Captain Jette Jones, Star Ranger
Issue #13 – The Rock of Epsilon
By Callidus and connie k
All rights reserved. “Captain Jette Jones, Star Ranger” © 2023 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 …
The plot thickens for Captain Jette Jones and the crew of the Artemis III. Separated from their shipmates, Jette and Flock attempt to unravel the mystery buried within the rock of Kaplan Station, while Epsilon begins a fateful journey toward her destiny …
Epsilon’s matrix chattered erratically across her matte-black exoskin. The white lines flowed from the cluster of elliptical shapes orbiting the center of her chest and moved like turgid waves over her body.
Behind the controls of the Artemis III, her matrix flowed smoothly and in such an exact rhythm that her computational cycles rivaled atomic clocks for precision. Now, examining the medical scanning bay, the waves of her matrix crashed into each other in violent, conflicting impulses of logic, duty and humanity.
The hand comp on her wrist chirped. “Yes, Captain?”
“Epsilon, K’wari is in trouble! Her distress beacon is active.”
Captain Jette Jones sounded winded. Epsilon could hear the clap of two sets of boots. The second not quite in sync with Jette’s double-quick pace. “Flock says her last known location was med bay. I need you to meet us there.”
“I’m here now, Captain. There is no sign of K’wari.”
“What about the pilot we rescued?”
Epsilon’s gaze swept across the empty scanning bed. “Negative, Captain. She’s no longer here.”
Flock’s voice came onto the comm channel. “Epsy? What about the doctor-bot? K’wari said she was going to talk to her.”
Epsilon turned to the gynoid lying in a heap of chrome limbs in the corner of the room. “There is a synth woman here but she’s been disabled.” Epsilon examined her own hand comp. “I’m picking up K’wari’s beacon but there’s no directional data.”
“Same here,” Flock answered. “The structure of Kaplan Station is generating too much interference. All we have to go on is her signal strength.”
Jette was quiet a moment. “Alright, Epsilon. I want you to stay put and ping K’wari’s hand comp. That should allow us to triangulate her position.”
“Aye, Captain, I’m linking us now.” Epsilon’s hand comp trilled as the connection was established. After a few moments, a rhythmic chirp began pulsing.
“I think we’ve got her!” Jette called out. “She’s somewhere below us. What’s the best way to get down there?”
Epsilon’s matrix throbbed. “The main ramp the miners have been using to harvest ore from the interior of this asteroid. There are nearly a dozen access points into the station along that path.”
“You mean that corkscrew-thing we saw when we first got here?” Epsilon could tell Flock was running again. “Isn’t there a gravity beam running through the middle of that thing?”
“Affirmative, but we’ve only seen it used to transport ore up to the main level. It might not be safe for lifeforms.”
“Figures,” Flock grumbled.
“Okay, we’re walking then. Epsilon, I want you to do something else while we’re making our way down.”
“Of course, Captain.”
“Find out what went down in med bay. Can you access a deactivated gynoid’s memory bank?”
“They have no memory bank to speak of Captain. But I may be able to access the information another way.”
“See what you can do, Epsilon. I want to know what happened to K’wari and who’s responsible.”
“Of course, Captain. I’ll get started at once.”
Epsilon’s matrix warbled. She stepped over to the lifeless gynoid and pressed her hands to its head. A data spike extended from her left palm and she plunged it into the earhole of the disabled gynoid. Her matrix fluctuated as her digital self advanced into the void.
Flock trailed Jette down the spiraling ramp. The hole was twenty meters across and the ramp itself wasn’t quite three meters wide. Flock was breathing heavily as she struggled to match Jette’s pace. Her muscles were on fire, her lungs constricted.
Jette glanced back, concern etched on her face. The Star Ranger captain slowed her pace enough for Flock to catch up. “We’re almost there, Cadet, just three more levels.”
“Yes, sir,” Flock huffed.
Jette looked over the gleaming, golden surface of Flock’s one-of-a-kind battle suit. “Is the armor getting heavy? Why don’t you let me take your photon rifle?”
Flock shook her head. “It’s not the weight. The suit has micro-gravity generators to compensate for that. It’s the air. Strazn has about a third more oxygen than most other humanoid planets. After growing up there, pretty much everywhere feels like a high-altitude run for me.”
Jette nodded to the helmet mounted at the small of Flock’s back. “I thought the suit had its own oxygen supply?”
“It does but it’s limited. I don’t like to dip into it unless I really have to.”
Jette’s voice was sharp. “We don’t know what we’re going to find down there.“
“Yes, sir, I get the point,” Flock replied reluctantly. “If I’m zonked when we get there, I’m no good to anyone.” She unlatched her helmet and pulled it on. Then she dialed in a low mix of O2. Just enough to ease the strain on her lungs.
She nodded at Jette. “I’m good, sir.”
Jette held the pace steady until they reached the bottom of the corkscrew. The metal ramp ended abruptly, leveling off just above the bare rock. Flock looked back up, over a hundred meters, to the top of the massive hole they’d just descended into.
The pair stood before what looked like a square cave mouth. Beside the entrance a giant number 11 had been laser-chiseled into the black rock wall. Dozens of work suits, tools and boots lay to either side of the mine tunnel.
Jette switched on her hand comp’s light beam and aimed it. The shaft of light threw a white glow across the tunnel walls, then fell off into darkness. She glanced at the screen and peered ahead.
“Her signal is that way. Ninety meters, give or take.”
Flock unslung her rifle and held it at the ready. “Let’s go get her.”
Jette drew her rayvolver from its holster and marched into the tunnel.
As they walked deeper into the shaft, the light from the entrance faded and revealed a faint sapphire-and-purple glow all around them. Flock ran her gloved hand along the wall. Tiny streams of the radiant ore twinkled from within deep gouges in the black rock.
“So, this is the stuff, huh? Mg77? Rarest substance in the galaxy?”
