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Gloria

Written by shadar :: [Wednesday, 26 March 2014 01:41] Last updated by :: [Friday, 28 March 2014 08:18]

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Gloria

By Shadar

March, 2014

Chapter One

I tucked myself into the corner of my empty sick bay as the attack started. Out here, right up against the thinnest portion of the ship’s hull, my clinic was in one of the buffer compartments that lined the inner hull, each with an airtight door. The idea was to contain an explosion and hull breach inside these armored compartments. Crewmen would not normally occupy locations in the buffer ring during an attack.

Out there, just beyond the metal hull of my clinic, Terrans were fighting and dying while doing their best to kill us. Homo Sapiens Sapiens was the subspecies of humans who had evolved naturally on Earth.

Today they were our enemy and soon I’d have some casualties to save. My job.

We Arions are, of course, the dominant subspecies, along with our pale cousins the Velorians. Homo Sapiens Supremis. We had not evolved on Earth.

The Terrans called us artificial persons given that we were all genetically engineered. They also considered themselves superior given they were natural beings. Like any Arion, I would argue that intelligent engineering always beat a roll of the dice, but they remained strongly prejudiced against us. My favorite professor at the university had introduced me to a couple of lines written about a fictional AP named Friday by someone named Heinlein of old Earth back in the 20th century. “My mother was a test tube. My father was a knife.” That’s what they thought of us.

We weren’t any more charitable. We called them Frails, and it was telling that the sick bay for Arion casualties was located in the protected core of the Admiral Tsou’ten while those of us who cared for Terrans were stuck out here in the buffer ring. The Empire didn’t care if my clinic was voided from a hit. The only losses would be Terrans.

I was the only valuable person out here, and hard vacuum certainly wasn’t going to hurt me. But this place could be damned uncomfortable during an attack.

Several missiles impacted the hull nearby to send everything attached to the outer wall flying across the room. The shockwave was so loud that I wanted to scream. But the Admiral Tsou’ten was a capital ship and even its thinnest armor was substantial. The pressure gauge on the wall remained steady.

The assault went on for many minutes – the humans were throwing everything they had at us. Powerful explosions continuously shook the hull. They were joined by the tink,tink,tink of expanding metal from laser strikes. Even scarier, I could hear the sputtering eye-frying crackle of particle beams eating away the hull. But strangely, I didn’t hear our defenses firing back.

I understood why a half second later. An unholy blaze of white light penetrated beneath doors and through cable conduits and every other way imaginable to light every compartment, even supposedly airtight ones like my clinic. I ducked my head between my legs as I started counting. If I wasn’t breathing vacuum when I got to five, then the burst was far enough away for our ship to survive.

That kind of light came from an AMAT – and the largest of those were powerful enough to vaporize entire cities and blast small moons into dust. A ship didn’t stand a chance. If we got hit with one, likely the Captain and I would be the last ones to die. Not even a Prime can last forever in space. A lovely thought.

The white light continued, but as those five seconds grew to ten, I knew it had been our weapon detonating in the center of the Terran fleet. Still, a prickly sensation assaulted me from all sides as my body tried to imagine what the Terrans must have felt. Heat beyond nuclear, anti-matter burning far hotter than the core of a sun. What would it be like to simply cease to exist? Would they even know that they’d been uncreated, the very molecules of their bodies torn apart and ionized, their heavier atoms fissioning to add heat to the conflagration? Likely not. Nerve impulses didn’t travel fast enough.

I found it fascinating that after all the long years of human existence, this whole business about what came after death was still such a debate. Every religion or spiritual group had their idea of an afterlife, but few of them agreed with each other. After more than a million years of human development and tens of billions of deaths, there was absolutely no scientific proof that anything came next.

I preferred to believe in nothingness. No pain or suffering. Just non-existence. If one had to die, it should be with courage, honor and most importantly without pain. Death was the one universal experience we all shared. No sense making it harder than it had to be.

Still, I knew that the people who’d just been vaporized were the lucky ones. The real suffering would begin beyond the edge of the fireball. Ships located up to two-hundred kliks out would be melted, their softened hulls bulging outward to eject their terrified crew members into hard vacuum – a fast death except for those wearing enviro-suits. Slow claustrophobic asphyxiation inside a space suit in hard vacuum has to be bad. I’d once heard that hopelessly drifting Terrans would open their helmet seals just to get it over with.

It got even worse further out. Ships up to a thousand kliks would be damaged from the shrapnel flying outward from the central explosion. The fragmented remains of dozens of thousand-ton ships would hit them at more than orbital speed. Some ships might survive even that, the armored ones, only to suffocate slowly in the absolute zero of interstellar space with their environmental systems and engines burned out from the EMP.

It shamed me to know that the absolute worst was waiting for the survivors we picked up. The methods of hostile interrogation hadn’t conceptually changed since the earliest days of human civilization – it still involved horrible pain. If you gave a hopeless man a choice between endless excruciating pain or a quick, painless end, most would spill their guts to earn the later. Death waited for them either way.

But a few always had the courage to resist.

That’s where I came in. It’s my unenviable job to keep prisoners alive long enough to be drained of useful information. I despised every moment of it. I’d been trained as an exo-physician and had sworn to eliminate suffering on the Empire’s many Terran-populated worlds. Instead, I’d been shanghaied onto this warship for the purpose of prolonging suffering.

Not that anyone on this ship cared. Many others had been impressed into duty as well. We were all part of the Arion military now, and like the others, I had my duties.

