Captain Jette Jones, Star Ranger
Issue #11 – The Rock of Epsilon
By Callidus and connie k
All rights reserved. “Captain Jette Jones: Star Ranger” © 2022 All characters and stories are not to be reproduced in any form without the expressed written permission of the authors.
A routine assignment studying a peculiar asteroid field turns out to be anything but routine when Epsilon is forced to confront her past, changing the course of her future forever …
Six weeks have passed since the ordeal on the Ceres. The crew of the Artemis III is physically healed, but emotional scars remain. Wisely, Rear Admiral Hartley has kept the flagship of the Star Ranger Corps busy with rather mundane assignments. And as it nears the far reaches of the Sol System, Hartley has new orders for its captain …
“I know this takes you out of the way of your usual patrol routes, Captain, but once you’ve completed this last mission you and your crew are to return to Moonbase One. You may have … recovered from your recent adventures, but your ship is badly in need of some time in a docking bay for a refit and some TLC.”
“Thank you, Admiral.” Captain Jette Jones’s smile came with a nod. “You read my mind.”
Rear Admiral Onimanina Hartley smiled back from the vidscreen in Jette’s office. There was no time-delay on the transmission being so close to Moonbase. “It’s been hectic on this end. We’ve had to replace quite a few officers in the SRC and the GSL for obvious reasons. Plus my own aide-de-camp.”
Hartley nearly spat out the last part. She had caught the brunt of outrage from the Galactic Systems League when it was discovered that there had been a massive security breach on Moonbase (see Issue #5). Jette also got the impression that the job of vice commander was still open and hers for the taking if she wanted it.
“What’s the assignment, Admiral?”
“An asteroid field in Elliptical Grid BR-6. Earth has been monitoring it for centuries, but recently it’s been behaving, well, against physical laws. It’s apparently not affected by any gravitational pull from nearby systems, seems to be growing without taking in corresponding mass. And …” Hartley leaned forward, “it accelerates and decelerates.”
Jette was doubly surprised. The asteroid field was definitely not behaving as it should, and that kicked in her sense of exploration. But also, the Artemis had been to Grid BR-6 just a year earlier and it exhibited no such tendencies.
But they had discovered something remarkable there that time too – Epsilon.
“In addition, large chunks of asteroids have been pelting nearby systems. One landed in the ocean of an uninhabited planet, Itari 4, destroying an entire continent. A moon of Zozash Prime was pulverized. There have been five strikes in all.”
The door chimed.
Lt. Kanivia Riesga entered, snapping to attention with hands behind her back as soon as she realized her captain was on the comm.
“We’re on it, Admiral.”
“I’m transmitting all the data we have. Report what you find. Good luck, Captain. I’ll see you here in about a week. Hartley out.”
Jette hit a button and leaned back in her chair.
“I see you. Come out from behind her.”
Riesga’s face twisted sheepishly as a shiny black blob of ooze peeked out over one shoulder, then the other.
“Come on out. This is for both of you.”
The glushang settled on one shoulder, reforming into the shape of piled scoops of ice cream.
“Lieutenant, I’ve told you about this before. The glushang is not allowed in the command module or any other restricted areas aboard ship. What you two do on your off time is your business. But it’s not to be in the CM. Ever. When you’re on duty, the glushang is to remain in your quarters. Are we clear?”
Jette could see Riesga biting her tongue. “Something?”
“Well … I mean ever since Karmilla … disconnected with the glushang, it’s … well, it’s gotten kind of attached to me.”
“And you to it.”
Jette stood up, her sternness fading to sympathy. “We’ll be heading back to Moonbase in a week. See what you can do about finding your friend a new home. I don’t want you getting in the habit of disobeying my orders. Once was enough.”
Riesga relaxed with a slight grin.
“Ship approaching, Captain.” It was Epsilon. “A small vessel. Intercept course. It should be in range in 10 minutes.”
“On my way.”
Jette strode past Riesga. “Drop it off and get to the CM.”
“It’s a long-range courier, Sir,” Epsilon reported as soon as Jette sat down in the command chair. “It has the two blue stripes on its wing. But I don’t have any record of that type of craft in the registry.”
“I know what it is.” Jette turned to see Riesga and K’wari enter the CM. Riesga hurried to her station, but K’wari slowly moved beside Jette and continued. “It’s an envoy from Indora.”
“Yes, Captain. What scholars consider the home world of Yasu.”
“They are requesting to dock, Sir,” Epsilon said, only slightly turning her head.
“Full stop. Acknowledge the request, Epsilon.”
K’wari leaned and whispered: “Jette. Before they arrive, may we talk privately?”
Jette was already standing before she finished and the two exited the CM, stopping just outside the closing doors.
K’wari took a deep breath. “I believe I know why they are here. There isn’t any other explanation.” Jette tilted her head. “I believe … I am being recalled from my mission by the Order.”
“That’s unusual, isn’t it? I thought you told me that the Order allows its vicars to decide for themselves what path they take on their … uh …”
“Journey of discovery. Yes. Evidently, something has made the Tribunal of Indora deem it necessary to retrieve me.”
“And you know what it is.” Jette knew she wasn’t going to like K’wari’s answer.