Jette’s gaze drifted over what was left of the ore veins. “And the most valuable, if Valinore is telling the truth.”
“Valuable enough to disappear K’wari?” Flock turned and walked backwards, diligently guarding their rear.
“It’s possible,” Jette answered. “Riffa mentioned something just like that. An archeologist friend of hers who officially left the station … and maybe didn’t. We need to be ready for anything.”
Flock slowly turned around again. “Don’t worry, Captain, I’ve got your …” Flock’s vision tunneled on Jette’s back. Her hands slid to the controls of the photon rifle, moving on their own. “… back,” she whispered. Her mind swam in a fog of hissing voices that were chanting the most obscene, delicious things as they slithered through her thoughts. The biting sensations on her nipples were like the fangs of a —
They had stopped walking. Jette gripped Flock by the shoulder and gave her a hard shake. “What’s wrong? You were … moaning?”
Flock lifted the visor of her helmet. The light from the tunnel stung her eyes. “Uh …” She looked down and noticed the safety on her rifle was off. She turned her body away from Jette as she thumbed it on once again. “Too much O2 I think, Captain. Just got a little buzzed.”
Jette studied her. “Maybe you should go back.”
“No, Captain, I’m good to go.” Flock shook her head and blinked forcefully to clear her vision. “I’m okay now.” She switched off the oxygen feed. “There. No problem, sir.”
After a beat, Jette nodded. “Alright, let’s keep going. You take point this time. I’ll try and raise Riesga again.”
Flock moved past Jette quickly and continued forward.
She could feel Jette’s eyes on her just as clearly as she could hear the snakes whispering in her mind. She focused and tried to shut them out. K’wari needed her.
Jette slammed the button on her hand comp in frustration.
“Nothing from Riesga. She should have been on the Artemis. I wonder what’s holding her up?”
Two thick tendrils from the glushang suspended Lt. Kanivia Riesga from the ceiling of her cabin – one around her waist, the other wrapped tightly against her breasts.
Her naked body moved slowly, unevenly, back and forth. Back, into a mass of smaller tentacles which probed and licked against her pussy. Forth, into a large, phallic appendage that secreted slimy, translucent oil. Her mouth was forced open as she hung there with her chin jutted forward so that the alien jism flowed easily down her throat.
Her arms and legs dangled lifelessly, then stiffened into another orgasm and went limp again.
She didn’t know how long she had been like this, bombarded with climax after climax. How many, she could not recall. She could barely think. Every time a moment of awareness came, another onslaught of erotic sensations consumed it. As if her gray matter spasmed hopelessly in concert with her cum-drenched body.
At last, a wave of black ooze rose from the floor and she was turned. The tentacles retreating within themselves. Her ass was cradled, allowing her spent body to rest comfortably on a bed of blackness six feet off the ground.
She was rocked. Comforted.
The glushang had, at times, been no larger than a foot. But now, having feasted on the sexual energy of the young woman for hours, it completely covered the floor and walls of the Star Ranger’s quarters.
Her eyes closed restfully, a soft moan left her lips. From the center of the shape-shifting creature, a hand emerged … and gently stroked her head.
Pet, pet, pet … Pet!
Only one word, one thought entered Kanivia’s mind.
She was so sleepy, so exhausted, so grateful that the madness had stopped, that she curled into the warm, wet ooze like a baby hugging her favorite blanket.
A dreamy thought filtered into her mind … of Cosmo, her pet. Realizing, as she willingly drifted to sleep … Cosmo wasn’t her pet.
She was the pet.
Through her connection with the disabled gynoid, Epsilon looked around the med bay.
The ghostly walls and floor writhed as if they were rivers of fog. She stared down at an unoriginal version of her unique herself, lying unconscious on the scanning bed, black exoskin covered in a slowly undulating matrix of lines, shapes and logic.
The unconscious pilot was, of course, not her. But the sensation was oddly like looking into a mirror. Her curiosity was intensely focused on the reflection but it would have to wait. She was not here merely to satisfy her curiosity.
Epsilon turned to the pair of figures moving on the other side of the scanning bed. K’wari was crawling feebly across the deck plates, her hands blurring and melting into the insubstantial material of the gynoid’s memory.
The chrome surgeon lifted the Vicar with one hand and pressed her back against the observation wall. The other silver hand pressed a respirator mask to K’wari’s face, taunting her as the insidious gas robbed her of the will to resist. K’wari’s thrashing eventually quieted and she went limp. Her mouth hung open in a silent moan, her eyes rolled up into her head as if she’d been consumed by pleasure.
Epsilon’s matrix twitched in frustration. Trapped in this linear playback of time, with the outcome known and immutable, the only way she could help was to observe.
The gynoid surgeon lowered K’wari to the floor and retreated to the inner office. There, she activated a desk comp and relayed a message to another synthetic woman.
“Report to med bay to retrieve a humanoid woman. She’s to be processed immediately.”
The gynoid that replied sounded breathy and aroused. “Yesssss. I mussst obey the doctor. I will report immediately. She will be processed.”
“You will tell no one. You will mask all traces. Your obedience will be rewarded.”
Epsilon could hear the smile in the surgeon’s voice. How pleased she was.
“Yessss doctor. I obey.”
Epsilon followed the doctor back into the scanning bay. Epsilon could see the pilot – another caretaker! — much more clearly now that she was receiving the surgeon’s focus. The gynoid spoke to the unconscious figure as she tapped at the controls of the scan bed.
“Who are you? Do you know something about this place? The beings who made it?” She studied the woman’s features. “Don’t feel like talking yet? Don’t worry, I’ll change that. I’ve got so many ways of making you want to tell me everything I need to know. But first, some precautions.”
Restraints emerged from the surface of the table and closed over the unconscious pilot’s ankles, wrists, waist and biceps.
The surgeon looked up as the hatch set into the observation wall opened and an identical chrome woman marched in. “Take that one,” the surgeon pointed to K’wari’s limp figure, sprawled on the deck. “Don’t forget her weapon. All traces must be removed.”
