Terms of Enhancement

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

With invaluable advice and assistance from Jecel Accumpçao, Jason White, Jordan Taylor, Tarot Barnes and Shadar. Good friends and comrades all.


He wanted her so bad it ached.

And he couldn’t have her, ever.

It wasn’t a matter of rank, or an issue of fraternization. As an advisor, he wasn’t part of the formal chain of command. And this was an informal sort of army in any case, although his job was to make it more formal.

No, it was something far more fundamental that kept them apart. He was a Velorian, a supremis – and she was not.

He could have cheated, of course. Used gold. He’d done that during his wild youth on Reigel 5. But the idea repelled him now. Even if it hadn’t, he knew that getting involved in that sort of thing was a one-way ticket to a court martial.

But he couldn’t stop thinking about her. One night, some amateur musicians in the camp were playing an old Brazilian love song. It made him think of her again, and it hit him so hard that he’d had to flee to his quarters so that the troops wouldn’t see or hear him sobbing. A Velorian officer, any officer, couldn’t afford to be seen like that.

Anyway, he had his work cut out for him. StarBright Command expected him to take an entire regiment of native guerrillas and somehow turn them into high-tech soldiers. That’s what the Operations Order said, anyway. The Breakdown Orders spelled out the Situation, Mission and Execution, plus sundry housekeeping details.

The somehow was left up to Major James Kim’Vallara. He wasn’t in command of the regiment, technically, but he had to act as if he were – and make the troops believe it. They hadn’t sent him any junior officers; he was supposed to recruit those here, even though – technically again – he didn’t have the authority to do so.

"Make arrangements" was how his orders covered it.

The War Ministry considered the whole ground campaign a sideshow in any case. The Betan forces still holding Santo Antônio and the hinterlands weren’t any threat to the rest of Novo Recife, let alone the Enlightenment. The real action, if there were any, would be at the system’s wormhole a billion kilometers away. That’s where the ships were, guarding against any renewed counterattack by the Empire. No chance of space support.

That’s where the Protectors were, too. No chance of support from them, either.

No atmospheric craft or armored groundcars, for that matter, which made sense if you thought about it, given the logistic nightmare of trying to ship that sort of stuff across interstellar distances, not to mention the iffiness of the fuel situation here.

What they’d sent instead was a shipment of body armor with a bunch of high-tech bells and whistles that made sense for a high-tech professional army, but here….

Well, OpOrds were OpOrds and BreakOrds were BreakOrds. He’d have to make it all work somehow. Major Somehow. That was him.


It was her face, oddly enough, that had made him fall in love with her. She was wearing heavy body armor at the time, so he couldn’t see much else.

A lot of Velorians would have found that face plain. Certainly not the Nordic ideal. But there was a strange kind of beauty there, born of a peculiar mix of genes and a peculiar life experience that had begun in hardship and ended in determination.

Novo Recife was one of those planets settled by the Aurean harvesting expeditions that had begun after the break with Velor. The Aureans had this fixed idea that they could, secure the frontiers of their realm just by taking people from remote corners of Earth, dumping them on a new world and letting them breed – under supervision, of course.

The Aureans had always prided themselves on their inclusiveness. They’d take northern Europeans, sure – but also any other kind of Europeans, plus Africans, Asians, Native Americans, whatever. And any combination of whatever. In this case, it had been caboclos from the back country of Brazil.

As the Soviet Union on Earth was later to do with ethnic minorities, the Empire made a show of respecting cultural traditions of the transplantees. Two centuries later, Novo Recife was (apart from some updates allowed in popular culture) very much like the original Brazilian Nordeste, from its tiled roof houses and baroque public buildings to festivals like Carnaval and countless variations on dishes like feijoadas – a blend of pork, sausage, black beans and spices originally created by African slaves.

But the Aureans had fucked it up the way they always did. For all their show of liberality on cultural matters, they ruled with an iron fist. They abolished African slavery, to be sure, but drafted children of the transplantees and their children’s children to serve as contract laborers and comfort women on or offworld. Some Betans were attracted to the idea of being grandees, and carved out rich plantations – rich for themselves, but not for those who worked them. Others created industrial fiefdoms and became the ruling class of Santo Antônio, the capital.

Generations of Novo Recifense were reared on resentment – a resentment that eventually flared into rebellion. That happened a lot on Aurean worlds, and the result was nearly always the same: swift and brutal suppression. But this time it was different. The Velorian Senate actually decided to do something about it. Could you believe it?

James Kim’Vallara couldn’t – not until he’d found himself assigned as advisor to a regiment of native troops. They were all veterans, of a sort. They’d managed to slaughter or drive off the Betan grandees of the rural plantações, overrun nearly all the small towns of the outback, and forced the occupation forces into Santo Antônio and environs. But they still had a lot to learn before they could finish the job.

Bidu Braga was a group captain. He’d checked her records after he’d seen her for the first time at a briefing for his training program. Came from a poor family. Well, that was par for the course here. Word was she’d been raped by a Betan trooper when she was 16. Hadn’t resisted, obviously – a frail didn’t resist an Aurean if she wanted to stay alive. But when the rebellion broke out, she was one of the first to volunteer.

The rebels had had the advantage of surprise, seized control of Assumpçao spaceport, cut off Novo Recife from the Empire, and commandeered a ship. Some of the comfort women had been able to learn more than they should have from pillow talk with Betan pilots and astrogators – several of whom they took hostage. Somehow, they’d made it to Velor to plead their cause.

Bidu had led the rear guard, helping hold off the Betan column from the capital with captured weapons until the commandeered ship had escaped – and the captured explosives done their work on the remaining vessels. In the confusion of the explosions, she and most of her group had managed the escape the spaceport in ground vehicles. Even so, they suffered further casualties on the road before reaching friendly territory.

By the time the Aureans sent a task force to squash the rebellion, a Velorian allied armada was already in the system. The allied cruisers took out the Aurean destroyers, and a couple of Protectors took out the Primes. But there was still ground fighting to be done; the stranded Betan forces knew they were in for it, and were determined to fight to the end. Major Kim’Vallara was here to help them fight to the end – their end.

The Betans holding out in and around the capital still hoped for another relief expedition from the Empire. The allied detachment could have smashed the city flat with a long-range missile, but the Novo Recifense didn’t want that: Santo Antônio was theirs. Smart bombing was also out, even if the spacecraft had been available; the Betans were occupying historic buildings.

The Protectors had to remain in space, ready to help the cruisers deal with any further Aurean threats there. So Major Somehow had to come up with a plan that would end the ground war and make everybody happy.



He’d had to fly in under his power; the equipment had already arrived by insystem shuttle. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go, but that was how it went.

And that was why the Novo Recifense were wearing battle armor when they turned out for morning shape-up the first day.

It was just fate, James supposed, and he didn’t know the half of it until later. A lot of the armor didn’t fit right. Most of the time, it was too large, but there were exceptions. One of them was Bidu. She looked grim and determined to him; what he didn’t know at the time was that the grim part was on account of the chestpiece of her armor squashing her breasts.

Her determination was real, however, as was her exotic beauty. But he wasn’t supposed to think about things like that. He was supposed to look tough and act tough. He knew the drill. He’d done it before.

Unfortunately, not on a world that spoke Portuguese, and him having to rely heavily on a hastily programmed translator. But Comandante João Fernandes was at the front with the rest of the rebel forces, so it was all up to him.

Things went wrong from the start.

Well, not quite the start; he got what he judged was a rousing introduction from a local chefe. There were cheers from the troops as he took his place at the head of the reviewing stand, shouts of "Viva Velor!" as well as "Viva a revoluçao!" But then….

"I’m Major James Kim’Vallara, Velorian StarBright Corps, and I’m here to save your sorry asses, so you better listen up."

He paused a moment to let the translator do its job.

"Eu estou aqui conservar seus burros pesarosos, assim que você escutaria mais melhor acima." was how it came out.

There were titters among the troops.

Damn, he thought. The fucking computer must be taking him too literally. He tried again.

"You guys may think you’re really tough shit, but what you are is damned lucky. Sure you took that spaceport, but don’t brag about it: you were up against a really stupid bunch of Betans. If the Empire manages to send reinforcements, they won’t be stupid. And the ones still holed up in the capital aren’t going to be stupid any more."

"Você companheiros pode pensar que você é merda realmente resistente, mas o que você é é afortunado amaldiçoado. Certo você fêz exame desse espaçoporto mas não gabe sobre ele: você estava acima de encontro a um grupo realmente estupido de Betans. Se o Império controlar emitir reforços, não serão estupido. E esses furados ainda acima no capital não serão mais longos estupido."

More titters, and some looks of confusion. Maybe he should have taken deepteach, he thought later. But for now, all he could think of was that he had to salvage the situation, and fast. Swallow false pride for the sake of real pride.

So he made his appeal, which he figured had to be simple enough that even the stupidest translator couldn’t fuck it up.

"Alguém aqui fala Velorês?"

One of the guerrillas stepped forward. It wasn’t Bidu; Xuxa Sayão was more typical of the ancestral Brazilians of the Nordeste: dark skinned, a mix of African and Indian genes with none of the Dutch that showed in the group captain’s looks. She was also shorter, barely five feet. But it turned out that she was a godsend; not only did she know Velorian, but her voice could match his own decibel for decibel.

James outlined what the training program was all about, what their equipment was all about. It wasn’t just for protection, he explained; it was part of command and control. New or amended orders would appear on their visor readouts; the code words for maneuvers and locations would change every three hours on the hour. They’d be alerted by sound tones, which would also change every third hour. If the programming can be adapted, he thought to himself.

"You will learn the equipment," he exhorted them. "You will learn the codes. They will become second nature to you. They will become a part of you. They will help you fight for this world, for your world. And you will win. Velor is with you to the end. I am with you to the end."

He got cheers instead of titters this time.

It was working.


Two weeks later, it wasn’t working.

