Saturday, December 3, 2016

Vote for "Burden of the Cloth"

"Burden of the Cloth" is a TNT Horror Contest top 100 tale. https://www.wattpad.com/story/91309901-burden-of-the-cloth I need your vote! Voting ends December 6. 

87 LE's by Ken Charles



87 LE’S
     It is difficult to tell you all that you need to know to understand and appreciate all that we have accomplished during the last fourteen cycles. As with any report, it is probably best to begin at the beginning. However, it is difficult to determine at which vectors the beginning truly lies.
     Some would argue, and not without legitimate cause, that our story actually begins with the ill conceived mission assignment from FEMA (Federated Empire of Monolithic Administrations) Central Command. It is difficult to remember the earliest details. The memories have become clearer with time. However, my clearest memories begin with the first of thirty-two times that Lieutenant Peter Libri (may his spirit dwell forever at the right hand of Mas) warned me, "Dammit, Captain, you know it's a trap!" The sharpest memory is the thirty-second and final time, after Lieutenant Libri sacrificed himself to give the Ship the power it needed to make the Mas Drive quantum probability shift that landed us where we are today. “You have ....er, Captain. You can fire.... Go....Mas! I told you it was a ....” After over twenty tours together, I am certain that his last word was “trap”.
     There was a time, before we landed of course, that I assumed that everyone in the Empire understood the basics of the electron displacement that serves as a basis for a computer’s quantum calculations. Simply put, using Prosciewicz’s Second Theorem on the displacement of matter along the Time/Space Discontinuum (M = E /C(C)=0), the computer calculates the probability vectors that reduce the Ship’s mass to zero at point X, and one at point Y, at any given time Z. Naturally, under normal circumstances, it does not matter how long it takes in transit since the Ship will reenter Time/Space exactly when it left, but at a new vector. Once the computer has calculated the probabilities, the Mas Drive engines begin folding the dimensional flux surrounding the Ship like a lace fan, until all that remains is the Time/Space path Shift to your destination. However, just as I ordered the Shift, there was a hull breach just below the aft torpedo bays. The Ship’s mass changed just before the Shift hit the fan!
     Everything was in chaos! I screamed to Ensign Langley to abort the Shift, but Langley was not there. Langley did not abandon his post. Rather, Langley and over two thirds of the crew did not make the Shift. They simply were not included in the probability field of the Ship’s quantum flux when the reduced Ship’s mass hit the Shift. Before I could reach the unmanned helm, Chief Rhodes flashed from Engineering, “Captain, this is Chief Rhodes. We have to leave the Shift! We have less than forty seconds before the Ship loses integrity!” I wasted several of those valuable seconds pondering how my Officers’ Galley Master Chef was now the Ship’s Chief of Engineering. If I had had more time to reflect on the improbability of such a promotion, I might have questioned whether or not I was actually the Captain. Fortunately, however, the exigencies of impending extinction forced me to accept the realities of my station, and take action to save the Ship and crew. I scanned the deck for familiar faces in familiar assignments. Fortunately, several stations were manned with appropriate crew. Lieutenant Munnagi, my science officer and principal tactician was at his post.
     “Red Alert! Lieutenant, kill the shift!”
     “Captain, we haven’t recalculated an exit point. We’ll never clear the flux!”
     “Stow it, Lieutenant! Event horizon is closing in. If we don’t exit now, there will be less of the Ship left than the electrons spinning in the quantum calculations.”
     “Captain, this is Rhodes. We have less than fifteen seconds until dissolution!”
     “Everyone brace yourselves! On my mark, Lieutenant, three, two, one. Now!”
     The nice thing about Mas Drive shifts is that following a quantum shift, you always know when you are, and 99.99999 per cent of the time, where you are. Unfortunately, for some of my crew, there remained that .00001 per cent probability shift that left only five (including myself) of ninety-four members still on board at the point of exit. Of the other four remaining crew members, I am fairly certain today that three were not under my command when the FEMAS William Riker left port. Regrettably, Lieutenant Bohm, the Ship’s Mas Drive Theoretician, was lost in the exit, so I will never be quite sure.
     I took a few moments to review my remaining command. Surprisingly, I still had a med-tech that I recognized. I immediately gave him a field promotion to Ship’s Chief Surgeon. There were two ensigns, one of whom became the Science Officer, and the other Chief of Engineering. My final crew member was a Terra-assault Specialist, First Class. He became Ship’s Tactician and Security Officer.
     “Science report. Where the hell are we, Lieutenant Kimbly?”
     Having only been a Lieutenant for six minutes standard, Kimbly failed to snap off an immediate response, but finally realized that the order was directed at him. “As best I can tell, Sir, we are somewhere in the Pleiades, about fourteen sectors off of the nearest trade route. All systems appear to be up and green, sir.”