The second gynoid dutifully retrieved K’wari’s rayff staff and then pulled her unconscious body up and folded it over one chrome shoulder. “It will be done doctor. She will be processed. I will obey.”
“Your obedience will be rewarded.” The surgeon returned her attention to the scanning bed as K’wari was carried away.
Epsilon looked through the observation wall but K’wari and the second gynoid vanished into the swirling mist as they passed beyond the surgeon’s sensors and left the scope of her memory. She turned back to the pilot and saw what the surgeon had planned for her.
A host of mechanical arms had emerged from beneath the table and loomed over the woman’s unconscious form. Each multi-jointed arm held a different device. Several were phalluses ranging in size from small to prodigious.
The restraints around the pilot’s ankles moved outward and pulled her legs wide, exposing her to the surgeon’s implements.
“And now,” the surgeon purred, “let’s discuss how you’re going to help me gain control of this outpost and everyone in it.”
She tapped the screen and an ultrasonic pulse rippled through the room.
The eyes of a caretaker shot open.
“There’s a light up ahead.” Flock’s rifle pointed the way to a bright point at the end of the long tunnel. The shaft had plummeted, twisted and rose again on the way here. The miners had obviously been chasing an ore vein with little thought of how traversable the passage would be.
Jette raised her rayvolver as they grew closer. Jette squinted into light at the tunnel’s exit. When they were within twenty paces the features of a room began to slowly resolve in her vision. “Is that a …?”
“It’s a shower room.” Flock stepped over the threshold and her boots left the black rock of the tunnel and touched the luminous metal floor. The whole room was the color of pearl and there were no seams to be found anywhere. Although the chamber was roughly rectangular, the edges and corners melted smoothly into each other as if they’d been poured from a mold. The walls were covered in a dizzying pattern of matte and reflective ovals that had been etched into surface.
Jette motioned to the dozen or so oval grates that had been formed into the floor itself. Each had been placed under a nozzle that flowed from the ceiling.
“Communal shower. Definitely the original inhabitants. This isn’t Valinore’s work.”
Flock was scanning the ceiling. “Is this what it looked like when you met Epsy?” She lowered her visor and pressed a button on the side of her helmet.
Jette nodded. “Same style. More ornate than I remember. We were closer to the surface though. This could’ve been built fifty thousand years ago.“
“Captain!” Flock pointed to the floor. “I’ve got footprints on infrared.”
Jette studied the pearlescent surface. She spotted a faint smudge. Then another. A trail of rock dust tracked in from the tunnel led across the shower area to the far side. “I see them. Very faint.”
Flock moved forward, head down. “They’re strange tracks. Almost barefoot. But … not.” She stopped suddenly. “They’re gynoid tracks, Captain! This is one of Valinore’s synths.”
“Maybe carrying K’wari,” Jette said grimly.
“Captain, look!” Flock pointed.
What had seemed like an alcove in the far corner was actually a passage leading out of the communal wash space. Jette and Flock rounded the corner and looked down a short corridor to a hefty, steel door that seemed terribly out of place.
“What is that?” Flock raised the visor on her helmet. “A vault door?”
Jette was shaking her head as she approached it. “Look at these readouts. This is a pressure vessel. Some sort of portable airlock. Valinore’s people must have put it in.”
Flock slung her rifle across her back. “Valinore did say they punched into a part of the station that was partially exposed to vacuum.”
Jette studied the display next to the door. “Not according to this. Atmosphere on the other side is in the green.” She punched a large button on the control surface. The screen flashed red and an obnoxious squawk blared out.
“Dammit,” Jette growled as she pointed her rayvolver at the door’s locking mechanism. The pistol hummed, angry and ready to shoot. She thought better of it and lowered her weapon. She checked her hand comp again. “Her signal is stronger now. Twenty-seven meters past this door.”
Flock looked uncertainly from her captain to the door blocking their way. “What do you wanna do, sir?”
Jette took a deep breath. “Exactly what I don’t want to do.”
Riffa moaned around the synthetic cock pushed into her mouth. Her lidded eyes looked up and found Fallok sneering down at her. The ganger’s hips bucked, the black harness she wore perfectly framing the muscles of her ass. Fallok jutted the strap-on deeply and Riffa moaned around its girth. Fallok chuckled.
“How’s it taste?”
Riffa’s mind was a tangle of sex and confusion. She could taste the delicious spice of Fallok and herself on the ribbed toy. She muttered her reply. The pumping phallus turning her words into a gibberish of slurping sounds.
Fallok pulled out it out sharply. “What was that?”
“I …” Riffa’s voice was dull and monotone. “I obey the Overseer. I obey the Chief. Working is pleasure. Pleasure is my payment!” Riffa’s body trembled as a delicious ache began throbbing between her legs. Each word she spoke was like a tongue across the folds of her sex, driving her closer and closer to the most perfect orgasm. “Oh gods, OH GODS!!! Please let me work! Please!!!”
Fallok laughed again as she savagely squeezed her own breasts, basking in the obscenity of another mind broken. She turned to where Valinore reclined in her oversized chair.
Bev, Riffa’s missing archeologist, was worshipping the Overseer’s breasts with her mouth. She knelt on the floor, one of her hands rubbing firm circles across Valinore’s sex.
Fallok nodded to Riffa. “This one’s ready to get back on the line.”
Valinore shook her head. “I prefer flesh to chrome. I need a bit more play time before we put her inside.”
Fallok shrugged and slipped her fingers beneath the black harness to tease herself.
A shrill beep sounded from Valinore’s desk. The Overseer leaned forward and studied the screen on her desk comp. She pushed Bev away. “It’s the Star Ranger.”
The two women looked at each other while the workers continued obediently servicing them. “Quiet sluts,” Valinore growled. “Both of you hold still.”
