San Francisco City Hall
Mayor Angelo Bendaro was in the middle of his third press conference of the day. The brutal murders of the dozen police officers was the top story in the nation, and it wasn’t pleasant facing the cameras without answers, but it was his job to try to appeal to the public to stay calm.
He was at the podium, answering questions from a reporter from Channel 13 when he was startled by the sudden appearance of a stunningly attractive blonde girl. She wore the distinctive red and blue uniform of a Protector, and was floating over the crowd, seemingly unaware of the revealing nature of her tiny skirt.
“Mr. Mayor, I have an important message for you.”
“Message?” the Mayor replied angrily as he held his ground in front of the mike. “I thought the message was that you Velorians were supposed to protect us from those Arions?”
Xara ignored him as she landed lightly beside him and turned to face the cameras. “You all know that you have many corrupt men in your police force. Men who exploit women. Men who are as evil as the Arions you fear so much. I want you to turn your attentions toward bringing them to justice. If you do that, my friend Mandi Olson will no longer have to bring them to justice herself.”
“Your friend!” the Mayor gasped. “That murderous Arion?”
Xara continued to ignore him, her eyes unfocused and soft as she stared out at the sea of cameras. “Mandi says not to fuck with her. Instead, if you need to fuck with someone, fuck me.”
Her shocking words had barely been registered by the microphones when she crossed her arms and pulled her blue top off. She let it fall to the floor as she walked forward to the edge of the stage.
A stunned silence fell over the crowd, and then the cameras swiveled in toe capture her nude upper body. The flashes from individual photogs reflected brightly from her unfocused blue eyes.
Seemingly startled by the flashes, her eyes focused and a look of complete confusion crossed her face. Looking down at herself, she gasped loudly and crossed her arms over her bare chest. Her face and neck blushed bright red.
“My God, what am I…”
She knew the answer without being told. Mandi and her hypnotic suggestions. The last thing she remembered was confronting her at the site of that carnival along the coast. The flashes of the cameras must have been her awakening signal.
Moving as fast as thought itself, she turned and grabbed her top before throwing herself at the back wall of the auditorium, the impact knocking half the people in the auditorium off their feet. A violent explosion of shattered brick and torn rebar followed her across the alley behind City Hall, shatter the windows of the building behind and injuring several people.
Xara saw none of that. She was flying as fast as she could, seemingly trying to outrun her shameful exposure.
Sonic booms rolled across the countryside as a brilliant glare high in the sky startled people. Looking up, they saw a spot as bright as the sun flying arrow straight from horizon to horizon.
Fred Durst’s Home
Fred stood in his living room facing Sharon, fists clenched, his growing anger finally conquering his latent arousal. His mind was clear enough now that he could trust his emotions. “First you make love to me,” he shouted angrily, the hollow feeling in his stomach suddenly replaced with a cold knot of fear, “and now you threaten to kill me and my family? What kind of monster are you?”
“You won’t feel anything. Your wife and son won’t even know it happened. I can promise you that.”
“Just instant oblivion? That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“It will only happen if you chose such a fate for them.”
Fred sagged into a chair. He knew enough about Velorians to know that nothing on Earth could stop her if she was determined to kill his family, and that realization turned his anger into a cold fury. A fury he could control, and one he could use to stay focused on his task. He knew with a sudden, cold certainty that he had to play along. He'd fallen too deeply into Mandi's pretty trap.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked, forcing the weariness of defeat into his voice.
Sharon rose to pace back and forth in front of him. The drifting softness of her eyes was suddenly replaced by rapid eye movements. “Sort through all the police records in San Francisco, and list every man you suspect of being involved in trafficking children. Form a task force to work with other police departments all across the country. Start a campaign to clean up child exploitation. Get other good cops to help you rank dirty cops by their assessment of their likely guilt. Get the press involved.”
“In other words, you want me to tell your boss who to kill?”
“Just identify the guilty, Fred. Find the cops who are beyond the reach of the law. Dig the vermin out of the sewer of their depravation and leave them to us.”