Duty. I started by reviewing the kinds of injuries I was about to face. Horrible burns mostly, but also partial asphyxiation and pressure sickness, broken or missing limbs and penetration wounds from shrapnel. Terrans were so horribly fragile, and I was the only exo-physician on the ship.

I dashed into the pharmacy to gather up needed supplies, and was just opening a drawer full of glass vials when the hull beside my head rang with a cacophony of pings, clunks, clangs and zings. Glass vials shattered from the shockwaves. I covered my ears only to have that earsplitting treble joined by the bass thuds of softer, denser, wetter objects. Horrified, I realized we were flying through a cloud of bodies. Debris from the shattered Terran warships had reached us way out here.

Unlike the rest of the crew, I couldn’t just turn off my emotions. I can’t laugh and cheer at the Terrans’ demise, all the while cursing the “subhuman mongrels” as the more racist members of the crew referred to them.

Still, I wasn’t beyond feeling a primitive thrill as cheers began rising from all over the ship. My pride soared, buoyed mostly by a sense of relief. We were alive.

“Victory is ours!” the cries rose, thundering through the ship. For a brief moment I wanted to join them. I wanted to let my fear out and give myself up to the celebration. After all, our enemy had embraced revolution. They’d killed many Arions after they turned their back on the Empire and joined with another world to resist annexation. They dared call themselves the Free Caridians.

Free?

They were not. They were our slaves, they would always be our slaves, and by our laws, the rights of Terrans were subordinated in all ways to even the lowest-born Arion.

And I was far from the lowest born.

We’d all been raised to feel this way, but unlike my classmates I’d long ago been seduced by a very liberal professor who had argued that Terrans were simply a less robust version of us. They were our genetic cousins, he said, obsolete physically perhaps, but our minds operated exactly the same.

That was a dangerous thought to espouse these days, but I’d always been a contrarian, a trait that had driven my father to distraction as I grew up. Fortunately, my professors understood, and several of them suggested I apply for a position in the university’s exo-medical program – the best place for a contrarian they said. Some used the words bleeding heart to describe me. It wasn’t a compliment. There the faculty would teach me everything there was to know about the Terran subspecies, and train me to heal most of their injuries and illnesses.

I jumped at the chance, and six years later I graduated.

During my long training in the teaching hospital, I’d been surrounded by Terrans. So much so that I actually learned some of their languages. We had long conversations. To my surprise, they didn’t prove to be stupid or shallow like everyone thought. Some appeared to be just as intelligent as we are, and even honorable in strange ways. I gradually came to believe, like my professor had argued, that they were simply made of flimsier fabric than we Supremis, but otherwise were the same.

A Terran who I befriended at the hospital claimed that it’s the things a man holds in his heart that truly makes him strong. He claimed that compassion and love are special kinds of strength. The strongest ones.

I had trouble with that argument. After all, everyone knew that the weakest Arion had a dozen times the strength of the strongest Terran, and some of us vastly more. But I listened and observed, and over time, I began to see his point. Certainly, indomitable muscles and steel-hard skin made us mighty in obvious ways, but any study of history reveals that advances in civilization have always been made by those with imagination and intellect and no small supply of bravery. Rarely was anything said about physical strength.

I made the mistake of sharing that observation with Captain Sher’ran while lying in his bed, and for the first time since I’d met him, I saw him grow angry. He picked me up by the neck and slammed me helplessly to the wall of his cabin, hard enough to dent the steel, whispering angrily in my ear that I must keep such thoughts to myself. If word got to the Stazi, I would be locked up, even executed for sedition.

Now I was here in this cold, remote compartment of the ship, holding my ears, my head between my legs, trying not to hear the body parts hitting the hull. And that’s when the Comm port on the wall overhead me chimed urgently.

I stood up so fast that my head slammed into the shelf above me, bending the steel frame of my Comm unit. I stepped back to see Captain Sher’ran’s face appearing in fragments across the cracked screen.

“Lieutenant Theon, prepare to treat survivors in shuttle bay three,” he barked. “The Stazin want to interrogate the healthiest ones as usual.”

“Yes, sir,” I sighed softly.

“And whatever you have to do, Glori,” he continued, his voice softening into familiarity, “do us both a favor and pick some men who will talk this time. We need to find the rest of the Caridian fleet before their hunter-killers find us. Intel is certain they have resources hidden elsewhere in this system.”

“And if all the prisoners are too badly injured for interrogation?” I asked.

“Make sure that doesn’t happen. Pump them full of go juice if you have to. I don’t need the Stazi on my ass, damn it. Even less a Caridian battlecruiser.”

“Sir, Yes Sir,” I shouted as I stiffened and saluted the screen. “I’ll keep them alive long enough to be murdered, Sir.” I winced as I heard the sarcasm in my voice. I’d pay for that later, but I didn’t care. I might share the Captain’s bed, at his insistence, but that didn’t mean I had to agree with his every order. I just had to obey them.

I painfully remembered my last prisoner triage in the shuttle bay. A fire-fight had broken out as I was trying to stabilize the casualties. This was going to be dangerous. I needed to power up.

Unlike a Prime, my natural state was lal’en, which means weak or shriveled in Arion. Lal’en was the worst insult you could throw at a true Prime, but they gladly hung it on me. Primes lived on Orgone all the time, but the best I could do was to metabolize it for a few hours each day. But when I was high, I briefly became one of them.