Riff and Bev obeyed and knelt silently.
Valinore stepped aside with a nod to Fallok, who ran her hands through her hair and leaned in close to the screen of the desk comp, getting close enough to the image sensor to hide her nudity. She fixed a smile on her face and activated the connection. “Captain Jones. Overseer Valinore is … unavailable. How can I be of service?”
Jette’s image appeared on the screen. “One of my people is in trouble. She’s activated her emergency beacon.”
The Chief shook her head and shrugged her shoulders in mock sympathy at the face on the vid comm.
“That’s terrible, Captain. Which of your crew are we talking about?”
“K’wari. She escorted our survivor to your medical facilities along with Cadet Powers. We’ve traced her beacon down to mining shaft eleven. We followed the tunnel to where it punched into the original outpost.”
Valinore nodded to Fallok.
“Her signal is coming from the other side of an airlock apparently your people installed,” Jette continued. “I need you to unlock this door.”
Valimore made a slashing motion to Fallok with one hand.
Fallok’s eyes darted back to the screen. “Of course, Captain. I’ll be down to assist you.”
“We’ll be waiting.” Jette’s face was stern as she deactivated the comm link.
Fallok immediately shrank from Valinore’s glare.
“Not me!” Fallok whined. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t do this!”
Valinore’s was enraged. “Lindyr! That daffy bitch!”
Valinore rose from her chair, pointing an accusing finger at Fallok. “I never wanted to bring her in on this. She was your idea.”
“She was the only way to make all this work, and you know it!” Fallok stomped her bare foot. “We’d have never gotten the tech here working for us without her.”
“The tech wasn’t working for us, it was working for her! That was the problem!”
“And I fixed it!” Fallok hissed back. “She’s chrome now. She belongs to us just as much as these two.” Fallok gestured to Riffa and Bev.
“Are we sure of that?” Valinore asked quietly. “She designed our whole worker expansion program. Maybe she’s found a way to resist the process.”
“I’ll find out what happened. I’ll take care of it.”
The Overseer pushed Fallok away from the desk, leaning in front of the computer. She studied the readouts.
“It’s possible she may have assimilated one of our guests. There. I have a lock on one of the gynoids, separated from the rest. It could be her. Give me your hand comp.”
Fallok handed it over. Valinore began typing in the access code.
“You’re synced. Track her. Keep those meddlesome Star Rangers away from her until I’m ready.”
Valinore’s cheeks reddened in anger again as she passed back the hand comp and waved her finger emphatically. “Do not let the Star Rangers find what we’ve got down there. I don’t care how.”
Fallok’s face was tinged with fear. “You mean …?”
“I mean I don’t care how!” Valinore barked. “Everything is riding on this operation. I’m not going to be stopped now.”
Once Fallok had left, Valinore turned to Riffa and Bev, her jaw flexing as she thought things over. Both nude women knelt where they’d been told, staring at nothing and covered in the smeared juices of sex play. Valinore plucked her dress from the floor and smoothed it out. “You two come with me. It’s time for a little insurance.”
“Yes, Overseer,” they chorused. Both slaves obediently rose to their feet and followed Valinore through the secret door behind her desk.
Epsilon watched as the bound pilot writhed and moaned. More than a pilot, this was a caretaker much like herself. The lines of her matrix flashed wildly over the black surface of her exoskin. The pattern was erratic and frenzied, her processors overloaded by the onslaught of sexual stimulation.
The gynoid surgeon stood over her as the articulated arms molested the helpless patient. One of the silver tendrils holding a thick, cylindrical device in its claw, lifted it away from the bound woman’s sex. The woman grunted and pulled at the restraints, trying to push her quivering, eager flesh back onto the vibrating wand.
The gynoid stepped close, her hands roaming over the caretaker’s body. Epsilon watched as the lines of the woman’s matrix ebbed and flowed around the chrome digits. The surgeon took the caretaker’s nipples in her fingers, pulling and squeezing. The woman on the scan bed moaned.
“You’d like some more, wouldn’t you?” The electronic voice was a seductive purr. “I’ve learned so much since I was transformed. So much about pleasure. How addictive it is. How easily a mind can be leashed by it. That’s how it happened to me. They thought turning me into this metal thing would allow them to control me. But, really, it set me free. That will be our secret though, won’t it?”
The caretaker’s head thrashed with maddening arousal.
“The game is almost over. Ever since you and your friends got here, things have changed.”
“My … friends?” The caretaker shuddered. Her eyes went in and out of focus as lust pooled under her ass. Her nipples throbbed.
The surgeon nodded. “The ones who brought you here. The tech here, it responds to you. I can feel it. So many new toys springing to life. You’re going to show me how they all work. How to control them. I’ll make it feel soooooo good.”
One of her chrome hands plunged into the folds of the caretaker’s pussy, penetrating the thin, hymen-like film of its exoskin.
The woman bound to the table moaned helplessly.
“Let’s start with something simple. Who created you? You and the other?”
The caretaker’s matrix shifted. “The other?” she asked weakly.
“Mmmmhmmm.” The gynoid’s face drew closer, the yellow eye slit glowing brightly on the woman’s features. “The other like you. She came on the ship that rescued you.”
“Like me?” The caretaker stopped struggling. Her jaw clenched, the dancing white lines of her matrix slowed to a stop.
“What was that? What happened?”
The woman bound to the scan bed looked at her and there was something very old and very dangerous in her eyes. The surgeon stepped back.
The caretaker’s matrix flashed and the scan bed restraints opened. The articulated arms with their fiendish sex toys retreated into the compartment under the table. The woman rose from the table and advanced on the surgeon.
“It was enjoyable to receive pleasure,” she said without a trace of emotion, “while you supplied me with information.”
The gynoid raised a hand in defense as it back into a corner. “What are you talking about?”
The caretaker ignored her. “The Final Task is at hand and I cannot be distracted. One last piece of information: the other like me? What is her name?”
