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Me, Myself & I
Earth Shine, Part Four
Written by shadar :: [Saturday, 20 July 2019 20:11] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 20 July 2019 22:33]
While Senator Bull Satrop and Scarlet are struggling to find a way to work together in the Arion HQ — or as Scarlet might describe it, struggling to find reasons not to squash him like a bug — Anja is rooting out some Arions and Alyta makes some moves to take control of the Velorian operations at Camp Aurora. Not everyone likes the changes.
Anja floated in the thin air of the stratosphere, hovering twelve miles above a house in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The -60F temperature and thin air at that altitude didn’t bother her, despite her wearing nothing but a small backpack made of indestructible silver Vitamax fabric. Her vision from here was better than the view afforded by Google Maps, but not good enough to see inside the house. She had no guarantee that all four occupants of the house were home.
She decided to go with what she had — she’d been told they usually parked two cars in the driveway at night, and there were two there now. Their garage had been converted into a small operations center for the Arion Intelligence officer who lived here. Several of the Sapien agents he was running had access to the NORAD Combat Operations Center, and that was a big problem.
The computers and personnel in NORAD were the ones who decided if North America was under attack from ICBMs, and given the stated US policy of “Launch on Warning”, Alyta thought it was unacceptable to have an Arion anywhere near the warning machinery. If threatening Earth with an asteroid wasn’t a sufficient reason for them to reveal themselves — they would have pushed it aside at the last moment if it hadn’t already been diverted by Alyta and Anja — then it was Alyta’s theory that the Arions might unveil themselves by compromising the NORAD computers to convincingly report a fake incoming attack. If the US launched on warning, that would provoke a counter attack. With Mutually Assured destruction of the Northern Hemisphere only minutes away, and with the entire world facing Armageddon once again, the Arions would reveal themselves by destroying all of the nuclear missiles in-flight. That would make for the splashiest headline ever:
“MISSILES IN THE AIR! SECRET ET’s SAVE EARTH FROM NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON!
Further articles would say:Aliens offer friendship, protection and prosperity to all citizens of Earth.
A hundred such stories would be ready to run given the Arions had the top executives of most media companies in their pocket. The News articles would be tailored for different groups and countries, but the message would be the same: the Arion Empire is here to save and protect Earth.
The human reaction to this revelation — at the precise moment they were saving Earth from utter destruction — would be enthusiastic and grateful. Clearly the Arions would also claim they’d deflected the asteroid. They would be called Saviors. Interstellar travelers with wondrous technology. Human descendents who had returned to help Earth find a path to the future. All wonderful stuff if you didn’t know the true story about the Empire.
Most importantly, the people of Earth would never know that those same ET’s had actually started it all. Nor that they were the ones who’d originally threatened to crack the planet open with an asteroid. Or that they’d been destabilizing Earth since before World War II. They would blame all that on the Velorians.
Alyta claimed this was straight out of the Arion DISC playbook, a stolen copy of which she’d studied during her training at the Hall of Scribes. The script was simple enough: create an overwhelming, existential crisis and then solve it using miraculous abilities. Thanks to the Sapiens long-standing religious tendencies, they’d embrace their salvation with enthusiasm, granting the Arions almost god-like status.
The confirmation that this was likely their next move came when one of Anja’s agents uncovered the Arion infiltrators working at NORAD. Supposedly an Arion man had fathered two teenage children with his human wife, and the whole family was embedded with the military personnel who worked at NORAD.
Which said the Arion had been in-place for a very long time. Betans like him could not only hide easily among humans, but they could inter-breed with them, albeit carefully, given that even the weakest Arion had many times the strength of a Sapiens. Likely this man was on the lowest tier of powers, given that above a certain level, the whole “Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex” thing started to kick in.
Anja hated cases where children were involved. Her job was to kill Arion agents, but that left the question of what to do with spouses and hybrid children. The Intel said this appeared to be a happy and loving family, highly engaged with the community and very popular, but the man was still an enemy of Earth. His job wouldn’t be complete until Earth had voluntary joined (or capitulated to) the Arion Empire.
His wife was a high-ranking US Air Force officer working at NORAD, and obviously a collaborator. Apparently the children were old enough to know what was going on, and likely were already helping their father by influencing their friends and other kids in their schools. Half Arion/half human children would be remarkably athletic and attractive, and immensely popular.
Alyta was convinced this was an entire family hell bent on conquest, and their influence likely extended to many dozens of Sapiens. A team like that could not be allowed to influence NORAD.
As a Protector, she had a simple prescribed protocol to deal with such things — kill the Arion infiltrator, his wife and both their offspring. Even if the children were innocents. The Velorian Council was violently opposed to letting Arion genetics get loose in the wild on Earth.
Anja shook her head, blonde hair flying like a cloud around her as she told herself to hell with the rules. She wasn’t killing any innocent children. Not today. Not ever. Instead, she’d do the same thing she’d done before — terminate the adults and then fly the children out into space while broadcasting a call in the blind for the Arions to come and pick them up. Even the lowest genetic class, the Betans, could last days before succumbing to hard vacuum and dehydration. Hybrids would do almost as well, given the dominance of Arion genetics. Either way, it was plenty of time for an Arion stealth ship to pick them up.
Of course, the Arions treated hybrids poorly. But bad treatment was better than being crushed like a bug, or so Anja reassured herself. And if they didn’t get picked up, well, she’d at least given them a chance.
She was violating Velorian law by giving the children back to the Arions, but she didn’t care. She’d done this many times before with young, innocent children on several worlds. If the Velorian authorities ever came after her, she’d simply do what she’d already planned to do after her time on Earth was complete: head to the edge of known space and dive into wormhole X379D. It was an uncharted and very large wormhole, which meant it bent space for a very great distance. Nobody knew where it exited or if it even had a way back. Probes that had gone into X379D had not come back. Some holes are one-ways.
