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Alien Exodus


Book Three of the Alien Something Trilogy


by

Mary Margaret Branning

Copyright 2017 Mary Margaret Branning

Smashwords Edition


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever including Internet usage, without written permission of the author.

Big Fat Thank You page:


My Sincerest Gratitude belongs to:


Nina Davies and her Autocrit software, without which this book would have been even messier than it currently is.


Jesse Gordon of A Darned Good Book.com for expert formatting and advice.


Graphic Artist Toshi Simon of Allegra Print, Sign, and Design in the White Mountains of Arizona, for his excellent work on the book cover.


Magann (Markus Gann) for the green iris, via Shutterstock.com.


Andrea Danti for Space ships travelling to a futuristic city. Mixed media illustration via Shutterstock.com

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Chapter One: Bustered

Chapter Two: Klon, Civilized

Chapter Three: Bumpin’ Alien Uglies

Chapter Four: Hit… Thing

Chapter Five: Vacation with a Side of Business

Chapter Six: Domestic Interlude

Chapter Seven: The Trakennad Dor

Chapter Eight: Dual Duplicity

Chapter Nine: Buster Makes Bank

Chapter Ten: The Anything Goes

Chapter Eleven: The Rapha Disappears

Chapter Twelve: Infinite Recycling

Chapter Thirteen: The God Remnant

Chapter Fourteen: Alien Fight Club

Chapter Fifteen: Really Big Show

Chapter Sixteen: A Fine Finale

Chapter Seventeen: Return to Earth

Chapter Eighteen: Deena’s Final Betrayal

Chapter Nineteen: The Realm of Conscience

End Notes

Chapter One
Bustered



Buster ordered the ship to adjust course to swallow up some loose metal scree floating off to port, and then she left the bridge.

She didn’t walk; the low interior gravity prevented walking. Buster didn’t keep the gee low because she needed to conserve energy; the scow’s capabilities included conversion into energy of many of the materials found floating around in the Infinite.

Mainly the engines relied on hydrogen, always abundant in space. Sometimes the ship scooped up spacebergs, distilled out the water, and split off the hydrogen from the oxygen. The useful solar collecting outer hull panels worked efficiently when they came close enough to light sources, and even reflected or refracted light. Once in a while they ran across shipwrecks or jettisoned fuel tanks containing unused fuel. She rarely traded for fuel. The scow was adaptable.

No, Buster didn’t walk simply because she liked using the handholds to pull and push herself along - to float. She spent most of the time with the gravity dialed down.

Her drift wasn’t aimless; her goal was the gym. Because she spent so much time in thirty-five percent gravity, Buster used the gym frequently.

There wasn’t really much else to do.

As she entered the gym and sealed the hatches, the loud clanging of the reclaimed metal scrap on the interior hull reverberated throughout. The company spent untold wealth on the ship’s brain, the recyclers, hull reinforcement - because of the massive storage areas, and the engines, but little on crew comfort. The noise of scrap hitting the walls after being scooped out of space was barely dampened.

No matter.

After she righted herself, Buster ordered the gym to increase its gravity to one-point-five Universal. Slowly, she fell. The insulated soles of her booties pressed into the hard flooring. This footwear protected her from sudden impact and most of the cold of the floor. She let one rip and moved away while the ventilation removed her effluent.

The vessel collected and made plenty of energy to heat the shipwalls and the decks, too, but to warm up all those surfaces just for her seemed like a waste. So, Buster kept them almost livable, relying on her thermal boots, gloves, and hooded skinsuit to protect her. The shipwalls weren’t freezing, but the occasions she did touch them with unprotected skin reminded her that, yes, she was still alive, and not simply a ghost haunting an empty ship searching endless space for garbage to recycle.

Walking the few steps to the machine was exercise itself in the one-point-five gravity units, accustomed as she was to thirty-five percent. But she was also used to the exercise, and she wiggled into the machine and waited as its padded clamps closed on her various parts. She tightened her abs, pulled in her arms and legs, and began.

After the sweat began to bead on her skin she ordered a grav increase of fifty points. Two gravity units forced her to strain more at the padded clamps. Her muscles bulged and her veins swelled. Ligaments, tendons, and membranes complained.

No matter.

She imagined her heart growing larger and stronger with each pull and push, willing it so, controlling the straining muscle’s beating with her breathing. Slowing her pulse, she worked harder.

Sweat beads broke free and fell splashing onto the deck. The floor absorbed them for recycling. She gripped more tightly. The clamps on her legs and arms held tight, wicking moisture. She decreased the gravity seventy five points to rest, still moving the resisting machine with her own kinetic energy. She breathed deeply but regularly, further lowering her heart rate.

Through the ship’s vibrations she felt the bay clamps reaching out to grasp and manipulate the garbage. The analysis of the scrap for content produced a grinding shudder.

“Log results,” Buster gasped, so the ship would not announce the results. She was uninterested now and would access the information later.

Whatever the scrap amounted to didn’t really matter, the ship would neutralize anything harmful, disassemble manufactured refuse down to its basic elements or useful composites, segregate and containerize or palletize each type, label, and make a record of every little thing.

“Increase gravity fifty points,” Buster ordered. The increase wasn’t sudden, but gradual. The ship knew better than to make instantaneous changes, because she’d taught it. She’d taught the machine the temperature she liked in the air, her quarters, the bathwater, and her food and drinks.

The company provided only basic foods, and no coffee, tea, or sweets, and Operators were expected to buy and trade for the items they preferred on the planets they serviced, and to make do. Buster had stopped paying for her own supplies after the first thirty years of service, and included supplies in the contracts she made with clients. This way the Company ended up paying for them, and she didn’t touch her accumulating compensation. The Company never complained, she was their oldest employee, literally, chronologically, and in seniority. She’d been working their scows for one hundred and seventy-three years, ever since the Company had bought her from the humans. Put to work after six months of training, she’d had outlived two ships. This was her third. Buster had no idea what her ultimate lifespan would end up being.

Lactic acid ravaged her muscles.

“Decrease gravity twenty five points,” she grunted.

The banging and ripples of motion and noise from the bay ceased.

“Ocean view,” Buster gasped. The bulkhead in front of her shimmered before displaying a gorgeous view of a red, orange, and white sky above an undulating orange surf with yellow foam. The arrhythmic motion of the waves calmed as much as the color aroused. Buster braced herself.

