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Raptor – Chapter 8

Written by shadar :: [Wednesday, 18 November 2015 10:26] Last updated by :: [Wednesday, 18 November 2015 10:58]

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 Chapter 8

I leaned closer to whisper to Danya, “You really need to tell me more about your father.”

She turned to touch her lips to my ear: “And here I thought you had the hots for my mother.”

I turned to stare at her. Could she read minds? I’d never told anyone about her. How she’d been in my dreams ever since that fateful day, and was never far from my thoughts when awake either. I’d never seen such a beautiful, powerful, confident woman. Only now did I realize that I hadn’t thought of her mother since Danya arrived.

I couldn’t tell Danya that. She’d think I was hitting on her. Which was ridiculous given that she could crush V-steel into scrap with her bare hands. I was mere flesh and blood. A Frail as some Supremis call us. That reminded me of the old Spacer trope about dying in the embrace of Supremis passion. Rumors abounded of men who’d exited this life in such dramatic fashion. As the stories went, the last moment of those hero’s lives had been their most glorious moment of manhood. A moment where they validated the widely-believed Supremis fascination with Terran men.

Why a mighty Supremis would prefer a soft and weak Terran partner to one of her own sub-species was beyond my imagination.

To hell with any of that. I had my fantasies (who wouldn’t after meeting a goddess), but my practical side wanted to die a very old man, sleeping under an umbrella on my perfect beach, my children beside me.

I was lost in those thoughts when I heard Danya asking Janeway. “So where do I stay? When I’m not powering your ship, that is.”

Janeway was standing by the forward galley door, looking worried as he and Anna ran through some calculations. They continued to talk for a few seconds before he looked up to answer Danya’s question. “Do you even sleep?”

Anna quickly spoke up. “She should share Peter’s quarters. He’s not a real part of the crew either.”

I heard trouble brewing. Was this the start of a fight over how that billion got shared? Janeway knew I was getting paid separately but no one else did. They thought I was part of their pie. I turned to whisper to Danya: “Remember what I said about the rats in steerage. That’s me. Lowest of the low.”

Well, I have a couch in my quarters …” Janeway started to say until his wife shot him a scathing look. Her husband wasn’t sharing a cabin with a sexy pheromone generator. “But it would be better if you stay down here, close to Engineering,” he wisely finished.

I tried to say something gallant, but Anna’s bold suggestion to put her in my cabin was still bouncing off the sides of my skull.

You found her, Scanton, you figure it out,“ Janeway said as he turned back to continue talking with Anna. He had more important things to worry about than bunks.

They poked around on her com-pad for a bit, and then stood up straight to look our way, the steely look of command hard in his eyes. “OK, people. I want everyone to get ready for departure. Anna, program a normal climb to low orbit. Danya, you need to give Anna the orbital coords for your ore container. That’s our first rendezvous. Mala, tell Ops that we’ve decided we have enough fuel to make our next destination after all. Settle up with them. Chief, I don’t want any glitches from the gravity engine or thrusters. Are we good?”

Yeah. Orbit can do. Refueled auxiliaries fine.” He wrapped a thick towel around his hot piece of mangled V-steel so he could hold it. “But without AMAT, we be stuck in low spin. Girl’s gotta prove herself then.”

So go and figure out where to attach her or whatever you have to do,” Janeway barked. “Let’s get out of this shit hole, people. Before Operations decides to send a tattle ahead of us.”

Janeway turned and exited through the forward door of the galley, heading toward the bridge. I watched as the casual, sloppy mood of the crew instantly sharpened as everyone headed for their stations to work down their checklists. Launches from heavy gravity worlds were never routine.

Danya stood next to me, looking around, eyes sparkling. Most likely she was examining the entire ship and not just the odd artwork on the galley walls. Gunner also stayed where he was, seemingly happy to just stare at Danya. His job was security, and he’d apparently decided that meant keeping an eye on her.

Do you think they’ll need me during launch?” Danya asked, sounding worried after her examination of the ship. “Everything on this ship looks really old. Many things don’t work very well.”

I smiled. “They don’t call her Sh-it for nothing. But its not as bad as it looks. I mean, it couldn’t be, right?”

She didn’t smile.

The important thing is that Janeway wants this departure to look normal, other than for his failure to refuel the AMAT. He figures Ops will think we’ve got enough fuel to dog it to some repair depot. Long slow trip. Don’t want to spoil that thinking by doing anything unusual.”

