By Shadar, edits by JH
Captain Fred Durst closed his eyes pretended it had all been a nightmare. A nightmare filled with bullets flying. A cop's personal hell. Except this time it was far worse. The bullets had ricocheted harmlessly from alien's steel-hard body as she lashed out with her glowing eyes, bodies bursting into flames, the alien spreading death and destruction wherever she went. Cops were dying, some of them men he'd worked with, and nothing they did could slow the alien down. Like a badly plotted comic book, his nightmare was too thin on story and thick with senseless violence.
Unfortunately, when he opened his eyes, the damning report was still there on his desk. So were the gruesome pictures. It hadn't been a bad dream. It was the worst day of his life.
Twelve cops were dead. Not good cops perhaps, for every one of them had been on an Internal Affairs watch list, but still cops. They'd worked for too long in Vice, and were rumored to be running their own prostitution ring made up of young girls.
The stench of death still clung to his clothing and filled the room, the stink making his stomach turn. He closed his eyes to try to escape the images on his desk, but his mind's eye was filled with the gruesome image of two of the dead cops, sitting inside their patrol car, staring out the windshield with lifeless eyes. The alien had killed all twelve men by staring into their eyes, her heat vision melting its way into their brains, cooking them alive, bursting their skulls, leaving only hauntingly empty sockets behind.
He’d seen pictures like before, but had prayed he'd never see the results of such an attack in person. It was right after he'd joined the Omega Directorate Task Force. He and his small team of elite cops had been trained in alien countermeasures. They'd learned that two groups of hostile aliens were fighting a private battle on Earth, and when humans got in the way, they died horribly.
The trademark of one group, the so-called Arions, was to kill anyone who'd seen or said too much – by either burning out their eyes or by blows that broke bones and shattered bodies. Their opposition, the Velorians, were somewhat safer to deal with, but humans had died at their hands too. Mostly when they got caught in the crossfire.
The alien his men had just engaged had been codenamed Mandi in the Omega databases. He had no idea if that was really her name, and there was no last name listed. She’d broken into the department's IA files two days ago to steal the records of everyone who was under investigation. Twelve of the men from that list had just died.
Fred picked up the folder of photographs that citizens had taken of the alien. Most were blurry, but the two that weren’t showed a tall and athletic woman, her dark hair streaked with red highlights, her blue eyes unusually large and bright. One picture caught her in the act of launching a police car into the air. It had flown over a twenty-story building to land a quarter mile away, killing the officer inside. She'd lifted the car as if it was weightless.
That much fit the profile of an Arion Prime, although her hair wasn't raven black. Then he saw her fly, and realized that he was watching a alien who truly was neither Arion nor Velorian. They had their own look, statuesque and blonde, like something out of a Playboy centerfold. No, this woman was something far worse, he knew it in his bones.
They'd fought back. They had to, despite the futility of it all. The SWAT team hit her with everything they had, but the only casualties had been her clothing and the three cops who’d been injured by ricochets. He'd found it disturbing the way the bullets dimpled her nude body as the men continued firing, each part of her responding differently to the impacts. Sharp pings off bones, the bullet deflecting without losing much energy. A lethal spray of sparks and shrapnel when a bullet exploded against steel-flexed muscles, the wet THOK of bullets hitting her skull, and disturbingly, the dull thud of a bullet catching her breast, blunting away to kick up a small cloud of dust in front of her feet. It didn't seem to care where they shot her. Nothing slowed her down.
Now he had the EarthFirsters screaming to that news hounds that a new phase of alien intervention had begun. Fred didn’t think so. This alien was acting like a rogue. Her hair wasn't dark enough for her to be an Arion, and she definitely wasn’t Velorian. T
All he knew for sure was that she was killing San Francisco cops. That made her his problem – his first real problem since he'd taken over command of the SFPD’s anti-terrorist unit a month ago.
He rubbed his tired eyes and locked the damning file folders in the office safe. Slipping his gun back into its holster, he grabbed his badge and keys and walked stiffly toward the door. Between the long day, the paperwork and the horror of reliving that massacre, he was exhausted. The phone rang just as he was reaching for the doorknob. He paused, wishing that he could just continue out the door, but instead, he turned back and activated the receiver. Ingrained habits were hard to break. He’d been a cop for twenty years. There was no other life.
“Durst,” he said tersely.