Anja didn't care. In fact, she preferred if it was one-way, for she intended to spend her final years on undiscovered worlds in unknown places. Surely there were other races of friendly, sentient alien species out there beyond the Scalantrans or Vendorians. Maybe even a lost tribe of humans whose Seeder ship had hit an unstable wormhole and disappeared from known space.
Sighing, she brought her thoughts back to today’s unpleasant business. She closed her eyes and relaxed her body to begin falling. Minutes later, after a few minor course corrections, she smashed feet first through the roof of the house to land in the living room — only to find a man pointing a GAR rifle at her. Leave it to the Arions to have scanners on their roof.
Before she could move, he fired, and a circular laser beam powerful enough to melt through heavy armor splashed against her right breast, which flared red and orange and then white-hot. This was only Stage 1. Once the GAR detected the reflections of its own beam from a target, it fired a dust-spec of antimatter down the evacuated tube of coherent light.
That tiny anti-particle crashed into her nipple, where it annihilated a dust-spec piece of normal matter — in this case the oils on her skin. The massive explosion blew the walls of the house outward as it instantly killed a uniformed woman who Anja presumed was the Arion’s wife. The Arion himself was thrown out the back wall of the house, across a large yard and into a huge rock wall, which collapsed over him.
Anja was on him in less than a second, ripping his GAR rifle away to crush it to junk in her bare hands, the power cell exploding to briefly envelope her again in flame. Standing over him as her body began absorbing the ultra-intense heat from the anti-matter annihilation and powercell, she felt her right breast itch as it grew larger, making her feel lopsided. She massaged it as she decided on the best way to end the threat.
The Arion took advantage of her brief pause to kick upward between her legs with all his strength, connecting with enough power to have sent a football player’s crushed body flying high into the nosebleed seats of a stadium. He was stronger than she’d expected, but definitely not Primal, but he was the one who howled in pain when his steel-tipped toe hit just below Anja’s pubic bone. She didn’t budge a millimeter, which sent all the force of his superstrong kick back up his leg. He was grabbing for his leg in pain when Anja reached down to wrap her fingers around his neck and jerked him to his feet.
To her surprise, the man stuffed the barrel of a smaller Arion weapon into her mouth and fired it.
The plasma weapon filled her mouth and throat with star-stuff, heating her face and then her head to white-hot incandescence. Anja staggered backwards to sit down hard, her thoughts briefly frozen as the blood boiled in her brain. Thankfully her body quickly sucked the heat from her head to store it in the usual way, which not only dropped her face back to normal skin tone, but also evened out her lopsidedness a little. She floated slowly back to her feet, massaging both breasts now.
If he hadn’t already known, the Arion was certain now that he was dealing with a Protector. His weapons might have stopped an ordinary Velorian, but not Anja. With both weapons destroyed, he fought back the only way he could, hoping to give his kids a chance to flee. He began throwing rocks at her from the broken wall, many of them the size of a beach ball. His mighty tosses would have impressed a Major League pitcher with their speed if they’d merely been baseballs, but they were 200 pound rocks. Anja just smiled as she casually swatted them away with the backs of her hands before grabbing the man by the neck again, this time lifting him high over her head, his arms and legs flailing as he pulled her hair and reached down to punch at her face.
Anja crushed his neck in her grip, cutting off his air and blood flow to his brain, making him gag, but she knew full well that breaking his neck would only stop him for a short while. All Supremis have amazing abilities for self-regeneration, and likely he could heal even a crushed spine. She need to cause much more damage so as to overwhelm his healing powers.
She lowered the man while wrapping her arms and legs around him, her now oversized breasts flattening against his steel-hard chest as she began hugging him with her fantastic strength. With his arms trapped beneath hers, he smashed his forehead into hers and started tearing at her with his teeth, but he couldn’t harm her in the least. His body grew aroused in the way of any Arion in a fight for their life, and he thrust himself upward, trying to penetrate her. Anja ignored all that while tightening her bear hug, his normally invulnerable ribs bending inward under hundreds of tons of pressure. Her body slowly transformed into a maze of superhumanly-defined steel muscle as she poured her full strength into her lethal embrace. She could feel his ribs bending inward against her compressed breasts as his chest slowly turned into a mirror image of hers, and moments later, the Arion’s normally unbreakable ribs began snapping with a sound like shattering glass. His body progressively collapsed into a grotesque shrunken shape as she drove the broken ends of his ribs into his internal organs. It wasn’t until she could feel the swell of her breasts pressing against her hands as they held his shoulder-blades that she knew he was truly finished.
She quickly jumped back to drop the now crunchy sack of flesh to the ground before his tough skin started leaking. Turning, she found that his two children had not even tried to run to safety. The uber-blue eyes of two teenage girls glared at her — girls who had just watched her kill their father in such a deliberate, horrible way.
The younger of the daughters hid behind her older sister, who appeared to be in her late teens. Their clothing had been blasted away to reveal that the older girl wore a classic Arion outfit: black leather sleeves connected by a strap across her back, leaving her shoulders and upper torso nude all the way to the hip-hugging hemline of a black leather microskirt that covered just about absolutely nothing. The outfit said it all — she was already working for the Empire. Seduction, intimidation and murder — whatever they asked of her. Some of the younger USAF officers working at NORAD were likely very good friends of hers.
The younger girl was even more concerning, for she had long hair streaked with purple, and wore an outfit made of similarly indestructible material, Vitamax. Except in her case, it was little more than a tiny bikini. The purplish hightlights of her hair telegraphing that she had to be a high-born Prime.
