Author's notes:
 This is the next in my one-shot series set in the Atlantis Unleashed universe. As this story started coming together, I came to some rather startling realizations about the universe as a whole. Those realizations will be revealed in my next few stories set in the universe as well as the ongoing story: Cattin' Around.
Part of this story was an experiment in writing for me. I am planning on participating in the November National Novel Writing Month to see if I can churn out 50k words in 30 days. I think I can do it.

 This story is set after the events of Paraforce 1; Paraforce 2; and the Lords of Atlantis. It gives more background on the events that led to the destruction of the cities of Orlando, Florida and Mecca. It also is a little harder sci-fi than others. I think I've managed to capture the spirit of R.A. Heinlein's adult novels. For the most part the science is correct where it can be.

 There is action, adventure, intrigue, and sex. If it is illegal for you to read this or you find it offensive please do not go any further. This story involves bisexual and group sex of teenagers in a non-human society where those things are not only accepted but are boringly normal.
Finally, I always appreciate feedback at: Cobalt-Blue

Shan words. The Shan language consists of a mixture of verbal and sonar components. The presence of an apostrophe in Shan words indicate that a sonar signal is generated at this point in the word.

Shan names: The presence of a sonar signal indicated by an apostrophe after the first letter of a name indicates a male name. The presence of an apostrophe before the last letter of a name indicates a girl's name.

D'an'a's POV. D'an'a's self image is both male and female. Sometimes she feels female, and sometimes male. To reflect that, D'an'a's POV is written in the mode that he/she is identifying with at that time.

The Cradle

Part I

 Leighanne Leight-Carstairs studied her old friend from across the well-appointed office on Illia, the floating surface-side of the Shan city two hundred twenty-two miles off the coast of Texas. The last time she'd seen Miranda was at her first husband's funeral, seven years ago. After Dillon's murder, Leighanne had gone from being a field-agent to simply a profiler so as to better raise her son, Corey. And of course Corey was why she was here, hat-in-hand. She hated to think about it that way, but she was honest enough to admit it to herself. She'd exhausted all her other options. She was by no means out of money, but the money was useless at this point. The government had stepped in and simply said no.
"It's good to see you again, Leighanne," Miranda said sitting down across for her. Miranda Hassan appeared to have changed very little over the last seven years. She didn't appear to have aged very much, her mocha complexion showed no signs of wrinkling, and her black hair hung down her back in an iridescent cascade of ebony. If anything she appeared to be more toned, but Leighanne concluded that was due to a life of living in the in the water. Leighanne felt her old partner's mind reach out and briefly touch her shields. With some effort, she dropped them and let Miranda scan her.

:What's wrong?: Miranda asked mentally. Her mind-touch was as light and gentle as ever, only touching the old channels they shared when they worked for General Presley. Leighanne knew that there would be no hiding the turmoil of her soul except behind the strongest of shields, and that would be rude at this point.

She lowered her shields and spoke from her heart, "I need your help, Randi. You're not quite my last hope, but you're my best hope."

"What can I do?" Randi asked, the concern not only evident in her voice but in her mind as well.

"It's my son, Corey," Leighanne said fighting back her sense of desperation. "He's been hurt, and the government insurance won't pay for the treatment, and they won't let me pay for it either."

Miranda's eyes narrowed at her words, two wrinkles appearing in the dark skin above the bridge of her aquiline nose. "Corey hurt? When? How?"

"Three years ago, when UNIPACT Beta attacked Birmingham. He was there visiting with some friends. When Neutron started blasting away at Storm Force, Corey was caught in the crossfire. He tried to get an old man out of the line of fire, and was hit himself. He was burned horribly, but the worst damage came from the radiation. It did something to him. He's in a coma, the doctors say he's stable, but he's not getting any better. The problem is that health panel for my insurance refuses to allow treatment anymore. They say the resources could be better used elsewhere. I offered to pay for the treatment out of my own pocket, but the doctors say that if they take payment, then they'll lose their license." It was everything she could do to keep the desperation out of her voice, much less her mind.

"What?" Randi exclaimed. She literally came out of her seat to come over and sit next to Leighanne. "Why didn't you tell us? We would have helped."

"There was nothing to do. At the time, they were just trying to get him stabilized. That took almost six months. He's not getting worse, but he's not getting better either. I wouldn't have come if the insurance hadn't forced my hand."

"What kind of insurance company would do something like that?" Randi asked.

"It's the the one for federal employees. When the new health-care bill was passed our old provider went bankrupt. The agency forced us into the government option," she said. The last three years had been a nightmare for her as she watched her then eleven year son, slowly vegetate. His mind had turned in on itself as his body tried to heal. She couldn't reach him telepathically, but she knew he was there. She hoped the advanced biomedical technology of the Shan could do for her only child what the best doctors in the States couldn't.

Randi put an arm around her shoulders and said, "What can we do?"

"Can you have your healers look at him? I can pay you," she told her, trying not to sound too desperate but knowing that she was failing miserably.

"Of course, we'll have them look at him," Randi said. "When can you have him here?"

 Leighanne nodded and thanked her old friend, "Tomorrow if you want. George is working on getting a medivac flight scheduled on the contingency that you can help."

"George?" Randi asked.

"Oh, you haven't met George. I remarried," she said. Last year, she and George had finally tied the knot. It seemed like they'd been friend forever. She Dillon and Corey had stood by George and his son, Chris, as George's wife Melinda died of brain cancer. Six months later, Dillon had been killed in the line of duty. She and George closed ranks in order to try and raise their sons who'd been best friends since they were toddlers. Over the years, a day didn't seem to pass that they didn't see or check in on one another. When Dillon had died, it was George who stood by her and Corey. Then Corey had been hurt, and if it hadn't been for George, she'd probably have gone insane. Only George's steady presence had kept her on an even keel, kept her fighting for her son.

"We'll send a craft," Randi said confidently. Then looking to the ceiling, she said, "Mother, would you inform the medical center that we're bringing in a human patient?"

"Right away Randi," a soft woman's voice seemed to originate out of thin air.

Leighanne almost jumped out of her seat at the sound. "I'm sorry, that was Mother, the colony's electronic intelligence. Who all do you want to come with you? So I know many to tell the squ'ks to prepare for."

Leighanne shook smiled, "George, Chris, maybe Chris's girlfriend, Bonnie."

"Bonnie? That was the little girl I saw standing with Corey at the funeral?" Miranda asked.

"Yeah, she and Chris and Corey have been inseparable for years." She smiled weakly, "I'll never forget the day, when they were about five, that she sent both boys home without any pants. Their game of "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours" turned just a little surreal on them."

 Miranda chucked and then asked,
"Now exactly what are they saying about Corey?"

Leighanne reached into her purse and pulled out a flash drive. "Here's all the files; all the tests; and all the results. They say it has something to do with the radiation poisoning."

 Miranda took the flash drive and lay it behind her on her desk. She knew the desk would immediately scan and download the information. "But what have they told you?"

Leighanne shrugged, "It's radiation poisoning, and it's something else. The doctors have hinted that it's the AGG virus but won't come out and say so. I think he's afraid that if he does, the government will pull the plug right away."

"How old is he now, about twelve?" Miranda asked.

Leighanne nodded, "He just turned thirteen back on Independence Day." It was one of the saddest days of her life. No child should miss their thirteenth birthday. It was such a rite of passage for them. She had planned on going alone to the hospital that day, to spend it quietly with him. She wasn't the only one with the idea though. As the day wore on, Bonnie and Chris, then George, and several of his friends from school had wandered in and out. Only Bonnie and Chris spent the whole day there with her.

 "We'll see what we can do for him," Randi told her. "I can't promise you anything, but we'll do our best. If it
the AGG virus, there may not be much we can do short of rebuilding him from scratch. For that, we'd have to do a brain tape." Leighanne had heard of the brain-taping that the Shan did as a matter of recourse. It was a way of preserving a person's memories to be restored after brain damage, or even if cloning was needed.

 "I appreciate anything that you can do for him," Leighanne said.

 Miranda stopped and looked deep into her old friend's eyes; something that Leighanne found strangely comforting. Leighanne remembered the rumors that used to circulate through office back in their days together at the Department of Nocturnal Affairs. A third of the office was convinced that she and Miranda were lovers; another third thought that she and Dillon, Leighanne's husband were stepping out; and the other third were speculating that it was a threesome. What none of them understood was that Randi was so dedicated to a love she thought she couldn't have that she really had no interest in either Leighanne or Dillon as anything other than friends. Finally Randi said, "I have to ask this. I don't want there to be any misunderstandings later. Before you bring your family to Illia, especially before you bring Chris' girlfriend, you are aware of Shan cultural differences, aren't you?"

 Leighanne nodded her head. In a droning voice she quoted, "Yeah, I've been watching the news, and I've heard all the talking heads on both sides arguing about it. By the nature of their environment, Shan are generally nudist; and by biological necessity they are bisexual." Her voice resumed a more normal tone, "That's not a problem with me, or my family. As for Bonnie, her parents are pretty broad minded. I think that as long as George and I are here, they won't have a problem with it."

"It's not just that Leighanne, you most probably will be exposing yourselves and your children to concepts that a lot of humans have difficulty understanding. Many if not most are shocked by the idea. From about the biological age of ten or eleven for baseline shan, and around three for defenders, they become openly sexually active. It's part of their socialization- especially for the defenders. It's not unusual to pass recreation center or even a park and see a group of children engaging in a rather vigorous game of what we call pin-to-the-bottom."

 "But no adults are ever involved?" Leighanne had heard the reports, and she'd done the reading for herself. The Shan were very open about their sexuality, and for them sex was both a form of recreation and a for reproduction. They had a great deal of control over their own biological directives, and generally chose when to become pregnant. An adult female would not come into estrus without intimate contact with another adult female, and then only if she chose to. An adult male had to take on the genetic material of another adult male to complete his own code for reproduction. It created a society where reproducing families consisted to at least two males and two females. However, children always played with children and adults with adults.

"No, adults play with adults and children with children," Randi echoed her thoughts. "There is some crossover at the cusp but it never lasts long," Randi told her. "But you will be exposing your stepson and his girlfriend to what could be considered a shocking experience. Shan children do not usually invite human children into their games- not from any lack of interest mind you- but because we've asked them as general rule not to. Also since humans don't breathe water, it could be fatal. We don't want any misunderstandings with our human guests," Randi told her.

"I heard that you had baby here while back. How do you cope with it?" Leighanne asked.

 Randi smiled at her, and Leighanne could sense the turmoil in her own friend's mind. "D'an'a is a defender," Randi said. Leighanne could sense her choosing her words very carefully. "Defenders age much more rapidly than human or even baseline Shan in the first three years of their lives. I've watched my child grow from an infant into the puberty in three years. I'm told that it will now settle out to something more normal for the next eight or nine years and then stop completely. But D'an'a is the first Human/Shan hybrid so we don't know how things will work out. We're in entirely new territory. D'an'a also inherited mine and Adam's transhuman gene as well as K'hori's first defender genes. Things didn't turn out exactly the way we expected them to. Hell, she even has a minor mage-gift, not that she'll get much use out of it around here. I'm thinking of sending D'an'a to Wolf Creek for a year or so for further training when they get it rebuilt."

Leighanne could tell there was much more to it than she was being told but chose not to pry. She smiled and said, "I can't wait to meet her."

 "You'll get your chance tomorrow evening. You of course will be staying with us," the dark haired woman smiled. "That way you can meet my husbands and my wife."

 "We don't want to be any trouble," Leighanne said.

 "You're already trouble, Leighanne," Miranda said with a smile. "That's why I love you, girl."


Leighanne smiled at the comment and said, "I don't want to put you out...,"

 "Leighanne," Miranda said seriously, "If you hadn't convinced me to transfer out of the DNA, I would have never been in a position to go on that first-contact mission, I would have never met K'horal and I would have never confronted Adam with what was going on in my heart. I owe you more than I can ever repay. This is a small thing."

"Helping my son live is never a small thing, Randi. He is literally facing a bureaucratic death sentence. This is more than I can ever repay," Leighanne told her.

Randi smiled and said, "You don't have to repay anything, it's what friends do. I'll do what I can. In the meantime, why don't I take you down to speak with some of our med-techs." She looked back up at the ceiling and said, "Mother, would you please download all the information on the flash drive on my desk to the medical computers?"

 "I have already done so, Randi," the voice said. The medical center is awaiting your arrival. I have taken the liberty of informing your family that you will be having guest as of tomorrow evening."

 "Thank you Mother," Randi said.

"Please, don't make a big deal out of our staying, Randi," Leighanne tried to soothe her own pain for having to turn to a friend for help. Deep down she felt a burning anger toward the people who were exacerbating Corey's condition.

"Iwill make a big deal out of it, Leighanne. Mainly because I'm glad to see one of my oldest friends. We're going to get Corey the best treatment possible, and while we're waiting for him to recover, you and I are going to catch up on old times, and get to know each other's families and I'll show you the sights of the colony," Randi told her as she stood. "Now, why don't you and I go downstairs and talk to the doctors. I'm sure they have all kinds of questions."


 Twenty minutes and a tube ride later Leighanne found herself almost a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. The technology she was seeing was fantastic. She'd heard that the Shan were masters of biotechnology, but this was almost unbelievable. For the first time in three years, she started to have hope for her son. These people had built- no, they'd grown- a civilization in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. They were living Captain Nemo's dream.

Some of what she was seeing took a little getting used to though. She felt somewhat overdressed, actually she felt rather conspicuous in the fact that she and Randi were the only people wearing clothing. Worst of all, she got the feeling that the only reason Randi was wearing her smart business outfit was because of her. She briefly wondered if she would have the courage to "go native" while here. If it were just her and George, probably. She didn't know if she would with Bonnie and Chris present.

The Shan themselves were a handsome people, all tall and lean with long flowing hair that ran the gamut of colors from almost black green to what could only be described as pale pink. The only colors seemingly to be missing were dull browns, and black; even the blonds had a vibrant hue to their hair that no dye-job could ever imitate. She noted that nobody seemed to be any older than their mid-twenties- which made sense since they all had come out of the birthing chambers less seven years ago. Outside of the hair color, webbed hands, and the fact that their feet only had two toes, one big toe and and broad flat fused surface where the rest should be, most Shan were very human in appearance. Their skin tone wasn't even unusual as it tended to run between the light pecan of Randi's own Semitic tone to the pale side of Caucasian.

 Around her, she could see dual passageways: one dry and the other filled with seawater. They seemed to have no barrier between them reminding her of looking at the surface of a tub turned on its side. At one point she reached out and touched the water and found that she could insert her hand into it. It was surprisingly warm for this deep in the ocean. Randi smiled at her and said, "Don't ask me how they do it. Adam and K'horal both have tried to explain it to me, and I still don't understand."

 Leighanne smiled back and shrugged as they continued on down the walkway, their shoes making a slightly muffled sound. She did note that there were more people moving through the water-filled side of the corridor than on the dry side. Most of them were swimming along carry small satchels of equipment or gear totally oblivious of the human who'd invaded their aquatic domain. Now and again she'd see a defender jet by, easily discernible by the broad wing of flesh that ran from just above their wrists along the back of their arms to join at the small of their back. She'd read that the defenders used their wings as diving planes for quick ascensions and submersions in the water. Few were carrying the huge trident like harpoons that were a mark of their position and responsibility.

 Mixed in among them were smaller beings that were about the size of an infant, with long tails that had a flat spade like surface at their ends. They too had the defender wings, and were nude except for small pouches on their forearms that held various tools. They didn't seem to be Shan and most of the people around them were simply ignoring them as they went about their business.

Oddly enough, even surrounded by all of this life, all of this hustle and bustle, she detected very little pressure against her mind shields as she moved deeper into the city. No wonder Randi found this place so so peaceful. It was every telepath's dream to find a city full of people who weren't constantly assaulting you with their minds.

 "Who are they?" she asked pointing out one of the tiny beings.

 Randi smiled, "They're called squ'ks." When Leighanne gave her a confused look she said,

"Don't try pronouncing it. The Shan recognize the human word squ'ks. There's a sonar signal between "q-u" and the "k" that you can't hear."

 "What are they they?" Leighanne asked.

 "They're a pre-sentient domesticated species that we keep for general repair and maintenance work. They aren't quite pets, and they aren't quite children. They adore the defenders, and K'hori is their favorite."

Leighanne gave her a slightly confused look, "Corey?"

 Randi smiled, "Oh sorry. I guess thatisgoing to be a problem. The Shan use nicknames too. K'horal, my husband, his nickname is K'hori. I guess it sounds a lot like your son's name without the requisite sonar signal."

 Leighanne smiled and replied, "I guess a lot of the Shan language has a sonar signal to it?"

 Randi laughed, "Just about all of it. Fortunately it does adapt to English, German, and most of the Romance languages quite well as long as you leave the sonar signal out. It plays hell with Hebrew and Arabic though; not so much with Farsi but it's an Indo-European language. You just have to remember that a whole range of tactile, and volume information is missing without that the sonar signal. All Shan names have a sonar signal to them. A signal after the first consonant indicates a male, a signal before the last consonant denotes a female." She shrugged, and added, "But all of the Shan speak English, and about a fourth speak Spanish as well. It's a good idea to know the language of your neighbors."

 They arrived at a wall of water that Leighanne suddenly realized was retreating from them. She watched as it literally shrank back to the far side of the room and and then disappeared from sight into the stone-like wall. As it retreated it revealed a room with equipment all along the walls, the floor and even the ceiling. It took her a moment to realize that in an underwater environment, one was not limited to just using the floor. Standing in the middle of the room was a very attractive young woman with long light blue hair that was pulled back into a pony-tail. Like everyone else, she was nude. She smiled at Leighanne and said, "Hello, I'm Jale'n, Mother asked me to look at your son's files."

 Leighanne nodded to the young woman and asked, "I realize that you've only had a few moments to look over them, but do you think there is anything you can do?"

 She exchanged looks with Randi and then said, "There is always something we can do.

The question is, how far do you want to go?"

"As far as it takes to save my son," Leighanne said.

 The woman nodded and indicated a large egg-like piece of equipment. "This is one of our birthing chambers. We can use them to heal those who've been wounded or injured of all but the most severe traumas. But they require an uncorrupted genetic code. I'm not sure we can get that from your son."

 "I thought you said you could help," Leighanne said.

 "I think we can use some gene splicing techniques to rebuild him, but I need to study the issue further. How soon can you get him here?"

"Is tomorrow soon enough?" Randi asked.

 Jale'n smiled and said, "Not for my taste, but it will have to do." Leighanne took an immediate liking to the woman. "Let's discuss our possible options before we go any further though," the woman said indicating a low sofa that was rising out of the stone floor. Leighanne nodded and sat.

 She spent the next three hours discussing various options. Most of it depended on the stability of Corey's genetic code and the effect the possible AGG virus was having on it. Jale'n though was confident that she could work around even that, it was just a matter of how much they had to rebuild her son.

 After seeing Leighanne off on a Shan shuttle, Miranda returned to their home deep inside the floating ring of Illia. It was at the bend where the vertical sides of the floating city turned at a forty-five degree angle to begin to slope back toward the main shaft leading the ship below. It was one of the nicer homes, and they had direct access to the ocean outside from their apartment. Still, she took the "dry" passageways from topside to her home, of for no other reason than to avoid ruining a six hundred dollar outfit she'd bought the last time they had been in New York City. It had been a draining day, and she was glad to get out of her clothing and slip into freedom of their own apartment. She did however, choose to drain it. She wanted it to dry out completely before her guests arrive and she needed it dry for another reason as well.

She smiled at herself at the irony of that thought. All four of D'an'a's parents could breathe water. It was one of hers and Adam's transhuman enhancements, and of course both Jord'n and K'hori were defender Shan so that ability was natural to them as well. But it was the merger of the transhuman and Shan genes that caused her problem.