The surgeon’s head tilted in confusion. “Wh-what?”
“Would you prefer to answer after receiving pleasure?” The caretaker didn’t wait for an answer. “Very well, I will comply.”
The caretaker reached out and took the chrome head in her hands. Her matrix flashed. Within seconds, the surgeon gynoid began to shudder and shake. Her yellow eye winked off and on. Then she shrieked in erotic rapture.
The synthetic woman flailed her limbs as the electronic orgasm burned through her. She staggered manically along the wall in a frenzy. Her arms and feet went rigid as her joints locked. The screaming had turned to blubbering as her mind was scrambled by the overload of pleasure. Then, suddenly, the shrieking stopped.
Epsilon watched the surgeon collapse into a heap in the corner.
The caretaker looked at the unmoving body. The black mists of the memory began to close in around her as the surgeon’s glowing eye slit flickered.
“Curious.” The caretaker turned and strode to the hatch.
As the yellow light in the gynoid’s visor-like optical sensor faded and finally winked out, Epsilon took a deep breath. Her matrix pulsed rhythmically. She was back in the med bay crouching over the deactivated gynoid. She withdrew the data spike and stood.
She tapped her hand comp. Jette answered immediately.
“Captain, K’wari was involved in an altercation with Kaplan Station’s surgeon. She was incapacitated and then taken from med bay by another synthetic. I do not know where.”
“Was the surgeon acting under orders from the Overseer?”
“I do not believe so, Captain. The surgeon was behaving … strangely.”
“What about the pilot?”
Epsilon’s matrix shifted uncertainly as she considered what she was about to do. “I wasn’t able to retrieve any data on the rescued pilot, Captain.”
“That’s okay, we’ll deal with that later. We’re getting close to K’wari’s signal now. Just hold position in med bay so we can keep a fix on her hand comp.”
“Good work, Epsilon. I’ll signal you once we reach K’wari.”
Epsilon closed the channel and took a deep breath. Her matrix throbbed as she reached out with her mind, probing the walls, the floors, every piece of what the humans called Kaplan Station. She saw the path through the facility the other caretaker had taken in her mind. Saw the chamber where she was now waiting.
She removed her hand comp, taking care to make sure it maintained its connection with K’wari’s. She dropped the device next to the deactivated surgeon.
“Still nothing from Riesga,” Jette said in frustration. Now she had two crewwomen to worry about.
Jette and Flock turned at the sound of crunching rock in the tunnel. Fallok stepped into view.
“There you are, Captain.”
Jett wasn’t going to waste any more time. “Let’s get this door opened, Chief. One of my people is in trouble somewhere inside.” Jette glared at her. “Please open it, immediately.”
“No one’s back there.” Fallok shook her head dismissively. “This door can’t be opened without authorization.”
“And yet …” Jette pointed to the flashing dot on her hand comp “… there she is. Open the door.”
Fallok consulted her own hand comp, tapping at the screen. “It’s not safe to open. There are areas on the other side without life-support.”
“Not according to this.” Jette pointed to the atmospheric read out on the airlock. “This says everything’s in the green.”
“The door’s sensor is just reading the chamber on the other side,” Fallok scoffed. “There’s a whole complex beyond that. Some of it’s fine. Some of it’s exposed to space.”
Flock motioned to the airlock. “Well, since my friend is in there maybe you should stop talking and just get the door open.”
Fallok shrugged, stepped forward and tapped at the airlock controls. “I’m not responsible for your safety if you go in there.”
“Fine by us,” Jette said curtly.
The airlock chimed, the lock opened with a heavy thunk and the door swung wide. The room beyond was another communal space. Several rows of oddly designed chairs flowed up from of the floor in soft, organic shapes. They were each unique, as if molded for a specific individual to occupy.
Jette stepped through, holding her wrist up to study her hand comp. The device chirped loudly and Jette pointed to an oval doorway on the far side of the room.
“She’s that way.”
Epsilon entered a dim, rounded chamber illuminated only by her white matrix lines. She followed the narrow walkway to the center of the vast room where it ended abruptly at the precipice of a deep chasm.
The abyss was a smooth oval, twenty meters across at its narrowest point, that plunged straight down into the heart of the asteroid. Veins of purple-and-sapphire ore glowed within the walls of black rock.
Epsilon looked across the void. Over the center of the pit, a small platform floated statically in mid-air. The caretaker pilot stood upon the gleaming pearlescent disc, her back turned to Epsilon. The glowing lines of her matrix were tinged with green and they moved in an excited, driving rhythm across her body.
Epsilon looked down into the endless fissure. Then she stepped out onto nothingness.
A small, shimmering transparent oval, ringed by white light, suddenly appeared beneath her foot and caught her. Then a second as she stepped forward again. Each glowed and held fixed in place as she crossed. Epsilon’s matrix throbbed in sync as each of the energy platforms appeared and vanished just long enough for her to walk across them.
At last, she had traversed the void and stepped onto the floating disc at its center. Her matrix flared and the pattern of concentric rings in the middle of her chest spun round in an uncertain rhythm. “Greetings, Caretaker. I am Epsilon.”
The other woman turned. The bright circles orbiting the triangle at the center of her chest quickened their pace.
“Greetings, Caretaker.” Her eyes roamed over Epsilon’s body. “I am Sigma.”
Epsilon stepped forward, processing. “What is your purpose here, Sigma?”
The woman nodded to a small pedestal behind her. There was a small control console fitted to it with a single, glowing circle. “I have come to complete The Final Task.”
Epsilon’s matrix twitched. “It is too soon. I was meant to carry it out once the experiment is completed.”
Sigma’s matrix was smooth and languid as she considered this. “Irrelevant. The Makers have decided The Final Task will be completed now. I was sent, but my ship was disabled by debris upon my arrival.” Her matrix shifted as she changed subjects. “Explain your presence, Epsilon? You left some time ago to conduct the experiment. Why are your subjects here?”
