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Earth Shine

Written by shadar :: [Sunday, 26 May 2019 00:13] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 26 May 2019 19:54]

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Earth Shine

by Shadar

May 2019

Prologue

Those prepared for the Second Coming called it the Hammer of God. Their eyes gleamed in anticipation of the fulfillment of scripture. Somber but excited, they mourned the world but were eager for Heaven.

Hipsters called it Dino, as in, Dinosaur-grade extinction event. An overly cute name for the horror of The End of the world. Most of them were trying to stay as stoned as possible until it arrived.

Pretty much everyone else was terrified to find themselves unlucky enough to be living at the precise moment when human civilization and possibly all life itself was utterly destroyed. They hugged their children and gathered with all their loved ones and friends as they tried to carry on as best they could, but their hearts were breaking and filled with fear.

Those with far darker hearts celebrated the end of civility by preying on the weak. If they were going to Hell, they were intent on going there with a bang. Sometimes that bang came from some beleaguered homeowner firing a 12-gauge into their face as they tried to break into their house. But more often the gunfire went the other way. With the police off the job, everyone was on their own.

A NASA probe reported that the incoming asteroid was solid nickel-iron and almost perfectly round. Given its size, it weighed approximately nine billion tons. A worst-case scenario. It wasn’t going to break up or explode in the atmosphere. It was going to hit dead center in the middle of the North American landmass, and it was going to hit like a Mount Everest-sized tank shell, penetrating all the way through the planet’s crust to kick off the super-volcano beneath Yellowstone. The impact blast and heat alone would destroy life across most of North America, but the super-volcanic eruption that followed was the real killer. Combined with the billions of tons of debris kicked up by the impact, the atmosphere was going to be filled with a dense layer of sulfur and ash that would completely block the sun — for centuries. Light to dark. Life to death.

Humanity as a species might survive it — a handful anyway — but the survivors would be primitives hanging on with their fingernails. Scientists estimated that 99.9% of the Earth’s population would eventually die from starvation — and as horrific as that number was, that was premised on the early adoption of cannibalism. All the other models were worse.

It was a planetary reset. Life would have to start over.

That doomsday forecast was supposed to stay Top Secret, but of course it leaked, and the world began to die by its own hand long before Dino arrived. The world’s economies collapsed. Nobody went to work anymore. Instead, they prayed or partied or just hid in their basements, each person knowing the exact time of the coming extinction. Suicides increased by a hundred-fold, then a thousand-fold and continued rising rapidly. Nobody even bothered to pick the bodies up any more. People raced as far away from the projected impact zone as they could before fuel stations ran out of fuel. Then the electrical grid collapsed as did many water supplies. Governments teetered and many collapsed, all of them dysfunctional. Gangs took over in many areas, fighting for the last scraps.

The News media tried to report on The End for a while, but then they gave up too. All the stories had the same ending.

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples of all kinds were packed with praying people, each hoping to ensure that their personal doorway to the afterlife was wide open.

Everyone had lost hope of any Earthly salvation.

 

Yet some scientists continued to work, documenting everything they could in the hope that someone might someday learn from it. With luck, this might not be the end of humanity, but most certainly it was the end of civilization, so it was fascinating on a purely scientific level. Someone, somewhere would someday find their record of the past, which scientists were printing on metal foil in multiple languages. The foils went into brightly colored titanium vacuum bottles that would both float and probably survive for millennia.

But the really big unknown was whether the distant descendants of the handful of survivors would still know how to read when they found those precious bottles of knowledge in future centuries.

That’s how the world was positioned two weeks before Impact. Darkness reigned. 

And then something happened that no one expected: the Goddard Observatory recorded a tiny course change in the asteroid.

Scientists checked and rechecked the data, looking for the error, but there wasn’t one. The huge asteroid was very slowly changing course. Just the tiniest fraction of a degree per day, but given it was still halfway to Mars, that was significant. Scientific computers ran the numbers again and again, feeding them into continuous simulations based on hourly observations, plotting the asteroid’s ever changing impact site. To everyone’s astonishment, the path shifted from Yellowstone to move linearly across North America and out into the Pacific Ocean and finally beyond the disc of Earth itself. Something mysterious was pushing the asteroid to the side. Something too small to be seen by telescopes from Earth.

Scientists created a mathematical model based on their observations. Using their estimates of the asteroid’s weight and observations of its speed and course, they ran simulations to calculate the force that would have to be applied to move the asteroid the way they were observing. They concluded that approximately 1500 tons of force was being applied at the precise center-of-gravity of the asteroid with an orientation that was precisely perpendicular to its flight path.

The religious cried out their various versions of “God is Great”, but none of the scientists wanted to be the first to say it — it had to be aliens. Not that they’d observed any ships near the rock -- and not for lack of trying. Every space-capable radar and telescope was focused on Dino.

The huge rock was visible with the naked eye on the last night of its approach when sparkles suddenly appearing across its front as it collided with satellites. A few seconds later it blazed into life while racing through the outer fringes of the atmosphere, a glare so bright it briefly blinded anyone looking up. And then it was gone, and with enough velocity that scientists calculated it would never return.

A broken and starving world celebrated a new dawn that they’d never expected to see, and began to slowly pick up the pieces. Police and military struggled to regain control. People started going back to work. Things started to work again. Slowly.

Scientists gathered together in huge virtual conferences to debate the initial aim of the rock — directly toward the Yellowstone crustal weakness — and its composition and size, a combination of worst-case traits that defied logic.

But more interestingly, they debated why it had changed course in the last week, especially given it was a chunk of solid iron without any outgassing. Scientists presented their statistics, which said that both the original path of the asteroid and its course change were statistically improbable in the extreme. But not exactly impossible.

The religious didn’t worry about the impossible — they remained secure in their faith that God had tested humankind and then had revealed his mercy.

They were, both of them, wrong.

 

Chapter One

ISS astronaut Pete Conrad had been the sole person in orbit as Dino approached, and now he was hoping someone was going to be able to launch a rescue while he still had air left.

He’d volunteered to stay alone on the International Space Station during the event. While the other astronauts had been evacuated to spend their final days with their families, he had stayed in orbit, claiming he was going to have the best seat in the house to watch The End. As the youngest astronaut to ever fly on the ISS, he had no wife or children to return to.

Despite approaching at nearly 100,000 miles per hour, he’d managed to extensively photograph the giant rock as it approached and then flashed by less than a hundred miles from the ISS. His photographs proved it was perfectly rounded, a shape that statistically should not exist in the broken, collided rocks of the asteroid belt.

His observations abruptly ended when a hail of small rocks hit the ISS hard enough to spin it around, puncturing all but two of its modules and destroying most of the solar cells and but one communications antenna.

Amazingly, Pete survived the initial onslaught. He’d been in the Unity module, and it and its connected Quest module were the only two left with pressure. But those modules had limited environmental resources. He had less than a week’s supply of air, and no launch vehicle had been prepared to come up and bring him home.

For him, it was likely going to be The End, after all. Even in the best of times, a rescue mission could not be put together in a week, and these were not the best of times.

He was contemplating the irony of being the last person to die from the asteroid — in space no less — when he heard a light tapping noise. He ignored it at first, thinking it was one of the damaged modules shifting, which they did whenever ISS came in and out of the Earth’s shadow. But then it came again and with a non-random pattern that truly sounded like someone tapping. But that made no sense given he was alone.

Intrigued, he tracked the tapping to the Quest module. Floating into the equipment room at the entrance of Quest, his hackles rose as the tapping grew more urgent — and it was coming from inside the module’s airlock. Scenes from too many bad SciFi movies flitted through his mind. He pushed those silly fears away as he worked his way toward one of the view ports to look into the airlock, expecting to see several pieces of debris bouncing gently off the walls. Instead, his eyes flew wide open as his brain froze, disbelieving what his eyes were telling him — a woman was inside the airlock, her long blonde hair floating in a cloud around her. A young and very naked and very lovely woman.