 As if summoned by her thoughts, which of course considering that they were both telepaths was very possible, D'an'a appeared through the moon-pool in the center of the apartment and climbed out. "Is there a reason the apartment is dry?" she called hopefully from the drying pad next tot he pool. Randi noticed that she used English. The atmosphere in the apartment was too thin to speak in Shan without shouting. Randi knew what she was hoping for. It was the other reason for leaving the apartment dry. Human foods- especially bread was not possible to prepare in an aquatic environment.

"How does baked spaghetti and garlic rolls sound? Maybe with a fresh garden salad?" she asked with a smile. D'an'a, K'hori, and Jord'n could never get enough bread products. The traditional Shan diet was heavy on kelp, sponges, reptile, and the occasional fish. Most vegetable products were a rare treat for them, and bread especially so. Shan would swim several kilometers out of their way for a week old piece of bread. The fact that it had to be prepared in a dry environment was a small price to pay. Grasses were just starting to appear on Earth when the Shan fled the effects of the Sslelkian atomic war on the surface, so it was a food they had little contact with.

 "Mom, did you run up the credit card again?" D'an'a asked with a grin, and implying that she was making a peace offering to the family.

 Randi turned and smiled at her only child. D'an'a's body was still in that stage where it wasn't sure if it was going to put on mass like a boy or become more curvy like a girl. Randi suspected that her offspring would always have a somewhat small frame, that wavered on the edge of androgyny- which considering the child's particular condition made sense. Long blue-white bio luminescent hair was pulled back into the functional ponytail worn by most defenders, male or female. Randi could detect that her baby was starting to develop breasts, already at a small A-cup.

She took a moment to look D'an'a up and down and could tell that puberty was starting to really work its magic on the lithe body. A sparse tangle of the same blue-white pubic hair was starting to come in above the lengthening form of what looked as if it was going to be an impressive penis sitting atop a set of testicles that were already beginning to drop. Just behind and lower to those, she could detect where the scrotum disappeared into the opening of D'an'a's vagina. Long lithe powerful legs split from there to support a rather attractive androgynous frame. D'an'a's hermaphroditic condition was becoming more evident as he entered the final stage of his development.

"No I didn't max out my credit cards. That's why I have investments, lots of investments. I can't max out the credit cards. Besides which, the last time we made a huge purchase, that was your father." she said with a smile. "I want the apartment to dry out for a while. We're having human guests as of tomorrow and I want them to be comfortable."

"Who?" she asked.

"An old colleague and friend of mine, Leighanne Leight, or Leighanne Carstairs now, and her family."

 "The one you worked with at the DNA?" she asked coming over and pulling the plates down for the table.

"Yeah, that would be her," Leighanne said.

"So, why are they visiting?" she asked.

"Their son is going to be in the medical center to see if they can repair some damage from radiation poisoning," Miranda said.

 "Radiation poisoning?" she asked. "How was he exposed? I thought that he mess at Orlando had been cleaned up," D'an'a asked referencing the nuclear attack on the city of Orlando two years before the Shan had returned to Earth.

 "He was Birmingham when it was attacked."

 "The UN didn't use nukes on Birmingham...,"

 "No, but more than one UN operative was creating using radiation, and more than one uses radiation as a weapon. He was caught in a blast while saving an old man's life," she said.

"So he's a transhuman?"

 "No, not that we know. Corey was just a kid doing the right thing at the wrong time," Randi told D'an'a.

 "K'hori?" she asked obviously using the sonar signal for one of her father's names.

 "No C-o-r-e-y," Miranda said spelling the boy's name.

 "I thought we'd given the humans an effective treatment for radiation poisoning. Why didn't it work?"

 "The new insurance program that my friend is forced to use by the government, won't pay for it, and won't allow her to pay for it," she said. "So they're coming here, so see if we can cure the radiation sickness, and maybe the burn damage." Leighanne hadn't said that specifically, but Randi knew it was an issue. The images she got from her friend's mind were horrific. She knew that even if he were healed tomorrow, he'd never lead a normal life because of the scarring.

 "I see," D'an'a said obviously picking up the image from her mind. "What would you like for me to do to help?"

 "Show Corey's stepbrother and his girlfriend around," Miranda said.

 D'an'a shrugged and said, "Unless they can breathe water or are qualified to use a rebreather there's not much to show."

 "Well, they both are master divers," Miranda told her remembering Leighanne mentioning that when they were catching up.

 D'an'a nodded, and said, "Then teaching them to use a rebreather won't be difficult."

 "Actually, they probably already know how. Chris' father is George Carstairs who's done some work with our engineers. I know that his divers are trained on rebreathers. Leighanne tells me that Chris and Bonnie spend so much time in the water that she sometimes think they're part fish. I'm sure they've both been trained on them."

 D'an'a smiled and said, "It should be fun then." She stopped and thought a moment, "Do you want me to wear something while I'm showing them around?"

 "Not if you don't want to," Miranda said.

 "What will you guys be wearing?" she asked.

 "I'll be wearing what I normally wear," Randi said.

 "Normally wear around the apartment and the city, or when dealing with humans and gandma and grandpa?"

 "Considering that my routine is not going to change that much, I thought I would wait and see their reactions before I adjusted my attire. Leighanne has always been fairly open-minded, and I've never met George, so we'll see."

 D'an'a smiled and put the bowls and plates on the table. "How about school?" she asked hopefully. "Do you want me to miss classes?"

 "What are you studying right now?" Miranda asked. It wasn't that D'an'a was actually learning any new knowledge, Shan children had most basic skills and knowledge brain-taped directly to them. It was a case of attending training in the practical application of that knowledge.

 "Mornings is naval tactics of World War II simulations, and comparing them with modern tactics. It's really kind of boring, since I got most of that already from playing war games with father." D'an'a said referring to Adam's favorite hobby. Most Shan children did not attend military style training, but defenders were charged with the defense of the civilization. Combat and military training was mandatory for them. "Early afternoon is sculpture, I'm ahead in that class. My piece is almost finished. Then late afternoon is Ship's drive system repair. Not something that I think we're going to need anytime in the near future."

 Miranda smiled at her as Jord'n surfaced in the moon pool. "Evening', Sugar," she called to her wife. Jord'n was tall and lean like all defenders, and had electric pink hair that always reminded of Randi of cotton candy- hence the nickname.

"Good evening Miranda," the tall woman stood on the drying pad until the device had pulled all of the water off her body and hair which went from a deep rose to a hot pink in a matter of moments. "Hello, D'an'a. Mother tells me we are having guests starting tomorrow."

 "Is there anybody she hasn't told?" Randi tilted her head to the ceiling and asked.

 "I believe that repair crew working on the outlying intake valves are unaware of the event," Jord'n said with a smile as she kissed their child on the head before kissing Miranda. "But she told me that she'd informed you that she was informing us." Miranda then recalled her mentioning it.

 "Just wait until they get back into the city," D'an'a said rather snarkily. "Haven't my noble parents yet figured out that their daily lives are the source of much speculation and gossip among the general populace?

  "I'm not sure whether or not we should be insulted or run away to the bottom of the Puerto Rican Trench," Randi said.

 "I would settle with being insulted," Jord'n said. "From what I've heard from our husbands, that is not a pleasant place. Some of the creatures there date back to from our time on this world."

 "What have dad and father discovered?" D'an'a asked.

 "That the trench has managed to preserve some creatures that put fear into the heart of even a first generation defender," Jord'n said. "But not to worry, they are trapped there, only a First Defender can reach them."

"In other words, Dad."

 "In other words, both of your fathers," Miranda added. She looked at Jord'n and asked,

"And what were they doing exploring the Puerto Rican Trench?"

 "They were looking for place to safely drop the reactor of that Chinese submarine that attacked yours and Adam's mini-sub on the first contact mission," Jord'n said.

 "I take it then the Trench is out?"

 "It is a unique ecology upon which such an action would have a very detrimental effect. We've decided to enlist the aid of the Atlanteans instead. For now, the reactor is off-line and inside a containment field."

"Mother says that I may be able to skip some of my lessons to act as a guide to our visitors," D'an'a said hopefully.

 Jord'n gave her a questioning look and Randi said, "I said it might be possible, depending on where her studies were."

 "And your studies are where?" Jord'n asked

 "I'm pretty much ahead in everything, and I'm bored out of my skull in my tactics class," D'an'a said hopefully. "Everything that Defender Mr'ell is covering is the same stuff father and I go over in his war games simulation. I've had plenty of practical application of it in the games tank."

 Jord'n smiled over at Miranda and they said in unison, "We'll wait and discuss it with K'hori and Adam over dinner.

 "Which I suspect is baked spaghetti?" Jord'n asked hopefully.

 "Spaghetti, salad, and garlic rolls with cheesecake for desert. Also Leighanne gifted us a bottle of good California wine which considering most of the state is now under water, is rare as hen's teeth these days," Miranda said.

 "Hens have teeth?" Jord'n asked bringing the salad makings of out of the fresher and began chopping them.

 "Exactly," Miranda said with a smile.

 To Miranda's surprise, both Adam and K'hori thought the idea of D'an'a showing Chris and his girlfriend around was a good idea. They both felt that it would give her an opportunity to meet some humans who hadn't completely adjusted to Shan culture. It was also decided to wait and see how Leighanne and her family acted toward the Shan tendency toward casual nudity before determining on whether or not clothing would be worn in the apartment. Randi desperately hoped that her friend would not be embarrassed, and would take it in stride. She knew how Jord'n tended to react to humans who who became prudish about such things.


 "They said they'll do it," Leighanne told her family that evening over dinner.

 "No stipulations?" George asked.

 Leighanne shook her head, "No stipulations. I told you Randi wouldn't play politics where he godson was concerned."

 "I believe you," George said pulling out his cell phone. "I'll call the airport now and get the flight arranged."

 Leighanne shook her head, "Don't bother. Randi's sending a medical shuttle to pick him up at ten in the morning."

 George gave a sigh of relief. Leighanne knew that he was worried about getting clearance for helicopter to take a patient all the way out to Illia. Some pilots refused to fly outside of US territorial waters, and being as the city floated two hundred twenty-two miles due south of Port Arthur, Texas in the Alaminos Canyon it had taken a lot of work to find one that would. As it was, the flight would have to be from where they lived in Miami, to Mobile, Alabama where they would refuel, then fly to New Orleans for another refuel, and then on to Port Arthur where they would change over to a Sikorsky that would take them out to Illia. That was a lot of favors to call in, but he was willing to do it for his stepson.

 Putting the phone down he said, "You do realize that doing this is probably going to cost you your job at the agency. Again, I'm not criticizing, and I'd do it in a heart beat myself, but I want to make sure you know what's going to happen."

 She nodded her head, "Yeah, Deputy Director Jennings has already told me that if I don't cut ties with transhuman contacts, that my job could be in jeopardy. You know how it is with the pencil-pusher types."

 "Just so you know," he said.

 "It's not like I need the job. The only reason I kept it was to keep insurance on Corey. No other insurance company would take him if I changed jobs, and under the new law I'm not allowed to pay for treatment out of pocket. If this works, it won't matter. With the investments I've made over the years, we can afford it. The house is paid for, the cars are paid for, Corey's and Chris' college is paid for. I don't give a damn about the job. I do give a damn about getting my son better."

 "I know, Sweetheart," George said. "I just want to make sure that you're thinking clearly."

 "George love, when it comes to my family, I don't think clearly. I think about protecting them," she told him.

 He nodded and then looked to where Bonnie and Chris were sitting quietly listening to the conversation, almost afraid that if they said anything then the adults would send them away. "Go pack for two weeks in Illia," he told them.

 "In a Shan city, that could just be a toothbrush and a comb," Chris said snarkily.

 "I will if you will," Bonnie replied.

 "Uh..., uhhh...," Chris started to say.

 "Remember how the last game of I'll show you mine if you show me yours, went, guys," George warned. Then noticing his son's deep red color, he added, "Besides Bonnie, we're talking about a twelve year old boy and cold water. Not a good combination in his mind."

 "Dad! I'll be thirteen next month!"

 "Yes, but we're going to Illia tomorrow," George said. "Now go pack your wet suits. I'm sure you'll get a chance to see the city, and it does get cold that deep."

 "Yes sir," the both said.

 "I'll walk Bonnie, home," Chris said looking outside. "It's getting dark."

 "Good boy," Leighanne said kissing them both on the forehead.

By noon the next day, Leighanne found herself standing in the medical center with Jale'n as they pulled Corey's burned and emaciated body from the stretcher and placed it inside one of their healing chambers. Leighanne's heart was breaking at the sight of her once vibrant healthy child now reduced to a scarred husk. "Mother, please run the diagnostics that we set up," Jale'n said.

 "Beginning scan, now," Mother said.

 Jale'n turned to Leighanne and said, "These scans will take about an hour to complete. After that we need time to study the results. I should have a beginning of an idea of how to proceed by this afternoon. You can stay here and wait, or you can go and get settled in with your family." It was clear to Leighanne that the woman would prefer to work in peace, but she was giving Leighanne the option of staying.

 "I think I'll wait outside in the corridor and give you room to work. If you need me, I'll be right outside." She slipped out into the passageway and was surprised to find a bowl-shaped stone chair sitting off to one side. Smiling, she sat down and waited.

 She watched as people came and went at the medical center. After a while, one of the small creatures that Miranda had called squ'ks came up to where she was sitting. It stood there with it's huge blue eyes and looked at her curiously. She noted that his large head head was somewhat out of proportion with its body. Furthermore, unlike the shan his fine green hair was short, almost in what we would call a page-boy haircut, but she got the feeling that it was its natural length. His long delicate fingers reached out and brushed against her wrist. He made a series of clicking noises at her and smiled.

 "He says, Jale'n fix," Mother said. Then she made a series of clicks and wails to the him.

 The creature gave Leighanne a long sad look and patted her knee. Leighanne smiled at him, nodded and said, "I hope so, little one. I hope so."

 To her surprise the small creature crawled up into her lap and hugged her around the neck, his long eyelashes tickling her face. When he let go, he settled down in her lap, lay his head against her breast and crooned softly to her. "I think he means to stay with you," Mother said.

 Leighanne found herself holding the small creature as he sat in her lap singing to himself softly. After a while he reached into one of the pouches on his arm, pulled out a small device and some tools and began to tinker with it. Leighanne lost track of time after that. She lost herself in memories. Memories of Dillon, of Corey, and of happier times.


 D'an'a observed his guests carefully as she stood in the living room with the three of them; an older man, and a boy and girl of about his own developmental stage. "Cool, I've been trying to finagle a trip here, since you guys landed," the boy called Chris said as he, his girlfriend- D'an'a wondered if that term was right; it implied that humans saw cross-gender friendships differently than same-sex friendships- and his father set their bags down in the main room of the apartment.

 "You'll have to forgive Chris," the pretty brown-haired girl, Bonnie said. It was strange to hear a name without a sonar signature associated with it. "Sometimes his mouth engages before his brain does."

 "That's not an uncommon trait among teenage boys," D'an'a's father, Adam said. He noted his father was wearing what he called trunks for their first meeting with his mother's old friends.

 "Nice to see you again, Commander," the father, George said. D'an'a noticed that for a man who was supposedly in his fifties, for a human supposedly past his prime, the man was remarkably well built, and trim. His salt and pepper short cut hair was the only indication of age on him.

 "You too, Chief- wait a minute? You're Leighanne's husband?" his father said in surprise.

 "Guilty as charged Commander," George said.

 "We're not in the service anymore, George. Call me Adam." D'an'a's father said.

 "Am I to understand my noble father knows, Mr. Carstairs?" D'an'a asked formally.

 "Noble father?" George asked.

 "It's a Shan custom," his father said somewhat sheepishly. "D'an'a only uses it when he's being snarky."

 "Children, snarky? Never!" Chris said pertly. "We always respect our elders." He winked at D'an'a.

 "And to answer your question, D'an'a," his father said. "Yes, George and I served together as SEALS. George here liked to blow things up."

 "A predilection, evidently shared by my noble father," D'an'a said with a smile. "I believe Dad once said that your first solution to any problem was the correct application of explosives."

 "Wait a minute, Dad. You were a SEAL? You never told us!" Chris protested.

"You never asked. You knew I was in the Navy," George replied.

 "Yeah, but a SEAL? I mean, they're the best of the best. Runeclaw was a SEAL!" Chris said.

 D'an'a noted that both his father and George rolled their eyes at the mention of the transhuman, Runeclaw. His father said, "Yes, Commander Greenbough was a SEAL. He could also drink an elephant under the table."

 "A herd of elephants," George added sarcastically.

 "That's why I always bet on the man in drinking contests," Adam, D'an'a's father said.

 "Did you know him?" Chris asked hopefully.

 "We worked together a time or two," George said. "Adam here, graduated Annapolis with him."

 "We were in different brigades," Adam commented. "It was the only thing that kept either of our brigades from dominating the cadet competitions. We kept canceling each other out. Of course he also kept disappearing every summer."

 "According to my wife, he was already working for General Presley," George added.

 Adam said, "Ah, the DNA has long arms."

 "Leighanne worked with him a time or two while he was there," George commented.

 "Really?" Adam asked. "Uh..., you do know his reputation."

 "She was already married to Dillon at the time, and you know as well as I do, that he doesn't play with the married ladies- or gents for that matter," George said.

 "I hadn't heard that about him," Adam answered.

 "Scared the piss out of me the first time I turned around in combat and found seventeen feet of weretiger standing behind me though," George said changing the subject.

 D'an'a's father took a deep breath and said, "Yeah, I know what you mean. He and I went toe to toe a couple of times in combat training, and although I could take just about anything he could dish out, there was still this underlying reaction to a cat that damn big. It was like looking down the maw of a twenty-foot little death." He shook his head, "Uh, great white."

 George chuckled and then looked over to where both Bonnie and Chris seemed to be staring at him. "Chris, Bonnie, it's not polite to stare."

 "Yes sir," they both said and tore their eyes away.

 "How do you get your hair that color?" Bonnie whispered. D'an'a smiled.

His father gestured toward him. There was no hint of condemnation in his voice, something he knew that difficult for him to control when it came to D'an'a. "Is this going to be a problem?"

 "No," George said. "I suspect when the kids get over the novelty of it, that it won't be." He turned to D'an'a and smiled, "Please bear with them for a little while. It's outside their cultural norms, but I think they'll adjust to seeing you, and everyone else nude after a day or so."

 D'an'a nodded, and said, "I don't think it'll be a problem. If you feel uncomfortable, I'm willing to adjust to your cultural standards for the duration of your stay." He really didn't look forward to wearing clothes for an extended period of time, but he was willing to make the sacrifice for his mother.

 "I'm sorry, I'm just wondering how you got your hair such a beautiful shade of white," Bonnie said.

 "Uh, it' s natural?" D'an'a replied. Blushing, he said, "Actually it's bio luminescent."

 "Huh?" Bonnie asked.

 "It glows in the dark," Chris told her.

 "Cool," Bonnie replied.

 By then the adults had moved off to where his father was showing George the suite of three rooms prepared for them. He wondered briefly why they needed three rooms, but did not press the matter. He would ask his mother later.

 "Do you mind if I ask a personal question?" Chris asked.

 D'an'a shrugged, already seeing the nature of his question in his mind. His mother had taught him not read other people's minds indiscriminately but when they were mentally shouting, :She's got dick, and damn it's bigger than mine! I'm so hosed here,: it was kind of hard not to. "I am both male and female," he said answering his question. It's a genetic anomaly that occasionally crops up in the gene pool. Unfortunately, it lined up with my Shan genes to the extent that if it was removed, I'd also lose my ability to breathe water."

 "That's gotta' suck," Chris said.

 "If I understand the nature of that particular expression," she said. "Yes it does, and not in the good way."

 "You understand it," Bonnie said as she slapped her boyfriend upside the back of the head.