Fred looked at her strangely. She sounded just like Mandi. He was certain now that the Arion was controlling her thoughts. His spirits rose marginally as a squirt of adrenaline quickened him. This was the part of being a cop that he loved. Taking an idea, a hunch, and running with it, using it to pry open an otherwise unsolvable tangle of clues. Working his way around a dangerous criminal instead of tackling them head on. He stared at Sharon as she stood in front of him, her hands on her hips, her eyes bright and clear. If she was being controlled, then there had to be a way to break her out of it.
“So what did Mandi tell you to do if I cooperated?”
“Reward you with anything you want.”
“Like I get three wishes or something?”
Sharon shrugged. “You can ask anything of me, if that’s what you mean. No limits.”
Fred’s mind raced wildly. He was trying to think of the most physically shocking thing he could ask her to do. Something that would break Mandi’s hypnotic control. Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of anything that would be physically shocking to a Velorian. Electricity, cold, cold, heat, weapons. None of that would work.
Then it came to him. The real power was inside her body. He had to get her to direct it against herself. Smiling, he felt the solution suddenly coming to him.
“I just want one thing Sharon. I want to help you experience the same pleasures you brought me in the kitchen.”
Her eyes opened wide, and then she shook her head. “That’s impossible for you to help me with. You would not survive.”
“My only help will be my eyes. Watching you.”
Taos, New Mexico
Kara looked up from her book as the SatPhone rang. Working under the name of Lisa Banks, she was the CIO of one of the largest corporations in the world, and she was enjoying her last day of vacation before heading back to the office in San Francisco.
While everyone at Tyrell Pharmaceuticals thought Lisa had been on a long overdue vacation in the South Pacific, she'd actually spent the last two weeks visiting her sister Lillith who was a Protector on a distant planet named Tetra. She'd been ten thousand light years away from Earth while her Vice Presidents handled the routine affairs of the company. Flying through the dense gravity wells and star-like heat of a dozen wormholes, she'd used her remarkable energy and the space-bending character of the wormholes to travel thousands of light years in less than a single Terran day. It certainly wasn't the usual vacation itinerary for a top executive of one of Earth's major corporations. But then, nobody had ever accused Lisa of being ordinary.
She spoke for a few moments before hanging up the phone.
"Crystal, print out the file that was on that holo that Zalen gave you. He claims there’s some document from Velor that I need to deal with.
An extremely muscular blonde walked across the room to hand Lisa two sheets of paper. Dressed in a purple sleeveless shirt that left her midriff bare, and a pair of white shorts, she paused to fasten her hair up as she looked back at Lisa.
“I thought you were still on vacation, boss?”
Lisa scanned the papers and then looked up at her longtime friend and assistant. Crystal looked so different now. When she’d come to work for Lisa, she’d had bright red hair and an unexercised body going to seed. She’d been a lesbian woman in her thirties who was about to leap right into middle age.
No one who’d known Crystal then would recognize her now, given that her enhanced DNA was closer to Velorian than human now.
“I don’t know if this is a joke or for real,” Lisa laughed. “I have to pay taxes?”
“They still had your old address in Big Sur.”
Lisa scanned the document a second time.
“You could always just ignore it, boss. Nobody is going to come halfway across the galaxy to collect taxes.”
“But they went to the trouble of sending this notice.”
“That’s what Messengers do. Carry messages. And provide an odd bit of Velorian friendliness.”
Lisa smirked. “Friendliness?”
“Well, given that Zalen’s a cross between that comic book Superman and a porn star, yeah...”
“Which is obviously why you and Xara enjoy his visits so much.”
Lisa blushed faintly. “We train together, Crystal. There are certain forms of combat that need constant training.”
“Combat? Does calling it that make it easier for you to rationalize the fact that Xara is doing the dirty with him almost the entire time he’s on Earth?”
“She’s almost eighteen. What do you expect of a Velorian girl who’s…”
Lisa’s words were suddenly interrupted by a piercing tone that filled the room. The wall-sized display screen lit the room with a soft red glow. Both women turned to see an image of a huge rocket exploding. The CNN announcer’s voice grew audible as Lisa’s automatic content sensor brought the breaking story to the forefront of her screen. The screen expanded outward to form a three-dimensional hologram in the middle of the room as the announcer described a serious malfunction of a military launch at Vandenburg.