He closed his eyes tightly, trying to make it go away. Alone and condemned to die in space, he’d hoped his mind wouldn’t go first. Turning away, dismayed that he was cracking up with still a week to go, he heard multiple taps again, more urgent ones this time, and right against the view port he’d just been at. Turning around, he found himself staring into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. The woman nodded weakly toward the inner airlock door before her eyes rolled up in her head and she passed out.

All thoughts of hallucination vanished as his training kicked in. Someone was actually in the airlock, alive and exposed to vacuum!

He slammed the OUTER DOOR control to CLOSED and began an emergency pressurization, venting the last of his precious air into the huge airlock. His heart pounded as he waited until the pressure equalized, his ears popping as the air grew thinner. His thoughts raced in many directions, but mostly he was angry with himself. A hallucination had just caused him to dump half of his remaining air. It was the only sane possibility. His logical half  knew the air lock would be empty when he opened it!

After the pressure equalized, he spun the wheel on the inner door, almost afraid to look into the lock when it opened. He stared inside, and blinked. She was still there, a very real woman floating unconscious in the middle of the lock.

Diving in to grab her hand, he quickly pulled her weightlessly through the inner door, surprised to find how warm her skin felt. She’d been out there in near absolute zero cold.

She gasped and started gulping air as he pulled her into the module, but she didn’t wake up. Given her apparent age and her nakedness, he grabbed the one bit of ordinary clothing he’d brought up to ISS with him — a blue flannel shirt. Shoving her arms into the sleeves, he started to do a few buttons up, fingers trembling. Once that was done, he pushed her over to one of the sleeping stations in Unity, which were little more than Velcro straps attached to a section of hull.

He fastened her in place with a couple of straps and held her wrist to check her heartbeat — it was very slow but strong like a drum beat. Her skin showed no discoloration from burst capillaries or signs of frostbite. Squeezing her forearm, he found dense muscles that barely gave at all under his fingers, and the tendons of her small wrist felt like steel cables. He ran his fingertips over tightly-defined abs, finding they might as well have been carved from warm steel. Her face looked a cute seventeen or so, and her lustrous hair was a golden shade of blonde.

She was without a doubt the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Yet no human could have survived floating in vacuum for the ten or so minutes it had taken him from the first tap until he got her into pressure — they’d be brain dead in half that time, not to mention suffering all the others ills of hard vacuum and absolute cold. And how long had she been out there before entering his airlock to start her tapping? All without a suit or scrap of clothing of any kind.

It made no sense. He was the only person in orbit.

“The only person from Earth,” a small voice inside his head said.

He forced himself to consider the obvious. Either he was seriously cracking up, or he’d just discovered why the asteroid had changed course.

He couldn’t help but laugh out loud as his scientific skepticism returned. Aliens who looked completely human-like? No way. Parallel evolution at this degree of similarity just wasn’t possible. Even more, an alien girl who wasn’t harmed by hard vacuum? A girl who could change the course of a billon ton asteroid? The odds against that were impossible times impossible.

Besides, there hadn’t been the slightest trace of unidentified spacecraft, and every scientist on Earth had been looking for them, staring through their telescopes and studying their space radars as the asteroid changed course. A ship’s drive exhaust would have been visible for at least the last week. Yet something had been pushing on the asteroid with three-million pounds of force all that time.

And then, just as the huge asteroid skipped off the atmosphere, this naked girl showed up in his airlock. That couldn’t be coincidence. She had to have been involved somehow in the deflection of the asteroid.

By floating naked in space? And looking like this? His mind balked. It simply wasn't possible.

     Yet she was here. 

He floated across the compartment from her as he struggled to think logically and objectively. To get past the impossible to the actual.

His first thought was that he couldn’t square her young face with her fantastically tight body. She had the kind of body you see occasionally with an obsessive late-twenties gym-rat, every muscle shaped and toned to perfection over thousands of hours of hard work. No teenager had a body like that.

But he kept coming back to the “floating naked in space without injury” thing. No WAY was he going to report THAT to Houston.

Swimming over to the closest Med Kit, he got a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope and tried to check her pressure. Yet despite pumping up the cuff to its maximum 300mm Hg and then beyond, pumping the needle right off the scale, he couldn’t measure a systolic pressure. Her heart gave off a very slow and very strong double thump. Whatever she was made of, it was going to take a lot more than this cuff to occlude her blood flow.

He could feel her diaphragm moving slightly, but she was breathing so low he had to hold a small mirror against mouth to see any fogging. He counted the seconds between each mist of the mirror, and decided she was breathing five times a minute. Holding her sinewy wrist again, he timed her heartbeat, finding it was a phenomenally slow ten beats per minute.

It was like she was in hibernation or something.

He lifted one eyelid, and was amazed to find that the sclera of her eye was perfectly white with not even a single burst capillary despite being in vacuum. Her wide open pupil was surrounded by an intensely blue iris that sparkled as if it was made of crystals. But when he flicked his tiny flashlight across it, her pupil remained fixed and dilated.

Not good. Hypoxia-induced brain damage?

He decided to get a blood sample to run through the ISS’s analyzer to check her blood gasses, which thankfully was located here in Unity. She had a prominent blood vessel visible in the crook of her arm, but he couldn’t puncture her skin. He bent five needles trying before giving up.

At least he now understand why the hard vacuum hadn’t hurt her. She wasn’t made of the usual stuff. A thought made his head explode.

She really was an ET!

He scrambled to retrieve the only camera he had in this section of the ISS, a 35mm Nikon, and began taking close-up shots. As a scientist, he knew he was dealing with a unique phenomena, and he needed to gather as much data as he could before communicating his observations. There would be some very predictable questions and lots of disbelief when he called this in, and he needed to have as many bases covered as possible beforehand.

He stopped snapping pictures long enough to review them, and was encouraged that the sharp images proved he wasn’t hallucinating — cameras only record reality. Or were the camera and the pictures both parts of his growing hallucination?

He was lost in uncharted territory, torn between preparing for his own slow death in orbit and unraveling the mystery of this alien space-girl. A double whammy to his mental stability, or whatever was left of it. But he did what he had been trained to do whenever encountering a phenomena: he took pictures, he recorded data and then he ran more tests.

But through all of that, he couldn’t get over how human she seemed. Her golden skin was the exact same shade of tan he’d seen so often on Scandinavians who’d spent a month vacationing in the Med. That and all that blonde hair and those blue eyes.

An alien Goddess with Nordic origins?

He quickly caught himself. No way was he going into Goddess territory. He was scientist.

He’d always thought he was prepared for a First Contact, something all astronauts think about, but he wasn’t prepared for this.

He studied her closer, and that’s when he started to find differences. Beyond bending his needles, her skin seemed to lack any hair follicles other than on her scalp. Her skin also seemed to be completely flawless. Everywhere. No matter how close he looked.

Given she lacked hair follicles, he wondered if she was some kind of android. Maybe sent here from some advanced civilization in a disguise that would not alarm the xenophobic humans. That made more sense than anything else he could think of.

If so, the ETs who had made her had left an important part out — she didn’t really have breasts. Just a pair of nipples on a boyish chest. Gently opening the flannel shirt he’d dressed her in, he dared to study the rest of her. He found the same complete lack of hair follicles across her abs and even down to her mons pubis and labia, which were folded so tightly inward that they left only the narrowest slit visible.

She was definitely female, and seemingly somewhere in age between her mid-teens and late-twenties.

Out of decency, he decided not to investigate any further, and buttoned the flannel shirt back up. He was a biologist, not a doctor, and he was struggling to remain objective as it was.

He selected a number of pictures from the hundreds he’d taken, and queued them up for transmit. He was about to download them and then call Houston to make the most amazing report ever when he caught himself. Whoever this woman was, and whatever she might have had to do with the asteroid, he could at least give her time to wake up before saying anything. Assuming she was going to wake up.