She nodded, but still looked worried. This was all new territory for her. The was barely twenty years old and hadn’t really been anywhere or done much of anything yet. But, based on what I’d seen back in the bar, she was a very quick learner and extremely intuitive. She could talk with animals. Maybe some of that carried over to very old starships.

Don’t worry,” I said, sounding more confident than I felt, “they won’t need you until its time to pick up your ore capsule. And then again when we get beyond ten-thousand kliks altitude. That’s the lowest altitude where you can legally light off an AMAT. Start of inter-world space. Hopefully nobody on Monk’s will notice our ship leaving high orbit without the usual nuclear flame at our tail.”

Gunner guffawed. “Based on what I seen down there, they’ll forget about us before we break atmo. They gotta get their scams setup for the next ship due in.”

Lost some money, huh?” I grinned.

Games is all rigged here,” he shrugged. “Should’a known. Better t’have spent it on the whores. Or those man-girls from that dirt picker ship.”

Are you an expert at sex?” Danya asked innocently.

Gunner looked up, surprised by her direct question. “Well, yeah, I mean, like most men, well, bett’r ’n most I guess. Definitely.”

Then you should teach me to be skillful too,” she smiled. “The trip will be long.”

I clenched my fists, anger flaring as Gunner sat up straight in his chair, eyes wide, a silly grin on his face. Dark jealousy turned to anger as my blood rose. My smarter half knew I didn’t have that kind of bond with Danya — nobody did with a Supremis — but my gut had its own mind. I had a Kiraling with her. She’d come for here me. She was my girl, damn it.

Gunner saw my angry reaction, but he just laughed, enjoying watching me getting angry. He wasn’t worried about me. His entire life was based on his fighting skills. He was the only one on the crew who could hold his own against Mala while sparring, which said he was one hell of a fighter.

Ah … yeah, absolutely, my lady,” Gunner said enthusiastically, eyes dancing. “But what about …?” he motioned towards me.

What do you mean?” she asked, looking puzzled.

Aren’t you some kind of … pair?”

She looked at me and then back at him, looking clueless. “A pair is two. So yes. But why does that matter?”

Look,” I interrupted loudly as I rose from my chair. “Captain’s going to need Danya on the bridge if we’re going to get paid. Gotta find the ore.”

We got time,” Gunner shrugged. “Don’t we Danya?”

It was all I could do keep from putting a fist into Gunner’s face, even if it meant I’d get pounded into the deck a few seconds later. I guided Danya toward the forward door of the galley, pushing her a little. “If you don’t mind, Ms. Even’star. The Bridge is this way.”

She saw I was upset as I guided her through the doorway but her innocent look said she had no idea why. “But what …?” she whispered to me. “He said he’s an expert. He looks like one. Mother said to find experts in every area. I mean, that’s why I found you. The best Facilitator there is, or so some people say.”

I gritted my teeth. This wasn’t the place or time to explain my feelings, which were obviously misplaced anyway. “How about we focus on the mission and not the extracurricular activities.”

Extracurricular? You use the strangest words, Peter. I thought we were just talking about sex?”

What orbit did you say the ore capsule is in?” I asked, ignoring her question.

Janeway told me to tell that to Anna. It’s complicated.”

So now I can’t navigate either. Great. Please go. Do.” I waved her past me. “Go.”

She looked confused and worried as I hung back, knowing I was upset but still not understanding. She finally shrugged and turned to walk toward the bridge, her body swaying in that uniquely magical way of hers. She paused at the armored entrance to the bridge, and then slowly pulled the outer security door open. The scream and ping of shattering steel said it had been locked, but she hadn’t noticed.

Behind it was an ordinary sliding door, which promptly swished open and closed as she disappeared inside.

It struck me as strange that they would have locked the outer door to the Bridge during launch. Anna’s doing? She clearly didn’t trust Danya. Protecting her husband from her? Worrying in any case.

Gunner spoke up from halfway down the corridor. “That’s one hell of a woman, Scanton. Would’a taken me an hour with a torch to cut through that lock she just broke. Way hot for the likes of you.”

I turned to glare at him. “You stay the fuck away from her.”

