Written by shadar :: [Sunday, 11 October 2015 08:34] Last updated by :: [Wednesday, 18 November 2015 10:59]
I turned to study the tree line, looking for the predators she’d mentioned, but didn’t see anything in the growing shadows. Clearly her eyes were a lot better than mine.
“Hold onto me,” she said, speaking urgently now. “Quickly!”
I hesitated, knowing how painful a Sulpter field is to touch, only to have a chorus of snarling growls and howls break out behind me. Turning, I saw a pack of salivating wolf-like creatures burst onto the beach to run directly at us. They looked for all the world like a wolf had mated with a lizard, what with long forked tongues lolling out of mouths that were filled with a double row of long teeth, glistening and sharp.
They were so fast that they were on us before I could react. The lead wolf lunged for me, all teeth and claws.
Danya wrapped her arm tightly around my waist as she spun me around to shield me with her body. Then there were on us, coming from all directions. My shield screamed as several other wolves tried to bite me, the animals screaming in pain as they touched the energy field. Others leaped over them, only to begin falling away. We were flying, climbing, but not fast enough. The lead wolf leapt high into the air to grab the sole of my metal boot, teeth sinking into the special metal fabric that contained the shield so I would walk. It hung on as we rose, thrashing around so violently that I thought it was going to rip my leg off at the hip.
“Its got me!” I screamed.
Danya bent down to grab the huge wolf by the scruff of its neck and jerked it free of my boot, leaving a number of teeth behind. She held the slavering beast at arm’s length as it continued to lunge for me, its jaws snapping viciously only inches in front of my face. I raised my arm, only to have it yelp like a hurt dog as it clamped down on my shielded forearm, teeth buzzing.
“Don’t hurt it!” she said urgently.
“Don’t hurt it?” I screamed back. “Are you fucking crazy. This thing is trying to eat me!”
She pulled the wolf off me and tossed it safely a hundred yards out into the water. It spluttered and swam for shore as she flew us back across the pack to land on the top of a steep rock outcrop. I struggled to balance on the narrow pillar, eyes wide as I stared down at the long fall in all directions. Sulpters don’t have anti-grav capability. Below me, the wolves were lunging upward as they gathered around the pillar, knowing I had to come down eventually.
“Stay right there while I talk to them,” she said.
I clung to the top of the pillar as she floated down toward the beach, looking so graceful as she walked on air. Somehow she looked more natural flying than she did walking.
“Talk …?” I gasped to myself as the pack continued to leap wildly against the base of the rock pillar, spittle and foam lathering the rock. Fights broke out between some of them, blood splattering as they tore into each other. Several started running around beneath Danya, leaping up as they tried to bite her.
She finally dropped to land hard in the middle of the pack, sand flying to draw all attention. They attacked her as one, delivering fierce bites from all sides and from head to toe. Several wolves grabbed her hair with their teeth to pull it in different directions, while others viciously gnashed at her arms and legs, several pulling them apart, jerking violently as they tried to rip her apart. Others tore at her center. Bits of her white gown filled the air. The largest wolf savaged her throat with its long double-rowed fangs, violently tearing and slashing and then shaking her entire body as it delivered massive bites.
The violence of the attack was terrifying, with the frustrated wolves going crazy on each other as well. Several wolves were torn apart to spread blood and guts across the beach.
That’s when the larger of the wolves drew back. He began barking to the others, and gradually they stopped biting Danya, and then each other. Instead, they paced hungrily around her, yellow slitted eyes glowing as they growled in their frustration.
Danya rose a few feet into the air, and extended her arms while beginning to speak to them in a calm, low voice. I couldn’t make out the words, but the wolves calmed further. Soon they were all sitting in a wide circle around her, heads tilting curiously left and right as they listened, mesmerized, seemingly understanding her words, looking for all the world like pet dogs. The sudden transformation from slavering, ravenous wolves was astounding. She knelt down to embrace the largest one – clearly the pack leader. His tail began to thump happily. She walked through the pack, gently stroking shoulders as she spoke calmly to each and every wolf. They began to follow her, walking at her heels. Smiling, she bowed low to let them lick her face, and then pushed off with her toes to float back up toward me.
“Wha … what the hell was all that?” I asked in wonder as she approached. “Wolf whispering?”