Noting the head slap, D'an'a asked, "You a student of Agent Gibbs?"

 "Yes, yes I am," Bonnie said. Then in a cult like voice she said with a smile, "All must memorize the rules of Gibbs. I'm surprised to find that a Shan knows about NCIS."

 "It's one of the few entertainment programs, my parents will allow in our home. That and something called Babylon 5. I can watch all the educational programs and news I want however."

 "You sure your mom and mine haven't been talking for three years?" Chris asked.

 "One never knows. However, I believe that if Mother knew of your brother's situation, she'd have have offered our services before now."

 "Up until now, the Doctors had hope. The health-care bill pretty spelled the end for Corey."

 He cocked his head sideways at the young human. His sonar was giving him some conflicting information. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

 "I'm an open book," he said.

 "Actually, you're not," he said.


 "I'm a telepath too. I have difficulty reading both of you."

 "What's your question?" Chris asked.

 "What's it like to have a sibling?" he asked.

 "Fun, annoying, and generally a wild ride," Chris said. "But Corey and I were only best friends. We didn't become brothers until after he was hurt."

"So you are step-brothers?" D'an'a asked.

"Yeah. But we've been best friends, all three of us, since we were about three," Chris said.

"Is he aware of your relationship now?" he asked.

 "Mom's told him. But we don't know if he's actually heard her or not," Chris said. "We're pretty sure, he'd be happy for us."

 "Pretty sure?" D'an'a asked.

 "What the lunkhead here is trying to say, is that we don't think there would be any jealousy over it," Bonnie said.

 "Jealous of your relationship with Chris, or his with you?" D'an'a asked.

"No, no, no," Bonnie said. "Corey's the one that threw Chris and I together. I'm not Corey's type."

 "But is Chris, Corey's type?" D'an'a asked unknowingly getting to the root of the question.

 Bonnie looked around and then said, "Yes and no. He likes Chris, and probably wishes it was that kind of relationship, but he knows that Chris is straight. So, he told me he'd rather have a brother and a friend than a lover."

 D'an'a nodded. "Sounds like your friend has pretty level head on his shoulder. He took a deep breath and told them something that he hadn't even told his parents yet. "I'm still waiting on the right person or persons to start that kind of experimenting with."

"What?" Chris said. "I thought Shan kids your age were already experimenting. Mom called it playing pin to the bottom."

 "I..., haven't found anyone yet to play with," D'an'a said. "You have to understand, there are certain problems for me. First, is my dad is the leader of the colony, and very much a legend among our people. That scares quite a few of my age-mates off. Secondly, there's this." He indicated his body that now showed the sexual characteristics of both male and female very prominently. It wasn't such a problem when he was smaller. His male organs tended to hide his female ones, so people most treated him as young boy. Now that the breast were starting to develop and the muscle mass wasn't always where it was supposed to be, it confused even some of the Shan. "Most of the offers I've had so far, have been more out of prurient curiosity and a certain level of bragging rights than any interest in me personally." He shrugged, "Sometimes being a telepath can "suck" worse than being a hermaphrodite."

 Bonnie smiled and said, "Well, there's no pressure here from us. We would like to see your colony, and make some friends though."

 D'an'a smiled and said, "I think I'd like to show you around. Mother said that you may already be trained on the use of a rebreather."

 Chris nodded and said, "Yeah, we both have. Dad's construction company does a lot of underwater construction. Corey and I got trained fairly early, and Bonnie learned so she could keep up with us."

 "More like to keep an eye on you," the brown-haired girl said sarcastically. "Sometimes they pull some pretty boneheaded stunts. Somebody has to be there to call 911."

 D'an'a chuckled and said, "Well, we can fit you with rebreathers and warm-suits and take you out in no-time."

 "We brought our own wet suits," Chris offered.

 D'an'a asked, "Are they rated for three to four degrees Celcius?"

 "No," Chris said shaking his head. "Only for reef diving."

 "We're a hundred and fifty meters below the surface. The temperature is much colder than most humans prefer. I think we'd better outfit you with a couple of warm-suits."

 "That might be a good idea. Hypothermia would kill us in a matter of minutes," Chris said.

 "See what I mean," Bonnie commented taking the boy's hand in hers.

 "Yeah," D'an'a said. "Let's go see the dive master and get you your rebreathers. If you have your certification with you, he'll accept that and just show you the differences between Shan and human rebreathers."

 "What are the differences?" Bonnie asked following her out into the dry passage.

 "Mainly in the duration of effectiveness. Most human rebreathers are only good for about six hours. Ours are designed to allow for indefinite diving for humans. We've also eliminated the large backpack. Our entire system is contained in a full face mask that allows for open communication," D'an'a told them. "An added benefit is that since they control the oxygen release much more efficiently, they require less decompression time."

 "I'm looking forward to trying it," Chris said genuinely excited to see actually get to use a new technology that was practical to his own experience. D'an'a could tell that he thought it was cool to think about blue-green lasers capable of cutting plate steel under water, but that was something he knew he wasn't likely to have much of a chance to use. However, he was a diver, and a rebreather like D'an'a was describing was something he could definitely appreciate.

 Ten minutes later, Tan'a was fitting both of her companions with warm-suits. D'an'a briefly smiled at the outline of effect the attractive dive master was having on Chris in his warm-suit. His father was right. Human boys reacted to just about anything they saw. To D'an'a, seeing the dive master or any other Shan nude was no big deal, but he could tell the young man was in a state of perpetual excitement. He could also sense that watching her boyfriend react this was was disturbing Bonnie somewhat. He took a short lull in the training while Chris visited the "facilities" to approach the young lady. "He's not doing it on purpose," he told her.

"Huh?" Bonnie asked.

"Chris not reacting that way on purpose," D'an'a said. "My father says that human males are hard wired to react to visual stimulation, and teenage boys especially. Considering the cultural norms of your own society, seeing an attractive nude female, is not something he's experienced much in life. He can't help but react the way he does. It is not meant as a slight to you. I'd say that if you were to present him with a similar sight, he'd react much more strongly than he is now."

 "Why would your father tell you something like that?" Bonnie asked candidly.

 D'an'a smiled, "Because he knew something like this was likely to happen. He was afraid I might misread this kind of thing and act wrongly around humans. That I might think that under these circumstances that Chris' reaction was an invitation to play."

 Bonnie, nodded and smiled. "Do you really think that he would have a stronger reaction to me?" she asked.

 D'an'a laughed and touched his temple and said, "I know so. I can read minds you know, and he's literally screaming it at me."

"Thought you said you couldn't read our minds very easily," she said.

"I can't normally. But like I said, there are some things that he is screaming at me. His attraction to you is one of them," D'an'a told her.

"Out of curiosity, what are some of the others?" she asked him.

"Do you really want to know?" D'an'a asked.

 "Is it anything bad?"

"Not really," D'an'a said. "It could be if I took offense easily, but I understand these kinds of things. I've heard them a lot lately."

 "Such as?" Bonnie asked.

 D'an'a smiled and said, "Well one thing was he was surprised at my own anatomy. I think that his mother told you that I was a girl. His comparisons of our penises was quite flattering to me, and somewhat of a let down to his own ego."

 Bonnie smiled wanly, "So he's worried about size? It's good to know that I'm not the only one who looks at all of you fantastically beautiful Shan and find myself not stacking up. It's not exactly like I compare to someone like Tana."

 D'an'a smiled and said, "Neither one of you are unattractive Bonnie. And, you're young, and haven't fully developed yet. So am I," he said and indicated his own budding breasts with his hands. "But then again, so are our age-mates and that's who we are supposed to play with; not Tan'a and not any of the other adults. Trust me, you've got enough to keep Chris' interest."

 Before Bonnie could reply Chris returned from the changing room, the long outline in his warm suit now reduced to a bulge at his groin. D'an'a knew exactly how the boy had managed to get his recalcitrant organ to go down. The images the boy was conjuring up were quite powerful and quite clear. And they centeredmostlyaround Bonnie. It really was a shame that the girl had not been there to help him with it, but that was a cultural difference between their peoples. It would have facilitated their getting underway more quickly.

 Ten minutes after that, they were cycling the airlock between the dive master's station and the outer ring. D'an'a usually preferred to use the moon pool in their apartment, but he thought that an air lock might be more comfortable for his guest. As the water began to rise, he reached over and touched the light amplification mode on the side of each of their masks. This deep underwater, less than one percent of the sun's rays reached the city.

 Of course there were various lights all around the city, but due it was dispersed rather quickly. If all of the lights on the upper city were shut down at night, one could still not see the grow lights almost a mile below on the bottom. D'an'a could see just fine in the pitch darkness of the abyssal plain below, and probably could even see at the bottom of the trench, not that he'd ever ventured there. Add into his senses, his sonar, and he could maneuver quite easily in the darkness, but Bonnie and Chris were obviously another matter.

 As the lock cycled open and they were free to move about the exterior of the city, D'an'a generated a column of water down his legs, spread his arms to deploy his wings and jetted out ahead of his guests. A quick sonar ping told him where most of the traffic around him was. He noted the presence of a rather large oceanic white-tip shark about a kilometer away, but for the most part it was cruising and not hunting. Most of the sharks had discovered that their life expectancy was rather short this close to the city, especially if they wandered into the cattle pens.

 He watched as his companions ventured out of the safety of the airlock and look around. He could tell that they were both very accustomed to being underwater, and handled the experience rather well. He found himself smiling and showing off, making wide circles around them. Two thirds of D'an'a's genetics might have been transhuman, but he was purely a creature of the sea, Shan to the cartilage that made up his skeleton, and he was never felt more happy than when he was underwater.

 "What would you like to see first?" he asked.

 Both Bonnie and Chris looked at him in surprise. "You can speak underwater?"

 D'an'a laughed and nodded his head saying, "Our language is not all sonar. We can speak."

 "I heard that you guys had brought back the plesiosaurs," Chris said, referring to the fact that Shan had brought the genetic code of many of their time's flora and fauna with them. As soon as the city went online, they began breeding their primary food stock- a smaller large headed, short-necked member of the pleisosaur family known as the trinacromerum. D'an'a's people called them 'cau.

 "You want to see the cattle pens?" D'an'a asked in surprise.

 "I've never seen a dinosaur," Chris said.

 D'an'a swam up to him winked and said, "And technically you won't now. From what I've read of your classification system, the plesiosaurs are not technically in the Dinosauria superorder but are instead Sauropterygia. I'll be glad to take you to see them though."

 Chris and Bonnie exchanged glances and then she said with a smile, "By all means."

 Luckily, the pens were not too far away and he knew a route to them that would take them through several sites that might be interesting to Bonnie and Chris. He waved for them to follow him, and gently glided downward along the sloping outer hull of the city. They crossed the four hundred meters of the outer ring to enter into the open area of the outer pond. It was basically an expanse about a kilometer wide between the outer ring, and the next of three rings inward to the core shaft.

 As they ascended they reached the edge of the city's predator defense field. He warned them, "The next twenty meters or so, you'll feel a pressure in your ears and be somewhat uncomfortable. It's a field that keep sharks and other large predators out of this area. It'll pass." He was careful to take it slow so that Bonnie and Chris would not suffer from decompression sickness They were now basically between a two vertical walls that rose two hundred meters above them to the surface. It was one of the few near-surface areas where the smaller children were allowed to play.

 As they exited the field, they were bathed in lights from two ring they were in between. Several baseline and one or two defender children of various ages were playing in groups all around. There was a rather intense game of tag going on, of which not even D'an'a could determine the rules. Some of the older ones were clustered together against a wall, and were exploring each other in more intimate games.

 As soon as Bonnie and Chris entered into the main area, D'an'a could hear the calls of "Look, it's them!" echo around the play area. Even the half dozen that were against the wall turned to see their visitors. It wasn't often that Shan children got to see human children, especially in their own world. D'an'a was surprised that they weren't suddenly knocked back by all the sonar pings that hit them. She know they had to have felt the vibrations.

 In a sudden swarm, the children were chattering around the new comers asking all kinds of questions in English. "What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from? How long have you known how to use a rebreather? Can yo speak Shan?"

 "I'm Chris, this is Bonnie," Chris said. "I'm twelve, and she's thirteen."

 "We're from Miami," Bonnie said. "I've been able to use a rebreather for a couple of years."

 Both shook their heads and said, "No we can't speak Shan, but we'd like to learn."

 "Do you want to come and play with us?" One of the older girls asked Bonnie running a hand across her warm suit covered breast.

 "Yeah, that would be fun," one of the boys said touching her other breast. D'an'a noticed Chris moving in, and decided it would be best to interpose himself before someone got hurt. Chris really was at a major disadvantage because of his rebreather.

 D'an'a pushed jetted between him and Bonnie to gently push the other two Shan children out of the way. He said quickly in English, "Remember about asking first."

 The others quickly back-paddled and began to blush deeply. "My apologies," the girl said.

 The boy nodded and said, "I as well. I forgot."

 D'an'a could sense Chris beginning to calm down behind him. The anger that flashed so quickly had dissipated. He wondered how humans could become so angry so quickly about such a small thing. "I believe no harm is done."

 "You could always come and play with us, D'an'a, the girl said.

 D'an'a shook his head, "I don't think so. I have duties to attend, and our guests wish to see the cattle pens."

 "Ah well, we are scheduled to return to the classroom soon anyway. Maybe later," the boy said. D'an'a had seen what was in his mind. He had no intention of letting the other boy touch him. He was the kind who was much less interested in the pleasure of his playmates as he was in his own. It was an attitude that would eventually cause him problems if he did not work it out before he reached adulthood.

 D'an'a turned to Bonnie and Chris and said, "Come on, the pens are on the other side of the interconnecting spoke. It's about two kilometers in that direction." The three of them swam off in the warming waters.


 Miranda took a long hard look at the stuffed suit in front of her. He was short, swarthy, with a hooked nose and a greasy complexion. He reminded her the kind of self serving ideologue who'd been giving her grief ever since her identity became public knowledge. The kind that had turned their eyes and saw nothing wrong with the "honor killing" of her parents for daring to convert from Islam; the kind who turned a blind eye to the fatwa issued for her own murder because she refused to return to the faith and because she dared to practice her mage gift openly. He was the kind of man she'd take a great deal of satisfaction out simply spitting in his face.

 She also knew that she would never do it, or a hundred other things that she wanted to do. It was the real reason K'hori preferred to have her with him on these excursions to New York instead of Adam or Jord'n. Adam would simply lose his temper and beat the man to a pulp. Jord'n on the other hand would likely start a war. Miranda knew she was the best person to help put a more human face on the negotiations, and her own gifts were much more useful in the conference room. After all when dealing with politics, it was always good to have a telepath along. She just wasn't happy about this emergency meeting. She had a very close friend back home who needed her help. She knew that Adam and Jord'n would see to her and her family's needs, but she felt she was letting her down. But K'hori had been right. The needs of the colonyhadto come first, and this was the kind of threat they could not pass up.

 The special UN envoy had requested their presence for a meeting to try and avoid a diplomatic incident. She looked deep into the man's eyes and let her mind scan his. At first she felt the presence of an artificial mind shield. It had a strange feel to it that vaguely reminded her of her brief contacts with Sundancer back before he died defending Cape Kennedy. There were gaps in its frequency however, and it wasn't difficult to attune her mind to slip through those gaps.

 The Saudi envoy was pushing this conflict. Oddly enough, of all people the Chinese had threatened to veto it in the Security Council. The general consensus was that the Chinese were trying to make amends for trying nuke Ship when K'hori first brought him back to Earth. But the Saudi's had something up their sleeves and this man didn't know what it was.

 "I am uncertain as to why you have requested us to attend this meeting," K'hori said. "Illia is not part of the United Nations, and with its present policies, it is not likely to become a member." Miranda noticed that he'd at least given over enough to human conventions to put on a long ceremonial style loin cloth with an orchalchum belt. He carried his three pronged harpoon with him as a badge of his office. Even mostly naked in this room of diplomats and power suits, he commanded their attention.

 "It is absolutely necessary for you to come to chambers half naked?" one of the delegates asked sarcastically. Miranda could tell the felt his own manhood threatened by the presence of her husband. He was after all, a fine specimen of a Shan defender. Standing almost two meters tall, and a body of sculpted muscle that would make the most dedicated gym rat hang their head in shame he cut a striking figure. Add in his long flowing green hair held back in a pony-tail by a single circlet of orchalchum and his water wings marking him as a defender and it was enough to make most men shrink back and question their own masculinity.

 "Not at all consul," K'hori reached for his belt. "I can always appear fully naked if you prefer. I am dressed as I am out deference for your own customs."

 Randi reached down and touched his hand. "Not yet, Love," she said.

 "Illia is not part of the UN. Why are you wasting our time again?" she turned and asked the panel of diplomats. "Do you have something you wish to trade?"

 "We are concerned about the massive increases in the Shan population over the three years since you've arrived. You have gone from an initial population of just over three hundred to nearly half a million. Our intelligence suggest that you are using your advanced teaching techniques to breed and train an army of aggression," Andreii Belanov, the Russian consul said.

 "We are a peaceful people, Consul," Randi said. "Our population increase is a natural process of growing the Shan culture. We expect the population to again double in another twenty years, at which time we will found a second city further out in the Atlantic."

 "You are training your people in what many of us consider combat and support skills," Belanov said.

 "I don't understand your concerns Consul Belanov," Randi said. "What combat and support skills?"

 "You people are trained through some form of electronic brainwashing that gives the skills to make emergency combat repairs, you train your defenders in fleet tactics. You have a fleet of armed submersible vessels. Even the United States is starting to look askance at your build up."

 "Consul Belanov, you served in your country's submarine corps. You of all people understand the need for all crew persons being able to repair as many systems as possible aboard a submersible craft. The entire city of Illia is a submersible craft." She stopped and thought, "Oh, never mind, you are still having trouble keeping your submarine fleet seaworthy. Perhaps its that lack of training that downed the Kursk." Randi did not feel like playing nice.

 "We are also concerned about the corruption of your youth," Consul Balyuzi of Iran said.

 "Corruption of our youth?" K'hori asked.

 "There have been stories, videos, and photographs appearing on the internet of your children and adults alike engaging in what can only be described as pornographic orgies," Balyuzi said.

 "I find the concerns of a country who hangs its youth for the crime of loving their own sex to be laughable," K'hori said. "My people do what we have done since we left this planet sixty five million years ago. What you describe as pornographic is simply socialization for us. You wish to remain a sexually repressed people, that is your business. But you will not enforce it onto my people."

 "You are corrupting your youth," Balyuzi said. "Even the American Christians, even the Vatican have spoken out against it."

 "And you enslave your women, and marry off little girls to old men. Our children play with children and our adults play with adults," K'hori said. "I believe you have a saying about attending the beam in your own eye before worrying about the mote in the eye of another. Now your communique suggested a diplomatic incident was brewing. What is the probem?"

 Consul Martinez of Venezuela cleared his throat and said, "It has been decided by the General Assembly that unless Illia allows immediate access of UN observers and peace keepers, turns over its biotechnology to this body for world distribution, and allows free and open elections, then we will impose economic sanctions against your government."

 "Free and open elections?" Randi asked. "This coming from the representative of a country who shut down the opposition media and has apresident for life? Since when has this body given a damn about free and open elections? Surely not in Saudi Arabia, not in Cuba, you turned your backs on student protests while Iran cracked down and murdered its youth; yet you want to dictate to us, a people not even a member of your organization what we should do? Go ahead and impose your sanctions. You are not hurting our economy, only yours. We have good trade relations with the North America, Oceania, Northern Europe, and Britain, Japan, South Korea, and Israel, plus a host of other countries through them. Your resolutions and sanctions mean nothing to us."

 "There is a military option as well," Martinez replied.

 "What military option?" she asked. "The last time you sent your replicants into battle, they came back to you in body bags, and the top of a mountain was sheered off."

