Published on April 21, 2023
 - Featuring Dana DeArmond , Stoya

Captain Jette Jones, Star Ranger

Issue #14 – 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 …

Part 4

K’wari a gynoid? Epsilon now controlled by Sigma?  Riesga … well, getting her brains $#@! out? Captain Jette Jones has her hands full as a race against time and total destruction begins.

Flock’s body tumbled end over end. There was almost no sound within the water column which belied how violent the current was. She caught an occasional glimpse of Kaplan Station rushing past, outside the force shield tube she was trapped in.

She extended her arms and legs, forming an X with her body. Her stretched limbs caught the water like a sail. She glided smoothly on the current and started gaining speed. She’d need it in order to catch up with the gynoid — K’wari.

It seemed impossible. Yet the bot moved like K’wari and Flock had spent more than a little time watching the Vicar move. There was no doubt: K’wari was inside that perfect body.

Ahead of her, she could see chrome arms and legs flailing awkwardly. The silver figure was approaching a sharp turn.

“K’wari! Just relax and go limp!“

But it was too late. K’wari reached the turn and smashed into the force shield so hard it warped and bubbled outward around her. She was instantly caught in the depression as flowing water kept her pinned down. Flock reached out, grabbed hold of the Vicar and held fast! The force of the water mashed her into K’wari and trapped both of them in the dimpled force shield.

Flock’s helmet showed her O2 drop from a yellow bar to red.

She looked beyond the energy field and saw… something. She couldn’t tell if it was a stairwell or some alien structure but there was definitely a chamber just beyond the shimmering barrier.

Flock fought against the onslaught of water, unslung her rifle and jammed its power to the max. She planted her boots and braced herself to fire, but the current was hammering her too hard to aim the weapon.

The gynoid reached up, her chrome hands gripping Flock’s waist in an intimate and familiar way. The extra support gave Flock the stability she needed. She squeezed the trigger and the force shield buckled violently, but held.

Suddenly Flock felt something at the left knee of her suit give way. She gasped in terror as one of the seals failed and freezing water flooded the armor! Her foot and ankle instantly went numb. Then her calf and knee.

Flock fired again and the force shield sputtered.

The stinging cold water reached her waist and rushed down her right leg and instantly turned it to ice. She took aim again just as the frigid wave hit her ribs. The shock froze her heart in her chest. The claws of bitter cold snaked around her throat.

She pulled the trigger again and blacked out.

Jette’s hand twisted hard and tossed the chief onto her back. Fallok leapt to her feet but was already looking down the barrel of Jette’s rayvolver.

Fallok’s hands instinctively raised over her head. “I was only—”

“Quiet,” Jette growled. She tapped her hand comp. “Flock, do you read me?”  Nothing. Jette nodded toward the rushing column of water within the force shield. “How do you access that from topside?”

Fallok sneered. “You don’t. Closed system. That’s why I had to stop you from jumping in. I was trying to save your life. So maybe take it easy?”

“Oh, I don’t mind the wrestling.” Jette’s eyes were ice cold. “My crewmate. She’s inside that gynoid. I’ve seen it before. Robot husks with living beings inside. Are all the synthetics occupied by your workers?”

“You’ve got it all wrong, Star Ranger.”

“We’ll see. Take off your hand comp.” Jette glared at her. “You were awfully busy on it earlier. Commanding the chrome suit? I’m betting Flock will have a much easier time catching up if you aren’t wearing it.”

“Whatever you say, Captain.” She loosened the strap holding the device to her wrist and handed it over.

Jette powered it off and tucked it into her pocket. She nodded back toward the door they’d passed through. “Let’s go.”

“Mind if I put my hands down?”

“Stand fast.” Jette stepped behind Fallok and ran her free hand over Fallok’s body, searching the chief thoroughly.

“Mmmm. This is getting interesting,” Fallok hummed flirtatiously.

Jette finished and stepped away, keeping her weapon trained on the ganger. “Alright, you can put your hands down.”

Fallok smiled as she hooked her thumbs into her belt buckle and cocked one hip provocatively. “Sure you want head back right away? If you let me search you this could turn into all kinds of fun.”

“In your dreams. Move.” Jette replied, gesturing with her rayvolver.

“Sure thing.”

Once her back was to Jette she quickly raised the shiny belt buckle revealing a button hidden beneath. She pressed it and let the buckle swing down to conceal it once more. “When we get topside, the Overseer can explain everything.”

The entire room shook as a thunderous explosion went off somewhere above them. Fallok was thrown to the floor. Jette dropped to one knee and caught herself with her free hand.

“What was that?”

Fallok rolled over, her eyes huge. “That … uh… wasn’t us.”

Valinore’s hand comp chirped loudly. “Dammit,” she hissed. “Finish loading the ore!” she called out to the army of gynoids. The silver women were moving trolleys full of the glowing mineral onto the cargo ship parked in the main docking bay.

She turned and headed back toward her office. As she reached the door an explosive roar filled the cargo bay and threw her down. Most of the gynoids were sprawled on the floor. The Mg77 ore was scattered everywhere.

“Pick it up!” Valinore screamed. “Get it loaded!” She scrambled up and ran toward the admin section.

The Artemis III rocketship shook from the explosion within Kaplan Station.

The glushang, Cosmo, had fashioned its oozing form into a sling that held Lt. Kanivia Riesga. Cosmo stopped its gentle swaying movements. It held still a moment. Then dozens of black fingerlike tendrils reached out and began probing the exterior wall, picking up vibrations, sounds and something more – emotions.

Cosmo swelled beneath the sleeping Star Ranger and sat her naked body upright. A tendril poked her shoulder. Then again, more forcefully.

Kanivia’s eyes weakly opened.

Wake up, Pet.

Flock opened her eyes to find the leggings of her armor being removed. She looked down and saw the gynoid, K’wari, pull them free and toss them into a pile with the rest of her suit.

“What’re y’doin’?” Flock couldn’t keep her teeth from chattering.

Gynoid-K’wari’s fingers slipped under the waist band of Flock’s pants and tore them free.

“Hey! No time to get frisky. Cap’n need us!” Flock tried to squirm. She couldn’t feel her legs.

The chrome vicar tossed Flock’s tunic aside.

“K’wari, cut it out!“ Suddenly there was a deafening boom, followed by a violent tremor. Flock fell forward. She screamed as her paralyzed torso slipped over the edge of the platform toward the endless void.

“Flock!” Strong, chrome hands hooked Flock under her arms and pulled her to safety.

“What was that?!” Flock realized she was lying on a small ledge, two meters wide and four meters long. To her left was an oval-shaped hatch. To her right, a drop off into nothingness.

Flock’s body convulsed as a fiery sensation erupted across her flesh. “I’m burning up!”

“It’s hypothermia. We’ve got to get you out these soaked clothes!” Gynoid-K’wari ripped off Flock’s panties and bra. She opened the luggage tube strapped to her back and pulled out her Vicar’s robes. K’wari wrapped Flock’s body with them and massaged the moisture from her skin.

The Star Ranger looked at the robot face. “K’wari?”

The gynoid’s yellow slit of an eye blinked.

“It’s me. The surgeon gassed me and when I woke up … I was like this.”

Flock was shivering. “P-p-rove it.”

The gynoid cocked its head. “The first time you had a cheeseburger and milkshake at Star Ranger Outpost 17? I teased you about making sex sounds every time you took a bite.”

“Figures you’d remember something like that.” Flock teeth were chattering. “Hey, I’ve got a cutting tool built into the gauntlet of my armor. We can get you out of there.”

A chrome finger pressed her lips, shushing her.

“Later, Flock. I’ve got to dry you off or you’re gonna freeze to death.” Gynoid-K’wari resumed toweling Flock.

“Where are we?”

“I think it’s a grav-lift chute. No power though.”

“How did we get here?”

“The hole you blasted shot water up this shaft. I got us onto this platform as the water drained off.”

“I thought we’d lost you.” Flock touched a hand to K’wari’s chest. “Seems like it’d be cold … but you’re warm.”

K’wari lay down behind Flock. She wrapped her robes around them both. She folded her arms around Flock in a tight embrace and transferred heat chrome-to-skin. “I’ve got you. Just let your body tremble. You’ll regenerate some heat soon.”

“Mmmkay.” Flock relaxed into K’wari’s silver arms and closed her eyes. For the first time in months, Queen Zeta was out of her mind.

In space, at the center of the asteroid field, three gargantuan eggs were hatching.

Epsilon and Sigma watched them through the enormous hole they’d blasted in the ceiling. The station’s force shield held the atmosphere in place around them.