He laughed. “Seems the girl makes her own choices, and she’s got a keen eye for talent when she sees it. I plan to put in a good word for all us Terrans. Prove we’re not all weak.”

I clenched my fists. “There are different kinds of strength,” I said lamely.

Well, I got mine right here,” he laughed, grabbing his crotch. “Girl has good eyes.”

I spun back around to head toward Bridge before I did anything stupid. The testosterone was too thick down here to breathe.

I swished through the Bridge door to enter the completely transparent nose of the ship. Morning sun was streaming in. Anna sat furthest forward, windows completely surrounding her. She was studying a half circle of holo screens that displayed video and sensor input from all directions. Piloting was very much a visual thing on these old ships, especially when close to the ground or rendezvousing in orbit.

I was glad we had Anna. Her genetically-enhanced reflexes and fast-twitch muscles combined with decades of piloting to make her the best. And hell, if I was going to die in a crash, I wanted it to be due to human error, not some software bug. Unlike a bot, Anna had exactly as much skin in the game as I did.

Danya was talking rapidly as she gestured with her hands, but Anna looked confused and frustrated as she tried to punch in the coordinates Danya was giving her. Danya wouldn’t have any formal training in space navigation or the orbital dynamics terminology that went with it.

On the other hand, she had rendezvoused with our ship just before entering that last wormhole. Intercepting a ship at hole diving speed was tough for even a warship.

Janeway watched the two of them talk for a few minutes, and then called Danya back to his command chair. From what I could overhear of their conversation, she wasn’t able to explain it to him either. She had no idea of orbit inclinations and apogee and perigee calculations.

Then I’ll just go find it once we make orbit,” Danya finally shrugged. “I can bring it here instead of us to it. No problem really.”

Right …” Janeway said slowly as he looked back at me. He wasn’t happy having his “main engine” disappearing into the blackness.

What was I supposed to do? I don’t control her.

I was starting to see why Supremis women drive men crazy. We’ve got a million years of natural selection burned into our DNA, but that sends all the wrong signals when we are around a high-value yet promiscuous woman like a Supremis. Bonding, sex, exclusiveness, protection, love, patronage, tenderness. Those emotions are designed to reinforce a rigid set of mating rules — which the Supremis completely ignored.

Take a seat, Mr. Scanton,” Janeway barked at me as I stood there, lost in my worries. He keyed the intercom: “Everyone … liftoff in thirty seconds. Time to check in.”

I settled into a seat next to the Science station. Danya floated over to hover beside me, eyes wide, watching everything. I realized she probably hadn’t lifted off on a ship before. I had no idea where she’d found her Singleton ship. Certainly not on her home planet.

Reassuringly, all stations reported a Go status to Janeway. He waved his hand at Anna, who punched several buttons. Turbines whined from deep inside the ship as she pushed a big lever forward. A tremendous roar filled the air as the ship began to shake alarmingly. Heavy gravity planetary lift-offs are hairy enough on a modern ship, let alone an ancient one held together with patches and workarounds like this one.

The screens around Anna’s station showed us moving, but the windows just showed more blue sky directly overhead.

Good burn on all boosters,” Mala reported. “Gravity engine at max G.”

I felt myself being pushed down into my seat by the increasing acceleration, yet Danya floated motionless in the air, effortlessly compensating. The shaking of the ship grew alarming.

Max Q,” Anna reported, needlessly. Maximum aerodynamic force. The air was screaming as it flowed over the hull at supersonic speed. If anything was going to fail, this was the moment.

Thankfully another minute passed without anything breaking off or blowing up, although I did hear some crashing sounds from inside the ship.

Janeway keyed his intercom. “Whoever’s responsible for fucking up that cargo I heard falling, fix it before I get down there. Micro-G coming up in ten min.”

Like all ships of this class, our gravity engine had to be manually reconfigured from propulsion to artificial gravity duties once in orbit. That required a few minutes of zero-G after orbital insertion. Once the engine was reconfigured, it could null out the tremendous acceleration of the AMAT engine, and also create an artificial gravity field when we were coasting.

Anna abruptly killed the thrusters as we achieved low orbit, and my compressed seat cushion rebounded to send me floating past Danya, tumbling slowly. She reached out to grab my arm, hugging me to herself as if her feet were bolted to the floor. In reality, she was making her own gravity.