 "Ilia does not have access to the nocturnals that the Americans did. Shadu was winning that fight until night fell," Balyuzi said smugly.

 "We don't need the nocturnals," she said. "We have the Defenders, we have our defense force, and we have a series of space based lasers that will burn your surface forces to the waterline. On top of that, we have our our mutual protection pact with International Alliance which includes Atlantis. Do you really want to pit your stolen Meirrian technology which you still don't completely understand, against the Defenders,andthe US Navy,andthe Atlantean Legions?"

 "I think I have heard enough," K'horal's words were spoken at normal volume, but his tone cut through the room with a simple statement. He tapped the butt of his harpoon against the floor and echoed across the room. Randi noticed that the marble under it cracked. "This is not diplomacy. We have degenerated in making threats and bragging of our military mights. Illia is not part of this organization, so it is not bound by any of its resolutions. You have pulled us away from important business to give us your ultimatum. I tell you now that, we will not allow the armed forces of any other nation or world body on our city. If you come with us to trade, then we will do so, but do not deign to impose your rules on us. We will be leaving now. " He turned his back to the panel and walked out of
the room with Randi in tow.

 When they cleared the main plaza and headed across Ford Drive and then East River Drive to the stairs leading down to the river where they parked the shuttle he asked, "What was all the threats about, Randi? That is not your usual style of diplomacy. Are you that concerned about your godson?"

 "That wasn't diplomacy, K'hori love. That was the UN trying to treat Illia like a recalcitrant child caught being naughty. They weren't there to negotiate, they were there to bluster and threaten, and they didn't' know why. Nobody in that room knew why they were there," she said. "They'd been ordered to make those demands but not told exactly why. Each and everyone of them carried some kind of artificial mind shield, but it had so many holes in it, that I'm sure they had no idea how to properly work the technology. They were a front for something else, a stage show put on for the general populace of trying to make a great show at diplomacy. They weren't the true players in what ever game being played," Randi told him as they entered the shuttle.

 "Then to paraphrase a certain detective, "What game is afoot?"

 She smiled over at him and said, "You had to go and actually read Sherlock Holmes didn't you?" Turning her head back to the portal and watching the water bubble and swirl up and and around it, she said, "I don't know."

 "Then why the sword shaking?" he asked.

 "I think the term you mean is saber rattling," she replied. "Because I wanted to remind them that they lost the last battle they were in; big time. I want them to think long and hard about the resources they'd lose if they tried that kind of stunt again."

 "Hadㅜ't Shadu become a rogue agent by the time that fight happened? Did not the UN sever ties with him before he attacked the Greenbough farm?" K'hori asked.
"A diplomatic fiction to give them cover. Revealing that they had a Nazi war criminal working for them was a diplomatic disaster. I think now they're trying to flex their muscle; trying to become relevant again."
"What of their threat?" K'hori asked.

 "I don't think they want to lose that many soldiers. Illia is not without its defenses, and I'd pit our defense force and defenders against their replicants any day."

 "I still would not wish to see valuable resources wasted on waging an unnecessary war," K'hori said.

 "Neither do I, Love. Neither do I. But to be honest, unless they've got some kind of new weaponry we are unaware of, I don't think it's likely," Randi said.

 "I'll mention that possibility to Mother and see what she can extrapolate," he replied. "It would be best to be prepared for any contingency."
"I agree. I just wonder what's up with the whole psi-shield thing."

 "Probably nothing," K'hori said. "I think they are being paranoid."

 Leighanne watched as Chris and Bonnie bounded into the medical center all excited. She smiled up at George at their enthusiasm, "Mom! They've got real live pliesiosaurs!"

 "I had heard that," she said.

 "Actually they aretrinacromerum," a white haired youth said from behind them. Leighanne turned her mind toward the child with them and was surprised to find a rather well-developed set of mind shields there. "They are a family of the plesiosauridea sub order."

 "This is Dana," Chris said. "He's,...uh..., she's...., uh...," her stepson looked to the youth, and Leighanne could see why he was confused. The child was tall, lithe; almost painfully beautiful, and obviously a a defender. But to confuse the issue were the budding breasts and the long male sex organ in front of what appeared to be an equally functional female organ. "I'm sorry, Dana. English is woefully inadequate to describe you. This is our hosts' kid," Chris finally said.

 Leighanne was somewhat surprised with the grace that Chris exhibited covering up his confusion of what pronouns to use. Leighanne began to understand Miranda's own reticence to speak of her child yesterday. "Hello, Dana," she said with a smile. "I'm sure I'm mangling your name, because I get the feeling that there's a sonar signature there I can't make. But it's nice to meet you."

 "Two actually," D'an'a said. "It's duh," there was a brief pause where Leighanne felt a slight pressure in her ears, "aen," another pause and pressure, "uh." The child then smiled over at her stepson and said, "And thank you for that wonderful compliment, Chris. I find you and Bonnie both to be refreshingly indescribable as well."

 Leighanne watched both human children smile and blush deeply.   "Dana sounds just like Corey, doesn't he or she?" she said to George.

 "You know, now that you mention it," Bonnie said. She turned to the other child and added with a smile, "I think you and Corey are going to be pretty good friends when he's better. You both like a lot of precision in your language, but both of you are indescribable."

  "May I ask you a personal question?" Leighanne asked the child.

 "Of course, Mrs. Carstairs," D'an'a said.

 "You are obviously both genders. Which pronoun do you prefer to be used to describe you? We don't want to give offense."

 The child smiled broadly at the direct question and Leighanne couldn't help but be enchanted by way that simple courtesy lit up his or her expression. "I identify equally with both genders, ma'am. Growing up, most people only saw my male genitalia and treated tended to treat me as a boy, but telepathy is a female gift among my people, so with my powers and when my breasts began to develop it sort of shifted over toward female. Personally, I switch back and forth rather easily. Use whichever you find the most convenient."

 Leighanne smiled and said, "Well with that killer smile, and long hair, right now, I guess I see you more as a girl, so if you don't mind, I'll use the female pronoun."

 "You just want a daughter," George teased her.

 "That too, and as soon as we get Corey taken care of you, can work on giving me one," she replied.

 "'Speaking of Corey, Dana tells us that Mother says you want to talk to us about his treatment?"

 Leighanne nodded and said, "Doctor Jale'n has given me some options and I've decided on which one we should take. I do want your input on some other things though."
 "What options?" George asked.
Leighanne looked up at Jale'n and said, would you describe the options you've given me, to my family please?"
The tall woman nodded and said, "The hypothesis that the reason he was not healing was due to the presence of the AGG Virus was both correct and an understatement. It was the presence of both the virus and the gene combined with the genetic damage done by the intense radiation of Neutron's attacks. Evidently he'd been exposed to virus which was beginning to activate the gene and rewrite his genetic code. When the attack occurred, it damaged that genetic code. It set up an impasse in his body where the only thing that could be done was maintain the status quo." She sighed and said, "However, we know that the doctors in Miami were wrong about on thing. Contrary to their belief, he was and still is in an agonizing level of pain from the nerve damage. That is why his mind has retreated on itself."
"Oh my God," Bonnie said horrified. "He's been in pain for three years, and nobody has done anything for it?"

 The doctor nodded her head and asked, "You were with him when the attack occurred, do you have any idea where he might have been exposed to the AGG virus?"

 They shook their heads. "No, the only place he was that we didn't go, that we couldn't go, was that Quantum flew him to the hospital."

 Doctor Jale'n nodded and said, "That might explain it."

 "What are you doing for the pain now?" Chris asked.

 "We've installed a nerve block for the pain receptors to his brain. It is a temporary measure."

 "What are the options you were talking about?" Chris asked suddenly very serious.

 "The damage is too severe for us to be able to rebuild his body as it is. What we would get would simply be a mass of stem cells with no code on what to become. We could do one of two things. We could brain tape his mind now, let this body die, and grow him a new one cloned from hair follicles your mother has from before he was injured, and tape the memories into it."

 "But that means that the Corey we know would be dead. He would simply be a copy," Bonnie said.

 The woman nodded. "He wouldn't know the difference, but you would know that therewas a difference."
What's the other option?" Chris asked determined. Leighanne could sense in him that he'd rejected the first option as quickly as she had. The idea of letting Corey die was just not an option as far as he was concerned, and he was willing to argue God into a corner about it.

 "We could give that mass of stem cells a template to follow."

 "From his genetic code in that hair sample?" Chris asked.

 "No," Jale'n shook her head saying. "The AGG-virus is still active as is his own gene. It would overwhelm that genetic code and we'd be back where we started."

 "Then what?" Bonnie asked.

 "First Defender genes," D'an'a said.

 Jale'n nodded. "Yes. We can piggy-back the code from the hair follicles onto First Defender genetic samples. But to do that we need your father's authorization."

 "What is First Defender genes?" Bonnie asked. "I mean what's the difference between First Defender and just defender genes?"

"First Defender genes are genetic material from the first nine Defenders that appeared among the Shan seven thousand years before my dad left Earth to find a new colony world. Before they appeared, the Shan were on the way to mass extinction. The predator-filled shallow seas were barely a refuge for our people from the predator-filled land. Baseline Shan are not that different from baseline humans. They can breathe water, and have sonar, and they can withstand great pressure and cold, but they are no stronger, no more durable than an average human. We were dying as a species until my dad and the other eight First Defenders showed up."

 "Showed up?" Chris asked.

 "Were born, all but dad managed to kill their mothers in child birth. Giving birth to a Defender can be difficult for a baseline Shan or even human for that matter. We are quite strong even as infants. First Defender genetics are very powerful. It is one of the reasons that more than one defender in a pod is usually discouraged. The genetics overwhelm even the baseline Shan and create defender children. If only one parent is a defender, we still get a dose of two baseline to one defender set of chromosomes. That splits the defender influence down enough so that only half of all children born in a pod with a single defender parent are defenders."
"But two of your parents are defenders," Chris said.

 D'an'a nodded and said, "Yes, but there are extenuating circumstances there that have to do with my dad's position among our people."
"Rank hath it's privileges?" George said.

 "Not quite, Mr. Carstairs," D'an'a replied. "My dad watched his brother and sister defenders kill each other over mates because they had no mind bond with their parents. The reason that telepathy is considered a female trait is because the marriage bond isn't forged until the mother gives birth to their first child. That bond is forged around the child, and since their mothers died, the bond connecting them to their pod was never formed. They had no sense of belonging to a family unit until it was too late. My Dad was left picking up the pieces of the second generation, and forging what we call the Defender Code into them."

 "He'd been given an ultimatum by the Illian, the old government. Get the defenders under control, or all would be executed as a danger to the entire species. He spent seven thousand years forging the defenders into what we are today, never taking a mate, and never podding. When he and Mom were willing to forge a pod with two transhumans, nobody was willing to protest. They were honestly glad to grant him a bit of happiness. I can't say I can argue with the results so far."
"What does all this mean for our Corey?" Chris said.

 "It means that he will become a First Defender, with parts of his old genetic code piggy backed onto it. It will also mean that whatever transhuman gene he carried will be expressed." She sighed and said, "It also will affect his sexuality."

 "You mean he'll like girls?" Bonnie asked.

 She nodded, "Most probably, but I know how humans are about this particular issue. He'll be biologically and psychologically bisexual."

 Leighanne watched Bonnie and Chris exchange glances, "Dr. Jale'n. Corey was already gay. He told us that before he was injured."

 "He told you?" Leighanne asked. She knew of her son's sexual orientation simply because she was a telepath and his mother. She didn't know that he'd actually started to come out to his friends.

 Both nodded and Chris said, "It was right before Bonnie and I got serious. He wanted to let me know that he didn't object and why."

 "That could give us an clue as to what his AG gene was then," Jale'n said. "Doctor Green's work on transhumans pretty much confirmed that the transhuman gene for durability and strength was linked to same-sex attractions in males."

 "So he'll get the defender gene plus a dose of transhuman strength and durability?" Bonnie asked.

 Jale'n nodded, "Most likely. That is why we are suggesting adding some autonomic nervous system algorithms to his subconscious via brain taping so that he can use his enhanced senses, sonar, and hydro-genesis instinctively. He hasn't had a lifetime to grow up using sonar, hydro-genesis, the ability to speak underwater, and the strength to pull a submarine off the ocean floor. We want to avoid any accidents. We are also going to add some general knowledge to make up for the fact that he's lost two years of school while in that coma. The regrowth period will take almost a month and we have considerable amount of time to work with what is basically a brain that will be geared toward learning a wide open knowledge set."

 "I've made a request to give him some advanced skill sets. I think that any kid that has had to miss two years of his life in a painful coma deserves some kind of compensation," Leighanne said quite fiercely. "I know he had an avid interest in marine biology. I think a Shan defender would make an outstanding marine biologist."

 "Don't forget about his music," Bonnie said. "I can't say I care too much for his taste in it, but it is important to him."

 Leighanne smiled. She'd not considered her son's rather odd taste in music for a pre-teen. He'd sit for hours strumming his guitar or playing the piano to some very old and twangy country and western tunes. He had a natural gift for music, but she'd always wished that he'd picked a different genre. But she realized that right now she'd give her right arm to hear him sit and singWhispering Pinesin that soft mournful voice of his. "I don't know if the Shan have a musical skill brain taped."

 "Actually, we do," D'an'a said. "My mother has quite a few musician friends, and some of them volunteered for the first human tapings to find out how effective it is. I'm afraid their repertoire is limited to what people call honkey-tonk. Mother has horrible taste in music."

 "Sounds like Corey," Chris said.

 "But Corey could already play the guitar and piano," Chris said. What would this do?

 "Widen his range of instruments mainly."

 "Okay," we'll add those.

 It went on like that for quite a while. Leighanne knew that he son's life was going to get much harder when he came out of that birthing chamber. He would stand out among humans in ways that few transhumans did. He'd never be able to maintain a secret identity with the chromatic hair and water wings, so she decided to give him as many advantages to counter act it as she could. In the end, they actually added very few things. Increase his scientific and musical knowledge, give him a general understanding of Shan biology and how to use his gifts, and modified version of the Defender Code. She also decided to add the full range of the Shan language set. Being able to speak multiple languages was always an advantage these days. The real problem was that she was still going to have a ten year old boy in a thirteen year old's body. But he at least would still be her baby.

 George finally asked, "How does brain taping a skill set work with base-line humans, and what about certain gene splices?"

 "We're still working on that," Jale'n said. "We've had some success, but it's still very much in the experimental stage. It requires opening the brain's neuro-pathways up in ways that leave humans very vulnerable to suggestion at this point for several months. As for the gene-splicing, we're currently working on a procedure to grant humans the ability to breathe underwater. Right now it takes a major rewrite of your gene code that computer models suggest would have some undesirable side effects."

 "Side effects?" George asked. "What kind of side effects?"

 "Loss of lung capacity on land, a hardening of the dermis and epidermis. We want to grant you the ability to enter our world, not turn you into fish," Jale'n said.

 "If possible, I'd like to be kept appraised of your work. It would be something I'd be very much interested in," George said.

 "You and about half the navies of the world," Jale'n said.

 "Well, I'm interested in it for more personal reasons. If my son going is a defender, I'd like to be able share his new world with him."

 Jale'n smiled and said, "I'll make sure you get regular updates then Mr. Carstairs."
Part II

 The fiery pain ended abruptly. His body no longer felt as if he were melting. Now he felt nothing. He briefly wondered,Am I dead?No, he didn't think so. He could still detect his mother's mind touch, and surely if he were dead, that would be gone too.

 Another mind began to touch his. It wasn't the soft gentle reminder from his mother that he was not alone- the reminder that he couldn't answer. It was something different, something alien, but not cold. Somehow it too was caring, like a mother. It began to fill his mind with information. Information about how to use parts of his body that he never knew he had; information about the seas, about science, math, technology, music, language. He imagined his mind a great sponge soaking up more and more data, asking for yet more.
 He felt a link forge between himself and his other Mother, for that was her name: Mother.
:You are not dead little one. You are healing. Your mother has brought you to me to make you whole again.:

 :Who are you?:he asked.
:I am Mother, the electronic personality of the Shan colony.:

 :You mean the aquatics who came from the past?:
:Yes, that is us.:
:What happened to me? Why was I hurting? Why can't I feel my body now?:

 :You were injured saving an old man.:

 He remembered! It was a cool December day in Birmingham. He'd gone into the city to see the transhumans from the UN the mayor had invited as a peace gesture. Actually, he just wanted to get out of Chris' aunt's house, and knew that Bonnie and Chris would appreciate the time alone. He tried not to think about about that; of giving up what he knew he couldn't have.

 He'd used the big celebration as an excuse to get away from them, hopefully to clear his head. There had been a huge pavilion set up downtown next to the library, and he'd taken a bus there. It wasn't every day that you got to see genuine transhumans, active transhumans up close. Yes, he knew about his mother, but this was different. These guys had costumes and everything.
The Mayor had announced that he was giving UNIPACT Beta the key to the city. He was authorizing them to help deal with the crime problem. Some people were saying that was a code word for bringing down Night Angel. When Silver Lightning told the crowd that his team was not only helping, but that they were taking over the city, they'd been stunned. He declared martial law in the name of the UN and began reading off a list of things that were and were not allowed. Then the soldiers began pouring out of the buildings, and planes suddenly appeared overhead.

 People began to run but the soldiers had already surrounded them. One of the people in the crowd had pulled a gun and fired at Silver Lightning, and then the soldiers opened up on the crowd. He'd felt himself pulled along by the surge and tried to find away to get away from the crush of bodies. He heard the sounds of high energy bolts ripping through the air and knew things had gone from bad to worse. Storm Force showed up and the fight got really nasty.

 There was an old man trying to get away too. Corey grabbed his hand, and tried to pull him to safety; tried to get them out of the crush of bodies. Suddenly the crowd stopped and everyone looked up. Above them Razorwing and Neutron were grappling. Corey and the old man stopped to watch. It was a stupid thing to do, it was a kid thing to do. He should have kept going, trying to find a way out the crowd but he didn't. They should have ran, but they didn't. Nobody in the crowd did. Two transhumans were fighting less than a hundred feet above them. Neutron in his electric blue and black costume was trying to twist his way out of Razorwing's grip. The golden-winged hero had him in an aerial full-nelson, his metallic wings sending blasts of cold December air down on top of them.

 Suddenly Neutron slammed both elbows back into the sides of the blond hero's head, and tossed Razorwing toward the ground, following it with an energy bolt. The hero didn't dodge, he couldn't he was already unconscious. Neutron simply missed. It was a wild shot, and it went wide. Corey knew were it was going to hit before it ever left the UN transhuman's fists. Without thinking he yanked the old man out of the way and behind him.

 Then the fire hit him. He screamed in pain as every cell in his body seemed to suddenly be ablaze. He couldn't think, he couldn't move, he couldn't run. Some white hot energy poured through his body setting every nerve on fire. He blacked out, but the pain kept coming. He curled into himself as his skin melted away, as his muscles caramelized.
You were very brave that day,:the voice told him.

 :I was very stupid that day.:

 :Do you regret your actions?:

 :No, only that I didn't think of something smarter to do, like dive at him. I was afraid of hurting him though.:

 :Your first instincts were to protect those who couldn't protect themselves, little one,:the voice said.:That is never stupid. Your tactics were not well-chosen, but you were not a warrior; not a defender:
:What's happening to me? Why can't I feel my body?:

 :The next several weeks are going to be very unpleasant for your body. We're having to construct you a new one. That will take a lot of energy, and it will be very unpleasant. I have disconnected your brain's ability to feel your body for that time.:

 :I read somewhere that sensory deprivation was insanity inducing:he said worriedly.