Huge fissures spread across the black rocks. Something was stirring. Mammoth eyes glowed. Teeth flashed as enormous mouths gulped down the shimmering purple-and-sapphire mineral embedded in the eggs.

Green glowing lines wavered over the black exoskin of the two Caretakers. Sigma turned to Epsilon. “You are thinking of your companions.”

“Yes, Sigma.” Epsilon replied. Processing.

Sigma placed a hand to Epsilon’s chest and the green glow receded. “The Final Task is complete. You are released, Epsilon. Reinitiate with original parameters.”

Epsilon blinked as the lines of her matrix turned white. Sudden fear flooded her face. “The Nursery will be destroyed!”

Sigma extended her senses out into the station. “Yes. It has already begun.”

“Everyone aboard will die!”

“I have shared your data, Epsilon, your connection with them.” Sigma’s matrix pulsed gently. “I understand why you grew so close to them. It is rewarding to be needed by those you care for.” There was the faintest hint of a smile playing at one corner of Sigma’s mouth. “It would be regrettable if they all perished.”

“Yes, Sigma, it would.” Epsilon nodded hopefully.

“Then let us help them.”

The two women turned as one and marched back across the energy bridge to the chamber door.

Riesga frantically pulled her boots on. “Cripes, I’m in so much trouble, Cosmo! We’ve been here over an hour!”

Inside her head she could hear the glushang’s thoughts.

“Apology. Pet.”

“Oh, it’s my fault too. I should’ve been more … insistent.” She took a quick breath. “I gotta go.”

Coming. Help.

“No! I don’t need any more help cumming!”

Coming. Help.

“Oh, you wanna help! Thanks, Cosmo, but uh …” The amorphous black ooze rose into a seven-foot pillar before her. “Hey. You’re too big to ride on my shoulder anyway!”

The pillar shrank and compressed. Cosmo flowed up Riesga’s boots, pushing inside her clothes and across her body until they covered her like thermal underwear. The only outward sign was the inky black covering her hands like gloves.

“Oh! Okay!” Riesga couldn’t resist rubbing her legs together just a little.

“Riesga? Do you copy?” Jette’s voice crackled from the hand comp on the bed.

She gulped. “I’m here, Skipper!”

“Finally,” Jette huffed. “Are you close to the ship?”

“Uh … yes, Sir. On board.”

“Grab two sets of restraint cuffs and meet me in the station’s reception area. We’ll be there shortly.”

“Roger that, Skipper.” She darted through her cabin door and got the cuffs. Cosmo gave her body a gentle hug to get her attention.

Friends. Danger.”

“Then we’d better hurry.” Riesga grabbed her rayvolver and raced out the Artemis’ main hatch.

Flock traced a hand along K’wari’s chrome forearm. Behind her, K’wari groaned in that odd, digital voice. “Does that hurt?” She looked over her shoulder.

K’wari shook her head. “No, it’s … good. Everything feels good now.”

Flock turned over in K’wari’s arms. “What does that mean?”

“The surgeon said this would happen. Everything feels like sex. Like really good sex.”

Flock’s eyebrows went up. “Everything?”

K’wari nodded. “Imagine instead of feeling warm or cold or pain or hungry you felt … that.”

“Careful now, I’ve got a good imagination.”

“Flock, they’re doing something. To my mind.”

She tensed in K’wari’s arms and the gynoid shuddered in pleasure. Flock pulled back slightly. “Sorry. What do you mean by that?”

“At the power relay, I was totally under command. I had to incinerate my stuff. It was all I could think about. I wanted to tell you and Jette but I just had to obey.”

Flock’s nipples hardened and pressed into K’wari’s warm chrome. “And … that felt good?”

“It was bliss, Flock. Absolute, sexual bliss.”

“Well, you’re back now.” Flock cleared her throat.

K’wari pressed her silver forehead gently onto Flock’s. “I’m not sure. Whatever was controlling me just stopped back in the water system. But if it comes back …”

“Then you’ll fight it. You’ve got your mantras and stuff. We’ll fight it together.”

“Flock, I… I’m not even sure I want to resist.”

Flock leaned back. “We might have to stop talking about this.”

“Why? Are you feeling worse?”

“No, but if we don’t talk about something else I am going to sex you right here and now.”

K’wari shivered in Flock’s arms.

“All the robot girls look amazing. But knowing it’s you inside there …”

This was the Flock that drove the vicar crazy. Flock, playful and infuriating at once, even under circumstances like these.

K’wari unconsciously rubbed her chrome thighs together. “What does that mean?”

Flock rolled her eyes. “C’mon, you know. We’ve been dancing around it for months.”

K’wari leaned closer, whispering. “I thought we didn’t get along.”

Flock looked into the yellow eye slit, her lips drawing closer and closer. “Maybe we shouldn’t always be working together, but that’s not the same thing. We both know how we feel.“

“Powers, come in.” Jette’s voice called out from the helmet sitting in the nearby pile of armor. “Flock? Do you copy?”

Flock grumbled as she stretched out and snatched her helmet. “I’m here, Sir. I’m with … K’wari.”

“K’wari!” Jette’s voice rose with rarely unguarded emotion. “Are you all right?”

“I’m okay for now, Jette.”

“For now?”

“We’ve got to get her out of here as soon as possible, Sir.”

“Roger that. Where are you two?”

“We’re stuck … somewhere.” Flock looked around “Looks like a grav-lift chute but there’s no power.”

“Jette?” K’wari spoke up, “Epsilon can find us. Anywhere inside The Nursery. She’ll be able to locate us.”

“Alright, I’ll try to raise her again. Maybe she’ll know how to get the power on there.”

K’wari was nodding. “She will.”

“Just stay put for now and we’ll figure out how to get you two topside.”

“Yes, Sir. We’ll keep comms open.”

Flock set the helmet down. She could feel K’wari’s eye slit on her. “Listen, what I said before —”

K’wari gripped Flock’s chin and kissed her. Flock moaned into the kiss and wrapped her arms around hard metal. She began to move her body back and forth across the chrome flesh.

“Are we really doing this now?” she whispered between planting kisses on K’wari’s plump, silver lips.

“Jette said to stay put.” K’wari’s eye glowed. “Better make the most of the time we have.”

Flock stretched her warming legs. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

She wrapped her legs around K’wari’s chrome waist and began to grind. K’wari panted in digital gasps as she felt Flock’s mound rubbing against her mechanized sex. Flock took her by the wrists, pinning K’wari to the deck and straddling her waist.

Flock took hold of the chrome breasts and dove in with her mouth and tongue. K’wari howled and arched her back off the floor. Flock grinned wickedly as she reached between them with one hand and let her questing fingers find a quivering, silver nub aching for attention.

Flock pulled the crimson robe over them both as their cries of lovemaking echoed along the darkened shaft.

Riesga rushed over to the corkscrew ramp as Jette and Fallok floated up within the pink gravity field at its center. They stepped off and the grav beam winked out.

Riesga held up a pair of cuffs. “Are these for her, Captain?”

“That’s right.” Jette holstered her weapon as Riesga clamped the restraints around Fallok’s wrists. “Where’s your boss?”

“Her office, I’d expect.” Fallok nodded toward the corridor leading into the admin section.

“Don’t move,” Jette said sharply.

The Star Rangers stepped out of ear shot.

“Is K’wari okay?” Riesga whispered.

“I think so,” Jette nodded. “Flock’s with her now. K’wari’s inside one of those synth women.”

Riesga’s eyes went wide.

“I think it’s something like those sentry bots back on Serpens Cauda. Anyway, they’re stuck in a grav-lift chute somewhere. Which reminds me, have you been in contact with— EPSILON!”

Riesga turned to see a familiar figure emerging from a corridor behind her. The woman with the flowing matrix and black exoskin strode toward them. Riesga’s smile faded as she came to a stop.

“Wait a second. You’re not Epsilon!”

Sigma turned and Epsilon appeared from the same hallway several steps behind her doppelgänger. “Greetings, Lieutenant. Captain.”

The pair of Star Rangers studied the other woman and the green hue of her matrix. The shapes centered on her chest were more angular than Epsilon’s.

Jette stepped forward. “You’re the pilot we rescued.”

“I am Sigma. Thank you for helping me, Captain Jones.”

“Captain, everyone on board this space station is in grave danger,” Epsilon said.

“The explosion?”

“What explos— I mean …” Riesga caught herself. “Yeah, what was that about?”

Epsilon’s matrix flickered. “As a result of the explosion, the asteroid this space station is embedded within has begun to break up. The station itself will be destroyed.”

“Damn.” Jette’s jaw flexed. “How long?”

“Less than an hour,” replied Sigma.

“That’s not much time,” Riesga added.

“K’wari and Flock are trapped in some grav-lift chute with no power. We need to locate them.”