I would need all that power today. The healthiest of the prisoners would still be armed and dangerous, and asking the Marines to disarm them before I arrived would provoke a fire-fight like last time. It was always the most valuable interrogation subjects who would fight to the end, resisting capture. So I’d told the Marines to just gather the prisoners and leave them in the shuttle bay in hard vacuum until I arrived.

I closed my eyes as I pulled my top free of my skirt. Given there was no immediate threat here in my clinic, I was going to have to force myself into Orgone metabolism. Reaching under my top to cup myself, warm softness overflowing my sinewy hands, I slowly dug my fingers into my breasts until they hurt, at which point my body began to protect itself.

It started as a flash of warmth that filled my hands, and moments later the pain of my cruel grip morphed into a flurry of pleasant tingles. That was quickly replaced by a sexy warmth that grew deep inside me as my body quickened. Tickling pinpricks raced outward from my nipples as the flesh in my hands suddenly firmed, all the microscopic muscles in my skin and dermis turning to steel. I released my grip, and a rush of overwhelming strength raced outward to turn every muscle harder than steel now. Raw Orgone power filled me to overflowing, my eyes flashing red long enough to leave two small burnt circles on the supposedly fireproof wall in front of me.

I blinked away my heat vision, only to see the steel bulkhead in front of me shimmer as it turned clear. So did all the other walls in the ship. I found myself looking into hundreds of compartments and staterooms, the entire ship, excepting the dense anti-matter engines, becoming transparent.

I gasped for air as that delicious warmth inside morphed into wetness and then raw desire. My eyelids flickered delightfully and I cried out softly as a tiny orgasm took me. I sagged to my knees as I bit my lip while struggling to keep from falling the rest of the way down that slippery slope. If I gave myself up to ecstasy now, I could be writhing here on the floor for the next hour.

I barely managed to push back the desire, only to have my emotions surge instead, starting with a rush of pride. Everyone else on the ship feared the captain, but I didn’t. He was a true Prime, a man born of steel and by steel. A man who had never known a moment of weakness or indecision in his life, always dominating, always winning, his arrogance unbounded. Yet I’d tamed his mighty power if only for a few minutes at a time. When he went crazy on me, I swore he wasn’t just fucking me, he was fucking the entire ship.

Im sure the rest of the crew would agree with me, given that our ten-thousand ton warship trembled from his thrusts, channeled as they were through my back and into the framework of the ship. And when we finally climaxed together, our wild shaking interrupted all conversations and often knocked people off their feet. One time the engines even went offline.

Needless to say, we had to be in safe waters before indulging in that kind of loving. But proudly, I alone, of everyone on the ship, was his equal during those few moments. And everyone knew it.

Smiling at those sexy memories, I turned to stare into the tall mirror beside me, admiring the shimmering cascade of black hair that fell nearly to my waist, its purple highlights framing my broad face, my blue irises sparkling inhumanly bright. My skin had darkened to that of burnished gold, and was stretched tightly now over long curves of sculpted steel.

From the earliest I can remember, everyone had fussed over me, remarking that I was an extraordinary attractive child. As I reached my teens, everyone said I’d become a rare beauty. I tried not to think of myself that way, but I grew accustomed to conversations stopping whenever I walked into a room. I tried to ignore it all, but unfortunately men’s reactions to me made it hard to be taken seriously.

That was the last of my worries now. All of my recent quickenings had occurred in the Captain’s arms, and my body was responding to those memories as wetly as Pavlov’s dogs. The captain loved to take me while I was still soft, and then slowly increase the power and depth of his thrusts beyond what any Betan could withstand. That would trigger my empowerment, and I’d transform into a woman of steel around him. The pain he was inflicting on me would turn to pleasure and then unbounded ecstasy as my rush of empowerment combined with a powerful orgasm.

I found myself breathing fast as those memories and feelings grew stronger. Damn that bastard and his pheromones. Would I ever be able to power up again without going orgasmic?

I forced myself to think of something else, and the first thing that popped into my head was the off-color story I’d heard this morning. One of the weapons officers had graphically described a Terran man, driven crazy by pheromones, trying to mate with a Primal girl. In his tale, the amused girl displayed a sense of humor, and let him have his way with her until the moment of his climax. Then she cruelly clamped down hard enough to send a surge of blood and semen backward into his body to blow the top of his head off.

The room exploded in laughter.

I was the only one who wasn’t laughing. I stood up and tried to explain how it was technically impossible for the story to be true.

The men waved and shouted for me to sit down. Which pissed me off. But in the end, I did as they asked and said nothing. The Captain had warned me about the sick humor that warriors often share with each other just before battle. Nerves and all. But this joke was beyond silly given a Prime’s steel-hard muscles. There are a few things that are completely impossible between Primes and Terrans, and this was definitely one of them.

Unfortunately, the storyteller had brought a bag of even more disgusting Frail jokes, and he seemed determined to tell them all in front of me. Everyone knows I’m the only person on the ship with a soft spot for Terrans. And then there’s the way I look and the fact that I’m the Captain’s woman. I get hazed a lot for that, but I wasn’t going to be cruel and remind them that my strength was a hundred times theirs, at least when I was empowered. They would have nearly the same problem with me as the poor lad in that joke. But I wasn’t going to rub it in. These were the people I shared a mess with. 

Out of frustration, I asked them whether they’d rather command healthy slaves or sickly ones? Well, of course all would say, healthy.

