Chapter Fifteen


"Yep," Xara said, packing her bags. Stopping for a second, standing straight, she added with mild sarcasm, "And you know what? After almost three hundred years on this mudball, a hundred and twenty of them fighting to save their lives from the Arions, I think I deserve it."

That shut Cory up. After the events of the last few days -- hell, the last two centuries -- seeing that arrogant Scribe speechless was a delight. Cory had an answer for everything.

After a few seconds, Cory didn't disappoint -- or perhaps she did. "Mind if I come along?"


Cory shrugged. "Not much use for an intelligence agent here anymore. Now, every word I write has to go through the Colonies... and for a Scribe, it's not very smart to have someone else read your mail. Encrypted or not, I doubt they'd let it go. Besides, Dax'xan is right next door, and that's where I'd need to go for reassignment."

Xara conceded that. "The Admiral did extend the offer to you and Sharon."

Cory nodded once, and headed for her own room. She passed Sharon in the doorway, who watched Xara pack and shook her head. "You're really going."

Xara just looked at her. Not you, too. She shoved a rather nice dress into the suitcase -- just shoved it in, didn't care how many wrinkles it got, then went back to the closet.

"I won't be joining you," Sharon said.

That caused Xara to stop and turn. "Why?"

The muscular woman smiled. "For the same reasons Cory's leaving, I'm staying. Earth doesn't need a Velorian spy... but it does need a Velorian ambassador."

Xara accepted that. Then Sharon stopped leaning on the doorframe, and walked next to Xara's suitcase. She laid a hand on Xara's as she squatted and Xara knelt before putting something else in. They stood up.

Sharon hugged her. Really hugged her, with all her might -- which was quite a bit. Xara hugged back, matching strength for strength. The shiver of steel, now hardened by nuclear fire, was still there. Sharon started to cry. "You take care of yourself out there, back home."

"Oh, Sharon," and here their hug parted. Then they sniffed the air, and looked down. Their clothes were thoroughly shredded and burnt by the friction between the two of them, their breasts and stomachs exposed and perky. They both broke up in laughter. "I'm coming back, Sharon. I just don't know when."

Sharon nodded. "I know." The tears didn't quite leave her voice; she wasn't sure if she believed Xara. Then Sharon turned and headed out. At the door, she stopped and said, "By the way, while you're on Velor..."


Sharon smirked. "If you can get yourself a loan, I suggest you invest in Human Dot Net. They're going to start making money again in the near future."

"Your company?"


"Got it."

Sharon walked on, to face an Earth scorched, enslaved, scorched again and now free. Her home, once again.

In orbit of Velor, the Reagan

After dropping Cory off out the airlock, Xara, Yevgeni, and a select party boarded the admiral's barge, bound for Velor. Re-entry on the planet would be hard on the humans, with g-forces shooting up to nearly ten times Earth normal. But the people Yevgeni selected were young and fit -- aside from the Admiral himself. He was simply old and fit.

Per arrangement with the Enlightenment, they would be on the ground in under thirty minutes. Xara, for her part, was dressed very conservatively, but clearly as a civilian among them. As was one other in the compartment


The humans grunted under the tremendous gravity. Xara barely felt it as they were hunched over in their harnesses, but her own head remained unbowed, looking around the cabin. The noise outside was tremendous, and despite the air-conditioning, it was getting rather warm in there.

End of re-entry. The barge's shaking subsided, and wings deployed. The barge was now a jet aircraft.

Touchdown. A rolling stop to the end of a runway. Turning, coming to a stop. A slight jerk.

"Masks on," the admiral ordered. Over their mouths and noses, they all put on breathing masks -- all except Xara, who was tense, excited -- and a little light-headed. She wondered why, until Yevgeni added, "The gold. Velor's core."

Oh, yeah. Hee-hee. Xara wasn't used to it, but she knew the effect. It would pass in a moment, and she'd be thinking straight again. She undid the restraints and stood up.

"Not so fast, Xara," the Admiral cautioned. Then he grunted as he stood up under the three gees of Velor's gravity. "You're not the first out the door today. He is," Yevgeni said, pointing to the other civilian in the shuttle.

The man nodded, pleasantly. After serving under one Commodore Tuaphong, and losing thousands to a single Prime, he just wasn't the same. He had resigned his commission, and gladly accepted the Admiral's offer to join them here on this special mission.

Xara nodded; she understood. Politics was still politics, and the game had to be played that way.