The world had just been through an immense shock — was this the best time the report the long-anticipated First Contact with an alien species?

His answer to that was a resounding YES. Someone had obviously just saved Earth, and this girl showing up when she did couldn’t be coincidence.

But what if she didn’t want to be publicly known?

Even worse, billions of people were convinced God had just saved them, so maybe this might not be a good time to tell them a cute teenage girl who didn’t wear clothing had actually been responsible.

Given that her vitals were holding steady and he had air for a few more days, he decided there wasn’t a hurry to tell anyone. But just the thought of what he was discovering and what everyone would say when he told them gave him goosebumps.

He also felt the first glimmer of hope for his own situation. If she’d gotten here on her own, then perhaps she had a way to get down to Earth? And if so, then maybe she could take him with her. On her ship, wherever it was.

His heart beat faster at that thought. Maybe… just maybe he wasn’t going to die up here after all!

 

Chapter Two

When Pete checked her vitals again an hour later, he was surprised to find that her chest was no longer flat. The curves from a pair of small breasts were visible under the flannel shirt. That was weird, and it made her look sexier. Something he tried not to dwell on.

Houston called for a check-in — their safety calls were still infrequent but it was better than the week he’d gone with no communication. He left her to go to the Comm Console to report on his air reserves, which were now down to three days instead of a week — he wasn’t about to tell them that was due to his venting into the airlock and that there were now two people breathing it. He reported one solar panel working well enough to stay warm and keep the lights on.

The ground controller didn’t push for details on his worsening status. She just acknowledged his report while struggling to keep the emotion from her voice. Amy Smart was an old friend who’d gone through astronaut training with him, and she knew he was going to die. Suffocating in orbit wasn’t a good way to go. Pete heard the restrained emotion in her voice, and cut the link before things got awkward.

He tried to eat afterward, but his mind was racing too fast as he imagined all kinds of explanations for the blonde. All of which were deep into what should be the realm of Science Fiction. Or was that comicbooks?

He drank some water and then returned to check on her again — she was still sleeping — and then stuck his head back down into the airlock. To his surprise, he found a small silver backpack floating in the middle of it. He swam in to retrieve it, hoping to learn something from its contents, chuckling to himself as he imagined finding her Galactic Driver’s License.

Instead, he found an assortment of highly compressed packages. That and some small cubes with etched patterns on them that suggested some kind of technology. Digging around, he discovered two golden necklaces in one of the side pockets, one thin and one a thick choker that had some weight to it, but none of the usual things that a woman’s pack or purse would hold. And unfortunately, no ID.

He returned to stick the backpack to the Velcro strip next to her. She was still sleeping, but now his flannel shirt was developing curves it had never had when he wore it. Her breasts were larger yet, by a lot now. He had no idea what was happening there, but was decent enough to adjust his shirt to cover a nipple that was peaking out.

Taking one of the plastic packets from the backpack, he went looking for an Exacto knife. He knew he was pushing his luck by trying to open it, but given he’d be dead in three days, it wasn’t that much of a risk. Big Badda Boom was better than gasping his life away.

The first blade snapped off before it made a mark, but the second one made a tiny knick in the plastic coating. The packet immediately began to puff up until it popped apart to spit out an exotic sky-blue dress that expanded to full size. Picking it up to examine it, he found that it closed with a choker at the top, which would leave the wearer’s shoulders and arms bared. A deep V formed the front and back before it flared into a very short skirt.

Was this their idea of a ship’s uniform? To his eyes, it was closer to something a young celebrity might wear to an afterhours nightclub.

He began testing the fabric, which felt strangely metallic yet had a bit of stretch to it. He tried to cut it, but wound up breaking several more Exacto blades trying. Definitely stronger than Spandex.

He eventually gave up trying as sleepiness came over him. He realized it had been 48 hours since he’d really slept, and likely the low oxygen was starting to affect him as well. Untiil she woke up, assuming she was going to, he could use the shut-eye.

He floated over to the closest set of sleep restraints and fastened himself in. Closing his eyes, he put his training to use, working to relax his body in stages — which is very easy in zero-G — while forcing his mind clear of all thoughts. It was an old soldiers trick to sleep on the battlefield between fire fights.


Three requests for check-in came from Houston, each one six hours apart, but they couldn’t raise the ISS. The word went out at the Manned Spacecraft Center — it was likely that Peter Conrad had taken the suicide pills the ISS carried for exactly this scenario — slow suffocation.

The Flight Director said to stand by the Comm link, but not to initiate any more calls to ISS. If Pete was still alive and he wanted to talk to them, they’d be ready. The telemetry from ISS was down, but given his last report, the air had been getting worse a lot faster than he’d first reported.


Pete suddenly jerked awake as something touched his face. Opening his eyes, he found himself inside a pale cloud made of golden silk. Blinking, it took him a moment to realize it was the girl’s blonde hair. Reaching up to brush it away, he found himself staring into wide-open blue eyes as she looked at him curiously.

“Thank you for saving my life,” she said in Californian-accented English.

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He stared wide-eyed while trying to wipe the dry crustiness from the corners of his eyes, struggling to wake up. He tried to talk, but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

She smiled while handing him a water bottle.

He just stared at her, the water bottle halfway to his mouth, mesmerized by the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen, accented as it was by cutely dimpled cheeks. She floated back a few feet to reveal that his borrowed flannel shirt was now stretched very tightly across a very rounded chest, the buttons straining to keep it closed. Large nipples were clearly visible despite the heavy flannel fabric.

“Who… who are you?” he was finally able to gasp.

“Alyta. Alyta Nivan’el, from Velor. And you?”

“Pete. Pete Conrad. From the United Kingdom.”

“British? Splendid. I studied that accent as well,” she replied in perfect King’s English.

“Alyta, I am so very, very glad to meet you,” Pete said enthusiastically, fully awake now. He held out his hand. “Did you have something to do with the asteroid?”

She nodded as her warm hand slid into his to hold him very tightly. Her skin was silky soft, but her flesh was impossibly firm, with steel tendons visible across her hand.

“So, did you, you know, come with that asteroid?”

She nodded and then shrugged and finally shook her head, blonde hair flying around her like a cloud, which made her look angelic somehow.

“Yes and no and probably not the way you’re thinking. Anja and I flew out to divert it once we realized it was aimed at Earth. The Arions will stop at nothing to get back at my people, and they know how much we cherish our roots on ManHome.”

Pete’s jaw dropped. “You… you changed an asteroid’s course! Billions of tons of iron-nickel? You must have some incredibly powerful ships. But undetectable?”

She nodded proudly and then shook her head again. “Most of the effort came from Anja, but I helped. Burned my Orgone to zero. That’s why I was so exhausted when I got here. I was too depleted to have survived aerobraking without my ship.”

She lifted her hands to cup her breasts, which were now far larger than her hands could surround.

“But as you can see, I’ve got most of my power back. So imagine how glad I was to find you when I was passing out. You saved me.”

He had no idea what the size of her boobs had to do with her power, but the way she was fondling herself was starting to drive him crazy. Enough that he couldn’t resist asking the first crazy thought in his head: “So, let me guess. That’s where you store your… energy. Whatever?”

“Orgone, actually. Concentrated biological cross-dimensional energy. You should see me just before I head off for a hole dive — gotta get comically overcharged then. But this is more or less the normal me.”

More terms he didn’t understand. “Hole dive?”

“Wormhole? Surely you’ve heard of them?”

Pete nodded. “Theoretically.”

“Oh, they are very real. Some black holes have an associated wormhole that is stable and mapped well enough that we can use them to get around the galaxy. Kind of a fancy transit system with hundreds of known wormholes and navigation beacons and maps and all that jazz. Think the London Underground, but with wormholes as the stations and solar systems as the neighborhoods.”

Pete shook his head as he stared incredulously at her. Here he was, was floating in the ISS with a teenaged blonde who traveled through wormholes the way people traveled on subway trains. He began to rethink the hallucination thing again. This was completely and totally nuts.