Definitely NOT a hybrid.
That made it easier for Anja to do what she must. The older girl wasn’t an innocent, and undoubtably the younger girl wasn’t either. She started toward them, fists clenched, and was halfway there when the younger girl spun around to push her older sister backward as she leaped upward. Yet instead of letting her fly away, the older sister grabbed her legs, hugging one leg to her chest to stop her flight, her blue eyes never leaving Anja’s.
“Running won’t help, Syren,” the older girl cried as she tried to pull her sister back to the ground. Her eyes bored into Anja’s. “We are both innocent victims of our parents. We were born here on Earth. We plead for mercy and asylum.”
Anja smiled as she continued walking closer. “Innocent? While wearing that under your street clothes?”
“It’s not what you think. My… my boyfriend likes it.”
“And he knows what you are?”
“Of course not!”
“Which means that of course he does. Let me guess, an Air Force officer at NORAD?”
“My father insists that I… that I see him,” the older girl said. She’d hugged her younger sister protectively.
“All in the name of love,” Anja scoffed. “Convince me your sister is an innocent.”
“How…? I don’t know how to that. She hasn’t done anything!”
“I rather doubt that. Occam’s Razor says it’s likeliest that you have both been indoctrinated by your father. No Arion would tolerate anything less.”
“See!” the younger girl cried. “You can’t reason with a blondie. She’s here to kill both of us!”
“No, Syren, don’t…” the older girl started to say, only to have her younger sister tear herself from her arms to leap powerfully into the sky. She flew straight up, climbing so fast that she shrank to a dot and disappeared completely in seconds.
Anja calmly lowered her eyes. “Syren? A good Arion name. Who are you, and can you fly like that too?”
She shook her head. “My name is Kira. And no.”
“Given the way your sister flew off, she’s a Prime, which makes her extremely dangerous. But not in the same way as you. Not yet anyway.” She hardened her voice, knowing what she had to do. “Prepare yourself, as is your custom.”
“There is no way to change your mind?” the girl asked fearfully. “Why not just toss us into space?”
“Because your sister can fly, obviously. And likely you can too if you were being honest. You aren’t the half-breed daughters of the couple I just killed. You and your sister were planted here to pretend to be Sapiens. I have no choice.”
The girl clenched her fists as she raised them, shouting loud enough to have broken a Sapien’s eardrums: “ΜOLON LABE.Come and take me if you can.”
Anja rolled her eyes as she took a step toward her, only to have something crash down on her head and shoulders at fantastic speed. The impact was so great that she was driven deep into bedrock, with the shockwave blasting several neighboring houses to pieces as it collapsed what was left of the target house. The deafening blast was still echoing from the mountains when the younger sister flashed back up from the hole, her lower body glowing cherry-red from the fantastic impact. She grabbed her older sister’s hand, and the two of them flew off at incredible speed, their twin sonic booms mowing down trees as carved a path through the Black Forest of Colorado.
Anja woke up moments later, cursing and grimacing as she realized how greatly she’d underestimated the girls. Stupid, like a girl right out of the Academy. She’d believed the Intel because of her high regard for Alyta, but nothing had changed. Intel was always only half right — at best. Now she had two Primes out there that were dangerous in the way only a desperate Prime can be. Fortunately, given Arion compartmentalization of knowledge, they’d likely have no idea how to find other Arions, whether on ground or in space, so like any prey, they’d go to ground and try to hide until someone contacted them.
And they hadn’t reckoned on one thing — Anja could smell the trail of Primal pheromones they left behind. A skill she’d been perfecting for more than a hundred years. She began to hunt like a Labrador Retriever tracking a wounded bird, making large S-turns in the air, passing through the faint scent trail from different angles, slowly closing in on it. She tightened up her turns until she was making small turns that reliably caught both sides of the scent trail, making sure she didn’t lose it. The trail went due north for a hundred miles before it made a sharp turn to the west. A while later, it turned back north.
Anja couldn’t possibly catch up to them — anything over supersonic and she’d not be able to follow the scent trail. But now that she was locked in, the scent would eventually lead her to wherever they went to ground.
It took nearly three hours, but she was able to use the last vestiges of scent to triangulate the strongest concentration, and that led to a canyon that ended at a tunnel beneath a tall, concrete dam in Alberta, Canada. She landed lightly outside the tunnel entrance, which was secured by very thick steel bars that were crooked and mangled as they were bent over each other. The steel of the bars was warmer than the surrounding concrete, likely from the internal friction of being bent by someone with Supremis strength — and not long ago.
She easily bent the heavy bars outward, steel screaming loudly as it was once again stressed far beyond its limits, heating once again as she worked it as if it was merely rubber. Scanning ahead after she stepped through opening of mangled bars, she opened her eyes very wide to activate the neutrino detectors in her retinas… and there they were. Standing in total darkness at the very end of a two-hundred foot long tunnel. The older girl was pushing buttons on a control panel that was set into the side of what appeared to be a large pile of leaves and sticks and other debris. Anja tried to scan inside the pile, but saw only a large backpack — which for some reason she couldn’t see into. She could, however, see on some lettering on the side. It was in Cyrillic, and it circled the universal radiation warning symbol.
Her hackles rose as she realized this might be one of the Russian backpack nuclear weapons that had been stolen a few years earlier. But what was one doing here, under a dam in Alberta? Did the Arions now have “natural disasters” prepared all over the world?
The older girl looked up at Anja as she rested her finger on a button. These two hadn’t gone to ground here by random. They’d known this weapon was here. Which means they’d likely put it here.
