A helicopter is not a good place to think. The darn things are just an engine with a giant propeller and the lightest framework possible holding it all together. Even the expensive military ones that are supposed to be stealthy are louder than first-row-center seats at a speed-metal concert. Conversation is possible only if you have on a helmet with a headset, and those are reserved for the crew. Passengers are left to pass notes and make hand-signals in order to communicate.
And so I was puzzled at the way Neeka and Leonora were cheerfully chatting away just a few feet from me. I couldn't hear a single word over the roar of the jet engine behind my head, and my hearing is considerably better than most people's. My eyesight is considerably better too, so I wasn't having any trouble at all seeing Leonora's smile and the way her gray eyes seemed so fascinated with Neeka's mouth.
Duh. She was lip-reading! Of course. She could probably do that trick in several languages. She'd certainly had enough time to practice. And the other part, making herself heard over the roar of the engine, was almost certainly her Voice – something I'd heard her use to excellent effect before. Its attention-riveting, compelling quality would make Marine Corps Drill Instructors envious.
OK, mystery solved. I knew how they were getting on so famously, but I still didn't know what they were talking about – but I just knew it was about me.
"Get a grip, girl," I told myself. "So what if they are talking about you? What have you possibly got to hide from either of those two? Aren't we being just the teensiest bit paranoid? And are we now talking to ourselves? Surely that's the first sign of insanity? Or would that be referring to yourself in the plural?"
I needed some air. Just a short stroll to help me get my head back on straight. I eyed the sliding door – or was it called a hatch? It didn't matter. Stepping out of an aircraft in flight would hardly qualify for the list of Smartest Things I'd Ever Done. Even if I could hold on, I probably wouldn't be able to get my feet down onto the skid. I'd finish the trip waving alongside the helicopter like a flag. I knew they sometimes flew these machines with the doors open so they could shoot out of them, so the wind couldn't be that bad. Still, finding out I was wrong would be a tad embarrassing, if not terminal. I decided that the whole proposition of riding on the outside of an aircraft should be filed under Dumb Ideas and left there.
Having disposed of that momentary distraction, I looked about for something else to occupy my mind. The mental isolation enforced by the incessant drone of the engine seemed to be sending me into a sort of sensory-deprivation funk. I had already begun to question my sanity and we hadn't been in the air that long.
The only other occupant of the compartment was Evan Cochran, a member of the Sigma Seven unit and our regular babysitter. 'Minder' was the official term for it. It meant his job was to keep tabs on us and to act a as buffer between me and anyone who pissed me off in order to avoid potential incidents. He generally vanished after a mission; I supposed back into his normal life, but I didn't really know. I didn't know Evan well at all. He'd probably been warned to keep his relationship with us on a strictly professional level. On this trip, he'd probably been sent to allay any reluctance Neeka might have about getting into a strange black helicopter. With her on board, I could be snatched up quickly. Now that we were airborne, he wore a helmet with goggles and communications gear obscuring his face. I couldn't even tell if he was awake. Just out of curiosity, I smiled at him. A few seconds later his chin rose about an inch and I saw the corner of his mouth not hidden by the microphone curl upward. That meant he'd been passing the time by ogling me, the rascal.
I used to be offended by stuff like that, but that seemed like that was another life. When the helicopter had picked me up, I'd been serving as Town Slut in a mountain crossroad community. Hardly a job for the easily offended. I was even dressed for the part. My present attire of light blue spandex tube-top and white knit short-shorts so thin and close-fitting they looked painted-on had been carefully chosen to advertise my status. I had been planning on rewarding the local High School football team with a locker-room gang-bang. Provided they won, of course. Since they were 14-point underdogs going into the game, I wasn't likely to have to make good on my promise, but I had to act like I expected to anyway. I wanted to be an incentive for our team and perhaps a distraction for their opponents. I didn't think I needed to try to dress provocatively, since a tube-top seemed to be the normal uniform for the job of Slut, with either a micro-skirt or the tight short-shorts I had on. Both were things that I'd brought to relax in, never expecting to wear them in public and certainly not expecting to wear on my other job as Superheroine.
