The place that I visualized in Miami was a park I had visited a few times. Neither Fairchild or I thought about the ramifications of appearing out of the blue like we did. There were too many things at stake to worry about that. Fortunately, the only person who saw us arrive was a wino, who, I believe, had a sudden conversion to sobriety.
"I dont think hell start drinking any time soon," Fairchild said with a chuckle.
"Not as long as he remembers us he wont."
"Do you have the address?"
"Yup, Mel just sent it to me."
"Why dont you change back now. Ill fly us both to the Keys and itll save time later on."
Of course I saw the logic of Fairchilds suggestion. My Wanderer appearance was more than a little disconcerting and I didnt want to freak Tessa out. Still, the playful side of my personality that Fairchild was bringing out of me wouldnt just meekly accept.
"I know what youre trying to do," I said in mock accusation. "You just want to get your hands on my body again."
"Well," she said hanging her head in feigned resignation and giving me a sly look from beneath her long golden blond hair, "it did cross my mind." Her head shot up and she turned those beautiful electric blue eyes on me. "So, are you coming or not?"
Believe me, I couldnt change fast enough.
"Fair," I said when my human head was back, "Im all yours. Just, please, be gentle."
Those incredible arms which could shred steel like an ordinary person could shred paper gathered me up and held me close to her like I was a small child. Every other time Fairchild and I had traveled Id simply been holding her close. That experience was enough to get my heart going but being in her arms like I was was a thousand times better. That soft warm skin sent shivers running up and down my spine and the way her large breasts pressed into my side set my heart racing.
"Gentle enough?" she asked with a bright smile.
"Fair," I said resting my head against her muscular shoulder, "I dont ever want to leave."
Fairchild gave a quick but nonetheless intense kiss before she said, "I like that idea. Well have to explore that later on but right now weve got a job to do."
I did tell you that Id flown by myself before and well, I thought that I was pretty good at it. Wrong! The moment that Fairchilds muscular legs and butt flexed and she lifted us both from the ground I knew that I was in the presence of a true master, oops, mistress of flying. Fairchild flew with a style and casual grace which only comes after years of practice. She did everything without thinking and she did it with just as much effort as was required, nothing more. This lady sure didnt waste any energy. As we flew I watched the muscles in her legs and butt flex as she maneuvered us through the Florida sky. But mostly I looked at those eyes of hers and the joy which they held. It was an intoxicating sight. All too soon for my liking we landed outside Tessa Muldoons house.
Tessas house was a substantial ranch with a large screened porch which faced the ocean. There was a BMW in the drive and Fairchild pointed out the ten phone lines which led into the house. She also told me that Tessa was at that moment sipping a cup of coffee while she looked at three different computer screens.
"How do you want to handle this?" asked Fairchild.
"I guess youd better let me play this my ear," I answered. "I know Tessa pretty well. She wont give anything away for free."
"I can get money if thats a problem."
"Thanks Fair but I have something Tessas been lusting after for years. So money shouldnt be needed."
"Oh, and just what has Tessa been lusting after?" asked Fairchild her eyes twinkling.
"A book, you saucy vixen, a book."
"Too bad," sighed Fairchild. "She doesnt know what shes missing."
"Youre incorrigible, do you know that?"
"I cant help it," she said in a little girl voice. "You bring out the worst in me."
"Worst? Id say its the best but Im prejudiced," I said give Fairchild a quick kiss. "Anyway, Id like for you watch how things go. There shouldnt be any problems but if there are would you mind using your pheromones."
"Sure, no problem. But why dont you just use the Voice on her."
"I cant use it on a human being. Its part of the rules."
"Oh, I hadnt realized. Well, dont worry if things go wrong just leave everything to me Ill take care of it," said Fairchild flashing me one of those bone melting smiles of hers.
"I guess thats everything. Lets go."
Lt. LahrRinda shuddered when she realized that the enhancement of Terran filth, Basil Martine, would be successful. When he was first filled with Sub-Captain ZauShas mutagenic vaginal fluid she was not sure that he would live. His body arched in the hover bed and his limbs began to thrash and twitch uncontrollably. His plas bandage had opened instantly and blood which was darker than normal began to first ooze then gush out. Yet, even as LahrRinda thought that Martine would die the flow of blood slowed and then abruptly stopped. He stopped thrashing about shortly thereafter and lay back in a restful sleep. When his breathing had returned to normal she had looked up from his relaxed enhanced body and her eyes had met those of the Beta ThenEtte.