     “Engineering report. What’s our status, Lieutenant Hunsel?”
     The newly promoted Lieutenant Hunsel was quicker on the draw.  “We can cruise the sector for eons on standard, but the Mas Drive is shot. It will take months to get the Mas Drive on line if at all, sir. We blew out all four Heitsinger coils, and we only have two in stores. We have arms enough to level Earth Prime, but our shields won’t stop a hand laser. You won’t believe this, Captain. We were holed below Torpedo Bay Three. We should have blown apart before the Shift. It’s sealed now, and repairs are underway. Engineering out.”
     Of course, I believed it. The question was, what to make of it. Heitsinger coils last forever. The odds against needing to replace more than one on a mission are almost as high as the odds of misvectoring on Mas Drive quantum vector shifts. The odds of needing to replace four Heitsinger coils at the same time are so astronomical that it verges on impossible. What was it that early astronavigator Tortullian once said, "I believe it because it is absurd"?
     The Ship was provisioned for a standard month. Under battle emergency rations, the full crew could last almost three months standard. With a ninety-five per cent reduction in crew, we could last approximately four and one-half years standard. But without a working Mas Drive, we were approximately seven hundred four and one-half years from civilization.
     “Lieutenant Kimbly, any signs of life in this sector?”
     “There is nothing in the Ship’s records, sir.”
     “Understood, Lieutenant. Now find us something.”
~*~
     “Captain, please report to the bridge!”
     It was an emergency. I knew this because I had not been summoned to the bridge in over four months standard. The last time I was summoned to the bridge was as a precaution for an asteroid shower that was projected to pass within four hours standard and five hundred thousand kilometers of our current trajectory to nowhere.
     “What’s our status, Lieutenant Kimbly?”
     “Asteroids ahead, sir.”
     If the field was not coming closer than fifty-thousand kilometers, I was going to promote the stupid bastard so he could make his own decisions. But since he wanted me to play Captain, the least I could do was appear marginally concerned.
     “Tactical report. Lieutenant Schmatz, does this field pose any threat to the Ship?”
     “No, sir, Captain, but there is a faint echo inside the field that is inconsistent with readings from other asteroid fields in this sector. Sir, it appears that there is an artificial construct somewhere in the field.”
     “Lieutenant Kimbly, can you confirm?"
     "Affirmative, Captain. The readings are faint, but definitely artificial. We finally found something!"
     "Can you pinpoint it, Lieutenant?"
     "Yes, sir. It's about midway into the field. It's coming from a nice little rock about two hundred forty kilometers in diameter."
     "Lay in a course, Lieutenant, full speed ahead!"
~*~
     "We're being hailed, Captain. It sounds strange, but the Ship can read it. It appears to be FEMA standard, but Second Dynasty. Translating now. Roughly, sir, they say that Daals are not permitted. They're warning us off."
     "The hell they are! Tell them that we're in need of repairs, and are prepared to trade for supplies."
     "It's no good, Captain. They're repeating the warning. Apparently they think we are some traditional enemy of theirs called the Daals. It may be an automated response."
     "Tell them that we're coming in."
     "Sir, they say that they are armed and are prepared to use force. Without shielding, even Second Dynasty weaponry poses a serious tactical threat."
     "Thank you, Lieutenant Schmatz. However, I do not see any other possible sources of Heitsinger coils in the sector. So we're going in. Tactical, prepare low yield torpedoes in tubes eighteen to twenty-two. I don't want to vaporize our only hope to get home. Do not fire unless fired upon."
     "Captain, we have incoming! Unbelievable, they're hydrogen fuel rockets!"
     "Tactical."
     "I'm on it, sir. All targets eliminated. Shall I return fire?"
     "Let's just shake them up a bit, Lieutenant Fire one torpedo one click north of the central compound."
     "Torpedo away. Laser defenses are activated, but they're too primitive. Impact in four, three, two, one. Direct hit."
     "Assessment?"
     "That shook them up plenty, sir. We're being hailed. They're surrendering the Sovereign Colony of New Bali to the Daals, and claiming their rights under the Perseus Accords of 3097. What the hell are the Perseus Accords of 3097?"
     "Lieutenant Kimbly, just what are ...?"
     "On it, sir. The Perseus Accords of 3097 were a treaty signed in the early Second Dynasty regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. There are about fifteen hundred articles, sir. I'm sending them to your com now. Are we bound by these Accords, sir?"
     "If they'll get us a couple of Heitsinger coils, we'll abide by them. So just give me the highlights, Lieutenant."
     "Well, basically, we can't kill them."
~*~
     They accepted our assurances under the Accords, and gave their pro forma permission to land. I designated Chief Surgeon McComb and Chief Engineer Hunsel to accompany me as the principal occupying force and negotiating team. I left Tactical Officer Schmatz with instructions to set off a few fireworks to impress the natives if things did not go smoothly, which of course they did not.