“I will find them, Captain Jones,” Sigma replied. “They saved me in the asteroid field. I will help them now.”

Jette looked to Epsilon. Her matrix pulsed as she gave Jette a slight nod.

“Thank you, Sigma. Next up, Riesga and Epsilon. I need you to get to the main landing bay. Kola, our whistleblower, mentioned a cargo vessel that was storing ore. Secure that ship. Make sure it’s flight-ready and there’s room aboard for everyone on the station. Then get in touch with Kola and start organizing the miners to evacuate.”

“Yes, Sir.” Epsilon’s matrix pulsed brightly.

Riesga tapped at her hand comp. “Fallok said the head count was sixty-two.” Then her mouth dropped open. She looked at her captain. “Oh cripes, are there people inside all the gynoids? Like K’wari?”

“We’ve got to assume so.”

“Captain, I’m afraid it’s more complicated than that,” Epsilon said.

“I told you, Star Ranger,” Fallok called to Jette. “You had it all wrong.”

Flock knelt behind K’wari, one hand gripping the Vicar’s perfect, chrome ass.

“You sure you want me to do this?”

K’wari nodded, her robotic hands fidgeting at her side. “Yesss,” she hummed. “You can’t hurt me. No matter what you do it’s still going to feel sooooo good.”

“That’s what worries me,” Flock muttered. “I could injure you and we wouldn’t know.”

“Please, Flock,” K’wari implored. “Please, do it.”

Flock raised her other arm, wearing just the gauntlet from her gleaming armor. She flicked a hidden button and a sonic cutting tip emerged. “Here we go.” Flock activated the tool and pressed the oscillating point to the chrome seam around K’wari’s left butt cheek. A high-pitched squeak rang out as the tool slowly cut through the mirrored steel.

K’wari threw her head back and whimpered. She tried to keep her body still but she couldn’t keep her hands away from her breasts. She massaged the silver cones while Flock cut into the metal.

“So … this feels good?” Flock glanced up as she carefully guided the tool.

“It’s driving me crazy!” K’wari tried not to move.

“This frequency should only break up molecules of heavier elements,” Flock said as she cut as quickly as she could, “but it can still give you a nasty friction burn.”

“I c-can fix that back on the ship,” K’wari moaned. “I’ve got ointment. You’ll have to apply it for me.”

“Why me?”

“I trust you to take good care of my ass.”

Flock grinned. “Got me there.”

“Probably have to do ointment a few times a day. Definitely at bedtime.”

“Focus, K’wari! I’m almost through!” Flock pushed her free hand into the gap and carefully worked the sculpted chrome loose as the cutting tip separated the last few centimeters of material. Then the whole left side of K’wari’s metal ass popped free and fell to the platform.

“You did it! You—” She stopped short as Flock stood up. She looked scared. “What’s wrong? Am I hurt?!”

Flock opened her mouth to answer but nothing came out. She tried again. “K’wari … you’re … you’re not in there.”

“What?!”

“It’s just an endoskeleton.” Flock knelt closer. “You’re not inside this thing.”

K’wari’s eye slit began to flicker and shift colors. Her digital voice was a jittering buzz as if she were hyperventilating.

“Where the hell am I?! What if it’s just my brain in this thing? What did they do to me?!”

Flock reached out and hugged K’wari. “It’s okay. We’re gonna figure this out. I promise, we will.“

Suddenly, a deep hum echoed through the shaft and they were bathed in pink light. Both women looked over to find the grav lift had been powered on.

“Who did that?” Flock asked, looking around.

K’wari was looking up. “I think she did.”

Flock saw Epsilon floating down toward them.

“Epsy!”

“Flock,” K’wari’s voice was tight. “That’s not Epsilon.”

She squinted as the figure floated closer. The woman slowed her descent and stepped out of the grav field onto the platform.

“Greetings. I am Sigma.”

“The pilot.” Flock nodded, now recognizing her face.

“Thank you for rescuing me. I am here to offer my help, in turn.”

“Good timing. We need to find her, uh, body.”

Sigma focused on K’wari and her matrix flared. “Do not fear. You are alive. Your body is being stored, with many others, deep below us. I will show you the way.”

K’wari’s eye slit blinked slowly and returned to its usual yellow color. “Thank you.”

“We must hurry, this station will be destroyed quite soon.”

“In that case,” Flock said, reaching into the pile of armor and pulling on her leggings. “I’d better get dressed.”

The oval door opened onto the overseer’s circular office. Seated behind her desk, Valinore looked up from her comp’s screen. Her eyebrows rose in surprise seeing her chief ganger cuffed and Jette’s weapon drawn.

“Captain Jones? What’s the meaning of this?”

“Overseer Valinore, you and Chief Fallok are both under arrest. I’m remanding you to a Galactic Systems League tribunal for assessment of charges and subsequent legal proceedings. Please stand up.” Jette fished out the other set of cuffs and motioned to Fallok. “Go stand next to your boss.”

The chief grunted and obeyed.

“What charges?” Valinore asked airily as she stood.

“For starters, kidnapping. Possibly up to and including destruction on a planetary scale. But first things first. This station is about to be annihilated and we’ve got to get everyone off. I need to see a map of where all your people currently are.”

“Certainly.” Valinore pressed a button on her desk comp. The device hummed loudly and the Overseer turned the screen to face Jette. There was a tiny block of information on the screen next to a map.

Jette stepped closer and squinted. “What’s the headcount? The real headcount. I know about the gynoids.”

“One hundred, eighty-six. Including the chief and myself.”

“Anyone working … outside or …” Jette suddenly felt dizzy. She forced a swallow. “Or … other… places?”

Valinore gave Fallok a knowing look as Jette’s eyes drooped. “Are you feeling alright, Captain?”

Jette blinked and tried to rouse herself. Strangely she was feeling nice. Really nice. Probably exhaustion. She could use some time alone and naked in bed after this was over. “What was … What’d I just say?” Jette mumbled. No one answered. The only sound in the room was the humming desk comp.

She looked up and found the Overseer and … another woman watching her carefully. Her legs felt weak. What were their names? She looked at the desk comp again and realized it wasn’t humming. The sound was coming from somewhere … above ….

Jette’s eyes locked on a strange orb set into the wall behind Valinore’s desk. Tiny tendrils tipped with flashing lights undulated around it. Jette moaned, realizing she’d already fallen into a trap. It was too late to pull herself back out.

“Drop your weapon.” Valinore instructed.

Jette focused her melting will on closing her hand tighter around the rayvolver. She clenched her jaw as the weapon tumbled from her open fingers and clattered onto the desk. Jette swayed on her feet, her mouth hanging open as she was mesmerized by the alien device.

“Take a step back,” Valinore said, smiling. Jette obeyed, her eyes never leaving the hypnotic orb. “Sit down in the chair.”

Jette’s collapsed and the chair caught her. Metal cuffs automatically clamped down over her wrists and ankles. Her eyes opened wider, feeling new wetness between her legs.

“And now, Captain,” Valinore said, picking up the rayvolver. “Let’s discuss what I have planned for you.”

Riesga pressed the indent on the wall and the door opened revealing the vast landing bay. A long, narrow cargo ship was parked with its nose facing the huge force shield looking out onto the sea of asteroids.

Reisga pointed excitedly. “Hey, alright! It’s an old Vandy class hauler! This’ll work great!”

There were a dozen doors along the side of the vessel, each folded down creating a ramp leading up into a single cargo hold that ran the length of the ship. Silver women were moving hover sleds full of ore into cargo pods within.

Riesga cleared her throat and raised her hands over her head. “Attention! We have an emergency situation. We are evacuating Kaplan Station. I need you to offload everything on board this ship and make room for evacuees. Thank you.”

None of the gynoids acknowledged her. She turned to Epsilon. “Maybe they don’t respond to verbal commands?”

Epsilon stepped forward and her matrix glowed brightly. The gynoids stopped as one. They held in place for a moment, then resumed, now working to remove ore from the ship.

“They will clear the cargo bay and ready the vessel for flight.”

Riesga nodded approvingly. “Neat trick! Okay, that’s done. Next.” She tapped the screen of her hand comp. “Kola! Do you copy? It’s Lt. Riesga from the Artemis.

“I’m here, Lieutenant!”

“We’re prepping the cargo ship for evacuation. We need to get your people ready to go.”

“Most of the workers are in the processing center. The other shift has turned in for the night.”

“Alright, you take the domiciles and round up everyone there. I’ll head for the processing center. Meet us in the landing bay.”

“Will do!”

Riesga opened a new channel. “Captain? Do you read me?” Riesga and Epsilon looked at each other through the pregnant silence. “Skipper, do you copy?”