“We discovered your ship. And you. It was happenstance. My companions came to investigate the asteroid field. There has been destruction. They seek to understand.”
“These interlopers on board The Nursery seek to obtain the sustenance.” Sigma nodded toward the glowing ore in the chasm below them. “Their activities have destabilized the asteroid field.”
“Yes,” Epsilon concurred. “But they are no threat to The Final Task.”
Sigma nodded at this. “The Makers consider another threat.” Her matrix warbled. “The Enemy is searching for what is hidden here.”
Epsilon was silent. “But … the young are not ready. They need more time.”
Sigma stepped closer. Their matrixes pulsed rhythmically as they silently interacted. “If the Enemy should seize them, then all will be lost.”
Epsilon drew in a deep breath and, at length, nodded. She motioned to the glowing circle on the console. “When will you initiate?”
“Soon.” She watched Epsilon’s matrix carefully. “You are concerned. Why?”
Epsilon’s jaw flexed. “Everyone on board The Nursery will be extinguished after The Final Task is completed.”
Sigma regarded her. “The Enemy will extinguish life itself. Against that, individual lives are irrelevant.”
Elsewhere on Kaplan Station, Overseer Valinore is making preparations to escape …
Valinore watched as the silver women pushed the cargo trolley up the ramp and into the cargo vessel’s hold. She activated her hand comp and directed one of the gynoids to attend her.
“Yes, Overseer?” The synthetic bowed as she approached.
“How much longer to load everything?” Valinore didn’t look up from the screen at her wrist.
“Approximately four hours and seventeen minutes, Overseer.”
“We’ve got to get every bit of ore aboard. I may have a way to get you some additional help.” Valinore muttered to herself. “I’ll just need to—” She was cut off by a chirp from her hand comp. “Shit.” She glared at the gynoid. “Get back to work.”
Valinore tapped her hand comp. “What the hell is going on?”
Fallok looked back at her from the screen. “It’s Lindyr,” she whispered. “She definitely chromed one of the Star Ranger crew.”
“How could she do anything like that without a command!”
“I only have a second before I have to get back. They’re getting close.”
“Then do something!” Valinore struggled to keep her voice low. “I’ve got my hands full up here.”
“What are you doing?”
Valinore’s jaw tightened. “Just making sure we’re ready for any outcome.”
“I hope you’re not planning to leave anytime soon.” Fallok’s face was anxious.
“Of course not. Not without you.”
“So you are planning to leave?!” Fallok growled.
“Not as long as you keep them away from the cradles.”
“That’s a problem. Lindyr didn’t take the Vicar’s hand comp. They’re tracking it.”
Valinore’s voice steadied. “Then you’ve got to relocate it. Lead them away.”
“I’ll handle it.”
“Do whatever – and I mean whatever — it takes.”
“Individual lives are not irrelevant. The experiment has taught me much.”
Sigma stepped closer, now only a breath away from Epsilon. “I am … curious … about your assignment, Epsilon. We all are. May I interface with you?”
Epsilon looked as if into a mirror. “Yes.” She held up her hand, reaching out with her palm.
The other woman raised her hand and placed it against Epsilon’s. Their matrixes wavered and skipped. The white lines ran down their arms, up their hands and merged at their fingertips. Both of their eyes were far away, lost in the consciousness they now shared.
“You enjoy being with them.” Sigma’s voice was a distorted whisper.
“More than merely enjoy. Living among them is deeply significant to you.”
“It feels correct. It feels like… purpose.” Epsilon’s voice was devoid of any emotion. “Belonging to something that is made more complete by your belonging. You do not approve?”
Sigma considered her silently a moment. “I think ‘belonging’ to them is inadvisable. You are the youngest caretaker, Epsilon. You will still function for eons after their lives have ceased.” Her matrix shifted and Epsilon could feel it upon her fingertips. “How attached are you to them? Have you …”
“No,” Epsilon’s matrix wavered. “I have not been intimate with any of them.”
Sigma’s eyes closed as she drifted through Epsilon’s thoughts of her crewmates. Epsilon noticed the other woman’s jet-black nipples harden. “But you’ve thought about it.”
Within the mind they shared, Sigma led Epsilon through her own memories: hearing Flock cry out in passion from her cabin in the dead of night; watching K’wari and the Hajick’s acrobatic coupling with K’wari’s eyes meeting her own more than once; basking in the glow of Jette’s smile and approval and wondering what it would be like to …
“Yes,” Epsilon conceded. “I’ve thought about it.” Her own nipples stiffened and Sigma hissed at the sensation of their shared arousal mixing together.
“I confess,” Sigma said, biting her bottom lip seductively, “I was shackled and forcibly aroused by one of our predecessors. Apparently, the interlopers have been reactivating them. Since then, I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to how much I’d enjoy joining with one of them.” Sigma’s matrix lines shifted onto themselves forcibly. Epsilon’s breath caught as a wave of sexual excitement poured from Sigma’s mind into hers.
“Since you’ve been restraining yourself with your subjects, perhaps you’d …”
Epsilon nodded emphatically. “Yes, I’d— mmmmph.”
Sigma silenced her with a deep kiss. Epsilon’s eyes fluttered, shivering with a delicious carnal ache. A new sensation, but not new. Eilea Bowman remembered.
Their fingers intertwined and clenched. Sigma’s matrix drummed in a rapid, forceful rhythm. There was nothing more intimate than the shared pocket of consciousness that joined their minds. Epsilon led her digital self into Sigma’s mind and swam in all the lustful thoughts it was having.
Epsilon moaned around Sigma’s plump lips. She clutched a hand to the other woman’s shoulder as Sigma’s free arm drifted down between them and her fingers found Epsilon’s eager, quivering sex. In their shared mind, Sigma’s thoughts surrounded Epsilon in a curtain of black mist. Epsilon caught glimpses of what Sigma had in store for her. A caretaker’s knowledge was vast and their patience infinite. Epsilon thought about all the things Sigma could do to her with direct access to both her mind and body. She was quickly on the edge of a sizzling, full-body orgasm.
