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Variant Worlds 2

Raymond Towers

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Raymond Towers

Smashwords Edition, License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

All of the characters in this e-book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.

This e-book contains a HIGH amount of controversial subject matter.


Table Of Contents

Asteroid QQ37 - Part 1

The Anomaly Of Object AA

Asteroid QQ37 Part 2

Taming A Gorilla

Asteroid QQ37 Part 3

What Happened On Miranda

Sirens In Space Part 1

QQ37 - Penelope Peril Part 1

Rogue Flea, Meet The Seven Seas

Sirens In Space Part 2

QQ37 - Penelope Peril Part 2

Finding Love In Strange Places

New Beginnings

About The Author


Variant Worlds 2

Asteroid QQ37 - Part 1

There are places that not even god can reach.

Asteroid QQ37 was one of those places. Men with severe prison sentences were taken there to mine, because capital punishment had long since been abolished on the civilized worlds. That’s what they said, anyway, but everyone knew it wasn’t true. The elites that ran the Federation Of Planets used every excuse they could think of to murder their constituents. The elites killed the masses through the food they consumed, the water they drank and with the radiation they sprayed into the skies. Autism, cancer and other induced maladies were running rampant all over the colonized worlds. The masses were too stupid, as always, to comprehend how they were being systematically weakened.

Lender wasn’t among the stupid ones. Lender figured things out and he was vocal about it. That’s how he got his prison sentence. After appearing in one too many protests and posting one too many links to real evidence online, the elite cleansing program targeted him. A hit squad broke into his home to murder his wife and two children, and to plant incriminating files onto his computer. The operatives branded him a murderer and a conspirator. They made up their ‘official story’ that he was trying to overthrow the government. They invented that he was part of a plot to assassinate the president, who was on her third clone by then after previous successful attempts on her life. Nobody knew that, by the way, except for those like Lender that used advanced facial recognition programs to study down to the pores of the president’s face. That bitch had been killed twice and reproduced by the elites, while the public couldn’t be bothered to see that her irises had a synthetic pattern in them. It was obvious to anyone who cared to look.

Len hated religion, as he knew how religious leaders manipulated belief and faith to control the masses. If someone had told him a few years ago that he would one day turn into a religious man, Len would have laughed in their faces. He’d been indoctrinated into Chrislam, of course, like so many others before him, and been taught to bow toward the rising sun of the east every morning. That had only lasted as far as Len’s teenage years, until he discovered that the leaders of the colonized worlds had years before conspired to merge the great religions into one, and that many other diverse religions had existed before the advent of Chrislam.

A new religion, a secret religion, was spreading among the many miners like him whom had lost their hope. Their new god had a name, but the deity’s worshippers kept that name out of their minds as much as they could. The new god had horns and carried a flaming sword in one hand and a book of law in the other. This was a god of vengeance first, of strict holy cleansing and the wiping out of corruption. He would become a god of purity and light only after the cancer of the galactic elite was excised and burned away. In the interim, the god’s flaming sword would swing with fury. The reason Len and others who followed this deity kept their religion out of their brains was because the wardens continually ran mind scans on their prisoners. Too many restricted thoughts would get a miner taken to Interrogation, and that was not a good place for any man to end up. Many times, those men would not come back.

Before the mining sentence, Len had not been a religious man. He hadn’t been a homosexual man either. After getting raped in dark places one time too many by roving bands of desperate men, he had no choice but to adapt to his new circumstances. Len searched out who the political dissidents in the mining colony were, the Truthers like him. He found an Asian man who was nearly as tall as he was, another loner being abused in the same way, and just as strong. He beat that man and raped him, and he made the man watch over Len’s cot as he slept, and to follow him around when he had to go into dark places.

The man’s name was Kyu. He was from New Korea, some new country that was established on one of Saturn’s moons, but Len always forgot which moon. After having enough of being raped, Kyu waited until Len was fast asleep. He beat Len senseless with his shoe and returned the favor. When Kyu was done, he demanded to be treated like a man and not like a slave. By then, both men had gotten accustomed to being near one another. Neither wanted to walk dark corridors alone where bands of men might find them. They become lovers. Kyu no longer sat on the floor while Len slept; now they slept on the same cot. If violence came their way, they stood by each other’s side and faced it together.

Len had seen similar relationships among the other prisoners. Sometimes one man would be the husband, while the other acted like the wife. That wasn’t the case with he and Kyu. They were both men, and that’s what they acted like. Their new god understood that they were committing unnatural acts out of necessity and oppression, and forgave the two men for that.

The two men walked astride, from the crowded dormitory and over to the suiting up area. As they stripped nude in preparation for the compression area, Kyu reached over to slap Len on the bare ass. It was a habit the Asian man had taken up recently. At first, the act had irritated Len, but he’d since gotten used to it.

“You have more meat on your butt than I do on mine.” Kyu had explained this to him once. “Sometimes while we are having sex, I can close my eyes and pretend you are a woman.”

Too bad that didn’t work both ways, Len had frowned upon hearing that. Kyu’s ass was narrow, leaving no doubt as to his partner’s biological sex. “Just don’t do that while everyone is watching.”

Kyu hadn’t listened, of course. He seemed to get a kick out of embarrassing Len that way. Len found he could tolerate the act after at time, once he started viewing it as a sign of affection. In a remote, lonely place like QQ37, genuine love was hard to come by.