     The Sovereign Colony of New Bali welcoming committee was not quite what I expected. As we cleared the lock, there was only one body there to greet us, and this one plainly was deceased. The shock wave from our return volley had caused serious damage to the surface structures. Although hull integrity was maintained, a beam had sheared off and crushed the body outside the lock. The cause of death was apparent, but I still ordered the Chief Surgeon to check the body because of its unusual physiognomy. The Chief Surgeon obviously found the order distasteful, but still dutifully bent over the body with his bioscanner.
     "I don't believe it, sir."
     "What is it, Lieutenant?"
     "Come take a closer look at the body, sir."
     I am experienced with death at close range. I have served in several landfall campaigns. I am not squeamish, but I do not like dead bodies. After all, they were men once. Except, this one was not.
     "By the grace of Mas. A mutation, Lieutenant?"
     "I don't think so, sir. I sent an image back to the Ship. According the Ship's records, it looks like an LE."
     "A what?"
     "An LE. It was a super secret late FEMA First Dynasty, early Second Dynasty experiment with human reproduction. The project was called 'Latent Evolution', or 'LE' for short. I know it sounds crazy, but the idea was to create a biological substitute for the splicing and cloning Gen-Lab to save on space and energy at remote colonies. News of the project leaked out. There was outrage across the political spectrum. The project was abandoned in the early Second Dynasty as impractical. There were rumors that early test subjects became totally obsessed with LE's. All of the records were sealed, and all of the experiments were thought to be destroyed. But the computer scans of media records indicate that this is, I mean was, a FEMA-LE."
     We left the body and cautiously continued further into the compound. Fortunately, our attack did not destroy the elevator. We took the elevator down to the bottom, where we were met by the Colony's leader, FEMA-LE One. One was dressed in a white jumpsuit. I learned later that the white jumpsuit was a designation of her rank. Behind her were the remaining eighty-six colonists. FEMA-LE One introduced each of them to us. I remember the sorrowful looks on all of their faces. It helped me remember each of their names FEMA-LE-Two through FEMA-LE Eighty-Eight. The body at the lock was FEMA-LE Thirty-seven.
~*~
     One took us on a tour of the complex. Amazingly, the underground facilities stretched over several kilometers and several levels, all of which were empty. Apparently, the complex was prepared to house several thousand colonists who never arrived. Within the last decade, some programming in the Colony's computer glitched, and the LE's were revived despite the absence of the Colonists that brought them to the asteroid. However, unsurprisingly, our tour revealed that there were no Heitsinger coils. The Colony was about three hundred sixty years too old.
     For the next several days, I rotated the Lieutenants on shore leave. We received numerous reports from various departments giving the impression that the Ship was fully crewed. One and the other LE's remained deferential, but distant. Even though we made no demands, we were still conquerors.
     After the second week, it was apparent that there was nothing in the complex that was of any use to the Ship or crew. The Lieutenants urged me to order the Ship to move on, but something held me back. All FEMA officers (my recent field promotions excluded) are highly trained and competent, but only those with the keenest intuition receive a command. My intuition told me that there was something of extraordinary value that we were missing.
     In order to appease both the crew and the LE's, I ordered the LE's to begin transferring additional provisions to the Ship. Frankly, I saw no tactical advantage to searching aimlessly for ten years rather than for another three, but it gave the illusion of direction. The LE's carried the supplies to the cargo bays, but were disappointed that the stevedore drones actually loaded the Ship.
     At the same time as the provisions were being loaded, I ordered Chief Surgeon McComb to update the Colony's sick bay by several hundred years. One frowned on the latter, pointing out that we were the conquerors so it was our right to take the additional provisions. However, I reminded her that from the outset, I said that we were prepared to trade. In order to silence One's continuing objections, I told her that I was exercising my rights as a conqueror to dictate the terms of trade.
     Regrettably, the unnecessary re-provisioning of the Ship and outfitting of the Colony's sick bay ended. The crew and the LE's again grew impatient. One in particular was increasingly hostile. No, that is not fair. One was increasingly impertinent, and even insubordinate. This insubordination was the key that unlocked the Colony's hidden chest of treasures.
     There are three major celebrations of Mas. The first celebrates the time of Mas's coming, and is celebrated as Z-Mas. The second celebration is for the great lengths that Mas went to to bestow his gifts on Mankind. This celebration is Y-Mas. The final celebration is for the breadth of Mas's foresight. This celebration, of course, is X-Mas.
     It was X-Mas Eve, and I was reviewing the daily departmental reports (which were the same virtually every day except for weekly battle tests). One entered my office unannounced. Before I could even remonstrate One for this extraordinary breach of protocol, One exclaimed, "There are only five of you on the Ship." Apparently our deception was wearing thin. However, I did not intend to concede the point without further proof, which One immediately provided. "Lieutenant Kimbly was receiving a report. I asked him why only you and the four Lieutenants came out of the ship. He said that the rest of the crew had too many work assignments. I said that there were no other crew members. He denied it, but his ears turned red. Lieutenant Kimbly cannot dissemble as you do."
