UCLA campus, Los Angeles
“Call for you, Professor."
Professor Dr. Kerry Patterson turned his eyes from the life-sized yet transparent hologram of Andi’s body that hovered in mid-air before him. The videophone opened the line for him and the transparent image was replaced by another holo of Andi, not transparent this time and wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
“What’s going on, Doc?”
“Hey, Andi. I’ve been studying your scans all day, and the more I dig into your circulatory and nervous system, the more amazing it gets. You look so normal on the outside, and the basic organs are in the right places, but everything else is tremendously different. There are two small organs that didn’t show on the normal scan, right by your breastbone, and nerve ganglia in places I’ve never seen, plus your two aortas and dual ventricles, it goes on and on. Fascinating.”
“Well, that was one of the reasons I called. There’s something important about me that I didn’t tell you today.”
“I have another special ability that you can’t pick up on your scans.”
“I’m overwhelmed enough as it is.”
“This one will really blow you away.”
“Can you give me a hint?”
“Not on the phone. Meet me late this afternoon to go for a ride on the beach. Just before sunset. The place is called Esplanade, a beach in Orange County just past New Irvine Boulevard. I’ll explain when you get here.”
“See you then.” The phone disconnected.
Kitja flopped back on her bed, amazed that she’d just had the courage to ask Kerry out. Even if she had had to disguise it as more scientific investigation. But done was done. Now she had to go through with her plan.
She sat back up and thumbtacked the cover of Surfer magazine to the wall in front of her. This would have to be her most deliberate and careful morph ever.
Taranto's Restaurant, North Beach, San Francisco
Fred stood up as Tammi approached the table and smiled at his old friend. She was wearing a striped red, white and black top, bare midriff, black jeans and boots, with dirty blonde hair hanging straight and long to frame her face, and she looked incredibly young and athletic, not to mention cute.
He decided that if he were fifteen years younger and single, she’d be in trouble. Then he thought of her gym sessions and the hints about her athletic lovemaking. No, he’d probably be the one in trouble, he smiled to himself. Except for that amazing hour with Sharon, his lovemaking had always been gentle and non-assertive. That was how Theresa liked it.
He gracefully guided Tammi to her seat.
“And here I thought true gentlemen were extinct,” she winked up at him. “Guess you must be over forty, huh?”
“Nice to see you too, Tammi,” he greeted her without any irony. “How are your workouts coming?”
“Which ones? In the gym or my bed?”
“Touche’,” he said with a little bow. “That kills that subject.”
“I’ve had enough encounters with superwomen lately.”
“Don’t I wish I could make that claim.”
“You have the hots for a Vel?” Fred asked, eyebrow rising.
“I’m straight, Fred. I’d just like to have her body.”
“You aren’t doing so badly yourself.”
“I guess that’s a compliment, and I guess it means something, given that your Velorian friend has set the bar kind of high.”
“Speaking of which, did you find anything about her?”
“Why don’t we order first?”
“You’re killing me. I don't like mysteries.”
“Not yet, I’m not. But she might.”
Fred acquiesced, and ordered a very nice Merlot. Tammi ordered fish and he finally decided on vegetarian. He’d been obsessed lately with losing the last bit of flab from his belly.
“So, do we celebrate?” Fred asked as he raised his wine glass.
Tammi lifted hers to clink with his. “Absolutely.”
Fred’s heart leaped, but he wasn’t sure if was from anticipation or fear.
“It seems your lady is a marketing director in a company in Boulder, Colorado. I got stalled out for a bit on your reference to her as a writer. Only two Sharon Bests were writers, and they were definitely not Velorians. But then I found an old reference to some stuff in an internet archive and was able to trace the supposed author to Boulder. From there, it wasn’t too hard to find her.”
“And you think it’s her?”
“One of my agents spent the last two days watching her. And before you ask, he just thinks she’s a con artist in some kind of fitness scam. He reported he’s never seen a woman as fit or as beautiful as her. That and enough blonde hair to live up to anything seen on a Vel’s head.”
“Sounds like her. What else?”
“A bit of an oddity for a Vel. Seems she’s married.”
“You’re kidding me?”
“And get this. To another woman who looks as kick-ass as she does.”
“She’s a lesbian?” Fred gasped. “No way, I mean, not the way she…”
Tammi tilted her head at Fred to interrupt him. “Just because she prefers her own gender doesn’t mean she’s incapacitated when she wants to make it with a guy. I mean, they probably hard-coded the Velorian equivalent to the Kama Sutra into the DNA for all we know.”
Fred looked disappointed.
“And why would you care? We’re trying to find her so we can kick that Olson woman’s butt, right?”
Fred nodded, confused as to why he was suddenly feeling so disappointed. Even betrayed. Some residual attraction from her pheromones? Some forbidden and unspoken middle-aged longings? Wherever the feelings came from, they were just going to foul up the mission. He pushed them away as best he could.
Tammi broke the silence. “So, we need to pay her a visit. Her office would be best. Given that she’s undoubtedly said nothing of her true nature to her co-workers, she won’t pull a hypersonic getaway there.”
“No,” Fred said with a shake of his head. “I think we should contact her in a neutral setting. At a mall, restaurant, someplace like that. She might not remember me, as she was under that hypnosis. Pushing into her personal space might invoke a reaction.”
“O.K. You’re the expert, Fred. You need any of my people standing by?”
