[Posted to alt.games.wing-commander April 17, 1997]
Zelda's lucky dice must have been working overtime, because the landing systembypassed the main flight deck and brought me in on a secondary strip. Exceptfor a couple of Black Lance techs working on a Dragon, the hangar was deserted.Perhaps everyone was preparing for the big ceremony.
I spotted an empty service bay far from the techs and parked inside. An auto-server trundled out of its recess and began working on my fighter. I left myhelmet and flight suit hidden in the cockpit and jumped down to program thehuge droid. It was a model similar to the ones I'd used at Angel's covertbases in the Kilrah system; I quickly punched fuel, ten IRs, and a wash & wax.
OK, my escape was covered. I activated the microcam, stuck it in my belt, anddrew my silenced stun pistol. Time to do a little exploring.
Moving cautiously, I crept toward the back of the bay, where an open hatchbeckoned. I peeked through, ready to draw back at the slightest alarm. Thehatch led to a magazine filled with rows and rows of autodispense munitionsbins. Since it seemed deserted, I slipped through the hatch and beganwandering among the bins. I came across several droids, but they ignored meand went about their tasks.
It occurred to me that one of the tickle weapons would be powerful evidenceagainst the Black Lance. I stopped at several of the bins and queried theirAIs. Unfortunately, I found only the usual IR missiles, mines, small arms, andso on. One dispenser, however, refused to divulge its contents. Curious, Igot up on tiptoe, reached over the edge, and felt around. Hmm, cylindricalobjects of some kind. Metallic. I got my fingers around one--
Footsteps coming around the bin! Without thinking, I grabbed one of thecylinders and swung it just as a Black Lance tech turned the corner! Clunk!He dropped like a rock. Whew, that was close!
I looked curiously at my improvised weapon. It was a green half-meter cylinderwith a yellow logo that read "PAL! EXTREM--" JESUS CHRIST! Instinctively Idropped the cylinder like a hot potato, then grabbed desperately for it,juggling it to keep it from hitting the deck--got it! Whew! Trembling aftermy close call, I gingerly returned the bioagent container to its bin. Then Ifelt myself to verify that all my, er, parts were still normal.
I dragged the unconscious superman behind a bin of space mines. Nobody wouldfind him there. I turned to continue my search--and stopped dead in my tracks.
I had stumbled on the Mother Lode!
Pizza! Stacks and stacks of pizzapaks! Row after row, rack after rack, pakafter pak. Dozens of paks--hundreds! A bonanza! Mouth agape, I fell to myknees. Praiseth Jehovah, who causeth manna to appeareth in the wilderneth...
I slapped myself mentally. No time for this crap! In a frenzy, I grabbed anarmfull of pizza and hauled it back to my Dragon. I stuffed the belly spacefull of pizza, and then I filled the cockpit stowage, and then I forced morebehind inspection panels and into the recesses of the landing gear. I hauledload after load. From a juice vending machine I found along the way, I tookdozens of cans of liquid refreshment. When I finished, my ship was carryingnearly four dozen pizzapaks and as many cans of assorted fruit juices. Tiredbut happy, I leaned wearily against the port landing gear and guzzled two cansof apple juice. This should get me off the hook for abandoning Willful's foodcanister!
I tossed the cans into a nearby recycler. OK, Blair, good haul. Time to go.Put on your flight suit and--Whoops! Nearly forgot the Black Lance! Heh heh.
I made my way back to the unconscious superman in the magazine. If I wanted toexplore any more of this starbase, I'd need a Black Lance unif-- Oh, shit!This guy was at least a head taller than me. I'd stick out like a sore thumbin his uniform.
Wait! More footsteps! I took out my stun pistol and waited in ambush. Zap!Zap! I pulled my two new victims behind the bin. Maybe one of-- Oh hell,they were even taller than the first one. Fuck! For the first time in my lifeI wished I weren't so damn short!
Wait, more footsteps...
Twenty minutes later, I had a pile of unconscious Black Lancers behind the binand still no uniform. I had to admit defeat. Damn, Maniac would never let mehear the end of-- Hey, someone else coming! I could see the newcomer's shadowagainst the far bin... Yes! My height! Thank you, God!
Wait for it... Now! I jumped out and zapped him--no, her! Shit, a woman!Oh, very funny, God!
I paced back and forth, knowing what I had to do but trying desperately tothink of an alternative. There was none. Now that I thought about it, Irealized that I'd never pass for one of the tall cookie-cutter purebredsanyway, even if I had a uniform that fit. My only chance was to pose as one oftheir "mongrel" female groupies. Gritting my teeth, I knelt by my victim--hername tag read simply "Heather"--and started removing her clothes.
Actually, once I got going, it wasn't so bad. As I applied the Depil-8 fromHeather's makeup kit to my beard, memories came flooding back. My deardeparted Angel had been an incredibly inventive lover with an inexhaustiblerepertoire of sex games. In several of them, she would take perverse delightin dressing me up as a woman.
Expertly applying the girl's cosmetics, I recalled fond memories of makingmyself up for one of Angel's favorites, "Naughty Teenage Sisters." I strippedoff my own uniform and put on the groupie's heavily padded bra--shit, I neededmore padding. I raced to a nearby munitions bin and requisitioned several handgrenades...yes, stuffed into the bra, they gave me a perfect figure! I removedHeather's tiny black silk panties and held them longingly... No, I'd nevermanage to pack in my, er, equipment; I'd have to go with my own underwear.