After some of the rather extreme stuff I'd done, I should have been sexually jaded. Being stared at by Evan should have had no effect on me beyond mild, detached amusement. But instead of staying cool and collected and aloof, I felt a surge of warmth go through me, followed by tingling in a certain intimate spot and a pleasant tightness in my breasts as my areolas crinkled and my nipples stiffened. I became acutely aware of my minimal state of dress and how the snug fit of my tube-top was betraying my growing state of arousal. In short, I was acting like a virgin just discovering that her body reacted strongly to masculine attention.
This not entirely unpleasant situation is because my ability to change my physiology at will is paired with the self-image I had when I gained it. Every time I Change and then Change back, the 'back' I change into is a version of 'me' from sometime after puberty but before I started to become The Dragon. The down-side to my body being reset in this way is that I regain my virginity in the process ... with all that implies. I easily hold the World Record for being deflowered, a painful event that every girl but me only has to endure once. In view of that, it's hardly surprising that pain and pleasure for me are very close and often merge into a single sensation. A highly pleasurable sensation at that, which partially explains why I tend to engage in that extreme stuff I mentioned.
There is a school of thought that some of my more self-destructive behavior could be more simply explained as a psychological problem stemming from the fact that almost every day I had my nose rubbed in evidence that I wasn't the person I thought I was, that I was someone ... something ... completely different and I was terrified of finding out where this was all going, so I took suicidal risks. Or not.
The psychobabble explanation was something that Neeka and Mom kept bringing up to comfort me. But all I heard out of all that was that I was probably crazy; like that was in any way news to me. I had gone off on the vacation that the helicopter pick-up had interrupted so I could spend a quiet week trying to come to terms with my fears. Only instead of making any headway with my head, I'd discovered that there were a good number of people just as crazy as I was and even some who made me look like a paragon of sanity and normalcy.
I'd also found someone who'd had problems very similar to mine for vastly longer than me and who had managed to cope with them. In Leonora de Vere's presence my issues seemed trivial. I really didn't know how long she'd been coping with being so completely different from the rest of the human race and frankly I was afraid to find out, but the simple fact of her existence was a rock to which I could cling and a tangible assurance that you could be something other than entirely human and still retain some degree of normalcy. Only 'normal' for Leonora meant being a vampire. At least she had a catchy label to cover her situation. The best I could do was autopsychogenesis, which I doubted would ever become a household word.
From the warmth on my face, I was sure I was blushing. When I glanced down, I saw that it went all the way down my chest and into my exposed cleavage, turning the tops of my boobs a rosy shade of pink that overwhelmed the golden tan that I preferred as a skin tone because it went so well with my blonde hair.
The smile I wore grew wider in proportion to the embarrassment I felt at being seen reacting this way. It made me look like a novice, and I had enough problems with people not taking me seriously. Without thinking, I leaned back against the seat, crossed my legs, and crossed my arms. I knew the last was a mistake as soon as I'd done it.
A 48-inch bust on someone my size means that my boobs stick out almost as far as my elbows. The result is I cannot cross my arms over my chest to cover-up. I just can't reach that far around. Yet, I still have that reflex. Only when I do it, things get squeezed out and up, or down and out, or this way and that, any of which totally defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place. In this case, my arms went under and the spandex tube-top rode up until it just barely covered my nipples, leaving the lower half of my boobs and a good amount of areola exposed.
As I considered how to gracefully get out of a position I'd just put myself into without calling attention to what I'd done, I saw Evan reach down and tug at his inseam. I knew that motion well. It meant he was getting an erection and he needed to give it some room to grow.
Being stared at in close quarters by a man was enough. I very much did not need to know that I was giving him a boner as well.