Janeway spun around in his seat to look at her. “OK, darling, go get your goodies. We’re in roughly a 300 by 1200 klik orbit. Best we can do on one burn. Need to save the thrusters for later.”

Danya held my wrist as she turned to float toward the Bridge door, pulling me behind her, my legs streaming out behind me. She flew down the corridor at shocking speed, then up and down staircases that I barely had time to duck under. Then along more corridors until we arrived at my tiny stateroom. I hung onto the door frame, my feet touching the ceiling as she turned her back to me and slipped unselfconsciously out of her exotic gown.

When I’d first seen her naked on the beach I’d thought she was a bot, so it hadn’t bothered me. It was totally different now. She was a girl half my age. I tried not to stare as she stuffed her gown under the blanket to keep it from floating away, and then dug that tiny, black flight uniform out of my bag. It was even smaller than I’d first thought. Just a few straps that made no attempt to cover anything above her waist. Supremis power is centered in their breasts, so keeping them free and bare was natural for them.

She turned to face me, hands on her hips. In zero-G, her boobs looked perfectly round, almost like they were inflated. “So, how do I look?”

I tried to swallow, but my mouth was too dry. It was all I could do to force my eyes up to her sparkling blues. “Like … an angel?”

She beamed as she floated closer, reaching down to take my hands to lift them gently to her breasts. “This is the way my ancestors, the Velorians, liked to be greeted. An acknowledgement of their power and prowess, or so mother says.”

My blood pressure soared and my ears begin to ring as her firm nipples pressed against my palms. Everything about her was unnaturally firm. I tried to pull my hands back out of propriety, but she effortlessly resisted me.

You feel very tense, Peter. When I get back, I’m going to have to loosen you up a bit.” She released my hands while backing out of my reach, and then blew me a kiss as she slipped past me to fly off down the hallway.

I tried to follow her, only to bounce off the walls until Janeway announced: “Grav comp coming on now.” I grabbed a pipe and hung on as the floor seemed to rise to hit my feet. 1/7th G doesn’t sound like much until you compare it to zero. I started to run after Danya with the kind of hopping, slow motion run that works best in low G.

I arrived at the main airlock just as the warning klaxon sounded to signal the outer door opening. I pressed my face to the inner door window to see Danya standing in the open outer door, stars shining brightly all around her. Pressure is life for a Spacer, but she was standing in zero pressure and over 800C temp on the sunny side of the ship, hands on her hips, her blonde hair shining in the brilliant sunlight. She looked for all the universe as if she was standing in her element. Space.

I shook that crazy thought away. Most of her genes came from Earth, same as me.

Staring at her back, it was clear now that the tailor who’d designed her tiny flight uniform had known exactly what he was doing. It was the scantest possible concession to the Terran sensitivity about genital nudity. I wondered if it had been designed as a “fuck you” to those ancient Terran moralists and their rigid cultural norms. Or maybe this was just how Velorians used to dress back in the day. After all, this outfit was half a millennium old, an artifact from a time when Earthlings were completely ignorant that there were more humans living off the Earth than on it. We’ve come a long way.

I watched in a daze as Danya slowly turned her head left and right, scanning the distance with visual powers I could barely comprehend. She eventually seemed to find what she was looking for, and leaned down slightly to push off and away. Once she was floating beyond the ship, she tensed her fists and squeezed her long legs together to rocket off into the distance, shrinking to a dot and then disappearing completely in the blink of an eye.

I turned away from the window, thrilled once again after watching her do something totally amazing. I’ll never get used to that.

Mala was standing silently behind me, her slender body a maze of horrible scars. Gunner had once told me that she was considered very beautiful on her home world because of her extensive scarring. Which made me wonder — did Mala think Danya was the ugly one, what with her smooth, flawless skin?

Give me a hand preparing the cargo dock, Scanton,” she barked. “Five tons of X-ore is going to be pretty big. After that, I need your eyes on the beams the Chief is welding up to hold your girl when she flies us.”

Why do you and Anna keep calling her my girl? I barely know her.”

Cause you think she is. Anyone can see it in your face. Your body language screams infatuation and ownership. Gunner sees it, so he’s determined to screw her before you do. His way of fucking with your head. Just so you know.”

Tell Gunner to keep his hairy hands off her,” I growled. “If Danya doesn’t break them I will.”

