The Journal Entries

Anar, Nenim 14, 01040

The Kemper Assignment

"Mommy, are you going away?" Ayna Kaffar looked down at her four-year-old daughter who held herself up to the bed with her two small paws digging, probably claws first, into the calico bedspread. Her eyes scanned over the tiny form carefully, taking in the black fur with the two wide stripes running down each side of the spine, the bushy tail sprinkled with white strands giving it a soft, greyish appearance. Ayna wondered momentarily if such close examination was caused by her fear that she might never see Miyako again, or by her slipping back into that mental mode she used for the work she did.

"Only for a little while, honey," Ayna said, reaching down to stroke Miyako's headfur softly. "Mommy has a job to do."

"Oh," the little Mephit said softly. "What do you do?"

Ayna paused for a second, wondering exactly what it was she did do. She also debated telling a four-year-old about it. A deeper voice saved her from her quandary. "Mommy is a diplomat, Miya."

"Daddy!" Miyako cried, running over and giving the tall, black MelFelinzi standing in the doorway a hug. "What's a diplomat?"

"Well," he replied calmly, "That means that Pendor has to talk to other planets, for trade and to prevent wars. And when things are going to get really bad, they call Mommy to try and fix them, because she the best there is at her job."

"Oh! I see!"

Ayna wondered if she really did, but she smiled tolerantly. "Miyako. Go and play, would you? Mommy and Daddy have something to talk about."

"Okay!" The child, with all the energy a child could muster, bounced out into the hall-way and down the stairs. They both watched her leave.

"Kandor..." Ayna said softly. "I'm sorry."

The MelFelinzi crossed the room and wrapped his arms tightly around her. "Just tell me, when it's over, that it was worth it, Ayna. Tell me that they had to make you do it, and that nobody else would suffice."

She laid her head upon his shoulder and sighed, closing her eyes. Her hand tightened on his waist, gripping him. She admitted to herself that she never wanted to let him go. "I will. It bothers you, doesn't it?"

"It doesn't bother me what you do, Ayna. It's another part of the Pendorian game, that's all. I just want you back. Forty years is a long time together, and they know you've got a child now. It's not right for them to call you.

Ayna nodded. "I told them. They said there was nobody else who could do the job the way I could. I could still say no, but anyone else would likely get killed doing it."

"Ayna," Kandor sighed. "You could get killed doing it."

"No," she said. "I can't get killed. I'll make it. I can't even let thoughts of failure in." She looked into his eyes and smiled, then pulled him close. "I love you."

"I love you too, Ayna." He leaned down to kiss her.

Ayna felt something solid between them, and reached out to touch him there. "One more time, ea coimelin, before I go?"

Kandor reached down and in one sweeping motion lifted her from the floor and into his arms. "One more time," he said.

They always fall asleep, Ayna thought as she slowly worked her way out from under the covers. Even Kandor wasn't immune to the sleepiness that took men over after lovemaking. Not that he should be, he was just as organic as any mel. That they had been in love for nearly half of her life didn't make that basic biological fact change one iota.

She slipped out of the house wearing only a modest blue skirt and white blouse, carrying nothing to give her destination away. She passed several people on the dusty road through town, and some recognized her, and some she called friends, but any that tried to involve her in some bit of gossip or conversation she apologized to and passed by. She supposed that she had the time to talk to them, but she didn't really feel like talking right then.

The sun shone down as she walked towards the edge of town, and the birds flitting in the late spring air depressed her. She had never been afraid to die before, had never feared her own loss of continuity. But the idea that she might never see Miyako smile as a bird alighted on her finger frightened her like nothing she had ever experienced before.

She took the road out of town, walking on the dirt path that led to the main town SDisk. The walk took only an hour, and when she found the white tree that heralded the presence of an outlying SDisk, she sighed. "Goodbye, for now, Ayna," she said to herself. Stepping on the SDisk, she said "Ayna Kaffar. I have a reservation."

"I bet you do," a voice behind her said as she appeared in the standard mission briefing room where all these jobs had begun, a grey room about eight meters on a side, carpeted and with a large monitor display on the opposite wall. Behind the slate-grey table that dominated the center of the room stood a tall, white-furred Uncia. "How's domestic life been treating you, Ayna?"

"Hello, Dumitru," she replied, insuring that she got the pleasantries out of the way before dealing with her commander. "This case had better be worth it. I told you not to call me for the next two decades, damn you."

"I'm sorry, Ayna, I really am. It's not my call. Joshua assured me that nobody but you could pull this job off and have a better than 90% chance of coming out."

"How much better?" Ayna asked, suspiciously.

"Ninety-three," Dumitru replied. Then he scowled. "Plus or minus six."

"So... eighty-seven, then."

Dumitru nodded. "You'll like the case, Ayna, believe me. How's Kandor?"

"He's fine. We were going to be celebrating our forty-first anniversary soon."

"And Miyako? How are you finding motherhood?"

Ayna smiled. "It's very nice, Dumitru. I'm enjoying myself. I went through the entire procedure without being tempted to use my capabilities for a single moment, and I must say the process was interesting."

"Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Absolutely," she said. "Watching Miya grow up has been something... special. Besides, I know you follow my movements pretty closely, so you must know how Kandor and Miya are doing."

Dumitru nodded. "I still don't see what you see in that flake."

Ayna shrugged, grinning. "I love him. He's my flake."

"Well, I'm glad you're doing well. I want to tell you this, Ayna. If you back out of this job, I'll understand. You have a family now. There will be no censure, and I won't call you again until Miya graduates."

"But you'll be sending in someone not qualified to do the job."

"Less qualified," Dumitru corrected her. "You're just the best, Ayna. We can't escape that fact."

She nodded. "I know," she sighed. "It's just..."

"You love your job," Dumitru said.

"I do!" she said. "Okay, Dumitru, I'm in. What's the job?"

"Kemper Al-Pourreine." Dumitru said the name flatly and without emphasis, but Ayna's eyes went wide at the mention. He smiled finally, and nodded. "We have an in."

"This doesn't have anything to do with the Elohim scandal, does it?"

"You know about that?" Dumitru asked.

"You spooks live in a cave," Ayna said. "It's been all over the news, Dumitru."

Dumitru bit his muzzle in concern. "I don't know if that makes my job easier or not. Anyway, what makes you think this has anything to do with the Elohim case?"

"Well, aside from your giving it away," she smiled, "It is the only big thing in the news right now. What's the profile?"

Dumitru grinned. "You're not going to like that. Al-Pourreine is the final buyer for Gabrielle Elohim. You're going in as her. Here's the deal. We think it's an ego thing, and we know the client has dealt as a MISFit in the past, but only with non-Pendorian stock. This is a big deal for him; you know how much he hates Pendor. From what we know of his tastes and from the chances he's taking in procuring a Pendorian..."

She nodded. "Full spectrum?"