“Captain Fred Durst?” A woman’s voice. He glanced at the vidphone screen, but her video was blocked.
“Yeah. Who’s asking?”
“I’m the woman whose pictures were just on your desk.”
Fred’s heart raced as a surge of adrenaline washed his fatigue away. The woman’s voice was low, and rich with overtones. Almost mesmerizing. The Omega files had mentioned that.
“You worked IA before you moved to the task force, Captain. You spent ten years trying to get dirty cops off the street. I’ve decided to help you.”
“By killing suspected bad cops in the street?” he replied angrily. “Without a trial, not even a god-damned hearing?”
“No. It’s murder, plain and simple.”
“Yes, I suppose you’d say that. A human perspective. Nevertheless, I’m going to do deal with your dirty cops my way. You can’t stop me.”
“So why the fuck are you calling me?” he asked angrily.
“Meet me at Donagans’s and I’ll tell you.”
Donagan’s was a overpriced watering hole over on North Beach, sandwiched between Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf. Its claim to fame was the high-class escort girls who hung out there. If you could afford a thousand dollar date with a woman who looked like a supermodel, you’d find her in Donagans.
“When?” Fred looked at his watch. It was already 9:30 p.m.
“I’m calling from there.” The phone clicked dead.
“Shit,” he breathed as he punched up the number of the SWAT team commander. The phone range twice, and then he quickly hung up before anyone answered. No, there was no way he was going to send the SWAT team in. Not after today. All he'd get was more dead cops. Good ones this time.
He debated calling the Feds, but figured it would come out the same. While the Omega Directorate teams had been created to take down the aliens, and they had all the firepower on Earth, they’d proven inadequate to the task of taking down one of these Primes. It was only the weaker Betans that they could handle.
The Primes were almost always female. Same as the Vels. Nobody understood why. “Just like spiders,” he said to himself. "The dangerous ones are always female."
Not that there weren't theories. Someone had once speculated that it was to easier hide among humans if you were an attractive woman. A truly beautiful women could go anywhere, and most of the aliens looked like a cross between a supermodel and Miss America. Even worse, some of the analysts had concluded that the aliens could clutter men's minds up with overwhelming feelings of desire and lust, almost as if they were emitting sexual pheromones. It worked like a smokescreen, except the pheromones worked on a person’s emotions, create a sense of arousal that drove men mad.
He decided that if he was going to risk meeting an alien, he'd go alone. It wasn't that he was particularly brave, but this Mandi person had called him. She needed something that he had. He attached one of the small surveillance cameras that the department had recently purchased to his jacket. It was the size of a dime and fit inside his pocket, a tiny fiber optic poking through the fabric to record everything he saw and heard. Maybe he’d learn enough to be useful to Omega -- if he survived.
He slid into his plainclothes car and headed toward North Beach. Luckily, the drive was fast tonight. The tourists were back in the safety of their hotels and the locals weren’t out partying as usual. The disaster near the Wharf had momentarily dampened the spirit of this great city.
He knew things would be back to normal next week. San Franciscans were a resilient bunch. Given that the bay area had been tactically nuked twice by terrorists back in the 20’s, they had to be.
Pulling up to the front door of Donagans, he handed his keys to the valet and walked inside.
A tall, buffed blonde dressed in black leather and a motorcycle hat greeted him just inside the door. Her widely-spaced blue eyes and perfect smile looked like it belonged on the cover of Cosmopolitan, not to mention her 5'11" height.
“Captain Durst,” she greeted him, holding out her slender hand, “Mandi asked me to meet you.”
“You work for her?”
“Doesn’t everyone,” the blonde as she turned to lead the way through the darkened bar. A half dozen other women nearly as attractive as her were sitting talking to some well-heeled looking clients.
The blonde opened a curtain and began to descend a curving stairway. Fred found himself staring at the way the thin leather of her pants clung tightly enough to reveal the smooth flex of toned muscles beneath. He'd never seen anyone as fit as this woman.
Struggling to pull his eyes from her backside, he focused instead on the rough-hewn rock walls, apparently carved out of the native rock. He saw finger-shaped grooves, even places where fingernails had been used to scrap rock away. "This place was dug out of solid rock?" he asked, trying to stay calm.
The blonde nodded. "It took me a week. This old lava is tough stuff, but it was great exercise."