     Several thoughts jousted for supremacy in my mind. I had to make a note to order Chief Surgeon McComb to cut off Lieutenant Kimbly's ears at the earliest opportunity. I also had to put One in her place or risk permanently losing the respect for my rank from both the LE's and my crew. Although the thought of dragging Kimbly to sick bay by his ears was delicious, dealing with One was more pressing.
     "How dare you barge into my office without my leave?"
     “How dare you deceive us as to your numbers?”
     "You will answer my questions, and you will address me as sir!"
     One stared at me, her eyes wide in astonishment. I had never raised my voice when dealing with any of the LE's regardless of the provocation. One started to reply, but I decided to press my advantage.
     "Silence! For your repeated insubordination, I am demoting you for one day. Until oh eight hundred hours tomorrow, you are Eighty-seven. Remove the white jumpsuit while I summon Two to take your place."
     One was furious! "What do you..."
     "Two days! If you speak again without permission, the period will double again. Now remove the jumpsuit."
     One started to reply again, but immediately thought better of it. However, One remained defiant. One crossed her arms.
     "Four days! Now remove the jumpsuit, or I will remove it for you. If I have to remove it, the demotion shall be for eight days."
     I could not help but admire One's pride. One was a fine leader. I finally was being forced to play the role of the conqueror. One did not move, so I came out from around the desk and stood in front of the brave LE. I outmassed the LE by at least sixty kilos, and stood a full half meter taller. Still, One looked me straight in the eyes.
     "This is your last chance, One."
     I stared down at One. One looked up at me. I counted slowly to ten in my head, then reached out to release the seals on One's white jumpsuit. As soon as I touched the seal, One's hands shot for my throat!
     One never stood a chance. I am a four time divisional champion in hand to hand unarmed combat. Once in the jungles of GoldCorp-3, I caught a taper viper in mid strike. Reaction to One's attack was automatic and, under normal circumstances, lethal. As I blocked One's arms, and my right hand drew back for the blow that can disable a GoldCorp killer drone, Lieutenant Kimbly's clarion summary of the Perseus Accords blared out, "Basically, we can't kill them!"
     The white fury subsided sufficiently to the stay the blow, but there was still an abundance of adrenaline fueled rage. I spun One around and popped the remaining seals on the jumpsuit. One struggled, but I managed to extract her arms, and force the jumpsuit down to her waist. I paused briefly to examine the strange protruding anatomical variants at One's torso that we first observed on the poor dead LE at the airlock when we first arrived. As I attempted to lower the jumpsuit past One's waist, One began kicking. I lifted One and carried the struggling LE over to a chair. As I sat down, I pulled One face down over one knee. I pulled her arms behind her back and held them with my left hand. With my right hand, I continued to work the jumpsuit down over One's hips. As the jumpsuit cleared the gluteal crease, I discovered a second heretofore unsuspected anatomical anomaly. One had no penis!
     This extraordinary discovery commanded all of my attention. I reached between One's legs to confirm this remarkable find. Instead of a penis, there was a sort of fold beneath a fine layer of curly hair. As I explored the edge of the fold with one finger, One let out an indignant squeal, and attempted to sink her fangs into my left arm. When One realized that I retained an unassailable position, the LE began to kick and thrash. I forced the jumpsuit down to One's ankles which substantially diminished the kicking, and thus further infuriated the LE. One screamed out, "Feck the Daals and foes of Bali!" Although uncertain as to the precise meaning of the invective, I had a pretty good idea as to its intent. Further, I had forbidden One to speak without permission. It would have been so easy to reach over and snap One's neck, but the Accords forbade such actions. Still, One's struggling was irksome, and I needed some respite.
     One continued to attempt to maneuver into a position to bite me. With an outward twist, the LE almost forced her way off of my knee, while bringing her head around close enough to bring the incisors into play. Without thinking, with an open palm, I slapped down hard on One's right buttock to distract the LE's latest feint. One let out a fierce cry, an amalgam of surprise, frustration and, I suppose, pain. But at least for the moment, she ceased her efforts to escape.