"He likes boys," Dumitru replied. "I don't think he'll damage you. He will want you medically perfect, just so he can ruin you over and over."

"Great," Ayna said, the sarcasm rich in her voice. "How long?"

"As long as it takes you to plot an escape. If he has any 'master plan'..."

"I know. I have to torture myself by listening to him talk about it."

"You always were good at that sort of thing, Ayna. Are you ready to take tape?"

Ayna paused for a moment. "I think so. I don't get to interview my subject, do I?"

"No; we can't get her here fast enough without raising suspicion, no matter how dark we make the operation. You know as well as I how many listening posts surround Pendor, just waiting for the opportunity to give us a bad day."

She nodded. "Okay, I'm ready."

"Kami's waiting for you in lab two."

Ayna nodded and made for the door. She'd made this walk a dozen times before, and she knew the way. Down the hallway, make a right. Second door on the left.

"Hi, Ayna."

Ayna smiled to the cheerful android, then gave her a hug as they closed. "Hiya, Kami."

"You wanna keep this one, right? Just like the last three times?"

"That's right," Ayna said. "And don't fix the stretch marks, ok?"

"Ok," Kami agreed. "Now, come in here, and let's get started."

Ayna followed Kami into the surgery.

Ayna spent the next eight hours acclimating herself to her new body. The sensations were more intense than usual, probably because of the reduced surface area. She turned them down. Her balance had been off, initially, and was still being thrown by the shifted weight of having her hips narrowed to girlish dimensions, not to mention lacking anything more than small nipples.

"What's your name?" Dumitru called out as Ayna practiced in the gym.

"Gabrielle Elohim."

"Full name,"

"Gabrielle Carioch Satpulov Shardik Elohim."

"Where were you born?"

"On the starship The Rat's Success."

"Your parent's names?"

"Denielle Satpulov Shardik and David Carioch Elohim."

"Your grandparents' names?"

"Ken Shardik. Aaden Satpulov. Rowan Majors. P'nyssa Traken. Samuel Elohim. Jessica Carioch."

"Did you grow up on Pendor?"

"No," Gabrielle replied. "I grew up on ship. My best friends were Lance Masters and Tasha Reah, David's navigator."

"What did you do with Tasha?"

"Girl things. Games, stuff like that. She was always getting me involved in the nightlife when we went groundside, even though I was only ten the first time we went."

"What do you think of your parents?"

"I love them both very much, but Mom and Dad are sometimes too wrapped up in being starship people to really be parents."

"Do you think they did a good job on you?"

"I think they realized Tasha would and left it up to her."

Dumitru grunted appreciatively. "From such scanty data are missions made. Are you ready with your usual batch of lies and falsities?"

"Always," Ayna announced. "Do you think he'll buy it?"

"I hope so," he said.

"What's the 'in,' by the way?"

Dumitru looked over his notes. "The Client uses mindwiped operatives for his missions. Although he claims that the mindwipe is consensual, i.e., that the employee knows the risks and is fully compensated for use of his body after the term of contract, we have long had suspicion that the Client is MISFitting his operatives. The mindwipe made our mission so much easier, however, because after we broke the code, we were able to read the programmed destination of the operative and re-write his memories of the events that transpired. You are being put in a vessel several light-years out from the Client's solar system, in biological stasis, for delivery to the Client. From there, you're on your own."

"Biological stasis?" Gabrielle asked. "Is that the current term for cryo?"

"I'm afraid so," Dumitru replied.

Ayna sighed, beginning on yet another circuit around the gym, starting on the rings. "I hate cryo."

"I know. Your primary assignment for this mission is to terminate the Client, Ayna. However, if you find that you can only escape with the insured survival of the Client, then you are to escape. Your survival is paramount. Is that clear?"

"Very," Ayna said, finding the directive surprising. It used to be the other way around.

"Now then," Dumitru asked as Ayna navigated the balance beam, "What do you know about classical starship navigation?"

"Classical starship navigation assumes a zero point of reference from which all other points are calculated by vector algebra. The traditional zero point is..."

Cold. Ayna knew this feeling only vaguely, as a distant memory from her second assignment when she had been transported in a cryo cargo container, labeled as a consignment of "frozen foods." Now it permeated her body again, and she felt nauseous as sections of her lower intestines felt like they were trying to turn themselves inside out. She recognized the sensation as the removal of the lower GI thermometer.

Her voice made noise, but it was hard to recognize as anything except a gurgling growl. "Good, she's moving." The voice hovered just above her head, clear and easy to recognize. She forced her eyes open, moaning painfully.

"Hello, my dear. I trust you are unharmed?"

"Go shove a fusion core up your ass."

The voice chuckled, then a face bent over her own and peered down at her. "Colodor advertised that you were, how did he say it? 'Spunky.' You'll learn to watch your mouth around me, dear, or you'll be spending the rest of your short life with it wired shut."

"You're a dead man when Pendor finds me."

"I think not," the voice replied. "Nobody knows you're here. You just... disappeared in the confusion. Colodor is dead and nobody knows who he sold you to. You belong to me now, Gabrielle, and I expect you to learn what that means completely. You should be difficult in the beginning, I'm sure; they all are. But eventually you'll learn. And after a while you'll be no fun anymore, and I'll just have to put you away somewhere. I'm sure there's room somewhere on an entire planet for you."

Ayna felt a sharp jabbing pain in her right wrist, followed by a soft *paf* sound, the sound of an injection needle. "We're not so crudely technological here, Gabrielle. No collars and restraints, unless I want you truly restrained. Just a tracer device to insure that we always know where to find you. And trust me, my computers are always preparing to deal with you when you start wandering around parts of the house where you shouldn't be."

Her eyes cleared further, and Ayna found herself staring up into the face of Kemper Al-Pourreine. She snarled. "I'll kill you myself someday."

"Charming," Al-Pourreine replied. He looked up at someone standing out of her visual range. "I'll see to her tomorrow, after she's been fully awakened. Have her properly prepared for me."

"As you wish, master." The replying voice was definitely feminine and probably organic but it had a deadness of quality and tone to it that chilled her more than the cryogenics ever could. A face accompanied the voice into her line of sight, and the medical technician looking down at her said "If you are disagreeable, I will simply tranquilize you. Now come along."

Ayna fought as the technician reached down to grab her wrists. Eventually an injector found her shoulder and she was unconscious.

Ayna awoke to the feel of sunlight across her face. She stirred slowly, running her hands cautiously along the length of her torso, noting that she was completely without clothing or cover in any way. The bed she lay on smelled of old cloth and varnished wood, and when she opened her eyes she was bedazzled by the sunlight streaming onto her bed from the window before her.

She blinked, clearing her vision, and looked up. Two huge bay windows, at least four meters tall and two wide, made up of small glass panes ten cents on a side and affixed to one another with a dull, greyish metal, dominated one wall of the room. Her bed was up against one wall, and on the opposite wall a fireplace stood evident, although no fire was going. One door, framed in ostentatiously heavy oak paneling, occupied the wall opposite the windows. To either side of the door two bookshelves stood side-by-side, filled with silent books. A small chifferobe stood in the corner by the foot of the bed.