“Come any closer and I’ll detonate it.”
“If you do, you won’t survive. Nor will your sister. Not buried under all this concrete, with bedrock underneath. You won’t escape the fireball.”
“If we are going to die, then so are you.Stop where you are!”
Anja stopped. The girl looked deadly serious. She was an Arion warrior, and they were taught that death in battle was honorable. If they surrendered, and eventually made it back to Arion control, they’d be killed for being cowardly deserters.
“If we’re going to die anyway,” the older girl shouted, “this way is at least painless. And killing you will ensure that Earth will fall. A win as I see it.”
“You do realize that weapon won’t hurt me. It’ll just blow me out the…” Anja started to say.
“Liar!” Kira shouted as she stabbed the button.
Anja’s world flashed to white. And then to utter black.
When she came to, Anja found herself buried a hundred feet deep in a mountain side, five miles from the dam. The tunnel had acted like a barrel to shoot her outward like a cannon shell. A cannon shell powered by a nuclear burst. Blinking the watery waviness from her eyes, she looked back through the rock, searching for the dam. It was gone, all of it, leaving behind a roaring torrent of steaming water flowing down from the reservoir above. Overhead, a mushroom cloud rose, black and malevolent, full of concrete bits that had once been a dam, and were now highly radioactive.
At least the Arion sisters were dead. A Prime couldn’t survive being trapped inside a nuclear fireball and more than she could. She’d survived by virtue of being part way down the tunnel. Instead of vaporizing her, the fireball had blasted the air from the tunnel at hypersonic speed, pushing her ahead of the fireball. The innermost heat of the detonation had never reached her, and radiation was hardly a threat. Nor was the impact that had buried her here, deeply in solid granite.
She began to dig her way out, tearing at the rock with her fingernails, crushing it in her grip. She was feeling sad, but also thankful that she’d not had to kill the girls herself. That whole family had been fanatics. Their father had clearly indoctrinated the girls in his hate and his virulent racism and militarism. The kind of hatred that surpassed ordinary racism given that it only existed between sub-species. Sub-species conflict hadn’t occurred on Earth since the demise of the Neanderthals, when Homo Sapiens had wiped them out down to the last person. Something the Arion’s had done to entire planets populated by Sapiens when it served their interests.
Yet it wasn’t nature that drove Arion hatred, it was nurture. Indoctrination, starting when they were infants. They had entire AI systems dedicated to spreading hatred toward the “blondies” and “frails”.
In sharp contrast, Velorians were fond of Sapiens, seeing them as their wild and awesomely diverse ancestors. They were natural beings, products of evolution not engineering. A wonder. Traveling to Earth was the dream of every Velorian, but restricted to only a handful.
Shaking and brushing the rock dust off herself, Anja was at least pleased to find that she’d sucked up a lot of energy from the nuke. So much, in fact, that she felt a little off balance when trying to stand. Flying was easier. But she’d long ago decided there were some things she could never get enough of, and Orgone was one of them. And it wasn’t like she had clothing that she had to fit inside.
She flew off south and west at high Mach, heading back toward Camp Aurora, confident that she’d done her duty. Dropping low over the northern Cascades, she slowed to under the Mach to fly below tree-top level for a hundred miles, starting the so-called Under-Tree Route, twisting and turning to fly up and down canyons and finally into a long railroad tunnel that had a hidden side exit. Once she’d flown out the tunnel side, she flew beneath even heavier canopy, twisting and turning around thousands of huge Douglas Fir trees, traveling for dozens more miles along a route under such heavy cover that no satellites, Arion or Sapiens, could track her.
Far above, a glowing ball floated just outside the atmosphere, traveling in the opposite direction of all the other satellites. It floated across the terminator from east to west into darkness, and then began to unfold, revealing arms and legs and long black hair streaked with purple that floated weightlessly around the face of a young teenage girl. Her ultra-blue eyes opened to lock on the naked woman who flew fast and low. She lost the Protector in a railroad tunnel and didn’t see her come out, so she headed down to investigate.
The secret to the Velorian camp on Earth must be somewhere in that tunnel. And when she discovered it, she would avenge her older sister’s death on anyone she found there.
The Velorian camp, Aurora, in the Cascade Mountains.
Pete had not seen Alyta since his first night at Camp Aurora. They’d been on their way to her quarters, Pete full of high hopes, her passion soaring in Velorian fashion, when her Comm buzzed. She listened for a moment and then made her apologies to fly off. Something about their agent in Moscow.
Five days and nights had passed without Alyta since then, but he’d had plenty to keep himself busy with, what with learning everything he could about the Intel operation and their agents in the field and the Velorian mission. He’d barely slept as he worked as hard as he had preparing for NASA missions. He’d studied everything he could find to study.
Today, Jane had recruited him to go down to the nearest town with her — an hour drive on Forest Service and unpaved county roads — to get some extra supplies. Alyta was planning something, and more groceries were needed than originally planned.
“So what do the locals think Camp Aurora is all about?” he asked as Jane drove the huge Suburban 4WD wagon. This was the bulletproofed ultra-private version that the US government liked so much.
“Survivalist retreat. A place that fat cats from the cities pay seven figures to buy a share of. When the shit hits the fan, they fly their choppers in and hole up here until it blows over. I tell people that we got a bunch of trigger-happy Marines up here — no such thing as an ex-Marine — who protect the place and train the members to shoot and do combat stuff when they come in. That explains the numerous chopper flights and the shooting, which some real Marines on our staff enjoy. I also tell people that some very private members come in when they want to drop off the radar for a bit and decompress.”
“And they buy that?”