Exasperated, I looked around for something to take my mind off the humiliating turn things had taken. That was when I saw Neeka and Leonora staring at me. Leonora's expression was impossible to read. 'Dead-pan' must be second-nature for the undead. Neeka's expression was clear as glass. I didn't need to open a telepathic connection to know that she was wondering if my need for in-flight entertainment had got the better of my common sense. I still caught the fringe of a thought from her involving the term 'mile-high club' and sent back a reply reminding her that we were nowhere close to that altitude at the moment and in any event I was already a member of that organization, having been initiated a while back by a certain Dutchman whose prodigious personal equipment had left us with gaping cavities between our legs and broad smiles on our faces, both of which took some time to fade.
Every time I thought of Kirk Akkerman, it was with a sense of longing and loss. The physical hole he'd made in me had healed, but the emotional one would be with me for some time. We all say we want someone capable of commitment. Kirk actually told me he wanted me to have his children and he did his best to make that a reality. To say we had an emotional connection would be an understatement. If it wasn't love it was a damn close relative. Neeka hadn't been as emotionally involved as I was, but remembering the day we'd spent in bed together still made her smile. I saw her put her hands between her thighs and press her knees together as she remembered trying to ride his stallion-sized cock.
Leonora couldn't read her mind like I could, but from the way she looked back and forth at each of us, it was clear that she was aware that something had passed between us. For an instant, her eyes held an intense emotion I couldn't recognize and then it was gone. It was stuff like that that made me understand how different Leonora's frame of reference was and how little I really understood her.
My present condition had left me vulnerable to the memory. My body remembered Kirk in its own way – my clit throbbed and swelled. My pussy clenched on nothing but the wetness inside me. My areolas swelled, pressing my already-stiff nipples harder against the spandex tube-top. I wanted very much to free them, to let the top slide up and off so I could roll them between my fingers and massage some of the stiffness out. My hands were already headed in that direction when the helicopter suddenly banked and started to settle toward the ground.
I was still blinking my way out of the sexual fugue when we bumped to a landing and Evan flew into action. He undid his seat-belt one-handed, then reached out and grabbed the door, heaving it open. He then undid our belts and pulled us out of our seats and without a single word he practically shoved us one after another out of the machine. When we were out he closed the door and the pilot revved the engine in preparation for immediate takeoff. Apparently Evan hadn't been sent to collect just us. Or perhaps he wasn't going to be part of this call-up.
Once out of the helicopter, I stood there in a daze, blinking and squinting in the glare of landing-field lights. By now it was full-dark and these lights were easily brighter than those around the football field. I felt like I was having one of those naked-in-public dreams. I'd been well on my way to a state of full-on rut and it would take me some time to get things under control again. I'd instinctively bent down under the rotor, so I was able to pull my tube-top back into place without being obvious about it, but the evidence of my condition stood out clearly through the thin elastic fabric. I also knew that when I stood up straight again, there would be a visible lump in my skin-tight short-shorts where my hoodless clit was protruding between my outer lips. This was so not the image I wanted to project in what looked to be a pretty important mission briefing.
By shading my eyes with one hand and peeking between my fingers, I was able to see a silhouette of a car and a man standing next to it a few yards away. He waved to us to come to him, and we scuttled across the tarmac with our heads low like three roaches running across a kitchen floor. He opened the rear door and Neeka hopped in, dragging Leonora with her. That left me to ride up front with the driver, who I assumed would be too occupied with navigating the busy landing field to notice my condition.
I was, of course, wrong about that. We seemed to have drawn a driver with a heavy foot and little regard for life and limb. After our second near miss caused by him trying to look at me and where he was going at the same time, he decided that survival was important after all and focused most of his attention through the windshield.
"What's going on?" Neeka asked him from the back seat. I thought it was a bit of a risk to distract him further, but it was a question on my mind too.