“Increase gee seventy-five points.”

Buster strained and pumped the torturous device for one minute more in the final abysmal sprint in two-and-a-quarter gravs, then relaxed utterly. The machine slowed and stopped in response to the lack of kinetics.

“End,” she ordered, and the contraption released her. Standing, she wriggled free of her skinsuit, and held it in her right hand. She walked over to the bulkhead, gripped a handle, pulled open a little hatch, which was hinged on the bottom, and dropped the used article inside. It would be recycled. The door banged closed and she stood naked, soaked, with sweat running in rivulets down her body, which immediately disappeared as it dripped onto the deck. This absorption limited condensation, conserved water, and prevented slip-and-falls. The Company, requiring her to keep herself uninjured, had engineered and programmed the ship to be helpful in this regard.

“One gu,” she ordered, and felt her body stretch with the gradual release of a full gravity-and-a-quarter of pressure. Her joints creaked and popped.

“Raining forest,” she said to the bulkhead and the scene changed. The sound of water sprinkling soil and slapping leaves filled her ears.

“Scent,” she said. The complicated scent she associated with this particular scene entered her nostrils. She breathed deeply and stood still. Sweat still ran down her body. The skin’ she wore wicked like mad, almost chilling her. She bent over to stretch her calves, hams, butt and back. After a minute she stood, bending her knees on the way up to protect her tight low back. She leaned forward and pressed her palms against the sealed hatch, stretching her calves and Achilles tendons further. She held this posture for two minutes.

Even though the Company had taught her their own system of time, the planet of the Company’s origin, Ordoron, used another. Once she’d had the ship to herself, she’d programmed the shipbrain to talk to her in Earth time, Christian calendar, followed by the Company’s manner of telling time, and then Ordoron’s. These adjustments remained, even though so many decades of listening to the different systems side-by-side had made both Company time and her native Earth time equally accessible in her mind. Ordoron’s complicated time system became understandable with a little calculation, which she found, after several decades, she’d learned to make automatically.

Buster stood up. “Preferred,” she told the ship, and the gravity lessened to thirty-five percent. She would finish stretching after her bath. As the gravity adjusted she ordered the rain forest to quit and the hatch to open and pulled herself from the gym. She floated freely, grabbing handholds to propel herself through the tubular corridor to her quarters. Once there she sealed the hatch.

“One grav. Bath,” she said. Water ran in the next room when the gravity field finished adjusting. She stepped through the hatchway and stood watching the tub fill. “Close.” The bathroom hatch closed behind her and the ambient temperature rose. So did the humidity, but the air moved gently to counter the cloying moisture.

She examined herself in the reflective walls of the small bathroom. Same old scars - battle scars. Same old tattoo, B-4ST327R. Same bored expression on a perfectly seamless face. There were no reasons for expressions, therefore, no wrinkles. No one existed to perform expressions for anymore. Same shaved head.

She stepped into the water closet and made a satisfying deposit, cleaned herself, and stepped out. This hatch closed automatically behind. Buster stepped into the water and lowered herself in, feeling the tightened muscles stretch with her movements.

There used to be someone to emote for, but he was long gone. At first he’d made her smile, but the frustration came soon enough. Then came the scowls, and later, anger. The relationship became a typical Odd Couple situation, with Buster playing Felix.

What was “Oscar’s” name? Cob? Nob? Rob? Oh yeah. Bob

Bobrin the Braxletl. Bob the lover. Bob the corpse.

No matter.

Bob wouldn’t have lasted long anyway; Braxletls have an inadequate life span. They burned brightly though, for a short while, especially, in her experience, sexually.

When she’d notified the Company of his demise they agreed she should continue on alone. It would have taken her years to get back anyway, even as the crow flies, as they used to say on Earth, since she was in the middle of yet another twenty-one year (Earth time) loop. They sent her the shipbrain’s advanced programming instructions, which Bob, as an employee and not a slave, had been the master of, the coordinates of the rest of the clients on this circuit, and wrote, “Contact us if you need something.”

She’d finished the circuit herself, went back to Odoron, and was sent out again. That next time, they’d sent Buster out alone.

Bob had died. Seventeen years had passed.

As her body relaxed in the hot water and the humid, warm air entered and moistened her dry lungs, Buster’s memories drifted back to when she hadn’t been alone.

Bob had been an employee, and she, a slave, but he didn’t seem to hold her reduced status against her, or her gender, either. No, his particular complaint was that she hadn’t always appreciated him the way he decided he should have been appreciated, in an unconditional way.

But Buster wasn’t that kind of creature. Behavior mattered to Buster. She hadn’t much cared how Bob thought, only how he acted. So when he forgot to secure tools which could, in an emergency, or even under normal operation, propel around and injure or even kill her, she mentioned this failure. And when the endangering behavior happened again, she mentioned it again. And again. Likewise, when he left his personal junk lying around the communal spaces, such as the mess, the lounge, or the gym, she mentioned that too. Since Buster made the effort and took the time to secure tools and return her things to her quarters, she expected the same consideration. Bob continued to fail to be considerate. She found herself repeating her request for him to clean up after himself. She began to hate herself for turning into such a bitch, and him for being so unresponsive.

Oh, he was always polite, agreeable even. “Sure, Buster, I’ll clean up,” he’d say, but rarely made much of an effort. When Buster left him on the bridge and went into the lounge to read or watch some entertainment, his mess lay all around her. Sour smelling clothes, food desiccating in containers, drinks moldering in mugs, reading material and games strewn on every surface, his personal grooming appliances and various surfaces covered in hairs and whiskers - he was quite hirsute - you name the mess, he left everything behind on his way to making another.

She’d asked him, “Why do you do this though I’ve repeatedly asked you not to?”

He’d replied, “My last shipmate didn’t mind. She was the same way as me.”

“Well, I’m not her, and I don’t want to live in your filth.”

By this time they’d embarked on a sexual relationship, since they’d agreed this was only reasonable; their stay on the ship together would be long and their genitals fit each other’s well enough, even though they didn’t belong to the same species. They learned to physically please one another in other ways, as well.