“Negative. This stays just between us, Tammi. That was the deal.”
“For now. But we’ll need Omega assets if we start a campaign against Olson.”
“First things first.” He took out his phone and called back into the office, ordering up tickets and rental cars for the trip to Boulder.
“I’ve got an Omega supersonic leaving for Denver in two hours, Fred. You can ride with us.”
“You’d have to explain what I was doing on your plane. That would get awkward once we bring Omega in on this. They’d know you were working outside the system at first.”
“Right,” Tammi nodded, glad that Fred was thinking ahead. “I’ll get in ahead of you and try to track down where she’s going to be tonight. Call me when you get on the ground.”
An Orange Country Beach
Kitja rode a couple of miles down the beach and then back, trying to get used to the gray mare she’d rented from the livery. The mare was spirited and she liked that, as managing the horse took her mind off the way she looked. She’d nearly turned around and said to hell with it a couple of times while driving down from UCLA. Now that she'd done it, she was afraid that appearing as the spitting image of his girlfriend was going too far.
She'd gone the extra step to assembling an outfit that looked like the one Michelle had been wearing in that magazine ad. A red flowery bikini, looking almost like an old railroad engineer’s handkerchief, some Mexican silver formed into a broad belt, and a hat. A bit upscale for south Orange County beachwear, but she wanted to show the professor the whole package, and that meant getting the details right. The one thing she didn’t know was how Michelle’s voice sounded.
She was nearly back to the parking lot when she saw a man walk out onto the beach. It was him – the professor -- Kerry.
<![endif]>Her heart pounded as she slowed her horse about twenty feet from him, and then slipped lithely from the saddle. As Kerry walked toward her, she held her nervousness at bay by scratching the mare under its neck.
He looked confused. “Michelle? What are you doing here? I checked your agency and they said you were in Mexico on a shoot for two more days.”
Kitja debated going up and down in pitch from her usual voice, and finally to say nothing.
He walked up and started to put his arms around her to kiss her, but Kitja turned her head at the last moment. She wasn’t going to embarrass him.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“So, am I convincing?”
“What do you mean, convincing?”
Kerry jumped back as if he’d touched a hot stove. “That’s… impossible!”
“No, this is impossible.” Kitja rose up on her toes, and then kept rising for another couple of inches, wiggling her toes in mid-air. “I don’t think your girlfriend can do this.”
Kerry staggered and sat down hard on the sand. “Jesus Christ.”
She floated down beside him and knelt. “Sorry for the shock, but if there was anyone you’d know well enough to spot a forgery, it would be your girlfriend. I wanted to impress you.”
He stared at her for a long moment, studying first her face and then the front of her body. “Your breasts are wrong.”
“About a half size too big and riding a little too high.”
She smiled, pleased that his dry sense of humor had come back so fast. He was really intelligent, not to mention adaptable. “Hazards of my mom’s DNA,” she laughed. “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t fix them right now.”
“They look good. Better than Michelle’s.”
“I didn’t want better, but all I had was magazine picts to go by.”
“They always tweak those a bit.”
“Well, I can see you’re coming to grips with this quicker than I'd expected, Professor. I was afraid I might scramble your brain.”
"First rule of getting involved with an alien race: be ready for anything."
"That comes out of your physician's rule book, Dr. Patterson?"
"No, from hanging out on the the beaches of LA for twenty years. I've seen some things. And I thought you were going to call me Kerry."
"Your voice is way off, Andi. Michelle’s is lower, about where your voice was this morning. And she has a faint Swedish accent.”
“The tone I can fix, not sure about the accent but I’ll try.” She helped Kerry back to his feet. “Anything else wrong with me.”
He walked slowly around her, studying her body. “Hair is amazingly good. Right down to the different colored strands.”
“Cover photo on Surfer Mag was a good shot.”
“Your shoulders are a tiny bit too broad, and are you sure you’re not taller?”
“I don’t think so. She’s a hundred seventy-eight centimeters, isn’t she?”
“Ah, where’s the truth in advertising,” Kitja smiled.
“So, you wanna have some fun with this?” he asked.
Kitja’s heart leaped. While part of her dreamed he’d get sexy with her, another part of her was horrified that he would, knowing that it would be kinky or something. She didn’t think there was a term for morphing yourself into a man’s girlfriend and then sleeping with him, but if there was, it wouldn’t be nice. Michelle most certainly wouldn’t understand.
“There’s a beach party at my neighbors. Let’s go and test out your impersonation skills. You pretend to be Michelle and we’ll see if we can convince them. I’ll give you some background info on the way so you can at least carry on short conversations like she would.
“Sure. Yeah. Right.” Any excuse to hang out with Kerry was enough for her.
The ride to Redondo was slow because of the traffic, and it was dark by the time they arrived. He asked a hundred questions about her morphing ability, but she couldn't answer very many of them. She knew how to use that ability, but not anything about how it worked.
Instead, she tried to learn as much as she could from him about Michelle and her interests. It somehow seemed wrong when Kerry started telling her Michelle’s secrets, but he was really jazzed up, his eyes sparkling. A surfer boy out to pull a fast one on his buddies. Or maybe he was jazzed at the potential a Velorian shapechanger would have in his research. Or someone who looked like his girlfriend.