"Youre awake," said the Beta in a quiet almost child-like voice.
"I have been for a while," LahrRinda said deciding to be completely honest on the spur of the moment.
"Then you saw what happened with the captain and sub-captain?"
"Yes," she answered not able to keep the disgust out of her voice.
"What does that mean?" LahrRinda snapped.
"Nothing, powerful one," replied a now cowering ThenEtte. "It was simply that I thought you felt as I. I see now that I was incorrect."
"No," sighed LahrRinda, "you were not. The whole thing is revolting. Why do you put up with the degradation?"
"I am a Beta. What am I to do? Defy the captain," said ThenEtte with a contemptuous barking laugh. "To him all Betas are little more than Terrans. I am a plaything to be toyed with when the mood strikes them and discarded when they no longer have use of me. If I were to defy them I would be beaten into submission and the degradation would go on regardless. Tell me what should I do?"
LahrRinda had never thought about the plight of a Beta before. She had been guilty of taking them for granted like every other Prime. Not any more, now for the first time she did think of them but not as cattle to be used and discarded on a whim but as sentient beings with thoughts desires and destinies of their own making. For LahrRinda it was an epiphany. If her people were wrong about Betas could they not be wrong about others as well, like Terrans.
"I am sorry," she said her mind awhirl with questions. "I have never thought about the life of a Beta before now. I should have."
"Are you well lieutenant?"
"Yes, Im fine. For the first time in my life."
"If you say so. You certainly dont sound like a Prime. Perhaps your encounter with the Kintzi affected you."
"I dont think so. You heard of it then."
"Its the talk to the ship. Dealing with two Kintzi warriors while covered with gold. Remarkable."
"It would be if it were true."
"I didnt deal with the Kintzi. I was in a gold induced haze and would have fallen victim to them had someone else not intervened."
"Which Prime was it? None have come forward to claim responsibility."
"No one will. I was not saved by a Prime. I dont know who saved me."
"Im sorry to have brought up a painful memory."
"You really are sorry. Arent you?" LahrRinda asked amazed.
"Yes. I know that I should not, that youre a Prime and Im just a Beta but somehow youre different."
LahrRinda sat up on the hover bed and taking ThenEttes hand in hers said, "It means a lot to me to hear you say that." The Betas skin was hot to the touch and the contact sent shivers running along the Primes arm. "What will you do when he wakes?"
"I will return to being his plaything. What else can I do?"
"No, not impossible, just very difficult."
"Why are you saying this to me?" ThenEtte asked suspiciously.
"Because I want to escape as well and would take you with me if I can."
"Do you really mean that."
LahrRinda pulled the pretty Beta close and tenderly kissed her forehead. ThenEttes eyes went wide but she didnt pull away. Her body stiffened briefly and she sank into LahrRindas powerful torso and sighed contentedly.
"Yes little one, I mean precisely that."
"I would escape but how?"
"We wait and watch and run at the first opportunity. I will have myself assigned to watch the Terran. He will travel to the planet soon and we will try there. Are you with me?"
ThenEtte reverently kissed both of LahrRindas erect nipples and said, "I will follow you anywhere."
Tessa Muldoon had a few more gray strands in her lustrous brown hair than the last time Id seen her and her body was a little plumper but the extra pounds had all gone to the right places. She was still as attractive as I remembered and the devilish look in her eyes was still present. Her smokey gray eyes sparkled when she saw me and before I could say a word I was engulfed in a warm bear hug.
"Ross Archer," she said. "Where the hell have you been? And whose your lovely friend."
"Her names Fairchild."
"Pleased to meet you Fairchild," Tessa said sticking out her hand.
"Its very nice to meet you Tessa. Ross has told me a lot about you."
"I bet youre surprised that I dont have two heads and a forked tongue."
"Tessa," I admonished, "Id never describe you that way. I just told Fairchild the truth."
"Thats bad enough Ross."