The girl's blonde wig was a perfect fit. Admiring my reflection in her handmirror, I wondered why Angel had never liked me as a blonde. Maybe she wasjust jealous--I looked pretty good. I wriggled into Heather's tailored blackuniform and checked the mirror again. Yeah, the high collar and long hairconcealed my adam's apple and thick neck. A few quick strokes of the eyebrowpencil to camouflage my fuzzy brows, and I was all set. Oh, wow, I looked evensexier than I had in Angel's "Lesbian Nazi Interrogator" game!
I forced my feet into the pointed high-heel jackboots and stood up. They werecramped, but I wouldn't be wearing them long--I hoped. My trimmed fingernailsand hairy hands would never pass for female, so I jammed them into Heather'sskintight gloves. I put on her cap and secured the microcam to it with ahairpin--yeah, in the mirror it was almost invisible. The uniform was a weebit loose at the hips and incredibly tight at the waist, but the overalleffect was acceptable. I picked up my victim's clipboard, shouldered hersurprisingly heavy purse, and adjusted my "breasts." Imitating Angel's boldbut feminine stride, I set off to find my answers.
After half an hour of wandering the station's corridors, I was no closer to theidentity of the Black Lance leader. I had, however, learned a few things abouthis organization.
For one thing, these guys seemed addicted to spit and polish. Every deck wasspotless; every fitting gleamed. It reminded me of the Concordia under old"spic & span" Tolwyn; the old man was a fanatic about such things. He'd triedthe same policy on the Victory, but he'd met his match in Rachel Coriolis.While openly complying with his demands, she'd orchestrated a clandestine webof sabotage that kept his uniforms dirty, his food cold, and his cabin filthyand smelly. I'd always suspected he was secretly relieved when his Behemothfailed and he could get away from the Victory.
The other thing I noticed was the prevailing attitude toward women. Everycorridor I traversed was a gauntlet of leering Lotharios and groping hands. Atall costs I had to keep the amorous Black Lancers away from my crotch and bogusbosom, which left my poor butt undefended. I tried to maintain the coquettishsmile and flirtatious manner I'd noted in the other Black Lance groupies, butafter about the hundredth pinch I lost it and decked the creep. He justpicked himself up, grinned and said, "Whatta bitch! You're mine tonight,Heather!"
I glared at him as he swaggered off. This did not bode well for my sisters--er, the women--on 36-24-36. I hadn't seen such horny bastards since thatMarine outfit in the Firekka System.
My boobs had slipped a bit in the excitement, so I hurried to the nearestrestroom to--Whoops! Wrong room, Blair! I hastily backed out of the spartanroom labeled "Supermen" and slipped through the adjoining door bearing the"Bitches" sign.
Inside, I stopped in surprise. Holy smoke! The place was huge! To the leftof the door was a lounge with plush chairs and couches, and a selection ofbooks and magazines. To the right I saw a hypermedia room with holovids,music, and computer consoles. A dark-haired woman, wearing only a towel,passed me and went through a door marked "Jacuzzi." Two more walked by theother way, wearing sports outfits and carrying squash racquets.
Jeez, no wonder they always took so long in the bathroom!
A couple of groupies at the sinks were eyeing me curiously--I was holding theclipboard over my name tag--so I quickly slipped into one of the stalls. Iactually had to go, but at the sight of the intricate control panel on theautotoilet, I changed my mind. I'd just have to wait until I could use theless complex men's model. Instead, I listened in on the two groupies'conversation while I adjusted my artificial bosom.
"So, Trixie," said one, "how'd you like your first week as a Black Lancette?"
"Ooooo," gushed her companion. "It's everything you said it would be, Jean--er, I mean, Tiffany. The men are so big and strong and handsome...and CLEAN!"She giggled. "And they can't keep their hands off me! And the PRESENTS! Boy,this sure beats walking the streets of Port Aphrodite!"
"Told ya," replied Tiffany. "Best thing that happened to me since I lost myjob after the War. And this is just the beginning. These guys are going tothe top, and we're going with 'em!"
"Only problem is," said Trixie in annoyance, "all this padding...and my wignever stays right. And--mpphh!--this uniform is so tight at the waist! Iswear, I'm gonna get implants, and liposuction, and--"
"Don't jump the gun, kid. My date last night said he heard a rumor we're allgonna get some kind of high-tech makeover--we won't need this crap after that."
No, they wouldn't need any artificial enhancement after a dose of PAL bioagent.Evidently its existence wasn't common knowledge among the Black Lance.
Their conversation was interrupted by the overhead speaker. "ATTENTION! Fiveminutes to assembly. Our Leader will speak in five minutes!"
"Oooo!" squealed Trixie. "I'm all goosebumps!"
"Come on," urged her companion. "Let's go get a good spot!" I heard themleave, their high heel boots clicking on the deck.
I waited a moment to be sure the coast was clear before emerging from my hidingplace. Out in the corridor, I waited for a group of Black Lancers to pass,then followed them at a discreet distance.
Presently we came to a large meeting hall. Inside, hundreds of Black Lancerswere already standing around and talking excitedly. Their groupies wereclustered in a small knot near the front, looking like a reunion of the SwedishBikini Team. I kept to the back, well away from them; they were more likelythan the males to spot me as an intruder.
The event was being covered by several holocams, no doubt carrying the big showto every outpost in the Theorem System. They panned around the hall to catchthe crowd's building excitement. I felt it as much as anyone--maybe more.After weeks of fruitless speculation, I was about to learn all the answers.
Suddenly a man strode onto the stage and the crowd went wild. Everyone beganwaving their arms and chanting "Thee-ther! Thee-ther! Thee-ther!" So thiswas the mysterious Theether Hulk had told us about. I got up on tiptoe andtried to see over the shouting Black Lancers. Hey! It was the bar fighterfrom Nephritis 2--and the Lexington! So he and Theether were one and the same!Judging by the crowd's reaction, he must be pretty high up in the Black Lance,perhaps even second in command.