Not the language problem. James was picking up the basics with Xuxa’s help. Anyway, it was too late to think about deepteach in Portuguese. He could have overcome the common prejudice – deepteach was frowned on in the Enlightenment because it smacked of hypnotism, one of the few vulnerabilities Velorians faced – but there was no cube at hand here.

Anyway, Xuxa was helping him learn. Xuxa, the friend of Bidu. Before the rebellion, she been a championship swimmer and scuba diver. No military experience, hadn't even been into the girl gang thing. But she'd taken to war like a fish to water. She'd also taken to Bidu – no, not that way, but as a comrade-in-arms. She'd helped with a lot of problems, but she couldn’t help him with this one.

The problem was with the battle suits. Not the programming, the suits themselves. They were simply too big for most of the troops, and there was nothing that could be done about that. They must have been designed for people on Reigel 5 or some other allied world; here, they’d be more a hindrance than a help in combat. The training manual had nothing to say about this, natch. So he’d have to improvise. Somehow.

Yeah, Major Somehow again.

You didn’t want to risk a frontal assault against the Aurean western line without armor, that was for sure. And you needed those command and control functions. James stared at the map for the hundredth time.

To the South, the Aurean defensive line was anchored on the Pântano Grande, a morass of heavily thicketed swamp that reached to the sea. No way through that. From there, it followed Rio Amado northwards until it reached the Gap where a steep ridge called the Espinha Dorsal nearly intersected the river. The Espinha Dorsal was the other anchor. The Aureans had already blown the main highway bridge.

Cross the river above the gap and hump it over the ridge? That seemed the most obvious thing. But the ridge was treacherous, from the peculiar structure that gave it its name. Segments of hard rock interrupted by softer segments that had eroded into clefts. The clefts were hard to traverse because of the loose rock at that had accumulated there – and dangerous because they could easily be covered from the crests of the vertebrae. Without armor, it would be suicide.

Artillery would have helped, but they didn’t have any. The Betans hadn’t had any use for it out in the boondocks. What they’d had, and what the guerrillas had managed to capture some of, was a small fleet of tanks and armored cars, stashes of ammunition, and a treasure trove of projectile and energy weapons.

Fernandes had taken one of the APCs as a staff car; the rest of the armored vehicles were camouflaged and parked this side of the blown bridge, accomplishing nothing. Fernandes’ division exchanged automatic weapons fire with the Betans across the river, again accomplishing nothing as far as Major Kim’Vallara was concerned.

During the uprising, the rebels had improvised weapons like spears tipped with a poison to which they’d learned the Betans were vulnerable. They’d had to outnumber the enemy six to one, and stab really hard, but they’d brought it off. By the time the Betan field commanders had gotten over their surprise, the rebels had captured enough weapons to ensure that they no longer needed surprise to drive the Aurean forces back to the river.

But surprise was done with now. That seemed to be the way of it, except for the unpleasant surprise of the guerrillas and battle armor that didn’t fit. So what to do? Well the first thing was to get an accurate count of how many of his 7,500-odd men and women could find armor that fit.

About twenty per cent, it developed after a couple of days of turning the training ground into a huge changing room. Now what could he do with 1,500 armored troops? More important, what could he do with the 6,000 unarmored? And what could Fernandes do with his 45,000 along the Rio Amado?


She’d volunteered for this mission, she and Xuxa and the others – Heitor, Modinha, Gilberto, Jango, Sonia, Adriana and the rest. The blond warrior from O Imperio Brilhante hadn’t wanted to accept her, she knew, and she knew why: she could see the look in his eyes.

That same look was in her own eyes, if only he had the nerve to look for it. But this was war, and the war came first. He’ hadn’t said a word against her volunteering, despite his feelings. Anyway, she knew that what he wanted – what she herself wanted – was impossible. The mission was only improbable.

It had taken weeks of planning and preparation, from digging in the tanks and rigging their targeting systems to building the rafts. But it still depended on her and her comrades, to take the nearest heights on the Espinha Dorsal. From there they could train their heavy weapons – well, the heaviest they’d been able to find and carry – on the Aurean anchor position below to cover the amphibious assault by Fernandes’ main force.

It had all begun, Major Kim’Vallara told her, with something he’d read once about how Iraq had used tanks in a war with Iran. She’d never heard of either country; Iraq had been part of Turkey and Iran was still called Persia when her ancestors had been abducted. But she was smart; she got the idea. Like the major said, it could work. Could.

Timing was essential, she knew as she crouched with her assault team north of the Espinha Dorsal. They’d been given a day and a half to work their way up the river, make their crossing, and make their way back down this side under cover of darkness, hoping that the Aureans didn’t have any heat sensors aimed their way. The main force was keeping up desultory fire across the river as a distraction. So far, they hadn’t been spotted. They’d know pretty soon if they had. Or maybe not; maybe they’d just be dead. With or without armor, and they were without.

Bidu scanned the readout on her visor. No change in orders. The countdown clock was still running, and she knew it was synchronized with those across the river. Five, four, three, two, one, zero.

Number one tank opened up on the summit of Vertebra One. The other tanks began firing on Aurean positions below the ridge on the other side. Bidu’s team rushed forward, grappling hooks at the ready. Just like the drill. There were slopes they could have climbed without the grapples, but Major De Algum Modo had wanted to ensure the element of surprise.

Ropes secured, they scrambled to the top. No easy task with the gear they carried, but no need to be quiet; the Betans would never hear them over the din of the tank fire if they’d survived the attack. Adriana barked her shin; no big deal: this wasn’t a track meet. Bidu and the rest formed up at the north side of the crest, just as their visor clocks signaled that number one tank had ceased firing on the south side. The timing was perfect; the surviving Betan troops were just emerging from their shelters when they found themselves being attacked from behind. They didn’t last long.

Bidu punched a coded signal: all secure. She unlimbered the RPG grenade launcher she’d carried with her. The others were responsible for the grenades. Her team’s next task was to lay down a smoke screen this side of the river while disorienting the enemy with random fire from an unexpected direction.

But then another coded signal came in: suppress artillery at Location HBA-127.

What the hell was this? One of the other tanks was supposed to be on it; anyway, it was out of her range, even if she’d had a round sure to be effective. Nothing was said about the rest of the mission, so she went ahead with that, laid down the smoke screen, fired heavy fragmentation grenades into the Betan forward positions.

Through her field glasses, she could see Betans go down, others scattering, before the smoke closed over them. She returned to launching grenades, incendiaries now, into the smoke. Bright red flashes showed through the gray, sometimes followed by black smoke as something caught. An acrid smell hit her as some of the smoke wafted up the hill.

They were running low now. She didn’t want to waste RPGs, but she had her orders. So she figured a trajectory as best she could, fired an incendiary at Location HBA-127. As she expected, it fell short. The rest of the rocket grenades were for the troops below, to sow further confusion and panic. She didn’t know how well she’d been doing, but she caught a faint whiff of burning flesh…

And then nothing happened. The troops across the river weren’t laying down their part of the smoke screen. The rafts were supposed to be in the water by now, but they weren’t, even though the other tank guns were still firing on this shore. Were they actually waiting for her to finish carrying out that impossible suppression order?

As the smoke cleared, it was obvious that there had been some kind of major fuckup. Return fire from Aurean artillery was raking the far shore of the river. Then an enemy shell hit the ridge, just below their position. The concussion hit her head like a hammer, and the smoke and dust burned in her nostrils.

She glanced at the others. They seemed frozen in place, Gilberto’s nose was bleeding, and Sonia was having a coughing fit. She had to snap them out of it.

"Back," she ordered. "I’ll cover you."

Already an enemy force was moving up the defile to their left, to cut off their retreat. Maybe another would be climbing the ridge, but first things first. She moved north, found a position ahead of the force in the defile and opened up on them with depleted uranium bullets: Betan busters. She took out half a dozen of them before the rest ran for cover.

Another shell hit the ridge, closer this time. She was deafened for a moment. Shards of rock and dirt rained down on her, caused a few scratches, nothing worse. And it could be a lot worse, she knew; they could have sent climbers instead of that second shell. They must think she was still atop the south face.

A signal from Xuxa: the rest had made it back down the way they’d come, and were headed north. She should be joining them, but the enemy was sure to follow – if she let them. She wasn’t going to let them. The Betans in the defile were poking their heads out; she took an energy rifle, used it as a cutting tool to loosen some of the rock above them and send in crashing down on their position.

Then an enemy round from an unexpected direction barely missed her.

Merda! They had somebody on the next vertebra, across the defile. She lobbed a hand grenade across, then retreated from the crest, kept low as she headed back for the ropes. But there were Betans already there. From the other vertebra, she guessed. She took a hit in the left arm before she could back off. She scrambled away, ignoring the wound, not yet feeling it. Then she took a moment to tie it off.

There were probably more people coming up behind her. But she was done for in any case; she didn’t think she could scramble down the rope one-armed even if the enemy weren’t there to pick her off. The most she could do was keep the Betans busy, maybe even make them think the rest were still up here. She used the rest of her hand grenades, tossing them randomly over the brink. No point poking her head out to use the energy rifle. She’d save that for when she saw their own heads.

Nothing to do now but wait. Her arm hurt like hell now. But what hurt worse was that the Velorian major had let her down. The plan might have worked, just might have, if he’d stuck to it. She would die cursing him.

There were curses down below, screams. Maybe one of the ropes had broken. Well, that wasn’t going to stop them for long.

She was feeling woozy, too. Couldn’t think straight. Nothing to think about anyway, except the enemy coming for her. No, there was something else to think about it: her parents, whom she hadn’t seen in a year and would never see again. Were they still selling feijoadas from their cart, or had the Aureans taken it? Worse, taken Jorge and Maria themselves? She’d have given anything to free them. Now she’d give anything just to see them again.

She thought of the Velorian major again. Tried not to. Did anyway.

And then an angel came for her.


Bidu had never believed in angels, so she wasn’t entirely surprised when she woke up in a field hospital instead of Heaven. James was there by her bed.

