bound to her duty – that was a matter still being sorted out between the Gobierno Mundial and the Protector; for some reason, Tala had taken an interest in it. But if she did have to go, she’d be back. She’d live to see young Teo grow to manhood, see other grandchildren to come.

Patricia herself was content, or should have been. She looked at Tomas, and her heart ached – but he’d be free to get together again with Maria. It was for the best. Tomas was looking back at her with obvious longing, but after that browbeating by Minister of War Ramirez, she cringed at the thought of wearing gold, at least here on Alguna Parte. And any affair between them would surely be brief. She would hate herself for denying him ordinary human love by giving in to her desire – which had, alas, only grown with what she had learned about him since they’d first met…

Lunching done, the Garcias and their guests strolled about in the garden, admiring the orchids and other flowers… and one another’s finery. It was Reynaldo who finally broke down and asked Axinia about her strange fashion statement.

 “I’ve been doing some historical research,” she explained. “Some of our ancestors back on Earth dressed like this on formal occasions more than a thousand years ago, shortly before they were abducted by the Galen from a country now known as Sverige.”

“An old story,” Patricia remarked. “We all know the story of the Velorians.”

“We thought we knew it all. And what counts for the universe is still true. Terrans were taken by the Galen to the planet now known as Velor, and genetically engineered to become homo sapiens supremis, But we have only the word of the Galen, most of it from shortly afterwards, about the details – and the mysteries.”

“Mysteries,” Reynaldo asked.

“Like Velor itself, and its moons. “A planet with a gold core can’t possibly be natural. It has to have been created. Velor has its own native life, which either evolved there or was itself created. But why, and how long ago, and by whom?”

“The Old Galactics?” Patricia wondered.

“We know practically nothing about them, except that they built the wormholes. Oh, and they were plants – one of our Velorian errants discovered that. Long story. And then there’s the business of our kind having been created to serve as breeders for the Galen – if that was their purpose, nothing ever came of it. And it wouldn’t have worked in any case if the Galen didn’t share lifecyphers with Terrans as we do– perhaps they too came of abductions and enhancements of human stock. For that matter, how and why was the effect of gold engineered into us, but not into the earlier experimental supremis – the protos, they’re usually called.” 

“Why ask why?” 

It was Tomas, and all eyes turned to him.

“I mean, does any of it matter? We have the Enlightenment and the Protectors and the Velorian Legion – what does it matter where they came from?”

“You’re right,” Axinia said. “But it matters to me, personally. I grew up knowing I was M-class, and that I’d never be a Protector, never leave my homeworld. But I wondered how I got my name, which is very unusual on Velor  something special that might make me someone special. It turned out to go back to one of the original abductees, and it was a name originating not in Sverige but in Rus, a country to the South that was invaded by people from the North – Vikings, they were called.”

“So one of your ancestors visited Rus. And returned just in time for the abduction?”

“Not only that, but she wasn’t a Viking. Perhaps none of our ancestors were. In recent decades, Terran scientists have become obsessed with the origins of homo sapiens – they’ve found traces of variant species – Neanderthal  and Denisovan – in what they call the human genome. Ordinary humans have likewise become obsessed with tracing where on Earth their own ancestors came from – their ‘roots,’ through their lifecyphers – what they call DNA and RNA. We still have observers on Earth, though we no longer try to influence the course of events there, and they pass on a wealth of genetic data. And that data suggests that our ancestors came, not from the Vikings, but from a nearby people called the Sami – who look very much like the people in Sverige descended from the Vikings, but speak an entirely different language.”

“What difference does it make?” Tomas complained. “It’s like asking what part of España our ancestors came from. It has nothing to do with our lives, or what we make of them – what I want to make of mine, now that I’m free to do so. With what I want to accomplish here on my own world.”

Axinia’s tone had until now been that of a college history professor, obsessed with her take own on the course material, but not expecting anyone to take it as gospel. Yet now she took on an air of serious pleading.

“There’s something you need to know. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten involved, but I’ve seen how you and Patricia look at each other and…you need to be together. I can’t take it any more. You’re a Latent... All right, now I’ve said it.”

Dead silence. Seeming disbelief. 

“It’s true,” Axinia continued. “I’d suspected it when I first laid eyes on you. Sometimes we Velorians can tell. But I had your medical records checked. You never responded to the call for Latency testing, but you have some of your blood samples archived at the Oviedo hospital. I swiped one and sent it to Tala for analysis, There’s no doubt about it.”

Tomas fairly exploded,

“Oh, you’ve got it all mapped out for me, have you?” he challenged her. “Get enhanced. Join the Legion. Fight people I don’t know on planets I don’t care about. A heroic life, you suppose. Only it wouldn’t be my life. And going behind my back to justify it? How dare you!”

“No, no,” Axinia reacted, sounding desperate. “It wouldn’t be like that at all. You wouldn’t have to join the Legion, You wouldn’t have to go anywhere. You could live here, with the woman you love, the woman who loves you.”

She paused for a moment.