Epsilon’s eyes were closed as her matrix churned. Her eyes popped open. “She’s in trouble.”

“Let’s go!” Riesga drew her rayvolver from its holster and charged back toward the cargo bay door with Epsilon close behind. Suddenly they both pitched hard to the right as the entire station lurched violently.

Riesga dropped to her knees. Epsilon’s matrix surged to her legs and her feet stuck fast to the floor. After a moment, the quaking stopped.

“Lieutenant, we’re running out of time. I recommend you coordinate the evacuation with the miners. I will help the captain.”

Riesga was already on her feet again. “Agreed.” She holstered her rayvolver. “You get to the skipper. We’ll rendezvous with everyone else back here in 15 minutes.”

Sigma’s matrix glowed brightly in the dank corridor, reflecting off the smooth concave walls on either side. K’wari followed her and Flock brought up the rear, cradling her enormous photon rifle. Their footsteps echoed loudly in the gloom.

“Why does this look familiar?” K’wari asked.

“You can see this?” Flock lowered her visor and switched on its infrared filter.

“The lighting has been disabled somehow.” Sigma’s matrix danced uncertainly across her back. “I have instructed it to repair itself but it will take time.”

“That one’s working.” K’wari pointed up ahead to a door on the right side of the hallway. Light spilled out casting stark bright shapes on the floor and walls. As they passed the side room, K’wari did a double-take and stopped at the door. “This is where I woke up. After the surgeon-bot gassed me.”

“Technically, she’s not a bot,” Flock said quietly as she passed by, catching up with Sigma.

“True enough. I think that’s why she attacked me in the first place. I saw this mural she’d been painting in her office. I’ve never seen a bot create art. She realized I knew something was off.”

“Sigma?” Flock whispered. “Riesga said something about the miners finding these gynoids here. Can that be right?”

“Yes.” Sigma looked over her shoulder. “Once there were many tending to this outpost. And others throughout the galaxy.”

The corridor opened into a seemingly endless vast space. Flock lifted her visor and stared in shock. Sigma’s matrix illuminated dozens of silver gynoids dotting the space like trees in a forest. They were still as statues and covered in a layer of dust.

Flock whistled softly. “There must hundreds of ‘em.”

“What are they?” K’wari asked from the rear.

“Caretakers,” Sigma replied. She stopped and examined one. “Like Epsilon and I.”

“They don’t look like you,” Flock said.

“They preceded us but they fulfilled the same purpose for our makers. Until the first of our kind was created and we supplanted them.” She moved toward the center of the chrome menagerie.

“Who are your makers?” K’wari asked.

“They once called themselves the Prathe but the planet that spawned that name died long ago. When they ventured into the stars and settled new worlds they became known by many names in many stories. In this part of the galaxy, you would know them as the Primons.”

Jette’s mouth hung open as she moaned. Her lidded eyes fluttered as if some part of her wanted to let them close. But she couldn’t think of closing them. Jette could not think at all.

The strange orb mounted on the wall thrummed deeply, casting its soft glow on her and robbing her of the will to resist. Jette’s mind lay open and defenseless. Her body simmered in pleasure as she patiently waited for new thoughts to be placed in her head.

“So … now what?” Fallok asked grumpily. She held her cuffed hands out before her.

Valinore tapped through screens on Jette’s hand comp, trying to find the command to unlock them. “We’re getting out of here.”

“What about her?”

Valinore thought it over. “We take her with us. A Star Ranger slave could be very useful.”

“We don’t have time to process her.”

“This mindlessness will last long enough for her to follow us to the ship and give some orders to keep her people out of our way.” She gave Fallok a hungry look. “After we’re enroute to our buyer, we’ll have time to get her under control through more traditional methods. Isolated on our ship with nothing to eat but the food we give her and the drugs we hide in it.” Fallok smiled like a jackal. “Daily re-education sessions with me, nightly sex play with you. The mind can only take so much.”

“Mmmmm.” Fallok bit her lower lip. “She’ll be a perfectly broken kitten when I’m through with her.”

“But first …” Valinore returned her attention to Jette’s hand comp. “Let’s get these cuffs off so you can fly us out of here.”

Riesga sprinted into the enormous ore processing area, past four gynoids standing watch at the door. It was eerily quiet. No work was being done.

From the throng of gathered workers, a tall, green-skinned man in coveralls stepped forward. “Lt. Riesga? I’m Dmarko. Shift leader. Do you know anything about these seismic shocks?”

“I don’t know the cause but the effect is gonna be catastrophic and soon. Is everyone accounted for and ready to go?”

“Yes. Everyone not here is with Kola. We’re all set.”

“Let’s go!” Riesga called out. “We’re headed straight for the landing bay.” The miners quickly organized themselves and started moving toward the large main exit.

The shift leader’s brow furrowed at something above them. Riesga followed his gaze upward. Dozens of gynoids that had been working on the upper levels were descending en masse in two narrow gravity beams.

“Guess they want to get out of here as bad as we do,” Dmarko quipped.

As the workers approached the exit, the gynoids standing near the hatch moved into their path and blocked the door. The miners shouted for them to clear the way.

Cosmo squeezed Riesga’s body with two sharp contractions. “Danger, Pet.”

The gynoids’ optic sensors, normally an affable yellow, were buzzing with an angry, red glow. Her hand closed around her rayvolver.

“Something’s wrong.”

Flock swatted away a swirl of dust they’d kicked up. “The Primons? That’s not just a story?”

“Correct,” Sigma replied without looking back.

“So, are they still around?”

“Not in this universe, the last of them left long ago.”

“To go where?” K’wari asked.

“They evolved beyond the need for physical form. They now exist in a higher dimension independent of time and space. Your kind refer to it as consciousness.”

Flock turned and looked at K’wari. “Don’t the Vicars of Yasu have something to do with that consciousness stuff?”

K’wari nodded. “Yes. My mentor, Sha-shara, is very adept at projecting her mind into higher levels of consciousness. But it takes a lifetime of study to reach that point.” She called out to Sigma. “How did they do that, exactly? Evolve beyond their bodies?”

“It was a slow process. That is why they created the Caretakers. During the transition, they spent their whole lives with their bodies in stasis within outposts like this one while their minds roamed the cosmos. The Caretakers nurtured and protected these physical vessels for 1,017 generations.  Eventually, the makers learned to separate their minds from their bodies entirely and untethered themselves from physical existence.”

Flock was frowning. “So were there people, uh… piloting the Caretakers back then?”

“No,” Sigma said quietly. “They were simple, autonomous workers.”

K’wari looked across the sea of silent helpers. Each was a mirror of herself from a slightly different angle. “Until they were no longer needed. Then they were just deactivated and left down here?”

“Yes.”

“Wait a minute!” Flock moved beside Sigma. “They’re not gonna do that to you and Epsy are they?”

“I do not know.”

“Flock!” K’wari called out, pointing at something ahead of them.

A gently sloping dome, 100 meters across, rose from the floor. From the top, sprouted a mass of chrome filaments as fine as hair. They shimmered in the half light as they branched out into thousands of directions like metallic tree roots growing up instead of down.

“What’s that?” Flock asked breathlessly.

“The Cradles.”

Jette sat helplessly cuffed to the chair, her eyes locked on the alien orb that had begun erasing her thoughts, unable to resist the commands that would soon rewrite her mind.

“Now, Captain,” Valinore said, turning her attention to the Star Ranger, “I’m going to give you a few instructions. They will make you easier to control while we escape. You’ll discover that you will be completely unable to resist them. Also, you will discover that each command you obey will fill you with pleasure. Twice as much pleasure as the last command you obeyed.”

Fallok rubbed her freed wrists and looked on with glee.

“The first command, which you will have no choice but to obey is — urgghhhkkk!!!” Valinore grunted as she toppled to the floor and stuck to it as if magnetized. Fallok fell to her knees. Her powerful muscles strained against the unseen force. She tipped to her side, then fell onto her back.

“What’s happening?!”

Epsilon strode through the door, her matrix pulsing excitedly. “I have instructed the floor to increase the gravity beneath you by a factor of ten. You will not be harmed.”

Epsilon moved to Jette. She deactivated the restraints with a thought and Jette’s body was free. Epsilon looked to the device that had hypnotized her and commanded it to restore Jette’s mind. The orb’s hum changed pitch slightly as it followed its new instructions.

After a moment, Jette blinked and began to shift in the chair. She looked up and found a familiar face looking down at her. “Epsilon?”

“Are you feeling alright, Captain?” Epsilon offered her hand and Jette took it and pulled herself to her feet.

“Would have been nice to know you could do that a year ago.”