"You’ll be all right," he told her. "That bullet was infected, but we’ve knocked it down."

Sim, muito obrigada. She was about to tell him to piss off when he anticipated her.

"I didn’t call off the attack," he said. "It was Fernandes. He thought he had a better idea. We’re still waiting to hear what it is."

A woman stepped into her view. A Velorian. A Protector. Bidu had never seen one before, but there was no mistaking her uniform, or her look.

"This is Cher’ee. She flew you out."

"Mas, as régras de combate?"

"The rules of engagement have changed. A lot of things have changed. That’s why she’s here."

"Jim says you’re a real heroine," Cher’ee told her. "We need more heroines. And heroes. That’s really why I’m here. But I hadn’t expected to meet a potential recruit under such circumstances."

Uma recruta? But she was already a soldier.

"I’ll explain everything later, when you’re better up to it. But there are some other people you’ll want to see now. They all made it, thanks to you."

Her comrades were there. Xuxa and the others. Tears came to her eyes. Soon they were all crying. Even the men joined in.

"Eu me senti como um covarde," said Gilberto, who looked too slight and slender to be as soldier but had always carried more than his weight. "Mas Xuxa disse que seria disrespeito recusar teu presente da vida."

And now the gift of life had been returned to her. But there was more, she learned.

"Dizem que vão dar a alguns de nós uma melhoria," Gilberto continued. "Tornar-nos como eles. É uma política nova do Império Brilhante."

What the Velorians called enhancement. For her own people. Some of them. She had a sudden vision of what she’d like to do with James if she were enhanced. It made her wet between the legs.


"Bidu’s a Latent," Cher’ee told him.

"That’s impossible!"

"The bioscan can’t lie."

"Are routine bioscans set to detect Latents these days?"

"Mine are. It’s part of the Initiative."

"What Initiative?"

Therein lay a story, and James couldn’t believe his ears as she told it. A revolution on Velor? No more High Council? Sweeping policy changes, the sweeping away of sacred traditions? And all because of some rogue Protector?

"A rogue no longer," Cher’ee told him. "Not that Theel’dara ever was one, the way you mean. Her father’s prime minister now. And… he’s married your mother."


"Why wasn’t I told of this?"

"You’re being told now. It was rather sudden and unexpected. As sudden and unexpected as the rest of it. There was no way to send a Messenger; they’re all too busy notifying other Protectors. But I didn’t want you to hear from a stranger. I didn’t choose Novo Recife at random for my first recruiting mission."

It was so hard to take in. He vaguely remembered the Utvandrer scandal from a decade or more ago. He hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time; he was offworld, as he usually was. Theel’dara must have trained under StarBright Command, but he couldn’t call up any image of her. He hoped Utvandrer wasn’t another of Mother’s mistakes, like that Kelsorian star captain – Durward, had his name been? No matter.

Thinking back to that time, he thought of Terri. She’d been his redemption, although she might not have known it at the time. After the scandal of Nikki, after the treason of Alisa, she’d given him a way out. B-Class Vels weren’t supposed to serve in the military, but she’d gotten him in anyway, and he’d never looked back. Mother used to call him 200% Velorian, because of his fervor – and because he could never forgive Alisa. He could never understand how the others could.

And all because Terri Raul’lan had turned a spoiled teenager into a man that night on Reigel 5, so many years ago….

Cher’ee somehow caught his thought.

"Terri’s Star Marshal now."

What? She’d been forcibly retired a few years ago at age 150.

"Star Marshal?" was all he could say.

"Supreme commander of Velorian and allied forces for the duration. Including the Auxiliary Protector Corps and the Velorian Legion."


"That’s my part of it. That’s what I’m recruiting. Allies to fight beside as equals. As close to equals as we can make them, anyway. All for one and one for all."

James couldn’t think of anything to say.

"You’re not much for words today, are you James?"

"Maybe too much for words. It’s so… overwhelming."

"It was for me, too. More than you can imagine. Did I ever tell you about the algorithm?"


He sifted through distant memories again, from Reigel Five. Not during the civil war; before that, when she was a new Protector and her grandfather lay dying. They’d both been mathematicians, he recalled, like… no, he didn’t want to go there. But he hadn’t been interested in math or science. He hadn’t been interested in anything, really, except… and until… No, he still didn’t want to go there.

"Grandfather had started work in it. After my parents were killed. An algorithm for the war. To try to account for what happened."

"You don’t need math to account for that. Somebody got stupid, is all."

"Cher’el didn’t think so. And after he died, after I looked over his notes, neither did I."

She’d taken his notes with her, in a cube encased in a message crystal. Through her training. Through her assignments. She worked on the algorithm when she could, which wasn’t often. The kind of worlds where she was assigned usually didn’t have the kind of computers she needed. When they did, she often didn’t have the time.

"Like at Iskander Five, I had to take out a whole Aurean squadron, including two Primes, and a Tset’lar. That was no picnic, I can tell you! But they’d already fried the local systems with an EMP, and by the time the Iskandrans got them rebuilt, I’d been sent to Gaugan. Low-tech as it gets, but it was an education, especially when you consider our history with them."

James was astounded at how lightly she could speak of fighting two Primes and a Tset’lar, but her face took on a more somber look as she returned to the story of the algorithm. About how she kept plugging in new factors, running simulations. At first, the results had been confusing and ambiguous, but as she refined the algorithm further, they took a disturbing turn. She had expressed her concern in a dispatch home by Messenger, but the dispatch had been ignored.

"They found it later in the archives of the High Council. Along with other warnings."

None of those warnings had been passed on to the Senate. Not that it would have mattered at the time. Cher’ee, meanwhile, had tried to make the algorithm come out better, but it wouldn’t. Not unless she entered new, entirely hypothetical factors. Things that could never happen.

"But they’re happening now," she said. "I took my work to Naomi. She remembered me from Reigel Five, of course. And she took it to Sigurd. And it became part of the Theel’dara Initiative. And they brought Terri out of retirement and made her Star Marshal to implement it."

"Theel’dara again? What did she have to do with it?"

Cher’ee burst out laughing.

"Nothing! She doesn’t have a clue about anything like that."

The only reason Theel’dara had come back at all was to plead for the survivors of a planet she’d been exiled to that had been wiped out by a pulsar cannon. She’d have thought herself lucky to avoid the Annihilation Chamber.

"But she made it all possible," Cher’ee continued, her tone serious again. "And I’m here to turn possibility into reality."

She winked at him.

"I think I’m going to enjoy my work. All that enhancement….

But James wasn’t thinking of Cher’ee’s pleasure, still less her algorithm. He was caught up in his vision of what he wanted to do with Bidu, once she was enhanced. He had a raging hard-on.

"Is that for me?" Cher’ee teased.

James was embarrassed. Sure, he’d love to fuck her. It was just that…

"You’ll have plenty of time for her. We believe in keeping couples together. That’s part of the Initiative too. And you’ll be a famous couple. I could see it in her eyes, and yours… But right now, I really need a nice friendly fuck. And so do you."


There was a lull in the fighting, and heightened security to make sure that Aurean Ground Command didn’t find out what that lull was about.

Bidu and the other candidates had been sent to a remote plantation encampment, supposedly on furlough. James and Cher’ee traveled with them, driving one of the trucks. James hadn’t flown since his arrival on Novo Recife, and Cher’ee had done so only to rescue Bidu. It was important to keep a low profile.

It wasn’t that the Aureans, mere Betans since the destruction of the Imperial naval force and the Primes that had come with it, would be any threat to the enhancees. But if they somehow got wind of the enhancement program, they might take out their fear and anger on the civilian population, even try to destroy the capital in revenge.

Cher’ee knew the drill on that. And on her own role.

"They still treat women as brood mares on some planets," she kidded. "What does that make me – an enhancement mare?"

Not that she was complaining. She'd be getting a lot of male attention. As for the females… she didn't swing that way, but she had to admit that the beauty of some of the women candidates was matched only by the natural splendor of the planet.

Some of those women had been reluctant to go down on her, but she managed to convince them that it was strictly a medical procedure. On the other hand, a few had been eager eaters. That was all right with Cher’ee, too. As for the gay men, "Just pretend my clit’s a dick," she told them. Since she had a large one, especially when fully aroused, they came around. Or maybe it was her pheromones.

Diversity of all kinds was part of the Theel’dara Initiative. Bioscans had revealed a number of other Latents, even among darker skinned Novo Recifense. That surprised Cher’ee as much as it did James. Had the Galen been playing tricks with the human genome that even Velorian authorities had never known of?

James maintained a vigil by Bidu’s bedside as she endured the fever of enhancement, as the retrovirus worked its way through her genesets. They talked about their families, their lives, their feelings for each other and how they’d grown, neither guessing at the time that those feelings were mutual.

"I already knew what you’d done at the spaceport," he told her. "I knew it took courage and intelligence and even love. Everything Xuxa told me about you… You were a real soldier, better than Fernandes and his bunch. You must have known it. Yet you never complained. You wore that silly armor until it finally sank in on me that it wasn’t going to work. You never complained about the forced marches, never flinched during live-fire exercises, never—"

"Mas tudo isso é somente o dever de um soldado," she said. "Eu não queria nada mais do que para lutar por meu mundo, porque eu amo Novo Recife. Mas então tu vieste, O homem do Império Brilhante, e então eu queria lutar por ti. Eu amei-o muito desde o primeiro dia."

From the very first day, she had loved him. And he had sent her…

No, he hadn’t sent her. She’d sent herself. If he’d objected, she’d have insisted. She would have wanted him to carry out his duty, even as she was carrying out hers. She was that brave. She loved her world and her people that much. She loved him. And but for chance, she would have gone to her grave, and he would never have known.

He had been terrified when the operation had gone sour, knowing she didn’t have a chance of making it out. Cher’ee had arrived in the middle of things, hadn’t had any idea what was going on. She’d wanted a sitrep, but instead he’d told her about Bidu, about how he loved her and she didn’t deserve to die. He'd known nothing about the enhancement program, had never dreamed that such a thing might be possible. Yet he had framed his appeal in two words: "Save her."