"Look Tessa, Id love to say and banter like this all day but Fairchild and I have come on serious business and we dont have the time."
"You know my rule Ross. Something for something."
"I remember and Im prepared to meet your price. I dont have anything with me. Will you take my word that Ill pay you."
"If it was anyone else but you Ross Id tell them to go the hell. But seeing as its you, all right."
"Thats good. Fairchild and I want to know if in your travels you ever come across any artifacts and might be of alien origin."
"Possibly," Tessa said looking at me closely and thinking very hard.
"There would probably be more than one and theyd be in a group," said Fairchild.
"That helps," said Tessa opening a drawer to one of a dozen filing cabinets and rummaged around for a couple of minutes. "Ah, here it is," she said taking out a folder. "Now, the question is what is it worth."
"Honestly Tessa, theres nothing better that Id rather do than spend the next few hours haggling with you. But I just dont have the time. I know that youve always wanted the Hemingway. Its yours."
Tessa was actually disappointed that I wouldnt dicker with her. It was one of her greatest joys in life and Id effectively robbed her of that pleasure. Her expression became petulant and for a second I thought that she would actually turn my offer down. I was about to nod at Fairchild to let loose with her pheromones but then Tessa handed me the folder. Avarice won out.
"Here you go," she said as I opened the folder and Fairchild looked over my shoulder. "Theyre called the Three Stars. They were found over a hundred years ago by a miner in Colorado. They were given to the mine owner and then bought and sold four times. The last owner was named van Lydon, who made his money in railroads. As far as I know theyre still in his estate in California or whats left of it."
"Shit!" I spat. "The van Lydon mansion is just down the road from my place."
"Ross," said Fairchild ignoring my outburst. "I think these are the ones."
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"As sure as I can be looking at the pictures. But if you look closely at this light veining it looks a lot like circuitry."
For the first time I looked closely at the grainy black and white photograph. Imbedded in an irregular piece of shale where what looked like three gemstones. I could see that each was covered with something like cracks or veining but as I look intently the pictures swam and my perspective zoomed in. I could see it now. There was a definite pattern to the cracks and Fairchilds description was right on the money. They did resemble circuitry patterns.
"Youre right Fair thats exactly what it looks like."
"Ross," interjected Tess, "what is this all about?"
"Would you believe the end of the world," I answered as Fairchild and I turned to leave.
"Promise to tell me about it someday," said Tessa as we left. "It sounds like a fascinating story."
I didnt reply. I had too many other things on mind to concern myself with other than Tessa. Fairchild and I sprinted to the nearest palm trees where I could change without being seen. Once I did I gathered her in my arms and we left. There was no talk or friendly banter. Both Fairchild and I knew that time was running out and we were going to have to push hard if we were going to catch up.
We appeared in the woods behind my home. As soon as I let go of Fairchild I pointed and said, "There."
"Pistu!" Fairchild exclaimed. "Theyre already there."
Fairchild leapt into the sky and I was just a fraction of a second behind her. I had just a brief glimpse of her muscular legs before I focused my attention on the large Victorian mansion just over ten miles from my home.
The Arions werent even trying to hide their presence. Their armored shuttled had landed in the estates large garden. I could see at least a half dozen Arions roaming the grounds but suspected that there were more of them out there. In addition there were two Primes in front of the shuttles open hatch. This was unusual, I thought, and I pointed this out to the streaking Fairchild. The only reply I got was a bright smile and a thumbs up.
I veered off and made right for the shuttle. I was still a mile out when I was spotted by the two guards. I would have been surprised if they hadnt seen me. Its hard to miss a nearly seven foot tall flying man with the head of a jackal. As I dove they fired.
The first shot I was able to dodge but not the second. For a second it was like my body was on fire but the feeling vanished just as fast as it came. Id lost control of my flight and had fallen just a few hundred yards. I quickly righted myself and made straight for the two Primes.
This time I didnt take any chances I came in guns, that is to say force bolts, blazing. I kept a tight reign on the power I put into my shots because just as I headed for the shuttle the second time I saw the flash of a human energy signature. I didnt aim directly at the Primes but at their feet. The ground exploded and they were both thrown off their feet. Before they could rise I was there.