“I think so. Vicars are required to record … complete accounts of their activities. Nothing is omitted.”
Jette tried not to grimace. “Nothing?”
“It appears my conduct, as a vicar and personally, has not been received favorably.”
“Alright. Let’s see what they have to say.” She put her hand on K’wari’s elbow and squeezed before re-entering the CM. K’wari opened her mouth to speak, but stopped, then followed Jette inside.
There was darkness.
The chassis opened and she spilled out of it, falling face-first onto the bed. Soft hands grabbed her by the shoulder and turned her over. Lips were on her, and a tongue hungry and wet. Without a thought, she wrapped her arms around the smooth back.
She could feel Hunni’s dew between her legs as she locked her ankles around her ass. She was swimming in the black void, steered by lust and Hunni’s unseen smile.
She opened her eyes just as Hunni pulled back. It was a sugary smile masking her malevolent intent.
She could sense more than see the hypo gun in her hand, not really thinking about anything. Nothing. Nothing but the need to caress those lips again. Her head turned. The gun, filled with silver-green liquid, was pressed to her ear.
The pull of the trigger …
Cadet Johansen “Flock” Powers awoke with a start. Was she still dreaming? She couldn’t regain control of her senses. An arm languidly reached for something on her nightstand. A silver, bullet-shaped device. Her fingers pushed it deeply into the canal of her left ear – as she had done 40 times before. Aware, yet unaware.
Then she heard a familiar hiss.
Flock sat up. Her breathing was rapid with anticipation. She stared at the leggings of her battlesuit. She saw eyes peer out from within one of them – those black, dominant eyes.
Flock reclined again obediently onto the pillow, looking down, transfixed, between her spread legs. She began rubbing herself vigorously, needfully. She could hear the slap of wetness. Then a voice in her ear.
“You have done well, my iron maiden. Soon it will be time for you to join me. You know what you must do – what you have to do – for me. I will tell you when the time comes so be ready. Do not remove the sensor. You no longer know it’s there. I will call for you. And you will obey …”
The large purplish snake had slithered out of the legging and raised itself high above her on the bed. The two black beads holding Flock in a tight mental embrace. The slight bob of its reptilian head forced the Star Ranger cadet to focus more intently on them, even as she pinched at her swollen nipples.
The fangs were bared. And darted downward – striking deeply into the plump fold of her labia.
Jette and K’wari stood beneath the small hatch. Unlike the long anti-gravity walkway that connected the Artemis to the Ceres, this small ship was able to attach itself directly to the hull.
As the ladder dropped, Flock hurried up the corridor, fully dressed in her battlesuit. And armed. She let out an apologetic, “Sorry, Captain,” as she took her place beside K’wari.
The hatch opened. A billowing crimson robe with long, shapely legs attached descended. As the visitor hopped down the last step, K’wari let out an audible gasp.
The young woman turned around, her attention quickly darted away from Jette, beaming a great smile when she saw K’wari. She lunged for her, hugging her tightly and kissing her as a lover would.
The young woman’s eyes twinkled, taking both of K’wari’s hands in hers.
“Forgive me, Captain Jones. I am Odell, Vicar of Yasu, nemate to the White Mother Sha-shara, sister of K’wari and member number Eight of the Tribunal of Indora. May I come aboard?”
It took Jette a moment. The woman looked to be no more than 18, radiant and poised.
“Of course. Welcome to the Artemis III. At ease, Flock. This is Cadet Powers. I see you already know K’wari.”
The woman nodded to Flock, then said, “It has been a long time, K’wari. I have missed you.”
“Four years. It may have been 20, you’ve changed so much.”
Flock couldn’t help but let out a perturbed sigh. Jette noticed, if the women didn’t.
“So, you two are sisters?” the captain asked.
“Not by blood, Captain,” K’wari said between smiles. “We are sisters in the Order. The White Mother’s two nemates. Apprentices.”
“Ah. I see. Forgive me, Vicar, but time is short for us. There is a conference room down to the left. I’m sure the two of you will want to discuss the reason for your visit privately.”
“Yes. Thank you, Captain.”
“C’mon, Flock. Let’s get to the CM. Vicar.”
Flock’s stare lingered on the young woman a moment too long before following her captain to the bow.
The door had barely closed before Odell was on K’wari again. She accepted the embrace then stepped back sharply.
“I’m sorry, sister. I have been waiting for this moment for so long. Unfortunately, my joy is muted by what I must tell you.”
“I think I can guess.”
K’wari led her to the large, round table. Both of them folding their robes neatly before sitting down.
“Much has changed since you left, K’wari. The Superior Mother’s power and control has only grown. Although sentiments are split evenly within the Tribunal, she has influence over a majority of the Order. It is Sha-shara’s belief that Superior Mother Korella intends to drive her out and take full control of the Tribunal and the Order itself.”
Odell could see K’wari stiffen and took her hand.
“She intends to use me as a pawn. The wedge she needs to split the Order.”
“That’s exactly right. We have been gradually straying from Yasu’s teachings. Force without compassion, commanding without enlightening. Sister … in three weeks’ time, you are to face judgment. I have never heard of that being invoked before.”