After she’d yelled at him, finally scaring him, having become tired of requesting, asking, demanding, and pleading, he’d made an effort. She showed her appreciating by backing down in her demands. His quarters became the mess, since he stuffed all his possessions into his personal space, in no particular order, but about this she didn’t care because never went in there. Buster even avoided looking when she passed that way and he’d left hatch open.

The other conversation about his behavior occurred regarding all the tools he left lying unsecured all around, which ended up floating about and hitting things when the ship lurched as it sometimes did while changing course, or when some garbage hit the hull inside or out. The old ship was designed and built to handle a rough job, with minimal thought for those who might be living inside, and thus the precautions were logical. They were even required by the Company.

Buster continued to bring up this dangerous sloppiness in many conversations, but Bob didn’t think much of it until that time the ship orbited the planet - which one was it? The outer orbit was full of the trash the inhabitants had ejected into it, and this waste buffeted the ship constantly as it scooped up the mess. An excellent haul, and the advanced civilization paid well to have its local space cleaned and the recycled materials returned to them for further use in manufacture. But the ship had been a dangerous mess inside as everything Bob neglected to secure for years ended up everywhere other than where it should have been. Buster was hit in the head by a large whirling wrench, and in the deltoid by a cutter which left a deep and painful gash.

Done, then, with patient suggestions, explanations, and waiting for his compliance, Buster threatened him with bodily harm. He’d actually wondered aloud why she cared, since she healed so fast, and whined insensitively, “You don’t even feel pain, do you?”

“Yes, I do, you stupid douche!”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry. Well, that’s all right then. CLEAN UP THE SHIP!!! Secure everything where it belongs.”

“What? That’ll take years!”

Patiently, Buster quieted her tone. “Which is why I’ve been telling you for years to secure the tools after you use them, so this won’t happen. It’s easy enough to predict. I wasn’t just being a bitch. How old are you, anyway? Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”

“She tried.”

“Well, that makes perfect sense,” Buster sighed.

Bob cleaned up the ship, but he wasn’t happy, and Buster noticed during this time the disappearance of her Iolian kelfinsfer.

A while passed before this came to her attention. The kelfinsfer had been sitting on a shelf in her quarters, anchored by ship-grade decorator putty, ever since the vacation they’d taken in Iolia, after cleaning the planet’s orbit. When she realized the statuette was missing, she remembered the heated discussions they’d had soon after returning from Iolia. She soon realized other things were not where she’d put them, and recalled other highly animated conversations as well.

Buster ran a scan in the waste hold to find her kelfinsfer, but everything inside was already being reduced to elements, segregated, and containerized. Later, while Bob manned the bridge and she was supposed to be sleeping, she went through his filthy quarters, but found none of her possessions.

No one else lived on the ship, and Buster wasn’t prone to stealing and recycling her own goods in her sleep. She even took time to view recordings of herself sleeping on the big couch in the lounge where they engaged in their entertainments, and she viewed hours of sped-up vids of the hall outside her personal quarters while she’d been inside, sleeping. No bizarre sleep walking recycling adventures revealed themselves, though she could have been dropping her possessions into the recycle hatch inside, off camera. She did find recordings of Bob entering and exiting her quarters during her shifts on the bridge, several times, presumably stealing her things and dropping them in the recycling hatch. He didn’t seem to be carrying anything out. She also located and reviewed recordings of each of the arguments which, coincidentally, occurred just before his incursions into her private rooms. Hmmm.

Strangely, everything he’d trashed had been something she’d told him a little story about: the small clay whales made by an ancestor of a friend, which the friend had gifted to her many years ago, the wooden hand-painted carving of a Terran cat she’d purchased while on leave in Bali, Earth, during her soldering days, the light jacket another friend bought her just because she’d mentioned the night air was chilly on Chobok. All these things and more disappeared, simply because Bob wouldn’t pick up after himself and couldn’t handle her criticisms.

The symbols of some of her best memories were lost forever.

During one shift, because she was suspicious by then, Buster hacked into his communications locker. She found a draft of a complaint he’d composed to be sent to the Company. The idiot had used his own name to secure the files. For a thief he sure was trusting. Perhaps he’d counted on her not behaving as he did, or figuring out what he’d been doing. She found his lies about her in the documents: that she was angry and unpredictable, had accused him of infractions she herself committed, and he’d become afraid of her (well that could be true) and would like to file a claim of intimidation and receive compensation from her account, per the board’s decision. Would they consider a complaint and send him the proper forms?

Oh, no you don’t, you slimeball, Buster had thought. Insulted and incensed, Buster covered-up her break-in by deleting the record, and erasing the records of erasure, and compressing the whole lot. She ‘lost’ his entire communication locker in the shipbrain’s comprehensive databay, which included all the daily minutiae the vessel recorded.

At the time she’d been three years into a twenty year trip. Detecting the proof of her perfidy would take a data retrieval expert a long while, since the expert wouldn’t even be able to get into the vessel’s cerebellum until she docked at the Company’s planet of operations in seventeen years. By the time the forsaken garbage scow docked, records of her deeds would be compressed incomprehensibly by immense volumes of data.

She spent the rest of the shift making plans, both short and long term, and waited for opportunities.

Bob, not a strong creature, had originated on a lighter-gravity planet than her origin of Earth. Bob’s people, an advanced, long-civilized race, pampered themselves unreasonably. They ate well, they lived well, and they didn’t have to fight for anything any more, well, except with each other. In Bob, the animal had been suppressed, and the privileged whiner emerged. But Buster was a complex creation, a killer who hadn’t killed in far too long.

How ironic; she behaved in the civilized manner aboard ship while the civilized man behaved like an ill-trained child.

No matter. She solved the problem.

He’d been barely able to struggle against her when she’d hauled him to the airlock and pushed him in. She closed the door and, just for satisfaction’s sake, watched him scream, beg, and cry for a moment. Then she flushed him out and walked down the corridor, ordering the ship to provide a view of space through its hull as he floated by. Vacuum distorted his body and his deceitful face.

No one would be able to prove anything. She recorded his death officially as an accident, and caused the ship system to malfunction and record over the recording of the real event. One great thing about living so long is you pick up these little tricks, and some fine day, you get to use them. She reported his head bashed in by one of the tools he was forever leaving unsecured. Buried in space. Such a shame. What a waste.