     As I rested my right hand on One's clenching right buttock, I made another discovery. It was unexpectedly soft and smooth. As I lifted my hand, I could see a pink outline appearing where the palm and fingers had struck. I was fascinated as the outline covered the major portion of the cheek, but One clearly did not share my fascination. The shock value wore off quickly, and the LE began struggling once again. Recognizing the salient value of the first smack, I promptly delivered a comparable whack to One's left buttock. Once again One shrieked, but this time solely in pain. This time I decided to dictate the terms of the conflict. I lifted my hand and smacked her right cheek a second time. One's head snapped up, and her wiggling doubled. I threw my right leg over hers to hold her in place. Gripping her arms even tighter, I began systematically smacking One's buttocks, alternating left and right, obliterating the gentle pink outline that had first appeared, and replacing it with two fiery red mounds. With each crack, One let out a stream of wails and cries, but never once sought quarter, at least not directly. Well after a dozen hard smacks to each side, One lowered her head. My brave, fierce little One began to cry. I gave her two more hard whacks before I accepted her surrender, not realizing that I had just lost the war.
     One laid across my knee sobbing softly. I ran my hand gently across her swollen bottom, marveling at the heat radiating from the rubescent orbs. My fingers swept over each mound, then gently probed the cleft. As they worked down the cleft, One raised her bottom and spread her legs apart. My fingers continued their downward trek. One moaned softly, and closed her legs, trapping my hand. I let my fingers explore the soft down between her legs. Several times, as I probed deeper, One shuddered.
     I extricated my hand, and turned One over to lift her up. One stood before me, tears streaking her cheeks, and her jumpsuit puddling at her feet. As I took my right index finger to wipe away a tear that still clung to her nose, One brushed my hand with her lips. I placed my right hand on her cheek, and allowed her to continue to brush it with her lips. With the other hand, I cupped one of the strange protuberances on her torso. I squeezed it slightly, and noticed another strange change. One's nipples extruded further out. Then I noticed something even stranger. My penis was turning erect! Like any man, I had experienced a similar biological function in the morning before elimination. But this change was different. This was incredibly uncomfortable, but at the same instant, incredibly powerful and intoxicating. I squeezed One's protuberance again, and she closed her eyes and moaned. One continued to brush her lips against my right hand. I really could have used two more hands at that point. With regret, I took my hands from One, and unfastened my belt and uniform at the waist. One took my left hand and once again guided it between her legs. As I worked my hand back and forth, One continued to moan. She leaned forward, bringing her face close to my own, and then did the most astounding thing. One brushed her lips across my lips. It was a most peculiar, but wonderful sensation. I leaned forward and did the same to One. Obviously, it affected her the same way.
     I found it increasingly difficult to sit. One whimpered as I gently lifted her aside so that I could rise to adjust the uniform that continued to constrict me. As I was adjusting the uniform, One reached out and placed her hand inside it. As she closed her fingers on my penis, I experienced a wave of pleasure like nothing I had ever known. I lowered the trousers, then sat back down, and allowed One to cup my penis with both hands. While she caressed the rigid shaft, I continued to run my hands over her body, exploring its curves and crevasses, and brushing my lips across hers. 
     One crawled onto my lap, and placed my penis between her legs. The warmth sent new shock waves crashing through my brain. She began to rub herself with my penis along the fold between her legs. As One became more and more insistent, I found that my heart was pounding and that I was getting short of breath. One attempted to place my penis within the fold, but there was resistance. After several attempts, I determined that the angle was preventing penetration. I cupped her still glowing crimson bottom with both hands and lifted her onto my desk. I spread her legs apart, and once again placed the head of my penis at the fold between her legs. One threw her arms around my neck and pushed her lips hard against mine. At the same time, I thrust hard with my waist against her, and my penis pushed well into One's fold. One moaned and pulled my lips even tighter against her own. The sensation was beyond anything that I had ever imagined! I pulled back slightly and was rewarded with a second wave of pleasure. I began pistoning against One. Incredibly, the sensations continued to build, crescendoing until suddenly, without any warning, I began spasming and discharging a thick white fluid into One.
     I collapsed against One. If she planned to kill me, that was the moment of total vulnerability. But One's eyes were filled not with murderous intent, but rather with joy beyond any she had ever known. I knew then why the LE project volunteers went mad, and why the records were sealed. I was totally conquered by One.
~*~
     I held One for an eternity, or at least past the mid day briefing. I was forced to vector back into this plane by an insistent page signal from an anxious Lieutenant Kimbly. I reluctantly disengaged myself from One, clambered around to my chair, quickly straightened my jacket, and punched through to the com center.
     "Sir, you missed the mid day briefing. Is everything all right?"
     One reached out for me with both arms. My midsection almost headed back to her, but thirty years of military discipline kept my mind and the rest of my body at the vid screen.
     "Everything is fine, Lieutenant. I was forced to discipline One. She is being demoted in rank for eight days. Please have Two report to my office to assume the temporary rank of One."
     One pouted, and crossed her arms.
     I continued, "There will be a special briefing for all officers at seventeen hundred hours. I have made several extraordinary discoveries. Captain, out."
     I walked back around the desk. I lifted One off of my desk and stood her in front of me. She continued to pout.