The holographic image of the fireball was so brilliant that both women imagined they could feel the heat. Lisa was relieved to hear that CNN didn't think anyone had been killed, although some campers on the nearby beaches had been burned. She was shocked to hear that the fireball had blossomed nearly a mile wide.
“That wasn’t far from the old house in Big Sur,” Crystal gasped. “A hell of a bang.”
“Xara is going to kill me.”
“For what? Not being everywhere at once? Even you need some down time.”
“No, for not going back to Washington and forcing the issue of her putting an end to these chemical rockets.”
“No way, Lisa. Xara’s proposal to the NASA brass was incredibly naïve.”
“Naïve, but well intentioned. I could have made them listen.”
“And been in complete and total violation of the PD.”
Lisa slumped back in her seat. “As if we’re not already. Especially Xara.”
“You never did tell me what happened to her that day.”
“Xara was as impetuous and impatient as ever, Crystal. Fortunately, a friend managed to send me the surveillance RamCube from the building’s security system before the Omega people got their hands on it.”
“Let’s see it.”
Lisa rose to put a cube into the loading slot on the PersComp. The wall lit up with an image of the lobby of a typical-looking government building.
The screen showed Xara walking across the lobby of the Executive Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, and brusquely pushing her way past the normally protective NASA receptionist. She opened the electrically locked door by slipping her slender fingers into the gap between door and frame, and jimmying the lock. An alarm began to sound as she strolled down a brightly lit hallway and into the NASA Board Room.
NASA's Executive Committee was meeting there, engaged in the seemingly endless task of preparing for the submission of its annual budget.
Xara drew every eye in the room as she boldly walked up to the front of the room. She'd dispensed with her red and blues to dress in a formal suit and tie. With the help of her Mom's friend, Pierre Entraderre of Paris, she wore a very expensive purple velour suit, a golden tie and blue hanky. The outfit had been part of the spring showing in Paris and the hem was 2050 short. The outfit was supposed to make her seem older and more mature.
Xara crossed her arms and looked back curiously at the men who stared agape at her. She’d learned enough about how her appearance affected men to realize that it would take them a few minutes to adjust to her presence. More than a few humans were of the opinion that her people were akin to goddesses. She had no desire to discourage such thinking.
The committee chairman sputtered. “Young lady, exactly who are you and what are you doing here? This is a closed meeting.”
The chairman obviously wasn’t a believer. Nor did he recognize faces very well.
She ignored the chairman to instead make eye contact with a rumpled man wearing a goatee who sat at the far end of the table.
“Dr. Ricktofen, I think you know my mother?”
Dr. Gunter Ricktofen was the NASA expert in anti-gravity propulsion, a technology that they’d learned by taking apart crashed Arion ships. He nodded as he remembered how Xara’s mother had saved his life after he’d run into a couple of Arion Betans who resented his scavenging equipment from their crashed ship. His native German accent was very audible as he said, “Give my regards to KaraZ.”
Xara nodded. “I will indeed, Dr. Ricktofen.”
Ricktofen rose to his feet. "Gentleman, the young lady in the front of the room is Xara Zor'El. She's a Velorian."
Despite her seeming calm, Xara’s five-chambered heart was beating fast as she reached into her pocket to retrieve the RamCube containing her holo. She took a deep breath and plugged it into the viewer.
A brilliant ten-foot tall hologram formed in the middle of the room to show a Gen-2 Space Shuttle on the verge of launch. The sound of clinking metal and spinning servos combined with the vapor that was coming off its LOX tanks to make it seem real enough to send a chill through the room. For all the world, it appeared as if the committee was five feet away from a miniature version of the Shuttle.
The rocket engines ignited and the image of the miniature shuttle roared upward and seemingly through the ceiling. When the roar died away, the room was left filled with holographic smoke that looked so real that everyone instinctively held their breath, not daring to inhale what they knew were powdered metal exhaust fumes.
It was exactly the effect Xara had hoped for as she began talking about environmental damage caused by solid fuel rockets and ozone depletion from high altitude rocket burns.
“Gentlemen, I would like to offer you my services to launch all of your space vehicles. You will no longer need your chemical rockets until you are outside the atmoshpere.”