OK, that’s what I do, I said proudly, all eyes on me now as I met their eyes with my most arrogant, haughty stare. I was better than them, above them.

I quickly learned that its damn hard to intimidate Marines, especially when their thoughts turn to battle. They called me a buzzkill and went back to telling their sick jokes. Being ignored was the worst insult. But I was on their ship, and despite my forcced enlistment, they just saw me as just one more bleeding heart civilian who needed to be toughened up and turned into a proper Marine.

I angrily told them to fuck off, I would never be a damned Marine, but that just made them grin all the more. They knew it was just a matter of time. The Captain would make sure of that, just like he'd made sure everyone knew that he'd seen my picture in a Border Garrison report and suddenly decided he needed an exo-physician on-board. Curse my pretty face. Now I was his woman, and he was a Senior Captain, one step below Admiral. His authority was absolute, and these were all his men.

Per our laws, the Fleet owns the space around every Empire world, while the Senate controls the planets, and the Stazin collect their secrets and do the Senate’s black biddings. Of those groups, I trusted the Senate most, and that’s who I formally protested my forced enlistment. The Captain passed my protest to the Senate as required, but then he called an Admiral who called a Senator and the next day the Stazi stopped by my parent’s home to explain to my mother how patriotic it would be for me to enlist in the military.

The fact that those black-shirt bastards had been standing in my house with my family was threat enough. I signed the papers the next day. Four years wasn’t forever.

I wasn't one to trade on my looks, but if I have to fuck every ground-side Admiral in the Fleet to get one of them to pull rank on the Captain and assign me to his planet, then I will. If I can ever get off this ship long enoughk to meet an Admiral.

Sighing, I pushed my personal worries away. I had a job to do, distastefull as it was. The one thing I was trained to do.

I jammed my already overstuffed medical case with additional supplies and then took a final look around to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. Satisfied, I ran out the door to sprint toward the shuttle bay. My bare legs moved with a liquid, catlike grace, driving me faster and faster until I was little more than blur and a rush of wind in the corridors. I love this feeling more than anything; it almost feels like flying.

The long corridors ended far too soon as I skidded to a stop in front of the massive shuttle airlock door. A quick check of the telltales said the bay was still in vacuum. Good. The Marines were following my standing orders for once – no pressure. An inflated enviro-suit was good for controlling serious bleeding. I needed time to triage the prisoners before bringing them through the lock.

Two young Marines led me into the airlock, fastening their helmets in place as they walked. As Betans, they could live and work for some time in hard vacuum, but it was very uncomfortable for them. I didn’t exactly enjoy it either, but it didn’t bother me enough to wear one of those damned enviro-suits. My red top and white miniskirt were decidedly civilian looking, which was one of my little ways of reminding the crew that I was still a civilian at heart.

The Marines shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as I stared at a spot between their heads. They showed no such restraint as their eyes flicked up and down my body. I’m not normally self-conscious, but it did feel strange to be dressed this casually in front of men clad in armored enviro-suits, with helmets and hoses and wires and weapons belts and CO2 scrubbers and oxygen tanks.

It was probably weird for them too. They knew that my parents had been Betans like them, but thanks to a special in-vitro enhancement, I had been born fundamentally different. Better. Stronger. Faster. Yet I couldn’t let my pride go too far. I was just a kella’prime, which meant “little prime” in Arion. I wasn’t really part of the community of Betans, nor was I truly accepted as part of the Primal tribe. I lived in a gray area between the upper and lower classes of Aria, with both sides trying to exploit me.

Stone-cold reality filled me by now as the vestigial thrills of empowerment and prideful thinking faded away. I was myself again except for the steel muscles. That thought left me feeling lonelier than usual. There was only one man on the ship who was now my equal, and I hated him above all others.

I angrily punched the Purge button on the airlock wall, and the pressure dumped. My body began to give off squeaks, whistles and embarrassing farts as air rushed out of every cavity. My ears popped and my breasts swelled and lifted slightly as my lungs inflated in the hard vacuum. That drew a raised eyebrow from the Marines. I quickly exhaled, and the blast of air slammed them both against the wall.

That brought on the usual moment of panic as my lungs collapsed. Breathing is a hard reflex to ignore, even when unneeded. The panicky feeling of not being able to take a breath made me want to tear the inner door back open. But like always, I just stared wide-eyed into a corner of the airlock as I tried to swallow my panic.

It wasn’t working today. I had to move. To do something to take my mind off my empty lungs. Instead of waiting for the pressure gauge to hit zero, I punched the Outer Door release, and the last of the escaping air blasted all three of us out into the shuttle bay. Tellingly, the clumsily-suited Marines tangled arms and legs to fall all over themselves.

In contrast, I landed like a gymnast, in total control now. I’ve found that when dealing with Terrans, it’s best to arrive unexpectedly and move fast and look confident.

But that’s when I saw the huge pile, seemingly made of human-sized dolls that had been mistreated and then thrown away by some disturbed child. Some had arms and legs pointing in the wrong directions, others had missing limbs, even heads. Gray faces behind misty visors denoted the dead, while the bloodshot eyes of survivors stared back at me, their faces frozen in terror.

I scanned for the strongest and most defiant ones – they were the ones the Stazi wanted – but they were the ones who raised their weapons as I approached. I counted a half dozen projectile guns and two combat lasers. I waited for the Marines in the airlock to rush over and disarm them, but they were standing with their buddies on the far side of the pile, seemingly amused that the Terrans were still armed.

