Lighthouse in the Sea of Space
It had been a long, cold journey through space, but Jace had found the monotony of the journey relieved on the last lap. Nestor, a doctor at the Lighthouse Interplanetary Base where Jace was headed, had met him at the Titan nexus and they had made the final phase of the journey together.
They were almost the only two on the space bus as it drew up to the colossal structure of the decaying space station. The lights in the bus were flickering as they cruised up to the docking bay and as the last two passengers left, they went out.
Jace had told the doctor why he was headed to the station. He was applying to be a metahuman warrior in the fight against the dread simulants, the Rogue Robots. He had been training for it at the Lunar Academy for the past three years, since he was sixteen, but even so, there was only a slim chance that he might be chosen. Now he had to have an interview with an actual metahuman, by the name of Elthera and have her test him to see if he was worthy. She was an officer on the Lighthouse Base, the furthest base from the sun. The night watch on the fringes of the endless, dark wilderness.
The doors of the airlock slid silently aside. Jace and the doctor set off down the long, gleaming corridor. Cleaning bots hovered silently over the tiles as they walked past different doorways and passages. The lights were low.
"If there's anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable, let me know," said Nestor.
"Thank you, doctor," said Jace. "For everything. Just hearing about Elthera has made me less nervous about the whole thing."
"Oh, Elthera's very nice," said Nestor, shrugging. "There's absolutely no reason to be nervous of her. None. What were you expecting?"
"Well, some metahumans are really intimidating," said Jace, remembering his academy days. "They think they're above us mere mortals."
The doctor gave a wry smile.
They entered the lift at that moment. It had a strong smell of rubber. Jace had a thought. "I suppose it's too late to introduce myself to her?"
"Not at all," said the doctor. "Elthera's a real night owl." He pressed a button on his communicator. "Ah. She's at Stumpy's Place."
He pressed a button on the lift wall and the doors slid shut. The lift descended, barely making a sound, and the doors slid open again just five seconds later. They emerged into a dark corridor, their shoes squeaking on the black plastic tiles, their way only dimly lit by blue lamps.
"To be surgically altered to become a metahuman is a rare thing," said Jace. "They pick only the best and brightest…" His voice tailed off.
They had turned into a wide, gaming hall. A crowd of men with glowing helmets were seated around a table at which there stood a lady with a bright green and shiny face. Her dark hair was tied back in a ponytail, accentuating her smooth, green forehead. Her lips were a darker green almost black. There were spheres of flashing light hovering around her. She grinned widely, her white teeth contrasting with her green face. "I win again."
The voices of the men all rose in an angry hubbub.
The green faced lady spread her arms wide. "Now now, guys. Don't be sore losers."
The doctor cleared his throat. "You have a guest, Elthera."
The gamers swiveled round to stare and mutter and Elthera beamed at the two of them. "Welcome, Jace."
"I've been telling him everything about you."
"Aah, really? Man doctor, couldn't you be more discreet than that?" Said Elthera, grinning and scrunching her shiny green nose.
"Well not quite everything. But now he's seen for himself that you gamble, hasn't he."
"Sit down and play, boy," said one of the helmeted gamers in his gruff voice. "That is, siddown if you have money."
"Not now. Jace has had a long trip," said Elthera, stepping down from the gaming platform. She had a figure that looked as if it could have been poured into a running suit, her tightly fitting top showing off the shape of her firm breasts… She took Jace by the arm. He felt thrilled at her touch. This would make the interview process a little awkward. He would probably think about her body all through it … She smiled at him. She was as tall as he was, and he was over six foot. She could look him straight in the eye. "Come on, dear. I'll show you your quarters."
She led him out of the gaming hall and into the lift, which whirred upwards. The iridescent lights of the lift played over Elthera's green face, shining off her green nose and cheeks. It looked like she had a synthetic green, mannequin face.
"So how was the journey, Jace? You've come all the way from the Lunar Base, right?"
"Um… pretty long actually. And the last part, going into the dark regions of the solar system, that was cold, so I was lucky I met the doctor…" he felt himself blushing. What did he just say that for? He had made it sound as though the doctor had given him a cuddle to warm him up ... or something.