“Hook, line and sinker. There are survivalist redoubts all through the remote areas of the west, Pete, mostly in Idaho and Montana, but some in Washington and other places. Armed camps that are obsessive about their security and their privacy. Locals in the mountains understand them, but not many people know the exact location of any of the redoubts. In our case, we have our own people for fixing anything that needs fixing, or making improvements and so on, so nobody has to come in and look around. We helicopter in most supplies other than some unplanned trips like this one.”
“I never knew. About survivalist camps and so forth.”
“It’s a friggin’ pocket industy, Pete. And locals know to stay the hell away, especially hunters. No hiking trails come through the property and the forest around it is nearly impassable with downed timber, but if a hunter got lost and wandered in, they’d find lots of signs threatening deadly force. And every tree in a line between those signs has that shade of purple paint on them that means No Trespassing.”
“There’s a paint for that?”
Jane nodded. “You’d know that if you weren’t such a city boy.”
They talked about the logistics and mechanics of running the Camp as they arrived in town to clean out half of a small grocery store, packing the already heavy and cavernous Suburban with everything it could hold. They were headed back up the mountain, driving in what had slowly become a heavy snowstorm, when a small avalanche swept down a chute to violently shove the massive Suburban off the narrow Forest Road. It slid down about ten feet below the edge of the road to bury itself in snow.
Climbing out a window, Pete climbed up on top of the Suburban’s roof as Jane tried to raise someone on their Comm link. Pete figured Alyta or Anja would come and fly them out of there with the Suburban on her back. No one could see anything in this heavy snowfall.
Jane cursed. “Can’t get through on our private Comm. And nobody in the Camp is allowed to have cell phones as you know, not that they’d work up here anyway. Guess we’re going to have to dig it out on our own.”
Pete looked at four tons of Suburban and supplies, resting crookedly below the road, half buried in the remains of the avalanche. “A couple of wreckers couldn’t pull that thing out.”
“Probably not. Can’t call one anyway. So we do it.”
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about, Pete, so I guess now is as good a time as any. Why don’t you start by getting that heavy rope out of the back of the ‘burb and tie it off to one of the tow hooks in the back. I’ll find a suitable tree.”
Pete was thinking of a come-along or block and tackle rig as he dug out the rope, which was 3/4” inch thick nylon. The kind of dock line a large private yacht would use in a storm. He used his old Boy Scout knowledge to tie a suitable knot and crawled his way back up to the road with the rope. He was sweating despite the cold and breathing hard by the time he found Jane, who bizarrely had removed her outer clothing. She wore a pair of jeans and a short-sleeve shirt that showed off her muscular arms.
“Not the best weather for getting a tan,” he quipped.
“No sense tearing up an expensive coat. Going to need to work a bit.”
She wrapped the line around the trunk of a very large Douglas Fir tree and then braced her foot against the trunk.
“Ah, Jane, you have no mechanical advantage in that setup. Plus the friction against the tree. Gonna take five tons to pull a four ton Suburban up to the road.”
“‘Bout what I figured,” Jane grunted as she put a strain on the line.
Pete just stared as her arms flexed astounding large as she began to pull on the rope with her bare hands. The thick nylon stretched, and then the huge Suburban began to slowly move uphill. He couldn’t help but chuckle watching her do something that a short time ago he would have believed could only be done in the comic books.
“Let me guess your little secret. You’re secretly a Velorian too. A Brava-class or something.”
“Close, but no cigar,” she grunted, slowly pulling the Suburburn upward foot by foot as the rope bit into the thick bark of the tree, the friction causing the bark to smoke.
Pete stood back to watch her work, knowing there was nothing he could do to help, enjoying the way her muscles looked. She looked way more developed than before, and she’d always looked muscular as hell. Her peaking biceps were off the charts. How could she not be a Velorian with that kind of strength?
Minutes later, she had the Suburban back on the narrow road, only sideways. Dropping the rope, she walked around to grab the reinforced front bumper of the truck and lifted the front wheels completely out of the snow. She rested the bumper on her chest as she side-stepped it around until the Suburban was pointing straight up the road again. She finally dropped it to bounce on its front suspension.
Pete shook his head as he gathered up the rope, wondering if he’d every get used to watching a woman using superhuman strength. Distracted by that thought, he yelped when he found that sections of the nylon rope were too hot to touch. He doused it in the snow and managed to stuff it back into the truck. Jane was already in the driver’s seat, trying to get it restarted as he brushed snow off the windows. He spotted Jane’s winter jacket and retrieved it before getting back in.
Jane’s eyes were shining a brighter shade of blue and she looked both pumped up and excited now. “God, it feels so damn good to work out like that,” she smiled at him as she resumed driving.
“So, you’re super strong, which somehow doesn’t surprise me with those muscles, but not a Velorian?”
She shook her head, her long blonde hair sending snow flying around inside the vehicle. “Nope. I’m Arion. A level-3 Betan to be exact.”
Pete’s blood froze in his veins, his heart missing a few beats. He pressed himself against the door as he fumbled for the door handle, planning to throw himself out into the snow.
Jane looked over at him and laughed. “Don’t look so worried. I’m on the side of the angels now.”
“An Arion? Working for Anja?”
She nodded. “Long story. But I guess we got time if you’re interested?”
“Hell, yes!” Pete said, his heart pounding. Everything he knew about Arions said they were murderous bastards who loved to kill Sapiens, who they dismissed as merely “Frails.
“Ok. Every once in a while, an Arion is born with blonde hair,” she began, “and usually their parents kill them at birth. Being a throwback and all. But my parents didn’t. They protected me, which unfortunately meant that I grew up being hated by everyone simply because I was blonde. Got in fights every day at school as everyone bullied me, and the teachers went as far as to encourage the bullies. Everyone wanted me to quit and never come back. But being a Level-3, which is at the upper end of Betan strength, I often won the fights, even against bigger boys. Which made them hate me all the more.”