As the two men donned their thin specialized suits, along with about ten others, they took their last few breaths of cool, filtered air. Once the suits were on and they were out in the mining tunnels, they would be breathing their own hot sweat until their shift was finished. After checking each other’s suits, they lined up with the other men to wait for the acclimatization chamber to open up. If any tiny leaks or punctures were found on their suits, they would show up in chamber, before the men went into the tunnels. A hole in a suit could become a fatal flaw out in the asteroid’s underground atmosphere.

As the chamber shifted from the human environment into the asteroid’s, Len couldn’t help but think of all the petty jealousies circulating among their little squad. They had worked with those same men for a couple of months now, or at least that’s what Len calculated, as it was difficult to keep track of day cycles when only the wardens had clocks and calendars. He couldn’t even talk to Kyu during their work shift, as their compact helmets were not equipped with transmitters. Only the supervisors could be heard speaking, and god help them if one of them was in a bad mood, as there was no way to shut the radios off. They would have to listen to the supervisor ranting and raving all day.

What was Len just thinking of?

Oh, the jealousies. Some of those were so stupid and arose from the simple fact that the men had nothing else to think about. Len and Kyu were resented because they were efficient at their jobs, as if being rebellious against the supervisors was a sign of heroism. Others hated that they were Truthers who had committed no real crime other than to expose the truth, while they were cheats, scoundrels and murderers. Some even hated the two men because they were from different races. Never mind that they were all prisoners and being kept under the thumb of the same few people tasked with watching over them. Even in space, the dumb sheep still chose to remain dumb sheep; they would turn on each other because they were too stupid to band together and overthrow their rulers, the same as the people on Len’s home planet of Earth.

The compression chamber warning lights went from yellow-check to green-go. Several men crowded near the exit, eager to hurry out and claim the best excavators and sorters. It would be nice if all of the equipment was in good working condition, but the main reason the men were running out in a hurry was because they were lazy. Some of the digging machines were easy to operate, while others had to be constantly watched or broke down a lot.

It didn’t matter so much to either Len or Kyu; regardless, they would be out there for six long hours. The machines that were harder to work on also strengthened their muscles and kept them fit. The colony had a fitness and workout center, but too many prisoners would be thrown in there all at once, clogging everything up. Besides that, the prison gangs took over certain machines or sections of the gym, preventing anyone else from using the equipment. Doing the hard labor in the mines was a good alternative to having to fight some asshole for the grand privilege of using the bench-press station.

QQ37 was set up in the usual way. The giant asteroid had been plucked out of the belt between Mars and Jupiter, by a starship capable of producing electromagnetic waves that singled out asteroids full of metallic ores. The asteroid was shaped like a rough potato with a size of about seventy by a hundred miles. A domed colony was set up on the surface, tough enough to counter the surface temperatures of minus 100 Fahrenheit. Once QQ37 was deemed to be feasible for mining, the prison colony was built under the dome, and under the surface. The miners could dig in any direction they wanted to, basically, in order to extract the ores and to break the asteroid up into smaller fragments. They didn’t have to worry about tunnels collapsing as the starship was holding the fragments together electromagnetically. Even if the tunnels did cave in on top of their heads, losing a few miners in the armpit of space was no big news story. Hell, it probably wouldn’t even be reported.

Since they were working underground, at least they didn’t have to worry about micrometeorites tearing through their suits, Len thought, as he and Kyu made their way to the last of the excavating equipment. As expected, the other rabble had left them with the sorter, or feeder-breaker if you want the technical name for it. The two men had the unenviable task of waiting for the batch-hauler to come by with a load of full bins. It would be up to Len and Kyu to take out the material, one heavy bucket at a time, and dump it into the sorter. The machine could filter out the material by size and type, and put it into new bins. These bins were sealed up and readied for pick-up by the starship later. The problem was that the sorter had to be watched closely, as it wasn’t perfect in its selection process and it had a tendency to jam up a lot. If it threw too much material into the wrong bin after jamming, then the entire stupid bin had to be emptied out and sorted all over again.

Kyu got into the sorting machine and drove it out to the tunnels they were working on, while Len simply followed alongside on foot. They were alternating turns, with Kyu driving out and Len driving back. That was pretty much all the novelty they could expect for that day. The rest of it was a long and laborious effort of filling buckets up, dumping them into the sorter, and making sure the sorter ran smoothly.

Another machine followed them: the bin collector. This vehicle could carry four full bins at a time, taking them to the hangar where they could be picked up by drone ships and taken up to the starship floating in space. That’s the job most of the prisoners wanted and would come to fisticuffs over. By entering the hangar, those lucky men would enter a human environment where they wouldn’t have to wear their suits. Scientists would check the material in the bins, which took hours sometimes depending on the quality. After that, the full bins were secured to the drone ships, which could also take hours if the prisoners doing it took their sweet time. Of course, this extended waiting time meant a backlog at all stages of their line prior to the hangar, until the angry supervisors came by to rattle the laggards and got it all going again.

Because they could not talk, Len and Kyu went through a complex series of back and forth hand signals. The sorter was cleared out and ready to go. It was set to separate the poorer soil from the richer amounts of bauxite, haemitite and pentlandite, which would produce aluminum, iron and nickel, respectively. They had half a bin of material to go through from their last shift, and four empty bins sitting behind them waiting to be filled up. They checked the electric charge on the sorter, the oil in the gearbox and the ice that melted over the processor to keep it cool. Everything got a thumbs-up, until Kyu found a jagged rock stuck in the vehicle’s tire tread. He pried the rock out carefully, before it tore up the thick rubber the tire was made of any further.