She grinned, scrunching her shiny green nose, blue eyes sparkling. "It was lucky you two met, wasn't it? I'm so glad you made friends. He's a really nice guy."
The lift doors slid open. She beckoned and he followed her down a corridor that looked like it was carpeted with some kind of beige towelling. Weird décor. She stopped by a bare, white door with the number 5545.
"I chose your quarters myself. I want you to be comfortable. You might get a bit homesick otherwise."
Inside the room was a single bed and an en-suite bathroom. A crystal lamp hovered near the ceiling, emitting a soft, silvery glow. It was a Lunar Lamp. In fact, the room had what looked like fairly typical lunar base decorations.
"There. You'll be right at home." She clasped his hands in hers. Oh craters. He felt thrilled at her touch again as he stared at her green face, trying not to let his gaze flicker down to her chest. "Call me if you need anything, OK?"
He thanked her again, wishing he could sound interesting and impressive.
As he got ready for bed, he scolded himself for feeling uncomfortable. Elthera was really nice, just like the doctor said. He had heard stories about how some metahumans were terrifying, powerful beings who took pleasure in eliminating candidates.
He thought about her as he lay back in bed, the lunar lamp dimming to a faint glimmer. She had been gambling in the hall. Were metahumans supposed to do that? Still, who would argue with such powerful beings? He thought about her as he drifted off to sleep, but that didn't stop him feeling trepidation in the morning.
In the depths of space it is harder to keep track of time, because there is only the space station's artificial light. Jace woke early, but decided he had to leave plenty of time in case he lost the way. As a result, he arrived at Elthera's quarters a while before the agreed time.
The door was answered by a huge, sweaty muscular guy, wearing very little. Ugh.
"Sorry, sir," said Jace, "I thought these were Elthera's quarters…"
"She's in the shower."
"Oh." That was awkward. Arriving late was to be avoided, but arriving early had just embarrassed him.
"Is she expecting you?"
Well what did he think? That he would turn up in a metahuman's quarters unannounced? How much of a prat did muscly guy think Jace was?
But before he could reply, Elthera's voice sounded from across the room. "Is that Jace?"
She came striding into her room, supremely confident, despite the fact that she was only wearing a towel wrapped round her, barely concealing her breasts. Her long, dark hair hung lose now and her shapely, green legs made a strange, squeaky, plastic on plastic sound as she walked.
Oh craters, where was Jace supposed to look? He settled on meeting the gaze of the muscly guy.
"You're early again, Jace," Elthera reproached him. "I said 08:00."
"Sorry. I'll wait outside 'til then."
"Don't be silly. Come on in and make yourself comfortable."
He felt himself blushing again as he sidled over the threshold, trying not to look at her almost naked, green body. How awkward… It would probably have been better to arrive late.
Elthera spoke to the muscle man. "It's been fun. Brutal, but fun. When's our rematch?"
"I'll let you know. But now I have to get to Titan." He kissed her hand.
OK, what had they been doing? Was he her lover, or something? Jace fixed his gaze on the fine, blue carpet.
She came back into the room, grinning and at ease, even though she was still dressed in a towel…
"The kitchenette cooks up a decent Lunar breakfast. With moon rock and everything."
"I-I've already eaten, thanks."
She went into the adjoining room, but then poked her shiny green face out again. "Would you get me a black dwarf?"
"It's a Titan drink. You can order it from the vending machine by the kitchenette. Try one. You might like it."
The officers on the station had vending machines in their quarters. These machines were a lot like the ones in the public spaces, but the officers did not have to put any money in theirs. Lucky things.
Jace tried a black dwarf, but found it to be barely palatable. It was too strong and had a lingering aftertaste that rose to nausea…
He could hear Elthera speaking loudly in the other room. "Oh I'm so sore… but it's a great way to start the day."
Did she really think he needed to hear that?
"Did you ever wrestle Jovian style, Jace?"
"Wrestle?" Jace was confused.