“Jesus! That must have been hell. Being bullied while the adults encouraged it?”
“Made me tough. Until the day the school principal pulled me aside and said I was being expelled. The school counselor told me there was only one career path for a blonde Arion — becoming a doxy for some military base. An amusement for the troops to fuck, being a blondie and all. At least until some Prime decided to show his men how you kill a ‘Velorian’ during sex. So they expelled me and sent me to a brothel to learn my new trade.”
Pete swallowed hard, trying imagining that fate. “You got some damn tough guidance counselors back on Aria.”
“Thankfully, my father had connections and he managed to convince some highly-placed General that I could infiltrate a Velorian-protected world. Nobody would think I was Arion since Arion black hair is invulnerable. Can’t be dyed or colored or anything. So a blonde can’t be Arion.”
“Your father must have really loved you.”
“He did. He risked everything for me. So I became part of Clandestine Services, and after several assignments, I was sent to Ceti Tau where I managed to get a job as the local liasion to the planet’s Protector.”
“Anja?” Pete guessed.
Jane nodded. “Yup. She trusted me and I bided my time, and then one day, when she was sleeping, I snuck into her room with a GAR rifle and a gold choker. Plan was to blast her unconscious, which would hopefully last long enough to get the choker on her. An Arion extraction team was waiting down the street. If we got her off-planet and onto an Arion ship, we’d be famous. Capturing a Protector alive and bound in gold was a rare feat. Maybe the Arions would finally decide I was worth something.”
“But it didn’t work as planned.”
“Not even close. I put the GAR on Max and fired it at her, not realizing that would blow up the entire building. A little too much dynamite, so to speak. I remained inside the falling debris and flames as I struggled to get that damn choker on her — she was glowing white-hot and unconscious — but the fucking gold melted before I could fasten it. Then she woke up.”
“So how come you’re still alive?”
“Because Anja is always thinking ahead. She saw the possibility of turning me and having an Arion in her camp, which she thought would be an advantage given I knew how Arions think. So she made me an offer I couldn’t resist — join her or die. We both knew that if I ever showed up on the Arion’s radar again, they’d kill me for desertion or failure or whatever, and with special prejudice given my blonde hair. So I finally came home to a place I’d never imagined belonging — a Protector’s bed.”
“Ok…” Pete said slowly, not sure what to say to that.
“Anja had me now, in more than one way, and we’ve been together ever since. More than eighty years now. She brought me to Earth with her.”
“And here I thought you were a well-preserved early 50s. So while the rest of the staff at the Camp are all legally dead people, you’re a secret Arion under a sentence of death by the Empire. And Anja’s lover.”
“Yes and no. Velorians don’t look at things that way. To her, I’m a close friend and, over time, I’ve become her special confidante. But she sleeps with anyone she feels like on any given day. But we still have our nights together, and they are very good. And most importantly, she trusts me to run the Camp so she doesn’t have to worry about it.”
“Who else knows this?”
“Alyta. And Derek, who is afraid of me. And now you. My secret needs to remain one, Ok?”
“Of course. But somehow I keep spiraling into the center of things Velorian. First Alyta’s Kiraling, and now I know your secret. Why me?”
“Today wasn’t planned. But we all believe you are loyal and a true believer in our cause.” She turned to wink at him. “And with time, you may get smart enough to truly be useful. Too much book learning, not enough real world.”
“NASA doesn’t count?”
“Definitely not real world.”
Pete chuckled as they finally reached the camp entrance, and the AI system recognized them and opened the huge gate. Jane drove down a tunnel to the underground parking where the staff from the kitchen began unloading the Suburban.
Neither Jane nor Pete mentioned their unplanned adventure given they were immediately called up to Central. Alyta had just returned and had called for a Special Briefing. Everyone was talking excitedly as they they gathered in the Situation Room. For the first time since Anja had arrived on Earth, fifty years ago, the Velorians were calling everyone in from the field.
Jane was immediately opposed to the meeting and vocal about it, claiming it was a dangerous move that could draw attention from the Arions. They depended on their “Surivalist Redoubt” reputation, and since the asteroid was gone, what was the reason for the supposed Survivalists to be flooding in now?
But Alyta was determined, so Jane did her best to reduce the risk. She sent directions to the agents to come in by different means and different routes. Most flew into airports in neighboring states and then drove for hours to a number of remote locations in Washington where Alyta and Anja picked them up under the cover of darkness to personally fly them the last miles up to Aurora. Encased in survival suits, they could endure the cold and violent slipstream. Once here at the Camp, the heavy tree canopy and their various stealth tech features hid their presence. No satellite or surveillance drone, Terran or Arion, could find them here, especially given most of the complex was underground.
Pete began to meet the dozens of field agents, all of them recruited by Anja over the last fifty years. Some were famous people he’d seen in the News or in entertainment rags or whatever.
The word was that Alyta was taking control of the Earth Mission along with all the agents, while Anja was going to focus on finding and destroying the Arion stealth ships, and search for their secret base. The new plan was to starve the Arions of ships and personnel and ultimately, will. And Anja couldn’t do that if she spent much of her time dealing with administration, tactical and strategic planning.
Nobody was happy with moving Anja aside — except Anja herself. The agents were all loyal to her, and they’d had a relationship with her at one time, generally of the kind that was characterisically Velorian. Beyond that, everyone saw Anja as the only weapon that could kill the normally invulnerable Arions. Her combat role made sense to them — you fought for your independence by killing your enemies, and Anja was very good at killing Arions. She fought with her fists and her lethal eyes and her fantastic strength, and sometimes her sex too when she encountered Primes.