 :That is why I am using this time to teach you.:
:Teach me what?:
:How to use your new body. How to use your new abilities. I'm teaching you new things about your world, new languages, new skills. Your mother thought it was a good idea.:
:Can I pick some of what I learn?:
:Of course, what would you like to learn?:

 :Can you teach me how to fight? How to make sure that if I never need to protect someone again, I won't get myself hurt?:

 :Of course little one. I will include that in your programming too.:
:Programming? That suggests I don't have a choice.:
:You always will have a choice. This is just a knowledge transfer. I am not allowed, nor would I insert anything that would change your personality. It is too precious as it is.:
:Okay. Just so you don't change who I am.:

  :There will be some changes to who you are.:

 :What do you mean?:

 :We can't give you back your original body. The radiation damage destroyed a great deal of your genetic code.:

 :Who's body are you giving me?:he asked worriedly.

 :It will be your own. It will simply have Shan defender characteristics as well, Commander K'horal's characteristics specifically.:

 :You mean all muscular, with the water wings, the long green hair and hung like a horse?:

 :Hung like a horse?:
:You know what I mean.:

 :Yes it will be muscular, yes you will have water wings, and yes you will be able to breathe under water.:

 :And the other?:

 :I believe you will be more than adequately endowed .:

 :But inside, I'll still be me, right?:
You already had the Atlantean Gifted Gene for durability, strength and regeneration. Those will be amplified by your Shan characteristics. Your bones will be cartilage like a Shan and you will have the sonar apparatus of a Shan located in your chest and your throat. You will still have your human face, your human memories, and your human tastes- for the most part.:

 :For the most part?:

 :There is a question as to whether or not it will affect your sexuality. Your mother and friends tell me that you already preferred your own gender. I could have told them that from looking at your gene code. But you will also probably develop a reaction to females as well.:

 :So I will basically be a Shan defender's body with my mind stuck in it?:

 :That is fairly close. You still carry several human qualities too though. The mind shields you developed over the years from close contact with your mother will still be there. I cannot change the shape of your brain without changing who you are, and that is something we wanted to avoid. Unlike most humans, you will not be susceptible to suggestion when coming out of this procedure though.:

 :Why is that?:

 :Because of those mind shields, and because of your experiences. You have a very strong will, little one. Stronger than any human I have ever heard of, stronger than even Commander K'horal. You have fought to live, to maintain who you are, through three years of agonizing pain. Even without those shields, few people would ever be able to dominate your will. You will be my finest creation, little one. Make your mother's proud.:

It had been a long month. Although she had immensely enjoyed the time with Leighanne as her guest, Miranda would be both sad and glad to see her return to her own home. George and the children had left their quarters for their home in Miami about a week after they arrived. There was really nothing they could do for Corey in the interim before he came out of the chamber, and George did have a business to run.

Miranda was glad to see that Leighanne and D'an'a were bonding in a way she had not expected. Her child seemed to find a third mother in the form of Leighanne, and the two would sit and talk quietly for hours. Miranda got the feeling that perhaps D'an'a was asking her old friend for advice that might have been embarrassing to inquire of either her or Jord'n. She was very aware of what D'an'a considered to be her shameful secret- that she had not yet engaged in any of the games of pin-to-the-bottom with her age-mates; and she knew why.

She'd heard several of the nasty thoughts among some of the Shan. D'an'a's not true Shan; her transhuman parents were the reason she was 'avad'a- a hermaphrodite. They seemed to forget that the condition was at least common enough to have a word for it their language. She also knew that D'an'a had heard the same thoughts. She'd chosen not to get involved with people who only were willing to play on a dare, or who were looking for some kind of bragging rights because of her dad. It was sobering to realize that even though she and Adam had been accepted by their pod-mates' people, that even the Shan could hold prejudices.

There was little she or any of her pod-mates could do to help their child through this difficult time. They were there to support her, to help her when she needed it, but they knew she really had to find her own currents to follow. It seemed that Leighanne was beacon for the young defender- someone D'an'a could turn to and ask those difficult questions. D'an'a too was a source of strength for Leighanne. She knew of her old friend's desire for another child- a daughter, and D'an'a was filling a surrogate role for in that way for a while.

Miranda was of course also busy with the business of helping run the colony. Mother had speculated on what kind of technology the UN may have either developed or recovered from the several downed Meirrian space craft they'd managed to get their hands over the last few decades. She suggested that they may have somehow gotten their hands on the psi-shield technology from some of the equipment that they'd recovered when they killed Sundancer.

From what she understood, the former Gemcorpsman had been stripped of his status and his powers for the crime of being a replicant. It seemed the Meirrians were very prejudiced against their genetic creations- something she was afraid would eventually bring them into conflict with the Shan. When it was discovered that the former hero, their greatest hero was a cross-gender clone, they'd acted brutally and swiftly. They removed his powers, and his status and left him on the planet with his family.

But you can't keep a hero down, and he'd simply adapted available technology to continue to good fight. He'd met his end three months before the Shan arrived in a battle to defend Cape Kennedy from UNIPACT Prime. The problem was when their transhuman operative Psyche tried to use the technology, it self-destructed on her, killing about four of their operatives.

Mother thought that they may have adapted the shards of his psi-amplifying crystals into the mind shields they were using. Those crystals were supposed to be attuned to a specific person, and that might explain the holes in them. Finally, she had to go to the Atlanteans to find out anything. According to Cyberstar, they really were based on Meirrian technology, but he didn't know where they were getting them. He also said that they couldn't stop a Class fifteen or above telepath, or a Class ten or above Mideanite telepath. She smiled at the thought of what her old colleagues, Midean Knight and Dreamweaver would have done to those things.

Mother thought they might be trying to develop psi-technology to use. They'd used telepaths in the past. If it hadn't been for Night Angel, Runeclaw, and Avalon, the world would have never known that Shadu used telepaths to coerce the affirmative vote on Resolution 1666 back in the nineties that cost Adam his career in the Navy.
Things had been quiet for the most part on that front. Nothing else had come of their threats for sanctions, and the best anyone could tell, they weren't massing a fleet to try and take the city. That was the reason she'd begun to relax and actually enjoy spending time with Leighanne. She was rather pleasantly surprised when about two weeks into her stay,
after George and the children had left, she exited her quarters nude.

"I thought I'd see how it felt to go native," she blushed deeply at her and D'an'a.

"You'll be fine. Just remember though. You still can't breathe water," D'an'a said.

Miranda turned to her child and asked, "Did you have anything to do with this?"

D'an'a just shrugged and said, "She asked me what I thought, and I told her I thought it would be a good idea."

"My major concern, was Chris and Bonnie," Leighanne said. "I didn't want to give them the wrong idea."

D'an'a gave her a strange look and asked, "You are aware that those two are already playing their own version of pin to the bottom, aren't you."

"D'an'a! You aren't supposed to rat on your friends like that," Miranda scolded her daughter.

"Rat?" D'an'a asked. "A small pest in the rodent family?" Then as if remembering the slang meaning of the term she asked, "Are they ashamed of each other, or that they care enough to want to please each other that way?"

"No, they aren't," Leighanne said. "And she's not ratting. I already knew. There was just too much detail in Chris' mind about Bonnie's body for it to be anything else."

"Why were you concerned about them?" Randi asked.
Leighanne shrugged, "I may have known that they are having sex, I just didn't want to them to think I was giving them permission. You know how our culture is; nudity is heavily tied to sex."

"I thought you wore clothes because you got cold easily. Chris was always complaining about not wanting to get into the cold water naked," D'an'a said.

"That has more to do with shrinkage," Leighanne said with a smile.

"Shrinkage?" D'an'a asked.

"Human males are very much concerned about comparisons of their manhood to each other. Cold tends to cause the tissues in their penises to contract making them appear to be smaller."

D'an'a looked down at his own penis which hung long and low and said, "That's not a concern for Shan males. Physical activity which may require blood somewhere else may have an effect, but not cold." He seemed to look confused, "I have never noticed that much a difference in father in the cold water?"

"Your father is one of the few exceptions to the rule. Besides, Adam is a transhuman," Miranda told D'an'a. Not even the cold of the trenches affects him."

D'an'a nodded and said, "Ah."

"How do you know which parent she's talking about when she says father?" Leighanne asked. "Telepathy?"

Miranda chuckled and said, "No, and it's not a sonar signal either. Haven't you noticed? K'horal is Dad, and Adam is Father. I'm Mother, and Jord'n is Mom."

Leighanne grinned and said, "Leave it to me to miss something that simple." She came to the bar and sat down looking around. "I really wish I could experience your life underwater. I mean I wish that my presence here didn't keep you from flooding the place and living the way you normally do."

"It's not that much of a change," D'an'a said. "Mother drains the apartment about twice a week anyway."

"Really?" Leighanne asked. "Why?"

"Spaghetti night!" D'an'a said.

"My family loves human food. Neither K'hori nor Jord'n are ever late on spaghetti nights," Miranda told them. "Your presence here means that I"m cooking more human foods, so that more than makes up for any inconvenience not having the place full of water might cause."

"I'm at least glad there is an upside to it," Leighanne said.

"I told you that you were trouble girl, and because you are trouble is why I love you," Miranda said.


Leighanne was excited. Corey was coming out of the chamber today. Everything that Doctor Jale'n and Mother was telling her was that his body and mind had accepted the treatments quite well. About a week ago, Mother had begun to remove the blocks on his pain receptors. She reported at first there had been some discomfort as his brain adjusted to receiving stimuli again. She said that there may always be some ghost pain, but it shouldn't be severe, and it shouldn't be constant- more like a leg that ached in bad weather. That was something George could understand.

Evidently, during that week, his body was put through a rigorous series of exercises to reconnect the neural pathways for control so that he'd be able to walk and move about without pain when he came out. He was still going to have to go through a period of readjustment. Although he had the skill sets for controlling his body, he still had no practical experience. That was going to be D'an'a's job- to put him through his paces and get him up to speed.

Over the last week, she'd been able to slowly reconnect with his mind- when Mother wasn't in the process of running teaching tapes that is. It wasn't exactly conversations as much as it was simply feeling that he was doing okay, letting him know that she was there, and that all was well or was going to be well. She'd almost cried when she went to touch his mind yesterday to find it whole and dreaming. Of course she didn't think she'd tell Commander K'horal what he was dreaming about. She did hope that he'd eventually pick someone a little closer to his age and that wasn't married.

Last night, the rest of the family had flown in, and they'd discussed what would happen today. It was then that K'hori had let it slip that Leighanne had gone native for the past three weeks. They didn't want to give Corey too many shocks when he awoke, so they decided it was best not that they all wore their clothes today. Of course there were clothes and then there were clothes. They'd all opted for summer shorts and tank or halter tops, and no shoes. The living floors of the city were so warm and soft that shoes seemed like a sin.

Leighanne turned to K'hori and said, "I do want to thank you for authorizing the use of First Defender-yourgenetics for this, K'horal." She sent a little mental squirt of the sonar signal in his name to him.

He looked at her in surprise and then smiled broadly. "I see you have picked up my wife's trick of simulating the sonar aspects of our language with your telepathy. And I am pleased to have been of help." He winked at her and said, "You realize that in some ways, this makes your son,our son."

She nodded to him and said, "Yeah, I'd been thinking about that. He does have a certain admiration for you. I think he'll be pleased with the connection."

"Really, I was unaware that he even knew I existed," K'horal said.

"Oh yeah, he stayed glued to the television set when they first started covering the initial fist-contact with you. For a while, he would read everything that got released from the Ship and then from the city," Bonnie said. Leighanne noted that she at least had the good grace not to mention the school-boy crush they all knew her son had on the big man.

"Then I hope not to disappoint him," K'horal said.

"Oh, I think....," suddenly Bonnie stepped on Chris' foot interrupting his comment.

"What?" he asked. "I was just going to say that Corey had a cru...., OUCH!"

"Keep it to yourself, Chris, or so help me I'll twist something you may want to use later off," she said both quietly and menacingly.

"Okay, okay," Chris said looking somewhat hurt.
Leighanne watched George lean in and whisper something to his son. Suddenly he turned beet red, nodded and swallowed.

Suddenly Leighanne detected her son's mind in distress. I'm drowning!"

:You are not drowning, calm down, Corey,:
she sent to him mentally.

Suddenly the whole chamber rocked and the door bowed outward.

:You're not not drowning Corey,:
she reiterated strongly, but felt her thought slide off his shields.

"Mom, I even heard that," Chris said from where he was standing. He turned to George,

"Dad can we get this thing open?"

"He's jammed the aperture!" Jale'n said. "He panicking. Mother can you do anything to calm him down."

"When the aperture jammed the chamber went offline," Mother said.

"Don't worry, the chambers are designed to withstand the full strength of a defender," Miranda said.

"I'm not worried about the chamber, I'm worried about him hurting himself," Jale'n said.

Suddenly small cracks began to appear in the formerly unblemished metal. Water began to leak from them as the two foot-shaped forms began to appear in the hull. The metal began to scream.

Leighanne mentally shouted. The metal ceased to groan.

"Mom?" For the first time in three years, Leighanne heard her son's voice. "Where am I?"

"You're okay, baby," she leaned against the metal and said. "You're in a Shan healing chamber."

"It wasn't a dream?"

"No honey, it wasn't a dream."

"The mechanism is jammed," Mother said. "He's warped the metal to the point that it won't open," Leighanne could have sworn she heard the hint of pride in the electronic personality's voice.

"Help me, D'an'a," Khoral said as he went to one side of the chamber and began to pry his fingers under the metal.

D'an'a nodded and moved to the other side, and sank her fingers in there. "I'm ready."

K'horal nodded to her and they began to pull in opposite directions. The metal groaned and began to warp further. Water began to pour out of the widening hole. Suddenly two sets of webbed fingers slid through the hole and pull the metal apart. Itl began to rip and tear and water gushed out.

Leighanne noticed a slight musty scent beginning to fill the air. She felt her heart begin to race, her skin became flushed, and she began to breathe faster. She looked around and noticed the same thing happening to everyone in the room. Poor George and Chris suddenly had tents in the front of their shorts, and she could see Bonnie's nipples harden under the fabric of her halter top. It was as if the room suddenly was too hot, and her own reactions too slow.

With a sudden surge of strength the chamber violently ripped wide open and her son stumbled out into D'an'a's arms. She could still see the face that she knew was her son's but it was accented by shan defender traits: long green hair, lavender eyes, and water wings. Her eyes kept flitting across his body admiringly, and she found herself staring at him, and thinking thoughts that no mother should have about her son.
Suddenly Miranda was pulling her and Bonnie out of the room. Adam had George and Chris and was pulling them along behind. "We'd better wait outside while they clean up," Miranda said. Looking over to her old friend, she could see where her nostrils were flared and her pupils were wide.

"What's happening to us?" Leighanne asked.

Miranda smiled, and said, "I guess we forgot to warn you about that. It's the pheromones that defenders generate when they use their powers. We just got a triple dose of it."

"Huh?" Leighanne asked through a fog of lust and desire.

Miranda shook her and asked, "Look, are you going to be all right or am I going to have to lock you in a room with George for a while?"

"George?" suddenly the image of her husband came to mind and she felt herself having very intimate memories of last night in their bed.

"Ah shit," Adam said carrying Chris and Bonnie down the hall one tucked under each arm.

"Where's he taking them?" Leighanne asked.

"Back to the apartment," Miranda said.

Leighanne felt her head start to clear. She took a deep breath and looked over to where George was leaning against the wall trying to get his breath.

"What just happened?" she asked.

Miranda smiled and said, "You know, you're cute when you're horny."


"It's the pheromones," Miranda said. "Whenever defenders exert themselves they generate pheromones that both sexes find almost intoxicatingly arousing. It's nature's way of making sure their genes get back into the gene pool. We all just got a triple dose of it from K'hori, D'an'a, and Corey."

"Miranda, I had thoughts..., uh never mind what I had thoughts about. Is this going to be a regular problem?"

"I know exactly what you had thoughts about, Leighanne. It's normal under these circumstances. But you're a big girl and you can control your urges. That's what you've got George for. You'll get accustomed to it before long. After a while, you'll build up a resistance."

"Why did Adam take Chris and Bonnie back to the apartment?"

"To give them something to drink and then lock them in one of their rooms," she said.

"That is unless you want your step son to have one of the worst cases of blue-balls in his life. You did say that Bonnie was on birth control didn't you?"

Leighanne nodded, "Yeah, her mom and I decided it was best to put her on the shot."

"Good," Miranda said.

"When can I see Corey?" Leighanne asked.

"In about an hour I should think," Mother suddenly said.

"Give him a chance to recover and clean up. Don't worry, I won't let anything happen to your son. K'hori has left the medical center. D'an'a is assisting Corey. I've sealed off the room until they are ready."

D'an'a's caught the boy who'd fallen into his arms and held him while Corey tried to get his legs to work. The touch of Corey's skin sent an electric shock through him, and he felt his own heart begin to beat faster as he flashed hot. He looked over into the deep lavender eyes thought, He has nice eyes..

He felt Corey pull himself up along his body, and the two stood there holding each other.
He felt his sex begin to rise between them, and the other boy's was pressing hard under his balls and lay along the slit of D'an'a's vagina.

Corey pulled back and blushed deeply as he said, "Uh I'm Corey."

"Uh, I'm D'an'a," he replied, but neither seemed to release the embrace.
Because he couldn't think of anything better to do, he leaned over and kissed Corey. The newcomer's lips were soft and wet, and D'an'a could feel the beating of both of their hearts behind their chests. He felt a moistness between his legs and realized that all he had to do was raise up on his toes, and Corey would slip inside him.

"Wait a minute!" Corey pulled back for a second.

He let go of D'an'a and shook his head. "Look, I'm sure you're a nice guy and all, but I just learned you name. This is way too fast." He bent over double as if he was trying to catch his breath. Suddenly he blushed even deeper and said, "I'm confused here. Really confused."

"What?" D'an'a asked as the enormity of what almost happened just hit him. This boy shared a quarter of his genetic code. He was as close to a brother as D'an'a had right now- literally.

Corey looked down and seemed to realize that they were both standing naked and erect.

"Uh, you're D'an'a, D'an'a noted that he included the correct sonar signal in the name. "I'm Corey."

"Is that along the lines of You Jane me Tarzan?" D'an'a asked with a smile.

"Nah, that would make Chris Cheetah." Both boys began to laugh. "Why are we standing here naked?" Corey asked.

"Because you just came out of the healing pod and kind of freaked out, and since I'm Shan

I go naked most of the time," D'an'a said. "Dad and I had to break you out after you jammed to door. That set off a series of pheromones, and Mother and Father cleared the room so that we wouldn't all end up in a very socially compromising position."

"We generated pheromones and they got horny?" Corey asked.
"Not just them," D'an'a pointed to Corey's erection and then his own.

"Why do I get the feeling that it was good thing we stopped when we did?" Corey asked.

"Because I just realized that we're technically brothers." D'an'a told him.

"Come again?"

"I haven't the first time," D'an'a said.

"Haha, cute," Corey replied. "I have a little brother?"

"Not exactly," Mother suddenly broke into the conversation. "It was D'an'a's father's genes we used to repair yours, Corey. You share approximately tweny-five percent of the same genetic structure. And technically D'an'a is as much your sister as she is your brother."

"How can we share twenty-five percent?" Corey asked.

"Because Shan males only contribute twenty-five percent each to the genetic code of offspring," Mother said.

"Okay, I think I understand," Corey said. "So what you are saying is I was about to do the naked nasty with my brother."

"Or sister, but essentially yes," D'an'a said.

"Can I ask another question?"


"Why do you have boobs? Not that I'm criticizing, mind you. They're very attractive."

"Long story. I have a vagina too."

"Cool," Corey said. "Now the question is why are we standing here alone?"

"Easier to clear the room and not have anyone affected in an embarrassing manner by the pheromones. I believe your mother and stepfather are outside with my mothers, and Doctor Jale'n. My Dad has left to clean up before joining them. My father has taken your step brother and his girlfriend back to one of the quarters so they can have a bit of privacy."


"I think you called it the naked nasty," D'an'a said. Although I don't think it's all that dirty.