Len went to fill up the first of the buckets. He would dump them, they’d get sorted, and Kyu would watch what came out the other side. When Len got tired, they’d simply switch places. It would be a typical day for them, just like the last few days had been.

A supervisor came by after about three hours to check on them. All supervisors were hated men, even if they were nice guys. They were prisoners who’d been working on the asteroids for some time. For every day a supervisor worked, two days would be taken off their sentences, even if they’d committed heinous crimes in the past. Most of them were assholes that liked to lord it over the rest of them, but the rank and file hated them all, even the nice ones, because of the way their sentences were being reduced.

“We need ice for the hydroponics gardens.” The supervisor came to yell at them.

That was no problem. Kyu went to point at a bin that was two-thirds full of ice, which they’d been using to cool down the sorter. The supervisor took a good measure of what they had.

“I need about half of that.” The supervisor decided.

That’s when Len frowned. It was going to be a pain in the ass, because it meant they’d have to jump into the bin and hack the ice apart with a small pick-axe. All the broken chunks would be going into a new bin.

Kyu pointed at the sorter and waved his hands to the sides.

“Yes, turn off the sorter so you can do this.” The supervisor nodded back. He looked at the two lazy bastards manning the bin collector. Those men had done nothing all day. “Kyu, Len, I want you to push the bin into hydroponics. These other two shits are going to watch the sorter while you two are gone, and they’d better not fuck anything up!”

Once their superior had walked off to berate the others, Len and Kyu glanced at one another. Pushing the bin was a pain on the uneven ground, at least until they got inside. After that, it was a breeze. Even better, they would have the chance to take their suits off because they would be in human environment. With half their shift already over, there was a good chance they wouldn’t have to go back outside that day.

Kyu was grinning, and after a moment, Len was grinning as well. It had been a while since they’d seen any women, but they were bound to catch an eyeful of them in the hydroponics area.

Since Kyu was the fresher of the two, he jumped into the bin with the small axe, while Len went to grab an empty bin from the bunch.

At a rough estimate, there were about two hundred people living on that asteroid, but they did not all live together. It was actually a big secret as to how many of them lived in which sectors, and what the civilian contractors did besides the mining. From what Len had been able to gather, the prisoners were kept in groups of twenty to twenty-five. This number included the supervisors. That was manageable enough for the five prison staff members that watched over them. He didn’t know how many groups of prisoners there were in total. Maybe they were the only bunch currently on QQ37 and the higher-ups had lied about the rest of it. Who knew?

Besides the prisoners there were a small number of scientists studying the material and grading it, and other bunches of people who maintained the energy to power the colony, to keep up the food production and to take care of the waste recycling.

Most of the time, prisoners were called into recycling for waste clean-up when something went wrong, like clearing out solids that had accidentally ended up in the biodegradable processors. That was a horribly smelling job, by the way. Because the prisoners went into that area so frequently, they could estimate that only four full-time engineers ran it.

The prisoners were never allowed into the energy production area. They didn’t even know what that area looked like; let alone how many technicians worked in it. If there was an administrative division in the colony, they’d never seen that either. Hydroponics, on the other hand, called the mining division for manual labor every so often. The reports from the prisoners who had been there indicated that there were multiple females, that they ranged in age from older to younger, and that the women outnumbered the men.

Len and Kyu took a good hour to get the necessary amount of ice into the rolling bin. They took another half hour to roll the bin over to the acclimatization chamber. The bin didn’t have wheels but ran instead on two long treads like a tank, which made the bin a bitch to turn in a tight corner. Before they entered the chamber, they cleaned the treads as best they could, so they wouldn’t leave tracks all over.

“What is in the bin?” A surveillance officer asked through a microphone, the moment the men sealed the chamber door behind them.

Kyu reached into the bin to pull out a chunk of ice. The officer cleared them to proceed, as it was not the usual time for any of them to be returning from the mines.

Two officers armed with electric stunners waited for them to come into human environment. One motioned the prisoners to the side, while the other peered into the bin to make sure it was filled only with ice.

“Proceed.” The officer told them.

Len and Kyu both checked the treads again for excess soil, before they each took a side and started pushing the bin out of the chamber. When the door closed up behind them, the prisoners removed their helmets. Their faces shone with sweat, and they knew they smelled bad, but at least they weren’t outside anymore.

“Let’s get a move on.” One officer motioned ahead with his stunner. “We don’t want all that ice melted before it gets delivered.”

The bins were leak-proof, and the people in hydroponics were going to use the water and not the ice, but apparently their guards still felt the need to bully them around. Len took one side, while the Kyu went to push from the other. One guard walked ahead of them to warn off any passerby that the bin was coming. The second guard walked in back, to keep his eye on the pushers.

Instead of heading down the corridor to the prisoner dormitories, the first guard used his access card to open up a new pathway. It was large enough for an Earth car to drive through easily, Len saw, or maybe for two bins to sit side by side. They pushed their burden down that corridor until the guard called out for them to stop. After using his card again, their escort took them into civilian population.

The lighting and walls were brighter here, almost white, contrasting with the dingy and darker gray they’d left behind. The prisoner section had light fixtures with burned out bulbs and walls with scuffmarks, but this new area showed much better maintenance.

“A guy could get snow blindness in here.” Len joked to the guard behind them.

The officer didn’t reply. He looked like the sort who would rather stun him unconscious than talk to him, so Len decided to keep his mouth shut.

They did run into a minor obstacle when they came to an intersection. The bin’s treads had to make a near right angle turn, but they were never designed for such a maneuver. That meant Len had to push his end while Kyu held the other side still. It took them a couple of tries, but they managed to get the bin around that corner.