Theether held up his hands, and the onlookers gradually quieted. He stepped upto the podium and surveyed the hall for a moment before speaking. Even now, atthis triumphal moment, his voice was still cold and harsh.
"Today, finally, you will meet the man behind the Great Plan...the benefactorwho championed our kind, fought valiantly for our ideal, and united our breed.Today I reveal what until now I've had to keep locked in my heart. Gentlemen,I give you...OUR LEADER!"
More waving of arms. More chanting. "Lea-der! Lea-der! Lea-der!" Throughthe forest of raised fists, I caught a glimpse of a man advancing to the podiumfrom the shadows at the back of the stage. He was wearing a fashionable blackcape, which he held, Dracula-style, over the lower half of his face. I couldsee, however, that his hair was white and close-cropped, just like Tolwyn's.Whew, what a relief! At least it wasn't Paladin! Hmm, but who in the SRAbesides Tolwyn had white hair?
The guy stole up to the podium and posed for a moment, prolonging the suspenseas long as possible. Then he whipped the cape aside and at last stood openlybefore his followers. As one, the Black Lancers stopped chanting and gasped inastonishment.
Unfortunately, I was unable to see his face. Bobbing and weaving to see aroundthe upraised arms, I could just make out a Black Lance uniform with a stylizedred and yellow "T" on the chest. Now what could that stand-- JESUS CHRIST!IT WAS TOLWYN!
A roar went up from the crowd. Shaking their fists more enthusiastically thanever, they chanted "Tol-wyn! Tol-wyn! Tol-wyn!" A triumphant smile on hisface, the Admiral basked in their approbation.
I was shaken to the core. Throughout our long feud, and despite all ourdisagreements over his methods, I had never doubted Tolwyn's loyalty to hisrace. Yet here he was, proud traitor to all we had fought so hard to preserve.Theether's blade could not have wounded me more deeply.
Finally, Tolwyn held up his hands for silence, and the crowd gradually hushed.Leaning forward, he gripped the podium and earnestly began his big speech.
"Oh, my brothers!" he began. "As you know, nearly three decades ago a fewoutstanding Confederation officers were asked to supply genetic material fora secret project. That project was, of course, the G.E.D. What you don't knowis that among the contributors was a certain young officer by the name of...Geoffrey Tolwyn!"
Amid gasps from the audience, Tolwyn pressed on. "Yes, my brothers! We sharethe same biological essence! We are ONE!"
Electrified, the Black Lancers punched the air and shouted "Woof woof woof!Against my will, I found myself doing the same. Tolwyn was a mesmerizingspeaker.
Tolwyn waited for the crowd to quiet. "In the fullness of time, I attained arank which made me privy to the secret of the G.E.D.--and I discovered mybrethren. Imagine my despair, then, when I learned that the program was to beterminated, and my new-found family scattered to the four winds!"
"No!" "Boo!" "Stinking Confeds!" I booed along with the rest, marveling atthe way Tolwyn was manipulating my emotions.
When the jeers had died down, the Admiral continued. "Fortunately, as the manin charge of Project Behemoth--and later the SRA--I was able to divert enoughresources to rectify Confed's mistake!" He spread his arms, symbolicallyencompassing the starbase and all the other installations in the system.
What? Was that the reason for the fatal delay in Project Behemoth? My God,Tolwyn had undermined his own secret weapon! How many thousands had paid withtheir lives for its failure?
Again, Tolwyn had to wait for the tumult to die down. "For even then, mybrothers, I had a plan! A plan to fulfill our destiny as overlords of thegalaxy." He dropped the rabble-rousing tone for a moment and assumed themanner of a schoolteacher. "So tell me, brothers, what do you think is the keyto this plan, the secret of galactic power?"
"Ultraviolence!" yelled one Black Lancer. "No, superior intelligence!"cried another. Others shouted their own suggestions. "Surprise!" "Fear!""Ruthless efficiency!" One groupie got completely carried away and yelled out,"Boobs!"
Tolwyn smiled indulgently and shook his head. "You're all wrong. The key topower in the modern galaxy is...superior entertainment!"
The Black Lancers around me were looking at each other in bewilderment. Ididn't blame them. It sounded like the old coot had finally flipped.
The Admiral drew himself up to his full height. "Hard to believe? Well,consider THIS! All of the largest, wealthiest industrial conglomerates in thegalaxy are based on entertainment! Dizzy Enterprises! Origami Systems!Nanosoft! The list goes on! People today are starved for amusement. As aconsequence, the entertainment industry is bigger than the next two businesssectors combined!"
He had them again. Woof woof woof woof!
Tolwyn shushed the crowd so he could continue. "And what, my brethren, is theone indispensible element of superior entertainment?"
"Good scripts!" "Superior acting!" "Special effects!" "Music!" "Boobs!"
The Admiral was smiling again. "Wrong again. I'll give you a hint. Thelargest entertainment empire of them all began with a single blockbuster story.That story was NOT called 'Star PEACE!'"
Oh, Jesus, he was talking about Lu--
"That story," he thundered, "is now in its ninety-seventh episode--not countingSpecial Editions, Revised Editions, Director's Cuts, and Special Collector'sEditions! Its cumulative receipts exceed the Gross Domestic Product of theConfederation! And do you know why? Because, as its very title proclaims,it's based on conflict! The one indispensible element of every good story!"
Woof woof woof woof!
I shouted and punched the air with the others. My God, this was exciting!Someone down in front started a wave; when it reached me I threw up my armswith the others and squealed in an imitation girlie voice. Gee, I hadn't hadso much fun in-- Oops! Er, what degenerates these Black Lancers were!