The men stared at her for a long moment, and then everyone started talking at once. The chairman shouted for calm.
Xara continued to focus on the man at the back of the room. "Dr. Ricktofen, you can appreciate what I am offering your agency. In return for my using the strength of my body to replace your chemical rockets, I will enable you to reach further into space than ever before. You will no longer have to escape the gravity well of Earth."
The good doctor stood up to walk around the last tentacles of holographic smoke cloud to get a better view of Xara. "That depends on your lift capability, young lady. How much tonnage can you insert into low Earth orbit," he asked.
"Five million pounds on a vertical launch, assuming it’s constructed sturdily enough to withstand the grip of my hands," Xara said proudly. She'd done her homework by carrying different sized boulders into orbit just last week.
The doctor shook his head. "Not enough vertical launch capability, not nearly enough. The Gen2 Shuttle you are showing us alone weights ten times that at launch."
"But most of that weight is fuel that you no longer need," Xara responded. "I looked it up. Your biggest payload is less than three million pounds. I would not find that heavy."
Several of the men stared at the slender teenage girl as if she was daft. She looked like she would have trouble lifting twenty pounds over her head.
“Perhaps, but that presents certain logistical…” Ricktofen started to say.
He was interrupted as the committee chairman spoke up. He glanced at his watch, angry that his carefully planned meeting schedule had been disrupted. "Young lady. This is not a fashion show and you are out of line here. I don't care if you've leaped from the pages of our comic books or not, you will not interrupt our meeting. Please leave before I have you thrown out."
Xara showed no visible reaction as she slowly turned to stare at the door. Two brilliant beams flashed from her eyes to weld the hinges shut. Her eyes turned cool blue again as she looked back down at them.
"No one is leaving until you understand the danger that your rockets pose to Earth's atmosphere and to the people near your launch sites. Especially those solid fuel boosters. They fill the air with poisonous particles that last for days after a launch."
"I beg your pardon, but the EPA has never objected to..."
"Let her finish," Ricktofen interrupted. "I'm sure she has thought this out."
"Right," Xara said as she walked back around the podium. "As I was saying, your rockets contaminate the air. You also use tremendous amounts of energy to just get out of the gravity well of Earth. An accident would be disastrous to those on the ground. You remember the various crashes of the first generation of shuttles. Not to mention Andromeda four years ago."
"Yes, yes, we know," the Chairman replied with an impatient wave of his hand. "But we fixed the O-rings, heat tile problems and the engine malfunctions. "
Xara continued, her eyes focused on the doctor's alone now. "Until the next unanticipated problem.”
“You are an unanticipated problem,” the chairman growled.
“I am the solution, gentlemen. I could stage your equipment in orbit and you could assemble your ships there."
"With no gravity well to escape..." Ricktofen nodded as his words trailed off. He began to do some mental arithmetic.
Xara and Neil and a couple of his friends from school had already done the math. "It means that you could colonize Mars with your existing equipment, Doctor."
The German scientist paused in mid-thought as he shook his head. "It would require we re-engineer all the payloads. And some of that larger ones we have planned are outside the window of what you’ve described."
"There are ways to lift more weight. Watch this." Xara pushed the button to start the embedded film clip that Neil had embedded in her presentation. It showed a huge Russian submarine surging out of the water to slowly climb upward on makeshift wings. The wings were each two hundred feet in width and appeared to have been hammered out of solid titanium.
"That submarine weighed twenty-two thousand tons,” she said proudly. “But by having it fly with those wings that I welded on, I was able to support it by atmospheric lift until I accelerated to escape velocity. That submarine, along with two others which were just as dangerous, are now on the dark side of the Moon."
The men stared down at Xara’s in shock. Her legs, which had looked impossibly strong in the brief film clip, looked slender and shapely now beneath her miniskirt.
"Video like that is easily faked, young lady," the Chief of Propulsion said as he joined the discussion.
"I think she's telling the truth," said a man in uniform who was the committee's liaison to the military. "The Russians have reported losing a number of submarines that had been laid up for leaking reactors. Not officially of course. But those old subs were environmental disasters waiting to happen." He paused as he looked uncomfortably around the room. "Some of those subs still had nuclear weapons on board when they vanished."