Yes, she could carry on unassisted. No, the Company replied, no need for us to send a replacement. Anyway, by her estimation it would take three quahot for the replacement to arrive in a speedy one-man craft.

A quahot denoted a third of an Ordoron year, and one-and-three-quarter years in Earth time, give or take. Three quahot equated to five-and-one-quarter Earth years. Four quahot was one Company year and about seven Earth years. Three Company years equaled approximately twenty-one Earth years. The length of the assignments she went on were typically ten to twenty Earth years or so, which came to one-and-a-half to three years Company, and included the year spent unloading whatever bucket she’d been in, plus the time it took to rehab it for another go.

Time-telling on Ordoron was a complicated and ritualistic matter, best left to serious mathematicians, the Ordorons thought. However, the Company itself used something akin to military time used on Earth, though the periods differed greatly in length and divisions.

Buster liked to play a game with her owners by converting Company time to the planetary time scales at whichever planet she was orbiting, and displaying for them her versatility and comprehension. It was a fun time-waster for her. What could they do about it? Bitch? The Company did not bitch. They employed and owned the best mathematicians who made the conversions back to Company time.

Anyway, after Bob’s unfortunate demise, the Company sent generic condolences. Carry on. Here are the master instructions for the shipbrain. Buster became the one-and-only slave to ever receive them. Unprecedented!

The scow’s productivity did not falter. In fact, without the distraction of Bobrin the Braxtletl, the ship recorded productivity up an average of 2.54% per quahot. The Company seemed pleased.

Apparently, Bob had mostly been extra weight.



“Hot water,” she ordered, and a steaming stream poured into her cooled bath. The memories stirred up some agitation in her mind; some annoying emotions. Her hand traveled down her flat belly. She traced the square abdominal muscles. She scratched her fuzzy bump. Bob had been fun in the bunk - that crazy alien tongue! - though eventually not worth the aggravation.

No matter.

Her makers hadn’t engineered out the handy, finger-tip-sized toy for her private pleasure, down there.

Thoughtful of them.



Cleaned, relaxed, and outfitted in new, fresh and warm, cushy booties, gloves, and skin’, including attached, skintight hood, Buster left her neat and tidy quarters and pulled herself along the corridor. The trip to her personal bay, within the enormous section of the ship devoted to storage, was long. When she finally arrived, she ordered the appropriate hatches sealed so she could increase the gee without affecting the rest of the ship. The ship maintained the gravity in the storage bays at two gu. In addition to that, the materials were containerized, palletized, and secured by titanium composite nets to keep them from slamming around in the case of heavy turbulence inside the ship because of junk collection or orbit entry. Buster ordered the gravs outside her bay increased to match the insides and opened the bay hatch. She appraised her booty.

One of the perks of working for Apical Mining and Recycling Company included scooping up unclaimed asteroids and having the ship mine them for personal gain, as long as the operators didn’t take up more than one percent total transit time to do so. Otherwise, fines were imposed. Everything mined from the asteroids belonged to the operator who’d ordered the scoop. They stored this matter in personal units. Company reasoned that happy operators would want to continue working in order to continue mining asteroids to continue making themselves relatively rich. The Company didn’t really pay very well.

About fifty Earth years ago, Buster stopped cashing in when she docked, and started leaving her booty in her personal storage. She had it transferred every time they gave her a new ride. She looked at the stacks of palletized bars of platinum, palladium, gold, silver, copper, tin, and many other valuable metals, and the barrels of rough diamonds, colored gemstones, quartz crystals, and every other precious commodity she’d found and salvaged for herself, and felt satisfied. She closed the unit, recalled the gravs, opened the hatches, and pulled herself out of the storage section.

Back at her post on the bridge, Buster ordered the ship to clear the opaqued viewports so she could look at the beautiful and constantly various Infinity of space surrounding her.

Wait a minute! What was this, then? Civilization on a planet which had been unoccupied when she’d previously last passed this way? And space waste? Excellent, she could negotiate a brand new contract, one of her favorite chores. Buster ordered the shipbrain to scan frequencies for noise coming from the planet.

Maybe the time had arrived for some well deserved shore leave.

Chapter Two
Klon, Civilized



The air bonged softly above my head.

“Yes,” I answered, pausing the recording of Tad piloting his Dinky Dingy Jr. into the Grey Matter’s Hell Craft. You’d be surprised the types of entertainment that have survived the theft of Earth. Everyone with any kind of collection has made their goodies available to all and sundry.

My view screen took up an entire wall.

“Ghee, this is KekTan CHOO.”

CHOO was the mekked and manned satellite called Communication Hub Orbital One. There were two, this one was civilian, and the other part of the Sheriff’s Department Planetary Protection Force.

“You have a personal communication from the alien spaceship Trakennad Dor. Klon requesting audience.”

“Hi Glennis, yes, I‘ll take that,” I responded.

Klon! No way! I waited anxiously, sporting a big dumb grin on my face, but I didn’t wait for long.

Klon sounded very pleased with himself. His deep bassoon growl ejected my name. My skin prickled, all of my hairs stood on end, and I felt a chill shiver my timbers.

“Klon, how did you find me?” I demanded of him in his language.

“Gossip,” Klon rumbled. His tone of arrogant self-satisfaction somehow traveled through the ether into my home.

“I’m delighted. Where are you?”

“We are several light years from KekTan. We will be there shortly.”

“How?”

“The Trakennad Dor was Spauch’s ship. Spauch no longer presides over us.”

“But you do?”

“Me and many of the others. We run the ship now.”

“You run it to do what?”

“Fight.”

“Oh, Klon,” I said sadly.

“Not to the death, Ghee. To tap out.” Weirdly, he said ‘tap out’ in English, and I could hear the pride in his growl.

“How do you split the proceeds?” I asked. What a curious turn of events.

“We are a co-op,” he answered smugly.

“Klon! You’re civilized?”

“I am. We all are. Also, we are all rich businessmen now. Legit. I‘m here to tell you that you will come here and fight with us.”

“I will?”

“Yes. A match. We found two like you on the Anything Goes.”

Two like you… what the hell?

“The Anything Goes? What’s that?”

“It is a sex ship. We are very fond of them.”

“I’ll bet you are. You found two like me?”

“Yes, and you three will fight together. You will make us all very, very happy. And richer.”