Tolwyn gestured impatiently for quiet. "Yet less than two years ago, thisseemingly invincible juggernaut was eclipsed by an even bigger story: 'BlairWars III: Return of the Tiger!' The saga of the Kilrathi War broke everyearnings record in the book! And do you know why? Because it was taken fromREAL LIFE!"
Ohmygod! I saw where this was heading...
"Now, my brothers, now do you see why we provoke war with the Border Worlds?First we fight the war, THEN WE SELL THE STORY! We'll make billions! Butthat's just the beginning! Think of the residuals! The sequels! Animatedspinoffs! The MERCHANDISING! Black Lance action figures! Games! Cuddlylittle Tolwyn dolls!"
Woof woof woof woof!
Tolwyn was sweating now as he whipped his men into a lather. "None of theother conglomerates can compete with REAL war! We'll crush them! And whenwe've milked every last credit out of this war...WE'LL DO IT AGAIN! We'llfinish the job on those pathetic Kilrathi! We'll conquer the other knownraces. And if those bogeymen, the Mantu, really exist, we'll take them down,too!" In an oratorical frenzy, Tolwyn pounded on the podium. "Yes, mybrothers, for humanity THE PRICE OF ENTERTAINMENT IS ETERNAL CONFLICT!"
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!
The noise in the hall was deafening. Drained after his rabble-rousing speech,Tolwyn wiped his forehead with a handkerchief and waved to his screaming fans.The din redoubled when he walked over to Theether, took his hand, and raised itin triumph.
I just stood there, fury rising within me. That bastard! Thousands of liveslost, all so these jerks could make a buck! Thanks to that gibbering baboon upon the stage, I'd been dragged away from my home and loved ones, shot at,villified, and starved nearly to death! I flexed my cramped fingers inHeather's tight gloves. Oooo, I could just scratch his eyes out!
Theether waved his hands to shush the crowd. Tolwyn put away his handkerchiefand stepped back to the podium.
"Thank you, my brothers," he said. "I must leave shortly for the Lemma System,where I will rejoin the Vesuvius task force and return to Sol to deliver myreport. But before I go, we have time for a few questions." Hands shot intothe air. Tolwyn pointed to a Black Lancer in front. "Yes, brother?"
"Sir, your plan is brilliant, of course, and I look forward to enjoying thefruits of our struggle. But sir, will those fruits include...companionship?"
Tolwyn grinned. "I'm glad you brought that up. As you know, our own Lancetteshave worked valiantly to fill that role, despite their limited numbers andbiological shortcomings." He waved to the groupies, who giggled, waved, andblew kisses in return. "While I can't reveal the details at this time, sufficeit to say that in the near future Theether and I plan to provide you with themost exquisite 'companions'...by the planetful!"
Woof woof woof woof!
That was all I needed. My trusty microcam held enough evidence to hang Tolwyna dozen times over. I began edging unobtrusively toward the exit. It was myduty to get this information to the Dissembly and stop the killing. Besides, Istill owned stock in Lu--
A hand grabbed my upper arm. Behind me, a grating voice said, "Just where doyou think you're going, cutie?"
I froze in panic. Oh no, no, no! It was Lemonlips! He must have come withTolwyn! Jesus Christ, God, what did I ever do to you?
He pinched my behind and I jumped. "All this talk of companionship has got mein the mood, baby," he cooed. He spun me around and brought his lips close tomine. "What do you say we--" He stopped in shock. "You!" he hissed.
Without thinking, I swung my purse up as hard as I could, catching him justunder the chin. Clunk! His lights went out and he dropped to the deck. Thud!
In my best falsetto, I cried, "Vinny, you beast!" and ran off in a huff.Behind me, the Black Lancers shouted their approval.
"Haw haw! That's telling him, honey!"
"Atta girl, Heather!"
"Har har! That's how to handle a genetic mongrel, baby!"
As I left the hall, I heard Tolwyn calling out cheerily, "Catch you later!"followed by thunderous applause. Out in the corridor, I paused a moment tocalm down. Lemonlips should be out long enough for me to reach my ship, sothere was no need to arouse suspicion by hurrying. I forced myself to proceedat what I hoped was a leisurely pace.
Oh shit, an alarm! The jig was up! I took off as fast as my aching feet couldcarry me in those damn high-heel boots. Fortunately, the corridors were stilldeserted. Damn, which way to the hangar? I should have left breadcrumbs orsomething. Let's see, first a left, then a right...
I rounded a corner at full speed and nearly collided with a guard. Luckilyhe was facing away from me. My heart in my mouth, I yanked my silenced stunpistol out of my purse, pressed the muzzle against his body armor, and fired.
Shit, no effect! Maybe if I aimed between the body armor and the helmet...
The burly guard spun around. "What do you think you're doing, bitch?" hegrowled.
Panic, not necessity, is the mother of invention. I turned on my best southernbelle simper and squeaked, "Oh, suh, ah hope y'all weren't hurt when mah littleol' pistol just shot by itself, all accidental-like! Silly ol' me, ah justnever could get the hang of these thingies. Fiddle-dee-dee!" I fluttered myfalse eyelashes and acted all flustered.
The guard raised his visor and stared at me.
"Ah think there's somethin' all wrong with it," I continued, "but ah justcain't tell, all by mah lonesome. Could you-all take a look-see, hmm, you bighandsome clever man, you?" I held up the pistol for his inspection.
Grinning like an idiot, the Black Lancer lowered his rifle and squinted downthe barrel of my weapon.
Zap! Thud! He was out cold.
"Oooo," I squealed happily, "you fixed it!"
Yikes! Another guard behind me! I raised my hands and very carefully turnedaround. This one had his rifle aimed right between my eyes.
"Say your prayers, slut!" he gloated.