“Remember me telling you I was born and raised as M-class? We were called Matras in past centuries, and only Primas could become Protectors. I could have had a career on Velor, say as an engineer, but never had a chance to work or even travel elsewhere. Things have changed in the past few years, and here I am an Auxiliary Protector. There weren’t any Legionnaires before, and Enhancement of non-Velorians was a sometime thing at best – and officially discouraged. That errant Velorian I told you about: her daughter is now a Protector – that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, as would forgiveness for her errant mother who fled the Rites. But there’s a lot of leeway even under the new dispensations. There’s nothing to prevent Tala from enhancing you without preconditions. There’s nothing to prevent Patricia from retiring from the Legion, if she should so choose.”. 

Dead silence again. But this time, belief.

Everyone seemed to be waiting with bated breath for what came next.

Tomas looked longingly at Patricia, and Patricia looked longingly at him. They raced into each other’s arms and embraced with a passion.

“Our family is about to grow,” Ysabel said, and smiled with utter joy.

“It looks as if we have another cause for celebration,” Reynaldo added.

“Viva Patricia and Tomas!” Beatriz cried out.

That cry was taken up by one and all. 


A man and a woman and a beach.

Tomas and Patricia.

He was massaging her right foot. That was all. But they were smiling and gazing into each other’s eyes. They didn’t have to stare between their legs; they knew that she was wet that he was as hard. And they knew that his cock and her cunt were made for each other, even as their souls were made for each other. Soon, soon, they would be ravishing each other.

* * *

Their wedding had been an occasion for all, with Ysabel giving away the bride, and Reynaldo acting as funcionario de la justicia – having obtained a special license. If he could issue official rulings on behalf of the Autoridad Deportiva, he kidded, why not officially bless the deporte de amor?

Axinia had been there, and even Tala – something unprecedented for the Protector, who had performed the Enhancement in orbit aboard the space station she and her staff shared with the Velorian Navy. But the high point may have been a toast by Carla Rodriguez: “To the joining of two Freaks, Long may they share the madness of love.”

An unexpected guest was Maria Bañuelos. She was playing the field now, as well as pursuing her art beyond police sketches – she’d even volunteered to do a sketch of the bridal couple.

Missing was Auderico; Juana had found out about his affair with Carla, and filed for divorce. Yet, strange as it seemed, she blamed him rather than her. She and Carla, who had broken up with him, were both pregnant, and that meant their children would be… related through the Customs Bureau official they hoped never to see again.

“At least there’ll be only one Rick in the family,” Juana quipped.

That got a laugh out of Rick, who was thinking of joining the centinelas. He figured he’d have an in with Joaquin Escarra, Diego Bordas and José Sacristan– all three of whom were guests. Escarra was now xefe, and heading up a campaign against corruption.

Tomas had enrolled in college to study law, his tuition paid for out of the judgment against the Izquerido estate. He hoped to not only practice law, but seek political office one day and work to change the law where it had failed people like hi s parents. As for Patricia, she would join the family business for now. And while she had submitted her resignation to the Legion, she and Tomas had agreed to put themselves on call with the Exercito and Vigilancia and the Guardia to deal with serious emergencies that only they could handle.

* * *

They’d begun preparing for their double lives well before the wedding. Tomas had to learn to live with his new strength, lest he do more harm than good in dealing with criminals, crime victims, or those endangered by fires, accidents and other calamities. He also had to learn to live with his new invulnerability, to fear nothing by the experience that nothing could harm him. The first time Patricia aimed a gun at him, he cringed – but when the bullets bounced off his chest he stood up straight and took them like a superman. He almost cringed again when he she targeted his crotch,  . 

“It’s been the same when people shoot at my breasts or pussy,” Patricia explained. “It’s something we have to avoid giving into when we’re on duty. Once we’ve dealt with criminals or disasters and saved innocent lives, we can fuck our brains out.” 

It was easier when she bathed in fire with him – they were together, and felt the pleasure together as the flames consumed their (cheap) clothes and caressed their naked bodies. But after a while Tomas realized what Patricia already – that sex between enhancees was very much like that between ordinary people, That was how they felt now here on the beach, alone together, far from any distractions. 

And here they could share the wonderful truth.

He might be a man of steel and she a woman of steel. But they didn’t feel like that to each other. Their flesh felt like human flesh, as both had known it before their enhancements. It responded just like human flesh to their caresses. When Tomas massaged her breasts, they were firm yet soft and pliant, and his touch heightened the arousal she already felt from him stroking her legs and arms and belly. When Patricia squeezed his cock, it didn’t feel like a rod but like a cock – and responded accordingly 

After teasing Tomas unmercifully, Patricia laid him on his back and impaled herself on him. It was all he could do to hold back. But of course, she didn’t want him to hold back; – she reveled in the feel of his cock deep inside her as she fucked him and he fucked back – but also at the look on his face as she rode him.

“Patricia!” he cried, as he came inside her. “I love you!”

“I love you Tomas!” she cried, coming herself as she felt him come.

And they knew that it was only the first time they would come together that day, and that there would be many other days and nights to come...

They had found each other and found true happiness.