“Will you take no for an answer?”

“No.”

“I’m out condition.” At least that kind. I’d become, shall we say, a little plush.

“Work on yourself. Anyway, the others are not fighters, they are sexers. We will choreograph the fight. It will be a brilliant show.”

“When will you be here?”

“Soon. I will call again. Goodbye.”

The connection ended abruptly.

Holy guano, Spaceman! Klon was running an intergalactic fight club. I was sure the fights were real, even if they weren’t killing each other anymore. Choreographed, my ass.

“Jack,” I said into the air.

A moment passed, then, an automated recording of a Mek voice said, “Most High Ambassador Kek John Jack Knott is not available. Your call will be logged. Do you care to leave a message?”

‘Kek’ was not part of Jack’s name, it was an honorific. My good friend Kek, who used to be my guard when I was a slave on an arena ship--the very ship that Klon had called from, had been honored by his kins’ decree that all Diplomatic Corps personnel would adopt his name before their own in their titles. Kek had made the escape from slavery possible, and had negotiated with Jack for a planetary home for his kin while we were all still slaves. His kin had decided to distinguish him in this way, and they’d also rewarded him by calling the planet KekTan, meaning “Great Kek”. My friend was a Big Deal among his kin.

“No,” I answered the computer. “End.” He would call me when he could. When Jack had left this morning, he’d said something about the Apsaragin trade negotiations. He was probably in the middle of them right now.

Apsaragin was a group of five little planets orbiting a small, hot star not too distant from MekKop. When the old Union of Galaxies was protecting and trading among the planets of sixteen different galaxies, they didn’t bother exploring their closer neighborhoods. Now that the new Galactic Union had shrunk to four galaxies, nearby neighbors had become important to explorers, the Diplomatic Corps, and traders. Jack had been fairly busy, alas. Anyway, he’d be home tonight.



The next morning I woke slowly and lingered in dream twilight for a long while.

I recalled Klon’s bizarre call, and the conclusion of Tad’s adventures. When I rolled over, there was Jack, grinning lopsidedly and somewhat wickedly at me. Then he was looking down at me, his sleep-warmed body pressing into mine, pressing me into our space-age mattress. Apparently he rethought his position because his head disappeared below my deep burgundy sheets of fine Faire cotton.

Oooh, yes!

Jack had moved into my home after we’d moved to Mekkop and he’d settled into his new job with the D.C. We’d discovered that we were made for each other in every way; we fit each other perfectly. Our minds, in short time, synced very well.

Our bodies, well, I, arched, becoming very warm and exquisitely stupid. There were interesting noises in the room, and not just mine. Jack is an involved lover. I controlled myself and drew out the inevitable for as long as I could stand it. Then I pushed his head away, curled up and rolled onto my side, buzzing. He wasn’t satisfied yet, though.

What a man, is my man Jack!



As I cleaned my mouth with Flatteracks’ ph Perfect Oral Wash in Traditional Mint Flavor, I contemplated that I never had to clean Jack’s whiskers out of our sinks. He’d had them removed thirty years or so ago for his Sheriff’s Department Space Force service. Somehow, those clever scientists had harnessed the balding experience and ended it for the head, unless, of course, you opted for it, as some had. Many swimmers, divers and spacers, for instance, opted for bald. Other parts of the body could be directed to go bald, conveniently, as well. And it could be reversed. It worked best on men, of course, baldness being a function of testosterone and certain inherited genes from Mom. But with a few tweaks, women could denude themselves, too. Anywhere. You could even make patterns appear, like tattoos. Jack could rub his face on me anywhere and I didn’t rash up. Nice.

The future is good. I highly recommend it.

Then I showered and otherwise cleaned myself in fresh, clear KekTan water. I thought about the woman who would be our breakfast guest, whom Jack had reported as being a Space Force physicist from Theory and Practice. T n’ P decided what Research and Development would do. They were trying to understand the Odok ships. So far they’d replicated the cookers, the recyclers, and some of the materials that made up the ship. What they really wanted to reproduce, though, was those mysterious drives.

We were having eggs MekKop for breakfast, a twist on eggs Florentine. Stuff was piled on glorious MekKop “bubble bread”; fresh Faire spinach and tomatoes, and Philippa’s planet poached eggs. Philippa’s bacon was served on the side. The self-sufficient human Philippans were excellent protein producers, though not with factory farms and slaughterhouses. The founder, Philippa Oliver had been quite a strident vegan. Labs and clean rooms extruded Philippa products. Philippans were element manipulators extraordinaire; all the flavor and none of the salt, fat, or sugar consequences. (Their pressed duck covered in MekKop Fat Dap sauce is absolutely to live for, you betcha). Oh, and we were having chilled Mek melon soup. The sweet melon had been found growing wild on their new planet, and was now being cultivated. Mmmm, it was simply the best. We would have Faire coffee, of course, with Philippan thick cream and Utopian sugar, and orange juice, as well.

The Mek had discovered orange juice and simply could not get enough. They planted actual groves. They built packing houses. They competed for any work involving the fruit. Oranges appeared in every kitchen. They took great pride in juicing fresh oranges for visitors and it was evolving into something like a Japanese tea ceremony. Then they’d discovered blood oranges. Oh, their ecstasy was outrageous. Unfortunately, they put orange juice in things it really should not have been put in.

The vicious humans on the ‘self-sufficient’ planet Utopia hadn’t survived the Pox, because those emigrants contracted the disease before they received the vaccine. Apparently they hadn’t been as self-sufficient as advertised. The native, non-human population had survived, though, and now thrived on the continued production and trade of sugar and candy products. The Mek are very fond of the former slaves and do a good business with them.

I liked to think of Utopia as Candy Land. I like to keep their avocado milk shakes to hand, though the milk products of Candyland are not manipulated, and can be quite challenging to the heart muscle and filtering systems. So, Jack had approached Philippa’s Planet and Utopia with the idea of trading so I could get healthier avocado shakes. They are still working that out. It’s hard to wait. Have I mentioned that I have become rather plush?

Anyway, I’ve been training the Space Force cadets to fight like caged aliens, tuning up their superiors as well, and there is always foreplay with Jack. I’m not in terrible condition, but I’m not in the condition I was when I was Spauch’s slave.