I’d heard the talk in the hallways when they didn’t think I was listening. They all wanted to see how the Captain’s pretty woman would handle a bunch of dangerously armed Frails, given I’d given the orders not disarm them until I arrived. Now they were just going to watch the show. Bastards.

I decided to give them something to talk about as I boldly walked toward the armed Terrans, hoping they would shoot me and not each other. A grizzled NCO granted my wish by opening fire on me, and then the others joined him, the flash of primary ignition and the puff of compensating gas holding the shooter in place. Their hyper-speed projectiles could easily punch through six inches of carbonite armor, but they were no threat to my impenetrable skin and muscle. It was only the rounds that dug deep dimples in my breasts that bothered me, but even those blunted harmlessly away, making my breasts dance.

The Marines were getting their show as a cloud of red confetti surrounded me, the bullets blasting my clothing to bits, first revealing one breast and then the other. Every Frail with a weapon was firing now, including the two with lasers. They were powerful enough to burn through both sides of a scout ship, but the bright spots that ignited across my stomach and chest merely vaporized the oil from my skin, each hit leaving behind a spot of glowing skin. I hadn’t been shot with a laser before, but now I added them to my list of things not to worry about.

Instead, I tried to imagine the terror these Terrans must be feeling. I must look like a teenage girl to their eyes, given we Arions age so much slower than they do. Yet their best weapons were completely useless against my bare skin, something they seemed determined to prove over and over.

To their credit they were still soldiers, and they methodically combined their fire to plug me from head to toe, desperately hoping to find a weak spot. That amused the Marines further, especially when their shots found their way between my legs. I flinched with each of those impacts, trying to ignore the fact that more than one bullet had found its way inside me. I was too busy scanning my new patients now, looking through armor and space suits and clothing and skin. I saw several men that needed help right away. Moving toward them, I leaned into the stream of bullets to pin one of the weapons against the shooter’s chest, my left nipple plugging the hot barrel as I reached around him to grab one of the officers. The Stazi would want him. Unfortunately the idiot with the gun buried in my breast pulled the trigger, and his barrel exploded to take out both himself and the man I was trying to save, perforating both suits. I pushed their outgassing bodies away just in time to see an older man trying to rip the rank insignia from his shoulders. I recognized the four bars of a senior officer. The Stazi would absolutely want him.

Unfortunately, he was in bad shape. His left arm had been ripped off at the shoulder socket, and while his suit had partially sealed itself, he was leaking blood and air. He needed immediate care. I swept my arms outward from my sides to shove a dozen men away to make some room, but one of the shooters jammed his barrel against my temple and fired. Wham! The ricochet from my head made a neat hole in his faceplate and he explosively decompressed, leaving a helmet full of gore. I kicked him away as I grabbed the senior officer’s bad shoulder with both hands and squeezed. I needed to make a pocket to ensure the emergency sealing patch would work. I winced as I felt more bones breaking. His eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out as I quickly slapped the sealing gel over what had been his shoulder.

A quick glance through his suit revealed that his pressure was dangerously low. Low suit pressure always gives men profound erections, a bit of trivia that any spacer knows. I responded by disconnecting the pressure hose from the prisoner next to him and snapped it into the spare input of the officer’s suit, boosting his suit pressure. The other man began to flail as his suit deflated, but I ended his misery by punching through his visor with my outstretched index finger, burying it to the root in his frontal cortex, directly between his eyes. My practiced blow sent bone fragments slicing all the way through to his brainstem. He’d never know he’d died.

The procedure was called ‘mort’el’, and it had been the hardest surgical technique for me to learn back at med school. Not that it was complicated in itself, but I had to prove I had mastered it by demonstrating it on live subjects. I’m not proud of that day, taking my first Terran lives, but they had at lest been terminally ill patients.

Now I was at war and killing was everywhere.

I carried the officer and his dead air donor over to the lock, and then moved on to stabilize the next most critical victim, and then the next. I was deep inside the pile when someone jammed his laser between my legs and tried to fire it, hoping against hope that was my weak spot. I instinctively closed my steely thighs to squeeze the bulky laser, hoping to crush his hand before he could complete pulling the trigger. Instead, the weapon’s self-destruct triggered a brilliant starburst that blasted my legs apart and threw me up against the ceiling. It hurt, but it wasn't enough heat to truly injure me. There are few things that can. Still, the shocking glow radiating from between my legs was embarrassing.

Beneath me, the bastard holding the laser had gotten what he deserved. The middle of his body was missing along with vital portions of four other prisoners. Five deaths I wasn’t responsible for.

The Terrans stared wide-eyed at the glow as I dug through the rest of the pile, selecting men I could save and tossing them toward the airlock. One of the Terrans fired at a wounded officer that I was rescuing, taking his head clean off. I spun around angrily and did a mort’el on him. They were obviously going to shoot their own to prevent interrogation, so I had to quickly cull the remaining shooters and anyone who couldn’t be saved.

There were so many of them.

I left the female prisoners for last. Thankfully they were all low-ranking and not a likely source of info about fleet battle tactics. I had to mop up once after the Stazi interrogated some women, and I wasn’t going to do it again. They used rape as part of their torture, and given their power and size, these women would die horribly, ripped open like gutted trout. That was not going to happen again on my watch.

I walked up to the doomed women and performed the mort’el fast enough that the first woman’s body was still tumbling backward when the last was done. They never felt a thing. The Marines were going to dump the dead back into space when I was done, so the best I could do in here was to make sure that no one suffered longer than necessary.