Fred looked at the ceiling as he wondered whether the blonde was skillful enough to ensure the walls wouldn’t cave in. What did someone who looked like a Cosmo model know about mine engineering?
It didn't help a bit that he felt a touch of claustrophobia starting to set in. He tried not think about the ceiling collapsing.
By the time he'd descended a hundred steps, he was having trouble breathing as a touch of panic set in. He'd always had a touch of claustrophobia. It didn't help that the stairs leveled out at that point and entered a very narrow corridor, the light low enough that he could only see his guide blonde hair glowing in front of him. He had to turn sideways to squeeze down the corridor, his back and chest rubbing against the rock walls on both sides as he shuffled along. His heart was in his throat as he followed the blonde around a half dozen tight corners, fearing each time that he was going to get stuck.
The passage finally dead-ended in a wider section of tunnel that was blocked by a tall rectangular block of granite. The massive block was wider than the corridor, and set into deep grooves on the sides. The top extended up into a chimney in the ceiling. Obviously a doorway of sorts.
The blonde bent down to slip her fingers into deep handholds near the base of the block, and began to lift. The glove-thin leather of her outfit did nothing to hide the maze of hard curves that suddenly shaped her back and legs. She was clearly working hard as the block began to groan and then rise, the sides scraping noisily against the crude track that had been cut into the corridor walls. The floor lurched beneath his feet.
“Jesus,” Fred breathed as the block slowly rose high enough for him to see under it. It was ten feet thick! He did a quickly calculation, only to conclude that it had to weigh hundreds of tons.
“Go inside,” the blonde said as she stepped to the side, holding the block high overhead. “And if you’re wondering, about four hundred.”
“Four hundred what?” he blinked at her.
Fred looked through the opening, his heart pounding painfully, cold sweat pouring down his forehead. There would be nothing left of him but a grease spot on the floor if that block fell while he was under it. He looked back at the blonde, and was reassured to see that she didn't seem to be having trouble holding the block. He finally screwed up his courage and quickly squeezed past her. Her body felt as hard as steel.
Turning back once he was inside the cavern, he watched as she walked her hands under the block until she was standing on his side. She was really pumped up as she slowly lowered it, her leather outfit stretched so tightly over those hard curves that it might as well have been painted on.
“Are you a Velorian?” he blurted out.
She smiled as she stood back up and brushed off her hands. Her fingers were long with perfectly manicured nails, yet her hands were lean and sinewy. The strongest hands he’d ever seen. “And exactly what do you think you know about Velorians?”
“Just what I’ve read on the Web,” he lied. He’d actually seen the detailed Omega briefings on their capabilities and social conventions. Surprisingly, the two accounts of Velorians, one supposedly fiction and the other highly classified, didn’t differ that much.
"Uh, huh," she nodded nochalantly.
“Nice simple security system you have,” Fred observed as he gestured back toward the block.
“Just a little racial profiling. If you can’t lift the block, you don’t get in.”
Or out, Fred realized as he tried to think of a response. The steep steps and narrow, twisting corridors would block any mechanical equipment from being maneuvered through the tight spaces. The other way in was to use explosives, but it would probably take one of those nuclear bunker-busters, and that would wipe out a few city blocks of North Beach. He finally said, “I’d compliment you on your fitness, but that would probably be like telling the Pope he was religious.”
The blonde smiled as she closed her fist and made a muscle, a startlingly defined biceps rising from her slender arm. “Where I come from, I’m not exactly considered strong.”
“But you’re all physically enhanced? Genetic engineering?”
She as she turned to lead the way down the corridor, glancing back at him over her shoulder, “Given that my ancestors were as human as you, Swedish in fact, yeah, a lot of tweaking.”
Fred stared at her boot heels, realizing that unlike his shoes, they made no noise on the rock floor. Amazingly, she was walking on air. Even more fascinated by that, he was still staring intently at her as she settled back to Earth in front of a delicately carved, varnished wooden door. It looked completely out of place in the roughly hewn stone corridor. She turned to look back into his eyes.
“O.K. You ready for this?”
Fred glanced from her eyes to the door and back. “She’s in there? Mandi?”
The blonde nodded. “And I’ll be out here if you need me.”
“Who are you?” he asked, eyebrows lifting.
“I’m sure Mandi will explain everything.” She reached past him to turn the doorknob, pushing the door open in front of him.