Mala laughed. “You and Gunner in a fight? Hah. You’d last two seconds. Assuming it took that long for Gunner to hit you.”

We’ve got a bond,” I shot back. “Danya and me. A Kiraling. You wouldn’t understand.”

I understand better than you think. We have a similar tradition on our world. But Kiraling is a warrior thing that has nothing to do with sexual bonding. Supremis are all whores anyway. My money says she fucks everyone else on this boat before she does you. By her thinking, that’ll be her way of not screwing up your working relationship.”

Fuck you,” I spit back. Yet part of me knew she was probably right.

I’d break you in half if you tried. But Danya?” She whistled softly. “Not my type, but with those pheromones of hers …”

Were they all thinking like Gunner? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There are a lot of captains who won’t let a Supremis on their ship because it turns every man into a rutting fool. And sometimes not just the men.

Mala hooked a loop on my flight suit with her long finger to pull me after her. “Come boy. Come.”

 

The next hour passed in a red-faced blur as I lugged a bunch of gear around the cluttered cargo bay to secure it beneath a cargo net. We’d lose half of it if we decompressed now. Mala made a point of carrying the heavier stuff. Her way of reminding me I was the lesser member of the crew.

We had the bay nearly secured when Janeway’s voice boomed over the intercom. “We got a small mountain of ore heading our way. Your girl’s on her way back, Scanton. You guys ready down there?”

Jesus! Him too?

Ready soon enough, Cap’n,” Mala shouted back. She turned to me, smirking. “It’s not just me, Scanton. Everybody sees it. The way you worship her.”

I said nothing as I angrily stuffed the last of the gear under the netting. I was drenched in sweat and aching by the time Mala tightened the netting.

OK, we’re done in here, Cap’n,” she reported.

I followed her through the inner airlock. Once it was closed and she hit the interlock, a horn sounded and a red rotating light came on. The massive outer bay doors creaked loudly, and then groaned like some kind of dying animal as they began to slowly open. A brief hurricane of escaping air swept the bay clean.

The pressure telltale in front of me turned blood red. Decompression has always terrified me. I might have a Guild card, but I’ll never be comfortable living inside a pressurized can floating in the infinite void. I’ve seen what a few seconds of zero pressure does to a man.

I pressed my nose back to the pressure window to gawk as a huge pile of metal boxes floated through the bay doors, guided by a beautiful, nearly naked girl. If not for the way her blonde hair floated around her head, Danya might as well be standing on a warm beach.

Once inside, the artificial gravity dragged the boxes to the floor, and spilled her wildly tousled hair over her shoulders. She landed on top of the pile, legs spread slightly, hands resting on her hips, looking very proud of herself.

Show off,” Mala scowled as she hit the Outer Close button. The ship was again filled with creaking and groaning sounds. “I did five seconds in zero pressure during training. Eyeballs swelled too large to move, and capillaries burst so badly that I saw red for a month. But your girl looks like she’s enjoying it.”

The doors ground to a close, followed by air blasting into the cargo bay to send Danya’s long hair billowing behind her.

Anna looked at Danya and then at me as I watched the pressure gauge rising, her eyes softening uncharacteristically. “I’ve never seen two people more mismatched than you. You need to be careful, Peter. She can hurt you. In more ways than you can imagine.”

She wasn’t talking about a broken arm. “Yeah. But she needs my help. And I owe her my life.”

I know,” Mala nodded, sounding sympathetic now. “But the ancient literature is full of tales of gods mixing with us ordinary folk. Every story ends in total disaster. For us. Every one.”

We’re all in the same boat,” I shrugged. “Once she breaks us out of orbit, we won’t have the power without her to return. To any planet.”

I was thinking of your heart, Peter. But yeah, I got that too.”

This was a side of Mala I hadn’t seen before. She’d always come across as hard and tough as nails, seemingly emotionless too. I was trying to think of something to say in reply, but fortunately the inner door unlocked before I could say anything stupid. I hit the Open button and ducked beneath the rising door to enter the bay.

The air inside was filled with a slightly sweet metallic scent that was mixed with a hint of wildflowers and honey. The last scent was at least familiar. My blood pressure soared as I realized that this was the scent of an aroused Supremis standing on top of a few billion credits worth of the most exotic metal in the universe. I’d never smelled anything so achingly sweet.