I tried not to count how many I put down, but I did anyway. Twenty-seven who were beyond hope, and then thirty more with minor to moderate injuries.

Instead of lamenting the dead, I now focused on healing the men in the air lock. There wasn’t much left of my clothing when I arrived back at the airlock. That drew more smiles from the Marines. I angrily told them to get the hell out of the lock. I was going to cycle through with my patients. Before they could argue, I kicked two of them hard enough to send them flying as I hit the Outer Close button. Those bastards hadn’t helped me so far, and now they wanted to look good in front of their sergeant by returning with these prisoners? Not going to happen.

The door closed and that’s when the real reason I hadn’t wanted any Marines in the lock caught up with me. I leaned over and vomited, which was harder than it might sound given that air was now rushing back into my body as the pressure rose. But my heaving stomach wasn’t going to be denied. Gasping both air and vomitus, I struggled to inflate my lungs and breathe again, coughing viciously to clear them of the chunks I’d just inhaled. The end-of-cycle bell chimed all too soon, and I hurriedly wiped my mouth with the back of my hand as I straightened up and marched through the inner door, trying to project the uber-confident arrogance of a Prime.

A group of MedTechs from Central rushed in to haul the Terrans away. Behind them was a row of Marines and a couple of sergeants. Turning back to face the now empty airlock, I opened my eyes wide to blast the interior with enough heat to ignite the vomitus. That flaming mass of awfulness filled the lock with black smoke and a godawful stench. I hit the Recycle button and slammed the door, ensuring that most of the fetid air in the lock would be collected during the out-cycle and then blasted back in to pressurize the lock on the next in-cycle. The bastards who came through next were going to have a surprise when they unsealed their helmets and took their first breath.

Maybe they’ll be more helpful next time.

 

Chapter Two

My first order of business was the one-armed officer. He’d started hemorrhaging as soon as his suit deflated. I got a line in and started pushing some synthetic Terran blood while I cut away the rest of his suit. I’d planned to tie off the torn arteries from his shoulder socket, but he was such a mess that I didn’t have time for niceties. I resorted to cauterizing the entire area with my heat vision. He screamed horribly before mercifully passing out. The Stazi wouldn’t like it, but I gave him a pain med to take the edge off his agony when he awoke, and then went to work on the rest of the survivors.

The MedTechs had stripped the prisoner’s suits off and clamped restraints on them as I’d ordered. It was for their own good. The guards in the corridor would return any escapees, but not gently. I’d have more broken or missing limbs to fix if anyone made it out the door.

Finished, the MedTechs left, leaving the prisoner’s terrified eyes to follow me around the room as they jerked helplessly on their restraints, all of them very aware that I was both nude and Primal. Several of them pleaded for me to put them out their misery. They knew what was coming.

I ignored their pleas as I focused on their wounds. Keeping them alive for the Stazi was my one and only task now.

I was nearly finished treating the last of them when I heard a deep voice from behind me. “Why do you bother helping them? You know they’re going to be killed soon enough.”

I paused as my shoulders sagged slightly. I never feel physically tired when empowered, but strength of muscle was no protection against the growing emotional toll. The officer was the one person I didn’t want to talk to.

I answered him without looking back. “They’re needed for questioning. Interrogation.”

“Is that what you call it so you can sleep at night? We both know that your black-shirts will literally rip these men apart, bit by bit. They will all die screaming, barely looking like humans at the end, yet these men will tell your Stazi nothing they don’t already know. They have no such knowledge.”

I closed my eyes for a brief moment, not wanting to hear or see him. He wasn’t my responsibility, damn it. None of them were. I was trapped here on this ship just like them. A victim. Until I finished out my time, I couldn’t travel to a place where I could do some real good. I had to just steel my heart and get it over with.

“We need to know where the rest of your fleet is,” I said as coldly as I could manage.

“So you can kill the rest of us?”

“I don’t decide such things,” I shrugged, hating the sound of my own rationalizing. Command would order the death of anyone connected with the rebellion. Everyone knew that.

“Of course you don’t. But you have incredible power based on what I saw in the shuttle bay, yet you are not truly Primal, are you? Not that it matters. What is important is that you are a physician, and that you alone can save these men from the horror that awaits them.”

He paused to cough deeply. Glancing back, I saw bright blood appear across the back of his hand. I’d obviously missed a perforation in his lung.

“These young men don’t know anything about battle plans or contingencies or counter-attacks,” he reiterated, coughing more. “I’m the only one who knows anything useful to your Stazi.”

I turned around to look boldly into his defiant eyes. I found the look of truth in them. “So, what makes you so damned important?”

“I was the surgeon on one of warships you destroyed. The Vernon Davis. I’m the only one here who knows the rally points and the disposition of our remaining warships.” He paused to cough, covering his mouth. There were thicker flecks of blood on his hand now. Something was letting go.

I stepped toward him. “You need to lie down and …”

“No, damn it,” he gasped, jerking his arm from my grip with surprising strength. “I don’t have much time, but I can offer you a deal.”

My eyes narrowed. “A deal? You can’t make a deal with an empty hand.”

“I have information that I will trade if you end their suffering.” He waved toward the men.

“What kind of information?” I dared ask. I knew I should get the Stazi in here, right now. I wasn’t trained to interrogate anyone and I certainly wasn’t authorized to make deals. I reached for the Comm button.