K’wari nodded. “Sha-shara told me there was a time. A purge. When the Order broke from many of the principles Yasu set forth. Factions became radicalized. Korella was only a Vicar then. Sha-shara was the Superior Mother. She’s been fighting against the tide ever since.”
Odell squeezed her hand. “There is time. The White Mother is preparing, doing what she can. We are not to return for 22 days. That should give you time to finish what you are doing here and return, with me, to Indora.”
“Finish what I’m doing …”
Odell could see the sadness on K’wari’s face and leaned into her, brushing her cheek to cheek. Her hand reached for a breast.
“Odell. This is not right. You are a child.”
“I am of age. Did you not think of me? Did you not wish the time to fly and we would be together again?”
K’wari stood abruptly, even as Odell rose and moved toward her. K’wari put her arm out, holding her back.
“I cannot say. But now is not the time.”
Odell’s face fell. Then she nodded with understanding. “You are right, of course.”
“When we are done with this assignment, we will be returning to Moonbase One. I will meet you there. And face what I have to face.”
Odell’s wanting look drew K’wari forward, her resolve crumbled. And they kissed – deeply – eyes closed tight to hold its memory.
Kanivia Riesga peeled off her tunic and pants as soon as she entered her cabin. She stretched. It had been a long shift. The glushang was waiting for her on the bed, morphing from its resting state into the shape of a beautifully detailed bouquet of flowers.
“Thank you very much!”
Kanivia folded her legs under her as she flopped on the bed. “You know, you’re gonna get me in trouble with Captain Jones.”
The glushang flowed into the shape of a teardrop.
“I know. But rules are rules. You heard the captain. We may need to find some ways for you to pass the time in here. I won’t be keeping you in a drawer if that’s what you are worried about.”
The glushang became a large puddle on the bed. Kanivia lay on her side, running her fingers gently through the shimmering pool.
“I know you can sense what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking, but sometimes it would be nice if I knew what’s on your mind. What you like. What you dream about. If you have friends.” Her head shot up. “Hey. I’ve been wondering. Are you, like, a female?”
The oily, black pool shrank to about a foot long and began to reform – into the shape of a perfectly formed vagina.
“Oh! That may be a little too much detail,” she said with a giggle.
Then the glushang began to grow taller and solidify. It was round at the base and extended upward about 10 inches into the form of a phallus.
“Ohhhh …” Her eyes went wide admiring its girth and gently pulsating texture. “Both, huh?”
Kanivia couldn’t resist running her hand up and down, feeling it harden slightly at her touch. She looked around the room half embarrassed and half guiltily.
“Ummm … uhhh …”
The glushang leaned toward her, almost expectantly.
She stood up slowly. “First, it’s about time you had a name. I’ve been thinking of one for weeks. How about Cosmo?”
The glushang became more rigid and defined. Kanivia thought she could see actual veins. A smooth, bulbous head formed.
“I see you like that.” Then she laughed. “Me too!”
She tugged down her panties, kicking off her boots awkwardly, and unclasped her bra. “All right? Let me know if I hurt you or something. If this isn’t what you want …”
The glushang, Cosmo, grew another inch.
“Easy there. This may be harder than you think.”
From its tip, a thin veil of wetness dripped down along its length. Instant lube.
“Okay. Here goes.”
Kanivia climbed onto the bed and swung her leg, gently kissing the tip to her creaming opening before slowly mounting the alien creature.
“Jeepers whiskers! That feels goooood.”
She pressed down, then rose up – nearly losing her balance – then opened her hips and slammed down hard.
Her climaxes came fast and furious and in pairs. Updownupdown. The glushang filled every part of her, massaging and rubbing her walls in a tender yet insistent onslaught of stimulation. She forgot how to breathe and sucked in air as another double-barreled orgasm hummed through her pussy.
Panting, she managed one last down-and-up before falling backward onto the bed, breathlessly caught in the echoes of her sex frenzy.
The glushang sensed that Kanivia was finished, and liquified into a thick stream of ooze that washed over her belly.
Between pants, she managed to speak: “Gimme five, Cos.
“Then let’s try that aga— ooooooooOOOOOoooooo!” Riesga groaned helplessly as the glushang plunged back inside her tingling sex and began molesting her once more.
Three days later, the Artemis arrives at Elliptical Grid BR-6 …
“There it is.”
Riesga nodded to the main viewer. The asteroid field loomed ahead, a vast amorphous sea of jagged rocks. There were thousands upon thousands tumbling lazily within the expanse. The smallest of them were no bigger than the Artemis. At the center were three gargantuan formations that rivaled moons etched with lines of rich sapphire and purple.
“What’s producing those colors?” K’wari asked.
Flock studied her instruments. “There’s a dense mix of ore embedded in the rocks. Probably some aggregate that’s reactive in the visible light spectrum.”
“Epsilon, bring us in at speed factor point-oh-five.”
The glowing white lines of Epsilon’s matrix ebbed and flowed over her black exo skin. Slow, then fast. Then slow again like her internal computations couldn’t make up their mind about something. At length her hands went to the flight controls. “Aye, Captain.”
Jette traded a knowing look with K’wari.
Minutes later, the gleaming silver rocketship gently banked and rolled as it picked its way through the maze of boulders along the edge of the main field.