     "For the next eight days, you are confined to your quarters. Rest assured that during that period, I will visit you regularly to ensure that today's lessons are not forgotten."
     Two knocked and requested entry. I granted her leave, and enjoyed her astonishment when she first observed One standing unclothed in the corner with her hands on her head. After a good long look at One's roseate rear end, Two did not hesitate when I ordered her to remove her jumpsuit and put on the white jumpsuit of the First of the Sovereign Colony of New Bali. Like One, Two's torso was adorned with two notable protuberances. Two's were slightly smaller and more angular than One's. Two also had thicker and coarser hair between her legs. Two changed quickly. As the LE's left, I was treated to one last memorable view of One's rufescent behind, a fitting end to a very merry X-Mas Eve. Eighty-seven was smiling as Two led her to her quarters.
~*~
     My junior officers' feigned disbelief lasted exactly eight days. On the eighth day, I ordered Two to report Lieutenant Shmatz with a list of her deficiencies for the last eight days. After all, it was time for her to remove the white jumpsuit, and I needed an independent verification of my findings. After a thorough reddening, Lieutenant Shmatz and Two confirmed my prior results with One. Thereafter, each of my junior officers were responsible for receiving weekly deficiency reports. But I had to explain the procedures twice to Lieutenant Kimbly (who I decided could keep both ears). Morale improved dramatically during the first several weeks.
     When we first stood by that dead body at the lock, and the Chief Surgeon explained the purpose of LE program, I considered it too ludicrous to have been the real reason for the program. After my initial discoveries with One, I was sure that the concept of biological units reproducing was promulgated merely to conceal the devastating effects that the LE's had on the test subjects. I was wrong.
     There was something different about One. She looked like One. She talked like One, and was just as insubordinate as One. She certainly reddened and rubbed like One. But something was different. Once again, Captain's intuition was coming to the fore. It was difficult to identify what was different about One. Suffice it to say that she just sort of glowed.
     The Chief Surgeon knew long before I did. When, after the source of One's glowing was finally revealed at a daily briefing, and I casually threatened him with a court marshal, and the Head of Security threatened him with two broken legs for posing a security threat, the Chief Surgeon merely smiled and claimed physician-patient privilege. When I pointed out that he was not a physician, he deftly countered that he was the Ship's Chief Surgeon by order of the Captain. (Let me note at this point that through countless hours of study, Lieutenant McComb today is perhaps the finest Ship's Chief Surgeon ever to serve under my command.) In short, the LE program had its first successful field test. One was reproducing. 
     As incredible as it sounded, One was a walking, talking Gen-lab. Apparently, when I experienced that discharge while One and I were rubbing, I released genetic material. One's body took that material, and some of her own, and was using it to manufacture a new person. Even after seeing the medical test results, it was difficult to believe. However, as the weeks passed, and One became rounder and rounder, the findings were confirmed. What's more, several other LE's began glowing.
     I held One for many hours. As the completion approached, we were scared. The Chief Surgeon had very little information from the LE program in either the Ship's computer or the Colony's. The one question that neither One nor I would ask, but thought about constantly, was what would happen to One once the unit was complete. Was One reusable, or would she die after reproducing?
     As we approached, and then passed, the computer's scheduled date for the completion of One's unit, One became more and more irritable. One was very round, and very cross. After consultation with the Chief Surgeon, I had ordered that no LE would be reddened after she began rounding. However, I regularly warned One that I was keeping track, and would attend to her as soon as the unit was received. One would smile, brush her lips against mine, and remind me that I would forget.
     I was doing a routine inspection of the Ship with Chief Hunsel, when I received an urgent page. One had been rushed to the sick bay. She was in the hydroponics lab talking with Forty-nine and Seventy-three, when suddenly fluids began to run down her leg. Chief Surgeon McComb was summoned immediately. The arrival of the unit appeared imminent!
     It took another fourteen hours. One was very brave, as always. Although in obvious pain, she never complained, and even smiled when she could. I stayed with her the whole time. Finally, with an incredible demonstration of will, One pushed the unit out of her body. But something was wrong! The unit remained tethered to One. But Chief Surgeon McComb had a las-blade ready and cut the unit loose.
            It was hard to describe the unit. Anatomically, it resembled any man. But the scale was minuscule. The whole unit only weighed four kilos. One held the unit on her chest. She was very weak. I have seen men come out of battle in better shape who failed to survive the night. But One was still One. I knew that she would not go down without a fight. Still, I was fearful that the LE's were made for single use only. Then came another miracle. One moved the unit over to her left protuberance. The unit mewed, bumped the tip several times with its mouth, then incredibly, it began to feed! Everyone was elated! The LE's were designed not only to reproduce, but also to nourish the new units. I was awed at the incredible foresight and genius of the scientists that conceived the LE's those many centuries ago. I swept back her hair. I leaned close and whispered, "There will be time to redden you after all, my One." She smiled and squeezed my hand. I kissed her forehead, and then ordered everyone from the bay to allow One to rest.