“Please, don’t make that call,” the officer said urgently, his voice rising. “There is no reason for these men to suffer further. Your Stazi will torture them regardless of what I tell them. End them now, just as I saw you doing in the shuttle bay. Painlessly and quick. Then you can make that call and I will tell them everything. Otherwise … six men will die screaming instead of one. And you will know no more for it.”

My heart leaped as I grasped at the chance. One versus six. But could I trust him? Was he just playing me? Trying to silence men who could give away secrets? I turned back to look at the men, my eyes flicking from one terrified face to the next. They all looked so young. Surely the Terrans wouldn’t share the secrets of their planetary defense system with men so young.

The older officer smiled slightly as he watched my face.

“I can see it in your eyes. You and I are not so different, Lieutenant Theon. We have both taken vows to eliminate suffering.”

I was startled that he knew who or what I was. He must have read the plaques on the wall. Yet Arion was a black language as far as most Terrans were concerned.

“Once you push that button,” he continued, speaking urgently, “you will lose any chance to show compassion.”

Despite his wounds and the grievous pain he’d suffered and the weariness of defeat in his sunken eyes, I saw simple honesty and compassion in his face. He truly cared for these men.

I lifted my finger from the unpressed button. “OK. You have one minute to convince me.” A shiver ran through me as I realized what I was doing.

The officer dropped his head tiredly back onto the gurney, pain clouding his eyes. “No, I won’t say more until you end their suffering.”

I turned to see the other men staring at me with horror in their eyes as they listened to him bargaining for their immediate death.

“We are all dead men in any case,” he said, raising his voice so the men could hear him over the hiss of the air vents. “The only thing left is how we die.” He turned to stare into my eyes. “And that choice is yours, Lieutenant.” He lifted his hand to weakly rest it on my arm. “I beg you, be merciful.”

To their credit, all his men laid back down and stared up at the ceiling. They were obviously scared of death, who wouldn’t be at the final moment, but they had accepted their fate. They were all brave men. As brave as any Arion.

I was now the most terrified person in the room. If I did this, then the information he gave me would have to be worth it. Even then, would the Stazi accept that I got information from the officer that they could not? That I’d traded the other prisoners in a deal I had no authority to make? My career, my very life, hung in the balance. Who was this man who tempted me so?

“What is your name?”

“Commander …” he started coughing. “John. John Lennon.”

“John Lennon? A famous name from your Terran history,” I said, left eyebrow lifting as I put my near photographic memory to work. “A man of peace, I think. And a song writer with others. They were named some kind of bug.”

Despite his pain, the officer smiled. “A bug indeed.” He shook his head slowly. “If only we had met under better circumstances, Lieutenant. To talk to an Arion who knows such trivia about Terran history? How impossibly wonderful that would be.”

Despite myself, I found myself wishing the same thing. “Terrans have greatly interested me since I was a child.”

“That makes you a very rare Arion. Every other one I’ve met has seen us only as slaves. As something less than fully human. Worth shouting orders to but not talking to.”

“You are wrong, Commander. We accept that you are fully human. We, however, are something more. From the beginning of civilization, the strong have always ruled the weak.”

I’d heard this said a thousand times. But did I really believe it?

“You do surpass us in some ways, Lieutenant, especially given what I saw you doing back in the shuttle bay. Everyone was trying to kill you, but you just stood there in zero pressure, caring not what weapon fired on you.”

I felt my pride burgeoning again, and struggled to contain it. What could I saw to that.

“But while you may have perfected your body, Lieutenant, what truly matters is what’s in your heart. If you truly know about my namesake, then you’d know that some of us believe fervently in peace.”

“You sound just like a Velorian,” I said disgustedly.

“Perhaps. All I know is that if there is still room in your heart for compassion, Lieutenant, then you are still human. Otherwise, you have truly achieved your Empire’s stated goal, and you have become something other than human. Something worse.”

I just stared at him, not knowing what to say to that. He was about to die horribly during torture, and here he was, talking calmly about philosophy and peace and compassion. How could anyone be so accepting of his coming death and still be so brave? So disciplined?

Every Arion I’d seen die had resisted his death with every erg of energy and determination they possessed, never with acceptance, least of all grace. Early Supremis death was an obscenity. But then, we lived a dozen Terran lifetimes. Life was more precious for us.

“I don’t understand how a man can think as you do,” I said, trying to sound respectful. “Brave but accepting. Intelligent and thoughtful, peace-loving but also warriors? How do you make such men?”

“We make ourselves, Lieutenant. Free will is essential to our psyche, and through that freedom we fulfill themselves. That is what sets our souls free. Otherwise, even the mightiest being is just another biological cog in the Empire’s machinery. No more important than some box of electronics or engine bolted to the hull.”

I stared unblinking into his eyes. Those words had long been in my heart of hearts, but I had never dared speak them. The concept of free will. Self-determination. Peace. Concepts the Velorians promoted and protected. My teachers had always claimed that freedom inevitably led to chaos and weakness. Humanity had to be kept strictly in line and focused in order to survive. It was our obligation as Arions to ensure that.

“Do you Caridians all think like this?” I asked incredulously, my mouth dry. “I’ve talked with Terrans before, and they never …”

He waved his hand. “Slaves? Subjects? Fodder for your wars and expendable labor for your factories? You have not met a free Terran before today. Now you have six before you.”

My heart soared. Could it be true? Did I dare hope?

I could not.