She shrugged, the ribbons of her torn gown hanging from her. “Like most predators, these are very intelligent, plus they have a keen understanding of power and dominance. Once they realized I wasn’t food and that they couldn’t hurt me, they were ready to listen.”
“Listen? You speak liz-wolf?”
“Not exactly. But they can read body language and they can sense emotions. I spoke words of calmness and peace and they understood at least that much.”
“You learned all this from growing up with the raptors?”
“My mother claims I’ve always had a gift with animals, right from the start.”
“Look at them. They’re all looking adoringly up at you. All cute and fuzzy.”
She laughed. “Trust me, they’re still extremely dangerous. I might have convinced them that I’m not on the menu, but you definitely still are.”
I looked down at the closest wolves, and their adoring looks were suddenly replaced by narrowed eyes and growling, giving me toothy grins that were anything but friendly.
“Mother claims that everyone is looking for a kind of power outside themselves that gives their lives meaning,” she continued. “Faith or belief in something greater. It’s not just humans that think that way. Raptors too. All predators.”
I wasn’t sure I liked being put in the same category as wolves and raptors, or talking about faith or belief. Or that she seemed to regard herself as some kind of goddess. I’ve always believed we invented our gods, looking outside ourselves for enlightenment and understanding. It’s one of the things that drew men into space long after the Seeders had finished their work. And the closest thing to gods we’ve found yet are the Galen — not the least for their having created angels like Danya.
I pushed that last thought away as Danya floated weightlessly in front of me. This was serious business, not some goddess fantasy. Yet it was common knowledge that Danya’s ancestors had been considered gods back on Old Earth. A number of pagan religions had worshipped a handful of them about three millennia ago. Of course, today we know the Supremis are just a genetically engineered subspecies of human. But I think this god thing is still buried deep in our genes.
I was lost in such thoughts as she wrapped her strong arm around my shield to hug me to her, my shield sizzling and sparking against her skin as she carried me up and away. The simple joy of flight thrilled me as we floated weightlessly across the water, climbing higher into the darkening sky to catch the last rays of the sun. Below us, the wolves faded to shadows as they bayed to Danya, calling her back.
For the first time, I truly understood why primitive humans had called the Supremis angels.
“Look at that,” she cried, extending her free arm as she swept it around us. “How absolutely beautiful this planet is. The many colors of the water. Those perfect islands. All those fish. We had none of this back home. Just endless jungle with a few mountains poking out.”
The view from this height was astounding. I could see the various depths of water from the beach all the way out to the barrier reef. Beyond that, a series of offshore islands sat like jewels on an azure sea. Twisting my head around the other way, I saw the darkening jungle spreading out unbroken to the horizon. Misty clouds formed in the distance as the final purplish colors of sunset faded.
She sighed. “Too bad this place is so dangerous.”
She meant for normal people. Like me.
I should have felt emasculated and weak as she carried me, but instead I felt proud and confident. She’d come here for me. We’d once shared that horrible moment with the raptors, each of us trying to save the other. Now we were going to work together in new ways. We had an unbreakable bond.
I tried to rein those thoughts in. Any partnership between a Terran and a Supremis could only go so far. More than that, she was an innocent with many thousands of times my strength. What would she know about men and our weaknesses given her isolated upbringing?
I knew I should be afraid of her, or at least of becoming addicted to her in the ways that are possible with their pheromones, but I wasn’t. My mother’s favorite bit of advice came to mind instead: ‘Focus on making the best of each moment, whether happy or sad, angry or hurt, dangerous or fun, because every moment that passes is lost forever.’
Hanging in mid-air on a desolate and dangerous planet, hugging a naked super girl while wolf lizards ran along the beach beneath us lusting for my blood as they worshipped the girl who held me – this moment definitely qualified as memorable.
We were still hanging there ten minutes later, lost in the gorgeous view. “Prettiest beach ever,” Danya finally sighed softly in my ear.
I nodded enthusiastically. “Even before you arrived.”
She smiled but said nothing further as she climbed so high into the sky that the sound of waves and the baying wolves grew faint. They were still baying, sad to see her leave.