As the prisoners got the bin to face forward in the new route, Len glanced down another corridor. Two people in their twenties were standing there, both wearing silvery tunics with a company insignia over the left side of their chest. One was a black man, the other a white woman. For some reason, Len felt contempt at the black man, for simply standing next to that woman. He didn’t understand this feeling at all. He’d never been racist; that much was evident from him having taken an Asian as a lover. Also, he saw so very few women that he hardly thought about them at all.

Len scrutinized his angry reaction as he and Kyu resumed pushing the bin. No, he did not hate the black man or the white woman. He did not hate that they were standing together either. It was freedom, he decided. He hated that they could stand there freely, watching two lowly prisoners performing a menial task, while wardens and supervisors and guards were always watching them.

Kyu was in the mood to talk smack, as he turned his head toward the guard behind them. “You’re the kind that likes spying on civilians, aren’t you? I know you wank off while watching women like that strip for bed, or when they’re in the shower. Or is it that Negro? Are you the kind who likes watching Negroes take off their clothes, when they think they’re undressing privately? Which one do you wank off to?”

Len heard the guard chuckle. He didn’t want to look back in case the officer became angry enough stun them. If the man did hurt Kyu, Len would have no choice but to defend his lover, just as he would against any other attack.

“Are you going to tell me?” Kyu persisted.

“I have a love bot.” The guard revealed.

“What is that like?” Kyu asked. “What does she look like? Is the bot a she?”

This time, Len did look back. He saw the officer shrugging.

“It looks like whoever I want it to.” The man admitted. “As long as I download a new program for it, anyway.”

“Come on. Tell us more about that. I’ve never had a love bot. What about you, Len?”

“No, never.” Len shook his head.

“It cost me three thousand digi-coins.” The guard replied.

“Holy fuck! You must get paid in gold, man!” Kyu marveled.

“No, no, just regular digi-coin.” The guard said. “The standard model comes in either a man’s body or a woman’s. Pretty generic, really. Black hair, black eyes, white skin, average body shape so it can conform to any Caucasoid race. The base price is bad enough, but where they really get you is the downloads. Those go from three hundred credits up to a thousand. I download a new program, the bot conforms to it in three to five days, and then the bot looks like somebody new.”

“A thousand coin to get your bot to look like somebody new?” Kyu shook his head. “Those must be the biggest celebrities in the galaxy to warrant such a high price.”

“Yes, they are.” The officer confirmed. “Celebrities go for around eight hundred. The most expensive makeovers are the customized programs. That’s where you might have a college sweetheart or a co-worker you have a crush on. The bot company will go through all sorts of social media and background info for that person, and it will design a unique personality program based on that person. That will cost a thousand digi-coins. I’m sorry, but I’m not spending that much on my bot. The lower priced programs are good enough for me.”

“And they walk and talk and everything?” Kyu asked. “You’re not going to tell us what your bot looks like, are you?”

“They do everything a real person does, except have temper tantrums and go to the toilet all day.” The man replied. “My bot will have dinner waiting for me when I go off-shift, cooked to perfection and just the way I want it. Sure, I’ll tell you what she looks like. Some guys, they want to change the way their bot looks every few months, but not me. All I did to the standard model was change her hair from black to brown and curly. I gave her C-cup breasts and added about twenty pounds to her weight. She’s no beauty queen, but who wants a fucking beauty queen? You see how those bitches act on the tele-vid. I don’t want a bitch that looks like that at home. Yeah, you could say that I’m happy with what I got.”

“I have you beat.” Kyu joked.

“How is that?”

“I’ve got Len here. He becomes whoever I want when I close my eyes, and I don’t have to pay a single coin for that!”

Len was surprised to hear the guard laughing. Maybe the man wasn’t as big an asshole as he thought at first.

“Stop!” The guard up front said, just a few seconds later. For a moment, the haulers didn’t hear anything. They soon understood the guard was speaking with someone on an intercom. “Hello? This is Officer Murphy. I have two workers here from mining division. They’ve brought over a bin half full of ice, as requested.”

They didn’t hear the answer, as it came in a low voice.

“Yes, they were both evaluated while in decompression.” Murphy said. “Neither of them has much of a violent history. They were sentenced for dissent and political crimes, but nothing like terrorism.”

“We’re not violent men.” Len felt compelled to tell the guard standing behind them.

The guard up front appeared to be listening for about half a minute, before he called out, “We’re entering hydroponics division now. You men are to be on your best behavior. Any problems will be reported to the wardens. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Both Len and Kyu replied.

The prisoners heard the door beeping as the guard used his access card.

“All right.” Murphy informed them. “There is a slight warp here on the floor, between the corridor and the next room. Be careful with that.”

The pushers looked to either side, seeing how much clearance they had for the bin before they moved it forward. It was no problem getting the bin past that hump, as the bin had treads. A cart with wheels might have presented a problem.

“Set it here, against the wall for now.” A woman’s voice was heard next.

Len couldn’t see her, as she was over on Kyu’s side. Once he helped settle the bin back into the spot, he became very interested in who the speaker was. The woman was older than him, in her forties, with a studious face and silver-white hair. Len thought her handsome, with a slender body. That’s all he could see of her form, as she wore a lab coat that went to her thighs, and loose pants under that.