"They don't anymore," Xara said proudly. "I tossed them all into the sun where they belong."
Several of the committee members were shaking their heads now. The very idea of a teenage girl in possession of nuclear weapons was preposterous. Alien or not, she was barely more than a child.
The Chairman made his decision. He turned back to face the other committee members. "We have only until Friday to get this budget reviewed, people, and we don't have time for this girl and her foolishness."
"Foolishness?" Xara said angrily as she floated off the floor. She performed a slow somersault over their heads to momentarily interrupt the hologram by flying through it. She landed on the table directly in front of the Chairman. Her small fists were clenched so tightly that a small curl of smoke rose from each hand.
"Yes, foolishness," he said bravely as his eyes rose upward, her long legs towering over him. Suddenly very aware of how revealing her short skirt was at this angle, he quickly rose to his feet, his face now at waist level. "Even if you can do as you say, Earth is for humans. We don't need the help of your kind. We refuse to become dependent on some race of superwomen to get our ships up into space, for Christ's sake!"
A murmur of assent from the other men floated across the room. This was the rhetoric of the EarthFirst movement. Xara turned to see that Ricktofen alone had fallen silent. He slowly took a card from his shirt pocket and walked over to hand it to her.
"Your ideas have much merit, Xara. If you are serious about pursuing them, then you should call me and make an appointment. Until then, I really think we have more urgent matters to attend to. As you know, the Federal Assembly wants to cut our budget for next year."
Xara floated lightly down from the table to stand in front of him. "If you accept my offer, you won't need much of a budget.'
Ricktofen looked at her apologetically as he lowered his voice so that only she could hear it. "This is still Washington, Xara, and money is the fuel that enables us to prepare for the coming battle that your Scribe has warned us of. Power goes to those with the budget. Leave those of us who believe in your cause to the task of preparing this unwilling country to fight your battle with you. I will return later to work with you on this other dream."
Taos, New Mexico
"She didn't take his advice, did she?" Crystal asked.
"Xara has rarely taken anyone's advice and she didn't take the good doctor's. Instead, she returned to the podium and told the Board that her only payment would be that the chemical rockets on Earth would be destroyed in an environmentally friendly way. Something she volunteered to personally arrange by tossing them into the sun."
"That must have thrilled them. Boys and their toys."
"Xara insisted on explaining it to them all over again. She went on and on until she was almost in tears. The Chairman was very rude to her."
"Typical human behavior," Crystal said disgustedly. “More than just the EarthFirst propaganda, they were probably frightened by her powers.”
Lisa looked up at her friend. Crystal had been born human, but Kara was starting to worry that she was losing touch with her humanity. That Crystal was thinking of herself as above it all.
"Anyway," Lisa continued, deciding to confront Crystal on that point later, "Xara doesn't handle rejection well and she threatened to destroy all their rockets anyway. That's when the chairman started to quote our own Prime Directive to her. Xara was so frustrated that she forgot she'd fused the hinges when she jerked the door open."
Crystal nodded. "EarthFirst had a field day with that. Alien threatens to destroy NASA’s launch program."
"How could I forget? The EarthFirst people were definitely pulling the strings, especially with the press. They seem determined to expose us again."
“We both know Xara shouldn’t have been there.”
Lisa stared off into space.
"Even worse, Lisa, I read that the committee responded by voting on a budget proposal to begin development of an even larger solid-fuel booster rocket. The doctor was the only dissenter and he got out-voted."
"You know, Crystal," Lisa said as her eyes focused back inside the room again, "I wonder if I shouldn’t have let her go through with her threat. It would have prevented this mess." She pushed a button to bring back the hologram of the exploding Shuttle.
"Don’t you remember why you told her not to do it, love?" Crystal asked softly a she began to massage her boss' shoulders.
Lisa leaned her head back, cradling it between Crystals firm breasts. She sighed contentedly as her friend’s powerful hands began to work on her suddenly tense muscles. "I know only too well. My usual pitch. That we shouldn't make it too easy for the people of Earth. To make them so dependent on our special abilities that their scientific and engineering expertise atrophies and they lose the ability to take care of themselves." Lisa paused before closing her eyes to sigh wearily. "We’ve seen enough of that already as computers make most of the day to day decisions."