Cher’ee had. Without argument, without hesitation. She knew he couldn't abandon his command to rescue Bidu himself. That she should agree to such a personal favor was the first shock of many to come. But he wasn’t complaining.

He wasn’t complaining now. He wasn’t terrified. He wasn’t even worried about the fever; he knew that it was normal. Like all the enhancement candidates, she had been screened for potential complications. There were none. And she was a Latent… Skietra, she might end up stronger and more invulnerable than himself. M-Class equivalent. But all his. Every delicious bit of her.

Bidu could see the anticipation in his eyes and in his cock. She took his hand, guided it to her crotch, which was drenched – and not just with sweat from her fever. He pulled away her hospital gown and gently, oh so gently, caressed her engorged clit, then lowered his mouth to lick it tenderly and drink her juices, while his hand found her breasts and worshipped them just as tenderly.

His sperm could still kill her, he knew, so he was wearing a pair of the vitaninium shorts that had been designed for the Legion. Invulnerable soldiers needed invulnerable uniforms, and nothing could get though these. But the invulnerable, impenetrable material was also extremely stretchy – one size had to fit all. So his shorts were performing above and beyond the call of duty today, creating a spermproof tent for his supremis cock.

As James played with Bidu’s pussy and breasts, as they kissed passionately, her own hand was on his shorts, massaging his cock. Getting a hand job might not seem like a big deal to a man of his age and experience, but it was her hand, and it was her eyes gazing lovingly at him even as his eyes gazed lovingly at her. Soon, soon, he knew, he could be inside this lovely, exotic creature. But soon wasn’t soon enough for either of them, as they petted each other to climax.

He’d never have believed, a year ago, that he could be so happy to come in his pants.


"What do we do about Fernandes?" Cher’ee asked.

"We don’t do anything about him," James said. "If he’s still afraid to cross the river, that’s no longer a problem. He just has to make enough noise to convince the Aureans that he might. As for what happens to him after the war, I suppose the voters will have a say in that."

"He could stage a coup. It happens a lot, in situations like this."

"Him and what army? I hear from the troops all the time. He won’t have an army if he tries that. Nobody likes him any more. Fortunately, he hasn’t figured that out."

"But will he cooperate with Espinha II?"

"Sure, and he’ll be ready to try to take the credit for it, if it works."

Espinha II had been deliberately misnamed. If the Aureans somehow got wind of it, they’d be expecting a repeat performance, and they’d get the illusion of one. The dug-in tanks were still there, even the rafts were still there. The troops were still there, training for an amphibious assault.

The joker was that there really would be an amphibious assault. Just not where the Aureans were expecting it. It would happen without any boats. Without any armor. Boats would give it all away, and armor would get in the way – to say the least.

Kim’Vallara’s regiment had been pulled back from the front for remedial training, as if it had had something to do with the failure of the crossing. Fernandes was fool enough to half believe it. But the training involved swimming, wading through muck and breathing through reeds if they had to. They dressed light, and their only equipment was their weapons and the com visors that would keep them in touch with command and each other.

"Of course, you realize that we could just fly in ourselves and deal with Ground Command," James remarked at one point.

"We could," Cher’ee responded. "And if it comes to that, we will. But the whole point of the Initiative is to give our allies as sense of participation. We want to instill a sense of pride in them, a sense that we need them as much as they need us. Which in the long run we do. We need all the help we can get to defeat the Empire."

About half the enhancees would remain on Novo Recife, becoming the world’s Protectors, in effect. The rest would serve terms offworld in the new Velorian Legion, supporting Auxiliary Protectors and conventional forces in defense of Enlightenment worlds and in carrying the war to the Aureans.

"Somebody suggested calling it the Foreign Legion, but that idea was shot down pretty fast," Cher’ee said. "We don’t want our allies to think of themselves as foreigners. The best thing the Roman Empire ever did was decide that anyone in the Empire could become a Roman citizen. A few people are arguing that Velor should adopt that idea. I don’t think it will fly. But Enlightenment citizenship – we could have that. Now that Naomi’s a senator, I think she’ll push it."

His mother a senator! She’d told him before, but he could still hardly believe it.

James’ head was swimming. Complications, complications.


The first thing she noticed was that the bugs weren’t bothering her any more.

There wasn’t any way to keep them down at the plantation. Open the windows and they came right in. Close them and it became oppressively hot. No air conditioning, or any hope of same: the Aureans had sabotaged the plant before they’d fled, and repairing it wasn’t exactly a priority. Portable generators were reserved for more vital functions.

The second thing she noticed was her sense of well being. She’d thought at first that it was just the fever having gone down, but now she realized it was more than that. She’d had fevers before, and their passing had given her a sense of relief: fevers here could kill you, if you were poor and couldn’t afford doctors or medicine. But she’d always felt tired from the ordeal…

That was it. She didn’t feel tired. She no longer felt the ache where she’d been shot, either. Nor any of the minor aches and pains, or even itches, that she had taken for granted. More, she felt full of energy, as if she could take on the world.

Eu me sinto muito bom, she thought. Eu nunca me senti assim antes.

So good she felt, yes, like never before. And other things were like never before, she began to realize. Her vision was better, sharper. She could make out the leaves and branches of the trees far across the field. The birds outside were singing a pretty song, and she could hear them more distinctly. Some were further away than she was used to hearing, and the songs of near and distant birds wove musical patterns she had never heard before.

She looked around. None of the other candidates seemed to have awakened yet. But she had to tell someone that it has worked. Surely Xuxa, her closest friend. But then a doubt crossed her mind: had it all worked? The way James and Cher’ee had said it would? She had to find out.

Bidu felt herself. To her own hands, it was the same as before; her breasts, legs and ass had always been firm, and they felt the same now. She even felt the same longing when she thought of James. Where was he now? Then she remembered: a morning strategy session with Cher’ee and the field officers. Then more training sessions for Espinha II.

She sat up, got out of bed. She felt light. Not light-headed, just light, as if gravity no longer mattered. She couldn’t fly, she knew; Cher’ee had told her why: the retrovirus couldn’t grow organs like the volotai where none had existed. But she could jump…

Looking at the ceiling, less than a meter above her head, she decided to try it outside. Better not wake the others just yet, she also decided. She tiptoed out the nearest door – she could actually do that easily now, then pondered her next move. She briefly considered jumping over the building, but what if she misjudged, came down on the roof?

A tree was safer. Not much risk of damage there. She picked an isolated one at the near edge of the field, about 15 meters tall. She called to mind gymnastics class at school – one of the better years when her parents could afford school, assumed the stance.

"Para o alto e avante," she subvocalized as she sprang. Up, up and away.

Away she flew, barely brushing the top of the tree. It was sheer luck that she’d come so close in judging her trajectory. And sheer bad luck that she hadn’t anticipated her lack of coordination. She tumbled out of control, came down head first, plowing a meter into the ground.

"Um pulo gigante para Novo uma Recifense," she muttered, spitting out dirt as she used her arms to propel herself out of the pit. Not so great a leap, really. But no harm done, unless you counted the ground. Not to herself, not even to the tree.

But the sound of her hard landing had drawn attention. One of the medics had come to the door, looking to see what had happened. Inside, she could see and hear, the other candidates were stirring.

She picked herself up, started back inside.

"Que está errado? he medic asked.

"Não é nada," she said, as she tried to brush past the medic.

The medic knew it wasn’t nothing, knew that Bidu must have completed her transformation.

"Fique aqui," he told her. "Eu aviserei o major."

He could have gotten James on the com, she supposed, but must have been instructed to deliver the message personally. She smiled at the thought; she didn’t think James would have given the same instructions in regard to any of the others.

The medic had left the door to the dispensary open, and an idea formed in her mind. A wicked idea, but an idea just the same. She took a scalpel, held it behind her as she returned to the recovery room. The others were all awake now, but not comfortable, being in various stages of enhancement fever. Still, most of them sat up in bed, staring at her in wonder.

"É verdade, você é a primeira!" Xuxa exclaimed. "Você é Velorian agora."

"Não exatamente," she countered. "Mas quase. Deixe-me mostrár quão próximo."

She showed them, taking the scalpel and drawing it across her belly, pressing hard. Her strength was enough to press the implement perhaps a centimeter into her flesh, but the razor-sharp surgical steel didn’t leave a mark, and her newly enhanced flesh rebounded instantly as the blade snapped off and the pressure was removed.

"Olhe isto," Bidu said. "Logo vos seráo como eu."

They looked. They saw. They believed.

"Quando?" they asked.

"Muito logo," she assured them.

Yes, very soon. But she was thinking of something else she wanted to happen very soon. Something that made her all warm and tingly inside to think of it.

At that very moment, the medic walked in, followed by James.


The medic yelled at her.

She apologized for breaking the scalpel.

James told her she was setting a bad example. Enhancement was serious business. Moreover, it was military business. He was glad she had made it, of course, not that he’d ever doubted it. But he had work to do. He really had to get back to it. He’d get together with her during lunch break, not that either of them really needed lunch. Meanwhile, she should stay out of trouble.

He said it all with a straight face, but as he headed out the door, he turned back for a second and winked. The gesture wasn’t lost on the others.

"O amas," Xuxa said. "Mesmo assim, tu deves fazer o que ele diz. Não faça amá-la criar mais problemas para ele."

Yes, for the sake of his love, she’d stay out of trouble. Well, she’d try to. But she was feeling too good to just hang around the recovery room, she wanted to be out and around. A thought came to her as she stepped out the door, so she headed for stores. She could draw her new uniform, at least. That wouldn’t cause any trouble.

She’d heard the story about how Cher’ee had arrived here with the Legion uniforms stuffed inside her own Protector’s uniform. That must have been a sight! But it was a sudden thing, and she hadn’t had any transportation besides herself. Luckily, there wasn’t much bulk to the uniforms: just two pieces for the women (Small ones at that!), single pieces for the men, with variations in design to denote rank and/or specialty.