“Come here, my mocha loveliness,” Jack purred as he stepped into the stream of soothing water beside me. I wrapped my arms around him and said into his ear, deeply and intimately, “This morning was lovely. Thank you for waking me up in such a special way.”

It’s important to encourage good behavior. Positive reinforcement, you know.

“The pleasure was all mine. You were awake, anyway. Not sleeping well?”

“Excited.”

“Klon?”

“Yes.”

Jack looked at my deranged face. We are the same height, very comfortable for kissing.

“You know, my dear, you have the face of a Zillian,” he said.

“Fuck you, my love,” I replied pleasantly.

“Yes, honey buns.” He silenced me with hard, demanding lips.

Wow!

My genes had been recombined using alien DNA, or, more accurately, they had been genomically altered with the DNA of Earth’s animals. Doc didn’t know which animals yet, but they sure crave Jack.

He filthed me up again, the craven fiend, and I had to sluice a second time. It certainly had been brilliant of me to program the cooker last night because I had barely gotten my long cloud of thick hair dry and tamed into something resembling a style when the overhead com bonged and announced that our guest had arrived. I slipped quickly into a voluminous mauve dress (it is not a muumuu), of fine shiny Faire cotton (this ankle and wrist length dress sufficiently covered much of my muscular, corded limbs and oversized joints) and entered the living room just as Jack was settling our guest on the sofa.

The scientist turned to me… and did a double take on my face, literally. Her slight smile turned to horrified shock before she fully recovered her self control.

I laughed, which turned into the giggles. My diaphragm took on a life of its own; I couldn’t control it.

“Dear friend,” I gasped, and then I turned to Jack and asked, “did you forget to warn her?”

Jack had turned beet red. “Beautilicious, I’m afraid that I did.”

We were all laughing by then, and everything was okay.

Poor gal. I really am ugly. Still, Jack manages to look at me like I’m a hot Philippa’s cheese-steak sammich, which he adores, even when he is inches from my face. Of course, he’s usually in me when he looks at me closely like that, or is about to be.

(I know what you’re thinking, dear reader, “overkill,” but our relationship really is this good. Don’t believe me if you don’t want to, I understand. What you’re telling me is that your relationship(s) are not this good. Too bad for you. Boo-hoo, but keep it to yourself. I’m not interested in your doubting opinion of my glorious sex life. Not at all.)

“I’m so sorry,” Suri Cullough, PhD, managed to choke out. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say nothing,” I said. “Laughter is good for the soul.” I’m always coming up with these rotten old chestnuts. Most folks erroneously think I’m very original in my speech. I don’t correct them. “Coffee, tea, orange juice, water…”

“Coffee, please. I’m getting sick of orange juice. I had a meat loaf yesterday…”

“Ah, yes. The meatloaf,” Jack sighed.

We all laughed again.

“Eggs MekKop this morning, no meatloaf,” I said.

“Thank God,” Suri sighed.

“Christian?” I asked.

“No. It’s just an expression.”

“It’s okay if you are, we’re not prejudice.”

“Really? Well, I am, then.”

Jack and I looked at each other.

“We should introduce you to our good friend, Doc,” Jack said.

“Dinner party?” I suggested.

“Brilliant,” Jack replied.

Suri looked slightly confused.

“I’ll get the coffee,” I said, and returned shortly with my silver tray and spoons, my ancient English porcelain teapot filled with coffee, the cups and saucers, sugar, and cream. I poured for each of us. Suri preferred lots of sugar but no cream.

Jack stood up, went into the kitchen to refill the pot, and returned with it to the table. I’d made a thermal tea cozy for my teapot and it was excellent at discouraging chips and keeping the contents hot. I placed the gaudy thing over it.

“So, tell us what you’ve discovered about the Odok ships,” Jack encouraged right away. Suri seemed like the kind of scientist that is only comfortable when talking about her specialty, and Jack often dispensed with the small talk in our home. He had to follow so many varying social conventions in his work, with so many different species, that at home he often became blunt.

I prefer it that way.

The scientist didn’t even notice the absence of small talk. She lifted both her cup and saucer, sipped, moaned pleasurably, rolled the liquid inside her mouth, swallowed, and cradled the cup and saucer possessively in her lap.

“We’ve discovered nada, but we’ve theorized mucho,” she said.

Jack and I smiled encouragement.

“There are several theories that might explain the way the Odok ships get from one region to another instantaneously. We like three of them in particular.

“First, there are these things called neutrinos, which are made within the nuclear reactions of suns and forced out into the solar winds. They’re non-reactive for the most part. They pass through everything, even planets, without being hindered or leaving much evidence of their passage. Ghost particles, some call them. They can break the light speed barrier.

“Some theorize that the Odok drive may somehow convert into or make the ship, its cargo, crew, and fuel masses behave as neutrino-like particles, contain them, of course, you wouldn’t want to lose anything, and then propel them - in a straight path because they can go through everything, at faster than light speeds from the ingress point to the egress point.

“Whatever property the ship, cargo, crew, and fuel masses are turned into or made to behave as, the amount of energy to begin, contain, and end a process like that is immense. It represents values that we are unable to create today. Worse, it’s terrifying. Makes you think twice about tripping in those ships. Frankly, we don’t think this is what’s happening. The physics just doesn’t work out.

“Secondly, Ghee, the explanation of the Infinite recycling itself through black and white holes and other phenomena that you brought to us from the Wilderness suggested another theory. What if the drive creates and controls a portion of an event horizon which allows instantaneous travel anywherewhen? The event horizon is the area at the edge of the black hole where, theoretically, you cease to be able to detect matter and energy falling into it. We don’t actually have the equipment to detect this yet, but the math can be done. The Energy Propeller could suck the ship in and poop the ship out at the omega destination at the exact time we leave the alpha destination.

“Going further, could there be destinations in places and times that we are unaware of? The Odoks gave us only specific plots, possibly to contain us within those sixteen galaxies and within our current time. It’s possible that there are many more destinations plotted throughout the Infinite and throughout time.”

My china clattered in her hands as she twitched. She closed her eyes a moment, then raised the cup and drank deeply. Jack picked up the china pot and filled her cup again. Coffee seems to calm the high-strung.