To the left of the chifferobe a clothestand stood, and on it an article of clothing. Ayna sighed and crawled out of bed, figuring that that was probably meant for her. A single, informal outfit of bright green material, she opened the zipper and stepped into it, zippering up the back again and then tying the sash around her midsection. The loose-fitting upper blouse closed about her neck and had a hood attached to the back, but the skirt barely reached halfway to her knees. A stand-alone mirror on an ornate frame stood next to the chifferobe, and she examined herself in it.

Peter Pan, she thought. He wants me to look like Peter Pan. He preferred boys, she remembered from her briefing, but given that he can get a Pendorian, he was willing to settle for second best. She found a pair of shoes on the floor and they only confirmed her suspicion; they were little more than leather slippers that laced up the sides, like childrens' boots.

After putting the boots on she began to examine her room. She knew that eventually she would try the door because she would have to know if she was locked in or if they trusted the tracers that much. She also wanted to get a look outside and decided to take advantage of the windows first.

The windows opened onto a large outdoor garden. From where she stood she could see to her right a walkway leading from the building she was in to a large, circular fountain. From there, walkways led off to the four cardinal points. At the very limits of the garden a forest arose, and beyond that a mountain range appeared in the distance. Owning the entire planet, Al-Pourreine had obviously chosen the most desirable locale he could find, and then shaped it to his whim. She doubted this was the only home he had.

Motion caught her eye outside, and she saw human workers milling about in the garden. They move slowly, without much enthusiasm or energy, and Ayna wondered if they were as mindwiped as Al-Pourreine's usual operatives. In the distance she saw a four-legged walker, also driven by a human, approach a tree that had fallen over slightly. A lower gripper on a hydraulic ram seized the tree in an articulated, three-point claw, while a similar but smaller version of the claw extended from a 'scorpion's tail' articulation grabbed the tree higher up. The lower claw dropped down to the ground, closed tight about the trunk of the tree, and then pulled up, uprooting the tree in one swift, easy motion. Ayna winced slightly, feeling sorry for the tree.

She turned around, sighing, wondering if there were any other buildings in the complex. If there were, they were probably built below the level of the trees, or possibly down into the ground. She needed an uncontrolled vehicle capable of trans-orbital maneuvers, and she needed a way to get to it. That was her first priority. And meanwhile, she had to figure out a way to kill Kemper Al-Pourreine.

As she walked towards the door, the handle began to turn. She stopped, and then began to back up, frightened, as Al-Pourreine walked in unaccompanied. "Ah, so you are awake," he chimed. "Good. The doctors had assured me you would be out much later than this."

"Don't touch me," Ayna warned him. "Don't even come near me."

Al-Pourreine smiled tolerantly. In the thin, hawkish face the smile looked evil, twisted. It was not a face made to smile. "You are my property, Gabrielle, and I will touch you whenever I wish it." He strode across the room towards her and she shrank away from him, eventually coming up against the wall. "You see?" he said as his hand closed upon her shoulder, "You can do nothing to escape me. My monitors watch everything closely, my servants know your every move." He released her, turned away; the gesture made his robe billow about him. "Come with me."


He looked over his shoulder, that smile returning. "Come with me, Gabrielle, and you will escape any pain today. I will not make that promise every day, so you had better learn to appreciate it when you hear it."

"You... you won't hurt me?"

"I will not, today," Al-Pourreine promised.

"I... I'll come."

"Good," he said. "Now, out the door." He led her through the oaken door and out into what must have been the main hallway of the house; it seemed to run from window-lit end to window-lit end. Along the length Ayna saw doors, openings, passageways. The hallway itself was much like the room she had awoken in; a polished wooden floor inlaid with gold designs emphasizing a baroque romanticism that she found cloying.

He opened another wooden door. "In here, Gabrielle," he said. He said it as if he were addressing his favorite pet, which she guessed in a way he was.

Inside, Ayna found herself standing amidst a collection of people. Or, at least, she thought they were people until she realized that they weren't moving. Then she realized that most of them were Pendorians. "Are they... are they dead?"

"Hardly," Al-Pourreine intoned. "These are my erotic androids. They have their... amusements, true, but they're hardly the real thing."

Ayna looked around; none of the 'droids had appearances to anyone she found familiar. As she had thought, most of them were younger than maturity, and most of them were boys. "You like... boys, don't you?"

"They're much sweeter than girls, yes." Ayna thought his voice had taken on an undercurrent of falsetto. "But you are such a prize." His hand caressed the underside of her chin, dragging her face up so he could see it clearly. "Lovely child. Such a prize."

"P... please."

"What?" he mocked. "Don't hurt you? Oh, my dear, you will be kept in perfect shape until the day you die. But you must understand your place here; you are my property, my amusement, and I will use you in any manner I see fit."


"Yes, that is you Pendorian's problem, isn't it? Always so wrapped up in yourselves; you don't care who dies so long as you Pendorians survive. Survival of the fittest made into a societal imperative. You're no better than the Sinox. And now you at least will see when someone else adopts your little philosophy. Because, you see, I care about nobody and nothing but me. And right now, you are what I want to satisfy my appetite."

Ayna said nothing; she couldn't bring herself to speak. His eyes didn't change at all while he spoke; there seemed to be nothing behind them. He looked back at the door and said, "Come with me."

She followed him again and he led her down the hallway. "I want you to understand something, Gabrielle. You are my pet and I am not fond of leashes. I want to see you happy here." He stopped, turned, waved her to catch up with him. "Come along, come along."

They walked down the hallway again, back into the room where she had awakened. "This is your room, you know. I don't expect to find you here all the time, but when I desire you you shall return here unless instructed otherwise. If you disobey my requests, I shall send servants to get you, and while they are not permitted to harm you, their mercies will hardly be tender.

"If you stray about on the outdoor grounds, there are many places to go. The gardens and the woods back there are at your disposal, as is the swimming pool and gymnasium. I understand many of your kind like physical exercise, and I would encourage you to keep doing so; you may last longer at each session I contrive. There is a fence, and when you find it I should tell you not to go any further. Escape will only make my treatment of you much worse. You see, Gabrielle, I have discovered how to make a Pendorian age."

Ayna gasped. "That's... that's impossible!"

"Not impossible at all, my dear. Your life support mechanisms must have all sorts of conditionals on them, and one of them is most certainly what my scientists have named the 'active host/insufficient metabolism' condition. In short, my dear Gabrielle, if you disobey me I shall simply cut back on what we feed you, and your wondrous nanotech life support mechanisms will simply shut down. You will stay alive, and conscious, in the hopes of finding more food to feed your excessive needs, but in the meantime you will begin aging, reaching decrepitude, suffering the pain and slow healing that every human being once knew all too well. And then, my dearest Gabrielle, you will begin to die."