She drew her uniform, changed immediately before the eyes of the startled clerk, and called HQ, leaving a message for James to meet her at the firing range when he got free. She was eager to test her new body, and wanted him there to see it. That was still several hours away, so she had to find other diversions until then. Diversions that wouldn’t make trouble.

With practice, she got better at jumping the tree, but there was the problem of boring holes in the ground even when she landed on her feet. Filling them wasn’t as easy as it might have seemed, either, because a lot of the dirt was compressed instead of being just thrown aside. She did the best she could, but decided she’d better find a tree more distant from the compound to practice on, where the holes wouldn’t be a nuisance or a hazard to others.

She could run faster than a speeding bullet, but she had the momentum of a speeding bullet too. She’d chosen the open field for her first run, paralleling the forest, but couldn’t stop before she ran smack into a boulder. The boulder shattered, smaller fragments flying into the air. She wasn’t hurt, but the incident gave her pause. She really had to be more careful. For others’ sake, if not for her own. What if she’d hit a vehicle with fellow soldiers in it?

No more running or jumping today. She happened to pass by the motor pool, where – with the approval of the sergeant – she amused herself and the mechanics with feats like lifting trucks. She even invited one of them to use her in place of a jack. But he begged off on that; he was sure it was against procedures. Then she wanted to try out a welding torch on herself, but the sergeant told her to stop fooling around; they had work to do and he’d be in for it if any of their equipment were damaged.

This just wasn’t her day, it seemed, even though it was her day. Still having time to kill, she wandered around the compound, crushing rocks in her hands and the like until James was able to get free to meet her at the firing range.

"Have you been behaving yourself?" he asked.

The look on her face told all, but he didn’t reproach her.

"If you’re going to amuse yourself, you should try to do it under controlled conditions. Like here."

Very formal. Like at the recovery room this morning. But there was a twinkle in his eye.

"Sim," she agreed.

There was a twinkle in hers, too. This was going to be her day after all, she thought.

James explained things to the troops assembled there for routine target practice – not that they hadn’t heard plenty already. Bidu took her place in front of one of the targets, and the troops opened up with projectile weapons.

As the bullets bounced harmlessly from her invulnerable body, the soldiers were impressed but also a bit disappointed: They’d been hoping their gunfire would shred her outfit, brief as it was. For some reason she closed her eyes as she moaned in pleasure from the impact of the bullets on her breasts and pussy – it hadn’t taken the soldiers long to perfect their aim.

"Eu imaginei que eram tuas balas, tuas balas do amor, que eras tu quem atirava em mim," she told James when they took a break. "Eu quero que tu atires agora em mim com o taifun. Por favor! Atire em mim com ela, ama-me com ela!"

She had fantasized that the bullets were his, that he was making love to her with them. And now she wanted him to fire on her himself with the taifun, a standard infantry energy weapon. She invited him to caress her golden flesh, under pretense of wiping away the smudges left by the bullets, confirming to his inspection that none of them had left so much as a scratch or a bruise on her luscious body.

Bidu felt so soft to his touch, and yet he knew that she was completely invulnerable now. Her eyes met his again. It was irregular, but he couldn’t resist her pleading. James brought up the taifun, aimed it at her left breast. She teased him, and gave the troopers the treat they’d been waiting for, by baring her magnificent breasts, proffering them to the man she loved.

The powerful beam, which could have punched through a tank in an instant, merely heated her breast as she absorbed the energy and turned it to orgone. She broke out in a smile that could have conquered his heart, if his heart had not already been conquered.

"É verdade!" she exclaimed with joy. "Ninguém pode ferir-me. Nada pode ferir-me. Nem homens maus. Nem balas. Nem ráios. Nada."

Oh yes, nothing could hurt her now! Better yet, he couldn’t hurt her now! He longed to take her this very minute, to experience her ravishing yet invulnerable body, even in front of the troops. But rules were rules, and duty hours were duty hours. Yet no rule could calm his raging hormones. It was all he could do to get through the rest of the day, trying to conceal his excitement and anticipation.

It was to be a special night, and Bidu found a way to make it more special than even he had imagined in his wildest dreams.

She arrived at his headquarters that evening wearing body armor, the very same ill-fitting armor she’d worn when he’d first seen her. Only now it wasn’t squashing her breasts. It couldn’t. The ceramic alloy of the chestpiece was clearly showing signs of strain.

She smiled at him. Then she inhaled.

With a loud crack, the chestpiece came apart and dropped to the floor, exposing her breasts in all their incredible gravity-defying firmness. But as she lay down, she refused to take off the armor that covered her groin.

"Martele minha fortaleza com seu ariete!," she urged. "Perfure sua parede. Mergulhe sua arma na minha parte mais profunda!"

She wanted him to use his cock as a battering ram, breach the armor and fuck her right through it! He was up for that, Skietra was he up for it! She smiled up at him; her eyes were pleading, her body was pleading. Oh yes!

Body armor was designed to stand up to a lot, but it couldn’t possibly stand up to a fully aroused Velorian. It took only a few strokes for James to smash through the ceramic barrier and into Bidu’s eager cunt.

So hot, so tight, so invulnerable! After all the waiting, after all the longing, to be inside this incredible woman at last! He couldn’t stand it. Like a virgin, he came almost immediately, thrilling to the knowledge that his cock couldn’t harm her, that his sperm couldn’t harm her, that nothing could harm her any more.

Bidu’s cunt spasmed as she too came, then gripped him with a force that would have turned a frail’s cock into pulp but only made his all the harder. The earth moved indeed as he pounded her into the ground, and their screams of pleasure could be heard through the whole encampment. Then Bidu rolled him over, letting him feast his eyes and hands on her breasts as she pounded him into the ground, made him come with her again and again without going soft for a second.

"Oh yes, yes, yes," he kept screaning.

"O sim, sim, sim," she kept screaming.

Fucking and fucking and fucking. They might have kept at it all night if it hadn’t been for the Lights Out order. They were still soldiers, after all.


Bidu was full of ideas, and they weren’t just the ones she used on James.

They weren’t very practical, at least for this campaign, but they were fun.

She was out on a 100-kilometer run one day when she came across a ranch where some of the hands were busy repairing the fence around a corral. The cattle had apparently been spooked by something and broken out; now they had to be rounded up and shooed back in.

Could enemy soldiers be corralled, she wondered? Unfortunately, none were at hand, but perhaps she could find some volunteers in the regiment. Unfortunately again, they were busy training for Espinha II at a pond near the plantation. So she waited until they broke for dinner and managed to lasso a dozen of them with a rope she’d found. They were not amused.

"Você é um capitão do grupo," one of them chided her. "Tu deverias estar acima disso."

Yes, she should know better. But it couldn’t hurt to experiment. After some trial and error, she figured out how to build a cage out of rusty old pipe in just moments. James looked at the results and frowned. Maybe for some other campaign, he suggested; the idea just didn’t fit in with the plans for this one,

James was still working to get the regiment ready for the flanking attack. They'd have ro travel light; armor was out, but they'd still need the com visors. He'd have to get them moving as soon as possible as the enhancees came out of their fever, because they'd have to take a long, roundabout route to avoid giving the operation away. And once they got to the jumping off point – well, more like swimming off point…

The water was murky and the bottom was mucky where they were going, he knew that. He also knew about the insects and the leeches, he knew about the tangles of reeds and hummocks. It was easy to get lost in such a place, but that was where the visors came in. Coded GPS data would keep them pointed in the right direction, and the other codes would keep them current on developments elsewhere and any changes in their orders.

James was still meeting with Cher'ee on the role of the enhancees; she was amazed at how many of the bioscans had revealed M-class potential. A lot of the time, you had to settle for Betan equivalent. Good but nowhere near good enough for what they wanted to do here, and certainly not enough for this Velorian Legion of hers. They'd chosen the cream of the crop, the Latents with the best combat records. They could doubtless have found more. Maybe there'd be a followup recruiting drive.


On their second night together, she came armed with an automatic pistol.

"A reversão é jogo justo," she told.

Turnabout it was, as she started shooting him at close range, delighting in the sight and sensation of her bullets rebounding from his chest and striking her own. James gasped in amazement. But he was in for even greater amazement.

"Isso era apenas começo," she grinned.

Just for starters?

Bidu loaded a new clip in the gun, aimed it at him, and let loose.

But then she lowered her aim this time, to his crotch..

No woman had ever done that before. No woman had even thought of it.

Bidu’s loving bullets knocked his cock and balls every which way but loose, and for the first time in his life he had an inkling of what supremis women felt when it was done to them. As the impacts tickled and caressed him unmercifully, he felt the eruption coming – and knew he could do nothing to stop it. But as he came, she was hovering over him, catching his stream of jism in her mouth.

"Eu peguei tudo?" she asked. "Alguém entrou em órbita?"

He thought she’d gotten all of it. As for the rest, she’d put him in orbit for sure. She kissed him then, letting him experience both their flavors.

She impaled herself on him again then, and he bit and mauled her breasts, knowing that it could only increase her pleasure.

They fucked away into the night, at time tenderly, at times roughly, but always in a haze of romantic passion.

On the third night, her gift was a set of bolt cutters.

"Algo que eu li em uma daquelas histórias sobre Velorianos," she explained.

Where did she get these stories?

It soon became apparent why she’d brought several of the tools: they weren’t going to last very long. She got things started by applying one to her left nipple, inviting him to squeeze it as hard as he could. The tempered steel of the cutter was helpless, as he knew it would be, against her invulnerable flesh. But it made an appealing sound as it snapped, albeit not as appealing as the sound Bidu made.

After the business with the gun, James knew it wasn’t going to stop there. But she surprised him again: two bolt cutters, one for his engorged cock, the other for her equally engorged clit. They really leaned into it, somehow reading each other’s body language, somehow contriving to come together as the devices gave up at the same moment.