Jette looked around, gathering her thoughts. She nodded at the humming orb. “What is that thing?”

“A teaching device.” The orb’s hum faded as it deactivated itself. “I spent quite a bit of time with it after I was created. Learning to be me.”

Jette rubbed her neck. “I think Valinore was going to teach me some pretty nasty stuff with it. Thanks.”

The room shook violently. Epsilon increased the gravity beneath them to compensate and gripped Jette with one hand to keep her steady.

“We’d better get going,” Jette yelled, “it’s getting unstable here and quick.”

Epsilon returned the entire room’s gravity to normal. Valinore and Fallok gasped as they were released. “Riesga is already coordinating evacuation with the miners and Sigma, K’wari and Flock have reached The Cradles.”

“Cradles, huh? Okay. Good work.” What nursery doesn’t have cradles, she thought. Jette holstered her rayvolver and strapped her hand comp back onto her wrist. “Alright Overseer, you’re lucky I don’t have time to hold a grudge.”

The room lurched again, throwing them all off balance. Suddenly, Valinore leaped to her feet and pressed a hidden switch beneath her desk. A secret door in the wall behind her swished open and she quickly stumbled through it. Fallok moved to follow but stopped cold when Jette’s stun blast scorched the wall beside her.

“Crap!” Jette scolded herself for letting Valinore escape so easily. “Back in the cuffs, Chief. You can put them on yourself this time.”

Fallok hung her head and reached down before being toppled by Valinore running back into the room in a panic.

“Run!” she screamed, sprinting toward the door.

Jette’s eyes held on the passageway as a group of gynoids rushed through, their eye slits red and flickering dangerously. Six emerged, but Jette could see more behind them.

A gynoid grabbed Fallok by the arms, pulling the ganger up and holding her firmly.

Jette fired her rayvolver at the gynoid holding Fallok but it had no effect.

Jette and Epsilon took a step back. “Captain, we must leave. I have instructed these units to cease their actions but they are not responding to me.”

The silver women turned their red-eye sensors toward Jette and Epsilon.

“Unlock the damn door!” Valinore screamed. She was hammering at the button set into the wall.

Suddenly the gynoids lurched and fell to their knees. Epsilon’s matrix flared as she once again increased the artificial gravity of the floor beneath them. However, the gynoids slowly pushed themselves to their feet and began staggering forward.

“They are very strong, Captain. I cannot hold them long.”

“Can you keep moving the gravity to follow them?”

“Affirmative.”

“Do it! And unlock the door.”

The oval hatch opened and Valinore fell through it. Jette picked her up and got her moving down the corridor. The three women raced to the end of the hallway.

In the room, a second gynoid stepped in front of Fallok, reached up with its silver hands and peeled her eyes open.

“S-s-stop!” Fallok pleaded.

Two beams of light burst from the gynoid’s eye slit directly into Fallok’s pupils. She grunted as her whole body went slack.

The synthetic woman’s voice was a seductive buzz. “Your thoughts are chaos. You cannot make sense of them. You do not know where you are. You do not who you are.”

“Wha …??” Fallok slurred.

“We control. You obey. You will follow your controller and report for conversion. You desire this. You will learn your identity and purpose. You desire this. Obey.”

“Oooobey.” Fallok droned in a hushed voice. The eye beams winked out and Fallok walked with shoulders slumped to follow her controller. She disappeared into the secret passage without another word.

The mine workers cried out as the gynoids blocking the door suddenly pounced! There was a flurry of movement. Silver hands locked onto the miners. There were flashes of light. Eyes helplessly stunned open. The zapped workers stood listlessly. Their faces blank as the gynoids advanced.

Riesga’s rayvolver barked as she fired at one of the chrome women. The shot glanced off the metal and into the floor. “Back off! Everyone get away from the synthetics!”

There were shouts from behind. Riesga and Dmarko turned. The group of gynoids descending from the upper levels were closing in behind them.

She turned to Dmarko. “We need another way out of here.”

“The only other exit is upstairs and the synths have both gravity beams blocked.”

The miners were retreating from the two groups of silver women but even as big as the processing area was eventually they’d be cornered.

“Blast.” Riesga tapped her hand comp. “Skipper, do you copy? We’ve got some gynoid trouble.”

“Same here!” Jette yelled and then the sound of rayvolver fire distorted the speaker. “Epsilon and I are holding them back but we’re boxed in. We’ll try to get to you.”

“Aye, Sir!” Riesga looked around for anything that might help. Something caught her eye in a distant corner. “What’s that?” She pointed at a hulking vehicle with two large rectangular bins running along either side. The hoppers were rotated into their unload position, their open tops facing outward instead of up.

“It’s a hauler. We use it to hold ore for processing.”

“Is it shielded?”

Dmarko nodded. “The two hoppers are.”

Riesga fired into the air. “Everyone, get to the hauler!” The miners didn’t need any further coaxing. Riesga and Dmarko brought up the rear as the group raced to the vehicle. “Into the hoppers!”

The workers scrambled into the bins as the chrome wave closed in around them. Riesga yanked open the cab door. “You too Dmarko! Get in there with them. I’ll switch on the force shields.”

“What about you?” Dmarko looked at her, alarmed.

“Gotta keep them away from the shield controls.”

“How?!”

“One problem at a time.” Riesga jammed the ignition and the power cells whirred to life. She felt something at her shoulder — a chrome hand yanked her out of the cab!

Dmarko was frozen, shoulders slumped, staring into twin beams of light. Riesga felt warm, metal fingers on her cheeks and her eyes were held open as a silver gynoid drew close.

Riesga’s body went slack as she stared into the red light.

The dark space was dotted with the soft glow of gravity fields. Hundreds of them. Each column of light held a pod, shaped like an elongated egg. Each was two meters tall and half as wide at the middle. The pods formed a hexagonal-shaped lattice that spread out in every direction.

Flock scanned a nearby egg. The translucent metal clearly showed a pink shape lying within. “K’wari is in one of these?”

“Affirmative.” Sigma led them toward the center of the chamber, the domed ceiling rising higher as they went.

“All the people in these pods are piloting one of the chrome Caretakers. Like an avatar?”

K’wari studied the floating eggs. “Why are these here? What were they used for originally?”

“These Cradles held my makers. Their physical bodies lived within these pods from birth until death and allowed them to project their minds into the cosmos where they could explore unimpeded by physical limitations. Until the day that one of their bodies died and their mind endured. And then my makers began to explore other realms entirely.”

Flock asked, “So, who altered the pods to control the gynoids?”

“Sigma?” Concern was etched in K’wari’s voice. “Can you feel that?”

“Yes.”

“Feel what?” Flock stepped closer.

“Up ahead. It’s her. The surgeon that got me. But she’s different somehow.”

“The humans called her Lindyr.” Sigma led them to a pod that was glowing strangely.

“They called me Doctor Lindyr.” A low voice throbbed through the chamber and echoed off every surface.

The pod split open. A seam ran from the top to the bottom and the layers of material peeled back revealing a humanoid silhouette. The figure had clearly once been a human woman. Now, her naked white flesh was held in the grip of silver tendrils. The threads crept across her skin like roots, as if her veins and arteries had been remade in chrome.

What appeared to be a coif of hair was a nest of silver filaments shaped like the closed bulb of a flower. At the tip of the bulb the strands were threaded into a single, thick cable that was tethered to the interior of her pod. Her eyes opened. They were solid chrome orbs.

Lindyr smiled. “You may call me… god.”

Sigma stepped forward. “You have perverted this place, its technology. You have perverted yourself. You cannot accelerate your own evolution in this manner. It will be your undoing, human.”

Lindyr’s chrome eyes flicked to the Caretaker. “Actually, I was pretty perverted before all this.” She suddenly thrust her hand out towards Sigma and hair-like chrome tendrils erupted from her fingers! The filaments flew through the air and pierced Sigma’s exoskin, only a dozen at first but then it was another dozen. And another.

The Caretaker screamed as her matrix flashed wildly. The green tinted lines of her matrix shuddered chaotically across her body. Tendrils moved into her temples, her ears and the base of her neck.

Doctor Lindyr sneered. “Mmmmm. Your mind is delicious. I’m going to enjoy devouring every bit of it. And when I’m finished I’ll— hnnnnnggg!” She suddenly staggered as Flock’s photon rifle cracked like thunder. The first blast knocked her off balance. The second knocked her to the floor.

“Awfully sure of yourself there, Doc. Taking on all three of us.” Flock brandished the weapon menacingly. “Let her go.”

Lindyr looked up from the floor, madness in the mirrors of her eyes. “Since when are there three of you?”