Al-Pourreine's face pulled into a tight grimace, a hideous caricature of a smile that made Ayna shrink away in fear. "Do not make me do that."

The next day came with the same sunlight streaming over her face. Upon awakening, she found the same chifferobe with an entirely different, and seemingly more functional, set of clothing than the Peter Pan costume she had worn yesterday. A white jumpsuit, apparently of cotton, and simple sport shoes made up most of the clothing laid out for her. She dressed quietly and slipped out of the room, making her way down the hallway.

She intended that day to make an inventory of the inside of Al-Pourreine's home. Although her orders were to plan an escape first, kill Al-Pourreine second, her training dictated that she learn her immediate surroundings first, mastering what were or could be weapons, and what were possible escape routes.

Her assignment knowledge took over. It was morning, therefore the sun rose in the East. If the sun came in her window directly, that meant that the hallway to her left led to the North wing of the mansion. She had already determined that the mansion had three floors and probably a basement, although she had yet to find any sort of access-way to that basement. It probably also had an attic, and she knew some older attics had fully functional work and storage spaces.

Start at the bottom, she reminded herself. The North Wing, first floor, seemed to consist mostly of empty rooms, although she found one with a working bar. A variety of exotic alcohols were available, as well as a fully stocked array of other mind-altering chemicals. From marijuana to HZM, Al-Pourreine apparently had no qualms about giving his guests whatever they wanted.

I wonder if that includes me? she wondered. No doubt, but he would probably at least want her to himself for a while. He surely had associates with tastes similar to hers although whether they could be trusted with the knowledge of her existence at all was another matter entirely. The last thing he would get out of her was complicity.

Wandering down the hallway further, she came to a door. Pushing it open, she found a white-tiled floor first, then looked up. She had found the kitchen. Circulating through it casually, she registered where the knives and other cutlery were, then wandered to her right, towards the front of the house, and found the dining room wing off to one side. Walking through that completely, she walked into the front foyer of the house. It was an enormous space, going completely through to the rear. She circumambulated the entire room. Out the back, through wrought- iron gates, she saw a wide, brick-laden terrace with steps leading down into the garden.

The South wing was equally unexciting. Mostly empty space, although she did find a small library of what seemed to be entirely biology texts. She found it a curious space, because as far as she knew Al-Pourreine had made his fortune on Engineering. The biologists and medical technologists of Earth, the Saman and Jones groups, were still taking in enormous amounts of money off the Saman Transfer process.

As she wandered out into the hallway again, she saw human servants for the first time that day. They were walking through the hall, casually dusting and cleaning. "Excuse me!" she said.

"Yes?" One turned to her, a dustmop in her hand. The sight of such simplistic and anachronistic cleaning equipment forced Ayna to stifle a laugh, and at the same made her angry inside. She was learning to hate Al-Pourreine for the abuses he inflicted on people, abuses no longer necessary.

"Uh, I found the little library. Is there a bigger one?"

"Yes, Mum. On the second floor you'll find the big library in the North wing."

"Thanks." She wandered by the two servants. It seemed to her that the house was slowly coming to some sort of life, although for the most part that life looked artificial and plastic. None of the people she passed seemed very happy; in fact, most of them seemed to be feeling nothing at all.

She found the library the servant had mentioned. Inside, she found the expected wall-to-wall books, several bookshelves standing out from the walls. There were two large wooden tables in the center of the room, each with four wooden chairs. On each table, before one chair, she found a terminal, also made out of wood (the idea of that made her stifle another laugh). It was damned unlikely that Al-Pourreine owned a single AI, so she figured she was left with either precise verbal controls or keyboard commands.

She sat down at a terminal and pushed a button at random. The screen lit up and the image before her was of a golden house crest, a typical Terran affectation, of four Lions, each in a different pose. She pushed the "Enter" button.

A window opened on the screen and demanded to know who she was. "Gabrielle" she said aloud.

Her name appeared in the window, and then a smaller window opened up underneath saying "Login confirmed for Gabrielle."

She soon found that the typical Terran library package was available to her, as were a number of books that Al-Pourreine had included in his personal database.

But no data on the local layout of the house; in fact, she could not locate any data at all on Al-Pourreine's personal planet or his industries beyond what was typically available in the newspapers.

"I see you found the library." Kemper Al-Pourreine's voice sliced through her consciousness like a knife. "Good; I wouldn't want to see you get bored while you're here." He held a PADD in his hand. "Looking through the basics, good. And trying to plot an escape route, too?" He laughed; Ayna thought it was the most obscene thing she had ever heard. "There is no escape, Gabrielle. You belong to me. You could no more escape from here then that chair could. Please don't make me erase your mind to ensure your continued presence. I would be simply heartbroken to have to do that."

"You won't keep me here."

Al-Pourreine grinned. "Yes... yes, I will." He walked over to her and grabbed her by the collar. "Come with me, Gabrielle. It is time for your first lesson."

"Let go of me!" she shouted, hitting him on the thigh with her fist. It seemed to have no effect on him.

"Eventually," he said. "It was nice of you to come so close to me. I would have found it such a chore to go after you." He hauled her out of the chair, and she screamed with indignation and fear. Although she continued to struggle, she found it hard to fight him. He was so strong! Was he real? No human was this strong!

She fought hard for rational thought. A cyborg? It would explain a lot. But how much of him was cyborged, and how much of it would she have to overcome to kill him?

She barely noticed as he dragged her down the hall. "You're so quiet suddenly, Gabrielle."

"I'll kill you, Kemper."

That laugh again. "You keep saying that, but someday, Gabrielle, it is I who will kill you." He came to a pair of double doors and pulled them open. Inside Ayna saw a bedroom, a large bed with black sheets dominating the floor. The walls were hung with black and red tapestries depicting scenes of incoherent violence and pain. "Yes, this is my bedroom, Gabrielle. Learn it well."

His toss felt almost casual as she found herself on the bed. "I could kill you anytime I wanted to." His eyes seemed to burn at her as he stared down at her. "But I don't want to kill you, Gabrielle. I just want to see so much beauty, such lovely corruption, in unending pain and sadness." He reached down for her again, his small, almost feminine-looking hand closing on the collar of her jumpsuit, and slowly pulled downwards. The cloth tore, shredding away from her body, exposing her nakedly to him.

"So lovely," he sighed, his voice almost distant and inattentive. He stepped back to remove his own clothes; Ayna seized a pillow and covered her nakedness. "Ah-ah-ah!" he said, wagging a finger at her. "Not supposed to cover yourself up. I suppose you'll learn eventually. I never did break a Pendorian before."

He removed his own robe, exposing his naked body underneath. The skin was white, a ghastly pale white that seemed more the result of some born deformity, albinism perhaps, than any simple lack of sunlight.