The hill-sized boulder that contained the hotel and bar grew larger as we approached. Behind it, hidden safely, was the glow of the main dome, nearly a mile across, with dark jungle crowding it from all sides, seemingly trying to swallow it whole.
“How about we get inside,” I pointed, the loud buzz of my suit worrying me. “My power pack is draining rapidly. I think you’re sucking up all the power.”
She answered by gripping me tightly enough to empty my lungs — something that shouldn’t have been possible with a Sulpter — and accelerated toward the dome, moving so fast that everything blurred around me. The G forces were brutal, but my shield solidified to keep the slipstream away from me.
We were a thousand feet from the South Portal when two blindingly bright red beams caught us, my shield repulsing the beams with a violent flash of light.
“Auto-protect system,” I screamed. “It’s classified us as hostile and is dialing us in for the knock-down shot.”
Danya jiggled violently to the right as a much brighter beam sizzled through the space we’d just occupied. The auto-defense bot adjusted its aim, and the next round caught her in the face, the blazing heat singing me despite my Sulpter. Her hair billowed around her as her head briefly glowed white-hot.
“That system has a designed-in deadband,” I shouted. “Drop vertically at half the local free-fall velocity directly over the entrance and it won’t target us.”
Auto-defense systems had once been a specialty of mine, and every predator control system has the same back door so the good guys in flitters could get in, even after a system had switched into full defensive mode.
Danya flew quickly to a spot over the doorway, and we fell. I clung to her frantically as I saw the tops of the massive trees go by, the ground rushing up. Half of free-fall was pretty fast in this heavy gravity, assuming she was even calculating it right. My stomach lurched and bile rose into my mouth as I also wondered if she understood how fragile my flesh and bones were. Thankfully, she braked us gracefully to a stop at the last possible moment, and my feet hit the ground no harder than if we’d jumped off a chair.
“You … you’ve done that before,” I gasped, swallowing the sour bile that had risen into my throat. “Flying with someone, I mean.”
“Only with raptors. Have I told you how much they love to fly? They so envy the birds.”
My stomach gurgled dangerously. “I need to just stand for a moment.”
I stood, leaning forward to rest my hands on my knees until I was sure I wasn’t going to vomit. Meanwhile, Danya walked over to the entry airlock.
“Wait a minute, Danya. You need to know that they use a non-standard sanitizer here. Military disruptors, obsolete for front line use but still far more powerful than the usual airlock sanitizer. Mark 17’s with spread muzzles.”
I pointed toward the rings of quartzite rods that were aligned along the back wall of the open airlock.
“What’s a Mark 17?” she asked.
“It used to be our mainstream disruptor weapon. It basically vibrates matter at the atomic level until the molecules disintegrate into their constituent atoms.”
All part of my old sales pitch.
She ignored my warning as she walked inside the lock to poke her finger into the quartzite ring, muttering: “All this weaponry just for some parasites?”
“And thank goodness. You’ll understand why when you meet the locals.”
She smiled softly as she turned back to face me. “Getting blasted will be good for me. I haven’t had time to clean up since I left home. Who knows what kind of radioactive particles I’ve picked up along the way. Not to mention a lot of wolf saliva.”
I stared at her in disbelief. Clearly she had no idea how lethal a Mark 17 disruptor was. “You don’t understand, Danya. I was instructed to set my shield generator on OverMax before I enter. Otherwise the beams are going penetrate the Sulpter field. Which was designed to stop disruptors.”
“Then you should certainly do that now.”
She truly didn’t understand. “You do know that a Mark 17 will vaporize any form of unshielded matter? Given enough time, even diamonds come apart.”
She shrugged again as she motioned for me to follow her into the lock. She wasn’t getting it.
“Danya, we’re talking a full-bore weapons-grade disruptor.”
Now I began to worry about her inexperience. She hadn’t even known what a Mark 17 was until just now, but she wasn’t afraid of it? How could she be so confident? Was this youthful bravado talking?