Dinner on the beach was perfect. The bottom line was that everyone totally bought into her as being Michelle, fake accent and all. She hung on Kerry’s arm, and they even kissed a couple of times, just for show of course. He touched her a lot, resting his hand on her thigh as they sat at the beach table, the brush of his fingers between her thighs silently driving her crazy. She presumed he was a touchy kind of guy and was trying to behave like he did with Michelle. Nobody seemed to be surprised.
She finally remembered that Michelle would have to go to the bathroom sometime during the night, she was human after all, so she rose and made her way into the house and up the stairs. She was halfway down the upstairs hallway, looking for the bathroom, when someone slipped his arms around her from the back. She felt a man’s kisses on her shoulder.
“Hey, baby, you’ve been spending way too much time with that stuffy professor of yours tonight. Any chance we can get out of here early and go dancing?”
Kitja spun around to face an older, Italian man. He was dressed like some Hollywood producer, with enough gold hanging off him to open a jewelry store. She shuddered at the sight of him. He looked like he'd stepped out of a bad movie.
“Last weekend was amazing,” he continued. “The Four Seasons sent me a bill for the broken bed.”
“Yes, amazing,” Kitja said, her thoughts reeling. Michelle was having an affair?
“Look, I got tickets for us to Fiji for next month. The cover is in place to make it look like a legitimate shoot. Your agent and I worked out the details.”
“That’s… great.” Kitja had no idea what the man’s name was.
“Give me a kiss before you go back down there.” He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. It was the most intense kiss Kitja had ever experienced – and utterly disgusting when his tongue found hers. Fearful of giving herself away, she instead jerked her foot to pull the Persian rug out from under him. He went down hard and hit his head. Kneeling beside him, she saw that he was out cold.
Hurrying back down to the party, she announced to the host that someone was lying in the upstairs hallway, and then hurried out to the deck.
Kerry, being a doctor, was pressed into service to check on the letch, along with half the other guests to critique his work or speculate about the accident. Kitja sat alone at the outdoor table drinking her Coke, her thoughts racing. Should she tell Kerry? Or let him figure it out on his own? Her mother had always told her that relationships worked better with openness and honesty. But she was out of her depth on this one. Was she even in a relationship? She hardly even dated, yet half these people were married, some of them divorced, others about to be married. Kerry was among the youngest. They’d been around. A lot, and infidelity was rampant in LA. Maybe Michelle's escapades weren't that big deal. Did Kerry fool around too?
She was hanging on that last thought when Kerry came back to sit beside her. “He’ll be O.K. Some videographer who works for Sports Illustrated. Seems he slipped and fell on the loose rug.
She closed her eyes for a long moment, and then took a deep breath. “Kerry, he was seriously hitting on me. I kind of pulled the rug out on him.”
“No shit. I bet that’s the last time he’ll mess with you – or Michelle, I guess.”
“Not exactly.” She rested her hand on his arm. “What I’m about to tell you is going to be a shock.”
He laughed in his boyish way. “What, you knocked out a overly enthusiastic admirer? You’re a Vel. You guys do stuff like that all the time.”
She blurted it out. “Michelle’s having an affair with him.”
Kerry froze, and just stared at her.
“He told me how great last weekend was at the Four Seasons, and about this getaway to Fiji next month that’s disguised as a photo shoot. Seems her agent is in on it, arranging these fake jobs.”
“And you’re laying it out for me, just like that, straight up? What’s your game, Andi? Do you think you’re some kind of goddess who can just walk in and wreck other peoples’ lives?”
She opened her mouth to reply, but he jumped to his feet and stalked off before she could say a word. She felt as if a black hole had suddenly opened up in her body, leaving her an empty shell. Was it the wrong thing to be honest with him? Did he think she was making this up.
Stunned by his angry retort, she watched him heading south along the shoreline, head down, kicking the sand angrily every few steps. She rose and walked after him. This was her fault. She should have just stayed out of his business, but what with looking like Michelle and the play-acting tonight, she'd begun to feel protective toward him. Protection he obviously didn't want.
She waited until she was out of the light and then lifted off, flying ahead of Kerry to land at the foot of the deck he was heading toward. His house was smaller than the neighbors, and not in very good shape. She hid in the darkness as he climbed the steps, banging noisily into the house. The lights came on and she heard ice cubes tinkling into a glass. He poured a drink. Then another. She knew she should just leave, but she felt responsible. She’d hurt him badly by blurting out the truth about Michelle.
She floated up to land on the deck, and then walked inside. Kerry was pacing back and forth in front of his bar, muttering to himself. “I’m sorry, Kerry. I didn’t want to be the one to hurt you, but I thought that finding out now, instead of later, maybe after you were married, would be easier.”
He turned and glared at her.
“Why, Michelle? I asked you earlier if something was going on. Why did you lie to me?” His fist slammed down on the bar, rattling the glasses and the open bottle of gin.
“I’m not Michelle, Kerry.”
“God damn it, Michelle, we had such a good thing going. And you threw me away for that pig! Are you here to say you’re sorry? Well, get out of my house, you whore!” He picked up the glass and hurled it at her. It shattered against her face, leaving no trace of the impact except for a few shards of glass and the gin trickling down Kitja’s front.
She stood there, silent, as Kerry stared at her, mouth agape. Then he stepped slowly toward her, the glazed look in his eyes fading. “My god, what . . . you’re not Michelle . . . what did . . .are you all right? Andi?”