In the command module, Jette watched Epsilon. Her hands were as swift and sure as ever but her matrix warbled in a strange, uneven fashion. Jette could only guess how the living computer felt about being back here. “Status, Epsilon?”
“All systems operative, maintaining course and speed. Estimate we have penetrated 52 percent toward the center of—”
“Uh … Captain?” Flock cut in. Her fingers flew across her console. “I’m picking up another ship.”
“Where?” Jette was on her feet in an instant.
“There.” Epsilon nodded toward a tiny dot of light on the viewscreen. It weaved smoothly in and out of the asteroids’ paths at breakneck speed.
“That’s one hell of a pilot,” Riesga said.
“What can you tell me, Flock?” Jette asked.
“Single-seater. One life sign, Sir.”
“Plotting, Skipper.” Riesga checked her navigational readout. “Looks like they’re heading for the center of the asteroid field.”
“That can’t be a coincidence. Flock? Can we—”
“Jette!” K’wari pointed to the screen.
On the viewer, there was a flurry of movement in the bottom left corner. Smaller rocks were being brushed aside and colliding off each other, propelled by some unseen force. Then they saw it. An asteroid the size of a city was plowing through the field at incredible speed. It was headed for the tiny ship. The vessel zipped through the maze of rocks, threading the needle again and again as it fought to get out of the path of destruction.
For a moment, it seemed like it had worked.
The ship cleared the gargantuan stone hurtling toward it. But there was no escaping the debris following in its wake. The smaller shards pelted the vessel like artillery. Then, a larger boulder smashed into the craft and the engine went dark. The ship careened wildly and struck another rock. Then another.
It began to drift, tumbling gently as the huge asteroid continued plowing through the field.
They were all quiet as Jette took her seat. “Epsilon, intercept course. Best possible speed. Try to keep above the debris. Flock and K’wari, get suited up and prepare for rescue operations.”
“Aye, Sir.” Flock unbuckled her harness and followed K’wari through the open hatch.
Riesga looked to Epsilon. “I sure hope they survived that. They’re almost as good a pilot as you. Almost.”
The living computer nodded but said nothing.
The floodlights on the Artemis illuminated the small, mangled ship drifting within a circle of pock-marked asteroids. The craft was a gently curving tube shape with a bubble canopy at one end and four small rockets at the rear.
Two figures in gleaming spacesuits approached the wreck. Tiny wisps of gas squirted from their backpacks and held them stationary with the ship, which has decelerated to a stop. Adrift.
One of the figures tapped a wrist comp mounted on their suit’s forearm. “Artemis, do you copy?”
Jette’s voice crackled over the comm line. “We read you, K’wari. What can you see?”
K’wari peered into the cockpit. A single light winked on and off. She could make out the silhouette of a humanoid but it was too dark to see more. “Heavy damage. They have some power though. Life support might be still online.”
“Running on fumes though, Captain.” Flock unlatched a cutting torch from her belt. Beside it hung an emergency bubble helmet.
“Copy that, Cadet.” Jette thought a moment. “No time for anything fancy. Cut through the hull and get that helmet on the pilot immediately. Riesga is standing by in med bay.”
“Roger, Captain.” Flock thumbed the control and the torch’s tip glowed a vibrant orange. “I’m gonna cut straight into the cockpit.” She looked at K’wari. “Be ready with the helmet.”
“Yes, Flock.” The Vicar took hold of Flock by the hips.
Flock eyed K’wari’s hands with raised eyebrows. “What are you doing there?”
K’wari removed the helmet from the other woman’s belt. “Just steadying myself.”
Flock moved the torch into position. “I’m gonna make the cut a bit wider than your shoulders. Just lean in and pop the helmet on them as soon as I’m through.”
“Okay, Flock. Got it.”
Flock took a breath and then pressed the torch into the cockpit bubble. The tip flashed and smoked as escaping atmosphere boiled off. She began cutting a wide arc through the transparent material. From behind her helmet’s faceplate, she winked at K’wari. “See how well we work together when you do what I say?”
K’wari smirked. “I’m well-aware of your preference for being on top. Better than most.”
Flock’s tongue worked against the inside of her mouth as she moved the torch. “And I’m well-aware of your preference for leaving teeth marks on my clit.”
K’wari watched the torch carefully. “I was being mind-controlled by Queen Zeta.”
“Time and place for everything I guess.”
K’wari’s face was unreadable behind the faceplate. “Do rescue missions always get you this flirty?”
“Keep on mission, you two.” Jette’s voice was even.
Flock could feel that section of the cockpit loosening. “This is it. You set?”
Flock passed the torch over the last inch of material. Then she dug the tip under the lip and yanked hard. The circle popped free and spun away.
K’wari lunged into the hole and pressed the helmet over the occupant’s head in one smooth motion. “Got it! I hope they breathe O2.” The collar cinched around their neck and a green indicator winked on indicating the remaining oxygen level.
“Knife!” Flock called out, passing a blade to K’wari handle-first.
K’wari took the tool, slashed deftly four times and the fabric harness fell away. She stabbed the blade into the flight console and left it there. The Vicar grabbed the pilot under the shoulders. “Pull!”
