Too much of a good thing can still be a good thing.
I was only about five minutes into my workout when the knock came at the door of my hotel room. Isometrics, of course - these days nothing less than a loaded semi would offer enough resistance to count. I hadn't even broken much of a sweat.
Turning, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I took no real pride in the dense, sculpted muscles I'd developed in the last year and a half, any more than a blind man took pride in the attention he paid to his hearing, or a deaf man gloried in his well-exercised peripheral vision.
I didn't bother putting a shirt on; I just turned off the light behind me as I stepped toward the door. An ambusher would look for the peephole to go dark, signaling someone was looking through ... but no bullets, or anything more exotic, came through the door. There was no particular reason to expect trouble, anyway; I was just being cautious, following my training. I peeked through the sight.
It was Valeria, I noted with surprise. She didn't look upset, or under duress, so I opened the door to her smile. "May I come in?" she asked sweetly. Suppressing a resigned sigh, I nodded and backed away to let her through...
Tiny little Val brushed past me. Short hair had kind of been a turn-off for me before, but flowing locks didn't exactly go with mercenary work, and she made it look good. I swept the hall with my eyes, then closed the door and followed her in. Professional female gymnasts - even former ones - were all extremely petite, and she was no exception. Yet her ass was surprisingly rounded and her breasts, while modest, were hardly absent - she didn't need to watch her weight quite as religiously these days.
Many other things had changed in the two years since the White Event. 9:24pm GMT, July 22, 1986. The still unexplained - and probably forever unexplainable - light had bathed the whole Earth for 2.41 seconds, then vanished. At first, nothing seemed to have changed ... until the 'paranormals' started popping up.
There was no way to know how many there were. Estimates ranged up to two out of every million people. Not all of them had powers as such, and usually even the ones with powers had ... disadvantages. Such as the man with superhuman speed - who literally vibrated like a hummingbird and had to eat constantly. One man had disfiguring acne - but he could make his zits explode, spraying a caustic, debilitating substance on anyone he chose.
In the comics, there would have been superheroes everywhere, or at least supervillains. But this was the real world, and the existing power blocs - nations, corporations, radical groups - had simply found a new resource to exploit. A paranormal either hid (if they could) and led a normal life - or they were discovered and 'recruited'.
Such had been my fate. A couple of mistakes (inevitable when the changes were as dramatic as mine) and I'd gone on the run. I was powerful enough to escape the first two groups who'd tried - forcibly - to 'enlist' me. Then the paramilitary corporation Scylla had made an employment offer instead of a capture attempt, and I'd jumped on board.
Scylla was run by a Greek man named Thame Panagitis, a retired intelligence officer. Before the Event, it had been a small, elite security company. Thame, however, had been one of the first paranormals to manifest. Grasping the situation before almost anyone else, he'd managed to quickly locate and recruit several other paranormals.
Scylla was no longer a minor PMC. It was a player.
Thame knew his politics. Scylla was tolerated by the various governments because they would work for anyone who could afford their now-exorbitant fees. And in turn he paid his agents extremely well. After the mission today, he'd put us up in one of the most expensive hotels in Mexico City.
It had been a better assignment than most. The children of an executive for a wealthy company had been kidnapped - an endemic problem south of the U.S. Rather than pay ransom, the company had contracted Scylla. Not just to get the kids back, but to send a message. I'd killed quite a few people since becoming a superpowered soldier of fortune; many of them weighed on my conscience. But rescuing a little boy and girl, and ending the lives of their abductors ... I'd have no trouble sleeping tonight.
Not for that reason, anyway. Val wasn't wearing very much. She hopped up and sat on the desk. I could see tight shorts, a midriff-baring t-shirt, and a great deal of olive skin. I'd have laid even odds there wasn't anything under the clothes I could see, too. It was frustrating.
She was living proof that at least a few 'parabilities' were unmixed blessings. On the Italian women's gymnastics team at the '80 Olympics, she'd come in ninth overall. In '84 she'd been eighteen and past her prime, but still done respectably. Before the Event, Val had been at the upper range of human athletic possibility.
She was far past that now - she could have won every single Olympic event, gymnastics or no, men's or women's. Even the team sports. Valeria was at least ten times faster, stronger, and more agile than before.
She could lift close to a thousand pounds over her head. She never, ever - ever - lost her balance, no matter what her footing. And if there was no footing, she'd always land on her feet, like a cat. Her reflexes were impossibly fast; at anything beyond point-blank range, she could actually dodge bullets.
To top it off, she was gorgeous. Worse, she was a habitual flirt. "I wanted to thank you for today. My hero!" The Italian accent was charming as always.
I shrugged, dismissing it. "No big deal." A lunatic had been hiding behind a couch with a flamethrower, of all things. I had seen him pop up while she was busy folding one of the other bastards in half. The wrong way.
I was one of Scylla's more valuable 'acquisitions'. I have what I call (drawing from the Mechanical Engineering education I'd been pursuing before the 'Event') a 'vector field'. Something vaguely like telekinesis projects radially outward from the surface of my body. Most of the time, it's only a few millimeters; an invisible second skin. It protects me from any kind of impact, and - in effect - amplifies my strength to ludicrous, godlike levels.