The first Prime got a point blank shot from my eyes which struck the Arion squarely in the face. He collapsed and I turned to his partner, a cruel looking woman with vengeance in her eyes. I didnt think I just struck her with my wrist. My silvery bracer hit in the collarbone and there was a satisfying crunch. She got a chance to groan once before my force knife slipped between her ribs and crushed her heart.
I turned instantly to her partner but he hadnt even moved. I didnt take any time to make sure of him. I entered the ship.
There were four people handcuffed to various seats. I recognized them instantly as my colleagues. Naturally, they shrank back from me as I entered. Even after I assured them that I was a friend the looks on their faces didnt change. They did perk up when I snapped the cuffs off them and ushered them to the exit. Once outside I told them to run and find a nice hole to hide in. From the way they bolted Im sure that they took my warning to heart.
I took at brief glance at the Prime that Id left alone. I discovered that he wasnt dead. His hands were twitching spasmodically but his eyes hadnt opened or even fluttered. My mind told me to just kill him and be done with it but I couldnt bring myself to just callously kill him even if he was an Arion. My mind returned to my conversation with the Syliad chief archivist about the nature of Arion violence. It didnt help. So, I compromised. I didnt kill him but I did give him another force bolt at point blank range. This one buried his face and head completely in the dirt.
I turned back to see Fairchild exercising those muscles I loved so much. She had a dazed Prime by the right leg and was using him like a club to beat two other Arions. Her brilliant blue eyes were afire with the intense activity and I found myself getting caught up in her enthusiasm. I held up my hand to wave at her when the ground around her exploded. Bodies were thrown into the air and loud barking shots echoed around the estate.
At first I thought that some more Arions had arrived on the scene but when more bursts of energy exploded amongst a group of Primes I was instantly disabused of this notion. I turned to see half a dozen armored Kintzi lope down a low hill firing from the hip.
As I ran forward to help Fairchild more Primes came boiling out of the mansion. Two were carrying a large rock, which had to be the Three Stars. And around them were ten more Arions, four Primes and six Betas, all heavily armed. We all saw each other at precisely the same instant.
I didnt know who to attack first but I didnt have to bother. The Kintzi solved that problem for me. They fired on me.
I was thrown twenty feet into the air but even as I was falling I was firing back. I didnt fire on the Kintzi, however. I shot one of the Arions carrying the Three Sisters in the kneecap. He screamed and fell to the ground but the other Prime easily shouldered the burden and continued toward the shuttle. I tried to shoot him as well but couldnt as I was enveloped in a hail of energy weapon fire.
It felt like a hundred sledge hammers were hitting me all at the same time. They didnt really hurt but the cumulative effect was definitely taking a toll. I dont know how I did it but I closed my eyes and jumped.
The Arions and Kintzi who were firing at where I had been didnt notice my disappearance. They kept on firing. I got to my feet next to the shuttle and let them know that I had moved. My eyes and hands blasted into a cluster of four Kintzi. They were tossed around like rag dolls in a hurricane. I didnt watch where they fell I turned immediately on the Arions.
They had gotten the massage and instantly scattered. Things degenerated into a kind of weird running gun battle. I would fire and move before they could draw a bead on me and they would return fire and move to escape my wrath. The time this all took couldnt have been more than thirty seconds but to me it seemed like an hour at least. I thought that they werent working with a plan but I was wrong. The Arions had cleverly herded me away from their shuttle. I only realized this when I saw that the Prime carrying the Three Stars had entered the shuttle.
I cursed my stupidity and started back determined to make up for my mistake but the moment that I began to move I was enveloped in a storm of fire. I fired back wildly and was about to jump when I saw that Fairchild was back up on her feet and making her way to the shuttle. A Prime got in her way and her right leg flexed mightily as she kicked him right in the nose. Even where I was I could hear the bone snapping. Now, there was nothing between her and the shuttle.
Fairchild was less that thirty feet away when a man popped up in front of her. He wasnt dressed like an Arion and he dropped to his knees in front of her. As he looked up into her face pleading I saw his face. It was Basil Martine.
"No," I screamed but it was too late.