"Like they tell me anything?" he said with a good dose of sarcasm. "Sorry, I'm just the shuttle service. I guess they'll tell you when you get inside. I can tell you this – it's something big. They've kept me hopping for the last couple of hours. Must be calling in units from all over. I've never seen so many guys in black uniforms." He trailed off there and glanced at me as if wondering what kind of uniform I was wearing and likely how he could get a transfer to my outfit. Then he smiled and went back to driving, no doubt thinking of the story he'd have to tell his friends later.
"You didn't see us," I said firmly. "We are not here."
He must have heard something similar to that before, probably along with a more direct threat of what would happen if he talked about who he'd seen. His smile vanished and he became all business. I looked into the back seat and caught Leonora's eye. She nodded, which I didn't understand at the time.
The trip ended abruptly when our driver stopped the car in a lighted area next to an expanse of concrete, blank save for a recessed entrance with a double set of doors. A rather substantial pair on some very hefty hinges was opened outward so they lay flat against the wall and an inner set, no less substantial looking, was closed. A guard with a black rifle slung over his shoulder stood in the recess holding a clipboard with a row of red 'Guest' badges clipped to the side. There were no signs and the wall vanished into the blackness in both directions so I couldn't tell much about the building other than it must be pretty big and whoever built it thought windows were unnecessary. When we got out the car raced away just as the helicopter had...
"Let's see your IDs," the guard said in a tone part boredom and part 'I have a tiny bit of authority and I like using it'. He looked at us with the neutral expression of a man who has stood a lot of guard duty and doesn't really care who you are or what you look like, only whether he needs to shoot you or not.
I was trying to stay behind Leonora as much as possible to avoid any questions about my rather casual state of dress. I automatically reached behind me to pull my fanny-pack around and get out one of the IDs I knew would satisfy the guard. Neeka had at least one that would be acceptable. But Leonora ... Ms. de Vere could not produce an acceptable ID, nor would she be on anyone's list. I could vouch for her, but that would mean referring things up the chain of command and back again and would certainly keep us standing there for longer than I wanted.
"You don't need to see our IDs," Leonora said in that resonant, eerily-pitched and completely unarguable Voice. "You know who we are."
I saw Neeka look at Leonora to confirm that it was actually her speaking and not someone who had managed to sneak up behind us.
The guard straightened so quickly I thought he might salute. He said, "Right! Sorry. Busy night. Here are your badges. Conference room's the first door to your right at the end of the hall."
We took the playing-card sized pieces of plastic and clipped them where they could be seen. I couldn't decide where to put mine, since there were so few spots where I could put it that I didn't want to attract attention to. I finally clipped it to the band of my fanny-pack so that it rode at my hip. The guard waved his own badge at a pad on the wall, then put his shoulder to the door and shoved it open for us. A gust of cool air came out and I welcomed it for the relief it meant from the humidity outside and the excuse it offered for why my nipples were so protuberant.
After the door had closed behind us, I noticed that Neeka was about to burst out laughing. When I looked at her with my eyebrow up, she said, "All right. I have to say it since you won't – 'These are not the droids you're looking for.' Then she did laugh and so did I. To my surprise, Leonora laughed too.
"It is not The Force," she told Neeka. "It is simply lots and lots of practice at making people obey me." She put an odd emphasis on the word 'obey'. Like it meant something other than the dictionary definition.
The hallway was wide enough for a car to drive down and looked to be at least a hundred yards long. The promised conference room entrance was all the way at the other end. We started walking. I thought they needed a shuttle service in here even more than they did outside.
Halfway down the passage we came to a restroom with one of those unisex signs on the door and we all turned left and marched inside because you never pass up a chance to freshen-up, especially in a place where it might be a half-mile to the next restroom. The sign was the only unisex thing about it since the ratio of urinals to stalls meant it was just a relabeled Men's Room. While Neeka and Leonora took advantage of the facilities, I looked into the mirror over the row of sinks to fix my makeup and try to get my erectile tissue to behave. I had no trouble shifting my skin-tone to account for the fluorescent lighting, but only moderate success with getting the other parts to behave.