“I think the air is getting a little thin in here.”

“Yeah, more than a little. We need to get you down to the surface soon. Your crummy space station is falling apart.”

“Not going to happen,” Pete said with a shake of his head. “Getting to Earth, I mean. I don’t have a re-entry vehicle and nobody on the ground has a rocket ready to fly. Not in time anyway.”

“Then how about I take you down?”

He gasped. “You have your ship nearby?”

“Oh, I wish. It totally blew up when I tried to use it to push the asteroid. Anja said not to try, but I couldn’t resist. In the end, we both had to do it the hard way. Bare hands and lots of pushing.”

“Anja? Bare hands?”

“The Protector I work for. I mean, I’m pretty strong myself.”

She clenched her fist and made a muscle, and her arm expanded far larger than made sense given her slenderness, her biceps perfectly rounded and huge.

“But Anja is ridiculously strong. What with being a Planetary Protector and all.”

Pete found himself staring at the most intense muscular definition he’d ever seen. Her muscles had gone from slender to way larger than made any sense given her build.

“Wow. You really work out.”

She laughed. “Actually, I don’t, not since my training anyway, and I’m not all that strong, at least by our standards.”

She dropped her hands to her hips as she puffed up her chest. “Instead, I’m really good in the energy department, which is what got me a job as a Scribe. Makes it easier for me than most to hole dive. Still, that asteroid was ludicrously heavy, even for the two of us. The damned Arions tried to kill your planet, and if it had just been Anja here, as they thought, they would have done it. But thankfully, I was recently sent here to Scribe for her. This being Earth and all.”

Pete was getting even more confused. “Well, all I know is that you guys saved seven billion humans, and uncounted other animals.”

“Yeah. And then you saved me. I was passing out by the time I got to your airlock. Guess it’s been a good week for both of us, my Kiraling.”

“Kiraling?”

“It’s both a thing and a person. Kiraling Obligation is a lifelong obligation that we Velorians owe anyone who saves our lives. Given we’re very hard to kill, it’s a rare honor. If you hadn’t discovered me in the lock and brought me into warmth and pressure, I would be floating out there in hibernation or worse by now, maybe forever. Once my body shuts down in the cold and vacuum, I need some help to start making Orgone again.”

“I think it’s I who owe you the thanks, Alyta. You saved my entire fucking planet.”

She shrugged. “As I mentioned, Anja mostly did that. It’s what Protectors do. They’re ridiculously strong, and I’m just a Scribe. But I’m not completely useless.”

The pride was clear in her voice.

“Those are what… job titles?”

“Kind of. Like you’re an astronaut. That’s not your average job either.”

“So what happens with a Kiraling?”

“Simple. It means we can ask anything of each other. Absolutely anything at all.”

His mind boggled as he tried to keep his thoughts from going down less honorable paths. “What do you mean, anything? Like you’d kill someone for me or something?”

She shrugged. “I’d try to talk you out of it — killing is rarely a good thing — but if you insisted, then yeah, I would have to. No boundaries.”

Peter stared at her, eyes wide as he tried to comprehend that kind of obligation. It was getting harder and harder to rein in his wandering imagination.

She laughed, reading his face. “And yes, we must happily do anything that’s within our abilities, whenever asked. And with me, almost anything is within my abilities. Oh, and the bond… it lasts until one of us dies. Which brings me back to how we’re going to get you on the ground.”

“So… where exactly are you guys from?”

“No guys. Only women, at least off-planet. No boobs, no fly.”

She reached up to hold herself again, which sent Pete’s heart racing even faster.

“And originally from? How about a small town in what is now northern Sweden. Long ago. My people have lived for the last fifteen-hundred of your years on a planet named Velor that’s halfway across the galaxy from here.”

“And you get around by diving through wormholes to bend space?”

“Well, obviously. Limits of speed of light all that jazz. Can’t get from there to here any other way.”

“But fifteen-hundred years ago?”

She nodded. “The Galen visited Earth during the early Viking era, and given they had a problem to solve that we could help with, they abducted my ancestors’ whole village and made a few tweaks in our DNA by sharing a bunch of theirs.”

“A few? You can fly in space — naked by the way. Dive wormholes. Push billion ton asteroids around. And you’re the most beautiful young woman I think I’ve ever seen. That’s not a few tweaks. That’s a total redesign.”

She laughed. “The last part isn’t the Galen’s doing. As the story goes, the women of my village were known for their beauty. The “Village of Queens” is what the early Vikings called it. Chieftains and other high ranking Vikings came to our village every year to take young wives. Or so the ancient stories say.”

She looked around. “But right now, Astronaut Pete Conrad from the UK, my problem is keeping you safe while I get you to the ground.”

She took a deep breath, and one of the buttons of her borrowed shirt popped off. He tried not to gawk as she unbuttoned the rest of them and shrugged the shirt off to hand it back to him. Her large breasts sat high and perfectly round, her nipples pointing directly at him.

She looked down at his hand. “Ah, I see you’ve opened one of my clothing packets. Not the one I would have chosen, but it’ll do.”

Peter just stared at her, heart pounding wildly as she pulled on the tiny outfit. The top stretched over her dramatic figure so perfectly that it had clearly been designed just for her. Between her muscular back and the front V pulled wide open, with her nipples catching the edges to keep it decent, and those amazingly long, strong on display beneath the tiny skirt, she looked even sexier than she had in the nude.

“This is the kind of thing you wear back on Velor?”

She nodded. “When we wear anything at all.”

He struggled to pull his thoughts back. She might be impossibly gorgeous, but he was still facing the ugliness of a bad death. He had to somehow get from orbit to the ground in one piece. That's what he had to focus on.

“Ah, you know, Alyta, aerobraking will burn any of the ISS modules up for sure — no heat shields — and the station is only made for zero-G  operations. Even without the heat or aerodynamic stresses, the walls will crinkle and collapse just from normal gravity.”

“No problem. Just as long as your compartment will hold air for few hours and can handle a little shaking, it’ll work. My plan is to slowly scrub all your velocity off before dropping vertically into the atmosphere. That way you’ll get no significant heating or aerodynamic forces as we merely fall at terminal velocity. You won’t feel much gravity until I slow for a stop just above the ground. I’ll try to do it gently.”

“Scrub all our velocity off?” Pete asked, incredulous. “We’re talking 30,000 kph.”

“Yeah, so that’ll take some time given the fragility of the module. This so-called space station is little more than thin metal foil. Sooner we start the better.”

Pete shook his head as she reverted from King’s English to her original West Coast accent. “Why do you talk like someone from California?”

“Not California, Washington. Anja and I live in the mountains north and east of Seattle. Our goal is to blend in and live among you until we’re needed to deal with the Arions.”

“Arions? Who in the hell are they?”

“Imagine a version of me, but living in a Nazi-like militaristic culture. And it’s spelled ‘Arion’, not ‘Aryan’ despite the pronounciation. Arions are all about Empire and conquest and militarism as they try to gather all the human worlds beneath them — or blast them to bits if they refuse. They derive particular enjoyment from killing Frails.”

Pete shuddered. “That’s what you call us? Frails?”

“They do. We call you Sapiens. As in Homo Sapiens. We call ourselves Supremis. As in, Homo Supremis. We’re technically a sub-species of you. You came first.”

Pete shook his head. He didn’t like the sound of that. Race relations were one thing, but sub-species relations? God forbid if the White Supremicists learned about Arions — they’d adopt them as their own.

“How about you get me to the ground while you still can. Then we can talk.”

“Agreed. But one request first. The fact that Anja and I exist, especially the fact that we deflected that asteroid, has to remain strictly our secret. In fact, everything I’ve told you is secret. Earth is not ready the absorb the implications of a galactic civilization that you guys aren’t even qualified to join. You aren’t culturally ready.”

“So, is this… is this First Contact?”