Disruptors have terrified me since I was fourteen. A friend showed me a slow motion holo-vid about an execution. A naked man had been locked in a chamber much like this one when it fired, and the disruptor had surrounded him with a sparkling bubble of energy. He’d started screaming in mortal pain as the bubble shrank inward, his hair disappearing, then his skin slowly vaporized away, blood streaming from every square inch of his body to be vaporized in mid-air. His screams rose to an inhuman screech as his body began to come apart. Fat layers, muscles, tendons and finally ligaments, his body seemingly evaporating before my eyes as the disruptor field continued contracting. His screams mercifully ended when his lungs and other organs vaporized, briefly letting me see right through his chest at his beating heart for a long second before it exploded into pink mist. Cartilage gone, his now disconnected bones clattered to the floor where they steamed and finally burst open before disappearing as well, leaving behind a thick haze of atomic steam.
It had all happened in a couple of seconds real time, but ten times that in slow motion.
I vomited all over his floor, disgusted and horrified. That was the most inhumanly violent thing I could imagine. How could anyone call that justice? It was deliberate, state-sponsored murder.
That horrible memory still haunted me as she placed her finger on the Cycle Lock button. “Do you want me to go ahead? Or come through with me?”
My thoughts raced. The wolves hadn’t hurt her, and everyone has heard tales about Supremis invulnerability. Maybe she really was tough enough. I just couldn’t get past the sense of youthful innocence she projected. But how could I stop her?
Any thought of doing that ended when she closed the outer door behind us with a BOOM. It might as well be the sound of doom. My legs began to shake as she spun the locking wheel.
“You have been shot with one of these before, right?” I asked a final time.
“No worries,” she smiled me while poking her finger against the upper curve of her breast, dimpling it. “Me. Unhurtable. Lots of Orgone.”
I felt like I’d strayed into a forbidden dream. I was still staring at her finger in that deep dimple on her breast when she reached up to punch the Cycle button. Harsh reality slapped me with a vengeance as a loud buzzing made my whole body vibrate. Waves of shimmering red light washed over us. Despite my shield set on OverMax, a million pinpricks stabbed me, the sensation familiar to anyone who has hit their elbow the wrong way. My entire body ached and burned as every part of me went painfully numb. I had to lean against the wall to remain standing on numb legs.
Danya merely seemed amused, lifting her hands to examine the glow surrounding them, her face reflecting a sense of childish amusement. Her hair billowed above her, full of bright sparkles, and she smiled down at the blue-green glow which enveloped her breasts. She reached up to hold herself, eyes closing, a dreamy look on her face. She was drinking in the energy.
The buzzing began to ramp up and down in frequency several times, narrowing in on one frequency when Danya suddenly cried out, her eyes opening wide as she clasped her hands between her thighs and bent forward. The buzzing grew far even more intense now. Danya looked up at me through clouds of swirling gold, surprise clear in her eyes. Her legs began to shake, and then she collapsed to the floor, eyes rolling up in her head. She was rocking back and forth, gasping for air, curled into a fetal position and seemingly in great pain as smoke began to stream from her body, that pure bubble of destruction enveloping her.
I stared in horror as I remembered that execution video. It was all happening again!
I tried to reach the Emergency Stop button, but my arms were asleep. My head flopped forward, my chin hitting my chest as I looked down to see her hair sparkling brightly around her, looking shiny and healthy beyond reason. All traces of her sheer outfit had vanished, leaving her golden skin shiny and fresh. She wasn’t evaporating.
I sighed in relief. That smoke had merely come from her clothing and the contaminants and oils on her skin.
She was in a different kind of distress as the Mark 17’s continued firing, their barrels swiveling to concentrate their fire on her body, slowly pushing her backward. She flopped on her back on the floor, eyes closed, legs clamped together as she slowly she bent backwards, her pelvis rising until only the back of her head and her heels were touching the floor. A grid of phenomenally defined abdominal muscles stood out in stark relief as she bent completely in half the wrong way. Pausing at the apex of her stretch, she began to shake and cry out, her voice rising.
And then the lights went out and the beams vanished, leaving us in total darkness. The only sound was the whine of the disruptor’s capacitor banks recharging, and Danya on the floor, gasping for air.
The emergency lights flickered on a few seconds later. Danya was crumpled against the far wall, a crooked smile on her face as she stared cross-eyed at me, tangled hair covering half of her face as she continued to shake, hands between her legs.
It took me a long moment to realize what had happened to her, and I was so relieved that I laughed. Leave it to the Supremis to find an off-label usage for a lethal weapon. She pulled the tangled hair from her face to look up at me with one overly bright eye. “Do you know if they can make that thing to maybe run longer. A lot longer.”