On cue, Flock took hold of K’wari around the hips and pushed off hard. She pulled the Vicar and the pilot free of the craft and sent all three of them sailing back toward the Artemis. Flock’s thrusters hissed in three sustained bursts as she aimed them for an open hatch.
“Captain, we got ‘em!”
The med bay doors swished open and Jette marched in. “What have we got?”
“It’s a woman. Humanoid,” Flock said. She stood off to one side, letting K’wari and Riesga do their work around the bed.
Jette peered past them to see a bronze human face and short black hair. “How is she?”
K’wari looked up as she finished attaching a sensor pad to the pilot’s temple. “Remarkably well. Her flight suit protected her core and limbs. And she was only exposed to total vacuum for a few seconds. That’s the good news.”
Jette folded her arms. “What’s the bad?”
The Vicar motioned to the med display over the bed. “She’s banged up pretty badly from the crash. Blood-oxygen balance indicates she pulled some serious gravity too. Concussion likely. She needs a fully equipped medical facility, Jette.”
“Riesga, get to the CM and see if you can get a hold of anyone who might be in the area.”
“Aye, Skipper. Good job you two.” The lieutenant made her way through the hatch.
“She’s right. You two did outstanding work back there.” Flock stood a bit straighter. K’wari smiled and bowed slightly. “We should try and figure out whatever we can about her. Especially how she ended up out here to begin with.”
Jette was interrupted by a chirp from her hand comp. “Captain.” It was Epsilon in the CM. “We’re being hailed.”
“That was fast,” Jette muttered as she thumbed the device. “On my way. Flock, I’ll need you back at tactical once you get out of your suit.” The hatch opened with a swish as she hurried through.
Flock eyed K’wari as she peeled off the silver environmental suit. “Hey K’wari. Do you ever think about it? When Zeta had us in her power?”
The Vicar gave her a meaningful look. “Sometimes.”
Flock smoothed out her Star Ranger jumpsuit deliberately. “Ever … dream about it?”
K’wari stepped out of her suit and paused as she looked at Flock. “Sometimes. Flock? Would you like to talk about this? I am available to counsel every member of the crew and I’d be happy—”
“Gods, never mind.” Flock rolled her eyes as she headed out the door.
“This is Captain Jette Jones of Earth’s Star Ranger Corps.” Jette sat in her command chair, sizing up the woman on the main viewer. She was gorgeous even in the middle years of her life. Curly dark hair danced just above her shoulders as she nodded in greeting.
“Hello, Captain. I am Overseer Valinore. We’ve been monitoring your presence in the field.”
Jette fixed a diplomatic smile in place. “Very good. Then you’re aware we’ve just brought aboard a person in need of immediate medical care.”
Valinore matched Jette’s pleasant tone. “My surgeon is the best for a light year. Please, bring them here. We’d be happy to help.”
“Very generous of you, Overseer. Where is your ship?”
“Our installation is near the center of the asteroid field.”
“Installation?” Jette glanced at Flock who was already moving to activate the scanners. “What exactly are you the overseer of?”
“Kaplan Station. We’re a small mining operation.”
Jette’s eyes narrowed. “You’re mining this asteroid field?”
“Doing our best.” Valinore chuckled.
Jette leaned back in her chair. “In that case, we’ll be with you soon. I have some questions about this asteroid field that hopefully you could answer.”
“I look forward to it.”
The screen switched back to the external view. “Lieutenant, can you get an exact fix on their signal?”
After a moment, Riesga spun in her chair. “I’ll give you three guesses but you only need one, Skipper.”
“What does that mean?” Flock asked.
“In the heart of this asteroid field there’s an abandoned alien facility,” Jette answered. “That’s where Riesga and I found Epsilon.”
Knowing Flock’s eyes were on her, the living computer looked at the viewscreen and said nothing. Her matrix ebbed and flowed. Processing.
“Visual on Kaplan Station, Captain.”
Ahead loomed an enormous asteroid that looked like a planet with the upper third cut away and set adrift in space. Just beyond it were the three colossal rocks covered in glowing veins of ore.
Riesga flicked a button and the viewscreen showed a docking bay embedded in the dark rock. She looked to Epsilon. “Looks like they moved into your old place.”
Epsilon’s matrix warbled in reply. “It is a logical location to base their operations. Anything built on the surface would almost certainly be destroyed by collisions. An unoccupied underground facility would be quite a boon to their endeavors.”
Flock looked around at the rest of her crewmates, feeling a bit lost. “So that’s the … what did you all call it?”
“Epsilon called it The Nursery,” Jette replied. “But we don’t know who originally named it that.”
“Wait, not even Epsilon?”
“I am missing large sections of memory data from my time there. My contiguous recollection only begins shortly before the Artemis arrived.”
Something beeped on Flock’s console. “Captain, we’ve received landing clearance.”
Jette leaned forward. “Take us in, Epsilon.”
The rocketship slowed as it glided over the maw of the docking bay and spun slowly upward until its nose was aimed away from the bright interior. Then it descended inside, tail first. Blue light flickered on the hull as the craft passed through the force shield and came to rest on a landing pad.