She smiled as she shook her head, blonde hair flying. “Not even close. Remember, we’re originally from Earth. And there are a number of people on Earth that already know about us. Arions too, unfortunately, But for you, I guess so.”

Pete shook his head. She sometimes talked like a scientist, and sometimes a teenager.

“Good news is that I haven’t said anything to Houston about you so far, and now I certainly won’t. They all think I’m going to die in the next day or two, assuming I haven’t offed myself already. I won’t officially exist any more after this mission. Lost in space and all.”

“That’s actually very good, given that Anja and I don’t officially exist either. You should come and work with us. You’d be surprised by the kinds of things we’re doing.”

Peter shrugged, shoving away more thoughts he couldn’t absorb. “Too much to worry about now. Gotta get there first. Now, as far as compartments go, the air lock you came in through is the strongest structure on the ISS. But Quest isn’t designed to detach and obviously not aerobrake.”

She gave her silver backpack a toss toward the open airlock hatch. “No sweat. Hang onto that for me, will you? Useful stuff inside. And detaching won’t be hard. Just make sure you take whatever you might need to deal with minor leaks and so forth. Also whatever you need to strap yourself in. No way I can get back inside to help you without exposing you to vacuum.”

“Gotcha.”

“I figure it’ll take me a few hours to slow Quest down without breaking anything, and then another hour to descend. It’ll get cold and bumpy, so you’ll want to strap in with your back against one of the walls. I’ll keep the module oriented to put the G’s into your backside.”

She reached up to undo her choker, and the exotic dress she’d just put on slid silkily down her body to pool at her feet. “Probably should take this too. It’ll only get in the way.”

She handed the warm fabric to Pete, who was trying his best not to stare. Yet she didn't seem self-conscious of her nudity in the least.

He shook his head as he held the blue metallic fabric, the logical part of him disbelieving that this teenage girl was going to carry a part of ISS safely to the ground with him inside. In the nude. But he wasn’t so gobsmacked that he forgot what he had to do. He was an astronaut.

He tossed her outfit into the airlock and went to work grabbing emergency oxygen bottles, a CO2 scrubber, some reflective space blankets and his flannel shirt and an extra flight suit. Also some emergency hull patches. And the emergency water and food that had been in Unity when the rocks hit.

When he got back to the airlock with his load, Alyta was waiting for him, floating just outside the airlock, her hair a halo around her head in the zero-G, which made her look like a very naughty angel.

"Talk about an astronaut’s wildest fantasy!” he thought to himself.

The fact was, the whole thing was becoming so unreal that Pete wondered if he’d actually died in the asteroid collision. Was this his very personal concept of heaven?

He wasn’t conventionally religious, but spiritual enough that he’d always figured people went to a place of their own imagining after death. If he was dead, he likely wouldn’t know it. Getting hit by a big chunk of rock at 100,000 mph would have been instantaneous.

Strangely, he realized he didn’t care. Whether this was a struggle to stay alive, or the first saga of his afterlife, he was going on the ride of a lifetime.

Assuming he actually still had one.

 

Chapter Three

Pete pulled on every bit of clothing he had, and then wrapped himself in two reflective space blankets, duct-taping them closed before strapping in. Moment’s later, Alyta began twisting and pulling on the Quest module. Staring up through the window in the inner airlock door, he saw her digging her fingers into the Unity side of the docking adapter.

Fantastic muscles flexed again across her back and shoulders as she tore through the reinforced structural sections of ISS as if they were kitchen-grade aluminum foil. She was playing it safe by tearing Unity apart, making sure the Quest side of the module coupler remained undamaged.

So far, so good. She’d had some training.

Once Quest was freed, she spun the module slowly around with her hands until Pete’s back was toward the direction of travel. The module steadied, and he began to feel an increasing pressure against his back. Outside the windows, he watched the rest of ISS seemingly accelerate away, an optical illusion given it was Quest that was actually slowing down.

She kept increasing the delta-v until Quest started to make some popping, crinkling sounds. Pete put his hand out and waved it sideways, and then pointed down. His gestures were part of a set of simple signals they’d worked out seconds before he closed the door. She said she’d always be able to see his hands, but he had no idea how. He couldn’t see her out the window.

But it worked given she slightly relaxed the delta-V, which was pretty slight to begin with.

That’s when a thought that had been chewing at the edge of his mind hit him — nobody had ever significantly slowed a spacecraft while maintaining the same orbital altitude. Beyond requiring nearly as much energy to slow to a stop as it had used to launch, it took additional power to maintain altitude.

Even worse, there were now thousands of objects coming at him from behind.

Normally everything in orbit was going the same direction and roughly the same speed. He shuddered as he imagined himself standing in the middle of a busy Los Angeles freeway with his eyes closed. Except that the cars that were coming at him were traveling much, much faster than a rifle bullet.

He had no idea what the actual odds were of getting holed — space was very big, even in orbit around Earth — but he didn’t like the feeling of being exposed. Normally a re-entry vehicle would slow only a tiny bit before dipping safely into the atmosphere, carefully guided by Ground Control to avoid any debris.

The seconds ticked by into long minutes. The deceleration was very mild, but he’d been in zero-G for months, so it wasn’t comfortable. Mostly he just felt alone and vulnerable and increasingly cold.

He wondered if she would be harmed if something hit her. Surviving in vacuum was a lot different than getting hit with a refrigerator-sized spacecraft at thousands of miles per hour.

Long minutes ticked agonizingly into an hour. Frustratingly, other than his watch and a pressure gauge, he had no other instrumentation. The view out the window showed the nighttime Earth gradually slowing as it turned beneath him, but not getting noticeably closer.

He began to shiver as the air cooled dramatically, and frost crystals began to appear on the walls. The CO2 scrubber was doing its job, and he kept the oxygen level up by releasing occasional bursts from the emergency oxygen tanks. No leaks so far, but her slow deceleration was prolonging Quests’ time in the absolute zero of Earth’s shado.

But that was better than cooking on the day side, although at the moment he wouldn't mind a little sun. A very little, for he had no way to cool down. 

His teeth were chattering and he was shivering violently by the time the three-hour point came. Thankfully, that’s when the mild delta-v against his back fell away. They were falling now, presumably with zero horizontal velocity.

The Earth looked motionless out the window.

Ten minutes passed, then twenty, the cold growing unbearable, but he could see now that they were descending rapidly. Soon Quest began to vibrate slightly. Alyta was keeping the module horizontal to fall with its smooth, rounded side into the slipstream.

His back began to press harder against the side again, which said that they were slowing, either due to air friction or from Alyta. The buffeting grew until the entire module was shaking. He saw thin cirrus clouds going by outside the window, moving very fast.

Another few minutes passed, and then he was slammed against his back as Quest slowed rapidly, the gravity high enough that the walls began to crinkle and collapse. A long tear appeared in the opposite wall as Quest began to come apart, a bitter cold slipstream lashing him now as debris began flying around inside. He covered his face with his arms as things started to bounce painfully off him, and then the metal walls gave off a shriek as Quest split completely in half, spilling him out into thin air.

He flailed around, trying to stabilize himself in free-fall as he’d been trained, terrifyingly aware that he was below the summits of some nearby mountains. The trees were rushing up at him.

Then, just before he reached the trees, Alyta wrapped her arms around him from behind, her generous breasts flattening against his back as she slowed his fall, her blonde hair whipping silkily around his face as she spun around to take his weight against her chest. He saw the tops of several tall trees go by before she suddenly brought him to a stop only a few feet from the ground.

They hung there for a moment, his heart pounding so hard that he thought it was going to burst.

Rotating herself around so he was hanging beneath her, she began flying forward now, carrying him into a clearing that contained a modern Scandavanian-looking house, mostly glass with stained wood framing. Slowing more, she brought him to a stop in the middle of a large cedar deck that overhung a steeply-falling stream. She settled him on his feet, but his legs promptly collapsed. She grabbed him again just before his face hit the deck, guiding him back upright.