“I’m fine, Kerry. It takes more than that to scratch my outsides. My insides, though, are kind of shaken up. Could we just talk for a few minutes?
“Sure, sure.” He stumbled over to a sofa and flopped down on the other side, waving his arm at her. She floated over the couch to settle in beside him.
“How old are you really, Andi?”
He laughed. “Then you don’t know shit about how a man feels, how a man loves, now do you?”
“No. But we were being open. I just wanted to be honest and…”
“Honest?” he almost shouted, the anger coming back again. “What do you know about being honest? You take on other people’s forms, you pretend to be who you aren’t.”
She felt tears welling up in her eyes. “I didn’t do it to hurt or mislead you. I just wanted to prove something that would be valuable to your research.”
Kerry sighed and buried his head in his hands. “My research. Yeah, of course. My fucking live. All that's left of it anyway.”
“You really love her, don’t you?”
“For eight God-damned years, I thought she was my soulmate. The only woman for me. Every since I was 18 years old, she’s been the only one. And now I’ve blown it. I’ve driven away my only love.”
Northwest portion of Denver, Colorado
It was half past ten when Fred turned onto Hwy 36 to Boulder, talking to Tammi on his phone. It was starting to snow and the wind was rising. Forecast said a big front was coming through.
“Believe it or not, she’s a budding actress, Fred. She’s at an improv workshop tonight at this little theatre by the university. Here’s the address.” The screen on his pocket AI lit up with a detailed map of Boulder, along with the coordinates to get to the Flatirons Actor's Workshop. He beamed the data into the car Nav system.
“Is she there now?”
“Has been for the last couple of hours. I think they’ll finish up soon, so you better hurry.”
He glanced at the ETA display. “Fourteen minutes.”
“I’ll meet you at the front door.”
Fred parked and met Tammi exactly fifteen minutes later.
“There are still three skits to go. She’s up now.”
“Here’s hoping she’s friendly,” Fred said. “Otherwise we’re going to be at ground zero without a raincoat.” It was an old phrase of helplessness from the nuke wars of the 20’s.
Fred took a deep breath and walked through the door. A tall blonde wearing a white sweater and jeans with an elaborate copper belt was standing on stage, acting out a scene. An excited thrill ran up Fred's back as he recognized the low, melodic warmth of her voice. Her hair was styled differently, but there was no mistaking that perfectly tanned complexion, her outstanding figure, and especially those amazing eyes.
He sat down in a chair with a dozen others in the audience, and watched spellbound. The acting wasn’t very good, but she was trying. Yet every time she moved, it was pure poetry. Physical poetry. He watched every tiny movement of her body, every flutter of every hair on her head, the rest of the room disappearing, no voice, no image, but Sharon’s.
Tammi rested her hand on his arm a while later. “You O.K, Fred?”
He exhaled, seemingly for the first time since he’d entered the auditorium, and the spell broke. He turned to see a worried look on her face.
“She’s really beautiful,” Tammi added. “Almost in a magical kind of way. Like an elf or something. And God, I wish I could move as smoothly as that. Like a cat.”
“Extreme strength and flexibility,” Fred said, finding his eyes were drawn back to the stage. He struggled to keep from falling back into the trance again.
"She's mesmerizing. You notice how the entire audience is fixated on her?”
Fred didn’t answer as he stared.
The skit ended to the acclaim of a standing ovation, which had nothing to do with the content of her improv piece. Tammi held Fred’s arm to keep him in his seat.
Sharon finally walked off the stage, looking relieved but also a little embarrassed by the applause. The other actors stared at her back with less enthusiasm, knowing most of the audience hadn’t even noticed them on the stage.
<![endif]>She walked right by Fred, still holding her script, without showing any sign of recognizing him.
They sat through two more skits, one of which was fairly amusing and the other agonizingly bad, while Fred kept glancing behind him to watch Sharon talking to a couple of men at the rear of the auditorium. One of them was obviously trying to hit on her, but she was trying to ignore him. The other looked like her acting coach. She laughed and talked gaily as she gave him a hug, obviously enjoying his conversation. The younger man with aspirations took the hint and grabbed his coat to leave.
The last skit ended and the audience hurried out to beat the storm home. Sharon gave the older man another hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then he got his things and left as well.
She spent a few more minutes talking with another actor, and then it was just Sharon and the janitor, who was sweeping up. Tammi rose and tugged Fred along with her as she swept up to the blonde. “Excuse me, but are you Sharon Best?”
The blonde turned with a prima ballerina’s grace, and Fred’s heart nearly leaped out of his chest again as she smiled at them. “Yes I am. But I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”
“I’m FBI Special Agent Tammi Walters and this is Detective Fred Durst of the San Francisco PD. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Her smile lost a touch of its warmth. “I was just leaving. Can’t this wait until tomorrow? You could see me at my office.”
“I’m afraid it’s urgent. You see, it has to do with a woman that we’ve been trying to track down. Her name is Mandi Olson.”
Sharon’s smile fled completely now. “Give me a moment.” She turned and walked over to talk to the janitor. He hung up his broom, got his coat and hat and left. Sharon returned. “So where did you hear that name?”
“She’s an Arion who has some kind of mental powers,” Fred jumped in. “I believe that she’s been subjecting people, yourself included, to some kind of hypnosis to commit criminal acts.”