"Now that's a weird remark coming from the CIO of Tyrell," Crystal giggled in Lisa's ear. "I thought your job was to computerize everything?"
"Not to the point where people lose the ability to think," Lisa replied quickly. She opened her eyes to stare back at the hologram. Bits and pieces of flaming wreckage were still falling. "It looks like the debris is spreading across the beaches for miles in both directions."
Crystal nodded. "That area is, or rather, was, a wildlife refuge."
"I'd better get ready for a very unpleasant conversation at dinner tonight. There is always hell to pay when Xara is denied. Especially when she's right. She always takes it out on me."
"Well, Lisa, who else can she vent on but supermom herself," Crystal said with a smile. "She blows Eric and Neil away, for a couple of reasons, both of which you know. She can be quite indiscreet with her pheromones around them. I feel so sorry for Eric sometimes."
Lisa swiveled her chair around to look at her friend, a concerned look in her eyes. "I didn't realize that it was that obvious, Crystal. But yes, I often have to help him after she’s been acting up that way. After being around me for so long, he's hyper-sensitive to Velorian pheromones.” She smiled. “Just like someone else I know."
Crystal slipped her strong hand down the top of Lisa’s blouse, and Lisa reached up to hold her friend's hand as Crystal responded to her cue by giving her boss an intimate squeeze, one that mere steel would have succumbed to. Both women sighed softly in pleasure as they enjoyed the quant Velorian embrace.
It was a minute later when Crystal released Lisa's now faintly glowing breast. The tax notice had fallen to the floor. More importantly, Lisa's erect nipples looked like they were going to rip their way through the top of her blouse. She sat up straighter as she adjusted her top.
"So, how'd it go with you and Eric while I was gone?" Lisa asked as her breathing slowed. Her eyes sparkled mischievously. She was clearly uninterested in business now.
Crystal laughed, the sound like the tinkling of crystal chimes. "Lisa! Surely you don't really want to hear about it. I mean, God, you are such a voyeur sometimes. He is your husband after all!"
Lisa floated up from her chair to wrap her arms around Crystal's neck, hugging her face close. "And you are my secret lover. The one who knows every aspect of my body as intimately as Eric. I sincerely hope you did a good job of helping him while I was gone. It's the only way to keep him sane and walking straight and out of trouble around Xara."
Crystal licked Lisa’s nose, then laughed. "OK, ok… yes, YES! He was very good. I was very good. He was completely enamored with my muscles.”
“Your muscles?” Lisa laughed.
“Hey, you’ve got the perfect bod and a face so beautiful that it belongs on the cover of every fashion magazine,” Crystal said, gazing into Lisa’s clear, blue eyes. “I’m definitely industrial grade. But he found one thing he liked about me.”
Crystal remembered how she’d found it strangely exciting that Eric was fascinated with the size and strength of her body. A tingle of excitement teased her even now as she remembered how he’d wrapped his hands around her biceps as she’d straddled him, asking her to make them even bigger as she went crazy on him. She liked to be appreciated for her hard work.
“You’re hardly industrial grade,” Lisa smiled, “but I am glad he finally found something he likes about you.”
“You’ve done wonders with him, Lisa, I mean physically. He’s nearly as difficult to injure as I am.” She paused to smirk at Lisa. “And at least one important part of him is fully Velorian grade.”
“You are bad,” Lisa laughed.
“It'd been a very long time since I'd been with a man, but as you instructed, I was not gentle with him at all."
Lisa leaned forward, her soft lips meeting those of her friend. Their kiss was deepening when the tone went off again and another priority newscast brightened the wall display.
“Shit, what now?” Crystal moaned.
“Oh my God,” Lisa gasped as she looked over Crystal’s shoulder.
Crystal spun around just in time to see a picture of Xara standing in front of a group of cameras, wearing only her red skirt.
“What the hell is she doing topless?”
Lisa leaped to her feet, her fists clenched. “Mandi. That bitch has been messing with Xara’s mind again.” She watched as Xara blinked into the bright camera flashes. Before Lisa could take another breath, Xara threw herself against the back wall of the stage, leaving a gaping hole.