Jette stood before main hatch. She nodded to the unconscious woman lying on the gurney they’d wheeled out of the med bay. “K’wari, escort our survivor to their medical facility and see if she regains consciousness. I’d like to find out what she was doing out here.”
Flock cut in. “Permission to tag along, Sir? We saved her together, I’d like to be there when she wakes up.”
Jette glanced between the two women. “Granted.”
She pressed a button and the hatch began sliding open and the ladder descended. “Riesga, Epsilon and I will make contact with this Overseer and find out what they’re doing here and what they know about this phenomena Admiral …” Jette trailed off as she noticed her entire crew gawking at something behind her. She turned and saw what had captured their attention.
A gleaming silver robot woman stood below them by the ladder. She was tall and lithe yet full of delicious chrome curves. She wore no garments and every feminine detail of her metal body was on display. A second gynoid marched up and halted beside the first, then fell into a provocative pose with her hands on her hips.
Flock felt a shudder pass through her body. K’wari looked sidelong at her and saw nipples straining against her Ranger tunic.
The robot had a single wide slit, like a visor, where its eyes would’ve been. It glowed with yellow light. Her chrome lips curled around a buzzing femenine voice: “Welcome to Kaplan Station, visitors. Overseer Valinore will greet you momentarily. We will escort the being in need of medical attention.”
The second bot stepped forward guiding a hovering medical stretcher. The crew climbed down as the gurney was lowered.
“Thank you.” Jette nodded to K’wari and the Vicar stepped aside and allowed the chrome women to transfer the pilot from the Artemis gurney. “We’ll follow you.”
“Thank you, Gods,” Flock breathed.
“What was that, Cadet?”
“Uh …” Flock looked at her blankly, not realizing she’d spoken aloud. “Nothing, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”
Jette angled her head toward the gynoids and Flock took the hint. She and K’wari fell into step behind them with Jette and the others bringing up the rear.
Epsilon watched the pilot on the hover stretcher. The image twisting in her memory…
The cold blue light of the hangar bathed what was left of the Victory 147. Only the forward command section of the craft had survived the asteroid strike. The smooth nose of Eilia’s beloved ship flowed back in smooth lines until the hull plates gave way to mangled wreckage. She and Tonya had sealed themselves in the cockpit. She knew Thompson’s body was in the module just behind that. He’d been banging on the hatch for nearly a minute after the ship had been split in half and his section began venting into space. The others were dead somewhere among the asteroids.
Eilia moaned on the hover stretcher, her body broken in almost every way imaginable. She looked up past the dark figures guiding her into the facility and saw three great rocks floating outside the hangar. They were etched in glowing lines of purple and sapphire. She called out for Tonya but even then she knew her lover was dead.
The strange beings had only brought one stretcher.
Epsilon blinked and realized the procession had moved on without her. She hurried to catch up.
The gynoids led the group across the gantry to an enormous oval-shaped hatch that hummed quietly as several layers of translucent metal winked open one after the other. The final sheet withdrew and revealed Overseer Valinore. Her smile was fixed firmly in place as she stepped forward and offered her hand. “Captain Jones! Welcome to Kaplan Station.”
Jette shook the offered hand. “Overseer Valinore, thank you for the use of your medical facilities. This woman might not have survived without immediate care.” Jette was a full head taller and stared down at the other woman with cool professionalism.
Valinore seemed curiously pleased by this as her smile widened. “Happy to be of service. My staff will take her to my surgeon so her treatment can begin immediately.” She nodded to the silver gynoids whose glowing eyes flashed once in recognition. Then they steered the hover stretcher toward a gently sloping ramp that led down and deeper into the cavernous facility.
When K’wari and Flock moved to follow Valinore waved them off. “Only authorized personnel may proceed into the station. To ensure safety.”
Jette traded a look with K’wari. “My crew extracted her from her craft. Your surgeon will no doubt benefit from conferring with them.”
Several moments passed before Valinore relented and stepped out of their way. “No doubt, Captain.”
K’wari and Flock followed the robot women down the ramp and through another large hatch. A dozen men and women in worn coveralls were coming out just as the procession with the stretcher was going in. At the rear, they pulled a hover trolley full of rocks. The ore was etched with lines of glowing purple and sapphire.
The workers stared curiously at the woman on the stretcher and the two visitors. Jette locked eyes with two women at the front. The first was dark-skinned with brilliant eyes and a mop of hair held in a ponytail. Her friend had boney cranial ridges and a reddish-brown complexion. They whispered something to each other and the dark-skinned woman motioned for the group to stop. The workers stood off to one side of the reception lobby and watched with keen interest.
Jette turned back to the matter at hand. “Overseer Valinore, I’m here on official Star Ranger business.”
The woman’s smile faded only for an instant. “It seems I’ve put you in an awkward position, Captain.”
“We’ll see. I’d like to take a look at your mining permit.”
Valinore shrugged casually. “I don’t need one. Since this asteroid field lies outside of a sovereign star system, it falls under GSL bylaw section—“
“Section 22-27,” Jette recited. “I’m aware of the regs. However, in the interest of safety, you should’ve let someone know you’re out here.”
Valinore shrugged again. “Mining is a zealous business, Captain. Surely you don’t expect me to give away the location of a such a rich find to my competitors?”