Danya stepped off her pile of boxes to float down to land just in front of me, a “told you so” look in her eyes. Her chest rose and fell dramatically as she savored being able to breathe again. Her wondrous scent was stronger than ever. Enough to break through my tolerance.

Well, there it is, Peter,” she pointed proudly. “Five and a half tonnes. Assay reports on every box.”

Better keep your eyes on it,” I whispered. “These pirates will steal you blind.”

Her smile disappeared. “How does stealing make you blind?”

Just a very old expression …” I started to explain, only to be interrupted by Janeway’s booming voice on the intercom.

Danya. The Chief needs you to verify the flight cage he’s making. Anna, give the girl something to aim for and a feedback system.”

Been working on it, Captain,” she replied.

I put my hand gently on Danya’s bare back, marveling at the contrast between her warm, silky skin and the steel muscles that moved beneath. The skin under my hand had been exposed to 800C temps in vacuum only moments ago, but it just a bit warmer than mine now. “Come with me,” I said as I pushed a little on her back.

Her steel turned to liquid metal as she walked smoothly beside me, her movements reminding me of a dancer on stage.

Instead of taking her straight to Engineering, I led her back to my stateroom to dig out my new old leather jacket.

Do not go into Engineering wearing just that flight suit. The testosterone explosion might catch something on fire.”

She smiled knowingly this time. “It’s amazing the way you Terrans place such high value on these small areas of visible skin,” she said, lifting her hands to cup herself. “Your hormonal and blood flow patterns change immediately when you look at me. Even more when I do this.” She squeezed herself a bit.

I struggled to breathe. “Not so small an area. In your case. I know it’s different where you come from, but Terran women have been covering their breasts for a very long time.”

But mine don’t sag like theirs, so why do I have to cover? I have no flaws to hide.”

I sighed. Innocence isn’t always a charm. “Trust me, a little bit of clothing will make you more desirable. Men use their imagination to fill in the blanks when they can’t quite see something.”

She frowned. “That makes no sense. I don’t want them to imagine anything with me. I am what I am.”

I sighed as I tried another tact. Sometimes she was such a child. “Then please wear the jacket for me. I like the way you look in it.”

Well, in that case, of course,” she smiled as she took it from me. She pulled it on but didn’t zip it up, her firm nipples snagging each side of the zipper to at least hold it halfway closed. Smiling, she stepped closer to wrap her arms around me, and hugged me so tightly the air whooshed from my lungs. I hugged her back, only to find that her breasts and particularly her nipples were so firm they bored almost painfully into my chest. Strangely, that made me even hotter.

She giggled at my immediate and profound reaction, seemingly amused as she traced two fingers along the hard outline of my pants. I gasped at her touch. Liquid fire rushed through my veins, my head swimming as I felt like I was falling, everything colored with a pink haze. Yet at the same moment, a surge of manly strength washed over me. God I wanted her!

No wonder I sense this tension between you and Gunner,” she said with a wink. “Is this a contest between you two? For me?”

The last thing I wanted to talk about was Gunner.

She continued. “I understand that work and sex are supposed to be kept separate in your culture, and we are working together. So I want to respect that. I also know about this silly fidelity/possession thing you Terrans have, but remember that we are also Kiralings. There is nothing that we cannot ask or give each other.”

Then how about you staying away from Gunner?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Asking is different than forbidding. He’s interesting.”

And with that, she turned and flew off down the corridor.

I just stood there, gasping for air, unable to walk yet feeling strong as a bull thanks to the empowering effect of her pheromones. I swore I was about to bust out of my skin. My entire body seemed erect, even my hair was standing on end, yet here I was, standing alone in the corridor.

And then, slowly, that rush of shared power began to fade, in moments leaving me feeling strangely vulnerable and more than a little deserted. Pheromone junky that I am, I was in heaven. Yet I was reeling a bit from the maddening way she had of saying Yes and No at the same time. It wasn’t like she was playing games with me. She was just completely open and direct. She didn’t understand how emotions worked.

That’s when I suddenly realized where she was heading — down into the bowels of Engineering with those two leering grease monkeys. I started running awkwardly after her, hoping I didn’t meet anyone else until I burned the rest of her pheromones off. Most of all Gunner.