“Gonna… have to… get used… one G again,” he said through chattering teeth.

Alyta helped him into a comfortable chair and then floated in front of him, her toes floating inches above the deck. “So, how was the ride?” she asked. “That was a new one for me.”

Pete just stared up at her as he felt the warmth of the sun on his face. Down here, the yellowish sunshine made her hair glow as if it was lit inside, and her blue eyes sparkled like diamonds. Floating there naked, she was so intensely beautiful that he decided she really had to be some kind of Goddess.

Another voice came from behind him, a lower, gruffer voice. He turned to see an older woman, fiftyish-looking and very blonde, also very muscular. The difference was that she looked very outdoorish in hiking boots and jeans and a colorful bulky sweater.

“So who is this?” she asked.

“Pete Conrad,” Alyta said happily. “An astronaut from the ISS. He saved my life. So I returned the favor.”

The woman walked over to hold out a sinewy hand. “I’m Jane. I kind of run things around here.”

“Are you… are you a Velorian too,” Pete managed to gasp. He tried to take her hand, but his arm was shaking too badly.

She laughed. “Oh, Lordy no, but a little bit of it does seem to rub off over time. Been living here in the Cascades since I was a girl. Kind of fell into keeping things together for Anja and Alyta, neither of whom knew squat about living on Earth at first. Mostly still don’t.”

“You all live in this house?”

“Oh, hell no. Anja is too proud to share a home with a mere Scribe, being a mighty Planetary Protector. Her Majesty’s castle is in the next meadow just over there.” She pointed into the dense trees. Pete saw a small foot trail winding that way.

Jane turned back to Alyta. “And by the way, when the hell is Anja coming home? I figured since the asteroid missed, she’d be back on the job. Her phone’s been ringing. Her people are trying to get back to work and they need money to get things going again.”

“She had a lot of smaller rocks to deflect, Jane. And given she was depleted too, I suspect she’s probably in the photosphere of the sun by now. She likes to eat her energy in large chunks.”

“So… how exactly did Pete here save you, Alyta?”

Alyta looked a little sheepish. “I’d burned myself dry pushing on that rock. By the time I headed back to Earth, I realized I’d overdone it. I was on the edge of slipping into an energy coma when I saw the ISS beneath me. Barely managed to fly into Pete’s open airlock and do a little tapping before I passed out. Pete got me into warmth and air where I could recover — I was too far gone to regenerate out in the cold and vacuum. But I’m fine now.”

She reached up to cup herself again, something that Pete decided she did a lot.

Jane smiled. “Yeah, you look ridiculously normal.” She turned to Pete. “You realize what this means, saving her life. Kiraling and all?”

“I’m… s…s…tarting… to,” Pete shivered.

“You better get into the pool to warm up. And don’t you worry none about a swimsuit or anything.” She looked at Alyta, frowning. “Nobody seems to wear clothing around here.” She didn’t sound as if she approved.

Pete tried to get up, but between his shivering and his zero-G weakened legs, he couldn’t. Alyta dropped down in a cloud of blonde hair to lift him out of his chair, wrapping her arms and legs around him, her body so warm. “Come on, Mr. Shivers. Let’s get you out of those clothes and warmed up. Jane, can you make some hot cocoa or whatever to warm his innards?”

“Coming right up. And take it easy on him. He’s had a shock and he’s half frozen. Start off in the cooler pool if you don’t want to stop his heart.”

With that, Jane turned and walked toward the open door into the house.

Was that Jane’s job too — giving advice about how to keep normal people alive? Which was starting to get complicated. Pete knew he was officially dead or soon would be declared so. By now radar and telescopes would have told Houston that the ISS had further broken up, and this time Unity was torn apart and Quest was missing completely. There was no pressure left in the ISS.

Pete chuckled between shivers. And yet here he was, being flown around by a naked blonde high up in the Washington Cascades, and headed toward a hot tub or something.

Was he really in Heaven after all? 

 

Chapter Four

Senator William “Bull” Satrop was Chairing the most chaotic public meeting the Senate Intelligence committee had ever held. The world was in chaos, with governments everywhere trying to get things running again, but his focus was solely on the asteroid. As Chairman, he’d invited a number of experts and reporters to discuss how and why the asteroid had changed course during the week prior to reaching Earth.

Given his fundamentalist constituency back in Texas, Bull had invited several well-known pastors to speak first. They claimed that God had tested humanity, and some people had passed the test and others failed. A test for the Second Coming. They said that the steps humankind should now take to save themselves were all neatly mapped out in the Bible. People just had to believe. And obey.

Once their testimony was complete, and CSPAN and the various networks had broadcast their comments to appease his constituents, Bull emptied the room and closed the doors to descend in a private elevator to the high-security underground conference room. Two scientists from NASA testified before the Committee. They began by explaining the forces and timeframes of the deflecting forces, along with all the impossibilities regarding the asteroid’s size, composition and original course, aimed as it was straight at the Yellowstone crustal weakness. This was not a random bullet, they claimed.

They played an animation that revealed the way deflection forces had been precisely applied to change the asteroid’s path, both in strength and location of contact with the asteroid and the specific angle of force. They concluded that the effort had been highly optimized and performed with great precision. The obvious conclusion was that it hadn’t been a random one. Someone (or something) had known exactly how to deflect the asteroid using the least force possible.

Their conclusion was that sophisticated alien beings with advanced cloaking devices and powerful but invisible drive systems had done it. Aliens who understood astrophysics and celestial mechanics at least as well as any scientist on Earth. Unfortunately, as the presenters would be the first to acknowledge, all things that belonged in the realm of science fiction.

Bull Satrop was one of a very small handful of men who knew the innermost secrets of the American intelligence community. He also knew some things they didn't, and he had a job to do that was technically treason. 

After listening to every theory, he dismissed the NASA scientists, and then addressed his committee.

“Not one of those fucking dweebs had a good god-damn explanation for anything,” he said in his West-Texas style. “Just a bunch of geeks inventing aliens because they got no better ideas, and no fucking data. I do not believe this committee should bless any of their theories or encourage further work in those areas. We should accept the most obvious explanation — this was all just an Act of God — and close the books and focus on rebuilding our nation’s integrity. That should be the official position of the United States.”

Senator Bill Chamberlain shook his head. “You don’t really believe that, Bull. You heard them. There was nothing random or accidental about any of this. We need to dig into all the potential causes so we can defend ourselves. You heard that as clearly as I did.”

“I didn’t say random, Bill. I said God. We are a nation under God. Says so on every dollar bill. God did this to test us. Then he undid it. Surely you agree that God has such power?”

Bill shook his head again. “That may work for your people, Bull, but it sure as hell won’t for mine. Or for me. Science holds the answers here, and we have to figure it out and act accordingly. It’s clear to me that those answers are vital to our survival as a planet and a species.”

“OK, I hear you, Bill. Anyone else?”

Senator Jack Sheldon joined in. “I’m not buying the ‘God tried to kill us and then changed his mind’ thing either. But I agree that talking about invisible aliens is only going to spook the population. People will be looking onto every shadow, imagining enemies, turning on each other, looking up into the sky in fear. They won’t buy Act of God, many of them anyway, but until we have something solid to hang our hat on, it’s the best way to go forward.”

Senator Perry Blake also agreed with Jack Sheldon and Bull, while Percy Smith lined up with Bill Chamberlain. The committee vote was 3 to 2 for “Act of God” as the official position of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Bull was positive that the President would agree and that he would reassure the American people, given Bull had already prepared him for the Committee’s foregone conclusion. The President was going to make it part of his speech where he asked everyone to get on with the work of getting the country running again. The asteroid was gone and would never return.

As the Senators rose to leave, Bull leaned over to instruct his Chief of Staff to make sure he told NASA, and any other government science committees and organizations, that all scientific effort should be focused on rebuilding the country and its systems. No more looking for little green men.

 

Two hours later, Bull was at Dulles Airport, preparing for a trip home to Texas. He’d wrapped up things neatly here. Freya would be very pleased when he got home to her.