Basil brought his head up sharply and head butted Fairchild right under the chin. I was stunned that he didnt crush his skull. Instead Fairchilds head snapped back and she was rocked back on her heals. This would have been an all too temporary victory except that Basil brought out an energy pistol and fired point blank at Fairchilds crotch. She fell to the ground writhing and instantly four Primes were on her.
I saw red. I dont know what I did next because I stopped thinking the instant that Basil fired on Fairchild. I do know I howled like a rapid wolf and it sure got everyones attention. I was vaguely aware of Sub-Captain ZauSha emerge from the shuttle and hurled a four foot long cylinder into the air. But at that point I wasnt the least bit curious I just want Fairchild back.
This was my first experience with an Arion cluster bomb and it wasnt a pleasant one. I was first aware that something was happening when I heard the first low detonation and then the entire world explode. Let me give you a brief explanation. An Arion cluster bomb follows the same principle as Terran ones do. A group of small bombs is released by a preliminary explosion. The major difference is in the size of the smaller bombs. I shouldnt really call them smaller theyre only small in size not in explosive force. The fact is that each individual bomb has the explosive force equal to five tons of TNT and when you consider that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand small bombs then youll have an idea of the hell that ZauSha released.
In that moment I had dramatic proof of just how tough I had become. My body was thrown about and I had an appreciation of what a tennis ball goes through. I lost all sense of direction and I couldnt see a thing as the earth was torn loose and churned in the air. It was like we were all put into a giant blender. This went on for about twenty seconds and it was another thirty before I could get shakily to my feet.
The first thing that I saw was that the shuttle was gone and so was Fairchild. Now, I really lost it. I howled and howled and every window for half a mile was shattered to powder.
"FAIRCHILD!" I shouted when I stopped howling.
I didnt look around me. I didnt think about the Three Stars. I didnt think about the fate of humanity. I didnt think about anything except the plight of the blond Velorian Protector who had so touched my heart. I took two steps forward and was about to take off when I felt something grab my left leg. I tried to shake it loose but whatever it was hung on tenaciously. Finally I was forced to look down. What I saw froze me in my tracks.
It was Lt. LahrRinda and she was in bad shape. Yet, she was in perfect health compared to the Betas who lay at her knees. I barely recognized the little Beta who had been given to Basil Martine as a play toy. Most of her hair was gone and her left cheek was crushed. Blooded flowed from both her nose and her ears. Whatever clothing she had been wearing was gone and her body was covered in soot and burns and so you couldnt see the bruises which covered it. Yet, from the way her breath wheezed and blood bubbled from her nose and mouth I knew that she had at least one punctured lung.
"Please dont leave her like this," pleaded LahrRinda looking up at me with sad eyes.
"Why should I do anything to help either her or you?" I snapped.
"ThenEttes a Beta. She has no choice about who she was or what she did. Shes a slave," she explained through her tears. "Please! You helped me when you didnt have to. Help her!"
"Damn it!" I cursed as I watched the shuttle disappear into the sky and knelt next to the wounded Beta. "It just had to be you didnt it."
"You can save her," she said looking into the injured face of the Beta. "Youve just got to save her."
"You really care about her dont you?"
"Yes, more than I ever thought that I could care about anyone. Can you do it?"
"I just dont know," I answered honestly. "She has a concussion at the very least." I pulled back the lid of ThenEttes undamaged eye and was her pupil remain unchanged. "But I think her head wound is more serious than that. She has a puncture lung." My large jackal ears confirmed this for me. "And probably some other internal bleeding as well, not to mention the broken bones."
"Then theres nothing you can do," LahrRinda said hanging her head and weeping silently.
"I didnt say that. I only said that I didnt know if I could help. That doesnt mean that I wont try. Help me pick her up."
LahrRinda wiped her eyes and together she and I gently lifted ThenEtte from the chewed up earth. Each of us placed our arms under the serious injured Beta and cradled her tenderly.
"Grab my arms," I told LahrRinda. "Its time to go."
"Where are we going?" she asked as she took my wrists in her hands.
"Somewhere you probably shouldnt go. But Ive always been a sucker for a woman with a pretty smile," I said as I brought the image of my ship to mind and damn if LahrRinda didnt smile at me.
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