By the time I got to Engineering I was walking half straight. I heard voices coming from a large hatch that was open in the ceiling, so I climbed the ladder (easy in 1/7th gravity) and ducked through the hatch to find myself standing in a purply maze of spidery beams, none of them thicker than my wrist. It was very humid, with everything covered in molds and mosses. The life-giving algae tanks were located here in the core and they obviously had some leaks.

This was the Vendorian steel backbone of the ship, traveling all the way from stem to stern. Way up ahead, a hundred meters or so and presumably at the exact center of mass of the ship, I saw the Chief and Kurt hovering around Danya, who had climbed into the middle of a thick maze of supersteel beams. I started climbing through the maze of girders toward them, only to find my leather jacket jammed between two beams. So much for modesty. She probably thought I was asking her to wear a fur coat in the tropics.

I was halfway to them when Kurt fired up a plasma torch, the arc blindingly bright. I squinted my watering eyes as I kept working my way upward, more carefully now. I didn’t want to get anywhere near that torch.

Kurt and the Chief busied themselves welding new sections onto the central core. Plasma torches melt ordinary steel like butter, but they are barely adequate for working V-steel. Kurt was heating some purple rods as Danya bent them over her shoulders to create a hard-point that was shaped to fit her upper body. She held them in place with her fingers as Kurt welded them to the central frame, his bright arc briefly brushing her skin, heating it to a bluish-white glow. She flinched a little, but held on until the weld cooled. Amazing.

I forced myself to look further upward as I struggled to see through the spots in my vision. Anna was crawling around fifty meters ahead of the men while attaching a central green light with a ring of smaller red lights around it. Also a large display panel.

I need you to always push directly towards this light, Danya,” she called down. “I’ll orient the ship with thrusters. If you see red lights then you’re pushing off center and you need to adjust. I’ll calibrate the force display after we start so it’ll read one-hundred when you’re giving it your all. Once I’ve done that, I’ll give you a number to hold.”

Don’t you bust my ship, little girl,” the Chief added.

No promises,” Danya replied. “It’s all so old and dirty. Your ship is falling apart.”

V-steel don’t never weaken. Looks be deceiving. Strong bones, this ship. Only good thing it has.”

Danya helped Kurt bend an even thicker purplish beam around her shoulders, her body briefly looking impossibly strong. Her muscular expansion was much greater than a Terran. One moment she was slender and feminine, and the next she was incredibly defined. The transition was startling.

She put those amazing muscles to work bending more bars into shape while the two engineers welded them to the narrow beams surrounding her. Soon they had her wedged in nice and tight, with just a narrow opening that she could back out of.

The heat from their welding was growing intense. “Are you about done, Chief? Don’t want to overheat the algae tanks.”

Quit trying ta be a fake Enviro tech,” he growled. “You ain’t nothing on my crew.”

He seemed to be working all the harder now to put me down. Was Danya getting to him too?

OK, everyone,” Anna interrupted as she started climbing down, carefully unthreading her unnaturally long limbs from the maze of beams while avoiding the hot ones. “Time to get out of here before anyone heads to Riegel before us. You ready to play star ship engine, Danya?”

I gather what we’re going to try hasn’t been done before,” Danya said.

The Chief nodded and then shook his head. “Heard none about such thing. Make us famous you will girl. Or dead.”

No one’s going to know, Chief,” Anna warned. “We enter Riegellian space with a unsafe AMAT and you and the Captain will be flying a prison cell to the end of your days. Can you leave a flare trail behind us? Enough to make the casual observer think we’re flying under AMAT power?”

Ain’t been born yesterday, girl,” the Chief snarled at her.

Apparently anyone younger than him was a girl.

But no way to fool mil-grade scanners on a Guardian ship.”

Then lets hope we don’t get near one of them. As it is I’m aiming us straight at this system’s star. Likely we’ll need the gravity boost to get through the hole.”

The Chief didn’t look happy about that. Solar slingshots are very dangerous, especially with an ersatz star-drive in the form of a very hot blonde.

Anna climbed past us, moving as quickly as she could toward the hatch. “We won’t know anything until Danya gives it her all. Then we can recalculate. Might not need the slingshot.”

For a moment, her long, skinny limbs gave her kind of an insect-like look. She was such a complete opposite from her husband. Janeway was a thick-limbed mountain of muscle. I watched as Chief and Kurt started climbing down behind her, wondering why opposites attract. One of life’s mysteries.