But like everything else in Bull’s life now, going home was just an illusion. He entered a stall in an empty Executive restroom and stripped off his suit to pull some worn, outdoorsy clothing from his brief case, along with a fake beard. He heard another man enter the stall next to him, and slid his suit, his Senate ID and his brief case under the partition to him. The ‘man’, who was actually a shapechanging Kecklavian, assumed his form and then dressed in his clothing. He left the restroom to hurry to the gate to catch Bull’s flight to Dallas.

Bull emerged minutes later wearing worn Jeans and a hickory shirt and a beard that gave him a lumberjack look. With a Level 1 access card in hand, he passed through a Security door to descend a narrow set of stairs, emerging at the bottom into a large empty room that opened through large doors onto the flight line. He waved as if at nothing, and something began to form in the middle of the room. A something that slowly revealed itself as a stairway. He walked quickly toward it and climbed up to disappear, the stairway disappearing behind him.

A very young woman with scarlet hair and large blue eyes hair waited on the stairs above him, looking down at him with her usual air detachment. She might downplay it around him, but like the other members of Near Earth Command, she couldn’t completely escape her upbringing, which had convinced her that humans were a less evolved sub-species.

Less evolved to the point that there were absolutely no laws in the Empire against killing a Terran, unless the killing degraded the Arion mission. Dogs had more protection under the law than Terrans.

stun062a

Bull understood that very well. He also knew that he’d be well cared for as long as he was useful. After that… well, the Arions didn’t leave loose ends.

But he was convinced that the Arions were going to someday own Earth, and he was determined to have seat at the table when it came to ruling Earth from inside the Empire. The Arions always put loyal Terrans in charge of any world they conquered, and his name was currently at the head of that list.

The Arions always thought long-term. They’d never intended their asteroid to hit Earth. They would have deflected it if the Velorians hadn’t. The rock was just a ploy to smoke the Velorians out of their hole and determine their strength, along with terrifying the population. Frightened people would listen to reason when the time came.

Bull followed the girl who was aptly named Scarlett up the stairs toward the Command Deck. Every other Arion he’d met had raven black hair with purple highlights, but red-heads made up several percent of their population, and they were valued for their superior powers of flight and unusual strength. It was said they were half Velorian, which explained both. Not everyone thought that was a good thing.

Bull certainly did as he admired the remarkable view of her strong legs and backside that her tiny skirt afforded. Like all Arions, her muscular definition was off the charts.

Finally facing her as he reached Command Level, he enjoyed the cut of her uniform. Like all flight crew, she wore a loose black uniform that was cut narrowly and deeply down the front to her waist, her miniskirt short enough to confirm that Arions never wore anything beneath their outer clothing. Just this simple uniform and some bars on their shoulders to denote rank.

“Get strapped in, Senator. You’re my only passenger today.”

She sat down in massive chair made of extremely thick V-steel. Once she was settled, a pair of thick robot clamps reached out to fasten around her bare thighs, and another set of powerful clamps closed around her small waist, securely attaching her to the seat. She opened the top of her uniform to expose her breasts, as was the norm when an Arion prepared to use her flight power.

     Bull was more than fine with that.

She punched a button to open the doors of the small hangar, and then crossed her arms under her breasts as they rose slightly, the ship rising with them. Bull felt as if he was sitting inside a clear glass globe.

There was no sound given that Scarlet was powering the ship with her body. Like all Stealths, this ship gave off no emissions or sound, nor any electronic signature given that its entire technology was based around the biological anti-grav organs called Volatai that every Supremis had been born with. The Supremis not only drew Orgone energy across dimensional boundaries, but their anti-gravity flight forces left no hint of the massive power being expended in this dimension.

The invisible ship slid silently past flight line workers until Scarlet lifted upward with her knees to tilt the ship straight up. She then tightened her backside to channel Orgone through her muscles into her Volatai, accelerating the ship so rapidly that Bull sank into the thickly-padded back of his seat, his eyesight narrowing.

In seconds they were above the clouds, and seconds after that the sky grew dark. The Mach meter had climbed to 12.0 before they left the atmosphere completely behind, climbing in a steep suborbital arc that would bring them down minutes later over the California coast.

Focusing the power of the pair of Volatai beneath her breasts, along with the two larger ones inside her pelvis, just inside each hip joint, she continued to power the ship to its apex, and then spun the ship around with a twist of her upper body to dive nearly straight down.

Bull had no idea how many G’s the Arions would pull without a human on board, but he gasped as his seat swiveled around to bury him under 6 G’s of deceleration. The air outside the transparent hull glowed faintly before Scarlet slowed to manage her infrared signature.

Minutes later, she was dropping through airliner flight levels, headed for a tiny bit of coastline that was the terrestrial home-base of the NEC. Hidden beneath bluffs on a carefully-guarded bit of coastline, this was where they hoped to someday convince the terrified Earthlings to join their Empire.

Much work remained to be done.

 

    Chapter Five

Alyta wrapped Pete tightly in her arms and legs as she carried him through a tunnel and into a large room with interconnected glass pools, all of them sunk into solid rock. The walls and ceiling overhead were made from fragrant Cedar wood, with the only light rising from the glass bottoms of the pools, each one a different color.

It was a very intimate and private place, which felt all the more comfortable given Alyta’s presence. Her gorgeous face was only inches from his as they talked, her arms and legs still gently wrapped around him as he thawed out, the water coming from a geo-thermal vent to flow from pool to pool before waterfalling into their pool, the lowest one.

They’d talked for some time before Pete realized that she was actually interviewing him for a job. He chuckled, wishing this was the way all job interviews were conducted. A beautiful young woman snuggling up in a hot tub.

He was really starting to like Velorians.

She told him that they were forming a team of people they’d snatched from the jaws of death. People with a technology background who had become ghosts given they were now legally dead.

Peter was impressed — that was a pretty narrow set of qualifications, and something only a Velorian could recruit, mainly by doing the saving in the first place. It was also good for retention — nobody was going to walk out and apply for another job given they didn’t officially exist.

But his amusement faded when she explained how serious the fight was between Velorians and Arions. Two nearly identical races of superhumans, one determined to rule the galaxy, the other equally determined to protect the independent worlds from Arion domination.

Earth was now caught in the cross-fire.

But the most amazing thing he learned was that Terrans had spread all through the galaxy, and were now living on hundreds of Earth-like worlds. The work of the Seeders, she claimed. All from Earth, long ago in the past.

It sounded more like involuntary abduction and resettlement in Pete’s book, but apparently it had been done in the days when outside communication was little more than scary stories that wandering storytellers exaggerated as they roamed from village to village, putting out their hat to gather donations as they entertained with their tall tales.

He tried to imagine that unwritten history as he marveled at the thought of Terran worlds existing across much of the galaxy, with trade ships going between them and sexy superhumans like Alyta keeping them safe.

Or binding them in servitude as she claimed the Arions did.

It all made Earth feel pretty insignificant. He was an astronaut who couldn’t even escape the gravity well of Earth, yet the Supremis and millions of Terrans were out there routinely diving through wormholes.

Alyta claimed that Earth was a preserve, a galactic park of undisturbed wilderness that had great sentimental value on her world. Earth was not supposed to know about the rest of the Universe. It was, after all, the evolutionary home of all humans, and it must remain natural.

They called it Manhome, and it was to be secretly protected and kept in a wild state of natural development.

All of which made Pete feel a bit like a zoo animal.

His shivering gradually stopped as his body warmed, something Alyta chuckled about when her hand circled the rising firmness of his erection.

His thoughts abruptly shifted from intergalactic civilizations to the beautiful girl in front of him, but Alyta just smiled mischievously as she sank beneath the water, her blonde hair floating on the surface. Pete gasped moments later when he felt her mouth surrounding him, drawing him in deeply to begin a spirited underwater fellatio.