A worried look flitted across Sharon’s face before her disarming smile returned, clearly forced this time. “An Arion, putting the mind meld on me, a marketing director in Boulder? What does she want, free samples of our RamCubes?”
Fred took a deep breath. There was no sense wading in. Instead, he dove headfirst from the edge of the pool. “Actually, she wants to use you. And given that you’re a Velorian, that would be some kind of power to control for her benefit.”
Sharon’s smile froze. Without saying a word, she turned around to pull up a chair, sitting backwards on it and resting her arms on the back. “So, you two really have done your homework.” She looked at Tammi. “Let me guess, Omega Directorate?”
Tammi nodded. “But this is a private investigation. My department doesn't know I’m here.”
“And you, Detective Durst?”
“I was trying to solve a case involving a dozen dead cops. Mandi’s work as it turned out. And then I had… an encounter.” He wasn’t sure what else to call it. "Off the books also."
“If no one else knows you’re here, then you’re putting a great deal of trust in me. If I made you disappear,” she snapped her fingers so loud it sounded like a gunshot, “then I’d be free of you again.”
“I don’t think that’s your nature, Sharon,” Fred said, a chill tracing up his back. “Despite the fact that you threatened my life, along with my wife and child.”
Sharon looked horrified. “I did what?”
“I was the one who broke you free of Mandi’s trance, Sharon. I don’t know where you popped back into your own life, but the last I saw you, you were crashing through the roof of my house. Going up.”
Sharon hung her head for a long moment, that amazing, silky hair of hers covering the back of the chair. She lifted her head again after a long moment, tossing her hair back over her shoulders, and gave Fred a crooked smile. “I found myself up on stage in front of a hundred salesmen and sales representatives, preparing to deliver a speech at my annual Marketing and Sales Dinner. A speech I hadn’t even written yet. Imagine the surprise.”
Fred smiled. “I can. Like the dream of finding you forgot to dress before going to school. They’re common enough dreams among the educated and ambitious.”
“Except mine was real. So, Detective, tell me, what was I doing flying through the roof of your house?”
Fred saw Tammi looking at him curiously. “Yeah. You didn’t tell me about that part either.”
Fred swallowed hard. “I… I was trying to think of a way to shock you out of it, the trance I mean, and since a slap in the face wasn’t going to work on you, probably break my hand, and since you said you owed me one for agreeing to work with Mandi, I took you up on the favor. I, ah, asked you to, ah, invoke enough internal energy to shock yourself.”
“What?” both women asked simultaneously.
“It’s called an orgasm.”
Tammi’s mouth fell open, and Sharon just laughed. “So that’s how you broke her hold. Very clever, Detective. You must know a lot about Velorians.”
“Glad you don’t hold it against me. And you can call me Fred.” He turned to see Tammi’s eyes narrowing. She meant what she’d said about holding out on her.
“Are you kidding?” Sharon said as she lowered her voice. Her eyes were still twinkling, though. “Mandi is always hijacking me for her little schemes. But this is the first time I’ve ever met anyone who was part of all that. When I come back, there’s always a gap in my memories, sometimes days long. This last one was the longest, nearly a week.”
“How many times has she done this?” Fred asked.
“Fourteen times that I know of.”
“Now I have a question, Fred. Given that I was in your house, and fulfilling your request, what were you doing?”
“I was trying to stay out of the way. It’s going to cost a lot to fix the roof.”
Sharon nodded. “I can imagine. And why was I in your house in the first place?”
Fred took a deep breath. “Mandi was trying to recruit me. She sent you to ensure I’d take the offer.”
“And you made me think you had, but only to get free of me. So how did I convince you?”
Fred shook his head. “It’s not important.”
“It is to me,” Sharon replied.
Fred looked down at his shoes.
Tammi jumped in, her natural feeling of feminine competitiveness growing stronger and sharper just by standing next to the Velorian. Next to someone so perfect. She felt more than a twinge of awe of Sharon’s beauty and power. Yet instead of acknowledging that, she gave in to the anger. “You fucked his brains out, Sharon. O.K?”
Instead of being surprised or upset, Sharon just nodded. “I figured that’s what Mandi had me doing. Her personal recruiting service. Given that I’m a Vel, sex is the logical means of persuasion.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?” Tammi asked, incensed. Fred’s eyes asked the same question.
Sharon’s smile faded again, and her words came out in a gush. “Of course it does. But not in a physical sense or a moral one. My body was made for that kind of encounter, and I can’t get diseases or pregnant or anything. Sex is at our core, it’s not a moral issue. But it’s a horrible feeling not to be in control. To wake up in my bed all sticky inside, and knowing it’s semen, but having no knowledge how it got there. To have to hide it from my lover. Most of all, to know that someone is pulling my strings and using me. And worst of all, maybe even using me to hurt people.”
“I have seen no reports or evidence of that,” Fred added quickly. “Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Mandi’s behavior. She’s killing my cops and God knows who else. And she’s abusing you. We need to stop her.”
Sharon stood up to pace along the edge of the stage. “So now you’re recruiting me instead of the other way around?”
“Mandi thinks you were successful. That I’m working for her now. If I don’t turn up with the names and information she wants, she’ll either take care of me herself, or she’ll put the whammy back on you and have you kill me and my family. That’s what you promised you’d do, under her control anyway, if I didn’t deliver.”
“And when you give her the names, what does she plan to do with them?”