You should go too, Peter,” Danya said. “If something gives way, this area could void. No way I could get you out of here fast enough if that happens. Not with all those girders in the way.”

I shook my head. “If this place voids we die gasping for air before we hit the next port anyway. The rest of us anyway. Our air mostly comes from the algae tanks up ahead.”

Before Danya could argue, the speaker next to her head came alive with Anna’s voice. “We’ve got an immediate window coming up to climb to an exit orbit, Danya. Next one is more than two hours away. When I say go, I want you you to slowly build your power, OK? All the way to your max unless the Chief or I say to stop. Tell me when you’re pushing as hard as you can and have a steady green light. That’s when I’ll calibrate. This will be just a short burn. Just enough to get us climbing to high orbit. Then you can stand down from a few hours until we stabilize.”

Understood,” Danya replied. She released the Talk button and turned her head my way. “Is she always so … complete?”

Yeah. But having a detailed plan is a good thing for a pilot.”

OK. Window coming up fast,” Anna said, and then started to count down from ten.

Danya clenched her fists at zero, her body tensing visibly as she pressed her legs tightly together, pointing her toes as if she was diving. The steel beams around her creaked loudly, and I was jammed painfully back against the beams behind me.

Sorry about the grav,” Anna announced. “The grav engine is going to lag until I get everything cal’d. Keep pushing harder, Danya. Chief, we still in one piece?”

Ah, roger,” he said laconically.

Ahead of me, I saw red lights glowing on one side of the green center. Danya bent her legs slightly to the side to change her thrust angle and the light went out. The purple beams bent worryingly around her as she put more and more of herself into the effort.

Whoah girl,” Anna said. “Hold right there. I’m recalibrating. You’re stronger than I thought. Give me some time to analyze.”

Seconds passed as Danya held her flex.

OK, push it slowly up to max,” Anna said.

Muscles somehow flexed even tighter across Danya’s back and legs as she pointed her calves and put them to work as well. Every one an isometric contraction — muscle opposing muscle. Her chest began to glow a dull red as her Orgone metabolism rose to support her exertion, only to be channeled into her flight organs. The purplish beams bent further yet, several of them squealing alarmingly.

That’s more oomph than your AMAT spits out, Chief,” Anna said, clearly impressed. “You got any more, Danya?”

Yeah,” Danya said from behind clenched teeth. “Here goes.”

I was slammed once more against the beam as Danya’s entire body began to glow with a bluish light. Her Orgone metabolism grew so intense that her chest heated to a red glow. The grav engine tried to keep up, but the apparent gravity rose from 1/7th to about 3 G’s, pinning me very painfully against the beams. All around me, metal structure of the ship was singing. The sound of V-steel approaching its limit.

Is that it?” Anna asked, sounding nervous now.

Yeah,” Danya grunted, her chest flaring blindingly bright now. “All … I … got.”

OK, good, you can slowly ease up now,” Anna reported. “We got enough delta V from that to make high orbit. You overran the grav engine by nearly 3 G’s. What do you think about that Chief?”

Girl’s surely gonna break my ship,” he said, sounding concerned.

I was stunned. The grav engine was rated for 10G’s, same as the AMAT. She’d overrun that!

How’s it coming getting the AMAT to fire just a little on the next big push?” Janeway broke in. “Need a little heat to fool the sensors.”

No pushy, but we can fart,” the Chief reported.

Then take a break everyone. Three hours to high orbit exit,” Janeway said.

Danya collapsed inside her form-fitting cage, steam rising from her overheated body.

You OK?” I asked.

Need something to drink,” she said, licking dry lips. She started to back out of her cage. Her skin cooled unnaturally fast as she came free to float down light as feather in front of me. She looked softer somehow, almost like she had when wearing gold.

I started to lead the way down the structure, planning on getting her something to drink from the galley, but she grabbed my arm and pulled me back toward her. Her eyes were sparkling with desire, her body very visibly turned on. A flood of raw desire filled the space around me with pheromones, rawer than ever, her needfulness blasting through my body like a wave, then reflecting back to fill me with more confidence and strength than I’d ever felt. Desire so great it could not be denied. I opened my arms to hug her to me, thrilling as she pressed her curves to mine, her steel body softening almost to human.

Her long, silky hair covered us like a golden tent as her soft lips hungrily found mine.

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