I closed my eyes and waited for death.
I opened my eyes.
The guard was still there, but he looked different somehow. It took me amoment to realize that the top of his helmet was now even with his shoulders.He remained upright an instant longer, then collapsed like a rag doll. Behindhim, gripping her purse with both hands, stood Doctor Evvin Lee Boddie!
"One less pig in the galaxy!" she declared. "Come on, girlfriend, they'reafter me! Let's get out of here!" She grabbed my hand and dragged me down thecorridor. "Can you fly one of their ships?" she asked.
I could only nod in reply. Not only was I still in shock from my narrowescape, but I was also fully under the spell of her supernatural beauty. Itseemed my "Zelda immunity" was only temporary.
Dr. Boddie paused at the next intersection, peered around the corner, andquickly drew back. "Guards!" she hissed. She squeezed us into a small utilityroom three meters back down the corridor.
"Rats!" she gasped. "I thought I'd disabled that damn alarm!"
I had just enough wits left to remember to speak in falsetto. "YOU set off thealarm, Doctor?" Whew, they weren't looking for me after all!
She nodded. "That's right...Heather. I just couldn't go on. You see, theyforced me to develop a bioweapon, one that turns people into--"
"Centerfolds. I know."
She looked surprised. "How did you-- Well anyway, they must have found outmonths ago that I'd already perfected the PAL process on women--"
"I named it after the actress Pamela And--"
"I know who you mean." After all, who didn't know the Oscar-winning star ofthe classic action trilogy, "Barb Wire"/"Shane Link"/"Cindre Bloch?" She'dalso starred in some series about timepieces... Wristwatch? Stopwatch?
"That's why they kidnapped me, Heather," explained Dr. Boddie. "I was broughthere, set up with some stolen equipment, and forced to develop a PAL variantthat's highly contagious and works on BOTH sexes! It was too horrible! So Isaved my work on a data cartridge and wiped all the computer archives. I can'tlet them use PAL, even if it costs me my life!"
My God, she didn't know! As gently as I could, I told her. "Doctor, they'vealready used it...on a planet with over fifty thousand colonists. They have abin full of PAL agent in the magazine. I'm...sorry."
Dr. Boddie stared at me in horror. "Oh God, no!" She buried her head in herhands. "I just wanted to be beautiful!" she sobbed. "I just wanted all theattention that girls like you take for granted, Heather!"
I fished a WipeX out of my purse. Dr. Boddie dried her tears and threw thetissue to the deck. "So I developed PAL and then I used it on myself," shecontinued bitterly, "That's when I learned the truth. Beauty isn't a blessing,it's a curse! All the attention I got was from PIGS, like that filthy Gant,these barbaric clone men, and that moron flyboy on the Lexington!"
Yeah, Maniac made quite an impres-- Say what? She was infected with PAL? Irecoiled in terror. Oh God, I could feel it working on me already! I wasshriveling! My nipples were tingling! I slumped against the wall. I couldn'tbreathe...
Dr. Boddie slapped my cheek. "Hey! Girlfriend! Get a grip, girl, I used thenon-infectious form on myself! You're fine!"
"I am? I mean, of course I am! I knew it all the time, heh heh." I struggledto stand unaided. It was time I started acting like the Heart of the Heather--er, Tiger! "Come on, Doctor, we've got to get you to safety!"
She smiled at me and patted my cheek. "That's my girl!" Her eyes narrowed."Hey, wait a nano! Heather, are you related to the guy from--"
"No, I'm not!" I opened the door a crack and peeked out. No one in sight!
We burst out of the utility room and raced for the magazine. A patrol almostspotted us on the next deck, but we made it safely to the space mine autobin,where we stopped for a rest.
Gasping for breath, Dr. Boddie stared at the pile of unconscious Black Lancers,including the real--and naked--Heather. "What the hell!" she exclaimed.
"Uh, beats me!" I lied. If she was so bitter toward men, I'd better keep upthe pretense of being a woman until we were safely away--especially since I'dhad a hand in her kidnapping. "Er, must be some kind of orgy, heh heh."
I stuffed my Union uniform into my purse--along with Heather's black silkpanties, heh heh--and dragged Dr. Boddie to her feet.
"Go, er, girlfriend!" I urged. "Through that hatch at the end! I'll coveryou!" I waited for her to get a head start, then followed. Yes! We weregoing to make--
Whoops! I took a misstep in my high heels and went sprawling. Dr. Boddieheard me and started back to help.
Just then a guard stepped out from behind a munitions bin. He was between us,closer to me. Dr. Boddie screamed and ran. I jumped to my feet and drew mystun pistol. Too late! The guard whirled and fired an autoburst at her. Oneof the blasts caught Dr. Boddie square in the back, and she went down.
"Noooo!" I screamed shrilly. I ran at the guard, firing like a madman. Zap!Zap! Zap! No effect against his armor! I tossed the useless weapon aside andgripped my purse in both hands. My opponent spun and brought up his rifle,but I was already on him. Thud! Thunk! Clunk! I bashed him senseless, thenstood over his prostrate body and viciously kicked him in the groin. "I amWoman, pig! Hear me roar!"
I rushed to Dr. Boddie and knelt beside her. She was still alive! I draggedher behind a bin and propped her up against it. She shuddered and coughed upblood. Shit, she didn't have much time!
Dr. Boddie opened her eyes and painfully pointed to the pocket of her lab coat."Take this," she wheezed. "It's all my work...including...the PAL vaccine."
I fished out a data cartridge. "Vaccine? You finished it?"
She smiled weakly. "Didn't...tell them. They're still...waiting. Won't gonear...that colony...without it." She coughed up more blood. "K-kiss me,Heather," she whispered. "Let me taste...a woman's lips...just once..."