“What exactly are you mining?”
“An incredibly rare mineral: compound Mg77. It’s only been found, at quantity, a handful of times in galactic history.”
“Overseer, five asteroids have been ejected from this field in the past several months. One of Zozash Prime’s outer moons was pulverized. Another asteroid decimated a, thankfully, uninhabited continent on another planet. I’m here to find out if your operations have anything to do with these events.”
At this, Valinore straightened. “In that case, I welcome you. Since we have absolutely nothing to do with those tragic circumstances. How can I help?”
Jette motioned to the workers standing nearby. “We’ll need to inspect your entire operation. Documentation, equipment and personnel. If everything checks out, then we’ll be out of your hair by morning.”
Valinore’s jaw flexed. “I’ll need to coordinate with our foreperson.” She tapped at a hand comp as she stepped to the far side of the room.
Riesga was at Jette’s shoulder, she opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by another voice.
“Answer danger with courage. Answer hostility with temperance.”
The pair turned. It was the dark-skinned woman with the ponytail. She was walking toward them. Her friend looked worried as she fiddled with a pair of round goggles on her forehead.
“Answer suffering with compassion. Answer the unknown with curiosity.”
Jette regarded the woman with nod. “That’s the Star Ranger creed.”
“My little sister. She wanted to be a Ranger. She was always reciting that. Learning about the Cadet School and what she needed to study to get in.”
“Sounds like she’d be a great addition to the Corps.”
The woman smiled sadly. “She would’ve. She died, with our mum and dad. The solar flare on Jurrant.”
Jette winced. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m Captain Jette Jones.”
“Riffa.” She pulled off her gloves and shook Jette’s hand. “Captain Jones, I need to ask you for something. A favor for a favor.”
Jette nodded. “Go ahead.”
“Here’s my favor to you. Don’t trust Overseer Valinore. Whatever she says, don’t believe her.”
Jette traded a grave look with Riesga. “And what do you need in return?”
“To get off this station. All of us. All of the workers.”
“Riffa!” Valinore barked as she stalked over. “Who hit the depth target this time?”
Riffa flinched but recovered quickly. “Heyna.”
Valinore smiled as she turned. “Congratulations, Heyna! Bonus recreation time for you.”
One of the mine workers nodded timidly and stepped away from the group.
“Go ahead and enjoy yourself, Heyna. You’re done for the day.” Valinore sniffed dismissively as she turned back. “I thought you’d be farther along, Riffa.”
Riffa squared her shoulders. “If half the workforce hadn’t been dismissed, I’m sure we would be … Overseer.“
“Yes.” The reply was cold. “Thank you, Riffa. We’ll talk later. Right now, I’ve got business to attend to.” Valinore gestured to another woman who’d entered the lobby. She was flanked by four more of the silver robot women. “Captain this our ganger, Chief Fallok.”
Fallok had broad shoulders and angular features. She waved off the gynoids then marched over. She didn’t speak. Just gave a slight nod in Jette’s direction as she stood next to Valinore. “Please give me a moment to get the Chief up to speed and then we’ll begin the inspection. Feel free to look around.”
Jette nodded. “Thank you, Overseer.”
Valinore glared at Riffa then stepped away with Fallok.
Epsilon sidled up to Riesga, her eyes fixed on the worker who’d earned a reward. The woman bee-lined back down the main corridor ramp. She couldn’t follow without drawing attention but Epsilon knew three other routes she could use to catch up before the miner reached the first intersection.
The living computer whispered to Riesga. “Please tell the Captain I’m going to be up to something. I’ll return shortly.”
“Huh?” Riesga turned. “What?”
But Epsilon had already peeled off and walked away.
“What’s going on here?” Jette whispered, without looking directly at Riffa.
“For starters, the gynoids,” Riffa said quietly, her eyes fixed on the silver women who had begun unloading the ore from the hover trolley into a shimmering gravity tube feeding up through the ceiling. “She’s replacing the workers with them. We should have two dozen more beings.”
“Are you mining guild?” Riesga asked.
“No. Freelancers on six-week contracts. But some of us have been here six months. We were promised a huge completion bonus if we stayed on longer. But then some of the women threatened to quit working if they didn’t get some down time.”
Jette turned sideways toward Riesga. “What happened?”
Riffa looked nervously over her shoulder. Her voice dropped again. “Valinore arranged for them to depart along with Bev, she was an astro-archeologist who tagged along to investigate this place. She’d made some sort of major discovery.”
“I don’t know. But she wanted to leave and organize a full team to bring it back.” Riffa stole another glance to make sure Valinore was still out of earshot. “None of them ever returned. The gynoids started supplanting our workforce. Other women got upset and left. More gynoids showed up.”
Jette shook her head. “If you’re not mining guild, there’s not much you can do about that.”
“That’s not the problem, Captain. We can’t contact any of the women who were let go. No one has heard from them. Or Bev.”
Jette could read the concern on Riesga’s even face.
“Then a couple of weeks ago I spotted Chief Fallok in the locker room cleaning out boxes. She had a cargo trunk full of personal belongings. She tried to shut it before I could see but … Bev’s work boots were in there! She had them decorated with beads and these little medallions. She literally slept in those boots. She would’ve never left them behind.”