It was certainly the strangest case of simultaneous orgasm he’d ever experienced.

"O corte mais amável de todos," she said afterwards.

"Kind, but hardly a cut," he responded.

After which they returned to the business at hand.

On the fourth night, Bidu brought a cutting laser.

"Tu sentes calor hoje à noite?" she teased.

It was hot outside, and there still wasn’t any air conditioning, but that kind of heat didn’t bother them. Neither would the heat of the laser, they knew.

She checked the power pack to make sure it was charged, then paused, pretended to have changed her mind, made James beg for it.

He begged for it, pleaded for it, until she finally relented and switched it on.

He moaned with pleasure as she played the laser over him, as the beam heated his hardened cock red hot, his pre-cum sizzling as it emerged from the tip. Bidu’s pussy was already dripping with desire.

She set the laser aside now. There was a burst of steam and a gasp of ecstasy as she impaled herself on her lover’s hot rod and they fucked themselves into oblivion.

On the fifth night, Bidu came to him with what she said was a new toy she’d had made in the machine shop. It was a length of pipe razor-sharp barbs and blades welded all around it.

James pretended he didn’t understand what it was for, and she pretended to believe him.

"Tu o usas como uma camisinha," she teased.

"Ohhhh," he said. A steel condom!

"Mas nós temos que usá-lo em um lugar especial"

The special place turned out to be an abandoned wooden shack, with an old and decrepit mattress on the floor. Hardly a romantic spot, and the mattress was soaked with alcohol. James had his suspicions, but kept them to himself as he took off his clothes.

"It’s rather loose," he complained when he tried on the device.

"Tu vais se ajustar a ele!"

The sight and smell of her as she stripped before him proved her right. He was growing to fit it. His cock was actually stretching the metal. He stood proudly erect before her, the weight of the steel condom helpless to drag it down a fraction of an inch.

"Agrade meus seios com ele," she urged.

Her wish was his command. She lay down before him, and he placed his armored cock between her luscious breasts. She squeezed them together as he slowly pumped back and forth, then released them took hold of him and scraped the barbs across her gloriously erect nipples – nipples as hard as Vendorian steel

When they were done with that, they lay down together. He took her in his arms, held her close, deep kissing her, pressing her breasts against him. He couldn’t feel her down below, but he knew she could feel the toy he was wearing, feel the blades against her pussy and belly, knew that it must be tickling her. She took hold of her love toy, played it over her inner lips and her clit until she was writhing with lust.

"Eu não posso esperar," she cried. "Enfia isto em mim agora!"

James couldn’t wait, either. The steel of the condom was actually creaking from the strain as his cock grew even larger, even harder than he would have believed possible. He lifted Bidu up, impaled her. She screamed with pleasure as the barbs and blades brushed against her clit and her G spot, and he thrilled to the knowledge that the sharpened steel couldn’t leave a scratch on even her tenderest flesh.

She squirmed against him, trying to make her barbed condom twist within her, to enjoy every barb and every blade to the max. They continued to kiss hungrily, to hold each other tightly. But then she forced him to loosen his grip, so she could move up and down on him faster and faster.

"Está amaciando!" she cried.

Yes, he could feel it. Even the hardest steel could not long endure the heat of her cunt. The barbs and blades had already lost the battle against the invulnerable flesh of her intimate center, and now the pipe itself was losing the battle. He felt as if he were wearing only one of the special condoms he’d sometimes used with frails back on Reigel 5.

"Ele está derretendo," Bidu screamed.

Oh yes, the steel was melting now, it felt like syrup around his raging cock. As the white hot metal began to drip from her pussy, she pulled him down onto the mattress, which instantly burst into flame around them.

"Nós fodemos no fogo!" she shouted.

As fire engulfed the shack, caressing their bodies, they fucked all the more furiously. It was cock against cunt now, no more barriers between them. They came again and again together as the shack burned around them, and everything about them had turned to ashes before their passion was spent.

"I love you," he said in the afterglow of their love and the embers of the fire.

"Eu te amo," she responded.


When the last of the enhancees was up and about, James and Cher’ee didn’t waste any time calling them all together and getting down to business.

"This is all new to you," Cher’ee said. "You’re only just discovering what I’ve lived with it all my life. You’re excited about it, as well you should be. But you shouldn’t let that excitement cloud your judgment. You are soldiers, and you have a mission to perform. You must never lose sight of that mission."

Although she hadn’t taken deepteach, she’d brought a far better translator than James had. She got titters only when she wanted to.

"Some of you have already discovered that you can derive sexual pleasure from acts that would once have been deadly to you. As long as you’re off duty, go to it. We want you to enjoy yourselves in every way."

She paused, for a moment, getting the expected reaction.

"But when you’re on duty, the mission comes first. Some of our enemies, the Primes and the Tset’lars, have learned to use our own pleasure as a weapon against us. You will not encounter any of them here, but those of you who serve in the Legion offworld may well do so. It’s never too early to learn the disciplines of mind that you will need there. Operation Espinha II will be your first exposure to both temptation and discipline."

Cher’ee then turned over the session to James.

"Urban warfare is always a challenge," he began. "That’s why most armies try as hard as they can to avoid it. When I arrived here, my assignment was to prepare my regiment to help take Santo Antônio by any means necessary. But Comandante Fernandes and others opposed this, citing the city’s historical heritage.

"The only alternative seemed to be to deliver a knockout blow to the front-line Betan troops, and hope that General Sandor would have the sense to give up. If he failed to do so, we might well have had to resort to house-to-house fighting, using small detachments. It would have been impossible to avoid substantial collateral damage to both the city itself and the civilian population. There was no getting around it.

"The failure of the frontal assault a month ago rendered all of that moot. We are no longer in a position to mount a frontal assault. Yet the enhancement program has given us an opportunity to liberate the capital without firing a shot and – if we play it right – with hardly a shot being fired back. But we have to play it right, psychologically as well as militarily. We have to freak out the garrison forces in the city, then make a lightning strike from an unexpected direction to pick up the pieces.

"There will be two teams: women in the city, men as the vanguard of the regiment. In most situations, men and women would work together, and in future you will. But the Betan troopers here are all men, and a certain kind of men at that. The men will have the easy part, although there’s nothing glamorous about clearing mines, The women will have to look good, but they’ll also have to look convincing. Here’s how we’re going to play it…"


They looked like members of some girl gang, coming down Avenida das Estrelas. They were dressed in gang colors and had that gang swagger. But it was the wrong time and the wrong place for that kind of swagger.

Girl gangs in Santo Antônio were nearly always allied with boy gangs, and both of those with an adult underworld that had been tolerated by the Betan authorities. The underworld had been split over the rebellion – some supporting it, some opposing, most biding their time. Aurean Command, rather than try to sort things out, had ordered a general liquidation of the gangsters.

As the half dozen girls marched up the broad avenue towards the ornate Palácio Planetário that dominated the central plaza of the capital, civilians on the sidewalks and at the windows of shops and apartment houses glanced at them in curiosity. But they averted their eyes when a squad of Betan troops accosted the girls, complaining that they were interfering with traffic.

"Aureanes, voltem para casa!" Bidu shouted, and the others joined in a chorus demanding that the occupiers go home.

The Betans were startled for a moment, then belligerent. Their sergeant shouted at them, but got no response but continued chanting. Ordering the rest of his men to cover them with their rifles, he sent two troopers forward to pat down the girls for weapons. They knew the drill; patting down women was one of their favorite pastimes. But since these girls were defiant, the troopers paid even more attention than usual to their breasts.

"Hey, check these out," one of them called back. "You won’t believe how firm they are!"

"Gostam realmente de nossas tetas," Xuxa cooed.

The others laughed, even thrust out their chests for inspection

One of the troopers, especially bold, grabbed at Bidu’s crotch.

"Não no meu pote de mel!" she objected.

With one hand, she pushed the trooper away.

How could she do that?

Startled and angered, he hit her in the chest with his rifle butt – only to yelp in pain himself. It was as if he had hit a concrete wall; not only was the girl unhurt, but unmoved, and the shock of the impact had sprained his own hands.

The next thing he knew, the rifle wasn’t even in his hands. Somehow the girl had grabbed it and was now brandishing it. Conditioned reflex took over; even as he was wondering how she did that, he hit the pavement and started scrambling away.

He was barely in time. The other Betans opened fire with their projectile weapons. A hail of bullets tore into the gaudy clothes of the gang girls, but had no other effect.

As they looked at the spectacle in amazement, their fire became ragged and ceased. "Why aren’t you shooting?" demanded Sergeant Zhondro.

Bidu put her hands on her hips and thrust her chest out. The others followed her lead.

"Oh sim, atirem em nós," she appealed. "Tuas balas dão uma sensação gostosa!"

Their bullets made them feel good?


But they couldn’t be Velorians. Most of them were too short, not to mention the wrong color. Even their leader was of obvious mixed ancestry.

While the girls stood there flaunting themselves, while civilian onlookers stared in curiosity and amazement, while the Betan sergeant was stewing around in confusion, one of the troopers had the presence of mind to call for reinforcements.

The onlookers ducked for cover a few minutes later as an Aurean tank, flanked by a platoon of troopers marching double time, stormed around the nearest corner. Without anyone exactly telling them to, the sergeant and his men fell back to join them.

Their lieutenant barked an order, and troopers fanned out in a semi-circle around the girls, who just stood there. Another barked order, and they opened up with energy weapons as well as rifles.

What with the din of the gunfire and the glare of the energy beams, it was hard to take in what was going on. But terrified onlookers noticed that few bullets or beams got past the girls to threaten injury to them or damage to buildings. The girls were dancing about like defenders in a ball game to intercept as much of the fire as they could.

At some point, their leader stepped forward, into the fire. The reason for this became clear when some of the bullets ricocheted to strike the forward troopers. A barked order for a cease fire put a stop to that. The girls remained where they were standing, making no move to interfere with the troopers who came to fetch their wounded comrades and administer first aid.