I grabbed the breath freshener from Heather's purse and gave myself a spritz.After gently wiping away Evvin Lee's blood, I pressed my lips to hers. I triedto kiss her the way my Angel had kissed me in her tenderest moods.
"Mmmm," she sighed, when I drew back. "Soft...not like...a man..."
Yeah, not like-- Hey! I wasn't THAT soft!
Her head slumped onto her chest. She was gone.
Sick at heart, I closed her eyes and carefully laid her out on her back.That's another one I owe you, Tolwyn.
Time was running out. Expecting more guards at any minute, I sprinted for theservice bay. A quick check...OK, the coast was clear. I changed into my ownuniform, struggled into my flight suit, and vaulted into the cockpit.
I was nearly done with preflight when I heard footsteps on the ladder. A blackvisored helmet suddenly popped up next to me!
I slumped in resignation. So this is it, eh, God? You were just toying withme, weren't you?
The guard raised his visor and urgently tapped me on the shoulder. "Hey,Gomer! You seen a knockout blonde biochemist running around here?"
"Well? Did you?" he persisted.
Hesitantly, I replied, "Uhhh...yes?"
He quivered with eagerness. "Well quick, man, which way did she go?"
I gestured vaguely across the flight deck. "Er, that way?"
"Thanks, Gomer!" He slid down the ladder and took off like a rocket.
I shook my head, wondering if the G.E.D. program was really all it was crackedup to be. Judging by the imbeciles I'd met so far, it was just like any othergovernment program: oversold, over budget, and underperforming!
As I taxied onto the flight deck, alarms began going off all around me. Guardsand techs were pouring out of the service bays. No time for a textbook launch!I punched thrusters and aimed for the exit. The launch field lit my enginesand catapulted me into space before anyone could deactivate it.
My scope came alive with contacts. One Dragon popped up in front of me atpoint blank range; I took him out with two IRs. Four more were coming upbehind me, their pilots eager for the kill. I could race them to the jumppoint, of course, except that more Dragons were sure to be waiting for methere. No, I had to fight these guys here, and at four to one, I'd lose. They had me.
At least, that's what they thought. I smiled grimly. The "invincible" BlackLancers were in for a nasty surprise.
I cranked my Dragon up to full speed and hit autoslide.
At the Academy, I had always earned top grades in flight mechanics. Autoslide,however, had been developed years after I left school, and for some reason Icould never quite grasp the physics behind it. Try as I might, the conceptcontinued to elude me, no matter how hard I studied the subject.
In desperation, I even bugged Rachel about it one night after we had made love.After some coaxing, she grudgingly came fully awake and tried to explain it tome.
"You can't actually fly backwards in autoslide, Chris," she insisted. "Notreally. In N-dimensional space, the ship is still pointing in the directionof travel." Then she launched into a lecture laced with hypermathematicalequations. I'd taken math through transdimensional tachyonics, but herexplanation left me in the dust.
Sensing my frustration, Rachel adopted a different approach. "Here, lover, letme give you an analogy." Smiling mysteriously, she moved closer.
"OK, Chris, let's say normal flight is like the way we usually make love...sortof like this..." She began moving slowly and rhythmically against me.
"Mmmmmmm, that's nice, Rachel." I liked "normal flight."
"Good. Then think of autoslide as making love..." She began to twist her bodyin a way I wouldn't have believed possible. "...like THIS!"
"Ohmygod!" I yelped. "Oooooooh! Aiyeee! Whoooo! Woweee!" As our minds andbodies exploded together into the twelfth dimension, comprehension dawned on mewith the light of a thousand suns! For the first time in my life, I actuallyunderstood autoslide!
Unfortunately, the first time was also the last, because my hard-wonknowledge didn't survive our climax. Forever after, autosliding would triggerbittersweet memories of a treasure found...and lost.
Autosliding at 500 kps, I flipped my Dragon to put my pursuers in my sights.I was just in time; they were already blazing away at me. Running away,however, I badly outranged my pursuers, and one by one I battered down theirforward shields and forced them to break off.
The temporary respite was welcome, yet I couldn't relax. I had to keep themoff balance, lest they mount a coordinated attack. They knew who I was by now,so I set the comm for full visual and hit them with my most sophisticatedtaunts.
"Nyah nyah! You ca-an't kill me!"
"Die, inferior!" retorted one Black Lancer. An edge of frustration was alreadyin his voice.
Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Right on time. Two, three, FOUR missiles coming at me!I immediately activated cloak. Fired at angles of fifteen to twenty degreesfrom my autoslide path, the missiles had no hope of hitting me once they lostlock. I watched them pass harmlessly by, then decloaked.
"Hahaha!" I jeered. "Missed me, mutants! Niener niener niener!"
"Laugh while you can, monkey boy! You ARE the weaker!" The Black Lancerlaunched another missile at me.
"Die, inferior race!" This guy launched one, too.
Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! I yawned elaborately for their benefit, then cloakedagain. This time two Lancers tried closing in while I was cloaked, but Iuncloaked as soon as possible and beat them back with tachyons.
"Missed again!" I mocked. "Hey, Black Lancers! I bet in the sack you're justSLACK Lancers! Haha ha! Oh, I kill myself!"
"Aaaargh! Die, mongrel!"
Twice more they tried to close the range while I was cloaked, with the sameresult. Then I noticed one of them jockeying to fire his missiles directlyalong my flight path. At zero deflection, they'd hit me whether I cloaked ornot.