“What are you saying?” Jette studied the other woman’s face.
“Captain, I don’t know what happened to her, but I don’t think she ever left. Maybe none of them did.”
Riffa backed up a step, feeling Valinore’s eyes on them. Valinore was coming back over.
“Meet me at our ship in 30 minutes,” Jette whispered.
Riffa edged away and began speaking quietly to the woman with the goggles.
“Something the matter, Captain?” Valinore’s voice was false honey.
“No, Riffa was just explaining your mineral extraction procedures.”
“I see. All set, Captain?” Valinore asked, the smile fixed firmly in place.
“Yes. Let’s get started.”
“Wait.” Valinore looked curiously at where Epsilon had been standing. “Where’s your other crewmate?”
“Returned to the ship to take care of something.” Riesga stepped forward as Jette turned and realized Epsilon was gone. “She’ll catch up with us.”
“Very well.” Valinore said at length. Then, she led the Star Rangers deeper into Kaplan Station.
Epsilon could sense the footfalls through the meta material of the Nursery’s floor 15 paces before Heyna reached the intersection of corridors. The woman’s pace was erratic. Her bioelectric output indicated excitement and anxiety. An odd mix, but Epsilon knew enough of humanoids to realize such contradictions were within their typical behavior.
The woman turned right and Epsilon followed. She did not trail the woman very far before the miner stopped and eagerly pressed the button beside a small door. The hatch winked open and the mine worker moaned breathlessly at what she saw within. Her hands began peeling off her coveralls as she hurried inside and the door shut behind her.
Epsilon’s matrix chattered irregularly as she approached the door. She could sense the bio signs of the woman alone, yet the walls and floor within the room conveyed the air displacement of at least two other beings. Epsilon silently commanded the door to open.
The mine worker was already nude. The sweat and grime of her workday shone like oil on her glowing skin. She was sandwiched between two of the gynoids. The one in front had hold of the miner’s pert breasts and was expertly manipulating them as it kissed her deeply, drawing forth eager groans. The silver robot behind was stroking a chrome phallus jutting proudly from between its legs. The gynoid thrust its hips in anticipation and groaned in a desperate, filtered voice as it pleasured itself. The mine worker felt the silver cock pressing eagerly into her ass cheeks and slipped a hand between her own trembling thighs.
“Mine worker Heyna, it is time for your reward.” The front robot woman’s artificial voice was a throbbing, seductive purr.
“Mmmm … yes!” The miner whimpered. She looked eagerly into the gynoid’s face, her eyes opening wide.
Epsilon saw a powerful, strobing light bathe the woman’s face. Yellow then green, purple then back to yellow. A kaleidoscope of shifting colors reflected in the woman’s gawking eyes. The wet sound between her thighs became a gushing trickle. The gynoid behind her could restrain itself no longer and slipped its cock into her sopping pussy. All three groaned in delight.
“You are not authorized for recreation, visitor.” A third gynoid stepped out of the corner and planted itself in front of Epsilon. “Please return to the reception lobby.”
Epsilon looked into the robot’s orange eye slit. Her matrix pulsed as she probed into the mechanoid’s uplink system and followed the signal path back to the control point’s origin. Her matrix shifted in surprise at what she found there. “Curious,” she murmured, then stepped back.
The woman’s cry of orgasm was cut off as the door closed.
“Very curious.” Epsilon murmured, processing the unexpected information.
She turned and found a pillar of light humming behind her. Her matrix jerked as the memories flooded her mind…
The light was the voice was her mind was her. The pain was gone. So was Eilia. She was nothing. Without physical form. Without memory or thought. There was the light. It was teaching her. How to walk with her new legs. How think with her new living processors. How to be what she would soon become.
The living computer walked through the ghost of her past and followed the corridor back toward Jette and Riesga.
K’wari and Flock watched the gynoids steer the hover stretcher into the medical bay and through a second hatch into a walled-off surgery suite. They stood behind a transparent pane as the woman was transferred to a scan bed. A third gynoid began scanning the unconscious pilot.
As she moved between the viewing pane and the bed, she bent over to attend to something. K’wari and Flock could see their own gawking faces reflected in the supple perfection of the robot woman’s chrome ass.
“Gods … these gynoids,” Flock said in a hushed voice.
“I know.” K’wari nodded, her eyes never looking away.
They were quiet for several minutes before Flock spoke again. “I know one, back on Plutonia. HZ124. She’s not like these though. She looks human.”
“Is that where you were while …?”
“Yeah. While you and Epsilon were with the Hajick,” Flock grumbled.
K’wari drew in a breath and tried to keep her voice even and calm. “Flock, nothing happened with Epsilon. She just … watched.”
Flock didn’t look at K’wari. Her eyes were on the surgeon gynoid. The robot woman was using a beam scalpel to carefully cut away the unconscious pilot’s flight suit. Something beneath the suit was glowing.
“Holy smokes!” Flock’s jaw dropped.
The suit was peeled back. Thin, jagged white lines pulsed benignly on the black exoskin.
Just like they did on Epsilon when she slept.
To be continued …