“I don’t want any problems for either of you, and I mean that!” The woman came to scold the men whom she’d just met. “Tell me your names. So, you are Len and you are Kyu. Wonderful. I am Dr. Ilsa and these are my projects. I expect full compliance from both of you. Do you understand? I was told that you were coming from the mines, and you certainly smell of that. In that corner we have showers. I want you both to clean yourselves off and put on the uniforms I’ve left there for you. You shouldn’t tarry too long. I have a lot of work to do and not enough staff to do it.”

“You have showers here?” Len asked.

“Well, of course we do. You do know how to take a shower, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure.” Len admitted.

Ilsa looked angry, thinking she was being mocked.

“These men don’t use showers.” Murphy explained. “They use humidifiers. All they do is step into the humidifier and a high-pressure steam cleans them off. They simply step in and step out without touching any controls or handles. The humidifiers are automatic.”

“I did not know that.” Ilsa replied to the officer. “Perhaps you can show them how to turn the shower on. They can leave those dirty suits on the floor. I’ll have a maintenance man come by to pick them up and return them to mining division.”

“These men won’t have any clothing to wear when they go back.” Murphy said, checking the time on his hand computer. “Their shift will end in just under an hour.”

“Oh, no.” Ilsa shook her head. “I thought I made that perfectly clear. These men aren’t going back right away. I need them here for at least two days. I cleared all of this with the watch commander!”

Murphy frowned. “Let me check with our dispatch. All we were told was to escort two prisoners with low security risks from point A to point B. We weren’t told they would be out of their area for that long.”

Ilsa crossed her arms and looked irritated. “I already went through this with the watch commander! I can’t do all I have to do with my limited staff!”

“This will just take a minute.” Murphy said, using his ‘puter to call his boss.

The other guard pulled his hand-held out also, but for an entirely different purpose. He held the ‘puter out to the prisoners. “That’s her.”

Kyu chuckled. “She’s gorgeous, man! I can’t believe she’s a... You know.”

Intrigued, Len went to have a look for himself. He saw the officer in casual attire and with a big smile on his face. Standing next to him was a very attractive woman with big, round breasts. He wouldn’t have believed that was an artificial person if he hadn’t been told ahead of time. Even knowing that, the person in the image looked as real as anyone he’d ever seen.

“Here’s a close-up.” The man flipped past a couple of images, showing off the right one. “That’s my Jenny.”

“Will you marry her?” Kyu wondered.

“I might.” The guard shrugged. “I’m thinking about it.”

That was one of the big debates on Earth, Len recalled. Humans who married artificial people bestowed certain rights upon their bots. The extent of these rights was something that was hotly debated, with one side saying it was unnatural, and the other arguing that a human could love and bestow rights on whoever or whatever they chose. Cases where people left property and wealth to their cats and dogs were constantly being referred to in the matter. In Earth’s past, people had even married their stuffed animals or their pillows!

“We’re good here.” Murphy announced to everyone. “These two men are to remain under Dr. Ilsa’s supervision until she tells us to take them back.” He gave the prisoners a hard glare. “Remember what I said. You need to be on your best behavior. Any screw-ups and you’re going right back where we got you.”

“We understand.” Kyu nodded.

“What about you?” Murphy looked at Len.

Len was in shock. He hadn’t been out in civilian population in years! He nodded as well. “Exemplary behavior, sir, as good as we showed back in the mines, if not better.”

Murphy turned to go. “Randy, you stay here for an hour or two. These two men don’t really have any bad marks against them, so I’m not too worried. Why don’t you walk them over to the showers while I have a little talk with Dr. Ilsa here?”

Randy nodded, motioning for the prisoners to follow.

The shower stall was a cubicle much like the humidifier. It had a single handle on it that was pulled out to start the water flow, and to either side to make it hotter or colder. Kyu showered first, with the officer having to show him how to hold a bar of soap, as the man had always used dispensers with liquid soap in them. Len had used soap bars on Earth, but the archaic pull handle was new to him. Due to water conservation, showers on his home planet were automatic and measured to a maximum of eight minutes.

“Where is the timer on this?” He asked, glancing around.

“This shower doesn’t have any.” Randy explained. “There are no water restrictions because we can always grab an icy asteroid out here and melt it down. Our recycling center is about as good as they get.”

This peeved Len a little, since the civilians could shower all day while the prisoners were blasted with fragrant steam for ten seconds. Once he stepped in, he forgot about that. He had so much water dropping down on his head he thought he was a fish!

Len took a good five minutes in that shower, before he stepped out. He found a real towel! It was hanging right there within reach, and it was soft! He was chuckling as he dried his body, as so much of this day was turning out to be too good to be true. After he dried himself, he went over to put on the clothes that were set out for him. He had a white shirt made of cotton, men’s briefs, a set of loose pants that conformed to his waist, but were slightly too short in the legs, and his own scientist’s coat. Len couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn something other than his prison garb.

Kyu looked to have found a new friend in Randy. The officer had called his female robot and given his ‘puter over to the Asian man. Apparently, Kyu was having a blast in talking to the bot, as he was grinning wide and chuckling frequently.

Dr. Ilsa came over several minutes later. “That ice you men brought here is pliant enough for us to put it into the purifiers.”

Her voice was stern and expectant, Len noticed. Hoping to make a good impression on the woman, he tapped his partner on the arm and started toward the bin. Thankfully, Kyu did not delay in following him.

“And where is the purifier?” Len asked.

“There is more than one.” Ilsa briskly strode behind them. “I have much work for you to do and very little time to get it done. Take hold of that thing and follow me.”

Kyu was still grinning, having never expected to get this opportunity away from the same old, everyday drudgery. Len hadn’t seen his lover so happy in days.