Suri seemed withdrawn in thought as she added just the right amount of sugar, and sipped. Then she set the saucer down carefully on the living room table and sat back in the same position, gently cradling the warm cup in both hands.

She absently stroked the bowl of the cup with her fingers and I wondered if she had a cat at home. Or many.

“It hurts my brain,” Jack groaned.

Suri laughed. “Me too, and I’ve been thinking on this for a very long time,” she whined humorously.

“Holy shit. This is all very deep,” I said.

Suri stared at me for a moment. “You use interesting phrases, Ghee,” she commented. Then she said, “There’s more. I haven’t told you about quarks, yet. They have strange behavioral properties.”

She stopped again for a moment and sighed deeply. “Trying to put what I have in my head into your head using mere words is going to give me a seizure.”

“Seriously?”

“No! No, no. I’m not prone to seizures.”

“You need fuel,” Jack insisted.

We all stood up and moved to the dining area. My table is a magnificently carved piece of petrified tork from Frell. It’s basically a stone table that has the whorls and rings of a very old and gnarled tree boll. It is cut so thin that in some places you can see right through the slice. The chairs match but are synthetic; otherwise we wouldn’t be able to move them. She stared through the table, and then at the intricate carvings around the slightly thicker edge, and I wondered if she was calculating the curves. Were numbers running through her head? Equations? Who knew? Not I. She certainly was intense.

Jack served. As he passed me, the light scent of citrus soap and Jack’s own scent touched my nostrils. I lost my concentration momentarily.

Geez! I couldn’t not react to Jack. Enough already! Concentrate, Ghee, I ordered myself.

The melon soup announced itself with a delightful odor, replacing that which had befuddled me momentarily. My China bowls were pretty. I lifted mine to my lips and slurped. Flavors burst through my palate. I tasted in rapid succession fresh strawberries and the sweetest of cantaloupes, the slight, fleeting flavor of almonds, a mellow mint, then honeydew, and finally, the native melon. Wow. No one spoke and the slurping was loud, but it wasn’t over until we licked the shallow bowls.

That’s how we eat melon soup on KekTan.

Jack collected the delicate bowls and carefully deposited them in the kitchen, as I insist on washing them by hand. He waited momentarily for the main meal. The cooker delivered and Jack rolled our dinner into the room on a fine cart, not an original but a reproduction, and we immersed ourselves. The sauce was smooth and deep purple, the blue spinach was perfectly cooked and not waterlogged, the tomatoes were white and tangy, the muffins held up well, the edges crisply tanned. The poached eggs Jack had chosen had lavender yokes and looked uneven, as if they had actually been poached in water.

And yum; guilt-free bacon!

Honestly, the future is cool. Just wait. You’ll see.

Sadly, we soon finished. Like sex, breakfast doesn’t last forever. Just long enough.

Suri helped Jack and I clean up, still in the pensive funk that seemed to be her default mood. Jack brought more coffee, sugar and cream to the table, just in case.

She spoke less urgently now, but was still very intense. Energy streamed from her like escaping electrons and seemed to pelt us both.

“So, of the many mind twists, how all these energies are being produced and contained are the most mysterious to me. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is lost. Something in that ship is initiating the reaction, maintaining its integrity, opening the travel portal or propelling the particles, maintaining the time constant, closing the portal or stopping the motion and reassembling the mass in perfect order, while stuffing the enormous reaction that caused it all in the first place back into its little bottle, or whatever. We’ve all watched ships transport in space--they’re there, they’re gone. There’s no flash, no movement, no nothing. There.” She snapped her fingers. “Gone.”

“Back to our theories. Thirdly, there are strange particles, noticed in the quantum realm, things like quarks and antiquarks, which appear to be able to exist in more than one place at the same time. But they are excruciatingly minute and simple, not huge and complex like a ship and crew compliment. One theory postulates that the ship turns into or behaves like this kind of property, and then just exists in the destination placetime, and not here anymore.

“Also, to help explain the second scenario, which I like the best, some scientists are resurrecting the Bekenstein-Hawking Radiation theory. In the 1970s, Hawking worked with Bekenstein’s earlier work. He posited that there are twin particles in the event horizons of black holes which explain mass loss. Black holes can lose mass. Smaller black holes can emit more radiation that they absorb, so where does it go? Larger black holes, larger than one solar mass, absorb more radiation than they emit, so where does that all go?

“The Radiation theory states: two particles are created at the event horizon, the positively charged particle stays in the origination placetime, and the antiparticle goes… there, back through the black hole to another region in time. I guess the ship could become… maybe the ship could act like the antiparticles, or simply use the mechanism the antiparticles use to escape the origin placetime.

“This takes us back to your story, Ghee, of the Infinite recycling itself. The matter and energy which gets trapped in the gravity well of the singularity goes to another placetime. Perhaps the Odoks learned to control this phenomenon in order to direct the ships to whatever regiontime they want. The event horizon could be the gateway.

“We’ve seen the old science fiction movies, right? What’s left of them?”

Jack and I nodded in unison.

“That stuff is all fantasy. It was developed from Bekenstein’s and Hawking’s radiation theories. The Odok ships may actually be doing this, but there’s no experience of the E.P., or any event horizon visible. How is it done? I fear it’s too far beyond us. We cannot wrap our heads around it.”

Neither could I. I looked at Jack.

Suri said, “You know, the Odoks could have come from any where or when. Their science is far advanced, way beyond our own. They must have been an ancient civilization, much older than ours.”

“You said you had an experiment worked up?” my darling prompted.

“Yes. We’re fitting a ship with every type of monitor in existence and a few we made up special, and we have a small, volunteer crew. We’re going to bounce the ship from here to orbit around Utopia and then analyze the data. We have a center on MekKop that the instruments will stream data to, and we’re setting one up on Utopia as well.”

“Who’s crewing?” I asked.

“Volunteers. I don’t know them, yet. There’s a chance that the huge array of monitoring equipment could cause interference with the Odok systems, and cause problems we can’t anticipate, so we asked for volunteers; a skeleton crew. This experiment should at least give us some information to work with. There’s engineering and physics behind the magic. We want it. This could advance us rapidly.”

“When is the experiment scheduled?”

“After the equinox.”

“Two weeks,” Jack said.

“Wow, Suri. That’s fantastic. Congratulations. I’ll be very excited to hear about the results,” I said.