As Town Slut I had important civic duties to perform. That meant regularly servicing groups of horny men and by the clock. That was an easy habit to get into and a hard one to break, especially after having been initiated into the role by Thunderbolt, the custom-modified mechanical bull that was the main attraction at the local beer-joint and party barn. I'd been told old Thunderbolt was a slut-maker, and after riding him I totally understood the claim. The experience was so intense that it lowered your inhibitions and increased your sex-drive to such a degree that you were ready and willing on a moment's notice to screw anything with a cock, something I'd later found that several girls had done literally by going outside their species in search of sexual gratification. At the time, I'd thought that 'slut-maker' business was just something they told the girls to make riding the bull sound more sexually adventurous than it really was. I got disabused of that notion thirty seconds into my ride. I thought I might be immune to the effects, since my sex-drive was already at the upper end of the curve, but all the indications were that I'd been just as affected by the experience as the other girls who'd ridden Thunderbolt, and whose photos showing their smiling faces, their wide-spread pussies and their hugely-swollen and freshly-bruised clits lined the wall of the bar. My already short fuse had become a hair-trigger – as evidenced by how quickly I had gotten into trouble in the helicopter. And while before my 'conversion' I had enjoyed sex quite a lot, now I had a nagging itch between my legs and a burning ache deep inside me that was my body's way of telling me that it had needs I wasn't meeting.
I wondered if masturbating might help. While I hadn't had a chance to try that yet, I doubted it would actually do much good because it sounded too much like foreplay. What I really needed was a hard cock thick enough to scratch where it itched and long enough to reach all the way up in me and soothe that ache with a load of cum. The more I thought of that, the more I needed it and the more I needed it, the harder it was for me to stop thinking about it.
So now, having let myself get into a state of acute neediness, I was having a hard time talking myself down. No matter how hard I tried to relax, everything stayed at attention. In the mirror, I could see that my areolas had blown up to the size of jumbo muffin-tops and my nipples stuck out almost an inch further, even under the pale blue spandex, which was thin enough to show everything clearly. My throbbing clit had given up trying to burst through and was now trying to escape through the seam in my shorts. It felt like it had got itself trapped in there, but I knew anything I tried to do would only make that situation worse. I thought this might be what George Whitley had to live with, with his constant erection and his considerable capacity for using it. I decided if George could cope with it, so could I, so I grit my teeth and tried not to think of how much I wanted to get fucked.
The other issue was that of my inappropriate attire. I wanted to get out of my slut outfit very badly, but the only other thing I had to wear was the Mark II Fighting Suit provided by Mr. Morton and now being field-tested – in a very different form – as a prototype for new supplementary military body-armor. The suit covered me from head to toe, but being skin-tight as well, wouldn't hide those things I needed hidden. Neeka picked up on my indecision.
"If this is as big a deal as it appears," she said, "there will be lots of people here. We don't have a clue who, nor do we know what's going on. Do we go in there all dressed-up or do we try to stay covert and see what's up before we go Showtime?"
The reasonableness of her argument convinced me to stay in my tube-top and shorts for the moment. As badly as I wanted to change, my options were what I had on, the catsuit, or skin of one type or another. Any of which were going to attract attention. But our costumes would identify us instantly, and Changing into something else would be even worse as far as keeping a low profile was concerned.
Neeka put her cap and glasses in a coat pocket, shrugged out of the coat, folding it so the design on the back wouldn't show, and held it over her arm so it hid her holstered gun. The green body-suit she wore under the coat had a higher neckline than was fashionable, since it was made of the same material as my suit, only with more layers. If she objected to the way it padded her figure, she'd never mentioned it.
Leonora's sun-dress might also be inappropriate for the venue, but compared to me she was vastly overdressed. Of course, 'overdressed' suited Leonora very well. The woman could make sackcloth seem like the latest design from Paris on attitude alone. It was a skill she shared with my adoptive mother and one that I desperately wanted to learn.