I can make the field extend farther than that, too. Up to a couple hundred meters, and selectively from any part of my body. An invisible, multi-ton wrecking ball to strike anything I can point at, or even just see. Which is what I'd done to the guy with the flamethrower. The man, the weapon, the couch, the wall behind him, and the wall behind that had been obliterated.
It had actually gotten me a bit of a chewing out. You had to use controlled force on a rescue operation, to protect your own team as well as the hostages. The equivalent of an artillery strike had been uncalled for - as I'd been reminded afterward, at length.
Val seemed to know what I was thinking, and gestured broadly, in the Italian way. "Well, I certainly appreciated it. St. George slaying the dragon!" She smirked. "A girl could be swept off her feet."
I walked over to the minibar and searched for something non-alcoholic. "Come on, Val. Just doing my job. You would've saved my ass, too." I pulled out a soda. "Want one?"
She laughed brightly, shaking her head. "If I had saved your ass, I would have demanded a peek."
I rolled my eyes heavenward. "Gimme a break, Val," I began ... but when I looked back down at her, I paused. She was, unexpectedly, serious all of a sudden.
"Seth ... why don't you like me?" she asked earnestly.
I looked at her, blankfaced. "What? I like you just fine. I get along better with you than any..."
She cut me off. "I know you like me 'fine'. Why do you not like me more?" I can't describe what she did just then. A tiny shift, a little stretch. But I had no doubt it was deliberate, and it left me uncomfortably aware of her body. Her spectacular, inhumanly limber body...
Mouth suddenly dry, I popped the tab on the can and chugged a sip. "Val, I..."
She interrupted again, almost offended. "You cannot have missed my signals."
I grimaced. Hope that I might bluff through this was dwindling, but... "You flirt with everybody. Even George."
Her laugh was bright, rippling. "George, I tease. You ... I offer."
Mentally cursing, I fumbled for words. "I'm very flattered, Val, but I ... I don't think we should..."
"Come! You do nothing with anyone. You even send hookers away!" Her hands were in motion, spreading in supplication. "I know you are not, what, un busone, a homosexual. You look too much, at me and other women."
That was the last straw. "I can't!" I barked, sharply. Then I caught myself and worked to calm down. Getting upset would be dangerous, and stupid.
"But why not?" she asked, now laughing. "However you've changed, surely he's still there," she waved at my crotch. "I know you still piss standing up."
I shook my head and looked away. "You know why, Val. Or you should know." I sat down carefully in one of the elegant chairs. "I'd kill you," I said quietly, sadly.
She scoffed. "I know we'd have to be careful, but surely..."
It was my turn to cut her off short. "Goddammit, Val! My whole world is made of tinfoil, and cardboard, and styrofoam, and balsa wood!" I gritted my teeth. "I pull doors off cars if I forget to be 'careful'. Remember back in Prague? I slipped in the shower and tore the fucking wall open!"
"Oooh, yes. Such power is exciting." Her eyes glowed.
I gaped for a moment, then snarled. "Until I tore you apart! You don't understand." I wanted to pace, move, do something to dispel the accumulated tension. Instead, I just sat still. "I can't ever lose control. And sex is about losing control!"
It was her turn to gape, incredulous. "Sciocco! Is that what this is about?" She shook her head, almost giggling. "I would not let you hurt me."
I groped for words, dumbfounded. "You ... I'd ... It'd be like fucking a goddamn piledriver!"
"But what a way to go!" she almost cackled. Perceiving that humor wasn't working, she became exaggeratedly didactic, suddenly a tiny schoolmarm with a particularly dim student. "Come. You still self-pleasure, no? 'Jerk off'?"
I flushed and looked away. "Of course. It's all I can do."
"I have not noticed any ruined beds or broken chairs or..." She peered at me with a wicked grin. "Is that what you were doing in the shower?"
"No!" I cried, scandalized.
Another giggle. "Oh, this will be such fun." Then she paused thoughtfully and cocked her head. "Seth, are you a virgin?"
Again I couldn't look her in the eye. But she kept silent, outwaiting me. " ... I was a geek, before the Event. And then, after..."
"Ah. So much makes sense now." Her moods kept shifting, mercurial. Now she was all sympathy. "It must have been so difficult." A further shift, amused and cheerful. "But do not worry, I shall be gentle!" She dropped off the desk and stalked closer.
I popped up out of the chair - sending it flying into the wall with a muffled crash - and backed off, dropping the soda. "Val, no. I can't risk it. Remember? I broke Dustoff's arm by accident?"
But suddenly, like a jump-cut in reality, she was right next to me. "Tesorino, you have no choice." She gathered me up with the same unnatural swiftness, cradling me in her arms like a child for a moment. Exactly long enough for me to register how easily she was doing it. Then, just as effortlessly, she threw me onto the bed.
Spread-eagled, I looked down past the footboard. Her shirt was already over her head, and I stared helplessly at her breasts. A moment later she was peeling off the hotpants, but I couldn't see her lower body. She was short, and the bed was tall and baroque.
She wasn't hidden long, though. In a twinkling she was climbing toward me. "Val, stop! I really could kill you!"
Her carnivorous smile didn't falter. "Then you'd better lie still, no?" I froze.