“She’s planning to kill every one of those men, Sharon. She wants the names of bad cops who are involved in the underage sex trade.”
Sharon laughed mirthlessly. “Then give them to her. Good riddance.”
“Every man deserves a trial.”
“Except you can’t convict these men, or you’d already have done so.”
“You’re sounding like her now,” Fred said disgustedly.
“No, I’m not, it's just that the Supremis sense of justice and fair-play is a bit more practical than humans’, but we still have one. But I understand her. Mandi started her life as a low caste Betan, but she has no morality or code now but her own. She’s motivated only by satisfying her own ego.”
“Betan? We’ve got records of her using eye beams and flying.”
“How she came by those abilities is an even worse story,” Sharon sighed. “But not one I care to tell right now.”
“Will you help us bring her to justice?” Tammi asked.
“Justice? A human word. You can’t put her in jail. There is only one way to stop her. You have to kill her.”
“All the more reason we need you.”
“I’m not sure I can kill her.”
“Then help us bring the Protectors into the case. They don’t seem to be working very hard to stop her.”
“Did you see the news last night?” Sharon asked. “From your home town?”
Fred glanced at Tammi before they both shook their heads. “We’ve been busy trying to find you.”
“Well, if you had, you’d know why they leave her alone. She messes with their heads too. They’re afraid of her.”
“That’s the worst news of the day,” Fred said glumly.
“And I’m not a Protector, Fred. I have my own guidelines to follow, and they are even more restrictive than a Protector’s. I’m here to record and observe. Not to act.”
No one said anything for a long moment.
Fred looked back up at her. “I think Mandi has other plans for you, Sharon. We’re talking self-defense, and that has to be acceptable to your code. Even worse, if she hasn’t made you hurt someone yet, I have no doubt she will. You are too powerful a tool not to exploit.”
Sharon nodded slowly. “Which, honestly, is the only thing that makes me interested in your proposal. As long as she’s around, my blackouts are going to continue. And Skietra knows what things she’ll make me do.”
“Skietra?” Tammi asked
Sharon shrugged. “Never mind. A Velorian word.”
“Good, then it’s decided.” Fred held out his hand.
Sharon didn’t lift hers. “Not so fast. Come back to my house. I need to bring Andrea into this first.”
“Good. Andrea can be helpful as well.” She smiled that famous smile of hers again. “And I hope you like lasagna. It’s Andrea’s night to cook. It’s her best dish.”
Sharon went to lock up the small auditorium before slipping into a very fashionable leather jacket. She walked Fred and Tammi to his car, and then used her pocket AI to beam the coordinates of her house to the Nav system. Tammi and Fred brushed the snow off the windshield and got in as they watched Sharon fire up her Acura. They were soon following her through the snowy streets of Boulder.
“So, what did you think of her?” Fred finally asked as he started driving.
“I think I’m falling in lust with her,” Tammi smirked, “and I don’t even like women that way.”
“I mean, seriously.”
“I was being serious. At least I understand the events at your house better. Add in some of those Velorian pheromones and it would be ‘Katie, bar the door' time.”
“I wasn’t staring too much, was I?”
“Yes, you were. But since anyone else would be falling all over themselves if they knew she was Velorian, I think we held up our human honor tonight.”
Fred chuckled. “An interesting way to look at it. But the night’s young.”
Tammi turned to smile at him. “We’re partners. We’ll manage.”
She fell silent again for a moment, then, “But I wish you’d told me something about that last homewrecking exercise.”
“I wanted to, but after my first admission of sleeping with her, I was already embarrassed enough.”
“She fucked you, Fred. For a purpose other than pleasure. You didn’t make love, so don’t get confused. You’re standing on a slippery enough slope seeing her like this as it is.” She looked out the windshield at the falling snow for a long moment. “And as far as the last thing, you should be proud that you found a way to break her out of that trance.” She turned back to nudge him in the ribs. “You sure you didn’t enjoy that just a little though?”
“I’m definitely taking the Fifth now,” Fred chuckled.
“About what I figured.” She looked pointedly at him. “The only thing higher on most men’s sexual fantasy list is two lesbians making it.”
“You had to remind me of that little fact, didn’t you? While we’re following her home?”
“Need to have you keep your head on straight, partner. She may be cute, but she could kill us with a snap of her fingers.” She emphasized by snapping her own next to Fred’s head.
Fred remembered reading a pathology report like that in the Omega archive. A Prime, using supersonic shock waves from snapping her fingers, would shatter blood vessels in her victim’s heads. Fortunately, Kara had taken care of her a long time ago.
“And you’ve had a big dose of her pheromones, my friend. There’s evidence, anecdotal only so far, that they’re addictive, with a victim’s sensitivity increasing with time.”
“What am I, your guinea pig to validate the data in your records?”
Fred looked at her strangely. “This total honesty thing might not be such a good idea. I don’t like being someone’s lab rat.”
“That isn’t why I came. I want Mandi as much as you do. But I can learn a few things while I’m at it, can’t I?”
Fred focused on the snowy street ahead. Sharon’s taillights wiggled a bit as she made a skidding left turn, going a bit too fast for the road conditions. He made the turn slower, but lost her taillights in the falling snow by the time he got around the corner. Looking down at the Nav display, he saw a half dozen turns coming up, and then a road that led out of the city and up into a canyon in the Rockies. “Conditions are going to get worse. Seems she lives to the west of town. High country there.”