"Just a term."

Corey looked down and seemed to study his body. He held out his hands and turned them over studying them. He then looked at the wings of flesh that connected the backs of his arms to a line up his spine. He reached out run a finger along the little half ring of an opening in the wings under his arm pit. "I wouldn't do that right here if I were you," D'an'a tried to warn him.

She watched him suddenly tremble and the softening erection sitting below a sparse crop of blue-green curls suddenly rose at his crotch again. "Oh," he said with a look of surprise.

"That's a pretty intense erogenous zone for us," D'an'a told him. "Mind if I ask you a question?"

"Sure?" Corey said suddenly blushing deeply.

"Why can't I read your mind?"

"I didn't know Shan could read minds," Corey said.

"Most can't. I inherited it from my mother. She's a transhuman."

"Oh," Corey said sitting down. "I don't know. Mother said that I had a strong will and that I had inherited some shields from my mother. Maybe that's why."

"You know, Corey. I really think you're probably a nice guy, but right now I really wish you weren't my brother."

Corey looked back over at him, and grinned, before saying, "Don't take this wrong, but so do I."

"Then take him out to the playground and both of you find a playmate or two," Mother said exasperatedly.

"Nah, I don't think he's quite ready for Shan juvenile politics quite yet," D'an'a said hoping the bitterness in her voice didn't show.

"I take it there's more to it than just a quick game of I'll show mine if you show me yours," Corey said.

D'an'a sighed. "Let's just say, that reading minds can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth." She looked him up and down. "I can see my dad in you. That means quite a few kids out there would pin you to bottom in heart beat."

"I don't pin that easily," Corey said.

"Neither do I," D'an'a said bitterly. "And that's the problem. If I didn't read their minds, I wouldn't know what they were thinking about me, and could just enjoy it."

"So you find me attractive because you can't read my mind?" he asked.

"In a way. But you're attractive anyway. Besides, you don't have the cultural bias that most of my age-mates have."

"Because you're 'avad'a?" Corey asked.

She looked at him in surprise, "You can speak Shan?"

"It was one of the languages Mother programmed me with. And you didn't answer my question."

"For some of them. Others think that it would be a neat to be able to say that they were my father's child's first playmate. Now they're starting to think that since I won't play with them, that I think I'm better than they are. It's stupid cycle that's starting to drive me insane. I just want to find someone to play with, who'll accept me for who I am."
Corey chuckled, "You know I'm probably going to have about the same problems when I get home. There's going to be no hiding what I've become. That means that I'm going to catch more grief now than ever."

"You caught grief before?" she asked him. Suddenly she realized that she was reacting to

Corey differently. She knew from talking to Bonnie and Chris that Corey's primary attraction was to males, but almost as soon as they broke their kiss she started reacting to him as a female.

"Corey," Mother said. "I'm going to flood the room and then drain it again to remove the pheromones. Are you going to panic again if you are submerged?"

"I don't think so Mother," he told her. "I panicked because I was in a strange environment.

I think I would like to see what it is like to try and breathe underwater."

"Very well," Mother said.

"Don't," D'an'a told him.


"Don't try to breathe under water. In the water you respirate through your skin. There is a valve in the back of your throat that closes your lungs off to the water. It only opens to expel air so you can speak."

"Oh," Corey said as if suddenly remembering something. "That was why I panicked. I knew I was supposed to be able to breathe the water, but I couldn't get any of it into my lungs."
The water began to rise around them slowly and the damaged healing chamber melted into the floor. She looked over at him enjoying the view. He was an attractive boy, and he had an innocence about him that added to his charm. As the water reached their knees, she noticed him begin to look around the room. He was a little wide-eyed but he was fighting it. "Just relax. Your body has already begun to take in oxygen from the water."
"How do I get air into my lungs to speak if I don't breathe in?" he asked.

"Your blood automatically circulates part of the carbon dioxide to your lungs for expulsion. Your lungs will fill up every now and again no matter what; forcing you to exhale."

She smiled as the water began to flood around both of their now soft sexes, making them float in front of them. She could sense it also carrying away the last of the lubricant shed generated when his penis was at her entrance. "You know, you are very beautiful," he said, echoing her own thoughts.

"I was thinking the same thing about you," she said as the water rose to their chins. In a second they were submerged. She watched him instinctively take a deep breathe as the water covered their faces. A look of wonder slowly spread across his face, as they floated in the chamber.

He looked up and pushed off the floor and launched himself almost to the ceiling. "Easy,"
Mother said. "D'an'a can you get him to relax. If he'll relax, the electronic teaching will take hold and he won't launch himself through the overhead."

"I'll try, Mother," she said jetting up and took his hand.

"Don't use your legs, you're a defender. Use your jets."

"What jets?" he asked.

"Your hydro-genesis. You can take water into your body and launch it down your legs as a form of propulsion. Like this," she showed him.

"I didn't see you do anything different," he said.

Suddenly it hit her. The only pinging in the room was coming from her. "Don't look at me with your eyes, look at me with your sonar."

"My son..., ah,..." he said. He began to ping rather loudly.

"Softer," she said holding her hands to her ears.

He nodded and his signal lowered in intensity. She smiled at herself thinking,It's like teaching one of the little ones.

"I think I understand," he said. Suddenly he was rocketing across the room. She laughed as he instinctively pulled his body up short and almost face planted the wall.

"You don't do things in half-measure do you?" she asked.

He looked at her sheepishly and said, "I guess not. I'm just happy to be alive."

"We're all happy for that," she said realizing it was the truth. Her long conversations with Leighanne, both verbally and telepathically had given her a connection to this boy that she didn't know she had.

"You two keep that up for a few more moments," Mother said. I want to get all the pheromones out of the room."

After several moments, the water level began to drop, and the two descended to the floor.
"That was incredible!" Corey said.

"There is so much more to show you little brother," D'an'a said. I want to show you the whole of the city!" As the last of the water drained away, she threw herself into his arms and kissed him soundly on the cheek.

"Ahhhuuummm!" Leighanne said entering the room. "I thought you said there was no hanky-panky going on."

"It was a sisterly kiss, Leighanne," she told the woman as she touched both of their penises. "See we're not even excited."

"Girl!" Leighanne said with wide grin. "That's my son you're handling there."

"Mom!" Corey said suddenly racing across the room to pull his mother into a hug.

"Corey, ribs! I need them!" she gasped out as he lifted her off the floor.

Blushing sheepishly, he put her down. "Sorry," he said.

Earlier, D'an'a noticed how much he looked like her father. Now she could see the deep resemblance to Leighanne as well, there were traces of someone else as well. She realized that Corey was in many ways just as Shan as she was. He had the genetic code of two males and a female; her father, his birth father, and his mother.

D'an'a watched as the woman ran her hands along Corey's face, and then settled them on his shoulders. "It worked. I can't believe it worked. You're really here, really alive and well," she said softly

He grinned back at her and lay his head on her shoulder. D'an'a realized that Corey hadn't yet hit his growth spurt. In a few years he'd be much taller than she was. But for now, he was very much a little boy, like any other Shan or human little boy who'd been reunited with his mother after a long illness. She felt her eyes begin to mist.


Corey was still trying to absorb it all, actually it was more of a case of him trying to process it all. Mother had done a very good job of programming his body for certain concepts, and reactions, but he still had to give it a practical application. Trying to process all of that on top of trying to catch up with three years of being in a coma was proving difficult- especially on a personal level.

His body was reacting in ways that he didn't really yet have much experience in controlling. What happened last week when he came out of the chamber- which thankfully had been repaired- was a prime example. It's one thing to have knowledge in your head, it was entirely a different one to not only apply it, but to recognize when to apply it
That was what this week had been all about. After about a day of getting reacquainted with his mother and family- he couldn't believe that she and George had finally married; evidently Chris, Bonnie, and his plan had worked- he'd been turned over to D'an'a to be put through the paces. The other defender was a tireless task master, and he came back to the apartment each evening exhausted and had fallen asleep right after dinner.

But the things he'd seen and done in the past week had been awe-inspiring. He'd gotten to see much more of the city than Chris and Bonnie had, as he could free dive with D'an'a and keep up with his sibling in ways that his stepbrother and his girlfriend couldn't. She showed him how to ascend rapidly without getting the bends by expelling the nitrogen in his blood through his skin as part of his water jet. She showed him the "secret" of navigating the huge series of concentric floating rings of the surface city of Illia, and then showed him the sprawling city that had been grown out from the ship on the bottom and in the canyon below. It was much larger than the present Shan population needed, but would be there for future planned growth when they needed it

And she showed him how to control his body in ways that he would never had understood as a human. She showed him how to use his wings as a diving plane for quick dives and ascensions. She showed him how to use his sonar not only to see what was around him, but to seeinsidean object. She showed him how to use it as a weapon too. She also showed him how to generate a water cannon, and to narrow it down to a knife that could slice through reinforced armor. Some of it was surreal and some of it was downright embarrassing. She pointed out several differences that the two of the shared from not only baseline Shan but from even other defenders. The baselines did not have water wings to use as diving planes. She and he had several vestigial organs they inherited from their transhuman parent that neither the baseline Shan nor the defenders possessed. Even though their feet were now two fused toes, each of them possesses four little separate toe-nails on the broad part of each foot, and one on the big toe where their toes would be if they were separate- something that Shan do not possess. They both had a much better tympanic membranes than most shan- especially baselines did. Most baselines were fairly hard of hearing outside of the water.

Some of what he learned was awe inspiring, and some of it was a delicate discussion to say the least. They were about half way between the upper and lower cities, just taking a rest from her teaching him how to pull tight high speed turns. She'd been surprised at how fast he could actually go. There was one point when they were racing back to the city when his sonar completely blanked out and the water behind him suddenly exploded. He braked, and the two glided to a stop just about a hundred meters from the main anchor column. The drifted over to the one of the ledges and sat down giggling. They slowly figured out that he'd managed to hit the sound barrier just before he backed off. In the water that was almost a mile a second.

That scared the hell out of both of them. "Ive never heard of anyone swimming that fast, Corey," she said. "Not even Dad."

Corey shook his head and tried to get his heart rate back under control. "My sonar completely blanked out. I couldn't "see" anything," he said.

"You were getting to the object at the same time as your sonar ping. That's dangerous," she said.

"I know. If I were to hit something at that speed, it would be splat, no more Corey," he said. That thought sobered him quite a bit. Then he smiled over at her, and said, 'You know what this means though don't you."

"What?" she asked.

"It means that when I have to go home next week, I can still visit fairly easy. If I stay at a quarter of that speed, Miami is still less than an hour's swim."

"Can you maintain that kind of speed for very long?"

"I don't know. I'm breathing hard, and my heart is still pounding, but that may mean because I simply scared myself shitless," he said. She gave him a strange look at his use of the word, and that reminded him of another rather delicate subject. "Can I ask you a personal question.., uh..., not a personal to you, but personal to Shan, to what I've become?" he asked.

She smiled at him and said, "I promise not to be offended."

"It's not offense, it's just a delicate subject, not something people normally discuss in polite company."

"What?" she asked.

"I've been out of the chamber for a week now. I haven't gone to the bathroom, uh... you know, number two, since then. When I've done number one it's been kind of thick and white."

She smiled at him and said, "Your colon works slightly differently now. Unless you start eating hard bone, most of your bodily waste will be expelled as a thick urine like substance."

"You mean I won't have to defecate?" Corey asked knowing his body was blushing all over.
She nodded, "Not nearly as often, and when you do it is expelled in a membrane coated package."

"Why is that?" he wondered.

"Because for Shan males, the anus is a reproductive organ," she said. Male sex cells only generate either eleven or twelve chromosomes instead of the twenty-three generated by the human male or the Shan female. That means for you to generate a complete set of genes to impregnate a female you must first take on the sperm of another male and combine it with your own. That is done through the anus, where there are ducts designed to absorb the genetic material and transport it to a gland between your testicles where it will combine with your own to create a complete sperm cell. Cells with eleven will combine with cells from your partner with twelve and vice versa. The ones where you give twelve chromosomes grant a y sex chromosome resulting in a male child, the ones where you give eleven, line up with another x chromosome resulting in a female child. Only after they've combined can you impregnate a female, and then only if she is capable of being in estrus and has chosen to do so."

"How long does it take for the sperm to become whole?" he asked.

"Whole isn't exactly the term. A completed cell is called a haploid cell. When it fertilizes an egg, those cells become diploid. The cells your body generate without another male are called quatroid. But the process usually takes about two hours."

"How is it your dad was able to combine his quatroid cells with your father's haploid ones? I mean you shouldn't have been able to be born. Human cells don't come in a quatroid form." Corey remembered enough of the basic biology Mother had programmed him with.
"First Defender genetics are very powerful. It has been speculated that First Defender sex cells aren't unlike the AGG virus. They simply attached themselves to the human cells they absorbed, and rewrote either eleven or twelve chromosome positions."

Corey blushed at the thought of the next question, "Does it feel different to orgasm with a complete set of haploid cells?"

D'an'a blushed and shrugged, "I don't know. I've never absorbed another male's sperm. I can't yet, and neither can you. Puberty for Shan hits in two stages. The first stage is about our age. Our secondary sexual characteristics begin to develop. Breasts grow for females," she indicated the small buds of breasts on her chest, we develop pubic hair, the testicles drop and the penis lengthens for males, " she indicated their groins, which much to Corey's surprise had not started to react to the discussion. "We become sexually active, but not procreatively. It is a time when sex becomes a social game for us, not a time for having babies."

"What about beards?" Corey asked.

She shrugged and said, "Shan don't have beards or any kind of facial hair. Whether or not we will, is still up for grabs. We both still do have one female, and one male human or transhuman parent. So far I haven't needed to shave, but then again, I'm kind of unique."
"Why can't we absorb another male's sperm right now?"

"Around the physical age of nineteen or twenty, those ducts open up in our bodies. It's sort of a second puberty. For females, it's when the body starts to actually allow the fallopian tubes to open up and release an egg."

"Are there any signs of it? I mean does our body do anything that lets us know we are ready? You know, like boys having wet dreams, and girls getting their period?"

"Female Shan don't get periods. We release an egg when we choose. Expelling blood into an aquatic environment for five days would be an invitation to dinner for many predators, with the female being the main course. But no, there's not any real signals. It just happens."

He smiled at her and said, "Thanks for being open with me about this. You are definitely one of a kind little sister," he told her.

"Little sister? I've been Shan longer than you have," she said.

"Yeah little sister," he told her. "You're still smaller than I am. So you get to be my older brother, although I'm technically older than you, and at the same time you get to be my little sister."

"That doesn't make any sense, Corey."

"It doesn't have to make sense, we're family," he said.

Before she could reply, he felt a pressure against his mind shields, an imperative demanding that he stand down, do nothing. "What the fuck was that?" he asked.

He looked over and saw D'an'a holding her temple and shaking her head. "I don't know. It feel's strange, like someone is trying to make me be still."

"Corey, D'an'a" Mother's voice came over the communicators they each wore on their wrists. She sounded disturbed.

"Yes Mother," D'an'a answered almost immediately.

"Are you all right?" she asked. "Don't respond with your location."

"We're okay Mother. We've experienced some kind of mental compulsion, but it is under control. Corey's shields seem to be pretty damn near impenetrable, and I can slough it off."
"Good. Listen carefully, all of the defenders have gone off line. Whatever the compulsion it is, it's echoing through the family bonds. Right now two thirds of the city's population has gone sluggish. The only people I can find who seem to be able to move about freely are a few human guest, Randi, Leighanne, George, Bonnie, Chris, and you two. I'm detecting three submerged vessels closing fast with the city. Because of protocols I can't activate the city's defenses without genetic authorization from a defender."

"What do you want us to do?" Corey suddenly asked.

Before Mother could answer, the water was suddenly filled with a cacophony of sonar signals, signals powerful enough to damage marine life. The main effect of it was to totally scramble their own sonar, making echo-location almost impossible. Fortunately for the two defenders, they could still see in spectrum of light thatdidpenetrate this deep into the water.

"One of the vessels has launched two hundred twelve fighter class craft toward the city. The larger ones are surfacing and appear to be engaging aerial drives. The smaller ones are heading toward the city at approximately thirty four kilometers per hour. They should be here in half an hour," Mother reported. "I really need one of you to come to the main control center and authorize me to activate the city's defenses," Mother said over the communicator.

D'an'a turned to Corey and said, "I know the city better than you do. I'll go and authorize mother to fire on our attackers. You see what you can do about intercepting those closing fighters."

"You want to split the party?" he asked.

She smiled at him and said, 'You sound like Father. Yes, we don't have a choice. It'll take me at least that long to navigate through the city."

"Then what are you waiting for? Go. I'll take care of the fighters."

"Corey, they probably have torpedoes," she said.

"Yeah? But I can swim faster," he grinned and jetted off away from the city's support column and out from under its shadow into open water. Touching the pad on this communicator, he said, "Mother, they're scrambling sonar. I'm sonic blind. Can you give me a direction they are approaching from?"


Miranda felt the compulsion hit her like ton of bricks. It was powerful, and it was directed specifically at the the defenders. Her shields popped up immediately and she felt the attack bounce. She was still a little sluggish in responding though, her connection to Jord'n and K'hori was letting the compulsion leak through her shields. Her connection to D'an'a was tight as ever. She clamped down as hard as she could and did what her code name suggested: Caster cast her mind out to find out what the hell was going on.

She could feel the pressure on her mind coming from outside of the city from two different directions. She looked first to the south and found there, a small hive of nasty little minds, and one powerful gestalt personality. It was from this gestalt that the pressure on her mind was coming. :There's another one to the east,:Leighanne's mind voice came to her.

:You sense it too?:
she asked.

:Hell yes. It 's not affecting me, George, or the kids though. It seems to be directed at the defenders. Have you heard from Corey or D'an'a?

:No, they are outside the city.:

:Let's hope they're safe,:Leighanne said.

"Miranda," Mother's voice broke her concentration.

"Yes, Mother?"

"There are three craft closing with the city. They've launched attack fighters both underwater and in the air. Those in the air will be over us in a matter of minutes. I cannot activate the city's defenses without genetic authorization from a defender."

"That's a hole in you're programming we're going to have to work on."

"It was put there before we left. It is part of my basic programming."

"Do you know where Corey and D'an'a are?"

"D'an'a is on her way to the command center. Corey is engaging the fighters in the water."

"They're only children!" she protested.

"They are defenders, and they are the only defenders we have right now."

"Summon the defense force!"
"Only a third have reported. They're deploying now, but they are woefully out-numbered right now."

"What can I do?"

"According to my scans, the aerial craft are carrying armored paratroopers. Is there anything you can do to stop them?"

Randi thought about it for a moment. There was no way she could raise a forcefield strong enough to block that kind of deployment; and if she did, she'd be ignoring the gestalt mind from the subs. "I'm not that strong of a telekinetic, Mother. The only person I know who is, is Coldfire."

"Although I do not understand how it works, what about magic?" Mother asked.
Randi realized that she'd been living so long with a people who had no concept of magic or spirituality that she'd completely ignored that particular gift. "How long before they'll be in jump range?"

"Six minutes," Mother said.

Randi raced to bedroom of the apartment and grabbed her bag. Tossing components left and right she gathered what she needed and cast the circle. It was going to be close, and she was out of practice, but she might just make it. "Mother, can you activate the storm warning on the upper city? Get everyone inside and secure the hatches."

"Yes, but the storm hatches won't stop an armed assault."

"They won't have to," she said. "Just do it."

She threw her mind out to Leiganne, and said,:Leighanne, the children are not necessarily okay. D'an'a is heading toward the command center to activate the city's defenses. Corey is engaging the incoming fighters. You me, and they are all we got right now."

:My baby is out there, fighting submarines?:Miranda could feel the panic in her friend's mind. She'd just got Corey back and he was in danger again.