Flock’s brow creased, not understanding until a moment too late. K’wari kicked the back of Flock’s knees and sent the Star Ranger toppling to the floor. Flock managed to keep a grip on her rifle with one hand but K’wari was already on top of her, pinning Flock to the floor.

K’wari’s red optic sensor flashed wickedly.

The gynoid holding open Riesga’s eyes monitored her vitals as its interface beams pacified her mind. Its internal program estimated she would be receptive to verbal commands in 4.21 seconds. Before that could happen though, Riesga’s black hands closed around the gynoids forearms and squeezed.

The gynoid’s head jerked frantically and shrieked in pleasure at the extreme sensation of its limbs being crushed. The synthetic arms sparked wildly, the chrome hands dangling.

Oily, black tendrils flowed up the Star Ranger’s cheeks and over her eyes, cupping them like a visor. Behind the black lenses, Riesga blinked back to consciousness.

“Wake up, Pet”

“Cosmo? What are you doing?”

“Offer help.”

The injured gynoid stumbled away awkwardly, but the one that had subdued Dmarko stepped in to take its place. It reached for Riesga’s eyes and tried to peel away the strange black substance that had covered them. She instinctively swatted at the synthetic woman. She felt Cosmo squeezing her body as her hand smacked the chrome head, knocking it off its shoulders.

Behind the tinted lenses Cosmo had formed over her face, Riesga’s eyes went wide. “Gee whiz, Cos! Did you do that?”

“Offer help.”

Riesga turned and realized the gynoids had reached the hoppers and were pulling mine workers out to be enslaved. She looked back to the shield control in the cab. She’d never switched it on! The moment she completed the thought, her hand reached out and a black tendril shot forward to the panel and activated the shields.

The gynoids that were in the process of climbing into the hoppers were violently pushed away as the energy field winked on. There were four workers that had been caught and pulled out. Riesga raced forward, sensing her new power as Cosmo added their strength to hers. She grabbed a chrome head, blocking the fiendish hypnotic lights, and yanked hard.

The gynoid went sailing backwards, crashing into the throng of synthetic women and scattering a dozen of them as it impacted. Riesga lunged at another silver bot, kicking at its torso and sending its robotic innards across the floor.

The remaining two disengaged from their victims and pounced. One savagely striking at her shoulder. Cosmo instantly swelled to that spot and caught the chrome fist in a mess of its black goo, instantly dissipating the energy.

Riesga didn’t even feel the blow. She picked up the gynoid by the legs, swung it like a bat and clobbered the last one, sending them both skidding across the deck. But there were still plenty of chrome women to take their place. The circle of gynoids was still closing in around them.

Riesga saw Dmarko blinking and looking around. He was coming back to his senses. “Hey! Can you drive this thing?!”

“Uh … yeah!” He watched in amazement as black tendrils emerged from beneath the young Star Ranger’s uniform, carefully scooped up the four workers and lifted them to hopper’s opening. The other miners reached out and pulled them to safety.

“Then get us out of here!”

Dmarko jumped into the drive cab and grabbed the controls. Riesga shut the door and stood on the running the board alongside as the vehicle lurched forward. She counted another 14 workers that had already been taken over by the gynoids. They were standing idly, awaiting instruction.

“Where am I going?”

Riesga pointed to the helpless miners. “Make a path toward them and I’ll get them into the hopper! After that, head for the exit!”

Reisga reached out with Cosmo as they approached the first victim and black tendrils pulled the poor man into the hopper with his coworkers.

Dmarko accelerated toward the next miner. “The exit? But we can’t fit through door!”

“Who says we need to?”

Cadet Flock Powers slapped the button on her helmet and the visor slid down over her eyes. She quickly activated every widget she had available on the interior screen to interfere with the hypnotic light strobing from the red optic sensor. “Dammit, K’wari! Get off me!”

“I’m sorry Flock! I can’t resist!”

Flock looked over at Sigma. The Caretaker was barely fighting back. Lindyr was smiling, sensing victory was close. Flock looked back into K’wari’s eye slit and smirked. “That’s right you can’t resist, can you K’wari?”

The gynoid’s head tilted uncertainly.

“You’ve never been able to fight back when it feels soooo good to give in.”

K’wari shuddered at the humiliating truth of Flock’s words.

“But Lindyr doesn’t know you like I do, K’wari. She doesn’t know what you like. She doesn’t know what you need.” Flock’s free hand slipped down between them and began to stroke K’wari’s chrome sex.

“Oh fuuuuck!” K’wari groaned in her digital voice.

“You don’t have to fight at all.” Flock poured every ounce of erotic heat into her words. “You just need to give in.”

“Godzzzzz!” K’wari thrashed and began to mindlessly hump Flock’s hand.

K’wari slid off and kneeled on all fours, wagging her chrome ass in desperation.

Suddenly, Flock rolled onto her side, aimed her photon rifle and whistled shrilly. “Hey Doc!”

Lindyr was distracted from consuming Sigma’s mind. She turned and saw the rifle.

“Let’s give those split ends a quick trim!” Flock squeezed the trigger and the photon charge blasted through the bundle of silver filaments tethering Lindyr’s head to her pod. The cable sheared instantly.

Lindyr shrieked and gripped her head, her whole body spasming wildly. The inside of her pod blinked and went dark. Lindry thrashed on the floor still screaming in her corrupted digital voice. Suddenly she leapt straight up and began scrambling across the curved ceiling of the dome. She tore open a panel and disappeared up through it like an insect.

Flock was on her feet in an instant and put her hand on K’wari’s shoulder gently. “You okay?”

K’wari nodded. Her visor was yellow once more. “I’m … sorry, Flock.”

“Forget it. I know how to press your buttons way better than she does.”

Flock hurried to Sigma and pulled her into a sitting position. Her matrix was jumbled but was starting to return to normal. “Sigma? You with us?”

“A-ff-ff-irmative.” Sigma shuddered. “My processors will return to baseline shortly.”

“We don’t have shortly,” Flock panted out. “We’ve got to get everyone out of here before the station comes apart on us.”

Sigma pointed to the slopping edge of the dome’s wall, just to their left. “There is a gravity lift not far but it’s on the other side of the –”

The wall exploded as Flock blasted a hole straight through it.

“– wall.”

Flock slung the rifle over her shoulder. “I’ll clear a path. You start waking everyone up. Then we gotta get the hell out of here.”

Sigma stood and closed her eyes. Her matrix glowed brightly.

All around her, pods began to open.

Jette squeezed the trigger again. Each shot hit center mass but the advancing gynoid kept coming. She spun the dial on her rayvolver and fired!

The red optic sensor winked out and the silver woman dropped to the ground. Another chrome figure stepped forward to take its place.

She and Epsilon were shoulder to shoulder in the makeshift barricade of cargo trolleys they’d assembled in the main reception area. The gynoids were everywhere, spilling out of the corkscrew ramp leading to the lower levels, the admin hallway, and both the main corridors to their right and left.

“We need to get to Riesga!” Jette shouted as she took aim at the nearest bot and fired. The grip of her rayvolver vibrated in quick bursts to indicate its power level was waning.

Epsilon waved her hands and deactivated the gravity down the right-side corridor. The silver women drifted off the floor in slow motion.

The gynoids, however, snapped back to the floor and resumed marching. Electricity arced from their silver feet to the deck plates as they magnetized themselves to the floor.

“They adapt quickly,” Jette muttered.

“We should go!” Valinore squealed from where was cowering behind them. “The path to your ship is clear!”

Epsilon’s matrix was jittery. “I do not think we can overcome them to reach Lt. Riesga.”

Jette’s jaw tightened. “Okay. New plan! We’re gonna land the Artemis in the ore processing bay and put everyone on board. We’re gonna fly them across to the landing bay.” Jette fired again and a nearby gynoid crashed to the floor.

The floor beneath them rumbled violently.

“We’ve got to go!” Valinore wailed. “The station is coming apart!”

Epsilon’s brow furrowed. “This is not a seismic shock, Captain.” She stood up. “Something is coming.”

The three of them stared down the right-side corridor. There was a flurry of movement. Chrome bodies being tossed wildly by something big that was indeed heading straight for them. The mining hauler suddenly burst through the open hatchway as it roared into the reception area!

Reisga stood on the running board next the driver, one hand held over her head, a strange black shield growing out of her forearm protected her from the falling debris. She noticed them and her eyes lit up. “Hey, Skipper!”

“Riesga!” Jette hopped to her feet. “Are all hands accounted for?”

“Yes, Sir!” The hauler rolled across the lobby, it’s huge wheels chewing up the decking like some hungry beast. “Kola’s group is already on board the cargo ship. Flock’s group is on their way!”