“You sure we want to go up there?” Tammi asked as she tried to peer upward through the falling snow. “Lonely country. And she did threaten to kill you once.”
“That wasn’t her. That was Mandi talking. We’ll be fine.”
“O.K,” Tammi said doubtfully as she snuggled deeper in her warm seat. The temperature gauge on the ceiling said it was twenty-three degrees Celsius below zero outside. “My ass is in your hands.”
Fred looked at her funny. “You really nervous? What happened to that tough-as-nails Special Agent thing?”
“Anyone as strong as her makes me nervous as hell. These guns we carry are useless.”
“I know. The sensation of powerlessness is hard for a couple of cops to get used to.”
“Her people are like the ultimate cops. Policing a million light-years of the galaxy or whatever.”
With that sobering thought hanging in the air, Fred found his way to the county road and began climbing a steep canyon. The snow on the road grew deeper by the mile, but the pair of tracks he saw ahead of him, undoubtedly Sharon’s, kept him going. Unfortunately, as good as the Nav system was, it didn’t show every twist and turn in the road. He suddenly found himself entering a corner a bit too fast. The car skidded and fishtailed off the side of the road. His world disappeared into an explosion of snow as he hit a deep drift, burying the car past the doors.
Fred tried to back the car up, but the wheels were riding on powdered snow.
“We didn’t get her phone number, did we?” Tammi said sourly. She looked at the temperature display. Twenty-six Celsius below zero, now. She shivered.
Fred turned off the motor and tried to open the door, but it was blocked shut by the compressed powder. “Relax. I have a feeling we won’t be here long.”
“Let me guess. You’re expecting AAA? In this weather?”
“Not exactly. But let’s see if my hunch is right.”
A couple of minutes passed, and then the car jerked and slowly backed up onto the roadway. Fred rolled down the ice-encrusted window to see Sharon walking back toward her car as she brushed off her hands. He started his car and followed her again, this time driving slower.
“She’s definitely handy to have around,” Tammi observed as she tried to wipe the condensation from the windshield.
“Guess my winter driving skills aren’t up to her standards. Lived my whole life in San Francisco.”
“I could get used having our own guardian angel,” Tammi smiled. “How’d she know so quickly that we went off the road?”
“With her eyes, this snowstorm probably looks like a clear day at noon.”
“Now I’m really starting to get intimidated.”
“It gets even weirder from here out, I’ll bet.”
Fred followed Sharon’s taillights onto a smaller road that turned out to be a quarter-mile long driveway. They plowed through the growing drifts to finally stop in front of a large, brightly lit house that looked like an island of warmth in the middle of the arctic. With coats bundled around them, they crunched their way through the calf-deep snow to the front porch. Sharon was there to open the door and invite them into the warmth.
“Our mountain cabin,” she winked at Fred as he walked past her.
“Cabin?” Tammi gaped. The inside was huge, with a vaulted ceiling that rose four stories overhead. There were windows everywhere, including huge skylights, with pots of flowers suspended by nearly invisible wires to send blossoms cascading from ceiling to floor. There were hundreds of plants in this room alone. A rustic leather living room set filled the center of the room, with thick Persian rugs laid over the Mexican tile floor. A large fireplace, nearly six feet tall and ten feet wide burned brightly at the base of one stone wall. A small waterfall trickled down the opposite wall, giving the room both an indoor and outdoor feeling at the same time. The air was filled with the aroma of flowers and plants, but with an earthy undertone. And wafting through all that was the smell of bread baking and pasta cooking, along with the pungency of cheese and tomato sauce.
It was the most amazing room either of them had ever been in, made even more cozy by the raging storm outside and the homey smell of dinner being cooked.
“Looks like we’re in for a real blizzard,” Sharon said as she took their coats. “Hope you weren’t planning on flying out in the morning. Road will be snowed in for a while, and the Denver Airport is already closed.”
“I don’t suppose that slows you down much?” Tammi offered.
“Given that I usually drive, yeah, it does,” Sharon replied. “Kind of hard to avoid causing a commotion when I land barefoot at a 7-11 in one of those skimpy flight outfits to get milk.”
“You know what I meant.” Sharon might be a Vel, but Tammi wasn’t going to let her make fun of her.
“Actually, I live a very normal life, despite what Fred has probably told you. Other than Mandi’s abductions, which thankfully I don’t even remember, my life is probably less exciting than yours. You’re the ones chasing dangerous aliens all the time. ” She turned to look at Fred, who still looked cold. “Can I get you guys something to drink? Some grappa maybe to warm you up?”
Fred started to nod, only to pause as a woman with reddish blonde hair walked into the room. “That would be…”
“Oh, and this is my spouse, Andrea. Andrea, meet Detective Fred Durst, San Francisco PD, and Special Agent Tammi Walters. She’s with Omega.”
<![endif]>Both visitors stared at the woman who’d walked in from the kitchen. She was easily 190 centimeters tall, very slender, her face looking just a bit older than Sharon’s. She was wearing a purple and white tank top outfit and a loose, unbuttoned purple sweater that was hanging off one shoulder. She also wore several gold necklaces. But it was her eyes that gave her away.
“You’re also… a Velorian?” Fred asked. He hadn’t expected two unknown Vels to be on Earth.