Well, I was ready for that. I switched to fusion cannon and pressed thetrigger. Target deflection: five degrees...four...three. Fusion charge:50%...75%...100%. Two degrees, 125%...one degree, 150%...my Dragon wasbeginning to shudder with the strain of containing the supercharge...zerodegrees! Whoom! A pair of ten-million-degree deuterium fireballs screamedback along my flight path. The fusion cannon were tricky to aim, but I wasfiring on a defined line of sight at zero deflection. I couldn't miss.
WHAM! The blast took out his shields and most of his forward armor. "Woohoo!"I crowed. "Give up, you bionic boobs?"
"Never! We ARE the stupider--er, the superior!"
For the next fifteen minutes I alternately taunted and blasted my pursuers.Driven by pride, yet increasingly frustrated by my tactics, they futilely firedmissile after missile after me.
"Hey, gene boy!" I jeered. "You know you're ninety-nine percent chimpanzee?Heeheehee!" I silently thanked Taysti for that little item of biotrivia.
"Die, Neanderthal! Die! DIE!" Sheesh, the poor guy was practically in tears.
"Yo, Frankenstein!" I yelled. "They stuck yer dick on backwards! Ha ha, madeyou look!"
Another pilot was so pissed he could hardly talk. "Y-your mother was am-monkey!"
"Oh yeah? YOUR mother was a test tube, and your father was a rubber! Hahaha!"
"Aaaargh!" He lit his burner and blazed right at me, only to walk into anotherfusion blast. WHAM! Kiss your port armor good-bye, you master disgrace!
I checked my AI, wincing again at Lemonlips' voice. Four targets, three withsubstantial armor damage, and all missiles fired. Time to turn the tables!
I punched the comm again. "You want a piece of me, super saps? Well, here Icome!" I toggled autoslide off and fired two IRs at the nearest Dragon.
Caught by surprise, he cloaked too late to avoid the first missile. WHAM! Ilatched onto his tail while he was still recovering from the impact. Screech!Screech! He was a difficult target in cloak, but I closed in and lashed himagain and again. Screech! Screech! KABOOM! Scratch one mutant!
I was still outnumbered, but my missiles more than evened the odds. In lessthan two minutes, the only surviving Black Lancer was fleeing for his life,pursued by my last IR. KABOOM!
"That's for Evvin Lee, you bastard!" I screamed.
I set my autopilot for the Axiom jump point and gratefully connected my reliefkit. As I relaxed for the first time in hours, my thoughts turned to thepickets waiting for me up ahead. If I wanted to see Intrepid again, I'd betterprepare something special for them.
It seemed the Black Lance was also looking forward to our next encounter; eightof them appeared on my scope while I was still skirting the last asteroid fieldbefore the jump point. They were arrayed in a rough hemisphere blocking mefrom my goal. Well, I expected no less.
A particularly fine specimen of the master race appeared on my comm screen.
"OK, Blair, we know it's you! You're out of missiles, runt, and we're readyfor your little autoslide trick. So give up like a good little subhuman, andwe may just give you a quick death!"
"Yeah," chimed in another. "There's no challenge in fighting you, primitive!"
Perfect. I took a moment to prepare myself, then replied in my best Br'erRabbit dialect.
"Well, Br'er Lancer, looks lahk y'all gots me. If ah gots t' go, ah gots t'go. Ah'm jes' glad yo' ain't gwine t' do dat bad t'ing t' me!"
The sadistic Black Lancers were intrigued. "Oh yeah? What bad thing is that,ape-man?"
I had 'em! "Well, y'all kin do mos' anyt'ing t' me yo' wants...jes' as long asy'all don' chase me inta dat dere asteroid belt place, ober dere."
"Hah! Thanks, mongrel, don't mind if we do!" The Black Lancers quickly spreadout to herd me in the direction of the asteroid field. I changed course tostay ahead of them, wobbling and wavering as if quivering with terror.
"Oh please, please, Br'er Lancer," I begged, "don' chase me dis way! Ah'mpow'ful 'fraid a' asp'roids! Ah'm agonna smash mahself fer sure! Please,please, jes' blast mah sorry ass, OK?"
"Not a chance, coward!"
"Hahahaha! Splatter, inferior!"
"Eat space rock, caveman!"
"One Neanderthal pancake coming up!"
OK, now for the best flying of my career. I searched the asteroids, lookingdesperately for the right combination--there! A large one, with a smaller onejust going into eclipse behind it. I activated my fusion cannon and pressedthe trigger. The charge began to build.
"Hahaha! The moron's gonna hit the biggest one in sight! What an inferior!"
I screamed with a fear that was only partly simulated. As if in panic, I hitreverse thrust, passed the big rock with a meter to spare, and headed straightfor its orbiting companion. Now in the big rock's sensor shadow, I blasted thesmaller one at point blank range. Heart in my throat, I prayed I'd deflectedit enough-- Yes! I missed it by a hair's breadth! It tumbled out of itsprimary's sensor shadow with a glowing crater on its face. I shuddered to astop, set engines to idle, and shut down all systems except passive sensors.
Having seen the flash and careening asteroid, my pursuers jeered in triumph.
"Hahahaha! The simian barely got into the belt!"
"What a dummy!"
"Not worth the energy from our blahsts!"
"Degenerate reflexes! Hahaha!"
"OK, well done, fellow supermen. Let's head back to base."
"Yeah, it's Miller time!"
I was getting their signals reflected from the surrounding rocks, but at thisdistance I could make them out clearly enough. I listened to their chatter fora while as they got further and further away. Presently, I stuck my nose outof the rock's EM shadow. Doppler on their transmissions indicated eight signalsources at max speed toward Black Lance HQ.
I could have waited, but I had to show up these arrogant bastards. I burstout from my cover and sprinted for the jump point on full afterburner, active sensors on max.
It didn't take long for the genetic geniuses to discover their mistake.
"Hey, wait! I got something on my scope!"