Once he took hold of the bin, he thought, why not let myself be happy, even if it is only for a short time. He matched Kyu’s grin with his own, as the men began pushing the container after the strict Dr. Ilsa.


The Anomaly Of Object AA

Harry Paxton had tits. That’s right, he had blonde hair, big tits and a nice sun tan all over his body. The forty year-old man was wearing a skimpy bikini and lying on a well-rendered facsimile of Venice Beach, California. The landscape was provided courtesy of the starship’s historical archives. His womanly costume, on the other hand, was designed by one of his ship’s current batch of sexual deviants, the Chinese astronaut Yu Yun Guan Rong. And boy, Yu Yun had really Gone Wrong this time.

He recognized Yu Yun when she entered the scene, or at least he sensed it was she. She looked like a tall anime hero with spiked hair and a sleek, midnight blue cloak. When Yu paused before Harry, she shed her coat and revealed a lean man’s body with taut muscles and a strong erection.

Oh, boy, Harry thought, here it comes.

They made meaningless small talk, mostly because Yu was nervous about doing this with the ship’s captain. Harry could understand that, so he flirted in a manner he thought an interested blonde would employ. One thing led to another, and the holographic version of the Asian man ended up on top of the hologram of the hot blonde.

After having talked with Yu and others who had entertained themselves this way, Harry figured he had an idea of what this would feel like. He had a good imagination, right? But no, he’d been wrong. He hadn’t even been close to getting this one pegged. All of the sensations of his womanly form being taken on a sunny day, on a ruffled towel on warm sand, were first person and in the moment. His tits bounced while he was getting throttled. Harry shut his eyes, and those cries that came out of his mouth, well those weren’t manly at all, but lusty and sexy and high-pitched, just like the clamor a hot blonde would really make.

“That was something different.” Harry said breathlessly, once the scenario faded away and he found himself sitting in the hologram room with Yu.

Harry didn’t think he’d felt that thrilled, or that embarrassed, in many years. When he glanced into the tech-chair Yu was occupying, the man discovered the Asian woman was just as flustered as he was. Yu couldn’t even face him directly.

“I hope it was enjoyable for you.” She said.

Harry started laughing. “Well, I’ve never been humped as a woman before, that’s for sure!”

The ship’s captain noticed something else. He thought he would be coming out of the experience with an erection, but no, that was gone. In its place were his flaccid member and a whole lot of stickiness. He felt nervous about that, but also that he should mention it. “I think I wet myself.”

“It will happen sometimes.” Yu replied. “We both need to visit the humidifier.”

“Yeah, okay. Let’s do that.”

By all outward appearances, Yu was reserved and largely unremarkable. Her hair hung down in a loose bob, as if she didn’t want to put a whole lot of effort into preening it. She was several inches shorter than Harry, with small breasts and a narrow behind.

Most guys out on a street would have passed by Yu without giving her a second look. Not Harry. He thought Yu was pretty, even if she was a bit skinny. Besides, that woman had very high scores on aptitude and intelligence tests. Harry always like smart girls, no matter what race they were.

Harry noticed that Yu was staying away from him while they cleaned their bodies in the humidifier. That was odd, since they’d just been sexually intimate in a virtual world. To ease her anxiety, and also because he liked her, Harry pulled her close and kissed her. Yu seemed to be waiting for that moment, as she wrapped her arms around the captain and kissed back.

The starship was a scout class science vessel, designed for braving through tough space and planetary environments, conducting initial data scans on celestial objects and minimal specimen retrieval. Officially, it was called Space Corps Starship Light Reconnaissance Vessel, with a short string of numbers coming after. Unofficially, Harry called it the Seven Seas, to further cement its mission of exploration and advancing scientific knowledge.

Their host, the much larger SCS Neptune, carried over a dozen of the little scout ships on it. As the ship roamed far and wide through the outer reaches of the Sol System, it would send out its tiny satellites to explore any objects or oddities it came across. The Neptune would stay in a slow drift, giving the scout ships a few days to do whatever they’d been assigned to, before the satellites returned to the mother ship to report their findings.

As far as personnel went, only the captain’s spot was constant. Harry had been in charge of the Seven Seas for about eight months now. It wasn’t difficult to fill out a crew roster, however, as the Neptune carried dozens of veteran and junior scientists eager to make new discoveries and explore the cosmos in a hands-on fashion.

Harry had a preference for a couple of people he’d worked with before, like Indian Rashad and British Beth, but for the others he went along with the Neptune’s random lottery system. That’s how he’d come across Chinese Yu. To further stimulate interaction between the crewmembers, the total number of crew always had to remain an uneven balance of men and women. That is, Harry could choose five, seven or nine people total for his ship, with half male and half female, and the last being the odd person out. This prevented couples from forming up and causing disturbances with other couples, or at least that was the general idea. This rule wasn’t as important for short missions that lasted only a day or two, but it was when the Seven Seas might take five or six days on a task such as the one they were on now.

The captain walked away from the sleeping quarters area with Yu following close behind. His ship was shaped like a traditional rocket, but sort of bulging fatter in the middle as if a giant were pushing down on its top. Opposite the sleeping quarters and lavatories were the tiny kitchen, the small dining nook and the cozy lounge. Running through the length of the ship was a hallway that ended at the bridge.

The door slid open upon detecting Harry.

“Officer on deck.” The officious Rashad announced, standing up and causing the other two people present to automatically follow suit.

Rounding out the crew was Morty, a young American who, like Yu, was making his first trip on the Seven Seas. Everyone was at their station. To his left on the rounded bridge, Rashad and Beth watched over scanners and outside systems. To his right, Yu went around the captain to join Morty in supervising internal systems like hull integrity and life support, among many others.