This was as covert as we were going to be able to get, so we headed-out to join the fun.
When, after another long walk, we at last reached the conference room, we found that it was a very nice one. It was set-up like a theater or a small auditorium. A raised dais with two rows of chairs behind a table sat before several curved and tiered rows of seats separated by aisles. The wall behind the dais had a large front-projection screen and two of the biggest TV monitors I'd ever seen on either side. The acoustics were excellent. Even though the seats were mostly full of people, a good number of whom were chatting, the sound level was nearly library-quiet. I tried to see if anyone I knew was there, but I was screened by a group of suits clogging the entrance. Neeka rose up on tiptoe to peer over their shoulders.
"Brock is here," she said. "He's down in front on the far side. I can't see who's with him."
Since the last thing I wanted was to parade across in front of everyone, we went up the wall-side aisle and quickly took seats in the back row on the end so we'd be as inconspicuous as possible. We could hook-up with Colonel Brock later.
I felt better once we were sitting down. Being short had some advantages. In this case it meant by scrunching down a little, I could almost hide in my seat. Of course, hiding meant I couldn't look around. From our previous contacts with the various SWAT, HRT, DEVGRU, Delta, and Don't Ask units, I should have been able to pick out more than a few people I at least knew on sight. I was torn between keeping my head down and sticking it up, so I tried to do both.
"Why don't you just stand on the seat so you can see?" Neeka whispered. "You look like a gopher, popping your head up like that."
I took her point and settled down to wait for the meeting to start. It took what seemed like forever, but Neeka's watch said it was only 15 minutes.
In marched a knot of people. Suits, mostly. But a couple of them were soldiers with stars on their shoulders and chests full of ribbons. That usually meant some foreign problem, but as far as I'd been able to see, the crowd was mostly just black-suit and black-tactical uniforms with a smattering of people wearing whatever and who had obviously been picked-up with as little notice as we'd had.
One of the suits was a man I knew as the Second Assistant Undersecretary of Homeland Security, David Solomon. When I saw him take a chair in the second row on the dais, I knew we were in the presence of some real VIPs. I also knew that if he wasn't running the show, that things were Very Bad in a whole bunch of ways. My opinion of politicians and bureaucrats was chronically low. Solomon had impressed me as someone smart enough to know needed to be done and who'd gotten control of enough resources to make it happen. Colonel Brock worked for him, and if Brock thought he was competent, that was all the recommendation I needed. In a bad place, with things going totally to hell, Brock was a man I wanted to have with me. I might have the freaky abilities, but Brock was the real superhero as far as I was concerned. Everyone I'd met who knew him seemed to feel the same way.
"Thank you all for coming," the suit in the middle of the table said into his microphone. I thought it might be a joke, since attendance had hardly been optional, but his tone stifled the chuckle in my throat. He was seriously worried about something.
"I realize that bringing you together like this violates most of the security protocols that you are used to living with, but we are suspending many of the usual rules for the duration of the emergency."
Since no one had introduced him, he must have thought everyone knew who he was. I didn't have a clue. To me he was just a man in his 40's with good posture, nice hair and a fairly-handsome face, wearing an expensive suit over a body that looked like he spent time in the gym trying to keep it in shape, but not enough to keep his waistline completely in check. He went on with what were obviously just opening remarks for a couple of minutes before handing the floor over to another man at the dais to deliver the real news.
"Thank you, Mr. Secretary," he began, and that told me who the opening act was, and since I recognized the voice of the new speaker as being that of National Security Advisor, Hamilton Dean, whom I had spoken to on the phone but never met in person, I knew who he was too. "We have a Category Two Nuclear Emergency on our hands." He paused, because there was an immediate surge of noise in the room as everyone muttered something like "Oh, fuck!"