“Not exactly,” Andrea said as she looked back at him, the tiniest hint of a smile warming her face. Her voice was unusually low and rich, a deep alto.
“Andrea was born on Kryp’Terra,” Sharon added proudly.
“Never heard of it,” Tammi replied. “But isn’t that Greek for ‘hidden Earth’?”
“Close enough,” Sharon continued. “The real meaning’s a bit hidden itself. Anyway, the elusive people of Kryp’Terra are half Galen, half Velorian. Most of the galaxy considers them demi-gods, with the Galen the real thing.” She winked at her lover. “Although a few of us know better.”
“This is incredible,” Fred gushed. “That doubles our chances.”
“Chances? What’s he talking about, Sharon?”
“I’ll explain over dinner,” Sharon said as she returned with two glasses of grappa. She handed them to Fred and Tammi, and then took Andrea’s arm in hers, guiding her toward the kitchen. “Let me help you finish.”
Tammi and Fred looked at each other as the women left. Tammi spoke first. “’Curiouser and curiouser,’ says Alice in Wonderland.”
“We’re drinking grappa while trapped in a blizzard, standing in the most amazing living room on the planet, and two Supremis are in the kitchen making us dinner. Was this how you figured the day was going to end?”
“I haven’t figured out the end yet,” Tammi giggled. “But no, this isn’t the dinner I imagined. I figured some greasy spoon while we collaborated on our field notes.”
“All of which I left in the car, by the way.”
Tammi walked over to the temperature gauge on the window. “Twenty-nine below now. I’m not going out to get them. I was raised in LA, not Anchorage.” She looked up at the flower pots that were suspended in mid-air above them. “How do they water…” She paused as it came to her. “Duh. Of course.”
“Yeah. I’m betting there aren’t any ladders in their garage either,” Fred nodded.
Dinner turned out to be an eclectic affair, served in a warm and snug glass dome that served as their dining room, the blizzard howling all around them. Fred and Tammi dressed in the suits they’d left work in. Sharon was still in her white sweater and jeans. Andrea looking classy in her long skirt and loose sweater.
The food was excellent, although the lasagna sauce was a lot spicier than Fred was used to. He didn’t recognize some of the spices, other than a hint of curry, but it was good. The bread was mouthwatering, crusty on the outside, fluffy inside and too hot to hold. Fresh butter on the side. The wine was Silver Oak from one of the small Alexander Valley wineries that had come back from the fallout after the terrorist nuclear attacks of the 20’s. Very expensive stuff.
Yet despite all the comforts, he knew the other shoe was going to fall soon enough.
Redondo Beach, California
Kitja hated to see Kerry in such pain, especially knowing that she was the one that had brought it to him. She turned and walked into the bathroom to stare at herself in the mirror. Kerry's cheating girlfriend looked back her. She suddenly hated the look. She was about to change her appearance, when she suddenly realized what she had to do. She had to help Kerry get the anger out of his system. Anger that he was directing toward himself, but which should be directed at Michelle.
Instead of making any wholesale changes, she just shortened her hair a little, and made her eyes sad, which wasn’t hard at the moment. Then she took off her silver belt, then her bikini. Despite dreaming of this moment for months, she was only doing this for Kerry. To give him a chance to work out his anger and betrayal, to suffuse his pain with pleasure.
She crossed her arms and held herself, working her thumbs across her nipples in familiar ways, sending a tingle through her body that awoke the pheromones she’d so skillfully withheld today. One of her gifts from Andrea was the ability to cast them or not at her will.
She suddenly felt very sure of herself as she walked back out of the bathroom, turning the lights down in the room as she walked over to where Kerry was sitting, his head in his hands. She sat down on the fake fur rug in front of him.
“Kerry, I’m not Michelle, but I still look like her. I'm a Velorian. I want you to take your anger out on me.”
His head jerked up to stare at her. “What are you talking about? I don’t want to sleep with you, let alone burn off my…”
Kitja blew softly in his face, her breath sweet with pheromones. “Yes you do, Kerry. You aren’t a violent man, I know that, but let the anger out. Use me.”
She saw his pupils dilate; his breathing grew deep and his skin flushed pink. He clenched his fists, and the tendons stood out as a surge of adrenaline raced into his bloodstream. She rose up on her knees and eased herself into his arms, tasting his lips with hers, her kisses growing deep, then soulful as she passed on the remainder of the hormones that would protect him during the coming frenzy.
“Damn you,” he cried as he pounded on her shoulders, “damn you, Michelle, damn you, damn you…
Kitja lay curled up with him on the bed four hours later. He was sleeping now, his body exhausted, his anger gone as well. He’d made angry love to her at first, seemingly trying to hurt her, his releases coming hot and violent. Feeling a man inside her for the first time, she was surprised to find that she knew exactly what to do to bring him pleasure.
She let him take her hard, relaxing her body to let him use it to burn Michelle from his. Then, after the anger passed, they began to move together as one, truly making love now. She held herself back, not daring to take pleasure in his hurt, not understanding her body well enough to trust herself in any case. The highlight of her day, her night, even her very life, was when he shouted her name, not Michelle's, as he came a final time and collapsed beside her.
She spooned her body tightly around his, savoring the wondrous feeling of having had him inside her for so many hours. To feel his hard erection straining, reaching inward toward her heart, warming her with each of his wondrous releases. She felt warm and content in a way she’d never felt before.
In the way of a woman.