"I'll pay for you to have a lesson with Trajan if you like, and you can see if it's your cup of tea. He's a great coach, and you know each other now, don't you?"
"Okaayyy…" That was generous of her, but it was an unwelcome sort of kindness. He didn't want to wrestle that sweaty, muscly guy, even if she enjoyed such things. But then, how could he refuse her offer and remain polite?
He stood to attention as she emerged from the bathroom. She was dressed in her black uniform with a silver stripe once more. He handed her the black dwarf.
She swallowed it down in one swig. "Mm, that's better."
She plumped herself down on the couch. "So, my dear, what would you like to do during your stay?"
"Um… isn't that up to you Ma'am?"
Her shiny, green face creased into a wry smile. "Jace… don't call me Ma'am. OK?"
He shifted nervously on his feet. "Sorry… should I say officer, or captain?"
She sighed. "Just call me Elthera. And please sit."
He gingerly sat down in the armchair opposite her.
She leaned forward. Her shiny face really was seamless as plastic. Not a blemish, not a pore. She didn't even have any eyebrows. It was like she was surgically altered into something freaky and unreal, which was of course exactly what had been done to her. He reminded himself to look her in the face and not look at her breasts.
"Do you have a request for what we do first? Anything at all?" He could feel her warm breath on his face. Her eyes were as blue as the Lunar sky. What shade of blue do you think the Lunar sky is, now that the moon has an atmosphere?
"I'd like to see more of the station, please." OK, that was the first thing that popped into his head. Lame.
She smiled reassuringly. "That's alright. Come with me. I'll give you the tour."
She took him to the bridge and introduced him to Admiral Ajax. He was an old guy with a uniform similar to Elthera's, except his had a gold stripe.
The admiral shook his hand. He certainly had a firm grip. "Ah, you must be a brave boy. Actually volunteering to be tested by a metahuman. All candidates get a real shock."
Elthera laughed. "Oh Ajax, don't tease him." She touched Jace's arm. "This Jace, is the bridge. The very top of the station. We can see all that goes on from here."
"Not quite," said Ajax. "When we took the base back from Rogue Robots, there were whole areas that were inaccessible and there are still nasties lurking in dark corners ready to pounce."
He made as if to lunge at Jace.
"Admiral…" said Elthera, just a hint of warning in her voice.
"Well any dangerous thing is probably sealed off in the lower levels," said the Commander. "Enjoy your stay, boy."
Elthera took Jace by the hand and led him to a small shuttle that only just had enough room for the two of them. He was going to have to be at close quarters with her and not look at her breasts. He could do this.
She piloted the shuttle into the silvery wake left by a dragon comet. The ethereal river shone through the shuttle portholes. It was like silvery wine flowing around their craft, no up nor down, gravity all nonsense out in the wilderness of space.
The silvery glow shone off Elthera's green cheeks as she gazed enraptured at the path of the comet. "Isn't it spectacular?" She turned to him. "Would you like to try the controls? Don't worry, I have dual controls, in case you have any difficulty. You have bronze level piloting, don't you?"
"Actually, I've just got silver. Last month." He tried not to sound smug.
"Ooh, well done, I didn't even get bronze until…"
"Until your third year at the academy," Jace interrupted and then wondered if he should have done. Just because she was friendly, didn't mean she could not end his application…
"You've been reading up on me?" she said with a smile.
"Yes." He suddenly had the urge to really impress her with how much he knew. "I know that you volunteered to be altered when the metahuman process was experimental, because you wanted to take the fight to the Rogue Robots. I always thought you were so brave and strong. I know you lost your mother when the robots took over the first interplanetary base."
There was a stricken look on her green face as she gazed back at him. He could see pain and sorrow in her blue eyes, as if the hurt and grief were still raw and her emotional pain sharp.
"I'm so sorry… I can't even imagine what it must be like, losing a beloved parent," he went on hurriedly. Had he overstepped the mark? What would she say now?
Just at that moment, the shuttle shook. Something had crashed into it. No… something was gripping it! Looking through the portholes, Jace saw looping, metal arms surrounding their little vessel and ensnaring them…