“At ease.” Harry called out, prompting his ensigns to relax and take their seats.

The captain liked Rashad’s dedication and attention to detail, enough that he wanted to keep the young Indian on his crew and despite that Rashad could be very bullheaded at times. For the first day or two, Harry would allow Rashad to follow Space Corp officer protocol to the letter. After that, once the idea that Harry was the captain was firmly cemented in the minds of the newcomers, Harry would discreetly inform Rashad not to make such a dramatic entrance for him.

Harry noticed that Beth watched Yu heading over to her chair, before she brought her eyes to rest squarely on the captain’s face. Harry and Beth had gone into the virtual room a couple of times, during other missions. The mature, strawberry blonde was not exactly the most exciting person to imagine having sex with, as she was always so set in how she wanted things done. Never in a million years would Beth adopt a man’s virtual form as Yu had willingly done just a short while ago.

Harry wondered if Beth might be jealous, but if she was, she covered up her emotions well. The blonde turned and methodically went back to her systems checks.

The captain took his seat in the center of the bridge, with two ensigns to the left, two to the right, and the wide panoramic video monitor straight ahead.

“Rashad, can you give me a status report on our flight?” Harry requested.

“Definitely, captain.” The young man nodded. “Our estimated time of arrival to Object AA is just under five hours, Earth Standard. This calculation is based on our maintaining our current momentum.”

“Would you like for me to increase our speed, captain?” Beth asked, in her English accent.

“No, I think we should approach our destination at a casual clip.” Harry decided. “Rashad, will you put Object AA on the screen?”

“Yes, sir.”

Since the ensign already had the object centered on his personal computer, it was a minor task to transfer the image over to the larger monitor. Harry leaned forward, setting his elbow on his hand-rest and rubbing his chin with his hand.

He was looking at a round planetoid, or rather a very small moon, colored in an electric blue similar to Uranus. This gave the impression that the moon was covered in bright blue water. That was unusual enough, but surrounding the object was a cloud of blue debris made of fine particulates. The long-range scanners on the Neptune had assumed this was a very slow moving comet, but now that Harry was getting a closer look at it, he realized it was something else entirely.

“Which of you is looking into the object’s specs?” Harry asked.

“I am, captain.” Beth spoke up.

“Give me some general features.”

“It is moving at a lethargic, constant speed.” Beth glanced at her screen. “The object is not rotating at all, as it should be due to the vacuum of space. There are indications of cooler temperatures on opposite ends and a warmer zone across the center...”

“Wait.” Harry stopped her. “Are you saying this object has some of the attributes of a large planet?”

“It is generating its own light and heat.” Rashad cut in.

Beth’s brow furrowed, as she did not like when her fellow stepped on her toes.

“Go on, Beth.” Harry said.

“He’s right. The object is creating its own light and heat. It has temperature zones the same as Earth, and it has high concentrations of water coming out from it.”

“Hold on.” Harry halted her again. “Are you saying that debris cloud we’re seeing is made of water?”

“Yes, captain.” Beth nodded. “If you want my scientific WAG, I think we are looking at a huge, heated swimming pool floating through space.”

“What’s a wag?” Morty asked, from the opposite end of the small bridge.

“Wild Ass Guess.” Harry absently replied. “It’s a military slang term.”

“For an object of that size, it is emitting a large amount of electromagnetic energy.” Beth continued. “Enough energy to create a surface tension that is keeping most of the water contained into the spheroid shape we’re seeing.”

“May I say something?” Rashad spoke up. Once he had the captain’s nod, he said, “I believe that micrometeorites are striking the object and puncturing it in many millions of places at once. This causes the water dispersal we are looking at. The electromagnetic energy coming from the object’s core is sealing up the apertures, and possibly even ejecting the micrometeorites back out into space with a jet of water.”

“Could Object AA be alive?” Harry wondered. “Or is there evidence that the energy is being created by machinery?”

His two most seasoned hands glanced back at him.

“We are not close enough to make a WAG about that, captain.” Rashad finally answered. “I suggest we orbit the object in a diminishing spiral, and not to fly toward it directly. If the object is mechanical, perhaps it has defensive measures it can employ against us.”

“And if it is alive, it might try to eat us.” Beth suggested.

“You really think that thing is alive?” Morty asked, sounding squeamish.

“Yu, you haven’t said anything yet.” Harry noticed. “What do you think?”

The Asian shrugged. “If the object is made of water, and this ship is designed to move through water, I think we should have a swim in it.”

“I don’t want to get eaten!” Morty exclaimed.

“Rashad, let’s make our approach in the spiral pattern you mentioned.” Harry decided. “Beth, Morty, you two can take an hour break if you’d like to. Rashad, you can go after they return. I want everyone a little rested before we get any closer.”

“Let’s go over the new developments again, for the benefit of those that missed them.” Harry said, once Beth and Morty returned from their break.

Rashad was too excited to leave his seat. “Beth, you are not going to believe this! Object AA is a miniature version of the Jupiter moon Ganymede!”

“Really?” The blonde asked as she took her spot. “Well, tell me all about it!”

“Look at the screen first.” Rashad pointed.

Beth had been doing just that. The object was much larger now, and showed small dots that were undoubtedly land masses. Not continents, mind you, as they weren’t very large, but still many upon many of them.

The captain said, “Rashad, begin with the outer areas and move inward toward the surface.”