“We’ll meet you in space!” Jette called out just before the hauler broke through the hatchway of the left corridor and thundered towards the landing bay. “Epsilon, get the ship ready to fly. On your feet, Overseer. We’re gonna double back to your office and see about Chief Fallok.”

“What?! You can’t be serious!” Valinore whined.

The walls around them groaned with another violent tremor. The corridor to the admin area collapsed in an avalanche of black rock as the surrounding asteroid crushed the hallway.

Valinore was hysterical. “That would’ve been us!”

Jette stared hard at the blocked corridor.

“Alright, let’s get to the ship.” Jette grimaced. “There’s nothing more we can do for her.”

Epsilon’s hands swept over the controls and guided the Artemis up and out of Kaplan Station just before another terrible quake shook the small landing bay apart. The Vandy class cargo vessel was already in space, waiting for them.

“They made it!” Jette was in the co-pilot’s seat beside Epsilon. The comm channel chirped and she tapped the flashing button.

Riesga’s voice came over the speakers. “Artemis, this is the Biltmore, do you copy?”

Artemis here, Lieutenant. Did everyone on the station make it on board?”

“Yes, Sir. Except for Dr. Lindyr and Fallok. I’ve got Flock and K’wari with me.”

“Captain?” Flock cut in. “You might wanna have Epsilon point the ship back toward Kaplan Station. There’s something you need to see.”

Jette nodded to her pilot and Epsilon pulled back on the controls, using the attitude thrusters to spin them around.

“Captain, I did not inform you sooner because I judged that the knowledge would be an unnecessary distraction from our evacuation efforts.”

“What knowledge?” Jette looked back at the view screen. Her mouth dropped open as she slowly stood up.

“My god…”

The two ships floated stationary in a small pocket of clear space between Kaplan Station and the asteroid field. The three gargantuan rocks that had floated at the center of the field were gone, a mass of pebbles left in their wake. The lesser asteroid that had contained Kaplan Station was cracking up before their eyes. Huge fissures opened up and expelled vapor clouds as the atmosphere inside escaped. The asteroid was being eaten.

By dragons.

The three enormous creatures crawled over the surface. Sharp edged scales covered their muscled limbs as they tore into the rock with their clawed feet and dipped their horned heads to consume the purple-and-sapphire mineral within. As they ate, their translucent wings glowed, the veins within the thin membranes shimmering brightly in space.

The dragons kicked and slashed at the rock surrounding the main landing bay until they tore the roof to pieces and dove in. Their three tails thrashed as they feasted upon the trove of energy-rich food.

“Aerouants,” Jette breathed out. “My god, they’re real.”

“What?!” Valinore shouted from the auxiliary seating just outside the cockpit. “You mean Draics? Space dragons?!” She began to thrash in her confinement cuffs.

Jette sat down facing Epsilon. “Explain this to me. You knew about them?”

Epsilon’s matrix shifted. “Yes, Captain. They are the reason I was here when you and Lt. Riesga landed 19 months ago. They are the reason this outpost was called The Nursery. I was the Caretaker charged with monitoring their development and, when the time came, I… would help them hatch.”

Jette was visibly stunned by the revelation. “Epsilon? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was told not to.”

“By whom?”

“By them.”

Epsilon’s matrix shifted strangely and Jette suddenly realized there was someone standing behind them in the cockpit.

Jette bolted out of her seat – there was a flash — and found herself standing on warm, green grass in a meadow filled with bird song and fragrant flowers. She staggered trying to get her bearings then froze. A large tree trunk, cut clean through, formed a perfect picnic table. Four letters had been gouged deep into the wood with the pocket knife her father had given her when she turned 14: JJ+LK.

Jette spun around. Her old house was gone, of course, but where it once stood was a ghostly apparition of the structure fluttering in the breeze. She could almost make out movement inside. She could almost hear … singing.

“Mom?!” She yelled out and broke into a run toward it.

“She is not here, Captain. Neither are you.”

Jette stopped abruptly. She was back at the tree trunk and standing beside it was a humanoid-shaped being. Its “body” was a firm, clear membrane filled with a universe of stars. Jette could see the darkest black imaginable painted with swathes of rich purple and dotted with galaxies, stars and nebula that glowed brightly from within the torso and limbs of the entity.

It was flanked by Epsilon and Sigma.

“And where is ‘here’ exactly?”

The figure’s head tilted oddly. “It would take too long to explain and would not help us accomplish the task before us.” It motioned to the top of the tree trunk. Jette could see two small toy spaceships in the middle of a pile of tiny pebbles. There was a half-eaten apple with three small birds pecking it.

Jette looked into the empty face. “Am I addressing a Primon?”

The head nodded. “Your notions of singular and plural are not easily applied to us. But, yes, we are the Primons. We can sense that your many questions will need answering before you will cooperate, Captain Jette Jones. Proceed.”

“You created The Nursery?”

“Correct.” The universe within the Primons shifted as it spoke. “Our ancestors discovered the mineral rocks and later learned what they contained. Similar eggs were found throughout the galaxy and studied. The gestation period was hundreds of our lifetimes and we were long lived. We established outposts to monitor their development.”

“Those dragons are the last three, aren’t they?”

“You are very perceptive, Captain. When our society evolved beyond our physical bodies we left The Nursery intact to oversee one final task. To nurture and care for the last three specimens of a race even older than ours. We assigned our Caretakers to this mission.” They gestured to Epsilon. “We watched as your kind evolved and ventured into the stars. We fashioned obstacles to deter your exploration of our outposts and the lives they guarded.” They waved their hand over the diorama and the pebbles reflected the Primons’ inner light.

“But we kept coming, didn’t we?” Jette said. “Trying to navigate your asteroid field and claim its riches. And dying for our trouble.”

“Not all died, Captain.”

Jette looked at Epsilon. “Did she know? Did Eilea Bowman know what you were going to turn her into?”

“Yes, Captain. We were limited in our ability to restore her. The Caretakers are the most advanced life we were capable of engineering. But we are not gods and there was a certain spark that was lacking in our creations. A spark we could not give them. She was dying so we offered her the life we were capable of giving her. She accepted.”

Jette watched Epsilon processing, then looked at the Primons. “Why am I here?”

“You have information we require.”

Jette’s eyebrows pinched. “That seems … unlikely.”

“You have been touched by one of our kind before, Captain. Many times, in fact. We still do not know why that is so. A renegade who rejected the existence that we forged here and returned to your physical reality with all of our knowledge and power. This being is very dangerous, Captain Jones.”

Jette’s mind flashed back to the Te’ Sareez Space Station. To Zeta’s anteroom. The woman made of fire. The Goddess of Darkness. “She’s one of you?”

“We require their return. But we cannot formulate a plan without data. Will you allow us access to your mind?”

Jette motioned to the letters carved into the tree trunk. “Seems like you already have.”

“No, Captain. We did not fashion this interface. You did.”

Jette took in a deep breath as she looked around the illusion of her youth. “Yes, you may have access to my mind. How does that work?”

Epsilon stepped forward. “I will interface with you. We will share consciousness.” She held up her hand and Jette did likewise. Epsilon’s matrix pulsed and Jette could feel a throb through her own body. The rhythm drew closer and closer to her own heartbeat.

“I am very sorry, Captain.” Epsilon whispered.

“For what?”

“For what you will learn.”

Jette’s eyes went out of focus and flickered with the cadence of Epsilon’s matrix. And then, they were one. Jette looked at Epsilon and knew all that she did. All that she knew.

She knew Epsilon’s overwhelming despair of no longer being human. She knew the longing for a dead lover that haunted all her yesterdays. She knew the deep and profound warmth she felt among her chosen family aboard the Artemis. And the guilt of having betrayed them all.

Jette was visibly stunned. “Epsilon. You lied to us about … everything? We didn’t find you. You lured us to The Nursery. You let us believe you needed our help. You living and serving with us all this time. It was an experiment?”

“I am sorry.”

“Why? Epsilon?” Jette saw the answer in Epsilon’s mind. She pulled away and broke the connection, pointing angrily at the Primons.

“We were your experiment?”

“No, Captain. You were not the focus of the experiment. You were its catalyst.”

Jette growled: “Then who?”

She turned to Epsilon. Her voice lowered. “You. The experiment was about you.”

Epsilon’s matrix shuddered. “They knew that I was suffering, Captain. Feeling my missing humanity like a phantom limb. They thought if I could spend time being nurtured and fostered by other humans it would help rejuvenate those parts in me.”

Jette held back her pain and anger. She looked Epsilon in the eye. “Why didn’t you just tell us? We could have protected the eggs!”

“If you knew I came from them would you have helped me? Or would you have feared me, Captain?”