An announcer’s face replaced the footage from City Hall. His remarks were not kind, and they were most certainly not respectful. Obviously, he was another EarthFirst lackey.
San Francisco Police Headquarters
Fred sat in his office chair, staring out the window at the building next door. Despite his assurances that he’d cooperate, he had no intention of handing any files or names over to Mandi.
He was nearly certain now that he’d been right about Sharon’s hypnotic control. Watching her as she pleasured herself, the air so thick with pheromones that his old ChemHazard breather and mask could barely filter them out, she looked very practiced at the art of self-pleasure, and it hadn’t taken her long.
Yet even with his mental preparation, even with his soaring expectations of Velorian strength, he hadn’t been prepared for what he saw in his living room. The wild glow from the simple friction of her fingers had turned her inner thighs cherry-red by the time she came uncorked.
The explosion of heat and sparks had momentarily blinded him, and her screams had blown all the windows out of his house. Blinking the dazzle away, he found himself standing ankle deep in plaster, glass and roofing material. The carpet was smoldering where she’d been lying, the outline of her lower body clearly visible, and there was a huge hole in his ceiling. She’d gone straight up. Clearly the power of her orgasm was the equal of her incredible strength.
He wondered again what kind of man could endure such power. A god for sure, but presumably there were Velorian men as well. But to create a race whose principal attribute was such fantastic loving… it seemed like something you’d read in cheap erotica. But the reality was that a race of beings created for that exact purpose held not only his fate in their hands, but that of the entire Earth.
He rose to look down at the street ten stories below. It was early afternoon. The night and the morning had passed without Sharon’s return. He prayed that the shocking power of her orgasm had undone Mandi’s hold on her. Otherwise, he and his family were doomed when he refused to turn over the names.
He pushed the button on his intercom. “Mary, would you get me everything we’ve got on a bar over in North End named Donagans.”
“And get me Colonel Pete McCormick in the Omega office. See if he’s free for dinner.”
Fred leaned back in his chair and contemplated his coming campaign. He was going to stop this rogue Arion. He might be just one man, but sometimes it took only one man to make a difference. A man who had the right friends. If he had Omega Team and Sharon on his side, maybe, just maybe, he’d find a way to bring Mandi Olson down.
He thumbed his intercom again. “And Mary, have Records dig anything they can up about a woman named Sharon Best. No address, but I suspect she’s a writer of some kind.”
“Not much to go on, boss.”
“Try anyway. She’s the key to putting an end to the killing.”
“Is it O.K. if I bring in the girls from Homicide. With a half dozen eyes searching, we’ll find your mystery woman faster.”
“Fast would be good, Mary.”
He hung up the phone, wondering how much time he had before Mandi would become suspicious. A few days? A week?
He had to find Sharon before then. She was the key to his survival.
Sharon blinked as she suddenly found herself standing on a stage while a hundred people sitting around dinner tables applauded. People started to stand as they clapped enthusiastically.
A standing ovation? For her? For what?
Confused and disoriented, she stared back at the crowd as she searched her memories for how she’d gotten here. She remembered driving to work in Boulder, to her job as a marketing director for a technology startup. She couldn’t remember arriving at work.
A quick glance above her revealed the Sales Excellence campaign banner.
She gasped. This was her annual Marketing Awards ceremony, an event that had been a week in the future when she last remembered going to work. She wasn’t ready for this!
Her heart raced wildly as she looked out at the smiling faces, all eyes focused on her. She’d intended to make this year’s sales event an extravaganza, as the company's revenue numbers were so good they were off the charts. First Engineering, and then her team, had pulled off a miracle, marketing the RamCube technology, a holographic storage device that was the most advanced on the planet. Their factories couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Fortunately, everything else about the sales event seemed to be in order, even if she wasn't. Her staff had clearly done an excellent job in her absence. But where had she been all week?
The President of Hi-Tech Industries, Jim Smothers, was standing at the speaker’s pedestal smiling at her. Glancing down at herself as the ovation went on and on, she was startled to see that she was wearing one of her more daring business outfits, the style very 2050ish. Cut deeply in the front, the skirt was also cutting-edge short. The latter was O.K, she had the legs for it, but disturbingly, she was carrying far more energy than she ever had at work. The top of her outfit was at least two sizes too small, and the button holding it closed was straining.