"CONUS Military units are now at DEFCON 3, with certain units elevated to DEFCON 2. I assure you, this is not a drill or a hoax. Sensors at the Port of Baltimore picked up what we believe to be the arrival of a nuclear device. Apparently it was smuggled in a bulk shipment of iron ore, so it managed to bypass our security, which is geared mainly toward screening container traffic. That was three hours ago. Our intelligence sources cannot identify the people responsible, but we have to assume they are one of a group of terrorist organizations known to be ... have been ... trying to obtain nuclear material. Nuclear Emergency Support Teams have already deployed and are conducting airborne sweeps of as many possible routes out of Baltimore as they can cover. You people will be assigned to the NEST folks as tactical strike teams and tasked with dealing with the terrorists once they are located. The NEST guys will handle the bomb once you've secured the area."
Hands went up. People stood. Questions were shouted. Dean held up his hand for silence.
"We will not be taking any questions at this time. You will receive specific orders through your normal command channels. Thank you."
Dean, and the Secretary, whose name I couldn't recall, stood and everyone at the table stood with them. They left the room, leaving behind the second row people and a stunned audience. The same emotions rolled through us in waves – shock, outrage, anger, and then grim resolve. Everyone got up out of their seats. I couldn't see what was happening, so I climbed up and stood on my seat, then stepped up onto the armrests. From there I could see that the second-row guys were spreading out and waving to their people to join them. I saw Solomon and Brock moving to the far side of the room and I needed to get over there.
If I'd thought about it, I never would have done it. Modesty, professionalism, decorum, even common sense would have stopped me. The word "bomb" had thrown all that down the drain. I wanted to get to Solomon and Brock so I took the shortest route. I hopped from the arms of my seat to the arms of the next and with the next step I jumped. Like a moron, I took one giant leap over the heads of half the people in the room, heading in what I hoped was going to be an empty spot when I got there. Tradition, in the comics, at least, is to straighten your legs and hold your arms in front of you while doing this sort of thing. I flew in a shallow arc with my arms and legs spread wide, as though I were some demented flying squirrel.
I landed, if you can call it that, feet first on the end of the table on the dais. Actually, I more or less bounced off the table and careened up and away, trying to angle myself more to the right. I hit the wall, just missing one of the big TV monitors. From there I pushed off with my hands and managed a mid-air somersault before dropping to the floor right next to Colonel Brock, miraculously avoiding landing on anyone.
Brock looked at me with both eyebrows raised. Anyone else would have said, "You lunatic! What the hell do you think you're doing?" From Brock I got eyebrows.
Solomon looked at me like I'd just fallen out of the sky, which I pretty much had. He gave my outfit a glance and pursed his lips, but said only, "Glad you could join us. Now please tell me how you got in here, since your name wasn't checked off the list."
That was a longer story than I wanted to go into and I needed to have Leonora for the show-and-tell phase of it.
"There's no hole in the wall, if that's what you're thinking. We walked in through the door like everyone else."
When I said "we", Solomon turned to look for Neeka. He took it badly when she walked up with Leonora in tow.
"Who is this? I didn't authorize this," he sputtered. I was shocked to find that Solomon could ever be caught unawares. It showed him to be more human than I actually liked.
"Sorry," I said. "All my fault. I brought her because I thought she'd be a good asset for the team."
Me, the original loose cannon on deck, espousing the concept of teamwork, shook him almost as much as finding I'd somehow got her through security and into a room with his department's Secretary. But since I'd used one of his favorite words, he latched onto it like it was a lifeline.
"Asset? Well, at a time like this we can use all the assets we can muster. Who is she and how can she help?"
"Mr. Solomon," I said, intending to introduce them formally, but then I thought better of outing Leonora to the government. Perhaps some cards should be played close to the chest. " Meet ... Silver Lyon."
Neeka looked daggers at me for not discussing this with her. I smiled sweetly and shrugged. Leonora smiled inscrutably at me and held out her hand palm-down to Mr. Solomon, who took it and held it as though unsure if he should shake it, kiss it, or kneel and touch his forehead to it.