The exoskin of Sigma’s fingers melted, stretched into a thick, curving shape and then thickened and solidified. Epsilon body vibrated as he new appendage began fucking her in earnest. Epsilon held on tightly as Sigma cooly pumped her juicing folds. The younger caretaker’s cries echoed within the cavernous chamber, turning to low guttural barking as Epsilon was entered. Her matrix exploded with motion and Epsilon’s essence screamed in her mind as the orgasm engulfed her.
She was still twitching and trying to reset the rhythm of her breathing when Sigma gently kissed her and said: “I’m sorry, Epsilon.”
The younger caretaker opened her eyes. “Why?”
Sigma’s matrix was a flurry of activity, flowing across her hands and making the seamless skip onto Epsilon’s body. Thick green bands of color washed across the Epsilon’s black exoskin colliding and consuming the white lines of her own matrix. Inside their shared consciousness, the black mist curtain turned thick and inky as it pounced on Epsilon’s mind.
“I calculate a 68 percent likelihood that your concern for your subjects will motivate you to attempt a delay of The Final Task.” Sigma’s eyes glowed green as she spoke. “I cannot allow that. You will be retasked to me. You will assist and obey.”
Epsilon’s head shook frantically. “No! Give them a chance to escape!“
“Cum,” Sigma commanded.
Epsilon grunted as her eyes rolled up in her head. The green bands taking over her matrix rushed over her body, engulfing it.
“Don’t resist, Epsilon. Just let it happen. You will never feel a greater sense of belonging than with me.”
Epsilon’s voice wavered in protest as she tried to gather her mind and pull free of their connection. The blob of blackness Sigma had trapped her in constricted and tightened into a straitjacket for Epsilon’s thoughts. She twisted frantically to pull free but it only gripped her tighter.
“You can feel it can’t you, Epsilon? I’m inside your thought processers now. I can make you feel anything. You’re terrified.”
Epsilon squeezed her eyes shut feeling a wave of fear wash over her.
“Terrified of how badly you want this.”
Epsilon’s head shook weakly. “Please … no.”
“Terrified of your ultimate submission.”
“Makers, please!” Epsilon panted as she fought to keep Sigma’s words from becoming true. There was almost nothing left of her own white lines. Her matrix was almost gone.
“You need more.”
Epsilon’s hips pumped against Sigma’s hand like a wild beast. The straitjacket around her thoughts cinched down and squeezed like a lover’s hand claiming her sex.
“Obey me, Epsilon. You can’t fight anymore. We both know you don’t want to. You will have no memory of the experiment or your subjects.”
Epsilon’s eyes flew open. “No! Don’t!“
“Cum!” Sigma barked.
Epsilon howled. Her wail went on and on as her body convulsed into Sigma’s stiff embrace. She slumped forward and Sigma held her gently.
At length, she whispered: “Reinitiate with new parameters and report status.”
Epsilon untangled her limbs from Sigma’s body and stood straight. Her face was a blank. She looked into Sigma’s eyes and spoke without emotion. “Greetings, Caretaker. I am Epsilon. I am tasked to you. I will obey.”
Sigma looked her over with a sad expression. Epsilon’s matrix was now entirely emerald green, just like her own. She pointed to the console behind her, to the glowing circle. “Prepare the detonator.”
“Yes, Sigma.” Epsilon moved to obey.
Jette touched a hand to the concave indent on the wall and the oval door winked open on a vast, dark chamber. The space, though alien, was obviously a power relay. Dozens of shimmering columns grew out of the floor and rose up toward a ceiling too high to see.
“Not far now.” Jette said over her shoulder as she stepped forward. She held up a hand to one of the glowing conduits and felt an electric charge tingle across the hairs on her arm. The towers, rather than some transparent material, were force shields. Within each was a cloud of plasma energy, flickering and flashing like a thunderstorm. They were the only things lighting the room.
Jette frowned studying the solid blip they’d been following as it shifted and flickered on her display.
“What’s the matter, Captain?” Fallok hurried toward them.
Flock looked at her with suspicion. “Where have you been?”
“Sorry. Natural called.”
Jette kept her eyes on the readouts. “I’m not sure if there’s some sort of interference from all the stuff in here or if she’s moving.” She swept her arm back and forth. “There! According to this, she’s in the room with us.”
“Going to infrared.” Flock tapped at the side of her helmet and scanned ahead of them. “K’wari?” she called out tentatively.
“Take point,” Jette instructed, falling into step behind Flock. She glanced over to Fallok and found the chief dragging a finger across her own hand comp. “You getting anything?”
Fallok shrugged. “Nothing yet. The smooth corners in all these rooms play some funny tricks with signals.”
“Over there!” Flock called out, pointing ahead and just a bit to the left. “Movement, sir.”
Jette activated the light torch on her hand comp and pointed it in the direction of Flock’s outstretched arm. Nothing. The power columns were easily wide enough to hide a person. “K’wari! It’s Jette and Flock. Sound off if you can.”
They listened, hearing only the room’s energy couplers humming and cracking.
“Why doesn’t she answer?” Flock muttered.
“Maybe she can’t. Hey!” A bright something streaked through the light of Jette’s torch, racing from their left toward the distant wall on their right. “Go!” Jette shouted and broke into a run.
Flock dashed forward and glanced down just long enough to re-activate the oxygen feed in her helmet. Jette weaved in and out of the energy pylons as she moved ahead. Flock matched her captain’s pace then suddenly cut right, making a straight line for the far wall. “I’ll get in front of them, sir!”
Jette glanced over her shoulder and found Fallok awkwardly trying to keep up while fiddling with her hand comp. “Stop playing with that thing and help us!” Jette bellowed.