What was clear, however, was that persuasion and social manipulation, not to mention politics, were NOT, in any way, part of Anja’s skill set.
But now Alyta was here and she had been trained to use all those things to neutralize the Arion mission. That should have given her instant credibility, but she looked so young and innocent that it was hard for many of the older agents to take her seriously. Despite Alyta’s beauty, all eyes turned to Anja whenever she walked into the room, and not just because of her bare-breasted style of dress. She was taller and more goddess-like than Alyta, and she always gave off a low-level cloud of pheromones that changed the mood of any room she entered. She radiated physical power of every kind, from brute raw strength to sexual irresistibility. She was every bit an ancient and powerful warrior — a Protector-born. And to many in this room, a Goddess.
Jane and Derek were the most unhappy of all about the change. Anja had always left them in charge of both the Aurora campus and the Intel operation while Anja ran the field agents directly. It felt like a big demotion to Jane and Derek, given they were now reporting to a girl who smiled far too much and was called a Scribe, whatever that was. The idea of a Protector had made perfect sense to them. Not to mention Jane’s special relationship and history that Pete now understood. But working for a Scribe instead? Using the tools of persuasion, seduction and politics. It seemed positively Arion.
This meeting was Alyta’s chance to win them over. She started off slowly with a round of introductions, and then once everyone had been introduced, she sent them into the next room to enjoy a long Continental breakfast. That gave everyone time to walk around and get to know each other better while juggling bagels and cups of espresso. People gathered in ever-changing groups as they talked about their work and speculated about the new organization.
Pete drifted from group to group where he quickly learned that Anja had placed a pair of agents in the capital of each of the major nations. Unlike the Aurora campus, which was staffed by “invisibles”, all legally dead persons like Pete, the field agents were highly visible experts in a number of fields. Attorneys, lobbyists, political activists, government ministers, military officers, media executives, diplomats, movie producers, actors, sports stars and even a couple of supermodels. All influencers with a very high social media presence or significant access to leaders of world governments and corporations, along with the Media and entertainment studios. They’d all been personally recruited by Anja, and they understood the battle they were fighting. It was their job to identify the infiltrating Arions so that Anja could take them out.
Once everyone had walked around and gotten to know each other, Anja and Alyta opened the formal part of the meeting by floating off the floor to hover together in front of the huge hall. Conversations ended as everyone turned to look up at the floating superwomen.
Anja was dressed in a hip-hugging pair of white leather pants along with a similar top that covered her muscular shoulders and arms but bared her mid-riff and chest as usual. Her long, blonde hair floated around her as she rested her hands on her hips, looking uber-confident as usual.
In contrast, Alyta was dressed in a shiny black pants suit that covered all of her, leaving only the pronounced tendons and muscles of her neck bared to signal the power that also filled her body. Pete found himself thinking once again that Alyta was simultaneously one of the fittest women he’d ever seen, and the most dramatically endowed. And with her hair pinned up this way, her face looked closer to her actual age than Pete had seen before.
Floating higher yet, her sinewy feet bared despite her conservative outfit, Alyta began her presentation:
“Too long now we have been focusing only on stopping the Arion infiltrators. But as you all know, the problem of their infiltration and influence hasn’t gone away. No matter how many agents you find, no matter how many Anja takes out, the Arions always send more. By the time we identify an agent and turn them over to Anja’s vengeance, the damage is already done — they’ve already recruited someone else to their cause.”
A lot of heads started nodding.
“We have also assumed that by removing the Arion handlers we end their influence over their recruited Sapiens. But many of those they have corrupted will continue to support the Empire, even when cut off from any direct Arion contact. Even worse, they will eagerly join any Arion who reaches out to them. They are addicted both to their promises and their pheromones. Not to mention the sexual favors the Arions dispense so frequently.”
More nods and a few smiles that went Anja’s way. It wasn’t just the Arion’s who handed out favors.
“You have all done fine work here, but the situation has escalated since the asteroid near strike. The Arions are in an aggressive phase, and we have to change tactics if we expect to win the battle to keep Earth free. You all know that the Arions utilize the DISC psychological principles to seduce and turn willing men to their cause. Yet the Arions have no monopoly on coercion and seduction. Sex with a Velorian is every bit as dramatic as sex with an Arion, more so in my opinion — which is to say, wildly exciting beyond human imagination. Not to mention addictive.”
The room went silent, no one even breathing as they processed that. A number of men were very aware of the truth of her words. Others hoped to become so some day. Others just stared at Alyta, amused by the way Velorians always spoke so openly — and honestly. Such a claim — “exciting beyond human imagination” — would be the worst kind of hubris coming from a Sapien, but Alyta simply accepted that it was objectively true. As did everyone else in the room.
“Despite all our hard work and sacrifice, we are losing this war. The list of leaders and influencers under Arion control continues to grow, while we command the loyalty of only those of you in this room. Erasing Arions when we find them is not enough to save Earth. I am convinced the Arions are about to reveal themselves publicly, and us in turn, so they can publicly blame us for the asteroid, which they will claim to have deflected. Outside of this room, there are few who know the truth, given that we’ve hidden it so well.
“Earth is not like other worlds. It is Manhome for those of us from Velor, and it is the most populated and prosperous of all Terran worlds. It is so valuable that I have decided that we must beat the Arions at their own game. I have therefore used my connections with the Council to arrange for a number of former Companions to come to Earth to recruit as many powerful men and women to our side as quickly as we can.”