As he approached, Ayna gripped the pillow harder. He smiled and pulled it away from her. The struggle was brief and decisive; she did not have the strength to fight him. The pillow, torn in places from the grip of his fingers, flew across the room as he tossed it away. "I said you weren't to cover yourself."

Ayna screamed and began scrambling away from him. His hand lashed out casually and seized her ankle, pulling her back. She kicked at his erect groin and he grabbed that ankle as well. "You're making this too easy."

"I hate you," she snarled.

"Good," he replied, just as forcefully. He pulled her onto her back, pushing her knees to her chest. "Now learn why." He pushed into her.

Ayna screamed. "No! Please, oh please, no!" But Al-Pourreine ignored her, thrusting all the way into her until his cock was buried completely inside her. She writhed underneath him, but his strength held her in place and she could not escape.

The analytical corner of her brain registered that her thrashing was probably part of what was exciting him, and she decided to try a passive response, letting go and ceasing to fight. It didn't make any difference. The snarl on his lips grew more and more pronounced, as did the horrible glow in his eyes. His penis thrust and jabbed within her, wounding her. Her breathing, broken only by gasping sobs, was her only movement; she tried to remain completely limp.

A single grunt of acknowledgement was all Pourreine gave as he completed his act. Then he rose off of her. Seemingly enraged, he seized a towel off the bedstand and wiped his blood-covered penis, then he flung the towel at her. "Thank you, Gabrielle," he snarled. "We'll have to do that again. Soon." He left.

Ayna curled herself into a ball, her body still shuddering in pain under the violence of the rape. Tears fell from her eyes in large droplets squeezed from tightly closed lids. In the semidark of Pourreine's bedroom, she whispered, "I hate you Pourreine. And someday soon, I'll kill you."

She remained that way until a doctor came for her.

Several days passed after the incident, during which she never saw Pourreine. The doctor had tended to her loss of virginity as if it were a matter of course, then put her to bed to let her lick her wounds alone.

She never saw anyone else in the house who wasn't mindwiped or otherwise blanked. It frustrated her. She had had assignments where she felt isolated, but nothing like this. Trapped in the body of a thirteen year old girl, a body that had thoughts of its own, thoughts that had come from a golden memory disk but were still thoughts nonetheless, wandering through a huge house with no one to talk to and no one to hold, she felt lost and afraid. The emotions bothered the tiny part of her that was designed to do missions. She wasn't supposed to get emotional. She missed her coimelin and her daughter and she wanted to go home. She spent a lot of time curled up in bed, crying. She was sure that Al-Pourreine got a thrill out of watching her cry.

On the sixteenth day since awakening, she heard voices downstairs. She crept to the top of the stairs and listened. "I'm telling you, Kemper, this is not a good idea. The entire galaxy is looking for her. They know she was there during the raid. They know someone took her. They don't know who but I can tell you that your name is being tossed around a lot."

"I don't pay you to tell me if my ideas are good or not, Rickmon." Rickmon! The name made Ayna shiver uncontrollably. In the business in which she engaged, Rickmon was something of a legend in his own right. He had even written a book, The Profession of Political Disagreement, considered as up-to-date as The Art of Professional Homicide had been a millennia ago. The best working manual on how to kill someone important ever made, Rickmon had told only the most basic of techniques, the ones that all professionals understood.

"You pay me to tell you that what you've done may have brought you to the attention of Kaffar."

"The Light Who Hunts?" Pourreine muttered. "How?"

"Who knows? One of your servants, one of the guests at this insane party of yours? I do not know, Kemper. Kaffar can look like anyone, become anyone he wants to. We know nothing about him other than that he works for the Pendorians. My job is to kill people for you, Kemper, and to keep other people from doing that to you. I'm doing the second right now. Do something with her. Get rid of her."

"Out of the question. She is the centerpiece of my pleasure right now."

"Then abandon this insane plan to bring her to it. If you must show her off to the others, pick those others and bring them here. Do not parade her around. You can not convince me she's a well-made robot."

A pause ensued, and then Pourreine said, "You're right, of course. She is dangerous to show to too many. Maybe just the Lord and Lady Detra will be enough for now."

"Make it enough." A dark chuckle. "Those two are a good choice."

"Yes," Pourreine agreed.

"I would like to see her, if I may."

"She's at the top of the stairs, listening to us. Gabrielle, come down here and visit with us."

Ayna made her body move despite its own desire to go nowhere. She knew that down there was a man who terrified her even more than Pourreine himself. Although she had never had to deal with Rickmon directly, she knew his reputation well enough to have his dossier memorized.

She got a good look at him as he came into view. Her terror was temporarily replaced with surprise Rickmon was a llerkindi. The dossiers all assumed he was human. Well, they'd have to be rewritten. There were many things one could do with plastic surgery, but changing the actual racial appearance wasn't all that easy, especially not between two disparate species as humans and llerki! "Wh... What?"

"Ah, there she is. You see, Rickmon? She's harmless. Just a little girl."

"She could be Kaffar," the llerkindi said.

"And you could be," Pourreine said testily. "I'm tired of hearing rumors about someone who may not even exist."

"Oh, Kaffar exists, Kemper. Do not forget that. I have seen examples of his handiwork. I have watched videos of him in action. I can not begin to tell you what Kaffar is capable of. I do not know myself."

"Then don't frighten me with this talk. I'm more concerned with a Pendorian armada overhead demanding her return. Keep them off my back, Rickmon. Tell me who I can invite without inviting suspicion."

"Virtually nobody, of course," Rickmon replied. "But I shall draw up a list anyway."

"Do that. You are dismissed."


"You are dismissed, Rickmon. Do not make me repeat myself."

The llerkindi bowed with muted respect and then descended down stairs towards the basement. Pourreine turned to her. "Come with me."

"Where are we going?"

"Outside." He led her through the doors of the estate and out into the great, gardened yard, to a large wooden gazebo isolated in one small corner of the carefully groomed grounds. "Kneel."

"No." She said.

He reached out for her with both his hands. His right grabbed the collar of her clothing, the left pressed a small box to her midsection. "Yes."

A painful jolt shot through her stomach. It made her scream and blind and nauseous all at the same time. She fell to her knees, almost falling over further. "Yes," he said. "That's it."

She looked up to see him holding something about the size of a writing pen; at it's tip, a small arc of electricity seemed to be flickering like a little trapped daemon. "Yes, you will obey me. I have so many ways to control you, Gabrielle. Some are simple. Some are more complex."

With his hand he lowered the zipper on his pants and again revealed the pale member with which he had raped her so violently days before. "You even think about biting me and I'll apply this to your throat. Now, service me."

She blinked up at him, uncomprehending. "Suck it," he snarled. "Lick it." He reached behind her and grabbed the scruff of her neck, pulling her closer to his crotch. The sickly-sweet smell made her head spin. She didn't want to touch it, much less taste it. But he forced it on her, holding the taserpen to her throat. "Open your mouth," he growled.

"No, please," she begged. "Please don't."