~*~
     Four cycles had passed since our arrival at New Bali. I was reviewing the troops, which was far and away the best part of my daily routine. For all their genius in designing the LE's, the scientists gave little thought to the units they produced. The units had all of the hardware that a person needs, but none of the programming that one expects from even the most provincial Gen-Lab. By Mas, the units do not even know how to talk when they arrive! I was reading astronavigational charts to two of my favorites, my One-point-one and Lieutenant McComb's Seven-point-one, the first LE unit that the Colony received, when I received the call, "Captain, please report to the bridge!"
     Four cycles had passed since I had heard those words. This time, however, I was gravely concerned. I passed the little units off to Thirty-four, and beat it double time back to the Ship.
     "Status report, Gentlemen!"
     "Mas drive field opened up just outside of the belt, sir. The Colony is being hailed. It's a GoldCorp destroyer."
     "Yes, I recognize it." The last time we saw that ship, it put a hole just below torpedo deck three. "Condition Red, battle stations!" Battle stations was something of a misnomer. Chief Hunsel had put our shields back on line. However, despite four cycles of arduous training, five soldiers cannot take a cruiser like FEMAS William Riker into battle, no matter how well they are drilled. Instead, Lieutenant Shmatz and I had preprogrammed a series of tactical responses into the Ship's fire commands. Between the Ship's computer and the Colony's computer, we hoped to manufacture enough blue ions and mirrors to maneuver ourselves into position for a decisive first strike. "Lieutenant Kimbly, move the Ship behind the asteroid. Signal the Colony defenses. Begin warning off the Daals."
     Just as it had four cycles ago, the Colony's computer began warning off the invading Daals. Just as we did four cycles ago, the GoldCorp destroyer ignored the warning and approached the Colony. However, unlike our offers of trade, the GoldCorp Commander was demanding the Colony's immediate unconditional surrender. On my mark, the Colony fired two rockets at the destroyer. As expected the destroyer blew away the rockets as easily as one would extinguish a las-torch. The destroyer then proceeded into position for a simple point blank kill shot. At this point, we emerged from behind the asteroid, and fired a point blank volley of our own. We took out the bridge, the port engines, and fire command with the first salvo. There would be no rubber match. The destroyer was dead in space. 
~*~
     There were thirty-six survivors on the destroyer. Most of the survivors were techs who worked deep inside the ship. However, we did pick up an unexpected bonus. The ship's Mas Drive Theoretician had been in sick bay during the assault, and thus survived the destruction of the bridge. All thirty-six were taken prisoner, and secured in pairs in make shift brigs in one of the Colony's lower levels. 
     Each pair was brought to the central mess, and invited to join the Colony. As an incentive, each pair was allowed to view a deficiency report and a disciplinary reddening. At Chief Surgeon McComb's recommendation, each pair was then rubbed several times by lower numbered LE's. The Chief Surgeon reasoned that even if a man did not choose to join the Colony, the additional genetic material would prove useful in the future. Not surprisingly, all thirty-six men elected to join the Colony.
~*~
     The GoldCorp destroyer proved to be a salvage gold mine. With the help of the destroyer's former techs and Mas Drive Theoretician, we were able to remove the Mas Drive from the destroyer intact and install it in the Colony itself. In addition, the destroyer yielded two additional Heitsinger coils, which allowed us to put the Ship's Mas Drive back on line. But most significantly, Chief Hunsel and the Mas Drive Theoretician were able to link the two drives, which increases their power exponentially. If we are ever in the need, we can move the entire Colony!
~*~
     Approximately one cycle after the remaining GoldCorp crew became citizens of the Colony, Seventy-eight lost her unit by Environmental Controls Tech Avion. We all grieved deeply. Chief Surgeon McComb examined the unit and determined that it was defective. For some reason, its heart never developed. Seventy-eight was disconsolate. The unit was her first. However, Avion assumed all of the responsibility. He made sure that everyone knew that he had not reddened her properly before their first rubbing, and promised her a sound reddening in the Commons on Saint Thirty-seven's Day Eve.
     It was a festive gathering. One promised me a major surprise, and made me put on my dress uniform because it was such an important day for Seventy-eight and Avion. After midnight supplications to Saint Thirty-seven who gave her life to bring life to the Colony, Avion took a seat at the center of the Commons. Then came my surprise. A double file of rounded LE's escorted in Seventy-eight, who to the amazement of all, was wearing the white jumpsuit of the First of the Sovereign Colony of New Bali. As One explained to me later, the magic of the legend of the creation of the Colony's very first unit was necessary to assuage the Colony's grief over the first loss of a unit. As always, One was a canny leader.