"There's a crowd gathered outside," the pilot informed them over the intercom. "Also a couple people looking official in front of them, and a few people holding the crowd back. Probably police," he mused.

Yevgeni nodded, then glanced at the civilian, who also nodded. "Open her up," he called out. And the rear loading hatch complied. The civilian took a step out of the craft, into full view of the crowd. Under the bright sun, he squinted.

The crowd gasped in awe. His hair was red.

A bright red, a different color red than the dyes youngsters had used for centuries. They didn't know what to make of him. Who was he?

Then the admiral came out, and removed his hat. His hair was dark brown with tinges of gray, and the crowd gasped again. Brown... like the Arions.

Then Xara came out, and the crowd sighed in relief. Her hair was golden, normal. Yevgeni, noting the reactions, chuckled. "Human in the head. Racist and all."

Xara gave him an amused glance. "We should've brought sunglasses."

Looking up towards the Velorian sun, Yevgeni said, "Yeah."

The three of them strode boldly down the ramp, meeting a delegation of two officials in white robes. One of them spoke cautiously in Velorian. "I am Minister Hurma of the State Ministry for the Velorian Enlightenment. Welcome." He bowed slightly.

Very proudly, the civilian among them announced in the same language, "I am Ambassador Tom Johnson, of the United Nations of Earth. I'm sorry I can't take this mask off yet, but your atmosphere isn't very friendly to us." Every member of the landing party knew Velorian fluently.

"Understandable. Legend has it we once came from your planet." Hurma spoke neutrally, warily.

Under the mask, Johnson smiled. "With me are Admiral Pedro Yevgeni of the Terran Military Colonies," and here Yevgeni bowed, "and Xara Kor'El, of Earth." Xara, who wore no mask and breathed Velor's atmosphere without trouble, drew the crowd to another stirring.

"This woman... she is a Protector! She is not allowed here!" the other said, scandalized.

Xara ground her teeth. No way was she going to take that kind of crap!

Apparently, neither would the Admiral, who spoke harshly through his mask, the muffling barely apparent with his volume. "Xara Kor'El is a citizen of Earth, born there!"

"She must leave! This is in violation of our law!"

The crowd murmured, worried. This was unheard of, for a Protector to return to them... and was she really a Protector, if she wasn't native to Velor?

The admiral cocked his head, and spoke again. "We just fought a war for the rights of Earth's people." His eyes narrowed, and he went on, "Would you like us to fight another?"


This cry came from the crowd -- and another person, much younger, much less dignified -- and dressed in a white garment of his own with green and red stains on it, burst from the crowd at a dead run for her.

"Stop him!" someone cried in the native language. But they didn't need to. He stopped himself, a few paces away from her. He was tall, and very young. Attractive, in a way, but also a little familiar.

He reached out hands to show no evil intentions, and asked the woman one question, directly. "Your mother... was she Kara Zor'El???" This was in accented English.

Xara nodded. Sharon -- and later Co'ra'na -- had been good Scribes, writing home valiantly, she supposed, about their adventures. But she thought no one home was allowed to hear those stories except in the government itself...

He walked up to her and hugged her. Bewildered, she nearly shoved him off until he whispered three words into her ear, again in English.

"Welcome home, cousin."


She hugged him back. Firmly, much more firmly than he did, but under Velor's gold influence, not nearly as hard as she would on any other planet. It was still an impressive hug, as he coughed the Velorian air out of his lungs. "Xara, please..."

She let go. This tall stranger... no, this kinsman, explained hurriedly. "After Kara left us, her parents were lonely, very lonely. They petitioned the Enlightenment to have another child, and the request was granted. They were given a son... my father." Then he laughed. "I'm a cook! You, you're a Protector, returned home to us, and I'm a cook!"

Xara was speechless. "What's... your name?"

"Ter'lan Pu'et'ira."

Xara bowed her head. "Ter'lan." She kissed his hand lightly. That must be how he knows of me. We're family. Her head was spinning, and not from the gold.

"Come. I may not be a good cook, but I promise you I'll make a feast for you." They started walking together, arms around each other's shoulders. The crowd parted for them.

Flabbergasted, Hurma turned to look at Admiral Yevgeni and said very tightly, with fists clenched, "We need to talk."

Nonplussed, the admiral replied, "Oh, yes. I'm looking forward to it."

Hurma bowed again and extended an arm, palm facing them, to point the way to the future. Ambassador Johnson led them.