"You belong to me. Don't argue," he snarled. "Open your mouth."

Finally, reluctantly, she obeyed, flicking her tongue out and touching his cock with it. She shivered. It twitched as her tongue made tentative swipes at it. Kemper held her in place. "Take it in your mouth."

She obeyed. She wondered what it would take for her to take all the fun out of this encounter. She tried to think, but the large, hardening member before her occupied her field of view and the sensation of the painstick against her throat made it hard for her to come up with answered.

Kemper's hand tightened as he pulled her closer to him, shoving his cock down her throat. She gagged hard on it and he pulled off. "You'll learn," he snarled, pushing his cock back into her mouth. "Now, work on it."

She tried to make her mouth do as he asked, but her whole body fought against his desires. She felt like she was going to vomit and almost wanted to except for the cost it would incur in pain.

Kemper's hips pumped the shaft of his cock in and out of her mouth. Finally he grew tired of fighting with her. "Enough," he growled. "You're going to have to learn how to do that properly. In the meantime..." With that surprising, inhuman strength he tossed her to one railing of the gazebo. "Get on that bench. On your knees, kneel on it. Bend over that railing." His hands grabbed her hips and her neck again and he shoved her into the position he wanted. "Look at them," his voice snarled in her ear. She looked up to watch four people slowly moving through the grounds, tending to the plants, clipping hedges, watering flowers. "You and I are the only people in the house who have our minds intact, and that's the way I like it. You can watch them, and they can watch you, and only you will care." His body covered her, dead weight upon her shoulders. She felt his cock pressing against her opening again, penetrate her.


"'Yes' is the only word you should know," he whispered as his cock slid completely into her. "'Yes, Kemper. Yes, I will do as you say. Yes, I love you.'" He withdrew, then slid back in. "Say it, Gabrielle. Say it. It will free you."

"No!" she hissed. "Never!"

"Yes, you will say it." His hands grabbed her hips as his cock slid in and out of her. "Yes, you will learn to like me."

"No..." she moaned. "No, I'll never give you what you want. I'll die first."

"That may happen. But not until I have used you as I see fit." He withdrew his penis from her, slid two fingers into her, and then withdrew them as well. "See how wet you get?" he asked, holding his fingers before her eyes. Slick traces of wetness gleamed off the pale skin of his fingertips. "I'm going to use that wetness against you."

She felt those fingers press against her asshole. "Oh, Fah, no, no, no..."

"Yes, yes, yes. You have to learn to say it right," he said as he pressed his cock against her anus. "You have to want this."

"No. Please, Kemper, no. I'll do anything you ask."

"I don't have to ask!" he roared as he pulled her to him, drove his cock into her guts with a rude shove. "I own you!"

"No no no..." she begged. Tiny voice. "Stop. Please."

He didn't listen as he took out his rage on her. His body pounded against her buttocks with ever thrust, hurting her tail, hurting her hole, hurting her inside. He lasted longer this time than last, making the indignity go on and on. She cried, her claws scraping on the white-painted railing of the gazebo as Pourreine took out something unholy on her. He finally roared his pleasure.

And then he simply dismounted. She heard him walk around her, leave the gazebo. A hand grabbed the scruff at the back of her neck, and he was lifting her head to look at her. "You will not last long."

"Good," she gasped, tears flowing down her muzzle. "Good. Let it end. I want to get away from you."

"Not quite yet," he said. He dropped her and walked away.

Ayna sat down in the bathtub and tried to relax. Her body still ached from Kemper's last "incident," as she had begun to think of them. The brain she occupied, grown blank in a tank and imprinted with the occupational code of Ayna Kaffar

Her thoughts froze as the thought of who she was flowed through her. Ayna Kaffar coiKandor. She hadn't thought of her full name since the mission began. Almost nobody knew her as "Kaffar," not even Kandor, and for that she was glad. Thinking of him, thinking of little Miyako without her, made her hurt in ways that Kemper's treatments could never reach. She cried herself to sleep every night and was careful to have the filters in place translate her wishes into "Mom," "Dad," and "Tasha," if she uttered them in her sleep but in her heart it was Miya and Kan she missed and wished for.

She still wondered where Kemper had gone. She hadn't heard from him in nearly a week, a week which started with her unable to keep down food until she realized how weak she was becoming and training took over. The mission was twenty-three days old. She had to end it soon. If only for her sanity's sake.

It had been two days ago that she had found a way out. There was a shuttlepark at the far end of the property, and a pond a few yards from it. The pond had no fish in it, which at first had surprised her until she spotted the pipe leading from the hangars to the pond. It wasn't so much a pond as a dump where overheated water from landing reactors was allowed to cool before being returned to the system. The pipe which led to the pond was too small for a man, but it would let her through easily.

She had swum the length of it, her lungs about bursting when she broke through in the dumping pond inside the hanger bay, and then swum back, hoping nobody noticed her. She doubted that anyone had. Kemper's property wasn't that well-covered in panoptica; he liked his privacy and trusted no one with monitoring equipment, and he was quite certain that nobody on the property was going anywhere. Access to and from the property was strictly controlled, but as long as she didn't pass by the monitoring fences nothing was going to come after her.

Going past the monitoring fences, on the other hand, had been a painful experience. She had been obligated to try. Now she knew what would happen. She didn't want it to happen again.

"Gabrielle, come here."

Anya shuffled her feet forward, trying hard not to look at the three faces arrayed about her. Some secret corner of her mind thought that faces could make anything dark, even on a day as beautiful and as clear as today. Al-Pourreine was torn between his delight at showing off his new toy to his equally evil compatriots and his own usual dark and dour inclinations. The man to his left was tall, human, blond, and bit soft in the middle, but his face held the bland boredom of a man who had long ago decided he had seen everything. On his left stood a woman with a similar bored disaffection, but she at least had a hint of beauty. Anya was sure it was surgically derived.

"I don't want to play with another of your wind-up toys, Kemper," said the man.

"No, Lars. Not this time." He gestured as Anya stepped into the gazebo. "This is the real thing."

"That explains why it's a girl," said the woman, her jaded attitude momentarily lifting to look at Anya closely. "This is Gabrielle Satpulov? Aaden Shardik's granddaughter? You have her?"

Al-Pourreine nodded.

"Kemper, what have you done?" she said suddenly, horrified. "Do you know what they'll do to you if they find you? There isn't a corner of the galaxy in which you could hide if they found out you had taken her."

"They aren't going to find out, are they?" Al-Pourreine said smoothly. "There's no reason for them to find out. They may have the Earth Government under their thumbs but out here we know how to keep secrets, do we not?"

"Kemper, this is dangerous," the man said.

"Life is not thrilling without danger. I am old, Lars. I have only my hatred of the Pendorians and my unquenchable lust for the ruin of their kind to drive me. They have ruined humanity, taken all of the color out of it and bleached it a pale remnant of what it once was, a people destined to rule the universe. The only responsible reaction to that is hatred."