Leonora had gone regal on us. She stood in the same pose as she had at Hill's party when I'd first seen her, managing to convey an air of aristocracy just with her posture. Apparently her body language had improved at the same rate as her vocal skills. With her hair still slightly mussed from the helicopter and wearing a dress suitable for a high school sports event, she could still pass for a Countess or Baroness. Which, as soon as I'd thought of it, I was certain she had been at some point. She smiled pleasantly, but not warmly, and without parting her lips. That figured. The last time I'd seen Leonora's teeth was when she was about to bite me.
"Mrs?" Solomon asked, trying to reconcile her 30-something appearance with her profuse mane of silver hair.
"Ms." Leonora said firmly. If she'd said her correct form of address was Your Majesty, no one would have doubted her.
"Please pardon me for asking, but time is rather pressing. Do you have any ... special abilities I should know about?"
"She's as strong as I am," I announced, and only fibbing a tiny bit. I doubted that Leonora would blow her own cover and admit to being a vampire, but I wanted to steer this in a direction I liked.
"Really!" Solomon said. "In that case I'm happy to have her on the team – provisionally, of course. We can get into this in more detail later on. Right now we need to move to a briefing room down the hall so we can discuss the current situation."
We all agreed with that. We followed Solomon out the door, down the hall and around the corner to a much smaller room not nearly as nice as the one we'd just left. As everyone filed in, I counted heads. There were four operators with Brock: Max and Gunny, whom I'd met; and two others I hadn't. The two newbies looked somehow out of place, but I couldn't put my finger on why. We were about to close the door when Evan arrived at a dead run. Apparently he wasn't going to be left out after all.
"This is what we know," Solomon began, obviously wanting to separate the facts from the speculation presented as fact by Hamilton Dean. He paused for effect, and looked around the room to make sure he had our undivided attention. Solomon stood, another first, since he usually sat during these things. Neeka and Leonora were sitting in the room's standard-issue meeting-room chairs, both with their legs demurely crossed. Brock and all five operators sat in the classic gunfighter pose, straddling their chairs backwards and leaning on the back. I only noticed this because I had unconsciously copied the guys; possibly because I identified with them, but probably because it gave me an excuse to sit with my legs apart in a position that pressed my stiff clit even harder against my shorts.
"There was a radiation source detected in Baltimore. It was not reported immediately because it was a borderline reading and the people monitoring the equipment assumed it was a fault in the gear. By the time the techs checked it out and confirmed that it was real, considerable time had passed. Three hours is our best guess on that. In the process of downloading the data, the techs managed to reset the sensor's clock."
"Incompetent government employees," I thought, sharing my observation with Neeka. "What a surprise."
"But it could have been as long as five," Solomon went on, oblivious to my silent sarky remarks. "The sensor data did show a reading consistent with bomb-grade Uranium in quantify sufficient to make a low-yield nuclear weapon. We have no way of knowing if the material has actually been incorporated into a functioning device, but we must assume the worst-case."
"Were they able to get a profile?" Brock asked.
"No. We will have to wait until we find the material before we can determine its source."
"You can do that?" I asked.
Solomon said, "With a good reading, we can tell where the ore was mined, the facility that processed it; even which batch it came from."
"Shouldn't someone have noticed it missing?" I asked. "I mean don't people keep track of this stuff pretty closely?"
Solomon's jaw set into a grim smile before he answered, "At the present the amount of nuclear material known to have been manufactured but presently unaccounted for is just over three metric tons. We do not know how much more may have been produced by facilities we are unable to monitor. We do know that there are at least 100 Russian suitcase-sized nuclear weapons that they say they are unable to locate."
"Holy crap!" The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
Solomon's smile became even grimmer.
"A sentiment shared by everyone who knows the true magnitude of the problem," He said.