“You know nothing of being Arion,” I declared. “We are bound to a cause to save all humanity. Only through united strength can humanity remain free of alien domination.”

“What aliens?” he laughed, coughing on his own blood. “The Sclantrans? Hardly dangerous except to your bank account. The Vendorians? You scattered them across the galaxy after killing most of them. What alien race inspires you to such fear?”

“They are out there. They will find us eventually.” I’d heard this said uncounted times, but it sounded tinny and fake when I said it.

“No, Lieutenant. Your people are the only threat to peace in this arm of the galaxy. Aria is the true danger to humanity, not some imagined aliens.”

I closed my eyes again. This was sacrilege. I didn’t have to listen to him. One push of the Call button and he would no longer be my problem, and I would be a day closer to the end of my enlistment.

Yet part of me knew with utter certainty that everything he said was true. That realization froze me with fear.

“You can still free yourself, Lieutenant,” he continued as he saw the confusion on my face, “and I will make a difference in my death. I can tell you where to find the last of our ships. Not warships, for they were all destroyed. That was the reason we gathered our fleet together. To make a target you could not resist hitting. To buy time for the others. Our colony ships, filled with everyone from our cities, are fleeing your Empire.”

“Why are you telling me this? One word to the Stazi and they will all die.”

“I tell you so you can join them, Lieutenant. So you can heal them and protect them along their way. If you truly care for Terrans as you say, you can help save thousands of us. They need you. I was supposed to join them as their physician, and now they have no one else to heal them.”

My jaw fell as I stared at him. He’d just given me the knowledge to complete our mission here and end the rebellion. But instead, he was asking me to defect? To join the rebels? To help them escape? A death sentence awaited me for even thinking this. The annihilation chamber. Slow and horrible for someone with my genetics.

“But to save them, you must sacrifice us,” he gasped urgently, more blood on his lips every moment. “If the Stazi breaks even one of us, and they will, they will learn of the colony ships. Your Captain will hunt them down and kill them all.”

I just stood there, mouth opening and closing silently, my brain racing in two directions. One direction was wonderful, full of excitement and promise. Escape from this prison of a ship. To heal people instead of killing them. No more tortures to assist. No more Primal boots to lick. Freedom.

The other direction took me toward safety, for myself and my family. I should just do my duty. Do as commanded and wait for my enlistment to end. Then take up a medical residency in a far-flung colony, healing the Terrans. Most of my life would still be ahead of me. I could do great good in that time.

If I ever got off this ship. The Captain would fight to prevent it as long as he was in command, and that could literally be a century.

Torn between two extremes, my hand went back and forth to the Call button, never pressing it. My mind filled with horrific images from my last torture session. How I stopped the bleeding without stopping the pain. How many more of those horror shows would I have to attend, struggling through the blood and torn flesh to keep the Stazi’s shattered and torn victims alive just a little longer. A hundred? Even more?

No. I couldn’t bear even one more. A wave of dizziness washed over me as something snapped inside. To my shock, I realized I’d just made a momentous decision. One I could not bring myself to consciously say or even think, leaving it to my subconscious. Yet for the first time since I’d come onto this ship, I felt totally alive.

“Trust your feelings,” my mother had always said. “When all else fails, they are your one true beacon.” She had been a radical in her own small way.

I knew what I had to do.

I spun around without saying another word, moving quickly down the row of gurneys, administering the coup de grâce so fast that the men didn’t see me coming. I spun around at the end to see the officer’s eyes bulging from his head, his mouth open in shock as he looked down at the peaceful faces of his five men, all now dead, a bleeding hole in their foreheads. Despite his pleading, he hadn’t been emotionally prepared for me to act so quickly.

“I would take you with me if I could,” I said as I walked over to stand before him. “But our scout engines burn at 20 G’s or more. You’d never survive the acceleration, even when healthy and in a G-suit. And you need immediate surgery on your lung if you are to survive.”

He nodded slowly, his smile beautiful, almost angelic. “Then this last moment of my life might well be my best. If you truly join my people, if you protect them and help get them to a new home, then I could have done no more in this life.”

“Nothing is for sure,” I said nervously, my mind racing, trying to work out how to get off the ship. “The Stazi are due here any moment, and the scout ship dock is on the other side of the ship. High security there. I might not make it off this ship, let alone escape my pursuit to do as you ask.”

He continued to smile. “What is your first name, Lieutenant?”

“Glori’al.”

“I would suggest you go by Gloria when you find my people. Tell them John Lennon sent you, and they will trust you if you repeat my personal passcode: Give Peace a Chance.”

He pulled a pin from his chest that was shaped like two entwined snakes. The symbol for a physician. “The location and vectors of our colony ships are stored in this Memclip, under that same passcode.”

I glanced around nervously. Time was running out. “Is that it?”

“Simple plans are the best. Now finish me before they arrive.”

I took a deep breath. I didn’t want to kill him, but what choice did I have? If they interrogated him, the hopes of an entire world would collapse. “Close your eyes.”

“No, I want to look into the face of beauty as I die. My life has made a difference, Gloria. My last wish is that yours will make even more.”

I swallowed hard, allowing myself to think only of the suffering I could yet prevent. I closed my eyes as I punched my finger forward, his skull giving off the same horrible wet thunking sound, bone fragments blasting inward to destroy all that he was in a mere fraction of a second.

A wave of sickness filled me until I removed my hand and opened my eyes.

He was smiling even into death.

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