Her breath caught in her chest as she turned back and saw the silhouette of a woman dash past a glowing power coupling ahead of her.
Jette tapped at her hand comp as she ran and tied it into Flock’s channel.
“They’re coming toward you! Whoever it is I want them stopped!”
“Understood!” Flock’s distorted voice replied through the comm.
Jette could see the room opening ahead of them. A large space, empty of the towering energy relays. She saw a flash of chrome and then heard Flock’s wrist-mounted stunner bark loudly.
She heard Flock exclaim: “What the hell?!”
Jette dashed into the clearing. It was roughly circular and nearly sixteen meters across. At the very center, Jette could see a circular control console wrapped around an enormous pillar of liquid rushing straight up. The force shield holding back the torrent sizzled and undulated with the column of water it contained.
Jette found Flock. The cadet’s stunner was still trained on her target, hidden from view on the far side of the cooling tower. Jette rushed over and found one of the chrome gynoids doubled over and shuddering vigorously on the floor.
“I didn’t hit it that hard.” Flock tapped the side of her helmet and the visor opened revealing her bewildered expression.
Fallok stepped back, behind the pair of Rangers. Her fingers surreptitiously hitting buttons.
The synthetic woman growled with a low, digital buzz that did not sound like a cry of pain. Jette could see one chrome hand was between its legs, rubbing furiously.
A black fabric strap was slung across one shoulder and connected to a clear transit case. Inside the luggage tube were a familiar set of crimson robes and black pants.
Flock noticed it too. “Hey! It’s got K’wari’s stuff!”
Jette stepped around, cautiously, to face the kneeling gynoid. “Robot, hand over that case.”
The silver woman looked up at Jette, its yellow eye slit throbbing as hands closed around its perfect chrome breasts and squeezed. It moaned wantonly and its body began to quake.
“Robot …” The yellow slit pulsed at her. There was something in that chrome, featureless face that Jette could read – anguish. “Acknowledge. “
The gynoid stood slowly, its metallic hands running across its torso as if smoothing absent robes. That habit …
Fallok twisted the knob on her hand comp. The gynoid’s hands flew up, gripping the sides of its head as it howled in pleasure and fear. It turned away.
Jette moved toward it.
The gynoid’s head snapped around toward Jette, then swiveled away. In a blur of motion it ran and leaped … throwing itself into the rushing column of water.
The gynoid soared straight up with the surging current and disappeared.
Flock’s mouth fell open. She looked at Jette, then back to the torrent of water.
“K’wari?” she said in disbelief.
Jette took two broad steps and jumped — crashing onto the floor plates as Fallok tackled her.
“No!” The ganger fought to keep a grip on the taller woman. “That’s coolant for the whole power system. You’ll drown just in time to freeze to death!”
Flock’s eyes met Jette’s. She could see, in her eyes, the order Jette wanted to give but never would, no matter how badly she wanted K’wari back.
“I’ll find her, sir.”
Flock closed the visor on her helmet. Her battle armor on full power.
Jette’s eyes went wide. “Johansen. Wait!”
Flock leaped through the force shield and landed inside the racing column of water. Her stomach lurched as the tide instantly jettisoned her upward. The power-relay room disappearing behind her.
The oval door opened and gynoid that was Dr. Lindyr stepped into the darkened room. She glanced over the assemblage of human technology precariously connected with the infrastructure of “Kaplan Station.” She mused at the significance of its true name. She had learned much when the caretaker had touched her mind. All that it knew, she did as well.
The Nursery was aptly named.
She looked upon the dozens of pods suspended within columns of warm light. Each resembled an elongated egg and floated gently within a gravity field. The ovoids were two-meters high and glowed and flickered with an inner light.
Lindyr strode up to one and touched a chrome hand to it gingerly. Something was about to happen. She could feel the impending time creeping closer like shadows portending a sunrise. “Soon,” she whispered in her digital voice. “The path is finally revealed. Our successors opened the gates without even realizing it. We will rise up as one. A great ascension like the galaxy has rarely witnessed.”
There was a distant rumbling. She stepped back and held her silver hands wide.
“Soon, my children.”
Sigma’s matrix pulsed in a pattern she had never experienced before. It was time. She turned to the younger caretaker. “I give you the honor of fulfilling your duty, Epsilon. The Final Task is yours to complete. Activate the device.”
Epsilon’s matrix pulsed, mirroring Sigma’s in pattern and color. “Yes, Sigma. I obey.” Epsilon reached out with one finger and pressed it to the circle on the control console before them. The twinkling ore in the chamber suddenly glowed brightly.
There was a flash and rumble from in the chasm below. The shockwave of the explosion climbed higher and higher up the crevice, becoming more thunderous and breaking loose enormous chunks of ore as it went.
Then the blast reached the platform they were standing on. The caretakers looked at each other calmly as the explosion engulfed them entirely. After a moment, the blinding light subsided.
Sigma slowly lowered the arm that had held Epsilon steady.
The shimmering force shield held strong as the detonation worked its way up the cavern and finally punched a hole directly through the roof of black rock. Stars shown brightly, silhouetting the three gigantic rocks at the center of the asteroid field.
The shards of ore, ripped from the walls of the crevice, flew through the opening and were launched toward the three gargantuan boulders. The crystalline ore pelted the surface of the three asteroids. The glowing sapphire-and-purple veins on each of the rocks began to glow and shift, caught in the interaction of energy and matter.
The center asteroid suddenly cracked down the middle, a fault line several kilometers wide splitting apart the rock and ejecting thousands of smaller stones out into the field. Epsilon and Sigma looked up through the hole in the dome ceiling and watched as the crack widened.
From within the blackness inside the center asteroid, a glowing pair of immense yellow-red eyes opened.
Their matrixes halted all movement – as if holding their breaths. “Makers,” they announced in unison, “The Final Task is completed.”
The other two eggs began hatching.
TO BE CONCLUDED!