He gestured to Gabrielle. "And if some part of me finds satisfaction in inflicting that hatred one victim at a time, so be it. The Pendorians will learn, in time, that I am not to be trifled with." He grabbed Anya, turned her to face away, and held her shoulders. "Gabrielle here is merely an amusement. An idle way of passing the time. Her value is no more costly than the plans I have against the Pendorians in the first place. They would destroy me either way."

"But now..."

"Yes, but now. I have made a decisive move, but one which must be kept secret. It is done. And, admit it, Lars, you would love to fuck a Pendorian, wouldn't you? Especially one so young, so sweet, so dangerous." Al-Pourreine's hands tightened about Anya's shoulders. "Admit it, Lars," he hissed. "You'd love to fuck her in the ass, wouldn't you?"

The man called Lars hesitated for a moment, then grinned broadly. "Of course I would. Nadine?"

"Yes," she said. "It is not as if we could back out now."

"Indeed not," Al-Pourreine said. He roughly shoved Anya up one of the benches in the gazebo, pushing her chest against the fence that backed it. He held her there while the woman, Nadine, walked out of the gazebo and around to face her.

"You're very pretty," she said as she reached up and caressed Anya's face. "It's too bad that you're going to end up so distressed." She smiled, but it looked plastic. "I shall enjoy hearing you scream."

Anya snarled at her. She knew that putting words behind her feelings was pointless. They were going to destroy her, maybe even today, and she looked forward to it. She wanted out. She was tired of this. She wanted the Pendorians to give up on her and re-instantiate her and give her back to her family. She was only sorry that she would miss that reunion herself.

Nadine brought out what looked like a pair of scarves, and began winding them about Anya's wrists and then through the heavy ceder crossbeam that topped the backing of the bench. Anya struggled, but Al-Pourreine held her tightly in place and would not let her loose. She pulled at the scarves and felt them tighten about her wrists. If she struggled too much they would cut off her circulation. She gripped the crossbeam and held on. "Please don't hurt me."

"Oh, but that's exactly what we're going to do."

"Perhaps you aren't familiar with my guests, Gabrielle," Al-Pourreine purred. How he managed to make such a soft noise sound so threatening Anya couldn't begin to understand. "This is Lars and Nadine Detra. They're even more jaded than I am, if you believe that's possible." He ran a hand down Anya's backside, his hand curving around her waist to find the clasp to her pants. With a simple twist of his hand they fell about her ankles.

"But we're still functional," Lars said. Anya was glad she couldn't see his face. She didn't want to imagine what kind of man was standing behind her, if "a man" was what he could be called. His claim to "functionality" sounded almost defensive. What were these people, really?

"You're cruel," she whispered.

"Yes," Al-Pourreine said. "You're only now figuring that out?" His hand pulled at the strings about her shoulders and the flimsy covering over her torso fell away. She wanted to struggle against the scarves but dare not; she would need her hands to deal with them later.

Normally, Al-Pourreine was cruel to her simply because he wanted to fuck her. His penis was his weapon of choice, his muscles simply tools for deploying that weapon effectively. If he hit her or hurt her, it was only to make her compliant, to force her into a position where resistance was not just useless but could potentially be dangerous all by itself. But Lars Detra had a different approach to his victims. He reached into a case he had with him and pulled out a whip. Gabrielle recognized it before he even had it uncoiled.

"Do you know what this is?" he said as he held it in front of her.

"A whip," Anya said softly.

"Not just any whip. It's an electrolash. It hits, and it shocks. It won't kill you. With your fur, it'll barely leave marks. But you'll know pain. Yes, you will know pain."

Anya nodded, thinking that she already knew pain. She didn't want any more.

"Kiss it," Lars said.

"No," Anya twisted away.

"Your choice," Lars said. He stood behind her, exchanged a few words with Al-Pourreine, then extended the whip. Anya almost laughed at the special effect sizzling sound. But she couldn't. Because she couldn't distance herself from the pain the way she might want. It wouldn't be natural. It wouldn't look right.

The lash struck, and she screamed. The pain seemed to eat through her, cutting her in half slowly as it fell from her shoulders down to her hips. Five blows in quick succession set her on fire, made her wish she was dead, desperately made her wish she could cheat. "Oh, she sings," Lars said.

Anya looked up across the sunlight grass field of Kemper Al-Pourreine's back yard and knew she had to get loose today. She had to get out. There was no way she could stand to survive another day with these monsters. More lashes, more screaming. Worse, the wetness in her eyes was accompanied by a perverse, sick wetness between her legs. She didn't want to enjoy this. She was glad that she didn't. Down beneath her gaze Nadine Detra watched her with an intensity that betrayed any compassion she might have felt towards her victim. She enjoyed watching the damage her husband wreaked upon others, enjoyed the pleasure he got out of hurting and perhaps killing others.

The whipping went on, and on, each hard scream torn from her feeling like it had to be the last, there could not be any more from her.

The whip stopped. Lars Detra stood up behind her and his hand touched her back, his fingers probing for the welts and cuts he had inflicted. "You're so beautiful, Gabrielle," he murmured. He addressed her as he might a lover.

"I hate you," Anya said.

"That's too bad." His hand dropped down, sliding over the firm curve of her rump until it slipped between her legs. She tried to squirm, but he was too strong and too fast. "Because haters should not engage in acts of love." He grabbed her hips and pulled her off the ground, so that her feet no longer reached the floor. His erection probed between her thighs, seeking her opening. He slipped into her with minimum effort. Anya cried. It was too much for her. Her hatred was complete for these animals who did the worst they could to violate her consent and then went further, spicing their violence with mere organic ecstasies.

She put her head down on the wooden crossbeam. She felt something on her wrists as she sobbed, opened one eye and saw Nadine Detra untying her wrists even as her husband pulled out of her and entered her anus. "No, no, no," Anya chanted even as she tried to think of a way to deal with these creatures.

She saw a shock stick in Lars's "toybox."

Nadine finished untying her wrists, and her hands slid along Anya's arms to her face. Anya grabbed Nadine's hand in her teeth and bit down. Nadine screamed, but Anya was already in motion, reaching forward with both hands to twist Nadine's neck hard. She had barely heard the first crack when she shoved away from the bench, knocking Lars out of the gazebo, sending him sprawling onto the grass. Al-Pourreine was reaching for something in his robes when Anya grabbed the shock-stick and shoved it between the folds of his robe, right against his crotch. She depressed the trigger.

Al-Pourreine's scream was as satisfying as hers had been painful. It was the best sound she had heard all day. She held the trigger down, delivering shock after shock with the prod. In the corner of her eye she saw Detra getting up; she swept her hand across his case and threw it at his head. It struck him square in the face and he went down.

She grabbed the electro-lash Detra had dropped on the floor and wrapped it around Al-Pourreine's neck, pulling on it, watching as his eyes bulged out. His body was shaking in a cattle-prod induced fit, his eyes rolled back in his head. "You..."