This threw the Indian off for a moment, as he was more excited about the potential for intelligent life than he was about anything else. He regrouped his thoughts before they ran wild on him. “I will try. Object AA has a radius of nearly sixty kilometers. If it were an asteroid, it would be of a medium size. It has a magnetosphere and an atmosphere full of oxygen. I have detected only a very small amount of sodium on the surface.”

“Are we looking at a giant freshwater ocean?” Beth asked, also picking up on the idea that life could very easily exist.

“That is correct.” Rashad nodded. “The object must have high conductivity to create a magnetosphere in the first place. It has a very low moment of inertia, indicating that the water we see is truly very deep. The core or machine producing the electromagnetic and heat energy must be very small and very stable.”

“But also very powerful.” Harry cut in. “Bear in mind that the core of Object AA is strong enough to produce effects normally seen on planets and large moons.”

“And it could be alive.” Morty said, worriedly.

“That’s important, too.” Harry nodded. “If the core is sentient or some form of Artificial Intelligence, it may react to our presence in an adverse fashion. We are proceeding, but we are proceeding very carefully. Go on, Rashad.”

The Indian magnified the screen several times, focusing and centering on one of the larger masses. “Can you see this, Beth? It is not soil or rock. It is pumice! It exists as islands and bergs. There is no other terrestrial material on the entire object! Can you understand what this means?”

“If there are no volcanoes on Object AA, it means the pumice was intentionally put there.” The woman reasoned. “In fact, this entire object looks to be more designed than natural.”

“You will love this next part, Beth!” Rashad magnified the image on the screen further. “Prepare to become amazed!”

The eyes of both Beth and Morty gaped, the same as the eyes of the others had done when they’d seen the images earlier. A large amount of vegetation in green and brown was seen over many areas. They saw hills with concentric circles around them, and patches of ground marked off by road-like perimeters, both apparent signs of farming. As Rashad excitedly manipulated the image on the screen, the witnesses saw more roads, and groups of small buildings that had to be huts and villages. Finally, the image centered on a dome structure that appeared to be made of glass.

“Have you seen any people yet?” Beth asked.

“Not yet.” Harry declared. “Which is strange, as these islands are only a few miles across and look fully developed. You would think they would be teeming with natives.”

“They must be humanoid!” Rashad exclaimed. “They make houses and roads, and they farm!”

“They are probably peaceful.” Yu, who had been largely quiet until then, finally spoke up. “We have seen no signs of aggression towards people or nature in all the scans we’ve done.”

“Rashad, you were right!” Beth laughed in disbelief. “I am amazed!”

“Atmospheric conditions are optimal.” Rashad mentioned, after they’d pierced the object’s upper atmosphere and settled into Near-Object Orbit. “The air on this object has a little more water than what we are accustomed to, but it is within breathing range.”

“Check them again in five minutes.” Harry ordered. The captain was becoming more and more nervous, as the habitat they were entering was in many ways ideally suited for humans. That should not have been possible. “Beth, I want you on continuous surface scans. Yu, you’ll be focused on proximity alerts, and Morty, stay on systems integrity.”

“Nothing so far over open water.” Beth announced, five minutes later.

“Atmospheric readings have not changed.” Rashad said right after.

“This ship is still intact, captain.” Morty half-joked out of anxiety.

“We won’t be needing our space suits.” Yu commented.

Harry was so preoccupied with the object that he hadn’t yet considered they would be setting foot on it. “Who thinks we should make a landing?”

“No, no.” Morty shook his head. “Definitely not.”

“I want to.” Yu countered.

The captain looked to his most experienced personnel.

“I believe we should continue to investigate at low altitude.” Rashad considered.

“We won’t be able to gather samples that way.” Beth reminded him.

“This is true.” The Indian bowed his head, as if he were having a struggle in his head. “We must have the samples for study. I have changed my opinion, captain. I now believe we should attempt a landing, but only for as long as it takes to collect samples. We can wear the respirators in place of the entire suits we have available to us.”

Harry hated the suits, despite that they were fairly lightweight and of advanced design. They were hot and smelly, and a pain in the ass to put on and take off.

“What about insects?” Beth asked.

“Oh, I forgot about that.” Rashad’s brow furrowed. “Perhaps we should reconsider using only our respirators.”

“We’ll have a discussion on that in a moment.” Harry decided. “For now, Rashad, bring us closer to a coast. The rest of you continue to man your stations. Report any unusual sightings right away.”

He didn’t really need to say that last part, the captain thought, but he was getting as jumpy as Morty and as queasy as Beth by then.

“This is a contradiction.” Beth stated, a short while later. “Everything we see is well maintained, from the housing to the farming. Where are all the people?”

“I agree, captain.” Rashad seconded. “We see nothing that is coming apart due to neglect. The entire population is missing.”

“And the air content is still breathable?” Harry wondered.

“Yes, captain.”

The man in charge took a deep breath. “Let’s put this baby down and have ourselves a look. Rashad, find us a good spot near the glass dome.”

Although the Seven Seas had the design of an archaic jet-propulsion rocket, the ship had strong thrusters mounted on several corners, for lateral movement as well as vertical. In fact, the rocket shape was practical for the way the small vessels were lined up on the mother ship, one next to the other. When ready to launch, the vessel could simply shoot forward out of its docking bay like a car leaving a garage. On this occasion, the Seven Seas hovered over the outskirts of the village, finding a spot where the powerful thrusters would cause only a minimal disruption on the local agriculture. As the hydrogen bursts reduced in intensity, the ship came in for a soft landing with only a slight bump.

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