Fred gave her a last inquiring glance before walking through the doorway. The room beyond was very large, shaped in a semi-circle, with bookshelves built into the rock walls and rising thirty feet overhead. A series of reading chairs were located on a richly colored Persian rug in front of a fireplace. A faint scent of wildflowers filled the room.
He walked into the middle of the room, only to see the same woman who’d murdered a dozen of his fellow officers entering through a second doorway.
She was dressed in a leather jump suit that covered her from head to toe, with the front unzipped to just below her navel, revealing the swell of her breasts and her flat stomach. Her eyes were large and blue as she stared back into his. She was the most beautifully dangerous woman he’d ever seen.
“I hope Sharon took good care of you coming in,” she said softly. Her voice was even more musical in person than on the phone. Warm and sibilant, almost identical to the blonde’s.
“Her trick with that block of granite was interesting.”
“It wasn’t a trick. She was born on Velor. A powerful P1, although for some reason she wound up as a Scribe.”
“And she works for you now?” Fred asked doubtfully. Everything he knew about Velorians said they were all on a mission of peace. Saving humanity from the dark side of the Empire. They’d never align themselves with a criminal.
“Most of her sisters keep busy trying to save the galaxy,” Mandi nodded. “Except for the Scribes like her. They just keep track of the Protectors. Keep score, whatever. But as you can see, I’ve borrowed Sharon’s services for a while.”
“And now you want something from me?”
Mandi turned and bent down to rearrange a log in the fire. She used her bare hands despite the bright flames, reaching in to the elbow, her leather sleeve smoking slightly. “You’ve been trying to clean up your department for a long time, Captain. Now you’ve been assigned to protect this city from my kind.” She stood back up to hold a brilliantly glowing coal in her hand, watching as his eyes homed in on it. “I can tell you now, you will not succeed at either task without my help."
“Why do you care about some city police department? There’s corruption everywhere. And as far as aliens go, I’ve never met one of you before today.”
“Cops are all about power, Captain. They can use it for good or evil. There are men in your department who exploit women, a lot of them only young girls. They sell them into slavery when they aren’t protecting the other men who exploit them.”
Fred stared uncomfortably at her glowing hand. “And why do you care so much about…”
Mandi crushed the coal into a cloud of sparks that fell to cover the stone floor in front of her. She walked barefoot across the glittering coals to sit in the chair facing him, crossing her legs. “I was once a slave of the Arions, Captain Durst. A young girl who was given to one Prime or another to warm his bed until I finally escape. I have no love for the Empire and their twisted morality.”
Fred wasn't impressed. “Morality? You talk about morality after killing my fellow cops in cold blood. They didn't have a fucking chance to explain or defend themselves.”
“Explain themselves?” Mandi said, raising her voice. “What explanation could they give for selling 13-year-old girls into sexual slavery, crushing the life out of their souls?"
"We have laws and a system of justice to..."
"Justice," she laughed. "There is no justice for such men. All you have to do is to look into the eyes of a young girl who has been beaten and raped and see the helpless despair to know that she'll never be whole again. There is not justice other than death for the men who sanction such slavery."
Fred was silent. He'd seen that hollow too many times. The girls had withdrawn from the world, tuning out the horror of what men did to them.
"Anyone responsible for that kind of exploitation deserves to die," Mandi emphasized.
“There is never a justification for killing in cold blood.”
“You tell me a better way,” Mandi said sharply, her voice rising. "Despite all your years of service, all your efforts, you haven't brought any of them to your so-called justice."
Fred stood tall, squaring his shoulders. He wasn't going to argue justice and morality with this alien. “If you want to help, then get me hard evidence on them. Otherwise, you can go straight to hell!”
Mandi smiled malevolently back at him. “I’ve already been there, Captain Durst. Now I’m going to clean up this dirty little planet of yours. With or without your help."
"Then why the fuck am I here?" he asked, his anger growing.
"You're going to help me."
"You can go straight to hell if you think I'm going to have any part in your vigilantism!" Fred said angrily.
Mandi Olson’s malevolent smile turned softer, her eyes sparkling blue as she stared back at him. He felt a wash of heat warming his body, and the horrors of the day returned. She killed most of the cops by burning them alive with those same eyes. He choked back the fear. Standing face-to-face with a cop-killer, he knew he couldn't show fear.
"Don't be so hasty, Captain. I haven't even made my offer yet."