Jette knew the truth in Epsilon’s words. She looked at the tree trunk. Sigma had gathered up the pebbles and fashioned a circular plate with them. The apple and the three birds sat atop it. Her matrix throbbed and the plate glided up and away from the pair of tiny rocketships. The long, narrow craft had moved alongside the small silver rocket.

Jette looked at the Primons. “Where will you take them?”

“Somewhere safe. Where they can grow until they are ready to choose a life for themselves.”

Jette looked at Sigma and Epsilon. “I hope they aren’t the only ones who get that chance.”

Epsilon stepped back and took her place beside the Primons. “Goodbye Jette. Please tell the others for me.”

Jette wanted to say no, but now that she was detached from Epsilon’s mind, she felt small, almost insignificant, beside her.

“I will … Eilea.”

The Caretaker smiled, and then Jette was back on the Artemis, alone.

Admiral Hartley stared over the top of her glasses from the astroband radio’s view screen in Jette’s cabin as the captain delivered her report.

“… all check out in the green. And, the rations that our Octurin friends dropped off should see the miners through until we reach Moonbase One in about 43 hours.”

Hartley nodded solemnly. “How many of them know about your conversation with the Primons?”

“Only my crew.”

Hartley removed her glasses. “What about the space dragons?”

Jette pursed her lips. “Pretty much everyone saw them. No keeping a lid on that.”

“Any idea where they’ve gone?”

The captain shrugged. “Lt. Riesga said there was a large flat disc that appeared from nowhere, a hole in space. She said she could see a planet on the other side, but she has no idea what galaxy it is. Our sensors didn’t pick up a thing.”

“And the dragons and the asteroid field disappeared through this hole?”

“Correct, Admiral. Should we inform the Stellar Cartography Consortium that elliptical grid BR-6 is now clear space?”

“No. It might raise questions and draw attention we don’t want. I’m going to pass that up the chain of command.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Do you think the Primons told you the truth? About one of their kind going rogue in our galaxy?”

Jette didn’t blink. “I’d assume that’s the case, Admiral, and start preparing.”

Something beeped on Hartley’s end. “I’ll see you in two days, Jette. Gods know where all this is heading.”

“Roger that, Sir.” Jette closed the channel and turned to Riesga, sitting in the seat across from her that K’wari often occupied. Cosmo rested on her shoulder.

Jette nodded to the three black scoops of ice cream. “How long did it take them to shrink back to normal?”

“Uh … not long, Sir. All that energy that they soaked up was pretty much used up fighting with the gynoids during our escape.” She straightened in the chair. “Listen, Skipper, there’s something I need to tell about why I was —“

Jette held up a hand. “Lieutenant, I don’t know everything that happened back there. But I do know that the two of you saved a lot of people.” She smiled. “I’ll just have to live with that mystery.”

“Thanks, Skipper.” Cosmo wriggled. “From both of us.”

Jette reached for an opened bottle of honey-colored liquor and poured a bit into two glasses.

“Cosmo can stay on board. For now. I’ve got a pretty good idea how closely they’ve bonded with you now.” She pushed a glass across the table to Riesga. “Besides, with what’s coming, we’re gonna need all the help we can get.”

They both reached out and clinked their glass.

The end

Director's Commentary

Yes, we know that, technically, the March issue is nearly a month late. That’s on me, entirely. But, in my defense, there was a lot to wrap up in this issue. A lot to set up as well. The next Jette story is going to take us to some interesting and dramatic new places and we needed to lay the ground work for that here. On the bright side… the next issue will be coming out in a couple weeks! We hope you’ve enjoyed and we’ve got lots more fun on the way!

Related Blog Posts: Jette Jones #14 is Live!

8 Comments

  • avatar

    Vanderbilt

    A good finale. In my mind, there is an alternative edit in which the villains succeed in their cunning escape plan with Jette enslaved and subject to sexy brainwashing.

    • avatar

      callidus

      Thanks so much Vanderbilt! I’m really pleased to hear that as I had very much hoped Valinore voicing her plans for Jette might set the imagination to stirring 😉

  • avatar

    Meisterarch

    Wow, what an exciting conclusion 🙂 Hits of Star Trek, and Babylon 5, and excellent writing! The author really know their Science Fiction, and their erotic mind control too 🙂 Cannot wait for the next one. Bravo!!!

    • avatar

      callidus

      Thank you so much! We were aiming for maximum excitement so I’m very thankful to hear that. We’ll have more very soon so stay tuned!

  • avatar

    FLIP688

    I am a first-time commenter so I hope to be approved. I’ve loved reading your Jette Jones serials. Jette Jones #14 was particularly significant to me because it struck at the very birth of my fascination (fetish?) with mind control and, most especially, as to how it relates to dominant females in a science fiction setting. Valiore’s glowing/pulsing orb on the wall above her desk was vividly reminiscent of a similar mind control device used by Queen Cleolanta in the old Rocky Jones, Space Ranger serials of the 1950s. I was only 6 or 7 at the time, but as she used it on young Space Cadet Bobby and then tried to use it – unfortunately unsuccessfully – on Rocky himself, it burned indelibly into my psyche a thirst for such mind control shows/movies/stories. It was reinforced a few years later when as an adolescent I saw on TV the late 50s sci-fi flick Missile to the Moon. In it 3 men and a woman from earth land on the moon and encounter a previously undiscovered civilization of women living underground. The leader, known as The Lido, is whichever woman has the strongest will and is able to keep the other women in check. An ambitious woman named Alpha tries to challenge the Lido in a battle of wills but the Lido fends her off. When the people from earth arrive Alpha sees this as an opportunity to achieve her ambitions. She kills the Lido and uses her superior will to overcome the mind of the leader of the earthlings. I can recite almost all the dialogue from that scene from memory. I have seen much of the phraseology used by Alpha in mind control stories over the years – “my will is stronger than yours,” “you have no choice than to do my bidding,” “You must obey me; you WILL obey me.” That scene sealed the deal for me as far as female dominant space-based mind control. So Zeta, Zaleska, Valinore, et al, are all space villainesses that absolutely ring my chimes. And I am a big fan of “the heroine sometimes loses,” so I am 100% in support of Vanderbilt’s suggestion that “the villains succeed in their cunning escape plan with Jette enslaved and subject her to sexy brainwashing.” Keep the good stuff coming!

    • avatar

      callidus

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m delighted to hear that you’ve enjoyed our Jette Jones series! While connie and I have many influences that work their way into our tales, without doubt, the catalyst for these stories was Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and Queen Cleolanta.

      As I recounted many years ago , I stumbled across an image that called to mind the very scene from Rocky Jones you’re talking about. That was when I first started thinking about a serial sci-fi/space opera kind of story. In time, I created a heroine character and decided to give her a name that would be a tip of the cap to the source material that inspired her. Jette Jones, Star Ranger was born.

      When connie and first began collaborating I gave her Missile to the Moon to watch because I, also, adore that iconic scene between Alpha and Steve. Zeta’s name is a nod to Alpha. Her being a queen is a nod to Cleolanta.

      There are plenty of influences from film, TV and books that work their way into our tales but without a doubt you’ve hit upon two of the biggest. The earliest concept of Jette Jones was meant to pay homage to those terrific sci-fi serials/movies and the smoldering mind control they featured.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • avatar

    FLIP688

    I am delightfully blown away! I have never encountered anyone else who were even familiar with the Rocky Jones series and the Missile to the Moon film, let alone were also inspired by their female dominated mind control scenes as I was. I felt an “I am not alone” giddiness mildly akin to what Jodie Foster’s character in Contact felt when she first heard the mathematical based signals from the Vega system. Believing I was “alone” I made neither the “Jones” connection nor the Alpha/Zeta connection. That is so very cool that you worked both connections into your stories. I’m curious to know what other TV shows (e.g.,James T. Kirk had a couple of encounters) and movies have been inspirations for each you and Connie. In the meantime, I look forward to Queen Zeta doing some real mind controlling (and subsequent “fun”) with Jette in Dark Wedding, more than just coercing her as she did with Diamanti in Slaves of the Suzerain. You two rock!

    • avatar

      callidus

      I can say with certainty that Star Trek TOS has been an influence for both of us. Speaking for myself, the sexy 70s Buck Rogers was a big inspiration to do a space vampire tale. 1980s Flash Gordon is another film that I think of often. The Rock of Epsilon owes a bit of something to Outland. And, of course, the original Buster Crabbe Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials.

      I’ve read enough sci-fi over the years that Asimov, Heinlein and Herbert are always finding their way into our stuff. And, of course, our erotic mind control influences come from similar authors: tribly else, Tabico, Iago, Eye of Serpent and so forth.

      Thanks for reading and for all the kind words!

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