Only tattered rags remained of the girls’ clothing, except for some sort of underwear with a military camouflage design. Even the tatters were smoldering, burning away to expose still more of their succulent flesh. Between the burning tatters, there were spots where that flesh glowed red hot.

They stood there smiling, proudly and defiantly, showing off their half-naked, incredibly beautiful and evidently invulnerable bodies for all to see. Where the energy fire hadn’t wiped it clean, their exposed flesh was peppered with smudges from the bullets, some of which had melted into tiny teardrops.

Proudest and most defiant of all was Bidu Braga. Her green eyes, broad nose and wide mouth gave her face an exotic beauty. Despite themselves, the troopers imagined what she might do with those luscious lips, with those magnificent breasts, which she deliberately exposed to show their defiance of gravity. They couldn’t help imagining what wonders lay beneath her camouflage shorts.

Lieutenant Lantus, a veteran who had encountered true Velorians before, was the only one to appreciate the nature and gravity of the situation. Enhancing foreigners? It was unheard of! Everyone knew Velor believed in racial purity. This couldn’t be happening, and yet it was. But what was he to do?

He looked back at the tank. Should he order the heavy gun to fire? Not with his men so close; if the shot didn’t kill her, the backblast might injure or even kill some of them. And yet he had to do something fast, take one last chance.

"Que tu estás esperando?" Bidu taunted him, swaying her body before him as if she were a cobra trying to mesmerize its prey. "Acerte-me com teu melhor tiro!"

Hit her with his best shot… Lantus barked a last, desperate order. His men scattered from in front of the tank. A moment later, a jet of fire erupted from the turret, shooting forward to engulf Bidu and her companions. Nothing could be seen them at first through the white hot blaze, but from the center of the inferno, Bidu shouted in delight.

"Napalm! Eu adoro-o!"

It was actually a special Aurean blend of inflammable and corrosive chemicals that would strip flesh to the bone in seconds. Mistura de piranha, the Novo Recifense called it; the Betans had used it to put down a riot here just after the attack on the spaceport, and there hadn’t been any resistance in the city since.

After the first burst of piranha mix had mostly burned out, when the girls could be seen again, they were actually caressing themselves with the glowing remains of the gel, rubbing it on their arms and legs and bellies as if were beauty cream.

Bidu went even further, pulling down her Velorian Legion bra to spread the viscous fiery substance on her breasts, pulling down her Legion shorts to rub it against and even into her intimate center. Her nipples were erect; so was her clit. Even the most tender parts of her body were totally invulnerable to one of the Aureans’ most fearsome weapons!

"Mais! Mais! Não pare agora!" the girls shouted.

Then they started giggling, actually giggling with delight at the impression they were making.

The tank gunner unleashed another burst of flaming piranha mix. This time, Bidu didn’t simply stand there and take it, she actually advanced into the fire, letting it wash over her face, even drinking some of the gel. She jumped up on the tank, let the fire play on her breasts for a few seconds before grabbing the nozzle and squeezing it shut.

The tank crewmen were quick on the uptake; they were already piling out of the vehicle before the piranha mix exploded inside; otherwise, they’d have been the only KIAs of the day.

Lieutenant Lantus knew defeat when he saw it. But he didn’t know what to do next.

Bidu made the decision for him.

"Leve-nos ao teu líder," she said to him. And to the rest, "Entreguem suas armas!"

The troopers looked at their commander, finding no support there. They looked at the burning tank. They looked back at Bidu and her companions. They complied. The girls stuck around long enough to smash the weapons, then set off with Lantus to HQ.

A crowd quickly erupted from the buildings and the side streets to follow the now helpless Betans. Block by block, the crowd grew, until it numbered in the thousands. There were shouts and chants and freedom songs.

A woman who had been with the crowd from the start, and had earlier watched the confrontation from a shop window, was speaking into a com link. Nobody else noticed in all the excitement.


Aurean commanders had died for the Empire, nobly or otherwise. They had suffered defeats, of their own doing or others’. But none had ever suffered such humiliation as General Sandor, supreme commander of Aurean ground forces on Novo Recife.

Lantus hadn’t deigned to inform him of the events on Avenida das Estrelas; word had come by comlink only from one of the troopers. Naturally, it had gone only as far as the Officer of the Day, who had assumed the trooper was drunk and cut him off.

Then there had been this commotion outside – shouting and cheering and singing. A few moments later, Lantus had barged into headquarters, barged right into the office, with these naked young women in tow. Only it developed that the lieutenant was the one in tow.

Beyond a salute, Lantus had ignored protocol

"The war here is over," he said. "We’re finished."

"What is the meaning of this?" Sandor fumed. "Have you lost your mind?"

"These are Velorians," Lantus responded, gesturing towards Bidu and the others.

Sandor looked at the women. Impossible!

"You really have lost your mind. You’re under arrest. These women are under arrest. Guards!"

Nobody responded. Lantus was about to explain, but Bidu cut in.

"Estão doentes," she said.

"You’re the ones who’re going to be indisposed," Sandor shouted. Then, turning to his staff officers, "Do your duty!"

Staff officers weren’t supposed to do that kind of duty, but they tried anyway, drawing their sidearms —

Which vanished as the Velorian enhancees went into High Speed. The next thing the officers knew, the women were standing there holding them. Not only holding them, but crushing them into shapeless lumps of metal.

General Sandor fairly leaped out of his chair. But once standing, he realized that he didn’t have any idea what to do next -- like Lantus on the avenue, although he didn’t know it. Therefore he also didn’t know that he was about to be upstaged by the leader of the rebel women.

"Bastardo!" Bidu told him. "Vos sois todos bastardos. Fique feliz que estou sob ordens para não te matar. Para vos, nós éramos apenas pobres nativos. Vos pensaste que nunca teriam que se preocupar com povos como nós. Bem, é melhor vos se preocuparem agora."

("Bastard! You’re all bastards. Be glad I’m under orders not to kill you. You think we’re just poor natives. You don’t think you have to worry about people like us. Well, you’d better worry now.")

No one had ever spoken to him like this!

She grasped the terrified general in her arms, held him tight. She could feel as well as hear his ribs creaking; his chestful of medals he’d worn with such pride was now bringing him only pain. She wasn’t sure if he even knew the language, but she was damned sure he’d get the message.

No one had ever treated him like this!

"Um de vos me estuprou quando eu tinha 16 anos," she yelled at him. "Tu achas que poderia me estuprar agora? Achas que poderia meter teu pau em mim? Achas que poderia ao menos fazê-lo subir?"

("One of you raped me when I was 16. Think you could rape me now? Think you could get your cock into me? Think you could even get it up?")

The piss running down the general’s legs answered the last question. The other Betans of the General Staff seemed to be desperately trying to avoid the same embarrassment. Lantus, alone among the officers present, had enough experience with the enhancees to maintain his composure.

"Oh, ele está fedendo," Xuxa complained of Sandor. "Que tipo de cerveja ele estava bebendo?"

("Oh, he stinks. What kind of beer was he drinking?")

"O lugar está fendendo inteirinho. Vamos sair daqui."

("This whole place stinks. Let’s get out of here.")

Bidu released Sandor, but gave him and the others fair warning.

"Os outros soldados estarão vindo para prender-vos. Não são tão fortes quanto vos, mas nós somos mais fortes do que vos. Muito mais forte. Se vos não cooperarais com eles, nós voltaremos. E vos esmagaremos como insetos."

("The other soldiers will be coming to intern you. They aren’t as strong as you, but we’re stronger than you. Much stronger. If you don’t cooperate with them, we’ll be back. And we’ll squash you like bugs.")

"What other soldiers?" Sandor demanded.

At that very moment, his com sounded.

At the very next moment, there was the faint sound of explosions from the south, towards the Pântano Grande.

"Estão vindo agora," Bidu told him.

Who was coming now?

Sandor stood there paralyzed, listening to the com.

Minutes passed. His face turned ashen. His staff officers were as frozen as he was.

Lantus led him back to his desk, sat him down there, held a whispered conversation about surrender.

The girls were already on their way out, but Xuxa hung at the door a moment to give Sandor a final warning.

"Tu não tens muita hora. É melhor dares a ordem agora."

("You don’t have much time. Better give the order now.)

Outside, the roar of the crowd increased.


Picket detail at the Pântano Grande was punishment detail.

The swamp stank, and the insects swarmed as thick as clouds. Betans were immune to the insects, but the swarms couldn’t seem the figure that out. The whining alone was enough to drive you nuts. Worse, the bugs got into your food, got into your water.

There was this private once, Xedong had heard, who was so bugged by the bugs that he forget where he was, stepped on a mine and blew himself up. The mines were the only real defense here. The job of troopers like Xedong was just to get word to headquarters, so that reinforcements could be sent wherever the enemy might be trying to get through.

Not that the enemy ever would. They’d have to come in boats, finding a way through the muck and the hummocks. They could land only a few men at a time, and then they’d have to sweep for mines. Clearing a path through a minefield could take hours, and by that time there’d be a regiment or more trapping them between the mines and the swamp. Take out the boats and it would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

The rebels were making another attack at the Rio Amado up north, he'd heard. They’d failed the last time, stupid caboclos, and now they were trying it again. Well let them! He wished now that he were there to see it, wished he hadn’t gotten drunk and taken a swing at the sergeant. Well, there’d be a relief fleet soon, the general said, warships and troops. They’d make short work of these guerrillas, and maybe he’d be transferred to some better world.

The nearest other pickets were too far off to make them out in any detail, but Xedong supposed they were thinking about the same thing.

He caught something moving in the mire beyond the minefield. At first, he thought it was just another marsh rat, chasing after the disgusting fish and lizards that passed for marine life in these parts. But then a saw a human head, covered with muck, emerge from the reeds.

Xedong knew his duty, got on the com, unslung his taifun,

More figures were emerging from the swamp, stepping forward, seemingly oblivious to the danger.