"Oh, shit, it's the prehuman! He's alive!"
"What? After him!"
They were chasing me on full burner, but my head start was insurmountable. Atthe jump buoy, I slowed to a crawl and commed them one last time. Thumbing mynose, I fired off my supreme taunt.
"Losers! Loooosers!! Loo-hoo-hoo-sers!!!" I flipped them a double bird andjumped.
Once in the Axiom System, I continued to monitor the jump point as I spedaway. Surprisingly, there was no activity. Perhaps the Black Lance were toodemoralized to pursue, or, more likely, they suspected an ambush on the Axiomside. In any case, the jump point remained quiet until it was out of sensorrange.
I was numb with fatigue by the time I neared the Union task force. I was alsohungry as hell, but I resisted the temptation to heat up one of my pizzas; agood meal would probably put me right to sleep. So I stoically ignored mystomach and tried to shut out the plaintive calls ("Eat me, Blair... I'm soooogood... Eeeeeeeat me...") from my tempting cargo.
I perked up when Intrepid appeared on my sensors. Not far now, Bl-- Hey! Atransport! Shuttles were transferring cargo to Intrepid and her escorts.Shit, I risked my life to bring back some decent food, and now I was upstagedby that damned Admiral Willful!
Sosa's lovely face appeared on the comm. "Welcome back, Chris! I'm glad Idon't have to light a candle for you. Did you find your answers?"
Again, I felt the stab of Tolwyn's betrayal. But something in Sosa's voicereached out to me, found the pain in my heart, and made it better.
"Y-yes I did, Velina. More than I bargained for. My God, it's good to seeyou! But hey, what's with the transport?"
"Oh. Union HQ sent us some replacement fighters and spare parts for the ships.No food, though. Sorry."
So I was going to be the hero after all. "That's OK, I've got pizza up thekazoo here."
Lt. Homes' face appeared on the comm. "Did somebody say PIZZA?" My AIidentified the source as one of Intrepid's shuttles. "Damn, Colonel, we'restarving here, and we won't be back on Intrepid for a couple of hours!"
Poor guys. "OK, Churlokk. Let's join up and I'll toss you a pak."
"Now you're talkin'!"
I reduced speed and set the autopilot. While the shuttle matched velocities, Imade sure my flight suit and cockpit were ready for vacuum. I popped thecanopy, pulled out a pizzapak, and prepared to frisbee it over to the shuttle.Homes' copilot was standing in the open hatch, ready to catch it.
"Here, let me nuke it for you," I offered. I punched the heater button and letfly. It was a perfect toss. As the spinning pizzapak neared the shuttle, itbegan to vibrate...
Something was wrong! The pizzapak suddenly veered off course and fixed itselfto the hull of the shuttle. Its vibration increased until it was nearlyinvisible.
"Eeyaahahahaha!" Hysterical laughter from the shuttle! OHMYGOD! They werebeing tickled! The "pizzapak" was really a ticklepak!
Whoosh! Homes ejected from the cockpit. The copilot, though nearly helplesswith laughter, managed to disengage his mag grapples and float free of theshuttle. The ship continued on course, now vibrating visibly itself.
Another shuttle was already approaching to retrieve the drifting survivors, butI was too shaken to follow the rescue. All I could think of was the forty-oddticklepaks stashed all over my fighter. One hit from the Black Lance couldhave set them off and sent me to a hilarious death! And now I had to land withthem still on board! Intrepid's landing field was notoriously glitchy...
Trembling uncontrollably, I carefully got back into my seat and closed thecanopy. As I began final approach, I was tempted to pray, but I suspected itwould be useless. God was probably too busy laughing his damn head off.
When I finally came to a stop in my service bay, I didn't wait for the ladder.I popped the canopy and leaped over the side as if the cockpit were infestedwith cobras. I picked myself up off the deck and carefully backed away.
Whoops! I nearly bumped into Zelda. I whirled and grabbed her shoulders.
"Zelda! Don't go near that fighter! It's loaded with--"
She patted my cheek reassuringly. "I know, Chris. I saw what happened to theshuttle. It's OK, we'll be careful." She smiled sympathetically. "My poorwonderful Blairbear! You thought it was pizza, and you were saving it all forus. I love you, dearest!"
Under her caresses, my fear vanished. Grateful beyond words, I grabbed her ina bear hug and smothered her face with kisses. Boy, was I glad to see her!
"Heehee! Easy, Blairbear!" she squealed. "Down boy! Eeeee, that tickles!Heel!" When I finally released her, she had to catch her breath before shecould speak.
"Whew! Rough mission, Honeyblair?"
I wiped my forehead and nodded wearily. "Zelda, it was one of the longest--"Thinking back on the mission, I had a sudden inspiration. Zelda knew as muchabout autoslide as Rachel, right? "Say, Zelda? You think you could explainautoslide to me some time? Er, without the math?"
Her smile grew bigger. "Sure I can, lover. Here, let me give you an analogy."She started to unzip her coveralls.
I hastily grabbed her hand to stop her. "Er, no, never mind," I said, my eyeson the grinning techs around us. "I just remembered I have to, ah, help Maniacwith his, er, French lessons." Ignoring the disappointment on Zelda's face, Ihurried off to the Wombat locker room. Jeez, was that how they taughtautoslide in tech school?
Behind me, I heard Barr exclaim, "Hey, Zelda! You have lipstick all over yourface!"
Previews from Chapter 28:
"Sir, we can't let this thing be used again! We just can't!"
"If Tolwyn makes it to Earth ahead of us, full-scale civil war is inevitable."
"No, Hulk! We can't use terror weapons!"
"I guess betrayal has become a habit with you, hasn't it...renegade?"