"Are the Kafar," Anya snarled. "And I'm going home." She pulled harder, then finally grabbed him by the hair and pulled, pulled, hauled back on his head until the bones made satisfying breaking noises. Al-Pourreine made one final gurgling scream and collapsed.

She stumbled down the gazebo and looked around. Nobody had yet reacted to her act of violence, nobody had yet come running to put a stop to it. She wondered if she had just gotten lucky, or if Al-Pourreine's paranoia had so overridden any sense of security that he was effectively without any human intervention. She grabbed Lars Detra by the collar, the shock stick still in her hand. "Come, Lord Detra," she snarled, "Show me your shuttlecraft."

"You'll never--" He gasped. Blood ran freely down his face, staining the pure, perfect white of his robes.

"One way or another, my life as Gabrielle Satpulov ends today. If it ends the way you want, you will not live to see tomorrow either." She shoved the prod against the small of his back but did not depress the trigger. "March!"

He walked meekly across the beautiful grass field. Behind her, Anya heard a voice, small and tinny, coming from Al-Pourreine's pocket. She couldn't make out what it was saying but she had a clear idea of what it meant: security. "Move!" she shouted.

Lord Detra moved with the speed of a man hoping to avoid the guillotine. He kept looking about, obviously wondering where Al-Pourreine's bodyguards had gone. They hadn't, Anya thought. Al-Pourreine was lord and master of this domain. He had no need of anything quite so mundane as bodyguards. They reached the hangers without incident, and Detra pointed to his. "That one, there," he said, his throat full of blood and mucous. It was a three-wing affair, the lower wings hinged to unfold during flight. A rare design, but popular with the "Free Worlds" types, it could barely carry six passengers but it could carry them faster than light, much like the 454 Starcruiser but without some of the amenities like sleeping space. It was all The Kaffar would need.

"Do you need to be on board it in order for it to fly?" she asked.

"No," he said. "Anyone can fly it. It's unsecured. It has an integrated transponder. Nobody would steal it."

Gabrielle bent her head down to open the lock when a bullet hit the hull. A klaxon from behind her began screaming. "Do you hear that?" a voice shouted. She grabbed Detra, fully aware that if her assailant had anything of significant power the body she held presented little more than visual cover. Detra was gibbering now, and she could smell urine. The man had soiled himself. "That's the third-stage alarm, Kaffar!"

"So you know?" she shouted.

"It could only be you!" She recognized the voice now: Rickmon, Al-Pourreine's strong-man. "Who else could have infiltrated this far? Who could have survived? I don't know how you came to have Gabrielle Satpulov's body, but you have it. We have to get out of here."


"If Al-Pourreine is really dead, then the bomb will go off soon! This whole place will become a crater!"

She could believe it. "But all the contractors!"

"Leave them!"

"I... " She looked around. She saw two figures in the distance, gardeners doing their preprogrammed tasks, oblivious to their instant freedom and the immanent destruction all about them. She pulled Detra back to the shuttle, palmed the lock. The door opened. She stepped backwards into the shuttle as Rickmon figured out she was leaving without him. She hauled Detra in and shoved him down into a seat. "Don't interfere with me if you want to live."

She sat down in the pilot's chair, satisfied that she was going to make it. Her heart, or what she perceived as her heart even though she knew she had none, the real Kaffar had no heart, hardened against what she was about to do. Abandon innocents, only a census taker would know how many, to an instantaneous oblivion. Her mission was clear. Her programming, her self, took over. Her hands flew over the console and the anagrav systems came to live. She overrode alarms, ignored power limits she knew could be violated with only moderate risk, and threw the shuttlecraft into the air with the kind of violence usually reserved for artillery shells. Another alarm went off next to her-- proximity. She was being pursued. In seven minutes she would be out of the atmosphere and maybe twenty after that safe in the arms of the Pendorian vessel that had been stealthily waiting with the patience of the dead.

"We should have just shot him from orbit," she said.

"That would have been too obvious," Detra said. "So is my survival. You can't let me live."

"No," Anya agreed. "Probably not." She felt nothing for him. "I hope you enjoyed your last fuck."

"Oh, you were quite delicious, I assure you," he said, and then giggled. It was truly a mad sound. "At least once in my life I get to say that I raped a Pendorian."

Anya smiled grimly. He would never have a chance to tell anyone else about his conquest. That was probably for the best. Whoever was chasing her was falling behind. Rickmon? He couldn't be allowed to live, either. This had to come off. Her left hand danced on a console that controlled the shuttlecraft's running lights as she tapped out a message in an ancient code, destroy my pursuer.

Seconds later the pursuer disappeared in a burst of ionized gas. Good. He was out here, somewhere. There were other ships in orbit, she noticed, and several were moving on an intercept. She turned on the communications channel and took it as text. Nobody seemed to know what was happening, but they knew that shots had just been fired and what had been a shuttlecraft was now an expanding sphere of charged particles. Another shuttlecraft was fleeing the first at speeds that were far beyond safety levels. If nothing else, it deserved a closer look.

New alarms went off as Kemper's home and several square miles went up in another fireball. When the radio spectrum cleared there was indignation, horror, and terror. The planetary authorities, really a private guard force for the few wealthy occupants of entire continents, were scrambling to respond. It didn't matter. Ayna saw the blackness ahead of her as a wishful thing. More signals, tiny blinking lights, told her to kill her engine. She agreed. The darkness swallowed her.

A shuttlecraft that hadn't been there seconds ago appeared on the planetary radar. It slammed into the atmosphere at an angle guaranteed to give it highest duration air encounter possible, and its impact speed, some 68,000 kph, guaranteed almost instantaneous vaporization.

She walked along a dusty road towards a dusty house that showed both age and care. Kandor had done a good job of keeping up the place in her absence. Laundry waved on a line with the languid pace of clothes put out only recently.

It had been less than two months but she had missed it so.

"Mommy!" Little Miyako came tearing out of the house like her tail was on fire, scampering down the steps three at a time to throw herself into Anya's arms. "You're home! I misseded you!"

"I misseded you too," Anya said, smiling at Miyako's mangled pronunciation. "It's good to see you."

Kandor came out from behind the screen door. He looked good, as if living alone for two months had given him a bit of maturity and strength. She wondered if she should go away for longer next time, and then recalled that there would not be a next time. He stood a meter away from her, looking, examining. Then he smiled, pulled her close and held her. "I missed you," he whispered. "I'm so glad you came home."

"I am too," she said.

"Mission accomplished?" he asked.

"So they tell me," she said. He nodded. "Are you crying?"

He nodded again. "I'm sorry. I was so worried. Little Miyako and I... we had a lot of time together. I love you. Tell me it's over."

"I hope it is. I told them it is."

"Mommy? Mommy?" Miyako was pulling at her skirt. "What did you do?"

Anya smiled. "You know what, squirt? I can't remember."