She looked back up at the crowd and tried to smile. If not for the gold ring she felt on one finger, its glow emboldening her like a couple of martini’s might an ordinary woman, she would have fled the stage.
Fortunately she didn’t have to say anything right away. Two of her managers took the podium to relate their accounts of the last year’s success, punctuated with more than a few anecdotes. Most of the poignant stories had to with her. One of the stories related how the entire atmosphere of the office changed whenever she got angry or emotional. Her subordinate described how that always enabled the staff to do their finest work. He graciously attributed it to her charisma and leadership.
Sharon knew it was just her pheromones. A little sexual arousal combined with adrenaline was just the stuff to motivate salesmen and marketing types.
Jim Smothers finally waved her over toward the podium. He put his arm around her as she smiled up into his face, his 6’7” height making her look short, even in her heels.
Her heart raced even faster. There was something magnetic about Jim Smothers. A power that everyone who’d met him sensed. A power great enough to affect even a Velorian.
“Tonight is your night, Sharon. Yours and the rest of your team. While it took Engineering to develop the leading storage technology on the planet, without your personal vision, it wouldn’t have been half the sales success it has been. Tonight you are our very own superwoman.”
Another round of applause.
Sharon stepped up to the podium. She didn’t have a clue what she was going to say, but the words always seemed to come when she needed them. She smiled at the crowd until the applause died and people sat down.
“Jim calls me your superwoman, but in reality, you are the one’s who deserve the honor tonight. The superteam of Hi-Tech Industries.”
The rest of her speech went predictably. Inspirational, a bit emotional, filled with references to the excellence of their products, along with hints of the great commissions they were all going to earn. The kind of pitch you could hear at any sales conference in any company. They were also words she’d said before, but which had never seemed as real as they did tonight. Success was a drug, and they were all drunk on it by the time the night was over.
It was after 10pm and the function room was empty when she walked backstage to look for her purse. Presumably she’d brought one with her, even if she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten here.
Her search was interrupted by a young boy’s voice from behind her. “Are you Supergirl?”
She spun around to see two young boys staring at her. They looked seven or eight years old. She recognized Jim Smothers’ kids. Jimmy and Derek she remembered from the Christmas party at his house.
“What kind of question is that?”
The boys looked at each other and then back at her. The same boy spoke again. “We saw you float down from the sky just like in the comic books.”
Sharon cursed under her breath. She obviously wasn't going to find her Lexus parked outside. Looking down at the excited look in their eyes, she remembered that boys this age were notorious for seeing things that weren’t real. For having imaginary friends and adventures.
“Can you guys keep a secret?”
They both nodded.
“I really am Supergirl, but I’m on a secret mission and you can’t tell anyone.”
“Is that why you don’t wear a cape?”
“That’s right. You can’t tell anyone I was here, otherwise the enemy will find out.”
Both boys’ eyes opened even wider. “The Evil Empire,” the second boy said, swallowing hard.
“Exactly. But you can’t even tell your mom or dad. They might say something to someone and the Arions would come to your house and maybe hurt them.”
The boys’ eyes grew even larger. Sharon hated to mess with their heads this way, suspecting they were already having nightmares about the Arions, but this was for their own protection.
“We won’t say anything, Supergirl.”
She reached over and took the horseshoe that was hanging on a bent nail on the dressing room door. Apparently some actor’s good luck symbol. Gripping the ends, the steel gave off a little squeal of protest as she slowly pulled her hands outward to straighten it. Using her little fingernail, she carved the boys' names into opposite ends of the steel shoe.
“You have to keep this safe for me now. This will be our secret sign.” She twisted her slender wrists to slowly tear the horseshoe into halves, the button of her white top nearly popping open as her chest expanded further. She handed a half to each boy, making sure they held the cooler ends of each piece.
“If anyone can put that horseshoe back together with their bare hands, and they are blonde, then you will know they are a friend of mine. You can talk to them.”
The boy’s eyes were huge as they turned and ran toward backstage door. “Wait until we tell Jaime. We saw Supergirl. We saw Supergirl!”