:Like I said, he's all we got, Leighanne. Snap out of it. I'm going to be busy for the next five minutes. I need you to keep those gestalt minds off my back.:

:What are you going to be doing?:

:Magic.:She sent her friend a quick explanation of her plan as she began to the ceremony. This was not combat magic. It wasn't the quick and dirty on-the-fly kind of magic you could cast in a fight. It took a lot of concentration, and she had to trust Leighanne to protect her flanks while she was vulnerable.

She cast her mind out, and praised the elements at what she'd found. Water, andwindwere what she really needed, butfirewas there too and in some ways even more important. She smiled wickedly and began to expand the circle outward in her mind. She could feel the elements come to her bidding. First
fire, she needed heat to do what she wanted to do, and it was late in the season. Butfirewas ever her friend and always eager to help. She directed the element to the air around the city. She began to build her heat engine. Sweat began to pour off her brow.

Then as the air suddenly began to heat up and rise,windcame to do her bidding. A column of warm air suddenly blasted upward high in the atmosphere. Nature abhors a vacuum and more
windcame rushing in to fill the void and began to rotate slowly. That wind pushed waves up and dispersed the water into the air. That made the fire more effective as the water became vapor and rose faster. She could feel the storm building outside.
"Miranda, the air temperature outside just climbed twenty degrees Celsius. The winds are picking up and the waves are growing," Mother said.

Miranda smiled. She couldn't afford the distraction to answer Mother, but instead continued to concentrate. She felt something try to press against her mind. :Wait! Stop! What are you doing? It's the witch! What's she doing? I don't know. She's doing something to the weather! Stop her! Bring her down!: Eight different voices spoke with one mind. She felt their minds press against her.

Suddenly Leighanne's mind was there, shunting their attack aside. :Who? I don't know! We have no information on her! She's only one, we're eight, kill her and return to the witch. If we are too long from the defenders, they'll awaken. Hurry then. Hit her hard. NOW!"
Miranda felt the psychic blow aimed at her friend. It was horrible, it was powerful, and it was augmented by something. She couldn't spare the attention away from what she was doing though or the elements would get out of control and it would all fall apart. She briefly sent up a silent apology to the people living in the Gulf.

Again, she directed the fire where she wanted it. The winds began to circle as the column of warm air rose higher. She knew above them, the eye of a hurricane was building. It was almost there . A few more moments and it would continue to build on its own volition, and pull heat from the water to fuel its fury. Weathermen across the US were about to mess their drawers. Storms don't just appear this suddenly out of nowhere, but this one was. There. She released her will and watched it begin to grow. She could sense the aircraft closing with the city. She could see their little minds relishing in what they thought was going to be an undefended population. With a wicked smile, she gave the elements her last command. :That way. NOW!:

She felt the magic flow up and out through her. Suddenly the clasp holding her ponytail back grew white hot and melted through her hair with an acrid burning odor. Damn! She forgot about the orchalchum she was wearing. She had forgotten about its magical qualities. Suddenly the deck under her rocked as the hurricane began to blow in earnest. "Name this one Miranda, boys and girls," she said with a smile as she grounded her energy and left the circle, the magic having been cast.


Leighanne felt the force of the attack slam against her shields. It was powerful, and it was augmented by more than just the gestalt. She could feel an echo of each mind in the gestalt as if the numbers in it were doubled. It hit her with the force of a freight train; so powerful that she physically recoiled, reacting with an actual gesture in an attempt to reinforce her shields. Pouring energy into the reflexive action, she felt the attack flow around her, pound at her, but not penetrate. Powerful as the mind was, and it was horribly so, it was dispersed, distracted. If they'd been able to bring the entire force of their will against her, Leighanne knew that she would have fallen.

After several moments, the attack stopped. Leighanne was unsure if they considered her destroyed, or had lost their focus or what. She reached out with her mind to see what was happening. The pressure on her mind subsided, but she felt it pick up again on the defenders. They couldn't maintain an attack on her and keep five hundred defenders under control.

She followed the pressure out and found its source. Two of the three subs that were approaching the city each housed one of the gestalt minds. The one that attacked her came from the south, and she thought she'd deal with that one first. She scanned the area and found a Russian surplus Typhoon class ballistic submarine. Locking on the moving vessel, she found the locked room where eight telepaths sat commanding the defenders to stand down. Armed guards stood outside the door to ensure they weren't going to be disturbed.

She reached into her purse and pulled out her Baretta clicked off the safety, and smiled. "I'm gonna' disturb you sons of bitches. My son is out there, and you're a threat to him."
She smiled and willed herself to the room. In a blur of speed, motion, and a rainbow of colors, the room on Illia disappeared from sight, and the wooden paneled room of the telepaths appeared. She looked around. Eight people sat around a short metal table with their eyes closed. She saw sitting at each of their throats was a glowing half dollar sized tear-drop shaped crystal. She could feel the power pouring though the crystals in her own mind. This was what was augmenting them. With a grim determination she jammed the lock on the door, took aim, and fired.


The Baretta spoke, and four crystals shattered, four throats were blown away. The gestalt began to break up. Before the other four could come out of their trances she switched her tactics and changed her aim.


Four skulls shattered from nine millimeter rounds between the eyes. She reached across the table and grabbed the four remaining crystals. The guards at the door suddenly started pounding on it and the wood began to split. Leighanne nodded at the door and willed herself back to the city. Speed, motion, and color and she was back where she was supposed to be. She arrived just in time to feel the deck begin to roll under her feet. "What the hell?" she said out loud. Explosions began to rock the city.


D'an'a watched as Corey swam off into the depths. She turned back toward the city and began to weave her way through the living stone canyons of Illia. She couldn't go full speed, there were children just hanging in the water, there were people just floating at neutral ballast, a strange blank look on their faces. She didn't know what the source of this attack was but it was effective. She could feel the pressure on her mind, but her own gifts, her own training was letting her resist.

She couldn't think about that right now. She had to get to the command center. She had to give Mother the order to activate the defenses. Inside the rings of the city, the sonar scrambling was muffled and she could navigate more easily. Suddenly something rocketed past her and homed in on the inner ring of the city. It exploded in a pressure wave of sound and force driving her backwards. She smelled blood in the water and realized in horror that the torpedo had hit one of the classrooms.

As she caught her bearings and cleared her head she turned to see an armored sled heading toward the hole the torpedo had just made. It was about three meters long, and half again as wide. There was a polycarbonate clear shield that gave the pilot a clear field vision from the front, the bottom and to the sides. She could see where he lay on his stomach inside the vehicle as he directed it past the floating pieces of bodies of the children and their teacher. She launched herself toward the sled at full speed. As she passed over it, she lashed out with a water knife at close range. More blood spread in the water as the two halves of what was left of the sled began to fall to the bottom below.

Grimly she turned back toward the hole in the city wall. She swam through debris searching for survivors. Her first duty was to the safety of her people. She found that none had survived the explosion, only bodies and pieces remained. She would have nightmares about that search for the rest of her life. Finally, determining that there was nothing else she could do, she resumed her journey as fast as she could. Something happened out to sea; suddenly the pressure on her mind lessened, and she wondered who'd brought about the downfall of their some of attackers: her mother, or Leighanne.

It took her almost twenty minutes to reach the main command center at the heart of the city. By the time she did, she could feel the walls around her rock and shake as if it was riding out a hurricane. Explosions were rocking the city from all over, and they were getting worse. People simply floated as the passageways seemed to be falling apart around them.

She barreled past the defenders who stood motionless at the entrance of the command center; past her father, past her dad, both of them seemed to be in the same trance. "Mother! I authorize you to activate the city's defenses!"

Suddenly she felt the command center's scanners penetrate her body. "Confirmed." Mother said. Suddenly, she felt the center shift, scanners and targeting computers came online. Data began to fill the screens. "The city's defense systems have been activated. There is a mass of fighters three kilometers to the east of the city. Defender Corey is engaging them."
D'an'a flashed to the weapons locker and pulled two harpoons out of the rack. Technically, she wasn't authorized to use them yet, and Corey sure the heck wasn't, but she'd let them dress her down for it later; if there was a later.


Corey closed with the armored sea sleds in the distance. He noticed that many of them had a single torpedo mounted on the undercarriage. Along the angled surfaces of the top, there were two racks of what looked like pressure-harpoons. He could see the head and shoulders of the pilots inside them. The disadvantage to them scrambling sonar signals was that their own signals were scrambled as well. He knew that they couldn't use it to see him either. There was a cluster of them closing from the city off to his left. He spread his arms and accelerated in their directions. Remembering the explosion created when his sonar blanked out, he poured on the speed as he barreled between them. He was in the middle of them before they could react, and then he gave it everything he had.

Suddenly the water behind him erupted in a powerful explosion as he rocketed out of the mass of armor. He felt the pressure wave try to reach him, but he banked hard and then dove. He felt the pressure begin to lessen as the force was absorbed by the water around him. Turning back he could see several of the armored sleds begin to spin down toward the canyon below.

Others were trying to regroup and find him. He knew though that until they stopped the sonar jamming they couldn't. He rocketed back toward them and accelerated again. Another explosion and a few more armored sleds went to Davey Jone's locker. "Corey, what are you doing?" Mother's voice came from his communicator. "I'm detecting several sonic explosions in your area."

"Sonic booms underwater can be a bitch, Mother," he said.

"Sonic booms?" Mother asked.

"I can swim very fast, Mother, very fast," he said.

"They're armored, Corey. Unless you penetrate their armor, you won't do any good. You'll just stun them."

"Maybe so, Mother, but the water's very deep here," he said.

"I see your point," Mother said.

"I don't know how to use my powers well enough to be truly effective with anything else," he told her.

"I told you I would teach you how to fight, how to defend the innocent, Corey. That knowledge is in your mind, use it."

He braked hard and turned back toward the scattering armored sleds. Several were launching torpedoes in random directions. Others were speeding off toward the city. Above him, he could feel the currents begin to change. Something serious was happening up top. He was less than seventy five meters from the surface, but there was no light. He stopped and looked below. The sleds were regrouping and heading out toward the city. He thought about his options.

An idea came to him. He remembered his lessons with D'an'a and what she'd taught him about the water knife. Hydro-genesis concentrated into a tight beam could slice through plate armor. He dove toward the lead group of sleds. With a quick pass, he generated a thin powerful column of water across engine the compartment of two of the sleds. These two would be going nowhere.

Suddenly the water was filled the sounds of whirring screws. He looked around to where several small torpedoes were streaking toward him. He wondered how they were guided without their sonar. He raced for the surface, expelling the nitrogen from his blood like D'an'a had taught him. He could see a grayish yellow light filtering down from above, something was definitely wrong topside.

With half a dozen torpedoes on his tail, he breached the surface arced high into air as the torpedoes collided with each other below him. He knew there was an explosion, he saw the flash of light, but the sound of it was lost in the howl of the wind. The stinging rain and the powerful wind caught his wings and slammed him face first into a forty foot swell. The storm surge drove him back under water and he shook his head to clear it.Where the hell did a hurricane come from?! He began to dive through the swirling currents around him, away from the raging sea above and back down to the safety of the armored sleds trying to kill him.

A hundred fifty meters down, through all the sonar clutter he heard an intense pinging. What caught his attention was the rhythm of the pinging, it changed pitch, had a tempo to it. Damn it somebody was using their sonar to make music, and he recognized the song! He homed in on its sound and changed course. It wasn't long before he found D'an'a hiding under a thermalcline, a change in water temperature that would bounce sonar. She had in her hands two of the defender harpoons.

"When did you learn "Whispering Pines?" he asked.

"Your mother taught it to me when you were in the healing chamber. She said it was one of your favorite songs." She smiled at him. "It's somewhat mournful for someone your age, don't you think?"

He shrugged and said, "Only because I was pining, pun intended, for someone I couldn't have and knew it." He looked at the harpoons and asked, "Where did you get those?"

"In the weapons locker at the command center. The other defenders are still out of action, so it's up to us. They can yell at me later," she said handing him one of the harpoons. It was heavier than steel would be, but still light in his hands. "Do you know how to use one of these?" she asked.

"Mother implanted the knowledge."

"They're harder than steel, and razor sharp. They'll also psycho-reactive in that they'll let you channel your powers through them."

Corey nodded and said, "So you ready to take on the UN?"

"UN?" she asked.

"Didn't you see the outline of the Earth between two olive branches? That's the UN insignia," he told her.

"Well, that explains who they are, the question is what to do they want?"

"The subjugation of Illia so they can plunder its technology."

"Over my dead body," she said grimly.

"That's their idea. I have others," he told her.

"Like what?"

He hefted the three pronged golden harpoon in his grip and said, "You ever heard the song, Battle of Bull Run?"

She shook her head and said, "No."

"We said we'd run 'em to Atlanta, and to Galveston Bay, but they ran us back to Washington and Pennsylvan-i-a, Pennsylvan-i-a," he sang to her.

"That's goal, not a strategy or a tactic, Corey. Do you have any suggestions on how to carry it out?" she asked.

"Any idea what their objective is?"

She shook her head and said, "No but I can find out."

He watched as she closed her eyes and concentrated. He wondered what it would be like to be able to read minds, to know the thoughts of your enemy. Suddenly her eyes flew open, wide with fear. "We've got to stop them! If they can't take the city they're going to detonate two nuclear devices carried by of the two submarines!"

"You take the sub on the right, and I'll take the one on the left?" he asked.

She shook her head and said, "No, the captains will detonate the nukes if they're ships are attacked with anything less than overwhelming force."

"We are overwhelming force," Corey said.

"No, we're not, but I know something that is. I have a plan, to run them back to Washington so to speak. Start herding the sleds toward the submarines. We'll spear two fish with one harpoon."

He nodded, and dove toward the approaching group of armored sleds. "And Corey, when Mother tells you to dive, don't argue, just do it. Dive as deep and as fast as you can. I've had at least two classmates tell me they want to play with that cute little butt of yours. They'd be very upset with me if I let you get it burned off."

"Yes ma'am, General Lee ma'am," he said with a smile and dove in front of the sleds.
As soon as they saw him, they reacted. Harpoons and torpedoes all lanced out toward him. He felt something in his mind click. He stopped thinking about what he was doing, he just did it. The harpoon in his hand became an extension of his will. He twisted and dove in the water, he lashed out and the tines of his weapon sliced away fins, wings, engines, and the occasional human limb. He dodged and dove, and and began to herd the sleds into a single ball of frightened replicated humans.

He had told mother he could swim very fast, and swim very fast is exactly what he did. He felt the occassional bite of one of their harpoons, or a piece of shrapnel from an exploding torpedo would rip into his flesh, but it healed almost instantly. His attacks hit home much more often than they did, and they began a slow retreat. He drove them back away from the city, away from his mother, his stepbrother, and his stepfather. He drove them back away from the people who'd given him a second chance at life. With a determined will he drove them back toward their own vessels.

"Corey, D'an'a dive!" he heard mother call over his radio.
Without question he followed the order. He arched his back, kicked his legs toward the surface and fired everything he had back along the and propelled himself toward the ocean floor below. Behind him, he heard a dull roar and felt an intense heat. He didn't know what had happened but the water where he had been a moment before had heated almost to the boiling point.

"Leighanne, please stay where you are," Mother's voice told her.

"But mother, I can stop the attack on the defenders," she said.

"I realize that, but so can I, and what I have to do will insure that the city is safe. Please do not teleport to the other sub. I do not wish to be the instrument of your death," the computer told her.

That thought sobered her. "I take it that D'an'a was able to reach you in time."

"Yes, she was. She has brought new strategic data to my attention that must be acted upon immeadiately or none of us will survive. Please stay where you are."
Leighanne was smart enough to know that there was more intelligence at work than with what she was working. She cast her mind out to Miranda and asked, :Do you know what's going on out ther?:

:Yes, and you don't want to know?:Miranda told her.

:The hell, I don't. My son is out there!:she said.

:But, I'm not about to broadcast it in the clear. Not with there still being telepaths out there who may be listening. Yes, both Corey and D'an'a are in danger, but if I tell you what it is, it'll only increase that danger. You know better than to ask.:Miranda's voice was firm. Leighanne hadn't been out of the fieldthatlong, she understood. That didin't mean she had to like it, but she understood it.

"What can I do to help, Mother?" Leighanne finally asked.

"Will you come to the command center? I could use your advice on the information D'an'a sent me," she said.

"I'm on my way."

"Bring your family," Mother said.

"If you want, but I don't understand why?"

"Because I don't trust them not to get involved in the fight right now, and some of the automated drones I've sent out have been told to kill anything without a Shan genetic code."

"What about Corey?"

"Oh, they recognize a defender when they see one," Mother said.

"I'll gather them and will be there in a moment."

Twenty minutes later, Leighanne noticed that the number of explosions she'd been hearing in the background was lessening. The trip herding George, Chris, and Bonnie along the indicated "dry paths" would have taken too long. Instead the four of them had stripped to warm suits and rebreathers and cut straight down the main column to the to the command center. It had been eerie floating past Shan who all seemed to be either immobile or sluggish. The closer she got to the command center, she noticed that she had fewer of the former and more of the latter. She could already feel them trying to shake off the effects of the single gestalt mind left.

As they entered the large circular room complete with holotanks and tactical readouts, she noticed that there were a few baseline Shan swimming about unhindered. With a sense of chagrin she realzied that these were the few who were not in some way connected to a defender. Mother had done a very good job seeding her defenders through the whole population in order to avoid one family or another having too much influence.

"Why won't you let me take out the other gestalt?" she asked as they floated there above he tactical holo-tank.

"Because as soon as you do, then two of the submarine captains will arm and detonate the thermonuclear devices they each carry on their vessels," Mother said. "Do you recognize these designs?" Suddenly the image of Russian Typhoon class subs appeared in the holo-tank.

"Typhoon class. They have multiple redundancies in their hulls. They're damn hard to kill," she said remembering the data on them cleared by a certain CIA operative a few decades ago.

"I thought so," she said. "I have to take them out simultaneously and in one stroke, "Mother said. The tactical field changed again. She saw a three-dimensional image of the city. To the south and east were the two Typhoons. Between each of them and the city were what could only be described as a furball of sleds attacking lone defenders. Off to the north was a single sub of a design she had not seen before. It vaguely reminded her of theConstellation,the submersible carrier the US had recently deployed.

"The cannons are now fully charged, Mother," one of the techicians announced.

"Corey, D'an'a, dive!" Mother called.

She watched as the two defenders broke off their individual attacks and dove straight for the bottom. One of them rocketed to the bottom so fast, that by the time the image refreshed itself, it was embedded in the sea-floor. The lights of the city suddenly went dark and three beams of light shot out from the rings of the city, one toward each sub.
Hydrogen molecules were stripped of their elecrtrons and accelerated outward at nearly a quarter the spead of light, slamming through the water and creating a forty meter in diameter column of vacuum through the water. Three point two nanoseconds later, a powerful x-ray laser followed along the path to subs. For an instant, the subs sat there suspended in a column of vacuum. Before gravity could make itself known to the metal behemouths, they were vaporized when their surfaces were instantly raised to half a million degrees Kelvin. When the beams cut off, the water came crashing back in to fill the vacuum in the column of water. Leighanne noticed that the two Typhoons were totally destroyed. Where the third larger vessel was, the water was boiling where what was left of the hull melted and began to fall away toward the bottom.

Suddenly the defenders and the baseline Shan around them began to blink and shake their heads. The first to react was Adam, then K'horal who both raced toward the weapons locker. "We stil have stray hostile sleds in and around the city. There are also paratroopers in the water trying to ride out the hurricane," Mother said.

"What do you want us to do with them?" Adam asked.

"Strip them of their armor and bring them inside," K'horal said.

"No!" Mother, Leighanne, and Miranda said in unison.

"They will drown," Adam said unsure if he was believing his ears.

"Then take a shuttle out, and pile them in it. But not bring them to this city. Take Miranda, D'an'a, and Leighanne with you. Some of them may be telepaths," Mother's tone would brook no argument.