The room grew silent. People looked confused. One woman raised her hand. “We know about Protectors, and we’re learning about Scribes. But what is a Companion?”
Alyta looked a bit uncomfortable as she took a deep breath. “They are older Velorians, although they will look young to you given they have lived outside a gold field since their youth. They were once sold into indentured servitude to the wealthiest men on human worlds across the galaxy. Handed down from generation to generation as property, they have protected their patrons and their offspring and families during their contracted ninety-nine years of service. Some for much longer than that.”
Murmurs spread across the room. No one else other than Anja and Jane had heard anything about this before.
“Velor has since ended the Companion Program,” Alyta continued. “It was not a source of pride. Now these former Companions who have served their indentures are free women. Some have chosen to stay with their adopted families, but most have not. Yet they are prohibited from returning to Velor, nor would any of them want to, given they would lose the powers they’ve enjoyed for the last century. As a result, I’ve arranged for a group of them to come here to Earth to join you in the field. You will undoubtably find that their persuasive abilities will exceed even that of the Arions.”
The agents’ confused looks turned to doubt. Anja had always told them that Velorians didn’t behave like Arions, who infamously use their seductive abilities and pheromic-addiction along with an implied threat of violence to control men. Which everyone in the room knew came down to: ‘Work with us and you’ll enjoy the best sex in the universe. Our pheromones will also grant you a longer, healthier life than other men. But turn against us, and you and all your loved ones will die in more pain than you can imagine.’
“You mean, they are going to act like Arions?” one man boldly asked.
“No, like Velorians. Arions prefer the stick, even if they offer the carrot first. But the stick is always close by in case a man loses his taste for carrots. They also have no viable program for recruiting female leaders and executives. The Companions, in sharp contrast, will offer only carrots. They won’t hesitate to kill any Arions they encounter, but they won’t deliberately harm a Sapiens. Ever. That will be their vow when they come here. Anja and I alone are free to dispense judgement on those who betray us.”
That raised more eyebrows. Anja was naturally an enforcer, but Alyta? “So… what happens to us?”
“A Companion will be paired with each of you so that you can teach them the customs and working language of your country, along with briefing them on the government, military and business leaders you are watching. You will find they are very fast learners. You will also establish local identities for the Companions and help them make contact with your targets. Each of the Companions is roughly as capable as I am, which means they can handle all the Arions except Primes.”
Someone raised their hand. “Won’t the Arions fight back? You know, by directing their Primes to take out the Companions? Or us.”
“Yes, they likely will, but that will take time. But I believe the battle for Earth’s future is happening right now, during these months when Earth is trying to get back on its feet after the asteroid. It’s so urgent that I plan to personally make contact with the American President tomorrow. Our Washington team has convinced me that she’s not been turned by the Arions yet, even though many of her Cabinet members have.”
Pete looked at Alyta with new eyes. Now that she’d settled in here at Aurora, she was becoming assertive and increasingly commanding. Yet she still possessed her girlish humor whenever she let her hair back down. Or at least she had.
“I’d also like to introduce the first two of our returning Companions. Laura Nav’tilal served for a century and a half on an English-speaking planet named FarAway, which is appropriate given it’s the furthest planet from the galactic core that anyone has yet populated. Misty Sound’rel, in contrast, served a large multi-generational family on planet Gramol, which is near the boundary between Enlightenment space and the Empire. She is an accomplished warrior who has fought off several Arion incursions on her adopted planet.” She held her arms out to the sides. “Laura and Misty, come on out.”
Everyone’s eyes moved to a pair of tall and slender blondes who appeared through doorways on opposite sides of the room. Their beauty shown like a beacon in the room, easily matching Anja and Alyta.
Laura floated upward to hover beside Alyta, her arms closed in front of her chest as she held the sides of her face with a pensive expressive. A thin braided-gold chain wrapped around her head in unusual fashion, with gold rings and chains around her wrists and hands. A much thicker gold chain encircled her small waist. A hip-hugging miniskirt was the only clothing she wore, yet unlike Anja’s openness, she seemed reluctant to expose her breasts.
In contrast, Misty walked out barefooted to remain standing on the floor. She was dressed in a simple top and skirt that revealed her strong arms and shoulders along with a figure much like Alyta’s. Which is to say she was phenomenally endowed. She rested one arm casually on her blonde head as she scanned the room, her eyes startling blue.
“I’ll be working with Laura and Misty along with the rest of you to find the right fit for each Companion as they arrive,” Alyta continued. “I’m also going to ask Pete to start teaching classes on Earth customs and general Earth knowledge for the arriving Companions.”
Pete was startled when he heard his name called out. Alyta was smiling down at him, but she hadn’t said anything about this new assignment. Most men would be upset by getting blind-sided this way, but he’d learned to switch jobs often and easily while in NASA, and without warning like this.
He tried to look past the surface beauty of each Companion to study their emotions. Laura looked very calm and cool floating in front of the crowd, her century and a half of experience revealed in her laid-back demeanor. In contrast, Misty looked uncomfortable in her new role. He knew he was going to have to work harder with her.
The meeting broke into a number of groups to work on Companion strategy for each area of the world. Plans that varied by local culture. They had a lot to do and no time. Companions would be arriving every day starting tomorrow.
The two Companions floated toward Pete, descending like naughty angels to stand lightly on either side of him. He introduced himself, finding as he did that their handshakes and hugs were gentle and well-practiced given that neither of them was adequately dampened by gold.
They stood closely on either side of him, his arms around their narrow waists and theirs around his as someone took a picture, and then they rose into the air, carrying him with them.
The last anyone saw of Pete Conrad that day was him floating out the door in the arms of the two insanely attractive flying blondes.
End of Part Four