The first of them stepped on the first mine, was blown into the air, did a somersault, and landed on his feet. The next wasn’t as skillful, but picked himself up after landing in a heap. The third landed on his head, which disappeared into the ground – and reappeared as he sprung back up.

After a moment’s paralysis, Xedong opened up with his taifun, while continuing to report to HQ on the com. The enemy, whoever, whatever they were, ignored the taifun bursts. Attracted by the sounds of battle, the other pickets were closing in, firing on the run as they took in the situation.

The enemy continued to ignore the energy fire, as they ran back and forth across the minefield in what he could now see was a deliberate pattern, to clear a path as wide as they could as fast as they could. Xedong and the other pickets formed a line, concentrated their fire. The enemy continued to ignore them. The only effect the beams had was to vaporize the mud, gradually revealing the enemy as seemingly ordinary Novo Recifense.

By now, some of the shrapnel was raining down on the pickets. They were Betans; they could take that. They could take the racket, too. But they couldn’t take this new and inexplicable enemy they saw advancing before them.

Closer and closer they came, clearing the last of the mines in a path 50 meters wide. Only then did one of them take notice of the defenders.

"Nós somos a Legião Velorês," he said, "É melhor vocês fujirem."

("We’re the Velorian Legion.You’d better get.")

Velorian Legion? What the hell was that? Whatever it was, and with their weapons useless, they didn’t want to find out. They got.

Behind them, behind the legionnaires, came the troops of Kim’Villara’s regiment.

Like their vanguard, they were covered with muck. Like their vanguard, they stank. Unlike their vanguard, they bore leeches and insect bites. But they stood proudly as they adjusted their visors, stood proudly as they unwrapped their weapons from protective plastic and shouldered them, stood proudly as they formed up company by company to march proudly on what was now the open road to Santo Antônio.

They hadn’t been able to eat while moving through the swamp, using the reeds for cover further out and breathing through reeds as they advanced underwater closer to shore. They hadn’t had a chance to treat the insect bites or other injuries. But they weren’t worried. By the time they reached the city, the Aurean commissary would theirs, as would the Aurean medical unit.

The world would be theirs. The ground war on Novo Recife was all but over.


There was scattered resistance in the capital, bands of the most racist of the Aureans clashing with the growing crowds. Bidu and the other women Legionnaires spread out to neutralize them, and were soon joined by the males, who had raced to the city at High Speed. But they couldn't be everywhere, and there were scattered casualties.

One band of Betan diehards tried to set fire to the Opera House, but the bombeiras were quick to respond, supported by a cheering crowd. When the Betans fired on the fire brigade, the enraged Novo Recifense swarmed them. They were unarmed, but they didn’t care. They hopelessly outnumbered their enemies, and despite killing two dozen men and women and wounding several dozen others, the Betans soon went down. The angry crowd took their weapons and shot them to death, even beat them to death – not an easy thing to do to a Betan.

Then Kim'Vallara's regiment arrived. James himself flew in to meet them: no need to hide the Velorian involvement in the ground war any longer. Cher'ee flew with him, and the crowd screamed with delight to see one of the legendary Protectors for the first time.

Most of the Betan garrison had already gathered around HQ to accept internment. The crowds there had cursed them, but otherwise left them alone. It was highly irregular, since Fernandes was commander of all the rebel forces, but the crowd urged the Velorians to accept the surrender of the Betan garrison. After a whispered conversation, they did just that.

Bidu and the other women Legionnaires returned shortly thereafter, having dealt with the last of the die-hards. Somehow, word had gotten around about her and James, and the crowd lifted them on their shoulders and carried them in triumph to the plaza in front of the Palácio Planetário, Cher'ee hovered over them there, as if in blessing.

There were celebrations through the rest of the day, and through the following night. Like Carnaval. James and Bidu were the heroes of the day; there were even suggestions that they lead the provisional government, regardless of the fact that James wasn't even a citizen.

No way, they said.

A couple of days later, Fernandes arrived in town, leading the rest of the rebel army. The army drew cheers from crowds lined up along the Avenida das Estrelas; the response to the comandante was remarkably subdued.


They decided to destroy some surplus Aurean tanks, but it was Bidu who decided to make a game out of it. It was too dangerous a game to be played in the stadium, or before a live audience, so it was broadcast on TV from a large vacant lot outside town.

Over the past few hundred years, the Aureans had allowed any number of authentic updates to their subjects’ ancestral culture, from the Bossa Nova to telenovelas, but those subjects had to take their word for the authenticity. When they’d imported football, the Empire hadn’t bothered telling the Novo Recifense that it was the kind played in the United States, not Brazil.

The tanks were all lined up facing Bidu and the rest of the enhanced women, on what passed as a field, and were operated by Gilberto and the other male legionnaires. No sane frail would have taken the job. The referee was safely off the field, but audible through remote mikes. Bidu and her friends were dressed in football gear, helmets and all; none of it would last long but that wasn’t what was important – what was important was the show.

A whistle sounded over the mikes. Kickoff!

The lead tank fired a round, and Bidu leaped to catch it, tossed it around a bit, then cradled it under her arm and headed downfield – slamming into the lead tank with her left shoulder and knocking it askew. Her teammates attacked the other tanks: Xuxa managed to tip one over, and Dorotea took off the tracks of another.

Bidu leaped up onto another tank, ripped off its main gun with her left arm, cast it aside and continued unopposed to the goal posts.

"Goooooaaaaalllll!" shouted millions of Novo Recifense watching on TV.

Had they been at the "field," their cheers would have been drowned out when Bidu spiked the "ball." The explosion totally engulfed her. When the smoke and dust cleared, her football uniform had vanished and she was doing an end zone dance wearing nothing but her skimpy Legion outfit and some smudges.

During the time-out, another legionnaire, Romana, celebrated by doing a handstand next to an APC parked nearby. She got a chance to score her own touchdown when play resumed. So did they all. It got a bit boring near the end, though, because there wasn't much left of the tanks.


"Disse-lhe que Santo Antônio é esse a quem as pessoas sós oferecem orações para a ajuda em encontrar o amor?" Maria asked.

Bidu's mother was short and dumpy. Her father Jorge was short and balding. Except for their light skin, they had nothing in common with their statuesque daughter. Some really strange genetics here, James thought. Just chance, or another trick of the Galen?

What was it her mãe had been saying? Oh yes, about St. Anthony being the patron saint of lonely people seeking love.

"But I didn't meet her in Santo Antônio," he pointed out. "And I hadn’t been praying. Neither had she."

"Ainda, há os orações secretos do coração," her pai replied. "Deve tê-los oferecido, mesmo se não o soube."

The secret prayers of the heart. Had he too been praying, without knowing it? Not that you were supposed to pray to Skietra, at least for that sort of thing.

They were at the main square, where the Bragas still had their cart. They'd be getting a shop of their own soon. It was the least a grateful people could do for the parents of one of their heroines.

Their feijoadas were out of this world. The Bragas added fish to the usual blend, and spices chosen to go with the fish. Perhaps they could license their recipes to restaurants on other worlds. Not exactly the sort of thing covered by this Theel'dara Initiative, but what the hell?


James and Bidu were sharing a spacious apartment in the city. Their neighbors could hear their joyous sounds of love every night, and sometimes during the day. But they didn’t complain. These were their liberators, and they wished them every happiness.

One night, at full moon, they arranged a surprise. They assembled an orchestra under their balcony, and brought the most renowned soprano from the opera house to serenade the lovers with "Melodia Sentimental."

It was the same song that James had heard back in camp, but now he heard the words for the first time, and wept. Bidu already knew the words, but she too wept. Only these were tears of joy for both of them.

They would be leaving soon, with several of the Legionnaires. They would be training for service on other worlds. James was being promoted to colonel. Something to do with helping organize ground forces for another military campaign. Something to do with a place called Binkley's World.

Tonight, James and Bidu came out on the balcony, waved to the crowd.

"We'll be back," they promised.

The End

Read more about the Velorian Legion in "The Popcorn War."


Appendix: James and Bidu's song.

Melodia Sentimental

This was one of four songs composed in 1959 by Heitor Villa Lobos, with lyrics by Dora Vascocellos, as part of the score for a film version of Green Mansions.

Most of the score, including the songs, was never used in the film. But a recording was released, under the title Forest of the Amazon, with the Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayão and Villa Lobos himself conducting The Symphony of the Air and Chorus. In this version, the song below was listed on the liner notes as "Cançao do Amor," but it was published as "Melodia Sentimental" and is so titled in subsequent recordings.

One of these, also titled Forest of the Amazon, dates to 1995, and is an expanded version of the 1959 score conducted by Alfred Heller with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra and soprano Renée Fleming. "Melodia Sentimental" also appears in Songs (1994), a collection of Villa Lobos songs spanning his whole career. Roberta Alexander is the soprano here, with Heller accompanying her on the piano.

My love for Villa Lobos was one of the reasons, although hardly the only one, for writing "Terms of Enhancement."

Acorda vem ver a lua

Que dorme na noite escura

Refulge tão bela a branca

Derramando doçura

Clara chama silente

Ardendo meu sonhar

As azas da noite que foge

Per correm o espaço profundo

O’ doce amada desperta

Vem teu calor au luar

Quisera saberte minha

Na hora serena e calma

An sombra confia ao vento

O limite de espera

Quando dentro da noite

Reclamo o meu amor

Acorda vem olhar a lua

Que brilha na noite escura

Queri da es linda e meiga

Em ti meu amor e sonhar


Awaken, come see the moon

That sleeps on the dark night

Shining so beautiful and white

Shedding sadness

Clearly calling forth

My dreamy silent ardor

The wings of night that flee

Running off into deep space

O sweet beloved awaken

And come with your warmth to the moonlight.

I wanted to know that you are mine

In this serene and calm hour

The shadow confides to the wind

The limit of hoping

When within the night

I reclaim my love

Awaken to see the moon

That shines in the dark night

Longing for the tender beauty

Within you my love, and dream