     Seventy-eight was escorted to Avion. The lights were dimmed everywhere except over Avion and Seventy-eight. Avion rose and began the first recital of the now traditional Saint Thirty-seven's Day Eve passion play.
     "How dare you barge into my office without my leave?"
     “How dare you deceive us as to your numbers?”
     "You will answer my questions, and you will address me as Sir!"
     Seventy-eight smiled, and spat, "Never, you filthy Daal!" That was not quite the way that I remembered that fateful day, but I remained entranced.
     "Silence! For your repeated insubordination, I am demoting you for one day. Until oh eight hundred hours tomorrow, you are Eighty-seven. Remove the white jumpsuit while I summon Two to take your place."
     Seventy-eight giggled. "What do you..."
     "Two days! If you speak again without permission, the period will double again. Now remove the jumpsuit."
     Seventy-eight stamped her foot, then crossed her arms.
     "Four days! Now remove the jumpsuit, or I will remove it for you. If I have to remove it, the demotion shall be for eight days."
     Despite Seventy-eight's bright smile, in my mind, I saw my proud, defiant One.
     "This is your last chance, One." Seventy-eight giggled again. "Fine, you've had your chance!"
     Avion reached over and released the first seal on the white jumpsuit. Without warning, Seventy-eight shot out both hands and grabbed Avion's head, and pulled his face down for a long, loud lip brushing. Once again, the performance was not historically accurate, but still well worth the price of admission.
     Avion took her hands and pulled Seventy-eight's arms behind her back. He released the final seals on the white jumpsuit and peeled it down over her shoulders. Seventy-eight's breath was quick as Avion slipped her arms out, and then forced the jumpsuit down to her waist. Avion took a seat, then pulled Seventy-eight over his knee. In the start of a holiday tradition, Avion delivered three sharp smacks to Seventy-eight's bottom before sliding the jumpsuit down to her thighs. Seventy-eight shook her protuberances (which are substantially larger than One's) at Avion, then sang out "Feck the Daals and foes of Bali!" Seventy-eight stuck her tongue out at Avion. This peculiar gesture has become a crowd favorite for several cycles as it signals the start of the reddening.
     Avion drew back his broad calloused hand, and delivered a loud whack to Seventy-eight's right cheek. He followed with three quick smacks to the left cheek, and one more to her right. Avion paused briefly to pull the white jumpsuit down to Seventy-eight's knees. After two or three gentle squeezes, Avion sent a half dozen quick short whacks to the pinkening right cheek, followed by three more firm smacks to the left. Without giving Seventy-eight a chance to catch her breath, Avion painted Seventy-eight's right leg down her thigh to her knee, then back up her left leg from her knee to her buttocks. Two more ferocious circuits of both legs, and a dozen more hard smacks to each molten cheek left Seventy-eight wailing. True to his word, Avion had given Seventy-eight a reddening that will be remembered for many cycles!
     Avion lifted Seventy-eight off of his lap, and stood her in front of him, displaying her rubicund globes for all to admire. He gently took his right index finger to wipe away her tears. Seventy-eight, still sobbing, brushed her lips against each of his fingers. Then Avion took her face in both hands, and gently brushed her lips with his. Seventy-eight reached down and unfastened Avion's trousers. Avion stood, and allowed her to pull him out. He lifted her, and softly brushed his lips over both of her protuberances. Seventy-eight's sobs turned softly to moans. Avion then turned and bent Seventy-eight over the chair, gave her two more smacks, then fiercely rubbed her from behind until they shared his genetic material.
     In accordance with the new tradition, One excused Seventy-eight from her duties, and confined her to her quarters for eight days. During that period, Avion visited her regularly to ensure that she had learned her lessons. In fact, she had. Seventy-eight had a fine LE. She and Avion have had another unit since, and she also has a beautiful new unit by Ensign Okutani.
     Fifty-three played One the following cycle. She had a six kilo unit! The Colony has not lost another unit since Seventy-eight's misfortune. The magic of the white jumpsuit is potent.
~*~
     One is glowing again. She has not said a word, but I can tell. One-point-six cannot be far off. All of the units bring me great joy. But this unit is one of mine, so I am especially pleased.
     Several minutes ago, there was a crash in the family room. My first guess is that One-point-four and Sixteen-point-two who were received in the same week, and are virtually inseparable, are about to be separated and sent off for an early bed time. One is knocking.
     "Come in, One."
     "Did you hear the crash?"
     "How could I miss it? No one has called the Captain to the bridge, so we are not under siege. That leaves One-point-four and Sixteen-point-two next in order of probability. Sometimes I regret my order prohibiting the reddening of units."
     One smiled broadly. "Wrong again! I did it!"

     I smiled just as broadly as I reached for her. "Good thing you're not a unit."

KC Copyright 2005; Moral rights to be identified as the author of the foregoing article asserted worldwide (including in Great Britain in accordance with Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act of 1988)