My mouth fell open at the same instant that the inner door whooshed open. Two guards rushed in. Before either of us realized what was happening, they’d clamped a thick golden choker around her neck and activated its electronic security lock.
Danya’s eyelids fluttered as the choker closed with a loud beep, and the unnatural brightness of her eyes faded, her golden skin paling nearly to white. The bright glow of her hair faded as well, ending up an ash blonde shade. She tried to stand, but her legs were shaking so badly the guards had to help her. She took a few stooped-over steps, looking much the way I do right after landing on a high-G planet.
The guards guided her through the lock’s inner door. I struggled to follow, but my legs were too numb to support me. I could only watch as a group of red-suited Security personnel surrounded Danya, weapons drawn. To a man, they looked ancient and wrinkled, which made Danya look even younger and more vulnerable than before.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t a fucking Supremis,” an ancient-looking guard said in a gravely voice. His oversized beard and long hair hid everything but his eyes, which were clouded with age. His emaciated, bony hands were bent like claws as he stood crookedly, his right leg replaced by a crude prosthetic.
He slowly limped around Danya, studying her from head to toe before turning to tap a button on the wall. The irritating alarm siren stopped. He punched the yellow Intercom button to announce: “All clear at the Southy lock. Bio-sensor was tripped by a Supremis. She’s secure.”
He returned to stand directly in front of Danya, who had managed to straighten up by now. The ancient guard’s eyes were barely at the level of her shoulders. “The Supremis Embassy always lets me know when one of their people is coming this way. Nobody called about you.”
“Probably ‘cause don’t know …” Danya said thickly, her mouth bone dry. “Ya got an-thing ta drink here?”
The wizened old guard laughed. “Drinks would be at the Granite, honey. I’ll personally show you the way.” He wrapped his skeletal arm around her narrow waist to lead her away.
I was startled by Danya’s transformation. I’d read that a gold choker could exert a dampening effect on the Supremis thyroid gland, which controls metabolism in both humans and Supremis, ensuring that she could no longer metabolize Orgone. But she looked far weaker than a Terran girl now.
“Hope you enjoyed the little buzz on the way in, honey,” the wizened old guard said. “I got plenty more of where that came from.”
“Wha …?” she asked, lips dry. “Wha happened?”
“Our disruptors auto-tune to the exact frequency of that little pleasure button of yours. Gets it buzzing enough to scramble your brains.”
“But why … guld?” she asked. “I not hurt a’one.”
The guard shrugged. “You might be friendly and all, but then maybe not. Either way, law’s the law. Supremis gold has to stay on until you leave. Understood, child?”
A crowd had started to gather, all of them gawking at Danya’s nakedness, the men grinning and joking with each other.
“Show the poor girl some decency and give her some clothes, you bastard,” an old woman yelled at the guard.
“You be quiet, Hazel,” the old guard ordered. “Nobody touches this girl until I make sure she’s not a security hazard. That includes you most of all, you witch.”
I could smell the bad blood in the air.
Danya turned her head back to stare pleadingly at me as the wrinkled guard started to lead her away, looking confused, like she didn’t know what was happening to her. Apparently she didn’t know any more about gold than she did men. I swore an oath that she wasn’t going to learn anything from that lecherous old bastard.
I tried to follow them, but my clunky boots caught the lip of the airlock floor to send me sprawling forward. I was about to land face first on the stone floor when someone grabbed me. I lifted my head to stare into Danya’s concerned face.
“Are you OK?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. How could she move that fast? Especially given she was having trouble even walking a moment ago.
I wasn’t the only one with that thought on their mind. Hands flew toward laser pistols, with everyone drawing to aim at Danya and me, tension thick in the air. Clearly Danya had done something they hadn’t expected. I held out my arms and stepped in front of her, facing down two of the guards. I could see bony fingers trembling on triggers. I had no idea how vulnerable she might be while wearing gold, but the guards would think twice before firing at my Sulpter. The splattering ricochets of coherent light could burn them all.
Our standoff was interrupted by a loud, gravely man’s voice that came from the doorway.
“Why is that poor girl standing there naked?” he demanded.