Given he was still so wound up from his rescue, and hers, and so surprised by her underwater intimacy, he instinctively pushed her away.

He wasn’t ready for that!

Alyta was frowning as she rose dripping from the water to hover overhead. “Congratulations. You’re the first man anywhere to refuse a blow job from me.”

“It’s not that… I mean, I just wasn’t ready for that.”

“So my hand on your dick didn’t give you any clues?”

“Yes… and no. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to even be alive.”

He paused for a moment and then said sheepishly: “Can I, you know, maybe take rain check on that? I mean, I’d very much like…”

Alyta laughed as she shook her head, interrupting his awkward request. “No rainchecks needed for you, my Kiraling. My door is always open, so to speak. Hopefully I’ll find my gold, which is scattered out there somewhere in the forest thanks to your crummy space station module. I want to really get to know you.”

With that, she spun around as she shook herself dry, moving faster than a dog’s shake, and then flew off, leaving Pete feeling frustrated and astonished and totally disoriented. Things were happening way too fast.

He was trying to catch up with his own thoughts when Jane returned to hold a towel for him, her eyes sparkling as she studied him as he rose from the water. He felt like a prize stallion at an auction, with Jane impressed by his obvious worthiness as he stood at full attention. A very weird sensation.

“Just so you know, Pete, things are kind of free and easy around here when it comes to companionship.”

Pete didn’t have to decipher that as Jane led the way to a small bedroom made mostly of glass on the upper level of the house. There he found a variety of clothing in the drawers and closet that mostly fit him. Once he’d gotten dressed, he returned to the main level of the house, walking with crutches to support his still weakened legs.

Jane introduced him to Derek, who she said ran their Intelligence operation. He took Pete down a long, sloping tunnel that led to an underground control center that looked like something the military would have. Hundreds of advanced OLED displays were knitted together to make wall-sized displays that showed maps of the world with various kinds of data overlaid on them.

“We monitor News broadcasts and hundreds of scientific, medical and government publications, not to mention whatever military documents we can get along with their intercepted communications, the last thanks to some Scalantran Tech. We’re looking for signs of Arion intrusion. Given their asteroid sucker-punch failed, they’ll probably redouble their interference in politics and social media and corporations. Military too. They have a lot of agents down here. Worse case is they get control of one country’s nukes and start a war. So we look for signs of what they are doing and let Anja know. She makes the problems go away, but it’s our job to find them before its too late.”

“So what can I do to help?” Pete asked, feeling more than a little overwhelmed.

“Same as the rest of us. Read and monitor everything you can. Generate reports. Try to locate their agents based on their behavior, and that of the people around them. We’ve recently recruited three former American intelligence agents that Anja rescued from the Arions. You can work along with them to get up to speed.”

“What were the Arions going to do with those captured agents?”

“Kill them, of course. Right after they’d drained anything useful out of them. A Supremis woman can suck a lot of information out of a man’s head, mostly through his dick. Literally. Just before she kills them.”

“Bullshit,” Pete laughed, thinking that Derek was joking.

Derek didn’t smile. “Sexual intercourse establishes a kind of neural bond which allows a Supremis to read surface thoughts and eliminate a man’s ability for deception. Ask Alyta about it. Likely she’ll demonstrate, but I’m sure as hell not going to try and explain it.”

Pete just stared at Derek, trying to figure out if this was some kind of geeky joke.

“And if things work out for you,” Derek continued, “we’ll give you a new identity and you’ll go back out there and help develop contacts in government, military and industry. But it’s very dangerous. The Arions are extremely good at infiltration, and they are ruthless.” He stopped there.

“So, ah, OK, not that I’ve got any other options. Where and when do I start?”

“You already have. For today, just look around but don’t touch anything. If anyone asks, you passed the interview. It’s not like we get many dead guys in here with a Computer Science undergrad, a Masters in Systems Engineering and a PhD in Biology plus Astronaut training.”

“You’ve done your homework.”

Derek looked blankly at him as if to say that was obvious, and then walked off without ever shaking hands. Pete knew the type. High functioning Asperger’s. Brilliant but socially stunted. Lots of guys like him in Tech.

As expected, he found the equipment first rate, everything looking brand new with no expense spared, much better than most of what NASA or the European Space Agency had. But there were only three people in the huge room besides Derek. A woman in her late twenties and two guys who were well into their forties. All three were wearing VR display glasses and headphones and seemed unaware of him. He assumed this room had to be staffed 24/7, so there would be more people who were off duty.

“Not much to save the world with,” Jane said from behind him, her gravely voice startling him. He spun around to face her. “The Arions have many agents on Earth now, and most of them are as powerful as Alyta, although none are Anja’s match. They’re very good at what they do, which is to influence everyone of importance that they can reach. Which turns out to be most men, dogs that they are.” She was frowning.

Pete was struggling to reconcile her earlier come-on with calling men dogs.

“But we use technology better, thanks to Derek. The Arions focus on raw physical power along with seduction to influence important men into secretly supporting their cause. As much advanced tech as they have on their starships, they bring almost nothing down here for fear that we’ll detect it.”

“But they’re really like the Vels?” The idea of enemy combatants with Supremis powers was terrifying.

“Essentially the same genetics except for a broader range of features, hair colors and so forth. Vels are universally blue-eyed blondes due to a program on Velor that prevents genetic drift. And since most of the agents the Arions send are females, they have gotten very good at exploiting the weaknesses of men.”

“That’s pretty disgusting. Just a bunch of whores.”

“Whores maybe, but with Alyta’s strength and power, don’t forget that, plus all her beauty. Plus advanced military training. The Arions pride themselves on their seductive skills. They even doxy train their young women for it, not to mention that they have the same pheromones as the Vels, which few men can resist.”

Pete snorted. “Pheromones are a myth. For humans anyway.”

Jane laughed. “You may be a biologist, but trust me, if you ever get a whiff of Supremis pheromones, you’ll understand.”

“So these Arions here on Earth are the ones who prepared and sent that asteroid here?”

“Yeah. We wondered what was up when they all dropped off the radar a few months ago. Not like the Empire to give up. Now we know they were out there in the asteroid belt, preparing Dino and then tossing it at us.”

“Came pretty close.”

“Precisely. Given the numbers we had on the asteroid, it was outside Anja’s power to fully deflect it. Best she could have done was to drop it into the Pacific. The Arions rarely make mistakes, but they didn’t know about Alyta, who isn’t supposed to get involved in field stuff anyway, being a Scribe and all. She’s the hero here, but the folks back on Velor better not find out about it. Scribes are noncombatants unless their own lives are at stake. They’d recall Alyta to Velor and fire her or worse if they knew what she’d done.”

“That seems like a silly rule with all these Arions running around. Don’t they really want to protect Earth?”

“A lot of things about Velorian politics and planning are just plain stupid. The men who run things back there all have their heads up their asses. But Protectors do the best they can once they get out here.”

“So why don’t they send more Velorians here? One Protector against dozens of Arions, plus a noncombatant like Alyta?”

“Protectors are very, very rare. Not nearly enough to go around given every independent planet wants one. We’re lucky to have Anja given she’s been doing this for hundreds of years. We're still trying to get a former Companion to join us, but so far, no luck.”

“Hundreds of years…?”

“Yeah, she just celebrated her 342nd birthday. Not that she looks it. Vels age very slowly after they come of age.”

“So… what about Alyta?”

“She’s fresh out of the Academy. Inexperienced and impulsive with a poor understanding of her limits. She’s not trained at all like a Protector. Instead, she studied academics, culture and languages as opposed to combat. If not for you, she’d be floating out there in space in hibernation, maybe even dead by now. Which is why you’re her Kiraling.”

Pete shook his head. “Something I still don’t understand fully.”

“All you have to know is this: it’s both an honor and obligation without limitations, and thinking with your dick is not the best way to handle it. So don’t fuck it up.”

Pete stared speechlessly at Jane’s back as she turned and walked away.

To be continued…

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