“Oh, well, I’m sure that we’ll be interpreting the data forever. This is going to be my life’s work. I’ll keep you apprised.”

Soon after, our guest left, presumably to return to her think tank, or lab, or whatever.

Jack snuggled me from behind.

“You sure are a horny old goat today, Jack,” I said.

“You bet.”

He nuzzled my neck.

It’s still a little embarrassing to realize the effect I have on him. Then again, I benefit too. Sometimes I forget I’m especially attractive to him because of what I see in the mirror. I always forget I’m not completely human anymore, and that my attractiveness is a by-product of this fact.

I turned around in his encircling arms. His breath smelled like Faire coffee. His lips and tongue were very warm.

I got over my self-consciousness right quick.

Chapter Three
Bumpin’ Alien Uglies



Kitty LeMieux walked the corridors of her ship. Kitty was human - though almost none of her employees were - and space born. She stopped to gaze through an opaque wall at the gymnastics that Upender and Tailgunner were performing for their client, who lived on the splendid blue planet that was spinning slowly above the Anything Goes.

Blue planets were Kitty’s favorite, although she’d never lived on one.

She could see Up’s and Tail’s silhouettes through the opaque wall, but decided not to clear it, because that might distract them. Both commanded high fees for their services because they specialized in species most of the other sexers could not entertain. It was the age old problem of incompatible physiology.

Only the richest of the rich could afford those two together, and they’d been with this particular client for over an hour. The client was wealthy, he seemed athletically fit, and he was masterful at postponing the inevitable. He was giving Up and Tail quite a workout.

Kitty turned on the audio.

The client demanded something in his language which the software translated into Infinite Standard for Up and Tail. He didn’t sound breathless at all.

Tailgunner did sound breathless when he said, “Up, get your ass out of my face, I can’t find his sclorpin!”

She listened to him trying to control his breathing with deep gasps.

Those kinds of verbal expulsions were filtered out of the client’s audio feed. There was a holographic copy of the client in the room with them, so they could best manage the movements of the braindeads. It was important not to knock your client out, unless that’s what he paid for.

“It’s on your left. Move your left hand. Now down. No, the other down!”

Up and Tail were manipulating the two robots, also called braindeads, affectionately and exasperatingly referred to ‘bots or ‘deads by the sexers, which the client had ordered from her. The other operators usually used computers and holotoys to please their clients. Up and Tail specialized in braindeads, which were made in the bowels of the Anything Goes by expert technicians - also Kitty’s employees - according to the client’s wishes, and at great expense. They were delivered to private homes planetside in the buyers’ personal crafts. Kitty didn’t deliver.

Braindeads were designed to react to instructions sent by operators on Kitty’s ship, and to nothing else. While the holotoy operators sat at computers and used various manual or voice commands to create motion in the holographs on planet, Up and Tail had to strap on special suits and make the exact motions the client wanted his ‘bots to make. The suit interiors were anatomically correct for Up and Tail’s anatomy, and, in the client’s living room, the ‘bots were anatomically correct to the client’s, or clients’, body, or bodies. Customers sent detailed data regarding their species to her ship’s computers after they signed Kitty’s contracts, so she could customize the ‘deads to their physiology.

Up and Tail were creative at finding ways to perform their paying playmates’ demands, in suits that looked nothing like either of them. And they got the big bucks for doing it - after Kitty took her rather large cut. She had a business ship to run, after all.

Kitty tuned out and moved on. In the next playpen, two hundred and twenty-four operators in various states of repose, before terminals, were making customers’ holotoys behave to their wishes while the players on planet did the various things they did to please themselves. Most of the sexers looked bored; their clientele was the cheapest, desiring nothing more than your basic suck, lick, and fuck, or whatever their species equivalent was.

The Anything Goes had visited Earth several times since the population had strangely changed species. Where the human clients had gone, Kitty couldn’t guess. A species change of an entire planet had never occurred in Kitty’s extensive experience before. She didn’t know what to think of it.

The new clients’ preferences had been discussed after the first visit, had been standardized, and were already programmed in. The operators just tweaked the holotoy programs when necessary to comply with the client’s immediate desires. They could change speed, order of acts, and even entire routines, in only the time it took to touch or speak the correct command.

Kitty moved on. She didn’t continue on to Playpen Three, however, from where somewhat more complicated virtual sexual acts were being directed. She took the lift to her office. There, the accounting program was displaying the current, up to the moment take from Earth, converting it into demes. Demes were the monetary unit Kit banked in on a planet that had specialty banking services. The screen blinked D-1,234,468,754/245. Then it blinked D-1,254,484,618/641. By the time the Anything Goes left orbit on his way to the planet Makenz, the total would read nearly D-45,987,287,511.860. Earth was always a good haul, though this species was a fairly new client. Kitty would do more advertising here next time.

And yes, the Anything Goes was a he. He was Kit’s ship, and his gender was hers to determine. A.G. was definitely a he. He was her protector and provider. She was the brains and the beauty. Although Kit was now nearing ninety, the medical programs kept her in pretty fair condition, for an old broad. She hadn’t known many humans in her lifetime, but her old ma had lived into her hundred and twenties.

Kit’s dad had been a skip; she’d never known him and had never needed him, because by the time she’d been born her ma had already started a brothel on the ship she’d been living on. Ma’d put Kit through business school, and Kit advanced her and her mother into their own ship and business.

Ma died just after finishing with a client in Playpen Seven. She’d passed away doing what she’d loved, pleasing a human woman on one of their military ships. Ma had adored those space rangers, especially Lieutenant Colonel Sylveline Collette. Sylveline had been devastated when Kit told her of her mother’s death.

Kit herself loved males, and spent a lot of time with Felcher, although, not felching, or being felched. That wasn’t Kit’s style. Felcher wasn’t human, but he was close enough. He had comparable parts of the appropriate size, and when he was with Kit, nothing else was on his mind. She didn’t know or care if he was acting when he was with her; he was so convincing. When they orbited certain planets he was in great demand because of his specialty, on others not so much, on most, none at all, and so he filled in with the other operators doing the regular work.



Kit had called a meeting with her number twos during the planets wee hours when activity was low.

“But Kitty,” Felch interrupted, “why don’t we just stay here? It’s easy money.”


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