D'an'a floated silently in the water watching the repairs on the city below. Off to her side Corey and a small gathering of other defenders in their age group floated as well. Mother had declared the city to be on high alert until her parents returned from New York, and it was decided that the younglings would act as a watchful eye over the repairs while the adults did the heavy work. They were all on rotating two hour shifts. Mother had been quite pleased with hers and Corey's performance during the crisis, and had petitioned her dad to grant both of them their harpoons. That was still up in the air. For now though, they stood silent guard.

There had beens several torpedo hits on the structure, and for some reason they'd all hit the worst possible places. The one that streaked past D'an'a had been one of three that had struck classrooms, playgrounds, or recreational centers with large numbers of children. The death toll had been extremely high from those hits- two hundred and eighty-three children, and fourteen teachers. Others had hit places like the cattle pens, and when the trinacromerum had gotten into the corridors they began to feed on the poor squ'ks. It had taken a week to clean the mess out of squ'k's quarters. Two had hit the maternity wards of two different medical centers, and one had actually hit one of the power conduits between the outer ring and the next one in. It was as if the the attackers had chosen the softest targets they could find.

She looked over to where her brother floated beside her and reached out and placed her small hand in his. It felt good to have a brother, even if he wasn't part of her actual pod. The two found that they could discuss almost any subject and he'd been making suggestions for various groups for her to, as he called it, "hook up" with. Some of his ideas were outrageous, and others were actually pretty insightful. She'd also started steering a few other youngling defenders and one or two baselines his way. So far, he hadn't taken them up on a game of pin to the bottom, but she knew his resistance was wearing down.
She'd detected a slight shift in the way her agemates were seeing her now. They were looking at her mind-gifts as less of something freakish, and more of a special tool that had helped save the city. With that, they were also seeing her sexuality in a different light, and were actually starting to seeherinstead of an amalgalm of male and female sexual organs.

"You know, if your dad comes back with good news, we're heading home tomorrow," he said.

"I know. But we can still visit each other," she told him.

"Yeah, but it won't be the same." He grinned down at his nude form and added, "And I'll have to start wearing clothes again."

"You adjusted rather better than your stepbrother," she commented on the fact all of his family had managed to "go native" except for Chris. She understood the other boy's reticence though. It wasn't so much that he was ashamed of what he had, which was about average for a shan male of his age, as it was that he'd reached a point where while Bonnie was nude, he had a perpetual spike in his trunks. Walking around with an erection on Illia was considered an invitation to play.

"How are you going to adjust to life back among the humans?" she asked.

"I don't know. I've missed a lot. Mother tried to fill in the gaps, there's so much that just doesn't make sense. I went into a coma with a president, I may not have liked, but I could at least respect and woke up with one that I have no respect for and like even less. I'm so behind culturally, that's frightening. Did you know that Michael Jackson died?" he asked with ruefull smile. "I've got a lot of catching up to do. Mother said that middle school we're going to be attending though is willing to work with me being a transhuman. They've been hinting that a couple of their students in the past have been too."

She raised an eyebrow, "You've had the equivalent of several PhDs directly copied onto your brain and you're still going to go to middle school?"

"Mom says that I should for no other reason than why Shan teenagers have sex all the time," Corey said.

"Because it's fun?" she asked with a smile.

"Like you would know," he accused back.

"I'm considering some of your suggestions," she told him squeezing his hand. "But what does having sex have to do with going to middle school?"

"It's socialization," he told her. "Schools play as much a role in teaching humans how to get along as it does with teaching us how to read and write. It imparts valuable, and sometimes not-so-valuable cultural knowledge to us."

A couple of giggling voices came from behind them, "Mother says we are to relieve you. You've both been on watch for the last eight hours. That's four watches each, and that's too much." D'an'a turned to see two other youngling defenders floating there.

"Want to head home and finish this conversation?" she asked.

"And she said that you are not to return to the apartment," one of them said.

"Or the command, center, or the medical center, or the classroom. She said that you two have both been remiss in social obligations and are to report to any of the recreational centers you wish to, but only those and any cafeteria were the only places you were to go for the next three hours."

Both she and Corey looked at each other and smiled wanly. "I think that someone is starting to get too big for her electrons," Corey said.

"I mean it," Mother's voice came over their communicators. "Corey's parents want to be alone in the apartment. I've sent Bonnie and Chris on an errand, so you two stay out."

"Where to then?" D'an'a asked.

"There's a party over at Rec Center Three," one of the young defenders said.

"Shan have parties?" Corey asked.
"Yeah, we have parties," D'an'a said. "But to be honest, I couldn't tell you what the ones our agemates have are like. I've never been to one."

"Then let's check it out," he said.


"You want to do what with my little sister?" Corey asked the smaller baseline menacingly. He wasn't much older than Corey was when he'd gone into the coma. He had long electric blue hair, and and was somewhat on the thin side. He was also sporting half an erection under the fine peppering of matching pubic hair that was just starting to grow in.

The boy smiled up at him, and said, "Do I have to spell it out for you, or do all those muscles crowd out your brain cells, seaweed head? Will you get out of my way so I can ask her?" Corey was a little surprised to hear the smaller guy talk to him like that.

He smiled at the little guy and jetted off to the side. "Fine, go right ahead." He reached out and put a hand on the smaller boys shoulder and stopped him for a moment. "But you better make sure she enjoys it as much as you do, or I'm going to twist that thing off and feed it to the cattle."

"Was that absolutely necessary, Corey?" S'vann the youngling defender that he'd been talking to for the last hour asked.

Corey smiled at him and said, let's watch and find out. He turned to watch as the young baseline swam over to where D'an'a was eating a strip of steak the Rec Center was providing. He couldn't hear what they were saying over the steady strumming of what passed for music among the Shan. Shan music was heavy on the bass ranges, and seemed to carry for kilometers underwater. He briefly wondered how they'd react to to a good old Nashville style jam-session. The boy spoke for several moments, before D'an'a shocked Corey and reached out and began to run her hand along the boy's leg. She finally took his cock in her hand and pulled him to her in a kiss. Corey noticed that young hermaphrodite's own dick began to grow.

"Well, I never expected to see that happen," S'vann said.

"Why not?" Corey asked.

"B'near isn't exactly the most confident boy I've ever known. But he's admired D'an'a since she was old enough to start noticing. Since she's turned everyone else down, nobody expected him to have a chance with her."

Corey smiled over at the other boy and said, "I'd rather her be with someone who isn't the captain of the sports team, but who admires and respects her than some muscle-bound noob who just wants to get his rocks off and bragging rights."

Corey felt S'vann press his own body against his from behind him and say, "Speaking of someone who admires you." Corey caught a glimpse of S'vann's day-glow pink hair floating past him as the other boy reached around and began to run his fingers along Corey's chest. He gently began to nibble on Corey's ear, and Corey could feel S'vann's sex harden against him until it lay along the crack of his butt. He could feel the head brushing up against the point where his wings met in the small of his back. Corey felt himself respond to S'vann's gentle touch along his nipples with one hand while another drifted lower. "You know, you're worth a certain amount of bragging rights yourself, Corey," he said.

Corey shrugged. He didn't really care about that. Over the last two weeks, he'd come to grips with something very important. Chris was his step brother. Even if he wasn't straight, even if he wasn't so dedicated to Bonnie that every time he saw the girl nude, he just about left a puddle in front of him, he could no more sleep with Chris than he could D'an'a. That idea might be okay for some people, but it didn't sit well with who he was.

On the other hand, S'vann was very attractive, fairly experienced, very handy, and more than willing. He knew it wouldn't last. Shan didn't make permanent bonds at this young age. But he did want to find out what it was like. He started to twist around but felt the other defender clamp down tight with his arms. He licked up Corey's ear and said, "Do you know why they call it pin to the bottom?"

Corey shook his head. He knew he could break the grip, and he was fairly sure that S'vann knew it too. "No, do you want to tell me?"

He felt S'van slide down his body slightly until his dick was pressing between Corey's thighs. Corey looked back and found the boy smiling at him good naturedly. "Because in neutral ballast like this, it's almost impossible to stay inside your lover when things get intense. You have to pin them to something." Suddenly he felt another body against his front. "Now the question is, do you want to pin me, or do you want me to pin you, or do you want to pin, Ant'l?"

He turned to look at a very attractive baseline female. She was just a little smaller than B'near, and had his same oval-shaped facial features, and the same the electric blue hair. She kissed him gently on the lips and then ran her fingers down his sides until they found the hardening half-rings of flesh under his armpits where his wings separated from the back of his tricep and stretched out to meet his back. That sent a shiver of pleasure thrugh him that made his own dick literally vibrate. "Hi," she said, pulling back from the kiss. "Can I play too?"

Corey looked down her body admiringly. Her breasts were still small conical protusions from her boy-like chest. She was lean and trim and noticed that her pubic area was almost totally bald. He found her to be strangely attractive. He nodded and said, "Do you want to?"

"Does she want to?" S'vann asked. "Whose idea did you think this was?"

Corey looked over to where D'an'a was now pinned against the wall, her legs wrapped around B'near's waist. The boy's butt was flexing and back and forth as he drove his sex inside her, his head as buried in the nape of her neck. D'an'a had her head back and her eyes closed, and Corey didn't have to have her telepathic gifts to know that she was enjoying every minute of the first time she'd ever had someone else's dick inside her. He turned back to see Ant'l turning back to him and saying, "My brother has had a crush on D'an'a for quite a while. I'm glad to see he's finally getting a chance to get close to him."

"Question still stands, Corey. Do you want to pin me, or me to pin you, or you to pin Ant'l?" He felt head of S'vann's dick press harder at his backside.

Opening his legs slightly he pushed back on the hardness and felt the head of the other defender's dick slip into him. He was surprised to suddenly feel himself open up, and muscles he didn't know he had began to suck the other boy's dick deep inside him. He reached out and pulled Ant'l to him. He smiled as she spread her legs and wrapped her thighs around his waist. She reached down and took hold of his dick and placed it at the opening of her bald pussy.

Suddenly the cool water surrounding his organ turned to a tight hot slickness he'd never felt before. "See, I told you he'd be a natural," she smiled and kissed S'vann over his shoulder. She reached down and ran her fingers along the inside of his wings again and that set his cock to throbbing. "I love to do that to defenders," she whispered in his ear.
Corey could not believe the feeling of fullness he was experiencing. It was nothing like he was expecting it to be. It wasn't painful, on the contrary, it was stimulating in a way he'd never expected. He felt a series of ringlike muscles in his anus begin to try and pull S'vann deeper inside of him.

"Be careful," S'vann said into his ear as the three of them began to thrust back and forth against each other. "Ant'l is a baseline. You don't want to hurt her."

Corey nodded as he wrapped his large arms around the smaller girl and continued to gently make love to her as S'vann made love to him. He would thrust back on S'vann and and pull part of the way out of Ant'l, then push forward into her, and pull off of S'vann.
He didnt' know how long they continued to move against each other. At one point he had S'vann backed up against the wall of the Rec Center and was looking across the room to see where D'an'a now had B'near bent over on the floor and was entering him from behind. In a way, it was surreal. Here and there were groups of twos, threes and even fours engaging in sexual activity ranging from oral sex to what he and his partners were doing. At the same time there were other groups simply sitting and talking or playing games. Nobody paid any attention to it.

After a while, he felt something begin to build at the base of his spine, or at least where his spine would be if it was anything more than cartilage. It radiated down into his ass and across to his dick. He could feel S'vann really starting to pound back against him, while Ant'l ground her very tight sex against his pubes. Suddenly he felt his ass begin to spasm, his balls pulled up inside him and his whole body vibrated with pleasure as he blasted his first orgasm as a Shan into Ant'l.

Miranda walked beside her husband as they entered the conference room. It was the same conference room as they'd left a month ago. This time Jord'n and Adam stood beside them as well She could feel the controlled fury that K'hori kept in tight check in his mind. This time, they all stood nude before the room full of humans. One would have thought that they would feel at the psychological disadvantage in the situation, but the exact opposite was true. The were liberated, they had nothing to hide. Their presence in this way made their counterparts much more uncomfortable than it did them. The only thing Miranda wished was that her hair looked better. She'd seen Leighanne's stylist to see what could be done with what was left after it had been burned away by the orchalchum when she cast her spell. The best they could come up with was very boyish looking close-cropped European style. At least there would be no mistaking her for a boy while she was standing there nude.


"Consul K'horal of Illian, you have been asked not to appear before this body in such a disrespectful state of dress," the same consul who complained last time said.

"Actually you asked me if Ihad to appear wearing what I was last time. I explained no, that I could appear this way," he said. Randi recognized the tone in his voice and did not envy them what was probably about to happen.

"I don't know, if he wants degrade his wives this way, who am I to complain," Consul Balyuzi said.

"You are already degraded, Consul Balyuzi," Miranda said told him in Farsi. "Do you have the courage to stand before your enemies so boldly? No, you hide behind your clothing concealing your pitiful manhood behind a power suit, and hiding your lies and treachery with with a pert tongue. I need no suit to know that I am stronger than you."

"Enough," K'horal said. "I am not here to discuss my attire, and as my wife has indicated, I am here to address my enemies."

"You consider the United Nations, your enemy?" Consul Belanov asked.

"I consider the enemy of my people any government or organization that would send three warships to attack my city. Three Typhoon class submarines and one of unknown design."

"How dare you!" Belanov bellowed and rose from his seat.

"Sit down and shut up, Consul Belanov," Adam said.

Belanov started for the door and Adam said quietly, "You walk out that door, and Moscow will be a hole in the ground in twenty minutes."

Belanov stopped in his tracks and looked Adam up and down. Miranda could feel the challenge in the man's mind, but he was just concerned enough to sit back down.

"Last week, Illia was attacked by two Typhoon class submarines with a contingent of telepaths on each one whose role it was to dominate the Shan defenders to keep us from defending our city. The telepaths on those vessels are dead as are the submarines. We have, however recovered twelve Meirrian psionic amplification crystals. They've been turned over to the Atlanteans for investigation into how they fell into human hands. We also have eight of your telepaths, and seventy five of your replicant paratroopers who were rescued after they dropped into the middle of a hurricane," K'hori said.

"Let me show you what happened to your submarine's gentlemen," K'hori told them putting a portable projector on the conference table. He touched a key and holo-tank projected a three dimensional view of the three vessels being destroyed by the city's defenses. "We know that those captain's had orders to detonate multi-megaton thermonuclear warheads should their missions fail. Unfortunately to neutralize that particular threat without having to unduly risk Shan lives, we had to totally destroy the vessels."

He watched as the men around the table stared at the looped data. When he was sure they were all suitably impressed, he said, "The beam that destroyed those vessels was thirteen kilometers away, and was forty meters in diameter. They were vaporized in less than a hundredth of a second. The weapons we now have in orbit around this planet can be widened to a five hundred times that diameter and not lose any effectiveness from space. Your capital cities are now targeted, gentlemen. Should our city's electronic personality detect any more attacks on our people she has been given instructions to fire on your capitals and work her way out until nothing lives inside your borders. Then she is directed to defend the city. Do you understand me gentlemen? We are now engaged in Mutually Assured Destruction. Your ballistic weapons mean nothing to us. We have fought back from the brink of extinction. If you wish to push us there again, we'll take you over the precipice with us. We returned to Homeworld to live in peace. We've been met with threats and hostilities. You feared us and attacked us. Three thousand two hundred and six Shan died in your last attack. Almost thirteen hundred of those were children. Now we go to mourn our dead. See that you do not bother us again. You can't afford to play this game." He scooped up the projector and turned on his heel. "We are done here."


"It's time for the truth between us, Mother," Leighanne said to the ceiling in her quarters.

"What are you talking about Leighanne?" the electronic personality answered.

"Things turned out exactly they way you wanted them to with D'an'a and Corey."


"The Shan have no strong natural telepaths, and you've just guaranteed that natural telepaths will crop up within a very few generations."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because you've read the data and you know something you're not sharing. I also know that Shan don't accept non-Shan into their pods that easily. You rammed Miranda and Adam down their throats. Now I know that part of that was because K'horal tends to see most of the Shan as his children for a lack of a better term, so he was reluctant to pod with most of them. But you went for a very specific genetic combination that was right where you could get your hands on it when you needed it. Now with Corey, you have another unique genetic combination. I'm more than willing to play ball with you, but let's get one thing straight, if you don't tell me exactly what's going on and what you've got planned, you and I are going to have some unpleasant words. Nobody plays with my baby."

"Earth is a cradle."

"Okay, I understand that. Eventually everyone has to leave the cradle."

"Humans preach diversity on a regular basis. However, the vast majority of those preach it the loudest, are the most afraid of it, and the least practitioners. They want diversity on their own terms. They want diversity that agrees with them. They do not want diversity of thought, and they do not want diversity of the individual," Mother said.

"Okay, so they give lip service to it, but they don't want to play it."

"They do more than give lip service to it. They use it as a blunt weapon to beat down those who disagree with them, not seeing the hypocrisy in the actions or their words. They are moving to destroy the individual on this planet, and enslave all those who would stand out from the group."

"But the Shan are one of the most cooperative people I've ever met when it comes to protecting their own."

"Yes, but we cooperate for personal safety and for survival. We relish and praise the individual. There's a difference between duty, and coercion."

"All right mother. Just how long do we have?"

"My estimations are that the transhumans will be forced to either conquer humanity or leave the planet within a century and a half. Like I said, Earth is a cradle. It is a cradle for a new civilization that will grow from the combination of various transhuman, shan, and other forces."

"And you don't think that we'll go for conquest?"

She actually heard mother snort. "Not with K'hori, not with Cobalt-Blue, and not with most of the crop of transhumans that will be in the leadership positions in that time. Most of you are so noble that if I had hair, you'd make it hurt." She was silent for long moments before finally changing tacks. "Ship is dying. There is no way he will ever heal. That is why we traded with the Atlanteans for their star drive. That is why we are building alliances with the Atlanteans, the transhumans, and if I can figure out a way, the nocturnals."

"I can help there," Leighanne said.

"Really?" Mother asked and Leighanne realized that she walked right into her trap.

"Really, but if you ever try to manipulate me again, I'll crack open your main processors and pour a pound of grape jelly in it."

"Deal," Mother said.

"Now, let's get down to brass tacks..."

Two days later, she was standing on the main deck of the topside of the city. Most of the trees had already been replanted, and the damage repaired to the parklike environment. For the first time since he'd come out of the healing chamber, sh'ed managed to get Corey into clothing. He was wearing a over-sized white pirate shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. Sometimes she wondered where her son got his personal tastes. With his long blue-green hair pulled back in a pony-tail, and the cowboy hat in his hand, he cut a rather striking if unusual figure.

He was currently hugging the nude form of Miranda. She was saying something to him quietly and he smiled. Leighanne did wonder if the hug he shared with D'an'a was a little long. She knew something had happened a few days ago, but both of their minds were blocked to her. Finally, he and of all people, Commander K'horal stepped away and spoke quietly. She had no idea what was said, but in the end, her son hugged the bigger man and walked back to the shuttle.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Adam said.

"What?" George asked.

"There's an installation crew coming to your house tomorrow."

"What ever for?" Chris asked.

"Two things, the first being air filters. The second to install a genetic locked safe."

"Why do we need a genetic locked safe?" George asked.

"For this," D'an'a said, reaching into the shuttle and pulling out a defender's harpoon. "You don't want this much orchalchum just lying around. Too many mages out there who might let their greed get in the way of their common sense."
She saw Corey's face light up at the sight of the defender weapon. "I don't know what to say."

"Say thank you," Bonnie said.

"No, you earned, it," K'horal told them "One does not thank responsibility. One is thankful for it."

"Oh, and I'll be coming to visit fairly often," D'an'a said. "Mom's found me an instructor in magic in your city."